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Michael’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 08 Oct 2006

Location: London & Southampton, UK

MapWell, wasn’t last weekend interesting? Given I was lacking sleep in a major way after the trip to London to see Jay-Z, the weekend didn’t help my cause too much. I arrived in London late Friday evening, and finally made it to Sarah’s place (where I was crashing for the 2 nights) at about 10pm. When I got inside the first thing I realised was that everyone was in bed – okay, so we’re not pulling an all-nighter, my body was happy.

We chatted, and then by 1030pm I was trying to get some shut eye. Just as I nodded off, or so it felt like, the house was a buzz with energy, well, as much energy as you could expect at 3am. By 4, we had all finished off a beer (why, I still don’t know, but it was put in my hand…) and headed to catch the night bus into London. Watching all of the night busses going the other way, with the ‘normal’ people heading home, I wondered to myself what the hell I was doing on more than one occasion.

We jumped off at Piccadilly Circus, grabbed some cash, and hit every shop that was open looking for some alcohol – again, I don’t know why, and was not leading the charge – but failed to secure any before we made it to the Walkie. Well, at 430am, the line was already big, and we were at least 100 deep from the door. Thankfully it was a rather mild morning and I got away with shorts and t-shirt, figuring it would be, at best, a sweat box on the inside. I wasn’t the only one, with heaps of people wearing football jumpers. In fact, I am still struggling to figure out how so many Footscray supporters made it to London. I guess the price of stolen hub cups and car badges have gone up in recent times? By 515am, when the doors finally opened, the line was at least three times as long as it was when we got there, heading well and truly back towards Piccadilly Circus.

At least getting there early had one advantage – I was the 100th person to get served at the bar, instead of the 1000th. And the bar staff really weren’t that interested at working that early in the morning, trust me. And of course, what do all smart people do when they finally get served after a long wait? That’s right, order up big. The £10 entry ticket got a free breakfast and free drink, neither of which were that great. The breakfast was a bread roll with bacon OR egg, not both, and the free drink was a bottle of VB. I redeemed my coupons, and then ordered a couple snakies to go on with. For those having never been to London, and not in the know, a snakie is half beer (often Carlsberg), half cider (Strongbow) and topped with blackcurrant cordial. If nothing else, it makes some great stains and gets some sugar into the body. With an open VB in my back pocket, two snakies and a breakfast roll sitting on top of them, I made my way thru the all-Australian crowd in little Aussie London and took up a spot to watch the game.

Of course, I was right about the hot sweat box, and was happy about my shorts and t-shirt selection, at least until the place filled up and inevitably I was moved from my initial viewing position. By the time everyone was in, and I had finally stopped riding the surging crowd, I found myself transplanted in font of an industrial strength air conditioner, freezing my ass off – this did however assist in keeping my drinks cold.

With the start of the game, the crowd went into a frenzy from the opening seconds with cries of ‘BAAAALLLLLL’, followed by ‘YEEEAAAAHHH’. Ahh, felt like being in the middle of London with a bunch of Aussies. I’d been told that they would be serving pies (and to expect that would be the free breakfast) and was shattered to find that there would be no pies sold. By quarter time, not only had I text many of the faithful back home who would be interested and intrigued by my early morning pilgrimage to watch football, but I had also polished off all three of my drinks. This was going to be a long morning, and to borrow a phrase from Milo, by lunch time, it was certain I was going to need a body bag to get home.

I headed down stairs to find Andy, Jacquie and Alyshia, and hung out with them for most of the second quarter, although at one stage it appeared the function wouldn’t last till half time. Just after the start of the second quarter, the SKY TV equivalent of a computers ‘blue screen of death’, appeared on all TV’s in the bar. Ouch. We had lost signal. It didn’t take long for the natives to get restless, and the chants of ‘BUUUULLLLSHHIIIIITT’ went up around all three floors of the pub. I kept a keen ear to the stairwell for the sounds of smashing glass, but luckily for the pub, after about 5-10 minutes the signal was re-instated, and we didn’t miss too much.

