Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Back To Work

So it’s back to work today. Doesn’t really feel like I’ve been off that much. I was working yesterday, although most of it could be done from home and I only had to spend about three hours in the office, so I suppose I didn’t really get the full weekend off.

In amongst all the server patching, I made a start on tidying up the flat. With my parents coming to stay next weekend, I somehow feel the child’s obligation to tidy my room… Well, it does need doing and having guests is a perfect excuse. Let’s just hope that my tidying urge doesn’t wear off after I’ve spent a day at work!

In my emotional morass on Sunday evening, I totally failed to mention the great lunch we had had with Emma and her partner, Chris, in Folkestone that day. It was all a bit of a rush to get to, as we’d ended up staying overnight with Rod & Jess, so after a late breakfast we had to get back to Wimbledon to pick up the car to drive back past Forest Hill and down to the coast. Paul’s Restaurant in Folkestone is a great place to go for Sunday lunch. They have a fine carvery and always have glorious desserts.

The rest of the planned afternoon wandering around my old home town was rather spoiled by the rain though – typical of the English summer!

This morning, while lying in bed until I have to get up and go to work, I came across a good article on the BBC News site which linked to a blog entry by a guy comparing Tony Blair’s contradictory views on the Compensation Culture in Britain and the need for a National Identity Card. The blog entry is here and is worth reading!

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Sunday Night Blues

It feels a bit like grief, as if he were leaving me for good; a hollow-stomached desolation, as if a part of me has been cut out. I get this feeling to some degree every week when Brett is getting ready to go back to Stockholm. This week it is more acute. I think I am probably a little depressed – I haven’t slept well on any night this week (initially because of work and latterly because of the weather) and when I am tired, my moods are more extreme.

It feels as if I have only just got him back and now he is leaving again. At the start of the weekend, when he gets home, it always takes a time to reconnect with each other; to mentally change gears and mesh our lives and minds again. That’s the awkward bit. Then there is the brief interval of being a couple again and then, as Sunday evening rolls around, there is the pain of preparing to separate once more.

This weekend has been quite a ‘social’ one. We’ve spent a lot of the time with other people and less time with just ourselves. That probably hasn’t helped. Next weekend should be a bit better though – that’s going to be our long weekend together.

I hope I sleep better this week.

Kings and Swords

Rod and Jess are always wonderful hosts. Jessica, like her mother, loves cooking and makes sure that there is plenty of everything on the table. When we arrived there was a full spread waiting for us, so we set to with gusto and so began a lovely evening. I have a photo of the table when we arrived which I will post when we get home. [Edit: See here.]
We haven't seen R&J in a while so there was some catching up to be done. Jess is on leave for a week because, with no Select Committees appointed by the government yet, there is no work whatsoever for the committee clerks.
Bruce, who was also there, filled us in on his medical course, which he is now halfway through. At one point he mentioned that he had his sword in the boot of his car. Jess asked why on earth he needed a sword in the boot of his car, to which swiftly replied: "Have you ever lived in Tooting??" before proceeding to fill us in on his martial arts course, which sounds both great fun and great exercise. (I think he was joking about Tooting. Probably...)
Later on he did bring his sword out for us to have a look at, although he declined to do any demonstration as we had all been drinking, but four feet of spring steel blade with a solid pommel and leather-bound grip certainly looked impressive.
We moved from the garden into the house for dessert (fruit salad & cream and/or fruit fool - yum!) and the conversation moved on to politics in various forms. Starting off with how dull the election had been and the likely successors to Michael Howard, we eventually ended up on reform of the Upper House and the role of the nobility and Monarch in government. In turn this devolved in to talk about what reign names the Prince of Wales and Prince William would choose, and likely succession scenarios.
By then though, it was late, everyone had had seconds of dessert and we had discovered that a taxi could not be had to Wimbledon at that time of night for love nor money. Luckily R&J are well prepared for overnight guests, so Brett & I bedded down on a mattress in the lounge, while Bruce slept on one in the hall.
Only thing is, we now have to get back to Wimbledon to pick up the car to make a 1pm lunch date in Folkestone! Time to get up and start the day I suppose...

Saturday, May 28, 2005


So summer is finally here - just in time for a Bank Holiday weekend. Out of the blue (to coin a phrase) the temperature topped 31°C (88°F) on Friday. The office was quiet as people were obviously either extending their weekend or just working from home. My day was entirely spent in Adelaide though, as our Australian office were having problems getting email through to the rest of the company. Bah!

Last night we, along with 5.8million other Brits, watched the first show of Big Brother 2005. While I haven’t been a constant fan of the shows to date, I think Big Brother, along with Survivor, are fairly decent as the genre goes. Everything else feels like a low-budget derivative. I can only wait and see whether the goings on in the house rivet me, or bore me. Check back in a fortnight to see if I’m still watching!

Today has been fairly quiet and domestic. Brett went to pick up his comics; I went down to the supermarket to top up the cupboards. Then we both came home and napped.

I had the car cleaned while I was shopping (and they did a good job for £10, inside and out!) but I was left wondering at the slightly casual attitude the crew took to taking car keys. You didn’t have to leave a name or anything to associate yourself to your car. In theory I could have walked up and said, “Oh yes, the Porsche is mine!” (had there been a Porsche in amongst the family runabouts) and driven off. Well okay, the deception probably wouldn’t have taken long to uncover, but it would probably be good long enough to go rob a bank or joy-ride somebody’s car into a ditch.

Just surfing the web this afternoon, I came across a couple of interesting sites. The first of them is a news article about Voyager 1 being on the verge of deep space. I just find it awe-inspiring. We are so caught up in Science Fiction these days. We take convenient interstellar travel for granted because of the likes of Star Trek and Star Wars, but in fact we have never yet sent a vehicle outside our own Solar system.

Until now.

I think everyone should at least pause a while to consider this moment in history.

The second link for you is in a (somewhat) lighter vein. If you have a secret that you can’t possibly tell to anyone, then why not design a postcard with it on and send it off to these people!? Some funny, some moving, some sad. I've extracted some of the ones I like best into my photoblog.

Right off to Forest Hill to make the most of the weather at a barbeque at Rod & Jess' place!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Restaurants, Restaurants everywhere, but not a place to eat!

My task for tonight was to get a dinner organised for Brett’s birthday next week. It’s not a surprise or anything especially unusual. We discussed the guest list last weekend, I made preliminary invites at the rehearsal on Sunday (yes, I’m afraid all of the attendees are fellow choirboys and a few partners thereof) but we didn’t have a restaurant in mind.

So that was what I set myself to do tonight; organise the restaurant. A trivial task you would have thought, in a large, cosmopolitan city like London. Oh no.

I want it to be a special meal for my man. I’m sure I could book an Aberdeen Steak House in no time and be done with it, or even one of the many West-End chains, but I want to find a restaurant with a bit of character and good food that isn’t going to hurry us through the meal so they can get a second sitting in. It’s proving tricky.

