Just One Q

When Claire and I changed our surnames to the letter Q, six and a quarter years ago, I was pretty sure that we were the only “Q”s in the world. Ah Q‘s name is a transliteration into the Latin alphabet; Stacey Q is a stage name that she doesn’t use outside of her work (she uses Swain in general); Suzi Q‘s “Q” is short for Quatro (perhaps popularised because of the similarly-named song, which came out when she was aged 7; Maggie Q‘s “Q” is short for Quigley (she finds that her full name is almost impossible for her fans in East Asia to pronounce); and both Q and Q are fictional. We were reasonably sure that we were the only two people in the world with our surname, and that was fine by us.

Q from James Bond.
Fictional, as much as we love them.

After Claire and I split up, in 2009, we both kept our new names. In my case, the name felt like it was “mine”, and represented me better than my birth name anyway. Plus, I’d really gotten to enjoy having a full name that’s only four letters long: when my poly-tribe-mates Ruth and JTA (each of whom have almost 30 letters in their full names!) were filling out mortgage application forms recently, I was able to get through the pages I had to fill significantly faster than either of them. There are perks to a short name.

Q from Star Trek.
Also fictional. But we’re less-upset about that.

I can’t say why Claire kept her new name, but I’m guessing that some of our reasons overlap. I’m also guessing that laziness played a part in her decision: it took her many months to finally get around to telling everybody she’d changed her name the first time around! And while I’ve tried to make it possible to change your name easily when I launched freedeedpoll.org.uk, there’s still at least a little letter-writing involved.

Now, though, it looks like I may soon become the only Q in the world:

@Poobar: She said yes! We are going to be the Drs Carter :-) @Eskoala: @poobar proposed (and I said yes!) so we are engaged! :D

Personally, I thought that after she passed her PhD she’d have even more reason to be called “Q”. I mean: “Dr. Q”: how cool is that? It sounds like a Bond villain or something. But on the other hand: if she wants to downgrade to an everyday name like “Carter” then, well, I guess that’s up to her. I shan’t blame them for not opting to hyphenate, though: “Carter-Q” sounds like a brand of ear bud.

U.S. President Jimmy Carter
It’s not like there was ever anybody famous called “Carter”. Except for this guy, I suppose. But he was more of a “brave politician in the face of international crises” character than a “Bond villain” character. Not fictional.

Seriously, though: good for them. If those crazy kids feel that marriage is for them, then I wish them the best of luck. And let’s face it, we’re approaching a bit of a lull in this run of all-of-our-friends-getting-married, so it’ll be nice to have an excuse for yet another wedding and a fabulous party (I’m jumping to conclusions and assuming that they’re going to invite me, especially after this blog post!).

Jimmy and Claire.
Aww. It’s a sweet photo, but somebody should probably buy them a tripod as a wedding present: it’s hard to keep the horizon level in an arms-length selfie.

In other name-related news, look out for me in the Money section of tomorrow’s Guardian, where I’ll be talking about deeds poll, as part of their series of articles on scammy websites. I always knew that it was only a matter of time before my photo appeared in a national newspaper: I guess I should just be thankful that it’s for something I’ve done right, rather than for something I’ve done wrong!

Update: Here’s the online version of the Guardian Money article.

Hello, Facebook; Goodbye, Facebook

Well, that was a farce.

tl;dr: [skip to the end] I’m closing my Facebook account. I’ve got some suggestions at the bottom of this post about how you might like to keep in touch with me in future, if you previously liked to do so via Facebook.

The Backstory

A little over three weeks ago, I was banned from Facebook for having a fake name. This surprised me, because I was using my real name – it’s an unusual name, but it’s mine. I was interested to discover that Claire, who shares my name, hadn’t been similarly banned, so it seems that this wasn’t part of some “sweep” for people with one-letter names, but instead was probably the result of somebody (some stranger, I’d like to hope) clicking the “Report this as a fake name” link on my profile.

Perhaps somebody clicked their way through to this page, and claimed that I was not a "real person".

There are many, many things about this that are alarming, but the biggest is the “block first; ask questions later” attitude. I wasn’t once emailed to warn me that I would be banned. Hell: I wasn’t even emailed to tell me that I had been banned. It took until I tried to log in before I found out at all.

The Problem

I don’t make much use of Facebook, really. I cross-post my blog posts there, and I keep Pidgin signed in to Facebook Chat in case anybody’s looking for me. Oh, and I stalk people from my past, but that’s just about the only thing I do on it that everybody does on it. I don’t really wallpost, I avoid internal messages (replying to them, where possible, by email), and I certainly don’t play fucking FarmVille.

Once, one of my Facebook friends invited me to FarmVille. They're not my Facebook friend any more.

So what’s the problem? It’s not like I’d be missing anything if I barely use it anyway? The problem is that my account was still there, it’s just that I didn’t have access to it.

That meant that people still invited me to things and sent me messages. My friends are smart enough to know that I won’t see anything they write on their wall, but they assume that if they update the information of a party they’ve Facebook-invited me to that I’ll get it. For example, I was recently at a fabulous party at Gareth and Penny‘s which they organised mostly via Facebook. They’d be forgiven for assuming that when they sent a message to “the guests” – a list that included me – that I would get that message: but no – it fell silently away into Facebook’s black hole.

The Farce(book?)

Following this discovery, here’s how I spent the next three weeks:

  1. Facebook gave me a form to fill in when I tried to log in, explaining their “Real Names” policy and asking me to fill in my real name and explain “what I use Facebook for” (“Ignoring friends and stalking exes, same as everybody else,” I explained, “Why; what do YOU use Facebook for?”).
  2. It then asked me to scan and upload some government-issued photographic ID, which I did. It still wouldn’t let me log in, but it promised that somebody would look at my ID soon (and then destroy their copy) and re-enable my account.
  3. I periodically tried to log in over the next few days, without success: I was to wait, I was told.
  4. After about a week, I received an email from “Rachel” at Facebook, who explained the “Real Names” policy and asked me to provide my REAL name, and a scan of some photographic ID. I replied to explain that I’d already done this once, but complied with her request anyway.
  5. Another few days passed, and I still hadn’t heard anything, so I filled in the Contact Forms in the Help section of Facebook, asking to have my request processed by an actual human being. I provided by ID yet again.
  6. Another few days later, I received an email from “Aoife” at Facebook. It was pretty-much exactly the same as the earlier email from Rachel. I replied to explain that we’d been through this already. I supplied another pile of photo ID, and a few sarcastic comments.
A real person, with a real name, holding two examples of his real government-issued photographic ID. I wonder how long it would take a smart person to look at a scan of that ID and say, "Yeah, this person's real enough to be allowed to post pictures of cats on his wall, again."
  1. Another couple of days passed, so I dug up the postal addresses of Facebook’s HQ, and Mark Zuckerberg‘s new Palo Alto house (he’s tried to keep it secret, but the Internet is pretty good at this kind of detective work), and sent each of them a letter explaining my predicament.
  2. Yet more days passed, and we reached the third week of my ban. I replied to Rachel and Aoife, asking how long this was likely to take.
  3. Finally, a little over three weeks after the ban was first put in place, it was lifted. I received an email from Aoife:

Hi Dan,

Thanks for verifying your identity. Note that we permanently deleted your attached ID from our servers.

