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Last night, my sister came to visit from Manchester, where she is now living. She was pleased to discover just how easy it is to travel between Leeds and where she lives, and we are hoping to do more meet-ups in future.

We hadn't met since July so it was good to catch up, which was the primary purpose of the evening. Earlier in the day, she said she fancied curry so having given her a list of restaurants to try, she decided to go for Hansa's on North Street. This vegetarian place is somewhere we had been meaning to try for a while, so we were happy to oblige, with us always discounting it largely because we often eat with meat-eating friends.

I met her at the station at 18:40 after wandering around Leeds discovering a couple of new drinking establishments, including an eSports bar underneath one of the railway arches. We then walked up to Hansa's where Wolfie was due to meet us. We grabbed a table and Wolfie arrived soon afterwards. We ordered mango lassi, which was a little watery, while the pickle tray was disappointing, with caustic unblended mango chutney one of the three on offer. Not liking lime pickle either, we over-ordered poppadoms as a result and while my main course (chickpeas and potato) was nice enough, it was a little watery and bland. This place apparently has won many awards, but I would certainly put it in the average bracket of curry houses in the city. Still, the staff were really friendly and although we were only one of two occupied tables, I did think the evening was a success.

After this, we popped to the New Brunswick for a scooner, with me introducing my sister to Mikkeller's fantastic Spontan range. She spent quite a while talking about her recent business trip to Milan, which I think she quite enjoyed, with her showing us the exquisite stand that her company had provided for a client. She also told us tales of drunken karaoke. Wolfie had driven in so was drinking lightly, and he soon had to head off as he was on call and needed to get home to deal with something. This left my sister and I alone so we decided to traipse all the way to the other side of the city to go to Northern Monk, knowing that this was one of the main craft beer places that my sister had yet to visit. She really liked it, although she was surprised I was taking her into the Victorian industrial depths of Holbeck Urban Village. One thing we didn't realise was that it was pub quiz night so the place was packed, but we still got a seat and enjoyed listening to the remaining questions. I learned I knew a lot about Calfornia but bugger all about song lyrics, while the two of us enjoyed the range of beers on offer here. Sadly, the evening's happiness was shattered by the news of the Mexico City earthquake, which made me worry about friends there (who still haven't been in touch), but despite this it had been good catching up with my sister.

I walked her back to the station for her 21:40 train and as we were about fifteen minutes early, we chatted in the upstairs part of the new concourse entrance as I couldn't get through to the platform itself. We then said goodbye and resolved to do this again, perhaps on a monthly basis, what with it being so easy.

Guitar

Sep. 18th, 2017 11:27 pm
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I've been learning to play guitar now for seven weeks, finally realising a lifelong dream after being inspired by Ash from the movie 'Sing'. During that time, I have been surprisingly disciplined, with me using the hour after I get back from the gym when I am drying off after my shower to practice. This has seen me practice at least three times a week, and in actual fact I have managed to squeeze a few extra sessions in too.

It's going quite well so far. I've started to memorise where the frets and strings are, and can change between a handful of chords pretty seemlessly, which is a significant improvement on where I was. I can play a handful of songs too, with Rocksmith helping me, and my target of being reasonably competent by Christmas is still looking realistic. The best thing about it though is that I am enjoying it, and have a target of playing on the stage at EF next year with some friends. That would be awesome.

I do struggle to stick with things, but the fact I've done this for nearly two months bodes well. I just hope I can keep improving.

LIBC 6

Sep. 10th, 2017 10:01 pm
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The Leeds International Beer Festival is always one of the highlights of the year and this time around proved the same, with us tasting 30 beers over the course of two highly charged evenings.

I got to the queue very early on Friday, and thus found myself very near the front. In a shock, Wolfie was already on his way in, and joined me some twenty minutes later. Granted, he pushed in line, but there was a bloke in front of us who had pushed in too. Anyway, this meant we were amongst the first to be served and we got a prime spot on one of the scaffolding balconies underneath the main entrance of the Town Hall. Sadly, they had taken all the tables away this year and replaced them with deckchairs, but the weather was warm and it was pleasant sitting outside.

Our first beers were six of the seven from this year's International Rainbow Project, with some definitely being stronger than the others. They were all rare one-time only brews though so it was worth having a sample. After this, we opted to go international, with us trying Sweet Water, the only American brewery of which we hadn't heard there. It was around this time that I noticed the Sierra Nevada guys were doing a tasting of Narwahl, a rare beer we had not had at the brewery, so we popped along for a guzzle. Only a handful knew what this was, and it wasn't that well-advertised, so as Wolfie was playing on one of the retro arcade machines, the chappie came over again to top up our glasses.

We sampled some excellent food across the two days - Piggy Smalls hot dogs and poutine living in the memory - but the burger we had at the end of Friday wasn't the greatest. Wolfie was feeling a little ill by this point and so for the first time ever, we left the Festival early. It was about an hour early but I was pretty pissed off about it, wanting to try a few more brews. In hindsight it was for the best though as Wolfie really was quite sick when we got home. I don't think it was the beer though, rather the lack of food as his work meant he hadn't had chance to eat much before coming out.

With time to kill during the day on Saturday, I managed to get a quick trip to the gym in. We also headed into town slightly early as we needed to pick up an International Driving Permit for a forthcoming holiday. Only Leeds City Centre Post Office issues them apparently, so we had to get it sorted. Here I decided to weight a number of things on their scales - Wolfie's credit card was heavier than their pen - which amused the staff somewhat. Then, with a little time to kill, we headed to BrewDog North Street for a beer. It was a shame that BrewDog weren't at the beer festival and I noted they were at Beavertown's Expo in London, which makes me wonder how committed they now are to local craft beer. It's been a year of disappointments with them really, what with them selling out too, and my love for them has definitely waned.

Back in the queue for the beer festival, we bumped into three charming beer drinkers, all of whom looked like teenagers. They were very knowledgeable though and we had a good half hour of beery discussion as we waited. Towards the end, an old chap walked up saying he was filming a documentary on his phone, and said he had asked all the ladies what real ale is, and he couldn't get an answer from them. Our new friend put him in his place, but he was a bit strange. Anyway, we were soon let in, and decided to focus on UK breweries - although we did have a cheeky Spontan or two from the excellent Mikkeller. We had aimed to have low strengths but every brewery I went to, when I asked them to recommend the rarer beers they had on, always pointed to the higher value ABV ones. There were a number of breweries I had not tried before there - Left Handed Giant, Legitimate Industries, Mondo, Tempest, Elusive and Odyssey - to name them, and it was good experiencing their excellent work. It was quite a chatty affair and I got speaking to a number of their staff, who all claimed how delighted they were to have come. I also got chatting to two gentlemen in the toilets who were talking about Middlesbrough and its environs while having a pee, while our friends at Raynville were there again too and it was great catching up with them. Indeed, the whole evening was rather friendly and it was sad to leave at the end, although probably for the best due to the state of inebriation I was in. It didn't hit me until I got home, but then it was particularly bad. Not good at all.

Today was largely a recovery day, although we did go into Leeds to meet Tonks and Cosmo. They wanted taking through the fursuit walk for next week's meet, while we also took the opportunity to search for new venues too. They were very receptive and we have come up with some very interesting ideas for the future of the meet, so I'm looking forward to what these may hold. We also grabbed a couple of drinks too, ending in Head of Steam as Tonks wanted some Kwak. After this, they headed up to Trinity while we went to new restaurant Georges on the Headrow. Self-styled British cuisine with a twist, this is one of the most exquisite restaurants in the city. We had a cod dog - a battered fish hot dog with mushy pea filling - with stilton chips and by God were they delicious. Heavenly even, and at just £9.99, fantastic value. Their range of balsamic vinegars were to die for too and the whole set-up was first rate. Definitely one to come back to.
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My hopes weren't particularly high this week as MPs returned to Parliament after the Summer recess, but even I didn't expect the last 48 hours to be so disheartening. It is clear that any humility that the General Election result last June had on the Tories has since dissipated, with the hardest of hard Brexits back on the agenda. Their sheer arrogance regarding their lack of accommodation for the 48% is bitter enough, but with every poll I have seen suggesting the British public prefers maintaining membership of the Single Market over immigration controls, I am not convinced this 'will of the people' shtick holds water any more. Not that this would bother them of course, their mendacity has been evident since the vote took place, but the sheer flagrancy of their duplicity has dissolved any trust I have in the British political system and I no longer believe that my own Government has my interests in mind. Indeed I think precisely the opposite and riseable language such as 'betrayal' and 'Remoaners', which was used in Parliament on Tuesday despite the knowledge that so many livelihoods will be affected by this, only adds to the sense that they just don't give a fuck. Their lack of empathy is disgusting and if my country doesn't give a fuck about me, then I don't see why I should give a fuck about my country. I am genuinely surprised by my depth of feeling on this, but then this whole sorry mess is totally self-inflicted. Blaming the EU butters no parsnips with me.

This strength of feeling was only enhanced yesterday evening with the leaked document on the potential post-Brexit immigration system in the Guardian. While this has yet to be signed off by ministers, this document was far worse than I had dared imagine and would pretty much put us out of business. Working in translation - with a strong need to have UK-based staff using specialist audio and video equipment - we have taken advantage of EU free movement rules to build a strong international team. They have worked symbiotically with our UK staff, with our ability to fulfil foreign language requirements almost invariably securing work in English too. This has enabled us to build our company, particularly over the last five years, boosting employment for both British nationals and Europeans.

All of this has now been threatened. Having dealt with the Home Office when trying to recruit non-EU staff on a permanent basis two years ago, the thought of having to go through this time-consuming and torturous procedure for every non-British employee would involve such huge levels of bureaucracy that it almost wouldn't be worth doing. It would certainly make things a lot more costly for us, reducing our competitiveness, yet we would have no option but to do it (and probably pay for the privilege too). The fact is that British nationals do not have the skills we need and never will - translation needs to be done by native speakers and even if it wasn't, how many Brits speak fluent Romanian or Bulgarian? - yet will our needs be considered above more profitable 'highly skilled' industries such as finance or tech? I highly doubt it. We'd likely slip through the cracks.

The EU nationals we currently employ are concerned about their rights and daren't plan their futures (thus affecting our own) while it is looking increasingly likely we won't be able to recruit the staff we need post-2019 based on the aforementioned system. The fact that it has been explicitly stated that the Government, rather than the employer, will decide on business need is a gross intrusion on our freedoms in itself but the inability to have a flexible workforce will invariably mean we will lose out on contracts to European competitors. This would reduce investment in the UK. We employ a number of freelance staff, and as self-employed workers it's highly likely they won't be allowed into the country at all, while I don't see any highly skilled worker coming to the UK for only 3-5 years when they can go to any other European company indefinitely. Why would they? As a result, where would we get the staff we need?

The second kicking came today, this time through the Labour Party. Their proposal to ban gambling sponsorship in football, combined with the triennial review of the industry due next month, will result in significant new restrictions on betting companies, which form the majority of our clients. As we provide value added services to them, it is possible that these may be cut, thus adversely affecting the company. Gambling seems to be the latest boogieman, with sustained media campaigns against the industry distorting the truth behind the statistics. Granted there are issues, particularly regarding FOBTs, but they have been somewhat exaggerated and the number of jobs under threat by these new laws is not something which should be considered lightly. Still, as we have seen with Brexit, if the media are on a crusade then they will continue to battle until they get what they want, which again results in a feeling of powerlessness over the politics of your own country.

All of this combined suggests that both major parties are not interested in the future of our business and are adopting policies which would actually harm us. We employ around 400 people, contribute a huge chunk to the local economy and have strong links with the local universities, offering placements and work experience to those who approach us. However, it is clear that our concerns are of no interest to those in power.

Consequently, having spoken to Wolfie, we have decided we will leave the UK in 2018 unless something drastic changes. I see this as being unlikely. I am still hoping to open a branch office for my company within the EU, which would enable me to live and work in a member state. My bosses have been lukewarm about the proposal thus far, but at least have been willing to listen, and I feel the immigration document has highlighted the need to consider this further. I really would like to do this - particularly as it would represent the next step regarding career progression - but I understand if my employers decide against it. However, I do think it would be advantageous for them too. Either way, I will be leaving the UK next year and although I do hope it will be with my current company, if it isn't then so be it. I haven't been happy here for some time and I am sick of feeling like this. It has always been my dream to live in Europe and with the door closing, it's time to act. It's earlier than I would have liked, but it is what it is. I just hope I'm not too late.
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Friday was Wolfie's birthday and he opted for a more quiet affair than usual, going out for a meal with me on the evening. He had had a pretty difficult day at work and it was good to spend some time together, with us sampling a few tasty Pannepot and Six Degrees North beers at North Bar first. This was part of Leeds Beer Week, which we hadn't had chance to sample yet, so it was good to catch up on some of the events during the week. The staff at North were particularly fantastic and it was a good way to start the evening.

Afterwards, we headed over to new restaurant Cau over in the Victoria Gate, an Argentinian steak place which was exquisite. The empanada starters were grand but it was the steak where they really excelled, along with the brilliantly pink coleslaw. We got two free beers because it was Wolfie's birthday and the gentleman with whom I had made the booking on Wednesday even remembered me, which was nice. I remembered him too on account of the raccoon tattoo on his forearm. The restaurant, and indeed town itself, was surprisingly quiet considering it was the first Friday of the month and this continued at Headrow House where we imbibed five beers in the Lervig tap takeover, again catching up on the Leeds Beer Week festivities. Having had a number of beers we opted for the last bus, having swung by North Street BrewDog too for Wolfie's free birthday pint.

The rest of the weekend was quite sedate really. We went for a walk around Esholt on Saturday, spotting the pub that stands in for the Woolpack on Emmerdale, along with fittingly watching a lorry deliver two field-loads of sheep to a farmer. We tried to get to Esholt Hall but a water treatment works was now in the way and Google Maps didn't like it. After this, we headed back and chilled.

Sunday was a mix of sex, chores, gym and going out in the evening, again catching up on some of the Leeds Beer Week brews. In this case it was some more Six Degrees North in North Bar and Bundobust's Belgian tap takeover, along with a final trip to BrewDog to cap the night off. Here we were told of the unfortunate news that they won't be appearing at this weekend's Leeds Beer Festival, which makes me wonder how committed they are to local beer events. They certainly have appeared in the past. My love for BrewDog is diminishing slightly but the staff there are still excellent, even if Lou has sadly now moved on from the North Street bar.

