An Empirical Test Could Help

And, of course, you’ll see the water draining the other way.

Before our trip to New Zealand and Australia, several people primed us to watch for a counter-clockwise spin in the bathtub or toilet.

Coriolis effect, you know, they’d say.

And we’d nod knowledgeably, just as if we, too, invoked the Coriolis effect daily to explain phenomena. Like, you know, the tendency to traverse grocery-store aisles clockwise, at least when the main entry is on the left-hand side.

So. Did we see a counter-clockwise spin in the water as it drained or flushed? No.

Did we even look for a counter-clockwise spin? No.    Continue reading


Filed under New perspectives, Travel

Say What?

And we’re coming up on the county symmetry, on the left.

As we boogie down the highway, our guide is narrating notable bits in our surroundings, as usual, and I am listening oh so carefully, also as usual. OK, my attention may have slipped just a bit. Huh? What was that about symmetry?

I am about to ask the Big Guy what I missed, when a graveyard comes into view. On the left.

Ah. Not ‘symmetry’ but ‘cimitry’ – what I would call a ‘seh-meh-ter-ee,’ enunciating every syllable.

For a mix of Americans, Canadians, New Zealanders, and Australians, we’ve done pretty well so far, bridging the inevitable communication gaps. Our everyday guides take the lead, substituting North American terminology for their own, apparently effortlessly. And so we travel in a bus, not a coach. We pass sheep and cattle ranches, not stations. We line up on the sidewalk, we don’t queue up on the pavement.

But, of course, as cemetery/cimitry/symmetry illustrates, terminology is only part of the problem: there’s the pronunciation too.   Continue reading


Filed under Language & Communication, Travel

What We Got Here

What we got here…is a failure to communicate.
Captain, Road Prison 36 in Cool Hand Luke

Another in a set of reflections on our recent trip to New Zealand and Australia.

We have lots of kinds of coffee.

He shouldn’t sound impatient, but he does, just a little. The ordering sequence has, evidently, not gone entirely to his expectation. Or to his liking, for that matter. I go back over it in my mind, to see where things went off the rails.

I’ll have a coffee. That’s the Big Guy. Me, I have sensibly ordered tea.

What kind of coffee? That’s the trainee, fingers hovering over his cash register’s keys, poised to make the selection.

Just a regular coffee. The Big Guy again, a little at a loss as to how to specify what he wants.

We have lots of kinds of coffee. The trainee doesn’t say it, but it’s clear that ‘regular’ is not one of those kinds.

Oh dear. Here we are, on only our second day in this not very foreign country, already annoying the locals by stumbling over the basics. I mean, we thought we spoke their language.   Continue reading


Filed under Language & Communication, Travel

A Trial Separation

It’s the equivalent of at least three full flights up to the airport lounge, but I head to the stairs. As I round the first landing, it hits me. I’m all alone on this climb. I mean, I knew it before, but I didn’t really feel it until just now.

We’ve been inseparable for some time now. Maybe that’s what makes this seem, not hard exactly, but wrong at so many levels. Yet, lately, I’ve also had the feeling that we’ve lost that initial enthusiasm, that innocent joy in just being together. That, somehow, it had become all about the numbers.

And so it’s come to this. As I head off on a lengthy trip without my computer, I’m also leaving my Fitbit One at home.

With the mobile app, I guess I could download my daily results to my phone. The real challenge would be keeping the Fitbit charged up. Wasting precious touring time in looking for stray USB connections to plug into is just a non-starter.

Yet it’s only partly about the logistics. What would have been a heresy two months ago – deliberately putting aside the Fitbit, taking an intentional break – now feels like a mental health initiative. A chance to reconnect with my love of walking for its own sake.   Continue reading


Filed under New perspectives

Not Yet 60

The mid-afternoon autumnal light slanting across the parking lot warms the day and lifts my heart, an involuntary response to something in the quality of the light. The air has a crispness we don’t get in the heat of summer. Dried leaves whisper among themselves, thrown together at random by the winds swirling in the corner of the L-shaped strip mall.

Without much difficulty I dodge the cars moving gingerly in and out of parking spots just a shade too narrow to accommodate them, and make my way over to the mailbox. As I stand in front of it with my card in my hands, I think of the intended recipient.

Daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, all-round good soul. Not yet 60; starting chemotherapy.   Continue reading


Filed under Relationships & behaviour

Yellow Stars & Uniforms

By noon on Wednesday, Eastern time, I knew. Knew that two Canadian Armed Forces members had been killed in just three days, taking me back to the distressing place of hearing of war dead and casualties in Afghanistan. Knew that they were murdered in Canada, by Canadians, taking me to a place I had never even imagined.

Later on Wednesday, Canadian Armed Forces members were ordered not to wear their uniforms unnecessarily outside their workplaces. In the uncertainty about the extent of the attack, it made sense as a Force protection measure.

What made less sense, perhaps, was my reaction. I didn’t want them to stop wearing their uniforms: I wanted to put one on too. If they were a target, I wanted to be one too. Fight my gang, fight me.

I trace this reaction to a story that has inspired me for years. When Germany occupied Denmark in 1940, they issued an edict requiring all Danish Jews to wear an armband emblazoned with the Star of David. But the Germans were unprepared for the reaction they got: the King and a significant proportion of the population started wearing the armbands, too.

It’s a great story. There’s just one thing. It never happened.   Continue reading


Filed under New perspectives

The Dialectic of Kitchen Appliances

Just put it in the mic-oh-wave.

I look at my visitor happily ensconced on the black-vinyl bench of our built-in kitchen table. Happily because it was fun to scramble up and sit like a big girl: at home she has to use a booster seat. But that happily-ness is fading fast if her expression is anything to go by, and when is it not, with a two-year-old?

It’s 1990 and my visitor and I have retired to the kitchen to get her a drink. Long done with bottles, she still expects her milk to be warmed up slightly. But as a card-carrying Late Adopter of Technology, I have no microwave. Putting the glass on the table in front of her, I apologize for falling short of expectations.

Sorry, sweetie, I can’t heat it up.

And that’s when it started.

Just put it in the mic-oh-wave.
Continue reading


Filed under New perspectives, Quotations

Clams Got Feet: Do Computers Cheat?


I wrinkle my nose, bringing it into alignment with the skin around it.

Vext? That’s not a word. Why is the Scrabble® judge letting the computer get away with playing a non-word?

Then the penny drops. The Scrabble® judge and the computer against which I am playing are one and the same. Talk about your conflict of interest. This electronic version of the game offers no challenge mechanism, so I suck it up and play on. But I make a mental note for future investigation.   Continue reading


Filed under New perspectives

But Fear Itself


Notwithstanding a certain rhythm, the sound of running water is not music to my ears. Not, at least, when and where no water should be running.


Like a dogged douser, I track it to its source: the toilet in the main bathroom is definitely shh-gurgling. As I lift the tank cap—shh—my eyes quickly confirm what my ears have already diagnosed. The tank is emptying as fast as it’s filling.

Trained to show no fear in this sort of emergency, I authoritatively jiggle the flapper to reseat it and wait hopefully for the change in tone that will indicate the tank is filling. I wait in vain.

I squint at the chain affixed to the flapper and see that the doohickey—which should loosely connect the chain to the flapper—is wedged into an unnatural position. I unwedge it, releasing the slight tension it had put on the chain.

With an almost audible sigh of relief the flapper subsides almost imperceptibly, and that beautiful toilet-tank-filling sound fills the room.   Continue reading


Filed under New perspectives