Dont buy the Sun.

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

Monday, 29 September 2008

First day at school

I pull the trusty Crosstowner into the bike rack outside the Ferens Building, remove the front wheel, the back wheel, the seats, all the lights and my water bottle. Bottle, seat and lights go into my pack, while wheels and frame get locked together. It has been a frantic rush to get to this lecture as I have, as I expect will become typical throughout my years of studentship, left absolutely everything until the last minute.

The throng outside the lecture hall looks uncertain collectively, a group of mostly kids, none of whom know how to stand, who to look at and why they are there. Most crowds have a direction, an intention - there's the happy expectation of a group of Liverpool fans outside Anfield, the pointless bustle of Hull's Main Street on a busy shopping Saturday, the false air of pretending-to-be relaxed strolling that tourists exude and the outright hostility of a commuting crowd , but his group of new students is a new atmosphere for me.

I get into the mood straight away by walking through the crowd gathered near the lecture theatre doors and checking my timetable and the sign over the door to make sure I am in the right place. Then I try to find somewhere to stand, not too near to anyone else, but also not too far away, just in case anyone speaks to me. I am, like everyone else, anxious to make my first friend. We all check the clock frequently. Five minutes late, the lecture hall doors open, and the group surge through the doors, all anxious to claim the prized seats at the back of the hall.

I get my seat at the end of a row, seperated from my neighbours, by two clear seats. It is a good spot. I'm near enough to the stage to see the lecturer, but having chosen a spot at the end of a row near to the front, the line of sight between me and the stage means that if he even looks like he's considering the possibility of asking any questions, I can bend down quickly, pretending to tie my shoelaces and the people sitting in front will hide me completely.

The lecture is about Ethics, so while the lecturer speaks, I take a quick glance round the room. My own course is in a Department that delivers pre-school teachers so the majority of the room is eighteen year old girls, mostly (this being England), blonde. There's a smattering of older women, absolutely no teenage boys, and for a moment I panic, but when I look nehind me, there is an amalgamation of older men, sitting on their own at the end of the rows immediately behind me. They all look as if they are, at the drop of a hat, ready to tie their shoelaces.

Suddenly, the lecturer invites us to turn to the person next to us and discuss the point he has just made. The girls sitting to my right glance very quickly at me and start talking very intently, so I glance nonchalantly behind me and make my first friend. J.J is mid-forties, an ex-journalist and from Northern Ireland. We discuss football, rapidly establishing that he is a Man Utd fan and that he lives about one street away from both Large Villas and Nickson Mansions. Given the situation we are in, there is a tacit agreement to put this gulf of understanding behind us, and we chat briefly about what we are supposed to be talking about, but I am not completely open. As you may be aware, my attitude to studying is that it is a competitive sport, and this is my first opportunity to assess at least one of the competition, so I let JJ express what he thinks, and just agree mutely.

The lecture ends suddenly and JJ wants to go to the pub, but I've got a kettle of fish to deal with back at our house, so I re-assemble the Crosstowner and head off back to the house. There are more Welcome sessions organised for the next day, so that evening is a night off from working on the house. I want to be up the next day, shaved, showered and breakfasted, so I round up the cats early, get a good book and set my alarm, which I promptly sleep through.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

To cheat or not to cheat...

It is the eve of my impending studentship, and all round the house, nothing was stirring, not even a mouse. Nothing that, it is, on this dark and stormy night, except for a Boffin of the Parish Hull, ranting on about plagiarism. Whether it be more proper to just get the marks what your own writing deserves, OR, whether you should take some quotes from the sea that is the web, then include them in your essay and pretend they are your own, that, my friends, Canadians, and fellow Anglo-Irish-Celt-Saxo-French-Norman Countrymen, is the question.

What the RHB does not know, is that in lecturing me on the various method used by Prof's to catch plagiarizers, she unwittingly falls into my trap, and ends up telling me exactly how to beat the system.

A peal of fiendish laughter later (from me) and the jig is up. I know know exactly how to beat the system.

The previous week has been distastorus by the way - we've had another penetration by the previous tenants, the concrete block that we've been trying to get rid of has become a kettle of fish, and I just feel like I've made no progress on the house at all. Time has, like a thief in the night, crept past our troubled brows while we have slept the sleep of the just, and has caught up on me, so today's entry is necessarily short. I hope that readers do not mind, I've fair grunt and sweat to write a line, but this week at least cannot. I hope that in this, my sins are not remembered.

Note: 99.9% of the references in the above were remembered, which shows how useless a Jesuit education can be. On the other hand, I really did not remember who had said 'friends, Romans, countrymen..' or whether it was one of those frequent Shakespearean misquotes.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Birth of a tiger

"Watch the bar. A cow came up here a few years ago, calved. Got to protect the cows."

