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Archive for May, 2007

Got this meme from Sognatrice at a blog called bleeding espresso

Here is some Google-driven fun that entails typing your name and the word “needs” in quotation marks into the search engine feature. So, for example, in Google, I typed in “John needs”.

Here are my 10 favourite Google results followed by my comments:

1. John needs to get his patootie back here

Someone sounds a bit upset with me. If nothing else from this exercise, I learned more North American slang that I will never use.

2. ‘John’ needs Operation after Hooker Bites Penis for Non-Payment.

Honest, I must be sleepwalking again. Blessed with a name like John, you are bound to run into this kind of headline. How did John / Johnny get so badly misappropriated?

I mean, Johns are typically good guys right? –  There’s Mr. Lennon, Mr F. Kennedy, Mr. The Baptist, Mr. Windmill the French resistance bloke etc. Imagine the furore if certain other names were thus abused. ‘Do you, er, sell Mohammads?’ ‘Where’s the Jesus in this bleeding restaurant?’ ‘She didn’t like how the Buddha rolled his window down.’ Get some new slang people!

3. John Needs Your Bone Marrow!

Don’t all rush to donate. I have enough of the stuff now – overwhelming response from far and wide. Neighbourhood dogs all over the front lawn.

4. John needs a few seconds to gather his response.

But trust me, it’ll be just about worth the wait.

5. John needs to be allowed to take the risks involved in learning new things.

Yeah, how come it’s always my kids that get to fall off stuff and scrape their grateful little faces on the ground? Just don’t seem fair.

6. John needs to climb a 3500m mountain.

Look, this spinal expert assured me that it was the only surefire way to cure my sciatica. And it is my turn to take a risk.

7. Saint John needs to secure funding for cruise terminal.

I always knew that canonisation was just around the corner. You can only perform so many miracles without being noticed. Such is life.

8. Saint John needs an ‘image’ change.

Well, I have had the same haircut for over twenty years. And my pious duties will require something more fitting than T-shirts covered in grazing sheep. Having said that, I do have my flock now.

9. John needs a way to assign an item’s UUID to an attribute (as opposed to assigning a reference), so I added a new form of attribute-assignment to parcel.xml.

I don’t ask for much in life: the odd cup of tea, the local paper, an occasional UUID attribute assignment (I just can’t get enough of those babies). You have to admit, I’m pretty low-maintenance really.

10. John needs something that is admirable, but rare and hard to find.

There I go, publicly airing my pet thoughts about my wife again.

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If you decide to do this, come back here and put up your link in the comments; and for anyone who doesn’t have a blog, feel free to paste the results right in a comment.

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Top ten songs

This past week, I’ve been asking people to name songs that have been significant at turning points in their lives. So, it only seemed fair to put together a list of my own.

In no particular order, here are ten of the best that are likely to remain on any of my lists for the foreseeable. Bonus feature: Some have audio clips available.

1. Going Underground The Jam

The Sound of The Jam, 2002 (song originally released as a single in 1980)

 I hope everyone has this kind of musical epiphany. In 1980, I was on holiday in Blackpool with my grandmother. Sitting in a hotel café, this song came on the jukebox. Hard to explain what happened next. Somehow, my body and mind were totally integrated with this wall of music. Everything had just fallen into place. I spent the next hour just paying to hear the same song over and over.

Best line: “You’ll see kidney machines replaced by rockets and guns.”

the jam

2. The Hardest WalkThe Jesus and Mary Chain

Psychocandy, 1985

Recipe: Take feel-good riffs from big and simple sixties love songs. Smother liberally in layers of chaotic feedback. Dress in black. Sprinkle with negatives: never, hardest, dead etc. Serve up to indie crowd. Watch them dance and enjoy themselves while pretending not to.

Best line: “I don’t want you to want me.”

3. HexagoneRenaud

Amoureux de Paname, 1975

The bulk of my soundtrack to my year in France was provided by singer/songwriter Renaud. I find a lot of his songs almost unlistenable these days, but he did write some classics. And I learned masses of useful expressions from his lyrics. Hexagone is a month by month left-wing tirade against perceived French failings, hypocrisy, and all manner of deadly sins.

Best line:  “Moi j’voudrais tous les voir crever, étouffés de dinde aux marrons.”

(Which lacks a little charity at Christmas, and sounds worryingly like the sentiments that lead to a Reign of Terror, but, hey, when you’re writing polemics for posterity…)

l’hexagone

4. BonesRadiohead

The Bends, 1995

Sometimes a song just seems to sum up the moment for you. This simple but soaring rant against physical and metaphorical pain was just what the doctor ordered when I was cursing through a lengthy bout of sciatica. To be sung through gritted teeth.

Best line: “Now I can’t climb the stairs – pieces missing everywhere.”

