Thursday, November 20, 2008

Another of my Seven Wonders of The World

Following the glowing success of my previous entry about my own Seven Wonders, I started mulling some of the other places that I’d visited, which I believe are also worthy of mention. I have not included such wondrous places such as the Coliseum in Rome or the Parthenon in Athens, but places which, perhaps, dear reader, you might have never visited or even seen a picture thereof.
I shall start with The Cape Of Good Hope. This, as you will know, is close to the tip of Southern Africa. However, the actual southern tip is Cape Agulhas which is where I wish to show. It is something of a magical place in that Nature shows its sheer might and character. Here is where from the Western approach, the Atlantic Ocean meets on its Eastern approach, the Indian Ocean. To stand on the headland is to see the full force of Nature. The Atlantic Ocean is dark and angry, while the Indian Ocean is almost blue tranquil. The two meet in a never ending battle, and is a sight to beholden.

For my second choice, I have to return to the US. One of my most memorable trips is the ‘17 Mile Drive’ in California. This delightful road is mostly on the edge the Pacific Ocean. It includes allowing a chance to see the famous Lone Cypress, much used in films etc. One has to pay to drive along it, but in the change, one always gets a 50 cent coin. I remember once stopping in a parking area, where my daughter (BLS) was so pleased to see an otter, and was able to feed the animal with some bread. It actually was a squirrel, but who am I to spoil the fun of a 24 year-old. To the North of this is the famous city of Carmel. This enchanting city is an absolute must if one travels in that area. It has the inevitable overpriced ‘galleries’, but it also boasts the original ‘Hog’s Breath Inn’ (there’s another famous one in Key West). Once owned by Clint Eastwood when he was Mayor, he frequented the bar/restaurant regularly and mixed with the punters. A lovely man. My daughter made another discovery here. Corned beef in the US is nothing like corned beef in the UK. I seem to recall her comment was ‘yuck’ when she saw it. Clint was followed as Mayor by Sonny Bono, who went on to become Mayor of Palm Springs, California, where I lived for a while. He went on to become a member of the House of Representatives for the Palm Springs area, and was much admired by the locals and all politicians. Upon his untimely death, even Bill Clinton praised him for his honesty and integrity as a politician. High praise indeed. If only the politicians were as honest today!

My third choice takes me back to South Africa. I was fortunate to visit Kruger National Park to address a sales/customer meeting many years back. This park is over one-third the size of the UK. The meeting lasted about two hours, and then followed much jollity, with lashings of beer to wash down the meats from the braai (the S African equivalent of a barbeque). We all retired at about 9 p.m. We set off at 4 a.m. to see the animals waking up and feeding. I cannot express the pleasure of seeing the animals in their natural environment, feeding, mothers looking after their young ones, but saw some brutal scenes too – but that is Nature. I will never forget walking down to a river’s edge, and a hippo coming out after me. I believe they are permanently angry. A bit like some people I know. One photo does not do justice (to any of these choices in reality), but there is a live webcam at three locations which can be found at

For my next choice, I select Brussels in Belgium. This is another fabulous city to visit. Famous for its range of beers, chocolates and to a lesser extent, lace (Bruges, about 60 miles to the north has that accolade). Of course, everyone expects that they have sprouts and images of Hercule Poirot, but in reality, they do not, but they have Le Grande Place, the central square, where many restaurants and bars vie to force good food and alcohol down one’s gullet. The ambience is excellent, with its 18th Century architecture, and sometimes, they dim the lights and play Mozart. But this is not where I choose to take you, dear reader. I choose the ‘Atomium’. Built some 50 years back, this has been designed to look like a scientist’s atom cell. People can walk from sphere to sphere. My children loved this place. When I was last there in the mid 90s, it was a little ‘tired’, but it is still magnificent to see. Who said the Belgians are boring.
My fifth choice takes me back to Africa, to Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. At almost 20,000feet, it is one of the highest volcanic mountains in the world. Although not active, it seems that the snow around the top is melting at an alarming rate. Cue Al I-Invented-The-Internet Gore with his climate change.
My penultimate stop is back in the US. In Joy’s home State – Tennessee. The Cumberland Caves. A truly incredible place, carved by eons of water. I’ve seen such caves in Wales and in other countries, but this one ‘takes the biscuit’ as we Brits would say. It is vast, and stunning. In one massive ‘room’ called the Volcano Room, there hangs a ¾ ton chandelier, originally from Loews Metropolitan Theater in New York.
My last choice is an antipodean marvel – Rotorua in New Zealand. Nature has performed another miracle here with its hot thermal springs and bubbling mud. The smell is awful – sulphur, or rotten eggs. But buildings are heated by literally hammering a tube into the ground, and piping the liquid into filtering systems and around the houses. The locals told me that the smell doesn’t bother them – a fact borne out by several people, they just got used to it.

