Christmas and NYE in the UK
For Christmas 2013, My Melbourne friends Leigh and Nicolette who currently live in Edinburgh kindly offered to have myself and our English mate Matty P come stay with them, so I had sorted out my flight from Spain to go straight there.
Side note: My apologies about the lack of photos to go with the first half of this post, I got super slack with photography over Christmas and was having too much fun with friends.
On arrival I had a minor freak out where my bag hadn't come out at baggage collection, which contained pretty much all of my warm clothes. Thoughts of spending Christmas day in Scotland in shorts and a T-shirt went through my head. It turned out there were about 10 other people with the same issue, and what has happened was that one bag had gotten stuck on the other side of the conveyor belt and knocked a dozen bags off out the back.
I got rugged up and then got the bus into the city to meet up with Leigh and Nicolette, and their reaction on my arrival about my giant moustache was just the kind I was hoping, awe and disbelief.
We got another bus out to their place at Leith to drop off my bags, then headed out to have dinner at a nice pub nearby their house. The place made a great rabbit burger, and we caught up and talked about past and future travel plans.
Leigh had to work the next day, Christmas eve, so Nic and I hung out for the day and got things together for the Christmas dinner.
We were actually house sitting for Nic's workmate Dave, so we took my bags with us and dropped them off at their office, then went out and had an amazing Scottish breakfast for just £4. It had everything; bacon, eggs, flat sausage, round sausages, black pudding, beans. So unhealthy yet so very delicious.
We went down the street to the nearby Lidl and shopped for some pork to roast and some veggies, and some bacon and eggs to make for breakfast, then ducked down to a big off licence to stock up on what seemed like plenty of beers.
We took it all back to the office and hung out there cutting out letters for a very sweet video Nicolette put together for Leigh, and waiting for Dave to finish at work so he could take us to his place before heading off to visit his family.
Dave had kindly stocked his fridge with beers for us as well, and with bacon and eggs and all sort of other good easy to prepare foods, so we definitely weren't going to be going thirsty or hungry.
Leigh arrived back from work and we cracked open some drinks and watched some stuff on Netflix and kicked back. A bit later in the evening Matty P arrived, who also had to work Christmas eve and then drive all the way up from Nottingham. It was great to have everyone together in one place again.
The good times continued and we all stayed up until 4am, drinking beer, talking shit and watching shows.
We woke up fairly late Christmas day, feeling pretty rough, but after a few drinks our hangovers disappeared. We actually ran out of beer, even though it felt like we had more there than we could possibly drink, but a nearby store was open and we solved that problem pretty easily.
We prepared the pork roast and the veggies and put them in the oven, and we rewarded a few hours later with a very delicious Christmas dinner.
On boxing day we finally made some use of the breakfast food we'd purchased and made a feast of bacon, both kinds of sausage, eggs, bacon and beans. Epic as always.
We cleaned up Dave's place to leave it as we found it, then went out looking for a pub where we could get haggis, neaps and tatties for a late lunch, to make sure we ticked all of the boxes for a visit to Scotland.
We found a great place that had movie theatre seats with the names of all the characters from train spotting and I got my haggis fix with a couple of nice ales.
Matty let slip that he'd never been to Edinburgh before so we all decided we should get a bus over to the royal mile, the street that leads up to Edinburgh castle and have a walk around.
It was very pretty up there, but icy cold winds were blowing through, so we went down the other side of the hill to the Grassmarket and had a beer in the oldest pub in Edinburgh (Maybe even all of Scotland?). We had a look at a few other pubs along the same strip before heading back to the house.
Matty offered that I could come back to Nottingham with him for NYE, and after looking at the ludicrous prices of hostels in Edinburgh over that period it was the only sensible choice. Places were asking £60-70 a night for a bed in a 16 person dorm. Fucking crazy!
Anyway, we said our goodbyes to Nicolette and Leigh and then set off on the long drive from Edinburgh to Nottingham, 4-5 hours finally arriving at 1:30am. It felt nice to be back at my home away from home again.
Between Christmas and New Years I spent a lot of time hacking on my blog, dumping Tumblr as a platform because it didn't fit well with my not-always-online work flow.
We also revisited a few of my favourite bars around town, the Canal House and Brewdog being the primary haunts, trying all the new ales they now had on tap.
For my birthday, New Years Eve, we got some tickets to go and see a chap-hop rapper, Professor Elemental. For those who've never heard of chap-hop, it's a hilarious genre of hip-hop performed by very proper, steam-punk-esk British gentlemen, rapping about important things like tea, being British and fighting trousers. Here's a video clip to give you an idea of what it's like:
The night has a fancy dress steam punk theme, which made my moustache very well received. I even had a few people so impressed that they were buying me drinks. Sadly it didn't seem to provoke such a positive response from the ladies :P
I got a chance to actually meet Professor Elemental before he was on, who said that he was well jealous of the moustache and I got a few photos of us together.
His set was great, everyone was getting right into it and I even got name checked during it. It was a really fun night and it was a great way to spend my birthday.
A few days later on the weekend, Matty got a vehicle from work and we went on a trip to see Bletchley Park, to top secret facility where they were cracking the enigma codes during World War II.
We saw a bunch of enigma encryption devices and learnt a bit about how the work. They have various code wheels that are each electrically wired differently, and each have a number of modes, each set to a different letter, so that the input letter undergoes many mutations. There was something like 80 million possible ciphers for some of the devices, and they would change them every single day.
