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It is very rare that I feel pride for anything beyond my own achievements, but this weekend was certainly an exception. I have already detailed my trip to see the Tour de France procession on Thursday, which certainly whetted my appetite for the main event, but this was enhanced significantly by watching the local news on Friday evening which set the scene in my mind for what was going to be one of the most memorable days of my life. Seeing so much excitement over the world's biggest cycle race touring our region was contagious, and by the time Saturday morning came along I was massively stoked about what the weekend might bring. I'll admit I struggled sleeping the night before.

It surpassed all of our expectations. There had been crowds of 45,000 people expected in the centre of Leeds. In the end, that number was 230,000, causing a complete meltdown in public transport (unsurprisingly, although I doubt any network would have been able to cope). Tour fever had gripped the area, so much so that even turning up three hours early, like we did on Saturday morning, didn't guarantee a place right in front of the barrier where the peloton would be. Indeed, the bus got fuller and fuller as we approached the city centre and when we arrived, we were greeted to throngs of people heading up towards the Headrow. The atmosphere was electric and the sun started to break through the thick clouds, which only enhanced the mood. By the time we had reached the track, the crowds were already five or six deep so we headed down The Headrow to try and find a good spot. In the end, we settled for somewhere just behind some phone boxes, it being a little less dense there, and we enjoyed the 'caravan' as it sailed past some two hours before the cyclists were due to set off.

In reality, the caravan was just a giant advertising procession but the floats were all creatively done and they were throwing out free stuff. Wolfie got hit in the face by a packet of Haribo, which I managed to retrieve from between a ginger gentleman's legs, while Alexfox got a silly white hat with red polka dots sponsored by Carrefour. The caravan was quite interesting as we got to see some familiar global brands such as Ibis Budget, some more local names such as Yorkshire Tea and some bizarre French stuff that we don't even get here. I liked the mix really, particularly the Conne Sur wine, a nice pun and some brilliant cars to boot, with huge inflatable bottles sticking out of the top. All of these were interspersed with the Welcome to Yorkshire cars, which were doing a great job of promoting our area (so much so that even Prince William and Kate, who were at Harewood House to start the race officially, asked whether they could wear one of the 'Welcome to Yorkshire' yellow Y lapels). It was also great to see so many Yorkshire flags proudly flying along the route.

With the main event still 90 minutes away, we felt we wanted a better vantage point so I phoned the office to check on the situation there. The Tour was due to go past my place of work some 10 minutes after it started from Leeds Town Hall, and I was informed that there were few people beside the route near work as effectively it's on an industrial estate with very few residents. Feeling we wanted to see the riders as they rode past, we headed down there, where we were eventually joined by Skavi, who made a fivesome with Entei-rah, Wolfie, Alexfox and myself. We were still bowled away by the sheer number of people coming out to witness this, with the local shops doing a roaring trade (including the sandwich shop next to work which had increased their prices by 40% on the day - they still had a long line coming out of the cafe). There was a lot more room around here but as the start of the race drew nearer, it filled up and was again three or four rows deep like The Headrow had been previously. The difference here being that we were at the front and had a perfect vantage point, situating ourselves on the outside of a bend to get a maximum view. The stewards, who were excellent throughout, kept us informed of the situation and they were incredibly friendly.

We waited the best part of two hours to see the cyclists and once they came, it was over in about 30 seconds, even though the race proper didn't start until further up the route at Harewood. Despite this, it was undoubtedly worth it to witness one of the world's biggest sporting events in my home city. The entourage surrounding the riders was interesting to watch in itself, particularly the Gendarmerie escorting the peloton through the streets and the range of colourfully branded cars and buses which followed the cyclists in case they needed anything en route. There was a sea of people as far as the eye could see, which quickly dispersed when it was all over, but there were people clambering on hills, traffic lights and barriers to try and get a good glimpse of the action.

In the end, 2.5 million people turned out to watch the cycling over the course of the two days, which is about two-thirds of the population of the county. The interest was immense. I'm sure part of this was the uniqueness of having a major sporting event take place in the UK outside of London and I'm confident this was a major motivator in terms of getting people out to watch. I also think there was a collective desire to showcase the best Yorkshire has to offer and we were blessed with the weather, which showed off our beautiful countryside splendidly. Indeed, when watching the TV pictures of the Tour at The Pit, where we retired once we had seen the race in the flesh, I had failed to recognise just how stunning this part of the world is, and to think that up to 3.5 billion people will have watched the footage over the weekend is truly staggering. There were some furs on twitter who were bemoaning the closed roads but I will happily take one day of inconvenience to host such an event, and I hope that Yorkshire will get a significant tourism and investment boost off the back of the Tour. I'm sure it will. I loved the French names given to sights I knew well - Cote de Buttertubs and Le chateau de Skipton - and it was very difficult not to be swept away in the excitement of it all. It was the people who made it and the excitement and enthusiasm we had for the Tour was our county's greatest selling point. It surprassed all expectations.

There was a carnival atmosphere in Leeds on Saturday and we stayed behind to soak some of it up. After sinking a few beers at The Pit, we sat on Briggate to watch more of the race on the big screens (when they weren't being tempermental and would let us) before heading down to the Town Hall to the Magic Spanner, a bar opened in the cellars of the building for just one week and run by North Bar. They were serving Magic Spanner from the Magic Rock Brewery, an excellent Huddersfield-based brewer. Sitting in the sunshine on the Town Hall steps drinking this delicious golden ale with some great friends was a truly memorable experience. We also saw two people dressed as anthropomorphic bushes and we watched as they gave people hugs, including myself. The man had a really weird pointy belly and the lady kept wiggling her bum all the time. The man just waved, that's all he did. The suits were interesting, lycra with green plastic leaves stuck all over them. They were very impressively made, you couldn't see the entry zips nor the eye holes, but they were strange to watch. There was also a lot of cycling events going on around and a West Indian carnival with someone dressed as a dove for some reason. The whole show was magnificent and I can't remember smiling so much in one single day.

We missed the end of the race unfortunately, thinking erroneously that it would be shown at Millennium Square, but we then headed to Baa Bar and had a beer before heading our separate ways. We were headed home to see my father and sister, who had brought our Commonwealth Games tickets with us - another massive sporting event that we have the fortune of attending. However, despite how good that is going to be, I doubt anything will top having the Tour de France in Yorkshire. The villages, towns and cities all looked brilliant in the sunlight, the countryside was breathtaking and the sheer crowds of people astonishing. The Royal Family were here, as were the three main political leaders and I feel this weekend was one of the biggest and most important in the history of the county. We impressed the French, impressed the Tour bosses and impressed even ourselves. I feel we have proven that we can host major sporting events in the UK, particularly outside of the capital, and I do hope I will get to see the Tour here again. It was a truly magical and inspiring weekend, and reading about it in the special souvenir edition of the Yorkshire Post on Sunday made me feel those feelings again. Like with the Olympics, sport united us, but in this case on a more local level. If we put our minds to it, there is nothing Yorkshire cannot achieve. Thanks to all those who made it possible and to the Tour organisers for considering us. It was quite a weekend!

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There's nothing more British than a run-down seaside down on a rainy weekend so yesterday was the quintessential experience in Scarborough. Like a lot of beaches, they can be great in the sunshine but as soon as the rain starts, there is a dearth of things to do. If it's torrential, you're housebound, or in this case cabin bound.

Sval had rented a beach hut on North Bay and the hope had been for a similar experience to that in Llandudno a year earlier to the day. Then it was gorgeously sunny and 28C, yesterday was 14C and raining - how the British climate can change. We arrived in a deluge and debated for ten minutes whether to turn home again, but with the rain easing slightly, we opted to walk the five minutes between the car park to the beautiful rainbow that constituted the brightly coloured huts. We were in the orange one, where around ten furs were sat on deckchairs looking out towards the wild sea and expense of grey clouds above it.

