Saturday, 25 August 2007

Norah!

What is there to say about Miss Jones? Alien Wally and Mags are still lost for words to describe what was simply a breathtaking concert. Norah Jones was stunning and her Very Handsome Band were indeed very handsome (apart from Daru, who, being a woman, must surely be described as beautiful). All together, they are an incredibly talented group of musicians. And Norah’s voice is so mind-blowingly exquisite and her fairly newly learned guitar skills so awesome that she is forgiven for not being able to whistle :)

The following video is not of last night's performance, but from an earlier one in Norah's tour. But it has been included to give you a little taste of what Alien Wally and Mags experienced....


Friday, 24 August 2007

As Alien Wally and Mags were going to St Ives…

...they didn’t meet any man with seven wives. Polygamy is illegal, after all. But they did get to do some other interesting things….

Thanks to a new direct flight from Edinburgh to Newquay, Cornwall is now an easy hour and a half away. In a propeller plane. A biggish propeller plane, but still – a plane with propellers. Hypnotising propellers. Must. Watch. Propellers. Otherwise. They. Will. Stop. Turning. Thanks to Mags’ dedication to the cause, the plane arrived safely at Newquay airport on a sunny Cornish afternoon. Newquay may be an international airport, but it is so tiny that it’s dwarfed by the patchwork quilt of fields surrounding it.

Alien Wally and Mags hopped into their rental car and drove confidently out of the airport. Hmm… no signs. Turn left? Right? Left? Okay – left. Turns out that left ended up being the long scenic route to the motorway. But the scenic route is always cool since it is precisely what it says it is – scenic. The road wound along the beautiful Cornish coastline for a while until it meandered inland and joined the motorway, which took Alien Wally and Mags down to St Ives, their base for this trip.

Upon arrival at the guesthouse, Alien Wally and Mags unpacked their suitcase just enough to unearth their swimming costumes and beach towels, and headed down to the beach, where they found a late takeaway lunch and settled themselves down on the sand. They soon had an audience – manic seagulls looking greedily at the food with their beady little eyes. Precautions were taken and shooing noises made, and eventually the seagulls got the message and left Alien Wally and Mags in peace to enjoy their lunch. A little girl a bit further down the beach wasn’t so lucky, though, losing her ice cream cone as a seagull swooped down to snatch it right out of her hand.

After lunch, while lying dozily on the beach, Alien Wally and Mags noticed a chill approaching. Sure enough, a rain cloud was making its way along the beach, wetting people in its path and leaving sunshine in its wake. Those people who had beach tents ducked inside to wait it out, Alien Wally and Mags threw a towel over their heads, and others just sat patiently and waited. Two minutes later, the rain was gone and the sun was back. After suntanning for a while, Alien Wally and Mags lazily made their way through the narrow streets of the town of St Ives (through which amazingly, cars can, and do, drive) before heading back to the guesthouse to change for supper. Exhausted after their busy day, the two decided to pop in to the pub just down the road for supper rather than walk all the way back to the center of town. The Cornish Arms makes very tasty food!

The next day started out cloudy, and Alien Wally and Mags headed for Lands End. On the recommendation of the guesthouse owners, they parked at Sennan Cove and walked the mile to Lands End along the coastal path. By the time they had traversed the cliff tops, the sun was starting to come out in full force. The coastal route was stunning, definitely a much better bet than spending time at the theme park that some idiots decided would be the best way to celebrate the most south-westerly point of the country.

After Lands End, Alien Wally and Mags made their pilgrimage to St Michael’s Mount, perfectly timed to take advantage of the low tide so that they could walk across the causeway to the island. The castle was interesting for those who enjoy castles. Others were possibly not so impressed, like the teenage girl heard complaining loudly that “if you’ve seen one castle, you’ve seen them all”. Perhaps she was just put out by the steep walk up the cobbled path to get to the castle… worth it though for the sheer beauty of the views that you get once at the top.

The late afternoon was spent visiting Penzance, hoping to see some pirates. None in sight, maybe chased away by the modern commercial atmosphere on the main street. All in all, Penzance was rather disappointing, unfortunately.

Saturday dawned all drizzly, and for this reason had been set aside as “indoor” day. Alien Wally and Mags drove up to the Eden Project, which has had mixed reactions from people as to whether it was worth a visit or not. Let’s just say – yes, it is worth going if you enjoy nature and plants. If you don’t, then stay away! There are currently two biomes (a third one focusing on desert regions is in the planning stages), one filled with tropical plants and the other with Mediterranean plants, which includes fynbos from the Western Cape and had Alien Wally and Mags reminiscing fondly about their walks on the mountains back in Cape Town. You’ll be able to tell which biome is which in the photos below – the hazy pictures were taken in the hot tropical biome, through the steam on the camera lens….

