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September 2013

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Photo courtesy photos-public-domain.comI do not much care for the recent InterWebNet ‘meme’ that goes by the soubriquet ‘Fail’, or even (apparently in extremis) – ‘Epic fail’. This – frankly bizarre – fad would seem to comprise the sourcing of images or video clips of others’ misfortunes or mistakes, the attaching of a caption – in bold capitals – proclaiming this to represent some brand of failure and then the posting of the result onto the InterWebNet.

Being of advancing years I don’t imagine that I would be expected to ‘get the point’, but I do have to say that I find the whole notion baffling. The nearest analogue that I can think of would be the suggestion that the pratfalls and banana-skin-slips so beloved of enthusiasts of physical comedy might somehow be rendered more funny by the gratuitous presence of a small child pointing a finger and pronouncing – “Ha, ha!”…

It would seem that – in this case – less in no longer more.

I can only imagine that the subtext of this strange behaviour is the implication that the poster is – by some inverse association – superior to the object of the ridicule; an attempt – it would seem – at establishing elevated status in circumstances in which there would otherwise be no connection.

I was moved to this reverie (…and I know that the gentle reader will have been wondering to what exactly this particular rant might be attributed) by the recent disclosure of an incident that would truly have been a failure on an epic scale – and which was apparently avoided by the smallest possible margin and by sheer good fortune.

I refer – of course – to the incident which took place on 23rd January 1961 in which a USAF B-52 Stratofortress carrying two Mark 39 nuclear bombs broke up in mid-air over Goldsboro, North Carolina – dropping its nuclear payload in the process. The arming sequence of one of the two devices was initiated as the bomb fell from the disintegrating aircraft and three out of four safety mechanisms were found subsequently to have failed. On impact the firing signal was sent to the nuclear core of the device and the sole reason that a detonation did not occur was that the single remaining safety system – a simple, dynamo-technology, low voltage switch – remained uncompromised.

Some sceptics claim that a nuclear explosion was never actually a possibility; others that the safety mechanisms as a whole clearly operated as they should have done. All I know is that the incident was just too close for comfort and that the disaster that was so narrowly averted would have changed the course of world history – not to mention the contours of the North Carolina coast.

Some rudimentary reading on the InterWebNet suggests (though it must be borne in mind that when it comes to national security none of the sources are entirely to be trusted!) that in early sixties there was indeed a brief window during which several incidents took place by which the world came within a whisker of calamity – the Goldsboro event simply being the closest call. For much of the first decade of the nuclear age bomber-carried nuclear devices were kept safe by the simple expedient of carrying some of the components separately until the last possible moment – final assembly of the devices being effected at the point of arming. By the early sixties this practice had changed – in response to the increasing complexities of the systems concerned and the time constraints imposed by the escalation of the Cold War – and the devices were fully sealed and armed electronically.

At the height of the Cold War the Strategic Air Command (SAC) kept a number of B-52s in the air at all times to counter the possibility of a Russian first strike catching the fleet on the ground. The dangers inherent in maintaining such an airborne presence with nuclear-armed craft became all too clear as a result of the chain of incidents to which I have already alluded. The Goldsboro mishap took place less than a month after the inauguration of John F Kennedy as president of the US and inquiries subsequently initiated by that administration lead ultimately to the extensive enhancement of nuclear safety procedures – including the implementation of launch codes to verify arming and firing sequences.

The advent of the Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile should thus – somewhat paradoxically – have made the world a safer place, though the later admission that the coded locks demanded for all Minutemen missiles by the then US Secretary of Defence – Robert McNamara – were subsequently set by the SAC to all zeros (00000000) so as not to hold up any prospective launch hardly inspires confidence. Those too young to have lived through this perilous era are encouraged – if they have not already done so – to grab a copy of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Dr Strangelove‘ – which biting satire still surely goes a long way towards ensuring that the defensive strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction will ultimately be regarded as the lunatic gamble that it undoubtedly was.

With the ending of the Cold War the immediate threat has – of course – somewhat diminished, though this should not blind us to the fact that there yet exist in the world in excess of 17,000 nuclear warheads of various types.

Given mankind’s propensity for hubris perhaps this fact alone might legitimately be accorded the tag – ‘Epic fail’!

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Two ton

Photo by Leo Reynolds on FlickrTime – perhaps – for a slightly muted celebration. ‘Two cheers’, one might say… this being – as it happens – the two hundredth post on this blog.

The one hundredth such was posted a mere day or so less than a year ago which means that I am averaging – even by my rudimentary mathematical calculations – very nearly two posts a week. I am quietly rather proud of this record and certainly would not have expected to have been able to maintain it when I started out some twenty months ago.

