The Old London Tube

I was in London last week, for the first time in five years, would you believe? And I couldn’t get over how old the tube was. Of course, I was comparing it to the modern subway systems of Hangzhou, Shanghai and Chongqing.

Shanghai’s metro lines are ever expanding, and when I was there last year, the new Disneyland metro station was one of the newest stations, but I imagine that more stations will have been opened since last May when the park opened.

The subway systems in China are (in most cities) very modern and high-tech. Some have recycling machines that give you credit for your travelcard, most have moving adverts along the inside of the tunnel, and they all have voice announcements in English and Mandarin telling you what stop is next and to be careful with your bags.

In London, there are no x-ray machines before putting your ticket in the barrier and there are no tv screens on the platforms that with video adverts or news on, as well as the information of when the next trains are coming. The whole experience in London was totally alien, comparing it to the Chinese one, where the platforms have glass doors between you and the tracks. This is a safety feature, but it’s also good, as above the windows there are tube maps so you can plan your route, and you know where the tube will stop and which way the tube is going, in London I relied on my friends to know if we were going the right way or not.

The London underground is very much underground, you lose service on your phone when you’re on the tube and there’s also a distinctive earthy smell to the underground that isn’t very pleasant. There aren’t any fans in summer, making it hot and sticky either. It’s a good way to get around the capital, and especially with Oyster visitor cards that cap spending to £6.50 per day for people who don’t visit very often, but it’s not exactly a pleasant or efficient se ice, when I compare it with metro systems in China.

Finding a suitable working café

Finding a café in the UK is not so hard, if you need a caffeine fix there is usually 5 Greggs within a mile radius in any city centre, and now chains like Costa and Starbucks not only have standalone cafés, but also now have drive-thoughs, are inside clothes and book shops, you’re never too far from a hot beverage.

But when you want to sit down and enjoy your coffee, whilst working on a laptop or tablet…that’s more difficult.

Parking/walking distance from home

When I first moved into my flat, there was no wifi, so I had to find places to work – in hindsight the library would have been a good choice, but I only remembered that public libraries existed about 10 days into my wifi-less home situation. It needs to be somewhere close enough to walk to, because carrying your laptop, charger, phone, notepad, diary, pencil case, purse, hand cream (etc etc, you get the picture) is heavy, even if you have a proper rucksack. If you drive to a cafe on a retail park, you need to check there’s not some silly maximum 2 hour parking rule if you’re planning on spending the whole day there (which of course you are). Or if it’s near a football stadium on match day and there’s a one hour max or £50 in purchases rule to park there…Don’t think you’ll get away with it cos you haven’t seen a parking warden – ANPR (that’s Automatic Number Plate Recognition). As soon as you drive into the car park, the cameras know you’re there and if you’re even just one minute over your time, you’ll be sent a fine.

Free, unlocked* wifi

And not just free wifi for 30 minutes, or free wifi that only works intermittently, you need a good solid wifi connection if you’re working online and using the Cloud to save everything. Also, I need to be able to connect more than one device. Generally, I trust and can rely on The Cloud wifi hotspots (but sometimes that doesn’t let you use Whatsapp).

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Plug socket

This is the bane of my life. I cannot understand why nobody in the UK seems to care about letting their devices run out of charge. Looking around me, I hardly see anybody with portable power packs and there is a serious shortage of plug sockets in BRITISH (the Chinese are on it with the plug socket thing) libraries (even university libraries, let alone the public ones), coffee shops, airports and hotels. Virgin trains must be commended here, they provide plenty of plug sockets and have done a very good job in that respect, but nowhere else are there enough plug sockets.

But seriously, in a cafe like Starbucks or Costa, that will have seats for 60 customers, why are there only 4 or 5 plug sockets? If there were more plug sockets, I would spend more time, buy more coffee and maybe even a cake. C’mon, wake up! Normally, after assessing the wifi, the first thing I will do is scout for a plug socket and plug my laptop straight in, that way I get fully charged so if someone comes along with their phone on 4% I will let them use it. Plug sockets are 98% of the time on the wall and not on the floor, so there’s no point looking at the tables in the middle of the cafe, start by searching the walls. Sometimes in Starbucks they are on the wall but under the seat, so check there too.

