bookmark_borderFrance. 1:01

I went to Paris last autumn, got the Eurostar train there, two hours twenty minutes, not bad going and delivered into the heart of Paris. It was one of those rare days when neither the trains, ferries nor airports were on strike. (I think in fact the farmers were on strike but as nobody could tell the difference it made little odds.)

In general, France is a safe destination, though I should warn you that, from time to time, it is invaded by Germany. Traditionally, the French surrender more or less at once and apart from a temporary shortage of Scotch whisky life for the visitor generally goes on much as before. Fortunately the channel tunnel has made it much easier for the French government to flee to London.

Chief amongst its contributions to western culture are champagne, Camembert cheese, escargot, the guillotine, Sacha Distel, oh and croissants which is interesting for two reasons, this is a previously unknown use of the term ‘culture’ and secondly, croissant is one of two words that Americans can never pronounce correctly – the other of course being aluminium (sic).

What I do like about France is it’s complete disregard for any EU rules – or even any rules at all, the EU passes all these laws and the British implement them immediately but the French tend to ignore them, it’s a bit like Captain Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean “And thirdly, the code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules”. Consequently, driving around Paris is like taking part in the Monaco Grand Prix and even just trying to cross a road is fraught with danger as traffic lights are ‘advisory’. The French know this because they see their President and even minor ministers blatantly flaunting the rules and think well, if they can do it…

The French of course can’t bear anyone who isn’t French and will give anyone who doesn’t speak perfect French a hard time. I have a friend who went to Paris a few years ago, Murphy, a furniture dealer decided to go to Paris to see what he could find. After arriving in Paris, he visited with some manufacturers and selected a line that he thought would sell well back home. To celebrate the new acquisition, he decided to visit a small bistro and have a glass of wine. As he sat enjoying his wine, he noticed that the small place was quite crowded, and that the other chair at his table was the only vacant seat in the house.

Before long, a very beautiful young Parisian girl came to his table; asked him something in French (which Murphy couldn’t understand); so he motioned to the vacant chair and invited her to sit down. He tried to speak to her in English, but she did not speak his language. After a couple of minutes of trying to communicate with her, he took a napkin and drew a picture of a wine glass and showed it to her. She nodded, so he ordered a glass of wine for her.

After sitting together at the table for a while, he took another napkin and drew a picture of a plate with food on it, and she nodded.. They left the bistro and found a quiet cafe that featured a small group playing romantic music. They ordered dinner, after which he took another napkin and drew a picture of a couple dancing. She nodded, and they got up to dance. They danced until the cafe closed and the band was packing up.

Back at their table, the young lady took a napkin and drew a picture of a four-poster bed.

To this day, Murphy has no idea how she figured out he was in the furniture business.

bookmark_borderThe Sixth Sense

Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore, or even Tooting

Malcolm Gladwell wrote in ‘Blink’ that sometimes we make decisions just based on a hunch, on instinct and we can’t figure out why, we just have an intuitive sense of something being right or wrong. He goes on to propose that it’s our subconscious talking to us, picking up little clues that our conscious mind doesn’t notice and he starts off his book with the story of ‘The statue that didn’t look right’. The Paul Getty museum was offered a statue from the sixth century BC, it was an almost perfect specimen and the price was just short of $10,000,000. The museum got in experts from all over the world and even took a sample of marble from behind the knee and tested it under every sort of scope one could think of. It passed all tests and did indeed appear to be bona fide, they paid up and had a big four page spread in the New York Times about this new find.

However, when a member of the Trustee Board first looked at it she immediately thought it was a forgery, she couldn’t say exactly why but it just didn’t look right, and more and more experts felt the same way, one thought it looked ‘fresh’, not the first thought one should have upon looking upon a 2,500 yr old statue. The statue is now in the Getty catalogue as “Greek, about 530 B.C., or modern forgery.”

These experts were following their hunches, their instincts in calling the Kouros a fake, and we all develop our own set of hunches, instincts or ‘spiddy-sense’ if you are a fan of Spiderman. In Northern Ireland one could instinctively tell if the person taking to you was Catholic or Protestant, if the area you were walking though was Catholic or Protestant area and even the commentators on the radio/tv what religious tradition that had been brought up in, in a country where being in the wrong place at the wrong time can be a matter of life or death literally then one develops these survival instincts and tailors ones conversation to one’s audience.

But it’s not only in Northern Ireland that one develops these instincts, Bill Bryson wrote in ‘Neither Here Nor There’ that when he was in Belgium that really the country was divided in two, the northern Dutch speaking Flanders and the southern French speaking Wallonia. The Flemmings can’t stand the Walloons and vise versa and one day he was being shown around the city by a guide who would glance sideways at a couple sitting sipping coffee in an outdoor café and hiss ‘Dutch!’ to Bill. Bill said how can he tell and the guide was amazed that Bill couldn’t tell they were northern but of course to Bill they just looked like everyone else in Belgium. The guide had obviously become sensitive to the little tell-tale signs that makes one group different from another and when Bill asked him to explain how he knew they were northern Dutch the guide couldn’t say, he just knew because ‘it was so obvious’!

I know how the guide feels, I spent a large part of yesterday and today looking at cars for sale  in Croydon, a satellite town south of London where I lived in for the first seven years of London life and my spidy-sense was on full alert. It’s not that hard to describe Croydon, when I lived there it was cheap, messy and quite rough but now it’s just a huge ginormous sprawling monster, like when I was there it was a troublesome teenager that one hoped would come good in the end but instead it’s metamorphosed in Jabba The Hutt.

Unlike the Belgium guide and Michael Gladwell, I know full well why my spider-sense was on full alert, there are certain characteristics that one judges an area with and whether it’s safe to walk the streets or if one’s going to be a target, you may use some of these without knowing it. If I see people sitting outside in a café sipping coffee and chatting away, generally that area is OK. I saw none of this in Croydon but I have a broad set of criteria before I damn a place, another thing I look out for is a bookshop, specifically a full bookshop, vandals and larger-louts tend not to frequent bookshops and I did indeed find one in Croydon but it was almost empty… strike two.  The other thing connected with this is did I see anyone reading a book on the bus/tram down to Croydon, apart from myself there was no-one else reading on the bus, not even a Kindle…not a good sign. However, the most telling sign and one most Londoners aren’t aware of is – are there people on bicycles. You can tell an area is OK simply by the presence of people going about their business on bikes and the abundance of cycle lanes. Even Tooting’s got well used cycle lanes but in Croydon I saw not one person on a bike, I saw two adults on scooters blasting through the Christmas shoppers but no one on bikes and that’s very telling. There are bike lanes leaving Tooting and heading in the general direction of Croydon but they peter out the closer one gets to Croydon, it’s like the council knows there is no point in painting them on the road, they will never get used. The dystopian Los Angeles so brilliantly created by Ridley Scott in Blade Runner already exists just south of London. I’m glad I managed to escape alive.

However, there’s one more bit to this story that I need to mention and it’s got to do with relationships. I do the same thing with relationships, I judge them on factors I can’t really explain, it’s nothing to do with looks, height, weight, age, personality or even distance, I can’t explain it but I know instinctively if a relationship is going to be long term or short term and it greatly colours how I treat that person, and I don’t know what it is, some folk say it’s ‘chemistry’ and maybe our bodies detect the pheromones given off by each other but I’m not so sure, I think it’s even subtler than that but I can’t explain it, all I know is that if my guts tell me it isn’t going to be the love of my life then I pull back because ..well..because it doesn’t feel right to go against your guts, does it.. and it’s a bit of a bugger because I’ve missed out on a lot of kissing because of it but when I look back at least I’ve got a slightly cleaner conscience and that’s kind’a important, at least for the London Leprechaun

bookmark_borderLove, Money, Companionship. Choose One.

Yes, it's this easy to find love, if you start now you might make it by summertime 2012

(High definition version here  and info here courtesy of The Met)

The painting above by Jean-Léon Gérôme is one of my favourites, I was wandering around The Met in NYC (as one does) and came across this hanging unloved and un-admired in a dark corner. I guess some of you will be familiar with the story of how the sculptor Pygmalion fell in love with one of his statues, and how Aphrodite took pity on him and allowed the statue to come to life. There are many versions of this painting and you’d be amazed just how many storylines in plays and movies have been inspired by this theme.

I like this painting a lot because it chimes with feelings, emotions, yearnings, deep inside me and I suspect a lot of others. At times a part of me knows how Pygmalion felt, the search for someone special, someone to love seems endless and if I could then I would carve my own perfect match out of stone and pray to the gods to bring her to life. Mind you, knowing my artistic skills – or obvious lack of – I suspect I’d create Frankenstein’s monster and have to learn to love him  ummmm.. her!.

The ancient Greeks have a myth that we were once literally bonded together with our perfect match. We were so happy the gods became jealous and cut us apart; and ever since, we each go in search of that perfect mate from whom we’ve been separated. The older I get the more credence I give to that myth, my mother Doris thinks the same and had to wait until she was 81 before she found the right soul for her and I’m beginning to suspect I’m going to follow in her footsteps. I know I’m going to miss out on lots of rumpy-pumpy but what choice does any one of us have, do we cut our losses and settle for someone just OK and hope we will fall in love with them eventually, is it better to have at least companionship than wander these shores alone for the rest of your life?. This was the biggest problem with my marriage and I am aware that those who don’t learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. I have friends whom met someone reasonably suitable and got married and I look at them and wonder are they really happy, is it a deep deep love or just ok, convenient, easy..

Jackie Kennedy famously said the first time you marry for love, the second for money, and the third for companionship but I strongly disagree, she lived in a world very different from us mere muggles, (plus I wonder what Liz Taylor has to say on the subject), I think those are the three factors but she’s got them mixed up, I know money was not a factor for Doris and Bob and that companionship was a factor but I’m pretty sure in the end the only reason they married was for love. I’m wondering just how long I have to wait before Aphrodite takes pity on me.

bookmark_borderBallymoney aka Brigadoon

When I was a kid our mum used to make us sit quietly on rainy Saturday afternoons and watch some tedious black and white movie on BBC2 whilst it bucketed down out’a the heavens, sometimes the movies were so bad that the rain seemed the better option. The story of my youth was to spend Saturday afternoons in Conlig with extended family and assorted pets, rodents (and various wildlife pretending to be my brothers), attempting to find a space to sit on the floor in the living room between all the bodies and tails. It was a tight fit with nine of us and mum and pets, trying to get close to something approximating comfortable; not too far from the fire to get cold, not to close to get burnt, not too near to the constant draft of the living room door and most importantly not within arm reach of mum or we’d get a clip around the ear if we dared make a noise and distract her from the movie.

We’d be bored senseless with various Al Jolson musicals but at least warm, and occasionally there would be a movie I actually liked. One particularly wet afternoon there was a movie on called Brigadoon and I was mesmerised. It was about a Scottish town lost in the midst of time;

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0046807/

Quote from IMDB

“Americans Tommy Albright and Jeff Douglas, on a hunting vacation in Scotland, discover a quaint and beautiful village, Brigadoon. Strangely, the village is not on any map, and soon Tommy and Jeff find out why: Brigadoon is an enchanted place. It appears once every hundred years for one day, then disappears back into the mists of time, to wake up to its next day a century hence. “

Ignoring the awful American attempts at a Scottish dialect (filmed all in Hollywood and not one single Scottish actor in the whole movie), I thought it was a sweet movie, a love story but in Brigadoon (circa 1956) there were no telephones, no radios, no cars, no mod-cons, no Facebook, no modern day attitudes, and dating life meant being chaperoned by some uncle.

It puts me in mind of the town my mother Doris and her hubby Bob live in. She lives on the outskirts of a town called Ballymoney and I like to think of it as the Northern Irish version of Brigadoon, a town of people interested only in Daniel O’donnell and the benefits of cod liver oil.

They have this strange tradition that I completely forgot about now that I live in London, it’s called ‘half-day closing’ and on Wednesday afternoons most of the stores shut up shop so you canny even buy a loaf of bread, never mind internet access time. I’d forgotten about half-day closing, as kids the only shop in Conlig used to close on Thursday afternoons and it was always a disappointment to run around to the shop on pocket-money day and find the door to the sweetie shop firmly shut.

