Monday, 26 January 2009
"This has been a brilliant acheivement" I confidently declare. "Not many people have taken on projects as big as this and succeeded. I mean we might need to do a little bit of work after we have moved in, but look what we have achieved."
Mary Douglas, anthropologist, explained her notion of "Matter out of Place". Humans it seems like to categorize things. They like to have things described in categories so that they can organize and make sense of the world. This has been going on from the earliest times - just read the writings of Leviticus, in which was laid out for the early Jews descriptions and categories of things they could and could not eat, things they should and should not do etc. The abominations Leviticus described are things that do not fit into these categories and are therefore to be avoided. Douglas captured these notions brilliantly. Humans do not like matter out of place. Which probably explains the uncomfortable look on my medium sized partner's face as she examines the magnificent achievement I am describing. It looks like this ;
It should be mentioned that a day later it does look considerably different, and does include all the things one would expect in a kitchen, including floors, walls and a door. Some of the fripperies of modern life may be absent, but with magnificent take away food available only three minutes away, and showers in the University that wont cost us money who needs a cooker, washing machine, dishwasher, sink, or for that matter cupboards and countertops?
THe real reson it looks like this is that the building inspector made us redo some minor details (floor and roof construction), and these are now done. When he comes to visit, I let him say "Pass ! Good work" then challenge him on his previous conviction that all was not well in our state of Denmark. He grudglingly concurs that his decision was "marginal". In other words, on his previous visit to site, he did not understand how we had built the floor so he had ordered me to redo it according to how he did understand things. This is a clear exampe of Levitican thinking - blind obedience to categorization without understanding. Now however, he has gone away, and without admitting he was wrong, has looked up our methods of construction in a RECENT text book and discovered they are better than perfectly sound. The result is that I have wasted a week and my matter is all out of place.
Sunday, 25 January 2009
In light of the above, I, a Canadian by choice, a Scouser by birth, and someone who can modestly claim to be "travelled" have a few tips on items you Canadians should bring so you will feel at home, and a few bits of advice on what to expect when you land. This help and advice is a s follows:
1. Bring your own tree - most of the English ones went years ago to make boats that sailed over to Canada.
2. DO NOT WALK IN FRONT OF CARS !!!!! THEY WILL NOT STOP, EVEN WHEN DRIVEN BY KIND LOOKING OLD LADIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!
3. Do not ask shop assistants for help. It will only confuse them because their principal job is to ignore you completely. If you need practise in this, visit Canadian Tire a few times before you come here.
4. In the UK, words can mean different things than they do in Canada. For example, Summer here means "Fall". Spring here also means "Fall". Winter means "A very Wet Fall" and Autumn ( the English word for Fall) means "Winter without snow".
5. Do not, under any circumstances ask anyone for directions. You will not understand wehat anyone says. Get a Sat Nav.
6. Women - if you want to blend in with the majority of British females, start by thinking of all the makeup you have ever bought in your life. Then double it. Apply this quantity to your face every morning you are here. If promenading for the evening, especially in the North East, do not forget to leave your coat, hat, shoes and gloves at home. Then get impossibly drunk.
7. Avoid using phone booths if at all possible. They might be called "Phone Boxes" and might even have a phone in them, which may possibly work. In reality, despite the ready availability of parks, bushes, stores, pubs, 24 hour garages and even a person's own home, Phone boxes are actually Urinals.
8. If you happen to meet the Queen, perhaps walking her Corgis in the park, or buying a loaf of bread in Sainsbury's, do not stirke up a conversation which includes the sentence "Are you thinking of retiring soon? My friend Mazzer thinks you are the last decent one in your family and after you the country would be better off with an elected President - possibly an ex-footballer or a newsreader". This will result in Mazzer getting locked up in the Tower of LOndon for twenty years.
9. You will not need suncream . You will however need a supply of serviceable umbrellas and some Wellington boots.
10. Do not try to get a takeaway coffee anywhere. It will only lead to disappointment. On the other hand, do ensure you eat fish and chips at least once per week, and try to find somewhere that advertises a "Full English Breakfast". At it's best, this is the best meal you will ever eat.
If I think of anything else helpful, I will post it as your respective visits approach.
Thursday, 15 January 2009
Atheist Sees Image of Big Bang in Piece of Toast
For Immediate Release: Miracle Toast?