After investigating this further, it looks like we suspended your account by mistake. I’m so sorry for the inconvenience. You should now be able to log in. If you have any issues getting back into your account, please let me know.

Thanks,

Aoife
User Operations
Facebook

The Resolution

So now, I’m back on Facebook, and I’ve learned something: having a Facebook account that you can’t log in to is worse than not having a Facebook account at all. If I didn’t have one at all, at least people would know that they couldn’t contact me that way. In my situation, Facebook were effectively lying to my friends: telling them “Yeah, sure: we’ll pass on your message to Dan!” and then not doing so. It’s a little bit like digital identity theft, and it’s at least a little alarming.

I’ve learned something else, too: Facebook can’t be trusted to handle this kind of situation properly. Anybody could end up in my situation. Those of you with unusual (real) names, or unusual-looking pseudonyms, or who use fake names on Facebook (and I know that there are at least a dozen of you on my friends list)… or just those of you whose name looks a little bit off to a Facebook employee… you’re all at risk of this kind of lockout.

Me? I was a little pissed off, but it wasn’t the end of the world. But I know people who use Facebook’s “single sign-on” authentication systems to log in to other services. I know people who do some or all of their business through Facebook. Increasingly, I’ve seen people store their telephone or email address books primarily on Facebook. What do you do when you lose access to this and can’t get it back? When there’s nowhere to appeal?

And that’s how I came to my third lesson: I can’t rely on Facebook not to make this kind of fuck-up again. No explanation was given as to how their “mistake” was made, so I can’t trust that whatever human or automated system was at fault won’t just do the same damn dumb thing tomorrow to me or to somebody I know. And personally, I don’t like Facebook to seize control of my account and to pretend to be me. I come full circle to my first realisation – that it would be better not to have a Facebook account at all than to have one that I can’t access – and realise that because that’s liable to happen again at any time, that I shouldn’t have a Facebook account.

The Conclusion

So, I’m ditching Facebook.

Goodbye, Facebook.

None of this pansy “deactivation” shit, either – do you know what that actually does, by the way? It just hides your wall and stops new people from friending you: it still keeps all of your information, because it’s basically a scam to try to keep your data while making you think you’ve left. No, I’m talking about the real “permanent deletion” deal.

I’m going to hang around for a few days to make sure I’ve harvested everybody’s email addresses and pushing this post to my wall and whatnot, and then I’m gone.

If you’re among those folks who aren’t sure how to function outside of Facebook, but still want to keep in touch with me, here’s what you need to know:

  • I like email! Remember email? I’ve always preferred it to Facebook messages anyway – that’s why I always reply to you by email, where possible. My email address is pretty obvious – it’s my first name @ this domain name – but if that’s too hard for you, just fill in this form to get in touch with me. If you’re up for some security while you’re at it, why not encrypt your email to me.
  • I like instant messaging! I may not be on Facebook Messenger any more, but we can still chat! The best way to get me is on Google Talk, but there are plenty of other options too. Here’s how you do it. Or if you’re really lazy, just check at the top of my blog for the little green light and click “Chat to Dan”.
  • I like blogging! Want to know what’s going on in my life? I never updated my “wall” anyway except to link to blog posts – you might as well just come look at my blog! Too much like work? Follow my RSS feed and get updated when I post to my blog, or keep an eye on my Twitter, which usually gets links to my new blog posts almost as soon as they go up.
  • I like sharing! I’m not on Google Reader any more, but when I find fun things on the Internet that I enjoyed reading, I put them in this RSS feed. Subscribe and see what I’ve been looking at online, or just look at “Dan is Reading…” in the right-hand column of my blog.
  • And I’m not opposed to social networking! I’ve just reached the end of my patience with Facebook, that’s all. Look me up on Google+ and I’ll see you over there (They also have a “Real Names” policy, which is still a bit of a problem, but I’m sending them a pre-emptive “Don’t ban me, bro!” email now)!

Ironically, the only Facebook accounts I’ll have now are the once which do have fake names. Funny how they’re the ones that never seem to get banned.

Banned From Facebook

Apparently I’m too cool for Facebook.

The message I see when I try to log in to Facebook. Sadly, I'm also prohibited from using Pidgin to connect to Facebook Chat, which is just about the only thing I use Facebook for these days.

Okay, that’s not what that message actually says, but that’s how I chose to read it. It turns out that my name isn’t real. I went through their forms to tell them that “no, really, this is my name”. They also asked me “what I use Facebook for”, to which I – of course – answered “chatting to friends and stalking exes, same as everybody else – why, what do YOU use Facebook for?” But when I submitted the form, it just ran me back around in a circle back to where I started.

Also: Facebook! Is that exposed HTML code in your message? Dear me.

I’d be less frustrated if I didn’t just send them a copy of my driving license earlier this year, in order to prove that my name was really my name. I guess that the media claims that Facebook keeps all of your information indefinitely aren’t true, and in actual fact they have the memory of a proverbial goldfish.

I’d be more frustrated if I actually used Facebook for anything more than pushing blog posts out to people who prefer to see them on Facebook, and occasionally chatting to people, thanks to the wonderful pidgin-facebookchat plugin.

So on average, I suppose, I’m pretty indifferent. That’s the Facebook way.

On This Day In 2009

Looking Back

On this day in 2009 I’d just announced that Claire and I had broken up after our seven year relationship. I attacked Virgil‘s omnia vincit amor (love conquers all), countering that our love for one another was not sufficient to prevent the difficulties we’d been having. That the breakup was among the most structured, carefully-negotiated, and amicable of I’ve ever heard detracted only a little from the pain of the ending of the romantic part of our relationship.

You’ll note that I’ve always been careful not to say that our relationship ended, because it didn’t. It changed: we transitioned (bumpily, and with difficulty) from a romantic relationship to a friendly relationship. You’ll also notice that I don’t use the term “just” friends unless that clarification is absolutely necessary (after all, why are friends “just” friends: what’s wrong with friends? – I’ve another blog post on this very topic under construction).

Looking Forward

It’s gotten easier, over this last year, to deal with the breakup: but it’s still hard. We had a huge place in one another’s lives, and that doesn’t simply evaporate. From my perspective, at least, I still feel at least a little bit “derailed”: like, if you asked me 18 months ago about where I’d be living now, or what I’d be doing, then I wouldn’t be able to say with any certainty that it would be this life I now have. That’s not to say I’m not happy: I’m enjoying what I’m doing now (although a little more free time wouldn’t go amiss!). It’s merely that I haven’t yet fully got used to the fact that I’m not quite living in accordance with the same plans that I used to have.

