Tag Archives: Surprise

Something remarkable

In Chartres yesterday, picking up a minor bout of food poisoning. Mrs S has been hors de combat since last night, but the worst of it has passed me by with a brief but minor bout of feverishness and minor gastric upset. Getting back to our apartment via the late night Metro was an adventure, but we made it back safely, and that’s sufficient. I just played guard dog and nurse to my stricken other half, planted a “Don’t screw with me” expression on my face and helped her down, through and up out of the Labyrinth from SNCF to apartment. But that is beside the point.

Now Chartres is a nice looking little town. We rode the TGV to visit its famous baroque Cathedral, which is probably more impressive than Notre Dame. What we hadn’t bargained for was running into the end of a three day pilgrimage. When we arrived, we thought they were taking the banners and external sound system down. So we decided to have a look inside. About fifteen minutes into our slack jawed examination of the buildings internal majesty there was an announcement from the tannoy, asking everyone to leave the building. So we left and planted ourselves in a little bistro opposite and returned to our Cafe au Laits suitably impressed by the original medieval workmanship and state of the renovation project.

I’m not religious myself. God isn’t either. But one can’t help but be impressed at the skill and devotion generations of craftsmen have invested to produce such a grandiose, intricately engineered statement of faith in stone. Overwhelming is such a poor adjective.

However, what really impressed me was the crowds that started to arrive around lunchtime, singing as they came, filling up the edifice and surrounding square with their devotions. Phalanxes of the prayerful from toddlers to pensioners, whole Scout troupes of husky young men and girls accompanied by mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, priests and paupers, carrying banners and crosses representing their local church and nationality. All filling the streets with good natured noise. Not just French but British, Canadian, American, Swiss, German, Polish and even one Iraqi flag waved over the pilgrims heads. There were a lot of other national banners I couldn’t readily identify. All had taken a three day hike of 70 miles to get here. Their hiking shoes told the story.

Street confessionIn the square I saw priests taking confession from kneeling penitents, which to me at least, made a more powerful statement than the cathedral itself, because without the demonstrated faith, the building is just a pile of intricately carved rock. Incidentally yes, I took this picture myself and yes, have airbrushed out the identifying marks on the young ladies sweatshirt. Apart from image size reduction nothing else has been changed.

Then came the sermon. Which would have had radical lefties screaming ‘Islamophobiaaa!!!!’ at the top of their pathetically demented little lungs. Delivered in both French and English, the priest spoke of how a vacuum of faith has allowed radical Islam to thrive in the west and outlined strategies for combating its rise. I just sat and listened, ever more convinced that the ranting of morons like Choudhary and his ilk will get their wish of Religious war. Having seen the simple, quiet blue collar devotion of the Chartres pilgrims, I think the Jihadis will lose. Big time. All the radical Islamist gun and willy wavers have is murder and hatred, and while you might subdue faith with those tools for a while, it’ll always come back to bite you. Always.

Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness

Or so goes the old saying. First coined by Amnesty International Founder Peter Benenson. If you want to get all biblical about it, there’s always Romans 13:11 “And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.”

In this CCTV, Internet and phone surveillance daze, has the first sign that the ‘security’ pendulum is stuttering, and at last beginning the long slow swing away from total surveillance? Which was an impossible dream anyway. With the amount of digital traffic out there, even the most heavy duty filters would be hard pushed to track down bad guys as quickly as in a TV cop show.

Are we seeing a new, predawn light? Who knows? Even though the US Congress has passed the US Freedom Act by a landslide, legislation designed to curb the worst excesses of the notorious Patriot Act. Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. Providing that the Senate don’t trash it and the Golf pro currently occupying the US Presidents chair doesn’t veto it on the grounds of ‘National Security’, even though the sponsors of the original, and notorious Patriot act have admitted publicly that mass metadata collection is of little use against terrorism.

Wonder if it will catch on?

Probably not. It was a happy thought while it lasted.

Peeback time

I was reading the National Post this morning, and just before delving into the Financial pages, I came across this little gem of a tale. Apparently there’s a type of paint with the property of ‘reflecting’ fluid. Originally designed to keep cars cleaner, it’s now being deployed around the Red Light district in Hamburg, Germany.

Watch the video. Yers, I know it’s in German, but who says they don’t have a sense of humour?

