Monday, July 23, 2007

Wetter than, well, I might just leave that one...

Last summer was a blinder. Perfect sunshine, intense heat, not a cloud in the sky. Most days it was hotter in London than it was in Portugal, Spain and the rest of the Mediterranean. But that was then, this is now. Last year at this time it was the hottest summer on record (click here for the blog on that) and now we are in the wettest on record. Mother nature, you schitzophrenic bitch!

Pa, Pa! A storm's a coming!

It hasn’t stopped raining in weeks. And this isn’t light rain. A rain drop hit me and broke my arm yesterday, I swear. Most areas of the UK are underwater in the worst floods since records began. People have drowned, died from exposure and the threat level in the UK has been raised to 'moderately peeved'. To cap it all off, now the sewers in these towns are over flowing and the water is turning toxic. It’s either that or it’s the first time most people in regional England have had a bath since December 2004 and the waters turned septic – might go with the latter.

Just look at these stats:

Items that have sold well:

Wellies – up 400%
Umbrellas – up 250
Cough and cold remedies – up 247%
Tumble driers – up 100%
Patio heaters – up 20%
Pies and carrots – up 162%
Red wine – up 30%

Items that have gone down:
Flip flops – down 27% (obviously didn't survey Aussies)
Ice creams – down 38%
BBQ – down 90%
Sun cream – down 7%
Hay fever remedies – down 30%
White wine – down 15%

The sun never sets on the British Empire – never fucking rises either apparently. To add insult to injury Eastern Europe, France and Germany are burning in a 45 degree heatwave.

When this is summer, it’s no matter that pharmacies do so well. Take Boots for example. Now Boots is the big pharmacy. It sells cold relief, plasters, panadeine, prescription drugs, sandwiches, bandages, sushi, cough syrup, shampoo, salads, moisturises…whoa, whoa whoa I hear a few voices say. There are some things in there that seem out of place – sandwiches, sushi and salads. Why yes, this really did baffle me.

Now here’s the deal - in the UK space is a premium. If you’ve got a building, you sell god damn everything!! Chemists sell soup, supermarket chains offer insurance, banks offer holiday packages and deparment stores deal in foreign exchange services. Here’s an idea that would make everything work so much better – get your core product right in the first place!

I have requested a bank statement three times now for a visa extension and HSBC have tried three times to send it to me: attempt 1 – wrong month, attempt 2 – wrong year, attempt 3 – wrong year. If you fuck up giving me a piece of paper, fat chance I'm letting you organise a holiday for me.

Although the post office does seem to work well, I will give that. I went in there on Friday with my boss to renew her car registration - I just felt like going for a walk. The lady at the counter was a little surprised when Louise said she was there to renew her rego and I chimmed in with: "I'm just here for fun." But anyway, the line moves fast, you only need to buy one stamp for nearly everything, and yes, they sell insurance, give loans and do everything a local chemist would. Another business that does it well: Starbucks. They stick with their core product. Alas I'm not too happy with them lately. Anyone got a Starbuck's girl? You know the one; a sweet Eastern European who you get your coffee off in the morning - mine was Ukranian - and have a little flirt so you walk in to work with a little pep. My mate BJ loved his Starbuck's girl he married her. Sure he wanted a Slovakian visa (he's our little mail order husband - the post office even organises that) but it would have happened anyway. Now my Starbuck's girl has actually left, now I have a gay, bald Italian saying to me every morning: "I lurve yuur aksent." Great. Now I have to go to the chemist to get my coffee.

Good segway back to Boots selling food aye??? This is where I find things bizarre. People actually go there to buy it. They walk past perfectly good sandwich shops (pommes love the humble sandwich – dedicated pre-packaged shops everywhere), pass restaurants, corner stores, pasta joints and kebab houses to walk in to a chemist, ignore prescription medicine, around the tinea cream, scuttle on when they see the condoms, take a right at the pain relief and get there hands on an over priced ham, cheese and pickle bloomer (the name of a sandwich apparently) and pay more than you would for a house to eat it.
I for one blame UK food. Starched, mass produced drivel made by cheap EU labour and packaged, shipped and sold to those with more money - ahh capitalism. You wouldn’t catch the Greeks, Germans or the French eating pre-packed sandwiches from the chemist – they’d be too busy getting their sunscreen.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Spain - Running with the Bulls

Bien si usted quiere que una manera rompa un rato seco va simplemente a España!!!

