Wednesday, December 31

Video of the Day Click for more info

More fun and games from the ace Boymongoose, in the form of another Christmas carol:

Awesome. For those who missed last year's just as brilliant offering, have a look here.

And no, I don't relate. Much.

Hat tipped to Khalid.

Tuesday, December 30

And Pigs Will Fly

I guess 2008 really is the year of the impossible: first the USA elects a black president, and now, in many ways even less likely, I've had to call my mobile service provider in order to ask for more inclusive minutes than I currently get. After my birthday and a couple of Eids I've been caught out way too many times and so here I am doing something I'd never thought I would need to.

It's a sign. The world is coming to an end I tell you.

Monday, December 29

After Partying

I was supposed to get back into a solid work regime today, except that the groom from yesterday's wedding called and invited me to join the wedding party for lunch as well as other fun and games. How could I refuse such a request? With my current level of discipline, I guess I couldn't.

And so the afternoon was spent lunching and joking, then eating chocolate on a Routemaster while touring London by dusk and then finally ending at the London Eye for a night flight. I've never been on the Eye after dark so it was nice to have that particular experience; although visibility was low the view was pretty stunning (I've added some blurry pictures to Picasa if you wanted to check them out).

It was all so totally random, out-there, last minute and massively enjoyable; the perfect conclusion to such a good nuptial weekend. It's just more evidence of what kind of couple these guys are I suppose.

New Music

Guzarish - Ghajini

Although there's a couple of good tracks on the Ghajini OST (most of which belie the film itself), this by far stands out the most. I think it's the way it can be sweet and powerful at the same time, as well as the sniggering inducing lyric translations. Classic gems include "[...]How I pine to splash you with my colours of life" and "spring forth from the fountainhead to spew my pearls of life upon your path". Or maybe it's just me who found that funny.

Aye Bachchu - Ghajini

The second track lifted from the Ghajini OST, this is a fun and eccentric number sung by Kalpana in various costume (which to be honest is probably why I like it so much). It won't last as long as Guzarish, that's for sure.

Shak's Choice: Asin

Probably my first Tamil choice (I lose track sometimes), it's the wonderful Asin, currently starring as Kalpana in the superb Ghajini:

Although she isn't really that new after all: she has made a few films already and so it's surprising that it's taken this long for her to breakthrough. Better late than never eh?

Film: Ghajini Click for more info

Sweet, romantic, funny, hot, tragic, violent, action-packed, engaging, dramatic and thrilling, there's little that's missing from Ghajini. Although not as deep and complex as the wonderful Memento (perhaps a good thing), it manages to remain interesting enough from beginning to end, resulting in one of the best Bolly flicks I've seen this year.

Kudos goes to all who put the film together, as Ghajini is yet another example of how Mumbai can produce technically good films. Acting was okay too, with Aamir (EDIT: this guy for real or what? Just one word really: steroids) and Asin shining the most. I also enjoyed the soundtrack, despite it being tenuously shoehorned in in most cases.

So a definite recommendation from me then: if you're going to watch one final Bolly filck this year I'd totally say to make it Ghajini. Heck if you're going to watch one final film of any genre I'd say this is worth a looksie too.

Sunday, December 28

Rohit and Vandana

I'm not that angry at Rohit for breaking the pact of non-marriage we made after realising that we would be the last of the Imperial massive to get married. Of course he denies any knowledge of this, but it had been made.

But I'm not too upset since it had been clear from a while back how geared up for marriage he was - despite never having met her before it was obvious how into her he was. What was really impressive was how this wasn't in any kind of clouded or limerated manner but in a very real and controlled and valuable way.

It totally sucks that I couldn't make his wedding in Mumbai: a combination of a tough visa process (due to my Pakistani connection) and the recent events over there pretty much ensured that I couldn't go. Damn world.

I first met Rohit on my first day at university. It was my birthday and he was on the receiving end of my self-pitying and complaining of how crap Imperial was. That sums up Rohit in a nutshell really; he taught me that no matter how important and correct you felt your principles were, friendship was something worth so much that it should override them.

This meant that he wouldn't quibble over pennies or pounds, that he'd quickly get over the many times I deliberately antagonised him (often without looking for retribution) and always go out of his way to do a favour without expecting anything in return. He'd even put himself in an undesirable position if it meant saving grief for a mate.

And that's why I don't mind much that he's broken the pact he had with me. After all, if there's anything I've learned from Rohit it's how the happiness of a friend is worth much more than a mere broken promise.

Atha and Fatimah

Some guys are just cliches. In Atha's case I mean this in the best way possible: here is a universally acclaimed genuinely nice guy with lots of friends who he's always willing to put aside time for. He is super-funny and adored by all around him be they male or female; I can't imagine anyone thinking anything bad about him. He's also extremely normal and down-to-earth: many a time we've spent comically backing each other up against a room full of our more cultured and intelligent friends.

He'd never do anyone wrong let alone his wife - he's the perfect marriage material in all the right ways and yet he wasn't married until recently. Today is his valima/reception.

I'll stop before this post becomes about how stupid most women are for ignoring the good guys out there (but this might come later).

Fatimah isn't without quality either. This piano-playing, horse-riding, Ugandan-kid-saving girl was the type to make many in the marriage hall wonder exactly how talented a single person could be, but then I guess it takes a Cambridge graduate like her to know what they have with a guy like Atha. He's a lucky man.

The valima today reflected this. I'm not sure I've been to many that had a games' room (well in this case a games' hall) and a dazzling array of cakes for dessert. The speeches were wonderful and the whole thing just worked so well.

So in that sense they're pretty much perfect for each other. Two classy people in a classy union; what more could a couple wish for?

Sony Alpha A200 Click for more info

I used to hate both taking and being in pictures. The former was due to laziness and an irrational hatred of collecting things, in this case photos and albums. Where would you put them all? The latter was partly due to what I considered religious reasons but also due to a mixture of modesty and immodesty: why would anyone want to take a picture of me, and how dare they even think about owning my image? Besides, what's the point of taking pictures if you can remember the moments?

I'm not sure when exactly things changed. The digital age of photography allowed us all to now store and view a massive number of pictures on a home computer, with no space taking albums in sight, and you could keep taking pictures without worrying about wasting film. I also began to appreciate the memories stored in pictures - the evidence (for yourself and other, possibly new, people in your life) of who you've been, who you are and who you will be.

Regardless of this epiphany I never actually bought a camera. Most of my impromptu pictures had been taken by my various phones once they had reached a certain technical standard, while more planned shots (holidays and weddings) were taken with borrowed gear. I never really saw a need to change this situation, until now.

I've always appreciated DSLRs. Even my untrained eye could tell the difference between the shots taken with them (on "auto" by an amateur like me) and the more compact cameras currently funding the popularity of photo sharing nowadays. But still there was no way I could justify the cost of something that would probably spend most of its life gathering dust in a drawer. I had set myself a pretty impossible budget of £200.

A combination of discounts and offers allowed me to nab a Sony A200, already the cheapest of DSLRs from any manufacturer for the handsome price of £190 - a terrific bargain by any measure. The price betrays the quality of the camera though: although the kit lens it comes with was said to be a bit iffy, the body of the camera was well specified compared to others in its class (and sometimes above). Things like in-body steadyshot (as opposed to in-lens, which also has its benefits), anti-dust measures, a large generous LCD screen and image sensor and multipoint autofocussing are all unique on a camera at this price (even before the discounts).

In hand though there are some drawbacks. It's a bit bigger and heavier than the others I've played with, and I'll also be the first to admit that the pictures don't look as good as those taken with other cameras (albeit ones which cost three times as much). On the other hand it's pretty quick to turn on and focus and can take pictures at up to 3 frames per second. For someone new to advanced photography it's also extremely easy to use, with everything laid out in a way that makes sense to me.

The picture quality issues could just be me using it incorrectly of course, and hopefully as I get to grips with the camera they'll get better. In the meantime, I'll be posting any particularly interesting pictures into a single public Picasa album; feel free to comment and feedback on them as I'd love to know what you think and how I could improve.

The National Gallery Click for more info

Despite having lived in London for the past thirty years, there are some things I've not yet done. Things like visiting Buckingham Palace, St Paul's Cathedral or the Tower of London have all been put on the back burner, partly because I know they'll always be there but mainly because I'm insensitive to their importance and don't really care much about them.

There are things that I really want to do though, many of which I managed as a part of my embracing my solitude and going at it alone (The Tate Modern being the most abused place). The National Gallery is another place I've wanted to visit; to be honest, I'm not entirely sure whether I've been there before or not (it seemed so familiar), but when a couple of visiting Canadian friends said they were going to go, I decided to, well, use seeing them as an excuse and tag along.

It was nice enough. We marvelled over Monet, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael (Turtle Ninja puns ahoy!) and Van Gogh amongst others, while taking the opportunity to chat and catch up due to our mutual inability to appreciate the art silently. I think that for me, most galleries in general are about the company rather than the content (a notable exception being The Tate Modern), although there's no doubting that they do make a nice context and vibe in which to hang out. It's also worth mentioning how impressive the gallery itself is, and I regret that I wasn't allowed to take any pictures of the place.

I also seem to have gotten over my obsessive need to see everything and anything in a museum or gallery, finally realising that checking out 100% of half of what's on offer is better than checking out 50% of everything.

As an afterthought, Trafalgar Square never looked so awesome from the Gallery's balcony. Funny how you appreciate some things so much more once you see them from a different perspective, eh?