There’s very restricted mobile phone coverage, I always struggled to get a signal when there, I had to balance on a stool in the upstairs back bedroom and hang out the window and could only get a signal when I implored the great God T-Mobile and the wind blew from the south, a rare occurrence in Northern Ireland. So in a town of 10,000 there’s no official internet café which is a surprise as most of the residents seemed to be under sixteen and bound to be Facebookers. Perhaps they haven’t discovered ‘the internet thing’ in Ballymoney yet. Or deodorant. Some of the school kids sitting beside me in the bakers-come-coffee-shop-come-part-time-internet-café stank and yes, I had to email via a bakers shop and I had to sweet talk the girl behind the counter into letting me use her steam powered computer.

There’s a city 120 miles to the north east of London called Norwich. I visited it a few years ago and right from the moment I got off the train I realised there was something different about this city, everyone seemed to be just slightly out of phase with London, people wore slightly different clothes and attitudes seemed a step back. However, travel 500 miles northwest of London to Brigadoon – I mean Ballymoney, and it’s like travelling through a time warp, Ballymoney seems to be the town that style passed by, just like the 70’s (the decade that fashion passed by) everyone wears clothes that are impossible to find in the London High Street, polyester slacks were for sale in the local market, I thought there was some UN treaty banning the use of polyester worldwide but apparently Ballymoney didn’t get the memo.

And the pace of life is much slower there, glacial if truth be told, there doesn’t appear to be any rush hour as far as anyone can tell – except on Wednesday mornings when the OAP’s (Old Aged Pensioners) race and I used that word in the loosest possible meaning, to the Post Office with their zimmer-frames, thick stockings falling down their legs, to collect their pension and do a discrete head count to see if anyone has kicked the bucket since last Wednesday.

However, it’s not all bad, there are some good things going on there that, living in a big city like London, I forgot about. They drive under the speed limit. And will let you out of junctions unlike here in London where it’s every man, woman and car for themselves. And people talk to you. People are friendly and people will make time for you and will engage with you. I always get caught out by that and considering I spent the first 25 years of my life growing up in Norn Iron then I don’t know why I should be surprised.  In fact, the more I think about it, the more Ballymoney is like Brigadoon and that’s not a bad thing to say, it’s actually a compliment. No wonder Doris and Bob live there.

bookmark_borderPretty As A Picture


A friend of mine introduced me to Vernazza the other day, pictured above. Fantastic looking place and definitely going to be on one of my random trips to Europe one day for some nice photographs, hiking and sticky buns.

I wonder about the folk living there and if they get fed up with all the tourists, in times past it was (and probably still is) the only port for miles around and that’s how everyone made their living but now the major industry is tourism and no wonder because it’s so pretty.

One of my friends lives in the New Forest in Hampshire (nice video) and he hates the tourist season because the roads are full of cars all driving well under the speed limit and admiring the views and New Forest ponies. This irritates him as he’s nearly always late for work. The people who live there in the New Forest have a name for tourists, they call them Grockles (or in Tony’s case Bloody Grockles!) and I wonder if the residents of Vernazza have their own words for all the Grockles that descend on them in droves.

My mother Doris spent the first eighty years of her life living in somewhere equally beautiful, Cranfield, Killkeel. She was ‘out in the sticks’ as we say, the nearest neighbour was quite some distance away. She lived in a cottage that generations had been born/raised in, had walls hand built, whitewashed and about four foot thick. The first thing I noticed when I first found her (at age 18) was not that she had no gas, electricity, water, sewerage, television (but an outside loo and a well by the back door) but that she had stunning views of fields, meadows and in the distance views of the Mourne Mountains, all from her kitchen window. She too lived in somewhere simply stunning but one year I went down to Kilkeel to visit her and was aghast to see a garage had been built in front of her kitchen window. I said to her why on earth would she want a garage built just there in front of the window and she said it was the most convenient place. I said but what about the fantastic view of the fields, the cows, the meadows and the mountains, and she looked at me puzzled and said what view? I pointed in the direction of the Mourne Mountains and sighed..

And I think this is probably what it’s like for the residents of Vernazza, stunningly pretty place but if you live there day-in, day-out then you probably stop noticing it and get annoyed with the tourist – unless of course you run the one and only decent café in the whole town.

I went driving around the Mourne Mountains in the late 80’s with a friend, Jen. It was eerily quiet and spooky but quite special. Deep into the mountains I had to stop the car as the road lead up a steep hill and then just disappeared into a cloud. This wasn’t hundreds of yards away but just a few dozen yards away. We got out of the car and looked up, it was eerily silent, not a sound, no birds, no wind, silence, the air was incredibly still and a cloud hovered just inches from our out-stretched arms, I could almost touch it, it was incredibly well defined, like someone had drawn a line in the air and said ‘below here there be air’ and ‘above here there be cloud’. It was spooky, made me think of Twin Peaks or John Carpenters ‘The Fog’.  Jen suggested we didn’t go any further into the Mourne Mountains version of the Bermuda Triangle and for once I didn’t argue..

bookmark_borderPractice makes perfect?

Between the ages of 27 and 30 I used to go on holiday a lot with my friends, usually to somewhere in the Med. Cheap and hot was what the guys were looking for and that was just the woman. Sandy beaches and most importantly lots of bars were the next priorities for the guys. I’ve never been a great drinker but I was dragged along because I could be depended upon getting the rest of those reprobates back to the hotel in one piece, usually when dawn was long past.

I normally went with Tony, Neil and Steve, Steve had this funny idea that air travel made him unbelievably attractive to the opposite sex.  This delusion started to kick in on the way to the airport and he would transmogrify from quiet unassuming Steve who wouldn’t say boo to a ghost unless he had a drink in his hand (think Rajesh Koothrappali from Big Bang Theory) to superstud by the time he got off the Gatwick Express and arrived at check-in. By that point he was under the delusion that he was God’s gift to every woman and the check-in girl was obviously flirting with him.

This was OK except it started to get even worse by the time he was on the plane, he became very loud and thought every single woman on the plane had the hot’s for him. Last time I went on holiday with him (20 years ago!) I was convinced the airline was pumping hallucinogenic drugs through the ventilation system, but thinking about it now this does sound a little far-fetched as I was my usual (cough cough) quiet self.

On a trip to Corfu via Monarch Airlines (only slightly better than Egyptian Airlines because of their recent ban on hen, chicken, sheep and goats) I watched Steve chat up this blonde girl for the entire three hour flight. Every move she made, every word she said only confirmed to him that she wanted him and wanted him now! By the end of the flight he had delusions of a sordid threesome of him, her and her friend that she was meeting, in bed together for the entire ten days holiday. However, these castles in the air crumbled to sand when at Corfu arrivals she mentioned the friend she was meeting was not another hottie but her boyfriend.

Steve (and the rest of the guys) hit the bars immediately and I had to drag them all out to find a taxi and get us to the hotel.

I don’t know if many of you have been to Corfu and I’m sure there’s lots of culture and history but my somewhat patchy memory was the Red Lion pub followed by fish ‘n chips cafe followed by yet another Red Lion pub and then into some club with pounding music.  By the end of day one my ears were starting to bleed because of the noise.

Neil was the looker in our bunch, I used to watch how he plied his trade, he’d stand at the edge of the dance floor and  just stare at someone dancing, she’d notice, giggle and they’d keeping swapping glances for another minute and then Neil would just walk in and almost drag her off caveman style from her friends. It was like watching a wolf picking off the weakest of the herd. And we wouldn’t see him again until next morning when he’d come back with stupid big grin on his face. And then sleep the rest of the day. I had a dog that behaved exactly like that too. No, I’m not envious… no no, not me..  no, not all all…mutter mutter mutter. Of course it helped that Neil was very good looking, tall and built like a brick shithouse and had a Northern Irish accent too, oh and that his father was fifth in line for the throne – at least that’s what he told the girls but I would wonder then how then he explained the Irish accent.

So, the entire holiday was spent chasing tail, going to parties and getting very very drunk at some silly games. One game was called ‘Bond’. We’d watch a James Bond movie in the local bar, (we’d make a point of getting very friendly with the bar staff so they would play what we wanted on the screens) and one evening we got the entire bar to watch the The Man With The Golden Gun with us, with one slight (but important) difference.  Every time the name ‘Bond’ was mentioned in the film we had to take a slug of Tequila. The entire bar did this. The name ‘Bond’ comes up eleven times in the first half hour. I can’t actually remember much more of the movie. Nor could anyone else.

I do remember looking around and some girl was showing Neil her henna tattoos. Next time I looked over they were playing Tonsil Tennis. I thought to myself, those tattoos will last longer than that relationship.

bookmark_borderHappy (belated) Independence Day ;)

It’s officially the 4th of July now in the UK – so Happy Independence Day across the pond  – and I hope you lot are looking after the old place or we may have to rescind the Declaration of Independence, I fully expect you all to leave the place in just as good a condition as you found it ;p

I was in NYC during 4th July 2009 and sadly had to leave that evening but as the plane took off it banked around in a low circle and we all were rewarded with a magical view of hundreds, if not thousands, of firework going off from private parties and official events, it was something special to witness (and I’m trying to convince myself that it was to celebrate Independence and not the fact that the US was finally getting rid of The London Leprechaun!)

Today, Monday, 4th July is just another normal working day here in London and it’s weird to think that I shall be slaving over a hot computer coding away whilst across the pond flags will be out and parades, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, picnics, concerts, baseball games, family reunions, political speeches and ceremonies (thank you Wikipedia!) will be the order of the day. Well… when I say slaving I mean in-between tea breaks, coffee breaks, lunch breaks, social rounds, cake rounds, biscuit rounds and general tomfoolery but I’m almost certain I might be able to squeeze in some work as well!

(My beasties asked me earlier what I’m reading about and I said ‘Independence Day’ and they both groaned and said we’ve already seen it! You can tell they are not American.)

It’s also a bit weird that you lot are all celebrating the 4th of July as really that’s two days late, in reality the legal separation from Great Britain happened on the 2nd of July, 1776 when the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence, but you all know this anyway, don’t you, you were paying attention in history class and not making gooey eyes at the boy sitting next to you?

After voting for independence, Congress turned its attention to the Declaration of Independence, a statement explaining this decision, which had been prepared by a Committee of Five, with Thomas Jefferson as its principal author. Congress debated and revised the Declaration, finally approving it on July 4. A day earlier, John Adams had written to his wife Abigail:

“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

(Don’t ya just love Mr Google & Wikipedia!?)

Adams’s prediction was off by two days. From the outset, Americans celebrated independence on July 4, the date shown on the much-publicized Declaration of Independence, rather than on July 2, the date the resolution of independence was approved in a closed session of Congress.

It’s an anachronism that seems to pass some Americans by, ‘official’ Independence day was the 2nd July 1776 but everyone calls the 4th July Independence Day, however, I mustn’t grumble, Christmas isn’t really on the actual date of Christ’s birth and the Queen has two birthdays, the public one and her private one so I suppose it’s OK for you lot to be a bit soft on dates too and at least you manage to arrange your big celebrations in the middle of summer and nice weather where-as we seem to have all ours during the rainy season aka Spring, Autumn and Winter (and a large part of summer!).

What I did find spooky was that in a remarkable coincidence, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the only signers of the Declaration of Independence later to serve as Presidents of the United States, died on the same day: July 4, 1826, which was the 50th anniversary of the Declaration, you see, with the benefit of hindsight they might have made it the 31st of December and maybe squeezed six more months out’a life 😉

Oh, found this link, seems the folk in Doncaster can’t get enough  history, so they swipe some of yours too 😉

Anyway, you will have all seen this extremely (and without a doubt) genuine document from years ago when America couldn’t decide between Bush and Gore

(BTW, you picked the wrong one!)

To the citizens of the United States of America from Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II:

In light of your failure in recent years to nominate competent candidates for President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately.

Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths, and territories (except Kansas, which she does not fancy).

Your new Prime Minister, David Cameron, will appoint a Governor for America without the need for further elections. Congress and the Senate will be disbanded.

A questionnaire may be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed. To aid in the transition to a British Crown dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:

(You should look up ‘revocation’ in the Oxford English Dictionary.)

1. Look up aluminium, and check the pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how wrongly you have been pronouncing it.

