May 31, 2006

Other: Hip Waders On!

Did I mention how much frikkin' history there is in London? Better make it full diving gear...

Day 27 - London
Up early enough to get to at least two museums, possibly four. The Significant Other and I are on our own again, so I made sure I had the spare keys before we hit our first target: the Geffrye (sounds just like it's spelled) Museum. The Geffrye sounds dead-dull, but is actually fascinating for fans of pop culture: it follows the history of the English living/sitting/family room through the last 300 years or so, give or take a couple decades.

No, really.

Unfortunately, the 18th and early 19th century rooms were closed for major refurbishment, so we could only tour from the Regency (1870s) onward. After that, every decade has its own room right up to the '90s, and yes, IKEA makes an appearance. Interestingly, the one I recognized best was the room representing the '50s. I'm assuming that this was because my grandparents had much of it, and also because A) we were piss-poor broke when I was growing up, so keeping up with the Joneses wasn't an option, and B) we lived in a log cabin for some of the time. Our furniture was mostly either old or homemade, so the individual styles of various decades left little mark on my memory. All the rooms were tastefully done, and the quality of the furniture and decorations was quite high, so I didn't feel the expected revulsion on viewing the rooms from the '70s or '80s.

We were about to make our way to the museum gardens when I discovered that not only did I have the spare keys to Kay's apartment, I had all the keys to Kay's apartment. We immediately rushed back to her place, called her work, then hopped the Underground to meet her under the 18' tall statue of Freddie Mercury (don't ask).

Next up was Sir John Soane's museum. Sir John was one of England's greatest architects, and he filled his house with with plaster casts of various Greek and Roman statuary, columns, cornices, cameos, gargoyles and any other carved decorations of antiquity so his students could study them. Some of the more authentic pieces were: two political satire series paintings of William Hogarth (The Rake's Progress and An Election), the sarcophagus of Seti the Great (Ramses II's father), and a series of brilliant architectural elevations done by a student of Soane's, Joseph Gandy. What could be brilliant about elevations? Gandy introduced dramatic light, depth, unique perspectives, and people into them to provide instant understanding of scale. It seems that Soane viewed Gandy as the son he always wanted (neither of his own followed him into architecture, much to his bitter disappointment), and two years after Soane's death, Gandy was thrown into a madhouse, where he died.

From this cheery place, we went to the British Museum. We knew with only four hours to look around, we'd have to pick and choose what exhibits to see. How loaded is the Brit? Here's a hint: when Soane offered his sarcophagus to them, it was turned down. Here's what we caught:

The Americas: The Royal BC has the best stuff of the West Coast tribes, of course, but the rest of the two continents narrowed into two rooms included some great choices. It ranged from the artistry of the jewled skulls of South America to the ingenious survival gear of the Innuit. You can readily see why there were two classes of explorer in the North: those who believed that even though the native peoples were illiterate, they had a lot to teach; and dead folks.

The Assyrians: I've often seen the classic winged bulls that is usually shown when Assyrians are discussed, but I never realized that the statues are absolutely covered in cuniform writing. The statues, obilisks, and even a set of gates never stood bare (at least, none of the ones in the museum did) but were coated in writing as well. The drive for humans to communicate beyond their voices is really felt when you see this for the first time.

A tiny bit of the Egypt display: Well, you have to, don't you? Ye gods, these statues were huge! It was an effort to make an impression on the vastness of the desert, I'd think: to overcome the brutal emptiness surrounding them. Ozymandias kept running through my head, and a comment by the S.O about the impressiveness of many of the buildings in England compared with those back home. She pointed out that if you brought any of those buildings, as impressive as any you wish, and plunked them down in Vancouver, they would always be dwarfed by the Cascades right behind them. Efforts by architects to inspire awe in viewers just don't work out here.

The Rosetta Stone: Arguably, the most popular game in the world right now is Sudoku, which appears in countless newspapers every day. This is one of the most revered artifacts in human history: it allowed us to understand hieroglyphs, opening the history of one of mankind's most ancient civilizations to exploration.

And finally the Parthenon (Elgin) Marbles: Brilliant carvings, designed for... what? These statues lined the Parthenon of Athens, forty feet in the air, and yet were complete in every detail, including the backs and tops, which would never be seen. The precision of form is all there, most impressively in the depictions of a massive battle between Lapiths (a neighbouring tribe) and centaurs, mythical creatures which could never have existed, yet here they are: wrestling, striking, falling with utterly realistic motion.

There is a lot of controversy involving the Marbles, and whether they should be returned to Greece. Here, for instance, is one view that they should; and here is another that they shouldn't. Bearing in mind that the faces being hacked off of many of the statues and panels and much of the other damage was the result of the Parthenon being converted into a Catholic Church, then a Muslim Mosque, then a gunpowder store which was blown up, it's amazing that even this much has even survived. Here's the British Museum's take.

At the end of the day, utterly exhausted from the mindfuck that looking at thousands of years of history can do, Kay took us down the street to the most wonderful furniture store: it was the gaudiest, weirdest furniture I've yet seen. Enameled bed frames; five foot tall gilt "Nubian slave" lamps (a matching pair, yet); chandeliers that hung at eye level; and best of all, a "sitting set" of two chairs and a glass table, all supported by gold-edged fake elephant tusks, with two more tusks thrusting up through the table with a huge gold clock suspended between them from brass rods shaped like thick silken cords. Only, you know, gold. All this for a mere thousands of dollars, plus the temporary blindness it would take to live with, one hopes.