It’s a Tuesday night (well it's actually Monday night a week later and I'm recovering from a massive weekend in Nottingham and JB's birthday drinks), CSI Miami is on, I am typing on my laptop in the kitchen with my infected foot – the calf is basically double the other one - in a bucket of salted hot water and I’m popping antibiotics. What has done this to me?

Fiesta de San Fermin, or as Hemingway titled it in The Sun also Rises; The Running of the Bulls. Well that and a cheap 48 year old Bolivian prostitute - but back to the point...

Nine days earlier

Sunday morning 8am. Rolling out of bed, the celebrations of beating West London in all three grades combined with Clarke’s birthday meant I was sore. A quick few calls and the boys weren’t in much of a mood to get to Gatwick. But march on we did. Flopping in to the plane it was an arduous 2 hours to Barcelona with Crossy and Becks by my side, but safe and sound we arrived and it was straight to the usual tourist sites mixed with sangria and tapas.
7pm – time for a siesta. Rising at 11pm it was time to hit the clubs. A random night saw Crossy disappear with in 11 seconds of us leaving the club, Becks and I get into a random car with an invite to some dodgy bar by two German girls – only for is to be convinced we were going to be robbed and dumped in the streets (so we ditched them at the door) – a walk around the city looking for food, and stumbling in at 7am to the abuse of our new roommates.

I knew immediately I was going to like this town

Monday we slept. Beach from 1pm to 6pm. Bart burn from 2pm to 8pm. Bar hopping and tapas from 9pm to 1am then Bart had to go home to nurse his third degree sun tan. More tourist stuff and bar hopping, blah, blah, blah, let’s get to the bulls.

A six hour bus drive meant we finally got some sleep, arriving in the afternoon and partying through the evening.

Walking the course in preparation for the next day was the plan follwed by exploring the town before it stunk of piss and drunk people, which was very quick mind you, and then a lazy day by the beach in San Sebastian before heading back to the camp site for fun and frivolity.

The next morning things started well. We had our Sangria and it was time for the Fiesta De San Fermin opening. Basically, thousands of people crowd in the Plaza Consistoriala and at midday the mayor fires a rocket into the sky to signal the opening of the festival. It starts well. People are happy. You are soaked in champagne, sangria, beer and flour. Strangers turn in to best friends and more, and there is a huge festival feel.

Before sangria

After sangria

Then at 11am the pushing begins. The pushing becomes so intense and ferocious that it is actually dangerous. You can’t move, breathe and if you fall you’re fucked. With 20 minutes to go KiKi (a girl travelling with us) fainted in to my arms, eyes rolled back and lips started turning a different colour. Crossy seeing the same started pushing through the crowd, which is basically immovable. After 10 minutes we had moved 3 feet, Crossy had been separated from the pack and I was alone holding KiKi. Luckily right next to us was an Aussie nurse – Graham – who took her while we literally fought out way through the pack by punching, eye gouging, biting and - my favourite - stomping on the ground so glass sticks in your shoe and then running it down the legs of people who were pushing back. Even with this it took us 30 minutes to get KiKi three metres to a wall so that we could barricade our way around her so she could breathe. You may think this is an exaggeration, but remember a lot of the people that were there are reading this, so I can’t really talk crap. By the end of this the city is so crowded with pickpockets, drunks and everyone groping (well, the women anyway), you don’t push past people when you’re walking but you drop your shoulder and charge them. It’s really difficult to stop this habit once you start. I even started bowling people over on the way to the pool at the campsite, and the first day back on the tube was fraught with tempatation!!!

