Sep. 4th, 2016 08:30 am
davidn: (rabbit)
We're in Bermuda! We're spending a week here as our last holiday as a couple before the baby arrives, and it's something that we don't do for ourselves nearly often enough.

The environment is like a hybrid between Britain and America after a severe global shift in weather - our taxi in from the airport took us the length of the entire country (about 15 miles) through what in America would be a tiny back road but in Scotland would be one of the main arteries. Everything happens much more slowly here - the drivers let each other out of side roads aggressively and hoot at each other if they don't accept their generosity in time. Our taxi driver tutted about crazy speeding moped riders when one passed us at about 25mph.

The "hotel" is really a group of little semi-detached houses, and they're all violently pink - I've grown very thankful for my colourblindness sunglasses because I can see them so vibrantly with them on, but when I take them off everything just looks beige. It's incredible how much they make a difference. And the weather is humid and frankly uncomfortable even as I'm writing this at 9:30 in the morning, but our suite has an absolutely massive air conditioning unit on the ceiling that keeps us alive.
davidn: (savior)
I have completed my first 5K! [ profile] wolfekko and I were in Washington DC to take on the ROC Race, which stands for Ridiculous Obstacle Challenge - and it lives up to its name.

The people in my old office used to do obstacle races quite regularly - I was never much into the idea because as well as involving a frankly suspicious amount of mud, they were always billed as tests of macho endurance involving crawling through freezing pools and under barbed wire. That's not a leisure activity - that's World War I. The ROC race is much more light-hearted than that - it's done for fun and its events are twelve inflatable obstacles of varying degrees of madness and punishment.

Once we picked up our numbers, we spent a while in the waiting area with everyone milling about waiting for their start time, where you can watch the hopeful competitors balancing on a slippery beam and having to dodge the spectacular machination of two foam wrecking balls spinning from a crane, inevitably being whacked in the face and then falling into the water below. After that, we joined a sort of queue/throng of runners where we were gradually shuffled along as our start time neared, the crowd being kept alert by a clearly cocaine-fuelled DJ. We got into the first group of runners in our wave, and were let loose upon the course, which involved this:

1. A "tightrope" underfoot suspended above a two foot drop to a bouncy castle, with another rope overhead for balance. Easy!

2. You find out here that you've been lulled into a false sense of security, because this one is a set of four humongous balls that you're meant to jump across. This is impossible. I didn't see anyone coming close to a result that could be described as making it to the first one - Susi leapt off the starting platform, landed on it and immediately slipped off. I, in my usual competitive effort to fail the most spectacularly if nothing else, jumped to the first, planted my feet on it, the rest of me kept going, I hit the second one with my face and then sort of folded in half backwards as I fell between them. I definitely stretched my arm as I rolled across it on my way down, but I found myself alive.

3. Swinging on a rope suspended between two platforms! Survived triumphantly.

4. Over a choice of small, medium and stupidly high walls. Years of jumping the six foot high cinema car park fence in Aberdeen during academy paid off here.

5. This was a flat, slippery inflatable sort of... slide/throat thing where you had to propel yourself in through a mass of foam. Here's a retrospective tip - don't open your mouth.

6. A steep ramp about ten feet high, to climb with the aid of a rope. Not actually as hard as it looked.

7. Monkey bars - much, much harder than they look. I was able to do these easily when I was five, but now I'm about 160 pounds heavier and my arms just can't support that much. After a couple of rungs, I dropped to the bouncy castle surface below, then managed to spring my way up again and was able to finish on the bars.

8. THE SWEEPER. A huge and barely believable contraption of doom, composed of thin inflatable walkways over which two foot wide spinning rods whirl around at head height. I started off bravely, then realized I was going to get hit and dove to the floor, creating an entirely new technique as I sort of fish-flopped my way to safety underneath the mighty rotating arm.

9. Moon bounce - a corridor of bouncy castle, made more challenging by the movement of the runners next to you, propelling you metres into the air at the slightest sympathetic vibration.

10. THE WRECKING BALLS. The thing that we'd seen people fling themselves into at the beginning, and it was even more intimidating up close. I chose, foolishly, to attempt the lane where we were going against the whirling balls, and managed to keep my balance as I dodged the first sweep. Then the second one came in much closer, I tried my dive technique again, hit the surface, then slipped off and fell in.

11. A water slide with the aid of a tube ring! Not physically demanding, apart from the climb at the start. You then hurtle down a ramp towards the splash pool, where I swear I skipped across the water before coming to a halt. I successfully stayed upright and began paddling myself to the exit, when Susi chose to "help" and I fell in again.

12. Finally, the bigger version of the previous obstacle - a last huge climb followed by a 45-degree slide that felt like it lasted about six million feet, followed by falling into water one more time. As you come out, you walk into the blast zone of a metallic cannon absolutely disgorging foam, and at that point, you have completed the race, gained glory and triumph and also some bruises.

After we finished, a group asked me to take a picture of them at the finish line - and so I got to photograph five soaked and foam-coated girls. And that's the greatest reward I could have asked for.
davidn: (rabbit)
I admit it, I do something terrible at airports - I profile people. Just to ease my anxiety of flying, I walk around the gate area, reassuring myself there's nobody dangerous on the flight - a family with children, middle-aged African American man, young couple from South Asia, they're all okay... 30-year-old American looking furious and constantly mumbling under his breath! Oh, he's just playing an Altus game on his DS, that's all right. Then I realize that I'm probably the most dangerous-looking thing at the departure gate and sit down again.

Still. We went to Furnal Equinox! Susi and I drove up from his place in Ohio, and I started and then aborted an attempt at video documenting the journey, but the scraps I have may make their way up at some point. It involved going across the Canadian border to Toronto to spend the weekend at another hotel that hosts another universe within its walls.

This convention was about two thirds the size of Furfright but was at a smaller hotel, so it felt around the same size - it was quieter than Furfright due to not knowing quite as many people there. Nevertheless, I was able to meet many great people and artists that I hadn't known about before, along with some that I'd seen previously - Ookami Kemono in particular is a great person and was really enthusiastic about catching up, even though I'd talked to and commissioned him only once before.

