Tuesday, May 29

Climbed! Shak Climbed! Click for more info

It seems like ages ago that I first announced the climb way back in April. With God's grace the total amount raised stands at a whopping £1,630, far outstripping the amount raised the last time I asked for sponsorships. A big thanks to all that showed support; I'm flattered to be honest!

If you haven't yet donated but would like to, the Justgiving page is still open. And of course I'm still available to take cash or cheques. I'll no longer be bothering anyone to do so, so don't worry about being nagged.

The whole Ulfa Aid thing was different from my usual activities in that it really would have been difficult to do without the support of others, especially with respect to the Chelsea thing. Because of this, I'm going to take the unusual step of name checking all that made it so possible:

  • Mohammad, for lending me his walking boots.
  • Sarah and Fatima, for choosing to keep me company on the late Saturday flight up.
  • Sohail, for dropping me off after leaving Stamford Bridge.
  • Sofia, for allowing us to use her home as a launch pad.
  • Sarah again, for actually bringing food for the climb.
  • Sofia again, for actually bringing water for the climb.
  • Zulfiqar, for securing me a bed in the hostel in my absence.
  • Nazia, for letting me know about the climb in the first place. Oh, and for lending me her stick.
  • My Dad, for lending me his badass Puma jacket.
And as promised, here are the name checks for the more generous sponsors (as well as the Justgiving donations, I've had a fair amount given directly, details of which can be found here):

  • Hamida (possibly dumping interest, but I don't care),
  • Mohammad (generous as ever),
  • Grishma (was probably drunk or something),
  • My Mum (biased probably),
  • Steve (even if it was just to beat someone else),
  • Michael Hintze (my boss),
  • Anon (my largest donor chose to do it on the sly),
  • John Johnson (from work and out of nowhere, so especially thankful)
  • Paul Casey (ditto),
  • Martin Pabari (ditto),
  • My Dad (even though he did it via Justgiving humph).
I'm sure I've missed loads from both lists, so make sure you keep coming back for any updates. However you gave support, a big big thanks; perhaps it's not my place to do so but I am taking it personally and so am extremely flattered.

Monday, May 28

Food: Shish Mahal Click for more info

Apparently one of Glasgow's oldest Indian restaurants, we chose this place based on the near flawless opinion of the collective Internet.

And it wasn't wrong in this case either. Lunch was picked off a very flexible set-menu, and the food was pretty good: it was lighter than other Indians but without skimping on quality or taste. We had prawns, shish kebabs, fish pakora, dhal, methi keema and lots of various chicken dishes. All were consistently good. Drinks on the other hand were disappointing; just stick to water and cokes.

The restaurant wasn't too fancy, but it was clean and tidy and so pleasant enough. The staff were very friendly and helped us in choosing our food. Best of all, the place was damn cheap, with us struggling to finish a spread costing not more than £8.50 per head. Brilliant.

I'm not Glaswegian so I can't say for sure, but I don't think you could do much better than this place. Especially after, say I dunno, climbing a mountain or something. Much recommended.

Coming Down: The Day After

It's funny how even the mankiest public-use shower feels like heaven after you've hiking for ten hours. But such was the case after the climb; most of the ten on our group had decided to spend the night at the hostel again. We were all still buzzing from the climb and it was that strange limbo period where we could do nothing but be excited and happy. After all, work was still a whole day away.

The excitement hadn't quite ended for all of us though. The friend who had missed her train was a bit stuck for somewhere to stay - the hostel was full by that point, and the management refused to allow them to squeeze in with someone else. Still, after a good three hours of toing and froing, the issue was finally resolved, and although it must have been a nightmare for everyone concerned, I just saw it as another extreme point of an already extreme break.

Another example of this was the problem we had with food. Apparently, Fort William is not London. Crazy, no? Us being in a self catered hostel meant that we had to pretty much fend for ourselves; it now being around 11pm on a Sunday night meant that this was a nigh on impossible thing to do.

But even that was fun trying (although perhaps just for me). I was alone in my conviction of being able to find something, anything provided we had the right mindset, and barely convinced a car-full of people to come with me on this mission to feed the team.

After twenty or so minutes of driving, we had no luck. We tried everything, from asking some revellers of kebab shops in the area (there were none) to literally begging McDonald's staff (who were closing up at the time) to spare us some scraps. Eventually we managed to find a 24 hour petrol station (which was a novelty in itself) from which we bought Pot Noodles and microwavable pizza-sandwich things. I suspect that I was alone in seeing this as a result.