Suggestions for other uses on the back of a very soggy envelope please.

Update: How to make a low cost version of this moisture resistant finish using Anti-Perspirant and spray on plastic coating (Sorry about the Torch commercial);

Worth the ticket

Sometimes when going to see a movie, you need deep characters doing dark deeds to satisfy the artistic cravings of your soul, sometimes you don’t want to sprain your brain and simply go for something fluffy and undemanding.

Last night we took a trip out to see Kingsman, the Secret Service. As fluff goes, it’s an absolute hoot. A refreshing break from the sometimes tedious PC earnestness of other Hollywood films. It’s a bucket of icy water on a hot day. Go and see it. The opening soundtrack’s not too shabby either. A wonderful action comedy with a darkness a lot of Canadians simply don’t get. Judging from some of the Mary Whitehouse (remember that censorious old biddy?) level reviews, they don’t get the swearing or the black humour. Frankly, if you talk about black humour they’ll think you’re referring to the Cosby show.

If you haven’t already, go and see. It gets five slightly tarnished gold stars from me. One for the video collection.

If you like irony this movie definitely gets it. It also takes the piss out of an elite pushing the alarmist ‘global warming’ agenda. I found the scene set to Elgar’s Pomp & Circumstance March No 1 particularly satisfying.

Noah

Don’t normally do movie reviews. On this occasion I’d like to offer my thoughts on the current pseudo biblical epic ‘Noah‘ starring Russell Crowe, Anthony Hopkins and Ray Winstone.

Here goes. Technically the CGI is a tour de force. Good, strong, character performances from the excellent Mr Crowe and Mr Hopkins. Ray Winstone oozed psychotic menace like only he can. Sadly the script is a turkey, a preachy piece of proselytising, apocalyptic eco-garbage that sent me to sleep half way through. That’s a first. I have never gone to sleep in a cinema before. Ever. I’ve only ever walked out on one movie in 1972, a cranky old Frankie Howerd vehicle called ‘The House in Haunted Park‘, and if it hadn’t been for my wife’s insistence on staying to the end credits of ‘Noah’, I’d have been out of there in the first half hour. Before we went in I was eager to watch, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and I’d even dosed up on coffee an hour beforehand. To no avail. I was out for the count around the half way marker. Mid afternoon. Go figure.

Culinary roulette

About to prepare supper last night. Opened the fridge door to a whole host of leftovers. Not in amount, but variety, certainly. Chinese (Takeaway Cantonese & Szechuan) from Friday night. Home made Chicken Tikka Marsala from midweek, and half a portion of my signature beef stew from last Sunday. “Waste not.” Said my other half from over my shoulder, giving me a cheeky grope.
“Seriously?” Said I. I mean I’m used to pulling culinary rabbits out of chefs hats, but this left me challenged.
“Sure. I trust you.” She said. Foolish girl.
“Right.” I said doubtfully, and retrieved the ziploc (Think ‘Tupperware’, only more effective) boxes. To be honest, I should have given this stuff to our in house recycling unit (the dog), but I don’t want him hooked on my curries. That could get expensive. I already have to almost fight him off with a spatula each time I make a traditional English beef stew.

Thinking about it, I haven’t indulged in this form of culinary roulette since my bachelor days. Some might call it ‘fusion cuisine’ because failures in preparation can have the same effect on your digestive system as a thermonuclear test on a deserted Pacific atoll. I’m almost tempted to refer to this practice of reheating leftovers as ‘zombie cooking’ because you’re trying to breathe new life into the dead.

However, I raided the spice cupboard for extra garlic, chillies and ginger, added some extra basmati rice and used the microwave of full nuke prior to pan use, ensuring the foods temperature got high enough to make life very unpleasant and short for any pesky little bowel blasting bacteria. The end result? Not one of my proudest essays into the realms of cuisine, but edible and nourishing. Perhaps even unique. Three completely different styles of comestible should have been big time yuk, but somehow it all worked. Just don’t ask me to do it on a regular basis.

One of my errands before going to this evenings job is to stock up on fresh groceries.

Black ice

Well wasn’t that interesting young Bill? I was out late last night, around midnight, on my way home from a job. No big deal, just routine. When I got a rude reminder about Winter driving.

