Wednesday, 31 May 2006

Biscuit Tin

Time for a bit of a pick'n'mix blog - a biscuit tin with something for everyone.

Sandi Thom

Nice to see my latest favourite is at No 2 in the singles chart. Not bad, eh?

The Indigo Girls

There's a new album on the way, and to prove it, you can see the Lasses in the studio in their video diary - what a great idea for a video diary to be on the website so you can see it evolve.

Last Ten iPod

Instead of reporting my top ten iPod songs (which doesn't change very often) I thought I'd report the last ten songs played (I generally have it set to 'shuffle' so it changes every day). That might be slightly more interesting and show the type of thing I listen to on a semi-regular basis.

Cherish ~ Madonna
John Sinclair ~ John Lennon
My Name Is ~ Eminem
Telegram Sam ~ T.Rex
The Other Man's Grass Is Always Greener ~ Petula Clark
American Girl ~ Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Below My Radar ~ Beverley Knight
Suffragette City ~ David Bowie
Fallen Angels ~ Buffy Sainte-Marie
Sound Of A Gun ~ Buzzcocks

Fat Arse

Self-realisation is an important thing, a measure of growth and maturity, and very Buddhist. I looked inward today (after looking outward) and decided I have a fat arse. OK, I admit it, my name is Owen and I have a fat arse.

Six years ago, it was much nicer. In the late '90s I went to the gym regularly (down in Norbury), I was fit and reasonably toned and then one of the discs in my lower back >slipped< (oops). It's been downhill all the way since then.


I'm a bit crap at remembering anniversaries. I've just let two slip by that are important to me:

  • 22 May 2000 - I gave up smoking, having my last tab at about 6.00pm that day. I won't say that was last ever tab, but that's the big day.
  • 23 May 2000 - I had my microdiscectomy operation at mid-day at Atkinson-Morley Hospital in Wimbledon and was zonked out of it on morphine and codeine for the next couple of days. They didn't remove the disc, just snipped off the bit that was 'sticking out' and pressing on the nerve - that's why it still slips every now and again (the alternative is to take the disc out and fuse the two vertebrae).

Monday, 29 May 2006

Siouxsie and The Banshees Re-issues

Now, this is exciting news. On a trawl through 'favourite' websites I came across the following on the Siouxsie/Creatures site:

"The first batch of reissue albums is released in the UK on 29th May 2006. The 4 first albums have been remastered and had some bonus material added.

The Scream has Hong Kong Garden and Staircase Mystery added. (this is all on the deluxe version, but for those who don't want the double disc version with Peel sessions etc this is a great release).

Join Hands has Love in a Void (remastered version for the first time) and the album out take Infantry.

Kaleidoscope has Israel, 5 tracks from the Original Warner Chappell Demos (very very different versions of tracks including the first version of Eve White Eve Black to be recorded) and 3 tracks from the Polydor Demos done with Budgie just before recording the album.

Ju Ju (which will become a double disc Deluxe version in 2007) has Spellbound 12", the very rare Arabian Knights 12" version (Australian 12" EP had this one) with Vocoder vocals and Fireworks, produced by Nigel Gray who did Ju Ju.. Of course this went on to be re recorded and strings added and released prior to Kiss in the Dream house.

All come in limited edition digipak versions.

The Japanese part of Universal are to release mini replica album sleeve versions.. when we have more news we'll let you know.

New on USA soon as discussions are still in progress re release date and availabily. The second batch are due for the Autumn this year."

'Kaleidoscope' was one of my favourite albums from the early '80s - I still recall going into my finals at college with 'Christine' reverberating around my head from playing it so much.

I've been picking up and putting down Siouxsie/Banshees CDs for the past year or so, debating whether to buy them or wait for the re-issues... now is the time to splurge.

Noddy Holder Website

I'm pleased to report that Noddy Holder finally has his own website. It's been a long time coming, and it still needs a lot of work, but it's there!

I was so overcome with admiration that I had to post a welcome message in the guestbook. Well, you never know, Noddy might actually read the message and reply - wouldn't that be fab?

In posting an entry about Noddy's site earlier, I somehow managed to bugger up the coding that threw the sidebar to the bottom of the page - what a pain to sort that out! As a result, this blog now looks a bit different...

