Guns and Frocks

Loving Delta and the Bannermen since 1987

Phase III: Dolce Far Niente

Monday, 4 December 2017

Mount Vesuvius from across the Bay of Naples
Not Volcano Day

I never really planned this holiday. Calvin booked the plane tickets and the hotel accommodation at the start and the end of the trip, and helped me to buy my Eurail pass. But I always intended to just make things up as I went along.

But I did have one thing I really wanted to do: to stay in Sorrento for a couple of weeks. Sorrento is a smallish town on the Bay of Naples. From there, you can catch the train to Pompeii or Herculaneum, or to Naples itself, and you can catch a ferry to Capri. So it’s within easy range of some spectacular ruins and archaeological museums. And even though it’s a bit touristy, it’s much quieter than the places I’ve been lately.

I arrived here yesterday. I’m staying in a small, newly-renovated apartment just off Tasso Square. The bed is soft, and the shower has good water pressure. Which is important, and rare. There’s even a kitchen. Not that that means anything.

I’m here till the 15th. Plenty of time to chill; plenty of time to see all the ruins and museums without feeling rushed.


I spent the last week travelling from Verona down to Sorrento: three nights in Venice, two nights in Florence and two nights in Rome. (Not really long enough, but I wanted to keep the train journeys short, and I lost a couple of nights to my extended stay in Verona.)

I had never been to Venice before. I did all the usual things: St Mark’s Cathedral, the Bell Tower, a gondola. (Gondoliers don’t sing O sole mio any more — they just chat to their mates on the phone.) I ate food and wandered the streets. Venice is kind of ridiculous; even though it’s very busy and touristy, the canals and the bridges and the alleys are really sweet and hilarious, and it’s easily possible to disappear down a side street to escape the crowds and have a quiet drink somewhere.

It was my second time in Florence. Again, there’s a standard list of things to see: the Duomo, David, the Uffizi, the Ponte Vecchio. I went in search of a crappy replica of David which I remember seeing when I first visited 20 years ago, and accidentally ended up at the Piazzale Michelangelo, which is a big square on top of a hill just outside the old city. Here’s the view from there:

Looking out towards Florence from above. In the foreground, lots of trees and vegetation; beyond that an arched bridge crosses a green river; beyond that all the white buildings and red roofs of the city. The domed cathedral is just visible on the right.

And finally, Rome. I don’t think I know how to do Rome properly. It just seems crowded and unpleasant; and it’s increasingly necessary to be insistently grumpy and hostile to avoid buying bracelets and things from the jovial young street hawkers who circle around every tourist attraction.

I arrived mid-afternoon, and did a big walk down the Via dei Fori Imperiali, past the Colosseum, the Circus Maximus, the Bocca della Verità, that island in the middle of the Tiber and then back to the hotel by metro. The next day — my only full day in Rome — I visited the Palatine, the Forum and the Colosseum in the morning; in the afternoon, I saw some Caravaggios in the Church of St Luigi, gave up on the queues to the Parthenon and St Peter’s and went to a bar to drink beer instead.

Maybe it would have been better on a weekday. Maybe it’s a mistake to stay in a hotel so near the train station where it’s kind of horrible. Maybe I should have just spent the afternoon in the Capitoline Museums reading the inscriptions or something. I’ll need some advice from more experienced travellers before I attempt it again.


Enough of that. Time to go and have some lunch. I’m determined to spend the day doing nothing. It’ll be nice.

o quid solutis est beatius curis

Saturday, 25 November 2017

A beautiful golden beach on a sunny day, with trees on both sides. Looking out to sea, there are snow-capped mountains in the distance.
Not actually my photograph of Sirmione

Sirmio, jewel of islands, jewel of peninsulas,
jewel of whatever is set in the bright waters
or the great sea, or either ocean,
with what joy, what pleasure I gaze at you,
scarcely believing myself free of Thynia
and the Bithynian fields, seeing you in safety.

Catullus 31, translated by A. S. Kline

Sirmione is a peninsula — nearly an island — that juts out into Lake Garda in Northern Italy, not far from Verona. It’s not big, just a few kilometres long. An easy walk.

