Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Crime and Punishment

I knew it!

I knew that the months of giving away the state secrets about the British would eventually catch-up with me. The endless time haranguing the locals to “speak properly.” The constant insistence that “pants” can also be called “trousers” and the insistence that they quit making up words to salt randomly into their speech as is we wouldn’t notice. (I mean really, a chippie is a prostitute... not a type of restaurant!! The first time I heard someone say that they went to the chippie for lunch, well, wahoo!)

But I never realized that there really were English police! (By that I mean Grammar police... not ‘English’ police... I know that there are officers who are English, I’m referring to those who police English, Grammar!”) I mean you’re always hearing about them, but has anyone ever actually seen one? I thought not...

And you still haven’t.

I got the call yesterday afternoon that a mate of mine from this office who has gone on to join London’s finest stopped by for a quick chat. I was called to the lobby by our receptionist and told that I was in trouble and going to be arrested. I figured that could be one of three things; my friend Kevin had come by to visit, my friend Phil had stopped by to visit or the local constabulary was tired of all the crap I have been giving the locals. Luckily, it was one of the former. So Phil and I mugged for the cameras of my colleagues who heard I was about to be arrested. Luckily, my colleagues over from the states didn’t know Phil, so when they saw me in the cuffs, it took them aback...

On a side note, British handcuffs, with the solid manacle hand-grip between makes them less comfortable than the American style (with the chain between the wrist pieces) but I can see the advantage of having more control of your prisoner. I mentioned this to my pal who had cuffed me and was immediately treated to the looks of raised eyebrows of my colleagues who wanted to know how I would know what handcuffs felt like. Oh, I do! But that is a story for another time. (How can I remain enigmatic if I give away all my secrets at once?)

I hope that wherever you are today, you have something to be entertained by!

Don Bergquist - 31 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

Monday, October 30, 2006

Back to Routine

This morning I got-up, got dressed, checked to make sure that all the clocks I rely on are, in fact, set to the correct Time (Greenwich Mean Time), and then had breakfast and left for the office.

Because of the extra hour this morning, (which I count as having gained last night due to that debacle in Zaandam yesterday) I had lots of time to get to the office so I took the barge walk into Kingston and then river walk back to Thames Ditton on my way in. It was a lovely morning for a ride. The temperatures are a bit on the cool side, the fog was rising from the river, and the cloud cover was just enough to make the sky interesting.

On the way in I had some time to think and something that nagged at me all day yesterday finally surfaced. The comment that was made to me a couple weeks ago about having become "anglicized" was correct. It kind of bothered me when I was there, without realizing it, that everybody there was driving on the wrong side of the street.

The few trips that I took back to the US this year made me notice that I had a tendency to find myself gravitating toward the left-side of the street as I drove, (Thankfully, it passes quickly and I tend to drive at odd times when I get home so there is little traffic.) but a few days passed and I was right as rain.

I have never actually felt physically uncomfortable being on the left, however. Perhaps it is the fact that The Netherlands is so physically similar to the UK (roundabouts, narrow roads, etc.) that made it seem wrong to keep right. The first roundabout we went anti-clock-ways around gave me a real start. I know that we drove on the right through France and Belgium, but that was way back in January. I hadn’t had nearly this much time to get used to being left.

When I got on the replacement bus service from Clapham Junction to Hampton Court yesterday, it just felt good and right to be left. The bus deposited me at the Hampton Court station where I collected my bicycle, dropped my bag at the house, headed to Tesco to pick-up a few things, and then took a short ride. Then, due to the stress of travel and the fact that I had had only four hours (thanks to the incompetence of the staff at the hotel in Zaandam) sleep the last evening, I went home and vegetated the rest of the afternoon, Paying in the hammock in the back garden under the clear, sunny skies. I slept hard and woke at sunset when it started getting too chilly to lay out without a blanket.

This morning, I am back into the routine; which I will break next weekend when I take a whirlwind tour of Copenhagen! I can hardly wait!

I hope that wherever you are today, you are comfortably ensconced in the routine.

Don Bergquist - 30 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Jet Set

According to the online etymology site I use to research such things, the term "Jet Set" originated in the early fifties when jet planes were still quite new and was used to specifically refer to a small group of wealthy individuals who could afford to take impromptu trips to the hot exclusive resorts and chase hedonistic pursuits.

What an antiquated notion! In these days of cheap airfares to all the places I'm likely to want to go on a whim, means I have joined the jet set. Now, if only I were wealthy, I could afford to buy the hotel I stayed in last night and fire the staff at the front desk this morning!

My 05:15 wake-up call arrived at 04:15. My complaint that my 06:00 cab hadn't shown-up by 06:10 was made at 05:10 and was not corrected by the night auditor who checked me out of my room and called for a second cab to the train station. It wasn't until five minutes later when I was in the cab headed to the train station that I was informed that (though I had known the time was changing) the hotel staff was apparently unaware of the "Fall Back" time change. The cabbie asked me why I was out and about so early on a Sunday.

"You're an early riser." He said as he pulled away from the hotel.

"Yeah, I have an early flight this morning back to London." I replied thinking that it certainly is dark in Amsterdam at this (early, I'll grant) hour of the morning.

"So you're leaving early." He said with emphasis on the early that I nearly missed.

"Yeah. It is probably why I have the cheap fare. Who would want to fly at 08:30?"

"And they have trains this early?" he asked

"Yeah. I'm on the first train to Schiphol at 06:23." I responded, dreading what his next comment was likely to be, about to find out that I was right.

"So, you are of the notion that it is after six, yes?" said he rising one eyebrow as he looked at me in the rear-view mirror.

"Don't tell me that the night auditor didn't know about the change to standard time." I said, already knowing the answer.

"How stupid would that be?" He replied.

"Very stupid! Especially since he knew that I though after six."

"You're going to be an hour early for your train. Do you want to wait at the hotel?"

"Nah!" I replied. "We're half way there and I can wait on the platform as easily as I can wait anywhere else."

So, here I sit, on the platform at Zaandam train station, it is a bit chilly, and a bit windy, but nothing to warrant the parkas being worn by the street children who are in impressive numbers on the platform this morning. I'm reminded of the scene from The Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (by Douglas Adams) where he talks about the homeless of London really being the Norse Gods... This lot, though there is nothing divine about them, could make an interesting pantheon.

Oh well, at least I am certain that I will not be late for my first train. And once I wrap this up, I can play a couple crossword puzzles before my train comes. I wish I spoke Dutch. I have no idea what the announcement is that is being made on the tannoy, but it must be important. It has been repeated at least three times in the past twenty minutes. And I have no idea what the loud and boisterous conversation going on over my left shoulder is, but it certainly seems to be amusing the kids who are having it!

I hope that wherever you are today, you are surrounded by people who remembered to set their clocks back and are not caught waiting for the world to catch-up with you.

Don Bergquist - 29 October 2006 - Zaandam, The Netherlands

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Netherlands on a Whim

In my travels over on this side of the pond, I feel, I have left countries outside the UK slide. This is the case partly because I have been very busy over here this past year, partly because I have jut not had the money or the motivation to do too much other than bicycle (or on rare occasions, drive) around my little corner of Europe.

That changed this weekend. I decided that before I left, I should really get to see at least one or two other countries; even if it was cursory at best. So this weekend, I started my horizon expansion with a quick trip to The Netherlands. The reason for the trip was only partly to expand my horizons. The other (and to be honest, the main) reason for the trip was to get air miles on my Northwest frequent flyer plan. (I'm just a stone's throw from being a premium gold status on my frequent flyer plan!)

I looked on the NWA website and found a number of good cheap flights I could take that would put some miles on my card so I started this weekend with Amsterdam. I've never been there before, but have some friends here who are from there. (Well, technically, they're from Maastricht, but when the whole country is the average post card, does that small difference really matter?)

