Dont buy the Sun.

Dont buy the Sun.
Hillsborough Justice campaign - Remember the 96.

Monday, 17 April 2017

The Silk Road 1

Well imagine my disappointment when, instead of the Dreamliner of my dreams, or the 747 of my fears (I really don't trust 4 engines after watching the gremlins episode - 50's or 60's version -  of the Twilight Zone) I'm going to be spending ten hours on a 777. A 777?  - are you serious? I'm an international traveller abroad on business, an academic, a Professore Magistere, a bohemian, a vagabond, an international man of mystery, a blogger, an intercultural raconteur....strewth (a rapidly ageing Englishism usually used as a frusrated aspirate which mean 'God's truth' and stands for  'By God's Truth, I won't tolerate this' , but my first thoughts were  "I'm not a fucking tourist on a package holiday"). However, I stand corrected although more accurately I could say that I lay, slept and ate corrected throughout a very comfortable flight.  

Clearly my hosts (for lets not forget I am here, being hosted, on an academic mission)  disagree and on the first day we are treated, successively, and about an hour after a fifteen hour journey,  to my worst nightmares - a trip to a market, a trip to a shopping mall for dinner and then as he pinnacle of the evening, a trip to a pub in a tourist area of ancient streets (which bear all the hallmarks of having been lovingly recreated)  where a pint o'beer  costs an eye watering eight pounds (equivalent).

But lets backtrack and discuss 'why' I am here. I am here, a mere ten years after starting this blog, because having accomplished my goal of being the joint second best academic in England, now I am anxious to exend that achievement globally. My guess is that joint fourteenth best academic in the world is within my grasp, but of course to reach this lofty goal, travel I must. Now,  it is true that my current travels are not organised- unlike my friend Jodie McJodie, the famous Canadian academic - around lofty issues like research. Some, indeed, would say that as a crude marketing exercise (my actual job is to interview international applicants to my University) , this trip is simple hackwork. Others would describe it in terms of 'the oldest profession' only on behalf of a corporate John. I accept these brickbats because without slings we would not have arrows, but reject them because now I am an actual academic I have discovered that its de rigour to have two utterly incompatible views at the same time and pretend that this is ok. So I claim that my work is vital and without it, Western civilisation and the accompanying  inexhorable march to global intellectual dominance of China, India and Korea would not succeed. Who, I ask, am I to stand in the way of this? So here I am, in Shanghai, slightly jetlagged but at least not filling out a billion forms demanded of UK Higher Education,  and ready to spread knowledge (especially knowledge of my opi 'Evolution :When?' 'Civilization: Why? ' and 'Apocalpse: How?) far and slightly further.

What can I say about Shanghai? Well, its big, Really really big. Like very big but only if you take the words 'very' and 'big' seriously. If you do, its that big.

What more can I say. Well not much apart from that in the years since I last blogged a number of new nemesi or nemeses have arisen with the intriguing names of Turnip Face, Shiny, Detail Guy (who's not a guy), Dave. Also new friends have been found including The Brescian, The Intellectual, Vaffanculo and Hot Josef. If, and its a big if, I continue to do this regularly, I'll introduce these rapscallians and heroes, these Aristotles (that's a bad thing by the way) and Plato's , these Cromwells and Cromwells..but for now its photos from Shanghai, a beautiful city in only the way super cities can be...


While I'm here, I may as well update on the last vacation RHB and self have taken...Last week we were in Sicily, challenging Etna to rain her fury on us, in the town of Acireale, just north of Catania. It was an interesting trip. In the previous sentence I am using the word 'interesting' in the way some people describe a friend of a friend who, once met, makes you wonder why said friend is even acquaintances with 'friend of'. It's informative to meet 'friend of' once but with all their quirks (and quirks are not things that make people interesting in my experience) and the suspicion that if you meet them twice they'll be inviting themselves to your house to couch surf for a week "just while they get their shit together" on the second occasion, declaring themselves your friend just because neither of you likes Governments, 'friends of' are usually dickheads I want nothing to do with after one encounter. I cannot say I never want to go to Sicily again, my favourite and only sister in law by direct relationship (as opposed to marriage) lives there. But I'll probably treat Sicily , in the future, as the 'friend of' so that I'll limit the acquaintance (in terms of time spent with) and cannot say I would mourn if we never met again. 

