Friday 4 April 2008

We all sound the same to them.

While in Corsica, people would regularly refer to us as "Anglais" and we got into the habit of correcting them (nicely) with "Irlandais". (Yes, yes, I know I actually am English, but Vic and Daisy are Northern Irish and they outnumber me. "Irlandais" is a correct description of the family.) Anyway, so one nice shopkeeper, explaining why she made the mistake, says, "C'est la meme accent."

Well, I found it amusing.

A recommendation.

We've just had rather an excellent holiday in Corsica. We booked it through Direct Corsica, and I hereby recommend them. They're basically a translation and money-changing service: their translation service allows Corsicans to advertise their holiday apartments directly to the British without having to worry about the language barrier, and the money-changing simply turns the rent money from Sterling into Euros. They do actually go out there and assess the apartments themselves, so it seems fair to assume that they're all of a similar standard as the one we stayed in, which was utterly superb. It even had a dishwasher. And, when we initially emailed them, they got back very quickly with good advice about which apartments would be most suitable at the time of year we were going.

An excellent service.

Oh, and Corsica Ferries are excellent, too. You can hire a cabin even if you're not travelling overnight, for not much extra. Clean and plush and comfortable. On the outward journey, there was a woman playing jazz on a grand piano. The whole experience was just so much better than crossing the Irish Sea.

One little niggle, though. If I were running a ferry company that plied between two countries, I'd require all the customer-facing staff on my ferries to speak both the languages of those countries. Even if they were pretty bad at one of the languages, as long as they could manage, however hesitantly, to communicate with passengers from that country, that would be enough. Corsica Ferries travel between France and Italy — and are indeed named after part of France — and have at least one member of staff to whom French is marginally less meaningful than Martian.

People who aren't from Northern Ireland don't really exist.

Speaking of Pisa Airport....

We're at the gate waiting for a plane to Gatwick, and Daisy's stomping around happily meeting everyone, and I start a conversation with a woman who has a little girl of Daisy's age, also stomping around. Then I recognise her accent: she's Northern Irish. She's not even getting the same flight as us — she's going to Dublin — yet she's from Bangor, same as us. Not only that, but she teaches at my niece's school, and will be teaching my niece next year.

As anyone from Northern Ireland can attest, this happens all the time.

Douglas Adams once expounded the theory that there are only about four-hundred people in the Universe, everyone else being a figment of your imagination, which is why you keep bumping into the same people again and again. He was right, of course, but missed a detail: all four-hundred of them are Northern Irish.

Oh, except me, of course.

The Italians.

Having spent a little bit of time there lately, I have three observations.

The Italians really love babies. Adore them. Can't get enough of them. So why the hell aren't they having them anymore?

The Italians really, really, really should not be allowed to drive cars. Put them behind the wheel and they turn batshit homicidal. I vow never to drive in Italy again.

The gin-and-tonics they mix at Pisa Airport are strong enough to stun a mule.

A new era.

Blogging has been very light for the last year or so due to my new job. Well, that new job is about to become my old job. Whether this will lead to more or less blogging, only time will tell.

Close to the news.

I was on this train when this happened:

Toddler hit by train at rail halt

A two-year-old boy who sustained head injuries after being hit by a train near Bangor, County Down, is in a stable condition in hospital.

The accident happened as the train was leaving Seahill halt at Ballyrobert.

Ciaran Rogan from Translink said the driver had tried to stop the train before it hit the child. He comforted the boy until paramedics arrived.

The child is the son of a worker who lives at a Camphill care facility, which backs onto the tracks.

I don't have much to say about it. The driver and guard seemed to do a great job, as far as I could see. The interesting thing was that there was initially doubt about whether the train had hit the boy. The staff asked every passenger on the train whether any of us had seen what happened, because they were trying to figure out whether the train had hit him or he'd got his head injuries some other way. It was, of course, eventually confirmed that, yes, the train had hit him.

Speaking to a friend of mine from the PSNI's transport division later on, I got the one little detail that allowed the rest of the story to make sense: the boy had fallen and rolled down the embankment into the side of the train. That explains how the driver could have seen the boy ahead of the train but not been sure whether it had hit him: he must have seen the boy rolling down the embankment, stopped the train, and gone back and found the boy with head injuries.

The train was going very slowly at the time, but still, this kid must be one of the luckiest boys ever, to hit a moving train with his head and survive. From the side, as well, somehow without getting under the wheels. Unbelievable.

What the hell a two-year-old was doing wandering alone by a railway track, though....

