A day for everything

28 01 2015

Today is Bell’s Let’s Talk Day, intended to draw attention to mental illness. Not a bad thing, and oh look, they get some decent positive marketing from it too. Imagine that! (Who are you calling cynical?)

There’s rumour that September 26th is National Marmite Day. Hm…

Love it, hate it, just don’t forget it! (Or Paxman will get you… now THAT is scary ūüėČ )

Thankfully the dog’s anonymity was preserved.

Sad Story: Durham Loses Its Innocence – BuzzFeed News

28 01 2015

Really sad to read on Buzzfeed about the deaths of three students at my old university over the space of 14 months.

I understand the point of one of the commentators regarding the apparent blame of the victims for their drownings due to excess alcohol. Any death is sad, especially during what should be the most exciting 3 or so years of a young person’s life. It’s easy to say “things were different back when…”, but maybe it’s true.

Obviously river safety should be a concern for the City of Durham as a whole, but I think the student body should look to itself rather than seeking to blame others. Compared to the local population it is relatively privileged and certainly celebrating life to its fullest. The temptations to over-indulge are there, and more intense in today’s culture than ever before.

Of course there’s a chance they might not have died if there were better barriers along the river. Of course the temptation is lower if the price of alcohol is higher and the availability curtailed (the pubs closed at 10:30 when I was an undergraduate there). As far as we can tell though, nobody forced them to drink to the extent they did. Students have always pushed the envelope, but they are supposed to have higher than average intelligence and better than average decision making.

These deaths were tragic accidents, but I feel every one of us needs to take responsibility for our actions and their potentially fatal consequences.

How The Drowning Of Three Students In 14 Months Caused Durham To Lose Its Innocence – BuzzFeed News.


27 01 2015

Well, I’m trying to get my money’s worth out of my son’s monthly gym membership…

If I go, he feels obliged to come too, so’s not to be shown up by the old man. My card is per-visit, so there’s no particular pressure as to when I go, but his is per month, so if he doesn’t go, it’s wasted money… and it’s my money!

As is often the case, the iPod “spoke” to me. Tonight’s stand-out song was Fiona Apple’s “Criminal”. Back from her early days… though she was still as skinny as a beanpole.

Dubious taste in video if I may say, but close your eyes and absorb the imagery wrought by the poetry.

163 bpm

27 01 2015

So once or twice I’ve written about how some ditty or other stood out from the crowd on my random playlist as my iPod accompanied me on a run or at the gym.

Last night was no exception, but this time the stand-out wasn’t for the poetry. Ha – far from it.

The tune last night was the Quo‘s “Caroline”. Hardly highbrow¬†art, but catchy nevertheless.

Come on sweet Caroline
You’re my sweet Caroline
You know I want to take you
I’ve really got to make you
Come on sweet Caroline

Hm… not a lot to say about that really. Let’s just remember it was a product of its time and leave it at that.

I see from that 1973 video that Messrs Rossi and Parfitt still had their nasal septums back then.

Anyway, the point is that I finished my usual ~4km run significantly faster than usual. Five minutes faster. Now of course statistically it might be that I suddenly got a lot fitter, but the fact I collapsed in a sweaty heap on my return kind of thwarts that theory. No – I think it’s that this particular song was subconsciously driving my pace a little faster than usual. So I sniffed around the rear end of the internet and discovered a website that tells you the bpm for pretty much any song you care to name. It’s called jogfm¬†and it also works in reverse and offers a list of songs for a given target bpm! Several of the suggestions for 163bpm are in my iTunes collection (well it is many GB in size, so it’d be more of a surprise if they weren’t!) so I think I know what I’m doing next weekend…

Just for the record, 163bpm is equivalent to a pace of 5:24/km. Or in other words, a sub-hour Sun Run… maybe this year’s the year.

A Furple

25 01 2015

Libraries are wonderful institutions. If you aren’t a member of your local library, or you are but don’t use it… why?! As well as everything else… it’s free!

As a kid I earnt my “librarian” badge in cubs. I remember part of it involved covering a book to make a dust jacket (a skill that came into great effect when I had to cover umpteen text books at grammar school). I covered my dad’s book on fishing. Rather wittily, I thought, I used wrapping paper depicting various floats and lures. Smart-arsed little 8 year old, wasn’t I?! It was called “The Compleat Angler” and I was puzzled by the apparent misspelling, even then (which is why I remember it more than 40 years later). Turns out it was first published in 1653… so I’ll let them off, since it was before Samuel Johnson’s 1755 dictionary.

Anyway, I became a frequent visitor to the local library in the village where I grew up, and was encouraged by Mrs Spencer, the local librarian. Over the years she even let me borrow several “for reference only” books to help with my homework. There weren’t a lot of takers for A-level organic chemistry books in our little corner of Yorkshire.

The highlight was being allowed into the hallowed “stacks” where books are kept that are not actually on the shelves. Here I found the¬†McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology. I was allowed to serially take home each of its weighty 20 tomes and yes – I did read them all! It was a seminal moment.

