Saturday, September 30

Birthday celebrations with a few thousand friends

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I celebrated my birthday in most unusual circumstances this week. On Tuesday evening I flew to Amsterdam to participate in major conference, Picnic 06. The event attracted more than 4000 participants, including 2500 delegates to the main conference. I gave a brief ten-minute presentation on the impact of emerging virtual worlds on communication strategies on the afternoon of my birthday.

The hall was full as I rose to speak. I was following one of the event's most popular speakers, Phil Rosedale. He is the CEO of Linden Lab, creators of Second Life, a rapidly expanding online economy. Second Life was recently a cover story in Business Week magazine. A giant screen projected my image eight metres above the floor of the hall. I promised the crowd that I'd keep my presentation short, explaining that I was due in London later that evening for birthday celebrations. Much to my embarrassment the hall erupted in clapping and cheers.

Click here to see me in action. My part of the presentation starts about the 32.20 minute mark. Initial feedback has been positive and many companies have approached me for more information.

I later found out that Phil Rosedale's birthday was the following day. We celebrated with quick beer after our presentations before I headed to the airport and home. Phil was remarkably approachable and down-to-earth for such a successful guy.

India trip cancelled
I heard overnight that my business trip to India has been cancelled. I'll be off to New York at the start of November instead. I now have only two trips planned for October; Stockholm and Lisbon.

Monday, September 25

18th Duke of Norfolk

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Turn a corner on the A27, a few miles west of Brighton, and you'll discover the village of Arundel. You'll know you've found it. It's the most remarkable sight. On a hillside above the Arun river sits a small village dominated by a Norman castle and an enormous Gothic-style cathedral. Discoveries like this generally provide quick lessons in British history.

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Arundel is no ordinary village. It's two landmarks immediately speak wealth, serious wealth. The first, Arundel castle, is home to the 18th Duke of Norfolk and his family. The second, Arundel Cathedral, was commissioned by the 15th Duke of Norfolk in 1868 as a new Roman Catholic counterpart for the family castle.

The Duke of Norfolk is the premier Duke in the peerage of England. He holds the hereditary position of Earl Marshal, which has the duty of organizing state occasions such as the state opening of parliament and state funerals. For the last five centuries both the Dukedom and the Earl-Marshalship have been in the hands of the Howard family.

The seat of the Dukes of Norfolk and their ancestors for over 850 years has been Arundel Castle. Built in the 11th Century, the castle was seized by the crown in 1102. King Henry II who added on to the castle, in 1155 confirmed William d'Aubigny as Earl of Arundel, with the honor and the castle of Arundel. The castle is still owned by the Howard family today.

The vista that unfolds as you enter the main gate is awe inspiring. Nestled atop a grass covered hill is the most imposing structure. The castle looks every bit as it should. Turrets, towers and a moat complete with drawbridge all form part of the environs. We spent several enjoyable hours exploring the entire complex including the castle's Keep.

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The circular Keep is the oldest part of the castle. It sits in the middle of the castle grounds on its own artificial hill. A guide explained that the hill was built from large blocks of chalk stacked to a height of almost 100 metres. A well was built at its edge ensuring water was available at all times. Access to the Keep is via a narrow stone rampart extending from the main castle complex. Between the parapets are there are glimpes of private apartments, sitting within a large green quadrangle.

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The interior is decorated with all manner of antiques, artwork and other relics. The private chapel is perhaps the most memorable room in the castle. Looking much like a mini-cathedral, it is here that successive generations of Dukes and Earls are buried. The views over the town and coastal plains were equally memorable. We later learnt that the Normans built a string of castles along the coast every few miles to deter invasion. It would seem that there plenty more castles for us to explore in the coming months.

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After a brief wander through the village we decided it was time for home. The trip was largely uneventful until we reached the western edges of the M25, London's outer motorway ring. The traffic was heavy, slowing to a halt for many miles at a time. I've heard horror stories about the M25 before. I now believe every word.

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In the beginning there was Brighton

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Brighton was everything I expected it to be. The Brighton of my imagination was a little jaded, slowly decaying and filled with cliche English seaside kitsch. This was exactly the landscape the greeted Garry and I on our first visit this weekend. It really is a time capsule. The striped deckchairs, Victorian hotel facades and colourful merry-go-round remind you of an era when any beach, even one covered in pebbles, was a rare and unique luxury for most people.

