Monthly Archives: June 2006

Last time we’d left them…

… Martha and Paul were at the top of the stairs of Paul’s apartment where he’d invited Martha back to look at his etchings, but the evening had taken a turn for the unexpected when…

Martha took her gun from her purse, pointed it at Paul, and said, “in a very real sense, that’s true”.

If you haven’t read part one then maybe you’d like to:
“I think that’s it for me”

Paul, keeping his cool like a Amcor AMC 10000 Air Conditioning unit*, simply said “If you shoot me then I’ll be dead, and you’ll never see those etchings, those etchings are under lock and key, and you don’t have the key and you don’t even know where the lock is, in fact even if you put that key in that lock which you’d happened to find then you’d still have problems as you’d have to type a sixteen digit code into a box which doesn’t even look like it accepts codes typed into it, and then you’d have to speak into a microphone a special phrase that you don’t know using my voice that you won’t have and then when you finally see those etchings, those etchings that you so desire that you’re willing to kill for them, you won’t understand them because you won’t have me to explain that they have been influenced by a number of great artists that I don’t care to mention right now because if I don’t mention them then you’ll have slightly less reason to kill me. And that, amongst many other reasons, is why you shouldn’t kill me”. And he said all of that before he realised that all of the things that he’d had to say had been a little more complicated than he’d intended at the start of his simple sentence.

Martha lit a cigarette with her gun-shaped lighter, tilted her head back and laughed a laugh which seemed to say “why does it all have to be so complicated”, but actually she said in verse:

“Paul, your etchings sound lovely,
they really do,
but to see them sounds complicated,
so shall we just screw”.

* **

** I honestly haven’t been paid any money by them, I just put “air conditioning unit” into google and clicked on the first link that came up and ranked the resulting units by rating and picked the first one.

An other overheard conversation

Bloke 1: But what’s the point of it?
Bloke 2: It’s the Bloody World Cup. It’s the whole bloody world getting together to have a cup!

Cul de Sac

I currently live on, and indeed am about to move to a cul de sac. It’s one of those strange bits of French that have crept into the English language without us really knowing what it means. Some people might not even know it’s French.

In American English they have removed many of the French words from their language. So cafetière becomes French press and the American President says “the problem with the French is that they don’t have a word for Entrepreneur”*. Cul de Sac does remain in American English however. The average English speaker who has never learned French will know approximately 15,000 French words.

So what does Cul de Sac mean in French? If you put it into any translation engine you will find that it means “bottom of bag” which kind of describes the shape of the road, especially as many cul de sacs** have round bottoms. But actually that isn’t quite the end of the story as actually the word Cul isn’t the word for bottom in French that most people will have learnt at school (or wherever it is that people learn French these days). The word they would have learnt for bottom is Fond.

So what does Cul mean? Well literally it can mean bottom but more often when it is invoked it means something more akin to Arse (Ass if you’re American). So if you live in a Cul de Sac then you live in the Arse of a bag, try putting that on the particulars of your house and see how many people try arrange a viewing.

* Of course this story isn’t really true – it just seems true – and has been widely circulated. Supposedly Baroness Williams was told this joke by Tony Blair. But Alistair Campbell has said that Tony has never said this comment – so it definitely can’t be true then!

** Or is it Culs de sac?


Goldfish aren’t really Gold. Not really. Goldfish are really specially bred carp.

And their main lot in life seems to be that they want to change colour and also remember that they’ve done it. Despite the very common story that they have a three second memory this has been proven to not be true many times. Goldfish are very good at even recognising humans.

The food that they eat and their stress levels are factors in changes of colour, but the main issue is one of genetics. Often in a single goldfish’s life it will start as bronze then move on to a washed out white or orange colour with black tipped fins and then they change to orange with black tipped fins, then to all orange and then they end up as orange with white tipped fins. In the wild a goldfish would have been an olive-brown colour.

The food thing is an interesting factor because it’s often considered to be a big factor in goldfish colour. But genetics are more important here. For some animals though colour and food are important, like the flamingo. Weirdly the pink colour is from carotene (the stuff that makes carrots orange) it’s found inside shrimp too and it makes the flamingos pink (in the wild they don’t often eat shrimp but mainly get their carotene from algae. We feed shrimp to flamingos in captivity though to generate the pinkness). Those bred in captivity are more often just white. The one thing that doesn’t change in flamingos is their black feathers. They all have 12 black feathers, these are the feathers that are actually used in flight. The pinkness shows how good a mate they are because they can provide food to the young. But the black feathers show that they can actually fly.

This idea of animals changing colour due to their diet has been known about for a long time. In fact some of the earliest explorers thought that the reason that different races of people looked different was because of their diet rather than thinking that these people were actually different than them. It was often, but not always, those who came later who caused the racial stereotypes. And it seems like an easier thought process. The idea that the new people that you’d met were the same as you but simply looked different because they had food with new spices or rice or some other food you weren’t familiar with makes some kind of sense rather than the more horrible idea that the new people were somehow inferior.

Anyway, so although a change in diet can bring on a change in the colour of your goldfish, in this case you really are only speeding up (or slowing down) a process that is genetically pre-ordained. The only reason that our goldfishes are gold is because of the royal house of china whose colour was gold. In the same way that the only reason that carrots are orange (and not purple) is because of the Dutch Royal family.

So to sum up, a goldfish is basically just a show off carp. So here’s your round up of carp to finish the article:

Show off Carp Demure Carp Coy Carp

"I think that’s probably it for me"

“I think that’s probably it for me”, Paul turned to his left and put out his cigarette in his beer. It flew in at an angle with a hiss and stuck to the side of the glass. A bearded drunk from two stools down looked on at the waste of beer with a mixture of disgust and calculated longing as though he was asking himself the question, “how much do I hate my insides right now”?