I didn't enter the Masquerade this time - I hadn't really prepared anything, but when I heard there was one going on I hurriedly put some notes together and went down anyway, only to remember the reason I hadn't entered was that it was meant to be for suiters. So I went elsewhere and had a lot of fun at some of the improvisation panels instead - some of the highlights involving someone with half a beard imitating a beard-thief, Pac-Man and the Space Core from Portal 2 going on a date, and off-duty Space Invaders commiserating with each other. I then entered a Smash Brothers tournament in which I was beaten in about three minutes. Other events I didn't attend included a pool party with some bizarre and incredible twenty-foot-long custom inflatables, after which the pool was closed for cleaning.

I got to suit as Angel again and found it just as incredible as the first time Susi allowed me to step into his fur - it's incredible how people look at you in fascination and enjoy you interacting with them (especially as there were still a good number of 'normal' people staying at this hotel this time). But I also realized that so much of that appreciation was for Angel and his uniqueness rather than for me - he's an incredible creation of Susi's and he deserves all the credit for him. If I had any doubt in my mind that I wanted to be a fursuiter, though, this would have absolutely extinguished it - with my slot at More Fur Less coming up, next time a convention comes around it's going to be the real DavidN!

On the last day of the convention, Tamakun remembered that he lived there and came over to the hotel, so I got to meet yet another person I'd first encountered through the Internet and got to talk face to face and catch up about life, careers and future plans. It was on this day that I fully realized, difficult as it is to let go of youth, that I'm part of a group of more mature furries now - I kept thinking that there were a lot of very young girls at this convention but then realized that I'd just got older. And while the group at the table next to us were tapping away on their DSes before the closing ceremonies, we were talking about the geopolitical implications of an independent Scotland, then Whitney phoned me and got us both excited about the prospect of buying a new dining room table.

Eventually we had to leave, and we left Canada through the lane of an absolutely baffled border crossing guard, who asked us a lot of questions about who we were and what we were taking into the country (referring to me as "Ken" throughout), searched bewilderedly through the array of props that Susi had in the back of his car, and then asked how we met, which Susi euphemized through absolutely beautifully.

I think my favourite moment of the whole convention came from Sandy Schreiber, one of the guests of honour, whose panel we attended on the first day. In an extended answer that I think came off my question about how she and Sabretooth Ermine discovered the furry community, she recounted how when she was playing house as a child she always wanted to be the dog, or the cat, or the parrot, and how everyone else said that no, she had to be the mother or the daughter... and she said (and I'm paraphrasing) "I'm already that - why would I want to pretend to be something that I already am?" That attitude sums up a lot of why I'm part of this community - the imaginations of all of those involved!


Mar. 15th, 2014 12:01 am
davidn: (Jam)
I'm going home tomorrow after a nice chance to step back for a bit. The weather’s been unusual, though:

Sunday (Toronto): Deathly freezing
Monday: Summer
Tuesday: Miserable
Wednesday: Snowstorm
Thursday: Scattered showers
Friday: Generally nice, occasional bricks


Feb. 23rd, 2014 04:02 pm
davidn: (skull)
We've just had a sorely-needed weekend in Portland in Maine, not really doing anything in particular except enjoying room service and the town around us. The journey back down had some excitement, though - I was sort of tutoring Whitney on driving on the freeway, mentioning things like how I had been too close to the last lorry we overtook - a warning that proved appropriate when the one in front of us fell over.

The people directly in front of us came to a sudden stop and I did the same, emerging from the car and calling out to make sure that someone had dialled for an ambulance, as I knew that often everyone assumes that everyone else already has. In retrospect I should have done it myself, but I think that years of strict conditioning to only call 999 in a genuine emergency have left me unable to appropriately determine what a genuine emergency is. Massive potentially explosive vehicle the wrong way up and blocking two lanes of a major motorway? Unsure, still assessing the situation.

As you can see by the deep tyre track carved out on the snowbank, the lorry seemed to have just veered too far to the left and slipped. Some people cautiously approached the cabin to see if the driver was all right - I didn't see him myself, but they said he looked fine and was even standing up. Meanwhile, I walked a distance behind our car and waved my arms obviously to the side in an attempt to direct the traffic that had halted behind us, but they were being uncharacteristically good at merging together, making me pretty much unnecessary. So I wasn't exactly Buzz Lightyear to The Rescue as I'd like to think I would have been in a crisis, but the news quickly arrived followed by the police, and once it was clear there weren't any injuries, we just left and let them handle things from there.
davidn: (rabbit)
Furfright 2013 happened! And we - Kjorteo, Budgiebin, Motodrachen, Susi, Scani, DF and others - went for the third and/or second time, and that now makes it a regular thing!

I didn't have anywhere near as hectic a day at work as I did last year, only having to spend some time filling out sheets with comments like "This contractor is an idiot", and had a pleasant journey down to pick up Kjorteo from the airport. The whole thing instantly felt familiar when I met up with him, and it was difficult to believe that it had been a year since we had last done it. Driving through the rush hour traffic once again, we raced Susi and DF's car to the convention and got there shortly after they did.

This was the first year that I had secured a room in the convention hotel, and throughout the weekend I was impressed by what a difference it made - we no longer had to plan in advance to shuttle people back and forth (because even those of us not there were just across the road an easy walk away) and our room was in easy reach, or it would have been if the hotel hadn't been built across a rip in space and time by M C Escher. We started off the holiday by going out for dinner, where Kjorteo presented me with Crush 40's third album (or more accurately, the third slight evolution of their only album), something that I would never have made the effort to import for myself! I am going to have to come up with something pretty spectacular this Christmas...

I was very touched in the evening by my roommates presenting me with a cake to mark the tenth anniversary of us meeting and forming our little community... I had forgotten that it had been coming up, but it's amazing to think of how much we've grown together in the last decade. Going to conventions like this regularly can only increase our bond!

On Friday we attended the opening ceremonies with another warm welcome by Belic, and after that I was in the Dealer's Den straight away to secure a copy of last year's convention DVD. It's odd how they aren't made more available - the higher-tier sponsorship tickets get them and otherwise they're only available at the table the next year - but it was worth the wait to see the slightly uncanny sight of myself on stage. Otherwise, I wandered around the artists' tables and proceeded to blow my entire commission budget within about ten minutes on four separate visits to the cashier. I secured an absolutely stunning picture of Whitney from Kitt Mouri, whose business card I had had left over from the last year, and got a couple of little character cards done by Caliosidhe. On the way back out, I then noticed that Max Blackrabbit was present with a table, and took the chance to get a piece from him that I had had in my mind for a very long time. And then I found a group of the cuddliest little Daleks ever on the stuffed animal table, so I just had to adopt one (he is now named Robert after the American historian).