Some time in the 50s BCE, the young Roman poet Gaius Valerius Catullus visited here, and the poem I quote from above is his reflection on the experience. He describes his visit as a happy homecoming; exhausted from his journey and from an unprofitable year serving on the staff of a provincial governor in Turkey, Catullus marvels at the bright waters of Lake Garda, lays down his cares, laughs joyfully and finally goes to sleep in a familiar bed.

A brown rock platform extends out to the grey sea, which meets the overcast sky at a horizon shrouded in mist.

My visit was a bit different. In my last night in Antibes, after writing but before uploading my last post, it became horribly clear that I had contracted some kind of foodborne illness. I’ll spare you the details, but I’m blaming undercooked meat. In any case, I had a long and gruesome train ride from Antibes to Catullus’s birthplace Verona, only made longer by my pathological terror of arriving late for connecting trains. I arrived in my hotel at about 6 in the afternoon and went straight to bed.

I spent my first day in Verona reluctant to eat and unable to be bothered to think about what to do next. So I decided to stay here for four nights instead of two. I visited the Roman theatre and the Archaeological Museum, saw Juliet’s balcony, and climbed around the Arena, a Roman amphitheatre in the main square still used for concerts and opera performances. I wondered if I would actually run out of things to do.

And then I remembered Catullus 31, and decided that I would spend my last full day here making my own visit to Sirmione.

A castle with many square towers with decorative crenellations. It sits atop a bridge over a canal. The road leading up to it is wet with rain, and a couple of tourists are wandering around with brightly coloured umbrellas.

It took an hour to get to Sirmione by bus. It was raining and freezing cold. The waters weren’t bright or full of laughter. And someone stole my umbrella while I was having lunch.

But it was magic. You cross a bridge to get onto the peninsula, and there’s a big castle there. The submerged part of the castle is full of ducks. You can climb to the very top of the tower and look out. On the furthermost part of the peninsula are the unexpected (to me) remains of a massive Roman villa. It’s called the Grotte di Catullo, built too late to actually belong to Catullus’s family, but still massive and labyrinthine and — in the wind and rain and the cold — romantic and desolate. And for the first time in days, I sat down and enjoyed some food, the Italian food that was one of my major reasons for making this trip in the first place.

Le wifi antibois

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

The sky is blue and there are clouds and mountains in the distance as we look across the bay to some white buildings and palm trees. There are a few small yachts on the water.

Tonight I’m staying on the Côte d’Azur, extremely annoyed at the quality of the wifi access.

This is the end of my first full day in Antibes. I’ve never been here before: coming here was entirely Angela’s idea. I’m not sure I had even heard of it.

I had always assumed that I would need to be ludicrously wealthy even to think about staying on the Côte d’Azur. That impression was reinforced last night when I was wandering the streets. They were full of yacht hire shops, and expensive wine shops that guarantee immediate wine delivery to your yacht.

Here are some of the yachts I saw today:

A breakwater made of stones behind which are three or four large and expensive-looking yachts.

I also spent some time in the Picasso museum, which is a hilltop seaside castle where Picasso stayed for a few months in 1923. But most of the artworks here seemed to be from the 40s; they were vastly more cheerful and silly than some of the upsetting things I saw in the Centre Pompidou.

The exterior of the Picasso Museum in Antibes, an old angular building of yellow stone, which is glowing in the bright sunlight

I suppose I should recap. I left Amsterdam on Friday and caught the train to Paris, where I stayed three nights — two full days. The first day I hung out in the Louvre, mostly looking at antiquities, although I did check in to make sure that nothing bad had happened to the Mona Lisa. (It was fine. Disappointing.)

I spent the second day relaxing and enjoying Paris. The highlight: visiting the Centre Pompidou for the first time. I spent most of my time on Level 5, looking at the modern art collection. I’m not recording my reaction here, for fear of appearing like a facile idiot, but some of it was breathtaking, some was hilarious, and some of it was fabulously nasty and unpleasant. A good afternoon.

