Thursday, 18 August 2011
Thursday, 11 August 2011
Sunday, 19 June 2011
- We have either three (67% likely) or four (33%) pairs of tickets.
- We definitely don't have tickets to: opening ceremony, men's basketball final or men's synchronised 10m diving final.
Monday, 16 May 2011
Thursday, 5 May 2011
Sunday, 3 April 2011
We were met at the apartment and shown around; it was small but well apointed with 2 beds, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen, a washing machine/tumble dryer, aircon and free wifi. Jack came to meet us at the apartment when he finished work and then took us out for a walk to get our bearings and for dinner at Kitchen Pucci, where Lisa came to join us. It had good dumplings, but terrifying tea bags:
The next morning I nipped out for an early run and we then walked to the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall and then onto Taipei 101 via smith&hsu, an truly excellent tea house. Taipei 101 was the worlds tallest skyscraper until it was diminished by one in Dubai last year, although they still claim the fastest elevator in the world (Wikipedia suggests this may be a lie, but it's pretty freaking quick either way). It was pretty overcast on the day we ascended, so the 360 degree view wasn't quite as amazing as it could have been, but it was still excellent. My personal highlight was checking out the 660 tonne tuned mass damper (affectionately known as damper baby) that occupies the centre of the 88th-92nd floor and can move by 1.5 meters in the event of an earthquake or typhoon. We ate at Momoya in the Taipei 101 basement food court before catching the MRT over the Chiang Kia-shek Memorial Hall just in time to catch the 5pm flag ceremony. After a bit of a rest, we ate at Sweet Dynasty just over the road from the apartment.
On Saturday we took the train from Taipei main station to Ruifang, and then rode the Pingxi line up to Jingtong for a walk around and a browse of the market stalls. It was wet and grey so we skipped some of the stops and missed out the walk to the waterfall, but it was good fun none the less. In the evening we ate at Din Tai Fung and then had a few drinks at On Tap and played Jenga. By Sunday, the rain had intensified so we hid out in the Taipei Fine Art museum, taking in the Monet Garden exhibition and grabbing some lunch in the basement cafe. May and I went for a stroll around Ximending before we all met up at MOT Kitchen to celebrate Judith's birthday. I took a detour on the way back to the apartment and had an excellent if somewhat painful foot massage.
The rain had cleared on Monday so we visited Longshan temple and the botanic gardens before catching the MRT up to Beitou to visit the public thermal baths (80p entry!). The baths were lo-fi, but delicious with temperatures ranging from 39 - 45° C. In the evening we visited Shilin night market with Jack and ate street food whilst browsing the stalls. Best discovery was a deep fried egg/pancake combination brushed with soy sauce and the best market items were the Engrish t-shirts.
Tuesday had the best predicted weather, so we seized our chance to go and do some hiking. We headed north to the Yangmingshan national park and hiked up Mount Qixing. It was a beautiful hike through forests and then as we climbed higher through arrow bamboo. At the peak we saw an old guy doing tai-chi and shouting at at the world from the four corners. We descended to Saioyoukeng and checked out the thermal area with it's fumaroles and boiling pools and after a bit of a "have we missed the shuttle bus? why is that stray dog following us?" panic, caught the (terrifyingly driven) shuttle bus back to the park entrance.
We checked out of the apartment on Wednesday and moved to the Taipei Park Hotel for one night. After checking in, we went for a run around Daan park before having a guilty western lunch from Starbucks/Subway. In the evening, we raced up Elephant Mountain with Jack to take in the view of Taipei 101. We made it just in time for sunset, but I learned that my carbon-fibre travel tripod isn't really sturdy enough to reliably hold my 450D + 24-105L for long exposures. Thank Jeebus for the Ixus. After dinner at NY Bagels, May and Jack went to meet Judith at her hotel and I headed out to do some night photography. When my camera battery died I went over to Judith's hotel too for a quick beer and a nose around her palatial room.
Sunday, 27 March 2011
After tolerating 8 hours of non-stop drinking and high volume, I felt I had to intervene when Vanessa had turned her headphones up to maximum volume and started singing along with D.I.S.C.O. by Ottowan and gyrating her rotund frame in her seat in what I assume was her approximation of dancing.
