Sunday, 30 September 2007

Enjoying the rat race

Originally uploaded by patfoz.
Yet again, I found myself doing something that seemed like a good idea at the time... the London Rat Race. Based on a few posters and a slick looking website, I signed up for this 'urban adventure race' without even having a team. The concept is that the race brings 'adventure racing' (those eco-challenge things you see on tv where teams of people run, climb, swim, kayak etc around some pacific islands) to the city, so that average schmoes like me can be tempted into trying something they shouldn't...

I obviously wasn't the only one suckered in, managing to find some other Aussie novices to form a team (many thanks to Andrew and Gabbrielle). The running/orienteering session on Saturday evening started off well: we got the map, planned our route (not too ambitious) and set off... we got to the first challenge and I immediately wished we'd run in the opposite direction. The challenge was for the team to eat jellied eel. 3 team members, ergo 3 chunks of eel to be eaten. As soon as we got there, my newfound teammates told me they were vegetarian. So I was left to wolf down a bowl of jellied eel. And then run for another 2 hours. Go on, try it. I dare you. I had to stop every 10 minutes to retch and try to vomit.

The Sunday session started early, and with Andrew on the maps we raced through London on the bikes. After the pain of Saturday's running we'd decided to skip all the orienteering/running sessions. A small taste of the activities of the day included: riding in Richmond Park, barrel rolling at Fuller's Brewery, abseiling off Twickenham stadium, kayaking around Putney, and finally playing hide and seek on the HMS Belfast. A full day in the saddle covering nearly 80kms left me sore and tired and unable to ride my bike for weeks.

Needless to say, we didn't win, but had a great time facing up to the challenge. If you get a chance to do something similar, I recommend it (just do some training first!) - I'm already booked in to the 2008 races in Edinburgh and London...

Friday, 21 September 2007

Bonne Anniversaire!

Balls Up
Originally uploaded by patfoz.

So another year rolled around and I had spectacularly failed to die, so a birthday had to be celebrated. While the Germans were celebrating my birthday with the opening weekend of Octoberfest, Rach convinced me to party with the Parisians, since the French were celebrating my birthday by playing Ireland in the Rugby World Cup (at the time, this was one of the most anticipated match ups of the tournament).

After a few hiccups (nearly missing the flight, then arriving at our pre-booked accomodation at midnight to find ourselves locked out and with no-one at reception... my month spent learning French in Villefranche really paid off at this point), we settled in to Paris. We did all the usual Paris things: strolling along the Seine, visiting Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, getting drunk with Canadians in kilts at Trocadero... you know, the usual.

That night, we all headed out to the Stade de France... most of us without tickets. Jono and I managed to score grade purple tickets a few minutes before kick-off by making a deal with some dodgy scalper types. The match was great fun, but didn't really live up to the billing, mainly because the Irish were so rubbish.

For post-match celebrations we headed to an English themed bar of all places, and even made it there despite the pick-pocket on the train and Tim's directions. The place was absolutely heaving, with girls even dancing on the bar, while the barstaff just kept serving the punters between their legs... a crazy night and a great way to see in another year.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Slightly Craic-ed

Pitch Invasion
Originally uploaded by patfoz.

Sartre once said "Hell is other people." It’s a sentiment with which I tend to agree, especially since I spent most of my formative years with my family. Even so, it’s a sentiment that is brought to mind when you spend any time staying in a hostel, as I did on a recent trip to Ireland. The funny thing is, after a few days travelling alone, I couldn't wait to get to the hostel…

For various planning reasons beyond my control, I ended up spending 2 days solo in Ireland, staying in a hotel. Armed with an iPod loaded with tourist walks, a Lonely Planet guide, and a copy of Ulysses, I thought I would have no trouble amusing myself for 48 hours. To be honest, finding things to do wasn’t a problem. I drank Guiness and read Joyce, wandered around Trinity College and drew some sketches, plugged in the iPod and wandered around the city… it’s just that after a while, you get a little sick of having no other conversation apart from "That’s three euro, thanks." Your mind starts to wander. You start getting lost in your own thoughts… and that’s one dark abyss that I’d rather stay out of.

To distract myself, I found a comedy night in a bar, thinking "ooh, this’ll be great. I’ll see some home grown Irish comedy, in Ireland. Brilliant!" And half the acts were English, and one Australian. It was perhaps the most half-arsed thing I’d ever seen. The first act was going to do an audio-visual type comedy thing (based on the cartoon Hammer-man) using the projector, which the venue had recently sold. At intermission, the MC ducked out to buy everyone biscuits, but couldn’t get the right ones. All the same, it was brilliant. The headline act (who’s name I forget) was so good that he told a joke in Gaelic, and I still laughed. Just so you understand how good that is: I don’t speak Gaelic.

Rach arrived just in time to save me from myself, and to attend her friend’s wedding – the reason behind our visit. I’d tell you all about the wedding, except that it was an Irish girl marrying an Australian guy, so my memories are hazy at best (I even ended up on the dance floor…). All I can remember is that the speeches were actually funny, even to the point of making jokes about the recent stroke of the father of the bride. Brilliant.
The next couple of days were spent driving around the south east of Ireland, spending the night in quite possibly the cutest B&B in all of Ireland in Wexford, and most definitely the crappiest B&B in all of Ireland in Bray. Bray is also the home of the Porterhouse – an Irish micro brewery that brews a range of boutique beers, including the Oyster Stout (not suitable for vegetarians), which is quite frankly the best stout I’ve ever had. If Sydney oysters weren’t so prone to poisoning people, I’d be buying the franchise rights right now.

After a painful search for a petrol station, we finally made it back to Dublin and dropped off the car as the crowds started to roll in for the All-Ireland hurling final. Walking back down Drumcondra St, we saw some people selling spare tickets, and emptying our wallets, managed to pick up two tickets for the match. Kilkenny were strong favourites for the match against Limerick, and put the game away with 2 early goals. The Limerick fan next to me was so disgusted he left at half time, but I loved just being in Croke Park, watching the game. I was sitting with Limerick fans, and therefore had to back the losing team, but still… brilliant.

I was then left to my own devices for the last night, and went out to another comedy night to run from my own thoughts, and ran into the most bizarre evening of entertainment. There was a ‘comedy magician’ who did some of the most basic routines, corniest jokes, I’ve ever seen, along with the occasional impressive trick. Another guy (the star of ‘Jesus: the Guantanamo years’) did his stand up routine sitting down… but the true highlight was the woman who headlined. She was drunk before hitting the stage, hadn’t prepared her material, and descended into making quasi-racist comments about a Polish man in the audience… cringeworthy, but brilliant.

At the end of the show I was getting ready to return to the hostel, and the random collection of strange people with whom I was sharing a room, when the only other Australian (well, okay, Tasmanian) in the room (I had stupidly answered the MC’s "where are you from?" question – although telling him I worked in cancer research moved his attention elsewhere…) invited me out for a drink. Although I’d been downing pints of stout all night, the chance of conversation that didn’t involve the phrase "here’s your change" made me go out to the trashiest club in Temple Bar and stay til closing time. The stumble home included a randomly collected chorus singing along to a busker playing ‘Wonderwall’, and pissing off every other person in my dorm room as I came in at 4am.

Hell’s not so bad when you’re one of the demons. Brilliant.