pergamond: ([Random] kitten // rar)

Canada has ditched the penny. 

This made significant economic sense but made many customers in 'Dollarama' very angry. 

The issue was that Canadian's smallest currancy denomination now costs more to produce than it's actually worth. That, and it really shouldn't be named after the subdivision of the British pound when the Canadian dollar is divided into cents. And it's not even accepted by vending machines.

In short, it was a bronze coloured abomination. 

So in May 2012, the penny birth rate dropped to zero and last month the Royal Canadian Mint stopped distributing them, although they remain legal tender for anyone who was struggling to find ways to spend them.

You might think that --in the face of there being no 1 cent coin-- all prices should be given in multiples of 5c. And you'd be right... except for the tax.

Like the USA, Canadian prices are shown minus the sales tax, which in Ontario is a very unworkable 13%. Quite why prices are shown without the tax included remained a perpetual mystery to me during my time in North America. I rather thought that the point of a price tag was to tell customers how much they had to pay.

But no. That idea was clearly ridiculous.

As a result of this last minute addition, prices are rung up in the till as normal, usually coming to a price that isn't 5c compatible. The cashier therefore rounds to the nearest 5c, with the argument being that it all works out in the end. With the maximum loss being 2c, most of the population are singularly unfazed...

… with the exception of the patrons at 'Dollarama'.

Admittedly, with a name that reflected the average price of goods in the store, it is perhaps less surprising that 2 cents is a rather bigger deal here than elsewhere in town. Still, I was taken aback when it took over 20 minutes to buy a tube of toothpaste because the two people in front of me were protesting over missing pennies. A maths lesson concerning rounding ensued. I give each patron 3/10

And declare that 50%. 

pergamond: ([She-rah] Triumphant)

When I moved to Japan, I sold my car. This was a SAD EVENT. 

My car was a cheerful yellow sunbeam of a VW Beetle that was capable of lifting the mood on even the darkest of days. This was especially good since --at 10 years old-- it started to become the source of some of those dark days as it went through a series of faults that made the CAA regret ever offering me automobile support. 

Regardless of my newly acquired familiarity with tow trucks, I was sad to lose it. Or at least, sad not to replace it with a younger, sexier model.

Since Sapporo is a large city with good public transport, the practical need to own a car is low. That, and my practical ability to progress through the steps needed to buy a car in Japanese is also low. 

Then there is the snow, which makes locating your vehicle a genuine challenge once you turn your back for longer than about 6 hours. Combined with only a half-hearted attempt by the city to clear the roads, this results in some people giving up on their cars entirely in the winter months, letting them become snow covered car cakes in their driveway. Others set their children to shovelling out the vehicle, probably with the promise that they can play computer games when they finish. 

Around May. 

Since it would be deeply disappointing to spend six months digging out a car only to discover it wasn't yours and it was difficult to hot wire, I decided to walk to the city streets. Yet, there was something missing. Something bright and cheerful and … sunflowery.

Last weekend I found the solution in a Dr Martens store; something to still take me around the city in a shade of sun beaming yellow amusement. 

And yes, this is also the message I am giving my students. And the world. And you right now.

pergamond: ([PoT] Eiji // victory!)

Today, a vending machine paid me 50 cents to take a cherry flavoured vitamin water, but first I had to pay an assassin to fight it with a knife. 

This wasn't how I had planned to get a drink. Despite the many criticisms about salaries in academia, I had intended to take the conventional route of actually paying for my beverage. In this story, the part of the drink will be played by a bottle of flavoured water, which cost $2. 

Fun fact #1: $2 coins in Canada are called 'toonies'. $1 coins are 'loonies' which leads to some mildly offensive conversations. 

I took a toonie from my wallet and attempted to insert it into the machine's coin slot. I failed. Since this isn't usually the type of task that tests a person's skill level, I bent my knees and tried to look through the slot to see what was happening. Wedged in the narrow gap, I could just make out the metal edges of a quarter and a loonie. 

