Category Archives: Life

Unpitted olives make eating with gusto difficult

By Calvin Palmer

I dined out this evening at Gusto! on Lord Street, Southport. I wanted to repay the kindness of the Polish waitress who served me a cup of coffee last night just as the restaurant was closing.

Earlier in the day, I checked out the menu and the fare on offer at this restaurant – pizza and pasta dishes – and discovered it was not exorbitantly priced and so set out to repay my debt.

I ordered the Margherita pizza. Yes I know it is the cheapest one on the menu but frugality is my watchword. Yesterday, I visited Boots The Chemist around 5:00 pm and picked up a packet of Tuna and Cucumber sandwiches marked down to £1. I added a portion of olives to make my pizza order seem less frugal.

The pizza was duly served and I had quite a surprise when I discovered the olives were not pitted. I also counted my blessings that I had not bitten down hard on it and broken a tooth. I think it was incumbent on the waitress to have pointed out that the olives still contained the stones. I am certain that would have occurred in the litigious United States.

I have also noticed that staff in English restaurants do not return to the table a few moments after serving the order to inquire whether everything is to the customer’s satisfaction.

There was another reason for my parsimony with regard to the choice of my main dish. I flicked through to the desserts section in the menu and caught sight of cassata/ pistachio ice-cream. Cassata is one of my all-time favourite desserts and the only time I ever got to eat it in the United States was at The Venetian Casino in Las Vegas. My last visit was several years ago and so I reckoned I was due a serving of  cassata.

The dessert was served by the Polish waitress but there was no flicker of recognition from the previous night. I thought perhaps not everyone has the memory for faces that I do and it was certainly true in America that people rarely forgot me after one meeting. I used to describe myself jokingly as “Once seen, never forgotten”.

It was only when the Polish girl suggested coffee that I asked her if she remembered me. “Of course,” she replied. I was relieved to hear that I had not sunk into anonymity. The coffee, taken outside with a couple of cigarettes, rounded off an excellent meal.

I used to detest eating out by myself but necessity, and being truly by myself these days, have forced me to put such idiosyncrasies to one side.

If any of you are ever in the Southport area, I strongly recommend checking out Gusto! You will not be disappointed by the food, the ambience or the service. But watch out for the olives!


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Up against a Savannah wall

By Calvin Palmer

“Tear down this wall!” President Ronald Reagan instructed Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in a 1987 speech during a visit to Berlin. Some Americans seem to have a thing about walls.

Out and about in Savannah at the weekend, I happened to lean against a wall that encased steps to the front door of a house in the historic district.

My wife and I had been walking for about an hour and, as she stopped to take a photograph of something that caught her attention, I thought I would take the weight off my legs for a moment.

Suddenly, from up on high, a whining voice asked me not to lean against the wall.

I took a step back to look up at who was issuing this ludicrous request and was confronted by a man in his late thirties leaning over the rail at the top of the steps. He was rather prissy-looking and reminded me of the Kevin Spacey character in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

“Are you serious?” I asked incredulously.

Had this wall been adorned with Renaissance stucco paintings, I could have understood his concern. And had it been so, I would have been the last person in the world to lean against it. This wall, his wall, was rendered with cement, painted in a muted ochre color. It was anything but fragile.

The man said nothing. His ferret face simply looked at me with a blank expression.

“Are you serious?” I enquired again.

“I like your accent,” he replied, “Chelsea College of Art.”

His response struck me as somewhat supercilious, although it could have been an attempt to extend the olive branch, as he had obviously grasped that I was English and a visitor to his city.

But by this time, thanks to his preposterous rebuke, I was in tree-shredding mode; leaves and wood figuratively flew everywhere as I fired back.

“I have traveled on three continents and have never, ever, been reprimanded for leaning against a wall. Whatever happened to America, the land of the free? This is more like a Nazi regime.

“The Nazis were in southern Germany,” he said.

Like I needed a history lesson from this buffoon.

“Yeah, and this is the southern United States, where some have the same mentality. Where’s your swastika?”

I did not wait for his reply. I do not suffer fools gladly, I never have. I crossed the road to rejoin my wife and he mumbled something.

“Just admit you are a fascist,” I barked and continued on my way wondering whatever happened to Southern charm and hospitality.

Needless to say, it was to be found everywhere in the delightful city of Savannah, except for this one particular enclave.

A Pink Floyd song, slightly modified, aptly describe the Southern “sophisticate” I encountered: “All in all, you’re just another prick on the wall.”

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FedEx Priority Overnight gets lost in translation

By Calvin Palmer

I like to think that I have a reasonable grasp of the English language and know what words mean. I also believed that those meanings were universal, thus enabling easy and unequivocal communication between individuals. Apparently I am mistaken.

