Saturday, June 30

Film: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer Click for more info

Although a vast improvement on their first outing, Rise of the Silver Surfer, is still more of the same comic book team superhero adventure we saw two years ago.

Enjoyable but hardly original, and I'm finding it difficult to talk about this iteration any more than I did the last. If you're a fan of comic book franchises then you'll love this; otherwise you may want to think about watching something else instead.

New Music

The Sweet Escape - Gwen Stefani feat. Akon

I always have a "song of the holiday" and this is official soundtrack to my time in Australia. 97.3FM is to blame, but it's a good song in its own right anyway.

Film: Jhoom Barabar Jhoom Click for more info

Even though I've got a backlog of Hollywood films to watch, my first cinema outing after my time off happens to be Bollywood. Not that I minded much: although I was expecting this to be just okay-nothing-special, it actually turned out to be pretty good fun.

Essentially JBJ is a light-hearted and easy going romantic comedy. It's well built too - I'll even go on to say that it got pretty sophisticated in some places. The leads Abhishek and Preity (still looking good) did a fine job in keeping the film going with their "will they or won't they" shenanigans, while the script provided plenty of laugh out loud moments to keep the film well grounded. The music was a bit poor though, supplying sure fire classics like "Give me my ticket to Hollywood".

We were also treated to a bit of an English twist; there were quite a few cameos by the stable British-Asian drama crew (Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal, Amit Chana and the like), and some pretty specific cultural references too. I'm still figuring out how they managed to pull it off so well.

All in all a nice enough film, and if you don't feel even a little uplifted after watching it I'd accuse you of having no soul. Heartily recommended.

Friday, June 29

Facebook, Finally Click for more info

After years of avoiding anything claiming to be a social network and ignoring countless annoying invite emails ("xxx has added you as a friend!"), I've finally succumbed and signed up to Facebook.

Now that they've (kinda) opened up their technology, I reckon that it's only a matter of time before they become the de facto method of standardising and formalising contacts and relationships, so I figured I should start building my network now. That, and the temptation of poking random women just became too great. That last bit being a joke. Maybe.

Anyway, although I'll be adding as many contacts as I can individually I won't be inviting people massively at once. If you'd like me to be a friend or whatever then follow the link to my profile and add away. See you there!

Link of the Day Click for more info

97.3FM pretty much got me through Brisbane with respect to music. Perhaps it's because Australia import a lot of their music, but this was an unpretentious station playing as much feel good pop from the past three decades as possible. And there weren't many ad/voice breaks either.

It's also yet another attempt to hang on to my time in Australia. Check it out.

Small Worlds

This morning, I bumped into someone I first met on the Whitsundays boat trip last week.

Now although I'm not usually taken aback by chance encounters (I believe that the world is smaller than we think it is; I recognised someone from uni on the flight back from Sydney too), I was kinda stunned when I saw them at Oxford Circus - perhaps it was 'cos the Whitsundays are so far away or maybe it's because I had such a wicked time there.

And although it was only a week ago, it does feel like it was ages more. In fact the memories of Australia as a whole are starting to fade, so it was nice seeing someone who pulled me right back into it. Bizarre.

Wednesday, June 27

Welcome Back, Scrooges

I've now lifted the access restrictions that I had put in place a while back (almost two months ago, it seems) on those who didn't want to cough up sponsorship for the Ben Nevis thing. I'm sure you didn't miss these pages too much (especially as some of you still refused to hand over the dosh), but I think enough time has passed as a show of my appreciation to those that did (thanks again to you guys).

Anyways, enjoy. I know you've missed me.

Back From Australia

Yes, the rumours are true - I landed on good ol' Heathrow tarmac this morning (specifically 5:45am). For those of you wondering how my time in Australia was, I will of course be frantically blogging it all retrospectively. But in the meantime the short version is that it was blummin' awesome, and ranks as one of my best holidays ever.

But for now, a few thoughts on returning to the UK:

  • Although 24 hour flights aren't as bad as they sound, going straight to work after landing is a bit tough. Still at least it's not as bad as the Hong Kong-cum-uni lecture of 2000.
  • No more four minute showers! Not that I was particularly good at restricting mine, but at least now I don't have to feel guilty about that.
  • In just over two weeks some things have changed here at home. I've come back to a new Prime Minister, a home vastly modified and a bedroom that is no longer painted pink. I'm particularly upset about that last one.
  • On the other hand some things never change. Work is the obvious one, and the refurbishment going on at Oxford Circus still hasn't been completed. Although that's been going on for months so I guess there's no reason to expect it to have been done with now.
  • Around two weeks of no Internet, although liberating, is making it painful to come back again. I've caught up with the e-mail part (all four hundred items across three accounts), but groups and news just frighten me. I guess I should make a start...
Anyway, keep coming back for Australia updates. If you actually care, I mean.

Back In London

I landed at Heathrow at around 5:45am this morning and it's good to be back. I've got to go into work today; that should be fun. I'll expect to act like a zombie for the rest of the day.

I'd just like to take this opportunity to thank the lady in seat 26D. She is indeed proof that some people just shouldn't have kids (or at the very least shouldn't fly with them). I'm sure she probably got the worst of the child's manic crying, but that doesn't really compensate for the fact that the flight home was no way near as comfortable as it should have been.

Tuesday, June 26


With only eight Australian Dollars left in my wallet, I managed to get ten Singaporean Dollars (plus change) at the local rip off money changer (hey, I was desperate).

And ten Singaporean Dollars happens to be exactly how much a Burger King Double Whopper with Cheese meal costs. Oh yes. The burger will taste even better now that it's been so efficiently bought.


Changi Airport

Good old Changi airport. I've been here a few times now, each trip leaving me with some pretty fabulous memories.

I've done my prayers already, so there's only one thing left to do now. And that's to get me a Big Mac.

I can't come to Singapore and not grab a burger now, can I?

Halal Sydney

One thing I've been really impressed with is the number of halal joints in and around Sydney.

I just had a halal shawarma in the airport, and apparently there are two halal MacDonalds in the city too, both things you certainly don't get in London.

I guess being close to a major source of halal meat helps, plus the fact that Muslim areas may be a bit more focused here than in London, but still.

Sydney airport also has a prayer room, but that's just to be expected nowadays.

British Airways

Just checked in at Sydney airport for my flight home and I'm amazed how patriotic I'm feeling after seeing the British Airways logo...

Monday, June 25

Mount Coot-tha And The Botanical Gardens

Since I was due to fly this evening I wasn't able to do anything too ambitious. Still, we managed to do quite a bit anyway despite a lazy start. After packing and finishing up my chores, we left after lunch at around 1pm.

First up was Mount Coot-tha, a 25 minute drive from South Bank. This was a real life mountain offering us stunning views of the city and surrounds - visibility was crap, but I could still make out the sea. Photos here.

After taking in the view, I followed a trail to the JC Slaughter Falls. The name made it out to be something pretty exciting, but I was a bit weary having had been disappointed by so called waterfalls before. And so was the case this time too - there wasn't anything to see at all (as a passer-by neglected to tell me till I met with her later, there is no water this time of year. Thanks!). Still the trail was nice: I was on it for over an hour by myself (the aunties I had come with declined the challenge. Humph).

