mercredi 30 juillet 2008

Say I'm your nambawan

Finally, I got to Vanuatu - just 30 hours later than planned. I arrived weary and tired after my 45 minute flight from Nouméa. A flight that shouldn't have left me weary at all, but the singers were back and in 'fine form'....

Anyway, I got to the hotel and found the Aussie girls at the bar. Where else would they be?

Now, a single boy travelling in a catholic country with two women needs some explaining. Luckily we had 'big fella Johnny' to do this for us. Big Fella Johnny was a taxi driver who adopted us on our first trip into Port Vila, the capital.

"which one Nambawan wife?" Johnny asked.

"Nambawan?" said I

"Yes boss. Nambawan wife. Before Nambatu Wife."

The penny dropping was swiftly followed by an argument between the girls as to who should be my number one wife. The decision was fairly easy.

Apparently I was Nambatu Husband.

samedi 26 juillet 2008

This isn't where I'm supposed to be.

So, I woke up this morning in sunny Noumea. Well, I say sunny, it is sunny, but it's incredibly windy and keeps throwing down a shower every so often.

Anyway, the point of this is that I'm not supposed to be waking up in Noumea this morning. I'm supposed to be waking up with an incredible hangover, having finally caught up with my Aussie friends in Port Vila, Vanuatu.

Last night, all was going well - checked in on time, went through security (nothing beeped), bought duty free rum. I guess the fact that a (big, old) tree blew over onto a car as I walked past into the airport might have been considered an omen by some.

We board the plane and taxi out. On the runway, the pilot puts his foot down (I do appreciate that he doesn't actually put his foot down, flight fans) and we hurtle down the piste. And then he slams on the anchors and we screech to a juddering, bone rattling halt at the end of the tarmac.

It seems he needs to get his breath, because it takes some time for him to announce that 'the wind is too high for take off'. Apparently, cross winds were too strong and so we were going to wait for them to die down. You know what's coming next.

After sitting on the runway, then back at the terminal for what seemed like an age, the decision was taken to cancel the flight.

Bring on the mayhem.

Now, that curious blend of French insouciance and Pacific Island laid-back-ness worked well to ensure that amongst the Air Calin staff, no-one knew what to do next, no-one really cared and no-one was too worried about finding out.

There was much screaming, shouting, tears (not mine) and renting of cloth amongst the locals and the Vanuatans. The Air Calin staff appeared, saw the baying crowd and very quickly disappeared. I reckon they'd gone for a quick swig of rum, because they seemed much calmer when they came back out. I know I'd have needed a drink iof I was them.

Anyway, they finally make reservations at hotels for us and bundle us all onto a bus (the airport is 45km from town, the other side of a big mountain range) for the ride back into Noumea. The bus was full, full, full and the locals had so much luggage that a second bus came just to transport luggage. They didn't really think spreading people over two buses was a good idea. Nope, people went on one, luggage on the other, them's the rules.

If that wasn't enough, it would appear that the plane was mostly full of Vanuatan Church groups who had been in Noumea for some kind of choir competition. Suffice to say that the journey back into Noumea was accompanied by their selection of top tunes, all sung at deafening volume (but in really quite lovely close harmonies).

There was little irony in their choice of songs. They belted out 'Nearer my Lord to Thee' and 'If you're happy and you know it clap you're hands', and they belted out them out at least three times each. Trust me, no-one was clapping their hands for their third rendition.

Anyway, here I am, in Noumea. The flight has been re-scheduled for 8pm this evening, which should get me into Vila for cocktail time. Meanwhile, I'm eating for England at the expense of Air Calin.

Pass the drinks menu!

mercredi 23 juillet 2008

Noumea la belle.

Greetings from the South Pacific. And from France's very own version of Hawaii. Well, that's how it seems.

The country bills itself as 'where the Cote d'Azur meets the South Pacific'. To be truthful, that's doing New Caledonia a huge disservice. It's far more beautiful, wild, crazy, classy and much, much friendlier than the Riviera.