Another late night then, with another early start to look forward to. Again, I slept like a baby, but managed to drag myself out of bed in order to pack up for the journey home. We had booked the latest flight back to Heathrow in order to spend the day chilling in Glasgow. In hindsight I reckon all of us wanted to just go home, but we implicitly decided to make the most of our time there anyway. At least we weren't too achy - my calves were a bit stiff, and other people had their own minor issues, but on the whole I was quite impressed at the lack of physical effect on our bodies.

And we did. The drive back to Glasgow took quite a while; there was lots of traffic presumably made up of people wanting to get back before the Bank Holiday ended. I had looked up a restaurant beforehand, and we headed straight there in order to grab some lunch. After that, we visited Glasgow Central Mosque (nice) in order to pray, which then left us an hour or so in which to take in Glasgow itself. The mosque was close to the city centre so we spent our remaining time there, eating ice cream and cookies in an attempt to recover some of the calories we had lost on climb yesterday, while the local youth entertained us with their impressive breakdancing and clowning about.

But then it was time to start heading back to London. Apart from having to pick up only to check in the lost luggage that had eventually made it to Glasgow, the flight back was uneventful. Thankfully: I at least was too knackered for any further excitement. I got home by 1130pm, perfect timing to get enough sleep for work the next day. Bah.

What an awesome, awesome way to spend a Bank Holiday weekend. So yes, August: you had better deliver at least half as much as this one did...

Sunday, May 27

The Climb

I've always claimed never to mind lodgings too much - I don't usually need five star luxury on my days away from home. And such was the case this time too; The hostel wasn't too shabby and I slept like a baby.

Breakfast closed at 8:30, after which we had a brief, uh, briefing. We were told how to behave on the trail, why we were doing what we were doing; standard boilerplate really. I was surprised to be told that we were going to be making our own way up the mountain in our own self defined groups. I'm still not sure how Ulfa Aid was involved in the event actually; we were self-funded and could have managed the administration too, so this palming off was a bit cheeky considering the circumstances. Those in need are benefiting from this though and that was some incentive, but unfortunately I'm not sure whether I would bother to do something similar via a charity again.

We hit the Ben Nevis path a bit later than we wanted to, at around 9:50am. By our reckoning, it was a seven or eight hour round trip and so we were hoping to be back by 5 or 6pm. How wrong we were...

My baggage-less friend managed to scavenge enough equipment to feel confident enough to start the climb. My leg was okay too; a bit sore but nothing I wasn't able to handle; it seems that you need a different set of muscles when climbing a mountain compared with those you use when sprinting. I was carrying painkillers just in case though.

Our group started with ten members, something that was pretty ambitious from the start. As the different levels of skill became apparent we began to drift: ten became five and then five became even less. Not that this was a bad thing - the last thing anyone was expected to do was compromise their experience in order to superficially keep together. I had a right laugh with my fellow climbers anyway, and the jokes and talk we made between us the journey that much more enjoyable.

Otherwise, the climb was around half of what I had expected. A lot of walking, snacking, checkpointing, stopping for breaks, drinking water from falls, tripping and stumbling. The terrain varied as much as the weather; we walked through mud, clambered over rocks and slipped on snow and ice. I didn't need my fleece in the end, but it was chilly enough to feel it whenever we stopped as well as for my fingers and lips to become truly wrecked.

After having walked for around four hours, we were still not at the top. Perhaps it's the same with any mountain, but Ben Nevis had this habit of presenting deceptive ridges that hid the real top - we had countless false alarms as we overcame each edge. But that just made overcoming the real topmost edge that much more emotional.

The top was pretty amazing, and I don't feel at all cheap presenting it as the highlight of the whole weekend. The bright and crisp snow covered plateau represented five hours of relatively tough climbing, and in return we were rewarded by some awesome views - apparently getting up there with miles of visibility in had was a pretty rare thing to experience. I'm also not ashamed to have done the whole "I'm the highest person in the UK thing) too. Photos of the summit (as well as the climb in general) are on my Picasa.

But the cold reminded us that we weren't supposed to hang around too long (one of the group had a train to catch, even though it was clear to the rest of us that they weren't going to make it). After around 25 minutes or so of acting like the kings and queens of the world we begun our descent, our spirits charged with the achievement of making it so far in the first place. Now, in theory this was supposed to have been faster than going up but it was soon clear that we hadn't really improved on our pace. We weren't in any rush (well, apart from my train-catching friend anyway), so decided to take our time instead.

