Monday, 31 January 2011

The Angel of the Date Stamp

And the Angel of the Date Stamp sayeth to the library assistant:

"Yeay and the day cometh - and thou shalt know the day for even as thy cup of tea runneth over, so shalt thy tank run dry.

"And upon this day thou shalt press 'send' on the Important Message without checking it and a Great Wailing shall arise from all the other branches under the Heavens crying: 'What hast thou done?'

"And it will come to pass that He Who Designeth the poster and misseth off the date, hath finished his Placement and vanished off the Face of the Earth along with the programme and fonts he useth. And all will turn unto thee and say: 'Thou knowest of such things - thou shalt make reparations.'

"And things which Need To Be Done, turneth out to have already been done - but only after thou hast done them again. And all manner of Trouble and Difficulty shall present themselves unto thee, and thou shalt be beset on all sides by Confusion, Interruption and Frustration. For it is written: even as you juggle Many Things, so shall you drop them.

"And the very Air shall freeze and the Sky darken, and there shall be no more Mince Pies in the staff room and so thou shalt go hungry unto the Counter. And there, the Borrowers shall tug at thy Cardigan saying: 'I gaveth it to the Charity Shop by accident.' And: 'Yeay, I have renewed this many times online and oweth you nothing.' And 'Bring forth that book by that woman whose name I knoweth not who hath written that book, the name of which I also knoweth not?'

"And yeay thou shalt walk through many corridors in the wilderness, and from thence to the children's library, they shall Speaketh in Tongues saying: 'Une pomme de terre, tra la la!' with great volume until the Skies rend and thy ears bleed.

"And when thy Work is finished, and thy Struggles have brought forth ill-formed and brutish Conclusions, thou shalt think of many other ways to have better completed thy tasks.

"And thou shalt cover thine head with thine hands... like this."

Sunday, 30 January 2011


To the uninitiated and especially elderly Mums, the interweb is, of course, a haven for FILTH.

To them, there are no other possible usages for such an invention but the propagation of unfettered (or, indeed, fettered, depending on your proclivities) obscenity and muck.

I'm sure such people think you should 'wash your mouse out with soap and water' after each venture into the Sodom and Gomorrah of Google. (see

I used to say this wasn't true, but I can't help noticing that over the course of the last few weeks, some of the blogs I follow have been taking a rather unsavoury turn:

Dave the Blog - who always likes to point out my boobs (above) - has been exposing his Nuts. Also, Lady M has been asked how she liked her cock - which perhaps is a question Tim can better answer at Will Type for Food, as he's a bit of an expert. Meanwhile one of the other Tim's - him at Cultural Snow - just showed us his magnificent pussy, which was a bit of a surprise - although I suppose nothing should be surprising in Bangkok. Just venturing into blogland seems to leave one wide open to these sort of depravities

So just behave - the lot of you!

And no double entendres in the comments, thank you very much - don't be trying to slip one in while by back is turned!... I wouldn't know where to put my face!

Thursday, 27 January 2011

What's that, Skippy?

OK - paws up who remembers Skippy the Bush Kangaroo?

I used to love watching the repeats of this 1960's family show - which celebrated the outback and how to 'be a man' (or, indeed, 'be a kangaroo').

But one of the troubles about growing up is that your illusions get shattered. For example, according to a documentary I recorded a while ago but just got around to watching, there wasn't just one Skippy - they had about a dozen of them, which they kept in hessian sacks and released just before shooting began.

Also - apparently kangaroos can't really untie knots, dial telephones, drive helicopters or pick pockets. No opposable thumbs, for a start.

Next thing they'll be telling me is that they don't really communicate via the medium of the 'tut'?

Of course Skippy fell on difficult times - hitting the bottle (above)Funny Animals

being snapped by the paps in compromising situations (left)

and then lashing out at photographers (right).

And don't even start me on Lassie.


It might have put me right off kangaroos if I had encountered them in Australia a couple of years ago.