There are folks who’ve criticised our breakup, saying that we’d both have recovered from it better had we tried harder not to keep in contact, not to remain friendly, etc. I don’t know whether I agree or not – but I dispute that it would have necessarily been better. One thing that’s actually been really helpful over the last year (for me, at least, and I’d guess for Claire too) is that we’ve been able to get support from one another. That’s a remarkable and unusual thing: but then, we were a remarkable and unusual couple.

And isn’t supporting one another what friends do?

Getting better all the time. Sorry to mope.

This blog post is part of the On This Day series, in which Dan periodically looks back on years gone by.

Saying Goodbye

Just thought I’d briefly share all of the different ways I’ve been saying goodbye to Aberystwyth and the people there, along with some photos:

Goodbye Friends

I’d hoped to make a proper blog post about the barbeque/bonfire we’d had to “see of” JTA and I (and later Paul, who’s leaving later this year, and sort-of Ruth, who’ll now be visiting far less-frequently), but I decided to wait until Rory got around to uploading the photos he’d taken. He still hadn’t done so by the time I left town, so, you’re stuck with the handful of pictures that I took.

Sam, both Rorys, Gareth, Jimmy and Claire

You can even see Rory on the right of that first photo, taking pictures, the swine. As usual for our beach barbeques there was no shortage of food nor booze, and a copious quantity of firewood. Also a huge amount of paper and cardboard which needed disposing of before the move, which lead to one of the most violently spectacular beach fires we’ve ever had – perhaps second only to the time that Kit, Claire and I found large parts of a bar (as in, one that you serve drinks over at a pub) and ignited it , many years ago.

Satoko and Paul

As the light grew dim I recited a poem that I’d thrown together earlier that evening, for the ocassion, expressing my fondness for this place where I’ve spent the last decade or so. I’d promised that I’d put it online, so here it is:

MEMORIES OF AN OLD FRIEND AND FORMER LOVER

In nineteen hundred and eighty five,
When I was – ooh – nay high. [with gesture sadly absent when recited over Internet]
I first set eyes on this Welsh town,
It’s mountains, sea and sky.

And beach (sans sand) and shops
(now closed), and pier (missing an end).
And thought myself, “This place, perhaps,
Could someday be my friend.”

Thirteen years passed – lucky for some –
And found me here again
In search of a place to come and learn
[I had a line here about how long it takes to get here by train, but I’ve lost it!]

My open day was sunny (aren’t they all?
how do they make it so?)
As I visited the campus and
The quaint town down below

That day, as I sat on that hill, [again with the gestures! – this was Consti, of course] looked down,
And saw a pair of dolphins play
I realised I’d found a friend: this town
And loved her, in a way.

My love and I were something sweet.
My friends; they envied me,
As she and I would come back, merry,
With a traffic cone or three.

Ten years I gave her of my life,
And treasure every one.
A decade’s love and hope and dreams under
Wales’ (intermittent) sun.

But this was young love: first love, p’rhaps
And wasn’t built to last,
And so the time draws swiftly near
That it becomes: the past.

The friend I’ll think of, as I chew
A slice of Bara Brith
She’ll always be here, in my heart,
Beautiful Aberystwyth.

In other news, you have no idea how hard it is to find fitting rhymes for “Aberystwyth”.

JTA

Goodbye Samaritans

Of course, I’d hoped to say goodbye to the Samaritans branch where I’d volunteered for the last few years, and I’d hoped to do so at an upcoming curry night that had been organised at the branch. Little did I know that more than just an excuse to say goodbye, this little party had been geared up almost entirely to see off Ruth, JTA and I. There were tears in our eyes as we saw some of the adaptations to the training room.

The Training Room at Aberystwyth Samaritans

The meal was spectacular, the beer and wine flowed freely, and we each left with a special gift showing how much the branch cared for each of us. I still have no idea how they managed to orchestrate so much of this without any of us having a clue that we were letting ourselves in for more than just a curry and a pint or two.

As I left the branch for the last time, I passed the reminder sign that reads “Have you signed up for your next shift?” and thought, with a little sadness – no, no I haven’t.

Goodbye SmartData

As if there weren’t enough curry in my diet, the lads from SmartData and I went out to the Light of Asia for a meal and a few drinks (during, before, and after) to “see me off”. This felt strange, because I’m not leaving SmartData – at least not for the forseeable future – but continuing to work for them remotely in my office on Earth that I’ve taken to calling “SmartData’s Oxford branch”. But this does mark the end of me seeing them (at least in person) on a day-to-day basis, and it was also an excuse to catch up with former co-worker Gareth, who came along too.

I should have thought to take a picture.

Goodbye Claire

I couldn’t have felt like I’d said goodbye to my life in Aberystwyth without saying goodbye to Claire, who’s been a huge part of it for, well, almost eight years. She and I got together one evening in my final week, there, to break apart the QFrames (the picture frames full of mementoes from QParty). It was a somewhat emotionally heavy time, but – I suppose – an important part of getting some closure on our break-up, last year: if there was ever going to be a part of me that was perpetually tied to Aberystwyth, it’d be the half-dozen picture frames full of photos and letters and gifts that represented “us” that I was lugging around. Now, I’ve got to find something new with which to furnish the walls of Earth, and my housemates seem keen to help with this mission.

It’s been a long process – saying goodbye to everybody – but at least that’s the Aberystwyth chapter complete. Right: what’s next?

The Break-Up

Yesterday, Claire and I broke up.

We’ve had several rough months, and several even rougher weeks, and this seemed to be the best solution to a variety of difficulties we’ve faced recently. It’s hard to answer the question as to whether the split could be described as mutual, but it can certainly be described as amicable, if that’s enough. If not, then perhaps it might help to understand that we’re both, little doubt, unhappy, but that it’s better to end things now in a friendly way than, say, in six months time in an unfriendly way.

I’m sure that neither of us want to go in depth into the issues behind this break-up in the public forum, but I’m sure that those of you who are our friends are more than welcome to ask privately, “what happened?” I apologise to everybody for whom this comes as a shock (i.e. most of you, from what I gather).

I’ve no doubt that Claire and I will continue to be close friends and will kick arse in all the fabulous ways that you’re used to, whether in one another’s company or apart. And I expect I speak for both of us when I say that there’s a slap on the wrist waiting for anybody we catch “taking sides”: there are no sides to be taken.

Virgil wrote that omnia vincit amor – love conquers all – but he was wrong. Despite our love for one another, if Claire and I had carried on the way we were, people would have ended up hurt. I’m feeling drained and miserable, but it’ll pass, and all will be well again. For a quarter of my life thus far I’ve been Claire’s, and she’s been mine, and through one another we’ve done so much. For the last seven and a half years I’ve been thankful for the great richness of experience that my relationship with Claire has brought. There will always be a special place in my heart for her.