They had all had a BBQ, leaving some toffee like fat laid in the frying pan so I opted to have a load of concentrated cordial without really diluting it. Consequently this gave me a sugar high and I spent a while dancing around with a Tesco bag on my head, which had been made for me as a makeshift sunhat come rain protector. Sval wrote his name in the sand, Glynt drew a fox and when the fursuits came out once the rain had stopped, a little boy whose birthday it was was delighted to see them. I explained furry to his godparents, the only other people silly enough to book a beach hut on such a wretched day while the suiting was going on. I brought my suit but the weather was still erratic and I didn't fancy brushing sludgy sand out of my footpaws, which are slightly broken anyway.

Afterwards we opted to go to South Bay for a bit, where all the shops are, where Wolfie got a delicious fish butty which disintegrated in his hands from the disturbingly named Winking Willy's, which is apparently a fish (why the fish was advertising a place where it would get eaten, God only knows). I got a pink ice cream with a dodgy tasting cone (raspberry and vanilla but sadly the raspberry was more a sorbet than creamy) and we went to a medieval armory shop where we got a nice glass wolf picture for our living room wall, full of deep vivid colours. We also got a wolf wine bottle holder from Guzzlers - it's a wolf lying on his back and when you put a wine bottle in the holder, it looks like he's drinking all the wine. I've named it Wolfie after Wolfie. I also tried to persuade the wolf to get some minions but he was having none of it. And I thought he liked minions, he keeps telling me he wants an army of them.

Typically the sun came out as we were just about to leave but we couldn't stay much longer as Taneli, our designated driver, wanted to go and we promised we would go to Byron Burgers in Leeds, which had opened the preceding Wednesday. We had never tried this and with the gourmet (read generally overpriced) burger market taking off, we thought it was worth trying. To be fair, it was quite nice and reasonably priced for a burger of this quality - far better value than Five Guys certainly. The skin on chips and Mac and cheese were the highlights so, even though Five Guys do better burgers, I would say Byron do better everything else. I imagine that a lot of the Five Guys hype in the fandom therefore is because they're American. Our waitress in Byron was very friendly too, telling us about the soft opening of the restaurant last weekend and the official opening on Wednesday. The interior is all new with a lovely clock adorning the wall and with its central location, we will definitely come here again.

lupestripe: (Default)

It's a great honour that Yorkshire is hosting the Tour de France Grand Depart this year. I'm massively excited that a world class sporting event is coming to my area and feel very proud that Yorkshire was chosen to host the event.

Over the last few days, the centre of Leeds, where the race will start on Saturday, has been transformed into a sea of yellow, with huge posters outside the Town Hall proclaiming the start of the race. I'll be down there but last night was the opportunity to see all of the riders at close quarters on a procession from Leeds University, where they are staying to Leeds Arena, where the opening ceremony took place. Considering the road closures meaning travel home would be difficult, I thought I might as well join the party, particularly as it's quite a historic event.

I got there around 6pm, just as the event was about to start, and surprisingly got a spot right on the barrier next to the procession route. I chose my place well, correctly thinking the throngs of people would be at millennium square. As a consequence I got to see all the riders cycle past me with their colourful branded team cars in tow and some even gave me waves and high-fives. One of the guys driving the Welcome to Yorkshire advertising vehicles which are everywhere gave me a lengthy stare too.

I thought it would be a procession of all 188 riders in one line lasting about ten minutes. As it turned out, the 23 teams went individually in ten minute intervals, with Chris Froome and Team Sky coming last to sustain interest. This meant there was quite a bit of waiting but there was a carnival atmosphere and everyone was having a great time. I was with some nice people albeit a Japanese tourist who wanted to take a million photos and a woman whose protruding elbow kept finding its way into mine, but I got a lot of video and footage. The reality of my city hosting the greatest cycle event in the world was starting to sink in, watched by 3.5 billion people in 188 countries, and I must admit I was very proud, which is a rare emotion for me (although during the waiting I did notice just how ugly some of the buildings are in Leeds, specifically the Merrion Centre, which is where I was stationed).

I've seen on twitter a few people complaining about road closures, which to me seems a little selfish, unless they have a genuine need to be in the city (which these people don't - no one who reads this by the way). It was for one evening and one day, the day being Saturday, and it's not as if there has been little warning about this - we have known about it for 18 months. I think that's a decent sacrifice to have half the world seeing the beauty of the area and I'm sure the local economy and tourism will be boosted significantly. Certainly the numbers who were there last night bear this out.

Leeds is booming, with new establishments opening all the time. The Victorian Quarter is currently being constructed, Byron Burger has just opened and a new restaurant called Bar and Liquor is coming in August. After the procession, I opted to hang around for an hour until the buses and roads got back to normal and discovered a wealth of things I never knew existed. I also took some pictures of the Tour stuff and bought some merchandise from the souvenir tents, seeing them quite empty of customers and knowing they may be a nightmare come Saturday. Everyone serving there was French, which added to the gravity of the event, and I bought a mug and a squeezy water bottle as souvenirs of what will be a fantastic day for my city. The place has gone mad, with cycling stuff in all shops, bars doing special drinks and a giant bicycle in the centre of the main square. If the aim is to get us excited, it's certainly worked with me and last night's event, superbly organised and stewarded (despite the ten minute delay), certainly whetted my appetite.

Yo Puppy!

Jul. 2nd, 2014 09:45 am
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Saturday was a rather fun day. We spent it in the Bristol and Bath areas, meeting up with a small group of furs. I prefer smaller gatherings to meets these days as it's far easier to meet new people in smaller numbers. This was the case with Porsupah, who I have spoken to regularly over the last few years but who we had not met before the weekend. It's great to find a fur with whom I have something in common - in this vase beer and gastronomy - and it was very easy talking to him. The relaxed nature of the meet helped too.

We spent most of Saturday walking around the ancient city of Bath, seeing the Roman buildings and beautiful cathedral which we couldn't really digest last December due to the throngs of Christmas shoppers which had descended on the city to view the Christmas Market. We also got to walk alongside the tranquil canal with its stunning textured eighteenth century bridges. This was a rather pleasant stroll in the summer sunshine, particularly if you are a train spotter as it is near the main railway line. There were many people chugging up and down on barges - largely groups of men on a drinking session quaffing dubious beer - but it was great to see a little bit of countryside, particularly so close to the city.

By 3pm, as happened last time, the alcohol lovers amongst us were craving beer so we went to a rundown working mans pub where there was a particularly delicious IPA on tap. The day had started out as a tea shoppe crawl but we only went to two - the place where we met which did a lovely white vanilla hot chocolate and an establishment after the first pub which was quite pretentious and served little outside of coffee, which wasn't good for me. The apple juice there was exceptional.

Ambery, who had organised the day, wanted to watch the Brazil v Chile World Cup game at 5pm so we headed to a bar that was showing it on a big screen. Only Ambery and myself were interested in the game but this place had good beer so people were happy, although the layout in the TV area wasn't conducive to talking in a group. As a consequence, the non-football furs went outside in the second half to chat, leaving me in a bit of a quandary as I had come to see them yet Ambery wanted to watch the game. I tried to do both simultaneously.

We drank a lot of different ale here before going to the Salamander brew house, where we had an exquisite meal, in my case black pudding scotch egg for starter and fish and chips. We had some nice Bath Ales here, a brewery which is one of my favourites which we sadly can't get in Yorkshire, while I had a nice chat with the waitress at the end. I'll be honest, I was quite pissed at this point but coherent enough and fully in control - the result of eight hours of casual drinking, not caning it.

