Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Wordy Wednesday

Back on the Road

I've not been able to get into my garage since I returned to England weeks ago, but today the locksmith came and broke in. He did it very neatly, but unfortunately had to break not just the lock but the entire mechanism, so it's going to be expensive to put right.

But it does mean that I was able to drive my car for the first time in a month, and do a proper shop at the big supermarket. I've been shopping in the one across the road, but it has a lot less choice, so I was restricted to the same two or three ready meals. I'd had high hopes for the "Bee-Plan Diet", but apparently it consists mainly of vegetables, which doesn't sound very exciting, although the bit about cooking them "until smoke detector sounds, extinguish flames and serve" does.


This week I have been mostly thinking about, no, not Rolf Harris, thankfully, but Beethoven's 6th symphony played on the piano and Scott Joplin. I say "thinking about", because I don't listen to music very much other than in my head. I did listen for about the millionth time to the wonderful recording by Glenn Gould of the Beethoven. I'm one of the many people who have been totally captivated by his recordings, and I keep meaning to write a post about my obsession, but I need to find a spare few weeks to do the subject justice. In the case of this particular recording, made for a Canadian radio broadcast, he plays it so that you don't really notice the lack of an orchestra.

Glenn Gould

Helena and I watched "The Sting" last week, and although she didn't understand the plot fully (you need to watch it several times), she loved the music. I haven't got any recordings of it to listen to, but I do have a book, so again most of the music is playing in my head, since my skills on the piano are so limited.

Lost For Words

I'm reading a police thriller called "Night-time bulletin", or something like that. It's by Petros Markaris, and is apparently also available in an English translation. Our hero is Costas Haritos, and he's a very down-to-earth detective, who's only hobby is reading dictionaries.

Petros Markaris

I'm ony about 1/5th of the way through it, but it has me laughing out loud because of the wonderfully entertaining and sarcastic way that it's written. It's also very, er, colloquial, and I'm having to look up a lot more words than usual, quite a few of which are rather obscene. If Tracy ever takes her kids to Greece, I should be well-versed in some choice phrases for her to teach Emma. However, I am finding quite a few words that aren't in the dictionary. I wonder if they're in any of Captain Haritos's?

Monday, 28 July 2008

Strike Me Down!

It's been warm and summery here for the last two or three days. Today, it got a bit tropical, and this evening a thunderstorm arrived during the Emilia Show.

I don't like lightning. People die every year from electrical accidents with toasters and things, whilst the energy in one bolt from the blue could keep 10 houses powered for a year. Besides which, I don't want to get hit by something that's 50,000 degrees Farenheit. That might hurt.

Thunderstorms are rare here, and they are the only time that I wish I wasn't living in a top floor flat. They've just wired all the flats for satellite TV, and the dish is outside my lounge window, with a thick cable running through my attic. So if it hits that I'll probably end up with my whole ceiling ablaze.

When I was a child, I remember that we used to count the time between the lightning flash and the thunder. People used to say that a second was a mile, but then at school we learned that the speed of sound was not a mile a second, but about a fifth of that, and suddenly I didn't feel so safe.

So I've given up counting. You know when it's overhead when there are no seconds between the flash and the very loud and violent crash. I wandered into the stairwell and stood there when that happened, then decided that it would be embarrassing if anyone saw me hiding and went back in.

There's not really anywhere to hide, anyway. These days everything is wired for electricity, so the lightening can get you wherever you are. People have been fried in indoor swimming pools, apparently, and I read a while back about someone in this country who was struck whilst doing the dishes in his kitchen. The lightening hit a pipe, channelling the deadly charge to his sink. He survived because he was wearing those ridiculous yellow rubber gloves. I bet his wife felt guilty about nagging him to do the washing up during a storm.

Oh well, in the time it's taken me to type this, sort out a picture, and so on, the thunder has gone, and I have cheated death for the time being. Maybe one day the scientists will find a way to harness all that electricity. Then this blog really will be lightning powered.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

House Guests

I was reading about the man in New Jersey who burnt down 80% of his flat whilst trying to rid himself of unwanted house guests, of the creepy crawly variety. I understand exactly how he feels.

