Archive for May, 2012

I know labour is cheap but…

I had my hair cut today and very nice it turned out too. Nothing really out of the ordinary except for the way they section hair. You know how hairdressers usually use those plastic grip thingies to section off hair? Well they didn’t use them today – they used a person to hold bits of hair. Effective but unorthodox.

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The best seats for the Shanghai GP

This year’s Grand Prix season has been pretty exciting so far –with the possible exception of last weekend’s Monaco snoozefest.

By far the most exciting race for me was the Shanghai GP. Not just because it was on my doorstep, but because we had paddock passes. I enjoyed the race and Force India’s hospitality thanks to some rather fortuitous and generous connections. Now I’m ruined for life. I watched the whole thing on a TV at the back of the garage.  In the absence of any commentary I quite honestly had no idea what was going on but I did get to watch the pit-stops from a few metres away. Oh yes.

You could blink and miss this - but this is a pit stop....

One thing that really surprised me is how calm everything was before and during the race. Beforehand, all the race engineers are calmly running through what I assume are pre-race procedures. No tension, just calm.  I’m quite sure I’d be emptying my adrenaline soaked stomach before a race but instead the drivers are hanging out, talking to people, having lunch etc.

During the race, all the race engineers sit on neat rows of seats, motionlessly watching a rather small TV. It wasn’t a bored stiff sort of motionless – they were alert and totally focussed on the events on the screens. They could be statues until just before each pitstop  – when there’s a brief flurry of calm, collected activity. Given that pitstops only last about 4 secs now (ridiculous I know) I barely managed to get my camera out before they had sped away again.

Engineers all watching tiny screens in surprisingly tidy rows

Just around the corner, race techs watch  the cars progress around a virtual track, monitoring a dizzying amount of information about every aspect of the cars’ performance.

Here's where it all happens - every single race variable is constantly analysed and optimised

Another surprise was quite what a British centred event the GP is. You see all the international drivers and assume this is an international spectacle, but really a significant majority of the players seem to be Brits. So each Grand Prix is a small British island of craziness completely untouched by local culture of customs. This mobile island is really like a travelling circus that sets up in a new town, puts on a show, then packs up and moves to the next place. And it packs up remarkably quickly. While the podium celebration was taking place, the paddock quickly filled up with all sizes of packing boxes and packing crates – just one week later it was all going to be repeated in Bahrain.

The final thing that surprised me was quite how starstruck I was. I’ve worked in Chelsea for years and was entirely underwhelmed by the procession of footballers, minor celebrities etc that were sighted every week. But I was genuinely surprised at how excited I was to be standing watching the podium from the pitlane behind Ross Brawn, only to turn round and have Eddie Jordan walk into a picture I was taking. The drivers were strolling around and of course Coulthard was EVERYWHERE.

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It’s all Dick van Dyke’s fault

I have a strong dislike of Dick van Dyke. He’s got a lot to answer for. Specifically for his appearance in the unspeakably awful “Mary Poppins”.

It’s not that the film was particularly bad, it’s just that I think his appearance in the film is entirely responsible for the majority of the population of America thinking that I’m Australian.

I’m serious. I believe that, because I don’t sound like either the Queen or Dick van Dyke that people assume I’m not British so must be Australian. I’d mind less only NOBODY sounds like Dick van Dyke with his garbled vowels and horrendous expressions. It really is all his fault.

On a side note – what is wrong with people who think that Brits, South Africans, Australians and New Zealanders all sound the same? Urgh.


The summer fair – more British than a bulldog in a bowler hat at the cricket

Apart from the weather, there are many things that I love about being in England, many of which are simple pleasures that you take for granted when you live there. It’s not that absence makes the heart grow fonder, it’s more that you see things with fresh eyes after a time away.  I was recently taken to see a bluebell wood in darkest Cambridgeshire and it’s the sort of place that would make you want to write poetry. If you are that way inclined of course. Which I am not in case you thought I might go a bit Vogon on you all. In any case, it gave me the sort of smile that I usually get from vehicles with really rather large growly engines.

Another very British activity I recently participated in was a summer fair. It was so over the top, almost caricature British it wouldn’t have been out of place in an episode of Midsommer Murders. Except of course nobody was killed – argh you know what I mean. Anyway, it really was everything that makes a traditional English summer fair; the soggy grass that consumed stiletto heels and caused chair legs to slowly sink, a human fruitmachine (where three people whirl around and choose a random piece of fruit out of three buckets) a Pimm’s tent, a tat filled bric-a-brac stall, a stand with slightly wonky WI cakes and another with straggly plants. It even had a Queen impersonator (THE Queen not the band….) doing a walkabout and someone I think might have been the local mayor wearing a Union Jack suit. “Oh God I bet there was also a chubby drum majorette group or a dog show…” commented a friend when I mentioned the fair “there’s always one of those” he added somewhat unimpressed. Actually it was a dog agility relay but it was great.