Our party had diminished as the day had professed, leaving us with just seven now. The three of us who were staying in Bristol soon found the train calling so we bade everyone goodnight and headed back. After this, we had a drink of crappy beer in the Travelodge before Wolfie went to bed, leaving Ponpon and I alone to talk about the salient issues of the day. I like Ponpon, politically we are quite similar while our outlook on life is largely meshed too. He's also fabulously easy to speak to, and we spoke about a range of subjects from fetishes to philosophy to politics. We continued this over breakfast on Sunday in a nice artsy cafe by the river, as we had done in Graze the previous morning. We had hoped to meet up with Ponpon on the Friday night but we were down quite late due to traffic so we only had a quick drink in BrewDog before retiring - Ponpon was too tired. I also needed to be drunk for the Saturday night as the bed was so terrible on the Friday - one of the worst night's sleep ever - I don't recall it being as bad last year at the same place (if not the same room).

There are plans to go back to the SW in September for the chilli festival as well as travel to Wycombe later in the year. I hope they both happen as these weekends are always magnificent.

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There is an odd 10-minute filler programme here starring a piece of toast called Bernd. It is on KiKA, a German TV channel, and it seems to concern this piece of toast being bullied to join the World Wide Web by a computer as he wants friends and doesn't want to be alone. He then gets blackmailed into giving his details to said computer to stop the publication of various naughty photos while he realises that despite having over one thousand web friends he is, in fact, alone. There is something about a pink pony farm in there too and webcam roulette, which I just don't understand, but I think the computer blackmails the toast because he may out him as a sissy due to his love of pink pony farm. Puppy likes pink pony farm. It's played on loop at this time of night as there are no programmes on and it's tantamount to toast bullying, I feel most sorry for him as he seems so hapless. He says "ich hasse dich" and the computer goes "ich weiss" at the end. He also says "Mist" a lot. All quite sad. It's most strange but not as strange as those fantastic late night sex ads they get here, with grinding woman (teens, fetish, elderly types) urging you to call a number for sex chat. They're only 15 seconds long but they are repeated alternately so it's most peculiar. They're also quite unappealing, not erotic at all. I particularly love it when they moan the digits of the phone number or worse still, sing it.

Today was the day I was supposed to meet my German colleague in Munich but he blew me off at 8pm citing traffic jams in Italy, from where he was returning from holiday. This holiday was arranged AFTER I had arranged this trip to see him and why he couldn't let me know about the situation before 8pm I don't know. Suffice to say, to have travelled all this way and effectively been shat on, does not make me a happy puppy, despite the fact that I have made the best of things.

It was a gloriously sunny day in Munich, with temperatures up to 33C so the whole city was out and about. Despite the heat, I opted to check out the Alte Pinakothek and the Neue Pinakothek, two of the art galleries here. They are situated, rather aptly, in the Museum District on Theresienstrasse, the same street that becomes a huge carnival for Oktoberfest. The galleries contain some of the finest paintings in the world from the likes of Rembrandt, Botticelli, Titian, Albrecht Durer, Holbein and Edouard Manet among many others. Vincent Van Gogh's famous Sunflowers is also exhibited here and it was a pleasure to view such an exquisite piece at close quarters.

The Alte Pinakothek is currently undergoing renovation so about one quarter of it is closed. It is housed in a huge imposing industrial brick building not to dissimilar to the university library in Cambridge. It was founded by Ludwig I in 1836 and contains the treasures of the Bavarian dukes and royalty as well as what was seized by the dissolution of the monasteries, which happened here in 1803. It is split into four sections dependent on era and provenance, meaning it was quite easy to find what you were after. I walked around the whole gallery - suffice to say there were many portraits and religious paintings, specifically involving the adoration of the magi, the crucifixion or weeping over Christ. The paintings I found most evocative though, unsurprisingly perhaps, were the more secular or historical ones. Altdorfer's 1529 painting depicting Alexander the Great's victory over King Darius of Persia was extremely detailed, with the dark colours adding a sense of importance and magnificence to the battlefield. Indeed, there was a whole section dedicated to battlefield paintings, specifically throughout the nineteenth century at a time when the genre was seen as becoming staid and anachronistic.

Beforehand, battle paintings often depicted a king or nobleman's bravery but with the nation state developing in this era, war paintings came to depict generals and nationhood more, with an increased focus on the individual soldier and the more human aspect of war. Charting these changes throughout this period was certainly interesting, along with following the differing styles which were developed from the fifteenth through to the eighteenth centuries. Getting an eye in on the use of colour and form became quite easy and I feel I have learnt a fair bit about artists techniques from visiting the museum.

The renovations which were taking place were largely to correct the lighting, and I admit that it was difficult to see some of the pictures due to their height and the light reflecting off their surfaces. There were a good few paintings though and the less famous ones grabbed me the most, including Breughel's Land of Cockaigne, a 1566 piece warning against the trials of gluttony.

The Neue Pinakothek was an airier building across the road, and it housed a range of nineteenth and twentieth century masterpieces, some of which I have previously mentioned. There was a special section dedicated to the Greek Landscapes of Carl Rottmann, huge plaster artwork which covered the entire room. The gallery was of 22 rooms and it largely went with age, from oldest to newest, with the art of 1800 coming first and ending with the likes of Manet, Van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, the French Impressionists and Post-Impressionism. Both of these styles I particularly like due to the clever use of brush work as well as simplistic shapes which was quite a nice antidote to the landscape and religious paintings which had preceded it. Having said that, I do like a good landscape as it's something to which I can relate, which is different to the distance I find I have with portraits and religious iconography. Neptune's Horses by Walter Crane from 1892 was probably my favourite picture here, the form of the horses marrying with the waves so perfectly.

After the art gallery trip, I decided to walk down Thereseinstrasse in the sunshine, feeling its delicious warmth on my pallid skin. I turned right down Leopoldstrasse and back into the city centre, where I stopped off at a rather expensive outdoor cafe at the Hofgarten to enjoy a beer. The beer is incredibly easy to drink in this city - you can have five or six without really realising it, with the sense of drunkeness only later coming up to mug you. Meanwhile it's also so cheap, at my hotel it's €2.30 for 0.2l of Coke and €3.70 for 0.5l of beer. Anyway, with sumptuous views over the Hofgarten, which is part of the Residenz, I didn't mind paying a premium but I opted just for the one while I waited for my friend to text me whether he was coming to meet or not. I tried phoning but to no avail - on three occasions - so I downed my beer and opted to head over to Max Weber Platz on the other side of the River Isar.

I grabbed a nice biscuit rainbow from a pleasant lady in one of the only open bakeries in the city - Munich isn't as bad as the rest of Germany but there is very little open on Sundays - and headed to Maximilianeum, built by Friedrich Burklein between 1857 and 1874. It overlooks the banks of the Iser, with the water roaring below, and it takes the form of a palace which has been the seat of the Bavarian government since 1949. The building was initially a school for impoverished children, built on the orders of Maximilian II. It's certainly the most impressive school I have seen, sitting on its own little island with fortified walls beneath it and the road and tramlines acting like a moat.

Before this building and heading back into the city centre is the Maximilian Bridge over the gushing River Isar. This stone bridge has statues across it at intermittent points and from it you can see Ludwigsbrucke. This bridge initially stood elsewhere but was ordered to be demolished by Henry The Lion (like Simba I guess - not sure how a leonine ruler would work :S) in 1157-58 so as to divert the salt road and thus take the lucrative customs fees off the bishopric and into royalty. Monks soon formed a settlement near the new bridge and it was from here that Munich got its name, Munchen meaning to be near the monks.

