Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Friday, August 30, 2013

.....the right of the people to bend and melt Arms, shall not be infringed.

Remember Shane Claiborne? I posted about him here. Well, he has been getting involved in an awesome project, to wit, beating AK47s into shovels. As I remarked on Facebook, I await the sequel where they turn landmines into pruning hooks.

But seriously: how cool is that?

Here's his video.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Unlike Grigor Rasputin, these Russians were not impervious to the effects of cyanide

The day we arrived back in Edinburgh after our American adventure there was a bit of excitement if the middle of town, with the Scotsman Hotel (on North Bridge - it's in what used to be the offices of The Scotsman newspaper) being evacuated and sealed off after a "chemical incident". There weren't too many details released, except that two people had been found dead in a hotel room and that a cylinder of a chemical had been taken away.

As the evacuation was very localised (and the casualty list very short) we clearly weren't talking about nerve agents or other war gases here. On the other hand, it must have been something gaseous or volatile, and highly toxic, to have caused the problem in the first place. I guessed a cyanide-driven suicide pact, and I seem to have been dead right (though I missed the nitrous oxide part). Certainly a lot more exciting than most finds of dead bodies in Edinburgh.

Here are a couple of vaguely relevant blasts from the past (1979 and 1978 respectively). No disrespect intended to the unfortunate pair in the hotel. Though as they were together in death perhaps I should borrow the phrase from Virgil, who in book IX of the Aeneid describes the equally dead best mates Nisus and Euryalus (very much a case of "don't ask, don't tell", it would appear) slain together, as "fortunati ambo" = "fortunate both", or "O happy pair".

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sets and Dragon, Rock and 'Roll

Two weeks ago yesterday I took part in a Tai Chi demonstration in Princes Street Gardens to try to attract people to come along and give it a go. (It's good fun, excellent for fitness and health, and sufficiently exotic to appeal to people for whom yoga is so last century. We did a couple of sets, which look pretty weird when you watch from outside with no idea of what's going on, but whose 106 (I think) moves actually form themselves into little repeated groups so it's not too difficult to rmember what comes next, especially when you're surrounded by people who've been doing it for decades.

We didn't just do Tai Chi, though, oh dear me no. We ran our dragon. You know, the one I described back here. When it came down to it, I didn't actually spend any time inside the dragon (as before, we were only using half of it as we didn't have enough experienced folk to run the whole thing). I spent a lot of time helping to load it into the van out at the Taoist Tai Chi Centre, unloading it in Princes St Gardens, and doing the same in reverse at the end of the day. In between times, I was employed as the main beater of the drum that hets the dragon to move and stop in some kind of order. and I enjoyed it immensely. Playing the drum out of doors presents interesting challenges, such as trying to keep the pearl (the lady with a kind of gigantic baby's rattle who leads the dragon about) in view, trying to keep playing smoothly when one's drum is being towed around on a rope, and dealing with inquisitive small children who all want to have a go (and were allowed to do so when the dragon was resting).

You can see more pictures and a report here. I'm just left of centre in the very first picture, and can be spotted in a few of the others showing the set demonstrations. I am the drummer on the video clip, though I have to say it wasn't recorded in one of my better bits: I'd give myself about 4/10 for that extract. I was better most of the time.... Anyway, good fun, we aroused plenty of interest, and we definitely added to the festival atmosphere.

Next time we awaken the dragon (he's called Hamish, by the way) from his slumbers, I hope to be there with my drum to give him a heartbeat.

Off he went with a Trumpety-Trump

Good to see that the State of New York is to sue Donald Trump for running a fake "university" as a money-making scam.

I look forward to the day when Scotland (perhaps a newly-independent one?) sues Trump for running a fake "tourist attraction" (with fake employees whose jobs never materialised) as a way of talking up the value of his Aberdeenshire property. Though I realise it may have to wait until Alex Salmond has retired, as he was personally responsible for allowing Trump to bypass the planning consent process which would have protected us all from his greed.

Standing For Israel, Falling For Lies

Following links on Facebook (via the page of The Christian Left) I wound up on the page of this guy, who seems to write a lot of good sense. This, for example. But then i noticed the post immediately before that, entitled Standing With Israel: how bad theology duped us into supporting terrorism and oppression. Here is an extract (but do read the whole thing).