There’s nothing worse than seeing your pc screen go darker as it runs into ‘low battery’ mode and then having no way to charge it. I have quite a long cable to my laptop, luckily I’ve never needed to bring an extension cable with me – a trick I learnt on one of China’s slow trains. The train will have one plug socket in each carriage, so that’s what one per 100 people? 200? A woman travelling with her extended family brought 3 extension cables with 6 sockets in each, meaning that one plug socket turned into 15. Everyone probably got a tiny trickle of charge but it was enough and other people used the plugs too, thinking about it, she could have charged a few kuai for letting them use it.

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Check amount and location of plug sockets

Chair with a back

It’s better to sit with a chair that has a back on it. After getting there, checking the wifi is good and finding a plug socket, you need a chair with a back on. No stools! A table is kind of a luxury, most places have them, but I’m fine balancing things on my lap if there isn’t a table available.

A drink

After all that (and once you’ve found that perfect spot and reserving it in the truly British style by putting your coat on the seat), it’s probably time to go get a drink. By this point, I don’t care about roasted arabica beans or rainforests or decaf or skinny and any of the rest of that coffee talk. I just want something warm, that I can sit with for a while, so the baristers will leave me alone to enjoy. Try to keep hold of your mug for a while, so that when new staff come on shift (remember, you’re playing the long game) they won’t turf you out for not having purchased anything. If there is free tap water available, take a glass of that and leave it topped up on the table. If they take your mugs/cups/plates away and although you probably won’t be directly asked to leave or purchase something, you’ll be made to feel guilty by other customers (looking at that plug socket you’re hogging) or staff who wonder why you are here, alone, sitting on your laptop and haven’t moved for a good 2 hours. You’ll see it in their eyes.

In summary, finding a suitable working café for me involves (in this order):

  • Ease of access – free parking, or within walking distance of my home
  • Good, reliable wifi – that I can use with no time or device limit
  • A power source – the more plug sockets the better, and they should be in reach of my table
  • A chair with a back – for sitting back in and resting – no stools
  • Drink – reasonably priced hot drinks available – preferably loose green tea with a huge flask of hot water for refills, but I haven’t found such place yet.

*This isn’t China any more where you can guarantee that 98% of the time, locked wifi passwords in places are either 88888888 or 12345678, or less common but still good to try if the first two don’t work – 66666666.

Chinese vs British trains

I was waiting to take a train from Coventry to Birmingham a couple of days ago, and amongst the chatter on the platform, I heard some Chinese speakers. They were complaining that the train was delayed, and in fact all the trains were delayed by at least a few minutes that day for several reasons. It was then than I started thinking what Chinese people must think of British trains. I mean we do have a good system here in the UK, but the Chinese system probably has the edge (I’m talking about the Chinese high-speed trains, the slow trains are a totally different matter).

In China, you have to buy your own ticket, with your own ID, be it ID card or passport, so nobody can sell their ticket on to anyone else. When you enter the station, after an ID check, there is a security check and a metal detector…usually people pile mountains of bags on the conveyor belt, and a sleeping officer will be ‘checking’ the screen for weapons, but on the whole it feels slightly more secure than any UK train station where anyone can walk in and anonymously buy a ticket.

Only after these checks, are you in the train station. Therefore, everyone inside the station has a ticket to travel that day. Whereas in the UK, anyone can buy a ticket, at the machine or at the counter, and anyone is allowed inside the train station, where there are restaurants, shops and ATMs. Now, with ticket barriers operating at major UK train stations (including Coventry now, no skipping the fare!), you have to scan your ticket to be allowed on the platform.

This happens in China too, but in China, there are never platform alterations, and you’re only allowed onto your platform when your train is coming. If you’re waiting for the 11.05 to Hangzhou from platform 2, you can’t go and wait on the platform at 10.40 when they open the gates for the 10.45 train to Beijing. You wait in the large waiting room, rather than on the platform.

Also in China, everyone has a seat number and carriage number, there are some standing seats available, but not many and even if you have a standing seat, you will be told which carriage to stand in. On the platform, 5 minutes before the train arrives, everyone stands in a very neat line according to the marks on the floor which say the carriage number. When the train arrives, people first get off the train, then people get on the train in a very orderly fashion.