Last night I arrived to a rainy evening in Amsterdam. Schiphol airport was backed-up because of the rain. My first impression of the Netherlands, (those of you who read my piece on Belgium back in January, will possibly notice a similarity here) was that it looked a lot like Minnesota. Not Minneapolis, but one of the more rural airports; say St. Cloud or even Alexandria. It is a sizable airport, but it is surrounded by land that looks given-over to agrarian use.

Due to bad information at the Amsterdam Central train station, I ended-up standing on the wrong platform watching my train to Zaandam leave from another platform. So, by the time I got to the hotel and checked-in, it was way too late to catch any of the museums or sites that I had planned on photographing. I got back to central Amsterdam around 21:00 and spent a few hours walking around, looking at the sights, visiting the shops, and trying to get a seat in a restaurant to have dinner.

The motion and the blinking neon of Amsterdam was more than my camera's auto-focus mechanism could handle. All the pictures I took are blurred beyond the point where they actually convey any information. The one that I think best, conveys the overall feeling of this whirlwind visit to The Netherlands is this one. It is (though you'd be had-pressed to tell) a picture of the Amsterdam Central Station. I took this from about half a kilometer away, standing in the main straad (street) leading up to the main station approach. Unfortunately, because of the fact that I was jostled just as the camera lens opened, I have nothing but confused light blurs to show for my composure, and metering... But then, this is probably how I will remember my first visit to Amsterdam.

By 23:30 I was on a bus back here to Zaandam. I have left a wake-up call for 05:15 made a car reservation for 06:00 to the train station and will be heading back to Schiphol on the 06:23 train. If I hadn't taken this trip specifically for the Air Miles, I'd be upset about how little I did whilst I was here. But then, I suppose next time (...and there will be a next time...) I'll schedule more time here. I guess I had best wrap this up, save it for publication back at the office on Monday morning.

I hope wherever you are today, you've enjoyed your life, even if it was at a whirlwind pace!

Don Bergquist - 28 October 2006 - Zaandam, The Netherlands

Friday, October 27, 2006

Just a short entry today...

Hello all!

I have only a few minutes today to finish everything I want to get done before I have to head out to the office. I've got a load of laundry about to finish spinning that will need to be hung so it will be dry this afternoon when I get home. I have to empty the dishwasher and perhaps have a bite of breakfast.

This is the weekend I am headed off to The Netherlands. I'll write some entries whilst I am over there, but as I am not even shutting down my PC for the weekend (I'm leaving it at the office) I'll have no way of posting whilst out of the UK. I will upload any pictures I take and the blog entries on Monday when I return to the office.

Oh, for those of you who do not know about my trip yet, I discovered when looking at my Frequent Flier statement that I would make Gold premier status on my airline of choice is a tantalizingly short time. So I have decided to do a few short hops to neighboring countries for the next couple (few) weekends to make-up the difference. Gold status gives me a higher premium on the miles that I fly and give me more chance of getting upgraded when I fly.

So this weekend I am going to Amsterdam. Depending on how this trip goes, I may go to Copenhagen next weekend. Anyway, I'm off to hang-up laundry and make breakfast

I hope wherever you are, you are having a great day today!

Don Bergquist - 27 October 2006 - East Molesey, Surrey, UK

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Pub Experience

As promised yesterday, the rest of the story...

My colleagues and I went to the pub across the street from Blackfriar's Rail Station and Tube Stop to have dinner and await the beginning of the ghost tour of London. Anticipating the long walk after dark along the cold streets of Central London, we decided to steel ourselves against the cold the fear of the tour by having a pint or three and a good, rib-sticking pub dinner.

We had no sooner started to tuck into our first pint when the barmaid stood on a stool behind the bar and announced at the top of her volume range:

"Attention everyone, attention, please! Could everyone please leave the pub? We've found an unclaimed bag in the pub and the police have been called."

This seemed a bit of overkill for us and a number of patrons made comments about how the owner of the bag was probably away in the loo and would be surprised to see the ruckus they had caused. But we picked-up our beers and our belongings and walked out into the bier garten (beer garden) and were met by a pair of London's finest.

"Please step along this other way." He directed. "Just walk into the next block if you could." They were clearing the bier garten as well? This was interesting! It took me a few minutes to realize that I should have been snapping pictures. Hell, what did I have a camera for anyway?

One of the locals was making comment about the overkill being employed in response to a misplaced bag. But as I pointed-out this pub is situated above a shallow Tube Stop and below a Rail Station. What better place to do some damage if one is so inclined?

We were to discover later (by listening to the police talking among themselves that there was a second bag in the bier garten which explained their emptying that.) The police dogs showed-up and sniffed about a bit and half-an-hour later we were back in the pub, mugging for pictures and getting our dinner. It was a bit of excitement to get us ready for an evening of fun!

One post-script, I heard one of the patrons telling another that he owner of the bag showed-up to claim it only to be told that it had been carted off by the police. (Although that part of the story may be apocryphal.) All-in-all, it was a good evening and we got two stories to tell out of it.)

Three if you count the fact that our train back to Thames Ditton was cancelled because a train heading into Waterloo had derailed whilst we were in Central London and had caused major disruption to the rail service that was still affecting the commute the next morning.

I hope that wherever you are today all your stories are good ones!

Don Bergquist - 26 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

Happy Birthday to my Cousin, Gwen

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

London by Night

Last night my colleagues (over from the states to assist in hitting some project deadlines that are rapidly approaching) and I went into Central London to take the ghost tour. The tour was to start at the pub in Blackfriar's across from the entrance to the tube and National Rail stations.

In preparation for the trip, one of my colleagues had bough the tickets to the tour online and I popped over to the Surbiton train station to buy the rail passes. (I wasn't about to go to the local station. See yesterday's posting for the reasons why.) We left the station and took the brisk fifteen minute walk across the village to the Thames Ditton rail station around 16:15 to catch the 16:24 train into town. Changing to the First Capitol Connect train at Wimbledon, we arrived at the Blackfriar's train station about 45 minutes later and repaired to the pub below the platform to have dinner* before the tour began.

A word about the train station, with space being at a premium, they tend to fit things in where they can get them. The Blackfriar's train station is built above the river on stilts. The railroad bridge across The Thames expands about a hundred yards from the shore and platforms spring out beside the tracks. The actual terminal building is up on stilts above the buildings on both sides of the road that runs along the embankment. The actual footprint of the station is pretty small. Just a small building that joins the Rail station above and the Tube station below street level with a few stairs, shops, and an elevator. Other than that, the rest is either suspended above or entrenched below the bustle of London.

Alongside the station there are the piers of an old bridge that has been torn down. When the bridge was ripped out, the engineers left the pilings in place and just capped them off. They stand there like monuments to civic re-planning in the middle of the river. But I digress, back to the evening's main event...

The tour started just after seven and wended its way around the streets of Central London. We say various "haunted" locales around the London financial district; the churchyard where, drunken and disparaging the dead, a man left the pub and went to prove his lack of fear of the dead. He left with an ornamental sword to drive it into the grave of his late rival. The found him dead (apparently of fright) on the grave of his nemesis, the sword driven firmly through the tails of his coat fixing him to the spot here he died.

There were a number of highlights; some of the stories were quite humorous, for example. Other stories were interesting for their historical importance. Still others were interesting for the reasons that had nothing to do with the stories themselves. For example, the story the guide tried to tell at the steps of St. Paul's. At the outset, we knew he was going to have fun but I enjoyed watching to see how he was going to out-shout the carillon.

For some reason, the bells started ringing as we approached the cathedral and were still audible thirty minutes later as we were finishing the tour three stops later. How he out-shouted the bells was, as you may have guessed, my giving up, pointing to a few things he wanted us to make not of and then giving his talk in a courtyard in a street a couple blocks away.

