Wars and worlds collide

The BBC World Service probably wouldn’t be an obvious listening choice for most people at work. For one thing, unless you have an office to yourself, you really need to listen with headphones because most people just want music. At one office Alene works at, everyone else is usually gone by 3:30 — so off goes the music and on goes the World Service. At the other office, she definitely needs to use headphones — but it’s usually not convenient because she finds herself often needing to get up from her desk.

Friday afternoon is different though. There’s one favorite task Alene saves for the last few hours of the week — a database maintenance exercise that allows to her to just work quietly at her desk — and this is when the headphones can go on.

It’s not so much that BBC World reports news that other radio stations don’t — but that it does do so in a way that seems to draw you in deeper. You can still keep working — but part of your mind gets carried to another part of the world.

This afternoon, the ongoing migrant crisis in Europe was getting most of the coverage, with breaks to consider other stuff — examination of the state of Russian soccer (including recent accusations of racism), anti-austerity labor action in Finland (of all places), and reaction of global markets to the Fed’s decision to leave interest rates unchanged. And, we learned that the sport of rugby is huge in Fiji — complete with male-voice choirs before matches.

News from Croatia, Serbia and Hungary is baffling to say the least — with the minds of politicians changing from hour to hour. As we listened, it made us think of The War Of The Worlds — with the entire population of southern England on the move. From there, it was a natural progression to The Shape Of Things To Come — and then The Time Machine.

We read The Time Machine while Alene was in the employ of a chain of high-end novelty gift shops — and as we contemplated the feeble-minded, feeble-bodied and easily-amused Eloi, we had no trouble imagining them as the ultimate evolutionary outcome of a certain kind of pampered consumer who loves that kind of shop (while the Morlocks are the evolutionary outcome of the rest of mankind that caters to their whims and fancies!)

These three novels by HG Wells are colliding all around us — but we’re not sure which ending we prefer…..

Meanwhile, Seattle traffic is a nightmare.


In the restroom

A man walks into a women’s restroom — and on TV and in the movies, the women scream.

This has never happened to me — and I’ve made that mistake more than a few times. The usual response is for the women to glare at me and let me know I’m in the wrong place. In England, especially in pubs, women are most likely to just laugh and pull your leg — unless they’re drunk — in which case you head for the door and perhaps leave the pub altogether. Allen agrees with me that there’s nothing worse for good-looking guys like us than a bunch of drunk women – especially when they’re on the bus you’re driving.

What’s behind the door of the ladies restroom is hardly a mystery to me. I once had to go in on purpose, when I was at a restaurant with my teenage daughter and we had a quarrel. She went to hide in the ladies restroom — and after she’d been gone half an hour, I thought I’d better go find her. I knocked on the door before peeking in — and found the coast clear. I called my daughter’s name, but got no answer. I thought I’d better not go in and start peeking under doors, so I waited outside until a mumsy-looking woman came along. I asked her if she could look for my daughter. This woman was ever so kind and came out shortly to assure me my daughter was OK and would be out once they were done having a little heart-to-heart. England doesn’t seem to make ladies like that anymore.

Anyway, in the beginning, Alene was a bit bothered about letting me see inside the women’s restrooms she visited — and I had to assure her that it was of little interest to me — and I would behave like a gentleman.

However, I have noticed something that is perfectly obvious if you think about it — but which us males are very good at not noticing. You know how men like to complain about how when women go to the restroom, they are always gone for ages? The assumption is that women not only take longer to pee, but that they then linger around to primp and preen and gossip. Well – sometimes they do — especially my wife and daughter. But what really keeps women waiting in line is one simple fact — when families go out together, the children always accompany the mother to the restroom, even if they are boys. Adult males go alone. A mother with three small children can have a stall tied up for at least twenty minutes.

When Alene visits a public restroom, I will note how busy it is before I tune out. If there are only adult women ahead of Alene, the line seems to move reasonably fast. But if there are several women with children in tow, I know it’s going to be a long wait.