The enigma devices were incredibly impressive themselves at the time, but then the 'bombe' code cracking devices used to mechanically switch through 30-40 full sets of enigma code wheels simultaneously, searching for configurations that were electrically complete were simply mind blowing. The machine would stop when set of code wheels lined up in an electrically complete manner, and then that configuration would be tested against a German message to see if it was the correct code for the day.
We even got to see a demonstration of their bombe recreation working, it was quite a noisy sight to see.
There was some stories about several spies and double agents who were feeding misinformation to the German secret service; some real James Bond style stuff.
They have a nice statue to Alan Turing, along with a copy of the British apology for his treatment for being gay.
We ducked across to the nearby computer history museum to have a look around there as well. They have a recreation of Colossus, the world's first electronic digital computer that was at all programmable. It was mammoth in size and crazy noisy.
They had a working PDP-11, complete with text adventure game, but sadly it wasn't powered up that afternoon. The thing was as big as 4-5 full height server racks.
Another room had the oldest still functioning computer, buzzing away playing the Monty Python theme music. So British!
They also had some other massive old computers, literally the size of a room ! You could actually hear them humming and processing as text would appear appear on the screen.
Another interesting piece that had was the longest continuously functioning computer, retired in the mid 2000s from a power plant. It had worked there for something like 40 years straight without ever being restarted.
It was an awesome day out and I'm glad Matt kept suggesting that we should go and do something that weekend. I had been not really looking for things I wanted to do around England as I didn't want to be a burden on Matt who already works way too hard during the week. I realised though that Matt wanting to go do stuff isn't just about him trying to entertain his guest; it's giving him a chance to do stuff he wouldn't go and do by himself, which I can relate to when I'm at home.
On my last night in Nottingham we went out to the Linconshire Poacher for dinner and I had a very tasty game meat casserole and a few nice ales to wash it down. We finished off the night at Brewdog, going on a bit of a dark beer rampage, trying their tactical nuclear penguin, dogma, espresso psycho and their shipwrecker circus, all of which were amazing, and are often very difficult to find beers.
The next day I woke up extremely hungover and unwell, but I had a train to London to catch so I headed off to the station and caught my train. The train felt fairly quick, even with me feeling nauseated at times, but I made it to London OK and went and checked into my hostel and tried to sleep off the hangover.
In the evening I went for a bit of a walk around London, from Charring Cross, around Reagent Street to Piccadilly Circus and Soho, through China town and the West End.
I made a visit to M&M world, several floors packed with nothing but M&Ms and M&M branded products. They had a rainbow of tubes full of M&Ms which you could buy as single colours or make your own mixes.
I was woken up at 6:30am the next day by a real fire alarm evacuation, which had everyone in the hostel out standing on the street in the freezing cold morning. Some people had gone out barefoot without a jacket, which would have been hell. It wasnt a very pleasant start to the day but I figured I'd take advantage of it and didn't go back to bed.
I spent the morning going around to a bunch of camera shops, having a look at various models of pocketable cameras that still have a good amount of manual controls, as I'd been thinking I'd like a smaller camera for my travels. Nothing I saw had the features I'd like at a price I was happy to pay so I'm still using my trusty GX1 to this day.
Later I went to Notting Hill to meet up with a guy from couchsurfing who had organised a juggle jam there. On my way there I passed some cool markets along Portobello road and even stumbled upon a Banksy piece.
It ended up just being the two of us there, but it was good to get in some juggling practice and spend a bit of time spinning poi, and we had some interesting conversation about how cheap it is to live on a houseboat in London compared to a house, and these vipassana meditation retreats that he'd been on where you're pretty much meditating for a week, not really talking at all during that time.
I went to the Victoria & Albert museum and had a quick run through as I'd heard it was supposed to be amazing. I didn't actually find the place very interesting, although there were some impressive rooms in the building itself.
I ducked across from there and went back to the science museum. I saw lots of medical related sections, and the history of medicine, but I ran out of time and it closed before I was done AGAIN!
The next day I wandered around Camden markets some more, admiring all the amazingly detailed steampunk style clothes they have. I'd really love to have an outfit like that for dress ups at festivals but I'm not really in a position for that right now.
I met up for dinner with my English friend Andrew, and Jarod,an Aussie mate who's working over in London at the moment.
We went out for dumplings at a place called Ping Pong Dim Sum. It was good to catch up and the food was top notch, but OMG was it a lot more expensive than I ever thought possible. £30 each! For dumplings!
I had a quite day starting with a long breakfast at a nice place called the Inhibition cafe in Camden, then spent time catching up on my blog and watching the new episode of Sherlock.
I the evening I went over to Brewdog Camden for a few quiet drinks, and got talking with a few off-duty staff and the manager in one corner of the bar. I ended up getting shouted a bunch of really nice barley wines by them. I recall Evil Twin Brewing - Torst Front room being particularly delicious.
A night on the barely wine means a morning of feeling pretty awful, but a quick trip back to the Inhibition cafe got my grease and fat levels up to a suitable point for dealing with the hangover.
I wandered through the back streets around behind Camden markets, taking some photos of street art, and decided to hunt out more graffiti around London. I headed over to Shoredich and spent the rest of the day being wowed by some of the very creative pieces around in that part of the city.
My last day in the UK I went and searched for an open op shop to donate back my winter coat and unneeded jeans, but a lot of them don't open at all on a Sunday and those that do open quite late, so it turned out a lot more difficult than I had expected but I got it done in the end.
After finding an American style cafe and having a nice bowl of chilli and a chocolate and peanut butter milkshake for lunch, I took the tube out to Heathrow to get my flight to the warm lands of Costa Rica.