Thursday, December 25

Film: Dostana Click for more info

Hilarious madcap comedy about two guys who put on a show of homosexuality in order to gain various advantages. Much of Dostana is pretty predictable, but it's done with such style and humour you can't help but enjoy it anyway.

Abhishek and John play the gay couple brilliantly, while Priyanka plays her part too (apparently there's a shortage of cloth in Miami). The star of the show is undoubtedly the script though; I laughed out loud more than once. The romantic twist was also a nice and engaging bonus.

I'd hardly call Dostana a memorable experience, but it's super fun while it lasts. Recommended (if you can still catch it).

Tuesday, December 23

Food: Tamarai Click for more info

Nice enough Pan Asian place on Drury Lane offering a small yet complete menu of fancy dishes I couldn't quite understand the composition of. Compared to the usual dazzling array of options it was actually refreshing to have just one fish, one lamb and one chicken main to choose from! Although the lamb and chicken were said to be halal I stuck to the boneless fish and loved every fillet of it, although the rest of the table found their respective lamb, chicken and prawn dishes to be merely okay.

Service was excellent with the staff prompt and polite, although the food did arrive slower than we wanted it to. Still we were treated to pre and post-appetizers to keep us busy while we sipped on our overpriced non-alcoholic cocktails.The place itself is of the bar-restaurant type, a bit dark and loud for my liking and not really conducive to good conversation. That said we did manage to kick back pretty quickly.

Despite enjoying the food the price was pretty prohibitive despite being on a Top Table 50% offer - we paid a smidge over twenty per head for a starter, main and shared sides and were in unanimous agreement that even after the discount we paid a fiver too much for what we had.

Just another option then, rather than a place to go back to.

Monday, December 22

Holiday Pictures Now Up Click for more info

Just a quick post to say that my holiday pictures from Pakistan and China are now up! Follow the link in the title to get to them.

I've kept a few private, including the one of a certain bovine (amongst others) being slaughtered. Mail if you'd like to see these. Family also have their own albums to view.

I'll try to update the relevant posts (if I can be bothered).

Sunday, December 21

Film: The Day the Earth Stood Still Click for more info

Apocalyptic alien invasion ahoy! There wasn't much that TDTESS brought to the table that was new, but nevertheless it managed to keep me entertained and engaged for a while. There wasn't even much for the special effects brigade; you've probably seen most of the highlights from the trailer so don't go watching this expecting any more than that. Oh and like all good science fiction nowadays we also get given a big fat moral of the story too.

Not bad, but hardly unmissable either TDTESS might be worth watching seeing as there's not much else on at the moment.

Film: Rab Ne Bana Jodi Click for more info

RNBJ made many mistakes on its road to being a classic. Along with a title no one could quite remember we were also given a confused and unrealistic plot (even more than usual I mean) and a distinct lack of depth.

That's not to say RNBJ was totally devoid of any entertainment; on the contrary since it was fairly sweet, funny and engaging. It all just wasn't enough to make the whole thing memorable. Where were the deep, over-emotional moments? The classic and defining scenes? The dialogue that people were supposed to quote in real life? RNBJ had none of these.

Although I didn't quite understand why he did what he did, Shahrukh Khan did a fabulous job as the guy who reinvents himself for love. I had major issues with his opposite, Anushka Sharma; ultimately I just didn't believe her performance and was longing for those feelings I got while watching other actresses much better at playing the leading lady role. It would have also helped getting someone who could dance to play someone who, uh, wanted to dance.

Otherwise production was of a good standard apart from some rubbish dubbing; the music was also good (keep an eye out for Phir Milenge, Chalte Chalte) if a bit on the scarce side.

I am being a bit unfair in my criticism: RNBJ is still by far a good film and a league ahead of regular Bollywood love stories and this is still A-one stuff here that's definitely worth checking out if only for a bout of feel good factor. It's just not the classic I was expecting despite having the correct ingredients, and for that I guess I am sorely disappointed.

Saturday, December 20

Shak's Choice: Rachel Stevens

Let's get this straight: I've always had the hots for Rachel. Yes, okay, I know I wasn't alone in placing her as my favourite S-Clubber, but my point is this post isn't just because of her current success in Strictly Come Dancing:

I'd actually say she's more cute than hot, but hey: let's not get into semantics. I write this as she enters the final two in tonight's final and although I was always backing her from the start I don't actually care whether she wins or not since she'll still be awesome whatever happens.

Tuesday, December 16

XKCD Click for more info

XKCD is back on form with it's latest take on why we chicken out on what needs to be done:

Who knew that the "friendship rationalisation" was such a cliche? Well, I guess we all did really.

Game: Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2 (DS) Click for more info

Although it's been out for a while, I finally got to play Ouendan 2 during my stay in Pakistan. The sequel to one of my favourite DS games ever (2005? Damn) brings more of the same rhythm action fun.

There's no new gimmicks or gameplay elements here, so you will already know whether you want to play this or not. It's a nicer experience as you can now skip a lot of the guff, as well as play pretty detailed multiplayer with just the one cart. On the downside though the all important music isn't as catchy as it was in the first game.

Otherwise there's nothing much more to say. Osu!

Sunday, December 14

Pakistan, Day Eighteen: Goodbye Pakistan

We awoke to a call from PIA, the airline due to take us home, informing us that the flight would leave an hour later than scheduled. Between that (an hour's delay isn't that unusual) and the news that the Pakistani Air Force had repelled a couple if Indian fighters from Pakistani airspace had us worried that something was up.

We needn't have worried though and we managed to board our flight okay. I'm always glad to see Jinnah International - the first step on my way home. Landing was amusing, seeing how we spent an hour in the plane while it was on the tarmac, the ground staff having difficulty in attaching the skybridge to allow us off. We ended up having to walk off; even while in London we were suffering from the Pakistani effect!

We arrived home at around 5pm, but our day wasn't over - after a quick shower and rest we had to get ready to attend a wedding; just the ticket to get over any residual jetlag we may have been suffering from although I always find it easier travelling from East to West anyway.

Between Lahore with my aunt, China with my parents, having an English cousin in Pakistan and just being plain older, this has been a fantastic trip "back home". It may even rank amongst the best and makes me wonder if there'll ever be a time when I stop going.

After the past month I sincerely hope not.

Pakistan, Day Seventeen: Counting The Minutes

We planned on spending today at home, receiving all those who wished to bid us farewell. My poignancy was obscured by my homesickness, and I couldn't really hide my desire to go home. We exchanged well wishes and prayers for safe travel with promises to see each other again soon, hugged and kissed, and said multiple goodbyes in doorways. It was all so familiar and yet still difficult to get used to. The next time I see these guys they’ll be two to three years older, with some even having one or more kids in the meantime.

It was also a day of inevitabilities, the first being us having a power cut (our trip is now complete) and the second being the last minute packing that we really should have had sorted a while ago. And why the heck are we sleeping so late too?

I shouldn't have had that farewell fillet-o-fish and quarterpounder for dinner either. I hope I offload before taking off.

Friday, December 12

Pakistan, Day Sixteen: Winding Down

More housekeeping today, as we met some of dad's workmates for lunch and Jummah prayer, and then another friend of his in the afternoon. All meetings were pretty much uneventful and consisted of them talking about stuff I wasn't particularly interested in or didn't understand. Inevitably there was the odd defence of my single status, but that was my only real involvement in the proceedings.

Dinner was better as a relative took us out to Pizza Hut. Still, even that was a quiet affair; it seems I've not got much left to say this trip!

Pakistan, Day Fifteen: Winding Down

The holiday began to wind down today – we didn't really have anything planned for the morning so I spent it in the best way possible: by channel hopping. Seems I had exactly the same issues as the last time I did this here, although I must say that the programming is pretty advanced now.

The afternoon was spent doing the relatives rounds – we managed to visit a good five or six households in a couple of hours and it was good meeting all my mum's uncles and aunties, even if I didn't have much to say to them. I also suddenly realised how old they all get each time I manage to visit them in this way.

The evening followed a similar theme, except this time it was my father's side and all in one house. Nine of his siblings (out of a possible 11 in Pakistan at that time) made it to the party, and it was awesome seeing them and their respective families all together; just like in old times. Once again I got ribbed for being the oldest (by far) unmarried cousin (I didn’t realise gay jokes were available here), but it was all such a laugh I didn't mind. On the contrary; I wish I had enough time to spend properly with the 150+ people or so that had made the effort to come.

But despite all the fun and joy I find myself very tired, both physically and mentally. It's coming up to a month since we left the UK, the longest I've been away in recent times, and the homesickness is beginning to kick in. That, and all of a sudden the mosquitoes have begun to bite.

I miss my bed. Only a couple of days left to go, I guess.

Wednesday, December 10

Pakistan, Day Fourteen: Slaughter Time!

After what seemed like an age of sleep I managed to recover quite a bit this morning. I was no longer spewing stuff from both ends at least, although I was feeling a bit weak from the lack of nourishment during the last 24 hours.

I was strong enough to hang out for the second day of sacrifice – it's not as numerous or as exciting as the first day, but it was good enough as I witnessed my father do away with two goats. He had a cow to do later on in the day; after lamenting how I wish I had been perky enough to slaughter a goat he graciously offered me Daisy (not her real name) instead; a bit too gleefully now that I think about it.

I first met Daisy later on this morning, around 11am. She was clearly shaken after a day and a half of watching her kin being taken under the knife, but after a while she calmed down and allowed us to pat and groom her. And once again a lady misplaces her trust in me.

