Monday, April 30, 2012

"Everybody's smiling!"

So said the chaplain ahead of us in the queue in the Refectory cafe at Norwich Cathedral this morning, when we congratulated each other on such a fine, sunny day and clear blue sky, after a month of dreary rain. The Cathedral is one of the city's many prides (another its Norman castle, above), its steeple second only in height to Salisbury, its cloisters the largest in the country, and the building overall light, airy, graceful and beautiful - though I have to admit to being most taken by the fact that the shiny copper font was recycled from a local chocolate factory.

It also currently has a pair of peregrine falcons nesting on the spire, dutifully incubating four eggs, to the infectious excitement of the two birders in charge of the powerful telescopes lined up on the nest. They also have a colour camera focused on the action, which they're watching on their iPad - how modern of them, yet also how sweetly old-fashioned of them to be so enthralled by the process.

Norwich is a lovely town to explore on a sunny day, riding the open-top bus around the main attractions, poking around the little lanes on foot, walking slowly over the lumpy cobbles, remembering to look upwards at the buildings, a colourful mix of stone, brick, flint, wood and stucco with their roofs every which way. We wandered along the river with its sleeping swans, through the Plantation Gardens with its Victorian follies, blackbirds and bright tulips, down Elm Hill where the tiny Bear Shop manages to fit in hundreds of teddies of all sorts, some of them works of art, all of them eminently cuddliable.There was high tea at the elegant Georgian Assembly Rooms, raspberry beer at the Belgian Monk, savoury waffles and cider at the Waffle House so conveniently directly across the road from our hotel at 38 St Giles that we could even get the wifi.

It's all been so good today that it's even more of a tragedy that we're going to be back to the rain tomorrow. Sigh.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Much more than a naughty acronym*

Norwich is nice, even in appalling weather that we have great hopes is moving away overnight. Sited on what is probably East Anglia's only hill, it has heaps of churches, a lovely cathedral (yet to be explored, as there was a service about to begin. On a Sunday! Tch), an impossibly old and sturdy-looking four-square castle full of gory stuff like a gibbet, death-masks and iron yokes, lots of appealing little winding lanes to wander along, good shops, cafes and restaurants, and a pretty midtown market of  permanent stalls all brightly painted in stripes like beach huts.

It will be open tomorrow, and fingers crossed there'll be sunshine so we can gawp and snap away to our hearts' content: it's a very medieval place, and the buildings are a wonderful mix of stone and flint and half-timber, very pretty and photogenic.

Tonight we ate at Suckling House, a 16th-century mercer's house with pointed windows and vaulted ceilings, and then went upstairs to watch a movie in the cinema in the same building. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was a bit dislocating in that setting, but also familiar, as the Yemen is next door to the United Arab Emirates, where I was just a couple of weeks ago, although it seems much, much longer than that. It was an entertaining movie, and quite funny.

Perhaps on a guided walk tomorrow, we may learn the story behind this street sign. I'm guessing it won't be a comedy.**
* (k)Nickers Off Ready When I Come Home
** Apparently it was a pub sign showing two washer women trying to scrub a poor little black boy white. Obviously long before there was such a thing as political correctness.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Hung with snow, along the bough

Well, Housman probably would have written that, had he seen this courtyard outside the Temple Church (the Inns of Court, by the way, are naturally very attached to rules, hence the underlining) - what looks just like a sprinkle of snow is purely petals. But the showers and rain have been interspersed with enough bright spells for us to enjoy a trip along the river on a ferry, gawping at old faithfuls like Tower Bridge and the Belfast, and at the new entrants, like the Gherkin and the Shard, which is very nearly finished.

Then it was lovely to walk through the gardens along the Embankment - so many green bits in the middle of all the roads and buildings in London - admiring the spring flowers and stopping every 20 metres or so to study yet another statue or memorial. London always reminds me of my aunt's front room, where every flat surface is cluttered with little ornaments, plates and knick-knacks. Some of the statues are obvious, like Robert Raikes of Sunday School fame, and Samuel Plimsoll of the line (possibly also the sandshoe), and Arthur Sullivan out the back (front?) of the Savoy Hotel. But there was a mysterious marble statue presented to Britain in 1920 in gratitude by the people of Belgium. That had me, historically deficient as I am, foxed until we went to the theatre that night.

