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March 2012

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Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

Gerald Levert/Andy Gibson – sung by Janis Joplin

It is surprisingly difficult to find statistics on worldwide open-top ownership, so my gut feeling that the English must come somewhere near the top of the league when it comes to this peculiar obsession must remain purely subjective. At this time of year the merest hint of the sun peeping through the murk is enough to bring to the roads an epidemic of rag-topped roadsters that have presumably spent the winter months hibernating in warm, dry garages.

Why it should be that the English are thus so afflicted I am not sure – particularly given our infelicitous climate. Perhaps it has to do with wishful thinking, or the lack of a pertinent contemporary mythology – or perhaps our midlife crises are just more acute than for other races. Either way, those from sunnier climes who might be expected to embrace the joys of wind-in-the-hair motoring instead tend to eschew these delights in favour of air-conditioned homogeneity.

I am, myself, a long standing convertible convert. The above is my pride and joy – the other lady in my life – and she is called Pearl. You probably don’t really need me to elucidate the origin of the name, but (for younger readers)… ‘Pearl’ was both the title of the album that Janis was recording at the point of her untimely death, and indeed her nickname for herself.  For those that care about such things my Pearl is a 1986 300SL. I have owned her for around ten years now and she has given me a great deal of pleasure over that time.

Regrettably, any thoughts of bringing her to Canada in a couple of years time really are a non-starter. If I wished I could pick up a North American version of the SL for somewhat less than it would cost to ship her over and do the necessary work to register her.

Which leads me to this observation… My perception, rightly or wrongly, is that – for a state that has a mild climate and considerably more days of sunshine than we do in the UK – British Columbians do not seem particularly keen on open top motoring. Yes, there are enthusiasts, but nowhere near the numbers that we see in England. Pickups are all well and good, but – for me – just do not hold the same appeal.

So – what should I drive when I finally make it to Victoria? My instinct is that I should run a 4×4, and I will certainly need it to be equipped to tow a boat. I am no stranger to the breed having previously owned an old Landrover 110 Station Wagon, which I really enjoyed both on and off-road. Unfortunately the fact that it boasted a 3.5l V8, weighed over 2 tons and had the aerodynamics of a block of flats (Canadian: Condo!) meant that it averaged only around 12mpg! In the end I could no longer afford to run the beast – even had my conscience allowed me to do so.

Trouble is, I still hanker after a rag-top – and whereas there used to be quite a range of 4×4 convertible options, as far as I can see there is now only the one…

Hmmm! What to do?

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Nobody told me there’d be days like these
Strange days indeed — strange days indeed

John Lennon

For the last three days the UK has – without warning – suddenly found itself basking in almost summer-like conditions. The skies have been clear, the sun has shone brightly and temperatures have edged towards the 20C mark. With the trees full of blossom and a whiff of spring in the air the average Englishman’s blood is up and he finds his thoughts turning towards…

…the joys of open top motoring!

I have more to say on this strange English obsession with convertibles. Needless to say I own one and will shortly make an appropriate introduction – but for now other strange and contradictory matters are on my mind.

Friday last found me – instead of celebrating the end of term at School – driving for two hours down to the East Sussex coast to attend the funeral of an old family friend – the husband of my brother’s godmother. Though I did not know him at all well he was the last of that generation – those to whom I had religiously sent Christmas cards since I was a boy – and as my brother and sister were both out of the country I felt I should represent our side of the family. I was somewhat surprised to find that the service was a full requiem mass in the Anglican High Church tradition – complete with copious clouds of incense and extended chanting. It is many years since I attended such, and I can’t say I am any more comfortable with it than I ever was.

I didn’t know anyone else in the church and had resolved not to stay for the ‘afters’, when I found my attention diverted by a late arrival who sat himself further along the same pew as me. I regarded him suspiciously – as did he me – but neither acknowledged the other. He was the spitting image of my nephew – my sister’s son – but as I wasn’t expecting him to be there I found myself uncertain as to whether it was really he. After the service he hovered at some distance and it was only at the point at which I was leaving that he came over and said ‘hello’.

Apparently he had not been sure if it was me either. In his case, this strange lapse was explained by his not having seen me in a suit and tie for many years. In my case it was because of the exotic and relatively mature woman who was draped all over him! Not only had I not met – or indeed heard anything about her – but I don’t actually recall ever seeing my nephew in the company of a lady before… The times they are indeed a-changing!