It was like a lightly flavoured ice after a rich, heavy meal: the utterly tasteless frivolity of the store had us laughing until we cried. Equilibrium was, in our minds, restored.


posted by Thursday at 9:40 am 0 comments

May 30, 2006

Sex: Love My Home!

Back from across the pond, and loving it. Lots and lots to catch up on, I know, but I have to admit that reading about South Carolina Representative Ralph Davenport (Republican, of course) proposing a ban on sex toys in the state had me stopped cold. I know other states have banned (Georgia, Mississippi and Texas) or have been trying to ban (Alabama) sex toys, but I can't imagine how it's supposed to work. The ban sure as hell isn't going to help anyone stay absitnent, is it? The idea, I suppose, is that if no one ever taks about sex, nothing bad can ever happen.

Of course, we know how well that works.

Shall we compare and contrast (very) personal freedoms again?

Canada: sales of vibrators in a large chain store begins in June of last year. They're sold as vibrators, too, not "personal massagers".
U.S.: The Attorney General is pushing for telecommunications companies to record of all customers internet activity.

Apples and oranges? Not quite: with 13 states still having anti-sodomy laws on the books despite the supreme court ruling that such laws are unconstitutional, the tracking of websites and email is an easy way to find who likes what. And to prosecute anyone who may be breaking specific laws. That ruling, by the way, was based on personal privacy rights, which are now starting to fall to the wayside under the excuse of (heard this before?) the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Remember kids: non-reproductive sex is only for horrible deviants. There's no room for amateurs!


posted by Thursday at 12:51 pm 0 comments

May 26, 2006

Other: Pilgrim's Progress

I'll be back in Canada before this diary gets out of London, I think. Glad I've got notes.

Day 26 - London

We lost our native guide - some nonsense about work or some such - so we went off on our own for a tour of the rebuilt Globe Theatre. It was nice enough, if little too tourist-oriented and a little under technical for my taste. Yes, the construction is authentic, though there are concessions to safety laws: there are metal hand rails, for instance; and the the first thatched roof since 1666 *ahem* features an authentic Elizabethan hand-built sprinkler system. But the walls are really lime & plaster with animal hair, and it is held together with 12,000 wooden pegs.
Warning: don't ever eat a jelly doughnut in the UK, Globe theatre or not. They just can't get it right.
We made for St. Paul's Cathedral next, but were stopped short by the £9 ($20) admission fee. A little too rich for a simple look-around, frankly. So instead we went to the much smaller Southwark Cathedral instead. Masively rebuilt, enough of the original remained for them to claim title as teh oldest Gothic church in London (and that's saying something). There are several dedicated chapels, including a quite recent (1950s) monument to Shakespeare (statue and window) and a much older one to "doctor" Lionel Lockyer which has a wonderful epitath to his immortal fame and in one big advertisement to his panceatic (is that a word?) PILLS. I'll write a little more about him when I get back.
Q: What's London built on?
A: London.
We passed one building that was exposed by fire, and it ended up that it was a bishop's home built hundreds of years ago! The new building now incorporates much of the old structure, and it looks fantastic. Kudos to the business or government that worked to keep it as part of the cityscape. When I mentioned before about stumbling over history on this island, I really wasn't kidding! This whole thing is about one block from a functioning reproduction of Sir Francis "I'm-NOT-A-Pirate-The-Queen-Says-So" Drake's ship the Golden Hinde.
A bit of lunch, then it was off to the Tower of London. The Tower is at one end of the Tower Bridge, a very impressive structure that North Americans keep calling the London Bridge. The London Bridge is a rather flat, plain looking thing that has one end in London proper (London is about one square mile).
Did I mention that the Globe tour was a little too tourist-friendly? Nothing like the Tower is!These folks have it down flat: the Yeomen who work here as guides (the "Beefeaters") are all retired military sargeants, so they've got the voices for it. If you check their uniforms, they're wearing their fruit salad, and I didn't see any less than three bands thick. Plum job, and a huge honour: they live on the premises with their families, the pay is good, and let's face it: being able to say that you are a guard in the Tower gets you RESPECT. The buildings, while authentic, are a little too slick for their own good. While you certainly know you're not in some Disnified version of a castle when you tour it (the White Tower is almost 1000 years old), but you can't shake the "this is for tourists" ambiance.
Then there's the crown jewels. Hold on, let me rewrite that: then there's the


They are utterly surreal. You know that they are authentic, but the mind simply rebels. They are simply too big, too intricate, and too bloody valuble to be believed. And no, the gemstones look absolutely NOTHING like glass or paste gems. There are several gold items nearby as well, but after the JEWELS!!! the gold is nothing. You can appreciate the skill that went into their manufacture, but... One piece, the Sovereign's Sceptre, holds the Cullinan Diamond, a brilliantly cut stone also known as the "Great Star of Africa: it weighs 530 carats, or about 17 ounces. The second biggest is the famous Koh-I-Noor: it's in the Queen Mother's crown and is a fifth the size. Film and photographs are simply not enough to give the impact these items have.

I'll leave it to you to imagine the security.


posted by Thursday at 7:58 am 0 comments

May 25, 2006

Science: ID Proponent At Work!

That is, an inarticulate doppelganger.

Noting the attempt by an intelligent design fan to usurp Skeptico's good name, Skeptico counters by inviting him to host the 35th Skeptics' Circle!

