Friday, September 25, 2009

British Golf Clubs

I’m really not sure about all this.

I’m a member of one of the better Auckland golf clubs. I go there to play golf (funny that) and that is about it. I drive to the club in my golf attire, change my shoes into golf shoes at the boot of my car, pick up my clubs, collect a card from the pro’s shop and saunter onto the first tee after a bit of a warm up and five minutes on the practice green to try and gauge the pace of the greens for the day. After the round I occasionally stop for a quick drink still wearing my golf apparel if I’m thirsty, but generally I hand in my scorecard and, well, drive home. I think most members of my club do much the same and most NZ clubs are run along similar lines. The level of social hierarchy surrounding a NZ golf club is approaching zero.

Not so in my brief acquaintance with the British arm of the family. I have recently spent some time in three golf clubs in the UK and they can be divided into two tiers; the ordinary and the Royal – literally. Both are totally unlike anything I am used to and I’m not sure I really like either.

We’ll start with the proletariat of British golf clubs. But I’m not sure even this is the case as I think I am referring to the middle class of golf clubs. The proles are surely the municipal courses - the Perivales of the world. This is the clubhouse at the Blackpool North Shore Golf Club.

Looks 1930’s to me. But it is what happens inside that is a bit strange. There are codes of practice for pretty much everything. Dress codes are the most obvious. When I arrived in the UK for the golfing extravaganza I was immediately asked by one of my fellow golfists if I had a jacket and tie in my luggage. Now why would I? I’ve travelled half way around the world to play golf and not ponce around in a bloody tie. However this was seen to be such a grave error in my packing technique that I was lent a jacket and tie and, even worse, I had to use them - repeatedly. The dress codes in these places is arcane at best. Smart casual in the upstairs bar including shorts and socks of any length that are white but only before 8.00pm. Why? What is wrong with a pair of smart checked socks? Well quite a lot as they look awful but is that sufficient reason to refuse a beer. And what happens at 8.00pm that suddenly makes a naked and revealed knee an appalling site? At 8.00pm the infamous jacket and tie are one’s only passport to a bag of crisps let alone a meal or libation.

Another very odd characteristic of the middle of the road golf club is that a few of the members seem to lose their names. We were sitting in the dining room clad in our damned after 8.00pm attire when a woman walked through the room. From a distance I would put her as a Dorothy, a Jean or perhaps a Susan. There was a bloke sitting at a table eating his dinner who was almost certainly a Doug. The bloke obviously knew the woman so he greeted her with a cheery ‘Good evening, Lady Captain’. What the hell is that bollocks all about? She’s got a name for Pete’s sake. You don’t call your mates Mr Blindside Flanker or Miss Pastry Cook do you?

I really don’t think I would enjoy my golf if I had to walk of the eighteenth green into all that nonsense. It really is so unnecessary. A few standards are, of course, essential. We don’t want golfers lounging around in Speedos swilling super strength lager and picking their noses, but ‘Good evening, Lady Captain’ - give me a break.

We move onto Royalty and here I expected a new level of bullshit. I was not disappointed but in a way I found it all more acceptable.

Good Edwardian brick - it is not going to fall down tomorrow. As visitors we had to change in the Visitors Locker Room so as not to mingle with the members in their swipe card protected inner sanctum. This after having gained access to the foyer of the club through a set of revolving doors for heavens sake. Have you tried walking through a set of revolving doors carrying a set of golf clubs? But I suppose if you are a member of a golf club with a Royal warrant you don’t carry your own clubs into the Club or anywhere else for that matter.

The dress code stuff is pretty much the same except that you don’t get out of the locker room at all clad in a pair of shorts. Longs and ordinary shoes with the Cutter & Buck polo shirt if you want a pint of shandy and a bag of dry roasted nuts.

The clubhouse has many other things that are really jolly nice. Heaps of seriously classy memorabilia - Bob Charles’ sand wedge, Seve’s 9 iron, Tom Lehman’s driver (persimmon surprisingly) - and a very good snooker room. Lunch is not a sandwich but haddock and chips and mushy peas (well we are in Lancashire). The jolly good snooker room was not good enough, however, to raise my level of play above abysmal.

Lytham also had the Dormey House which is a rather upmarket dormitory where we stayed for two nights.

Really like being at public school. There was the House Master (Dormey manager) dishing out keys and although we had single rooms there were shared bathrooms. But on the upside they had some of the best showers in the Northern hemisphere. And they had free Wifi. I like an outfit that is not so stuck in the past it is prepared to embrace the real world circa 2009.

I went to Royal Lytham & St Annes wanting to hate the place having been primed by the middle class pretenders. I can’t stand all this totally unnecessary artificial dressing up of something with things that don’t matter. However, paradoxically, I infinitely preferred the full Monty to the half way stuff.

But the bottom line is that in front of both those options I think I’ll stick with changing my shoes in the car park, using the golf course to play golf on and then having my shower and lunch at home.


I had never been to Blackpool and I hope I never go again. It is ghastly. In fact is ghastly in every way. If it were not the nearest conurbation to the golf courses of our desire I would not have broken my fifty-eight year Blackpool fast.

The first problem is getting there. You know you are close because of the damned Tower. This is cast iron (presumably) and very ugly but you can see it from miles around from pretty much any direction. So you are close to your destination but all you can find is a car park. The hotel we were seeking was on the front (along with thousands of its fellows) but you couldn’t drive to the front for bloody miles. Every turn left which promised to take you to the sands, piers (there are three of these) and donkeys just dumped you in a car park. However we soldiered on and found a left turn just past the bloody tower that took us to the promenade.

