Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Back to slack

Blimey, is it really six months since I blogged? I can't believe how much my life has progressed since then. First of all, I'm working as a journalist in London once more, two years after I thought I'd given that up. The bizarre part is that my career has taken off again and I'm actually enjoying it.

Looking back, I'm not sure I was cut out to be an English teacher. I enjoyed acquiring a TEFL qualification, even though the month-long course was one of the hardest things I've ever done; and it's satisfying to have another string to my bow. But, dash it all, when you get right down to it, I'm a shit-hot writer and editor. And why should I trade in a badly-paid job I'm good at for an even worse-paid job where I'm at the bottom of the pile?

So yeah, I've been back in London since September, working freelance as the sub on an international business magazine hardly anyone in the UK has heard of. That takes up three weeks of every month, 10 months a year, and the editor gives me writing jobs on top of that. It's hard work, but interesting, and the perks - basically press trips, also known as free holidays - make it all worthwhile. And in recent weeks I've been on two, earning me a reputation among family and friends as "that jammy bugger".

First up was Prague. Beautiful, minus-eight-Celsius Prague.

Last time I was there, as a backpacker in 1996, my accommodation consisted of some kind of hall - a school hall, perhaps? - filled with sunloungers. Whereas on this occasion, I stayed in the Four Seasons and all the staff sucked up to me. Heh heh heh.

You know what? I'm not feeling particularly creative right now, so here are some pretty pictures to save me writing anything.

On my first night in Prague, I saw Swan Lake at the State Opera House. My first ever ballet. Beautiful, it was.

That said, I couldn't help but be reminded of an old advert on British TV for Fosters lager, starring Paul Hogan. The one in which the male ballet dancer bounds on to the stage in his tights, and Hogan splutters: "Strewth, there's a bloke down there with no strides on!"

Following that, I went to Belfast for a few days, ostensibly to review a hotel. As it happens I stayed in two, starting with the Culloden Estate and Spa, five miles outside the city.

The 'stars' of The X Factor Live were staying there, apparently. Not that I'd recognise any of them, having never seen the TV show.

Next day we moved to the Europa Hotel in the city centre - a pleasant enough building, if you can tolerate 60s architecture.

Work started on it in 1969, just as the Troubles were starting, and it opened 40 years ago, in 1971. All the top journalists - Kate Adie, Anne Robinson, Trevor McDonald - used to be based here, and in time it became the most bombed hotel in the world, something the locals reminisce about with something approaching nostalgia.

To be fair, though, the city does have its charms.

Anyway, the most interesting thing to happen to me in Belfast was that I fell off a fish. Well, I do tend to make a habit of this sort of thing: at a farm in South Africa in 2002, I fell off an ostrich, pulling a groin muscle and invaliding myself for three weeks. But that's another story.

I'll explain. Not far from the Harland and Wolff shipyard there's a statue called the Big Fish. As you can see, the approach to it is gentle

but there are treacherously steep steps at one end.

So there I was, holding my camcorder in front of me, walking backwards as our guide was talking and trying to fit the bloody thing into the frame. At which point I stepped into thin air.

Sure, my hands and knees were badly scraped when I hit the ground; but on the plus side, I'm hoping to earn £250 by selling my POV video footage to You've Been Framed.