2. The letter ‘U’ will be reinstated in words such as ‘colour’, ‘favour’, ‘labour’ and ‘neighbour.’ Likewise, you will learn to spell ‘doughnut’ without skipping half the letters, and the suffix ‘-ize’ will be replaced by the suffix ‘-ise’. Generally, you will be expected to raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. (look up ‘vocabulary’).

3. Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with filler noises such as ‘like’ and ‘you know’ is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. There is no such thing as US English. We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take into account the reinstated letter ‘u’ and the elimination of -ize.

4. July 4th will no longer be celebrated as a holiday.

5. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers, or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you’re not quite ready to be independent. Guns should only be used for shooting grouse. If you can’t sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist then you’re not ready to shoot grouse.

6. Therefore, you will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous than a vegetable peeler. Although a permit will be required if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.

7. All intersections will be replaced with roundabouts, and you will start driving on the left side with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion tables but still use pints and miles because we like to confuse everyone.

Both roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.

8. The former USA will adopt UK prices on petrol (which you have been calling gasoline) of roughly $10/US gallon. Get used to it.

9. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips, and those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called crisps. Real chips are thick cut, fried in animal fat, and dressed not with ketchup but with vinegar.

10. The cold tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all. Henceforth, only proper British Bitter will be referred to as beer, and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as Lager. South African beer is also acceptable as they are pound for pound the greatest sporting nation on earth and it can only be due to the beer. They are also part of the British Commonwealth – see what it did for them. American brands will be referred to as Near-Frozen Gnat’s Urine, so that all can be sold without risk of further confusion.

11. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as good guys. Hollywood will also be required to cast English actors to play English characters. Watching Andie MacDowell attempt English dialogue in ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ was an experience akin to having one’s ears removed with a cheese grater.

12. You will cease playing American football. There is only one kind of proper football; you call it soccer. Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which has some similarities to American football, but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full Kevlar body armour like a bunch of nancies). Don’t try rugby – the South Africans and Kiwis will thrash you, like they regularly thrash us.

13. Further, you will stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the World Series for a game which is not played outside of America. Since only 5.1% of you are aware there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable. You will learn cricket, and we will let you face the South Africans first to take the sting out of their deliveries.

14. You must tell us who killed JFK. It’s been driving us mad.

15. An internal revenue agent (i.e. tax collector) from Her Majesty’s Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all monies due (backdated to 1776).

16. Daily Tea Time begins promptly at 4 pm with proper cups, with saucers, and never mugs, with high quality biscuits (cookies) and cakes; plus strawberries (with cream) when in season.

God Save the Queen!

(And let the flank begin! )

Oh and HAPPY FOURTH JULY 🙂

bookmark_borderIn as few words as possible.

But not all at once.

I’ve travelled a bit around this world and when I think about it and my memories and if I had to describe each place in as few words as possible then this is my list;

(Some are repeated as I may have been there more than once)
Italy: Proper pizza
Italy: Cheap wine and 30 16yr olds getting wasted.
Holland: Porn mag machines by the station.
Egypt: Dry. Car horns. Disparity.
Tunisia: Rain. Rain. Rain. (sigh!)
Maldives: Photoshop not required.
Corfu: Red Lion pubs everywhere.
Germany: Beer. Big beer.
Dublin: Beggars on street. Friendly.
Barcelona: Pickpockets. Gaudi. Shades.
Isle of Man: Cats. Motorbikes.
Isle of Wright: Out of synch with mainland.
Silly Isles: 50 years behind mainland. Good.
Maine: A Funeral
Palm Springs: A Wedding
LA: Sex Shop. Coffee
LA: Mowed Lawn (is this a euphemism?)
Las Vegas: Eye popping.
Scotland: Rain. Community.
Wales: Wet. Green. Canals.
Iceland: Cold in February.
France: Smokers. Outdoor cafes.
Crete: Little Britain
Ontario: Maid of the Mist. Big pancakes.
Ontario: England. Fall.
Arizona: Scrub-land. Distant mountains. Yuma.
Colorado: Mountains.
Connecticut: Trees.
Florida: Plastic. South beach. Big waves.
Illinois: Terrible airport.
Maryland: Snake.
Massachusetts: Watching Ireland play rugby in Irish pub.
Minnesota: Cold. Deserted. Everyone in the malls.
Nevada: Big. Empty.
New Hampshire: More Trees. LOTS of trees.
New Jersey: Mafia. Not able to pump own gas.
NYC: Canyons in Manhattan.
NYC Paddys cathedral. Central Park culture culture culture.
NYC Home from home
North Carolina:  Furniture Week. Hotels Full. Irish ambassador.
Oregon: Good book store.
Pennsylvania: Hills. Valleys. Forest.
Rhode Island: Large roundabout. Confused drivers.
South Carolina: Hunting.
Texas: Ma’am. Manners. Republician.
Washington: PC taken to extremes.

Childhood: The smell of cut grass.

bookmark_borderGoing Down (Under).

Have almost finished reading Bill Bryson’s  ‘Down Under’ and here’s some facts I bet you didn’t know you didn’t know about Oz

The Opera House was designed by the Danish architect, Joern Utzon. His design was literally pulled out of the trash where it had been thrown after rejection in a competition to design the Opera House and the deciding committee couldn’t decide on a winner. Utzon, surprisingly, never ended up seeing his prized creation, after leaving the project due to disputes about its rising costs, and returned to Denmark .

Sir Eugene Goossens, the man who came up with the idea to build the Opera House, never saw the final creation either – while passing customs in Sydney, he was discovered carrying a large collection of what was deemed porn and was asked to leave the country. So, when you think about it, it was Goossens own erection that stopped him from seeing his greatest erection.

In 1857, naturalist Gerard Krefft caught two very rare pig-footed Bandicoots in the outback. Unfortunately, Krefft grew hungry and ate them. As far as anyone could tell – they were the last of their species… oops!

Krefft also was later appointed head of the Australian Museum in Sydney – unfortunately he was asked to seek employment elsewhere when it was discovered that he was selling pornographic postcards to supplement his salary. This gets me wondering, he was working in a museum, just what sort of postcards were they, see the Mummy naked, aka MILF (not!)… the mind boggles..

As some of you already know, Britain sent their convicts to Australia in the late eighteenth century. While the voyage took 252 days they were lucky – upon landing, the Brits spotted two French ships in the horizon. Meaning, had they taken a day longer to arrive, Australia would have been a French colony. The French ships simply turned around and went home..  doh

A suggested name for the nation’s capital Canberra was “Sydmeladperbrisho” (using the first syllables of the state capitals). Canberra is considered so boring that the 1996 Prime Minister John Howard declined to live there after winning the election. Instead, he announced he would commute from Sydney to Canberra as duties required.  This wasn’t in like 1950’s or 1960’s but in 1996! Canberra’s population is about 350,000 and I’m sure every one of them was insulted. The man’s got balls!

Sorry but I loved this too;

ROFL!

bookmark_borderStranger in a Strange Land: Part Four

NOT the London Leprechaun (although 'Twatt' does have a familiar ring to it)

One of the many things I find interesting about flying to the States is that when over Maine (ME) I always notice Bangor and Belfast come up on the moving maps, after being raised (ie trailed up backwards) in Bangor, Northern Ireland (NI) and spent lots of time in Belfast, it always makes me smile to see those names popping up.

There aren’t many similarities between both Bangors, Bangor ME has a population of 30,000,  an international airport and has the balls to call itself a city, Bangor NI has a population of more than twice it’s younger sibling and much more modestly calls itself a town and has one train station and a taxi rank. In one Bangor the main pastime is to sit in your car on Queens Parade and see who can gather the most dust and cobwebs, and the other, to quote it’s website ‘a friendly city that’s filled with excitement, opportunity and activity, and a gateway to the natural beauty of this great state’, you can probably work out which one is which.

I did find one similarity between the two Bangors, G.W. Bush managed to sneak aboard a transport plane and glad hand troops about to head off from Bangor ME  to Iraq in 2004 but during World War II, Eisenhower addressed Allied troops in Bangor NI, who were departing to take part in the D-Day landing.  In 2005, his granddaughter Mary-Jean Eisenhower came to the town to oversee the renaming of the marina’s North Pier to the Eisenhower Pier, my memories of North pier are of a decrepit wooden pier rotten to the core and closed off to the public but as wee nippers we climbed over the fence and barbed wire (and watch tower) to fish at the end of the pier, if Mary-Jean Eisenhower stood on that pier then she must have inherited her grandfather’s balls of steel

Bangor NI has been around a while, bronze age swords were found there in 1949 (took them long enough!) and a Viking burial ground in Ballyholme beach, a place all residents are familiar with as it’s the only beach that the sewers don’t directly spill out onto. Bangor was first mentioned about 558AD and Abbey Church there dates back to that time (which co-incidentally is about the same age as my car).

Bangor ME was incorporated in 1834 but how it got its name is a matter of debate, you see it transpires that Reverend Seth Noble, the first installed minister, went to Boston to petition the General Court of Massachusetts for an act of incorporation. Before his departure, citizens agreed that the town’s new name would be ‘Sunbury.’ Legend has it that Noble was humming a favourite hymn as he participated in the official proceedings and mistakenly answered ‘Bangor’-the name of the hymn-when asked the town’s name and thus Bangor was reborn.  Could have been worse I suppose, he could have been humming “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”

What’s equally interesting is that 35miles south of Bangor ME is Belfast ME, population about 7,000 but even they have their own airport albeit not an international one (yet), Belfast NI does of course have Belfast City Airport but come on, the population was 267,000 last time anyone stayed still long enough to be counted, exactly 260,000 more than it’s younger rival.

The way Belfast ME got it’s name was also as well thought out as Bangor ME, the founding fathers wanted to name the city Londonderry after their home in New Hampshire, not after the city of Londonderry in Ireland because of course that would be too sensible and after all, one can’t have too many Londonderry’s. It certainly wouldn’t confuse anyone having another Londonderry 200 miles down the road, “No no, you silly sausage, it’s the other Londonderry you want, down the road…” UPS would go crazy trying to figure that one out. However, wisdom prevailed and the founding fathers of Belfast did what all deep thinking men did and tossed a coin and Belfast won. This was of course, a new, previously unheard of definition of the term ‘wisdom’.

So I wonder about a few things, why on earth would you want to name your city after Bangor and Belfast, surely if you were going to name a town you’d create some new name or you’d pick a name that no-one would miss, there are literally thousands of tiny little hamlets in Ireland and the UK, some of them with only two or three houses and wouldn’t it be much wiser to put their names to greater use than copy Bangor seventeen times (yes, there are seventeen Bangors in the world, one close by in Wales and nine in the States, yeah, nine! and even a ship ‘The City Of Bangor’) but a cursory nosey with Mr Google brings up many alternatives such as Shitterton, Pratts Bottom, Badgers Mount, Crotch Crescent, Titty Ho, Ugley, Bottom Flash, Twatt, Brown Willy near Bodmin Moor, Berriwillock, Grimbister, Noak Hoak, Scrabster and Skoonspruit, names I’m sure no-one would miss, and between thou and I, I’m deeply jealous of Australia which has Burrumbuttock, Jiggalong and Tittybong,  and then finally there’s America, near Ely in Cambridgeshire, UK.. oh bugger, seems that one’s already taken..

bookmark_borderIt’s not the destination but the journey that matters. Bollocks.

Actual photo 😉

Some bright spark said a few years ago that it wasn’t the destination that mattered but the journey, that’s very noble but I beg to differ..

A while back I had to travel back to Norn Iron and I thought instead of doing the sensible thang that any right minded person would do and get the 45 minute flight from Heathrow to Aldergrove, that I would like to get the train from London to Stranraer in Scotland and then the ferry to Larne and then the train down to Belfast,  for a bit of adventure, a decision I was soon to regret..

Here’s a tip for anyone thinking of undertaking this journey, first of all check a few things; check that the Scottish football team Celtic aren’t playing football in Wembley stadium that evening and the train up to Stranraer isn’t going to be full of drunken cheering Scots fans chanting footie songs all the way from London to Glasgow..

Plus it’s probably a good idea to check the weather forecast..