The way down wasn't uneventful. The weather finally broke, and we were caught in some pretty harsh hail an hour or so into the descent. It felt like something from a film, possibly Lord of the Rings even, each of us on a quest to get home. Revisiting the views and landmarks we had seen on the way up was a pretty surreal experience too; it had felt like days since we started our journey, and each point reminded us of how we felt going up and how closer we were getting to home. It was almost poignant.

We finally got back to the hostel at around eight. The round trip took us about ten hours - five up and five down. Although I was never really worried about the physical side of it, the time was much longer than I had expected - if I was a gentleman I would say it was due to my bad leg rather than the women in our group taking their sweet time.

Despite presenting it as an easy ride before I did it, climbing Ben Nevis was a wonderful experience. I'll stick with my decision not to train specifically for it; ironically if I had I think I would have been disappointed with it. Having said that, the climb was challenging enough to make the whole thing feel like a brilliant achievement of which I am proud. I thoroughly recommend everyone to give it a go; all you really need are good footwear, a good spirit and good company and I guarantee you'll have as much fun as I did today.

Getting to Glen Nevis

After realising that the only way I could make it to Scotland on time would be to catch a late Saturday flight, I came to terms with the fact that I would have to make my way up there all on my jones, missing out on the Saturday's events and generally be considered the outsider for arriving late.

Luckily some mates had kindly agreed to sacrifice their chance at an early arrival and keep me company on the way up there. Even better was how one of these friends lived a good ten minutes away from Heathrow; I got my brother to drop me off there after the Chelsea thing in good time for the flight that evening at 20:25. It's funny how things work out, eh?

We got fed, used the bathrooms and then headed off to the airport. Our flight was delayed a bit but we made up for it in the air. We were making some pretty good time and were pretty much on for our midnight arrival at the youth hostel (Glen Nevis is around a two hour drive from Glasgow), when all of a sudden disaster struck. A piece of our luggage hadn't made it to baggage reclaim.

Despite being prepared for us (they didn't seem very surprised at the loss of luggage) British Airways were not very helpful. It was late in the day and we were on their last flight; the bag wasn't going to make it today. It would have been a miracle to see it at all before the climb, at which point there was probably no need to have it at all. Quite understandably, my friend was pretty upset at the prospect of not being able to climb Ben Nevis without her gear.

We couldn't really do anything about it though, so we checked out our rental car and made our way to Glen Nevis, a good hour or so behind schedule. The drive was uneventful and we made it to the hostel by around 00:45; I was in bed by 2am. Apart from Fajr, we were supposed to be up by around 7:30 for breakfast so I wasn't going to get much sleep tonight. Still, that was all part of the fun. Or at least that's what I was hoping.

Saturday, May 26

Stamford Bridge

The company I work for has a box at Stamford Bridge. Amongst the usual benefits of such a thing (not that I've been to watch a match there yet), employees get to play a full game of football there once a year. Today was the first time we were going to do that. My brother was to go with me - he's a big time Chelsea fan so if anything he and his son would have a nice Saturday out.

Now, I'm not a footballer. I used to play with friends pretty regularly at least once a week, but haven't done that for a long while. I like to think that I'm relatively fit though, but even if I could run like a madman on the day I was expecting to be pretty sore for the days after. This was only a problem since I was expecting to climb a mountain tomorrow too. Still, we had a bit of a training match on Tuesday and I was hoping most of the aces due to rust were out of the way. I was pretty confident that I'd get through it all okay.

I've never actually been to a football match before. I've been to (mainly empty) stadiums so entering Stamford Bridge itself wasn't that amazing. We didn't even get to use the away changing rooms like we thought we were going to. I was pretty underwhelmed to be honest. Still we were there for the game, not the changing rooms. We got kitted up and headed toward the field.

Paradoxically, the pitch was both big and small. Small, because it was no way near the size it appears via the fish eye lenses we see through when watching a game on our television screens. Big, because I'd had never played a match on a full pitch before. Our playground style of playing football was sure to wear us out pretty quickly; luckily there was enough substitutes on each side to cap the total time played each.

Warming up was a nightmare. I did it in the way I would have for my usual running, but this was a clear mistake; as soon as I tried to sprint I felt a sharp pain in the centre of my right quadricep. Something was seriously wrong, and all of a sudden I was thinking about the security of the match and, more importantly, the climb tomorrow.

I wasn't starting the game so I took the twenty minutes of so I had to try to stretch it out. No joy. Although the pain had subsided, there was no way I was going to manage anything more than a jog out there. In hindsight I should have pulled out completely; I'm no expert but this felt pretty serious. The excitement was too much though and when I was called up to play I acted as if nothing was wrong.

