Things ending in 'olly'

Ho, ho, ho. Or so it goes. Clinically obese, he gorges on sherry and mince pies, whilst being chauffeured around by his host of reindeer. He doesn't even make the bloody presents! Those elves need to form a union, take industrial action. I bet he stops off at McDonalds on his trip around the world, after all, McDonald's employees are people too. I'm sure the fat man tries hard to lose weight, but then he is an anthropomorphic personifaction, given shape by the belief we have in his appeareance. Poor bloke doesn't really stand much chance in losing much weight does he?

What is it with Christmas adverts? I must have seen the same ad for Lockets three times within an hour today. My New Year's resolution is to never buy Lockets again. Christmas adverts in general are sickeningly kitsch, so covered in syrup that it amazes me that anyone can even consider buying that product. The marketing power that comes with Christmas is so great that even the image of Santa (have you ever noticed that Santa is an anagram of Satan?) is corporately whored by megacorps such as Coca-Cola. These images become so subconsciously ingrained into our psyche that we never even realise it's happened. It's the ultimate subliminal marketing strategy. If someone were to ask me what the first image that comes into my head when the word Christmas is mentioned, and it would be that of a Coca-Cola advert. Either the Polar bears drinking coke, or the legion of gas guzzling, environment choking, trucks, dutifully delivering thousands of litres of the sugar infested drink to small children everywhere. It wouldn't be Christmas without Coke.

Bring on New Year.


He's her lobster!

Learnt a bit about lobsters yesterday. They are not my favourite crustacean, crabs win that one, but nevertheless they are pretty tasty! Walking around the local produce market yesterday, I stopped by the shellfish stall and the fisherman behind it was talking about how old one particular lobster was. I always thought it was about 10 years per lb, and this lobster was around 1 3/4lbs, around 14/5 years old apparently. We were then treated to an overview of exactly how a lobster grows from being an egg desperatly clutching to its mother's tail, to eventually star in a Beastie Boys music video.

Apparently a female lobster will hold around 40,000 eggs until they hatch, all originally black in colour. The main difference between a male and female lobster is the protecting ridges that run down the tail of the lobster. These triangular shaped ridges, higher on females than males, protect the eggs as they are clustered along the underside of the lobster's tail. Once the time to hatch arrives, the eggs will turn a reddy-brown colour, if caught at this time it is not unusual for fisherman to throw the lobster back in order to let the eggs hatch.

Once born, the miniscule hatchlings will visciously fight each other for survival in a true survival of the fittest battle. There is around a 23 per cent initial survival rate for the small lobsters, and once the first few days of fighting are over they will settle under sea bed, or under rocks, filter feeding as they slowly begin to grow. Lobster younger than five years old are rarely found in pots, if they are then it is usually due to some fluke of tide that they managed to find themselves caught. Of course fishing law states that undesized lobsters need to be put back if they are under 87mm.

Lobster can be cooked and eaten in a variety of different ways, but I think my favourite is possibly just a bit of lobster in a roll with some salad. Proper job. Supposedly the eggs can be used to mix with sauces, and the fisherman I was talking to said that he sometimes grabs the eggs and puts them in his cheese and pickle sandwiches when he's out on the water, though I think he was joking with that comment!

“If you work on a lobster boat, sneaking up behind someone and pinching him is probably a joke that gets old real fast.”


June in December

Ok, so this is the last post I do on food for a while, but this is mainly so that I remember the name of a little delicacy that I ate yesterday afternoon. Dolma, or dolmades, are a small snack food that are wrapped in a grape leaf. They can contain meat, or pretty much anything, but the ones that I have always had mostly consisted of rice inside. Usually I'm at Uni on a Tuesday, but yesterday I was able to drop into town because we only had tutorials instead of lectures. The main reason was to see my girlfriend for lunch, but I ended up with the extra bonus of seeing these lovely grape leaf parcels for sale on a stall at the farmer's market.