I have found a few promising ones. Mon Plaisir sounded good, but already had a large group booked. Rules sounded good, but a bit too formal and a bit too pricey. Levant looked like it had a great feel about it – especially in the private area – but they couldn’t take us until 10:30, by which time I’d have given up and gone to McDonalds.

Tomorrow I think I’ll try calling L'Estaminet which sounds like good food at a leisurely pace, albeit with occasional hiccups with the service.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

At the other airport

Finally I’m home. The flight was okay; only a few minutes late. Gatwick was a complete contrast from this morning though – totally empty; a silent cathedral of polished faux-granite and brushed stainless steel. I might have stopped to contemplate infinity for a moment… if I hadn’t wanted to get out of there so much!

While paying for the car park I found myself on the flipside of my attitude of this morning. Having sought refuge from the throng amongst the suited business types at my departure gate earlier on, this evening I was sympathising with the poor teenager taking the flak from a line of rude businessmen because the self-service payment machines in the car park were out of order. There is a difference between complaining about a poor service and being personally offensive to someone who almost certainly has no control over the situation and is only doing their job. These guys were on the wrong side of that line. I was too cowardly to point this out to them though and made do with being extra nice to the ticket guy myself while paying for my eighteen hours. I got a relieved smile for my pains, so felt I’d done good

Anyway: bitching complete and self congratulated. My work here is done; time for bed.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

At the airport

It's been a long day and there's still more of it to go. Gatwick was busy this morning - full of people, that I think John W would describe as English Chavsters, off to the various popular package holiday hotspots around the Med. ...But before they flew off to their sun, sex and sangria the majority of them seemed to want to stand in front of me in queues. I picked THE slowest check-in desk & then waited 20 minutes in an eight-person line for coffee!
The Edinburgh flight lounge was refreshingly chav free though and, thanks to Easyjet's first-checked-in, first-boarded policy, I managed to get an over-wing exit seat and so had lots of legroom. The flight and taxi to the office were both very smooth.
When I got there, though, the marathon of confusion began: The symptoms kept changing but not the effect.
Bulldog's technical support were a complete and utter waste of time. Even after I had gone and bought a new router and found exactly the same problem with it, they still insisted that the fault wasn't with the line and wouldn't consider any alternative that wasn't our kit being the problem. After arguing in circles for half-an-hour with this arrogant and unhelpful arsehole I completely lost my cool, told him what I thought of him and where he could stick it, hung up and then prowled the office looking for something to hit, smash or crush.
I did finally calm down and persevered and, sometime around 3pm, the problems (on both lines!) mysteriously/miraculously went away and everything started working again...
A problem with our equipment? I don't think so you useless fucking idiot at Bulldog fucking Communications!! Check the local exchange, arsehole!!
So anyway, after 36 hours of frustration, Edinburgh are finally online again and I can go home and sleep.
Assuming EasyJet keep up their half of the bargain that is...
Watch this space!

Monday, May 23, 2005

Tempting Fate

I am not a religious person normally, but there are some days (like today) when I feel that there could well be a vengeful God directing earthly affairs. I should have known better than to comment on what a lovely morning it was this morning. I should have realised that it would draw attention and I would be made to suffer for my presumption.

Within half an hour of posting, I had a call from work: Our Edinburgh Office had lost its connection to the Internet (which is necessary for them to link into our company WAN) and none of the usual things had fixed it.

I have spent most of my day on the phone either to the Edinburgh Office, talking the Office Manager through various procedures with the networking kit, or in hold queues trying to get through to the technical support of both our primary and backup ADSL (Internet) providers. Our primary provider (BT) averaged queuing times of 20mins (sometimes as long as fifty!) and we got a different theory from each agent we spoke to – some of whom were downright unhelpful, some whom were helpful but could be of limited assistance because of network problems (not reassuring from the company providing the bulk of the national telephony infrastructure!)

Our backup provider (Bulldog) was almost impossible to talk to for most of the day. Every time I rang their support line I either ended up at the same poor soul’s voicemail, or a receptionist who said that I hadn’t reached Bulldog (but who refused to tell me who I had reached,) or receiving a message from the IVR saying that they couldn’t connect me at this time before cutting me off. Naturally our account manager was out of the office today and his assistant was in a meeting most of the morning.

As a result of all this incompetence and bad luck it wasn’t until late this afternoon that BT finally agreed to get an engineer to look at our line (although it will take them up to forty-eight hours to guarantee a fix.) When Bulldog finally contacted me, they were at least very helpful and as a result of their tests it now looks likely that the culprit for this whole debacle is the ADSL router.

If we’d been able to determine this at 10am this morning then I wouldn’t be leaving home in four hours to get on a 6am plane to Edinburgh to ‘show face’ and fix the problem.

So for the record (just in case The Fates are still listening): On balance I’ve had a dismal day and expect to have an even more miserable one tomorrow. Thanks a bundle!

One moment in time

One of the good things about my job is that some weeks I don’t need to start work until 10am so I get an extra lie-in.

Today is beautiful. I forgot to close the bedroom curtains last night, so I am lying here now with sunlight streaming in through the window watching the massive oak trees next door moving in the breeze. What a fine start to the day.

[Now watch some stupid user go screw it up for me!]

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Pot Pourri

An all day Chorus rehearsal today that went very well. We were doing staging, so it was a lot of standing up but it was great fun. I am loving this show more and more the further we get into it! ‘Our Time’ always seems to have the audience threatening tears (in a good way!) and I just love singing every song.

This evening I had a call from Emma in Folkestone and in the course of the conversation we realised that we hadn’t seen each other in two years or more. As a result, we’re going down to Folkestone for a day next weekend to catch up with a few old friends and so I can show Brett the place. (I hope the weather will be decent…)

This evening we’ve mostly been online. I’ve been chatting to my newly discovered gay work colleague on Out and Brett has been catching up with his blog reading.

Apart from that, nothing much to report really, so here are a few links to keep you amused…

It still needs more corroboratory research, but it looks like wanking is good for you! (Or at least it was when you were in your twenties.) Check out the article in the New Scientist which reveals all.

Slightly more irreverent is this spoof of The Jam hit ‘Going Underground’ aimed squarely at striking Tube drivers by a frustrated commuter. [Be warned it may take a little while to load and contains strong language.]

Finally, some topical humour as the Chicago Tribune asks its readers to suggest some unlikely or humorous product placements in the new Star Wars movie. The link takes you to a blog entry that excerpts some of the best and provides a further link to the article itself.

Star Wars III

In other news, had a very pleasant dinner with Ping last night, although I fear Brett and I were possibly a little weary by mid-evening. A fairly quiet day today doing domestic stuff and watching TV before going to see the latest Star Wars movie this evening with Ping and Bruce. Verdict: Better than the last two and a decent film, but too rushed a story arc and too many holes/continuity errors/plot weaknesses to be truly great.

