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When it comes to watches, I'm a bit like King Henry VIII.
Only instead of Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived, my mnemonic watch history is more Lost, Broken, Broken, Broken, In a Draw, Broken, Lost, Broken, Broken.
One constant there has been with my wrist furniture is that they have all, always, been a Casio. I hadn't planned it this way, but my Casio CV goes back to the days before the iPod where people became brand-centric, it just seems that the only watch company who manufactures watches I like at a price I'm willing to pay are made by a company that used to be better known for their calculators than their time-keepers.
I had the Casio Data Bank back in School - the calculator watch that merged Casio's two best interests - the watch that ended it's life in a draw as they were ultimately banned by grumpy teachers who thought they would be used for cheating by sneaky kids - sadly, I would never had taken this opportunity, as I couldn't work out how to use it properly.
To my most recent purchase - the Casio 5034 or G1000D depending on who you ask, but for what most people would be known as a member of the G Shock family.
Designed to be proper-strong watches I'm supposedly entering a relationship with a watch that may be 'till death us do part', since I'm not planning on taking many more mathematics exams, and this watch won't do sums, but it is "Shock Resistant".
To be fair, the watch didn't flinch an inch when I told it that it's mother was a Digital, but the shop assistant did raise an eyebrow.
The G Shock name has been around since the baggy trousered days of 1983, although they came to attention more recently with the range of garishly coloured Baby-G that lots of people on the TV wore, and some singers. Mine's not one like that, as these sorts of time-tellers would clash with my jeans.
This model is one of those with more functions beyond just that of telling me the time - extras such as the date, but not the actual month or year, for this detail, you'd need also to be close to a newspaper - a stopwatch for when you need to time something that is incapable of timing itself - and I can access the current time in any one of 29 different world cities - although to do this, the actual hands of the watch have to wind all the way around to show you the time of, say, NYC(New York), (BKK)Bangkok, SYD(Sydney) or a collection of other shortened names like RGN or WLG, which I'd need to carry around a list to remember where they are, this can take a while to do, and you're left feeling vulnerable to any emergency time-requests until the hands are back in UK position - There's also an alarm that will go off at a random time of day until you figure out how to change it or switch it off.
Being shock resistant, the watch is capable of being taken to 20Bar before it would relent and begin to let in any cog-killing water, sadly, this being the equivalent to being 200 metres underwater, the wearer would probably have drowned when proving his point though, and I'd always hoped that mini-submarines would come with their own clocks built-in, and as big as the stainless steel links on the watch strap will stretch when unclipped, I'm pretty certain that it'd struggle to get over the hands of a robotic arm.
The casing is a mixture of stainless steel and resin, so at least the drowner can rest assured that there'll be no rust on their bones.
So far, every time I've looked at my watch, I have been encouraged by it's ability to respond by knowing what the time is, except for the day when I'd accidentally left it on Athens time and was 2 hours early for work. It feels sturdy, and after owning it for around 4 months, I haven't yet broken it, or left it on a sea bed, so it is performing admirably, but for a recommended retail price of £180, I'd expect it to too.
Brilliantly, I got mine for half price in a coincidence whereby I turned up to buy it on the first day of a Sale at John Lewis in Brent Cross.
All in all, It's a watch that tells a time which I blindly trust, with some benefits that require the pressing of buttons.
Or it's just a watch.
When an Elephant puts his trunk on his head, It's because he wants to be fed another mango that you've been sold by the cunning local, and he knows you'll have to buy more as you didn't learn the Elephant phrase for "all gone"
When an Orang-utan turns his back to the crowd of tourists, it's because he wants to eat his banana in peace, and disappointed Russian people will leave.
When a Chinese stranger approaches you in Beijing and offers to show you his art, he is not speaking metaphorically, it's because he has done some art and wants to show it to you.
I like to learn new things, and have new experiences. My most recent journey ended up being no different, even if I hadn't been expecting so much before I left for our week in a Villa in Tavira, on Portugal's Algarve.
When a 3 month old baby pulls a funny face, and his legs go all stiff and straight, it's because he's having a poo, and a smelly nappy change will ensue.
Clearly, we weren't alone in our 4 bedroom private residence - occupying the other rooms were my wife's parents, sister, her husband and their 2 young children. The proverbial in-laws.
Fortunately, I'm a modern man, and our relationship is a good one, so there'll be no Les Dawson impressions from me, Duck.
Tavira is a 45 minute journey from Faro Airport along the recently built A22 motorway, at 120kph, with no traffic and the satisfaction that you have chosen the quickest route from the airport, and the holiday can begin.
You could also choose to pootle along the N125 - a sort of A-Road through the local coastal towns, and have much more interesting stuff to look at, at a more reasonable speed.
In a boost for the people who paid for the new motorway, it also takes only 45 minutes to drive this way. Bypass the Bypass, if you will.
I'd had precisely zero involvement in the booking and arranging of the holiday from the start to end, I had little in the way of expectations, and so I was neither surprised nor disappointed when we arrived at the villa. I think my 3 year old nephew must have been expecting a tent on a slope, and not a 3 storey house with it's own pool, because he was really, really excited by just about everything, but nothing more that the villa's very own putting green.
Sportingly, there's a small golf bit for the golf people to practice their golfing on when they're not on one of the dozens of golf courses that have engulfed the Algarve, and seemingly most of Portugolf. The villa's owner provided club and balls, and we were playing a somewhat bastardized version of the game before I'd even seen the upstairs of our new home.
The town of Tavira has grown around the banks of a river, and is typically old portuguese with a small Church in a leafy square that gets used as a car park, and a larger square with coffee houses, cafe's and shops to mooch around in, or alternatively there's ice cream to eat and a road train to ride on for only Euro6 each.
On the outskirts of Tavira there's a new shopping mall, although there is also an Aldi and a Lidl to cater for the self-caterers. Portuguese Aldi is just as tidy as the English Aldi, and merchandised just as thoughtfully.
When a Three year old says he want to go to the beach, it means you are all going to go to the beach.
Tavira isn't exactly on the beach, but it does have a rather magnificent beach that is reached by first driving through the industrious salt plains, parking in lay by, before catching a small boat for a 5 minute journey over to the Isla de Tavira - the mild inaccessibility adding to the fun of the day at the beach eating sand.
This beach wasn't the sort for trying to build an expansive sand boat or burying Grandad's shoes - for that type of sand you'd have to go down the road for ten minutes to the beach at Monte Gordo - the Isla Tavira beach is the sort where they charge Euro11 for a sunbed, and you're relegated to collecting shells as the sand is the white soft stuff that brochures love and kids find puzzling.
If you feel like holidaying nearly completely cut off from life, there was a camp site on the island, but why have a tent when you can have a house with Peppa Pig on the Sky TV? Time for another feed.
We spent a lazy Sunday afternoon wandering around Faro harbour front, and the streets behind that appear to have been completely abandoned for unclear reasons - there are whole streets of postcard-inspiring traditional buildings that are lying empty - like all those houses that line the edge of the North Circular in London, only quieter, sunnier and closer to the port.
It was either a real shame, or a massive opportunity for a developer, depending on your point of view.
When we were driving into Faro, we were held up by a pointy-shouty local policeman doing the traffic dance, who allowed seemingly half of Portugals Armed Forces, travelling in buses all driven by Tom Cruise from an Officer and a Gentleman, to stream through.
There was either an event going on, or the Portuguese had suddenly decided to declare war with Spain.
Luckily for the neighbours, it was the former - a recruitment drive where they employed a tactic of parking Helicopters, Tanks, Fighter Jets and Fire-Engines in the middle of Faro to attract the kids into wanting to join the army - we guessed that when they set foot in the sign up tent, they were immediately placed onto a coach and driven off into the distance whilst the parents are told that they would handle the truth very well.
Up and down the N125 there were lots of little villages and towns to wander about in, mostly unspoilt by over development, the border town of Vila Real de Santo Antonio - positioned only a mile from the Spanish, which for me was close enough for me not to feel too bad by speaking Spanish when ordering drinks.
Santo Antonio has both tourist pleasing shops selling towels and a somewhat under populated promenade, and town square with obligatory Moorish Church, alongside a proper indoor market where fruit and veg of wildly varying quality was sold.
When you take the nappy off a baby, he is going to have a freestyle-wee, so choose your positioning carefully, and have the reactions of a cat.
Tavira is a great location to explore this area of the Algarve, and even into Andalucia as the fabulousness of Seville and all it's Star Wars location glory is only about a 90 minute jaunt down the motorway - too far for the nappy wearing amongst the party, and so Seville was replaced with a trip to a market in the town of Altura, where my mother in law lost a pair of glasses, followed by a Menu del Dia at a tapas bar in Monte Gordo, Euro9 for four courses, so the day came out as a fair swap as far as entertainment goes.
Having travelled to from Faro to Albufiera and Cadiz to Seville on past trips, I'm pleased to have filled in the gap in between, as it's another tick in a box for places to have seen.
I got to do everything I'd intended to do whilst on this holiday; read books and lie down a lot, I also got to do the things I hadn't banked on; Pretending to be a shark for almost 3 hours, with never diminished hilarity.
Portugal seemed under-populated when we were there - lots of quiet towns and villages to explore, and uncrowded beaches to use - which made for a pleasant family holiday without much extra expense outside of ice cream and Merry-Go-Rounds.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of 2010
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, World Cup Football would be
it. The long term benefits of World Cup Football have been proved by
knowledgeable Bookmakers whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable
than my own meandering experience...I will dispense this advice now.
Enjoy the power and beauty of Emile Heskey; oh nevermind; you will not
understand the power and beauty of Emile Heskey until he has faded.
But trust me, in 20 years you'll look back at photos of Emile Heskey and
recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before
Emile Heskey and how fabulous he really looked...
...Wayne Rooney is not as fat as you imagine.
Don't worry about the Goalkeeper; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to save a toe poke by bending down slightly too late.
The real troubles in your Goalkeeper's life are apt to be things like never catching a cross that turned out to be a shot; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Wednesday, like Spain.
Do one thing everyday that scares John Terry.
Don't be reckless with other people's Cheap Supermarket Car Flags, don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.
Don't waste your time on North Korea; sometimes They're ahead, sometimes They're armed with rusty nuclear weapons...
The game is long, and in the end, it's only with Renta-Chinaman Supporter being told when to cheer.
Remember the compliments your team receive, forget the adverts and endorsements; if you succeed in doing this, tell me how.
Keep your old Football Shirts, throw away your old football pants.
Don't feel guilty if you don't know what team are the Blue ones
...the most interesting teams I know don't know who their own number 22 is; or what their girlfriends really wanted to do with their lives.
Some of the most interesting 40 year old WaG's still don't.
Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees, you'll miss them when they're gone. Just ask Ledley King.
Maybe we'll Win, maybe we Won't, maybe we'll have penalties, maybe
we won't, maybe we'll beat Brazil, and just maybe Nelson Mandela will dance the funky chicken on his 100th birthday...
What ever you do, don't congratulate Fabio Capello too much or berate him either - his team selections are half chance, so are everybody else's.
Enjoy your Vuvuzela, use it every way you can...don't be afraid of it, or what other people think of it, it's the greatest instrument you'll ever
Dance...even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room.
Read the Referee's Names, even if you don't follow them. Do NOT read Greeks, they will only make you feel dizzy.
Get to know your French team, you never know when they'll be gone for good.
