Tag Archive: absurdity

great barrier reef, part 5

on our way back to cairns, after completing our final dives on the reef, we found a pod of humpback whales having a party.  i think the photos will speak for themselves on this one.  :)


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i mentioned before that i may have pissed off some grand cosmic power before departing on this trip.  this theory continues to gain plausibility.  before i launch into the latest installment, though, i’ve prepared a handy visual to put it into scale with the rest of the trip.  (the wollaton hall closure actually happened this morning but doesn’t really factor into the evening’s events – i was just visiting some family in nottingham, and hoped to look around the building, on the one day anyone local can remember it ever being closed.)

useful background information:

1. for the overnight trip to nottingham last night, i traveled light, taking only a backpack and leaving my 23-kg suitcase with the friends i’d been staying with in london.

2. the battery on my uk cell phone, in spite of being essentially brand new, lasts less than 24 hours after being fully charged.

3. it has been raining cats and dogs in london for a full day.



 i returned to london from notts by train this afternoon in time to meet up with our good friend pome, who was mc at our wedding, and with whom i’m staying this week while working at the museum.  my cell phone battery had begun gasping out its dying breaths last night already, so i turned it on only periodically to check messages, knowing i would need it for meeting up with pome this afternoon and for contacting my suitcase-sitting friends in chiswick.  while waiting to rendezvous with pome, i spotted a cell-phone-charging station inside a vodafone store, swallowed my ire at the £1 fee for ‘up to 30 minutes,’ dropped the coin in the slot and fiddled with four different charging plugs, all of the right configuration, none of which worked.  when pome appeared while i was still uselessly plugging and unplugging, i asked for my pound back and was offered the half-hearted story that the charging station didn’t really *belong* to the vodafone store, and so they couldn’t refund me, but my steely glare ultimately won out.  this becomes important later, since this £1 was the sum total of the cash i carried.

pome and i squelched home to his flat in the ongoing downpour, enjoyed a very civilized cup of tea and a quick chat, and then parted ways, he to an italian lesson and i to retrieve my suitcase from chiswick.  important plot developments: (1) pome realized on the walk to the tube station that he had forgotten his cell phone, and (2) i was the likelier to return to the flat first, so i took his sole set of house keys.

when i got onto the platform to begin leg 1 of the tube journey, the tail lights of an appropriate train were just disappearing down the tunnel.  the next train arrived no sooner than 25 minutes later, and a sorry, steamy, sardine-can of a train it was, too.  (although someone was traveling with an absolutely gorgeous young rhodesian ridgeback.)  so i arrived into the transfer station three stops later, already halfway through the time it was supposed to take me for the entire venture.  i hustled across the street to connect to the other train line (it’s a weird station) and made it to the platform, before an announcement was made that trains to the destination i needed weren’t running. 

well, i was flummoxed.  on one hand, i needed to let pome back into his own apartment shortly (and he had no phone to receive updates; nor did i have the battery to send them); on the other, my friends in chiswick were waiting and i would be appearing very wet and grubby at the museum in the morning if i didn’t manage to recover my suitcase.  £1 wasn’t exactly sufficient cab fare, i didn’t know the bus system, and in this weather, walking would probably have been faster, but carried the risk of drowning.  i decided to gamble with my solitary coin and called the friends in chiswick, who volunteered to throw my gear in their car and rescue me, estimating they would arrive in about ten minutes.  this seemed optimistic given the weather and traffic, but also seemed like the best option, and we barely had time to arrange a meeting place before the pay phone clicked off and left me penniless.

truly at the mercy of the cosmos, i stood hunched under an eave with my cheap h&m umbrella (the kind that turns inside out immediately when you open it; my rain jacket was safely stored in the absent suitcase) for forty minutes.  soaked down to, and up to, the knees, with plunging blood sugar, i imagined a sodden pome pounding on the front door of his own flat, and texted him a heartfelt apology on the off-chance he had been able to get in and retrieve his phone. three lanes of traffic inched forward along the street in front of me (intended for two); it took a police car with lights and sirens a full five minutes to get down the block of road in front of me.  for perspective, i reminded myself that six thousand africans die of AIDS-related illnesses every day and that the scale of my problems was rather miniscule, but i think ‘rapture’ is not too strong a word to describe the emotion that accompanied ultimately climbing into the passenger side of the car when my recuers arrived, lances high and banners (or at least windows) streaming.