Thanks for reading. I think I shall go and sit quietly for a while, now.

Edit @ 21:20 01-Nov-2009: Claire has a few things to say, too.

Foods That Begin With The Letter Q

To mark the second anniversary of QParty, I thought I’d cook Claire and I a meal consisting of foods that begin with the letter Q. How hard can it be, right? Turns out it’s more difficult than you might first expect.

My first thought was quails with qvark dumplings, but, would you believe it, both of these things turn out to be hard to get in Aberystwyth. Not wanting to have to resort to Quorn™, we ended up having a quirky mixture of foods that have probably never before been seen on the same plate:

  • A quarter-pounder burger
  • Pasta quills
  • Quesadillas
  • Quiche

I’d have liked to have put quinces in the desert somehow, or else flapjacks made from Quaker oats, but in the end we just had cherry pie and cream, which I insisted on calling queam.

Aside from those listed above, and quinoa, of course, what foods have I missed? Is there anything that you can eat that begins with a “Q” that I haven’t thought of?

I’ve Been Q’ing For A Year Now

Post Offices, eh? But those aside, it’s now been a year since Claire and I changed our surnames to the letter “Q”. Here’s a quick look back:

The Good Things

  • It still feels like it’s “ours,” and something that’s ours alone – a great sense of identity and togetherness that we probably wouldn’t have gotten in any other way.
  • It still makes people’s minds boggle, even after they get past the “disbelief” stage. It still baffles me how many people try to “guess what it stands for,” even after being told it doesn’t stand for anything.
  • The junk mailers still don’t seem to have caught up with my new name, which makes filtering my postal mail very easy – it’s it’s for my old name, it’s junk; if it’s for my new name, it’s not.
  • It really wasn’t very hard to do!
  • The game of “comeing up with children’s names for Claire and I” seems to have gone out of fashion at last. I still feel that the winner was “Barbie.”
  • I’m yet to find anybody with a shorter name than me, although I suspect that at least one exists (there are plenty with same length of name, including Ron Ng, Wu Man, and many other people with romanised Chinese names).

The Bad Things

  • Some companies (and, in particular, their computer systems) seem to have a great deal of difficulty with my surname. It hasn’t caused any problems as yet; just inconveniences – and I’m on several databases as “Qq”, “Qu”, or “Q[space][space][space].”
  • We spend longer at customs desks at British airports than we used to. Those guys have no sense of humour.
  • I spend longer spelling my name to people on the phone than I used to, which feels unusual considering that my old surname had at least two spellings of which mine was the least common.
  • My mobile phone contract provider still refuse to believe that my first name has changed, too. They have no problem with my last name. Weird.

So, no: I don’t regret it, it’s been fun and fabulous and it’s something special for Claire and I to share, and I fully expect to have this surname for the remainder of my life… although I am sometimes tempted by the idea of a one-letter first name, too… :-)

Edit, 22/03/2008: Fixed a spelling mistake.

QParty – Part 2 – The Party

After extended delays, here’s the remainder of my "looking back at QParty" post.

The party kicked off at 6pm, and guests trickled in over about about half hour to either side, which gave Claire and I ample time to try to greet everybody as they came through the doors. At least, it did until about 6:30pm, when a sudden rush of the remaining guests swept us off our feet and made us spend much of the remaining time running around everybody who’d appeared since to make sure we at least got to talk to everybody. Paul – with help from Matt P and Rory – manned the door, taking people’s coats and offering glasses of champagne… well, sparkling white wine. In the cases where he liked the look of the people coming in, he remembered to tell them about the bar tab, too.

Reception Dan and Claire greet Andy Pandy Dan greeting people Dan and Claire find time to sneak a kiss in the corner

We began to collect people’s contributions for the QFrames – the large clip frames we planned to fill with mementoes from the event. These were many (so many, in fact, that when Jenny was filling them for us while on our QMoon, later, she ran out of clip frames and some contributions have had to be overlapped or – where people brought multiple items – some have had to be left out entirely). We were overwhelmed by the thought and sincerity reflected in many of the items that are now in QFrames (some of which we’ve already mounted in The Cottage: others we still need to find room for!). Just off the top of my head, I’d like to draw attention to a few things (can’t possibly list everything here!):

  • A selection of fantastic photos from Claire and my life so far. Some reflect our family lives (Claire’s dad brought a huge number of pictures of her as a child), some our lives with our friends (not-gay Gareth brought a great picture that he took at an early Murder Mystery Night; Sundeep supplied a brilliant snap from a trip we took up Snowdon; Gareth and Penny gave us a picture that really sums up Claire and I’s life in Aber – the two of us looking out to sea by a bonfire – and so on), and some are reminders of the people we care about (I was particularly impressed at the courage of my college friend Andy, who, in reference to a long-standing joke, supplied a photo of himself edited such that he looked like Andy Pandy).

  • A collage of photographs of me at different stages of my life, from my mum, overlaid with transparencies of the details of key events in it, from my birth certificate to my graduation.

  • The specification for a Turing-complete programming language called Q (it’s a little like Brainfuck), and a program written in it that outputs a congratulatory message, from Andy, my mum’s partner.

  • A page from "a physics textbook," describing many different kinds of scientific terms and units using the letter Q, with an "addition": the Q-unit, used to measure weirdness of the Dan and Claire variety. Thanks to Jimmy for that one.

  • A map to the star "Q", registered at the International Star Registry by Ele, Lee, Helen and Pete.

  • Several wonderful letters, including an excellent dialogue between Ruth and JTA, and a tear-jerking description of our friendship over the last few years from Matt R.

  • A fucking scary mask from Liz.

  • Not one but two pieces of knitting on the theme of the letter Q – now these were difficult to squeeze into clip-frames! – from Jen and Beth.

  • A piece of my last laptop, somehow recovered and kept by Paul, who was present at it’s destruction.

And so on, and so on, and so on. There’s far more than we ever imagined we’d get: so much that the half-dozen A1-size clip-frames we brought were actually insufficient to contain them all! From the sweet to the nostalgic to the crazy, all of these unusual gifts (and the dozens not mentioned here) have really made us feel loved by you all: thank you all so much.

Sarah and Alan by the QFrames Examining QFrames in the distance Dan receiving champagne from Alec Kit and Fiona

Thanks are also due to everybody who – despite our request to the contrary – brought more conventional gifts as well. In particular, we were surprised (in a good way) by the sheer number of bottles of champagne we were given. A side-effect of this – and of all the cake left uneaten from the party – was that when we returned from our "honeymoon" – QMoon – a week later, the only things we had in the house to eat and drink were cake and champagne. Oh, the horror!