5. You Belong to Me Kate Rusby

The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly, 2005

Whatever you think of previous versions of this song, you just have to give this a listen. Fair enough, I’m bound to be a tad biased with Kate being a Barnsley native and all. Vocals sound effortless, with perfect phrasing and are just utterly mesmerising.

Best line: all of them.

kate rusby 

6. Martha Tom Waits

Closing Time, 1973

Sometimes people ask you to sit down and listen to how great a song is. In some cases, you wonder what the fuss is all about. Not this time. Someone special once asked me to give this a hearing. The song transports you forty years into the future and forces you to reconsider your present, lest you end up regretting what you’re giving up right now.

Best line: “Those were days of roses, poetry and prose.”

 tom waits

7. Tubthumping Chumbawamba

Tubthumper, 1997

The ultimate resilience song. I remember one day I had an important interview at 6pm in the evening in front of a panel with a presentation element. After a long and stressful day at work, I had a 45 minute drive to the interview site. I just played and sang this the whole way there in a bid to build up adrenaline and self-belief. It worked.

Best line: I get knocked down, but I get up again.” (What else?)

8. This is the One The Stone Roses

The Stone Roses, 1989

Ever wonder what falling in love sounds like when set to music? In popular music terms, this is about as good an evocation as you’ll ever hear. Perfectly captures the sensation of happily tumbling into the abyss while simultaneously being uplifted.

Best line: “I’d like to leave the country for a month of Sundays. Burn the town where I was born.”

the stone roses

9. Sit DownJames

The Best of James, 1998 (song originally released as a single in 1989)

Have to include at least one of “our songs”. When my wife and I had our first drink together, I put this on the jukebox. Luckily for me, since she’d been travelling in Asia for a while, she hadn’t heard this song before and I got top marks for cool taste. She later told me that she figured anyone who liked such great music was worth getting to know. You just never know where that walk to the jukebox will lead.

 Best line: Those who find themselves ridiculous – sit down next to me.”

10. Find the River R.E.M.

Automatic for the People, 1992

Very hard for me to choose an REM song, but this one has always been near the top of my list. It’s a very poetic song, whose lyrics look a bit florid on paper. Caught up in the stunning melody however, you get their best meditation on life, death, the quest for meaning, and a heartfelt call to enjoy the ride.

Best line: “The river empties to the tide – all of this is coming your way.”

automatic for the people

Comments are welcome! And feel free to leave your own list. 

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Interview chain

Zhu, a fellow blogger, sent me these interview questions. I could have written about these things for the rest of the year, but have tried to keep answers short.

1) You were born in the UK. When did you come to Canada, and why ?

Good. Easy one to start: December 2000. Why: Let’s call it a flexible pre-nup with my Canadian wife. After spending 7 years of married life in the UK, a career crossroads seemed the right time to honour the unofficial vow that we would spend part of our lives on both sides of the Atlantic.

Now, it’s 2007, which makes us all square. Recipe for marital longevity: we don’t get mad, we get even.

ontario flag


2) Have you ever experienced culture shock? In which situation?

Well, in terms of culture shock in Canada, I didn’t really experience culture shock because of a specific event. Culture deprivation maybe. Ha. Just kidding. I think I was gradually surprised by how different things were from Europe.

Just by way of example: At first, I really missed going to watch my soccer team (still do really). In an attempt to compensate, we went to a couple of baseball games.

Once, at the Skydome, there were a bunch of guys alone in one of the upper sections. They were shirtless and looked fairly menacing. OK – here comes trouble, I thought, expecting missiles to start raining down onto the field.

Instead, they proceeded to separate and stand at various points in the otherwise empty section. Next, they began to perform a synchronised dance routine as if it were a boy band audition.

Given my long history of football stadium experience, it was the complete antithesis of my expectations.

skydome - i know it has a new name


3) Do you feel more Canadian or more English?

More English without a doubt. I feel more or less at home in Canada these days, but I doubt I’ll ever feel that ingrained sense of belonging that I do in the UK.

I never really had a natural affinity for North America or sensed any motivation to “feel Canadian” so I can’t see that changing much.


4) What don’t you like in
Canada ? I mean, outside the freezing cold winters?

Well, the winters have really grown on me. I’m going off summers if anything – the heat and air quality just sap energy. Apart from that, I try not to dwell on things I don’t like about Canada.

It’s better to look for the unique features of Canada that can be enjoyed while we’re living here (I’m sure I’ll find some soon).

downtown toronto


5) Which part of your English heritage do you want to pass on to your kids?

Hmm, that’s difficult. Heritage is such a loaded word, especially with an imperial past to consider. English heritage as a term also conjures up images of superbly preserved stately homes, over-fed ravens, and heavyweight bling plundered from the outposts of the empire. Not sure I’ll be passing on much of that stuff to my kids.

