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This is page 2 of my diary archives. Other diary entries can be found here, Page 18, Page 17, Page 16, Page 15, Page 14, Page 13, Page 12, Page 11, Page 10, Page 9, Page 8, Page 7, Page 6, Page 5, Page 4, Page 3, and Page 1, (oldest entry).

 

 

The Burmese problem

Ploy asked me the other day what was happening in Burma and I told her all seemed quiet at the moment. It is appropriate therefore that Marcus should draw attention to the fact that everything is far from quiet there. Where it is quiet is in the governments of the West who have conveniently found a carpet to brush everything under.

Recently the ASEAN countries drew up a charter which included Burma, despite some pressure from the West to expel them. Technically that would have been difficult as all motions have to be passed unanimously which obviously couldn't happen if Burma was expelled. This is semantics however and I am sure they could have got around this. The Singapore prime minister said expelling Burma would sever relations and there is more chance of influencing the Burmese government if they are part of the ASEAN community. There is some truth in that of course, but that influence, assuming is was being brought to bear, hasn't produced much effect in the last ten years, has it? Of course the ASEAN community is all about money and trade and damaging relations with China, which expelling Burma would inevitably do, would not be a good move on that front, to say nothing of the direct trade that Singapore does with Burma or the gas that Thailand gets from Burma.

What can be done help Burma? That is not the question of course. Things could be done, more to the point is what will be done.

It doesn't seem to me that anything will be done in the West. Burma does not represent anything worthwhile to West and the calls to the Western governments for action are from minorities so there is little political capital to be gained from getting involved. We have already seen the inaction from the ASEAN community and that seems unlikely to change. The Burmese people seem to have had the spirit taken from them so it is difficult to see how they could find the fight to overthrow what is a brutal dictatorship, the death toll would be too awful to contemplate. And expecting China to get involved, or being pressured to get involved also seems more than unlikely. So we have a stalemate that is unlikely to be broken.

Mankind has evolved, but only in the biological sense. Socially mankind is bankrupt, repeating the same mistakes it has made for the last two thousand years. Greed and material acquisition are what drive us, allowing food surpluses in one country while people die of hunger in another. We kill each other as if it was a sport and in the name of some non-existent God. And we allow this to continue. We watch the news of wars and famine, we give our $2 to the charity box and we throw our arms in the air and say 'what can we do'; the problem is too great. And this is just those that recognise there is a problem. Something can be done, and it is better put by Einstein than by me,

'A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow-men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society'.

This may sound like Marxism which seems to have got a bad name for itself, but it is the implementation that was wrong, not the precept. It was the people behind the implementation that was wrong, not the precept. To quote Plato,

'Till Philosophers are Kings, or Kings are Philosophers there is no Hope for Humanity'.

We could not be further away from that than where we are now. Einstein again,

'We must not conceal from ourselves that no improvement in the present depressing situation is possible without a severe struggle; for the handful of those who are really determined to do something is minute in comparison with the mass of the lukewarm and the misguided. ...'

The girl singing karaoke in the photo below is Burmese; her parents were killed in that country yet she has made a life for herself and you could not wish to meet a happier person. I feel I should do something to help these people, but I do have the profile of a George Clooney or Barbra Streisand, or their money. It all feels so futile; I almost wish for some fatal disease to wipe everyone out so we could start again.

Sarah's Birthday Party

It was a good evening. The Som Tum was as good as I have had outside of Thailand, spicy enough to put off even some of the Thais. The girls all had a good time, chattering away in the kitchen whilst they slaughtered a few blue crabs, (why do Thai people not learn to kill a crab humanely instead of pulling it limb from limb?), dancing to the Morlam music, singing karoake to a series of Thai singers who all seemed to have either just seen the their, dog/father/mother/sister/boyfriend/lover/husband/please insert any animate or innatimate object, die a horrible death, (and ideally all of the them, and it was raining), and of course, eating and drinking. The food bodes well as it the friend that Ploy is thinking of helping in the market, although how Canadian people will manage the spice I have no idea. And it is also the friend that Ploy feels so much in common with, having been left by her Laos husband to fend alone, and as Ploy points out, not even living in her own country. I found a really nice man Laos man at the party to talk to and I had Sarah's grandson to play with. The poor chap will probably need psychological counselling after years of being brought up surrounded by Morlam, spicy food (which he ate, apart from the Som Tam), and karaoke singing. However I was propositioned by someones son who, having heard that I was starting my own business, asked me if I had a job for him. It was not his fault, his mother had heard from Ploy that I was starting up and just assumed I would have a job for her son as he was 'clever'. He was a 27 year old chap, born in Thailand but spent most of his life in Canada, and he had not qualifications to speak of and was looking for an apprenticeship in tool making; perfect for designing integrated circuits. We chatted a bit about his plans after thre misunderstanding was cleared up.

It also gave me chance to try out my new camera, so not having had a chance to wade through the tome that passes as the operating manual, I set it to automatic mode 23 and pushed the button and all seemed to come out well. If I have a spare month I might try and read through the manual.

We drove home in our first genuine snow storm and this morning we have freezing rain. Winter has really arrived, so I won't go into work today and instead will work from home and try and do a couple of things around the house. Luckily I braved the snow to put the car into the garage last night so I won't have a block of ice to defrost on Monday morning. We have a full fridge so tonight it will be my first attempt at Osso Bucco.

 

Our First Concert

We have both been in Canada a year now but yesterday we went to our first concert since we arrived here, a Canadian tenor called Mark Dubois. I heard about it on the radio and nearly didn't book it, but I was so glad I did. The local Kitchener Symphony orchestra and their conductor, Brian Jackson, the soprano Donna Bennett and Mark made for a really enjoyable evening. Instead of just trotting out a series of numbers, they spent time to talk to the audience, which Ploy commented seemed like it was seniors night. That was true, but at the end I think the entire audience stood and applauded. The highlight for me was when Mark came on dressed in the phantom costume to sing Music of the Night, and the wide eyed look of anticipation in Ploy's eyes. As we were walking back to our car with everyone excitedly talking Ploy commented, 'Canadian people really like to enjoy themselves, don't they', and it is true; a thoroughly enjoyable night.

We started the night off here; we visit this restaurant quite a bit; I sort of feel guilty about it in a pretentious way, but they have never disappointed with the food or the service and it is a very reasonable price. The lobster, seafood and artichoke dip, made creamy with some cheese and eaten atop some tortilla chips was delicious.

We have had our second press release for SingMai; it can only be a matter of time before our first order, can't it?

I realised two days ago that my faithful Canon Ixus camera has finally departed its earth bound existence. So I went out and bought this one as I like to have a camera around and I also need to take some photos for the ICCE conference poster I have to put together.

Today we have a party to go to, a Thai girl that Ploy met a hairdressers; Ploy has volunteered to help her prepare the food while I am in charge of getting a cake and the wine, the latter I am supremely well qualified to do. That means I have the day to myself which I plan to spend between a few jobs on the house, playing with my new toy, and also going to work to finish off something for SingMai.

The World's Worst Airport

Minus 10degC last night and every day brings snow flurries. This time last year there was no snow worth mentioning and it wasn't until the New Year that the weather took a turn for the worst. It looks like we are due a real Canadian winter this time.

This article from the Independent has travel writers choosing their worst airport. Some of the choices are unfair, obviously a war-torn country is going have a dodgy airport. For me, of all the airports I have visited, the choice is clear: Heathrow. As one of the writers comments, Heathrow is 'the armpit of civilisation'.

Heathrow is epitomised by this encounter. Ploy and I were arriving at Heathrow from Singapore. As we wandered the miles of corridors, faceless, cold avenues of worn carpet with wires hanging from the untiled ceilings and not a trolley to be seen, we got to the transit-arrivals area. A girl on the same flight as us, trying to read the signs asked the surly porter where she had to go. He listened to her for a short time before finally losing patience and loudly saying, "Why can't you speak English, I don't understand you". Ploy went over to help, the girl was from Japan and she needed to know where the transit area was. That was clear from what she said to Ploy, (in Japanese), to me (in quite passable English), and from her ticket. So I took her through to the transit area and pointed her flight out on the decrepit CRT monitors. As we walked back to the arrivals area the man gave a shrug as if I had broken some unwritten code of unfriendliness. The airport, especially Terminal 3 which is where we usually arrive/depart from, is a travesty of an airport. Luckily we can usually hide in the business lounges so just have to put up with the immigration delays, not unique to this airport, but unique in its ineptness and rudeness and the check-in delays, which we can usually avoid by flashing our Gold card.

Other airports have problems, US airports have huge immigration delays, (but they are usually friendly enough), and awful delays with luggage; my only lost luggage has occurred in the US. But Heathrow has that too. When I arrived at Narita in Tokyo for the first time, I pensively walked through immigration, (long delays), as I had to get the bus to go downtown. I found the desk easily enough, a pretty girl asked me, in English, what hotel I was staying at, and pointed me at the correct bus stop. LED displays listed all the stops the bus would make, in English as well, and the chap that helped with my luggage also checked my ticket to make sure I was at the right place, (there about 20-30 bus stops). He gave me a smile and a thumbs up. Welcome to Japan, and that is how it felt, a welcome. Compare this to Heathrow, where, as I had to go into London I chose to take the underground train only to find that even my relatively small suitcase was not allowed on the train. That is after I had walked God knows how far along tiled tunnels reminiscent of those found in Victorian urinals, to get to the station. So I had to go back, along mile of tunnels reminiscent of Victorian urinals, and I think smelling like them too. Of course I have been spoiled, I lived in Singapore which has the world's best airport by a mile. While Thailand and South Korea have tried to emulate Changi airport they have fallen short by some distance. The Thai chaos that reigns in most of the country is not appropriate in an International airport; after a 13 hour flight you just want to get out of there as quickly as possible.

As we walk along the Heathrow corridor's listening to the grumbles of the passengers, or walking through the departure lounge which looks like an evacuation of a war zone, I wonder why nothing is done. They are going to build more terminals, No.5 is in progress and No.6 is going through some planning stage. But why don't they just get what they have right. If the UK is ever to turn itself around it needs some sense of national pride. Whether it is Changi airport or the Shinkansen, these are things that make people identify favourably with a country. I used to walk around Changi proud that this was my airport. Whilst Singaporeans complain about the MRT trains, they are a model of efficiency and cleanliness; compare them to the UK underground. Apart from the business benefits a good, clean, efficient transport system gives a sense of pride, and that is what the UK doesn't have any more. It is a nation of whingers because they have so much to whinge about. Every government says it will do something and you do get the odd improvement, like the Eurostar fast train link, ten years after the French. That fifty mile an hour trek through the Kent countryside was quaint, a throw back to when you needed a man with flag in front of your automobile, but as you left the channel tunnel and train sped up to 186mph you wondered, why is it always that way round. Why isn't it the UK that is 186mph and the French, (or replace that with any country), that have the fifty mile per hour, tea and crumpets, rail line. You almost expect the train to stop when anyone sticks out their hand but that quaintness, which could pass as an excuse, is also absent. It pretends to be efficient, but it isn't; it tries to compete but cannot. It could make up for inefficiencies with exceptional service but it doesn't. It could be cheaper but it isn't. They could provide a beautiful back drop to enjoy, but they don't, unless you are into obscene graffiti art, rubbish piles or abandoned buildings. Maybe you have to leave the UK to realise how bad it has become, and live abroad, not just visit. If a group of these people should return and become the government maybe they could start the change. The trouble is most of the people don't return. I certainly won't.

Personality

Izzy posted a link to this personality test . I ended up doing the test three times, (don't ask), and the results were pretty consistent.

You are more introverted than extroverted. You are more intuitive than observant, you are more thinking based than feeling based, and you prefer to go with the flow rather than have a routine. The single word to describe your type is the Architect, which belongs to the larger group of rationals. You wish to sculpt the world around you. Others often find you arrogant, yet you have no desire to direct others, only to inform them. You must know the structure of things, and have a voracious appetite for knowledge. You are very rational in everything you do, and probably consider yourself smarter than most.
As a romantic partner, you can be playful with great energy to get things started, but not quite as good on follow through. You may have a tendency to hurt the more emotional types unintentionally by not sharing your own reactions and feelings as you can get swept up in your own ideas and projects. You want to be appreciated for your ability to respond quickly and to fix problems creatively. You need plenty of time to yourself - therefore your partner must respect your need for independence and originality.

Overall I think it is quite accurate. I certainly enjoy more being involved in the initial concepts and design than in the final details, and I must admit I do think I am above average intelligence. Whilst I know many people much cleverer than me, I do think I am good at coming up with original ideas, something I feel no-one has ever exploited at work, preferring instead to make me conform. I certainly do need time to myself, but luckily Ploy also needs her independence so I think she appreciates and gives me that. That bodes well for our future.

My Penis is a mountain

I laughed out loud at this report from the BBC news. The poor singer responsible for singing the two national anthems at the beginning of the England-Croatia football match slightly got his words wrong during the Croatian one and instead of singing 'You know, my dear, how we love your mountains' sung, 'my dear, my penis is a mountain'. I followed the score of the match on the Internet whilst at work, (in case you don't care, England lost and are out of the European championships), and I took huge delight in their loss. England's football team is a microcosm all industry in the UK.

The Football Association which has presided over every debacle since we won the world cup in 1966 responded firmly by sacking the manager, just a few months after announcing him the chosen one. This article from the Independent highlights exactly what is wrong. One of the last bastions of the us-and-them culture that pervades the UK, the FA, (and this all it is capable of, sweet FA), epitomises the incompetent management that runs throughout British industry and brought down shipbuilding, cars and steel industries to name just a few. Of course they were not solely responsible, a lethargic, work-shy, ill-educated workforce also was a major contributory factor. The management structures that run through an increasing number of companies has slowly eliminated good managers whilst at the same time multiplied their numbers. Every worker now, more often than not, reports to at least two managers, neither of which has an inkling about what it is he can do, yet rather than empower him to do his job, swamp him in bureaucratic minutiae. I liked this article, also from the Independent on the increasing nonsense jargon used in the office environment. I have been exposed to this, endless meetings discussing why we are late with projects yet not seeing the irony of having meetings to discuss lateness does little to help the situation, Powerpoint after Powerpoint analysing the lateness with unqualified people offering 'help' to the poor beleaguered engineer who probably would have solved it by now if he had been left to get on with it alone. Acronym after acronym shielding the presenter from the fact he knows bugger all about his subject. Broad sweeping jargon that means nothing other than exposing his ineptitude.

And all the time this feeling that engineer is not to be trusted, the undermining of his expertise, that derogatory innuendo that anyone else, and I mean anyone, would have solved it by now. The implication that you were the last choice for this job but there was no-one else. When was last time an engineer was asked his opinion of something, and privately, not in front of a 'team workshop'. Quiet, personal chats, 'how are things going?', 'anything I can do to help?'; in an atmosphere that encourages comment. Nothing is more frustrating than explaining an idea or suggestion to a moron, so we stay quiet, tapping away on our PCs or doodling in notepads while the hours go by. And you know it is a bad day when the stale sandwiches and cold coffee is wheeled in at a quarter to noon, which invariably is announced with a flourish by some manager as if missing lunch, a chance to get out of the air conditioning and replace the fetid air of the meeting with some good old traffic fumes, is a good thing. This seems to happen to every company once they start growing. A manager of small company once told me that he didn't want to grow beyond the size where he knew every employees name. I don't know if he kept to that but that is where things start going belly up, where you need to employ people to do the job you did before, but badly, and where some structures start to be put in place to allow 'communication'. Conversations in corridors and by coffee machines how start to have a formality to them, by which I mean they take a week to organise and a day to enact. Before that point a certain chaos can rein but out of that chaos you have motivated employees who feel they actually do make a difference, who feel they contribute and go home happy at the end of a day.

Yesterday I got an e-mail to say that the venture capital company were not interested in SingMai because they thought our market was too small. They are looking for that $100M venture that rewards them well. But in a lot of ways I am happy about that. The first thing that would happen if I had got that money is a manager would have been appointed to run the company. I would have found that so difficult to deal with as he would most certainly come from that afore mentioned group. Slowly I would be sidelined to the lower, engineer only, role whilst the direction of the company was driven purely by monetary concerns. As it is I am free to go into any area that I am interested in: of course I need to make money, but I just need enough to keep Ploy in the manner to which she has become accustomed, which luckily is poor. Yes, we want the lakeside house and the boat and business class travel everywhere, but that may come, you don't need to have a 200 strong, (or is it weak), company to achieve that. What I do need to do is work I like, and not have to sit through endless bullshit meetings justifying my existence or explain an idea to someone who has genitalia for brains. The last thing I want is for SingMai to become one of those companies I lampoon so much.

First Snow

I have had my first press release published. Normally I get about 2-3 visitors a day to SingMai, steady and after all it only takes one to get an order, but on the day of the on-line release that jumped to 18, although still no enquiries. I guess that will take time. It took a little while with my first company to turn magazine entries into orders and even then my first order was for just 140 pounds, but it felt like a 100,000 pounds at the time. That company went on to order a lot more from us anyway. Because SingMai seems to be taking off we have decided to fly to Las Vegas instead of drive. The worst thing that could happen is I get a firm enquiry and I cannot follow it up because I am travelling somewhere in Utah. The week out at the CES show is understandable as most companies we will deal with will be there. We have ordered business cards as well; things are really beginning to come together.

This weekend I will get back to working on the house, especially finishing the bathroom tiling. SingMai has been taking priority recently but I do need to keep the impetus going on the house as well. Luckily the work is all inside (save for fitting a new slate house number that we have bought) as the first snow arrived this week. Just a dusting but cold enough to deter working outside.

Ploy is off to another Laos party tonight. Several hours of watching Morlam dancing and eating Korean food without being able to drink because of driving there is mighty tempting but I have persuaded Ploy to get a lift from someone else so I can stay at home. I must admit I quite like those evenings by myself where I can cook what I like and just curl up by the fire and read a book; it comes from being an only child I think. Ploy says she wants to go so she can meet some contacts who might find her a job after we return from Las Vegas.

One Million Hits

I can't remember why I started this website in the first place, or when exactly for that matter. It was approximately three years ago when we living in Singapore and it may have been to post some photos of Singapore. Whatever the reason the site has steadily grown, although the Singapore page is still the most popular, usually followed by either the diary or the art history pages. Although I receive very little feedback on the site I have seen the traffic also grow steadily and yesterday we reached the milestone of having over 1,000,000 hits in 2007. Amazing stuff. To all those that read this nonsense; thank you. Even if I had no readers I would probably keep writing but it is very satisfying that a number of you obviously keep returning, if only it is in the hope you finally read something worthwhile.

I sent my first press releases out for SingMai today, for the DP1 card. Fingers crossed that we get a magazine entry and maybe our first sales.

Lists

When I first started work and also at school, (because I refused to eat the appalling school dinners), my mother made me a lunchbox, a packet of crisps, sandwiches, a Wagon Wheel or Penguin biscuit and an apple. And nearly always there would be a note; a reminder to do something or buy something, something I mentioned the night before that I should not forget to do. I used to pour derision on these little notes which also abounded around the house: the to-do list, updated minute by minute, that lie on the dresser by the house keys and her purse.

Now I do the same. In fact I hadn't done so for a while now, but today we are both having a delightful day of doing nothing. I woke (again!) at 5a.m. but I did finish my book and when Ploy woke up only to go straight back to bed, I popped down the road to have a leisurely breakfast. And then I went back to bed and slept the best sleep I have had in ages. Although only a couple of hours I feel totally refreshed and coming downstairs I started organising things: and creating a to-do list. Apart from the organisation it gives it limits what you have to do; I think my disturbed sleep has been due to me turning over and over in my head all that I perceive still needs to be done, for work, for the house and for SingMai. And in the early hours of the morning that list can seem limitless and unachievable. On paper it looks far less daunting and by putting some more trivial things down by the end of the day already some impact can be made. But it is the piece of mind I get by seeing what has to be done, being able to plan for it, and knowing that nothing is forgotten, (like my car insurance which runs out at the end of the month and I completely forgot about). And I also have a clear desk in the study at last.

I have been listening to my PFM CDs which I bought for my birthday and in a moment of nostalgia decided to find something on Renaissance who I loved as a child. A sort of mixture of classical, (they stole many classical themes for their introductions), and soft rock with the most amazing female lead singer. I managed to track down her website and also a YouTube video of the the band. I saw them live at the Royal Albert Hall backed with full orchestra, quite an evening although the traffic meant we arrived a little late. Later this week I think I will have to visit Amazon again and restore some of my CD collection (most of which is languishing in Thailand and is likely to remain there).

 

Shrimp Provencale

I got home from work yesterday only to be greeted by some plaintive cries from the second bedroom: Ploy had locked herself in the room and couldn't get out, (I had removed the door handles for painting but not the lock mechanism).

We actually went out to eat on my birthday so the planned shrimp provencale had to wait until last night, but it was an unqualified success so I thought I would share the recipe with you.

Peel, de-vein and wash the prawns. Warm a little olive oil in a deep frying pan and saute the prawns until just cooked. Remove the prawns from the pan and set aside. Add a generous lump of butter to the pan, two thinly sliced shallots, two chopped garlic cloves, three chopped Thai chillies (seeds and all, don't be a wuss), some dried basil, fennel seeds, salt and pepper. Saute the ingredients until the shallots are soft and then add four large spoons of chopped plum tomatoes, (the tins are best I think), one tablespoon of tomato paste and some thinly sliced bell pepper, (I used orange for colour). Let the mixture cook for a little while, add some sugar to bring out the taste of the tomatoes and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Add back the prawns and just warm them through by tossing in the sauce. Serve topped with some chopped flat leaf parsley. 'Aroi mark mark' said Ploy, so blame her if you don't like it. We served it with some crusty bread and a mixed salad.

Thursday's Child

Today I am fifty years old. According to the poem I have far to go, at least that is the version I remember and I prefer it to 'works hard for a living'. I also have always interpreted that as meaning achieving something rather than the more literal meaning of travelling far, although it is the latter I have actually done. In terms of achievement I have probably little of note to put on my gravestone but maybe this year is the turning point. That novel is bursting to get out and the little bits I have written have been well received so far, I may have my art history Masters by the end of this year, fingers crossed, I have a lovely house and great car and I live in a nice country. I am starting my own company so I hope to finally get out of the current nonsense that makes big companies today, and I have a beautiful wife that loves me. That's not so bad. Tonight I am cooking shrimp provencale and we will just curl up in front of our fire and watch the snow outside. And as a reminder to my youth I downloaded this album and bought two CDs from this group.