I beared right and walked along the banks of the Isar, looking at happy couples sunbathing on the white shingle beaches around which this shallow wide course ran. I walked all the way up to Luitpoldbrucke to see the shimmering golden Friedensengel which shone majestically in the summer sunlight. Built between 1896 and 1899 to commemorate the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, the gilded figure is based of Nike and stands atop a 23m tall column.

After this, I was concerned I wasn't getting my friend's text messages so I went back to the hotel to see if having wifi would help. Alas not so I caught the back end of the opening World Cup match and headed out for food. I spied a couple of churches in the way - one at Max Weber Platz to which I had initially returned following my circular wall and one near my hotel. Munich is full of resplendent large churches, many built mainly with brick, with spires penetrating the sky and providing handy markers around the city. I love losing myself in a city and this makes navigation tremendously so it's great to just explore and go off the beaten track. Having a five-day public transport card helps too of course, which it did as I could go anywhere for dinner. I opted for Munchner Freiheit, the trendy student district to the north of the city where I had a perfectly passable pizza, saw a large dog who kept staring at me and then sniffing his balls and watched some more of the World Cup. It was while I was on my way there that my friend finally text me, which was frustrating as I wouldn't have eaten so late had he been more communicative. Still, no great loss I guess and at least I had had a great day.

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I arrived in Munich yesterday after flying from Manchester, where Enteirah had very kindly put me up for the night. The flight wasn't particularly early, 10.50am, but early enough to travel the night before if possible. I didn't get into Manchester until 9.15pm the previous evening due to never-ending work commitments but the bunny still met me at the station and we had an enjoyable evening with Angela and Dave. One of those is a real person, the other a TV channel.

The flight was largely uneventful but as it was Lufthansa, we got a free hot turkey sandwich on suspicious bread and delicious Warsteiner beer to prepare us for our trip to the brewing capital of one of the world's biggest brewing nations. The sandwich turned out to be rather delicious and the hour and a half flight largely flew by (pardon the pun).

Munich is a very easy city to navigate - at the airport I got a five-day pass which works like a Travelcard in London. There is an on-site brew house at the airport and the temptation to sit in the little paved area, with a colossal sculpture, in between the two terminals and have a beer was strong but I decided it may be best to get to my hotel particularly as rush hour was approaching. I soon hoped on the S8 S-Bahn and was soon travelling through the verdant countryside on the edge of the city. The landscape changed into more industrial territory as we got closer and closer to the centre, before the beautiful Baroque houses which highlight the region slinked into view.

Munich is often described as Italy's northern most city and there is a definite Italian feel to the architecture. The heart of the city is the Marienplatz, which I visited once I dumped my bag off at the hotel and picked up the obligatory Bratwurst from a takeaway kiosk. The square is dominated by the imposing Neues Rathaus, a huge intricate structure with an ornate clock tower. Here is a good meeting place and I noticed a handful of people embarking on a brewery tour I had seen advertised. Not for me though, I had sightseeing to do. And then admittedly drinking.

The square also has a gold statue of the Virgin Mary dating from 1638 and tucked behind it is the Altes Rathaus, a building of less grandeur than its newer equivalent but no less beautiful. This Gothic structure was built in 1464 and now houses a toy museum which was unfortunately closed by the time I had dragged my sorry (but sassy) arse to it. To the right as you look at the Neues Rathaus, you see Peterskirche, a 13th century building built on the highest part of the town. There is an archway adjacent to this and you can follow the street down to the bricked frontage of Isortor, one of the city's original gates.

All of this is largely pedestrianized and is now home to high street shops including an Apple store, which is round the corner from Marienplatz. It being 6pm and all the shops having closed I opted to head north towards the cultural and university area, soon becoming distracted by the sounds of a brass band playing inside the Hofbrauhaus & Platzl. This is basically Munich's most famous pub and home of Hofbrau, the beer you find in England with the distinctive HB label. The pub dates from 1896 but this was the original royal court brewery, founded in 1598 by Wilhelm V. There is space for one thousand patrons and it serves ten thousands liters of beer a day. Live bands play throughout the evening and, desperate for a beer anyway, I opted to stay and grab one. The system is somewhat chaotic, with people running around everywhere, so I opted to just find a seat and see what happens. A charming chap then came up to me to take my order - I opted for HB Dunkel - and I settled down to watch the second half of the World Cup match being screened. Slightly later, another man was wandering around selling pretzels so I opted for one, which was a perfect accompaniment to the delicious stein of beer. And yes it was a stein, a full litre, they don't really seem to accept anything less here. Before leaving, and possibly because I had been drinking, I bought some gifts for Wolfie from the shop because nothing says beer house more than a scarf and a moose in an HB uniform.

With an hour to kill before the England game and knowing that nearly everywhere would be showing it - and I mean literally everywhere, from takeaways to standard restaurants to high-class establishments - I decided to do a little more exploring, walking through the heart of the thirteenth century Altstadt. I soon came out next to a large theatre adjacent to the Residenz, the palace occupied by the Bavarian rulers from 1385 to 1918. It dominates this part of the city and is Munich's largest historical complex - I visited it on Friday, it was closed on Thursday night - and I'll detail the trip in my next journal.

On the north side of the Residenz is the Hofgarten, a quaint genteel little grassy area with arranged flower beds and a stone pagoda in the middle, the Temple of Diana. Hedges and linden trees line the pathways and again the city's Italian influence can clearly be seen. The Hofgarten comes out at Odeonplatz, a neat little square with an orange church, currently undergoing restoration, on the opposite side. The Feldherrnhalle is also here, with statues of the Bavarian field marshals Tilly and Wrede displayed. Walking through the city, you do get an appreciation of just how loved dogs are here. There are dogs everywhere, particularly small to mid-sized ones and it's great to watching them a-sniffling and a-snuffling. Dogs always make me happy, so it's been a happy trip so far.

Kick off was fast approaching so I wandered around the centre of the city looking for a suitable bar. I eventually decided on Paulaner Im Tal, a no-nonsense cafeteria place with a frumpy no-nonsense woman serving. There were no completely free tables but I spotted a lone Spaniard who had finished his food and he said it would be fine to sit at his table. He soon buggered off, leaving me alone for all of five minutes as a group of students joined me - an Englishman, two Americans and a New Zealander who were all backpacking and were staying at the same hostel, the Munich 10. They were not traveling together, they had just met each other that day and had already been drinking for some of the afternoon. As it turned out, the Englishman was from Harrogate, near to where I live and he had worked for one of my company's clients. Suffice to say, we got on quite well and for the next torturous 90 minutes, we sank beers, chatted and cheered our team to World Cup elimination. The Germans were generally behind us, but it was us who were the loudest, even in the face of defeat. It was a tough match to watch, defensive frailties cost us, but the evening was generally a good one.

The Americans and New Zealander left just before the end, leaving Conor and I alone. He was going to Budapest that night, leaving on the 11.40pm train out of the Hauptbahnhof so we walked back to the station together, where we swapped details and bid each other goodbye. Despite the result, last night was one of those truly magical nights you get when traveling, bumping into random people and sharing experiences. I was quite drunk on the underground back to the hotel but I was happy, despite England's loss. I got back to the hotel and tried to watch the Greece game but half a litre of Spaten (literally spade) later, I needed to head to bed.

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On Sunday we went to the annual Leeds Food Festival, which is apparently the largest urban food festival in the country. With stalls across Millennium Square and outside the library this could potentially be the case and it was a nice mix of food vendors, pickle and oil salesmen and local breweries vying for attention.

Due to the warm sunny weather, the event was packed, not aided by the numerous people who had brought their bloody pushchairs with them, which added to the congestion. There was a real buzz in the market though and a range of tempting smells to enjoy. I grabbed a couple of half pints of ale to drink while wandering around and was soon tucking into local pies, snausages and cookies, having an excellent lunch in the process. I had actually visited the market the preceding Friday with Arc and Soma - and Suburban who arrived later - but only the Library one. The Millennium Square one was missed.