The result is right over here...

Embarassingly, I hadn't time to create a new piece for it, so I've gone back in time (last October) for my own contribution.

Fourty contributors this time (!), so bring water.

Labels: ,

posted by Thursday at 12:08 am 0 comments

May 24, 2006

Other: Catching Up Is Hard To Do!

I know, I know: I’m way behind. London’s a busy place, okay? And now that I’m near a high-speed connection again (civilization! Joy!) I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
The Hell do you mean Edmonton’s up 3-0 on Anaheim in the West finals? Damn, this season’s playoffs have been weird!

Day 24 – Newcastle-on-Tyne to London
In addition to late evenings, it gets bright at about 4:00 right now and sunrise is around 5:45.
Fucking huzzah.
Otherwise, no problems on the trip down, despite a ticket machine not taking our money. Or rather, taking it a little too enthusiastically: ended up fishing out our now-crumpled £10 note with a ball point pen. (Is there anything they won’t do?) Rescuing the money from further mechanical ravishment, we bought tickets from an actual human and wended our merry way to London Town.
Met up with the Significant Other’s cousin Kay and her beau Abed and did some minor-league sightseeing up and down the street. I’m never that adventurous my first day in a new place, but was coaxed out with the promise of Turkish food (rare on Canada’s West Coast) and bagels in the morning. Since we walked in a very “ethnic” (i.e. mixed race) neighbourhood, it actually felt a lot like Vancouver, only with Arabic Muslims mixed with blacks and whites, instead of Vancouver’s Chinese mixed with Vietnamese, Koreans and whites. There are other races in the mix too, of course, but that’s who was the most visible.
There’s a big difference in structures, though. We went down a street called Brick Lane, and it has a real Victorian feel to it. Ironwork, cobblestone and brick houses (duh) are all prominent, and the SO pointed out where Jack the Ripper worked his wonder on two of his victims. Kay enthusiastically took up the theme, while Abed and I tried to be distracted by everything around us.
We passed by a lively outdoor food market (it’s was about 11:00 pm) full of folks taking a breather from the clubs and gearing up for the private parties. Very cool spot.
Not a bad first day in town, all told. People do keep staring at my kangaroo hat, which amuses me as much as it does them: it’s a fantastic hat (Hat in a Bag), but not exactly what one expects to see in an urban centre. If you can find one, though, buy it!

Day 25 – London
Headed out to do the first of many, many Essential London Experiences that are available here: Brighton Beach. Kay had to meet a friend who was there from California (and she went to Brighton Beach?!), so the SO and I were on our own.
I was glad to see that quite a bit of the old hippie/bohemian showing through, despite the efforts of chain stores to horn in. Lots of strange and funky little stores with strange and funky items for sale, and while I’ve heard that London’s a good (read: safe) town for gays, I really didn’t expect to a pavilion advertising “Bangkok’s Best Ladyboys – Highlights of 2005!” every night. Posters for the show were common, and the pavilion was bright, gaudy colours in the middle of town. Interesting.
Wandered out to the famous Brighton Pier, of course: it’s oddly like a restrained, British Coney Island or Pacific National Exhibition. We took a ride through the Ghost House and were utterly terrified - that the poor thing would break down while we were riding it. The sea air must wreak havoc on the machinery, and the wind and tides were something fierce. The prices matched: that was the only ride we tried.
From Brighton, we went to the riverside and picked up tickets for the night’s performance of Titus Andronicus. Not Shakespeare’s best, to be sure, but seeing it in the Globe really added to the experience. Brilliant design for a theatre, even now.
Advice: buy your tickets early, and go to the restaurant across the street from the box office. The wine’s indifferent, but the service is good and the food marvellous. Keep it light, though: the plays can be quite long, depending on the folio version they are doing. Titus lasted two and a half hours, for instance. Also, if you really want to be a “groundling” (standing on the floor in front of the stage), pay for a seat in the lower balcony anyways. You can still stand on the floor, but you’ll have a place of refuge from under the open roof. Rain and chilly temperatures this late May night.
Touring the Globe tomorrow in the morning, then off to the Tower in the afternoon, with a bit of St. Paul’s in the middle somewhere. Better get the legs rested!


posted by Thursday at 4:56 pm 0 comments

May 21, 2006

Other: Lower Than the Lowlands

Phase Two draws to a close...

Day 21 – Dallick House
Last full day here, and we’re alone again; almost, anyways. One knitter ended up being allergic to some combination of seafood in the bouillabaisse, much to everyone’s surprise, and she ended up staying home. The others were to head out onto Loch Lomand, but there are a few sensitive stomachs among them and the winds were high.
The feeble one has been seeking special recognition for the things she almost did (like going to a Spanish restaurant) if it weren’t for the stairs. Also found out today that our FOX “News” fan is not only very well travelled, but just realised this trip that England is an island. She never suspected it until now. She’s been comparing the cost of living between Scotland and the US, constantly converting into “real dollars”, by which she means USD. An irritating enough habit when the country she’s visiting uses dollars (like Canada or Australia), but astounding in a land which doesn’t.
Tell me again why Americans have a bad reputation when they travel abroad? It is a shame, because the three remaining have been very nice – just not as noticeable.