The next day, I left Paris on the TGV, travelling to Marseilles. The trip was incredibly fast: from the window seat, it seemed like the trains travelling in the opposite direction were going to take my face off. Sitting opposite me was a fantastically elegant woman in her 70s, and we ended up chatting for a while.

We talked about the weather, about all her languages, and about my job and my plans. She was incredibly urbane and charming. And just when we were a few minutes from Marseilles, she gave me some advice. Watch yourself in Marseilles, she said. Make sure you don’t get robbed. It’s full of blacks and Arabs.

Leaving France tomorrow. A long, slow train trip to Verona. I’ve been there before, back in the 90s, with Robert. After that, a week travelling around northern Italy, then a few days in Rome, probably, then two weeks in Sorrento. I’ve already booked an AirBnB right in the middle of town, just near Tasso Square.

And that’s this post finished. But the wifi here is too slow for me to upload it. I’ll have to wait till I’m on the train tomorrow, for God’s sake. (Update: there was no wifi on the train tomorrow.)

Reading: God, A Human History by Reza Aslan. Not only is he kind of hot, he was once sacked from CNN by describing Donald Trump as a piece of shit on Twitter.

61.6%

Friday, 17 November 2017

We're looking along a street in Amsterdam's old city. On the left there's a rainbow flag hanging about an illuminated sign that says Spijkerbar Amsterdam.

11.30 PM

I bounce my arse over to the next stool at the bar, next to the American boy with the goatee. His name is Aaron. I haven’t spoken to him yet. It’s noisy here, and so I have to shout to be heard by the pretty South American barman. His name is Hector.

“Hey. Can I tell you something important?”

Hector, Aaron, Joost and Tony are listening, I think. They’re surprised to hear me talking. I’ve been here for an hour or so, but I’ve been too shy to talk to anyone directly. Apart from Hector, obviously.

I’m really shit at gay bars.

Hector replies: “No. You can’t.”

“Never mind that right now,” I say. “You know I’m from Australia, right? Well, we’ve been having this long postal survey thing there to see if gay people are allowed to get married.”

Hector shrugs.

“The result is being announced in half an hour.”


Before I left on this trip, I thought that when I landed in England, I would for the first time be in a jurisdiction where I was permitted to marry. But that’s not true, of course.

Holland was the first country to legalise gay marriage. The world’s first gay marriages happened here in April 2001. Sixteen and a half years ago. And I was in Amsterdam for a few days in 2008.

Which is why some of the people at the bar just assumed that we had equal marriage already.


The bar has wifi, of course, but it’s not great, and like a lot of pub and restaurant wifi networks here, it requires you to check in on Facebook before you connect. It’s a security nightmare. I’m expecting lots of spam from here on in.

I don’t think I can stream video on this network, so I’m refreshing Twitter repeatedly to find out what the result is.

My friend Simon said all along that he was hoping for a result in the sixties. That seemed very optimistic to me. Here at the bar, people are assuming that it will be a YES vote. “But there’s Brexit,” I say, “and Donald Trump. Unexpected things happen.”


This trip was planned before the postal survey was announced. I remember realising that I would be on my own when the result came in, and that that would be terrible if the news was bad. Which is why I’m at the Spijker Bar, drinking water and horrible Dutch beer.

It’s been a horrible few months. You all know that. I’ve been sleeping badly, full of rage and anxiety. I’m a wealthy middle-aged white cis male, with a supportive family and a supportive workplace. Other people have had a much worse time than me. It’s still been pretty bad though.

The NO campaign was vile and so mendacious, and disgustingly transphobic. I won’t be forgiving them in a hurry. And I won’t forget about the millions of dollars that conservative Sydney churches spent to get their lies disseminated.


The chief statistician does a lot of throat-clearing, apparently. It’s a big day for him. So by 12:03 AM, we still don’t have a result. I tweet anxiously —

Screenshot of a tweet by @nathanbottomley, saying FOR FUCK'S SAKE, GET ON WITH IT.