It is my hope that some of what I have written will come in useful for those contemplating the move from the UK to Canada – though of course progress on my own project in this regard has (through circumstances beyond our control) been pitiful of late.  Hopefully some of my postings on Long Distance Relationships have provided some encouragement to those of you obliged to live in like manner.

Much of what I write originates simply from the things that move me, the things that interest me and even from the things that irritate me. Sometimes my prolixity has been excessive – and for that I beg your indulgence. Mayhap my meanderings on occasion might have appeared aimless – mere frivolities. Well – life seems to me to be made in roughly equal measure of the meaningful and of the meaningless – and it is my whim to celebrate them both the same.

To that end I raise an (ever-present) glass (in need of a top-up, since you ask!) and tak’ a wee dram to make a toast:

Here’s to all those that I love
Here’s to all those that love me.
And here’s to all those that love those that I love,
And all those that love those that love me.

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Photo by Dave Connor on FlickrShould the rubric to this post make you start asudden – anxious lest you might all unknowingly have ingested some strange hallucinogenic compound which has set your pulse a-racing, your nerves a-jangling and which leaves you wondering if kaleidoscopically hued chameleons might start suddenly to emanate from the light fittings…

…rest easy – gentle reader – relax!

Maybe even – as the au courant slang would have it – ‘chillax’! (Though I find that particular neologism strangely vexing!).

No matter. Bear with me and I will elucidate…

In the course of my occasional series of posts on the subject of seeking out new musics – both here and in Canada – I have previously waxed lyrical on the subject of Celtic fusion. The background to this particular fascination may be revisited here. That particular post extols the talented Paul Mounsey, whose music fuses the influences of his Scottish roots with those of his Brazilian wife.

A couple of weeks ago the Kickass Canada Girl and I were to be found basking somewhat unexpectedly in the sunshine at Twickenham – where we were attending the double-headed fixture that these days launches the Premiership rugby season in the UK. The first of the two games saw London Irish pitched against the Saracens, and the pre-match atmosphere was stoked to a frenzy in part by the splendidly thunderous ‘Irish’ music that was cranked out over the stadium’s PA. At these levels, and with sufficient clarity, such music really can stir the blood and set the pulse racing – not to mention tugging teasingly at the heart-strings of any true Celt.

I wanted, naturally, to know what tune – and by what band – had been responsible for this thrilling elevation of the spirits. As ever the InterWebNet provided the answer – though not without some considerable efforts on my part. The piece concerned turned out to be an instrumental version of I’m Shipping up to Boston by the splendidly named Dropkick Murphys. Their original version sets to music lyrics by Woody Guthrie and features on the soundtrack to Scorsese’s (frankly disappointing) The Departed. The instrumental is apparently widely used as ‘run-out’ music in sporting circles – which comes as little surprise.

Now – the Dropkick Murphys turn out to be American (from Quincy, Massachusetts) rather than Irish – and that itself turns out to be something of a theme once one starts to look for modern Celtic music. The scene in Canada and North America seems to be every bit as vibrant as does that in the home nations.

Further listening suggests that the Murphys – in reality a Celtic Punk band – are a little rough around the edges for my taste, but I am grateful nonetheless that this aural experience has re-invigorated my quest to boldly seek out new musical life forms (well – new to me, anyway!).

Enter the Haggis! No – really… that’s the name adopted by the next ensemble that I encountered in the course of my musical meanderings. Sure enough, they hail from Canada! Their Celtic tinged rock incorporates a wide range of influences and styles and I particularly like some of the tracks on their last two CDs – Whitelake and The Modest Revolution. Here is a taster:

Year of the Rat:

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It was not, however, until I followed the trail back to Scotland – to Edinburgh, to be precise – that I found what I was really looking for. Please allow me to introduce to you – the inventors of Techno Ceilidh and of Acid Croft (which latter has been described as ‘a fiery and infectious blend of Celtic traditional music and dance grooves that band members like to call “hypno-folkadelic ambient trad!”) – the one and only – Shooglenifty!

What I like about this particular fusion – apart from the infectious rhythms and evocative melodies – is the sheer breadth of influence that the band draws upon to create their unique and adventurous music.

Look – that’s quite enough chat from me… Do your ears (and feet!) a favour and have a listen to these samples. Crank it up!

McConnell’s Rant:

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The Eccentric:

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Walter Douglas MBE:

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Photo by Ged Carroll on Flickr…”I’ve got a great idea.”

At the fag end of January 2013 I wrote – in my second ever post on this blog:

“About this time last year Kickass Canada Girl and I came up with a plan. It was a good plan. In fact, we were so impressed with it that we thought it might be The plan!”

