2003-08 (AUGUST, 2003)

Winter's Escape - London, England

Fri: I departed from a deserted Sydney airport on Friday evening. I was again caught unawares by the unusual Malaysian Airlines routing decision of going to London via Melbourne. During my two hour stopover in Kuala Lumpur I did my regular three circuits of Terminal 'C' before joining my Jumbo to London. On this leg I demonstrated one of my less useful IT 'skills' by crashing all the TV/games consoles in our row while playing the In-flight Trivia Game.

Sat: I arrived into a very crowded Heathrow Airport just before 15:00 on a very hot day (37ºC). It took over an hour to get through immigration and customs thanks to the volume of non-British passport holders that had all arrived at the same time. Needless to say, the lack of air-conditioning was less than pleasant. I was kindly collected by Erica in her white convertible MG and we blatted back to Mike's house in Kingston with the top down. Erica left me at Mike's to freshen up before returning to collect me at 18:00. Our plans for the evening revolved around a BBQ at Mr Poole's Leigh-on-sea villa with a quick detour to Conrad's 30th birthday bash in Croydon along the way. Unfortunately it was gone 19:00 by the time we'd got through Wimbledon so Conrad's do was forsaken in favour of making it to Ben's by 20:00. 'Twas a fine evening for a drive. Despite a small navigational blunder as we entered Leigh-on-sea we made it to our destination on time. We were treated to a fine BBQ spread and I lasted until 22:30 before flaking out.

Sun: We were up and about by 08:00 as I had to be back in town for 09:30 to meet Mark. Erica dropped me into Southwark and I found my way into Mark's building. After a quick shower we were off - first to find some breakfast and then on the road to Wales for a couple of days of blatting around in the Datsun 260Z. We made good time on the drive up (despite having to stop to fix the sunroof with insulation tape several times) and had several hours of daylight in which to explore the routes recommended by 'Evo Magazine' and 'Point and Squirt'. Traffic was a little worse than we had hoped for, but we had some fun. At 20:00 we found our way to our B&B in Betws-y-Coed - the German host was a hoot. After a quick swim to freshen up (the temperature and humidity had been stonking all day) we slipped into town for a drink and a bite to eat. We called it a day at a very civilised hour as we were both knackered.

Mon: The morning was spent with more good driving (well, Mark's was good - I drove like Grandma on Sunday). We broke for lunch in Ffestiniog and then meandered our way out east to Abersoch on the Llyn peninsula. Our late afternoon's diversion was to be a three hour advanced sailing course with The Abersoch Sailing School. Our instructor, Pete, was the kind of single-minded expert that we all loath - self-aggrandising and full of stories about "when he sailed around the Southern Ocean". We did manage to glean a couple of useful tips, however. After two hours of personal tuition aboard our Escape catamaran we were left to our own devices for a while. Ten seconds into our solo I jettisoned us both into the water and we spent the next ten minutes trying to right our boat (during which we rammed an Abersoch Sailing School yacht). On our way again we headed for open sea only to discover that we had lost the ability to tack. By the time we had got back to base a Charity Raft Race was about to commence. The hundred-or-so participants and spectators waited patiently as we tried to follow Pete's garbled instructions as to where to come ashore (during which we rammed the Abersoch Sailing School yacht again). Suffice it to say that Pete won't be asking us to join him on his next jaunt across the Southern Ocean. Once ashore we got changed and left the scene as quickly as we could. After a quick freshen up at the B&B we were off out in search of some much needed sustenance. The first place we tried had an hour-and-a-half wait so we wandered up to the village to a pub called The Ship. The food was hearty and the beer was good. The night was not a long one as we were both pretty tired.

Tue: The morning's option of a second spot of sailing was abandoned in favour of a relax and some sitting on the beach. At 13:00 we got on the road and headed for home. I drove us to within 70 miles of London and Mark brought us in to town. By the time he had dropped me into Waterloo Station it was after 21:20. I caught the 21:30 train out to Kingston and was back at Mike's by 22:15. We quaffed a few much needed beers out in the garden - the oppressive heat of the night wrapping us like a blanket. Bed-time came before midnight.

Wed: I pottered around for most of the morning before heading over to Louise's house to disturb her day of "working from home". She took me out for lunch in Wimbledon and then I left her to do some work whilst I went shopping. Andy did better than I out of my visit to the Wimbledon Mall. I returned to Louise's at 16:00 and we caught the tube into town. The journey seemed to take forever - a sure sign the I had forgotten the joys of commuting in London. Lou settled me into St Christopher's Tavern and then disappeared for an evening with the parents. Moments later Dave arrived with most of ABAST (our old work group) in tow. A large night ensued. Mr Kearns arrived late on and we batted on through until after midnight. Having missed my train home I cabbed it back to Mike's.