Once everybody who was going to appear had appeared and gotten themselves a drink or two, we decided that it was probably time to get on with giving the speeches that are so obviously mandatory at this kind of event. We’d planned the order of events only the night before. Then changed the plan. Then changed it again. In any case, we’d decided that I’d introduce, in turn, Claire, my mum, and Claire’s dad, and then say a few words myself.

Claire would talk about how she and I first met – delicately censored, of course: the finer details of the actual story are not only more long-winded than is appropriate for a speech of the length that Claire wanted to give, but also aren’t so repeatable in polite conversation (if you feel like you missed out on some juicy details, see us after class). Claire spoke well about the early days and months of our relationship, addressing her audience well and taking the piss out of me just about enough (it turns out to be quite easy).

Dan's mum's speech Claire's speech Claire's dad's speech Dan's speech

My mum was next. We’d decided between us that what she would like to talk about was family. Her speech was simply fantastic, and earned her a great deal of respect from many of my friends, based on the number of people who later came up to me and told me how "brilliant your mum is!" Despite a meandering into a discussion on the breeding of alpacas, her musings made their point: that families – defined not by blood or lineage but by groups of individuals bonded together by love – are one of the most fundamental building blocks of society as we know it, and that everyone in the room was, by Claire and I’s action and through Claire and I’s love for one another, joined and related as a huge extended family.

When everybody was done wiping their eyes and laughing about alpacas, Claire’s dad took the mic. He talked a little about Claire’s upbringing and her unusual ways, embarassing her just slightly in the way that a modern father of the bride is expected to, before reading a poem that he’d written for the ocassion. It talked about his respect for his daughter, and his love of her, and her upbringing, and then took a change in pace at the point in her life where her dad first met me: And what’s this I find? / A man in bed with a girl of mine! / Who is this, me’s a thinker’, / Who is this bounder? What a stinker! It gets better, of course, and finishes with lines asking me to take care of "his Claire" for the rest of her life. Which, longevity-permitting, is my plan.

Listening to speeches Listening from the bar Fighting to the front

Finally, I stepped in to talk about Claire and I’s unusual and conversation-inspiring name change: why we did it, what it means, and how we came to choose the letter Q above all the other letters in the alphabet and, in fact, all the other combinations of latters that we could have possibly considered (I still think it would have been cool to change my name to Plugh Xyzzy – pronounced pl-urh zuzzie – and if you understand why it’s such a cool name then you’re as sad and geeky as me, and when you say it in your hollow voice, nothing happens anyway). My speech came accross okay, I think, not helped by the fact that I’d put off writing it until the day of QParty – something which, in itself, wouldn’t have caused me any problems, if it weren’t for the fact that I had to spend the afternoon cleaning up and otherwise preparing the venue.

That’s when we opened the buffet.

Becky plus gatecrashers Sarah and Matt socialising Dan, Claire, and friends

My sister, Becky, had offered to take charge of catering and other tasks, and, with the help of one or two volunteers, had assembled a fantastic spread of foodstuffs, all carefully labeled to indicate whether or not it was "meaty" or "veggie" (curiously, these signs were later seen being worn as badges by party guests). It took a reasonable amount of time for everybody to be serviced at the buffet queue, not least because several of our friends – who are more excited by buffet food than others – had managed to get back into the queue for a second helping before other guests had even got their first portion yet! Nonetheless, there was still a little food left at the end, and not just salad and other things that everybody hates, so I think Becky and her team got the quantity of food about right.

Next up came the ceremonial cutting of the cake, or not-so-ceremonially. Hmm… I suppose it’s the symbolically ceremonially cutting of the cake. Kind-of. In any case, we brought out the cakes, my mum lit the Q-shaped sparklers thereon, and we cut them so that everybody could have a piece or two. easy).

Dan's mum lighting sparklers Dan & Claire cut the cake Alec helps with the ignition of the sparklers

Sian & Andy eat cake Cake-cutting

Finally, having done all of the complicated and stressful (but still fun!) bits of the party, Claire and I could get on with enjoying the celebration ourselves. We tried to make time to talk to and sit with everybody who came, but it was difficult to spend as long as we’d have liked talking to some of the people we see less often than we’d like, because there were so many of them. Nonetheless, the atmosphere was fantastic and the experience unforgettable. At one point, Claire and I were sat at a table with a group of people who, three years ago, wouldn’t have looked out of place all sat around a table in a pub in Aberystwyth, but have since moved elsewhere… and just for a moment, I forgot that we weren’t at some early Troma Night or sat in the Ship & Castle playing Chez Geek. Quite remarkable.

As the night wore on and the music became more recognisable a good number of us migrated to the dance floor, spending much of the evening leaping around and sweating excessively in the warmth of our suits and dresses. Another party arrived (after 10pm, the management opened the doors of the venue and turned it into a regular nightclub; although it didn’t attract much traffic anyway, being a student bar outside of termtime) in fancy dress, and somebody must have been tipping them off about the nature of our event, because several people in strange costumes came over to congratulate me and to offer to buy me drinks.

The evening wore on, and many of the guests excused themselves, but for a small group of particularly hardcore party people who stayed on with us until the very end. All in all, it was a fantastic night. Thanks again to everybody who helped to make it a success, to everybody who came, and to everybody who sent well-wishes even if they couldn’t come. There’s loads of photos up now in QParty Gallery – here are some of my favourites (with captions):

I will EAT YOUR FACE!      "I will… eat your face! Ha! Didn’t see that coming, did you?"
Aww      Aww.
Peter noticed that David's trousers were leaking.      Peter noticed that David’s trousers were leaking.
"Fingers! Nom nom nom."      "Fingers! Nom nom nom."
Permission to be smug?

     "Permission to be smug, Dan?"

     "Permission granted."

Peace, brother!      Peace, brother!
Mafia boys.

     "Boss wants ta see ya, Andy."

     "Look; I can get the money next week!
     I just need a little more time, please!"

Alcohol's working!      "Y’know… I shhink th’alcohol’s workeeng."
 Hokey Cokey       "So, what? I put my right leg in, then my right leg out?"
 Liz tells Jen exactly how big Jimmy's penis is.       Liz tells Jen exactly how big Jimmy’s penis is.
 Off camera (left), Beth is dancing on the other pool table.       Off camera (left), Beth is dancing on the other pool table.
 No way, no how!       "No way, no how!"
 Scotch Pete       Do you remember this? This is what Pete used
     to look like when he had hair!

There are loads more, of course, and so many of them are so good. Take a look in at QParty Gallery (or at the lower-quality ones on Facebook) and see for yourself.

QParty – Part 1 – Before The Party

Well, it’s been three weeks since QParty (and the heap of blog posts it generated) and about thirty weeks since Claire and I changed our names to Q, and I suppose it’s time to write my piece about QParty itself – I was stalling on doing so until I’d uploaded a majority of the photos from the event to QParty Gallery, which I’ve now done (if you’ve got photos we haven’t, of course, we’d love copies!).