So, the train first, the conductor was obviously Scottish (or Norn Irish!) for this is what he said before we even left Paddington;

‘Good evening, this is the conductor of your train speaking, and we will be departing shortly.  Please note that we will be cruising at an altitude of approximately zero feet, and our scheduled arrival time in Stranraer is 10:15 tomorrow morning. The temperature in Stranraer is a cool 5 degrees Celsius, and Stranraer is in the same time zone as London, so there’s no need to adjust your watches. May I remind all passengers that there is strictly no smoking allowed on any part of the train. However, if you are smoking a joint it is only good manners that you pass it round the rest of the carriage.’ This caused some considerable mirth amongst the footie fans that seemed intent on drinking Canada Dry (or at least the bar dry). They promptly burst into standard fare of “here we go, here we go, here we goooo’ and repeated that little ditty ad nauseam.. and of course all the empty McEwans ale cans rolled joyously up and down the carriage as the train went around each bend and slowed down and sped up, all night.. I groaned and tried to switch off and made futile attempts to snooze… it was going to be a long night.

Sadly as I was trying to get comfortable and shut out the cat-a-wailing, a man of some considerable girth plonked himself down opposite me and then commenced what can only be described as a cacophony of noise sounding vaguely like a rabbit being sucked slowly through a two inch hole. I was DEEPLY jealous of him for he immediately fell asleep. Bastard. To paraphrase Bill Bryson – he was not, I regret to say, an attractive sleeper, most people when they nod off look as if they could do with a blanket; he looked as if he could do with emergency medical attention. He slept as if injected with a powerful muscle relaxant.  His legs fell open in a grotesque come-hither manner and his mouth, and anything that was inside – tongue and moist bubbles of curry scented intestinal air decided to noisily leak out.  From time to time, like one of those nodding-duck toys, his head tipped forward to empty a quart or so of drool onto his chest, then it fell back to begin loading again with a noise like a toilet cistern filling. And he snored, hugely and helplessly, like a cartoon character, with rubbery flapping lips and prolonged steam-valve exhalations.  For long periods he grow unnaturally still, in a way that inclined me to lean forward in concern, then dramatically he stiffen and, after a tantalizing pause, begin to bounce and jostle in a series of whole-body spasms of the sort that bring to mind an electric chair when the switch is thrown (if only!).  Then he shrieked once or twice in a piercing and effeminate manner and woke up to find that everyone within the carriage had stopped doing what they were doing and were staring at him and small children were clutching their mother’s hems.  It was a terrible sight to bear and he was sitting opposite me.  This described him perfectly, I sat there fuming and yet mesmerised, unable to take my eyes off him, like a car wreck or in this case a mini train wreck.

So by the time dawn broke I had slept maybe a whole 60 seconds in total, if looks could kill.. However I made some effort to go find breakfast in the buffet car and breathe in the fresh (by now Scottish) air.. Now the strange thing about Stranraer train station is that it doesn’t actually exist, I know that sounds weird but I only found this out as the train stopped like it had done a few times, I assume because of engineering works or because of a dead Haggis on the tracks but the train stopped and everyone started to disembark. I thought this a mite strange because looking out the windows on the right hand side of the train all I could see was what I’d been seeing for the last few hours, teeming rain on lush grassy fields and miserable looking cows but still everyone was getting off so I went out of the buffet carriage and looked out the left side of the train and was somewhat surprised to see a HUGE fecking ferry about the size of a Death Star on the other side of a wooden railway platform and train passengers making their way to it. So, one side green fields with cows munching on grass, the other side a huge ferry and Darth Vader welcoming everyone aboard, oh and the end of the train line, surely a metaphor for everyone who was getting onto the ferry, I felt like shouting up ahead “don’t pay the ferry man…”

There were no announcements saying we had arrived, not like one is going to miss a huge ferry (once looking in the right direction of course) so I gathered up my belongings and made my way to the quayside.

I probably should mention that the weather had ‘somewhat’ deteriorated during the night and there appeared to be a storm raging out in the open sea; torrential rain, gale force winds and huge waves crashing against the side of the ferry, you name it, it was there, was just waiting to tick off tornado and my ‘End Of World’ list was complete, hey, welcome to Scotland everybody! and looking out across the sea the waves seemed a trifle intimidating, I was filled with foreboding (and bacon sandwiches) and I assumed the ferry would not be leaving harbour until the storm subsided..

How wrong was I. The Larne- Stranraer ferry is made of stronger stuff than I and considers itself unsinkable (or likes to think so) and will sail no matter how stormy it is – and I mean that, George Clooneys ‘The Perfect Storm’ was a picnic in the park compared to the crossing we made.. The Captain made the bog standard safety announcement and on an aeroplane one gives scant regard for these instructions because you are too busy trying to find out what the movie selection is but for once I gave the safety announcement 100% of my attention, I checked out EXACTLY where the life boats/life belts where, lashed myself to a nearby column and made my peace with God.

You ain't seen no'fing yet baby..

The ferry left the relative safety of the harbour and then the real fun began. Now I’m not huge on roller coasters but I believe one of the scariest roller coaster rides is the Millennium Force which stands taller than 300 feet at its highest point, reaches speeds of 93 mph, lasts a full two minutes and is considered to be the most shit-yer-pants roller coaster in the world. It is located at Cedar point in San dusky, Ohio US. That’s chicken feed to what we went through, for two hours and forty five minutes climbing monstrous tidal waves only to smash down on the other side with the force of a thousand tons, a white knuckle ride, up and down, up and down like a fiddlers elbow for what seemed like forever, I couldn’t understand why on earth it was considered safe to leave. I couldn’t understand why there weren’t long lines of kids queuing up to enjoy the trill of the ride, I’m never sick on flights or even on the sea but I went into the loo’s and every sink was full of you know what and I immediately barfed, however I felt no shame because most of the crew were in there with me doing exactly the same thing. It was easiest the scariest/worse journey I had ever made – and trust me, I have flown on some crappy airlines (including Egypt Airlines which almost had goats and chickens on the flight from Luxor to Abu Simbel ) but this took the biscuit, I’m not hugely religious but there was one point when I thought it best to hedge my bets and pray to God, Allah, Buddha, Confucius and Colonel Sanders – all at the same time..

Obviously my implorations to any and all deities seemed to worked because I somehow made it to Irish shores a few hours later but I was knackered, tired, nauseous and very green around the gills and I was wondering what on earth possessed me to travel for so long and for so hard when a simple fight would have taken 45 minutes.. Next time I fly – even if it’s Egypt Airlines.

bookmark_borderWill-i-am and Kate MiddleClass

Anyone want to take three guesses as to which photo will dominate all English language newspapers tomorrow – of course you won’t need three guesses.

Oh, surprise surprise, I would never have guessed!

Am bit surprised that I didn’t received my invite, after all I’ve met nearly all the Royals (Charlie boy twice) and I thought I was almost family – albeit an embarrassing distance Irish throwback that no-one wants to talk about, not only that but as a tax payer I think I have paid a fair share of the wedding costs and can’t understand why I didn’t get my invite, and talking about taxes, Kate Middleton is actually unemployed and therefore should be the last person attending this wedding, at least not until she gets a proper job.

Secretly I wonder how William feels about having to take Kate down to the Dole every Tuesday morning and get her to sign on so she gets her Job Seekers Allowance, between thou and I it’s a bit embarrassing really and how she is going to afford to pay the rent for Clarence House on £60.50 per week, perhaps we should pass the hat around for her, like that’s not even enough to buy a decent pair of shoes, is it and I wonder what he will do, drive around the corner so no-one spots him and then get Kate to walk around to the Dole Office herself?

So, considering she is unemployed, (grinning vacantly at flag waving crowds is not actually a proper job), I’d like to make a few suggestions if she wants to earn a buck or two, namely she could star in a few television programs, for example just looking at this weeks TV listing we could adjust the format slightly and sell it abroad for zillions;

Who Do You Think You Are Royal Special,

(Special Guest Star: James Hewitt! )

So You Think You Can Dance (Like a Royal)?

65 million of us have watched the JK wedding dance videos, I think Will-i-am and Kate should take to the floor to perform the climactic scene from Dirty Dancing in front of a panel of judges including Simon Cowell and Arlene Phillips. The public decides which is best and they have to dance like this at the reception, beamed to an audience of bajillions.

And other suggestions;

Pimp My Royal Wedding Coach

Royal Snog, Marry, Avoid.

Royal Name That Foreign Dignitary.

The Real Housewives of Buckingham Palace.

London, of course, is stuffed to the gills with British royalists but they are far outnumbered by a golden shower of dignitaries and American news crews broadcasting their entire programs from Westminster, it’s actually getting to be a bit embarrassing as they are having problems finding someone with an English accent..or even an Irish one 😉

bookmark_borderWho ya gonna call?

A few years ago I took a road trip west of London and pitched up in Salisbury (via Andover) (which sounds like an instruction in the Lovers Guide) and Salisbury’s actually quite a pleasant place, the big difference I noticed was that Andover seems to have a disproportionate number of shoe shops and Salisbury has a huge effing  Cathedral.

Salisbury is clearly middle upper class, one can tell just looking at the folk walking the streets, lots of money around despite the credit crunch. Also there seems to be a large number of ..hmmm young men who look like they are on their way to mug someone, it’s hard to describe but you get streetwise living in London and you know the type. They all seem to have taken up residence in Salisbury, maybe they are like migrating herds of buffalo and during the winter months they return to Salisbury like a swarm of locusts before returning to their spawning grounds in London during the summer – I know I have mixed up and bastardised just about every metaphor there but it’s late and I’m not quite with it..  there was one point when I grabbed my metaphorical purse as I watched this young-ish man run full pelt down the street in my direction and away he went, was awaiting for PC Plod to come chasing after him but no-one appeared and nothing seemed amiss around the corner ..strange, maybe he was practising for the 100m sprint during his lunch break..

It’s quite a big town, the Cathedral is obviously the centre piece, built in ..oh God, paste from Wikipedia;

———

The cathedral has the tallest church spire in the United Kingdom (123m/404ft). Visitors can take the “Tower Tour” where the interior of the hollow spire, with its ancient wood scaffolding, can be viewed. The cathedral also has the largest cloister and the largest cathedral close in Britain (80 acres).

The Cathedral contains the world’s oldest working clock (from AD 1386) and has one of the four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta (all four original copies are in Britain).Although commonly known as Salisbury Cathedral, the official name is the Cathedral of Saint Mary. In 2008, the cathedral celebrated the 750th anniversary of its consecration in 1258  etcetera , etcetera

————

Sadly I wasn’t able to go inside the actual cathedral as there was a bloody funeral going on, how inconsiderate, did they not get the memo that I was coming to visit?

Oh if any of you North American’s come to visit Blighty then I have found the perfect place for you to stay, it’s called The Red Lion and it cost 160 quid a night to stay there but bugger the expense, it’s not every night you get to stay in some ancient 800 yr old hotel that has four poster beds everywhere..oh and the oldest pizza shop in the world..

http://www.the-redlion.co.uk/VirtualTours-t2.asp

There’s some amazingly AWFUL bed covers and furniture in that place but what the hell, the place is 800 years old, that’s almost as old as me. I’m thinking of going there because it’s just BOUND to have it’s own ghost!

bookmark_borderCome fly with me.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

 

I tend to like travelling quite a bit, my usual score is to pitch up at Heathrow airport, ask when the next plane is going to the North America and buy a ticket for it.

BTW Minneapolis in February is bloody freezing. So is New Jersey, in Feb. And Toronto but it seems to be cold all year round there.

Anyway, I’m not exactly sure why airlines travel in a huge arc when they go from London to the States, I can only assume it’s because of emergencies and they hope they can land faster (which is another story I shall share one day) but Billy Connelly here did this talk about airlines and emergency procedures, he said why on earth do they do that emergency life jacket drill at the start of every flight… it’s not like if you are spinning into the sea like a dart from seven miles up that an inflatable vest is going to absorb the impact…or even worse hurtling towards a mountain at seven hundred miles an hour you put on your life vest and sit there smugly knowing that you are perfectly safe… really the ONLY reason airlines do that routine is to confuse future archaeologists…because when you crash at seven hundred miles a hour into a mountain there will be very little left of you BUT in hundreds of thousands of years’ time archaeologist will find your life jacket and think “Aye, yup, there once was a river here…”

The last time I flew across the pond I was sitting beside a rather attractive lady and chatting away and getting on like a house on fire when she interrupted the flow of conversation with a loud sneeze and then she did something funny that I didn’t quite understand at the time, she took a tissue out of her handbag and very surreptitiously gave herself a quick little wipe between her legs and just carried on chatting!