On the other hand, I think our kids are getting an insight into aspects of English culture that I appreciate such as: political debate level, the arts, comedy, TV, radio, newspapers, access to the countryside, and the almost indefinable sense that humour is lurking just below the surface of every situation.

english humour

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If you want to be the next interview victim, here are the steps to take:

* Leave a comment at my blog saying, “Interview me”and include your blog URL.

* I will respond by asking you five questions. I get to pick the questions.

* You will update your weblog with the answers to the questions.

* You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.

* When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

* Have fun!

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I’ve been looking at some of the informative expat sites recently. Then, I thought I should jot down some features of Canadian life that have surprised me in some way. Here they are:

Opening a bank account is incredibly easy. You just walk in and look lost. They’ll soon sign you up.

Compared to many countries, shopping for a new house is relatively painless. Find yourself a good real estate agent and you will get an all-in-one chauffeur, personal assistant, home décor consultant, open house coordinator, and legal and bargaining expert who will be available virtually 24/7 for the duration of the selling/buying process.

At job interviews in the private sector, they ask you how much you’d like to be paid. Very generous.

Milk is sold in bags. The store assistant will naturally assume you already have one of those plastic jugs at home. Time-saving hint: In supermarkets, they often hide the jugs on top of the tallest refrigerators.

milk bag

Acquiring milk bag expertise takes longer than you think. It’s not just about snip quality, pour ratings, and jug maintenance. One day, just when you think you are the bag master, the bag will firmly lodge itself mid-way down its jug descent, leaving its upper body sagging over the rim for all to see. A simple manoeuvre will rectify this. Have fun finding it.

For all its middle-class caution, Canada still does not require seat-belts on school buses, even though they are frequently driven on some of the most dangerous highways in North America throughout the Canadian winter. Apparently, this need not worry you.

In order not to be listed in the phone directory (‘to be ex-directory’ as the UK phrase goes), Bell Canada charges you a monthly fee. That’s right, a monthly fee. To NOT use any of their precious directory ink. It’s a telemarketer’s paradise. Until they chance upon my number.

The minimum annual leave is ten working days. Most people consider themselves lucky to get three weeks.

As far as I can tell, electrical plugs are designed not to fit snugly into wall sockets. Our house is filled with lamps and appliances whose plugs are half hanging out of their sockets. We have lots of smoke alarms.

electrical outlet

Schools often have pyjama days for primary aged children in the middle of winter. If the temperature is -30 centigrade with a raging blizzard, children are still expected to turn up in their nightgowns. I am only exaggerating a little.

winter run

If you go distance running in the snow wearing running gear plus a wool hat to stay alive, there comes a moment when the sweat from your head merges with the melting snow on the hat exterior. At this point, your head feels like it has been plunged into an icy lake. Dizziness ensues along with a deep longing to keel over in a snowbank. Bet you’re wondering how I found that out.

winter running

Although it is an offence to drive a dangerous vehicle, there is no equivalent of the British MOT. In other words, there are thousands of licensed vehicles with defective lights, steering, and brakes eager to tailgate you.

In my city, on the buses, the cash fare for adults is $2.50. The cash fare for students is $2.50. The cash fare for Grade One children is $2.50. The City of Mississauga is proud to have always been debt-free.

There are no school uniforms. So that will save you a ton of cash. Except, when your son has to give some class presentation every other week, he is expected to turn up in black trousers (you can call them black pants if you want, but I’m not going to), white shirt, and tie. Failure to do so may compromise his “appearance” mark. I kid you not.

The country has an unhealthy obsession with the following throwaway eighties’ pop ephemera: A Flock of Seagulls (a nation collectively traumatised by a haircut), ‘The Safety Dance’ by Men Without Hats, and Devo’s ‘Whip It’.

flock of seagulls

 Deadpan humour and inappropriate use of irony can get you into trouble with colleagues and strangers. Best to guffaw loudly after an ironic comment just so everyone knows where you are coming from. This takes some getting used to. For the most part, you can forget deadpan.

If you are in need of winter exercise, you can join a mall walking programme. That’s a programme where you are taught how to walk around a mall for the good of your health. I sense an inherent paradox here, but that’s just me. These are often run by the local council. And yes, people pay to join.

Powerwalking in general remains popular among seniors. Powerwalking is identical to ordinary walking except you wear loud unflattering sportswear and raise your elbows slightly to add a more waddly demeanour to your gait.

power walking

Canada is a secular society. All religions are considered of equal value. In Ontario, however, you have the right to enrol your child for free in a Catholic school. Catholic schools are funded by the Ontario government. No other religious schools are provincially-funded in Ontario. There is no contradiction here. It makes perfect sense to everyone. Except to the UN, who have decreed the policy “unfair.”