We climb over the single rusting iron bar that straddles the entrance to Kilcrea Castle. LBFF and his friends used to chase eachother round the crumbling ramparts, but now that the ramparts are even more crumbling, and we are all a little older, our party, consisting of RHB, LBFF and self, do not chase. We walk gingerly, and climb very carefully, through the phenomenally dangerous structure. In Canada, or the UK, this building would be signposted, sponsored, advertised, illustrated and illuminated, with an entrance fee, interpretative panels, a gate, guides and a booklet as well as an interactive guide to the place's history. In Ireland, the impressively crumbling ruins are just plonked in the middle of a field and no-one has been there for ages, apart from pregnant cows. A lot of local knowledge is required to even know the place exists, and the locals never visit the place. It is empty, haunted and falling down, overgrown ivy and an eerie silence surround the place. You have to make up your own history, which is perhaps, how it sometimes should be.

The weather has been consistent for three days - sheets of Atlantic rain that look more like snow flurries than water - the rain here has a solidity that you either accept, and even revel in, or it defeats you. Little Niall, Mandy and LBFF's seven month old is heroic, albeit that he is snuggled up in a kind of miniature tent attached to his mum's papoose, but Callum hates it, even his Kermit the Frog raincape and boot do'nt help, and for a little four year old, I suppose it must be quite boring and confusing being bundled from car to house to restaurant to car to wet field, while the adults look for something to look at.

Later that day, the rain clears and Cian, Callum, Ciaron and Nieve demonstrate what four year olds are really interested in, which is, essentially, themselves. Mazzer, Mo, Gedsy and Pat are standing next to the trampoline in Gedsy (grandpa's) back acre, discussing road traffic fatalities (death being a favourite subject among the Celts), while the kids - Cian, Ciaron, Callum and Nieve are bouncing up and down, and landing on their necks in falls which would cause paraplegia among any adult. The adults (us) refuse an invitation from the kids to join in (bad leg, bad shoulder, bad hips and bad back in that order) but it is felt that an adult should join the kids, so the youngest among us, 17 year old Jamie, who anyway is torn between trying to be very grown up and show some interest in

a). weather
b). death
c). commenting on the things that younger people are interested in

without much success, is enlisted into the trampoline game.

Immediately, all the four year olds - Callum, Cian, and Ciaron want Jamie to "Look at me!" all at once. Jamie valiantly attempts to obey, but inevitably he fails to pay attention to one kid soon enough and tears, temporarily, result. Shortly after, me and Mo(LBFF) steal Jamie's shoe from the side of the trampoline and give it to the dog. This is inexcusable really, but it is very funny watching him chase the dog round about five square acres of field trying to get his shoe back.

Gedsy, as patriarch, watches this sagely, commenting only that "The exercise will be good for the dog". LBFF's dad is very dry and he has been abroad twice - once to Canada and once to Liverpool.

"You're Irish right?" he asks me.

"Well, yes and no" I tell him, trying to explain the situation of 2nd generation immigrants in a country where signs on boarding house doors used to say "No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish". I continue "Everyone i went to school with was second or third generation to England, but mostly we did not mix. We went to an all Irish school, played in a seperate soccer league at school and dated eachother".

"And now they're all coming back". And it's true. Ireland's population is growing phenomenally quickly, and as well as the Irish diaspora returning home, there is a host of new immigrants as well. We are served coffee in Ballincollig by Eastern Europeans, a surprise to me, as previous experience was that Ireland is, at least in permanent population, extermely homogenous. Almost as bad as Nova Scotia. Gedsy looks wistfully at his Canadian relatives, and makes one final comment "Yeah, there's lots coming home".

Monday, 22 September 2008

How on Earth did the Irish ever manage to have a Diaspora?

"Is it Maurice Sheehan or Degsy Sheehan you're looking for?" the only customer at the Castlemore Arms asks. It seems that at I have outwitted Little Bunny Foo-Foo's attempts to give me directions, and am now within striking distance of the Sheehans of Lower Farran, without having to resort to the "Help! I'm lost!" phone call.

I answer readily "Maurice Sheehan. Lower Farran."

The drinker ponders for a second, "I dont know him. Who wants to know, anyways?".

Looking round the empty bar, I would have thought it obvious, but I play the game. Three years working with Bunny Foo Foo, and a lifetime of family experience have taught me that the Irish always answer a question with a question, and in this there is no trumping them.

"I'm going to be staying with them for a week. Maurice is a friend from Canada, and he's staying with his family. Lower Farran. Do you know where that is?"