— only to find my Twitter stream full of people swearing in all caps at the statistician as well.

I couldn’t see him of course. But he had a big smile on his face; I think the people watching him would have suspected at least that he had good news to deliver.


Sorry I wasn’t there to celebrate with you. It sounded like it was amazing. I’m having fun, but I really miss you all as well.

Wachten op het resultaat

Monday, 13 November 2017

We're inside the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Visitors are walking around in all directions. Behind them is a large arch in the wall with the name Rembrandt inscribed above it; behind that we can just make out The  Night Watch.

Nothing much to report from Amsterdam, really. I’ve been sleeping in and wandering the streets since I got here, really. Which is more or less what I was hoping to do. Reading, listening to podcasts, trying to avoid the local food. That sort of thing.

The highlight of my stay so far was the Rijksmuseum. It was closed for renovation for nearly ten years, so the last time I visited was in the 1990s. Back then, it was kind of baffling. A maze of white rooms full of furniture and porcelain, organised chronologically, I suppose, but basically incomprehensible. After the renovation, the furniture and porcelain is still there, of course, but it’s all organised much more clearly and comprehensibly. And there’s a Rijksmuseum app, of course, with any number of guided tours on it, which helped me to find and appreciate the best bits of the collection. Tomorrow, mood permitting, I’ll spend the morning at the Van Gogh Museum.

Just under 12 hours before the announcement of the postal survey result. It happens at midnight here. I’m a bit apprehensive about being alone when the news breaks, to be honest, so I’ll be spending the evening with my own people, at the Spijker Bar in Kerkstraat.

Leaving here on Friday and spending a couple of days in Paris, which is a city I find a bit intimidating. Then off to some new places in Southern France and Italy, I think. I’ll work out the details later.

Phase II

Friday, 10 November 2017

An old-fashioned wood-panelled bar with shelves of bottles in the background, lit by a dim yellow light.

I’m in Amsterdam now, in a darkened pub, drinking Amstel and typing this post on my phone with a Microsoft foldable keyboard. I’ll upload it when I get back to my hotel.

It’s my fourth time here: apart from Tokyo, this is the foreign city that I’ve spent the most time in. It’s still amazingly familiar. Every street, every square brings back memories.

I plan to keep most of those memories to myself. I came here twice in the 90s with Robert. The first time was the first time I ever came to Europe. Robert and I caught the ferry from Harwich to the Hook of Holland. We arrived after a sleepless and unpleasant ferry ride, and the first thing we saw was a guy rollerskating beside a canal, freezing his arse off in tiny latex shorts. We immediately decided to stay for a week. The second time, we stayed here for two weeks over Christmas and New Year. It snowed. It was magic.

We were young then, and we had a fantastic time. But that’s all I intend to say. On my way here I walked past the sites of some of our best exploits. I regret nothing.

In 2008, I stayed here by myself for a few days. According to that trip’s travel blog, I basically spent a couple of days wandering the city, drinking beer and only occasionally wandering into a museum or art gallery.

This time I’m staying here for a week, but I have no idea what I’m doing after that. I’ll have to make a decision tomorrow, I think. Southern France, and then straight to Italy, probably. I’ll sit in a café with my computer tomorrow morning and do some proper planning for the next few weeks. Suggestions welcome: feel free to comment on this post.

My last few days in England ended up being terribly busy: I really should have arranged to stay a few days longer. I had a lovely evening in Brighton with Stephen and David. I went to Manchester to meet the inimitable Simon Caterall and to make a pilgrimage to Canal Street. I also met charming friend-of-the-podcast Colin Neal, had dinner with Sarah G, lunch with Peter G, and tea with Angela, Joseph, Alex and Elizabeth, who made me incredibly welcome on my last night in London. And I experienced Southern Rail in a way that will help me to truly appreciate the jokes they make about it on the News Quiz.

Tomorrow: nothing. Reading and chilling. After that, my first visit to the Rijksmuseum since the first time I came to Amsterdam.

Watching: Season 1 of The Good Place. For the third time. And it’s still brilliant.