At half-time, and a couple of second quarter drinks, I went back upstairs with Andy, Jac and Alyshia in tow, and caught up again with the gang I’d come with. At this stage it looked as though the Eagles were in full control, but knowing the recent history between the two teams, I remained hopeful, as did Andy who was contemplating heading home for the game, given how much of a Swans supporter he is. So, what to do at half time? Order up more drinks. That was how the day continued till the early stages of the final quarter, when suddenly, the crowd were buzzing uncontrollably. There was a huge sense in the air that anything could happen, and I personally was hoping for a draw, and an excuse to return the following weekend to watch a replay (thankfully, as we all know, that didn’t happen. I need sleep!). With 7 minutes left, the Swans changed the way the entire 2006 AFL season will be remembered when they cut the margin to just 1 point. There was 7 minutes of nail biting action, with legions of fans for both teams going wild any time that there was a score. Score’s were traded, and the odd Englishman (Ian, Sarah’s boyfriend) and American stood there in utter bewilderment, staring at the crazy Aussie’s, yelling so fiercely at the TV.

Well, as most people know by now, the game finished with the ‘narrowest of narrow’ victories to the Eagles, denying the Swans of back to back premierships by just 1 point, and extending the legend between the two teams, started at last years Grand Final, where they have now played each other 5 times, with a combined margin of just 12 points. I knew there was a reason I was hoping for an Eagles vs. Swans Grand Final after all the Victorian teams were knocked out (told ya Mum!).

So, no sooner had everyone flooded in, people were on their way out in droves, figuring at 9am it was time for breakfast. It wasn’t long before there was nothing but die hard fans watching an episode on the big screen of Rex Hunt’s Biffs Bumps and Brawlers! What a way to finish off a morning. Of course by this stage it was body bag material, and when the replay started at around 11am, after a stirring drunken rendition of the national anthem from the remaining fans, Tony and I left, the last to leave from the group we knew.

We headed through Leicester Square, and did was all drunken people do and stocked up on Maccas, a couple cheeseburgers really hitting the spot. Further on, I gave my advice to the people lining up to buy cheap tickets to the West End shows, saying I knew a guy who did cheaper tickets. They actually seemed to enjoy the drunken break from waiting patiently in line. Whilst the line was nothing the size of the line to get in the pub, apparently Saturday is a good night for going to West End shows, and also a good day for ticket sales. In any case, I like to think that Tony and I shortened the length of their wait with our brief antics.

We finally made it ‘home’ at which point I was happy to have stopped drinking and decided I needed a burger from the Cottage Chicken shop. Apparently I had forgotten that less than n hour earlier I had just eaten two cheeseburgers, or maybe I just didn’t care. I made it home, and made a couple phone calls, before finally getting some decent sleep on the couch for the best part of 5 hours, while everyone else in the house caught up on shut-eye too.

Saturday night, as could be expected was a pretty quite affair. I ventured out and bought four books, to capitalise on my reading habit. It is safe to say I had no idea what to buy, given that the two authors I have read the most of late (Ben Mezerich and Dan Brown) I have completed all of their books. I ended up with a selection from the 3 for 2 pile. A book on the Space Race, aptly title Space Race, a book by Matthew Riley called Seven Ancient Wonders with some Egyptian motif on the front cover, and a book called DC Confidential about the politics of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The fourth book was A Dame To Kill For, one of the ‘books’ (also referred to as graphic novels) from Frank Miller’s Sin City collection. It was my first read, and I’d finished half of it off before I fell asleep on the Saturday night. The first that struck is that I read the book exactly as the movie played out, with not only dialogue, by with the narratives by the particular stories main character. Also, the characters were all from the movie including Dwight (the main character, and now I know why he has a ’new face’ in the movie), Marv, Nancy, Shellie, Gail, Miho, Goldie, Roark and the dude with the golden eye.

The next morning, Tony and I were out the door just after 830, heading to my second Walkabout for the weekend, by my first ever trip to the Mecca in She-Bu. Well, when we got there just after 9am, the line was large, and again it just kept growing leading up to opening. I think people were more energetic simply because it wasn’t ridiculously early in the morning. There was also more entertaining with a guy fully decked out in a Maroon’s uniform, including bandaged head, running across the road with his beer, before doing a 10 minute warm up session in the park opposite the line. Run through and stretches, he did them all, and whilst I’d love to say he did them with the beer in his hand the whole time, it would just be a lie.

