January 24, 2006

Grumbles….

I just wanted to express my general annoyance about standards of IT provision lately.

Firstly I couldn't access me email. Or only intermittently. Or only slowly and painfully. Or only when I had not received any emails.

Then I couldn't access my hard drive, which was helpful, since all of my work was stored there.

And then, yesterday, I discovered that I couldn't login at all, because for some reason I had to change my password, even though I was perfectly happy with the one I had had before. This was, admittedly, partly my fault, since I squandered my one chance to change it by trying, unsuccessfully to retype the same one again in the hope that it wouldn't notice (of course, it did notice, and proceeded to deny me access). But, in my defence, it is hard to think of a new password just like that. I mean, what are you supposed to do if your pet's name doesn't happen to have 8 characters?

Anyway, I have obviously managed to resolve these difficulties (for the time being), but I just felt the need to grumble. I also want to know who it is who keeps tampering with the computer system and causing it to go wrong. Please, in future, DO NOT TOUCH IT, and thus cause innocent people unncecessary inconvenience (particuarly me).

Thank you


January 23, 2006

Entry of no fixed content…

It has come to my attention that I have not posted anything on this blog since Christmas. I like to think that this is because I have been engulfed in deep intellectual study, though this may not be entirely true…Anyway, in order to compensate for my recent blogging slovenliness, here is a comprehensive account of the various sources of excitement that have filled my recent weeks.

Nature
Today I saw a woodpecker. Actually, my ornithological knowledge doesn’t extend very far, but this one gave itself away by pecking some wood. It’s great when animals conform to their stereotypes – identification is so much easier.

Staying on the fascinating subject of nature, I also made the important discovery that the hamster does not like raspberry, based on several hours of intensive observation. Upon being supplied with said raspberry, said hamster prodded it, dribbled on it, and proceeded to leave it intact, from which I conclude that it was not a popular food source. Chocolate drops, on the other hand, produced a much more positive response, being swiftly gobbled up and stored in the cheek pouches. Obviously a much more natural diet!

Still on the topic of the hamster, I should probably mention that I ended up taking custody of the it over the Christmas holidays as my housemates had vague and unthought out plans that might have involved them leaving the house for several days (a possible trip to Dublin was mentioned, though I don’t think it actually came to pass). Naturally the hamster was a source of immense joy to my family throughout the holidays – in particular to my cat, who lovingly salivated on the roof of her cage for several hours. We exercised the hamster in our hall, and discovered that she is specially camouflaged to blend into the hall carpet. This useful survival feature can be seen clearly from the photo below. Actually, I am thinking of including this image in an exciting children’s puzzle book, to be called ‘Where the hell is that hamster?” – kind of an extension of the “Where’s Wally?” books, if anyone remembers those, only with a more realistic edge. (Note: the title of this book should be pronounced with a sense of rising panic, as the hamster’s rear end can be seen disappearing alternately into minute holes under baths, cat’s jaws and the inner cavities of sofas, all reconstructions of actual events.)

Home Sweet Home
My housemates have gone back to China for a month, so I am currently in recluse mode. I have made the decision, however, that I am at least going to be a hygienic recluse, so this weekend has involved some major cleaning activity. I actually invested in a mop from TESCO and also an array of cleaning products. My primary aims were 1) to restore the bath to a level of cleanliness where I might possibly consider allowing it to come into contact with my skin; 2) to remove the unidentified splashes of brown liquid from the top of the oven; 3) to cleanse the work surfaces of rice grains/general gristle/more unidentified liquid/putrefying insect corpses. I am pleased to report that these aims were pretty well fulfilled, although the amount of grime that was removed was truly disturbing. I’m quite surprised I have not contracted any fatal disease!