I did a double-take and thought I must been mistaken as she just carried on chatting so I did to.

About thirty minutes later she did the same thing, loud sneeze and then again, surreptitiously took a tissue out and wipe herself between the legs.

I looked at her doing this and gave her a WTF look and she looked at me and said “I am so sorry that I have offended you. I have this very rare, embarrassing physical handicap that causes me to have an orgasm every time I sneeze.”

So, being an ex-nurse, I said to her (with some sympathy), “Oh you poor woman, that’s terrible, are you taking anything for it?”

“Yes” she says to me…”Pepper,”

bookmark_borderMy Second Worse Holiday.

The bright side?

About 20 years ago when I was doing my Nurse training, four of us, Tony, Dave, Neil and myself decided to go on an ‘exotic’ holiday, I had already been to Egypt so I suggested we four lads go to Turkey. No one went to Turkey at that time, it was completely un-westernised ( i.e. dirt cheap) so we pitched up at Marmaris, a medium sized coastal town one March.

Things started off bad, it rained the moment our plane arrived and then the coach to Marmaris was like Death Race 2000, Turkish drivers have the attitude that whomever is biggest has right of way, the coach was pretty big and therefore owned the middle of the road, this was fine until another coach came from the opposite direction and then a game of chicken ensued.

We won.

Fortunately.

Or I wouldn’t be here to write this blog.

Marmaris itself was a depressing dog turd of a town, imagine Grimsby, left to rot for 500 hundred years and then filled with 20,000 inhabitants who’s main sport seems to be sending the few tourists around in completely the wrong direction and muttering things under their breath about foreigners.

Apparently it’s went downhill since then.

Seriously.

We spent a few days waiting for the rain to stop by getting completely wasted and then eventually we had enough and decided it was time to do the ultimate pick me up – The McHutt.

The McHutt is an old English invention of ours, a tradition that stretches back at least three months following a drunken pub conversation. It involves going to McDonalds and stuffing your face with burger and chips AND THEN going to Pizza Hut and doing the same with pizza. So we went out and ate the Turkish equivalent of The McHutt, stuffed our faces and I can honestly say I have never been so full in my life, but do you know what, Marmaris actually didn’t look so bad with a bellyful of kebabs and kofte!

Not bad going for about £2 in our money! After all the grub we went and found an empty karaoke bar, completely empty and as we were totally plastered we sang early 1980 songs truly badly. Close to midnight Tony got a gippy bum and went running off and had the shits after all the food and drink. Poor Tony, seems to be his lot in life, to spend most of his holidays in the bog. Mind you, could have been worse, could have been me!

So, next day we take Tony in a taxi to the local doctor, I say ‘doctor’ but this was more like a medicine man from the wild west, it was in his home of all places and he examined Tony in front of his ?wife, then gave Tony a vile green drink  and then proceeded to ?whip Tony with a bunch of ?herbs and rub what looked amazingly like lard into his stomach. Three thoughts occurred to me at this point;

(a) I don’t think the taxi driver understood us when we said take us to a doctor
(b) this guy wasn’t a conventional doc (doh!)
(c) I wonder how he knew just so much about Tony’s fetishes 😉

So Tony was laid up for a few days in our guest house and Neil, Dave and myself decided to stay close to the guest house and look after Tony, well, when I say close, we may have went on the occasional boat trip to some of the many islands dotted around the coast. And went swimming at the beach two miles away, at midnight because he was asleep, but apart from that (and a few other things) we stayed reasonably close.. We actually went swimming at midnight once and once only because we found out next morning that particular area was full of huge conger eels and they come out at night to feed. I actually felt something nibbling the strings of my swimming trucks and thought it was just small fish but now I’m not so sure. Additionally, our tour guide told us about the small fish that likes to ram itself up your ass, he was joking… wasn’t he?

That was the second worse holiday…

bookmark_borderBarcelona

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTcNlcefAQ0
Well OBVIOUSLY I’m going to use this video.

So, home from Barcelona and nice to be back in my own bed. Impressions about Barcelona, well the following is a list of jobs that are Credit Crunch Proof and as secure as Fort Knox.

Sunglass sales. You will never go out of a job if you sell sunglasses, all native Barcelonians wear sunglasses constantly, even at night, I think they come out of the womb wearing them.

Black clothes. A standard uniform for all Barcelonians, never saw anyone wearing anything else. Even the street cleaners, under their florescent safety jacket.

Street cleaners. There seems to be at least one or two street cleaners for every street, both in their little electric Road Sweeper carts. Like little worker ants scurrying around under your feet constantly. Little buggers!

Cigarettes. Again, I think they come out of womb with fag in hand. Watched a teacher take his children around in a parade on Saturday, fag hanging out of mouth, because you see so little smoking in this country it’s very noticeable when everyone else smokes like a chimney around you.

Pickpockets. Will never be out of a job, it seems Barcelona is Pickpocket Grand Central Station. Best tip is to walk around with those really cruel mouse-traps in your jacket pockets. Seriously.

Builders. Specifically builders working on Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. It seems generations of builders have been working on the Sagrada Familia since 1882 and it is due to be complete in 2026, the anniversary of Gaudi’s death. It’s not going to happen and I can say that with some certainty, you see, I have a Lonely Planet Guide To Barcelona book, circa 2002. In it the author states that although there is no metro line all the way to the airport, it is indeed under construction and is slated to be completed four years later in early 2006. I was there in 2011 and it still isn’t completed. I think Gaudie’s masterpiece will indeed be completed in time for the anniversary of his death but it won’t be his 100th anniversary, it will be his 300th anniversary. I’m taking bets now.

bookmark_borderWalk like an Egyptian? Australian?

It’s Sunday evening on the 30th January, 2011 and I have about a weeks worth of annual leave to take before the end of March, and for a couple of weeks now I’ve been thinking of spending from the 8th to the 14th of February in Egypt. However, I’ve just watched the news this evening and it is with some growing concern about the state of the country, one of the girls I work with lived in Cairo for two years and has many friends there and there was a chance I might get to see the ‘real’ Cairo as opposed to the ‘tourist’ Cairo but this is looking increasing unlike due to the state of upheaval in the country.

In many ways it’s a good thing, a corrupt government which tortures (and kills) it’s own citizens is obviously not ‘a good thing’ (but damn, I wish they had waited a few more weeks!).

So now, the big question is – where to go? Mexico has it’s own pyramids of course, and I’ve never been there… and Cuba… I’m wondering if Cuba is nice, long flights to both but that’s never stopped me before.. and then there’s India…

In the ‘old days’ I’d just pitch up at Heathrow or Gatwick and jump on a random plane but these days doing that makes everyone suspicious of your motives and I really don’t want another probe shoved up where the sun don’t shine so I’m having to plan ahead – well, when I say ‘plan ahead’ I realise that most folk tend to plan trips to places like India/Cuba/Mexico a year in advance but for me planning ahead is booking a trip about three days in advance… oh and I have a good friend in Australia… hmmm there’s an idea…

Hmmm gratuitous quote time “I used to always prefer the road less travelled, I was proud of that fact… then I found out why it was the road less travelled… it wasn’t a road… yet. I felt really stupid, especially after seeing the trail of my foot prints in the wet cement” This is me, I’m a bit (lot!) older now and have brought my wellies so it’s time to explore again. I think it’s time to look at a map of the world, my Facebook friends and TripAdvisor all at the same time… I’m sure I can make some kind a Venn diagram where all three intersect..

Gratuitous Venn Diagram

Gratuitous Venn Diagram

 

..and then of course there’s always time travel… there’s an idea, maybe Egypt’s on after all..

bookmark_borderOne lump or two?

One lump or two?

Here’s a test for all you brain boxes out there, what is so special about the Mayor of High Wycombe, what does s/he (and his/her top staff) do in May every year that no other mayor in the whole wide world does?

The clues in the picture.  Not just the mayor of High Wycombe but the whole council leaves the upper room of the Guildhall and troops down to the yard in front of the ‘Falcon’ where the weighing machine is set up. Here, starting with the mayor, all the Aldermen, Councillors and Officers of the Borough Council are weighed. As their weight is recorded, the Macebearer shouts out the weight, adding the words ‘and some more’ if the Mayor has gained weight over the year, or ‘and no more’ if s/he is the same or had lost weight.

The spectators are waiting for the call, and if the words ‘and some more’ are heard, the person being weighed is jeered, as it is believed that they hav grown fat at the expense of the townspeople. If the words ‘and no more’ are shouted out, then cheers would be the reward.

I don’t know about you lot but I think this is a fantastic idea and one that should be mandatory for any person seeking high office, the thought of anyone getting fat at the expense of my taxes is just not on!

bookmark_borderMarmite Nuts.

You either love it - or hate it.

Dear Agony Aunt,

OK, this won’t mean too much to anyone across the pond but in the UK we have Marmite which we spread thinly on our toast, you either love it or hate it.. full stop. Only the English could sell something using that tag-line. So my part-time flatmate loves it, above is a photo of his cupboard, I think he’s trying to corner the market in Marmite, either that or he’s injecting it..

Marmite Nuts

Yesterday one of the girls in Health & Safety found these and bought him a packet.

I now call him ‘Marmite Nuts’. Everyone thinks it’s hilarious (but the boss is wondering how I know..!)

A few years ago I went on one of my road trips to the north-west of England, up around the Lake District. Very pretty there and for one of the nights I stopped over at quite a posh hotel. In the morning the staff brought breakfast up to my room, it was that posh, and there was cereal, grapefruit and toast – plus Marmite. I, of course made a beeline for the toast and Marmite but whilst I was eating it I managed to drop the toast face down on the sheets – why does toast always fall sticky side down?

So I tried to wipe up the worse and it just spread it all over the sheet and to be honest it looked like I had shit the bed at that point, long skid marks.. Now, you can probably see just where I am going with this but.. one of the staff come up an hour later to collect the dishes and tray and as she walked past the bed she looked at the sheet and gave an involuntary OMG!.

I looked over and realised what she was thinking, that this old bloke had kacked his pants and I said “no, no, it’s not what you think..” and she goes “Oh, it’s OK, we get all sorts in here…accidents happen” and I thought I’d have a bit of fun, so I walked over to the bed, rubbed my finger in the ‘shit’ and stuck it in my mouth..

I’ve never seen anyone’s mouth open so wide in my life.

I going straight to hell, aren’t I?

Yours Mischievously

The Dating Leprechaun

bookmark_borderA Cunning Linguist.

Spiderman Spiderman, does everything a spider can. I have to admit to being concerned about the cats role in this photo. And no, that's definitely not The Dating Leprechaun

They’re very polite in Jersey, you know, much more polite and patient than The Dating Leprechaun. I have a friend that comes around to see me here occasionally, nothing unusual about that but sometimes its difficult to get rid of him. I’m ok chatting away with him but after 30 minutes I’ve nothing really left to say to him, I’ve exhausted all conversational avenues and I want him to go but I can’t just say bugger off as that would be rude but I am reminded of what Benjamin Franklin said; “fish and visitors smell in three days.” (or 30 minutes in my case).

I’ve done the whole stretching, yawning, looking at my watch and saying “Oh my goodness, it’s nearly 8pm, I’d better get to bed…early start tomorrow (sunday!) and all that..” but he’s not taking the hint. So I put out the milk bottles, put out the cat, gather up the dishes, wash and put them away and get changed into my Spiderman pyjamas and still he’s not taking the hint at which point I turn around and tell him to bugger off.

I’m telling you this because it reminds me of one of my ‘pitch up and go’ random trips from Gatwick airport a few years ago. I turned up at Gatwick with only the weekend off and all fights to NYC were full so I opted for a short flight to Jersey in the Channel Islands, never been there but they speak English and drive on the same side of the road as UK, so off I went and an hour later I was in Little England..