Patent Pending

Having spent the evening attempting to see Morrisey at the London Palladium, I've decided something must be done about tall people, especially tall people that can't keep still but just *have* to talk to each other endlessly throughout the show.

I've been considering the problem for several minutes and I think we have three main solutions:

1. kill them.
2. tie them to their seats.
3. introduce height restictions by row.

Now, I accept that this might be going a bit too far for a civilised society so, as an alternative, I need to commission the design and development of a new product for the concert-going public - portable platforms. Strap on, expandable platform soles that you add to your shoes once you get to the venue and see what the challenge will be to see your band de jour. Patent pending on this brilliant idea so hands off!

Friday, 26 May 2006


I've spent the afternoon and early evening at the Chelsea Flower Show and what a lovely time I had. The rain kept off and I spent 4 1/2 hours wandering round the gardens and the displays in the great hall. I took 138 photos. Here is a selection:

Retro Record Bag - 1974

International superstar DJ time again, this time revisiting 1974:

The Golden Age Of Rock And Roll ~ Mott The Hoople
Red Dress ~ Alvin Stardust
Bangin' Man ~ SLADE
Amateur Hour - Sparks
Teenage Rampage ~ Sweet

I'm pleased with that set - playing Alvin Stardust at the Retro, an unlikely SLADE track and the ever popular Sweet! Who would ever think of Sparks? And opening with the glorious Mott to set the tone. It worked for me! And someone came up after SLADE to comment that they remembered buying 'Bangin' Man' way back in the day - that was nice.

Christopher played a nice musicals cast recordings set (and I recognised the 'Guys & Dolls' track) and Don did obscure Scottish songs. One of the most interesting songs of the evening was a Siouxsie song I hadn't heard before that Stephen played - I was secretly convinced it was a Slits track.

I quite like doing the record bag thing. I know no-one is really paying any attention or realises the themes involved, but that's not really the point. The point is to stand up and do it.

Now then, 1975 is next ... that's going to be a challenge...

Thursday, 25 May 2006

Whatever happened in the '80s?

After my epiphany yesterday when I was transported back to the '70s courtesy of the Buzzcocks, I sat on the bus this morning mulling over the decades and I realised I've lost half one somewhere. Half a decade, I mean.

Over the first couple of years of the '80s I was at university in Cardiff (Croeso y Caerdydd), then a spell on the dole and then the bright lights and golden pavements of London, living first in Vauxhall for a year or so and then moving down to Clapham. I recall being sacked from my first job (in a photocopying shop off Oxford Street) and then settling down into ACAS and serving teas and beers to both sides during the miners strike when they came along for arbitration (Arthur Scargill gave us a huge bag of sweets as a thank you for working into the wee small hours - nothing from management, of course!). That takes me up to about 1984.

I don't really have any strong memories until about 1988 at which time I was working in Fulham Unemployment Benefit Office, caseloading people to get them into work, into training, onto other benefits and generally off the unemployment register. I was quite good at that job.

HIV and AIDS had appeared by then and, since St Stephen's hospital in Chelsea (which is no longer there) was one of the few places actively treating sufferers then I had a goodly number of them on my caseload. I suppose a lot (most?) of them are dead now. It was terrible seeing ostensibly healthy men one week and then two weeks later seeing them again and they'd changed colour, massively dropped weight to skin and bone and sometimes not able to string words into a full sentence. A mix of the disease and early drug treatments I suppose. Some brave men wanting training so they could set up support groups and suchlike. They were generally treated badly by the system with all the scares of the 'gay plague' so I did what I could (and I'm pleased to say that my colleagues in other offices did as well).

I remember a heroin addict who was the same age as me to within a couple of days who was trying radical treatment to come off, with huge doses of methadone under medical supervision. Both of her brothers were doing time for dealing. I remember a Scottish woman whose family had been killed in Beirut and she was the sole survivor of the bomb who needed help with housing and dentistry (a confidence thing) - I supplied a few phone numbers and I got a gushing letter of thanks from her a couple of months later saying she was back on her feet and starting a new career. I remember a young woman from Roehampton with a Princess Di haircut who didn't know where Charing Cross was - she thought it was the hospital up the road in Hammersmith and didn't realise there was a place a few miles east with the same name.

