Friday, June 29, 2007

Hotel Reservation Resource

The online reservation game is a pretty competitive one but that is to the advantage of those of us who travel. Hotels usually offer blocks of discounts to companies who promote their businesses across the web. Like plenty of others before me I have found the online booking is a brilliant way to get a discount, and often in hotels that might otherwise claim there is no room at the inn. The group at HotelReservations.com seem to have caught up a useful round of resources for the traveler, especially if you are US based.

But the real test on these sort of sites is what sort of results you get from the search engine on hotels. So I try a search on the home town, Sydney, and all the mid to top tier pubs are featured, with cheap hotel rates that I know are pretty good. Push it a bit harder. Try Sanaa. Where? The capital of Yemen, part of the old city shown in this photo. Worth a visit if you have a spare couple of weeks. It is a veritable museum of old Russian stuff – and some new Russian jets (Mig-29s) beating up the airport kept me distracted for .... OK, it seemed like hours. There are two “top end” pubs in Sanaa. The Sheraton will be disappointed it did not come up on the list but I was VERY impressed that Sanaa returned a result at all. Including the other, local hotel, so they will be very happy with that result. So try something a bit more obscure - let's try Ballarat.

All the regular motor inns even we Aussies try and avoid are there – but you have no choice in Ballarat unless you have a relative living there. But not everyone wants to admit to a flannel-shirt wearing, mullet haired, ugg-boot shod relative in Ballarat. If you do, and therefore need to book some accommodation, this site will do it for you. Especially if you don’t want to “top and tail” with said relative. Push the site a bit further and search on Yakandandah. That is a bit unfair. Most Aussies would have no idea where this one horse, three fly town is either. And I am not even sure if there is accommodation there. Or if anyone would want to stay there. Unless they are on their way to Ballarat perhaps, and need to get themselves mentally conditioned to stay with that relative. So no return from the search engine on Yankandandah. But that is OK, it passed the Sanaa and Ballarat stress test with flying colours.

So too the airline bookings that will get me from Sydney to Sanaa and back with a choice of just about any airline in the region. And some. In fact the one stop shop nature of this site is a bit deceptive – the site name suggests hotel reservations only but it turns up car, flight and holiday deals as well. Might not be backpacker material but if you are traveling closer to the front of the plane these days than you did when you were a student, and you are the ones keeping us awake 9 hours across the Pacific with your toddlers with inner ears not yet adjusted to the pressure differential, then this site is worth a bookmark.

Beijing Street Barber

There are places you visit that catch the eye and you marvel at something different. Or places that engage the mind and you enjoy the way things are done differently, ingeniously and innovatively. China is NOT one of those places. It does not catch the eye. Or engage the mind. It grabs your heart. The eye and mind then follow. And it grabs your heart because their people do. There is something about their communal living, community spirit and the way they interact with each other that is missing in our western communities but to which I respond. That community mindedness means they do not really care too much about what others think about what one is doing. (What you are saying is another matter in this still Communist, centrally controlled state).

In a lane off one of Beijing’s boulevards this street barber was chatting away to the two by the wall, in her shop that was a piece of the sidewalk. Her tools are hung in a leather satchel on the pole beside her. The conversation was staccato fast, with everyone talking and no one listening. Did anyone care about the way the hair cut was progressing? I don’t think so. I loved the normalcy about the whole scene. People walked around them. Customers lined up in the street, patiently waiting their turn. Everyone knew everyone else, chatted and joked together. China is an extended family after all.

October 2004

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Advantages of Spending a Night with THE Paris Hilton

A night with her will not be breaking any moral code.

Most people are wearing underwear - at least that you can tell if you need to.

No one has a dog on a short leash.

This one does not pretend to be something she is not.

You don’t need permission from her mother to stay here.

Your own mother does not care if you stay here.

The foyer is not crowded with press thinking they are covering a real story.

If you have sex here it won’t be taped (other than by security).

If taped, your sex activity won’t find its way onto the Internet.

You can have a drink here without being picked up for DUI.

Your trash won’t find its way onto eBay – unless you want it to.

You can have a conversation that does not include the word “like”.

You can use the hotel car park.

