Sunday, August 31, 2008


GenCon UK Day 4

Gencon is a lot shorter on Sunday - finishing at 4pm so everybody has time to go home before returning to the daily grind on Monday - so I wasn't expecting to get too much out of the day. I signed up for the archery and swordsmanship training at the Medieval Tented Encampment - at £5 a session, I'd be a fool not to.

The first three days of the convention I spent indoors while outside was warm sunshine. Come the fourth day when I'm outside, it starts to rain - much to the dismay of the other people joining me for the archery (hi, Rei!). We managed several sets of arrows at the straw garland with a range of ancient and modern bows; when the rain was just way too heavy we had a history lesson on archery (removing arrows from your body would appear to be pretty gruesome stuff).

The sword-handling session (just me attending) was free as the instructor was a little worse for wear (blisters on fingers from previous days) and cut it to around 20 minutes. Showed how much the stunt people must train to get the stage fighting to work - I found it really hard just remembering the single parry I'd just learned, let alone a string of moves. Fun all the same (and no rain).

Afterwards I whiled away the time playing "Ingenious", "Kung Fu Fighting" and "Shadow Hunters" (twice).

Ingenious - yet another of the 100s of Reiner Knizia games - is a colourful, tactile game with an interesting scoring system. You place figure-of-eight-shaped pieces to score points by extending lines of colours; these points move the corresponding wooden cube across your score card; at the end of the game when there are no spaces left on the board, the losers are the players with a cube that has a lower total score than the winner's lowest cube. So - just like in "Bucket Brigade" that I played on Saturday - concentrating on getting one colour with as many points as possible is not going to win you the game. A lot of Knizia's games are like this - they are not "race as fast as possible to the end" games.

Kung Fu Fighting from SlugFest Games was great fun - playing cards to beat the crap out of the opposition in Hong Kong cinema style. Employ a stance; make an attack; make the attack harder/faster/wilder; big up yourself with awfully dubbed accents. I'd buy this but I don't know that many people who would get into the game's background enough.

Shadow Hunters took a little while to get used to what the winning conditions were and why everything was the way it was. The players need to need to work out which type of character (bad guys, good guys, neutrals) each of the the others are playing so that they can kill the right ones. Interesting way of dealing damage - the amount is the difference between the roll of a d4 and a d6 which gives the following range:

The rest of the day was spent on lunch and shopping for stuff I didn't need.

Every week it seems my gaming buddies show off yet MORE dice they have just purchased on some shopping trip. I look at them with concern in my eyes - "surely you have enough dice already?" They giggle madly in reply (or at least I imagine they do). I have a laughably small dice collection by modern standards - less than 50 before today and a third of those have been freebies picked up from conventions in the last few years. A few date back 30 years to a box of Gamma World I owned at some point in the past. These are easy to spot - the faces aren't all exactly the same shape and the edges/vertices are showing impact wear - modern dice last forever.

So there I am with time to kill in the trade hall - this is like going food shopping on a really empty stomach. I've already checked every table several times in the last few days so there isn't going to be much that will catch my eye ... except some Chessex Lotus Speckled Dice at the Squash Goblin stall. The colours of the dice are more vibrant than the images off the web - nice bright orange and green (my favourite colours).

I carefully select just the ones I need - 4d6 for character creation (even though I just use the fixed elite rolls these days anyway) and 2d8 (for damage) - so that I don't spend too much money. I'm not poverty-stricken but I think it is important to focus on buying only what you need (I have enough d4s; nobody uses d12s; my d20s have remained unchanged for decades).

And then I bought the Gargantuan Black Dragon for £10.


Saturday, August 30, 2008


GenCon UK Day 3

Change of pace today - I've already played all the Call of Cthulhu games that were available (excluding the beginner level ones) so only had the afternoon Paranoia session booked. Also, the family were coming along today to partake in the fun.