(ACPA-london) Excitement is growing in the Northern England town of Huddlesfield following news that local atheist Donald Chapman saw an image of the Big-Bang in a piece of toast. In an exclusive interview with "The Huddlesfield Express" Chapman, 36, explained that he was sitting down to eat breakfast when an unusual toast pattern caught his eye.
"I was just about to spread the butter when I noticed a fairly typical small hole in the bread surrounded by a burnt black ring" said Chapman. "Then to my amazement I saw the direction and splatter patterns of the crumbs with changing shades emanating outwards from the center of the black hole. It was identical to the chaotic-dynamic non-linear patterns that one would expect following the Big-Bang". "It's the beginning of the world" he added excitedly.
Ever since news of the discovery made national headlines, local hoteliers have been overwhelmed by an influx of atheists from all over the country who have flocked to Huddlesfield to catch a glimpse of the scientific relic. "I have always been an Atheist and to see my life choices validated on a piece of toast is truly astounding" said one guest at the Huddlesfield Arms hotel.
To the surprise of many, the UK National Atheist Association has asked its members not to pay attention to the story despite its potential to inspire less faith. "Given what the religious believe already, this is an easy sell" said one disgruntled activist who said he was going to Huddlesfield anyway noting that "Seeing is not believing".
Wednesday, 14 January 2009
With that in mind, I can announce that my latest work is to be called "Thing Thoughts or JUst Dunkin' Donuts? - A guide to Doing it Write (Thinking)". THe misssppelling of "Write" is entirely deliberate, and represents a pun, as there are not enough of them in Philosophy. Although not finished, I can reveal that my book contains great advice on how to think, and enters the Philosophical fray around the concept of categorization. IN my case, I have adopted a practical approach to this age old question and just written a few lists. For example, here is my list on Good versus Evil:
Carpenters/ Cats / Anyone called Brian / Nova Scotia /Internet/ Fleeces
Plumbers / Most people called Phil/ Surveyors/ Architects / Business Lawyers / Cats / 401 Through Toronto / Leeds/ Cardigans / Buttons /Nova Scotia
At a glance, I think that the number of people who may get help from this list, and other similar lists in my book will be literally uncountable.
Other news in our house is good and bad. The Good news is that we had a massive day in Leeds on Monday, and bought our kitchen from IKea, in Leeds. It was a long day, and we cheerfully resolved NOT to behave like every other couple that you see wandering this store. Couples who have just arrived are cheerful, laughing, each holding a cappuchino, bright eyed and optimistic. One of the couple - the one most averse to shopping has vowed NOT to get impatient, but is under the impression that (lets face it) HE has agreed a strategy with his partner, a strategy designed to minimize shopping time. Knowing that the visit will be mercifully short, our victim adopts a positive attitude, safe in the knowledge that he'll be back at home in time for the 3.00pm kickoff. Laughing as they walk, holding hands and playfully swinging the odd scatter cushion at eachother, the expedition begins.
By 3.30pm the grins have been replaced by a Thousand Yard Stare on the part of the football fan, and a pinched determined expression on his partner's immaculately made-up face. The coffee has been replaced by bottled Swedish water as dehydration sets in, and she's wishing she'd worn flats, although in the current circumstances he is the last person in the world she would tell. The football fan is collapsing on chairs every time they stop (again) in the bedroom department, desperately texting friends to find out what the score is in the vital match, and the couple have argued over every minor grudge that has ever arisen in their relationship, from the behaviour of his family at Christmas to the ease of assembly of the Linnlangue (a top-of-the-range occasional table).
Reg Haired Boffin and self did not succumb to any of the above, but after setting off for Leeds at 10.00am, it was a very long day as we eventually unloaded back at Large Villas at 8.30pm. Cats were not amused.
Purchase of this kitchen would be all very well if we had somewhere to put it. Unfortunately for us, a personage representing the worst fears of builders everywhere had called some two days earlier.
"You'll have to do it again. Replace it all. And that.." he said pointing. He looked almost apologetic as he spoke.
