December 2006 Archives
It's pretty cold outside. I nearly froze my ears off cycling to work this morning (though that's my own fault for putting my woolly hat in the wash last night instead of putting up with the smell). I'm from the North of England originally (Liverpool to be more precise) and as such, I think I handle cold better than most people I meet down here in sunny Guildford. In fact I often feel too hot (I feel too hot now in the office during a quiet lunchtime). My good friend OJ used to work at the same company as I do. He's from Australia, so there were times when I would be out at lunchtime in a t-shirt and shorts and he would be in his thick winter coat and a scarf to keep warm. Given he was brought up in a much warmer climate, this is totally understandable (though I still laughed at him!). What I don't understand is that whilst walking around town just a few minutes ago, I saw a few women dressed as though it is summer. Short skirts, the lot. Do they actually feel the cold or have they just learned to ignore it because (for them) it's better to look good than be warm? Or following OJ's reasons for feeling cold, are they from some frozen arctic wasteland and therefore used to a much colder climate? Most women I know seem to feel cold more than I do. My fiancÃ©e often uses me as a hot water bottle at night to warm her frozen feet. My mum (who was born in the same hospital as me and lived in the same house for 21 years) used to complain about being cold indoors, turning the heating on when I was sweating. Due to this anecdotal evidence, I grew up believing (probably incorrectly) that women feel cold more than men do, so who are these women who can wander around wearing next to nothing in mid December? I'm confused!
I'm in the middle of reading this book and thoroughly enjoying it. If you've not read any of the Science of Discworld books before, they are a series of books that are fairly easy to misinterpret the contents of from the cover (unlike for example, an issue of Heat magazine, where you know exactly what's in it from the cover). Far from being a fictional science trying to explain how a giant disc floating on four elephants and a turtle can function, it instead approaches modern science in our universe. Alternate chapters are a fictional setting where the wizards of Unseen University have accidentally created our universe in their High Energy Magic lab and are trying to figure out how a universe with no Discworld like gods, giant turtles or magic can function (and still produce humans). They then occasionally intervene to make sure certain events happen. For example, they make sure Charles Darwin writes The Origin of Species in this particular outing. The chapters in between are a serious discussion of the real science behind what the wizards are observing, covering concepts as evolution, the mathematics of infinity, whether a time machine is mathematically possible (more importantly, is it physically feasible?), how various indirect evidence has led us to our current understanding of the age of the earth and universe, the various theories of the many worlds multiverse, etc. I find this kind of thing really interesting. They also take a fairly dim view of religion (like myself), ripping creationists to shreds (if people cannot believe the mountains of evidence in front of them, why do they place all their faith in a single inconsistent book?). In a way, the books are similar to Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything which covers a lot of similar scientific ground aimed at a general audience. However, I feel the Science of Discworld books are a better read - mainly because the scientific understanding and narrative are deeper and the authors try to make serious points in order to make you think differently. Also, they make the point that despite the wizards making obvious errors in their understanding of our universe, these are the same misunderstandings that past (and current) scientists have made.
Last night I went to my fiancée's office Christmas night out at the Comedy Store in London. I hate London, but I'd already agreed to go. I had to leave work an hour early to get on the rammed train to Waterloo, then put up with the awful tube system. It's unbelievable how a transport system has been designed to make people feel completely oppressed. I hate the stupid signs on the escalators telling people to stand on the right (without even a please) just so people with no consideration for others can rush their way onto an already packed platform - just possibly saving themselves a whole three minutes given how regular the tube trains are. I hate the stupid - oh so clever - adverts all the way down the escalators too. I hate the fact that nearly every other advert is for some theatre production. It makes it look as though Londoners spend their entire lives taking the tube from one theatre to another. I hate the fact that once in London for a night out, you're constantly clock watching and never feel totally relaxed because you have to make sure you catch the last train back home. I hate sitting on a train to London or on a tube, listening to all the arrogant self obsessed locals talking about themselves on their phones or to each other. For some reason, people from London seem to have a different mindset to anyone else in the country, almost like they believe their city is the only place on Earth worth living in (similar to how a lot of Americans believe that they live in the only decent country in the world). Of course, I'm just making broad generalisations here... Nevertheless, we arrived at The Comedy Store and had a cracking night. It was an improvisation night in a similar style to "Whose Line is is Anyway" where the audience suggested situations and they acted them out. Such delights as the "Man who polishes blue Smarties with steel wool for the international ninja vigilantes" and the musical about a badger who helped the pixies in their war against the elves. The only problem with The Comedy Store was the mediocre food (and no tables to eat it off) and the extortionate drinks prices. £3.40 for a pint is just silly. Thankfully, I wasn't paying for it... Overall a great night.