It was finally time to do the deed. With the help of some hired butchers, Daisy was brought to the ground, tied up and held, her neck ready for the knife I held in my hand. Reciting a little prayer, I took the blade to the place I was told to, slicing once, twice, perhaps three times before the blood began to spray on to my hands. Despite how it sounds it was a very smooth cut (or very sharp knife) and I felt no resistance; in fact I'm pretty certain Daisy didn't feel anything either until the knife was taken out of my hands in order to finish her off. Hey look, it was my first time okay? And it didn't help that I had a big butcher in the way.

Washing my hands of her blood, I began to assess what just happened. Strangely I didn't really feel anything for Daisy – it was almost as if she had literally already become a piece of meat way before a knife got anywhere near her. To be honest I'm a bit surprised at this lack of feeling or that I didn't feel any remorse. Meh, perhaps I'm a cold hearted bastard after all?

An hour later and the butchers had cut up Daisy into smaller and more manageable chunks (including her brain), amusingly bits of her still pulsating even after this much time. Two hours later and we had our first taste of the meat. Disappointingly it didn't taste any different to me.

There's more to the qurbani than merely slashing a poor beast's throat. This cow was offered on behalf of my parents and me (amongst others – a cow is good for seven people) and the meat was to be given away to neighbours and poor people living nearby. I'd even say that this bit was harder than the actual slaughter – it was pretty damn hot.

On a side note I also had my first bike ride this trip – man, I've always loved these and they've been one of the reasons I come to Pakistan. Unfortunately due to recent trouble in the area two men on a single bike has been banned (the passenger assuming the gunner's role), so my ride was pretty short lived.

Later that evening we had a pretty awesome barbecue. A part of me is waiting to see if Daisy has the last laugh by exerting her revenge on my stomach.

Pakistan, Day Thirteen: The Worst Eid Ever

There are sometimes clear indications that you're about to have a really bad day. Vomiting at 4am is one of them; now, sure, getting some kind of food poisoning isn't new when you visit Pakistan – heck, it's one of the things we should embrace and even look forward to, it's that inevitable.

But today was Eid, and being ill on Eid always sucks a hundred times more. Not only did I have to abort my first attempt at Eid prayer to make way for more vomiting (luckily I managed to catch a later congregation), but I was so knocked out I missed the qurbani, or ritual sacrifice I was looking forward to for so long to see.

In fact I spent most of the day in bad – I can't have been awake for more than four hours in total, and that just to puke up the stuff I tried to eat or drink. Needless to say, I had written off today completely.

Monday, December 8

Pakistan, Day Twelve: Missing Eid Back Home

The day before Eid here in Pakistan, and so not really much to do except wait. We had lunch around a cousin of mine's house, after which the folks had some chores to do in town - I tagged along just to get out for a bit. Luckily I bumped into my English cousin and spent the rest of the day, including dinner, with her.

It's Eid in the UK though, and it was good to call home and check in with family. It's really weird to be celebrating Eid a day later than the friends and family at home, almost as if I expect them all to have waited a bit, or that our own celebrations tomorrow will have had some of the edge taken out of them. Even though I fully support the notion of having multiple Eids in one place, I'm glad I usually fall into the camp that celebrates first!

Pakistan, Day Eleven: The Beginning of The End

We managed to get some sleep at least, playing it rough by sleeping in the airport's prayer room. Between the time difference and naps on the flight coming to Abu Dhabi, this turned out to be pretty valuable rest. The remaining time at the airport was spent breakfasting and chatting online with an insane friend from the UK who happened to still be awake (it was about 5am back in the UK).

But we were back in Karachi before we knew it – even the severe turbulence on landing wasn't enough to sway our excitement. For the second time in a month, landing in Karachi felt like I was coming home. I didn't even wait to leave the airport before getting a McDonalds.

The biggest change during the two weeks we were away was the sheer number of livestock lining the streets, patiently waiting for Eid so they could offer their necks to the butcher's knife. I then realised that I didn't even get to know the cow we had ordered. I didn't even know where it was!

My new clothes had arrived from the tailors too – this is only interesting since I've decided to go for patterned and contrasting upper and lowers, instead of the straight plains I've gone for during the past 18 years or whatever. Reading back, perhaps this is not that interesting after all...

Surprisingly none of us were too beat. Nevertheless we spent the bulk of the day settling in and resting, treating ourselves to dinner at Seaview's Village (my poor mother not having eaten much during our stay in China). This was the life; although I had a feeling Karachi wouldn't be so stress and carefree for what little remained of our time here.

Sunday, December 7

China, Day Thirteen: Leaving China

In the morning my dad and I decided to take a flippant ride on the Beijing subway; having had a driver for the duration of the trip meant missing out on public transport. Our assessment? It's pretty neat.

After lunch we headed back to the market to pick up some last minute shopping (read: more trinkets and gifts), after which we headed to the airport. Oddly, it felt like we had just arrived at the still-impressive Terminal 3. I think we were all happy to be leaving though.

I type this from Abu Dhabi airport, at the start of what will surely be a horrendous nine hour stopover. Urgh, what a way to spend the night; I better try to get some sleep somehow. Still, we're almost there.

Friday, December 5

China, Day Twelve: Winding Down

Our second Jummah in China and so another late start as we got ready for the midday prayer. We had pretty much exhausted our time here in Beijing, and that coupled with how the guide refused to amend The Schedule meant that today wasn't that eventful.

We visited the calligrapher from our first time in Beijing to pick up a couple of pieces, this time having the pleasure of watching him work his magic. After that we headed to a new market where we picked up some more gifts and things.

Like I said, pretty uneventful. Still, at least I got to play Teen-Do-Panch with the parents this evening! Result.

Thursday, December 4

The Silver Lining

Getting rejected is a good thing. Hold up, hold up: let me explain.

As the proposer, you know you've done as much as you can. You've taken it as far as you could have on your own, after having given the situation your full consideration. You're the one who was brave; you're the one who took the risk. It was you who had lived life to the fullest and seized the day. You're the one who went out of your way to compliment and flatter the other. You're also the one who knows that they couldn't have changed the outcome, that there's nothing left to see, that this is, in fact, the end. There's nothing more to see here, and you're the one who can move on.

Now let's consider the poor rejector. They on the other hand was put on the spot and had little time to come to the decision they did. Can they ever be sure that they made the right one? They're the ones who could regret saying no; they're the ones who will wonder what if. The full weight of missing out on what could have been is fully on their shoulders, the responsibility wholly theirs. In fact, for them the story might not be over for a long time.

So not only do they fare worse than you, but they also did you a favour, having saved you from one of those inevitably sticky relationship things (does anybody even want one of those things?).

On the other hand, it could quite possibly suck. But to be honest I don't think there's that much in it.

Originally posted 21st August 2008

Aiming For Rejection

Never ask someone out unless you'll be disappointed with them rejecting you. After all, if you don't actually mind them declining your advances then you probably don't really dig them as much as you think you do anyway.

If course this is based on the approach that you need an argument or case to ask someone out, and flies in the face of the other side that says you can only develop things fully after being explicit and so should give everyone a go, you know just in case.

Of course I'm not saying that you should aim for rejection just to prove that your feelings are correct - I'm not that much of a masochist. However it may be a better situation to be in than being received positively and then finding out that you don't actually like the person after all; although perhaps not at first since a yes is always awesome for the ego, whatever your real feelings.

It's difficult to know how you'd feel about someone saying yes or no either way, but I think it's possible if you really think about it. You could perhaps place some distance between the two of you to simulate rejection or something?

Ultimately though you might never really know until you do the deed. In that case, perhaps the best thing to do is to just stop makings excuses and take the plunge? I suspect that a rejection is better than not knowing at all, and deliberating about it all may just be a terribly inefficient way of getting the exact same answers.

Originally drafted 2nd August 2008

It's Not You, It's Me

Today, I'm going to talk about rejection. Before I do I have to qualify this all a bit first - I've never asked anyone out before, and so as a result have never been rejected. However I have been approached a few times by girls who, for some bizarre reason, have found some kind of interest in me. These have all been lovely people, each way too good for me, and as flattered as I was, I was also probably an idiot each time I declined their respective offers. Out of respect for these people I've never talked about them or what they managed to do so bravely, not even in general terms like I will today; but the fact remains that this really is the only exposure I've had to the dynamics of that dreaded beast called rejection.

The first time someone someone said they liked me was way back in college. I foolishly rejected the advice from friends that I was sending out the wrong signals (however innocent they were), but the fact remains that I was slightly responsible for her coming forward - a lesson I still haven't really learned even now.

I told her that my parents were planning on finding me a wife, possible from Pakistan, and that I wasn't the type to date. A bare faced lie of course, but one I managed to get away with nonetheless. The truth was that I just didn't see her in that way but didn't think it was right to just say that for some reason.

To be fair I did conscously make an effort to remain friends with this poor girl, but something was never quite right - either she was still getting a bit too close or I was all of a sudden more sensitive to her behaviour. I totally overreacted to things like her stealing my topi/headcap (at least 80% of you will be raising your eyebrows at this point. Let's just say that my time in college could create not just a post but a whole blog on its own), and eventually we (or perhaps just I) had to drop contact altogether. Thankfully we were to leave college anyway.

The second time a girl was intersted happened a few years later. This time I didn't take any chances, choosing to drop contact cold turkey even before she had the chance to make her feelings known on her own terms (I had discovered them via other means). I didn't even explain what I was doing, and even though she probably figured it out anyway it was grossly unfair and pathetic on my part since she never even had a chance.