The remaining time was spent walking around a botanical garden at the base of Mount Coot-tha. It was more interesting than it sounds actually, not that I can describe it as anything more than a zoo for plants.

Leaving Brisbane

So I'm now packed and waiting for my lift to the airport. I spent some time just now on the balcony looking over Brisbane, and thinking about my time here. I've done quite a lot these past two weeks (has it really only been that long?), and this definitely ranks as one of my best holidays ever. Still, despite writing about how I'm loving it here and haven't felt homesick yet, I think that I actually want to go home now.

I've pretty much done all I can in Brisbane. I've been a tourist and guest, and to stay any longer would be either an imposition or overkill. Either way, the weather seems to be agreeing with me - it was pretty cold today what with the rain and all.

It seems that this holiday will come to a natural end whether I want it to or not.

Sunday, June 24


I've one more night in Brisbane, and two more in Australia. That means that I've been here for over two weeks now. This in turn is bizarre since I've yet to feel at all homesick.

Feelings of homesickness usually kick in for me after around a week. I would say it hits me without fail, but Australia seems to be an exception. Quite the opposite in fact since I really don't want to go back home and am a bit jealous of my friend, the groom, as he's staying behind for a further two or three months.

So instead of missing home, I'm missing this place already; I have to admit feeling slightly poignant and even depressed when saying goodbye to everyone at my last dinner party here this evening. So much so that a few people had commented that I didn't seem myself any more.

Just goes to show what a fantastic time I'm having here - it's been fun, busy and interesting, but most of all I've been made to feel so welcome I've not missed home much at all. It feels like I've been here for months, but in a good way.

The Joys of Three

One of the many pleasant surprises on my trip is that I can use my Three phone as if I'm still in the UK. This means that I can call and text anyone back home out of my inclusive minutes, and get charged nothing for incoming calls either.

Pretty neat. I still need a local phone to keep in touch with all the people here, but there's nothing like being able to keep in touch with home too while on holiday.


Went to another sister's house for breakfast this morning. We had pancakes made for us - not bad, eh? Yet another example of how much we're being looked after by the locals here. They're really showing us a good time.

It was yet another free flowing hanging out session (we actually had breakfast around midday) which was, again, really nice...

... Except for the niggle in the back of my mind that it was all coming to an end soon. There's really not long to go at all.

Bowling, Pool, Karaoke, Pictionary

Aaaah, this is the life.

After a pretty uneventful Saturday day, I couldn't help but feel that it had been somewhat wasted; probably because my trip had been so jam packed up till then. It's now coming up to 3am, and I've had such a brilliant night that I've definitely salvaged the evening... And then some. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I've spoken before about how super the new in-laws have been here. Today was another example of that, especially seeing as they were just taking me out and no one whom they were actually related to. The plan was to have dinner and then head to a bowling ally and play a couple of games; nice and easy going.

The lanes were full, so that was a bit of a bust. Instead we hit the Pool tables and had a game or two. I lost abysmally of course.

After that, we managed to somehow swing the already booked private Karaoke room for half an hour. I did Karaoke in Brisbane! Fantastic. It's much cheaper there then it is here too.

Finally we headed back to one of the sister's place. We spent the main part of the evening/night/morning there sitting around the dining table chilling out, eating Tim Tams (there's a way to eat them don't you know), and playing Pictionary (which the guys shoulda actually have won) and just having a good old general laugh.

It really was superb and exactly the kind of thing I was after after the adventure that was The Whitsundays. Some people thought that I was a bit boring to be coming back to Brisbane when I could have fitted in another excursion, but I knew that I'd always enjoy the company of friends and local people over seeing another rock or beach, especially since the weather was so not on my side.

And I was absolutely right in this case too, 'cos today rocked.

Saturday, June 23

Signs and Advertising

There are two possibly related things I've noticed about Australia during my stay here.

The first is that there seems to be an excess of signage. There is one for almost everything - when to wash your hand, where to walk, which lane to drive in (and how many demerits you'll receive if you don't) and even that you're driving down the wrong way on a slip road.

But more interesting to me was the sheer amount of advertising about. From billboards, to sponsorships to advertorials it really is a striking amount. Once again it's a stark contrast to the UK and indicative to me the different levels of controls present in the respective countries.

Perhaps the people here are more influenced by/receptive to visual signs and stuff?


I've managed to pick up an inflective "ey" that I place at the end of any question I have requiring affirmation. So for example, I'll ask "It's cold this morning, ey?".

I've no idea if it's Australian or South African, but I kinda like it. Pretty cool, ey?

Netball Rocks!

And Australian Women's Netball rocks even more so.

Checking Out Southbank

It appears that one of the most interesting parts of Brisbane is in our very own back yard. The South Bank stretches for almost a mile, and offers some parks, restaurants, arenas and museums and places to hang out. With my iPod in hand I set off to explore for a couple of lazy Saturday morning hours.

On the weekends it even has a cute little market selling all sorts of things. I cleared my souvenir shopping in one sitting because of this market. Lucky ey?

Sunrise On The Gold Coast

We got up at the crack of dawn (actually, no before that) in order to drive an hour or so south to Surfer's Paradise (an ace name, and so typically Australian). The plan was to catch the sun rising over the Pacific horizon. I explained how we would get exactly the same view from South End in the UK, but was kinda overruled. I guess you're supposed to do things while on holiday that you wouldn't do back home, and it's a bit of an adventure so I tagged along.

We missed Surfer's Paradise and ended up slightly further south at Burleigh Heads. It was just as good though, not that it mattered - the skies were heavily overcast so the whole thing was a bit of a bust. Humph. Pics here.

Friday, June 22

Friday Feelings

I'm really starting to get to know Brisbane now, especially without any wedding preparations to distract me from soaking in the atmosphere.

For instance today I attended Jummah prayers in a small community mosque in the West End. It was one of the main mosques of Brisbane, yet didn't have a congregation of more than 150 people, all of whom knew each other at some level of familiarity.

After dinner we were taken out to The Three Monkeys, a hip little cafe place, also in the West End. We whiled the rest of the Friday night there just chilling and, without realising it, becoming more and more native to our surroundings.

And you know what? Brisbane is actually a pretty awesome place.

Brisbane Daytime Television

I'm finally back in Brisbane, and while waiting for Jummah this morning I've managed to grab the first bit of downtime I've had for the whole trip so far. So obviously I spent it in front of the box checking out the local stations.

Perhaps it's a bit patronising to say so but the daytime shows here are pretty amusing. The issues and debates they raise appear to be so trivial and basic compared to what we talk about back in the UK; for example they're currently considering social problems we wouldn't bat an eyelid over.

I guess it's times like these that you realise how far ahead the UK is in both its thinking and problems.

Thursday, June 21

Cancelled Flights, Part Two

It seems that the weather plays a much larger role in determining whether flights go ahead or not in this part of the world. The rain at the moment is really putting even London to shame.