Why “Stand with Israel” theology is literally destructive

1. By saying that you “Stand with Israel” you are, by definition, saying that you “stand against” the Palestinian people. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors, not to stand against them.

2. By supporting Israel as she has continually taken land away from the Palestinian people, we have contributed to a massive crisis of refugees without a home. This has led us to stand with the oppressor, not the oppressed, as scripture commands us.

3. By supporting settlement expansions in Israel, we are supporting the Israelis breaking the law. We cannot say that undocumented immigrants in our country need to “respect the law” while supporting Israel’s daily refusal to obey international laws. That is ridiculously hypocritical.

4. This theology requires you to reject the role of “peacemaker” as Christ commanded. Almost every time the US has attempted to broker a peace deal in the middle east, I’ve seen the pro-Israel folks take to the internet to condemn western leaders for making any compromises or dividing any land. I’ve heard preachers say that to obey the Bible (citing Joel) means that we are forbidden from sharing the land with outsiders. In fact, many churches in America actually donate money to help fund these illegal and oppressive settlements. These attitudes do not reflect the love of Jesus, the role of peacemaker, and are not “Christian” attitudes.

5. This theology requires us to oppress other Christians. There are more Christians living in Palestine than in Israel, and when we support violence and oppression against the Palestinians, we are supporting the oppression of our own brothers and sisters.

6. This theology is making the job of missionaries throughout the middle east and Muslim world, more difficult. Because Christians consistently and blindly support Israel, regardless of how oppressive they are towards the Muslim community, we have damaged our witness within the Muslim community. As if missions to Muslims were not difficult enough already, our support of their oppression only adds to the level of mistrust and resentment– making the job of our missionary brothers and sisters all the more difficult.

7. By supporting Israel, we are supporting a nation that is consistently guilty of torturing children and other human rights abuses. According to a recent UN report, over a period of 10 years, thousands of Palestinian children have been kidnapped, tortured, used as human shields, and killed by the Israelis. In addition, they have also been found to have forcibly sterilized Ethiopian immigrants which has reduced the Ethiopian community in Israel. If these sorts of human rights abuses were happening in any other country, the United States would be pursuing sanctions, or war. However, the fact that this theology has been forced into national discourse as a litmus test for many politicians, we continue to support this abusive nation.

8. This theology is one of the root causes of the world’s terrorism problem. Why do “terrorists” hate us? Well, it’s not because of “freedom” as many politicians will tell you– it’s actually because of the US foreign policy towards Israel. Israel has become a bully in the middle east, killing and oppressing Muslims without even a hint of accountability from the west. The Muslim world has watched us support a bully, all in the name of our “God”, and it has grown to hate us as a result. This theology is actually creating and fueling terrorism- the same terrorism that caused 911. It has played such a significant role, that I hold preachers like John Hagee as responsible for terrorism as the terrorist themselves.

Really, you ask? Yes. The very powerful evangelical voter block, which largely has been infiltrated by this bad theology, insists that the candidates they support be unwavering supporters of Israel. As a result, US foreign policy towards Israel has been built on bad theology instead of sound reasoning.

Want to curb terrorism? We have to stop blindly supporting Israel and start caring about the rest of the middle east. We have to get people like John Hagee off the air before he incites World War III over bad theology, and little more.

9. Stand with Israel theology is causing church’s in America to funnel money to illegal terrorist activities (expanding Israeli settlements) instead of using that money to help the poor and oppressed. We have been duped into sinning by misusing our money and neglecting the needy among us. In the year 2010 alone, American Christians gave over $100 Million to charities in Israel- funding terrorism and oppression instead of tending to the poor and needy in our own communities.

Benjamin Corey also links to this video on John Hagee and the whole "Stand With Israel" movement.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Thie is what counts as "diplomacy" in Netanyahu's Israel

The reason I was looking at stories from Israel on the Daily Telegraph's site (it's not a paper I read, on the whole: if I want a right-wing "quality daily" I tend to read the Times) is that it seems to be the only British outlet to report the story of the Israeli ambassador to Sweden causing a huge row by comparing the Palestinian prisoners just released by his government with mass murderer Anders Breivik. Now I know that killing is killing, whoever does it, and yes, some of the released prisoners have blood on their hands (though rather less than Breivik). But Breivik wasn't fighting against an army that had invaded his country and slaughtered his people. He wasn't even fighting against the families of such an army. He deliberately murdered dozens of his own countrymen, mostly children, for no other reason than a dislike for their (or their parents') political views. If Isaac Bachman really can't see any difference, the Swedes should chuck him out and tell Israel to find a normal human being to represent them.