I sent a package to Carl Zeiss, to its headquarters in Thornwood, New York, on Tuesday. The package was dropped off at the FedEx location in Avondale, Jacksonville, around 12:15 p.m.

Since Carl Zeiss was footing the bill, I chose FedEx Priority Overnight, working on the logic that the quicker the package arrives, the sooner it will be returned to me. It is my one and only lens for my DSLR camera.

Today, I decided to check if the package had been duly delivered yesterday as per the terms of FedEx Priority Overnight, which state that packages will be delivered the next business morning to most locations. To my mind, Florida to New York state is a breeze compared to, say, Florida to Shanghai.

The tracking history revealed the package had been delivered to the right place. But something was wrong, very wrong. The delivery was timed at 10:19 a.m. TODAY.

It would appear that “overnight” in FedEx terms, at least in Jacksonville, Florida, means the item will have an overnight stay languishing in a FedEx depot before its journey commences. I hope my lens received five-star treatment and free drinks.

Here is the full tracking history:

Jul 28, 2009,  6:13 p.m.     Picked up.                                          Jacksonville, FL

Jul 28, 2009,  8:49 p.m.     At local FedEx facility.                 Jacksonville ,FL

Jul 29, 2009,  9:05 a.m.     Picked up.                                           Jacksonville ,FL

Jul 29, 2009,  7:34 p.m.     Left FedEx origin facility.            Jacksonville, FL

Jul 29, 2009, 11:07 p.m.   Arrived at FedEx location.          Memphis, TN

Jul 30, 2009,  3:32 a.m.    Departed FedEx location.             Memphis, TN

Jul 30, 2009,  6:52 a.m.    At destination sort facility.          Newburgh, NY

Jul 30, 2009,  8:11 a.m.    At local FedEx facility.                    Elmsford, NY

Jul 30, 2009,  8:23 a.m.    On FedEx vehicle for delivery.    Elmsford, NY

Jul 30, 2009, 10:19 a.m.    Delivered.                                            Thornwood, NY

The package clearly fell short of what is commonly accepted as “overnight” — that is, the next day.

Why did the package remain at the Jacksonville facility for more than 25 hours?

I guess the answer is known only to employees of FedEx.

But evidently the common meaning of “overnight” has been castaway in these parts or someone clearly dropped the ‘Wilson’ ball with regard to my package.

I bet that nice Mister Hanks would be appalled at the service his company is providing these days.

If, perchance, someone of sufficient senior rank in the FedEx organization happens to read this post, and stranger things have been known to happen – one post once elicited a rebuke from an Air Force Lt Col at the Pentagon – I would be grateful for an explanation of the tardy delivery that befell my package.

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Health and safety rules protect those who impose them

By Calvin Palmer

An outdoor swimming pool in north London has warned swimmers that the pool might have to be closed — if it gets ‘too wet’.

The health and safety rules have apparently been introduced at the London Fields Lido in Hackney for the protection of the pool’s users.

Swimmers at the pool last weekend were warned that they might have to leave the water if the heavy rain increased, but they were allowed to stay when the weather lifted.

Hackney Council said the rules were only enforced in extreme weather, when there was torrential rain, hail or thick fog which may stop the lifeguards from seeing people in the pool.

A spokeswoman said: “Very occasionally extreme weather can impair visibility for our lifeguards. We make no apology for providing protection for swimmers from drowning.”

I think that should read we make no apology for covering our asses in the event of litigation should someone happen to drown.

Such a ruling also takes away people’s responsibility for their own foolish actions.

In Daytona Beach last summer, as dark clouds rolled in and thunder cracked through the air, the lifeguards announced over the public address system: “Clear the beach.”

The message was reinforced by lifeguards riding beach buggies, telling people to gather up their belongings.

The Americans are a compliant lot and within 10 minutes the beach was deserted.  I found it hard to comprehend such regimentation among a freedom-loving people.

Apparently, individuals are not allowed to run the risk of being struck by lightning on the beach in the middle of the afternoon.

Health and safety will again be cited but the real reason is the  fear of a lawsuit in the face of the abandonment of personal responsibility.

It is easy to picture the courtroom scene when some smarmy plaintiff’s lawyer hoping to hit pay dirt cites, “But no warning was given to clear the beach.”

Have people really descended into the depths of stupidity to the point where they do not know that it is not prudent to be out in open spaces during a thunderstorm?

Usually when a storm hits, the rain will be sufficient to clear the beach and if people are stupid enough to remain in their deck-chairs, more fool them.

Since when did society have a collective responsibility for idiots?

But the responsibility is selective. The sea is not fenced off on a beach to protect people from drowning. Perhaps a local authority’s responsibility stops at the water’s edge.

Somewhere along the line, people have forgotten that they are responsible for the consequences of their own actions and sometimes those consequences are tragic, but they are not necessarily always somebody else’s fault.