Thursday 3 April 2008

Thank you, Mr Dent.

I would just like to go on record as saying that, unlike The Telegraph's editors, I love Matthew Dent's new designs for our currency. Each coin looks beautiful by itself, but the idea of having them all work together as a type of jigsaw is inspired.

Unsurprisingly, however, they've provided an excuse for lots of people to indulge in one of Britain's favourite hobbies: whinging about change. The Times's comments are a fantastic display of idiocy. No-one's content to say simply that they don't like the design. No, they have to back up their dislike with weird political motivations.

We can only hope that this truly wretched idea is another nail in the coffin Nulab is building for itself.
In a way it seems to represent the the disjointed shambles that the Gordon Brown government has become. Perhaps they think such a ghastly idea will make us want to adopt the Euro.
Is it already too late to veto this latest lefty scheme to make Britain a laughing stock?

John W Meadows, Los Altos Hills, California

I'm no fan of the Labour Party myself, but sometimes I'm tempted to vote for them just to disassociate myself from their more vociferous opponents. I mean, these people are just crazy.

The majority of the British population, if asked, would probably say that they would like "traditional" coins, such as the "wren" farthing, the "ship" halfpenny, Britannia, etc.
Imposing coins of a design which the majority of the population strongly dislike does establish an important polical principle - that is to say, that it is the Government, not the population, which knows best.
This can then be applied to other more important aspects of government, such as, for example, invading foreign nation states against international Law and the wishes of the majority of the British population.

Tony Mole, Enfield, Middlesex

Yup, that's the problem with New Labour, right there: they allow the Royal Mint to come up with new designs for coins. But only so that we'll allow them to go to war without UN approval. The fiends.

Here's some sanity:

40 years from now when the coins are changed again, everyone will complain about the new coins and go on and on and on about how this great british country has had the same beautiful british coins since 2008, it's an absolute travesty to ditch decades of tradition and britishness, this country is going straight to hell, blah blah blah blah blah bah....

James Daly, London

And some more:

Of course everybody will hate them. John Major may fondly remember brass threepenny bits, but they too caused an outcry when they replaced silver ones. A switch to base metal signalled the end of civilization and the novel non-circular shape confirmed the triumph of barbarism. The British people love their made up timeless threads of continuity and probably think that Danegeld was paid with the present coins rather than them being of only a couple of decades vintage (alloy and size have both changed recently, these new changes are trivial).

E Skelton, cardiff, Wales

And then there's all this fuss from the Welsh Nationalists, one of the world's more irrational bunch of ranters, even by nationalist standards. Apparently, the fact that the Prince of Wales's three feathers have now gone and there's no Welsh dragon on any of the new designs proves that we all hate the Welsh, or something. It's a plot!

I've been a big fan of pound coins for ages now. The fact that the design changes every year has got me well and truly hooked. Call me sad, but I never have pound coins in my pocket without knowing which types they are. Now, at the moment, they're going through an architecture phase — I love last year's design, with the new bridge in Newcastle — but they usually have national symbols: coats of arms, mascots, etcetera. And they cycle through the national symbols completely fairly. So we already have millions of coins in circulation with a beautiful Welsh dragon on them and millions more with a leak on them. (One of the worst coin designs ever, that. I'm sorry, but surrounding it with a crown doesn't change the fact that it's a bloody leek. Thistles may be weeds, but they have style.)

But none of those coins count now. Despite the fact that there are no plans to remove them from circulation. There's no dragon (or leek) in the new designs, so the Royal Mint must hate the Welsh and want the Union dissolved. It's the only explanation.

Only a raving lunatic would point out that every single one of the new coins represents the Welsh, because they were designed by a Welshman.

And besides, whence this fondness for the three feathers? Most of the time, one of the gripes of your average Welsh nationalist is that the Prince of Wales isn't Welsh, doesn't live in Wales, and never did a damned thing to get called "of Wales" other than being the firstborn son of the English Queen. To be fair, I have some sympathy with that argument. But this coherent stand started to become decidedly less so when Diana died and Bernie Taupin rewrote the lyrics of Candle In The Wind. "Goodbye, England's rose"? Suddenly, the same people who had been complaining for years that some simpering Sloan gets foisted on their country without setting foot in the place were up in arms that the English were trying to appropriate their princess. I laughed then, and I'm getting deja vu with this ridiculous three-feathers upset.

Anyway, I for one look forward to having some of these new coins in my pocket, and, yes, to putting them on a tabletop and assembling the jigsaw.