I've had dolmades twice before, the last time was when I was helping a friend do some building, and his wife came back from the recently opened Deli with many small tubs of fine food - one of which contained a couple of dolmades. My first time was at Glastonbury 2005, and my god they tasted like the best thing I had ever eaten. It had been so hot on the Thursday, this was before the torrential downpour on Friday, and I remember we were all trying not too move too much in order to reduce sweating. Along came a lovely old fella who had a basket full of goodies. On closer inspection we saw these little green things, and the dude recommended them, he said we would find them very refreshing. I think he gave us one for free so we could taste it, and upon doing so I think we all bought two or three each. He wasn't wrong! They are coated in olive oil, and contained rice, pine nuts and other herbs (nothing illegal I don't think), and were an instant refreshment in the stagnant summer heat. We never saw him again, but if so I would have definitely bought some more.

So I was very happy to find out, after 18 months, what they were actually called. Actually, after I bought a tub I had only walked 400 yards before forgetting what they were called again - thank the Gods for Google! It was a lovely moment finding these at the farmer's market, on a stall full of what looked like incredibly tasty types of Mediterranean food. They all looked good, but it was the dolmades that I wanted. It made me realise just how excellent farmer's markets can be. They give an opportunity for local food producers to showcase and sell their food, on a scale and marketability that they can't always afford. What I liked about this stand though, was that it was taking locally sourced food, but creating food that is culturally different to our own. I love trying as many varied types of food as I can, and I was pleased to able to revisit that hot afternoon in Pilton in a single bit of a dolmade.

If you fancy trying them yourself and can't find anywhere that sells them, here's a tasty recipe. Making dolmades


The greatest thing

I wonder why certain fish love bread? Mullet like bread, so do trout, but is it any particular type of bread? Do they only go for wholemeal, or are they more fond of naan; do coeliac fish exist? Ducks are also partial to a bit of bread, and there are kids up and down the land who have probably fed ducks at some point in their past. Bread appears to be enjoyed by many different species, but in recent years it has been slowly pushed away by many people, usually those on some pseudo scientific diet, cooked up by some woman who claims to be a doctor, yet has never received any accredited qualification.

I really like bread, all types, and especially the different spreads that you can put on it - except marmite! The history of bread probably dates back to around Neolithic times, and many early civilisation such as the Sumerians would have eaten bread as part of their diet. There are historical reports of the Gauls skimming the foam off the top of fermenting beer to use to make lighter type of bread, and other ancient civilisations reportedly used a wine bed method to create yeast for leavening bread.

It's important to expand the view that bread extends well beyond that of the loaf. There are the obvious variations of rolls, baguettes and bagels. But the basic recipe for bread extends to the making of pizzas, tortillas, pretzels and many more delicious eateries. I don't think I would ever voluntarily stop eating bread, and I feel bad for those people who can't actually eat due to medical conditions. How can you even begin to resist the smell of freshly baked bread, especially if you bang a couple of bit of bacon in too with some pepper and brown sauce.

If you'll excuse me, I'm going to the kitchen...


My kingdom for a kebab!

Have you ever eaten a kebab sober? I have, it was a sobering experience. I used to live by the kebab when i was at college, I used to say hi to the guys who worked there whenever I saw them in the street. When I left I got my picture taken behind the counter with the giant knife and had a go at cutting the leg. Ah, the good old days. Actually, they weren't that great, neither the kebabs, nor the days.

I hate McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, not just because of what they represent, but because their food is just absolute shit. But, hypocritically, I really have no problems in eating meat that closely resembles flesh off a first degree burns victim. Stick a bit of chili sauce on it, and Bob's your monkey's Uncle. I have yet to regress to the state of eating kebabs sober, and I can confidently say that I think those days are definitely locked in cupboard at the bottom of the Atlantic. My main problem is that I'm now back on the mainland; it's just all to easy to go to the kebab after you've had a few pints and you got a case of kebab cravings. I've not done too badly so far, in fact I think I've only had three kebabs since I've been here, and over two months that's not a bad average. I've even curbed my desire to go for the cheap, donner in a bap option; a meal for the truly inebriated.