One of the final stops was the church of St. Albans. (Okay, you guys who have seen a number of my photographs will notice that I love to take buildings from strange angles... give me a break!) The story was pretty interesting. Apparently the Prior at St. Alban's had the habit of waking the condemned the night before their execution to assure that they were not getting a good night's sleep before they were hanged. Perhaps that is why so many of them hang-out at the most hunted pub in the UK which is directly across the street. (Please note, this picture was taken at night without a tripod. I think it came out relatively good under the circumstances.)

All-in-all, it was an excellent tour and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who wants to take a walk around London at night in the relative safety of a big group.

I hope that wherever you are today you have a pleasant day for whatever it is you have to do!

Don Bergquist - 25 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

*Editor's Note:

Please see more tomorrow on this part of the adventure.

Happy Birthday to my Cousin, Jacob

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Huh Hell; Pay Attention!

In yet another of my (eminently justifiable) rants on people who live in England who refuse to speak that language named for their country, I take aim at not only people who are linguistically challenged, but vocationally challenged as well. Yesterday at lunchtime as I neared the end of my daily ride I decided to finalize the last of the preparations for my upcoming side-trip. It was whilst attempting to negotiate the vending of a ticket to Heathrow International Airport that I had the subject of today's screed.

The setting: The Hampton Court Railways station, Surrey, United Kingdom. The time, yesterday, 12:45 BST.

Personae Dramatis: your humble narrator, an English speaker from birth speaking Southern-American Dialectical English whose sole expression is the occasional use of the word "y'all;" A station attendant and ticket vendor, presumably British in origin.

As the scene opens your humble narrator walks his bicycle up to the ticket window off the concourse, a low-slung, mid-nineteenth century brick building with wide doors to both the car park and the platform.

Your Humble Narrator: "Yes, can you please tell me what the fare will be to Heathrow International Airport, please?

Station Ticket Vendor: "Huh?"

YHN: "What is the fare to Heathrow?"

STV: "The ferry to Heathrow? Huh?"

YHN: (Bending down to speak more directly through the hole in the glass) "I'm sorry, no. What is the fare to Heathrow?"

STV: (Looking perplexed) "There is no ferry to Heathrow, mate!"

YHN: "Not Ferry, Fare. What is the Fare to Heathrow."

STV: "Huh?"

YHN: "I am asking what the train fare will be to travel to Heathrow."

STV: "You want to take the train to Heathrow?"

YHN: "Yes. Can you tell me what the fare is, please?"

STV: "Huh?"

YHN: "How much money does it cost to take the train to Heathrow?"

STV: "Oh, I thought you wanted the Ferry."

YHN: "No, look, can you please tell me what it will cost me to get a train ticket to Heathrow?"

STV: "That depends on where you want to get there from, mate." (At this point, the ticket vendor starts typing something into his computer console)

(I have to admit - this response did take me aback...)

YHN: "Uh... from here?"

STV: (more typing and a longish pause) "How do you want to get there?"

YHN: "By train would be nice... How else would I get there from here?"

STV: (apparently missing the sarcasm does some more typing, points at something on the screen, mouthing numbers to himself) "There's no direct train from here, mate. You'll have to change. Where do you want to change?"

YHN: (I have choices?!?!) "I have choices? Well, since I have no idea what any of the possibilities are, just pick a route and tell me the fare."

STV: (Stops counting the things on the screen) "Huh?"

YHN: "What are the options on where I change trains?"

STV: "Oh. Uh, Wimbledon, Clapham Junction, Vauxhall, and Waterloo."

YHN: "Uh, I don't care. Since I don't know any of the routes beyond the stations you named, Wimbledon."

STV: "If you don't know where to go from there, how are you planning on getting to the airport?

YHN: "I'm hoping that the tickets will tell me what to do... you certainly are being no assistance.

STV: "That will be £4.30. via any of those changeover points."

I left without asking why he had made a point of asking me where I wanted to change if it made no difference where I changed. I'll leave that mystery for another day.

I hope that today something gives you pause for thought.

Don Bergquist - 24 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

Editor's Notes:

The editor wishes to offer the following thanks for assistance with the creation of this article. I thank Southwest Trains for hiring people who are so marginally qualified for employment so as to be a constant source of humor. Aside from unhelpful staffing at the help points in their stations, they employ unintelligible announcers for their onboard announcements. Thanks guys! Keep-up the disinterested work!

The editor also wishes to thank his brother Denis for the title of this morning's piece. The title is a direct quote of something Denis used to say all the time as we were growing-up Denis had (has?) even less patience than I do for people who refuse to communicate efficaciously; which is odd as I am the one in the communications industry.

Finally, the editor wishes to thank the residents of his current country of residence for their being so outrageously quirky as to always be entertaining. Don't get me wrong, not everybody in the UK is a total whack-job, but there are enough of them to keep me in blog entries for years. (If only I had the time to sit-down and write them all...) And before any of the Brits in my audience get defensive, I didn't say that there aren't plenty of nut-cases in the States, but I grew-up with the insanity of the US and as such I tend to fail to see anything strange about it any more. (Unless you want to mention all those scary-strange evangelicals off on the far right-wing of US Politics.)

Happy Birthday to my Aunt, Rita

Monday, October 23, 2006

Rain in the Wrong Place

Apparently, we need this rain, but we need it to be about fifty miles upstream from here. According to what I think I understand from my friend, Terry, the watershed for the Thames Valley Water Authority is upstream around Oxfordshire.

We are going to have a major thunderstorm this afternoon (about the time that we have Rush Hour tonight) if the weathercast is accurate. The problem is that, although we need the rain, we need it up where the reserves are held not as much down here in London.

Oh well! I guess the person who accused me of having been "Anglicized" last week was right! I was talking to someone last week when they accused me of having become anglicized. "What does that mean?" I asked.

"That you've learned to complain about everything." They responded. It is either too hot or too cold. To wet or too dry... I think, more accurately, to be anglicized is to be able to think about complaining. To actually do so would be a breach of some decorum that I have yet to suss-out fully.

I hope that wherever you are today you have nothing to complain about. (Or, indeed to think about complaining.)

Don Bergquist - 23 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Next Front

A friend of mine from the office offered to take me to the Wimbledon Marketplace. It was pretty cool. (It's very cool, indeed! I had to go and get my jacket from the house before we left.)

The market is pretty cool, pretty much like a flea market back home but there are nicer merchants missed-in with the standard junk sellers. The two outstanding things I want to describe are the food trailer. They served breakfast and lunch foods. We had bacon and egg rolls with onions while walking to the meat vendor.

He calls himself a meat action. He has legs of mutton, rolls of pork, hams (both fresh and smoked), sides of beef and all kinds of wonderful things hanging from hooks. In an auctioneer's patois he sells large lots of meat to the people standing around.

I bought some rib eye steaks and some sliced ham at a price that I have calculated as being about 30% less than I could have spent at a grocer's. I also stopped at the olive vendor and got some wonderful olives stuffed with garlic!

It started drizzling, and then seriously raining on the way home. Once we had dropped my purchases at the place that I am staying, went back to get my bicycle from The Villa, and then headed back during a break in the rain. The wind is so strong that I am sure that we are going to get rain all afternoon.

This must be the next front they were talking about on the weather this morning. I think it is going to be another perfect day for spending the rest of the day curled-up on the couch with my book.

I hope that wherever you are today you have the things you need to make you comfortable.