"Canada, is it?" He looks at the barman "Would it be John Sheehan he's looking for?"

We're thirty kilometres west of Cork, deeply embedded in the maze of single track, unlit farm roads that constitute most of Ireland's transport system, having just left the N22, a relatively major road. The only clue LBFF has given to the whereabouts of his family farm is "If you reach Limerick, you've gone too far". Limerick is about 150 kilometres away.

The day has so far gone like clockwork, only not the Swiss type of clockwork, but the Irish type. RHB and I met up in Dublin Airport, having flown in from different airports in the UK, picked up our rental car in Dublin and have hightailed it across the country, including a swift diversion through Waterford, (which is where my family are from) and crossed the Knockmeadown Mountains via the famous "Vee", a hair-raising series of switchbacks just outside Clogheen. If you do not think it is possible to have hair-raising switchbacks in hills that rise just under 2000ft, then you have not driven on Irish roads, and you especially have'nt driven these roads just as dark is falling.

Navigation has been a little problematic, as there are translation difficulties, particularly for RHB. Irish pronunciation is more of an art than a science and zipping through towns like 'Cahir' (pronounced 'care'), 'Conna' (pronounced 'Kayna'), 'Lisronagh' (pronounced 'Leeshroon' or something) and asking for directions is just a good way to get lost.

Which is why I am not surprised when the barman at the remote Castlemore Arms, the only building with lights that we've encountered in twenty minutes of driving, points up the hill, in the opposite direction to the main highway and starts with:

"You go down to the highway..."

"The N22?" I ask, pointing down the hill across the deep dark of the countryside, to where the headlights of cars on the highway can be clearly seen about ten kilometres away. "That highway, down there?" I ask.

"Yes. Down to the highway", the barman now swings his arm round in the general direction of China "And go towards Cork City. But dont go to Cork itself" He pauses for a moment's thought, before continuing, "Are you in a car?"

Having established that we do'nt need a lift, the directions meander on. "Now, to go to Lower Farran, you go along the highway to Farrans Well. Then, you keep going on the highway to Farrans Church. When you've reached there, you go left off the highway, down to Upper Farran. There's some traffic lights there. Go past them a little bit, then go second left, and up the hill. To Lower Farran. But there's no signposts, and a few more roads inbetween. like, so you'll have to watch out. Then right there, past the well, there's a sort of vee in the road. The Sheehan's house is right there on the corner. "

I seek clarity. "If I get to Upper Farran, then I go up the hill to Lower Farran?"

"Yes. Up the hill. Or you could go the other way"

I thank the barman for his directions and head back to the car.

RHB wants to know what's up.

"Whats the situation?" she asks, brightly.

"We're so fucking lost" I tell her.

We do arrive in Lower Farran eventually, but only after giving in and getting LBFF to come and meet us on the main highway. A few days later, LBFF's sister, Liz, pops into her own house for a visit. Liz is visiting her own house because the Sheehan's accomodation consists of five detatched houses in what is effectively their own lane. For the duration of our visit, Liz has moved out, and is staying next door with her sister. Liz is a great laugh, and we've already discussed our difficulties in finding the place. She suddenly remembers something she has been told.

"Twas our second cousin gave you directions the other night" she says "I'm surprised you found the place, he's always smashed."

Friday, 19 September 2008

Great Expectations................

It is a little while ago, but here are pictures from my big sister's 50th birthday party. In truth I was not looking forward to it - 2 days away from renovation, sleeping in a different bed and 2 days away from the cats when we were already going to be spending loads of time away from them. As it turned out, the party was great.

We drove to Liverpool in a rented car, heading over the Snake Pass in Derbyshire, one of the most beautiful places in Europe and for motorcyclists, one of the most dangerous. The Snake Pass runs between Sheffield and Manchester and is a very ancient route, winding between craggy moors, past a large reservoir and is a joy to ride, as I once did on the Crosstowner's predecessor, a rusty cast iron contraption with three gears, two working. It always amazes me that tourist advertisements for the UK always show the worst parts - London, Blackpool, the Smelly White Cliffs of Dover, Liverpool, the Royal Family, Manchester, David Beckham, the New Forest and the vastly oversubscribed parts of the Lake District(although admittedly the more remote parts of the Lake District are stunning). In my humble opinion, there are parts of England never publicized that are much better - the Trough of Bowland, Northumbria, the Welsh Borders, Shropshire and the aforementioned Snake Pass.

