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My Favourite Planet > Blogs > Edwin Drood's Column > November 2014
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19 November 2014
A rowing of ducks
This is the week in which, at the risk of being taken for one of those magazine programmes that carry general interest stories instead of hard news, Edwin presents a little potpourri of themes and ideas to delight your neurones instead of grappling with one big thing.

Endangered species?
A rowing of ducks at the Mysterious Edwin Drood's Column
Of course, I was as shocked as the rest of you to learn that there are only two million rats in New York City, instead of the healthy population of eight million we’d been led to believe. If we consider the plentiful food supply, the available living space (rent free and heated) and the traditional rodent-friendliness of much of NYC, we are unavoidably led to some interesting conclusions: either rats don’t like us as much as we thought (sorry, Pixar, I’m sure they’ve been trying) or rats prefer a quality of food and lodging that NYC cannot provide (Paris, peut-être?) or our rodent neighbours, much like humans in the same situation, are less libidinous than we expect them to be when all other conditions for a comfortable existence are met (such as sole control of remote, etc.).

Thus I can only conclude that if we could give rodents the good life, then birth rates would fall even further as their quality of life index rises. Our furry co-tenants will begin to find other cultural outlets infinitely more inspiring and enlivening than sex. Does this mean that if we let them move into the Waldorf Astoria (assuming they’re not already there) and dose them on Werner Herzog films and Lobster Thermidor at 3 am, they’ll soon become an endangered species … like the Germans?
He who baths last …
Oh, how wonderful to be back in a nation whose plumbing works as intended. Even a short stay in England (the country that invented modern plumbing in the 19th century, but has refused mulishly to develop that invention ever since) is a wearisome trial of one’s patience. Trying to get a toilet to flush is tantamount to starting a Model T Ford. After an exhausting cranking session, and too embarrassed to tell your host, you go meekly off and search for a bucket to fill.
He who baths last baths longest, you might think. Wrong. He will have no hot water whatsoever and thus either give up on the idea or get it over with very quickly. The generic English country house rations you to about five pints of this commodity per day. Even for this meagre quantity you will have to run the tap for about 10 minutes before your water, on its way from some ancient boiler at the opposite end of the building from the bathroom you have been assigned, finally reaches you. This waste of resources seems not to unduly concern the denizens of this damp island. If it leaves a little less steam for boiling cabbage, maybe this is even a good thing.

In addition, as Brits use only gravity to deliver their water, and gravity is somewhat wanting in our superficial century, your bath is delivered as a weak, lukewarm trickle. This trickle will quite suddenly go bonkers in a series of explosive noises, super-hot bursts and brown, iron-rich stutters, before mysteriously settling down to a moderate and moderately pure flow. At this point you put the plug in and start to undress. NB: Don’t try engaging the shower apparatus unless you are suicidal. However, by the time you’re naked as a worm and ready to step into a staggering two inches of water, your left big toe tells you that the bath is in fact stone cold. Sorry, your five pints were up two minutes ago. Please try again later.
A tale of two cities
I was invited to visit Berlin recently in the context of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the horrid wall in 1989. I well remember Berlin in those pre-re-unification years: the slightly disorienting sensation of being in a city administered by foreign powers, whose citizens were effectively imprisoned by a surrounding nation and yet, since they were not the ones footing the bill, nonetheless seemed rather carefree, like people permanently on holiday. Although everything in West Berlin ran with teutonic efficiency, it all had the whimsical air of a theme park, as if one had stumbled into the Truman Show. Meanwhile, just across that harsh divide, the dour and numbing greyness of the GDR left one in no doubt of the frightening impermanence of any accommodations negotiated with an enemy ideology.

Today the shoe is on the other foot. In this modern tale of two cities, the East is now the vibrant zone where almost anything seems possible, culturally, architecturally or economically; while the former allied powers’ western zone looks like a moth-eaten relic from the 1970s: its get up and go all gone, its bright façade of democratic certitude now faded into the mute pastels that once characterized its less fortunate twin, its parks and boulevards unkempt, its people less vibrant. A vital piece of twentieth century history has been mothballed and set aside for later study. In the mean time, east is definitely the new west.
Ignoble committee
Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, was recently heard to say that President Obama “ought to consider” returning his medal, including the “really nice” case it came in. Although there’s nothing official about this pronouncement, it is shark-bait to the circling hoards of right wing bloggers, who gleefully find themselves justified in their Obama = War Criminal assertions, and by a liberal Scandinavian, no less! Of course the senator from Illinois has let us all down, but let’s be honest: he was dealt a lousy hand by history and his predecessor, a hand which, with the advent of the so-called Islamic State and its ranks of head-severing fascists, has only got worse.