So I'm still at... 1pm on the Friday, I'm going to have to speed this up a bit. After all that, I had lunch with Budgie and Max, then came back and some other things probably happened before I went to the Comic Jam with Kjorteo. This was an event hosted by guest of honour Wallaby where we were provided with a pile of six-panel comics with one panel filled in, and could draw one panel each to attempt to continue the story. My favourite was one that we both contributed to, a comic that all the artists involved did beautifully on, and I'll post it soon - it was fantastic to be able to steer the story despite a comparative lack of drawing ability.

We then went to a Friendly's, a sort of chain diner place, that was down the road from the hotel - I had been in one of them before in a shopping centre near our house, and it was incredibly eerie to see as we stepped in that this place was exactly the same decor and layout, as if they pre-assemble their entire restaurants according to one blueprint and then just drop them all over the country out of a helicopter. We created a very hard night for the people there as we were part of roughly four million people from the convention who turned up there, and many people had their food served cold, but ours was ice cream and so it was perfect.

I finished off the evening with DF by going to the karaoke and singing Breaking the Law by Judas Priest, which at least three people recognized - I was unimpressed with some girls in the audience who had been unable to catch the words of the chorus after several iterations. Then we went to a group reading of The Eye of Argon, a truly horrendous piece of fiction in which I was never clear what the story was or what was happening at any point - our challenge was to read out passages from it without laughing, and I got in to attempt it after someone else's overdramatic "He dropped to his knees!" mime resulted in almost his entire arse falling out of his jeans.

Saturday was the most intense day, starting with the Masquerade rehearsal at 10am. Kjorteo came with me again due to planning to attend writing panels in the afternoon, and DF came down on the off-chance that any of the registered acts failed to turn up. Fortunately, they achieved this in huge numbers, giving the highest number of walk-in slots that I had ever seen (out of, er, twice) and allowing him and several others a space in the contest. As the one with the least setup to do, I was on first again, and I felt far more anxious starting in front of the smaller more silent crowd than I did during the real performance later. It came off well, though, and the rest of the rehearsal was an experience in itself, with a large amount of time watching Belic hilariously trying to choreograph a simple and brief Doctor Who sketch as everything else went wrong around him.

This time, something happened that may have eclipsed even the Masquerade for me, and that was when Susi allowed me to wear his self-made Angel gryphon costume and fursuit with the parade for the first time. Putting it on feels weird at first - it feels close and furry against your skin, especially as I'm built a little heavier than Susi so it looked like the gryphon had been at the pie and chips a little too much this year, but I was able to be zipped into the body with assistance. When the head first goes on and your vision reduces to just two grilled spaces in the eyes, it's like having been strapped into the cutest Darth Vader ever and you quickly heat up - but as soon as I stepped out of the hotel room it felt... incredible, not just wearing a costume but being seen as a totally different character and getting so much attention from people because of it. I was able to adopt his persona, being a lot more... physically expressive behind this strange mask, accompanied by Susi's new wolf suit, DF's werewolf and Scani's amazing otter costume Tautoru.

After the big group photo had been taken at the end, I couldn't resist wandering around more, just... performing and enjoying the reactions from people. In the corridor, I got stopped by a large turquoise dragon who greeted me enthusiastically, but I had no idea who he was and was racking my brains trying to think where I knew him from. He suddenly started speaking in German and I was able to hold up my end of the conversation - he stumbled over a couple of words and asked me for my assistance with them, then went on his way. It was only later that I realized he thought I was Susi (who speaks fluent German) inside the suit - a strange case of stealing someone's identity. If there is a better summary of my weekend than being dressed up as a gryphon trying to speak to a dragon in a foreign language, I don't know what it is.

The Masquerade came next - or rather the preparations for it. DF couldn't find the balaclava that he needed to wear for underneath the werewolf costume, so he went down to the dealer's den for another and found that they had all sold out. With the backstage meeting time upon us, we went down there and reassured the people that we were there, then said that we'd be back in twenty minutes after a zoom to the Wal-Mart just down the street. Zoom there we did, and found out that nobody in the place knew what a fucking balaclava was. Eventually DF remembered the possibility of "ski mask", and we searched the sporting goods and menswear sections to no avail before just heading back just in time for the start of the show.

I was in the fourth slot this time, and so had a short wait before I was on - however, no stage appearance could ever match the stress of the previous hour and time went quickly before I was summoned out to the stage area to give my second Furfright performance! I walked on without having been provided with a microphone, so my first joke was written for me - and then I just... can't really remember anything about the performance at all. It all seemed to come naturally, apart from the thirty seconds where I completely forgot what the next part was and just had to improvise until I remembered what I was supposed to be saying (7:35 to 8:00 in the video, if you're interested). It was wonderful to see myself so soon after the performance this time, thanks to Kjorteo, Budgiebin, Scani and possibly others filming me from the audience!

DF's turn came soon after that, and I filmed him as he performed a song he wrote on the way back from the previous Furfright, "Open the Way", while in his wolf costume with cable ties secretly digging into his balaclava-less head on the inside. His suit really is... magical - there's an elastic bit inside that fits the jaw, so the mouth really does move as he talks and sings, and... it really is like watching an anthropomorphic wolf there up on stage.

The backstage area came with its own show in itself - I would love to commend the kind fursuiter who saw me on the cane at the end of the show and hastily got up to offer me his seat in the wing area. I tried desperately to whisper to him that I didn't need the cane and it was just part of the act, but he just couldn't hear me through his head. There was also the moment when one of the stage ninjas, who was dressed as Deadpool, attempted a roll on stage and managed to tear an eight-inch gash down the back of his trousers, revealing polka-dotted boxer shorts - the first we knew of this backstage was when we saw him bent over a table in front of us having his bottom duct-taped together again by a helpful stage assistant.

Belic was fantastic throughout as the master of ceremonies - he has a self-deprecating sense of humour that's very British, acting as the only sane man amongst the fluffy chaos that he's barely holding together around him (come to think of it, no acting may be necessary on his part here). At the end of the show when they hand out the awards, I wasn't expecting anything and when he announced a prize for "a very talented and funny individual" I was already moving aside to let the other comedian Flash Timberwolf through, but I was shocked and astonished to receive the 2nd place prize behind regulars Drama Armada. That shock was only compounded when the Belic's Choice award was announced - I think that the audio equipment may have captured an involuntary "Fuck me!" from me as DF's name was called and he stepped forward to receive it. He'd gone from a walk-in on the off-chance to the pick of the night... an incredible achievement!