I suppose the story of QParty started many months ago, when we decided – after having it suggested to us many, many times – that we wanted to have such a party. We’d talked about doing it before, when we first talked about changing our names someday but long before we talked about what we would choose, and we’d always come to the conclusion that while marriage wasn’t for us, we were both big fans of weddings (and, in particular, wedding receptions), so a party was probably on the cards from day one.

We wanted a party for a few reasons. The first and most important is, of course, that we love parties and we wanted to be at the centre of one. Another important one is that we genuinely wanted to celebrate our relationship, because we think it’s a pretty damn good relationship and it’s worth celebrating. Yet another reason was that we wanted to show the (few) people who were holding out on a wedding that really, this is it: this… what we have… is our relationship, and we’re perfectly happy with it, and we don’t feel the need to wear little gold bands or big expensive dresses to justify it.

It was exciting. It was also tiring. Did you know that all of the invitations we sent out were hand-calligraphed by Claire, the "invitation codes" and envelopes hand-written by me (no thanks to a complete failure to find windowed C5-size envelopes in Aberystwyth). It’s surprisingly hard work, even when you do try to make a romantic evening or three in of it with a bottle or two of wine.

QParty Invitation - Front QParty Invitation - Inside

We’d chosen a venue in Preston, of course, before we ordered the invitations. We chose to hold the party in Preston because it’s central location makes it immediately more accessible to a lot of people: the folks in Aber didn’t thank us, of course, but those who travelled from Norfolk and Lincolnshire (Claire’s family), Kent (parts of my family), Scotland (Kit and Fiona) and the North-West (loads of people) were probably very glad of the reduced journey time. Plus, it had the immediate advantage of being in the town with both of my parents’ houses, which gave the potential for loads and loads of floor-space on which people could crash, which turned out to be a huge advantage when a dozen or so of our less well-off friends (and some folks who just wanted to spend that little bit longer with us) descended upon them.

Thanks are due to SmartData, my employer, for the loan of their franking machine, which made posting all of the invitations a lot easier than lick-and-sticking. Briefly, when writing the database that powers the QParty website and our invitation-printing system, I considered implementing a WalkSort algorithm to help the post office deliver the letters by giving a box of envelopes to them already in the order they need to be to be rapidly sorted… but thought better of it. Damn, I’m a geek.

We travelled to Preston on the early afternoon of Friday 7th September, the day before QParty, carrying Matt P, Sarah and Paul (who needed a lift from Aberystwyth, so we offered them seats in Claire’s car in exchange for promises of help with party preparation). We didn’t anticipate seeing many other people on Friday, but we were wrong. Matt R, in his trademark way, "appeared" on our doorstep. Ruth and JTA rushed up to join us right after work, and we’d missed them so much that it would have been hard to justify quite how clingy we were about them were it not for the fact that we were surrounded by friends who know quite how close Claire and I’s relationship with JTA and Ruth is. Kit and Fiona (who, I’ve just noticed, use the same theme on their LiveJournal blogs) drove down overnight, and we did’t see them until the morning, but Matt R was kind enough to stay up to greet them and show them to their bedroom…

…but not before those of us who’d arrived earlier met up with my family, chatted about plans for the following day, and took a trip to the supermarket to get all kinds of party grub. Huge thanks to my mum who took charge of the catering. Later, many of us went to the pub for a couple of quiet drinks and a catch-up, and it was great to see folks that we don’t see so often and chat in the way that, a few years ago, we might have been caught doing in the Ship & Castle.

The Pre-Party Party - Dan & Ruth Eating pizza the night before The Pre-Party Party - Ruth & Matt R

And so we came to QParty day itself.

The plan was pretty simple. We’d get up late in the morning and assign some jobs. A few folks from our team of early-arriving volunteers would be assigned to each task at hand: decoration (inflating balloons, tying streamers…), food preparation (making sandwiches, hedgehogs, chilling champagne…), etc. It could all have been so simple…

…but, of course, when we arrived at the venue early in the afternoon, we discovered that it was in a hell of a state of disrepair. All of the furniture was stacked in the corner, covered in dust. The bar was covered with glass. The floor was filthy. There was a pile of rubble in the dance floor. Evidently, the rennovations we’d been promised were not so complete as we had been led to expect.

Stairs to the venue The mess that was the bar Cleaning materials Matt and Kit look like proper barmen

Within 30 seconds of my blog post going up about the situation, Jon – star that he is – and Hayley were on their way to Preston to help with the tidy-up effort. Hayley, in particular, did a stirling job of clearing up the mess that was the stairwell (I’m sure I’ll never know where she found the vacuum cleaner that the bar staff claimed didn’t exist, and I’m still unsure where she moved that wooden pallet and the shipping crate on top of it). When we started to make progress, our friends and family switched to the job of food preparation, and all was beginning to take shape. By half past five – half an hour before the party was due to start, the tidy-up team were starting to relax and get changed into their various party wear.

Dressing up Claire Ruth & JTA The best waistcoat in the world

Claire, it must be said, looked absolutey fantastic, and I’m left wondering why she doesn’t wear a dress more often. But that’s not to say that everybody else didn’t look great, of course: JTA wore what is perhaps the single most beautiful waistcoat I’ve ever seen. Matt R was only a violin case away from looking like a Sicilian gangster, so sharp and dark was his suit and hat. Ruth’s marvellously sexy dress should have featured in more photos than she ever allows people to take. And so on, and so on…

I remember Matt R’s first comment when he saw Claire in her dress: "Are you wearing a corset under that?" he asked. She shook head. "No, I said: she’s actually that shape." I’m a lucky, lucky man.

I’ll be writing more about QParty and about the event itself in a second post.

QParty First Thoughts

Claire and I are back from QMoon now (in Italy, as you’ll have guessed if you read the four virtual postcards I posted to my blog), and it was a fantastic trip right up until we went to come home and everything went wrong. You’d be amazed how much trouble you can cause for yourself by when language barriers get in your way. For example, something I’ve learned is that when you’re trying to explain to an airport official who speaks only Italian why it is that the zip on your bag is broken, you should not use the words, "I’m sorry, my bag is exploding," because it turns out that doesn’t translate very well. I’ve also learnt that the correct way to get through passport control without trouble is not to be deliberately enigmatic: for instance, when an immigration officer says "That’s an unusual name you’ve got, isn’t it, sir?" you should not respond, "Why yes, yes it is."

There’s a story for another day in there somewhere, but suffice to say that despite the fact that we were not allowed to get onto the flight we were supposed to be on – to Liverpool – we were eventually allowed onto a ‘plane headed to Stansted, London, which isn’t quite the same thing but is still in the UK so that’s a step.

We’re back in Preston, now, and we’ll be back in Aberystwyth tomorrow (Monday) afternoon.