Don Bergquist - 22 October 2006 - West Molesey, Surrey, UK

Happy Birthday to my Aunt, Fran

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Between the Fronts

It has been a lovely day, in turns. The weather was perfect for staying in bed this morning. I woke-up, rolled over, and looked out the window. It was gray, rainy, and miserable. It was the type of day that makes having a book to read and a comfy space in bed or on curled-up on the sofa. I did what anyone would at a time like this, I napped. By the time I woke-up the second time, the rain had passed and a lovely day beckoned.

The second time I got up, it was lovely and I ran through my morning preparations and headed out for a day's ride. Seeing how the weather report proposed a new frontal system coming in by the evening, I decided to get as many miles under my wheels as I could before the end of the inviting weather. It was a lovely ride!

The weather maintained a lovely, warm, windy day until shortly after 13:00. I took a brief break on the banks of the Thames around lunch time and on a whim, I decided to take the ferry across. (Going all the way up to Hampton Court would have added about forty-five minutes to my trip an, well, I was getting a bit tired.

I was half a mile from the end of my ride when the skies opened. It came down out of nowhere! (Well, I guess technically, it came out of up... but you know what I mean. It was sudden and there was no warning.)

I'm now curled-up on the couch. I've gotten home, put the bike away, taken a good, hot shower and gotten into my robe. I'm sitting here with my laptop writing today's entry and once I go and post this to the web, I think I'll sit here with my coffee and my book for the rest of the day! I guess if you look at it the right way, the weather has been perfect all most all day for what I wanted to do at the time.

I hope wherever you are today, you have perfect weather, for whatever it is you want to do.

Don Bergquist - 21 October 2006 - East Molesey, Surrey, UK

Friday, October 20, 2006

Another Friday ~ Another Front

There is an old song by Flanders and Swan (a cabaret duet who sang humorous songs back in the sixties over here in the UK) called "A Song of the Weather."

January brings the snow
Makes your feet and fingers glow

February's Ice and sleet
Freeze the toes right off your feet

Welcome March with wintry wind
Would thou wer't not so unkind

April brings the sweet spring showers
On and on for hours and hours

Farmers fear unkindly May
Frost by night and hail by day

June just rains and never stops
Thirty days and spoils the crops

In July the sun is hot
Is it shining? No, it's not

August cold, and dank, and wet
Brings more rain than any yet

Bleak September's mist and mud
Is enough to chill the blood

Then October adds a gale
Wind and slush and rain and hail

Dark November brings the fog
Should not do it to a dog

Freezing wet December then:
Bloody January again!

It's meant to be humorous, but it is an interesting commentary on the weather here. The fall has certainly started. The fronts come through about one per day, marching like the Third Reich across Europe. Bringing with them sudden showers and strong winds.

But it does make cycling more interesting (as if the wankers with cars here don't do enough on that account)!

I hope wherever you are today you have an excellent day with great weather!

Don Bergquist - 20 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

Thursday, October 19, 2006

London ~ Miami

Many people may not see the connection, but then, many people have never lived in both places for an extended period of time. To the untrained eye, there may be nothing in common between the two cities; London is way up north at about 51.5 Degrees north of the equator
(...though it has an unusually high concentration of tropical plants for being this far north!), Miami is (as Jimmy Buffet puts it) down there in those little latitudes at about 25.5 Degrees. So what do they have in common you ask?

Well, there is the obvious, they are both big, sprawling metropolises that have gobbled-up all the smaller surrounding towns. They both have varied ethnic backgrounds to their populations. They are both towns filled with a bewildering array of people who talk funny. But that is not it. This place reminds me of Miami for reasons that it would take someone observant to pick-up on; that reason has to do with coats.

People start wearing coats here when it is really too warm for them. There is an old riddle that goes: Q: How can you tell that it is fall in Miami? A: Autumn is "Prowling Season." The widows on Miami Beach take the minks out of cold storage and go on the prowl.

To quote Homer Simpson: "It's funny because it's so true!"

The other night as I was taking my after-work ride I passed a number of people in a light jacket, the sweaters (or "Jumpers" as they call them over here) have started showing-up everywhere you look. (Oh, god! And some of the jumpers I have seen over here are so ugly even the Huxtables wouldn't be seen wearing them!) But the prize goes to the woman I saw as I was entering the park at Hampton Wick.

I took a moment to stretch and to loose some of the buttons on my outer layer, allowing the cool evening air to hit me through only my tee-shirt. It was cool, but the six miles I had already ridden made it seem much warmer. I was just about to reach for the gate when this lovely young lady came riding up to the cage from the inside. I motioned her through, "Ladies First."

I was astonished by her outfit. She was wearing long, black boots, a full-length parka with a fur collar that went from her ankles to her neck ruff with fur trim at the cuffs as well. The puffiness of it told me that it was either hollow-fill or down. She was also wearing gloves an a ski cap.

Let's put aside the obvious discomfort of riding in such an outfit, it was ungainly for her to get on and off her bike, but that wasn't the thing that made me wonder about her outfit. C'mon! The temperatures the other night didn't drop below forty! And it was just after sunset so the temperatures had to still be in the high fifties. Oh well, I guess it takes all types.

One of my siblings (the one who will remain nameless - but still lives in South Florida) probably would be similarly bundled up over here. That sibling does curse the unbearable cold of 50 degrees. Okay, I guess I will cut the woman on the bike some slack.

I hope that wherever you are, you are comfortable today!

Don Bergquist - 19 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Romanian Newspaper on the USA

This morning's email contained an interesting article that was forwarded to me by one of my relatives. It was titled "Romanian Newspaper, on the USA" and contained a column purported to be an accolade to the US spirit of unity.

Well it was fortuitous that it came when it did. I was just signing-in to do my blog entry for the day and this, I feel, brings up a good point. I enjoyed the article, it made me feel good to read, but as I am currently living abroad, it smacked of urban legend. How many of us (Americans) actually travel abroad, after all?

According to state department statistics, only one quarter of the American population actually has a passport and less than half of us who hold a passport have ever used it to travel outside the US. (What else one would actually use a passport for otherwise is not stated in the statistics, but it would be interesting to know.)

So, fearing that this may be some urban legend, I went to my favorite research starting point for all such suspect items and (imagine my surprise) discovered the article is, in fact, genuine! I have some reservations on why it may have started circulating given some of the information I now have about the article, but those reservations aside, here is the original email I received and my response to it.

(With my thanks to the relative who sent it! I'm leaving your name out of the blog as you are currently sleeping back in the states. If you want to be identified as the originator of this email, please feel free to add your comments below.)

Romanian Newspaper on the USA

We rarely get a chance to see another country's editorial about the USA.

Read this excerpt from a Romanian Newspaper.

The article was written by Mr. Cornel Nistorescu and published under the title "C"ntarea Americii," meaning "Ode To America" in the Romanian newspaper Evenimentulzilei

"The Daily Event" or "News of the Day".

An Ode to America

Why are Americans so united?

They would not
resemble one another even if you painted them all one color! They speak all the
languages of the world and form an astonishing mixture of civilizations and
religious beliefs. Still, the American tragedy turned three hundred million
people into a hand put on the heart.

Nobody rushed to accuse the White
House, the army, or the secret service that they are only a bunch of losers.
Nobody rushed to empty their bank accounts. Nobody rushed out onto the streets
nearby to gape about. Instead the Americans volunteered to donate blood and to
give a helping hand.

After the first moments of panic, they raised their
flag over the smoking ruins, putting on T-shirts, caps and ties in the colors of
the national flag. Theyplaced flags on buildings and cars as if in every place
and on every car a government official or the president was passing.

On every occasion, they started singing: "God Bless America!"
I watched the live broadcast and rerun after rerun for hours listening to the story of the guy who went down one hundred floors with a woman in a wheelchair without knowing who she was, or of the Californian hockey player, who gave his life fighting
with the terrorists and prevented the plane from hitting a target that could
have killed other hundreds or thousands of people.