I don't mind flies, or mosquitos, but I don't want to share my flat with moths, wasps, or worst of all eight-legged monsters. In fact, if I had a flame thrower, or a kalashnikov for that matter, my flat would be in a similar state as his by now.

Incidentally, that's a very entertaining film, and the special effects aren't bad, considering its age.

Anyway, I'm not massively keen on pets either, though we did have cats when I was a child. Unlike my sister, I was never that keen on things like Lassie, where a brainless animal saves lives and solves crimes on a weekly basis.

However, one couple in Melbourne, Australia have been saved from an agonising death by their pet rabbit, which woke them up to tell them that their house was burning down.

My flat's not really the right place for pets, and they're banned under the lease, but then I have smoke detectors, so I'm probably okay. The flat is also a bit small for a family of five to move in, so I'm hoping that Tracy will be so taken by the Australian rabbits that she'll want to emigrate to Melbourne. After all, the kids will spend all their time playing with the rabbits, so she won't need a nanny.

Nellie Melba

It's a great place. People sit around all day drinking beer (well, the men do whilst the Sheilas fetch it for them), and they have produced great opera singers such as Nellie Melba (named after Melbourne) and Joan Sutherland, not to mention painter, singer and digeridoo player Rolf Harris. Though fortunately for the Australians, he lives in Britain. They got rid of him after he made this:

If only I could persuade all the dog owners whose animals turn my daily walk to work into a shitty obstacle course to emigrate...

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Wordy Wednesday - The Final Frontiers

Chocolate Trip

Sometimes people are lucky. The marketing people at Kit Kat must be breathing a sigh of relief, now that their promotional competition for a trip into space has been won by a young, slim French air hostess.

After all, chocolate and space travel don't really go together. Imagine if the competition had been won by a wannabe astronaut who was so eager to win that he or she now resembles a sumo-wrestler? And it's probably nauseating enough to be blasted into space without ODing on chocolate first.

Fast Food Wild West Style

On the other hand, it is good for snack manufacturers to encourage people to go out and about. For example, how about McDonald's giving customers the chance to win a VIP trip to a cattle ranch, and ride with the cowboys? We all know someone who'd love this, don't we, Dan?

It would of course have to include a visit to a slaughterhouse. Pay particular attention to the bit where they steam the last bits of gristle off the bones - that's this evening's Big Mac meal in the making.

Water, Water, Everywhere

Dasani could offer a trip in a submarine, to see where the water really comes from. It'll probably be about as exciting as their product:

Apparently this is actually a picture of something really exciting. I think I'll stay above sea level...

In the past frontiers such as the Wild West, Space and the Oceans were conquered by brave (and probably completely barmy) men. In the future, they'll be full of couch potato competition winners. That's progress for you.

Monday, 21 July 2008

School's Out

This week (at least in this area), the schools are breaking up for the Summer holiday. We look at some schools the other side of the Atlantic...

Pupils held a special End of Year Demonstration at the Jean Knee School of Driving in Texas, amazing parents and friends with their newly honed skills:

Meanwhile, in the MidWest, the newly founded Cowboy Dan Riding School will be ready for opening next year (places are already oversubscribed), and we can reveal the $100,000 specially comissioned sculpture that has been delivered to the front of the school:

Things are not looking so good for the Tyson School of Financial Management, which has had to close due to lack of funds (they were only able to raise $30 million this year):

Thankyou to everyone for the wonderful suggestions.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

A sewer by any other name would smell as sweet

The news that the good citizens of San Francisco are proposing to commemorate George Dubya's contribution as a world leader by naming a sewage plant after him has reached Greece.