We would have better off staying in the car parks. Everything I thought was essential for a tacky British seaside resort is in Blackpool in spades. The place is also time warped in the seventies – or is it the sixties, or the fifties or ……who knows. Is it possible that the ‘amusement arcade’ still attracts punters? Are there still people who want to try and push coins off the Niagara Falls? Those who wish to win tacky pink fluffy monkeys? Do people still eat candyfloss? Buy ‘Kiss Me Quick ‘ hats? Well, presumably all this still goes on because the place was heaving.

Drive past all this tat in order to find a roof to place over the head for five days. No shortage of these. I have never seen so many hotels in my life. There are hundreds of them. There is a Hilton that looks like every other Hilton the world over. There are couple of grand old Edwardian monstrosities; if one wasn’t called the Imperial it should have been. But the bulk of the accommodation on offer was an endless stream of Fawlty Towers type establishment. These all have completely forgettable names in the ‘Mon Repos’ mould. To be fair a very agreeable couple that were not at all Basilesque and for whom nothing was too much trouble ran the one we were staying in. But their hotel was just typical of the genre. It had a bar that ran out of its one draught beer on the first night. It advertised a ‘sun lounge’ in which the residents could partake of tea and scones or something stronger and watch the world go by on the promenade. All the hotels had these and they all seemed to be populated by people of an indeterminate age greater than sixty-five drinking tea and guarding their Zimmer frames.

If you sat in our Promenade viewing salon you saw the Promenade but not the sands and Irish Sea that you would expect just beyond. This is because we had our own private bit of Blackpool’s world famous (sic) illuminations just outside the window. This triumph of the seaside decorator’s art was a flashing animated pirate ship that bobbed up and down on its hydraulic sea whilst its cartoon pirates complete with cartoon wooden legs and cartoon eye patches avoided cartoon sharks snapping at the gunwales and brandished cartoon cutlasses. The ship ‘fired’ broadsides at nothing in particular about thrice a minute by dint of red flashing lights up its cannon’s muzzles. Hideous in every regard but more than that as it kept me awake because they didn’t turn the bloody flashing lights off until after midnight. The pirate ship was absolutely typical of the general standard of the ‘world famous’ Blackpool illuminations. They have no standard whatsoever.

My biggest disappointment in going to Blackpool was none of the above however. I expected all the tacky garbage. My biggest let down was not being able to find a postcard with a ninety fifties drawing of a fat woman with a crab hanging off her toe. There were the saucy British seaside postcards aplenty but I wasn’t interested in smutty double entendre. I wanted a fat lady with a crab on her toe and I couldn’t find one.

Fylde District Council should do the whole world a favour and bulldoze the entirety of Blackpool into the sea.

SMHPGGS Tour 2009

The centrepiece of this trip was to be the Golf Tour. I was astonished to find that this was the thirty-first consecutive St Mary’s Hospital Post Graduate Golf Society tour. To say I was a little late to join in the festivities is an understatement of the greatest magnitude.

Three of us joined a fourth (who was best man at my wedding) to make a team for the drive from Winchester to Blackpool. Daily Telegraph general knowledge quiz crossword for entertainment in between all the ‘What ever happened to……’ and ‘Do you remember when……….’ moments. ‘A device used in orthodontic practice – 8 letters’ A text from a car doing 80 mph up the M6 to daughter in Melbourne has the answer in under two minutes. Retainer, in case you are wondering. Pub lunch (more on pubs later) and we stop off just outside Bolton for a game of golf at Darwen. We are about to play nine rounds in five days and so we stop for another on the way up. I was much relieved to learn that I had not turned into a right hander now I am in the northern hemisphere and I could still bring the head of the club into contact with the ball in a sort of useful way on most occasions. However all this rudimentary skill was not enough to stop me losing £20. This is going to be an expensive week.

Arrive in Blackpool (more of this later as well) to be greeted by the Fuhrer. I thought the bloke meeting us in the car park of the very nice Ramsey Hotel was my old friend Whitmore but it was soon made apparent that in his new guise he had total control over my life for the next five days. Things are the same and things are different. All the blokes from my past were instantly recognisable physically give or take the odd grey hair (well quite a lot really) and a bit of condition in the late summer of our lives, but instead of arriving by mini ute, clapped out Austin 1100 or stout boots we all rolled up in Mercedes, Jaguars and even a Porsche for the mini ute owner. However the insides of all these blokes has not changed in forty years. Bloody marvellous.

The week was one of golf directed by arcane ritual. This was as excellent as it was it was endlessly amusing. The centrepiece of all this was ‘The Draw’. Whenever there was a lull in the week’s proceedings everyone agreed we needed a draw. In charge of this was the Draw Fuhrer who had unfortunately left the Draw Machine at home. Not to be outflanked by this seemingly fatal error he produced a pack of cards and we were allocated (by a draw, naturally) a card that guided our fate for the week. On the back of losing £20 in Bolton things took an upward turn when I became the Ace of Spades for five days. How good is that?

Every game to be played in the next five days was part of a tournament, a tournament within a tournament, or a tournament within a tournament within a tournament. There might have been another layer as well but I got a bit lost. Apparently you start to get the hang of it after fifteen years or so. So you were either playing for the Cup (the premier trophy – I think), the Plate, the Saucer, the Eggcup, the Spoon (which had been lost), the Hat, the Sweater (which was an umbrella) or the Eagle (who had recently had his wings glued back on). If you lost in the first round of the Cup you went into the Plate unless you were a lucky re-entrant (dictated by a draw, of course) when you went back into the Cup. If you lost again I think you went straight into the semi-final of the Saucer but I found this piece of crockery the hardest to get my head around. Once you had had a draw for the first matches of the day you went and played them. Then there was the lunchtime collation of results, counting of Stableford points and birdie tally. Handicaps could be adjusted by the Fuhrer at anytime and it was not unusual for blokes to play off two handicaps in the same day. Two rounds a day with the ‘serious’ competitive stuff in the morning and the slap and tickle (GPs vs Consultants, Over 59 vs Under 59, Team Powerball etc.) in the afternoon. This was usually foursomes bearing in mind that two full rounds for five days at our stage of life is a little wearing.