My unimpressed friend was not alone. Anyone else I told about this “charming fair” rolled their eyes. I do know why. This is the sort of thing you see every year on every soggy village green in the country (at least they didn’t call it a fayre). It’s just that it is so different from anything I have experienced recently (dragon festivals or 4th July parties anyone?) that I am seeing it with fresh eyes.

The other possible explanation is rather more alarming – I’m slightly worried that it might be a symptom of me turning a tiny bit American. Before I know it I’ll be calling anything over 30 years old “quaint”. And I’ve been thinking about getting my teeth straightened. Please help save me from myself.

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Just like pulling teeth

One of my 2012 New Year’s resolutions was to get my teeth fixed. The slight challenge to making progress on this was the fact that I have no intention whatsoever of letting a Chinese dentist do anything at all. I am sure that China has most excellent dentists but when we are talking about major (my definition) dental work, then I want to be able to understand what is going on.

Well that’s not quite true. I had arranged to have my badly behaved and directionally challenged wisdom teeth extracted at a surgery near the house in Pennsylvania.  The denstist came with many recommendations and seem to know what he was doing. And I liked him. Finally they had actual rooms in his surgery – the last place I went to in the US lined everyone up in a big rooms with office dividers – so it felt more like somewhere you’d get a pedicure. NOT somewhere I was going to have teeth out.

So last Monday was T-Day. I’ve been nervous about this day since the day I found my pesky wisdom teeth growing (very late – only a few years ago. I’m still waiting for the wisdom too). I showed up shaky with adrenaline but just about holding it together. I was arranged on the seat by a nurse/ assistant who gave me a really attractive bib to catch the inevitable drool. She also decided to take it upon herself to talk me through the procedure. She started with “…he’ll give you injections so you won’t feel anything, you’ll just feel a slight pulling. And then you will hear a pop when he cuts the ligaments…” “Can I stop you right there…” I interrupted. “ I don’t want to know about that.” Undaunted she carried on “the ligaments are tough so when he cuts them…”. At this point I really wished she was speaking Mandarin.

I tried twice more to interrupt then just asked her to stop talking. I think she was mildly offended and left. My previously tenuous grasp on normal behaviour was gone though, so when the other, actually nicer nurse/ assistant came and asked me a simple question (“hello, how are you?” probably) I just burst into rather undignified tears (also due to lack of waterproof mascara I suspect I rapidly resembled a refugee from Kiss).  She took pity on me and just said “I think we’ll use the nitrous rig”. When the dentist came and I tried to  apologise for overreacting and attempted to explain that my rational side knew that it was an easy routine job, but the less rational, terrified-of-medical-things side was currently beating the crap out of my rational side. He was very kind. He said that actually it wasn’t a particularly irrational reaction…he was about to pull things out of my head after all…

Strangely that did calm me down. The nitrous oxide helped a treat too, so while certainly not anything I want to repeat in a hurry the whole extraction thing was OK. He offered just to do one but I refused point blank – they had to both go NOW. He did a great job actually and had given me so much anaesthetic I couldn’t feel most of my face for hours, let alone the teeth. He didn’t even have to put his knee on my chest for leverage, which was one of my memories from a previous extraction. The other memory was enormous pliers. I have no idea if that’s what this chap used because I kept my (rather smudged) eyes firmly shut for the duration.

Recovery has so far been OK too. A soft diet was recommended so I lived on smoothies and red wine for several days. I’ve been taking plenty of arnica too so that may have contributed to the fact there was very little swelling – actually just enough to look like I’ve had some cheek filler and actually quite fetching.

Things could definitely be worse. I could have grown four wisdom teeth not two for a start…

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British weather

I’ve just spent a little time back in the UK. I know the Brits are much maligned for talking about the weather, but that’s because there’s so bloody much of it.  I was rained on for just over two solid weeks.  To add insult to *ahem* wetness, there’s hosepipe ban on in most of the country. Yes really.

I just found out what caused this biblical quantity of rain. I met up with my friend Charlie and he pointed out the enormous water storage device he had installed days before the heavens opened and never closed. That would do it…thanks Charlie.

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