Fun fact #2: A 25 cent coin is called a 'quarter' in both the USA and Canada. In the USA, the reverse side of certain quarters depicts the US state in which it was made. According to wikipedia, the number of people attempting to collect a quarter from each of the 50 states is so high that it is the most successful numismatic program in history, giving the US government an extra $3 billion from people taking the coins out of circulation. 

Returning to the topic of our trapped currency, I gave an inward cry of exasperation. What kind of stupid person tries to shove two coins into the machine at once, causing it to jam? CLEARLY an undergraduate. Bet they were from biology. 

My first attempt to remedy this problem was just to force my own toonie into the machine, thereby dislodging the other coins. This proved fruitless since nothing moved.

Attempt #2 was to use my room keys to try and wiggle the coins free. This was slightly more productive and --after a few moments jiggling-- there was a clunk and the machine registered that I'd paid it 25 cents. What was odd, however, was that the 25 cent piece I could see wedged against the loonie had not moved. 

Exactly how much money was there trapped in this tiny gap?!

What sort of person keeps feeding a machine money without reporting a fault like this?!

At that moment a graduate student from my department appeared, saw my dilemma and announced the solution was paper. Apparently, this was not a new issue. He disappeared to return holding up a folded sheet with which he attempted the same trick I had with my keys. 

Nothing happened. Today's problem was serious. 

Fortunately, it transpired any good theoretical astrophysics student would come armed to his office with an all-in-one knife tool kit. Feeling that group meetings had changed since my day, I watched in amazement as steadily larger knifes were used in ways that would censor this post if described. Finally the machine capitulated (though you'll prove nothing in court because torture makes an unreliable witness). With a second series of clunks, two quarters, a toonie and a loonie fell into the machine's change dispenser. I paid my knife assassin off with a loonie (grad students come cheap) and inserted the toonie back into the cleared coin slot. 

 Where it gets stuck.

A quick stabbing later and I had my beverage plus 50 cents profit. As I walked away down the corridor, I thought about calling the machine maintenance number and reporting the problem.

Still thinking. 

pergamond: ([Toy Story] Buzz // wibble)

The tags for cows are changing. No more will our Canadian bovine friends accessorize with a triangular green ear ornament detailing their identification number, but instead will model a yellow round disc. However, cows already adorned with last year's fashion piece must not have it removed --since that is illegal-- but rather must have the latest earring added to their attire.

These cows are clearly going to be punk cows.

How did I know this detail about livestock imports? Because I was in the office of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency ...

... waiting for them to approve the export papers for my cat.

May I just say that going to this particular organization for my little furry non-consumable pet kitty was highly disturbing? I distracted myself by reading a leaflet on compensation for Government destroyed animals. Wonderful.

Mercifully, the not-for-consumption cat was not present; all that was required was me and the paperwork for her import into Japan. This was particularly good since I wasn't sure I could carry both. The folder containing the relevant documents was bulging at the seams. I glanced down at the top-most sheet of paper. In English and Japanese, the heading read:

"Application for import: dogs, cat, foxes, raccoons and skunks."

Now, it might be just me, but it seems a little surprising that the import of foxes, raccoons and skunks is sufficiently common to warrant inclusion on a standard form. I made a mental note to keep this sheet handy when I was on the plane. If my neighbor objected to being seated beside a cat, I could point out that should he complain and move, he might be located by a skunk.

At length, I was called through to the main office to meet with the Government vet. He stamped my paperwork and told me that he had wanted to be an astronomer when he was small. I told him I had wanted to be a vet for years of my childhood. We both eyed each other, trying to access who had made the right choice.

Then the stamping was done, the papers returned to me with three additional copies. I tied an elastic band around my folder and stuffed it in my backpack. One shiny bright kitty, ready for consumption. I mean, export. 
pergamond: ([Bleach] Ichigo // -.-)

"Why didn't you get married?"

You know, it wasn't so much the question that bothered me, but the tense. Namely, the fact it was in the past. Quite clearly the message was:

"Why didn't you get married when you had the chance, since now you're waaaaaay over the hill so there's no point in even CONSIDERING it at your age."

