Dont buy the Sun.

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

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Canada's Great Big Blue Question Mark

All together now..................(best sung as if singing the very last chorus, and yes I know that it should be "Home and "etc for 2nd line, but I could'nt get a rhyme out of "land"....

"Oh Canada,
Our Country Strong and Free
In Canada, the highway sign system's a mystery to me,
Oh Canada,
What does the question mark mean?
Oh Canada, I'll always get lost on the 403
Oh Canada, I think I'll travel by skiiiiiiii!."

And do'nt even ask me about the signs for Pearson Airport on the 401, which would be more accurate if they all read "You should have turned here".

Yes, Canada's pretty bad. Until you try deciphering the glyphs and hieroglyphics which accompany tourist information leaflets here in the UK. Each leaflet is beautifully designed, with photos of the attractions, making you savour your forthcoming visit, like this mouthwatering picture of Castle Howard in Yorkshire, the location for the filming of Bridehead RevisitedUnderneath each picture there is a written description of opening times, price of admission, and any seasonal notes thus:

Magnificent 18th century house within 1,000 acres of breathtaking parkland. Featuring temples, lakes, statues and fountains, plus walled garden with Rose collection and ornamental vegetable garden, and woodland garden.

Daily outdoor tours (Mar to Nov). Plant Centre selling estate-grown plants, trees and shrubs, farm shop, gift shops and café. Plus events programme, adventure playground and boat trips.

We're thoroughly taken by this. Its actually enough information for us to plan a visit to any number of these attractions. Directions follow, so we consult Google Earth, and plan our route, missing out Ulan Bator as a possible detour. As we plan our day out, I re-read the leaflet. Suddenly the icons, printed in a neat line underneath each glowing description, spring out at me, catching my attention. What does this additional info, delivered as incomprehensible cyphers, mean? Am I missing something? Is there some vital information, possibly a code, possibly the location of the Grail, possibly free ice-cream if you correctly guess them all? Do I need a degree in Egyptology? The signs, read under the spell of flaming brand are thus:

I have to confess to complete bafflement at the meaning of these signs. What could be in store for us that simple words do'nt suffice to reveal? A recent spate of bad luck culminating in two law suits, a criminal fraud investigation in Canada, and a minor infection in Toshack's left eye leave me suspicious, and superstitious. "Lets just go for a walk in the local park", I tell Nel, "Phillip Larkin, the poet lived in a small, recently renovated, flat overlooking the duck pond. Castle Howard's overrated". We eschew the glories of East Yorkshire, and take a pleasant walk, reminiscing about a life where the most complicated thing we had to deal with was how to pronounce "Etobioke" as we sped past the exit we should have taken.

Only in Nova Scotia....

Its true that things are done very differently in the Maritimes, and just now I've come across a great example. We're selling our house in Nova Scotia, and we need a lawyer, because (a) there's money to be made and (b) its become quite complicated (no surprise there).

I enter "real estate Lawyer" into the internal search engine for Canada411, and one of the results delivered is this:

Hammonds Plains, NS
(902) , (902) (fax)
Categories: Television Parts & Service , Lawyers , Real Estate Consultants

Read the description carefully ! I've withheld his personal contact details, but you can check yourself by searching 411. Actually he was about the nicest lawyer I spoke to all day.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Scarborough Revisited:....found.

There's no such things as accidents. The accident at Frank's shop, shortly before I started work at the JST was no accident, it was an incident, and an example. An incident where an over-enthusiastic, over-helpful, member of the stage crew got lucky and only cut off the top of his right index finger while using the table saw to cut perspex (called acryllic in Canada). An example of how not to run a workshop.

Perspex is prone to shattering when run through a saw, and it also burns, causing it to snag. This can be quite dangerous in a saw running at over 3000rpm, as the perspex often gets thrown back out of the saw as it snags. People have been killed by this. Chris explained to me that he's cut persex "often enough", but conceded that he'd never been shown how to do it. The table saw in Franks shop is usually engulfed in off-cuts and junk, and the blade is always set to maximum height. It is an incident waiting to happen.

