Jun. 28th, 2017 11:09 pm
lupestripe: (Default)
Furlandia was a great little con, albeit one with a rather parochial feel. Most of the furs there were from the local area, with some from the Seattle area using it as their replacement for Rainfurrest. As a consquence, we knew a fair number of people there and this only grew as the weekend progressed, largely because Tuxedo knew everyone and introduced us to many. This wasn't to say that we didn't know people in advance though - Fox Amoore was there and he introduced us to Peppercoyote as 'my friends who are equally pissed off about Brexit' while it was a nice surprise to see Paperkup there, someone we must have last seen at a London Meet about seven years ago. Indeed, meeting people at the con was exceptionally easy, perhaps due to the friendliness of Americans or perhaps due to the conducive space in the hotel. Of course it helped that I was far more positive than the miserable guy I am in the UK, meaning I felt it reasonably straightforward to open a conversation. Furthermore, being British in a foreign land is always a point of interest, and this gave me confidence to get chatting to people.

Our first interaction was in the dealers den, where I bought the fantastic book 'If You Give A Bunny A Beer'. This looked quite hilarious judging by its cover but it soon descended into a harsh pscyhological analysis of alcohol abuse, which suddenly became rather less funny. This did provide a good talking point in the den though and as well as this, I also bought a plastic con badge in the shape of a pink husky for $5, which I thought was pretty neat. The den was quite modest in size but I was surprised by the variety of different things on offer, and of course everyone was super friendly. This extended to the bar area too, where there was always someone to talk to and where there was a range of good quality local craft beers on tap. This made us feel quite at home and became a good place to hook up with people on my Twitter and Telegram feeds I wanted to meet. Indeed, if I saw anyone tweet about their presence at Furlandia, I jumped into the conversation suggesting a meet-up, feeling that they would have followed me rather than the other way around and it was par for the coure with social networking and interaction. This strategy worked rather well and we did get to meet a cool group of people.

One of the highlights of the con was on the Saturday morning after we had eaten the remnants of the previous day's breakfast from Carol's Corner Cafe. At around 10am, we were told there was a bright pink van waiting outside selling doughnuts from the highly acclaimed local emporium Voodoo Doughnuts (note the correct spelling of doughnuts). Apparently, 'the magic is in the hole', which is odd as many of our doughnuts didn't have holes, but they were very tasty indeed, even if they were incredibly bad for you. We got six, which came in a box that can only be described as a beautiful work of art (with the slogan 'Good Things Come In Pink Boxes'), although admittedly we only ended up eating four throughout the course of the next 48 hours. This was partly because the temperatures were hitting 32C and fatty doughnuts were the last thing I fancied in such weather, but also because we were doing so many other things. Some of them were rather sickly and I am not sure why we got them, except to sample some of the more extreme and decadant food that the United States produces. On reflection, the Capn' Crunch was particularly unappealing.

The Fursuit Walk was on the Saturday at around 4pm, which was my first opportunity to get into suit. Indeed, it was to be my one of only two suiting experiences at Furlandia, largely due to being busy with other things. This is always the way for me at cons and I do wonder why I bring the suit at times, although I would probably regret it if I didn't. The procession itself was the usual affair of around the hotel, through the lobby and outside, although the walk was curtailed somewhat due to the oppressive heat. Before the walk, we had waited patiently for our photograph to be taken in the main stage area, which seemed to take forever in the baking heat. The one surprising thing was the sheer number of photographers wanting to take pictures of the suits, while it was fantastic that a number of people commented on how much they liked mine and that they recognized me from it.

One interesting thing about this con compared to others to which I have been was the not insignificant number of minors in attendance. Children are allowed provided they are accompanied by their parents, and there were a number of kids as young as 11 walking around the convention area. Some had spectacular fursuits and in the Fursuit Lounge on the Sunday I got talking to the mother of one of the children, who told me that she had made the fursuit herself even though she was only 14. I was stunned by such talent at such a young age, but this was something that was actively encouraged by her parents. I do feel that schools in the US put more emphasis on the arts and creativity than they do in the UK - this was certainly my experience when I went to school there - and it was fantastic to hear that parents thought that the furry world is a good place to harness a child's imagination. I countered that it was also a great place to meet people from all over the world and learn about important things such as tolerance, something which was found to be agreeable. It was quite refreshing hearing the fandom being looked at so positively, as opposed to the UK where many furs seem to be slightly ashamed of it.

I didn't go to that many panels in the end - once you've done 22 cons, you have kinda done them all - but on the Sunday afternoon I did attend the dance competition because I had befriended two other fursuiters and they dragged me there. Indeed, this happened just before I had met the parent, and I must admit the quality of the moves were far greater than anything I could do. The comments from the judges were all overwhelmingly positive, which was nice to see, while the music and lighting complemented the event well. Indeed, in the darkness of the main stage area, it was hard to accept that it was so bright and sunny outside, it being around three o'clock in the afternoon. This was the only panel I did though, partly because there weren't too many but partly because there was little of interest. The dances in particular were quite poor as again it was the same type of generic dance/hardcore/trance music which is played at all cons. Oh a little diversity wouldn't go amiss.

The con started to wind down on the Sunday evening, so we had arranged to meet up with Tuxedo and Tarka at Fogo de Chão in downtown Portland for around 7pm. Fogo de Chão is an all you can eat Brazilian meat restaurant not dissimilar to Fazenda in Leeds. It was exquisite, with exceptional salad (the kale and orange was divine) and something like eleven different types of meat (including lamb, beef, chicken and sausages). With tasty home-baked bread too, the meal was a delight, as was the company. We had last met Tuxedo and Tarka back at Rainfurrest in 2012 so it was great to meet up with them again and properly catch up away from the bedlam of the con. Of course, we were going to spend a good few weeks with Tux but, even though Tarka was also going to be at BLFC, it was great to catch up with him too. His 'I'm an otter story' when crossing the Canadian/US border one time is possibly my favourite ever furry story, largely due to its delivery. Tarka always seemed to be everywhere at both cons, so bumping into him was incredibly easy, while we even had a small room party with Taneli and myself where we drank about six bottles of wine that he had bought from a local supermarket. It was a very pleasant evening, lasting from about 7:30pm to 10:30pm, as was the trip to the Brazilian restaurant.

We had actually headed into town slightly earlier at around 5pm as we had planned to meet up with another Twitter friend of mine, Noxyburd. He wasn't at the con due to work reasons but he and his boyfriend met up in the McMenamins bar on SW 10th for an hour ahead of our meal. This place was done out in the style of an English pub, but it wasn't quite all there, although the beers we sampled as part of the taster tray were just as good as any of the ones we had tried on the Friday. They were perhaps more ale-like in style, a theme which continued in a number of their venues which we visited both in Portland and Bend throughout our stay in Oregon, but definitely worth purchasing. Wolfie's foot was really giving him trouble by this stage so the walk uphill to the bar was somewhat slow, but when we got there, we had a delightful hour with the duo before we had to head off and meet Tux and Tarka in the Brazilian place. The only other point of interest here was we got chatting to a couple of college students on the Max Line from the Airport to Downtown, who told us all about Portland and how fantastic the city is. I countered by telling them about my hometown and how we had a similar bridge to the one we went over to get to downtown. I probably bored them to tears.

After the meal, Tux drove us back to the Sheraton, where things were already winding down. As we got back, we saw staff dismantling the stage and filling up huge lorries full of equipment while the corridors had already been stripped of their furry paraphinalia and were looking rather bare in shades of brown. This was particularly striking in the morning and the shells of a couple of rooms which were currently undergoing renovation (they seem to be upgrading the rooms three or four at a time) only added to the desolate feel of a departing con. On the Monday morning though I did get to have a nice chat with a furry couple in a lift as I went to the small shop to pick up my breakfast bagel and cream cheese (something of which we had availed ourselves on the Sunday morning too). They were telling me that they lived in a podunk town three hours away but were moving house later that day, albeit just down the road. The talk ended up lasting half an hour, with me clinging on to the good times, although I knew in my heart we needed to go as we had a long drive ahead of us.

Furlandia then was a fantastic experience, a con of 800 furs which felt a lot smaller. Whether it was because of a lot of day tickets (I think there were 500 weekend passes sold) or because the local nature of the event meant many people just commuted to and from it I'm not so sure. It was an intimate con though, and one that was incredibly friendly, although there was a lack of room parties and events later in the evening. This didn't stop us drinking in the bar until the early hours (well Taneli and I did, Wolfie was holed up in the room with his foot issue), but it wasn't a full-on con experience. It was still pleasant though and we made many good friends, plus Portland is definitely a city we need to visit again. There is every chance we may be back.
lupestripe: (Default)
Over the period from 25 May to 11 June, Wolfie and I headed over to the USA to attend Furlandia and BLFC, which were only a week apart from each other. We had spoken to our friend Tuxedo Kitty over the course of the preceding six months and he suggested we combine the cons with a road trip across the western US. Having not really seen this part of the country - and Wolfie having never seen any of America outside of Seattle - we decided to take him up on his offer and devised a route from Portland OR to Phoenix AZ, taking in a range of destinations along the way. It took a fair amount of time to arrange, and Brexit-related currency rates and Trump's immigration policies almost kyboshed the whole thing, but as we headed out on that Thursday morning, a rare warm and sunny British day, we were convinced we had made the right call. In the end, it was.

We arrived in Portland on the Thursday evening, although that was not without its dramas. We initially flew into San Franscisco, with Thomas Cook giving us a layover time there of two hours and 15 minutes. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem but we didn't realise we had to go through custom formalities before getting our internal flight. With the line extensive, it took us over an hour and a half to proceed across the border, although the customs official did say we could get our flight if we ran. We grabbed our bags off the carousel and checked them in at the Transfer Gate. We still had to make it through another tranche of security and even though we were cutting it tight and the polite border guard said we could cut the queue, it didn't seem particularly British so we waited. After traversing through, we had a huge sprint right towards the end of the terminal, which was particularly difficult as this was the height of Wolfie's foot problem and he could barely walk let alone dash. So I made my way alone, hoping to tell the flight attendant we were coming, only to find that the plane was running 17 minutes late and we had plenty of time regardless. Had the flight not been delayed then we would definitely have missed it, but perhaps we were due a small element of luck.

The Alaska Airlines flight to Portland was very good, with Alaskan craft beer and delicious beef jerky welcoming us to America. The scenery we crossed was also breathtaking, the high mountain peaks, many of which were still snow-topped, making for a quite awesome view. We were a little jetlagged but excited to see Tuxedo again as we dropped down into Portland and my 21st state (and Wolfie's 2nd). Traversing the airport was easy and we were soon directed to Island Number Two outside, where we caught the shuttle bus service to the Sheraton Hotel, where Furlandia was taking place. It was early arrival day and Tuxedo was waiting in the lobby to greet us, introducing us to the reception and then guiding us to our room. We then went out for a delicious pizza at By Design, which is a bit like MOD back home where you can custom design your own pizza and they cook it in front of you. We were also taken aback by the sheer range of craft beers they had on draft, at least 10 which for a pizza restaurant is good going. The pizza was crisp and tasty, and it was an excellent introduction back into the US. However, with tiredness catching up with us, we decided we should probably head to bed, turning in just before 10pm.

We arose quite early the next morning and there was a treat in store as Tuxedo drove us over the Washington border and into Clark County, where we went to Carol's Corner Cafe between the two interstates. It's the sort of place that's real Americana and you would only know about it if you knew the area. Fortunately, Tux used to work around here and so had been coming to the place since 1994. This is a classic American diner, with breakfasts the speciality. Fantastically busy over the weekend - particularly Memorial Day Weekend which was coming up - on the Friday morning it was lively but not rammed, meaning we easily got a table. I got some tea, which was served in a beaker which wouldn't look out of place in a chemistry lab, while Wolfie and I ordered two specials of shredded potato, egg, ham and cheese similar to an omelette. The portion was humungous, and we ended up taking a third of it back in a doggy bag for Saturday breakfast, but the taste was exquisite, with the ham and thick American cheese complimenting each other so well. The service was typically friendly too, with offers of free coffee and tea refills quite regularly, and it was certainly an excellent way to start a sunny spring day. After this, we headed over to Fred Meyer to pick up some beer and supplies before driving back to the hotel, where people were starting to arrive for the con.

