A few years ago, back when we started this blog in 2008, we invited you, our dear readers to name our blog. You suggested titles for the blog, and we held a poll. You voted, and the winner has emblazoned the header of this blog for over two years now.
It's a great title. I have sincere love. But it's an Australia thing.
(For those of you who have still never asked me what the title of this blog means, here you are: when playing Risk: the Game of World Domination, if you control Australia, you get two extra armies each turn to defend it. Players try to get control of Australia early in the game, as it's the only continent that can be defended by fortifying only one country. In other words, in terms of world domination, Australia is far more important in the game of Risk than it is in real life.)
Given that I'm no longer in Australia, and the blog's writing team is now divided across the globe, we think a new title is in order.
Once again, we want you to name our blog! It's a chance to have your idea live on forever! Or at least until I move somewhere else!
Wonderboy and I will pick our top 5 favourites, and we'll do a poll in the next few months. Majority rules.
For now – start sending in your ideas! Email 'em in, or leave 'em in the comments. All suggesters get a free place to stay in their choice of beautiful locations (either Manchester or Sydney), and probably some booze and food thrown in, too. Also, really excellent hosts. I'll even take you out to my favourite Thai restaurant in MCR. Winner gets something better. Don't know what yet. But it will be good.
So, come on! Get thinking and NAME OUR BLOG!
And onto the post proper
Like any good Westerner's celebration of the holidays, Christmastime for me was filled with exciting material things I didn't need, but now excitedly own!
When we got back from Mallorca, I almost immediately hit the Christmas Markets. Manchester is famous for these markets; they've won all kinds of tourism awards. What's surprising is that they are actually wonderful.
(In the interest of being even-handed, I should mention that my friends Michael and Bernadette are completely unimpressed by the Christmas Markets, but I reckon it's because they've been spoiled by living in a city that puts them on every year. So, ok, I'm not really that even-handed, but hey, this blog doesn't really have that much journalistic integrity, now does it?)
The city puts up fairy lights all over town, and little wooden house-shaped market stalls sell mulled wine, hot chocolate, hot food, candy, fudge, candles, gifts and all sorts of other lovely things. The delightful holiday-time ambiance is free. Just walking around the markets in the crisp cold dark of night is a little magical.
Town Hall's Market:
Ok, so the giant Santa's enormous black eyes are a little scary. But apart from that, I can't even tell you how much fun the markets are; it's rare to walk around a city at night and find it vibrant, full of life. Rare to see people socialising outdoors. And we had already had snow by this point, so it was definitely cold, but it didn't stop people coming out and enjoying their lit-up town. We may not get much sun round these parts (night falls around 4.30pm lately), but MCR makes its own cheer. Mostly in the form of mulled wine with shots of brandy. Delicious, warming, and woozy-ing. I don't even care if that's a word or not, it should be.
The markets take over Manchester's city centre: Town Hall's market is mostly German stuff, St. Ann's is mostly French, etc. Manchester City Council had a stall, too, where I found my favourite Manchester souvenir so far: Manchester In A Bag.
It features a mini version of Town Hall, the Central Library, Urbis, Carver's Warehouse, Central Station (formerly GMex, and Central Station again before that), two little trams, and Beetham Tower. Click the names to see pictures of the actual buildings.
Beetham Tower is Manchester's sole skyscraper; that's why it doesn't fit in the picture, next to all of Manchester's squat little buildings. It's a very controversial tower. Some hate it, some love it. I think I like it. It's not a love, but I feel a tender sadness for Beetham Tower. Such a lonely skyscraper.
As soon as I got the set home, I totally geeked out. I spaced out all the buildings against a map and put them in their geographical order. I couldn't do it to scale, or they wouldn't have fit in the picture. But this is, essentially, mini MCR, featuring a full shot of Beetham Tower!
Later that week, some friends from my residence hall got together for Christmas dinner. I had already eaten, but I decided to join them for the company. They had already broken their Christmas crackers.
For the Yanks reading this, Christmas crackers are these things you can buy that look like giant Tootsie Rolls covered in gift-wrap. You're meant to hold one end, and someone else holds the other. You both pull, and the roll pops loudly (hence, "cracker), and whoever gets the bigger part wins whatever's inside. Usually, it's all junk no one wants inside the cracker, but for some reason, everyone still hates losing. Proper junk, too, like a paper crown, a bad joke, and crappy plastic toy that's not even fun. The jokes are seriously awful. For example: what kind of disease can a Christmas tree catch? Tinselitis. Collective groan.
More info on Christmas crackers at wikipedia, of course.
So, they'd already broken their crackers, and the toys were sitting around on the table. I took a seat next to a Canadian-British guy who lives in Geneva (yes, his accent is super-weird).
"Can I play with that?" I asked, pointing at a bunch of neon plastic geometrical shapes.
"Yeah, sure," he said, "They're meant to make a square."
"Cool!" I replied, eyes glued to the shiny neon.
10 seconds later:
He was a little miffed, because it had taken him longer to put the square together. But I was addicted.
"Can you do it another way?" I asked.
"I don't know," he said.
10 seconds later:
He was definitely annoyed now. But I couldn't stop myself. I pulled it apart again:
This is the best Christmas cracker toy ever. The guy said he didn't want to look at it anymore. I could keep it! Sweet!
I also picked up another lovely Christmas-time thing in Mallorca, but it has some back story. A few years ago, Craig and I went to Barcelona over the holidays, and there we learned about a delightfully bizarre Catalan tradition.
You see, most nativity scenes in the Christian world have Mary, Joseph, the baby, some sheep and a donkey. Maybe a few other barnyard animals. A manger. You see what I'm getting at.
But in Catalunyan nativity scenes, just outside the manger, there is another character. The Caganer, which translates as "The Shitter" It's a man or a boy, wearing a traditional red Catalunyan fedora. Doing a poo.
I am not even joking.
Catalans apparently believe this character represents the essential straight-forwardness of the Catalan spirit. Sure, the Messiah might be crowning. Nature occasionally calls during earth-shattering religious moments. There's just nothing else to be done.
I love the Mallorcan one. He's holding a bit of loo roll, and his face is hilarious.
Back in 2004, Craig and I bought a Caganer from Barcelona (the pink-shirted one). Now I have a collection!! I couldn't be more thrilled. Aren't they great?
I showed them to my buddy Ryan when I got back. He asked, "Did you get one for me?"
I looked down. "No..." I said, slowly.
He was clearly disappointed.
I said, "Don't feel bad about it, though, Ryan. I just realised I didn't even get one for Craig either."
He laughed. "Nice."
"Yeah," I said, "I can be pretty crappy girlfriend sometimes."
And do you know what the amazing thing about Craig is? Reader, when I told him I had literally not even thought about buying him one, he wasn't upset at all. He didn't let a trace of disappointment cross his face. Wonderboy.
Also, my flat is getting cosier by the day. Last month, I noticed Despoina lives in room D, and I suggested she take advantage of her first initial and embellish her door with "espoina." She asked what I would put on my door, given that I live in room C. I suggested "rap," as a joke, but she didn't seem to like that idea very much.
A few weeks later, I came home to see that Des had taken the idea to a whole new level.
Kemal lives in room A, next to Arata, who lives in room B.
And room B is between my room and Kemal's room.
Des is across the hall from us – she uses an Anglicised spelling of her name, while I, for some unknown reason, insist on using the Greek spelling.
The kitchen is simply the kitchen:
Next time: Nija heads deep into the bowels of Salford, and walks through the skeleton of a Frankenstein not quite activated yet: Media City UK. And, also she sees the LOWRY!