It wasn't even over after that - as soon as we'd come off stage, we went upstairs to the writing panel where Kjorteo was waiting for us before he presented to the audience, and then obligingly put our elation in check by reading an incredibly depressing passage from The Afflicted. But this - and the way that the first thing anyone said when he had finished was "That was really intense" - are compliments, proof that he gets the reader to really care about his characters in the oppressive world that he's created around them. It was very well received, they talked about the themes fluently even though he had only had the chance to read one scene... and it was great to watch them discuss it. After that, there was a very funny Hitchhikers' Guide/Red Dwarf style story read by Ben Goodridge - another book that I'd really like to see once it's finished.

We closed the day by staying in the same room to attend an improvisation panel where everyone came up with some fantastic and/or shocking stuff (including one participant who slowly drifted into doing an impression of my accent in the questions game!) and then retired to our room to play Cards Against Humanity, a couple of us in underwear because they had been asleep, and giving very wrong impressions of what our room was like to the visitors.

Sunday was a much quieter day, where we got up late and attended the cooking panel put on by Budgie and Motodrachen, where they gave their group some good advice on the basics and I refrained from mentioning any of my more flabbergasting anti-cooking stories - then a couple of us moved next door to a comedy panel which rapidly became a heartwarming panel, talking about how we can celebrate the creativity of the furry community instead of the negativity and awfulness that characterizes most of the Internet. They called the maker of one of the panellists' fursuits up from the audience - LaughsAtThunder - and I was shocked when they mentioned she was only fourteen years old... she seriously has a very famous future ahead of her.

During the downtime afterwards I wandered the hotel and hoovered up about a bajillion Streetpasses on the 3DS, then we went out for lunch as a large group and came back to the hotel to have a sketch session together (the results of which I'm still slowly uploading as I find them). All too soon, it was time for the closing ceremonies, and we had the surprise of JTigerclaw taking the stage to sing a piece to his girlfriend Katalina... I'm sure everyone in the room knows that there's only one reason you get your girlfriend up on stage in front of a crowd of people, but it was still an amazing moment where he used the last line of his song to propose to her. One wander of the post-party and another improvisation panel run (I wouldn't quite say "organized") by the great Wag later, it was time to sleep for the last night of the convention.

Kjorteo and I were still around the following day, and I got the chance to talk to Kiffa and Sedge and wandered the hotel a bit before I got the message that he was ready for visitors. It's amazing how quickly they transform the building - by the time I was up, the dealer's den had been packed away, the Furfright signs had been changed and there was a hospitality school moving in, with the panel rooms that had previously housed people in giant blue dog costumes playing Party Quirks now hosting some sort of seminar on the history of plumbing. I've only ever thought of the hotel as a haven for this weird and incredible subculture, and it was strange to think that for most of the year it's just a hotel - hovering between two dimensions for just a couple of days near Halloween.

But in the hotel over the road, we had the guitars out and talked through some music we were writing together, with me putting his ideas into the computer... that was a very special and rare moment. It made me realize that while the convention is a wonderful atmosphere, it's not just the environment but little things like that - and introducing DF to sashimi, and Kwisa observing "I know how you play American football - you run ten yards and then you have a commercial break", and Kjorteo instructing Susi on the correct way to get out of a car... those make it truly special.

Are you really still reading this? Wow. In that case - thank you so much to everyone who made it for being part of this experience, and for being part of a cluster of groups of friends that's continuing to grow closer... it's been wonderful for the last three years and I hope it continues to be a landmark of the year for us all!
davidn: (rabbit)
While I was out visiting Susi in Ohio last week, I took the chance to get more of an education on an American pastime that doesn't happen in my culture, and we went out to a shooting range where I failed as usual to appear anything other than a coastal yuppie dipstick come to the country.

The outdoor range was a set of aisles walled off by enormous farm machinery tyres to absorb stray bullets and smelled (and sounded) like bonfire night. At first I was slightly nervous about the security on hand because to enter you only had to sign in at a completely unmanned hut with several informational signs, none of which were spelled even close to correctly. The list of rules slapped up on the wall said that no ottos were allowed (but Turks were all right) and that you couldn't use anything explosive as targets, threatening that they had CCTV running and would report you and your number plate. It tried to say "Smile, you're on candid camera" at the end, but spelled it "candied" as if their cameras were coated in butterscotch.

We found a gallery with nobody else there, a short-range one with a sign that warned "NO SHOOTGUNS" above the entrance, and I was taught on the correct handling of several kinds of weapons. I can only really tell the difference between guns by classifying them as "pistol", "shotgun", "rifle", "bazooka", but I was most adept with the revolver shown in the video above. You wouldn't have thought it from the first time I fired it, though, because nobody in the films warns you that firing a pistol is like being punched in the face - there's a huge opposite-force reaction that shoots through your arms and knocks you backwards, and I couldn't imagine ever getting used to it when it first happened, but eventually you get the hang of when it's going to react in the arc of the trigger and learn to compensate for it.

I was impressed with the respect and safety shown by the people at the range - small weapons are kept in locked boxes, and ammunition for larger rifles is locked away as well. There are strict procedures for readying a weapon and putting it down again after emptying it, and when people in a party go out on the range to put up targets (which for us were anything from paper targets to filled water bottles, foil baking plates, clay discs, a bowling ball and a butternut squash that was lying around), it's made sure that either everybody is beyond the firing line or nobody is. There was a worrying round hole in the wall behind us, but someone had circled it with a felt-tip pen and labelled it "BAD". Anything unexpected gets written down as an "incident" (for when a gun does anything that you weren't in control of) or "accident" (if that involves personal injury).

I did leave with a plaster on my thumb, because one of the guns we used - a semi-automatic pistol - reloaded itself by snapping the chamber back and forward again, and I was holding my thumb a bit too high so it skinned the knuckle. I was told that was a learning experience that everyone goes through - and that a common more painful injury was getting the flesh between your thumb and finger caught in there instead.

