Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Weight Watching

My wife and I have finally come to a point where we are both start dieting together, rather than me going my way and she trying to diet on her own. So we’ve begun Weight Watchers with the support of my sister-in-law, who’s a successful WW person. Since we came to England we’ve not only been overeating, but also eating stuff we wouldn’t normally get into at home, partly because we’re not always at home where ‘proper’ stuff is readily available. We’ve been doing it well for the last five days, and doing some long walks as well - with the help of my sister-in-law again; she’s a keen walker.
We’ll keep working on it one day at a time, but both of us know it’s essential to do, and hopefully with both of us doing it, we’ll make progress.

Monday, July 30, 2007


For quite a long time I was well out of fashion when it came to sunglasses. I used to wear large ones that kept the light out not only at the front, but at the sides as well. They’re the type that fishermen like because they’re great for seeing the fish under the water. However, my kids always proclaimed these sunglasses as ‘buzzy bees’, which meant they were ridiculously large (in their eyes).
So, when I got new prescription glasses last year, ones that were much smaller than my old ones, I got a free pair of sunglasses to go with them, ones that clipped on magnetically. The only problem was they not only didn’t keep out the sun at the sides, they didn’t keep out the sun at all, making them useless when the sun was shining.
So I put them away and went back to the buzzy bee style, which, curiously, had come back into fashion again!
To be really in fashion, of course, I should be wearing Wiley X sunglasses. They’re the sort of sunglasses that fit snugly, and are great for sportspeople. Not that that means I can’t wear them (!) since you can get them as prescription glasses as well. So maybe when my current pair of sunnies get lost, or break, I can pick up a pair of Wiley X. Then I’ll have finally caught up with the crowd!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Lap of Luxury

After visiting so many stately mansions and large abodes on our travels around the UK, you’d think we’d have got an idea what it means to have a luxury home. But it seems we’re not really aware of what’s current.
A modern luxury home is expected to have all sorts of things included that once upon a time would barely be dreamed of. Many of them are ‘smart’ houses. They’re equipped with high-tech computers that monitor and control all manner of features in the house. Remember when Tom Cruise goes into his apartment in the film Minority Report and speaks to the lights? That’s just a very simple example. The computers in smart houses sort out not just the lighting, but the heating, the cooling, and the security. (Just don’t let there be a power cut - although no doubt many of these houses have their own generators as well.)
Modern luxury homes are also made of eco-friendly building materials, and incorporate a large number of features that make them green in the very best sense. (If we can just get computers to go green we’ll be really making progress!)
And then of course, the humans in these ultra-clever homes expect to be looked after - pampered even - by their homes. Spa pools, whirlpools, saunas, heated marble floors and towel bars are the sort of things that will keep the soft as soft humans happy. And for the woman - or her maid, more likely - the kitchens in these homes are aimed at the gourmet cook. They’re expansive (the kitchens, not the cooks) and they have smart appliances. That ‘smart’ word again. What does it mean when it comes to kitchens?
Because these luxury homes are likely to be networked electronically, kitchen items, from stoves to fridges may start ‘talking’ to each other. And may even ignore the humans!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Rain and Cold

On the radio here in England they keep going on about how cold the water at the beaches is. What do they expect? This is England, after all, and the temperature in the sea most of the time will be similar to the temperature in the seas around New Zealand. Chilly at best, and only occasionally warmer as you head north.
Far more important, and still related to water, is the flooding here in England. Oxford has been hit, something we wouldn’t have believed when we there ourselves, and some other places have only just got back to having drinking water and water to flush in the loos. It’s hard to grasp what it’s been like for these people when you’re not affected by it yourself; having always lived on hills ourselves, we’ve never really had problems with flooding. Of course there’s been similar flooding in New Zealand after the last few years, but again it’s been nowhere near where we live.
And now on the news this morning we hear that certain `yobbos’ as they’re calling them, have been fouling the water in the places where water is desperately needed. It’s hard to understand why the local yahoos would do it to their own water when they must be in need of it as much as anyone. Perhaps they’re just so lacking in sense they don’t understand the implications of their own actions. Candidates for the Darwin Awards, I’d suspect.

Churches in Cromer

Cromer has a large church in the centre of town, which didn’t initially strike me as very interesting. However, once you’d checked out the information around the walls and saw the pictures of past events, you realised that it suffered considerable damage in the last War, with windows being blown out, and sections of it being badly damaged. This will account for it not having so many unusual features. The church in Upper Sheringham turned out to have interested carvings on the ends of the pews; not animals this time, but a series of strange designs that almost looked like knights, some with hollow eyes. The front five rows or so, however, had additional features: beside the main designs were other individual designs such as a woman lying wrapped on her side, strange mythical creatures and so on.
And continuing on about churches, we went and checked out the Beeston Regis church, which is halfway between West Runton and Sheringham. It’s up on a hill, overlooks the sea and a large caravan park, and is in good condition. Celia couldn’t remember ever having been in there, and thought there should be a more ruined building there. That turned out to be the Priory which is further along the road towards Sheringham. The Beeston Regis church however did have a series of very old paintings on the rood (that sort of divider that separates the congregation from the altar area). Apparently they’ve been touched up at various times, but the paintings themselves are what the artists conceived centuries ago. It seems that if you don’t skimp your visit to churches you’ll find something special about each one.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Vending Machines Again

I like what one site says about the value of vending machines: they do all the selling for you, are always on the job, never call in sick, never insult customers, never give away free samples or steal your profits. And they collect the cash in advance…

You may think I’m just about to take up a vending machine franchise. Well, the more I look at the info on the idea, the more I wonder if there isn’t something in it. Of course, it would have to be a vending machine that sold something of reasonable value – I believe there are machines that sell pornography. Can’t see me getting into that!

Nevertheless, when I return home after my sabbatical in England, I need to find some work. And having a few vending machines bringing in cash would leave me some time for doing what I really enjoy: writing!

Might have to go back and check out more about what Multivend has to say on the subject. It may be just what I’m looking for.


The memory I have of Norwich from when I was here in the early seventies, is of an accessible town, not that large, near a river, and full of interesting old buildings and dozens of churches.

I don’t know what happened to that Norwich, but it certainly isn’t the place we visit spasmodically while we’re staying in Norfolk. This one is large – much larger than my own home town – has many modern buildings (some of them tucked around ancient stone walls) and has the typical shopping malls that you expect in a large city.

Today we went to see the Cathedral, but we came out into a street called Tombland. No prizes for telling us how that name came into being. Tombland is a bit more like I remember Norwich, but only a bit.

Where have all the churches gone? There seemed to be one of every corner in the past, rather like corner dairies. And where’s Julian of Norwich’s ‘cell’ gone? I guess it’s around somewhere, but it’s certainly not obvious.

Someone’s gone and changed the place.

Blogging for Bloggers

Someone else is celebrating the pay it forward link thing I mentioned yesterday – and celebrating it late, like me.

