The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking

15 03 2015

What ever happened to Roger Waters?

Years ago, a great friend of mine asked if I wanted a CD of an album that he just couldn’t “get on with”. We were both Pink Floyd fans (indeed he even got to see them live), and this was a solo album by Roger Waters – The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking.

Wikipedia: The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking

I’ve learnt over the intervening three decades that it is definitely a divisive album. Even those that love The Floyd and even Waters generally can have polarised views on this particular album. He sketched it out alongside The Wall in the late 70s and offered the band one, the other was to be a solo project. It took him until 1984 to finish it.

Even the cover is controversial. The more keen observers will note that the naked woman has been relieved of her face, and arguably then further objectified. The really keen observers will note she’s on the right of the road making her likely a hitcher in the UK, facing traffic driving on the left.

Love it or hate it, it’s a clever concept album. Each track is titled with a time (in realtime if you’re an insomniac) as the narrator spends a sleepless night having various dreams and recollecting his fears, memories and thoughts of adultery.

There are really strong saxophone and guitar elements from  David Sanborn and Eric Clapton. That said, I was personally drawn by the typically clever Waters lyrics. The guy can be provocative for sure, but he can tell a story and wields words with the grace and precision of any master painter.

And she smiled as she finished her sandwich
And her cold eyes fixed me to my dark history
As she brushed the remains
Of our love from the bed

 

Fixed on the front of her Fassbinder face
Was the kind of a smile
That only a rather dull child could have drawn

 

You adopted a fox cub
Whose mother was somebody’s coat

 





I try

24 02 2015

Tick tock goes the clock.

The Vancouver Sun Run is not getting further away, and I’ve been trying to keep up some sort of training regime. Gym a few times a week; running the rest of it; a hike at the weekend…

I did a half-decent hike on Saturday, but have been a bit lazy since then. Even my nagging FitBit hasn’t been successful in breaking my fug. I’ve been a bit low emotionally lately and that never helps with motivation.

Today though, I managed to cajole myself out for a run. As usual, I put my iPod on random and set off into the night. As I’ve mentioned a few times, there is often a single song that sticks with me as particularly memorable out of the 10 or so that play during my circuit. This time though, I noticed just how many of the tunes were about lost loves, or other forms of self pity. It could of course just be one of those weird statistical things, or it might be a reflection of the type of music I am drawn to.

The song that stood out for me tonight was the lovely Macy Gray and “I try”.

I try to say goodbye and I choke
Try to walk away and I stumble
Though I try to hide it, it’s clear
My world crumbles when you are not here

Nice steady beat though, I shaved almost 5 minutes off my circuit time which was a shock. I’ve been favouring the gym of late and didn’t think my road speed would have been maintained. Seems I was wrong. Now if only I could lose some of the excess weight I’d be quids in…

Trawling youtube to find the official Macy Gray video, I came across Natalie Imbruglia and Alanis Morissette videos. Interesting. They are both frequent visitors to my iPod, so I plainly fit whatever algorithm youtube is using for “if you like this, you’d probably also like…”.

So, as a bonus today, I bring you one of my favourite Alanis tracks – “Everything”. Any song that can begin with I can be an asshole of the grandest kind is right up my street.

I love the self-effacing timbre of much of her music, and the celebration that someone can love you despite everything you are…. or perhaps even because of it.

You see everything, you see every part
You see all my light and you love my dark
You dig everything of which I’m ashamed
There’s not anything to which you can’t relate
And you’re still here





Criminal

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.





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!)





Evolution and competing for life

19 01 2015

So you may recall I was given a FitBit for Chrimbo.

Quite a discrete little thing – not much bigger than my handmade leather (and EVER so masculine) bracelet. It faithfully logs my every step and reports on my restless sleep each night. All it asks is that I recharge it every now and then. It’s even thoughtful enough to email me when it’s time to perform that little task.

I went for a swift bevvie on Friday with a couple of old workmates. Old as in “not current” – they’re both substantially younger than me. Anyway, one of these gents let slip that he too had recently bought a FitBit, though his was a more sophisticated one that also counts stair flights climbed, heart-rate etc.

Atrial Fibrillation aside, I tend to see heart-rate as a pretty digital thing: “on” or “off”. Off is not generally considered a good thing and can lead to permanent lack of income and a loss of social status. “On” in my case can be anything from 70 or so bpm when at rest to off the chart when it’s in fibrillation. Not a lot of point paying extra to measure that, then!

Anyway yesterday I received a curious email suggesting I become his friend on the FitBit site. This seemed harmless enough, and as I’ve recently given up FaceBook, Google+, Instagram, Twitter etc, I figured I’d best say yes so he doesn’t think I’m spurning him. What I was too dim to realise of course is that this is basically an invitation to be on a scoreboard with his daily FitBit data being compared to my own.