[Source] (of the picture, not the, erm, waste products)

Whilst it would be hard to improve on this idea, I have a few more suggestions:
  • The Michael Jackson Gunieau Pig Breeding Centre - In honour of the man who let surgeons practice their new techniques, and make their mistakes on him so that no-one else has to walk around looking like that.
  • The Hugh Grant Drama School - If they name one after him, he'll have to go there, so hopefully he might pick up some acting tips.
  • The Quentin Tarantino Centre for Linguistic Studies - In translating his films, language experts have pushed back the boundaries of their knowledge of obscence dialects.
  • The Dick Cheney Medical Centre - A purpose built centre for the foremost specialists in the field of hunting injuries.
Anyone got any others?

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Wordy Wednesday at the Movies

The Good...

Whilst I was away, I bought a couple of DVDs to watch on my laptop. One of them was Pickup on South Street, starring Richard Widmark, with Jean Peters as the heroine. I'd never heard of her, but she was certainly very attractive. It also had Thelma Ritter in it, which is why I bought it in the first place, and her performance was brilliant. It turns out that she was nominated for an Oscar. It's a pity she didn't win.

Jean Peters in POSS

...The Bad...

I also finally got around to watching "The Thomas Crown Affair". I'd never seen it before, and didn't really know what to expect, but it was okay. Steve MacQueen plays a respectable millionaire who decides to become a bank robber, and with the old US censorship having been abandoned, the bad guy's allowed to get away with his crime. And the dosh. And Fay Dunaway.

...Julia Roberts

"Thomas Crown" is sort of like a heist film, which put me in the mood to rewatch "Ocean's Eleven" with Helena. It has a 12 certificate, but I didn't think there would be anything unsuitable in it. Apart from the warning on the back of the DVD case "Bad Language: Some mild, twice strong".

I've no particular problem with Helena hearing swearing - after all, she'd better get used to it, but she thinks that "Shit" is a bit shocking, so I was bracing myself for the two "strong" times.

The first one is when Elliot Gould says something about "the fucking desert". "What did he say?", Helena asked. "The desert", I replied deadpan, and she seemed satisfied. The second time is later in the film. The Chinese man says "Way yu fuk in bin?", which may be strong swearing, but given that he spoke no English up to that point, he was probably referring to "#103 : Vegetables and noodles in a slightly spicy Szechwan sauce". Either way, Helena didn't seem to notice.

It also reminded me of how ugly Julia Roberts is. I know that no-one else seems to agree with me, but they should have given her a part in "Planet of the Apes", and saved themselves a lot of make-up.

But one shouldn't go by looks. She acts well and the film was as entertaining as it was the first time I saw it, and there are a lot of actresses and films you can't say that about.

Monday, 14 July 2008

How Karaoke Saves Lives

Tracy wrote the other day that her daughter is a budding karaoke queen. At the time my view was that this wasn't a particularly ambitious career aspiration, but on the Emilia Show tonight was a report about a Thai Medical School.

They are using karaoke to teach their students about cardiac medicine with such hits as "Heart Failure". Apparently the catchy lyrics make it easier for them to memorise all the gory details.

"Baby, You're breaking my heart...
with your cold, sharp scalpel"

It's not an ideal solution. You can just imagine the scene in the operating theatre when someone forgets exactly where on the left ventricle they need to make the incision, or do some defragging, or whatever. So all of the medics break out into song. Of course, they can't remember which song the vital piece of information was in, so they have to treat the (fortunately anaesthetised) patient to their entire reportoire...

This idea is not new. For decades, orthopaedic surgeons have been singing "Dem Bones" when they need to remember what they should reattach the hip bone to.

"The Knee bone's connected to the Neck bone"

So I think that Tracy ought to think about all the lives that'll be saved if she gets a karaoke machine for Emma, who is clearly a budding heart surgeon. Then all she'll need to do is learn to speak Thai...

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Planes, Keys, Phones, Automobiles and Radioactive Burgers

Ill Omens

I thought I'd tell you about my day. Friday, to be precise. I'm not superstitious, but if I was, I'd say that people are wrong about Friday 13th. It's the 11th you have to watch out for.