Flip back to the UK, where on platform 2 you could have people waiting for the 10.58 to Birmingham, the 11.05 to Bournemouth and the 11.12 to London on the same platform. Everyone is crowding around and then suddenly, a voice comes on the tannoy saying that the 10.58 has been delayed, and it will now depart from platform 4 at approximately 11.03. Everyone for the Birmingham train will barge past the other passengers, trying to find the stairs to get up and go across to platform 4. The train arrives and people will always try to get on whilst others are getting off, and nobody ever knows where they should stand on the platform. Sometimes you have a reserved seat, but the UK sells a lot of ‘open return’ tickets, meaning you can get on any train and don’t need to wait for a specific train, so lots of people don’t have seat reservations and sit in any place.

With a bit more organisation, in the UK too we could write the numbers (well, letters) of the carriages on the floor so people know where to stand waiting on the platform, we could make stations safer by asking people their names to write on the ticket, we could have unreserved carriages for people with open tickets and travelling by train could be a smoother process. Delays and platform alterations are bound to happen when you’re only travelling a short distance and signals, bridges and weather affects the times of trains, so not everything can be avoided.

I just feel sorry for those Chinese people who are used to travelling by high speed train, who come to the UK and have no idea what to do at the train station, because there’s so much chaos in their eyes.

Working as a tour guide

One part of my job is working as a tour guide. I lead groups of international students around places like Nottingham, Sherwood Forest, Durham, Lake District, Peak District and I hope one day to give a tour around my hometown Coventry!

You’d think that learning a script and taking students to the same places each week would get boring and repetitive but it really isn’t! Each time I take a group of students, there are different challenges to overcome, problems to solve and the groups all have different vibes…the group who had a slow three hour coach journey with no heating are less enthusiastic than those who just had a one hour journey with no traffic.

As a tour guide, you need to know a whole lot more than just what’s on the script – where are the nearest toilets? where can you get a bottle of water/cup of coffee? where is there some shelter from the rain?

A tour guide has to be adaptable and make the most of opportunities that come up. If there is a special event on like Robin Hood Day, instead of just walking past the people in medieval clothes (who aren’t usually there), ask them to give a performance or tell the group about what they’re doing today. If Coca-Cola is handing out free cans in the centre, lead the group past their stand so the customers can get a little sugar boost etc. If someone tells you about an organ concert in 30mins time at the church, take the group back to the church to hear the concert.

Those are examples of good unexpected things that can happen during a tour. But there are problems that happen during tours – people have lost bank cards and ID cards at Sherwood Forest, I’ve lost three students who didn’t arrive at the bus at the departure time and weren’t answering their phones, groups have arrived 30 minutes before the attraction opens and need entertaining etc. It’s times like these when my skills come out and I shine. I always keep calm in situations like this and by getting other people involved and on board, the problems are always resolved. Students cards were returned to them on the same day, with the help of Sherwood Forest staff we found the missing students and on the Harry Potter tour, when the students arrived before the cathedral opened, I spent the time ‘sorting’ students into their Harry Potter houses which was fun for me too, especially deciding which group looked like they would be Slytherins!

So being a tour guide, it’s something I enjoy, it’s something I wish I could do more of because there are so many stories to tell people about a place, stories that aren’t on wikipedia or in the travel guides.

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Summer Handbag Essentials (UK Edition)

As summer finally makes its way to the UK (yay!), it’s time for me to start packing my handbag a bit differently. Here is a low down of the essential items I keep in my handbag on a summer’s day in the UK, where weather is unpredictable. I’m quite a low maintenance chick, so this list includes practical items to help combat the weather, rather than products that other women choose to take.

  • Bottled water
    I usually carry water with me regardless, but I make sure to take plenty when the weather’s warm to keep hydrated.
  • Wet wipes
    There’s nothing nice about sweating it out on a bus, so having a little pack of wet wipes is good for wiping your forehead, palms or other places.
  • Fan
    Another great item for keeping cool when the temperature gets high.

    Chinese fan with dragons
    Chinese fan with dragons
  • Sunglasses
    Eye protection is always good for bright days.
  • Imperishable snacks
    Raisins, apples and granola bars survive the heat without going mushy or melted.
  • Scrunchie
    If I’m wearing my hair down, I’ll have a hair band on standby to tie up the ‘mop’.
  • Umbrella
    Because rain is always a possibility!
  • Light jacket/scarf
    As with above, the weather can get cooler so take a jacket/cardi just in case

If you’re wondering how all these items fit into a handbag, there is no simple explanation as to how…they just do!