The morning after will be a cultural experience – take short walk to the Eiffel.

The collective IQ in this place will exceed 75.

There is a (Gideons) Bible in the top drawer. That is, there actually IS something in the top drawer.

After a night here a doctors visit is probably not required.

The real thing is at 18 Avenue de Suffren, Paris, France 75015
Tel: 33-1-44385600 Fax: 33-1-44385610


Nicole Kidman - Possessive Tendencies

I am always intrigued by our tendency to claim something that can never be ours. We often do so under a national, collective grab. Especially when it is a celebrity, sports star, or someone who has excelled in some way. And if that person has demonstrated an especially fine and unique trait, resulting in a Nobel Prize, Academy Award, or other acknowledgment on a global scale we are especially prone to claim them as ours. We even do it to flora and fauna - we talk about “our” unique marsupials in a very possessive way, as if somehow we had some say in how they came to be to unique and striking. We claim them as “ours” as if their uniqueness makes us stand out from the rest of humanity in some sort of dramatic and better way.

Guilty, I admit to thinking “ah, our Nic” as I turned a corner in Brussels and saw the fine features of Nicole being washed in the early morning rain. On a poster at a bicycle rack promoting Chanel No5. By now my impressions of Brussels were thawing a little but I remained perplexed by the amount of rubbish lying on the sidewalks. Does anyone ever pick this stuff up? My next thought was to apologise to Nic for the rubbish piled up under her nose. Somehow it did not seem right, this beauty having to preside over this mess. Then I gave myself a quick slap, took the photo, popped the umbrella and got myself off to work.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

CIA Family Jewels

So the CIA is revealing its family jewels? Apparently, according to the Washington Post, though not the CIA website. Let’s see what actually happens but the prospect of revelations about CIA alleged, apparent, imagined or real misdeeds seems to have a whole lot of people in slavering anticipation. OK, given the mystique around these organisations fueled by fiction (some laughably outlandish) in print or film and the occasional piece of sanitised revelation from former employees I can understand the interest. Like sex, espionage is a subject everyone seems to want to know about even when they can’t know about it. Or is that, “because” they can’t know about it? Mind you, the CIA divulges a surprising amount about itself, although with the vast array of organisations conducting intelligence collection and analysis (collection is always the more sensitive part of the intelligence cycle) it does not hurt for one of them to be the media foil, and the remainder to quietly get on and do their thing. Despite their openness there is an expectation that everything that is happening behind closed doors is wrong, evil, unwarranted and unjustified.

The interest in the material to be released, and the expectations that everything is dirty and dark are the source of slight irritation for they contain an element of the hypocritical. Unions, business (big and small), private and public organisations, law enforcement agencies, lobby groups and any other number of institutions collect information on each other, and us, for competitive, sometimes dishonest, Machiavellian ends. Using whatever means they can get away with. But except for the occasional slip up when these activities are revealed to the world the public interest in these activities is almost non existent. We want to pay attention to alleged illegal activities of the CIA and their sister organisations yet forget they are designed to function with our welfare in mind. I will concede they slip up here and there (and in many countries they operate without independent checks and balances - another (serious) story) but with mandates and charters to look out for the welfare of a nation, the activities of these organisations have more sympathy from me than say a bank that collects data on me in order to garner more profit from me.

CIA, headquartered in Washington D.C. at Langley, is difficult to spot, nestled as it is nicely into a hollow in the ground on the banks of the Potomac. You can’t see it from the front gate or any of the surrounding roads. It is of course the stuff of ordinary civil service offices, not the glow-in-the-dark electronic centres Hollywood wants to show us. Sorry to disappoint you. If you can’t get a tour of the place (a tongue-in-cheek proposition) the next best view is via Google Earth (cut and paste these coordinates to be taken straight there "lat=38.9512483192, lon=-77.1450623562) or via the CIA virtual tours on their web site.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Sneaking a Kiss in Paris

