Now that I'm finally done with Doctor Who (a brilliant season as a whole I think) I can unveil the latest Shak's Choice: playing his most recent companion Martha Jones, I present to you the delightful Freema Agyeman:
Interestingly according to her Wikipedia entry she's half Iranian and half Ghanaian. Cool huh? And yes I know: Two Doctor Who females in a week? I'm such a geek.
Tuesday, July 31
Now that I'm finally done with Doctor Who (a brilliant season as a whole I think) I can unveil the latest Shak's Choice: playing his most recent companion Martha Jones, I present to you the delightful Freema Agyeman:
Monday, July 30
Just writing to note a record level of activity on my blog: last week Radio Shak was visited 2,667 times by 2,337 different people. Now admittedly it's a freak blip rather than continuing trend, but I reckon it's awesome anyway.
Just as interesting are the major referrers to my site at the moment; Facebook is now a major source of readership, and I'm totally grateful to all those who link to me from their respective websites and blogs. Searches on Google (some pretty dubious!) are also big leads in to this place.
Speaking of which, Radio Shak is now placed second in the search engine when submitting "Radio Shak", beaten only by the shop Radio Shack and that just because of the otherwise handy Google suggest feature. It's the top result when limiting results to pages in the UK. I'm actually quite chuffed about this.
So all in all pretty good news and I'm looking forward to the hit count breaking the 100k barrier, hopefully sometime during 2007. I'm still not exactly sure what this place is all about and where it's heading, but hitting milestones like these does force me to consider these and many other questions.
Oh, and finally, thanks to you all for visiting too! There's only so many times a week I can strike F5 in order to refresh my browser, so it's good to know I'm getting some legitimate hits too.
You know, no matter how often I do this whole meeting of a potential rishta thing, I'll never get over the whole "girl silently brings in soft drink/juice/tea on a tray" thing. I mean do people still do that? It's such a cliché and if it wasn't so funny I'd actually be quite irritated by the custom.
So ladies, here's some advice. If you're about to meet or see a guy for a first time, don't make it over a tray of beverages. Try expressing some originality instead. I'm not talking about cartwheeling in or anything (although that would be so cool), but saying something, even a hello, would be nice.
I vow to marry the first potential rishta to enter their living room with nothing more than a smile and "hey guys, wassup?"
Sunday, July 29
Maedah Grill is a pleasant Turkish place located right behind the East London Mosque. It's relatively new; I've passed it a couple of times in the past on the way to Tayyabs down the road, but I never got the chance to check it out until today, and I was suitably impressed by the experience as a whole.
Not that I'm some kind of food connoisseur, but I've never had Turkish food like this. It was good quality stuff made live and with care in the open air kitchen - this isn't the stuff you'd find in a kebab shop, that's for sure.
Service was just as good, with the waiters checking in on us in our private low tabled booth regularly to see if we were okay. The rest of the restaurant was nice too: clean, spacious and well lit. The external sinks were an indication of how important hygiene was in this place.
And the whole thing wasn't too dear either; fifteen quid per head got us more than enough starters and a healthily sized main (we stuck to water). All in all Maedah Grill is a top class joint and a definite alternative to any particular crowded places nearby.
For around six hours today, Trafalgar Square was taken over by the Pakistan High Commission in order to celebrate sixty years of independence. Although I wasn't there for the whole thing, I managed to catch a good few hours in the middle of it all.
The main stage offered music and dance, including a pretty impressive line up consisting of Jawad Ahmed, Hadiqa Kiyani, Abrar Ul-Haq and Zafar Ali strutting their stuff, while a bunch of food and information stalls were littered about the place too.
We got there for around 4:30pm, hoping to catch a bit of the vibe of the event before heading off to dinner. The place was rammed - the organisers had clearly underestimated the numbers who were going to turn up, having to pause proceedings to deal with the crowd levels.
Still, it seemed like everyone was having a good time and I was glad to be there. The High Commission for Pakistan is able to put on a blummin' good show after all; who knew?
Saturday, July 28
My first Virtual Console game on the Wii, and it's a cracker. For those you don't know, Bomberman has been around for a while, allowing multiple players to battle it out by blowing each other up in an arena viewed from above. Despite its simplicity I'm obviously finding it difficult to explain the game; just take my word for it that it's one of the best multiplayer games ever.
Which is probably why Bomberman has always been a victim of its own success. When Hudson created it back in the nineties they did indeed manage to create a near perfect multiplayer game, which although good in theory makes it very difficult to improve upon.
And that's why I've never really taken to any of the new versions. The additions made had adversely diluted the gameplay, enough to make it unplayable for those who had been brought up on the earlier versions. The closest I've come to the original gameplay is via Bomberman Land Touch on the DS, but even that manages to spoil things by insisting, in the main part, on an arena two screens tall.
So it was with great expectation that downloaded Bomberman '93, one of the pinnacle versions originally relased on the TurboGrafix. And it's great. No bells, no whistles, just pure original gameplay. Better still is that the Wii conveniently allows you to play with up to four other players.
I'm not usually into nostalgia when it comes to games, but Bomberman '93 just goes to prove that sometimes it's the oldies that are most fun to play.
Now I get that it's always going to be tough adapting a four hundred or so page book into a film that's less than three hours long. I also figure that it's even harder to do for the harry Potter books, where more or less everything needs to be kept in for the story to make sense. But I don't think either of those reasons is why I found Order of the Phoenix to be so poor.