Jersey. Not New Jersey ;p

Now, I don’t know if any of you lot have ever been to Jersey but the main town is dominated by the Fort Regent Castle up on the hill. It is now a leisure centre but during the Second World War it was occupied, like the Channel Islands, by the German army. Now, this is where we get to the first point of this blog entry. You see, Victory in Europe Day, VE Day is on the 8th of May but in Jersey the German soldiers didn’t get the message and stayed a full 24hrs later and thus in Jersey they celebrate Liberation Day on the 9th of May.

Sooooo… what I wonder is, did the good citizens of Jersey look at their watches on the 8th of May, stretch, yawn, put the cat out, do the dishes but still the Germans didn’t take the hint and it seems it took a whole 24 hours before the Lord Major banged on the castle door and told them to bugger off with a flea in their ear. See? Much more patient than me.

Jersey is a rather interesting place, it’s situated only a few miles from the coast of France and if you look at the map it is surrounded on three sides by the coast of France. This has a rather familiar effect on the culture there, because the French are so close it means that the locals differentiate themselves by being extremely English. Honestly, walking around there feels like I’ve just drove down the road to Hampshire with their plummy accents rather than flown across the Channel. And it reminds me of Norn Iron as part of the culture there does the same thing, emphasises it’s ‘Britishness’ even though both Norn Iron and Jersey aren’t actually British – don’t ask, just google it, it’s kind’a complicated..

And I wonder, does this happen in lots of communities that feel under threat from their neighbours, I’m thinking not just the obvious, Israel, but in smaller communities, like areas of NYC.. and even here in England, when I was out on a road trip a few years ago to Cornwall there were a lot of Cornish flags on display and it seemed the local dialect was used in shops to differentiate the locals from us grockles.. and they didn’t get charged tourist prices..

And I wonder how the French feel about having something so British literally on their doorsteps and one would think there would be a large number of French on the islands but the French make up less than 2% of the population, in fact, there is slightly more Irish in Jersey than French, not entirely sure why that is but it may be a language thang, the language being a deciding factor as to why I went visiting – I hate trying to decipher menus in French/German/Swahile, yes, call me pathetic but I like to know what I’m eating!

Anyway, I wonder how these communities feel and if it’s the same as us in Norn Iron, being brought up… I mean trailed up in a community that was basically at war with it’s neighbour, we tended to differentiate ourselves and our territory quite strikingly. It wasn’t just the language but the way we marked out our ‘territory, in our street there was the display of the Union Jack, especially during ‘Marching Season’ were-as the other side down the road displayed the Tricolour to mark their territory as Republican.. and the pavement was painted red, white and blue in our street and green, white and orange, down the road.. literally.

I realise that to folk not from Norn Ireland this may seem ‘somewhat’ excessive and even now it’s still very much like that, when I was visiting my mother last year even I was surprised to see the flags still out and even more interesting one village was flying the Scots flag – you can take that as an indication that the village is made up of some Tea Party Protestants. I wonder what makes a community like that, I know of course all about the violence but I’m wondering if having two antagonistic communities buttressed up against each other, is it like putting two magnets of the same pole next to each other, they are OK and weakly opposed to each other at a distance but the closer you bring them together,  the greater the force of repulsion.. and that expresses itself not just in the display of flags and painting and murals but also in speech, I wonder do warring communities take comfort in their own dialect and use that to detect strangers in their midst..

I read a book a while ago about the use of ‘standard English’ in America, some cunning linguists had been studying the flow and ebb of local dialects in some islands off the coast of North Carolina, Hawkers Islands to be precise. The island community had been cut off from the mainland since forever and the only way to reach it was via ferry. This obviously isolated the island community and they developed their own dialect for many words over the 250 years that the island had been inhabited. Linguists had been studying them for generations and as radio become more accessible they noted the standardisation of words and the ebb of local words, the younger generation in particular stopped using the local words altogether and the linguist thought that within a generation all the local words would be lost of good.

Then, in 1941 the State build a road bridge to the islands, well, it built a few road bridges linking the main islands together in a chain and a bridge to the mainland. Then what happened was unexpected, the linguist expected the flood of tourists to completely swamp the land with their modern English and they expected mainlanders to come to the islands and buy up property and dilute the local dialect even further. However, what happened was the complete opposite, there was a sudden resurgence of the local dialect. It seems there were two reasons for this; first of all, the tourist trade encouraged this so when tourists stayed on the islands they expected to hear the ‘quaint’ local speak but also the locals used the dialect to different themselves from the mainlanders and make them feel part of the local community against the ‘outsiders’ (and get non-tourist prices!)

And I think this works in the opposite way as well, I think some communities will consciously or unconsciously stop using their local dialect in an effort to integrate themselves into the wider community. This happens I think almost automatically, since arriving in London 25 years ago I have stopped using quite a lot of Norn Iron phrases simply because no-one here understands what I am talking about (so no change there then!) and from what I can tell I now use very few expressions that I commonly used 25 years ago. I have listed them on this blog ‘How To Speak Norn Iron” elsewhere so I have a record of them but I’ve also had to change the style of my speech. We speak very fast at home, it comes out in a blur and our ears can take that but when I first arrived in London I was, to all extents, talking a foreign language. I had to slow my delivery down to a crawl (or so it seemed to me) and I have to think about how to pronounce each and every word. Consequently I’ve had to use london expressions to make myself understood and even then… the amount of times I’ll say something like “excuse me, is this the way to Selfridges..?” only to have the other person look confused, then look at his watch and say “it’s quarter past three” and walk on…  or say “yes…” in that “I’m not sure what he asked me but I hope this is an appropriate response…”

So, I’ve had to moderate my speech and delivery, at least until I go home and then I can return to my Gatling gun delivery and everyone understands me but once I step off the plane at Heathrow then I immediately start talking English. It seems, that I too am a cunning linguist.

bookmark_borderLe Gothic

There’s a strange anachronism in my local borough. It’s a bit weird, it’s called Le Gothic restaurant and was built in the Victorian age as a home for the insane. Typical Victorian style and it was built out in the countryside – well, this area was outer space as far as Victorian London was concerned, now of course it is built up miles past Le Gothic.

So lots of nutters running around the place and then all the inmates ..ermmm patients got moved to Springfield Psychiatric Hospital a few more miles away and this place was turned into a school, one set of lunatics replaced by another set of lunatics. But then WWII come along and Le Gothic was used to barrack soldiers. Then after the war it fell into disrepair and festered for years.

Wandsworth Council didn’t know what to do with the place but was desperate not to knock it down, it was a listed building and had ‘some’ character. Then an entrepreneur came along in the 80’s and bought the place for a quid. Yeah. Of course he had to spend millions restoring it and bring it back into 20th century standards but at the same time he turned a lot of the vast rooms into luxury apartments and made a killing.

We had our Xmas party there in Le Gothic restaurant a few years ago. It was brilliant. If you get a chance to go eat there – DO! It’s surrounded by 1970’s high rise tower blocks but not hard to spot, an oasis of style and architecture beauty in sea of dross.

I liked this car that was in the car park.

But I really liked this kitty, you will notice it prefers to sit on the Aston Martin, it has good taste.

bookmark_borderHouse Training..

Now here’s a little anecdote that I suspect more than one woman can relate to..

My friend Sibs has come back from Australia, she’s been there for about two years and it fills my heart with genuine joy to know she is back in this country. We shared a flat for a few years and never a cross word said, never a dull moment, she’s one of those souls that anyone and everyone likes, gentle warmth. Mind you, she’s completely useless at laundry, she’d wash everything in one large load at high temperature and then wonder why all her underwear gradually turned grey, in fact all her clothes attained the same grey colour whilst my T-shirts stayed white(ish!)… I had to explain why we separate whites from coloured.. a job her mother should have taught her.. it took me ages to house train her 😉

During our time together she went through ‘a dry spell’ as she calls it and didn’t date anyone for about three months, “Mennnn!!!” as she would moan and complain… consequently didn’t really care about her appearance too much and crucially she stopped shaving her legs.. This didn’t matter to me of course as she was more like my sister than a bit of fluff and I certainly wouldn’t be snuggling up with her, no matter how cold the nights got. However, one evening I’m having a shower and I noticed the shower basin was rapidly filling up with water.. I thought “that’s odd…” and after stomping around a bit and giving up trying to unblock it I got dried and dressed..

Then Sibs came back from shopping and I mentioned this to her…and she had the good grace to look guilty and said “oh ermm, did I not mention I’ve got a date tonight ..and shaved three months fur off from my legs this afternoon….” … I left her to unblock the shower with strict instructions to shave a bit more frequently..even if she is not dating…

I had to house train another flatmate after Sibs, Ed, an Italian, he was even hairier than Sibs but fortunately he didn’t shave anything except his chin, he was like a bloody werewolf thou, I pity the woman who had to snuggle up with him, it would be like snuggling up with Scooby Doo..

Anyway, Ed was typical Italian, he lived with his extended family and this was his first time away from under moma’s wings. Seemed a nice enough chap but he had no idea that meals didn’t cook themselves and dishes didn’t wash themselves and shirts didn’t iron themselves. After about a week he had run out of clean clothes and he said to me how come nothing works here? I said what do you mean and he said “well, at home I throw my dirty shirts in the laundry basket and when I come back from work they are washed and pressed and hanging up…and when I get up out of bed I leave it in a mess but when I come home it’s made…” and I looked at him and laughed… he hadn’t a clue… it took me months to get him to actually cook and clean and iron and do all those things that keeps us sane but towards the end he finally had it.

However, his moma come to visit one day from Italy to see the sights of London and stayed with us. She was flabbergasted when she saw Ed ironing a shirt, and couldn’t believe the change in her son, she kissed me on both cheeks and hugged me tightly because she had never seen Ed wash a dish or iron a shirt… I think she wanted me to go back to Italy with them…

bookmark_borderAntarctic Slang

Found this whilst eating breakfast, some of it is very interesting and I thought I would share it 🙂

paste–

Like any other close-knit or isolated group Antarctic communities develop their own sub culture with their own slang words and phrases. This list is far from exhaustive, inclusion here is my purely subjective view as to whether the word or phrase is worthy of note, because of how frequently it is used or as to how amusing I find it.

Where possible I have attributed a nationality to the word Am – American, Aus – Australian, Br – British, NZ – New Zealand. Where no nationality is attributed it is because I’m not sure.

A

A – factor – The Antarctic factor, unexpected extra difficulties presented by Antarctica. Aus

Airdrop – Cargo and personal items dropped from an airplane, a huge morale booster for winterovers. Am

Antarctic 10 – A person of the opposite sex who might be considered a “5” elsewhere. Am

B

Bagdrag – McMurdo base – US, dragging your bag – luggage – to weigh in for for a flight out. Due to weather conditions a bagdrag is not always followed by a flight and in any case will rarely take place at a convenient time for the dragger of the bag. Am

Banana Belt – The South Orkney Islands and South Georgia where there have been British bases for many years. As these bases are in the maritime Antarctic and not very far South by comparison to some others, they are referred to by inhabitants of other stations as being in the “Banana Belt” – still very chilly and windy though. Br

Beaker – A scientist, if said scientist is unwanted or unpopular, the term jafa, may be used – Just Another F….. Academic; Am, Aus, Br, NZ

Big eye – Insomnia caused by changes in the length of daylight.

Bog chisel – An implement with a wooden handle like a broom handle about 6 foot long and with a metal chisel-shaped blade about 2 inches wide at the end of it – blunt by usual chisel standards. Used as a snow and ice probe to test sea-ice – more than three thwacks to get through and it’s safe to walk on, less than three and it’s time to walk back where you came from – very carefully. Also used as a crevasse probe. Br

Bolo – Burnt-out-left-over an expeditioner who has been in the Antarctic for too long. Aus.

Boomerang – A flight to Antarctica that turns back before it gets there, usually due to poor weather conditions at the landing site. Am.