I liked that job but I outgrew it and at the end of the '80s (1990 to be precise) I moved into the Employment Department and bought my flat in Streatham.

So, what happened between 1984 and 1988? I don't really know. I worked at ACAS and lived in Clapham but that's about it. Now, I could understand it if I lost those years in a haze of booze and drugs but I didn't. I didn't live the life depicted in the 'Taboo' musical (although flatmates went clubbing in Soho and to the WAGG club and all that stuff). Music even passed me by over those years - I seem to have come alive again musically with Michelle Shocked, the Indigo Girls and Kirsty MacColl - I can quite distictly remember walking across Clapham Common during a summer bus strike with them being played on my walkman radio. Robert Plant ('Manic Nirvana') is also in there somewhere. And I went to Egypt - my first 'exotic' holiday.

Suggestions on a postcard please...

Tuesday, 23 May 2006


I went up to HMV on Oxford Street this evening to pick up my copy of Sandi's single (that entered the chart at the weekend at No. 15 based on downloads). There was a loud band playing that sounded quite ok in a 'loud band' kind of way, with a sax/horn player that reminded me of Laura Logic.

Now, Laura, as every right thinking child of the '70s will know, was the first sax player with X-Ray Spex. I mention that thought since it took me back to '77-'78 and when I walked out of HMV I saw a poster announcing the Buzzcocks would be playing in a few minutes time. The Buzzcocks? Is that possible? Is it a tribute band using the name?

It was the Buzzcocks, the real thing. Time has not been entirely kind, with Pete looking like everyone's favourite uncle with a beer belly and Steve's face showing his age (Steve might have have had some alcoholic uppers to get him going too). They got on stage 18 minutes late (I was counting), played for just under 30 minutes and then did a 3 song enchore.

They started off with a few of the new songs from the new album, all nice and fast and short, sounding new but with the qualities of the oldies. Then started a few oldies - they really took me back to the olden days - could this really be the Buzzcocks in front of me, with Pete looking a like a podgier version of me Dad way back in 1978? It was. Amongst other classic songs they played 'Orgasm Addict', 'Harmony In My Head', 'Ever Fallen In Love' and the final song of the enchore was 'Boredom' - o joy! That was a wonderful 40 minutes taking me back to 1978!

I *had* to get the new album ('Flat-Pack Philosophy', the title song was the first song they played) and that'll be added to my iPod. I was shocked - shocked I tell you - when I plugged in my iPod on the tube home to realise that I only had 'Ever Fallen In Love' on the machine. I am ashamed. More will be added immediately.

Thank you, Buzzcocks, for a wonderful surprise gig. I was moist of eye a couple of times and that was your fault - keep the spirit alive.

Big Brother Coherence

I'm not sure I can make a coherent comment on Big Brother. It's still early days and I'm still only just learning their names, but what a wierd bunch they are. They're all obviously "big personalities" otherwise they wouldn't have applied for the show but I can't help but wonder which nonentity exec at C4 chose this particular bunch and what they thought might happen when they started interacting? Or not interacting as the case might be.

At this early stage, none of them have particularly attractive personalties, the stereotype and token characters are quite sad and (being shallow) they're not a particularly nice looking group. They all so blatanty media savvy (or think they are). So, will I become addicted to it? Probably.

Give it a few weeks and a few evictions to whittle the numbers down to a more manageable level and who knows what appalling television they will produce...

Saturday, 20 May 2006

Let me be your swampsnake...

... till the real one comes along.

And so opines the album, Next, by the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. The glory and the ecstacy indeed. Now, I've mentioned these cheerful chappies from the '70s before so I won't go into detail again, but hearing that opening lyric decided me on the title for this blog which, otherwise, would have something like feckity feck feck buggery fecking feck bumholes. Or something like that.

Case 1, m'Lud:

After living spam-free for well over a year some annoying so-n-so has discovered my main email address and is using it to send me press-release-looking spam advertising a venture capital company in America or Canada (depending which part of their website you look at). I tracked down their website, opened a nondescript Hotmail account and emailed them to tell them that someone is spamming me in their name (of course, no self-respecting company would do that itself, would it). For every email I get I will send them one back from the Hotmail address - or maybe I'll set up a Yahoo as well. I know it'll do little good except ease my distress. If it continues I'll have to start attaching miscellaneous photos and things to use up their bandwidth too...

