Thursday, 25 October 2012

Noodles at Night and the Case of the Missing Dumplings

Follow the light
I've been in Sydney for a week but it feels so much longer.  Maybe because the jet lag has almost dissipated or maybe because I have crammed so much stuff into my first week.  My first trip into central Sydney was for the sole purpose of buying running shoes and seeking out more good sushi. Town is a 15 minute walk away from Jen's apartment and I was guided by the tower of Westfield shopping mall like the star of Nazereth leading the Shepherd's to the baby Jee.  People are always surprised to learn that I love shopping malls but I'm not ashamed to admit it.  The first time I saw one was when I was living in Tokyo.  It was a tourist attraction to me then; all the weird and wonderful Japanese items all under one roof.  No one quite does shopping malls like the Japanese, but the Aussie's Westfield comes pretty close. On the way I pass some incredibly large birds. Later Jo informs me that these are called 'Brain Suckers' and I'll come across them as regularly as pigeon or crow.  He also told me it is 'swooping season' in Australia.  This is when the crows in the trees swoop down upon unsuspecting pedestrians and peck their heads.  The motorcyclists even wear special helmets to prevent being swooped on.  I find it hard not to stop and stare at this brain sucker bird in wonder and am perplexed as to why nobody else is doing the same.
There is actually wildlife here on the streets, like the kind you see on the TV!

I stop at a small coffee shop on the way (but won't name and shame it in case I get sued for libel) and have the worst coffee and chocolate croissant I think I have ever had in my life.  My croissant has been microwaved within an inch of its life making the pastry stale and the gooey chocolate inside deadly hot.  The coffee does little to make up for this and so I slump off into the much yearned for world of shopping mall heaven.  Jen told me that Aussies are real coffee snobs so I'm not looking forward to telling her about this culinary shitstorm.

Now, I've always like shopping. Partly, I imagine, because it's inherent in the fairer sex but also because it's always more interesting abroad.  You get different shops, different food and here you get summer shopping because "'tis the season to be jolly".  But after spending the best part of 2 hours deliberating over two pairs of trainers, jet lag got the better of me and I staggered out of the mall and into the burning sun. Ouchy!
Noodle Market
The next day I'm up at 6.30am and wide awake.  I spend the day mooching around my local area. Head left out of the apartment and you pass some lovely cafes and reach Woolloomooloo Bay. Beautiful.  Head right and turn the corner and you hit the red light district.  This street is full of strip clubs and bars that stay open till 10am. I pass an old beggar man holding out his hat for coins.  A minute later he is rolling all over the street, shouting at his hat and kicking it like it was his pet dog that had just shat on the new carpet.  These are the scenes I will come to know and love.

Winged Phallus
That night Jen and I meet up on Oxford street, yes Oxford street.  It is not at all like Oxford or Oxford street though. Why? Because it is better than both of those things. It has lots of cool bars and art galleries, one of which we meet at to listen to an installation by the musician Sarah Blasko.  Sadly she didn't turn up to play, which is what we were hoping for, but there was another gallery next door with a winged phallus in the window (pictured) so it wasn't a complete wasted journey.  We then head towards the centre to 'Hyde Park' (seriously guys, stop copying us) where there is a big Noodle Market in full swing.  It's more of a mini festival really with live music and a noodle theme.  I wait for some dumplings which seem to take forever to arrive and we sit on the grass slurping noodles and listening to a Jack Johnson look-a-like play Michal Jackson covers. What a great place this is.

I can't possibly fit my whole week into this blog so stay tuned for more ramblings soon and answers to such questions as: Will I ever shift this jetlag? Will I get a decent cup of coffee? And will I be swooped upon by a brain sucker?

Music to shop to:
Karine Polwart: His Earthly Spell
Agent Ribbons: On Time Travel and Romance

Thursday, 18 October 2012 last!