After Snake Pass, a quick cup of tea with a legal Eagle and Great Margaret in Glossop, then we arrived in Liverpool mid-afternoon. And it was seeing Margaret that reminded me of another reason I was not looking forward to the party. She showed us photographs of the latest expedition launched by the Large's to a camp site in Wales that they have attended every year,apparently for decades. Every year the party consists of cousins, brothers, babies, sometimes friends, mothers, daughters, and of course dogs. It is a multi-generational, multi-ethnic at times, extended family holiday in tents, and despite the fact that they appear to be wet and cold with a frequency that has made the Red Haired Boffin eschew the experience on a regular basis(if it was in cabins she's be there like a shot), the tradition continues.

The result of this is that cousins are comfortable with cousins (one of RHB's best friends is her cousin Sue, in future to be referred to here as WW), and events like weddings, birthday parties and the like, do not just become exercises in asking other attendees "Who are you?". The fact is that I know RHB's cousins much better than I know my own as a result of this family dynamic. I tell Red as we drive away from Glossop, that I want to go to the Large gathering next year, and she says "Have fun". But in truth, I would be welcome to go without her, and not just greeted as my partner's partner.

When we arrive at Helen's house, a marquee has been erected, photos of H. throughout her life have been posted up and with the arrival of the children the party starts to swing. Pretty soon, Nel and I get bored talking, especially about Canada (I'm fighting off urges to go to the nearest travel agent and book a one way ticket at this point), and we start playing with the little people. Firstly, I organise that each child - Thomas, AllyPally, Ollie, Megan, Siobhan, Alice, Matthew, Shaun and a few others - be allowed a camera. Then the kids are given instructions to go round and photograph every person at the party. In recent discussions with a photographer friend, he mentioned that people react to kids completely differently than they do to adult photographers. The smiles seem more genuine, there's no posing, apart from silly poses. Most of the photos here were taken by Matthew.

Photoshoot over we get into a good old game of hide and seek. As an adult, there is a tendency to try and make sure games are played 'properly', so that when playing hide and seek, a full count of twenty is issued by the seeker, clearly articulated while the hiders hide very quietly in their respective hiding places. In reality, especially with very little kids, it is a little bit more like this:

"OK Ollie. You and me are 'it'. Lets count to twenty and then go find them, ok?"

"Ok. ONE, two, four, nine,"

We are interrupted by Megan who informs us that she is definitely NOT hiding in the wardrobe so there's no point looking there.

"OK, thanks Megan. Now where were we Ollie?"

Ollie screams "COMING READY OR NOT"and tears off.

Upstairs, where Helen's husband banned us from playing, everyone hiding very loudly. As soon as Ollie finds his first cousin (literally), everyone erupts into screams and laughter and we all run back down to the garden to begin the game again.

At the end of the party, Shaun has had a brilliant time and wants to know why he has to wait so long between gatherings to play with his cousins. I tell his dad to make sure he e-mails me the photos from the party taken by all the kids. I want to make a kind of collage of all their work - it would be a great documentary project.

"You guys should all get together again soon" I say, but I have no influence here, and rightly so. I have'nt been in touch with most of these people for twenty years or more, and had to be introduced to most of them. It looks to me as if this particular family is, in its own way, happy with the way things are.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Knees up Mother Brown

Having recently tried to call a close friend to see how their recent operation went, I am devastated to find their telephone line constantly engaged for the last two days. There could be numerous reasons for this, telephone gambling, for example, or perhaps a gossip line is being utilized while my friend recuperates, or perhaps the person is ordering pizza, but whatever the reason, I find an engaged tone something of a challenge. Sense, and the Red Haired Boffin, tell me to leave the call for fifteen minutes or so, in order to give the other parties time to clear.

Much to the bemusement of my partner, I adopt a completely different approach, repeatedly re-dialling without any pause. This is similar to channel surfing, I think. When channel surfing, it becomes obvious very quickly that the same old dross is on the goggle-box and nothing I can do will change the situation. This however does not prevent me cycling repeatedly through the channels, more to get a result than because I believe the tv will change its programming. They never do......and now to try that number one more time before bed...........

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Of cats and dogs

Ireland's photographs have not yet been sanitized, the legends we wrote there have not yet distilled properly and I have the worst child-inflicted viral infection-thingy I have had for many years. SO the tale of Ireland's vacation may have to wait for a few days. But a story will be told thereof. Eventually.

Onto current affairs before today's main topic. NOT wanting to be the harbinger of doom, or to harbinge anything at all really, I draw attention to the current state of the World's financial markets with no pleasure, but with a feeling of some vindication. I believe that I was the first contributor to this blogsite to introduce readers to the notion that societies cause themselves endless difficulty by engaging in complexity, and while it is true that I may well be the only regular contributor to this site, I do not believe that this lessens my achievement at all. The world's financial markets are in chaos. The real problem with this is that the last time that this happened, it was a person who was super rich already who profited. Mr George Soros might well have opened hundreds of charitable institutes, and may well be a nice uncle, I have no idea, BUT the very artificiality of the type of speculation that 'players' on the stock market engage in is a real and present danger to everyone else, I believe, not to mention the environment, good taste and the advancement of human society everywhere.