In any case, what I wanted to do was to share with you links to the great number of fantastic posts that people have made online about QParty. I’ll say more about QParty itself later, but for now – here’s what other people have been saying:

The official QParty photo gallery will launch this week, too, and I’ll be sharing with you some of the many pictures our friends took of the event in nice hi-res, printable glory, as well as sharing with you the results of the QFrame idea (remember those big clip frames at QParty? no; of course you don’t, you were completely pissed). Until then…

Tagged

QMoon Virtual Postcard #4

Pompeii was simply stunning; so much more than I’d expected. For a 2000 year old town it’s in excellent condition: in some places, it’s even possible to make out painting on the walls of the villas and pretty much whole buildings, as well as mosaics, statues, fountains and the like are perfectly preserved. It’s simply mind-blowing to walk in the grooves made by carts thousands of years ago as if it were last week.

It’s bigger than I expected, too – much bigger. While of course I knew that it was a whole town that was buried in volcanic ash and mud in 79AD, I’d never really stopped to think about quite how big a town can be. There are paved roads with pavements and crossing points and street name signs cris-crossing between homes, workshops, temples, markets, stables, wells, plaza, stadia, theatres, monuments, and they’re still uncovering more after years of work. It’s still very much a working archeological dig, and on a couple of occassions I watched teams of researchers – behind their barriers of tape of wooden gates – retrieving and cleaning tools and fragments of pottery, storing each in it’s own numbered bag for later analysis. There’s a warehouse on one side of the town where hundreds of retrieved artefacts are shelved, and thousands more are stored off-site.

Here and there, plaster casts of the bodies retrieved have been made and returned to the buildings where they were found: huddled up or bent double, often clutching at their eyes or faces, often with a look of terror. At the time of the disaster, the people of the town really had little warning of their impending doom. It’s a stark contrast to the burial mounds and castles that have dominated British archeology.

Later, back in Napoli, we went out to eat at one of the pizzarias that’s participating in September’s annual Pizza Fest: a city-wide competition of pizza-making skill. We ordered – in our best Italian, as our waiter spoke no English at all – a couple of interesting starters and a bottle of white wine while they prepared our pizzas – a Quattro Formaggio for Claire and a Diavolo for me.

I’ve no problem with admitting that my pizza is the single best pizza I have ever had. I took the time to find an English-speaking waiter at the end of the meal to tell him so. Evidently the restaurant is proud of it’s history in winning awards, as they’ve covered the walls with prizes and related newspaper cuttings. I’m not sure I’ll ever look at Hollywood Pizza in Aberystwyth the same light again.

We stayed for cake, and then for a few glasses of Limoncello, which I was in the process of trying to persuade Claire we should have when the waiter, impressed by our efforts to speak his native tongue (rather than just pointing-and-shouting like the Americans on the next table along), brought us a small chilled bottle of it on the house. Which was nice.

And then, painfully full and already quite drunk, we stumbled back to our hotel to find that the owner – having heard that it was our “honeymoon” – had given us a bottle of champagne, which he’d left in an ice bucket in our room.

Now we’re on the train back to Venice (about half-way through our 6-and-a-half hour train ride), where we’ll spend our final night in Italy before we fly back to the UK on Sunday morning. I can’t promise another blog post before we get back to Aberystwyth (and then, I’ll probably be writing a much-delayed post about QParty), so I’ll say now: this has been a fantastic and exciting trip. I’ve loved exploring three quite distinct parts of Italy, diving into the culture and language (badly) and, above all, spending an extended period of time of “just Claire and I,” something our lifestyles mean that we don’t get to do a lot of these days. Thanks again, dad, for this surprise trip.

Right, next time we come out of a tunnel (how long and how frequent are these Italian railway tunnels?) I’m going to post this! 3… 2… 1…

QMoon Virtual Postcard #3

The motorists have a game here in Napoli. The aim is, over the course of your journey, to (justifiably) sound your horn at other motorists more times than other motorists sound theirs at you. The taxi driver who brought us from the station to our hotel yesterday is particularly good at this game: I counted him beeping his horn 11 times on the ten-minute journey, but he in turn was honked at only about 8 times. I’m guessing that’s a pretty good score.

Apart from some confusion over the bill at our hotel in Rome (they seemed to want us to pay twice, for some reason), for which they later sent their best English-speaker to apologise and to offer to have themselves fed to the lions, and an hour’s delay on the train coming down here, our journey to Italy’s South was uneventful. In fact, exhausted from our morning battle with tourists as we’d gone to The Pantheon (brilliant bit of Roman architecture, well-preserved and only slightly spoiled by it’s re-consecration as a Christian temple) and an exhibition of Leonardo Da Vinci’s intentions (including a full size working ballista and a detailed scale model of their controversial interpretation of his plans for a tank), I slept through most of the train ride, only being woken late on, by Claire, when Mount Vesuvius appeared in the distance.

It’s big. Hell, it’s huge, and it dominates the view across the bay from our first-floor hotel room. The bay itself is a reminder of it’s might, having apparently been formed as the crater of a massive lava bomb from some prehistoric erupption. We sat in it’s shadow last night as we ate pizza and ice cream and drank beer at the foot of Castel Nuovo (oh yeah, it turns out that Italy’s third-largest city has loads of castles: presumably every time it changed hands over the last 1500 years the new occupants erected a new one), within earshot of a Radio Italia-sponsored free music concert. Altogether a nice evening until we got lost in the docklands and chased by a 40-strong pack of feral cats. In any case, we found a nice bar where were able to sample Limoncella, a local speciality liquor made that tastes just slighty like lemon cough syrup, if such a thing can be imagined to exist.

This morning, we’re going to visit Pompeii, which I’ve always wanted to, so that’ll be good.

As an afterthought, thought I’d share with you that relying on English being a widely-spoken second language may work in the North of Italy, but here in the South we’ve had to fall back on the Italian we’ve learnt so far on our trip – and that old favourite, the pointing-and-shouting method of universal communication – to get things done. An ability to mime, and no shame about doing it in public, will get you far wherever you travel, even Glasgow.

QMoon Virtual Postcard #2

We arrived in Rome last night to find a city teeming with life. There’s a buzz everywhere, and a crowd whereever you look. Roma Termini, the central station, stretches for miles and is bustling with commuters and tourists, fighting their way through ticket office queues or met.ro (the underground train system) gates.

Not quite sure how to make things like the ticket gates work, we stood back for a few minutes to watch the locals, first. When in Rome, we quite literally had to “do as the Romans do!”