So a lie-in to try and catch up after the late finish of day 2 (and even later blogging) meant we didn't leave the house until getting on for lunchtime. After getting Sue and Sam issued with tickets at the con HQ in Palmer building, we had a look in the trade hall to see if Ralph Horsley was at the artists' desk.

As I was now attending all 4 days of GenCon, I could now catch up with Ralph who I knew from the 80s when he was a fanzine artist learning the tricks of his trade. Now he's being commissioned to produce work for Wizards of the Coast D&D products and these days they don't just put any old rubbish in their books (we're talking about the artwork here, not the gaming content where opinions are a lot more varied). I mentioned that I was planning to publish my old Green Goblin Magazines in Adobe Reader format and he agreed to have his original line artwork to be included. Hopefully he won't be too embarrassed to see his early attempts resurrected.

Ralph was also selling off some of the books he received as free samples where his work was printed - 3 D&D books for a tenner was not something I could easily pass up on, especially "Serpent Kingdoms" which I had been checking eBay and Amazon to buy for my campaign. The other two books were "Monster Manuals IV & V" which I had not touched before, mainly because of the poor reviews I had seen. Now, though, at £3.33 each it was harder to say no. In a feeding frenzy state, we also picked out two pieces from his art collection - an original pencil sketch and a colour print of one of the Magic:TG pieces he's created. Both are reflections of some parts of our family life and it is up to you to work out what.

The sketch is A4 and nicely detailed, stickered at £90.

The print, "Boggart Birth Rite", is copied from a roughly A4 acrylic original and was priced at £7.50 including the frame.

Ralph was generous enough to sell the books and pictures all for £90 - effectively we paid full price for the sketch and received everything else free.

Ralph also signed the MM5 and recommended I ask Anne Stokes and Eva Widermann, also doing sketchs and signing at the artists' table today, so I did. Here are the pictures (from the Wizards site) that I asked them to sign in the book to show how good their work is:


Afterwards we bumped into Beth Ashton (Tom's better half) and went for lunch on the Blue Room. My intention afterwards afterwards was to catch the 2pm Paranoia game - which I had been looking forward to for days - only to be cruelly denied.

It happens - now I'll have to wait until Dragonmeet for my fix.

To fill the gap, we all went to the Kniziathon:

"Reiner Knizia is one of the world’s foremost designers of boardgames, with more than 400 games and books published. He is winner of many awards for his designs, including Germany’s prestigious Spiel des Jahres 2008 for the game Keltis (aka The Lost Cities Boardgame, Kosmos).

Playing in a Kniziathon is a great way to enjoy a variety of Reiner Knizia's games in one place at one time. There are lots of games to try – from classics to the most recent releases (and even some which you might never have come across before). There are plenty of willing opponents and friendly organisers to help you with the rules. It's the perfect opportunity to meet games players and enjoy exciting games - and if you are doing well, you might even win a prize!

As an added bonus, Reiner Knizia will also be present for the Kniziathon. Here’s your chance to meet Reiner in person, ask questions about his designs, or even test your skill by playing against him. Reiner will also present the awards to the winners at the end of the Kniziathon. Hint: turn up early and play as many different games against as many different opponents as you can!"

The principle seems simple but the scoring isn't. There are two stages to working out how many points you get for completing a game. Firstly you cross-reference the number of players against your final position - for examples, a two-player game awards 4pts for 1st and 2 pts for 2nd but a six-player game gives 6pts for 1st, 5pts for 2nd and so on down to 1pt for 6th. And then secondly you take into account the weighting of the game which represents the expected time taken to play. Here you would use a multiplier varying from 1x (e.g. "Mmmmm... brains") to 4x (e.g. "Amun-Re"). So winning one hard 6-player game should net you 24 points, equivalent to winning six easy 2-player games.