War Horse the play, predating the movie by a year or so, was brilliantly done and quite moving, deserving its standing ovation at the end. It also mentioned that Britain entered the Great War in response to the German invasion of Belgium, which if I ever knew, I'd forgotten. There's going to be quite a lot about war in the blog posts from this trip. Some of it's going to be pretty heavy. You have been warned...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hi ho (possibly ho hum) for spring

This photo on the front page of the Evening Standard strikes me as so typically English: a hosepipe ban recently declared after a long stretch of below-average rainfall is immediately followed by torrential rain that's delivered a month's worth of precipitation in just two days. And the people sigh and snap up their umbrellas and soldier on, martyrs as ever to the weather.

If they hadn't had that early sunny spell in March, no-one would have been surprised: spring is about changeable weather, after all. At least there have still been clear spells, when London's colours are bright - the flower-filled public gardens, the red buses, the gold on the domes and crosses, the pictures on the pub signs.

Yesterday the Queen opened the Cutty Sark to the public again, after a long restoration that was delayed by a big fire in 2007. The fastest clipper on the route to Sydney in 1885, it looks splendid now, its hull encased in shiny brass - and that part is conveniently glassed-in. It's a fine place to sit with a cup of the tea it was originally designed to bring to London from China, for the comfort and succour of the people, especially in weather like this.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Now that April's there

Ah, England in the spring! Wet and cold and windy, and irredeemably miserable - until the sun comes out and it's warm and bright and suddenly you notice flowers everywhere (only slightly battered-looking): forget-me-nots and tulips, primroses and honesty, forsythia and camellias.

Here in Farnham the brick looks warm, the Castle with its sets of seven steps built for the blind bishop looks imposing on its hill beside the town, and the pubs are cosy and welcoming. And so are the people.

Not so the cats in my aunt's house, who treat my friendly advances with disdain and suspicion, and look at me with narrow eyes if I sit in the wrong chair. It's a long way to come, to be sneered at through whiskers.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Au revoir

Here I am, in a restaurant opposite the Hotel de Ville, one block from Notre Dame: no French person would even consider eating in such a touristy spot. But how far wrong can you go, with French onion soup? Not wrong at all, it turns out - melty, salty, stringy just as it should be. And crusty bread to dip.

Hot, too, which is welcome on a spitty, chilly spring day which makes the original plan of mooching about Paris seem much less attractive. After a night of fitful sleep, anxious about validating my pass and missing connections, all has gone well so far.

Next step, Eurostar to London through the channel tunnel, and then no more language challenges - though, judging by the blank looks several of my comments at dinner last night scored from the Americans, my Kiwi accent could be making me the one people are struggling to understand. Eh, bro.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Give a dog a

Beaune: yet another absurdly pretty French town... except this one is the last, sniff. We got into Chalon sur Saone early this morning and were bussed to Beaune to look at the very lovely and wholly unusual Hotel de Dieu, a hospital for the poor set up in 1443 by a businessman looking to score enough credits to guarantee an entry into Heaven. It's such a striking building, with its glazed roof tiles, turrets, gables and gargoyles, and there's some really interesting stuff inside, too - though the medical instruments are a bit horrifying, especially the eye-watering one designed to be sat on.

It was market day, so that was colourful, despite the showers, and then my Kiwi colleagues left to start their long, long journey home while I just wandered the narrow cobbled lanes gawping at the uniformly old and un-uniformly designed buildings. Many of the other River Royale passengers disappeared into the town's cellars for wine tastings, but it was enough for me to be driven afterwards along the Route des Grands Crus where even I recognised the names of the villages, like Meursault and Montrachet.

Back in Chalon there was a little war museum to visit with some sobering photos of the town during the occupation, and of the battlefields, as well as an interesting Resistance section with an instruction manual open at the page showing how to blow up a railway line. And then it was time to go and pack, ready for my early departure tomorrow morning, out in the wide world on my own, finding my way to Paris and then London by train. Along lines that haven't been booby-trapped, hopefully.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Lovely Lyon

It was a particularly good day today in Lyon. The forecast was for rain, and when I opened my curtains, it did seem dull outside, although it was hard to tell as there was another cruiser moored right alongside ours - always a little disconcerting when you fling aside the curtains to find yourself looking straight into someone else's cabin. It's part of river cruising life. But when I got along the corridor to reception I could see from the other side of the boat that it was a gloriously sunny morning.