The "it" you see, is the floor of our new extension. And the "that" is the roof of our new extension. Previously, yours truly had produced a floor in record time, working closely to the architect's specifications. At this juncture, it may be germane to the issue at hand to explain why we need an architect. After all, the design of the extension has been all our own work. Similarly, we have specified most of the technical details, including wall thickness and amount, and type, of insulation to be used, in order to achive the 'U-values' aspire to. 'U-values' are simply a measure of how insulating a wall is. However, translating these details into technical drawing requires expensive computer programmes, and there are some gaps in our knowledge, in that UK Building codes have undergone massive revision since we left this country. While familiar with the Canadian way of building (which can be summed up as "Build it as quickly as possible before Building Control see it"), the Englsih system requires periodic checks by the Building Inspector, probably because English houses are so complicated, and so heavy, that it is very easy to have a structural disaster on one's hands even if you are not trying to operate as a cowboy. Ergo, we employed an architect, an expert in specifying technical details who would translate our requirements into an acceptable form for Building Control.
In the case of a floor, the problem is an inch. The floor an ceiling of our extension, although constructed correctly have been made from 2" x 5" timbers. Local Building Control, it transpirse, began specifying 2" x 6" timbers some time in the last few years. The whole thing has to be redone. Readers of this blog may be aware that when I split open my water main with an errant brick some time ago, I laid claim to being culturally North American by my use of "oh My God, Oh My God, Oh My God", instead of the more European expletives I could have chosen. AFter the Building Inspector leaves I delve into a cultural connection I have always denied, possibly using every Anglo Saxon word available to me, including the perfectly harmless ones that just mean "Bread". So my beautiful thing (pictured below) has to be ripped up and started again. No small amount of work. Especially by Jan 31st with three exams, my taxes, two term papers and a bathroom to squeeze in as well.
We continue to be busy elsewhere. I am writing my final book review of the first semester. A helpful hint to anyone thinking of writing a book review for University is that you should choose a book with the longest title you can find. Therefore, if selecting from a series of anthropological texts, for example, do not choose a book such as "Amazonia: A Study". Instead, go for "Paradigms and Transference: A Social, Cultural, Evolutionary View Of Modern Gifting, Reciprocity and Sharing in The THousand Islands of MIcronesia". It is even better if the title then goes on to list the THousand Islands, because in a book review of two thousand words, every unnecessary word you can legitimately add to the paper reduces the amount of thinking you have to do.
I also did some freelance work recently, installing the stage for the Annual Conference of a large department store chain. Having attended several of these events before, I had always assumed that the nonsense spouted by CEO's was just made up on the spot, fuelled by a couple of stiff drinks before their speech, but on this occasion, I am forced to watch the rehearsal, and discover to my surprise that this particular CEO, at least, is rehearsing the speech. This means that they actually have to think about what they are saying at these corporate events. Even more astonishingly, having rehearsed the speech, and therefore presumably had a chance to review the verbiage they emit, it appears that they go ahead and deliver it anyway. Totally without irony, the CEO, who is remunerated millions of pounds per year, says that she expects her store clerks ( these days called 'Partners') who are paid in the range of twelve to fifteen thousand pounds per year, to be as excited about the "brand" as she is, because if they are, sales will increase. All she is asking for is a one percent increase, and this she reminds them, is how they get their bonus.
The mechanism for increasing sales this year is by pushing the company's eco-policy. The strategy is simple. Purchasers are encouraged to support the environment by buying more and more and more dirt-cheap throwaway goods (made in a sweat shop in India) thus fuelling massive growth. If they do this, the company will give the shopper an eco-friendly shopping bag, and air miles so that they can go and visit the former rainforest in India that has now been given over to growing cotton which supplies the sweat shops. Continued growth, it appears, is the only solution. To everything.
The CEO hesitates for a minute, and pauses, confiding in an aide that she is not sure what demeanour to adopt when delivering the next bit. The "next bit" is eventually delivered seriously, but not too seriously. It transpirse that due to the credit crunch, the described growth of the company is vital, and if this eco-fuelled massive growth does not continue then everyone will be out of a job. The way the British economy is going, the sweat shop looms large in everyone's thoughts.