There was a thaw yesterday, so I left the four wheel drive at home and used our thrifty little commuter car instead. Big, big mistake. As I fired up the engine, the internal thermometer read five Celsius. So being the trusting soul I am, took it as read that there would be no road icing and didn’t think to go extra easy. Clear roads. Some sanding had been done, but I was expecting fog and damp that evening. Not ice. Moron.

Two hefty broadslides later…… Yes, wasn’t that interesting? Almost too quick for that heart in mouth sensation to kick in. Also comforting that I haven’t forgotten how to control a skidding vehicle.

The first heart in mouth moment was on a clear looking ninety degree right hand bend. Yes, we do have bends in Canada. Knew things weren’t right when the back end kicked out unexpectedly to the left. Foot off throttle, and bugger, it’s an automatic so the down through the box engine braking trick wasn’t going to work. Telegraph pole looming on road edge to right, dab on brake to increase the skid and slip round the bend sideways, fading left and looking for a safe runoff point. Corner telegraph pole had slightly menacing extra solid look as it flashed past less than half a metre away. Steer out, straighten up as traction returns and slide over to the correct side of the road. Phew. That got the old adrenalin pumping.

The second rude shock was on another clear looking bend down towards the Parkway. Back end began to break just before the apex, and my car took the rest of the hundred metre curve a good forty degrees to the direction of travel, me countersteering frantically to compensate. Managed to control it all the way through, but oh my.

Slip sliding awayThought I’d given up these kind of antics years ago. The last time I didn’t have this much fun driving was back in the nineties, hitting an ungritted patch of black ice in my old grey Ford Escort. Before that, driving a Reliant Robin in six to eight inches of snow back in the mid eighties. Although, thinking about it, our old Ford Windstar did have an alarming tendency to wag its tail like an over enthusiastic Labrador in inclement conditions, and our battered old 4×4 was known to like travelling slightly sideways on packed ice.

The rest of the way home I was ultra cautious, and my midnight sashay down unsanded rural Canadian roads passed off without further incident. Once home, I raided my bottle of Jura single malt before falling asleep in a chair. That’s enough excitement for one day.

Welcome back Anna

Anna Raccoon is back on the blogroll after being reported missing in inaction due to illness.

Absolutely delighted to see Anna back up and stumbling. Only sorry she trashed her blog layout which now needs rebuilding. I’m sure the magical Interweb wayback machine might be of some assistance here.

Big H/T to Leg Iron at Underdogs bite upwards

We need a revolution

Sir Ken Robinson talks about the need for a move away from the mechanistic ‘top down’ or ‘command and control’ management of education, but what he says also goes for life in general. As he says right at the end, “We need a revolution.” And not just a change of the individuals in charge, but one that takes us away from the top down one-size-fits-all model that is currently failing, and failing badly. Watch and attain enlightenment.

A fishermans tale

This is a completely true story. Not terribly dramatic, no-one famous was involved, nothing really happened, but I’ll try to explain my reasons for recounting the incident in question at the end.

In the late 1990’s I was taking a long weekend down in Cornwall. On my own as usual. I’m a solitary individual by nature, and during those years had grown to like long, lazy time outs casting my cares, and the odd line or two, on the waters. As far as human company was concerned, I’d given up on it and immersed myself in my job. That morning I’d picked up a crab line at one of the local beach shops, and taken myself down to a small rocky bay called ‘Prussia Cove‘, one time haunt of the notorious wrecker and pirate, ‘John of Prussia’. It’s a picturesque little place, popular with snorkelers, and of interest for the cart ruts cutting obliquely through rocks from the beach to the little rocky channel to the west. As you face the water, up above on the left are the grey granite Coastguard cottages overlooking the tiny beach. In Summer it’s as pleasant a piece of English Elysium as can be found on a (mostly) sunny day.

On this particular morning, I’d picked myself a spot on the rocks, sat down and waited for a couple in wetsuits to slip into the water before baiting a hook. After a few abortive attempts (standing on the line, throwing too hard, in the wrong direction, getting caught up in seaweed, usual shore fishing mistakes) I cast the weighted orange line some fifty feet or so into the desired middle of the channel. Not really expecting to catch anything. To be honest, at the time I was wrestling with a coding difficulty, and was making the best of this weekend time out for an exercise in contemplation. Taking my mind off the immediate problem, and just letting the light, wind and water work their magic on my hindbrain. Disengaging my mind from its usual over the top frontal assault and trying to slink up on the issue sideways.