So, I'm just quickly typing this on my balcony, looking out at the world's largest lagoon, watching folk doing what they do on the beach and the boats heading for the islands out by the reef. The sun is shining and it's about 28 degrees. Much more bearable than Japan!

The country is a French overseas territory and the evidence is everywhere - the buildings, the food, the clothes, the patisseries.... There is also much native culture too - including the spectacular Tjibao Cultural centre, designed by Renzo Piano and possibly the most amazing museum building I have ever seen.

Away from the beach and the scenery is stunning - mountains, lakes, forests. I've been beetling around in my rental car, getting generally lost and vexing the locals with my driving style!

I want to tell you lots about this amazing country - it truly is spectacular. But, alas, I'm more inclined to head down to the beach, get a cocktail and watch the sunset....

I'm sure you understand if I leave you for now and go get that drink...I've been working hard all day (yeah right) and deserve a wee libation!

A bientot, mes amis...

mardi 22 juillet 2008

Genki, desu ne?

I thought Osaka was hot until I went to Kyoto. If ever there was a place that would suit an international conference on climate change, then Kyoto must surely be it.

Boiling. Baking. Sweating. Killing me.

As you can probably guess, I didn't stay long in Kyoto - I'd only gone to get some culture, away from the fleshpots and shops of Osaka.

Alas, temples and shrines don't look so good when you have sweat dripping into your eyes. The 'walkway through the temple gardens' left me looking like a pile of washing waiting to be hung out to dry. So with the feeling that I was making the place look very untidy, I headed back to Osaka, airconditioning and shops.

Osaka is a great place. Too cool for the likes of me, if I'm honest. It's got that really cool vibe that belongs to 'second cities' around the globe (Barcelona, Melbourne, Rotterdam, Montreal, Chicago, etc...). I don't know why second cities are like this - maybe because they're not full of beaureaucrats, or maybe it's just that they try a bit harder, always in the shadow of a more famous cousin. Thoughts, anyone?

Anyway, Osaka - fantastic place, cool people, amazing shops and, well, Japanese food.

Now Japanese food in Japan - and I know this will stun you - isn't that much like the Japanese food we get in our local neighbourhood Japanese restaurants. That's kind of been sanitised and westernised and made a bit more marketable to our western tastes and pallette. The food in Japan is odd and good at the same time. Impenetrable menus come equipped with photo's and/or plastic models of food so pointing gets the order, but it never looks like the picture when it arrives.

For my first dinner in Osaka I managed to order a single shrimp, a bowl of rice and some miso soup. All lovely, but a bit basic, and maybe I under-ordered?

The local speciality in Osaka is the octopus ball. Yum. It's basically a teeny tiny baby octopus balled up in donut-style dough and fried. Now if you see these things sold by the roadside (and they're everywhere) then they look like nice little mini-donuts. But trust me, that's not raspberry jam in the middle!

The other local speciality seems to be the mispelled / curious english slogan t-shirt. I really loved the one that said "Flatley will get you nowhere". I wonder if Michael realises this? I also liked "I'm in love with you, foaming at the mouth", which is kind of classy.

But my real favourite was worn by a very cute, naive looking girl of no more than 17 years old.

It said "I love the no-name scene". Which I presume means she enjoys having anonymous sex with strangers. Looking at her, I can't imagine this to be true.

But hey, this is Japan. Maybe that's exactly what she does like.

jeudi 17 juillet 2008

Holiday. Celebrate.

I'm off tomorrow. How very exciting!

So the trip is Paris > Osaka > Noumea, New Caledonia > Efate, Vanuatu > Noumea > Paris (via Tokyo). It's a lot of hours in the air, but I'm planning to sleep, watch some movies, sleep, read a little, sleep. You get the picture.

I'm not sure how much internet access I'll have along the way, and so I'm guessing posts will be few and far between over the next couple of weeks or so. But don't fear, I'll be back - with tales.....