Combative Galloway

Last week one of our more controversial Members of Parliament was invited to give evidence to the US Senate about bribes they accused him of taking from the old Iraqi regime. I understand that he gave a fairly robust defence of his actions and integrity and managed to bloody a few political noses, but I only saw reports about it in the UK press. This link on the other hand comes from an American source and also seems to think that the Senators bit off more than they could chew.

Maybe Mr Galloway’s performance will remind people that there are still unresolved issues about why we went to war and might encourage more disclosure about the facts behind the Downing Street Memo, which seems to be getting little coverage compared to the omnipresent Jackson Trial,


I added a new Random Blog button (the clue is in the name) to my browser’s Links bar this morning and spent a while browsing blogs to see what caught my eye. Only a couple seemed worth watching to see how they go (GreenFairy.Com and The Peter Files) but in amongst all the snapshots of people’s lives and thoughts, there was a high proportion of advertising: Blogs set up by some business interest or other and posted to on a regular basis with generic advertising for their product.

Nothing more than spam in the blogosphere. Another potentially great medium brought low, like the Internet before it, by people looking to make the cheapest buck at the expense of everyone else’s time and bandwidth. Bah.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Pregnant Pause

I think this about sums it up...

(except I do own quite a bit of music by J.S. Bach and it hasn't helped.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

A baited hook

I received an email this morning from one of my users who had just been alerted to the fact that his email address had won a special ‘Lottery.’ The prize, donated by ‘the Computer Industry’ [for unlikely reasons!] was no less than US$600,000. All he had to do was contact the ‘Processing Officer’ and pay some taxes and legal fees upfront…

“Do you think it’s genuine?” my user asked me.

“No way,” I replied and wondered, as I hit Send, if he really thought it could be real. To me the thing had virtually leaped off the page and shouted ‘Scam!’ Even so, a few minutes later he replied asking;

“Are you $600,000 sure??”

I answered in one word (“YES!”) and then drew his attention to the abysmal use of language, the amateur layout, the non-corporate email address, the single phone/fax line, the (un)likelihood of big computer corporations paying out money in this way, the improbability of them not relentlessly advertising the fact even if they did, the improbability of them doing it from an address in the Netherlands in any case, the fact that he was being asked to pay tax on money he hadn’t received yet and a range of other warning signs.

No further replies were received but I was left wondering whether I, by virtue of working in the industry and having an interest in network security, am just especially cognisant of scams like this, or whether there are some people who are just especially gullible. I also wonder though which of us, on the whole, leads the happier life…

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Listless nights

I’m feeling rather listless at the moment. Work continues to tick along, but I think I am missing Brett rather of an evening. The flat is becoming a bit of a bachelor pad (=tip) in his absence, because there hardly seems to be any reason to wash up one plate at a time. I am trying to keep busy though: I’m having lunch with Owen and doing dinner and a movie with my sister tomorrow and possibly going out with Ping on Friday.

I was rather annoyed to realise that the London To Brighton Bike Ride this year clashes with one of the big staging rehearsals for the Chorus’ Summer Show. I probably could talk my way out of doing the rehearsal, but then I’d have missed a whole pile of stage direction and would have to wing it with only the dress rehearsal to go before the show. Still, at least I’m cycling again now and feeling good about it.

Bah. I’m off to bed. It’s probably too little sleep Sunday and last night that’s making me feel this way.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

It's a Small, Small World

It is a small world. For all that there are millions of people on this small island of ours, you just keep running into familiar faces.

This weekend (for example), Brett and I were in town and decided to grab a coffee after lunch. While Brett waited on the order, I went to find us a seat and who should I end up sitting down opposite, but one of my former Saga colleagues. More here.

Then yesterday evening I received a message through OutEverywhere, a gay online service I use. The message was from a colleague who I have worked with on a couple of projects and never realised was gay. In subsequent messaging I’ve discovered he’s quite a sci-fi buff too.

It was actually kind of a shock finding out he’s gay – but then my gaydar always has been pretty crap – and reading the online profile of someone you know through work felt just a little bit creepy. Still, he seems fairly sorted with the whole gay thing, so I expect all will be well. I should invite him out for lunch and we can exchange ‘coming out at the office’ stories!

Friday, May 13, 2005

Nothing to see here!

There’s a bit of a feeling of ‘the same old same old’ about this week. Nothing bad happening, but nothing particularly blog-worthy going on in my life either. To avoid too much Dead Air, I thought I might point you in the direction of some people who have more of interest to say than me.

The first one is a story which doesn’t seem to have hit the British press at all, but is making big waves in the more liberal groups in the US. Apparently the Congress recently passed a big funding bill for their military in Iraq. This was considered a ‘must-pass’ bill because, whatever the rights or wrongs of the war itself, it would be unpatriotic not to support ‘our boys’ who have been sent off to do the fighting. However it appears that a couple of items were attached to this bill and were passed with no debate at all, because of the nature of the main bill. One of them was the de facto introduction of a national identity card (something which Americans, like the Brits, have been resisting for sometime.) Secondly, there is a clause which gives the head of Homeland Security the right (in certain very limited circumstances) to arbitrarily set aside laws which get in his way, without any apparent right of appeal against the decision. You can imagine how civil liberties groups are reacting to that.

Now I do have to hold up my hands a little bit and admit I haven’t done any fact checking on this myself. Normally I would search a few conservative sources to get the other side of the story. Maybe I’ll do that this weekend – or maybe one of my readers can do it for me. Perhaps point me at some sources which make clear how this is all just left-wing scaremongering and how the Bill of Rights hasn’t just been nudged onto the slippery slope down to irrelevance? Please?

The next link I’m going to offer you is a new blog that appeared recently talking about life in a Call Centre. I’ve added it to my RSS aggregator and, provided he keeps posting, I’ll probably link to it from my sidebar too. You can find the Call Centre Guru here.

Finally an article from The Spectator magazine by former Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, about the difficulties faced by prisons in trying to do what is ‘right’ for their inmates. A copy of the article can be found here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Not quite such a successful day at work today. People now know I’m back, so I got more interruptions. Had lunch with Rosie though and got to see her new office. Reading between the lines I think she is still feeling a bit unsettled and, although she is enjoying the challenge of her new job, it is still quite a change from her academic role and a big upheaval in her life. Unfortunately she has to go back up to Yorkshire this weekend to tie-up some loose ends; otherwise I would have invited her over for dinner or something.

This evening I attended the Chorus’ Membership Committee meeting and rather enjoyed it. Compared to having to chair the meeting, being the ex-Chairman is a rather leisurely role. I like being the elder statesman and the committee is almost entirely new and enthusiastic.

On the train home though, I started reviewing my interview performance yesterday and was still in two minds about whether I had performed well. I suspect I’m going to be agonising over it until I actually get the decision letter!

