Thursday, May 21, 2009

Good times

So, I had a pretty good week at work last week. The main reason for this was that I got to go on a semi-junket to San Francisco, which as a work destination is far, far better than Slough, Bristol and Elstree & Borehamwood (which had been my previous best work destinations). The fact that I was getting pummelled by emails on my Blackberry from multiple different time zones was only a minor annoyance because there's no better excuse than a long-distance flight to avoid answering emails. I have to admit that I made the flight over with some trepidation, as I was expecting to attend a meeting at which our side was going to be shouted at and humiliated and, in shameful style, would have to suck it up and take it. However, as it turns out, everyone at the meeting was lovely and we were welcomed with open arms and cream cheese bagels. Result!

After some brief exertion at the meeting, we were able to spend the rest of our short stay wandering around San Fran, checking out the extensive China town, eating seafood at Fisherman's Wharf (which we found only after asking some confused locals where we could find the Fisherman's Dwarf - Blackberry e-mail mix-up) and trying to avoid the smell of sun-bathing sea lions. Also, I was lucky enough to get prime tickets to the baseball, watching the SF Giants see off the Washington Nationals in a match so exciting that my companions had to explain at length that baseball wasn't normally this exciting and usually it was OK to ignore the game itself and just spend the whole time talking and eating corn dogs. Anyway, I quite like the version of baseball where the home team wins by hitting a two-run homer off the last pitch of the match.

Without even the meeting to worry about, the trip back was pleasant indeed and I have to say I was very impressed with the service on Virgin Atlantic. In fact, I was reminded of one of my favourite Seinfeld episodes where Jerry is upgraded to first class, where he gets to sit next to a super-model and choose from a wide selection of French wines. "More of anything?" asks the stewardess of Jerry. "More of everything!" replies Jerry. I did indeed have more of most things - including two desserts and two breakfasts, which is my idea of a good time. Unfortunately, my day-to-day life now seems quite dull and I'm pining for the excitement and cheerful nature of West Coast America. Fingers crossed I'll get to go back sometime, meanwhile I'm just going to have to put up with Moorgate, London. Luckily, I'm going to get to trade in this dull existence once again this weekend, as I'm heading to Paris to take in the French Open tennis. More updates on that later!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Monaco di Bavaria

Melbourne may have a Paris end and a Beirut end, but Munich is Monaco all over. Except it's in Bavaria. And I think they probably eat more seafood than weisswurst in Monaco. And oompa music and lederhosen are probably less popular outside Bavaria. But otherwise Munich is Monaco all over. And it's great!

I spent the Easter weekend with old friends who are now Munich residents checking out Monaco di Bavaria and the nearby Alps. The weather was stunning, the best of the year so far, and the people of Munich responded by heading to the park to soak up the sun (in some cases lying on reflective mats to ensure they got evenly burnt all over), to the street cafes to sip espressos and pretend to be Italian and to the beer gardens to drink litres of lager and sing cheerful songs. As lifestyles go, it seems pretty hard to beat. Munich is an impressive place, though I have to say I enjoyed the gardens more than the intimidating architecture. The sun was most welcome after a long winter, though it was still good to be able to retreat to the cellar where my mate lives to cool off after a long day.

And we did have some long days. After a late night / early morning drinking lager, familiarising the locals with The Sound of Music soundtrack and explaining why carrots are orange, we managed a few hours of sleep before hopping on a train to Innsbruck in search of edelweiss and ibyx. We didn't find either (though we saw some goat tracks that could have been made by an ibyx), but the stunning mountains around Innsbruck more than made up for it. Unfortunately, the hot weather meant there was a risk of avalanches from fast-melting snow, so a lot of the best hiking routes were closed. Nonetheless, we found a good path straight up one mountain that took us to just below the snow-line before things started to get a little hairy (and the steep slope a little less solid) and we had to turn around.

Admittedly, we almost wimped out at an early stage when (having ignored a sign warning of avalanches) we came across a gully that was piled with snow and debris (including a massive tree trunk that had been ripped from the ground) from a recent slide. It looked a bit dodgy (particularly the bits where the fallen snow had melted through and you could see water rushing underneath) so we were about to turn around when we noticed some tyre tracks and realised that the three year old we had just passed riding his tricycle had just crossed the gully with his Mum. Hurt pride drove us across the gully and up the mountain for the rest of the day.

After the physical exertion of Innsbruck, we thought we'd sample some culture in Salzburg. Salzburg is a beautiful town - it's got nice buildings like Munich, but has been clever enough to put them on hills so that they can be admired from a distance. Smart people, those Salzburgers. After wandering around town for a bit, we stumbled up to the main schloss just before sunset and spent a few hours sampling the local brew on the castle walls, looking at the sunset and listening to random bell-ringing from the churches below. A very satisfying way to end the day, and a highlight of the weekend. The lesson? It doesn't take much more than a litre of beer, a sunny day and a nice view to make you very happy indeed.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The sincerest form

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the person who painted the picture appearing on the left of London temporary bar/restaurant/club "The Double Club" should feel very flattered ...