“What are you doing?” The voice of a little boy quite startled me. An ordinary looking little lad, about four, maybe six. Slim build, wearing blue (I think) canvas shorts, off white T-shirt, curly dark brown hair forming a sort of mop on his head. Can’t remember what shoes he was wearing. Almost what I’d call the Christopher Robin look. I glanced around, media warped paranoia on overdrive. I’d briefly noticed the same rambunctious little lad annoying his Mother as I made my way down to the waters edge. I think they must have been staying close by. Dark haired woman in sunglasses, mid / early 20’s, lightweight floral dress. Wearing a wide brimmed sun hat as I recall. When she’d been speaking to him earlier I’d registered her accent; educated middle class Surrey. Did I mention I used to pride myself on my ear for English accents? Never mind. Not important.

At the time this whole “All white men are racists, paedo’s and rapists” thing was just beginning to gain ground in the tabloid media, and smelling possible trouble, I tried to brush this intrusive kid off. “Fishing.” I shrugged, reeling the line in. My thinking was to let him get bored and drift away in case Mum came storming over and called the cops. Not that I was doing anything wrong, just fishing. Why couldn’t the little tyke go and amuse himself elsewhere? Leave me in peace? That’s all I wanted.

“Can I have a go? Please?” For a nanosecond I thought about telling him bluntly to go away, but that’s not really my nature. He was being so polite, and Mum was less than a hundred yards away, no doubt keeping a watchful eye on her child, so on the next cast I demonstrated what I was trying to do, reeled in the line and let him try his luck. What can I say? I’m a sucker for lost kittens, puppies and children, and would rather die than see harm come to them. He made a mis-throw, I reeled the line in and let him try again.

For the next half hour, we took turns casting the lead polo mint weighted line out into the little channel, the snorkelers snorkelling in their wetsuits out where the calm waters were ruffled by a light swell, with the peace of a pleasant Cornish Summer late morning wrapping itself around us. Simply revelling in the small pleasure of male company while chilling out on a relatively fruitless task. His Mother seemed quite content to let her little boy please himself around the big stranger fishing at the waters edge.

What happened next made me sit back and think; “Danger! Warning! Warning Will Robinson!” He put his arms around my neck and gave me an unashamed hug, then sat down on our perch overlooking the water and leaned against me, rubbing my back as a kind of ‘thank you’. I clearly remember the rich soft warmth of a child’s physical contact, which gave me quite a jolt. Apart from handshakes, this was the most physical contact I’d experienced from anyone for several years. Did I mention I’m mostly a solitary soul? With a surprised look on my face, I glanced sideways to see his Mother (or female guardian) still sitting calmly in the same place and looking completely unconcerned. I’d shown him how to peel a limpet off a rock for bait, given him a pointer or two on how to cast the line, and received a hug as thanks. Then he used my shoulder as a lever to clamber to his feet and dashed off to tell his mother all about what he’d learned, who neither chided nor chastised her little boy (at least not in my hearing) for approaching (and hugging) a total solitary stranger.

About half an hour later, as the day grew warmer and the beach began to fill, I felt the call of a cold beer and packed up, wandering back to my beat up old Ford Sierra (I was between motorcycles at the time) and moved on. Yet the sudden pleasure of a hug from a completely strange child who I had never met before, never would know the name of, reminded me of my own humanity. My own instinctive need for human company. To ramp down my paranoia. To be part of a family and enjoy the innocent gift of unguarded affection.

This was over fifteen years ago. Since then I’ve married, helped steer two feisty stepdaughters through the uncertain waters of their teenage years, learned to smile and laugh a lot more, become a little more comfortable in my own skin; and somewhere along that path become a better man than I might have been. Not as cold, nor as driven. All because of that one unguarded, unsolicited hug.

So what’s the point Bill? All men are not predatory monsters? That there’s more to the male of the species than his sexual appetites? I suppose so, yes. Thinking about it, that single gesture was key to rediscovering my own understanding of Agape and Eros. Learning to differentiate properly between sacred and profane love. Discovering the love of family. Finding a new centre. Yet what I’d really, truly like to say, in public, is simply this;

Thank you.