Author Archives: sam

It’s a date


I’ll check my diary

Look what just arrived—could it be a belated valentine from the other Legal Occupier of this address? Because the 27th has significance in our lives. It’s our anniversary!

(Actually our anniversary is the 28th. I can never remember with exactitude despite piling up an impressive number of them. I figure having it nailed down to those two days deserves some credit.)

Seeing as she would never get the date wrong, chances are it’s not from her. I open it. What’s this?


Every 5 seconds? Talk about a quickie.

Oh no, we can expect a visit from an Enforcement Officer on the 27th or literally any other day. It’s even got a stamp on the bottom, or an artful attempt at one:

Looks official, signature in contrasting ink and everything. That’s Hales, John Hales, licence to instill fear in the noncompliant.

Canterbury isn’t just around the corner, but it’s close enough that it shouldn’t take two years for an officer to hurry up and get here to check up on us already. That’s about how long we’ve been getting love letters from Capita, the company contracted out by the BBC to blanket the country with stern letters like this.

The assumption is that everybody is tuned in at some point. There are no discounts for not being camped out on the couch in front of the tube; it only takes once a year, so if you’re only turning it on to catch the Queen’s Christmas Message, savour every word.


“We see you when you’re sleeping, we know when you’re awake.”

The problem is, not everybody watches television or uses their computer as one. Many of us use services such as Netflix exclusively, which warrants no licence. And some outliers have no interest in moving pictures at all.

Just having a TV in the house doesn’t mean it has to have papers: you’ve actually got to turn it on. As it is inconceivable to Capita that you can own a set which primarily gets used as, say, a temporary storage facility the top of which is easier to access than drawers and a step up from the floor,


Guilty

only occasionally being called into service for things called ‘videos’, you’re considered guilty until proven innocent — “Tell us you don’t need one.”

If only it were that easy. Yes, you can inform them that none of this applies to you, but you’ll still have to be prepared to admit an Enforcement Officer to check up on you. Or so they say.

Actually, Capita ‘Officers’ have no more right to enter your home than the pizza delivery guy.


“If you’re not going to eat this, I am.”

You’re perfectly entitled to close the door in their face, or better yet, not open it in the first place.

Why would you be so rude? Perhaps because you have the quaint notion your home really is your castle, or as close to a castle as you can afford, and being asked to admit what are basically salesmen, or else, sticks in the craw.

As you can see, the tone of the letters is firm if not threatening. It works. There are even people who have admitted to caving in and getting a licence although they absolutely don’t need one, due to a combination of intimidation and ignorance of the law.

Mrs Legal Occupier and I made sure we knew our rights before taking the drastic step of laughing at the letters that come through the slot about once a month. And anyway we’re busy the 27th. I for one am going to be spending it apologising for wishing her happy anniversary right after waking up.

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Voyage into better than good badness

Star Trek comes in handy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve needed a pop culture reference and reached for Kirk & Co. They’ve also provided fan fiction mulch on a few occasions.

This despite that I rarely rate it higher than Good Bad, the category which naturally falls below Good and above Bad. There’s also a Good Good, but I see no need for a Bad Bad.

I turn on the subtitles when watching anything. It’s not that I’m hard of hearing; it’s more that I always have a nagging worry about missing dialogue, and prefer the redundancy. These days all my viewing is done on a computer, making it easy to collect screenshots along the way.

The following are from the Star Trek Voyager episode Alter Ego, which may have been the first to make me sit up from my usual half-interested slouch, one eye on the Netflix window, the other on some fresh hell in my chosen opinion aggregator, and say to my Oreo “Hey, this is better than Good Bad.”

After the preliminaries, which are nothing special else I would’ve taken snaps of them, we are presented with the sight of the ship’s senior logic jockey fiddling with one of those Vulcan games that make you wonder if this advanced race is all it’s cracked up to be. Humans discovered Pick-up sticks centuries ago.