Read other great posts about summer woes, tips and tricks from my fellow bloggers:
6100 Main
AMtoPM
Fairyburger
In the loop
Lipstick and Brunch
Native Texan Livin’
New Key Beauty
Rosiemay
Southern Soul
Suite 6Ten
The Pace

this post and those above were organised by:

Beauty and the Pitch

Top 5 Things Which Would Improve Life in the UK

There are some things that I’ve seen abroad that I think have been genius inventions. I’ve waited for them to arrive in the UK but they haven’t as yet. So here is a list of my top 5 things as seen abroad that should be introduced to the UK!

1. Coat hooks under tables in pubs/bars

As seen in: Spain

In the UK, normally, anyone who would dare to feel underneath a table may find hard bits of chewing gum stuck to the bottom that have been there for possibly decades. But in Spain, if you put your hand under the table, you will find conveniently placed hooks so that you can hang up your coat and/or bag right besides you, without having to use an extra chair or put it on the floor. I think this stems from the old Spanish belief that “if you put your bag on the floor, it gives thieves permission to take your money”. Also, who wants to be putting their bag on the floor or carrying it the whole night? If pubs and bars were to put little hooks under the table or at the bar, I’d love it.

Coat hook under the table

2. Baskets with wheels

As seen in: Spain

Do you ever sometimes go to the supermarket for just a few bits, bread and milk for example? If you do, you’ll probably get a basket rather than have to find a pound coin for a trolley. And then when you’re walking from the dairy to the bread section (conveniently placed far away from each other), you get distracted by the offers and your basket starts to become heavier. In the UK, you have to heave that heavy metal basket around the supermarket until you get all your items. What about in Spain? In all of the supermarkets, the baskets are plastic for a start which makes things lighter in the first place, they’re also deeper and have two sets of handles. A short one if you want to carry your shopping and also a long one so if you’re struggling (or just like wheeling around a little basket) you can put the basket on the floor and wheel it behind you.

They even come in different colours!

3. Boiling hot water dispensers

As seen in: China

In China, you can’t drink the tap water, but in dormitories, universities, on trains and other places, there would be boiling water dispensers so you could fill up your flask and sip on hot water. You just open the tap and hot water comes out, it’s great. You can use this hot water for whatever you like, adding to tea leaves, a pot noodle, cleaning cutlery etc. And best of all it was free in most places. Now when I go to a water dispenser at uni and can only choose between cold and ice cold water, I’m disappointed.

Because who has time to find a kettle and wait for it to boil?

4. Available parking space lights

As seen in: Spain

There are many underground car parks in mainland Spanish cities. They’re dark, narrow and it’s hard to find a space to park. But some genius invented these special lights. Above each of the car park bays, there is a sensor with a light. If there is nothing below the sensor, the light shows green so as you are driving around the car park, you can look for a green light and you know there’s a free space. When you park your car under the sensor, it changes to red to let people know that somebody has already parked there.

I think these are great

5. Taxi driver app

As seen in: China

Taxis work differently in most countries, but I liked the Chinese system (at least the Qingdao one). From my understanding, each driver was on his own, unaffiliated with any type of taxi firm. If you couldn’t find a taxi, locals had an app where they as a customer wrote down where they are going from and to. The taxi drivers also used this app and through GPS it linked them up to a customer nearby. Using this app also saved the customer the 10p petrol charge added to all journeys. In Coventry at least, there must be over five different taxi companies and when I’ve finished work at the nightclub at 5 or 6am, no taxi companies have answered their phones to me, leaving me a little stranded. If there was an app to connect me to closeby taxi drivers, it would cut down waiting time and mean I wouldn’t have to walk to the nearest taxi rank in the early morning.

My knowledge of Chinese road names was never good enough for me to take full advantage of it.

Are there any things you’ve seen abroad that you wish were in the UK? Leave a comment below!