A while back I travelled from London to Beijing by train - via Brussels, Moscow, Siberia and Mongolia on the trans Siberian and trans Mongolian railways. It was an amazing trip, with moments of hilarity mixed in with moments of sheer horror.

"Why are we doing this?" was a big question , as we sat in the carriage of the train on the fourth consecutive day, nothing but cheap Russian vodka to warm our souls.

We all concluded that the reason to travel was to come back armed with tales to tell. Surely that's exactly what travellers through the ages have done? Although, I guess that Marco Polo never came back with tales of dodgy disco's in Ulaan Bataar and eating mouse on a stick in Beijing. But maybe he did.

Whatever happens on this trip, you can be assured that you'll be reading about it here.

I wish you all a lovely couple of weeks, and we'll meet up again soon.

mardi 15 juillet 2008

Aeroplanes, fireworks and.....Hugo Chavez

So, Bastille day. Quite the day.

I was sat happily typing away at my desk when I heard some almighty noise outside. I went to the window and in the sky - really, really low - was a big passenger jet, flanked by two military jets on either side. Oh lord, thought I.

But no, it was the start of the military flypast for the 14th July celebrations. For the next ten minutes, aeroplanes young and old flew over my building, in formation and with the obligatory tricolor fumes. Amazing.

An hour later, the street was filled with horses and riders in full ceremonial uniform as they made their way back from the Champs Elysees parade to their barracks in the East of the city. Low flying aircraft and two hundred horses in the street. Could it get any odder?

You know me well enough to know that it most certainly could.

To top off the day, we had the fireworks. The most amazing firework display was promised, and I was invited to watch them from the balcony of my new Mexican friend. The one I took for Tex-Mex. He has forgiven me, apparently.

Anyway, he lives with his lovely wife (also Mexican) by Bir Hakeim metro station, on the 12th floor with an amazing top to tail view of the Eiffel Tower. Their view not only takes in the tower, but also stretches across the river to the Trocadero - in other words, you'd pay serious money for this view of the fireworks, so I was pleased to have taken a bottle of pink fizz to thank them.

I said that the day got odder, and it certainly did.

The other guests at the fireworks party were: 3 Venezuelans, 1 Brazilian, 1 Italian, 1 Englishman, plus me and the two Mexicans. So we all sat there speaking mongrel French, eating guacamole and generally putting the world to rights.

Trust me when I say that when I learnt to speak French as a youth, I never thought I'd be using it in heated discussions about Venezuelan politics.

To be frank, I'm amazed that I even have an opinion on the subject, but I guess that's the miracle of beer.

22h45 and the Fireworks started. Stunning. Too amazing for words really.

The downside was the crowd of 600,000 people all making their way home afterwards. I walked a mile or so before I found a metro station that was a) open, b) not besieged by people heading for home and c) on a decent line for me. At 2 am I walked in the door and slept, dreaming in French of fireworks and, worryingly, of Hugo Chavez.

It was back to work today, but fear not, holidays are just around the corner.

In some ways it's a shame to be jetting off to a far flung island just as the weather is turning really toasty here in France. But this sounds like I'm moaning about going on holiday, which of course I'm not doing.

Three more sleeps and I'll be on the plane.

First stop Osaka, The hotel I'm staying in has lots of good reviews online and it's right in the middle of the shopping area - which, let's not kid ourselves here, is what trips to Japan are all about.

Much excitement. They may not have fireworks over the Seine in Japan, but they do have stores full of useless-but-pretty shite that has my name written all over it.

Woo hoo, holidays here we come.

dimanche 13 juillet 2008

A deal's a deal

I promised photo's of the new apartment once all boxes were emptied and I had put things in cupboards and photo's on here goes:

So this is the outside of the building. Mine is the less fancy building on the right, behind the tree. At the foot of the tree you can see my front door. Ah.

The view from, well, from every room really.