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Testing the multi regional hypothesis of human evolution

Well if yesterday's train journey-Hull to Sheffield to Manchester Airport- and subsequent experience at Manchester Airport- checking in amid a billion RyanAir hen parties heading East to decorate ancient European Cities with good old British collective binge drinking - is taken as evidence, Blighty's trains, planes and airport hotels are not likely locations for the kind of evolution that leads to 'fitter' species. I'm not criticising my fellow travelers - heaven knows, Blighty is a place which has, and does, drive one to  alcohol. But what is noticeable is how rigidly embedded our modes and manners of transport (at least) have made us and how even small variations in a formalised, written, scheduled and stamped plan appears to be destabilising. The default coping mechansim for some people appears  to be violence and shouting, then more booze, then a bit more shouting.

All that of course assumes that the Uk has'nt opted out of evolution in a similar fashion to its opt out of the very Europe that many of my fellow travellers are departing to revel in. This is of course a possibility and has historical precedent - after  all a group of mammoths on Wrangel Island , just off Siberia, appear  to have taken the this option a couple of thousand years ago. it didn't turn out well.

I'm not on my way to Siberia, but I am off to somewhere equally 'exotic' (in the sense of being new to me) . AN opportunity has arisen , through work, to visit China, specifically Shanghai, Jinyan and Beijing. GIven the current situation in work (and if I return to regular blogging I may talk about this) I jumped at the opportunity to go on a trip that I'm not at all sure I want to go on. But having started my journey with a single step, I'm now committed.. travelling solo as I am, it seemed the perfect opportunity to revive this blog.....if Blogger isn't firewalled I'll be posting from China.....

Tuesday, 5 July 2016


Well we went to Moscow to visit Joe and Anna. Here's some photos 

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Package Number 8168013267

With my new career comes new found wealth, and with that new found wealth comes the chance to indulge in conspicuous and extravagant consumption. Another way of phrasing this is to say that the second tier of Large Mansions (known as 1st floor in the UK and the 2nd floor in Canada) might, just might, finally be rewarded for its patience and be granted the floor-covering it deserves. This is not aesthetics - the floor in the second tier currently comprises a mish mash of broken planks held together more by theory than any physical force. Tony Monk would be proud.

I decide, after scrutinising the monthly accounts, we can afford the new floor. "About time" the assembled multitudes who regularly encamp at Large Mansions cry with one voice "We're heartily tired of losing small children and pets who have fallen through the gaps in the floor of your second tier!". " What type of flooring will it be? " they continue.

Well here's the rub, the first one anyway. We have enrobed Large Mansions floors in bamboo. Not only was it 'eco' (more on this) but it was also the cheapest hardwood floor. It is also the squeakiest floor that has ever existed, making -a remote possibility but one has to consider everything - that secret midnight tryst between occasional visitors is well night impossible. At least the 'secret' part is.  We decide to go for bamboo.

As far as the 'eco' is concerned, its true that bamboo, the plant, is pretty 'eco'. It doesnt need much in the way of nutrients, it mops up greenhouse gases as any other plant does and, the clincher, its associated with pandas and you dont get much more 'eco' than pandas. Well, ok, elephants and tigers are very 'eco' but neither of those critters have been as intimately involved in the creation of an ecosystem with the express intention of providing humans with hardwood floors. Admittedly, after the pandas' food has been chopped down for flooring, the 'eco' bit gets a bit fuzzy,  what with the special high energy demand drying process required, oil based glues and laquers involved, shipping across the world and its short lifespan as a product which is caused by  the fact that most people will remove it and throw it in a skip within a week of installation on account of being foiled in their trysts by the squeaking floor which makes secretive movement inpossible.

But, we're nothing if not self-defeatingly stubborn here at Large Mansions, so we decided to complete tier two using bamboo. In order to check compatibility with existing, we ordered a sample. I did have to pay a small sum for said sample, but given aforementioned consultation with the monthly accounts  (which is much more fun, and much less complicated to do after a few glasses of Pinot Gringio), the fee was paid to a company we had used before. The next day, I was sent a confirmatory email and an order number so I could track my order. As I am currently in the very final days of my thesis, doing the interminable job of formatting and correcting small errors (there never was the revolution in the UK in 2014 I predicted but so what, Alex Jones is always predicting doom and everyone thinks he's  a genius) any association with anything that is apparently associated with forward progress - like the idea of something moving through a factory - is a straw, or piece of bamboo perhaps, to be grasped. Grasp I did, and I bookmarked the companies 'track order' page.