In walks Harry:

“Grasshopper,” he forgot to add. Harry calls it:

The troubled

as I was saying, the obviously troubled Operations Officer


wrong – this is the holo doc’s training tool for fumble-fingered humans

has come seeking wisdom from Lt Cdr “Know-It-All” Tuvok, who like Spock only has one name, all others having been dispensed with probably around the time the Vulcan High Command outlawed any emotion more severe than a raised eyebrow.

Harry has woman woes. A step up from Tribble trouble, if you ask me.

Well, this is Star Trek. Specifically, Harry is smitten with a holodeck character (“Computer, give me something from Baywatch, aged to perfection”) who’s the only one who really understands him. Or at least that’s what I assume the project notes said.

Tuvok looks into the situation


there’s something about Mary

and comes to appreciate what Harry sees in what’s-her-name. But it turns out all is not what it seems. Marayna (all writing is improved by research) isn’t in fact just another saucy tomato.


close enough

She’s a highly intelligent forehead being of the sort the crew is forever running into. But I’m getting ahead of myself in my rush to finish this before I run out of screenshots.

Mary lives on a space station, her job to keep an unruly nebula tame by twiddling dials to maintain that wondrous dampening field technology that awaits future generations. She’s a little like a lifeguard keeping her entire race safe, suffering from not-so-splendid isolation.

She’s managed to infiltrate the Voyager’s CPU or whatever and project herself as holobait. She’s done things like this before, to other ships. It passes the time.

Only this time she didn’t reckon to meet a mind as fascinating as Tuvok’s. She falls for him. She must have him, or else. The imminent destruction of the Voyager awaits, unless the crew can figure all this out before the credits roll.

A highlight of the episode is the hilarious fight between holo Hawaiian hotties (resistance to alliteration is futile) and B’Elanna.


Emmy for the new category of Bad Goodness

One wonders if junior Vulcan Voric paid to have that set up, fuel for the obvious Pon farr smoldering behind his bedroom eyes earlier in the show.

There is the usual meeting of the minds (Neelix is often the mascot begging for scraps at the table, but he’s too busy adjusting the feng shui on the holodeck of this love boat) who struggle to find a solution which doesn’t violate the prime directive of being too earnest. They fail, of course, as Tuvok allows himself to be beamed into the lair of the highly intelligent forehead being, who his tricorder identifies as the reincarnation of Alex from Fatal Attraction, to be faced with an ultimatum: be hers, or she’ll use her plasma nebula powers to boil the crew of the Voyager like so many bunnies.

There follows a genuinely touching exchange whereby Tuvok talks her out of this act of extreme jealousy

close enough

convincing her that she needs to get out more.

I’ve skipped a lot of details, but that’s the gist of it.

What struck me about this episode was how it rose like a phoenix from the ashes of my expectations, begging the question of why I still watch the various Treks floating forever in syndication. It seems that resistance really is


The new perfume by Borg. Not that Borg.

Look, I’m no TV reviewer. I was just pleased that Alter Ego was better written and acted than the usual ST fare; even, if I may be dreadfully patronising,

Is it possible I will be pleasantly surprised by future episodes I’ve already seen ages ago and conveniently forgotten?

* * *

Bonus shot of the doctor, still nameless (Shmullus doesn’t count) but now considering Don Juan.

Blast from the past:

More screenshots from the not-such-an-idiot-box here. I’d like to see how Janeway handles first contact with Swearengen.

In an alternate timeline B’Elanna eschews engineering for the entertainment industry and gets a gig directing an incredibly appropriately named episode of The Americans.

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F4 U1 N1

Last night’s game of Scrabble, on hold.

She’s winning as usual. Came out of the gate with a seven letter word. We’ll have to play piecemeal through the week or not at all till next weekend.

She usually reads the board upside-down. Doubtless she could take on a dozen challengers at a time, blindfolded.

Here are my letters. Too bad I’m not allowed to phone a friend.