Thu: What may not be apparent from this diary entry so far is that the primary purpose of this visit to London was to jointly act as photographer (with Mike) at our mate Dave's wedding. Today was 'Organise For Wedding' day and the enormity of our responsibilities began to cloud the horizons of our excitement. Yep, we were cacking ourselves. Our first mission was to track down a supplier for the various film stocks that Mike and I were after. After a brief ring-a-round we elected to use Jessops in Kingston. Our purchases included two dozen films, batteries of all kinds, 9 disposable cameras (for the tables in the reception) and, most fortuitously, a 36-inch reflector disk - the latter is used to reflect light onto the 'dark' side of a subject lit by the sun so as to even out the exposure. 200 quid lighter we headed back to Mike's for a final equipment check and a spot of packing. We got on the road just after midday and settled in for a jaunt around the M25 to Kent. Thanks to some recent junction modifications and at least one wrong turning, due to my typically abysmal navigating, we ended up lost and quite a distance from our objective, Otford. A friendly ambulance crew took pity on us during a stop for petrol and led us almost to the door. We rocked up to the Curtis house only to find that most of the inhabitants were out on their own 'Organise For Wedding' expeditions. We did, however, get to meet Wolfgang a slightly OTT German neighbour who had taken it upon himself to coordinate parking outside the family home on the day of the wedding (he had even purchased an orange safety vest specially for the occasion - getting a picture now?). The venue for the wedding, St Bartholomew's Church, was just around the corner from the house, so Mike and I headed off to do a bit of a reconnoitre of the area. Inside the church we found Rosemary, Dave's Mum, and Jenny doing the flower arranging. We spent some time checking the lighting levels and setting up a remote-controlled still camera before heading outside to get some 'scene setting' shots of the church and grounds. Outside we bumped into Dave, back from his errands, and so spent an instructive hour taking photos of the happy couple with the sun in the same location as it was to be after the ceremony the next day. Here the power of our new reflector disk made it's mark and Mike and I thanked the Gods that we had purchased one. Back at Curtis Central we collected the keys and directions to our accommodation and so retired for a brief rest and relax. That evening we were treated to a fine repast with the extended family, although Mike and I resisted the temptation to drink much. Dave departed to stay the night with his best man, Steve, in Bromley and we retired at a sensible hour.

Fri: The day of the wedding dawned and began, oddly, with a 06:30 text message from Andrea stating that her operation had been cancelled and that she was imminently to board a flight to the UK to join us. A befuddled phone call to Australia verified the message and got the day off to a slightly surreal start. Now awake, Mike and I arose to set up our gear. It was at this point we established that one of our four cameras was not operational (the film had wound on fine the night before but the shutter release wouldn't work today), one of our two flash units was kaput and the spare batteries which we had obtained, and now needed, for one of the three remaining cameras were in fact the wrong batteries. Not a great start. Mike's SLR digital was dusted off to fill in for the first camera failure and a plan was made to get into Bromley (a 30-minute drive away) to get the correct batteries for camera 2. Erica joined us at that point and was press-ganged into joining our, now jibbering, team with a role as Reflector Girl. What with the service not being until 16:00, you'd have thought that we might have had a chance of getting some breakfast and maybe even some lunch, but it was not to be. A brief expedition to track down the Vicar resulted in an emphatic denial in response to our request to take photos during the ceremony (understandable in normal circumstances, but a little uncharitable, to my mind, in light of the fact that not a single member of Jenny's family was able to attend in person). After this further disappointment, Mike and I went our separate ways to cover the build-up to the big event - Mike to cover the groom's preparations in Bromley (happily close to a camera battery shop) and me to cover the bride, who was camped out in Curtis Central. As well as capturing a good number of images of the build-up, I was able to lend a hand with several of the last minute details, including: folding a number of the 70-odd napkins; erecting the seating plan on the marquee in the garden; and (nerve-rackingly and mildly fate-temptingly) by deconstructing and reconstructing Jenny's tiara using pliers and a shaking hand. I think I was more nervous than the bride - of the two of us, I was the one looking the most worried when Jenny was still wandering around 15 minutes before the ceremony start time without a wedding dress in sight. At 15:55 we were off! The ceremony was actually a chance for Mike and I to relax and enjoy the day for a bit - Dave and Jenny looked so happy. Mike and I were back on duty for the signing of the register before dashing outside to get photos of the crowd as they emerged from the church. I had another little camera moment that I hope no-one saw. Mike and I were wielding two cameras each. Upon finishing the film in one camera I proceeded to open the back on the other in order to change the film. It was at this point I thanked Mr Canon for his unusual film transport mechanism which shoots the film in reverse order (i.e. unwinds it all upon loading and then winds it back into the film canister as you shoot) which means that the stuff you've already taken is protected from idiots like me. Of course the rest of the unexposed film on the roll was stuffed, but hey. Unfortunately my rather brutal extraction of the remaining roll confused my aging camera somewhat and it ate another roll of film before I could get it functioning properly again. (At this point in the writing of this diary entry I am beginning to hope that neither of the happy couple, nor any member of their family, ever reads this - fortunately I am back on the other side of the world as I write it.) Anyway, after the ceremony came 40 minutes of formal photography of various combinations of friends and family. It was here that Reflector Girl real shone out (sorry) and Mike's crowd-control skills came to the fore. I minced and pressed buttons and made mental notes of what I'd do differently next time - like hire a body-double for the day. Our allotted time was up far quicker than expected and the bride and groom departed for the reception. The rest of the evening was a blur of beer, photos, great speeches, photos, cake cutting, photos, dancing and more photos. I did get a chance to catch up with a good number of Dave's mates that I had met on their various trips to Australia, which was most pleasant. Dave and Jenny were scheduled to leave just before midnight, but circumstances conspired to make it closer to 01:00 before the got away - it took Dave and hour to say goodbye to everyone ;-). Team Mike-Erica-Chris retired to our B&B soon after.