I came across a site today called simply, Write for Blogs, via my old friend Jurgen Wolff (who’s always sending me interesting stuff). The site is focused on giving professional advice on – you guessed it - writing for blogs. So you can imagine I’ll be keeping my eye on what he has to say.

‘He’ is Glenn Abel who lives in Studio City, California (where else would you have a ‘Studio City’?) He works in the Internet industry – whatever that actually means – and he sounds like he’s writing like someone who knows. Always an advantage for the rest of us, who only think we know.

Anyway, in the post posted on the 22nd July, he lists six other bloggers who are worth keeping track of. One of them is already on my favourites list, and that’s Darren Rowse of Problogger. (And he’s an Australian, so that has to count for quite a bit. And he’s a Christian, which counts for even more.)

The other five writers are Angela Booth, someone called Maki, Brian Clark and Jurgen Wolff himself. (Surprise, surprise! We all keep feeding off each other!) And finally, the seemingly anonymous author of the Writer’s Resource Center. I’ve never come across this one before, but it looks more useful than I first believed, and advertises a large number of writing jobs.

Vending Machines

Vending machines. They’re just there, aren’t they? Nobody ever looks after them, or refills them, or takes the money away, do they? They just somehow fill themselves up. Don’t they?

Vending machines might look like perfect robots, endlessly doing their task without complaint, but of course there are humans behind the scenes, who keep the machines stocked, keep them happy – and, of course, who take the money.

Owning vending machines is a way many people make a living. In fact, in the United States, one company called Multivend which focuses on vending machines with candy in them has some 9,000 people working with it, people who work from home, don’t have an office, and can choose their own hours.

Think about it. How many vending machines do you come across in a day? They’re everywhere, growing like triffids! In Japan, it’s estimated that there’s one vending machine for every twenty people. This works out to some 5.6 million machines in that country alone. And a huge income for the vendors.

As a little exercise. Next time you go into town, check out how many vending machines you see. And what they sell. You may be surprised at just how many you find.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Truth and lies

One of the strongest themes throughout the Harry Potter series is the clash between truth and lies. Harry is forever having to decide to go for the truth, even when it hurts (as it physically does when Dolores Uxbridge makes him write the lines with his own blood) and Voldemort is forever trying to spread a web of deceit, especially through the Ministry of Magic’s pronouncements and through the news. (It’s surely no coincidence that we have such concern about our own real life political leaders and their pronouncements, and about the news, especially when newspapers are under the thumb of people with very definite views on what should or shouldn’t be told.)

The truth will out, as the old expression goes, but sometimes it takes enormous effort, even the threat of death, for truth to be able to make its way out into the world, and set people free.


I don’t know whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing that my post on athlete’s fingers keeps coming up when people go searching for info on athlete’s foot, itchy bottoms, and scabies (which is apparently called the seven year itch because of the longevity of the infestation). Am I keeping the right sort of company here?
They’re advertising an ointment at home in NZ on tv that claims that once you use it you’ll never have athlete’s foot again. A most counterproductive ointment in these days of stuff that has no longevity. I always intend to check out the price on the stuff. For starters it looks as though there’s far more there than you’d need, and I can’t imagine it goes for a few dollars.
To go off on a completely different track, I see that people have been searching for Winifred Kavalieris again – and this blog came top of the search list. Wow! Thanks, Winifred.
And someone else has been searching for Wally Crossman paintings on the Net. They won’t get far: I think there are very few listed. Having said that, I checked under Wallace Crossman, and found a page of his works.
I see the argument about whether to put lemon or orange peel in your compost is still raging (though raging might be putting it a bit excessively). I say, you can put some of these in your compost. I have no idea where people get the idea that worms ‘hate’ them. Just don’t overdo it.
And the quote from Shall We Dance – where Susan Sarandon talks about needing a witness to our lives – has picked up our site too. I checked out one other search result and found this delightful quote:
“Kissing is a means of getting two people so close together that they can’t see anything wrong with each other.” Ren Yasenek

Dead Sea Skin Care

While we were in Milton Keynes a couple of weeks back, exploring the enormous mall that’s not dissimilar to Korea’s Incheon Airport terminal in size – and in the length of time it takes to get from one end to the other – we saw a booth where they were encouraging people to try some skin care products. We didn’t go over, as we’re not much into skin care products at the best of times, but the thing that intrigued me was that the words Dead Sea was plastered all over the booth.

At the time I thought it was a strange concept to connect the Dead Sea with skin care, but apparently I’m alone in thinking this. Dead Sea minerals and even the mud from the Dead Sea are part of a range of skin care. I’d find it a little hard to think of applying something ‘dead’ to my skin – even if I were a person who used these sorts of things. (I think it’s a bit late now anyway to make much difference!) I’d be interested to hear what other people think about this.

Linking, linking

A while ago I posted about the idea of linking to other blogs just for the fun of it, and so they could have an extra link on the system. I think officially it’s supposed to happen at the beginning of the month, but with my life slightly disordered at the moment, it’ll have to be today – whatever day it is.

Slouching towards Serfdom – this is strictly for those who understand shares and markets and such. It’s well done, but just a fraction incomprehensible to me!

Centrum Laban, el poder de las ideas looks like a site that’s into political things in a big way. Maybe even revolution.

The next blog appeared to be called Wasted Daze, and announced on its top post a site called getpoor.com. Apparently at that site “100% of the people who try this, WILL MAKE MONEY!!! It's mathematically impossible to fail...” Always one to be curious about people’s ideas about making money, I checked out getpoor.com. The section on how to get poor is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek page with diagrams on how wealth is made and who makes it. And who doesn’t. It’s wise enough to take a look. Not sure where you go afterwards, though, since the other pages on the site seem all to be ‘under construction.’ Furthermore, when you go back to the original Wasted Daze site, it’s all about making money on the Net – many of the possibilities seem pretty dubious.

Finally, Filmschatten film that made (no) history. This site seems to consist of a lot of clips from movies, or the complete movies themselves in several chunks. Why The Seven Samurai should be included is anyone’s guess.


Sometimes you just can't resist giving a movie the mickey. I haven't seen the film, 300, and it seems unlikely now that I will. It arrived in a great hype with some people, barely scratched the surface of real cinemagoers, and has departed the scene. I don't even know who's in it. (Well, I could look it up, but I ain't gonna.)
But someone has seen it. She calls herself (I presume she's a she by the way she's written one or two other things) Saint Sally, and she's made a list of the ten things she's learned from watching 300. Check them out. They're a lot of fun.


It’s not often I count the number of times a key word or phrase appears on the main page of someone’s site, but just out of curiosity I did it on the Cliffside Malibu page. The key phrase, drug rehab, appeared thirty times!