 

Asking the right question

Marcus drew my attention to this article, albeit from the Daily Mail, which highlights the shame I feel and which he also appears to share, for being British. I have learned to counter that stigma in Canada, if anyone asks where I am from "originally", by answering, "I'm from the UK, but I came here from Singapore". Luckily that usually means I am then asked questions about Singapore and I don't have to spend time apologising for my birthplace. We only have to be thankful therefore that Britain does not invest enough in the space program to be able to send hooligans into space. Just imagine what havoc they would reap to the space station.

I was interested to watch on TV an interview with the Dalai Lama who visited Canada last week. Inevitably his visit was met with indignation from China who always seem to have something to mutter about but who gleefully go about abusing human rights or supporting the military regime in Burma. However what struck me about him was his considered views about anything he was asked. Unfortunately the interview was too brief but I was surprised when he was asked the question about whether Buddhism allowed homosexuality, that his answer was a short, 'No, as with Christianity Buddhism sees homosexuality as sexual misconduct'. To me this answer seems obvious, if homosexuality was the norm clearly the human race would slowly disappear. That is not to say I am homophobic, but tolerance of the behaviour should also be accompanied by discouragement; similar to what Singapore practices. I find, as I do with many commentaries on Singapore's perceived dictatorship, the criticism of Singapore's continued illegality of homosexuality to be ill founded. It appears to me to be a considered and thoughtful decision, only at odds with the politically correct, anything goes, attitude of much of the West. What Singapore has done is make a decision, possibly an unpopular one, because the political climate in that country allows the government to do so without threat of being removed from power. To me that is so much better than the populist ill-thought-out decisions that politicians in the West make all the time. At least Singapore had the guts to make that decision; it is not as if gay people are rounded up and summarily executed or Singapore invades other countries to impose its non-gay policy, I saw gay people openly holding hands in Singapore and there are gay bars in Singapore. Tolerance combined with discouragement seems a sensible approach.

The point to all this rambling is I feel that the need to make populist decisions, and popular to an ill-educated and ill-informed public, is leading society into a quagmire from which it is difficult to see a way out. Any technological future has to be accompanied by social responsibility. But while we have Iraq and Pakistan and Burma and Darfur and Tibet and North Korea and a hundred other 'situations' around the world that produce ill thought out, knee-jerk reactions in politicians how is it possible to see the future as anything but bleak. How can we ever get to the position where educated men can make decisions for the benefit of mankind rather than for the benefit of some politician's 'retirement fund'. Looking in at the UK from some years of distance why cannot anyone see it is a country that is going to the dogs? And why does nobody seem to want to do something about it? How can we get to the point where our politicians are removed and replaced with thinkers like the Dalai Lama?

Time Changes

The clocks went back last night; a little anomaly that the more northern countries seem to like to indulge in that, while advantaging some small part of the population, usually disadvantages another. And I have to go around the house resetting all the clocks, well all two of them anyway.

We spent some of yesterday removing the last of the floor tiles, removing the hideous ceiling fan and the old washing machine and tumble dryer plumbing in the kitchen, replacing some of the drywall in the bathroom and fitting a blind to small front window in the office. At the end of the day I swept the leaves off our path whilst Ploy went to look around our local charity shop where she is a regular now. It all feels very settled and homely and I had a real sense of pride looking at the house and thinking of all we have done. We are setting ourselves more realistic targets for the house now. After three months of effort we are a little tired and in any case the house is looking pretty good. Also the money is a bit tight as I have been buying some bits for SingMai and we have paid cash for all the home improvements and furniture so we can't afford to do too much.

The weather is changing and we have had some sub-zero nights to contend with recently. So far so good although the fireplace is a real boon in the evenings; it would be a bit chilly with just the furnace to rely on. With a little more time to spare we have been able to spend time talking rather than just working flat out and collapsing in front of the TV in the evenings; last night we went to the excellent buffet at the Mandarin restaurant. One of the venture capital firms I talked to last week is interested in SingMai but we have decided whatever that outcome we will aim to be running our own company full-time sometime next year, even if it means Ploy goes to work somewhere else. She is getting a bit fed-up stuck in the house now there is less for her to do and a separate source of income will not be a bad thing.

In two weeks I will have been in Canada one year (Ploy arrived six weeks later). It has been an exciting year, with the best thing by far being buying the house. In the next year I hope we can get our own company off the ground. I have been haunted by the stigma of the company I ran in the UK failing for too long. I know what I did wrong then and hopefully I won't make the same mistakes again. The country is different, the attitude to start-ups is different and I have Ploy; this time I will do it right.

Toni Basil and Robert Goulet

I popped home for lunch and whilst munching my cheese and cucumber sandwich I sat with Ploy watching the biography channel's documentary on Bette Midler. It seems her husband was first introduced to her by Toni Basil, famous as a one hit wonder for Mickey and someone I had the distinct hots for when I was younger. Amazingly she is 64 years old now and still looks fantastic; there is a certain Rita Moreno look to her and she is one hell of dancer. I had no idea she was in Five Easy Pieces, I must get the DVD and look more closely.

This week Robert Goulet died. I know him mainly as a singer but also for his role as the villian Quentin Hapsburg in the movie Naked Gun 2.5. Another great singer gone; listen to what we will be missing.

Halloween has now passed here. We went to a bar for the night and there were quite a few people out in fancy dress, not all in horror costumes, although the large man wearing only a babies nappy certainly qualified in that category.

On Sunday we went to see the movie 30 days of Night; I have a little fetish for vampire movies and Ploy has been murmuring the 'No God' clip that has been advertising the movie all week. We both thoroughly enjoyed it; it had enough shocks and enough of story and there was no happy ending cop-out either. Only two slight disappointments were the stuttered editing of the action sequences and the big gaps in the time line for the thirty days. But all in all well worth a look.

Soon Sam

It might be the lack of sleep, but I seem to have started to become clumsy. This weekend was supposed to have been spent gutting the kitchen, but just a couple of hours in to the work I severely bruised my thumb pulling off some drywall and I had to stop work for the day. I did manage to remove the remaining cabinets and all the food that somehow had been pushed behind them so there was some progress, but today my thumb is twice the size it should be so I think I will find something more leisurely to do.

Ploy was invited to another party last night. So was I, but because of my injury I had decided to cook the chicken I had bought, open a bottle of wine and spend the evening watching the horror movies that were showing on TV as part of the Halloween season, and believe me, Halloween here seems to be more important than Christmas; every house seems to have gravestones and skeletons and vampires strewn over them. I guess come the 31st we will be besieged with spotty teenagers trying to extort sweeties from us. Lucky that we have some rat poison around. Anyway I did all those things, but alone, except Ploy did sit long enough to gobble down a chicken leg. I have no idea what time she got home and she is fast asleep now. I went to bed early giving up on watching The Exorcist which I have already seen umpteen times.

On Monday and Thursday next week I have meeting with an individual and a company respectively who might be interested in putting some money into SingMai. That will be exciting if that happens. When I started my company in the UK I didn't want anyone to help and I used my own money to grow the company, the problem being when we got into financial difficulties we lost everything personally as well. It also meant that I did all the jobs in the company, from packing to sales, and slowly the design engineering became the lesser of my roles. But that is what I like doing and probably what I am best at, so this time I hope to stay doing that and let others run the company. Anyway we'll see how it goes.

Party Animals

I haven't been sleeping well again: Friday night I woke up at 1.00a.m. and unable to sleep decided to go downstairs and read my book. The book is much darker than the BBC series and all the better for it. Despite the excellent acting of Leonard Rossiter you can feel much more the frustrations behind why he felt he had to feign his own death. I must admit I have a certain sympathy with him but unlike Reggie, I don't think I could do that to Ploy, especially after last night, (although in the later books he also comes back to see his wife again).

The reference to last night was another party hosted by the Laos society of South-western Ontario. Although the food wasn't as good as the one a couple of weeks ago the party atmosphere was much better and I didn't get landed with talking to the 'farangs' this time. Ploy and I arrived early; they said the party started at 6.00p.m. but most people didn't arrive until nearly ten. However we ate some food and drank some beer, well I did, and we danced the night away. And it was one of those slow numbers, in fact the only one of the night, when I was holding Ploy and she looked up into my eyes, that I knew again why I loved her so. She looked stunning too, by the far the most beautiful girl there. We had a great time and for us it was a late night as we stayed until gone eleven. I also slept through the night although I woke early at 6.30a.m.

Because I didn't sleep well on Friday night I didn't feel much like working on the house yesterday but I did manage to plumb in the wash basin so we now have a fully functioning bathroom. Just a bit of tiling left and we are nearly completely done, although I must get a door fitted sometime just in case we have guests; both our bathrooms have an open concept at the moment. Today I want to tidy up the garden and do some painting outside. The weather is changing, it is quite cool at night and we are getting much more rain now. Today is meant to be fine so it is chance to get some fresh air in my lungs and bit of exercise outside. I need to get rid of the rubbish anyway as the skip is collected tomorrow.

A Long Weekend

The skip has arrived and I have taken a couple of days off to clear all the rubbish out of the house, garage and garden. Ploy spent Wednesday frantically painting every door she could find and she was feeling mighty proud of herself Thursday night. She was on such a high that when I woke up at 2.00a.m. because of some noise downstairs, that was her, unable to sleep, clearing up the basement kitchen. I managed to get her to return to bed only after promising she could spend the weekend painting if she wished. However yesterday, after starting to help me clear the garage she went inside when it started raining and instead, starting stripping the tiles off the kitchen floor. We hope to have cleared out the kitchen by the end of the weekend. The skip, even though it is the largest one I could find is now full to overflowing and we have only cleared 90% of the garage. We will have to get another one when the kitchen is finished as we have all the stuff in the garden to clear as well as the old kitchen cabinets.

One thing that especially makes the house feel more like home is I have put some bookshelves up in the study and have been able to finally unpack the few books that I brought with me from Thailand, about 50% of which are either partially read (mostly the art history books that were used for reference on my dissertation), or not read at all. I have a nice comfy chair in the study so hopefully I might be able to discipline myself to reading in the evening rather than just slumping in front of the TV watching food and home makeover programs.

That said, a couple of nights ago they were showing the movie, New York, New York. Although we were both tired we managed to stay until the end, mostly on the back of a mesmerising performance by Liza Minnelli. I have never heard her voice better and she commanded the screen. The problem with the movie was the character played by Robert De Niro which didn't seem to fit comfortably. Ploy commented throughout the movie on Liza's sad looking eyes.

I have started putting some travel plans together for the trip to Las Vegas. I have planned to drive about 400miles/day on average which I think is reasonable except for the first day when we have to negotiate US immigration. It will take six days to get there. The route is Kitchener > Battle Creek > Iowa City > Kearney > Denver > Grand Junction > Las Vegas.

It seems to have been one of those weeks with the death of Deborah Kerr, Teresa Brewer, Joey Bishop and Alan Coren, all people that in some way touched my life, just a little.

Thomas Crapper would be Proud

At last we have a working toilet on the ground floor so we don't have to waddle across the concrete floor of the basement in the middle of the night of we need to go for a 'chee' (ปวดฉ). The bathroom is not looking to bad now. It needs the basin fitted which might stretch my plumbing abilities and it needs a little bit of the floor repaired before we can finish the tiling. The big job is replacing all the tiles around the bath tub but we have decided to wait for a while before doing that and instead try to clear out the ground floor kitchen which is starting to get us down. If we manage to clear the old kitchen units then we can rent one of those bins to clear the garden and garage of rubbish. I might try to take a long weekend off to break the back of the kitchen.

The company that has bought out our old division has decided to start to employ the matrix style of management. God forbid. Certainly it is a guarantee to strangle any innovation as we now have multiple bosses to answer to, each thinking their project the more important. For a while is is fun trading one off against another but that becomes boring after a while. Why anyone would want to employ such a system for a relatively small company is beyond me. I am glad to see I am not alone with this way of thinking.

MatrixManager's claim that the 2 management structures provide 2 different paths for career growth:
  1. Through "line management". (One of the management structures is meant to organize the customers of the work to be produced.)
  2. Through a "technical ladder". (One of the management structures organizes the various labor "pools". The labor pools are based on the employees' technical fields.)
The problem is that the "technical ladder" (supposedly for ever-improving technical ability) becomes confused with just another management ladder, where promotion is based on the ability to handle ever-larger numbers of subordinates. The two abilities are not the same. If badly applied, the company loses a way of rewarding people with excellent technical abilities.

Things were not looking good generally as our new IC has returned from fabrication but it is not yet working as it has a short circuit somewhere, possibly on the silicon. The scenario that I see is the company will not pay for another tape-out meaning he project will be stopped. In that case my position becomes tenuous as I am principally there as a 'technical expert' for this IC. There are other jobs in the area but it would mean getting yet another work permit, so I am now trying to accelerate getting SingMai working. In any case I couldn't face yet another company employing bizarre management styles with me spending more time learning how to manage and less and less actually doing design, which, to be frank, I am better qualified to do. I have my first PCB back from manufacture and I intend to put the company officially 'on-line' next month.

I Despair of the World

Not surprisingly news is starting to filter out about the repercussions of the protests in Burma. Full credit to the Independent newspaper for continuing to highlight the conditions there. The US is threatening tighter sanctions which have already proved spectacularly unsuccessful for the last twenty years, but it a token gesture so the US people can feel that something is being done by their benevolent government, - even thought 95% of the population probably have no idea where Burma is. In the meantime companies, sometimes government sanctioned, continue to make profits from trading with the Burmese junta. And countries that openly support the junta, even if 'under the table, countries such as India, China and Singapore receive no such sanctions. The only revolution, should it come, will come from the Burmese people, but the junta have ensured that the impoverished population have insufficient resources to stage such a coup. Sanctions that might actually make some difference, such as an international boycott of the Bejing Olympics, are not being considered. So everything returns to the status quo, the EU and US politicians, whilst feigning slight embarrassment at the continuing trade from its own countries, are happy they have been seen to do something, ineffectual as it is, so they can continue their day to day parasitic existence. India, China and Thailand continue to justify the cross-border deals by the need to 'protect their borders'. You wonder how the company CEOs who continue to trade with the junta sleep at night; what possible justification do they have for the fact that their decisions, their company's money, funds the slaughter of innocent people. How do they look their own families in the face, look at their own children playing, and not think that they should make a decision, unilaterally, that might save someone's life, that might make the world a little better. But it won't happen, not in my lifetime and probably never.

An Unwelcome Visitor

We had already found signs when we removed some of the ceiling panels for the electrical work we had done, but we finally had a face to face encounter on Saturday although it didn't stay for formal introductions. We have a rat, (Rattus Norvegicus), not surprising given the state the house was in before with food left everywhere in discarded pizza boxes or just lying behind the fridge for a few years. So we have been making more effort to not leave any food out and we have cleaned the old kitchen up a bit more and left some bait out for it which it seems to have taken already. As far as we can tell it is just the one (so far) but given their breeding ability let's hope we nip it in the bud. We think it is getting in through the tumble dryer venting duct, amazing enough as it is two feet above ground level and has a grill. But talking to someone that grill is not sufficient to stop entry so another job to do is replace that with a more secure one and replace all the plastic trunking with a metal one. One good thing is Ploy is not freaked out by this and like most things, takes it in her stride.

I haven't written much on the house renovation for a while. Work has continued, but at a slower pace as I first took a week off to let my bad back get better, and then I have had to spend more time at work so work has mostly been restricted to the weekends. However we have finished the front entrance and are very happy with the tiling we did, a first for us. The bathroom is well under way and the study is all but finished except for a couple of cosmetic items. We are still waiting for our bedside tables and chest of drawers which is really annoying; it has been over six weeks and we still haven't been given an expected delivery date. It is all that is stopping us finishing our bedroom and being able to clear out the second bedroom so we can start decorating that.

Most of our TV watching is either CSI, (Ploy says she thinks she has seen them all now), the news, or food or house makeover programs, (our favourite is Holmes on Homes). When we moved house we lost our movie package but we haven't missed it at all as any movie worth watching we have the DVD for or we went to see it at the movies and most of the movies they show are awful - they also repeat them about once a week at various times. However on one of the other channels we caught The Wrong Guy. I can't understand how we missed this one, it has Jennifer Tilly who is always watchable and the script was clever and very funny; it is almost in the Naked Gun class. There are various references to other films throughout which are also fun to spot. Well worth seeking out.

A DVD I bought also captivated us, Victor, Victoria. I knew is mostly for the role of Julie Andrews and that is why I bought it but both Ploy and I loved the humour, especially the over the top playing of Robert Preston.

A Laos Party

We were told there was a party going on last night; some event for the retirement of the current chairman of the local Laotian society. There were likely to be more Thai there than Laos people and there was food and live music so we thought, why not.

I can't say I enjoyed it much but we may have met a nice couple just as we were leaving. The couple we went with, or more accurately, were a taxi for, hardly said a word to us all night and the girl seemed to be using it as excuse to fill up on a week's rations. The reason we ended up giving them a lift was she knew the way there, but after over an hour and half, including several calls to people who seemed as clueless as she was, to do a trip that took 20 minutes to return, we were questioning that decision. When we eventually arrived there were about fifteen people circling a car park unable to find where the venue was! And despite all the phone calls no-one inside seemed to know how they got there.

But the food was good, (Ploy is always asking what Laos food is like as she has been there but never noticed a particular style - the answer seems to be it is Northern Thai food with a hint of Vietnamese but nothing distinctive in itself). They had some music, a live band playing a mixture of Morlam and Carabao style. Ploy danced to both and both of us danced to the more contemporary stuff, the first time I have put on my dancing shoes since we left Singapore.

But as we lay in bed talking we both agreed that it was a disappointing night in that it had so many things in common with events like these in the UK. I may be over-emphasising it but the couple we gave a lift to used us, to be frank. They kept us waiting over an hour before we left and then with all the misdirection we effectively arrived nearly three hours after we wanted to be there. We had been working on the house all day, laying floor tiles by the front entrance - and we explained we didn't want to stay too long and in any case I couldn't drink. So when we said we wanted to leave the husband muttered something about leaving as the fun was starting, which was nice. They weren't dancing, the food had been cleared away so we weren't sure what exactly that 'fun' was!

Then there is the usual 'farang' gathering. There were only about five farangs (Westerners) there but, although I anticipated the problem and strategically placed Ploy, when she got up to dance I found chairs being thrust between the two of us so I can hear about all the dismal business failings, the complaints about Canada, (that was refreshing, a chap from the UK saying he wished he had stayed there instead of coming to Canada - but then it would be any country he had a failed business in). Then we get the Thai wives doing the usual, oh, he can speak some Thai, oh, he eats spicy Thai food as if I am some circus monkey. Then the girls all wander off somewhere and leave the men alone lamenting their lack of success in life. By the way, if you can't spot the men they are typically dressed in grubby work clothes with a two day growth of beard, are chain smokers, and generally look like they about to shuffle off their mortal coil. How one of them is going to survive in Thailand when he retires there in less than a year is anyone's guess, he can't speak the language, he doesn't like the food, and he is going there with a chip on his shoulder about how life hasn't treated him fairly. That should make him a fixture on the corner stool of his local ex-pat bar.

All of this sounds like griping I know, but Ploy was saying exactly the same thing, believe me. What other parties do you go to where it becomes like some sort of Victorian drawing room scene where the men go off with their port and cigars and leave the women to talk, well, women's things? But here this is always the case. Ploy told me one woman said she wasn't hungry when she arrived but then corrected that with I am too lazy to get the food. Ploy asked what she wanted and got her plate of a few things which she duly ignored. Ploy said she knows the type - she thinks she is above getting her own food - too high class. She later told me of her two big, big houses in Thailand and then started complaining that her husband doesn't show enough respect for Thai culture. This is not to say that everyone at the party is like this, it is typical of the farang-Thai partners though and they gravitate towards us at the party and almost exclude you from meeting anyone else. There is another party in a couple of weeks, but this time we will make our own way there and try to mingle more. Otherwise it will just be the two of us, as it has been since we met.

Respect for the Human Race

'He was a neutral, and in any case he had not enough respect for the human race to care whether it destroyed itself or not'.

Bertrand Russell writing of Santayana on the outbreak of World War I, and I must say it is an opinion that are I am increasingly coming to sympathise with. Have a read of this article on the current situation in Burma. Why did we expect anything less. Indeed the monk's uprising in Burma was a political embarrassment to the West as it upset the status quo. Happy to let the trade with this oppressive regime continue whilst paying lip service to the atrocities being committed, the West's politicians were squirming last week lest they actually might have to do something. Instead a few platitudes were all that was necessary, thank God, and all is quiet again. So it might be true that those brave enough to demonstrate against the cruel dictatorship are being shipped to prison camps, that further hardships will have to be endured by the populace, but 'it is a difficult situation' is the best we can hope for from the money driven morons that currently rule in the West. The statement by Total, who have gas fields in Burma, that if they were to suspend their activities it would only allow 'less-ethical' companies to come instead renders me speechless. Of course, as is argued over carbon emissions, China and India will claim they have a hundred years of catching up with the West to do, and so should be allowed be as unethical and morally bankrupt in their business dealings. They are learning fast. So the West refuses to set an example because... well, they are being caught up with by those countries who are not playing ball and are unethical and morally bankrupt. And meanwhile the people of Burma suffer and not a single company, let alone a country, is prepared to sacrifice a little of its profit to help these people.

 

Reasons to go to War

Bertrand Russell's letter to the the London Nation, August 15th, 1914.

'Against the vast majority of my countrymen, even at this moment, in the name of humanity and civilisation, I protest against our share in the destruction of Germany.

A month ago Europe was a peaceful comity of nations; if an Englishman killed a German he was hanged. Now, if an Englishman kills a German, or if a German kills an Englishman, he is a patriot, who has deserved well of his country. We scan the newspapers with greedy eyes for news of slaughter, and rejoice when we read of innocent young men, blindly obedient to the word of command, mown down in thousands by the machine guns of Liege. Those who saw the London crowds, during the nights leading up to the Declaration of War saw a whole population, hitherto peaceable and humane, precipitated in a few days down the steep slope to primitive barbarism, letting loose, in a moment, the instincts of hatred and blood lust against which the whole fabric of society has been raised. "Patriots" in all countries acclaim this brutal orgy as a noble determination to vindicate the right; reason and mercy are swept away in one great flood of hatred; dim abstractions of unimaginable wickedness - Germany to us and the French, Russia to the Germans - conceal the simple fact that the enemy are men, like ourselves, neither better nor worse - men who love their homes and the sunshine, and all the simple pleasures of common lives; men now mad with terror in the thought of their wives, their sisters, their children, exposed, with our help, to the tender mercies of the conquering Cossack.