Be nice to the Australians; they are the best link to Football Past and the
people most likely we'll beat in the future.
Understand that World Cups come and go, but for the precious few wins you should hold on.
Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle and speech impediments because the older your favourite player gets, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.
Watch the Italians once, but leave before it makes you bored; Watch Slovakia once, but leave before it makes you squeamish.
Accept certain inalienable truths, Balls will rise, Coaches will philander, Gerrard too will get old, and when he does he'll fantasize that when he was young balls were reasonably heavy, Linesmen were noble and he could actually see Lampard.
Respect the Scottish Supporters. Don't expect them to support you.
Maybe you have a Flat screen TV, maybe you have a HDTV subscription; but you never know when either one might cut to an advert for a car.
Don't mess too much by styling your hair like David Beckham, or by the time you're 40, it will look like Ken Dodd.
Be careful whose Tickets you buy, but, be patient with those who supply it. Especially if your salesman is Robbie Earle
Lineker is a form of nostalgia, presenting Match of the Day is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than
it's worth. Like Adrian Chiles.
But trust me on the World Cup Football...
The Queen has two birthdays. One her actual birthday, the other because of a significant date in the year.
I like the sound of this philosophy, so I have deemed my phone upgrade day as a second birthday, because you can go out and get something new for sort-of free.
I know it's not actually free, because I pay monthly, just like the Queen does for contracts of a different sort, it's just that mine is £35 per month and the Queen's is at least £15000 per year.
My most recent celebrations resulted in me coming home with a HTC Desire Smartphone - I was happy with the T-Mobile G1 that had been my companion for the previous year, with it's big, clunky keyboard for my clumsy digits to paw at, but the time had come for me to reclaim some pocket space and go for a more stream-lined design.
HTC are trying very hard, I was informed by a somewhat over-zealous sales child, at replacing the Apple iPhone as the commuter's first choice of travelling buddy, and this particular phone is the mostest new and posh.
The Desire runs with a 1Ghz Snapdragon processor, which is more megagiggleboots more than any other smartphone processor on the market, but whilst it's capable of most things, it will not breathe fire, live by the sea nor look pretty in your garden, which was a shame for me, and difficult for the salesman to overcome so he moved on to talking about the touch screen.
We both agreed, it was a very large screen indeed.
The admiration of the screen didn't end with the 3.7" size though.
New fangled modern diva-Screens are more than to be just looked at these days, and the screen on the HTC Desire requires, nay expects, more than a prod or a poke. This screen has feelings, darling.
To make it zoom in, you can gently tap twice, or go a bit Minority Report and use two fingers in a reverse-pinchy motion, although this will lead to you squishing heads on any photos you look at. The screen also knows which way up you're holding the phone, with some inner gyroscopic device, possibly hanging around the Dragons neck, so you can tip and tilt stuff to your hearts desire.
And it's also 'Amoled'. Much to some dismay.
To everyone's vivid relief, I left the shop, new phone boxed and bagged, signed up for 2 whole years, and on Orange, not T-Mobile, owing to some ridiculous availability issues that meant the phone I had, in my hand, I wasn't allowed to have unless I switched operators, no matter how much I protested.
My old G1 ran on the Android Operating System, and this eased my transition into the Desire as this also runs Android, only now I'm in control of the 2.1 version, and not the clearly outdated 1.0.
Probably the most noticeable difference is the choice of not one, not four, not six, but seven marvellous home screens, allowing you to display everything from your calendar events, to recent text messages, to a big clock that doubles as a local or international weather man, for those international weather emergencies. No mention of any Ash, however.
Any spare spaces on the home-screen display can be filled with an array of further choices of widgets, shortcuts and folders.
The problem that this presents is deciding which shortcuts and widgets you deem more important to your daily life than the others.
HTC pre-empt you somewhat by having pre-loaded Scenes for things like 'Work' that has a preset stocks and shares display, which will come in very handy for all the teachers out there, or 'Social' that includes the 'FriendStream' application readily placed to stream updates from all the major social network sites, so you can keep up to date with people you barely know, and some you wish you did know. I like 'Blank'.
The Android Market is still accessible on the Desire, where games and downloads are available, and mostly free of any charge. My favourites so far have to be Layar, which is exactly like a pointless 3d x-ray map, the Nav Launcher, for when I'm lost and need a robotic voice to guide me home, and Music Junk, where pretty much any music track you can think of is available for free download, although I'm not sure how legal this is, and whether or not I'll be going to prison, for the meantime I'm saving a fortune on Itunes.
Android being a Google by-product, Gmail is the default mail server for the phone, and even though everyone I've met has told me how easy it is to synchronise my other email accounts to the phone, this is something which requires the advanced knowledge of someone like a 10 year old, not me.
I intended to keep up to date with work emails through using this phone as I did my G1, and logging into my work Emails through a secure website, but for reasons that nobody has yet been able to explain to me, I only get an error message when I try and log on. Phone says no. There's talk of setting me up as a "Push" email account, but it's around about here that I glaze over and think of what I had for last night's tea.
Generally, everything that was good about the G1 has been carried onto the HTC Desire, and even using a keyboard that isn't really there hasn't resulted in too much gobbledegook in messages I've sent thanks to the wonders of predictive text that now assumes when you type 'dfsr' you actually meant to put 'yes'.
The Achilles heel of the G1, however, was the battery life, and it's no different with the Desire either - If you spend the morning and evening commute listening to music, the odd bit of internet browsing, and maybe a game of Chess, then you should fully expect to be cut off that evening whilst talking to your mother on the first phone call you'll have made all day.
I'm not one for extreme hyperbole, but the battery life is truly deeply harrowing.
When using the Maps Application, or the Sat Nav download, you should really sing the countdown theme tune in your head so you know how long you've got left of the juice in the battery. Laughably, the manufacturers claim 15 days of standby time. I'm assuming these are Jupiter days.
I'm becoming more pleased with my phone, as I get more used to using it, and there are several people whom I've unwittingly called from within my pocket without the use of my conscience who are also pleased I'm progressing.
Sadly, I've had to cancel next years second birthday because due to legal reasons.
If you want to know more about specifications and stuff, goto http://www.htc.com/www/product/desire/overview.html
We found ourselves amongst a psyched up mob at the boarding gates of London Luton airport, waiting to board the 6-seater/unlimited-standing bus and watching our fellow travellers exhibiting all the tactical posturing rituals that are now employed when you are in the final moments before the every-man-woman-pensioner-corpse-and-child-for-themselves scramble across the Tarmac and up the staircase and into the seats of the inevitable Easyjet flight.
The usual silent inner-monologue-bickering simmered but never boiled, and everyone took their seats, safe in the knowledge that this is an Easyjet aeroplane, and they're cheap, so the flights are short, and they'd all be going their separate ways in safety pretty soon.
This time though, and I'm not making this up, about half of the passengers audibly groaned when they seemingly discovered, thanks to the anxious-looking cabin crew, that this time, they were having you survive an exposure to Orange for 5 hours.
It takes 5 Hours to get to Egypt, because Egypt is in Africa, don't you know?
I actually enjoyed the flight, as my personal pet hate on flights is when the dwarf in the seat ahead of me reclines to the fullest and most unnecessary of degrees.
Sit up straight man! We are not going to the moon! Is something I've never said out loud.
Easyjet resolve this issue ingeniously by welding the seats in one position.
"Hinges are clearly more costly, sell them on ebay. But we'll leave the buttons in the chair arm anyway, because that'll be more fun".
5 hours of Ipod Shuffling and one pre-packed lunch later we landed on the smoothest runway I've ever known. Which was despite the Pilot's best efforts to gouge a dent on the touchdown, or more accurately, just 'The Down'.
3 inches shorter, we were feeling under prepared for what was facing us, even after the wild melee to board the aircraft at Luton.
That was a mere appetiser for what we about to be launched into at Sharm-el-Sheikh cattle market. AKA Arrivals.
I knew we were supposed to get a visa on arrival for around £10, and the mushy queues at the various desks informed us that most other people in the airport had also been told they'd need a visa too.
What they don't tell you, is which window from the choice of 20 or more are you supposed to go to, and when things involve windows and passports, I always like to know I'm not signing up for the local armed services.
We eventually settled on the only window that was displaying a price, $15, before we stood behind a Russian family who either didn't know how to queue efficiently, or were some sort of KGB blocking party, as they proceeded to allow half of Moscow to go ahead of us in the line, thus turning our short line into something resembling the queue outside the Leningrad branch of Greggs in 1989.
Lumbered with nothing but large value crispy new banknotes, I handed over 400 Egyptian pounds, roughly £45, and got a sum of change that could only mean the GBP was worth less than a dollar. There were Russians around, and I didn't want to make them wait any more, and the Visa window man's job description also meant he was allowed to have a gun, so I opted to grumble quietly rather than harrumph out loud and turned to be faced with another crowd of people, waiting to get the Visas we'd just bought, to be stamped. It's still unclear to me as to why the man who sold me my Visa, and was entrusted with firearms, wasn't also able to be entrusted with a rubber stamp.
Half an hour on the transfer coach saw us dropped off at our base for the next 7 days, the Park Inn Hotel, located in the utterly unpronounceable Nabq Bay area of Sharm el Sheikh.
Considering that Sharm el Sheikh was little more than a village in 1982, the area has undergone an outrageous amount of development into the beast it presents these days.
Our hotel came with it's own waterpark and it's own private area of beach. It was apparent that many of the guests here were entering through these gates of the resort with no intention of leaving them again for at least the next seven days.
Our room was on the third floor, the highest you can go, and was one of over 400 others that made up The Park, described as a 5 Star, but the facilities and fixtures were more equivalent to a Spanish 3 star, on the basis that Spanish 3 Stars are the same as English 2 Stars, or Greek 8 stars.
First impressions of the immediate area that surrounds the resort, and pretty much every resort in Nabq Bay might explain why the leatherettes wouldn't leave the free bar.
Aside from a few tourist-trap trinket shops, and several supermarkets that were so tidily presented it hinted toward the fact that perhaps opening a shop surrounded by All Inclusive hotels was possibly not the best business decision, there was almost nothing but sand and mountainous vistas for daylight hours, and nothing but inky darkness at night.
There is essentially one road that runs through the centre of Sharm, with resorts on either side, and the majority of bars and shops are in Na'ama Bay.
Na'ama Bay has shiny shopping centres and a few indoor markets and we took the hotel bus one evening for £5 each, after being quoted a cost of £40 by a man in a leather jacket who hung around the hotel lobby and called himself a 'Limo Driver' - Limo in this case being stretched metaphorically rather than actually to include a Toyota Avensis.
Right in the centre of Na'ama was unexpectedly familiar, as from the roof terrace of the rather marvellous Camel Club bar, you can point to a Mcdonalds, a Hard Rock Cafe, a Funky Buddha and a Pacha Nightclub, and then walk to them all within 2 minutes of descending the stairs. A true home away from home for the Sloane Rangers. Funky Buddha is also a club/bar, there wasn't a monk playing bass guitar.
Separating these western names were several shisha pipe cafe's - shisha pipes being hugely popular in Edgware Road, North London, and the idea has clearly travelled well over to here too, because they were all at it, even the waiters, who (altogether now...) would hook a hookah pipe a up for you, demonstrated their undiminished lung capacities by inhaling from the giant bong contraption and exhaling tremendous amounts of smoke. Or steam. Or whatever it is.