That’s the way to go, if you’re looking to get someone to pick up on that phrase while using a search engine. It’s obviously pretty essential to go full bore in such a way, because there are plenty of drug rehab places advertising on the Net.

That’s all a side issue. The actual front page for Cliffside Malibu is excellent. Sometimes a front page will have so little information on it you have to dig and dig to find what you want to know. Not so with this crowd. They have a host of things listed there, and all you have to do is scroll up and down. It’s not that they don’t have more pages, it’s just that the site tells you a great deal from the word go.


Many people will no longer know what I mean when I write the word, Meccano. When I was a lad, it was the world's equivalent of Lego, but made out of metal and much more flexible. People used to build great models of engineering machines and such out of it. I wasn't ever much into it, because I'm not really a building-sort-of-person, (being creative in a different mode) but I've seen some extraordinary uses made of it.
While checking out some info on a 1930s analogue computer made out of Meccano (I kid you not!) I saw a link to Meccano and Divorce. Obviously some people still horde their Meccano sets with a fervour that is usually only reserved for gold, silver and other precious jewels.

How many cars?

1 in 4 cars is short of oil. (From an oil company advertisement.)

Doesn’t this strike you, on first reading, as ungrammatical? It’s the close combination of ‘cars’ and ‘is’ that causes the problem, because, strictly speaking, it’s correct. But to the ear there’s an awkwardness which no amount of repeating will make come quite right. Far better for the copywriter to have written: 1 car in 4 is short of oil. The change makes all the difference to our innate sense of grammar.

SD cards - what little I know.

The SD card has been around since 1999, but has really only taken off in the last year. It’s a secure digital memory card, though originally the SD stood for something else altogether, that is, Super Density. The secure aspect was an encryption process added to the already existing Multi-media card, in an attempt to overcome piracy problems.

There is now an SDA – an association – and they have issued detailed specifications for the non-security aspects of the SD memory card standard. The cards have quickly gone from having megabytes of memory to gigabytes. The current versions are highly secure, and very small. Some only stamp-sized. They have no moving parts and retain data even power is turned off. Battery consumption is small and there are write protect switches to even great security.

SD cards can be used in a variety of SD enabled digital products, from music players to cellular phones, from handheld PCs to digital cameras, from digital video recorders to smart phones, car navigation systems and electronic books.

The last of Harry Potter

I think I’m suffering from post-Harry Potter stress, having read the latest tome in less than a day and a half on and off (mostly on). I woke up this morning feeling washed out, and my wife (who hasn’t quite finished the book) accused me of being grumpy. Doesn’t she realized what I’ve just been through? The traumas in this book are huge. Grumpy! It’s a wonder I’m not running around raging at the moon.
Suffice to say, this is a great Potter, maybe the best of the lot. It brings together dozens of themes and clues and subplots, keeps the momentum going (apart from a curious lull in the middle), and is exceptionally readable – although on a couple of occasions I had to stop and think through some of the things that were being said. A few of the characters still like to speak in a rather elliptical way. There are battles galore, action scenes, frights, shocks, deaths, births, romances, and you name it. Rowling’s eye for the absurd is as keen as ever, her humour is retained in spite of the drama of the overarching story, her morality remains, and she satisfies the reader in every respect.
A great job!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Roger Norrington

For a long time I’ve been puzzled about the insistence many musicians and singing teachers have on the use of vibrato, that strange trilling thing that strange trilling thing wind and string players do with longer notes, as do singers. So I was intrigued to find that Roger Norrington, has been waging ‘a sometime lonely war against the “modern drug” of vibrato.’

There was an article in the Saturday Guardian (21.07.07) where he is quoted as saying:

“The fact is orchestras didn’t generally use vibrato until the 1930s. It is a fashion, like smoking, which came in about the same time. Smoking is now going, so maybe vibrato will too. Imagine it: a vibrato-free world.”

Nicholas Wroe, the writer of the article goes on: ‘Norrington’s argument is not that vibrato “might not be a wonderful thing – it often is in jazz – but if Brahms expected to hear a particular sound, I want to know what that was. Or at least I want to hear it a few times before deciding that it is rubbish. But what I have discovered, all the way from Monteverdi to Mahler, is that when music is played as it should be, the sound is wonderful, the expression is wonderful and the instruments match together.”’

In another place, I’ve written that I feel music is played too fast these days. My comment was that musicians play things fast because they can, the result of improved technique and ability. But Norrington says that up until recently too much music was played too slowly. (I can remember sitting through a rehearsal of Fidelio years ago at Covent Garden, where Klemperer (I think it was) played everything at a funereal pace. The opera took about an hour longer than usual to perform.) And so many of his recordings have been made in an effort to bring things back up to tempo. Ah, fashion.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Never give someone a challenge when they have the ability to search the whole of the Internet for an answer.

1964. That was the challenge, so I checked out to see whether I’d ever written about that year before, and yes I had: it was the year the word condominium was born.

Unfortunately it was also the year the English Sun newspaper was born, something we probably could have done without.

It was a leap year (you can divide it by four). The Winter Olympics in Innsbruck nearly didn’t go ahead because of a lack of snow. Mods and Rockers were clashing in British seaside towns and scores of them were jailed. The best picture of the year was Tom Jones, with a very young Albert Finney. (He’s always seemed a lot older since then!) And the movie Mary Poppins arrived.

There you go! That wasn’t hard.

Stats and research

I read that in NZ they’ve decided to make Government statistical information much more readily available. A good thing too, since both businesses and charities and all sorts of other groups can better plan for the future.

Coincidentally I’ve just come across a group on the Net who seem to do something similar, though they get their information through market research rather than stats. They produce a number of reports on diverse subjects, such as customer loyalty, hotspot reports on places such as Mexico, the Hispanic market, what colour is and isn’t, consumption trends in China and so on. They also produce two regular reports, one on change, and the other on the latest market research.

The company is called Synovate, and they class themselves as ‘an agency with a boutique feel that offers global capabilities.’ In other words, they’re not a large organization, but they produce big results, and have a big vision. At least, that’s what I think they’re saying!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Not so Minimalist

I have to apologise to pigeons. They don’t only sing ooh ooooooh ooh. Around where we are at present, they tend to sing: ooh ooooooh ooooooh ooh ooh, usually repeated at least twice, with the second and third lines going up the scale a touch. Perhaps Suffolk pigeons have slightly different vocal training as fledglings. Different it may be, but not more pleasant on the ear. Not mine, anyway, particularly as these dear creatures of God tend to sing non-stop all day long, wherever we go.