Our first moment in Brighton was magic. Moments after wandering our of seafront hotel, the sun set as a giant orange ball over the English channel. It seemed a fitting end to the autumn solistice we'd celebrated early that day in Stonehenge.

We made our way along the promenade to Brighton Pier. This 525 metre structure celebrated its first century in May 1999 and is the last of three that still survives. You can still see the remains of a second, older pier, the West Pier, which sits rusting 600 metres along the shore. This pier, built in 1866, caught fire in 2003 and has yet to be rebuilt.

Brighton Pier itself consists of an endless array of sideshows, arcades and restaurants. A sort of mini Sydney Easter Show permenantly playing on the English coast. I stopped to revive a childhood memory and bought a toffee apple from one of the many candy stands. While we wandered a constant crunching noise hovered in the background. It wasn't long before we realised that this was the sound of people on the beach.

Brighton's beach consists of pebbles - small, smooth brown pebbles. There is no sand. As you walk across its surface the sound is that of crossing gravel. Only the Victorians could have considered this an ideal holiday location. The stony beach also goes some way to explaining the love of deck chairs and seaside amusements. You'll never catch me spreading a towel and bedding down for a quiet sun-bake.

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We eventually found ourselves in Duke Street, a few blocks back from the shore. It was here we discovered Havana. This was a delightful, chic restaurant set in a neo-classical building. The decor was stunning, transporting you back in time to colonial Cuba. As we entered a live jazz band was settling in for the evening.

We ate dinner upstairs in the narrow galleries. Our table overlooked the main atrium where fans revolving lazily on the white-painted ceiling, above palms and comfortable lounges. I called Mum to wish her birthday before tucking into a perfect tuna steak.

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Sunday morning was spent wandering The Lanes, the city's oldest neighbouthood. This is an area of narrow alleyways covering several city blocks. It consists of jewellers, antique shops, restaurants and pubs. We also made a quick diversion to see the Royal Pavillion, a former palace built for the Prince Regent in the early 1800s. It is a most remarkable building. The architecture is predominately Indian and Oriental, quite at odds with the surrounding streetscape.

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Early afternoon, we checked out, loaded our bags into the car and headed for Arundel Castle, about 20 miles away. We'd seen this spectacular Norman Castle from the roadside the previous day and were dying to explore it. I'll share more in my next post.

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Note the midday shadows!

Salisbury surprises

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Salisbury was our second stop between Bath and Brighton on Saturday. We stopped for lunch, wandered the city's old quarter and toured its famed cathedral. Entire experience was full of the most unexpected surprises.

The first surprise came as we wandered along the banks of a river bordering the central carpark. Large fish were swimming in the clear, shallow, fast-flowing stream. I can't recall ever seeing so many large fish in a river so clear and shallow. Salisbury sits at the heart of five rivers: the Nabber, Ebble, Wylye and Bourne. All are tributaries of the Avon, the same river that flows through Bath.

The city's origins date back to Iron Age. It was called Sorviodunum by the Romans and listed in the Norman Domesday Book as Salesberie. The Norman's built the city's first cathedral between 1075 and 1092. By 1220, poor relations between the clergy and the military led to a decision to resite the cathedral elsewhere. Thus the city of New Sarum, known as Salisbury, was founded and construction of a new cathedral began the same year. Incredibly, the main building took only 38 years to build.

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The cathedral presented a series of surprises for Garry and I. First, the building itself sits in the midst of green parkland surrounded by trees and open space. Every cathedral I ever recall seeing was always surrounded by paved plazas and other artifical constructs. To find such an enormous building in the midst of a green oasis was most unexpected.

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The building itself was filled with fascinating architectural quirks designed to stop its spire collapsing. The spire, at 123 metres tall, is the tallest spire in the UK. The cathedral's original design lacked a spire. When it was added 100 years later, internal columns began to buckle under the growing spire's weight. Internal struts were installed along with a series of inverse columns. Today you can stand at the base of the central columns, look up, and see the frightening bowed curves in the columns above your head. Most unnerving.

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The cathedral's next surprise was its mechanical clock. Dating from 1386, it is Europe's oldest working clock. In fact, the tinepiece is so old, it acutally lacks a face and hands. Such novelties came much later in clock building history. It told time by simply ringing a bell on the hour.