Furlandia is about 800 people strong, and most are from the local area, meaning they typically arrive after work on the Friday. With an afternoon to kill therefore, we decided to go into downtown Portland using the fantastically convenient MAX line. We walked to the nearest station, about ten minutes away (or 20 if you are Mr Wolfie Limpalot), and were soon on a tram being whisked into the city. We were fortunate as three hours later, on the same tram route, two men were fatally stabbed and a third injured after they tried to protect two teenage girls who were being racially abused by a white supremicist. The incident made global news and was quite a sobering reminder of how things can turn nasty very quickly. We were downtown by then though, having observed that Portland truly is a city full of bridges. Many were quite wonderous pieces of architecutre, including one which looked very similar to the Newport Bridge in my hometown of Middlesbrough, albeit more rusted. We didn't get much time to look at the bridges though as we were guided through the gentrified Chinatown area before getting off at Mall 4th/5th as we spotted a bar we thought we would try. Portland has more microbreweries downtown than any major city in America so it was clearly going to be our kind of place, meaning we were always going to take the opportunity to try some tasty tipples. This is what we did at the Rock Bottom Brewery, where we had a taster tray of six of their core range while watching an advert involving a box sat on the toilet pooing to check for prostate cancer. American commercials are weird. Anyway, the bartender was really friendly and told us about a range of places to see, not least a bar further down the street which was on the 17th floor of a building, affording an excellent look over Pioneer Square. We went up there, but the bar was hideously trendy, so we just drank in the view before heading back down.

Pioneer Square is the centre of the city and is currently being renovated. Named after the rather imposing Victorian era building on its eastern flank, the main sight is the clock tower dominating the middle of the square. There's a signpost detailing all of the distances from this spot to a number of major cities, but the arrows were not pointing in the right directions, which was a bit strange. Underneath the square is where the tourist information place is currently held and not having a guidebook of the city, we thought we would take a look. In the end, we spent over an hour in here chatting with a gentleman behind the counter who had made it his life's aim to visit every single Anglican cathedral in England. Indeed he had already planned a trip to Bradford this forthcoming September and suggested that we should meet up. He was very interesting though and told us an awful lot about the city's history, along with a range of different beer tours we could go on. This was to prove invaluable when we returned two weeks later and we thanked him as we left, blinking into the sharp light of the hot sunny day.

There's a bank not far from Pioneer Square which was built in the 1930s and was one of the first buildings of its architecutral type in the world. It has glorious marble pillars and flooring, along with a golden ceiling, and it's very much a case of stepping back in time. As it was a working bank, and it was closing, we didn't want to stay there too long while we also looked at a neighbouring building which I believe was part of the same project. By this stage, even though we had only done a modest amount of walking, Wolfie's foot was really starting to play up so we decided to head to the Pearl District in Portland's North-East to sample some more beers. We could have stopped at the Deschutes Bar but it was busy and we were scheduled to visit their brewery in Bend, OR, later in the week so we decided to go to Fat Head's Brewery instead, which was further down NW Davis Street. As was the case everywhere we went, we were ID'ed, which made we feel quite young (we were even ID'ed in Fred Meyer buying bottles for the room) and soon we settled in to taste their massive range of excellent beers. Many of the ones here were quite new to us, with some interesting flavours, so stopping by was definitely a positive, while we also got a huge soft and salty pretzel with sweet mustard dip to tide us over.

Not eating proved to be a slight error, as Taneli dropped us a message on Telegram telling us he was out with a local fur friend of his called Tawn. They were in a bar called Tugboat on SW 7th, not too far from where we were. We supped our drinks and headed over there, with Wolfie's ankle still causing him pain. We managed to get there though, and it was quite a nice place, albeit a little darker and perhaps more dive-like than the bright airy places we had just experienced. They did have some homebrews on tap though including an exquisite 11% stout which I ordered for Wolfie and I. In this bar, I got chatting to a rather friendly girl called Jennifer and her boyfriend for the best part of half an hour. She was from California and in the end she invited me to stay with her at her home, which was very nice. It was great speaking to them and while Tawn perhaps felt a little awkward dealing with a drunk Wolfie, the evening itself went rather well. However, after the 11% beer, we definitely needed food so we ordered a burrito from the Mexican place next door and retired to Bailey's Taproom across the road. Tawn's boyfriend and one of his friends had come out by this point, but we had been promised a lift back, and we were feeling a little worse for wear so we did insist we had back to the hotel shortly afterwards. I think I did try another beer in Bailey's but I can't really remember, the only thing that struck me was the sheer range of beer they had on offer there.

So we headed back at about 10pm and we just crashed, with the jetlag and the booze really catching up with us. Still, it was an excellent first day in the US and Portland was definitely a city close to our hearts, which boded well for the remainder of our weekend.
lupestripe: (Default)
It's been a very busy weekend as on Saturday we headed down to Birmingham via Sheffield. The reason for stopping off at the Steel City was to go to the Sheffield Meet, which we hadn't done for a number of months due to other commitments. Usually, we don't need an excuse to visit a BrewDog and with some of their number now part of the LeedsFurs meet committee, we thought we would show support by going down there, plus we do always try and go to the Sheffield meet three or four times a year. The fact it was on our way to Birmingham, where we were going for an evening event, made it happily convenient.

We got to the venue just after noon as the furs were piling in, and discovered that the BrewDog app had been telling lies about the beer they had in stock. This was because they had had a Fourpure Tap Takeover the night before and hadn't had the opportunity to update it. By the by, there were two beers we hadn't yet sampled so we had thirds of those, which was just as well as this was all we could drink due to the need to drive to the Midlands. We caught up with a number of cool furs, including Cub, Kyuu and Bailey, while we also participated in Grem's quiz, where I got the nickname 'Google' because I knew the answers to every question in the guess the year round. I faltered a little on the Spain's population question, but I am pretty confident we did well. Alas, after picking up a few beers to take down to Birmingham, we had to leave before the winner of the quiz had been announced. Still, even though we were only there for two and a half hours, it was a nice little meet and hopefully we can come back again another time.

The main event in Birmingham was at fetish club Underworld, which SLOSH had rented out for their annual 'Messing About' gungy games event. Ever since watching Fun House in the early Nineties I have had an obsession with gunge and having joined the society back in April, I was determined to go down there, aided by a number of Birmingham furs who had encouraged me to sign up back at the Easter meet. In the end there were 10 furs of the 90 people in attendance and thus any fears I had had about not knowing anyone were somewhat assuaged. Indeed, for some reason I have something of a positive reputation in the city and many people were glad to see me.

Aside from the furs, I didn't know many other people so hid my shyness through humour, making a fair few people laugh about the time Martine McCutcheon was killed by a truckle of cheese on Midsomer Murders, along with a load of other crazy stuff I was coming out with. Through this, I met a load of cool people and it definitely made me feel more relaxed. Indeed meeting people was just so easy, perhaps because of the wacky nature of what we were doing, and I am definitely hoping to return to future SLOSH events.

You had the choice of participating or not particpating in the gungy games, with Wolfie opting out as it isn't really his thing (plus his foot is still playing up and would have been a risk on the slippy floor). I opted to participate but my number wasn't drawn out of the bucket, so there were no games for me (the people participating in the games were determined by the drawing of balls from a bucket which corresponded to the number on your wristband - I was number 45). If I was being honest, I had an element of trepidation about performing in front of so many people so it was a slight relief I wasn't picked, although deep down I probably did want to have a go.

There was a new addition to proceedings - the Gunge Tank - which had been constructed specially for this event. It was a proper set up too, similar to the early prototypes in Noel's House Party. It was used frequently throughout the show, which was compared so well by a sarcastic bloke from Hartlepool and another bloke in a red sequined dress. Some of the games required set-up and as they were being prepared, they asked us questions relating to gunge and old TV shows. I was delighted that I got Annibel Croft as being the other person in Treasure Hunt but was frustrated I didn't have the confidence to shout out 'Carling Black Label' for one of the other questions, an answer which was in the deepest recesses of my mind. The showmanship from the duo was first-rate though and they contributed to an excellently staged event, with a show that even Wolfie enjoyed and he's not really into the scene.

At half-time we had a competition to guess how many cups of gunge someone could store in their plastic Gary pants while you could also nominate people to go in the gunge tank. We decided to opt for Ray, who was too shy to participate in the games but always wanted to be gunged, and we got nearly all the furs in the room to nominate him too. Alas, he didn't get chosen but after the show, some of us got the opportunity to be gunged ourselves. I was one of those lucky ones and considering this was a lifelong dream ever since I had watched Noel's House Party in about 1990, suffice to say I was absolutely rapt. Getting into the tank was an incredibly slippery and difficult experience, it having been used a fair bit already, but it is the moment of trepidation before the gunging happened that made it so exhilarating. This was only aided by one of my furry friends, upon noticing it was me in the tank, insisting that they use bright pink gunge, which only made the whole thing sweeter.

It was a Scotsman who pulled the lever, another great chap, while Wolfie was more interested in the engineering behind the construction. The gunging itself was marvelous, but I was surprised by just how much there was, not to mention the rather bitter and gritty taste, as some of it had gone in my mouth. It also took me about ten minutes to get full visibility back, which made the waddle to the washing pits quite difficult, but of course it was totally totally worth it. I must admit I was quite shy asking whether I could do it and indeed had already put my good clothes back on before the opportunity presented itself, feeling a little down as I did, but Wolfie asked the treasurer of SLOSH on my behalf and I am eternally grateful to the people at SLOSH and indeed Wolfie for letting me live my childhood dream.

We were staying in a hotel just down the road from the venue and upon arrival, we noticed about twenty of our fellow attendees drinking in the bar. The people at the event were from all over the country - and indeed there was someone from Germany - so they were just chilling. We asked whether we could join them and spent the next two hours talking shite and making new friends. A handful went off to a room party involving Morrison's trifle but the rest of us stayed downstairs, finally heading to bed at around 1:30am. As the last ones left, we popped over to McDonald's as our last food was a pizza at BrewDog many hours earlier, with my Tennessee Stack being an adequate burger, pretty much like all their food.

We woke up quite early on Sunday but Wolfie's foot had jarred, meaning we didn't get chance to do much in the hotel room. The drive back was pretty sedate, with us stopping off for a Sunday lunch at the fantastic Elm Tree pub in Heath, Derbyshire. This was the first entry that had come up when I typed 'good pubs M1 notts' into Google, and it was an excellent choice, even if it did get the county wrong. The carvery was top notch with three different types of meat, Yorkshire Puddings and all the trimmings, which made us feel quite bloated for the rest of the day. When we got back, we just pottered around the house and I went to the gym so nothing overly exciting but then there had been enough excitement over the weekend really.
lupestripe: (Default)
It's been a very busy week, starting on Tuesday evening when we headed to Tapped Brewery Company in Leeds to sample a few drinks from the Pirate Life Brewery. They are an Australian brewery recommended by Brett, who had drank their stuff in his homeland before attending a similar tap takeover at Brewdog York on Sunday. We couldn't go to that but we agreed to meet Brett and Jo in town to sample the four beers on offer, as well as meeting the brewers who were doing a small tour of the UK highlighting their beers. The drinks themselves were good, but not remarkable, and I was surprised just how busy the bar was before realising that the Stone Roses were playing the Arena. Indeed, it did get a lot quieter after 7:30pm but with Wolfie on call, we couldn't venture too long out. Wolfie only wanted a pint so only tried three beers - with us taking a can of the fourth one home - while I had an additional half as he supped his final one. We hadn't seen Brett and Jo since the Hop City Beer Festival over Easter, so it was good to catch up with them, but by 9pm and without any food (save for a really meagre baguette) we really needed to head home.

It was quite good we did really as upon arrival just before 10pm, Wolfie went to check up on a hedgehog he had noticed before he left. Thinking it was dead as it was lying on its back with its feet in the air, Wolfie just left it, but as he attempted to move him, the little fella sprung into life. It was quickly apparent he was quite injured, with a nasty gash near his left ear, but we weren't sure what to do. We scooped him into a container and brought him inside, where we noticed some maggots in the wound. He had clearly been mauled by a cat or other woodland creature, and had just been left there. We didn't have the medical expertise to clean the wound but he was just an infant, with eyes still closed, and we didn't want him to suffer either. We did some research and tried ringing a hedgehog farm, but they refused to pick up, until I noticed there is a 24 hour vet in Meanwood. I gave them a ring and they told me to bring him in. Fortunately, as Wolfie had barely drank, we could drive down there so after giving the little guy a pipette of water, which he guzzled thirstily, we drove the 20 minutes to the vet. The receptionist told me the vet had an emergency to deal with, but we left the hedgehog, who we had christened Colin, on the table with them before heading back home. We still don't know if he pulled through but he seemed quite lively (although I was scared in the car that he had stopped moving) and the wound looked superficial. I do hope they rescued him and introduced him to a hedgehog sanctuary as they said. Emotional, we stopped off at McDonald's on the way home for a Coke and a calm down before heading back home the wrong side of midnight.