and now the story (out of sheer necessity) takes a turn for the better.  we made it back to pome’s without incident, the pebbles called me and heard my tale of woe, making appropriate sympathetic noises in all the right places, and while we were talking, pome himself appeared (none the wiser or wetter for my prolonged absence).  i settled into my room for the next few days and scuttled off through the unchecked monsoon to buy a large bag of greasy fast food, which was deliciously disgusting, and now i have sufficient blood sugar, dry jeans and socks, and the world is a much brighter place.  tomorrow holds an enormous natural history museum with new exhibits, a giant squid, and toad-in-the-hole for tea, so all is ultimately well.


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giggling in the supermarket

never before has a trip started quite like this one.  i am safely in spain, amid a cheery throng of cephalopod enthusiasts, soaking up the sun, atmosphere and geeky presentations.  the architecture is admirable, the signs diverting (you are correct – photos to come), and the meals late and prolonged.  i am settled in a nice hotel three blocks from the conference venue and it seems to be safe to wander around town gawking at things and taking photos.  in summary: loving it.


the way here has not been exactly smooth.  my accommodation in particular seems cursed.  on the morning i left new zealand, i tried to confirm that the deposit i wired to england for a week-long flat sublet in london had come through.  the email bounced and the website on which i had previously accessed info on this flat had been removed ‘for legal reasons.’  with a sinking feeling in my stomach, i called the bank; in the meantime the pebbles discovered a warning posted online a few days earlier, by someone else who had been scammed by the same person.  so although i am still trying various avenues to recover my £308, i suspect it is gone.

thus unburdened, and after making a fraud statement at the bank, i ran around like a headless chicken for the remaining two hours at work, packing specimens, dissecting gear and other international travel necessities.  i spent the afternoon packing at home and stocking up on a month’s worth of kitty cuddles, then had a lovely dinner at our neighbourhood italian restaurant with bumbly and gizmo.

my four flights were long (12, 11, 2, 1 hours, for a total of 36 in transit) but uneventful, apart from being told on the last leg that taking photos out the window of the plane was prohibited.  (?!)   fortunately at that point i had already taken most of the ones i wanted – see previous post.

as we descended into vigo, the evening sun and 31-degree heat of madrid gave way to low-hanging and extremely productive rainclouds.  there was not much to be seen on the taxi ride into town, but plenty to see when we arrived around 9.30pm at my hotel (booked and paid several months in advance), in the form of a firmly shut roll-down door and signs that apparently said ‘closed for refurbishment.’  after a rather labored conversation with the driver, making good use of my spanish dictionary/phrasebook, i was taken to another hotel nearby, where another very slow conversation with a lot of fumbled page-turning, apologetic shrugging and confused head-shaking yielded me a key to my very own room.  although somewhat joyless, the place was clean and included a bathtub, which i made good use of.  the shower apparatus reminded me of france, the bed was hard enough to do sit-ups on, and there was no clock (a fixture of apparently lower priority than the included ashtray), but i had a door to lock and a place to lie flat.  i did both and slept hard.

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omg ponies

last weekend, we went to wellington, planning to catch up with some good people and finally visit kapiti island, a long-time goal.  the people part went great; the predator-free sanctuary island park, not so much.  high seas, sleet and hail caused the ferry operators to (probably sensibly) cancel all crossings for sunday, the day for which we had booked our permit.  2009 doesn't seem to be a good year for our vacation plans, what with great barrier reef falling through over easter, so here's hoping our sojourn to the US in two weeks is a little less star-crossed.

well, as we were driving around upper (the) hutt visiting people, we came across these two shaggy bundles of equine ridiculousness.  they were basically hooved teddy bears.  and their tiny ears, velvety nuzzling noses and warm pony breath definitely helped to ease the disappointment a little.  miniature horses are often evil-tempered (small dog/napoleon syndrome, i guess), but these guys were lapping up the attention, and we were happy to give it to them.


