Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Wigan out

Slow day today. Drove into Wigan town centre to organise a UK SIMM card for my phone. Wandered around shops while waiting for the O2 centre to open and sampled the local versions of Scalding Bitter Brown Muck Priced As If 'Twere A Latte. Dumped the first one I had after two sips and went to another "Coffee House" which apparently had the extra ingredient of Even Hotter Than The Last and so that got despatched to the bin even faster. Still awaiting my first acceptable UK espresso. Picked up some brochures at the local tourist office, including a guide to walking the West Highland Way.

Next stop is the legendary, nay mythical, nay mostly-closed for 2yrs of redevelopment Wigan Pier wot Orwell wrote about all those years ago. Come back in 2007. It's worth noting that the "pier" is not a conventional boardwalk jutting out over a large body of water, but a loading point on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, which is not more than about 15m across, and even narrower at the Pier's lock.

Dropped by the ASDA biodome again to pick up some soylent green and thence back to Stuart's parents' place to do some web research. First item: figure out how to top up my cellcard without a UK billing address; second: locate a local vet to prepare Bondi's EU Pet Passport.

Confirmed that my SIMM card account cannot be topped up using a credit card as 02 aka Oxygen requires a UK billing address with the card. This appears to be more like over-zealous form creation on their computer system rather than a financial necessity, but you'd never get a corporation to admit that. Nonetheless it means that when I'm roaming outside UK in Ireland or Europe, I have to have someone in the UK who can walk into a supermarket on my behalf and top the card account manually. Very unnecessary in this era.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Haigh while the sun shines

After a late evening viewing of the new House of Wax , today's outing was a little more Enid Blyton: Haigh Hall, on the edge of Wigan town. We packed a picnic lunch of cold ham, cold turkey, tomatoes, bags of lettuce, hard boiled eggs and lashings of ginger beer (or facsimile
thereof) and sat on the lawn, looking out to the Welsh Hills. A 4 mile walk to the estate's plantation gates with Bondi romping through stream and copse as he used to do in the Pacific Northwest.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

They call it Knutsford, oh Knutsford

After a substantial sleep and easy morning, Stuart and I took Bondi for a drive down the M6 to Knutsford where Stuart begins a new job on Tuesday. The grounds of his office remind me of one of the New Avengers episodes where spy training is carried out, with Joanna Lumley wannabees rolling around in black lycra pointing pistols and pouting at enemy agents. O tempora o mores.

The Knutsford township looks to be very prosperous, and we had a little wander around the streets, but spent most of our time lunching and walking the grounds of Tatton Park estate. The main effort for the day was concentrated on convincing Bondi to get over a stile between two paddocks. Failing in my arguments, I half-lifted his 72.8kg over the fence.

It wasn't till later we got home that I discovered that we had not been far from the radio telescope at Jodrell Bank - the first of its kind. This facility was set up by Bernard Lovell 50yrs ago. I had the chance to meet (Sir) Bernard at a physics lecture during my undergraduate days at the University of Sydney, and IIRC had him autograph one of my books on cosmology.

B1TCH GODDESSES of Manchester

(Why the 1 in B*tch? MSN spaces was too prudish to allow posting of the correct spelling, so I had to resort to v1agra1sms to proceed...)

Saturday evening

During the final month of the local Queer Up North festival, Stuart has been piano accompanist for a cabaret program B1tch Goddesses in the basement of Taurus on Canal St in Manchester. The show combines Bollywood campery (Jonathan Mayor) with the provocations of Her Dark Majesty Rosie Lugosi, the Lesbian Vampire Queen (The Guardian: "A dominatrix whose hair makes her look like an unravelled Muppet"). A very funny show with perhaps the most unusual version of Rossini's cat duet ever.

Afterwards we were joined by friends of Stuart from Australia and the UK for dinner at Malmaison brasserie. I was unfortunately still under the grip of severe jet lag, having been awake for 19 hours by the time dessert arrived so was not the most scintillating of dinner companions.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

To Wigan

Woke at dawn and left Clapham at 5.30am to head north to Wigan. We stopped for 1/2 hr breather and pseudo-latte outside Warwick, and got to Stuart's at 9.30am. Visited the local ASDA/Walmart biodome for dogfood and then back home for lunch.

Friday, May 27, 2005

May evening at The Casbar

So it turns out that today is the hottest May day on record for the UK in 60 years - perfect for importing a malamute. Jonnie and I took Bondi for a turn around Clapham Common, where the inevitable "is it a wolf/donkey/horse/sad reflection of my general knowledge" questions began. Bondi jumped into one of the awful ponds to cool off and emerged blackened with sludge.

We wandered up the High St to The Casbar for a drink or nine, next door to the UK Socialist Party HQ. I bought a bucket at a 2-bob shop for Bondi to drink from before he passed out in front of the SPHQ doorway. We were joined by the very entertaining Owen and Fiona (complete strangers to us) for a lot of memorable conversation...at least I hope they remember it because I can only remember the staggering home bit.

The Beagle has landed

Dawn at Dubai: a nest of cranes

Short but succinct starting entry.

Left Sydney at 9pm on Wed 25th on Emirates, bound for Manchester via Dubai. A very smooth trip, filled with 5 episodes of Frasier, 3 movies and much squirming for leg room. The Dubai - Manchester leg was in daylight so I was able to take in much of Dubai, the Gulf and Iraq before cloudcover interrupted the view over Turkey. Picked up a fairly clear view around Romania/Hungary and the magnificent Danube River, followed by the counterpane of agricultural blocks over Czech Republic and Austria. The air seemed much dirtier over Germany and Netherlands before hitting clear skies again at the English Channel, and immediate comprehensive cloud cover over all of Blighty.

Landed in Manchester at 1pm - scurried through immigration to beat the landing Liverpool supporters back from a victory in Turkey, and after a too brief reunion with Stuart in the Manchester terminal, flew back to Heathrow to await Bondi's arrival. It wasn't until I emerged on Clapham High Street around 5.30pm - after 3 planes and 3 trains - that I actually felt I'd arrived in the UK!

My host, Jonnie, has been very gracious and after a quick trip to Sainsbury's put together enough lasagne for 12, but after eating enough lasagne for 0.5 I faded into jetlagged oblivion.

Collected rental car from Heathrow @ 1pm today, and then drove around looking for the Heathrow Animal Reception Centre which is really well hidden off an unlabelled roundabout somewhere in the vicinity of the Heathrow cargo complex. I had a bit of wait as some of Bondi's paperwork had not been submitted at the Australian end of the journey but the lad was in high spirits when he got out to see me. We immediately headed back to Clapham along the M25-M4- A4 - Earl's Court - Battersea Bridge route ... and here I am.

Now we're headed off to Clapham Common and dinner!