The cathedral's final surprise was located in the Chapter Room which sits beside the main building. Here we discovered one of only four surviving copies of Magna Carta (1215), one of democracy's founding documents. The copy in Salibury is said to be in the best condition. Magna Carta established freedom for the church and the concept of trial by jury. In the last 12 months Garry and I have seen a Gutenburg Bible, the US Constitution, Dead Sea Scrolls and now, Magna Carta. It been quite a year for historical documents.

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We joined a wonderful old lady for a guided tour of the cathedral. She shared the most fascinating stories of knights, kings and battles behind many of the tombs scattered through the cathedral. It was here that we had one final surprise. Prime Minister, Edward Heath, is buried close to the tomb of William Longespee, the first person to be buried in the cathedral. It was hard to fathom that almost 800 years of history now separates these tombs.

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Our final adventure in Salisbury was lunch at the national Italian restaurant chain, Prezzo. The restaurant itself was located in a restored heritage listed building close to the cathedral grounds. Built in the Middle Ages, the building has suffered subsidence over the centuries, to the point that the floor slopes in one direction, the ceiling in another. Each wall was clearly a custom restoration, each irregularities only adding to the restaurant's charm.

Autumn Solstice at Stonehenge

About 5,050 years ago on the Salisbury Plain a wooden post circle was constructed, surrounded by a deep ditch and earthen bank (called a henge). This first simple construction later become Stonehenge around 2,300 BC when today's surviving stone structure was built. This marked the second stone structure on the site.

Stonehenge remains an enduring mystery. Nobody knows exactly who built it, or for what purpose. Its builders certainly understood the seasons as Stonehenge was built in perfect alignment with the Summer solstice - the date marking the longest period of sunshine each year.

This weekend Garry and I visited Stonehenge on September 23, the date of the Autumn Equinox. At 5:55 AM on Saturday the sun crossed the celestial equator marking its formal decent into winter. On this one day every point on Earth experienced 12 hours of darkness and 12 hours of daylight. An apt time to visit one of the world's most enduring solstice sites.

The weather was also suitably moody. Bold clouds parted at regular intervals bathing the site in alternative bursts of gloom and brilliant sunlight. Standing in the midst of a green field, surrounded by gently rolling hills, it was easy to feel a spiritual connection with the land itself. Perhaps Stonehenge's builders knew something we've forgotten in today's world.

Several hours after we'd arrived it was time to leave. Salisbury was our next stop, followed by Brighton. Yet another childhood dream had been made real.

Soaking in Bath

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Bath was a pleasant surprise. Much of the city was built in the 18th Century using dull yellow stone from the local area. The resulting uniform Georgian architecture gives the city a slightly surreal appearance, even in heavy rain. We know this to be true. Our arrival in town was greeted by the most ungodly downpour.

Bath's most important architect, John Wood (1704-54) created a number of memorable streetscapes including, The Circle, a complete circle of curving, harmonious Georgian houses. Wood died before the street was completed. His son, John, completed the project and then went on to design the nearby Royal Crescent, an elegant semi-circular row of town houses, framed with full-length half columns. This was where we stayed in Bath. The Crescent sits on a hill overlooking the city and the valley in which it sits. The city centre is short 15 minute downhill walk past flowering parklands.

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Our hotel on Friday night was located at No.16. The Royal Crescent Hotel was a wonderful place to stay. Our room overlooked the garden courtyard. This green oasis sits behind homes making up the street facade. We later discovered that the building housing our hotel room was once a royal residence. George, Prince of Wales, lived in the same building in 1799.

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Garry and I decided to brave the rain and explore the town soon after our arrival on Friday. After briefly exploring the narrow streets we eventually found ourselves ordering lunch at a local pub. A seat by a lead-lined window, overlooking a narrow cobblestone lane, was the ideal spot for a simple meal. The rain soon stopped.

After lunch we walked to the Roman Baths. Soon after invading Britain, the Romans began bathing here. The mysterious hot springs soon resulted in the site becoming a sacred worship site. The bathing complex the eventually developed was completely out of proportion to the size of the Roman town here. The Sacred Spring lies at the very heart of the ancient site. Water rises here at the rate of over 1.7 million litres a day at a temperature of 46C.

The Baths lie below street level and were hidden for centuries until 1878 when Victorian workers building a sewer accidentally uncovered the site. Over the years an entire temple complex and accompanying bathing facility has been excavated. The Great Bath was wonderful, particularly the one corner where a picture postcard view of the water is framed by Bath Abbey beyond its walls.