It was from that point on that I promised myself to be as honest as I could be during these situations, whether I was being asked or doing the asking, and no matter how much damage the truth could cause. With honestly on my side there's no way I could be in the wrong. Of course this doesn't mean that tact and diplomacy both go out of the window, two things I need to work on still now. And in the absence of being able to dress up your reasons adequately and constructively, telling the truth is the next best thing. It's certainly better than lying anyway.

And so far this policy seems to have fared me pretty well. Without being too proud I can say that the truth has always been more appreciated than otherwise, and that it made it possible to fully talk about the situation and resolve it to the satisfaction of all concerned, something I make myself available for. In most if not all cases, something positive does come out of the situation, and I hope I'm not wrong when I say there've been little regret on both sides (well okay, perhaps once or twice from my position).

I've even managed to remain friends (sometimes very good friends) with everyone since those first two girls, sometimes even after they marry and find themselves in a better position than they ever would have bein in with me. I even get along with their new husbands, that's how fully resolved and comfortable the situation is. I'll always be flattered that such great people once had an interest in me and seeing them with the right people vindicates my actions in some ways.

But if you still can't find yourself being able to tell the truth then you could always try picking your nose, scratching your crotch, telling rude and inappropriate jokes or simply perving on their sisters while they're letting you know how they feel. After all, if its them rejecting you then all the effort of being truthful and tactful suddenly falls on to them; and you may as well make that easy for the poor buggers, eh?

On the other hand you could just try growing a pair; who knows? After the dust settles it may do you both a great big deal of good.

Originally drafted 18th April 2008

China, Day Eleven: Back to Beijing

We left the hotel before breakfast this morning, in order to catch a 8:40am flight back to Beijing. We were now unravelling our journey and in some ways Beijing seemed like a well trodden and familiar place to us. It felt like ages since we left there.

The weather seemed to have followed us back and although it wasn't snowing it was damned cold. I mean really cold. The day's schedule seemed more like a chore than something to enjoy - taking a rickshaw through the hutong/alleyway part of town wasn't that fantastic, and we bailed after an hours' shopping on Wangfujin Street, deciding the warmth of the hotel would be a much better place to spend our time in.

Compared to Xian, Lanzhou and Linxia, today wasn't much fun. The same strict and inflexible guide as before didn't really help, and we wished we could go back to eating the food we had found much more agreeable in the western part of China.

It seems that the end of our trip to China had begun a few days early.

Wednesday, December 3

China, Day Ten: I Now Want Chinese Babies. Lots Of Them

The temperature dropped to a freezing -10 overnight forcing us to wrap up warmly for the day ahead. Despite the bad weather we were looking forward to this morning's activities, since we were due to visit a kindergarten catering for Chinese Muslims.

As we entered the, admittedly lush, pink building we were almost attacked by a swarm of incredibly cute 3-6 year olds - all welcoming us with salaams (Arabic greetings of peace) and "how do you dooooo?"s without much prompting. Immediately we got the impression that these kids were outgoing, confident and, most importantly, happy. Indeed the unofficial motto of the morning was "increasing education through happiness". The 150 fee paying (of a nominal amount) kids and 50 staff all lived on-site in a complex built and run by businessmen who wanted to promote Islamic education in the area. It's currently funded by the same type of people.

As the Urdu-speaking headteacher explained to us, the school not only emphasised Islamic teachings - some of the kids had learned up to six chapters of the Quran already (I'm not sure we could get enough of the class of four year olds reciting Surah Lahab in chorus, complete with Chinese translation immediately after) - but also provided a healthy level of non-Islamic and extra-curricular study like art and dance. They even had a dance room/gym that doubled up as a prayer space - however it became clear that such dual usages of school facilities wasn't advertised lest they become a focus point for the authorities. Likewise, as important as the non-Islamic facilities were, there was an impression given that the boasting about it was a form of lip-service.

I could have spent the whole day, maybe two, just hanging out with and watching the kids as they learned there (have I mentioned how ultra-cute they were?), perhaps helping out the school if and when I could. Once again I felt like I was leaving too early. I sincerely hope that I'll get the chance to return someday.

After lunch (interesting if only because we almost crashed a wedding being held at the restaurant) we headed back to Lanzhou. The road back was pretty treacherous, the well built roads irrelevant in the face of such snow and ice; we must have passed at least three different incidents on the way back.

But back safely we did get, the evening rounded up by a wandering through a pedestrianised road-cum-shopping street; although not really - we stuck to the underground "street" that ran below it - it was blummin' cold after all. Amusingly and for the first time during this trip we felt very self-conscious as we were repeatedly being stared at during our window shopping. This was no big deal as most of the women down there doing were staring were by far the hottest I had seen during this trip. Cough cough and all that.

Dinner was followed by an early night - we had an early flight to catch the next day. The backtracking of our path through China to date had finally begun.

Tuesday, December 2

China, Day Nine: Pilgrimage to Little Mecca

The morning was pretty basic. We visited the Big Yellow Waterwheel Park – an irrelevance in the grand scheme of things, but since it was paid for we had a peek. We were actually on the way to a smaller town three hours drive away named Linxia, the main city in the prefecture of the same name. This town was relatively off the beaten path, and sometimes a stop over for those travelling further south to see and meet a Tibetan village. The relevance for us, however, was that Linxia was a town where the majority of inhabitants are Muslim - in fact it's often referred to as "Little Mecca" in recognition of this fact.

I was wrong to think that Lanzhou was visibly Muslim. Linxia was in a class of its own – you could literally see at least one (typically there'd be two or three) domed mosque or minaret everywhere you looked. Most men wore headcaps (presumably those that didn't weren't Muslim), the women had their hair covered. Markets were full of livestock, with people bartering in order to get ready for the day of sacrifice next week. Even with my eyes wide open I could imagine myself being in Karachi with only the Chinese signage and (ironically) the multiple domes giving away the true identity of the place. This really was a Muslim town, as opposed to a town which had Muslims in it - indeed the prefecture status of the area implies a certain level of autonomy for the otherwise minority ethnic group (Muslim typically describes an ethnicity in China as opposed to religion).

Being so small, there isn't much to see here. Our schedule largely involved meeting and talking to people and trying to establish a perspective on the culture here. How did Muslims live and practice here? Were there any issues in them living their life? Were they oppressed by the government as so many of us in the West believed?

Our first stop was to a Muslim school for girls. This was a private school which took in girls of all ages for three years in order to teach them Islam – except not quite since they were obligated to also provide education in other skills like English and Computing in order to avoid being shut down by the authorities. Religion alone isn't a justification for opening a school it seems, although from what I saw the added benefits were worth it; some girls were even learning how to program in Delphi!

We sat in a Quranic Arabic class, impressed by the recitation of the students. Asia (pronounced Asiah), an 18 year old student acted as ambassador to the school; her English was outstanding and she served well as a bridge to the rest of the students. She accompanied us on a tour of the rest of the school as we checked out the library, prayer and computing facilities.

We left the school uplifted; these were independent and strong willed women who were striving for knowledge and were doing something about it; the majority had travelled from all over China to study here and had ambitions to continue study further, even abroad. They were comfortable and content, being able to achieve exactly what they wanted to, and more.

Our next stop was less joyous; it was to an orphanage currently housing thirty kids after having been established five years ago. The building itself was tiny and simple, with clear indications of financial struggle (since it wasn't an officially sanctioned orphanage, government support is minimal). The kids themselves were grubby, a few of them having been playing in the dirty street. They sure knew how to pose for a photo though!

As we ate the offered apples and oranges we were told about how some of these kids had ended up here – reasons all too familiar like the preference of boys over girls, or how some were the children of a remarried divorcee woman who were unable to go to the new home their mother was heading to.

Since the kids were studying at public schools, they weren't lucky enough to gain a formal Islamic education. Instead this was left to the rector of the orphanage (or “grandpa” as he was introduced to us); he obviously does a good job at this if the six year old reciting Surah Naba for us was anything to go by.

Our final stop before home was to a Sufi mosque to offer our evening prayers. Unusually this was not domed like the majority here, it was still majestic in its own right.

A friend back home had asked me to observe and report on the social struggles Muslims face here. Obviously there are many, but I've yet to see any grave issues caused by them being Muslim and in China. Most are the usual problems caused by poverty and a lack of education (like the gender bias), but some of the more stressing ones are caused by people just being Muslim alone; indeed they are the same problems afflicting Muslims the world over.

Take the number of mosques here. Despite there being many practicing Muslims in Linxia, there is still way more prayer space than is required, something that appeared to be a result of sectarian differences. The community is quite segregated in this manner and even butt heads – we were told of the pissing contests some groups had in building their incredibly impressive three storey mosques, all while their adherents lived in squalor.

Seeing The Great Wall and Terracotta army was nice, but this half of our time in China was equal in its wonderful eye-opening effect. We still have time in Linxia and Gansu, but already my impression of Islam in China is a world apart from what I had thought before coming here. And once again I feel like I’m not spending enough time here (we leave tomorrow), this in contrast to usually feeling homesick after just ten days away from London.

Monday, December 1

China, Day Eight: Arriving in Lanzhou

Bit of a logistical day today, as we left the hotel late to catch our flight to Lanzhou. We arrived in the capital of Gansu Province much later than we had expected - 4:15pm to be precise. In short our Monday had pretty much been killed.

Lanzhou City was bigger than we were expecting. I guess that was obvious - after all it is a capital and does have its own airport and stuff, but I am ashamed to admit that I was relieved to find large hotels and restaurants here too. I didn't even mind the excessive use of neon lighting! It's very Las Vegas or Dubai, and just goes to show how bling has penetrated even the most remote and modest (or at least what I thought was remote and modest) parts of the world.

