Craig Box's journeys, stories and notes...

Archive for August, 2007

Back in Dublin

Friday, August 17th, 2007

We had two days in Dublin while Matt and Kat were at work, so we did a bit of exploring.

The first day we went to Phoenix Park, a park created by King Charles Ii's man-on-the-ground as a hunting park in the late 1600s. The park is still the home of a herd of wild Fallow deer. We saw droppings, keep-off-the-deer signs, but no deer. The visitor centre suggested we go stand on the Papal Cross (a hilltop memorial to the fact that Pope John Paul Ii once gave mass there - to one million people!), which lead us finally to our prize.

We then went to the Guinness Storehouse, and did the big tour. I tried some Guinness (to which Greig said "Wow... Just... WOW!" in a later text) - it didn't seem to taste like whatever it is in beer that makes me sick, but it still wasn't enough to make me want to drink the free pint that we were given in the cafe at the top of the building. Want to like the stuff, just can't.

The next day we caught the DART regional train around the city. We went first to the Bree end of the line, where there's some nice beaches and a little coastal village feel. We then went back into central Dublin and had lunch with Matt at Google. Of course my non-disclosure agreement prevents me from telling you anything (read: I still don't know what he does), but I will mention that it was Mexican day, I ate too much, the ice-cream was fantastic, and I'd be twice my weight in a month if I got a job there.

The port in the other direction is Howth - more fishing and sailing here than beachfront, but still some fantastic views. I think this is the smallest dog I've ever seen outside Paris Hilton's handbag! The Irish president lives in Phoenix Park, but I hear Bono has a house at Howth.

We had an 8am flight so arranged a taxi for 6:30am - of course, the taxi driver decides to pass someone on the left and pops a tyre on the way. We were not impressed.

I'd like to thank Matt and Kat for opening their apartment to us and being incredibly generous and hospitable during our visit. I'm sorry we didn't bring any Pineapple Lumps!


Friday, August 17th, 2007

Monday was a bank holiday in Ireland, so Matt and Kat had the day off.  We decided we'd catch a train up to Northern Ireland for the day.  Cathy's question of the day was "I wonder how much they pay Stephen Hawking to do the train announcements".  €34 one way if we bought at the train station, or €18 return on the Internet!

The biggest attraction in Belfast is the beautiful City Hall, which we took a tour of.  We all got to sit in the Lord Mayor's chair, but the chair the Queen sat in was out of bounds.

There are two areas we were told to look out for street art; the first was the Falls Road area, where there's lot of protest art and a very anti-Bush, don't-meddle-with-the-world feeling.  You have to walk through some pretty dismal streets to get to Shankill Road, where you're immediately greeted with more British flags than you have ever seen before. It's safe to assume we're not in the Republic any more.  It's a working class Protestant suburb, and I think they like the Queen here more than they do in England.  Patriotism is such an odd concept, but people really want to identify with somewhere.

Belfast had a huge shipbuilding industry around the turn of the century.  They built the Titanic here, but I'm not sure why they're proud of it.

Here's Tom climbing a fish.

We still laugh every time we hear an Irish person say 'potato'.  Apparently everyone else has heard this twice, but I haven't.

A nice meal topped off an excellent day.  The train ride home was quiet and full of sleeping people.

I'm now exactly 10 days behind on uploading photos and writing about the trip!


Friday, August 17th, 2007

Liverpool has renamed its airport "Liverpool John Lennon Airport" in honour of it's most famous dead guy. They had security people to stop us from being able to drive anywhere near the terminal, who very happily stepped aside when we told them we were lost and needed to know where the long term car parking was. At this point we had to leave the goat behind and head off to the Republic of Ireland.

Cathy would like to inform you that there was a midget on the plane.

A friendly taxi driver lead us into Dublin central, where we caught up with Matt and Kat. Matt moved here in April to work for Google, and Kat hasn't been working illegally for the last month at all.

I'm told that Saturday was the only interruption in 50 straight days of rain, and of course we arrived Sunday morning. We decided to go the Jameson's distillery tour, which was interesting, although the guide moved us from room to room as if he was being paid by how many tours he did in a day. In Dublin, the most popular way to drink your Jameson's is with cranberry juice; I had mine on the rocks, and it tasted far nicer than I remember it from last St. Patrick's Day.

It dried up while we were at the distillery (the healing powers of whiskey) and we wandered around St Stephens Square and the Iveagh Gardens, a little hidden garden which Katt had heard there was a maze in. We found the maze in the end, and as you can see, it was particularly challenging.

