Friday, 23 January 2009

Waylaid visitors

I use a site meter program thingy to track the number of visits to this site. The results are confusing and not very helpful (and probably wrong) but it's still interesting to see who turns up here and (sometimes) why.

One day in a fit of whimsy I wrote this post about Sesame Street birthday cakes using a photo yoinked from a birthday cakes site. That's probably not legal but I'll take it down if they ask me to, and anyway, their URL is plastered across the photo.

Ever since I posted that picture, the hit count on this page has gone up to about 20 hits a day, which is about 19 more hits than I used to get on average. Almost all the IP addresses are from places in the US like Tacoma, Washington and West Bloomfield, Michigan. According to my site meter results, very few of them stick around for more than 3 seconds. I guess this is because the picture is coming up on a google images search or something like that, and once they get here they realise I am not going to tell them how to immortalise Bert and Ernie using flour and sugar, and they leave.

So, hello to all you thwarted birthday cake makers and good luck in your quests. Sorry to disappoint you.

Meanwhile, I have 19 working days left before we start our dawdle home to Brisbane via Holland, Belgium, Hungary, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Turkey and Qatar. My desk is a tornado of hotel bookings, flight confirmations, newspaper articles and visa applications. I sometimes wonder how it will feel to be back in Brisbane, settled into home and back at work. Scarily permanent perhaps? But then I think of walking down the river's edge in the sun in bare feet, and the 10-minute bus trip to work, and I feel a bit better.

I've posted some photo sets from Italy and Scotland up on flickr too, here.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Lauren in London Edinburgh bar awards

We found a lovely bar in Edinburgh called The Voodoo Rooms. I don't really have any wacky anecdotes to relate about our visits (although Ted did spill an almost-full Kronenbourg there), but some sort of atmospheric photos are below. We found it completely by accident on our first night there, and then when we were back in town a few nights later we took our friends there for a pre-dinner drink. It's upstairs above another pub so it just looks like some stairs with non-existent signage.

I don't really approve of the name but the decor is excellent. Also they make Bloody Marys just how you like them, which for me is with lots of lemon and tabasco. You can the friendly bartender in the process of making one below.

So my award is a trifle unfair as we only visited this bar and Edinburgh's understated attempt at a goth bar, The Rose Tavern, but I still say this is the best bar in Edinburgh.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Things to look at

I am at about zero creativity right now after several very late nights at work. (Also, sitting at a desk for 14 hours a day is not what I would recommend for a cracked coccyx. Shocking, I know.)

I am pushing through the last bit of property law torture right now and am looking forward to tonight, when I will come home to my beloved couch and zone out for as long as possible.

In the meantime, here is a bit of Edinburgh Castle to look at.

Mons Meg, 15th century siege cannon. Not the sort of thing I would usually be excited about but it gave me a chance to do some arty photography with the frosty rock face in the foreground.
Ted in traditional posture, on the battlements

This is a 19th century cemetery for soldiers' and regimental mascot dogs.

The view to Arthur's Seat
I suspect that's it for me this week but next week I'll post some atmospheric Scottish countryside photos. Hold on to your hats!

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

In which I and other people spill things

A few months ago I had a pretty special night of dinner at The Landau* with The Boyfriend, our mutual friend who sort of introduced us (and was also one of the guilty parties in that unfortunate incident in Spain) and her parents, who were visiting from Brisbane. We had an amazing five courses along with a great deal of excellent wine.

We were presented with a welcome complimentary champagne when we sat down at the table. Unfortunately my stand out memory of the evening is alarmed waiters discreetly rushing over when my neighbour knocked her almost-full glass of champagne on to my lap. Even though I was, for once, not responsible for the spillage I felt bad about the way that the beautiful and probably heritage flute shattered on the floor. Luckily, the next course arrived to distract us with its deliciousness and the staff were left to (probably) grumble amongst themselves about those uncouth Australians who didn't order the set menu.

I then had to attend the dreaded work Christmas lunch a few weeks ago and was again plagued by falling glassware. Longtime readers will know I have not found many boon companions at my workplace and I only went along to the lunch this year because I wasn't quick enough to think of an excuse not to attend when I was asked directly whether I was coming. It's a bit hard to have convenient "other plans" when the lunch is held on a weekday, i.e. when I should be at work.

So first, the flustered waitress managed to spill half a bottle of red wine on the table as she was attempting to pour a glass for my neighbour. Because her clumsiness was accompanied by yelps of horror from the few onlookers, everyone who wasn't already looking turned to see what was happening, and it was then that I involuntarily held out my hand to help her... and somehow made it look as though I had spilled the wine. Silently accepting the blame seemed more graceful than loudly proclaiming that I didn't do it.

