Spare Ribs and Fish Guts

29 04 2015

I’m reading a book at the moment that I bought in last year’s local Rotary Club book fair. It’s an anthology of some of Philip K Dick’s short stories. No less than 10 films have been spun from his stories, including Minority Report, Blade Runner, Total Recall, Adjustment Bureau and others. These stories obviously had merit enough to be spun up into full length films even though the original story might have only been a few pages long. Most of the stories in the anthology are a lot less spectacular. In fairness, most were written in the 50s and 60s and though tame (or lame) by modern standards, would still have been inspired and original back then.

One story is built around the concept that we all have our own world/reality. In it, everything goes just as it needs to, for our own benefit. Everything that happens – even the bad things – are ultimately for our benefit. Everyone else we encounter is basically there just for our amusement and aren’t really fully realised. They each have their own world where they are the focus and we are the bit players.

So I read this story today, and it got me thinking – as any worthy read should. I realised that the only reason I hadn’t written a more substantial “linking a few disparate ideas together” blog posting of late was basically because I hadn’t tried! I hadn’t looked for the links that are there for we pattern-seekers to find in any day we consciously experience. As humans we actually have to be careful to not find patterns and links where none actually exist. There’s a well documented phenomenon called pareidolia – one aspect of which is seeing human faces in inanimate objects or clouds, shadows, etc. I guess we’re so good at suppressing it that we forget to allow it to happen when we’re wanting a bit of creativity.

So today, we’re going to discuss spare ribs and fish guts. Hey – I never said the link couldn’t be tenuous!

I share an office and my colleague and I have known each other for many years. Since before I moved to Canada in fact. We know each other’s families well and rarely feel the need to be particularly discreet or guarded when speaking on the phone with our kith or kin. So today my colleague was speaking with his father about a recurring issue he has with a dislocated rib. Sounds painful, but apparently a bit of prodding and poking from a chiropractor (which I discovered is a North American witch doctor, but quite legal and covered by insurance despite being previously unknown to me in the Old Country) can rectify things. After the call, I was updated with the details and I jokingly suggested his father might have the troublesome rib removed. Indeed he could perhaps have it fashioned into a second wife. I think this quip surprised my devout friend because I am not known as being even slightly religious. This superficially seemed to confirm how deeply ingrained the judeo-christian traditions were within European society and how well known the biblical story of Adam’s rib was.

I then had to confess that the entire story was unknown to me until I was in college. I went to what then was an all-male college in Durham University – Grey College. It’s named after Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey of “The Duchess” fame. Tea too. Yes, that Earl Grey. Anyway, some time before I attended, there had been a motion passed that in addition to the usual dailies and several stoic publications like The Economist, the Junior Common Room would also subscribe to a publication called Spare Rib. If you’re not aware, this is a now-defunct UK feminist magazine. Pretty forward thinking for an all-male college really. Anyway, not being afraid to learn (I was after all purportedly at university for just that reason!) I had to ask what the name was all about, and someone or other set me straight about the biblical story regarding a rib, clay and whatnot.

Of course, I had to explain all this to my colleague and we quickly came across an early cover from 1972.

Wikipedia: Spare Rib 1972

Yes, that is John Cleese on the cover as “sleazy boss”. The headline reads “On the boss’s lap for Christmas – back under his thumb next year”. If you’d like to read the article on page 13 of this, the sixth edition, you can buy your very own copy for a mere £60 from Amazon.co.uk. Somewhat dearer than the original 17½p… even with inflation! I feel I must apologise that I could not ascertain the name of the young lady posed on Mr Cleese’s undeserving knee. If anyone can tell me, I’ll gladly add it to this piece. When I was a kid we actually had a mustard yellow rotary phone just like that on the table.

Today my day was pretty busy, trying to organise travel to Chicago, Connecticut and various European destinations. Also the UK, which is even now reluctant to admit it’s part of Europe. That 22 mile stretch of water has served the islands well over the millennia! Anyway, I found myself on LinkedIn trying to locate contact details of one of the clients I was to meet. Whilst trolling around various possible formats of his name and that of his company in vain, I noticed that I had received an invitation to link with someone and curiosity dragged me onwards.

The person desirous of my connection was a very northern European looking lady , but with a very Japanese name. Oh come on… you’d be curious too! I read on…

She was genuine as far as I could tell, and did indeed claim to speak Japanese, despite being a professor in a northern Icelandic university. The best bit though was her area of study. It was to do with the unexploited resources that are the byproducts of food processing. As well as vegetable trimmings (which just sounded a bit rude), my favourite was fish guts. It seems that there are useful antioxidants (and presumably other things) being discarded as part of our industrialised food creation.