Day 22 – Newcastle Ho!
Drove most of the knitters away today, and not a single tazer was used. I spent most of the day tossing ducklings into trains while the Significant Other cleaned the kitchen and our quarters. Good deal for me!
Also picked up our horrendous artwork, which ended up being quite acceptable. About as good as my artwork gets, I’m afraid, but it will have to do.
We ended up getting massive amounts of tips from various and sundry – about the same as our actual pay – and some very nice notes and letters. They were effusive in praise to the SO’s cooking, of course, but somewhat more hesitant in thanking me, not knowing exactly what it was that I was doing there. Fair enough: I’d be hard pressed to tell them.
Bottles into the hard case, then packed up and away on the train. We got in to Newcastle-on-Tyne by about 8:30 and sat up with one of the uncles-in-law drinking wine and watching the changing colours of the steel music hall across the river, talking politics and religion (FINALLY!). And so to bed.

Day 23 – Newcastle-on-Tyne
The SO managed to sleep in ‘till about 7:30 (amazing) and we grabbed a shower and a couple of guides plucked from among the family members to see Durham Cathedral. Huge stonking place with some fascinating stonework and an enormous wooden organ case carved by a local God Knows When (so to speak). Couldn’t get any pictures, as no cameras were allowed. Wandered the 370 or so steps up the tower for a look-see (got the camera out there) and back down again. The choir was in rehearsals for a performance tonight, and it made a marvellous backdrop for exploring Norman (we’d call it Romanesque) cathedrals. Brilliant soloist among them. Both St. Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede (of English Lit. fame) are buried there.
Ended up having dinner with several of the in-laws for the first time. As the SO says: “the greatest joy of getting married is that you realize that every one else’s family is crazy, too.” Fine bunch this: whip smart and barking mad, the lot of them. Felt quite comfortable, oddly.
Bed early tonight, as we are up early tomorrow for a short flight to Stansted, and thence to London. Huzzah!


posted by Thursday at 10:28 am 0 comments

May 18, 2006

Other: Dallicking Days Are Here Again!

Almost at the end of the “work” portion of the program now!

Day 18 – House of Dallick
Another day off today, so the Significant Other and I did a bit of tourist-taping: we videoed what it’s like being a passenger on the other side of the road, the stone bridge and walled driveway leading to Dallick House, plus the house itself. No surprises, really, so I thought I’d mention a few things that have taken me a little by surprise:
1) Light switches are upside down here. Not sure why, but it makes just as much sense to push down to turn a light on (closing the circuit) as pushing up does;
2) Very little recycling that we could see. The mob has been making a huge amount of garbage, because the only thing that gets recycled here are the glass bottles! Combine that with lots of things coming in plastic “dome” style packaging (like we do with pastries, only with roasts as well) and the volume of trash skyrockets. Where they put it all on this tiny island, I have no idea;
3) Teeny, tiny fridges & freezers. Fine if you want to go shopping every couple of days, I guess, but we’re using six fridges here;
4) Tremendously polite speed traps. There’s always a big sign visible when a Gatso (speed camera) is coming up, and the cameras themselves are bright yellow and take a picture of the back of your car, so there’s lots of time to slow down. Likewise, when you enter a lower speed zone (a town, for instance), you’ll see a sign with the new limit above 3 bars (\\\), then a bit later the limit over 2 bars(\\), then one (\), then the limit itself. Very sporting, I think. Basically, if you’re too stupid to notice all the signs, then you deserve the ticket you get;
5) Stoplights warning you that the light is about to turn green. The lights go from green (go) to green and yellow (caution) to red (stop); then they turn to red and yellow before going green again. Not too sure what red and yellow together is supposed to mean, but for practical purposes, it seems to mean “Time to wake up, now”;
6) Skeleton keys. They’re everywhere over here. I’m going to experiment a little, but if I can open a Weiser with a ball point, these should be a snap.

Day 19 – Dallicking the Time Away
Quiet day, even with all the knitters home. Drove two folks out so they could visit a long-lost type relative, and they brought back a whisky tip. I can live with that.
The SO made steak and kidney pie today. Now, don’t get me wrong, she’s a marvellous cook (no, NOT chef: unless someone is actually French, never trust anyone who calls themselves a chef) but even she can’t make kidneys palatable. Maybe ground up with some heart, barley, and lots of black pepper and stuffed in a sheep’s stomach… Dessert was a chocolate hazelnut concoction called “Monk in Robes”, but given its appearance she wanted to call it “Black Haggis” because it sounded less cutsey. I think I convinced her that a far more intimidating name would be: “Well… it looks like haggis…”
The Three-Day Novel Contest is now open for registration. Seek it out, and enter if you dare!

Day 20 – Lickdal Shoue
Finally took a shower!
Not as bad as that sounds, actually; it’s just that everyone here uses tubs instead. Makes sense, as plumbing after a stone house is built is awkward at best.
The ducklings went off to two more castles (Scone and Glamis), so the SO and I got to have some more sex. For all those who say that a delay makes sex better for them, BITE ME! We may not have sex every day at home, but we damn well want the option!
A bit more video of the property, and of the local German Shepherd (Bernard) who came with us on a walk by the river and was fascinated by rocks, and of a semi-tame pheasant I’ve named Rochester who waits outside the kitchen window for scraps. I figure he’s emergency rations, though it’s not like the birds would be a difficult hunt anyways.
Every postcard we’ve sent home cost 50p in postage alone, so I think we’re at about $60 Canadian into them by now. And there’s still London to go!
I’ve grown oddly attached to the tv show “deal or no deal”, and I think I know why: it’s all about the numbers for me, and I want to see what the banker character offers. I could give a rat’s ass about the contestants themselves, though.