There are no lights on the runway so planes find it difficult, if not impossible, to land or take off. We've already been warned that our scheduled flight may be in danger - I've no idea what happens if that's the case (we may go to two-hours-away Mackay instead), but I'm not in any rush to carry on with my holiday so I'm not too worried.

Back On Airlie Beach

So we're back after spending two nights on a boat and I have to admit that as much fun as we had I'm glad to be back on dry land. It was the weather more than anything else that has totally knackered me out so the timing is perfect.

I've made loads of contacts and friend during the trip, and I'll definitely try to keep in touch with some of them.

Oh and you can check out some pictures from the trip here.

Wednesday, June 20

Whitehaven Beach

Today was mainly spent exploring Whitsunday Island and, in particular, Whitehaven Beach. Now many of you must have seen this in pictures or on the telly, but it really was amazing to see.

The 99.5% pure silicon sand was fine and clear and put even the Gold Coast to shame. It also had the magical property of never getting hot, and so is a pleasure to walk through barefooted. We all ended up playing Stuck in the Mud and British Bulldog (and variations of). It was pure childlike fun and a proper bonding session for all of us.

After we were done on the beach, we sailed for a bit longer and had our final snorkelling session off Border Island. After my experience yesterday I was reluctant to go in, but I did anyway thinking that it was my last time. And I'm glad that I did: I had finally gotten the hang of the damn thing and was able to get some pretty good views for minutes at a time (the trick is, of course, to remain calm and relaxed while breathing through the tube).

So day two is almost to an end and I'm still having a brilliant time. Still, a part of me is looking forward to disembarking tomorrow morning...

Broken Flush

The SV Whitehaven has a very strange toilet, or at least a very strange two-part flushing mechanism.

You start off by pulling a lever connected to a pump (I think); each pull empties the bowl a bit and it takes three pulls to empty it completely. You then press a button to refill the bowl. This has to be done three times to leave the place clean for the next user. Sounds simple right?

Well it had to break for someone, and that someone had to be me. And yes, you've guessed it, it was after I had gone for a dump. I was, of course, terribly embarrassed, when explaining to the crew how pulling the lever seemed to be regurgitating crap (literally) rather than sucking it all away.

But it seemed to have been by design; luckily for me it was fixed straight away. Phew.

Feeling Seasick

I think I ate too much watermelon for breakfast. I thought it would be a good way to rehydrate, but I was feeling quite rough for a while this morning - rough enough to bring it all back up again.

I'm okay now though. I don't usually get travel sick, so this was a bit of a scare for me.

Praying On Deck

Of all the places I've performed salaah, doing it on the deck of a moving boat has to be one of the most exhilarating. You have the wind in your hair, the bobbing keeping you on your toes and the peace of the water around you helping you to remember God. It's a constant in that way; that even in a remote place like this there is still a place for prayer.

My group were pretty cool so I wasn't shy about praying in front of them. If you happen to be on a boat and pray yourself, then you really must try it.


It's well strange sleeping on a boat.

I mean I slept well enough - my bunk was pretty comfortable if a bit small, and we were placed in a good spot right in the middle of the boat. I did wake up a few times due to the cold but not any more than I would on land.

No, it was the steady rocking and clanging that got me. It was almost eerie (but in a nice way), and probably the same sort of feeling you get while camping or something.

Oh, and there's nothing better than waking up to the view of a pretty blonde in her pajamas. I mean, while she's wandering the boat going about her business and nothing else, of course.

Tuesday, June 19

We Are Sailing

For the next three days and two nights, me and 23 other passengers will be living on a boat, the SV Whitehaven. Sailing is the standard thing to do while in the Whitsundays, but although others will describe sailing through paradise during the day and sleeping under the stars during the night... Well you can guess the rest.

We left at 1pm as scheduled. After sailing to the Whitsundays themselves, we dropped anchor off Hook Island at around 4pm to do a spot of snorkeling. Now, I've only ever been snorkeling once before (Bali, 2003) and back then it was a nightmare. The amount of water I swallowed was matched only by the amount I puked back up and it was obvious that I wasn't any good at it.

I had a much better time today. Although I swallowed water this time too, it wasn't enough to feel anything more than a bit queasy, and I actually managed to see some fish and coral too. Still the 45 minutes that we were in for was enough for me; even the on-board shower afterwards felt like heaven.

Staying on the boat itself is awesome. It's the small things like not wearing shoes while on board or playing cards on the deck that add something special to the whole thing, and unlike as would be expected there's not one single prat on board; in fact these guys seem like a pretty good bunch.

It's going to be a good two days, I think.

Cancelled Flights

We had planned on taking a seaplane to the Great Barrier Reef this morning. The tour consisted of an aerial view of the reef followed by a landing at a pontoon where we would have gone for an assisted scuba dive for a closer look. The whole thing had been planned to perfection; we would have come back to Airlie by 11:30am, well in time for a boat we were due to board at 1pm.

We arrived at Airlie Beach airport (even smaller than Proserpine, the domestic airport we arrived at on our way from Brisbane) at 8am, where we were told that the flight had been delayed due to the bad weather. It had been pushed forward to 10am and since that would leave no room to return for the boat we had to cancel it altogether.

We were gutted, especially since it had been so meticulously planned. I don't see any way of seeing the Reef now; it's way too far away from the Whitsundays to see by boat, and we won't have much time on our return to Airlie Beach.

We hung out on the beach, grabbing a proper breakfast and drink waiting for our 1pm departure. The rain was gushing down, British style but had fortunately cleared up by lunchtime. It may have even been good enough for a flight to the Reef, not that it mattered any more. Perhaps we'll arrange another flight after our return from the sea, but I doubt it.

Monday, June 18

Arriving in Airlie Beach

We arrived in the Whitsundays at around 2:30pm this afternoon; the weather was atrocious and any dream we had of having a paradise-like experience over the next couple of days had been washed away with the rain. Still, it was a holiday-within-a-holiday and so there really was no way we were going to be put off.

After spending the rest of the afternoon running around and booking tours and trips for the three days that we were staying there, we settled for some food across the way from where we were staying that night.

It really was awesome. It was like a food court thing, with backpackers all out having a good time, eating or drinking or playing cards, with live music being performed on the stage to the left. We even had Neighbours being projected on a screen above us. I had that wonderful feeling of having nothing else to worry about (probably due to being twice removed from home) and it was great. Surreal, but great.

Sunday, June 17

Australian South African Muslims

Like I mentioned two posts down, I've never really been to a reception like today's; at least not one hosted by Muslims. On reflection, however, the reception is pretty indicative of what I've observed of the Muslims here in Brisbane in general.

So we have some women wearing hijabs, and others wearing some pretty revealing clothes (and those of you who know me will realise I say that as an observation rather than criticism or judgement; as a related aside there were quite a few hotties at today's party). Men and women were freely mixing, exchanging hugs as freely as their conversation.

But at the respective times, a large majority also went to pray. And they talk about Islam and its place in the world. I'd totally describe them as practising and I'm always attracted to this level of balance (even if it is of the extreme kind).

