Tuesday, 23 October 2007

A Stranger Calls

The weirdest thing happened yesterday: I was home alone after lunch and the doorbell rang. I opened the door (two doors, actually, there being an airlock sort of thing at the entrance to our house). Standing there was a fiftyish woman dressed in black.

This is what she said: "Would you buy from a Gypsy?"

This is what I said: "No thank you."

I watched as she turned without comment and walked out our gate, shutting it behind her.

I closed the door(s), went back inside and then thought: What the hell just happened? My natural abhorance of door-to-door salesmen had surfaced before I understood what exactly was going on. Was she selling something? I didn't see her holding anything. Was she selling something invisible? Intellectual property? Investment advice? A melody? Was she conducting a survey? Had I just been marked down as anti-Gypsy in some way?

The fact is, we're in the market for some steak knives. (They don't sell them at jumble sales. It's like selling guns at an American yard sale.) And a nice wind-up mantle clock. If the woman in black had produced a set of six serrated blades or a chiming time piece she might have had a customer.

Bottoms Up
There was a blip of media activity here late last week after it was revealed that government figures introduced 20 years ago outlining safe alcohol consumption limits were "plucked out of the air."

My first reaction upon seeing the headlines was that the government must have high-balled it, so to speak. Why else would people be upset than if they'd engaged in dangerous behavior, thinking it was safe? But no, the outcry was because the government had set the limits too low. All over the country there was the sobbing of men and women who regretted that they hadn't drunk enough. While the suggested limits were 21 units a week for men and 14 a week for women, one study found that men drinking 21 to 30 units a week had the lowest mortality rate in Britain.

I don't know how that fits with a story about how alcohol abuse is killing twice as many women in Britain as 15 years ago. You've come a long way baby. Hic.

BritNews Round-Up
In other news: It's a bad time to be a badger in England. The government's chief science advisor is recommending a badger cull to keep the striped little fellows from spreading TB to cattle. Unsurprisingly, the Badger Trust (warning: extremely cute photo) is against the move. Think of all the ailments a single unlucky British cow could contain: foot and mouth, blue tongue, mad cow, bovine tuberculosis....

Visitors to the 2012 Olympics in London will have to take public transportation to their events, as organizers set to ban all car travel. Olympic officials will send a personalized itinerary to every ticket-holder, showing how to arrive at events. They hope to avoid the catastrophe that was the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, universally recognized (at least according to the Times) as the worst-run games, transportation-wise.

This is why we should be glad that digital cameras were invented: Three-year-old Charlie Thomas of Cullompton, Devon, put a traffic cone on his head, thinking it would make a perfect wizard's hat. It took emergency workers half an hour to cut it off.

Good Morning, Oxford

There was a lovely sky yesterday morning as I left the house to walk the dog. The clouds were tinged with pink and the telephone wires made a Maypole over my head.


suburbancorrespondent said...

It means that British women aren't letting the government tell them how much to drink.

Anonymous said...

Nice roundup. Heck of a photo.

Maybe the Gypsy thing was related to MI5/6. A passcode or such.

KTinDC said...

Some of the random things that happen in Cambridge (like encountering a group of people in togas, tuxedos, or gowns) are uniquely related to it being a college town; others not.

This morning I jumped when a young kid appeared at my front window and started washing it. I ran upstairs to change because, being the freelancer I am, I was still in pajamas. At the bedroom window, I was greeted by a man perched on a ladder in the back of a pickup, washing that window. He waved. At me. In my pajamas.

They finished washing the windows, then slipped a small index card through the mail slot. "October 2007 window cleaning. Paid." I hope someone paid him.

cktirumalai said...

Matthew Arnold was Professor of Poetry at Oxford; one of his most haunting poems is "The Scholar Gypsy," which memorializes an Oxford student of the past who, fascinated by their ways, joins the gypsies and never returns to his old life.
I used to see gypsies (often called travellers because of their shifting campsites on the outskirts of towns, a cause of tension) on the streets of Oxford from time to time. One young man made his hostility to the local residents felt quite strongly, but the latter refused to be aroused.

Anonymous said...

Montgomery County is having its own gypsy problems -- in particular, people going door-to-door offering driveway paving!