Wednesday, 7 January 2009
Immediately I log on to Liverpool's website, review how the reserve team are doing, log on to Celotex's website to enter my calculations into their on-line u-value calculator (despite thhe fact that we completed our insulation months ago, making this a completely pointless exercise), and of course log on to the papers to read only those parts of the news that are tolerable. This means no international news, shun the environment news, bypass the economic news, click past any articles about celebrities, read nothing about Man Utd, avoid making myself even more nauseous by missing any articles on Royalty, or for that matter New Labour, The Conservatives or the Liberals, ignore the fashion pages, eschew the 'Comment' bits, pretend the weather is not happening and most definitely dismiss the cooking pages as pretentious London weighted irrelevant fluff. I also regularly deny myself the pleasure of reading the ceaseless "Lists" that newspapers delight in lazily slapping together - "The Ten Best Weekend Breaks", " Fifty Places to Visit before Fifty".
Indeed, my ideal newspaper would be one page - a short report on the health, fitness and doughty chararcter of every player in the Liverpool squad, and one 'happy' news piece per day. I know that I could achieve this through feeds myself, but I am too lazy. Besides, I am too busy avoiding work.
Anyhow, just because everything else is pretty crap right now, here's today's 'happy' story:
Friday, 2 January 2009
As author of the groundbreaking series of anthropological treatises "Civilization - Why?" , "Evolution - When?" and most recently "Apocalypse - How?" (a brilliant title that I thought up entirely on my own with no help from anyone, particularly from Sally Stone, spinster of the parish of Plymouth) I am amazed that when visiting us on several occasions, Will's conversation has not been littered with such asides as "Well, that was a good football match, but obviously not something I could have watched when I was writing my brilliant book", or "Gosh, I'm really hungry. Being a published author sure gives a man a healthy appetite". I can only think that Will's book is not very good. In fact, the webpage that describes his book is full of errors. For a start, the webpages quite clearly states that Will's book is 160 pages long. This is clearly nonsense, and should read '16' because even the whole of my groundbreaking triad - a theory which explains the entirety of human civilization over the last 8000 years - only takes 14 pages of A4 (double spaced). And that's with some pictures I got from Flickr.com. Cleverly I ran these images through Photoshop so I won't have to credit them - as I have advised several budding authors, referencing or crediting is for suckers. Will's book is about someone called Blanchot, presumably a forerunner of the excellent Monsieur Hulot, a French comedian that the terrible Rowan Atkinson plagiarized shamelessly in his awful Mr Bean series. It is absolutely impossible that any serious study, especially of an actor, could take more than three or four pages - people would just get bored.
Will's lack of self aggrandisement leads me to think he's not really serious about this whole authoring business, as most authors and musicians I know are enthusiastic about droning on about how brilliant they are. Instead, Will tells jokes, makes cups of tea, feeds treats to the cats, and generally acts very unimportant.
In the meantime, having completely independently (WITHOUT ANY HELP FROM ANY OF MY GUEST AT NEW YEAR) dreamt up the last title in the series of my Nobel prize winning theories, and having exhaustedly copied and pasted the last bits of text for the work from Wikipedia, I start to consider my next challenge - finish the friggin house. And with that in mind, I give notice that January may be sparse on entries. We have given notice here at NIckson Towers, and will move into LArge Villas come Hell or HIgh water at the end of January, but the stat we will be in is in the hands of higher powers. BY this I mean that whether we have heating and hot water at the end of January is now entirely up to plumbers. If enough plumberly fingers are not pulled out we could be facing a cold February.
Thursday, 1 January 2009
Fortunately I have plenty of people of the human type who I like loads. And even more fortunately , for me they have come to visit. And even more fortunately, they do not require a more complicated description than "friends". THe cast of chararcters is illustrated in the pics attached to this blog, with the difference the pictures being the additiona of CCP to one and the removal of Mazzer from same. Omitted from all these pictures are Great Meg and The Legal Eagle who also visited earlier the same day to view the progress over at Large Villas. Coats were not removed.
Also missing from shot is Calli, 'our' smaller cat. She has decided she likes humans, and has discovered they quite like her and give her treats as a result of her pretty face. If her brain was big enough to contain the concept of "preen", then she would be preening like a World Champion, but not being particularly brilliant, she only gets part of the concept of preening, so she just sits right in front of our friends staring at them. THe effect is strangely unsettling.
Anyway, happy new Year to one and all. The certainty is that if you are reading this and were not with us on New Year you were missed and remembered. Below, left to right is:
Quok, Nel, Tom, Martin, Becky, Sal, Christine, Will.
Nota bene: Sal is from Mansfield.