It was all so surreal and uncanny, yet somewhat completely familiar to me. I've never claimed to be unique in my faith or practise of it and, as well as a few existing friends, the people here pretty much prove that assertion.

It's like finding not one or two, but a whole raft of kindred spirits. Discoveries like this are pretty vindicating actually. I just hope I keep finding them as time goes on; especially when it may matter the most (if you know what I mean).

Conversation With The Photographer

C, the professional photographer, had become pretty familiar to us over the last few days of him snapping away. However, as I found out during the reception, he may have become a bit too familiar:

C: "So... when will it be your turn Shak?"
Me: "Uh... Excuse me?"
C: "You know, to have all this. To get married?"
Me: "Oh. Erm. When I find someone who says 'yes', innit?"
C: "Ho ho ho. Come now. Now, I'm not gay, but you're quite the looker you know"

Unsurprisingly (or perhaps not), I wasn't entirely flattered by this compliment. In fact I quickly made my excuses and backed away. I have to admit that it was a bit uncomfortable; especially seeing as C was getting married the next weekend!

Rumour has it that he wants to get me into the studio too, for what he describes as "a private session". I mean hey, if I said yes to every photographer who wanted to shoot me... Well let's just say there'd be a lot of pictures of me lying around in private collections.


Riverside Reception

Reception day, and as expected we started early. The groom had rented a classic Mercedes to be driven around in, and after having picked that up we shuttled his family to the reception venue situated further the bank of Brisbane River.

The party itself was good and very chilled out. The food was nothing like what I've had at an Asian wedding; it was very posh, but not any less enjoyable because of that. The rest of the afternoon was taken up by more speeches and even a dance.

As I mentioned before, I had become the bestman-by-default, and so I did the whole speech thing. I don't think I gave the groom as much stick as I was supposed to, but considering I had a couple of days to do it and don't really know the more... seedy side of him I think I did okay (most of the content can be read here). Of course I spoke too fast and mumbled too so I'm not sure exactly how many Aussies and South Africans actually understood me!

I made sure I alluded to my single status while on the podium (hey, the opportunity was there, okay?) and I gather that I had quite the interest from matchmaking aunties. I even passed my number to some! I suspect that nothing will come about it (mainly due to the lack of time), but who knows?

So yeh, a pretty fabulous reception, and of the kind I'm definitely not used to attending in London. Although some present said that they had been to the same elsewhere, the last ten or so Muslim ones I had been invited to were strictly segregated-arrive-eat-and-leave affairs so this was all new to me.

Noosa and The Sunshine Coast Click for more info

Since today was the dead day between the two wedding events we didn't have much planned. Still, we had the car at our disposal and so after carrying out a few chores (morning chores had become a bit of a daily ritual by this point), we headed out to Noosa.

We visited both Noosaville and Noosa Heads. These were more natural and quiet than their Gold Coast equivalents and much more as I had imagined an Australia beach town to be. I got some brilliant sunset shots which you can check out here.

Dinner was supposed to have been had at a Turkish place as recommended by our Lonely Planet; this turned out to not be as halal as we wanted it to be and so we settled for some fantastic sword fish and chips instead.

Saturday, June 16

Post Wedding Party

After a brilliantly long day, the in laws took some of us out for pizza and chilling in nearby Milton. It was pretty much the first time I was hanging out with them without the groom to qualify my presence (he and the bride had gone of to their hotel as you do), and so it was nice to be accepted as a clear friend rather than friend-of-a-friend. It makes me feel confident about the rest of my time in Brisbane.

On the way back to Spring Hill we were stopped for what appeared to be random breathalyser tests. Cars were queued up at a check point, and each and every driver was being requested to blow into a pipe. This is only interesting since I was the one driving that night.

I've never had a breath test and I found the whole thing fascinating. So much so that, in classic Curious-Shak fashion I stared asking the cop about the tests - how often they do it, why, that kind of thing. If course, he was as confused as my friends were; everyone except for me wanted us to carry on.

I finally got the message after being hushed forward by the cop and my friends simultaneously. Oh dear.

Friday, June 15

The Gate Ceremony

After the Nikkah ceremony was performed we made our way to the in-laws house for a bit of a party. Before we were allowed in, however, the little business regarding the Gate Ceremony had to be dealt with.

For those of you who don't know, the traditional "Gate Ceremony" is when the bride's side either stops the groom's side from entering the family home, or alternatively stops them both from leaving. Either way it's a bit of a hostage situation and where we (my family that is) usually take it as a fun and playful joke, others take it deadly seriously; something about honour or pride or something. As I soon found out, both sides here fell into the latter category.

The point for me, of course, is to pay out as little as possible. I was made the chief negotiator for our side; unusually the brides side had one of the maternal uncles doing the talking (as opposed to female siblings and cousins). I found that a bit odd, not least because of the not-so-playful challenges being made to me during the past week.

Still, our strategy of setting the uncle dares ("hug the bear!"), publicly embarrassing him and then even pitching his own people against him, meant that we got away relatively cheaply. In fact, judging by some of the comments made after it was all over, we might have done a bit too well. I'm actually a bit concerned that we may have even offended some people!

Mohammad and Rehana

After Jummah, the Nikkah ceremony of Mohammad and Rehana was performed.

It's not often that I meet someone who is able to get a great big part of me. And to be honest it becomes refreshing to converse deeply with someone without having to repeat yourself or explain your way of thinking, since in that situation you can actually further the discussion in your own mind without having to dumb yourself down in order to get any other response.

Mohammad is one of those people. Add to that his sense of balance and character and I end up with someone I feel quite the kinship with.

It's also fair to say that he was there during a big change in my life - the social leap I took a few years ago. He played a part in that and an example of this was how he had introduced me to The City Circle, which, although not that amazing in itself did open many other doors and friends. For that I'm thankful.

I hadn't really known Rehana much before I had come to Australia; I had only met her the one time in London. However it was obvious how great she was from the moment she picked me up from Brisbane airport; sure I had arranged to fly in the same time as Mohammad and his family but it was still a really nice gesture that she didn't have to do.

Her family are just as nice, and the care and love shown to us so far has been pretty incredible. Even more for an outsider like me. I'm not ashamed to say that I'm a little jealous of the family Mohammad is marrying into and he's shown that there's really no need to compromise when looking for a partner. I've no doubt that they're totally suited to one another.

Today's wedding was pretty much the reason I had travelled all the way to Australia. Now that it had been completed it marks the half way point of the trip, both literally and figuratively. I just hope the second half is as brilliant as the first.

Thursday, June 14

Her Name Was Tessa

Lunch was had on the Gold Coast. The details aren't particularly interesting, but I just had to write about our waitress. You see, I think I fell in love with her during the hour or so in which she was serving us.

She is definitely the most attractive girl I have seen yet during my stay in Australia. It probably goes without saying that she was totally hot, but there was much more than that to her.

She was also friendly and sweet, but I think it was her blasé attitude that got to me the most. It's almost like she knew that she was a bad waitress but didn't really care either way. And you know what? Neither did I.