Three courses lined up for the five days. Old St Annes Links, Blackpool North Shore and, the jewel in the crown, Royal Lytham and St Annes where we were also to stay in the Dormy House. Old St Annes Links was just gearing up for the Fylde Open and sported the best greens I have ever played on. Fantastic stuff where you really could just roll the ball and if it didn’t go where you wanted it to you had no one to blame but yourself. Four rounds here with the sweet aroma of aviation spirit wafting over the course from the adjacent Blackpool Airport. Blackpoll North shore was a lot trickier than it first looked and had the added bonus of being free for me as I had reciprocal rights from my home club in Auckland.

Royal Lytham.

This is the first proper championship course I have ever played on; the 2012 British Open is to be played here. It is basically far too difficult for one of my meagre abilities; and this off the Visitors tees. Off the Championship tees it is beyond my comprehension. The course sports 209 bunkers. That is in excess of ten per hole – every hole.

One of us asked the Club Pro for some advice as to a trouble free round. ‘Stay out of the bunkers’ was all he needed to say. There is not only a surfeit of the damned things, but each and every one is evil. They are universally deep with vertical sod faces and filled with sand having the consistency of talcum powder that I found exceedingly hard to play a controlled shot from. A ball pitching in the face just stays there and a ‘fried egg’ was quite the norm. On more than one occasion I played out of a fairway bunker backwards and twice played for position inside a greenside bunker.

If you avoid the bunkers there is the rough. This is the sort of stuff where only large striped animals and errant golf balls flourish. Go in there and the chances of finding your ball are approaching zero. One of our group bought a ‘Stroke Saver’ course guide. Complete waste of £9 – every hole just indicated loads of bunkers and loads of rough. Nine quid’s worth of the bleeding obvious.

First hole on this monster is a medium length par three which I promptly birdied by chipping in from the fringe. Can only go downhill from here and it certainly did.

How did I fare in all this? Whilst flying over Uzbekistan my abiding thought was ‘I hope I don’t make a complete arse of myself and it would be nice to win a match’. I arrived with a Club handicap of 15 with a New Zealand derived ‘Slope’ of 14.3. The Fuhrer would have none of this true reflection of my playing ability (or, more like, lack thereof) and decreed I would play off 14. This was obviously not open to protest or negotiation what with him being the Fuhrer and everything. I failed to be either good enough or bad enough all week to have this altered in either direction. So I spent the week (especially the Lytham days) playing from a handicap that was flattering at best.. Despite this I beat the best man at my wedding on an extra hole to progress to the second round of The Cup. Here I saw off Mary who was really a bloke to get into the semi final. This had me drawn to meet the best golfer during our undergraduate days and still playing off four; this over the as yet unplayed and very scary Lytham course. Well it has been a good run and I haven’t completely stuffed the week up. For reasons I can’t really understand I beat him three and two. Hellfire I’m in the final of the Cup. The Plate, Saucer and Egg Cup are no longer open to me.

Final over the Lytham course on the final morning against one of my best mates playing off four. I double bogey the first to his par. I can see where this is going. But no. He plays dreadfully for the next nine holes and I play OK and I get myself five up. He then plays OK/well and I play dreadfully so we stand on the last all square. This is the stuff of dreams.

Seriously, I have never experienced anything like it. Standing on the eighteenth tee of a Championship course with the week’s golf hinging on the next ten minutes and all I can see in front of me is bunkers. No giving or receiving of strokes; good old-fashioned ‘who hits the ball the least number of times to get the ball in the hole wins’. Pip’s honour and he slices a drive into a gorse thicket surrounding the Club flagpole. This, if anything makes it worse. I should win from here, but I have been playing like a drain for the last hour being unable to hit a decent shot with any club in the bag and all I can see in front of me is sand. The bunkers are getting bigger and moving closer together as I watch. Harden up, man, and hit the bloody thing. Slightly cut a drive my usual powder puff distance and, wonder of wonders, the ball is above ground at the left edge of the fairway. We go and look for Pip’s ball and he has got it into the only playable lie for about twenty metres in any direction. He plays a great shot to be about twenty feet short of the green. I wander over to my ball and I look at the green to see, well, sand. A different set of bunkers from those that confronted me five minutes ago but they still contain the same stuff. Take the trusty 23˚ rescue club and have a wazz. Please let this be reasonable. Look up and there is the NXT-Tour flying straight as an arrow towards………the flag. Bloody hell, where did that come from? I couldn’t stop a ball on these greens all week and this was no different. It pitches just short of the flag and rolls forty feet past. Pip putts up to about eight feet and I knock mine to five feet leaving myself with, mercifully, an uphill putt. His putt. Nasty length with a bit of right to left in it. Straight down the orifice. Well this it then. I decided not to look for breaks that weren’t there and just walked up to and hit it. Best putt I hit all week. Dead centre down to the last Angström unit. All square after eighteen. Best hole of golf I have ever played. I couldn’t give a rat’s arse what happens now. Share the trophy, play more, lose on a count back – who cares? I’m now a psychological basket case. But Pip is made of sterner stuff; he’s been a great sportsman forever. We play the eighteenth again and Pip’s four beats my five. I am not the first and won’t be the last to lose a match over the closing holes of Royal Lytham.