It's like it was a rush job, like there was no love put into the creation of this film. Everything happens to fast and clinically, you begin to wonder whether the makers could have been that bothered at all.
As a result there's a lack of meat, depth and substance with this film, both emotionally and technically; nothing much is said about the Order in the title, or the new characters or story arcs.
Looking past that though, and there still isn't much to redeem this film. The acting is poor (the acting skills of the main cast appears to be getting worse with age), the editing sudden and rough, and the sets and wardrobe nothing to scream about.
Perhaps it's because I'm a fan of the books that I'm having such a hard time appreciating this film. I don't think that's the case though, and so unfortunately the only reason I think you should watch this film is for a sense of completion rather than anything else.
Thursday, July 26
I'm a bit behind on Doctor Who, so some of you may have already witnessed the sublime Carey Mulligan playing Sally Sparrow in the episode entitled Blink.
Although she has an adorable smile, charming composure and a magnetic on-screen personality, ironically it's her down to earth looks that's her main attractive quality.
She was the best thing about that episode, which is saying a lot considering what a cracker it was.
As seen in the 20th July 2007 edition of thelondonpaper, Em pretty much sums up how we can make life difficult for ourselves by keeping shtum because of that damned irrational paranoid insecurity we sometimes have:
Quite. Remember folks: it's good to talk.
Oh and a big thanks to the author Maria Smedstad for allowing me to reproduce her excellent work here.
Wednesday, July 25
This was always going to be short review, for The Simpsons Movie is but a feature length episode of the classic cartoon series. If you're a fan then you already know what kind of thing to expect.
If you're not, then expect simple yet deep plot lines, lovable characters and loads of good solid laughs. Sometimes too many in fact - my poor brain was struggling to keep up with all the gags at one point. Lucky then that some of them have been used before on the telly show. I also noticed a slight change in humour from that found in the series; TSM seems to have been influenced by the slightly more advanced wit of Family Guy; so there's a bit of self deprecation and forth wall breaking here now.
But now I'm just stretching this review more than I should be allowed to get away with. Just go watch it already.
Thinking back to the BBQ and the many new people I had the opportunity to meet while there, I've come to the conclusion that I become totally intimidated by pretty single girls.
I mean I'm okay in the company of groups and "inaccessible" people and the like... But put me one on one with someone hot and I crumble like a flake, discussing things like the weather, work and then the weather once more.
Oh man, I'm such a cliché.
Tuesday, July 24
As is usually the case with fads like this, being one of the (surprisingly) few reading The Deathly Hallows on The Tube this week has made me one of a special club of people, each member recognising the connection we have with one another. So for the last few days we've been secretly smiling or winking at ourselves, almost in a smug like fashion.
Sometimes we even start talking about the book itself; like today, when I had struck up a conversation with a rather pretty girl on the Central Line. Well I say "conversation", when in actual fact I had to cut it pretty short after discovering she was a good hundred pages ahead of me.
I mean hey, I didn't want to hear her say anything stupid now... Did I?
I spent an hour or so watching Manjari Chaturvedi perform what she calls "Sufi Kathak", which is similar to the traditional Indian dance, but whose aim is to express the possibly more esoteric concept of Sufi Fana or oneness with God.
She did her set of three dances at the Nehru Centre (where I've not been since my last experience of kathak) and although all were brilliant and impressive, the first two seemed pretty traditional despite their unusual qawwali backing.
The third, however, was very different. The main thing was the music that was being danced to - distinctly Persian in origin it brought a new character to Manjari's performance. It was a kind of classical fusion of sorts and was really wonderful to watch.
Another interesting aspect, of course, was the fusing of Sufi and Hindu ideas in this artform. This was, in fact, the theme for the evening - The Nehru Centre was celebrating Indian Secularism which they had interpreted to mean an inclusiveness or normalisation of religion rather than the separation (or marginalisation) of it.
Sunday, July 22
Blimey, I'm knackered.
Take 2006's BBQ and then multiply it by ten. That pretty much sums up what happened today. We had the same brilliant food, the same range of stalls (this year face painting was joined by henna and cake decorating) and even the same bouncy castle. Some of the events had evolved - we had Police and Fire officers (with a real life fire engine!) come in to give demonstrations and the like.
What was strikingly different this time was the sheer weight of numbers turning up - estimates put it at around three hundred mouths to feed over the six hours in which we had officially opened shop. That's around one guest per minute (and admittedly we had struggled at some points in keeping up with them all!).
But such numbers brings with them an exponential rise in variety. Whereas for the previous years it would have been fair to say that guests were almost exclusively limited to friends and family of ICSS, this time with the magic of social networking and the Internet, the already traditionally open invite found it way to people we had never been able to reach before.
Families and children, professionals and students, religious leaders, television and media personalities, teachers from the sister supplementary schools, and various others from far and wide: they all made their way to the Froud Centre today. I met more new people today than I do in a month, pushing my ability to retain so much information about so many new faces. The only real bummer was the lack of time; between assisting with the event and, uh, eating my face off there just wasn't enough minutes to talk to all the interesting people who had attended at any real length. Still from the comments left in the guest book, it appears that all had had a pretty good time.
It was interesting behind the scenes too. This was my third time here (oh how time flies!), which means that, relatively, I'm a veteran of the whole experience. But there was an unprecedented number of BBQ virgins today, which is a testament to the changing face and growth of ICSS during the 2006/2007 academic year.