And all this madness, all this rage, all this flaming death of our civilisation and our hopes, has been brought about because a set of official gentlemen, living luxurious lives, mostly stupid, and all without imagination or heart, have chosen that it should occur rather than that any one of them should suffer some infinitesimal rebuff to his country's pride. No literary tragedy can approach the futile horror of the White Paper. The diplomatists, seeing from the first the inevitable end, mostly wishing to avoid it, yet drifted from hour to hour of the swift crisis, restrained by punctilio from making or accepting the small concessions that might have saved the world, hurried on at last by blind fear to loose armies for the work of mutual butchery.

And behind the diplomatists, dimly heard in the official documents, stand vast forces of national greed and national hatred - atavistic instincts, harmful to mankind at its present level, but transmitted from savage and half animal ancestors, concentrated and directed by Governments and the Press, fostered by the upper class as a distraction from social discontent, artificially nourished by the sinister influence of the makers of armaments, encouraged by a whole foul literature of "glory" and by every text-book of history with which the minds of children are polluted.

England, no more than other nations which participate in this war, can be absolved either as regards its national passions or as regards its diplomacy.

For the past ten years, under the fostering care of the of the Government and a portion of the press, a hatred of Germany has been cultivated and a fear of the German Navy. I do not suggest Germany has been guiltless; I do not deny that the crimes of Germany have been greater than our own. But I do say that whatever defensive measures were necessary should have been taken in a spirit of calm foresight, not in a wholly needless turmoil of panic and suspicion. It is this deliberately created panic and suspicion that produced the public opinion by which our participation in the war has been rendered possible.

Our diplomacy, also, has not been guiltless. Secret arrangements, concealed by Parliament and even (at first) from all the Cabinet, created, in spite of reiterated denials, an obligation suddenly revealed when the war fever had the point which rendered public opinion tolerant of the discovery that the lives of many, and livelihood of all, had been pledged by one man's irresponsible decisions. Yet, though France knew our obligations, Sir E. Grey refused, down to the last moment, to inform Germany of the conditions of our neutrality or of our intervention. On August 1st he reports as follows a conversation with the German Ambassador (No. 123): "He asked me whether, if Germany gave a promise not to violate Belgian neutrality, we would engage to remain neutral. I replied that I could not say that; our hands were still free, and we were considering what our attitude should be. All I could say was that our attitude would be determined largely by public opinion here, and that the neutrality of Belgium would appeal very strongly to public opinion here. I did not think that we could give a promise of neutrality on that condition alone. The Ambassador pressed me as to whether I could not formulate conditions on which we could remain neutral. He even suggested that the integrity of France and her colonies might be guaranteed. I said I felt obliged to refuse definitely any promise to remain neutral on similar terms, and I could only say that we must keep our hands free."

It thus appears that the neutrality of Belgium, the integrity of France and her colonies, and the naval defence of the northern and western coasts of France, were all mere pretexts. If Germany had agreed to our demands in all these respects, we should still not have promised neutrality.

I cannot resist the conclusion that the Government has failed in its duty to the nation by not revealing long-standing arrangements with the French, until, at the last moment, it made them the basis of an appeal to honour; that it has failed in its duty to Europe by not declaring its attitude at the beginning of the crisis; and that it failed in its duty to humanity by not informing Germany of the conditions which would insure its non-participation in a war which, whatever its outcome, must cause untold hardship and the loss of many thousands of our bravest and noblest citizens.'

If you take away the particularity of that letter, do you not have the scenario for every recent and present day war, from the Falklands to Iraq. Misinformation, deliberately presented to the Press and the public, as an incitement and eventual justification as to why we should go to war.

I was sorry to read today of the death of Ronnie Hazelhurst. It is true that many of you, and particularly the non-UK residents of a particular age, will probably not know him. But he was the author of some of the most recognisable theme tunes of my childhood, including probably the greatest sit-com (if that is what it was), Reginald Perrin with the matchless Leonard Rossiter A sad loss.

A Broken Man

I was walking along the promenade at Portobello, just outside of Edinburgh. It was a cold but fine day and I was on holiday by myself for a week, exploring restaurants, museums, pubs and art galleries and just having some time to myself. But I then suddenly felt an excruciating pain in my back and fell to the pavement. Every way I attempted to move resulted in another bolt of searing pain so I lay there; I don't know for how long. After a while I managed to move myself to the side of the promenade. Being the UK I received no offers of help, but to be honest I don't remember much of the people walking by. I sat upright, leaning against the wall and slowly the mist cleared. I decided to try to stand. After numerous attempts I hobbled my way back to my B&B which fortunately was just along the road. Any unexpected movement and the pain again shot through my body and I had to stay motionless until it passed. I had a friend, a chiropractor, and I called him. He advised me to try some exercises, put ice on my back and try to walk a little. Needless to say the rest of my holiday was a write-off and as soon as I felt well enough I took the nine hour train trip home. When I finally got to see my friend he told me that one of my sacroiliac joints was slightly dislocated and my back muscles had been compensating for this which meant they had been in tension for a long time. What had happened is they had gone into spasm trying to protect the spine and keep me upright. He corrected the leaning and then gave me some exercises to relax the muscles. Within a week I was running around again and I have been a devout fan of chiropractors ever since.

I mention this because, on Saturday, after just finishing painting the bottom of the study door, I felt that same pain as I stood up, not so bad but I knew immediately what it was. I tried those exercises but it was too late and the next two days I spent on my back with ice and stuffing painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs down me like they were Smarties, (please don't mention M&Ms in my presence, not only are they a rip off of Smarties, they are too sweet and the chocolate is crap in comparison). Today I have had to return to work as I have to submit my paper for the ICCE conference; the deadline is tomorrow. Needless to say, work on the house has stopped for a while, although it has given us a chance to sit back and enjoy what we have. It is two months since we bought the house and it has been non-stop work since then. It has also given me a chance to read this book which I bought a long time ago. More on this later.

Revising our Plans

I could feel Ploy getting frustrated; work was going too slow for her, especially as this week I have had to do my day job. Effectively there are fifteen 'rooms' in the house if you count things like hallways and staircases as rooms. There is not a single room that is completely finished yet, even those that are mostly complete still have some finishing touches to be done, the bedroom needs the in-built wardrobe finishing, baseboards fitted and a door handle fitted; you get the idea. As you walk into the house you are met by bare floorboards as this is where the ceramic tiles are to be fitted. To the left is the living room which has no mantle around the fireplace, no baseboards and largely, no furniture. To the right is the study with the unfinished walls, no light; well I could go on. But the unfinishedness of it all is clearly getting to Ploy.

The problem is the magnitude of the job. As we are refurbishing the main bathroom we are temporarily using the basement bathroom, which, to say the least, is in need of some attention. We had been ignoring it up to now, but as you sit on the toilet contemplating life you are aware of a slow drip, drip sound which isn't coming from behind or below you. Ploy wanted me to look at it (the drip-drip sound), so instead of continuing with the bathroom upstairs I agreed. Ploy went to sleep in our unfinished bedroom, this has clearly been preying on her mind and she was exhausted. When she came down a couple of hours later she found a greatly expanded bathroom with two of the walls completely demolished. Demolished is a little strong a term, they disintegrated on me. For who knows how many years, all the moisture from the upstairs bathroom has been seeping into the ceiling and walls of this bathroom. Clearly the owners were aware of it, but rather than stop it at the source, they chose instead to replace patches of the walls. I started by removing the shower cubicle. Once that was removed I noticed black mould. When I prodded that part of the wall with my finger a great slab of what was drywall crumbled on me. It did not take much longer before the two walls and half the ceiling were lying on the floor, most of it black with mould. Even the 2x4" studs crumbled on me. So now we have an open plan basement bathroom, a feature I am sure will catch on, whilst we let the wood dry out. We are putting a waterproof membrane on the bathroom floor upstairs, (DITRA), so the problem shouldn't come back.

This, I think, is the last unexplored area of the house. Ploy has finished sanding, staining and varnishing the hardwood floors in the study and hall so if I can finish the bathroom off, then all the main floor, with the exception of the kitchen, will be finished-ish. More furniture arrives next week which will allow us to clear the second bedroom which Ploy wants to finish. The stairs can be finished this weekend, not too much work there. Dining room and study curtains to be put up, the blind at the front window, the tables for the study, the lights and switches, once fitted, will make it all look just that little more finished. Ploy told me that we can leave the basement and our plans for renting it out or for a B&B until next year which I fully concur with. Lower our targets just a little and we should get there soon.

Renovation Part 14: Autumn arrives

As with almost everything in this house; no, everything, jobs become much more difficult than they seem at first look. Take the bathroom for example. The plan at the beginning of the weekend was to take out the vanity unit and the toilet, strip the tiles off the wall, fit new tiles on the floor and one wall and fit the new vanity unit and the cleaned up toilet. The bath and that side of the bathroom can be done later. But, oh no, it couldn't be that simple could it?

Taking out the vanity unit was not so bad. Taking out the toilet was. All the bolts were rusted into place and took a great deal of brute force and muttering to remove. It is now lying outside in our garden for the squirrels to use. By now I was already exhausted and it was only mid-morning. Ploy sent me off to repair the hardwood floor in the study, something I had successfully avoided for over a week now, while she stripped the tiles. The problem is the hardwood I stripped out of various closets does not exactly match what is already down the floor and I think it looks very noticeable, so every strip I add I step back and spend thirty minutes convincing myself there has to be a better way. I wanted to put ceramic tiles down instead, but Ploy doesn't, (except for our entrance and a small strip to our new built in closet). Anyway I gritted my teeth and finished it off. 'It looks good' said Ploy, "I'll sand it for you and it will look like new'. 'My husband is very clever'. Oh no, I thought, what has happened. Whilst Ploy may think I am clever she always manages to to not say so explicitly, unless there is a problem. 'You come and have a look at this', she coyly invited.

Some of the tiles were gone; so was some of the plasterboard and there were places where I could see through to the kitchen. 'The wall is no good', she helpfully suggested. I threw her one of those 'I told you so' glances, certain that she had been too vigorous removing the tiles. Closer examination showed that the previous owners had used plasterboard and not cement board. The board was soft because of the moisture and it wasn't difficult to pull it off the wall. It certainly wouldn't support the wall tiles we had selected, (which are in fact floor tiles, but we liked them), and some areas were black with mould. There was nothing for it, it all had to come down, or at least the bottom 4ft did. It was now the afternoon and I surveyed the debris that once was our bathroom. Another trip to Home Hardware to buy some cement board. Luckily I asked a question of the Home Hardware chap about cutting the cement board. This was a different ball game completely to the drywall I had been used to and it seemed to require industrial equipment. Luckily he suggested a mould resistant board that was much easier to cut; by the end of the day we had repaired the walls. By now I had expected to have tiled everything and to be ready to put back the units.

I had never tiled before and these porcelain tiles that we liked so much needed water cooled, tungsten carbide saws to touch them; I was already questioning the wisdom of our choice. I started mixing the thin set; Ploy watched me, but there was little for her to do except watch, so I sent her off to have her hair cut, something she has wanted to do for about four months now, (and she failed, the local shop was shut, it being Sunday, and the busses don't run on Sunday, although that didn't stop her waiting for one for over an hour). I tentatively fitted the first tile, certain that it would slip down the wall and drop at my feet. It didn't, and slowly I worked my way along the wall. It was slow progress, but I started to feel more confident the more I did. I stopped, encouraged by Ploy, when the thin set ran out, and we went out to by some socks and shoes for me, something I have wanted to do for over four months now. It is starting to look like a bathroom again. It is a pain having to use the bathroom in the basement so I will have to try and finish in the evenings as, irritatingly, I have some work to do this week.

Telescopes and Boats

In one of our frequent, almost daily, trips to Home Hardware Ploy noticed this shop. I must admit I was intrigued to find a shop like this in Kitchener. There are two play things I have been promising myself when the house is paid for, a boat and a small observatory in the garden. The boat is already settled as we saw this one at the Toronto boat show some time ago. The observatory is more problematic as we have a number of trees in our garden so we have a limited view of the sky; there are also some street lights nearby. But there is a lot of countryside nearby so maybe I can buy a small field somewhere and build the observatory there. Well, we can dream.

Talking of money, I added up our expenditure on the house so far and it came to about $20,000. That does include all the furniture we have had to buy as well, so I guess that is not so bad. But it will take a little while to recover from that; our savings have certainly taken a bashing. With the new company there is no bonus scheme so it is a matter of slow accumulation from my salary. We still need to get the electric fuse panel replaced and we have the kitchen and bathroom to finish, although the latter does not require any large outlay as we are just repainting and re-tiling it, we have already bought a new vanity unit and the bath and toilet can stay.

I have bought a new computer too, this one from Dell. I decided to buy a desktop computer rather than a laptop as the only problems I have had with computers have been with laptops, I guess because of overheating and all the knocks they take. It will mostly stay at home anyway and I have a work laptop if I need to go anywhere. I also ordered XP rather than Vista to ensure all my older software and printer/scanner drivers work OK. It will take about a month to arrive, time enough to finish off the study. Once that arrives I intend to get SingMai going properly. Most of the work on the house should be finished by then and in any case I will probably have to travel to California for work so I won't be able to do much more on the house anyway.

Cricket and Ghosts

James Lawton crystallises exactly what I feel about the travesty of cricket that is currently being played out in South Africa. I know some cricketers, such as Rahul Dravid, have not gone to this 'tournament' but it would have been nice if more high profile players, and ideally teams, had just refused to play instead of endorsing the money grabbing people that are currently ruining cricket to line their pockets. As Lawton writes;

Streamline cricket by all means. Emphasise its allure. But do not destroy its fundamental quality. Do not heap upon us this trashy version which would have made Don Bradman and Denis Compton squirm, which insults all that is best about the game which we know can still, in its highest form, bring whole nations to the edges of their seats. Where Twenty20 brings us is to that novelty shop with the funny masks – and the stink bombs.

This is the American Idol of cricket, but the marketing bandwagon is on its back and I expect it will now be routinely added to a touring team's schedule, which, with the the other one-day games, will eventually oust the test matches from the schedule.

Last night, as we lay in bed, Ploy told me that she heard someone call her name late at night. 'It must have been a dream', I said. No she insisted; and she went on to tell me that she thought it was a good thing, 'this house likes us because we are taking care of it'. Houses have a life, ( ชีวิต - chee-wit), the same as us, she added. She then told me that when she was sleeping in the same room as her father her died in just three days before, she heard him call her and it woke her up. She asked her friend, who was also sleeping in the room, if she had heard anything and the friend said she had also heard Ploy's father call Ploy's name. The friend didn't sleep there again. Ploy also told me that in our rented apartment she heard ghosts, (ผี - pee), brush by her ear, 'not like this house, even when you are not here I am not afraid of this house, we will be happy here'.

 

An Adventure in the making

A good weekend working on the house has left the study nearly finished, the front entrance all painted and the basement laundry room finished. The washing machine we inherited from the previous owners is not working properly but the tumble dryer is fine. Someone should be along soon to look at the stove and the washing machine. Today we have the electricians back to fit another outside light and sort out the lights on our staircases. To avoid all the holes in the walls to run the cables, (the existing cables are such a mess it is impossible to work out what is going on), we are using a radio operated switch; they are a little more expensive but much neater.

The main basement room has also been cleared out and we are now looking at what needs to be done to make the basement legal for renting out. Although a lot of basement apartment rentals don't do this I wouldn't want to have someone's death on my conscious, and we may not have to do too much; the main area of attention appears to be the need to have another exit in case of fire. The window will do but it needs to be a certain size and I'm not sure the one we have is. But if we turn around the basement from what was done before, which makes sense as the bedroom then has the bathroom en-suite, that window can be made larger by excavating some of the garden on the side of the house.

I suggested to Ploy that for our trip to Las Vegas in January we could consider driving and, I thought surprisingly, she was all for it. According to Google it is just over 3,500km which I guess would take about 7 days with us stopping off from time to time. With the week in Las Vegas it would mean us taking about 3 weeks off but it would be a great chance to see America. I have been to Cincinnati and Chicago, although we would only skirt the latter, but I am concerned there may not be enough sites of interest; 3,500km of farmland may get a bit boring after a while. We do pass through Omaha and Denver and it looks like there is some spectacular scenery to enjoy; I shall have to spend some time planning the route. If we do it it will be just over 1 year since we have been in Canada. Christmas in our new house and then a long holiday, I am already excited.

 


Renovations Part 13

It is starting to all come together.

Ploy has nearly finished painting the study. I just have to finish some repairs to the drywall where we knocked the walls down and then we have to refurbish the hardwood floor. I think we have enough hardwood floor in the closets to be able to repair the patch that is missing and we were thinking of putting some ceramic tile by the entrance doorway which reduces the amount of hardwood I need to find, but also makes the entrance a little more of a feature.

The basement kitchen is now usable and we will have our first meal there tonight. The stove has come up like new, albiet two of the burners are not working but we have been given the name of someone who can look at that for us. We have had electricians in for a couple of days, mainly to find out why a fuse is always blowing, but also as a chance to remedy the various 'add-ons' that have been done. The furnace room is now usable and plumbed and wired up for use as a washroom. This weekend we can move the washing machine and dryer there, (after some cleaning and painting), which will save the visits to the laundrette.

The fireplace has been installed and we are now waiting for the mantle to be measured. I wasn't that impressed with the people that installed it and they have left me to make a new return vent for the furnace which the fireplace blocked off. That's a bit of cheek after paying over $5000! I have fears of making a large hole in the floor which ends up being a peephole into the basement bathroom. But we have had the luxury of sitting in the living room with the gentle warmth of the fireplace for a couple of evenings now, (it is already a bit chilly in the evening), and it is lovely.

The electricians we used were Home-Pro and they gave great service. They are coming back on Monday to try to sort out all the lights in the basement and the stairways. At the moment it is a case of guess what switch operates what light. There are six lights and three switches for the lights in the basement living room and the two way switch for the stairs up to the bedroom is a one way at the moment. Later we have to have our fuse panel replaced. I was aware it was a mess and the inspector mentioned we might need to upgrade it. It will feel better to have trips rather than fuses anyway, eight fuses for the whole house didn't seem enough. We will also have surge protection and ground fault interruptors fitted. It is not cheap and it is one of those jobs that doesn't add obvious glamour to the house as painting or the fireplace does, but it is definitely worth doing to sleep soundly at night.

This weekend it will be a case of tidying up and finishing lots of small things; the floor and baseboards in the basement kitchen and dining room, curtains for the dining room, a few switches to be changed to our preferred black rocker style which we are using throughout the house, cutting out that return register for the furnace, repairing the floor in the hall and the study, making the new entrance hall floor, finishing the furnace room etc. etc. If we can get time we will also make a start on the bathroom. Usually we end up only doing a fraction of all that.

Sashimi

Quite an exciting day today. This morning the electrician comes to sort out things in the basement whilst this afternoon we have our fireplace installed. Yesterday we had the gas people in to change the regulator on our meter to ensure there is no problem with the proximity to the fireplace vent. Yesterday Ploy also painted the study which has made a big difference to the feel of downstairs and means the study is nearly ready to use, although we do need to sort out what to do with a patch of missing hardwood floor. We also have made the decision to not make so many changes to the bathroom which means I can just get on with stripping the old tiles and linoleum floor this weekend. We have already bought a new vanity unit as it was on offer in our preferred hardware store, Home Hardware.They also give air miles which is nice, (although for lighting we go to Home Depot as they have the best choice).

We had a fantastic meal out last night at this Japanese restaurant. The Maki rolls and the Sashimi were quite exceptional, all washed down with Sapporo beer.

And yes, I did send my art history dissertation; a big weight off my mind. I will know the result just before Christmas.

Surprisingly I have reached the quota on my website, 100MB. I wanted to put up some more photos of Canada so I have had to ask the options for increasing it. I still use this company for hosting, even though I am now in Canada, as I find them excellent with little or no downtime and prompt technical support.

The paper I submitted to the ICCE conference has been accepted for the poster session. This means that I don't have to present but I just I just answer questions, if asked, during the break sessions of the conference. It is still rather prestigious though and I feel quite chuffed. Las Vegas here we come.

The Final Post

It is raining outside. It is Sunday, and today I have promised myself it is the last day for my dissertation, so I am working through all my tutor's notes whilst listening to my i-Pod in shuffle mode and trying to get everything ready for posting on Monday. They say Mozart's music helps the brain but I wonder what effect Shostakovich's 5th symphony will have, or Bjork for that matter?

There was some live music at our local bar last night, (well, not so local any more), so Ploy and I went to have a listen; Ian Taylor, clearly an accomplished guitarist, played mostly blues, but was not really to our taste, although it made a nice night out. However the table next to us was populated by, what I was told, was a mildly successful group of American football players. The news item on the TV turned to Pavarotti's funeral and one of the men stood up in respect. It was a surprising gesture. As he sat down he said, "That man could sing his arse off". I couldn't have put it better myself. His comment also drew consensus from his friends as well.

I managed to find a review of that Pavarotti performance of Otello that I mention below.

The house is coming along well again. It took the best part of an hour to paint each section of the front windows, three hours in total times two coats of primer and two coats of top coat, all done in temperatures of over 30degC. And then when I removed the tape that helps stop me painting on the glass it peeled off the paint where I had painted too soon onto the new putty, so I have to go back and repair that. Anyway is is mostly done and it was a real chore but it does look much better. After a couple of days last week where the house seemed to be getting the better of us, two full time days have got us back on track. The fireplace should be being fitted in the next week or two and then someone comes and measures and custom builds the corner mantle around it. It should make a real feature of the living room. I have also nearly finished repairing the walls in the study so that we can start painting this week. Ploy has done a great job in the kitchen; she has cleaned and lined all the cupboards and filled them with all our stuff, painted all the walls and today is cleaning the stove and fridge. However it seems we need to find an electrician. Some of the outlets do not work in the basement and yesterday I finally decided to find out why. Having identified the fuse that seemed to be at fault, on replacing it it spectacularly blew so something is amiss. When I was younger I would have had a look into this but these days anything over 5V, or maybe 12V at a push, is the most I will dabble with. To think I used to work on 20kV klystrons and magnetrons without blinking; I have become a bit of a pussy.