Later that day I watched Chris trying to cut steel pipe with an angle grinder next to a big bag of sawdust in the paint-shop. I debated whether to tell him that an oxyacetylene torch would make a quicker job. Of burning down the theatre, that is, but in the end I simply finished my work in Scarborough as quickly as possible.

The work of a theatre carpenter starts with a model, and some badly photocopied plans. The first stage in the procedure is often to throw the plans away and work directly from the model. One of my projects was to make a kind of sideboard with drawers that had to look like a pile of old fashioned suitcases.

Next try to make the thing out of whatever materials the Production Manager, who is usually an electrician, has bought - in this case MDF .

Then you do the "breaking down" which means distressing and ageing the creation until it looks a bit old. Then its over to the painters - if there are any. In this case, the painter Lucy, did a really good job. The picture above shows the thing without the final handles and locks that finish the job, but despite travelling 3 hours per day, loosing my wallet, spending practically the whole of one weeks wages on food, and being in Frank's shop, I had a great time and found that after looking for various career options for months, the obvious path had been staring me in the face.

Hull, you see, is not overflowing with scenic carpenters. Strange as this may sound, I, like Tigger, would appear to be the only one. There may be several reasons for this, including that Hull, a very prosaic city, very literal, has no need of artsy ponces like me, but needs real men who work on big, practical, oily things and each lots of fish and chips. In my business plan, I have chosen to ignore this distinct possibility. I will become Hull's leading theatrical carpenter. As I am already Hull's only theatrical carpenter, this should be a snap.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Scarborough Revisited: ..............and................

I wake up, sling my necessaries together for another haul to Scarborough doing the usual mental check as I prepare to leave:

a copy of "What We Believe But Cannot Prove",

Wallet? . NO WALLET???? A quick pat of last night's clothes and a scuffle through my bag(s). Still no wallet. A cursory glance in the fridge, in the cats playbox, a peek under the sofa, and a rattle of my Yamaha six string (all previously revealed hideouts of a disappearing wallet) and a scenario begins to unfurl. The wallet is missing. Time, my old enemy, is pressing as I have to ride down to the station to meet the ( delayed) 6.54 to Scarborough. Unfortunately, our chronometer is telling me that time, as is it’s wont in wallet-loss situations, has decided to up the pace and pass by a little bit quicker than normal.

It is, I reflect, not ironic that of all the fripperies and geegaws that I take to Scarborough on a daily basis, I have mislaid the one device that is capable of actually getting me to work, namely a wallet stuffed with currency of the realm, currency being exchangeable for train tickets. No, it is not ironic, it is painful, and I am stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I’m cursing as I try to conduct a lighting fast, quiet, exhaustive and increasingly frantic search of the premises. I try to do this quietly, as I don’t want to wake Nel. Not that Nel is’nt the milk of human kindness, but I distinctly remember the little redhead hacking at an alarm clock with a large kitchen knife after it had resounded too early once too often. Those kind of memories linger and advise the rememberer to tread quietly.

Inevitably, after lifting both sofas(twice), tripping over various cats(we seem to have more than the normal quota today), and repeatedly shuffling the clothes on my side of the bedroom (where I find several slot headed screws), Nel awakes. She grasps the problem perfectly. “Oh, Shit” she says, then blows it by asking the question hated by wallet-misplacers everywhere “Where did you loose it?”.

Nel leaves for work and the 6.54 has long gone. The wallet needs to be retrieved, of course, so I enter “lost property trains” into Google. Search results reveal that if I knew the exact location, time and had been careful enough to notice myself losing my wallet, the search would be a lot easier. The search results here,

And here,

show, sadly, a picture of complexity emerging that’s slightly daunting.

There are 24 railway companies, 15 different companies owning the stations, another enterprise owning the track, a group of apprentices tasked with track maintenance, several franchises in charge of food concessions, and independent cleaning and station maintenance companies. The British Govt has departments overseeing all of this, there are stakeholder groups of train users, the British Transport Police and an Ombudsman for complaints. Over 150 different organizations run this railway system.