I know I have a habit of obsessing over random girls I only see for a fleeting moment, but Tessa is different and so right now is at the top of that list. She's also a definite highlight of my trip so far. Sigh.

The Gold Coast and Surfer's Paradise

After nailing all of this morning's chores in record time, my friend decided to treat me (although
I think he needed a break from all the preparations too) to a trip down the Gold Coast. This is
only an hour's drive south from Brisbane so we got there pretty quickly.

Specifically, we headed to Surfer's Paradise. And to be frank I was amazed by it. Now when I first heard the name "Surfer's Paradise", I was expecting a more regular tropical kind of beach; you know, beach houses, the minimum of amenities, perhaps a promenade or pier or something. I couldn't have been more wrong.

The first thing you notice on approaching the coast is the sky line. We're talking a range of high rise buildings as if you're approaching a more regular city. But not because unlike, say, Brisbane, whose buildings are centred around a point, here we had them making a line a couple of miles long along the coast. It really was a wonderful sight, especially considering what I was expecting.

Crossing the buildings takes you to the beach. And what beach it was. Unlike Bondi which was pretty tiny really, the Gold Coast stretches for miles; from Surfer's paradise you can't see either of its ends. The sand was clean and fine and unlike your typical beach in the UK there were no nappies, fag ends or empty beer cans. Hell, it had to be clean if even I was willing to walk a mile or so through it bare footed. From this side the buildings seemed even more of a contrast, but in a charming way, giving Surfer's Paradise its own unique and slightly schizophrenic character.

After lunch we grabbed a respective coffee and hot chocolate at the nearby Palazzo Versace, a hotel run by the fashion house. It was pretty opulent yet nothing special to write home about. And so I won't.

Pictures up in the usual place.

Big Bear

One of the tasks set for me today was to acquire a big ass teddy bear for the Gate Ceremony tomorrow. The plan itself is top secret, but we had already seen a bear almost as big as me in a Target store in the city. Since we had quite a few bits to do today, the groom and I split up. I took the bear task because I thought it would be easy.

And it was easy. Perhaps a bit too easy. To cut a long story short I was done way too early and so had to spend what felt like hours wondering around The Myer Centre waiting for my so called mate. I'm sure he took longer than he should have getting back.

Now, carrying an over sized bear around sounds pretty fun in theory. It wasn't though. It was heavy and I was hot and the whole situation was embarrassing. Still, I got loads of smiles from passer-bys, particularly the girlies which was nice (the looks from security, less so). One guy even asked if it was for me, to which I replied: "Hey man, even a guy like me needs a bit of lovin'".

Who Needs Sleep?

Another early start today; the plan is to get some chores in before we go on a bit of a road trip.

It's amazing how little sleep one can run on while they're on holiday; especially if they're usually as dependent on the stuff as I am. I've been running on six hours a night for the past few days; if I was in London I would have been sick by now.

Perhaps it's the excitement of it all, or maybe I'm just running on adrenaline... But I just wish I could live like this back home too - sleep is such a waste of time in the normal running of life.

Wednesday, June 13

An Emergency Best Man

So apparently The Groom's best man isn't coming any more. There was some issues with passports or visas[1] and the like, but the details don't matter. Why this is making my blog is because it means that the job of the Best Man now falls to me.

Don't get me wrong. I accepted of course: that's what I'm here for. And I'm totally and utterly flattered at being asked, even if it was 'cos I was the only one around at the time (The Groom had actually been joking around about how I was third in line. Oh, how he had to eat those words). But I wasn't prepared for this; I prefer to help and give support invisibly. Not because of modesty reasons (hah) but more to avoid being responsible for the big things a Best Man needs to be responsible for.

I now have a couple of days to write a speech. Under the circumstances I'm not expecting that much out of myself, but I'll try to jot a few things down anyway. Cripes.

[1]That's right: Australia require visas from British citizens too. Not bad considering we still kinda own them. I really should complain to The Queen you know...

Brisbane "Atmosphere"

There's really no doubt about it. The everyday-girls-on-the-street here are much prettier than those whom I saw in Sydney.

London is still tops as far as I'm concerned, but still I'm comforted by the fact that Brisbane isn't a fat waste of time like Sydney was.

Brisbane City

As I mentioned previously, Brisbane (or at least its city centre) is pretty small. Down town was only a short walk away from Spring Hill, which explained the dirty look given to us by the taxi driver this morning when we asked him to take us there.

Breakfast was had on Brisbane's river front. The rest of the day was spent wondering around the city, fulfilling wedding chores and grabbing a random lunch. I suspect that this will be the daily template for my time in Brisbane, especially during the time leading up to the wedding.

It's a pretty nice feeling being so free, especially in a laid back place such as this.

Tuesday, June 12

Spring Hill

Since the groom was expecting a whole bunch of guests from all over the world to attend his wedding, he had booked out a couple of apartments to keep us all up. Very kind of him I'm sure you'll agree. And super for me; there's nothing like not having to worry about accommodation during your time abroad to make it an even more pleasant experience.

The place itself was in Spring Hill - across the city centre from Southbank, but since Brisbane was so small this meant we were only a ten minute drive away. It was clean and had all the basic facilities, so I was happy with what would be my home for the next week or so.


I landed in Brisbane at around 7:30pm. I picked a flight that coincided with that of the groom (my friend from London) in order to blag a lift from the airport at the same time as he did. I also felt that this would be the best way to be thrown into the thick of the whole wedding business; this way, I'm arriving with the groom and his family.

We got picked up by the in-laws (I had actually arrived slightly earlier, putting me in the slightly awkward situation of causing the groom to be stood up for a bit) and spent the rest of the evening relaxing at what would eventually become the newlyweds' home for the next three months or so (which became known as just "Southbank").

In just those couple of hours I knew that my time in Brisbane was going to be the highlight of the trip. I was reminded of my time in Dubai, almost two years ago. That was also split between the tourism and wedding side, and I wrote then how it was the latter (including meeting the friends and families concerned) that made the trip for me.

And here in Brisbane it was looking to be the same. The in-laws and groom's family were all a fantastic bunch. It felt like they had immediately accepted us close friends, almost family - which would have been expected for those that were to become family, but not for me; I was half expecting to be that guy who was nothing but a non familial imposition.

The vibe of the evening was amazing, partly due to the excitement everyone had over the wedding, but mainly because of the people themselves. I can see it now; the next couple of weeks will be full of chilling out, laughter, joking around and flowing.

It's so going to be totally ace.

Bondi Beach, Central Sydney and Airports

I managed to blag a lift to the airport in the morning. Since I was on a domestic flight to Brisbane later that day, I checked in my baggage and then caught a train to central Sydney, which only happened to be ten minutes away.

My first stop was Bondi Beach. Unusually there is no train there - you have to take a bus for the last twenty minutes or so. The beach itself wasn't all that - not a patch on Manly yesterday anyway. All the surfer chicks were interesting, I was kinda puzzled as to why this was Australia's most famous sand. Check it out for yourself here.