But this wasn't the logistical issue it could have been (or would have been if it was anywhere else). All the volunteers new and old were stepping up to the task, picking up the slack almost automatically when it was needed. When people needed well deserved breaks others jumped to cover them. When assistance was required to do a task, all did them without even being asked. I don't remember the last time I saw such a slick team working as one. The exhaustion on our faces would have been worrying if it wasn't so obvious how we felt about how worthwhile had been. It'll take a good few days to come down from it completely I think.
So yes, it's becoming a bit of a habit to come away from this annual event, stunned at how well it all actually went. I won't even set the challenge I did last time about making it even bigger and better next year; I've now no doubt that we will since that's just the way the ICSS BBQ seems to be going. In fact, I'd say that there's a small danger of it outgrowing ICSS itself and becoming one of the free volunteer based faith social events of each Summer to come.
Like any other male child of the eighties, I like to think myself as a bit of an authority on Transformers. If anything, the money I willingly handed over to Hasbro could have funded a small country for a year so it wasn't surprising how excited and fearful I was over this twenty first century rendition of the franchise.
Now that the preamble is out of the way, I'm happy to say that Transformers wasn't actually that bad. In fact it was very very good. As a deep rooted cynic, I had prepared myself to be disappointed and although I have particular issues with the film I came away thinking that the makers did a good job out of something that would have been so easy to mess up.
The biggest fear, of course, was with the amount of creative "license" film makers take with objects of our beloved memories. And although this particular film version does that, it's not as bad as the things we've witnessed previously (I mean, Beast Wars? Optimus Primal? Huh?). For example, the Autobots were a bit too "hip" for my liking (in one scene, OP criticises one of the other robots and ends by asking "What's with that?"). In return we see a few nods to the eighties; but I'll leave that to you to find out for yourself.
There is of course a very weak script, a missing, inconsistent plot and hammy acting, but all that is forgiven once you see the robots in the proverbial "flesh". The imagery was awesome - there's nothing like watching two house size robots have a fist fight, and every transformation was met with audible wows by the audience.
So overall a pretty excellent film but a slightly flawed and diluted Transformers experience all the same. I enjoyed it though, and I like to think it wasn't because I played with the toys as a child. It's for that reason I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this film.
EDIT: VG Cats have created a brilliant strip summing up my thoughts, although I suspect I wasn't as disappointed as they were with the film. Oh and watch out, there are spoilers galore within.
Saturday, July 21
The British Library is currently hosting a free exhibition of the what they describe as the world's greatest collection of Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy books.
However it wasn't just holy books that were on display. Various ornaments and examples of religious literature and culture were there too, as well as instructive examples of the similarities and differences between the three Abrahamitic faiths.
It took us a brisk one and a half hours to get through all of the stuff on show, and on the whole I was impressed by a good proportion of it all. Things like Bibles and Jewish holy books which had been written in Arabic, or Germany printed Qurans dating from the eighteenth century were highlights for me.
Still, I couldn't help but feel that the show was slightly incomplete; obviously it was concentrating on these three religions for clear reasons, but I would have loved to have seen a similar analysis and comparison of the other great religions too. But then the scope of the whole thing would have vastly outgrown the venue, and it would have taken a whole day to take it all in rather than a lazy morning.
All in all it was a fair exhibition, but nothing too great unless you have a vested interest in the subject matter. Check out the website - if it sounds like something that you'd enjoy then you probably will.
I was always supposed to go with my aunt to buy the new Harry Potter book; with her being my Harry Potter lender for the past three or so it was the least I could do. I was of course going to be the first lendee of her copy this time too.
However when I heard that Asda were doing the book for a pretty incredible five quid, I suggested that we go there; at that price I didn't mind buying my first Potter book. I had originally planned on buying a box set of some kind, but at five quid ending up with a superfluous copy for the seventh wasn't really a big deal.
We didn't know how long it would take, so we read our Esha before leaving home. We got to Leyton Mills at around 22:30, much later than we had planned to.
Asda was empty.
We were worried. Were they not selling the book? Was there no midnight launch? We asked the information desk and were relieved to be told that everything was on track for the launch an hour and a half later - we were just very early.
So we did what everyone does when they're in a supermarket with nothing to do: we hit the magazine section. Well my aunt did anyway; I picked up a copy of The Half Blood Prince and gave myself a bit of a refresher. We killed around forty five minutes this way.
We realised at around 23:15 that a queue had indeed started to form toward the front of the store. When we got there, we were around 30th in line; a bit gutting seeing as we were officially first to buy the book. Still, by my reckoning we'd easily get a copy each as long as the store had at at least a hundred books to sell (which was almost a certainty).
A member of staff told us that we were only allowed two copies each. My aunt had already been asked to get another copy, but I joked about buying a spare and selling it at a profit to someone at the back of the, now pretty huge, line. Even with restrictions, it looked pretty certain that not everyone there would get a copy.
At last, it had struck midnight. The front of the queue had begun to peel off, with each group of shoppers buying a maximum of the two copies that they were allowed to. As we approached the front, a guy who had been watching the queue for some time approached me with a nervous smile "'Scuse me bruv, can I ask you to do me a favour?"
"Sorry mate", I had already anticipated his request, "I'm already buying my two copies. I can't do it". My main concern was about the people who had legitimately queued up behind me.