The breakfast table. And the dinner table. I did say that it's a small apartment, didn't I?

This is the desk of TBNIL. Where I am sat as I write this. The photo's in the frames are from Japan - the general mayhem of Shinjuku and a sneaky picture of a Geisha leaving her Okiya - the Geisha house.

So there you go. The world of TBNIL.

I'm off out now - the traditional 13 July Fireman's ball is happening at the end of my road at Place de la Bastille.

And one wouldn't want to miss a Fireman's ball now, would one?

vendredi 11 juillet 2008

Cheer up sleepy genes

That last post was a bit depressing, wasn't it? Sorry about that. I promise to be cheerful for a while....

So, what's going on? I seem to post more and more about the past and less about the quotidien these days. I don't know why, but here's a bit of the day to day for you to get your teeth into.

Last night I went to the cinema - le Grand Rex - which is always a treat.

The cinema is amazing, old style, faded grandeur, etc. The ads and trailers are shown on a small screen on the stage, which makes everyone think 'why didn't I go to the modern multiplex down the road'.

But then follows a piece of true theatre. The room goes dark (apart from the stars in the ceiling), the theme music from "2001 a space odyssey" plays (I kid you not) and the biggest screen in the western world starts to come down from the ceiling.

The screen is so big that the front few rows of people (who thought they had great seats) panic and run to the back looking for seats where they can see the whole screen.

Anyway, the film was awful. Hancock. Really dire. Not helped by the fact that it was the dubbed version (I was willing to put up with a dubbed version because a: it was on at the Rex and b: it's not like it was ever going to be a dialogue-based film).

But the awfulness of the film did not detract from the brilliance of the cinema experience. If ever you are in Paris, go see a film at the Rex. Amazing. They even have a backstage tour before each film - just arrive an hour early.

Alas, going to the movies made me late going to bed, so it's not surprising that today I woke up late. Too late really - luckily my colleagues in the UK are an hour behind me! And I have a Latin American day ahead of me.

I'm meeting a Mexican for lunch (business) and an Argentinian for dinner (pleasure). I'm taking the Mexican for Tex-Mex, hopefully he'll see the funny side. I'm not sure if Mexicans do irony?

This weekend is boxes, boxes, boxes I'm afraid. I'm determined that this weekend will see the end of the move. But I'm also hoping to get out and do a bit of holiday shopping. Especially as I'm officially on countdown - 7 days to holidays, 20 days to birthday. Hooray on both counts.

Anyway, I hope you all have a great weekend too.


mercredi 9 juillet 2008

Euston Station. 21 March 2002. 4.45 p.m.

OK, so when I was writing la centaine I referred to the one story that I was unsure about whether or not to add, heartbreaking as it is to tell.

Anyway, I've decided to tell it.

Why? Because it is a big part of my tale. Because it has shaped me. Because it affects 90% of everything that happens within my family.

Why have I chosen to tell it today? I don't know. I feel good. I feel happy. I feel able to write it without getting too emotional.

That's a big build up. Sorry. Here it is.

21st March 2002 and I'm in London for the day. I'm working and have been in and out of a succession of meetings all day. Luckily, I finish early and head to the station.

Now, any of you who know Euston will know how everyone stands in the departure hall, looking up at the screens waiting for their train to be announced. On a busy day upwards of 1000 people can be congregated there at any one time.

It was such a day, and my screen gazing was interrupted by my phone ringing. it was my brother.

"Where are you?"


"What train are you on?"

"The Lichfield one - my car is at Lichfield station"

"Change it, come to Birmingham. Dad's in hospital, he's had a heart attack"

(Calm, but nonetheless shocked reaction) "I can't, it'll be quicker to get the train to Lichfield and drive to the hospital. I'll be there in two hours"

"Ok, just get here as soon as you can"

"Is he ok?"

"Yes, just get here"

So, I got on the train, mildly stunned but calm and keen to get some miles behind me. If he was in hospital, then at least he was being looked after.