Having dropped the pack in the (tiny) room (described a little more here) and negotiated my way down a set of winding stairs wide enough for one set of shoulders at a time – and even each of those was pressed against the flowered wallpaper on each side – I stepped out into a classic Parisian scene. It was a warm spring evening and the lowering sun was still in the sky, highlighting the new foliage and adding a warm yellow to the stonework and concrete. The smell of coffee, the sound of conversations of those on the side walk taking their leisure and the wide boulevards nicely reinforced just where I was. I legged it for about 17 kilometres that evening and covered a lot of Paris, from checking out the Notre Dame, walking a few kilometers along the Champ Elysees, wandering the art along the Seine and sadly being forced to avoid the queue at the Eiffel which stretched forever, and seemed to be made up mainly of rowdy American teenage school students. That deterrence proved a boon as I discovered a number of parks and gardens in which I was able to slow down – I was running out of steam and drifting in the general direction of the hotel. In so doing I stumbled over this statue of Joffre with the reclining couple having a quiet pash on its base. I grinned to myself and snapped the picture. Marshal of France. Hero even, for stopping the German armies in 1914. Symbol of all things French and martial, nicely counterpointed by symbols of indolent love, careless encounters, and Paris in the spring. It was for me a nice vignette of all the clich├ęs, and realities of Paris and France.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Akaroa

Bruce Elder, a journalist writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, has I think, the best job in the world – reporting on anything obscure, fun, intriguing, captivating or otherwise whatever takes his fancy as he travels around New Zealand. Those following his travels are occasionally invited to suggest places to go or to see, and I recently suggested he drop in and have a look at Akaroa (Google Earth lat=-43.8032578797, lon=172.967248723). Which in turn prodded a flood of memories.

It’s a small village on Banks Peninsula. My grandparents retired there, and as kids we used to gratefully lose two weeks of our summer holidays somewhere and everywhere in the village. I am pleased to add that thirty years later I revisited the place and, unlike some other places of my childhood memories, it was as delicious as I remembered it. Even if we were a couple of months off summer.

It is an interesting place, in part because it is the only French colonial settlement in New Zealand. Perhaps in all Australasia - I am not sure about that. The local legend we heard as kids had the French emigrants, heading up Akaroa harbour, beaten by hours to their settlement “claim” by a British runner sent with a flag from the other side of the peninsula. Whatever the truth of that, the French set up home here and as kids we ran around streets named Rue this and Rue that.

And summer at Akaroa was about running around. Eating apricots from the large tree that grew behind the post office. Nicking purple plums from off trees hanging over someones fence. Spending hours in the water. Jumping off Daleys Wharf. Fishing of the main wharf. Eating crayfish - thanks to my grandfather's part time job at the small fish processing plant on the main wharf, before he gave that away for his bowls. Digging pipis out of the beach and cooking then up in a billy fired by driftwood. Picking our way down to the beach from the camping ground on soft bitumen melting in the heat. Damming the creek that ran out across the beach. Swimming to the diving platform anchored off the beach. Collecting shells among the rocks. Lying under canvas (you can still smell it) in stifling heat and listening to people walking past late at night. Scones and cream (and raspberry jam) at Nanas. Kiwifruit vines growing wild over the powerlines and there for the taking. The sweet smell of passionfruit. Running all day. No parents - they were around somewhere. We usually caught up with them at meal times! Otherwise we ran loose. Huck Finn, eat your heart out. Another lifetime. Another place. A world away.

Casey Serin: Worlds Most Hated Blogger

Well, here he is. Apparently. I am not sure how you get a reputation like this from a few dodgy business moves. There are worse business results out there from so called professionals than this young chap has perpetrated. Whatever those moves, he has generated a phalanx of detractors who seem hell bent on getting a pound of flesh out of him. Worlds Most Hated Blogger? That is a tall order to fill.

Do I feel sorry for him?
It’s a week for the underdogs perhaps. Paul Potts goes his winning way and I am cheering him on, then Casey emerges with a hard luck story, slipping down here in Australia, hiding from his detractors and trying to get his life back on track. Sounds like he should get a sympathy vote as well. Then you discover he is attracting not insignificant traffic to his blog (300,000 + visits per month), the advertisers are doing OK out of that and you wonder if marketing is his skill even if real estate is not. And that this “worlds most hated blogger” tag is a clever promotional effort. You can be anyone and anything on the web (even a pickled eel), so who knows?