Matt took us to a bordello for dinner. Well, kind of. We had drinks and dinner at a brew-pub called The Porterhouse, who (probably rightfully, seeing as everything else is owned internationally) claim to be Ireland's biggest brewery. Greig would have spooged. It was just next to a club called Lillies Bordello, and had confusing signs. Cathy drank a 14% ABV lager beer named Samiklaus and faked drinking some vinegar in a rather convincing manner.

Sam and Zoe's wedding

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

The primary reason for my big trip was to come to my friend Sam's wedding, where I'd been invited to stand as his best man.

For the days leading up to the wedding, there was a bit of planning and preparation to do; I had to try on and deliver suits, learn how to move flowers, make name cards for tables, and jot down notes for a speech!

On the day, we had about 10 people get ready at our place, groom included, so lots of behind the scenes photos let you know what is involved. I've been told it was worse for the bridesmaids, because they couldn't reach where the dresses were hanging.

The groom was very nervous leading up to the ceremony and very happy afterwards. As the bride and groom went on a horse and buggy ride, we were left to entertain ourselves with some croquet.

The "wedding breakfast" started around 3:30pm, where speeches, drinking, dancing and entertainment followed. You can't exactly have a wedding for Sam without Tui and a band playing Exponents covers; unfortunately I could only fix one of these things, so James and I got up with the band and belted out a totally unplanned and unrehearsed version of "Why Does Love Do This To Me". I couldn't hear myself singing over the row of dancing Kiwis.

It had been a long day for many people by this point, so I didn't join the after-wedding party at the Crowne Plaza. I'm somewhat glad I didn't.

(WordPress gurus who can suggest a better way of aligning the photos in this post are especially invited to comment.)


Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

We were feeling good after having met the friendly Liverpool hostel staff on Friday night: unfortunately it was all downhill from there. No pub would serve us dinner at 7:30pm. We almost got egged, possibly for not having the Liverpool FC supporter haircut. We just grabbed a curry and headed back to the hostel.

Saturday, again, not so pleasant. Caught the bus into town (the driver was angry at us asking if we were at the right stop and told us what he thought in his thick Scouser accent).

The attractions were OK - we went to the official-esque Beatles exhibition, with an audio guide narrated by John Lennon's sister. You weren't allowed to take photos, so of course I have a heap. That rule is silly. The Tate Gallery passed the "does it have art from people I know" test, with a Picasso and a Warhol among others. My record players wouldn't have been out of place in the modern art gallery.

Spotted outside The Beatles StoryLiverpool is a city of bad haircuts. It also has "Emo Square". If Birmingham has the highest proportion of jewelers, I'm sure Queen Anne Square in Liverpool has the highest proportion of emos I've ever seen. They radiated out from a central pod of blackness and woe, in a star-like pattern; the ones on the furthest reach weren't even wearing any black!

Some cool graffiti though.

Another trip to try and find dinner at a pub was even more futile. The pub over the road from Liverpool FC seemed it was closed to the public for a 10th birthday party. The one place we'd found the day before that served food closed the kitchen even earlier on a Saturday. We wanted to watch the cricket so we headed to a sports bar, but 2 mins before the final started, they changed to some second string football game (something as relevant as a 1974 replay a game of Yorkshire Under 14s),

The people next to us at the bar seemed to suggest we should order beer using only the words "pint", "bitter" and "lah-gah". I asked for a bourbon and coke. "Scotch and coke?" "Bourbon and coke". "Scotch and coke then". erm, sure. Whatever. Something about my hunger and the double strength of this drink caused me instantly to become Three Beers Awesome, and when Cathy spilt his own pint, we decided to just cut and run. We were just drunk enough that this was funny on the way home.

A real Southern Man doesn't like being man-touchedRussell was wearing his Highlanders shirt back at Epsteins so I hassled him for not supporting Canterbury and we had a few more drinks in our room. Dinner was leftovers and a pizza we bought from one of four takeaways (we bought it from the Pizza/Chinese/Fish'n'Chips/Kebab store, rather than from the Fish'n'Chips/Chinese/Kebab/Pizza or Kebab/Fish'n'Chips/Pizza/Chinese stors next to it). The chap there was a very friendly Moroccan gent. With one exception, everyone friendly we met in Liverpool wasn't from there.

To paraphrase someone we heard later in the trip (sssh, you're supposed to believe I'm writing this live), the best thing about Liverpool is the road to the airport.


Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

We stayed at a pretty shady feeling backpackers (with no blinds on the dorm windows), and headed up to Sherwood Forest the next day.

Tom being Peterkin'dLady Luck had granted us a Robin Hood Festival during the time we were there. Unfortunately there wasn't any jousting that day, but we had medieval music and faerie dancing, and then Peterkin the Fool: a street performer who decided to get Tom up to help him, and shoved his codpiece into Tom's neck.