Case 2, m'Lud:

A mere 5,000 miles or so, or something like that. That's all. I walk round the corner and what happens? Yes, you've guessed. I got my horoscope done in Mayan heiroglyphs when in Mexico - it was something a bit different that could be framed on return home. Carefully packed for the journey home, carried very carefully so as not to crease it and all that jazz. I finally get round to going to the local framers here in Streatham and what happens? Rain! I hide it under my jacket to protect it and in the process manage to tear it slightly... oh feck! It's not a big tear and you'd probably have to look for it in order to see it once it's framed but I'll know it's there... O well.

Friday, 19 May 2006

Top Ten iPod

Let me unveil the top ten for this week:

Sing ~ The Dresden Dolls
I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker (With Flowers In My Hair) ~ Sandi Thom
Back To The Drive ~ Suzi Quatro
Darling Don't Cry ~ Buffy Sainte-Marie
Red Dress ~ Alvin Stardust
Glitter In Their Eyes ~ Patti Smith
15 Minutes Of Fame ~ Suzi Quatro
Buick MacKane ~ T.Rex
Same Thing In Reverse ~ Boy George
He's A Keeper Of The Fire ~ Buffy Sainte-Marie

And here's a photo of Buffy since she features in the top ten twice:

Hello Daddy, Hello Mom I'm Your Ch Ch Ch Ch Cherry Bomb!

Dontcha just lurve finding old records that you haven't heard for decades and that force you to dance round the room in your socks?

I've rediscovered the glory that was The Runaways and my favourite song of theirs, 'Cherry Bomb'! Listen to it here:

Christopher (bless his cotton socks) has just rung from HMV to say that The Runaways 'The Millennium Collection' is in stock and he's getting it for me. Isn't that just the nicest thing? Then I'll be able to play it well loud on repeat all weekend (o yes) and put it on iPod for future listening.

Written by the marvellous Joan Jett and Kim Fowley and with Cherie Curry singing her way to imortality, 'Cherry Bomb' epitomises The Runaways for me - threatening, a bit pouty and slutty, loud and not what nice girls should be singing. One of the great songs, indeed.

Hello daddy, hello mom
I'm your ch ch ch ch ch cherry bomb
Hello world I'm your wild girl
I'm your ch ch ch ch ch cherry bomb

... and then play it again LOUDER!

Thursday, 18 May 2006

Sandi Thom - iTunes Number 1

Sandi announced in a shy way that her single was No 1 in the iTunes download chart - what a coup for her and well done to me wee Scottish lassy! So pleased for her!

The Academy Bar is a strange sort of place - an empty room with a bar down one wall and a stage at the end beside the toilets. It apparently holds 250 people and was sold out tonight. We didn't know what time Sandi was due on stage so went in at about 8.15pm, just in time to get a pint in a plastic glass and watch the support act - two lads singing folky accoustic songs that sounded like the Indigo Girls to me and one sounded like REM to Chris. Sons of Jim they'd be then. One lad was showing an acre of grey underwear as his jeans were down around his thighs (I don't understand this fashion - I thought it was *so* 2004). O well.

Then, half a Tracey Chapman CD later, on strolls Sandi while Chris is up at the bar. Accompanied by a guitarist and a 'drummer' (he sits on a small packing case and thumps it like a drum), Sandi is small, long brown hair, a bit shy, with guitar, harmonica and keyboards (which didn't work so we didn't hear that song).

She was on stage for about one hour or so (just as with the Dresden Dolls time was limited, since a Polish night club was starting at 10.45pm) but I didn't really notice time passing at all - Sandi was there, a mere couple of yards away! She did a nice range of songs and I could definitely hear Joni Mitchell in her voice. She did a great version of Stevie Wonder's 'Livin' For The City' that only comprised the first two verses but worked anyway. And, of course, she did 'I wish I was a punk rocker (with flowers in my hair)'!

Hanging round afterwards, we were rewarded with meeting Ms Thom, a great thrill. I told her I'd been a punk rocker way back when and she smiled, no doubt thinking 'what wierdo have they let through the door this time...' but I don't care. She signed my ticket and added a little smiley face. It was nice meeting her.