Runner up over the week in the knockout matchplay was beyond my most optimistic hopes. The amount of fun I had for five days also exceeded my wildest expectations by the length of the straight. This was industrial grade enjoyment. The friends you make at university are surely the best friends you’ll ever have. Although we all looked a little different from the exterior the insides were unaltered and the interplay between the members of the group was vintage 1972. Tales of the Darts Club Library, Shneerson’s 150 holes in a day with only a bottle of Scotch and a packet of ginger nuts for sustenance, long forgotten and largely unfortunate choices of girlfriends, Santini’s, beer (lots of beer), Wilson House etc., etc. Pure gold.

South West Ireland next year. Do I want a re-match? Hell yes.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Saurday afternoon telly on the cheap

Let the games begin. The trip has taken on a new momentum with the finishing part one of ‘a quiet few days at home with Mum’. Her and number two daughter spent the day at Hampton Court where number two daughter took an enormous number of pictures of arty things wot I wouldn’t pretend to understand. I was not carded for this event and so after seeing the two of them safely onto the ferry from Kingston to Hampton Court I wandered around Kingston.

I confirmed that Lichtenfelds the supplier of jeans circa 1967 is no more. As near as I could work out the premises have been incorporated into the foundations of a multi storey car park. Millets the outdoor shop, which I recall as a purveyor of army surplus after the war, is now very upmarket in the hiking and rambling department. Not a greatcoat in sight. I made enquiries as to getting a UK data card for the iPhone from O2 but it really was not a fiscally sensible thing to do. I can buy a swag of Coffee for £30 even at UK prices.

Good mate from forty years ago was slated to pick me up for the expedition to the frozen (I hope not) North after he had played golf. I had a couple of hours to kill and attempted to watch the cricket. Mum’s TV was not up to this. The ‘Freeview’ box would spit out the commentary but no pictures. Presumably Mum has shell out the folding varieties to get the full nine yards and I assume up to the minute sport is not a top priority. Now the best way to watch cricket on the box is to have the sound turned down and have the radio commentary on. Doesn’t work just having the TV commentary on. As it was obvious that England were going down in a screaming heap it made following the cricket in an ersatz kind of a way even less attractive and so I surfed on looking for some Saturday arvo sport.

The best I could come up with was the Gillette Soccer Saturday. This is what you get when you haven’t paid any money for proper sports coverage and is very odd. What you get is almost live sport coverage. You get the talking heads mouthing off endlessly before the game and giving predictions as to what will happen. Later in the afternoon these turn out to be as accurate as your average Phil Gifford prediction as to how North Harbour will fare. Then the games start but you aren’t allowed to see any of them ‘cos you haven’t paid your dosh. It would appear that every Premier League game is televised as throughout the next ninety minutes you go live to each ground in rotation – or out of rotation if anything happens. Anything happens obviously includes a goal being scored but someone looking as though he should have scored five minutes ago also qualifies. The little reportettes are given by men in cheap suits and large shiny ties (both in my top five least favourite garments) talking very loudly into microphones on little booms attached to their heads via a pair of headphones the size of soup plates. These gents are able to murder the English language in any accent you fancy from John o’ Groats to Lands End. It is so bad I couldn’t turn it off.

Relief from all this shortly after the modern day equivalent of the teleprinter had done its dash with the arrival of Young and his very nice MG motor vehicle to spirit me off to the central object of the trip. I was most gratified to note that he looked exactly the same as he did last time I saw him which we reckon was twelve years ago. Also his wife hasn’t changed either. This is good. I was dreading finding everyone looking and behaving like boring old farts. Caution though, there are still about ten more to check out and there might be some born again Parish Councillors on the horizon; somehow I doubt it. However a very amusing evening was spent bullshitting away as if the eighties, nineties and whatever the last nine years are called hadn’t existed.

The omens for the next five days are very good indeed. However I don’t expect to be able to post regularly. May have to do with a Jumbo post at the conclusion.


Before I made this trip to the UK I had read that Britain was the most electronically surveyed country in the world. Didn’t believe a word of it of course. There were not going to be cameras on every lamppost and in every potted shrub were there? Wrong, there are cameras everywhere. Even worse there are notices and announcements telling you they are there.

I am a little unhinged by all this, I must confess. It is so alien to everything I am used to. I have travelled ‘up West’ to central London on both the days I have been here so far and the damned cameras are getting on my nerves. I am yet to spot the cameras in the previously described tatty High Street but I will find them ‘cos they are somewhere. Behind the sacks of rice outside Korean grocer number three is my current best bet. However once you get to the railway station the hard disks start whirring bigtime. There is one giving you the once over as you buy your ticket and three on the City bound platform as you wait for the 0937 from Shepperton. There are four notices on the platform telling you about the three eyes on posts. The train arrives and there are two cameras per carriage and one of those dreadful disembodied android voices telling you they are there. And we haven’t even got to Raynes Park yet. Once you are on Waterloo Station the surveillance really gets going. There are bloody cameras everywhere. Those seemingly endless subterranean corridors that link the various lines of the Underground at major termini have them every ten metres or so. There is double the number of loudspeakers as there are cameras. I am not yet sure what these are for but it will be to do with compliance of the great unwashed for some activity or other.

I asked my Mum about all this and she just shrugged her shoulders and said it didn’t bother her and it was probably a good idea as it caught bad people. And there was later in the day a really very odd illustration of this mindset. I was watching the telly and a reality program was on before Mastermind. The reality show was following a bunch of feds on patrol in Grimsby of all places. They came across a youth behaving badly (he just looked drunk to me) and gave chase. Aforementioned youth gave them the slip for a while as he scarpered down an alleyway. They caught up with him about five minutes later. Or did they? They weren’t sure it was him as his only distinguishing mark was that he was wearing a number nine England football jersey. Although good centre forwards are hard to come by, apparently their working uniforms are as common as muck. So the feds could have two (or three) blokes running amuck on a Saturday night in Grimsby doing Emil Heskey impressions. Sounded bloody unlikely to me but the feds had to be sure and thought they could do nothing until they were sure. So what did they do? They checked surveillance footage virtually realtime, saw nothing and felt obliged to let the bloke go.