Paul hopped off the stool with more composure than a man who has been in a bar all night should have. He looked to his companion and asked the question she’d been waiting for all night, “do you want to come back with me and see my etchings”?

She nervously laughed and smiled, this was it she thought. She could become a hero tonight – if only she kept playing it cool – she instantly remembered herself and tried to forget the seven gins and tonic* she had drunk. She tottered off of her stool, but in a calculated way so that she was slightly off balance on her heels. She was exactly as off balance as she needed to be so that he could catch her if he was suave enough but that if he didn’t notice she wouldn’t fall flat on her face.

He noticed and rebalanced her. She laughed and flicked her head back so that he saw her smile, her cleavage heave and so that her hair just barely brushed against his ear. He grinned and said, “okay lets get in that cab”.

They walked outside and the cool air cleared their heads faster than a turd clears a swimming pool. A taxi was floating past, Paul whistled and she put her hand out. The cab stopped and Paul whispered, and then shouted, his address to the mildly deaf taxi driver. They got in and squeaked into the leatherette chairs while the soothing sounds of the Eagles plagued havoc with their emotions.

They drove for what felt like ten minutes and eleven minutes later they were standing outside Paul’s place.

“Would you like to come up,” Paul knew exactly what to say.
“Yes,” she said, “I’ve always been fascinated to see a loft apartment”.
“Well don’t get too excited, it’s just like any other kind of place”.
“Except,” she whispered into his ear, “that it’s at the top of the pile. Kinda like you Paul”.

They both walked up the stairs uneventfully, and as they reached the top Paul turned and said, “this is it”.

Martha took her gun from her purse, pointed it at Paul, and said, “in a very real sense, that’s true”.

Dum, Dum, Dulallalalaallala! Will Paul be shot? What’s Martha’s agenda? Will Paul ever get to show Martha his etchings? Tune in next Friday…

* I know it looks weird, but it is right.

An overheard conversation

You know that guy?

Which guy?

You know. The one that I used to think was strangely attractive.

Oh yeah, Steve.

Yeah, Steve.


Well now I just think he’s strange.

Any Small Garden

I was talking to my Lithuanian hairdresser the other day and he asked me straight out a question I wasn’t expecting, “do you go to church”?

This, it is fair to say, is a very very unusual question from a hairdresser. From a hairdresser you expect the following kinds of questions:

“Enjoying (or, perhaps more usually, what about this) weather we’ve been having?”

“Going anywhere nice on your holidays?”

“Something for the weekend sir?”

Or if they are particularly feeling risqué, “how long would you like your hair to be at the end of this haircut”?

They are certainly not supposed to ask you anything that sounds remotely like religion or politics. And this question sounded very much like it fell into the first of these categories.

Actually it turned out that he was merely trying to figure out something to talk to me about after I had casually admitted that I hadn’t “seen the big game” which happened to be the world cup. Actually that’s another rich vein of conversation in hairdressers but it’s one that passes me by so I didn’t include it above.*

He had by this point found out that my family is from Russia and was literally wondering if this would mean that we might go to the same church which is, perhaps a different question. I had to tragically disappoint the poor lad by revealing that I don’t go and therefore would see him there. His face dropped and he looked despondent until he remembered a funny story which he then told me.

He was telling me about the very first occasion that he had arrived in the country and after a short time had decided that he’d like to go to church (I suppose to catch up on what God had been up to in the intervening weeks).

He didn’t know where the local Russian orthodox church would be so he decided that the simplest way would be to go into a British church and ask them where it was. So that is what he did. He strolled up to some Anglican church and asked them “where is the nearest Russian Orthodox church?” and the vicar said, “it’s in any small garden” which our hairdresser thought might be a bit deep. It sounded he said like one of those Buddhist things. Like he was saying God is all around us.

But he didn’t want any of this theoretical stuff he wanted to actually go to church so he decided to go to a different Anglican church and a different vicar and ask him instead. And so he asked the vicar and the vicar replied that the Russian Orthodox church was “in any small garden”.

At this point our man decided he wasn’t going to take being messed around like this, he said “no I want to know where the physical church is, I’ve looked in several small gardens and it’s not there. I want to know where it is”.

It was at this point that the vicar smiled that special grin he reserved for dealing with the elderly and the very young and said, “no I’m afraid my son you’ve got the wrong end of the stick. It’s not in Any Small Garden, it’s in a road called Ennismore Gardens.”

* although I did include “Something for the weekend sir?” even though nobody has ever actually said it to me.

Water, water everywhere and not a drop to shoot

In my post on the wrong kind of rain the other day I talked about how water is something that you can’t remove from the system. All other food systems can be broken down you get cows by applying two parent cows to a field and some hay and proving them with some water. And to get the grass they need the grass needs water too. It all comes back to water in the end. Water is axiomatic in a way.

There is another weird cross-over with water too in that it has traditionally been one of the most difficult things to deal with when doing special effects, because it’s the one thing that you can’t miniaturise. You can make an entire town at 100th the size and have a giant stay-puft marshmallow man walk around the city and when you show it on screen it will really look (well almost) like the stay-puft marshmallow man has come to New York. But the same isn’t true with water. To make a load of water run down a city street and look convincing you’ve always had to actually put a whole load of water in a street which is a tad expensive. Because the problem is that when you see some water running in the middle of a miniaturised set you can immediately tell that the water is too big. It just looks wrong, because you can actually tell that it hasn’t been miniaturised. You can see some examples of where they just decided to go with it in such movies as Die Hard 3 and one of the Indiana Jones movies (I can’t remember which).

Now of course cgi has ruined my point because you can shrink the water by the appropriate amount in the computer.