posted by Thursday at 3:08 am 0 comments

May 15, 2006

Other: Little Lambs of the Lord

Day 16 – Dallick, Dunkeld, & Random Field
Finished painting the pottery – charming in a grotesque “Little Billy’s First Fingerpaints” sort of way. Also found out why I haven’t gotten any email since the 9th of May – it’s because my remote email isn’t working, rather than a generalized, unspoken hatred amongst my friends and family. Oh, well; a boy can dream.
Sent the ducklings off to Blair Castle, where the front hall is hung with hundreds of swords, shields and bayonets. Yes, that’s hundreds: it took three people six months to plan and hang the display. It’s the kind of front hall that says: “Hi! We’re heavily armed!”
As they were going to two distilleries as well (Blair Athol and Dewar’s), the Significant Other went along. She ended up coming back with two single malts that are not produced for export (good girl!), so we’ll see about a tasting when we get home.
One knitter did in fact stay behind, so we went for a wander on some of the 5000 acres not attached to the house. She’s a bit City Folk, so she wanted to get a look at some of the lambs – most are less than a month old, so they are still just stupidly cute. Later on, they’ll just be stupid. Early warning sign of illness in sheep: death. Annoying creatures.
Went to church today – sort of. One of the knitters (the flimsy one) wanted to attend tomorrow, so the SO and I drove to Aberfeldy to see when services were: every fortnight, the sign said, and not much else. We went inside, and were greeted with drop sheets and a broken staircase, so we figured that this was an “off” week. Fortunately, the Church of Scotland has quite a good web site, so we’ll be going to the old cathedral in Dunkeld at 11:00 AM. Nice timing, as another knitter has to be at the train station there by 11:30. Easy peasy.

Day 17 – Dallick
The Feeble One decided not to go to church today after all. Well, hey, how important is God to you anyways?
Shipped off one of the knitters today, and on the drive out discovered she was married to a Republican legislator from Washington State who firmly believes that Mexico is sending millions of people to the US to get on welfare.
Now stop that! I was very good, and kept the topics nice and vague. Remember H.L. Mencken’s response to every critic who wrote to him:
“Dear Sir (or Madam, as appropriate):
You may be right at that.
Sincerely, H.L. Mencken”
The SO went with a less civilized meal today: lamb shanks. Giving knitters a potential weapon is always a bit of a risk, but we did a count as we cleared the table and got all the leg bones back. So we won’t have to deal with crushing-type injuries, should emotions get a little high; just some puncture wounds, and we’re old hands at dealing with those at this point. The one who went to see the lambs yesterday didn't eat very much at all. Don't know why.

Edmonton is the last Canadian team left in the playoffs? Dude! The off season in Ottawa is going to be interesting…
Oh, and one thing to the bonehead fans in San Jose, a town otherwise known for great fans: try booing the Canadian Anthem on a day when the US Hockey Hall of Fame hasn’t announced that it has to close its doors and move, okay? Hey, we (pretty much every Canadian hockey fan that did not live in Edmonton during the 80s) understand hating the Oilers as much as anyone, but the anthem isn’t to blame. Trust me, you don’t want the Canadians on the team to feel uncomfortable, or you’ll end up losing all your scoring…


posted by Thursday at 8:50 am 0 comments

May 13, 2006

Other: Weemie!

Day 14 – Dallick and Dunkeld and Birnam and Weem
“Honey, are you feeling okay?”
There are certain phrases you want your Significant Other to say. “Would you like a blowjob”, for instance, has long been one of my personal favourites. This, however, was nowhere near the list.
“Well, my ears are a little hot…”
“No… you’ve got spots.” (Also not on the list, by the way.) Ends up I got a case of hives, or something much like them, while eating dinner. I took an antihistamine right away and they faded out after about five minutes, but still a very strange experience for someone with no known food allergies. No blood, no foul.
Drove two knitters to Dunkeld, then to Castle Menzies in the town of Weem. Yes, Weem. You have no idea how much I wanted a postcard from Weem: “Come to Weem, stay for the Castle!”
In any case, that was the plan.
We went to Dunkeld first to do a bit of sightseeing of the cathedral, then split up to buy souvenirs: we decided to meet at a corner store, then went our separate ways. I found a groovy little pottery store called “Going Pottie” where I could paint something special for a very groovy person we and love, so I decided to try my hand at it. Knowing I’m an indifferent artist at best, I knew it would take a while, so I went looking for my two charges. Now, you’d think it would be impossible to miss someone in a town that consists of a crossroads, but we did, so I went to the store and asked the woman behind the counter that if she saw two American women loitering about, could she send them to the pottery shop just down the street, please? Thank you very much.
I don’t know if I should blame the Scottish vernacular or humour, but they waited very patiently for me for about half an hour – outside the public toilets. We missed seeing the castle by about ten minutes.
Put some petrol in the car – thirty pounds added just over thirty litres, which translates to roughly $2/l Canadian or $7.80/Gallon USD. Why doesn’t everybody over here have motorcycles again?
Got back to home base, and was handed two aerosol cans to hide: it seems someone had used over a can and a half in one of the toilets over the course of four days. Issues, anyone?
But the day was not a complete loss, as the assistant at the pottery store is going to work in Calgary next month, and hopes to visit the West Coast in September. Her name’s Hannah, and she has lovely eyes.
Am I a bad man?