Brett is away in Sweden again this week, so the house is quite empty and quiet tonight. At least he is back at the weekend. Suddenly a week in Paris doesn’t seem long enough; for all that we did together, we didn’t really got much quality time out of it and suddenly I’m wishing that we had.

On a slightly lighter note though, I received a link to a fun little political flash cartoon which you can enjoy here.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Second Interview

Well, for a first day back in the office, today was remarkably smooth and stress-free: No major crises had been building while I’d been away. Everything had ticked along as planned, so I happily dealt with what email there was and quietly thanked the gods of IT for not spoiling my holiday with a hard landing.

The major event of today was actually my second interview for the Magistracy. You may recall I felt I did fairly well at the first interview. However, I don’t have a good feel for how today went, other than that it was a stimulating hour which really made me think. I won’t know whether I passed or not until late June at the earliest when the names of the short-listed candidates go to the Lord Chancellor for approval.

Whereas the first interview was fairly standard Human Resources fare, today I was given some scenarios to consider, decide on and then discuss with the panel of three serving magistrates. The sample scenarios were apparently confidential, so I won’t discuss them in detail (Which would probably be long and tedious in any case.)

There were basically two tasks; the first was to rank the four offences from a list of seven brief descriptions that I viewed as ‘most serious’ and then to justify my decisions in the face of questioning from the panel. The second task was a more detailed scenario, roughly approximating (I assume) a police report of a crime and the pre-sentence report on the defendant. This involved some role-play as I and two of the panel, took on the role of the Bench deciding the sentence to be passed. It took a while but I eventually fumbled my way through the points and options expressed by my ‘colleagues’ to decide what I believe was a just sentence.

While they pointed out that there were no right or wrong answers to the scenarios we were discussing, that just made me more conscious of how inarticulate and meandering I had been during the process of deciding the answer (which is what I expect they were judging me on) – and also how amorphous a lot of my views really are on the nitty-gritty of crime and punishment. If they want a wishy-washy liberal-minded do-gooder on the Bench this time next year, then it seems I am their man!

Well, however I performed, it is done now. I can do nothing but wait to get the letter.

Chorus rehearsal this evening went well. I caught up with a couple of the guys I haven’t seen in a while. Afterwards, Brett needed to have chats with some of the Music Team and the Steering Committee, so we ended up going to the pub for a drink where I did more socialising: All very pleasant.

Brett is off to Sweden for four days again tomorrow, so he is still pottering around, packing and sorting stuff out… doesn’t look like an early night.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Au Revoir a Paris

Today is travel day; the end of the holiday. Time to pack up our bags and head back to reality, working for a living and paying the credit card bills. We have both had a really good time in Paris and want to come back and spend more time here. The trip from London is remarkably easy and stress-free; Waterloo International is the same station we use to get into London anyway, so it’s easy to get to. There are limited formalities. You don’t have to hand over your luggage to an airline, so there are no baggage retrieval nightmares: you are straight off the train into Paris. If your hotel is near the Gare de Nord, or on a Metro line that links from it, then the connection is trivial too.

When Brett is not spending so much time in Sweden, we will plan some long weekends here. It is simply so easy to do.

So as I sit here in the departure area waiting for our train, I am reflecting on the things I have enjoyed this week and some of the things I won’t be sorry to leave. The apartment worked out very well. I will miss the cheerful ladies at the Boulangerie, who greeted me with a cheery Bonjour Monsieur each morning when I stumbled in, half asleep, in search of the pastries for breakfast. The pastries themselves make the list too; they simply taste so much better, both in flavour and texture, than the ones we find in the UK.

The city itself is very beautiful. Paris doesn’t seem to have suffered as much as London has from 1950’s and 60’s building. (My history is a little ropey in this area, but I suspect Paris didn’t get blitzed by Hitler.)

I like that there are still so many small shops around. Britain is no longer a nation of shopkeepers, these days most people just drive their 4x4s to the supermarket. Instead the Parisians are carrying on that tradition and the freshness and flavour of the food makes it worth it, I think.

The little corner bars and brasseries are a delight too: the noisy hubbub of the waiting staff as they scurry about, the heavy aroma of Galoise cigarettes that hangs around the bar, the usually delightful food they have to offer, all serve to make them a wonderful place to spend a lazy afternoon.

Of course this laid-back atmosphere can be very frustrating if you are in a hurry to be somewhere, but when you have the time to enjoy it, it is bliss.

I love that you can take as many photographs as you want in the museums and chateaux that you visit. I prefer the personal touch of the photographs that you have taken yourself to the glossy guidebooks that you are encouraged to buy to remember your visit.

I won’t miss the laissez-faire attitude to their organisation though. The lack of the advertised guided tours at Versailles annoyed me. I also object to paying 50cents to use a scruffy, dirty toilet, when I’ve already paid a hefty entrance fee to get into the Palace anyway. The bizarre rules governing who could leave bags at the bag-check also left me open mouthed.

The problems with the credit cards not being read by the automatic ticket machines was also very frustrating – although luckily the Various Voices welcome pack included a week’s travelcard for the Metro.

On the whole though, as I’ve said above, it’s a city I’ll come back to. The idiosyncrasies are part of its character.

We met several more of the LGMC boys waiting for departure and most of them are on our train so I’ll head back once we get underway and catch up with them. I didn’t go to the closing night party last night – although from what I’ve heard it wasn’t that great; all the drinks cost €10 each, regardless of whether you had water or whisky – so I should maybe catch up with my socialising.

I feel I’ve got know many of them a lot better on this tour. Everyone seems to agree that the Chorus needs to socialise together more, as it is the best bonding experience.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Performance Two

Today started cautiously. While I didn’t have the resounding hangover I was expecting (and probably deserved) after last night, I was quite delicate in the stomach and not inclined to be very active. Brett, who seemed none the worse for wear, took on the role of coaxing me towards humanity, ready for an open air performance at 1:30pm.

I couldn’t face any of the usual options for breakfast and instead made do with honeyed bread soaked in milk, but even that was touch-and-go.

We set off mid-morning to the bandstand where we would be performing, to hear some of the choirs that were up ahead of us. By the time we got there, I was hungry for real (although still couldn’t face patisserie.) I managed to find myself an open air market which had a rotisserie, so I breakfasted again on roast chicken and potatoes which were remarkably good and improved my spirits no end.

We went on stage before an enthusiastic audience, which included a number of the Pink Singers – who had been performing at the same time as us in the other theatre last night, so hadn’t been able to see our show. We also have one common member who had sung with them last night but was singing with us today.

Despite intermittent rain showers the performance went well, although the stronger voice required in an un-amplified, open air setting, left my delicate head pounding. Our Parisian cheerleader, Thierry, introduced us and led the applause afterwards. He seems to be quite the LGMC groupie!

We stayed and watched the Melomen perform when we were done and then went to find some lunch. A nearby bar/brasserie provided the goods with some very tasty homemade hamburgers and chocolate cake.