Wolfie was working in Birmingham on Wednesday, staying over, while I was off to Ripon Races for our annual horse racing gathering at work. It was much the same as previous times really - me losing a load of money on poor bets before clawing a modest sum back on a last race each way, while socialising with work colleagues throughout the evening. We got our traditional free drink courtesy of the company while the director and I slunk away to have our traditional pie and peas supper. They do three Ainsty craft beers at the races now, all of which were actually quite good, so I had those and stopped there, not wanting to drink too much due to my current weight issues. Choosing winners and each way bets was quite tricky last night due to the small fields running, with all races barring the last having seven runners or less. One even had four after two were disqualified going into the stalls, which delayed the race by ten minutes. Aside from this, it was just watching some great sporting action in the sun with a beer in hand, with the surroundings of Yorkshire's Garden Racecourse a particularly pleasant way to spend Midsummer's Night. The craic was good and I did get to meet some people from the sister company, although it was noticeable that there were few staff from my side for whatever reason. Still, it was a good evening and definitely enjoyable, certainly worth repeating again.
lupestripe: (Default)
It's been a busy weekend, conducted in scorching temperatures which were reminiscent of those we enjoyed during our recent trip to the United States. Saturday saw us host our usual Leeds Meet, which once again took place in the Atlas Bar. Wolfie's foot, which caused him significant pain in the US, is still screwed after someone on the flight home tripped over it, damaging it again. This meant that I had to do an awful lot of running around at the meet, not aided by the fact that we had forgotten our bed sheet for the screen, meaning I had to go and get another one from Wilko. The Meet went very well, although my plan for a shorter fursuit walk due to the intense heat somewhat fell through when we discovered a pro-Corbyn demonstration taking place outside the library, assumedly in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire. This meant we had to skirt around it and up towards Millennium Square on police advice. This saw a far more lengthy walk, which culminated on the newly pedestrianised Greek Street, where we entertained the throngs of people enjoying the sun eating and drinking outside. We also met Del the Puppy, who was too busy eating his meat initially to come and say hello. After that, he did say hi though and we spoke to his owner about furry and what it's all about.

Saturday was the first meet run by our new committee, a necessity due to how big they now are. With Wolfie's foot buggered and Cosmo, Oracle and Raven fursuiting, organizers for the walk were few and far between but we did get it sorted. We are also hoping to launch our new Leeds furs website in the coming days, while Atlas welcomed us again with a special shot mix they had made for us called 'Phoenix Feathers', a cherry/vanilla liqeur which had sparkly pink bits in it. It was very much appreciated and I am delighted the venue enjoyed having us. After this, a handful of us headed up to Merrion Street and Bar Soba to check this place out as a possible venue too, as well as enjoy the beautiful Asian fusion cuisine which they serve there. We headed back home at around 10pm to discover that there had been a street party on our street in our absence. We hadn't been invited to it, which was a little upsetting, although we hadn't been to the first two and this may explain it. However, this wasn't through a lack of desire, merely because we were busy, with the Meet often clashing when these events are on. It may have been part of the Great Get Together in memory of Jo Cox - and we were thinking of doing something for the furmeet in aid of this - but there was little information online for Leeds and work last week was such a stress that I didn't really have time to give it much thought.

The weather on Sunday was even more beautiful than it had been on Saturday, so we ventured to get up reasonably early and go and do something. This we did, walking down to New Pudsey train station early afternoon to go visit Todmorden and Sowerby Bridge in the hills. To be honest, there is little at either of them - they're largely market towns beside the Rochdale Canal - but it was interesting looking at the mill architecture, along with the town hall in Tordmorden which highlighted in a Greek frieze that the town is on the border between Yorkshire and Lancashire. There is a wraught iron lock here, painted green, while we had a walk by the canalside where we saw a high brick wall separating the canal from the high embankment along which the railway line runs. It was quite a feat of engineering. The market in Todmorden was particularly pathetic, selling an odd miscellany of tat while about two thirds of the stalls were somewhat empty, while the town itself seemed to have a plethora of old antique shops. There was a small microbar but after an hour here we decided to go to Sowerby Bridge on the way back to Pudsey, to see if there was anything else there.

The answer was not really, although we did get to see the River Calder. There seemed to be more pub options here and indeed we went to one by the river as we headed back to the station, but in the end it was just a pleasant high street with little on it. Granted we didn't realise the canal was further up and that there could have been more up there, but by this time we were back at the station and waiting for our train. At the station, we called in at the small bar/cafeteria which we were surprised to see stayed open until 9pm. Here we were served some wonderous pork pies with delicious jelly which left us sated. In the distance, we saw the folly that is Wainhouse Tower but couldn't get to it, which was a shame as it did seem interesting.

We had to head back though as we were due to meet Wolfie's friend Adam, along with his wife and young girl, who had invited themselves around for a barbeque on the proviso that they brought all the food, which was fair enough. As we walked back from New Pudsey railway station, I craved a Coke and with the supermarket shut due to Sunday trading, the only place open was the Subway in the petrol station. Here at least we got a refreshing big gulp while we also got some free meatballs too as they were closing up. Tasty. This meant that we were slightly late getting back to our house, and saw Adam waiting in our front garden for us. Still, at least it wasn't raining. Soon we had the BBQ in full swing and we got chatting. I had never met Adam's family before and it was a delight. His wife is Polish and I may have offered her a job as she's looking for work and I have a need for a Polish editor, which was a nice turn of events. Meanwhile, the little girl was very busy just exploring the garden and playing with her toys, pushing her Octonaughts ones down the steps. The food was great, even though there was a paucity of options due to everyone else having the same idea as us and cleaning out the supermarkets by the time we had arrived. We also had some dodgy Indian Paneer which we thought would be likely halloumi but in the end was rubbery and tasteless. Not good. The garden is somewhat wild right now and the number of ants is far higher than I would like, but aside from that it was a good few hours in the sun and a nice way to round off the weekend.
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On Tuesday evening we went out with Oracle for one of our regular gastronomic sessions. We met at ShuffleDog, where they had a modest tap takeover of four Cloudwater beers. I must admit that I find Cloudwater one of the more over-rated breweries, particularly regarding their IPAs as many of them taste the same, and so it proved with three of the four on offer here. We had only intended to drink two, then come back for the others, as they were all 9% but in the end our tastebuds got the better of us and we ended up having all four. This proved to be a little difficult as I ended up quite tiddly as we headed for meal at The Cat's Pyjamas. This was as delicious as it had been the first time we tried it over the May Bank Holiday weekend, with me getting the deliciously creamy saag paneer that Wolfie had had last time. It was arguably a little rich and sickly towards the end, but it was a great meal and we did get to try a couple of new craft beers too. The onion bhaji starters, which were shared in a bowl were also a winner. After this, we headed over to Belgrave Music Hall, having not been here for a while. The range of beer was not as good as it once was and it still had a little bit of a pretentious air about it, but it was great to be in a bar that we don't visit regularly at least.

Wolfie buggered his ankle on Thursday, twisting the ligaments and so he has largely been incapacitated over the last few days. This didn't stop him going to the meet on Saturday though, although we did have to get a taxi there. This was quite useful in one way though as we had to transport the new screen for the fursuit changing area, which we had made out of discarded plastic piping and a sheet. It was quite rudimentary but did the job. We weren't expecting that many people at the meet on an account of Confuzzled being this weekend, but we still got quite the turnout. The pool tables, newly installed earlier in the month, proved to be quite popular although I had erroneously thought they were free from 12 noon to 4pm, but this turned out just to be on weekdays. Still, I paid £10 for their useage and we got them for the rest of the day, which proved to be a blessing as the fursuit walk was sadly cancelled due to the weather. It was good at least that we had something to occupy the fursuiters though, along with the space to accommodate the inability of going outside. We also got our new Leeds furs hi-vis jackets delivered that very morning, which looked rather snazzy, while we are currently finalising our new committee and Leeds furs website. It's good to be motoring ahead with this after a year of stagnation, and it's also great to have the enthusiasm for the meets back. We will always be grateful to the White Rabbit for accommodating us, but the size issue was becoming a problem. Despite this, we have now spoken to Jack and are hopeful of securing an weekday evening event in due course. Indeed, we ended up there after the meet when Draken went walkabout, and it was nice to be reacquainted. Unfortunately, I hadn't had much food and with the stresses of the last few weeks piled on top of me, I had something of a breakdown. Arcais and I went to get a Subway together and had a heart-to-heart but there is an awful lot I need to fix in my life once I come back from the USA.

Wolfie had put too much strain on his foot at the meet, which saw him in agony throughout Sunday, meaning he largely stayed in bed. This was frustrating as it meant on top of my professional work, which I had to do due to the insane workload I currently have, I had to do most of the planning for our forthcoming US trip too. Wolfie's foot problems have continued into today and the strain is really getting to me - long days at work and doing all the organising for our vacation by myself has caused an awful lot of mental problems, problems I thought I had buried back in 2005. I am not particularly happy with the demands at work right now - nor living in the UK - and while both could change should my company back my EU office idea (which I have now formally presented), I do feel somewhat frustrated and helpless. This isn't aided by the fact I feel uninspired by work too, so I am hoping this forthcoming break will at least allow me respite and enable me to gauge perspective on my current situation before I do anything too rash. I do feel quite strongly about leaving the UK but of course this is easier said than done and I don't know if biding my time or jumping is the best course of action. I am hoping answers will be forthcoming in the coming weeks.
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Saturday was our 10th annual Eurovision party and it was probably the best so far. I feared we had invited too many people but nine - Stray, Luna, Marcus, Craz, Absolute, Adia and Wolfie's former colleague and baldy beardy man Adam - turned out to be just the right number. Wolfie also managed to rig the sound system so we could hear the songs and commentary despite people talking over it, which meant that I could engage with the contest while anyone else was free to talk if they wished. People turned up from about 6pm, with the full contingent being there an hour later. We then ordered a huge number of pizzas from Domino's and settled down to watch the action, with Graham Norton being on scintillating form once again. I must admit that I didn't reckon much to Portugal's entry - the eventual winner - but it was good that a new country took the title and I hope it put paid to the usual tedious talk of 'political' voting. I noticed that when Australia gave the UK 12 points, some of the people who drone on about the voting suddenly didn't seem to mind, which didn't really surprise me of course. Anyway, the UK finished 15th, which I thought was a little low really as it was quite a strong song this year, sung very well. It was a shame that my personal favourite, Azerbaijan, with the dancing horse head on the ladder didn't do as well as it deserved to, while as I have mentioned, the tedium that was Portugal's song was quite surprising in how well it was received. Considering it got a lot of votes from a lot of places, I guess I was just in the wrong. He did look a little like Salad Fingers though.

The highlight, as usual, was the banter on Twitter with friends from across Europe. This definitely adds a sense of togetherness about the event, and it is still one of my favourite nights of the year. After this, Adia headed off, but the rest of us stayed around to watch the NutriBullet Infomercial from High Street TV, a half hour programme that is always on in the early hours of the morning and something with which I have become worringly obsessed such is its general naffness. I can probably quote the whole thing now, and my love for it didn't really transcend to anyone else, which was probably also the case for the Chin Review, which we introduced Adam to afterwards. By this time, Wolfie and I had gone through a whole keg of pale ale that we had bought at a service station in Gloucestershire on our way back from JFTW last month while I had probably eaten enough snacks to give me a week's worth of calories. They are so deliciously moreish.