Day 15 – Dallick and Weem
Right: I’m going to Weem with two women today, a mother and her daughter. Now if you didn’t know that was a town and not a verb, what would you have thought?
I went for personal reasons, too: we have no beer in the house, and the SO and I miss it. Unibrew, specifically; but any port (or ale) in a storm. There’s whisky, sure, but no actual beer. Between that, not having my dog, and the missing folks at work and at home I was a little homesick for the first time last night.
Made it to Castle Menzies, which isn’t a castle in the usual sense: it’s in the transition period between full-blown castles and fortified mansions. No way would it stand up to the battering of cannon fire, but raiders would be hard pressed to take it, as all five floors and its towers are riddled with gun holes for defence. There’s even a garrison and armoury on the ground floor.
It’s yet another place where Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed – Scotland’s version of “Washington slept here” in the States of “MacDonald drank this” in Canada. The direct owners died out, and the Clan took over its maintenance and restoration; it’s slow going, but they’re doing a fine job of it, and it’s worth checking out if you can.
Encountered a contender for Most Uselessly Self-Descriptive Packaging Ever: “Whitworth’s Granulated Naturally Sweet Sugar.” As compared to the Unnaturally Sweet variety, I suppose. Or possibly the Sweetness Man Was Not Meant To Know.

Cthulhu! Cthulhu! Bring your unnatural sweetness to us!


posted by Thursday at 8:59 am 0 comments

May 12, 2006

Science: I Brake For Skeptics!

It's that time again - join the roundabout at EoRs place right here. Remember, like all roundabouts (as I'm discovering) proper procedures are expected by visitors, but locals can feel free to improvise.

Have fun!


posted by Thursday at 2:34 am 0 comments

May 10, 2006

Other: The Days Fly By...

Day 9 – Dallick House
Just north of Crieff, at the base of the Sma’ Glen (apparently, slurred diction has achieved official status here), the closest mark on a map is the hamlet of Amulree, population: sheep. Many of the knitters are quite delighted to be out in the country and looking at fields of sheep, but that’s pretty much where I come from anyways. One thing different is that they have pheasants here like we have deer at home: dumb as bricks and just as slow to cross the road, too. Handsome bird, though, and an obvious target for hunters: you really can’t see one for more than thirty seconds without wanting to shoot it.
Travellers Cheques have been a disappointment: businesses don’t want to take them, or they want to apply a surcharge. Bugger that noise! We’ve already paid for them once, and these are supposed to be cash!
One pick-up today, and the car just gets easier to use. The Reanult handles wonderfully, even if the power is a little lacking. Fine for these curvy little trails, though I miss my bike in a mean way.
This could be harder than I thought – One guest has complained that she wanted to watch FOX, and that they talk too much on BBC News. That’s because it’s a news show, dear…

Day 10 – Dallick House
Five more folks to pick up today, then the rest of the time in the kitchen or scullery, which I’ve already dubbed the Dish Pit.
Our FOX fan started talking about the virtues of colloidal silver curing her of pneumonia. But, she says, she prayed too, so she couldn’t tell which actually cured her. A Bush supporter as well, shocking no one. I’m afraid I had to leave the room before I ended up asking her if she were real or a stereotype come to life! The SO keeps reminding me that not only are we employees, but we’re also stuck with these folks for the next ten days or so, so STAY POLITE.


There is a new contestant for “Most Annoying Guest” now: she’s gone from being merely elderly and frail to old and feeble. She’s got a fluttery, “bird-stunned-by-a-window” approach to life, and MAN that grates on the nerves. There is a difference between needing help and asking for it and needing help and mewing piteously until someone notices.
Okay, okay: end of rant.

Day 11 – In D-House
Last couple in today (from my home town, oddly) and lessons have begun. Most of the prep has been caught up, and we’re starting to find what patterns work best for what meals. Which is good, because these are long bloody days.
Actually heard a cuckoo today, and yes, they really do sound like that. Here I am thinking Swiss clockmakers invented the noise out of some perverse sense of humour, but no. If it hadn’t moved from place to place, I’d have sworn the thing was made of wood.

Day 12 – Dallick House
“Fresh Pineapple”.
I’d like you to think of what that phrase means to you, and what sort of image it brings to mind: Fresh Pineapple. Got a picture? Good.

Does it use the words “Includes spork”?

There are occasional hazards when ordering food on line, and one of them included asking for fresh pineapple and getting 200 grams of sliced pineapple in a little cellophane packet with a spork included. Hm.
It seems that I have been far too optimistic about my chances for sex on this trip: the Significant Other has pulled her third 16-hour day, and I’ve been doing 13s, so we just haven’t been up to much. Tomorrow, however, we herd the ducklings into a van where they become someone else’s problem for a good 10 hours… They’re off to Edinburgh to walk the Royal Mile from the castle to Hollyrood House. Downhill, you’ll note: very wise.

Day 13 – Dilly Haese
Aaaaand they’re OFF! Up a bit earlier today (for the SO that’s 4:30) to see the folks away; then we spent some time catching up on cleaning and prepping for dinner tonight. Then fucking like mink in heat for a couple hours. That sort of thing builds up, don’t you know! Can’t be good for you to hold off for days at a time.
Went in to Crieff to buy some little bottles of liquor for recipes and a couple more postcards (probably our biggest single expense so far this trip) and back for a nap and a little more sex. Then it’s back to work for Herself, and I can write a little something for the blog before heading inside. On the upside, the ducklings are going out on four more excursions, one of which we’ll be joining them on (the distillery tours, natch!).