I had Melon flavoured mist, and it was as weird as I hoped it would be, but my tongue did taste like a rancid Galia for the rest of the night.
On the days where we weren't on a boat pursuing turtles and diving certificates, we spent by one of the 3 pools that were around the hotel, and it was here where we discovered why the Russians couldn't queue properly. They were posing for photographs. With hindsight, the Airport experience probably means I'm part of several KGB Family portraits.
All around the pool, there were Russian women reclining on the grass or lifting one leg up and leaning a bit, or turning their heads in odd ways, whilst their speedo clad boyfriends took pictures on his SLR camera. All the poses gave the impression that there are more sequences in their collection of photos that haven't yet been taken.
The hilarity of our soviet cousins photography habits pales into insignificant disbelief when you are amongst an 80/20 minority and the complexity of standing in a queue outfoxes the 80% contingent once again, and there is a somewhat haphazard arrangement to the buffet restaurant whereby the 20% of British guests form a rudimentary and sporadic queue while the Russians interject randomly to pile onto their plate whatever the selection on the end of the spoon might be - traditional food combinations are not adhered to, such as Jelly and bread with chicken wings and rice, nor are painstakingly carved displays sacred. One night, one man with a short neck and square haircut had to be physically discouraged from tucking into the giant watermelon that was carved into a boat.
Entertainment aside, the food in the hotel wasn't fantastic, so we elected one night to eat at a restaurant in Na'ama Bay called Pomodoro, which served italian, and with delicious quality that meant we went back for a second go the very next night - both meals with drinks coming to less than £30 for both of us - and not a food fight brewing anywhere to be seen.
Excursions into the desert were available, and readily so from the gaggle of reps in the apparently one-stop hotel lobby, by either quad bike or camel, depending on your Laurence of Arabia or Mad Max aspirations, followed by an evening with some surprisingly immobile Nomads, and some star gazing at the unpolluted night skies, or to the nearby St Katharine's Monastery, which sounds like an oxymoron, but it actually exists, both for around £15-£30 each, or for slightly more expenditure, there's Cairo by aeroplane, or for the geographically naive, Cairo By Bus. In a Day. A 23 hour long day trip, with less than a third of that in Cairo itself.
Once again though, the fact I was underwater most of the time meant we did none of these, much to some dismay of the valiant sales people.
As a destination, Sharm El Sheikh offers little more than the Red Sea coastline that it stretches along, and if you're a diver, then it is highly recommended, although in summer, the boats, and consequantly the popular dive sites, are very busy, and overcrowded, like Stoney Cove on a Bank Holiday Weekend. We were there in March, when the waters are more quiet, but the coral is less vibrant than in the summer months. If you're not a diver, or someone who likes snorkelling, then either expect to spend a lot of time by the beach, or on a boat, or by the pool, because there's not much else for you to do.
To experience Egypt properly, you would have to travel to Cairo for longer than a few hours, or by a cruise from Luxor.
Sharm el Sheikh is a product of modern tourism, and lacks a heart on dry land, relying instead on the milking the pockets of self contained underwater breathing enthusiasts.
I could have loved it.
I say 'Philatelist!'
They say 'Not Likely!'
You say 'What?'
I once got a badge at Cubs for stamp collecting, and I always felt like a little bit of a fraud.
Some time before I was Eight, I received from somewhere and someone some sort of gift for an obviously unmemorable occasion that was a starters kit for stamp collecting.
All my subsequent uninvited stamps were torn off the envelopes of my Gran's post or the occasional inheritance of some other kid's collection who'd finally come clean with their parents and admit that it's a boring hobby and they hated it with a passion.
I'd never actually started collecting, and very quickly I had thousands of the damn things, Including a photocopy of a picture of a Penny Black, and a sheet of patently worthless Penny Reds.
Luckily, I managed not to drown under a sea of stamps and now, I feel I can look myself in the mirror and Proudly call myself a Philatelist without feeling any shame.
Though actually, technically I can't because my sort of Philatley isn't in the 11 Official types of Philatelists according to the French, who are apparently King of Stamps, just because I collect Passport Stamps off of my travels, and no longer Pre-paid British Gas corners.
I say 'It's happened again!'
They say 'You're either Lucky or Possessed'
You say 'Explain. Quickly.'
I have magic powers like David Blaine only better, that mean street lamps sometimes go out when I walk under them. I converted a collection of doubters when once, in Turkey, I was telling of this power to some friends of how street lamps go out when, mid-flow, the whole street we were on went dark.
It happens probably once a month in various places, and I'm not restricted to controlling Northern Hemisphere Lights, because I was very unpopular with the Prostitutes in Borneo too.
Unfortunately, I have not yet figured out how to control this power, and it mostly happens when no-one else is around, although it's always at night.
It hasn't happened in the daytime as of yet, but I'll keep you posted.
I say 'Habla Espanol?'
They say '!SI Claro!!' closely followed by something in Spanish I don't understand.
You say "Hasta Luego."
Even though I only have a rudimentary grip of the Spanish language, I still insist on asking, in Spanish, any Spanish looking people I meet if they can speak Spanish.
My motive is the urge to converse with them and slowly improve my mastery of foreign verbs, but as I learned most of my Spanish whilst working in hotel, as soon as the topic of conversation moves away from food or weather, if I'm tired or not, directions to the post office or train station, and cleanliness of bedrooms or bathrooms, I'm stumped.
I have also been known to enthusiastically say "Habla Espanol?" to people who are struggling to communicate in English, to receive the responses of:
"I'm Polish" Only then did I notice the POLSKA emblazoned on his tracksuit.
"I'm from Liverpool, you twonk"
I can't speak Farsi and I've never been to Farsiland.
One of these days, I'll get one of those knocks on the head where you wake up fluent in another language.
Or all crazy artist like.
I say 'Awight Lad?'
They say 'Pseudo-Southerner!'
You say 'Barrymore?'
I'm a proud northerner from a village near Manchester which was originally made infamous in the 1960's as the area where the Moors Murderer Ian Brady lived. This level of infamy was turbo-refreshed more recently when Dr Harold Shipman - our village's jovial GP - was found to be all murdery and psychopathic.
Before the next loon decided that Children and the Over 50's had been Ramsay inspired 'Done' and moved on to the 18-40 age group, I left the locals in peril to be employed overseas and eventually returned to live just north of the M25, which is well amongst the lager and wine drinkers, and where the beer glasses never, ever have handles or wobbly windows.
I've lived in "The South" for the past 7 years, which works out in a complicated mathematical fraction as 7/31ths of my life, and sneakily, it's had a minor impact on my accent. Innit.
However, like an expensive opalescent ear paint, how my accent is heard depends on where you are standing.
If you are currently from anywhere from Daventry upwards (The place on the M1 where the general direction of "The North" disappears from the road signs and is replaced with actual places) you will consider me to sound rather southern, whereas everyone from Daventry down* will wonder what I'm on about, as I'm clearly a flat vowelled manchurian.
*Please note, these rules only apply in England, and also exclude Cornwall, Devon, Bristol, and Norfolk, as everyone knows you talk weird anyway. I tells you, Me Luvver.
I say a complicated similie or analogy.
They say 'You started off at a bit wierd, but I now fully understand'
You say 'Sounds Dull'
I can't talk in a straight line, so I'm often told I'll use 100 words when 10 would do, so I'll keep this explanation short.
25 words, infact. Not including these words.
Three Divers are on board a boat, One diver is a complete beginner, one is a BSAC diver, and there's one PADI diver.
The boat hits some rocks and rapidly begins to sink, so the three men start to debate the best route out of their situation.
The complete beginner wants to dump all of his gear, and swim to the shore.
The BSAC diver wants to put on all his kit, except his weight belt and amble in inflated safety across the surface, without forfeiting any of his precious, costly equipment.
The PADI diver ask the other two for £20 each and starts a briefing for a Wreck Dive.
Back in the late 1990s, when the Film Titanic was rapidly taking over the world, I qualified as a BSAC Sport Diver, which in English meant I was deemed competent enough to be allowed to dive to a maximum depth of 50 metres, but this came only after I had completed several hours of classroom theory, swimming pool practise sessions, and shallow 6 to 10 metre dives, under the watchful eye of several bearded men with big watches.
I was 16 when I first qualified as a novice and 18 when I turned Sport, and dived fairly regularly for the next 5 years, dutifully paying my annual membership to the British Sub-Aqua Club, annual subscription to the local Dive School, and all the other costs that come with most extreme sports pursuits, like beer and pies and extraneous carabiners.
The costs, and the bitterly cold water that we're blessed with in the U.K. - The River Ouse numbed my gums once - sort of got in the way of the hobby, and I resorted to becoming a "fair-weather" holiday diver - once or twice a year around whichever sea we happen to be staying nearest to.
For a few years, I was a very naughty boy, and dived essentially unqualified - I had lost my log books and qualification book in a house move - this usually involved the first dive of the day being a 'beginner' dive - these are designed for first time-divers, and get pretty tedious after the fourth or fifth time, before I was then allowed to mooch around at slightly better depths where the sea life is generally more varied and the dives more challenging and enjoyable.
Then, in 2006, I paid my first visit to Turkey, where seemingly the rules of Diving Governance are slightly more lapse and I was joyously floating around amongst slightly more experienced divers, and it was marvellous considering I was still without any proper, valid diving badges.
On our last visit, in 2008, all I'd had to do to prove my sub-aquatic prowess was to put my own kit together, heck, if you watch enough films, anyone could do that bit, before we leapt off the back of a boat without a hint of any sort of pre-dive briefing that would have let me know we about to descend to 32 metres - about 100 feet, before swimming through a submerged cave system, and emerging into a 'blue hole' where the light streams through a natural hole in the cliff face or landscape, giving a two-tone appearance to the water which was an amazingly spectacular sight, and precisely the type of dive I had always wanted to experience, but I was also very aware of the situation I was in, and knew I was pushing the limits of my own abilities somewhat. By the time I'd come to this conclusion, however, we were already on our ascent to the surface.
Dive two of the same day was what is known as a 'drift' dive, where essentially you descend to depth in a strong current, and ride the crest, going deeper to slow down and shallower to speed up. Drift dives are ordinarily laid back affairs, as you don't have to do much energy sapping swimming, which means you use less of the air in the tank strapped to your back, resulting in a longer dive, and ergo more fishy visions.
At 9 metres down, and at around 25 minutes, halfway into the dive, the needle on the gauge that told me how much air I had left in the tank made an almighty swoop from 120Bar to 40Bar.
A dive begins with around 200Bar, and you expect to complete a dive with a minimum of 50Bar. I made a calm "Low Air" hand signal to the accompanying Instructor, who looked a touch nonplussed, but it's difficult to then further communicate
"It's not my fault, the gauge must have been faulty"
in a hand signal that would be understood by an underwater Turkish man, without risking some serious offence being taken.
Within a few minutes, in which we were making a somewhat longer ascent than I'd expected considering the diving equivalent of the fuel light was shining brightly on my dash, the needle began to dip with every breath, and this meant only one thing - I was actually running out of actual air, like right there and right then, and we were still at 7 metres.
7 metres may not sound too deep, but the atmospheric changes in pressure in the first ten metres are effectively double those of the surface, so it would have been pretty risky to just 'pop-up' to the surface, and we'd been to 28 metres at the beginning of the dive, which meant a 3 minutes 'safety stop' at 5 metres.