"Hey man, I'll pay you", he stated, obviously, "How much are they anyway?". "A tenner each", I joked, knowing that I wasn't actually going to buy him a copy. "Okay, deal!" he said excitedly. "No, seriously, I can't" - surely I couldn't deny some poor soul at the back of the line their copy? And on top of that, I wasn't about to profit over this guy's obvious desperation.
My aunt quickly brought me down to earth: "Sell him your spare copy for a tenner and you'll get yours for free." Her Gujarati blood was obviously more potent than mine was and put that way, I didn't need any more convincing. I called the guy over and agreed to sell him my spare copy, making sure he understood that they were actually selling for a fiver at the tills.
As he handed over the cash, the tannoy was used to announce that due to demand customers were now restricted to only one copy per customer. My buyer rushed off, thanking me as he did so and promising that I'd be in his duas and prayers. Any guilt I had left was immediately quashed. And on the way back we happened to pass by the local Tesco, who appeared to have three times as many copies and no queues or customers to buy them!
I got back home around thirty minutes after midnight, my free copy of The Deathly Hallows firmly in my grasp. Not bad for a Friday night's work, eh?
Thursday, July 19
Blood Music - MDK Cartel
My first taste of grime, and it's not that bad. It's probably got a lot to do with the superb choice of sample.
Crazy 4 Ya - Sona Family
More from the Sona Family; just as fun as glassy but different enough to make it a tune in its own right. They manage to get the mix of Hindi, Arabic and English down to a tee. Ya habibi!
How To Save A Life - The Fray
The first of four choices heavily influenced by 97.3 Brisbane, the ever changing tempo here reminds me of Lifehouse, and to an extent, The Calling. Which isn't a bad thing at all now is it?
Iris - Goo Goo Dolls
Yes it's old. But it's new to me so... A bit of an anthem, so I hope I don't sway too much on The Tube.
Little Wonders - Rob Thomas
Nothing too sophisticated or even original here, but solid enough to make my playlist.
Makes Me Wonder - Maroon 5
I didn't even realise that this was a Maroon 5 track till I looked it up. It wasn't too recognisable (well, certainly not to me) which is a good thing since I felt the band might have just been cashing in on a gimmicky sound. Then again, listening to it as I type makes me think how it could be anyone but Maroon 5. Go figure.
Stronger - Kanye West
Despite thinking that his music is pretty good and a refreshing change from the normal hip hop currently has to offer, this is the first Kanye track to make my playlist. Not sure why this tipped me over the edge, but there's something slightly edgy about this track that drew me more than the others.
Wednesday, July 18
The law of diminishing returns is in full effect with Shrek the Third. My opinion is in line with the general consensus: there just is no magic and love in this film and it suffers heavily for it.
The plot is thin (not that Shrek ever needed a plot), the characters seem tired and boring and even technical objective things like the quality of animation and music fall way short of what is expected.
A few laughs happen to be some kind of saving grace but you can't help but giggle nervously out of pity or respect. You don't really lose yourself in this film like you did the others.
To be fair the third Shrek film is okay as a film on its own. But okay just doesn't cut it in such an otherwise brilliant franchise. In fact, it was disappointing enough for me to advise you giving it a miss altogether. And that saddens me.
So I've caught myself sleepwalking twice now. I've not yet left my bedroom while asleep, but it's still cause for a bit of concern.
I've no idea why now, or if it's indeed a new thing. It has been happening since I got back from Australia, and I did feel some kind of internal change from that trip so perhaps it's to do with that.
Otherwise maybe it's something mundane like having too much on my mind or not getting enough sleep. Whatever the case, I just hope I don't end up walking in front of a bus or something...
So it's now been oooh a good three and a bit months since I joined Facebook, and I think I've had a pretty good go at the whole social networking thing. Here are a few observations I've seen, some obvious and some a bit more subtle:
- For purposes of "catching up" it's great. Unlike with email or phone, you're constantly reminded that the people you know exist, and so you're kinda prompted to drop a quick hello or five.
- The most commonly used phrase used on the site is "good to hear from you we should def meet up soon".
- Photo surfing can be very addictive.
- It allows you to keep a passive interest in your friends - so you can know about what someone is up to without having to directly ask them.
- It's handling of social graphs is brilliant. Since joining, I've found new mutual friends in at least three separate places, proving that in fact the world is a tiny place.
- UK users at least don't know the difference between a Grad School and a College.
- Some people on Facebook seem to throw any kind of privacy regarding themselves out of the window.
- Even worse, some people on Facebook seem to throw any kind of privacy regarding their friends out of the window.
- Some people seem to be using Facebook for reasons other than "just a laugh", leveraging it for other things - like me publicising my blog through it.
- Related to the above, there seems to be a disparity between those who are pretty open with their information and those who are anything but.
- Facebook is great for cyberstalking.
For example, take pictures. It took me a while to figure out exactly how Facebook handles them, but once I figured it out it actually deals with them pretty well. For instance, you can control who is able to search for pictures tagged with your name (so in effect hiding that "Show all pictures of xxx" link"), or remove tags from pictures you don't want to show up even if a search was allowed. It's pretty flexible and you can
Of course you can't stop people from uploading pictures of you at all (and further can't stop others from seeing them), but then that's a general problem regarding the Internet and personal social responsibility rather than one of Facebook.