Then, Lyon was unexpectedly grand and pretty and (shhh) Parisian, with a striking white basilica on the hill above the old town with a great view over the city, and its one skyscraper, towards the Alpes which fortunately we couldn't see (because that would have meant rain). The funicular railway back down was a real damp squib after featuring quite prominently in the tour description (2 minutes inside a tunnel) but the old town was an interesting maze of cobbled lanes linked by secret alleyways that were used with great effect by Resistance people during the war. That was today's greatest disappointment, that the Resistance Museum, here because Lyon was the HQ of the movement, is currently closed for renovations. I would have loved to look around it.

But, on the other hand, I called in at a big optician that I spotted, in the hope of a repair to my glasses: the frame got bent on the plane to Paris, and when I tried to straighten it, I snapped off one of the arms, so for the past week I've had a sort of pince nez affair going - very insecure, and at Les Baux the Mistral flipped them off my face and sent them skittering across the cobbles. So I was ready to pay anything - but not nothing at all. Rien! That's what the lovely girl charged, after fitting a whole new arm in just a couple of minutes. I love Lyon, and this is how I feel:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Crepes and carillon

Another day, another town - or set of towns, in this case: Tain l'Hermitage and Tournon, across the river from each other, each with a steep hillside behind covered in vineyards, Tournon with a chateau growing out of the rock, Tain with the Valrhona chocolate shop and its shelves of free samples, where I went instead of the wine-tasting but still found myself confronted with descriptions claiming notes of licorice, caramel and 'feve tonka', whatever that is.

Then we were treated to a performance of the carillon at the Notre Dame church, introduced by a lovely old man and his very youthful-looking black Labrador, who's 13. It was pretty music, snatches of classics ringing out from the clock tower over the tiled roofs of the town and the - again - quiet streets, it being still siesta time. And we were away again, humming up the Rhone, away from dark thunderclouds and into the sun again, with a mid-afternoon crepes Suzette demonstration and tasting scheduled lest, quelle horreur, our blood sugar should start to ebb.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cats and catfish

Viviers was today's focus, a little mediaeval town on the side of a hill below a twelfth-century castle and cathedral. We wandered along an avenue lined with savagely-pruned plane trees from the river bank where the boat was moored up into the town which was totally deserted, if you don't count all the cats and the one drunk in the town square ineffectually kicking at them as they sauntered nonchalantly past him.

It was all narrow, narrow lanes and washing hung outside windows, cobbles and drains, no-exit impasses and old-fashioned street lamps as we wended our way up to the cathedral where we listened to the organ which began with some dreary religious music but ended with a crowd-pleasing William Tell overture. From the square outside there was an excellent view over the jumble of pantiled roofs, each with its satellite dish, and the river and snowy Alpes beyond, with in the mid-distance the nuclear power station which was where all the townspeople were, working - there, or in nearby Montelimar, stirring nougat.

We went past several other reactors further up the river, all belching steam from the cooling towers that look so sinister to our nuclear-free Kiwi eyes, even when disguised with an innocuous painting of a boy playing with a shell. Laurant, our cruise director, chose that moment to tell us about the giant catfish that live in the river, almost two metres long. I wonder if they have three eyes?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Void bridges

All together now: "Sur le pont d'Avignon, l'on y danse, l'on y danse..." Sorry about inflicting you with that earworm, but fair's fair, I had it in my head for all of today. Avignon, with its truncated bridge, is one of the few places left in Europe with a complete city wall, and it's still used today as flood protection when necessary; inside the wall it's old and pretty though still busy and very lived-in. The Popes lived here for nearly 100 years in the 14th century, and left behind a palace that, though the inside was stripped during the Revolution, is still mightily impressive purely on account of its size: chapels the size of cathedrals, walk-in ovens, vast dining rooms, that sort of thing. I was very pleased to have the roof pointed out in the kitchen/oven, where a curve fitted into the corner turns the square room into an octagonal chimney: it's called a squinch, people. I love the word itself, and that it exists at all. I've come to France and increased my admiration for English. How the Academie Francaise would hate that!