My next-door neighbor, a 21-year-old who rents the property next door, was arrested for DUI in the early hours of Monday morning

My wife and I had the temerity to call the police because of the noise at 12:30 a.m., after all it was a workday. His payback was to ring our front-door bell three times during a 45-minute period.

After the third instance, around 1:45 a.m., he took off in his car. The police were notified and they picked him up.

He was released from jail yesterday afternoon and looked daggers at me, as if I was to blame.

But hang on, did I force him to drink the beer that took him over the limit? Did I instruct him and his friends to mouth off obscenities into the stillness of the night? Did I make him ring our doorbell? Did I insist that he got into his car and drive off after three hours of drinking?


So how is it my fault that he is facing a conviction for DUI?  Does he not realize that the predicament he faces is down to him and him alone?  Apparently not. Like I say, it has always got to be somebody else’s fault.

But it gets better.  On notifying the realtor about the problems with this tenant, my wife was told, “Perhaps he will learn his lesson from this.”

On the other hand, he may not.

And since when did realtors become social workers for tenants?

In this instance, it could well be the case.  I learned from his mother yesterday that he takes Adderall, a prescription drug composed of a mixture of amphetamine salts, and his emotional level is that of a 14-year-old.

That drug combined with a few Budweisers must do wonders for the balance of his mind.

Given the ease with which mentally unhinged people can get access to firearms in the United States, my time left on this earth could be somewhat less than I had anticipated.

Where are health and safety rules and regulations when my health and safety are at risk?

Given the realtor’s concern for the tenant’s well being, I wonder how she will respond to my premature demise?

From beyond the grave, I will no doubt gain some solace from the lawsuit my wife will file against her and her company for professional negligence.

In such an event, it would be their fault.

[Based on a report by The Daily Telegraph.]

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Scientists unlock the common cold’s mechanism of misery

By Calvin Palmer

We have put a man on the moon, perform incredible life-saving surgeries and create sophisticated electronic devices that have transformed our daily lives but a cure for the common cold has hitherto eluded the best efforts of man’s ingenuity
As someone who has been stricken with a cold this week, and still suffering from that awful stuffed up feeling, I was delighted to learn that scientists at the University of Calgary, Canada, have made an important breakthrough that could lead to better cold treatments in the future.
It appears the problems we experience with a cold stem not from the virus but the body’s overreaction in its immune response to that virus.
Using gene chip technology, Dr. David Proud of the faculty of medicine, found that two days after inoculation 6,500 genes had been changed in those subjects infected with the rhinovirus.
The researchers also established that the recently discovered anti-viral protein, viperin, had a particularly strong response to the rhinovirus.
Armed with that knowledge, Dr. Proud says researchers can look towards which cold therapies will boost the immune response of those genes even further to clear the cold symptoms.
Dr. Proud sees that as a better, more natural way to fight the virus since it works with the body’s immune system.
He said: “It’s a major step towards more targeted cold prevention and treatment strategies while also serving as a valuable road map for the broader respiratory science community.
“This is the first comprehensive picture to identify several groups of genes that are likely to contribute to the pro-inflammatory and antiviral response.”
He added: “Rhinovirus is the major cause of the common cold but it is also an important pathogen in more serious conditions, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).”
The study was carried out in collaboration with scientists at the University of Viriginia and Procter & Gamble, which makes over-the-counter cold treatments.
The research is published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
[Based on reports by the Calgary Herald and The Daily Telegraph.]

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Common sense tips the balance to save Britain’s pounds and ounces

By Calvin Palmer

Every once in a while governments act with that rarest of all commodities –- common sense.  The British government is to be congratulated on its decision to stop local authorities from prosecuting market traders who sell fresh fruit and vegetables using imperial, pounds and ounces, rather than metric measures.
The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, I cannot believe I have just written that — said that it was updating advice to councils to ensure that action against so-called metric martyrs was “proportionate, consistent and in the public and consumers’ interest”.

The decision is believed to have been prompted by the case of 64-year-old Janet Devers, the east London market trader who had to pay £4,600 in costs and received a criminal record earlier this month after a prosecution brought by Hackney council.
John Denham, the Innovation Secretary, will issue guidelines within months that prevent local authorities taking traders to court. He said: “It is hard to see how it is in the public interest, or in the interests of consumers, to prosecute small traders who have committed what are essentially minor offences.

Neil Herron, director of the Metric Martyrs campaign group, said that the decision was a “spectacular victory for people power” and dedicated the victory to Steven Thoburn, a greengrocer from Sunderland who died in 2004 at the age of 39 while fighting a conviction for selling bananas by the pound.

Herron said: “Finally we have a government minister with an ounce of common sense.”