Other Excitement
Other excitement this week has included a visit to the British Library (you know your life is dull when a visit to a library qualifies as excitement) and the first history seminar of term. The library visit was quite productive, though I was not pleased to discover that Virgin trains have increased their prices AGAIN. I suppose the rise is to pay for the scenic journey from Coventry to Euston, highlights of which include panoramic views of Milton Keynes Central and a special unscheduled stop alongside the sewage treatment plant in Rugby, where lucky passengers can admire the wonderful work being done by Severn Trent Water. As for the seminar, that went quite smoothly. The paper discussed the work of Charles Darwin and the nineteenth-century Chilean scientist Enrique Ibar Sierra, which was interesting, the coffee arrived on time and even the people in audiovisual services were almost pleasant, relinquishing an OHP with only mild expressions of suspicion and disapproval. So all in all a successful week!


December 14, 2005

So people actually READ this!!!!!

This is so surreal! And also slightly frightening, since it proves that people actually read this blog…

Basically, I received an email today from someone working for Channel 4, on account of the contents of this website. Sadly, they are not about to commission a new programme in which I get to tour the world making profound historical comments about various exotic places (though no doubt this is only a matter of time). They are however, interested in the fabulous Daisy the cat (see below), who has been invited, largely, it would seem, on account of her great bulk, to star in the new series of The Friday Night Project! Apparently Daisy's role would involve her sitting on some scales whilst various guests have to guess 'whether she is fatter than a number of topical things' (the answer being, I should imagine, 'yes', in most cases).

Unfortunately, I regret to say that Daisy, whilst flattered by the interest in her wonderful figure, will probably not be taking up this offer. Although a world expert in the art of sitting, the prospect of doing so in a studio on some scales does not greatly appeal, and the volume of whining generated by a 5 mile trip to the vet suggests that the journey to London might be somewhat traumatic. In any case, Daisy is currently awaiting a call from the BBC to appear in a new feline-related documentary by David Attenborough, in which she is filmed in her natural environment (namely, the lounge). She would thus not wish to jeopardise this project by premature exposure…

I would like to emphasise, however, that if channel 4 wish to use Daisy's beautiful image in their production, then I will happily negotiate the sale of the exclusive images on this blog. Jacqueline the hamster has also informed me that she would be willing, if the contract terms were right, to participate in a show where she has the opportunity to chew sweetcorn, people's toes, and anything through which an electric current can flow…It is time the great versatility of this animal was appreciated.

A slippery customer


December 05, 2005

Working hard…

Just felt the need, after a term of dedicated historical research, to exhibit some of my earth-shattering findings. It is truly amazing what you can find on the internet…


November 22, 2005

Great happenings of the week:

1) Amazingly, surprisingly, FINALLY, we have a new carpet in our bathroom. It is white, with tasteful grey and black speckles (I sometimes imagine that the speckles are green, but I think this is a case of self-delusion). Obviously I am rather sad to see the bare brown hardboard obscured from view after 5 weeks in its company, but it is nice to walk on a proper floor again. The scraggy, hairy fish-shaped mat finishes it off perfectly…

2) We are still dangerously close to getting a puppy. I really thought I had talked my housemate out of this idea last weekend, but her ominously enthusiastic reaction to the puppy on the Andrex advert suggests otherwise. I may have to boycott this product. It really does not help at all that next door have just got a dog. This is sending out all of the wrong messages…

3) On a more positive note, Jackie the hamster now has a new nest, the previous one having been eaten in several places (by the hamster, I should probably stress – not by me or my housemates). Hopefully she should survive the winter in this…

4) On a much less positive note, my housemates really HAVE joined the Jehovah's witnesses. Two more of them came round on Saturday and colonised the lounge for over 2 HOURS, during which time I lay as low as possible in my room (I improved my free cell win ratio and swept some mines – very stimulating…). I don't know what was discussed, but they left my housemates some highly dubious booklets full of Jehovah-related stuff. I read one of them later, and apparently Jehovah's witnesses don't accept blood transfusions and (even more shockingly) don't celebrate birthdays and Christmas! What kind of a religion IS this? On the plus side, it does transpire that 'God's witnesses must be clean', which could provide some useful ammunition in debates about the kitchen/bathroom and general matters of hygiene…


November 17, 2005

I would never advocate plagiarism…

But this is funny, so I thought I would share it (generous person that I am):

Terror alerts raised worldwide

As many are aware, the French government recently
announced a raise in its terror alert level from "Run"
to "Hide." The normal level is "General Arrogance,"
and the only two higher levels in France are
"Surrender" and "Collaborate." The rise was
precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France's
white flag factory, effectively paralysing the
country's military capability.