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From the Baths we walked to Bath Abbey. It was here we discovered that Bath has had many famous residents including Captain Arthur Phillip, the founding Governor of Australia. Jane Austen and Wordsworth also lived in the town at various times. Inside the Abbey, on a far wall, hangs an Australian flag denoting a plague laid in memory of Captain Phillip. Bath was the last place we expected to find this flag.

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A short walk from the Abbey brings you to the banks of the river Avon. Crossing the river at this point is the stone-arched Pulteney Bridge, a shop-lined bridge reminiscent of Florence's Ponte Vecchio. The river banks here are also framed by some of the most picturesque gardens we’ve seen in England.

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Our last stop on the way home was Sally Lunn’s house. Said to be the oldest surviving house in the city, it was home to Sally Lunn, a baker from France in 1680. She began to bake a rich round and generous bread, similar to a French Brioche, now known as the Sally Lunn Bun.

The Sally Lunn bun is huge! And delicious! The bun is about six inches in diameter. It looks and tastes nothing like the heavy, sweet, pink iced finger bun from my childhood that we use to called a Sally Lunn. I guess the original recipe can’t be beaten. It was fascinating to learn that the bun’s recipe now forms parts of the house’s deed and its contents are strictly controlled. Currently only three people know its secret, including the master baker who’s been baking buns here since 1984. Thanks to it's history, the house has remained intact since the 1600s. They say it's now the oldest house in the city.

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Our hotel included its own spa. After many hours of walking, we gladly soaked in its warm, mineral rich waters before dinner. The spa is located in a barn-like stone building, built several hundred years ago. Dinner was taken in yet another elegant period building. While the food was divine, the service was sadly disappointing. This was the only blemish during an otherwise luxurious stay.

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Friday, September 22

A little bath for the weekend

In 1702, Queen Anne made the trek from London to the mineral springs of Bath, launching a fad that was to make the city the most celebrated spa in England. Bath has remained popular every since. However, Queen Anne came rather late to the party. She'd been preceded almost 2000 years earlier by the Romans (AD75 to be exact) who stopped long enough to build a stunning, colonnaded public bathing facility.

Garry and I have decided it's time for us to make our own pilgrimage. We're are off to Bath tomorrow for a special three-day weekend. We're staying in one of the city's classic old hotels, the Royal Crescent on Friday night. On Saturday we'll take a leisurely drive through Salisbury to the coast. Salisbury has one of England's most stunning cathedrals.

We've booked a hotel on the seafront in Brighton for Saturday night. No doubt we'll explore the famous seaside pier. We'll then head back to London late on Sunday, perhaps stopping for a quick coffee with cousin Hilary in Haslemere on the way home.

Wednesday, September 20

Fat kids are happy kids?

I continue to be astonished by the stories reported in UK newspapers. Generally, these story aren't meant to be considered odd, but coming from Australia, they inevitably make the average punter in the UK appear rather eccentric. Perhaps there's more truth to the stereotypical Englishman than meets the eye.

Today's classic is the tale of two mothers in South Yorkshire taking junk food orders from local school children, then passing the procured chips, burgers and fizzy drinks through the school's fence. For the past two weeks, Julie Critchlow and Sam Walker have been taking orders for up to 60 meals in defiance of a decision to ban pupils from leaving the school’s premises during lunch.

These women have effectively decided that kids would prefer a heart-stopping bacon sandwich than the more healthy alternative provided by the school. It's hard to believe that they actually think they're doing these kids a service. According to a recent Government paper, at least 15% of English children aged 15 years are now obese - double the number from a decade earlier.

I'd believe there's a growing problem in this country. I've actually noticed how much slimmer and healthier people are in Munich, Paris and Milan. The contrast with London is surprisingly stark. I rarely see a rotund person on street in Germany, France or Italy, while an unbelievable number of unhealthy individuals pass by in Hammersmith every morning.

I've actually found it more difficult to eat healthy in London. The variety of low-fat or low-calorie products on display in the Supermarket is less than I'm use to in Australia. Despite the shopping challenge, I'm doing my bit to please the nation's statisticians. I've lost more then three kilos and one inch off my waistline since starting the CSIRO diet last month. Garry's lost even more.

We've been to see The Queen

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One movie captured the attention of critics at this year's Venice Film Festival. The Queen recounts the week after Princess Diana's death during which Queen Elizabeth II unexpectedly found herself on the wrong side of public opinion. The movie subsequently received a storm of publicity in the UK, largely positive. Last weekend Garry and I decided to see it for ourselves.