James Berardinelli

I found a bio of Berardinelli on the Rotten Tomatoes site. I've taken the liberty of quoting it here, almost in full:

...born in September 1967...New Jersey (USA). I started writing when I was about 9 years old.... However, although my "first love" was writing, too many tales of starving authors scared me off that path, so I decided to become an engineer instead. ...Putting my education to use, I went to work for a company called Bellcore, which pays well enough for me to keep up the mortgage, maintain a home theater, finance film festival trips, and buy the 25-30 gallons of gasoline I need each week to attend screenings. As for my "film history"... As a child, I did not attend many movies. In fact, the first one I remember going to was JAWS, at a drive-in. During my junior high and high school years, I rarely ventured into a theater, but my interest in movies escalated while I was at college. In 1991, the year before I started reviewing, I saw about 30 films. The number jumped up to 180 in 1992, when I wrote capsule reviews for my own use. Starting in 1993, the year I "went public" on the Usenet newsgroups, I began seeing between 220 and 250 theatrical releases per year.
By my reckoning that makes Mr Berardinelli a mere forty years old; I was watching movies for around seventeen years before he was born, and used to go regularly with my mother (my father having long departed the scene by that stage) and my friends. We went to everything, though I became rather more discriminating as time went on. Nevertheless, since Mr B started watching movies so late in life I've probably watched as many movies as he has over the years. It's only in the last few years that I've seen fewer movies at theatres, though we watch plenty on tv and dvd.

Ebert and Berardinelli

Two of the film reviewers I trust in most respects are Roger Ebert and James Berardinelli, whose film reviews nearly always top the list of reviews on IMDB.com.
Occasionally I’ve disagreed substantially with them – for instance, I still think 2001 is a dud of a movie, overlong, and full of its own bombast, while Berardinelli thinks it’s wonderful – but in general I find their reviews are worth reading because they think along the same lines as I do. By that I don’t mean they have to agree with my view, or I have to agree with theirs, but it’s good to know that the way you feel about a movie will find resonance with the way they feel.
I don’t know how long Ebert’s been going – it’s a long time, something like thirty years or more – and Berardinelli has been visible on IMDB pretty much since it started. Berardinelli isn’t a professional reviewer, as far as I’m aware, but he’s obviously well regarded on the site.
While I was looking up the details on What’s Love Got To Do With It? - the biopic of Tina Turner that I caught the last half hour of the other night – in order to find out who played Ike, Turner’s abusive husband (it was Laurence Fishburne and he was very good), I came across Ebert’s latest book: Your Movie Sucks. It sounds like a lot of fun. Here’s what’s on the back cover, apparently:

Roger's review of Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo (0 stars): "The movie created a spot of controversy in February 2005. According to a story by Larry Carroll of MTV News, Rob Schneider took offense when Patrick Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times listed this year's Best Picture nominees and wrote that they were 'ignored, unloved, and turned down flat by most of the same studios that . . . bankroll hundreds of sequels, including a follow-up to Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, a film that was sadly overlooked at Oscar time because apparently nobody had the foresight to invent a category for Best Running Penis Joke Delivered by a Third-Rate Comic.'
"Schneider retaliated by attacking Goldstein in full-page ads in Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. In an open letter to Goldstein, Schneider wrote: 'Well, Mr. Goldstein, I decided to do some research to find out what awards you have won. I went online and found that you have won nothing. Absolutely nothing. No journalistic awards of any kind. . . . Maybe you didn't win a Pulitzer Prize because they haven't invented a category for Best Third-Rate, Unfunny Pompous Reporter Who's Never Been Acknowledged by His Peers.'
"Schneider was nominated for a 2000 Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actor, but lost to Jar-Jar Binks. But Schneider is correct, and Patrick Goldstein has not yet won a Pulitzer Prize. Therefore, Goldstein is not qualified to complain that Columbia financed Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo while passing on the opportunity to participate in Million Dollar Baby, Ray, The Aviator, Sideways, and Finding Neverland. As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks."

I read Ebert’s Awake in the Dark earlier this year. There were some films he loved that I can’t recall thinking were great, but he also made me keen to see a number of films I’ve missed over the years. I’m not sure that Your Movie Sucks would make me want to see too many of the movies mentioned in it, but it sounds like a great read all the same.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Transfer Tank

I’d never heard of a transfer tank until today – or at least, if I have, it’s never registered with me. It appears to be something that you hold gallons of petrol in, if you’re a truckie, and like all such things, they come in various shapes and sizes. Of course you could no doubt hold any kind of liquid in it, but I suspect petrol is the norm.
Of course, it isn’t the sort of thing you cart about with you, even without the 74 gallons some of them hold. I suspect it might be just on the heavy side, even for the average truckdriver. I’m working my way towards this, you realise, but I suspect I’ve seen these things on the sides of those enormous trucks that bear down on us while we’re driving on the English motorways. Of course I haven’t noticed anything while we driving; keeping my eyes firmly fixed on the road has been about all I can do at the time. But when we stop in one of those parking spaces on the side of the road, and an enormous truck pulls in beside us and threatens to crush us in the process, that’s when I’ve seen a transfer tank.

Not quite the Queen's Birthday List

One last thing from HitTail for tonight: a list of the people I’ve written about who keep turning up in search engines.
Anna Leese – NZ opera singer doing well in London.
Wally Crossman – NZ painter and friend of mine.
Jeffrey Paparoa Holman – NZ poet whom I’ve had a very small amount to do with.
James Mason – particularly in relation to the film, Odd Man Out.
Michael Gurr – Australian playwright, and author of Days Like These, which I started to read just before I left for England, and had to return to the library.
Emma Fraser – NZ soprano who’s also doing well.
Ronnie Rinalde – the man who whistled his way to fame.
Anna Jemison - Aussie actress who appeared in Smash Palace, one of NZ's great movies.
Lindsay Crooks – excellent NZ painter who died a couple of years ago of a brain tumour. I knew him quite well, too.
Lloyd Jones – NZ author of Mr Pip, the only book of his I’ve been able to get into!
Arnold Bachop – long-time friend, and lyric tenor.
Graeme Obree – rather sulky-looking star of The Flying Scotsman.
Kate Lineham – broadcaster.
Karl Maugham – another NZ painter, whose paintings of florid gardens really appeal to me.
And finally:
Winifred Kavalieris, whose name didn’t mean a thing to me when I saw it on the list, but who turns out to be the author of a poem I quoted. I don’t really know who this writer is, but the same name turns up as a research student in the Physical Education Dept of Otago University. There she’s listed as writing a paper called: Illuminating the Manuscript: The extraordinary nature of dance education in schools.


I wrote a while ago about the curious way words in our language are used differently within different groups. Bucket crowd was one. Someone picked up my post when searching for the phrase, and somehow or other, one of the other search results was the German translation of the words: Löffelkippzylinder.
Don’t ya just love German?

A Mystery Solved

The mystery about Andrew J Hiduke has finally been solved. Some time back he turned up as a search item in my account at HitTail.com. At the time I couldn’t figure out why anyone should pick up my site when looking for him. It’s only just clicked today that it was only the Hiduke part of the search that would have led anyone in my direction; the Andrew J was a red herring, of sorts. The person with the name of Hiduke who’d appeared on my blog was Jim HiDuke, whose alias was Dr Grammar. Jim HiDuke has been dead for some four years, but his excellent website lives on.

