Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Bark: The Big Smoke

A bit of a late update, but I had a fabulous weekend, this week. I'd been meaning to catch up with a lot of my friends in London sometime soon anyway, but my impending trip to Milan to preview Evolution GT provided me with even more of an excuse to hit The Big Smoke and have a big love-in at the most convenient pub (or at least the nearest one to where I was spending the day in London).

My primary (trip-related) reason for hitting London was to pick up a digital "voice recorder" from the technological cornucopia that is Tottenham Court Road (why can't they just call them "dictaphones" anymore? Presumably something to do with the Political Correctness brigade, or marketing consultants not knowing what "dictation" is. I know I'm never a man to use one word when five will do, but it seems a little perverse to me...) and also purchase an Italian phrase book from Foyles (arguably the best bookshop in the world), a little further south on Charing Cross Road.

I meet Paul at Tottenham Court Road tube around half one, and as we wander up to all the tech shops to pick up my dictaphone, guess who we meet strolling down the other way: Only Ricky Gervais, with his trademark mad rictus grin firmly in place. I pick up a lovely Olympus dictaphone, with a PC link on it, and tech shopping done, we wander down to Foyles to pick up a pocket-sized phrase book. Dan joins us briefly for a drink at the nearest Lloyd's Bar, where they're showing the bravest/craziest people in the world chucking themselves down an icy hill in the Winter Olympic Ski Jumping competition on a 30 foot wide screen.

We settle down for the afternoon as two old friends from State, Aanand and Mark, (both of whom I've not seen in well over a year) join us for beers, shits and giggles. Fleur has also travelled with me into London for the day, but rather than come with me to the Tottenham Court Road, she's met our Canadian friends, Chris and Tanya for a trip to the British Museum. Whilst the girls grab a coffee in the nearest Starbucks, Chris briefly joins us, and nearly gets chucked out of the pub in the space of five minutes, because he hasn't taken off his hat (it's a cold, cold day) and the security guys seem to have something against people wearing hats. (Something to do with not being able to get a complete picture of people on the CCTV, apparently)

I bid farewell to the guys in the pub, meet up with the Canadians and my girlfriend across the road in Borders, and we take a walk down to Chinatown, where Chris and Tanya treat me to a delicious meal at the Harbour City restaurant (my favourite one in Chinatown), as a late birthday present. For the record, their deep fried crispy duck in spicy sweet and sour sauce is one of the best things I've ever eaten. Highly recommended, if you ever have the chance to eat there.

Fleur and I walk back across town to Waterloo to take a fast train back to Woking, and I even get back home in time to watch the FA Cup highlights. Talk about a perfect day...

My preparation for the trip to Milan is now pretty much complete: because we're coming back very late on the Friday, I decided to book a parking space, since it not only worked out cheaper than public transport, but will also be a lot more likely to enable me to get home before Saturday morning. One of the other chaps on the trip, Martin (who writes for Jolt, but is also a fellow former State Alumnus) is travelling all the way down from Stockport (just outside Manchester) and will probably be spending the night at Gatwick until he can take the first train back on Saturday - poor sod.

I'm hoping to get an Empire of War review finished before I go, but in case you're having withdrawl symptoms, here's a non-fiction piece I wrote for Ian "A-B" (yes, he of "Bow, Nigger" NGJ infamy) Shanahan's marvellous website, http://www.alwaysblack.com, which for ages now I'd been threatening to write something for.

It's a piece describing the most stressful hand of Blackjack I ever had to deal in my days as a lowly-paid croupier in Sheffield. All the names have been changed to prevent blushes (and hopefully, lawsuits), but everything that occurred herein is absolutely true. Enjoy. The title, in case you were wondering, is a reference to the job of being a croupier. The punters don't call us "dealers" for nothing, you know. I'm going to be writing a few more of these pieces over the next couple of months, so keep your eyes peeled on A-B's site for them.
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