The phone rang again.

"We've left the hospital, come to Mom's"

"OK. Is everything alright?"

"The nurses said there's nothing to be gained by sitting around at the hospital. They said to go home"

"Right. Well, I'll come to the house then"

And then, in the background I heard his wife say 'just tell him we all need to be together'.....he shushed her, but the damage was done.

At that moment I knew that my father had died.

I drove from the station to my Mother's house on auto-pilot. I felt nauseous and dizzy. I knew this was one of those moments. I knew that once I rang that doorbell my life would never be the same again.

I pulled up on the driveway and steeled myself. I had to go in. I had to face the news.

I rang the bell. My brother answered.

He opened the door and my Mom came running to the door. She made it half the length of the hallway and collapsed.

"He's dead" she cried, and just lay there on the floor, not knowing what to do, or how to do it.

All of our lives changed that day.

mardi 8 juillet 2008

Are you a Gayer?

My 5 year old nephew, at the weekend:

"Uncle, are you a Gayer?"

"What does that mean?"

"I don't know. Dad said you're a Gayer and so I won't have any cousins"

And they wonder why I live overseas.

The little mermaid

So, I'm back in Paris. It's been a funny few days.

Spending time with my Mom means embracing the unknown, expecting the unexpected, preparing to be stunned. Not just on many levels, but on each and every level.

This time it started on the drive from Paris to her house in Birmingham.

Taking the tunnel from France to the UK, She was worrying that the doors to the train - you know, you drive your car on a train and the train goes through the tunnel, then you drive off - anyway she was worrying that the doors to the train weren't watertight.

"We don't actually go 'underwater' Mom"

"Of course we do. How else do we get there?"

"We go through a tunnel"

"But the tunnel is underwater. We don't go on a bridge across the sea"

"Well that's true - there is no bridge. And the tunnel is, technically underwater. But the train doesn't go anywhere near the water"


"Are you expecting to see fish at the window?"

"No! Maybe. Yes. Oh I don't know. You treat me like I'm stupid. You and your brother both treat me like I'm stupid. I'm an intelligent woman you know."

And just like that, it became my fault.

Now if I was having this conversation with my 5 year old nephew, then maybe I'd be a little bit more forgiving. But alas, not with a sixty-seven year old self-proclaimed 'intelligent woman'.

Certainly not with an intelligent woman who owns shares in the tunnel....!

Ye gods.

dimanche 6 juillet 2008

Long live the Queen

Going through a pile of old schoolbooks, pictures and cards at my Mom's house today, I came across my 'Silver Jubilee' souvenirs.

Now, anyone at school in the UK during the summer of 1977 will remember the Queen's Silver Jubilee. It was all-consuming and took over our thoughts and spare time for months. Well it did for me, anyway. I kept a Silver Jubilee diary...

19th May 1977

This week the Queen is in Scotland. The children in Glasgow had a special holiday from school. On the news on television we could see the children on the footpath to cheer and wave their flags. I liked the Queen's hat but not her dress.

3rd June 1977

Today is a very special day. We are going to get a free gift. We had to sit on the grass and we saw Miss Reader's Scottish dancing group. Mandy Webb was the lead-girl. The girls wore leotards and Neil wore shorts. Then we got our free gift. It was a spoon.

13th June 1977

Last tuesday was a special Jubilee holiday. We had a street party. Cars kept upsetting our tables. We had a knees up party in a tent. I drank a bottle of Babycham and half a pint of Pomagne with Neil.

20th June 1977

It was our school Jubilee party last night. I had two hot dogs, 14 cakes and 5 drinks but no Babycham. Neil was there. I went to bed at half past midnight.

The whole summer I was obsessed with things royal. I started to collect pictures of the Queen and liked to talk about what she was wearing. I wanted to design dresses for the Queen but my dad said this wasn't really a good career choice for me. That didn't stop me drawing the dresses though....

