Friday, 18 January 2008

Friday Grab Bag: Wet, Wet, Wet Edition

rain
I understand that it snowed in Washington yesterday: lovely, sticky snow, up to six inches deep in places. We love to complain about snow in Washington, about how it snarls our traffic, springs our students from school, inspires manic trips to the supermarket. And yet I love it. Or, loved it. The chances of a little snow visiting Oxford fall somewhere between slim and "When an English tennis player next wins Wimbledon."

Instead, we get English sunshine. We've had gallons of the stuff this week, enough to cause flooding in some of the places that were flooded last summer. ("Let's see that war spirit again," reads the headline over today's Oxford Mail editorial, exhorting readers to keep a stiff upper lip in the face of the deluge. I expect we will soon be taking in some ragamuffins from East London to keep them safe from the Blitz.)

The English take rain as a matter of course. It runs off them like, well, like water off a duck's back. They grin and bear it. Well, bear it, anyway. They're not really a grinning people. I've become stoic myself, except when it comes to cycling. I hate biking in the rain. Unless you wear a rubber suit that you strip off at your destination, you will arrive wet. And because my bicycle seat seems to be made out of a sponge, even when it's stopped raining--even after I've squeezed the seat as much as I can to wring the water from it--I spend the day walking around with a moist crotch. ("Moist Crotch"? Wasn't that Spinal Tap's under-appreciated seventh album?)

Of course, what I should do is wrap a plastic shopping bag over the seat, like so:


That's what most cyclists in Oxford do. For some reason, I can't bring myself to do that. I just tell myself that it will stop raining soon.

The Darfur Flies
At any one time, dozens of lectures on a variety of arcane topics are being offered in Oxford. That's one of the great things about the university and about my fellowship: I can drop in to whatever I like and fill up the old brain pan. Yesterday I attended one on Darfur, co-hosted by my fellow Fellow Meera Selva. Meera covered Africa for the Independent and wrote about the troubled area of Sudan.

Like many Oxford lectures, it attracted a diverse group: students, academics, journalists, former aid workers, people interested in free cookies. Most interesting of all, though, were the four or five officials from the Sudanese embassy in London, who sat in the front row, vibrating with anticipation. As soon as the lecture was over and question-time started, the communications minister leapt to his feet. The Darfur crisis was misrepresented in the Western media he said. How come no one writes about the good things happening in Sudan? I'm sure President Bush feels the same way about Iraq. What about all the people who aren't being killed every day?

BritNews RoundUp
A tourist council in Suffolk is reprinting one of its brochures after someone noticed that the cover has a photo of a girl picking her nose.

Which married media star has fathered a love child? This column in the Daily Mail doesn't say. But he ought to be pretty easy to find. According to the photo that accompanied the story, the father has very dark skin and a big question mark in the middle of his head:



The dirtiest hotel in Britain is in Oxford, according to users of TripAdvisor.com. The Nanford guest house was described as "squalid," "horrendous" and a "total and utter dump." The owner of the guest house is keeping that war spirit: "I don't give a damn what TripAdvisor says," he told the Guardian.

Cats in the news, Part I: A man in Wales was arrested for murdering his girlfriend after police secretly taped him confessing to his cats. "I don't know if they can prove it or anything," he allegedly said to one. Unclear whether the cat is cooperating with police but given how duplicitous they can be, I wouldn't doubt it.

Cats in the news, Part II: A Bournemouth cat named Sgt. Podge takes a mile-and-a-half walk every night and waits in the morning in the same place to be picked up in the car by its owner. "I know where to collect him - as long as he's not wandering the streets," said owner Liz Bullard. Great. A cat with a carbon pawprint.

And just so my dog Charlie doesn't get jealous: A Hungarian scientist has developed a computer application that can translate a dog's barks. Sadly, it translates them into Hungarian, and what good is that?

Gargoyle of the Week



Sorry, haven't the slightest idea where I saw him, but he reminds me of Tom Hanks.

Have a safe and happy weekend.

8 comments:

mark from alexandria said...

You must live on a metro line in Maryland. Nobody who has to commute by car likes Washington snow. I grew up and did my early driving in colder snowier climes, but nothing prepared me for the insanity of DC area drivers in snow.

SuburbanCorrespondent said...

Yes, it snowed and it was magnificent. The more so for being almost unexpected. Wonderful, feathery fat flakes of snow transporting children (well, my kids, anyway) into paroxysms of joy and bulky snowsuits. And they played outside all day, praise the Lord.

Candadai Tirumalai said...

What a character in "Ulysses" says of Ireland, "The sky in this country is as uncertain as a child's bottom," is generally true of England as well: the strong propensity to rain. The umbrella was (perhaps still is) an integral part of the City businessman's outfit. But one of the things I learned during my two decades of residence is that even England (at least Oxford) has its rare prolonged rainless spells.

MEB said...

"Insanity of DC-area drivers in snow" -- hold on there. I'm a midwesterner myself, but I'd like to see less sneering. The snow that the DC area gets is not like the thick fluffy stuff that packs down nicely for driving on top of that "colder, snowier climes" get. The temperature always hovers around freezing here, resulting in fluctuation among snow, rain, freezing rain, sleet (is there a different between sleet & freezing rain? I can never get weather people to answer that), and mini-hail, which makes the streets much more treacherous than those in, say, Chicago or Buffalo. Yes, a lot of drivers around here can't handle it, but it takes a lot more skill to navigate layers of snow on top of ice turning to frozen slush. Especially if you're driving a school bus.

mark from alexandria said...

Yes, meb, but the answer is not to over-react. Look, what drives me to distraction is the gridlocked conditions that occur whenever a few flakes start to fall. For most workers in the metro area, there are options. Yes, it may take longer and be less convenient to take a bus and a subway or a train, but, if one is that uncertain about one's driving capabilities in those conditions, would it not be appropriate to use the option available?

mark from alexandria said...

Yes, meb, but the answer is not to over-react. Look, what drives me to distraction is the gridlocked conditions that occur whenever a few flakes start to fall. For most workers in the metro area, there are options. Yes, it may take longer and be less convenient to take a bus and a subway or a train, but, if one is that uncertain about one's driving capabilities in those conditions, would it not be appropriate to use the option available?

Anonymous said...

I think it's an exaggeration to say that "for most workers in the metro area, there are options." You must not read Dr. Gridlock's Post column. Any worker in the metro area who has to drop off a kid at day care or school is less likely to have any other options; not all employers are that flexible about late arrivals.

John Kelly said...

Mark from Alexandria is right that I live on a subway line in Maryland (I mean, when I'm not living on a bus line in Oxford). I also can walk to the Metrobus. It's true that some people aren't so lucky.

I have to defend my fellow Washingtonians, however. I mean, why should we be EXPECTED to know how to drive in the snow? It doesn't snow so often that we become skilled at it. And, though our local governments usually try, it's not like they're Buffalo or Chicago, with an infrastructure in place.