Me in more carefree times

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Pocket Museum


I’ve got a 2,000 year old Roman coin in my pocket.* It’s genuine, if the dealer was legit. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be; an abundant supply is available to those interested in history but lacking a trove of disposable income. I would’ve gone for the Yappese Rai but there was no way I’d get that home in a cab outside The Flintstones.


Yap Island ATM

I bought it almost as an afterthought when sourcing a gift for my father, who long ago was bitten by the numismatic bug. I’m not a collector, though will admit to a fondness for £2 coins, especially shiny ones.


My wife gives them to me. She’s so nice.

It’s cool being able to walk around with something in my pocket that a resident of these windy isles could have carried in his before the Dark Ages. (Did they have pockets back then? Do I need to look that up? Can I trust Wikipedia? Oh let’s, especially as they aren’t motivated by filthy lucre.) What might he have spent it on? A haircut? Small amphora of joy juice? Tip for the attendant at the baths, accompanied by a wink? I can only imagine. Which is kind of the point.


“Let’s play the fall of the Roman empire again”

Recently the Bank of England introduced a new fiver. Can’t say I’m a fan. It looks sharp, but it doesn’t like to be folded—a nonstarter for those of us who don’t bother with wallets. It’s also disconcertingly slippery. They say it’s good for the environment, so there’s that.


Bank of England governor showing off new note just before it slipped out of his hand

Peep Show aficionados may remember the rather icky episode when Jeremy is making a deposit at a sperm bank but has nothing in the way of visual stimulation. Desperate, he tries it on with Queen Elizabeth on the front of a £20 bill. When it flutters to the floor in the heat of passion, Sir Edward Elgar on the flip side spoils it for him. There was even a Facebook page devoted to this particular gag.


No caption necessary

The banknote featuring the quintessentially English composer on the back is no longer legal tender, though Liz’s ballroom eyes and a stirring rendition of Pomp and Circumstance might still be a potent aphrodisiac for some.


Now appearing on Netflix

They say power is the ultimate turn-on. I don’t know about that, but in order to be worth anything, money needs power behind it. Traditionally the face of that power has been stamped right on top.


The emperor always won the toss

That now pleasantly worthless old Roman coin of mine was later joined by a gift from my father: my inheritance, as he put it. One hundred trillion dollars, backed by the full faith and credit of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. While admiring the Chiremba Balancing Rocks, one is given to pondering the value of money and the state of the economy in general. It’s a whole lot of zeros.


It’s all worth about the same at this point

Cash money is rumoured to be on its way out anyway. The banks would certainly prefer it all be relegated to a museum. I rather hope it stays in circulation. I may not carry much of it, but it’s nice to know it’s there.

* for the purposes of this post. I seem to have misplaced it. I hope the parking garage didn’t get it.

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Big Gulp

The world awaits my seminal paper, In Defense of Mouthbreathers.

I don’t know about you, but I need a lot of air. It might have something to do with all my cycling, which instills the need to suck in oxygen at prodigious rates. Or it could be a vague feeling that my nose is filtering out the good stuff. Whatever the reason, I am not ashamed to admit to giving my lungs the biggest hole in my arsenal to inflate themselves.

My concern is that breathing using your mouth is too often tainted with negative connotations. As The Urban Dictionary puts it, a mouthbreather is

1. Literally, someone who lacks enough intelligence that they never learned to breathe through their nose.
2. A really dumb person.

When humans first acquired the power of speech, doubtless they quickly moved on to insults. “Why can’t you just yawn and be done with it?” said Lucy to the “handy” habilis painting her cave, ignoring the 1.2 million year gap.

RDH Magazine has this to say: “Mouth breathing affects the pH of the entire body… A low pH oral environment is not only corrosive to the teeth directly, but the acidic pH activates the acidophilic and acidogenic bacteria to set up housekeeping. Building a healthy biofilm in the presence of acidic saliva is nearly impossible. Acid begets acid.” Oh dear. Parenthetically, RDH, you don’t make it easy find out what those letters stand for. Rooting for Dental Hygiene?