Edgar Jepson and Anthony Berkeley

Last month I was talking about the writers of The Floating Admiral, and I’ve just realised that I never finished looking at the writers I didn’t know in the group. The two that are still missing are Edgar Jepson and Anthony Berkeley.
Edgar Jepson, it turns out, is the grandfather of Fay Weldon. Her mother was Jepson’s daughter, Margaret – who was also a writer, and was Jepson’s son, Selwyn. Ah, some family’s have it all.
I like this comment from John Pelan: Jepson proves to be an odd study in contrasts, he wrote popular novels that were, if not best sellers at least enough in demand to make for a relatively comfortable existence for the author and his family. From the same typewriter also flowed popular romances and mystery fiction, as well as literary criticism that met the exacting standards of Ford Maddox Ford. The latter may well have kept Jepson from enjoying a greater popularity in the United States as he found much of the United States literary establishment to be as filled with the same sort of jackanapes and buffoons that pontificate in print to this very day.
Pelan’s full article on Jepson is here.

Anthony Berkeley Cox enlisted in the First World War, and attained the rank of lieutenant, but came out of the war with his health permanently impaired due to being gassed in France. Cox spent time in several occupations including real-estate dealing. He was a director of Publicity Services Ltd and one of the directors of A.B. Cox Ltd. Apart from crime fiction, he also wrote humorous sketches, comic operas, fantasies and political analysis. He wrote under his own name and under the pseudonym 'Francis Iles' and ‘A Monmouth Platts.’ In 1925 he created the amateur sleuth 'Roger Sheringham' and wrote at least a dozen mysteries using this character.

Watch it at Home

Cinemas around the world are now providing lounge chair type seating for their customers, presumably for two reasons: firstly, their old style seating, where you were often jostling elbows with other customers wasn’t comfortable, and there was seldom enough room for people with long legs. Secondly, many people feel more comfortable in their own lounge at home, watching a DVD – even more so if they have surround sound and all the trappings such as a wide screen.
The problem for cinema owners is that it is more comfortable in your own home. You can stop the DVD any time you like and go to the loo, or make a cup of tea, or answer the phone. You can even keep your cellphone on. If the children fall asleep, you don’t have to miss half the movie; you can leave them where they are, or shuffle them off to bed and come back for the rest of the movie later. In line with the comfort aspect, some companies now make home theater seating, the sort of seating that even the luxury cinemas don’t provide. Full on armchairs, that can be swivelled to suit how you want to sit, and on top of these, a whole range of accessories for people who are mad enough to pay for things around the house, but not keen to pay ordinary cinema prices!

Thursday, July 19, 2007


One or more moles are digging up the grass at the house we’re staying in. Every morning we come out to find wonderful little piles of soil, all carefully sifted through, lying on top of the grass, and covering it up. The moles has no obvious system. The holes appear randomly around the grass area, and the piles are both big and little.
My brother-in-law says traps should be set for them, but I can’t imagine the owners of the house acquiescing to such a plan; I think they’re more into ecology than that. The moles are little like earthworms, it seems to me. They shift the dirt about and in the process make it much more friable. As a garden companion, a mole could be quite useful, if only he’d dig in the right place!

Full Dark House

I’ve just finished reading Christopher Fowler’s Full Dark House, his first murder mystery in what may be a series. (The second, The Water Room, is also out – my wife’s reading it. We found them both in brand new condition at an op shop.)
If this is a series, it begins in a distinctly odd way by having one of the two major characters, Bryant, killed off in the first page. His longstanding sidekick, May (Bryant and May, get it?) spends the rest of the book finding out why he was killed, as well as remembering (in remarkable detail) their first case together, which took place in the middle of London’s blitz.
Bryant is an eccentric 23-year old in the war-time part of the story; in the present he’s in his eighties, and still eccentric. May is the stable character who struggles at first to warm to Bryant, but ultimately becomes his best friend.
The basic story (in the past) has Bryant and May, who are part of an odd and possibly unlikely adjunct to the police force that deals with peculiar crimes, trying to discover who’s killing off members of the cast of a production of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld that’s about to be presented in war-torn London. The production is being rehearsed in the Palace Theatre, an enormous building that covers an entire block, is at least five storeys high, and has so many rooms and corridors and odd spaces that no one ever really gets to know the whole place.
Fowler does his own peculiar slant on the mystery story. For a start, he keeps on introducing characters at a rate of knots, until by the end of the book I’d given up trying to remember who all the theatrical people were. Not only that, he kills characters off, in two instances, within the same chapter he’s introduced them in. This doesn’t seem quite according to Hoyle, to my way of thinking. At least let the reader get to know the victim before they’re dispatched. Two other characters die (I’m not giving away any great secrets here) without us really getting to know them, and you get the feeling that the victims are just there because they’re there. It almost wouldn’t matter who they were.
There are lots of red herrings, lots of detail (Fowler is an established and stylish writer), lots of switching back and forth between the past and present, and, in the end, a reasonably neat mystery. I can’t say it was overwhelmingly surprising in terms of the whodunit side of things, and I think Mr Fowler cheated just a little. Nevertheless, it’s entertaining, often funny, and not a waste of time. There’s a delightful appendix at the back which purports to be Bryant’s list relating to the theatre crimes. In fact it’s Fowler having a last lot of jokes before he closes the book.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Giclée and atelier

I discovered the word, giclée, when I was in Northampton. I checked out an Art shop there, and kept finding the word on all the labels attached to paintings around the shop. Had to ask what it meant and was surprised to discover that these wonderful reproductions were printed on laser printers.
And the same word turned up in the Bedford where we also visited an Art shop (it turned out to be a kind of sister shop to the other one), by which time I was au fait with giclée.
Art works done in this fashion tend to be very pricey: that’s not surprising, as the process of making them is rather more complex than older print approaches. An article on Wikipedia explains how it’s done in more detail than I can comprehend (not really, I just couldn’t be bothered reading it properly), but doesn’t mention another print approach that’s also changing the face of art works. This is called ‘atelier’.
Now the word atelier has long had connections with the art scene, but here it seems to be being used in a different way again. I inquired of the proprietor of the first art shop what they meant by atelier being listed on some of the paintings. She said that they were produced in a similar way to the giclée, but then, to give them the feel of real paintings, the artist or an assitant reproduced the actual texture of the painting, so that real brush strokes appear on the works. This is particularly effective in the work of an artist like Alexander Millar, who does thickly painted pieces centering on ‘gadgies,’ little old men in cloth caps and old suits, and their womenfolk.