Craz had an appointment at 11am so Wolfie woke up early and drove her and Absolute home, leaving me to snooze. Adam had headed off when we all went to bed just after 3am, leaving Stray, Luna, Marcus and his holey anus pants he was flashing most of the evening behind. We awoke around noon and after a pleasant breakfast at Cafe Barthez, which is now becoming something of a post-Eurovision tradition now that we boycott Wetherspoons due to the pro-Brexit stance of their arse of an owner. After this, the trio disappered, leaving Wolfie and I alone to enjoy the rest of what has been a rather sunny day. Due to this, we decided to go out to Garforth, a place to which I had never been, where we had a pleasureable half hour stroll through the town centre. Along the way, we saw the flame for peace, a gas lantern standing near the station which underneath contains candles for you to light your own flame. This was probably the only thing of real interest in Garforth although we did gatecrash two staff members of a local cafe who were cleaning up while listening to loud heavy metal. I thought the bistro was open but alas it wasn't, but it was here where we discovered the existance of a local Garforth brewery called Quirky Brewhouse. They stocked two of their beers in the shop, and with an offer of two bottles for a fiver, we decided to purchase. They also told us that the brewery was just down the road and that they had a taproom that was open until 8pm. Seizing on this information, we decided to go, particularly as it was only a ten minute walk in the spring sunshine. It was situated in the middle of an industrial estate, tucked behind some iron warehouses, but once we got there, we saw a large number of people sat outside at tables. Inside, the bar was quite small but it was comfortably full, meaning we were only left with one table to choose. This is where we sat as we enjoyed the local ales and marvelled at the range of craft beer they were selling. They also have specialist gin nights and catering vans too, suggesting this is quite a serious place, so it was quite the discovery to find it.

With Wolfie driving, we could only really have a half, plus I wanted to go to the gym to try and work off a small fraction of the calories I had consumed during Eurovision. This saw us head off shortly afterwards, going back to the car, on the way discovering a local garden that had about 25 sculptures of humans made out of flower pots. It was all incredibly well done, with a little tube leading from the front gate to a money collection box for donations. It certainly cheered up my day, as did the picturesque Garforth station, where we parked our car so we could see the beautiful red wraught iron bridge. On the way back home, we drove through a number of pit villages before heading back into Leeds, stopping off at Thwaite Mills, a place we didn't even knew existed yet one we will have to visit sometime as it was sadly closed. A trip to Farsley was in order to see a local off license, which was once good, became terrible but has since upped its game due to the wide range of craft beers they now stock there. It was quite impressive and very near us, so something to bear in mind in future. This is one of the huge highlights of our Sunday afternoon trips out - we always tend to find surprising or interesting things while exploring.

Time was pressing however so we had to be quick as I really did want to make the gym. Fortunately, I just about made it, doing my usual workout before heading back home to cook fish finger sandwiches, vac the mess up from the night before and work on our partition screen for the Leeds Meet for the fursuit changing area. So all in all then a rather busy weekend, albeit reassuringly cheap and great fun.
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With Middlesbrough's relegation from the Premier League this evening confirmed, a rather miserable 12 months has now been capped off. The frustrating thing about Boro is the problems have been evident all season and little was done to change them until it was all too late. And like with Gareth Southgate all those years ago, we appointed a rookie manager who surprisingly couldn't turn things around. The fact we were so meek in pursuit of survival is perhaps the most galling aspect of this. We are not one of the three worst teams in the league on paper, but there has been a crushing inevitability about this for some time, and I'm frustrated that after seven years battling to get back into the Premier League, we have surrendered our place so meekly. Back to square one it is then, but I am not sure I'll be on board next season. After 23 years supporting them, I must admit my interest has started to wane and coupled with Middlesbrough being one of the most pro-Brexit towns in the country, my attachment to the place has significantly reduced. We'll see how I feel in August, but I may not bother. The fact that Newcastle got promoted as champions over the weekend just rubs salt into the wounds.

The feelings tonight contrast deeply with the elation of Emmanuel Macron being elected as President of France yesterday, a relief in many ways as the tide of populism across Europe seems to be being halted. I was quite buoyant, even going out and buying French wine, cheese and bread for a celebration, and it was one of the first times I have felt hope in a long time. Of course, all this came crashing down when I awoke this morning and remembered in which country I still live, and this only became more acute as the day's General Election campaigning unfolded. I think my time is done here and on Friday, I have my annual review at work where I think I'll lay it on the line. We'll have to see what happens, but I don't think I'll be happy until I have left England now.

The weekend was rather quiet, just doing jobs around the house mainly aside from a trip to Hull on Friday evening for KEN, a local fetish event. We knew a few people running it, and a few of our crew wanted to attend, so we thought we would give it a whirl. Getting anywhere on a Friday night is often difficult due to work though, and indeed we didn't arrive in the city until pushing 9pm due to a range of circumstances including a diversion on the M62. We weren't ready until 10pm, forcing everyone to wait, but soon we headed out and around to the nightclub, which was conveniently around the corner from the hotel where we were staying. We got changed into fetish clothes - in my case one of my dresses which I believe I pull off quite well - before heading to watch the burlesque show which involved a number of cool acts including a sword swallower, a striptease Velma from Scooby Doo and a lady riding a stuffed pink flamingo. After the event, the stage area became a modest dungeon but I spent most of my time chatting to random people, including a number of university students whose first fetish event this was. I even got one to try spanking for the first time, which was an achievement, and it was great chatting to them. We didn't play ourselves on account of the number of Red Stripes we had - which induced such a hangover that we couldn't go to another fetish event on the Saturday to which we had intended to go - but it was more of a social event and ultimately worth it, even if the nightclub was a bit dingy and the floors sticky. The problem was we only had five Red Stripes, but the hangover from such shitty beer was far far worse than what you get with craft.

We stayed until the end, even meeting the compare of the stage show, who was a nice fella. After this, as it was late and the hotel nearby, I decided I couldn't be bothered changing so just walked back in my dress, which got some looks from the consierge on the reception but I genuinely feel more comfortable in women's clothes and am tempted to do it more regularly. Still, I wasn't too fussed, it had been a great night and definitely one we would like to do again sometime.


May. 2nd, 2017 09:09 pm
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Saturday was the Leeds Meet, partially moved from its usual weekend due to JFTW but also because we have traditionally held a meet in Leeds on the last Saturday of the month for something like the last fifteen years. We normally hold them in a venue different to that of the regular meets and so it proved again as we congregated in Atlas for 12 noon.

If I was being honest, we were using this meet as a testing ground for a new venue, with us having outgrown The White Rabbit somewhat. With an unfortunate clash with the Sheffield Meet, we thought we might be quite low on numbers but there were around sixty furs in attendance, along with the usual Cosplay group with whom we have become quite friendly. The greater amount of space afforded to us by the venue proved to be incredibly popular and I think the vast majority of people had a good time. There were a few teething issues to iron out, but with pool tables arriving this week and the bar staff delighted with how busy the venue became, we are hoping that this will become our new permanent home. It will be a shame to leave The White Rabbit but fursuit changing has become limited and with the owner reportedly moving to Copenhagen, we may have to have found a new venue anyway. I am glad that our first foray at Atlas went well, particularly regarding the improved facilities for fursuits.

Speaking of which, I went on the fursuit walk, which went a different way to usual due to a protest on the Headrow. Due to our closer proximity to the train station, this saw us go down Duncan Street and up Briggate, where there was live music on as part of the Live at Leeds Festival. The band we saw were called Luna Blind and they were quite surprised when an army of fursuits turned up and started dancing in the front row. We stayed for about four songs, which I particularly enjoyed, with the lead singer admitting his incredulity at the scene before him. It may have been distracting, and he said the gig was one of the more difficult he had done, but they performed very well and I hope that the local furs can support this local band.

The other highlight of Saturday was meeting Widontknow, Avon's orca friend from Ottowa, who is in the UK on business for three weeks. The duo had gone to York earlier in the day so it was a surprise to see them turn up at the meet, but we got talking and they ended up staying deep into the night, going to Trinity Kitchen (where I had a disappointing Philly Cheese sandwich and parmesan flavoured fries) before ending up in the bar above Tall Boys Beer Market, a cosy place I had always wanted to try but where we had never been for some reason. I wanted to go to highlight some good beers for our Canadian friend, and he bought seven to take back to Warwick with him, which is where he is staying. It was great chatting and we hope to see him soon, while the meet in general was very good for meeting some new people.

Sunday was a largely quiet day, with little going on aside from recovery from the previous day's excesses. We had ended up in Foley's late on with Marcus, Luna and Stray, catching the last bus home. Fearing the calories, I had a mammoth gym session before it closed early for the Bank Holiday, while afterwards we tidied the garden and did a load of outdoor chores that the onset of lighter nights and better weather necessitates. After this, we decided to go into Leeds as there were a few bars we wanted to try, as well as an Indian street food restaurant called The Cat's Pyjamas. We managed to get here shortly after 8pm and was surprised just how busy it was, with the manager telling us that there were no tables for an hour. This was okay as it meant we could visit one of our target bars early, so we booked a table for 9pm and headed off.

Our destination was Ham and Friends, the new venture from Friends of Ham, which had opened the preceding Friday about four months behind scheduled. Billed as a wine bar, it was a place we wanted to try, so we were quite surprised when we got there and discovered it closed at 7pm. This was particularly surprising considering the Merrion Street Carnival was on, with live bands and tables outside each bar absolutely rammed. I wrote a point about this on Twitter and got a bit of a sniffy response from the bar back, which was a shame, although it closing early on a Sunday does severely limit the opportunity to go. This meant we had to try another bar, with Ten being the destination. This is down on Duncan Street and opened about five months ago, to negative reviews from Si The Beer Wolf, a craft beer officinado I follow on Twitter. He was quite right - styled on having ten of everything (cocktails, craft beer, wine etc) - it really focuses on the cocktails, serving your standard craft beers. While this is an improvement on the mid-2000s, the ambience was not, with its pounding dance music and trendy young things slurping cocktails. We grabbed the table overlooking the main road, feeling like glamorous mannequins in a shop window as we drank our Yakima Red Ale, finishing them rather quickly before buggering off back to The Cat's Pyjamas for our food.

We were still quite early so we had a little wander around the surprisingly busy streets before ducking into the restaurant at about ten minutes to nine. The manager was there to meet us and we were soon sat down, with the waitress soon starting a conversation with me concerning craft beer. Initially she asked if I had tried Punk IPA, which of course I had, before she extolled its virtues. She was quite knowledgeable and recommended a number of the bottles to us. There were only two in which I was interested though - the two we hadn't yet had - which we ordered along with a medu veda starter, fried lentil donuts with coconut chutney. These were very light and delicious, although perhaps could have been spicier, while the coconut too could have had a deeper flavour. The poppadom shards and pickle tray was a delight though and the main courses were exquisite, particularly Wolfie's saag paneer, which was creamy and unctuous without the harsh iron flavour of the spinach. I had the railway potato curry, a mild dish but no less flavourful, while the waitress spent quite a while chatting to us about her homeland of India, which is home to the vast majority of the staff too. This did give the place a greater authenticity, as did the random Hindi on the toilet walls, which was somewhat confusing, and although they got my order wrong initially, bringing a chickpea dish instead of the potato one, they rectified it very quickly and we were delighted with the quality of the food. A definite place to return.

Our final port of call, with about an hour to go until our final bus, was Shuffledog, where our friend Lou was working. This was incredibly busy, surprisingly so, and I got the impression they were a little understaffed so we grabbed a couple of beers to sample before heading off with plenty of time to get home, doing the responsible thing for once and not drinking too much. Indeed, because we had only had a small amount of beer, we stayed up for a good three hours once we got home, a rarity for Wolfie in particular, meaning we got to enjoy one of our staying up late and pissing about on the computer evenings that we do so enjoy.

Monday was a work day for me, but having done a load of overtime during March and April, I opted only to do the necessities, with the weather improving as the day progressed. With work completed by 2:30pm but with me expecting more later in the day, we decided to head out for a while, driving to Lotherton Hall near Aberford, the other side of Leeds. I had never heard of the place before, and neither had Wolfie, but it was definitely a worthwhile visit, if not for the food and drink festival taking place within the grounds of the estate. This was a pleasant surprise to us as we do love a good gastronomic fayre, and we bought a range of different things including artisnal cheeses, 'the best toasties in Yorkshire' which were decidedly average and half pints of some new Rudgate Brewery ale. The atmopshere was rather relaxed and we enjoyed walking around the eateries, even sampling some Mason's Yorkshire Gin and a delicious pork and black pudding pie.

After this, we decided to walk around the grounds of the house, with its little rockery, summer gardens and brick tennis courts, built for Mrs Gascoigne, the lady of the family whose estate it was. In the immediate gardens outside the rather imposing grey concrete building were a number of hedgerows with a large chess and draughts set in the garden. We also got to go inside the house, which was one of the first in the country to be electrified, where we saw a range of pottery collected from both Yorkshire and across the world, which were picked up on the family's travels. The stables were also of interest outdoors while we spent a while searching for the rather small orchard upon discovering the aviary was closed due to the construction of a new mammal park.