After traveling through the world in the biomes, Alien Wally and Mags headed for Carnglaze Caverns, an old slate mine with a beautiful blue spring pool. Learning about the old mining techniques was fascinating, and the water tasted good, although Alien Wally and Mags still haven’t worked out whether the tour guide was joking about the trace of arsenic in the water…. Anybody looking for an unusual wedding venue can hire the “rum store”, the main cave where unsurprisingly, rum used to be stored, and which is now a concert and wedding venue. If you do choose to have your nuptials here, though, don’t bother with getting a hairdo – you have to wear a hard-hat like every other visitor to the caves, although you do get to wear a white one instead of the usual yellow.

Before heading back to St Ives, Mags managed to persuade Alien Wally to take her past Jamaica Inn. He was just there for the pint Mags promised him, but she was there to finally see the real-life setting of one of her favourite books – “Jamaica Inn” by Daphne Du Maurier. The inside of the inn is more atmospheric than out, and Mags is sure that it would have been even more atmospheric at the time that the novel was written, prior to the big noisy motorway right alongside it, when Bodmin Moor’s full effect would have been felt. Ah, progress, a beautiful thing, Mags sighs cynically….

On their last full day in Cornwall, having seen Lands End, Alien Wally and Mags decided to see the other extreme of the country – the most southerly point. Less visited than Lands End, Lizard Point is a wild and windy place. Alien Wally braved the wind to poke his head around the corner to see the old boathouse in the cove, but Mags hid behind the building, and then eventually in the building… what better place to enjoy a Cornish Cream Tea than at The Most Southerly Restaurant!

Eventually the time came to say goodbye to Cornwall, but not before being “mugged” at the airport. Yes, Cornwall has imposed a so-called Airport Development Fee of £5 on each visitor to Cornwall, which must be paid before leaving. Said fee is not mentioned on the way in, and is not covered by the other exorbitant airport taxes that are included in one’s airfare – once they have you in their greedy grasp though, they don’t let you through security until you’ve paid up… can anyone say “Cornish Mafia”?!

Thursday, 9 August 2007

It’s Festival time!

Edinburgh’s population is usually round about 500 000. At Festival time, it swells to about three times that. It’s festive, to be sure, but it does impede normal movement about the city. Here, for example, are some shots of the High Street (otherwise known as the Royal Mile), the cobbled and mostly pedestrian street leading up to the castle. It’s a popular tourist spot at any time of the year, but usually Mags doesn’t have to hold on to Alien Wally quite so tightly when they walk up here in case she loses him (or he loses her) in the mayhem.



Of course, if one did get separated and lost, one could always dress up and start performing something, anything for money. Even if one is not allowed to perform at the Festival itself, because one’s show is “too dangerous, more dangerous than juggling with fire or swords”, one can always stand around in one’s chain-mail finery and have one’s picture taken. Alien Wally and Mags took the picture quickly, donated money to the cause and didn’t wait for more explanation of what dangers lurked in the hearts of these knights. They ran away to the relative safety of the fire juggler instead. Now that’s a sure-fire way to clear a space around oneself in the crowds. Sure-fire… Oh, ha-ha, Mags is punny today….



The weekend at the start of the Festival is filled with cheap previews of shows and BOGOFs. No, that’s not an insult to festival-goers, but an acronym that Mags stole from the supermarkets – Buy One, Get One Free. In Festival parlance, these are more usually termed “Two for One”. Mags just prefers to say BOGOF. It sounds rude, but it’s not. Cue Beavis and Butthead snigger. Oh dear, Mags is such a nerdy nerd.

Such a nerdy nerd, in fact, that she dragged Alien Wally along to see The Phone Book Live. Yes, it’s what you’ve always wanted to see and hear – someone reading the Phone Book. Live. It’s a short show and it’s for charity, and surprisingly, it’s not as dull as it sounds. That may be due to the fact that some of the top comedians at the Festival have been roped in as readers, and their take on the Phone Book is quite, well, comedic. At the end of the show, they even autograph the Phone Book and auction it off for charity. It’s a pretty expensive book by the end of the evening.

On Sunday, the Cavalcade took place – the official event that marks the start of the Festival. While Saturday had been hot and dry, Sunday was cold and wet, but the performers’ energy was fantastic in the dreary damp. It is worth noting that, while most performers got sopping wet, the Scout band wore raincoats. Be prepared, indeed! Here are some pics from the event:













After all the excitement, Mags and Alien Wally realised that they were so cold from standing around in the rain for two hours that they were pretty much completely numb. They managed to drag themselves to Urban Angel, where a warm chocolate brownie and a hot mocha revived them. Before heading back out into the cold, they took precautionary and preventative measures by sharing a dram of whisky. Cold, what cold?! The evening was spent in the snug environment of The Green Room, watching Defending The Cavewoman, a follow-on from Defending The Caveman and performed by a South African, Vanessa Frost. While the show had funny moments, it wasn’t as good as its predecessor, unfortunately, mainly because of too many clich├ęd jokes. The more original material that hasn’t gone round the internet a gazillion times was excellent, though.

The Festival continues this week, with more shows to see. Updates and reviews will follow shortly!