I've only seen a limited amount of America around the coastlines, and having seen the landscape in Ohio - where houses are a lot more spaced apart even in the built-up areas, and many people live far from any neighbours - I can absolutely understand why someone might feel that they needed a gun in the house to defend themselves. It doesn't excuse what many of the more obnoxious gun enthusiasts on the Internet say (often surprisingly directly) about me and people like me, but this outing gave me an insight on why people might need them or just enjoy collecting them for their characteristics and for practicing incapacitating a bottle of vegetable juice from a safe distance.

(I'd like to affirm that I do know what Dirty Harry is - it's just that I couldn't hear a sodding thing with the warzone going on around me and the hearing protection headphones gripping my skull.)

Sea life

Aug. 29th, 2013 10:46 am
davidn: (rabbit)
I've just realized that this is our first real holiday for just ourselves since 2008. We've had weekends away now and then, and we spent two weeks over Christmas driving up and down Britain (which is a massive mistake, incidentally) but this is the first prolonged period where we can just do what we like with no pressure. And it's not like my parents' idea of a holiday, where they're up at six every morning to go and see something - we wake up when we want, have something to eat, go ashore for a bit and wander around, participate in any games going on that day (at which I have accumulated a total of two points over five days) and then come back to our room in the evening and greet whatever towelbeast the crew have arranged that day on our bed.

There was a fire drill for the crew a couple of days ago. We were sitting in the library when a Scottish officer came on to the loudspeaker and announced "We have received reports of a possible fire in engine room D", which is an oddly tentative way to describe a fire. Do they phone up the bridge and say "There's a hot bright orange thing spreading through the engine room, can you come and take a look?"

We went to the casino for the first time - I'd meant to do it on the previous cruise but we never got around to it. Never having tried a slot machine before, I was absolutely flabbergasted by the massive and complicated rule sets involving bet lines and totals that adjust depending on whether you have twice as many watermelons as cantaloupes and so on, but rapidly found out that it boiled down to this: You hit "Spin" and lose money. We were reasonably adept at the video poker, though, and I can see how that could be addictive - it's easy to be certain you're going to get a good hand soon even though I know damn well that the computer isn't choosing cards at random.

And we also had our first experience with open-seating dining, where small groups are put together into larger parties if only the larger tables are available. We shared a table with two other couples who were very nice - both old enough to be talking about their grandchildren. One of them started off by saying how they had changed their cabins shortly before the cruise, and now for some reason he had found a birthday card addressed to him in the post that morning even though he was born in March. We got the usual questions about how we met (a story so long that you really do need to have something to eat as it's explained), along with the expected fascination about Whitney's job and the usual boredom about mine. The other two men were both on the boards of their condo associations, so we got to share a lot of stories about the dreadfulness of our own and how we had been on the point of raising legal action over the location and deployment of a lawn umbrella.

Then the dining room staff suddenly brought out a cake, and not wishing to argue, we celebrated his birthday. Merry Christmas!

At sea

Aug. 27th, 2013 07:17 am
davidn: (rabbit)
Today we're just sailing around the northeast bit of Canada, and it's astonishing how ignorant someone can suddenly sound when not connected to Google to look up the name of the northeast bit of Canada. It's been a day of wandering around, sitting in the library, trying out some of the sports contests like the golf chipping where I nearly killed the organizer by accident, and generally passing time until we get to our next port.

When we booked the cruise we got the all-inclusive package, which is all-inclusive except for Internet, laundry, alcoholic drinks, sodas, juices and some of the food. Naturally I was unimpressed by this, but after I got over the illogical cost of drinks and chose just not to worry about my onboard account until the end of the holiday, it's very comfortable.

I have Internet for news from the mainland, but it's very expensive - I bought a package that puts it at just over 50 cents per minute, and have exacted a routine of opening up absolutely everything in about ten seconds flat, disconnecting, reading it offline and then blasting back replies in another minute-long session. However, it's rapidly becoming a phone line out of this bubble that I can pick up occasionally to be reminded that America is basically dreadful, so I may step down my involvement in it even further over the rest of the week.

We went to the karaoke at the bar at the top of the ship last night, which had a disc jockey so confused that he was accidentally hilarious in his deadpan ("Thank you, Stephanie, that was... ...good.") I made a complete { star / tit } of myself by singing some of the few things in karaoke books that I actually know - mostly Queen songs, which are impossible. Nevertheless, I seem to have made a celebrity of myself among the teenage girls on the ship ("you sang last night?", "I love your accent", etc, etc).

Just wait until they find out I voice homicidal birds on the Internet.


Aug. 26th, 2013 08:48 am
davidn: (savior)
One night in Canada and I already feel that I understand the ways of this country just as little as America. In many ways it's more familiar - they use modern concepts like the metric system and healthcare, and the Queen is on the money (which has amazing see-through plastic windows - no wonder they're happier). But amongst this familiarity, everything is different and primarily in French even though the people speak English (after they greet you in French and quickly realize you're a tourist idiot, especially due to my tendency to forget I can't just talk to all non-English speakers in German). However, due to the nature of the public works here I am already fluent in terms like "Road closed" and "Stop, no entry".

We're docked in Quebec City today - we came up from the harbour area on a funiculaire, which is French for "absolutely bloody terrifying mountain rail car", and then wandered around the streets of the old city. In my mind I had pictured the province of Quebec as looking much like I'd seen in the rest of North America, but in at least the parts of Montreal and Quebec City I've seen, the environment and architecture are suddenly very European. I don't know whether this is something that happens when you go to all cities besides your home one or whether it's just that Boston is a bit of a dump, but the places we wandered around were full of beautifully architected fountains, staircases and roads winding around the city walls.

We arrived on the day of the city marathon, so the streets alternated between busy and completely empty - many of them are completely pedestrianized and cars wait patiently behind the walkers instead of blasting their horn and just ploughing through. We had a local delicacy, Poutaine, which no matter how much you ponce it up is still chips and cheese covered in gravy - a nice welcome as a very familiar Scottish style of cuisine.

Now we're at sea for a while, so I can sit in the ship's library and collect some pictures of water over the next 48 hours.

To Canada

Aug. 24th, 2013 12:25 pm
davidn: (skull)
All right, where do I begin? On arrival at Boston airport, Whitney dropped a suitcase on her foot. We went into a cafe to sit down, ordered something to drink, and then the businessman at the next table made an overenthusiastic hand gesture and spilled a pint of orange juice all over me. And it wasn't just a small spill - so strong was the projection of this fruit juice that I was soaked and covered in pulp from ankles to eyebrows. And with our luggage already handed in and headed to the plane, I was let in to the employee bathroom so that I could take my shirt and trousers off, then spent ten minutes passing them slowly through the Dyson hand dryer. It made them less uncomfortable to wear but no less pulp-encrusted.