Then you figure that whatever the claims, and whatever his faults, and whatever the merits of the business plan, he deserves his shot at winning, just as much as the rest of us. After all, the Pickled Eel opened his business account ten years ago with nine dollars in loose change (and we have a long way to go yet). So there is a strong sympathy vote from me for a guy trying to make something out of nothing. Casey, the secret is "don't blink."

Casey’s website is here(looks like it is melting down this evening). And Sydney Morning Herald coverage here. And to whom I acknowledge the source of the photo.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Nessun Dorma

What on earth is the Nessun Dorma? We all associate it with the 1990 World Cup when Pavarotti sang it. But with Paul Potts singing it last week to get our attention I wondered what the story behind it really was. There you go, my Opera roots revealed to be as shallow as those of a stream side willow!

Turns out it is an aria from a Puccini opera titled Turandot. The "Classical Music: The Rough Guide" tells me it is a "disturbing example of Puccini's affection for violence against women."

Turandot is an evil Princess. Resident of Peking no less. During legendary times (that is such a cute piece of authorial licence aimed at defusing offence). She announces she will marry the first man who can answer three riddles. Fail the Q&A session and its off with your head. A besotted Calaf, who does not reveal he is a prince, is in the crowd watching the execution of one of the unfortunate quiz contestants. He thinks he is up for the quiz and answers the questions which puts Turandot's nose out of joint. Calaf is a gentleman, even if a stupid one, and suggests he will submit to execution if Turandot can guess his name by dawn (shades of Rumplestiltskin).

Turandot puts the wheels of government into motion overnight and starts mass executions to tempt someone to give up Calaf's name. Turns out Calaf has a lady admirer who kills herself rather than give up Calaf's name. Calaf gives up and confesses not only his name but his love for Turandot, who then falls in love with Calaf. Go figure.

Convinced? No, I am not either really. Nor is my Rough Guide which advises "the sadism of the opera might leave you with a bitter aftertaste". I think I will stick with travel. Enough sadism in the design and layout of cattle class seats at the back of the plane for me to sate any idle interest I might have in that subject.

Paul Potts Wins

It has been a meteoric rise for Paul Potts, the Welsh cell phone salesman with the dodgy teeth. Last night he won the talent contest (Britains Got Talent) in which he caught everyone's imagination (and emotion) when he sang Nessun Dorma. Video clip here. There has been a lot of churlish stuff out there about how he does not measure up to the greats (it is easier to tear down that to build up, after all). But my sentiment about seeing an underdog get up still stands. And I love his win all the more for his:
  • modesty,
  • appreciation of the public support,
  • apparent genuine surprise at the public support
  • ignoring the disbelief of the judges, though he could see it in their faces (and we could see the hurt in his),
  • lack of pretension
  • complete lack of any pop idol imagery, preening, or strutting,
  • lack of any sense that the world owes him anything (item above refers),
  • having a go,
  • ignoring any post performance detractors,
  • ability to evoke all that emotion in the audience, and the rest of us,
  • loving the ride (the bus (on a rollercoaster) he does not want to get off),
  • his surprise at the results in each three "sing-offs"
  • hangdog face (behind which I suspect he has long learned to mask what he really thinks and feels), and
  • his new-found appointment to sing before the Queen.
Its all good and I feel very pleased for him. Bizarre isn't it - all the way around the other side of the world, of a nationality we Australians just love to beat in anything in which we are competing, and he is getting this response. The internet is a great lesson in how our humanity is connected, even at emotional levels - not just via our computers. Good on you Paul.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Winter Storm (10)