I learnt two key things about myself as a teenager at that time:

(i) I loved science and technology

(ii) I was a complete nerd (see i)

(iii) Maths wasn’t my strongest subject ūüėČ

So anyway, last weekend I visited the local library here in South Surrey and borrowed a few things. Shakespeare, Backpacker magazine, Canadian History magazine, a book on colour correction. You know – the usual stuff. (Eclectic? Moi?) The latter reminded me to update my copy of GIMP, a totally free image manipulation tool that provides many of the features of PhotoShop. Of course, I haven’t opened the book yet, but I couldn’t wait to reacquaint myself with GIMP. I took a few random images to play with. One included an orange. And then I though. Why is an orange called an orange? Well, obviously it’s because it’s orange!

This then must be a furple, because it’s flippin’ purple, innit?!

A Furple

A Furple

Oh Canada… you ARE silly.

24 01 2015

So I live in Surrey, BC.

It’s just an address, but hereabouts people like to be more specific and say SOUTH Surrey to differentiate it from NORMAL Surrey. The reputation of drugs and associated crime being a little too ungenteel for some. Compared to the UK, even deepest, darkest Newton (area of Surrey) is as safe as houses, but all things are relative and it is comparatively bad by BC standards. White Rock is a separate little city, just a few blocks big, carved out of the very south of South Surrey… and they therefore get the best bit of the beach. If they’d been born separately and merged together over the space of a millennium or so, White Rock and South Surrey would be called a conurbation. But this is North America and the paint is still drying on even the oldest “heritage homes”, so they’re not.

White Rock itself has changed quite dramatically in the 14 years we’ve lived here. Lots of development – some of it vertical (the city limit of 4 storeys – intended to protect the ocean views for all – seems to be negotiable if you are a developer with deep enough pockets… or an interesting photo collection, I suppose). When we first arrived, it was like Little England. Every other person was either an elderly war bride or a recent UK immigrant. Far from the case now, but that genteel aspiration lives on, and by and large White Rock/South Surrey is ¬†a twee seaside town. I was frankly a little disappointed all those years ago. We’d emigrated to the other side of the world and accidentally arrived back in England. The largest difference was realising that we’d also travelled back in time to the late 70s! BC has a disproportionately powerful union culture, but it’s also very polite and friendly.

Recently though there have been a couple of troublesome events. Not least the attempted abduction of a 9 year old girl from the local school playground (not during school session, but even so…).

The latest though? A bank robbery. Yup – a real life bank robbery. At the HSBC (though I currently have little sympathy for that particular brand). Best part though? The disguise was a ludicrously obvious false beard. Did I mention that this occurred about 4 blocks from the RCMP police station? a 750m, 8 minute walk according to Google. Oh dear…

Bank robber with fake beard sought by RCMP in White Rock, B.C. – British Columbia – CBC News.

CBC: White Rock robbery

Google Map’s suggestion of the 8 minute walk the police might have taken…

Google Maps: 750 from bank to RCMP station.

Google Maps: 750m from bank to RCMP station.

EDIT: It seems the police now have some suspects.

My new favourite cheese

23 01 2015

A pretty random “oo that looks interesting” purchase the other day at Canadian Superstore, and I absolutely love it.

PC Black Label Jura Montagne Hard Ripened Cheese Aged 10 Months | Loblaws.

According to the reasonably reliable Wikipedia, the Jura Mountains are in Switzerland and France. Oh – and the moon, though I suspect the former is the more likely source of the cheese.

Being an own brand cheese I didn’t have particularly high expectations, but I have to say this is a quality piece of sour milk, for sure!

Tonight’s Primo Tune

23 01 2015

As I’ve mentioned before, sometimes one song really stands out from the shuffle playlist on my iPod when I’m running or at the gym.

Tonight it was Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars.

The particular “poetry”?

I need your grace
To remind me
To find my own

Snow Patrol – Chasing Cars Lyrics | MetroLyrics.

Video of them playing it live at the Royal Opera House (they are awesome live, BTW!)

2015 Vancouver Sun Run

23 01 2015

No going back now!

I’ve been running and to the gym every night this week… well, except last night (7:30am con call took it out of me a bit. What?! Hey – it was bloody tipping it down, OK! I might have drowned out there!).

There didn’t really seem any point to it all unless I signed up for this year’s Sun Run, so I did. Now I’ve spent money (and am from Yorkshire), I’m feeling a bit committed.

Only downside was being reminded I was now in the 50-54 age group now. :o(

2015 Vancouver Sun Run.

2015 Vancouver Sun Run

Vancouver’s Sun Run

Low Dollar and High Finance

22 01 2015

Just when you thought the Canadian dollar couldn’t drop any lower, the central bank dropped interest rates another 0.25% the other day to 0.75%. I thought that was low until I checked and found Switzerland’s is currently -0.75%! (Does that mean they pay your mortgage for you?!)