I never ate too many at Uni...actually I have to confess that I had one or two in the first year...ok, and the second year too. But I moved on to burgers pretty quickly, and by the time the third year came round, our kebaby was doing pizzas, which were actually bloody good. I accidentally weaned myself off the donner at this point because I almost always went to the kebaby with my good mate Dave, who, being vegetarian, was never really up for some reconstituted lamb. So we used to share a mushroom pizza, and at the same price as a donner kebab, it was well worth the money.

Of all the various kebab establishments that i have frequented there's one place in particular that serves up truly poetic kebabs - Radjdhani's in Southampton. It's a mythical place that I've never seen with sober eyes, but every kebab I have ever had from there has been sublime. Apparently they make the claim to be the best kebab house in Southampton, and I would fully agree with this statement. Their toxic orange sauce is just unreal, I've no idea what it is, but I don't really care; just don't get it on your clothes as it'll never come off.

So I now find myself on the cusp of kebab life again, but somehow I don't think I'll be reverting to those days of old. The kebab will remain a purely drunken liaison, and I'm sure I'll be waking up in the morning, regretting it as I pick the final remnants from my teeth. Lovely.

The image at the top was taken from a great website advertising a kebaby in Surrey. Please have a look, it's hilarious. They have 35 years experience in cooking kebabs, they have a pretty decent menu, at reasonable prices; make sure you check out the pictures of the establishment, in particular the shady character on the second page not looking happy that he's just had his picture taken. Click the link below, it's their motto!



A dog goes...

Last Easter I finally got my lazy self around to hijacking a section of my Dad's allotment. She's a decent size, so he could spare a little bit of ground for my fledgling gardening requirements. I had helped Dad a fair bit on and off in the past, so I had some clue about growing your own veg, but I never realised just how much care and attention it actually takes to do it successfully.

I actually really enjoyed the process of preparing the plot, planting everything, and in some cases growing stuff at home before transplanting it to the garden. I grew plenty of radish, some lettuce, carrots, peppers, cucumber, chillis, and various herbs; not all were successful however! It was an insanely dry summer, and most of our lettuce died due to the heat and dehydration. Yet despite this intial set back, I now feel even more passiontely about growing my own food. I am in the process of acquiring an allotment of my own, and hopefully next summer this will prove more successful after the learning of this year.

But there are now so many other opportunities that this hobby has opened for me. I've recently found out about WWOOFing - World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms - which is a great organisation that allows people to visit organic farms all over the world, and gives free accommodation and food in return for some farm work. It seems to me to be a great way to explore a country, find out about places that are well removed from the tourist trail and learn more about sustainable living.

I'm very taken with going to Canada to do some WWOOFing, some friends are moving out there, and they know plenty of people and they have work themselves that needs doing. From what they tell me Canada sounds like an incredibly beautiful place, lots of trees, which is great! For now though, this is just another idea placed along with all the others I seem to be collecting at the moment. For now I'm still happy growing my radish.


Silly Mid-On

The scenes of jubilation and celebration that captured the hearts of the nation seem a distant memory now for anyone following England's defense of the Ashes in Australia. It was never going to be easy, and a series of injuries, mental and physical, have made the team selection that much tougher for Duncan Fletcher. Yet there has to be some optimism, but traditionally this is something English supporters throw away the instant things start to go wrong. This fickle nature is somewhat endemic of England, and therefore it eventually finds it way into the minds of those people playing the game; whether it be Cricket, Football or Rugby. Fortunately though, I believe that England's cricketers can overcome this sentiment, that they have the mental fortitude to overcome this first stumbling block. After all, it's easy to forget that we lost the first test at Lords in 2005, yet we showed the strength and ability to overturn this result and eventually win in style.