It's not a shock that the BBC and most of the mainstream media in Britain have ignored this story, though I'm a little surprised that only the Telegraph has it. Even there, it's buried in another report (though that story was also covered by the Guardian and the Independent). You have to marvel at a country which appoints as its ambassadors people who go out of their way to offend the victims of domestic terrorism, and which appoints as head of "public diplomacy" someone who both makes obscene comments about Scottish Christians and declares that the victims of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki got what they deserved and shouldn't be the object of memorial services. (There are people who say that about the Jewish victims of Hitler, and they are rightly condemned.) However, I note that the Netanyahu regime hasn't fired Seaman's sorry ass, merely told him to keep his stupid mouth shut. Well, I suppose the person who is in charge of organising fake online shows of support for everything Netanyahu does is just too valuable to lose.

The lunatics may not have taken over the asylum, but they've seized the Israeli Ministry of Defence

I often enjoy poking fun at the ignorance of right-wing loons in the USA and here in Britain over matters of history and geography. But just to show that I'm equaly happy poking fun at the historical ignorance of a right-wing loon in Israel, here is a classic from the Israeli defence minister, Moshe Ya'alon. He was making generally pessimistic remarks about the chances of success of the current round of talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and came out with this:

"We have been trying for 20 years, since Oslo, and for 120 years since the conflict began."

Fact One: Israel is sixty-five years old.

Fact Two: the "conflict" which the talks are addressing began in 1968 when Israel invaded and occupied the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza. Prior to that the Palestinians may have been pissed off that Israel had stolen their land, but as Israel's right to its territory was internationally recognised, including by the UN (as of course it still is) there was no "conflict", simply resentment.

Fact Three: 120 years ago nobody had even begun to think of inventing Israel as a country. As a place, "Israel" existed only in the Torah, where it had formed part of Jewish mythology for thousands of years. The idea that there might be such a country seemed as far-fetched as the creation of an actual Laputa, or Cloud-Cuckoo-Land. (I nearly said Narnia, but Narnia was invented a year later than Israel, in 1949.)

Whoever Ya'alon imagines was trying to make peace with the Palestinians in 1893, it wasn't the Israelis, because there would be no Israelis for another fifty-five years. And this balloon who doesn't even knpw when his own country was founded, is in charge of what is euphemistically called "Israeli defence".

Of course, in 1893 Israel didn't exist, but Palestine did. Here is a map from that year to prove it.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Yet another example of the BBC (Benny's Bullshit Cheerleaders) jumping to every whim of the Israeli regime

One day, perhaps. the management at the BBC will acquire a spine, or a sense of morality. But don't hold your breath. Now they are adding artistic censorhip to their decades-old tradition of biased "news" reporting in which all Palestinians are "terrorists" and all massacres of civilians by Israeli troops (even in other peoples' countries) are "self-defence".

Funnily enough, I've never had too much time for Nigel Kennedy before: technically great but too fond of gimmicks for my taste. But if his concerts are going to be censored by the BBC at the behest of a country which still bans the music of Wagner, then he deserves all the support I can give him.

Here is an extract from the original broadcast which the BBC considers is too dangerous for its listeners to be permitted to hear. And here is the transcript.

“It’s a bit facile to say it, but we all know from the experience of this night of music, that giving equality and getting rid of apartheid gives a beautiful chance for amazing things to happen."

I hope Mr Kennedy makes good use of his appearance at the Last Night of the Proms. If I were him I would be very tempoted to stride out onto the stage and stand in silence for six minutes instead of playing Monti's Czardas. I see the programme includes Wagner's Overture to The Mastersingers of Nuremburg. Perhaps the BBC will be persuaded by the Israelis to ban that in line with Israel's domestic policy of artistic repression?

Here is a record by a friend of mine whose promising career in pop music was killed overnight when the BBC decided to ban this record , which John Peel had already made his Record of the Year, for its (non-existent) drug references (having presumably taken no more interset in the song than reading its title). The BBC: proudly fucking with British artists since its inception. Seriously: what is the point of it?