The Last of the Titans

It had an inevitability about it. Pancreatic cancer, frequent hospital visits and no public appearances for a man that appeared to adore the public. But it still comes as a shock. The greatest tenor of the last twenty five years has died. I have heard him only once live, albeit it was a concert performance of Otello at Carnegie Hall in New York, one of only ten such performances he ever gave if I remember correctly. He was supposed to have had a cold and the rumours were the earlier performances were not so good. And, truth be told, he didn't blow me away in what was a subdued performance I felt, rather studied and under-powered. But it wasn't his opera and I still had Del Monaco and Martinelli versions ringing in my ears. But without a doubt, his performances of Donizetti, and his extraordinary performances of Ah mes amis, Tosca, La Boheme and Il Travotore (again a little stretched but that wonderful free top of the voice allowed him to sing it live), mark him as a tenor of the highest calibre, to be rated along with the very best there has ever been. The voice could caress and yet could thrill; can there ever have been a tenor who so rightly can claim to be the King of the C's? In this obituary it is so sad, and so indicative our age, that there are still people that have to write, 'Although some opera "purists" did not regard him as one of the great tenors'. Why, because he didn't sing Wagner, or had a relatively small repertoire, or was a bad actor, (although he could act with his voice). Well those claims can also be put at the feet of Caruso, who was also booed at La Scala. Hindsight will prove that Pavarotti was the last great tenor. Today, in the quick fix, 'anyone can be a star' mentality no-one is prepared to spend the years of training required to develope nature's gift into something unique and special. No-one is prepared to wait for the voice to mature; everyone wants that Nessun Dorma belted out without a thought for the lyrics or for the meaning. Today, opera died.

Any excuse will do

I had scolded myself for not working on my dissertation as it is just so much more fun working on the house. But the last weekend was a long weekend, (Labour Day), so last weekend I had promised to lock myself away at work and work on the essay. By lunch time on Saturday I had done everything but work on the essay, but I had printed out the latest version and started marking it up so I decided, with everything else out of the way, I would come in fresh on Sunday with no distractions. So I went home, (detouring to buy one of those seats that sit at the bottom of your bed which Ploy had spotted when we were looking for a sofa, although we are now using it as a foot rest in the sitting room), and with Ploy bought the laminate flooring for the basement kitchen and the curtains for the sitting room, and then did some painting. Sunday I came into work but the network was down and the first thing I had intended to do was search for an elusive article in the university database. That threw me completely, I couldn't even check the cricket scores, so I was home by 9.00a.m. and spent the day laying the floor and trying to finish the kitchen so we can use it. Monday I didn't even make the effort to come in, and instead I finished a bit of painting off and then did some work tidying the front garden and pulling down the storm windows on the the first floor. It was meant to be a couple of hours work but turned into a whole day but what a difference that has made, and we have also removed some of the lower branches of the fir tree at the front to lighten up the look of the house and also stop you being flagellated as you walk up the path.

So here I am at work on Tuesday, with a pile of stuff to do, a dissertation which must be sent early in the week of the 10th September at the latest, and still no network and no-one here to fix the problem either, (it seems the problem is the switchover from the old company's to the new company's network). Never mind, the coffee machine is working and my dissertation is a local copy, so no excuse then, the Gods have conspired to put everything in my favour to finish the essay. Unless, of course, I just popped home to replaced the putty in the front windows and started painting them while the weather is dry!

A House becomes a Home

I so wanted to move to Singapore. From the first time I visited there, on business, everything about the place, its westernised orientalism, its weather, the people, I wanted to live and work there. I occasionally used to eat at a steak restaurant overlooking the river. At this time Ploy and I were living in the UK, but as I sat outside, watching the boats trundle up and down the river and watching the sheet lightning illuminate the skyscrapers, all I could think of was how could I manage to get a job here so we could move out of the UK. We both hated the UK except for the fact that we had bought a house there, a house we were proudly renovating; but outside of of our sanctuary there were hooligans throwing things at our window, neighbours that required frequent visits from the police, and for all its apparent security, a house that was burgled on our first day before we had even moved in when they had attempted to steal the oven but had taken all our tools that we had left there.

So when I managed to secure a job in Singapore, with little regret, we got on that plane and started an adventure. And we both liked Singapore, a lot to begin with, but it wasn't able to give us what we wanted, a home. We kept talking of buying an HDB apartment, but both of us really wanted a garden and a home that did not have neighbours on all sides. A house in Singapore, apart from a few that only the very rich could afford, was expensive but little more than a rabbit hutch, so close were the neighbouring houses. The apartments were actually bigger and it seemed that houses were nothing more than status symbols on the ladder from an HDB apartment, to a condominium, to a house. And I hated my job there. So then came the offer of a job in California.

We were ready to move on by then. I had tried to find another job in Singapore, after all we were only two hours flight away from Thailand and we had a 'real' house there, so if I could find a job where I didn't think every day of increasingly exotic ways to kill some colleagues, maybe we things could work out. But I didn't get one reply. So this offer seemed perfect, a job that came to me rather than the other way round. But first, because of the lengthy wait for work permits in the US, I was to work in Canada. At the time it was to be only a stop gap. But Canada has grown on us, unlike the excitement I felt moving to Singapore; Canada has wormed its way into our system.

Last night Ploy called me out from the back of the house. Our new neighbours were passing by, walking their dogs. We chatted for at least thirty minutes, played with the dogs, it was balmy 22degC and a little humid, the insects were chirping their gossip from the trees, and after we left them to continue their walk, we went back into our house, our detached house with its nice garden, (well, will be nice garden), with its demolished bathroom and kitchen, but its beautiful quiet, airy bedroom, its increasingly lovely living room, and we look at the transformation we have achieved in just one month. Yesterday we moved the last of our belongings across from our rented house and gave back the keys. It feels like a home, and Canada feels like our home. Things have been up and down with the job, and our visa situation is not so certain, but we have a home, at last, and now we start the next chapter of our lives.

Renovations Pt.12

Yesterday was a very fruitful day. Ploy painted the entire stairwell to the basement and the basement kitchen. She was painting almost non-stop for 8 hours. And what a difference that has made. From dark and dingy we now a bright clean entrance to the basement, and a kitchen that is nearly ready to be used in anger.

Whilst Ploy was doing this I decided to do the last major renovation work by demolishing a wall or two in what will be my study. When you enter the house the front door only partially opens and you have to enter to the left into the living room. To the right used to be a ridiculously small, essentially unusable, closet and behind that a wardrobe to what I wanted to be the study but was being previously used as child's bedroom. I had knocked out the closet and taken the doors off of the wardrobe so we could allow the light in into the study room as whoever had built the wardrobe had cleverly blocked off a window in doing so. What was wrong with just buying a wardrobe I can't imagine. Anyway I had wanted to knock down the arch framework to the wardrobe and the rest of the dividing wall so the front door could open fully and we have a full view of the window. Although the walls were not structural you wouldn't have guessed it from the way they were constructed, but four hours of hard demolition later and we suddenly had a bright, much larger, study. I left a little of the wall, partly to give some privacy to the room and also to divide off a small area to make a larger closet for the outdoor clothes. It was a very satisfactory day's work. Today I hope to repair and prime the room, and get rid of the revolting floor tiles to reveal, I hope, more hardwood floor.

The rest of yesterday was spent cleaning the bathroom and and moving all the junk and tools into the basement so the house feels more like a home than a building site. We managed to track down some furniture Monday, although it took all day, and luckily one item, a two seater sofa, will be delivered today. So tonight we are planning for it to be the first in our new house, hence all the cleaning. The bathroom is usable, in fact the bath and toilet, which we hadn't intended on replacing anyway, have come up really well. The kitchen still needs gutting, but we have the one downstairs for now.

We tried a new Thai restaurant last night which we had noticed a sign for by the highway as we traversed the city looking for a sofa. It was the first authentic Thai menu we had seen and the restaurant was nicely decorated. Our first dish, a mango salad, yum ma muang, was genuinely spicy and quite delicious, but it went a bit downhill from there, nothing really wrong, but not special. The couple that own it are from Bangkok. The disappointing thing though was there was no-one there. One other couple, and later two single people and that was it, for a restaurant that could, at a guess, seat sixty. Ploy came back from chatting to them and I said, why don't they let us help market the restaurant for them. Ploy got straight out her seat and starting talking nine to the dozen. By the end of the evening it was agreed, I would look at the possibilities for marketing the restaurant and Ploy would look at helping them in the kitchen. We have kept saying we wanted to start our own Thai restaurant some day, maybe this is our chance to dip our toe in the water.

Renovations Pt.11

Yesterday was a frustrating day for me and we also had our first setback on the renovations. After two phone calls to check the delivery time for the sofa and being told that it is coming, but it could be as late as 8.00p.m., I received a call at 5.30p.m. Sunday to say it wouldn't be coming at all because they had found a scratch on it.

How strange, given that it was already on the lorry! Worse news was they didn't have another one so we now have everything ready to start moving into the house, but nowhere to sit.

So today we need to urgently start looking for another sofa, but not at that company. We ordered the damn thing about three months ago and at that time it was in stock; in fact they said order it now because they may not be able to get the same one again. Never mind, at least they had only had a $100 deposit from us, something I have to wait until Tuesday to get back apparently as the boss is not there on Mondays.

What I had assumed to be weeds in our front garden have turned out to be sunflowers.

I didn't get much done yesterday despite my best laid plans. The cable TV guy came so we now have a phone, the Internet and cable TV in four rooms with two set top boxes; Ploy will soon be able to watch CSI in the bedroom. And the bedroom is looking quite luxurious with the new curtains and bedding; it is quite a transformation as the before photo doesn't really do justice to how bad it was. And I have nearly finished the built in wardrobe, (there was one there already but like everything in this house is was incapable of fulfilling the function it was intended for, so it needed gutting, painting and then appropriate shelving and clothes hangers put in). And Ploy did a fantastic job cleaning the basement kitchen out and getting rid of all the mould on the floors. It took her all day and she worked like a Trojan; the poor girl was completely knackered by the end of it. My plans today were to start finishing off my dissertation, which has only ten days left before it needs to be sent, and getting back into a more regular routine at work. But we have to move out of our rented place by Friday and there is still too much to be done, so I think I will aim for the long weekend coming to finish the essay and concentrate instead on the house this week. So near and yet....

Renovations Pt.10

We went to a party last night. We wouldn't have gone except that we had promised to make the food and it didn't seem fair to back out at the last minute. but the signs were not good. We had talked about the menu for a while, but the commitments on the house, and Ploy getting some (justifiable) negative feelings about the host, meant she wasn't as committed as she had been, and the menu got cut down to just three items. However the first of these needed us to order some special Thai curry sauce (Penang) from the local Laos supermarket, (which is up for sale and we have been thinking, in a round about way, of making an offer on), which hadn't arrived, so we had a last minute change of plans. We then decided to get our hair cut so we waited in Ploy's favourite place with a photo from a magazine. There were two people cutting hair, neither of them the owner who Ploy teased was 'an astonishingly beautiful Vietnamese girl', both with customers, and just one person waiting, so we sat down and waited too. And we waited. And waited. Thirty minutes later we left the shop; still one person waited and they were still cutting the hair of the original customers. It looked like they were cutting the hairs one at a time; I fully expect to pass by and see them still cutting the same time next week. So we went home and I made some kitchen rules; we don't work well together in the kitchen and we have a rule, Western food it is me, Thai food it is Ploy. But time was already short so it needed both of us. So I assigned myself the chopping and cutting and peeling operations and Ploy all the cooking. So the first thing she did was start cutting up some vegetables. We did manage to get things ready without divorce proceeding being instigated, just one and a half hours behind schedule and with only two menu items, albeit substantial ones, and as it tuned out it was more than enough food anyway. I crossed my own kitchen boundary limits and started cooking the Tod Man Pla (Thai fishcakes) but I wasn't doing it right from the first, apparently. Anyway I had to admit, to Ploy's equal mix of satisfaction and annoyance, they didn't turn out that well and they were taking an age to cook, one of the 'benefits' of cooking of electric. So we abandoned them and after a cool five minutes in the car everything was back to normal. Ploy and I spent most of the time in the host's kitchen preparing the food, serving the food, and adding the final touches - you can't add the dry cooked rice to larb moo (Thai salad of minced pork, shallots, mint, dried chilli dry fried rice and spring onions), too soon or it goes all soggy and stops you getting that nice crunch in the salad and if you add the hor la pa (Thai holy basil) too soon to the gaeng nor mai gai (red curry with bamboo shoots and chicken) it goes black - and petting their huge black labrador dog called Buddy. There were lots of compliments on the food and I enjoyed watching macho males with tattoos eating a moderately spicy Thai dish, after many exhortations they really like spicy food and can take whatever we deliver, without being seen to blow their noses or mop their bright purple brows in public. We left at 10.30 with a thunderstorm raging and I promptly drove up the wrong side of the street, luckily with only gentle protestations from Ploy and no other traffic around; the first time I have done that since I came to Canada. The point of this story is that the mint for the larb moo came from our garden which really makes it feel like a home now. Next we we have promised to do something with our apple tree which is laded with some misshapen but edible looking apples.

The dining table and bed have been delivered - the latter not without some fuss. The father-son Chinese combination that came to deliver the bed took one look at our stairwell and said, first in Mandarin, and then in English, something along the lines of "no way is that mattress going to fit up there". It was only a matter of seconds before the father, who appeared to speak no English at all, started assessing heightening the entrance to our stairs. The son translated, "do you have an electric saw, we can just saw through the plasterboard and you will have another foot to your stair entrance. I don't know why it is so low anyway". I called Ploy but by the time she was up to speed, in Mandarin, a claw hammer was making an exploratory hole in my newly painted hallway walls. Fifteen minutes later and it was clear that that lintel that supported the upstairs hallway probably should remain. So we had an impasse. Ploy managed to get something done that I had dismally failed to do; to try it anyway. Now I know that the scientist in me had measured the gap and indeed, the mattress was one foot too wide and it was a firm mattress that was not given to bending much, if at all. The son explained that if they tried this and we broke the mattress then there would be no comeback. But we were not going to give up on our king size bed and with the aid of some strapping to bend the mattress it only took ten minutes of grunting, a minor foot injury to yours truly, and a lot of sweat, to get the mattress up the stairs, without harm to the mattress. The bed and dining table were then assembled whilst I swept up my hallway wall. One more thing to be repaired.

On Monday we will order the fireplace. It is $5000 in total which is more than we wanted to pay, but we get some help from the Kitchener gas board by way of interest free payments for a year, but it really will make the place look special. We have chosen a corner mantle which will also allow the TV to be sat there and it will make a change for the centre point of the room to not be hub of 'entertainment' as is so usual these days. It will also mean we will be warm this winter. Ploy has started work in earnest on the basement kitchen floor, ripping up two layers of tiles and in some places an additional layer of carpet which had separated itself into a smelly dark red cloth upper and a black fragmented base which was little more than dust, mixed with what is probably an interesting variety of moulds. More fodder for the garage dump which is getting increasingly full up. Underneath the luxurious carpet is the original concrete which looks fine and just needs a clean. It is already looking brighter and smelling cleaner. The kitchen should get its first coat of primer paint today and the lounge floor should get its three coats of varnish. Today the curtains will be purchased for the bedroom which means we will be able to sleep there on the Sunday night, should we wish. The end is in sight.

Renovations Pt.9

Our bed and dining table arrive today so we have been concentrating on getting those rooms ready which has mostly involved getting the floors finished. Particularly in the bedroom, where there is less wear, the floors have come up really well. We just used a light stain to even up the colour and yesterday we put down the three coats of varnish. We are really pleased with the result.

Because we didn't want to create any dust while the varnish was drying we moved to the basement yesterday and started work on the stairs and the kitchen which we need to use temporarily. The kitchen is responding well, it is just very dirty and there are couple of things that needs fixing, like the sink, but other than that a few coats of white paint, and a new floor, will see it better than new.

I have sent the draft of my dissertation off to my tutor for the final comments. That leaves me with about three weeks to tune the essay before it sent for its final marking. Now the house is coming together I can spend some time on it over the next couple of weekends. To be honest the whole Masters has been a pain and I will be glad to finish it. I just hope the essay passes as I don't fancy repeating the year, or worse be left with nothing to show after all that work.

We have been invited to a party on Friday and Ploy has volunteered to cook Thai food, so Friday will be a sort of day off for us. We need to get the floor finished in the living room today ready for the sofa and cable TV which comes on Sunday; Saturday I want to work on my essay. Next week we will move into the house after I have put up some curtains here and there. It will then be getting back to normal with work on the house restricted to evenings and weekends.

Renovations Pt.8

Work on the house has been steady. Ploy has been painting the hallway, stairs and upstairs landing. One aspect of the downstairs hallway cannot be painted as that requires the bathroom to be finished first, but we are well on course to have the bedroom, living room and dining room finished for the arrival of the furniture on Thursday and Sunday. On Sunday we also have our cable TV and internet connected. I have been working on restoring the hardwood floors in those three rooms. I have managed to avoid sanding the whole floor thereby circumventing enshrouding the whole house in dust, and have been using a varnish remover and a lot of hard work with a brush to remove the 60 years of grime that is imprinted in the wood. They have come up quite well so far, much better than I could have hoped for. We also have new lamp shades and switches. Sometime this coming week I need to fit curtain rails and baseboards (as they are called here, or skirting boards in the UK), but we are very happy with our work so far and are looking forward to our first night in the house. Once we move in we can slowly restore the bathroom, kitchen and office. The bathroom is serviceable and we can use the kitchen in the basement for now. Today we had someone come and give us an estimate for fitting a gas fireplace in the lounge. Apart from looking good it will make the house much cosier and warmer in the winter and we can save money compared with having the gas furnace, which is fifteen years old, working so hard all the time.

I went out and bought a new printer on Saturday so I can print out colour copies of my art history dissertation. I had intended to buy a ink jet as usual, but I found a good bargain on a colour laserjet printer from HP, $359, and it can do 2000 pages on one set of toners, much more than an ink jet can. It was always a bind replacing the cartridges all the time and although the cartridges are expensive at $100 each or $400 the set, the printer comes with a full set so I shouldn't have to worry about that for a while.

Sad news on Friday was the death of Alan Blythe, the music critic from the Gramophone magazine. He, together with John Steane, were partially responsible for introducing me to the historical singers that I love so much, and particularly Martinelli, Ponselle and Muzio. His reviews were always insightful and, in a way, I felt like I knew the man. I would have loved the opportunity to spend an evening with him listening and discussing music.

Another piece of sad news is the 25th birthday of the compact disc. I say sad because in some ways it started the demise of one the great electronics companies, Philips. When I was working in electronics then, I viewed Philips as a respected company, one who was innovative and clever, who clearly had clever engineers and a management that respected the engineer's ideas. New products just flowed out them, and whether you wanted to buy resistors, capacitors, memory ICs, or TVs or radios, or CD players, they were the company that came to mind. They produced some great CDs themselves through their music production arm. But since then, the passive components have been sold off, the semiconductor division has gone, the music business was sold, and the flow of innovative new products has virtually ceased. If you think new ideas you now think of Samsung or Apple. Philips has now become a marketing led company and the only new things to flow from it are new slogans for old products. I must be getting old, but I am sure the way it used to work was the engineers came up with new ideas and sales, (as they were then called), picked up that idea, worked with the engineers to hone it for the customer, and sold it. If you are marketing led how can you ever come up with new ideas, all you can do is copy someone else's idea and change the colour of the buttons, (or make a new slogan for it). It is the scientists and engineers that have the vision to make something that might be in someone's home or car in ten or twenty years time. The problem is might be of course, there are no sure hits and that is what companies and their shareholders want. So short-termism comes in and everything is just edged forward, or not edged forward at all. It is a shame to see the demise of such a great company. It is probably no coincidence that Philips was started by two engineers (as most technology companies are), but as their and their son's influence weakened we see the dross that is today's management run it into the ground.

As an aside to that, the CD that helped establish the format was Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms. The base guitarist from that group, John Illsley, owned my local pub in the new Forest, the East End Arms and you would often see him in there. Once Mark Knopfler was also there. I don't suppose they remember me, but I was helping cooking in the kitchen then and I remember serving them; John once commented that my leak-au-gratin dish was fabulous. John once came in to the pub with Cherie Lunghi who I had a soft spot for, on TV at least; in the flesh she was completely different and rather aloof and I have never felt the same about her since.

Renovations Pt.7

I suddenly got worried that we were falling behind with our schedule and the house wouldn't be ready for the furniture next week. I wrote a list of the things that needed to be done before the furniture arrived and it was twenty items long, and some of them were not trivial. It isn't helped by the fact that I was only working part-time on the house and once again Ploy had to take a day off because of her over-exertions the day before. So I prioritised the list. The bathroom and kitchen can wait. We can use the kitchen in the basement for now and the bathroom is functional, (and there is also another in the basement). The main things is to get the rooms ready that the furniture will sit in and not have any jobs left that will create a huge mess, such as sanding the floors. So I took a day off work yesterday after having been awake since 3.30a.m. worrying about this, and spent the entire day painting. By the time Ploy joined me I had primed everything at least once and Ploy set to work on the colours; we have chosen a mustard yellow for the walls and a chocolate brown for the wood all through downstairs and up the stairs, (the bathroom and kitchen will be different). I finished painting the front and side doors and primed the door frames. By the end of the day we are ready for the second coat, which Ploy will do today, and I can finish the door frames and windows tomorrow: compare the photo of the dining room on the right with the one below. The big job left is the floors, which we can do over the weekend. Having had some success with the varnish removing chemicals in the bedroom, where the floors are much better, I was thinking of trying to do much the same with downstairs as it creates much less mess. It also means we don't have to get the office ready and that floor is covered in vinyl which, if it is like the hallway, was a real pain to remove. So I feel now we will be ready, and I will take a different approach to working as the part-time working is far less effective than the full-time attack. So today is a full-time day at work, and tomorrow or Saturday will be a full-time attack on the house.

We have been thinking about the basement. We were talking about renting it out as it has two quite large rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. We can't rent out two rooms as the bathroom is off what you would consider the lounge. However there is a very large cupboard off the 'bedroom' which could be made into a shower/toilet room. So instead of renting we are thinking of doing bed and breakfast, assuming we can get the required permits. I moved to B&B when I came here and while I was looking for somewhere to rent. There are not many places around, and certainly not many that offer two en-suite rooms with their own shared kitchen. I don't like the idea of B&B if people are swarming over your house all the time, as happened with the place I stayed at, but here we can just stock up the kitchen and let people help themselves, (the idea of a hearty cooked breakfast certainly didn't occur where I was as breakfast constituted help yourself cold meats and cheese and some cereal and that was that). Of course they could cook some eggs and bacon if they wanted or even an evening meal. The basement has its own entrance so we hardly need to know people are there, just a bit of day to day cleaning and bed-making; we have a large parallel parking standing area in our garden and a bus stop just opposite us. I will slowly look into the B&B rules and regulations but I think we may have something. I paid $75/night for my B&B, If we can just keep 50% occupancy each month our income would be twice our mortgage. Maybe it is wishful thinking, but it is worth the effort I think, we have to do the basement soon as it smells which pervades the whole house.