I was never the most skilful with the ball during training and so not much was expected from me in play - I was told that I had exceptional pace and that it should come in handy. Due to the injury I had none of that today; generally I was pretty impotent out there. From my chosen position of "hovering over the right somewhere" I got a few touches on the ball and closed down a few people from the other side, but each time I tried to out pace someone I would normally have done without effort, a sharp pain shot down my right hand side and convinced me to stop.

And after a total of around thirty minutes or so of play I did completely. England (our side) had already scored by then (the only goal of the game) and so in some tenuous way I thought I had done my bit, even though I wasn't close to being out of breath. My leg was in pretty bad shape, even when standing, and I had become pretty concerned. After my shower, I met up with my brother and nephew to wait for our chance to take a penalty, at which point I finally managed to score.

That was pretty much it for the afternoon; our time at Stamford Bridge was up and I had another rather large thing to worry about, magnified even more by the sharp pain I felt shooting down my leg each time I took a step toward it.

As always, pictures from the day out should be up on Picasa any time now.

Maybe Taking On Too Much

So the second May Bank Holiday is here, and I'm a bit worried. I think I might have taken a bit too much on these next three days; in a bit I'll be leaving for Stamford Bridge in order to play a match on a pitch used for the Premiership, and from there I'll be heading to Heathrow in order to catch my flight to Scotland.

I only realised that they clashed after I had taken them both on; I could have backed out of one, but each are pretty unique opportunities for me (I doubt I'd have another chance to do either) so I didn't want to. Biting the bullet and taking the latest flight I could, I convinced myself I could do them both.

Separately, each of these would have been a breeze to take part in. But packing for two things, mentally preparing for both, and wondering whether I'll forget twice the amount of gear as usual was a bit panic inducing. I've tried to reduce it to a series of logical items on a checklist but that's only as good as your understanding of what will happen.

Anyway, one thing at a time. Although I think I'm ready for both, I'm not thinking of Scotland right now. Let me get to Stamford Bridge first and get that out of the way.

Till Tuesday!

Friday, May 25

XKCD Click for more info

The last part of the current XKCD Choices arc:

An age old, obvious lesson.

Thursday, May 24

XKCD Click for more info

Continuing on from the previous XKCD:

Funny how a simple strip can vindicate the choices you want to make in life, eh? IT'S LIKE THEY KNOW ME.

Monday, May 21

XKCD Click for more info

Today, XKCD pretty much sums up how I feel about certain aspects in my life right now:

It also offers some possible solutions. Oh and as always, remember to check the title.

Sunday, May 20

Segregated Weddings

I just came back from what I can only describe as a super-segregated wedding reception. Now, I'm not complaining; I'll admit that I prefer the more co-ed kinda party, but I think guys are able to have fun in a single sex environment as well.

The venue was the London Muslim Centre, next door to the East London Mosque. Now segregated Muslim weddings are normal now (it would be pretty strange to go to a mixed one these days), but today the women were directed to a whole other floor. It made perfect practical sense since we all had the space and freedom to do what we do when we're in the exclusive company of members of the same sex (so Muslim women could take their hijabs off, while men would scratch their balls and fart without due care).

Overall, it was a nice wedding. The company was great (although there were only three of us who knew each other) and the food awesome also. We were all turned over rather efficiently, but we didn't really mind that much seeing how we didn't really know anyone there.

Still, I can't help but find the level of segregation a bit of a shame. I mean we were there on the girl's side, but we didn't even get the chance to see her or congratulate her personally ourselves. It was almost like taking only taking half a part in the celebrations... But then I guess the most important thing was that the happy couple were comfortable, and regarding that I'm sure that they were.

Saturday, May 19

Trekking Around in Epping Forest

A bunch of us climbing Ben Nevis next week decided to have a bit of a trial run today by having a little walk through Epping forest. We were joined by a few that were not doing the whole mountain thing and all in all there were seven of us.

We were meant to have left at around noon, but we were typically late starting and almost an hour behind schedule before we took our first step. We did have a route in mind before we left from Chingford Station, but were soon going off the beaten path - experts at orienteering we were not.

Still, it was a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon; we were going at it at a leisurely pace, chatting away. We stopped for lunch at around 3pm before heading back. I was running a bit late, and so left the main group in order to catch the Central Line from Loughton station. I was back home by 5pm; here is a quick map of the route I took.

Like I mentioned above, today was supposed to give us a taste for next week's more ambitious expedition, and to be honest I now can't wait.

Engagements and Birthdays

Not that I'm any kind of social butterfly, but tonight was an especially busy time for me. Ordinarily I would have loved to have been in the middle of such a fight over my company, except that I actually wanted to be in two places at the same time this evening.