Another handy feature is that of Groups and to similar extent, Events. This allows you to associate yourself with people who may not necessarily be friends yet (if ever). Networks are a similar feature and just as handy in theory, but the fact that the London network (say) is so huge makes me wonder how much thought has been put into its implementation.
So with all this positive feedback, why have I stopped using it as extensively as I was before? Well, we've been here before, with MySpace and the numerous social networks before that.
Unfortunately the popularity of Facebook is ironically what I think will bring it down. The trouble is that the more people join, the more prone to abuse/annoying (please stop inviting your whole friends list to every event you're thinking of going to) and less novel it becomes. It also becomes more of a target for more commercial and marketing purposes; something that has quickly sapped the life out of applications in the past.
So it's all just a fad then? Well maybe. I can only really speak for myself and I'll probably keep my account active but switch to using it on a more passive rather than active level and see how it goes from there.
Monday, July 16
Sunday, July 15
Despite the early night we struggled to get out of the house by eleven; the events of the night before was obviously still a burden on us. But the great thing about Salzburg (and many other European towns, I'm sure) is that since the roads are so clear things are really close. For instance, our first stop today was Kehlsteinhaus, or The Eagle's Nest, which was only twenty-five minutes away across the German-Austrian border (which meant that I had entered Germany for the first time too).
The Eagle's Nest was a birthday gift given to Hitler. At 1800 metres high the views were pretty amazing; the drive up was only possible by bus so I managed to get a good look at the surroundings. Unlike with the Alps the weather was brilliant and so we managed to see for miles, including Salzbug, where we were staying, and Hallein, where we had eaten dinner last night.
The Eagle's Nest itself was a further brass elevator ride up, and houses a restaurant where we grabbed some food. After looking around for an hour or so (including climbing another twenty metres higher or so), we headed back down to lower ground. We were doing pretty well for time - it was now only around 2pm; enough time to go back home in order to allow some of us to get into appropriate clothing for our next destination: The Eisriesenwelt Ice Caves. We reached them at around 4pm, after driving 5km up a mountain, hiking twenty minutes more, taking a cable car and then another twenty minute hike taking us up to a height of 1650km or so above sea level.
Apparently these are the largest ice caves in the world. Now the fact that they were caves filled with ice (as opposed to, you know, caves made out of ice like some people thought. Ahem) didn't make them any less stunning; we spent around an hour walking one kilometre through the early stages of the caves (there are around 42km of caves altogether) and witnessed some pretty awesome natural ice sculptures - at one point we even went into some of the cold stuff! Amazing. We weren't allowed to take pictures, but you can check Google to see what it was like.
We finished with the caves at around 6pm. That was pretty much all we could do for the day, not that we weren't fulfilled. But our time in Salzburg had come to an end; ironically we had spent little time in Salzburg itself (just the first evening in fact), but I think we had all thoroughly enjoyed it - personally I loved the freedom and lack of a concrete hard and fast plan. After dropping off the car at the airport we caught our flight back home.
Between Geneva and Salzburg, I've realised how easy and fun these short weekend breaks can be; I've been back by Sunday evening so Bank Holiday Mondays aren't even a prerequisite for a fun filled couple of days away soaking in a new place. I just hope my laziness doesn't stop me going to other places!
Pictures taken on all three days are up on Picasa. Enjoy!
Saturday, July 14
We got in pretty late last night (or this morning) so as a consequence getting up was inevitably going to be delayed too. Still, we managed to lazily leave the house at around noon or so; the plan was to head to the lakes for a bit, catch a boat ride or two, grab some lunch and then just lie back and see what the rest of the afternoon would bring.
And that's pretty much how it all panned out. We headed to Saint Gilgen where we parked and caught a boat to Saint Wolfgang, both of which were on Lake Wolfgangsee. The lake and its surroundings were pretty awesome; to have such land twenty minutes from where you lived seemed like a luxury you'd never get in a place like London.
We wandered around St Wolfgang for a good hour or two. We had lunch (mmm... Pike) and ice cream and just flowed through the crowds until it was time to catch the ferry back to Saint Gilgen, where our car was waiting for us.
The rest of the evening was spent touring the Austrian countryside. We drove south of the lake to Bad Aussee, then east to Schladming and then finally north through Werfen (where scenes from The Sound of Music were filmed) to Hallein where we stopped for dinner. All in all we had driven around 250km (see route here), and although the views weren't as spectacular as those seen in the French Alps during Geneva, the drive was pretty neat anyway.
After dinner we headed back home for an early night. Since we are going to fly out tomorrow, the plan is to get an early start and get one or two excursions before heading to the airport. The trouble with these weekend breaks is that it all happens to end so quickly.
A friend of mine has been working in Salzburg for the past eight months or so. I've been meaning to visit, but it's only now that she's coming back that the urgency has risen, and so three of us decided to spend a last minute(ish) weekend there.
Ever since Geneva, I've realised how handy it is to have a car available on short breaks like these. They don't have to be too pricey either, especially if you're splitting the cost (and as an handy tip, make sure you check what rate the airline themselves can get you. Although I didn't take advantage of it personally, Ryanair gave the most competitive Hertz rental rate - even cheaper than going to them directly). I ordered a "Focus or similar" since we didn't need anything bigger or more luxurious. I half expected an upgrade, but when we got a brand spanking new Mercedes C Class... well let's just say I was both chuffed and worried at the same time.