My father used to equate the stock market with betting shops, and I believe that no matter how many stupid, unpoetic, poncy, plummy, small-mouthed euphemisms these stock market speculators use, they are in fact, no better than my illiterate alcoholic grandfather who spent the family income betting on the outcome of the 3.30 at Chepstow. Stock market speculation is gambling, full stop. The players might use their own language to describe what they do, a language used by breathless journalists and bad novelists as if they are describing foreplay, where words like "exposure", "liquidity", "remuneration"(possibly the worst word in the English language), "bear pit", "Bullpen", "dynamic" are used as if they actually describe something, but the fact is these people are nothing but common gamblers. They create wealth the way an alcoholic gambling addict will go to the pub after a big win and spend loads of money, but it's nothing permanent, nothing substantial, nothing to be proud of. The real problem has been that they are taken seriously, the way far too many addicts are taken seriously, and, again like drug addicts and alcoholics, when it all goes horribly wrong, they take a lot of people down with them. The only difference between these people and drug addicts and alcoholics is that alcoholics often recognize that what they are doing is bad for society.

Why are the so called stock markets gambling, I hear you ask? Well, my father's explanation is a good one. It goes like this:

A market trader dealing in fish, fresh fish, will, if he or her, is reputable, only sell you fish that is available today, on the stall. They WILL NOT say to you

"OI, Governer. Give us ten quid now and I'll reserve some of tomorrow's catch in your name. Given that everyone loves a bit of haddock, we just know that I can sell your tenner's worth for twelve quid, so when I do sell it at that price, we'll make two quid profit"

THey will NOT say this to you because someone who operates in a real market deals in reality. The stock market, heavily dependent on "Futures" and "confidence", is anything BUT a real market. It is gambling.

OK. Polemic over. Back to cat and dogs....

Many thousands of years ago, similarly to that humans did definitely NOT gamble that the herds of wildebeest would sweep majestically across the 'prairie', bets also were NOT taken on which child would survive being mauled by the vicious predator 'we' had just domesticated. I say 'we' because if I am wrong, I want no part of 'we' and want instead to be a different species, perhaps 'homo cataffiliaticus'. The sense of this segment, if sense there be, is that I dispute strongly the outrageous claims made by some anthropologists that dogs were the first animals domesticated by humans. Domesticating dogs first is just gambling.

I should lay out the arguments. As I believe I have already proven, humans are, by nature NOT gamblers. Gambling is usually associated with an illness, with being a sociopath,with playing the stock market etc etc, and is, I would suggest, a pasttime dependant on a certain amount of luxury. Living on the brink between hunter gathering and an agrarian existence is not a place to risk one's existence, yet certain anthropologists would have us believe that these early humans traipsed out into the wild blue yonder, trapped a she-wolf, killed it, and then took the wild cubs back to camp with the specific intention of breeding Shitzu's as soon as they could find another litter(from a different she-wolf) with paqrticularly attractive eyes,. They would also have to kill the second she-wolf. Then , the same ganf of starving humans would have to invest a huge amount of resources on feeding all the pups. And, the same anthropologists would have us belive that they did this on a whim - as a trial run, as an invention. They would have us believe that ancient man woke up one night and decided to domesticate things that were wild, that did'nt want to be domesticated, and that required a huge amount of resources.

Consider, if you will, the original moggy. Sneaking round the sandhills of pre-civilization Egypt, hunting bunny-rabbits (sorry Grasshopper), when lo and behold, there, right in front of it's eyes is a whole family of mice feasting on a pile of grain collected by the homo sapiens. For the cat, this is a good gig - a regular supply of food, protection from predators, warmth. For the human, their precious grain is protected, and the amount of effort they have to put into the venture is limited.