Frankly, I'm somewhat indifferent to the prospect of marriage. It's expensive, divorce doubly so and I just downright hate the idea of having to move any of my books to make room for someone else's lesser tomes.

BUT. That wasn't the point.

I looked down at the five year old as she sucked on her special curly straw the waiter at the Italian restaurant had brought with her drink. I should mention, this was the SAME 5 YEAR OLD who insisted on looking at a leaflet on complications with wisdom teeth extractions while I was in the dental waiting room waiting to have mine taken out. Basically, I deeply regret this child learning to talk. She was also going to get a way cooler dessert than me.

I debated what my reply should be. I contemplated telling her that marriage was hardly a requirement in today's society. That men were inferior beings with bad taste in books. Or pointing out that her mum was divorced and contemplating turning the coal bunker into a burial chamber for her dad, so really it led to nothing but hard work in crime concealment. I thought about saying I preferred women, furries, anime characters or her dessert, that a piece of paper wasn't necessary to prove you loved someone, that I was too young for marriage and no one under 85 knew enough to consider it, that marriage often led to children and she was currently THE LIVING EXAMPLE OF WHY I DIDN'T WANT TO GO DOWN THAT ROUTE.

Fortunately at that moment my dinner arrived. It was fettuccine with sausage. I speared a small sausage, smiled and bit down.

"I just haven't met the right person yet."
pergamond: ([Tamora Pierce] Circle // Tris)

The officially bilingual status of Canada results in a rather more entertaining education system than that in countries with more decisiveness. Outside Quebec, schools operate in English but offer a "French immersion" stream which apparently involves classes been taught in French, rather than the pupils being dipped in red wine and cheese. This is taken up by franco- and anglophone parents alike to allow their children the chance of being bilingual.

In Quebec, the situation is a little more complex, due to the mixed backgrounds of the population. The province has two publicly funded school boards that offer education in English and French. Originally, these were divided according to religion, with the English-speaking side being Protestant and the French, Catholic. However, this system was later renamed to better reflect the true nature of the split.

By default, a child in Quebec must attend a French-language public school but exceptions are made if you can prove your family has already defected to the dark side. For instance, you may go an English school board institute if you have previously attended an English-speaking school elsewhere in Canada, if you have a sibling being educated in English anywhere in Canada or if one parent did their elementary schooling in English.

When growing up in Montreal, my friend had a choice of school systems, since she had one officially francophone parent and one anglophone. Her school was selected based on academic merit and she joined the English school board stream.... and then promptly enrolled in French immersion.

"You decided not to go to a French-speaking school, but to go to an English school and be taught in French?" I asked, just to completely clarify the situation.

"Yes... but I had more classes in English than if I had gone to a French school," she attempted to justify this completely preposterous statement.

Apparently, the French immersion stream results in half the day being taught in French and half in English, giving a truly bilingual education. I admit, I was quite envious. Not that I think I would have enjoyed it at all at the time, but that is what adulthood is about: reaping the benefits of a tortured childhood.

While this system sounded highly beneficial to all and sundry, my friend warned of its pitfalls. The richer population of Quebec tend to be English speakers who have moved into the province. Because of this, the English school board is better supported by the parents which has resulted in the schools being generally of a higher standard than their French counterparts. Such a division increases the rift already present which is what caused this whole divide in the first place.

Catch 22: created by adults, maintained by 5 year olds.
pergamond: ([Random] kitten // rar)


May I just say that snow villages are cold?

Well, d'uh! --you might reply, if you were feeling rather mean-- water does have to freeze for this venture to be successful. Did you expect to saunter around huts made of ice in your bikini?

Like you wouldn't enjoy it too if that were possible.

Montreal's snow village is on the island of Sainte-Hélène, just off the edge of the Old Town harbour and easily reachable by metro. The winter had been so mild this year that initially we were concerned the snow village might not be still standing. Indeed, there were signs of deterioration with several of the rooms showing evidence of small roof renovations and a single large collapsed pile of snow at the edge of the village that stood as a prediction of the doom to come. That said, most of the buildings were in excellent shape and the breeze that peeled off their icy walls helped keep both constructions and visitors nicely chilled.

