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What I'm doing after Australia and why. When I figure it out, of course...

Sunday, May 14, 2006


Having been to a variety of places, I never get tired of odd or unusual signposts. This was the oddest I've ever seen - although it was part of the annual 'Sculpture by the Sea' art exhibition in Sydney. These signs were placed at random intervals along the coastal footpath between Bondi and Tamarama beaches and were designed to be deliberately ambiguous.

At the same exhibition - the dangers of 'installing' an art project made from (what looks like) flimsy plastic right next to the pounding waves of the Pacific Ocean. Best of luck for Monochrome as Object #3, Pam! Maybe put it in a gallery to be on the safe side, eh?

On a suburban street in Canberra - the dangers of Australian wildlife. After reading this, you can't help nervously scanning the nearby trees. It felt like dozens of beady eyes were bearing down on me - but you'll be please to know I scuttled past the sign without losing an ear to any rogue birds. Unfortunately it never specified what type of bird to look for - it may have been a ground-dwelling sparrow thing, so me covering my head with my arms and whimpering could have been pointless. If I ever go back there, I'm taking a cricket bat, just in case.

This one was brilliant - on the tiny island of Ulva, in the main bay of Stewart Island south of New Zealand, you can find this 'threatened plant'. I should say so - when the picture is bigger than the actual thing, you can call it threatened. I had a quick look around, there were no other clusters anywhere - for Gunnera hamiltonii, that was it. If I were a gardener, I'd dig this up as a weed and chuck it without any thought. Hence the sign, I presume.

East of Christchurch is Taylor's Mistake - a surfing bay and sandy beach named after an unfortunate ship's captain who had some rock-related trouble there. Anyway, it made a good sign for a photo - and have you ever seen me with a cheesier grin? It's almost frightening.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Pillock in a Bubble

David Blaine, this week

What did you get up to this week? Anything interesting? I went for dinner with friends, drank in a few pubs, watched a cricket match on the Sunday. What I didn't do was chain myself in a plastic water-filled bubble for seven days and 'make eye contact' with people queueing to see me. But then I'm not David Blaine. "My only fear is the unknown," said Blaine before descending into the sphere whenever it was last week. That and fin rot, I presume (a joke for my Aquarist readers there). I would think if you sit underwater for a week you know pretty much where you'll be at the end of it. And that you'll be more wrinkly.

Anyway, the other night he came out, having survived, but only just. He described his time in the bubble as 'horrific' - "I think the time has started to really take its toll on my body. Every muscle doesn't just ache, it feels like a sharp shooting pain, like a knife being stabbed." I would think that would be a stabbing pain - but I'm no expert. I dunno, I can't work him out. Some say he's a showman, in the long tradition of Houdini etc, some say he's a headline-grabbing egotist. Essentially he's a more extreme version of people who do stupid things when drunk - "I bet you a fiver I can down this pint in under ten seconds!" "Yeah? Well Dave reckons he can sit underwater for a week!!"

I suppose as long as only he gets put at danger, it's not a bad thing if he wants to do bizarre stunts - he could spend a week pushing grapes up his backside for all I care. He certainly seems to be well rewarded - TV Networks sold $9m worth of advertising during the bubble thing, and he's set to earn a large seven-figure sum as a result. Taking that into consideration, fair play to him - people have always paid good money to see strange people doing mystifying things - like watching Bolton Wanderers, for example. Why shouldn't he rake it in?

I only thought that until I visited Blaine's website, however, where you can purchase things like this poster, entitled 'Drowned Alive' featuring an incredible drawing of a heavily muscled Blaine straining at his chains, whilst being surrounded by angels. And a man in a rowing boat, for some reason. I doubt he personally drew it - but is this how he sees himself? If not, some members of the public certainly seem to - "I got water on my hand from his body," said excited student Anthony Taylor. [no relation...] He visited Blaine every day of his aquatic incarceration and said he felt a strong bond with his fellow Brooklynite. "I'm proud of my brother and I think he did good. Most people don't even like taking baths. Nobody else could do that." [BBC]

Well, that's true. But then, would anybody else want to? Yes, as it happens. At the same time as Blaine was having the algae scraped off his tank, a man called Ted Alcorn was doing a similar stunt on Broadway called 'Dunk for Darfur', to "highlight how many had died in Sudan while he was submerged while the world held its breath,". A noble cause, but paperwork got the better of his intentions, as he was promptly arrested for not obtaining a permit. Maybe Blaine is taking the cult of celebrity too far, but at least he walks the walk - you wouldn't catch Paris Hilton* doing something like that. But it makes me uncomfortable that if something went wrong, he'd become a modern-day TV martyr. They should just tip formaldehyde into the bubble and turn him into a Damien Hurst sculpture - Blaine could become his own statue. He might actually like that.