The past is a foreign country: records were black and made of vinyl

I thought of this one when we passed several anthills today when out for a walk near Braemar. And I thought of it in the States, both when we found a minute proto-anthill at the Grand Canyon and when looking at the mighty Hoover Dam.

And I'm just linking this one because I felt like it: I seem to be having a bit of a retro day.

This is one of the very earliest records I can remember on the radio: I would have been two when it came out so maybe three at most when I remember it getting a lot of airplay.

Other music I remember from my early days:

And I loved this one:

You can't go through, the road is under construction

I'm currently reading 33 Revolutions Per Minute by Dorian Lynskey, It's a history of the protest song, and when I was reading the chapter on Dylan, it mentioned Barry McGuire's Eve of Destruction. Apprently it proved unpopular with both the left (who felt it was a waterd-down, sanitised kind of "protest pop", and with the right who felt that it was wrong to criticise American society like that as it might give aid and comfort to the enemy (no, seriously). Anyway, here it is: make up your own mind.

What I hadn't known was that one conservative singing group came up with a reply song entitled Dawn of Correction:

Personally, whenever I think of the PF Sloan song what immediately comes to mind is a snatch of the Mad Magazine parody of it (part of a series of protest songs they did, I think). I remember the accompanying cartoon was of a queue of cars waiting at a stop sign where there were road works ahead, and the lyric "And they tell you, over and over and over again my friend / You can't go through, the road is under construction." I kept humming that one every time we were stopped at roadworks in the U.S. The best of Mad's parodies were like that: catchy, memporable, and spot on. I used to love Mad, though I haven't seen it for years and suspect it's hard to get now in the UK at least. (Apparently there was a British edition which stopped in 1994.)

Of course, the other song for which Barry McGuire is famous is from his days with the New Christy Minstrels. And up until thiry seconds ago I had no idea it was written by Burt Bacharach. LOL.

Edinburgh Military Tattoo 2013 - 7 August

A week ago last Wednesday the Saunders family went to see the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. These days you either have to book about a year in advance or get tickets via some block allocation or other. Hilary had been offered some via a college connection, so we went. (It wasn't always like that: when Hilary was at school in Edinburgh it was often possible just to turn up on the night and buy tickets.)

The Tattoo, for anyone who doesn't know, is a massive show held every night on the Edinburgh Castle Esplanade, right outside the main gate, where there are massive permanent stands. They're used at other times for concerts, though the city is pretty careful about noise. The Tattoo features bands and display teams of all kinds from the armed services not only of the British Commonwealth but from all over the world. (If we're not actually at war with then, they can come.) The quality of the performances is amazing - but then the military put the same attantion to detail into training and supporting their dancers, riders, singers or whatever it might be as they do into training their snipers and mine-clearers.

For example, a few years ago (this video is from 2011 but it was longer ago when we saw them) the Royal Netherlands Army Bicycle Band wowed us all:

This year's show, in addition to the New Zealanders with their Gangnam Style and their massed (for want of a better description) weapons-grade cheerleaders, we had music and dance from Mongolia, Mexico (with a Day of the Dead theme) and South Korea.

And it finished with more than the usual complement of fireworks. We knoew that before we went, as you can see and hear them all over Edinburgh, including from our house. A good evening anyway, as even the Guardian's correspondent had to admit. (I must confess that before I went to a Tattoo for the first time I had just the same misgivings as he had, but was won over by the showmanship and professionalism of it all.)

Out of Africa

Yesterday was the first anniversary of the Marikana massacre in South Africa, a slaughter which went largely unremarked in not unreported in Britain, where interest in South Africa seems to be mainly confined to Nelson Mandela. It was a grim business, though, as this article points out. The role of the South African miners' union in colluding with the violent breaking of an unofficial strike, and the total disregard by the police of the law they supposedly draw their pay packets to protect: these are matters still needing to be brought out into the open and the guilty punished.

In a week when the world is watching pro-democracy demonstrators being butchered by a military dictator in Egypt, let's not forget the miners of Marikana. Perhaps one day there will come a reckoning for General Sisi and for his thugs and stooges, as it looks as though there may eventually be for Susan Shabangu and Cyril Ramaphosa.