As well as overlapping geographically, companies also lease each other’s rolling stock, staff, and even schedules. Consequently, although I was traveling on a Northern Trains route, the train could have been owned by Hull Trains, staffed by TransPenniners, running on National Train track, maintained by Railtrack, all thoughtfully provisioned by Pumpkin. The list of potential wallet-finders also includes Arriva, GNER, and the taxi company that own Hull Station. Each company has a different system for lost wallets. I’ll have to keep in constant touch with all these guys once the search kicks into top gear.

I muse that in a country that’s so small one of my friends cycled across it in a day, having all these companies on the case, the search for my wallet will be akin to blanket coverage – much more efficient than the bad old days where one national company ran a silly old centralized office with a single phone number to call. Such a brilliantly competitive system naturally puts good old England right on the cutting edge for models of public transport, and is the envy of Lithuania and Estonia.

However, patriotic musings must end, so I take a Paracetemol and duly call, at random, one of the fifteen telephone numbers I have scrawled down on a piece of paper. My piece of paper is also crammed with flowcharts and diagrams, and I have a large atlas at hand for reference (Mercator projection), plus my computer screen open on a Microsoft Project page to help with co-ordination of rescue efforts.

The first number is TransPennine on 0845 0000125. The Customer Services Officer is interested in the case, but I have the distinct impression she's surprised that anyone's lost property enquiry has reached as far as a phone call. Sarah, advises me that our phone call may be recorded to assist with quality assurance standards, and, having answered my call within 15 seconds, (in accordance with Customer Service standards), advises me to call back in 24 hours.

While I had not expected Interpol to be called in for at least 48 hours, Sarah's relaxed attitude surprises me, so I quickly inform her that I was hoping for a tad more urgency on TransPennine's behalf. I ask whether she can call Hull Station. "Impossible", she decides, “I don’t have that phone number”. "What should I do then ?" I ask. Sarah puts me on hold for "just a second", then says that correct procedure is for me to wait 24 hours, call the Complaints Department on a different number (0845 6001671) and ask them to ring the station for me. I have to wait the 24 hours because all lost property “nowadays” is searched for terrorist content, before being logged onto the database. Naturally, this takes time. The Lost Property Department, she explains, are usually the last people to find out about Lost Property because they are actually a call centre in India, and only work from on-line records. Finally, Sarah tells me that if my wallet is found, the charge will be 3.00 pounds.

This information is repeated, with subtle variations, in subsequent calls to the other organisations. It seems that 24 hours is the benchmark for urgency in the Lost Property world. I have been assured though, that after 1440 minutes, they will all take the matter very seriously, very seriously indeed. I take a break, secure in the knowledge that in 86,000 odd seconds, the urgent search for my wallet will spring into life as the dreadfully symmetrical tiger would, no doubt, have sprung after a good rest. Making a cup of Fair Trade tea, I gird my loins for another round of phone calls, this time to cancel Visa, Mastercard, English cashpoint cards and Canadian ATM cards, driving licenses for both countries, Canadian Citizenship Status card (Landed Immigrant), Ontario Health Cards, Insurance Cards, Mountain Equipment Co-operative membership Card and my Starbucks CoffeeClub card (Fair Trade only).

As one who believes that it is better to travel than arrive, I decide to make one more call - the classic long shot. I dial the number, and a gravelly voice says "Yeah". I explain who I am, and why I'm calling. The landlord of the Alma pub, Steve, who had served Bob and I some great beer the night before, laughs "This might be your lucky day - what's your name?"

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Scarborough Revisited; Lost .....

After the accident, Frank had a tidy-up. Accordingly, Frank wandered round his shop for a bit, found three broken drills, 3 garbage bins and large bag containing numerous packets of brass slot headed screws complete with a bill of sale from “Rotherham’s Ships Chandler’s, Scarborough”. Price “2-3 1/2” (Two Shillings and Thrupence ha'penny). He filled the garbage bins with some bits of timber (“You never know – might come in useful” he told me) and placed these bins on a small wheeled pallet that the stage crew use to move scenery around. Tidy-up complete, he returned to his belt sander.

After the big tidy-up............

I’m back at the Steven Joseph Theatre (SJT), Scarborough. No scenery building this time – I’m now tasked with building 8 large (6’ x 3’) cabinets. Apparently, the official theatre historian needs more space for archiving old scripts, incomprehensible rehearsal notes, and signed photos of (now) unknown actors. It occurs to me that Frank’s not the only pack rat round here and that the SJT better have good fire insurance.