Check out the link to Alexander Millar for a number of examples of his amusing and delightful paintings.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Being in the minority

Child life insurance was never something we considered for our children. I suppose, like most parents, we hope that our children will survive the rigours of growing up and will become adults. We were fortunate. All our children are now adults, and thriving still.
But I remember when our children were quite young that a boy in the church went out fishing with his father one morning, and never came back. He got hit by a train while strolling along a railway line that ran across part of the Harbour.
Some time after, his father mentioned how they’d paid for the headstone with the boy’s life insurance. It struck me then as a strange thing, but obviously many people don’t think it strange at all. I’m well among the minority here.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Another dark movie, not just in content but in design. It starts off with Dudley, who has grown into quite a large lad, threatening Harry (who hasn’t grown quite so much at all) in a playground, and the arrival of the Dementors. All done in a stormy atmosphere, with looming clouds and whatnot. That’s characteristic of the movie throughout. There’s the usual humour of course, and Imelda Staunton’s Dolores Uxbridge is a bright feature amongst all the black (even though her character is in no way as warm as the colours of her clothing), but in general things are dark and getting dark, and the big climax, as in the previous movie, is not only at night, but in a deep dungeon in the Ministry of Magic.
It’s an odd feeling coming back to the same set of characters over and over in a series of movies. I don’t know if there’s ever been any movie plus sequels that worked quite like this, with young characters growing in age, and an ongoing storyline. If there has, nothing comes to mind at the moment. It’s like finding yourself back with relations you haven’t seen for a while. Their lives have been going on, but you haven’t been in attendance all the time.
Staunton is the only major new character in this film, and she revels in the part, taking control from her first scene. Everyone around her seems to be struggling to get their heads above water. Uxbridge is a wonderful and dreadful creation in the book; Staunton makes sure she’s the same in the movie. It’s to be hoped all the other characters manage to stay around for the final two films in the series. There was some talk of Emma Watson not being keen to carry on with the movies. While we could cope with Professor Dumbledore changing (just), I’m not sure that losing one of the main three characters would work. However, latest reports confirm that all three youngsters will be in the next two films. Then, perhaps, they can get on with their real lives. Maybe.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Look, I won't tell you twice

Okay, no beating about the bush on this one.
If you want to reach amusement park enthusiasts, domestic and international travellers, and people residing in hotels, then Martin Worldwide can provide a list of people for you to contact. What they call travel leads are one of their many specialities.
Martin Worldwide have specialised in collecting lists of people who are happy to be contacted with advertising since I don’t know when – a long time, anyway. And they can reformat these lists so that you, as the advertiser, only contact people who are interested in the thing you’re advertising.
There! That’s told you. Now get on and contact them!


We’ve been to three different churches since we came to England. Three times to my niece and her husband’s church, where things are pretty lively, and the preaching has been consistently worth hearing. Once to the Park Avenue Methodist Church in Northampton, (pictured) where we attended a fairly traditional service that included a double baptism of twin boys, and communion. The sermon wasn’t up to much that morning, but there was plenty else going on, and the people were friendly.
And this morning to a Baptist Chapel at Whepstead, where there were probably only twenty-five people including children, but where we were greeted enthusiastically, and made very welcome. It was pretty traditional too, compared to the Baptist Church we attend at home, but that was okay. The organist was very good, the singing was full-hearted, and the sermon, from a minister who had recently celebrated fifty years since his ordination, was thoughtful and sound. So much for Christianity being on the wane in the UK. The warm welcomes we’ve received everywhere we’ve been and the sound teaching has confirmed that Jesus is alive and well in this country.

The search for a suitable bath

I made a brief note about the size of English baths on my Travel Blog, saying that they appeared to be too deep and too narrow. This meant it was difficult to step out of them comfortably, and difficult to lie in them comfortably.
I now realise they’re also too short. Rather like the doors of the house we’re staying in at the moment, they assume the users will be under five feet.
In this same house, I thought I would take a bath this morning, as it seemed as though the bath wasn’t as deep as the others we’d experienced. No, it wasn’t too deep, but it was both narrow and short. When I lay down with my head on the non-tap end, my feet stuck up in the air. Short of filling the bath considerably more than I did, I couldn’t keep all of my body (sans head) under the water all of the time. Oh, dear. It looks like the bath we have in our house at home is one of its kind: wide, long and shallow.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Clad Coins

Okay, tell me what a ‘clad coin’ is. I learned today that in the US it’s a coin that has more than one layer of metal in it. Most current U.S. clad coins consist of an inner core of copper, with outer layers of a silver-coloured nickel-copper alloy. The U.S. Dime, the Quarter, and the Half Dollar are all clad coins.
At Monex, a company I’ve mentioned several times before, you can get your silver in a different way, by buying coin bags containing 715 ounces of silver in the form of either 4,000 U.S. quarters or 10,000 U.S. dimes. All the coins were minted prior to 1965, and their face value is guaranteed to total US$1,000.
That’s the first option. The second is to buy a bag containing a different mix. This one contains around 295 ounces of silver in some 2,000 clad half-dollars – clad as in composed of silver and copper. These coins were minted between 1965 and 1970, and feature John F Kennedy on the obverse side. Doesn’t this sound like a fun way to have silver around the house?

And walk together down an English lane...Not!

England’s country lanes ought to be places of quiet and peace where you can go and walk the dog (if you have one) and breathe in fresh air. They’re arched over with ancient trees, and the grasses and bushes along the side allow almost no view of the surrounding fields. Many of them are single lane, with only occasional spaces for passing another car.
So far I haven’t been tempted to go walk the dog or anything else, as there are no paths along the side, and the thought of some driver speeding along, careless of people in the way (rather like Toad of Toad Hall) puts me off almost entirely.
It’s not that there are heaps of cars on these lanes. In fact there are very few, and in consequence, drivers tend to think they won’t meet anyone else coming the other way. Nor do they consider they’ll they bowl some poor pedestrian into the undergrowth at the side. As a result, I’ve avoided walking these lanes so far. At least until I get myself some protective gear.

The Times of London

I’ve been sitting outside in the garden this afternoon reading some of The Times weekend newspaper. When I say ‘some’ I mean that I’ve barely scratched the surface of the umpteen pages I bought for a trifling sum at the supermarket. And it isn’t all classified ads or anything unsubstantial like that. It’s full of columns, news reports, little 50-word briefs, editorials, and so on. And that’s just the main paper. There are several insert papers, and a couple of magazines, one devoted to the media and tv and radio programmes, and the other much more glossy and – yes, I have to admit it – rather insubstantial. But that’s the trend with these weekend glossies, unfortunately. So between keeping the midges at bay, and watching the bees buzzing around the flowers beneath my feet – literally – and three hens puttering their way across the lawn without so much as a how-ye-do? – I tried to get into as much of the paper as possible. It was a Herculean task, and I suspect I’ll still be trying to achieve it by the time next weekend arrives.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Orlando's Neverending delights

I’ve written about Orlando’s many attractions before, particularly Walt Disney World, which is no doubt the best known theme park in the world. Furthermore Walt Disney products are not only one of the best known offshoots of the original films, but the makers of these products were pioneers in the field of movie add-ons. In fact, in one of the towns we visited recently – I can’t remember which, but it might have been Milton Keynes – there was an entire shop dedicated to Walt Disney products. An entire shop.