So I had a close friend's engagement party in Central London followed by another friend's birthday party in the East. The plan was to have dinner at the former since the latter type almost always ends up being late ones, but due to timing issues I had to bail without food.

I made it to Walthamstow's Chilli n Spice for half of the main course and the oh-so-valuable cake cutting. More importantly I caught the crowd before they moved onto a friends house for tea (or milk where applicable) and musical DVDs. Don't ask.

All in all a productive Friday night, social-wise. Almost enough for the whole weekend in fact!

Thursday, May 17

Learning From The Mistakes of Others Click for more info

Essex man in mountain trouble

Oh dear. Perhaps I should buy those boots then.

Wednesday, May 16

Goodbye Ghazal

And just like that, she's gone. My favourite candidate of all series so far, Ghazal's fate in the show was as secure as the future of the Jam trainers she headed the creation of. Sigh. Ironically, she was performed the best in her final hour; it's just a shame that the talent demonstrated (some great hair and a wicked laugh) wasn't really relevant to the task at hand.

An even bigger disappointment is how the treachery of Katie might have had something to do with her exit. I know we're on the all-seeing side of the television screen, but how can the candidates not pick up on her game? Maybe the manipulation of others is a simple thing to get away with after all...

So, who to support now? Well, Naomi and Jadine are definitely the weakest of the bunch; I expect them to disappear soon. Katie, who is still in only because she makes good telly, will be discarded once the serious picking begins. That leaves Simon, Tre, Kristina and Lohit and of these the guys definitely have the edge. After that it's way too close to call, although I know I'll be cheering for Tre.

But for now, goodbye Ghazal. You were great while you lasted and for someone of your age you've achieved much more than many of us watching ever will. However at the end of the day I can't really push myself to disagree with Sir Alan's decision; ultimately an Apprentice you are not.

Monday, May 14

Rafta Rafta Click for more info

Currently playing at the National Theatre on the Southbank, Rafta Rafta tells the story of a just married couple who have chosen to move in with the groom's family in their family home in Bolton.

We witness the usual fun and games typically associated the whole "living with the in-laws" thing and at first, things seem to go relatively smoothly for all concerned. But then a particular bedroom issue begins to cause problems for the couple, their respective parents and then, rather inevitably, the wider community.

Rafta Rafta is pretty much as you would expect it to be. Leveraging the Indian context in which it's based (it was originally based around a white family) the jokes and funnies really could have come straight from GGM and the like. This isn't a bad thing and on the whole they treat the cultural issue with respect and even the most sensitive would find it difficult to become offended by some of the gags.

Acting was alright with some solid performances from all, in particular Harish Patel, Shaheen Khan and Meera Syal (and that despite her constantly flipping accent). The production itellf was adequate too; there was a single (albeit well done) set of the cross sectioned Bolton home, but a clever use of light and semi-transparent screen made this more flexible than it would have been otherwise.

As I've mentioned already, the script and direction were funny rather than deep - the same could have been said for the plot as a whole, so don't expect to be challenged too much by this play. There's a certain shallow feel to how certain issues were treated, which is a shame; as if it wasn't possible for a mainly Asian audience to consume anything more difficult. Still, this made the play very accessible to all, even those without an inside knowledge of the culture.

Easy going and fun, I don't think Rafta Rafta was a bad night out at all. I did leave feeling slightly underwhelmed, and can only wonder what it could have been if pushed a bit more. As it stands, however, it can only manage to be a strong curiosity rather than a must-see.

Saturday, May 12

Shak's Choice: Rose Byrne

First spotted in the recently released Sunshine, the delightful Rose also played a major (bdum tish) role in today's film 28 Weeks Later:

She was also in Troy as the Moon Temple girl who shacked up with Achilles, and is on the cover of May's edition of Tatler. Reportedly she's a bit of a bore, but I feel that that's a silly thing to say. I mean, who cares about that kinda thing anyway?

Film: 28 Weeks Later Click for more info

An apt sequel to the 2002 zombie flick, 28 Weeks Later covers the aftermath of the Rage Virus outbreak. Things seem under control with the US army at the helm, but in a classic example of a "what the hell are you doing?!?" cinema moment (the first of many) things go terribly wrong and the whole thing starts all over again, albeit in a more raw and violent way. Expect scenes way more graphic than last time.

Generally this was more of the same, albeit with a slight different take to the crisis (probably due to the change of director). As before, the plot discards any sense of tradition - heroes become bad guys, twists happen sooner rather than later and there are no happy endings. On top of this, the film seems a bit short - not much actually happens and unlike last time the whole thing is pretty much set in London.