Today was our second monthly Leeds Coffee Meet at Laynes, with nine in attendance as opposed to the four we had last time. I am glad to see it's having traction, although we ended up staying a lot less time this time around. As we were leaving at 6pm, Adia popped in, so we prolonged our stay for another half hour. I like Laynes, a good independent with excellent cakes, and going there has allowed me to sample a range of innovative loose leaf teas. Today I had a black one and a green one. It was good catching up with people like Avon and Shiro, with whom I so rarely meet these days, and it's just a nice thing to do after work. Having finished the gathering, we headed to Bar Soba with Cosmo to make preparations for the September meet before we parted, with Wolfie and I heading to MOD to get some pizza before going home. They have changed their restaurant a little since we have last been, but the food was still great, capping a nice end to the day.
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It's really weird seeing the city where I used to live feature so heavily on TV. The news has been dominated by Hurricane Harvey over the last week or so, which has caused devastation to SE Texas including the cities of Houston and Beaumont. Earlier on Wednesday, the storm made landfall again off the coast of Louisiana, very near to where I spent part of my childhood, Lake Charles. By mid-morning, the city was pretty much right in the centre of the storm.

While the flooding in SW Louisiana hasn't been anywhere near as bad as that in Texas, it has still been quite dramatic, with a number of areas to the east of the city underwater. Seeing roads I know so well now deluged triggered a number of memories, which only became more vivid when I noticed my former school was shut for the day due to the storm. Seeing the same principal still there 23 years after I left brought a real sense of immediacy to the tragedy, as well as a strong desire to revisit the place again.

I haven't been back since 1995 yet quick Google searches suggest that many things have stayed the same. However, there are a number of craft breweries I have noticed, and it would be exhilarating to relive the memories I have from my childhood. Living in Louisiana for that year changed my outlook on life, making me more outward looking and liberal in the process. It was a huge privilege and today I realised that part of my heart still remains there. I know the cities affected so well - including Houston and Beaumont - which makes this tragedy all the more personal. I hope the casualties are kept to a minimum and that the clean-up is swift because this part of the world will always be special to me.
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It's been a very busy Bank Holiday weekend, particularly as I was working on Monday. This didn't stop me from enjoying the sunshine by going on a nice canal walk with Wolfie, completing the section between Farsley and Apperley Bridge, having met the route we had taken on a previous walk. The route did start to look familiar and it was a very pleasant stroll, although having to move out of the way of cyclists on the towpath did start to become annoying. Aside from this, we had some fun upstairs with mummification, something I had been meaning to do for a while, before settling down to watch an interesting documentary on the Pakistan/India border while sharing a Mexican box meal from ASDA. Oh the glamour!

We were torn as to which furmeet to attend on Saturday - York or Sheffield - with us eventually opting for the Steel City. There were a few reasons for this, but the main one was to bring closure to an unfortunate incident which had happened at the Leeds Meet the previous weekend. We got to speak to all those affected, along with Raven, who had been running the meet and with a new plan in place, we are hopeful that such things will never happen again. While in Sheffield, Raven also gave us our new Leeds Furs lanyards designed by Lapres and they were absolutely stunning, a real fantastic addition to the meets. We may be getting more knocked up in the near future. The meet itself went very well - we got to speak to Oracle again, which was great, while we also won the pub quiz by three points, securing a huge bar of Galaxy choclate and some Nerds as our prizes. Being the legal geek that I am, comparing the US ingredients with those on the EU approved sticker was interesting - something we may have to get used to going forward - while we also spent time with Cosmo's parents who were into rugby and really digging the furry fandom. Cosmo is 16 and they were delighted with the creative confidence building nature of our group, and it was good to hear first hand just how positive the meets can be perceived. While in the bar, we also got to try a large number of the new American beers BrewDog had in, which was good too.

The walk was quite a good one, although I did have to push Grem into going into the Sheffield-by-the-Sea exhibit. I tried to get a few of the fursuiters onto the rides but alas this was a non-starter. Still, it was an enjoyable day and we left the meet around 5pm feeling rather happy, with our destination back in Leeds to see Entei-rah, who had been to York. I got the feeling that this may have been his stag do, but I am not too sure, either way we hooked up at the station and ended up in Pieminister for dinner. This was surprisingly quiet considering previous times we have been, but the pies were as exquisite as always, making for a very satisfying dinner. We then took Ent down Wellington Street to a new bar we were thinking of approaching to host the meets, before we had a final glass of wine in nearby Veeno before Ent had to take his train to Durham. We were tempted to stay out for Leeds Beer Week but having had a full day of drinking, my financial situation not being particularly great and me needing to be up early in the morning, we wisely decided against it.

I was headed to Manchester on Sunday, to a friend's house on the outskirts of the city. The plan for the day was to get gunged, with me feeling a little guilty for bailing on a party two weeks ago due to last-minute work pressures. I arrived around midday and soon we were in his kitchen, mixing up poster paint, hot water, a cellulose-style compound and J-Lube to create four huge buckets of different colour gloop. We had pink, green, blue and orange. It took us about three hours to make it, with us needing to mix it every 15 minutes to ensure it thickened. As we did - using a drill and a cement mixer - the fluid shot everywhere, necessitating a lot of clean up before we even got started. As we waited, we covered the bathroom in cut up bin liners for easy clean up and once everything was ready, it was time to be covered in 40kg of slime. I had never been gunged so much before - I previous record being about 10kg at SLOSH in June - and it was very exhilarating, particularly as a ladder was used to get greater height. The consistency was perfect and just sloshing about in a bath of it was incredibly exciting. Less so was the cleaning up, which took a good hour and a half of vigorous brushing, which I had to do naked having just washed all of the gunge away. Indeed to get it out of the bath I first had to scoop it up with a jug and then my hands, which took quite a while.

After we were done, we headed into Glossop, a market town in rural Derbyshire where we went to Pico Bar. They had an outdoor area here by a stream and there were a number of doggo friends here. They were all great fun and although service was slow due to undermanning, the food itself was fantastic, but then a fish finger sandwich always is. I bought my friend a meal to thank him for the gunging, and we opted for a dessert too, which was a nice red velvet cake with a kids' portion of ice cream. It was a nice way to end the day and indeed it was nice to see another part of the country I had not yet visited, making for a very pleasurable day all round.
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Last week we made the now annual pilgrimage to Berlin for Eurofurence. Post-Brexit I always feel a little sad arriving in a city that really feels like home, and so it proved once again, with me only returning more determined to move there before the sands of time drain away. Regardless of the contrasting emotions, however, both Wolfie and I had an excellent time at the Estrel and we are undoubtedly going to return next year, even if the con has become increasingly pricey due to the lamentable poor exchange rate.

We shared a room with four others - Arc, Draken and Taneli from the local area and a New Zealander called Cheetor whom we had never met before. He was really lovely and although I had a few reservations going into the con about the sharing arrangement, it all worked out rather well. I did find it a little restrictive regarding kink-related things, but it wasn't too bad, and we were able to have a very successful beer tasting party on the Wednesday night. Indeed, this was pretty much the first room party I had ever organized at a con and with around twenty people in attendance, it was quite the success. I had asked people to bring two bottles of a local brew, which was a little misunderstood as many just brought one bottle of a number of different beers. This meant there wasn't an awful lot to go around, but we did get to try 31 tipples of varying styles, with British, Dutch, German and Polish beers all in attendance. Indeed it was a good way to sample a large range of beers from places not overly accessable to us, and while a good 50% of our contingent were from the Yorkshire and Lancashire areas, it was great showcasing some local brews to our international friends. It was definitely a success, with the event lasting four hours in the end, and we are definitely going to repeat it next year.

By my own admission, I probably focused more on sex and kink at this con than any other I have attended. I have found a rather nice fetish group on Telegram and since JFTW I have become far more open to new experiences. This has broadened my horizons and has enabled me to introduce other people into our play. I won't name names, but we arranged a number of events beforehand while we even got a few people back to our room interested in experiencing a range of the implements we had brought. This turned out to be quite advantageous, not to mention fun, meaning that I got to experience an awful lot. In addition to this was our usual trip to the fetish club Qualgeist. We went for the main Animal Farm event on the Friday and this time a number of our friends joined us. This resulted in Wolfie demonstrating a range of equipment to them, meaning there was little time for myself, which was somewhat frustrating. Still, I did get to experience an isolation box and I also got the opportunity to meet some new people in the nice bar area, so it wasn't all bad. Still, I would have liked a little more I guess. Compounded by this was our fetish shop tour the day before - where we spent six hours trailing around Berlin shopping for a variety of gear. I kinda went a bit mad and splurged €750 on fetish stuff, although some of it I had been wanting for quite a while. The guys at Blackstyle now know me by sight, while it was great popping into McHurt once again. Mr B I had never visited before, while Sling King, where we had got our sling, was a nice place to see too. After the shopping, we headed down to the main Turkish area of the city for food, with us having delicious donner kebabs in the traditional style. Due to the Gastarbeiter, Berlin has the greatest concentration of Turks outside of Turkey, so this was definitely worth experiencing.

Due to all the kink, I didn't get an awful lot of time to fursuit, regrettably only doing it on the final day just as we were about to leave. This was a shame but I was so busy that I barely had time. A fair number of furs only really know me by my suit so it was heartwarming to get so many hugs, pictures and social time with people in suit. It was great meeting one of my friends from the Philippines again after so many years, along with putting various names to twitter avatars. In the end, I only got to suit for about three hours at the con - a similar amount to the US cons in all honesty - which is making me question why I go to all the hassle of bringing the suit.

Aside from this, we just chilled around the con really, chatting to people, reacquainting ourselves with old friends and making new ones. I skipped the main rubber gear party in favour of chatting with Ralesk for a few hours, not having spoken to him properly for years. Meanwhile, I also bid successfully for a nice fetish piece of artwork from EosFoxx, which is now hanging pride of place in our dungeon. The line to claim this was impenetrably long, but it was certainly worth it. I didn't make any of the panels or events outside of Motorfurs, which was good to wander around but far too crowded and loud for my liking. The cars on display were awesome though and I imagine it would have been a huge joy for petrolheads.

Tropical Islands on the Wednesday was its usual mirth, being around a group of friends at a waterpark always is. We took the piss out of a few of the more clingy fet people, while enjyoing the rapids and the pool, where we had a number of inflatables. It was a very chill day and although it perhaps went on an hour longer than it needed to, it was enjoyable. Whether I go back next year or not I don't know - I've kinda done it now and there are still things I have yet to see in Berlin. One of those things we did get to see though - Bernauer Straße - which is the street bisected by the Berlin Wall. There is a row of rusted metal poles detailing the lineage of the wall along with huge photographs on the sides of buildings highlighting what the place looked like between 1961 and 1989. One of the main churches here was destroyed in the mid-Eighties and has since been replaced by a sweeping curved wooden structure, which looks really nice, while there were a number of signs highlighting life on the wall as well as some of the buildings that were reacquistioned as the wall literally went through them. The details of the people whose lives were affected - residents on this very street - added a personal touch to things while the closing of the U-Bahn station was very interesting too. We were down here as the Berlin BrewDog was just around the corner, and it was great seeing this part of history before enjoying a nice beer.

So all in all an excellent con, meeting loads of friends and making new ones. It's always the highlight of the year and next year it doesn't clash with the Leeds Meet, which is very useful. There were a few problems in our absence last weekend from which we have learned lessons, but it's always handy that we can attend. Fortunately, there are no such worries for 2018 and hopefully we'll be back, if not living there by then.
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Although this weekend was also that of Leeds Pride, Wolfie and I took off on Friday evening to drive the five hours down to Brighton to attend their event. There were a few reasons why we did this, the main one being that we had been invited down there by my university friend Jenny, who was looking for an excuse to go to all of the afterparties. She has a husband and a young family now, but she saw it as an opportunity to go out, while we had actually been invited last year but the notice was too short to be able to do it.

The journey down was uneventful, although we did stop off in Wakefield for Wolfie to finish a job before completing the trip to the South Coast. This fifteen minute job turned more into an hour, leaving me wandering aimlessly around the small pit villages which littered this salubrious area. Fortunately, we had set off from home at 3:30pm meaning we arrived in Brighton shortly after 10pm, with us easily finding car park space on the road where my friend lived. Unfortunately all of the roads in Brighton seemed to be wonky, so parking straight proved difficult, not aided by Wolfie's tiredness after a full day of work and a long drive. Jenny met us on the street and took us to her house, where we discovered that she was the only one still awake. This didn't stop us opening the bottle of white wine we had brought though and catching up in the front room, having an enjoyable two hours or so before heading to bed.

Breakfast was a vegetarian feast of sausages, fried egg from our mutual friends' chickens, toast and beans. We needed sustinance as we had a long day ahead, but it did take quite a while for us all to get ready. This wasn't aided by the fact that I had to do my make-up, with my eyeliner pencil breaking en route and me not having sharpener with which to sharpen it. During this period, we played with Jenny's five-year-old daughter Lena, who called Wolfie 'Moron' throughout, encouraged by me. This was thrown back at me though with Wolfie asking Lena to call me 'Mushroom', which persisted throughout the day. It was the four of us (Wolfie, me, Jenny and Lena) going out to Pride on what was a wonderously sunny Saturday. We decided to board the bus as the journey was a little too far to walk, and soon we had descended onto London Road, the main street that runs towards the seafront. It was along here that the parade was due to be run, and we caught it just in time, finding a spot outside a local bar. The carnival atmosphere was electric and very enticing, and we were soon caught in the moment, watching all of the floats and people on the march go by. I started taking a number of pictures and posting them to Twitter, where the digital editor of the local newspaper requested whether he could use them. I agreed with credit and this only encouraged me to take more.

There were so many highlights of the Parade it is hard to detail all of them. 'The Oldest Gay In The Village' at the age of 94 rode by on his buggie to the sound of huge cheers while those marching in solidarity of gays in Chechnya and Uganda were certainly the most poignant. The same was the case for the various mental health charities, all highlighting the importance of events like these. Of course, interspersed between all of this were the usual floats with dancers and corporate sponsors, with the huge yellow dog from the Dogs Trust being a particular highlight. Of course, the best thing for me was all of the costumes, with so much gorgeous and glamorous attire. The people dressed as ice creams were perhaps my favourite, although the cards from Alice In Wonderland were also worthy of a mention, as was the burlesque troupe towards the end. Ultimately though it was one huge party and everyone really did play their part.