After lunch the outing was to the Pont du Gard, where many long years ago I remember walking along the water channel on the upper level and climbing out onto the lid that runs along the very top of the aqueduct, 49m above the river. They stopped people doing that in 1995, the spoilsports - but it's still a stunner, even tidied up and touristed as it is today. Two thousand years, it's been there, and it's still withstanding floods that sweep away modern bridges. It's yet another triumph of Roman big thinking, bringing water 50km to Nimes, the aqueduct over the Gard River being 274m long and built in only 5 years. All those sums, precision stone-cutting and sheer manual labour, heaving the stones into place, and it's covered with graffiti, tch. I'm referring to the painstakingly-chiselled initials beside various dates: 1880, 1774...

Last today came a wine-tasting at Chateauneuf du Pape, where I swilled and slurped with the best of them but refrained from chiming in with claims of blackberry! leather! charred wood! It tasted ok, I suppose.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Blown away

Today we got arty, with a lecture about poor, crazy Van Gogh, who spent a lot of time here in Arles, painting furiously; and then we visited a number of sites around the town that feature in his pictures. The streets were still fairly quiet and many shops closed this morning - because, apparently, they were open on Saturday, and with the national working week being limited to 35 hours, that meant shutting on Monday. Thirty-five hours!

Then we were bussed out of Arles (or, Arrrles, as our guide Marie called it) and went to Les Baux, a ridiculously photogenic village perched on a limestone outcrop with a castle and churches and little winding streets lined with pretty shuttered houses and shops selling lovely bright textiles, pottery cidadas, lavender and soaps. Totally touristy, but so very pretty and on such a spectacular site with long views across plains of olive plantations and rows of cypresses. We also visited an olive mill where Magali gave us tastings of green and black olive oil and tapenades and was charmingly enthusiastic about notes of asparagus, artichoke and fresh hay, and I nodded sagely and thought about Pseud's Corner.

The main thing about today was our introduction to the Mistral, the perishingly cold wind from the north that funnels down the Rhone Valley and blows for 3, 6 or 9 days at a time, incessantly, strongly (gusts up to 120kmh today on top of Les Baux) and maddeningly. Until fairly recently, 9 days of Mistral was accepted as a mitigating factor in murder cases, reducing the charge to a crime of passion - after today, I can quite understand why.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

On board, enfin

So now I'm in Arles, in Provence, and am settled into my home for the next week, the Uniworld river cruiser River Royale, in a suite with superfine sheets and Occitane toiletries and sliding doors that currently look out on a rusty bollard and a section of stone wall - but that's ok, it's a real pleasure for the moment just to be not moving. That view is guaranteed to improve tomorrow when we sail for Avignon.

Arles is a pretty place, with a Roman amphitheatre and arena and lots of narrow cobbled streets lined with three-storey terraced houses painted strong colours with contrasting shutters and lots of window boxes. It's also an untidy, littered place that could do with some maintenance - but, again, that's ok, I don't live here and can shrug all off that as what makes the town look lived-in and real. And all those peeling shutters do add to the picturesqueness, without a doubt.

The carnies are in town for the Easter fiesta and their very fancy campervans and wagons are parked beside the river (along with a row of spotted ponies), showing that clearly there's real money in candy floss these days; but we've been sternly warned over and over to be wary of the gypsies, that they're world-class pickpockets and mustn't be trusted. All very un-PC but no doubt that's experience talking. They're running a professional show on this boat: friendly and funny but very efficient; though the captain looks about 12 years old, alarmingly.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Transports of delight? Nup.

Today started well, if you discount the 5am wake-up imposed by stubborn jetlag, with meeting my friend for (second) breakfast in central Abu Dhabi at Jones the Grocer, which it turns out there’s a branch of in Auckland. They make good porridge there (never let it be said that I won’t try local specialties). Tahira and I last saw each other in Adelaide, having met in Coober Pedy, and we’re looking forward to another exotic location next time, whenever that might be. She’s lived in Abu Dhabi for 6 years, and has some interesting stories to tell, the most flabbergasting being the ex-pat couple who met up in a café, exchanged a chaste cheek-peck, were spotted by a 5 year-old, told on to her mother, reported to the police, arrested, imprisoned for a year, and then deported forever. Note to self: UAE + PDA = PNG.