Renovations Pt.6

It is now 12 days into our renovation. This week I have to go back to work, because I have just one week to finish my art history dissertation, but also because I actually have some work to do as the new company has endorsed the project I am working on and they now want to have that work completed, but there are only three of us now to complete what was marginal with seven. But we have got the house to the point where Ploy can finish the painting in the dining room, with its rather strange mural and disgusting filthy walls, and the lounge. It means she has to take the bus to the house, but she is only full of praise for the busses here; she tells me that as she changed bus from the No.9 to the No.8 which involves crossing a road and walking 50m to the bus stop, the first bus radioed the second to tell it to wait for Ploy as it was about to leave; real old fashioned service. She already has got two coats of primer on the walls and today I would guess she will have the ceilings done and have one more coat done on the walls that needed the most repair. A few little things have also been done; the bedroom has had its finals coat of paint, and it has a new lampshade and light switch and wall sockets. We have finally worked out how to make the best of space in the bathroom but we need a plumber to say how feasible, and expensive, it will be, as we need to move the toilet. And we have finally moved the chest freezer out the garage; I had tried to move it before but it got stuck in the stairwell that leads out the side entrance. That was convenient as it blocked the door, which in any case was not shutting properly. But it made getting to the basement difficult and I was increasingly have to go there to shut off the water or electric. Anyway, rather than try to move it from its wedged position we just took the door off and thirty minutes later it was in the garage. One hour later and the door was shutting properly again and it had its first coat of primer. We have also removed the storm doors; a lot of houses here have storm doors, but they are real pain in my view as you come back to the house with shopping and to negotiate not one door, but two, to get into your house. I know they help to keep the weather out in the winter but too late, they and the storm windows that prevent any fresh air coming into the house are going, for good. When it is -30degC outside we made review that decision! We went into town on Saturday to have some Japanese food. We are eating out most nights as it is easier when we are working so hard to not have to prepare the food and more importantly clear up afterwards. We had forgotten but the high street was closed off for a blues festival. So we stood and listened the excellent Douglas Watson R&B revue for an hour after we had feasted on sashimi and maki. The festival was on for three days and was free. Several vendors were selling stuff in the vicinity and there was a real party feel to it, helped by the gorgeous summer evening weather; it was definitely the right decision to move to Canada.

Renovations Pt.5

The last two days have seen some real progress. The main bedroom just needs the final coat of paint and then the floor can be sanded and re-varnished. Yesterday we bought the accessories, the bezels for the light fittings and wall sockets, new door handles and a new lamp fitting. It took three hardware shops before we found what we wanted. I think it is a job well done though as Ploy is really taken with it and every time she comes into the room she says 'suay', meaning beautiful in Thai. Downstairs the dining room and the living room have been readied for paint primer; the living room in particular has taken some time as it needed quite a bit of repair to the plaster walls and the sash windows had been painted shut, (why?), and I had to take them apart to be able to free them.

We have also bitten the bullet and decided to remodel the bathroom as we want to knock out a cupboard to give it more room and it didn't seem to make sense to do this after we had painted the two rooms either side of it. So I have cautiously started finding out what wall is needed and what can be pulled down. We will have to work around the chimney as it is a big job to take that down. I hope to finish that today and after we have cleared up the mess we can start the painting. We have also arranged for the furniture to be delivered on the 23rd August so we need most things to be in place by then; it is a bit tight time wise because of my dissertation deadline, but we should be able to do it although the kitchen, second bedroom and basement will have to be done later. By furniture we actually have a bed, a sofa and a dining table, the rest will have to come later, but it is enough to be able to move in. The kitchen is now the big job that is left as its renovation was curtailed by my injury, which is much better now, thank you for asking! There is a kitchen in the basement and we could use that for a while until the main one is completed. This weekend I was thinking of finishing the outside painting as it has been raining quite a lot recently and this weekend is supposed to be dry; I don't want to be working outside if the weather is starting to turn.

Renovations Pt.4

I am a wounded soldier. When I was throwing one of the old kitchen cabinets into the dump that was our garage, one of the thousands of nails that are all over the house gashed open my hand. Judging by the blood pouring out I thought I might have to go to the hospital for a stitch or two, but luckily some pressure stopped the flow and upon inspection it didn't look so bad. It did mean we had an early day on Sunday, and on Monday, a holiday here in Canada, I stopped pulling the kitchen apart and instead concentrated on some other less physical pursuits. The kitchen has a rather unique four layers of wall covering, each on top of the other, including tile, wallpaper, (the original covering I think), and some hardwood; the floors seem to be similarly endowed. But we have managed to paint our front door, (it took six layers!); I had removed the storm door so I thought it needed doing as it was now exposed to the elements. Ploy chose the colour, departing from our creamy plan to choose a vibrant lime green, but I must admit it is quite striking. Ploy has finished all the priming of the bedroom and is very pleased with herself; today she will start on the colours, a dark blue, darker than I thought we would choose, and cream. We have also spent some time looking around the garden and have found a patch of herbs, including mint, dill and savory which is nice, although like everything else it needs some loving care. My next job is to get the front living room to a state which can be painted but today I need to get some work done on my dissertation as there are only two weeks today before the draft is submitted. I hope to spend the first part of the day on that and later in the afternoon help Ploy in the house.

Renovations Pt.3

Yesterday was one of those days when not a lot seemed to get done. It was painting preparation day for the main bedroom and those days always take longer than expected; as my father always said, painting is 90% preparation and 10% actual painting. However by the end of the day we had filled the numerous small holes and had the first coat of primer on the walls. We intend to paint both bedrooms the same colour, dark blue for the lower part of the sloping attic walls and the walls around the windows and doors and an off-white, buff colour for everything else. I have read blue is a good colour for bedrooms as it is relaxing but we didn't want it too light because of it feeling cold in the winter. There is no danger of that at the moment as the temperatures are well over 30degC by the afternoon; I shall be disappointed if I haven't lost 10kg by the end of this. All of the windows in the house seem original but only one is in a really bad state. Someone has fitted some really ugly outer panes of glass which limits the ability of get any air in the house but has protected the wood of the sash windows. When we have finished inside the house we intend to remove the outer panes and paint the old windows; there is only one window where the wood is rotten, although the two small basement windows also need replacing, probably because of the winter snow piled against it. I spent most of yesterday preparing the second bedroom and trying to get rid of the vinyl on the hardwood floors downstairs which is proving a real bugger to get off; I just chip away a centimetre at a time but it should be finished today. So after a long day, upstairs at least, we are starting to put it back together; Ploy seemed very impressed with her work after the primer was on. After long days working we tend to eat out in the evening after having a shower in our rented house. However yesterday we decided to eat on the way home. I am not sure what the people in the restaurant thought as two bedraggled, sweaty, paint-spotted individuals slumped down in their seats, sighed deeply, and just sat wearily looking at each other, inspecting our various bruises and cuts and scratches, albeit with smiles on our faces.

Renovations Pt.2

Ploy had to take a day off yesterday. As usual she tried to do everything in one day and her legs hurt her so much after all the bending and stretching to remove the wallpaper that she couldn't walk up or down stairs! She was a bit better yesterday and I couldn't persuade her to take another day off. One of the bedrooms is nearly ready for painting, we got rid of two tall fir trees that were right by the stairs up to the front door, and we have moved all the kitchen appliances out into the garage; today the rest of the kitchen should be demolished. As you open the front door to the house, to the right was a ridiculously narrow cupboard. In the room to the right, which will become my office but was a child's bedroom there was a built in wardrobe. What someone had done was block off the entrance to the right as you entered the house and also blocked off a window. So I have started demolishing the cupboard, which will give another 18 inches to the room, plus a window and will make the whole front of the house much more airy. I had to go and buy a sledge hammer, but I haven't had the fun of knocking the walls down yet, maybe today or tomorrow. There are hardwood floors all through the house, even in the bottom of cupboards, but some have been covered over with vinyl tiles so I am trying to get rid of them so we can restore the floors. The floors in the bedroom are really good and just need the varnish replaced to clean them up. The mystery of why certain cupboard depths didn't match the outer walls length was solved yesterday when we found the house still has a chimney running through the centre of it. That means our plans to knock out a cupboard to give our bathroom more space have been temporarily thwarted. Although it was a longer term plan we also wanted to make a bathroom upstairs, but we will have the same problem. The chimney is not in the loft so it must have been capped at some point in the past. In any case we will leave that for a while. We spoke with the next door but one neighbour yesterday; he came across as Ploy struggled getting the washing machine out to the garage whilst I supervised. He has lived in his house for 36 years and he told us a bit about the area and also told us the house was built in 1948, older than the house inspector had indicated. He seemed a nice chap and offered us help if we needed it. That bodes well for the future.

This article from the Independent newspaper crystallises the Las Vegas experience. Disneyland for the corrupted is what he calls it and I am ashamed to say I loved my visit there and so did Ploy. Everything is fake, from the statue of liberty to the Eiffel tower; it is the very opposite of what we usually enjoy but for some reason we couldn't get enough of it. Luckily our January excesses will be tempered by the conference and exhibition I will attend, but I can't deny I am looking forward to the trip.

Renovations Pt.1

It is surprising the difference a day can make. One day into renovating our house and it already has our stamp on it. Ploy spent the day stripping the wallpaper from the two attic bedrooms. My first task was to clean a fridge. The fridge, cooker, washer and dryer had been left by the previous owners. They weren't in a great state but we had nothing and it means we don't have to go out and buy something straight away. However, as the fridge had now been turned off for a day, it stank to high heaven. When we looked inside something was oozing everywhere. Ploy picked up her scraper and hot water and ran upstairs. "You agreed, I do upstairs, you do downstairs; the fridge is downstairs". It took two hours to clean, most of which was spent with me outside trying to breath some fresh air in. How the previous owners were not permanently ill I can't imagine. After that I moved the fridge into the room which I intend to be my office. Behind it was fifteen years of dinners and breakfasts; I think we can safely say we will have to replace the kitchen floor. Progress was quick after that, I stripped the hardwood off the sitting room walls. The walls have plaster board, but it looks like someone decided to cover them with wood-effect hardwood which was nailed and glued into place. Later someone else, I guess, painted that over with white paint. I stripped it back to plaster; luckily it came off with only minimal damage to the plaster, just a few patches to repair. I also started dismantling a closet which will make the bathroom much bigger when it is gone, and the rest of the time was spent taking down shelves, window fixtures and various others things attached to the walls. It was 35degC outside when we were doing this work and by four-thirty we were knackered, but it was satisfying to look back at what we had done. Today will be a hard day clearing out the kitchen, I am unsure how the washing machine and dryer actually got there as they seem too big for the doors, but we need to move them to be able to renovate the kitchen. It is going to be a hard day.

On another subject, this is a spectacular photo of the Veil nebula, taken by the Hubble space telescope.

A Home of Our Own

We have the keys to our new house. We had a look around it this morning; it is the usual procedure here to check everything that was to be left behind is left behind. It was disappointing to find that the previous owners were still moving out, but most of stuff was packed up. Pleasing though, was the amount of work needed didn't seem so bad as I previously thought. The hardwood floors upstairs are in pretty good condition and just need a clean not a complete sanding. The walls in the lounge are plaster and although they are covered with hardboard on two sides, it looks like a skim over with plaster will restore them. The heating vent in the living room is where we want our fireplace to be, so that will have to be moved, which is a shame, but not impossible to do. So all in all it is looking good. I now have to find a way to do this work, whilst also doing my day job and trying to finish my essay, but I think I can run on adrenaline for the four to six weeks it should take to do this. I have booked for us to go to Las Vegas in January for a holiday. It will have a been over a year since we moved to Canada and we haven't had a true break in that time; it has been quite a year so I think we deserve it. It will also give me a chance to go to the CES show and ICCE conference whilst Ploy trawls the casinos and restaurants.

About Turn

Strange how quickly things can turn around. Last Monday it looked possible I would be out of work by the end of this week, with a large mortgage around my neck for house that I wouldn't be able to stay in long term because of visa issues. By Friday I have a new job in a new company, we have signed the contract for our house, and to cap it all I finally got a long overdue tax rebate which has bolstered our rather meagre savings, (decimated by the deposit for the house). We have chosen the colours to paint the house, (mustard yellow and chocolate brown; it looks better than it sounds), found where to hire a sander to restore the hardwood floors and decided what units we will buy to refurbish the kitchen. I have also now written over 10,000 words on my dissertation, and I am much happier with the flow of the essay. Ploy finishes work this Saturday; it would be very difficult for her to get to and from work in the winter, (3 busses), and the restaurant owners have not fulfilled their promise to move her to waitressing. She gets all the shitty shifts, no tips, and I am genuinely worried she may kill one of the other staff who stupidly throws things into her sink so the water splashes up at her or deliberately drops things on the floors so Ploy has to keep washing the floor. She has already thumped her once and is threatening to give her a black eye. The owners see all this but don't do anything to stop it. Just two days, I tell her, and she'll have a paintbrush or a wallpaper scraper in her hand and be wishing she was still at the restaurant!

A Quiet Man

I received an offer from the new company which I accepted in a flash. A lot of the conditions are still to be filled in, but the salary is the same, my job title is the same, and it seems my work will be very similar; I also get to stay in Canada and I have already been contacted to have my work permit transferred. It is difficult to know how stressful this time has been, we did have other options if worst came to worst, but this is the best outcome by far, for now at least. So now we are waiting for Friday when we sign the contract on our new house. I haven't seen Ploy so excited before, she takes everything in her stride normally, but she told me last night, 'Canada is going to be good for us, isn't it?' I think I agree with her; Canada is going to be good for us.

Back Home

I got back from my UK trip yesterday. I went straight into work but I did not have a contract waiting on my desk as I had expected. However there were a hundred or more e-mails and it does appear the new company has made me an offer, and it was equally clear a number of people had issues with the offer. I did have a small panic when I read in one e-mail that the offer had to be accepted today, (Friday), or it would be retracted. Apparently we have today to accept, so today I should find out what is going on. This is just a little bit too exciting when we also move into our house in a week's time.

The trip went OK; I did manage to get down to the Southampton art gallery and they were very helpful, allowing me to view the work in their stores and showing me a large history file on the work which was very useful. It was also good to meet some fellow students and discuss where they are on their project. I didn't realise that the next essay, which is to be the full draft, had to be posted; that effectively knocks a week off the time I have left, so just four week left. On a good note I found out the word count includes footnotes which I had been excluding so far, that has bumped me up to nearly 9000 words, about half way.

The UK was under water when I was there; on my trip down to Southampton by train, fields were completely under water in some places. Heathrow terminal 3 was even worse than normal as they were refurbishing it and it means walking a couple of hundred metres without cover; luckily it was one of those rare moments when it was not raining. Again I was grateful for my Gold card which avoided the horrendous check-in queues and also got me seat 1A on the plane, which was nice. Actually having knocked them so much, I should say the Air Canada flights and service were pretty good this time. The Gold card didn't help me avoid the almost farcical security checks though which took what seemed like hours to get through, but it did hide me away from the usual totally inadequate seating in the departure lounge.

So today is the big day job wise, and then if it works out as I hope I need to get some words down on paper while I have a some inspiration. And next week is then an even bigger week as we move into our new house. I hope my heart can take it.

A Fine Day

We had a lovely day yesterday. I wasn't feeling very well, but I had an appointment to organise our new house insurance so I dragged myself out of bed. It was eleven before we were finished so I went into work, but I had no e-mails, (I used to get thirty a day), so I decided to take Ploy out to lunch. We tried a Vietnamese/Thai restaurant we hadn't tried before and I was rewarded with the prettiest waitresses I had seen in a long time; the food was OK but I wish people here would understand what spicy means. We talked about SingMai and opening our own restaurant and moving back to Thailand, something Ploy is beginning to consider, and as we are all waiting at work for some news of our future, (this Wednesday, we are now told, someone is visiting us with contracts or some such ilk), then we decided to make the drive down to Burlington to see the local Ikea. We were rewarded by seeing some affordable kitchen cabinets, and getting quite a few ideas on how we can restore the kitchen without spending thousands of dollars. However in the evening we watched a TV program with someone making their own kitchen cabinets, and you can guess Ploy's reaction. Luckily I reminded her about my attempt at a built in wardrobe in the UK, so Ikea it is. Ploy has resigned from her kitchen assistant job, they really were starting to take the piss; she repeatedly gets the worst shifts, the promised full-time work and moving to waitressing seems to be coming to nothing, and to cap it all when she went to clock out on Sunday the owner told her she had already done it for her and she should work faster. That and some juvenile throwing wet rags at her in the kitchen, (they really have no idea what they are taking on there, Ploy told me she just counted to three and carried on with her work; three years ago that chap would be in in hospital), and we decided it wasn't worth the hassle. So today I hope to push on with my art history essay, 8187 words and counting, over half way now, and tomorrow I guess we may hear about our future job prospects. And on Thursday I fly to the UK for three days.

Procrastination

I promised myself that I would devote all this weekend to writing my dissertation. The final draft is due on 28th August, which is just over six weeks away. So far I have written a spasmodic 7302 words, and the minimum is 16,000. The trouble is, I don't like doing it. All the fun of studying art history is now gone and it is a chore; I have so many other things I want to do. This week I worked hard on some of my SingMai ideas, working thirteen hour days and really enjoying it, going home feeling that it was a job well done. But the essay; well that is just hard work and I eke out a few words at a time. I must knuckle down, it would be such a waste having come this far not to send something in that at least has some chance of getting a grade. I know I will feel good if I can get the Masters, Ploy even wants us to go to the awards ceremony next year. On Thursday I travel to the UK to meet my tutor and research the work of art I am writing about, so I need to get my brain thinking along the right lines to make the most of it. So no more looking at the cricket scores on the web, no more 'just one more coffee', no more writing in this diary, no more game of pool at the work pool table, no more thinking about SingMai, or what I will eat tonight, or watching the rain outside. Get to it and try to get some words onto the page; any words.

Matchbox men

I'm at that age when it is not unusual to see someone I know in the obituary column of the newspapers; usually an actor or singer that I used to watch on TV or at the movies. This morning there were two names, Regine Crespin, an opera singer but not a favourite of mine as she mostly sang German opera, and a name, Jack Odell, that seemed familiar, but I just couldn't think what he was famous for. I should have known, he was the designer behind Matchbox cars. When I was young I had a large wooden crate filled with toys, and the majority of these were Matchbox cars and lorries and busses. I spent every free minute of my day constructing elaborate roads in the dirt of our flower beds and driving the cars through the tortuous routes, imagining myself behind the wheel. My Dad, also being a mechanical engineer, I think got as much enjoyment out of playing with them as I did. Odell is exactly the type of man that Britain is rightly famous for, an entrepreneur who in any one day had more ideas than today's corporate executive has in his lifetime, and is capable of turning those ideas into a profitable business. Until his death Odell was still designing, but his factory was sold off long before, and the manufacturing moved to the Far East. Competitors came in with more advanced toy vehicles, but I was never taken by them; that was the point of the Matchbox cars, they looked liked the real thing, they were made of metal, and rest was down to your imagination. I think we gave my crate away when I was about fifteen. I didn't play with the cars anymore, and my mother suggested we gave them to someone who would. As we don't have children, I don't imagine I will ever get the excuse to play with them again.

Shareholders

It was probably eight or nine years ago when the managing director of the UK company I worked for told all his staff that his vision was that the company would pay off all our mortgages. He wasn't sure what the most tax efficient way of doing it was, but that was his aim, to reward those who had worked hard to design and build and sell our products. That dream didn't work out, but I believed in it, and was prepared to work to achieve it because I believed in him. How times change. For the last eight or so years the only term I hear is 'creating value for the shareholders'. Every private company aspires to float on the stock market, to 'reward its investors', to give the CEO and his cronies the three Philippina maids, the swimming pool and the yacht. And then they all move on. Of course the staff are effectively shareholders too, but usually their shares have conditions and no preferences. Why is that? Why should I break my balls trying to get a job finished when I am treated as no more than a means to an end? I do know that it is illegal for companies to preference the staff regarding shares, but why are they floating on the stock market anyway? Well that is a rhetorical question, I have already answered it, (swimming pools, Philippina maids etc.). The days of a company growing through its own endeavours, (organically I think they call it in today's management speak), have gone. Companies are like meteors, momentarily flashing across the stock market only to burn out, be picked up by some other company and the process repeats itself. And the staff? Well they follow this behaviour, they look for the signs, they ready their resumes and move on. There is no loyalty, no commitment on either side. The only aim is to make money, not to build a sustainable business with minimal borrowing that grows steadily, can absorb setbacks, that is looking to build a business for the longer term. I wonder what happened to that, somewhat eccentric, managing director and his dream. Is he now a director of multiple companies, a figurehead that contributes nothing to a company except be a name that is stock market friendly when the inevitable sell off happens? I hope not.

Botticelli and Celebrity

An article on the vacuousness of celebrity culture today, and on Hirst's diamond skull was bound to attract my attention, particularly when it is written by Clive James.

But the diamond skull expresses a culture all our own: the celebrity culture. Glittering, hollow and perfectly brainless, it reflects spendthrift emptiness with its every facet.

Damien Hirst's shark was a common talking point for a time, and so will his diamond skull be: for a little more time, perhaps, but not forever. The Botticelli paintings are forever because they aren't talking points. The difference is absolute.

Whilst some art critics will no doubt refer to Hirst's continual references to death and how he reflects today's society, the more cynical amongst us ask what this object is; what it has to say. The answer of course, is nothing. It may reflect our vacuous celebrity culture, but if it does then it is reflecting nothing; it does not have anything to say, it does invoke anything meaningful inside us. It does serve as a definition of what is not art, or to use Greenberg's term, kitsch. Unfortunately this is only helpful if it is recognised for what it is. Whilst we all prefer to watch news articles on Paris Hilton leaving prison in her parent's SUV whilst the news that hundreds have died from the floods in Pakistan that are almost certainly caused by global warming is relegated to a footnote, then we are all reinforcing this culture. What we should be doing is rounding up these celebrities and anyone associated with them, and shipping them off to to some God forsaken planet, or Australia. These people are breeding and infiltrating our culture. We need to get our values back and our sense of priorities, but it is difficult to see where this lead will come from. Maybe global warming is doing us a favour, although post catastrophe, I wonder what aliens visiting our planet will make of a world populated only by Snoop Dogs, Paris Hiltons and Beckhams, as they surely will be the survivors, along with the cockroaches.