All in all, we spent about three hours at Lotherton Hall, marking an enjoyable end to what has been a fantastic Bank Holiday weekend.

Hop City

Apr. 27th, 2017 10:41 pm
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There is quite the plethora of beer festivals in Leeds these days and the latest was Hop City over the Easter Weekend. Taking place in the grounds of the Northern Monk Brewery and Tap Room, there was a modest range of beers from which to choose. As befits the name of the event, most of them were IPAs meaning the variety was perhaps a little lacking but there was a good selection for one evening.

We went on the Thursday due to JFTW taking place over the weekend, meeting up with Brett and Jo, who managed to get inside earlier than us. They parked themselves on one of the benches outside, which is where we went when we eventually arrived. It was a little cold, with the weather not being as glorious as it had been the previous weekend, but after a few drinks this didn't really bother us. We grabbed a couple of rare cans initially, which were limited to one each per person, before we headed across the three floors to sample a range of tasty brews.

As we did, a number of people visited our table, including a guy who had come up from London specifically for the event and a Geordie couple at university in Leeds who were here for the first time. The people serving behind the bar were friendly and the bottle caps for beer tokens was a nice touch. There was also a range of tasty food, meaning we were well covered until closing, getting the last bus home after a fantastic evening. Granted we nearly missed it as I took us the wrong way, which caused a huge argument and saw me sleep on the couch, but it was great catching up with our friends and meeting some new people too so all in all it was a succesful evening.


Apr. 25th, 2017 09:49 pm
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Over the Easter weekend - so the weekend before last - Wolfie and I headed down to Bristol for our first JFTW. It was the second 'Jefty' as it is erroneously and irritatingly called but resigning ourselves to staying in Britain at the turn of the year, we decided that we might as well try and reconnect with the British furs, having dropped out of the scene significantly of late. One of the main reasons for this was only going to Leeds Meets, which of course we run, and this is why we have been spreading our wings at places such as Birmingham over the last four months. Considering a large number of our Yorkshire friends were going to JFTW, we thought there was little point running our regular monthly gathering and decided to head to Bristol instead. It turned out to be a good decision.

JFTW is a rather small con, but has doubled in size over the last year. This saw over 300 furs descend on the Holiday Inn Bristol Filton, a nice if slightly dated establishment on the outskirts of the city. I always think cons of around 250-400 people are an ideal size as you tend to bump into the same people over and over, and so it proved here, with us making new friends quite easily and seeing many old friends into the bargain. This was particularly the case with the Irish furs who we had met at Furrnion, many of whom had come to JFTW and it was great to get reacquainted. Indeed most of the Saturday night was spent with them outside and I feel a lot more relaxed about our potential permanent move to Ireland as we now have a large number of great friends there.

Gothicat was the first person we spoke to, firstly because she had created an excellent doorsign and badges for us but also because she had been messaging me on Telegram most of the day asking when we would arrive. We were a little late due to our night out at Hop City at Northern Monk the night before, which saw us return home a little worse for wear and having to patch up an argument the next morning. We saw an awful lot of Gothi, which was much needed as we hadn't seen much of her over the last few years, and it was brilliant to see her pink kitty fursuit too which of course was adorable.

The con itself was billed as a social con and indeed there weren't a large amount of events to do. Consequently, the Saturday dragged somewhat, particularly during the day although the fursuit walk that morning was one of the highlights of the convention. Having arrived quite late on the Friday, we didn't get chance to register for the coach, which was going to get us from the hotel to the Clifton Suspension Bridge for photos and then the city centre for the walk. Cue a lot of faffing about as by the time we registered, we had to get the tickets from ConOps, which was 'mobile' i.e. closed. Eventually I did manage to get a ticket though and I am glad I did as Wolfie preferred snoozing due to the difficuly 9:45am start. I have never been able to fursuit at this time of day and would have preferred at least an hour later, but it was what it was and by 10am we had piled on to one of the two bright yellow buses and were bimbling down the road. The opening minutes were quite lonely as aside from a few Sheffield furs (Saleck, Cub and Lucas) I knew no-one but the atmosphere eased and soon we were talking to a large number of people along the back few rows. It was a shame that the Clifton Suspension Bridge was only really a photo opportunity in front of it rather than arsing about upon it, but the walk along the marina in Bristol was great fun, with plenty of interaction. At least three sets of people stopped to ask me what it was all about, with me holding the walk up as a result, while tormenting a scared mobile cafe worker was definitely a highlight.

With breakfast AND lunch included, the con was quite good value for money, but with few events, a lot of our time was centered around the bar. This was a pleasant place to be, but during Jackbox games it did become a little cliquey. The range of beer was good and reasonably priced considering, while the pizza on Saturday evening was great if slightly bloating. Earlier, we had popped to the snack exchange but there was a paucity of things available, largely because nearly everyone at the con was from the UK. Still, we grabbed a strawberry filled Oreo and went on our way.

We didn't see many people from Yorkshire throughout the con as they seemed to be busy doing something else, but one of the highlights of the weekend was seeing Redmoor again, someone we hadn't seen in over eight years since the time he moved from York. He is living in Somerset now and drove up for the afternoon, which we spent in the hotel bar before heading out to Frankie and Bennie's at a local retail park with Enteirah to catch up. He hasn't changed much, and it was a very pleasant afternoon reminiscing. I discovered him sat at the bar at around 2:30pm while in fursuit, having decided to clamber into Lupe at the request of the Irish furs, who were leaving later that evening and wanted selfies. This saw me oblige before going to the closing ceremony in suit, which was fantastically brief and done within fifteen minutes. Kosmik's piano playing was a highlight, after which I consented to a request from the con's ferret charity for pictures for their fundraising literature. This involved having a ferret climb all over me, which made my hand paws stink, particularly as she was a lively little bugger. It was great fun though and it was interesting to learn more about all of the work they do.

The problem with a two day con of course is that people leave before it really began and this was certainly the case with the Irish furs, who had done early arrival as opposed to our late. It was the same with a number of others too, but it was still a good way to catch up with people. This was certainly the case with Lapres, to whom I spoke at the Motorfurs meet on Sunday morning, at which Wolfie impressed with his Mazda. The range of cars here was actually quite impressive, with few Skoda Octavias or Renault 406s while Arc was in her element posing on all of the vehicles. I also spoke to Garnett too, the other guest of honour, on the Saturday evening and we made plans to run a furry event in Newcastle in the autumn. It was brilliant catching up with her again too, someone I haven't seen regularly since I was running the Newcastle meets eight or nine years ago.

Of course one of the highlights of the con was the fire alarm going off just after 11pm on Saturday, with a number of naughty furs being caught with their pants down quite literally. The evacuation was quite quick though and we congregated at the far end of the car park, beyond the first fire assembly point sign which for some reason must have been a decoy as we were moved on. Some people were told off for singing while I was more concerned about my gin and tonic, which was just in the process of being poured at the time the alarm was sounded.

Aside from this, the Sunday turned out to be a day of great liberation for me as I posted my first ever penis picture on my Twitter AD stream. This may not be a big deal for some, but for someone who has had self-esteem issues about this for the best part of twenty years, it took a lot of courage. The problem was I was seeing a fair amount of NSFW activity going on at the con and I felt I wasn't really included. This saw me wake up on the Sunday morning determined to change things, which is the point at which I did it. The feedback I received was positive and it did boost my confidence, so much so that I achieved an important kinky milestone later that evening. I do feel more liberated and confident in partaking in more fetish related events at cons now and I hope I can pursue a few of these at forthcoming conventions I will attend.

So all in all then JFTW was a great little con, albeit one which needs a few more events to sustain interest. It was great metting loads of old friends - particularly the aforementioned along with Doveux, Tungro, Washu, Nall and Ferret - and although it was a little disappointing we didn't hang with our usual crew it was ultimately a brilliant weekend. Whether we go back next year is up for debate - it's good for Wolfie as he doesn't have to take two days off but I still have to - but certainly we went home with many happy memories.
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This weekend saw us visit Birmingham as the regular monthly meet coincided with Birmingham Bizarre Bazaar, a large fetish market that usually takes place on the third Sunday of the month but was moved due to Easter. This gave us an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, so on Saturday morning we drove the two hours south, arriving at our hotel in Bordesley Circus shortly aftet 1pm. We were shocked at just how far out of the city centre it was - about 2km - but at least the walk gave us some much-needed exercise, even if traipsing with the suit was somewhat inconvenient.

We arrived at the meet at around 2pm after stopping off at Subway, with the event in full swing. I decided to eschew alcohol as the weather was glorious, meaning the fursuit walk was set to go ahead. This was my first one in the city as rain had prevented the February one from going ahead. The walk was quite fun, even though it was slightly curtailed due to a protest going on at the top end of town. I was surprised by the military style organisation of it, with high-viz jackets and walkie talkies, but the route was through the centre of the city across a number of main roads, so I guess that figures. The walk itself enabled a large amount of interaction, but photo opportunities seemed to be the priority, particularly on the steps of New Street station where we were arranged for a picture. We were then asked to form two Vs (so a W then) for some reason before I highlighted that the reflective ceiling above us would make for a very good snap. We then walked to a little statue near BrewDog before turning back, with the 20 degree heat being too much for some people.

Once we got back to the venue, which sadly the meet is moving from after this one, a number of us compiled a little dance video on the other side of the road from the bar. We then went back inside to socialise some more, grabbing some food which took nearly an hour to arrive. It was quite disappointing but at £10 for two burgers, you can't really complain, before we rounded off our socialising and headed back to the hotel for about 7pm.

After a shower and a small snooze, we headed back into the city centre, waylayed by a little craft beer bar down a gentrified alleyway in Digbeth, the part of the city through which we had to walk from Bordesley to the centre. Upon stepping inside, we saw a few people sat at the bar and a nice corgi slumped on the floor. Almost immediately we got chatting to them, finding out that they were a couple in their early fifties and another regular who frequently pop into the bar. With eight taps and over 200 bottles from which to choose, it was a very cosy and friendly way to spend an evening and we ended up staying up to closing time, sharing some beers with our new friends. Towards the end of the night, I was even taken around the corner to a little pop up dining area with a number of different eateries all set underneath a viaduct adjacent to a dance music type bar. The burgers there looked exquisite but we were still full from our dry versions earlier in the day so we did not partake. The barman, a man from Liverpool, let the couple eat the burgers in the bar while we grabbed more drinks, chatting about their wonderfully behaved dog who turned out to be a stray rescue from Romania. He was really friendly and called Porto, although I intermittently kept calling him Pablo and Pedro throughout the evening.

Everyone there was really friendly and we swapped details at the end of the night. Our new friends said they were going to visit in Leeds over the summer, so I suggested we should meet up and we could show them around as they too are huge fans of craft beer. We even gave them some recommedations of beers to drink in the shop, which they bought and took home with them. They left at about 11pm and we followed soon after, chatting briefly to the barkeep about the bar as we finished our final cans. We then headed off and instead of calling it a night, we decided to head into the city, calling at Tilt and BrewDog, which had been our original destinations. Due to the time, we only had time for one beer in each although we did get a cheeky sample of a chocolate stout in Tilt as the barman remembered us from February. This was also the case in BrewDog, with the server again remembering us from two months ago, as well as saying he had seen a sophisticated pink husky dancing past earlier in the day. In BrewDog we sampled a few more beers, with Wolfie four pints ahead of me due to him drinking at the Meet. Consequently he was more interested in pouring chilli sauce on the crips we bought than drinking. We stayed until last orders before being given disposable cups into which we could pour the dregs of our beer. We then walked the half hour back to the hotel, at which I got to watch the riveting Nutriblast infomercial for half an hour, something I really find fascinating because it's so incredibly corny.

We didn't sleep overly well and woke up a bit groggy, so it wasn't until midday when we checked out. We were allowed to stay parked at the hotel so we walked back into Birmingham - for the third time that weekend - to check out the Bazaar, stopping off at a greasy spoon cafe at Birmingham Market for some breakfast. Wolfie had a full English whereas I had beans on toast, and we reminisced about the late Jocasta, who had taken us here when we visited her in the city around six years ago. After this, we headed over to the market, which was a little smaller than what I was expecting but still went over two floors. Most of the stuff was items we had already seen before, but there were a number of interesting new devices we opted to buy, whereas we decided to take the plunge and buy a proper estim unit too. We had been meaning to do this for a while but thought now was the time, with both of us securing payrises last week. We also picked up a few other implements, spending over £200 in the place overall, before heading back to the car and eventually home.