Earlier in the evening I'd designated the poster of Sandi on the door of the men's bog as mine. Chris had the unpleasant duty of informing me that someone had nicked it before me - bloody thieves up in Islington! While waiting for Sandi Chris accidentally leant against a wall and a poster fell down for me then I brazenly went over and took another one down. I cradled them all the way home.

Sandi Thom

Tomorrow is Sandi Thom night at the Islington Academy Bar and a night long looked forward to. But before I get too gushing about Sandi I must point out that I have not foresaken Amanda DresdenDoll, I just need a variety of women in my life...

Is Sandi Thom going to be the next big thing? I saw an advert for her new single on C4 last night. I didn't even realise they advertised singles anymore... And today I saw giant posters at the top of Brixton Hill advertising the single. It might be that she's a local gal - lives in Tooting even though she's Scottish - or maybe the record company have decided she's a star come hell or high water.

I like the single and I've been listening to it for a couple of months without getting bored. I came across Sandi via a Buffy Sainte-Marie Google alert, where it seems that Buffy is both an influence and Sandi sounds like her (she doesn't to my ear but that's not the point).

She plays in Islington tomorrow (Thursday), the single is out next week and the album is out in the second week of June. I'm really looking forward to it too.

Monday, 15 May 2006


I don't know what to blog about now that the Dresden Dolls have swept into and out of my life... Tomorrow they're in Germany, before moving to France and then Spain at the end of the week...

I could do my top ten iPod or something as a filler but are you really interested?

I could tell you about my day at work today and my four-hour meeting typing onto a whiteboard?

I could complain about how Sainsbury's never seems to have fresh bread-rolls or baggettes in the evening?

Or should I just shut up?

O pah! Here's a piccy of the Hola Parrot! All hail the Hola Parrot!

Saturday, 13 May 2006

Good (Dolls) Day

It was worth all the recent trials and tribulations to see The Dresden Dolls this evening - what a glorious hour and a half! Amanda in her stripey stockings (and, oddly enough, a The Who tee shirt) and Brian in his bowler hat. Keyboards and percussion make so much noise with Amanda's voice soaring and diving over the top of it all, a wondrous sound. The Astoria isn't one of my favourite venues but they did what they could to add an element of cabaret with performance art in the foyer and an acrobat on stage and, of course, the two of them filled the stage and filled the venue with delightful noise.

The opening words of the show were the first line of 'Sex Changes' which set a good tone for the evening. There was a nice mix of songs with good pacing and some wonderful crescendo moments. Favourite moments were 'Coin Operated Boy', Girl Anachronism', 'Perfect Fit' and 'Half Jack' from the first album and 'Modern Moonlight', 'Backstabber' and 'Mrs O' from the new record (I loved it when Amanda referred to it as their 'new record').

They did a lovely accoustic version of T.Rex's 'Cosmic Dancer' (with Brian on guitar) and a great treat was 'Amsterdam' with Amanda swaggering drunkenly over the stage as she takes on the persona of the pissed seaman. They both seem to pour themselves into the music and the performance, they must be drained at the end, sending us all away with their energy.

The four song enchore ended with the wonderful 'Good Day', and what a good day it was.

God! Its been a lovely day!
Everything's been going my way
I had so much fun today
And I'm on fire!

I was grinning from ear to ear as we left, ushered out quickly so they could get ready for the club starting. In retrospect, I'm relieved that they didn't do 'Sing' from the new record (and one of my current favourites) since it would have been spoiled by people talking over the quiet bits. There was a general murmur of background conversation throughout the show that was quite noticeable during 'Cosmic Dancer' - I assume most of the audience didn't know what it was or who T.Rex were. Why do people go to concerts to talk and look around? Look at the stage, damn you, watch and listen and keep your gobs shut!

What a good day I've had - I also picked up the missing New York Dolls CD this afternoon so I'm back down with the dolls!

Thank you, Amanda and Brian, for a great evening. When will I next see you, I wonder?