Then there was another tiresome site inspection, followed by a trip to Ferrari World, an indoor theme park boasting the world’s fastest roller coaster: 0-240kmh in 5 seconds. The auto-photo afterwards showed us with G-force grins, teeth bared and gritted – it was a totally astonishing sensation, though it was only brief. After that it was a regular coaster, though that first climb was pretty good, and the tip over the top involved much shrieking; but then there were too many twists and turns for my delicate stomach, and even two minutes total was a smidge too long. Not being into cars, I skipped most of the rest of the park, but if you’re one who drools over shiny red and yellow fast cars that are eye-wateringly expensive, this would be the place for you.

Unfortunately, another car came next: Mohammed drove us altogether too enthusiastically into the desert for some dune-bashing and sideways sliding that all five of us in the car stopped enjoying pretty quickly, especially the German woman who was, eventually, pushed over the edge. “Does this happen often?” we asked Mohammed. “It’s normal,” he shrugged, clearly mystified. We spotted a gazelle, which was lovely to see as it paused on the skyline at the top of a dune; and some camels with enviably long thick eyelashes (though it was a shame about the four camel toes); and the sun setting, and the green flash; but there was far too much bucketing over the dunes. It was grim. Then, thankfully, we got to the camp, but next rode a camel that lurched along and reminded me that they’re called ‘ships of the desert’, which did my nausea no good at all. It didn’t help that the camel, its nose done up in some sort of crocheted snood, complained throughout, making a noise just like someone being sick.

We manfully fronted up to the barbecue afterwards, however, and did our best, though the little cat yowling around the table did pretty well on the left-overs (after which it disappeared abruptly, in the manner of its kind); and then we fought to retain what we’d swallowed on the way back again, even on the road, where Mohammed drove just as excitingly. We would have given our eye teeth for a quiet and motionless night in bed, but we had to check out at 11.30pm for a 2am flight to Paris. Just the seven hours. Sigh.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Amazed by a mosque

The highlight of our city tour today was of course this fabulous building, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, designed deliberately to be the showpiece of Islam, open to visitors to allow greater cultural understanding. It's so gloriously over the top, though, that religion scarcely got a look-in on our private tour, we were so busy dropping our jaws at the statistics, the materials used, and of course the cost: US$3 billion is a fairly conservative estimate, we were told. That's what happens when you build something on an area of 5 football fields out of white Carrara marble inlaid with lapis lazuli, garnets, amethysts and mother-of-pearl. Oh, and paua, which may have been the NZ material referred to in the brochure - or possibly the six big jade balls on the floor, whose purpose was a mystery unless it was to provide seats for a succession of small boys.

We had to dress up in a hot (very un-hot) nylon robe with an irritating head-scarf that kept coming undone, and go barefoot across the world's largest hand-knotted silk carpet in the prayer hall where there was a bit of a hubbub, to be honest, with cameras everywhere. The chandeliers with all their Swarovski crystals and gold were decidedly overdone, but the walls were beautiful with their inlay decoration and flowing Arabic script, and the pillared walks outside beside the reflecting pools were cool and elegant. It's unmissable and something of which the locals are justifiably proud. Also very evocative of the Taj Mahal, don't you think?

Today there was, unusually, time before the tour for a swim in the hotel pool, full of English families and Arab children watched over from the side by their presumably envious mothers all in black from head to toe. It's the first time in about 4 years that I've been able to fit in something so relaxing on a trip - but we ended the day with a hotel tour, sigh. Though, through a misunderstanding, we got to eat on our own, hooray, instead of singing for our supper with the hotel  marketing manager; and had a lovely Thai dinner chosen for us by an even lovelier Thai lady, as we sat in perfect conditions on the terrace beside the water, looking across to the lit-up skyline. Good day - but oh, so very long.

Etihad A340-600 business class review

It's not all beer and skittles in business class, you know - or even all champers and canapés. Who knew that on pressing a button to recline your seat to totally flat, you could risk cutting your feet off at the ankles? And the masses back in cattle class complain about mere DVT from being immobilised for half a day! Pft

I thought Etihad did a great job looking after us on the 14-hour flight to Abu Dhabi from Melbourne. The gorgeous check-in girl, erroneously named Fatme, was lovely and gave us lounge passes even though as media we weren't entitled (boo, hiss). Both boarding and disembarking, we were wafted along with no fuss or delay.

Though it was a smaller plane than the A380, the seat configuration was the same as on Emirates, so I felt private and snug but not claustrophobic. The food was good though it was too late for me to take on what sounded like a delicious dinner, even though the charmingly solicitous French steward Paul offered to bring it to each of us whenever we liked, which I think is a (literally) first class service. And I've decided to view the pre-take-off prayer in Arabic as a distinctive cultural twist, rather than a portent of possible doom.