Notts to Cov – Travelling Home

I remember in first year when I’d spend a weekend at home. The coach was normally a 90 minute journey and door to door the whole journey would take about 2.5 hours, when adding on traffic jams and getting buses to and from the coach stations. But now, three years have passed and the public transport services in and between my university town and my home town seem to have got worse.

In second year, I discovered that actually, buying an open return train ticket was cheaper than the coach and it meant I wasn’t kicked off the bus in Leicester and made to wait half an hour whilst the driver had his break. Although the train requires two changes, it was just as quick as the coach and with there being trains every hour, the timings were better than the coaches, of which there were only three a day.

Now I’m in fourth year and I’ve just arrived back in Nottingham, after coming from Coventry. From door to door, it took me over 4 hours to get from my family home in Cov to my student home in Notts. A journey that by car takes under an hour without traffic. The journeys to and from just seemed to take forever and I couldn’t make the most of my hours spent on public transport.

On Monday, I got to the train station in Nottingham with no problem, I missed the first 34 bus, but within five minutes another one came along. I sat on the first train, final destination London St Pancreas, and saw some students taking out their laptops to work or watch a movie. I was so envious. Meanwhile I ate my packed lunch and wondered whether it would be worth taking out my book, as I’d only be on this train for 26 minutes before changing at Leicester. I started to read my latest book for my course Castigo Sin Venganza but I couldn’t get into it as I knew I’d be getting off soon and I normally panic when we go past Loughborough and think I’ve missed my connection.

At Leicester I had a 17 minute wait in the cold waiting room on platform 3, before going outside when the train had 5 minutes to arrive. I’ve travelled this route before and know that the Leicester – Birmingham train gets very busy and I wanted a seat. I got off at Nuneaton and quickly made my way from platform 7 to platform 1 where the oldest and loneliest Cross Country carriage waits to go to Coventry. Usually this train is good and if the Leicester – Bham train is a few minutes late, it will wait for passengers to go across rather than having us wait another hour for the next one.

Then came the long part…

Back in the good old days, there was a bus route in Coventry numbered 27. It was everything I wanted from a bus service, I could go to the hospital, to my school, my house, to Ball Hill, the city centre and the train station. It was one of the first and only bus routes to have a bendibus in Coventry and it was just brilliant.

So much love for this bus

Then, what happened? The buses changed hands and new routes came along. The 27 changed into the 4 which now goes to the Ricoh Arena (after city centre, which would just take forever for us Wykeners) at the expense of the train station stop it seems.

So now, if I want to get to the train station from my house, I have to either get the 8 or 9 from the train station to Ansty Road and walk 15+ minutes, or walk through the city centre for 20+ minutes to get to Pool Meadow to take the 4. The latter involves bashing into people accidentally, telling chuggers I’m not going to give them any money and also walking around the over excited Christians who are preaching in the city centre. For some reason I always choose the second option, even though it takes longer and is more trouble.

Then what’s more, is that they’re destroying Coventry with roadworks at the moment, it even affects pedestrians as to get from the train station to the city centre, it now takes a further 5 minutes as you cannot go over the roundabout, you have to go around it and down the horrible underground tunnels that I thought had all disappeared (it seems they kept a few for nostalgic reasons).

I don’t know if anybody reading this will get to this part, this post is just me ranting about how long it took me to get home and how I was unable to do anything on my journey besides chatting on my phone and playing games. The main points might not have been written or expressed well as I’m still getting over the trauma of my sickness and return journey that took four hours and five minutes but here they are summarised in bullet points:

  • To travel a mere 49.7 miles it took me 4x the amount of time to travel by public transport than by car, I probably could’ve cycled it quicker!
  • I miss the 27 bus route, please bring it back
  • Nobody wants to travel from Wyken to the Ricoh on the new number 4
  • Coventry needs to get rid of ALL of the underground city centre subway passes
  • If the coach was cheaper and more frequent, it would be my preferred method of transport
  • I like to complain about these things because I’m feeling ill.

Over and out. I won’t be going home again until Christmas so please, train and bus providers feel free to improve your services in the future! Why not introduce a Coventry – Leicester direct train? The train tracks are in place, just put a train on them and make my journey home quicker!

Things to do on a megabus

Us students love cheap travel and megabus is brilliant for that. I’m currently on a £3 bus from Coventry to Manchester. So here is a list of things you can do to pass the time on a megabus (or any other bus company).