The Breakwells stuck together and played through "Lost Cities", "Bucket Brigade", "Fish Eat Fish", "Sushizock im Gockelwok", "Flea Circus" and "Too Many Cooks" (all 2x games apart from "Flea Circus"). Not surprisingly (as they are designed by Reiner Knizia), all of these were easy to pick up and play. Some made you realise that there could be some really good strategies waiting to be understood (like "Bucket Brigade") while others were more down to luck. Highlight of the day - coming 3rd and receiving a heavy stone plaque from Knizia. I must have been grinning so much I'm surprised the top of my head didn't tilt back. It's not often I manage to beat my family at card and boardgames which makes getting the plaque doubly sweet.

After the awards it was tea time - Sue stayed on-site to dine while I drove home to drop Samantha off (lightweight) and return after having fridge clearance food to eat. I found Sue in the Looney Labs room because, according to them:

"We absolutely do not have a preview deck for the new game, Monty Python Fluxx. We will not be running demo sessions of it all convention. Ignore the rumours of silly accents and singing. There will be no Kniggets of the Round Table. Tell everyone."

So we didn't play three rounds of Monty Python Fluxx or shout "NI!" or question whether strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is a basis for a system of government or expect the Spanish Inquistion. And neither will you be able to play the final retail product at Dragonmeet on November 29th.

A donation to the Children In Need box granted us Zombie Fluxx Flamethrowers (be the envy of all). I did enter the decorate-your-own-zombie contest but ate my entry before it was judged. As you can see, an obvious winner:

Trailing zombie crumbs, we went to the cinema theatre to watch the charity auction. Normally I don't come away with anything as I'm not willing to compete with those people with money to burn, even if it is for a good cause. They can be good entertainment though. Colin Baker, one of the convention guests, was good at pushing the prices up through sheer force of will. Here he's describing the proof of a Dr Who card collection that was going under the hammer:

I loved his reference to Peter Davidson, the Doctor before him, as the "Wet Vet". I hadn't heard the label before and it did amuse.

Best auction was by this looney (below) who was offering a tattoo-of-the-winner's-choice on his shoulder for charity. The big-screen picture shows the amount of space in the lot - must be about 3 inches across. Went for over £250, I think.

After the auction we played a couple of games of "Blue Moon" (yet another Knizia games) in the Board Games Library. Lovely artwork and actually not as complicated as it first seems.


Friday, August 29, 2008


GenCon UK Day 2

One thing I forgot to include yesterday was a photo of the game that looks amazingly like Subbuteo.

FTChamps is a flickable game, just like the original, except they have added a collectable flavour by selling individual player figures that you click into the bases. Each figure can be bought in packs or singly for around £2 each. If it takes off then the money should roll in.

Day 2 at GenCon started with a 9am game of Call of Cthulhu (Dark Ages):

Unsung Saga, by Oscar Rios
"For long months all of you had prepared for the raiding season. The new Knorr, 'Ravenar' was ready to sail. Her lines were sleek; her deck strong, and her raven figurehead was newly painted black. Axes were sharpened, swords oiled and her crew was ready. Goodbyes had already been given for by dawn you would all be on your way to Ireland.

This game was set in viking-period Scandanavia and followed the classic CoC model - lots of investigation and weirdness leading up to a big battle. I played the skald, minstrel, what-have-you with a nod to the style of Monty Python's "The ballad of brave Sir Robin." In line with the adventurer's title, the saga remained unsung as the singer didn't survive the epic climax.

After lunch the same Keeper ran a 1930s period Cthulhu investigation:

One of Us, by Max Bantleman
The players took on the characters of various freaks in a travelling circus. This was more complicated than the earlier game although this may just have been down to a different mix of players. There are a few ways to play most adventures - you either let events drive you (going with the plot) or you try and drive events (resisting or missing the plot). The latter occurs when players start to really let their imagination go wild on what they think is happening, usually causing the Keeper to have to handle off-the-wall activities which don't necessarily fall in the scope of the plot. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't.
(downloadable from here)

After tea, the third and final CoC game of the day from Flammable Penguins:

Emerson Manor, by Vittorio Leonardi & Annick Drewnicki
"A dark descent into the horrors of the past. Dark Themes present. The memories a home can hold. Time gets trapped in the creak and warp of the wood. Dreams slide and catch in stained shingles interwoven. The Emerson Manor home of the gifted toy maker has sat still for many years. The town and time have marched on but this silent marker remains. Does it hold what you seek or merely a few children's scary stories and little else."