The theory it seems is that a little competition will egg all parties concerned to try a little harder. This naturally works best with men and women of a particular mental slant – viz: egocentric. I’m hoping Darwin was only partially right. I have no issue at all with the survival of the fittest. I’m just hoping that coming second doesn’t mean an instant relegation to the land of the dead!

So this evening I went to the gym with my son (number 3 child). Years ago I bought a “10 entry” pass for the Surrey area leisure centres. I was down to the last one or two, so I bought another 10 entries (it gives you a discounted price). But there was a snag. It seems the original 10 units were not time limited (indeed – I look very young and slim in the photo), but the new block of 10 units runs out in 2 years. What?! That’s five gym visits a year! That’s positively obsessive behaviour that is! I’m just relieved my Yorkshire genes were held at bay and I didn’t go for the slightly cheaper per unit 20 entry pack. That would be almost one visit a month! My gods, I might actually get fit if I went that often. Are they mad?!

Joking aside, I find it very calming to put on my iPod and zone out with my private thoughts whilst pounding away on the elliptical trainer. I find myself feeling a little superior when people come and go on the machines around me, demonstrating as much staying power as a kitten with a ball of string. The woman on the machine next to me was barely at walking speed, was on her phone most of the time, and didn’t even break into a sweat. I on the other hand needed to wade to shore after my session, there was so much moisture exuded.

I have eclectic music tastes and a large capacity iPod on shuffle. It’s always something of a mystery then what my fitness playlist will be on any specific occasion. Usually though one particular song stands out. For last night’s run, it was Arctic Monkey’s “Suck it and see”.

Your kiss it could put creases in the rain

You’re rarer than a can of Dandelion and Burdock

Now that, dear reader is poetry. Though possibly only if you know what Dandelion and Burdock is.

Tonight’s standout song was Ani Difranco’s “As Is”. A very dear friend alerted me to this song years ago, and I love the sentiment in the lyrics.

Cause I’ve got
No illusions about you
And guess what?
I never did
And when I say
When I say I’ll take it
I mean,
I mean as is

So, whatever the long term results of this accidental competition I seem to have entered are, at least I will continue to be reacquainted with some great poetry set to music.

Now, if you’ll excuse me dear reader, I have a dog to walk (to get my FitBit steps in for the day ;o) ). Good job I have a dog, or I’d be forced to steal one for the purpose…





Of Saints and Sinners

6 12 2014

Funny how we like to draw opposites – real or imaginary – isn’t it? Us and them. It’s become quite an artistic device.

Of Mice and Men. A book I had to read at school. A classic. So great, we studied it for weeks… and I can’t remember anything about it, except some guy dies at the end. I don’t actually remember whether mice played any part, but I strongly suspect not. :) So… perhaps not so great after all? At least not if you’re 12 and consider the prime value of English literature to be in guiding you towards the correct construction of your Airfix model.

Of Monsters and Men. Great indie band out of Iceland. Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir has an amazing voice I think. You know, the Icelandic music scene has produced some wonderful talent over the years. Well, OK, so really there was just Björk… but she was in the Sugarcubes first, so that’s almost three you’ve potentially heard of!

So, of saints and sinners then. The saints in this piece are the good folks at Marks & Spencer.

Marks_&_Spencer_Logo[1]

Wikipedia: M&S logo

For those not familiar, Marks and Sparks is the good old, solid, “go to” chain in the UK. They apparently had stores here in Canada until just before we immigrated here, so we just missed them. For about a year or so after we arrived you could get M&S biscuits, jam and the like at one or two supermarket chains, but I suspect that was just the logistic chain draining itself out to the general market. Obviously I’ve been out of touch for a decade and a half now, but it certainly used to be the place to get “sensible” clothes. Underwear that would outlast the wearer. Indestructible elastic. Reliable shoes. School trousers, work jumpers, that sort of thing. Nothing flash, just solid, high quality basics.

They also built their success partly on their no nonsense high quality customer service. Never an argument about returns, exchanges, etc. Well known amongst shop-lifters for accepting items for refund with no receipt. Outstanding, well respected customer service. Second to none.

From 1928 onwards, they used St. Michael as their in-house brand, to honour one of the founders, Michael Marks (who was actually Jewish, but then so was Jesus I suppose). More saintliness.

STMICHAEL[1]

Wikipedia: St. Michael logo


Anyway, you’ve no doubt noticed that Christmas is approaching. Even if, like me, you’ve given up on broadcast TV and now find your advert free entertainment on Netflix or other streamed media, you must surely be bombarded with the contradictory images associated with the season in every shop window. Sadly, the US Thanksgiving shopping frenzy has now spilled over into Canada (which has its own Thanksgiving, a month earlier) and even the UK – which has no equivalent at all (unless you include the low-key Harvest Festival that is still celebrated in churches up and down the land.) Any excuse for a sale, I suppose.