With our batteries recharged we made a run for the Various Voices admin centre to pick up tickets for the farewell party tonight, running into Charlie, our Musical Director, on the way. Brett and he discussed various Vice-Chairman issues before Charlie headed off to meet someone and we continued on. Unfortunately, by the time we got to the centre, it had closed so we didn’t end up with any tickets, although the word on the street was that they probably wouldn’t be required anyway, so we turned around and headed back to the Parc du Temple to hear the Pink Singers do their slot at 4:30pm.

They turned out to have a very good set. The last time I heard them, I was rather lukewarm about the experience, but this time they impressed me. They opened with a lively Beach Boys medley, followed up with the Dies Irae and Lachrymosa from Mozart’s Requiem and later ended with an Abba medley which had the audience singing along. Most enjoyable.

After that though, we were worn out and headed back to the hotel for a nap before the party. About three hours later, I still had a headache and didn’t fancy the trek all the way out to the Charles De Gaulle Etoile just to drink water and fruit juice in a nightclub, so Brett went on his own while I stayed home and blogged a bit before going to bed.

Drunken blog

Hello. It's 3:30 in the morning and I am blogging while I sober up. I haven't posted in a fez days because things have been busy. Knakered on Wenesday and Versailles on Thursdqy. Will post retrospectively when i have the time.
Concert went superbly tonighht. THey loved us. The Melomen who follozed us (the host choir) were mmuch more mellow: but I like the Flwer Duet and wnd,ils of ,my mnind.
Should hqve stopped drinking severql boottles qgo. They only had hqmpqgene left qnd it ws only €20 q bottle so hqve drunk rqther q lot:. And this is an AZERTY keyboqrd zhich is q reql ,indfuck.
Greqt night: Our Time; smqrt: Bootylicious; blez the, away.*
Need to sober up to sing on bandstand tomorrow

[Edit: Sorry about that. I came back from the aftershow party, very, very drunk. It's the first time I have been so bad that the world really was moving around as I tried to look at it. The essence of the post is that the concert went well. Two of the highlights for me were 'Our Time' and the 'Bootylicious Medley' (which came with choreography.) We were followed by the Melomen, the Parisian 'host' Chorus, whose set was much more staid, although they did a lovely, haunting rendition of 'The Windmills of Your Mind.' I am still catching up with my blogging as the week has been so hectic (albeit in a good way!) and I will post the updates as and when I have the time. 07/May/05 23:34]

Friday, May 06, 2005

Performance One - and the Aftermath

Today was all about the Chorus. We breakfasted early and well, then headed uptown to the Cigale theatre, ready for our technical rehearsal: A half-hour session where we got briefed on the procedure for tonight’s performance and got fifteen minutes on stage to make sure we could all fit and get sound levels for soloist and backing track. I understand why these things have to be so short – with between five and fifteen choirs performing in any one day and all of them wanting tech time to prepare, the theatre staff must be run ragged – but being under the time pressure always makes it more stressful.

After the tech rehearsal, we had an hour and a half break before the vocal rehearsal, which was taking place some way away. The consensus was that we should all go together, as no-one was really sure where the venue was… however, instead of taking the Metro as I’d expected, whoever was leading led us off on a half-hour walk to the place. Now, if it had been a sunny spring day, that might have been rather nice, but it wasn’t. The sky was grey and the wind was from the north. When we got to the next venue we found a café, but had to sit outside because there were so many of us.

Eventually though, the time ticked around and we were let into the studio to rehearse. It was a small, airless box (well, at least too small for sixty singers and support staff!) Nevertheless we rehearsed well.

Thierry, our Chorus ‘Godfather’ from the host choir, the Melomen, was clearly very into our set and made a sweet little speech after it was all done, asking us to tone down the performance to avoid making the Melomen (who were scheduled to perform after us tonight) look like ‘prats.’ Naturally we made no such promise, but it was nice of him to be so complimentary.

There was some talk of doing ‘stuff’ after the rehearsal, but I think that most people, like me, just headed back to their hotel to take it easy and rest up ready for the show. I took the opportunity to prepare a gallery of photographs and sent the URL to the Chorus’ chat list, so the boys back home could see how we were doing. You can find them here if you are interested.

Brett, who wasn’t singing, went instead to watch some more of the choirs performing that day and we met up again for a rather basic dinner in Montmartre in time for our 9pm call.

Inevitably there was the pre-performance waiting around: Each of us preparing in our own way. Today I found myself running through the Bootylicious choreography with some of the others. Then, following a fifteen minute interval, the French version of The Krankies were on stage introducing us and, before you knew it, we were on stage giving it our best ‘tits and teeth’ performance.

The acoustic of the theatre was rather empty. We had been warned about it, but it still felt like we weren’t performing strongly enough (Brett assured us afterwards that the audience could hear us clearly, all the way to the back of the auditorium.) The show was being broadcast live on French television so we had the distractions of a roving cameraman wandering amongst the tightly packed rows as we sang, as well as the flashing of the ‘on air’ lights from the front-of-house cameras as the editor cut from one view to another. It didn’t take long to get used to though and, apart from a momentary lapse where some of the Chorus found themselves two beats behind the rest during Music To Watch Girls By, it was an excellent performance.

One of my favourite pieces is the Sondheim number, Our Time, where the solo was sung by one of our newest members, Michael W. He has a lovely voice and a very professional stage presence; he really sold the song to the audience. This was his first show, having only joined in March, and hasn’t really sung before so there were many congratulations for him later – although as he remarked, rather sanguinely, singing the solo in your debut performance means it’s all down hill from here…

After we had ended on a bang with our Bootylicious Medley (and received a full-house standing ovation for it!) we headed front of house to watch the Melomen’s set. The Melomen are the Parisian gay men’s chorus who were hosting the Various Voices festival, so theirs was the honour of performing the last show. While they were technically perfect in their singing, their show is much more ‘mellow’ than ours. They opened with the Flower Duet from the opera Lakme, which I love, but is a long piece and which they performed at about half-speed so it seemed to go on forever! They did do a haunting rendition of The Windmills Of Your Mind, though which was absolutely beautiful. (I gather we have asked if we can have a copy of the arrangement…!)

The show closed with various bouquet-giving and a short speech from the president of Various Voices inviting us to the party at the other theatre, the Trianon, where ‘every bottle of sparkling wine you drink, puts us less in debt when this is all over!’ so we duly set out to do what we could to help with the bottom line.

The place was very crowded but with the warm, familial atmosphere you have at these occasions. Brett and I indulged in beer initially, but when that ran out switched to the sparkling wine. Conversations were initially post-show reviews of how it went, but as more of the bubbly was consumed so we started doing what we enjoy most: singing and flirting.

On the singing front, I recall joining in Doh, Re, Mi and Eidelweiss from the Sound of Music and doing a full-voiced Stand By Your Man with a group of the LGMC boys. There were also brief attempts at The Time Warp and Que Sera Sera, but they didn’t amount to much.