A couple of things struck me about this. Surveillance cameras in Grimsby? Around Buckingham Palace or the Houses of Parliament perhaps, but Grimsby? Looking for illicit cod running? A rash of coble thefts? The ability to look at this footage pretty much realtime and this from a car was a little bit of a worry and then their reliance on the damned stuff being so great that any other sort of evidence in the absence of a bit of video footage was useless.

The Butler in the Library with the candlestick – but only if caught on video.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Things I don't want to do without

I live in the country. I am temporarily living in the middle of 1930s suburban London at my technologically naïve mother’s house. There is a popup toaster, a TV with a few rudimentary channels, about a dozen radios (with Terry Wogan living in them all) and that is about it.

There are two things that Mum’s house lacks that I realise I really don’t want to live without. I hesitate to say ‘cannot live without’ because I can but I prefer not to. A car and an Internet connection.

One. The garage (tiny by even Wellington standards) contains lots of junk (fine) but no car (not fine). I hate not having even an Opel Kadett in there; as there once was many moons ago. I could survive a couple of weeks without a DB9 or even my Jag but no car whatsoever is beyond a joke. I might yet hire one. Public transport? I suppose so. I pride myself in never having set foot on any from of public transport in New Zealand (planes excepted as I don’t have a pilot’s license). The public transport here works, it is absolutely overflowing with people and is very expensive. You can get a ‘Go Anywhere’ ticket for all London trains, tubes and buses for £6.30 which is a bargain but there are two things to note. The ticket is next to useless if you fold it in half in the pocket in your jeans as it will no longer be read by the automatic ticket reader gates. You then have to plead with the ‘Attendant’ to let you through as a favour on the level of sacrificing his first-born child. These ‘attendants’ operate in pairs (two blokes to mind one automatic gate) and they all wear bloody fluoro jackets. These bloody things are an even greater pest here than they are at home. Why do you need a hi-viz vest sitting by an automatic ticket gate fifty feet underground. The other thing to note about the ‘Go Anywhere ‘ ticket is that once you venture out of London Transport’s idea of London you start paying the GDP of a small country to go anywhere.

Two. Mum’s house has nothing even approaching an Internet connection. There is a ‘phone line but I left behind the ability to do dial up on any of my electronic devices years ago. I have ‘Data Roaming’ on the iPhone switched off as even the telco warns you that it will soon start being mind numbingly expensive if left on. I have no Internet and I like it even less than having no car. I could live in Starbucks except I haven’t found one yet. There certainly isn’t one in the local High Street (vide supra). I could turn Internet roaming on but I want to be able to buy a few bits and pieces later on in the month and not have to remortgage Obald Acres to pay for bandwidth. The likeliest looking way out at the moment would appear to be buying a prepaid data card for the iPhone. I will look into that later today.

To London

The second half of the journey from the international Date Line in the southern hemisphere to the Greenwich Meridian in its town of origin was no where as pleasant as the first half. The seat was the same but the plane was chocker and at one point I doubted it was going to leave the runway at Kuala Lumpur. I was stuffed but forgot to take my melatonin and therefore wasted a very good lie flat seat by only getting a couple of hours sleep. I should travel better than this. The only really notable feature of the flight was a couple of hours flying over places I had never heard of. I regard myself as reasonably well travelled but there are thousands of square miles between the Caspian and Black Seas that are a complete mystery to me. I cannot catalogue the plethora of places with unpronounceable names containing far too many ‘K’s, ‘S’s and ‘V’s because I can remember none of them and they will effectively remain as unknown to me tomorrow as they were yesterday.

Arrived at Heathrow a bit early at the crack of dawn and my usual impression when arriving in the UK was reinforced. It’s a tatty dump. The baggage reclaim hall of Terminal Three is the worst possible advert for a country I can -imagine. A vast, dirty unorganised barn of a place that just cries out neglect. It took six attempts to get a luggage trolley that had four functioning wheels and I could have had my bags full of weapons grade plutonium for all the efficiency of the British Customs service. There was one disinterested bloke on duty to police three full flights from Asia. To be fair looking at the rest of my fellow travellers the most likely contraband would have been instant noodles.

I have now lived over half of my life outside the country of my birth. I grew up in suburban southwest London. A vast sea of pretty much identical semidetached houses that proliferated between the wars; London is surrounded by them. There are seemingly millions of the things. I went for a walk along the local High street. It is in a worse state than even the baggage hall. I recall the High Street as mixture of reputable businesses of a reasonable mix. There was a very good bookseller cum stationers, a bicycle shop, a couple of supermarkets, a Woolworths (not the food supermarket I am now used to in New Zealand), a sports shop, an electrical appliance store – all the things you would expect from a standard small town High Street.