Congratulations to Mo Farah on achieving the "double double" of World and Olympic titles at both 5,000m and 10,000m, making him the most successful British athlete in history.

Now what was that again about Muslims making no contribution to British society?

And I bet all the toads who say that Muslims are not fully British even if their parents and grandparents were born here are happy to accept Mo Farah's medals as British even if they think of him as a sub-human alien.

Actually, I've always found it funny that the folk who bleat about the evils of immigration (and it's always Muslim immigration, never the far more numerous folks from Eastern Europe) will tell you how these brown-skinned immigrants are all on welfare and never work, and then in the next breath will moan that all the shops on their local High Street are run by "Pakis", and that they can't find a barber any more who isn't Turkish. Still, you don't go to Paul Weston or Tommy Robinson or Nigel Farage for consistency, and if you can hold two diametrically opposed positions then you can flip-flop as you wish to dodge criticism.

Of course, the predominance of Asian shopkeepers in small corner shops is scarcely a new phenomenon (though the Turkish barber boom is fairly recent). The later 1960s and early 1970s saw the rise of what were pretty universally referred to as "Paki shops", not with any racist intent but simply as a shorthand for the kind of we-sell-everything general stores which began to spring up, mostly owned and run by Pakistani (or by what would soon become Bangladeshi) families. And let's not forget that the vast majority of Britain's "Indian" restaurants have always been run by Punjabis and Bengalis, many of them Muslim and indeed many of them hailing from Pakistan or Bangladesh rather than India. I often wonder whether the drunken thugs of the EDL, when shovelling curry into their faces after a hard day's drinking and rioting, realise that according to their own propaganda they are subsidising terrorism and funding sharia law. It's a happy thought.

The Tea Party: taking an interest in dead Americans ever since a black guy got elected President

Next time you read some Teapublican mush-head banging on about "Benghazigate" and how it shows that President Obama hates America, consider this.

Haer all those loons calling for Dubya to be tried for treason? Me neither.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Recollections of another academic year start, almost forty years ago

Last Monday's Google doodle reminded me that it was Erwin Schrodinger's 126th birthday. (It alweo reminded me that I'd forgotten to send a friend a birthday card, but that's another matter.)

I remember my very first day as a Chemistry student at Durham University back in October 1973. There we all were at nine o'clock in the morning, in one of the university's biggest lecture theatres: all the aspiring chemsists, as well as everyone who was taking chemistry as a subsidiary subject. This was the basic Inorganic Chemistry course and everyone shared it.

The door opened, and out walked a smallish chap called Dr Bannister. We would have him again in a couple of years for a course on sulphur-nitrogen compounds, but right now he would be starting us at the beginning. He turned to the whiteboard and wrote up this (or something very similar):

Now there were a few students who had clearly had some exposure to quantum chemistry before, or who could bluff well enough to pretend they had, but for most of us school chemistry had been mainly descriptive, and our knowledge of electrons and how they behaved in atoms and molecules was restricted to little drawings looking like planetary systems. By the end of this one-hour lecture we would have discovered that all that was basically wrong, and that we would be dealing with wave functions and probability densities from here on. (And to be fair, it did make understanding what was actually going on in reactions a hell of a lot easier.) But in that first minute or so after Dr Bannister wrote up the Schrodinger wave equation, you could feel the vibe in the classroom, and it went something like "Holy shit, Toto, we're not in Kansas any more!"

Back to school

Back to college this week clutching my timetable showing fifteen hours of class contact (equivalent to about two-thirds of a full-time job) but little else by way of detail other than that all the classes are basic introductions to the internet. College is still rather chaotic as there's a lot of building work going on (supposedly finishing next week). The Computing team is currently without a head of department as they're still trying to recruit one: we're likely to get an interim one from within the team (probably good news for me as that will mean more hours of coursework needing to be taught to make up for their management time, so I may pick up some more teaching). The person who drafted up the timetable has now taken voluntary severance, so it was always going to be interesting tryoing to get certainty about anything.

Amazingly, I almost know what I'm doing now. My timetable is all sorted out as far as it goes: I know who I'm teaching, I have classrooms which may be big enough to teach them in - the only fly in the ointment is that my hours have dropped to twelve. So I'm looking to pick up some more classes, maybe in basic ("Core Skills") maths or English, or in IT if anything does turn up. I have the same desk I had before, though some of my former office-mates have shifted to another room. I am getting the training organised for the teaching qualification I need to get in order to carry on lecturing after this year (there seems to be some distance learning modules and some observation of my classes). And At present I still have only one course to prepare to teach, and I taught it last term.

