Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Dangerous Job

You wouldn't think that astrologer would be a job that would get you arrested, would you? Mocked, yes, scorned even, but arrested? But that is what has happened to Chandrasiri Bandara, one of the most popular astrologers in Sri Lanka.

And why was he arrested? He predicted that the president of Sri Lanka will be forced out of office in the next few months and published it in a major newspaper.

A bit of an over reaction on the part of the president, but if I were him I'd be wondering why my private astrologer, and he has one, hadn't brought this up. Surely two astrologers would read the stars and come to the same conclusion. I mean it's the same stars and planets.

Even if you don't take astrology seriously, it is problematic that the government of Sri Lanka feels it's OK to arrest people who state they think the government might be in trouble, even if the claim is based on something as unreliable as astrology. What happens to the political analysts who can see the writing on the wall, or journalists writing about the government in a less than positive manner?

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Writing time: 10 minutes
Time since last post: 20 minutes
Current media: none

Who would have thought it would be this easy?

Want some plutonium? Try here.

I will give them some credit for being honest (or at least being worried about law suits) as they carry this statement "Please note that any reference to a disease name does not indicate a treatment for this disease. Helios remedies are without therapeutic indications." And yet somehow people still buy stuff from them. Perhaps the plutonium collectors are keeping them afloat.

Monday, June 15, 2009

I'm Back

So I'm back in Brisbane. At the moment I'm holed up at my uncle's place, taking advantage of the free internet and cheap board. I've not gone out yet, as I'm hoarding my meager reserves of money ($150 in credit on my credit card and $30 in cash I've borrowed from my uncle).

I got in contact with Centrelink today to get on the dole. I have also been applying for quite a lot of jobs. In fact, I started before I left England, and had a phone interview today for a job with Flight Centre. It was rather brief, and they will contact me in a few days to let me know if I'm to go onto a real interview or not. I have to go into some pseudo-centrelink thing tomorrow and call them up again because their computer was broken today. I'll go into the city afterward and drop of some resumes at different places.

While in the city I'll try and pick up a new sim card for a phone I've come into possession of. I may also see if my library card still works.

I know I still haven't put all my travel stuff up yet, partly because I haven't written it yet, but it is on my list of things to do. I will however postdate stuff so that it turns up as though it were posted before this post. I hope that won't cause to many problems for those few regular readers.

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Writing time: 15 minutes
Time since last post: who knows?
Current media: Doug Anthony All Stars - The Unlimited Uncollected Sterling Deluxe Edition

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Leaving London


Sunday after arriving back in London on my way from Canary Wharf to JP's place I stopped in at a kebab shop I'd been to a few times to get dinner, and walked into a loud dispute as a young punk kid was arguing with the owner. Neither party was entirely dignified, but the owner was in the right. The affair ended with the kid throwing a chair at the owner which bounced off the counter before nicking off. Sunday evening also involved some contingency planning , as after I had booked my flight for Wednesday around noon, the London underground decided to go on strike for 24 hours starting at 6pm on Tuesday. After looking into various options of public and not so public transport from Canary Wharf on the Wednesday, I decided that a 6 am bus was not worth it and booked a hostel near Paddington Station for Tuesday night.

On Monday I did two things I had kind of done on my first day in London. I started by watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. I found out that they pretty much play different songs every day, and I got to be there the day they played "Living La Vida Loca". I managed to get a reasonably good spot, only one person was between me and the fence, and they were short, so I was able to get my hands through the fence to take better photos. While I was watching, I had a few evil thoughts pass through my mind. The first was "I wonder what would happen if I threw a tennis ball in there?" and "Would I be able to be lost in the crowd?", and these evolved into "I wonder what would happen if I threw a tennis ball in there and yelled out 'Grenade'?" I'm pretty sure the results would not be good for me.

After the guards had been changed I walked through a park to Westminster Abbey. I was about to go in straight away, but noticed the last guided tour of the day was in about 45 minutes, so I decided to have a relaxed lunch and come back for the tour. For lunch I had some subway which I ate sitting up against one of the statues in Trafalgar Square. The tour of Westminster Abbey was led by a prior of the abbey (I think), and while not a priest, he wore a priest like robe. The tour showed off a number of famous dead people buried in the Abbey, including but not limited to, a few kinds and queens, scientists, military leaders, and writers. We also got to sit the choir seats near the Queen's special seat in the church, learnt a bit of the history of the building, and details of the coronation including how packed it was on the day.

On leaving the Abbey I passed the Houses of Parliament, and considered going in to see the house of commons, but after being told the line was about an hour long decided to leave it for tomorrow. I then read a newspaper in a park next door before crossing the Thams to find the Udderbelly to pick up some tickets for the show that night. After picking up the tickets I relaxed sitting on a park bench near the London Eye looking over the river at Big Ben.