"Would you mind turning your headphones down and not singing please? I'd like to get some sleep" I said, adding "I heard you say earlier you'd rather be told to your face rather than complained about". The music was turned down, and the singing stopped (for a bit), but rather than peace and quiet, there was a continual discussion about keeping the noise down and a lot of sssshhhhing. The only time we had any respite was after breakfast when the pair fell asleep, including Bob doing bizarre musical snoring. I guess the limit when flying is nine and a half hours of solid drinking and then breakfast will definitely send you to sleep.
I think the situation was poorly handled by Singapore Air as despite the obvious intoxication of the pair, they kept on serving them drinks. We assumed that there would be a limit, but the staff were overly polite and failed to take appropriate action, resulting in a detrimental effect for the surrounding passengers. Although getting no sleep was a pain, I consoled myself with two facts: 1) I'm neither Bob or Vanessa. 2) I bet they had stinking hangovers that even their much awaited ciggie wouldn't abate.
Sunday, 2 January 2011
Friday, 3 December 2010
- an O2 Joggler
- a Spotify Premium subscription
- a USB key (min 4gb)
Tuesday, 27 July 2010
Back in February, May and I were in the final stages of purchasing our first house and I needed to withdraw money from my ISAs to pay the deposit and legal fees. After popping into branch, I learned that I could only make withdrawals from my online e-ISA free of charge into a NatWest branch-based account. As I don't bank with NatWest, the only other account I held was an online e-Savings account. Unfortunately this wasn't suitable to withdraw the money into.
,Thank you for you letter dated 1st March 2010, your reference 12687022. I am still dissatisfied with NatWest as you have merely repaired the damage you caused, rather than offering any form of compensation for my wasted time and anguish.As I explained to your staff, the withdrawal from my ISA was to complete my first house purchase. As I'm sure you appreciate, buying your first property is a very significant and stressful time, and to be let down by NatWest at such a critical moment is simply unacceptable. You made getting at my money quickly impossible, and everyone I dealt with (branch staff, numerous phone agents, web chat) provided a different answer about what was/wasn't possible given my combination of accounts. You seemed unable to understand your own products and I was the one left inconvenienced and unnecessarily stressed by your internal deficiencies. I got the impression from this experience that there is a gulf between your on-line and branch operations and in comparison with other retail banks I've dealt with, NatWest feels about 10 years behind what's current in terms of both on-line presence and customer service.Although you have made good the £X you transferred out of my ISA account without authorisation and refunded my CHAPs payment fee (you were unable to comply with your own contract of same day transfer), I regard this as the bare minimum of your duty to me. I suggest £200 as an adequate amount of compensation commensurate with my time and anguish associated with this regrettable event. If you are unable to offer suitable compensation I shall proceed as advised by your complaints process by first contacting the Customer Relations Manager and then the Financial Ombudsman. I look forward to your prompt response.Kind RegardsTim Poultney"
"To: Customer RelationsDear Sir/Madam,I write to you in accordance with the Natwest customer complaints procedure. Enclosed you will find a copy of my letter to [redacted]
at your White City branch and also her response. For completeness, I have included a prior letter from , which I received shortly after the incident I am complaining about.Please can you read both my letter to and their response dated 19th May. In my letter, I summarise my complaint and then request financial compensation from you in respect of time wasted and anguish suffered as a result of your banks incompetence. I am sure you place a high value on your customers happiness and satisfaction with you, and also on your reputation, so I anticipate a positive response from you. I'm not sure how I can be any clearer about what I expect from you than I was in my letter to dated 10th May; the response asking me to provide "the copy of your bills" suggest to me that they either didn't read my letter, didn't comprehend it, or lack sufficient power to act upon it.To that end, can you respond to me directly and resolve this issue. In addition, can you share with me what steps you will be taking to ensure this type of situation does not happen again. If I am not satisfied with your response, I shall continue to follow your complaints process and will contact the Financial Ombudsman. I anticipate your prompt response.Kind Regards,Tim Poultney"
Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Saturday, 22 May 2010
America is awesome, right? If you want to keep believing that I suggest you never use a pay phone here, and particularly not one operated by Qwest. From my previous post, you'll know that I'm in Yellowstone National Park. There is no connectivity here – no mobile reception (well, there is if you're American, but O2 have no roaming), and no wi-fi. Whilst I highly approve of keeping things this way and leaving the parks as a retreat, I wasn't expecting quite such a kerfuffle from trying to phone home.