How on earth were they able to respond united as one human being? Imperceptibly, with every word and musical note, the memory of some turned into a modern myth of tragic heroes. And with every phone call, millions and millions of dollars were put into a collection aimed at rewarding not a man or a family, but a spirit, which no
money can buy.

What on earth can unite the Americans in such a way? Their land? Their history? Their economic Power? Money? I tried for hours to find an answer, humming songs and murmuring phrases with the risk of sounding commonplace, I thought things over, I reached but only one conclusion... Only freedom can work such miracles.

Cornel Nistorescu

This deserves to be passed around the internet forever. It took a person on the outside - looking in - to see what we take for granted!) GOD BLESS AMERICA!!

I respond

Too bad this is a five-year old article... the coverage of us abroad these days is far from so rosy. As someone who is currently living abroad this is not so much the case these days. The accolades that are lauded in this article are accurate and correctly reported. They are far more easy to understand when you discover that they were written less than two weeks after two hijacked planes hit the World Trade center in New York.

This article was written by Mr. Cornel Nistorescu and published under the title " Cîntarea Americii" on September 24 (2001) in the Romanian newspaper Evenimentul zilei ("The Daily Event" or "News of the Day").

As Associated Press reported about Mr. Nistorescu:
Nistorescu, managing director of the daily newspaper Evenimentul Zilei — News of the Day — published his editorial Sept 24, two days after watching a celebrity telethon in New York for victims of the attacks...

Like his other columns, "Ode to America" was meant for domestic consumption. No one knows when — or how — the article first reached the other side of the Atlantic. But Nistorescu figures it began when someone pulled it off the English-language version of his daily's Web page and sent it to a friend.

Since then, thousands of Americans at home and expats around the world have e-mailed it to friends, saying it captured their nation's spirit. It has been read out to U.S. soldiers and on radio talk shows and posted on U.S. Web sites.

Nistorescu says he had no idea his "Ode to America" would resonate so far away...
Nistorescu remains surprised and touched by the success of the piece, one of thousands he has penned in a more than 20-year career.

"It is all about the American spirit and how freedom cannot be crushed," he says.
There are a number of people who I have met whilst living abroad this past year that understand that the dissention in the American public these days is one that is fostered by a small minority that are capitalizing on it for political gain. I wish more people would see the actions of certain people in power for what it is and quit ignoring "that man behind that curtain."

Instead of squandering the world-wide empathy that was felt five years ago on an unpopular and unprovoked war that had our nation, to say nothing of the world, split the administration could have worked on the issues that were important to the direct issues at hand. Now, instead of be divisive and catering to the small but powerful and vocal minorities that give them so much money, the administration could do what it promised to do and try and unite the people of America toward a common cause.

Perhaps then we could start rebuilding the reputation that America once had abroad.

I hope that wherever you are today, you have something to better the reputation of yourself and your country in the world.

Don Bergquist - 18 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Refugees on a Roll

Last night at quiz night at the pub my team continued their unbroken prize streak. (Okay, okay, so technically, the second time we won a prize it was the booby prize, still!) Our third showing at quiz night at Ye Olde Toy had us placing second. We were all kicking ourselves too! We could have come in first because in the last round, we chickened out too soon.

Oh well, the point of quiz night is to have fun, to hang-out with friends and to order a pint or two. And that we did!

I hope wherever you are today you have a winning day!

Don Bergquist - 17 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

Monday, October 16, 2006

Back to Work

It is a foggy morning. (A foggy morning?!? In London!?!?!? In the Fall? Someone alert the media!!)

I am sitting at the kitchen island having coffee and wishing that I had made it out to Sainsbury's yesterday. I have no yogurt; there's nothing to put on my cereal but air. I guess I will have a banana and an apple for breakfast.

At lunchtime I will have to make sure that I get some breakfast food for tomorrow. But for right, my laptop is packed, my coffee cup is emptied, and the morning is wearing on so I had best hop on the bike and get to the office. I would really love to have just one more day to enjoy my weekend. Ah, but if wishes were horses rides would be free.

I hope wherever you are today, you're having a great day!

Don Bergquist - 16 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Another Perfect Day!

Could a weekend be any more perfect? This morning, I popped some laundry into the machine and headed out to have my ride. It is just such a gorgeous day!

My friends gathered for lunch today. We first met-up at a local pub for a round of ales and then headed over to Le Petit Nantais for lunch. It was a great time. Eight of us had a wonderful lunch (that lasted most of the afternoon) and then headed back to The Albion for a few more before heading home.

It's now getting time for me to be heading up to bed. I suppose I should post this and hit the sack. Ah! If weekends were only one day longer, they'd be half again as fun!

I hope that wherever you are today, you've had a wonderful day!

Don Bergquist - 15 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Weekend Is Underway!

What the heck am I doing indoors on such a lovely day?

It is about ten in the morning, Saturday and I have already been for a fifteen mile ride. The day is gorgeous! I didn't sleep well last night for some reason that I cannot suss out. I was up at three this morning and try as I might, I could not get back to sleep. So eventually (about five hours later) I got out of bed and started getting active for the day.

Around eight-thirty I headed out for a nice long ride. The roads were clear and dry. There is very little traffic this morning. This afternoon I am heading over to a friend's place to visit. But today I have some very important things to do. I have to go out and buy some clothing.

One of the unfortunate side-affects of all this bike riding is that the clothing I have with me seems to be stretching. (Either that or the two-and-a-half stone I have lost means I am much smaller... take your pick.)

So, with the change of season and the fact that none of my clothing is fitting well any more, it is time to buy some clothing. Oh, and this does not change the fact that I still hate to shop! I am hoping to get the things I need as quickly as possible.

I hope that wherever you are today, you have a great day.

Don Bergquist - 14 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

Friday, October 13, 2006

Triskaidekaphobiacs Beware!

Yes, Friday the thirteenth is here. And on a lovely day like today, what is there that could possibly go wrong? The morning is a bit cool and foggy, but the day was perfect for a nice ten-mile ride into the office.

My co-worker who shares the early morning arrival time with me was a bit surprised that I didn't get into the office at my usual 06:30. But I jut couldn't help it! It was so nice out today that I had to ride.

Now that it is lunch time, I have made myself a bit of lunch, and have decided to work straight through. The day looks like it is just getting better and better. I am going to go for a nice long ride so I am leaving early.

I hope wherever you are today you're having a great day!

Don Bergquist - 13 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

Thursday, October 12, 2006

In the Dark

Growing-up in an urban (or more properly a suburban) area of the US in the '60s, it was always a bit hard for me to suss-out what all these fairy tales were talking about when they talked about how spooky the woods were at night.

I had been in the woods of course, the camping trips with the boy scouts to whispering pines; the walks to the end of Bird Road where it just sort-of petered-out into the everglades before Krome Avenue. But everywhere I can remember being when growing up except for a very few places, were always pretty well lit. If they weren't directly lit (because it was daytime or there was a road) then they were lit by the light pollution bouncing back from Miami.

Last night, I got a real appreciation for why the fairy tales go to such great lengths to discuss what a scary place the woods are at night. After game night, I got home as was full of energy. It was still before nine, so I decided to go for a ride. I took my fifteen mile route that takes me through Surbiton, Kingston, Hampton Wick, Hampton and around Bushy Park. When I was on my way home, I decided to add a couple miles to the route by doubling back through the park and going through Hampton Wick and Kingston a second time on the way home.

It was fairly clear, the rain having cleared away earlier in the evening. The glow of the city was visible on the horizon around me as I turned from Lime Avenue (which runs east-west through the park) onto the path that would take me through the woods to the south of the Woodland Gardens. Once I had started getting into the woods, the path became really hard to discern despite my light and the trees, already not much more than black shapes in the dim starlight became dark and menacing shapes looming to either side of the path. The stream that runs under the path (out of the western part of the Woodland gardens and off toward the Dianna Fountain) was a black mirror reflecting a star here and there.