On the flirting front, the most memorable story had to be that from Paul L, who spent a lot of the evening in the company of some Germans who seemed to like him a lot (he is quite a bulky, bearish guy, for all that he sings top tenor) and by the end of the night they had invited him and his partner to Munich to ‘play’ “…and then afterwards we can piss all over you. You will like that?” At this point Paul’s face glazed over and he made his excuses.

Unfortunately the wine was very free flowing and I was considerably more drunk than I feel I should have been. I’m not sure how much I drank, as people were constantly topping up each other’s glasses, but I know that by the time we left (about 2:30am) the world really was spinning before my eyes and I was having trouble with vocal coherency.

We shared a long taxi ride back to the apartment with Steve B & Nicholas B, who were in not much better state. Brett partly undressed and collapsed on the bed. I was compos-mentis enough to know that if I shut my eyes I would vomit, so I did my best to sober up. This wasn’t as easy as it usually is. Normally half an hour and a steady supply of water will see me in a fit state to sleep it off, but tonight it just didn’t get any better.

To kill the time, I spent a while in the foyer attempting to blog, but tripping over both my words and the fact that I was typing with the unfamiliar layout of an AZERTY keyboard, meant the result was almost incoherent and deteriorated as time went on.

I did end up chucking my load. Several times. Eventually found sleep around 4:30am: it was a deep and welcome relief from conciousness.

Thursday, May 05, 2005


Today started badly. Firstly the Boulangerie was shut, (turns out that May 5th is a Public Holiday here) so I picked up a couple of pains au chocolat from the breakfast room in the apartments. They proved to be not a patch on Madame’s and reminded me how much tastier the fresh pastries are than the packaged ones we get at home.

Ping arrived late, having gone to the wrong Citadines apartments, so we didn’t get started until getting on for 10am, when I’d hoped to be underway for 8:30.

Today was our day in the Palace of Versailles. I knew from my trip here with the family some years ago that there was a huge amount to see and wanted to have the most time available for it.

The palace is fairly easy to get to from the centre of Paris, as their suburban rail network runs virtually to the gates. The package ticket that we bought from the station also saved us from the worst of the queues, as it gave priority entry to pretty much everything and I don’t think it cost us any more than regular tickets would have done.

I was well hacked-off when we arrived to find that the advertised guided tours didn’t take place on public holidays (nice of them to tell you that in advance!) but we still had plenty to do.

We spent the morning in the gardens. One advantage of it being a public holiday is that they have the fountains running and music playing throughout, which adds a certain something to the experience. You could easily imagine you were at the Bourbon Court, in attendance on the Sun King as he strolled through the gardens.

Last time I was here, we only walked down to the Grande Canal. This time we went on to the Grande Trianon and realised that there was a whole other section to the gardens that I hadn’t even suspected existed. By the time we’d explored the Grande Trianon itself though, we were feeling in need of a break, so took the little train back to the restaurant ‘Little Venice’ that we’d seen by the Grande Canal. It all looked very smart and stylish – and Brett and I had a nice starter – but the food generally was very poor and had obviously spent some time under a heat lamp, keeping warm, before being served.

After lunch we assayed the Chateau itself and managed to complete tours of both the State and Private Apartments which were only slightly distinguishable in terms of their magnificence. Further annoyances here: I tried to leave my day-sack at the bag-check before starting the State Apartments tour but they wouldn’t let me, because it didn’t contain any food or drink! Later, at the Private Apartments, I was forced to surrender it because the security scan spotted the penknife I carry. Truly bizarre organisation! Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing?

Anyway, it was a minor frustration and didn’t spoil our enjoyment of the chateau. By the time we had completed both tours, the castle was closing so we headed back via a café stop for some revitalising crêpes and coffee. The return train journey was equally as efficient as the outbound, although I think we all dozed through most of it.

Once back in central Paris, we headed for the pizzeria that the Chorus had booked for a group meal. Almost everyone on the tour had signed up for it.

As it turned out the meal was pretty poor, even for €20; a basic plate of charcuterie followed by chips and an indifferent, barely luke-warm, minute steak with an unadorned tarte tatin for dessert! I was pretty knackered and fear I wasn’t much company. I left not long after the meal was complete, having said hello to most of the people I knew well.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Art and Music

I ran into Steve B, the Chorus’ PR officer, in the apartments’ foyer this morning and he filled me in on the previous night’s Various Voices Opening Ceremony (that we had missed by going to Moulin Rouge): Apparently it had been over-long and over-dull, so I felt somewhat less guilty at skipping out on it.

After a nap I set off into town to meet John W at the Pompidou Centre and see some modern art. Jeremy F & Thomas H were along on our little cultural outing too. Although the floor that John had been most keen to see (Modern Art 1900-1960) was shut for renovation, we all really enjoyed the more modern stuff in the Post-1960 gallery.

I’ve photoblogged one of the exhibits (here) which involved a darkened room, a video camera behind a sheet of reflective glass and a video projector, allowing you to interact with your own image… although as John pointed out, it is only a smarter version of the fun you can have in front of the shop window at any branch of Dixons selling video cameras.

Other interesting pieces were a series of pendulous nylon sacks (think lots of women’s stockings hanging on a big rotary drier and you are in the right area) with the bottoms filled with different spices and herbs. The whole thing looked very organic, something like a giant jellyfish. It was colourful at the spring-onion shaped base of each tube and had a different aroma from wherever you stood.

There was also a white ‘cave’ room that had its contours outlined in black paint and a photo-collage which seemed to be based on a Madonna concert (It was entitled Madonna I) but was a jumble of lots of images: Stimulating stuff.

We went in search of coffee after that, but the restaurant on the top floor only did meals – and didn’t look too comfortable anyway. While we were up there though, I did get some interesting, almost impressionist, pictures (here) of the Paris skyline by photographing through the rain running down the glass tube through which the escalators travel.

Thomas headed off to meet up with some other friends after that and the rest of us had a coffee across the road now that the rain had abated.

John and I decided to head on to Sainte Chapelle. This is a small chapel which used to be attached to the Merovingian Royal Palace on the Ile de Cité. It is on two floors and so beautifully decorated! Painted throughout, there are also lots of gilded lozenges between the windows and on the capitals which are inset with coloured glass ‘jewels’ and the stained glass windows on the first floor make up virtually the entire structure of three walls. It looked stunning – and must look even better on a sunny day with sunlight coming through the stained glass.

Brett and Rich were due back from EuroDisney not long after that, so John and I headed up to the Boulevard de Rochechouart where the Various Voices performances were taking place. This is in the Montmartre area of Paris and seems to be the heart of the red-light district as, along a particular stretch, we got offered sex every ten yards or so.