So that my friends, is another world tour finished. I have diligently followed my son's and Ricardipus instructions on how to get some pictures attached. As you can see, I failed. But I have them separately if anyone wants them.

Here endeth today’s lesson.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Seven Wonders Of My World

Joy and Debi have cajoled me into another blog. Apart from bitching about the UK’s weather - a national pastime I might add - politicians, and Prince Charles, thus potentially making me into a boring OF, I decided to take a more positive view.

The Seven Wonders Of The World

In my life, I have been fortunate to have traveled widely. I have visited all the countries of the so-called Western Europe, and some of the Eastern ones too. It has been an experience that has left an indelible mark on me. I have seen some fantastic sights, including that of the ‘Iron Curtain’ between West and East Germany during the Cold War. My children were petrified as I walked over to the East at one border! I have visited some of the great cities of Europe, all steep in their own history, language and architecture. I have eaten a bear steak with cranberries in a small village in Russia – I didn’t know I had actually crossed from Finland at the time – and consumed far too much of their local ‘lemonade’ in the process to even care. We sang great songs, but no Welsh hymns. I have visited India, complete with the statutory visit to the Taj Mahal, but a country so corrupt and racist I vowed never to visit again.
I wanted to select some pictures of my trips, but decided to limit those to seven places that I believe are truly astounding. Unfortunately, I don't know how to attach those pictures to this blog. After all, I've only been working computers for 42 years! So, please use your imagination.

I’m sure we’ve all seen the Biblical Seven Wonders Of The World, but I have chosen my own versions. Undoubtedly, there are other places on this planet which qualify, but these are places I have seen and have great memories of. These are all based upon personal experience. They are in no particular order.

The first has to be the Menai Suspension Bridge in North Wales, which links mainland UK with Anglesey. This is the ‘Land of my Fathers’, and is a sight to beholden.

My second is the Grand Canyon in Arizona. This has to be one of the most amazing places on earth. No camera shot could ever do it justice.

My third choice is the Corinth Canal in Greece. This canal is about 300 feet below the surrounding land, and is nearly four miles long. I cannot begin to imagine the work that went into building this canal.

My fourth choice is another bridge. The San Francisco Suspension Bridge. A magnificent bridge. Worth crossing from San Francisco to the city of Sausolito on the other side, a beautiful city with its quaint (read overpriced) art galleries and T-Shirt shops. But to sit on the waterfront sipping a beer has to be there amongst the tops. No wonder Clint Eastwood chooses to live there.

My fifth choice is the Great Wall of China. Apparently, it can be seen from space. Again imagine the effort to build this magnificent wall – over 4,000 miles long. I wonder if anyone could build such a structure today. Not with Unionization, they couldn’t. The view is to beholden. When I was there, a Chinese family, complete with their solitary child asked if they could have a picture of themselves taken with me. I was the Western Giant! A thrill to meet them, and share a few of my Cantonese words (unfortunately, I was in Mandarin speaking country, but what the heck, we managed).

My sixth choice is the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Another natural wonder. I only saw it from a plane going from New Zealand to Singapore, but it was fabulous to see from 35,000 feet up. One of my ambitions is to get to personally visit it one day.

My final choice is Niagra Falls. That great divider of Canada and the United States. A wonderful place to visit, and not just for the Casino!

On a final note, since I was a child, I’ve always wanted to go to The Holy Land – it was my upbringing, three times and more to Chapel on a Sunday. I will be going in January. I will take pictures, and hopefully share some with you, dear readers. (I'm sure Rik will help correct my problems.)

