Saturday, February 28, 2009

Cormorant on bicycle

Today as I was cycling along the small river where I often see the tufted ducks, I was surprised to see a cormorant on a bicycle.

When I went around the other side to see more clearly, I saw he was riding tandem.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Google sometimes lies

The other day my friend, Mrs Malaprop, told me that she had been reading a really interesting article about the problem of tintinitis. She told me some more about the article, which was interesting, and then she used the word again.

"Tintinitis," she said.

I stopped her.

"Don't you mean tinnitis?" I asked.

"What did I say?" she asked.

"You said tintinitis," I said.

"Did I?" she laughed. "Maybe that's the problem where your hair goes into a little curl..."

A couple of days later I met another two friends, and I told them about this.

"Mrs Malaprop told me she'd been reading an article about tintinitis," I said.

They stared at me, waiting for the rest of the story.

"Um ... TINTINITIS," I said.

"Yes?" they said.

"It's TINNITUS," I said. "Tintin is that little guy with the hair."

"But isn't it either?" said one of my friends. "I'm sure I've heard tintinitis, too."

"No," I said, suddenly feeling a little uncertain. "It's tinnitus."

When I got home I looked it up, just to make sure. In all the dictionaries I checked, there was no tintinitus, tinntinitus or tintinitis, but there was tinnitus. Whew!

When I Googled it, however, I discovered that half the world seems to be calling it tintinitus - until I went to the last page of results, where I discovered that it was actually only a few hundred people.

Yes, that's right. Google LIES! Try it and you'll see. A search on tintinitus tells you there are 5,190,000 results (and suggests the correct spelling of tinnitus), but if you click through to the last page of the search (page 34), suddenly you are told that this is the last of 331 results.

So ... what were the other 5,189,669 results, then?

How strange.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Down at the river

A week or so ago I went to the big river and took some photos. There was no story. Sorry. (I have a maybe-story from the little river, but I haven't sorted through all the photos yet.)

At the big river, an egret was practicing for the 100-metre sprint.

A kingfisher posed for me on the path.

Another little bird pretended to be a kingfisher, and I took its photo. It was only after zooming in on the (not very good) photo that I realized that it was not a kingfisher. I don't know what it was, but it was very cute.

There were a lot of gulls.

At one point, the gulls all suddenly took to the air. I took a picture. They looked like the Hitchcock movie.

Then I noticed why they had taken to the air. Poor wee doggie. The river is not very deep at the moment, and he got out quite a way before realizing none of the gulls was going to sit there and wait for him.

After that I came home again. It was a cold, grey sort of day, and my fingers and toes were turning blue.

Friday, February 20, 2009


I was going to write another bird story today, but I got busy. Instead, here are some ducks.

These are not the pictures I was going to use for the story, but if you feel some captions coming on, please do share!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Save the world

Today I met a friend for lunch. And dinner, it turned out, because we lingered over lunch (can you blame us?), and then did a little shopping, then stopped for coffee, and then, somehow, it was dinnertime. I guess we talked a lot. The shopping didn't take much time, and was necessary rather than particularly interesting things, although I thought the birthday card my friend bought for someone was rather interesting. The card said, on the front,

Why don't you open me?

This made us both laugh, so naturally she bought it. Inside the card was more conventional (Happy Birthday!). I'm not sure now why it made us laugh so much.

It was a day for amusing and baffling English, and I was sorry I did not have my camera with me. I used my phone camera, and most of the results made me even sorrier. The blurred pictures I was taking were finally explained when I realized I had the phone camera set on close-up mode. I wonder why I did that, and when?

After I figured out the problem I still got two pictures, at least.

One is of a sign in an underground mall in Kobe. Part of the mall is roped off, and inside the roped off area people are, apparently, prepating.

The other is of a clothing store. Please do not ask me to explain this sign. You know as much as I do.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Unfortunately I didn't have my camera

It's a gorgeous spring-like day here. I've just been out in it, and passing a little park near here spotted something that was sad and comical all at once. A pigeon had somehow managed to get a plastic bag attached to its leg, and was flying very slowly across the park, plastic bag billowing out behind. It looked like a parasailor going the wrong way, and had to flap REALLY HARD to make any headway.

I wanted to tell it to stop flapping. The wind was probably enough to keep it airborne, although then it would have been going backwards. Or down, slowly. There isn't much wind today.

If it had landed on the ground I might have been able to try to help, but it landed rather awkwardly on a power line and started pecking at its foot. It showed no inclination to move from there, so after waiting a while I left.

Friday, February 13, 2009


Today I could not find the glue stick so I could stick down the envelope on a letter I wanted to post. I asked The Man where it was. He thought he knew, but he was wrong. We could not find the glue stick.

"Never mind," I said. "I'll just use tape."

"No," The Man said. "Just go downstairs, open the rice cooker, and take out some cooked rice. Then use your finger to rub it over the flap. It will stick fine. That's how it used to be done."

"Really?" I said.

"Yes," he said. "One grain of rice should be enough."