I didn't have any problems being a virgin Right Hand Side driver. In fact it was the left hand drive of the car itself rather than the roads that kept tripping me up. As for the Merc itself, well after a while it became nice enough to drive, but I must admit that I wasn't that impressed. Perhaps I'm more of a BMW kinda guy?
Our outgoing flight was late after work, so we didn't get much done today. We met a few friends of our hosts and stayed out late - much later than I do at home. But then sleeping isn't really for holidays is it?
Friday, July 13
It's funny; I always got these two places mixed up when I was young - most obviously due to the similar spelling. But still, I can't help but be amused at how I'll be able to say I've been to both, back-to-back, in such a short period of time.
Anyway, I'll be in Salzburg for the weekend visiting a friend. Really looking forward to it actually, even though I've flown quite a deal this year already. It's with a different group of pals and we have a car sorted too (since Geneva I've come to realise exactly how handy a rental is, if only for a day or so), so it should be excellent fun.
And yes, I have my Sound Of Music at the ready. #Doe, a deer, a female deer...
Wednesday, July 11
The Shape Of It - True Live
I managed to catch this band live almost randomly at a free concert they played in Darling Harbour, Sydney (official website here). They were absolutely great back then (although actually being in Sydney probably had something to do with it too), so in comparison I've found the album pretty disappointing.
It just seems so flat now, listening to them via a recording. Still, there are some decent tracks like Keep Myself Awake, TV (which you can watch here), Carry Yaself and Side Steppa, all of which have made my playlist. But still, I can't help but feel a little sad at failing to recreate what I had experienced Down Under.
This was the second time I participated in the annual JPMCC race (you can read about last year here), and it was almost uncanny how similar an experience it was.
I had actually forgotten about it till last night and between Australia and the wedding stuff I hadn't had a serious Sunday run in over a month. So I wasn't expecting to perform that well today, although having said that I would have been totally gutted if I hadn't broken the thirty minute mark, no matter what my fitness level had been. I actually got a decent 29:17. It's almost a minute slower than last year, but still I'm happy that I kept it under thirty.
We were allowed into the JP Morgan tent this year too, so I got to hang out and enjoy some of the vegetarian sausages they had on offer. Yum.
I wonder how I'll fare next year?
Monday, July 9
The third and final event for the weekends proceeding was a reception held at Kempton Park, a horse racing venue in South London. It was a western style reception, so suits and speeches galore. In that respect it wasn't as new to me as the the other parties, but I had just as much fun anyway. The food was veggie again, not that this stopped it from being some of the best food I've had at a wedding full stop.
Not least because the music was 95% Bollywood - the DJ's tracklist wasn't particularly original, being made up of the classics from KHNH, Dhoom, Dus and KANK, but I knew all the words (and more worryingly all the choreography. Not that I performed it anywhere other than inside my head).
It was a brilliant way to end such a busy weekend. A part of me was sad that it was all over, while the rest just wanted to go to bed and sleep.
Sunday, July 8
We’re fast approaching the end of the academic year, and that means the annual ICSS trip to Lambourne End to do all sorts of outdoor activities.
Since I've been before, I've done most of what the centre has to offer. However, they had just built an artificial caving system, and the idea of crawling around them seemed a bit too interesting for me to ignore, so I volunteered to take the kids who wanted to try them out.
In effect, the system was just a bunch of concrete pipes buried underground. The twist was that there were around four different size of pipe. I'm not sure of the precise diameters, but they ranged from allowing me to crawl pretty freely to... well let's just say quite small.
I'm usually quite good with outdoor stuff (the other activities Lambourne have include Ropes Over Water, Archery and the like and I was okay at those), but I have to admit that this was tough and, at some places, quite concerning. And that was only during the "easy" route consisting of the two largest size of pipes.
After completing that, we were asked if we wanted to carry on with the smaller pipes. We were pretty unanimous in declining the offer and as we got ready to depart the system properly were relieved that it was all over. Until one of the kids asked if we were sure we wanted to give up.
Of course that was enough to trigger doubt in most of our minds. How could we walk away not even having tried the smaller pipes? Well, we couldn't, and so five of us went back in.
The second smallest of the remaining pipes weren't that bad actually; I had to lie flat on my front and was able to shuffle along a few inches at a time. It was slow, but I had a method so wasn't too worried. The plan was to reach the cavity at the end of that pipe section and then take the escape hatch out. I was last in line to go through though and it was only when I got to the cavity that I realised the rest of the group had carried on, down the smallest of the available pipes. And that meant that I had to too - I couldn't bail out now!
Thinking back, this pipe was only a couple of inches wider than my hips. This meant that my shoulders couldn't fit, not squarely anyway, so there was no way I could crawl like I had been before. After asking the advice of the host (who had doubled back overground to the aforementioned escape hatch), I lied down on my back, one arm stretched out in front of me, and the other pointing downwards toward my feet. I don't even know how I travelled forward in that position (it may have involved rolling on my shoulders or something), but eventually I made it through to the other end.
It was both physically and mentally challenging, and so also really rewarding. Once you commit to tackling a pipe you couldn't bail out or give up. This meant that you had to really push and rely on yourself or risk spending a long time in a pipe on your jones; real mind over matter stuff. I really enjoyed it!
Saturday, July 7
I still remember the first time I saw Jessel, almost ten years ago. He was that guy who caught the attention of the only Asian girl in our fresher Computing class at Imperial, but I only hated him for a day or two because of that.
