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Sep. 11th, 2018

Cat Air

Tintin in Toulouse

When I found out that the Aeroscopia aviation museum in Toulouse was having an exhibition called Tintin et ses Avions, I knew that I had to go and that I had to take wardy with me.

We set out for Stansted obscenely early on Saturday morning and boarded our Ryanair flight. I had the middle seat next to a crying baby, but it stopped when I said 'good morning' to it and was fine for the rest of the flight.

I was thrilled to spot a Beluga transport plane from my window as we taxiied; a good omen for the weekend of geeky delights ahead. We disembarked into a warm, sunny Toulouse and celebrated with airport coffee and doughnuts before walking to our Ibis Budget.

We took the tram into town, had lunch in a 'British pub' and wandered around a little, delighting in being abroad.

Late in the afternoon we'd booked on Let's Visit Airbus, a tour of the factory. This is so super secret that you aren't allowed to take photos, or enter without showing your passport.

The tour was in three parts: first we watched a video showing the first test flight of the A380, then visited the assembly line, then explored the military A400M stored at the museum. We'd booked on the English tour with a wonderfully funny guide: "You will see there is nobody in the factory. This is not because we are on strike or on coffee break, but because it is the weekend." She also complimented Wardy on his V-bomber T-shirt.

We spent our evening looking for somewhere to eat, eventually finding an Italian restaurant where we sat outside in the warm dusk. Afterwards we walked to a riverside bar for a nightcap.

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On Sunday we headed back to the museum, via a bakery for breakfast and a supermarket to pick up sandwiches for lunch. I spotted a Beluga in flight from the tram and we fell over ourselves watching it pass by.

The Tintin exhibition was beautifully done, with pictures and models of the aircraft from the books throughout the museum, and plush Snowies hiding in various cockpits. Early art showed how Hergé had quickly cottoned on to the aeroplane as an exciting modern development. I found it especially interesting that the planes often changed model between the original magazine strips and the redrawn comic book versions, so a 1930s airliner becomes the 1950s equivalent.

After spending a fair amount of time and money in the gift shop, we rewarded ourselves for our frugal lunch by ordering coffee and waffles at the posh museum café.

This kept us going until dinner, which was at a Vietnamese restaurant and delicious. I'd never had Vietnamese coffee before and now I want no other kind forever.

We returned to the Ibis, and I suggested we slip over to the much posher hotel over the road, the Pullman, for a drink. At the bar we got talking to an American former pilot, now avionics engineer, who had come over to teach a course. We started off talking about planes and ended up looking at photos of his cat and dog.

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On Monday morning we headed to the airport, where we got one last Beluga sighting as it took off and vanished into the low cloud and I had a tin of supermarket cassoulet taken off me at security because I was too stupid to realise it counted as a liquid.

Wardy kindly drove me home before heading back Oop North. We'd been abroad for just under 48 hours but it felt like a real proper holiday.

More photos on Flickr

Aug. 28th, 2018

Of Rassilon

Bank Holiday Bonding

I spent the Bank Holiday weekend in Peterborough with my friend M, a trainee vicar I met through the furry fandom and bonded with over our similar tastes in Bond (i.e. mocking Pierce Brosnan and perving over Timothy Dalton).

I got very cold and wet travelling up on Friday night, but was welcomed with fried chicken and a viewing of The Living Daylights ("God he's pretty." "Yes he is.") before heading to bed in a guestroom hung with aviation art.

On Saturday we took a bus into town for the Peterborough beer festival, where M was recognised by three separate sets of his parishioners and we met a delightfully wiggly collie puppy.

In the evening we went to see Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, principally to laugh at Brosnan and his manly chest thatch (which appears within milliseconds of his first screen appearance; I swear he has a special clause in all his contracts).

M was dubious about this entertainment and pushed for Mission: Impossible 6 instead, but he turned out to know all the words to 'Fernando' and we both had a lovely time. A charming, inoffensive film it's hard not to like. (We decided afterwards that Pierce employs a personal groomer for his chest hair, called the Moobraker.)

On Sunday I accompanied M to Eucharist to see him do his church thing. The congregation were terribly nice to me and kept telling me how lovely M was, which of course he is. Miserable weather provided an excuse to spend the rest of the day having a pub lunch, watching DVDs and playing computer games.

On Monday M collected his friend E from the station and brought him back for an impressive fryup. Then the three of us set off for Bletchley Park, currently hosting an exhibition of Bond-inspired art.

We looked around a few of the huts, then M bought us all ice creams and I got harassed by a swan who started pecking my legs every time I tried to sit down at one of the picnic tables, to the great amusement of all witnesses.

Afterwards we drove to St Mary the Virgin in Wellingborough, an impressive 20th-century church, where I was chuffed to spot a memorial to First World War flying ace Edward 'Mick' Mannock'.

We had a sort of late lunch/early supper at Wimpy, mostly so I could experience the joys of the Bender in a Bun, then it was time for E to head for the station and for me to pack up and set off for home, exhausted from a long weekend of doing cool stuff and laughing hard and often.