We had Adia, Soma, Oracle and Ent with us this time and we all tried different culinary delights. We then went on an impromptu pub crawl - seeing a crowd taking a photo of a moustachioed Turkish man in the process - to a range of bars we had not yet tried. We also included a few favourites including the chocolate bar and the Double Tree Sky Lounge where we had a 13th floor view over an industrial park. There are new venues opening up every week in Leeds, such is the vibrant scene and one of them is Roland's on Call Lane. Open just eight weeks, this turned out to be run by someone I went to secondary school with, whose father owns two major hostelries in Yarm. Even though it has been 13 years, he recognised me instantly and me him (although the name didn't click until later once I got home) and it was great catching up. His bar is a craft beer one - one of many here - but it has a nice vibe and I hope it does well.

I happened to be in this bar twice during the day, the second time with Furison and Grafter who DMed me on twitter saying that were out and about. We met up after the others went home and took them to some of our favourite bars in the city. Before this, we had gone to another bar where we saw a naked man jump into the canal, not once but twice, with his plonker on view. Adia was most excited.

So what started as a day at the food festival inevitably became an eight hour drinking session but it was great fun nonetheless, not least teasing Adia over some porn we happened to discover on Friday night involving a man dressed as a chicken XD

On the bus on the way home, we encountered a chav who kept asking us whether we had brought fish on the bus. We kept saying no but he wouldn't shut up, much to the annoyance of the other passengers, so when he left I made a witty blue comment and called him a twat. Later, as another passenger was getting off the bus, he said "I am Italian and you are right, he was a twat". I'm not sure what the Italian caveat was in aid of - do Italians know more twats? - but it was a wonderful moment. We then talked about the World Cup for a while, he was confident Italy would beat England, before going our separate ways. A great end to a great day!

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On Sunday we had our first BBQ of the year in sunny Stockport, where we celebrated Baloki's birthday. There were premium burgers, snausages (puppies like snausages), kebabs and nibbles (such as Chipz, Tesco own brand Pringles) with lots of high strength premium beer and a sickly but gorgeous white chocolate cake for dessert. Lots of fun! The first disposable BBQ didn't work, despite the copious amounts of lighter fluid we put on it, but the crappy one from Poundland did. We had to go and get another one midway through though, a proper one, as the coals weren't lighting at all.

We also met Baloki's neighbour who was looking after her son's sprocker spaniel puppy Bella. Bella was four months old and lots of fun, although she did confuse my foot with food and started to have a nibble. She was very inquisitive and loved the meat we were feeding her. She was very naughty and even tried to steal my burger! She was a lot of fun though and it was great playing with her - for some reason I get on well with puppies. Baloki's neighbour was nice too although she kept falling into the traps some elderly people do, bemoaning things like the youth of today, which is not really true for the vast majority of us. I can understand from where she got this view though and she was very receptive to my counter arguments.

Aside from that, it was great just chilling in the sun with some good friends. Entei-rah, Angela, Patter, Baloki and Miles were all there, the latter playing Japanese style video games a fair bit, which was interesting while Wolfie couldn't drink as he was driving. Silly Wolfie!

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On Sunday, we woke up around lunchtime due to the previous evening's charity work and Trapa needing to adjust to his new timezone. Wolfie needed to collect a bench from a salesman who had been unreliable once before and unsurprisingly he wasn't in again so he gave up.

It was a wondrously sunny day and Draken wanted to go to Howarth as there was a German beer served in a bar there that he particularly enjoyed. As we could ride the Worth Valley railway, we thought it would be a good day out for Trapa too as I knew he enjoys steam locomotion. So we all headed to Keighley and soon boarded the train into Bronte Country. It was then we realized it was 1940s weekend and many were dressed up to celebrate the decade during which you could find your house had been blown up. It was a nostalgia trip for many and made quite a scene although seeing the range of full dead fur animals draped around people's necks was quite saddening.

There was a festival going on in the park where we saw some locals doing the jive including a sailor with a big arse. We also bought some local (puppy) fudge as well as gorged ourselves on hot dogs and ice cream. The Main Street was replete with old vehicles and at the top was a full Spitfire but in all honesty it was a little too crowded for me. We grabbed our beer from the Howarth Steam Brewery, another local brewing place which is thriving at the moment. Sadly they didn't do flights off tasters due to the festival while a sign at the back said strictly no Nazi regalia, clearly it was a very British event.

We grabbed some olde fashioned sweets and opted to forgo the Bronte stuff, not being a fan of literature conveying such sensibilities. The steam train was the best bit as we all stuck our heads out of the window pretending to be dogs. We had a Human Centipede selfie where I looked like I was vomiting my hair and we also met Taneli's Dad who rides up and down the railway as he has an annual pass. The smell of steam was very evocative and it was a rather quaint scene as it passed through sunlit country. The seats were also super comfy too, far better than the shite you get now.

At the other end, we decided to show Trapa around Saltaire, where we saw a cyclist swerve past two other riders before losing control and falling into the canal. The smell was quite strong. We also looked at the mill and organized Victorian town surrounding it before going to Shipley where we got Trapa to try an authentic Bradford curry at Aagrar. It was buffet night, allowing Trapa to sample a range of starters and mains, something which we all indulged in. I think he quite enjoyed the range of curries available but like me I think he was bowled over by the starters.

We went to local bar The Fox after this just to say we were in the Fox on twitter (guffaw guffaw). It also sells a range of craft beer and had been recommended to us - it didn't disappoint.

Upon arriving at home, Taneli (who had driven Wolfie's car back) left and we introduced our Canadian friend to The Animals of Farthing Wood. We saw four episodes on Sunday and a further three on Monday, those by request as he got into the show and wanted to see more. Unlike me, who has a penchant for Fox, Badger is his favourite character although he did like Adder while finding Weasel annoying. Hopefully we can watch the remainder of Series 1, the best series in my view, at Confuzzled. Some of his acerbic comments were quite funny and he developed a love for the show as the story progressed. As for me, twenty years on it still doesn't get old. Fox was my first furry crush and the show awakened my furry side. I still enjoy watching it to this day.

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Ahead of Confuzzled, we have had our friend Trapa staying from Vancouver. Taneli and I picked him up from Manchester Airport in the morning as Wolfie had to run our regularly monthly meet. On the way we also picked up Entei-rah and the four of us travelled back to Pudsey just in time for the annual Pudsey Carnival, a motley collection of floats, marching people and advertisements. The bagpipe procession leading the event was its main draw while it was great seeing the Leeds Rhinos mascot Ronnie the Rhino make an appearance, along with Pudsey Bear. There were also some kids on lorries penned in as if they were being led to the slaughterhouse.

It was a lovely sunny day and having missed the start of the meet, we opted to take a taxi down there. Soon enough we arrived and I opted to do som fursuiting which was rather hot given the conditions. It was quite an international meet, the only one in the UK the weekend before CFz, so we had a fair few Americans and Canadians present ahead of the con. In addition we had Brazilians and Poles so it was quite a party, even if the bar was rather warm. Suiting was great fun, particularly as I could just sunbathe in suit, while I also found a half empty apple juice carton meaning I could pretend to pee in the street. I gave Fibrekitty a guided tour in suit and we were even allowed in the Library as the lady on the front desk loved us so much. Meanwhile I am still surprised just how pink Lupe is in direct sunlight, the sparkles add to the depth of colour.