Despite arriving late, we did manage to salvage something of the day as we visited the largest and most impressive mosque in the city. Xiguan Mosque was pretty cool, but we were too late for Esha prayer - hopefully we'll get to join a congregation there at some point. It's actually one of a pretty incredible number of mosques (unlike Beijing and Xian these were newer and so were of a more Arab style with minarets and all) dotted around the city - I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that if I didn't know better I'd have thought I was in a Muslim town. Even our guide is a Chinese Muslim!

Famous for The Silk Road and some temples, Lanzhou is an unusual place for tourists to visit, especially ones on their first visit to China. We weren't here to be tourists though, at least not the type who sight see. No, Lanzhou was actually more of a springboard into our next and final destination for which we leave for tomorrow - and as such you'll have to wait for my next post for the lowdown there.

Banned In China

A quick note about comments: apparently my blog is so radical and out there that it cannot be accessed from anywhere in China via normal means! Well okay apparently it's every website hosted by Blogger, but still the point is that I can't access my own blog, even though I can post to it.

What this means is that I can't reply to any of your comments. Don't worry though, I am receiving them and have a long list of replies to make once I can!

Sunday, November 30

China, Day Seven: Meeting The Locals

Today didn't promise too much. I mean, sure, we had the Terracotta Soldiers to look forward to, but the afternoon was devoid of any attractions and I was a bit worried that we'd spend it all just wondering the Muslim Street again.

But the Terracotta Soldiers were awe-inspiring, even after I learned that they weren't all discovered lined up whole in an underground cavern. Still, the work that must have gone into rebuilding them was impressive in itself, as was the sight of them lined up in their massive pits.

After lunch we headed back to the Great Mosque to pray and generally hang out in for a while. During our stay there, we were told by a fellow Muslim about another "pretty" mosque within walking distance. Jumping at the chance to do something new (it was going to be a first for our guide too), we headed off to find it.

While wandering around Muslim Xian, I finally acknowledged something that should have been obvious to me from the start - that Islam in China is old. 1200 years is a long time, and makes China's Muslims older than any in the Indian Subcontinent or even some now-Arab states. That's a pretty amazing fact given that when most of us think about Islam and Chinese, we'd probably compare them to chalk and cheese. The Muslims we were passing in the street had had Islam in their blood far longer than I had.

On the way we stopped off at another mosque, similar in state to the Great Mosque, but on a much smaller scale. We finally found the one we were looking for, an even smaller mosque than the last, but the one which, so far, was in the best condition.

And then some. Gold plated Arabic script was plastered all over it's inner walls, immediately giving it a totally different vibe to the rustic and natural mosques we had seen already. This too had the same courtyard-prayer hall layout that the last two had, and we quickly established that this too was a Chinese style that had been integrated into local mosque design.

While we were there we met, by chance, an English speaking local who happened to have been educated in the UK too. It was so useful to finally get to have a direct conversation with a local Muslim - he explained things about the culture, the history of the mosque and things we should be looking out for. His final tip was to point us in the direction of yet another mosque, one which was the oldest in Xian - even older than the Great Mosque itself.

But that wasn't the last time we were to see our new friend. As we passed his home, he insisted on having us drop by for a chat with his family (including the two grandparents of his wife) and some Egyptian business colleagues/friends he had staying with him.

So there we were, some native Xians, a couple of Pakistanis (one of whom was British born) and some Egyptians, eating nuts and sipping on milk, all there mainly because of their faith. It was a wonderful opportunity to gain some insight into Chinese Islam, and a brilliant experience that we were very fortunate to have had.

We finally left to visit the mosque our friend had recommended. The contrast was amazing - where the last mosque we went to was stunning in its upkeep and modernity, this really did appear old. Majestically so though; you could almost feel the history seep out of its almost fully stone-built mithrab.

We headed back to the Great Mosque for Maghrib (it was the only one that would gladly allow women to pray in), the last time we would probably be there. After that, we did some final shopping in the Muslim Quarter before heading off for dinner and an early night. This was pretty lucky, seeing as I managed to catch up with a friend online too.

Where I had come to Xian to see some Terracotta soldiers, I had found so much more. Islam in China had finally literally come alive for me here and in some way I wish I had more time to just hang out and mingle with the locals. Alas our time is up once again and we travel to our next destination tomorrow - but this isn't necessarily a bad thing though since as we go there as our itinerary switches from that focusing on tourism to Islamic culture.

Saturday, November 29

China, Day Six: The Great Mosque of Xian

The night train wasn't a great place to spend a night in after all. All three of us woke up tired and irritable, all due to a distinct lack of sleep, all for various reasons including the noise, vibrations and a strange man's snoring. Still at least we got into our hotel room early - even better that it was a swish suite, so good that it's worth a mention in this post!

After breakfast, we headed off to central Xian and spent some time up the Bell Tower, taking in the four compass directions of Xian. We then walked tot he nearby Muslim quarter - a whole road and surrounding area filled to the brim with Muslims and their businesses. We spent most of the morning there, before heading off to the stunning centrepiece of the quarter to pray: The Great Mosque.

Much bigger than anything Beijing had to offer, this was a 1200 year old mosque and courtyard built on orders of the emperor of the time; as a result it is pretty huge, venerated and preserved as an important historical place of worship. The whole place was impressive, but the most beautiful work in my opinion was left for the inside of the mosque - three of the four wooden walls of the large sub hall having the complete Quran carved into them, while the smaller main hall had a wonderful stone mithrab decorated in the usual Chinese-influenced-Arabic. I could have stayed in the place a couple of more hours to be honest - perhaps we'll revisit it tomorrow.

We then covered the rest of Xian proper - we visited the Wild Goose Pagoda, built in honour of the travelling monk who brought Mahayana Buddhism to China from his time touring India. Impressive and dominant, it provided even more awesome views of Xian.

We then stopped by the city wall, a well preserved 26 kilometre wall which surrounds the inner city of Xian. If I had the time I would have liked to have hired a bike and ride it all the way around - really testing my newly found bike riding skills at last. As it stood we made do with a couple of pictures of, from and on the East Gate.

To kill time before dinner we visited a department store in the vicinity of the Bell Tower, where we found out just how expensive China is for the regular stuff available elsewhere. Needless to say, we bought nothing.

Today was really good actually, mostly because of our really helpful and considerate guide; she worked with us and listened to what we wanted to do and adapted the day to reflect that instead of herding us around her home town. We wouldn't have seen half as much as we would have done without her help. It made the whole decision to take a tour a bit more palatable to be honest - it's just a shame we didn't have the same guide in Beijing!

Friday, November 28

China, Day Five: The Night Train

Jummah, and an easy start as we spent the morning getting ready for the Friday prayer. As I sat in the mosque listening (but not understanding) the Chinese khutba, I wondered how many non-English sermons I had listened to during my holidays abroad.

The afternoon was a mixture of delights. First up was the Temple of Heaven, a huge complex housing altars and halls which used to be used for ritual sacrifices - a side of the faith the emperors which I hadn't really seen before. Since it was a temple, all the buildings and constructs were circular in shape (representing heaven), and this was in plain contrast to the square buildings elsewhere.

Our final few hours in Beijing were spent in what we would probably describe as a street market - except it was in a five storey building! We had plenty of fun - possibly the most some of us had had so far - browsing, bartering and in some cases, buying stuff: more trinkets for friends and more junk for ourselves! Heck, it's probably the only place in the world where I can go and be told "oh, you so handsome" (even though it was suffixed with "come buy here"). Still, I knew they were having as much fun flirting with a British Asian as I was when they carried on doing so even after I told them I had no Yuan on me.

We then headed to the train station in order to catch our night train to Xian. I couldn't believe how heaving the place was! I guess these big intercity stations are like this, but it was pretty intimidating anyhow. The berths themselves are a little too modest; it's a bit rubbish that we're sharing our room for four with a stranger man (especially for my mother who's managed to hoist up an impromptu screen for her bed), but I'm sure they'll do for tonight.

When we awake, we'll be in Xian.

Thursday, November 27

Looking Before You Leap

I used to think that it would be easy to let someone know how I felt about them. I even have a draft sitting in my blog somewhere that I will dig out some day suggesting that we all should rely on friendships to ease the process. I'm now wondering exactly how easy this might be, especially for those of us who are "asking-out virgins". It's not entirely about rejection though.

I think that there are many valid and even honourable reasons why a person might resist doing the deed. I've already covered information gathering in posts like this one, and maybe they just don't feel they know enough to justify a further move.

Some might not want to appear as being that guy or girl: not quite a slag but the one who tries their luck with everyone anyway. I think anyone on the receiving end wants to know that you've considered them more than what gender they happen to be. But how can they ever possibly know that about a proposer without a deep knowledge of their private lives? Sometimes that's not accessible.

A related point is how some, after their first try at asking out, suddenly do indeed blossom into a fully grown Casanova, falling into an asking-out spiral where they become desensitised to and objective about the whole process. In other words, some people don't want to lose the "innocence" which they were relying upon to figure out who would really be good for them.

There's also the possibility of causing offense. Now in discussion I've been told that some guys will never cause offense when asking a girl out, but firstly I'm not sure how they can know this for someone whose never done it before; there are plenty of unfortunate stories about nice enough guys who turn ugly under these situations without even knowing it.

Finally there's the possibility of spoiling something good. Although I still refuse to believe this could happen to a sound friendship, enough people have this fear to give it some credibility. Perhaps a disclosure of this sort can wreck friendships, and if that's the case maybe the loss isn't worth the gain?