This game went on until 1:30am (5.5 hours)! And we all died. A lot of the time was consumed by one or two players firmly playing their interpretation of what they were seeing and another (in his first CoC game) needing to understand what was going on in quite some detail. All the characters had partially interconnected backgrounds which made progress difficult at times as personal objectives competed. The slow mirror-by-mirror drift into insanity for the characters (admittedly a feature of a number of CoC scenarios) didn't help progress much either. Again, another example where the player mix is key to the success of the game. Should you stick to playing your role or playing the game, or a bit of both? Not always easy to work out where the balance is.

During the day there was a flying display of hunting birds outside. Unfortunately this was when I was playing but all the birds were available to observers.

Bald Eagle

Barn Owl

Harris Hawk

Tawny Eagle

White-backed Griffon Vulture


Thursday, August 28, 2008


GenCon UK Day 1

Having learn from my practice run in 2007, I booked in advance this year - early bird ticket (4 days for £40, instead of £50 on the door) and all the game sessions I wanted to attend. Most of the RPGs have a slot at either 9am, 2pm or 8pm so it is possible to play almost solidly from breakfast to midnight with gaps for meals (as I will be Friday).

Today started well - picked up my pack of game tickets in Palmer Building and went upstairs to a UFS drop-in session. UFS - or Universal Fighting System - is a CCG version of the arcade/console games like Soul Calibre or Dead or Alive. So you basically play cards to help you attack or block, taking the opponent out before they do too much damage to you. The beginner game (where you get a free starter deck) is nice and simple - thump, block, thump, etc. But then we played through a normal game where - just like in the console game - there is a lot more responding to attack moves with special effects, leading to quite convoluted situations. Even though I was a complete beginner, I had an inkling I wouldn't have the mental approach necessary to consistently build a winning attack combo on my own. This is not the game for me, regardless of how large the women's breasts are in the artwork.

Stuffing my free demo deck into my pocket, I went shopping in the trade hall:

Three cheap books (£5-£7 each, instead of £21, as 3rd edition D&D books are being dumped in favour of newly released 4th ed.):

Wizards of the Coast - Stormwrack
Wizards of the Coast - Dragon Magic
Wizards of the Coast - Complete Mage

Two games from the bring and buy stall:

Burley Games Limited - Take it to the Limit! (£8)
Rio Grande Games - Carcassone: The Castle (£5)

"Take it to the Limit" is a bigger version of the very good "Take it easy". For geeky facts fans, both games are named after Eagles songs from the 1970s.

I picked up "The Castle" because I liked the first few Carcassonne games although, after looking in the box, it's not an expansion for them though so I'll have to see if the family are willing to give it some time. It is a (co-designed) Reiner Knizia game and he can do no wrong at the moment and that may help.

Next event was the Loren Wiseman
Q&A". Loren was heavily involved in creating Traveller at Game Designers'
Workshop (GDW), an RPG is used to play in school back at the turn of the 70s/80s.

The game still exists, now in the (hopefully) capable hands of Mongoose

Here's a lovely setup of a normal boardgame (Shadows Over Camelot) - would be lovely to use this when my friends play the game but too much of a bugger to cart around each time. ("Hi" to Tom, the rocker in the top right corner).

Here's the much more mundane retail version of the board:

Afterwards, I spent lunchtime in Cafe Mondial (which does free coffee refills - marvellous) reading some of my new books until the afternoon Call of Cthulhu session was ready to start. I almost didn't make it on time as I was defeated by a door, one that had a pull handle but required you to push. I game in this building almost every week but little things like this can even catch out hardened veterans like myself. So dead on 2pm I stumble into the room (thankfully not the last player to arrive).