What do we have now? We start of at the corner with the closed down and boarded up Police station. Apparently this bog standard 1930’s brick building is a listed building – God knows why, it’s hideous – so when the feds moved out it was decreed that it couldn’t be touched. So it sits on the corner empty, sporting a bit of graffiti and with weeds growing up the wheelchair access ramp. No a good start. The rest of the High Street has fared little better. A third of the street has suffered the same fate as the cop shop; empty with ‘To Let’ signs in the window that obviously didn’t appear yesterday. A further third of the businesses are Korean groceries or eateries. Nothing wrong with a bit of Korean nosh of course, but a third of a suburban British High Street? And the remaining third of the business premises? Charity shops. You can buy second hand junk to support pretty much any charity you can think of. Oh and I haven’t included the ex-Woolworths premises in the above calculation. This three or four shop frontage has been replaced by the biggest $2 shop (I believe they are called 99p shops here) I have ever seen. This, like a vast majority of New Malden business circa 2009, is not run by a bloke born in Tolworth. He sells the usual range of garbage ranging from saucepans that would melt before the porridge they contain to paintings of tigers on black velvet. Suttles the stationers has survived as have a fair collection of estate agents all with seemingly endless examples of the aforementioned 1930s bland London suburban housing stock. All of this appears to be not selling at £339,000 a pop. New Malden High Street exudes run down, depressing tattyness.

Going Up West tomorrow, principally to seek out an Apple Genius as I turned down the opportunity in Sydney a fortnight ago. He/she had better live up to his appellation as I have a couple of knotty Snow Leopard questions for him. Also might go to an O2 shop and enquire as to a prepaid data card for my iPhone.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


First leg completed without drama. No sleep but that comes next. However I did clear up a few loose ends relating to Morse Tapers and work holding on a faceplate. 3K got through five muesli bars and a lot of French Plonk before they took pity on her and gave her another meal.

On landing in Kuala Lumpur the ersatz Asia in the sky is replaced by a proper airport with all the good Asian bits piled on top. I really do love Asia and the week in Penang after Blighty is something to really look forward to. Its been too long.

Straight to the Golden Lounge which is all that a real airport lounge should be and Auckland only gets close to. First a shower, shave,shampoo and a rub down with a seriously fluffy towel topped off with a change of clothes. New man mode. Sit down with a bowl of seafood laksa for no dollars and watch the England soccer team take some mob to bits on a very good quality TV. I'm not sure who the opposition are but they play in dark green and their score line in the top right corner of the screen is SVN to England's ENG. Slovenia maybe. Anyway they are not much chop and are currently 2-0 down.

And of course there is full noise Wifi access which costs the same as the bowl of laksa. Three hours to go before we check out the upstairs in a 747-400 which will take me and, I hope, my golf clubs to London

To Kuala Lumpur

I lived in South East Asia for many years. Singapore to be precise which is often called Asia with training wheels. No matter, I loved my time there and still have a great deal of time for Asia in general and Singapore in particular. I like the climate (I think), I like the way they get things done and in particular I like the people. I can get a bit of that feel the moment I step on an aircraft run by one of the South East Asian airlines.

If you want to travel to London from Auckland it matters not a jot in a purely geographical way whether you turn left or right at Mangere. London is a bloody long way away whether you fly over Asia or America. I think there is about 500km difference in the total distance wether you fly east or west. But it is a no brainer as far as I’m concerned which way you go. Would I prefer to spend a three or four hour refuelling stop in the US of A or somewhere in South East Asia? Would I prefer to fly with the ageing harridans that make up the cabin crew of United or have my Earl Grey (a mug of which I have just received) dished out by Miss World look-alikes on say SQ or Thai or MH? Hmm a hard one.

For old times sake my first choice would be SQ. Raffles Class on the newest fleet in the sky is the only way to travel unless you have just robbed a bank and can afford to travel even further forward on the plane. One step further forward again and you have to fly the thing. However I heard all good things about Malaysian Airlines Golden Club Class and they had a pretty sharp deal about six months ago that shaved a couple of thousand folding varieties off a fairly complex trip involving London and Penang. Now I love my Air New Zealand Airpoints and I could accrue a shedload flying with a bevy of Singapore Girls, but I don’t love them to the tune of several thousand slides.

Never flown MAS before but first impressions of the vast seat 3G as I cross the East Coast of Australia are good. I look up and know instantly where the Keluar is – very reassuring if the 777 flies like a stone over Bendigo. The luncheon was preluded by some really very acceptable satay and they make a decent cup of tea. The seat looks to be pretty good Business Class circa 2009. Instruction manual pared down from Auckland phone book size to two sheets of card and all the controls seem to do what they are supposed to, A very good foot rest – well it is for me built along the line of a garden gnome, I don’t know how Shaquille O’Neill would fare. We’ll see how the ‘bed’ setting works in an hour or so. It will have to be pretty bloody good to beat Air New Zealand’s effort though. Wonder of wonders, the power point works so I can type endless drivel on this blog and listen to my choice of music from the MacBook Pro and not have to put up with some bloke in Kuala Lumpur’s taste. In fact the in flight entertainment selection is not at all good. Just watched Tom Hanks in ‘Angels and Demons’ only to realise half way through I had read the book which was miles better. There is no other movie I want to watch (which means there will be no movie I want to watch on the KL/London leg either) and the selection of CDs ‘On Demand’ doesn’t go much past Beyonce. Yuk. Good job I have my iTunes library with me.

What else as I gaze a round? The Airshow is state of the art circa 1998. Not good. The Air New Zealand one a couple of weeks back was miles better with overlays of Google Earth, ersatz cockpit instruments, views out of the pilot’s widow etc. Very nice. The cabin staff know my name and can spell it correctly. There is the usual assortment of agreeable looking young ladies. No equal opportunities or politically correct bollocks here. If you are not young, slim and a bit of a looker you’re out the back filling the plane with Avgas as opposed to filling the punters with Bollinger. We also have the obligatory snaked hipped Malay youth who looks to be of dubious sexual orientation. He’s alright and is the one who makes the tea. Next to me in 3E and 3F I have empty seats which effectively quadruples my in flight storage space. I like this as I can spread out and don’t have to keep going to the overhead locker every time I want to change books.