So, in amongst all this, my dear mother – still resident in Blighty – calls us up and offers to send us some M&S goodies for Christmas, since they’re offering free shipping worldwide during the imported US Thanksgiving sales. Being from Yorkshire, free anything is a definite attraction, and suggestions for presents from the M&S website were duly made. Since the shipping was free, my mum decided to order and send the presents separately so that we could each open our own package, rather than getting a single consolidated shipment. Free shipping – why not? [By the way… there are five of us.]

M&S used the Royal Mail for shipping last year. Items duly showed up in the post via Canada Post at this end, or if they were too large and nobody was in, you popped up to the local post office and collected it at your convenience. No fuss or nonsense, and – you guessed it – it was free shipping last year too!

So – enter the sinners.

For this part in the epic Christmas pantomime, we shall use DHL, as these are the people M&S have chosen to provide their free shipping this year.

567px-DHL_Express_logo.svg[1]

Wikipedia: DHL logo


Now I knew DHL was German (D for Deutsch), I didn’t know they had been bought up by the German Post Office though. Actually, in fairness, they use local courier agencies to do their drop deliveries, so the remainder of the tale is really only their fault as far as the stationary that’s used, and their chosen local business partners.

So anyway, a couple of days after the free shipping is invoked by my saintly mother the first two parcels arrive! Amazing service, one might think, and so it seemed. Great Teutonic efficiency, even if sub-contracted. Unfortunately, as can sometimes be the case, there was nobody in. They dutifully left a little pre-printed note apologising for missing us, and assuring us they’d try again next day. The problem was though, there would be fees of $37 and $43 for the parcels.

Now, though the kindly Canadian customs organisation are quite good at turning a blind eye for a few tens of dollars here and there crossing over from the US as part of a day’s sightseeing trip, they draw the line at tobacco goods, alcohol, and excessive piss-taking in the form of wide screen TVs and other expensive items. The fact that these two parcels had import duty to pay was half-expected and not in and of itself a surprise. The fact it was almost $80 for the pair though seemed to imply that my mother had been unusually generous. (Don’t forget that she’d also already paid the UK government a VAT of 20% on these goods.) Anyway, we were excited now, so my wife stayed in the next afternoon. Unfortunately the dog was crossing her legs desperate to go for a walk and in the 15 minutes they were out of the house, we missed the second attempt. Attempt 3 happened before my wife was even back home from work the next day, so in desperation she went online to find out where we could pick it up, instead. And here things take a twist…

Online we discover two things. (i) we can offer an alternative delivery location. Great! We entered my work address where someone is ALWAYS available to accept deliveries. There’s even various options including the one we selected: “please leave at reception.” Discovery (ii) was less pleasant, but explained my mother’s apparent generosity. There was indeed import duty to pay on the items. Oh well, that’s the way it is. But the duty was only a fraction of the amount to pay…

One item, valued at ~CAD$70  incurred import duty of $12.71. Not outrageous, all things considered.

However, then the provincial and federal taxes are added. A total of 12% on the value (already including UK paid taxes of 20%) plus the import duty. This comes to an additional $10.

Not satisfied with this, there is then an additional $10 flat rate fee from the courier for “processing”.

Then, just to add insult to injury, there is a fee of $4.25 because it’s “cash on delivery”. Free shipping, but still cash on delivery. Again – straight into the pocket of the local courier on behalf of DHL. $4.25, though annoying is reasonable for an agency to be inconvenienced for having to collect and verify payment on behalf of the government I suppose. The thing is… it’s not waived when the recipient goes to the trouble – as we did – to pay online and therefore avoid the inconvenience on behalf of the courier.

Oh well, at least we’d paid the fees now, and we’re safe in the knowledge that no matter what time the parcels are delivered, they’ll be signed for at work, and handed over.

Except they’re not.

Nope. We get home and find they’ve just been left on the front step for anyone to take. So much for using the online system to change the delivery address and explicitly select “leave at reception”. I guess now the government fees are collected and the courier on behalf of DHL has gouged us an additional $14.25, they no longer care whether we actually receive the items or not!

Now fuming that DHL and the local agent on their behalf have been totally cavalier with the parcels and gouged deeply for the pleasure of undergoing the risk of having some local oik steal them before we even get to open them, my wife emails the service operation of the hitherto blameless M&S. After a very laudibly short delay, the reply comes back.

Tough shit.

Of course, much more wordy (and in arguably less grammatically correct English), but essentially – that’s the way it is.

Seems things really have slid in the bastion of great service hitherto known as Marks and Spencer. The UK-resident shopper is blissfully unaware that by accepting the offer of free shipping on their Christmas presents to ex-pat friends and family, they’re actually surprising the recipient with a gift of paying over 50% of the original price, just to receive it! (The other parcel was slightly less at 48% – $43.68 on a gift of $89.35.)

Remember – the gifts were sent separately because it was free shipping. That small act of genuine thoughtfulness cost us an additional $14.25.

Daylight robbery!








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