The series garnered its name in 1882, after England - the dominant force in cricket - lost in a shock defeat to Australia at the Oval. The Sporting Times subsequently ran an obituary in their paper announcing:

Touring almost constantly at the time, the English team went out to Australia only a short while after their loss at the Oval. This became well known as the Quest to Regain the Ashes. It was a tight contest, but England prevailed winning the third test in Sydney to finish the series 2-1. The Ashes themselves are reputed to have been created by a Lady Clarke from Melbourne, after the England team took part in a social match at their palatial home in Sunbury, before the series had even begun. It was here that Lady Clarke arranged for a cricketing item to be burnt and placed in a small ceramic urn. It is still unknown what that item is, but the opinion is that it was either a bail, or a the cover of a cricket ball. This was then presented to the England captain Ivo Bligh, though he later received a velvet bag to contain the urn after England had won the third test match.

The act of playing for the Ashes actually died out over the years, and it wasn't until around twenty five years later that the legend was revived and the contest between the two sides has been known as the Ashes ever since. The Ashes have been dominated by Australia since the seventies, with England only winning a handful of series. 2005 saw possibly the most spectacular test match series ever, each match running on a knife edge with the results going down to the wire in each case. The final match proved to be something of an anticlimax in the end as England played the game to achieve a draw and win the series 2-1.

That series gave England their first series win over Australia since 1987, and along with it the belief that they had the strength to finally compete with Australia at the highest level of test cricket. Despite the injuries that have forced some of that team to drop out of this Ashes tour, there are still some of those players left who showed the kind of attitude that the Australians themselves pride themselves upon. The aggressive bowling of Harmison, the power of Flintoff, and the confidence of Pieterson. These are three players who, no matter what, are going to be vital in the outcome of this winter's Ashes. They have already proved at home that they have the ability to be the best in the world and now is the time - with their backs against the wall - to step forward and lead England onward and defend the Ashes with everything they have.


The trees, the trees!

The seasonal cycle slowly slumbers on, as autumn begins to recede and the varicose fingers of winter grasp the country; slowly choking until spring skips back over the hill. For now, in Cornwall, autumn is holding on for dear life, the results are a great swathe of burnt trees spread all over the surrounding countryside.

Last sunday looking across the river towards the Roseland I couldn't help but be struck by just how beautiful everything looked. Whilst waiting for the ferry I found myself lost, staring at the Technicolour trees that covered the hillside. The wind was funnelling up the river and pushing the trees back and forth, giving the impression that the hillside was breathing. The hypnotic, psychadelic dance of the leaves left me entranced; speachless at nature's beauty.

Crossing the Fal proved another eye opener, as looking downstream it was evident that trees were even overhanging the lip of the bank, branches stretching out like veins towards the water. For as far as I could see there was no other penetration through the woodland canope. It made me feel like the Fellowship travelling along the Anduin in those small Elven boats. For a second I forgot this world; technology, global warming, terrorism, 4x4's, fast food, capitalism, selfishness and greed. It was a sense of feeling more for the natural elements of this life than the materials we surround ourselves with everyday.

If only everyone could stop once in a while and find that same sense of wonderment. I felt like nothing and everything. I felt privilged to be alive.


Time is an illusion

I have been alive for 777,824,940 seconds! Although this is untrue now. every second slips by into the past as we continually strive for the future. I remember reading somewhere once a quotation from a man who said "There is no point hoping for the future, as it will never arrive, just as the past cannot be changed. The only hope is to live in present, as no one can escape this moment, at least not until death." I might have read this somewhere, though it's just as likely that I made this up. More than likely I imagine.

Time feels like a typically human attribute given to a property over which we have no control. Inexorably linked, forever aging, it's something to be fought and resisted. Or at least that's what cosmetic companies want you to believe. SciFi fans dreaming over the space/time continuum, and how we can manipulate the fifth dimension. We spend so much of our lives concerned with the many aspects of time that most of us don't even take the opportunity to consider what is really important.