Anyway, the drop in interest rates obviously meant that Canadian dollars became temporarily less attractive and so the exchange rate with the UK’s pound tipped a little more in the UK’s favour. Despite living in Canada for many years now, this wasn’t actually such a bad thing in my particular case…

Before Christmas I decided I’d move a little of my “idle” UK money into Canada in preparation of the expected credit card bills post-turkey. Being an uncomplicated man, I simply wrote a cheque against my UK bank and presented it to my Canadian bank. Thank-you very much and a signature or two later, $1770.60 was sitting all warm and fuzzily in my Canadian account.

HSBC: The world’s local bank (as long as you live near the bank)


And Christmas came. And along with my two beautiful daughters visiting from college, it left again.

And then I got a statement. A totally random debit was made from the account for $1876.78 in early January. It was made on a day when neither myself nor my wife had visited the bank, yet a call to the bank could only tell us a “sundry” transaction had been made. Apparently in person, but there were no other details. It matched no bill or any other legitimate debit I could imagine. They checked that neither of us had presented the necessary plastic card on the day, that neither of us had lost our cards, and sundry¬†other basic checks. Satisfied, they promised to check video camera feeds and get back to us after the fraud investigation.

And then I got a letter (posted a couple of days earlier and from the same bank branch that had just claimed to have no idea about what the heck had happened.) It turned out that when the UK cheque had been presented to my UK bank, they’d refused payment. This, along with a drop¬†in exchange rates and some not inconsiderable fees for doing who knows what (apart from repatriating the original cheque to me) had resulted in me being charged $106.18 more than I’d been awarded in the original transaction. And a Merry Christmas to you too!

ScotiaBank: my actual local bank

Many phone calls later, I learnt that my UK bank had unilaterally decided that since I didn’t use my account very often they’d freeze it. Now to be fair, they’d sent me a letter to this effect last July. It had arrived two days after their “if we don’t hear from you by…” deadline, so I was none too pleased at the time. I had to pay for many long distance, international minutes on the phone since despite being “the world’s local bank” they do not have any freephone numbers outside the UK. It all got sorted out, and mid July, my account was unfrozen. No mention was made of the fact that they’d freeze it again 60 days later if I continued to not use it. So, roll on Christmas (well after the 60 days) and my cheque suddenly became invalid. No mention or warning that this might happen. They even continue to send me paper statements (how quaint – do banks in Europe still do that?! More on this later) illustrating that I have plenty of money in the account… if only I could get to it.

So anyway, after Christmas I learn that indeed the account will continue to be frozen unless I make transactions on it every few days. Plainly I’m not the only person impacted by this policy. It’s intended by the way to avoid “dead” accounts when the owner is, well, dead. By freezing them, the bank supposedly saves money administering the dormant accounts. The irony of the fact they were sending a single sheet of paper with the same numbers on it every single month at great expense to Canada seemed to be lost on them. So to allow people such as myself a little freedom they’ve created a new type of account that you can only create and use online (which helps if you are abroad!). As suggested by the nice man on the phone, I set up a monthly standing order whereby a single pound is transferred every month from my main account into this online account and therefore keeps the main account active. Talk about creating a complex solution to a self-caused problem! So now, if I really DO die, the automated payments will continue… at least until the main account finally gives out in 450 years or so. They’ll keep sending paper statements at vast expense to an address that likely will be underwater, and all just to justify stealing $106 from me!

So anyway… back to interest rates. The Canadian dollar is now slightly less attractive in the world markets and so each of those UK pounds will buy slightly more Canadian dollars. I tried to open an account with Canadian ForEx, which confusingly is actually Australian. For a flat rate of ¬£7 I can transfer money willy nilly to Canada. If I were flush enough to transfer¬†¬£3,000 or more, it’d actually be free, but let’s not get carried away! The trouble is though… there are anti-fraud laws that require them to prove I really am me. They attempt to do this by asking me to scan a bank statement with my name, account details and a recent date. Trouble being… my bank only gives electronic statements, and since I have to log in to get the statement, they decided there was no point putting my name on it. Furthermore, since I know my account numbers, there’s no point taking the risk of putting the whole number in the statement, so they use a mixture of asterisks and a small selection of the numbers. All this to say… I could not fulfil the anti-fraud requirements as stated. It took a whole week of to-ing and fro-ing, creating PDFs and scanning other statements relating to lines of credit and inside leg measurements, but finally I got it sorted.

Ex-pats wouldn’t give a Canadian ForEx for anything else

So, all’s well that ends well. The exchange rate offered means that I’ve recovered all but a few cents of the $106 I was ripped off by HSBC’s stupidity (and I will still try and recover that anyway via the UK’s ombudsman). And to-boot, I’ve just had a very nice conversation with an Australian guy confirming my transaction, and checking I was happy with the experience.

I’m still angry though that a bank in which you have an account in good standing for THIRTY YEARS could re-freeze an account without warning – verbal or written, and think it perfectly reasonable to refuse to honour a signed and legal cheque. Not to mention having an international marketing campaign about being “the world’s local bank” and then forcing foreign customers to pay long distance charges. They only handle the interaction via phone. No email or online chat options. UK office hours only. Remind me… which century is this again?!