For the first two weeks in Western Australia we saw plenty of 'roos - but they were all roadkill - an alarming number are killed at night by trucks in the outback. There were a couple of live sightings later - including a very close encounter on the way to the loo block in a campsite one night!
It wasn't until South Australia that I got up close and personal. They are fascinating creatures - sweet little rodenty faces and massive rigid legs that work almost like a walking frame (they can't move one independent of the other). So unlike anything you encounter in the rest of the world. And look - I even have my own little pouch (before anyone mentions it).

However, I was a bit freaked out to see this skeleton in Adelaide Museum - neanderthal kangaroo ancestors. (Possibly not neanderthal at all - I didn't take notes, if you want to go to Adelaide to prove me wrong, go ahead.)

If you want to see something MUCH MORE disturbing, check out these pictures of a snake eating a kangaroo - ain't nature wonderful?

Or just relive it all again with Skippy The Bush Kangaroo - Series 1 [DVD]

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Feghoots and Shaggy Dogs

I know what you're thinking: 'What the feg is a feghoot?'

A lengthy comment appeared on my Burns Night post which I (erroneously) described as a 'shaggy dog story'. But it turns out is was a feghoot. In fact, the vast majority of tales I've attributed to shaggy dogs turn out to be nothing of the sort.

shaggy dog story

"an extremely long-winded tale featuring extensive narration of typically irrelevant incidents, usually resulting in a pointless or absurd punchline". The classic example would be a tale going on at length about how shaggy a dog's coat is, but when it is eventually being judged at Crufts the judge says: 'It isn't very shaggy.' Not funny? Nope - doesn't do anything for me either.


"a humorous short story or vignette ending in an atrocious pun (typically a play on a well-known phrase) where the story contains sufficient context to recognize the punning humor".

An example: A young boy called Gervaise starts work as a waiter in a Paris fish restaurant. He's doing quite well, and makes friends with the other staff - especially the Swedish dish-washer, Hans. The only part of the job he doesn't like is when customers pick living seafood from the tank and he has to take it away to be cooked.

One day a wealthy banker, to impress his friends, points to the most expensive item in the tank - the very rare Hairy-lip Squid. Gervaise wrestles the luminous beast out of the tank and takes it through to the kitchen. The chef is very busy and tells Gervaise to kill it and chop all the legs off. He's about to do this when he makes eye contact with the creature. There's an almost-human look of pleading in its eyes, a sort of gentleness. 'Don't kill me!' it seems to implore.

Gervaise throws the knife down. He can't do it! He goes to the back kitchen where Hans is up to his elbows in dirty plates. 'You've been around a bit. You're tough,' he says. 'Can you kill this squid for me?'

'Of course!' says Hans, who follows him into the kitchen. But just as he's about to bring the sharpened knife down onto the animal, he, too sees the kind expression, the quivering of the squid's little hairy lip. He can't kill it either.

So the chef comes in and says: 'I can't believe it! Hans who does dishes is as soft as Gervaise with a mild, green hairy-lip squid.'**

* Named after a series of short science fiction pieces: "Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot", published in various magazines over several decades, which always ended with a deliberately terrible pun based on a well-known title or catch-phrase.

** You probably need to be British and over 30 to get this, but it relates to this advert. I'm told this joke features in one of Ian Rankin's Rebus books: Mortal Causes

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Scottish jokes for Burns Night

Tonight is Burns Night, and it's my tradition (see this post) to post in honour Robbie Burns - the Bard of Ayrshire.*
He's still the only poet** with his own feast day. I mean you don't have Yeats Year, Wordsworth Week, or even a Plath Afternoon... and lord knows what you would get up to in Motion Month. I am considering a Broken Biro Breakfast, but the details are still a little scrambled.
I'm not at a proper Burns Night this year (although obviously I'll be celebrating in my own way - perhaps the tartan pyjamas and a wee dram) but here are my favourite Scottish jokes that I would otherwise be spouting in my dodgy faux Scottish accent:
A woman goes into a butcher in Scotland and the butcher is standing with his back to the fire. The woman examines his meat and asks: 'Is that your Ayrshire Bacon?' 'No!' he replies. 'It's just my hands I'm warmin'.