Promising Start

Things seemed to start okay. It was my last day in Scotland. I packed my stuff and checked out. At this point, I had already made my first mistake of the day.

I got to the airport in plenty of time to catch the flight, which was due to leave around 7pm. I checked my bags in and went through security and an x-ray. The x-ray machine didn't go off. More about this later.


At around this time I realised about my first mistake, which was leaving my mobile phone charging in the hotel room. I'd not recommend doing this, by the way.

Getting Nowhere Slowly

When it came time to check in, there were only two of us at the gate, and no staff. All mention of our flight had vanished from the information screens. There had been no announcement, but the flight had been cancelled.

So we had to go back out, and get our bags from the carousel. Except that there were no bags on the carousel. We were told to wait and they would appear. As if by magic, they didn't.

We went to the luggage place. They were busy saying they'd phone someone to check when my colleague noticed his case in their office. "Oh yes," they said, "we took some cases off the carousel earlier because no one claimed them."

Then it was time to check in the bags (again), and get booked onto the 9pm flight. Which was delayed by an hour.

At some point around this time I made my second mistake of the day.

Something I Ate?

I went through the x-ray machine. This time it went off, but they couldn't find any guns or bombs, so I can only guess that it must have been the burger I had just eaten. Which was strange, because it tasted okay.

Finally we got on a crowded plane, and 45 minutes later was at our destination back in England. The plane then sat on a taxi-way (or whatever the technical term is) for about 20 minutes until it could get clearance to trundle near enough to the airport for a bus to take us to the terminal, but under the circumstances that was a mere detail.

Oh, Shit...

We finally got home at around 1am, rather than the planned 9pm. In the taxi home I realised about my second mistake - losing my keys.

Since I was given a house key as a teenager I have never ever lost my keys. Well, until yesterday, that is. My keys, like my wallet, are always with me. So I was homeless at 1am in the morning.

Nice People

My colleague very kindly offered to let me stay in his spare room for the night, thus saving me the time and expense of trying to find a hotel, and I finally got home at 11pm on Saturday, thanks to the nice people at the letting agency. The nice people at the hotel are sending my phone to me, and all I have to do now, apart from have a much-needed shower, is to work out how to get into the locked garage that contains my car (there was no spare garage key)...

The End

Which I think means that I can officially declare Friday 11th over, and start enjoying my weekend.

I hope your day was better...

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Wordy Wednesday


When I was looking for a picture of Manet's "dejeuner sur l'herbe" to add pearls to for my mosquito post, I discovered that the model, Victorine Meurent, was the same one in loads of Manet's pictures. I've always liked Manet, but I'd never noticed that it was the same woman all over the place. I suppose I wouldn't make much of an art critic.

At the weekend I went round a museum here and saw two of Manet's pastels for real. One of them was "The Beer Drinkers".


I'm writing this from Scotland, which isn't actually a different Nation (I'm typing this quietly so that they don't hear me), but they do speak differently. They say things like "Och, yool nae be wahn'ing tae gae oot in thus weather." Luckily, I spent some of my childhood here - I even used to talk like that - so I don't need an interpreter.

The great thing about Scotland is that this is where they make whisky, so it's impossible to find a bar without a selection of malts. The bad thing is that the weather's not so good. As I type this it's rather wet and miserable. Which I suppose is why they like their whisky so much.

Another thing I'm not keen on is the bagpipes, which someone had wailing in the shopping centre. I'm sure that when the natives were all guerilla warriors fighting the English, they had to improvise with things like musical instruments, but there's not really any excuse in this day and age...

Brewed From Girders

Scotland is the home of "Irn Bru", in the same way that America is the home of "Coca Cola". You won't find much Irn Bru in the US, since it's banned. Apparently one of the ingredients causes cancer in Americans.