If I found it difficult to focus fully on the funeral it was because another such is on my mind. My oldest friend – whom I have know since I was nine and he seven – had called to tell me that his mother had died. She had been a friend as long as I have known him – very nearly fifty years. She was a remarkable lady of a generation and breed the like of which we probably won’t see again, and was rightly decorated earlier this year for her many decades of charity work. She will be hugely missed. I had feared that her funeral would take place whilst I am in BC, but it seems likely now that it will be held after Easter instead – for which I am very grateful.

As I drove back from Sussex on Friday afternoon I decided to eschew the motorway and to take the old A road under the North Downs. I have known parts of this route for many years as my grandmother on my father’s side lived with her sister – my great aunt – only a few miles from it. Driving it again in the sunshine – regardless of the modern rush and press of traffic –  brought back a flood of memories of a simpler time.

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Thirteen boxes containing 180Kg of Kickass Canada Girl’s wardrobe and personal effects (and no – I won’t be drawn as to what percentage of her wardrobe that represents!) have taken wing and are – as I write – migrating to Canada.

It doesn’t do to speak too soon, of course, but thus far the experience of using Air Canada Cargo to ship these items has proved nothing but positive. Provided the Girl’s precious bits and bobs do not go missing en route I shall have no hesitation in offering my endorsement of their services. Given that my introduction to Air Canada was somewhat coloured by the infamous bastardisation of their erstwhile slogan ‘We’re not happy until you’re happy’, this counts as pretty good going.

The shipping procedure that I followed – which may be of interest should you ever need to do likewise – was as follows:

  • Pack, seal, weigh, address and number the boxes
  • Create a packing list – including dimensions and weights of the boxes and details and approximate values of the contents thereof
  • Book the shipment with Air Canada Cargo – by email – one week before required delivery date
  • Print off the packing list (several copies are helpful) and the confirmation details of the booking and quotation
  • Borrow a van from the School
  • Deliver the shipment to Air Canada Cargo at Heathrow (open 24/7) – 48 hours before required delivery date
  • Air Canada Cargo then:
    • Process the paperwork and produce transit labels for each box
    • Check the weights of the boxes
    • Charge for shipping according to their quote (easiest done by credit card)
    • Produce the Air Waybill (of which one gets a copy)
  • Scan and email the copy of the Air Waybill to Kickass Canada Girl
  • Sit back and relax!

Once launched the shipment can be tracked from the Air Canada Cargo website simply by using the Air Waybill number. A decent amount of information is provided at each stage. All that then remains is to arrange collection at the receiving end.

The Girl slightly complicated things at this point by contacting Canadian Customs to enquire as to the process for gaining clearance for the goods. She was passed between no fewer than five customs operatives, each of whom told her something different and the last of which said that nothing could be done without some item of information that she didn’t have. I advised her to talk direct to Air Canada Cargo in Victoria, and they once again came up trumps. A most helpful customer services operative explained the procedure:

  • The shipment would be held in a secure ‘cage’ until customs had been cleared
  • The Girl should visit Air Canada Cargo – taking the Air Waybill with her – pay the relevant fee and receive the necessary paperwork
  • She should then call on Canadian Customs who would either simply process the paperwork and give her clearance, or go with her to Air Canada Cargo to inspect the boxes before doing so
  • The boxes would then be released to her

So much for the theory. We will see how it all works out in practice. I will add an addendum to this post in a few days time if all goes to plan – or inflict a further post if it turns into a long and harrowing saga instead.

The other positive that should be commented on is that the cost of shipping the Girl’s goodies really has been very reasonable. So much so, it would seem, that the Victoria Air Canada Cargo man expressed surprise on seeing the documentation, and asked if we had been given a staff discount!


Addendum: All boxes duly cleared customs and collected to schedule. Smiles all round!


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This is a big day for Kickass Canada Girl – the first day in her new post in Victoria. I feel sure that you will all want to join me in wishing her well. It has been eight years since she last worked in BC and it is probable that much has changed in the meantime.

