IRC is a cross between a chat line and a play-by-mail bitching contest. Netsplits and incredible lag times (5 minutes or more sometimes) can make it very frustrating to use. But when it runs well (with lag times of only a few seconds) it can be a great way to talk with people all over the world.
This way I met up with a Slovenian games programmers called Aleks. When he mentioned that he had to stop in London on his way home from Japan we thought he should take advantage of this and let me show him around. Little did he know what was waiting for him :-)
Dragging him off the plane on a Friday evening we went straight into the West End to watch a movie and grab a bite to eat. After a 85 hour flight (or whatever it is) from Tokyo to London he was understandably a little tired.
We had a calm day sightseeing, seeing the sights of Croydon and London, as well as hitting a few pubs. Despite being straight he managed to get chatted up by guys several times. I did not complain at people's assumptions that I had somehow landed a cute young guy ;-)
The biggie. We started off by wandering in the woods around Croydon for an hour or two. These are quite rustic by London standards, although you did meet quite a few people roaming through them.
Then, into town to see Speaker's Corner, a London institution on a Sunday afternoon. These days it mostly consists of Muslims and Christians shouting about their religions to vaguely amused European tourists, and sad Londoners trying to chat up cute examples of the latter.
The Notting Hill Carnival happened to be on that day. According to the radio there were 2 million people there. This is equal to the entire population of Slovenia. Aleks was somewhat taken aback at this :-)
It was great fun wandering though the crowds listening to ragga music, drinking and eating all sorts of fast food. It eventually got too much though, and we decided to escape the crowds after a couple of hours.
This escape took us on the InterCity express to Manchester, capital of the North. The Mardi Gras was on in the gay village, and (no doubt adding greatly to his street cred in rural Slovenia) Aleks had agreed to come along. The area around the gay village on Canal Street was packed. Along with fast food and crowds of Northerners, Aleks was introduced to the wonders of a SpaceBall (as used by NASA and kids on Croydon high street on a Saturday morning). But more was in store!
We came across the fun-fair, archetype of English enjoyment. Whenever three or more English people decide to have a good time outdoors, a hot dog van magically materialises. When the crowd reaches ten or more people, a Waltzer, Ferris Wheel, Dominator and other such rides appear as if from nowhere! So it happened in Manchester. Despite being an "action-man" kind of guy, the spinning sensations of all those fun-fair rides proved too much for the poor lad. He had not been on any before, despite living in the USA for some time! So a quiet sit down was in order.
The Mardi Gras Gala was not the first place you might think of having a quiet sit down, but that's where we went. The G-Mex centre in Manchester is so big, they had a Ferris Wheel inside the dance hall. On stage were Marc Almond and various other stars and a good time was being had by all. The only downer was the forfeit paid by those eating at the cafe - having to endure the Karaoke.
Staggering back to our hostel, I thought the day had been long enough - but Aleks (now recovered from the fun-fair) went out clubbing in Manchester for a bit more exhaustion!
We staggered onto a morning train back to London, getting to Heathrow just in time for his flight home. I think we both had a very full and interesting weekend, and he says he will remember it for some time :-) I certainly enjoyed myself more than for most weekends; it can really be a lot of fun to travel with someone instead of by yourself all the time (especially when they go along with a healthy sense of humour).