This is where JP met me about an hour later. We had dinner at a place I'd noticed earlier that had a special on Mondays of half price meals and cheap cocktails. I had a nice grilled chicken breast and a Tennessee iced tea (like a Long Island iced tea but with Jack Daniel's instead of tequila) for a quite reasonable price for central London. The show we saw that night was Jimeoin, which was very funny, although there were more funny faces that I expected.

Tuesday was a bit of a disaster. I started out by packing my stuff and sorting out the things I'd just ship home. Then I went to buy a box to put that stuff in. The first map of Canary Wharf I passed said the post office was at one place, but after going there I simply found a newer map saying the post office was somewhere else. After finally finding the post office I bought a box, and went back to fill it up. I returned with the box and tried to post it, only to find that they wanted 80 pounds to ship it back to Australia. I felt that was a bit ridiculous, so decided to just carry most of the stuff on my person and hope I didn't hit the baggage limit at the airport. By the time I'd sorted all this out I figured it would be too late to head into Westminster to see the parliament and actually have some time to spend there, rather than in travelling there and back or waiting in line.

So I relaxed at JP's place until around 6ish, when we tried to catch the DLR to Andrea's place, but the line was closed due to a a fire so we caught a crowded bus instead. Not fun when you're wearing a huge coat and carrying a large backpack. We then drove from Andrea's place into town, and met Tyrone and Andrea in Leicester Square behind the national gallery. We had a nice dinner nearby, and then we drove Tyrone back to his place, before I got dropped off at the hostel, which was rather poorly marked from outside. I got checked in and sorted out and got some sleep.

When I woke up in the morning and prepared for a shower I realised I'd left my towel at JP's, but using a trick I'd picked up, used one of my sheets as a towel instead. After breakfast I walked down to Paddington station and caught a train out to Heathrow. I checked in without hassle (my bag was just under the wight limit), got an emergency row seat, and sat down to wait for my flight. I spent my last few pounds on some snacks and painkillers for the flight. No major hassles with customs except for a comment that I didn't really look like my picture, although that never seemed to be an issue entering the country. I sat next to some nice people on the first leg, and spent some time chatting with them further while we were waiting for our connection.

The only hasssle transferring was that I waited until the gate was announced before going to get a hot chocolate from Starbucks before heading for the gate, not realising that there was a security checkpoint between the Satrbucks and the gate. I had to show my receipt fo rthe drink and they insisted on x-raying it, and it spilt a bit inside the box, but I did get my drink through the checkpoint. I didn't get an emergency row seat on the second flight, but I did have an empty seat on one side and the aisle on the other. The flight as a whole was pretty empty. Australian customs was pretty easy, and once through there I met my uncle, with whom I've been staying since.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Grim Glasgow


In Glasgow I got a room in a large hostel (I'm pretty sure it used to be a hotel). I shared a room with another Australian, a Maltese guy, and a Malaysian. We talked for a while about life and traveling (the Maltese gentleman had been traveling for about 10 years). I left after an hour or two of this to get dinner and see Terminator Salvation. It was an OK movie, and I was a bit surprised to see Chekov again so soon. It would have been a lot better if the twist wasn't so well advertised, or indeed advertised at all, and Christian Bale was somewhat unnecessary for this film.

On Saturday I went out with the Malaysian I shared the room with to the transport museum. We walked there from the hostel and it was a bit further than we though, but we made it in the end, although we did make a stop at a cafe along the way when the weather got a bit wet. The museum had a large collection of trucks, trains, cars, motorcycles, model boats and more. They also had a crazy taxi machine, at which I had a go for nostalgia's sake.

Then we went to a nearby art gallery/museum which had a variety of displays and was not bad, but suffered from comparison to all the other similar places I'd been to that just massively outdid it. It did host another Doctor Who exhibit, and although it was supposed to have stuff that the Cardiff exhibit did not, I didn't feel it was worth going to this one as well. By that time it was getting late in the afternoon, so we caught a bus back to the hostel, stopping by at a KFC for lunch.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Elegant Edinburgh


Monday was an early start to get out to Victoria bus terminal to catch my bus to Edinburgh. The bus ride took about 9 hours, and there were no breaks along the way except to briefly let passengers on or off. My hostel in Edinburgh was pretty good, although I did have a few hassles with the swipe card to get into my room.