A Turn for the Worse

Our group has been sold to another company; we do not know many details at this moment but certainly there will be redundancies. It is just a question of waiting to see if I get offered something at the new company, and even if I do, what that offer is: the company is based in the US with no Canadian office so we run into the same problems I had before with visas. We have some money in the bank, even after we purchase our house, and with little investment and a bit of hard work, we can easily add at least $20,000 to its value. The house opposite us has been put up for sale for $60,000 more than our purchase price, and although they have done some structural work it does mean we should have some capital in the house. The savings will not last long mind, and to make matters worse Ploy is quite sick at the moment. She seemed to be getting better, and yesterday, to get us away from all the worry, we drove to Bayfield on the edge of Lake Huron to get some sea air. But this morning she seems worse and has a high temperature. I must admit I am seriously thinking of packing everything in and going back to Thailand, but Ploy doesn't want that. She was once told she would never be successful in Thailand, but she would be if she went elsewhere. So far things have gone from strength to strength which has reinforced that view. But we do have a house there, and a car, I could start up SingMai there for very little outlay and Ploy could start her company up again, and the cost of living is so low. It seems to make sense but I will have a hard job convincing Ploy. We could even leave our house here and rent it out so we earn some income. The next few weeks will tell.

Meet the Neighbours

I am surprised by this article in the Independent, which quotes prominent astronomer's concerns over us being detected by possible extraterrestrial life forms because of their possible hostility to us. Martin Ryle, Bernard Lovell, Carl Sagan; all seem to have concerns along the lines of, "Those astronomers now preparing again to beam radio signals out to hoped-for extraterrestrials are naive, even dangerous". I don't understand this caution. There is almost certainly no intelligent life anywhere near our vicinity. One of the signals being beamed out into space is targeted at a region 25,000 light years away, which means it will take 25,000 years to get there! But most disappointing of all is the idea that super-intelligent as these creatures are, we seem to assume they would be hostile. Why would they be? They would presumably not have any need to be frightened of us, their technology would have to be amazing. Think what happened in just one hundred year's of invention, from airplanes, to space travel to semiconductors. If they were only one thousand years more advanced than us, (and they would have to be at least at our point of evolution to receive our signals, and considerably beyond that to travel here), think how people one thousand years ago would receive someone landing in a helicopter, and most of our last one thousand years was spent fighting each other rather than advancing technologically. To assume that these societies have technologically advanced, but not done so emotionally is strange. To do one without the other would almost inevitably lead to the civilisation's destruction, as it could yet do for us if we keep electing retards as our leaders. And in any case, don't we want to know there is someone else out there? Have we no curiosity anymore? Are we so frightened that everything will be in our image, with our morals? I hope not, but if it is, and our first alien contact starts "my fellow citizens", then annihilation might just be a good option.

You can't go home again

Before you say anything, I have been working on my art history essay all morning, but whilst having a coffee and reading my usual spots on the Internet, BBC News, Cricinfo, the Independent, and a couple of blogs, I came across this site. I was very struck by its closing sentence which cites reasons why you should live abroad,

'If you think you might feel less of an outsider in a foreign land than in your own. If you are prepared to cope with the culture shock that is probably inevitable. But remember when deciding, the world you leave behind will change and you will too. Thomas Wolfe was right. You can’t go home again.'

I never intend to return to the UK. If things really turn out badly here job wise, although that is looking less likely at the moment, thank heavens, then I will find something else here, or even move to Thailand, although Ploy is against that. But moving back to the U.K. is not an option. I have been back twice since we left for Singapore, and I really did feel a stranger there. I actually felt more comfortable in Singapore, and feel more comfortable in Canada, than I did in the U.K. It is difficult to quantify, but little things that just irritated slightly in Singapore became hugely noticeable in the U.K. It seems the U.K. has more of everything you don't want. Rudeness, graffiti, vandalism, crime, litter; the way nothing really works properly, the expense, the lethargy of the people. Every country has its faults but the U.K. seems to revel in having more than most. It is clear now why we didn't stay in Singapore, and it is not for the reason that most of the expat blogs describe, (the Government and the apparently oppressive laws); I didn't like the job, and we didn't buy an apartment there. Perhaps I might have been able to find another job, although I did spend some time looking and I didn't get a single letter or phone call. We were close to buying an apartment there, but we really wanted a house with a garden which was way outside my salary range. But in the short time I have been in Canada, we are five weeks away from moving into our house, we have a nice car, I like my job, and we should soon have a dog. So things are close to perfect, and although we are still probably in the honeymoon period, having those roots here will help to mitigate any downside we may come across in the coming months. And however bad that may be, I am sure it will not be worse than a return to the U.K.

Barna

I have submitted a new story to the UK-Authors website; you can also read it here, Barna. I am much happier with this. It is written in the first person and there is much more of me in the work. With George and the Dragon, my previous effort at a novel, I had little in common with any of the characters and they were too distant. I think I might be able to push forward with this a little bit easier.

But not this weekend. This weekend must be for my art history essay. I have only written just over 6000 words and the target is 18,000. There are now only 10 weeks left until the final draft should be ready and I have a possible business trip to Paris to make now. I also have my trip to the UK, albeit it is to help my essay, and then we move into our new house which is bound to disrupt things for at least two weeks while we make it habitable. So knuckle down, avoid distractions, and get some words down on paper.

On this day...

I found this great page from Wikipedia where you can find out events, births and deaths that have happened on your own birthday. The 7th November seems a little sparse in terms of events. I do have a meteorite landing, in 1492, the oldest with a known date of impact. And in 1885, the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed. I immediately thought what a great holiday it would be to take the train across Canada, but it seems today it is mostly freight trains that use the route. In 1929 the New York Museum of Modern Art opened which somehow seems appropriate given my art history studies.

Trotsky was born on 7th November, 1879. I also share my birthday with Sir C.V. Raman, who upon checking, was indeed the man who discovered Raman spectroscopy which I vaguely remember from when I used to be good at science. Disappointingly I get Billy Graham, but in compensation I also get Joan Sutherland and Joni Mitchell (note to author: I must buy some Joni Mitchell CDs). There seems only one person, Christopher Knight, who shares my birthday, an actor apparently famous for being in the Brady bunch.

For people who have died on my birthday I have Alfred Russel Wallace who I once had to write an essay on; he co-discovered natural selection although is less remembered for that fact than Darwin is now. Again it seems quite sparse, although I do have Howard Keel and Steve McQueen.

Ploy, as with the Queen, has two birthdays, her real one is on 22nd March, and her official one which is on her passport is 19th November; I have no idea why this is so, but she doesn't have a birth certificate so we have never tried to change it. Interestingly on her birthday in 1784, the Emerald Buddha was moved to its current location at the Grand Palace in Thailand. Ploy also has the formation of the Football League, the first display of motion pictures by Lumiere and the release of Please, Please Me by the Beatles. Sharing her birthday there are people as diverse as van Dyke, Chico Marx, Karl Malden, Stephen Sondheim, William Shatner and Andrew Lloyd Webber, although she has no-one sharing her same year. She doesn't do so well for deaths though, although she does have Caracci and Goethe.

Places I have never been

Following on from the list making below, I was thinking of places I haven't been but still want to go. Most of my travels have been in Europe, North America and Asia, so not surprisingly the places I wish to visit are on the other continents, but not Australia or Africa, (well Egypt is Africa I guess); these places just don't seem to interest me.

  1. When I was younger I wanted to do two walks, the Highland Way in Scotland and this one in New Zealand, Milford Sound. I am not sure I am fit enough to do either now and I doubt Ploy would want to join me so they will both remain on this wish list.
  2. Egypt, or more specifically the Pyramids. However it is only the pyramids I wish to see, and ideally a private viewing instead of having to fights the hordes of tourists.
  3. Peru, and in particular the Inca temples, but the whole country has a fascination for me that I can't quite explain.
  4. Chile, and for the same reason as Peru, its apparent beauty, mystery and remoteness.
  5. Antarctica. I applied for a job with the British Antarctic survey when I was young but I didn't get it. Maybe those two years working there would have been too much, but I would still love the chance to see the place before it all melts.

 

A place to call home

I have just returned from a week in Singapore. Each time I return the place seems busier and more hectic and I soon wish for the quiet of Canada again. It is funny how things turn out. All those years of wishing I lived in the Far East, but now the non-stop work ethic and 'progress' really puts me off. The work/home balance seems so much more acceptable in the West, and the long evenings we have now are near bliss.

I decided to not read my usual art history books on the trip and instead read Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim. I can fully recommend this laugh out loud adventure; the episode in which he wakes up after a drunken night and realises he has set fire to the bed was so beautifully described, I must look out for more of his books. In contrast I also read Martin Amis's The Rachel Papers. I finished the book but each page made me loath the main character more. In fact there was hardly a character with a single redeeming quality.

Ploy is now working full-time in the restaurant and seems to be enjoying it, or more to the fact, is enjoying watching her own savings account accumulate weekly. She has also been offered a year old golden retriever dog, a far cry from the husky I was hoping for, but I think without doubt, we will be the owner of a dog in the very near future. Ploy is already thinking of names for it.

The trip to Singapore and my re-evaluation of the place, combined with Marcus's predilection for lists, made me think of my favourite places to visit, (and he did steal my idea for the 5-minute interview, although admittedly it was not, as I acknowledged, completely my own, so it fair to steal one of his ideas).

  1. Monterey, California. An idyllic fishing port where you can wake to sound of crying sea lions and the crash of waves of the beach. Great seafood and Mexican cuisine and a thriving artistic community with a fresh transparent sky reminiscent of St. Ives in Cornwall.
  2. St. Agnes, Cornwall, UK. A favourite haunt of my younger days, I still remember drinking some dark treacly beer in the Driftwood arms whilst the place shuddered to the immense waves crashing into the nearby cliffs.
  3. Edinburgh. My favourite city. Vibrant, full of great art galleries, restaurants and architectural gems. The small jazz festival is worth the visit alone, as is eating haggis with whisky sauce at Jackson's, or walking along the quaint Portobello beach.
  4. Vancouver. Surely the most beautiful city in the world, the approach by airplane is just a taste of what lies in store. Again, great food, a vibrant Chinatown, and always that amazing backdrop of snow capped mountains on one side and the Pacific ocean on the other.
  5. Kyoto. A place where you really can feel you are on another planet. The solitude and quiet of the temples, the restaurants that are by invitation only, the nearby mountains, the beautiful Japanese ladies wrapped in their kimonos. A must see in the winter when the snow adds to the already beautiful city.

Phew! What a Scorcher!

So China has announced it is serious about global warming but any measures it takes will not be allowed to affect economic development. It also says the bulk of the responsibility is with the rich Western countries, which is disappointing, however true it may be, given President Bush's complete lack of action on the matter. Indeed he continues, presumably under pressure from all the wealthy polluting companies, to keep stalling what initiatives there are in place, such as Kyoto. It is very difficult to get to the bottom of the global warming debate; every time there is some scientific study that produces more evidence for global warming, you get some expert on TV or in the newspapers debunking it. I had a small exposure to the media when I was young. Our school had an active astronomy club and it obviously had got itself a reputation. Patrick Moore is a world renowned amateur astronomer who had a long running TV program, The Sky at Night. The local TV broadcaster decided to append to his program a small feature on some local activities and chose to interview a few of us on how we got started in astronomy and why we were interested. But even on this minor event we were were being encouraged to embellish our stories; for example I told them it was reading books that first got me interested. "Patrick Moore books?" they asked. I honestly could not remember but was asked if I would say it was, so I did. So in my fifteen minutes of fame I ended up lying to my public! It is hardly surprising then that the media produce these experts, Professor so-and-so from such-and-such a university - how do we know he is not held in ridicule in scientific circles and this university is funded by an energy producing company - talking on about the lack of evidence whereas no-one comes on to defend the evidence. Who are we to judge anyway? The media has a responsibility in this matter: from the David Suzuki website, 'That's why it's so important to debunk these myths and move on. They're slowing us down at a time when delay makes the problem more and more costly, and more and more difficult to fix.' He points us to a fascinating series of articles on the New Scientist website which analyse twenty six of the most common reasons given for not believing global warming is actually happening. It would be comforting to think that Bush and other skeptics would read and understand this. And act. There can be no harm in acting now; if we do so and the science is all wrong there is no harm done. But if we do nothing; well I won't be here to see the result, but it would be a shame to be one of those implicated in the 'do nothing' brigade. But the problem is so large: we don't need changes to our energy producing policies; what we need is a change in our social priorities whereby economic development does not remain the god by which all things are measured.

Memento Mori

Two articles caught my eye this morning, and strange though it may seem at first, they are related. The first is the return of David Beckham to the England football team and his apparently imminent knighthood, and the second is this extravagant work of art by Damien Hirst, the most prominent, and wealthy, member of the YBAs, or Young British Artists. Related, because they both illustrate the nebulous nature of society today; the triumph of bullshit over substance. It was during the 1960s that the elitism of art criticism that was High Modernism was eroded to be replaced by non-exclusive Post-Modernism which did not place aesthetic judgments on art; anything could now be art if someone was prepared to place it in a gallery or pay money for it. And in the case of Hirst's work, the more money the better. Not for him does he try to express emotion or produce art for the betterment of society, his art is all about publicity and money. His apparent association with the memento mori and the theme of death is only because death is a guaranteed crowd pleaser and always has been; but does he have anything contemplative or insightful to say about it; are the people coming to see the skull coming to contemplate their future, their life, or are they coming to see 14 million pounds worth of diamonds and platinum? It is probably not coincidental that it was also in the 1960s that England's football team last achieved anything of consistent note. And, after consistent pressure on the government they eventually received the lowest honour available, as James Lawton points out in his article, an honour that is now given out to lollipop ladies for helping children cross the road. That Beckham could achieve a knighthood says everything about the state of celebrity over substance that the Western world now embraces. A footballer, that has underachieved at every major tournament he has played in should somehow be given recognition above those given to the only winners of the football World Cup that England has ever had leaves me speechless, but not surprised. Hirst and Beckham are molded from the same plastic. And if you still think that there is a tenuous relationship between Hirst and Beckham, you should first read this article.

Insurance

It is more than rumour; it is just a question of when. The company I work for has announced in a roundabout way that it wants to sell off the division I am working for. That could, of course, be a good thing if the the right buyer is found; better a company that loves you than doesn't. But it has made me think about our status here in Canada. At present both Ploy and I have a work permit, and mine is tied to this company. If I change company I need another work permit. But what, I asked our immigration lawyer, happens if worst comes to worst, and the company doesn't find a buyer but decides to just get rid of us, or the new company decides to 'downsize' its newly purchased asset. Well I can stay here for up to six months. But after that I have to get a visitors permit, and implicit in this permit is the fact I am what it says on the box, a visitor, and my home is actually elsewhere. What I can't do is work, unless someone wants to apply for a work permit for me, which is unlikely except for some skilled position;that just wouldn't happen for casual work in, say, a restaurant kitchen, where they get thousands of applicants. So earning some money to pay the mortgage on our house seems difficult unless I can find another company that wants me. Of course none of this may actually happen but it would be anachronistic to actually have a nice house and receive rental income from the basement apartment, but be unable to get a visa to stay in the country and live in it ourselves. So, in case everything does go belly up, I have started looking at starting my own company again. There is a chance I could get a work permit based on that, so I have looked at a few ideas and posted something on a website to try to get traffic up in advance, the site is here, SingMai, (SingMai means 'new idea' or innovation in Thai). I toyed with this idea in Singapore so I already had some ideas but with my day job and the art history it nearly killed me so I dropped it. I am probably worrying too much, but I am glad we kept our house in Thailand, that could yet turn out to be our home, (returning to the UK is not an option I want to explore, the bridges are well and truly burnt).

That said, I have booked flights to return to the UK in July for my art history studies. The Southampton Art Gallery has allowed me access to this work, even though it is currently not on display, which is one of those I am writing about for my dissertation. I am hoping it will give me just the kick I need to complete my essay.

On a lighter note, I have posted a short story on the UK-Authors website which has been marked as a Great Read, which is very satisfying. I must do more writing.

Awesome!

Those who know me, and probably other readers of this website, would not be surprised to learn I scored a nearly perfect 100% on the opening qualification test for this website, Cynics. I admit I felt myself getting more curmudgeonly as I answered each question positively, until I got to this, 'You think civilization is going to hell in a pooper-scooper' and this, 'You no longer CARE that civilization is going to hell in a pooper-scooper'. Of course it would be easy to generalise, and I certainly know lots of people who also care about the state of things in the world, but also feel unempowered to do anything to change it. But do I care we are in the state we are in? Well, yes and no. What I wouldn't give to have a gigantic tornado knock on the door of the White House, present a calling card called 'I am from Global Warming', and then proceed to devastate the place before moving on to every large energy producing company in the US, (we can do the other countries later). That would be fun, but then what to do with all the people who wind down their car windows and think it is fine to just throw sweet wrappers or cigarette butts out of the window, but who also buy energy efficient light bulbs so they are 'doing their bit'. What of the person who went to the trouble to scrawl 'Chink Killa' (sic) on the wall of an adjacent factory. What is it these people do not understand about the fact we are all on the same small planet and it really would be better if we all 'just got along'. In a very small way they are just as culpable as the large companies who sacrifice every little bit of moral dignity in the name of shareholder's dividend. And so we could go on, and would there be anyone left. Without leadership, and leadership that is strong, enforceable, and worldwide nothing will change. Without education and free thinking does anyone realise anything is wrong? What would be so wrong in starting to collect people together and ship them off to the moon. We could start with the twenty five million who watched the American Idol finals. And everyone who uses 'awesome' to describe trivial events, that would account for quite a few I bet. So I sit in my sanctimonious seat looking on, and consider if I care. And I am fairly sure I don't.

Talking about the Weather

On Tuesday night as we were have dinner, I looked outside the window and it looked like night. It soon started raining and then the wind got up. The rain was then accompanied by hail and the wind got stronger. We have quite a few large trees near us and they were really blowing around. The rain was as heavy as anything I had ever seen, even in the tropical storms of Thailand or Singapore and even Ploy stopped to look out the window. I turned to the weather channel and there were warnings all over the place. Do not go outside, take cover, 100mm of rain in 30 minutes, 150km/hr winds, 2cm hail and, TORNADO. Really and I could believe it. The lightning strikes were so frequent now you couldn’t tell when one stopped and the next started. And we couldn’t see the end of our small garden because of the rain, and the grass was covered in ice from the hail. Well it all blew over after an hour, but the next day the news said a tornado did touch down less than 50km from us. I thought I would miss the weather in Singapore, particularly the frequent thunderstorms, but the weather is never boring here. Two days ago it was 28degC, tonight there is a frost warning.

Cats and Dogs

Two DVDs for $10 in Walmart, so I trawled through the two bins looking for something to watch in the evening. I didn't find anything interesting, but Ploy came up with two choices, motivated by the cover photos which both had dogs on them. When we move into our new house we certainly plan to get a dog; in the meantime we keep buying DVDs with dogs in. We only watched one of the DVDs last night, The Truth about Cats and Dogs, which we both smiled at a lot; and I can confirm the dog was the star. However I was interested enough to look up the biography of the actor I didn't know, Janeane Garofalo, and I found this quote from one of her books with which I found considerable empathy: "Many people feel that mass acceptance and smooth socialization are desirable life paths for a young adult... Many people are often wrong... Don't bother being nice. Being popular and well liked is not in your best interest. Let me be more clear; if you behave in a manner pleasing to most, then you are probably doing something wrong. The masses have never been arbiters of the sublime, and they often fail to recognize the truly great individual. Taking into account the public's regrettable lack of taste, it is incumbent upon you not to fit in".

Five People you meet in Heaven

I didn't want to read my art history books on the way home from San Francisco, so you found me searching through the shelves of a bookstore at the departure lounge looking for a book to amuse me for the five hour flight. I picked up a book called, The Five People you meet in Heaven, intrigued by the title. The lady next to me strongly encouraged me to buy it, so after a brief read of the cover and not finding anything else to excite me, I bought it. Three hours into the flight I had finished it, and I admit I had tears in my eyes. Sentimental - undoubtedly - but the writing was extraordinary in places, particularly when it was describing the relationship between Eddie and Marguerite. Let me quote you a comment from the sleeve jacket, 'This is the fable you will devour when you fall in love. This is the tale you will keep by your side when you are lost. This is the story you will turn to again and again, because it possesses the rare magic to let you see yourself and the world anew. This book is a gift to the soul'.

Bottle, Glass, Glass, Bottle

I cannot believe it is twenty five years since Tommy Cooper died. A man who made you smile just by appearing on stage and the favourite comedian of my father. It is impossible to know what it was about him, his inept magical tricks, his appalling jokes, that made you smile and laugh; I doubt he knew himself. But certainly today there is no-one I can think of to come close to his inoffensive humour. He died 'live' on television; I normally made an effort to watch him, but for some reason I missed this and only knew of his death the following morning. This article in the Independent tells of plans to make a movie of the last week of his life. I doubt I will go and see it, but the article has brought a smile to my face as I remember this unique comic genius. "Apparently, 1 in 5 people in the world are Chinese. And there are 5 people in my family, so it must be one of them. It's either my mum or my dad. Or my older brother Colin. Or my younger brother Ho-Cha-Chu. But I think it's Colin."

Is it Me?