My speed dropped to little more than walking speed as I struggled to identify where the pavement of the path and the mud to either side met each other. As I came into a clearing, the woods came alive. The herds of elk and deer, napping in the tall grasses off the path were startled by my sudden intrusion and got up to walk away from the path. Of course, it took me a minute to figure-out that I was seeing deer (or perhaps elk) getting up and moving, To me, it was as if the ground itself were rising and trying to reconfigure itself to make the path impassable.

Of course in the warm light of the kitchen this morning, this all seems a bit silly and fatuous, but at least I think now, I have a better understanding of the menace of the woods that the fairy tales talk about.

I hope wherever you are today, you have nothing to be afraid of.

Don Bergquist - 12 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


I'm sitting in my kitchen, it is about 20:00 and I have just returned home after my bike ride. I have to write-up a conversation I had at the office this evening before I forget it. It was quite entertaining; it was also a real stumper. The subject (as it seems it always is) was how Americans are destroying the language. This one was precipitated when I suggested someone run downstairs to the supply closet to get a wrench so that we could do a little project around the office that we had to do.

"Closet?" was the response that came back, "Why would we keep one in there?"

I looked at the person, my face a complete picture of puzzlement. "Where would you keep the supplies that you use?"

"In the cupboard." Was the puzzled response. From the look on her face, I was certain this was soon to degrade into one of those conversations.

"You keep your supplies in the kitchen?"

"Well, we don't keep them in the loo!"

Eventually, we had the entire group in on the discussion. Apparently the only use that they have for the word "closet" over here is in the phrase "Water Closet" which is synonymous with "Toilet."

"But a cupboard is a piece of furniture with doors, nooks and shelves designed for holding dishes or other small items. It is a synonym for 'cabinet.'" I eventually said. But they continued to insist that a cupboard was any room within which something (anything) was stored.

"So what," one of my colleagues asked, showing me a headline about one of the local politicians having skeletons in his cupboard "do you keep your skeletons in?"

"The Closet." I said. "What do you call that small room off your bedroom that you hang your clothing in?" I asked.

"The wardrobe!" they responded.

We finally hit agreement when one side or the other (I cannot remember which) asked "So, when you admit to your friends of a secretive alterative lifestyle, what do you come out of?"

"The Closet!" we all agreed.

"So if you don't use the word 'cupboard' to mean a room," asked one of my colleagues "what do you call an 'airing cupboard' in The States?"

I was completely nonplussed! I had to admit ignorance of the concept. "That depends upon what an 'airing cupboard' is." I replied.

The answer was pretty cool, but I have no idea what, if anything we would call this in the states. I have never heard of a house having one. (...or needing one, for that matter.) An 'Airing Cupboard' is a room (usually the same room that contains the hot water tank) that is, designed with the purpose of hanging clothing that is wet; clothing that cannot be hung outside to dry. It is also used to air-out bedding before use.

I suppose the reason I have never heard of one is that there would be no reason to have one in Florida. Except in the worst bit of the rainy season, when the only way to get clothing dry would be by means of a gas or electric dryer, you can usually depend on enough sunshine on practically any day to be able to hang-out your laundry long enough for it to air dry. I figured that perhaps, in Minnesota, where the weather was less predictable and often it was just too cold to hang things outside they might need 'airing cupboards.' Earlier this evening, I called my dad to see if he had ever heard of such a thing. He hasn't.

I can tell you that I like the idea. I may have to have one built into my next home! It just goes to show, you learn something new every day!

Well, that pretty much killed the conversation because we quit having opposite sides to discuss things from. One of my colleagues, however, later presented me with the perfect opportunity to use a line I have wanted to use since I first heard it. (Yes, Dad! I used it without attribution... I now correct that error. I used a quote that my father once used as a retort to a lawyer in a deposition.)

My colleague said that I seemed to have some pretty firm notions of what words meant and how English worked. I smiled and responded "Well, hell! I've been speaking it since I was a kid!"

I hope wherever you are today, you learn something new!

Don Bergquist - 11 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Where Is The Big Mona Lisa?

As a public service to my compatriots I would like to share a few observations about America that have become painfully obvious during my stay over here in the UK.

Observation #1: Americans are Bozos!
Dave Barry in "The Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need by Dave Barry" observes that the moment we leave home we become simpering idiots who will do an say anything regardless of how stupid it sounds. (His line from the book, which is the quote titling this piece, is reported to have been over heard by him at the Louvre.) Here are a few helpful pointers to help get you over the culture shock: London Bridge is a rail station. Tower Bridge is the big tall thing that spans the Thames in Central London. (London bridge is also a tourist destination in Lake Havasu, Arizona, but that's a whole other story.) Monty Python (as hard as this may be to believe) is not as popular and widely quoted as it is back at home. (And my personal demon...) The residents over here insist on thinking of English as being their language... Go with it! Humor them.

Observations #2: Americans are arrogant!
If you cannot help constantly touting American superiority over the rest of the world, please just either shut up or stay home! I was in a pub recently and had to keep my mouth closed to keep people from associating me with some really pompous Americans who were expounding (ad nauseam) on the virtues of being American, how much better things were at home, the horrid weather was here and how rudely the people here had treated them. Here's a hint guys: They're rude to you because you're rude to them!

Observation #3: Americans are loud.
I think I will move on here... but in this case it is just because I am loud; always have been. Just ask anyone who knows me. But seriously, I'll admit the few faults I actually have. We all need to tone it down a bit, guys!

Observation #4: There is no Observation #4
(Sorry had to get a Monty Python nod in here somewhere!)

Observation #5: Americans are aggressive.
This is just wrong! Every time I hear this one, I want to hit the person saying it.

Observation #6: Americans are stupid!
Guys, how many times do you have to be told? The drive on the "wrong" side of the road here. Here's a hint: Look BOTH ways. Quit stepping out in front of traffic.

Observation #7: Americans have short attention spans.
I was in a pub not too long ago when a compatriot asked me for directions somewhere. On hearing my accent, they interrupted the directions I was giving to "chat" about where I was from back in the states, what it was like there, how long it would be before I went back there. They then walked away without ever having gotten the directions. I tried to finish the directions, but they walked away.

Observation #8: Americans are burger guzzling swine
Okay, this I have seen on a number of occasions: An American walks into a restaurant or public house and tries to order a burger. When told that the establishment does not serve a burger, the person changes the order to a cheeseburger. Apparently, for some Americans traveling abroad, the idea that any eatery does not serve a burger is an abhorrent, unthinkable thought.

Observation #9: Americans have a wanker for a president.
Uh, yeah! They've got us there!

I hope that these tips help you should you choose to travel abroad which, if you are an American is unlikely. According to an article in the New York Times, only about a quarter of all Americans actually have a passport. Of those, fewer than half have ever used it to actually travel abroad. So where are all these American stereotypes coming from? Hmmm perhaps from some loud, stupid, aggressive, bozo, world-traveling American... possibly from Texas. But that is just a guess.

I hope that wherever you are today, you can steer clear of people who annoy you!

Don Bergquist - 10 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

Monday, October 09, 2006

Monday, Monday

It looks like it is going to be a gray day, of course, it is hard to tell. The radio is calling for partly cloudy today with chances of showers. We'll see.

Sorry to say, I missed my goal for last week by four miles! When I reset my odometer this morning I was just over 101 miles. Oh well... There is always this week.

As usual at this time, I am sitting in the kitchen with my coffee, my breakfast (cereal and yogurt) and have just finished my morning crossword puzzle. Enough of this! I should get into the office and get my week started.

I hope that you have something to look forward to in your week!