I ended the dive wide-eyed and supping the air from the bright yellow spare regulator attached to the instructors gear. While these regulators are designed and carried for exactly this purpose, I never thought I'd actually have to use one in anger, so to speak.
The whole day's experience didn't put me off diving for life, like it possibly could have done to some, but it was definitely time to go 'official' if only for the insurance benefits, and dive with the confidence of a credit-card sized ID in my wallet, nailing my diving flag firmly to the PADI mast.
PADI are a world-wide diving brand, and armed with one of their cards, you can be accepted into experienced groups of divers of similar abilities to your own across the planet without having to complete 3 metre beginner dives, nor ask around the boats in the harbour for a captain who's willing to take a skinny Brit out for a days diving without any kind of accompanying formal paperwork.
PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors http://www.padi.com) offer a thorough range of learn-to-dive courses, including the one which most suited and interested me - namely the Advanced Open Water Diver certificate.
Perversely, having done some 30-odd dives technically completely unqualified, and a further 60 whilst a legally wet teenager, I only had to complete a total of 7 dives, including a brief swim in a swimming pool, along with a 40 question multiple choice quiz, before I was allowed to call myself an "advanced" PADI diver.
One thing that I had learned from my past experiences, was that diving in clear, warm water is far more fun than diving in murky, seaweed-laden beaches off Moelfre in Anglesey. Even when you do run out of that most precious, life giving air.
This is why I chose to take my qualifying dives in the coral-tastic Sharm-El-Sheikh Red Sea region of Egypt - an area often hailed as a Mecca for divers who've never dived in the Caribbean, or Malay.
For USD$400, I was booked for a total of 1 day shore diving - 2 dives - to complete a SCUBA review to refresh my basic skills (again) and then 2 full days on a boat to complete the 5 dives necessary to call myself advanced, the price including the course fees, although the PADI manual was a further USD$25, the Diving Equipment USD$20 a day, and then USD$5 to have my photo taken on a digital camera - £20 each was clearly a special offer-price for a PADI wreck dive.
Payment aside, I was here for the diving.
First up, the SCUBA Review - this is compulsory for divers who are already qualified, but haven't dived for over a year, or for those who are wanting to transfer their skills from one recognised diving qualification to a PADI certificate. During a SCUBA review, you are required to refresh your skills including:
Safe diving practices
Dive planning fundamentals
Breathing air at depth (this is particularly helpful)
Recreational diving and dive tables. (basic knowledge and dive planning)
This manifests itself in the aforementioned quiz, and going up and down a pool in amongst the discarded plasters and thonged Russian women whilst showing no signs of panic or PTSD; followed, for us, by a 16 metre dive off the shore and a swim along the coral where the spiny and predator-less Lion Fish lurk, and the Anemonefish, or 'Nemo' as they're now known are fair prey.
I was joined on my SCUBA Review by two French men - a father and son team - which meant I had to wait for the instructor to explain our skills tests in French, before he'd tell me in English afterwards.
Papa was a competent and confident diver, but Nicole (I've changed their names to protect their modesty) was, at one point, totally out of his depth, and we were still in the pool. During the actual shore dive, Nicole was floundering like a mutated, man-sized kipper. Even some of the fish were looking on bemused. Thankfully for me, he safely completed the dive, and wasn't due to be joining us on the boat for the following day's activities.
The Advanced Open Water course is made up from 5 "skills" to practise, with 2 of the 5 being compulsory, and the remaining 3 being left up to me to choose from a list of 16 all together. Before you are allowed to partake in the diving, there are several Knowledge Tests to complete in the Manual, a lot like getting homework from school really, except sunnier.
The compulsory Adventure Dives are Underwater Navigator and Deep Diver.
For the former, I had to use a compass and a rudimentary knowledge of cub-scouting to swim in a big-ish square or a triangle, before paying attention to where my route was taking me, rather than being distracted by the fish. At some point during the dive, the instructor will ask you, through making a "cupped hand" hand-gesture and an inquisitive shrug of shoulder and tilt of head, to find your way back to the boat.
I've been lost in Kings Cross enough times to know the "left, left and left again" foolproof routine way of getting unlost from even the most lost of lostness. The most challenging part of this Dive was when, on returning to where we thought our boat was anchored, we were looking up at the hulls of four identical diving boats.
Nick, Nack, Paddywhack. Middle One.
Deep Diver takes you to 30 metres, the maximum depth that this level of qualification allows, and you do a couple of science-inspired experiments, like filling an empty water bottle with air at an underwater atmospheric pressure 4 times greater than the surface, and also looking at a tomato at 30 metres, followed by exercises to demonstrate that being at this depth hasn't made you lose your marbles, or co-ordination.
Tomato Observation may not sound exactly awe inspiring, but it is.
Honestly. They change colour and everything.
Well, they change colour. The light refraction through the water makes them look green. Woop.
Other than safely ascending from the dive, and taking in the sights like shoals of Tuna and the truly massive and lumpy headed Napoleon Fish, the Deep Dive is pretty straight forward. If you ignore the increased chances of suffering Nitrogen Narcosis.
For my remaining 3 dives, I chose Boat Diver (point out the bits of a boat - where's the 'Head' anyone?), Drift Diver (as explained earlier, only this time without the near-drowning) and Underwater Naturalist (point out 3 types of fish and show you recognised them at the end of the dive)
Other choices included Nitrox or 'Enriched' Air diving, Night Diver (no post-dive sun-bathing opportunity), Underwater Photographer (underwater camera required), Wreck Diving and Multilevel Diving amongst the list of 16.
The highlight of the three days, amongst a collection of highlights, would have to have been during the Drift Dive to 30 metres alongside a wall of Coral - imagine floating alongside a flowery cliff face with nothing but deep blue beneath you - and then seeing a Turtle.
I've always wanted to see a turtle in a dive - I've seen them from boats and harbours before, but never in underwater motion, and it still gives me a warm feeling that is not at all related to having a wee in my wetsuit.
My dives and course completed, an online form was filled out, and I received confirmation of my qualification through Email from PADI, and can expect my card to be delivered to my home within 90 days.
I have to dive at least once every six months to avoid having to repeat the SCUBA Review, but otherwise I'm now qualified for life, which can only be a good thing.
Luckily, I'm not due to be in warmer climbs for another 94 days, so even if it comes late, I'm still armed and ready, Like a proper Turtle.
Whilst discussing the recent inclemency of the weather with my pint-sized nan, I recalled a story to her about being sat on a Pallet and taken to Primary School by being dragged behind a lemon yellow Land Rover that wound its way through my snowbound village picking up kids along the way.
She insisted that this must have been during the big snowfall of 1964, even though my dad would have only been 13 years old himself back then.
This conversation, and nothing else, inspired me to go a bit Danny Wallace and book a last minute weekend trip to Edinburgh, all the way in Scotland which I'm recently reliably informed is actually firmly ensconced in the year 2010, but is still a city that probably won't be ready until about 2011, if you're planning on anything other than walking, such is the supposed blight of current central road works to install a tram network, and was the sole topic of conversation for the 20 minute taxi-hop from airport to our Hotel on George Street, which was helpfully called The George Hotel. Upsetting for Zippy, but easy to remember after a night on the tiles. There were roadworks, but no cars to be jammed so we didn't really notice any inconveniences.
Edinburgh City Centre is a relatively easy place to navigate around, especially when your hotel is right in the middle of town - I could tell it was the middle because there was a building that looked like it used to be a courthouse but is now a Wine Bar and a Hard Rock Café directly across the street, and they only build these things in the middle of cities.
We went straight out into the chilly drizzle to have a wander up The Mound towards Edinburgh Castle, and from the winding side street on the steep hill, Scotland's Capital's Castle looked quite a lot like the D'alt Villa in Ibiza Town. And that's a good thing.
We were aiming to get to the Castle to see the famed 1 O'clock gun firing, but as we arrived at the car park, walking apace, it turned out that my watch was some 5 minutes slow as the gun went off. Except it wasn't slow if I'd went into the train station, which runs a clock 2 minutes slower than the gun, to make travellers feel like they have more time to catch their train. I'd still have missed my train by 3 minutes.
We poked around the visitor centre and were beguiled by the number of foreign tourists, I've felt less lost amongst hyper-tourism at Trafalgar Square.
Leading away from the Castle are an assemblage of roads that are collectively known as the Royal Mile, offering the very best in Cashmere Jumpers, Diana Memorial Tartan and night time ghost tours.
The Royal Mile caters to the tourist exceptionally well, and there's a spur road off of it that had shops that would suit Goths and Students alike. Back across the bridge we took refuge from the drizzle in a shopping centre that was arranged so that all the posh shops like Harvey Nichols and Jenners were just around the outside of it, but not inside. Very thoughtful, to keep all the Chavs out of sight so not to distract the tourists from the impressive architecture of the New Town, which is a minor misnomer for this part of the city as it was built by short men in tall hats in the late 1700s. So not new at all, but mightily impressive all the same.
On the Weekend we were there, all of the locals were getting ready to celebrate Burns Night, which sounds like you'll end up dancing round with a fire blanket before spending a night in A&E, but the meal I went to was an even more bizarre experience than that.
Rabbie Burns, (not Rabbi Burns, he's not a Jewish Holy man) was an 18th Century Poet who is probably best known for writing the words to Auld Lang Syne, even though the music that made it popular was actually written by William Shield, off of Newcastle, in England.
Burns is seemingly the Scottish answer to Jesus, as there's an annual celebration on his birthday, where traditionally all Scots get together for a family meal, sing some songs, read some poetry and eat a lot of food, much like the Christmases in Chris a Colombus movie.
For my Burns experience, I booked a table at the Channings Hotel, which from the outside looks like an imposing terraced townhouse in Edinburgh's West End, and inside through a collection of corridors and narrow staircase that lead us down into a restaurant area. Waiting on our table was a glass of single malt whiskey, which I supped whilst waiting for the food to arrive.
Just as I licked the rim of the glass, a bagpipist sauntered in, playing a ditty, followed by a man with an enormous dead haggis on a platter and carrying a sword.
What followed, as the menu informed me, was a Selkirk Grace by Burns, and a Presentation of the Haggis, which was a very heavily accented poem or speech, or both before the Haggis was ceremonially sliced with the sword by the man in the Kilt. The pomp and circumstance surrounding the occasion created a buzzy and agreeable atmosphere, and when at the end of the speech, we toasted and drank to Mr Burns, I was downing my second malt Whiskey in ten minutes, on an empty stomach, and really rather enjoying myself.
Starters were Cock-a-leekie soup, with added medjool dates to make it both look posh and be more fibrous, followed by a fish course of smoked haddock, then the Haggis was served as a stuffing to the Chicken main course and the tasty sounding 'Neeps and tatties' but otherwise known as Turnips and Potatoes .
Haggis, a dish made from such contents that you don't want to know about, blended together with other herbs to create a deliciously spicy but oddly textured flavour that was strangely moreish whilst at the same time unsure if I actually liked it.
Tell your kids, and any visiting American Tourists on adjacent tables that the best way to catch a Haggis is to chase one around a hill anti-clockwise as their right legs are longer than their left, so they fall over.
Don't tell them what it's really made from, however nice it might be.
After the cheese and desert courses were more speeches and poetry, before a folk band stirred the whiskey in everyone so much that they got up and went to the bar as one. We were full of local cheer and traditions so got up and returned to our hotel bar to drink Myties before bed.
