Archive for December, 2016

Europe 2016 diary: day 3

Thursday, 29 December, 2016

Monday, 31 October, 2016. 17:56

We are in our room at the Ibis Hotel in Fribourg, after a drive from Lyon. We’re waiting until about 18:30 before we go out to meet Jason at his place to go out for dinner together.

We got up at a bit past 07:00 this morning, and had a leisurely morning since we didn’t really want to do much other than get breakfast, check out of the hotel, and pick up our hire car at midday. M. wanted to try the Slake Coffee House for breakfast, which opened at 08:00. I did some stretches to ease muscles tired from yesterday’s walking, then got dressed in time for us to head out.

Unfortunately, a handwritten sign on the door of Slake said they weren’t opening until 09:00! Since that was a bit of a wait, we walked the short distance over to Grand Café des Négociants to have the continental breakfast there again. This time it was clearly open, with several people already inside having coffee and croissants and so on. The woman who’d served us yesterday wasn’t there, but the supervisor lady was and recognised us. We ordered the same combinations as yesterday, except M. chose a pain au chocolat instead of a croissant. This time the jams included a peach one, but no raspberry. And the waiter brought two glasses of orange juice before stopping and realising M. had asked for the lemon.

Monkey at Slake
Slake Coffeehouse

After breakfast, we returned to our room briefly to pick up our iPads, and then went over to Slake to get a coffee for M. It was open by the time we got there, with a few people inside. We sat at a table near the front of the cafe, and I wrote some of yesterday’s diary while M. read a book on her iPad. The decorations were a bit funky, with the lampshade above us being a wire cage with perches inside it and fake birds sitting on them. There was also a seat for two people made from an old claw bathtub with one side removed. All the furniture was unique and mismatched.

Read more: Getting a hire car, driving across France, lunch in a small town, Switzerland, burgers for dinner

Europe 2016 diary: day 2

Saturday, 24 December, 2016

Sunday, 30 October, 2016. 14:56

We’re sitting in a cafe called Cafe Florio, in Vieux Lyon, the old part of town, having a drink break after a busy morning of sightseeing. M. is having a cafe creme, while I’m having a refreshing weissbier.

We slept reasonably well, waking up almost on the dot of 06:00, which after the clock change meant a good eight hours of sleep. M. slept through, but I woke up a few times. As we got up and prepared to go out, I checked for nearby cafes where we could get breakfast. Most of them either weren’t open on Sunday, or only opened at 10 or 11 o’clock, but there was one not far away which opened at 7, called Grand Café des Négociants.

Rugged up in our coats, we headed our just before 07:00. The weather was cold and grey, and it had rained overnight, but it wasn’t raining as we walked. But when we arrived at the cafe at 07:00, they were still cleaning inside and hadn’t taken the chairs down off the tables. So we had to wait a while until they were ready to open, so we wandered a block or two in various directions to look in the windows of some fancy shops while we waited. Eventually, they looked like they were open and we tried the door, which let us into an interior decorated in the last century, with chandeliers and velvet and silver everywhere. There was a large bar, with a huge ice bucket with bottles of champagne, and some enormous glass vases with flower displays that went up to the ceiling. The place had indeed been in business since 1846.

French cafe brekky
Breakfast at Café des Négociants

We sat at a couple of small round tables, both of us in the bench sofa by the window, and ordered the continental petit dejeuner, which consisted of a croissant and two large slices of bread each, plus a hot drink, a fruit juice, and jams and butter for the bread. We both ordered the chocolat chaud for the hot drink, and I got orange juice while M. chose lemon, which came with a decanter of water and sugar to sweeten to taste. The continental breakfast was really the only choice – they also had a breakfast with cooked eggs and other things, but they didn’t start serving that until 09:00.

Read more: Exploring Vieux Lyon, the Cathedral Saint-Jean, Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière, and yummy food

Europe 2016 diary: day 1

Saturday, 24 December, 2016

Saturday, 29 October, 2016. 13:26 Sydney time

We’re sitting on board our first flight, from Sydney to Dubai. It’s a daylight flight all the way, and we took off at 06:00, so we’re mostly awake despite trying to get a bit of sleep at the beginning.

We had to get up at 03:00 this morning to have a quick breakfast and then catch a taxi to the airport. It had rained overnight, but it had stopped so we didn’t have to wait on the kerb for the taxi in the rain, although it started sprinkling as the taxi arrived, and got quite heavy while we were driving. It eased off a bit by the time we got to the airport, so we didn’t get too wet getting out.