Back to camp for a siesta. We were rooted. It was a 5am start the next day for the bull run so we were ready to get an early night. A day by the pool followed by a live band and flowing bar at the camp site meant we ended partying with some very funny Sydney girls who were in the tent across from us, including Deb, my verbal jousting partner for most of the trip. Turns out her ex-boyfriend is the media manager for the Wallabies so she was well trained in the ways and tricks of a shit spinner and more than capable to banter.

The two hours sleep that night meant I wasn’t really refreshed to throw myself in front of a 700 kg beast. But march on.

The next morning I was pumped, sick, quiet, loud, excited, scared and nervous. Crossing over the double safety fencing, past the wide eyed spectators and in to a feverous sea of red and white, I was numb. Everyone was. It was strangely quiet with a lot of people fidgeting and shuffling. I started to dance to the trumpets being played to get rid of the nervous energy.

Walking to the course - I believe shit scared is the correct term

It’s 7am and the safety demonstration comes on. Am I the only on that finds this pointless? I’m going to throw up. I need some water. There’s an open shop 40 metres back so I head in there as it is about to board up. Heading back I hear commotion. The Spanish police – with no explanation – have decided to start hitting people with batons and rolling tear gas in to sections of those assembled. This was their way of clearing the crowd as it had become too large. I’m locked on the other side of Dead Man’s corner; where the Mercaderes and Estafeta streets join and form a 90 degree turn where bulls and people go flying and are most in danger. In 97 years there have only been 15 deaths and 200 horn injuries in the run. Twelve of those deaths have been on this corner. This was where my race was to begin. At 8am the rocket to go was due to fire, but confusion and panic meant people sprinted for the Palza deTores (bull ring) with out the bulls being released. Not seeing any bulls a few of us waited while hundreds ran off. We didn’t come all this way not to see the damn things!

Then you hear them. A clip clopping in the distance is drowned out by shouting, but it gets louder and is soon the only thing you hear. All of a sudden the balconies around you are ringing with ‘Toro, toro, toro’ and then that excitement turns to sheer terror as coming around the corner are 700 kilogram giant steaks with horns. These things are massive. Head to ground you’re looking at 6-foot plus. But you don’t see that. You just see horns rising above the crowd. Then it becomes a scene out of Braveheart – how long can you hold. Then the crowd splits and you run for your fucking life. Sprinting up the middle of the street you soon realise how fast these things are. Looking back I got the fright of my life when I realised how close a big black one was to me. Hearing it snorting as it ran, I peeled off to the side as a steam bulls ran by to my left. Running with them soon became difficult as the amount of people means you get pushed out. So slowing down and stopping for breath, I shared a laugh with the Spanish man in front of me. Smiling and joking his face suddenly turned to ash white.

Quickly turning around I got the scare of my life as a bull, which had been separated from the pack after falling at Deadman’s corner, was flying through the crowd hitting everyone in it’s way in a panic to find the herd. Before I had time to move it collected the man next to me who was tossed to the bull’s right and, with a well placed elbow, hit me in the face and knocked me on to the ground filled with broken glass, sangria and other assorted nasties. Rising from the ground I started to head towards the area before realising that I had a 2 inch piece of glass protruding from the achilles heel. Pulling it out I thought: ‘she’ll be right, no need for antiseptic cream on that’, hence my current predicament with the antibiotics.

My race was over. I’d survived.

Returning to camp after watching the action in the bull ring post-race (where they release bulls with corked horns in to the crowd simply to injure people – alright!!!!) it was pool and siesta time. That night we were off to party in Pamplona down San Nicolas and watch the fireworks. Trumpets, sangria, joining parades – I joined one that had a rainbow flag and jeez they were friendly – fire works and general frivolity and our running with the bulls experience was complete.

Leaving the next afternoon this was our goodbye to sweet Emma who was departing for Australia for good. So, farewell Em, you know we’ll all miss you even though it’s only be 8 months I’m sure we’ll all remember you. While you may think we’ll remember you like this:
It’s more like this that will stick in my memory.
Good luck and see you soon.

For photos and videos click here.