Thankfully this blog entry is a lot more cheerful than the last because I have safely landed in Sydney, Australia. It is absolutely awesome here but what a journey-it took over 24 hours and not a wink of sleep.  Leaving the UK at 10pm on Monday evening, I finally found my seat on the plane next to two young London lasses. They were on their way to Sydney, then Asia, to work and travel.  They'd only saved a grand between them and I was a little skeptical about their chances but, after watching their blagging skills in action on the plane, I could see they'd be just fine. I've never seen anyone consume so many packets of complimentary nuts in one sitting!  After 12 hours, 3 films, 2 curries, and an unidentified baked object we arrived in Kuala Lumpur airport.  We had a '5 hour' wait for our connecting flight to Australia so I wandered around the fancy boutiques and happened upon the 'rest and go' area. There were massage chairs aplenty here and I wondered why 'rest and go' areas weren't mandatory at all airports.  The resting was excellent but the going was not so good--if only the plane seats could massage as well.

view from Jen's apartment
On the flight to Sydney I was sat next to an old Nepalese couple.  They had flown from their mountainous homeland to see their "22 year old son" who had migrated to Sydney from Nepal a few years ago.  We introduced ourselves to each other but I won't pretend I had any idea how to say their names let alone spell them.  My name brought the usual confusion:
"Tomorrow? Your name tomorrow?"
"Ta-ma-ra. Ta-ma-ra"
The wife's English was very limited and so her husband acted as translator (I use that term very loosely here).  Every now and then the wife would tap me on the arm and ask me "how long left?".  I would hold up my fingers and thumb to show her how many hours were remaining until we were due to land.  Once we got down to 3 hours it became apparent that she had been excluding my thumb in her counting and so she was probably a little disappointed when she realised it equated to an extra hour.  Perhaps the thumb is inferior in Nepalese culture?  She was rather sad for me when she realised I was not married and would occasionally lurch across her husband to reach out and stroke my cheek or hand murmuring "beautiful".  This was a little unnerving to say the least but I smiled and took the compliment.  They were very charming really, and if I ever visit Nepal I'll be sure to look them up (as they insisted I do so for most of the journey).

9am Wednesday, Aussie time.  Finally I had landed in Sydney, but that wasn't quite the end of it yet.  There was still passport control and customs to get through.  As we queued a Korean chap tried to sneak his group under the barrier.  He was quickly reprimanded by security who hollered "No, mate. NO!". They sent him and his group to the back of the queue as a warning to us all. "Good," I thought. "A country that knows about queuing." I filled out a bunch of forms declaring that I was indeed carrying my body weight's worth in Toblerone, and having my bags thoroughly sniffed by a pooch, I was out.  My friend Jen was there to greet me and I've never been so happy to see my old chum.  After dropping me off at her apartment I committed the cardinal sin and slept for 7 hours waking just in time for Jen and Jo to take me out to a dinner of sushi. There was only one thing for it: consume all the beers and hope that when bed time came I'd just pass out.

Let the journey begin!

Films watched on plane:
Prometheus: Disappointing
Waitress: Don't bother
Rock of Ages: Seriously losing the will to live

Music listened to:
Post to Wire by Richmond Fontaine
Post by Bjork
In Your Honour by Foo Fighters

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Eurotour Part Twee: Tour Cancelled

Sadly my second update of the tour isn't quite what I wanted it to be. On Tuesday night in Utrecht Tom's car got broken into. Luckily, no guitars were taken and everything else was insured (funny they didn't take the sat nav, they must've known it was broken) but we decided to cut the tour short and come back to England to sort things out, especially as we now had a whole window missing on the passenger side. We'd had a blast up until this point, returning that night from a cool gig in Cafe Camelot in Nijmegan. A big thanks to Pete for sorting out the tour and looking after us, especially for helping us get back on the road with lots of boxes and bags to cover the window.  And a big apology to the promoters of the last three shows, we were so looking forward to the rest of the trip. We have lots of footage of the good bits so I'll put a little film together soon and, as always,  thanks for all your support.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Eurotour Part Een: Antwerp, Middelburg, Utrecht, Leeuwarden