Suite 350, by Chad Bowser
"A young, upstart company has struggled to make a name for itself in the world of business consulting. In the midst of a reinvention, a consultant is brought in to give the office a new look to keep the ideas flowing. His ideas have drastic consequences for the company and employees as they are drawn into a sublime horror, from which only the investigators can deliver them."

I played a member of SWAT team sent in to relieve a potential hostage situation. First thing my character did was twist his ankle jumping out of the helicopter on the roof. It went down-hill from there although we managed to all eventually escape with the situation solved. One thing that amused me was that the adventure was set in a building owned by Microsoft with floors rented out to other companies. "Hey, I work for MSFT and I didn't know we had an office in Columbus, Ohio". Needless to say, a quick check on the Internet proves I know nothing about the company I work for, absolutely NOTHING.

Game complete, I was driven home for tea before returning in time for the 8pm Call of Cthulhu session:

Charlie Don't Surf, by Max Bantleman
"May 10th 1969, the A Shau Valley near Hue, it’s been quiet... too quiet... the air is thick with the expectation of an attack from Charlie in response to operation Apache Snow. You and the remains of your squad from the 101st Airborne are out on deep recon, trying to get back to your base at Hill 937: ‘Hamburger Hill’. You come across two abandoned vill’s. Scouting the area you find something that changes your world. Makes you think that Charlie may be the least of your worries..."

(Downloadable copy of the Shadow Warriors scenario is here)

Again, we got back alive (and with a damned sight more SAN than in the first game). The games master [[Ben Adkins]] was top notch with excellent background knowledge on the Vietnam war to add flavour to a non-mythos game (not all Cthulhu games need to have Deep Ones). The player running 'sarge' was pretty good too.

And so home to bed (and my blog).


Saturday, August 23, 2008


Portsmouth Beer Festival 2008

I wanted to go for a theme to the beers I was drinking at the festival instead of just random choice. The first beer that caught my eye was Buffy’s “Norwegian Blue” so I went for a Monty Python feel. Unfortunately I quickly discovered that no other beers or brewers had names that gave themselves. Now a Norwegian Blue is a famous parrot so maybe birds would be a better choice? Highgate’s “Pheasant Plucker” was a refreshing half but Rooster’s “Hooligan” was a no-show at the festival. Hawkshead’s “Lakeland Gold” was not a great drink and Conniston’s “Conniston’s  Bluebird” did not have a barrel available. Goose Eye’s “Pommies Revenge” seemed to be the last beer on-track so I decided to extend my theme to include land animals (Nelson - "Powder Monkey", Everard’s "Tiger", Irvine’s "Frigate" (another bird) and Grainstore’s “Rutland Panther”.

"Fossil Fuel" from the Isle of Purbeck brewery is obviously included as fossils can be from animals - inspired or what?

And Ossett's "Beijing Gold"? Well, Beijing is the name for what we used to call Peking and Peking Duck is a bird - see, it all makes sense.

No, I can't explain the addition of Irvine’s "Captain Buggernuts".



Buffy’s – Norwegian Blue



Highgate – Pheasant Plucker



Hawkshead – Lakeland Gold



Goose Eye – Pommie's Revenge



Irvine – Captain Buggernuts



Nelson - Powder Monkey



Ossett – Beijing Gold



Everards – Tiger



Isle of Purbeck – Fossil Fuel



Irvine – Frigate



Grainstore – Rutland Panther


 Beijing GoldEverards TigerIsle of Purbeck Fossil FuelHawkshead Lakeland GoldBuffy's Norwegian BlueHighgate Pheasant PluckerGoose Eye Pommie's RevengeNelson's Powder MonkeyGrainstore Rutland Panther

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Friday, August 22, 2008


At last! A butterfly that ISN'T a Cabbage White!

Using this on-line butterfly identifying tool, I quickly found out this is a speckled wood butterfly (Pararge aegeria).