Guffaw guffaw.

irony-free-zone.gif

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The two towers

Travelling from the tallest free-standing structure in the world on land to the tallest free-standing structure in the United Kingdom pretty much takes me from where I live now to where I was born.

One is in downtown Toronto and the other is in rural Yorkshire.

The CN tower is of course a major tourist attraction. In summer, people line up for hours for the chance to see just how flat southern Ontario really is. Once you’ve done that, you can study the full effects of acrophobia as people recoil in terror from the gaping hell of the glass floor.

Meanwhile, obese young children miraculously spring to action and bounce relentlessy on it for hours at a time. Visiting tip: Book a table at the revolving restaurant and beat the line-ups. But do the glass floor first.

cn tower toronto canada

After a flight from Toronto to Manchester, my first sighting of Emley Moor TV transmitter (known locally simply as “The Mast”, although technically it is not a mast) on the horizon is a sure-fire sign that I am now a) probably jet-lagged and b) almost, as my Indian friends say, “in my backhome.”

Emley Moor transmitting station has virtually no visitors. It is closed to the public. For some reason, there is a designated observation area just over the road. Considering it can be observed from miles around in many directions, this seems a tad superfluous. But that’s Yorkshire for you. Generous to a fault. Visiting tip: Get there early. Before the flocks.

Emley Moor transmitter

CN Tower info:

Height: 1815 feet

Height above sea level: 2051 feet

Built: 1973-1976

Elevator ascent time: approx 1 minute

Subject of a song? Yes, The CN Tower Belongs to the Dead

Drops huge chunks of ice on downtown expressway? Yes

Emley Moor transmitter info:

Height: 1084 feet

Height above sea level: 1949 feet

Built: 1969-1971

Lift ascent time: 7 minutes

Grade II listed building status? Yes

Subject of a poem? Yes, by Simon Armitage

Emley Moor transmitter

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Canada glacier

Ever thought that Canada is just a bit too casual and laid-back? That it isn’t serious enough to be a major player on the world stage ? Or just lacks a certain gravity?

Well, it’s definitely short on gravity, especially in some areas. Naturally, laissez-faire Quebec is one of them. But at least scientists now think they know why.

It’s mainly a hangover from the last ice age, which ended around 12,000 years ago. However, the effects of having a massive ice sheet pressing on the unfortunate mattress of Canada left the force of gravity a bit bedraggled.

Or, as this Fox News report says:

“Even though the ice sheet has all but vanished, the Earth still feels the burden and, like a slowly rebounding memory-foam pillow, has yet to snap back to its ice-free shape.”

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,271512,00.html

In any case, Quebec, with all its joie de vivre and insouciant shruggery, still looks like an unmade bed. Which, of course, is how it should be.

 Unmade bed

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The English football season is virtually over. For fans of non-Premiership clubs not involved in the play-offs, it’s already finished. Barnsley, by finishing fifth from bottom, have over-succeeded. Sighs of relief all around. And Leeds are down. Icing on the black pudding.

2007 is an odd year of course, so England won’t be sending penalty-kicks high into the stands during the latter stages of a major competition.

With no team to support all summer, this creates a niche opportunity for some woeful underachievers. Now, where to find them at this time of year?

Wait a second. What’s that ominous rumbling sound gathering strength over the still waters of Lake Ontario?

Toronto FC fans

Of course, it’s the massed tribal ranks of the Toronto Ultras. Cacophonous waves of blind passion filling the stadium. The sheer weight of history pouring forth onto the hallowed turf below. The lore. The history. Four whole weeks of it. No goals though.

San Siro

Are we in the San Siro, Old Trafford, or the Ali Sami Yen stadium? No, we’re still at the Bank of Montreal Field next to Exhibition Station. Judging from the reports of Toronto FC’s first home game, you’d have thought you were at the Glasgow derby.

As in this CBC report.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I hope Toronto FC is a great success. Although, right now, I just hope they score a goal before the season ends.

So let’s not get carried away.

Having a carnival atmosphere with a few drumbeats for your first ever home game is one thing, but replicating the atmosphere of a major European stadium is another. Especially one where intense intra- or inter-city rivalry is taking place. Think the two Manchester teams, or the north London rift between Arsenal and Tottenham, or the Catalonia/Castile split between Barcelona and Real Madrid. The loyalty of generations, a century of bitter hatred, lifetimes of memories and incident – it takes a while to ferment this kind of atmosphere.

For now, let’s be pleased that Torontonians are flocking to the stadium and giving the fledgling team some decent support. But let’s go easy with the liberal sprinklings of North American hype. Who knows, if the team scores a couple of goals this month, the cheering might last a while longer.

Hopefully as loudly as Barnsley fans when this game began at Wembley. But that’s a story for another day.

Barnsley fans at Wembley 2000

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Happy new year to misguided fools everywhere

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