For the School at which I work here in the UK it is the last week of a tough term. When the boys return in April the clocks will have gone forward, the cricket season will have started and it will be ‘summer’ – though the weather can sometimes take a while to catch up. Regrettably I do not get the same holidays as other teachers (we IT types enjoy what are termed ‘normal business holidays’) but this year I am taking some time off and will be heading to Victoria in the middle of next week to spend Easter with the Girl and our dear friends in Saanichton.

I hope to get some decent pictures whilst I am in BC which will, naturally, appear on this site in due course.


One of the many issues that concern those whose lives are separated by an ocean is the question of money… more specifically the transfer thereof from one continent to another. The Girl and I decided to experiment a little to determine what might prove the most efficient – and cost effective – means of moving funds.

The Girl has an account with one of the major international banks here in the UK and, since they are also well represented in Canada, she thought it would be relatively easy to transfer money to her Canadian bank through them. She arranged a transfer immediately before leaving the UK in the expectation that the funds would be available when she reached Canada, and certainly by the time she arrived in Mexico. Unfortunately when I came home from work the day after she had left I found a voicemail from her bank informing us that there was a problem. Apparently the funds had left the Girl’s UK account but had been rejected by the bank in BC. She called her bank – from Mexico – and instructed them to abandon the transfer and to return the monies to the UK. When she next looked at the UK account, however, the funds were still missing. A day later – without any further action on her part – they appeared unexpectedly in her Canadian bank account.

This was not particularly impressive – and was rendered even less so by the exchange rate, which was distinctly on the miserly side.

I fared rather better with an online currency exchange that I found on the InterWebNet, which I used to transfer the funds to pay for the Girl’s new car. The operation seemed well organised, confirmed everything in detail electronically, transferred the money when they said they would and got me a decent rate. They now send me daily email updates on various exchange rates – including Sterling/CAD. They can also offer a potentially useful service for transferring pension payments abroad, which may come in very handy.

There are quite a number of firms operating similar services but this one has had some good write-ups. They are called Smart Currency Exchange, and if you are interested I would suggest you check them out thoroughly yourself before going ahead. Hopefully you will find them as useful as I did.


You might wonder why the caption picture is of a pile of Euros! Well – I just happened to find some lying about when I wanted to take a photo, and they seemed more photogenic than the somewhat rumpled and tarnished sterling in my wallet. Given the current state of affairs this side of the pond, however, little should be made of that particular analogue…


An addendum to my own post: This is a most useful comparison site if you want to contrast online currency exchanges.


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There are a very few films that – no matter how many times I have seen them – if they are on TV I will watch them again. One such is ‘Field of Dreams’. It was showing here in the UK this very afternoon on Freesat, and – yes – I watched it again.

Now – many things could be said about this film. It has been described as a ‘male weepie’ and it is certainly true that it is sentimental (whilst yet avoiding sentimentality) – which in my book is no bad thing. Certainly it makes me blubb like a baby, but I don’t mind that. In fact, to me, the opportunity and ability to blubb like a baby is of considerable import.

The film is also a fantasy that – whilst it does contain, in an almost mythical sense, much truth about our existence – could be considered slight and, perhaps, almost frivolous in the light of harsh reality. That would, in my view, diminish the mythical and thus be a mistake. I will write at greater length about the need for mythologies – of all sorts – on another occasion. Needless to say there is a good reason why films such as this touch a particularly deep nerve whilst in themselves appearing relatively shallow.

The real reason, however, that I can watch ‘Field of Dreams’ over and over again – almost purring with pleasure as I do so – is the sheer quality of Phil Alden Robinson’s screenplay, based as it is on the novel ‘Shoeless Joe’ by W.P. Kinsella. Not only is the script a splendid example of classical screenplay structure, but it is also a perfect illustration of that philosophical oxymoron – less is more! There is barely a single wasted word or spurious notion. The audience is recogised for the intelligent adults that they doubtless are and all impulses to over-explain or to patronise are resisted manfully.

Here is a tiny example:


Ray: Anyway, when I was seventeen we had a big fight, I packed my things, said something awful and left. After a while I wanted to come home, but didn’t know how. I made it back for the funeral.

Mann: What was the awful thing you said?

Ray: I said I could never respect a man whose hero was a criminal.

Mann:  Who was his hero?

Ray:  Shoeless Joe Jackson.