My own bodyweight in chips

Monday, 6 November 2017

Sleep, mostly

A park full of tree, some of whose leaves are just turning brown. On the right is a tall metal lamp post, like the one in Narnia.

I’m in a pub just outside Euston Station, waiting for a train to Manchester. I’ve got a bit over an hour to wait; I think I overestimated how long it would take me to get here. The pub doesn’t have wifi — I’ll have to upload this post when I get on the train* — but it does have bitter.

I arrived in London last Thursday morning. Before that, I had flown about 15 hours from Sydney to Dubai, had had about two hours in Dubai Airport, and had flown eight hours from Dubai to London. In first class — did I mention I was flying first class? — you can lie completely flat and sleep, and I so on the way to Dubai, I managed about nine hours of sleep, at about the same time as I would have slept if I had stayed in Sydney. By the time I landed at Gatwick at 6:40 AM, I had been awake for about 12 hours.

A car picked me up at the airport — first class — and drove me to the hotel in Whitechapel. It took about 2½ hours, with the traffic getting heavier and heavier as we approached our destination.

When I got to the hotel, they told me that the room wouldn’t be ready for about 4½ hours. I had wanted a nap and a shower; instead I ended up wandering down to the river and walking to the Embankment.

A pint of bitter on a table next to a board with a menu on it, in an old-fashioned English pub.

At just before 11 AM, I found a pub. One of the things I look forward to most in England is the warm, flat beer that clueless Australians used to enjoy mocking. I’m having one now. There was also a burger and chips, predictably terrible, but the beer was fantastic.

Got back to the hotel, waited half an hour, and then went up to the room. I know you’re supposed to try to stay awake until bedtime, and I know that sleeping all day in an exciting foreign city is a terrible waste, but I was asleep by 2:30 PM. I woke briefly at 4:30, and then slept all the way through till 3:30 AM.

As a result, it took me a couple of days to recover from the jetlag. I kept waking up at 1 or 2 or 3 AM. On Saturday, I accidentally slept in until 11:30 AM. Since then, I’ve been fine.

People to do

This Friday, I’m flying to Amsterdam: I’m only spending eight nights in the UK. Turns out, it’s not really going to be enough. There a lot more people to see than I expected.

So far, I’ve had a lovely breakfast at the Wolseley with Peter Griffiths, and a fantastic pub lunch with Peter and his long-time housemate Rebecca. I wandered through the Turner exhibition at Tate Britain with Angela Cartwright, and had afternoon tea with Angela and her family — Joseph, Alex and Elizabeth. I spent a lovely morning having breakfast with my former student Ian Goh. And I caught the train to Brighton to spend the afternoon with Stephen Kennedy and David Smith, followed by a pub roast, followed by beers in various Brighton pubs. I just left Brighton this morning.

(I’ve also uploaded an episode of Bondfinger and an episode of Flight Through Entirety. I wrote some of the show notes in Green Park, where I took the photo at the head of this post.)

Soon I’ll be heading up to Manchester, to make a pilgrimage to Canal Street (Queer As Folk, Cucumber), and to meet Simon Caterall for the first time, after months of fun interaction on Facebook. And when I get back, I’m catching up with Sarah G, and (hopefully) a couple of other people too. As well as catching up with everyone else one more time.

So it’s going to continue to be busy until I leave on Friday. After that, there will be weeks of travelling on my own. Should be fun.

Reading: Zealot, by Reza Aslan. (Saw a video promoting his new book about God. Turns out he’s hot.)

Hello world!

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

The Qantas lounge at Sydney Airport. The ceiling curves down to meet a row of glass windows looking out onto the tarmac. There's a panelled wooden wall at the end.

Welcome to Guns and Frocks.

I’m writing this post in the First Class Lounge at Sydney International Airport, just before catching a flight to London. The last time I was here was in 2008, the last time I took long service leave, and I was about to start a month-long trip travelling around Europe by train. I was flying economy, of course, but Calvin had used his point acquisition superpower to get me into this lounge before my flight.