As the Parade ended, the heavens opened, and we sought shelter in the BrewDog bar, which was just further down the road. Understandably it was rammed, but this was the other reason why we had come to the city, so it was good to get it in early. We did manage to find a seat (well three of us did, I had the job of ordering the beer and standing) and as Jenny was curious about the different styles of beer, I opted to buy a number of different ones (Cloudwater IPA, Weihstephaner blond and Salty Kiss Gose from Magic Rock). We had only really intended in staying in the bar for one, but the rain was exceptionally heavy and we didn't want to get drenched, so we wisely stayed behind for another. As the rain subsided though, the numbers thinned out, and we got to see the wonderful arrangement of the bar. Very similar in style to the others, I particularly liked the booths which were like cages from which you could order table service for your beer.

After this, we decided to have a walk around Brighton, with me having only visited the place once before in 2008. We stuck to the centre, going up and down some of the narrow side streets which formed the old town. This was after we had looked at the unique Indian-style architecture of the Pavilion, with a number of revellers sat on the grass enjoying Pride Weekend. The shambles were particularly interesting due to the older architecture they contained, with some of the courtyards opening out into very pleasant drinking spaces. The highlight down here though was the chocolate shop Choccywoccydoodah, which had a huge number of animals crafted out of chocolate in the shop window. There was a tiger, dogs, cats and rabbits, the latter of which were campaigning for trans rights. Meanwhile, inside there was a cornicopia of chocolate to buy along with a small restaurant on the top floor. We gave Lena the choice of which chocolate she wanted to get and she opted for chocolate buttons, which we gratefully shared as we walked around the little independent stalls which make up this area. We popped in a few of them - an interesting t-shirt shop, a Native American store - but with the skies darkening yet again, we thought it best to grab some dinner, with the time approaching 5pm. Jenny suggested Pho, a Vietnamese chain which she thought was just a South-East thing until I said we had one in Leeds, where I had some excellent noodle soup with beef brisket and meatballs. It was so full of flavour and a definite winner, certainly something to fill us up as we headed into the evening's festivities.

We walked along the seafront a little bit after this - and after the rain had stopped again - but didn't really have time to go onto the beach, much to Lena's dissatisfaction. To be fair, she had just done about five hours of walking but she was becoming a little grumpy so Jenny thought it best she take her home, arranging to meet us at the main Pride party in Preston Park a little later. This saw us get separate buses at Old Steine, us the 5A and Jenny the 5B, as we were heading to different places. We followed our progress on Google Maps as the bus drove north towards the Park, but it turned out that the trio of women sat behind us were doing exactly the same, which resulted in a conversation. We all got off at the same place and chatted as we walked along the perimeter of the park towards our respective entrance gates - with two of them going through Gate D, one through Gate C and us at Gate AM. Our gate was surprisingly easy to miss and we walked past it the first time, before we asked security, who directed us the way. It was different to the other gates and there was talk about getting escorted into the event, which made me wonder about the tickets I had bought. I had gone on Jenny's advice and I can only assume on reflection later that we had inadvertently picked up disabled access tickets rather than the general ones, as we were given wristbands that got us a lot closer to the stage. It was a genuine error, but at least we did get our own toilets, which turned out to be somewhat useful due to the horror show that was there.

The event itself was very much like a music festival, with a number of ancillary music tents and a main stage in one corner. There were a number of fairground rides along with the usual eating and drinking concessions, although it was a little annoying that the only beer there was Carlsberg and the only music on show was dance. I do think it's ironic that for all the talk about diversity in the LGBT community, that diversity doesn't seem to extend to music and drink, which is one of the reasons I rarely visit gay bars. Still, there were a number of interesting stalls, including one where we picked up a Pansexual Pride bracelet. At the one and only sex stall in there, we signed up to their newsletter and got a free gift of a chocolate condom, which was nice. Meanwhile, we spent the rest of the time just wandering around the complex, grabbing a few beers, looking at the amazing array of clothing on offer (I loved all the people dressed as unicorns) and generally soaking up the party atmosphere. While we were getting our second drink, Wolfie started speaking to some people from Amsterdam (who were massively anti-Brexit) and I did think it was amazing to see so many different nationalities in attendance here. It truly was a global event.

I tried to get into some of the dance music but it really isn't my thing, and I was more concerned with my lack of reception as I didn't know where and when we were going to meet Jenny. Indeed it wasn't until we were in the toilets at the top of the hill that I got enough signal to get her message, some forty minutes after she had sent it. Still, she guided us to the ice cream van in front of which she was standing and we were soon moving closer to the stage as the Pet Shop Boys were due to start. They were the main headliners and although they started a little late, they went on a full half hour after the curfew, playing a near two hour set overall. I only really know their main hits if I was being honest, and for me the opening half of the show was a little lacklustre (not aided by a woman wearing a red feathery fascinator who kept buffeting me), but the final half an hour in particular was amogst the best live shows I have ever seen. Wheeling out the classics such as 'West End Girls', 'Go West' and 'Always On My Mind', they combined this with a spectacular laser show which was just gorgeous to observe. Wolfie was perhaps a little patronising by inquiring whether I knew their main songs, but soon I was dancing and really enjoying the music, with the crowd incredibly receptive. It was a good way to end the show and I am glad I had seen them live - it wouldn't have been a band I would have seen normally.

The party disgorged just after 10:30pm with the vast majority of people heading down the closed London Road back towards the city centre. We followed them, taking about half an hour to reach the point where we had seen the Parade earlier. The crowd had barely thinned out and having been on our feet since Pho, we decided we needed a sit down. Jenny knew a vegan-friendly pub down one of the side streets, the Prince George, and upon arrival we noticed there were seats, so we nabbed them. I ordered three VPAs (Vegan Pale Ale, a buttery toffee ale) for everyone and we chatted for a while, delighted to be off our feet. In the toilets, a camp gentleman dressed as a sailor noticed my pink tail and urged me to do full dog at the street party on Sunday, but alas I didn't bring him down, which was a shame. He was a friendly guy though and we left the bar half an hour later with nothing but happy memories. We decided to try and catch an afterparty but it would seem most were closing at midnight, including the main one in the Pleasure Gardens. This seemed an odd question of timing considering the time of conclusion of the main event, but alas it was what it was.

This meant we headed up to Kempton, Brighton's gay district, with the bars on the seafront having huge queues outside. It wasn't really my thing, but it would have taken just over an hour to have gotten into these typical generic nightclubs, so we forged our way deeper into the district. I had read of a bar called Brighton Rocks on the appropriately named Rock Street so after viewing four generic dance bars all exceptionally busy, we opted to go there. The road itself was cordoned off and there were a fair number of people on the sidestreet and in the bar itself, but service was swift and the atmosphere good so it here where we ended the night. There was an Australian lady sweeping up all of the rubbish on the street - there was a lot of it - who told me she was quite drunk while we got chatting to one of the security guards who was interesting. However, with time ticking on and Jenny promising her husband she would be back by 1am, we sadly had to leave after just one drink. Still, the view of the shimmering English Channel with the full moon reflected in it, which we could see through the railing which had closed off the street, made our final drink of the night all the more memorable.

Wolfie and Jenny both had hunger pangs and so on the way back we called off at a place which specialised solely in the Belgian style of chips. They were chipped with fluffy mashed potato and with any choice of toppings, they were one of the best takeaways I had ever had. I had the typical mayonnaise and ketchup and it was absolutely divine, so much so it makes me want to move to the city. The queue was quite long though and they must have lost a small amount of money as they could no longer offer the large portion having run out of the appropriate size bags. While in the queue, two guys wearing gold T-shirts wanted to pull my tail, to which I consented. We then ended up talking about furry, BDSM and the meaning of my collar, which was quite fun. They told me that they were staying at one of the campsites at the top end of town and that it was freezing. Rather them than me, I thought as we headed for the nightbus, we had a nice house in which to stay. The nightbus was understandably rammed, with a drunk prick swigging a bottle of Buckfast ruining the journey, but we were soon home, albeit an hour later than we had intended to be after a really fantastic day. It was particularly heartening to see so many young people really getting into it and it does give you hope for the future, despite the many negatives about this country.

Sunday was a far more sedate day, particularly as we had a long drive ahead of us and we didn't get up until approaching 11am such was the nature of the day preceding it. We did manage to arise and pack though (with Lena more interested in chewing my bracelet, which she called 'chewy'), deciding to go for lunch at The Plough in Pyecombe, a village just outside of Brighton proper. We drove there, missing the turnoff initially and encouraging the deathly stare of an elderly gentleman who was not happy we were turning around on his driveway. The pub was rather odd - a village setting but with staff who were largely immigrants serving an eclectic menu that went from pasta and pizza to Sunday roasts and a huge range of curries. During the summer months they have a BBQ on site and I opted for the minted lamb steak, which was gorgeous. Wolfie had the BBQ burger, which was equally exceptional. We grabbed a couple of local ales and chatted about artificial intelligence, robotics and the ethics and science surrounding this. It was all rather interesting, before we headed up to Devil's Dyke, which was once described by the painter John Constable as the best view in England. It overlooks the Wolds and is not too dissimilar to the views across Teesside from the North York Moors. It was incredibly windy up here though, bitterly so, although this did aid the three people who were flying kites. You could hear the plastic whoosh against the wind in a very satisfying manner, while the view was stunning over the countryside. It was a nice way to end our stay in Brighton, as we had to leave shortly after that, dropping Jenny and Lena off at the house and having a cup of tea before setting off.

Brighton is a fantastic city and we really enjoyed our visit. Next time, we hope we can stay longer, although we don't know whether we want to miss Leeds Pride next year. I guess there's quite a while to decide.
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It's been a very busy few days, starting on Thursday when we joined Adia, Soma and Taneli at the former's house to watch 'Sing'. We had been meaning to do this for a while, with our first attempt aborted due to Wolfie's trip to Chester overrunning. We were more disciplined this time though and after munching our usual assortment of junk food for dinner, we did get round to seeing the film. It certainly wasn't the greatest film I had ever seen, but it was very enjoyable, and I did like the weaving narratives of all the characters throughout the film, which culiminated with the giant concert at the end. It was only throughout Friday, upon reflecting on the film, that I started to develop a really strong crush on Ash, the punk rock porcupine in the movie. This has only intensified over the course of the weekend and has a number of different roots, closely aligned with my own ambitions. After getting my first guitar on my 18th birthday, I still haven't got around to learning it, while her punk rock look and attitude is something to which I strongly relate. As this crush has developed, I have bought a range of Ash merchandise already but primarily, I am going to use my love of her to motivate me to do the one thing I have been unable to do in sixteen years - learn to play the guitar. On Thursday night I reinistalled RockSmith and have devised a schedule to learn, largely tied into evenings after I go to the gym. Keeping this routine should help me while I am also thinking of having singing lessons too. I hope I can stick at it.

Friday we went around to Stray and Luna's for a Jackbox games evening, which proved to be a very enjoyable affair. Upon walking up to their house, in the pouring rain, I witnessed a road traffic accident involving one car pulling into another without indicating. It was really weird to see this up close although it became entertaining when the two sets of chavs from each car started to berate each other in the middle of the street. The woman in the passenger seat of the rammed car was particularly amusing with all of her effing and Jeffing. The accident wasn't serious and everyone was fine, so that was something. The evening itself went well, with Arc and Taneli also there. We had brought three growlers of beer from Shuffledog as they had had a Prancing Pony tap takeover - a brewery from Adelaide - and we had drank most of these before the pizza had arrived at about 10:30pm. I struggled early on with my mood, having been somewhat down for a few months now, but once the games began I managed to shake it off. It was an excellent evening all-told, with us leaving at around 1:30am by taxi. As soon as we got home, Wolfie went straight to bed while I spent the next four hours sat at my computer watching Ash over and over, along with listening to some Linkin Park, a band I have increasingly gotten into since the sad suicide of frontman Chester Bennington a week last Thursday. It was past dawn by the time I went to bed.

Saturday was a rather quiet day with little planned until the evening, meaning we got to complete a number of odd-jobs around the house. After this, we headed out into Leeds to meet Brett and Jo. We had thought it would be like the opening weekend of July when we all headed out quite late and stopped out, but our friends had hit the city by 5pm and so were already on their way when we met them at Shuffledog nearer 9pm. We sampled the two remaining Prancing Pony beers and a couple of others in a flight taster tray, and chatted with our friends and two of their local friends we had met at their wedding last October. Unfortunately, in the middle of this about half an hour in, one of Jo's contact lenses broke in half in her eye, causing her a lot of discomfort. She did manage to remove it eventually in the mirror but this resulted in her being unable to see, and thus she had to go home. With us having tried all the beers here, we headed off with them, dropping off at Whitelocks/Turk's Head for their American Craft Beer Festival. This was absolutely rammed, but we did manage to get a seat, settling down for a 13% Founders beer as our first. Frustratingly though, it took over fifteen minutes to attempt to order our second beer, and we saw the bar staff were giving preferential treatment to their army of friends, who had arrived at the bar after me. There were a large number of them, perhaps around eight, and after being ignored for a while longer, we decided just to leave. It was the worst bar experience I have ever had in Leeds.

We had intended stopping out, but as the city was busy and it was now only us, we decided to get the last bus back. This meant we dropped in on little Brewdog for one as we just had time, although this was curtailed by our discovery that we had forgotten the artisinal bread that Brett had bought us in Whitelocks. Wolfie went back for it and I ordered the drinks, with us being tucked away in the corner near the Mortal Kombat machine. The story of the artisinal bread gained traction on Twitter, which was odd to see, while once Wolfie had returned we were moved out of the way by a stag party who wanted to play the game. I let them move in, but after two minutes of play, they gave up and adopted the whole space for their friends. It was all very disappointing and so we left the bar and headed home after one of our poorest Leeds bar experiences in memory.

The night did pick up slightly though as once we had got back to Pudsey, we had just enough time to call in at the Manor Inn. Outside there was a lovely whippet puppy called Lily while Pip, the owner's dog, was also snuffling inside. Both dogs wanted to say hello and there was some very good real ale on tap, so we decided to hang around. They even had Neopolitan Pale from Northern Monk, and I do hope this branching into craft beer continues. We were glad we did drop by in the end as the people there were really friendly and the conversation was good, making for a nice ending to the evening at least. We really should go there more often we thought as we headed home, the last to leave the premises, and I am pretty sure we will.
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I spent last weekend back home with my parents, with the initial plan being to visit my mother on Saturday and my father on Sunday. Unfortunately, my 88-year-old grandparents were involved in a road accident on Wednesday when a joyrider took a corner too fast, collided into them and drove off at speed, leaving my relatives stranded. Fortunately the accident was in a residential area and was witnessed, so people were on hand to help them. The situation was exasberated on Friday when my grandfather, refusing to drive the courtesy car he had been given by the insurance company, decided to walk to the shop to get his cigars and paper. My grandmother went with him and on the way home, one of them tripped and fell, colliding into the other. This saw my grandma break her wrist and having to spend most of Friday and Saturday in hospital, while my grandfather has a nasty bump on his head. My mother, who lives forty-five minutes away from them, spent most of last week running around after them and although I did manage to see them on Sunday and they looked quite well under the circumstances, it did mean all of our plans were changed. This was frustrating as this has happened on four of the last five occasions I have visited - admittedly not to this level - but at least I did get to see everybody.