My stay in Scotland's capital was somewhat last minute, but we still managed to have an original and memorable experience with still accepting we were missing out on many more sights to see, such as the Zoo. Or the Scottish Parliament. Where you can see Chimpanzees, apparently.
I'd go again.
All over Scotland, Scotonians are putting down their hypodermic needles, turning off their deep fat fryers and travelling as cheaply as possible to vote in their local elections, and the topic everyone is talking about is the burning desire for Scotlonia to become wholly independent and completely devolve from the United Kingdom.
If devolution were to happen, it would be a move that upsets many of the English folk whose taxes support the Haggis chasers north of the border, and offend the traditionalists who want to keep the United Kingdom, well, United.
If you ask me - and not many people have, hence why I'm writing this - I reckon good luck, bon voyage, see ya jimmy!
Don't get me wrong, I like the Scotch people. I especially like the one who put an advert in the local newspaper's Lost and Found section, stating:
"Lost - £5 note, sentimental value. No reward."
They've got all the mod-cons up there these days, This new-fangled double glazing is doing great in the hope that their children won't be able to hear the ice cream van.
There is of course, the argument that Scotland would lay claim to the North Sea Oil and if it were to devolve, then all the cash would come rolling in, making an oil-rich mini Dubai, and probably getting the majority of folk off the welfare. That is, If they pay for a stamp to send off the inevitable "Make me rich" form.
The problem is Scotland's payout from the Treasury. Run by that Proud Scotmanian Alistair, Darling, using pens and pencils formerly belonging to that other Scootchie Gordon Brown the payment roughly equal to the amount of taxes recovered from sales of the oil, so they'd be no better off.
Khazakstan has vast oil reserves, and you don't see many celebrities buying houses in the shapes of Sweden over there.
So, without Scotland and the Scottish to feel superior to, there would be a vacancy within the United Kingdom. If the Sugababes can change the line up of their band more frequently than a Mr Potatohead, then there is no reason why we couldn't replace Scotland.
And in my view there is only one candidate.
Come back home you American people!
I'm sure the Queen can forgive the little tantrum you call "Independence Day".
You can once again call yourselves British!
Let's face it, there'd be a few things to get used to at first.
Firstly, you'd all get a pay rise to about double your current wages when we abolish the silly Dollar and replace it with the good old Pound Sterling, complete with the Queens face on, just to remind you all of your affinity with the sovereign.
Or you could buy the Daily "Here's another picture of Diana" Express.
You'd also have to get your thinking hats on when the elections come around, because in Britain, our voting cards don't ask you to choose between a picture of an elephant or a drawing of a donkey.
There must be people in Ohio who think they've wandered into a restaurant and are their picking lunch.
Your under-complecated flag (designed by some bloke called Robert Heft with help from school kids. In Ohio.) would be turned into a garish curtain pattern, to be replaced with the resplendent Union Flag (the design of which created the laws of Trade Mark when, in the 1880's King Edward tried to change it - See? a) instant history and b) commercial aptitude without which there'd be no Microsoft)
The blue background that used to represent the St Andrew can be your bit.
In fact, you might as well have St Andrew too, because you'll need a new day to celebrate on instead of July 4th.
30th November is the new date for your diaries.
It would be the re-birth of the British Empire, only without the pesky slaves, because they tend to get restless.
What do you say?
I'm confident we can get the Extreme Makeover: Mountain Edition people involved to amend Mount Rushmore into a vista of the Beatles, or Monty Python.
After that, and giving the Frenchies their lady-statue back, you can finally lay claim to 'owning' Tower Bridge (by virtue of paying taxes to support the Monarchy, who would be looking after George Bush, who would be living in there at her Majesty's pleasure).
And us Brits would be able to travel freely across your land without fear of being sent to Guantanamo Bay if we arrive at LAX with a better sun tan than the Customs Officer/Struggling part time actor.
A is for Alphabet.
All managers should really know their Manager Alphabet, especially if they're School Managers, or an in Printing Manager.
If they're in neither of these things, then here is a handy guide to the other letters in that Alphabet.
NB. Not applicable in Greek Management.
B is for Bravery for Breakfast.
Not eating the one-hit Warblers on toast, for this would lead to your imprisonment within the Hospital of Mental Interest, but by being unafraid enough to stand out from the crowd, not by being the irritating one making a lot of noise, but by being the one stood at the front. To be original and outstanding you must be brave and it is always better to fail in originality than it is to succeed in imitation. Just ask Timmy Wholefinger.
C is for Communication
Like, get down with the lingo in the staff canteen, but make sure you're communicating as much with those who are above you as with those who are below. This is easier to achieve if you carry around a small set of step ladders, or feel comfortable in different social and professional situations, and can judge when and when not to unveil your impression of the CEO.
Communication skills are one of those life skills that can be continually improved through practice and whilst great communication alone doesn't make a great manager, it helps to keep the team motivated and the Board involved.
D is for Discipline
Discipline is not just to be metered out to the unruly late types or the hormonal teenagers whose social life overrides any responsibility that they may have imposed on themselves through first applying and then being paid for, their job.
Discipline is for you too, intrepid friend. No one likes to see their manager running around, waving their arms in the air, wailing and screaming and crying.
Think Like the Swan; appear graceful on the surface even though all the while, there's a panicky leg jive occurring behind the scenes.
E is for Echo-Location
You haven't got this.
So where is everybody? (See O is for Oh My God I've Lost My Staff)
F is for Favouritism
People or tasks. As a manager, it's easy to have favourite employees, you know, the ones who'll come in at short notice, or achieve your entire 'to do' list without being asked. If you must have favourites, try not to let it show, and under no circumstances should you sleep with them. As for favourite tasks, do these ones for yourself and Delegate out the rubbish stuff, for this is what is known as a 'Perk'.
G is for Get up and Go
Management need this in spades in order to be successful, and when all your get up and go has got up and left, you are occasionally rewarded with a seat on the Board of Directors.
H is for Honesty
Honest Bob was murdered for his Honesty, because honest Bob didn't understand the difference between being honest and being an utter blabbermouth. I killed Bob. Honest. Not Bob Honess. I didn't kill him.
I is for Integrity
This is the difference between Honesty and Murder. Several occasions of proven honesty, and they'll start to talk about the fact you have integrity. To have Integrity, your Honesty has to be Honest, and repeatedly so. With Honesty and Integrity comes a glittering political career.
J is for Jumping through Hoops
Every manager is managing for someone else. There are managers who believe they are the super duper ultimate ones in charge of everyone and everything, when in actuality they're just jumping through someone else's hoops. Remind them of this fact.
K is for Knowledge
Knowledge is Power, as Sir Francis Bacon said, and he didn't even have any HP Sauce. It's what you choose to do with the knowledge that counts. Share all of your knowledge all at once and you're no longer powerful, or are you now surrounded by experts?
L is for Laughter
Never ever laugh at an employee's hair, as this could lead to the Union getting involved. And whilst nobody wants David Brent as a boss, I heard that Mussolini was even less popular.
M is for Metaphor
Metaphorically speaking, it's simpler to insult people and educate them all at the same time. (See R is for Racecar).
Not to be confused with Semaphore, as it can take some time to insult people through Semaphore.
N is for Not Now.
It's very easy to say yes to everyone and make yourself popular amongst the masses who have all had all of their holiday requests authorised, but come August, and your office is entirely empty except for you and all the Japanese delegates, who is popular then? Not you.
Just say No (sometimes).
O is for Organisation (A.K.A Oh My God...)
Organising you work life is why your mum made you keep your bedroom tidy as a child. She probably said something like "Tidy room Tidy Mind." This is one of the unwritten secret parental codes edited out of Mr Miyage's monologue in The Karate Kid. If you're organised and you know what's happening to whom and when, you'll always be able to cope in crisis situations, and if all else fails, then use your Crane-Kick.
If you're a lucky manager, you'll have someone who is paid to do your organising for you, and in twenty years from know you'll have no idea when any spouse or family members birthdays are, as Enid will always have had them in her diary as the first entries of the year. I have a secretary, but she is based in India, I share her with three other people and our relationship essentially is, I ring her up and she tells me that I'm hard to get hold of, before she gives me the names of the other people who think I'm hard to get hold of, and then I ring them back. It's a bit like having a human missed call list.
P is for Planning.
While I do think rally drivers are very good at what they do, if it wasn't for the man sat in the passenger seat shouting directions, things would be moving slightly more slowly and cumbersome. Planning is available on an hourly, daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis, occasionally to be found in the company of O for Organisation.
Q is for Question.
There's no such thing as a Stupid Question, There's only Stupid Answers.
Ask No Questions and be told no Lies. But also be told nothing.
Ask lots of questions and you'll be lied to, given stupid answers, but you might just learn something too.
R is for Racecar.
Not only my favourite palindrome, but also, metaphorically speaking, how to tell someone that they're not very good at their job without necessarily using exactly those words.
You are the driver, but you're not going to get anywhere if you've got a wonky wheel, and sometimes you can be going at full speed when the wheel with a few loose nuts decides to let go and ruin everything.
S is for Semaphore.
See M is for Metaphor.
T is for Teamwork
'I' put the 'Me' in 'Team'.
A good team is made up of good individuals and a better than average leader. Especially one who can efficiently and effectively delegate all the important stuff to therefore avoid dangerous confrontations when it all goes wrong.
U is for Underestimate
Never underestimate that dog who cleans everywhere just with a dirty mop. Be underestimated yourself, so that when your time comes, you can throw off your robes and release your hidden inner talents at the right time. My tip is to learn Chinese to a fluent standard and then keep it quiet until your company goes global. Maybe reconsider this if you work at Greggs.
V is for Victim
'Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips'
Victims are rarely memorable in management, so try and avoid quoting the bible wherever possible and if the problems are all your fault, don't complain about them; fix them.
W, X, Y, and Z are restricted access, and access is denied. Sorry. You'll just have to get a bit higher up the stepladder.
I've never done one of these before, so at the end of the day before the dust has settled and the cows have come home to roost amongst the madmen swinging from the rafters I thought I'd throw myself full force into a giant golden ball of cliche and join in.
*** What did you do in 2009 that you have not done before? ***
There were lots of firsts this year, but the biggest first would have to be getting married, because I know I've definitely never done that before and I also ate new and exotic meats in new and exotic places. Like Haggis, In Scotland.
*** Did anyone close to you give birth? ***
There was a woman on the Tube who recommended that she be given a seat or otherwise she'd give birth right there and then. I wasn't a seated one undergoing a moral dilemma but folded against the Plexiglas partition, so had she gone through with it, I'd have been very close to her indeed, with an unnecessarily clear view.
*** Did anyone close to you die? ***
There was a man on the tube again, who looked fairly dead, but he was just asleep, and very drunk. The drool gave him up.
I was on my way in to work and he was on his way home. I was Lucky.
*** What countries did you visit? ***
Scotland, Italy, China, Hong Kong, Borneo, Sri Lanka, Qatar and Plymouth.
Stag weekend, Birthday, Honeymoon, Holiday, Stopover and I forget why I went to Plymouth but I wrote all about the other ones. Except Qatar, but then there's not a lot to say other than Sandy.
*** What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009? ***
The ability to freeze time and fiddle with things.
Salt for pepper, Alberto Balsam for Veet and such like. Otherwise I'm not lacking any faculties.