And though I've long since given up stealing airline cutlery, I was sorely tempted by the divine quilt they provided: furry fleece one side, smooth fine cotton the other, and what felt like silk in between. Light, warm, stylishly striped - they should list it in the Duty Free catalogue. I'd buy one.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Welcome to Australia

So, you've enticed tourists to come all the way to Australia (and it's always a long way to Australia, even from New Zealand). Here they are, arriving at the airport, eager to start their holiday - and what do you do?

Scare them silly with, first, a massive poster beside the walkway to the baggage carousels of a gigantic crocodile, not just enormously long at 8.1 metres but also as bulky as a bus (actual size! the caption claims). And then, on the trolley there's this.

What are they thinking? Do they aim to weed out the wusses before they even get to immigration? Because it makes even me think twice, despite this time spending a scant half hour on Aussie soil between passport stamps before disappearing again into the limbo world of airside here in Melbourne. Where the airport seems much improved since my last visit, if you don't count the man-eating predators.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Things to do, places to go...

Turns out when you add a 21st birthday party at home on to an upcoming 6-week trip to the other hemisphere, straight after a flit round an entire continent, things get a bit frantic, domestically, work-wise and sleep-wise. The middle-aged brain struggles to keep all those mental balls in the air, which include a story about Iguassu, steroid boosters for the ancient cats, fitting timers to the heated towel rails (what? you don't do that before you go away?) and making a series of jelly Easter eggs for the non-cake birthday cake.

It's a long time to be away, and though I'm now reassured that the cats will (most likely) still be here when I get back, the dog's another story, sigh. It's autumn here now, AKA Indian summer, especially over Easter when the weather was glorious, kind of making up for our very crap summer - but when I get back it will be winter, the trees will be bare and the guttering leaking.

But I must resist this tendency to worry and conduct endless arguments with myself over what shoes to pack, because once I'm on the plane it will all drop away and I'll be caught up in the moment: flit to Sydney with Air NZ then swap to Etihad (always sounds like an anagram to me, but apparently it's Arabic for 'united' - though the OH reckons it's really 'reckless') business to Abu Dhabi, on to Paris, down to Marseille, onto a river cruiser on the Rhone for a week, then England for family stuff, Poland for a war story, Eastern Europe for a coach trip, and then back home. Lots of trains in the mix there, some theatre, Badminton Horse Trials, and lots of friends.

Starting with one from the Great Australian Cattle Drive in 2006, who's now working in Dubai and will be meeting me for breakfast in Abu Dhabi. (That's the most exotic half-sentence I've ever written.) Tahira is good fun - we got a lot of amusement out of the loofah she brought with her into the Outback, and the fancy seat-saver the equestrian outfitters equipped her with in London (though we were all envious of it in the end (on our ends?))

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Las Malvinas, nunca!

Two weeks ago tonight, I was part of the audience in a super-slick and highly professional evening of dinner and a dancing display in Buenos Aires, where I used my camera's (more probably my own) inadequacies to produce what I insist on calling arty images. I shouldn't have been there at all: I was meant that night to be at a different dinner in another hotel in another city in another country altogether. It was the annual Cathay Pacific Travel Media Awards run by Travcom, or NZ Travel Communicators, the professional association of which, until yesterday, I've been President for the last two years. It's a big event for a small group to organise, and with sponsors under financial pressure it was a real challenge to pull it all together.

But we did it, and I should have been there, not only to schmooze and suck up, but also to (ahem) collect a few certificates myself: runner-up for this newspaper story about Jaipur in India, winner for this one about Waterford in Ireland and, almost ta-rah, runner-up overall. Having won once, I can tell you that that works better - but it was good to have the Baby go up in my place while I was on another continent being wowed by smouldering looks, testicle-threatening high kicks and more Brylcreem than I've seen since last century. The show was wholly catering for tourists, but it was very well done too, and I enjoyed it.

Of course, it's the 30th anniversary of the start of the Falklands War today (throughout which it was studiously referred to in the British parliament and media as the 'Falklands conflict') and there were petrol bombs and water-cannon in Buenos Aires: not just smouldering there today, but actual fire. A burning Prince William, indeed! Harsh.

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