The location is still as ace as before. There's nothing as chilling as a deserted and condemned London; it was especially strange watching this in West India Quay, just next door to where the beginning of the film was set. And I must admit I spent a lot of the way home looking over my shoulder, just in case I spotted a victim of Rage charging toward me.

Not as rewarding as I hoped it'd be, Weeks is still worth a watch if you wanted to know what exactly happens next.

Tuesday, May 8


xxxx said (15:40):
    im in my new office
Shak says (15:53):
    any good?
xxxx says (16:00):
    nice enough
xxxx says (16:01):
    not to happy about the gents
Shak (16:02):
    maybe you should check out some of the women instead?
xxxx says (16:03):
    ha ha

The Karma of Sleep

Sometimes I wish I could survive on seven hours a night of sleep, as opposed to the normal eight I get. I just know the working week will suffer for all the late nights I had this weekend.

I wish I wasn't so reliant on a fixed amount of sleep! It's such a waste of time.

Monday, May 7

Bank Holiday Chilling

You know, as fun as it is to get away for mini breaks over our long weekends, I've had some fantastic times at home too. I got to experience the best of both worlds this time, what with Geneva for Saturday and Sunday, and a fantastic chilled out lunch-dinner today.

It was supposed to be a barbecue, but that idea was soon dampened by the weather. Not that it made a difference - the food was great as expected (including a very scrumptious Chocolate Fudge Cake), and the company made up for any gloominess outside. We had cussing matches, immaturity and deeper conversations. We offended and endeared each other. We talked business as well as pleasure.

My only regret was that it happened to be a school night. Although I stayed as late as I could (and had been there for six hours or so already) I had already compromised my week ahead by missing my bedtime by such a margin. But then sleep is a insignificant price to pay for such joyous occasions, right?

Film: Spider-Man 3 Click for more info

The latest superhero smash to make our screens, Spider-Man 3 had the challenge of a blindingly good pedigree to live up to. And although it doesn't quite live up to it, it turned out to be pretty good all the same.

It improves on 2 just as 2 did on the original - consistent acting and scripts, better effects, more action and even more pace in the storyline. And I think that's where it kinda let itself down; there is so much packed into this film you eventually realise that it was impossible for the film makers to contain it all satisfactorily.

To that end, the quite superb battle scenes seem pasted together by the filler making up the rest of the film, some of it quite tenuous but all of it taking a back seat to the action. This is a bit of a shame, since it's the balance between the two that made the previous two flicks so great.

So, disappointing overall but a must see anyway; Spider-Man 3 ends up being a bitter pill you just can't resist swallowing and enjoying anyway.

Sunday, May 6

Geneva, Day Three: Pointful Wondering

Since we had managed to strike off most of our objectives day before, we had left this day free to do nothing. The sun had finally broken, leaving Geneva itself bright and dry.

But first we had to return our rental car. For some reason we had been caught totally off guard with this and risked returning it late (if at all - it turned out that we were up against closing time rather than our own return slot) and we hadn't even refuelled it yet. Cripes.

After a quick breakfast (and as an aside I think it's perfectly acceptable to have a hotel breakfast in your night clothes) and shower we were off, hunting around for a gas station. We finally found one, and got the car back to the depot just as the lady was turning the key to lock up. At this point I made a promise to myself to make sure we were at the airport two hours before out flight; I wondered if we had any more luck left for the remainder of the break.

The Geneva Marathon was held on Sunday, but we only caught the final stages of the race due to the shenanigans that morning. The rest of the day was spent wandering around the streets of Geneva without any real plan, chatting away and checking out the "atmosphere". And for those who want to know I found Geneva very lacking with respect to pretty women. Perhaps I was mistaking it for France, but I did expect quite a bit more.

We accidentally found a cathedral with a public tower, allowing us to see Geneva from pretty high up. Visibility had really cleared by then and we were able to (finally) see Mont Blanc and the lesser Alps; in some ways I held regret not being able to up close the day before. Pictures from all three days can be found on my Picasa.

As planned, we headed to the airport sooner rather than later. My friend is a frequent flyer and so had access to the BA executive lounge thingy - very swish and a nice way to spend time waiting for another delayed flight. But then it was finally time to go home and although we had a really good weekend, I couldn't help but feel that we had judged it perfectly with respect to getting all we could from it. I was glad I had another day left of my long weekend, one I didn't have to spend in Geneva.