The main buildings in the village were a hotel, bar and church. Surrounding them were a number of little one-bedroom huts that were likely part of the hotel. It was possible to spend the night in one of these quarters but, with prices starting at $250 per person, we did not consider it. To be honest, I'm not totally sure I would have enjoyed the experience. An ice bed is all very well, but what about the bathrooms?!

As a visitor to the village, you could walk into the hotel and wander through the rooms. The standard set-up was a double bed --consisting of a normal mattress on a bed frame made of ice-- and an ice chair. Many of the rooms though, had a theme. There was one with a giant ice hockey player sculpture (naturally a team member of the 'Canadiens', Montreal's home team) with a replica of the Stanley cup at the foot of the bed. Another room had a solid ice racing car and a third, musical instruments frozen into panes of ice embedded in the walls. One room with two double beds had a trough of ice cubes between the mattresses and roses at the head. It was either a chaste way of spending the night together or the scene from a vampire horror movie. Either way, there was clearly no point in lingering.

The most beautiful building was the church. Ornately carved on the outside, the inside was full of transparent icy glass pews and a wide semi-circular alter with high backed ice chairs. The only non-ice features in any of these buildings were the mattresses in the hotel and the odd fur rug thrown across a chair. Without those, sitting was usually regretted and not easily reversed.

Naturally, as a group of four highly educated adults, we admired the skill and artistry of the craftsmanship.... and at the first opportunity, stole a wooden sled from a careless child.

The sleds, which were scattered around the village for visitors' use, resembled that of a dog sled. They had a single seat up front and a high back with long runners the person pushing could stand on once you got moving. Steering proved to be slightly challenging, but Canada has socialised health care so there was a limit to what (permanent) damage we could achieve.

When we returned to our Bed & Breakfast, I had a hot bath. The ice hotel might be impressive, but you can't do that....
pergamond: ([Tamora Pierce] Circle // Tris)


Notre Dame Basilica is set in the heart of Montreal's old town. With its twin bell towers, you could be forgiven for thinking that the name comes from its famous Parisian counter-part. You may even be right, but no one will admit to it; not wikipedia and not the Sound & Light show we attended on Saturday evening.

The flier for this event shows the church nave decked with triangular sails upon which artfully coloured blobs were projected. In a second image, the sails were gone and red and blue lights illuminated different parts of the ornately carved facades. I was therefore expecting the acoustical and elaborately designed interior of the church to be taken advantage of in an abstract interpretation of thundering music.

What I got was a history lesson. Which was somewhat of a surprise.

In 1657, the French settlement of 'Ville Marie' was founded in the new land and with it, a small chapel. The small colony faced difficult times along with their European compatriots up and down the coast but eventually it expanded enough to build a hospital and the chapel was re-housed inside it.

The colony continued to grow and finally in 1672, it got its own parish church which was given the name 'Notre Dame'. The population did not stop there and it reached the stage where thousands of the village worshippers were forced to gather outside the church's doors each Sunday. A new building was needed and an Irish architect by the name of James O'Donnell was brought in for the job. O'Donnell was residing in New York and was originally a Protestant, but converted to Catholicism on his deathbed, quite possibly so he could be buried in his own church. He lies in the crypt alone, so possibly no one else believed in his change of allegiance either. The show mentions that O'Donnell's remains lie beneath your feet, but does not mention his abrupt conversation; wikipedia being a far more reliable source for such juicy details.