I do not think there could be an argument. I do love dogs, and we are going to get a dog as soon as we can to enhance our menagerie, but as an introduction to risk-free domestication, cats are the way to go.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

7000km Part 4 (or 7000 words, whichever comes first)

We weren't sure where we were going after Sturgis. We didn't know how many rain days we would have, but with 45 minutes of rain over the entire two weeks, we were free to go a little further. South was our first thought, but a heat wave was pushing temps into the 40's so we decided west and North into the canyons of Wyoming and Montana. Again, the scenery was amazing. Devils tower, finger canyon, and more badlands. ok.... Out of room for pics, and typing fingers are tiring (only 2 fingers sharing all this work). Stories about running out of gas, and our only rain/hail storm on the 401 back in toronto will wait till a nice beer and a good talk. :)

7000km Part 3

So yes, Sturgis was a circus. But you have to run away to the circus at least once in your life. :) Stayed their two days, went to the worlds largest drive-in/through biker bar, and bought a couple of tacky souvineers. We spent mostof the time on the road checking out the windiest roads and most beautiful scenery outside of Cape Beton. Mount rushmore was creepy, but the roads the park were amazing, especially 'needles' highway. Every road was filled in bot directions with motorcycles, mostly Harley's and the lack of time behind the wheel was obvious with most of them. I started calling them the first gear club, but to be fair, no-one was taking the road beyond their skill level - which was good.

7000km Part 2

So we escaped the land of corn by the husk of our ears (yeah, that was corny, but if you cob something that bad together, you have to field it...). Acyually, by the time we hit western Iowa, we found some great back country roads riding through the first hills we had seen in days. There were old clay, grassy hills that resembled the 'fingered' hills you often see in pictures of China. And set the stage nicely for Nebraska. There we found more rolling hills, and we had our first night couchsurfing staying with Joe, a student who discovered couchsurfing while studying in Poland. the first of two cool couchsurfing experiences. We didn't stay long as we were close enough to our first goal South dakota, the bad lands and Sturgis.
The badlands were stunning, and even these pics don't do the justice. We detoured through them on the way from Nebraska to Sturgis, and spent the beter part of the day twisting through kilometres of badlands national parks.It was also the first time this entire trip that we saw a sign
of the 100, 000 bikes that were supposed to be at Sturgis. We went from seeing 2 bikes per day on thge road to two cars per day. We found out how this worked by the end of the rally. It seems no-one really drives their bike to Sturgis anymore. they put it in the trailer behind their SUV, tow it to Sturgis, park it on main street and pose by it.


Anna and i have posted our vacation pics on facebook, but I've just been told we've neglected our friends on this blog.
The idea was 2 people, 2 wheels, 2 weeks, very little luggage, no roof and 7000 km.
The story starts with packing, of course. Last year we upgraded the size of our saddle bags, and bought a 'sissy bar' bag which tripled the amount of space we had. This being our first motorcycle trip together, though, a civilized debate ensued regarding what consituted 'a neccessity' on a trip like this, and whether a hair dryer fit that category. Being the skilled orator she is, Anna argued that a hair dryer is nothing more than a 21st century towel. Being high tech geek and a Douglas Adams fan, I couldn't argue with this and room was made.
We set off on a Friday, early morning. Now my usual mode of travel on bike is to find the smallest, windiest road that gets us close to the destination and take it, but knowing how flat, industrial and boring the scenery was going to be early in the trip, we hit the big highways trying to get as far south and west as could on that first day. While we didn't quite hit 'iron butt' status (1000miles in under 24 hours) we were well into chicago territory, and that was even including a heartfelt, though somewaht lengthy, welcome from the US customs guards. Now don't go blaming Anna for this one. I have a 100% success rate at being pulled over for 'random' checks when trying to drive into the states.
So the first day was industrial, the second day was all about corn. It took us a while to find a decent road off of the interstates, but we eventually hooked up with the 'US' grade highways which are typically 2 lane and go decent distances. US 66 is probably the most famous, but we found US 20 and 30 going fairly cleanly east to west. unfortunately. my maps were a bit out of date, and these 2 lane highways had in large part been twinned and now resembled nterstates themsleves. Even compared to my last trip 5 or 6 years ago, it was getting harder and harder to find a nice country back road. If the road went anywhere, there was a good chance it had been or was being upgraded. Now the price of this went beyond my own annoyance. A lot of these highways were twinned very recently and we were seeing instant effects when we tried to pull of the roadfor gas or lodging. Two lane roads used to cut through towns and the few people that took them would stop for lunch or gas, creating small local economies. With these new bypasses, we were finding ghost-town after ghost-town.
So, here we are heading through michigan, illinois, indiana, iowa (and the other 6 states that start with I that I can't remember). We were doing an average of 600KM a day, back roads and no hurry when possible. On the first day through, we were amazed by the amount of corn. By the third day, the corn god was speaking to us directly, telling us to abandon our motorized contraptions and live in the fields wearing corn husks for clothes...

We did manage to escape, but at a cost too gruesome to mention her.
The food in these small farming towns gets mixed reviews. Portions were enough to feed us for an entire day, of course, but the steaks were some of the best i ever had. Anna was understandably confused when told hat 'soup' was a seasonal dish...
More to follow.