And then later in the meal, in a rare moment of animation while talking to my colleagues, I really did spill my own glass of wine. And then I slipped on some water while trying to clamber out of my seat (the pokey restaurant was so full we were placed on one side of a long table so that everytime someone needed to get up, everyone else had to slide out first). So I looked like a complete lush and/or klutz, which made my restraint with respect to actually drinking the wine that day completely pointless. Given that performance, and especially considering I'd resigned by this point, I may as well have gotten wasted and gone out in flames.

*Websites with annoying flash intros and music are second only to pop-up advertising as one of the scourges of the internet. The difference is that pop-ups are almost intentionally annoying - as long as they get your attention, their job is done. Lengthy flash intros, especially ones that don't give you the opportunity to skip them, are obviously supposed to be impressive - but really they're just a big waste of your web design dollars. Says me.

Monday, 12 January 2009

More inanimate indecency in Edinburgh

As I mentioned previously, Edinburgh in the final days of December was basically like one big party. The one good thing about not actually being there on New Year's Eve (i.e. the best night of the year to be in Scotland) was that we were not subjected to too many drunken rabbles and instead the streets were just buzzy and pleasant. On one trip back from the Old Town along Rose Street to our hotel, we were treated to some fireworks coming from the opposite end of town.

This meant I had to stop whinging about how we would be missing out on special Scottish Hogmanay fireworks on NYE (due to the fact that we would be held captive staying in a cottage miles outside Stirling for the actual Eve part).

It was a moment of spontaneous joy and contentment as we stood in the cobbled street and watched the fireworks. Then I looked over to my right, and was greeted by some quirky Scottish kilt humour.

Forgive my ignorance but I'm not even sure what this animal is supposed to be. Deer? Elk? Moose? Anyway, I'm pretty sure whatever it is, that the next picture is not an accurate anatomical representation (click on the photo to see more closely).

Speaking of rear ends, I slipped on a huge patch of ice on Saturday evening and now have a cracked coccyx. And I hadn't even had a drink yet! It's quite unpleasant, but at least the trip to A&E on Sunday morning was amazingly quick and I did not have to wait for six hours to be treated, or witness any vomiting or hideous injuries. London has been absolutely freezing for the last few weeks, with actual proper snow that didn't immediately melt over the weekend, and I have to say it's no longer a novelty... I am dreaming of wearing bare feet and sundresses in Brisbane in a few short months.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Edinburgh the Brave

Much of last month was spent between England and Italy tolerating entertaining some of The Boyfriend's relatives. Their stay with us culminated in a week in Scotland over New Year's. Base camp was a cottage about seven miles from Stirling, but The Boyfriend and I spent a couple of days braving Edinburgh on our own.

We left a typically drizzly, grey London in the final days of 2008, and were deposited a short while later in Edinburgh. I'd been there before with my parents in 1995 but, other than a pilgrimage to my father's ancestral home in Caledonian Crescent, I don't remember too much about it other than lots of greyish buildings and a big castle atop the hill. If this year's travels have taught me anything, it's that these sort of low -to-neutral expectations are the best way to approach a new city, because I always end up pleasantly surprised, and in the case of Edinburgh, pleasantly adoring as well.

I think it helped that the minute we walked out of the airport and gazed at the crystal clear skies, people were falling over themselves to help us. And in those lovely accents too. At least two people stopped us to offer help on the way into Edinburgh before we'd even started to think about looking lost, just because we had suitcases and were obviously on our way into town. After 18 months in London we are so used to ducking and weaving through crowds with surly looks on our faces (so as to scare off freesheet vendors and charity collectors on commission) that it took a while to readjust, but soon I was smiling at strangers and being generally charmed by the whole place.

Of course, this time of year in Scotland means Hogmanay festivities and so Edinburgh was essentially half amusement park, half bar. In conjunction with the beautiful architecture, the castle, the great food and the pervading aura of friendliness we couldn't help but enjoy ourselves.

This here is the Scott Monument, ever so respectfully dominated by a ferris wheel. Of course we had to have a go...

The view over North Bridge to the River Forth.

Behind us was what I initially thought to be a real live independent Scottish department store, Jenners. Apparently I was mistaken because later I saw signs indicating its owned by UK chain House of Fraser. Anyway, it looked lovely with the sun glowing softly on the Edinburgh sandstone and the flag wafting in the slight breeze...
Until we looked more closely:

(Click on the photo if you would like a closer look at this mysterious display of exhibitionism.) I have no explanation for this but I certainly hope it's the work of a mischievous department store clerk (perhaps a fan of Are You Being Served?) and not just a storage accident.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Interim report

Well, happy new year to you all. We've been enjoying New Year festivities in bonny Scotland so apologies for my unannounced absence. I hope everyone's New Year will be filled with peace and understanding, and sunshine and lollipops. Or at least good customer service and plentiful parking spaces.

Speaking of sunshine, it's snowing in London today. Pretty, but also dangerous - the road to the tube was like an ice-skating rink.