* - Now my Google hits are going to shoot up...

NY cheers on David Blaine

Monday, May 08, 2006

A means to an end

They look like this!

If you scroll down all the way to the bottom of this page - past all the colourful photos and witty, uplifting dialogue (should you find any), you might see a small black number right at the very end. This is how I keep track of all you lovely readers - except my Grandparents, who read paper copies printed off and posted to them by my Mum. 'Silver Surfers' always slip under the radar. Anyway, thanks to the fine people at, I can get an idea of how many people visit the site, where they are, and how they came to arrive here.

I only do it out of mild interest, I constantly find it surprising people a) would want to read what I write, and b) can actually find me - given that there are 35 million blogs on the internet now. Feel free to click on the 'Next Blog' button at the top right there, which will - thanks to the magic of the t'interweb - take you to another random outpouring of a Keyboard Superhero making things up, much like myself. Or it could be in Spanish, so you'll never know. Anyway, a fair few people seem to find me by accident - and to them I can only apologise - but others come across DUaB after Googling for something.

Yep, such is the power of Google, it has now become a verb (or adjective, or whatever the right term should be. Ahem). So people looking for information bash in some near-sounding words and they get me in their list of possible sites. I don't do anything deliberate to end up in these results - some of them I read and scratch my head as to how my random outpourings get connected to what they were looking for. But hey, hopefully I can be of help - like the person who searched for 'SHOW ME WHAT SPIDER CRABS LOOK LIKE', I can only point upwards. Also, 'FUNICULAR AND CABLE CARS TO LAKE ASHI' I covered in some depth here, so maybe that person got the answers they were after.

I doubt the person who searched for 'ROBBIE WILLIAMS FAN SITE KILT PHOTO' went away rewarded though, although there is a picture of me in a kilt on here somewhere - as if that were any consolation. 'EASTER WEEKEND DUNE ACCIDENT' is something I couldn't remember happening, although I did see someone get hit by a flyaway parasol on Curl Curl beach once - maybe that was it. I don't think I've ever covered 'AUSSIE RULES CHANTS', or 'JEAN PAUL GAULTIER UMBRELLAS' - the mind boggles. As to 'WHY DOES A TELLY TURN ITSELF OFF?' I can only answer HAVE YOU TRIED LOOKING IN THE MANUAL?.

Some of the potential subjects people are after, and end up with me, are almost poetic in their strangeness. Take 'DOWN UNDER SYDNEY CITY LOVE', or 'TORRENT SUPERVOLCANO DUTCH'. No, me neither. 'CENTIPEDE ON SKEWERS' is a good one - Google has 910 entries on this important subject. It also has 692,000 sites answering the very valid question 'WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE 2012 OLYMPICS' - although if Ken Livingstone clicks on the 5th ranked result to find out, he'll get an old piece I wrote about a basketball match at Sydney Olympic Park.

I'll try and answer as many of these as I can though, so here goes. 'WHO INVENTED THE DEEP FRIED MARS BAR?' - A chippy in Stonehaven, near Aberdeen. 'TYPICAL BRITISH BANK HOLIDAY WEATHER' - rain. 'HOW MANY CALORIES IN A TUNNOCKS CARAMEL WAFER?' - not enough. 'INTERVIEW BLACKBURN'S LUCAS NEILL' - I would ask him why he gives away so many penalties. 'IRN BRU ONLINE ORDER NEW ZEALAND' - hungover again, Edd? ;)

The two most often searched-for terms that point people here are 'DANGEROUS THINGS ABOUT AUSTRALIA', and - I'm not making this up - 'WHAT DO MEN WEAR UNDER THEIR KILTS'. I'm not sure if those people are nervous first-time wearers trying to find out for themselves, or hopeful women looking for photos. Either way, I doubt they found out what they came for here. My personal favourite Google entries are 'TOKYO GIANT RATS' - which I'm sure I would have a recollection of - 'ACCIDENTALLY SUCKED INTO THE ENGINE - CAUSES OF DEATH', which yields 26,700 results, amazingly. But to finish, a perfect way to sum up DUaB. I congratulate the person who navigated here after searching Google for 'UNPUNCTUAL HUMOUR ESSAY'...

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A good walk spoiled

Nice shot, sir!

How frustrating is golf? Bloody frustrating if you play like I do - and yet bizarrely I still enjoy it. Odd that. Anyway, yesterday was a rare sunny day, so I took it off and played golf with an old friend of mine. For years I'd been using the same old crappy set of clubs I bought when I was 15 and just starting out - and I still get junkmail from the place I bought them from, which is annoyingly impressive. A few weeks ago I received a four-figure cheque from Australia after cashing in my Superannuation I accrued whilst working over there, so I spent a fair whack (pun intended) of that on a new set of clubs.

