Thursday, October 17, 2019

Crawling Out of the Pub

Dueling blog - read D-L's version at 
What fun! We checked another box of things we had missed doing the first time we were in Edinburgh two years ago -- a pub quiz.

Our expectations were low, and we met them. We finished next to last of the teams on this night. Our major downfall was identifying the artists or titles of pop songs based on hearing part of the music. We missed all 10. Not a clue.

We did best on general knowledge with answers such as Korean kimchi, Marilyn Monroe as Andy Warhol's favorite actress subject, alchemy as the medieval term for chemistry, Ian Fleming as the author of the James Bond novels, etc. Got more than half of the questions right out of the 40 non-music themes.

Pub quizzes have been around since perhaps the late 1960s or 70s, and became so popular there are national competitions in the UK with thousands of bars participating. ( I anticipated it would be a rowdy, interactive event with the quizmaster calling out a question and everyone in the pub trying to shout out the correct answer. But it was more sedate -- we sat with our teams at the table (D-L was my other team member) and wrote our answers on paper, 10 questions at a time in 5 categories, and handed in our paper after each round.

There were bonus points for best team name and for most legible handwriting (when Donna-Lane heard that, she quietly put her pen back in her purse and let me be the designated penman.)

There are more than 40 pub quizzes around Edinburgh each week, and an enterprising company manages many of them, providing the questions and the quizzmasters. It's almost the "home game" version of TV quiz programmes such as "The Chase," which we watch often (and on which one of our British friends appeared a couple years ago.)
Sign over the door says
"Children and dogs welcome"

Monday, October 14, 2019

A Backpack Weekend in London

Wet feet solution - matching kitchy socks

It was a pleasant, quite unexpected surprise. Improbable a year ago. My daughter, who had never traveled internationally before she and her family visited us in the south of France in June, sent me a message that she was coming to Barcelona – just over the border – for a technology conference. And, since her return flight was routing through London, would I be interested in spending a couple of days in the UK with her? Of course I would. When you live an ocean apart, you don’t get that many opportunities to see your kid, so you jump at any chance.

At the end of her conference, I drove down to Barcelona to meet her, and since she’d been pretty much stuck at the conference centre the whole time, we did a quick bit of sightseeing: checked out the Sagrada Familia (, the gaudy Gaudi-designed cathedral that’s been under perpetual construction for 135 years. Then we headed for the beach area (she’d heard Barcelona was near the sea, but hadn’t the opportunity to get over there); we had a late lunch and watched parents play with kids and dogs, millennials working out at an outdoor gym, and a few hardy souls trying for the late-season suntan. Then a drive up the coast road toward Girona and across the border to France.

We booked her into L’Hostalet, the best little hotel in the south of France, and had a wonderful evening conversing on our patio, fire burning in our chiminee, with D-L and her daughter Llara (ie, Alicia’s stepsister, whom she was meeting for the first time.)

Next morning, back to Barcelona to fly to London Heathrow. Checked into a hotel near the airport, and jumped on the Piccadilly line to the West End theatre district. Great seats to see Matilda, an incredible production. Alicia took copious notes, as her daughter Georgia has the lead in a community theatre presentation of the same show in north Texas; Alicia is also the “show mom” and very involved in the staging.
The next morning, Covent Garden, where she bought souvenirs for family and friends back home. Then a ride on the Hop On Hop Off bus tour to see the basic landmarks of London. We jumped off at Buckingham Palace, but Liz didn’t seem to be home to receive us, so we wandered down to Westminster, the Houses of Parliament, and the under-restoration Big Ben. Got the last couple of dress circle tickets to The Play That Went Wrong, and laughed so hard at times I cried.

Passed the next morning on visiting Windsor Castle, not enough time really before she had to catch her flight back to Dallas and me back to Barcelona.
It was a great time to catch up on what’s been going on in her life, the kiddos, the theatre gang, the job, and for her to get a glimpse, albeit soggy, of another of the places I love to visit.

Much to D-L’s surprise, I made the trip with only a backpack. Which got soaked on Saturday (glad there was a hair dryer in the hotel room).

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Liquids, Gels, Explosives

There are reports that the limitations on bringing liquids aboard airplanes may be relaxed, owing to new scanning technology. Don't expect it to be rolled out worldwide anytime soon.

Certainly easing the restrictions, even increasing the size limits, would save me money. I fully understood when TSA Orlando confiscated my Swiss Army Knife, which I thought I had packed in my checked luggage. But banning the Body Butter Massage Cream (last year) and the three tubes of KY (last month), just because the containers were more than 100ml/3.5oz each seemed a bit extreme. (Does security re-sell the stuff they seize?)

The liquids restrictions have been in place now since 2006, when British intelligence intercepted a terrorist plot to assemble explosives during a flight by using an altered plastic water bottle. At first there was overreaction of banning all liquids, and eventually the rule limiting each passenger to one quart-size plastic bag (with exceptions for baby food and meds).