Why is there a need for any explicit and formal approach anyway? It might make the whole thing contrived and forced, when leaving it all to the blessing of the universe and allowing it to take care of things may be a better idea.

I think that for me, the ideal way to form a serious relationship is to naturally fall into one. I know of couples who don't quite know when they became an item, and it seems that this forms a natural bond that could be difficult to achieve when being explicit (of course some kind of conversation has to be had at some point, but the answers are usually known by then). And similar to how friendships in general can naturally come and go, a relationship such as this one can ebb and flow too without any lasting damage.

This is all just an ideal though and unfortunately real life and the timing issues it presents sometimes means we don't have the luxury of waiting and seeing what happens with every individual we meet. Unfortunately some observers describe this sudden burst of being proactive as desperation.

As a closing note there is another reason why some may avoid asking others out, and that's to avoid any "bad marks" on their record; I reckon there's something impressive about a single person not having any previously failed relationships under their belts (although I do acknowledge that not all relationships end in failure). However, is a vacuously empty perfect record really worth anything in the long term?

Originally drafted 30th August, 2008.

Level of Entry

How "right" does it have to feel with another before you choose to take things to the next stage? For example, I have a friend who has no problem "seizing the day" and will do so with any girl he's known for five minutes (and sometimes less). This isn't anything sleazy and usually just consists of coffee and I have no doubt that the lady in question would have a good time in his company, so I'm not criticising this.

The other extreme is reserved for people like me, who won't take things further so flippantly (with want for a better, less judging word), those who will ensure some kind of certainly and control first. It probably goes without saying that the latter group don't really progress that often, but I suspect they're not really bothered by this "lack of action" anyway, making do with and appreciating the rare times things do happen instead.

There's no right or wrong approach here. Different people need different amounts of evidence and stimuli before showing their respective cards. I'm not even sure which is more effective: the proactive guy may get things done faster, but perhaps the latter will have something more certain, more precious?

As someone in the latter group, it's worth stating why a guy may choose to take things slow. There's respect for the other person (if you ask everyone in a skirt out, what makes the next so special?), a consideration of their own true feelings (since that initial rush of, uh, blood might be mistaken for something else), a lack of time, money or even emotion, and finally the prospect of failure. Proactive guy may not care about any of these things, so in a sense he's the braver one by risking and investing more. Of course he may also become insensitive to all the above too.

Proactive guy isn't necessarily less fussy either, he just prefers to be more explicit about the fact finding process of whether another person will be suitable or not, while guys from the other group may prefer being a bit more subtle, fall into friendship, and gather information that way as a natural consequence. The information gathered is all the same at the end, and of course slow guy would have to become somewhat proactive at some point (in order to "switch" the relationship).

Finally, it's worth noting that none of this considers the other person, and what category they happen to fall into. Some won't wait for the Slows, while others may find Proactive a bit too fast. I guess in this sense the best approach is a balanced and flexible one, the one which suits both you and the prospective as a whole rather than any single person involved.

Originally drafted 30th March, 2008.

Just Do It

I had another interesting conversation with a (female) friend few weeks back. They were asking the age old question of who, with respect to gender, should approach whom first when deciding if there's any mutual interest between the two. Of course in her terms this was "it's obvious that I like him, so why isn't he saying anything?", not realising that the guy is thinking the exact same thing and further how neither wants to make any presumptions about the other.

Guys and girls aren't made equal so someone must be better equipped to take the plunge initially. Although most people would say it's the boys who should go first, I once again stated my arguments as to why it should be the ladies. After being shot down for suggesting she should start dropping more hankies, I pointed out how she was still single, so any further course of action was up to her.

Anyway, it turns out that we weren't talking about asking out people we didn't know, but friends - good friends. My bemusement was surprising for her; I mean shouldn't you just tell them? I don't keep much from my friends and I'm hardly tactful with any of them either, so if it was indeed a friend that you needed to talk to about this stuff, surely it shouldn't matter that it's about them? Respective genders don't even come into it in this case.

I mean if you're uncomfortable about it then perhaps you don't really know them after all? And if they say no, appropriately, then a real friendship would be able to handle that. If they begin to act inappropriately (by going cold, awkward, indiscreet or in my opinion worse of all begin to take liberties)... well then they were probably a dick(ess) anyway and you're better off without.

That's classed as a win-win, I say. I'll reiterate again how I believe I would tell someone about any strong feelings I had for them, and further that without any anticipation of anything in return. I admit that I might be slightly unusual in treating my emotions in a clinical and quantifiable way, but whatever the case it is possible to come out of such a situation unharmed and I'm not just talking the talk here.

There's pretty much nothing to lose and everything to gain, so why delay and wonder what if? Just do it already!

Originally drafted 13th August 2007.

China, Day Four: The Great Wall

Today was by far the highlight of my time here to date. The main reason for this was The Great Wall of China - but let me start at the beginning.

After a drive by of the Bird's Nest and Water Cube, our first stop was at a jade factory. You should know the drill by now; a fantastic briefing and introduction later spoiled by guilt tripping and pushy selling, none of the salespeople realising that we had no interest other than a passing one in the precious stone.

With the morning guff out of the way, we headed to The Wall. Of course since the wall itself is made up of various different ones, this was actually a small taster of much larger construction; nevertheless it was full of excitement and atmosphere for me. It was also a pretty strenuous activity; it took around two hours to climb the uneven brick and stone stairs to the top most point of this particular section and then return back to ground level again. The surrounding views as well as those of the wall itself were amazing, but the actual walking of the wall was even better.

After lunch we were taken to a cloisonne factory. Yawn.

Our next stop was Tienanmen Square. This was more awesome than I had expected just a city square to be - if only for its amazingly cleanliness both in terms of state and lines of design. Despite being under 10 degrees, I wished I had the time to just sit there with a book, reading and people-watching. Still, judging by the heavy police presence, I'm not sure exactly how feasible that would've been anyway!

Our final stop before dinner and home was at a silk factory. But what was this? We spent a whopping two hours shopping and actually buying things! Gasp! After finally finding something we actually had an interest in, we were happy enough to spend the time (and money!) probably being ripped off on gifts and things for ourselves.

But it was The Wall that totally made today for me. With our first leg in Beijing almost up, I'd even go as far as saying that it converted our time here from just merely satisfactory to actually really good.

Wednesday, November 26

China, Day Three: Forbidden Attractions

We started out early this morning, leaving at around 9 for the Forbidden City. We spent a couple of hours walking around the Imperial Palace and its accompanying Gardens. As fantastic as what we saw was, I didn't get to see as much as I had liked to as our guide kept hurrying us along.

Our next stop was at a reflexology centre, where we were treated to a pretty excellent foot massage and brief lecture on Chinese traditional medicine. Of course this wasn't for free as advertised as we were asked whether we wanted to purchase any of the prescribed herbs! Yet more punting it seems...

After lunch, we headed to the Summer Palace, north west of Beijing. This was a beautiful and sprawling landscape, especially with the lake and hall of longevity up on the hill. Again we were rushed and only managed to spend an hour there. This made time for a visit to a nearby pearl factory where we learned how pearls were made and - you've guessed it - given the opportunity to buy some of our own. They were the cheapest in the land apparently!

Our final stop was to watch a pretty awesome acrobatics show, where young training cadets showed us their skills. Although it was thoroughly enjoyable, it wasn't of very high production quality; having said that it was pretty special if only because I got to participate in an act (and have pictures to prove it!).

The most bizarre part of the today was just before bedtime, when our guide brought some of her friends to our hotel room, where they offered their astonishingly wide selection of fake handbags to sell. I would have laughed in my amusement if I wasn't so terrified out of my wits.

A busy day, and mixed bag of highs and lows. The benefits and drawbacks of being on a scheduled tour are becoming more clear now, with the inflexibility of doing what we want, when we want just balancing out being able to sit back and be led everywhere. Having a driver and guide are also very handy... But still I do wonder whether I would have enjoyed today left to my own devices.

Tuesday, November 25

China, Day Two: A Brief Beijing

Since the flight was a bit heavy-going, our first (half) day in Beijing was going to be a quiet affair. After checking in to our hotel (with free wired Internet - yay) we headed off for lunch at a local Halal Chinese; one of the benefits of being on a privately guided tour like we are.

We were then taken to Niujie Mosque, which I think is the oldest in Beijing having been established in 996. Although I've seen them in pictures, actually performing prayer in a Chinese styled mosque is a pretty interesting experience and a striking reminder of just how far and wide Islam spread, as well as the many manifestations it exists in today. It was encouraging to meet local Chinese Muslims, even if I didn't have a clue what they were saying.

After Niujie we had the chance to meet with a local Muslim calligrapher in his home, where we were shown examples of his work as well as presented with the opportunity to buy them. This was one of the downsides of being on a tour of this nature, and I'm sure we'll get marketed at again during this trip. There was a hotty Chinese Muslim girl there visiting at the time, but that's probably neither here nor there

We were back in the hotel for around six, hoping to spend a good night resting. Tomorrow promises to be a full and eventful day, and I still have this damn queasiness to shake off.

Monday, November 24

China, Day One: Transit Sucks

Due to scheduling issues and the fact that the ticket we wanted cost twice as much, our journey to China invovled a whopping seven hour stop over in Abu Dhabi. What made things worse was that I was feeling a bit iffy and achey too.