After the urban delights of Auckland, we drove north up State Highway 1 to the Bay of Islands. It's pretty much as it says on the tin, a bay with lots of little islands in it - though we didn't actually visit any of the islands. Instead we first visited the small quiet coastal town of Paihia (I've still no idea how to pronounce that) and had a wander around. It's a lovely looking place, though I suspect it'd be heaving with tourists in the middle of summer. We then headed a little further north to the Waitangi treaty grounds. This is the place where the treaty unifying New Zealand as a country for both Maori and Europeans was first signed. The area itself it fairly unremarkable, with a simple building known as the Treaty House, another meeting place building, a flag pole to mark the spot where the treaty was signed and a (modern reproduction) Maori war canoe. What is remarkable is that New Zealand seems to have benefited enormously from the Waitangi treaty, it certainly appears a more unified country than Australia. We then headed up to see Mount Bledisloe and Haruru Falls. Spectacular views at both (I'll get round to putting the pics up when I get an evening/weekend day free - difficult in December). For the evening, we decided to use the camper van to the full and so parked up at the waterfront in Paihia. Overnight, the trouble started... My belly had decided it didn't like something in the local water or food, so was insisting on emptying itself at every possible opportunity. Thankfully, the camper van was provided with a toilet with a large enough waste tank and plenty of deodorising chemicals to put down it. The next day I still wasn't feeling good. Thankfully, the water heater in the van was able to provide enough water for two quick hot showers. We searched out a pharmacy and I bought some anti-diarrhoea tablets, which in retrospect was a mistake. Let me warn you about these things. While they do the job of stopping you needing to go to the toilet every ten minutes, it does mean that you puke several times during the day and have horrible stomach cramps, especially when being driven around on bumpy gravel roads. Two days of that was not fun, though we continued our holiday unabated. Next, the Road to Rotorua!
Why is it that almost every shop assistant in the land insists on giving you a carrier bag for every purchase, even if you've only bought one thing? Nearly every lunchtime I have to tell staff that I'm perfectly capable of carrying a sandwich and a drink (which are already over packaged) in my hands for the two minute walk back to the office. I'm rarely asked if I want a bag first - staff automatically put things in one until I tell them not to - then they look at you as though you've just stamped on their mother's face and ask "Are you sure?". This is such a massive waste of resources. Even worse, it's a waste of time making me queue longer when I'm buying my lunch!!! Seriously though, this really pisses me off. When we go shopping in the local supermarket, we make sure we bring our own bags with us. Tesco's give out extra clubcard points for people who do this. I always refuse a bag when I'm buying anything easily carried without one. We've only got one planet, so lets stop making it a giant resourceless dump. Will you join the campaign???
The first couple of days of the NZ holiday were spent in Auckland. After landing we picked up the camper van and were both really tired from the flight, so we tried to find somewhere to park up for the night. We were in a large city. I say a large city - in fact Auckland has approximately a quarter of the population of New Zealand living within its boundaries. There are probably less than a handful of cities in the UK with a similar population. We decided to go to a campsite since parking up at random in such a large place probably wouldn't have been a good idea. The guy at the van rental place recommended the Auckland North Shore Top 10 Holiday Park so off we drove looking for it (over the impressive harbour bridge). When we got close we spent ages driving around in circles trying to find out which road the massive blob on the map actually referred to. It seems most of the roads in Auckland lead to State Highway 1 so we ended up stuck back on that a couple of times. Eventually though, we found the place and parked up for the night. Next day we caught a bus into the city and did the tourist things. A nice walk around the harbour area was followed by a trip up the Sky Tower. It claims to be the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere, although the top third of the tower is a transmission mast which I feel is cheating a bit. Nevertheless, the views from as high as you could go were indeed impressive, though it was really warm and stuffy in there. Also, the glass was really dirty making taking good photos difficult. The quickest way down off the Sky Tower was to slide down a cable off the side, though I gave that a miss as I wasn't feeling too brave that day so we shuffled back to the lift. The lifts have a glass panel in the floor you can look through as they move up and down. The lifts shift at quite a rate. A quick bite to eat and a hot chocolate in a corner cafÃ© (OK, a Starbuck's) left us refreshed and hungry for more sights. We caught the bus to Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Encounter & Underwater World and spent some time being impressed by penguins, stingrays, sharks, assorted marine life and (for some reason) a plastic killer whale eating an equally plastic seal. The underwater tunnel is well worth a walk through and I got some great video and photos there (which I'll post up when I get the time to sort em out). When we left Kelly Tarlton's we wandered up and down trying to find the bus stop back to the city. All they needed was a sign to point you in the right direction but there wasn't one to be seen. I guess once they've taken your money they're not bothered how you get home afterwards. Anyway, tired from our flight we headed back to the camp site and were both asleep by 8pm. Next time, the Bay of Islands!!!
I'm back in the UK now and absolutely shattered. I'll write up some of the highlights of the holiday in the coming days, but for now I'm too tired to think much beyond how tired I am. I awoke in our rented campervan parked in a little town just south of Auckland at 7am on Saturday (6pm Friday UK time) and was awake from then until I got home at about 8am on Sunday. That's being awake for thirty-eight hours straight - something I've not done since I worked at Warthog Games a few years ago in the mistaken belief that working that many hours was worth it. I tried to make sure I didn't sleep on the first leg of the journey to Singapore so I could force myself back to UK time. I fully intended to spend most of the second flight to Heathrow asleep, but the journey was so turbulent I just couldn't nod off. Fourteen hours of clutching my stomach to stop its contents from sloshing about is not my idea of fun. A bumpy landing at 5am on Sunday with a gusty galeforce crosswind was met with a spontaneous round of applause from the passengers. I don't think Boeing designed the 747 to bounce on runways, but this one did. I slept a couple of hours yesterday morning and then tried to stay up the rest of the day, but only managed to stay awake till 5pm, which of course meant waking at 2:30am and not really sleeping the rest of the night. After a slow day at work (living on caffeine all afternoon) I've managed to stay up till nearly 9pm as I write this, so I think I'm making progress on making up the thirteen hour time difference between New Zealand and the UK. However, I was so tired I declined an offer to go to the pub tonight. If you know me, not going to the pub when invited is a pretty rare occasion. Anyway, if anyone has any really good ways to get over jet lag, you know where the comment button is... Zzzzzzzzz...