I didn’t realize there were four theme parks at Disney World, plus a host of other things to do. Sounds like an exhausting holiday unless you’re aged between 6 and 26. At 62 I’m starting to feel a bit old for all the energy that’s required!

I’ve just been looking at one of the sites that sells discount tickets to Walt Disney World. For some reason they list it as Walt Disney World Ticket’s – someone has obviously been taught at school to use apostrophes, but not when to use them! Anyway, the site also has information about a show called Blue Man Group that you can get ticket’s (!) for. The Blue Man Group looks worth going to see. They combine music, theatre and multi-media, and apparently wear blue faces a lot. Okay…

I’ll come back to them in another post.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Nintendo Jewellery

While checking out another HitTail search phrase – sorry to inflict so many of these on you in a row, but needs must – I came across this quote from another blog, called Wiifanboy.

We've wasted our lives. What have we been doing all these years, while we could have been learning to work with gold, silver and platinum jewelry, and sharing handmade Nintendo jewelry with our friends and loved ones? Oh, right, going to school and having jobs. And also actually playing games.

That learning to work with gold, silver and platinum makes a nice contrast with the Nintendo jewellery. I’m not sure what Nintendo jewllery is, but the site also has Star Wars done with Lego men, so Nintendo jewellery could mean anything!

Wiifanboy, which appears to have been going a good long time, and is concerned not just with Wii (which has only been round a while) but with a number of other computer gaming areas. Check out the photo of the D-pad necklace. It’s rather cool. (Even I, as a person of the middle-age, think so.)


Someone on HitTail.com has been searching using the phrase postile definition.

I can’t find a definition of this word on any dictionary, although on an entry on MySpace.com someone said they were going to go ‘postile when icu.

Maybe postile is a new word, a slang word that hasn’t yet made the dictionaries. I’ll have to keep an eye on it in case it comes in handy. (Although I can’t see it outdoing skew-whiff for the time being. I’ll go skew-whiff when icu? Maybe I will.)

Shrinking Neck on Shirt

I haven’t checked my old friends Hittail.com for a week or so, because I haven’t had easy access to the Internet. As my Travel blog notes, we’ve had to sit in pubs (!) and listen to noisy music, and get the laptop out and connect to The Cloud, in order to be linked to the big wide Web.

So when I got to look at HitTail just now, I find that the top search phrase, virtually, (apart from the ubiquitous Brent Stavig – who comes top! – and yours truly, who comes second!!), has to do with shrinking shirts. Shrinking shirts? Is this such a topic already that the whole world wants to know how to deal with them?

One person checked out ‘shrinking neck on shirt’. I presume they meant the shirt’s neck, not the inhabitant’s. No doubt they quickly discovered that this blog is of absolutely no use when it comes to giving advice about shrinking shirts – or even shrinking violets, if it comes to that.

The composer and pianist Gao Ping, who writes piano music he can sing along to, also comes fairly high on the list of search terms. I hadn’t realised that Gao Ping is the same person as Ping Gao (these Asians!) who is a music lecturer at Canterbury University in NZ.

Well, there you go. Perhaps I should occasionally call myself Crowl Mike, just to see if it has an effect on my reputation. (It could only improve it.)

Copying the Answers?

I once did a correspondence course in Retail Management. I passed with flying colours, but I never figured out whether I was allowed to look up things I wasn’t sure about when I was doing the question sheets. There was no exam as such, so the people doing the course must have trusted that I was learning the stuff because of the way I was answering it. I guess it was okay, because some of the questions required me to actually think about the answers, and think about what had been said in the course book. I certainly didn’t answer those ones off my head, as I might have been inclined to do (being a know-all).

I suppose it’s different when you do a distance learning degree. A degree assumes that you’re actually doing some studying, not just going back through the course book checking up whether what you’re writing down is correct or not. It also requires you to produce essays and assignments. And no doubt there is an exam. I haven’t done an exam, I don’t think, for over twenty years, so I’m not sure whether I’d still be able to cope with one. Who knows? Maybe that’s what I should do when we return home to NZ. Become a full-time student doing distance learning. Beats sitting around twiddling your thumbs.


I know for a fact that God doesn’t have a tin ear when it comes to music, including bird song. But on the day he made pigeons he seems to have been thinking of something else. The pigeons (I’m told they’re pigeons, not doves) that hang around the garden of the house I’m staying in, or the homing pigeons that lived next door (when they were home) to the last house we stayed in, have a monotony of melody that would make the minimalist composer Steve Reich sound good.

The constant ooh ooooooh ooh that’s been going on in the garden for the last couple of hours is not just plaintive, it’s painful. Occasionally one of the two that’s making the noise gets a little more excited and adds a more scrawny note to the middle of the three, rather as though he was choking on something. Or else they tack a shorter note on the beginning or the end of the phrase. But beyond that, it’s back to the ooh oooooh ooh as the norm.

Sorry, God, but give me blackbirds any day.


Skew-whiff (sometimes spelled: skewhiff) is one of those words that turn up regularly in my vocab – see the last post. For those unfamiliar with it, it means turned or twisted toward one side. And one of the dictionaries I came across on the Net gives us a neat G K Chesterton quote to boot:
"a...youth with a gorgeous red necktie all awry - his wig was, as the British say, skew-whiff."

Shackling Students?

Man alive, it’s worth being a student when it comes to credit cards. Or maybe that’s a slightly skew-whiff sentence. The costs of being a student, I should perhaps say, can be offset to a degree by the value of the credit cards students can get. If they should want them - or need them. That may be an oxymoron.
Student credit cards come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but one thing most of them have in common is No Annual Fee. On top of that, you’re generally offered six months without interest. Pretty good.
To be fair, when we went to our English bank on arriving in London, they offered us credit cards without an Annual Fee and no interest at all for the first year. Cor.
So, okay, it isn't only students that banks are interested in. But it's rather like that old quote about Give me a child until he is seven and he's mine for life - or something along those lines. Perhaps we could paraphrase it as: Give a student a credit card without any fees or interest in the first six months, and that student is the bank's for life. Okay - that was pretty weak, but you get the picture.

Marriage as a Witness

I’ve been searching in vain on this blog for a quote I was sure I’d put on here at some earlier time, but it’s not coming up under any search word I’ve tried. So, here it is (possibly again). It comes from the movie Shall We Dance, and is spoken by the wife who’s mistakenly thought her husband was having an affair. I like the way it talks about the value of marriage.

We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet... I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things... all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness'."