But this trip will be much grander. Calvin has levelled up, and so I’m flying first class. And instead of a month-long trip, it’ll be two months. I’m spending a week in England first, catching up with friends, and then flying to Amsterdam. After that, nothing much has been decided. I want to go back to Sorrento and spend more than a week there, visiting ruins and museums and things, and chilling out and reading and drinking limoncello. But apart from that, I have no concrete plans.

I’m travelling on my own, so this is my diary. I hope you’ll check in with me from time to time. I’ll put up some photos and talk about what I’m up to. Feel free to comment on my posts. I’d love to hear from you. And I’d be very happy to hear your suggestions about places to visit; I’ve really got no idea right now.

What to expect from Season 9

Friday, 4 September 2015

With the debut of Doctor Who season 9 only weeks away, it’s time to ask ourselves what we can expect to see from this exciting new series of Doctor Who.

  1. THE DALEKS ARE BACK! For the first time in 5 years, and for the first time ever on TV in colour, the Daleks (and their gorgeous blonde secretarial staff) will explode onto our screen in a thrilling season opener. Aubrey Woods guest stars as a heavily-made up Dalek collaborator with a terrible, terrible secret.
  2. THE RETURN OF THE MASTER! We’ve all being waiting for the return of the Doctor’s nemesis since last year’s season finale, and all reports suggest that we won’t be disappointed. The renegade Time Lord will appear in no less than two stories this season, as crazy and sexy as ever (although a little thicker around the waist).
  3. PENIS-SHAPED MONSTERS! Doctor Who has a glorious history of alien menaces shaped like human genitalia, from the Brains of Morpho to the terrifying Rills — and this year will be no exception. Not even a yellow shower curtain will make this horrifying guest star look acceptable enough to take home to meet your parents.
  4. ALLEGORIES ABOUT RACISM! Nothing sends the kiddies scurrying behind the sofa faster than leaden allegories about the evils of something very obviously evil. So when the Doctor and his companion head off to the planet Solos, expect lots of dull, uncontroversial political messages about how bad genocide is. Thank God that our favourite programme has never been guilty of racism, like those shows that other people enjoy.
  5. INGRID PITT’S BREASTS! Such a shame that so few fanboys are even remotely interested.

Doctor Who season 9 will debut on BBC1 on 1 January 1972.

Dear Neato Robotics people,

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Dear Neato Robotics people,

My partner and I are the proud owners of one of your robot vacuum cleaners. It’s one of five vacuum cleaners he has bought for the house, and he really loves it. He has named it Alice. It’s something that remains undiagnosed, I’m afraid. Anyway. We soldier on.

He is particularly impressed by the design and performance of the robot vacuum cleaner, and proudly informs me that it cost him only just a little more than 1000 AUD. I’m a bit less impressed with it, I have to admit. It finds it almost impossible to cope with rugs: it snags itself on fringes and loose threads and finds itself unable to move any further. I would have thought that rugs were just the thing you might design a vacuum cleaner to be able to deal with, but what do I know? I’m a Latin teacher, not a fucking engineer.

Another sore point is this. We programme the robot vacuum cleaner to work at night, so that it doesn’t annoy the dogs, and so that we don’t kill ourselves by tripping over it on our way to the fridge. However, when the robot vacuum cleaner inevitably snags itself on a rug or a piece of thread, it is designed to inform its owner of the fact by emitting a persistent, plaintive beeping noise, which continues until the battery runs out.

Now there are reasons I might want to be woken up in the middle of the night and warned repeatedly about something. Perhaps the house is on fire, or the zombie apocalypse is underway, and everyone I have ever loved is dead. But, and don’t take this the wrong way, I just don’t need to be woken and warned because the robot vacuum cleaner is shitting itself about encountering a rug on the floor again.

Still, it’s not all bad news. My partner only needs to bring out one of the other four vacuum cleaners nine or ten times a day, and I still get to trip over it when I wander downstairs at night in order to turn the fucking beeping noise off.

Warmest regards,
Nathan Bottomley.