So my father picked me up from Darlington on Saturday and we decided to ignore the grey dreary weather and go to the coast at Saltburn. It turned out to be the right decision as the clouds broke and it was a really sunny afternoon. We decided to go for a walk along the cliff overlooking the North Sea, all the way to the rusty good luck charm bracelet that has been erected about three miles along the route. There is a small disused railway line here once used to transport iron ore from the hills, and the whole area is rather picturesque, even if it does entail looking at the windfarm in the Tees Esturary near Redcar and the industry of Middlesbrough beyond. It was good to get out though and my father is somewhat committed to boosting my step count, so was happy to push on. After the walk, we ended up calling in at a pub for a pint of disappointing IPA, where I noted that they were selling 'humus' and that well-known Spanish dish of 'potato bravas'. It was good sitting on the terrace though observing the sea, with the area not being overly busy due to it being high tide. We then had a walk around the Victorian gardens, spying the little steam train that connects the coast with the small forest where the gardens are situated, which is run entirely by volunteers. We saw a few dogs gambolling around before we decided we should head back to my dad's place.

We ate food in the village pub, a place that doesn't seem to have changed since we moved to the village in 1992. Indeed, the decor looked quite tired and the range of drinks would have been identical to that you would have been able to buy twenty-five years ago. The other issue was that the only papers you could read apart from the local Gazette was the Mail and the Express, which summed up all you need to know about where I grew up. The food though - in my case a horseshoe gammon steak - was rather excellent and although the smokiness got a little overpowering at the end, it was good value for money. Interspersed between this and afterwards when we shared a beer sat in the back garden, we just chatted and caught up, which was a pleasant way to spend a Saturday evening. I had even brought two beers for my dad from Friends of Ham - pretty last minute, but at least Ted was there to give me some recommendations.

My mother picked me up at 11am on Sunday after I had a bizarre collection of dreams in my childhood bed. First I dreamed that I was walking down a residential street in the middle of the night where there had been fourteen murders in fourteen separate houses. I then woke up and dreamed that I was writing a comedy show with Russell Howard but I was nowhere near funny enough (my present lack of creativity is a real concern for me). Finally, I dreamed that I was at a furcon and was close to winning the Best Fursuiter category, but didn't have a convincing stage show to show the judges. I toyed with poetry recital and rap music, before giving up and going to a private piss party where everyone was coy as to the actual reason for the event. It was all rather strange.

Anyway, my mother took me to my grandparents, where we spent an hour chatting before we went around to her house where my stepdad was waiting for us. He has had a detached retina since May and although it has now reattached, he still has a glutionus oil in his eye and an eyepatch over it. With the weather predicted to be rather stormy, we thought we would go for a walk immediately, what with Wilma the spaniel needing a second trip out. She was delighted to see me and I was happy to discover that I am the favourite of my siblings, with her jumping up at me on numerous occasions on the walk, which was on an old railway track in a village about six miles away from where my mother lives. It was quite a picturesque route, with verdant green countryside and sheep everywhere, and we got very lucky as we just dodged the rain, it starting to whip down as soon as we had got back. It persisted for the rest of the day, but we were inside, chatting about a range of things. My mother has been asked to do some local history research and she was unsure as to what topic to cover, so I helped her with it, while Wilma was always great fun, bounding around and wanting to play. I was delighted to hear that my mother is going to be getting another dog - a male one called Henry - in mid-August and I do hope Wilma takes to him. Two dogs would be fantastic and although my mother has concerns about her parents right now, I don't think it would be much different to having one dog really.

We ate a dinner of roast lamb and vegetables, followed by lemon merangue and double cream to finish. After our walk we had delved into the cheeseboard as we had not had any lunch, so there was an awful lot of food, not to mention beer and wine. It was a shame that my mother couldn't really drink as she had to take me back to my father's - with my Monday morning train too early to make a commute from my mother's place viable - but with concerns about my grandparents, she was intending to stay sober anyway. So it was disruptive weekend all told, albeit a rather good one and I am hoping to see everyone again in the Autumn.
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It's been a very busy weekend, with events on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Things started on Friday evening, when we had been invited to the Polish Catholic Centre for their monthly music jam. Tonks's family run the community centre, which closely resembles a British working man's club but is adjacent to the main Polish Catholic church in Chapel Allerton. I walked up from work, expecting it to take a lot longer than it actually did, resulting in me arriving 55 minutes earlier than opening. This saw me explore the area, and I was interested to note that I had been here before, having gone to Boss Burgers on Harrogate Road about a year and a half ago. As I walked, I listened to the excellent Remainiacs podcast, for all traitors and saboteurs, which provided much needed catharsis in these bleak times. I was surprised to notice that the number 91 bus goes right past here, providing a direct route home, which was convenient. Wolfie had embarked from Pudsey and I had to wait around forty-five minutes for him to arrive, with me buying a sandwich for him as I did. I also just walked around and explored, waiting for him to come.

When he arrived, together we walked down the road to the walled area behind which the community centre lay. I had dropped Tonks a message and he met us outside the front door, pointing out that no-one had actually arrived yet. Apparently the 7pm start was somewhat loose, and it wasn't for another ten minutes that his mother and father turned up. We had met his father before at the Leeds CAMRA real ale festival, anhd had hit it off, but this was the first time we had met his mother, who is Polish herself. We were let in, and soon we were drinking fantastic Polish craft beer, while Mrs Tonks had kindly prepared perogi for us (both Russian and meat) which many of the other regulars sampled too. This part was free and highly appreciated. This was served at around 8pm, with us having spent the opening half hour just talking to Tonks's Dad as no-one else was there. Some of the regulars soon turned up though and music very quickly started to be played, with an impromptu jam session taking place with a miscellany of instruments. If I was being honest, there weren't many Polish people there, with many being locals (as well as one Welsh-English-Canadian guy who was half-Eskimo) but the atmosphere was lively and a good range of genres were played. 'Learn to Fly' by Foo Fighters was possibly my favourite, but the folk songs had particular heart, while we spent a lot of the time sat at the bar chatting about this and that. Tonks and Wolfie had an isolating conversation about Warhammer so Mr Tonks and I ended up talking about Eighties music (he even knew 'Eisbaer' to which we both sang along) while later in the evening there was a rather fun dog who was bounding about saying hi to everyone. All in all it was a good night and it was a shame when we had to catch our last bus, but Saturday was meet day and we needed to go. We had sampled four beers each though and Tonks kindly bought two more, which he delivered at the meet the next day, and we will definitely be going back.

I had been worried about the Leeds Meet for most of the week, particularly fearing a low turnout. These things really shouldn't bother me but I invest so much in the meet that it's hard for it not to feel like a personal rejection. Added to this was the fact we had moved venue to Bar Soba on account of Atlas being sold and turned into a trendy cocktail bar so apprehension was high. There were a number of people at the Londonfurs summer party, and a few couldn't make it for a miscellany of personal reasons. Meanwhile, a few more simply weren't interested. Still, as we packed our hi-vis jackets and long plastic tubing for the fursuit changing screen, I did fear the worst and was not in the best of moods as we left the house. Carting the tubes on the bus proved to be fun but not overly unmanageable and soon we were at the station, where we were greeted to a not unsizeable crowd. This gave me hope and indeed it turned out we had about 50-60 there - down on usual but not bad under the circumstances. A few furs who don't regularly come were there - Lapres and Ellis from Birmingham, Croft from Beverley to name but a few - while the new venue worked out quite well apart from a couple of small issues. I have since spoken to the manager and he assures me that this will be resolved - with the hen party on one of our tables only there due to a computer related booking issue. The loud music quite late on was also a little annoying, but hopefully this will be pushed back in future.

The outside area on Merrion Street proved to be quite popular while the fursuit walk was also a success, with the bar's close proximity to Briggate being a huge boon. We ended up taking fursuit photos inside a large reflective cube placed on the middle of the street advertising the Open University's 2017-18 courses. They let us go inside if we took some flyers, and mirrors on all sides were quite trippy. It was a shame I didn't suit - with the early morning wet weather putting me off - but the day soon turned out dry and the walk was quite the success. On Briggate we also saw a huge tent with Muslims condemning extremism, which was good to see, while my friends Leeds for Europe were there too. At the end of the walk, we headed to the flyover near Shuffledog to take a group photo before retiring back to the bar. When there, I was alerted to a tweet from GeekWolfie, who told me to come to where they were sitting. There I found a fantastic large conbadge drawn by Prince Cirrus, which was an unexpected delight. I was a huge fan indeed.

As is customary, the meet started to fragment around 5pm, while we grabbed some excellent Beef Massaman Curry from the bar itself. This was gorgeous, creamy and a brilliant blend of spices, making it one of the top eateries in the city. We then headed outside, grabbing a couple of beers from Mean Eyed Cat Bar as we noticed they had two exclusives from Northern Monk. As it turned out, only one was available, so I got two halves. On both occasions, they invited me to roll a dice and if I got an even number I got a discount. The first time I threw a five but the second time it was a two, giving me 25% off. On the first occasion, I was asked whether I wanted pizza, which seemed an odd request until I realised you got a free six inch pizza with all drinks. If only I had known beforehand.

We stayed outside for a couple of hours but the rather sparse and genteel daytime crowd started to become a more drunken rowdy bunch, with the space filling up fast. Not liking the ambience, we drank up and left, with most people splitting as it was around 8pm. We headed down to the bus stop with Taneli but with twenty minutes until our next bus, we decided to call off at Friends of Ham. On our way there, the number of people who asked us 'are you doing some plumbing' on the sight of the plastic tubing became annoying, but at least the bar were reasonably good about us stacking it in a corner. Indeed, it became a useful marker for the staff on working out where to deliver our beer and smoked almonds. We grabbed a gose, after which we had a marshmallow stout as Tonks had dropped me a message, asking where we were. Wolfie was quite drunk by this point - and earlier in the day had struggled with splitting the bill evenly as I had paid £12 for his food and was wondering why I kept asking for his card to buy £3 drinks - so we didn't stay overly long, heading back on the 9:20pm bus. Wolfie grabbed a pizza while I headed back, not really feeling hungry after the curry at SOBA. So all in all a successful day and I think most people enjoyed the new venue, so we'll see what happens here.

We had to be up reasonably early on Sunday, which facilitated our rather early night on Saturday. I had arranged to meet my sister in Manchester as she has just moved to the Deansgate/Salford area of the city having started a new job in mid-June. Due to a pre-arranged holiday, this was only her second full weekend in the city and knowing Manchester a little bit, I thought I would show her some of the bars and sights. This saw us board a train at New Pudsey just before noon, with the day being a glorious summer one with a slight cooling breeze. We arrived into Manchester shortly after 13:20 and met her at Victoria station, taking her to Northern Soul Grilled Cheese initially for some lunch. We had only been here once before, in February, but I remember it being execptionally good and so it proved to be again. Alas they were rather busy so we had to take it out, but there was nothing wrong with eating it while sat in the sun on Piccadilly Gardens. My sister didn't realise that this was the centre of Manchester so I showed her the fountain and the statues, before casually walking through an Arabic themed food market on one corner of the square.

We decided to spend the day on a bar crawl albeit one interspersed with various city sights. Along the way I pointed out good restaurants to try, hoping to give her an insight into the diversity of the city. These included Almost Famous, Reds, Buca da Pizza, Bundobust and Solita. Our first bar was Beermoth, one of my favourite bars in the city, before we walked down to the Town Hall area and on to Deansgate. We went for a quick drink in No 1 Watson Street, with its Pawtraits of dogs on the wall, before we headed down to the canal area to see my sister's place of work. The canal area was fantastic and it was great to see that there has been so much regeneration down there since we were last in the area for Confuzzled 2009. The yha is still there of course, albeit slightly tarted up, but there are numerous new houses as well as bars and restaurants that simply weren't there before. The tatty bridges - some of brick and others of steel - add a post-industrial landscape to things which contrasts with the tranquility of the canals and the narrowboats. Meanwhile, at one point we were delighted to feel the vibrations of the railings underneath the viaduct, caused by a parked train on the bridge above. In this part of the city, we spied the Industrial Museum and The Crystal Maze experience before we walked along the canal for a while, surprisingly reaching Canal Street rather quickly. It was here we got off the towpath and walked through the Village, not my favourite place in Manchester but at least the atmosphere was relaxed. There was music blaring out of some of the crappy bars, but at least Sackville Gardens was tranquil, and my sister was particularly intrigued by the Turing statue. While we were here, we told her the time my ex-girlfriend couldn't get into a gay fetish store because it was men only. My sister was quite shocked at the discrimination, and although I tried to explain it to her, she couldn't really understand it.

We pushed on, heading to Richmond Tea Rooms, which my sister particularly enjoyed due to the Alice in Wonderland theme. We opted to get a milkshake and a slice of cake here, with our choice of lemon drizzle sadly not available. We ended up with a Boston Creme, with the biggest slab of cake I had ever seen. It was so big that we struggled to finish it, and indeed it completely scuppered our evening meal plans. Still, it was a nice place for a rest and the staff were really friendly, as they had been at all of the establishments we had visited. I was telling them about my sister having just moved to the city, and they were interested.

We moved on to the Northern Quarter after here, a place my sister had particularly been looking forward to seeing. I pointed out Port Street Beer House but with our stomachs still in full bloated mode, we decided to move on. We walked further up the street, turning left on the road that fringes the northern edge of the Northern Quarter. I had never been down this road before and we found a few surprising bars in this vicinity, including Pie and Ale and one dedicated the Blackjack Brewery. We had a drink in both, with the latter a great find as we had known about Blackjack for a while but we hadn't had chance to sample much of their stuff. This was a little bit of an old man's pub though and there was some folk music going on, so we only stayed for a brief third. Seeing the dog in the corner was a highlight though, but we soon headed off, ending our tour in the fantastic Marble Arch pub on Rochdale Road. Here we tried a gose made from longestines and a Japanese based stout/ale which was far too sweet for both me and Wolfie. The sour beer was excellent though, with even my sister enjoying it. In this bar, there was a doggo friend sat on his owner's lap staring at the salad he was eating and another doggo friend who was just loose in the pub sniffing and a-snuffling. He was after food, being a hungry Jack Russell, and he came for pettings on four separate occasions. He was fun, and it was a great way to end a fantastic day of catching up with my sister.
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This post was originally posted on my LiveJournal earlier today:

I have decided to move away from LiveJournal and over to Dreamwidth.

