Thursday, 29 September 2011

The Post-Student Paradox

I've been waiting for a taxi for some time now when a huge group of students wearing false glasses arrive. Preoccupied by the “Geek Party” they're soon to attend, they're oblivious to anyone else around them, excitably chattering and unthinkingly rushing forward as soon as a taxi arrives. We've followed the system and are doing the British thing - waiting in a queue of equally weary folk. Realising I may well spend the night outside Royal Cars if I'm not assertive and continue to allow this queue-jumping, I charge towards a taxi as it pulls up, climbing in the back, ignoring the protests of a wide-eyed boy and girl who claim I'm being aggressive.

Living in a “student city” like Leeds guarantees a population surge every September with the influx of returning students or newbie freshers. Although I was a student once in this very city, it is now over a decade since I graduated and at times, I find it almost impossible not to be exasperated by the flocks of fresh-faced students over-running the city.

Having been infuriated last summer by the tendency for everything to shut down during the university holiday period, I recognise the positive impact the student population brings. As an ex-Leeds student, I'm also of course grateful for my degree and all the fond memories I have from my student days but I can't help but quite illogically resent this student invasion.

Perhaps I'm envious of their lack of responsibility and the prospect of new beginnings but this inexplicable feeling I have, seems to be one I share with a lot of friends who were frankly grateful to have finished their degrees and finally be earning money. There may well be the perfect basis for a sociology thesis here but lacking such a degree and the jargon that accompanies it, for the moment I'm going to call this phenomenon The Post-Student Paradox and continue to display the unfathomable symptoms that go with it.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

A Meal With A Poorly Hidden Agenda

I'd describe myself as entirely apathetic to most spectator sports, except of course when the virtually year-long football season begins and I suddenly migrate to the inferior-sized bedroom TV in search of alternative entertainment. Despite this, I'd go to a live football match just for the experience to soak in the scene, so stumbling across Howard's during an Internet search gives me the excuse to finally visit Leeds United's home stadium, Elland Road.

When I first discover, a new restaurant has opened, I'm expecting a packed-out pub environment with chanting beer soaked fans chowing down pies, burgers and chips in a garish backdrop of blue, yellow and white furnishings. Studying the almost elusive on-line menu is enough to convince me Howard's is worth a go and I'm soon travelling across the city, trying my best to ignore a radio discussion about the state of Arsenal.

I've done plenty of restaurant reviews before but this is my first surprise review for a new website. The venue normally know I'm coming and I have to interview the manager and tour the restaurant as part of the review. I've even had to write “favourable” reviews for higher paying clients advertising on the site but never an anonymous review.

I'm instructed to take pictures of all of my food and even the wine bottle label. I'm really not sure how I'm going to subtly carry this out and soon realise this is virtually impossible. I've attempted to make a few unseen notes and have taken a picture of the menu but as we are currently the sparse restaurant's only customers, I'm pretty sceptical I've managed to elude detection.

My doubts are confirmed when the waiter comes over handily bringing me a print-out of the menu but I'm still keeping my mouth shut, hoping I look more like a stereotypical Japanese tourist.

Later, we're given peach granite to tide us over until the starters are ready and I feel somewhat suspicious I'm getting preferential treatment until I see other diners arrive who are also presented with the same attractively presented fruity slush.

Alarm bells ring again when we're handed two champagne flutes, but I'm once again appeased as I realise everyone in the restaurant is now toasting to a Birthday celebration with the same impromptu Prosecco. It seems the restaurant manager, Philippe Lopez, is just exceedingly skilled at making all his customers feel special without hijacking their meals.