In consideration of the fact that the alternative is a return to a state of worklessness, and aware that probably sooner rather than much later, I’ll need the money I earn to pay the Fire Brigade to get Calli, the demon cat, down from a particularly high tree, I spend the journey to Scarborough convincing myself that it is possible to build office-quality furniture in Frank’s shop.

On-site, as I’m moving another piece of congealed plywood to access the broom, I’m still in “Visualize, then talk yourself through the problem, believe, you can do this” mode. Cognitive therapy was one of the best things I ever did. Broom obtained, I start to sweep the work area I’ve claimed. The broom head falls off. Frank observes “Oh, its been like that for years, been meaning to fix it, but I never use the bloody thing”.

My workspace with garbage bin/woodstorage unit nearby “you never know....”.

After work, I go for a drink with an old pal, Bob. Bob’s a Director, very experienced, very, very nice man, talented and connected, and his conversation is littered with references to people he knows –many of them quite famous. He’s not name dropping – theatre is Bob’s work environment, but I’m a bit intimidated, because I’m still feeling like an ingénue in England, so I get as many references to Nel’s new career into the conversation as I can “Oh, yeah Bob, Elvis Presley sounds like a great guy. Did’nt he come from Dunston Basset, or Scotland or London or somewhere? You know, my wife, the neuroscientist, now a lecturer, probably passed within 50 miles of one of those places when she was going for her professorial job interview. ” Or “Yeah, I still enjoy working in Theatre – not like my wife, Dr Mary Ellen Large BSc MSc PhD, the recent appointee as Professor of Neuroscience at University of Hull – no, she says she’ll never go back to sewing costumes in the theatre now, she’s going to give this whole Professor thing a go – see if the old Neuroscience suits her better than Theatre Wardrobe”.

After a pint though, I relax – Bob is great company, and crucially, has not asked the question (which usually sparks my aggressively defensive lauding of Nel’s new job) “Why did you come back here? From Canada? Good God”. We swap some gossip, Bob heads of to a party, and I head off to Hull,where I promptly loose my wallet, plunging the next day into total chaos.

Two further parts to this post - "Scarborough Revisited" will follow.....

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

At last

I know its about time I posted some news. Part of the problem is that I'm not sure my daily routine in anyway qualifies as news (ie get up, go to work, come home, hang out or do more work, go to bed and so forth). Not alot happens, but I am happy, and I do like my new job.
I did go to Liverpool in March to give a presentation. I think it went well, but not outstanding. Good practice for giving talks and of course it all adds to the CV (a necessary evil - used to be for jobs, now its for getting grants).
I've submitted my first grant proposal, which has broken the ice, so to speak, and I feel a lot more confident about applying for more. The granting system is different here. The idea is that you apply for as many grants (large or small) as you can and eventually someone will say - hey here you go, have some dosh. Kind of like throwing mud at a wall and hoping some will stick. Fortunately, you get brownie points just for applying.
Right now I am marking. To be more accurate, I am avoiding marking. I think students should mark each others work - then they would realize how onerous the task is, and perhaps this would encourage them to write clearly and in an organized fashion. The land of wishful thinking. I shouldn't complain really. The sum total of my teaching duties this term has been to act as a teaching assistant for 16 hours total, mark 50 posters and 45 lab reports. The summer shall be devoted to conferences and research (a visit to the University of Western Ontario is planned). Hopefully, Martin and I will both be able to get over to Nova Scotia to fix up the house prior to selling it as well. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
Thanks everyone for making your contributions - I have made time to read them - just not time to reply.
Right now I wish I could organize a BBQ in our old backyard and invite you all. It would be lovely. I miss you all

Saturday, 12 May 2007

The Year of the Five Pound Cat

One of the advantages of being both deliberately atheist and accidentally anarchist is that Nel and I do'nt really have a formal system for marking time. In practice, this means that time tends to be measured by significant (to us or to our friends) periods, rather than being linked to calendrical linearity(and yes, I did just make that phrase up).