It says on the bottles "Bru'd in Scotland to a secret recipe for over 100 years". Which is true, since it first came out in 1901. They used to claim that it was "Bru'd from Girders" - I'm not sure if that's true, since I've just drunk loads of the stuff but haven't suddenly become superhero strong. Oh well...

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Parasites are a Girl's Best Friend

I'm not sure if I believe this story, as I couldn't find many sources for it. (Here's the Greek version, just for reference).

Apparently a businessman from Shanghai was trying to think of ways to increase sales at his online jewelery shop. Perhaps all sorts of ideas were floating around in his mind -
  • "Win a Holiday to Shanghai!"
  • "Getting Married? Get a Great Trade-in Price for your old Wedding Ring!"
  • "Something Special for the Woman in your Life? Discretion Guaranteed (we won't tell the wife)"
  • "Free fake Rolex with every purchase!"
  • "Get your Dead Mosquitos here!"
That's not a misprint. I did say "Dead Mosquitos". Whilst he was thinking up brilliant marketing schemes, he swatted a mosquito and decided that this was a sign. So he started advertising "hand killed" mosquitos. Ideal for scientific research or decoration.

The story says that he got 250,000 hits on his website, and 100,000 orders were placed for this unique product.

I think that if I was Nin Nan (that's the guy's name), I'd be rather depressed at this. After all, people would rather buy a dead insect for decoration than one of his baubles.

The other problem that he's now got is where to find 100,000 dead mosquitos, before he gets sued by angry customers demanding their goods within 28 days. There are good reasons why no-one has tried this particular publicity stunt before.

If it was me, I'd have gone for something like this:

"I'd Feel Naked Without My Pearls"

Much more tasteful than dead insects, if less original...

Friday, 4 July 2008

What Happened Next

This is your Captain speaking. We welcome you on board flight D 00 M. Please make yourselves comfortable. The cabin crew will shortly be dispensing drinks, but we do ask you in the meantime to familiarise yourself with the supplied incomprehensible safety card. This gives helpful suggestions about ways you might like to spend your last seconds desperately but vainly trying to survive a crash. Not that anything bad is going to happen.

Thankyou, and enjoy the rest of your journey.

This is your Captain speaking. We shall be landing shortly, so please fasten your seatbelts... (To copilot) No! Not that lever! ...

Meanwhile the passengers all spill their cocktails.

Modern aircraft are designed for every emergency. The passengers can be thankful that their seatbelts and the aircraft's robust engineering have protected them from too much injury.

Well, okay, perhaps I spoke too soon.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Wordy Wednesday


1. When you're in a queue at an airport check-in, why is one of the only two check-in people always sitting for ages with their head down apparently busy?

2. What are they actually doing?

3. Why do they have to do it in front of everyone instead of going into an office or something?

4. Is it really to torment the people who are queuing up?

5. When you do get to the checkin desk, why do they have to press so many buttons on their computers? Surely identifying one of a handful of flights, one of the few hundred passengers, and their seating preference doesn't constitute more than 3 or 4 operations?

7. Why don't the air stewardesses doing the safety stuff stand at the emergency exits to show people where they are, instead of those weird hand gestures that don't really help?

8. Why do they tell you where the lifejackets are even on internal inland flights?

9. Where is Wordless Wednesday?

Answers on a postcard please...

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Lost in the Post

I rarely get spam, because my email service generally detects it. It all goes into a "Spam" inbox, which, since I don't usually look at my email on the web, I rarely see. After a month it gets deleted.

So today, being away from home and using webmail, I checked my spam. In there were loads of email notifications of blog comment posts, which explains why I went for about a week without seeing any. Why it thought that your words of wit and wisdom (and mine!) were spam, I don't know. I also found a 3-week old email from a friend who probably thought that I was ignoring him.

Talking of spam, most of the subject lines are fairly innocuous. Some even appeared to be offering special offers on meals out ("Get Extra Meat"), but "Blast her womb with your huge cannon"??? Perhaps a new surgical instrument for gynaecologists? I'm glad I don't look through that inbox very often...

Drive her wild with all that meat!