“We know that breaking a habit is nearly impossible and starting a new habit is just as hard. And like it or not, one habit will be replaced by another, so finding an alternate habit is a good strategy.” Just when I was about to take up the harmonica.


How they used to “cure” mouthbreathers in unenlightened times

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Fam I am

I changed my name about a dozen years ago. I didn’t change it to anything as spiffy as, say, Mark Twain, or offbeat as Kate Winslet’s husband Mr Rocknroll, but it met the main criteria of being different from that which I’d spent 20 years vaguely dissatisfied with. (If the math doesn’t add up to my age, that’s because I wasn’t always bothered.) I did it because I could, and it was easy. Except for the explaining part.

How do you tell your father you’re discarding the family name, apparently dissing him and the line of fathers which begat ungrateful you? If you’re a girl getting hitched, it’s not an issue even in these days of fewer nées; patriarchy has its silver lining. Boys are expected to display the marque. That’s one reason for the extra enthusiasm with which cigars are handed out, at least in the movies.


“Eeny, meeny, miny, Moe. OK, you’re Moe. Don’t cry, your brother got stuck with Sue.”

I didn’t tell him at first, even going so far as to carefully remove all luggage tags when my parents would meet me at the airport for my annual visit to the homestead. But eventually it seemed prudent to gingerly let the cat out of the bag and hope for the realistic best, i.e., a shrug and a sad smile of acceptance. I honestly still don’t know how he took it; I don’t remember if his body language was mute with shock or I averted my eyes at the crucial moment. Other than a steady stream of perhaps-not-always offhand remarks which suggests it remains a sore spot, we’ve never discussed it in any depth. It helps to have cultivated a reputation for being [pick an adjective] odd/‘creative’/difficult.

It’s hard to gauge the importance of the name that’s been stuck on the birth certificate. On one hand it’s—sorry, papas everywhere—meaningless. On the other, it’s your bloody name, innit. Tends to crop up on a daily basis. Gets called over the loudspeaker, machine-printed in junk mail, chiselled onto your gravestone. In my case, constantly misspelled or at least mispronounced.

If I’d been born Native American and followed traditional conventions, my parents would’ve called me boy-who-cries-a-lot, thanks to colic. In my teens this might’ve then become hogs-mirror-with-comb, perhaps finally culminating in adulthood with naps-on-couch.


Not exactly a role model, but we all have our redeeming qualities

As it was, I went from something howmanyofme.com informs me only 28 other Americans shared, to a meeting hall of closer to 300.

The transition wasn’t too great of a lurch in the small family unit of me and my wife. She’d known me as my now official first name since the 80s, the initials my parents had bestowed having formed a perfectly serviceable moniker that happened to appeal.

I retained my middle name as a kind of keepsake. My new surname came more or less out of a hat, like my father’s, at least from the point of view of a zygote swimming in a universe of possibilities. (I know, a zygote doesn’t do much paddling. It’s more a wallflower waiting to blossom.)

My wife didn’t follow suit. There’s no reason she should have. She chose it; I didn’t. Who could have guessed she’d be landing on what was to be my maiden name.

Not long ago I started visiting my hometown on a regular basis via the local newspaper, which has been giving me space to write about life as an expat. Call it boy-who-crossed-pond. As a byline I chose my old name. It made sense; my parents and their friends would be reading. I wanted them to be able to say “Yeah, he’s ours” should they be pleased with the result, without resorting to tedious explanations. (On the flip side, should they feel the need to cringe, well, tough luck. Heh.) Though pen names are common enough, it’s an unnecessary obstacle in a conversation.

I’ve also reverted to my given name on Facebook. Not only is it easier for relatives who haven’t been kept apprised of my idiosyncrasies to process, it’s pleasing to feed data-hungry Zuckerbeasts white lies.

Ironically, as I have a bit of a lisp, my self-chosen name appears to be difficult to convey to anyone needing to take it down. “Fam?” I’m frequently asked over the phone. <Sigh>


Original art spotted in a gallery. Afford it I couldn’t.

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