I have not made this decision lightly, particularly as I have been updating this journal for over ten years, but the recent changes to the Terms of Service combined with this prompting a diaspora away from this service has somewhat forced my hand.

The community on LJ used to be so vibrant, back in the days when social networks were far less prevailent, but it is not what it once was. The vasty majority of people left for Twitter years ago, but there were still a few who remained here. Unfortunately, with the changes made to the ToS in April, most of the remainers have also gone, leaving this place somewhat empty.

Added to this is that I have changed the way I update my journals, moving away from using mobile devices and back onto a desktop. This means the lack of a mobile app for Dreamwidth is less of a problem, with the bus providing too many distractions for me to be able to blog well.

I won't delete this journal and will cross-post where I can, but if you would still like to read my posts, please join me on Dreamwidth. My journal is here: http://lupestripe.dreamwidth.org/

Thanks for reading and for taking an interest in my life. It's been a blast.
lupestripe: (Default)
One of the positives and negatives about Leeds is that it's such a huge beer city. The positives should be obvious - I am a huge fan of craft beer and sampling a range of different flavours - but of course this isn't particularly good on the waistline. By some miracle, I didn't put any weight on during my trip to the United States - and indeed have lost about 1kg since then - but my social life is really getting in the way of my weightloss goals and finding the balance is tricky.

Over the weekend I was alerted to a Meet The Brewer night at the Adelphi on Facebook. It seemed interesting as the brewer in question was Steve Grossman of the Sierra Nevada Brewery, a place we had visited in Chico, California, just six weeks ago. He had brought some rare beers over to sample - with their core range only really being available in the UK - and he gave a talk about each one, along with details about the history of the brewery that he founded. It was one of the first craft beer breweries in the world, having started in 1980, so it was truly fascinating to hear him speak about the early days. He also talked a lot about environmental sustainability, which is something we got to see ourselves when we did our brewery tour. The beers we sampled we had had before, again in the US, but with four halves and a burger thrown in for £15, it was exceptionally good value. We had arrived a little late due to Wolfie's bus breaking down - 6:15pm for a 6pm start - but fortunately we didn't miss anything and I even got to ask a few questions along the way. Unfortunately I didn't get chance to speak to him one-on-one about our trip to his brewery as he was somewhat jetlagged and headed off before I got chance, but it certainly was a fascinating encounter.

In the end, we ended up drinking another 3/4 of a pint as there were a few leftovers, while we got chatting to some of the staff who work in the Adelphi. I had always thought of it as more of a real ale pub, but they have definitely moved into craft, as this was part of a six-week long festival. There must have been about forty people at the event including some local Leeds brewers such as the guys behind the Leeds Brewery. Apparently, it was a Leeds brewer who had convinced Steve to export to Britain - their first foreign venture - 13 years ago, so it was amazing to think that our city was the first outside of the United States to get such a famous staple of the craft beer scene. Moving back to the Adelphi, it is certainly more airy and brighter than it had been before, with the top floor now having been converted to a kitchen where they do a range of food. My beefburger and fries was very good and Wolfie enjoyed his chicken katsu burger, with the both of us having calmed down after the rush to get to the gig in time (I was livid with how late Wolfie was as I had custody of his ticket and couldn't go in without him).

I had wanted to show him Howl but we had quite enough to drink in the Adelphi, although we did drop by BrewDog as we had quite a wait for our bus. Here Wolfie tried an IPA I had had the previous week at the quiz and I went for LIVE East Coast Crush, which was tasty. Wolfie was forcing me to have another third, which was frustrating, but it didn't really spill over into an argument. When we got back, we shared some crisps before Wolfie went to bed, with me staying up for another two hours to sober up. We had got back at 10:15pm and I went to bed about 12:45am but even then I was still a little drunk, and we had only had three pints of relatively low strength beer. Even this morning I didn't wake up great, suggesting that my ability to recover has been somewhat curtailed by my advancing years. Still, it was a good evening and a rare break from our rule of not going out on weeknights if we can help it, but we still really need to focus on the weightloss going forward.

Home Fun

Jul. 10th, 2017 12:04 am
lupestripe: (Default)
This weekend was one of connecting with old friends. Over the last few years, I have felt that our local friendship group has somewhat drifted apart. This is due to a number of circumstances, the main one being all of us acquiring houses, but without a core group of friends, I had started to feel somewhat redundant in the fandom. This was brought home last weekend when there was a BBQ to which we weren't invited, making me feel increasingly more alienated. After my usual 48 hours of moping, I resolved to do something about this, and this weekend proved to be a huge step towards re-establishing those contacts.

Admittedly, we had already had our Friday night plans sorted before last weekend as Adia had invited us around to her house to watch Sing. We hadn't seen the movie and had missed it in the cinema, so we thought it a perfect opportunity. Mid-week, she widened the invite to Taneli and Arcais, with the cheetah accepting and the panda unavailable due to work commitments in Derby and Leicester. This meant that there was to be five of us in the house - Adia, Soma, me, Taneli and Wolfie. Unfortunately, Wolfie would end up being delayed as he was sent to Chester by work at the last minute, and this meant that we didn't get to see the movie in the end. He arrived shortly after 8:30pm so we contented ourselves by watching The Chase and the new version of The Crystal Maze with Richard Ayoade. It's hard to judge the reboot as we are still trawling through the celebrity specials, but they seem to have done well with the zones and the games themselves were of their usual high quality. Ayoade himself I feel will grow into the role, but his constant remark of "Tuck In" has already started to grate. Still, watching how useless the celebrities were provided great mirth while we shared a whole host of junk food, which made for a fantastic evening.

We had nothing planned on Saturday until the evening, when Arcais was coming around. This afforded us a lie-in, but having arisen around noon, I didn't want to waste more of such a beautiful summer's day, convincing Wolfie to drive to Brighouse. There he has a cousin who has just opened a small craft beer shop called The Trembling Hand. We had kept meaning to go, but we are only ever usually free on Sundays when he was closed. This was therefore an opportunity, so we popped down there, spending a good fifteen minutes chatting to him about beer. The shop is quite small but stocks an impressive array of stuff, and all for fairly low prices too. We decided to come back as we were leaving the town, taking advantage of the sunshine by having a pleasant forty-five minute stroll by the canal. It was very tranquil when we weren't dodging youths on bikes, with the canal dawdling its way alongside the river, with beautiful green foliage draping into it. There were a number of modern warehouses on either side of the canal, something it would be churlish to complain about as it was for the eighteenth century equivalent of such industry that the canals were built, while it was great seeing the old locks and stone bridges dotting the canal's course. At one, we saw a newly wed couple getting their wedding pictures taken while at one of the locks we saw a gaggle of scouts working as a team to get their barge up. After about twenty minutes, Wolfie's foot was starting to throb though, so we had to double back and head back into Brighouse, where we saw a number of interpid kids climbing up the sheer faces of the rock climbing centre, reacquisitioned from a former industrial plant. We then dodged back into the Trembling Hand to pick up twelve beers in the end, as well as advising a charming elderly gentleman about craft beer. He had just started getting into Tyskie and bless him he thought that was exotic, so I pointed some fresh German examples to keep him happy. He had actually come in to speak to Wolfie's cousin about local history and left, only to return and admit he felt a little churlish for not buying a beer. We were only happy to help.

We got back home shortly after 4:30pm and were fortunate to see Taneli and Arc drive down our street. Arc pretended to be a dog and barked at us from out of the car window as Taneli pulled up. They disgorged and we spent a pleasant hour in the garden setting up our brand new BBQ, which still needed to be chained to the wall and cleaned. As this was being done, Arc and I went to ASDA to get some food for the BBQ, while we also got some new Mini Cheddars Stilton as Taneli wanted to try them. They were quite nice, with a slight tang of stilton, but certainly not the most faithful adaptation. Taneli had to go to a family meal so needed to head off around 7pm, after which we grilled the meat, using lettuce leaves rather than bread buns for the burgers in an attempt to reduce calories. We also had some grill steaks cooked on our new hotplate, while Arc had made a delightful fresh salad from couscous, tomatoes and basil. It was a great way to end a summer's evening and after this we ended up watching Don't Tell The Bride and pissing about on Snapchat pretending to be goths and dogs. A happy evening indeed. It would have been great had Arc stayed but her tattoo - which had just been finished off that afternoon - had started to leak and she was conscious of getting it all over our sofa and bed. She headed off just before 10pm, while we chilled for the rest of the evening.

We were up quite early on Sunday as we had agreed to do some mascot performance work at St Gemma's Hospice for their annual summer fete. It was going to be another gloriously hot day so I packed my EZCoolDown vest for the first time in forever, noting as the day went on how it became more and more like an insulating vest once the ice packs had thawed. We were out of the door at 9:30am and had picked Shiro up twenty minutes later, not aided by Kirkstall Road being closed for a fun run. We then drove to Cross Gates to pick up Cosmo before heading up to the hospice, arriving ten minutes before our scheduled arrival time of 10:45am. I chatted to the organisers and they guided us to our changing rooms, and twenty minutes later we were out and about, mingling amongst the crowds. There were a range of great concessions there, including a rope twining one and a cheese stall that sold a range of gourmet cheeses. It was great to see the Otley branch of the North Bar down there serving Pimms and I even got to meet their pug Stan, who was very barky when I was in suit but calmed down as soon as he had been picked up. There were also some delicious cakes there while after the suiting we got free hot dogs and burgers for our efforts. We donated the monetary equivalent. The highlight for me was the book stall though as I kept acting out Fifty Shades of Grey, as this was one of the books they were selling. I also kept putting 'My First Children's Bible' next to it, which caused me a fair bit of amusement. The mini putting range was also a highlight, particularly when I nudged the ball down the track with my snout. The fact there were so many stalls meant it was so easy to act up and make people laugh, such as when I used the hook-a-duck poles as conducting rods for the choir, while the kids of course loved the furry critters. There were three of us and Wolfie monitored our welfare, with the temperature being so hot that we had to really be careful. I managed four hours in the end, which wasn't too bad considering the temperature. The others lasted different amounts of time, while Gemma the Giraffe and West Yorkshire Police's own PC Bob mascot were there too. We were given buckets but considering there was so much to spend money on there, we didn't collect loads, but I am delighted we added a lot to the day. This was particularly the case in the garden, where kids were conducting a pirate themed treasure hunt and playing games like quoits. A few showed me the prizes they had won too. With an hour to go, I decided to get out of suit and walk around, introducing myself to all of the stallholders I had taken the piss out of in suit. They seemed quite happy, and it was good talking to them, particularly the book stall people who wanted to know all about furry. It was difficult to tell them until ten minutes later the gentleman told me he was a huge fan of Lara Croft and went to Cosplay conventions. Had he mentioned that, it would have been an awful lot easier. We left at about 4pm, and dropped Cosmo and Shiro off, returning home to do mundane things like DIY and slide slowly into the working week.
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While I have been catching up with my US trip, there have been a number of happenings over the last fortnight which I have not yet detailed.

A week last Tuesday, 27 June, Wolfie and I headed out into Leeds for one of our regular evenings with Oracle after work. We met him at Atlas Brauhaus as I wanted to give Charlotte, the General Manager there, an update as to our venue situation. As I explained on the newly launched Leeds Furs site earlier in the month, Atlas is closing mid-month to become a trendy cocktail bar, meaning we have had to find a new venue. She has been working behind the scenes to facilitate this, and we have since agreed terms with Bar Soba. Her help has been invaluable and we are hoping that she will stay in touch. She is certainly a good friend to the Leeds Furs.

After giving her an update, we headed over to Mans Markets, a place just off Wellington Street which we had been meaning to try for a while. Tucked under the row of bars here, Mans Market specializes in food from Hong Kong, a cuisine that I had never had before. Going downstairs, the place opens out into a huge sitting area and we were soon shown the card based system where if you want to order a drink, food or pay your bill you placed the relevant card between two pegs above the table. We sampled their specially brewed pilsner while opting for a starter of Pork War Tip Dumplings, which were crispy and rammed full of meat. Wolfie got the Chicken ones and we traded, with me definitely prefering the Pork. For our main, all three of us went for the Mans Mountain Rice, a mountain of rice covered with chicken, vegetables and a creamy coconut sauce. The different flavours were all familiar - quite aromatic with notes of lemongrass mixed with the creaminess of the coconut - but the combination was quite unique, making for a gastronomic experience that I had never had before. The serving lady was also really helpful and we left feeling fully satisifed.

Wolfie's foot was in a bad way, so we decided to try and curtail the walking, heading instead to the collection of new bars underneath the office blocks that had just sprouted up. We had targed Veeno but as Wolfie was not drinking due to having driven in, we thought that may not be overly appropriate. We also spotted another bar, Good Life Bar, which had only just opened, again under one of the new shiny buildings. This was a New York style place with a good range of beer, and indeed seemed perfect as a furmeet venue due to its size and location. They don't open on Saturdays but would do for a private party, suggesting a possibility here. If our new venue doesn't work out, it would be definitely something to consider. The only problem is that aside from the open space immediately outside the entrance, there is little else around there, with only the canal being suitable for a fursuit walk. We traced the steps we would need to take as we walked back into the city and feared it may be too far. As we headed back, we thought about a number of bars in which to have our final drink of the evening but with Wolfie and Oracle being teetotal, it was somewhat difficult. In the end, we walked all the way to BrewDog, where we rounded off the evening.

Last weekend was quite quiet, with us dedicating time to doing jobs around the house, although we did go out on the Saturday (1 July) evening as Brett and Jo wanted to meet up. This was a good night to hit the town as it was also the 20th anniversary party for North Bar, one of the first ever craft beer bars in the UK, which opened in 1997. Back then they largely served Belgian beers but since have developed the craft scene in the city, even collaborating with the guys at Belgrave to set up their own award winning brewery, North Brewing Co. They even brewed an exceptionally juicy and fruity 20th birthday DIPA which could be bought at the bar on the evening. We arrived in Leeds just before 9pm, knowing that North Bar would be rammed and would unlikely to thin out before midnight. This proved to be the case so we started off at Tall Boys, a place where we buy beer but where we rarely drink. Brett knows the staff here personally and as we walked in, we saw him conversing with the guy behind the counter. They had three of their five beers on tap still available so we grabbed a pint of two of them then spent the next hour or so chatting between us all, largely about beer and the beer scene in Leeds.