Of course I could go on for a while discussing existentialism and other philosophical opinions, but now's not the time. Instead I'll leave you with a quotation about time, one I haven't made up:

"Actually, there's only one instant, and it's right now, and it's eternity. And, it's an instant in which God is posing a question, and that question is basically, 'Do you wanna be one with eternity, do you want to be in heaven?' And, we're all saying, 'Nooo thank you, not just yet.' And so time, is actually just this constant saying 'No' to God's invitation... Behind the phenomenal difference there is but one story, and that's the story of moving from the 'No' to the 'Yes.' All of life is like, 'No thank you, No thank you, No thank you.' And then, ultimately, it's, 'Yes I give in, Yes I accept, Yes I embrace.' I mean, that's the journey. Everyone gets to the 'Yes' in the end, right?" Richard Linklater - "Waking Life"


Khalepa ta kala

The Greeks did it in style, they made a bad day on Eastenders look like a drop in the ocean. I remember studying the Classical Example during my second year at university and really enjoying the Greek plays that we had to read. The Bacchae was written by Euripdes in around 400BC, and won him a posthumous first prize in an ancient Greek literary contest, called the Dionysia. The play itself tells of how the god Dionysus takes revenge against the city of Thebes after he is exiled by Pentheus, his cousin and unbelieving that Dionysus is really a deity. The eventual outcome of Dionysus's revenge is brutal and murderous; Pentheus is decapitated by his own mother, and he turns Pentheus's father and wife into snakes. It beats Eastenders any day.

It wasn't until a couple of years later that I ended up revisiting the themes involved in The Bacchae, in a book called The Secret History by Donna Tartt. The story follows Richard Papen, who has just started at University in Vermont, and his group of five friends who are all reading ancient Greek.

The narrative devices used by Donna Tartt are very interesting, and serve a useful purpose in creating the relationship betweenm the narrator, Richard, and the reader. The use of the homodiegetic 'I' in The Secret History, opens up the theme of confession in the character of Richard. It draws the reader into the thoughts of our narrator, and the use of time highlights the fact that Richard is trying to make sense of his own actions through his narration. The narrator uses the prologue to make his confession of being partially responsible for the murder of Bunny, one of his classmates. Despite seemingly giving away the crux of the story immediately, what it does instead is set up the sense of fatality that follows the narrators story. I brings back the Greek idea of the Fates, and how destiny is preordained and it is the story of how the characters reach that point which becomes the main point of interest.

Donna Tartt uses the narrative to create a sense of separation between the narrtor, and 'his' character. Richard looks back, disbelieving of the events that took place as he tries to make sense of it all. The reader is constantly reminded that Richard is recalling his experiences from a more reasoned viewpoint in the occasional narrative moments of "I suppose that..." and "Now I see that..." These devices help to bring the reader closer into the mind of Richard and his perspective, and what is even more interesting, is that the reader begins to understand the reasoning behind Bunny's murder. Through the use of the prologue, and through Richard's narrative, the reader begin to understand why Bunny had to be murdered by his friends, and it becomes very easy to agree with those reasons.

I mentioned at the beginning of this novel's affliation with the classics, indeed there are many latin and Greek words inserted into the dialogue and the narrative. What I enjoyed most about this novel is the way that Tartt draws the reader into the mysterious world of ancient Greece through the main characters. The use of idiolect help to create an 'otherworldly' feel, Henry in particular seems so obsessed by this world that it only ever appears fully alive when he is immeresed in its philosophy and traditions. It is the attraction to this beautiful, mysterious world that eventually causes the defining moments within the story, enabling the characters to become murderers by leaving "the phenomenal world, and enter into the sublime".

Although on the surface The Secret History might appear to be just another college campus tale of murder and deceit, it delves much deeper than that. The themes invoked by the main characters bring up many of the questions raised by the Greek playwrights of old, and the reader genuinely feels drawn into this ancient world. Ulimately it is the attraction of this world that bring about the downfall of the characters involved, and each fatal flaw wins through; it is a place where beauty is harsh.


Trolley Ghosts

A few years ago, whilst I was travelling I ended having to sleep in Madrid airport for two nights whilst I waited for my ride to turn up. This is actually the end of a far more entertaining story, involving dwarves, ant infestations, and an epic tale of the wait for Brioche day. However, this is not the moment for these things to be discussed, despite the passage of time my demons in Madrid have yet to be exorcised.