To be honest though, the wait wasn't that bad. Being British Passport holders, we were granted visas on arrival and headed out into the city. We dropped by Marina Mall (boring), the Emirate Palace (awesome) and some beach I don't know the name of (which we really should have gone to in the first place) and managed to kill a good couple of hours doing so. In the brief time I've been out, I think I kinda like Abu Dhabi, definitely more than I liked Dubai anyway. It's totally a place I could see myself (or rather a family relative that I can visit) living in.

We did get to the airport super early for our flight, especially seeing as we had no luggage to check in. It wasn't a total pain though; with the availability of free Internet and the Eee PC, I had the chance to upload the posts I had prepared, so at least someone benefits out of all this (that's you by the way).

Sunday, November 23

Pakistan, Day Ten: End of Part One

Spent the morning looking around the guy mundi, or cattle market. Although it was still a bit too early to buy stock for the Eid festival in a couple of weeks, we decided to check it out anyway. Not really much to report, although some of the beasts were standing taller than I was. Scary stuff.

On the way to lunch we stopped off at the graveyard where a lot of my family, including my paternal grandmother, is buried. Nearby was the fresh plot from yesterday. Thankfully the place hadn't become more occupied than that since I last visited; I wonder if there'll be any new people to pay my respects to the next time I visit.

Spent the afternoon with my English cousin and her had-just-arrived parents. We went to see the crocodiles amongst other things at Mungo Pir, way in the ghettoish side of Karachi. The whole area was dedicated to a pir, or saint, the locals bathing in the waters they believed to be blessed. The journey home was interesting too, not least because I got to drive a good few kilometers of the journey. Yikes.

Dinner was had with my cousin and a local friend of hers – another example of how this trip was different since I almost never get to meet any new people here that I'm not related to. We headed to Zamzama, first checking out Gunsmoke. This was a disaster for many reasons and amusingly we ended up walking out without paying soon after the starters was served. We ended up at Arizona Grill which seemed a much better choice on many fronts.

The day ended relatively early with packing for the flight tomorrow. The first leg of our trip is now more or less over in what feels like the blink of an eye. It's been busy, eventful and totally fun; almost unlike anything I've ever experienced here. Hopefully the next stage of the holiday will be just as good.

Pakistan, Day Nine: The Simple Old and The Complicated New

Not much time to do anything today – a mixture of everyone being busy and the valima in the evening meant it was another quiet day. Still, this meant having some long overdue alone time playing DS and getting the laptop to connect to the Internet via GPRS. Fun. We also had a funeral to attend, ironic seeing how the same people all attended a wedding the day before.

Seeing the kids play around at the valima reminded me of the days when I used to do the same with my cousins; there was even a 7 year old niece of mine (via a cousin) who looks exactly like her mum did when she was that age. And further still, I remember being at the wedding of the mother of this week's bride. If that's not a sign of old age I don't know what is! It's funny how time flies, especially when you only visit a place once every two to three years.

One good thing about the wedding dos finally coming to an end is that I no longer have to face the constant barrage of "when are you getting married" type questions. The thing is that I wouldn't even mind if the presumption wasn't that it was me who didn't want to get hitched. It seems that over here if you're a guy then there's nothing else to consider. I'm sure I will still be asked this, but at least it won't be hundreds of times within the space of minutes. Honestly the nagging is enough to make me just do it. Perhaps that's the point, the sneaky so and sos.

Friday, November 21

Pakistan, Day Eight: Wedding Day

Another lazy day – between Jummah and the evening wedding there wasn't much room for anything else. Time seems to be quickly passing – the wedding is one of the landmarks of this trip and it's now passed. Once again it was nice to hang out with family, especially since I've not had a chance to visit them formally in their homes yet. Good times.

Pakistan, Day Seven: Coming Home, Kinda

According to our list of things to do, we were quite ahead of schedule. This allowed us to have a bit of a lazy start and our driver picked us up at around 10am. Since our afternoon was more or less set, we decided on the museum on the mall. This was a mixed bag, and had some genuinely interesting stuff (particularly the religious items) alongside some more mundane items (mostly regarding the formation of Pakistan).

Lunch was at Pizza Hut, where we met a few Sikhs from the UK who were in Lahore on a pilgrimage; it had been Guru Nanak's birthday a couple of weeks ago and thousands of Sikhs come from across the world to pay homage to his birthplace this side of the Indo-pak border. It was good to have a conversation with folk from the UK, all the more so since they weren't Pakistani.

On to Shalimar Gardens then. These weren't worth the hassle we got getting in (we were foreigners again, although I saved myself a hefty fee by flashing my NICOP card) and I'm still struggling to see why it's so heartily recommended. But it was on the way to our next and final stop so we thought we'd drop by anyway.

Wagah was amazing. We made it a point to attend the closing parade and it was just like you would see it on television, but live. For once our tourist credentials came in handy – those not from around here get courtside seats to where the action is and it was brilliant seeing the Punjab Rangers do their stomping thing – I got caught up in the going ons and may have shouted “zindabad” more than once. It was a brilliant experience to watch and be a part of and I'm still grinning now at the whole thing.

It was also the closest I've been to India – an irony considering my plans to go there in December. It was surreal seeing the distant land and people at an arms length away, and I now want to go there even more.

On the way to dinner we stopped off at Food Street. At last I found the architectural delights I had been looking for with some fabulous haveli, possibly spoiled by their strong modern colourings. The smells and sights were all tempting, but we decided against actually eating there; I had a flight to China to catch in a couple of days and I didn't want to risk it.

Dinner proper was at Freddy's, a fish and steak house on the way to the airport. There's not much more to say about that, except that the food was pretty good (I had a chicken steak and chocolate millkshake), and the place trendy. It was a nice place to spend our final moments here in.

And that was it. Our time in Lahore was now over. We had a wonderful time here, and two days was a perfect amount of time to spend exploring the place, although looking back we could have done all the bits we liked in just a single albeit rushed day. Wagah was a wonderful experience and the mosque unmissable, but I had somehow missed the vibe and atmosphere I was desperately seeking and without these big ticket attractions I'm not sure how brilliant Lahore would have been for me.

What's really strange is how as I landed at Karachi airport how at home the city felt. I never thought I'd have those feelings about Karachi, but then I guess it takes something like a few days without to really appreciate what you got.

Wednesday, November 19

Pakistan, Day Six: Lahore

Since we were only staying the one night, we decided to catch the second flight to Lahore in order to maximize the time spent there. This was probably one of the rare chances that I would get to visit the city (I was going with my aunt; I doubt anyone else would have been bothered), so wanted to get the most out of it.

To make life easier, we had arranged a driver for the two days which we were there. After he received us at the airport, he took us to the Lahore Gymkhana where we were going to stay tonight.

Thanks to a particularly helpful itinerary provided to us by an illustrious colleague of my aunt, we didn't struggle for things to do, even though this whole trip was so last minute. Our first point of call this morning was Jahangir's Tomb to the north of Lahore. This was a sprawling complex across the River Rabi where the famous emperor was buried – not that I would have noticed it was a tomb otherwise. Still, it was a good reflection of the Mughals and their opulent times, and as such was quite impressive. It was also here that we got stung by the “foreigner ticket prices”: 200 PKR instead of a more regular 10, a further consequence of our indifference to having to behave like a native. We made sure we were more “authentic” when buying tickets at later sites.

Since it was still early, we decided to head back to the hotel for some rest. We had underestimated the toll such an early flight would have on us and the hour or so rest we took was much appreciated. It also set us up perfectly to visit the fabulous Badshai mosque and adjacent fort – something we were told to visit at dusk.

Since it was to close soon, we took on the fort first. Like the tomb this morning, it was a good indication of how the Mughals used to live – their palaces, gardens and taj's all impressive even in their ruin. In the background there was the yet to be visited mosque, a view of a thousand times more worth than a painting or the like.

Once the call to Maghrib (evening prayer) was heard, we made our way to it. The Badshai is an amazing place, even more so in its simplicity. I was a bit surprised at how small the enclosed space was; instead it had the massive courtyard it has become known for. So far this was the most romantic and poignant Mughal building I had seen – I could imagine being back in those times - and I wish I had the time to just stop there and chill. But since we were on the clock, we just paid our shoekeeping fee (!) and left.

The next two hours or so were spent shopping in the apparently famous Liberty shopping market. Perhaps we came at the wrong time, or perhaps it's because we had seen Karachi's Saddar and Tariq Road, but we weren't too impressed by the place – even a layman like myself could see the massive difference. The other Gulberg markets at City Towers and Rega Market were more relevant to the shopping experience, but if we're ever asked where in Pakistan to go for good shopping Lahore would definitely be somewhere in the middle of the list.

We then headed over to Heera Mandi, Lahore's red light district. Apparently it's been cleaned up a lot in the past couple of years, but according to our driver everything comes into the blatant open after midnight. Alas we were there for just dinner; Cooco's Den providing both awesome food and an immersive experience with wonderful views of the Badshai, even a live band was provided by the Fort View Hotel across the way. Owned by an artist who took it upon himself to save the local prostitutes, Cooco's Den is a must-eat and see.

We were still knackered, so we decided to end it there, passing by Anarkali on the way to the hotel. So far, so good; although I must admit that I am a little underwhelmed by Lahore at the moment – something seems missing somehow; I've yet to come across any amazing colonial or Hindu architecture for instance. But hey, there's always tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 18

Pakistan, Day Five: Slowing Down

Stayed in today – I decided to catch up on some sleep rather than go out for more shopping! This gave me a chance to catch up with some more relatives (with all the distractions it almost felt like I was neglecting them) as well as check out the local chappal shops. Which reminds me: I sorely need to replace my soon to retire Boy slippers.