I pay up, carefully tucking away the receipt and head-out towards the taxi that awaits, cluelessly asking Philippe who Howard's is named after. He's keen to oblige, taking me to the entrance and pointing at a photograph of Leeds United's second most successful manager. “Perhaps you'd like to take a picture he says?” and I'm again wondering whether my under-cover reviewer's identity has been blown. One thing is clear, tonight has certainly been a guessing game for both Philippe and I.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Donkeys Need a Holiday Too You Know

This is the second week that I have been back from my holiday and I'm already planning the other European based break we've agreed to go on. Doing my daily sift through all the press releases I get sent, I come across something that fits my holiday mood and makes me smile. As it's unlikely many will ever see this, I've decided to share it here. The following is taken from a client survey carried out by holiday property rental website,

Top 5 most unusual questions:

1. Can you guarantee the pool heat at a constant 88 degrees and if not can we get a discount for every degree under?

2. Can we have a machete/cutlass to keep under our bed?

3. Can you move the house 180 degrees?

4.Where is the nearest shop for kosher foods and what are the exact measurements of frozen food space in the villa to store the supplies?

5. What is the distance between the toilet seat and the nearest wall?

Top 5 funniest questions:

1. Is there any way to stop the church bells from ringing at 7am?

2. Could you please send a picture of the toaster?

3. Do you cater for UK swinger holidays?

4. Is it all right to jump naked into the pool?

5. What are the floors in each room made of and can we see some pictures of them?

Top 3 funniest animal-related questions

1. Where can we keep our donkey at night?

2. How many mosquitoes do you have? (The owner replied “3, one called Fred, one called George and one called Mildred”. The amused holidaymaker subsequently booked!)

3. Am I likely to get eaten by an alligator? (for a property in Florida)

Thursday, 8 September 2011

The Failed Prude

As my body is propelled forward, both skis are ripped off and ill-fitting bikini bottoms solely worn for very occasional beach holidays determinedly attempt to heighten my already growing shame. Ever since I can remember I've been a bit of a prude but for some unfortunate reason my clothes seem to have their own rather contrary opinions about flesh coverage.

Recently attempting and failing to water ski in St Lucia, I was actually relieved in many ways I never managed to properly stand-up. After a strange “10 minute lesson” spent squatting and leaning forward on a wooden jetty, my first attempt was unsurprisingly not so successful. Ever-determined I tried five more times to stand-up, occasionally managing to briefly be dragged along partially stood. On these few occasions, rather than fear of speed or failure, I was more concerned I might expose myself as the action of the boat suddenly moving forward and me being dragged out of the water seemed to be some kind of signal to my bikini bottoms, telling them it was time to meet their watery grave.

As a child I apparently ran around the garden naked in yellow wellingtons. As an over-weight teenager I dreaded changing-room showers at school and as the years have passed little seems to have changed; In Virgin Active's poser's playground, I'm the one either waiting for one of the few changing cubicles, seeking solace in the extremely under-used more private family section or carefully manoeuvring clothes under the cover of a strategic towel. Any beach holidays I have been on, I've always been reluctant to put on a bikini and have never walked around in one, grabbing for a t-shirt or wrap instead. Of course this all boils down to a lifetime of being overly conscious about my body.

Despite my obvious hang-ups, I seem to be pretty bad at assessing the most appropriate attire to modestly undertake some of the more adventurous activities out there. The most memorable part of my New Zealand bungee jump was my water “touch” landing. On the morning of the bungee I purposely planned my outfit to avoid exposing flesh but failed miserably in my selection. Having tried my upper arm strength on the pole in the past, I'm well aware of how annoying loose-fitting clothes can be when you're upside down. Thinking I'd found the perfect bungee ensemble, I was pretty gutted when I was dunked below my knees into Taupo's river to bounce back up exposing a full tummy and soaked high-risen bra. The guys reeling me in with a pole couldn't resist commenting on the British tendency to “get our tits out”.

Although I was pretty devastated, The exhilaration of the bungee managed to over-ride my shame, until I examined the still souvenir shots on sale for all to see. Needless to say, I didn't purchase any photographic evidence of this wardrobe malfunction and I'm grateful to say no-one managed to capture last week's bikini bottom near disappearance.