Here endeth today’s lesson.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

On Elections, Teachers, Racism and Rationing

Another ‘historic’ election has passed in the USA. Haven’t they all been ‘historic’? But this one has been especially ‘historic’ as a black person has won the nomination. Actually, he is not black – his mother is white, and his father is black, he therefore has claim to being half-white and half-black. That is not any fault of anyone. And should not be. He is an excellent orator, and deserves the chance to prove that he can change things in the US. Personally, as Joy will attest, I suspect his rhetoric will be just that. Congress, being run by Democrats will undoubtedly stifle most of his ideas. Be that may, let us hope and pray that a new era can begin, and that solutions to America and the world’s ills can be found.
But one particularly galling scene came my way.
This is the story of a black teacher at a school in Cumberland County poking fun at one of her white pupils as the white pupil’s father served in Iraq. It was filmed by Swedish television. The teacher is entitled to her view, but to subject a child who has yet the chance to vote is beyond reproach. She should be teaching them the subjects she has been hired to teach. And she is also so racist. We often hear that only whites can be racists. Check out the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. And the ‘Rev’ Jesse Jackson.
Now stop it, I hear you say. But I have experienced racism since I was a child. At the age of 12, I passed an exam to enter the local Grammar School. Having only been learning English as a second language for a few years, this was a major trauma for me. About half of the kids came from an Anglicised part of Wales – Barmouth. Us Welsh kids were retarded according to most English kids who attended the same school. Fights always ensued. But the worst part was that many of the teachers did not speak Welsh at all. So we Welsh kids were at a major disadvantage from the start. Just as an example, our Mathematics teachers, Science teacher, Biology teacher, French teacher, PE teacher and Art teacher couldn’t pronounce an ‘LL’ to save their life. In addition, our Art teacher (Mr. Palmer) was given the task of being our Religious Instruction teacher. He told us he was an atheist. At the time, I had no idea what that meant. He pontificated long about that there was no God, but we Welsh kids couldn’t understand him. We just used to just ignore him. My father, a Welsh Minister, learnt about this teacher, and stormed off to the school to protest. Mr. Palmer was duly assigned another post. He disliked me even more after that. I had the misfortune to meet Mr. Palmer many years later, and (by now I was fluent in English) asked him about his racist views. He told me that all Welsh people are stupid and illiterate. I understand that he was at a school reunion a couple of years back. I missed it, but one of my friends in his welcoming speech said, ‘Sullied be thy name, Mr. Palmer.’ There was a loud cheer.
Mr. Scary Duck reminded me of my time in Primary School. This is the UK’s 7 – 11. Prior to 7, there is Infants, 5 - 7. Picture the scene if you will. WW2 had barely finished. The UK was ‘rebuilding’ the country. Anything that could be moved was converted into vehicles for sale in the US, was. The Austin A40 Devon comes to mind (the UK version was my first car, BTW). And then the Austin Atlantic. The latter was an august failure. A beautiful looking car, especially in Convertible form, but had a straight four engine that had about as much oomph as a mouse in heat. Austin had the venerable 3 litre six pot at their beck and call, but, no they chose a tractor-like four cylinder 2.2 litre. Much like a diesel these days, only less smelly and less noisy. Mr. Clough Williams-Ellis (he of Portmeirion fame, where ‘The Prisoner’ was filmed) had one. The car was screaming for a V8. A time when Chevy’s had a suitable rumbling sound, the Brits had a boring four-pot special.
This post-war period was marked by ‘Rationing’. Anything that contributed to any fun food-wise, was ‘rationed’. I even had my own Ration Book, my name emblazoned on the front. The book had coupons which would be handed over to purveyors of goodies along with cash in return for such wondrous things as oranges, but not apples. As a child of about 8 or so, the majority of those items that were available with a ration coupon were beyond my grasp. I wanted sweets (candy). Most sweets were rationed. Even Chewing Gum. But, one could buy Beech Nut, but not Wrigley’s. The latter required thrice the money AND a coupon.
One day in about 1952, the Government of the day decided to abandon rationing of sweets. Imagine 100 kids descending upon the local shop. We all bought what we could with our meagre savings. A couple of the lads bought chocolate, and ate it all. They then deposited the remains a few hours later after ingesting it, on the school yard. Being smart, I bought a whole Wrigley’s Spearmint Chew tube. When I got home, my mother could smell it about 100 yards away, and I was forced to spit it out, and deposit the rest in the trash. I must admit, I couldn’t argue with the point that it would remove fillings. The latter had been perfectly fitted by an English gentleman called Mr. Chase, who knew that as he didn’t speak Welsh, had the manners to recruit a Welsh speaking nurse. Not that it made much difference when one had a whole load of metal prongs etc. in one’s mouth. But I liked Mr. Chase. He never chastised me if I bled all over his chair. If he did, I never understood, anyway. And he would remove teeth with gas. That is, the gas was applied to the child.
Pseudonymph and others mention the lifestyle their kids have these days. And they bitch that they’re hard done by. See above.
Halcyon days, in my mind.
Here endeth today’s lesson.