The flight was changed to a propeller plane, which made me even more nervous than usual because I keep getting the feeling that they stopped using them in the 1940s. Nevertheless, with me looking like a dishevelled orange-flavoured tramp, we got on, were seated at the front of what resembled a minibus with wings, and I clung to my rabbit throughout the journey. The short flight time meant that I was only in fear for my life for one hour instead of seven - is that an improvement?

Montreal, it seems, loves to take life slowly, and queueing is a favourite pastime. The airport is like the population of San Francisco Airport squeezed into the floor capacity of Aberdeen Dyce Airport - the packed, snaking border control queue looked like PAX East except much more boring, and once we got past that there was another immense queue for the taxi. Then, to my surprise, there was another fairly substantial queue for the check-in desk at the hotel once we finally got there.

As we approached the desk, being overtaken by the occasional escargot, watching them check everyone in at no more than about fifteen minutes each, we began to overhear that the hotel seemed to have messed up absolutely everyone's reservations - there was a family who had been put into the wrong number of rooms, and the man talking to the only other receptionist had been put in for one night when he'd booked four. Occasionally another staff member would wander out from the back and shrug a bit.

Twelve days later we got to the desk. I was relieved when the woman behind it seemed to find our reservation instantly and got me to sign the check-in sheet, then had the sauce to announce the hotel had "upgraded" us to a room with separate beds because the room that I had just signed for wasn't actually available.

I'm not usually assertive, but I was out of patience, exhausted and orange-encrusted - I pointed out that I had just signed for a specific room, and she said that when they get bookings that aren't directly through the hotel site they don't guarantee the room type. If this is the usual arrangement for booking sites, I've never fallen foul of it before. I asked her if she could find any available rooms with a queen or king bed, and she spent about ten minutes faffing through the computer system and looking at a sheet, warning us that there would probably be a significant upgrade fee, before finally telling us that there was actually a king bedroom available for twenty dollars.

So at the end of it all, we finally got upstairs to our new and slightly improved corner room, I showered and altered my citrus flavour with a soap that smelled of lemons instead, we had dinner, relaxed, slept, and went down to the lobby for breakfast, where a lady with a lovely French accent welcomed us to the hotel's dining room.

"'Allo," she said, "Would you like some orange juice?"


Dec. 8th, 2012 11:32 pm
davidn: (Jam)
And just as suddenly, we're back in our house as if we'd never left (apart from with an added sense of exhaustion because half past six in the evening is the equivalent of near midnight). We've used an industrial earth mover to clear the sea of junk mail from underneath the letterbox, and have started unpacking - including the bag which I just declared on the customs form as roughly $200 worth of jam and biscuits.

That should keep us going for a while.
davidn: (rabbit)

The journey is over! Up the country to the west changing to east, and the same on the return trip - we've been from Inverurie to St Andrews to York to Cambridge and finally back to the hotel near Heathrow, 1,259 miles later according to the rental car's odometer. It felt rather sad to drop it off again after it got us so far, even though the companionship only lasted thirteen days.

Tomorrow, all we have to do is get up and be funnelled on to an aeroplane - and yet, that feels so much more daunting than doing all of the above manually.
davidn: (Default)
St Andrews wasn't our northernmost destination after all, in the end. I'm not sure what I was thinking when I said that I wouldn't make the journey to see my parents' house - once we had come this far, it seemed like madness to get so close to it and not see the place for the first time in three years. So now we've driven virtually the entire length of Britain, a journey of 600 miles and twelve hours in total.

On the way up, it felt like a perfect repeat of 2006 - packing our things for an overnight stay and then going up the A90, our route from university to home, with Whitney and I in the front of the car and [ profile] quadralien in the back... the nostalgia came flooding in. As we went through Aberdeen, Whitney put on The Secrets of an Island, and he had the lyrics on his laptop and was singing to it, and... I went through the entire city barely able to see from crying. I'm serious about this.

I'm overwhelmed by everything. The house has changed since I last saw it - it always does, but this time the main hall has been entirely redecorated and it's a little like being in a dream where you're in a familiar location but the details are slightly wrong. Everything moves on when you're not around, at a very normal pace... it sounds selfish, but it was a realization that the world here can and does go on without me. If you look closely, there's evidence that I used to live there, scattered among the miscellany that fills the rest of the house... some of the posters on the wall of my old bedroom remain, and there are a couple of things of mine now stacked in pieces of furniture that I don't recognize. I have absolutely not been forgotten, but my era of actually living there has ended.

The house is full of... what I would probably describe as 'junk' if it didn't all hold such personal memories for me - it seems to be in insurmountable disorder, and I'm worried that when my brothers eventually move out there won't be anyone to really keep things like the Internet and television service working for my parents. They have the attitude of just coping with things not quite working until they become truly unusable, meaning that we survived without a working cold tap on the sink in the bathroom for many years and the kitchen fridge has a bottom shelf that's held on with parcel tape - and nobody has ever known how to really work the heating, though to be fair it's made up of four dials with no apparent relation to each other like a puzzle from Myst.

What all this made me realize is that even though this was my home, nothing can bring life back to how I remember it - I have my own home now, and a very comfortable one. I have to wonder what things would have been like if I had somehow stayed, and I'd love to live closer to my family, but I'm not even sure that I could go back to living in Britain now, not if I wanted to enjoy the same kind of life that I have in America. It gets to me that I feel so foreign there, but I've always been foreign everywhere - when we were trying to organize a UK mobile phone in St Andrews, the man there noted my "English accent". At least America has offered me the opportunity for my difference to be treated as by and large a good thing.

Anyway. I remembered to take a photo of the car before the sun set at just after three o'clock - this is the Hyundai that's taken us from Heathrow airport all the way to the frozen north. Now it's time to start slowly taking it home.

davidn: (savior)
Though I still can't fully convince myself of this even as I type it, my sister is Mrs Robertson now. It's on Facebook and everything. Now they're on their way down to England to spend a hopefully relaxing honeymoon after all the organization (including about five hours of being made up and hairdressed in the morning) and we have a few more days in Scotland.