What do you mean Anaheim’s kicking ass? Tell me again why Vancouver fired Brian Burke?


posted by Thursday at 7:01 am 0 comments

May 08, 2006

Sex: Sexes, Battle of The

I’m going to try to solve, or at least explain, a mystery that has had many women, especially single ones visiting so-called “bachelor pads”, alternately curious and furious for hundreds of years.

Why do men piss on the seat?

First though, I’m going to explain my qualifications:

I come from a house which had three males and mom, so you know what the bathroom was like: cleaned every time any guy used it. So I do know that there tends to be a bit of spray sometimes. It happens, I’m not debating it and that’s not the issue here. The issue should be why guys don’t clean up after themselves, but that’s more a matter of social engineering, so it’s your problem, not mine.

What I’m going to explain is more the physical reasons, the facts behind the act, so to speak. To do that, I’m going to get a bit graphic, but I’ll try to keep it as metaphorical as possible so your kids can read this too, and perhaps understand a little more of what’s behind the mystery. Of course, some of you are probably going to try this experiment, so you people following along at home, here’s a list of equipment you will need:

1 skewer
1 sausage (any type) Some people will need two or more to be satisfied. Who am I to argue?
1 drinking straw
1 balloon
Container for the water, wide mouthed

Imagine, if you will, a sausage. Pick whatever size and style you like, as according to my wife that makes no difference at all. I don’t know why she keeps mentioning that… Anyways, take a flat (NOT round) skewer and run it lengthwise through the middle of the sausage so it is punctured at both ends. Now, at one end insert a straw, and at the other end of the straw place a bladder of… water… that is under pressure. I suggest a balloon or bit of surgical tubing, and you’ll want to have it pinched shut while you attach all these bits together.

Now, try aiming that somewhere, anywhere, and see just how accurate you can be.

“But Thursday,” you cry, “that isn’t really how the inside of a penis works! There’s like, a urethra and stuff!” This is so, but I was trying not to say the word “penis” because of all the impressionable youngsters who read this, and now you’ve screwed that effort. Thanks a lot, asshole.

Okay, so let’s put the straw all the way through the sausage (DON’T do this to your penis! Air bubbles very, very are bad for you and your urethra is very, very sensitive!) and see how well it works.

Not great, but much better than it was, right? Except that this version of a penis isn’t very accurate, either. The urethra does not, in fact, extend past the end of the penis, but rather becomes the skin on its surface. How to simulate this effect?

This next bit is a little challenging, but if you’re up to it the reward of knowledge is manifest! With a sigh of relief, remove the straw and fold the opening of one end back with a rolling motion, so it now has a “lip” all around that opening. Reinsert the catheter – sorry, reinsert the straw so that edge is just under the outside edge of the sausage. (You may need another sausage, here.) Now hook up the bladder again and fire away!

Less accurate this time, wasn’t it? Well, it gets worse. Since the opening is not a nice, even hole but rather a slit (some of you may have already noticed this feature), now you need to gently take the tip of the sausage in hand (I said GENTLY! Okay, get another sausage.) and squish the straw until is becomes a vertical slit. Now, try aiming into your container and taking a shot. See? Not very easy, is it?

For added difficulty, bear in mind that the woman’s urethra has but a single use, whereas a man’s has two. Just ask any man who’s been aroused, then has to go pee. It can be frustrating, or even painful! If the guy in question had been recently stimulated enough to ejaculate (no matter if it was with a person, a sock or a sheep), then there will be some remnants of this sticky stuff left behind. Heck, it’s there even if he was simply erect.

So, if you really want the full effect, before you try a third sausage (you slut), run some thick liquid honey through the straw the day before, letting some dry along the straw, then repeat the final stage of the experiment. Really, it’s only a wonder that any urine actually gets into the toilet!

Now, I did hear one suggestion that men sit down to pee, and to that I say: you fold your genitals in half before using them first, and then I’ll think about it. Deal?

I hope this has helped clear up some small part of the confusion, anger, or resentment that can tear the relationships of men and women apart. A little bit of understanding can go a long ways, eh?

If you thought this was going to be about guys leaving the toilet seat up, well, I’d like to know why women never, ever lower the lid! Seriously, after having several female guests in my house, and currently working as a dogsbody in a house with 11 women and three men, I’m telling you it just never happens! EVER! Not that it’s a crisis or anything: you know, it’s not like World Hunger but JEEE-sus H. Christ you’d think it would take a world wide fundraiser to make women even aware of it. Oy-vey!


posted by Thursday at 10:24 am 8 comments

May 06, 2006

Other: Notes From A Small Island

(With apologies to Bill Bryson)

The first time at a ‘puter since Newcastle-on-Tyne, so the summary is a brief of the days, and limited to what’s in my notebook.

Day One – Dunkeld & Birnam
Old place, this. Parking relies more on tradition than laws do, apparently. Older roads than cars, you see. The same seems to apply to vegetables. There is a ruined church here, which used to be the seat of Christianity in Scotland. I like the way the folks are restoring it – the new pieces are cast in the shape that the originals they are replacing were. You can see what the walls and columns would have looked like, while still seeing the age of the building. It’s about 650 years old or so. Oh, and our 2nd PM (you know, the dull one after Sir John A.) spent much of his childhood here. I can see why he turned out as he did: Dunkeld & Birnam is, well, an intersection on either side of a river and the bridge connecting them.