Still, I hung around for an early afternoon lunch consisting of a fresh, if a bit oily, fish and chips. I finally dipped into the Pacific too. It was colder than I thought it'd be. I rounded off my time there checking out some Aboriginal carvings in the vicinity.

Just a not on the climate: maybe it was a typical Sydney winter but I noticed how... temperamental... the weather was. I was flipping my jacket on and off as the temperature dipped low and peaked high. It got pretty annoying after a while.

I then made my way back to central Sydney. I alighted at backpacker central, King's Cross, where I checked out (for research and from a distance) the red light district of Darlinghurst Road. This led on to the shopping district of Oxford Street. I walked down a bit till I hit Darlinghurst and Little Italy - this was supposed to be full of funky cafes and places to chill out but I didn't seem to find anything there myself. I was pretty disappointed actually, since I had planned on killing some time there. Various pictures from my time there here.

The rest of the early evening was spent revisiting Hyde Park and Darling Harbour, this time by day. The latter was as dead as it was the night before (barring the concert); perhaps I was there too early. My last stop before heading back to the airport was the Paddy Markets. This was just a shopping centre, although I suspect it was more of a historical trading centre in its previous life. I picked up some souvenirs and then decided to finally call time on Sydney.

I caught the train to the airport from Central Station. From there I caught my flight to Brisbane where the second chapter of this holiday was due to begin. Sydney had set a pretty good pace for the holiday so far, and I was pretty interested in how this next part would fare.

Monday, June 11

Sydney "Atmosphere"

Quite surprisingly, I've not yet been impressed by what I've seen here. I mean I wasn't expecting a whole load of Kylies to be running around, but London girls are more attractive by miles.

The average physical size of people is smaller here, but nevertheless I'm actually quite disappointed.

On My Jones

Of course, I spent my time wondering around Sydney on my own. Now technically this isn't really a problem; I often roam London alone and I'm proud to say I'm comfortable in my own company - all I really need is some good music in my ear and a decent book to read when needed and I'm fine.

Today was a bit difficult though. Here was a bunch of new experiences that I had no one else to share with - no commenting about something you see, or the cracking of jokes or expressing of interest to others. In fact, it was so bad that I even noticed that I hadn't said much at all during the day. So yes, I certainly enjoy going to new places with other people.

On the other hand there was definitely some positives to being on my own - there was a sense of freedom and independence you wouldn't get while in the company of others, and there was no way I could have gotten as much done as I had if I wasn't alone. Plus I think I was forced to interact with Sydney more than I would have otherwise.

I guess there's a place for doing things both on your own and with others. Luckily this trip will provide me with both experiences, so hopefully I'll get the best of both worlds overall.

Central Sydney

After a late start I was dropped off at the train station at around 1130am. The place I was staying was around a thirty minute train ride away from the Sydney Harbour area, and I was a bit miffed at the delay in getting started; I was going to leave for Brisbane the next day and so I wanted to get as much, if not all I wanted, done here as possible.

I disembarked at Milton Point, which is on the northern end of the Harbour Bridge. The bridge itself was pretty immense: it was more of a brute than any of the Thames bridges, but impressively so. It also offered some brilliant views of the harbour, including the iconic Opera House toward the southern end. Pictures of the harbour area can be found here.

Once I had traversed the bridge I checked out The Rocks on the way to Circular Quay. This was where all the harbour ferry routes depart from. I was told that the best way to experience the harbour was by getting on a ferry, and since I wanted to check out Manly I decided to take a boat there.

Manly sits seven miles away from Circular Quay, and the ferry took half an hour to get there. My plan was to get a quick look at the Pacific Ocean (Manly beach was supposed to have been pretty too) and catch the ferry back to carry one with Central, but I missed my return trip and so hung around and had lunch instead. I'm glad I did too - although I didn't check out Manly properly it was nice just sitting at the beach; the Pacific really is wonderful to watch. Pictures here.

I finally made it back to Circular Quay, and it was clear by that point that I wouldn't be able to finish Sydney off today. But I carried on with Sydney harbour anyway, getting a closer view of the Opera House. Like I do with most landmarks, I found it less impressive close up, when you begin to notice the warts and all. Still, I must admit getting the pang to watch an opera there.

I headed further south, and to Hyde Park. This was a small ornamental central park with fountains and monuments. I found it strange actually; it wasn't as "open" as the parks I usually see - it was more of a botanical garden than a place in which to have a picnic.

Next up, I headed to the Sydney Tower. This was kinda pricey but totally worth it, offering sine pretty stunning views of Sydney Harbour from 250 metres up. I made out Botany Bay, the ocean and even the Blue Mountains I had seen the day before. And although it took an absolute age to get in, I did catch the sun setting while I was up there which made the otherwise inconvenient timing of the whole day suddenly worth the bother. If you ever get to do the same, make sure you get to see Sydney by day and night.

Between Manly and the Tower, my day had almost been spent. The allegedly hip and happening Darling Harbour was close by though, so I decided to make that the last stop of the day. It was pretty lucky that I did too; I managed to catch a free hour long concert by a band called True Live. They were pretty awesome; the blending of classical music and hip hop, although done many times before, was executed perfectly by these guys. I'll definitely be looking up these guys once I get back home. Pics and videos here.

And that pretty much concluded my day. Looking back, I got a lot done and it was ambitious of me to have thought that I could fit in the things that I had missed (I was particularly miffed about skipping Darling Harbour by day and Bondi Beach altogether). Still, I didn't regret how the day panned out - both Manly and the Tower sucked up time but were well worth it, and I wouldn't have ever been able to plan the brilliant sunset and concert I experienced either.

Maybe I can catch the things I missed tomorrow?

Sunday, June 10

The Jenolan Caves

Since Monday was a bank holiday I got uncle to take me out. I didn't want to rest as I was being told to, since I didn't want to go to bed until bedtime; that way I hoped to nix any jet-lag firmly in the bud.

We decided to go inland, towards the Blue Mountains. In fact we went pretty deep into them, heading to the Jenolan Caves, two and a half hours away from where I was actually staying. This turned out to be quite far, especially since we only hung around the caves for an hour or so.

Apparently there was some pretty good views and scenery on the way up the mountains. I say apparently because I fell asleep in the car. Cough. Still, I got a taste on approaching the caves and they were pretty spectacular in themselves, so the day wasn't a total write off. Piccies can be found here.

Arriving in Sydney

The 23 hour or so flight wasn't that bad actually. It did start off badly though - the boarding gate at Heathrow was rammed with people and it was hot and disorganised (in contrast to my pleasant flights to Geneva and Glasgow, both also via British Airways). But most worrying was that my worst fear had come true: I was going to be sitting next to some big sweaty guy for the ten thousand mile trip. Still at least I had legroom (always go for the fire exit row, chaps).

Our one hour fuel stop was in Bangkok. Apparently we were to land at the new airport (as opposed to the old one, presumably). It was pretty neat, but one thing that struck me (along with the countless "Long Live The King" posters) was the Muslim prayer room instead of a multi-faith room as it would have been called in a Western city. I had never been Thailand before and although I had heard of the Islamic vibe there, this was my first taste of it.