What with Scotland being the home of golf (if you don't listen to the Dutch or Chinese), there are plenty of courses around here to carve up. The one we chose was reasonably long, straight and flat - good for getting back into the game (I'd not played for a couple of years). At the first tee, after a few scything practice swipes, I calmly teed the ball up, brandished my shiny new driver (the head of which is the size of a small dog), and with the next group looking on, promptly sliced the ball five feet along the ground - just making it off the raised teeing area.

So after that I figured it couldn't get much worse. Cocking up at the first tee is about as bad as it gets, as golf being what it is you assume every other player on the course is deftly skilled and sees you as some kind of feckless amateur. But the group behind lost a ball on the first and didn't have to wait for us at all, so we could get on with things at our own pace. Not that that helped my game any - but it was a nice sunny day (albeit windy), and it was good to put the new irons to some kind of use.

When I was in Australia in 2002 I played on a course in Northern Queensland, which was also great fun. Part of that was getting the chance to drive a golf buggy - and aside from nearly rolling it (which wasn't my fault), the closest I came to killing myself was when I picked up a rake to smooth over a bunker I'd just hacked out of, only to find a large pea-green spider sitting on the handle looking intently at my hand. I also sliced one into the bushes (a common occurrence when I'm not hooking into the bushes), and started poking around with my club in ankle-high scrub for my ball - forgetting that several of the world's deadliest snakes live wild there. So after freezing, and frantically scanning the leaves for a slavering camouflaged reptile, I quietly backed out of the rough and got another ball from my bag. As hard as the courses are in Scotland, at least you can go into the rough without being killed (which is good news for yours truly).

Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Stomach Rules the World

Rev Dr. William Buckland

A few months ago I talked about the delights of nutty academics, a subject I have fond memories of from my times at University. Recently I've been reading about the eminent Geologist Dr William Buckland - a man who on one hand was a marvellously intelligent scientist, but on the other a complete loon - yet in that kind of eccentric way only 19th Century Britons could manage. In his sadly brief life, he managed - amongst other things - to discover the first known dinosaur (before they were so called), champion theories like Glaciation, become the trusted friend of a Prime Minister - and also become fascinated with fossil poo, eat the heart of the King of France, and piss off Charles Darwin (who called him a 'vulgar and coarse buffoon').

Buckland was born in 1784 in Devon, and thanks to a spirited father became interested enough in the sciences to win a scholarship to Oxford in 1801. Studying the fledgling science of Geology (he was their first ever reader in the subject), he excelled, and was awarded an MA in 1808, the same year he was ordained as a priest. He moved on to lecturing, and delighted in unorthodox teaching methods that made him a firm favourite with his students - famously one described a typical lecture of his...

“He paced like a Franciscan preacher up and down behind a long showcase ... He had in his hand a huge hyaena’s skull. He suddenly dashed down the steps - rushed skull in hand at the first undergraduate on the front bench and shouted ‘What rules the world?’ The youth, terrified, answered not a word. He rushed then on to me, pointing the hyaena full in my face - ‘What rules the world?’ ‘Haven’t an idea’, I said. ‘The stomach, sir!’, he cried ‘rules the world. The great ones eat the less, the less the lesser still!’”

In 1824 Buckland became President of the Geological Society, and announced the discovery of the bones of a giant reptile, which he named Megalosaurus, or “great lizard”, on account of its vast size. He published a paper later that year, thus describing the first ever dinosaur - although that term had yet to be coined. This made his name, and he went on to lecture regularly at the British Association, Royal Society and the Geological Society.

However, despite his scientific merits, Buckland is infamous for one special wish - his resolution to eat one of every type of animal. Not surprisingly, his dinner parties were legendary - toasted mice were a favourite of his - which he happily chewed on whilst his guests made excuses about being full, I imagine. Hedgehog, guinea pig, alligator, sea slug, ostrich - the menu at his house was eclectic to say the least. He became a sort of Anti-Noah, living near London Zoo meant he could turn up when something died he had yet to sample. Apparently on holiday when the zoo's Leopard died, he returned to find it buried, but dug it up and tried it anyway.

Sadly I've yet to find an exact list of everything he tried - but I do know that his two least favourite snacks were Mole and the humble Bluebottle, which he thought was 'disgusting'. He obviously had an effect on his son, Frank, as he carried on his father's passion for unusual foodstuffs. However, although Frank managed to plough through a whole Porpoise, he never matched his father's greatest triumph -

"Talk of strange relics led to mention of the heart of a French King [Louis XVI] preserved at Nuneham in a silver casket. Dr. Buckland, whilst looking at it, exclaimed, 'I have eaten many strange things, but have never eaten the heart of a king before,' and, before anyone could hinder him, he had gobbled it up, and the precious relic was lost for ever."