Bunny boots – Boots for extremely cold weather, large, white and plain, but effective, the name comes from a layer of rabbit fur that’s supposed to be part of the insulation (actually wool felt). Am

C

ChCh – (pronounced Cheech), slang for Christchurch, New Zealand, a stopping off and kitting up point for US Antarctic programme personnel en route for Antarctica. Am

Chinese Landing – A phonetic pun, based on the unusual aircraft angle when landing in stiff Antarctic cross winds: one wing low. Am

City Mice – Support personnel whose duties force them to remain at McMurdo Station. Am

Country Mice – Scientists and their assistants who get to travel to camps around Antarctica. Am

Crawlies – Blowing snow at ground level that snakes along being very atmospheric. Snow blows around in Antarctica far more than it falls from the sky, the low temperatures means that it stays powdery and loose and ever present winds move it back and forwards a lot.

Crud, the – Common name for colds / flu contracted by new arrivals to the US McMurdo base. Most common with a large entry of new people bringing a large influx of fresh germs. Any germ-related illnesses in Antarctica are rare in the winter as the base personnel have either had the illnesses by then or are immune to them. The longest continuous period of my life free of colds and flu was when I was in Antarctica. Am.

D

Dear John – A letter from a girlfriend left behind informing the recipient he is now (at his choice) not only thousands of miles and many months away, but also surplus to emotional requirements. Br

Degomble – Being outside in Antarctica in wind-driven snow makes a lot of the snow stick to your clothes and in nooks and crannies around back-pack etc. De-gombling is the process of removing this loosely attached snow before going indoors into a hut, base-building or tent where it would melt and make life more unpleasant.

Originated (I think – clarification would be appreciated) with dogs in the days when they were used to pull sledges, in certain conditions, snow could form into balls (gombles) that hung from the dogs fur, making them heavy and uncomfortable. Br.

Dingle – Good weather, on a dingle day it’s time to get your boots on and go out to play – or excellent visibility. Br.

Dome – An aluminium Geodesic dome, 50 meters (165 ft) in diameter at the base and approximately 17 meters high (55 ft) at the top at the American Scott-Amundsen base at the South Pole. Looks a bit like an ice-age EPCOT. The South Pole base was established in the 1950’s and was seen as a great status symbol location for a base. That being the cold war, the Russians then followed it up by establishing their status symbol base at the pole of inaccessibility – the point on Antarctica the furthest from any ocean – the Vostok base. Am

Dome Slugs – Those who live and work in the central Dome at the south polar station. Am

Donga – Sleeping area. Aus

Doo – Short for skidoo, small robust and very effective small-scale transport over snow and ice, like a motor-bike on skis. Can be used to transport driver and one other sitting down or much bigger loads towed along behind on a sledge. Br.

E

ECW – Extreme Cold Weather. A label applied to protective clothing issued to American base members, includes parkas, bunny boots, bear claws (large mittens), balaclavas etc. Am

F

FIDS – “Falklands Islands Dependencies Survey” was the original name for the “British Antarctic Survey” (BAS). Members of FIDS referred to themselves as Fids and the name stuck. It is usually taken as meaning someone who has travelled to Antarctica and worked on a FIDS or BAS ship or base. Some purists maintain that it should only apply to those who have wintered on such a base. Br.

Fidlet – A FID in his or her first year, sometimes considered as someone in their first summer south preceding the first winter after which they will be a Fid proper. Br.

Fidgob – Any job that is “gobbed” together using materials available at the time by a Fid. Not usually a very elegant solution due the improper materials and / or tools and / or inexpertise of the Fid concerned. Antarctica does, has always and probably always will, run on the equivalent of Fidgob solutions to broken or missing apparatus and machinery. Br.

Field, The – Anywhere not on a base. Scientists in particular like to talk about being “out in the field” – it makes them sound more rugged and heroic.

First Call – The first visit of the season to a base by a ship. An eagerly awaited event by winterers as it brings mail, fresh food, new people, cargo, shopping they’ve ordered and almost a new way of life as the summer now starts. Br

Fingy – The pronunciation of F.N.G.. A derogatory term of uncertain origin for the F… New Guy (or Girl). Originally used in Vietnam to describe a solider on their first tour of duty. Am, Aus, Br, NZ

Five hundred club – Those who have been in Antarctica for more than 500 successive days. Aus

freshies – Fresh fruit and vegetables brought in by air or ship. Food is a perennial topic of conversation at all Antarctic bases, most of the year the food has been preserved in some way. The arrival of fresh produce is an event of great importance especially at the end of the winter when exotic delights like boiled potatoes and carrots taste like you’d never believe that they could. Am.

G

Gash – A Naval term that has two meanings, firstly it means rubbish / garbage anything to be disposed of and secondly it describes a task or event. Many bases have a gash-rota whereby each member in turn is gashman for the day. This means that they help in the kitchen with menial tasks, wash-up, deal with the gash – rubbish/garbage and generally carry out various base house-keeping duties (similar to Aus. “slushy”). Br.

Gomble – An accretion of snow on hair. This is usually facial hair or the hair on a dog in the days when they were used to pull sledges. In certain conditions, snow could form into balls (gombles) that hung from the hair or dogs fur, making them heavy and uncomfortable. (see degomble) Br.

greenout – The emotion felt on seeing and smelling green things (plants) again after an extended period on the ice.

grips – Photographs, “getting the grips in” is an Antarctic occupation that can be taken to extremes. Particular incidents and occurrences can only be legitimately claimed to have happened once the grips had been got in. Br.
This has now progressed to videoing everything, I have been recently pleasantly surprised to come across this, part of a great and noble tradition.

H

helo – Helicopter.

Herbie – The name given to particularly powerful and dangerous storms that affect the US McMurdo base coming from the South, through “Herbie Alley”, winds can be in excess of 100 knots. Am

Hollywood Shower – A naval term, derisively used to describe showers of longer than the allotted two minutes (fresh water in a liquid form is relatively rare in Antarctica) Am.

House Mice – Personnel on periodic janitorial duty. Am

I

Ice, The – A common nickname for Antarctica. Being in Antarctica is referred to as being “On The Ice”. Am.

J

Jolly – A pleasure trip, can be used derisively “jolly merchant” for someone who always manages to get to go on the interesting trips (despite the title I never came across one who would sell places on jollies). Summer only personnel may sometimes be referred to by winterers as “on a summer jolly” Br.

K

Klatch – Personal belongings Br

L

Last Call – The last visit of the season to a base by a ship. The departure of last call takes with it people who have been in Antarctica for up to 30 months and heralds the start of winter with no physical contact with the outside world for up to 11 months depending on where the base is. Br

M

Manhaul – A sledging trip where the sledge is pulled by men rather than vehicles. Br, Aus.

Mactown – A nickname for the US base at McMurdo. Others are McMudhole and Dirt Town because of the gritty volcanic soil there that is exposed in the summer.

Mank, manky – Overcast weather, particularly common in the maritime Antarctic Br.

Mainbody – One of the three seasons of the American Antarctic year. At McMurdo for instance, it lasts from approx. 1st of October until the last flight at Station Close, around late February or early March. Seasonality in Antarctica is timed by events as much as the calendar and seasons are not reckoned to be over or begun until events such as the first or last ship or flight of a particular season has happened. Am.

Medevac – A contraction of “medical evacuation” – a special flight out for someone before their tour is over as a result of illness or injury. Am, Aus, Br, NZ

Monk-on – A term for being in a bad, usually introspective mood, “he’s got a monk-on”. Br

Mukluks – Inuit style cold weather boots. Soft outer, pale cream in colour with a very thick sole and a wool felt liner, very effective as long as you don’t try to do any climbing or walking over uneven surfaces in them. Am, Aus, Br

Munch – Dried meat granules a common part of the winter diet in the absence of fresh meat, also used by field parties as water can be added by melting snow or ice. Br.

Mutt – American sheathbill, a small Antarctic bird the size of a larger but rounder pigeon with disgusting table manners and thought by some to have been overlooked by evolution. Evidence of the first point is that in the days when waste matter was flushed into the sea, some thought that Mutts could hear the sound of the flush and take position at the kaka-pipe (it wasn’t really called the kaka-pipe). Evidence of the second is that in winter some would come into land on a slatted jetty and only put down one leg to save heat loss, the result is that the one leg would go between the gaps in the slats. Br

N

Nutty – The general term for any type of chocolate or sweets / candy, whether it contains nuts or not. A personal note here, when I first arrived in Antarctica I was most unimpressed with the unhealthiness of the food that people took out with them when leaving base for a day trip – one to three bars of chocolate and nothing else. Being of sterner stuff I promptly made myself some healthy sandwiches (tuna if I remember rightly) – I was observed with interest but without comment by other (as it turned out – wiser) people around. Come lunch break, while others tucked into their hard but edible “nutty” I sat and sucked on a frozen sandwich. Br

Nutty (alt -probably original) – The dog food which we carried and used in the field came in compressed blocks of meat and fat weighing about 1lb per block (I think) and in boxes weighing 70 lbs each which would last one team (9 dogs) for 5 days. It’s trade name was Nutrican which was abbreviated to Nutty by the dog drivers. (Thanks to Drummy Small for this – more.) Br

O

OAE – Old Antarctic Explorer. Someone who’s been around in Antarctica for a while, several summers, or at least a Winter, the more the better of course. Wintering at the south polar station confers OAE status. Am

Offensive potatoes – tinned potatoes

Oggin – The sea. Br.

P

PAX – Passengers. Am

Pit / pitroom – Bed / bedroom. Br.

Poppy – Alcoholic beverage that is chilled with natural Antarctic ice. Hundreds of thousands of years of pressure captured bubbles of environmental gas that, when warmed with Glenfiddich (or any other less qualified inebriant of choice), pop in your face. Due to the extremely low humidity of the region, hangovers induced from poppys were particularly onerous and it wasn’t uncommon for someone to say, “Had too many poppys last night.” Trust me, it had nothing to do with genealogy or flowers. Am

PSR – Point of Safe Return. Applied to aircraft flying to Antarctica, the furthest the plane can go and still return to its origin. Some aircraft that fly to the American McMurdo base can fly all the way and then back to the take off point in Christchurch New Zealand without landing. In this case the PSR is actually McMurdo itself and on occasion due to extreme weather conditions, planes have flown all the way there and then gone back again without landing. Am.

R

Race around the World – A popular race around the south pole marker on Dec. 25th. Am

S

Sawdust – dehydrated cabbage Br

Scradge – Food, Br.

Scrubout – A weekly occurrence on some bases where at a regular time (after dinner on a Friday is popular) everyone sets to to clean the base up being allotted a different place to clean by weekly rota. Br.

Skua – to appropriate goods by means that are not quite stealing, but also not quite not-stealing. Named after Antarctic Skuas that hang out near the Galley in McMurdo. – Am – (thanks to “Icegirl” for posting this on the guest map ;o))

Slack – Something badly done, often applied to gash – “slack gash” is a withering admonishment and difficult to live down. Br

Slot – crevasse. Where a glacier goes over a bump in the underlying bedrock, it cracks from the top (widest point) pretty much all the way to the bottom, this is a crevasse.

Slotted – Something that happens if you fall into a crevasse, an almost ubiquitous hazard in Antarctica as the wind-blown snow often covers up these tapering cracks in the ice with a snow bridge that can easily be 50ft+ (over 16m) wide. The weakest part of the snow bridge is going to be the middle of course. Falling into a crevasse without a rope to stop you has to be one of the most unpleasant ways to go. There’s a deep enough fall for you to pick up a fair speed before you get wedged into the narrowing space at the bottom (known as “corking in”). Assuming you don’t crack your head on the way down and are still alive, you will become aware of being held by your pelvis or ribcage that may well have been broken in the process. You now have to get out while firmly wedged and in some considerable pain. If not roped up you will be dependent on whoever is on the surface, so hope they’ve a long enough rope. To make matters worse it will probably be pitch black or at least very dim and if it’s summer there’s a possibility that the bottom of the crevasse may even contain very cold meltwater. I worried a lot about falling in crevasses. Am, Aus, Br, NZ

Vehicles can also be slotted.

Slushy – A sort of kitchen helper/hand for the day performed by base members on a “slushy rota” (similar to Br. “gash rota” and gashman). Aus

Smoko – Coffee or tea break, a Naval term. Smoko is a bit more of an event than just stopping work for a break, the whole base pretty much would go to the dining room and drink / chat / eat and smoke too in the days when it was almost compulsory. Br.

Snotsicle – An icicle of frozen mucous hanging from the nose of the owner, once they start to form, they cause the nose to run so speeding up the growth. Aus.