Aug. 21st, 2018

Cat Air

The adventures of Local Kingsize Fox

My corner of London, like most corners of London, has a thriving population of urban foxes, often heard yawping in the night or seen loping purposefully along the street as if they own it.

We are blessed, here, with a large and magnificent specimen whom I have dubbed Local Kingsize Fox. He must be getting on for a metre from his nose to his tail, which makes up in length what it lacks in floofiness.

A while ago I was sorry to note that he was limping (although I still laughed cruelly when I saw him try to jump into a hedge and miss), but he's back on form now, and looking extra lush and handsome for summer.

Yesterday evening my flatmate called me into the living-room to witness LKF climbing up on the flat roof opposite, which was probably nice and warm from a day of sun. I spent a good 20 minutes watching him snooze and groom up there. Here are some of the best results from my bridge camera.

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Aug. 15th, 2018

Karate

Back in Black

When my bike was stolen last year, the thieves also got my karate bag, which contained, as well as my wallet and phone, my black belt.

This was a special belt with my name and the name of our club, Kenshukai, embroidered on it in Japanese characters. We order them from Japan and they're expensive (like, nice restaurant meal for two expensive). I'd been wearing a plain black belt, thinking I'd replace the good one next time I graded.

Last night, at the end of class, Shihan had us sit comfortably, the way he does when he has an announcement to make.

One of the instructors had organised a collection, not just around the Tuesday class but from everyone in our area who used to train with me or knew me from gradings and tournaments, and Shihan had ordered me a new belt. It was a complete surprise; nobody had dropped so much as a hint.

I've been going to karate for 15 years and even though I only see these people once a week, we are a family. We do birthdays and Christmas and sorry-you're-leaving. But I was not expecting this, and I am touched and amazed.

The belt wasn't a matter of life and death, but it was important to me and symbolic of the effort I've put in to reach this level. Thank you to my karate friends for recognising that and for being thoughtful and generous enough to put things right.

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Jul. 19th, 2018

Game Boy

Go Go Gadget

The makers of Pokémon Go have a knack for introducing new features just when everyone's getting a bit bored and thinking about maybe using their phones for something else.

The latest update brought the ability to add other players as friends, and send each other gifts. I am loving it, as I'm very nosey and enjoy seeing how my pals have dressed their avatars and where they've been (the gifts come with a little postcard to tell you which Pokéstop they came from).

Anyway, add me!!

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Jul. 18th, 2018

Dogfight [by the_gneech]

Spirit in the Sky

It was a stroke of luck that I was attending the Royal International Air Tattoo on Friday and Saturday, rather than my usual Saturday and Sunday, so I was able to fit Paul Simon into my weekend too.

Cut for many plane picsCollapse )Eight hours packed with aircraft shot by, and the display was closed, appropriately enough, by the Finnish.

Jul. 17th, 2018

Something So Right

So Long, So Long

There was only one visitor from the US I cared about last week.

Earlier this year, Paul Simon announced that he'd be retiring from touring for a number of reasons, including the death of his long-time session man and friend Vincent Nguini.

His farewell tour, 'Homeward Bound', included an appearance at the British Summer Time festival in Hyde Park on Sunday 15th July, and I bought a ticket so I could say goodbye.

I arrived at the gig in a mood of annoyance at the heat, the festival organisers and their 'gates open 1pm, the act you want to see is at 8pm, you can't bring your own food and drink' policy, and my inability to see the stage at all. I wriggled my way towards the front of the cheap area and stationed myself behind a tactical gap (which would later be filled by people wearing hats).

Then Paul came on stage and went straight into 'America', and all my issues dropped away as it became a magical evening elbow to elbow with strangers and fellow-fans.

There were huge screens displaying the action, and Paul kindly wore a red T-shirt so I could pick him out on the stage when all the hats in front of me were lined up in just the right way.

He didn't talk a great deal between songs, packing a lengthy setlist into his two hours with us, but he seemed pleased and touched that we were all out there.

He did share that the old guy working at the car wash in 'Rewrite' is the same kid who gets on the bus in 'America'. 'Rewrite' is perhaps my favourite from his most recent couple of albums, so this made me happy.

There was the briefest brush with politics when he said "Strange times, huh? Keep going!" and went straight into 'American Tune'.

After a rousing, energetic concert with a huge backing band, Paul returned for a solo, acoustic encore, ending, of course, with The Sound of Silence.

That was my 7th time seeing him live, and it may be the last. I'm a bit emotional about that, but at least it was a fantastic farewell.
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Jul. 9th, 2018

Ace

The Impossible Dream

The Penny Dreadfuls are a trio of blokes who write and perform comedy shows based on great works of literature (in other words, Peak Radio 4).

I'd very much enjoyed their take on the Odyssey and one about John le Carré, so when I got a BBC Tickets and Tours email to say they were doing Don Quixote, one of my favourite books, I applied for tickets immediately. Soon afterwards, I got an email to say I'd been successful.