Day Two – Newcastle-on-Tyne
The trains work quite well, thank you very much. Though you have to buy your tickets on board to get the best price, as the staff there are the best at translating the cryptic (at best) rate system between all the private lines. (Same with buses, by-the-by.) Bits of Jenny’s family live in a phenomenally confusing building, that’s got some lovely design, but it’s easy to get lost. The top floor where we’re staying especially reminds me of a game of MYST.

Day Three – Newcastle-etc.
Got lost in the building, including going up a narrow (maybe two feet wide) staircase that ended in a sliding door, whose handle you could see behind the wall, you just couldn’t reach it.
Out for lunch, where we talked about how Jenny’s parents used to work in pubs, robbing from the customers and employers indiscriminately. The staff tried overcharging us – good luck with that!

Day Four – Dunkeld
One thing noticeable about the buildings here is that nothing we’ve been in has been quite finished correctly: a little too tight for some doors to latch, a carpet not quite fitting the room, etc.
Tried the hiking trails here, which are fantastic; much like home only far more used. Saw what was supposedly the famous “Birnam Wood”: an oak and a sycamore (HUGE things) which may have been the inspiration for the march of MacBeth fame. Nonsense, but a great story.
Speaking of trees, one of the Earls out here was apparently a mad larcher, (and that’s not as dirty as it sounds). It seems that he spent much of his time reforesting bits of Scotland with larches. What people won’t do to get out of the house, eh? At one point he used a cannon to blast seeds onto hillsides. Our companies could learn a thing or two from this: how many volunteers do you think they’d get…?
Drove for the first time today – not as challenging as I had feared. Slightly different perspective, same psychotic maniacs to avoid.
Went to the Famous Grouse distillery and went on a silly A/V tour, but it included nine samples (about 3oz) in fifteen minutes, so the walk home was quite enjoyable.
Had sex a few more times today, but we can’t seem to find our rhythm… the Significant Other suggests that it’s because we’re sharing accommodations, so we’re limited to nice, quiet egalitarian sex, which puts a damper on things. Be glad when we’re at the retreat – we’re in the Servants Quarters in another building from the knitters. Don’t scare the horses…

Day Five – Dalwhinnie
Bussed up to the highlands to Jenny’s current favourite Scotch whisky maker, Dalwhinnie. A 3km hike from the bus stop into typical highland weather: 6 degrees, high wind, snow on the hills, rain spitting down sideways. Ahh, memories of Tofino. Anyhow, marvellous whisky, followed by some surprisingly good food at a small inn. The inn had to be small, as I seriously doubt that the town had more than 200 people in it. More a hamlet, I suppose, and why not? We’ve already had MacBeth… (Sorry.)
Back to Dunkeld, where I realise that boots after a hike aren’t the cleanest things ever. Vacuuming dirtied floors with a sullied conscience.

Day Six – Glasgow
Visited an old friend from Salt Spring, as well as his wife and child (huge, brilliant, and too cute for words, respectively). He installs cable television for a living, and says it’s mostly a snap: there’s no wiring or insulation to worry about when you drill through a 1 metre thick stone wall, you see…
Saw the Burrell Collection today – Hooray for Industrial Plutocrats! The first things you see when you walk in (after the shop) are FOUR Rodin bronzes.
I found out that I think the Ming dynasty is over-rated, artistically speaking, but I quite like the Han (7th century) and a lot of the Song (2nd century) pieces. Go fig.

Day 7 – Edinburgh
Toured the castle today. Hundreds of years to build (and rebuild) and you can see why: this is a building of substance. When the 6th Harry Potter book was released, J.K. Rowling apparently used the Great Hall for a reading to a select audience of kids from around the world. Great setting, but the Hall was redone in the 19th century, with their idea of what it used to look like: not exactly authentic. Well, less blood to clean off the walls that way, I guess. Still used as an infantry barracks, the castle is the high point of town (naturally) with the rest of Old Town falling away from it. The cobblestone streets would be hell to keep a motorcycle upright on in even a light rain.
Wandered through a Gothic cathedral, too. Beautiful stone work & glass. Easy to see why they made such an impression on folks who would never have seen such a tall structure! Especially inside – the vaulted ceilings were taller than anything even in the castle. Both buildings were purpose-built, after all.

Day 8 – Edinburgh
Saw that the Royal Museum of Scotland and the Museum of Scotland were both side by side and free of charge, we made plans to see them. Five hours later, we worked our way (mostly) through the smaller of the two. Looks like the Royal is going to have to wait until next time: “Sir, may I be excused? My brain’s full.”
Found Orkney Fudge for my neighbour: apparently his cousin makes it, but doesn’t believe in free samples for family. Found out that there are as many Scots-Native mixes as there are Metis (French-Natives) in Canada.
Drove a standard – no real change. The pedals are all in the same order, as are the gears, even with the different hand.
Slept in Dunkeld one last time. Apparently, it’s the hot-spot for a bunch of 18-22 year olds to stand on street corners and get drunk. Felt like an anthropologist watching them: yep, looks just as pathetic on this side of the Atlantic.

Well, work begins tonight, and we’re in a bloody mansion. The place has three staircases, two kitchens, a hunting room, kennels… And an obscene number of bathrooms. Ah, the good life!

One thing though – it’s a pay-as-you-go internet connection on DIAL UP! So I won’t be replying to much, hope you understand…


posted by Thursday at 2:25 pm 0 comments