Mann considers this all very carefully.

Mann:  You knew he wasn’t a criminal?

Ray nods.

Mann:  Then why’d you say it?

Ray:  I was seventeen.


Put the blue crayon back in the pencilbox. Nothing to see here!


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The more astute reader will probably have figured out by now that I work in a school (those who know me will, of course, be well aware of the fact). Now, this is not – it has to be said – just any school. It has a full scale IT Department for one thing (of which I am the director), which should give some idea as to the nature of the establishment. In addition to my managerial and technical duties I also teach drama. This rather unusual mixture is – it need hardly be said – the result of my somewhat eclectic background.

The other day I was talking to the School’s Librarian in the Common Room. She has two sub-librarians who are both also of the fairer sex, a situation apparently not uncommon in their profession. Standing nearby as we talked were two other women – one of our history teachers and a young American graduate who is in the UK for a year on one of the School’s fellowship programmes.

The Librarian and I were discussing the replacement of the software that runs the library catalogue, which upgrade is planned for later this year. I suggested that she and the other ‘ladies’ would know more once they had seen some of the potential alternative systems in action in other schools.

At this point the history teacher interrupted us, politely but firmly, to take me to task for what I had said. I was nonplussed – and expressed same. She explained that I should not have used the term – ‘ladies’. No more ‘plussed’ I inquired as to why this should be so – to be informed that the term is now considered pejorative.

Naturally I apologised for any offence that I might have caused, however inadvertently, and made clear that I had not intended to disparage or condescend in any way. Those who know me would hopefully agree that I have always behaved in the enlightened manner of what was once called the ‘new man’, and have the greatest respect for those of the opposite gender.

I explained that, for me, the terms ‘ladies’ and ‘gentlemen’ have altogether different meanings. I address my staff – who are predominantly male – as ‘gentlemen’ (that I do not do similarly for the sole woman on my team is because neither ‘ladies’ nor ‘gentlemen’ take the singular – at least not in England!), and I do likewise to the boys in my classes – this latter because my fervent hope is that, if they are not already young gentlemen, they will become so by the culmination of their education.

I am not sure that my protestations entirely convinced. I find it somewhat sad that terms that I have always considered a mark of respect should now have gained other connotations. Language is, of course, as much defined by the understanding of the listener as by the intent of the speaker, and it is incumbent on both parties jointly to achieve consensus as to meaning. I fear that all too often this part of the deal is neglected and offence given – or taken – where none is intended.

I would be most interested to hear others’ views on the matter.


I had subsequently an interesting conversation with the American fellow. She told me that she been made much more aware of issues related to sexism since coming to the UK than she had previously been in the US. She was somewhat taken aback by men performing what we might consider acts of politeness – holding doors open and so forth – but even more so that these same men were less able to accept similar in return. She described instances in which she had held open one half of double doors for a man, only to see him push through the other half for himself.



  • Goat butter
  • Apple rice cakes
  • ‘Free From’ mayonnaise
  • Gluten-free ciabatta buns
  • Gluten-free lemon biscuits
  • Sesame seed rice cakes
  • 2 x Little Gem lettuce
  • Makeup remover pads
  • 2 x bags crisps



Just some of the items that I no longer need to purchase at the store…


Sometimes it is the little things that are missed (almost) the most!


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Last Sunday was mild and sunny in Berkshire, with hints that spring is at last on its way. I took the Fuij x10 out to try to capture some images of the re-awakening.

Driving the x10 after years with a point and shoot felt a bit like stepping into a performance car having only previously driven a compact… most of the time I wasn’t in full control of what was going on! I did manage to get a few snaps:

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This post borrows its title from the final episode of a rather wonderful British TV comedy-drama from the 1980s called The Biederbecke Affair, written by the late and much missed Alan Plater. This gentle but perceptive series – set in Yorkshire in the UK – features two disillusioned teachers who find themselves in a relationship with each other. The final episode sees the campaign of the female protagonist, Jill, to gain election as a local councillor reach its climax. Her accidental partner, Geordie, rigs a tannoy system on the roof of his van (Canadian: truck!) so that they can campaign more effectively. He tests the system by embarking on inspiring peroration, but before he can finish the first sentence the sound system burns out, cutting him off in full-flow.