We all had tickets to the concert block starting at 8:15 that night, so we were looking for a restaurant that could process us in the hour and a half that we had available to eat. Unfortunately the restaurants proved fairly few and far between – and those that there were, were mostly not open until 7pm at the earliest. Eventually we settled on a not-too-bad looking little bar that claimed to be a restaurant too.

At first we weren’t sure what to expect, but fairly quickly got the impression we had stumbled on a gem: the fairly narrow bar area at the front, led onto a much larger restaurant area behind, presided over by a stern looking but (John assured me) very friendly middle-aged lady. We were the first customers of the evening, but more trickled in as we pondered the menu (with its handwritten additions and deletions), and all of them were French.

The food, when it arrived, was delicious; I had chicken on the bone, pot-roasted in a lemon and mustard sauce and John had scallops. Rich and Brett arrived later than expected, thoroughly soaked and worn out, and decided they had to eat too to revive themselves for the concerts, so they ordered too. In the end, after such good main courses, we decided we should try dessert as well, which was also delicious.

The restaurant, if anyone wants to try it, was La Pomponnette at the junction of Rue des Abbesses and Rue Lepic and it turns out it’s listed in the Rough Guide to Paris that I have on my PDA. (If only I’d thought of that at the time, it would have saved us a lot of pointless trekking around!)

We made it to the second-half of the concert block and got to hear the Canberra chorus, which had been my main aim. By the accounts of the other LGMC guys we met, the first half had been pretty dismal even though it included one choir dressed as chickens, so we felt we’d made the right choice enjoying the restaurant rather than rushing.

After the concert the consensus was to head back to our respective hotels and sleep for as long as possible.

A Day Of Rest

Brett is off to EuroDisney today, along with thirty or so of the choir boys. I believe there is some plan to reach the epiphany of 'camp' by all riding It's A Small World together.
I decided to pass on this opportunity. I've done EuroDisney several times before and don't have as much of a thing for rollercoasters as Brett does. John W and I are supposed to be getting together to do something cultural, but I'm feeling pretty weary so I think I'll call him and put off any activities until this afternoon. A relaxed morning in the apartment sounds like just what the doctor ordered...

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Moulin Rouge

Tonight we visited the Moulin Rouge for dinner and a show. Dinner was decent, albeit with small portions and, if the waiting staff impressed me this afternoon, this evening’s waiter topped the lot by proving to be conversant with Japanese to enable him to speak with the other two couples on our table.

Dinner was only the entrée to the main event though. After dessert, we ordered champagne to see us through show, for it was the show we were there to see, and we were impressed.

On the downside, the auditorium was rather cramped, the show wasn't so tantalising for a gay audience member (unless you were a lesbian) and the synchronisation of the dance troupe wasn’t as perfect as, for example, the London production of Chicago. That said, the guys got more of their kit off later in the show (albeit for a rather camp interpretation of I Will Survive) and the whole show was very polished. I worked for a time in theatre (many years ago) and I was very impressed by the sheer technical complexity of it: As well as plenty of regular scenery, they had an entire forestage on hydraulics which, when uncovered, revealed a 5x5x3m aquarium filled with water in which swam, what I assume were, anacondas! The stage was raised during the number and then dramatically lit so that you realised it was a tank of water, it then proceeded to sink slowly into the floor, taking one of the dancers with it. One of the later numbers lowered a ceiling from above the stage with dancers on it which then folded down to reveal a staircase, which in turn descended down to the main stage; the choreography working seamlessly around this major tech set-piece.

Other acts of note included: the dancer choreographed in the anaconda tank for a two-minute piece; the act which preceded it which included a wonderful ‘Medusa’ costume for one of her fellows; the entr’acte acrobats, the Perez Brothers, who received almost continuous applause (and not just from me and Brett!) throughout their act for their breathtaking tumbling and balancing and sheer muscular control; the entr’acte mime who was an absolute scream and the male troupe in the big Can-Can number for showing that they were at least as limber as their female counterparts – and that much braver, for throwing themselves onto the stage in the splits without so much as a grimace as their balls hit the floor!

We came away feeling thoroughly entertained: Definitely worth the money. I want to go and see the show at the Lido on Thursday now, just to compare.

Notre Dame

Last night we were out celebrating Nick B’s birthday. They had arranged a meal in a nearby restaurant. We were a little late because Brett was napping and I was working on my computer (which was showing London time, so I thought we still had an hour to get there!), but in the end it didn’t matter, as service was in the leisurely French mode. The food was good (I had oysters, rump steak and a mixed dessert platter) the wine was cheap and plentiful and the company excellent.

I was showing my new phone off to Nick and he sent himself a suggestive text message – only to discover that I had his boyfriend’s phone number listed for him instead!

This morning, while Brett was in the shower, I nipped out to the local Boulangerie-Patisserie and picked up a fresh French stick and some pains-au-chocolat and we had our first proper continental breakfast in the apartment. The pastries were still warm and we made the coffee strong and sweet: Delicious!

Today is the first day of the Various Voices festival, so we went along to registration after breakfast and picked up our badges, welcome packs and concert tickets. After an hour or so of chatting with the other boys we took a wander down towards the river and stopped in the Tuiléries Gardens to have our lunch (the baguette and cheese and pate from the market on Sunday.)

The plan had been to go on to the Museé D’Orsay but when we got there, there was a massive queue. The guidebook (as well as not mentioning any likelihood of queues) didn’t have any advice on alternative places to purchase tickets and it looked like they were regulating entry anyway. We decided to skip it this time around, which was shame, but meant I could avoid having to explain to museum security our six-inch bread knife being in my day sack! We hopped on the RER, down to St. Michel – Notre Dame instead.

The cathedral wasn’t anything special actually. I would say that both Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral are more interesting inside than Notre Dame. Brett said he didn't feel anything sacred in there, just commercial. I didn't even get the commercial vibe, but agree that it certainly didn't feel like an important church. They had some nice silver- and gold-ware, though, including reliquaries which, on Good Friday, are used to display items claimed to be Christ’s Crown of Thorns and a fragment of the ‘True Cross.’ (I keep meaning to look into the Catholic Church’s position on items like this to see how much evidence there is that such items are genuine and how much of it is based on faith!)

We skipped the forty-minute queue to climb the towers, found ourselves seats in the nearby café and had cappuccinos and pastries instead. While watching the world go by in true Parisian style I was impressed by the waiting staff, who seemed to be fluent in at least four European languages – at least to the extent of café talk. I doubt many waiters in London or Washington could provide the same service!

Monday, May 02, 2005

The Louvre

This morning was not a good morning. Having only gotten to bed at 2am last night, the alarm went off at 06:30 so that we could make an early start to get to Versailles. Luckily I checked the guidebook before getting too far along with that plan, as we discovered that the Chateau is closed on Mondays. A hasty review of plans followed and a phone call to Ping to let him know we weren’t going today after all. He was quite happy about that as he was still half asleep and apparently it was raining heavily on his hotel – even though it was only spitting at ours.