*** What dates will you remember from 2009? ***
3rd May was my wedding day, and I'm now genetically modified to remember this date forever. My birthday morning in China, then flying to Hong Kong in the afternoon was memorable, possibly the furthest I've ever travelled on my birthday.
*** Did you suffer illness or injury? ***
Even though I had 14 injections against disease and have spent 6 weeks taking Malaria tablets this year, I still managed to catch the highly fashionable Swine Flu in the summer and thought I was going to die for 4 days, and then spent another 5 days at home under Doctors orders, and bored. I also ate something in China that messed with my combobulator so much that I was entirely discombobulated, although that may have been the Chinese Herbal pills that they insisted I took 4 of, all at the same time.
*** What was the best thing you bought? ***
Nixon the teak elephant who sits looking at our front door after being carried halfway around the world in a carrier bag.
*** Whose behaviour has merited celebration? ***
My hair follicles have been outstanding this year, I'm the first male in our family to have reached 30 and still be able to wear a parting in my hair that doesn't leave a gap in the middle.
*** Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed? ***
As I don't read the Daily Mail, other people's behaviour doesn't often appal me and I'm not one for depressing at either. I was a little disappointed that the goalkeeper of Barcelona chose not to allow Manchester United to win the champions league. That's as close to being depressed I've been.
*** Where did most of your money go? ***
This is easy. I stopped looking at the numbers in the wedding costs. They were too complicated, but every time I looked at them, they were bigger than the previous time I'd looked at them, so under this logic, stop looking and they stop getting bigger and I save money.
*** What did you get really excited about? ***
Lesley Ash sat next to me on the train and I got a bit excited and nearly missed my stop. I didn't want to talk to her, even though she was sat on the edge of my coat and that was making me sort of lean into her. Talking would have just made things worse.
Walking on the Great Wall on China was something else that made me actually tingle. I was waving at all the astronauts on the Mir space station, but they didn't wave back. Normal Protocol would be to moon them.
*** What song(s) will you remember from 2009? ***
That one that goes Da Da Da Dah! Dahhhhhhhhh Da Da De Dee. And all the dancing dancers.
*** Compared to this time last year are you . . . happier, fitter, or more productive? ***
Can't it be all three? I'm more productive as I bought a new car and it doesn't break down at all so I end up arriving every time I set off for somewhere which wasn't always the case a year ago. Sometimes I couldn't set off at all.
*** What do you wish you had done more of? ***
I wish I'd spent more time on an aeroplane, because when you're on an aeroplane you're almost always going somewhere good. I spent 63 hours in the air in 2009, so clearly not enough.
*** What do you wish you had done less of? ***
Time spent sitting on the A406 North Circular road. I spent considerably more time on this road than I did in the air, and this is something that should be addressed. It's even worse when you need the toilet. At least aeroplanes have on-board facilities. Perhaps I'll buy a campervan. With a stewardess.
*** What was your favourite TV programme? ***
In the Night Garden. Simply brilliant.
*** Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate last year? ***
The aforementioned Barcelona Goalkeeper is off my Christmas list. He was only going to get a thought anyway. Thoughts count.
*** What's been the best book of 2009? ***
My travel journal. I love it. But it's only half full, so more travelling is required to fill it up. And a new pen.
*** What was your greatest musical discovery? ***
I found a flute in a skip when I was 17 and went on to sell it for £15, which back in those days was enough for a deposit on a night out.
*** What did you want to get in 2009? ***
Swine Flu. To see what all the fuss was about. It's not all it's cracked up to be, let me tell you.
*** What did you want and didn't get? ***
An Orang-utan. Aged 4 to 6 only. The good folk of Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre don't let you take them with you, no matter how much you protest.
*** What is your favourite film of the year? ***
I watched lots of films on flights, but all of them were on a tiny screen that was always slightly too close to my face owing to my fellow travellers determination to be as laid back as possible for as long possible. Therefore I wasn't particularly concentrating.
*** What did you do on your birthday and how old were you? ***
I've already said this, but I was 30, and I was travelling from Shanghai to Hong Kong whilst suffering some mild food poisoning that made me look a lot like I had Swine Flu.
*** What political issue stirred you the most? ***
The Speaker of the House of Common's and his Wife. An asbo-esque giant married to a shouty dwarf, who wrote sex education pieces for a magazine. Stirred me.
*** Who was the best person you met? ***
There was a man I met in Ealing Broadway who was wearing a massive foam hat in the shape of a slice of cheese.
He was brilliant.
Doubt he'd remember meeting me though; I wasn't the one wearing the hat.
*** Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009? ***
In 2003, I learnt that you can't laugh and run at the same time. This year I learnt that you are unable to laugh and sneeze at the same time. Both valuable lessons for everyone to know.
My job often takes me on a combination of Up in the air wobbling on the DLR at Canary Wharf to Underground Tubing at Bishopsgate, to confusing station layouts at Hammersmith, which are all places in London where to be served at a wine bar you first have to place down your shiny App-filled Iphone or your flashy-blinky Blackberry, with its permanent chirping off other Blackberry users never, ever leaving you alone.
Some of my colleagues like wine, so they have conformed to the required codes and invested in either of the above. I've played with both, and whilst my fingers like the Iphone, the Iphone doesn't like my fingers and we will never really get along until the screen gets less facetious. And the Blackberry is too work-like for me to be able to choose to ignore emails and it ringing and stuff, so I didn't want one of those either.
This left me spurned by barmen, and reading the Metro newspaper from cover to cover until my cosseted research resulted in me taking a delivery of a T-Mobile G1, or HTC G1, or Google Phone, depending on where you look online.
In the UK, they are only available with the T-mobile network, which was handy for me, as I've been with T-mobile since the days when O2 were One2One, and I'm something of a creature of habit. It also means I can pull faces in the T-mobile shop and say things like
"I've been with you for years, don't make me go to another network now"
"But I don't want to change my contract, just my phone"
And I get to leave the shop with my new G1 in its unnecessarily posh packaging, on my ancient £20 a month contract for a mere 12 and not 18 months, as advertised. It pays to be grumpy, and the older I get, the more successful I'm finding myself with using its power.
Inside the box comes the phone and battery, the instructions, a CD, a charger (look after this one), some other wires for connecting your phone to other stuff, earphones, and some completely ridiculous fairy stickers that made me question why they'd given me the girl version and not the boy stickers with Tanks and Pele.
I quickly abandoned decorating up my phone and began the ritual followed every time anyone gets a new phone and first struggled to put it all together, decided it was too big and heavy, got a little bit disappointed, found and pressed the On button, and became all excited again as the phone lights up with a little Android man, and as he already knows the correct day and time, only asks me to set up a Google email account
-Why Mr Phone? I already own a Gmail account, thus I can skip this part and immediately synchronise my email account to my phone and begin play.
I chose, set up and instantly regretted my new Email address, and could begin play with a slightly bitter taste.
By far my most favourite thing in those first few hours was the satisfyingly clunky sturdiness of the slide action that reveals the qwerty keyboard and turns the 3.2 inch screen widthways, not long ways, and means for people like me that the touch-screen becomes something I only have to jab at with my finger, rather than anything too accurate like sliding or trying to get a text box to drop down. For really fiddly times, the G1 has a tracker ball that behaves like a mouse for your thumb.
There are all the expected features of these modern times like contact lists with groups and it's really easy to enter the X-factor vote thanks to the ease to write texts on the keyboard, after you've trained your thumbs. There's also a calendar, a calculator, and a 3Megapixel Camera that can be improved by downloading the FXCamera Application, for free.
The phone supports 3G and Wi-Fi and GPS, and when you have this sort of coverage, the phone is much more fun to use as with Wi-Fi, the apps like BBC Iplayer or Youtube look and sound great, incredible when you consider it's on a telephone, and it means you can watch Top Gear over a coffee in MacDonald's and sneer at the jogging types.
The GPS means the pre-installed Google maps can tell you where you are right this minute or where you are going to be if you follow its directions, which is great if you're lost obviously, although on one particularly difficult trip to Luton, my phone thought I was on the runway of London Luton Airport. Nobody's perfect.
Other Apps that use the GPS amongst the many are likes of the speedometers and Sat Nav, but if you plan on using any of these functions for any sort of period of time, let's say for a drive from London to Edinburgh, be prepared to have to guess the route beyond about Darlington as using the GPS is like Kryptonite for the battery when the phone is not plugged in, as is having any sort of Twotter feed or MyFace updaters, as these require constant connection to the internet, and this costs electricity, which is bad news for long term friendly dullness.
The Android operating system that this phone uses means absolutely nothing to me, but to clever computer types it means they as third parties can write applications themselves and make them available in the Android Market, much similar to the App Store for Wine Drinkers, and this creates a wide variety of both quantity and quality of available apps.
One simple prod of the finger opens up the Market for you to search for Games or Applications and most of the applications and games are available for no cost at all to the user. Tidy.
Some of the more popular Apps are things like Shazam, who is a man in your phone that will tell you the name of a song that sounds a bit like the song playing on the radio, Google Search by Voice, which while utterly pointless is great for practising your local accents with, the Papi range of games that utilise the gyro-motion in the phone so you control the characters through leaning your whole body to the left or to the right.
Aside from the woeful battery life, where a normal charge will last about 18 hours for normal use or 15 minutes when you're lost and wanting to know how fast you can run back to your own fiefdom, the only glitch I've had with this phone was after about 7 months of use when every incoming call was showing as "Unknown number", which usually means it was work and thus should be ignored, but I was getting in trouble from friends and relatives and wives and parents who all thought I was in a ditch, when it became apparent that something inside my chunky dog and bone had gone funky on it's bad self.
Some complaining to the T-mobile man in Mumbai followed and I was eventually left with no option but to perform the most dreaded of actions for all phone users, the Master Factory Reset.
Surely, I thought, by doing this I would lose every bit of contact data and photos and music that I'd collected over the past few months, so with reluctance I followed the reset procedures with vain hope it would mean I would now know who was calling me but also with a sad and heavy heart for the loss of lots of half-hearted photography.
But observe! The master reset does make you lose your downloaded applications from the market, and any background themes you've set up, and all your text messages that you keep but never read anyway, but the important stuff like phone numbers of people you've not spoken to for years and blurry images taken when drunk are all still there, saved soundly on the 2gb miniature Sandisk-compatible SD card that I'd forgotten about until that point of relief.
Overall, I'm happy with my phone as I can poke about online when on the train, or play chess or poke-a-mole when I'm in underground Tubes, and I have as yet not managed to break it, which can only be a good thing.
If you would like specific details about memory size and the like, visit http://www.t-mobileg1.com/ and follow the links for the official figures, but turn your speakers down first if you're in the library.
When it comes to technology, it is generally accepted by my local community that I'm not very good. I do try, but if I'm using your computer I'll probably break it. If we're talking on the phone I'll probably cut you off and have to lie to you about going through fictional tunnels. Even when we both know I'm using the home phone, and if you ask me to use any of the functions on my mobile phone at any sort of pace, I'll get a bit cross with you.
I'm alright with the television though. It's a box of fun with only a few numbers to press to make things happen in front of me.
Nice and easy, although when I stepped up to Freeview, it took me weeks to accept that anything on any of the other channels would be worth watching, and I'm still not too sure about Channel 5 even after all these years.
So you can imagine how recently, my world was turned upside down when two men with tattoos, wearing neon vests and carrying a box and a drill arrived at my door.
They made a bit of a mess and drank some tea, poked about a bit with some wires, handed me a great big remote control covered in colourful and luxurious buttons and left cheerfully, having made my television go all space aged and weird.