It was a wonderful production. Helen Mirren delivers an incredibly convincing portrayal of the British monarch. Her best actress award in Venice was certainly well earned. Other characters were less convincing, at times descending into cliché caricatures. I thought the portrayal of Cherie Blair was particularly silly.

The Scottish scenery (representing the Balmoral Castle estate) was stunning. So many hillside and valley backdrops reminded me of New Zealand’s South Island. I think we’ll have to add yet another holiday destination to our agenda.

On the home front
No news yet for Garry on the job front. He has had another recruiter contact him this week, making for seven opportunities that have cropped up in the last ten days. He’s also decided to accept full time employment if the right opportunity presents itself.

Finally, I have share the catch phrase of a new TV advertisment for the Clearblue digital pregnancy testing kit. The product is promoted as "the most advanced technology you'll ever pee on." Who can argue with brand positioning like that?

Saturday, September 16

Take one finely diced Trade Union Member

I love online translation engines. This morning I found myself surfing the net for a Tiroler Groestl recipe. I ate this was a simple dish at a mountain cafe in Austria last weekend. We'd call it Bubble & Squeak in Australia or Corn Beef Hash in America. I eventually found a recipe online, published in German. Dropping the text into Altavista's babel fish translation engine yeilded the following results:

Tiroler Groestl
Enough for 4 - 6 people
1 kg of potatoes
40 Trade Union of German Employees...

The translation goes on to recommend another 6 Trade Union of German Employees be added later. I don't recall quite so much meat in my meal. Perhaps this explains the large pile of denim overalls sitting out the back of the cafe.

To preserve international harmony and avoid arrest for homicide, I offer my own translation of this simple recipe:

Tiroler Groestl
Enough for 4 - 6 people

1 kg of potatoes, cooked and sliced into large chunks
400 gms of chopped bacon, ham pieces or shredded roast chicken
1 large onion, finely diced
6 tsp oil
Moisten contents with a splash of soup or stock
Add salt, pepper, majoram and chopped parsley as desired

Fry the onion in oil. Add the meat, soup and potatoes. Fry until the potatoes are crisp and golden brown. Add remaining ingredients in final minute of cooking. Serve with salad. Trade Union Employees are optional.

As a postscript, I later discovered a dictonary that translates Australian terms into American English. I've made a mental note to ask for Swiss chard instead of Silver beet next time I'm in New York.

Up to our necks in it

The Mayor of London recently launched a "green living" initiative called Future London. Posters, billboards and ads are everyway encouraging Londoners to adopt a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. The campaign forms part of the city's lead up to the 2012 Summer Olympics.

One advertisment claims that "in one day the amount of rubbish or waste produced in the UK would fill Trafalgar Square up to the top of Nelson's Column." It's all very compelling stuff. However, while the mayor encourages Londoners to turn their thermostat down by 1° Celsius, the city's Victorian storm water drains kill fish by the thousands every year.

In the last two days more than 19mm of rain has fallen. As a result more than 51 Victorian stormwater drains have overflowed into the Thames River, saving more than a million homes from flooding. More than 1,320,000 tonnes of raw sewerage subsequently washed into the river reducing oxygen levels by up to 20%. Fish soon perish with oxygen levels so low. In August 2004 when a mere 600,000 tonnes was flushed into the river thousands of fish died.

Hydrogen Peroxide is currently being releashed into the Thames to boost oxygen levels. The city also has two "bubbler" vessels pumping tonnes of oxygen into the river. All of this could be avoided if a £1.5 billion tunnel was built to intercept rainwater and carry it to treatment works in West London. You can't help but wonder if the mayor has his priorities right. No doubt next week's headlines will carry stories of rotting fish.

Thursday, September 14

Coming for lunch

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The ground temperature can vary as much as ten degrees between the start and finish of a downhill ski run. This temperature range creates very different snow conditions. For professional ski racers this variance creates a dilemma. Should they strap on skis ideal for the icy snow at the starting gate or skis that best suit the wetter, softer snow towards the end of the run?

Until last weekend I had no idea skiing involved so much science. My brother Hamish is full of these fascinating facts about snow, skis and ski irons (you use these to condition wax rubbed on to the base of your skis). It's amazing what you learn when you spend a hour trekking in the hills above Kitzbuhel.