The wedding was in the chapel at St Andrews, where we'd all attended university (a thought-provokingly distant time ago, for many of us...) with a reception at a hotel just outside the town. Particularly immediately after coming back to the country after three years away, it was strange to see many people who I had grown up with and hadn't seen in many years. The family from Germany had come over with their children - when we saw each other last, our main topic of discussion was Thomas the Tank Engine, and now we're talking about Germany's participation in the European Union.

No matter how you do it, twelve hours is an ambitious length of time for a wedding. By the time dinner was over I was falling asleep in the custard, but got a second wind of energy just when I needed it when Scotch tablet was handed out after the dessert. The three children(!) of the family friend at the table who was a 16-year-old student when I first met her got their first taste of it here, and in the classically literal German style they chose to call it "Zuckerbutter butterzucker".

After that, the dancefloor was cleared and the band set themselves up. I can't seem to dance nearly as well as I used to, and I don't mean in remembering the steps because ceilidhs are more about bumping into each other and falling into a heap anyway - but when I was in university I used to go to them whenever I could largely because it was by far the most effective way to pick up girls, and now it's completely exhausting. With a constant supply of water from the bar, Whitney and I could get up for about one dance in every three.

Nonetheless, Whitney and I may have to face that there may have been a wedding at least as good as ours now, because this one had both a ceilidh and an attainable cake. We've only realized in recent years that absolutely nobody who attended our wedding had any cake - I know that we went to the front of the hall and cut into it, but then it was trolleyed off and we never saw it again. This time, it was served as part of the 10 o'clock buffet on top of the five or so courses that had already taken place. A few more hours dancing later, with everyone overflowing with IRN-BRU and sausage rolls, the bar closed, I ferried people home in the car, and then at 2am, we went to bed.

Now I've got the ghost of constant accordion music following me around in my head like in a Professor Layton game.
davidn: (rabbit)
In stark contrast to yesterday, I think that we actually overdid it a bit with the driving today - the journey took us from Oxford all the way up to Hexham, which is right next to Hadrian's Wall, and slightly beyond that the Scottish border. On the way, we stopped near Coventry to take the opportunity to visit [ profile] lupineangel, who I've been talking to for some years but had only met in real life for the first time during the convention in October. I had thought that we would only have time to see each other quickly, but his family were so welcoming (and so lunch-providing) that I was able to stop worrying and we stayed for a couple of hours - thank you once again for your hospitality!

Most of the freeways around Boston are constrained at about a 55mph speed limit, so it was somewhat refreshing to go once again at Warp Factor Three, paying attention to where cars slowed down a little over the striped patches of roadways covered by speed cameras. Even with that, the drive took us about five hours in total - it was practically one unbroken road, with our TomTom navigation unit occasionally saying "Keep right ahead" to mean "stay on the motorway" just because it wanted us to know that it was still there.

It was dark by the time we reached our bed and breakfast, and suddenly we had to turn off the main road and on to a set of tiny little winding roads - these are the kinds of roadways that I used to drive on in Scotland, but having got used to the wide expanses of American roads even out in the middle of nowhere, I find it a wonder that I ever managed to cope with the incredibly tight corners and constant fear that another car might come around them in the other direction (with "Passing place" signs where it's possible to actually fit two cars around each other specifically signposted). This is the kind of place that has the official address "Near Hexham (six miles into the hills)" - but what I hadn't realized when we booked accommodation for about the same price all up and down Britain was that this would get us a whole lot more the further away from London we were. And this was a beautiful farm lodge run by Dapperkeet McBeaks, a very gentlemanly and well-spoken landlord who greeted us by saying they had had some sort of mix-up and had therefore put us in the Superior room, with a king-size bed, bathtub and a shower with the audacity to have double doors.

In many ways it's a shame that we only get to experience all of these places for about three waking hours each, but tomorrow, we'll have reached our northernmost destination and will be able to stay still for a while.
davidn: (Default)
Our first day's journey was unambitious - we're now in a small bed and breakfast room near Oxford, on a floor where the rooms are numbered 2, 4, 3 and 8 (and they gave us a significantly better deal on Internet access than the Heathrow airport hotel did). This afternoon, we went into the city and walked around the university buildings that Whitney had known for a year and that I'd known for a very short while when I visited her, just reliving the experience of a shockingly distant nine years ago (including taking a bus into the city centre like the students and peasants). After so long away I'm noticing things that were normal here as huge differences - the bus shelter advert pictured serves as quite a wonderful reminder of how foreign to America this country really is.

Prior to arriving in England, nobody had informed me that half the country is underwater at the moment - the rain was heavy when we left London and even though things had brightened up by the time we arrived, the public allotments next to Whitney's old flat were easily mistaken for the river, and traffic was at a crawl because of the huge tides of water across the roads. We have a choice of routes tomorrow, and from what I've heard on the (calm, quiet, much less flash-grenade-like than I'm used to) news, the one to the northwest of the country is the one less likely to end with driving into the temporarily extended North Sea.

When the light came up this morning we discovered that the car we had rented is a blue Hyundai i10, which I keep forgetting to photograph during the couple of hours of daylight. Undertaking a serious drive in it wasn't the terrifying experience that you might have thought, though I did quickly discover that when you put this make of car in reverse without the clutch down it leaps about five feet into the air. When I drove it out of the rental car park and directly on to the main road I got up to about ten thousand RPM before remembering that I had to change gear manually, but as soon as I'd done it the first time I got used to the idea again - the lack of paddles behind the steering wheel is mildly disconcerting now, but otherwise it feels very natural to return to the left hand side of the road, the right hand side of the car, and the correct use of the gear lever.

In fact, the only thing I haven't worked out is how on earth to get the petrol flap open, so if we don't find the button for that soon we might have to stop a bit short of the Scottish border after all.

UK 2012

Nov. 26th, 2012 11:20 pm
davidn: (Default)
After three entire years away, I finally find myself here once again on the slightly better side of the Atlantic - we're in a hotel adjacent to Heathrow, and will begin our journey northwards soon. The flight over was ghastly but only by virtue of it being a flight - it left on time, was very smooth with only minor pockets of turbulence, and was tolerably quick at only six hours. I took a heap of electronics with me, but only ended up using the 3DS - and I can't say I've ever swooned over airline food before, but when they served a breakfast that included Danish bacon and a pork sausage, it was difficult not to feel encouraged. The flight attendants were all absolutely charmed by the stuffed rabbit I was clinging to, and were asking me if he had a name, perhaps mistaking me for a giant mutant baby or some sort of escaped mental patient.