Whilst waiting in line, I had a look around, and noticed another familiar face, but wasn’t too sure. I could tell though when he caught my eye, we must have known each other. I started scrolling through the deep recesses of my mind, and finally it clicked. The three guys from Queensland that I met on the bus to Kusadasi from Istanbul. But what’s his name? These were the guys I ended up staying with in Kusadasi, Samos (where we polished off a litre of Ouzo each and just about missed our ferry) and Mykanos. Anyway, he remembered my name, and I politely said I have no idea and we chatted for a bit – small world. Anyway, around 1015am, they finally let us in, and again it was a charge for the bar. This time though, on my way in, I noticed a pie warmer – WITH PIES… hell yeah, breakfast is served. So, ordering 2 snakies and 2 pies (one each for Tony and I) we found our spot and started watching the game.

Firstly thing I noticed was that it was the best pie I had had since leaving home, in fact, it could be the only one! Second thing was my sister as the players ran onto the field. Third thing was that I was severely out numbered as a Storm supporter. Either Melbournians didn’t know about the Storm, or didn’t give a shit, either way, it was 75% Broncos crowd, 15% neutral and 10% Storm. And Broncos fans, well, they are as bogan as they come. The AFL final was a friendly affair (in the crowd) where this had the feeling of a mauling ready to take place, at least in the area I was watching. Dudes were spitting at the TV when Billy Slater was on (is there something I don’t know), and all sorts of crazy shit. It just ended up making me want Storm to win even more. But, again I told you Mum, the Storm didn’t have what it took. For weeks, I have said it sounds, and looks (I had seen a couple games on Sky over here) like the Storm were only doing enough to win, and not doing much of anything convincingly. Well, it proved to be the case with the Storm loosing 15-8. It was a close game until late, when the Broncos kicked the field goal to go an extra point up, and make Melbourne need to score twice. But the Storm never looked like they were going to challenge, and when they did, dodgy ref calls seemed to stop them. Having said that, I reckon they got the No Try call right, but some of the others were a bit odd.

Anyway, after the game, I said goodbye to Andy and Jacquie who had come along to watch the game, and wandered through the crowd. You know you’re in a bogan pub, ruled by Queenslanders, when every single one of the patrons is screaming the words to Tina Turner’s Simply The Best. That of course quickly turned into a medley of Chisel and AC/DC songs. This was turning a little ugly, and I think I am falling into the “I didn’t come to the UK to spend my days and nights in a bogan Aussie pub” type person as opposed to the “I can’t think of anything better than going to the Walkie for 12 hours on a Sunday in my wife beater, stubbies and thongs” person. No offence to the many people that I know who seem to be closer to the latter category. I found Kristy, said a quick hello, and then left with Tony, hoping to get out before Shannon Knoll made an appearance over the sound system. I jumped on the train and headed to Waterloo, saying bye to Tony and made my way back to Southampton… ready for a good nights sleep!

The train ride itself was a mission, and I quickly finished off the Sin City book. Next I opted for the DC Confidential, and can officially say that my reading has substantially slowed. I didn’t realise when I bough the book how hard reading about politics would be to start off. Nor did I realise a book called DC Confidential, with a picture of the US Flag on the front would be written by a Brit. But as I got through it, I realised that not only was it interesting (outside of heard to read), but it was written by the former British Ambassador to the USA, which made it much more neutral that an American writing it. And being that the Ambassador is supposed to be neutral politically in his or her home country, it should theoretically not be biased for or against any of the UK political parties either. Anyway, I have not sped through it like my recent books, but will finish in under 2 weeks, which is still better than I ever would have done at home. Back to the mission part – the train broke down at Basingstoke Station, and it took an extra hour to get home in the end.