After the meet, we went to Trinity Kitchen before Arcais and I headed to Kirkstall to do some charity work, stewarding for the Midnight Memory Walk. This involved standing on a street corner for four hours guiding fully grown women across a road even though traffic lights were already there. I felt a bit silly doing this but it was more about providing a friendly face, directing people where to go and to hand our refreshments and plasters if anyone needed it. At that time of night in that location, I thought two suits and no spotters wouldn't be good so I stewarded Arc for the evening, who was excellent and made everyone smile. We even saw some foxes dooping about the river next to our station while the ramshackle pub opposite kept giving us free drink for our efforts. This is puppy approved!

The route doubled back on itself so there was a big throng at the beginning and then everyone dribbled back later. The middle bit was a little dull but we got to rest and a van came around and gave us tea. We also got to eat our complementary food and bond a bit, it was nice to chat. We did this on a wall near a lighting store, whose lights suspiciously came on for no reason after midnight. It was scary. We also spent a lot of time saying 'Hello mate' from the Resolva weed commercial because we found it amusing.

We were done by 2am and with no partners to pick us up through drink and sleep, we grabbed a taxi back with a nice gentlemen. I took Arc back first even though it would have made sense for me to get out before her, making up a story about a dodgy key to assuage the rather nice taxi driver who was perplexed why we were doing it this way (it was the chivalrous thing to do particularly at that hour). We were both home by 3am after a tiring but amazing day.

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Last night's Russian meal to celebrate the end of year two turned out to be a damp squib. I could not make the lesson in the end due to work commitments - this close to the World Cup that's hardly surprising plus the lesson was to be reduced by an hour to accommodate the meal - but I did manage to turn up to the restaurant at 7.45pm as arranged. No one had arrived by this point but the booking was in the system so I grabbed a beer and waited. And waited. And waited.

An hour later they hadn't shown but the restaurant informed me they had phoned earlier to say they may be a little late. They were still definitely coming though. So I grabbed another beer, a 7.2% Italian malt variety as it happened, and waited some more. By the time 9.15pm arrived, they still hadn't arrived, so I opted to throw in the towel. I went to the toilet but upon returning, I had noticed the restaurant had taken pity on me and had given me olives and toast sprinkled with pesto infused olive oil. This was quite tasty and very much appreciated after drinking two beers on an empty stomach. However, my classmates still didn't show after this so after chatting to the restaurant staff (who were all very friendly and felt sorry for me) I left and bought a takeaway pizza to eat on my own. The loneliness was compounded by the fact Wolfie is in Germany for three days with work so I had the house to myself.

It was a sad way to end the year really, and indeed my learning Russian as I doubt I'll do year three. I didn't have the teacher's phone number and as I was informed by the restaurant that the attendee number had reduced prior to the meal, I suspect they just decided to throw the towel in at the truncated lesson. This was a shame as had I known, I would have gone to the class but I felt it wasn't worth it due to the arrangements that had been made, coupled with the fact they weren't covering anything new, just doing an end of year quiz. I wasted three hours last night, frustratingly, but what can you do? Hopefully I'll get the full story later.

None of this has helped my confidence, which had already been eroded earlier in the day due to the anti World Cup comments starting already on Twitter, coupled with me not knowing who Giger was. Small things maybe but they are feeding into my anxieties of mis-placement, of not fitting in anywhere, of having next to nothing in common with the furry community. Those who have known me a while know this is nothing new but I cannot shake off this isolationist part of my brain.

The run-up to Confuzzled is compounding this - I'm very apprehensive about the convention due to its size, which I know I'm going to find overwhelming. I get anxiety at the best of times around furs, let alone 1000 of them, and I've already started to panic over this. I know I'm going to feel very awkward and out-of-place at the con. Added to this is the feeling it has been somewhat overhyped on Twitter, with an awful lot of noise over the last two months. I simply do not share the general levels of excitement and I feel a little guilty because of this. I'm sure it'll be a reasonable weekend but I'm not expecting anything special, nor do I think it'll be the best weekend of the year. Furthermore, with Numberwang being so important to so many people (particularly the staff it would seem), again contrary to my preference for smaller events, that's just compounded the feeling I'm going to be lost amongst a group of people with whom I have very little in common. I have been contemplating not going but I don't think this is viable at this stage. I feel down that I feel like this but it is how it is and I just don't know how to change it. It's a bit of a quandary.

Eurovision

May. 12th, 2014 09:28 am
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We had a small gathering over at ours for Eurovision on Saturday night, in my view one of the highlights of the year. We would have liked to have invited more people but our living room is smaller than in our rental flat and we only just managed to squeeze the handful of people who were present in. Next year, we may have to do something different, and plan it a little further ahead - due to our garden we kinda left this to the last minute.

Having a smaller number was an advantage from the point of view that we could hear the songs more clearly as well as Graham Norton's excellent commentary. I feel he has really grown into the role vacated by Terry Wogan and has proven to be an inspired choice to take over the mantel. Some of his sardonic remarks were hilarious and it was great seeing him surprised by the exploding confetti in his commentary box.

The result was interesting. I can understand why the Austrian entry won but I really don't think it was the best song of the contest. It was a generic Bond theme type ballad but compared to the Netherlands, which was really just 'Every Breath You Take' it was a worthy winner. It was a shame the rock tracks didn't fare so well but generally, as usual, the best songs finished towards the top. The Austrian entry was a nice song though and sent a message of tolerance and acceptance across Europe, one which was highlighted by her victory speech. I think it largely won though for the novelty fun aspect of the singer, albeit a sense of fun with a serious point behind it.

The Austrian entry did well despite the usual tired accusations of "political" voting. I don't doubt this goes on but not to the degree ascribed. It only really affects the bottom end of the table too - the better songs always tend to be at the top in the contest and this year's top five received points from the vast majority of countries. It was interesting that Brits were screaming about "political" voting before giving ten points to Malta, a former British colony which did not record high points from anywhere else. The difference between the popular vote and the jury vote was interesting too, with Brits (and I suspect many Poles living here) giving the Polish entry top rating while the jury put it right at the bottom. I can't help but think that's an argument against popular votes as it was less a song and more a striptease.

Anyway, the whole evening is just a bit of fun and the standard of songs at this year's contest was exceptional. There were only a few poor ones and one, Iceland's, which I think may have been the best entry since Latvia's Wolves of the Sea in 2008 or 2009. We munched on a load of nibbles and afterwards watched the hilarious Chin Review, another YouTube delight introduced to me by Stray Jim. We were up until 3am having had an exceptional evening - we hope to repeat it again next year.

Oh and as for the British entry - it deserved to finish higher than 17th but I think the performance was a little flat and there were more memorable tunes. Being last probably didn't help either. Still Molly deserved to be on the left side of the board as it was this country's best entry in years.

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So I passed second year Russian somehow (listening 100%, reading 85%, writing 62%, speaking 73%) despite missing about a third of the lessons due to the house move. This should put me roughly at GCSE level but I don't feel anywhere near that proficient. I've done all of the homework but have struggled to find time to study beyond that, so I'm really treading water than progressing. This is fine for year one but not necessarily year two, which has got significantly more complicated.

Whether I take year three or not, I'm undecided. The intermediate class encompasses years three to five and is with a different teacher who exclusively speaks Russian. I'm not ready for that. Furthermore, the course is an additional £20 compared to this year and since New Year I've been struggling with motivation to attend the course. I was close to dropping out in January but at least I've seen it through - the last lesson of the year is Tuesday after which we are going for a meal - but I'm not sure whether I can commit to another year. It's also difficult to get to Headingley from work for 6.30pm, largely due to work commitments and traffic, which is a nightmare in Leeds in rush hour.

It would be a shame to drop it though as it would be yet another language I could speak some of but not fluently. My current Russian teacher seems to think I am better than I actually am and is urging me to continue. Wolfie is talking about picking up German again in September and I could start another language or, more likely, increase my proficiency in German or Spanish, the two languages I speak vaguely well. I don't have to make a decision until September, during which time I could really study the Russian and get up to standard. But I know motivation will be tricky.