The evening played host to another pre-wedding event (something called an "upton", apparently. This was even more fun than Saturday's event; not because of the dancing and singing (there wasn't much of that here), but more that since it was the second time meeting the clan the formalities had already been dealt with, paving the way for chilling and jibing and more specifically for me, since I was now the oldest unmarried cousin: marriage advice.

This amounted to nothing more than a "just do it", but there was some gems from my wise Pakistani cousins to do with how to pick, the importance of just settling on the practical basics, how I should just take a missus from Pakistan and my genuine favourite how I should accept the first girl that likes me, even if I don't like her that much back (something about her doing anything for me versus me doing anything for her; the latter being preferable).

Alas the fun and games ended early for me, for tomorrow I fly out to Lahore.

Monday, November 17

Pakistan, Day Four: Clothes Shopping is Inevitable

My time in Karachi went back to normal, as we spent the whole day fulfilling chores and clothes shopping. All in all it was pretty productive, the most exciting accomplishment being to book a couple of tickets to Lahore for Wednesday.

Otherwise it was Saddar for the ladies' stuff, Rainbow Centre for dodgy DVDs (do people still buy this stuff?) and finally the Tariq Road for the guys. I snagged two ready made pieces for the imminent weddings and some raw material from Rabi Centre to be tailored later in order to top up my casual everyday wardrobe for home.

I was shocked at the prices in offer – they seem to have gone through some super inflation since I was last here. For example, take Junaid Jamsheed; although some of the stuff there was really nice, there was no way I was going to spend 35-40 quid (in Real Money) on just a kurta. Raw cloth seems to be more expensive too, a suit now costing over ten quid, tailored. I've gone for patterned stuff this time instead of my usual plain, but that can't explain all of it.

Of course all prices are quoted after bargaining. We seem to be taking a lax approach this time around being as rushed as we are, openly speaking English and not spending the time to wear shopkeepers down. I'm always (quietly, of course) amused at the universal self-belief women have that they are good bargainers – as if they've managed to buy something at a loss, mistaking their sheer stubbornness for somekind of tactical strategy. In my opinion they've already lost once they've shown their interest; if it's obvious to me that they're going to buy something at any cost, I doubt the shopkeepers will miss that. On the other hand, I reckon the sheer boredom and lack of care I have for this stuff has a larger effect on lowering prices since ultimately I won't mind if I don't buy.

Dinner was at BBQ Tonight, a fancyish kebab house towards Clifton. We ordered a bit too much and I overate as a result, but the price was reasonable (2000 PKR for five of us). Although I was well fed, I was and am still knackered; I'm yet to recover from the lack of sleep experienced during the flight here I think.

Sunday, November 16

Pakistan, Day Three: Becoming a Karachite

First a bit of context: a cousin of mine from the UK has spent the last year and a half working in Karachi. As such, she's become quite the Karachite. For us, this is good news since we now have someone streetwise enough to take us out to all the trendy places and hang outs, while remaining accessible to those of us only here for a short amount of time. In some ways she was our doorway to a Karachi we had not seen before.

After a gourmet burger at Roasters in Zamzama, we headed to the Sunday Market in Defense. This was much like any Sunday market back in the UK, with rows upon rows of stalls selling anything from house ornaments, to furniture, to books and magazines, to clothing both raw and ready made, to jewelry. Groceries and amenities (ie toilet paper) were also available to purchase, and even wireless broadband was on offer. If I was a braver chap I would have bought some gifts for my girl mates and relatives in the shape of raw material to be tailored later, but I decided not to tempt fate (as well as the wildly differing tastes of said girls). Instead I just watched as my cousin and aunt did exactly that.

It was then all about Clifton. Our first stop, bizarrely (for me at least) was Park Towers where we did a bit more shopping. This happened to be a blessing in disguise as I managed to collect a small trove of gifts for those back in London – I've grown accustomed to getting my gift shopping out of the way.

We then headed to Sea View for the beach. This is not a touch on Australian beaches, but has it's charm and poignancy as a key Karachi place to visit all the same; and of course since we were there with a different crowd we were able to take time and chill there for a bit (which meant camel rides for my companions).

On to Forum, Yet Another Shopping Mall, although with a different purpose in mind. However, since the massages we intended to treat ourselves to turned out to be limited to our feet so we decided to give it a miss. The rest of the time there was spent doing more, you've guessed it, shopping. I guess it was naïve of me to have expected anything else from my exclusively female company.

Dinner was Broast at Boat Basin, followed by some pretty advanced ice cream (if their Red Bull flavour was any indication) provided by Coco Loco.

It was an awesome day of chilling out aimlessly, just hanging out chatting and joking away. It's not something I've often had during previous stays in Pakistan where the time was spent more functionally, or any “free time” was carefully chaperoned by a family-member doing babysitting duties whom I had trouble communicating with. It made Karachi a friendlier, human and attractive place if I'm honest, and I can now see even more how my cousin amongst others can claim it to be a good place in which to live and work.

Pakistan, Day Two: Loving and Hating Karachi

The first question I asked myself on the approach to Karachi was “what the heck am I doing here?”. Quite amusingly I shared this same thought with my aunt. These feelings were nothing new, and as expected subsided as we passed through baggage claim (we're one bag short by the way). We were now in Karachi, and I couldn't stop smiling all the way to my phoopi's flat.

You see, I love Karachi. I love being around family I've not seen in years. I love being carefree and not having anything to do or see (we come here often enough to do away with ritual visiting and things). I love ceiling fans and marble floors and a lack of Internet. I love being able to take a mid day nap, and love how that's normal here. I love hearing at least five simultaneous calls to prayer and taking the short walk to the mosque like the callers are asking me to. I love the haphazard traffic and driving required navigating it. I love squatter toilets (it allows me to pass more easily). I love how they're filming a television ad in the courtyard of the complex I'm staying in. I love palangs, to lounge on, to play cards on and to sleep on. In short I love Karachi, provided that I don't spend more than a couple of weeks here at a time.

Thanks to a borrowed Eee pc I'm able to type as I travel, something which should make my log more immediate and reflective of what's going on. My previous approach of using voicenotes was a bit tedious, although this keyboard is pretty tough to type on too!

It's also the dholke night for the wedding we've come to attend. Conveniently it was a chance to see all my family at the same time too – and good it was. I think I managed around a 70% hit rate with names and relationships, an all time high.

All my cousins now have at least three kids each, and I've given up trying to remember whose are whose, just accepting the sheer cuteness of them all and getting on with it. . I was also able to communicate somewhat, and I can feel the rust being shed off my dodgy Urdu.

So my fist night here and I'm already in a party with singing and dancing – including trying my own hand at dhandia. We don't really get the chance to play at home (some people aren't getting married fast enough apparently) so it was good to have a go like we used to, even though I had to come all the way to Pakistan in order to do it!

Friday, November 14

Game: Bangai-O (DS)

Bangai-O is based on the Dreamcast game of the same name. You play a gundam robot with a variety of weapons at its disposal, as it tries to clear a side viewed level of all targets. That's really all there is, until you acknowledge the depth introduced by some fiendish level and enemy design.

Chain reactions, things which nullify your attacks and plain old numbers are all there to make your life difficult. In that sense Bangai-O is a bit of a puzzle game as you attempt to figure out the most efficient way of clearing a stage.

Compared to my other travel game, N+, Bangai-O isn't as bitesized. It is a deeper and so potentially more rewarding game though, and as such makes a perfect complement to take on holiday.

Game: N+ (DS)

N+ is based on a flash game, where you play a ninja who has to jump around a side scrolling level, opening doors in order to enter them later. It's a simple yet compelling concept as you grapple with the physics of the tiny character in your control, all the time avoiding mines, missiles and robots.

It's also perfect for holiday, bite sized gaming at its best. It does suck a bit that you can only save every four levels or so since some do take time, but that's just something that has you coming back for more as you find yourself drawn into the whole one-more-try pull that such micro levels have.

Pakistan, Day One: Night Flights Provide Little Content

There's something liberating about coming to Pakistan during off peak season. For instance, checking in tonight was a breeze; a far cry from the usual scene of massive queues of people who, despite having been to Pakistan many times before all act as if it was the first time at an airport. I guess it helped a bit that we got here super early, but I reckon the old days are now over.

For the past few days I've been a bit jittery, feeling that I was leaving something behind. The trip had taken me by surprise, probably due to my mother taking charge of the house's packing; perhaps one day I'll get to keep my baggage allowance to myself? These jitters have now disappeared, leaving behind not much other than pure excitement. This is going to be an awesome trip and furthermore one that was well timed.

Flying with my parents is a rare thing nowadays, but I'm also flying with my aunt on this trip, a first for both of us. I think it'll add something new to the trip; a new sense of independence as we explore Karachi on our own terms. We'll see how it all pans out.

This trip is also special for another reason; but more of that later. I have to keep you guys reading for something!

A Lack of Creativity

Yes I know - once again I seem to have fallen into a bit of a lull recently: I've kept up with reviews and links as normal, but haven't written an opinion for ages. Even the Friday posts I promised myself to write have fallen by the wayside. I would blame being busy work but that's totally not true.

The truth is that any creativity I have has been directed at something else, and I both didn't have anything to write or the will to write it - a long fancy way of saying that I had something else on my mind.

But with all that gross self-indulgence out of the way, the good news is that I'm back on track and normal service should now resume. Well in theory anyway; the bad news is that I won't get to post much for a month or so for other reasons. In which case this is a bit of an irrelevant post really!

Keep reading!