Previous Chapter
In 2005 David Paton, good friend, mentor, example, and inspiration died after experiencing an aggressive cancer. I flew to New Zealand to attend his funeral. On the flight back I started writing some notes that were intended to capture something of what David meant to me. Taking a deep breath I thought I would share them more widely here on this blog. They are less coherent than I would like but they tell a story of what a difference one life, honestly lived, can make to those around them. These notes are offered up in 15 chapters which I will post out over the next few weeks. And in order that you can put a face to a name, here he is, on the Stewart Island ferry, catching some "zeds". Or "zees" depending on what part of the world you hail from.
That dump, in May, caught everyone by surprise. It was breathtakingly cold. Concerned about his cattle still caught out on the high country of his farm David was up early the next day and driving out to “the Run” to bring those animals in. I knew it was cold because even David stopped in some wonder to observe that the creek up in that part of the farm had been snap frozen, caught in mid motion as it tumbled over little waterfalls and swirled around the sedges and tussocks. We had a laugh later in the day as we went high up onto another mountain to bring down two of his bulls. The snow had started to come down heavily again and we were starting to think that they had been lost in the cold when they came bulldozing through the snow to us, attracted to the sound of the truck. By now the snow was coming down so heavily that it had covered the fences and gates and it was hard for me to get my bearings. I was also very concerned about driving with David as we felt our way up a scratch of a track tacked out of a steep hillside. Somewhere out on my left the mountain dropped away to nothing and a wrong guess would put us in mid air for a few seconds as we plummeted to a dead stop. I recall being quietly relieved when he asked me to get out of the truck and to walk back down the track to open a gate I could not see but which the bulls would need to have open if they were to make it back to the safety of the yards. Pushing through the snow I felt my way down the fence (after locating that first) to the gate and arrived just in time to hear a muffled shout of warning from David. I turned around. The falling snow was sufficiently heavy to have David in his truck almost invisible only twenty metres away, just a shadow in the grey-white silent swirl. But between the truck and where I was standing the snow was heaving and pulsating and from which the rolled eyed, snorting heads of two Hereford bulls pushed a few moments later. In a nanosecond I was standing on the strainer post supporting the gate and refusing to get back in the snow – despite all David’s exhortations and taunts. And laughter. But sense won out in the end. David stopped the truck and waited, the bulls settled down, only their heads being visible above the snow, and I reinserted myself into the snow to unlatch the gate and pack it back far enough for the bulls, who clearly knew what was going on, to amble through, down the track and to a dry spot under some macrocarpa (a cypress) trees where they started into an unprotected tumble of old hay bales.

In fact travel with David could often be a precarious thing, but it was especially so when he was in a risk taking mood. South of Cherry Farm is a stretch of highway that in wintertime would not see any sunlight for a good few months, it being cut into the shadow of a hill. The drop off was not great, maybe thirty feet or so, but at the bottom was a water channel and swamp that promised deep water. It was the perfect environment for black ice to form and stay. On a cold winters day we were travelling in a new four wheel drive that David had just purchased. As we rolled down past Cherry Farm and the strip of icy road hove into view David, who had been delighted with the way this new vehicle performed in the mud and snow, declared he would be interested in seeing how it performed on black ice. So without slowing down as we reached the ice he swung the steering wheel. Instantly we were travelling sideways down the road, fortunately perfectly in the middle. I was looking out the side window at the centre line passing underneath us, with my back to the water. Fortuitously there was no traffic coming the other way. Without seeming to be too perturbed (maybe I was too fixated on my own alarm to really note David’s disposition) he flicked the wheel and we continued to slide sideways down the road but this time we were facing the water. After correcting that move we slowed down and behaved more circumspectly as we rolled out onto less slippery bitumen. I never did ask what he thought of its performance on ice.

Next Chapter

Friday, June 15, 2007

Paul Potts - Cell Phone Salesman The Next Pavarotti


This week we watched (thanks to YouTube) an amazing performance by Paul Potts in a British talent quest, a performance that had many of us in the office in tears. It is a moving effort. But what I love about this song is his complete overturning of a cynical, even hostile judging panel. OK, they are paid to insert some drama into these things. But watch them sit slack jawed as he sings his Operatic piece. Watch the rolled eyes and sense the disbelief when he tells them he is going to sing opera. Then watch their transformation. There is something else I enjoy about this as well - Paul Potts, insofar as anyone can tell through the filter of the media, is a pretty unassuming guy. He has zero tickets on himself, seems like a thoroughly nice guy and just gets up there and lets rip. And for a chap who seems to have had bit of a rough run at life this is a nice turn around for him. Watch the audience in tears and then on their feet as they recognise what they are seeing and hearing. It always warms the heart to see an underdog win.

Watch it yourself and let me know your reaction. Once you have cleared the tears.