I'm not entirely convinced by this, but other stories I've read about Buckland have referred to him buying the embalmed heart of a French king and eating it in front of shocked guests at one of his parties, so you never know. My favourite anecdote about this remarkable man sums him up well, showing his ability to use unusual methods to get to the bottom of a scientific mystery...

..."Visiting a cathedral at which spots of saints' blood were said to be always fresh on the floor, never evaporating or vanishing, Dr. Buckland, with the use of his tongue, determined that the "blood" was in fact bats' urine."

Dr William Buckland's Biography can be found here (.pdf file)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

RIP Grandstand

Jeff reacts as Gretna go two down

It was announced today that the BBC are to phase out Grandstand - their flagship Saturday sports programme - as viewing figures continue to decline. In a way, I'm sad about this, as I have fond memories of sitting in front of the telly with a plate of sandwiches and crisps watching Football Focus. It was an unofficial tradition in our house, along with my Dad cheerfully chucking a packet of crisps at us as we sat there waiting for him to finish making our rolls. "I thought you liked corned beef" and "Why has he got three and I've only got two?" were also common occurances. The later-starting Sunday Grandstand meant we had to eat whilst watching Country File, which was never quite the same. Eating ham sandwiches and footage of pig farms just don't sit as well together.

But, I'm probably part of the problem too - as I keep referring to the sheer magic of Sky Soccer Saturday (described by today's Guardian as a 'cult hit'), the old-style Grandstand looks lumbering by comparison. In response, they recently launched their own 'men watching men watching football' service - but the combination of lurid red and yellow graphics and Garth Crooks mean it can't compare with Jeff Stelling and the boys. I read an excellent article about SSS recently, where Simon Hattenstone rightly pointed out that the ever-enthusiastic Jeff manages to give equal import to lower-league games as he does to the fancy Premiership contests - and this is why the service works so well.

To the uninitiated, Grandstand is/was a multi-sport wedge of television from roughly midday to the early evening, every Saturday (and Sundays in summer). Started in 1958 in the glorious black and white era of technicians in brown coats, it continued to rise in popularity as one of the few places where you could watch a variety of sports in one day, without moving from your sofa. These days of course, there are a million sports channels beaming every sport at you at any time, so sitting through three hours of Showjumping to get to the golf isn't going to cut it anymore.

However, Grandstand introduced many household names to the UK - Des Lynam, David Coleman, Peter O'Sullevan, Harry Carpenter, Murray Walker to name a few. The fact that all of these men are just as (and maybe more) famous for their presenting style than the sports they covered gives an idea as to why the franchise is in trouble. These days, presenters/reporters/analysts seem to come from identical moulds - none have the charm and wit of a Lynam, the voice of an O'Sullevan, or the ability to cock things up like Walker. These days, there's only one sports presenter I can think of who could go clipboard to clipboard with the greats - and that's Jeff Stelling from Sky Soccer Saturday. That's why I don't watch Grandstand anymore, and I think that's why the BBC are sadly phasing it out...

Sunday, April 23, 2006

At the duck race

The annual charity duck race along the Water of Leith in Stockbridge is Edinburgh's version of the Boat Race - only instead of oversized sweaty Canadians, you watch hundreds of plastic ducks floating down the river.

First run in 1988, it raises money for Cancer Research charities - you pay £1 and get a numbered duck. I picked number 1438, named him 'Quacker', and hoped for the best. As you can see, picking your duck out of the pack is a bit tricky.

Some people resorted to any method to win. Those people know who they are - and although they may have a clear conscience, history will judge them. That's all I have to say on the matter. Oh - that, and the fact that Grant was helping someone else's duck here, so he's probably a hero.

Half of the ducks were red, and half yellow - but for some strange reason the yellow ones were much faster. Months of aerodynamic work in the wind tunnel by the red duck engineers wasted, then. I wasn't sure, but I'm betting mine was probably red.

At a guess there were about 100 people following the race, which went over a course about 200m from the Deanhaugh Bridge to the cricket ground bridge. There were a few bemused tourists caught up in the excitement too - these crazy British, eh?

There were many fallers at 'The Pipe'.

At the end of the course the stewards pulled out the lucky winners and shouted the numbers out for the judge to write down. Winners are notified by post - so none of us knows if we won anything. Imagine if all the Grand National jockeys wore the same colour and the winning trainer found out a week later...

This one didn't win, caught in a slow-moving eddy. After the race the volunteers had to wade upstream picking up all the runners that never made it, caught on rocks and weeds en route. But the ducks love it, it's their one day in the spotlight.

Of course, there was no shortage of helpers to lend a hand in the cleanup. I heard one woman point to a real-life duck (I have no idea what they made of it) and tell her daughter 'Look! There's the referee!'
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