I sat down, and having spurned the offer of a tutorial from the vested men on the basis that I'm a man, so I should already know how these things work, and quickly found I had to set about learning a whole new language.
The language according to Sky, replacing the previously perfectly good TV channel numbers of yesteryear. Actually, I suppose it's more of a code.
Decipher this one David Bellamy:
1 = 101
2 = 102
4 = 104
7 = 115
80 = 503
In the Sky code language code, BBC1 becomes BBC 101, BBC2 becomes BBC 102, ITV 1 becomes ITV 103. Which is all straight forward but on this basis, you would expect BBC News on channel 180 according to my own hitherto correct television logic, but it's not.
It's all the way over on 503.
Basically, I had to ignore everything I'd learnt about new fangled television in the past few years, AND everything I ever knew about TV in the first place, because my new satellite enhanced gogglebox is clearly empowered by sorcery and wizards. Everything is different now. And it will never be the same.
'Mother, may I present to you Sky+!'
'I know what it is. We've had it for years at the Vicarage - you should see it on our HDTV'
I joined Sky through pestering my wife and then ringing them up, and after a bit of a wait and some moaning, we were signed up on a £26 per month deal for TV, Phone line and that baffling Wireless Broadband connection thing; I daren't wonder who empowers that, but I had to pay £60 for the setup charges.
The £26 surreptitiously increased to £28 when we added 2 of the optional channel packs so that I had more channels to flick through during the adverts.
Only now, I don't even have to watch the adverts because the+ in Sky+ means that not only can I record one channel and watch another, but I can also record two channels at the same time, and simultaneously watch something I've already accidentally recorded off Bravo2 last night.
If you ask to record two channels at once but then due to your short attention span you forget and flick to a third, the Wizards spot you and make you cancel one of the things you're recording before you can change over. Spoilsports.
Also, since having Sky+, I no longer have to run to the kitchen and back to provide myself with any emergency sustenance when there's football or something on because I can also now actually properly pause my live TV.
I can pause it, meander with a leisurely gait, bake some fairy cakes, make some tea, and come back. It's genius.
Again beware here though, the Wizards have their limits. I assume for them, when you pause the TV, they have to hold their breath because eventually after an increasingly purple hour or so the wizards decide you can't be paused anymore and they breathe and the TV comes back to life. Even if you're still down the shops.
Alongside the pausing and rewinding and recording, and the new numbers to learn, you can also access something called SkyAnytime, which as well as being an anagram of Tea In My Sky, is also a place where you can watch what the Wizards have chosen to record off the ether all by themselves and without being asked, that you've missed or didn't even know had been on, from various channels out of the hundreds of choices on offer.
Don't get too excited though, because these + Wizards are wise, and they won't let you pick a program to watch that you aren't paying for already, so that's the boxing out for me, but they have some sort of viewing taste, because I haven't yet found an episode of "Let's Go Shopping With SNTV" or "Caribbean Cops with a Camera on patrol uncut most shocking" in there, only films and cartoons and a bit of sport and stuff.
Disappointing for the mothers of these latent television stars, at least. And me.
Better than Sky Anytime, must be the magic green button that you can press and create something referred to as "Series Link" by the Wizards - where at the touch of a button, you can record every single episode of every series of any programme that has series link supported. That's supported, not all.
Some of the programmes you might want, and nigh on all the ones I want, don't allow you to Series Link them - I think this is more censorship from the wizards - as there are a collection of programmes on Sky that are still the same programmes that were being shown when satellite dishes were as big as some of the houses that they were bolted to.
It is entirely feasible that you can tape-without-a-tape-recorder some A-Team, Strike It Lucky, MacGyver, Gladiators and more and then deftly recreate an exact replica of a Saturday evening from the early 1990's.
You get 80Gb space on the version of the Sky box I have, which equates to about 60 TV shows, or thereabouts, and less if you only do films, because they take more space, obviously. There's another 80Gb for Sky Anytime to give the Wizards a fair chance of getting something good soon.
Sky+ also carries all the features of regular Sky like Box Office and interactive Services, and if you're interested, you can call them for free from the UK on 0800 5875707 and ask them about their offers. Or go online to www.sky.com and get drawn in by vouchers and stuff, or simply make brief eye contact with one of those men in every town centre who are armed with a clipboard and a flat screen TV. There are set up costs involved, and again these vary depending on if you live in a house or a flat, and there's people out there who have Sky in their caravans, each to their own.
Did you ever wonder if there was a scale of importance when it comes to where you keep your history? With 'Overheard History' somewhere near the bottom, those hearts carved in trees by 70's teenage lovers somewhere around the middle and 'Written History' way up top, I knew from the fourth time I was told of Sri Lanka's 2300 unbroken years of 'Written History' that when I got home the first thing I'd be doing is getting all my history together and writing it down.
We'd had three full days of lying down and sitting up and turning over and lying down again so we were ready to explore some of the sights that 2300 years of written history can offer, and at 5am we were loaded along with another couple and a packed lunch into the back of a minibus that was to be our home for a hitherto vague amount of hours being rumoured at anywhere between four and six amongst everyone, including the driver, to get to our hotel near Polonnaruwa in the middle of the country, the first stop of our 3 day sensory packed tour of this Island formerly known as Ceylon in some history written fairly recently.
We left from Wadduwa in the south and passed through the outer zones of Colombo as the hours in the back of the bus racked up and the city and towns quickly became the odd village amongst farmland and rainforest, and just after midday we arrived at the obscure Sigiriya Rock, shaped a bit like a giant Wrekin with the sides chopped off for those who know Shropshire.
It was seven hours since we'd left our hotel but we did stop briefly on the way for a walk through some ruins and a museum of the best bits of the ruin, but I got distracted by the scores of monkeys that were running around everywhere and the street peddlers trying persistently to sell me rubbish souvenirs so I can't really tell you much about them, other than it was very hot and they were rediscovered amongst overgrown jungle in the late 19th century by a British explorer who must have been really quite surprised.
The final 3 miles or so were pretty much dirt roads leading to Sigiriya, a World Heritage site and the position of a palace fortress that can be reached by climbing the 1202 steps to the top. I opted to do 2 at a time.
It was a daunting prospect that was seized upon by yet more peddlers, people this time who will join you on your trip to 'help' you on your way up those many many steps, even if you're only 30 years old and a full 2 feet taller than them, and really you don't need any help, they'll support your elbow caringly until you make it clear that you're not going to tip them and they return to await the next fresh arrivals doing the walk through the gardens that surround the base of the rock.
Around a quarter of the way up, when there are some nice places to sit and wait, the girls made excuses and my new dad and I went on full of manliness to conquer the beast. Halfway up, there are some tall and narrow spiral staircases leading to where some frescos from years ago are, and a man who leads you to show you all the old graffiti, and asks for a tip. Because this man's job was to sit on an a chair halfway up a cliff, and although he spoke virtually no English and I no Sri Lankan, he pointed and nodded enthusiastically enough for me to want to reward him, but quickly realised I had no money on me, only biscuits and tissues. I wanted the tissues, so I offered the biscuits and although slightly confused, he seemed pretty chuffed and politely only took one, so I went all extravagant, handed over four more, and descended the spiral stairs to carry on up the normal stairs to the top of the rock. The views of the surrounding area during the climb are outstanding, with the occasional giant golden Buddha statue standing out amongst otherwise unbroken greenery, and right at the very top, there's another man, who accompanies you up the final few metal fire escape-type steps to the top and assures you he isn't in it for tips and shows me some photo ID, possibly Blockbuster, before pointing at some small walls where a king once had a palace, and a swimming pool. Not the most accessible of party venues, but amazing all the same. He eventually asked for a tip, and didn't want biscuits, so I think he felt a little cheated and my biscuits were slightly offended.
Panoramic videos and photos taken, we descended triumphantly and rejoined our other halves, who had genuinely thought that buying souvenirs would make the vendors leave them be, but it didn't, and after a curry and rice lunch we moved on to our next stop, an elephant Safari - 45 minutes on the back of an elephant walking through a swamp, whilst a man appears from nowhere, offers to take your photo, and then joins you on the walk, taking videos and pictures before asking for a tip, whilst another man, the 'Mahout', makes sure the elephant goes the right way and makes you a hat out of a lily pad, before asking for a tip. There were a lot of tips proffered already, and we were only on day one of three.
We stayed overnight at the amazing Heritance Kandalama Hotel near Dambulla, which is a 3 story building built into a rock face, overlooking a lake.
We arrived after sunset, so we couldn't immediately enjoy the views, but we did notice the flashes of brown dashing around our heads as bats whizzed through the lobby and corridors of the hotel, and clusters of geckos congregated in the corners feeding off the hundreds of mosquitoes that were on the large and brightly lit white painted walls. Must have seemed like a good idea at the time.
The sticker on the balcony window in the room warning that the monkeys have learned how to open unlocked doors and the mongoose lazing on the cut grass beneath us, added to the monitor lizards that we saw on the morning road trip, made me wonder if we'd accidentally been booked into a zoo.
Day two, no overnight monkey burglary had occurred, and breakfast was as good as anywhere, we hit our morning with more steps, "not more than 200" (if you don't count the first 200) to see the Dambulla Cave Temples, 2 natural and 2 manmade caves decorated over hundreds of years with painted statues of Buddha in various postures, teaching and blessing amongst others.
Later in the day we would see an enormous statue of the Dead Buddha, which looked a lot like the sleeping Buddha, but nothing like resplendent Buddha, and at least he didn't ask for a tip.
After a curry and rice lunch and a tour of a carpentry and a gem factory, we headed to the Temple of the Tooth - a relic that holds the Buddhist equivalent of the Holy Grail, being one of the Buddhas' own gnashers, kept in seven Russian doll inspired gold boxes and as it's only shown on very special occasions, we had to make do with looking at the curtain, but there was a huge taxidermy of a tusked elephant that died in the 80's to look at, before being taken to one of the highlights of my day, the Cultural Show. It was brilliant in all the wrong ways, the Evening Standard would probably have given it 2 stars, but I loved it. 45 minutes to showcase 11 dances with up to 6 drummers or dancers on stage at once, all slightly out of time with one another, and one on the end who I think had forgotten his kit, finishing with a fire-walking and dancing display outside, before asking for a tip. It was a golden moment.
The night in Kandy had far fewer animals to dodge, and the food was again a really high standard, although I was starting to dream of sausage and mash.
The final destination for our third day was the one I was looking forward to the most, the elephant Sanctuary, but first there were the Royal Botanical gardens at Peradeniya and a Tea Factory in the midst of a power cut to look at, and a tip to give to the man in the gardens who came over waving a broom with a scorpion on it, and a tip for the lady in the tea factory who was hiding behind some boxes.
The sanctuary itself cares for over 50 Elephants who were either sick or injured in the wild, and would otherwise not survive, including a "tusker" who is blind, and a 3 legged elephant who doesn't like wearing the prosthetic leg that the vets went to great trouble to create after he stepped on a landmine, a casualty of the war between the Tamils and the Government. When we arrived at the sanctuary, the herd were returning to their field after a morning spent in the river, which also happens to be right through the middle of the town, with the odd elephant disappearing off down side roads followed by more 'Mahouts', the elephant handlers who will, for a tip, let you stand next to an elephant for a photo in relative safety. Without the tip, you're on your own and they don't fancy your chances much.