We are starting to feel quite at home in Birmingham and are looking forward to visiting again, likely in June. We are starting to get to know more of the local furs and there seems to be a good fur and fetish scene down there. The hotel was a little out of the way, but good if we are driving as you can avoid the city centre, plus the walk isn't too bad in the summer months. In the winter though we may have to consider elsewhere.
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This past weekend, I headed back home to see my parents, having not made the trip since New Year. It was great seeing everyone again and the weather was particularly stunning, warm and sunny, making it incredibly pleasant.

I arrived on Saturday lunchtime having been at Stray's housewarming the night before, and was greeted at Yarm station by my Dad. We then dropped my bag off at his house before heading for a walk in the North York Moors. The view down the valley towards Teesside from the mountain ridge across which we walked was spectacular, while it was great fun crossing the exposed heath, clambering down jutting rocks and walking back to the car through the forest which ringed the hillside. All the while, it was great to chat with my Dad, which continued when we went to the Bay Horse pub in Great Broughton, where we sat outside and enjoyed a beer in the sunshine.

The evening was taken up with visiting my grandparents, particularly my grandfather who had turned 88 on the previous Wednesday. He is looking very well, but my grandmother seems to be showing the early signs of dementia, which made talking to her a little more challenging. This was quite sad to see, particularly as she kept asking me the same questions over and over, but it was great visiting them regardless, particularly as I hadn't seen them in over a year due to illness. We shared some cheese and hot cross buns, while I also got a few beers too, as well as the opportunity to talk about my various vacations. My grandfather was surprisingly angry about Brexit, which was reassuring I suppose, particularly due to my own personal circumstances.

Sunday saw me go and visit my mother, who lives about an hour from my father. Here we had a rather nice meal - cheese and bread, roasted lamb and a tart strawberry crumble for dessert. I also got to see their dog Wilma again, who is now one year old but still as naughty as ever. We have a good bond, Wilma and I, demonstrated by the walk we took across the fields, where she repeatedly kept jumping up at me, wanting to play. She is a very licky dog, while she particularly enjoyed the sock I brought her, whose threads she kept trying to prise apart like Muco. Streeeech! Wilma is always great fun to be around and it was great seeing her again, while catching up with my mother and stepdad was great too. I spent about eight hours there in total before going back to my Dad's place to spend the evening with him. We had hoped to go to the local pub but upon finding it closed, we just had a few gin and tonics and a chat in the living room, rounding off a relaxing weekend.
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Thursday was our anniversary, so Wolfie and I headed out into Leeds, where we had booked a table at Gaucho, a swanky steak restaurant in the centre of town.

We had planned to meet at Shuffledog but my work day was so stress-inducingly hectic that by the time I got out, I only had time for a swift third. Lou wasn't in, which was a shame as she said she would be, meaning I don't think we missed too much and as we walked to the steak place, I congratulated Wolfie about passing his exam, which he did that morning and gives him a significant pay rise.

We were about ten minutes early to the restaurant but it was only moderately busy, so they sat us down before presenting us with a huge wooden board upon which raw cuts of all of the different steaks were arranged. They were all Argentinian and from specific farms, as was the wine which was exceptional albeit expensive. Indeed for the two of us the meal came to £180 plus tip but as it was our tenth anniversary we thought we would treat ourselves. The staff were great in their recommendations and their general patter, making us really feel at home. We had a Lomi steak, marinated in garlic and olive oil and super tender, which when rare was incredibly satisfying. My chunky chips weren't as good as Wolfie's thin ones but it was the minted sugar snap peas that were the real highlight for me. The steak was 400g and stuffed us pretty well, so much so that we declined the cheeseboard afterwards, which is very rare for us. Fortunately we didn't have a starter either, meaning we were in and out in just under an hour and a half, giving us plenty of time left for the rest of the evening.

With bloated bellies but not wanting to go home, we headed to a few bars for some drinks. We started in Decanter before heading over to the new office developments off Wellington Street, where we had seen a few new bars having just opened. One, Place, was still serving although it was quite dead, meaning we got to talk to the bar man about the venture. We also noticed a branch of the wine bar Veeno opposite, highlighting that these places were very much bars for office workers on their way home from work. The ambience in Place was fresh and modern and although the beer choices were typical for an establishment of this type, we did enjoy our time there. We stayed for just one drink before deciding to head over to the Northern Monk Tap Room, as we were this side of town and hadn't been there for quite a while. Crossing a new bridge over the Aire, on the other side we found ourselves unable to proceed out of the Tower Mills area, having gone inside to admire the wonderfully tall brick tower that was apparently modeled on the Campanille in Florence. Struggling to get out of the many locker gates, in the end we were released by a friendly security guard who must have been patrolling the area. Still he was good about it and soon we were in Northern Monk sampling a range of new beers including a rather delicious mint chocolate stout. I do like Northern Monk, the only issue being it's so far away, although we did discover a new way back to Wellington Street which would be quicker for the bus so we'll try and go there more often in future. We did get the last bus back after a great night and a happy way to spend ten years together.

Friday saw us head over to Eccles Hill in Bradford to Stray's new house, where he was having a housewarming party. I arrived directly from work, taking the 670 so I got to look at some of the more salubrious areas of north-east Bradford. There weren't many on the bus but the people who were, were the worst kind, either having loud phone conversations or in the case of two chavs, listening to and singing along with loud rap music. I couldn't get out of their quick enough so it was a relief to see Wolfie stood out of their door as I arrived. We saw a cat in the window and queried whether we were at the right address but it turned out we were and they were just looking after two pussies for a family friend. We were let inside and given the grand tour of the typical three-storey Victorian terrace, a nice place as a starter home, before cracking open some nibbles and watching Pingu, which seems to have been remastered and now has a new funky trance theme tune. Taneli and one of Luna's friends soon arrived and we made the short walk to Stray's parents to see the new puppy, Vera, they had just bought. She was very fun and enjoyed playing, while she fell asleep on Luna from time to time. During the hour or so we were there, we spoke to Stray's parents in-depth before heading back to Stray's house for pizza.

The food was lovely but I ended up eating too much, making me feel somewhat bloated, meaning I needed half an hour just to recover. Just after we had finished the pizza, Arc and Draken arrived and people started playing Cards Against Humanity, something I didn't have the energy to do. Unfortunately, with everyone else involved, I felt somewhat left out and watching Ed Miliband's hilarious performance on The Last Leg can only go so far. As a consequence, about half an hour later I started playing as the stomach pain had somewhat subsided. Arc and Draken left an hour later with Arc winning, and we left another hour after that, with me claiming the lead which was quite impressive as I hadn't played for as long as everyone else. It was a fun night but by 2am we felt the need to head off, so we booked a taxi and did just that. As we left though we noticed that one of the cats had torn through my bagels and dribbled on them, rendering them inedible. This was incredibly annoying as it meant I now had to go and get something else for breakfast in the morning. The cats had been annoying Stray and I'm not a huge fan either, but at least they didn't get in the way too much I guess, despite this unfortunate incident.

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Overnight, a Leave supporter unfollowed me on Twitter. In many respects this is unremarkable and while unfortunate, it is not particularly surprising judging by how the issue dominates my timeline. It was someone I knew moderately well, but who has drifted away in recent years, largely due to a change in geographical circumstances. He is what I would call a gloating Leaver, and although I was saddened by his unfollowing, the more I thought about it, the more I thought I was better off rid. I have very real concerns about the Brexit process and a true friend would show some level of empathy. He has shown nothing but hubris and as a consequence I think it's best we go our separate ways.

I tried to explain my thoughts on this in a series of tweets this morning, but felt it deserved a longer post. Here it is.

Much has been made of Theresa May's desire to bring the country together, to unite behind her Brexit plan. The problem with this is that Remainers and Leavers seem to be ideologically opposed and this explains some of the language that has been used between the two groups. Words like 'Remoaner', 'unpatriotic' and 'traitor' to describe pro-Europeans are not only fallacious but also dismissive of the legitimate worries that many of us have. Of course, the same is the case labelling Leavers as 'racist' - I'm sure some of them are, but many are not - so it does cut both ways. While the populace at large probably isn't too bothered about the EU, for those passionate about this, it seems there are two world views which are fundamentally irreconcilable, meaning I don't think unity will ever be possible. IF it is, then it can only be through compromise in terms of the Brexit deal and an empathetic approach to each other's differing views. I'm seeing little give on this, particularly from the hardline Brexiteers, who don't seem willing to work a political solution that would be acceptable to all.

The problem with opposing world views is that I will never understand the concept of nationhood and patriotism as espoused by Leave voters as I have always been more internationalist in outlook. Similarly, they'll never understand my view that pooling sovereignty is a price worth paying for increased security and prosperity. This isn't to say that Remainers are not patriots - some of the biggest patriots I know are pro-Europeans - but this patriotism seems to have manifested itself in different ways. It's like two co-existing worlds. My own vote was based on my internationalism, but also personal circumstances, particularly related to free movement. And it is the latter that's my main motivation, which is why the gloating from a handful of former friends has proven to be so hurtful, particularly as the 48% have largely been ignored politically for the last nine months.

I am vehemently anti-Brexit. I accept that people voted Leave for a range of reasons but many of them I simply cannot understand. Most don't stand up to scrutiny, but I respect those who voted Leave based on arguments which do. The sugar industry is one such example. The differing price of sugar cane and sugar beet as determined by the Common Agricultural Policy means that the EU constrains sugar manufacturing in the UK. Tate and Lyle backed Brexit and I can undersand why. I disagree, but there is a logic I can follow. Similarly, other people voted Leave based on their own personal circumstances and again I understand. This isn't about people with a differing view as I can empathise with those in the sugar industry and I genuinely hope that Brexit is positive for them. However, those vacuously talking about Empire 2.0 and restoring Britain to former glories are the ones that are the target of my frustration.

And herein lies an issue, an issue that the Brexiteers are not being honest about. In any situation, particulary a major change such as this, there will always be winners and losers. Always. And I cannot see anything but being a loser in my case. Let me explain. I am the international manager of an SME specialising in translation and media work. We have audio and video production facilities in the basement of our offices, bespoke to our needs. As a consequence, we can deliver services in a range of languages, largely because we can easily employ EU nationals without having to go through a visa system. This is likely to change after 2019. Those who complain about immigration in the UK say that it's too easy to get into the country, but anyone who has had to deal with the Home Office would tell you that this is not the case. For our Russian and Chinese staff it took us four months to get the approval, even though there was no-one else in the country who could do the job (which we had to prove). Fortunately, in these cases, a four month delay was not a problem but this is not the case for a lot of the ad hoc work we do. Any visa system is unlikely to be streamlined enough to allow us to offer these services quickly, meaning less work for everyone, unless radical changes are made. The fear here is the lack of desire to do this. If sacrificing free movement meant greater access to staff from places like Africa, Latin America, India, China and Russia then this could be an opportunity, but May's ideological fixation on an immigration target of 'tens of thousands' suggests that my ability to recruit the people I need is likely to be severely curtailed in future.

In addition to this, we employ a number of EU nationals and their future is equally uncertain. There was a noticeable gloom in the office on Wednesday, while today the director of the company confessed to me how angry he is about the Brexit process. And if the man who pays your wages is pissed off, then I would say your concerns are legitimate.

This gets me back to my unfollower friend. I know he was following me yesterday and is not following me today. I also know he tweeted a pointed remark about 'the people who are complaining haven't left yet', highlighting his lack of empathy. So let me take this further. Brexit does provide me with the opportunity to live in another country, which has been a dream of mine for years (and one which is going to be a lot harder once Brexit is confirmed). However, I have commitments. I have a mortgage, a partner and a job I love. Due to the issues described above regarding staffing, the directors have realised that it may be in our interests to open a branch office on the continent. This could allow me to have my cake and eat it, to use an oft-used phrase, by working abroad but keeping my contacts in the UK. However, opening an office in a foreign country isn't as easy as just turning up. There are legal issues, liabilities, tax law and a whole host of other things to consider. We also need to work out where would be the best place to set up - both in terms of the business landscape but also access to the staff we need. Ireland is a possibility but so is Madrid, so we are having to do this in Spanish as well as English. And the list goes on. So although I am not 100% sure if the comment was directed at me, moving and retaining everything I currently have is a huge undertaking. Of course, I could just quit my job and go, but there is no guarantee at this late stage whether I wouldn't just be sent back in two years' time. This would make my personal circumstances even more insecure than they currently are and remember I have a mortgage. The best option would be a branch office under my current employer and this is the target towards which I am working, but it is a long process.