It's not only the French that are on a heightened
level of alert: Italy has increased the alert level
from "Shout loudly and excitedly" to "Elaborate
military posturing." Two more levels remain,
"Ineffective combat operations" and "Change sides."

The Germans also increased their alert state from
"Disdain" to "Dress in uniform and sing marching
songs." They have two higher levels: "Invade a
neighbour" and "Lose."

Seeing this reaction in contintental Europe, the
Americans have gone from "Isolationism" to "Find
another oil-rich nation for regime change." Their
remaining higher alert states are "Attack random
countries (ideally those without any credible
military)" and "Beg the British for help."

The British are also feeling the pinch in relation to
recent bombings and have raised their security level
from "Miffed" to "Peeved". Soon though, security
levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even
"A Bit Cross." Londoners have not been "A Bit Cross"
since the Blitz in 1940 when tea supplies all but ran
out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from
"Tiresome" to "Bloody Nuisance." The last time the
British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was
during the Great Fire of 1666


November 14, 2005

More developments…

I think my housemates may have joined the Jehovah's Witnesses. No, I'm not joking. Last Friday, I popped back home for lunch and was greeted, to my alarm, by two gentlemen in suits and carrying briefcases, whom my housemates had for some inconceivable reason invited into the lounge. Not inclined to share in this little gathering, I decided to make myself scarce, and retreated upstairs. I don't know how long they had already been in the house, but it took a good half hour to eject them, during which time I heard some ominous mentions of the bible, Jesus, and other favourite Jehovah's Witness themes. The copies of watchtower magazine that I later discovered on the lounge table were also a bit of a give away. Most worryingly, however, these individuals parted with the alarming words 'see you next Saturday', to which my housemates seemed to agree. I don't know! Your take your eyes off people for one moment, and look what happens!

Actually, whilst I am on this theme, I might as well relate a few more grievances. The first concerns an ominous subject that was raised for the first time several months ago – namely 'wouldn't it be nice if we got a dog'. After a long, hard discussion with the aforementioned housemates, I thought I had successfully convinced them that actually, no, it would not be nice, specifically because a) it would urinate all over the house (and worse), b) it would require at least 3 walks a day, including when it is raining and cold, c) it would have to be taken to the vet to be neutered and vaccinated and d) it states explicitly on the contract to our house that we are NOT allowed a pet. These carefully reasoned arguments persuaded my housemates…to get a hamster, which, entirely predictably, was a source of great excitement for about a week, and would now probably expire if I did not remember to feed and exercise it. Anyway, the threat of a dog had at least been removed. Or at least, so I thought, in my great naivety, only to come down stairs the other day to hear my housemate on the phone and mentioning, with disturbing frequency, the word 'puppies'. It transpired, later, that he had seen an article on local TV about some dog that had given birth to an unnatural number of offspring, all of which now required re-homing. Thankfully, homes had been found for all the puppies by the time my housemate made the phonecall, but clearly the whole dog issue is still smouldering away. Cue a repeat performance of my 'reasons why we really can't have a dog' speech from August, which, as normally happens when I make good points, occasioned lots of polite agreement and has probably made absolutely zero impact! Honestly, why doesn't anybody listen to me!!!

And also, whilst I am on domestic matters, may I just point out the following:

1. This constant movement of furniture has to stop.
2. The idea of a tea towel is that you use it to dry CLEAN things. You do not use it to wipe up repulsive brown liquid from off the top of the oven. I know this is a hard concept to grasp.
3. In the cupboard under the stairs, we have a great piece of modern technology known as a hoover. Maybe it could be used sometimes.


November 02, 2005

Madrid!!!