So, what else to talk about…

I had better give you my updated perceptions on life in Southampton. Well, let’s get back to the people. I left out two primary groups from my previous assessment. Firstly the Asians. Now, as strong as the population is growing in Australia, they seem to be getting everywhere on the globe, and that includes Southampton. I didn’t really notice it (no there is not a China Town here) until I was on the bus the other day. I take the bus and get off on Shirley Road. As I was sitting there, two old Asian ladies climbed on and asked if the bus went to Shireee Road. The bus driver said “I go to SIRLEY road” and the lady says “Yes, Shiree”. It was at that stage when I was trying not to wet myself that I realised that there were actually quite a few Asians on the bus, and at the bus stop and that there is a prevalent community in Southampton.

Now the one that I had totally forgotten last week, and I have no idea how. The polish. Nuff said. If you’ve ever been to London, you know what I am talking about. No one is making more of their EU inclusion than the Polish. I read last week that there are 3000 homeless Polish people in London alone. Seems simple to me, if you’re homeless in London – go home? Anyway, the Polish are a huge source of debate over here, with many undercutting British Labour, and driving the average wage for skilled and unskilled trades down. They also have been rumoured to abuse the system, and after living and working below the poverty line for 12 months, quitting work and going on Department of Social Service benefits. There is also talk of Nigerians offering to pay Polish women £1000 pound to get married and then claim EU residency and move to the UK. Of course the brides never see their husbands again, or the money they were promised. Anyway, in Southampton, the Polish are everywhere too. The hair dresser and local shop across the street are both Polish, and the Polish now make up 10% of the Southampton population. Needless to say, the UK must be worried about the Bulgarian and Romanian applications being so close to passing into the EU. Could be a major problem in the not to distant future if people keep flooding is as quickly as they currently are. Gotta remember that one £ is worth about 6 Polish Zlotty, and the stuff in Poland is already reasonably cheap. The money is a major reasons for coming to the UK.


Closer to Home.

The coat that I bought last week has been a damn savour. Despite being reasonably mild whilst lining up for the football to start on Saturday morning, it has been freezing down in Southampton every morning this week, not to mention wet and drizzly. I wore the coat Monday, and was wondering how long it would be before I bought gloves and a beanie. Well, by the end of the week I had decided that it was the first thing that I had to do on the weekend. And perhaps a scarf. It won’t be long before I will be wearing a jumper under the jacket too, so as soon as I get paid next, there will be a bit of shopping to do. Once the sun is up (which gets later each day) the temperature isn’t that bad. I have also made good use of the umbrella, to the point when it went inside out on me on Friday. Being the engineer that I am, I simply turned it into the wind till it blew back the right way and carried on, wondering how many more times I would get away with doing that before it broke. I also experienced my first real day of choppy weather on the Solent River between the mainland and Isle of Wight. They still said it would be a ‘reasonably’ calm journey and still take that standard 23 minutes. It was still almost 23 minutes, but I am not looking forward to the day when they say it will be a rough journey, that’s for sure!

Well, I finally got a desk in my room, so the computer is off the floor, and I have a little more space to move around. That was a bit of a fiasco as well, with the desk initially being to big to fit in where it was supposed to go. Finally it got cut down to size, and fit in between the wall and the cupboard. Only problem then was that the cupboard wouldn’t open because the door hinged on the outside, and would smack into the desk. Finally, a couple days later, enough was taken off that I could get the cupboard door open, and tidy up my place a bit.

The MP3 player is officially in critical condition, which of course put everything on it in critical condition too. Not to mention the 30GB of music, but every photo and video taken on my camera since I left home. I bought an external hard drive for the computer on Thursday and found it £20 cheaper across the road. Friday I got my £20 back and started transferring data (through a USB 1.0 port) from my MP3 player to the external hard drive via the computer. That was at 7pm. It finally finished a little after 130pm Saturday. Finally I have a back up. Next mission is to try and run a defrag on the MP3 player and see if that fixes any of the problems.

When I got back from London Sunday avo, I met our new room mate Tom, and I have no idea what he does. Think he works for a company called BTA or something. He seems like a nice enough bloke and is a bit of a gamer, so was suitably impressed when Daniel pulled out his X-Box early in the week. I spent Tuesday night playing some car racing game with Tom for a couple of hours.