The upside of having a reduced timetable is that I could skip the Staff Development (read: motivational speakers and managementspeak) day yesterday with a clear conscience as I'd already worked my hours for this week. Win.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Minstrel of the Dawn

I'm in the process of backing up a load of data from my hard drive, and listening to CDs whie I do it. Right now I'm listening to Gordon Lightfoot's 1970 album If You Could Read My Mind . While at the time the album was noticed because it contained the first recorded version of Kris Kristofferson's Me and Bobby McGee (one of the very few cover versions Lightfoot recorded, but that just shows what a good judge of material he was), the tracks that stand out for me now ar these two: both coincidentally featuring string arrangements by Randy Newman. Astonishing songs both.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Route 66-ish Days 31/32

And so we say farewell..... to San Francisco, California and the USA. We got up just after 4 am, loaded up the car and drove to the airport (easliy found even without a working GPS as it's on the main highway that comes over the Golden Gate). We dropped off the car, which had travelled about 4,100 miles with us, and checked in for our Virgin USA flight to Chicago. We enjoyed finding that SF airport has a yoga room (in the Recompose Area - where else?) SFO is a very laid-back kind of airport: the announcements chasing people who were late boarding sounded more like something from The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy than the normal peremptory list of names. Oh, and Virgin's onboard safety video is hilarious - which of course is a great way to ensure people watch it.

Our connection in Chcago was very easy, but then the overnight flight to London was slightly late, giving us a very tight connection indeed for Edinburgh. Still, we made it, and even more impressively so did all our luggage.

I was pleased to see that on our Chicago - London flight there was a lady wearing a hijab. Excellent, I thought, all those Islamophobic bigots will have run screaming from the terminal and we can all fly in peace. And despite what we'd been led to expect, the security screenings in the USA were neither lengthy nor ill-tempered. I can't see why so many people complain about them. (The one in London was worse, to be honest, and we were predisposed to be irritated by that one as we were already late for boarding our flight.)

So there you are. 32 days of travelling, just over 4,100 miles of driving, twelve states (Indiana only by accident, but still....), meeting Joe and B, meeting Aric Clark, staying with Chip and Eddie. Seeing four major cities and a few smaller ones, encountering black, Hispanic and native American culture up close and personal. Riding trains, buses, streetcars, cablecars, subways, helicopters, boats and of course cars. Fifties neon, retro diners and motels, fancy hotels, fine dining. Catfish, collard greens, pancakes, eggs over hard, bagels, bread pudding, frozen custard. Wolves, white tigers, blue whales, elephant seals, condors, hummingbirds and a roadrunner. By the time we left San Francisco it was beginning to seem a very long time since we had arrived in Chicago, all wide-eyed innocence.

Route 66-ish Day 30

The last proper day of holiday, as the next day would be spent mostly in airports and planes.

We started out by hopping on the third bus tour which took us up to Haight Ashbury and Golden Gate Park, passing apartment buidongs once lived in by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and a host of others. We saw the remnant of the hippies ("absolutely great people once you get past the fact that they smell like a barn") and learned a lot about Golden Gate Park and the way its designer hated statues and hid them behind foliage where possible. We saw San Francisco's Cathedral Church of St Mary, aka "Our Lady Of The Maytag" because of its resemblance to a washing machine actuator. We then headed down into the Castro district, home to San Francisco's famous, and thriving, gay community. Here we got off the bus and had a look at the GLBT Museum, where there is a lot of information about Harvey Milk as well as other famous local lesbian, transvestite, transgender and gay characters. Just down the road was the original mission church of St Francis. After lunch we took a boat trip, under the Golden Gate Bridge, round Alcatraz (all the trips which actually land were booked up for about a month - our planning let us down there) and back to the sealions once again. in the evening we paid another visit to Chez Maman before exatcting the car from the car park ready for an early start, and packing.