The weather was wonderful on Sunday when I flew into Munich. Blue sky greeted us in all directions. I managed to catch a connecting train from the airport, literally with two mintues to spare, arriving in Worgl 90 minutes later. Hamish met me at the station for the final drive to Kitzbuhel.

Karin and he had planned an afternoon walking and relaxing at a local mountain cafe high above the town. Walking in the hills, listening to the sound of cow bells was the perfect antidote to accumulated executive stress.

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My nieces also had fun. Nicole stopped constantly to collect pieces of gravel that caught her eye. We couldn't quite work out why. Most of her stones looked rather grey and plain. She later washed each piece carefully in a mountain spring that bubbled outside the cafe where we stopped for lunch. The entire exercise kept her entertained for hours.

A picnic table in the sun was the perfect spot for a late lunch. I selected a traditional Austrian dish called Tiroler Grostl. This basically consists of ham, potato, herbs and other simple ingredients fried in a large pan. Watching the girls eating their Strudel has us all laughing. Hamish and I finished the afternoon walking back down the mountain. It took us an hour to reach home where a much needed cold beer was waiting.

Monday morning I caught the train back to Munich where I worked for three days. I flew home this evening. After four days of perfect weather I arrived home to heavy rain. As I write the most spectacular lightning storm is underway outside my window. We haven't seen rain like this in months.

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Sunday, September 10

Hyde Park to Harrods

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Garry and I took a stroll through Hyde Park today. It's the first time that I recall wandering through this London landmark. Our primary destination was the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. After so much controversy regarding its design I was keen to finally see it for myself. We thought it was located close to her former home of Kensington Palace. However, as we entered through Lancaster Gate it soon became clear that the fountain was somewhere else.

We eventually located it on the shore of Serpentine Lake, a body of water the literally cuts Hyde Park in two. The fountain, while rather plain, was a popular gathering point. It's roughly an oval-shaped granite stream set into the side of sloping hill. Water races through a series of obstacles, down either side of the oval, before entering a quiet pond at the base. Children were playing a variation of Pooh Sticks in the rapidly flowing water.

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We then wandered along the lakeshore watching couples furiously exercising their paddle boats. Geese were everywhere. Garry kept pointing south and encouraging them to fly away for winter. We eventually drew close to Kensington. Here we left the park behind us and headed for the the Harvey Nicols and Harrods. We found an ideal display platter for the dining table in Harvey Nicks. I also grabbed a 15 minute back massage for £10, delivered with brutal force by the most danity of Japanese ladies.

Harrods' food hall was buzzing. The store is currently holding its the "Anything is Possible" promotion. If you want to buy a private jet, Harrods will get for you. For us, the Wild Scotish Salmon at £100/kg was probably out of our league.

We finished the afternoon with a dash into Soho where I grabbed a £5 haircut, and Garry, a coffee. On the way home we found ourselves caught up in the midst of Tom the Tourman's annual Monopoly Board Pub Crawl. We encountered them at 5:00pm on the Bakerloo tube looking rather jolly. They had another four hours ahead, having started at 10:00am. I pity the barman serving them at 9:00pm this evening.

Saturday, September 9

1000 viewers, 57 countries and counting

Six months after attaching a visitor counter my blog passed 1000 visitors today. The counter has proven to be a fascinating gimmick. Since March I've been visited by people from 57 different countries. I can't imagine why someone in Tanzania or Qatar is the least bit interested in me? I guess my next milestone will be 100 countries.

I take my hat off to the reader from Iceland. Both Garry and I want to visit this island. Last Summer you could spend a long weekend there for less than £150. Emily, our neighbour downstairs (from Sydney, Australia) dashed over to Iceland for two days last weekend. She flew out on Friday morning and returned mid-afternoon on Sunday. Emily raved about it when I ran into her dragging luggage up our endless stairway. Everything is just so close in Europe.

Talking of the neighbours, both Emily and Mei drop in last night about 10.00pm. Mei came to borrow some DVDs to play on her laptop as she doesn't have a TV. Emily dropped in when she heard Mei's voice in the doorway. You couldn't get a more definitive contrast between two Asian women. Emily is a laid back Australia ready and willing to tackle anything while Mei is a woman obsessively worried about almost everything. There's definitely a cultural factor in play. Japanese women live highly protected, almost demur lives which sits in stark contrast to our comparatively hard-edged, brash Western culture.