Armed with $6 of quarters, we approached the payphone and followed the printed advice: “For an international call, dial 0 for the operator”. Alas, there was no operator, just a machine requesting an area code and number. FAIL #1. Next I tried the standard international dialling pattern in the US of 011-
I was reaching boiling point by now, so we went back to the hotel and sought some advice. “Get a calling card” was the tip, so we headed over to the store and exchanged our quarters for a said item, which was pleasingly Yellowstone branded. This went a little smoother, although on the first call I made, the recipient could hear me, but I couldn't hear a thing; and of course I got charged for it. FAIL #5. Finally I was able to successfully make the call, but man did it take a lot longer and involve way more complexity than I was expecting. Lesson learned, America is the land of the brave, and the home of the free, unless of course you want to dial internationally from a pay phone.
Friday, 21 May 2010
The main tourist experience consists of driving around a figure eight of roads established in 1905 by the US Army Engineers Corps. There's plenty of goodness to be had by planning out an itinerary of hikes and sights, but I've found that the most rewarding experiences so far are the unplanned, unexpected and impromptu. I'm still feeling humbled today from our stroke of luck whilst driving back to the hotel last night. As we drove back towards Mammoth from the Lamar Valley (a.k.a. the American Serengeti), we spotted a long line of tail lights and a large number of vehicles parked at the side of the road at the Blacktail Ponds turnout. As we approached the turnout, I could see flashes of movement from the field below and the tripods and cameras lined up on the road side. You quickly learn that in the park, collections of cars parked off road means animals and from the number parked here it was clear that something special was happening.
After parking safely (always pull completely off the road, y'all) and walking back we discovered that the focus of all the attention was a pair of grizzly bears protecting a bison carcass from a pack of wolves. Wolves are endangered in North America and were controversially reintroduced to Yellowstone back in 1995, so just seeing a wild wolf is rare enough, but to see the interaction between a pack and a pair of grizzlies I think we were incredibly lucky. Over the next hour as the sun set and the light faded we watched on entranced as the wolves circled the bears and then darted in, only to fall back as the bears charged and swiped at them. After a while, all but the alpha wolf retreated away up the hill and we assumed that the show was drawing to a close. However, the alpha wolf continued to stalk and harass the bears. Suddenly the wolves began to howl; a solitary voice was quickly joined by others as the hillside lit up with this eerie and haunting song.
Information was being passed from person to person, most of it originating from the park rangers so we came to learn that the bears were a mother and three-year-old cub, and that a total of nine wolves were out on the hillside. We also learned that until very recently the bison carcass had been frozen into the lake, but since being exposed by the thaw the bears had been dragging it out of the water and guarding it from all comers. The wolves must have been attracted by the carcass (May has been enjoying the way uncommon words have crept into conversation – I've never heard or uttered the word carcass as much as in this week) as the rangers didn't know of a local pack or den.
Just as we were preparing to leave, someone beside us proffered her binoculars and said “Have you seen the third grizzly coming down the hill?”. Sure enough, a larger and much darker bear was charging down the hillside, scattering the wolves as he made a beeline for the carcass. We learned from the ranger that this was a male bear, and when he approached the carcass the female bears backed right off. In the twilight we watched the male bear settle down on the carcass, as the females looked on and the alpha wolf continued to circle. The whole experience felt like watching a segment from Planet Earth unfold right in front of us and was totally captivating – I don't think I'll ever forget the sound of that wolf howl as it echoed up the hillside. People we've bumped into since have confirmed how lucky we were to see this as even regular visitors have rarely seen a wolf, let alone a whole pack harassing grizzly bears.
As if to reinforce my feeling that the park is best experienced serendipitously, my efforts to catch a repeat performance this morning by getting up before dawn drew a blank. I arrived by 05:45 and found both the turnout and the roadside full of cars. I joined the line-up of tripods and my only reward was a single coyote. I think I'll stop trying and trust the rest of the holiday to luck.
Friday, 2 April 2010
- ~43% of our spending goes on food (food + eating out + veg box)
- We spend more on TV licence than broadband (I know which I get better value from)
- Our veg box costs more than our water rates