South – Antarctica. Usually referred to in the form “going south”, “been south”, “went south” etc. Br

Springer – A summer worker who arrives before the main hoards. Br

T

Three-hundred-club – To belong, you need to go through 300 degrees Fahrenheit, this is achieved by rolling naked outside in a chilly Antarctic temperature and then going inside to hit the sauna. Am

Thrutch – difficulty, usually applied to progress through deep or poor snow conditions. “the last bit was a real thrutch”. Br

Transantarctics – The Transantarctic mountain range that stretches across the middle of the continent, from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea. Am

U

U-barrel – A 55 gallon drum used for the collection of urine in places that lack plumbing. U-Barrels are painted bright yellow. Used as the basis of a toilet of various degrees of primitiveness. Most countries remove all their waste from Antarctica these days so as not to degrade the environment. As 55 gallon barrels are used to bring in all kinds of fuels, they are an ideal way of taking all the waste out again and find use for all manner of purposes as well as for the traditional one of cutting them in half and making a barbecue. Am.

W

Weather Guesser – A meteorologist. Am

Windy / windies – Name for the ventile windproof jacket and over trousers issued to members of the British Antarctic Survey. Apparently old fashioned and low tech, but remarkably practical and much loved by generations of Fids. Br.

Winterovers – Any one who stays on an Antarctic base for the whole of the winter.

bookmark_borderRecycled Town Names

Whenever I fly across the pond to the States I’m always amused to see Belfast and Bangor on the maps as I fly over Maine, I’m *pretty* sure my Belfast and Bangor in Northern Ireland has first dibs on those names. I know there are lots of London’s and Paris’s and I wonder why, did the settlers have other things on their mind when they settled an area, little small things like survival and food supplies, so I suppose thinking up a name came very low in the list of priorities, I can imagine the discussion, “sure, we call this place Belfast, they’ll never know back home, after all it’s two weeks sailing, four weeks over mountains and four thousand miles away, you don’t tell, we won’t tell..” and the Internet hasn’t been invented yet!

Even here in London we have a huge amount of names used over and over again, in this borough there are two Lucien Roads (and old old address) about 10 minutes walking away from each other, I know this only too well because I’ve had to go to my Doppelgänger way too often to retrieve post..and vise versa.

So we double up on names but yet we have all these tiny little hamlets with nice sounding names that maybe only four people and their postman ever use, but 60 million of us in this land have run out of words to describe certain activities, so I propose we confiscate some of those names and put them to better use..

(yes, these hamlets and villages do exist)

Thundergay – the noise you make when you suspect there is a burglar downstairs, so you make lots of thumping noises as you ‘creep downstairs’ so he knows you are coming and hopefully runs away..

Lybster – that special feeling when you are crammed up against someone really attractive on a crowded rush hour tube/train/tram, closely related to Scrabster, that awful feeling when you are pushed up against someone really vile on a crowded rush hour tube/train/tram

Upper Piddle -The fission you get on said crowded train when you get your bottom felt by someone desirable, closely related to Lower Piddle – the disappointment when you realise it was not her but the bloke beside her.. and he wasn’t trying to grope your derrière but actually pickpocket you..

Shitlingthorpe -An unexpected viewing, not quite in relation to a house but rather when you are sitting upstairs on a double decker bus and when it stops in heavy traffic and you look out the window right into someone’s bathroom …and it’s occupied.. and you both catch each others eye..

Smiddyseat – Sitting at traffic lights and you glance across to next driver who is glancing across to you… whilst your finger is rammed tightly up your own nose.. closely related to Twittocks, which is then the extended length of time it takes for the traffic lights to turn green, co-incidentally the same colour as your finger..

Suspect I’ll be coming back to this theme… Boggybottom is too good to pass up…

bookmark_borderA Sting In The Tale

I’m practising my CPR

A funny thing happened to me on the way to Minneapolis…

This tale has not one, but two stings in the tale.

A number of year ago I decided to take a trip to Minneapolis. It’s main (only?) claim to fame is it’s home to the Mall of America, America’s largest shopping mall, come’on, who wouldn’t want to go there?

So out of Gatwick, past Glasgow, past Reykjavik, onwards towards New Foundland, all plain sailing (or is that plane flying?). I had an American guy sitting beside me and I took great delight in showing him Father Ted comedy series on my computer.

Quiet flight, everyone settling down for a snooze….or so I thought!

Suddenly there was a commotion a few rows in front of me, an American lady stood up and started shouting at her husband “Wake up! Wake up!” this looked bad so I thought I’d better go and have a wee nosey, you know, just make sure everything was OK.

So up I got, wandered down a few rows, looked at her husband and got the shock of my life!

He was slumped in his chair, obviously not breathing, unconscious and most startling of all, his lips and the tip of his nose were very blue due to lack of oxygen! The medical term is central cyanosis, every medics nightmare!

I’ve been working in computers for the last twenty years BUT by a stroke of luck, prior to that I worked for ten years as a nurse in both General Intensive Care and Cardiac Intensive Care. What luck!

So my NHS training immediately kicked in. THANK YOU NHS!

First action must ALWAYS be call for help, so I immediately screamed “I need a Medic and I need a Medic NOW!

And then I asked one of the flight attendants to put a call out for help over the tannoy.

Next, check breathing, feel for a pulse, any response to vigorous shaking. Zero. Zero and Zero.

Crap!

I needed to start CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) immediately.

Unfortunately this gentleman was by the windows seat and wasn’t light. So with strength I didn’t know I possessed, I managed to pull him from the seat and got him onto the floor of the plane in one swift move. It was a tight fit!

Next step. Start CPR, 15 compressions to each breath.

Pro tip 1. Do the compressions in tune to the BeeGees ‘Staying Alive’.

Yes.

Seriously.

Google it!

While I was doing this Ah–ONE I asked Ah-TWO the Flight Attendants Ah-THREE what Emergency Packs Ah-FOUR they had?

Fortunately (and THANK GOODNESS!) all American Airline flights have defibrillators! So off she went running for it while I carried on with CPR …Ah-FIVE…Ah-SIX

And she hurried brought the lifepack back but before handing it over I got “I can’t give you this until I see your license to practice”!

So, step one, show another willing passenger how to continue with the compressions.

Step two. Politely snatch the Defib off the young lady, we can argue about licenses later.

Step three. Connect up the Defib and pray!

Fortunately it was one of these new automatic Defibs so I connected it up, switched it on and it said;

“Assessing Patient..”

“Accessing Patient..”

“Ventricular Fibrillation”

Thank fuck! VF (Ventricular Fibrillation) is a shockable rhythm, it responds very well to cardioversion. Think of it like every single muscle fibre of the heart is firing off simultaneously, every muscle fibre of the heart is having an epileptic fit, a quivering limbo dance, and passing a charge across the myocardium resets the electrical activity and fingers crossed, they reset to sinus rhythm.

“Prepare to Cardiovert Patient–Stand Clear”

“Press Green Button”

I double checked everyone was clear and even more importantly ensured he wasn’t touching any metal parts of the plane.

Pro tip 2. Airlines are worried about mobile phones interfering with navigation equipment and ask everyone to switch them off or put the device into Airplane Mode before take-off and landing. They should be even more worried about having a Defib being used incorrectly at 38,000ft. Passing 300 joules of electrical energy through the plane fuselage means everyone’s going to have a bad day that day! It’s somewhat imperative to make sure your patient isn’t touching any metal..

So, the Defib did that whining noise we all know from the movies as it charged up.

Deep breath.

I pressed the Green Button

He did a large sudden jerk..

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE…

and the Defib called out

“Assessing Patient..”

“Requires Further Cardioversion”

FUCK, still in VF! I tuned the juice up.

“Stand Clear and Press Green Button”.

I made sure we were all clear and pressed the button again, he did another sudden jerk PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE…

and then the Defib said

” Rhythm attained, please attend patient.”

Thank FUCK! Hurrah! Hurrah! I could breathe again! So could absolutely everyone else on the plane! Phew!

I read the ECG from the machine and he did indeed seem to be in a sinus rhythm, though very unstable but a rhythm with an output is enough!

The flight attendant found an oxygen cylinder, an ambu bag and a face mask with a good seal in the emergency pack so I kept his airway clear and tried to get some O2 into him. I found a stethoscope in one of the medical kits and tried listening for air entry on both sides of his lungs.

Pro tip 3. Don’t bother listening for air entry, all you’ll hear is the sound of four General Electric GE90 jet engines drowning out any airway sounds.

I glanced down the aisle. Absolutely everyone was hanging further and further out of their seats, so much so that the passengers at the end of the aisle were in danger of falling out. Kim Kardashian could’ve been standing buck naked at the end of the plane and no one would have noticed, all eyes were on us!

At this point the pilot came wandering up and asked what the score was, I told him in no uncertain terms that this man needed proper medical attention ASAP! We were about an hour out of Iceland, so he simply turned the plane around 180 degrees and headed back to land at Reykjavik…to a chorus of groans by everyone else.. Aren’t people funny, you’re a hero one minute, then your flight turns around and suddenly you’re the worse of the worse… if it had been your dad….

So we carried on like this for the hour, taking turns to ventilate, watching the rhythm, getting things ready in case he should have another arrest and at the same time trying to talk with his wife to reassure her and get some medical history.

Eventually we got near Reykjavik and the Flight Attendant said we need to take a seat whilst the plane landed for safety’s sake, I told her it was impossible to ventilate him effectively from the seat, so I sat on the floor with his head between my legs facing the direction of the aircraft while we slowed from 700mph to a very bumpy landing at Reykjavik airport.

At Reykjavik the ambulance had arrived but due to the thin aisles of the plane and him being a bit heavy we couldn’t use a ‘back-board’ to stretcher him off the plane. So they simply hauled him off in very undignified fashion with me ventilating him from the side.

Pro tip 5. Reykjavik, Iceland, February, about 5am in the morning, a bit parky. Don’t just go out in a tee-shirt!

I helped get him into the ambulance, passed on a report to the ambulance crew and very quickly got back into the lovely warmth of the 777 before I got frostbite!

We spent about the next hour tidying up the plane, getting fresh medicines on board (in case lightening did indeed strike twice!) and eventually started making our way to the States. The flight attendants were so grateful for my assistance that they put me in business class for the remainder of the trip, they kept saying just how thankful they were to have us on board.  No No, thank you American Airlines for having Defibs on every plane!

Pro tip 6. Now, dear readers, I’d like at this point to offer some very important advice.

IF at any stage in the future, you plan on having a cardiac arrest, it’s somewhat important, actually, imperative,  that you ask around your immediate vicinity the following question: “Is there anyone here with medical experience, ideally ten years’ experience working as a nurse on Intensive Care?”

If no-one replies in the affirmative then it’s probably not an ideal time to have your heart attack, you might want to postpone it until you’re somewhat closer to a hospital. Probably the very worse time and place to have a cardiac arrest is when you’re travelling at 700mph at 38,000ft halfway across the Atlantic.. If you look out the window you won’t see many ambulances out there..

And now the two stings in the tale.

1. I wasn’t actually meant to be on that flight. Gatwick Security was so bad that day that I was held up and missed my flight. So I was put on a later hop skip and jump flight. If Gatwick Security had been efficient that day then I would have been on an earlier flight and who knows what would have happened. I asked the Flight attendants what actually happens when someone dies on a flight and they said we try to carry them (covered up!) to the galley, lay him down there and try to leave them there until the flight lands.

2. On the way back to Reykjavik I asked his wife about previous medical history. They’d just spent two weeks touring England but were returning home to Dallas. She told me his father had died..yes, you guessed it, from a heart attack. Her husband had chest pains three days ago in London! I was flabbergasted…What! Surely the doctors in A&E would have absolutely refused to let him fly…reduced oxygen and all that??

“Oh no! we don’t trust your British hospitals so he didn’t go, he treated himself..” and she said he was an anaesthetist, she was a nurse and they carried an emergency pack of meds everywhere they went!

So, let me get this straight, you’re both medics, know all about the classical symptoms of cardiac failure, but rather than call an ambulance immediately or go to the nearest A&E you treated yourself because he didn’t trust our NHS hospitals.

FACEPALM!..what did you think we would treat him with? Leeches?