I didn't believe him. Who would eat something that also functioned as glue? I mean, really! I know you can use flour and water paste as glue, but that's not the same. We don't usually eat flour until it's cooked. After you've cooked something, you would not eat it if it had the same qualities as glue, would you?

I went downstairs to look for tape. Then I thought about Japanese rice, and decided to try The Man's method. Maybe he was right. Maybe 'glutinous' did equal 'glue.'

I took one grain of rice out of the rice cooker. I smeared it over the flap of the envelope. I stuck the flap down, and rubbed it.

The flap stuck wonderfully. How convenient!

Later, when I got to the post box, I checked the envelope again, to make sure it was still sticking. It was.

I posted the letter.

Now I know why Japanese rice always makes me constipated.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Red Line

Today I taught my last class of the semester at the women's university. I used my general knowledge quiz, as the students had already done their speaking tests, and I knew they had examinations this week and would not feel like studying something that was not for a test. They had fun with the quiz, being the sort of students who are prepared to guess wildly.

At the end of the quiz I give a couple of very difficult but guessable 'bonus questions' worth so many points that the pitifully losing team can suddenly turn into THE WINNERS! WE WON! YAY!!! The answer to one of these questions was 'the equator' (although they answered the red line because they didn't know the word equator), and after the uproar died down one of the students, a sweet girl, said, thoughtfully,


"Yes?" I asked.

"Sensei, is the red line only on the map?"

She looked at me hopefully.

I had to think about it for a moment before I understood what she meant.

When I was telling The Man about this question tonight, he was enthusiastic.

"I hope you told her the right answer," he said.

"What do you mean?" I said. "What right answer?"

"Oh, the red line ... it's beautiful," sighed The Man, and his expression went dreamy and unfocussed with the pleasure of remembering. "You should try to see it one day! You look through binoculars from a distance, and ... oh ... the red ... it's so wonderful ... And from a plane, you should see it from a plane! You look down, and you have never seen anything so beautiful in your life ... "

He snapped back to speaking normally. "Like that," he said. "That's how you should have answered."

I stared at him.

"You should have been a teacher," I told him. "You did that much better than I could."

And it's true. For a moment there I had SEEN that red line, glowing on the horizon – beautiful, magical, filling me with wonder. Why had I squashed my student's idea so abruptly? I could have made her dreams so much more interesting!

How rude of me.

Sunday, February 08, 2009


You know how they say there are two kinds of computer users, those who back up regularly and those who haven't lost any data yet?

It's true.

Sad, but true.

Saturday, February 07, 2009


I went for a bicycle ride yesterday. I was planning to go to the river to see how the birds were doing, and decided to approach my ride from the opposite direction I usually go. This took me in the direction of an area I haven't visited for a while, and there is a supermarket there that sometimes has good cheese, so I decided to visit that before going to the river, but before that I got hungry, and ... well, the end result was that I didn't visit the river after all. I didn't even visit the supermarket, I realized on my way home. I got distracted, and forgot. It was that sort of day.

One of the reasons I got distracted was that I decided to eat at one of the coffee shops I used to go to when I was in the area more frequently a few years ago. Only one was still open, though. Unfortunately, although the coffee there isn't bad, the only food on the menu was cake. Another place I went to occasionally had turned into an Indian restaurant, but it was closed. Three others had turned into hair or beauty salons. I could not find an ordinary coffee shop anywhere.

There was a new McDonald's.

While I was cycling along, stomach rumbling, I started thinking about why I didn't even consider going to the McDonald's. I do not think I am a food snob. It is hard to be a food snob while also being a very bad cook. But I find it hard to think of McDonald's as food at all, and as I cycled along wondering why I came up with a theory. As you may have noticed, I have theories about most things. I'm not sure whether this is a very good one, though.

My theory is that for people who grew up with hamburgers on their menu, and have a strong idea and memory of what a hamburger should taste like, McDonald's provides them with the IDEA of a hamburger. Their imagination fills in the gaping holes between the idea and the real thing.

For someone like me, however, who did not grow up eating hamburgers (I had my first hamburger at 21 or 22), a McDonald's hamburger has a baffling lack of food-like qualities, and does not work for me at all. I do not feel satisfied after eating it. Any vegetables in it seem to have the shape but not the flavour of actual vegetables. They are ideas of vegetables, and that does not make sense to me at all. How can something look like a real vegetable and yet not taste like one? The potato fries do not taste like potatoes. The slices of tomato result in no tomato flavour. What happened to it? Nothing tastes like real, actual food eaten by real, actual human beings. It looks like it could be food, but taking a bite destroys that illusion for me.

But if you are very familiar with what a hamburger should taste like, maybe the shape and colour and name is enough for your imagination to fill in the gaps.

I think I'll call my theory the Placebo Familiar Food Theory (aka PFFT).

The PFFT theory falls down when I think of the popularity of McDonald's in Japan, where if people grew up eating hamburgers, it was probably McDonald's hamburgers. I may have to dream up a different theory to account for that.