It had all seemed simple to begin with. I was confident, even if the guy I was travelling with wasn't. "It'll be easy," I said. "Its an international airport and there'll be good seats." Never in all my life have I known time to pass so slowly. Perhaps some background is necessary here, we were only waiting in Madrid because the other guy we were travelling with was driving our camper van up from Cadiz to pick us up from Madrid. For some bizarre reason it was cheaper for two of us to fly to Madrid, and for one of us to travel with the van on the ferry back from the Canaries. Twisted economics if you ask me, but who were we to argue, money was short after spending ten months travelling around Europe. So it was these circumstance that led me to spend over 50 hours in an airport with just my best friend and four cheese and chorizo sandwiches to keep me going.

The obvious metaphor for airports is like being in limbo, its the dragging of time whilst you await your holiday heaven or hell. It certainly has the effect of thinning time out, and after a while you begin to feel as if this 'thinning' is having an effect on you as well; like butter spread over too much toast (as Bilbo would say). Surreal moments just stroll along all the time to say hello, eccentric characters and situation just seem to happen naturally at airports. At least they do to me.

We originally arrived late at night, and our first plan was to have a quick tour of the three terminals. Now Madrid airport has opened another terminal, it was being built whilst we were there, and this has opened up a whole new luxury area for travelling English hobos. The most comfortable area for night seemed to be at the end of Terminal 1, and this proved popular as we shared it with a few other stranded passengers for the night. I didn't actually find the airport floor too uncomfortable, in fact I slept pretty well. Actually, this is a lie. I would have slept well if it wasn't for the tannoy announcement every fifteen minutes reminding us to keep hold of our luggage at all times. I eventually gave up trying to sleep sometime in the early morning, and upon visiting the toilets I noticed that the facilities had needle dispensers in the cubicles. For insulin injections or heroin I guess, though I didn't inspect any closer.

Sleep deprivation and too much cheese was beginning to have an hallucinatory effect on my thought process. No longer was illiterate in Spanish, I could understand all the announcements, read all the posters, and then to top it off someone spoke to me and I understood her. It wasn't until my mate replied to the question that I realised she was speaking English after all. So for a few minutes we sat and diligently watched her luggage whilst she went to the toilet, presumably not to jack up on heroin. The only hope that kept me going was the knowledge that in two days we'd be back in England, and on our way home for a big welcome return and a weekend of fun at a music festival. Our ferry at Calais was booked, and now all we needed to do was wait for the van turn up.

At about ten in the morning I found myself observing a group of excited young Frenchmen. Dressed smartly, they were all gathered around in the arrivals lounge drinking white wine in copious amounts. Before long they started singing, it actually sounded like football chants, but before I could and join in with a shout of "Allez le bleu!" I found myself staring at another poor selection of cards in another game of shithead. By now the game had worn thin, in fact it had worn thin four months ago, but when it rains and you live in a van there's not much else to do; except painting by numbers of course.

For some reason I began thinking about the use of capital punishment during Roman times. I had been staring at the man with Serial Killer Eyes at the time. He was in his late forties, shabbily dressed in an old suit, dishevelled would be the cliched description. He would stand up for a few minutes and then perform a circular inspection of his surroundings. Not seeing whatever it was he was searching, he would sit down again, his head hanging and eyes locked on the floor. This carried on for about an hour or so, until, finally he left and was never seen again. Strangely enough, some time later, a woman entered arrivals dressed in knee length boots, short skirt and blood red lipstick. These scenes played out before me in a cinematic way, I was feeling so detached from reality that I wasn't sure what was going on. Smoking a Lucky Strike, she stood right by where Serial Killer Eyes had been, and remained there for a good fifteen minutes. Checking her phone, taking a drag, checking her phone, looking in the mirror, taking a drag, tapping her foot, muttering under her breath, taking a drag, and, checking her phone. Finally she seemed to give up and left as swiftly as she had arrived. My friend and I looked at each other, and we both knew we didn't need to discuss the possible scenarios that were playing out in our heads. Apparently the punishment for parricide in ancient Rome was to whip the guilty party, then place them in a sack with a dog, a cock, a viper, an ape, and then thrown into the sea. If no sea was available, then they would be burnt alive.