As the title of this entry subtly indicates, I have been in Madrid. How exciting! Actually, it sounds less exciting when I point out that I was in Madrid to do research, and spent several days attempting to extract materials from various libraries. Still, I was out of the country, and the libraries were (devastatingly) closed on a number of days, which meant I got to experience the delights of Madrid, Segovia and Salamanca during my stay, so I cannot really complain. Anyway, for those who might be interested, and for those who have nothing better to do with their time than to read this, here is the scintillating blow by blow account of my activities in Spain…

Day 1: Easyjet flight departs Luton airport at 5.40pm. Am transported to airport by parents, so naturally cut things fine and arrive at 2pm with a mere 3.5 hours to spare. Dad makes the mistake of parking in the medium stay car park, which costs him a total of £15 pounds. General grumbles and disapproval. Consume tuna and sweetcorn sandwich with unidentified black speckles. Check in for flight at 3.30 and dispose of luggage. Wait. Wait some more. Wait. Wait a little longer. Proceed to departure lounge, and, amazingly do not manage to set off any alarms. Wait. Proceed to boarding gate. Wait. Board plane. Expect Easyjet to be cheap, orange and nasty. It is cheap and orange, but actually rather smart. Manage to get seat next to the window, and get view of the stunning Luton countryside as we take off.

9.10pm (Spanish time): Arrive at Barajas airport. Exit plane into torrential rain and am transported to the terminal in a bus. Succeed in identifying suitcase on luggage conveyer belt, and head for the 'salida' to search for random Spanish hosts whom I have not met before. Amazingly manage to locate random Spanish people, and am taken to car. Make my first comments in Spanish, and seem to be understood. So far so good. Am quite tired, and assume we are going home, but apparently we are going into Madrid first to find something to eat. Do as I am told and go into Madrid. Park in underground car park, and proceed to restaurant, where I consume some tapas, without unidentified black speckles. Return to car, and realise that we have lost the ticket for the car park. Walk back to restaurant and search for ticket. Helpful waiter finds ticket in rubbish bin. Return to car and head for home, which is in Mosteles, a small town to the south west of Madrid. Arrive at apartment at 12.30pm. Go to bed.

Day 2: Get up at 7am. Attempt to decipher metro plan and work out how to get to that great tourist attraction, the National Library. Am guided to station by host, and think I know where I am going. On arrival at station, discover that the line I thought I was going to take is inaccessible. Something rain-related. End up taking alternative route, which takes about 45 mins. Eventually arrive at library. Manage to convince library personnel that I am genuine and am given reader's ticket. After some general idiocy and incompetence, succeed in ordering books. Spend the day reading an ancient document about a giant ground sloth that was found in Argentina and sent to Madrid in 1789. Pleased to see that document has pictures. Scribble furiously until about 5.30pm and finally leave. Library experience spoilt somewhat by failure to locate cafe, which is clearly marked on the plan, but seems to lack an entrance. In desperation, head across the road to McDonalds. Consume 'El McChickenburger' and 'el milkshake' with relish.

6pm: Decide to experience some culture before returning to Mostoles, so saunter into the Prado art gallery. Pleased to discover that, as a student, I am not required to pay for this bit of culture. Gallery closes at around 7pm, however, so am obliged to absorb artistic wonders rather rapidly. Elect to skip the Medieval stuff on the ground floor and see some paintings by Goya, which are allegedly on floor 2. See pictures of Philip IV and the Count Duke of Olivares, but fail to find the Goya works I was looking for. Am running out of time, so head for gift shop, where I purchase some postcards of some works of art I have not actually managed to see. Spend unhealthy amount of time in gift shop choosing between magnet and a box of chocolates. Finally solve this excruciating problem by buying both. Leave El Prado and 7pm. Manage, amazingly, to locate ticket and correct platform in the commuter madness of Atocha station and return to Mostoles. Am taken out for dinner by host family. More tapas, generally good, until I am deviously tricked into eating what later turns out to have been pig's ear. Not an experience I intend to repeat…