Tuesday started out with my favourite thing to do in a new city. I went on a free walking tour. It started about halfway along the Royal Mile in old Edinburgh, worked its way up past a big church, the town hall, a spot in the street that the locals spit on because way back when it was a toll booth, an ill fated statue of a king, past the writers museum, up to Edinburgh Castle, where they were already putting together the seats for the Tattoo, then down the hill to the local execution spot, where there are now a number of pubs and cafes. Probably because a woman who survived the scaffolds set up a pub nearby to taunt those about to get hung. We stopped here for lunch. I got a pork roll from a shop that only sells pork rolls (well drinks as well, but that's it). Each day the shop gets a whole roast pig and they usually sell it all. I got a roast pork roll with apples sauce and gravy, and washed it down with an IRN BRU, the local sugar water (emphasis on the sugar). It's a bright orange colour and tastes like old fashioned cola (not the coke kind).

After lunch we went to a graveyard, saw the statue of the dog who kept waiting for its dead owner for years, the cafe where JK Rowling started writing Harry Potter, then over the hill past the money museum to a park below Edinburgh Castle where the tour finished. After the tour I went to the Scottish National Gallery, which was OK, but didn't have any names I recall and was kind of tiny compared to the British National Gallery.

Next I went over to the Scott Monument, which resembles a gothic church spire all on its own. I climbed up the monument, and got some good views of the city and the castle from there. The steps were quite narrow though, and near the top I had to squeeze to get through.

In the evening I went on another walking tour (alas, not a free one), the ghost tour. This tour took us to another graveyard, across a bridge notorious for suicides, the hill where the doorway to the faerie realm is meant to be, the Scots attempt at a replica of the Parthenon which never got past one side, and would have finished with the graveyard next to Holyrood Abbey, but that was closed since a Royal was in town. The tour finished with a free drink at a pub that was having a karaoke night. I hung around and chatted with some German tourists before singing one song (I come from a land down under) and got a free shot of flavoured vodka for my efforts.

On Wednesday I walked along the Royal Mile, starting with the tartan factory up near the castle, and worked my way down taking in along the way the writers museum, the City of Edinburgh museum, the toy museum, St Giles Cathedral which houses the chapel of the Order of the Thistle, and finished up down at Holyrood Abbey and the Scottish Parliament. I went into the parliament and got to see government in action. (or is that inaction?)

I listened to a number of speeches regarding an extension of the hate crime act to include disabled people. While the speeches were being made there were perhaps 8-10 members present, all of them said something along the way. Then the time for the vote came, and suddenly all these extra people were present, although still onyl about two thirds of the chamber was full. There were a few votes on procedural matters, then a vote on the bill that was discussed, and then nearly everyone left again, leaving a few to talk about unpaid carers and their contributions to society. While I was listening to the parliament I decided to sketch the chamber, since photography was not allowed. As I got to the point where I would have had to decide if I was going to go to the extra effort of putting in lots of detail, one of the guards came up and told me I wasn't allowed to sketch in the chamber, which resolved that dilemma.

In the evening I got talking with the other guests in my room, and we ended up going out to a nearby pub to have dinner.

Thursday I spent most of my time in the Scottish History Museum, which covered the history of Scotland from prehistoric times, through Celtic, Roman, and Viking influences, then onto the Enlightenment, industrial revolution and onto the modern day. An interesting place by all accounts. That evening was quieter as all the people I'd gone out with the previous evening had left. I had begun to think I'd have the whole room to myself before someone else arrived around midnight.

Friday was to be my last day in Edinburgh and I started out with something a bit different. I went on the whiskey experience. It starts out a bit gimmicky, with a ghost train like ride, but instead of ghosts scaring you it was a "spirit" telling you how whiskey is made. After this it got better as next was a talk on the qualities of the different varieties of whiskey and how they depend on the region the whiskey comes from. They also had scented bottles to illustrate the smells of the different whiskeys. After smelling these I decided I wanted to try a lowland whiskey which was supposed to have a flowery taste and smell, as I had quite liked the smell of the relevant scented bottle. The actual smell however was the usual strong alcohol scent and nothing like the heather smell of the bottle.

Before the tasting though we moved from the presentation room into a vault in which the largest collection of whiskey in the world is kept, over three thousand unopened bottles going back over 100 years at least. The collection was given to the exhibit by an elderly Brazilian collector for whom it was a lifetime endeavour, and he was worried that his children would split it up, or worse drink it, after he died. The price of the collection is almost incalculable, but just the insurance bill is a ridiculous sum.

After the whiskey experience I went to the brass rubbing centre, and tried my hand at a rubbing of a pattern from the Book of Kells. My rubbing is a bit rough, as it took me a while to catch on to the symmetry of the pattern and so choose consistent colours for different bits. Finally I went to the Royal Bank of Scotland museum, which was samll, but it did clarify why there are three different types of Scottish bank notes.

After this I collected by bags from the hostel and caught a bus to Glasgow.