O'Donnell lived to see his church open in 1829, but his death in 1830 came eleven years before the construction of its first bell tower. Until that time, the bell was rung from the old church building that was still situated in front of its replacement. While undoubtedly impressive, O'Donnell's design was flawed by his choice for lighting. Behind the alter, there was a large window whose light blinded the faithful who sat in the middle pews. The --undoubtedly more guilt ridden-- parishioners who had slunk to the side were shrouded in darkness. Feasibly no one in the congregation had a problem with this but nevertheless, the interior was redesigned between 1872-79 by Victor Bourgeau, who also designed the intricate pulpit which winds like spiral treehouse to the left of the alter. The front of the church is now covered by an elaborate wooden façade and light enters the church from stained glass side windows. From the outside, you can see an extension now backs onto that part of the church, so presumably the old window is completely bricked up. The interior is undoubtedly very impressive, even if one of my friends proclaimed the pillars to look like Christmas wrapping paper.

All of this was told to us through narration interspersed by --it must be said-- somewhat dubious and sycophantic actors. That aside, the content, which highlighted Notre Dame's history intertwined with that of Montreal's, was extremely interesting. Images of the early settlement were also shown on the sail screens and, when points about the church's architecture were discussed, lights lit the relevant part of the décor.

In 1982, Pope Jean Paul II visited Montreal and raised the status of Notre Dame to a basilica. It also was the location of Celine Dion's wedding in 1994. The show mentioned the former, but not the latter. No prizes for guessing where I got the second fact from.
pergamond: ([Shrek] Puss-in-boots // how can you res)

It transpires my brain only has a single language button. When 'off', I speak English and when 'on' I speak ... Foreign. For the majority of my life, 'Foreign' has corresponded to what French I managed to recall from school. Now --I discovered-- it produces Japanese. Given that I'm currently visiting Montreal, the largest city in the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec, this is a trace unfortunate.

It is also rather surprising to the shop keepers who have been addressed in broken Japanese by a blond haired, blue eyed girl with a British accent.

Since the official languages of Canada are both English and French, it is the law that all government services must be conducted in both languages. In Ontario, this equates to everything being in English with the occasional nod to this rule in the form of a French stream in schools (largely taken up by English-speaking kids wishing to become bilingual), bilingual tourist information sheets and the odd sign post. In Montreal, it is totally different.

Shop fronts and road signs are in French, while the chatter on the streets is a mix of both languages, with French dominating over the English. Two of the city's major universities are split; the Université de Montreal operates predominantly in French while McGill University lectures in English. Wherever we travelled in the city, waiters and shop assistants greeted us first in French, before switching seamlessly into accented English.

Interestingly, Canadian French is substantially different from European French, although the latter is easily understood. The differences have been said to be greater than that between UK and USA English, but less than German and Swiss German. Somewhat ironically, Canadian French is closer to the early French language of the 15th - 17th century than European French, which has evolved away from the original pronunciations.

The reason for the francophone pocket of Canada is historical: In 1760, the French colony in Quebec was taken over by the British. This was about as popular as any visitor to Europe might expect and, in the resulting resistance, a compromise was reached with the 'Act of Quebec'. This recognised French Canadian distinctiveness and allowed them to keep their religion (Catholic), local laws and language.

This movement had an on/off success with the pressure for autonomy still present today in the form of the Quebec sovereignty movement. Supporters of Quebec's independence claim that the province's best interests cannot be recognised in the predominantly anglophone Canada. Associated with this is the concern that the French language will become overwhelmed, taking a major part of Quebec's identity and heritage with it. This has led to claims of discrimination against Anglo-Quebecers with the terms 'pure laine' (pure wool) used to denote Quebec residents of French descent.

After the initial excitement of "Wow! That sounds just like Harry Potter!" had worn off, I was a little concerned about our reception in Montreal. Would we have to manage with our limited French for fear of mortally offending the entire province every time we ordered a cup of tea? Would English be understood, but only with a particularly bad grace? Or would we be declared 'mudbloods' and banned from Hogwarts forever?!

It turned out we need not have worried. Montreal is a very friendly city and everyone I have met has been happy to converse in either French or English. Of course... this might have been born out of relief that I was no longer attempting to ask the location of the toilet in Japanese.
pergamond: ([Disney] Sleeping Beauty // rooting for)
So the Sunday before last I visited a sex shop. It was either that or church and --when you think about it-- they're near enough the same.