This has some advantages. Rather than having to bother remembering 1988, for example, during which I can remember nothing interesting happening, I can therefore completely forget 1988 and just move on to the next interesting period of time.

As examples, significant "years" for me have been, in no particular order, The Winter of Catan( game crazy with Paddy, George, Nikki, Charles, Idaho and Grasshopper), The Year of the Single Bar Electric Fire(our first apartment), The Summer of Barbeques and Guitar Lessons(parties and renovation at our house in NS), The Winter of MuskRat (learning to cross country ski and falling off climbing walls), The Time of Moving ( the first eighteen months in Canada - two very sad losses and falling in love with Canada), 1976 (actually 1978 when I discovered punk and rock music), The Chair Dance Era (some time in the nineties in Leicester dancing with chairs on our heads), The Summer of Hike (about three different years involving various camping, hiking and canoeing trips in NS), The London Period (Maurice, Calum and Mandy, pub quiz, Grad pub) and That Time We Got Married ( I've honestly no idea when it was but it was a great party).

It occurred to me on Thursday, while atop a precariously placed, enthusiastically rustic ladder that we were probably at the end of another era.

The events in the last twelve months (approximately) have been memorable. Nel got the job that places us here, now - a great achievement. We re-emigrated - a huge logistical operation. Various friends got married, split-up, had babies, bought houses, got sick, got jobs, got cured, retired, quit smoking, travelled (or moved) around the world to Taiwan, New Zealand, North West Territories, Italy - all life changing events. It has been a year of sad goodbye's and welcome "Hello again". We put our house on the market and entered a massive lawsuit - both firsts for us, and hugely significant personally. Nel's niece got pregnant , making Margaret a great-great grandmother and Nel a great aunt - milestones for all concerned. Liverpool became the first British club to qualify for six Champions League Finals - a historic achievement. Globally, Bush acknowledged climate change as an issue, moving global warming to the forefront of International politics - a potentially epochal shift.

In light of the above, and perhaps an indication of how perverse the human mind is, as I was perched on my precariously flexible assemblage it dawned on me that the past year was indeed significant for us, mainly for being the Year Of the Five Pound Cat. Callisandra's year to be precise. I will not go in to details of operations, recovery and subsequently, amazement at the phenomenon of resilience, suffice to say that on May 15th 2006, Calli, our runt of a barn cat, jumped from our 11th floor balcony in search of a pigeon. She caught air instead and fell 110 feet, smacking the ground at terminal velocity. She lived, just, but David Kirkby, the brilliant Vet who sat up with her draining her lungs for the first 24 hours, was of the opinion that she might recover 75% at the most if she survived the next 24 hours. He gave her a 20% chance of doing so.

The reason I was on my precarious, rustic, unstable and worryingly flexible assemblage at about 19.34, Thursday 10 May, 2007 was that the aforementioned moggie, well over 75% fit, had yet again escaped and climbed a tree, ending about 25 feet up in the crook of a branch. Nel and|I, with a delicious lamb curry burning on the stove, had yet again invaded the neighbours garden, ladder-equipped to extricate said pathetically meowing kitty from its arboreal predicament. I do not anthromorphise our cats, although I think they're great, but Calli does share a trait with at least one human. She has got no exit strategy.

Callisandra and Toshack

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Ride Round Cheshire and the Peak District

A few good hard days cycling are a great antidote to over-populated grey cities. The stats are as follows:

Day 1 : 28 miles (HIlls)
Day 2: 50 miles (plain)
Day 3: 30 Miles (Flat)
Day 4: 15 Miles (flat with Tricky's little boy in the seat)
Day 5 : Visit Mum and Dad and see Antony Gormley's installation at Crosby Beach.

See AntonyGormley's work at :

Highlights were defintely

1. the hills of the Peak District, only 1500 feet but some brilliant descents - Tricky had a little too much weight ( we both carried day panniers) and not enough rubber on the road because of his thin profile tyres. I'd taken good old Fuji hybrid with rims slightly wider than a conventional road bike, but still lighter than a mountain bike, and got better grip.