When I held a Global Express trusted traveller certificate, I was not required to remove the liquids, the computer, or even my shoes before going through the security line. I let that lapse because I was not visiting the States all that often. Maybe I should re-apply. And then go buy more Body Butter.

Sunday, September 22, 2019


The French proclivity to not pick up after their dog is, to me, a symbol of the general lack of respect for other people in the world. Even though provided with plastic sacks for scooping the shit and garbage cans no more than a block or two away, many cannot be bothered. Do they care that someone, perhaps a small child, may step in the goo? Obviously not.

The humans in the world are steadily becoming more dehumanized. Individuals, whether the man on the street with the dog or elected or quasi-elected leaders of entire countries, care only for themselves. To them, others are obviously lesser people, either valued for what they can do for the haughty or altogether inconsequential.

This lack of respect for others - whether because of race /ethnicity, gender, financial status - is a strong contributor to the unprecedented polarization we are seeing between nations and within nations. When we abandon basic human decency, it becomes much easier to rationalise abuse, stealing, killing.

Will respect ever return to human relationships? Not so long as the examples at the top are the leading role models of shit-spreading. 

Friday, September 20, 2019

Time to Think

In the course of our daily lives, do we ever take time to think? Just think?

I know we think about things we are doing or planning; we have to in order to make decisions or make semi-intelligent conversation. But we (or at least I) generally are doing something else while thinking - at the computer, while eating, watching TV, dressing / undressing, running errands, socializing, walking the dog.

I've had a lot of time recently to think … while doing nothing else … while driving alone. I've driven eight separate trips of 2 1/2 to 3 hours each, or about 20 hours total, with no one else in the car, no decent radio station connections, no CDs to listen to, no paper for taking notes, and certainly no mobile phone while driving. Just think.

Lots of things run through my mind: D-L, writing projects, upcoming travel, Swiss citizenship, family, hickory golf, politics, global issues, local issues, how much longer to my destination, French, Sherlock, D-L, golf … Hopefully, the brilliant thoughts I have will return from my memory when I am no longer driving and can do something with them. 

I'd like to say I also do some pure thinking before I go to sleep at night, but I tend to zonk out so quickly I doubt there's a complete thought there.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Time Traveller

Just like that, my life fast-forwarded five days.

Yesterday, when my flight to the States was cancelled, I moaned about the wasted hours going to the airport and back, in vain.

Today, I feel as if I have "found" five new days. Instead of visiting my mother as planned (now rescheduled for next Tuesday), I am able to start working on my "MacArthur list" (ie, things to do when I shall return).

First priority, updating D-L's website to reflect publication of her newest (and best!) novel, Triple Decker (  BTW, her 12th novel, plus one co-authored novel, plus two non-fiction books: 15 books published since 2003, another coming out fairly soon, and her 17th, Day Care, with first draft completed and now into serious editing. Not to mention a Russian translation and two German translations. 

I hadn't been able to get to the website before because of client deadlines - you know, the cobbler's kids … But now with nothing on my agenda for the day other than walking the dog a few times, I could dive into the website update. It's like leaping forward to next Wednesday, when I planned to do it.

It took me a bit longer than it might have in the past. I realized I had no decent photo-editing software on my computer, so I purchased a licence for "Affinity," ( which had good reviews, but it required a modest learning curve, including watching parts of a couple video tutorials. What I do is not complicated, but Affinity's interface is a little different than the Photoshop I used for many years. (It also has some interested advanced features I'd love to try in the future.)

Website update complete, I can turn my attention to some other projects I have been putting off ... and thought would have to wait until next week. But now, next week is this week (or weekend) and this week's travel plans will re-boot for next week. Kind of like daylight savings time "spring forward, fall back," all in the space of five days.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Wasted Days

Even though I am technically "retired," I despise unproductive days and hours. Such as spending too much time on Facebook scanning rants by semi-literate but fully opinionated people. I prefer to go to bed at night, even if it's 3 am, feeling that I'd accomplished some of what I set out to do for the day.

Worse than wasting hours is blowing an entire day in unproductive manner. Such as today, in which the only thing I can say I checked off my to-do list was having lunch. Oh, I drove a couple hours to Barcelona airport (where I had the pretty-good hamburger), but then drove right back after my (Norwegian) flight was cancelled. All together, including the check-in queue, the security queue, the customs queue, lunch, and killing time checking the departures board for a gate number, plus the two drives (with modest bouchon / traffic jams), a 9-hour roundtrip for nothing. Okay, I did do some thinking about projects on the drive back and forth but couldn't exactly write anything down or work on the computer. Considering maybe taking the train next time, though that has its own hassles WRT Barcelona, a city I have learned to loathe.

Last week, the unproductive time was at the hospital, waiting for the results each time they drew D-L's blood or wired her for an EKG. It wasn't as bad as driving alone because she was there. And at least we learned her heart etc. are okay. She read most of a book. I managed to find a chocolate muffin for brunch.

I'd be glad to forego the burger and muffin if I could get those two days back.