The first time I checked my order, a few hours later, I was rewarded with the STATUS notification "ORDER RECIEVED".  "Great" I thought, "these guys are really on the ball". About two hours later, when I was trying to decide whether to annoy my external examiners by using the American 'z' in words ending '-ise' throughout my thesis, I checked again. This first  check told me my order had still been recieved. I was a little disgruntled, after all it was progress I was looking for, but if the thesis has taught me anything, it is patience, so I resisted the temptation to check my order's status again till that evening. I was rewarded for my patience over the two hours since check #2 on  check #3. On check #3, it was clear there was progress  as "WORK ORDER ISSUED" was proudly displayed in the STATUS box. I was immensely excited and subsequently returned to the STATUS page on a regular (by which I mean about four times per day) basis. It became my lifeline - a symbol of progress in an otherwise completely static world of daily exactly-the-same-thingness. The nest day, the status changed to "ORDER IN PROCESS". Excitement mounted.

Twenty three days later,  the status of my order changed to "DELIVERY IN PROGRESS". I have to confess, during the twenty two days in which my twelve inch long, 3/4' deep, 3' wide sample of hardwood floor was "IN PROCESS" I had begun to loose a little bit of hope. The fact that the delivery was now in progress re-ignited my optimism. I decided to use 'realize' throughout my thesis to give it that international flavour.

And that, nearly, brings us up to date. The day on which it was announced "DELIVERY IN PROGRESS" was 13/08/2015. On that fateful day, I was redirected to the courier's website. Once there, the first entry was promising "Pickup done". I presume this meant the couriers had picked up from the producer. It seemed clear  enough. In fact,  the first few entries, after some thought, seemed clear enough and were impressively thorough: 

13/08/2015:   CHINA  21:00    PICKUP DONE  
13/08/2015:   CHINA  23:25    SHIPMENT DEPARTURE SCAN

Optimism soared  as the sample's journey was meticulously recorded, but the next day, the first entry caused me a little alarm


"Hang on",  I said to the cat,   "Nothing has arrived at the destination, maybe we ought to contact them". Toshack (the larger of the two cats), disagreed,  taking the view, typical of cats, that if you want something, it will arrive. His theory, based on his knowledge of how doors open and how food is caught,  was that I should just stare at the screen for hours and the sample would get here. Having effectively done this already over the previous twenty three days, I was skeptical. Soon after, however, my faith was restored as the following entries clarified what was going on:
14/08/2015:    UK  18:26  CUSTOM CLEARANCE IN PROGRESS
14.08/2015:     UK  18:54  CUSTOM CLEARANCE COMPLETE
14/08/2015:     UK  19:45 SHIPMENT ARRIVE AT HUB

"Brilliant" I thought "Tomorrow I will have a sample of bamboo."

Inevitably, tomorrow never came. For three whole days nothing happened. Frustration turned to despair. Inevitably, my thesis tidying-up ground to a halt. "How?" I raged with exactly the same kind of logic displayed by both FOX news and Donald Trump, "...and why....are  pandas so intent on  ruining my whole career through the deliberate sabotage of my delivery thus making it impossible for me to do my entirely unconnected  work?".  I went back to formatting, this time trying to make decisions on whether to use ":" , ";" or "-" in sentences or whether to just leave the 3,456 'and'-s in place. Then, there was a status change:


I was happy the status had changed but confused. What does "DEPARTURE HUB FINAL DESTINATION" mean? I wrestled with this. Did it mean there was a second HUB close to the final destination? Did it mean there was a section within the central  HUB called 'Final Destination'. I was puzzled but not alarmed as whatever it meant, my sample was getting closer. The next day, though, there was full alarm as the status read


"NOOOO!!!!" I cried "It has'nt!!!! Large Mansions is the 'delivery location' and there ain't no bamboo here!!! Damn you PANDA!!" . The cat jumped up, swawking in protest. I decided to protest as well. I  wrote an email to the couriers, requesting clarification. At 04.55, the company responded "The TEAM will contact you shortly". "Team?" I thought "What Team? And why do they need to contact me? They just need to either clarify the whereabouts of my sample or deliver it".