Imagine my joy, then, when the Dreadfuls announced on Twitter that their special guest stars would include Sylvester McCoy playing Don Quixote.

The recording was last night, and it was well worth queueing up in the heat outside Broadcasting House for.

A lot of the humour was based around 'ha ha, nobody has really read Don Quixote', which made me WELL, ACTUALLY to myself a bit. That said, it was a very funny script that managed to make some serious contemporary points and present both Don Quixote and Sancho Panza as sympathetic characters, while sticking pretty closely to the plot and spirit of the original.

The cast was fantastic and Sylvester McCoy just lovely, constantly pulling funny faces and doing little bits of Business. My companion and I spent a lot of time in whispered discussion of how very huggable he was. (He got noticeably more Scottish during the retakes, by the way, with some of his Rs lasting several seconds.)

It turns out that one of McCoy's many music hall talents is the ability to burp on demand, so we had a bit of that.

"They never made you do that when you were in Doctor Who, did they?" said the producer.

"They didn't let me."

I'm only sorry he didn't play the spoons for us. I'm sure he would have done given the slightest excuse.
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Jun. 2nd, 2018

The Spy Who Loved Me

007 Is Dead

I enjoyed Trigger Mortis, Anthony Horowitz’s 2015 James Bond novel, a great deal, so I’ve been excited for ages about the release of his second, Forever And A Day, on May 31st. Last night I went to see him talk about it at the Royal Festival Hall.

There’s been more publicity than I remember from previous Bond continuations, or maybe I’ve been more tuned in to what was going on: an ad on the huge display screen at Waterloo, and a roulette wheel in Waterstones Piccadilly where you can win fabulous prizes (or, in my case, a consolation travelcard holder). Waterstones even had branded takeaway cups in their cafe, forcing me (forcing me I tell you!) to have a latte.

I met up with an internet friend from the spy fiction circuit and we had an enjoyably geeky conversation across many fictional universes while we awaited admission.

The talk was a real pleasure. Anthony Horowitz is a lifelong Bond (and Sherlock Holmes, and Tintin) fan who admitted to wanting the continuation gig for years before finally getting the call, and his aim in writing Bond is to entice new readers towards Ian Fleming’s books. What a lovely speaker and person he is - warm, witty, clever and enthusiastic. I'd expect no less from a Tintin fan.

I especially liked the way he involved the two sign language interpreters, who were taking turns and doing a really good job (seeing one of them sign 'the bit in The Spy Who Loved Me where the parachute opens and it's a Union Jack' was a highlight of the evening).

I even managed to put my hand up and ask a question, which I'm usually too shy to do. It was "Who do you picture when you're writing Bond?" and the answer was "Sean Connery, because of the age I am."

There was a long queue for the signing afterwards, but everyone got a nice conversation at the signing table. I told him that (1) I like Trigger Mortis more than I like Kingsley Amis’s Colonel Sun (2) the first Bond novel I read was the same as his: Dr No in the film tie-in cover, and I think he appreciated both these facts.

He not only signed three hardbacks (two for me and one for a friend), but my Waterstones coffee cup (I asked them for an extra, explaining that otherwise I would have to keep an unhygienic coffee-stained one in my home forever).

I managed to find a few more online pals and we enjoyed a drink and some Bond chat (I ended up enthusing about the hovercraft museum for perhaps longer than necessary) before heading out into the humid London night.

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Jun. 1st, 2018

Snoopyteer

Furwell My Lovely

The Bank Holiday weekend was ConFuzzled, my annual trip to Birmingham to hang out with my fellow-furries.

This was the first year I had a brief try at dressing up. The theme was games, so I downloaded and built Wintercroft's low-poly wolf mask, and combined with an all-black outfit it looked pretty effective:

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(The other fellow is my lovely, and tall, friend Francis Shepherd enjoying his very first con.)

Arakin came over from Berlin bringing a copy of Death Train, a terrible 1993 movie starring Pierce Brosnan, Patrick Stewart and, improbably, Christopher Lee. On Saturday evening we gathered together with Francis and JM Horse to watch the hell out of it over a few martinis, which was one of my convention highlights.

I was on several writing and editing panels, including one with Guest of Honour Ryan Campbell and his husband Jakebe, who are both delightful.

Kandrel and I did our now-traditional 'Bedtime Stories', reading our works out loud to an audience as a wind-down at the end of the day, and I reprised my role as reader-outer of entries to the five-sentence flash fiction competition, which is always fun. (Stories have to follow the theme of the convention, and someone had written one about GoldenEye N64, forcing me to read the phrase 'the polygon-etched form of Pierce Brosnan' out loud.)

Another fun event was the Agent November escape room, which I attempted with Televassi, Arakin and Francis. We failed to defuse the bomb in time, but had fun trying (a mission that largely involved running through the hallways in silly hats).

It was wonderful reconnecting with the friends I only see once a year, spending quality time with the ones I get to see more often, meeting lovely Twitter people in person and making lovely brand new friends. And the next con I go to, all being well, will be in Virginia!

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