Our second night started with concern that there was a blatant disregard for the tannoy announcements going on in Terminal 1. We had gone to where we had slept the previous night, but after a few minutes the small number of people who had been there promptly disappeared. All that remained was my mate, myself, and a lone bag placed on top of one of the check-in desks. The security cameras were all focused on the bag, and we began to discuss whether or not we might get to see one of those bomb disposal robots come round the corner. But we were to be disappointed, instead it was stern looking security guard who came to the rescue, and after inspecting the bag for some time he began to stare intently in our direction. We swiftly moved downstairs.

Long after my friend had gone to sleep I sat and watched the silent night workers of the airport. The constant business of cleaning was always occurring, sweeping rubbish from every part of the floor, needles dispensaries needed emptying, and trolleys needed relocating. At around 2am I could see a snaking movement in the distance weaving towards me. The glare of the lights gave the airport a hazy atmosphere, but as he approached I could see that it was a man pushing a long collection of trolleys. He passed me by, his face had a resigned sad look to it, and his eyes gave the impression of inevitability; there will always be trolleys to collect and move around. He quietly shuffled away, looking as if he had been left behind, forever cursed to haunt the airport terminal.

It was finally our last day at Barajas Aeropuerto, with some luck our driver would turn up after lunchtime and we could be getting on with the serious business of covering the distance to Calais. My first chuckle of day came when I was watching a young boy being carried by his mother. She was attempting to rush to the toilets with her son, but it ended up being to little too late, and the boy was sick all down her. The best part was that he had tried classic 'hold it in with my hands' trick, resulting in the vomit spreading down his arms instead. This incident kept me smiling for a while, though I was starting to realise that lunchtime had been and gone, and our van still hadn't arrived. A quick phone call and all was revealed that he might be late, more like nine he said. G-R-E-A-T.

Appearing suddenly, deus ex machine, was a young Spanish girl who proceeded to swear with such brilliance I couldn't help be impressed. Her use of the word 'fucking' was exceptional, and after her splenetic outburst at the lack of email facilities in the airport she calmed down enough to invite us to a party in Lisbon. It was a moment when that fork in the road appears and which way are you going to go. Tempting as it was, our sensibilities rose to the surface and we turned down the offer for the prospect of spending another few hours waiting for our elusive chariot.

The clock struck nine, and we knew the van would be finally arriving, our hopes were high, but the ever present tannoy announcements seemed destined to play with our fragile minds. The alerting beeps kept making us think that an announcement was being made directly to us to inform us that the van had arrived. Vacating the building to escape the madness, we sat outside on trolley and soon received the phone call we had waiting days for. Sure enough, our van, Sandy, rolled around the corner sounding like a Royal Enfield Bullet. Apparently the exhaust had just fallen off, so now we had to cover one thousand miles in thirty six hours, unable to go over fifty five miles an hour. It would certainly be more interesting than sitting in an airport for any moment longer and we spluttered away from the terminal, focused on the new challenge ahead. Behind us, a shadow from the dark emerged, silently took control of our trolley and steered it off into the distance.


80 Years of Solitude

In 1831, an unpaid gentleman's companion set out on a voyage that would lead to some of the most dramatic discoveries in the field of science. The voyage was only supposed to last two years, yet after five years the research taken in areas such as anthropology, botany, geology, biology and ecology helped Charles Darwin to become one of the most eminent scientists of his time. The discoveries he made during his time on the HMS Beagle led to the eventual publication of the Origin of Species. This study, considered heretical and highly controversial by many leading people at the time, ultimately proved to be one the most important scientific studies in human history.