The next day, the picture murkened, if   you accept that  when I say 'murkened', I mean "became less clear". The status of my order was updated to


"WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?" I screamed at the computer screen, frustration coalescing after twenty four days of cat like patience,  "HOW CAN MY SAMPLE HAVE ARRIVED AT THE 'DELIVERY LOCATION' THEN GONE BACK TO THE 'DELIVERY SECTION'? AND WHAT IS THE 'DELIVERY SECTION'? IS IT IN THE 'HUB'?". The cat, used to my screaming at the computer by now, did'nt move, he just continued to stare at his food bowl. I sent off a second email:
"Hello, thank you for your reply. The status on my tracking now says 'departure for delivery section'. Can you tell me what that means? I ask because if parcels are to be delivered I want to make sure I am here to recieve

SO can you just let me know where exactly, the parcel is and if possible, what day it will be delivered?


Underpinning this email was a knowledge of geography: (or ';' or '-' depending on which is correct) I knew that if the sample had arrived in the UK it's arrival airport was most likely Heathrow. Which is about five hours away from here by car or eight hours by Megabus. How is it possible for it to take four days for something to get here from Heathrow? Perhaps, I thought, I should have volunteered to pick it up - (or ';' or ':') the Megabus only takes eight hours and I could have left, picked up the sample and been back here in two days. Currently, I am awaiting either a reply, an updated status or my floor sample. Reluctantly, I have decided to go back to formatting.  But yesterday, something Large mentioned induced either minor trepidation or a full blown panic attack (like my thesis its all a matter of interpretation). She told me we were going to act as guarantors for a friend in a business matter then asked me if this was ok. Naturally , I agreed to this already made decision , and having checked the accounts sober, noted that as long as - in the unlikely event of a default  - the sum required of us was no more than £165.34 , we could cover any eventuality. This I was happy to do and is not the reason for the panic attack/mild trepidation. Instead, what caused me anxiety was that to confirm my willingness to act as guarantor, I have to log on to a website and enter some numeric digits. They start '81680....'

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Slap bang wallop

Slap, bang, wallop :  our luggage  shot out of the mysterious door onto the carousel and majestically sailed round. We were at Halifax International Airport, it was half past midnight. I shoved fellow passengers aside, snatched my luggage then gambolled down the stair and out of the arrivals lounge, eager to be on Canadian soil (Toronto airport does not count), eager to smell the air and eager to jump into a massive embrace with my great friends who I could see waiting just beyond passport control. I bounded down the stairs, leap across the slippery tiles and presented myself in front of Grasshopper, arms spread, crying with happiness. She looked at me blankly, then asked "Who are you?". I walked away crestfallen, and Nel and I spent the next ten days in the Comfort Lodge, just outside of the perimeter of the airport, watching day time tv, ordering pizza and drinking rum. 

Actually, although most of the above is true, the last bit  is not. Not at all. The fact is that like many of us who advance towards decrepitude, twelve thirty at night is quite late, and for some of us, aspects of our vision, which are'nt that great in the first place, are gradually getting worse. For this particular friend, she has the visual recognition skills of cave dwelling fish. Fortunately, unlike a cave dwelling fish, she is both a great friend and does not smell. And of course, we had a great re-union.

These are the pictures from our holiday.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

A job................

In some senses the job of this blog is almost done - started when we 'returned' to the UK and documenting my efforts to get a job and the sense of frustration amazement and dismay at the overall state of Good Old Blighty. While a lot of our circumstances have changed, a lot of our sentiments have remained the same (and I say 'our' in the collective sense to include the cats who I know think the same but cant be bothered to blog). These include that when living in the UK you continually have to remind your self that you live in the eight richest economy in history in a era of untold glittering prizes. As humans we've walked on the moon, we're exploring Mars, medical science is phenomenal, and the dissemination of music, literature, information (real information not media)  has never been wider. Yet as it was when we arrived, England is a miserable place. Not, I hasten to add that we (and in this I include RHB as well as me and the cats) are unhappy. Far from it, for one thing, our relatively new found hobby of Lindy Hop/Swing dancing keeps us laughing. And secondly, I have finally found a job that I like. More of this in a bit, but what I mean by miserable is the public domain, or perhaps public demense would be more appropriate. Recent party political conferences have repeated the message (all of them!) that austerity will continue. The argument seems to be that England is on the brink of a disaster and being on this brink is what is keeping us all from being happy. However, the reason we arrived at this brink  was by being quite happy with the way everything was going. So we got too happy and this led us to the edge  of the chasm of happiness and we were in danger of falling in and becoming something like a Scandanavian country - permanently happy. This is bad because ...... actually there is never a reason given why its bad to be happy, it just is.  The argument continues that the only way to make us really  happy (in a non-Scandanavian way - remember, SCandanavian happiness is bad)  is to make everyone miserable for quite a bit longer. Furthermore, the argument goes, once we've been miserable for quite a bit longer, the only way to keep us away from the brink that is preventing our unhappiness, is to continue being miserable for ever so that we dont ever feel comfortable enough to return to the edge of the chasm of happiness. The problem with this - and something that makes me deeply unhappy, is that this mantra has been the pervading mantra in England ever since I can remember. Everything is always a problem, there's always been a disaster looming somewhere. Its all very well for outside observers to say "Well just ignore the politics" but you cant . At this point I will have to refer you to Polyani and leave it there except to note that at some point - and this is a long term plan - we will escape.