We are in Europe! 2 shows down and 4 to go.  Tommy and I left on Friday morning on his beloved bike (yet to be named, but Tom and I think Wrongfellow is quite fitting) and broke down on the Oxford Road for an hour which meant we missed our ferry. We ended up killing time in Clackton services while we waited for the next one.  Out of all the services I've had the good fortune to visit, this was probably the strangest. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, we seemed to have entered an alternate universe and it had the vague whiff of Twin Peaks about it.  Anyhow, onto the ferry and smooth sailing to Dunkirk. Off we zoomed to Antwerp, Belgium, remembering to drive on the right side of the road at all times. Tom met us there (he also missed his ferry) and we explored the various waterholes including my favourite, De Vagrant, a gin bar where you can get every flavour of gin imaginable, including blood orange (yum) and kiwi (ugh). There is a beautiful 12th century cathedral in Antwerp called 'The Cathedral of our Lady'. It was supposed to have 2 towers of equal height but one is unfinished.  The second tower wasn't finished beacuse of a large fire inside the cathedral's interior (and not just because of laziness or gin-hangover as we first presumed).  Tommy informed us that there is also a very famous pissoir up against the side of the cathedral near McDonalds if you're ever caught short in Antwerp.
Map to Utrecht..?

On Saturday morning we headed northeast to Middelburg which was no easy task after our Sat Nav (named Lewis because Lewis is just not as good as Morse) decided that now would be a good time to stop working.  After a frustrating half hour Tom punched it in the face (let's hope the people from TomTom don't read this when he tries to return it) and we resorted to following the wind.  Driving around the Netherlands is great though. It's flat and very green and very very far so good.

Middelburg fact: it used to be a major trading city in the 16th century. We wandered around some beautiful town houses and the historic centre is surrounded by an old moat and a few surviving gates. After watching Tom and Tommy consume a lunch mainly consisting of melted Camembert, we played our first show of the tour here in a kind of green house in the centre of a cool bookshop called De Drukkerji. Our audience were lovely and listened to us quietly whilst eating cake and supping  Belgium beer. One lady was kind enough to draw us a map to help us get to Utrecht.  We appreciated the sentiment but had a feeling the map wouldn't get us very far...

So, onto Utrecht. Tommy followed us on dear old Wrongfellow but was rather cold and battered by the wind.  Tom and I looked on with sympathy, of course, from the warmth of our car. In Utrecht we were met by my good friend Pete who is the reason we are here for he kindly organised this tour for us. Not only that but he is lending us his apartment for the week. We love Pete!  Utrecht is awesome with some stunning architecture.  It is also host to the largest university in the Netherlands. So, lots of great bars for us here then.

Some of our lovely audience in Leeuwarden
Sunday cometh and we are back on the road to Leeuwarden to play a show for Mijn Ouders (which seems to mean 'my parents' in Dutch...?).  The venue is on a street covered in graffiti and the building is an old school which has now become a large community of young artists who live in the building's 16 rooms.  It has a very creative vibe about it and we are greeted by Koen who takes us to his living room where the gig will be held. It is a very very cool venue.  After being fed and watered we played a song in a bath tub for Mijn Ouder's 'Bath Sessions' in front of a small audience. See below.  Definitely one of the more bizarre places we've played but great acoustics. The gig itself was so much fun. We were supported by a local band called Cosmic U who were very quirky and experimental with a touch of Bjork to their style.  The audience were very welcoming and attentive and it will be pretty hard to top this gig.  In fact, it was probably one of my favourite shows of all time.

Today we have the day off so after saying farewell to Tommy (sad times) we plan to drink a bucket load of tea, make a few recordings and eat some sushi.  Tom has just gone for a jog round the canals, let's hope he doesn't get lost. Tomorrow we head to Nijmegen for a gig in Cafe Camelot so more to come soon. Tot straks!

Our choice of car tunes so far:
Antwerp to Middelburg: Bethany Weimers: Harpsichord Row, Richard Walters: Regret Less
Middelburg to Utrecht: More Weimers and some Joanna Newsom. System of a Down: Hypnotize
Utrecht to Leeuwarden: Elbow and Spinal Tap
Leeuwarden to Utrecht: Iron Maiden and Guns and Roses