If I told you that this week I have had to fly to San Jose, albeit on business, I think you could be justified in thinking me selfish if I started complaining, but that is just what I am going to do. It may be that turning fifty the curmudgeon gene kicks in much stronger, but it could just be that travel, or at least flying, is a hugely unpleasant experience today. The flight required that I woke up at 5.30a.m. on Sunday to get to Toronto airport. The check-in at Air Canada was a nightmare, the queue for economy must have been a kilometre long. Luckily I have my Singapore Air Gold Card, which although a week over its expiry date, (Singapore air forgot to send me a new one and I had to e-mail to remind them), got me into the business queue. However it still took half an hour to check in. Forms duly signed I then queued at US immigration, (if you fly to the US from Canada you clear US immigration in Toronto). Luckily the queue for visa waivers, as I am, was shorter than the one for Canadians, and a quick scan on my queue showed no Iraqi or Pakistani lookalikes, which tend to delay things for some reason. "Why do you still have this form stapled in your passport?" It was the green form stub from a long ago. "No-one took it, I said", not mentioning how many times no-one had taken it. "It is your responsibility to submit it to immigration when you leave". I apologised profusely, not realising at the time this was my chance to have the trip aborted. Security was empty, everyone was stuck in immigration or check-in, so I had a quick coffee and went to the departure gate. Everyone had already boarded although there was over 30 minutes still to go. I had chosen a window seat as usual, but as I approached my seat I saw that 16A on this airplane is windowless. Oh great! Singapore Air tell you these things, and this was one of those flights where the captain perked up frequently to tell you the sights below, all on the left as my seat was. "If you would like to look out the left window there is a great view of Alcatraz below", he teased. As I got my book and glasses out and stowed my luggage I looked at my fellow passenger. The window seats are only two wide which is good I thought, but this gentleman, although not over-large, was taking up half my seat. He continued to do so throughout the flight and if I tried to shift him back I got an annoyed hurrumph, so I left it. At least he didn't smell. He did however chose to eat, which brought into motion his extraneous limbs. Before I sat I helped a woman with her huge hand luggage. I don't know why I did, she wasn't especially pretty and I hate people who bring on the ridiculous size bags. She couldn't fit it above her seat but there was lots of room above ours, and the Air Canada stewards go into hiding during boarding, so I helped wedge it in. I was later scolded by a chubby little matron for what she thought was my hand luggage when she failed to close the overhead compartment. Also before I sat I couldn't help but notice the boy behind who had 'brat' written all over him. And so it proved as for the next five hours he chose to play football with the back of my chair. After the timely take-off the woman in front promptly fully reclined her chair, and it stayed there all the flight. Air Canada choose, because you have only paid a few hundred dollars for the ticket, to charge you for a stale sandwich which goes in lieu of breakfast. I paid my $5 and chewed my way through a turkey sandwich. On the plus side the lack of a window and any in-seat entertainment, allied to those ridiculous ear headsets that they offer that keep falling off, (I declined them), did mean I managed to read quite a bit of my book. The in-flight movie, which was to be Music and Lyrics, was changed as the tape was apparently chewed, and replaced by some romantic comedy with Hilary Swank, for me as guaranteed a turnoff as Ben Affleck. I looked at the two male 'leads' and imagined them fighting over which one was to end up with her and therefore having to kiss her passionately. "You can have it, you deserve it, you are a much better actor than me". "No you are". One amusing thing did happen, due to turbulence caused by the edge of the storm causing the tornadoes in the north of America, the cabin staff tearfully apologised for suspending their service; I had to smile at their description; try asking for anything, even a coffee, that is not part of the single run through they do in the five hour flight. The flight did arrive on time, and for San Francisco the luggage, just one small bag, arrived on time, so we then take the kamikaze taxi drive to my hotel. Reassuringly it is the same driver I usually have and I find comfort in the fact he is still alive; however every trip he takes without an accident must lower his odds substantially, the other possibility is he is already dead, the car is very black after all. At least he doesn't look like Peter Cushing. The hotel is fine and nondescript, so I park my bags, hang out my shirts and go the the restaurant for lunch. I order a California Club sandwich which wasn't bad, and should at least help force the Air Canada sandwich through my system quickly. I asked for a glass of wine but was told the bar had already closed as it was Sunday; it was 12:30! The glass of wine arrived - not the one I ordered - just as the last piece of crispy bacon was devoured. The afternoon I spent on my art history dissertation which was very fruitful, but at 5.30 I decided to take a book to the bar and have a beer. I soon aborted that idea as the bar, which was not busy, was taken over by one group of bankers who constantly and loudly professed the oldest member of the group was " a legend". This member demonstrated his prowess by f-ing and blind-ing frequently, whilst downing martinis as if they were fruit juice. Another couple decided to turn the bar into a baseball stadium and provided a somewhat distracting and unnecessary commentary on the performance of the players on the TV game. I left for the restaurant, too bothered to look elsewhere, and by previous experience, knowing that it isn't that fruitful unless you go all the way into the town centre. My meal; I chose the Ahi Tuna with some trepidation as it was accompanied by 'pears, tamarind and potatoes' which sounded like a, 'what can I do with these things left in the fridge' challenge. So it proved with an overcooked piece of tuna and an inedible sweet sauce covering everything. The ubiquitous fat man with the mobile telephone created the ambience; 'What are you driving honey? Oh the Hyundai, I thought you didn't like that one'. So much better than muzac. I went back to my room and chose to watch a tornado B-movie rather than the CNN news telling of the destruction of a small town through a tornado, (I kid you not). My sleep was punctured by my neighbour loudly talking to someone, some cry from outside, and three events I could not identify. And so to work. Just four days to go and then I will endure this trip again, although at least this time it is not the overnight flight. Is it me?

A Bright Future

Ploy in the kitchen of our new houseLast night we bought our house, just over three years after we last sold our house in the UK and moved to Singapore. We are both really excited although we do not move in until July 31st. We have planned what work we have to do and what priority we will put on it. The mortgage repayments are very reasonable so we should be able to refit the kitchen and hopefully do something with the bathroom soon after we move in. And we can get our fireplace, which will make the winter very pleasant. We plan to rent out the basement apartment which will also help offset the mortgage repayments, and I think we will also try and buy somewhere else in a few years time: that will be our place, ideally overlooking a lake or river, and we will then rent out the remainder of this house. Encouraged by Ploy and also the house inspector, we will try to do even more than we did on our house in the UK, including refitting the kitchen and bathroom and replacing the windows. As soon as I express any doubt over my abilities on this, Ploy just answers by saying, "You don't know yourself". And it is true, so many things that I put out of my range before I have now attempted with Ploy's encouragement, and they haven't turned out that bad so far. As the inspector said, what is the worse that can happen; you just call someone out to remedy your ineptness and lose a little face. I can cope with that, especially if we save thousands of dollars if it works out. The move to Canada has been so good for us, the job is great, I like the country, and finally we have put some roots down and we have our own house. The future is bright, and at the risk of repeating myself, it is all down to my wife.

On another subject, there are some amazing photos of Jupiter and its moons here, Jupiter .

Good Manners

I was walking towards the City Hall MRT in Singapore, and as I entered the cool interior of the station I waiting a moment to hold the door open for the young girl that was following me. Half way down the escalator the girl caught up with me. "Where do you come from?", she asked. Seeing the quizzical look on my face, she answered my unspoken question, "No-one in Singapore ever holds doors open for people; I wondered what country still had manners". It was true, everyone in Singapore is in a rush, but if you do help an old lady on a bus or hold a door open for a young girl, it is appreciated and a profusion of thank-you's will follow. Singaporeans know good manners, they Respect: Independent newspaper front pagejust don't have time for them in their lives. How different that is in the UK. There was a group of young kids that used to gather around our house. One day they decided it was fun to throw rotten apples at our windows and inevitably they broke one, and then two. Any attempt to shoo them away resulted in a torrent of abuse. Ploy chased after them, but they just taunted her, calling her a 'mother-fucker', 'whore' and God knows what else. I followed Ploy who had not given up the chase. She asked some people if they had seen a boy running. Yes they replied, they know him and they told us where he lived. However they also warned us not to stir up problems, "he just gets bored and goes away, if you try to chase him he will make things worse". Ploy wanted to go to the house, but I persuaded her to let me call the police. The police arrived two days later. They took our statements and took the address we had been given. They knew this boy apparently. They left and returned a little while later. The boy had apparently said that Ploy had kicked him and feigned a limp. I said that was not possible, if Ploy had caught him he would have more than a limp to deal with. Probably it was not the best thing to have said, but I could sense this discussion was turning. He said the boy denied what he did so it was his word against ours. I let them go, if it went any further I could see us ending up at the police station. As the police left the boy had the affrontery to be standing outside our house, feigning his limp and grinning. Things did calm down afterwards, and we had quite a few neighbours come to us and talk about the boy and his family. He lives alone with his mother who, they said, 'worked from home'. When she has a customer she kicks the boy out on the street, no matter the time of day or night. That was the reality of the UK when I left it. Litter, graffiti, vandalism, drunkenness and a threat of violence just underneath the surface. These articles in the Independent are the reality today, Friday night, Saturday morning, and Green and unpleasant land. Of course, these issues are there in other countries, but in my experience to nowhere near the degree. The UK has a disease but as everyone has it, no-one has recognised the fact. And despite the attempts of the various governments to halt it, to me it seems terminal. To quote from one of the the afore-mentioned articles, 'It is hard to define and quantify the problem. Rather than suggest that the British are more aggressive in public than they have ever been, it might be more sensible to disentangle the elements of incivility and examine how behaviour has changed. One form is the disrespect shown by young people towards their elders, especially those in authority over them. The other is the anger that seems so near the surface of so many adults, which seems readier to express itself in bad language, the threat of violence or actual bodily harm that it used to be.'

Is there Anybody out There?

If there is one thing I would wish for before I shuffle off my mortal coil, aside from personal happiness for myself and Ploy, it is that we find firm evidence for life on another planet, (a visitation would be nice, but anything more than a bacteria would do I suppose). This may have moved a little closer with this discovery, New Super-Earth found in space. It is an exciting time to be working in astronomy, not that it ever wasn't, but all I can do now is look on. It is discoveries like this that restore my faith in mankind. When I was a boy reading about the Faradays and the Rutherfords, this is how I imagined the world would be, everyone working in a Star Trek like idyll for the greater good. Of course the reality is different. Should this planet harbour intelligent life and we could manage to design a propulsion system that could get us there, I can imagine the fascinated aliens gathering around the Earth spacecraft only to be greeted by by a blow up McDonalds, the spacecraft discharging some radioactive pollutant into their water system, a welcoming message from the the US president warning then that weapons of mass destruction have been detected on the planet and they will be invaded at some time in the very near future, and tapes of American Idol to demonstrate our advanced culture. But we can dream, can't we?

House Hunting

Photo of the front of our new houseI feel a little bit scared. We looked around a number of houses yesterday and one stood out. It is remarkably similar to the house we bought in the UK. It is an older style, (built 1954), detached house, solid and apparently with no obviously major building faults, but a complete mess inside. It is currently occupied by a number of tenants and clearly has not had any attention paid inside for a long time. The whole house smelt of cigarettes, pets, and a staleness that comes from neglect. The windows are nearly falling out of their frames. But, and it is a big but, the house has potential; in some ways it is as low as it can get. The basement is huge and is completely self contained with its own entrance, sitting room, bathroom and kitchen; clearly there is a possibility for some income potential there. The rooms are large with high ceilings and it has hardwood floors throughout, bizarrely covered over with rotten vinyl in some places. The kitchen is large enough and it has parking for three cars at least and large neglected garden. It is at the end of a street overlooking some industrial land and near to the highway, although far enough away for it not be at all intrusive. Both Ploy and I are quite excited about what we can do with the house; exactly as with the UK, the house was appalling inside with a neglected garden, but after just a year it had all new windows, new floors and been decorated throughout; we were really proud of the changes we had made and it was very satisfying to have done most of the work ourselves. But scared because it is so soon; we stayed in Singapore for three years without buying anything but within six months of being here we are committing to a house. We will look at some more properties today, and we have one more house to look at tomorrow. But is seems certain that by the end of this week we will have made an offer on a new house.

Wooden Heart

Photo of Dan and PloyToday is our fifth wedding anniversary. What more can I say about Ploy and how she has changed my life? The last entry in the diary archive was our fourth anniversary; here is an extract of that entry.

'So much has happened in those four years. We met in Singapore on a chance encounter, Ploy was in Singapore helping a friend with a business (she speaks Mandarin), I was on the return leg of a long business trip to the Far East. Ploy was renting an apartment near Sukhumvit Soi 71 in Bangkok, I had rented a room in a small house in Southampton in the UK. And now here we are living together in Singapore, growing closer every day and yet with so many more things to explore together. This year we must try to put down some roots, we have the house in Thailand, but little prospect of living there in the short term. We want to buy somewhere here and it must be a priority to save for that. Everything else must wait. For Ploy, having our own house (and mortgage) in the UK, was the best thing we did. Renting is convenient, but there is nothing like that feeling looking around a house or apartment and knowing it is yours. If we can sell our land in Thailand then we should be able to start looking for somewhere in July or August.'

So a year later here we are in Canada, the rollercoaster continues on. And today we go and have a look at our first house, in a tiny village called Moorefield. So the hunt has began. Tonight I am cooking a meal for us; Ploy preferred that to going out somewhere, so it is just a few of our favourite things; Clam soup, chicken Caesar salad (with homemade dressing), and chocolate and raspberry mousse. I will buy a DVD or two and we will curl up on the couch after the meal and watch them. Tomorrow I have promised to take Ploy to the Chinatown in Toronto. I love you sweetheart.

Fame!

We were watching a DVD last night and Ploy asked me about Sandra Bullock, who was the female star. If there is someone Ploy is interested in she interrogates me on every aspect of the person's life. Usually I can answer the easier questions, 'are they married', 'how many children', etc. For Sandra Bullock I was surprised to find she was married. That event had passed me by and I only found out when checking some other questions for Ploy on the Internet. I mention this because of this article in the Independent newspaper. What is it that fuels the fascination people have with every aspect of a movie star or pop star's life? Because whatever it is has got out of hand and has led to celebrities being famous for being famous, but not for having any talent. Is it possible that youngsters today aspire to be like these celebrities, who have got to where they are without hard work, without taking risks, without ingenuity or inventiveness, rather than aspire to be scientists or engineers or artists. Of course a lot of the problem with art today is the culture of the celebrity artist; talentless artists famous for being famous. The Turner prize tends to laud these particular artists, but scientists and engineers, even the Stephen Hawkins, Lord Winstons or Richard Dawkins, largely seem to escape this media frenzy. Unfortunately politicians pander to it; indeed to retain power or achieve it in the first place, one has to play this media game: anyone who doesn't, or worse, criticises it, probably would not last long. The promotion of fame as something to aspire to, not as a by-product of what you do, but as an end in itself; the concept that you can get rich and be famous without effort or intelligence, is a dangerous thing. It inverts society, bringing to the top those that least deserve to be there; replacing those that should be leaders with people who only deserve to be included in a involuntary euthanasia program. Leaders should inspire, but how can we be inspired by people that have no inspiration themselves, other than to be famous.

Bizarre Advertising

Ploy and I were watching the TV last night, I think one of those home makeover programs: with the house purchase hopefully not so far away we are relishing the idea of getting our paintbrushes out to stamp our individuality on our new house. The fact we were watching someone who thought nothing of ripping out an entire kitchen and re-building it with a staff of just ten skilled craftsmen was incidental. But I digress: an advert appeared on my $350 CRT, 4:3, TV for a super duper fantasmagorical flat screen display from Panasonic. It consisted of a number of garishly clothed individuals prancing around, (including two saffron robed Thai monks), with the motto, buy our TV, the colours are like nothing you have ever seen before. There are similar adverts from other manufacturers showing us the realism of their images. So how does that work then, given that I am viewing these incredible images through my own $350 CRT, 4:3 TV. Wouldn't my own $350 CRT 4:3 TV have to be at least as good as these images for me to get the full effect of how good their images were? Am I missing something or are these companies being conned by a shrewd marketing company? Or, more likely, are both marketing departments too stupid to realise the flaw in their campaign? Or is my faith in mankind to be further eroded as every home in Canada is cooing at their TV screen saying, 'Oh Frank, we have to buy one of these, look how much better the picture is than our old TV'.

Mooning

Sawatdee Pee Mai (Happy New Year) to all my Thai visitors.

Photo of Full MoonI am so naive sometimes. I had assumed, stupidly it appears, that the Moon was somehow off limits. Like Antarctica, it is not to be exploited for commercial gain, but to left to scientific interests only. Well, apparently this is not the case as this article discusses. Corporations, including the Hilton hotel, as well as individuals have been buying up acres of the lunar surface, without a clue as to where on the moon they are or how they might ever exploit them, or indeed even knowing how legal the procedure is. Already there is talk of shipping back quantities of Helium-3 as a future fuel. OK, the latter is not such a bad idea if it helps stop pollution and doesn't produce radioactive waste products. But if this is the case wouldn't it be a lovely idea if this was done without financial gain being involved. Similar to the Europe/NASA collaborative space programs it could be a combined effort with all benefiting from the results. Land, and who 'owns' it, lies at the root of a lot of the world's problems. It is a shame that we are creating future problems by not properly administrating the Moon, (or indeed any other planet), and deeming them off limits to commercial exploitation. What will be the outcome when you have Russia, China and the US fighting over some Helium-3 field at sometime in the future. Haven't we been here before? This would be literally a Cold War.

'No, Put it away, This is our treat'

The take home salary I receive in Canada is approximately half the figure that appears at the top of the page. Between the top and the bottom are series of acronyms with various numbers by the side of them. I have no idea what these mean, and can't be bothered to find out. So in total, the deductions from my salary amount to over twice the maximum tax rate in Singapore, and three times what I actually paid in tax in Singapore. And there is nothing I can do about it. I am not a permanent resident in Canada but I still have to pay these sums. Of course my salary here is considerably higher than in Singapore, to compensate for the deductions, and we can afford to buy a house here, with a garden, which we could not in Singapore, (land is at a premium on the small island). I guess Singapore has economies of scale that don't benefit Canada, but I do wonder why the tax has to be so greatly different. It was even worse in the UK, where deductions include the 10% for the 'free' hospital and doctors, which increasingly have to be supplemented by personal insurance to ensure a quality of service; you can't opt out, and despite all those years of contributions having left the UK I cannot now use the service for free.

I was, therefore, amused (if that is the correct word), by this article in the independent, Mark Steel. When I was younger there was talk of the 'brain drain'; the loss of talent to other countries because of the tax situation. It is pleasing to see that this situation has been remedied by allowing tax loopholes that permit the super-rich to pay tax at an effective rate of just 0.14%. I wonder if the benefit by having the people in this country offsets the fact they don't pay tax? Especially while, at the same time, the government pursues the poorer people for not paying tax. It took me two years to shake off the tax people when I moved to Singapore. I had no remaining interests in the UK, no house, no dependents, nothing, yet they persisted in sending tax demands. At the same time these priceless, cannot-do-without' managers are allowed to flaunt the fact they pay next to nothing. I am willing to bet that there are a thousand other people who could do their job; in most cases I expect they are CEOs; not the people who started the company, who had the original idea, who grew the company, but some talentless, overpaid executive who presides over the company but who will be off like a shot if things start going belly-up. I have seen many of these type in my career, together with the sycophantic arse-lickers that surround them; it is disappointing to find they are being so amply rewarded.

The Museum of Bad Art

Museum of Bad ArtI found this website, Museum of Bad Art. It really brought a smile to my face. The choice example on the left I think illustrates better than anything I could put into words why this site is worth a visit. Enjoy!

Last night Ploy and I spent the evening watching a DVD on the life of Freddie Mercury. I was never a Queen fan when they were in their heyday, but I bought a DVD of their Wembley concert and I was surprised to find Ploy really liked it. I bought another concert performance at Milton Keynes and then found this biographical DVD last night which also includes some of his non-Queen performances. Ploy's thriftiness prevents me taking her to many concerts but I wouldn't have to do much persuading to get her to see Queen. I certainly under-estimated his ability as a song writer. As Ploy said, I am certain he would still be as famous now had he not died: unlike Elton John who churns out the same old sentimental dross year in, year out, Freddie constantly explored new avenues. I would not be surprised had he written a complete opera if he had lived.

I have been following the cricket world cup on the Internet and I have been disappointed how such an event seems to have become such a damp squib. It seems to have gone the same way as the football world cup; a chance for the sport's governing body to show how they couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery. I am hoping Sri Lanka can win, but only if they do so by scoring 400 in the final, against Australia, and with Sanath Jayasuriya scoring the first double hundred in one day cricket.

5-minute Interview

The Independent newspaper runs a regular series of '5-minute interviews' with 'celebrities', so I thought I would answer the questions myself, just for fun, (I know I am not a 'celebrity, but neither are most of the people they interview).

If I weren't talking to you right now I'd be...

Working, either at my day job or writing my novel or writing my art history dissertation. If truth be told, I am a bit of a workaholic.

A phrase I use far too often is...

Bugger.

I wish people would take more notice of...

Education. It is used as a political buzzword when appropriate but lack of education lies at the root of many of the world's troubles.

The most surprising thing that ever happened to me...

Effectively being head-hunted for my current job. I was genuinely flattered.

A common misperception of me is...

I am clever. I am not stupid, but I cannot be clever as my mathematics ability is poor.

I'm not a politician but...

I wouldn't want to be unless I could be a dictator. Trying to convince stupid people that what I was doing was for everyone's benefit would be too frustrating.

I'm good at...

Cooking and giving the appearance of listening to people.

But I'm very bad at...

Waiting for people who are late.

The ideal night out is...

Having an intensely spicy dinner and a bottle or two of Chang beer with my wife at the Baan Gluay restaurant in Saraburi, Thailand.

In moments of weakness I...

Drink too much wine.

You know me as a engineer, but in a truer life I'd have been a...

Astronomer.

The best age to be is...

Anything other than school age; I didn't like school.

In a nutshell, my philosophy is this:

There is only one shot at life, have fun, but be fair to others who deserve it.

Portsmouth

Photo of TriCorn PortsmouthI was born in Portsmouth and I still retain some affection for the city, but I find it difficult to defend these comments from Boris Johnson, even though he is renowned for his verbal hyperbole, and maybe shouldn't be taken seriously. For a town to be a city it must have a cathedral, but Portsmouth must have the most drab unimpressive cathedral of any city in Britain and was home to a polytechnic, not a university. Of course the great thing about Portsmouth is that it is an island, albeit only just, with Langstone harbour on one side, the Solent on the southern side, and the naval harbour on the west side. But when I was young I remember that the council decided to fill in the land to allow commercial development and over the years the council have continued to make some extraordinary decisions which have slowly diminished and worn away the rich architectural and historical heritage of the city. I remember walking from my parents house towards the city centre, and being able to tell the time by the clock in the Guildhall. But slowly that view was eroded as more and more drab offices were erected around it. The pretty Victoria Park which lie at the back of the Guildhall, which had a small aviary, slowly became so isolated that new visitors to the city didn't even know it was there, and the adjacent shops and theatre slowly became isolated and fell into disrepair. In fact the whole city centre, blighted by one of the worst buildings that can ever have been designed, the Tricorn (shown right), became fragmented and without a heart. The biggest asset of the city, the seafront, slowly became little more than a vantage point from which to watch gigantic ferries wash away the shingle beach. Clarence pier became faded and faintly sinister, and the old part of the seafront became a noisy tourist trap. It is not that money was not being spent, vast sums were wasted on pointless projects such as that Millennium Spire, that stands out like a sore thumb amidst the naval history that surrounds it. I guess things cannot always stay as you want them, but Portsmouth, with all its natural assets, has been ruined by a succession of bad planners. It is a shame.

Doctors and Chicken

Ploy may well have found a job, packing frozen breaded chicken at a factory near to where we live. She had applied for a job in a restaurant that we frequent, but she was told by a waitress they only wish to employ Chinese or Japanese staff, but the owner told her 'officially' the position was already filled. That, apart from probably being illegal, seems an excuse, as Ploy can speak some Japanese and is fluent in Mandarin, and the position was still be advertised days later. It seems a clear case of discrimination and has lost the restaurant two regular customers. It is probably for the best as Ploy's new job has regular day hours and she gets her weekends free.