Sheriff and HoodThere was then a skirmish in the park with actors playing the parts of the Merry Men and the Sheriff's bunch. I was cheering loudly in favour of taxes, law and order, as imposed by the King's appointed representative, but for some reason all the kids wanted the outlaws to win, and such they did.

Afterwards we wandered down to the fairground, past a small cricket club, and back to the road.

Small windy A-roads took us through lots of little towns on the way to Sheffield. Most English cities seem to have ring roads around them (you know, like Hamilton is going to have in 10 years time?), but some have two ring roads and don't make it clear which one you're on. Once we learnt this we found out where to go...

The pictureque Snake Pass links Sheffield and Manchester, a windy and picturesque route over the hills. We drove through the humourous-sounding Glossop to Manchester, and took a big motorway around the outside of the city.

Manchester to Liverpool is very simple on the M62; we missed an important turn upon arriving in Liverpool and got lost, but a couple of stops for snacks and some directions later, we found our hostel.

We didn't hold out a lot of hope for the "Beatles Brian Epstein HoAnfield FCstel" as it was the only thing with rooms left when we had booked, but it was fantastic. It's just been taken over by a Kiwi couple from Balcultha, who are overseeing a new garden going in the back. Aside from the fact it's in the shadow of Anfield, the Liverpool FC stadium, it was a really great place to stay.

Driving to Nottingham

Monday, August 13th, 2007

You know how I said the motorways are good? They are, but it gets a bit confusing from that point onwards. There are three sets of roads that are important enough to be given numbers: the motorways (M), the A roads and the B roads. A roads are similar to state highways in NZ, and range from three lanes in each direction, completely separate, to half a lane winding through villages. You can't establish this from the map. When trying to plot a route between two towns, given a map book, Tom will pick a nice direct path on an A road, but it's a lottery as to what kind of road it will be.

We drove past Rodbaston in Staffordshire. The ghost of Edgbaston is everywhere. We also drove through Loxley on the way to Nottingham; that's where legend, or the new BBC TV series that no-one really liked, has it that Robin Hood is from.

We suspected we'd find demolition in Derby; we also hoped to find dinner and somewhere nice to eat it. This was our first experience of the British take-away chipper (you want to put vinegar on my chips? Why?) Derby has a river flowing through it, but you can't actually access it anywhere: Pride Park isn't a park, it's a stadium. Parking isn't available for less than 1 week and 10 quid, and again, the one-way roads aren't adequately signposted for idiots like me.

Mixed messagesThe road to Nottingham was a nice big A-road. We had booked a hostel but had no idea where it was, so we needed to find some Internet (thanks again to the national wireless ISPs "Belkin" and "Linksys" for providing me the facility to talk to you all). Even with two sets of instructions, we ended up 5 miles further up the road than we needed to be before turning around.


Thursday, August 9th, 2007

Now we had a car, we could get out of Cambridge; we decided we'd pick the next interesting looking town in a Northwards direction, and booked a hostel in Birmingham.

Birmingham (B'ham or Burrr-mingum to the locals) is described as the "second city" of England: it's mostly a working-class industrial town, but it's grown and picked up a little bit of culture on the way. (The surrounding area is called the Black Country, possibly due to the coal dust, and nothing to do with Jamaican residents). I sent a message to my old workmate Peter, who is from around these parts, asking what he suggested we do: he said "avoid Spaghetti Junction", and gave a list of interesting things to do.

Finding it wasn't too hard: the motorway system is really good here. We didn't actually see any spaghetti, but we did manage to find our hostel without too much trouble.

We drove into town the next morning. Without maps or any real idea of what to do, it's a bit hard to plan your itinerary. We ended up finding signs pointing us to the Jewellery Quarter, an area which probably has the highest concentration of jewellers in the world.1 As exciting as it might sound, the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, an old factory immaculately preserved by way of them just running out of money and shutting down in 1981, was a really interesting place.

Canal boatsWe then headed down to Brindleyplace, a canal-side shopping district, and checked out the canals around the Gas Street Basin.

Driving back to the hostel at this point, we saw a sign for the botanic gardens, and thought we'd fill some time by checking it out. What a mistake that was! There are nice brown signs pointing to all the tourist attractions, but as you get closer and closer, they get smaller and smaller, and the sign at the actual entrance is about the size of a postage stamp. This led to me driving right past the gardens, and going in a big circle around Edgbaston until finding new signs that pointed back to the gardens. 30 mins later, we were back where we started, and found out that it was going to cost us £6 each to get into the gardens. Poor Kiwi men can neither afford or justify £6 to look at some poncy flowers, so away we went again.