We left shortly before 10pm and walked past North Bar, seeing it absolutely rammed. As a consequence, we decided to go to the North Brewing Company Brewery itself, which is near my work and open every Friday and Saturday evenings. I had read they were doing Food North on select nights in June and July, where they have a number of food trucks stationed in their car park, and wondered whether this night would be one of them. It turned out to be the case, with a vegan Mexican place and a Thai truck on standby, although by the time we got there, they had sold out of most food. We had already eaten so this wasn't really much of an issue for us, although Brett and Jo hadn't eaten since lunch. The bar was still quite busy though, and there were a number of tables outside too, which is where we sat, enjoying the fact it was still light at such a late hour. There were a number of dogs wandering around, including a small doggo friend who simply just didn't care, even urinating on the green turf of the special throw the beanbag into the hoop game they had. Suffice to say, we didn't play after this. This was Jo's first time at the bar and she was very impressed, telling us so as we headed back into town, which from here is about a ten minute walk away.

We called off at Shuffledog on the way back as we noticed they had a Cloudwater brew on tap from which they were donating fifty percent of the proceeds to the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. As it was such a good cause, we decided to waive our usual Brewdog discount so we could give more to charity. The beer was very good, but there was little else of interest in this bar, with the range of beer having gone downhill since the turn of the year. As a consequence, we decided to try Belgrave but that was way too loud and way too busy to be enjoyable. We then moved on, trying to find a place we could go. As Brett and Jo ordered takeaway in one of the dire fast food places on Briggate, I noticed that Slate (which has now been renamed to something else but I forgot what the hell that is) and Social were pretty quiet. Spying the open gate into their beer garden down one of the side streets, we dodged the bouncers and headed in, only to be told that the Social was closing and thus we had to go to Slate. This was fine, but the range of beers was nowhere near as good as it used to be, and we ended up getting a few in can and bottle. Still the Thai Green Tea one from Ridgeside was good, and it was good to sit outside in a beer garden, with a string of white lights twinkling above us and the warmth of a summer's evening consuming us.

We had checked North Bar before going to the beer garden but it was still busy. By the time we left, it was touching midnight so we made the executive decision to go into North regardless, which is what we did do afterwards. It was still exceptionally busy but there was nowhere else we could really go, plus they had their Scandi beer fest on, meaning there was a range of interesting brews to try. And try them we did, starting with the anniversary IPA and then moving on to a range of others. We had a 12% chocolate stout that tasted exactly like a Double Decker while I was encouraged to buy one of their 20th birthday packs, with the profits being donated to St Gemma's, a hospice in Leeds for which I do some mascot work. Inside the pack was a can of Transmission beer, a badge, a bobble hat, a bottle opener and a history of the bar, which for £20 wasn't too shabby indeed. There was cake on the side of the bar but alas I couldn't get any, with it being obstructed by an Austrian to whom I thought it would be good to speak German in a loud voice. I was clearly getting quite drunk by this stage, although I still felt sober when I had entered, and when the tunes became Nineties classics such as Parklife by Blur and Common People by Pulp, I was pretty much in heaven. Added to this was the 'Brexit is shit' graffitied on a blackboard in the toilets and it was pretty much perfect.

The bar thinned out shortly after 1am, and I think we stayed for another forty minutes, enjoying the beer and of course the company. Jo fancied some dancing and was starting to feel the alcohol, so she and Brett headed over to Mojo, an indie club around the corner. We followed them ten minutes later but we couldn't find them amongst the thronging masses. As a consequence, we left, noticing that The Domino was still open. This is an underground speakeasy which has been open for about three months. Situated inside a fake hairdressers, you technically need to know it exists and which one of two doors takes you down there. At that time of night, the door was wide open, so it was pretty obvious but the gentleman at the door was still watching out for things. He held on to my can of Transmission as we headed inside, with us ordering two peanut butter stouts at exorbitant cost. This is more a whisky and cocktail place than a beer place, but I did enjoy the underground vibe, even if I couldn't quite finish my beer. We called it quits shortly afterwards, walked down to the gay area to pick up a taxi and got dropped off at home at around 2:30am by a guy who said he never picked really drunk people up. Assumedly this was a sign that we weren't that bad. Still, once back we did polish off a full tube of Pringles so perhaps we were.

When you get to your Thirties, no-one ever tells you that two day hangovers are a thing but Christ was I still suffering on the Monday morning. It was that or my incredibly poor sleep, as I had suffered insomnia the previous night to nearly 4am. Wolfie was down in Bristol on Monday through Wednesday, leaving me pottering around the house on my own. Jo was in London on work too, having just been promoted at work. She was away Tuesday through Thursday, leaving Brett on his own for the regular monthly quiz they do in little Brewdog. He had asked me whether I could join him on the Tuesday (4 July) evening and I agreed on Saturday night, but as Tuesday became closer I started to have my doubts. I want to avoid drinking on a weekday ideally, and the quiz starting at 8pm meant I had a lot of time to kill in town. In the end, work overran and I ended up in little Brewdog anyway, talking to the staff about beer. This was after I had called in at a new heavy metal bar called Howl, which is situated near the Old Red Bus Station. The beer here is okay - Brooklyn Scorcher Ale was the best they had - but it was great to have a bar in Leeds dedicated to heavy metal. There were only four of us in the bar, all single and sat at different tables, and the place was small enough to make this awkward, but I am delighted I got to try it. The Russian lady at work had recommended it to me.

After this, I had developed a taste for alcohol, which is how I ended up in Brewdog. Starting a conversation, I found I had ordered a third, and I texted Brett to change my mind about the quiz, having turned it down earlier in the day. He was cooking but said he would get a cab and meet me in the bar, giving me just enough time to walk around Leeds to find then have something to eat. It actually proved tricky but I ended up in The Griffin, having a burrito which was cheap and cheerful. Brett too was slightly early and ended up in Friends of Ham, which is where we met before we walked over to Brewdog together. We were bang on time, but technical issues with the microphone meant the quiz started quite late. Still, we were patient and as we waited, Brett pointed out the main competition, a Scotsman with an insane knowledge for beer. With 30 general knowledge and 10 beer knowledge questions, this would prove crucial but Brett has a habit of finishing first or second in this quiz so I knew we had a chance. In the end, we romped it, getting 33/40, eight points more than the Scotsman's team and twelve more than the third highest. Our knowledge complemented each other's perfectly, with me getting the sports questions and Brett securing the music ones for example. I did struggle to remember that 'How To Disappear Completely' was the Radiohead song that BrewDog had named a beer after, getting it just as we had handed our paper to be marked, but I changed it quickly to grab an extra point. Aside from that, I was surprised by just how comfortable our victory was, and of course the £10 beer vouchers each made it for a rather cheap night. I headed off about 10:15pm, and stayed up until 1:30am as I got absorbed in the Ian Hislop documentary about the first great immigration debate from 1880-1920, which meant I was a little fuzzy for work and felt a little guilty too. It was still a great evening though and I am glad I went out.
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Friday (9 June) was quite a sad day as we had to say goodbye to Tuxedo after spending two solid weeks together. We left Flagstaff at around 8am, regrettably not getting chance to see any of it beyond the hotel, and made our way to Phoenix around two and a half hours away. It was from here that we were going to fly back to Portland, where we would begin our journey home the next morning. There wasn't really a sense of sadness as we set off though, largely because we had an adventure still to come, descending over 6000 feet into the hottest major city in the United States. As we drove, we noticed the terrain becoming increasingly more arid, with scrubland and then cacti appearing as we passed the fantastically named town of Bumble Bee. This was in stark contrast to the woodland of the Coconino National Forest, which we travelled through to start our journey down interstate 17 and to the capitol of the state of Arizona. We stopped off at a rest area to take a few pictures but the journey was largely uneventful, with the environs of Phoenix approaching quicker than we expected. Tux had used to live here in the Eighties and so pointed out the sheer scale of the urban sprawl since then, with around twenty miles being added to the city on its northern approach. None of the office units and shops were there back then, and it was interesting to get a plotted view of the development of the city. Due to inward migration, Arizona is one of the most rapidly increasing states in terms of population, with Phoenix being a huge draw. This is despite the major heat as it was touching 104F as I became reacquainted with the I10 - a road I knew so well back from my time in Louisiana. Indeed, it was the first time I had been on the road since 1995 and while I was still 800 miles from where I used to live, my heart did warm through the experience. As we drove through the urban freeway, we saw the skyscrapers at the heart of the modern city, along with one of the main stadia here, before Tux deposited us outside the Departures hall of the airport.

Saying goodbye was quite difficult - so much so that I accidentally left one of my jumpers in Tux's car - but we consoled ourselves in the fact that we may meet up again by the end of the year as Tux may be visiting Scotiacon. After thanking him deeply for planning and guiding us throughout the last two weeks, we waved him off as he headed to Orange County and we headed back to Portland, where our journey began. We had made good time and we were actually early, so we checked in, headed through security and waited, to our delight at a craft beer bar which served a range of brews from a local brewery. We tried a raspberry flavoured one and an orange one I think, while a lady sat next to us fifteen minutes later and touted me for a recommendation. She was most grateful for the choice I picked out for her, and we had a pleasant little chat as we waited for our plane. Alas, we couldn't spend more than an hour in this fantastic bar, which was a shame due to the sheer range of beer they had on offer, but with our flight due to be called, we had to rush to the gate. The wait wasn't too long and boarding was a breeze, with the journey passing over some wonderfully rugged mountain terrain, of which I managed to grab a few pictures. The flight was only about two hours and we had soon landed, in weather conditions far different to the oppressive sun and heat of Arizona. Back in Portland we were caught in a torrential thunderstorm swapping 104F for 58F so it was quite a shock, particularly without my coat. Still, we tried not to let it affect us as we grabbed our luggage and headed over to Island Number Two once more, where we asked the desk to phone the Ramada shuttle bus to take us to our hotel. This they did and twenty minutes later we were walking through the reception area of a rather tired hotel. One of the staff members seemed not to be too bothered by us, but the other was very friendly. The one not bothered was the one who served us, but at least we got our keys quickly and managed to settle in. Before taking a shower, we decided we needed to print out our Boarding Passes for the flight home and this proved to be more of an ordeal than we realised, largely due to confusing instructions from Thomas Cook. Still, we did what we could before I grabbed a shower in preparation for a night in Portland ahead.

It was our last night in the US and Portland being a beer city meant we couldn't turn down the opportunity to go out, particularly on a Friday. The only problem was that our flight out of Portland to Los Angeles, from where we were due to fly back to Manchester, left at 8am necessitating a 5:30am start. Still, we had planned to meet a number of furs downtown and didn't want to disappoint them. I had hoped to arrange the evening through Snelrev but he was busy, so he suggested Mousepaws, who arranged a nice little bar crawl for us. I had invited Tarka but he came down with concrud and couldn't make it, so it was just the three of us in the first bar. Due to time constraints, we decided to take a Lyft into town, and we got a rather friendly young woman to whom I enjoyed chatting. She was asking about our trip and seemed bubbly and vivacious, while we also got to talk about life as a taxi driver in your own personal car. We gave her a high tip and rating, largely because of her affibility but also because she dropped us off at our destination pretty much bang on time at 6pm. Our first stop was the Widmar Brothers Brewing Company, where we saw Mouse already at the bar. We grabbed a couple of flights each and joined him, with Wolfie disappearing to a table around fifteen minutes later as his friend Cal, his boyfriend and another friend joined him. The trio spoke and although we came over, there wasn't enough space on the table for another two, meaning we slunk back to the bar to finish our beers.

The beer was good - standard for Portland but good generally. The plan had been to move on to McMenamins White Eagle Saloon but Cal had already ordered food, meaning that they had to stay in Widmar's. Having spoken to Wolfie, it was decided that he stayed with them and I went up tp McMenamins for one with Mouse. This worked quite well, although I was a little frustrated that non-drinkers had been invited on a pub crawl. Still, Wolfie got to catch up with his friends and I got to sample another bar, which again resembled something like a British pub. It was quite dark and atmospheric, with a stage at the far end, which was being set up for live music. I grabbed a tasty snack of tater tots and bacon here as I hadn't eaten anything since lunchtime, while I sat on the stool at the bar, supping another great locally produced beer and chewing the fat with Mouse. He seemed to know a lot of the bar staff so we got into conversation too, which only enhanced the general friendly vibe of the place.

It was about 7:30pm by the time we left, heading back to Widmar Brothers to see Wolfie and his entourage. They had just finished so we all left together, with Cal and friends heading one way and Wolfie, Mouse and myself heading to Labrewatory, a place which allows home brewers to sell their beer to the general public. This was a great place, understandably busy, but with a strong range of different beers in different styles. They even had an ESB called Extra Special Brexit made with English hops, which was a shame. We had the mole milk stout (Mole Mole Mole) and the kettled sour pale ale (Georgia On My Mind) from memory and both had exquisite flavour profiles. This place was probably the highlight of the microbrewries we tried due to the sheer diversity of the beer they had on tap.

While we were here, I was tweeting Noxy, who said he could come meet us after work. We arranged to meet at the Ecliptic Brewing Company up on North Mississippi Street, which necessitated a half mile walk from Labrewatory. It was getting dark by this stage, and we had to cross under the interstate. All of this, coupled with the alcohol, made the steel and concrete bridges particularly imposing, partiuclarly as between the brew street where we were and the huge brewing scene near Ecliptic there was nothing but eerily desolate light industrial units. This added quite the atmosphere - in a full moon no less - as we traipsed up the hill and towards Ecliptic, outside which Noxy and his partner were waiting for us. It was great to see them again and after struggling to find a seat inside, we managed to nab a long bench and order another tasting tray, not to mention a desperately needed burger as we were craving food. I can remember the conversation being convivial but not much else. We stayed here for about an hour, but with the time pushing 10:15pm and with our early start, we knew that we had to head. This saw us saying our farewells, but not before we had ordered a Lyft further up the road, at least getting to experience some more of the brewing scene on North Mississippi. We got our car - a red pickup truck in actuality - outside Stormbreaker Brewing, which had a slight Wild West theme about it. Mouse popped in for a beer, Noxy and his partner left, while we were transported back to the hotel where we got a vague five hours sleep.