Geneva, Day Two: Illegal Immigration

We were already aware of the atrocious weather conditions we were going to get over the weekend, but it was still a bit depressing to witness it first hand. Going for walks and the like was no longer an option. Adding to that the late start and how we didn't have any kind of game plan, we decided to rent a car instead. And so, we headed over to the airport.

The kind lady at the rental place advised us on where to go in order to see some mountains, and which roads to take in order to get there. It seemed pretty easy enough, and we laughed when we were told to make sure we didn't enter Italy accidentally, as if that was even possible. We did however find it odd when asked if we had valid Schengen Visas.

We went on our way. We were warned that we'd be driving on toll roads and so were expecting the kiosks that had greeted us after ten minutes of driving. Realising we had no change between us, we stopped at the small CHANGE shop directly preceding the gates where we thought we had to pay; I jumped out and handed the lady behind the counter 100 Francs to make smaller. I stopped her as I realised she was in fact giving me Euros, explaining that I only needed toll money and didn't plan on leaving Switzerland at all. At that point, I had no idea why she was pointing down the road shouting "France" as if I was stupid, so I left, hoping we could pay by debit or something instead.

Returning to the car and explaining the strange turn of events to my companion we carried on past the toll booth. All of a sudden we noticed all the French flags and road signs around us. It finally clicked with us what had happened and everything finally made sense - the questions about visas, the Euros, everything. We didn't pass a toll booth; no, we had in fact passed a border crossing and were now in France. Whoops.

Now ordinarily this would have been funny. However there was one big problem - that of passports. My friend had rented the car and so had his with him; I was big and clever and sensible and decided to leave mine secure in the hotel safe. That's right folks: I had crossed a European border without a passport.

We decided to carry on with the trip; we had to eventually tackle re-entry into Switzerland anyway and so it made sense to make the most of France while we were already there. After an hour or so of driving (even deeper into France), we arrived at our intended destination of Chamonix Mont Blanc, where we stopped for a while in order to grab some lunch.

Chamonix Mont Blanc is the kinda place Bollywood goes in order to shoot those songs, so if you've seen any Indian movies in the past ten years or so you'll know what it was like. The weather was still crappy so visibility was poor; so much so that we didn't even see Mont Blanc itself. Still, the village itself was nice and picturesque enough.

We got back in the car. The aim now was to leave the main roads and find something a bit more "windy and off the beaten track", and so we headed towards the smallest roads we could see on the map we had. The inclines were a bit of a struggle for our mighty Toyota Yaris, but it turned out to be a good idea anyway: we found some of the most striking views even with the poor visibility. Most of the smaller towns were deserted due to it no longer being the peak ski season, but that gave the place a good sense of isolated calm anyway.

By that point we were kinda done with France. The next stop was Montreux and then on to Vevey for dinner, aiming to get home via the far side of Lake Leman. This of course meant another border crossing, but we were confident; if it was anything like the Swiss-Franco border we had crossed before we wouldn't have any trouble.

Except, of course, it wasn't. Vallorcine was the name of the border town, and as we approached the queue of cars being checked by the armed attendant at the gate... well we started to wonder what exactly we were going to do. The only thing I had was my "European Union Health Card", which looked as pathetic as it sounds. Needless to say, the guard returned this and asked where my passport was. We explained the situation in our finest English accents but to no avail; referring to us as "artistes" we were asked to pull up on the side while it was figured out what to do with us.

The attendant returned after a few minutes, requesting that we get out of the car and stand well clear of it. After checking it through thoroughly he let us go with a smile, advising us to consider travelling with a passport in future. I'm still not sure on what technical ground he had let us continue - he hadn't taken my name or anything so it was probably just luck or procedure to stop those without the proper documents.

But we were back in Switzerland now and decided not to question that fact too much, and headed toward Montreux with good speed. The heavens had opened up again and the rain was steady when we arrived at the lake-side town. We parked up and got out for a while, but quickly decided to move on after realising we didn't actually want to leave the parking lot on foot.

My friend had learned of an Iraqi restaurant situated in the nearby town of Vevey. We had given ourselves an hour to get there but had found it much sooner; the rain had stopped by then so we explored the surroundings before settling to eat at Aladdin. I must admit that it was pretty odd finding such a place in the relative middle of nowhere (they even allowed us to pray), but I guess that just testifies to my friend's resourcefulness - I'm not sure how many of you will ever go to Vevey, but if you do, make sure you check it out.

