Monthly Archives: January 2008

You know your island is too small when…

This week’s BBC had a feature on a couple here in Britain who did not know they were twins, had been separated at birth, and who had gotten married married.  Eeeeew.  The courts had annulled the marriage when this mess was discovered (it’s never mentioned as to how?  Wasn’t it odd that the couple had the same birthday and year?  Did they not think that was a coincidence?  Or was that one of those “ooh we must be soulmates” things?)  It boggles the mind as a statistical thing, that this pair would meet, be both single, attracted to each other, etc.  It implies this island country really is too small and too densely populated.

It also brings to mind so many Jeff Foxworthy, “You might be a redneck if…” jokes.  (“…if you go to the Family Reunion to Meet Women.”)  And it makes me want to start brainstorming “You might be British if…” jokes.  I’ll have to get working on that one.  Suggestions welcome.

English versus American punctuation

Something has been puzzling me lately about British punctuation. There just does not seem to be enough of it. First of all there is the leaving off of the full-stop after “Dr” which in American would be “Dr.” But even more than that, it seems to come up in email too. I just received a note that looked like this:

Dear Martha

Happy New Year

(content of the note) blah blah blah

Best wishes

Roger

My response would look likely look more like this:

Dear Roger,

Happy New Year to you too!

(content of the response) blah blah blah

Best wishes,

Martha

What am I missing here? What’s with the aversion to commas and full-stops? It’s like trying to read e.e. cummings.

Bad news for coffee junkies

The Economist has a new article on how Starbucks has “Not enough froth” and apparently one of the worst performers on the NASDAQ stock exchange for 2007.   One of the more interesting quotes in the article relates to competition from other restaurant chains, most notably this one which I happen to frequent:

This year McDonald’s will help customers to wash down its burgers by installing coffee bars with “baristas” dedicated to turning out the sort of Italian-style coffees that brought Starbucks its success, in nearly 14,000 American restaurants.

It’s already in place in part here; I can order a latte at my local McDonalds although it’s the “from the automatic machine” sort and not the “barista lovingly handcrafts your coffee” sort.  There was a true barista in the McD’s in Budapest, if I recall correctly.

But strangely that distinction between automatic machines and hand-crafted does not bother me in this instance, so I’m perplexed by the Economist’s insistence that the installation of semi-automated machines has contributed to the woes at Starbucks franchises.  I guess I don’t look for “romance and theatre” at Starbucks, I look for coffee. And when I do go to Starbucks instead of McDonalds it’s for one reason and one reason only: the largest-sized coffee you can get in England (venti is 20 oz. hot, 24 oz. cold.).  The McDonalds and the little italian chains around here serve up their “large” lattes in no larger than 16 oz. cups and more like 12 or 14 oz. in some cases.    That is simply not enough coffee to make it through the morning.

British word(s) of the day v. 4

The holidays are over in the US, which means in Britain, the “festive season” is done.

I went to the bank yesterday to “pay in” a “cheque”, which in America would be “deposit” a “check”.

Speaking of which, I had to send money by mail to someone in London, which begs the question: does “The cheque is in the post” have the same connotation of “the check is in the mail”???

The I-35 Connection

I stumbled onto the most amazing video this weekend while mindlessly surfing to try and unwind from waaaay too many hours working. The Minneapolis connection was irresistible even though the story is nothing but bizarre. Here we have the theory, by a group of fundamentalist Christians in Texas, suggesting that the I-35(W) bridge collapse last summer in Minneapolis is actually related to a prophesy in the bible, book of Isaiah, chapter 35. The text of the verse is here (verse 8):

A highway will be there, a roadway, And it will be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it, But it will be for him who walks that way, And fools will not wander on it.

They claim that since it’s Isaiah 35 this “highway of holiness” is interstate 35 (I-35). Ummm. Okay, I’m not sure I see it. But let’s see what they’re talking about. They say since I-35 is the “highway of holiness,” they want to purify the length of it, including things like shutting down strip clubs. They have a whole website here. called “Light the Highway” and apparently from the video this means standing on the side of the freeway in small groups and doing some old fashioned “yes Jesus” wild prayerful yelling and screaming. I particularly liked the section on the website consisting of “prophecies for I-35″ along with the cobbled together, more or less random listing of reasons why this particular interstate requires “intercession”–including the Minneapolis bridge collapse. The scientist in me reads their story (here, related to the video above) and wonders whether their list of tragedies along I-35 really is a statistical aberration–I’m guessing not. I’m guessing, just a gut instinct here, that along the full length of any 1000+ mile stretch of interstate in the US, passing through a number of large cities and towns, you could find a comparable list of bad things that have happened over the years. What can I say, this is the sort of ‘logic’ that earns American Christian fundamentalists well-deserved ridicule. Of course, they’re in Texas, a well-known breeding ground for illogical thought.