By the way, he went on and won the semifinal tonight.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Suicide Attempts at Freshwater Beach

Reflections written on winters day, overlooking Freshwater Beach, Sydney. The character’s name is Ahmed. He was deported and found himself imprisoned, then exiled for his faith when he returned home from Australia. He was seeking political asylum. Written Winter 2004.

The wind whips around here without any savagery. But it thrubs and beats at everything in its way. The ting ting ting of a rope against a flagpole is percussion to the softer swishing of the wind in the saltbrush, flax and beaten up tea tree which line the cliff top. In visual sympathy the sea throws itself on the broken sandstone below but the beat of the wind drowns out the sound of the water. Waves suicide in great gushes of foam and exclamation but do so silently. Across a blue green ocean, sprinkled with points of white the occasional sail tacks without progress into the breeze while others appear so quickly and vanish in moments as they travel with it. It seems there is no possibility of a speed in between. Above it all, smiling and kissing all it surveys drops the sun, lending to the scene light and life and vibrancies not found in an overcast winters day. Today is clearly God’s day and he is jolly well pleased with what he has laid out for us.

He used to come here when thinking about his family. Or about his immigration application and the many years the government had found apparent good reason to ignore his pleas. He told me the place offered him some solitude, away from all those who promised, and even delivered help but who clearly were not able to advance his cause. Here the wind was his friend and he would stand here and scream into the gales, shouting obscenities in more than one language at his creator, demanding more clarity in his life than the elements or his funds could offer. Pushing his body into the breeze he would hang a foot out into space and tempt God to switch off the updraft and drop him to the rocks below. The wind would continue to blow and eventually he would carefully withdraw his foot, quiet his voice, creep back to a park bench where he would weep the tears of the grief-stricken. And then the tears of the penitent for he firmly believed his God was his friend. And then the tears of a child, uncomprehending tears and those that flowed in the full knowledge that, regardless of the shouting and yelling the world would keep turning and nothing was about to change to his advantage in any time soon.

After the tears came the most difficult part of the communication ritual – returning to his lodgings where he faced the quiet serenity of his landlord and the quite obvious lack of empathy. Worse, his lodgings were temporary and reminded him of the boot camp existence of his previous life, twenty years earlier. Single bed, no decorations which hinted at a family or friends. Back then the dormitory existence had a reason. He was there to fulfill a national calling. And he was among friends who suffered, enduring and exhilarated with him. But here, in a foreign country he had a single bed in a single room, a single faded photograph of a distant brother and none of his wife or sons and daughters.

He told me once that even though his yelling and shouting at God was, after the event, something he was ashamed of, it was at the very least a form of communion, a time when he felt that someone out there was listening and saying “I know how you feel.” In so many ways the most difficult part of the communion in God’s windy temple was not the rage and despair but the leaving of the place, to return to an abode symbolic of his seeming empty lot in life and in which he was not able to vent any of his despair. Back he would trudge, pause at the front door, square up his posture, fix on a smile, then ease himself in, hoping not to encounter any other tenant or his kindly landlord. They were all beyond words in these moments. This was not home. Home was on the other side of the world in a regime that professed constitutional freedom to a person like him who wanted to believe in God but which separated him from his wife and children the moment he confessed to holding to that belief. The repeated tests on the cliff tops above the beaches of north Sydney were to determine if the God he worshipped was going to claim him. He never did, in that suicidal sense, but claimed him in the end in a more comprehensive way. Ahmed does not live the life he expected but lives it now more fully, by his own admission, than he ever expected.

When I pass it, or on occasions that I stop here, like today, this cliff top is a reminder of his life and friendship in Sydney. Especially on a windy, winters day.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Bulk Carrier Wreck

A few posts ago I commented on the number of bulk carriers anchored off the coast of coal city Newcastle, just a couple of hours north of here. The sheer number makes for an impressive sight. I read in the papers a few weeks ago the number had swelled to 60+ .

Tonight, with storms lashing the coast here and further north all but two of those have put to sea. At last check one is dragging its anchors in an effort to stay off the beach. Another has rather dramatically ended up on the beach. Perhaps not a wreck just yet but the seas are pounding it hard and prospects don't look good for it.