Monday, 8 September 2008

dateline dublin: updated

As my previous very short post referred, I'm in Dublin awaiting Nel's arrival. I left her this morning in HUll and headed for the 7.33, not to Leeds, but this time to Manchester Airport, where I took a flight to dublin.
For reasons that are entirely consistent with our evergreen ability to make life absurdly complicated, Nel left home an hour later, headed up to Newcastle and took a seperate flight. Also to Dublin. From here, we are picking up a car, driving down the coast to Greystones where my parents honeymooned, then driving across country to Cork where we meet Little Bunny Foo Foo, and his family for a short holiday.
For reasons that are very Irish, the directions we have from Bunny Foo Foo is "Just drive to Oven, outside Cork, and ask where the Sheehans live. If you get lost , just go to the pub. Someone'll probably call us to let us know you've arrived. But we'll probably be there anyway"

So, as soon as Nel arrives, that's it, we'll be off. That is if I am allowed to hiure a rental car on the out of date license I have.

dateline dublin

just arrived. airline computer timing out

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

The Credit Crunch

Although it may sound like a breakfast cereal, Credit Crunch is actually Journalese for The Huge Big Massive Recession that Britain (Best Country in The World tm) is plunging into quicker than you can say 'Don't put a Wind Turbine in my Back Yard, I want a Nuclear Power Plant Instead'. While Gordon Brown, the Labour Leader, and David Cameron, his Opposing Conservative Leader, are busy giving interviews about the brilliant Olympic success (and it is a great series of achievements) of the Scottish, Afro Caribbean and Scouse athletes who represent Britain, the Housing Market, which as far as anyone can tell is the only industry left in the UK, (apart from the Financial Services Sector, which does not count as in industry anyway because no-one actually makes anything) is crashing through the floor, apparently determined not to stop until it reaches Australia, a country that Britain(as we quickly tire of hearing) roundly thrashes in the medals table at Beijing.

We are treated to a series of interviews which show our politicians in their worst light. Worst that is, if, in respect of a very, very long list of infinitely negative personal, moral and ethical attributes, the laws of Physics allow an absolute worst. Interviews that would verge on the enigmatic, if the interviewees were not so repulsive. The problem with these interviews, is that our politicians, in common with the androids that inhabit JobCentre PlusOne, are responsible for nothing, not even success. In the case of the Olympics, this results in our odious Prime Minister, smugly basking in the success of the team, and sportingly refraining from specifically saying that if the Other Lot were in charge we'd have absolutely no sailing medals at all. He does manages to imply it by repeating the line "this is not a day for politics, it is about Team GB", but magnamity prevails and he absolutely refuses to be obviously seen claiming the success as a Party success.

Among the press, the sportsmen and women, and commentators, there is broad agreement that the Investment In Sport referred to by the various politicians comes from the millions and millions of pounds generated by the National Lottery(created in 1994) and pumped into British Sport is beginning to deliver results. Indeed, the consensus goes, the previous laissez faire attitude of Governments to sport, an attitude now in practice in Canada, delivers nothing, as the poor showing of the Canadians, where The Right Miserable Steven Harper has cut sports funding, demonstrates. Left to the 'market' your country's Sport collapses but if you invest in facilities and training then, even in the aggressive, cut-throat, multi-billion dollar industry that is global Sports, you will succeed.

British politicians return from Beijing to the official start of what has been called "the worst recession in 60 years" or the Credit Crunch. True to form, no-one calls it a recession, it is instead 'a global downturn', a 'market correction', a 'set of difficult circumstances', and indeed a 'Credit Crunch'. Apparently, like the Olympics, no-one is responsible - even the Opposition call this a Global Crisis and speak only of how their policies would have just mitigated the circumstances that ordinary people will soon be finding themselves in - while the Labour Government speak gravely about 'helping Britons through these difficult times' as if their last fourteen years of Government have had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that soon there will be millions of ordinary people on the dole, loosing their houses, cancelling vacations, taking below inflation pay-rises and struggling to pay for necessities such as heat, water and light. I wonder, vaguelly, battered by all the bad news, whether an investment (such as the MILLIONS that have been poured into sport) might, in the past, or even now, have been in order. After all, it worked for sport, but the question is answered by the Labour Chancellor who tells us that it is up to the markets to put their own house in order. Effectively, the message is, it is the responsibility of Governments to do nothing.