Wednesday, August 13, 2008


"Da plane, boss"

Here's something that I didn't expect to catch - a plane flying over the Millenium Dome. It was hard enough to catch anything through the clouds so this combination was purely accidental. The plane has only just taken off from London City Airport two miles behind it in the east. I've no idea how high above the dome it really is - it doesn't look much but it is really difficult to tell. After clearing the dome, it's heading off to the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf.



The rides are safe; the visitors are dangerous

On Wednesday morning I told the customer I was visiting in Copenhagen that I'd had a great time at Tivoli the previous evening. He informed me that it was good I hadn't gone on Monday as a woman had commited suicide from the ferris wheel.
I'm sure even knowing about that event, let alone seeing it, would have made me think again about going on the rides.

Swedish woman in Copenhagen ferris wheel suicide: park
A Swedish woman in her 50s plunged to her death from atop a ferris wheel at Copenhagen's Tivoli amusement park on Monday in what appeared to be a suicide, a park official said. "According to the preliminary investigation, the victim committed suicide by jumping from the ferris wheel when it was 18.5 metres (61 feet) up," in full view of other park goers, spokeswoman Stine Lolk told AFP. The victim's identity was not disclosed. The ride was shut down pending a police investigation in order to determine that it was indeed a suicide and not an accident. Lolk said Monday's death was the only one ever recorded on the ferris wheel since it entered into service in 1949. Tivoli, which opened in 1843, is Europe's third-largest amusement park after EuroDisney in Paris and Blackpool in Britain.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008



Copenhagen is great for having an amusement park in the middle of the city (and half a mile from my hotel).
I decided that Tuesday would be Tivoli night after scouting around the site on Monday. The prices seemed a little expensive but I planned to make it worthwhile. Entrance to the park was 85 DKK (£9) and a further 200 DKK (£21) for an all-you-can-ride wristband. I'd worked out by browsing the Tivoli site that you wouldn't want to purchase individual tickets unless you weren't brave enough for the scary rides. These 3-ticket rides would cost over £6 a time (incredible!) so after four I would start to save money.

I thought I would take it easy and started with The Spinning Top, one of those rides that spins you round and from one side of the area to the other at the same time. The web site has a rating system for each ride although I'm not too sure about the science behind it. A "speed" rating of 4/10 seemed simple enough (and 0/10 for "height" was pretty obvious) but how do you give The Spinning Top 7/10 for "fun" and 6/10 for "excitement"?

Nicely warmed up, I went on to The Odin Express and joined a queue.
Unfortunately the queue was not for the small roller coaster ("Height" 4/10). No, instead I was soon to reach the-point-of-no-return for The Star Flyer, at 80 metres high the world’s tallest carousel ("Height" 10/10). I looked behind me and saw a queue of people who would definitely notice me excusing myself from a ride they were easily able to handle. I looked to my right at the people leaving the ride. They seemed to be able to walk without difficulty and showed no signs of mental trauma. Maybe the ride wasn't as mind-bogglingly scary as it looked...

The ride is ludicrously simple. You sit in a small plastic bucket seat (which has a lap belt like in a car plus a metal bar across your hips to keep you in) suspended by chains from a carousel far above. The carousel slowly rises up and spins round for a few minutes at up to 70km/h, giving you an excellent (but windy) view of the city which now seems to populated by swarms of termites.
Strangely the height doesn't seem to bother you initially - in the same way that you can look out of an aircraft at 30,000 feet and not really give it much thought. That is, until I looked at the top of the carousel and noticed how close it was, instantly giving my brain an exact reference point to work out where my bucket seat really was. My tip for this ride - look around but don't look up; there is nothing interesting to see there anyway.

And as the ride finishes, bringing you down to earth again, you congratulate yourself on how brave you were before realising that you have been holding the chains so hard that they are now almost an integral part of your hands.

Here's the view from below:


and from the 5th floor window of my hotel:

After correctly locating and riding The Odin Express - with by now a queasy stomach - I decided to go for a walk and see more of the park before settling down to an evening meal. I wanted something traditionally Danish so eschewed most of the restaurants and fast-food establishments before ending up at the Viften café where I ordered "Danish Beef". You can't get more Danish than that, surely? Hopefully it's not a meal truly representative of the country's culinary expertise as I was served potatoes and gravy with a sort of bland beefburger (plus obligatory pickle on the side).