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the french bath

in october of 2007 i spent a week in paris visiting museum collections.  while i did chronicle some of those experiences here, i had the best of intentions for others but never got around to them.

well, i re-read my travel journal the other day and feel the time has come to tell you about the place i stayed during that week.  here is what i recorded about my b&b in paris:

‘marble floors, carved wooden furniture with gilt accents, curly brass fixtures and candelabra, frou-frou knickknacks and figurines.  the whole nine yards.  my room has a very firm, but comfortable, double bed with a frilly white satin bedspread.

‘icing on the cake: the bathroom.  wow, the bathroom.  pink fixtures (tub, sink, toilet, and – i believe? – bidet, plus radiator, vanity and linens), ornate black tile walls, mirrors in elaborate brass frames (about four of them, including one over the tub), countless bottles of cosmetics and lotions.  scented pink toilet paper dispensed in small, individual squares.  interestingly, taps all pretty much require a wrench to turn off completely, as i discovered when i tried the cold tap on the ?bidet out of curiosity – just wanted to see what the water actually did in there!

‘shower is a true engineering marvel, packing maximum inconvenience into a small area.  shower head hangs on a prong at waist level.  endlessly perplexing – does one sit under it or hold it while in use?  shower-head weighs about 3kg, so holding is tiring; the balancing kneel/crouch option is also not ideal.  pressure is so high and holes so tiny that the shower-head is like a water-blaster – tolerable on thickly padded scalp, excruciating on, say, nipples.  tried to soften the spray during first shower by turning the taps way down – resulted in sinusoidal temperature fluctuation between pleasant and antarctic, about once a minute.  an additional problem of the high-pressure head: the shower curtain is quite flimsy, tending to blow inward and stick clammily to the bather, but also does not reach the edges of the tub, so keeping shower spray contained while in holding-the-head mode requires extreme concentration.  finally, a stream of searingly hot water dribbles constantly from the tub spigot exactly where one’s feet are normally positioned.  did get the general hang of this by the end of the week, but the first shower (after the 46-hour trip from nz, lest the importance of this shower be overlooked) was pretty much spent frantically hopping around, and required a large number of the helpfully abundant pink towels for post-shower mopping.’

the hole in the water

out west, at little huia, you can look down to the bottom of a reservoir.  there's a giant spillway funnel built in as part of an emergency overflow system, and a bridge to give the best possible view into the whirling depths.

when the weather's been dry for a while, the water level sits several meters below the lip of the funnel, so no spillage occurs.  intrepid plants sometimes colonize for a season, and you can actually stand down at the other end and look in the funnel mouth (although technically there's no public access there.  we won't delve into that too deeply).

but when the reservoir is full, gentle waves lap over the sides and curtain down the sides of this massive drain. and when rainfall has been particularly heavy, it starts to roar.  (i have a video of the roaring that i'm trying to dig out, but for now the stills of the calmer day will have to do.)

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reading the signs

and then, suddenly, the whole big trip was over and we were back in new zealand.  (well – suddenly after the two-hour trip to the airport, then two hours in the airport, then ten hours on the plane, then an hour clearing customs, declaring squid specimens and having them examined amid strange looks, and driving home.)

in reviewing the copious photos taken across the ten countries i visited, a couple of common threads developed, so i'd like to re-post a couple of photos and add some new ones as part of two themed entries.  the first is dedicated to notable signs (loosely extended to products and interesting things in store windows).

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and i thought it was just shampoo

the last, oh, three weeks

internet access has been sketchy recently, due to moving around every couple of days at least, so i haven’t managed to upload things as punctually as intended.  but here’s a whole slew of stuff that should have been appearing piecewise, but just piled up instead.  like this entertaining shop in sweden.