Don Bergquist - 09 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

Happy Birthday to my Cousin, Andrea

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Sometimes You Just Gotta Walk Away

I set myself three projects for the weekend. I can say that I have accomplished all three.

I had to complete my laundry, do some general tidying-up (I have a colleague from Australia staying at the house next week.) and I had to finish the spreadsheet I am working on.

The laundry, in this strange machine we have that is a combination washer-dryer, by which, I guess, the manufacture means it doesn't do either job well. The machine takes about four hours to run a load through and then you need to hang the clothing to dry. I started a load last night before going to bed and hung it this morning. I let a load run while doing housework and paperwork this morning. I started the last load and went for my ride. (One Down!)

I worked for a couple hours on the spreadsheet but decided I needed to clear my head. The company I work for has recently gone to a new timesheet system whereby there are a number of rules on how to report time. The basic outline is that each minute I spend at work has to be accounted for in one of eight categorizations. Two of them have limitations on them, no single day can go over 8 hours, the week cannot go over 40 hours, and one of these two categories is used for three different activities.

At 11:00 I got frustrated with trying to design the logic and left it. (I was, I now realize, almost at the solution to the problem but kept attacking up blind alleys.) I did a thorough cleaning of the kitchen and the lounge and started the dishwasher on my way out the door (Two Down!!)

I went for a lovely ride and, having brought my book and some water, when I got lost (literally) in Richmond park, I decided to sit on a bench on a low hill and watch the world go by and finish my book.

About sunset I headed out of the park via the closest exit and tried to find my way back to Kingston and try and eventually worked my way back home. I had my eureka morning about an hour ago. I believe I have sussed-out the logic. Time will tell. (Three Down!!!)

I am now sitting with a Gin and Tonic and putting a pleasant weekend to bed. I think I will read a bit and then heat up to bed.

I hope that wherever you are, you have had a lovely weekend!

Don Bergquist - 08 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Saturday Ride

It is as lovely today as it was bleak yesterday. I was up and out of bed early this morning. I have friends who chide me for not staying abed on the weekends. "Sleep-in" they say, "you deserve to take the rest."

I have never been one who could stay in bed in the mornings. My parents can attest to this fact. Mother used to say that I got her up early to go and deliver me and I hadn’t let her sleep in a morning since. The six-to-seven hours I get a night is plenty and there are lots of things that I would rather be doing than lying around.

This morning, as soon as it was light out I mowed the back garden. The grass was a bit wet for it but it really needed to be done. That done, I tidied up after a breakfast of eggs and toast. And hit the pavement. My goal was twenty miles. I need only a few extra miles today and tomorrow to bring my average for the week up to 15 miles per day. I went over the normal route, adding a few sidetracks here and there to boost the mileage.

Coming back from Richmond and over the Kingston Bridge across the Thames (about 10:00) the rowers were out in force. I had to stop for this picture Rowing was something that I have never tried. It looks like it might be fun.

From the Kingston Bridge I went around Bushy Park and down to Hampton. It was a lovely morning and I decided to take the ferry across the Thames down at Hampton and keep heading south along the tow path. What a great decision!

I live for mornings like this. My 20 miles behind me, I am going to grab a book and head up to this lovely little park in Kingston and sit under a tree and read for the day.

I hope that wherever you are this morning, you've had a pleasant one and your day continues to go well!

Don Bergquist - 07 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

Friday, October 06, 2006

Rainy Friday

It's one of those days; a cold and rainy day that is going to make the ride into work less pleasurable than it usually is. Those of you who have known me for a long time will probably question my sincerity in my recent delight at exercise (bike riding particularly) but I am serious. I am really enjoying my long daily rides.

Well, except when the weather is like this. Granted, it is still only about 05:45, but it is dark, cold, and drizzly outside the window. The occasional car passes as I sit here, eating my breakfast, drinking my coffee, and writing my blog entry. Weather like this takes back to 1968 in Miami.

I remember mornings like this, the oatmeal mother had served for breakfast sitting like a rock in my stomach, my first grade teacher, Mrs. Greene, a lovely little old lady with white hair rolled into a French braid and smelling of lavender. The two best readers of the previous day (seldom if ever, yours truly) getting the privilege of sitting in the airline seats as Mrs. Greene drones on and on about how reading opens-up the world to you. "Reading makes it possible for you to share experiences with others." She would say.

Oh, gosh! I have just re-read that paragraph and should say a word about the airline seats. I haven't thought about the airline seats in years! Mrs. Greene had a son who was in the airline industry. (I recall that he was a mechanic for one of the airlines that was based in Miami.) He had gotten his mom a pair of airline seats from a DC3 that was being decommissioned by his airline. So she put them in her classroom and the two best students from the day before got to sit in the airline seats for the day!

I remember days just like today back then. I would stare out the windows of Village Green Elementary at the swollen, black clouds above and the puddles forming on the field across Southwest 122nd Avenue, the feeling of cold moodiness of the morning. I'm sitting on a barstool in a kitchen in southwest London writing on a PDA, a product of the cusp of the 21st century not in a classroom in Miami forty years ago but that same bleak light is coming through the windows here. (I did get to sit in the airline seat to get here; I guess that counts for something.)

Mrs. Greene, I toast you with my coffee. She was right about reading and writing being the way to share with others your feelings, views, and experiences. I think that she would be pleased that another of your assessments has turned out wrong, however. I was recently sent a bundle of my old report cards by my step-mom. Flo had found the papers that my parents had saved from childhood. Mrs. Green had written on the bottom of my report card each quarter that I have a problem with concentration. I tend to gaze off into space and go woolgathering. She wrote: "Donald needs to work on his organizational skills. He is poorly organized and tends to waste time that could be better spent on productive coursework." Since my job is basically to organize things and work under tight deadlines, I think she would be pleased with the results of her advice.

Here's to you, Mrs. Greene, and all those marvelous teachers like you; wherever you may be today!

Don Bergquist - 06 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Happy Birthday to my Baby Brother, Charles

Happy birthday, little brother!

Wow! I can hardly believe that you are turning [Age Redacted] today! I hope that you will get the chance to spend some quality time with your family and do something nice for yourself. It seems that only yesterday we were children, growing-up in Miami and having a great time.

My favorite story of growing-up with you is still the time you came up with that line that still makes me chuckle (some forty years later) at the mere thought of it. (I am sure you know the one, I crack-up each time I tell it.) You must admit that it said something about how horrible we were as children that Mom often preferred to leave us in the car (in Miami - in the summer) than deal with us in the Grand Union as she did the shopping.

But, ignoring the fact that we could be roasted alive in the car, we entertained ourselves with one of our favorite games: Who is that coming out of the store. Wherein we would create running commentary on what we thought each of the people coming out of the store did for a living. Out guesses were often bizarre and rarely entirely complimentary.

"That man is a bank robber." I would say.

"That woman is a lunch lady." You would guess.

"That man is a Spy."

"No, that lady is the spy, that man was a garbage man."

Often, our commentary would, as inane as it was, would send us into gales of laughter so loud as to attract the attention of the people we were commenting on. The line, that still makes me chuckle, is the one that you came up with that one day, which you used to win the game one day. (I had not known a game like that could be won!)

You waited 'til someone who looked really mean, and you screamed as loud as you could, "OH, MY GOD! THAT MAN'S A FREAK!" that would have been bad enough, but you then dived into the foot well leaving me standing there on the front seat of the car like a merekat surveying the prairie.

The man shot me a disapproving glare and you started busting out laughing. I have a huge smile on my face just thinking about it! Happy birthday, guy!

I hope that wherever you are you have something bring a smile to your face today!

Don Bergquist - 05 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Hurricane remembrance

With the 2006 Hurricane Season being well and truly under way, I wanted to look back at the thing that stands out in my mind as being the best commentary to come out of the huge debacle on the way the 2005 Hurricane season was mismanaged by the current administration.