Its therefore fortunate that I have finally got a job, and it also provides some credence to my claims to be the UK's  joint second best academic. Indeed, I was getting a little concerned about the validity of these claims seeing as I dodnt have either an academic job or a PhD. Well now, one of those aims has been obtained, albeit that the job is 0.4 Lecturer and includes delivering some lectures about things I actively hate - children. Perhaps that's unfair and overstating the case - I actually quite like the children I know, I just dont see the point in knowing anything about them in the academic sense because usually they grow up and ruin everything good about being children by becoming adults. Still the job is paid, I have 1/3 of an office sometimes and I am now invited to lots and lots of meetings. I have to admit that the number and scale and subject matter of meetings deemed relevant to my job is somewhat a surprise. Indeed you could almost be forgiven for two assumptions based on a quick scan of   meetings since my appointment (the job started on Sept 12th). I am teaching on two programmes:

1: General Induction ( all new staff meet Head of Department). Half an hour of chat. crap coffee and biscuits.
2. New Staff meet established staff for Programme A.
3. New Staff meet established staff for Programme B.
4. Meet Dean of the Faculty
5. Meet Vice Chancellor of the University
6. Meet the Students (twice - A and B)
7. Meet the administrative staff
8. Departmental Meeting for the  start of a new semester
9. Meet my mentor
10. meet the head of International engagement

all the above  are the kind of half an hour of chat, crap coffee and biscuits meetings that take up two hours. Then I have had the following substantive meetings about details of the modules....


Then I have had a number of administrative tasks, all of which I have been told, by administrators I must do:

1. Get photo taken
2. collect name badge ( I dont do name badges)
3. collect office key
4. small amusing personal bio for 'getting to know you staff circular'
5. formal bio for web page
6. health and safety briefing
7. donate to Angela's charity run (I dont regard this as optional based on tone)
8. Sign a leaving card for someone I dont know
9. Re-register with the payroll office for pay, tax, etc. This means filling in basic details forms such as name and address, where you want your money paid, tax declarations etc etc. I should add that this is particularly puzzling because the job is at the same University I have worked at on a 'sessional' basis for three years and when this re-registration was complete I had the same payroll number as I had before. Then when I received my first pay, it was wrong.
10. Re-register with human resources for criminal record check, proof of identity and proof of accreditation. See above except it was slightly easier because my original documents were still with Human Resources because I'd forgotten to pick them up last time I was asked for this information (for the sessional work). SO HR just re-scanned the same documents again and all was set.
11. Start thinking about the Christmas Party including whether I will be a vegetarian by then ( I dont know) , where I might like to eat on the last day before Christmas (very democratic but the answer is 'in my house, alone') and an amusing question for the quiz.

The two conclusions its possible to reach from the above are both quite far-fetched. The first is that I am extremely important. This conclusion is reached mostly because of the calibre of people who want to meet me - Vice-Chancellors, Dean, HOD's and students. In fact the only people I havent met is the bar staff in the students union. The second conclusion to be reached is that it would be possible, if one was extremely sceptical, to come to the conclusion that the purpose of a University is to fulfil administrative requirements. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

 and the other day in a meeting I was asked my opinion on the basis that I was an expert. This was terrifying, so I put on my best expert voice and said "I agree with Ian". Ian is one of those very