Audrey Wells is the scriptwriter.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


We came in halfway through ‘Election’ on tv, and obviously missed a lot of what made it worth seeing. By the time we caught up with it, it was a rather screwball comedy with some funny moments, and an excellent performance by Mathew Broderick (a much underrated comedy actor, I think). But a lot had gone before, apparently, if the reviews are anything to go by. There was no way what we saw would have been nominated for an Oscar, and Reese Witherspoon's
performance was over-the-top and little else. However, you can’t judge a film by its second half, obviously, so I won’t comment further.

Hey, did you hear about that actress who got stabbed to death. Reese...Reese....something...
Nah, with a knife.

Hotels in London

Once our time of baby-sitting homes in the UK finishes at the end of August we’ll need to start looking at actually paying for accommodation! Scary.

I’ve just been informed of a site on the Net that advertises hotels in London (a place we’ll be going back to at some point, since we’ve only spent three rather hectic days there so far). The focus of the site is the offer of last minute bookings (last minute in this case being within 21 days) at places that are cheaper than hotels. A slightly odd concept, since most of the places listed on the site are actually hotels, but that’s by the by!

The prices vary from the extremely economic to the top level – no guesses as to which end of the spectrum we’ll be aiming at. You have this idea in mind that hotels in London must be impossibly expensive, and that they’re booked out all year round. They’re neither. Of course you can pay the earth for a hotel – if you’re a Sheikh or a celebrity – but being neither we don’t feel inclined to pay more than a reasonable price.

Nor are we people who attend conferences regularly, but obviously plenty of other people do. In fact, my English nephew speaks at them all the year around. I don’t know if he’s spoken at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, but it’s regarded as London’s premier conference centre, so it’s likely he has. And if you get bored listening to people like my nephew (an unlikely possibility) you can stare out the window at the Houses of Parliament, because the Centre is right in the heart of London, or you can sit and consider how lucky you were that you came across your very economic hotel on the cheaper than hotels site!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Mimi sang in a choir of a high Episcopal church in Dallas, one that claimed to possess a holy relic, a fragment of the true cross. Unlikely, thought Isabel, but then people believe in all sorts of things, some even more unlikely than that. How many people in the United States believed that they had been abducted by aliens? It was a depressingly large number. And the aliens always gave them back! Perhaps they were abducting the wrong sort.

Chapter 13 of The Right Attitude to Rain, by Alexander McCall Smith.


What’s the most obsolete object in the UK now? It has to be the ashtray. They’re no use indoors anywhere since the new non-smoking law came in on the 1st July, and the smokers who go outside tend to leave their ash and butts on the ground, stomped out in heaps.
It’s interesting that at one of the local pubs in Roade, (the village where we’re staying), the owner was saying to a couple of her customers last night that since the 1st July, the number of diners per day has increased markedly. Of course they have. People enjoy not having to inhale smoke while they’re eating. Only smokers like it otherwise.
The bars still pong a bit around the country, and no doubt will for some time yet, but the air is starting to clear. It’s a great step forward, even though smokers might not appreciate being made to go out and get a breath of fresh air.

Monday, July 09, 2007

A Challenge!

I haven’t done much driving while we’ve been in England. Just a bit concerned as to whether my driving skills were up to scratch when faced with the rather more aggressive English drivers. So my wife has done most of the driving, and she’s happy to do it. She’s always had more confidence in driving in unfamiliar places than I have.
Those of you who know England will know that the M roads are the major ones, and have three lanes of traffic on either side, and in the inside lane drivers go full bore. The A roads are dual carriageway, and not quite so intensive. Then there are the various lanes and smaller roads, that mostly have larger numbers, like the A508, which comes into Roade where we’re staying.
I thought the other night I’d drive back from Northampton centre into Roade, since we were familiar with the territory, and there was little hope of me getting onto a wrong piece of road. So off I went with confidence, and was getting on well until we came to one of the final roundabouts before the Roade turnoff. Through a mixup of communication between the GPS, my wife and I, I turned off onto the M1. Panic stations. Once you’re on there, you can’t get off until it lets you off. So here I was, the person who didn’t really want to drive in England, driving on the most extreme road in the UK.
We quickly learnt, from our trusty GPS, that the next turn-off was eleven miles down the track. Eleven miles on the M1! However, I girded up my loins, metaphorically, since it’s difficult to do it any other way in a moving vehicle, and reminded myself of the sermon my nephew-in-law had given in church the previous Sunday. He’d spoken about the power of Words, and told us that words can change even our physical behaviour. So I said to myself, This isn’t a nightmare - it’s a challenge. I realised that any traffic that got into the same lane as me quickly saw that I was an old and doddery driver and needed to be passed, and because there are all these lanes, passing is a breeze. So for most of the time I had the M1 to myself…as it were.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Dear old Stella!

I’ve always been impressed with the Stella Artois ads on television: they tell great stories, with humour, and are clear about what the product is. Now I don’t often go to pubs, not having much reason to when I’m living at home, but since I’ve been in England I’ve been in more pubs than in a long time - probably when I was last in England, in fact. And so today, when the opportunity arose and we were having lunch in the pub with some family members, I thought I’d give Stella Artois a go.
The ads show it as something to be priced above riches, more important than freedom, better than life. Not so. Stella Artois is a moderately pleasant lager, drinkable but certainly not memorable in my opinion. I could have quite happily done with something else to accompany my meal, and I don’t think I’ll be bothering with it again. So much for advertising.

Friday, July 06, 2007

GI Jane

Watched most of GI Jane (with Demi Moore) again on Tuesday night. I’m not quite sure why it’s called GI Jane, since she’s actually in the Navy. It’s a pretty awful movie, made only watchable by excellent performances. The brutality is over the top and of course the battle at the end lets all the Yankees live and none of the Arabs.
Viggo Mortensen (he has his back to the camera in the photo) turned out to be the nasty Master Chief, which we didn’t realise until the end, and Jim Cavaziel (more famous as Jesus Christ in the Passion thereof...)was in a smaller part as one of the trainees. Anne Bancroft has a small but vital role as a devious politician, who crumbles rather too easily at the last moment. Is Demi Moore that powerful? Nah....!


Giles Smith in The Times, Wed 4th July, 2007, wrote about piranhas being misunderstood, according to some recent study.
Deep down, piranhas are nervous, troubled creatures, a new study maintains. They gang together, not out of blood lust, but because they are scared of other predators. That thing they do with the unwary swimmer, where the water churns and boils with blood before, moments later, a perfectly denuded skeleton sinks to the river floor? They’re just frightened, that’s all.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Rob Roberge

Writer Rob Roberge: "Being published didn't make me a better writer. The story was just as good and I was just as good the day before I got the phone call. I just hadn't had the work accepted yet. It's important not to allow external validation to be your chief motivator, because writing is about the journey, not the destination. Destinations take care of themselves when you're moving in the right direction."

Source unknown - quoted in Jurgen Wolff's writing ezine: Feedblitz