Airports of the world

I travel a lot but have not managed to fly through the world’s busiest airport, that in Atlanta. At least not that I can recall. I have certainly never flown directly there, and I cannot even recall transferring through there although I suppose it’s possible that I have. I had a look at the top 30 list (2006 version was most easily available) to see where I had been lately and was slightly surprised to see that I can only confidently say I had only been through 14 of them ever (2, 3, 5, 10, 11, 12, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 30) including 2, 3, 10, 21, 22, 25, 30 in 2007.  (Of course I’ve also been to some of the least busy airports in the world in 2007, including, particularly memorably, this one!)  I can never remember which airports in NYC I’ve been to so that might add another one or two to my master list. But I was also surprised that so many on this list were in the US.

This is in part because I’ve been stunned by the sheer magnitude of operations at European airports–how many planes are there, how many different airlines and how many terminals.  Not to mention strange parking lots of airplanes next to the terminals.  I can’t imagine being in the US and being on a plane, driving past stand after stand full of planes only to have the plane stop in the middle of a tarmac and make the passengers walk down steps and get on a bus for a long ride to the terminal. The first time I did this was in Munich on an easyJet flight, and there I assumed it was related to the discount carrier not paying some sort of fee for the gate. However, I was stunned when this happened after my most recent trans-Atlantic flight. First of all, the flight was on BA so not exactly a discount carrier. Second of all, this was remarkably brutal after the overnight flight. (Although note to self: whenever possible fly BA and get the “Asian Vegetarian” food option; Indian food on an airplane is surprisingly good!)  I know I’m spoiled to be from Minneapolis where it’s possible that the weather is so cold that no one would consider not having a proper gate with a jetway, but I did NOT like this treatment at Heathrow.  On BA.  No one should have to get into a bus to a terminal after an overnight trans-Atlantic flight.  Hopefully that sort of nonsense will go away with the new Terminal 5 which is due to open in a few months.

The big and strange airport news here this week is that finally, finally Heathrow will again allow people two items of carry-on luggage.  The strange news is that Gatwick will not.   I think this is a bit confusing really, that two big airports in the same city have different policies–especially given that both are supposedly run by the same organization.  However, anyone who has flown through both will notice that the security procedures at the two are quite different.  I’m ready to vow never to fly through Gatwick again: not only have I been patted down and had bags hand-searched and shoes carefully examined the last few times I’ve been through there (including a particularly memorable experience where they nearly confiscated my chaco sandles and made me fly barefoot) but now a Northwest direct flight from Minneapolis is going to be available to Heathrow.  Given my recent discovery of the joys of door-to-door car service transportation to and from the airport, this should make going home much easier.  After that misadventure deplaning at Heathrow on BA, at least when I passed customs there was a nice man in a suit with a sign with my name and destination on it.  (The ride in the Mercedes was quite a treat too.)  Final note to friends and family back home: ’tis the time of year when trans-Atlantic airfares are dirt cheap.  Just saying.

Discovery from the states–Bryan Greenberg

One of the hazards of my trip to the US last month was that I actually saw a television on a few occasions, most importantly when I was staying at the house of my dear friend-from-junior-high. She dialled up a television show called “October Road” one night, said she thought I might enjoy it as much as she did, and I was hooked. Before leaving the US I downloaded the full series thus far on iTunes, and last night I finally finished watching the last of the episodes that I had not yet seen.

The interesting thing about the show is character (the plots are ludicrous at times and the writing can be a bit twee) and for this I give credit to the actors, several of which have had roles in teeny-bopper dramas or comedies in the last few years. Most interesting is the lead, Bryan Greenberg, who I had never heard of before, having completely missed his last show “One Tree Hill“. It turns out Bryan is a singer-songwriter in addition to being an actor, and some of the songs played over the credits on the show have been his. See his MySpace and a recent interview for more details. Particularly interesting and a sign-o-the-times is that he has self-funded an album and released it exclusively on iTunes, where it gets fairly good reviews. I have not yet bought it–sounded a bit lightweight to me–but I approve of the model.

In slightly related news, when I pulled up iTunes to search for it, I was stunned to see the soundtrack for “Once” in the top ten albums list. Surprised and delighted, of course, but stunned nonetheless. That is still on my regular rotation right now, along with the new Missy Higgins and the Nina Simone Anthology.  And the movie, now released on DVD, continues to get buzz on everyone’s top 10 end of 2007 lists. For good reason, I say.  The music is amazing and the movie is great.