... because I have reinterpreted the picture in my own way and using the colours that were left in my paint box. I call this picture "Jungle" for no reason other than because I can. I am particularly proud of the sharp edges, which are quite different to the other paintings I have done. This period in my career may well be defined by the use of masking-tape.

For my next painting, I intend to leave the jungle and other natural inspirations behind and instead forcus on terraced houses and other urban gems. Fans of dodgy art, stay tuned.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Oh no!

So Joyce has just joined the exodus back to Australia - the lure of Brisbane is obviously stronger than anyone ever imagined. Naturally, her farewell dinner last weekend was a fun though sad event, but I think the significance of her departure only hit me this week ... when the Timeout arrived in the post. I realised that, for the first time in a long time, I would actually need to READ it in order to find out what's going on in London. No more Joyce to sift through the crap and come up with the good stuff and then organise dates, buy tickets and find a good place to eat near by. From now on, the remaining Londoners have to do their own social organising. In Conrad's words "The horror!"

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Creativity lacking

I've had an artistic side ever since I was excluded from most of the proper lessons at the Dutch kindergarten and instead spent most of my time drawing pictures of the A Team (specifically, BA's black and red van). Since then, I've tried a full range of artistic pursuits. In high school, I tried to design and build a home entertainment cabinet, which was really a box made out of pine boards, which now holds up my Dad's worm farm. I tried creative writing in university and had pretensions of writing an Australian of Catcher in the Rye (just replacing the word "phoneys" with "wankers"). And when I started work, I bought an acoustic guitar and a book called "How to Play Acoustic Guitar", though I never really made it much beyond the contents page and that shows in my (non-existent) playing ability. More recently I've been drawing elephants and attending life drawing classes.

The point is, despite my artistic nature, I've struggled to find a consistent outlet. Elephants was promising for a while. But let's face it, there's only so many elephants you can draw in one lifetime. Part of the problem is that I can only handle one activity at a time - my creative energy doesn't stretch far enough. So when I've come home from life drawing classes, I'm just too exhausted to write this blog. Luckily, classes are over for a little while, and I can get back to business. I'd better try and knock out this post before I get distracted by that new pottery wheel I've just bought ... (I'm kidding, though I would really like to try pottery - once I considered it the lowest form of art, alongside modern dance, however I now have a growing appreciation of a well-thrown fruit bowl).

As I write, the rats are leaving the sinking ship of England in vast numbers. Just taking a quick poll of my friends (Tim, not sure if the sample size is sufficient, but we'll run with it). Tim, Jen, Brendan, Joyce and Tina have all left or are planning to leave. And this has all taken place in the last 6 months or so. Sure, given the number of friends I have, this number may seem like a drop in the ocean, but it is very significant. London won't be nearly as much fun without them. In any case, the vibe in London isn't at all like when I arrived - there's a general lack of optimism about the future (unlike 2 years ago, when the city was on a high that it hadn't experienced since Queen Victoria tried to take over the world). It's definitely a sobering thought to be at work worrying about getting a tap on the shoulder and 30 minutes to clear your desk and be out the door. Luckily my office has good feng shui and I have an excellent view of the door, so redundancy can't creep up on me that easily.

Nonetheless, despite the lack of friends and job prospects, London is still a great place to live. It's an artistic city, you know, and I'm sure the economic crisis will lead to some good art. I wonder how I could best capture the crisis in clay? Maybe a fruit bowl covered in pound signs and then broken into little pieces? Or filled with orange peelings? That's deep. I'm back!

Monday, January 12, 2009

New Year, New Art

Well, after some time out from painting in order to try and develop some real artistic skills, I've returned to my first calling. This is my latest work, signalling a radical shift from lines and dots. This one is more about random shapes that fit together. It may be the first of a jigsaw series that I do. It may also be the last. So, you saw it here first. And last.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Hello again

Uh, happy New Year. Obviously it's been a while since my last post. And now another year has ticked over on the clock. And what's different? Well, a lot and not much I suppose. The last couple of months have been very eventful, to say the least. Recently, I've omitted to blog about such excellent episodes as: a beautiful weekend in the Belgian countryside for Sophie's birthday, the funnest Festivus ever (featuring a very cathartic group airing of grievances), numerous Christmas celebrations (in which a group of my friends consumed the largest and most delicious fillet of beef I've ever seen), a new year celebrated alongside a group of transvestites lip synching to "Survivor" by Destiny's Child, a sad London farewell to Tranzie, my first (and slightly sleepy) trip to the Royal Opera and the start of a new job.

So it's been a hectic few months and, in fact, a hectic year overall. And 2009 looks like more of the same. Some things will be different, and some familiar faces will be missed (Tranzie and, shortly, J Kwok). But other things will be the same - travelling, eating, exploring, avoiding serious life choices, more work and less sleep than desired. I'm looking forward to it. I'm even looking forward to my year at work (remarkable for someone who can be a bit work-shy at times). Hopefully good things will happen this year. And hopefully I will be disciplined enough to blog about some of them at least. My trip to NYC later this month is shaping up as the first highlight of the year - a long overdue visit to see Marty and Mel before they ship off back to Australia. Here's hoping 2009 promises similar exciting adventures for you!