That post was entitled “…gang aft a-gley” – a reference, of course, to the immortal Rabbie Burns’s poem “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough”. For those – should there conceivably be such – not acquainted with that timeless ode,  the verse in question runs thus:

“But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

I wound up my post with the observation:

“I’m sure you know the Woody Allen quip: ‘If you want to make god laugh, tell him about your plans’…”

At the time of writing I was – naturally – merely referring to our initial unforseen departure from the script – which arose both from our unexpected inability to sell our Buckinghamshire apartment and, thereafter, from the Kickass Canada Girl’s accelerated appointment to her much anticipated post in Victoria – considerably in advance of the migration date that we had originally intended. As it turned out my sentiments on that occasion proved prescient – and then some! I could have re-used the title for any number of subsequent posts as the edifice that was our beautiful strategy was systematically reduced to rubble – stone by stone. No mere chuckles for this god – he/she was definitely rolling on the floor laughing his/her a*se off!

Soooooo! You would doubtless expect us to have learned from our experiences? Ho, ho! Not us! We are such stuff as… should you slam the door in our faces, when you open it again we will still be standing there – smiling at you…

Yes – we thought that it was time once again to formulate a plan. This time – however – we are going to be a little more devious – to see if we can’t outwit the gods. Foolish we may be – but you have to give us marks for perseverance.

Here’s how it goes:

  • We have set a window. At the near end of the scale I retire at the end of the academic year in 2015 and we move to BC in the summer of that same year.
  • At the far end of the scale we aim to move to Victoria in May 2016. Under this strategy I would probably retire at Christmas 2015 – but could stay on until Easter 2016 if it were to appear advantageous so to do.
  • Either way we will look to re-market the apartment within the next 6 months – probably next spring. The housing market seems to have picked up considerably and – mindful of the UK government’s latest scheme to guarantee mortgage deposits as a way to encourage another housing bubble – it would be madness not to jump aboard the bandwagon (mixing metaphors furiously as we go) with the aim of launching into the market at a relatively high point.

That is the plan, in any case – and as we all know by now…

The title for this post comes – as you are doubtless aware – from the celebrated final scene of that classic of UK 60s cinema – ‘The Italian Job’. Michael Caine announces his ‘great idea’ lying on the floor of a coach which is balanced teeteringly on the very edge of an Alpine precipice.

Let’s hope that is not an omen!

 

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Photo by Rob Masefield on Flickr…of Canada – I fear that I am somewhat tardy in offering my heartfelt congratulations to Rugby Canada for being the first national side – outside those that do so automatically – to qualify for the next Rugby World Cup, which takes place in England in 2015. That this was achieved by beating the USA must – I imagine – render the achievement all the more sweet!

Canada joins Pool C – which already comprises France, Ireland and Italy and to which one other qualifying nation – in this case from Europe – will be added. Canada have only once reached the knock-out stages of the competition – as long ago as 1991 – but these would seem to be exciting times for the development of the game across the water, so we have great hopes.

At the moment it seems probable that the Kickass Canada Girl and I will still be in the UK come the 2015 World Cup, and since all of the Scotland Pool games appear to be taking place at the far end of these sainted islands we will do our damndest to get to at least one of the Canada matches.

 

On the subject of Canadian rugby – the Girl and I are already contemplating to which of the Victorian clubs we should pledge our allegiance when we relocate to BC. Our requirements are:

  • an enthusiastic club with a good Corinthian spirit dedicated to running rugby.
  • a welcoming clubhouse with a decent selection of malts.
  • a friendly group of supporters.
  • good craic!

We would be very happy to receive your recommendations.

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Photo by KTSquareFor a blog that carries – as the tagline on its masthead – the apothegm “Coming to Canada” – this site has been of late remarkably free of any content actually relating to that fair country. Well – that’s about to change!

The Imperceptible Immigrant and the Kickass Canada Girl are proud to announce the details of their Winter 2013/14 Canadian Tour – featuring appearances in Vancouver (briefly!), Kamloops, Victoria, Nanaimo, Duncan (to be confirmed!) and Tofino (for the Big Birthday Bash!).

The intrepid duo will be bringing their particular brand of charm to the beautiful province of British Columbia from December 18th this year – determined not to leave until Christmas, the New Year and the Big Birthday itself have been well and truly celebrated. And if that means staying until the 6th January 2014 – then so be it!

The flights have been booked – the fan club alerted – the Girl has started planning her packing and the days, hours and minutes are being counted.

We can’t wait!