Day 3: Discover that today is a public holiday, and that all libraries are closed. Am obviously overcome with grief at this news. Am forced, clearly against my will, to take the day off. Visit Segovia with new Spanish friends and am shown the Roman acquaduct and the Alcazar, which we climb up. Take numerous pictures of variable quality, this being one of my better efforts…


2pm: Leave Segovia, after having consumed an excellent cake. Head back to Madrid, via the Valley of the Fallen and the Escorial. The Valley of the fallen consists of a gigantic cross and a church built into a mountain. Franco's tomb is inside, and it was built by the dictator to commemorate his victory in the Spanish Civil War (1936–39). The Escorial was the official palace of the Habsburg kings of Spain. It contains many delights, including the bed where King Philip II (of Armada fame) expired (see below).

In order to enter the Escorial, we were given exciting luminous yellow stickers, which some of us maturely decided to attach to our foreheads.

Day 4: More library related stuff. Very dull, but useful. Still no evidence of the cafe, but today I am equipped with sandwiches, most of which are edible.

Day 5: Library again in the morning. Oh the excitement. In the afternoon, leave early and head for the Museo Reina Sofia in order to inspect Picasso's Guernica. Am suitably impressed, as had not suspected it would be quite so large. Leave the museum and head off to explore Madrid. End up in streets which do not look like the city centre, but eventually manage to locate station and return to Mostoles after minor panic.

5.30pm: Collect what turn out to unsuitable clothes and head for Salamanca for the weekend with Spaniards. Salamanca is about 3 hours drive to the west of Madrid, and apparently very scenic. This excursion however, is somewehat interesting, since it involves spending the night in a tent with in a field, in the rain. The tent is meant for 5 people, and there are 7 of us, 3 of whom snore*. The quality of sleep I get on this night can be imagined, so I will say no more. I will, however, say more about Salamanca, since it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to. It is an old university city, with a very picturesque cathedral. I attempt to photograph this, with limited success (see gallery), mainly on account of being in a moving car at the time. Unfortunately, on the day we select to visit Salamanca, the city is hosting a major summit of South American leaders, so there is a large police presence and limited access to certain areas. I still see enough, however, to be suitably impressed, and intend to emigrate to Salamanca in the near future…

Day 6: Leave Salamanca and head to Ciudad Rodrigo, near the Portuguese border. View city, which is very pretty, and purchase dubious pie containing unidentified meat pieces. Take numerous pictures of buildings without roofs and people without feet. Depart Ciudad Rodrigo at about 4pm and head for Avila, where one of the Spaniards happens to have a holiday home in the mountains. Eat dubious pie with unidentified meat pieces, watch football match between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, which Real Madrid win. Sleep in a bed again!

Day 7: Walk up into mountains to see a stream. Fascinating. Return to the house and cook a paella. This turns out to be edible and actually rather good, as can be seen below.


Eventually return to Madrid at about 9pm, where I am required to meet some grandparents. Eat an omlette and go to bed.

Day 8: More boring library stuff.

Day 9: Yet more boring library stuff. Cause great confusion in the Natural History Museum by requesting to read an article that is on microfilm. One librarian supplies me with a book, which another later takes away again. Not really sure what this is all about. Also discover that one of the books I want to read is at present on display in a glass cabinet, and that I am not sufficiently important to justify its removal. On the plus side, I tour the museum and see a stuffed pangolin, so all is not lost…


3pm: Library shuts, so leave Natural History Museum for a last look around Madrid. Have a second stab at the Prado, and this time succeed in locating the Goya pictures I wanted to see, including the tasteful 'Tres de Mayo', below, which features Spanish patriots being slaughtered by Napoleonic troops.

More importantly, I manage to locate the restaurant in the Prado, and consume a much needed tortilla. Having completed this cultural experience, I head into Madrid and manage to find the main shopping streets. Buy a CD in El Corte Ingles by a group called (bizarrely) 'La Oreja de Van Gogh' (Van Gogh's ear) link on the recommendation of my Spanish friend's cousin, which, in spite of my reservations, turns out to be very good. Return to Mostoles and head out for more tapas, studiously avoiding anything resembling a pig's ear.