Our hotel, right on the met.ro line, is fabulous. Big rooms, WiFi, and staff that were kind enough to lend me an electrical adapter after the one my dad had given to us turned out not to fit Italian sockets. So now my phone’s charged, which is nice, because it doubles as my palmtop (for blogging, e-mail etc.), camera (for taking photos of everything in a “hey look, I’m a tourist,” way), alarm clock, and so on. I’m half-tempted to “forget” to return it when we go to Napoli tomorrow. There’s a great pizza place just around the corner from the hotel where we went for a couple of slices of *excellent* Rome-style (thin, crispy) pizza and a beer before we went out to see the sights last night.

We ended up sat outside a gay bar a stone’s throw away from the Collesseum (yes, THE Collesseum – the speed with which we got here, coupled with the fact that, a few days ago, we didn’t know we were going to Italy at all, means that we’re still going “look… THE $monumentname” every time we see one), sharing a litre of wine and bits of desserts.

Today we woke up late, owing perhaps to a little bit of a late night last night… uhm… making the most of our honeymoon. Ahem. In any case, we took the train over to Vatican City, and, after buying Claire a cloth to cover her shoulders with (heaven forbid that God see a woman’s shoulders!) from a nearby trader, went into the Vatican museums.

I’ve now recieved my lifetime dosage of looking-at-painted-ceilings. Yes, the Sistine Chapel really IS quite beautiful, and so are the other hundred painted ceilings in Vatican City, but there’s only so much staring upwards you can do before you start feeling woozy, and it’s not helped by being caught in a crowd of people. The Vatican was really quite stunning, though, and I’d always wanted to see it, even though Claire and I *did* have to make two major compromises to go there: firstly, we had to pay the Catholic church €26 for the privilege of looking at various artefacts that they stole while promoting various crusades, which I’m not sure I approve of them making money out of (I suppose it’s no worse than most of the exhibits in the badly-named British Museum in London, but at least they don’t charge admission). Secondly, we had to stop playing our Rome-oriented variation on the Yellow Car Game, which we call Spot The Nun, because it was getting too painful as we got close to the centre of the Catholic world.

Also, I was disappointed to find that Vatican City doesn’t have a bar. Although it did make up for it with the uniforms that the Swiss Guard wear: with their floppy blue berets and silly sailor outfits they are, without a doubt, the campest army ever.

It’s been a stinking hot day today, and because the Vatican museum was so big we were exhausted before we could get to the Pantheon, which was this afternoon’s plan. Instead, we’re now waiting for the temperature outdoors to go down before going monument-spotting again. It’s really true that in Rome you can just “trip over” bits of ancient history without even trying, in a “whoops; a column!” way. Here, at what was once the capital city of Europe, “old” is a word that isn’t done justice by any building made since the year 1000. There are times when you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in Paris or London, and moments later, you can feel like you’ve been catapulted back in time. It’s quite amazing.

Tomorrow we’re off to Napoli! I’ll post more from there!

QMoon Virtual Postcard #1

Thank you all so much, everybody who came to QParty, and to everybody who’s blogged about it (I’m paying a small fortune for internet access, so I haven’t had time to read everything you’ve all written, but I’ve been quite moved by everything I’ve seen so far: abnib must be full of Q-jokes!), and in particular to Ruth, for blogging about where we’d gone after I texted her.

I’ll write more about QParty at a later juncture. For now, let me fill you in on QMoon, our mystery “honeymoon” (thanks dad!).

It didn’t take us long in my dad’s car on Monday morning to realise that we were headed to Liverpool John Lennon Airport, and then – herded into a “Q” – to discover that we were flying out to Treviso Airport, just outside of Venice, Italy. My dad gave us three numbered packages, and a fourth, containing a letter, InterRail passes, hotel booking details, some spending money, and instructions on when to open the packages. We opened this one as the RyanAir 737-800 pulled away from the ground.

As might be expected from a holiday organised by my dad, great and detailed plans were provided for the various forms of transport that we would take. A plane (well, let’s face it, a flying bus – this is, after all, RyanAir), a bus into Venice, a water-bus to our hotel, and so on. Buses, as you can see, a major part of this segment of the plan.

Passport control initially gave us some trouble, a guard pointing out that our surnames were “unusual,” but nothing really problematic.

As I texted to Ruth and she dutifully blogged, Venice looks EXACTLY LIKE IT DOES IN EVERY MOVIE EVER. There really ARE no roads. This became most apparent to me when I saw a bin lorry (okay, a boat with a trash compacter on the back) pull up at a dock, and a man jumped out with a trolley. He ran down the alleyways, filling his barrow with bin bags collected from the doorsteps of the cramped pathways, eventually meeting up with the boat at the next jetty and depositing his load. Then he’d swap with the driver of the boat who’d do the next “run.”

Everything – really everything – depends on the canals. For a moment, it’s easy to believe that they had a perfectly conventional road network that they flooded one day, just for fun. Police boats and ambulances rush around old-style gondolas, water-taxis pick up and drop off, and lumbering old water-buses – somewhat reminiscient of London tube trains when they’re full of wall-to-wall people – crawling from stop to stop. This provided us with some confusion early on: you need to pay attention not only to what point along the canal you’ll be getting off, but also what side of the canal your stop is on! It’s easy, we discovered, to get off at a stop near to your destination only to realise you’re on the wrong side of the water! Thankfully, traghetti (small two-oar gondolas) provide a crossing opportunity for half a Euro, cutting between the other traffic and rocking alarmingly as they meander across the water.

Our hotel was pleasant enough, although the room was of a typical small Venetian size and the view was in the opposite direction to the Canale Grande, and there was initially some confusion over the bill. However, it was wonderfully central and – being right on the canals – gave us quick access to the city.

We went out for a meal on first night of mushroom soup (delicious) and lasagne for me, tagliateli for Claire, along with a bottle of a delicious local(-ish) wine, then explored the city. Wandering just off the main canals and the main touristy areas we found ourselves lost in a labyrinthine maze of winding alleyways (some barely wide enough for one man to walk down) and dead ends. The buildings loom tall above you, all usable land long since having been occupied, and hundreds of years of expansion (upwards and outwards!) has resulted in a landscape like something from an Escher painting or some Ghibli movie, chimneys and walkways and crumbling buildings being re-built upon and all.

We took an early night, exhausted by a busy day, and today (Tuesday) set out to try to find the statue of Casanova before the 12.38 train to our next destination. We failed miserably at this and at our secondary goal of finding his birthplace, and instead enjoyed a light brunch in a little outdoor cafe and explored some of the local shops. Oh, and found some sweet exactly like Pocky, so that was good.

And now we’re on the high-speed train to Rome, where we’re spending the next couple of nights. We didn’t really get long enough in Venice, but we’ll be returning there after our day in Napoli, and perhaps we’ll have enough time to see the Basilica di San Marco and some of the other architectural attractions of this most amazing city. For now, I think I’ll try to translate as much as I can from the in-train magazine while Claire sleeps off this morning’s walking!

Oh, and for those of you who can see Ruth’s most recent friends-only post: I agree whole-heartedly.

Will post again when I can.