I always get a supercharge of energy through an absolutely renewed appreciation for life at that moment when you feel an aeroplane's wheels touch the ground, but having been up since four in the morning in Boston, that didn't last long this time - we took the Terminal 5 underground future-pod thing followed by a bus to the car rental place, blearily chose one that we could fit our luggage into, and trundled it along the road into the hotel car park.

Next time the map will be slightly more informative. Tomorrow we start towards Oxford, and the perceived danger of being on a flight will be replaced with a very real danger to everyone else as I attempt to remember to drive on the left.


Feb. 16th, 2012 02:06 pm
davidn: (Jam)
For Valentine's Day this year, we spent a relaxing, peaceful, romantic but above all expensive weekend in Newport in Rhode Island, about a hundred miles away. I've often said that America is like living in another dimension, but if that's true, I think this place must be where they send all the really weird things and people.

The hotel was actually much more upmarket than I was expecting for the price we paid for our room, and the first hint I got of this was when we found the car park with a sign saying "Please proceed to attendant". After driving down the length of the tarmac, passing all the free spaces, we found the attendant standing on the front steps and he had us hand over the keys so that he could drive the car back up the way we had come and park it. When we left the building later, we would be greeted on the front steps by him again, with our car visible five feet away in the nearest parking space - and he would dash off to his hut for the keys, insist that he would "bring the car around for us", get in and drive it the seven seconds over to the front steps before letting us in.

During the entire weekend, the weather was at the most absolutely freezing it's been this year, making it quite uncomfortable to walk around outside even in a heavy jacket - so the trips we made away from the hotel were to tour a couple of the mansions that were built in the area in the 19th century. The streets towards the north end of the town are bordered by twenty-foot-high gates barring the way up driveways through huge estates - these are absolute bastions of excess, owned by people who were rich and wanted other people to know about it. I thought my parents' house in Inverurie was big, but the front hall of one of these places could have fit that entire building into it.

One of them had been lived in up until only about fifty years ago, when the person who owned it sold it to the historical society for $100,000 having acquired his business sense from Jack and the Beanstalk. We were led around by a clearly mad woman who talked like her tape was running at too high a speed and frequently wandering off the topic of the vast paintings and decorations in front of us, while I found myself distracted by the sheer number of naked statues in every room. There's a boundary line between being an appreciator of art and decorating your house in wall-to-wall tits, some of which are on women half-morphed into sort of sphinx statues. And as we passed the huge fountain visible through the back window, our tour guide summarized it with "That's Aphrodite, and in the summer, water shoots out of her boobs".

The other house tour concentrated more on how the people in it lived, having the sheer cheek to use these palatial buildings just as summer houses and having two separate titanic dining rooms for formal and informal occasions. The custom then was for ladies to have five or six dresses that they would change between each day, for morning, lunch, afternoon, dinner and evening wear, each of which would take most of that period of the day to be put on to you by a team of servants - it must have looked like a really slow Formula 1 pit stop. People think that we waste our lives on the Internet now, but it's notable, as I also implied above, that high class living has always been characterized by taking up your time with things that are quite so pointless.

Just staying in that kind of environment for 24 hours was quite nice, though - we had a corner room with a view out to the sea, a television which didn't really work (therefore in my personal ideal state), and our room was decorated with books that had been bought seemingly at random from a second-hand bookshop, including volume 14 of the Britannica Macropaedia and Nixon and Kissinger by Robert the Dalek. We were told that the hotel owner had a quirk of leaving a Dr. Seuss book in every room - ours was a posthumous one describing (now inaccurately) the planets in our solar system.

One of the other things that we got with our weekend package was advertised as a "jelly bath", which had been described as a unique experience with a formula that turned water in a soaking tub into a thick heat-retaining gel. What we were actually provided was, honestly, a cupcake wrapped in a plastic box, handmade in Washington with "DO NOT EAT" printed on it - the total effect of which was to turn the water slightly pink. I don't want to dwell on this, but think of it this way - if you'd gone to a birthday party at eight years old, been promised jelly and then been served a bowl of soup, I'm sure that you would have been similarly unimpressed. Even if it was strawberry-flavoured.
davidn: (skull)
The flight back was the first to leave on time that I've been on since summer 2010, and that was miraculous enough - I think I prefer flights during the daytime. It was, however, quite turbulent as we caught up with nightfall quickly - nevertheless, we made it and I don't have to fly again for another year. The student who was sitting in our row now has a story about constantly having to reassure the 27-year-old with a stuffed rabbit next to him - something that he really was very good at thanks to his encyclopaedic knowledge of all the unusual and worrying noises a plane can produce. And yes, I did have a stuffed rabbit with me, and it helped a lot, even if it was roughly hourglass-shaped by the time we landed.

I can't help but feel that the whole process would be vastly improved with a general anaesthetic - the best flight of my life was the one that I entirely skipped due to taking prescription temazepam, with the minor inconvenience that by the end I'd forgotten where I lived. Much like Mr. T, the only way to get me on to a flight without complaint is to make sure that I'm fully unconscious first. (NB. This is the only thing that I have in common with Mr. T)

Come on, Scott Hudson, seriously.

Even though I had plenty of entertainment - most of it this time spent on discovering how utterly malevolent Best of ZZT Part 2 is in parallel to the first one - I find myself unable to really concentrate on anything during a flight. I hadn't realized until very recently that not everyone just had a heightened tension while flying - I had just assumed that it was a feeling that everybody had, as thirty thousand feet in the air is logically not a sane place for humans to be. It's not even the thought of height that does it, because once you're beyond a few hundred feet up distance just becomes meaningless - it's more about not knowing what's happening, being trapped and not being in control (even though on balance, the plane would probably be worse off with me in control).

I looked at a page written by a pilot to help people get over their anxieties, at - sometimes its sense of humour is a bit less funny than it seems to think, but that just makes him seem more human. Among other things, it pointed out all the cross-checked things that would have to go wrong for there to be an issue during a flight, like the flight computer, both pilots, air traffic control on the ground - whereas if you're driving, you've got a three foot margin of error between you and the cars coming head-on at you, which may be driven by people on their phones and looking over their shoulder. It did actually help my fear of flying, though it also made me significantly more worried about going by car.

And the people who wrote this game are all bastards.

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