The whole Neil thing was something I had forgotten (although whenever I drive past his house I still think 'aah, that's where Neil lived'). As I went through the box, I came across cards (for all sorts of occasions) that I had signed from 'me and Neil xxx'. I'd even sent my Mother a Mother's Day card from the two of us.

Yet my family claimed the whole gay thing was a surprise.

I fear they were just being polite.

vendredi 4 juillet 2008

Oh, Rotterdam.

Catching up on la centaine again...

I think I've talked about this before, but it's a theme in my life - an ongoing theme at that. It's this - life takes us to some places that we never would have thought of. It makes seemingly random places important to us and seemingly important places become random. My life is as much about the place as the event. You'll have gathered as much by now, no doubt.

Rotterdam is a special place in my life, and the Hotel New York is exceptionally special to me.

The HNY started out life as the European terminal for the Holland America Line, who would transport folks across the sea, next stop Ellis Island. It's a great old building and has been lovingly put back into service as a hotel.

Much as those amazing people set out on new lives in the new world all those years ago, so today does the hotel play host to more modern dramas. And she does so in the way that any 'Grande Dame' would - elegantly, discreetly and with great class.

My own dramas have played out there over the years.

I've met colleagues, friends and lovers there. Sometimes they were colleagues that turned out to be friends and, later, lovers. I've loved and lost, and loved and won at the hotel.

At the hotel, I've hosted my own birthday party, with a dozen friends from around Europe. And I've hidden in a room there for three days when I was feeling desperate. There's nothing like eating room service lamb curry in a bed with three-hundred count sheets when you are feeling down.

I've drunk myself silly, and drunk myself sad within her walls. Hangovers always feel better, sat at the window with a koffie verkeerd in my hand, looking out at the grey Maas.

She's given me memories galore, some devastatingly sad, some gloriously happy, all memories that I cherish and that make me feel alive. My life has taken turns for the worse and turns for the better and still she welcomes me.

When the next Mr TBNIL shows up, I know where we'll be headed. We'll take the water taxi across the river into town. Get some food and cocktails on Witte de Withstraat. Walk back across the Erasmusbrug. Stroll together along the waterfront in the moonlight.

We'll imagine the new lives that started on this stretch of water - the people who bravely left behind their families, homelands and traditions to make homes far, far across the ocean.

And when we get to our room, we'll close the curtains and retreat into our own world.

As I say, with me it's as much about the place as it is the event.

And boy, this is some place.

mardi 1 juillet 2008

I live in Paris now

OK, it's nearly midnight and I'm a little shaky after two very fraught days (which involved many trials, tribulations and special moments). But I just wanted to drop by and let you know some of the highs and lows...

Breakages : surprisingly few. Just a six drawer chest that seems to have been dropped. It's now held together by tape. And a bedside lamp which'll need replacing, as will his unbroken partner on 'the other side'. A big scratch on the bed head. A leg off the drinks cabinet (oh yes, I have a drinks cabinet, important piece of furniture, that one). And two glasses. Not bad for 450km.

Trials and Tribulations : Ikea delivering the wrong wardrobes. Spent an hour on hold and going through the phone system. New ones will arrive in 10 days, just as I head off on holiday. 'The couture' is now hanging on hastily bought clothes rails.

The other thing that has been sent to try me is the troupe of tape-happy removals men. Everything is covered in tape. Everything. Even things that don't need taping. It truly is driving me nuts.

Special moments : Possibly the best moment was returning to the Lyon flat to discover my mother (here to help, apparently) entertaining the three Algerian removals men.

She was belting out a wonderful rendition of la Marseillaise, the French national anthem (it's the only 'french' she knows). They took it in good spirits, it seems. Not too offended. Although I did expect to find my boxes full of spit.

Oh, and I've managed to get myself a dinner date for next week with a real-life Parisien - albeit one from Buenos Aires....

So the move is over, and the life begins.

Did I tell you that I live in Paris now?

It seems to suit me, so far.