Thursday, 11 May 2006


Nothing seems to go to plan. I troll up to Oxford Street after work to pick up the wonderful new single from the Dresden Dolls - 'Sing' - from HMV. It's mentioned in the DD newsletter and it's available for download on iTunes along with a 'B' side tune that isn't on the new album. But it's not in the HMV shop and, after checking, it's not scheduled to be released. Now, what's that all about and where is it?

In a slough of despond I go browsing and pick up a salsa collection and 'Rock n Roll' by the New York Dolls (yes, there seems to be a 'dolls' theme going here). I've just opened the CD case and there's no CD inside! Eh? What's going on here?

The D Dolls single doesn't seem to exist except on iTunes and the NY Dolls album exists but there's no music inside...

I think it's a conspiracy. I've obviously gotten on the wrong side of some dolls at some point and this is their revenge.

Wednesday, 10 May 2006


Phew! I *finally* have my Dresden Dolls tickets! What an effort!

Like a good little punter I didn't query the absence of tickets with Ticketmaster because all the emails and website say that tickets might not be issued until 7 days before the event. Then out of the blue I get a 'reminder' email from Ticketmaster and that makes me worry. I rung TM on Sunday to be told that my tickets were issued in March and that secure mail people (whatever) have been trying to deliver them since then. That was news to me.

I ring the secure mail people (whatever) to try to get the tickets delivered on Monday and then leave a message on the website to deliver them to my work address. No response. Then on Monday evening in Sainsburys I get a text saying they'll be delivered on Tuesday between 9-5. I try to get into work for 9am (not a great skill on my part) in the hopes that tickets will be delivered in the morning ... no such luck! I get the phone call saying the delivery bloke is in reception - unfortunately by 2.20pm I'm on a train just pulling out of Birmingham International at that time.

I ring the secure mail people (whatever) to get the tickets delivered on Wednesday, again between 9-5. I heroically get into work at 8.30am (I'm waiting for a medal for that achievement) hoping for delivery in the morning since my afternoon will be largely spent in a meeting in another building. Finally, at about 2.45pm I get the call and I rush back to my building to get the tickets - and I have them!Just why they have to be signed for and I have to produce proof of who I am is beyond me. At least I will see Amanda and Brian on Friday!

Oddly enough I received tickets to see Sandi Thom yesterday through the post. And my ticket to the Chelsea Flower Show arrived today, again through the post. Why does Ticketmaster have to be different?

Tuesday, 9 May 2006

Top Ten iPod

Ok Ok, I know you've been clamouring for my top ten on the iPod machine, so here it is:

Back To The Drive ~ Suzi Quatro
Darling Don't Cry ~ Buffy Sainte-Marie
I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker (With Flowers In My Hair) ~ Sandi Thom
He's An Indian Cowboy In The Rodeo ~ Buffy Sainte-Marie
Panic In Detroit ~ David Bowie
You Can Do Magic ~ Limmie And The Family Cooking
The Coast Is Always Changing ~ Maximo Park
Glitter In Their Eyes ~ Patti Smith
Public Image ~ Public Image Limited
God Is A DJ ~ Pink

Not very different, really, from my last 'top ten', the main addition being Sandi Thom whom I will have the pleasure of seeing in a week or so at the Academy Bar in Islington.

My new favourite song is 'Sing' by the Dresden Dolls - it's a grower. I'm distressed that I still haven't received my tickets to see them on Friday. I phoned Ticketmaster and it seems that my tickets were sent in March by special delivery but I haven't had any 'we called but you were out cards'. I tried to get them delivered today (monday) but I've now had a text to say they'll be delivered to my workplace on Tuesday - shame I'll only be there until lunchtime after which I'm off to Birmingham for my sins. O dear, I'm starting to worry...

Monday, 8 May 2006


Some of the more interesting experiences in Mexico were, of course, the people. As seems to be the case in most corners of the world, the Germans have taken root and, since it's in the Americas, those upright citizens of the USA have also taken a significant hold. There were also French people and, you'll be relieved to hear, lots of Mexicans. Some were obviously of Mayan descent while others were of Spanish ancestry.

It was quite sweet in a way - and rather odd - to see young American goth-type people, all pallid, coloured hair, tattoos and piercings, large tee-shirts and big boots trying to survive in the heat and humidity of the Yucatan jungle. Like lost souls in paradise not entirely sure how to act and react. They were quite cute in a way and stood out a mile. The Americans also seemed to travel around in packs, groups of them rather than 2s or 3s and were, in the main, loud.