* Read a book/magazine
* Eat (don’t drink though as bus toilets are never nice)
* Facebook/ twitter/ snapchat etc (megabus has free wifi and plug sockets which is perfect for phones and tablets)
* Enjoy the views of British countryside
* Look out for different farm animals, extra cute points if you spot llamas or baby animals
* Wave to lorry drivers
* Sleep!!
* Listen to music
* Study (I spent 30mins practicing Chinese characters)
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* Chat on the phone (everybody will listen to you though)
* Chat to the hotty you’re sitting next to
* Contemplate how they make profits with such cheap fares (what’s the catch?)
* Fidget to try find a comfy position
* Update your blog 😉

Any other suggestions? Comment below!

We are British, We are Different

In Britain, we are very different to our European neighbours. Over centuries we have developed our culture to show this to the world in our own special way. Here is a list of things that we do differently in the UK, often without even realising we are being so different to the rest of the world.

  • Firstly, we have a complicated 4 in 1 situation going on in regards to our country/ies and there are still many issues and disagreements between the four nations

    What am I?
    What am I?
  • Driving on the left hand side of the road – here is a page with a colour coded map to show which other countries drive on the left like us…and a list for those of you that don’t like maps http://www.worldstandards.eu/cars/list-of-left-driving-countries/
  • The imperial system:
  1. We measure haircuts in inches, long distances in yards or miles and our height in feet (but a horse’s height is measured in hands)
  2. Our milk comes in pints as does our beer (it’s actually illegal to sell draught beer and cider in metric units)
  3. We weigh using ounces, stones or pounds…
  4. The pound! Our currency is the pound, with one pound being 100 pence, none of that euro nonsense for us!
  • We often can’t decide what measurement system to use, as sugar comes in kilogram bags, the sprint won by Bolt at the 2012 Olympics was the 100m (rather than the 109 yards) and a can of coke is 330ml

    Oh yes
    Oh yes
  • For women, our clothes sizes start at 4 and go up in multiples of 2. In Europe a size 10 is a 38 (I think men are S, M, L everywhere)
  • Our shoe sizes are also different, a size 6 being a 40 overseas – making the whole “Act your age, not your shoe size joke” totally unfunny anywhere else but the UK
  • Mealtimes – we eat our main meal of the day in the evening at 6pm, uncommon as other countries eat a big meal at midday instead
  • The spines of our books are the other way around. I like to tilt my head to the right when browsing titles so was forced to turn my Spanish books upside down (notice how the numbers are upside down on the Isabel Allende books in the centre)

    Which way is the right way?
    Which way is the right way?
  • Our plug sockets are three pronged, we don’t want no two pronged Europlug! But then again….

    You got that right!
    You got that right!
  • Our constitutional monarchy, ie. The Queen! A favourite of mine, we are one of only 35 countries in the world that have this system and Liz is admired all over the world

    Queen Elizabeth II
    Queen Elizabeth II

That sums up some of the main ways that us Brits like to do things differently. If there is anything I’ve missed please let me know! Leave a comment!

I’m English I swear!

Ever since I started travelling, at the age of 18, people have always been left bemused at my nationality. Sometimes I find it funny when people try to guess where I’m from, the most popular guesses being Spain, Brazil and Italy. When I tell people I am British, they don’t believe me and start asking where I’m really from.

So I explain that I have roots from Barbados, England and Ireland. Typical responses are

> Wow, the Bahamas, that’s so exotic
> Barbados! That’s where Rihanna is from, you’re so lucky
> In Barbados they speak Spanish right? That’s why you speak Spanish too.

People ask me what life is like is Barbados and are surprised when I tell them that I haven’t been to central America (yet). I actually know very little about Barbados and Ireland, I should probably do some reading about my background.

I like to think of myself as an internationalised Brit. I like greeting people with kisses, am willing to adapt to other cultures and I speak 3 languages. Even so, I am still English at heart with a great respect for our monarchy and our English ways of driving on the left and measuring things (stones, feet and miles).

Despite my curly hair, brown skin and openness to different ways of life I am English*, from England, born in England and a UK citizen. So please consider me as English!

* Sometimes I consider myself as British too, but that is a totally different kettle of fish!