Whatever the case, I managed to both complete my prayers and take a dump (since they also had istinja facilities there) during the stopover. The remainder of my time there was spent playing multiplayer DS with an Irish girl I had met at the gate.

The food was pretty good on both legs; I'm now comfortable enough with MOML trays to enjoy the meats they provide. The dish coming out from Heathrow even had a Halal Authority logo on it! I also slept quite a bit before the first stop - seven hours I think. This wasn't as much a good thing as it sounds since I wanted to sleep properly on leaving Bangkok (my flight was due to land in Sydney 6am local time so I wanted to "wake up" for that).

But sleep I did, which is probably why I didn't mind the flight as much as I should have. Coming in to Sydney was pretty amazing too: we were treated to an aerial view of the harbour, its bridge and the Sydney Opera House on approach to the airport - I think it was then that I actually felt like I had arrived in Australia.

Friday, June 8

Australia, Baby!

Perhaps it's because I've never flown that far before. Perhaps it's because I've never been on a holiday of this scale largely on my own. Perhaps it's because of the wedding I'm planning to attend in Brisbane. Perhaps it's because I've not been off this blummin' continent since 2005.

But I'm terribly excited about going to Australia tonight. Even the thought of being in transit for over a day (22 hours of which is just the flight) isn't really discouraging me.

I'll be flying into Sydney Sunday morning, and heading off to Brisbane on Tuesday. Everything else is a blank slate (I've been advised to remain flexible contrary to my inherent instinct to plan, plan and then plan some more), but I want to spend some time in the Whitsundays sailing and possible learning to dive - I'm only restricted by time I think. But hey; now I'm just getting ahead of myself.

So here I am sitting, watching the clock tick by until it's time to go. I'm already packed and stuff, but I can't help feeling like I'm not ready. It's probably due to the scope of the exercise, but I dunno. Still, all part of the fun I guess.

I'll see you all in a couple of weeks then!

Wednesday, June 6

Justgiving: Charity's Middleman?

By the grace of God I've managed to raise a total of £1810 for climbing Ben Nevis, £1330 of which was raised via Justgiving. However, as enjoyable as the whole experience was, I cant but help feel a little underwhelmed with the whole fundraising process, and further, some aspects of the charity industry as a whole. I think that in order to explain the issues I have, I'll have to touch on how charity works in the UK with respect to tax and collection.

Over here, all charitable donations are exempt from taxation. This means that if you donate five pounds to Cancer Research, then you shouldn't have to pay Income or Capital Gains Tax on it. However since most of us pay tax "as we earn", we would have already paid this tax, and so need to claim it back respectively.

Generally, claiming any kind of money is a difficult process. In this case it's not: by simply declaring to the charity that your donation has come out of taxed income, they're able to claim it on your behalf - increasing your donation by a whopping 28%.

All good and fair, right? The trouble is that many people don't realise how easy it is to make this declaration (you can do it by email or fax), or that it's possible at all. This is where Justgiving steps in. As well as making it a snip to donate to charities who may not have their own websites, JG also offers to claim any tax back on their behalf too, allowing donors to declare their tax status with nothing more than a tick box. Apparently, this saves the charity in question time, and so, money. Hmm.

The problem begins when you realise that JG isn't a charity itself. In fact it's a business and therefore has a corporate mouth to feed. It does this by charging a flat fee of 5% on the gross donation (i.e. after any tax has been claimed). It also passes on any card transaction fees (in comparison donating directly to, say, the DEC incurs no transaction fees at all). See here for the detail, although bear in mind that reclaimable tax is assumed in the examples. Finally, JG charge a minimum of £15 a month for charities to list their name on the website in the first place.

In short this means that of your £10 donation made via JG, the charity receives around £9. Of course, this £9 may be subject to tax relief taking the total above £10, but since that's something charities can do themselves I'd say that the donation is still much lower than its full worth. To quantify this: of the £150 million JG raised last year, at the 5% rate (and assuming two thirds of that had tax claimed on it), they would have earned a cool £8.9 million.

Now, I don't have a problem with this model per se. Although not as clear as it could be, JG do list these fees if donors are willing to look for them. And for those who can't donate otherwise, they do provide a handy service. Personally I think that 5% plus card fees is a bit excessive and so I will not donate via this facility, but I don't blame others if they do (provided they know about it).

I do think that it's a shame that some charities rely so much on the service. By promoting the (sometimes exclusive) use of JG, they're accepting the cost of 5% to collect donations. That, in my opinion, is totally unacceptable. Transparency would make things better (it's likely that most JG users are unaware of the transaction costs and are even confident in donating when charities tell them to), but it's really something charities should be looking to avoid paying altogether. It's a particularly low blow to fundraisers who may have put free time, effort and even money into raising the funds in the first place.

There are a few reasons why charities may use JG, some genuine and some not. For the smaller places, they may not have a website or the expertise to collect that much money. More dubiously, some may see it as a quick and responsibility-free way to claim Gift Aid on donations that don't quite qualify; it's easier to ask a donor to "accidentally" tick a box than it is to ask them to fill out a form.

Charity is an activity where integrity and transparency is vital. It's arguable whether I could have raised over £1800 plus Gift Aid without the help of JG, but judging by the reaction of some when I've told them about the fees taken out of their donations, I'm pretty sure they would have chosen to donate in another way anyway. And of the offline donations I've collected, I've managed to get Gift Aid forms for around 90% of applicable cases. That's more than comparable to JG; I just didn't charge the charity 5% for doing so.

Tuesday, June 5

End of the Line: Puma Nostros

It's probably human nature to always consider the pair of trainers that you currently own the best you've ever had. But I really think that my Puma Nostros are high in my own trainer hall of fame. You must have seen them; they've been very popular in their various configurations over the last four or five years. However, unlike the usual leather ones, mine were made out of canvas. Not only were they unique in that respect, they also went quite well with the majority of my wardrobe.

They were totally fabulous. They were my first "flat" trainer; close to the ground with not much sole. Ironically these made them more comfortable than other trainers, possibly because they sat like gloves on my feet rather than shoes.

There were some issues though, mainly to do with the lack of any kind of resistance to the wet. Even if it wasn't raining, they had an awful ability to draw up dampness from the floor. I could only really wear these on dry days, meaning I would only use them for half the year. Which brings me to the next flaw: they seem to be much more fragile than the average trainer.

Maybe it's the flatness, or maybe it's the canvas, but I'm not sure how long they'll last now. I managed to pull off the first holes (by the big toes) as some kind of trendy fashion statement (I've not been sent home from work yet anyway), but now splits are appearing all over the shop - even if they didn't now look spent, I'm not sure they can literally stay in one piece anyway.

So alas the time has come for them to be retired. And as a fitting way to honour the service they've given me over the last few years, I've chosen to wear them to Australia. They probably won't last the trip, but at least I know they'll have died in a good way, providing me comfort till the end and when I needed it the most. Maybe I'll throw them into the Pacific when they're finally done.