Anyway, it's probably inappropriate to talk about that in too much detail at the moment, for today was the day Jessel got married to Rupal. They're both Hindu Gujarati, so the ceremonies were performed at a temple in North London. I've only ever been to one Hindu wedding before but that was Gujarati too, so I kinda knew what to expect (although level of violence during the groom's shoe grabbing at the start took me by surprise. Blimey. Isn't that particular ritual supposed to be fun?).
A lot of people comment about how long Hindu wedding ceremonies usually are; in comparison a Muslim wedding is over in the blink of an eye. They're certainly not boring though, and I like the way each ritual and tradition has a meaning behind it. However since we had a bit of a reception too (with food, announcements and the civil ceremony), the whole thing lasted for quite a while - six hours in fact.
So yet another IC chap bites the dust, leaving those of us not quite there yet in a shrinking minority. It was clear that both Jessel and Rupal (both looking very fine in a down-to-earth and not-overdone way) were really happy by the fun they were having; and the rest of us were right there with them in all the merriment.
You would have thought that the fourth in a series spanning almost twenty years would be nothing more than a nostalgic cash in. That those in charge wouldn't bother putting in much time or effort to making this actually any good. Well I did anyway, and that's probably why I was so pleasantly surprised that Die Hard 4.0 was a pretty decent flick.
It's also a pretty decent Die Hard flick. We have the same guns, explosions, bad guys and, of course, John McClane. Heck we almost have the same plot as the previous three films too. And technically the acting and direction are as gritty, to the point and fast-paced as usual - the only updates are in the CGI and stunt department. But the lack of originality matters little here; it all works just as well as it used to so it's all good.
Admittedly there are points in DH4.0 where you realise that films like these won't be able to survive much longer. As the audience demands more from their action heroes, the trials and tribulations they all go through become even more ambitious and so implausible (at one point McClane is riding a jet fighter, rodeo style). But such "progression" can be forgiven provided it doesn't go to far; I for one hope that this marks a good end to the Die Hard franchise.
All in all DH4.0 is a good solid action flick, that proves there is still a market for this kinda old-school stuff. I enjoyed it anyway, and so it receives a jolly good recommendation from me.
Friday, July 6
Today I went for my The Apprentice Season 4 interview. Now before any of you accuse me of being a desperate attention seeking media whore, I would like to qualify my application by stating I did it for a friend - two friends in fact, both of whom are much better qualified for the job than I am and both of whom were in two minds to apply before I offered to accompany them in doing so. What a mate I am, eh?
But of course, they both lost their nerve coming up to their respective interview dates and so pulled out. I should really know better actually; the same thing happened in December 2003 with the Bollywood Star thing- I guess some people are all mouth and are unable to take that extra step they committed to.
So then why did I still go, even though I had no intention of progressing through the show? Well, I never regretted continuing with Bollywood Star; in fact I'd put it as one of my top and most fulfilling experiences ever. Maybe I'd have a good time, or maybe I'd see the future contestants due on the show. However it turned out, the most I had to lose was a few hours off work... And so off I went, CV in hand.
My interview-slash-audition was scheduled for 3:30pm. I had a hunch that it was going to run late and since I was only a five minute bus ride away I didn't get there too early. The waiting room was tense and it was clear that I was the only one there taking it not-so-seriously. I was presented by a room full of suits (both literally and metaphorically) but that was all they had in common. Various ages and backgrounds surrounded me and so I inevitably ended up chatting to two Asian candidates who were around my age.
After a ten minute or so wait, ten of us (including the two I was talking to) were called into a smaller more private room. We were faced with a panel of around seven producers, and were asked to spend thirty seconds talking about why we were right for the job. There were some impressive statements made; until it was my turn of course. I had no game plan and so mumbled something about not having been exploited to my full capacity yet, and how I didn't need the job anyway; I should be asking Sir Alan why he wanted me. Thinking back, I don't think anyone found that as funny as I did.
They then did the whole Pop Idol thing where they point five people out and lead them away, in order to tell the rest to go home. I won't say which half I was in, but I was back in the office by 4pm. Maybe I should have worn a shirt. Or, you know, shoes.
But it was an interesting experience anyhow; Comparing this to the day-long antics of Bollywood Star in Birmingham (gosh, I'm such a reality show applicant junkie now), it was in no way as fun and brilliant and memorable - and I had taken it as seriously as I'm sure they did me. I'll definitely be watching the next season of the show in a new light too!
I went to my first Sanjee tonight. I'm still not clear as to what one is, but today seemed to have been the equivalent to a mehndi in an Asian Muslim wedding. I say equivalent with respect to timing only; yes, it was held a few days before the wedding itself, but it was nothing like any mehndi/haldi I've been to.
Firstly, the men participated as much as the ladies did. There was no special tent for women to have all the fun in, while the guys skulked elsewhere waiting to be called upon to drive home. Secondly, there was live music and singing, although I supposed some mehndis deliver that too. There were also fewer formal ceremonies too; just a couple of set dances really as opposed to the applying of mehndi, oil or whatever Asian Muslims do nowadays.
It was really enjoyable actually. I've no idea of the formal names of the particular sessions, but there were three dances, each lasting between thirty minutes and an hour: one going in a circle, one with three steps and a jump and then, of course, the dandia (something I feel a bit of a poignant affinity too, possibly due to growing up with them when I was younger). And yes, I participated in all three. I did okay, but knew to quit after I started crashing into people.