Which brings me to Day 8: The end! or rather, the very early beginning, in which I get up at 6 in order to navigate my way across Madrid on the metro in time for my flight. All goes relatively smoothly, in spite of the excessive number of people on the trains and the inconvenience of carrying a large suitcase full of things I did not use but might have needed to. Reach the airport in time to check in. Manage not to board the flight bound for Caracas in the gate next to mine, and am back in Luton by 12.30pm (British time), to be greeted by more grumbles about car park charges and rain…

While I was away….

1. My housemate managed to vacuum the whole lounge without noticing that the hoover was broken and had not actually sucked anything up. He seemed quite surprised when I pointed this minor defect out to him…

2. No-one came to replace the bathroom carpet. We still have the tasteful brown hardboard in the bathroom. But what am I complaining for? It's a mere four weeks since the old carpet was taken away…

3. Jacqueline the hamster continued her amazing survival spree, though was clearly underfed, as she felt the need to chew a large hole in her cardboard house.

4. My housemates re-arranged the furniture in the kitchen. Again. For no apparent reason.**

  • Conservative estimate

** They have since extended their furniture moving skills to the lounge. Again, rationale behind this not obvious, though I am beginning to suspect that they do not have enough to do. May have to start devising little errands for them before they start shifting things in my bedroom…


September 25, 2005

Je suis retournée!!!!

Yes, I'm back from holiday and ready to experience the delights of a new term! Well, actually not all that ready, but at least reconciling myself to the fact that term is about to start, whether I like it or not, and trying to get some work done beforehand to make this event marginally less unpleasant.

Anyway, back to the point of this entry. As the title subtly suggests, I have been in France. Specifically, I have been in the French Alps. More specifically still (since I find myself in a specifying sort of mood today), I have been in Annecy. It is a pretty town with canals, and mainly famous for being situated next to a lake (that would be the imaginitively named Lac Annecy). It is quite close to the Swiss and Italian borders, and also to Mont Blanc, which I saw, but which, as can be seen below, seems to have miraculously dematerialised from most of my photos, I think largely on account of it being overly white.

All this excitement was part of a family holiday – something I had not experienced for a considerable number of years. It involved living in a holiday house for a week, speaking to French people (generally inadvisable, particularly when explaining complex issues such as how certain members of your family have managed to break the toilet) and coping with my parents' unnatural cheerfulness at early hours of the morning (for those unclear about these matters, 9am qualifies as an early hour, and 6am, when we left home to catch the ferry at Dover, qualifies as a breech of human rights). In spite of these dubious pleasures, a good time was had by all. Well, at least if you exclude the incident when my sister and I made the mistake of ordering a pizza with blue cheese and the usual confusion as to the meaning of French road signs (I am thinking here particularly of signs at roundabouts saying 'toutes directions' (all directions) and 'autres directions' (other directions); I have never managed to work out how if 'all directions' are supposed to go one way there can be any 'other directions'. Obviously you need to be French to understand this.)

Anyway, enough woffle and time for some pictures…

This is Annecy, near where we stayed. With canal, as promised

As you can see, in this picture I am standing next to a cow. This was taken in Geneva, where there seemed to be a large number of painted ruminants. I am told this is all part of the cow parade, an art exhibition that tours various cities and of which I should probably have been aware before. For more images of me and plastic cows, check out the gallery.

This picture was taken in Italy, where I sampled local culture by eating an enormous pizza and buying some biscuits. Here we are at the French border at the Saint Bernard pass. As you can see, Italy was somewhat cold, and I was clearly inappropriately dressed.