... you all thought about it, didn't you? You sick sick people.

I was after chocolate body paint. I'd explain, but frankly, you'd be disappointed. I only used it on my face during a brief iPhone photo shoot with another girl. Hockey jerseys were involved. Then we sent the photos to a minister.

See? The church connection again. He now has plans to leave the country. I'm denying any connection.

As it happened, the sex shop was unnecessary. I could have picked up the goods at a local Shoppers Drug Mart (equivalents to CVS, Walgreens or Boots depending on your aspirin buying location). Still, I think I could have been forgiven for not thinking of that location first.

Our body paints were in the tame section of the shop, along with more interesting versions of board games I played as a child. Other parts of the shop sold items that I'd never consider buying (or at least not blogging about buying) and harness swings which I totally would. I wondered if anyone other than me would believe I just wanted to hang out in one like a seven year old at a playground. I concluded no.

After the make-shift photo shoot, my friend and I went to the mall. We were watching the superbowl later than day and so figured face paints would not look out of place. Besides, it was surprisingly difficult to clean off. I wanted a prepaid sim card for my iPhone and headed for the appropriate store. As I did so, I passed a mirrored pillar and concluded an unfortunate fact:

There was really no mistaking that I was wearing chocolate body paint.

In the apartment, the paint hadn't looked any different from normal, non-consumable, face paints but in the bright mall lights the chocolatey goodness was revealed in all its edible glory. In five minutes time, I was to become pretty certain that the sales representative at Telus Mobility had noticed this as well.

I, however, needed a sim card and I wasn't going to be distracted. This guy would look me in the eye, keep a straight face and explain to me exactly how many picture messages I could get for their plan.

He managed. Just.

Any apprehension I might have had regarding returning to the store vanished while I watched the superbowl. A 31 year old with two streaks of body paint on her face can't really compete with Madonna and a host of centurion guards.
pergamond: ([Blackadder] You cannot be serious.)
"This passport was issued a few days ago. Why was that?"

Um. Because I needed a new one? Seriously, what sort of question was that? And how did I answer it without sounding like I was talking to a two year old and not a burly Canadian border guard?

I shrugged and tried to arrange my features into something that less implicative of 'WTF you moron?!'

"It needed to be renewed over Christmas."

There look, I spanned that out to a seven word sentence none of which were hamsters or elderberries.

"Are you gainfully employed in the UK?"

"No, I work in Japan."

I instantly regretted my words. The passport the border control guard held was a pristine virgin document, unsullied by any hands except those of the country from which is was forged and ....

... look, the point is it didn't contain a Japanese visa.

This wasn't a problem was far as Japan were concerned. In my backpack was my dog-eared cancelled passport which contained the still in-date visa for my job overseas. Unlike for American visas which have to be paid like a high-profile ransom to be transferred between passports, Japanese visas could chill in the old document until their own expiry date rolled around. The problem was, how much talking would I have to do to convince this border guard of that? Especially given his experience outside of Canadian bureaucracy would probably be with the neighbouring country of .... yeah. You see the problem.

I braced myself for a long hard wait. I was pretty sure that, had this been America, I probably wouldn't be making my flight out in a week's time. I'd be held in the country indefinitely JUST TO BE SURE I didn't stay there forever.

The border guard blinked at me. "Japan?"

I managed a tight smile. "Yeah."

A Brit coming from the UK into Canada with a empty passport, claiming she worked in Japan.

The guy burst out laughing and tossed my passport back at me. "Through you go!"

Maybe no one would ever make up a story that crazy. Maybe he decided he never wanted to know. I love you, Canada.

Kawaii

Jun. 13th, 2011 08:33 am
pergamond: ([Random] kitten // rar)
As my time in Canada was now drawing to a close, my advisor invited our research group over to his house for a BBQ. Among the guests was a Japanese friend of mine who brought along his three year old son. Feeling this was the perfect victim on which to try out my very basic-level Japanese language skills, I approached him holding my advisor's kitten.