- What's the difference between Bing Crosby and Walt Disney?
- Bing sings - and Walt disnae
Did you hear about the Scottish trumpeter who found a weed in his garden?
He had to root it oot.

- How many Scotsmen does it take to change a light bulb?
- Och! It's no that dark!

Did you hear about the Scotsman who washed his kilt? He couldn't do a fling with it.

A woman goes into a bakers. She says to the assistant: 'Is that a donut, or a meringue?' The assistant says: 'No, you're right - it's a donut.'
(Did I mention you have to say some of these in a faux Scottish accent? I'm sure I did.)
- How do you tell what clan a Scotsman's from?
- Stick your hand up his kilt and if it's a quarter pounder, he's a MacDonald

As you will have noticed, I've avoided jokes which imply the Scots are mean. You should be careful about stereotyping. There was a recent letter to a newspaper from an Aberdonian which said "If you print any more jokes about mean Scotsmen I shall stop borrowing your paper."

Many more Scottish Jokes in the excellently-titled:  Tartan Titters!: The Ultimate Scottish Joke Book

* for some reason the spell check objects to Ayrshire and wants me to change it to Yorkshire, Hampshire, Lancashire or Derbyshire. That's how wars start.
** unless YOU know differently

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Why are there so many songs about my dad?

I Can See Kevin From Here

Feels Like Kevin

Kevin Can Wait

Kevin knows I'm Miserable Now

If You All Get to Kevin

Show Me Kevin

Pennies From Kevin

Knock Knock Knockin’ on Kevin’s Door

I bet you don't know any songs about your dads!

Saturday, 22 January 2011

What dreams may come..?

Poor old young Dave has been suffering disturbed nights over at Dave - The Blog and I sympathise.

Anyone who says to me: 'In your dreams' hasn't been there when the molten sky is falling and we few survivors are sheltering in caves, or when I come out of primary school one afternoon and it is years later and my family moved away a long time ago, or when everyone in the room is about to turn into a monster - but no-one knows which kind so you have to watch for snake tongues, claws...

As a child I lay awake in the fear of having nightmares. More recently I learned to quite enjoy them, their imagination. But they're still odd. My friend's husband is a clinical psychologist. He says it isn't what happens in your dreams, it's how you feel in them. And he says that everyone in the dream is really another projection of yourself.

But it could be worse...

I was in my 30's before I had even heard of sleep paralysis or 'night terrors'. It occurs when the consciousness is still awake while the body is shutting down for sleep and the symptoms are the inability to move, pressure on the chest, an acute sense of danger and terrifying hallucinations.

It's believed that the old idea of an incubus sitting on your chest comes from this and potentially a good number of 'ghost' sightings and 'alien abductions' - with the symptoms being so very realistically physical and so little heard about it.

Oddly, my first experience of sleep paralysis (that I remember) was not long after first reading about it. I had just moved house - one of the triggers can be a change in environment or lifestyle (and I've certainly had a brilliant flying dream after another house move.)

I 'saw' a malevolent, shadowy figure in the corner, 'heard' indiscriminate, but evil voices and felt a heavy pressure rolling over my body from head to toe. Throughout all this I knew I was wide awake. It was genuinely very frightening and would have been so much more so if I didn't have a clue what was going on. It's happened to me a couple of times since then and, whilst scary at the time, is fascinating.

After this, I started asking people whether they had heard of it or experienced it. And although most were blissfully unaware of it, I was shocked how many people had had it without it being common knowledge. At least three people I know have suffered from it on a regular basis all their lives - one even thought she could never marry because who would want to share the bed of someone who spent their nights in terror?

Around the world there are different beliefs about it and word for it. And guess what? The word nightmare is derived from the old Norse word 'mara' or... a goblin that rides on your chest.

So - how many of you have had this or heard of it? And -really - what is your worst nightmare?