Route 66-ish Day 29

So, our first day in San Francisco. We thought a good way to get an overview would be to take one of the open-topped bus rides of which there are many on offer. We picked the one from City Sightseeing Tours, which turned out to be a good choice. We got tickets which would allow us to take three tours of different parts of SF during our stay, and on the first day we did a downtown tour and one that went over the Golden Gate bridge to Sausalito. The best thing about City Sightseeing was the quality of the commentators on the buses. On the downtown tour we had Soda-Pop Jones, whose constant stream of trivia, witticisms and genuinely fascinating information made him a firm favourite with all of us. Because of where we wanted to go afterwards we actually stayed on his tour one-and-a-half times, and were amused to note that he found different things to say the second time round: he was genuinely ad-libbing, not working to a script. On the Golden Gate trip the commentator was also the driver (this was a smaller bus) and if anything he was even funnier than Soda-Pop. His name was John T (aka The Fat Man).

We had lunch at a genuine English fish and chip stand, The Codmother at Fisherman's Wharf. It was actually genuine (you had only to hear the owner's voice to know that) and did serve great fish and distinctly un-American British CHIPS (not French fries, CHIPS). Afer lunch we visited the Aquarium Of The Bay, which was good fun, did some shopping then rode the Powell-Mason cable-car line back to our hotel (or pretty close). Having eaten plenty of fish and chips we reckoned we didn't want another full meal, so we checked out Schulzie's, a local bread pudding parlor, with multiple flavours of bread pudding. I'm not sure if I'd have identified what I ate as bread pudding with my eyes closed, but however one describes it, it was a treat.

We saw a lot of fun things: the City Lights bookstore, where Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlighetti and Greg Corso made San Francisco a countercultural Mecca long before the hippie scene arrived.

A statue which was paid for by a sugar magnate, Adolph Spreckels, and modelled by his mistress Alma. Their age difference gave rise to much comment (she said she'd rather be an old man's darling then a young man's plaything, though I don't suppose the money hurt either) and gave rise to the expression "Sugar Daddy".

The bank owned by Wiliam Randolph Hearst and robbed by his grand-daughter Patty (of the Symbionese Liberation Army).

The Golden Gate bridge, and a military cemetery containing the graves of some of the original "buffalo soldiers".

The aquarium and the sealions at Pier 39.

Streetcars, and the "crookedest street in San Francisco" (Lombard Street - actually Vermont Street is steeper but has fewer turns).

Let me leave you with quite the worst food-related pun I encountered all holiday:

Monday, August 05, 2013

The death of irony

Diddly-dum, diddly-dum, diddly-dum, dum dum diddle diddly-dum, diddly-dum....

So the BBC have announced that Peter Capaldi will replace Matt Smith as The Doctor. A good choice, though like many other folk I had been hoping for a female Doctor, or perhaps a black or Asian one. (I still reckon Alison Janney would be great, though perhaps female AND American would be a step too far even for a Time Lord.)

In Britain at least, Capaldi is best known for his role as Malcolm Tucker, the utterly foul-mouthed spin doctor in the BBC comedy series The Thick Of It (and its film spin-off In The Loop). Inevitably, as soon as his name was announced the humorous "mash-ups" of Tucker and the Doctor began to appear.

Of course, Capaldi has done a lot of other great work, starting a long time ago with Local Hero and including a role in one of my favourite television book adaptations, Iain Banks's The Crow Road, in which he plays Rory. I'm sure he'll be a marvellous Doctor.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Musical interlude

While posting the Kris Kristofferson clip I found this one, which I remember from when Hilary and I saw KK in Edinburgh back in the early 1980s. Rita Coolidge guested with him, and they did this. I loved it then and I love it now.

And while listening to "Me and Bobby McGee" with its story of two drifters, a woman whose restless spirit eventually led the man to lose her, I realised that another of my favourite songs is a kind of English equivalent. It has a similar storyline, and the same sense of loss, regret and wistful love.

Route 66-ish Day 28

And the next day was very scenic, taking us up through Big Sur to Monterey. We made two stops on the way to Monterey: the first was at Piedras Blancas, where there is a very large Elephant Seal rookery which we'd wanted to see ever since we heard about it. At this time of year there are only males there, so there isn't too much aggression (no females to fight over). In fact, the seals seemed pretty laid-back and Californian. They're in the middle of a moult, so some of them have a peeling, almost sunburned, look.

