October 8th, 2006


Mind the Gap

Returned from England yesterday. As it was business, there wasn't much opportunity for sightseeing, but there was a little. My boss and I got to fly business class on the way over, which made things much more pleasant.

Our European man of business collected us and drove us around the country to our various meetings. He had a GPS thing-y, which kept us from getting too lost, though I never again need to hear the words, "In .2 miles, enter the roundabout and take the third exit." The budget hotels he prefers also continue to leave something to be desired. The cold water tap didn't work and the promised wireless service was broken... with the hotel, the service provider and the telecom company all pointing fingers at each other.

Other quick observations:

English keyboards have @ and " swapped, which caused me no little confusion/irritation. On the plus side, it's easy to find the signs for euro and pound sterling.
SUVs are Chelsea tractors.
They have TJ Maxx there, but they are called TK Maxx (aka Tacky Maxx).
We drove past a field advertising an upcoming ploughing contest.
I can deal with 'ta', but a proper response to 'cheers' continues to evade me. I fear I just stare curiously at those who emit this quaint bit of verbal British colour. Dja get a load o' that, Marge? He upped and said 'cheers' at me!
My favourite commercial of the few I saw while I was there.

Longer observations:

I did get to see a little of Cambridge, including at least a peek at Trinity, St. John's and King's Colleges. Saw where the Christmas Eve Concert takes place at King's. Saw punts and pubs and the interesting dress of the students, including a strange sort of bolero anorak that was fashionable with a few of the young women. The total look said college student, but certainly not American college student. Sort of an alternative alternative to 'alternative'.
The big presentation was in a town one letter removed from Exham, and we arrived just as it was starting to rain. We were way early, so we decided to get some coffee. We found a tearoom in the basement of the local historical shop and killed some time. When we left, it was absolutely pouring rain and blowing like mad -- I was the only one with a bumbershoot. I did my best to protect the bossfella, but we all looked like drowned rats when we arrived. An inauspicious beginning, but the presentation went really well, and I was happy with my performance during my parts of the 4.5 hour ordeal. The clients appeared to be quite happy, too.

On the way over, I read Umberto Eco's Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. I found it enjoyable, but not one of his better works. In brief, a rare bookseller (what else?) suffers a stroke that erases his personal memory of his life. He remembers all the books he's ever read, but nothing about his own personal history. He then tries to reconstruct his life by rereading the stories and books of his youth, packed in boxes in the attic of his family home. Images from comic books, strips, newspapers, ads etc. are incorporated into the text. There are neat foreshadowings and lovely insights into what life in Mussolini's Italy was like, but it didn't win me over entirely. A good Eco, but not a great one. Since Name of the Rose is his only great one (in my opinion) his batting average continues to shift towards merely good.

I also read Hitchhiker, a bio of Douglas Adams. Since he was born and educated in Cambridge, it was interesting to be travelling among his old stomping grounds at the same time as reading the book. The story the book tells is a much sadder one than I expected. Not that his life was filled with tragedy (although to some extent it was) but that he turned out to be less of a hero than I expected him to be. It goes far beyond his legendary inability to cope with deadlines... he seems to have been something of a big fat jerk at times. The book also performs a great service in ferreting out the truth behind many of his (semi)legendary anecdotes. Perhaps the most surprising thing I read had nothing directly to do with him at all. Two people met at one of his parties and eventually married. Why did I not know that Richard Dawkins married Romana?!?!?!?!

Quick hits:

2006 Ig Nobel Prizes
Roadside prank