A few friends of the wedding family did individual performances - singing and dancing and the like. Dinner was served half way too; the bride's side is strictly vegetarian and teetotal (a pleasant surprise to me), so it was really nice to not have to worry about what I was eating or drinking. A couple of us even managed to get away to read Maghrib during a break in the proceedings.
The groom being a university friend also made it special - unfortunately it's not often we all get together nowadays, let alone at such an auspicious occasion. It was wonderful to see how far people had come - each of us hitting that age where we now bring new partners, new characters and new stories to these kind of things. And oh, I don't think anyone would mind me commenting on how positively gorgeous all the female guests were (although if I get lynched over the next couple of days, you'll now know why).
Despite planning on leaving by ten, it was clear that wouldn't be possible. Still, any price I pay tomorrow trying to stay awake is a fair price to pay for having had such a good time. The tone has now been set for the weekend.
Wednesday, July 4
I've managed to annoy at least two of my feminine friends over these past couple of days, each on separate unrelated occasions but largely for the same reason. Namely, by observing that marriage is an acceptable exit strategy for those women who may be bored of work or study or whatever. That they were the ones in particular complaining about their work or study or whatever probably didn't help them see any less red, but hey.
Now, before the other irrational feminists amongst my readership (you know who you are) cut my virtual nuts off, let me elaborate. Firstly, I'm not recommending for an moment that a woman should marry just to escape the drags of work. I'm also not suggesting that women should leave work if and when they get married. And finally I'm not saying that finding an exciting guy is an easier task than finding an exciting job. I'm merely saying that for most (if not all) women, not working after marriage can be a viable, acceptable and, sometimes, even guaranteed option open to them.
Yes, I totally recognise that there are relationships out there where the man makes the home while the woman earns the wage. And yes, there are plenty of cases where women become even more professional or employable after getting hitched. All that is fine and dandy, but it doesn't actually take anything away from the point I'm trying to make.
Let's take a hypothetical couple. Both are professional, both are good at their jobs and both earn the same wage. Now let's say that both want to leave work. Faced with this dilemma (and assume that they each want to quit with equal desire and are both equally equipped to run the home if they did), who would you suggest has the bigger responsibility hanging over them to bring home the bacon?
There's nothing old fashioned or sexist to say that it'd be the guy. In fact, I'd say it's a better idea to use the established precedent than to say, flip a coin to decide instead. In fact, both the aforementioned annoyed friends of mine implicitly agreed with this notion when they accepted that the involvement of kids would make it a no-brainer for the woman to stay at home. It seems that it's okay for women to have ultimately "just-in-case" defined roles, but only when they want them.
So no, I'm not trying to be (that) offensive when suggesting that women can bail out of a boring requirement to work simply by marrying a guy. It's more a statement about how guys can't really rely on any equivalent social tradition to do the same and how you don't hear them complaining; they have to keep quiet and suck it up, establishing their careers whether they want to or not: after all, they're the ones who'll be bailing out the women when they decide enough is enough for them.
Tuesday, July 3
Possibly an obvious one this time around, but seeing how previously being married to Salman Rushdie disqualified her from being a choice, Padma being back on the market now secures her place in the list.
Padma is clearly attractive, previously being a model. But her talent doesn't end there - she's managed to establish herself as a pretty good celebrity cook too. Take note all my single Asian lady friends: see, it is possible.
 not that I have anything against marriage per se, you just have to question the sanity of a woman who would get with Rushdie in the first place. A friend thinks he's just run out of money.
Monday, July 2
More of the same from the Ocean's lot. And just like the sequel, this seems to have even less of an impact than its predecessor.
That's not to say it isn't an enjoyable film to watch. It is: the cast are as smooth and witty (I laughed out loud quite a bit) as they usually are and the plot as accessibly complex as it always is. And therein lies the problem; you can't help but feel that you've seen this all before. You see the twists coming from a mile off now and even the characters appear to be bored of it all. There just isn't any of the original epic quality that the first two had running through them in spades - at times this just seems to be a bunch of clever-yet-cheap sketches hanging off of a frame of a film.
Still, it's worth the one last push to watch Ocean's Thirteen anyway. And if you consider it as just another long episode of an enjoyable franchise rather than a free standing feature film, you may enjoy it even more.
Since my return I've had many people asking me how my holiday was. Interestingly most, if not all, of these conversations go something like this:
Them: So how was your trip?
Me: It was frikin' aweome.
Them: So... Did you find anyone?
I mean, what, is Australia famous for its desperate women or something? Was hooking up with a sheila the only reason people thought I was travelling half way across the world for? Have I somehow failed you all by coming back empty handed?
(And if you haven't guessed by now, the answer the the actual question is a resounding no).
Sunday, July 1
An exclusively vegetarian restaurant? How absurd! Except the lack of meat didn't take anything away from what was a pretty good place to eat. Not only that, but for a Muslim it's great too since you don't have to worry about what you're actually eating.
The buffet was on which meant a) I ate well and b) I ate a range of things. All were adequate, with a few things especially standing out. The restaurant itself was okay - nothing spectacular but clean.
They always welcome our large group of post-ICSS teachers, and the buffet and a drink today came to a reasonable nine quid per head. All in all a winner... we'd probably come here more often if we didn't miss our meat so much!