In 2001, Thoburn became the first man to face prosecution for using scales that could not weigh in metric units. He was given a six-month conditional discharge but his case, along with three others, went to the Court of Appeal, where the convictions were upheld. He took his appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, where it was rejected. He died of a heart attack three years later.

Thoburn’s widow, Leigh, said: “This is absolutely fabulous news, but it is a tragedy that it had to come to this in the first place.”

Herron added: “This is good news but it’s just a start. We need the law to be changed. So long as the law is there, any rogue local authority could go ahead with a prosecution.”

John Gardner, chairman of the British Weights and Measures Association, which has been campaigning for reinstatement of imperial measures since 1995, said: “This is a very significant development. Our view is that prosecuting someone for selling in pounds and ounces can never be in the public interest because it involves no misrepresentation, fraud or inaccuracy.”
I count myself among the many people who still think in terms of pounds and ounces; feet and inches.  Tell me that something weighs 300 grams and I haven’t a clue as to what that represents.  But tell me something weighs six ounces and I can visualize the amount.  The only metric weight that I can relate to is one kilogram, simply because a bag of sugar used to state on the label 1kg, 2.2lbs.
With length, I have no problem in visualizing a piece of wood that is 3ft 6 ins but something that is two meters or 28 cms leaves me floundering.
Although Britain went metric in the 1970s as part of the requirements of joining the Common Market, now the more sinister European Union that represents far more than just the free movement of goods and people, it has always retained miles as the unit of distance.  I think it had something to do with the cost of replacing road signs throughout the country.  And it seemed odd to me that this exception could be made but the full weight of the law, excuse the pun, could be brought to bear on people selling a pound of apples.
One of the joys of moving to the United States was being back among the weights and measures I had known for most of my life, especially gallons even though the U.S. gallon is slightly less than the imperial gallon.  Just the fact of filling up the car with gallons of petrol rather than liters made me happy.
The weather forecasters in the United States still talk of temperature in degrees Fahrenheit.  I was at a loss again when the BBC stopped using both Celsius and Fahrenheit in their broadcasts.  Again, I instantly know what 73 degrees Fahrenheit means; 20 degrees Celsius has me consulting a conversion Web site.
Perhaps Innovation Secretary Denham could give some thought to bringing both measures of temperature back, although it hardly constitutes an innovation.
At least some comfort can be gained from the announcement, last September, by EU trade commissioner Gunther Verheugen who said Brussels had abandoned its policy of forcing Britain to go metric.
He said: “Pounds and ounces are in no way under threat from Brussels and never will be.”
But as the expression goes, never say never.
[Based on reports by The Daily Telegraph and The Times.]

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Beach girls paint phone numbers on their bodies to attract boys

By Calvin Palmer

Girls just want to have fun but bikini-clad teenagers in Australia are being warned not to paint their cell phone numbers on their bodies while sunbathing on the beach.
Groups of 14 and 15-year-old girls have been seen on two of Sydney’s beaches with their cell phone numbers written on their backs using blue zinc sun block.
The girls traveled from the inner suburbs to Cronulla Beach in the south of the city and Manly Beach in the north to “meet boys.”  And in these days of visual marketing, what better way to attract phone calls than displaying the number on their backs.
Sadly in this world not everyone is well-intentioned and this innocent ploy could easily attract the wrong kind of attention.
Child protection expert and author of Girlforce Nikki Goldstein warned that the practice is dangerous and warned other teenage girls not to copy the idea.
That could turn out to be a bad move.  A teenager only has to hear the word “not” and you can guarantee that they will, even if they had no desire to do it in the first place.
One girl, aged 15 and identified as Lizzy, said that older men had been the quickest to respond.
“An old guy tried to talk to me, ” she told The Manly Daily newspaper. “He was trying take pictures of us.”
Goldstein told the Australian Daily Telegraph: “We would never advise girls to broadcast their phone number anywhere that could make them a target.”
“They’re in their bikinis, objectifying themselves in a way that, to my mind, is a bit trashy.”
Just a minute, first Goldstein is rightly expressing concern about the welfare of these girls and now she is calling them trash.  That doesn’t seem the way to go about steering them out of harm’s way.
Manly Police Commander Dave Darcy said: “This is an issue where parents have to take up the ball and use this story as a discussion point with their kids.”
He advised youngsters to reflect on the implications of writing their contact details on their body and warned it was a risky strategy.
“You have no control over who gets your number,” he said.  “It is merely inviting trouble.”
Psychologist Kirrilee Smout said the girls were too young to understand how to deal with the way some men would respond to the advertisements.
I think it may surprise Ms. Smout just what teenage girls do know these days, courtesy of the teenage magazines they read.  The days of girls reading Bunty are long gone.
[Based on articles by The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail.]

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