2. falling off my bike in front of a couple of pedestrians because I was trying to look cool. We were stopping by the side of a road in some town to decide where to go next and I glided up to a lamppost, stretched my arm out to catch it, missed completely, braked and fell over. Should'nt happen to a guy in tights.

3. Realising that loads of my equipment was donated by Grasshopper and Idaho - helmet, cross-bar bag, lights, stove, tent, pump, and even climbing shoes(which I ride in because cycling shoes are too expensive and, I find, a little stiff for some of the stuff we were doing.).

4. Hooking up with Tricky again as a riding partner. There's just this great rhythym we get into. Its wierd, but I know where he is (on the road) at all times and we do'nt discuss much about who's were. For example, on descents, its always wise to keep a good distance between bikes, harder to do than it sounds, especially on really fast stretches, but once again after years, it just happened.

5. Seeing Mum and Dad looking great and going to see the Gormley stuff at Crosby Beach.

A few other things occurred - we went to Frodsham Church and viewed what is apparently the gravestone of an ancester Joseph Nixon. I discovered this via my research into genealogy, and am hoping to go back in a few weeks to look further into this. I was discussing genealogy with little bro, and explained a bit about why I was interested - its not so much a 'family' thing with me, as it is a way of finding out, by using specific individuals, how people lived in the past. I'd be just as interested researching someone else's family.

Cheshire Bike Ride

Next big ride is a planned trip round Ireland's South coast this year if possible, then a few days in the Highlands in the Fall, possibly to meet up with Joannie before her marathon

Friday, 4 May 2007

Checking in...

Hey Guys,

Sorry we've been so absent from these pages. Life has been ridiculously busy and we seemed incapable of slowing down the pace for a while. I think we may have it under a bit more control now...I hope.

Martin, your posts are wonderful. Thank you.

Nell, so glad your talk went well. Wishing you the best for upcoming trips too... Sounds like you may know a thing or two about being busy!

Don't know when I last sent an update...I'm back working at the Daily News a few days a week. I'm also filling in shifts on the copy desk...which means night work. Ack. Chris is still doing casual stints at hospital and on the ambulances. There's not much thats casual about it tho'. He works a lot. Luckily we're finally geting back to financial health and will be able to take things a little more easy.

Haven't done a blessed thing on the house. Dan (extremely conscientious next door neighbour for anyone who doesn't know of him) must just be cringing... It's that time of year when he's out at 7 in the morning, doing a walk around of the property, fixing whatnots, in and out of the shed... Sheesh. No sign of slowing down. What's left to fix, we wonder? We'll have to get our act together soon though as Jackie's talking of selling and we're thinking of moving there. Dry basement, much brighter, less walkway and drive to shovel, nicer street, etc. Don't know yet if we'll pull it off.

Glad to read you may be over in the summer. We'd be thrilled to see you.

I read somewhere as well that you were wondering about my marathon excursion to the UK. I'm flying into Glasgow on Sept. 29 and out on Oct. 15. I'll be running Loch Ness on Oct. 7 (I think we're planning to be in Inverness on Oct. 5 through to Oct. 8 or 9. It would be fantastic to see you there. I'm planning to go to London too at the end of my trip. Just a day or two though.

The kids are doing well. Lena just turned 7 and Iain's very excited about his 4th birthday coming up in a couple of weeks.

I'll try to do better at staying in touch.


Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Sun 'n' Fun

Thanks, Martin, for all your posts. I'm really enjoying reading them and seeing your pictures.

I just got back from a week in Cuba with Sophie and Tara. We didn't get to see much - if anything - of the "real" Cuba, as we stayed at an all-inclusive resort populated by mostly overweight Canadians and Brits. Not so easy on the eyes, but good for the ego. And even though a resort is not my preferred style of vacationing, the chance to snooze in the sun all afternoon was very enjoyable after the craziness of the winter semester. We drank, read, slept, laughed, sunned, and swam.

The three of us went snorkeling (on the world's second-largest reef) and tandem parasailing (tethered to a powerboat until 1200 m and then released, parachuting back down again), and I went off on my own to do some scuba diving as well (saw a 2 m Eagle Ray, swam with sea turtles, and saw lots of fish on the coral reef). I've updated our on-line photo album if you want to check out any of the picts: