Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ellenton, Florida To Toronto, Canada

In my infinite wisdom, I decided it would be cheaper to drive from Florida to Toronto, Canada (as opposed to Toronto, Ohio) than to purchase two return flights from Tampa to Pearson (Toronto's Airport, for the uninitiated). Suffice to say that this decision was perhaps ill-informed. However, having analyzed the math, a round trip for two adults would have cost about $720 (US or Canadian - these days, the Exchange Rate is about even). Of course, add to that, the hassle of getting to/from the airport each end, and the inevitable meal at Tampa's excellent TGIF and Pearson's whatever-it's-called), and one is faced with nearly $900. I shall refrain from commenting on the purgatory of having to stand in line for check-in at Tampa/Pearson for eons. I hate check-ins and the Immigration situation doesn't help. So to the math. To provide gas for Monty for the trip cost $200 each way. Monty? It's a Chrysler PT Cruiser painted Inca Gold. Ergo sum. Further added to the sum... the cost of hotels for the days on the road, together with meal breaks, and we're talking about $125 per day for three days. So about $600 one way. My sums make that $1,200 for the round trip. A negatory $300.
That ignores the cost of repairs to Monty. An errant plug meant an $80 bill in Kentucky (more in a moment), and a broken brake spring in Toronto was $457 (I've heard of Spring Break, but this one came without the nubile young things).
Having said all the math thingies, I still think it was worth the trip. I had a vehicle to go where I wished, when I wished. Even to the The Beer Store on Thanksgiving day. It was closed. I thought that curbing one's beer consumption was Canada's forte (at least in Ontario) and limted to them. Wrong. On the first night of the drive, we stopped somewhere in Northern Georgia. It was a Sunday. Alcohol is not permitted in Georgia on Sundays. Blech.
Monday, we drove as far as Grayson, Kentucky. We only stopped because the rain had been attrocious, and the stress of coping with Monty being overtaken by bicylces on steep gradients encouraged me to visit Grayson (Monty's plug was fouled). We pulled into a motel in Grayson. The lady at reception informed me that Grayson does not allow any alcohol. Anytime. I asked her about a Restaurant. Sure, they had plenty, they had McDonalds, Burger King... I'm sure you get my drift. She was about four feet wide and tall in equal measure, and had two teeth, thankfully they were opposite each other. In addition, they seem to provide teeth to anyone willing to visit said restaurants. To their credit, I stopped at a Chrysler dealer to see if they could fix Monty. The mechanic said he was about to go home, but he'd take a look. It took him less than an hour, and less than $80 to fix the plug problem! In the UK, one hour would have been at least $300. Thank goodness for Grayson, despite their 'Dry County' status.
We saw some beautiful country, with great colors (for those who can agree that my color awareness is different to any one else's). But honestly, after a few hundred miles, roads become boring. We had a competition to see who could see the next J B Hunt or Con-Way truck.... sad. At a town in Georgia on the way back, it felt like I was Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinnie - a train was blasting through town every 20 minutes, all night!
Our time in Toronto was priceless. As always. I was even allowed to prepare one of my world-renowned (in my mind) meals. One complaint, Ontario - why do I have to go to a State-run beer store to buy beers? Or wine? Why can't I buy the stuff in a grocery store or gas station like the US/UK? At a fraction of the price? I wanted to buy mein host a bottle of Champers, but it was three times what I'd pay in the US! Yes, mein host is worth it many times over, but it would have been cheaper to drive to Niagra to buy a Duty Free version! We did drive to Niagra to play at the Casino. For once, I lost - maybe $30. Mein host won $0.88 cents. Wow.
I was also able to go to the last Welsh Chapel in N America. Some of the service was in Welsh. I met people whom I'd met last year. Including a cousin whom I did not know about. I also met a lady whose brother had recently passed away in Wales. She recalled that my mother taught him in the 1950s and I recall my mother held him in high esteem.
I fear for the future of this Welsh chapel/community. They have one fully Welsh only service a month. The congregation are getting older. I read somewhere that in 1920, there were 26 Welsh Chapels in N America. Mind you, in Wales, about two chapels a week are closing.
After our brake problem, our next hurdle was Officer Ryan at Niagra Falls US Immigration Center. What a pedant. He just could not get it in his head that we were driving a Florida-plated car from Canada. Between him and the brake problem, we lost a whole day. Eventually, arrived back in Florida. Checked out Cracker Barrel on the way in a small town where Mark told us his life story before serving us our fare. Praise be. Trust me, I have no problem with religion - my father was a Welsh Minister (who was once invited to be the Minister for the Chapel in Toronto) - but I hate having 'stuff' thrust down my throat.
To sum up, (back to the math), it's great to be back. Tiring beyond anything that jet lag can do. Will we do it again? Sad to say - probably! Let's just hope that Monty will not let us down next time.
Here endeth today's lesson.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On Identity Theft

As a guy who prides himself on being 'Internet Savvy', I was shocked earlier this week to discover that my bank account was being slowly drained of $10 every few minutes. Turned out this was because I have an 'Auto-Recharge' feature with Skype. This allows my account to be credited with $10 each time my balance goes down to $2, without the call being dropped. (I use Skype for international calls as the usual 'suppliers' are like leeches - $1 a minute is the norm, while Skype charges about 0.02 cents per minute. Cheapskate, that's me.)

Somehow, some numpty in Indonesia has found a way to hack into my details. It took quite a while to find a way to contact Skype - they don't like people talking to them, only to others at a cost..... By now I'd worked out that the best way to disengage Mr Indonesia was to disable my Auto-Discharge and change my sign-on password. After an hour of nail-biting and screaming at the cat (I don't have one BTW, but my fictitious one called Barney helps), I finally managed to contact a person (I think) at Skype. Yes, indeed my account had been compromised. 'It has now been put on hold. Please change your password.' After two more attempts, I was back in business.

Now came the tricky part. Skype do NOT accept any responsibility for any such errant and illegal withdrawls. Yipp-ee-bloody-ee. It is up to me to monitor my account. My simple request, 'What about prosecuting the low-life who hacked my account?' was met with guffaws.

Seems that Skype has moved away from such a concept as Customer Service since being hijacked (sorry, bought out) by MicroSoft. But we have all been conditioned by Sir William's MickeySoft to accept poor service. The 'reboot-and-all-will-be-well' syndrome prevails it seems.
In my days working for a (no longer a) prestigious UK bank in the 70s, we had to review all incidents on our mainframes and apportion blame according to 'problems' such as 'operator error'. Our favorite was YYGTs. 'Yeah, you get that'. Our Auditors would nod in consensual agreement. These were people couldn't find their way out of a rice pudding let alone identify a mainframe, which was as big as Wembley Stadium in those days (slight exaggeration, there). Most were 'graduates' from the London School of Economics and such ilk, and would consent to a pencil sharpener being used on their 'sharp bits' if their career could be progressed. It is worthy of note that several of the UK's MPs and 'intelligentsia' are graduates of said emporium. 'Nuff said.
So, dear Readers, beware the Ides of Skype. Do not under any circumstances allow them to take money from you without checking that they are who they say they are, when you want them to be what they are, and that their inside leg measurements are under 100 inches.
Here endeth todays' lesson.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

On Metrication

Dear Readers
Those of you who know me will be acutely aware that one of my 'most hated things' is metrication. In my view, there is nothing wrong with feet and inches. Thankfully, the US has not succumbed to this stupidity as Canada and the UK did many moons back. But I saw a worrying matter in Lowe's the other day. Some plywood was measured as 5.0mm x 4' x 8'. Now how stupid is that? It's actually supposed to be 1/4 inch, but if my translator is to be believed, 5.0 mm is 0.19865 inches. It has to be said that many of my Canadian neighbors here in Florida confirmed to me that they do not understand metrics and still use the 'old ways'. The same goes for the UK, before you ask.
Be that may, in an effort to understand metrication, I've decided to help my older friends by metricating some every day expressions/well known phrases etc. In this world of political correctness, I'm sure you'll all appreciate this. Please feel free to add.
Al Jolson's song, 'I'd walk a million one-point-six-one kilometers for one of your smiles'.
'Give him a 2.54 centimeters and he's take a million one-point-six-one kilometers'.
In Cockney rhyming slang, to say that something has been stolen is to say it is 'half inched' - pinched. So now it is 'one-point-two-seventh centimeters'.
The bits at the end of my legs (bottom half) should now be called '30.48 centimeters'.
I'm sure you get the gist of it....
Here endeth today's lesson.

Monday, January 31, 2011

St. Valentines Day and Other Matters

Dear Readers
It's been a while. A lot has happened, including moving back to God's Country - Florida for six months. A land where people seem a lot happier than those that survive a long cold Winter in The Olde Country - about the whole of 2009 if I recall. Some of us decry Obama's 'New Order', but as the Good Book says, 'it shall pass'. At least America has not succumbed to the British disease of having everything in centipedes or 'metric' as the EU would have us know. Which lunatic invented that? What is simpler than a 'thumb' being one inch (check your own, from the top to the joint - it's about right) - and a foot being 12 inches (thumbs). A yard is three feet - a person's step, unless you're vertically challenged. Simple.
To add to my woes, I bought a Volvo Wagon, which unlike my Volvos of old did not perform as its Latin name states. After $1,000 in repair costs, a PT Cruiser has replaced it. Almost Art Deco. And it runs on Regular gas - which is about 30 cents a gallon cheaper than the Premium the Volvo demanded. It also does about 25 mpg as opposed to 18. I cringe at the thought of what gas will cost me when I return to the land of Royal Weddings. Looks like about $10.50 a gallon. I shall no doubt fire up my trusty steed instead. So, now all is well. And the weather is improving. I even managed a walk on the beach today. The shark's teeth had missed me.
In the meantime, I've had time to consider other matters of some importance.
I thought UK TV ads were asinine and they still are. But what 'marketing MBA' thought that whistling to every ad was 'cool'? Why is it that on TV, women commentators/advertisers have incredibly squeaky voices, but if you meet them in person (as on Jerry Springer), they speak normally? Why do sports commentators/car salesmen shout? Why do I worry about such things - after all I have the Mute button. A godsend indeed.
Now, to more intruiging matters. I watched an ad (sans whistling and squeaky voices) extoling the virtues of buying your child a Valentine's Day card. In my day, I would scour my father's stationery drawer for a clean piece of Basildon Bond, and write an ode to whoever it was that I lusted after. In the absence of Basildon Bond, I sauntered to the local Hallmark to peruse such cards for the offspring. Silly me. You now have to buy cards for the children, the grand-children, the parents and the grandparents. And Mr Thomas who was the History Master at school. While there (Hallmark, not my old school), I could have bought a belated Hannukah Card for my old Jewish boss, and a card apologizing to Nain (Grandma) for forgetting her wedding anniversary.
And to think that I once sold an IBM Mainframe to Hallmark....
Here endeth today's lesson.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Cup Final

The UK seems to be obsessed with 'football'. Not the American version you understand, but what the Americans would call soccer.
In fact, there are three versions of 'football' in the UK. There's soccer (a game for hooligans played by hooligans), rugby league (a game for hooligans played by gentlemen) and rugby union (a game for gentlemen played by gentlemen). The latter two bear some similarity to US football without the heavy (sissy-like) cladding.
As a child, all boys in North Wales were encouraged to be soccer player/fans. Personally, I could never understand why. Standing there in shorts, a thin shirt, braving a freezing wind and rain coming off the Irish Sea was beyond me. And that was Summer.
I digress. A couple of weeks ago, America enjoyed the Super Bowl. This is a national event, to be enjoyed by all. This year I missed it, as it was played in the middle of the night to appease the Californians (I blame Mrs. Pelosi, but then I would!). However, a smart BBC TV presenter (there are some) asked an American commentator to describe what it means to watch the Super Bowl in the US as compared to the Cup Final (soccer) over here. The commentator gave a very good description of the 'day' of Super Bowl. I miss that, but hope to be part of it next year after moving in September this year!
Now, time to explain the Cup Final. Any team who can muster 11 able-bodied men can apply to play soccer in a rounds elimination contest for the Cup Final. The emerging two teams are usually two from the Premier League (or Division One as it was called in the old days).
I hope, dear reader, that you are keeping up with this. It reminded me of Cup Final day over here when I was a child. I especially remember Cup Final Day, in 1953. My father (the local Minister) and I duly went to Uncle Non's house. He was known as Uncle Non - but his name was Owen - but he was no relation of mine, although he was thus called by every young lad in the village. He was however related to my best friend Billy. Uncle Non had a TV (perhaps 9 inches - a large one for those days) in his house but an outside lavvy. (There were only 4 TVs in the whole village - population 1,800 - at that time, but some homes had progressed to inside 'toilets' by then, and one's social standing was determined by the 'convenience' being indoors or outdoors. But one's own TV added stature to one's standing in the community.) Uncle Non had fought in both World Wars, and he was a stickler for protocol.
Twenty or so rampant males were crammed into Uncle Non's parlor. Young boys like myself and Billy sat on the floor in front of the TV. A distant cousin of Billy's was also in attendance. He was a little 'odd' - he did come from Blaenau Ffestiniog after all, but perhaps it was because he spoke a strange dialect - BF was five miles away after all.
The smoking effects from the adults meant that I was regularly admonished for coughing. Uncle Non always wore a black suit, white shirt, sensible tie, and a silk scarf for the Cup Final (protocol).
We all stood for the 'Community Singing' section before the game. It has to be said, that the Welsh and singing go hand in hand (think Tom Jones, Bryn Terfel, Paul Potts, or even myself at a push). This was Uncle Non's finest moment. He always sang with gusto (in between the coughing and sometimes off-key). I think I learnt the words of 'Abide With Me' before I learnt anything else in English. After the singing, beer was handed round, which my father refused being the Minister. Bad language was also forbidden by him. I have no idea who played or won - the commentary was in English, but who cared? There was much glee! Auntie Non brought in cakes at half-time. I think they were called 'butterfly cakes'. They were a small cup of sponge, with cream, and 'slices' of sponge supported in the cream. Tea or lemonade was available for the non-drinkers. Us young 'uns devoured the cakes and the lemonade! Uncle Non's daughter - a rather feisty 23 year old as I recall would keep the men supplied with beer. Nain - grandmother in Welsh, pronounced like 'nine' in English - (Uncle Non's mother-in-law) would pop in now and again to ask what was going on. I sympathised with her, as I also had no idea what the rules of the game were. She usually retired to the lavvy to read her newspaper, thus causing a 'blockage' for the men.
Happy days.
Here endeth today's lesson.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

R.I.P. Robert B. Parker

Yesterday, I learnt of the passing away of Robert B. Parker. He was a brilliant author, responsible for the Spenser, and later Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall crime/mystery books. These books brought enjoyment to millions, and he was revered in his field.

I first encountered one of his books in a Thrift Store in Palm Springs, California where I lived in the mid/late 90s, and decided to have a read. As a result, I scoured every Thrift Store I could find, and I still manage to find a new book every now and again - he was publishing up to four books a year. In fact a few more are still in the pipeline.
Spenser was my favorite. The ultimate Mr. Cool. Never afraid of any one. A fine example was in his book 'Small Vices', where he meets a lady, who says,

"'Can I get you some coffee?' she said. 'Or something stronger?'

'Coffee would be fine,' I said.

She unbuttoned the last button and shrugged out of her coat. Except for the high boots, she had nothing on under it.

'Or maybe something stronger,' I said."

Brilliant writing, and much of it derived from his relationship with his wife Joan, who was Susan the psychatrist in the books and his love of dogs, especially Pearl who was his wife's dog in real life. He often said that he and Spenser were similar, except that Spenser was taller. His wry wit always showed through. I have to admit, I've often used some of his words from his books (but I've never met a lady in such a situation as described above, you understand)!

He was a very clever, well read man, and at one time became an Assistant Professor at Boston's North Eastern University. I once wrote an email to him to show my appreciation of his work. He actually responded, I was very proud of that.

I feel as if I've lost a good friend. Someone once said that a good book is similar to a good friend. I guess he was right.

R.I.P. Bob, you will be sorely missed by your 'family' around the world.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Snow Snow, Thick Thick Snow

A title reminiscent of a dance called the Foxtrot, which many clodhopping spotty youths like myself were encouraged to learn back in the late 50s. It was an all male school. The Spanish Master (note - not a 'teacher') accompanied us on the piano. The Physical Education Master and Miss Jones the School Secretary led this motley crew. Failure was not permissible, and despite my best efforts, my dance 'partner' - a strapping lad of 15 and 6 foot 2 called John Evans - and I (five foot nothing at the time) failed, miserably in fact. Detention was the only penance though. However, we both discovered that nubile young 'things' from an all girl school nearby had been drafted in to extend and improve the learning curve. John and I were not admitted to these sessions. I recall the Headmaster revoked this treat due to several of the girls going 'missing' during the dance lessons. I suspect they waltzed to other places..... One of the girls was noted to be singing 'I should have danced all night' a few months later.
Be that may, why such a title? Well, it's been snowing most of the last fortnight here in Hockley Heath. The mercury within the gauges have barely managed to creep into the positive even during the 'heat' of the day. And, at night, the mercury has been conspicous by its absence. However, today will be a warm 32F or 0C. Flurries are promised.
Sadly, the wildlife around here are suffering. I have been buying bread and seed for the critters, and it was a treat to watch nine pigeons, a robin and a pair of blue tits (they were cold) enjoying this repast. They were joined by a squirrel, who had forgotten to fly south for winter.
I was so glad to see the cold weather though. The conference on Global Warming in Copenhagen did the trick without a doubt. How can 15,000 'experts' be wrong? The response has been dramatic, it's the coldest winter for eons in most parts of the N Hemisphere, but our antipodean cousins are (not) enjoying extreme heat.
But our Government here in the UK is still adamant that CO2 must be reduced to prevent said Global Warming (BTW, it is now officially called Climate Change). Nothing to do with the taxes that they derive from punishing vehicles that produce masses of CO2, of course. This is another folly of Government. A vehicle that produces under 120gm of CO2 pays £0 a year in vehicle tax. This applies to any small vehicle that can accommodate a squirrel and a mouse. CO2 emissions attract a scale of taxes according to the amount of CO2 given off. My trusty Honda and Toyota are both 'bad', so the tax is £175 ($270) per vehicle (both engines are under 1.4 liter). An Aston Martin (8 liters) which allegedly produces a truck load of CO2 is charged at £400 (the maximum). No one in the Government (our Prime Minister cannot drive, BTW) has realized that if one can afford an Aston Martin, surely £400 a year is a mere drop in the ocean, which my £175 is a necessity as public transport around here is as rare as hen's teeth.
I also have to wonder how can one 'weigh' CO2. I know I breathe out CO2, but when I tried this on the kitchen scales, it registered nothing. Not even after 20 minutes of breathing out of a plastic bag attached to my head, but allowing me to breathe air through my nostrils, and another bag to seal the scales. I did, however, discover that this is not an exercise that should be tried by children. The exercise was limited to 20 minutes as my head became woozy, and my legs decided they could no longer support me.
One of my New Year's Resolutions is to not experiment with science. I think I'll stick to trying to grow roses, bamboo and tomatoes.
Here endeth today's lesson.