The photo is courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald where you can see some pretty interesting images. You don't wish this sort of thing on anyone, or on any business but there is something fascinating about this sort of incident. What is that? A childish intrigue with wrecks, smuggling, and adventure? An equally childish intrigue at seeing something break up and open - seeing its innards? Secretly I suspect the latter - it was part of the wonder of seeing the ship breaking in Bangladesh.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Smartest Dog in the World

One of the truly nice things about all the travel I have done over the years is the range of friendships I have struck up in all sorts of unlikely places. Those friendships have special meaning if they have derived from business - you are not in business to make friends (its all about the bottom line at the end of the day) so when genuine friendships arise they are worth seizing and nurturing. In Martinez, California I am fortunate to have Greg and Libby as fine and true friends. A remarkable couple who treat me like part of the family - Thanksgiving a few years ago was a specially memorable and moving event, sitting as I was around a table of family who had never met me before. Hospitality at its very best.

This time around I was able to visit when the California weather was crisp and cool in the morning, warming to a hot day. On those mornings we walked around a disused road that overlooks the San Pablo Bay - opposite Benicia. (The start point of the walk is at Google Earth 38° 1'29.17"N 122° 9'58.12"W) And on that walk we took with us the world's smartest dog. Named Homer no less. With a name like that he has to have an IQ of at least.....5. He is a pretty special animal for Greg but Greg indulges me some ribbing at Homer's expense. Here they are - one of them stepping it out on one of our walks, the other just having to check the droppings of another dog. And there have been a lot of them along this trail. C'mon, what do you expect with 5 IQ points?

It is good to do business. But I count it a bonus to catch up with good friends too.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Desert Bath

I can't help myself - interrupting the travelogue that has been running for the last few weeks to inject something a little more delightful than my own musings about Europe or the USA. My brother, who spent most of his younger years running around the world doing "boys own" stuff, now has married and has his real own baby to play with. Clearly he is pretty delighted with that, as this photo shows. Now the manager at Timber Creek in the Northern Territory (Ayers Rock, Kakadu, Crocodile Dundee, Darwin and all that) my brother has ample opportunity to tour around that rather dramatic part of the country. Lugging his baby along with him who clearly does not seem to mind a bath in a utility bucket. Both are as pleased as each other given their circumstances. This kid may well grow up to be another Croc Dundee if my brother has anything to do with it. Sister in law may have another view altogether. In the meantime I love seeing the pleasure on their faces in the simple circumstances in which they are camping. I need to get up there myself. Soon!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Dallas - Nice Truck, Big Gun - The "JD Memorial Shoot"

Dallas is a pretty special place - for some! I have a friend from Los Angeles who decided he needed to get out of the madness of that lifestyle and go someplace where he could focus on his humanitarian work. To do that he figured he would live in the worst place he could imagine - he chose Dallas. That still makes me laugh. My own experience of Dallas is a much more positive one and came about through Clyde Musgrave. PhD. Ex USN. Works in some interesting parts of the government. Introduced me to some interesting venture capital types in Richardson County (one memorable meeting had one of them hand me a pomegranate from out of his garden) in 2001, a visit which still remains vivid in my memory. Clyde was instrumental in getting our business up and running in the early days and opening our eyes to what was possible in the US and global markets. In that process he formed some very firm friendships with our founding team, friendships that are now as inclusive as family. He has also been instrumental in helping me get to know a little bit about Texas - a drawling "niiiice truuuuck" is one clue to making friends quickly in this part of the world.

A special friendship sprung up between Clyde and Jonathan. Jonathan was tragically killed in an accident a few months back. All of us shared a love of shooting, especially handguns. Jonathan was particularly obsessed. So it seemed entirely appropriate that for us to honour our friendship with Jonathan we conduct the inaugural "Jonathan Ashton Memorial Shoot". Which we duly did. A Ruger .38 (Clyde using it here), a Beretta .32, a Glock 9mm and a S&W .357 were the instruments of choice. As we blasted away a part of the morning we grinned like little boys in a candy store and knew in our hearts that Jonathan would have thoroughly approved.

22 May 2007