Darwin has been commemorated in many ways since his death in 1882, an Australian city is named after him, his face is on a ten pound note and he came fourth in a poll of the Greatest Britons that have ever lived. On the Galápagos Islands where Darwin did much of his work there now exists the Charles Darwin Research Station, which is dedicated to the conservation of the ecosystem of Galápagos.

The most famous resident of the Charles Darwin Research Station is an ancient tortoise of the sub species Geochelone elephantopus abingdoni , one of eleven types of tortoise found on the islands. Found on the island of Pinta in 1971 by hunters trying to eradicate the goat problem on the island, he is the last of his kind and now lives by the melancholic name of 'Lonesome George'. There have been concerted attempts to get George to mate with other female tortoises, Geochelone elephantopus becki, which are the closest to his race, in the hope that some of George's genes would pass down into future generations. However, despite his best efforts, there has yet to have been any eggs produced from this breeding program, puzzling the scientists who are studying him.

Yet there is still a small possibility that there could be other Pinta Tortoises alive on the island, as any small tortoise could have easily been overlooked when George was removed. Yet more problems lie in the way of any potential happiness for George, as the island's vegetation has regrown to such an extent after the goat cull that it is incredibly difficult to navigate around Pinta. There is an team currently implentmenting the first stages of restoring the island, but hope for George remains slim and it is becoming increasingly likely that he will die the last of his kind.

It was announced this week that the Charles Darwin Research Station plan to introduce the Española tortoise - George's closest relative - to replace George as Pinta's dominant herbivore. This is an effort to restore some balance to the vegetative state of the island, yet it is the first time conservationists have tried to replace one species with another.

Thanks to instituitions such as the Charles Darwin Research Station there are great efforts being made to protect these incredible islands. Their mission statement is:

To provide knowledge and support to ensure the conservation of the environment and biodiversity of the Galapagos Archipelago through scientific research and complementary actions

Through this, hopefully, they can prevent another species ending up like George, spending his life alone.


Hap e's

I'm sure in the past I've drank many bottles, can and pints of Heineken, but I've never paid much attention to the label itself. I suppose living in a consumer world we are all subject to the power of marketing, to even the smallest degree. The attention to detail that goes into creating a brand, or a logo is phenomenal, and not surprising considering the profits that can be at stake. Much of modern day brand power is about convincing the consumer that they will be better off with their particular product.

This does not just extend to physical appearance, but also the well being of the consumer. Yogurts that have 'good' bacteria to help digestion, or cereals that will make you feel more awake in the morning. It even extends back to the days of Guinness adverts in the 30s and 40s proclaiming "Guinness For Strength" and other iconic images of that advertising era.

I had never seen anything that had struck me like the Guinness adverts since, but the other day whilst making a cup of tea (fair trade of course, to calm my ethical conscience) I read the back of an empty Heineken bottler in our kitchen.

"Why do the e's in our logo appear to smiling? It's because only pure water, hops and malted barley go into our beer. We simply believe natural tastes better."

Sure enough, the e's are smiling at me! I had to laugh, because the instant connection I made in my head was to the drug ecstasy, surely not something Heineken would not want to be affiliated with.

After some research I found that this marketing ploy was first implemented by Alfred Heineken in 1951, after he had spent two years working in the sales department for Heineken in America. He learnt the importance of advertising, and on his return to Amsterdam he set out making some the most influential changes to the brand of Heineken that had ever been seen. He turned the brand colour to green, and created the combination of the red star, banner and a hop vine. But most importantly to me, he tilted the e's in the name Heineken backwards slightly to give them the appearance of smiling. He lived by the motto "I don't sell beer, I sell warmth."

Before finding this out I would have assumed that this marketing ploy had occurred recently, not over fifty years ago and its a testament to the vision of the man that he was able to understand the need for creative advertising. Living in a world now saturated by consumable products, the need for ever productive advertising is driving companies to make greater and greater claims in their attempts to convince the consumer of the superiority of their brand. Alfred Heineken was one step ahead during his time, but he spelt out an accurate prophesy for the modern age when he said:

"In the end life is all about advertising."