A little way up the coast in Big Sur we stopped at an art gallery. The area is home to quite a few artists wanting to get away from the crowds. This one had some very nice things which we would have loved if we'd had anywhere to put them. And the several thousand dollars the big ones cost. And had been prepared to pay international shipping on bronze sculptures.

This one wasn't for sale but would certainly have been a conversation starter. (Its title was Essence.)

The sweep of the coast, with beautiful wild flowers and little coves tucked away, was marvellous.

Once past the most scenic part of the coast, where we had been taking our time to enjoy the views, we realised we still had a long way to go before braving San Francisco without a working GPS, so we elected to head inland midway up Monterey Bay and head for San Jose. This was probably a bad idea in retrospect, as the traffic was very heavy around San Jose itself, but we eventually arrived at our final resting place for the holiday: San Francisco. We got to roughly the right area of the city for our hotel but missed a turn somewhere so pulled over a telephoned them for directions. Vanessa got a little edgy while Hilary was on the phone as she was watching various drug deals going on not very far away. We eventually found the hotel, not in the rather dodgy Tenderloin district where we'd wound up but in the next district over (Civic Center). We sorted out the parking arrangements, dumped our bags and asked for a restaurant recommendation. We were directed to the corner of the block where we found Chez Maman, a really good French restaurant (we went back two nights later) on the corner of Gough St and Hayes St.

When I spotted Salinas on the map when we were planning the holiday, this song came to mind immediately. We didn't actually pass through it (though we came very close). "Somewhere near Salinas", indeed.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Route 66-ish Day 27

This was a day of clingy goodbyes with Chip and Eddie's grandchildren, slightly less clingy ones with Chip and Eddie, and then heading north up the Pacific Coast Highway. The plan was to get out of LA as directly as possible, then head up Highway 101 until Highway 1 branched off. Unfortunately, our GPS (an American one borrowed from a friend in Edinburgh) decided that this would be an excellent time to quit on us, and not all the cajoling, swearing, bribing, switching-off-and-on-again or running-down-the-batteries persuaded it to rejoin the trip. So Escape From Los Angeles turned into a longer drama than expected as while we knew where we wanted to be we didn't know how to miss the traffic. There's a lot of traffic in LA: who knew?

Eventually we hit Highway 101 and passed through various places, which while interesting enough weren't photogenic enough to stop for. We got somethign to eat in Santa Barbara, then by a combination of good luck, directions copied down from the web when we stopped somewhere with wi-fi, and our daughter's sharp eyes, we found the Courtesy Hotel in San Simeon. In between times we had a Close Encounter Of The OMG Kind when several deer strolled out onto the road and I came closer to hitting one than was comfortable.

So no pictures: this was primarily a day of covering ground, ready for the much more scenic run tomorrow.

Route 66-ish Day 26

Having missed out on decent views of blue whales on day 24, we had half price vouchers for another trip, and decided to give it a try. We'd been advised that trips in the morning were usually less rough and thus would give a better chance of decent views, so we got up fairly early and headed off (without our hosts this time as they had work to do). And guess what? we did indeed see whales: seven altogether , including the mother and calf we'd seen in the distance before. We were able to get quite close, and the noise of the largest animal in the planet's history exhaling at 170 mph is quite something, let me tell you.

Well, what did you expect? Jacques Cousteau? It's really hard to get a decent picture of something which appears in random places for a couple of seconds at a time while you're on a moving boat. Hilary got this one.

After spending around half an hour coasting about among the blue whales, we headed back towards the shore, encountering a snother school of common dolphins before passing a bell buoy on which a group of California sea-lions were basking. Well, most of them were on it.

In the afternoon I went with Eddie and the grandchildren to the local Vietnamese supermarket, mostly because I'd never seen a Vietnamese store before (it isn't an ethnicity we get much in Britain). On the way we passed the world's largest plough (or as the Americans spell it, plow).

The vegetables and fish were certainky different from anything we'd see at home.

In the evening Chip and Eddie cooked us a lovely meal and then we took our drinks out to the pool. A great end to a great day, and a wonderful stay in Los Angeles.

No cause for alarm

.... it's just that Internet access at the tail-end of our trip was a little patchy, and then we were caught up in packing and flying home. Still, we're here now, with heads and bodies mostly in the same time zones, so let the road trip reports continue!