In related news, after the class on Tuesday, we met up with Taneli in the Old Bridge Inn, a Kirkstall Brewery pub on the way home. They do a range of excellent craft beers, an exquisite cheeseboard and has a beautiful setting by the river. It's a really nice open space too, so we should be going back. Taneli even came back to ours and stopped the night, when we discovered the mediocre pizza house does excellent doner meat. Happy days!

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The garden is coming along well, with the four of us (Wolfie, myself and his parents) having spent the whole Bank Holiday weekend working on it. We have now completed the patio and done the vast majority of the painting. Once we have finished the dry stone wall at the back, which we are already halfway through, then we should be done. All we need to do is buy some tables and chairs and a BBQ. It promises to be a great summer.

We have been lucky with the weather but I'm delighted all this has been done in a month. We even got the rain at the right time so the cement between the patio slabs could harden and set the stone. I had never done DIY before but have rather enjoyed it, although I think this has more to do with the desire to get the job done rather than the job itself.

While working on the garden, we got to meet the majority of our neighbours, including the landlord next door as the previous resident has now left. He seems rather nice - a no-nonsense Yorkshireman (is there any other) - and hopefully the new residents who move in will be pleasant too. The other neighbours are either elderly couples or young people with children and it's good to say hello as we hope to be here quite a while. I think it's always good to know your neighbours but not be too pally in case a disagreement arises - you want harmony after all. It doesn't also pay to be a stranger though - I think we are getting the balance correct.

We also spoke to a home improvement chappie who leant us his angle grinder although the plug wasn't earthed so it was a little dangerous. Still it helped us with the paving slab cutting so it was most generous. We are hoping to finish the garden this week and then we can move on to the next project - a car porch for Wolfie's Mazda. He had hoped to extend the garage to provide a suitable work space but his dad suggested a porch, which is far easier to construct. I think we'll go with that.

We didn't really do much else with the weekend aside from go to the Aakash, a curry restaurant in a converted church in the Lib Dem stronghold of Cleckheaton (there were LD posters everywhere - never seen so many). It was a buffet affair and was quite nice although a lot of the starters were dry and the korma was a little watery. Still, there was a wide choice of dishes and the grandeur of the building, which has been converted well, made up for the average food slightly. There were quite a few children's parties going on but they all left quickly, leaving a rather relaxed atmosphere, which was perfect after our hard day of labour.

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The Leeds main meet was surprisingly smaller than the mini, although that may have had something to do with the mini being over Easter weekend. It's regularity on the third Saturday of the month also helps but I was surprised by just how local the main meet was. I've said for a while that the Northernfurs meet rotation has been effectively dead for sometime, for a range of reasons, but we will still run the Leeds ones at the end of April and October.

The other thing that's dying is the two day meet - indeed Leeds is the only one that does this now. I guess the prevalence of the monthly meets means there is less demand for a two-day affair and as fewer people now travel outside of their own locales, getting a hotel and making a weekend of it is no longer attractive.

The meet on Saturday was nicely relaxed. I had hoped to suit but the weather threatened rain so I did not bring it, typically for the sun to come out and the ground to dry, making it perfect conditions for suiting. It did allow me to speak to a whole range of people with whom I rarely speak, as well as meet Tim and Alexx, two Brazilian furs who are staying in the area. I even got to try their nutty condensed milk balls. There were sweets at the meet but the usual furry shots and DVD was missing this time, largely due to a change in the bar's management, but it was a nice relaxed affair and a perfect couple of hours. We even drank the bar out of BrewDog, which was great.

Afterwards, we went to a new buffet place above Red Hot called Origin 7. Specialising in Chinese, Indian, Italian and Japanese, there was less choice than at Red Hot but the quality of the food was far superior. For £13.95 you couldn't really be robbed and we had a pleasurable meal amongst friends before we met back up with Patter (who had gone to Nando's) and went home with him in tow. I avoided the usual post-meet Pudsey wetherspoons due to feeling a little bloated from the buffet and knowing the conversation would not be inclusive of my interests. I was proven right.

Indeed despite the quality of the weekend, it was another isolating experience, with many pillorying my interests of politics and sport in detriment to their own more geek-orientated enjoyments. Recently there seems to be a presumption that I automatically know about particular series and other things just because I'm a fur and people start talking at me rather than to me about such things. I hope this stops.

Sunday was an even more relaxed day as the weather finely held - the first time in nine years - so we went to Roundhay Park, where we spent a pleasurable few hours in the Fox, drinking beer. We also had a nice tea and teacake session in the cafe next to Tropical World before heading back into town for some cheese, meat and drinks at Friends of Ham and wetherspoons. It was a really nice day, one where we got to see how they get the vans from the outside into Trinity Kitchen, and we all headed home around 8pm contented.

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The garden is going well largely because we have had good weather. We have cleared a huge section for the new patio and moved the soil up to the top end of the garden. We have also nearly completed building a wall to segregate the patio from the grass bit. All we need to do now is finish the wall, lay the sand and put some slabs down and we are largely done. It has been an awful lot of work and hampered slightly by this week's rain but we are still hoping to get this completed in the next fortnight, when we can start having BBQs.

Wolfie and his Dad built the wall during the Easter weekend when I was unfortunately held up with work. It was a frustrating working weekend for me as it seemed to expand to fill all the time I had. On Monday though I did manage to finish early and we headed down to Sheffield to meet my sister, who wanted to try the new BrewDog bar which has just opened there. This was our 11th bar and we were served by a beardy man with whom I have enjoyed some good banter on twitter. The style of the bar is a little different to that of the others, having a more canteen feel with a bright white sign. I'm not sure I like it as much as the usual industrial theme but the beer was great and it was good to meet up with my sister for the first time this year. Not much has really changed although Wolfie nearly told her about the dungeon in our house - she will probably find out eventually, when she comes to stay, but we will broach that subject when we come to it.

Before this we had gone to a Gastropub for an excellent lamb and Stilton burger. The place was opposite BrewDog at the top end of town near the university, a place which has become something of a hipster's paradise with bars and niche shops. I quite like it but even BrewDog had to blend in, it's signage being different to those of the other bars. We could only afford a couple of hours in Sheffield before we had to get our train back but it was a great time nonetheless.

The rest of the week has seen the resurgence of the diahorrea I suffered last week, with Monday night and Tuesday morning being the worst, having had to visit the toilet on seven occasions between 1am and 8am. I think it's a stomach bug that I reactivated by eating rich food and the symptoms are only just receding now. I hope this means it has finally gone for good but I'm eating plain foods just to be sure. It hasn't been pleasant.

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The weekend furmeet went very well, with a great time being had by all. I even got an Easter egg - my only one this year - kindly bought for me by Jaku. It was a Mario one and came with a mug. I do like the mug/egg combo although it does generally make for less chocolate.

Tungro and Washu came to stay over the weekend and it was great seeing them. Second time in four months and we have arranged to host them again in June for our World Cup evening. It's good to get in touch with old friends and see them more regularly than you used to.

We took them around the sights of Pudsey and had fish and chips in the Wetherby Whaler. They commented on the deceptive chips which looked undercooked but are actually fried to perfection. I think they also enjoyed the meet too, which was large due to an influx of furs from Glasgow and the Midlands. I didn't suit at this one as I was still recovering from a bout of diahorrea earlier in the week but the walk went well and we had a range of new suits rather than our regulars. They also gate crashed another wedding, this one featuring Morris dancers, and the suiters got a lesson in traditional bell dancing.

Tungro introduced me to the concept of Amazon lockers and we saw one called Almond in the Merrion Centre. Almond was in nice and super convenient. I may start using the service going forward. I also showed the otter the new buildings Leeds now has in comparison to his last visit eight years ago, including the Trinity Centre and the Arena.