Across the aisle (thank God) in 3K we have the only person I have ever come across in my not inconsiderable travelling experience who had to have an extension supplied for her seat belt. She is vast, the size of a small country. If she weighs less than 180 kg I’m a Frenchman. I see she also has about 30kg of carry on baggage and I bet her checked in valises are way (weigh?) over the top as well. Now this all pisses me off. I reckon for her fare she is carting about 230kg around the globe. She is also going to London but I see she is stopping for one night in KL. This is presumably so she can get some industrial quality eating done; airplane portions obviously don’t do it. I doubt she does anything else but eat and wheeze. Lunch service finished about half an hour ago and she’s already on her second muesli bar and has just had a puff on her inhaler. Anyway, this food processor and wholesale consumer of bronchodilaters is paying the same dosh as me. I weigh 70kg, made great efforts to ensure that my golf clubs and suitcase came to 29.9kg and my carry on luggage is a legal 7kg for a total of 107kg. Three solutions here to my mind. 1) She pays $X and I pay $0.428X, 2) I pay $X and she pays $2.336X or 3) we both pay $X and I bring my car along as carry on luggage. Why should we normal sized people subsidize the fatties of the world in their global roamings? And imagine how pissed off the anorexic must be; just another reason to make them miserable.

The Airshow really is awful. We are somewhere over New South Wales and the screen just tells me we are over a brown bit. I can ascertain this by simply looking out of the window. Never mind I’ll try and ignore 3K’s wheezing and try and stop looking at the wall of discarded muesli bar wrappers she is building around her. She’s just opened her third since lunch – class act.

An hour or two of studying the finer points of using a small lathe as a horizontal milling machine, a kip and we shall see what delights Kuala Lumpur Airport holds for four hours.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Off to Europe

First decent overseas trip for a couple of years as I decided against my annual time with Uncle Sam in May. Off to Europe; which is not a thing I would have written when the event that prompts the trip occurred in 1969. The United Kingdom was certainly not Europe at that time. Wogs started at Dover and Grocer Heath was still years away from leading Blighty into the Common Market as it was then . General DeGaulle, owner of the biggest nose in history, was still saying 'Non' at every opportunity. A trip to France in the late 1960s was proper going overseas and not the trip to the hypermarket in Calais to stock upon Stella Artois it has now become.

In September 1969 word was just beginning to filter into the UK via the pages of the New Musical Express that a fairly big popular music concert had been a greater success than envisaged in upstate New York. There was no other way of finding out about Woodstock. I watched a few minutes news footage on the black and white telly at home prior to taking the District Line to Paddington station. I and seventy three like minded pimply youths (including, I think, fourteen youthettes) walked up Praed Street to start Medical School.

There followed four and a half years (we were considered cooked in that time in the seventies) of various things that culminated in 1974 with possession of medical qualification at the age of twenty two. Why did I chose St Mary's Hospital Medical School out of the thirteen similar establishments available in London at that time? They had a swimming pool under the library. I could discern no other difference between the various establishments offering the same degrees on the basis of a cursory two hour sixth form visit. Thus in September 1969 I received a library card which said it expired in May 1974. It might as well have said expires in 2074. 1974 was beyond my comprehension.

It soon became apparent that completing the course with the required qualification was pretty much guaranteed and that the rigours of study would not be overburdening. It was thus easy to live in the middle of London, enjoy all the delights it offered in the late 1960s/early 1970s and get a degree thrown in at the end. It was even free. Local council paid all the fess and even gave a living allowance. Four hundred and fifty quid per annum as I recall which was ample.

So what followed? Four and a half years of Mickeys, the Taqdir, the Dilshad, the Founts, the Little Western, Santinis, water polo, ULU tours to Germany and Holland (proper abroad remember), Wilson House, Stealing street furniture, beer, the key to the nurses home, afternoons at Lords instead of ophthalmology, rugby, Crystal Palace, summer afternoons at Teddington, car pooling in mini utes, Golf at Moor Park, summer evenings at the City Barge, the Darts Club, Minfordd, Green Line buses to psychiatry residence, obstetrics at Welwyn Garden City and a realisation that life out of school was better than life in school. But over and above all that was the lasting friendship of the best bunch of mates a bloke could have. Mates that would, and have done, last a lifetime.

Thus forty years after entering University a dozen of us are going on a golf tour of Lancashire. God knows why Lancashire but it does include rounds at Royal Lytham & St Annes. It also includes staying in Blackpool so there are ups and downs to the deal. Some of the twelve I have seen as recently as two years ago.The Best Man at my wedding I have not seen for over twenty years. There are a couple I haven't clapped eyes on since 1974.

Much looking forward to this. The Ping Rapture V2s are in the care of Malayasian Airlines ('cos they had a very cheap 'up the front of the plane' deal about six months ago) and I am in the newly revamped Koru Lounge at Auckland Airport awaiting the off.

I'll try and be an as regular correspondent as I can but I have golf tournament to win.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Snow Leopard

I am a tad disappointed I must say. Snow Leopard leaped out of his lair last weekend and I was a little miffed that he was not that easy to trap in The Land of the Long White Tiny Market. Not surprised that the States got their copies before us but a little miffed.

However I tracked a copy down yesterday and installed him on the 24" iMac over the top of Leopard. One false start with the 'gear wheel' spinning for an hour before I gave up on it and hard rebooted with 'C' held down as instructed by several people world wide who had had similar experiences. After that installation was a breeze taking about 45 minutes. The machine certainly boots faster but the speed difference in the rest of the programs is not blowing me away. None of my data was lost right down to bookmarks and song ratings. All good. Stable? Well so far - but Macs aren't bloody PCs and don't crash anyway.