Which brought me back to my lunchtime reading of “vintage” science fiction. My colleague had noticed the book and mentioned he had enjoyed reading the similarly vintage “Stainless Steel Rat” series when he was younger. I’ve not read them myself, but was aware of them, and surprised him that I knew they were penned by Harry Harrison. I knew this because Harrison also wrote a book called Make Room! Make Room! I haven’t read this either, but would very much like to. It is the novel from which the 1973 classic Soylent Green was derived. And there we have it. Spare rib, fish guts and a side of Soylent Green.

Now if I could only parley that into a trip to Iceland, we’d be golden…





OK – That’s it!

17 01 2015

I’ve been gnashing at the bit ever since I was a kid, to go to Iceland. There and Canada. Since I now live in BC, I’ve got the latter one reasonable well covered… though it is one humongous country, and I’ve barely scratched its surface! Last year was the nearest I’ve come to Iceland – I even priced up hotels, but in the end I enjoyed the Grand Canyon/Antelope Canyon/Arches National Park. They were amazing places, and I’m glad I went, but definitely not the same.

I just read an article on Bored Panda though. Julien Ratel lives there and has himself only just visited the Ice Caves in the south-east, under the giant Vatnajökull glacier. As well as obviously an accomplished photographer, it seems he’s a guide and travel agent too. What an amazing place to be a travel agent!

Julien Ratel

I Finally Visited The Ice Caves In Iceland | Bored Panda.

Amazing photos. Click on the image above for others.

So that’s it. This year I’m definitely going.

Probably.

Maybe.





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!





BBC News – Why Icelanders are wary of elves living beneath the rocks

20 06 2014

Hey don’t knock it…

The evidence is scant at best, but still way stronger than well established world religions!

BBC News – Why Icelanders are wary of elves living beneath the rocks.

BBC- The Elf Chapel

BBC- The Elf Chapel





Just Deserts (Part 1 of n)

29 03 2014

I spent my formative years in a small town in Yorkshire. In the North of England. It wasn’t a particularly remarkable childhood. No lurid skeletons in my family closet or anything of that nature.

One of the things that typified an upbringing in these relatively quiet backwaters in the 70’s was an expectation that this was pretty much “it”. It’s not that my school friends were in-bred or anything, but 40 odd years later, let’s just say many of them still have the same post-code! My grand-parents lived a whole 45 miles away in a coal mining town called South Elmsall, where both my parents were raised and met. My father became a policeman and was posted a galaxy away to Silsden… 45 miles West.

As a growing child I remember that a visit to my grandparents was a weekend affair. It took an hour and 20 minutes to drive the 45 miles, and there was no way one could contemplate the return trip on the same day! As I’ve grown older I’ve never really understood that barrier. Plainly roads and cars were a lot less capable than today, but I think it was more a mental obstacle.

So, there I was growing up no more malcontent than any other male youth in human history, and fully expecting to die within spitting distance of where I grew up, when two separate things happened. Firstly, an elderly lady (she must have been at least my age now!) that my mother used to keep an eye on went to visit her daughter in “Beautiful British Columbia”. I vaguely recall the daughter lived in Victoria on the Island, but I might be wrong. Anyway, this dear old lady (Mrs Berry was her name) knew I was a bit of a nerd, and on her return presented me with a huge armful of travel brochures and mementos of her trip. There were train brochures from the coast-to-coast trip she’d taken, photos of Niagara, and endless photos of the greenest trees I had ever seen. I was sold. Before I died I was DEFINITELY going to visit Canada.

I’m sure it’s no surprise that I have been an avid book reader since I figured out how to stop my lips moving. Another aspect of my willingness to consider broader horizons was that I earnt a scholarship to the “local” grammar school. It was a whole 15 miles away in Bradford, and my erstwhile schoolmates couldn’t believe I was going to catch 4 buses a day and spend 3 hours getting to and from school when the local comprehensive was just down the road. But that was 3 very useful hours. Many a French (or Latin) vocab. test was passed because it had been studied in the last 30 minutes of a bus ride and was still fresh as I wrote the test. And many a book was consumed on the back seat of a West Yorkshire Traction double-decker.

One such book was “Running Blind” by Desmond Bagley. This was the usual action book in the Hammond Innes, Jack Higgins, Alastair McLean mould. But it had a profound effect on me. It was set in Iceland, and the descriptions blew me away. I decided there and then that Iceland too would need to feel the tread of my step before I finally popped my clogs.

So there you have it. Two different but influential experiences on a growing lad that made me think that perhaps there was something more life could offer than even the grandest county in the land. Fast forward a year or two. Or 40. And I have visited every continent except Antarctica. I now live in BC, and have met some amazing people and shared some amazing experiences. Some uncomfortable, wet and very cold, though no less wonderful for all that. And this year I will turn 50. What more perfect an occasion to finally visit Iceland?