Coffee and meal finished, I strolled round the lake to the Glass Hall where a lot of neat theatre-type people were standing around waiting. I vaguely recollected that something was scheduled here for 8:30pm so I eventually walked in and found a seat near the front to read my Bill Bryson book while I waited. Needless to say I was sitting in someone's seat though I have no idea how this was possible as tickets were not required and I never saw anybody else with one. But I moved nonetheless - when you don't know anyone or what's going on, it's usually best not to make a fuss.

After a while the theatre began to fill up more and the show started. I soon realised that this was a local show for local people and I would hear no more English within the theatre after the earlier "you're in my seat". This wasn't too much of a problem - the sleight-of-hand used by the magician to pick-pocket poor victims from the audience was pretty visual although it would have been nice to hear his banter; the comedy trio's jokes, though were lost on me - even their naff singing of "99 Red Balloons" at the end was in the original German; the juggler was good, especially his motorised bin-shaped object dispenser. So after an hour I was released back into the park, not much the wiser as to Danish humour and culture.

More rides were in order but I instead found the aquarium (seemingly unmarked on the guide map) and paid the 20 DKK to watch a vast wall of fish swim backwards and forwards for an hour. It was very calming to stand in the peaceful gloom watching sharks and big fish go about their monotonous life. Also, a bit disappointing as the environment wasn't very real - all the coral was from moulds as the real creatures wouldn't last very long without the sun's energy and the volume of fish in the tank. I noticed a fair number that in normal circumstances would be munching away at coral and this pseudo-reef would soon have been stripped. So no coral - or anenomes, shrimps, worms and a bazillion of other lifeforms that you would normally expect to see in the sea - just fish. Despite that, it was still enjoyable to have such fish swim I shoals just a foot from your face.



I did try and research what fish were in the tank using the touch-screen panels. This went reasonably well for a while - a lot of fish were newer than the web pages described - until I clicked a link to a page that didn't exist. The screen turned to a web browser error page which - on a touch-screen where all interaction is restricted to navigating the content - meant "game over". The other panel sadly bounced a "check cable" message round its screen so no joy there either.

Always on the look-out for interesting implementations of day-to-day items, here are the wash basins in the toilets by the aquarium. The surface looks flat but slopes down to the central column where the water disappears into hidden drains. Neat.

By now it was getting late so I knew I would have to rush to catch the rollercoaster. The ride was plunged into darkness without any movement so I walked on disconsolately, realising I had wasted my ticket money. Looking round for an ice-cream to cheer myself up with, I was startled to hear a rumble and scream as the ride burst into life - obviously it had just been waiting for enough passengers. The Demon was good enough for me to go round twice on - no stomach-churning drops down steep slopes but with a few Immelman loops and twists to make it interesting.

Some unlabelled but brightly-lit building:

As it was by now past 11, I decided on a night-time flight on The Star Flyer to see the city lights from way up before finally buying my ice-cream and making my way out of the park. This is where things started to go slightly wrong. I had a great mental map for the trip between my hotel and Tivoli - it's a straight road so shouldn't be a problem. Come out of the entrance and turn left, keeping going for half a mile, and you're done. Unfortunately I came into the park via the station entrance and left through the main entrance, rotating me 90 degrees in relation to my route home. After 15 minutes of chatting to my wife on the phone and starting to realise I didn't recognise any of the buildings, I discovered exactly where Copenhagen's red-light district was...

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Monday, August 11, 2008


It's not big and it's not cool

Even inebriated, you realise when the music playing through your Zune is just not appropriate. Limp Bizkit's "Chocolate Starfish", for example, just doesn't cut it when you're walking past museums and expensive boutiques in central Copenhagen. Jacksonville FLA it is not. What the hell am I rebelling against? Well, 50 Krone beers but that's not really the stuff of teen angst. Which I said farewell to in the early 80s anyway. Yeah, "My Generation"...