So we started breakfast in our apartment, eating the pastries, brioche and oranges we had bought yesterday – but only having water to drink, as nowhere here in this city, the centre of café societie serves coffee ‘to go’ and all the shops were closed yesterday!

By the end of it all, I was feeling thoroughly hacked off with Paris – with their bizarre opening hours, with the unreliability of the hotel’s Internet provision, with not being able to get coffee for breakfast, with having bought juicing oranges rather than eating ones (which were near-impossible to peel!) We decided I probably needed more sleep, so I had a nap for an hour or so, while Brett was a hero and zipped off to the local supermarket and stocked up on the essentials to make future breakfasts more enjoyable.

By about 10:30 I was awake again and the funk had lifted, so we set our sights on a first attempt at the Louvre. At the Palais Royale Metro station, we ran into John W who was looking for the fabled ticket machines to buy entrance for the group from his hotel. We found the machines in the shopping centre attached to the Louvre (and they steadfastly refused both my and Brett’s credit cards again) and bought our tickets. John was relieved that the queue was so short (only three people) as he said the line at the museum entrance was LONG and slow moving.

Sure enough once we were under the pyramid, the queue, snaked all the way around, and up into the courtyard above. John said it then circled the pyramid again above ground. How can so many people not have a clue about all the other ways of getting tickets to the museum that don’t involve queuing for two hours??

After saying ‘hi’ to everyone who’d come with John we all went our separate ways around the museum. Brett and I started with the Large Format French Paintings galleries, as I wanted to show him the massive Coronation of Napoleon I, by Louis David, a print of which hangs on our lounge wall as a memento of my last visit to Paris in the late ‘90s. From there we circled the Grand Gallerie, stopped off in the Salle des États to see the Mona Lisa (which still manages to underwhelm me) and then viewed an exhibition of the French Crown Jewels – some of which were quite stunning – in a beautiful side gallery.

It could have been ‘LGMC day’ at the Louvre today. As well as running into John W & Co on arrival, we also ran into Nick & John in the Crown Jewels exhibit and, while we were talking to them, we were passed by Gerry, PK & Co. Later on, we ran into yet more of our brethren in the foyer!

After that though, we were flagging, so we took a break to quaff some coffee and munch some pastries before crossing to the Richelieu Wing intent on seeing some more French painting. In the end though, we never made it to the paintings because we found the sculpture galleries on the lower floors so entrancing. There are two main galleries of sculpture, both set around glass-roofed courtyards of pale stone. Here the larger works are magnificently displayed on many levels, for you to wander among, while the smaller works are contained in the surrounding building.

I am not quite sure where I picked up my love of classical sculpture – possibly in Guadalest in Spain, where I used to admire the bronze miniatures each time I took a tour group up to the village – but I have been sold on the form for a while. Brett wasn’t too keen beforehand but became a rapid convert today: A lot more interesting than paintings.

I turned into a Japanese tourist for a few hours and spent my time happily snapping away at different angles and the different details.

After the two galleries of sculpture though, we had had our fill and went in search of the shops and a train home. Shops there were aplenty, however none of what we liked was affordable, so we’ll have to make do with the photos remember our day here. Although we both want to come back if we get the chance, I’m not sure we’ll be able to because we have such a packed schedule for the week.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Fine Dining on the Seine

Dinner was very pleasant. We were rushed a bit to get there as the Metro trains were slower than the journey planner had led us to believe, but we made it in time. It was quite a stylish, spacious boat; basically a deck with a glass canopy. The service, the food and drink were all excellent. Everything was included, from the aperitifs to the cognac. There was live music, warming up with Carmen, Air on G String & Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and developing into New York, New York and It’s Raining Men towards the end of the evening.

Basically all the boat did was sail up and down the Seine during dinner. From the Eiffel Tower, we travelled right the way along to the National Library in the East before turning around and swinging back along the other side of the Ile de Cité back to Eiffel and on around past a small Statue of Liberty before turning around again to return to the Tower.

After we disembarked, the rest of the guys headed for the taxi rank back to their hotel. Instead, we walked under the tower and through the Champ de Mars towards the École Militaire. We paused on the lawns of the Champ for a while because the Eiffel Tower was just such a truly impressive sight. It is well floodlit from within at night and is an imposing skyline. I blogged while we were sitting there and you can see that entry below. (Photo here.)

When we finally went on to the station, we discovered another of Paris’ idiosyncrasies: Some of the Metro ticket barriers only lead to one platform, with no access to the one going in the other direction. If this isn’t pointed out to you by signage (as is the case at the Place de L’École Militaire) you end up on the wrong platform, having wasted your ticket. Fortunately the gate supervisor at the other platform was understanding and let us through without it costing us another of our Carnets.

One observation from tonight: Paris is taking its bid to host the 2012 Olympics somewhat more enthusiastically than London. Every bridge we sailed under was either flood-lit, or outlined in neon, in the colours of the Olympic Rings and there is a massive illuminated sign on the Eiffel Tower encourage people to Win The Games.

Paris Romance

Well we had a lovely dinner on the boat. More of that later. But right now we are sitting on the lawn in the Jardin Militaire looking back at the Eiffel Tower, dominating the skyline.
It's beautifully lit, with a searchlight from the top scanning the horizon. We walked underneath it to get here from the boat and were blown away by the sheer mass of metal.
I don't know why but it is wonderfully romantic to sit here, looking up at it.

Paris is closed.

We slept rather late this morning and didn’t end up setting out to look for breakfast until 10:30. Today there was a farmers’ market along the street that our apartments are on, so we wandered through that, checking out the amazing array of produce available – much greater than the markets you see around the UK.

En route we ran into Paul L, who was at a loose-end for the morning while his partner Martin K finished some stuff for work. So we headed off together to have a coffee and chatted for a while before returning through the market to pick up pastries, cheese, paté, fruit and bread for lunch in our apartment.

After lunch we took the Metro along to Place de la Concorde (which feels unfortunately like an airport apron, dotted with statues, fountains and an obelisk – they should learn from Trafalgar Square and pedestrianise the whole place!) and then headed back along the river to the Museé D’Orsay – which was closed because it is May 1st. This confirmed our fears about what there was (or rather wasn’t) to do in town today, so we crossed the river again, cut across the Louvre and ambled through the Tuileries gardens, to a spot where we could book dinner and a show at the Moulin Rouge for Tuesday.

Then we carried on East, heading for the Marais area again, pausing only for a much needed fresh fruit smoothie in the (ironically named?) Fruit’s Paradise

Arriving at Café Open again, there were more of the Chorus boys sitting around enjoying the afternoon sunshine, so we joined them and ended up booking ourselves on their evening Dinner Cruise along the Seine. It’s a bit pricy, but we are promised five-courses and lots to drink, so we are optimistic (and had been considering doing one ourselves anyway.) We’ll probably head out to a bar or somesuch afterwards too.