Of course, should I move, I would be leaving friends and family behind, not to mention my home. This is in itself a tough thing to do and again is why empathy is so important. Added to this is that my brother's job - a specialist in EU trademark law - is likely to become obsolete in 2019, causing him great anxiety. Of course I am trying to get the softest Brexit possible through all the democratic means open to me - including highlighting a range of issues on Twitter which I genuinely hope people find interesting - but I accept that a hard Brexit is the most likely path from here. However, trying to run a business under such uncertainty when the futures of so many of your staff - staff who are not to blame for any of this and who do not deserve being stuck in limbo - is exceptionally tough. I'm at the coal face here, trying to make the best of the situation, but with the exchange rates causing an issue and staffing a genuine concern, we do need to explore all the options open to us. So many lives are affected by this, including so many people I know, and to dismiss their fears so easily and in some cases actually revel in these circumstances shows a real lack of respect. No true friend would ever do this. This is why empathy is so important and why I no longer have time for people who do not display it.
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The triggering of Article 50 earlier today has certainly been a cause of much sadness, but it has been a sadness tinged with defiance.

Even though it may feel like the end, it is actually the beginning of a complicated two year period in which everything will still be in play. During this time, I think the realities of a hard Brexit will become increasingly apparent, smashing through the bullish rhetoric and misplaced utopia of the Brexiteers. And as this happens, minds may be changed, suggesting that the war is far from over.

I accept the referendum result and I accept it is likely the UK will leave the EU, but there is nothing inevitable about this, particularly as Article 50 is likely to be revokable. With the margin so narrow and with no mandate for a hard Brexit, this means Remainers from all political hues must come together. We need to persude soft Leavers to reconsider while holding the Brexiteers to account for all the promises they have made. By doing these things in tandem, ruthlessly and relentlessly, I believe it is possible to change the national mood and get enough people to change their minds, forcing Parliament to act.

This is why I have joined local campaiging groups as well as written to MPs and MEPs, and I urge every pro-European to do the same. Yes there are powerful vested interests, particularly in the press, and yes we are likely to be written off as "unpatriotic" and "undemocratic", but some of the most patriotic people I know voted Remain and I strongly believe there is no greater patriotism than preventing your country from making a terrible mistake.

Democracy is a multi-faceted construct, and the ballot box forms just one part of it. Democracy is also the freedom to lobby elected officials and to protest peacefully against something you don't believe is right. And so by doing these things, you are not denying democracy, you are actually participating in it, strengthening the foundations upon which our society is built.

I proudly stood outside Leeds Town Hall earlier, just as I proudly marched to Westminster on Saturday. Many of us were participating in politics for the very first time and were united in a common cause. This helped my mood and has only made me more determined, particularly as the reception we received was largely positive (you are always going to get the occasional gobby idiot though).

Over the last month or so, time and again Theresa May has called for unity without offering any sign of even attempting to understand the fears of Remainers. As a consequence, she will get no unity from me, not until such time that her and her cabinet will address and assauge my legitimate concerns.

So I say, on this dark day for so many of us, that we CAN make a difference and we WILL make a difference, but only if we fight. Because a democracy ceases to be a democracy if it loses the right to change its mind and this is the battle we now face leading up to 2019.


Mar. 27th, 2017 11:21 pm
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After the rather long day that was Saturday, we enjoyed a well-deserved lie-in on Sunday, not aided by the clocks going forward of course. Having to check out at midday, we used all the time we had before heading out into another glorious sunny day. Before booking the hotel at Wembley, I hadn't realised that there was an England match that afternoon. This meant that we took our bag with us as we knew that getting back later would be incredibly tricky. Despite the 5pm kick-off, the concourse around Wembley was already starting to fill up, and we took advantage of the game by grabbing a tasty if extortionately priced German sausage from one of the concessions, which interestingly was run by Essex ladies.

The plan for the afternoon was quite fluid but in the end we went to Greenwich, which was a place I had wanted to go for quite a while. We could have gone drinking or to a number of our favourite fetish stores but we thought a bit of culture in the sunshine would be better. Aiding this view was that it was quite easy to get there - the Jubilee line to Canary Wharf and then the DLR down to Cutty Sark. It was quite a pleasant journey although as we approached Greenwich we noticed that a large number of people had had a similar idea to us. This meant the area was quite busy, which was frustrating, particularly when people used the entire pavement when they didn't really need to. By the by, we disgorged at Cutty Sark and headed to the boat of the same name, declining the £13.50 entrance charge for the museum and preferring to walk around what is probably the most famous tea clipper in the world. Indeed, it was quite an awesome sight, although a little odd being stuck on land. Still, we traversed it and stood in awe at the large sail structures and the huge scale of this impressive beast. After this, we headed over to the Old Royal Naval College where we had a wander around the late seventeenth century buildings. Indeed, the style was very much of that era and it reminded me quite a bit of some of the Cambridge colleges where I studied. Alas due to restoration work, we couldn't get into the famous Painted Hall but the Chapel of St Paul's more than made up for it, with its subtle use of gold and wood tones to create an air of beautiful understatement. There was a small museum in the old college too, but it didn't make an awful lot of sense, resembling a miscellany of objects rather than anything with a narrative. As we wandered around the gardens and by the river, looking at Canary Wharf on the opposite bank, along with the O2 Arena to the east, I phoned my mother as it was Mother's Day and ended up being passed around the entire family as she was hosting them.

We walked back into Greenwich from here, a quaint rural-type place with the bustle of a major tourist attraction, grabbing a Gregg's for lunch. We then headed towards the Royal Observatory and the Greenwich Meridian line, the point from which all coordinates and time is measured. The Observatory is perched atop a hill overlooking a beautiful cultivated park, and it was quite a steep climb to get to the top. The red ball of the 1pm setting clock is the most visible thing here, sat upon a tower. It drops at 1pm every day to allow ships on the Thames to set their chronometers and interestingly it is highly dented as restoration builders in 1960 thought it was going to the scrapheap and thus played football with it. The Observatory was patronised by Charles II and opened in 1676, right in my period of history, and thus I knew a fair bit about the place. We decided to go into the Museum here and we explored the Flamsteed House, named after the first Astronomer Royal. After some rather bland rooms detailing the lives of the 13 Astronomers Royal, we went into the Octagon Room which was used for social events. There were a number of scientific instruments in here, including clocks and quadrants, but the main focus of the exhibit was downstairs where you learnt all about solving the longitude problem, which was the key issue in eighteenth century navigation. I already knew a fair bit about this but it was great to see John Harrison's chronometers in person, as they truly are marvels in engineering. The exhibition was very accessable and we did learn a fair bit, before heading outside to take obligatory pictures of the prime meridian. Next to this, there was an extension to the complex where a number of astronomers royal formed their own meridians for looking at the stars. Here there were a range of different telescopes and other devices used to make measurements, and it was fascinating to learn how all this worked.

With time pressing, we couldn't really do much else as we had to make it back to Kings Cross for the train. However, one thing we did decide to do was to go back to the Cutty Sark so we could walk under the Thames using a special tunnel that was built in 1902. This saw us go from Greenwich to Island Gardens on the North Bank, affording us a fantastic view of Greenwich. It was an odd soulless tunnel of white tiles but it was a feat of engineering and a pleasure to traverse. After this, we headed to the DLR and Bank, where we joined the Northern Line. Looking for something to eat, I noted that a branch of the excellent Craft Beer Co was at Angel, very near the station, so we called off there to grab something to eat. The burger and fries were exquisite while the beer was fantastic too, and we even managed to stock up for the train back home. We caught it with twenty minutes to spare, and were surprised that we happened to be sharing a table with one of my Russian colleagues and her husband, who had been in London during the weekend too, albeit for different reasons to us. It would have been good to have chatted but alas it was the quiet coach and people were adhering to the quiesence, so I just wrote my journal as we headed back home. At Leeds we split, with them going home and us going to Bundobust then Tapped Brew Co for a nightcap before heading back home after a fabulous weekend.
lupestripe: (Default)

We have been in London this weekend, primarily for one reason - the Unite for Europe march on Saturday.

Those that know me well know I am extremely opposed to Brexit and I thought I must make my voice heard at this important demonstration. This view was only enhanced in the wake of the terrorist attack in London on Wednesday, which just added to my determination that democracy and more specifically the right to protest are important principles to be upheld. I doubt it will change anything, but it's important to be a thorn in the side of this unsympathetic and callous government as much as possible. So we headed down on Friday evening, delayed due to a train being cancelled meaning we had a nice hour in Friends of Ham too, arriving just after midnight at the ibis hotel in Wembley. I had hoped a few more people could have come from Leeds but with birthdays this weekend and alternative plans, it was a tough decision to prioritise this, although I do feel we made the right decision.

We didn't stay up particularly late as we had an early start, with the sun streaming through the window of the hotel restaurant as we had our breakfast. We then made our way to Park Lane via Green Park tube station, where we saw a number of people bedecked in EU flags congregating. We decided to follow them to the Hilton, where the march was slated to take place, arriving ten minutes later where I wrapped my own EU flag around myself. Here we waited, soaking up the atmosphere and reading the wide range of amusing placards that people had made. In a way I regret not doing so myself but I didn't have time and couldn't think of something overly witty to say. The march was far bigger than the organizers had anticipated, with up to 100,000 lining the streets, up from the 25,000 estimate. This meant we ended up waiting on a roundabout outside the Hilton hotel for over an hour and a half, during which time Geo met us, who was traveling independently. I had tried to get a furry contingent to go, but there hadn't been much response, although we did hook up with Skavi later and Patter went on the march too. Geo admitted that had we not been going, he wouldn't have done either, so that was a good thing while a large number of people stopped to take a picture of his 'stages of the apocalypse' T-shirt.

The sheer tide of people was overwhelming and with the glorious weather it was hard not to feel optimistic. It was good to see a good demographic of people there too - Brits and Europeans, young and especially old - and the feeling was one of celebration but also defiance. We sang happy birthday to the EU to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome while we got chatting to a number of people including a nice lady from Leeds who had canvassed in my parliamentary seat of pudsey in the 2015 general election. She told me some very interesting things, as Wolfie and Geo walked away, leaving me and the lady having a nice chat for twenty minutes. As we were done, I had to go searching for them as they were a good way further down the march, while simultaneously I was trying to keep in contact with Skavi who had come down with the Liverpool contingent but due to them arriving late, was well towards the back of the group. In the end we met up with him outside Parliament Square in the shadow of Westminster, at a time after which I had found Geo and Wolfie. I had feared my frustratingly weak bladder would come into play but we stopped off at McDonald's as we marched while the drums and music added to a carnival atmosphere.

One major advantage of the march other than the sense of hope it gave me was the ability to see famous London sights close up without having to worry about the traffic. With the roads closed, we could see the Whitehall architecture, Downing Street, the Cenotaph, Trafalgar Square and indeed the Houses of Parliament itself close up. We stood on Parliament Square for two and a half hours as we watched a range of speakers talk about Brexit and it was hard not to admire this beautiful building, with its gold cladding glistening in the sun. Where we were initially it was difficult to hear but we soon moved into a better position, just to the right of the statue of Winston Churchill. Sometimes our view of the large TV screen was obscured by people's placards but by and large we got to see and hear everything. Some speeches were exemplary, such as Tim Farron and Nick Clegg, who was sporting a rather sexy black jumper. David Lammy's impassioned and determined oratory won the day though (Mandela would have been on our side, Churchill would have been on our side), while Farron's induced a teary response such was its power. There was a range of speakers there though, including poets and celebrities, with Patrick Stewart sending a special TV broadcast in support. The Spanish nurse was incredibly powerful, saying his passport may be Spanish but his heart is British, while a number of Polish activists spoke too. A lot of the organizations I follow - Scientists for EU, the European Movement and Britain in Europe - were also there while a small number of speakers did fall a bit flat, particularly the angry "Brexit is racist" guy towards the end. There was a lot of cheering and a whole load of applause at various moments of the talks, while as people left I crept closer and closer to the front. It did feel like a huge family, and it made me feel that I was not alone, and thus more positive about the future. Everyone was friendly and one broke was even dishing out free vegetarian curry. We lost Geo for most of this, he went wandering nearer the front early-on, but we did meet up again after the speeches were done.