It was this experience that first taught us an important truth about England. Ignore what the Romans tell you; all roads lead to Edgbaston. This suburb of Birmingham is the centre of the universe. No matter where you go, you end up there. If you are there, you'll drive out, and find yourself back again within 15 minutes. Especially if you're not from round 'ere, and trying not to get killed when turning right and not giving way to left-turning traffic, it's all a bit too much, and sometimes you end up driving the wrong way down one way roads...

The next day we headed out to Cadbury World (past Edgbaston) in the suburb of Bourneville. This suburb actually started out as a farm that the Cadbury family decided to establish a factory in, and set up for all their staff. They seem very keen to point out that they were a fantastic employer 150 years ago! The tour was good, if not a little too geared at the children in places, and chocolate was in plentiful supply.

Next stop was the Air Force museum in Cosford. To continue on from here, we had to drive back in the direction of Edgbaston.

See the whole Birmingham gallery here.

  1. I should point out two things about advertising here. Every claim you make needs to be substantiated: any time a TV ad says "Surveys show that", a footnote on the screen will tell you how many people were sampled, and what they were paid to make such outrageous claims. Anything that isn't backed by such research introduces the word "probably", such as "Probably the best beer in the world". You are allowed to make direct comparisons (there are great big signs at Tesco claiming exactly how many products are cheaper there than Sainsbury's and Asda), but there are still ads that say "50% better than the leading brand", without acknowledging what the leading brand is. 

New car

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

It's a bit boring doing a tour without wheels. Sam only has a two-seater car, and we are three (and two and a half suitcases). As much as I protested that Cathy could just hang onto the soft-top at 90 miles per hour down the motorway, we had to make alternative transport arrangements.

Most private car sales here are conducted by way of the Auto Trader website or eBay. A good thing with the postcode system is that you can tell it where you are, and it can figure out with reasonable accuracy how far away other things are. We searched for cars within 10 miles of our current location and ended up looking at a 1993 Vauxhall Cavalier.

Car pictureIt's probably not the best thing to do to buy the first car you see, but it seemed a good price and an honest seller, so we bought it and drove off into the sunset.

We've nicknamed the car "The Goat", because the reg is L437 MEW, and goats mew. It turns out that goats don't actually mew, kittens do; but we can hardly rename it retrospectively, and we're too tough to drive around in a kitten. We could alternatively buy the personalised plate "BLEAT" - personalised plates aren't very big here, so it's probably available.

Car insurance is compulsory in the UK, and if you watch any television you'll be reminded of this with at least three spots in every ad break. A quote online for 3rd party insurance worked out about £250-£300 - not much less than the value of the car! After buying the car I rang the AA and asked them for a quote, which worked out at £1300. I asked them if they were having a laugh, and they suggested that my quote online was much more realistic. Turns out your international license and driving history counts for almost nothing: so a temporary 135 pound for the month has to do.

I've never owned a car before - Mum owned my (her) old beige Corolla and I've had a work vehicle ever since. It's interesting being a member of the Landed Gentry all of a sudden.

Anyone want to buy a car? Available from the end of the month, only one more owner than it had in July.

Crowded House at the Kings Arms

Thursday, August 2nd, 2007

Neil Finn and Nick SeymourOne of the best reasons to be a member of the Frenz of the Enz is that for $15 a year, every now and then they invite you to little showcase performances. After Crowded House broke up in 1996, I never thought I'd get to see them: even more so, after the suicide of original drummer Paul Hester. But it came to pass that on 12th July 2007 the reformed Crowdies rolled into Auckland, and I was waiting in the audience.

I guess I was the standard musical nerd and worried a lot about the lack of Hester, especially as I find some of the vocal harmonies lacking in the live recordings I've heard of the new songs. However, no less than two songs in, it was apparent that this was Crowded House, as if they'd never skipped a beat.

The new drummer, Matt Sherrod, wasn't just playing as if he was Hester; he added his own flavour to the proceedings. The vocal harmonies were great, if down a little in the mix, mostly because Neil's son Liam was providing most of them from near the back of the stage.

The set was a mixture of new and old; surprises included the B-side "Recurring Dream", played second, though in a rather rough arrangement. And without saying that Greig and I had both picked it from the word go, half-way through Something So Strong, who should hop up onto the keyboard but Eddie Rayner! Geoff tells me that Tim was there also but I didn't see him.

The band were having a lot of fun, and the encore started with multi-instrumentalist Mark Hart playing and singing Born On The Bayou, which ended up with everyone on the wrong instrument. It ended up with various Beatles songs being played, and the promise of requests being taken from the audience. However, they didn't really have any backstage to go to (at one point they decided just to all fall on the floor and wait for an encore from there) and it seems like they were asked to finish up early, as they jumped into Better Be Home Soon and then left the stage.

Check out my photos of Crowded House at the Kings Arms.