The Germans were like German tourists all over the world, well, except for one tourist. What shall we call him? O yes, sock man. He already had a deep mahogany tan, an all-over tan since he wore knitted, um, baby socks over his genitals. No, not speedos, not jockstraps, not thongs... knitted little pouches just large enough to encase his genitals. One had a piece of wool like a string over his hips and around his bum like a thong, the other was seemingly elasticated (possibly?) with nothing to hold it in place. Astonishingly, when he left the hotel to go home he wore florescent pink rompers, plasticy looking short-shorts with elasticated legs... Most odd but hey, he seemed to enjoy himself so why should I worry?

This is starting to sound terribly stereotypical, but the French smoked and talked loudly. The few British were quiet and polite. What is it about us, eh?

The Mexicans were generally very friendly although a few, in the more touristy and water-selling places were a bit jaded but most were still polite and smiled. The gardeners at the hotel all made a point of stopping what they were doing and saying 'hola' when I walked past, maybe because I took an interest in the plants? The breakfast waiters all routinely asked whether we'd had too much tequila the night before (the answer was always 'no'). At dinner in the lovely restaurants along Fifth Avenue the waiting staff were so incredibly polite and 'leave people alone' it was actually difficult sometimes to order a second beer (and that was heartbreaking for me). Everywhere else in the world it's 'one more beer?' before you have a chance to finish the first. They also made it difficult to pay, like it was impolite to hand over the bill...

I loved the holiday and I loved the hotel. No television for two weeks, no newspapers, no radio, no computers... just hot sun, beautiful beaches, interesting sights, adventures ... it was wonderful. I want to go back.

Friday, 5 May 2006

Wierdness and Wonder

There's lots of wierd and wonderful stuff in the Yucatan and in and around Playa del Carmen.

Have I told you about the caverns of Aktun Chen? No? It's a large cave system out in the jungle in the interior of the Yucatan. I was doubtful about going in, not being very good with enclosed spaces or heights (as in lots of steps downwards to the caves) but I survived and, in an odd way, enjoyed it. Some great sights deep underground, with stalagtites and mites, water dripping, underground lakes, very spooky.

A similarly odd experience is to walk around the cemetary at XCaret - I don't think anyone is actually buried there, it's more of a memorial park than a cementary, but it's full of gravestones in glorious colour, some serious and some incredible fun.

One of my favourites was what I think of as the 'glam rock' grave in green and yellow with boots dangling under a sunshade - loved it! Another was the gloriously colourful 'fruit basket' grave. We wandered round a couple of times and saw different graves as different aspects catch your eye or different times of the day when the sunshine catches different parts of the graves.

The mound of the cemetary was hollow inside with a couple of shrines to the Virgin and a big cross in the centre surrounded by a spiral waterfall. That was very strange and, in its own way, very beautiful.

I didn't quite get the whole death thing in Mexico and I don't recall it at all from my trip years ago. There were shops that mainly sold death stuff, skeleton figures in various clothes - even skeleton dogs with bones in their mouths. Most odd.

Thursday, 4 May 2006

Things to see and do

Well, the world's your oyster in the Yucatan - so long as it's outdoor stuff you're looking for. With the glorious year-round weather you'd expect lots of outdoor activities and, near the coast, lots of activities to do with the sea. There are ruined cities to explore, of course, but don't look for museums and galleries - this isn't London or New York, or even Mexico City. Of course, with all this outdoor stuff you find yourself siddling into whatever shade is availabloe to keep out of the scorching sun.

We went to Coba, an ancient city in the jungle, still largely unexcavated with mounds covered in trees under which are likely to be the ruins of buildings. It will be fascinating to go there in 10 years time to see what's happened to the archaeological park and what's ben discovered. The main site to visit is a large pyramid where the front steps have been cleared as a tourist trap for people to climb to the top and view the jungle all around. I went about 3/4 of the way up when I first visited the site in the mid-90s but didn't attempt it this time. Chris scampered up and back down in one piece.