The heat of midday was broken by going to feed one of the baby elephants who have been bred in captivity, or orphaned in the wild - only 7 places per session to feed the youngsters are available, so you either have to be lucky, or tip someone early doors. We were lucky and a mini elephant drank 6 litres of hot milk in about 3 seconds flat straight out of my hands, then we were hustled out of the way to Nelly could get her next creamy fix.
For lunch, we walked down a postcard-painted roadside to a simple restaurant on the banks of the river to eat chicken in a basket and watch the herd return for a 3 hour long afternoon splashing about. The elephants seemed as happy as you could expect, and we couldn't help feeling a little sorry for Monica, the Elephant at the temple close by to our hotel who visited once a week, she suddenly didn't seem so chirpy in comparison.
Eventually, the time came when we had to pour ourselves back into the back of the minibus, and stare at the plastic Buddha on the dashboard that lit up in red every time the driver used his brakes for the return journey into the darkness and back to our hotel in Wadduwa, via a spice garden where we received an unexpected but welcomed massage, from a man who asked for a tip.
3 days of utter madness to see some amazing spectacles of an Island that I'm sure has much more to offer, should we ever return.
I'm currently as inoculated as I've ever been against all manner of disease through a series of Honeymoon injections administered in May this year, and not wanting to waste this fact on our next holiday, we scoured the malaria and rabies world hotspots, with special points awarded for a high stray dog count and any sort of lackadaisical approach to locking up cows championed, especially around busy village roads. We seriously considered Kerala in India but the flight connections were beyond horrendous before we eventually settled on Sri Lanka, the fact an actual proper war had only recently ended didn't deter us tells you just how bad the flights to Kerala really were.
Anyone heading to Sri Lanka, an island off the southern tip of India known as "the teardrop" or "the pearl" depending on who you ask, will undoubtedly have to encounter a naysayer or two condemning your jaunt as certainly doomed to mother nature's natural fury in one way or another, and you explain politely that The Tsunami was years ago and life is returning to its former confidence amongst tourists, with the two-week prices being amazingly reasonable for 4 or 5 star All Inclusive holidays available in October from £700 each and raising as the season gets going, we confirmed our arrangements through Tripadvisor favourite Mercury Direct and all was happy in the world.
48 hours before we departed, the Samoan Islands, which are far away, sunny and beach-like, were hit by a Tsunami, and all the naysayers were beating a path to our doors to say "I told you so!" Smugly, I informed them that Samoa was all the way round the other side of the world. Idiots.
24 hours before departure, and Mother Nature clearly had the right hump about something because there was another Tsunami, this time in Malaysia and Indonesia. A bit closer, in fact, exactly where we'd been in May, but unperturbed, and slightly wanting to prove people wrong, we strode on with our holiday plans and arrived at Heathrow's recently face-lifted Terminal 3 ready for our indirect flights to Colombo, via Doha.
The flight itself was lengthy but uneventful; Qatar Airways being our airline, the mysteriously located Doha stopover was a welcome opportunity to stretch our legs, albeit for only 30 minutes between landing and departing again.
Colombo airport is nothing much to write home about, with the exception of their inspired duty free zone in arrivals.
Duty free shops are usually a supplier of last minute forgotten items like plug adapters or the like, but not in Colombo. Ever arrived at your destination airport, patted yourself down in a mild panic, checked all your bags and realised you've forgotten that most important of travel accompaniments, the 1990's washing machine?
Well worry not intrepid travellers, for there are five shops on this airport concourse from where you can select a 1000 spinner, and for carrying it to your transfer coach, simply make use of one of the abundance of men in orange vests who will effectively demand to carry your luggage, or push your trolley, whether you want them to or not, and if you don't, they'll stand next to you, talking weather and cricket until you change your mind, or venture to board the bus and they're there once more to load any of your bags into any boot, and shamelessly then ask for a tip from the tired, slightly bemused travellers who don't yet fully understand the currency exchange and handover hundreds of rupees.
Sri Lanka operates a mysterious closed currency system, meaning changing money in the UK is virtually impossible for any amount larger than £35, and so all cash exchanges are done either in the airport lobby from men in kiosks who compete for exchange business like excitable Wall Street traders, or at your hotel reception.
We heard from others before we left that the best rates were to be had at the airport, so I duly handed over £250 and received 43,500 rupees in return in one of my favourite ever exchanges, which worked out at 173LKR to the £1, I soon learned never to take advice from these people when the hotel were advertising an exchange of 184LKR. Incidentally, there are ATM machines in the larger towns, but the maximum you can withdraw in one transaction is around £100, and the ATM's are located in telephone box-esque structures, were swamped with mosquitoes, and always had a long queue outside with local people with their trousers tucked in their socks and the occasional unsuspecting western tourist in vest, shorts and flip-flop.
Feeling slightly tip-mugged but finally on our transfer coach, the bright blue skies of our arrival had been replaced as dusk approached with angry looking clouds, and then the rain came down. Oh the rain came down.
October is generally accepted as the worst month to travel to Sri Lanka, as the islands complicated intra-monsoon seasons are supposed to bring persistent showers on a daily basis.
We'd experienced this sort of thing in Borneo, and quickly learnt that it rained around lunchtime and then again at 4pm, a lot of rain, but only for a minute or two before the sun returned to dry everything in even less time, so they were actually welcomed, but this rain didn't stop. It came down in sheets and the entire 2 hour journey across 38km to our resort of Wadduwa was essentially an underwater introduction on the dark on roads that were at best chaotic, and at worst upside down and sideways on. At one point, after taking a diversion to avoid a flooded town road, we drove past a local commuter bus that had somehow stranded itself on the muddy central reservation, and had this been Milton Keynes, there would be a frantic telephone call and a collectively miffed wait for rescue, but the way in Sri Lanka is the passengers all get off, and together they push.
They achieved nothing but getting wet and muddy, but at least they tried. It was quite a big bus.
We were staying at The Blue Water Hotel, a large but not overbearing building right on the beach and we'd gone All Inclusive, to take the thinking out of where we'd be eating. The rooms were large and spacious enough, with all the usual bits like TV with amazingly foreign channels and BBC World, hairdryers in the bathroom, oddly placed plug sockets, air conditioning, ceiling fan and every room enjoyed a sea view and a spectacular sunset as an added bonus.
Down for breakfast the next day and we were delighted to find waffles, cereals, breads and fruits, especially as they were primarily obscured by rice, curries, and weird stuff. Sri Lankans love a bit of rice, and a typical family will get through several kilos a week having variations of type for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, tea, supper, and for all those snacking bits in between. I'm not Sri Lankan, so therefore rice once a day for the rice is plenty enough rice for me thankyouricerymuch.
There was no sign of the previous day's downpour and the blue skies of our first day remained for the entirety of our stay, so raspberries to the Met office who had been forecasting torrential rain on a daily basis.
We'd arrived on a Saturday night, and on the Sunday morning I added a second combination of bodily movements to the things-it-is-impossible-to-do-at-the-same-time box. Alongside being impossible to laugh and run at the same time, I now know that it is also impossible to be astounded whilst chewing.
There's an actual elephant over there.
In the hotel grounds. Just standing there. Next to a man. With a stick. Oh. I get it.
This elephant lived at a local temple, was enigmatically named Monica and every Sunday she would be taken for a walk along the beach, and brilliantly, a bath in the pool of a hotel just down the road. Brilliant partly because you can go and watch, but mostly because it wasn't our own huge hotel pool and therefore I wasn't playing water polo in some sort of elephant soup.
Later in the holiday we would visit an elephant sanctuary and see the much happier lives of over 50 elephants rescued from illness or injury which would add melancholy to the second Sunday of our holiday that Monica slowly ambled into view.
The Evening meals were pretty similar in appearance to the breakfasts, but at this time of day I was more willing to risk a curry, and after receiving solid assurances from the chefs that my selections weren't too spicy hot, I sat down and proceeded to fill my mouth with liquid magma with chilli sauce. I came close to drinking the water out of the table decorations but the waiters were a step ahead and plonked down a bottle of water that just simply didn't help. Dear lord they like a bit of hot food here too. I took to using my wife as a taste tester for future mealtimes. Handy.
Three days into some hardcore sunbathing and we'd developed itchy feet borne through talking to the collection of beach boys who linger on the beach by the edge of the hotel, and talk of the history of the island and the things there are to do, our experiences of which will come later.
To scratch our itch instantaneously, we ventured out of the large gates of the hotel and hopped in an Auto - a 3 wheeled covered moped vehicle very similar to the Tuk-Tuk's that monopolise Thailand's islands, and for around £3 return we were taken at 20mph for the 10 minute ride along the busy (only) main road into Panadura, where the driver acted as a guide to show us pretty much what we could already see
"There's the bank, there's the market and there's some shops. Not much else here."
What he didn't mention once was the crowd of people who were slowly gathering around us as we wandered through side streets lined with floor-stalls selling pineapples, fresh and salt-fish, and mobile phone top up.
The next helpfulness from the driver was to be wary of a man in black who will tell you he works for your hotel kitchen and offers to take you into local shops, only to then agree prices at quadruple the original value of whatever trinkets had caught your eye. We were warned of this man so often and by so many people that we became suspicious of absolutely everyone wearing black shirts, until we were approached by a man, wearing black, who told us he worked at our hotel and he had some things to show us. I just wanted to take his side in this conspiracy, take him into one of the tailors shops who offer to tailor you a new shirt for £10 and buy him some bright yellow clobber, just so that he could carry out his scam in disguise. Perhaps he has to wear a black shirt every day. Who knows?
One street we walked down, past a man proudly showing a catch of barracuda, was like something from Willy Wonka's factory, as the further down the street I got, the lower and lower became the tarpaulin market tops that were strung together with ropes from one side of the street to the other, meaning I soon went from walking tall, to stooping, to bent double wishing I'd paid more attention to where these streets were going before I went down them.
On the way back to the hotel, you could see some of the leftover devastation caused by the Tsunami, particularly along the beach road, where before you weren't able to see the sea, there are now long stretches of abandoned dwellings and slabs of concrete where there once houses. The government has banned new houses from being created within 150 metres of the shoreline, to limit the effects of any future Tsunami.
The locals, from the shopkeepers to the hotel staff to the Auto drivers were all gentle and welcoming and seemed genuinely pleased to see tourism returning to the country after a difficult period.
They were so friendly, they even saved Matthew Hoggard from drowning in the sea off the coast of our hotel some years ago and were very proud of sharing this fact, although the heartwarminess was lost when they then went on to list the names of all the Mr and Mrs Smiths who were now Just Mrs Smith, and Mr and Mrs Jones who was now just Mrs Jones. The sea was fairly rough with a strong undercurrent, so only the barmy really went out beyond waist deep. The wise took advantage of the massive pool, and hotel spa that gave amazing massages for a fraction of UK prices.
The country has an incredible amount to offer every sort of traveller, from the sort who want sun and beach, the golden sand of the beach by our hotel was deserted for miles in either direction, and for those looking for a little bit of the local life and some adventure to boot, there were 1, 2, 3 and 5 day excursions available to take you around the island and show a written history going back over 2000 years.
We chose a 3 day 2 night tour taking in loads of site and amongst them, one large rock, loads of elephants and an underwhelming bridge and all of that deserves space all of its own.
I cannot recommend the country highly enough if you are looking for some simple adventures or simple pleasures, both can be found here.