You'll recall that my business trip to Turkey was cancelled and the conference shifted to Portugal. We're staying at hotel on the coast just outside of Lisbon. Yesterday, a couple of us decided to extend our stay until Sunday evening (rather than fly home on Sunday morning) and visit the nearby world heritage-listed village of Sintra. The village looks simply divine. This brief excursion will be a wonderful way to end what's likely to be an incredibly demanding week for me.

I also have a business trip planned for Milan in early November. Garry is thinking about joining me for a weekend vacation. I suspect we'll need to rug up for this trip!

Friday, September 8

Kitzbühel, Cash and Careers

I'm back in Munich next week for work. To make the most of my time away (and secure a cheaper airfare) I'm flying over on Sunday morning so that I can spend a day with my brother Hamish, his wife Karin and my nieces. I last visited Kitzbühel as the final traces of winter snow were melting in Spring. With luck I'll have a chance to go trekking up the Horn before the snow returns. I haven't done this for years. On the last occasion, I'd taken a break from drafting a business case for my company's first China office at Hamish's kitchen table. Today we have more than 6o people in three offices in China.

I also found out today that I'll be back in Amsterdam on my birthday. I'm presenting at conference on the impact of emerging online communities. Thanks goodness I maintain a blog. I'll at least have a veneer of credibility.

On Tuesday, Barclays refunded the £3200 skimmed from my account. That's a relief. A letter confirming the refund arrived today. Curiously, the Fraud Officer wrote, "I have reason to believe your card has been compromised....For security reasons I am not able to provide specific information as to how this occurred." How odd. You'd think they'd want to explain how to avoid such fraud happening again.

Finally, on the career front, Garry has suddenly had a flurry of interest from recruiters this week. He's been contacted regarding six different opportunities including a permanent position with a top consulting company. After weeks of silence this is encouraging news. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, September 5

Steve Irwin makes headlines

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London's afternoon papers carried the news of Steve Irwin's death as their cover story today. The Australian wildlife champion and television personality, known worldwide as the Crocodile Hunter, died yesterday when a stingray's barb pierced his heart while filming a new television series off the coast of Port Douglas. It's clear from this story's profile that Steve was a well known personality here.

The nature of his death was particularly unnerving. Several years ago Garry and I joined a stingray feeding excursion in Tahiti. The rays literally swarmed over us as they attempted to grab the food from our hand. I can only assume that the species we handled wasn't the same at that which killed Steve. I certainly hope so.

We never had any sense at the time that these seemingly friendly animals were dangerous. I'm suddenly reminded of the German tourist who's Tour Guide told him a crocodile-infested pond was safe for swimming - he was later eaten alive in the Northern Territory. Perhaps we've been placing too much faith in our tour guides? I later saw an article indicating that up to half a dozen different stingray species would have been in the area at the time of Steve's death.

Equally unnerving today was news of a fanatic Muslim gunman in Amman who opened fire on a group of tourists at the city's Roman Ampitheatre. One tourist died from his wounds. Garry and I visited this site while in Jordan last year. It's a open venue with absolutely no place to shelter. It's hard to fathom that we could have been at risk here as well. I'm starting to think that our globe-trotting adventures are just a little more risky than they first appear.

As an aside, the cover I've reproduced here comes from one of four free daily newspapers published in London. We have a morning paper called Metro that I pick up at the tube station (plus another called City AM), and two competing afternoon papers - both launched this month. You have to wonder if the London market is large enough for so many free newspapers. TIME magazine certainly does. I'll be a very happy man when I can get my weekend paper for free as well.

Monday, September 4

Frittata Heaven

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We had three friends over for lunch today. Michael,a long-term friend from Sydney and author of the blog with the big dog; Chris, his English companion and author of the blog of ever-changing bruises; and Phil Scott, briefly visiting from Sydney after another successful Cabaret production.

Given that Garry and I are now into Week Three of our CSIRO diet, I had to create a tasty lunch that wouldn't violate our menu plan. In a moment of insanity I boldly decided to bake my own Pumpkin & Spinach Frittata. I've only ever consumed Frittata by pointing lamely at dishes in the display cabinet of a local deli. However, today the culinary gods smiled upon me. After much whisking, slicing and dicing, I eventually produced a dish from the oven that actually looked "just like the photo in the book". It even tasted like real cafe food. The recipe is below.