Sat: The team were up surprisingly early this morning, although Erica was in a bit of a bad way (situation normal there, then ;-) ). We slipped out before anyone else was up and deferred an early visit to Curtis Central in favour of getting some breakfast in. Andrea's arrival later that afternoon meant that Mike and I's plans to go to Cardiff were in jeopardy. He had to be in Cardiff in time for Cardiff City's season-opening football game, so he had to depart within minutes of our arriving back from Kent. I was left to my own devices in Mike's house for a couple of hours before heading out to Heathrow to collect my darling fiancée. We spent a pleasant afternoon doing nothing much and Andy lasted through a full 15 minutes of 'Monsters Inc.' before falling asleep - not bad!

Sun: Great plans for the day got off to a slow start thanks to me being in fine faffing form. We didn't get away from Kingston until after 10:30. Our destination for the day was the house of Andrea's sister, Lynda, in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire. Sunday transport connections conspired to keep us from our destination until after 14:00. We spent a pleasant afternoon being treated to some of Lynda's fine cooking before being introduced to 'Vampire Nights' on her Play Station 2. And that blew the rest of my afternoon - we almost missed the train home because I was trying to complete level 3. It was a textbook demonstration of why I don't have one of these gadgets in my house. Back in Kingston I cooked us dinner and we watched a movie - a nice, quiet evening in together.

Mon: Today was 'Be A Tourist' day. I had a hankering to visit the Tate Gallery again, so we headed off to Pimlico. Thanks to a shuffle around by the Tate, however, our destination had been re-badged the Tate Britain, and contained few of the items that I had wanted to see. Bugger. From the Tate Britain we wandered along the Thames to Westminster. I had never seen inside either the Cathedral nor the Houses of Parliament, so was keen to take a look. The queues outside each were monstrous, however, so we shelved that plan for another occasion. Our legs were done in by this time, so we deferred a visit to the Courtauld Institute Gallery in favour of jumping on a train to Lou & Richard's house in Wimbledon. We sat and nattered with Lou & Richard for an hour or two and then the four of us headed up to Wimbledon village for a very pleasant dinner in a newly opened bistro. We returned to Kingston tired and replete.

Tue: Today was my last full day in London before returning to Sydney. First up was the visit to the Courtauld Institute Gallery that we had saved over from the day before. Both of us love this gallery as it has some of our personal favourites in it. As it was my last day I elected to blow the rest of it shopping in Kingston instead of seeing any more sights. I quickly ensured that my bags would be straining at the zips and then proceeded to fill some of Andy's bags too. I love shopping in London! Back at Mike's house, Andy cooked us pasta whilst I shoe-horned 40-kgs of stuff into my protesting bags. At 18:15 my taxi arrived to take me out to Heathrow and I bid farewell to Andy. I found some spare space in one of my carry-on bags so was, of course, obliged to fill it with a new running watch and a CD (Kings of Leon's 'Youth and Young Manhood' - most excellent!). The long leg of my journey home began at 22:00.

Wed: The only event on this day was my 3½-hour stop-over in Kuala Lumpur where I bought my way into the Plaza Airport Lounge and proceeded to ensure I got my money's worth of hot showers, food, internet access and coffee. I reckon every airport should have a lounge that you can buy your way into without having to be a paid-up member of some airline club. Back on the plane again for the shorter leg of my journey I had a whole row to myself (excellent!) and a row of drunken Brummy gits behind (bogus!).

Thu: I arrived back into Sydney airport just after 06:00. I obviously looked dodgy as I was questioned by about four customs officers whilst waiting for my bags. A 20-minute taxi ride had me home by 07:45. Nice to be home, but sad to have left all our mates in London.