Getting up at 5:20am is hell enough as it is, but after a skinful it was torture. We did manage to drag ourselves out of bed though and get to reception for the 6am bus shuttle service to the airport. Once there, we found we had to wait in a humungous queue for check-in, with us being unable to do this online the day before due to some administrative reason of having booked the flights through Thomas Cook but us flying Alaska Air for the first leg of the journey. We also had to drop our luggage off anyway, and there was confusion here too as whether we would have to pick it up in LA (as we had to do when we routed through San Franscisco on the way in) or whether it would go straight on to Manchester. As it turned out it was the latter, but the check-in staff didn't seem sure and I wasn't convinced until I spoke to the check-in people in LA. Anyway, with luggage checked in, we made our way to the gate, deciding not to stop at the craft beer bar on the way due to the early hour. We also didn't have much time after the long check-in queue so this was probably wise too.

The first flight was smooth and we landed in LA on time, where we had a six hour layover before our Manchester flight. At any normal airport, this would be enough time to pop into the city centre but LAX is about an hour away from downtown Los Angeles and it's not particularly accessable. Perhaps we didn't need to go through to the terminal building outside security but we weren't sure about whether we needed to pick our bags up or not. What this meant though was that we had about four hours in the terminal building before we could check in for our flight back to the UK. We spent some of this time at a nice pizza restaurant in the main international terminal, while we also spent a while walking around the rather dull arrival and departure lounges. We saw someone with a Nutribullet, which pleased me no end due to the infomercials I have become somewhat addicted to on late night TV, while buying a neck pillow really was one of the highlights. Still, the four hours passed pretty quickly and once past security, at least we could get a drink from another place, albeit a trendy cocktail bar. This passed the time at least though and soon we were boarding our flight. The trip home was largely uneventful although I was disappointed they had the same movies going out as they had on the way in. Still, I got somewhat obsessed with Thomas Cook's two mascots - Lollo the Giraffe and Bernie the Bear, who have their own little song which was clearly written in a foreign language (I suspect Swedish) first before being translated into English as some of the phrasing didn't quite work. They even have their own dance routine which was interesting to watch about ten times. Aside from this, there was little else going here, suffice to say that the communication from the airline wasn't great. I doubt I would fly with them again, but at least it was cheap I suppose. Despite this, we were left with numerous happy memories of our trip and despite some initial misgivings, we are glad we went. It was just the right combination of furry stuff and tourist sightseeing and we will always be indebted to Tux for driving us around. And with more invites from American furs already, hopefully it won't be another five years before we go Stateside again.
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Thursday (8 June) was another warm day in northern Arizona, although as we were high up in the mountains, it wasn't sweltering. Of course, back home this was General Election Day and with a sizeable Tory majority still being predicted, I had started to feel somewhat apprehensive about the country we were going to which we were going to fly back that weekend. Being eight hours behind, the opinion poll was due to be released at 2pm, meaning we had a morning of touring before getting an inkling of the result. I had largely been able to put the election out of my mind thus far on the trip, just eyeing the opinion polls on Twitter on occasion, but the worries had started to increase during the 48 hours prior to the vote and thus I was somewhat apprehensive going into the day.

We left the hotel in Page shortly before 9:30am, with the intention of calling in on Horseshoe Bend as we made our way out of town. As befits the name, this is a stunning bend in the Colorado River, where we water traces a horseshoe shape around a huge dusty rock. Upon arriving at the car park, we were dismayed to discover that this natural wonder was a three-quarter mile walk away on a rather soft sandy surface, which meant Wolfie would struggle to proceed due to his injured foot. As a consequence, we made the executive decision to forge on with our plan, heading towards Monument Valley in Utah on our way to Four Corners National Park. Our decision to do Monument Valley was something of a last-minute thing, and we had only tried the night before in the hotel. Alas their internet site prevented us from purchasing the tickets while the phone line was engaged, both late on the Wednesday evening and when we had tried to phone them at 8am that morning. As a consequence, we could only drive down the public highway, route 163, but this proved to be a very good second-best option. The road pretty much picks its way through the stunning sandstone buttes and it is also largely straight, meaning you get a good view of them as you are approaching. Alas, there were few places where you can stop off and take pictures, meaning I spent a lot of the journey hanging out of the car window attempting shots, but it was ultimately worth it. The best rocks were just over the Utah border and the area was made famous by the number of movies in which they featured. Indeed, this array of thin and thick rocky columns and peaks came to define what the Wild West was, which only made these geological phenomena more fascinating. The stratification of the buttes only added to their wonder and although our drive through them was all too brief - they only last for about thirteen miles - it was certainly a worthy detour. The fact all of them had names such as The Totem Pole, Three Sisters and the West and East Mitten Buttes only added to their sense of mystery.

The principal town on the Utah side was the fantastically named Mexican Hat, which is little more than a rocky outpost. Crossing the San Juan River near there, we were stunned by the ninety degree turn the road performed so as to avoid a huge cliff, a turn which was made even more dicey as we were following a huge articulated vehicle. Mexican Hat itself was a rather dusty place, with a number of low rise hotels which looked more like shacks. There was a petrol station and 7-Eleven where we had a pit stop but ultimately this was exceptionally rural America within a rather Martian landscape of iron oxide rocks, swirling geological patterns and rock formations stacked in impossible ways. Driving on towards Four Corners, little changed, with all settlements being a few wooden huts amongst the scrubland, with the red rocky desert defining the area. It was a wonder to drive though but incredibly poor, and again a world away from the America you largely see on TV. Montzuma Creek was one such example - slightly bigger than Mexican Hat and with an elementary school - it still seemed a place where little actually happened and how the economy works out here is anyone's guess.

We pressed on towards Four Corners, soon crossing the Colorado border and entering state number 26 (number seven for Wolfie). The scenery didn't really change that much in Colorado and was a far cry from the Rocky Mountain terrain for which the state is most known, but I guess that was always to be expected. We followed Colorado Route 41 for a brief while before turning onto US State road 160, which lead us straight to Four Corners. On arrival, we noticed that we briefly crossed into New Mexico (state number 27, number eight for Wolfie) in order to get to the car park, with us parking behind one of the numerous small souvenir concessions which resembled concrete prison cells (or bus shelters if I was being generous) which opened out onto the monument itself. This was a big moment for me as I had wanted to visit Four Corners since I first heard about it in 1994. I was living in Louisiana then and our friends the Pontbriands had visited the previous summer. They showed us pictures of the four of them in four different states, and even at the age of 11, the young traveller in me was somewhat excited. So this was the realization of a dream of 23 years, so I was incredibly excited. Even better was that due to the place's remoteness, there weren't that many tourists, meaning seeing the monument and getting a picture of you standing in four states simultaneously was actually quite straightforward. The exact spot was marked by a brass plaque in the ground, beyond which there stretched some lines etched into the concrete which traced the outlines of the states for about ten metres. This formed four quadrants and on the edge of each there was written the state. The state flags, along with the two Native American regions' flags were flying here too, while further back near the souvenir stands there was a marble plaque in each state detailing that state's history. There was only about fifteen tourists at any one time waiting in line to take a picture at the actual spot, so we didn't have to wait too long to do the same. In all honesty though there was little else to do here and after buying a commemorative fridge magent and spotting a sign detailing the distance from here to all the major places in each of the four states, we hopped back in the car and headed off.

We were staying the night in Flagstaff AZ so it made sense for us to drive through New Mexico before reaching interstate 40 at Gallup. This allowed us to see some of another state, while it also meant we never retraced our steps. In reality though we were paying far too much attention to what was happening back in the UK as after we had passed through Shiprock - so named because there is a nearby rock buffe which looks exactly like a ship's sail - the exit poll for the General Election was released and we couldn't believe our eyes. Reception was hard to come by in rural New Mexico, but Wolfie managed to get a signal briefly. He was driving so couldn't spend too long messing about, but when we saw the headline we were plunged into a sense of elated shock. Initially I thought it wasn't right, that it was erroneously highlighting the 2015 exit poll, which was in the same ballpark. I quickly purchased data, churning over the phrase 'Conservatives are largest party' in my mind as this same thing had happened two years agon and pointed to a hung parliament rather than an outright majority. As I say, getting reception was a nightmare, but upon consulting my politically inclined friends on Twitter, it soon became apparent that the exit poll was correct and that the Tories had completely blown it. From a Brexit perspective, despite my despair at Jeremy Corbyn's position, this really gave me a boost and we spent most of the rest of the day glued to our phones as the results came in. We didn't want to count chickens, particularly as the 2015 exit poll had been about 20 seats out to the Tories' disadvantage but as shock after shock started to happen, we became increasingly confident that the majority had gone.

This boosted us, and Tux could feel it in the car too, even if we did have to apologise over and over to him about our distraction. We put NPR, public access radio on, but they covered little apart from the opinion poll itself. We were elated though and we weren't really paying much attention for the rest of the journey to Flagstaff. Fortunately, it was largely more of the same in terms of scenery, while our trip through Monument Valley meant we had to sacrifice other sights later in the day. As a consequence, we only stopped off in Gallup for fuel, while we also didn't get to see the Petrified Forest or Meteor Crater after we had crossed back into Arizona. However, we did manage to stop off at the city of Winslow on the way to Flagstaff, driving down some of the old historic route 66 as we did. Most of route 66 has been turned into interstate 40, but the roads through the old towns still remain, with Winslow being one of them. Winslow was made famous for being mentioned in the song "Take It Easy", which was performed by the Eagles. This meant it was thrown a lifeline as once the interstate was built, the town suffered economically. You can still see this on its outskirts but in the centre, there is a whole homage to the song, which references 'standing on the corner at Winslow, Arizona'. The corner is still there and there is a monument to the song, with statues and a mural at Second St. and Kinsley Ave. There are a number of shops and bars on this street too, and even a flat-bed Ford as mentioned in the song, suggesting something of a renaissance built on tourism, Meanwhile the railway tracks one block away, part of the huge coast to coast transport network, highlighted the once importance of these railroad towns and even now you could see trains over a mile long of containers shipped from China and being distributed across America. Here there were some delapidated warehouses, hinting at a town in decline, although the park next to the train tracks was a pleasant place for a stroll. Of course in the town there was a lot of reference to the historic route 66 and all of the myth and pathos of that road. It was all like something out of a Bruce Springsteen song, referencing middle-of-the-road America and it was a true privilege to see it.

This was pretty much our last stop of the evening aside from a rest area forty miles outside of Flagstaff, where we saw some rabbits. After a quick trip to the restroom, we pushed on and arrived at the Marriot Springhill Suites at around 6:30pm. After checking in, we headed over to Coco's Diner, a solid chain in the south-west where we had a pleasant burger but an even better dessert. They are a bakery and their speciality is cheesecakes, and I remember mine being absolutely divine. Through the meal, however, we were distracted by our phones and the election results, which were close to being fully declared by the time we headed to bed. We followed the final results in our hotel room, supping the last of the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp beers (we ended up having to take only two beers back to the UK in our hold luggage as we had made a good concerted effort to get through our 12 remaining throughout the course of the week). It was an exhilarating night all-told and in a way I wish I had been back in the UK for it, although I wouldn't have traded this trip for that. The only negatives were our Tory MP retaining his seat and Nick Clegg losing his, but aside from this, it was a generally positive night. Indeed, it had been a generally positive fortnight and we went to bed happy, although sad that our vacation was coming to a close.
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I never thought I would ever see the Grand Canyon. As I don't really drive, it was never going to be overly accessable, so when Tuxedo suggested doing this roadtrip, one of the huge draws was being able to view it. Of course, I had heard about it and some of my friends had urged me to go, but I never thought I would get the opportunity. On Wednesday 7 June, I did.

We left Kanab at a reasonable hour and soon crossed into Arizona, with wide open green plains the terrain of the day. As we drove closer and closer to the Canyon, the landscape became more lush, with tall trees dotted everywhere. Indeed, this verdant landscape was one of the huge surprises of the region as it continued pretty much up to the rim of the Grand Canyon itself. We drove for about fifty miles down US Route 89A and turning onto Arizona state road 67. We were headed for North Rim, the less popular of the two sides of the Grand Canyon, with the South Rim being far more accessable from high population centres such as Phoenix and Las Vegas. The car park was pretty full when we arrived, but the number of tourists was actually quite low, and there was certainly plenty of opportunity to see the wonderous view into the Canyon and beyond. Words can't really do it justice, it was just a stupendous sight of rusty rock bluffs which seemed to stretch on for ever. It was remarkable to think that the Colorado River, which was so tiny in the cravasse below, was responsible for much of this stunning landscape. There was a path along which you could walk about a half mile, seeing over the canyon edge and into the valley below. Wolfie is scared of heights so he dropped back, allowing Tux and I to traverse the more dicey bits, with one point being a narrow bridge with a sheer drop on either side. Indeed, what was interesting about the place was how the canyon was actually on both sides of us, which demonstrated its sheer scale. We did manage to head up to Bright Angel Point, an exposed promontory which looked out over a meander in the canyon, where we could see a huge geological fault which was part of the reason behind the extreme landscape. It was exceptionally windy up here and I feared losing my hat, not least falling off the bluff as there was only a mid-height railing to guard against this, making me feel that perhaps Wolfie had made the right call by dropping back. The safest view was in the terrace of the Grand Canyon Lodge, a hotel and restaurant clinging right on the lip of the canyon, affording excellent views over the valley. The sheer scale of the place was such that we couldn't see the South Rim at all from where we were, which was surprising, but this only added to the awesomeness of the spectacle. There were a couple of other promontories on the other side of the lodge, which I explored while Wolfie lay on the sunlounger on the terrace admiring the view. I also got to spy Roaring Springs Canyon, from where most of the water for the North and South Rim area comes.

There was a modest collection of services at the car park area, with the Lodge being the largest. There was an incredibly hard to find Visitor Centre while we also grabbed some pizza at a little cafe in the main area of the park. As we were eating, the staff sang happy birthday to our server, which was a nice little touch and we tipped her more accordingly. In the gift shop, I became furry trash by buying the 'Who's Tail On The Trail At The Grand Canyon' book while the 'Who Pooped In The Park?' was also quite interesting. There was a touching scat event at the centre too, where you could learn all about animal shit. In the complex there was also a number of chalets which Tux had tried to book, as watching the sunrise (or indeed set) over the Canyon would have been truly magical, but alas they were all booked up a year in advance and we didn't get the trip planned until early April. The Visitor Centre was full of other interesting stuff too, largely dedicated to the geological processes involved as well as the flora and fauna in the area. The North Rim is a popular place for hiking, with a number of walks into the Canyon itself, but sadly we had to refrain, partly due to Wolfie's foot which was still causing him problems but also because of my desperate fear of snakes, with this definitely being snake habitat. The Visitor Centre merely confirmed this.