Saturday saw our second female housemate move in (4 guys, 2 gals), who’s name I forget the second I was told it. Ooops! I believe it is Sarah? Maybe. Anyway, to make things a bit easier in the name game, both the girls have boyfriends named Paul… that make like less difficult doesn’t it. I only met her for a minute whilst she was moving in and didn’t think it appropriate to jump the gun and ask if she was the nurse of the air-hostess. Will keep you updated though. So that leave 3 rooms empty, two of which are signed for, and we’re just waiting for the people to move in.

Gerard, Tracy and her boyfriend (yes, Paul) headed out to the pub on Thursday night for a couple quiet brews, and it looks like the house may be slowly getting more into a social mode. Maybe it was just that everyone was adjusting to moving into a new place at the same time that it took a bit for things to get off the ground.

Most importantly of all, I ventured into the Southampton casino on Friday after work. More curious than anything, I figured that the ‘casino’ would be like many in Europe, and be nothing but a bunch of poker machines. Let’s say that I was pleasantly surprised to find out otherwise, and they have blackjack, roulette and 3 card poker as well. More importantly, they have Pot Limit Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday night for £20 and £10 buy-ins with re-buys. More important than that is that it is capped at 35 players, and the guaranteed prize pool (see if you can figure it out by the math, cos I can’t) is £4000 for the £20 game, and £2000 for the £10 game. That means they’re hoping for a whole lot of re-buys. Anyway, may head down there to have a proper look around, as I only just stuck my head in on Friday.

That about sums up most of what is going on here at the moment. Hope everyone at home is well, and hopefully I will be net connected in the next couple of weeks, so the updates will be more regular.

Cheers.

Last minute update… Yesterday (Saturday) I headed out to the town, and did some ‘freelance exploring’. In other words, made myself get lost, and wandered around for a while and got to know the area more. In the end I came across a Tesco’s Home. It is like a big K-Mart maybe, with heaps of stuff for decking out your house. Anyway, that’s not why I mention it. Having wandered around in there, and a couple other shops yesterday (M&S, Prymark etc.) a number of conclusions can be drawn. Firstly, there musn’t be much else to do in Southampton besides shopping on the weekend. Southampton has been put in the top five shopping districts of the UK, and the locals love to make the most of it. The shops are packed, and by mid afternoon it looks like a bomb has gone off inside them. Prymark is the worst, with clothes lying all over the floors, and a minefield of obstacles abound. To make it worse, the high ‘young mother’ population also means that there are way too many baby strollers blocking any path out of the hell hole.

The next thing that becomes apparent is that British people love to queue. It must be like a national hobby or something? I walked into ASDA (a supermarket with household items too) and the lines were 30 deep. I shit you not. You couldn’t shop for anything in the front half of the shop because the check-out queues were blocking the isles. I decided that I would get my loaf of bread later. I don’t line up that long for anything.

Whilst on my adventure, I also finally came across Leisure World. This is an interesting concept, similar to the Knox Ozone, but all under one roof, and minus most of the restraints. The main part of the complex is a 12 screen cinema. But around that they have quite a few interesting prospects. There are a couple of restraints, but there is also a place called HotShots. It reminds me of a cross between the Hotel we stayed at in St. Petersburg, and the Shamrock in Kilsyth. Interesting combination, trust me. It was a bar, with nothing but video games, pool tables and a glow in the dark bowling alley. A few possibilities. Then next to that was Jumpin Jaks, which was decked out like an old western salon, with heaps of JD signs up everywhere. It wasn’t open, but could be interesting. Along the side of the complex there was the small Bam Buu Bar, which seems to have a heavy leaning to urban and garage music, with The Artful Dodger playing there last Monday (wish I’d have known that..). Around the back of the complex are two night clubs, Ikon and Diva. In any case, I hope to find myself there at some stage in the next few weeks.

But as with all things, it comes back to money, and money is made through gambling! I found a second casino, right next to leisure world, with £2.5 blackjack tables and Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments every day of the week except Friday, including the £5 buy-in tourneys on Monday and Thursday… will keep you posted as to my winnings (or losses!).