This metaphor for modernity naturally appeals to the sceptical technologist in his late 50s. Four decades in IT has seen the ‘Wow!’ factor subside slowly but inexorably into the ‘Why doesn’t it work properly?’ factor. Yes – it is truly wonderful what can now be done with technology – but when the stars fade from our eyes we really should admit that most of it doesn’t quite work the way it should – even the iBits! (there – that should upset the Appleistas!).

Kickass Canada Girl is in Mexico, taking a well-deserved and hard-earned break before launching into her new role in Victoria. We are having to get acclimatised to the idea of living apart and it is still very early days. Without regular communication I think we would really be struggling.

I have reason – therefore – to be immensely grateful for Skype and for the iPad. I can now not only talk to the Girl daily without bankrupting either or both of us – but I can also see her sunning herself by the pool whilst I am stuck here in the cold, damp, grey, drizzly… (I’m not bitter – I’m not!).

Except that…

…either the wifi in the Girl’s resort is poor – or there is sorry a lack of intercontinental bandwidth – or maybe the iPad is just kicking back and enjoying a siesta rather than working hard to keep us in contact. Either way the connection is not capable of successfully delivering video calls, the sound deteriorating to a crackly mush and the image turning into what can only be described as ‘abstract expressionist’ (see the image above of Skype in action). Turning off the video in both directions at least means we can speak to each other, but it is a poor substitute.

Fortunately connections to Saanichton are an order of magnitude better, so when she returns there next week we can revert to our normal state of gazing into each other’s eyes with the kind of ‘youthful’ intensity that causes those present with an inadequacy of intestinal fortitude to employ such epithets as ‘Get a room!‘.


If only…!


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We are – it would seem – fascinated by coincidence. When we read of – or better still, experience for ourselves – some remarkable or unexpected occurrence that seems to defy all the odds, a tingle of excitement runs up the spine – the pulse quickens – the cosmos shifts…

Might this be because we are drawn to the unusual – because we like to see patterns or meanings in the very heart of chaos – or just because the idea of beating the odds appeals to those of us who instinctively support the underdog?

In truth many coincidences – happenings that seem to defy the odds – turn out to be far from unlikely after all. The work colleague whom you encounter unexpectedly on holiday in a foreign land probably comes from a similar background and has similar predilections to you. You have both doubtless studied much the same marketing materials from the tour companies and have reached similar conclusions as to where to take your break.

Consider the well know ‘birthday problem’ from probability theory. This states that, though a gathering would need to comprise 367 people to guarantee that 2 of them share a birthday, only 23 need be present for there to be a 50-50 chance of this happening. To put this another way, in a school with many classrooms each of which contains 23 pupils, approximately half of the rooms would incorporate 2 pupils who share a birthday.

Attempts to ascribe meaning to these or other coincidences are futile. There is no meaning. These things just happen. In this 2007 article from Psychology Today, John Allen Paulos (Professor of Mathematics at Temple University in Philadelphia and best-selling author of Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences) is quoted thus:

“In reality, the most astonishingly incredible coincidence imaginable would be the complete absence of all coincidence. Believing in the significance of oddities is self-aggrandizing. It says, ‘Look how important I am.’ People find it dispiriting to hear, ‘It just happened, and it doesn’t mean anything.'”


But of course, you don’t really want to read all of this psychological guff – you just want to hear my coincidence story!


The building in which I work includes a good sized atrium which is used on occasion for functions. Just the other day I was returning to my office through the atrium at the first floor level (the second floor if you are Canadian!) and saw that it was being set up for a dinner, with six or seven large round tables each seating 10 diners.

Wondering as to the nature of the event I descended to the floor of the atrium to speak to one of the organisers (whom I know well) who was helping to lay the tables for the dinner. I stopped by the table that she was working on, on the opposite side to where she was. As we chatted she was working her way round the table, putting out place cards at the head of each setting. Reaching the seat immediately in front of me – and without looking at it – she took from her pile and placed on the table a card with my name on it!

As I was definitely not attending the dinner this meant that one of the guests and I share a name – and I don’t just mean a Christian name! The odds on that must be reasonably slim, but those on me standing quite by chance in front of the seat which my namesake would later occupy must be even slimmer.

What might this mean?

I guess it means I should buy a lottery ticket!


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