So what is there to moan about in a new operating system that only costs $59? I can't mount one of my USB external hard drives. No idea why not. I've lost a load of old friends as they either aren't 64 bit yet or are never going to be. Cocoa Gestures is gone forever. The Widemail plugin don't work in Mail 4.0 and this really pisses me off as I've lost my three column mail view which works really well on a large monitor. There is hope as I may get this back in a day or two when the idle toad who writes the code that costs me nothing pulls finger and gets it finished. But the worst is the slow demise of Quicksilver. I really have come to rely on this and it is hamstrung big time with most of its plugins buggered and the rumour mill saying that it is never likely to return to its glory days. This on the back of the author eschewing the glory of writing a great program for no money in favour of writing stuff for Google for eye watering amounts of dosh. I'm trying Launchbar at the moment and will give Butler a go as well.

I'm convinced Snow Leopard is a good idea but I think I am being bitten by a classic case of jumping in too early in the first few days of a software upgrade.

I'll be waiting before unleashing SL on my MacBook Pro.

Safety Nazis

We haven't had a go at these wallies for a while but what better day to have a thrash than Father's Day. Dads up and down the land will likely be getting power tools as a suitably blokey present. I got nothing but salutations and thoughts from my daughters but that's way better than a poorly chosen tool that I don't really want. I can't really expect either female offspring or their mother to know that what I really want are two sets of reference drills in 0.1mm increments from 1mm to 6mm and 6mm to 10mm can I? I also cannot expect them to understand that each set costs north of $250.

However in less demanding households the length and breadth of the land the output of Black and Decker's Chinese factories will be being unwrapped. All good. But not so fast. If you thought the mainstream media had been devolved of its lifeline from the Ministries last November, think again. Remember what Sir Humphrey told us all. It is not the Ministers that run the Ministries but the bureaucrats. Nine years of lefty, PC indoctrination cannot be beaten out of the Jobsworths in five minutes so we have, by complete coincidence, a front page item in the Weekend Herald telling us how bloody dangerous the home is. Front page no less. No coup in far flung lands, no utterances from the Obama fellow, no shuffle of the All Black front row; none of these is the most newsworthy thing in the world. It is how bloody dangerous the home is.

Bear with me, this is tedious in the extreme. We are told that the garden is the most dangerous place in the home; well its not in the home at all really, it's outside. Idiot. 400 people a week/moth/year - who cares? - are injured by plants or shrubs. How I have no idea. Once or a twice a gum tree might get blown onto the postman but four hundred? Are there armies of marauding azaleas stalking the suburbs armed to the teeth? Flame trees sticking their roots out at shin height as an unsuspecting artisan passes by? Exploding stands of bamboo around every corner? And we haven't even started on garden implements. I'm surprised anyone is even allowed to look at a lawn mower behind a razor wire fence let alone own one. Even if you manage to fill out all the forms to get a permit to own one you really ought to do OSH approved Masport Introductory, Beginner and Advanced courses before being handed your fluoro safety jacket and ear muffs. And do you realise how incredibly dangerous even a three step ladder is? No? Good, because they aren't dangerous at all.

If you survive the walk up the garden path and actually cross the threshold things get really hazardous. For openers the house is likely full of electricity and that can kill you. Trip over the carpet and there's the rest of your life as a root vegetable guaranteed. But it is the kitchen we have to be really wary of. You would think the walls of the average domestic kitchen were lined with rotating knives instead of wallpaper depicting cloves of garlic and bunches of herbs. The average Kiwi larder is stocked with smart bombs as opposed to jars of Vegemite. And so it goes on.

The Herald tells us that more people are killed in the home than on the roads. Or was it the other way round? We really must have more campaigns about safety in the home as 'the message is not getting across'. Well sod off. Life is bloody dangerous. It is so dangerous that it inevitably ends in death. If I buy a skill saw I do so in the full knowledge that if it can slice through a piece of four by two in a trice it could perform equally efficiently on any of my appendages I chose to put in its path. I'm not stupid. I learnt long ago that taking the covers off wall sockets and sticking my fingers on the shiny metal bits is a poor idea. I know that if I put my mass outside the centre of gravity of a ladder, said ladder will no longer be stable and I will fall off. A bloke called Newton told me the speed at which I will fall to earth and he also informed me that the longer the ladder the worse things get. The amount of acceleration I will be subjected to increases with time until I reach terminal velocity; fortunately I haven't seen ladders that long in Bunnings.

So what is to be done about this parlous (sic) state of affairs? Well obviously nothing. We have to live a reasonably normal sort of life and that inevitably involves using power tools, climbing ladders, spending time in the kitchen and walking past potted plants. But you can bet your bottom dollar that the earnest ones, the weird beards, the loonies, the Greens, the lefties - alright they are all one and the same thing - will approach the problem by banning things. I reported previously of the, I think, 86 things the Greens wanted banned. This latest beat up gives them a couple of dozen more.

Where do we start. Power tools are too easy. Only officially approved operatives are allowed to handle anything from De Walt. Kitchens? A bit tricky. I suppose we could amend the building code so that no house can have a kitchen at all and we all have to eat all our meals at the State Tofu Bar. What about the odd kitchen or two that has already been built? Bombing runs would be the go, but they got rid of the airforce. These killer shrubs and trees? Agent Orange worked well thirty years ago and I'm sure it hasn't lost its efficacy. Dow must have shedloads still in storage in New Plymouth waiting for just this opportunity. But wait a minute if we kill all the trees what about saving the Planet?

Bloody hell, its a hard life being a fully signed up bat shit mad, lunatic, left wing, Green nutter is it not?

Everything these fruit cakes propose on my behalf is stupid, unnecessary and interfering in my life. Go away.