There was a short queue of passengers at the Emirates check in, so it didn’t take long to check our bags and get boarding passes. The woman at the counter asked if we preferred a row next to a window or in the middle of the aisles, and said the plane was fairly empty, so we could have a whole row of seats to ourselves and stretch out. I asked if there were any exit row seats available and she said no, but there was a bulkhead row, so we got that. Then it was filling in our departure cards and going through immigration and security into the departure area.

Nothing was open when we went through. No duty free shops, no food places, nothing except a lone McDonalds, where a few people were getting coffee. Our plane was the first scheduled departure of the morning, right on 06:00 when the airport curfew lifted, then the next departure was 06:30, and then no more until 08:15. So given our flight is only about a quarter full, there was virtually no business for anyone opening this early. As we waited, a couple of places opened around 04:30, a small duty free shop and a newsagent.

We boarded not long after 05:00, and the plane left the gate early. As we walked on, we checked our seat numbers, which were 43A and B. So naturally we started walking down towards the back of the plane, thinking the seats were several rows back. But when we looked at the seat numbers we were passing, they were already up in the 50s, so we had to backtrack, against the flow of other passengers. When we reached our seats, they were the the very first row, right by the entrance door! I guess rows 1 to 42 are upstairs, this being an Airbus A380. From where we’re sitting we have a view into the cockpit whenever a crew member opens the door to go in or out.

They served a breakfast soon after take off, and I got the potato and tomato frittata so M. could mix and match, swapping parts of her vegetarian meal with mine. (The other option was scrambled eggs with sausage.) Then we dozed a bit, since we’d only had a few hours sleep before getting up to go to the airport. But after a while we started waking up. M. watched movies while I tried to do the latest crossword in my weekly challenge with the guys at work, before I gave up and started writing this diary.

Over Australia
Flying over Australia

Read more: Arriving in Lyon and finding some dinner

Explaining Fred Basset

Saturday, 10 December, 2016

My work gets daily newspaper deliveries, and at afternoon tea break some of us like to flip to the puzzles page to try to solve today’s Target (a nine-letter word polygon puzzle). On the facing page is the comics section, which contains a typical selection of daily newspaper comics: Calvin and Hobbes, Hagar the Horrible, Garfield, Snake, Phantom, and… the venerable Fred Basset. Some of these comics are occasionally funny (well, except Phantom, which is a serialised drama) – except Fred Basset. It’s just an endless stream of what look like attempts to make a gag, but which consistently fail to deliver any sort of punchline.

So we started discussing making a blog to explain why each Fred Basset strip is actually hilariously funny, even if you, the average naive reader, don’t realise it. We’ve been discussing this for a while, and given the most recent strip, I finally decided to give it a go. So here goes:

Fred Basset 2016-12-09

This is a typical Fred Basset strip. Seemingly nothing funny, or even slightly amusing on the surface. It in fact looks like a tired retread of a “joke” that Garfield has been perpetrating for decades: animal is lazy. Ha ha.

But no, to reach this conclusion and go no further is to miss the tragic underpinning of true comedy embodied by this simple set of three panels. The titular Fred is old. He’s been doing this routine of getting up out of his comfortable bed every day for … more years than a simple dog can count. His mortality weighs heavily on his weary bones, and in his heart he knows his days are numbered.

Today, he is lucky enough to get up out of this bed once again. But Fred knows there is a good chance that this is the last day he will ever get up. The first panel is the slowly dawning realisation that he is still on this mortal coil – a realisation made thus slow by his fading mental capacities. It takes a full beat panel in the middle for him to come to terms with the fact that his eternal rest will require at least one more day of struggle against the inanities of his life, in a middle class London home with a similarly ageing couple of humans who never do anything to make his life more interesting or amusing.

In the final panel we get the double whammy of the punchline. “But not quite running!” As if Fred, with his arthritic legs and reduced lung capacity, could run anywhere any more. The fading memory of running brings to mind young days as a puppy spent frolicking in sunny fields of a never-ending summer – yet we all know that summer ends, and with it comes autumn, and twilight. Winter is coming, Fred, and you know it.

As his front paw touches that cold, hard, unfeeling linoleum floor, he feels the chill enter his body and penetrate to his osteoporotic bones. Running! Ha!

Yes, Fred, not quite… not quite. And therein lies the true humour. Dark, enfolding its ever-reaching, cold, black tendrils around the amusement centres of your soul. A creeping mist that reminds you of your own impending doom, but then laughs it off as the mere follies of a dog with human thoughts. And so we laugh, for there is little else we can do, and go about our business.