They opted to stay in Bradford overnight on the Saturday to boost their Hilton Reward points ahead of Confuzzled so we bid daisy around 10pm and retired to the pub with Ent, Taneli and Tonks for drinks. We saw Tungro and Washu the next day though after they had crashed a wedding and had a curry with DJ V (brap brap). I was working when they arrived and that couldn't stay long due to their need to travel to Gloucestershire for an evening meal but it was great seeing them one last time.

While I did work, which quickly expanded into the day, Taneli and Ent watched TV with Wolfie including A View To A Kill in which Roger Moore plays a geriatric Bond. This film is cringeworthy in terms of its puns and one of the reasons why the franchise became a little bit of a laughing stock around this time. It's not a bad film and a good way to pass an Easter Sunday but Bond definitely needed rebooting at this time.

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I'm trying to see my family more regularly these days - I'm aiming for once every three months rather than once a year. We have never been particularly close but they only live about 80 miles away and with grandparents getting older, now is the time to make more of an effort.

My second visit in 2014 was last weekend. I headed up in Friday evening when my dad picked me up at the station and we went to the Beeswing in East Cowton, a country pub in the heart of the North Yorkshire countryside and one I had struggled to find here for my American friends. I only wanted something light but the smallest thing on the menu was a burger so I opted for that, with home cut chips of course. The plate was massive but it was exceptionally tasty - you can't beat good pub food for value for money I find - and we left before open mic night got serious and the pub started to fill with locals who looked at us a little strangely.

On Saturday, I went to visit my mother who as usual cooked a huge three-course meal (well I say cooked, the final course was a cheeseboard, featuring nutty Italian cheeses). We also shared two bottles of wine and chatted about stuff, watching the Grand National in the process, where my horses in the office sweepstake failed to finish let alone challenge. After this, I went to my grandparents' place as it was my grandfather's 85th birthday. My uncle and aunt were there, whose recent holiday to Australia tended to dominate proceedings, but as I hadn't seen them since 2009 and only talked at Christmas on the phone since then, I let them talk (I said we are not a close family). My grandfather didn't speak much, which was a shame as it was his birthday, but it was great seeing everyone and yet more wine was had. The sly alcoholic digs from my uncle were not unnoticed.

Sunday we went to Newcastle for the furmeet as already described, with my father needing to meet me at Northallerton station on the way home to deliver my work laptop which I had to bring on Friday night due to unfinished business. Sunday was a great day - Wolfie and my anniversary too - and I've already recounted this. I'm hoping my next trip to my parents will be around July time, it depends how busy I get.

lupestripe: (Default)

Sunday was our anniversary - Wolfie and I have now been together for seven years. Aside from a silly argument about cheese, and more specifically the wolf eating it, it was a rather good day as we spent it at our first Newcastle meet since 2009.

I used to run the Newcastle meets (getting that in for Enteirah there) but hadn't been for a while due to the price and my Sunday availability. As it was our anniversary, we opted to go and it was amazing how many old friends from five years ago were still there. It was great catching up, and meeting some new people too.

The venue was The Eye Of The Tyne on the Quayside, a newly refurbished bar which allowed us some private space at the back. There was football on but none of the rowdiness that is sometimes associated with it while their own bitter, named after the pub, was pleasing if slightly warm. The food at the Tiger was great but for me the highlight was the fursuiting, which was fantastic, largely due to the proximity of a market and many of Chisleton's - I mean Newcastle's famous bridges.

We went out for two Fursuit walks as the first was interrupted by rain. It was great fun interacting with all of the stall holders - I managed to steal some sweets, which I was allowed to keep, play with a hula hoop and chase pigeons. I also got to scare many screaming teenage girls. There is one of those fitness parks with a few bits of equipment by the river bank and doing this in Fursuit, particularly the sit ups, proved to be a nightmare. We also had our picture taken with the iconic Tyne Bridge in the background and the Sage Theatre too, while we also met a group of elderly deaf people who were having a lunch out. They liked us a lot. I was also surprised and incredibly heartened with the number if furs who commented on the quality of my characterisation and suiting, with one or two saying my antics helped them to bring out their own characters, which was flattering. I also get distracted easily in suit and had to be told to calm down and get back to the venue quickly as many others were overheating.

After the meet, we headed to BrewDog, bar number 10 for us, and one of the largest of their bars. Conveniently, it was just around the corner from the meet venue but it was incredibly hot, necessitating a move towards the front door so it was cooler. This is very much like a standard BrewDog beer so we had one drink and played Pop Up Piraat before we had to leave for the train. Rushy and Jess arrived ten minutes before this so we had a quick chat with them before heading to the railway station. On the train, we chatted with Enteirah and had that exclusive ale he had given us for our anniversary - not yet on sale in the shops. It was very much appreciated.

lupestripe: (Default)

Over the last three days we have had Darkanine and Kader stay at ours as part of their honeymoon trip. We met them at Rainfurrest in 2012 and they said they wanted to visit the UK and Ireland on a ten day trip. They flew to Leeds from Dublin early on Sunday - we agreed to pick them up not releasing the hour change that morning - and headed to London on Wednesday.

We covered an awful lot in three days, visiting York, Liverpool and some Yorkshire countryside as well as showing them around Leeds with Enteirah and Taneli. Leeds isng really a tourist city but they expressed a desire to see less touristy and more traditional places, plus they have a strong love for beer so we could show them the strong brewing scene we have here. They got to try BrewDog, and I also took them to the York Brewery where we embarked on a small brewery tour conducted by a very charismatic young chap before retiring to the bar for some tasters.

The weather on Monday and particularly Tuesday was most excellent and it was a pleasure to be out and about. I showed them all the sights of York, including the Minster, Clifford's Tower and the NRM, before we retired to Betty's for a traditional Yorkshire cream tea. We also met up with Oracle for a while who told the visitors about the large range of history on show in York. They particularly enjoyed the (puppy) fudge available in one of the shops in the heart of the city.

Discovering we were reasonably close to Liverpool, they decided they wanted to see the Beatles Museum so we made the pilgrimage on Tuesday, which was a beautiful spring day. Liverpool is quite a distance from here and a little tricky for a day trip so we had to get up early. Still, we pulled into the city by noon and I showed them around Albert Dock, bought them a Mr Whippy and headed to the Museum, which was only spoilt by the large school parties who beers either disinterested or disruptive - two teenagers were having a pillow fight in the middle of the exhibit. The audio tour was recommended and it gave the museum a lot of context, particularly as it was narrated by those near to the band. The charting of the Beatles' history in detail, including recreations of the Kasbah and Cavern Club, made the exhibit a mustn't miss.

Afterwards, feeling hungry and craving burgers, we opted to go to an independent burger restaurant called Nolita Cantina on Broad Street. This was an exceptional choice with massive burgers that impressed the Americans, who said that not even they had access to such delectable food. We tried a lot of different British foods including scotch eggs, pork pies and Marmite - the first two went down well. The latter less so. On Monday evening we also headed into Bradford for a curry at the Kashmir and this was perhaps one of the more popular meals of the trip.

Sadly Wolfie could not get time off work so it was largely me showing them around, although Mr Wuffle did meet up with us on the evening. Unfortunately on Tuesday evening a girl pranged his car so our trip to the countryside was delayed. We still saw some scenery though before taking them to see the Halifax gibbet, Britain's answer to the guillotine. We then went home to meet Taneli and introduced them to Father Ted and Red Dwarf.

All in all, they really enjoyed their stay and it was great seeing them. They seem to really like Britain, despite the amount of dog and horse shit that's everywhere, and it was great hosting them for a few days. They're talking about coming back, hopefully that'll be really soon.

October 2017

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