Subnote - it IS possible for it to rain so heavily you flood your in-ear headphones.

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Mainland Europe always seems to have more interesting advertising

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I love little things like this

Maybe these counters make the roads safer?
No more wondering how long the lights are going to stay red and getting impatient as a result.
No more gambling on how much time you have to cross the road before the green man disappears.

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The Pride of Denmark

It's strange that I had to go all the way to Denmark to take part in my first Pride event.

It was a pretty small affair, set up next to the splendid Copenhagen City Hall in the town square (Rådhuspladsen).

A collection of around 20 neat pod-like tents provided information or sold products that you would expect to see at such an event - safe-sex guides, rainbow coloured nick-nacks and soft porn. I settled on supporting the event by treating myself to a couple of Tuborg beers - and, no, acting sweetly camp will not get me to pay 50 krone when it says 35.

A very small covered stage threatened to provide entertainment for a long while as some roady-type messed around with cables and speakers. Losing my patience, and not wanted to drink in the outside when the weather was started to spit, finished my beer and started to leave. Just then two things happened - a singer (Danish star Ida Corr) was produced and the skies opened.

Ready as I was to hang around to listen, I just wasn't dressed correctly for the downpour so I retreated off down Frederiksberggade in search of dry food and wet beer.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008


Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen
Friendly old girl of a town
'Neath her tavern light
On this merry night
Let us clink and drink one down
To wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen
Salty old queen of the sea
Once I sailed away
But I'm home today
Singing Copenhagen, wonderful, wonderful
Copenhagen for me

I sailed up the Skagerrak
And sailed down the Kattegat
Through the harbour and up to the quay
And there she stands waiting for me
With a welcome so warm and so gay
Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen

{Repeat first verse}

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Off to the land of Tuborg

The flight to Copenhagen today was interesting. I learnt many things, such as airport control towers have fire detection systems and when a fire alarm goes off the occupants of the building evacuate. Which obviously gets you to thinking "what happens to the planes on the tarmac queuing to take off?" The answer is they stop where they are and switch off their engines to preserve fuel. Boy, does that get tedious. The next question that drifts through your mind as you stare out of the window at the rain-swept airfield is "what happens to the planes in the air that would relish the luxury of waiting on the tarmac?" Maybe I'll be (un)fortunate to find out another day.

The next thing I learnt is that some planes have cameras mounted in the nose so you can see what's ahead on the drop-down mini-screens. This is a pretty handy addition to the service as you can watch the planes in front during the nose-to-tail procession to the runway. Then you see the tarmac whizzing before you as the plane speeds along and takes off - at which point the camera rotates to show you the ground underneath getting further and further away. Marvellous stuff.

Thirdly, I found that if you approach an information desk and ask for a particular store, it will be the store directly next to the information desk. I remember having the same result years ago in Dublin when asking in a newsagents where the nearest post office was. Of course, it was the massive building containing the central post office just on the other side of the road.

Who would have thought that you could exploit the safety movie on the plane for product placement? Whoever did should be able to retire on their bonus. After the flight attendent in the film asked a (well dressed and pretty) passenger to switch off her PDA, you are presented with a shut-down screen showing Sony Ericsson. At first I was thinking "intrusive bastards" and then "why doesn't that say 'Microsoft Windows Mobile'"? Inspired marketing.

At the hotel, I found that if your bill says "Communication Package DKK175.00" then it probably means you have spent a while observing the adult movie channels. Obviously there are so many frequent travellers out there who need to get their expense claims through their claims department without too much embarrasment that the hotel colludes with them.

And finally, when you travel you know you will forget something. This time it was the camera USB cable (so no photos uploaded before I get home) and underarm (three cheers for free hotel soap). And talking of soap, the supplier in this Danish hotel is "Guest Supply UK" from ... Reading. Well, Aldermaston to be more accurate but that's close enough.

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