OK – so things don’t always work out the way we hope, and we actually spent a week of Spring Break visiting the States. I had a list of deserts I’d like to photograph, and we set off to bag as many as we could.

Desert Trip Route

Desert Trip Route

Meh – Iceland, Arizona… we were all equal in the end (Pink Floyd – Two Suns in the Sunset, Final Cut… don’t listen to it if you’re a manic depressive, despite its awesomeness).

Saturday

We had decided to fly out of Bellingham on Allegiant. Cheap and not very cheerful. Mr & Mrs Elephant were accompanied by our youngest since we figured it was safer than leaving a 15 year old lad alone in the house for a week! The obliging parents of his girlfriend even offered to look after our devil-dog, so it all looked set for a relaxing week. Allegiant nickel and dime you for everything, so we opted to travel light and the three of us shared a single suitcase (they charge for carry-on too: $50!), and we pre-paid online to get a cheaper deal on the one case. Parking was easy, check-in smooth, and though we had had to allow plenty of time in case of issues driving across the border, we boarded the plane with no incident (except for an elderly gentleman’s cap being blown off as he climbed the exposed ramp to the plane).

The flight was short, uneventful (always a good thing where flying is concerned) and the air reasonably clear. I’m often fascinated by the sights I see from an aeroplane and struggle afterwards to identify where they were. The artificially irrigated farms with their circular fields are always amusing, and I’m not sure if the snow-covered mountain was Mt. Rainier in Washington.

As soon as we arrived in Las Vegas I felt like I needed a shower. I don’t know what it is about that place, but it instantly makes me feel grubby. We had the usual interminable wait for our hire car, and despite having pre-booked, they were completely out of compacts. We actually ended up with a Ford Focus, and though it had leather trim and lots of electronic goodies… it definitely lacked something in the “oomph” department. The afternoon was already well advanced and we’d booked a hotel just a little out of town in Henderson to ease us in to the whole road-trip phenomena. Once we’d booked in and sorted ourselves out, we toodled off for some tea at “The Cheesecake Factory”. This was on the recommendation of 2nd born who had visited their Palm Springs emporium. It was not an unpleasant experience, but a little over-sold I think. I don’t feel the need to revisit before I shuffle off this mortal coil. It was the first time I’d ever ordered a salad and not been able to finish it though. Because it was huge, not because it was bad. Au contraire… I was eager to have it boxed up for a second round the following day. A relatively early night and we were all set for the first full day “on the road”.

Sunday

The forecast had been for cold, showery weather the entire week, and we were delighted that we had a sunny day instead. I hit the gym (it won) and Mrs E actually ran all the way to the Cheesecake Factory and back, just to make sure it was still there. We are a leisurely breakfast and headed off to Hoover Dam. No particular reason – when you’ve seen one hydro dam, you’ve seen them all – but it was along the way. The weather steadily improved and temperatures rose to almost 30°C. I know this because I’d fiddled with the car’s display and managed to get it to show the external temperature in Celsius since Fahrenheit meant nothing to me. (I did accidentally on purpose forget to set it back though, just to annoy the next renter who will almost certainly NOT be from Canada.) The waters behind the dam looked quite low and there was a telling white mark high up no the rocks showing where a more healthy level might be. The spillways were interesting and showed a mechanical barrier that could be lifted almost light an aeroplane’s wing flaps, to control flow over the spillway. I hadn’t really thought about it, but the dam crossed the state line and there were two clocks showing Nevada and Arizona time. Usually they’re an hour apart, one being Pacific, and the other Mountain time zones. But… Arizona has decided not to use Daylight Saving, so it didn’t advance its clocks for Summer, and they’re actually both at the same time for now. Except Navajo lands… they opted to use DST anyway, just for kicks. It was all too much for MrsE’s iPhone, but my BlackBerry seemed to figure it out just fine. My salad from the previous evening was a little tepid when we ate lunch, but still crisp and tasty. We were discussing Area 51 when we saw a custom painted van with an alien painted on the side. This van was nothing but a curiosity… until we noticed it in every town we stopped in all the way up to Moab!

After an amble around the gift shop and some photos of the Art Deco designs of the dam, we were off to Williams, South of the Grand Canyon. We chose to take the scenic route – literally – and took the old Route 66, for no other reason than it felt like a touristy thing to do!

There was a railway running parallel to the road for much of the way to Williams, and I was amused to see the same engines (BNSF) as sometimes run through White Rock, BC.

Williams is a sleepy little town, and after a nice barbecue dinner, we turned in for our first REALLY big desert day. Tomorrow we were off to see the Grand Canyon… on a train!

To be continued…





Human pylons carry electricity across Iceland (Wired UK)

25 05 2012

But you still have to wonder… “why?”

Human pylons carry electricity across Iceland (Wired UK).