Over at Large Villas, something snaps. My radio station of choice while rebuilding the property has previously been BBC Radio Four, a station that used to be close in tone and content to CBC's Radio One, but the Olympics, then the Credit Crunch, are the final straws. Where there used to be interesting afternoon plays, and penetrating interviews with feisty politicians, there are now interesting afternoon plays, ceaseless documentaries about Global Warming, Money Box(a financial affairs programme which has recently be entirely about how bad the forthcoming recession is going to be), Women's Hour (mostly about date rape and cervical cancer) and a periodic interviews with our current crop of politicians, people who are as far from feisty as it is possible to get. While Britain used to boast fine orators from all sides of the political spectrum, Churchill, Powell, Tebbit, Heseltine, Hatton, Heffer, Castle, Wilson and that Welsh guy Bevan, there now exists a drab collection of Sociology graduates, asexual clones who seem to speak without opening their mouths at all. I imagine Churchill's famous wartime "We will fight them on the beaches" speech (which if you have not read it, you should because it is brilliant. It can be read here: in the mouths of one of our modern politicians. Depressingly, in the hands of Blair, Brown or any of the new breed, the modern version of the speech would be more like:

"You now, it really is too much. As Stakeholders in British beaches, and indeed in Britain, per se, the British public, including the Welsh, I have to say by the way that our beaches are the best in the world, and no-one wants to see them messed up any more than I do, or do not, but, we, as a Government, are going to set some pretty stiff targets for the Nazis of where they can and where they simply cannot go, and - if I may finish, no you asked the question, so let me finish please - if, and I say again, if: if the Nazis fail to meet those targets, which we are going to call Beach Accretiation Lesser Landfall Strategy, or BALLS, If they fail to meet those targets, we'll think about installing speed bumps on those beaches, in consultation, of course with the local, and non-local interest groups, including the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (obviously we cannot have speed bumps where cormorants are nesting). I think that strategy, taken as whole, will send a pretty clear message to the rampaging Nazi hordes that this whole Global Domination thing simply will not do."

The language, syntax, tone, message(s), are all just horrible and amount to absolutely nothing being said at all. Which is why I have switched to Radio LIncolnshire. AFter all, if you are going to listen to nothing, you may as well do it comprehensively. Lincolnshire is the county directly south of Hull. It includes the flattest parts of this island, and is mainly rural. Nothing has happened in Lincolnshire, practically ever, and there are no signs that anything is about to happen there. It's cricket team plays in the minor leagues, it has one football team, Lincoln City, who play in soccer's minor leagues and the only exciting thing ever to happen there - the adoption of Lincoln Green by Robin Hood as his gang's colours, happened so long ago that it does not cause a stir. Radio Lincoln provides a soothing mix of mid-Eighties AOR, programmes about Lincolnshire geneaology, and very frequent traffic reports on the one road passing through the county. It is a pleasant reminder that so many of the crises, emergencies and other calamities that are reported on a daily basis in the serious media, are in fact, hyped up by the media who seem to want us to live in continual state of alert, vicariously following every story and requiring us, through phone in shows, to have opinions, and get outraged, and shout that 'something must be done' about all these important 'issues'. The feeling that I get from Radio Lincoln is that it will all go away, and they are probably right.

Monday, 1 September 2008

50 and 9

Very briefly, we went to my sister's 5oth birthday party this weekend. It was tremendous fun, and a great chance for me to meet up again with one of my favourite people, Thomas, my nine-year old nephew. Thomas is a great kid, and has started writing - fiction, non-fiction, poetry, diary, anything really, he just loves it.

In consultation with my older brother, Thomas' dad, we set Thomas up with an e-mail account so that me and him(or he and I) can swap stories, writing ideas and discuss writing generally. It is very exciting, and I am very keen to help encourage the lad, although I realize that as soon as he becomes a teenager he will turn into a sullen, uncommunicative monster. In the meantime though, I have about four years to encourage, cajole and steal ideas from this bright kid.

Our first item for discussion has been the continents (by the way, I asked Thomas if it was ok that I write this about our conversations and he ok'd this report although he said I'd have to ask him about future conversations we have), and whether writing that includes pictures is valid or not . Thomas is of the opinion that the work should stand on it's own, an opinion that we've already had some vigorous debate over. I'm not patronising the lad here, he is, without being precocious, or precious, an interesting, engaging conversationalist.

These are exciting times. The house is going full tilt. I'm in the middle of an adult sci-fi novella, that Joey Mac and I sporadically work on, and now I'm working, with Thomas on some ideas and concepts that only kids could generate (for example, I was telling him about human migration across the globe, and how the First Australians arrived about forty thousand years ago, when Thomas started asking questions about how the kids felt about these migrations, and did they take their toys, pets and friends, and did the kids have to work. The answers to these questions are fascinating, not least because humans forty thousand years ago were not just Modern Westerners with less stuff, they organised themselves very differently).