Further Reading:
DARK INTRUSIONS: An Investigation into the Paranormal Nature of Sleep Paralysis Experiences
Sleep Disorders for Dummies (For Dummies (Lifestyles Paperback))

Friday, 21 January 2011

More keyword searches :

The other day I blogged about Zombie Wombles so here are some more keyword searches that bring people to my site:
  • what to do if a dog eats a biro
  • entendres puns spurt (this post perchance?)
  • darth vader chest (must be this post)
  • holy wind batman! (this one)
  • filthy limericks (here)
  • whats the missionary position (here)
  • how does darth vader know santa (oddly, there's a couple of possible for this!)
  • its been 2 weeks since blue peter said i was getting a bagde [sic] (which can ONLY be this post)


  • fornicating frosties

I have NO idea where that last one came from or where it landed... but I bet it was grrrrreat!*

* For overseas visitors, that's a reference to the marketing slogan of this popular cereal.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Gandhi...and the Friends of Stony Stratford Library

I love the idea of many people taking small actions to effect change.

Alright, so my 'A Penny for Them' campaign might not work - I have been roundly told on Twitter that I clearly know nothing about banking.

But I still love the Gandhi approach - where he encouraged India's poor to wear home-spun cloth instead of British-made textiles and led a massive march - the Salt Satyagraha - to make salt from the sea in protest against the British salt tax (and possibly peppercorn rents).

And, I know it's probably BAD and WRONG to compare some little old ladies* in Buckinghamshire with an idealogical leader of the developing world, but stay with me...

I wanted to share this story with you from last Saturday's Independent - basically the Friends group of a threatened library of Stony Stratford, Bucks, sparked off an online campaign which rallied together all the registered library-users in their town. Between them they managed to withdraw ALL the books over the space of few days. I LOVE the idea of this. It wasn't violent, it was threatening to any innocent bystanders, but it MUST have shown the local decision-makers the strength of feeling in the town.

Some comments after the article sneer that as libraries are a free service, it doesn't matter how many books are withdrawn " still costs the same to run them". This misses the point: as a local service paid for by council tax, the number of borrowers is of vital significance. Whatever additional services provided and whoever they're a life-line to, the value of libraries is still measured almost solely by the number of books withdrawn.

I'm doing my bit. I've got 22 books out at the moment. I'm not even sure that's legal.

So when did YOU last visit YOUR library?

*(other genders, ages and sizes are also available)

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Zombie Wombles and the Keywords of Destiny

Just to COMPLETELY change the subject: Do you ever look up in Blogger stats or Statcounter to see what search keywords brought visitors to your blog?

Zombie Womble. That's what brought someone to mine*.

Now I've posted about Wombles and I've posted about Zombies, but not in the same breath... until today.

Over at Cultural Snow, the erudite Tim Footman was saying just the other day (in this post: Jammy Helen Mirren) how many people stumble across his blog when searching for semi-clad ladies, just because he may have mentioned them in passing. Similarly, Army of Dave is struggling to cope with being associated with a contemptible racist politician following the runaway success of his Nick Griffin Question Time Drinking Game.

It's a sobering lesson in being careful what you post about - these things can come back and bite you... A bit like Tobermory here.

... but on the other hand (and I wonder what Tobe did with the other hand?) it could point the way to a GAP in the market. Maybe, I thought, there ought to be somewhere people can go for a zombie womble if they want one?

By the way - what do you think at my first attempts at image manipulation? It was done with a free programme GIMP 2.6 which I am told has much of the functionality of Photoshop without the price tag.

So, who would like a poem then?..

Zombie Womble

Underground, overground, back from their tomb
The Wombles are Zombies and lurk in the gloom
Munching the brains of the people they find
Great Uncle Bulgaria’s eating mankind!

Underground, overground, up from their graves
Nothing is wasted, everything saved
Matted with black and malodorous mud
Lumbering Wombles are hungry for blood!

And in their foul burrow there’s always a store
Of bits of old bodies all covered in gore
Where Madame Cholet, her apron streaked red
Is cooking up something to feed the Undead

Bumbling, stumbling, Wombling free
They want to recycle the best bits of ME!
Oh no! Orinico is coming to get me!
The Wombles of Wimbledon Common all ATE ME!!

Monday, 17 January 2011

20 years later - a Desert Storm diary

Diary excerpt:

Thursday 17 January 1991, Israel

At 3.30 a van drew up outside, the lights shining into my room. There was a hammering at Rachel’s door first. It took a few minutes to wake her and I lay there collecting my thoughts. I clutched Mosheleh’s hand very tightly: “I think something’s happened.”


“Did you hear all those airplanes?” For hours I'd lain awake listening to waves and waves of them flying overhead. I thought he'd been asleep.

“Yes. I heard them.” He said heard like 'hear' with a 'd' on the end.

Outside was Danny with a gun and a gas mask. Rachel stood behind him in green elephant pajamas, with a large grin: “America started bombing Iraq at 1.30. It’s started.”
Danny said: “Here’s your gas mask, open it, keep it with you." And was gone.

We all went back to Moshe's with our ominous cardboard boxes and instructions in four languages on how to save our own lives - which mainly involves stabbing yourself in the leg with a syringe. They'd said weeks ago that they'd only give them to volunteers if things got really serious. We saw no-one else as we crossed the kibbutz - it was strangely calm.

Mosheleh made us tea, translated the news anchorman’s jokes, helped us check the contents of our boxes, and stroked my hair when I snuggled up to him. He went off to work at 6.30 but was back soon - a Saturday had been declared. We watched TV for hours, until we knew Bush’s speech word for word, had seen dozens of repeats of footage of the first plane to return, interviews with Kuwaiti refugees, civil defense reminders of emergency procedures, and CNN bulletins which frustratingly started in English and drowned out by the Hebrew interpreter.

At breakfast there was a curious atmosphere of camaraderie; jokes were cracked across the room, people who hadn’t spoken for years shared a word. Now I understood the blitz spirit they talk about - the shared fears breaking down the usual barriers.

And what a fine thing to do on this sunny pseudo-Saturday - while we waited to know if we were going to be spared - than to bake cookies? He didn’t need to look up the recipe and talked about his country, kneeding and rubbling as he spoke.

Mosheleh said: “You want to be with me, this is where I am. You want to know Israel. This is how we live.”

I watched and listened in rapture. I felt so much love for him, his philosophy, his gentle shrug at the enormity of the problem. I was still glad to be there, despite everything. My heart lurched when I thought about how much I would miss him if I went away. Was I already caught?

Lunch was crap – as though the cooks had not expected us to live to see it. Afterwards we locked the door and made love. On TV it said the worst of the danger was past, Iraq's airforce destroyed. Rachel confessed vague disappointment not to have seen just one bomb (at a reasonable distance and one that didn’t harm anyone). It was the best kind of adventure – one that felt dangerous but was really safe.

Friday 18th January 1991

The first air-raid...

17 January 1991 was the date of the first air strikes of the Gulf War began - an operation called Desert Storm.

I was a kibbutz volunteer for the majority of the time between September 1990 - December 1993. A Ladybird book changed my life tells why I went there, and Kibbutz Volunteer gives a brief history of my time in both kibbutzim.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

A Penny for Them

Okay, people. I'm feeling a rising swell of righteous indignation about bankers!

I've been thinking about the bonuses* bankers are getting whilst the rest of the country worries about rising costs, job losses and the other austerities to come. But how can we make our voices heard? Aren't we powerless in giving our pennyworth?

Yes, I've been thinking about the humble penny.

What if thousands and thousands of people went into their local bank on the same day and each paid in a cheque (or several) for a penny?

Think of the paperwork it would generate as each cheque had to go through clearing! People could go online and make 1p transfers, 1p payments. If enough people did it, and did it for a reason (ie a clear link to an online campaign that explained our disgust at banker's bonuses) it could make the ordinary person's view heard more strongly.

...I'm thinking on my feet here, but there are other ideas around this: everyone could pay their 1p to the same person or organisation, or charity (do organisations/charities get charged for cheques?). Or we could all hoard our pennies and then pay them all in on the same day...

I know there'd be queues and lowest-paid bank staff would suffer**, but it might make a point, eh?

What do you think? Are you with me? Shall I attempt to 'go viral' on this?

And what should it be called? I'm thinking:

  • A Penny for Them... which is APT
  • Watching The Pennies
  • Spend a Penny
  • Bad Penny
  • Every Penny Counts
  • Until The Penny Drops...

Meanwhile, if you are against the Bankers' Bonuses, there are two campaigns that I've found on Facebook:

Give Up The Bonus - founded my pugnacious North-west MP, John Prescott

NoBonus4RBS - founded by maverick songwriter Billy Bragg

.... except that... just a minute... these may have been campaigns from previous years... *sigh*

* See (see The Poet Laura-eate)

** I used to be a bank clerk so I know. 1980 - 1990. I call them my 'wilderness years.'

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

I know it's a cliché but...

I am girding my loins

This year I will really put my shoulder to the wheel, both feet forward and 'my back into it'. I'll slather myself in elbow grease, knuckle down, take the future in both hands, keep my finger on the pulse, my eye on the main chance (and the ball) my ear to the ground, nose to the grindstone, both hands on the wheel (I may need more hands).

No - I'm not taking a course in contortion. I'm simply going to try harder to be a better writer. But there's something about trying harder that brings all the clichés home to roost - and 'better writers' should avoid them like the plague.

Wikipedia - which has clearly become this recumbent Earthling's 'Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy' - defines cliché as a phrase 'over-used to the point of losing it's original meaning or effect', but I would argue with that. More that it is so over-used it loses its original impact.

When I say 'If it ain't broken, don't fix it' that's exactly what I mean. It's just annoying that - especially as a writer - you're not supposed to reel out the same old tired phrases, but think of new ways of saying what you mean.

The word cliché is from the French printing term for a phrase so regularly-used that it is cast in its entirety rather than composing it from individual letters or words each time it is rolled out. This is also called a stereotype. (I used to think this meant 'typing with both hands'.)

'Cliché' is meant to emulate the sound of the metal being dropped into the matrix - a mold for casting letters or phrases. Oh, sorry - I shouldn't have told you that. I forgot..."no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself." Thanks, Morpheus.

Anyway - at the end of the day, when all's said and done...

Cliché Heaven

In cliché heaven
everything’s as right as rain,
they had a good innings,
and we’ll never see their like again.

In cliché heaven
death is not the end
and when you find Jesus,
you’ve found a friend.

In cliché heaven
saints and angels with Percil-white wings
are singing of millions of beautiful things,
and God in his wisdom,
God with his beard,
is moving in ways that are frankly weird,
dear God, his cherubs like elves,
is helping those who help themselves.

In cliché hell
after the candlestick, book and bell
we’ve come in a handcart
we’ve come with our cat
(who’s got no chance, we’re sure of that)
and the devil’s busy making plans
for all those lovely idle hands.

But in cliché heaven,
everything’s all right on the night,
everything’s coming up roses
and all’s well that ends well.

There's a nice slide show of where clichés come from on Life magazine's website

Monday, 10 January 2011

The Wayward Bus - Part 3

Where was I? Ah, yes - sunset at Uluru.

So, fortified by marmalade, chocolate spread and Rice Krispie butties, we headed back onto the open road... but not far. For there are other rock formations near Uluru which are equally - if not more - impressive. Kata Tjuta (also know as Mount Olga, or 'The Olgas') is in the same national park but much lumpier - and you can climb all over them. I didn't take this picture... because I don't own a satellite, but do check out that link.

In fact, at this point I didn't even have a camera - having managed to drown mine in one of the driest places on earth (moral: never doing the washing up with a camera around your neck!).

But the rest of these pics were taken on a borrowed one. (By the way - can anyone guess how many pictures I have of my 9 months round-the-world trip?)

So we had a great walk / hobble in the Olgas and then rejoined the main road north to camp for the night near King's Canyon (picture below). En route we stopped at a random campsite and all jumped in the pool - I felt guilty about the disruption we caused, but half an hour later another trip stopped and did the same - clearly part of 'the tour'!

This time we were back baking in tents because there had been dingoes prowling. There were other creatures of the night too - trips to the loo that night turning into something akin to a bushtucker trial.

Up at the crack of dawn again, I was a bit footsore after the previous day's exertions so I had a lovely pooter on my own along Kings Creek at the canyon's base, whilst the others scaled the sides, dallied on precipices and clambered over promontories. The odd route march is fine, but it's nice to take your time sometimes, listen to the birds, sit on a fallen gum tree and take in your surroundings, eh?

This was the final push of the trip - by that evening we had rolled up (at a bar) in Alice Springs. This remote town - evocatively alluded to but barely visited in Neville Shute's A Town Like Alice - is in the geographical centre of Australia.

It was well over 400, drier than a [oh, I don't know! I can't sit here thinking of amusing new similes all the time... insert your own here...] and ever so slightly edgy, but I liked it a lot. They have the Henley-on-Todd Regatta on a dried river bed every year where people race in boats with leg-holes cut out of them.

Also, it was settled by cameleers, you know.

No - not camel EARS!! That would just be silly.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Wayward Bus - Part 2

Where was I? Ah yes, I was seeing stars...

On the next day of our trip we drove through miles of nothing, stopping only to gaze in awe at Lake Eyre - the lowest point in Australia but not much of a lake in the middle of the summer - and for some comedy photos, like this spoof of the cover of Wolf Creek.

Also we crossed the dog fence* - built in the late 1800's to keep dingo's out of the fertile sheep country of the east. It came after the rabbit-proof fence - but then dogs will chase rabbits, I hear.

Along the Stuart Highway, we arrived in Coober Pedy. This strange township is home to a massive opal-mining industry but as temperatures often exceed 400C and the residents are miners, most buildings are underground. Homes, bars, churches and hotels excavated from hillsides maintain a pleasant ambient temperature... and if you build an extension to your dugout abode, you may find more valuable opals to help pay for the new carpet!

Pic: You can't always noodle without a fossicker's license but we had a go - me sitting-down!

It's an odd-ball sort of place - in fact the men have luminous balls ... so they can play golf at night when it's cooler! More Coober Pedy pics at this site.

The next day, now in the Northern Territory, we crossed several hundred more miles into the red centre of Australia to set up camp at Yalara near Uluru (formerly Ayres Rock).

This icon of the Antipodes is now managed by the indigenous people, who hold the place sacred. It is sometimes possible to climb the rock (you can make out the path in the picture on the left ... well, I say 'path' but... eek!) but it is discouraged because of its importance and also it is ridiculously hot, horribly exposed, very steep. Anyway the path was closed when we were there.

So our group did the 6mile circumnavigation of the massive sandstone outcrop - fascinating to see it at angles different from the traditional view. There are some points so sacred you are not allowed even to take pictures.

I didn't make it all the way around, as my foot was still quite bruised and swollen, but the highlight was always going to be the famous sunset and sunrise - and as we were camping nearby we saw both! It was weird, though, having been alone in the desert most of the time the last few days, to suddenly be surrounded by other overland groups, day trippers striking out from Alice Springs and even people who had flown in!

I was going to show you one of my hundreds of classic Uluru sunset / sunrise shots at this point... but you don't want to see the same old thing do you? You'd rather see a picture of my sore ankle? be continued (and finished, I promise!) soon

* I'm very excited to come across this website on Great Fences of Australia during the writing of this post - I'm sure I'll be coming back to it!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

King Kenny with the comedy ears

So Kenny Dalglish is the new manager of Liverpool FC... (and they say I know nothing about football ...hah!).

Well I may know nothing about football but I've had my mitts on Sir Kenny! Here's myself and the plucky Scottish footie star at the auction for superlambananas towards the end of Liverpool's year as European Capital of Culture in 2008.

Obviously it was not me who took the picture - though I'm sure I could hardly have improved on the positioning of Kenny's head exactly between the ears of the Everton Superlambanana!

In fact, I believe I may have stumbled upon the Mayor of Liverpool (I was quite intoxicated and more than a little emotional that night - for reasons I won't go into here) and demanded he take the snap. So all credit to him.

... erm... there's also this picture of me and Jimmy Corkhill from Brookside, and Craig from the very first Big Brother.

The event was very swish, with bubbly and canapes and a series of trendy little tiny mini-meals -fish 'n' 3 chips, titchy burger, more bubby... I forget after that.... And it all took place in Liverpool's prestigious St George's Hall - which has a very famous floor (which I may have ended up on!).

And no, I didn't end up with a Superlambanana for Wirral.

But at least I tried.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

The Wayward Bus into the Outback

I mentioned a while ago that I would drop in the odd post about the round-the-world trip I did 2008-2009... and this is a corker.

Two years ago today I joined an outfit called The Wayward Bus* for an 8-day camping trip into the Australian Outback. This is not something I embarked on lightly - I'm not keen on camping, have a perfectly-reasonable fear of spiders/snakes/dingoes/ breaking down in the desert, and the word 'rugged' is rarely applied to my lily-livered self.

Also, tramping about in one of the hottest (and driest) places on earth, in summer, is not particularly recommended when you've recently been diagnosed with Stage 2 Chronic Kidney Disease.

But anyway, off we set out from Adelaide on the Wayward Bus* - eight plucky European back-packers in this van led by Vicky... the thinking man's Crocodile Dundee.

We camped the first night near the Wilpena Pound (one of the the locations for the shooting of Wolf Creek - which I've mentioned before), where we were joined for breakfast by a very cheeky kangaroo!

I managed to keep up with the group on a big hike until I blotted my copybook by falling off Mt Ohlssen Bagge, badly spraining my ankle - which meant I missed the next day's bike ride down the Parachilna Gorge and couldn't fully participate in some of the more energetic activities over the next few days. I was quite relieved brave and stoical about this.

The third night, some way along the Oodnadatta Track, was spent at William Creek, just an unidentified-flying-object's throw from Woomera missile-testing range. Woomera means 'spear-throwing implement' but there were more than spear in William Creek's park - where they collect items which have dropped out of the sky locally. The town - which is also near one of Australia's biggest cattle ranches (about the size of Belgium), and consequently humming with flies. With an official population of 6 people it boasts one of the world's most remote pubs - which of course I had to have a drink (or two) at - and has installed a traffic light for a joke. The longest anyone has ever waited at red in this hot, deserted middle-of-nowhere is 12 minutes. It was a German tourist.

Most of the time on the trip, we cooked for ourselves - there are BBQ facilities in the most unlikely of places, although the flies made it difficult. Soon we were all wearing those mesh hoods (we'd laughed at earlier!) over our faces to keep them out of our eyes!

That night we eschewed the tents and 'went native' sleeping under the stars in 'swag's. These are remarkably comfy - roomy, waterproof canvas sleeping bag affairs with a firm padded base.

Some nights you have to leave your glasses on. Not looking out for unwelcome 'visitors' - we'd got beyond those fears now - but to see the amazing view. With no ambient light or buildings nearby, you feel the turn of the earth as the stars seemed to move across the sky. We saw the slow pulse of satellites on their perimeter patrol and - I swear it's true - the much faster and more random darts of shooting stars**. The night was pleasantly cool after the baking heat of the day, and the flies only come out in daylight. It was truly magical - you almost felt as though you had to hold onto the earth or you'd just float away into space...

... STOP PRESS!!! it has just occurred to me that these must have been the Quadrantids - currently showing in a night sky near you, but much easier to see in a cloudless desert sky, if you happen to have one handy!!

To be continued...

* Now, sadly, part of Adventure Tours Australia