It may be a bit presumptuous but I have been looking for Ontario universities that offer a PhD in Art History. I have been having some e-mail conversation with this one, about 350kms from where we live, and it seems very promising. It seems I may be able to study whilst also keeping my current job. The one obstacle is the language requirements. Although it depends on the subject that you wish to study, they prefer you to have a fluency in at least one other major European language, (assuming you are studying Western art). I must do something to overcome my fear of learning another language. The three obvious languages to consider are Italian, French and German. Italian would be useful if I wanted to study more about Giovanni Martinelli, but is less useful for my art study, French is easy to study here as it is the second language of Canada, (or first?), and German is probably the most relevant to my art study, (for example the philosophers Kant and Reigl). I must see if I can find an evening course in one of these languages so I can be up to speed by the time I have to enroll on the doctorate.

Jailing the Stupid

This news story is of a Swiss man, who having lived in Thailand for ten years, and therefore, you would think, would know better, decided to deface some posters of the king, and was therefore jailed for twenty years; reduced to ten years because he pleaded guilty. Further evidence for his stupidity is that he apparently thought to initially plead not guilty, even though he had been caught on surveillance cameras. When I read this article to Ploy she just responded with 'Good'. Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of Thailand would know that you do not say anything against the Thai king. Even I, with my near hatred of the British monarchy, have to say that without the unifying influence of the king, Thailand would be an uncomfortable place to live, possibly more like Myanmar. I felt privileged to be part of the King's 60th anniversary celebrations in 2006. Whilst I think the lese majeste laws under which he was accused are draconian, this man was essentially jailed for being stupid, and I am all for that. Let's be clear, this is nothing to do with democracy, (assuming we think that is some ideal we should use a reference, which I don't), or freedom of speech, this man committed an act of drunken vandalism. In fact a lot of the world's problems may be made a lot better if we jailed more stupid people. We would need to build a lot more prisons though.

The Work Ethic

It was Ploy's birthday last week, so I used some of my old Hilton points, saved from years of travel in Asia, to get a couple of nights free at the Niagara Falls Hilton. We had a room on the 17th floor overlooking the casino and waterfall, but an even better view could be had at the Photo of Ploy and Niagara Fallsrestaurant on the 33rd floor. We spent the first night in the casino where we both lost all we had quite quickly, although it was 1a.m. before we got back to our room, and the second night wandering around the small town. The proximity of Niagara to the US border also allowed us to travel over and get Ploy's letter of authorisation turned into a work permit. If anything cemented our decision to stay in Canada it was the respective receptions we received at the two immigration offices. The Canadian immigration was courteous and welcoming, and the US otherwise. None-the-less we did spend some money there buying some scales and a nice spice rack. If there is one thing America does well, it is shopping malls, especially as we are now pricing up things for when we can afford to buy a house.

Now Ploy has her work permit, I need to type up her resume and get her a social security number. She so wants to help with saving for the house or buying the furniture when it would be so easy for her to just stay at home. But she has been pushing me to get her this work permit ever since we decided to stay in Canada, and now the weather is improving and spring seems to have arrived there is no holding her back. For myself I need to get back into work: travelling disrupts the work routine, and I need to re-submit my dissertation proposal as the first one was rejected for being to theory based. I also haven't written anything on my novel for about a month now, I have slipped into the 'sitting in front the TV mode' when I get in from work, not helped by the constant stream of CSI that is on offer. I am being earmarked for a number of other business trips, including Russia and South America, places I have never visited before, but the impact of the travel on my essay will be disastrous so I need to knuckle down and get on with it.

A final farewell

Photo of Orchard Road SingaporeI have just returned from a week in Singapore. From the time I first arrived at Toronto airport to find it was the start of the school holiday week, so the airport was heaving, to when I returned to a blocked luggage carousel, again at Toronto, the whole week was an endurance test. However the goals were achieved, at work, and also the personal goals. So we have recovered all of our luggage, all 96kgs of it that Singapore kindly allowed us to take, and we have revoked our Singapore permanent residence status, not without a little sadness. However I must say this trip did not endear me to Singapore. Just five months away in the quiet of Canada, and I found Singapore too busy by far. Even in that short time the MRT seemed busy all the time, the streets were always full with shoppers, (the photograph was taken at 7.30a.m.), the airport was busier, and everything was in a state of flux. I sat in the Crossroads Cafe at the Marriott hotel, a favourite people watching spot, only to be accompanied by the sound of a pneumatic drill to the right as the Scott's Square is refurbished, and just across Orchard road another development is being built. Everywhere I went there were condominiums appearing from nowhere, including one just to the side of my hotel. Actually the hotel was very pleasant, but inevitably, the hotel swimming pool was being worked on, so catching a little sun and enjoying a cool swim was accompanied by a pneumatic drill. I was told that the Singapore government, in their continued aim to keep growing, want Singapore to become 6.5M people by 2010 from its current 4.5M: I see another new MRT line is being built to accommodate this, not the Circle line already under construction, but a brand new Downtown line. More construction, more pneumatic drills. I only found time to visit one ex-colleague, and guess what sounds accompanied our conversation. My trip home was joined by a child having a tantrum for what must have been the entire fifteen hours of the flight from Hong Kong. At this point those drills would have been more welcome, at the very least so we could have attacked the child with them. If this had been a teenager or adult something would have been done, but because it was child of two or three absolutely nothing was done. I imagined that scene in the movie 'Airplane' where a hysterical passenger is met by a queue of suitably armed passengers who are there to 'calm' her down. I must be getting old, but I hate travel now. It is good to be home.

Going to the Dogs

Photo of Ploy Dog SleddingAs I am going away for eight days, and I have been busy the last couple of weekends, I promised to take Ploy somewhere on Saturday. Friday morning I was looking through through places to visit and I accidentally came across this place, http://www.ridethewilderness.com/. Ah, I thought, dog sledding, this is it. I am sure Ploy will love the dogs and it is a chance to see something more of Canada. I now have satellite navigation installed in the car, so there is even a chance we will find the place. Luckily, because of the weather, there was a cancellation Saturday morning, so I left work early, picked up Ploy, and we drove the five hours north-east of Waterloo to Maynooth. It was a wonderful trip up, once we were north of Toronto, as we passed numerous frozen lakes and forests and drove through a blizzard. We had been recommended a place to stay, which was OK, although Ploy didn't have a good nights sleep Photo of Dan and Ploy Dog sleddingbecause of a rowdy group of fellow guests who were there for the ice fishing. But the next morning made up for it. It was just a fifteen minute drive from the lodge to the dog sledding. There were just two other couples, one for snow mobiling and one couple, who were students at Waterloo university, who were with us for the dog sledding. It was a short walk to dogs, twenty of them, who howled as we approached. Over the next two hours we set up the sleds, learned how to harness the dogs, were given instructions and warnings, (we had to sign a form before we set off absolving responsibility for anything that happened to us that day), and most importantly, got to know the dogs. Ploy was given two dogs, which was thought would be enough for her, the rest of us had three. And so we were off on the trail. It was great fun, although I fell off three times, but it was not my fault. My dogs seemed to have something to prove and no matter how much I tried to brake and hang back, as soon as I let them go, they were off and in no time at all were sniffing the heels of the person in front; I fell off trying to brake and steer at the same time. Ploy was a natural, leaning into the bends and with an innate feel for the whole thing. The dogs seemed to love it, even when they were tired, once they had caught their breath, they were howling to be let go again. Once we got back we unharnessed them and took them back to their kennels, and then it was the trip home. I think Ploy is up for it again next year, maybe for a longer trail, and it certainly cemented her choice of dog when it becomes time to buy one. The only disappointing thing was I never got to say 'mush' once.

Our House

Photo of the front garden of our house in ThailandI had to leave for Canada before the work was completed on our house in Thailand, but Ploy did take a couple of photos of it before she left, and it does look very good. The garden has been converted into a shingled, Japanese garden look, with just small beds for the plants; much easier for our neighbours to take care of when we are not staying there. A car port has also been added and few additional repairs have been done to the roof and awnings. Ploy is talking about about doing more. We have an extension built by the previous owners, but not very well apparently and Ploy wants to have it knocked down and rebuilt, on two levels this time. I have persuaded her to at least wait until we afforded something in Canada first. I am unsure about the Thai house; will we ever do more than just visit there for holidays? Should we keep investing in it, other than upkeep. It is a nice idea to have a house here and one in Thailand, to live in the Thailand one and rent this one out; being a university town that should not be so difficult, although finding an agent to take care of it in our absence maybe more so. But I do find myself increasingly reticent about moving to Thailand because of the visa issues, the yearly run to renew the visa, the quarterly trips to the local police to confirm my presence. If only permanent residency was an option, but on the expat forums, I have never heard of anyone achieving it. Perhaps I could buck the trend; maybe, because it requires a reasonable mastery of Thai, no-one has bothered to try. The other question, is what would I do in Thailand. I could write, but most other avenues are barred from foreigners. Of course, I could do the work, but let Ploy own the business. Alternatively I could do the work there, but keep the business registered in Canada. Hmm, maybe there are options after all. Sitting in our garden under the shade of tree writing the latest chapter of my soon to be best selling novel does have an appeal.

Photo of our sponsored child, PairadaHer name is Pairada and she will be 2 years old next month. 'Nalak', said Ploy when I first showed her her photo ('Cute'). We pay $33 a month, about 1000 baht; we can write to her and visit her, and the money is used to ensure her well being as she grows up. The organisation ensure the money is being used wisely, and they keep us informed of her progress on a regular basis. Importantly, for me at least, the scheme has no political or religious affiliations. Her mother and father are rice farmers in the Nongbualamphoo region of Thailand. It was such a simple thing to do I don't know we haven't done it before, although I must admit I was unaware of such schemes in Singapore, but I am sure they must exist. But it feels good to be doing something, giving something back if you wish to put it that way.

One of Ploy and I's favourite programs on TV is CSI, we never tire of it. Just occasionally we see them use a piece of equipment called ESDA, which is used to visualise indented writing. The company that invented that, Foster and Freeman, are based in the UK, and they were the third company I worked for, and the company that were incidental in me leaving home for the first time. I did not work on ESDA, but I did work on equipment for glass refractive index measurement, GRIM, which I was pleased to see is still being sold, and on other image processing equipment. It is satisfying to look back on this part of my career and know you had just a little influence.

Pumpkins

Not long after I started my own company, another small company I had an orders from, offered me 25,000 pounds to close down my company and work for them. My new house had been bought for 28,000, so effectively, at less than 30 years of age, I would own my own house outright. I refused; I was going to build an ICI I thought, and such an opportunity never arose again. When my company ran into financial problems I used the house to guarantee our debts, and when the company failed, we lost the house. I sometimes wonder if, with all the moves and changing jobs, I shall ever get to that situation again, yet with zero pension, I need to get there. I mention this because Ploy talked to me last night about the 'what ifs' in her life. I generalise elsewhere about Thai people not looking back, what has happened has happened, but Ploy was asking what would have happened to her if we had never met. 'You would be a successful business woman in Thailand', I replied. 'Not so', she answered; 'before I met you,' she continued, 'a monk told me I would marry a white man from a long way away, and I would never make a successful business in Thailand because I am not really Thai.' And thinking about it, that is probably true. Ploy's businesses have always needed my support; a little like mine they were all potential and no revenue. Away from our home countries things might be different. Ploy's small job in a perfume factory in the UK allowed us to save for a deposit on a house there, and now she wants to do the same again here. And I must do something to start some small sideline business; there have been so many ideas, but I have not followed through on them, scared in some ways of repeating my mistakes of before. But when I get my stuff back from Singapore I must do something.

When I got home from work last night, Ploy was sat on the floor hollowing out some pumpkins. She was going to make a desert by re-filling them with their pulp, mixed with egg and coconut. We never got to try that because I mentioned they would make a good soup. A little later I was inventing a pumpkin soup, something I had never made before, and the rollmop herring salad that was to have been our dinner, was put on hold. I mention it here because Ploy never got to the salad and devoured the soup with just the occasional mutter between slurps of 'delicious, aroy mark mark', which she does not give out lightly. So take your lumps of pumpkin flesh and one white onion, toss in a little olive oil, and roast them in the oven until soft. Puree them in a blender using a little vegetable stock to get the right consistency. Put the soup into a saucepan and warm, checking for seasoning, (I added a little salt and pepper). I served with a little sprig of coriander and a few drops of tabasco which looked good against the intense orange-yellow of the pumpkin - it looks like a posh restaurant meal said Ploy - but also adds a little spice to the soup.

The Kiss of Death

After my own laptop hard drive had given up the ghost, instead of paying out to repair it, I decided to just use my work laptop and install all my personal stuff on there. Yesterday that laptop also decided to die on me and the hard drive needs re-formatting which means I lose everything again. This time I think I have a backup, but it still takes a while to get everything running smoothly again and in any case I won't have the laptop back until Monday so I will have to come into work this weekend to work on my art history essay.

The trip to Singapore is definitely on; I leave on 10th March for one week. Because of my company's travel policy I also have to travel most of the way on Air Canada; not an exciting prospect, but it does mean I can get everything finished in Singapore at last, such as closing the PR status and bringing back the couple of boxes we were forced to leave in Singapore. I hope this will be the last trip I have to do for a while.

We have applied for Ploy's work permit; we should get the letter of authorisation in a couple of week's time. We then have to travel across the US border at Niagara Falls to get the letter turned into a real work permit. Ploy has promised, once she has a job, to save for the furniture in our house, if I save for the deposit on the house.

Sponsoring a Child

We had independently seen the advert on TV, and both of us felt we should do something, (PlanCanada). We had spoken about adoption quite a lot, and it something that is a matter of when, not if. But first we have to get more settled, and get our own house, and that will take a little while longer. But in the meantime, while Ploy feeds scraps to our neighbours dog, Izzy, we both agreed on the profile of the child we would sponsor. She would be from Thailand, so that we can visit her when we visit again; and yes a girl, because that is what I would like if we were to adopt. And she should be between 1 and 5, which is Ploy's request. I voted for eighteen years old, but apparently that option is not available. So in 2-4 weeks time we get her photo and name, and for just $33/month, we can help ensure her welfare in a small way.

More Nonsense

I was still living in the UK when passengers started to be called customers. It could have been worse, and maybe today it is, and we could have been called clients, a term only used by solicitors, estate agents and prostitutes; and I don't intend any offence to the latter. This wonderful article, Clive James, vents the same frustrations I feel over the increasingly prevalence of marketing buzzwords, (read bullshit), that invades our lives today. I quote, 'In fact, the last thing that a passenger who has already been outraged by being called a customer wants to hear when he is sitting, or probably standing, in a train running late, or probably not running at all, is a voice on the public address system calling the train a service, when providing a service is exactly what it is currently in the process of not doing'. It adds nothing of value, and gives work to people who, in a fair society, should otherwise have their blood slowly drained from their bodies. Every major company now spends huge sums of money, not for advertising, to help sell their products, but to create an image; an image that would, and should, be created through the quality and good name of their products anyway. Who in their right mind buys a product because it has 'sense and sensibility' or is 'digitally yours'.

Back Home

Interior of limousineI was shattered on the Saturday, after returning from my week in California. I spent the day sat in front of the TV watching an old episode of McCloud. Ploy went out to visit a new friend, a girl from Laos who has recently married a Canadian man. We both went to bed early as Ploy had tried to stay up all Friday night to wait for me, but had failed just a couple of hours before I arrived. Although we have spent quite a lot of time apart throughout our marriage, with her business in Thailand and all my business trips, we now find it increasingly difficult to be separated for some reason.

I am thinking of ways I can avoid travelling to Singapore. Travel is becoming a real pain, my new company being no more accomodating with its travel organisation than my pervious one. It seems OK to travel by limousine from the airport to work, but the Air Canada flight back, even though it is overnight, has no blankets or pillows, even for purchase, and this flight had no water, so there were no hot drinks or water in the toilet. I managed a fitful 3 hours of sleep at most. When the same is applied to a trip to Singapore, which at best involves a five hour flight from Toronto to Vancouver, and then an eleven hour flight to Korea, a one hour transit to refuel the plane, and then a six hour flight on to Singapore, it will probably take two weeks to recover. And that is assuming they allow me to fly Singapore air where at least I can expect a decent level of service, including free pillows for all!

I have finalised my abstract for my art history dissertation, but I am finding it difficult to get into the essay, probably with all the distractions that work is now giving me, particularly the travel. Anyway for what it is worth, here it is: at least it allows to explore some aspects of aesthetic value, which is the reason I chose to study art.

In this essay, I wish to discuss the aspects of horizontality and verticality in a work of art. I will look at some theoretical positions that have attributed preferences to one or other and discuss and consider if the scientific Cartesian mapping of a work can be overlaid with a sensory mapping; whether the vertical and horizontal aspects instil particular reactions in a viewer and can be located within a particular theoretical framework. I will also discuss Krauss and Bois’s concept of the ‘formless’ which attempts to diffuse these polarised positions. Lastly I will discuss the theoretical positions in relation to Rachel Whiteread’s ‘mattress’ works.

The Northern Lights

This article brought back memories, Northern Lights. When I worked as a technician at Southampton University - I must have been about 20 years old - I was slowly introduced to the wonderful intensified image isocon cameras that the atmospheric physics group used to study the aurorae borealis, or northern lights. When they then travelled to northern Sweden to study the lights first hand, I was invited along to coax the camera into operation each night. It was a wonderful experience for a young engineer, and I got to see the lights at first hand, an unforgettable sight. I have no photographs of that time anymore and I can't remember the names of the places we stayed except for Lulea, which was the last recognised town; we stayed at a radar station if I remember correctly who were coordinating our image recordings with magnetometer and radar measurements. And it was cold, -40degC I think. Little did I know this was all preparation for our time in Canada. Working at the university was a terrific experience; we supported the electronics needs of the physics group researchers, designing and making equipment for their experiments. Apart from this group we spent a lot of time heating up filaments with constant current sources, and I won a design idea award with an electronics magazine for my 'constant current source using a power MOSFET'. Happy Times.

The Fun has Gone

When I started studying art history seriously, amazingly way back in 1999, my tutor told me, you will never enjoy visiting an art gallery again. The same can be said for anything of course, in relation to literature or music or electronics; once seriously studied your view changes, what was once done for fun becomes something that is work, and it can be difficult to switch from the analytical way of thinking. My tutor's comments have now been brought home to me, as I have received feedback from my last year project. The comments are extremely useful and should help me with this final year's dissertation. But the one area where I fell down very badly was in applying theories from 40 or more years ago to today's art work: the work and the theory should be contemporaneous. This suggests that those older theories, (Modernism), are now inapplicable or redundant. I am unsure that is the case. Things certainly have moved on with much more attention paid to the circumstances, social and political, that were present at the time of the works creation, and more use of psychoanalysis to analyse the motive behind the symbology. All of this brings more to the complete picture, but it does not usurp Modernism, which was the last attempt to assess the value or aesthetic appeal of a work of art. And that is why I chose to study art history, to understand why it is I like some paintings and not others. It seems this question, perhaps more a question of philosophy that art history, has been ignored in the last forty years.

$25,000,000

Now this could be a prize worth winning, BBC News. 25 million dollars would certainly come in handy! Of course it is arrogant, or maybe just plain stupid to believe that an individual could win such a prize, but there is a precedent; John Harrison, who determined a way to calculate longitude, although it may have helped he was a genius. Well we can all dream, I just wish I had paid more attention in the organic chemistry lessons all that time ago.

I have managed to restore all my old files after my hard disc crash and now I just need to rebuild my old laptop with a new harddisc drive. And I will make sure I keep more regular backups. I am travelling to California next week: I must say I really don't like travel any more. Tomorrow I will wake up at 4.00a.m. for a flight that doesn't leave Toronto until 8.40a.m. It is the time it takes to clear customs and immigration that is the unknown, which when leaving Canada for the US is done at the Canadian side. At least I now know my way around a little bit better so the journey is more 'comfortable'.

A compulsory sabbatical

Ploy in the snowI sat staring at the blue screen but it didn't go away, no matter how much I willed it to. I knew what it meant, my hard disc drive was about to go wherever hard discs drives go when they die. My little USB backup drive was thousands of miles away in Singapore, so I had to try to coax one last backup onto a borrowed portable drive. No luck, each time it crashed mid backup, no matter how incrementally I did it. And then, disaster, a corrupted system.ini file and that was that. The immediate issue was all the passwords contained in memory and in e-mails, all hiding on that little 2.5inch platter; I didn't realise how many I had accumulated over the years. Well, I have at least got the website back up again, and slowly everything else can be recovered. I bought one of these, Laptop HDD-USB Interface,which I hope will allow me to recover all my lost files.

Since I last wrote, I have spent a week in California on business, and I have to travel again next week. At then end of this month I will return to Singapore, again on business, when I hope to rescind my permanent residence status.

The weather here has been cold with daily snow flurries. With the windchill it has dropped to as much as -28degC, which certainly discourages going outside. Aside from the cold though, everything seems to keep working, the busses run, the shops and schools are open: what a difference to the UK where they have had their first snow of the year in the south which, predictably, has brought everything to a grinding halt.

The last year of my Masters is now well under way, as it seems to have been in all previous years, immediately I have to travel. My dissertation outline has to be completed by 5th March which is now looking problematic. At least I am happy with the essay subject, so hopefully, I will be able to knuckle down properly this weekend. I have also written another chapter of my novel; 12,853 words and counting. George, the main character is really beginning to take shape and I have reordered the narrative to give him and Hannah even more emphasis. It is fun to do and Ploy is very encouraging, wondering when the book will be published and taken up by Hollywood!

Swallows and Amazons

Yacht at the Toronto boat showYesterday we went to the Toronto boat show. Apart from the frustrations of finding it - in North America signs are used as a sort of 'Ah here you are" indication, there doesn't seem to be a necessity to point where HWY401-W is until you actually happen upon it, or the boat show for that matter which I naively thought might have warranted more than a single poster directly outside the main doors - and the frustrations of most of these exhibitions in not providing anything more than crap fast food at extortionate prices and nowhere to sit and eat it. It is about the boats however, and in that respect it was interesting. Ploy has always said Ploy in front of canoesthat, in order, we should get a car, (now we have one, well two actually), then a house, (well we have one, well still one at the moment), and then a boat, although she qualifies that by mentioning that a boat is only a luxury item and we should buy another house first, 'for renting out'. It was still fun to look. They say if you are born by the sea you should live by the sea, and I must admit I do miss it if I am away from it for any period of time. We have the Great Lakes here, which to all intents and purposes are the sea. Ploy seems to have developed a fascination with canoeing and was looking at those prices, until she found some of the high end boats, that cost between two and three times a decent house. I did find a nice boat, that is the price of an expensive car, that you can sleep in and is rugged enough to go most places, ("will this one be able to go to Thailand?" queries my intrepid wife). Ploy is right, it is a luxury item, but the idea of taking the boat from a berth near here all the way down to the West Indies does have a certain appeal.

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