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Photo by Suraj RajanThough I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

In My Life – Lennon/McCartney

I have been racking my brains over the past week or so trying to find an angle from which I might contribute something thoughtful or meaningful to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and – of course – of Martin Luther King’s epochal speech with which that event has become synonymous. Much has been written – over the intervening decades and in the run up to the commemoration itself – concerning both the event and the man, by writers considerably more gifted than I could ever hope to be. It may indeed simply be that all that could be – and possibly even should be – has already been said.

This reflection, however – as such contemplation frequently does – leads me on to other thoughts with which the gentle reader might discern some resonance.

I was only nine in 1963 and have no direct memories at all of the march or of the speech. The only event that year to have left a lasting impression on me – as on so many others – occurred later in the year – that fateful November in Dallas. The true nature and significance of even that momentous happening was lost on me at the time, of course. My mother was an avid Home Service listener and I do recall programmes being punctuated by shocked reports from Texas, though I was – at the time – unable to make much sense of them. When my father returned from work I ran down the garden path to meet him crying “They’ve shot the prime minister”… Of course, I didn’t actually know who that was either (Alec Douglas-Home, as it happens – MacMillan having resigned in October the same year!).

I grew up surrounded by women (bear with me here!). My parents were both only children but each of their mothers came from large families. I stress ‘mothers’ here because – other than my father – I have no memories at all of any of the men in either family. An initial imbalance in favour of the female had been exacerbated by the war and by ill health. Of grandmothers and great aunts I thus had an abundance, all of whom – endowed with the robust family female gene – lived to a ripe old age.

My grandmother on my mother’s side was born in the very early days of the nascent twentieth century, around the same time that Queen Victoria passed away. I recall in my youth being amazed that one lifetime could encompass so many dramatic changes and extraordinary events. She lived through two world wars… She witnessed the arrival of the motor car (as anything other than a plaything for the rich)… She was alive for the birth of flight and thus for the development of air travel… She was born in an age that pre-dated radio and TV. I could go on…

You can probably see where this is going.

At the time I could not imagine what it must be like to have lived long enough to have seen or experienced so many happenings. Maybe I just couldn’t imagine that such a pace of change could be maintained.

Now – of course – the realisation that when the March on Washington took place I was already approaching the start of my second decade on this verdant planet makes me realise just how many such events have actually taken place on my watch – as it were. The moon landings… The fall of the Berlin wall… The end of Apartheid in South Africa… The Good Friday agreement… The financial crash… The advent of the personal computer and of the mobile phone… The birth and extraordinary growth of the InterWebNet… DVDs… CGI… A Briton winning Wimbledon!… and on and on…

What this tells me is that I am already well on my way to achieving a similar status to that which my grandmother enjoyed – that of having lived a bloomin’ long time!

…and of having seen many things…

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidThis is my least favourite work day of the year!

Why would that be?

Is it because:

  • today is the start of the new academic year and the commencement of the longest, hardest term – a grim slog through to Christmas?
  • my journey to work immediately takes an extra half an hour (or more!) each way as all the schools go back and the roads fill with yummy mummies transporting their precious little darlings half a mile or so to the school gates in their Chelsea tractors?
  • the phone is ringing off the hook with a thousand and one requests for assistance and all my good work over the summer at purging my mailbox is undone by the encroaching tides of fresh pleas for help?
  • after enjoying the tranquility of a blissfully empty campus for eight weeks it galls now to have to share it with the returning – and irritatingly freshly bronzed – teaching staff and pupils?
  • of having to queue for nearly ten minutes inside the school grounds before being able to park my car in just about the furthest possible corner of the campus from my office?
  • having to get up a little earlier in the morning has brought home all too clearly that the nights are getting longer and that I will soon be rising in the dark again?
  • getting home a little later shows all too clearly that the nights are drawing in and it won’t be long before my homeward journey has to be accomplished in darkness?
  • the summer (well, at least we’ve had a summer this year) seems soooo short and the winter soooo desperately long?

Is it – in short – any or all of those things?

No!

It is because – after very nearly four blissful months of exquisite freedom – I have once again (sob!)… to wear a tie!!

 

A shocked pause so that you can join me in silent mourning!

 

A Google search on the phrase “I hate ties” returns 98,400 items. I’m not surprised!

I could regale you at this point with a diatribe on the iniquity of imposing on the male of the species the pitiful privations of being appareled in such pointless appurtenance – or of the unfairness of the adverse judgements that seem oft-times be made on those who prefer not so to do. I could also whinge on for a while on the theme that no woman would put up with this sort of encroachment.

Trouble is, I can already hear – in my febrile mind – the Kickass Canada Girl opining that perhaps one doth protest too much (though doubtless in somewhat pithier language!) – so I won’t…

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