In addition to seeing these fascinating sights, I also had the pleasure of watching French TV, which provided more than sufficient amusement. I watched the French version of Supernanny, which I have to say, was greatly inferior to its English equivalent, mainly on account of the children being far too good to begin with. The main sin of one French child, for instance, seemed to be his failure to consume some green slimy substance that looked like seaweed; a British child would at least have had the imagination to throw its seaweed at somebody, to have scribbled on a wall or throttled its sibling. In addition to this tame copy of Supernanny, I watched 3 dubbed episodes of ER (which in the French version goes by the name of URGENCES, and in which all of the actors have really high squeaky voices). I also saw a programme about a German man who played music on a carrot, another about some Mongolian people trading camels in the Gobi desert and a very disturbing crime documentary about a man from Marseille who was guillotined in the 1970s because he was suspected of having murdered a child. To these enlightening programmes were added the delights of the regional channel, Mont Blanc TV, which included a newsreader with a frightening resemblance to Frankenstein's monster and a women yodelling and playing the accordian on some mountain. It puts West Midlands today to shame!

Anyway, all the fun is over now, and it's back to work once more. The good news is that my house was still intact when I returned – though I have to say, less clean – and the hamster was (and still is, on the last inspection) very much alive. Great excitement was had by all last night when a slug was spotted climbing up the kitchen wall (probably not an encouraging indication as to the state of hygiene in our house), but otherwise things have been pretty quiet. No doubt that will change next week…


August 11, 2005

Developments…

This was going to be a long, extravagant entry minutely detailing every minute of my holiday in Spain. However, I now find I have no energy to write this, so I’m going to confine myself to the following essential pieces of information:

1) I’m back! Yes, I survived a whole week in Catalonia. I did not lose my passport. I was not stung by a jellyfish (although I now hear on the radio that the chances of this happening were worryingly high). I did not get food poisoning and I was not run over, in spite of numerous opportunities to be squashed by various vehicles. So all in all it qualifies as a successful holiday!

My achievement of not being run over is, I think, worth mentioning, given that, in Spain, using a zebra crossing when the little green man is flashing does not NECESSARILY mean that cars will stop. It just means that, should you actually be on the crossing at this point then they may consider slowing down or thoughtfully driving around you at high speed, and that, if you are unfortunately flattened, you will at least have the consolation of knowing that you were in the right. I should also say that, at the railway station, passengers had to walk across the track (yes, actually over the lines), to get to the opposite platform, though I must record, in fairness, that they were kind enough to announce (in Catalan) that crossing when a train was visibly approaching was strongly discouraged.

2) Salou, where I stayed, was nice, though not exactly the ‘quiet resort’ we were promised by the lady at Thomson holidays. She failed to mention the abysmal nightly karaoke performances at the hotel across the road, the hideousness of which words simply cannot express. She also kept quiet about the many tacky beach shops selling inflatable lobsters and other indispensable holiday items. However, I must say that the hotel itself was fine (only 1 cockroach found in the bathroom), that the beach was beautiful and that, going beyond the main resort area we found a part of the town where there were some great restaurants, some relatively tasteful gift shops and (shock horror) actually some real Spanish people, so all was good.

3) I ate calamares (squid) and tortilla. No ill effects so far…

4) I practised speaking Spanish, and may have been understood on some occasions.

5) I visited Barcelona and Tarragona – more on this to follow.

6) I discovered that it is possible to go a full 24 hours without sleep, but that after this I become a significantly less pleasant person. This will teach me not to catch a flight at 5 in the morning then have to travel back from Manchester airport by train, obviously having to change at Birmingham New Street and run up and down about 3 flights of stairs with cases and probably only semi-conscious by this stage.

7) I discovered, also, when I returned, that we have acquired a hamster!!! Really thought I might be hallucinating when I wandered into the house yesterday and came face to face with a cage, but no, we do in fact have a hamster, and it was good enough to wake up and leave its bed last night for long enough to bite (sorry, lovingly nibble) my housemate’s fingers. Have to say that the appearance of a small rodent in the house was something of a shock. My housemates did discuss the possibility of getting a dog a few weeks ago, but I obviously underestimated the seriousness of this conversation. Probably lucky not to come home and be savaged by a rottweiler. Anyway, am now reconciling myself to the presence of a hamster in the house, so expect more rodent updates in future…


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