A fresh fruit salad was offered for desert. However, Chris was most upset that cake wasn't on offer so after lunch we took a walk to Primrose Hill, stopping for a brief tour of local patisseries. Bondi, Michael's Malamute, attracted the usual flurry of comments and questions as we wandered through the park. I'll let Chris tell the rest of the story. The weather was also sunny and warm, reminding us of July's stunning sunshine.

The view from Primrose Hill was as refreshing as ever. It's starting to feel like a regular view of our home town. London is clearly booming at the moment. Garry counted more than 40 cranes on the skyline. Most have appeared in the last six months. With luck this mini-boom will hit Garry and he'll secure a job soon. After so many months he's been incredibly patient.

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From left: Bondi, Mike and Chris

Source: CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet
Serves: 4

400g pumpkin, cut into cubes
(I used 600g of butternut squash as I was cooking for five growing lads)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp soy sauce
2-3 leeks, washed and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
300g baby spinach (I used two 225g bags)
8 eggs (I used 10 eggs)
400g low fat yogurt (I used 500g)
50g mature cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 170'C. Place pumpkin cubes on oven tray, toss with half the olive oil and soy sauce. Bake for 25 mins.

While the pumpkin is doing its thing, sautee the leeks for five minutes in remaining olive oil, then add garlic and spinach, cook until wilted. Tip mixture onto work surface and chop roughly.

Whisk eggs, yogurt and cheese. Tip in pumpkin and spinach mixture, stir to combine. Pour into a non-stick baking dish. Bake 20 minutes until set. Mine took an extra 10 minutes thanks to the extra ingredients. I also moved it to the top shelf in the oven for the last ten minutes to brown the top.

My frittata was served with a mixed leaf salad, roasted asparagus (topped with mature cheese, bacon and onion) and baked mushrooms (I liberally doused them in white wine, covered for ten minutes with foil, then uncovered for a further ten minutes).

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I can't help pointing out the locals in this photo deperately shoving their strollers up the rutted, grassy hillside. Barely 50 metres to the left of this image is a smooth, well-paved footpath also leading to the top of Primrose Hill. The English are truly mad.

Sunday, September 3

The Tim Tams are discontinued

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I've always associated tea as a drink for little old ladies. Nothing could be further from the truth in London. Every day I'm asked if I'd like a cuppa by people half my age or beefy lads more at home on a motorbike than a rocking chair. After eight months it still makes me chuckle every time. However, the British are deadly serious about their tea, no matter what their age. There's even a website dedicated to the art of enjoying a daily cuppa.

A closer look at this site and you'll discover the English answer to a Tim Tam; The Penguin. I saw my first packet of Penguins today while shopping at Tesco. Much to my surprise, packets of Tim Tams were also on sale a few metres further along. Until now I've only been able to find them in specialty stores where each packet costs a fist full of cash.

It appears Tim Tams aren't so popular over here. The regular version was marked as a discontinued line. However the Chewy Caramel flavour appears to have been granted a reprieve. We'll be back to grab another taste of home before they're all gone.

Saturday, September 2

To Russia with love

Today marks the first day of Autumn. The weather has certainly started to cool. The cooler temperatures will be handy practice for our Christmas vacation in Russia. This week we booked an eight-day tour that will take us from St Petersburg and Moscow. I'm looking forward to one highlight already - a full day tour of Star City - home to the Russian manned space program. We're also booking ourselves on a special tour of the KGB headquarters. It's hard to believe that both venues were off limits to foreigners less than 20 years ago.

A Summer to remember
Yesterday the Met Office announced that we'd just completed the second hottest Summer on record. While July was the hottest (and sunniest) month ever, temperatures in August cooled rapidly preventing a new seasonal record. However, the difference in sunshine between these two months was the most dramatic on record, while the temperature difference was only beaten by that of 1737. Perhaps it's true, English weather really is unpredictable?

Going cold Turkey
Last weekend Kurdish terrorists bombed several cities in Turkey. The news unnerved many staff at work forcing me to cancel next week's management meeting in Istanbul. We're now looking to reschedule our meeting for mid-October, probably in Lisbon.

This will be my first trip to Portugal. In a ironic twist, I recall that my parents were in Portugal on September 11, 2001. Five years later, an act of terrorism results in me making own journey to the Iberian coast. Despite the latest incident, Garry and I still hope to visit Turkey for next year's ANZAC dawn service.