He’s damned if he pulls out and damned if he doesn’t, damned is he drones on and damned if he puts boots on the ground, damned if he tries to build a coalition of the distinctly unwilling and damned if he acts unilaterally, damned if he reaches out to Iran for come cooperation and damned if he doesn’t, damned if he stonewalls Putin and damned if he doesn’t. Members of a prize-awarding machine that perpetuates the reputation of a dynasty founded on the making of high explosives designed to blow giant holes in the sub-surface of Flanders and then fertilize those cratered fields with splattered flesh and bone should be the first to understand the ironies of modern history and, when in doubt, shut up!
More mystical children, less thuggery
While on the subject of Islamic jihadists with knives to grind, I’d like to found a new organization, the AAA, or Aardvarks Against Acronyms. Why aadvarks you might ask? Because they’re the most harmless of beasts, we all know that a little aardvark never hurt anyone. Basically the society would be a refuge for all those who, like me, have reached acronym saturation. All acronyms and acronym-themed material would be avoided, even this paragraph. ISIS would once again be The Isis, that lovely stretch of the Thames running through the back lawns of Oxford University, or maybe Bob Dylan’s “mystical child”, or even that ancient and mysterious goddess of the Nile. Those ugly killers in Iraq would be referred to in full, as the disgusting Islamo-fascist, neck-severing thugs they truly are. All other nomenclature has been a spectacular failure: in ISIS we lost a perfectly good acronym for any number of neat things like analytical software or research institutes, while ISIL sounds more like a throat medicine than something that would cut yours completely. And as for the French government’s silly attempt to establish the term DAESH … that falls on my ears with all the seriousness of a new washing powder or something Bertie Wooster might say when he runs out of fivers.

But the French have other problems in this regard. The disgusting Islamo-fascist, neck-severing thugs seem to be enjoying surprising popularity in the land of Marianne and Monsieur Hulot. It turns out that homegrown Muslims can hardly wait to get out to the Middle East and start hacking away. Two of them have already been identified as active perpetrators in mass execution videos. Why are converts always the most radical, aggressive and/or boorish? Don’t get me started on why I changed over to Mac …

On the same grim note (Islam, not Apple), as I write this on the 19th November 2014, 219 Nigerian schoolgirls have now been in captivity, and probably enforced marriage, for a total of 219 days. It is pointless to say that “the West” or “African governments” or “the international community” is not doing enough to free them. There is NOTHING anyone can do, because the poor girls are being held by disgusting Islamo-fascist, neck-severing thugs, who are quite immune to anything civilized folk would consider to be reasonable dialogue, the spirit of frank negotiation or any normal feelings of common humanity.
Global whatever
It seems climate change is going to keep us on our toes with all kinds of freak weather. I heard that today’s average temperature in Anchorage, Alaska was a balmy 8° Celsius, while way down south in Alabama they were buttoning up and battening down with a local cold snap record of minus 10°. The news from Alabama might be good, if your name is Vladimir. Mr Putin has bet the farm on stable oil prices to finance his ridiculously antiquated total Slavic territorial oblation policy, formerly known as RATSTOP. I just ordered my share of the fossil future for a silly price of only €0.70 cents per litre. This will not keep Vladimir in saddle soap (or do real men ride bare back as well as bare-chested?), let alone finance his Baltic ambitions, and the price of natural gas is not doing much better for him. Economics may yet win this one for democracy and the rule of law.
O tempora, O mores!
The last bastion of the manual gearbox has fallen. The stunning new Porsche 991 series GT3 is only available with PDK transmission. According to the AAA, this is an acronym for unbelievably fast-shifting but fundamentally anti-fun and anti driving-skill work of witchcraft and means that the utterly brilliant previous generation 997 series GT3 was indeed the high water mark of its kind and rang the death knell of the 911-with-manual-gearbox, at least in a track-day context. It is this author’s anything but humble opinion that any pocket plutocrat who buys one of these fantastic, invigorating and visceral vehicles solely as an investment to stick in his garage and gloat over, should be sentenced to a 30-year commute through Clapham in a 1979 Austin Allegro … beheading would, in this exceptional case, be far too humane.

© Edwin Drood, November 2014

Illustration: Shop window, Berlin, Germany. Photo: © David John
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