The answer isn’t to ban children from public restrooms. Women’s restrooms could be designed to handle more traffic. And men’s restrooms could be made more family-friendly — so that fathers could feel comfortable taking care of small children of either gender.

When my daughter was four, her favorite playmate was a boy of the same age. I was once out with them when they needed to use the toilet. Neither child was old enough to go alone. I was not comfortable taking my daughter to the men’s room with me — it was a quite revolting public toilet in Clacton-on-Sea. But I didn’t see how I could accompany her to the ladies either. The two kids were both hopping about and the boy was holding his groin. So I just told them to go into the ladies and do their best — and then I kept my eye out for a mumsy-type who I could ask to check on them. Fortunately, such mumsy-types were a dime-a-dozen in places like Clacton in those days — and this one also watched the kids while I went to the toilet myself.

The world needs to get its act together with toilets. In much of the world, lack of access to toilets keeps girls and women from attending school and fully participating in society. And the first world — there are still far too many obstacles and inconveniences!

Gimmee steam — again

Alene was served up lukewarm coffee twice last week at her usual morning place. Each time, it was remade with no argument — but I told her it was time to go elsewhere. It’s not like there’s a shortage of choice in Seattle.

Before anyone issues a sermon about “First World problems”, let me point out that the problem at hand is less-than-hot water in a modern establishment with electricity. It’s not like someone has to go out and collect cowchips for fuel and then strike sparks from a flint to get a fire going — and use water collected from a fog catcher. In the Atacama Desert, I wouldn’t dream of complaining about the temperature of the coffee — let alone having it be remade.

If there’s anything that shouldn’t be a problem in the First World, it is hot water. ‘Nuff said.

Personally, I don’t entirely approve of patronizing the same place to the exclusion of others — unless there’s a pastry to die for that can’t be had anywhere else. Even then, it’s still a good idea to spread yourself around.

My own leaf on my own twig

I was lucky with my career. I was able to learn and grow and assume more responsibility without ever having to manage anyone but myself. In the hierarchical corporate chart, I was always my own leaf on my own twig. And as I gained experience and knowledge, what happened was that my leaf got bigger — and the twig was attached to progressively higher branches, i.e. I got to report to progressively more important people. And I was still a team player — because I supported several teams! But I always reported to just one person — and no one ever reported to me.

Alene has known the happiness of being her own leaf on her own twig — but that was a long time ago. For some reason, it’s a very hard situation to find. I think you end up there by happy accident.

There’s plenty of career advice out there for people who aspire to work their way up the corporate ladder — or for entrepreneurial types who want to start a business. But there are no mentors for those who just want to be their own leaf on their own twig.

We need to figure this out.

Gimmee steam!

Hot coffee. Most particular we are about it.

When we make coffee at home we use boiling water. And even if it’s not the correct way to make coffee, you rather get used to it. You can add a generous amount of cream and sugar and still enjoy a satisfying mouthful of thermal energy that can last a good thirty minutes.

Alene’s morming Americano is nice and hot today. Yesterday, she asked to  have it remade. There was no fuss, because the barista knows the hot-water supply has been flaky lately — and he’s been having to steam water in a jug like he does the milk.

But she’s had to strike a lot of coffee shops off the list because their “hot” water is nowhere near hot enough. If you order tea, the longest of steepings yields no taste. And an Americano is lukewarm even before the addition of cream.

At my suggestion, Alene does the finger test — dipping a finger into the coffee — and leaving it in — to show how far from hot the drink is!

We don’t know why coffee shops keep the water so tepid. Perhaps it does save money to set the temperature lower and use less electricity. Perhaps it discourages customers from excessive use of cream. Perhaps it moves people out faster because drinks are consumed in less time. And perhaps it protects staff from getting scalded.

A recent explanation offered to Alene is that if water is too hot it “burns the espresso”.

I’m not sure I buy that. But I do know that when my coffee comes up, I want to see steam!