As it had since begun to rain again we spent the rest of the evening chilling out in Aladdin, me with my ice cream and my friend with his Shisha. But it finally got late and so we started the final drive home. Apart from the odd wrong turning or two it was pretty uneventful - but I had a feeling we both had had enough by that point anyway. All in all we were on the road for around twelve hours (I've plotted the route on Google Maps, here) and we got a lot done for a half day's work. I'm still not quite sure how we had managed it really.

Friday, May 4

Geneva, Day One: Late Arrivals

My friend's invitation to join him in Geneva for the long weekend really couldn't have come at a better time. It was the perfect antidote-cum-reward to the manic hard work of the last few weeks and so I jumped at the chance when he had suggested it. It's also been long overdue; I hadn't been out of the country since Amsterdam last year. A pretty depressing fact, that.

Since I was to catch my flight directly after work, I guess it was inevitable I was going to be late. The fact that I was travelling alone (it was actually the first time I had caught a flight from the UK on my own, ever) didn't help either! I thought I had made it arriving at Heathrow at 16:50 for my 17:35 flight, and even though I had my ticket five minutes later (electronic check-ins rock, no?) I really should have heeded the warnings to come at least an hour before departure.

Security was a nightmare. The process itself was relatively painless, but it still took time to clear the masses of people already there, waiting to start their respective long weekends. My ticket said that my gate would close at 17:15; I got there at 17:18 (my belt in my hand seeing as I didn't have time to put it back on after screening), reassured by the sight of the flight captain boarding the same flight. I had made it and was glad, even after I had realised the flight was going to be delayed till 18:00 anyway.

All stress, be it from the flight or work, was forgotten as soon as I had arrived in Geneva. Since the airport was relatively close to the city, my friend generously offered to meet me there. After checking in and dumping my stuff at the hotel, we went wondering through the streets and taking in the vibe and feel of the place. The lake was pretty nice at night, its famous fountain at full blast (and so prompted the obvious asking of whether anyone could survive being hit by its cannons).

After working up an appetite we ended up at a place near to the hotel - we did the whole fondue thing and although it was okay, we couldn't even finish the single pot between us; I was sweating cheese by the end of it.

Breathing Space

After what seems like the most difficult few weeks at work since I started in my current job, the Friday of the first May Bank Holiday Weekend is finally here. This is good for two reasons: not only did we deliver a major, uh, deliverable to the business, but I'm also nipping off early to catch a flight to Geneva.

I don't talk about work that often on this blog, but the last few weeks have been pretty hard so they deserve a mention. Not only because of the stress it's caused me (which manifested itself in many practical ways), but also because of the more indirect consequences concerning those who know me; if you feel that I've been snubbing you over mail, Messenger or the phone, then this is (probably) why.

So will everything be back to normal after the break? Well to be honest I'm not sure it will be. This current bit of work was only the start of a much larger beast, so there will still be pressure on the team to get things done, at least for a while. I'm getting used to handling it though, so I expect things to become easier in that sense.

All I ask of others is to give me a bit of a break if I appear to be too busy to say hello or anything. It's not out of choice and although I must admit it's nice to be missed, I'm not something that can be called upon on demand!

Wednesday, May 2

A Ransom Note

At the time of writing, the total sponsorship I've received for the Ben Nevis thing totals around £650. If you have given support then you have my eternal gratitude.

However I can't help but notice that those who read my blog (whether I know them personally or not) are somewhat missing for the list of current sponsors. Of course, I understand how you are all busy and stuff, but it has been a while since my initial plea, which happens to be sticking to the top of Radio Shak for those who don't visit regularly - and if the requests I've had to update my blog are anything to go by then you are all reading. I can't help but conclude that some are either being lazy or stingy or even both.

Not that I'm disappointed or anything (hey, I can be tight and lazy with the best of them), but I do owe it to my chosen charity to extor- sorry, I mean encourage any possible sponsorship as much as possible.

And so yes, it seems to have come to this.

I will be putting my blog on an access list from Friday and until a set period after the climb finishes (I've yet to decide how long exactly, but it'll be at least for a week). For those of you who have already shown any support: if you send me your Google account name I'll add you to the list of allowed viewers and hopefully you can continue accessing the site.

For those of you who have not, if you eventually decide to step up I'll be more than willing to take your money and add you to the list as well. Of course, the more you give the better for the charity, but because of the unusual circumstances I'll need at least £15 before allowing access. I may overlook this if you get the money in before Friday.

Yes, it's despicable. But my hand has been forced and no one is more unhappy about this than I am. You can only blame yourselves for this extreme action.


Shak says (13:05):
    really need this weekend
    work is raping me
xxxx says (13:15):
    oh dear
xxxx says (13:16):
    just lie back and think of england