RIP My Canvas Puma Nostros. You were a good trainer, and I can only hope your replacement will be half as good.

Video Of The Day Click for more info

Today, it's "SF2 - Dancer vs. Baby", funny even if you don't recognise the Streetfighter soundtrack:


Monday, June 4

Racial Abuse

In the rush of peak time Tube travel it's not unusual to witness some cases of commuter rage: those sudden bursts of unreasonable aggression triggered by an unintentional brush or bump or over-eagerness of some to get to where they want to go. I'm usually a chilled out traveller, choosing to be amused by the incidents involving others rather than becoming involved in any myself.

I do have an above average walking speed though, and it has gotten me into trouble a few times as I try to overtake people choosing to get in my way unnecessarily by taking their sweet time walking. I usually react to this with a smile and apology (and afterwards, a profanity under my breath) and manage to defuse the situation before it becomes anything worse. Sometimes, however, that isn't quite enough.

Take tonight for example. As often happens with me I was becoming squeezed by two people who either didn't see me coming or, more likely, didn't care. I had no choice but to bump into the one cutting me up the most. I duly apologised and went on my way, only to be followed by a barrage of abuse.

My normal response is to obviously ignore such things. Not because it's the mature thing to do, but because it's the best way to annoy these people further. If they don't give up (as was the case here), I then turn to super-patronisation to try to really wind them up. So: "hey man, chill out" or "I'm really sorry mate. No, honestly I am". You get the picture.

My reward in this case was to be called a "Paki c*nt". Now I've been racially abused before, but never in such a blatant and cliched way. In fact I was initially a bit dumbstruck at the incredulity of it, before breaking out in a bit of a giggle. Was it possible for someone who lives in London (although thinking about it now I might have detected a Northern accent) to actually say these words with a straight face? With any kind of credibility and concern for originality? It seemed so.

I even asked him to clarify exactly what he said. Unfortunately he declined.

Sunday, June 3

Game: Mario Strikers Charged Football (Wii) Click for more info

Evolution to the Gamecube original, Mario Strikers was never about genuine football simulation. The closest thing I can compare it to is Speedball 2 from way back when. It's got the same violence, the same high scoring, and the same brutal simplicity.

Graphics and sound are alright, but nothing to scream about. The controls work really well; Mario Strikers is possibly the best controlled Wii game I own so far. It's a pleasure to pass, foul and shoot (even when you miss). I think the makers of this game weren't lured into using the motion controls frivolously; the only real time you do is to hit/foul and save Megastrikes.

I've had a quick go at the online stuff, and although I've not played a match it seems to be well organised and designed. There is a good single player mode too, with both story and challenge modes. There's enough depth to keep even the most hard core gamer going and yet on the whole it's more than accessible to those with less time on their hands.

If you're looking for real football, then give this one a miss. If you're instead looking for a fun game that you don't have to spend hours learning how to play, then Mario Strikers is worth a good hard look.

Saturday, June 2

Film: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End Click for more info

The third in the POTC trilogy (unless there's a fourth, of course), At World's End picks up the story exactly where the second left us unforgivably hanging. The usual crew are out to save Captain Jack Sparrow in order to group together the world's pirates against an increasingly ruthless Lord Beckett.

Since I found DMC so disappointing, I went in to watch this with low expectations; a tribute to the still amazing opener of the series. And this attitude seemed to work - I certainly enjoyed AWE more than the last one.

That's not to say it reached the heights of The Curse of the Black Pearl, of course. But it stuck to the basics okay (in fact I can only really remember four or five stages in the film), was funny, well acted (with Keira looking even hotter than she usually does) and had more than enough action to satisfy. It was also just as hard to follow as its counterparts; I was scratching my head a few times wondering what was going on, but unlike as it was with Pearl figuring it out wasn't as rewarding.

So a saving grace with respect to DMC, AWE is worth a watch if only to conclude the series as a whole. Oh, and like you should have done with the others, make sure you stick around till after the credits.

Food: Tas Restaurant Click for more info

We picked the Bloomsbury branch of this range of Turkish restaurants, which turned out to be nice and roomy - just the place in which to spend a lazy Saturday lunch. Food didn't disappoint either, with both starters and main bringing enough to the table to make it a good culinary as well as social experience.

The items on the menu were standard affairs: cold salmon, chicken wings and cheese filled pastry to begin with followed by various meat dishes - I picked the mixed grill since I couldn't decide.

Price came to a reasonable £16 per head for no fancy drinks and just enough food to fill us up adequately. It's not often that you get a place with a good atmosphere and menu, so I'll be tucking this away in my list of places to revisit.

Food: FishWorks Click for more info

We visited the Primrose Hill branch of this fish food restaurant, and to be frank I wasn't too stunned. Based at the back of a fishmongers, the atmosphere and decor were nice enough, but the food wasn't that amazing (although I'm not really much of a fresh fish fan) especially for the price we had to pay (which by the nature of the place was always going to be dear). A bag of starters, mains, dessert and a couple of drinks totalled to around 26 per head; I can think of many places to get a much better meal and experience from for that price.

But if anything you pay for the location, the Primrose Hill area being a nice place for a stroll after dinner. But since that bit can be had for free, it's a tenuous justification at best to visit this place. Unless you're a total fish nut, of course.

Friday, June 1

Book: Londonstani, Gautam Malkani Click for more info

Apparently, writing the end of a book or film is one of the hardest things to do in the creative process. I guess it's something about flow or living up to expectation and having to end any enjoyable experience is always going to be a bit difficult.

Take Londonstani. With one of the most irrelevant and abrupt endings I've ever read, it's the only thing on my mind as I type this here review. This is a shame, since I'm sure there was much more to talk about, especially as I was making my way through the rest of the book. But maybe I should just start at the top anyway.

The book follows the life of Jas, an A-Level retake student living in Hounslow. He's a rudeboy (or at least trying to be one), and will be immediately familiar to those who grew up in the East or West of London. At first, the book is nothing more than a series of anecdotes and experiences of the typical British Born Asian gang member.

It then progresses to a more deeper arc. I say deeper, but it's not really. There are only a handful of very obvious characters and very few are brought to life. Characterisation is achieved with humour ("that's so true!") but more effectively by style; Malkani used a pretty risky trick of writing dialogue with the literal spellings and grammar of the people speaking. We're talking text language and slang here. It was a bit difficult to read at times, but on the whole it worked pretty well.

In some places, Jas describes some pretty complex social theory and opinion; these fall outside of the main narrative, and I can't help but feel the book being used as a kind of channel for the author's own thoughts. Although not completely relevant they kept the book interesting for me anyway.

And then we come to the end. To be frank, the less said about it the better. It struggles to close properly and, furthermore, whacks on one of the most irrelevant and tedious plot twists I've come across. Considering how much I enjoyed the rest of the book I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed and cheated.

An interesting book at best then. I can't totally recommend it, but I don't think you'd be wasting your time reading Londonstani either. As a possible throwback to your own school and college experiences it works pretty well, but as a book on its own it falls pretty far short.