Enough for the whole weekend?

Canada has a disproportionately low profile in the UK in my opinion. Australia, which is much farther away, is frequently in the news and kept at the front of British minds, thanks to among other things, the popular Antipodean daytime soap-opera Neighbours. Canada on the other hand is hardly ever mentioned, being judged by the UK’s media and “chattering classes” as too dull.

But perhaps that perception is beginning to change? Not only has the Economist recognised Canada’s hidden depths, but yesterday BBC Radio 4’s Sunday morning current affairs show, Broadcasting House, aired an interview (available for the next 6 days; RealPlayer required) with the outspoken mayor of Toronto, Mel Lastman. He can hardly be considered dull, having confessed to being afraid of Kenyans boiling him alive.

So thanks to Canada’s emerging liberalism and some of its less tactful politicians (Ralph Klein, the Premier of Alberta, is another that comes to mind), Canada may finally be shaking off its reputation for being boring.

The British will soon need to find another country for that old joke:

Canada’s a fabulously beautiful country. Wonderful place to visit. But not for the whole weekend.

P.S. – The Lastman interview occurs 51 minutes into the programme.

Holding his own

I’ve been busy, which explains that lack of posts recently, but there are a number of items worth mentioning

The first is being broadcast as I write on BBC Radio 4. It's a documentary originally broadcast last May about a farmer who refused to move out of his home when the M62 motorway was built in West Yorkshire in the 1960s. Three lanes of traffic now go speeding past both sides of Ken Wild's house 24 hours a day.

At one point someone says “the purpose of life is death”, and the rest of the half-hour programme makes for equally compelling radio. You should be able to listen to it on the BBC’s Listen Again page, or read about it as Life in the fast lane.

How to become a cook

Can you remember the first time you ate spaghetti? The cook and author Nigel Slater can, and from his experience it’s clear that one way to stimulate an interest in food is to eat very badly as a child. Slater is describing his experience each day this week on BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week and at times it’s very funny.

Update: Gavin Bell of Take One Onion spotted excerpts of Slater’s book published in The Observer.

Food for thought

I read this today, the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks in the United States, and it seemed appropriate to just post it:

Hereditary monarchy offers numerous advantages for America. It is the only form of government able to unify a heterogeneous people. Thanks to centuries of dynastic marriage, the family tree of every royal house is an ethnic grab bag with something for everybody. We need this badly; America is the only country in the world where you can suffer culture shock without leaving home. We can't go on much longer depending upon disasters like Pearl Harbor and the Iranian hostage-taking to “bring us together.”

Florence King (b. 1936), U.S. humorist, essayist, social critic.
From Why I Am a Royalist, Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye p. 125, New York, St. Martin's Press (1989).

Brazilian broadband

A journalist at BBC News Online, Gary Eason, has written an amusing account of the poor service he received from BT Openworld (see BBC NEWS | Technology | Always on, except when it’s off).

I don’t want to spoil his story, but Eason’s experience reminds me of one of my favourite movies Brazil by Terry Gilliam. Jon Reeves summarised the plot for The Internet Movie Database as follows:

Bureaucracy and ductwork run amok in the story of a paperwork mixup that leads to the imprisonment of Mr. Buttle, shoe repairman, instead of Harry Tuttle, illegal freelance Heating Engineer. Bureaucrat Sam Lowry (prone to escapes to a fantasy world) gets branded a terrorist and becomes hunted by the state himself in the process of correcting the mistake.

What’s the moral of this story? When things start to spiral out of control, start making copious notes.

Dear trains

I don’t travel much by train in the UK, but every time I do it becomes easier to understand why so many people in this country complain about the railway.

The following table compares the cost of a future journey to Coventry by train with my most recent trip to France by air. In both cases I booked the least expensive fare available.

Mode of Transport Distance Price Cost per km
British Airways to Nice 1,030 km £ 98.00 £ 0.10
Virgin Trains to Coventry 139 km £ 41.00 £ 0.29

Discount airlines have received a lot of attention in recent months. Clearly it’s time we had discount railways too.