The demonstration was over by 4:15pm and everyone dispersed, buoyed by what we had seen. As we walked to Marble Arch, where Skavi's coach was picking him up, I endeavoured to thank evert police officer for stewarding the event, particularly under difficult circumstances based on events earlier in the week. There were no flash points aside from a group of five tired old men unfurling an Islamophobic banner on the side of the street as we marched, which I guess is their right to do. As we walked back, we admired the wide range of London sights while I also got to point out where the Reform Club is on Pall Mall. The walk back took us about half an hour through the warren of London streets before we popped out on Oxford Street, not far from our destination. The pavements were rammed here and progress was slow as the sun was shining directly in our eyes, but we still got to Marble Arch with about half an hour to spare. Needing a sit down and with no good bars in the area, we ended up in Pret A Manger, a place I've never been but one by which I was quite impressed. The ham and cheese sandwich was lovely while the coconut hot chocolate was unique but by no means distasteful, with the flavour complementing the chocolate quite well. It was good having a catch-up after the march, just the four of us, not to mention a sit down after seven hours on our feet.

As 6pm approached, we said goodbye to Skavi and walked back down Oxford Street, intending to call off at Brewdog Soho on the way to Leicester Square and a Chinese restaurant that Geo knew. In the end, Brewdog was absolutely rammed so we bypassed this and went straight for food. Perhaps Geo had hyped this up somewhat but it wasn't particularly good, highlighted by the fact that they gave us cooking wine warmed up instead of sake as our drink. They did provide some shrivelled dry plums which were supposed to add sweetness but it was particularly appalling. The service was rude too, although I had been told to expect this, while the food once it came was alright but not hardly stellar. I had beer so avoided the sake fiasco, but the chow sien pork was fatty and cold, the black bean beef chicken uninspiring and the sweet and sour chicken not crispy enough. Geo admitted that they were off their game, and the meal was perfectly fine drinks aside, but it was hard not to feel a little disappointed by the experience. From memory I also thought I had been there before but I'm not 100% sure. If I did, it didn't stick in the memory.

After this we were free for the evening, opting to go to gentrified east London as that's where I know more about the bar scene. After some research, I noted a place called Mother Kelly's underneath the railway arches in Bethnal Green which was quite easy to get to based on where we were. Half an hour later we were there and while it was busy inside, there were enough tables outside to get a drink. It was a little cold and we subsequently moved under the heaters, and then inside, as it thinned out later on but it was worth it to try beer from a number of breweries we hadn't heard of before. gir was one of these from Norway and they had good stuff while we also got some free samples from the artisan sandwich stand Madame et Monsieur, with their signature Croque Monsieur something to die for. We were playing it pretty relaxed but decided after about an hour to go to the tap room of the Redchurch Brewery, which was just down the road. On the way we noticed a number of cyberpunk types and there was a lock in in a warehouse that people were sneaking in to. The Redchurch Brewery was just down the road and the tap room wasn't too busy, meaning we could sample a number of their sour beers and beer sticks in relative comfort. Geo was enjoying trying a range of different beers while I enjoyed speaking to the bar staff here who told me that they do brew some beers on site and others elsewhere. The barmaid was a geordie and enjoyed working there while we enjoyed sampling some brews from an up-and-coming brewery that is just starting to become known in Leeds. We had hoped to do the Bermondsey Beer Mile and BrewDog Homerton but time in the former case (the bars all shut at 8pm) and distance in the latter put paid to that.

By 10:30pm, Geo wanted to go home, and as it is quite a distance for him, it was understandable. This saw us head off back to Bethnal Green tube and then to Liverpool Street where we had to wait for the Chesham train. We could have got an earlier train to Wembley but we decided to wait, as we were all heading in the same direction anyway. This was a good decision as we could continue our evening, chatting about the day before we had to spilt once our stop came up. In the end then it was a fantastic day and a worthwhile one too. I'm glad I went on the march as it made me feel I'm not alone and it has given me a greater determination to fight this. I'm also glad we managed to make a day of it and although I wish a few more furs could have joined us, it was great that we managed to get a small group together.

lupestripe: (Default)

Two things have happened mid-week, the first being on Tuesday when we went over to Heath near Wakefield to see BearNoiz and Vale.

He had arranged to meet Avon and invited us along, as he has been staying in Manchester for a while at Vale's place. He had intended to call in on Leeds as he made his way back from York where he was getting a computer repaired but on Tuesday night they still hadn't finished with it. I had never met Vale before and he was quite quiet, although BearNoiz is someone who can dominate a conversation and this is largely what happened. We hadn't seen Bear for years so it was great to meet up again as we sat in Avon's local, the King's Arms, to reminisce. The food was very good - I had the burger which was perhaps a little dry but the chunky chips were fantastic - and the ale equally pleasant while we spent a good few hours having a chat. The pub quiz was going on simultaneously but we declined to take part, largely because Bear had to head off early to go back to Manchester and we had to leave around 9:30pm. The quiz was odd, being a Family Fortunes type affair, and some of the answers were quite strange. This was particularly the case for the 'top five things found in a supermarket that are a slang term for breasts' question which had fried eggs and vinegar tits as answers four and five. Due to this insanity, it was probably good we didn't enter as there was no way we were going to win it, with the winning score being 44/50. In the end, we stayed about three hours and even though it was a very rushed affair in terms of arranging it - with it being 4:10pm before it was even mooted - it was great seeing Bear again, as well as Avon in a far more sober setting than he usually is at the meet.

Thursday was a work night out as our Spanish editor has been in Leeds throughout the week. I felt obligated to go because of this but I'm glad I did as it was at Headrow House and although expensive, they did have a nice range of beer on offer. It was good touching base with my colleagues and meeting some of them for the first time, particularly one of our tech guys called Ian who had lived in Colombia for four years and like me had a huge love of craft beer. We ended up speaking for about two hours before he needed to leave and I headed up to Shuffledog to see Lou, who I knew was working. After three pints of pretty high strength beer I was a little worse for wear, although apparently I was hiding it well as she told me. In the bar I met a nice guy called Albert who works in the York bar and was interested to hear my thoughts on the other bars upon learning I have been to 26 of them. This saw me stay until my final bus, having a couple of thirds along the way, not aiding my inebriation. The problem was I had eaten too little, so it was affecting me far more strongly than it would otherwise have done. By the by it was a good night and I ended it by saying that it doesn't really matter all BrewDog bars are similar as very few people go touring around them like we do, plus it's the beer that is important. With that I headed off, picking up a blackberry beer brewed with lactic acid along the way, before dropping off at ASDA to get a sandwich before stumbling home.

lupestripe: (Default)

It's amazing to think that this is the first time in seven years of living in Pudsey that Wolfie and I did not attend the CAMRA real ale festival.

Admittedly, when it clashes with a Leeds Meet weekend, like it did this year, it is always difficult but it is also a sign of how out of favour real ale has fallen with us when compared to craft beer. Indeed, we were far more interested in the Irish craft beer tap takeover at BrewDog for St Patrick's Day than we were with our local real ale festival, although we have only been able to sample them in the odd growler due to other commitments. This included someone visiting the dungeon on Thursday night where I got the opportunity to be dominant for the first time and Wolfie having to work in Crewe on Friday and thus not getting home until 10pm. We had intended to visit the festival but we ran out of time, but I don't feel too bad about missing out.

Wednesday we were out in town for the inaugural Bottle Share at ShuffleDog (since rebranded to BrewDog North Street). Unfortunately, despite their promotion, it was just Wolfie and I who turned up, despite us waiting for over half an hour to see if anyone else would arrive. This seems to be a constant theme with bottle share nights in BrewDog as the smaller bar used to run a number of events too and usually we were the only ones participating. Still, we did get to sample a number of good beers with the staff, with us bringing in To Ol's excellent Fuck Art Winter Is Coming witbier. We also got to sample Beavertown's Dr Jekyll (another wit) and Mr Hyde (a dark unctuous stout) brewed from the same key ingredients but altered halfway through the fermentation process. Unfortunately, ShuffleDog was quite busy on Wednesday night with another tasting session and a party for Nandos staff and there was an emergency in the kitchen, meaning the bottle share was largely over before it began. It was still great chatting about beer with them though and at least it gave us the opportunity to get some food, which had been lacking thus far due to the early 6pm start.

We went to the excellent Pizza Fella again, where we wondered why Wolfie had received a threatening letter from some baliffs due to a traffic incident which had happened seven months previously. It was another Wednesday night and we couldn't remember ever being there, a situation made worse as he only received the threat rather than any prior information about the fine itself. It was eventually sorted after a whole load of hassle - and indeed it was Wolfie's car that was involved - although things had been complicated by the fact it was his old car and he had transferred the insurance over that very day. After our pizza, we headed over to the new casino at Victoria Gate as we had been told that there were two bars there and a restaurant. One of these was labelled a craft beer bar, but it was craft beer in the loosest sense of the word, with them doing as little as absolutely possible to give themselves that name. More impressive was the sports bar with the huge screens upon which they were showing Manchester City being defeated by Monaco, getting knocked out of the Champions League in the process. We had a wander around the casino with our drinks in hand and it was interesting to note the large number of familiar brands and machines, borne out of me working in the industry. We were tempted to play a little roulette but declined in the end. It was certainly the most Las Vegas like casino I had ever been in, with flashy lights and no windows, and it was a comfortable place to be, although I can imagine blowing a whole load of money should I ever go there properly. Fortunately, there were a number of new beers to try in BrewDog so we ended the night here, having a couple before getting one of the last buses.

Saturday was meet day and after the low attendance the previous month, I was fearing the worst. However, the numbers kept coming, including a large number from further afield including SouthPaw, Tungro and Washu. We had a large number of fursuiters, our largest ever actually at over 20, so it was a shame that the bar kicked us out at 5pm due to the need to clean for a birthday party. It is quite clear now that our current bar is rather small and we need to look elsewhere, but that is easier said than done in this city. One option, however, is the Atlas Brauhaus, where we went afterwards, bringing about 25 people in tow. Their upstairs area was free, and they were very happy to have us, even supplying complimentary fries smothered in smoky paprika and chives which tasted soooo good. I spoke to the manager there and she seemed quite receptive to hosting us, so it's definitely something to explore, particularly as the furs who were with us thought highly of the place. We have a few other irons in the fire too though, so we shall see. It will be shame to leave our current place, but space really is an issue, and this was highlighted yesterday, particularly regarding fursuit changing. For the second month in a row, I opted to bring my fursuit (despite the mixed weather), and the walk was great fun, particularly when I decided to wear my fursuit paws rather than my normal shoes based on the improving dryness of the ground. We bumped into the cosplayers again, like we did back in February, while in a break from tradition we decided to go down Briggate to get more interaction. A couple of kids remembered me from a Festival but they never intimated which one, although the youngest was delighted to see me and spent about ten minutes dancing as we waited for some furs to finish their shopping in Poundland. It was quite difficult for Wolfie to organise so many people and while he did a great job, it's also clear we desperately need some sort of committee as there are occasions when we are rather hamstrung by having to organise things. One of these examples was that we had intended to go to Little Tokyo with Arcais for her birthday, but they left early and as we needed to mentor people in Atlas, we ended up having to go to Trinity Kitchen instead. There were six of us there in the end. One of these was Cub, an American fur now living in Chesterfield who was incredibly shy initially and took four attempts just to come to the meet. She was great and we had a nice long chat with her, and I am glad she really enjoyed the meet. After Trinity, she headed to the cinema to catch Beauty and the Beast while Saber, Tonks, Wolfie and I tried to get to BrewDog to sample some more Irish tipples. Alas it was rammed and not fancying the crowds, we headed home, getting back at the early hour of 10pm, meaning at least we could recover ahead of a lazy Sunday.

The only other things that happened this week was the Cheltenham Challenge at work, where I only got three horses of 28 correct but at least finished in positive territory with £3.75 profit and the sacking of Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka on Thursday. Having seen Boro play at Spurs last month and our frustrating inability to do anything in the final third, I can't help but feel this was the correct decision as we were definitely going down if no change was made. Alas I think Steve Agnew will remain in charge until the summer and although we were more attacking against Manchester United this afternoon I fear it's all too little too late and we are down anyway. Our next two games are huge and against our big rivals though so if we can get maximum points here then there is a chance. However as it is, we haven't won since mid-December so this seems unlikely. It's sad but we do seem to be going down with a whimper.

June 2017

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