Samantha Bee of The Daily Show on Comedy Central put her finger on it exactly when doing an "on the scene" wrap-up of storm-ravaged New Orleans and how the administration hoped to deal with the problem. (Once they actually realized that there, in fact, was a problem.) John Stewart, the host of the show, was asking about the administration's plan to have the Vice President lead the task force to determine what had gone wrong in the government's response to the impending disaster and the miserable failure of FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security to deal with the aftermath.
Stewart: Do you have any idea why Cheney was chosen in particular?

Bee: Yes, well, the government was eager to put a compassionate... [pauses, looks away]... a human... [pauses, grimaces]... a face on its relief effort. Now, y'know, I traveled with the vice president earlier as he met with storm victims, and I can tell you, beneath that seemingly crusty exterior lies an emotional black hole from which no glimmer of empathy can escape and into which the shattered remnants of the human experience are sucked to implode on themselves into a microscopic singularity of universal indifference.

'Course, that's just what I could see from behind the police tape, so... [shrugs]
The storm was a terrible thing and the response added insult to injury. My heart goes out to those people affected by it and I hope that they are getting their lives back in order.

I hope that wherever you are, you somethingthign to make you smile today.

Don Bergquist - 04 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

What a difference a couple weeks makes!

Kevin and I were left to hold proud the honor of The Refugees last night at the pub quiz. It soon became apparent that we need the support of Angie and Terry to round-out our knowledge. But I am getting ahead of myself. We had an excellent night and agreed up-front that we were in it for the fun and not for the spectacular prize baskets.

Our first round, General Knowledge, we got a few right. The third round, The Sporting Decathlon was, if not a particularly good round, was at least fun. Since I could answer only a few of the questions, I entertained myself (and the scorekeepers I am told) by making-up answers to the questions. Apparently, the world-record holder in the 100 meter dash is "Some really fast guy," while the British High Jump record holder is "Some really springy guy," the top-rated American hurdler is "Some American guy" and so on.

Ironically, but for the strange all-or-nothing scoring on the final round, it would have been our best. We had six of the nine answers we tried correct. (...even the one that was misleading...) Kevin, being about as into watching television as I am, missed the first question which was about some local soap opera. Later, the one sports question I actually got right all night long, I changed because I had doubt as to whether I was correctly remembering the rules to a game I have not played since I was in Junior High School gym class some (mumble mumble mumble) years ago.

Note to self: For future reference, Don, you did remember correctly. A tennis match goes into a tie-breaker round at a score of "Six All."

The misleading question (which, in talking to the moderator after the game, he said he would have accepted my answer because he had asked the question incorrectly) was on Board Games. The penultimate question of the game? Q: How many properties are there on the Monopoly board?

"Can you please define your meaning of 'properties'?" I asked. "Are you including the railroads and utilities as 'properties' in your definition? By properties, do you mean 'things you can own'?"

"How many things can you buy?" The moderator responded.

Being something of a Monopoly player (I can name all the spaces on the board - American Board, they differ over here - from Go to Boardwalk by memory) I wrote down my answer: 28. Double checking 2 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 2 and the 2 utilities and the 4 railroads 22 improvable properties and 6 that you cannot build improvements on makes 28.

Then the last question came-up and it was on medicine. We quit. Neither of us knew the proper medical term for "Double Vision" anyway so we were glad we had. As it turned out, only the one team that quit after two questions scored in that round. All the other teams had blown it. The question that The Refugees were the only team to get right was the breaker for all: "What is the nickname for the state of New York?" We were the only team to put down "The Empire State."

Final score: even though we made an impressive 23 of 24 in the opening table game, we scored only 17 in all the remaining rounds giving us a total of 41 - Dead last! But the point of an English Pub Quiz night is to have fun and I think we did. (The consolation prize of a bottle of wine doesn't hurt either!)

I hope wherever you are today you will have fun too!

Don Bergquist - 03 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

Monday, October 02, 2006

Take It From Context

Premise 1: Many words have more than one "correct" meaning.
Premise 2: I am not an idiot.
Premise 3: You are not an idiot.

I'm willing to leave the cheap shots to the side for one moment it you are and to accept these base premises. Based on these three points, it would certainly make communication easier if we could accept the context of the words that each other use and not get into the niggling semantic arguments that get us nowhere and bother both of us.

The other day I was at a railway station and asked one of the staff which of the train lines that came through the station would stop at a particular other station to which I whished to travel.

"None of them stop there. It isn't a terminal." Was the terse response that I received.

I cocked my head, looked perplexed and mulled this response over for about half a second. Seeing my confusion, the station man went on "every train that leaves this platform calls on that station, but none of them stop there." Now I was irritated, not only did he just lie to me, he used an irritating local preference of words to negate my use of a perfectly acceptable word.

"Ah, so while the train is calling on that station, the passengers just jump on and off of the moving train?" I asked sarcastically?

"The train stops moving, long enough to allow the boarding of passengers." The man replied.

"Okay!" I retorted, "Now that we have established that trains do actually stop at that station and not just fly through it without stopping. Which trains actually do stop? Last week I was told they all did and I was instructed to board one that didn't stop for the next six stations."

The man indicated the train coming down the tracks preparing to stop. "This one calls on that station." He said pointedly.

This is just one story of how the blind adherence to a limited choice of locally preferable words impedes communication. Therefore, I hereby call a truce. I will stop pointing out how the words I use are correct if you will stop correcting my English and insisting I am using words that do not mean what I know that they do! Who cares if it is a sweater or a jumper? Who cares if it is a lift or an elevator? If you van get what I mean from context, go for it!

Of all the things I love about this place, your megalomaniacal view of the language that derives its name from the name of your country has got to stop. There are countless dialects of English that all are valid and acceptable. No matter how much I may hate having to admit this, they are all "correct" for the people who use them.
I hope that wherever you are today, you will have an excellent day. (...however you choose to phrase it.)

Don Bergquist - 02 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Timing is Everything

This morning, I received proof of the old adage: "Timing is Everything."

The party last night, as judged by the time of m friends' departure (some time after midnight) and the number of bottles in the recycling bin (7 wine bottles and 18 beer bottles) and the entertainment value, was a smashing success! I know I had fun and I believe that my friends all had fun as well. I know that it was well after one before I trundled myself up the stairs to get to bed.

I awoke to the sound of thunder again around six and promptly rolled over and went back to sleep. When I awoke again an hour later I was ready to face the day. I bounded out of bed and finished cleaning the last of the evidence of last night's party out of the kitchen. As I was taking out the trash and the recycling bin, the rain slacked and came to a stop. It was cool, clear and sunny when I finished loading the dishwasher so I decided to make hay while the sun shone. I grabbed my bike and hit the road around 08:30 for my bike ride.

By the time I returned from the Surbiton - New Malden - Kingston - Richmond - Hampton - Hampton Court - Thames Ditton circuit, it was about a quarter-to-ten.

I got my bicycle into its berth under the stairs and unloaded the dishwasher. When I poured my first cup and turned to look out the window, it was pouring outside. I took my coffee upstairs and sat down to read. The classical music from my PC was accompanied by the sound of the rain spattering on the windows. It has now rained for most of the rest of the morning. If it gets nice later on, I may go for a ride into Kingston to do some shopping or to see a movie. If not, I'll be content to sit here reading the rest of the day.

It is a great feeling to know that at just after eleven in the morning my daily to-do list is clear. I have no pressing need to stir. I've accomplished the things I need to. As soon as I have posted this, I will have nothing planned for the rest of the day.

I hope wherever you are today your day is both productive and relaxing.

Don Bergquist - 01 October 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

Happy Birthday to my Cousin, Sheila