Despite our lack of walking, we were able to follow a vehicle trail which traced the valley for around twenty miles. We decided to work our way to the end and double back, spying mountain meadows as we did, which are often preserved due to the large number of forest fires in the region. The forest has a habit of taking over, so these natural fires have the ability to preserve different habitats, which is why many are managed these days. The road was narrow and largely forested, twisting and turning until it disgorged itself at a carpark. We parked up and walked the two hundred metres or so to the cliff edge, where a stunning vista greeted us. The rocks were layered in different hues of red, staggered upwards as the valley got wider the closer it got to us. There was vegetation staggered across this, punctuating the rustic colour with splotches of green. The panaoramic splendour was something else and you could see why people choose to get married here. We saw a quintent of elderly people battling against the wind as they tried to take a picture on the cliff edge, while Wolfie was concerned I was getting far too close to take my shots. Meanwhile, as we walked through the forest here, we saw dried up river channels which channeled water through the area and over the sheer cliff face upon which we were standing.

After drinking this in, we headed back to the car and the next vantage point, which afforded another excellent view and indeed the only one where we could see a tributary of the Colorado River below (with the river often being obscured by the topography). Here we met a local ranger, indeed the one who had checked our annual pass as we rolled into the Park, who was monitoring the National Park but was willing to speak to anyone as she did. We saw her talking to a couple with a rather bouncy dog, before we had a chat about how the area was formed. She told us about a prehistoric site just over the road called the Walhalla Ruin, which was occupied by Puebloan farmers 800-1100 years ago. They were pre-historic Indians known as the Kayenta Anasazi, and they left around 1150AD. In the summer months they lived up here, whereas in the winter months when the valley was cooler, they lived by the river. How they got between the two still remains a mystery but what is known is that they were good farmers, growing crops such as beans, squash and corn. The ruins were the remnants of a modest old house within the forest, very near the canyon edge, and it certainly made for an interesting diversion.

Roosevelt Point was our next stop for more canyon fun. This used to be a huge plain until two tectonic plates collided, buckling the land upwards. It was this which created the Rocky Mountains and the smoother Colorado Plain out to the west, again creating a stunning vista. We stopped here for a few photos before pressing on to Point Imperial, another vantage point some 8000ft above sea level. There was a toilet here and it was here that we saw our Ranger friend again, who had disappeared as we had headed to Walhalla. She was talking to a huge group of Chinese tourists, who were blocking the promontory somewhat, meaning I had to be quick to get my pictures. No dinosaur fossils have ever been found at the Grand Canyon because the layers from their era were softer than the rock around it, meaning it has been eroded. There is no visible basement rock here, creating a more swirling and erratic landscape, and highlighted just how immense the whole area is.

This was the final stop really, and as we headed out of the park, we stopped off at a convenience store for supplies. The lady inside was really friendly and we told her about our trip, which surprised her due to the sheer distance we were aiming to cover. We then got back in the car and headed back the way we came, turning right when we got to the 89A as we were bound for Page, where we were due to stay for the night. The scenery was initially flat scrubland, but in the distance we saw a long sandstone ridge approaching. Taking the opportunity to park at a layby full of RVs, we took a few pictures of the rocky cliff and the sprawling plataeu beneath us before pressing on, listening to the delightful comedy of George Carlin as we did. I had never heard much Carlin before but I know he was seminal in the field of stand-up, so it was a real pleasure to get to know his work. It was also great listening to him with friends driving through the Arizona desert. As we kept driving, the landscape became more rocky again, with steep cliffs through which the road ran. We stopped off at a number of vantage points before we crossed over into the Navajo Reservation. The border was the Colorado River and here there was a Visitor Centre. It being around 6pm, it was closed, but there were two stunning steel bridges spanning the river - one for the road and the other for pedestrians. Spying a photo opportunity, we pulled into the carpark and walked across the bridge, taking some pictures of the stunning river valley beneath us. As I did, I spotted two vultures circling overhead before they landed on the ironwork beneath me. I managed to grab a couple more snaps before they took off. In the distance we saw a small by-plane coming into land, followed by a second, while I got chance to take photographs of the stunning rock bluffs which littered the area.

The temperature had hit over 100F by now but this didn't deter us, with us getting out of the car yet again to take some more photos over a plain. Here there were a number of small tents from which Native Americans were selling a range of handmade products, although due to the late hour they were largely packing up. We then pressed on to Page, checking into our hotel shortly after 7pm. Page was only really founded for one reason - the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam in the 1950s. Founded in 1957, it was initially a place for the workmen and now where most of the scientists who administer the dam live. It does have a thriving tourist industry though and with a population of over 7000, it's not a particularly small place. We visited the dam and it is a wonder of engineering, a sheer concrete edifice plunging into the river. The curved shape of the structure only added to its grandeur, as did the electricity wires spanning from it, leading to a sub-station perched high up the river valley. To get good views of the dam and the valley, we walked across the road bridge, which had a metal barrier to protect us from falling. There were holes cut out of the meshing at various junctures though, meaning we could take unimpeded images, but I was very fearful I would lose my phone to the wind. Behind the dam was the water of Lake Powell, a popular tourist spot and a stunning body of water in such a dry area. The dam and wrought iron road bridge in the background were true testiments to engineering and it was interesting that when we headed back to the hotel later that night, we ended up watching a documentary about how the dam was made. I wasn't sure whether that was on by coincidence or whether it was a local channel that showed nothing else, but it was certainly fascinating to watch as we drank one of our Sierra Nevada beers, with us needing to get through them by the time we had to board our flight to Portland on the Friday.

The only other thing we did that night was enjoy some excellent Mexican food at Fiesta Mexicana. Arizona's Mexican food is supreme and this restaurant certainly was. We found it as it was one of the most highly rated in the area, evidenced by the fact we had to wait twenty minutes to get a table on a Wednesday evening. Once we did though it was worth it, with a fantastic burrito served with refried beans, rice and salad. After all the free tortilla chips and salsa it was perhaps a bit too much, and we did leave feeling rather bloated, but it was an exquisite meal nonetheless. Driving through Page was an experience too as we saw a rather neat little town with loads of churches, a number of nice houses and a few good restauarants. I'm not sure there was much else aside from the fast food and hotel places off the main road which skirted the town, but it certainly seemed a wholesome little place, a slice of true America. It was definitely good to be here.
lupestripe: (Default)
So it was quite an early start on the Tuesday (6 June) morning as we had to cross a timezone to get to Zion National Park. It was only an hour and a half from Mesquite but with the hour time difference, it meant the journey felt like two and a half hours. We crossed into Arizona pretty much as we left the casino car park, travelling up I-15 which weaved its way through a stunning mountain pass just north-east of Littlefield. The sandy rock formations, jagged and tilted in wonderous directions made for a great view as the interstate snaked its way through them, with each corner delivering an even more breathtaking scene. Carving a motorway through here was quite an achievement and even though the scenery lasted a mere fifteen minutes or so, it was undoubtedly one of the more memorable parts of the trip.

The interstate is only in Arizona for something like thirty miles, cutting across the far north-western corner of the state, meaning we were in Utah before we knew it. It was here that we crossed the timezone, although only technically as Arizona is on Mountain Time but does not observe Daylight Savings meaning it is on the same time as the Pacific Coast in the summer months. In the town of St George, we stopped off at a Pilot truck stop to get gas and the obligatory 32oz Big Gulp, surveying the almost lunar landscape beneath us. It was then back in the car, passing near but not through the town of Leeds on our way to Springfield, which is pretty much the gateway to Zion National Park. We parked up outside a Hampton Inn and slathered ourselves in suncream, with the temperature forecast to be in the 90s and already quite high at 11am. We then waited in the shade at bus stop number six for the shuttle bus which was to take us to the park. As we rode, we spied the awesome craggy landscape rising high above us and we knew that this was going to be an awesome experience.

The bus was part of the orange Springdale line, which connected the town with the entrance of the Park. We then had to walk over a bridge, showing our Annual Pass as we did, before exploring the visitor centre and gift shop. Here we bought a Zion National Park hat, largely because we were concerned about sunburn and wanted extra protection. The line for the second bus was quite lengthy but it did move pretty quickly, meaning it wasn't too long before we were being transported through the Park itself. This was the green Zion National Park line, which had nine stops along the route. We decided to go to the farthest first and work back, meaning we stopped on all the way to the Temple of Sinawava. The journey was about forty minutes in length and as we made our way up the river valley, we were struck by the sheer scale and awesomeness of the crags we were viewing. The fact that we were actually in the valley too only enhanced the sheer scale of everything, and indeed it was quite surprising that such a tame river could have created all this. At the Temple of Sinawava, we opted to follow the river deeper into the canyon, following a footpath which took us around a couple of meanders amidst this awesome spectacle. There were a number of other tourists there so my fears about snakes were somewhat unfounded, while we did manage to get to see some interesting wildlife, particularly the deer who weren't too bothered by the human presence. We did track one for quite a while before it broke across the path and into the river, wanting a drink. However, it was the squirrels who were the most friendly, with many of them literally posing for me to take pictures of them. Despite the 'do not feed the animals' signs, I suspect many people did. The canyon narrowed as we kept walking, with the cliffs being particularly steep. This was due to the geology of the area, with the Virgin River being confined by the hard Navajo sandstone, meaning it had to cut straight down. This was in contrast to the wider river valley, through which the bus had driven.

We walked along the path until it had run its course, with the option of going deeper should we want to wade through the river. As tempting as this would have been, we hadn't brought suitable shoes, so we sat and watched the children playing with their families before doubling back and catching the bus. We got off at stop number 8, Big Bend, to see the sheer cliff faces plunging towards two meanders in the river, before hopping on the next bus, which conveniently came just five minutes later. It was a really well-thought out system as it enabled us to see a lot of the park very efficiently. At Big Bend, there was an interesting sign detailing the Mormon Christian names for the rocks, and how they had taken their inspiration from the Bible.

Stop number 7 was Weeping Rock, where a dripping stream feeds a garden of moss and ferns. The impermeable rock here acts like a reservoir, forcing water (particularly snowmelt) through cracks in the canyon walls. It is in these walls that vegetation could grow, in stalk contrast to the rusty and sandy rocks around it. We had a short walk up one of the sides of the canyon and into Weeping Rock, which afforded a breathtaking view of the lush green river valley in front of us, backgrounded by the harsh red hues of the steep cliff. Walking up there, we got to learn about the different flora in the valley, and if it was up to me, we would have done one of the longer walks up the cliff face. However, Wolfie's foot was starting to bother him and he couldn't even get up to Weeping Rock, missing out from standing under the overhang and surveying this miraculous vista. This meant we had to take it slowly from hereonin, so after a good ten minutes appreciating the view, we descended and walked to the bus stop, where we hopped on another bus which took us to Stop number 6 - The Grotto. This was a walk up one of the cliffs, which we couldn't do, but we did walk to bus stop number five, which was along the road. As we did, we noticed a helicopter circling - indeed it was one we had spotted on the ground as we had come up the river valley by bus some three hours earlier - with it occasionally coming close to the cliff edge to survey something up there. As we walked, we bumped into a geological surveyor who had a piece of apparatus pointing where the helicopter was stationed, and he told us that there was someone trapped up there. We watched the drama unfold for a short while before we saw the helicopter pull away, at which point we decided to finish our walk and get to the bus stop.

Zion Lodge was halfway up the valley and situated here was a restaurant, so we decided to grab some lunch. We just had sandwiches, with me picking out the tomato as I always do, while we also grabbed a local beer too. We didn't realise that the Zion Brewery had a concession outside, meaning we opted for a more mainstream craft beer, but it wasn't too much of a big deal as we had spotted a cafe at the Park entrance which was selling the brewery's beer. Finding a table amongst all of the tourists was tough and we ended up in the beating afternoon sun, but it was good to put our feet up for fifteen minutes and take a breather before completing the rest of the tour. To be honest, there wasn't much else to see after this. The scenery at the Court of the Patriarchs and Canyon Junction was impressive, but not as good as it had been further up the valley, and by the time we pulled in at bus stop number two, time was getting pressing anyway. Here is where the Zion Museum is situated, which gave details about the geology, flora and fauna of the local area, not to mention the customs of the local indigenous population. A brief history of the National Park was also covered and while there was a video presentation lasting twenty-five minutes, we opted to skip this and head back to the Visitor Centre, which was at bus stop number one.

Upon leaving the Park, Tux agreed that we go to the Zion Brewery cafe, where we discovered that in Utah, it is illegal to buy alcohol without food. This would be a nightmare for us, but as we wanted to try this local brewery, we decided to grab a pretzel with sweet honey mustard just to observe the law. It wasn't a mistake, it was actually quite delicious, while the beers we imbibed were perfect after a long hot day in the sun. We spent about an hour in the bar before hopping back on the Springdale Line bus and ultimately to the car. We had a short drive ahead of us of about ninety minutes, the first part of which was taking route 9 through Zion National Park itself (I love how the road signs in Utah are shaped to represent beehives but look a little like a turd). Tux had done this once back in the Eighties with his mother in a huge RV, but it had been winter and not a particularly pleasurable experience, so he was glad to be doing it again in better circumstances. I didn't blame him for his previous fears as the road hugged the cliff edge quite tightly, while there were a number of twisty turning tunnels which were marvels of engineering but were actually quite disorientating. It was so easy to get distracted by the stupendous scenery, which as a passenger I was permitted to drink in, and as we left the National Park we couldn't help but feel we had been to a rather special place. As we left, the terrain had one final treat though, small coned hills with varying layers where the wind had whipped around them.

The journey to our hotel for the night in the small town of Kanab was largely uneventful. We stopped off at the Checkerboard Mesa, a hill so-called due to the checkboard appearance on its surface, with horizontal lines caused by the cross-bedding of ancient sand dunes and the vertical lines caused by cracking due to temperature variation in winter as water freezes and thaws. Desert bighorns are native to this area but alas we did not see any. Aside from this, the terrain largely stayed the same and we pulled into Kanab at about 7pm. There isn't a load to do in this small town although it was interesting to see the giant white K carved into the hillside in the distance. Utah streets are also interestingly named based on their location from a central point, so our hotel was on 200 east for example. There is a logic to a lot of the American naming system. We were feeling quite tired so we didn't want to venture too far, instead going to the Three Bears Creamery across the road for dinner. My sandwich was alright, albeit somewhat small and only served with crisps, but it was the ice cream where they came into their own, with a wide range of flavours from a local dairy. I had mint choc chip and a local berry flavour, and it was definitely worth it, making it a rather excellent way to end the day.
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