I went to Chichen Itza while Chris had an 'at home' day, a very long trip involving an hours drive up to Cancun to join a tourist coach for the drive into the heart of the Yucatan, but it was worth it. Chichen Itza is a well explored and presented archaeological park where the central image is the Pyramid of Kukulcan, the rain god. It's really spectacular, one of the key images of Mexico, and these days you're not allowed to climb it to protect it from wear and tear (I went up years ago and am not sad at all about not going up again).
There are great 'nature parks' at Xel-Ha and XCaret which are part sea parks, part nature parks and, in the case of XCaret, part culture parks. My favourite was XCaret since it had so much to offer. Not just the Hola Parrot, but it also offered the most exciting thing - walking across the floor of the ocean! I'm still slightly surprised that I managed to do it, but it was a wonderful experience, slow motion walking and all!

XCaret also included various nature parks, with a butterfly reserve, underground rivers, jaguars and pumas, lots of parrots, an evening cultural show and some derring-do flyers who drop from a high pole by ropes in a traditional ceremony for rain. Ouch. And, of course, a fascinating 'cemetary' in the centre of the park full of wierd and colourful tombs. No idea what it's meant to really be or represent, but it's a lovely (if macabre) place.

Wednesday, 3 May 2006

Flowers of the Yucatan

I like flowers and plants. My Granda won gardening prizes way back when and it's probably through him that I like the idea of gardening (even though I don't have a garden). So, whenever I'm off on my trips I keep my eyes open for interesting plants or even just pretty flowers that can be found anywhere.

Jungles tend not to be very flowery. They're more often than not gloomy and moist due to the overhead canopy in the tropics - I found this very strange on my first real jungle trip (in Borneo years ago) since I'd been raised on 'Tarzan' and 'Road To...' films that always had lots of exotic flowers to add atmosphere. In the case of the Yucatan, the jungle was full of half dead looking trees that selfishly soak up all the moisture from the ground. Flowers are either small or only inhabit the edges of the jungles and forests. But there are always flowers somewhere.

The hotel had lots of flowering plants scattered around the grounds, the colourful leaves of crotons and true busy lizzies, bromeliads and what looked like varieties of mysembrianthiums that only open their flowers in the full sun. And lots of varieties of palms.

There was an orchid and bromeliad nursery at XCaret that was a welcome relief from the harsh, hot sun on a stiffling afternoon. I always associate orchids with the Far East but, of course, there are varieties all over the world (we even have our own native varieties here at home). I like orchids - they make me think of Buddhist temples in Thailand where the altars are garlanded in strings of orchids. And water lillies always remind me of Lord Buddha whose first footsteps were on lilly flowers to prevent his purity from being contaminated by touching the ground of Mara. And gorgeous bourgainvillea dripping in shades of red and purple. I'm not sure where some of these plants originated - are they local to Mexico or imported? I need to find out.

This blog entry is just to show off lots of nice flowers. I hope you enjoy.

Palapas on the beach

The beach at Playa del Carmen is clean white sand and clear, turquoise sea. The sky is blue with fluffy clouds every so often, the sun incredibly bright and scorching. The palm trees and palapas - the thatched sunshades - rustle in the breeze.

Our hotel, Las Palapas, prides itself on its rustic charm with rooms in separate cottages, or rather, cabanas. Some were right on the beach, others in the garden area along with the restaurants and bar, while others were in a more private part of the grounds, reached by winding paths and surrounded by lush vegetation and with a feel of the jungle. We were in the latter zone. No television or radio, but a nice big verandah with hammocks and comfy chairs for relaxing, screened by various palms and purple bourgainvilleas. Idyllic and an ideal setting for a lazy get-away-from-it-all holiday.

A very lazy time was had by all but we also put in some solid graft too. I'm most proud of my little hand-painted treasure chest - all me own work! One of the 'activities' available was to sit in the shade by the pool and paint various ceramics which were taken away and glazed over-night. It took ages to paint the chest, tongue sticking out in concentration trying to get it just right. Lots of mistakes on it but I'm pleased! And, luckily, I got some new, shiny 10 peso coins to put in my little treasure chest in lieu of pirate doubloons!

There were a lot of bright, colourful ceramics available in town (and virtually everywhere) so I bought a little sun to hang on the wall to remind me of lazy days on the beach...