"これは小さいねこです。かわいいですね。"
This is a small cat. It's cute, isn't it?

"かわいくないです。”
It's not cute.

"....."

Where does one even go from there?


pergamond: ([xkcd] Canada)
So here's the thing Canada; I feel you're undervaluing the 20s. The positive 20s in centigrade I mean; I know you got the negative ones covered. Weather for you is all about extremes and I've noticed that your year seems to go something like this:

Snow, snow, snow, too cold for snow, snow, snow, frozen snow on ground, thaw, bigger thaw, snow cleared, surprise! snowpocalypse!, thaw.

This is typically followed by two weeks over which the same volume of snow is dropped on us again but in the form of water.

Then KA-BAM! It's the mid-30s and I have to hide in the dark coolness of my basement as if 'Twilight' was my favourite novel. In truth, Canada, I preferred the Harry Potter books and the wizards got to go outside all the time. All. The. Time.

What I am trying to tell you, Canada, is just because I am going to be 31 this year, you don't have to beat me. Perhaps you feel intimidated by the USA working in Fahrenheit? Is Buffalo laughing at you, saying that temperatures over there are reaching 100 and you can't even get mid-way to triple figures? You shouldn't feel bad, Canada. Remember, they have to pay to get their sunburn treated.

So next time you wonder how much water can be extracted through the skin of an average Canadian resident, pause a moment. You don't have to always stay on a trend to the very top; it's cool to be 20.
pergamond: (Default)
There comes a time in everybody's life when it is desirable to make your cat radioactive.

For many, it is a feeling that a remake of the 'spiderman' movies could be a real hit with one obvious improvement. For others, it stems from a dream to get even with the neighbour's newspaper-chewing dog. For one of my friends, the source was his cat developing an over-active thyroid.

Ramses --known as 'Sir Ramses' by the people who cared for him over Christmas and 'pussy' by his family's newest addition-- had developed hyperthyrodism; a condition caused by tumours (not necessary malignant) on the thyroid gland which leads to an overproduction of hormone. To emphasise his displeasure at this condition, Ramses underlined the inconvenience by having an allergic reaction to every medication designed to treat the problem and ended up in the veterinary hospital. The suggested solution was a dose of radioactive iodine which is absorbed by the thyroid and kills off the excess cells. It only needs to be performed once for a permanent cure. 

There is no mention in the veterinary guidelines of a treated cat morphing into a immensely powerful super villain but, hey, I was optimistic. Especially since said cat was not living in my house. (Though if he appeared at the door, my Tallis could totally take him -- it's what she's been preparing for all these years.)

The 'make your own glow in the dark cat' procedure took place at a hospital 90 minutes drive away. Sick people went in the front, cats were wheeled on a trolley through the back. The nurse who appeared to collect Ramses eyed my car with disapproval.

"When you collect your cat, you shouldn't bring the baby," she informed us, nodding at my smallest passenger who had come along to say goodbye to 'pussy'. "He'll still have quite a high radiation count and that is a very confined space."

Woman, size isn't everything! I covered my car's wing mirrors so it could not hear such comments.

Iodine has a half-life of eight days. Since Ramses ended up staying at the hospital two weeks, he was down to roughly a quarter of his original radiation level by the time we collected him in a baby-free car. Had he been human, there would have been no further guidelines concerning his health. As a cat, however, there was a list of rules that included storing his kitty litter for a further week. Apparently, the radiation levels were still high enough to trigger the alarms at the rubbish dump.

It was after dropping the cat off at the hospital that we all visited the large cats at Killman Zoo. It's good to be prepared.
pergamond: ([Bleach] Rukia // fed up)

"This is a front wheel drive?"

"Mmmhmm."

Chunk. Chunk. Chunk. I watched dispiritedly as the front half of my car was lifted into position behind the tow truck. Resignedly, I noted that this trip was not going to end in a hockey game as originally planned.

I had only driven about ten minutes when the problem started; a juddering from the engine that shook the car. My engine warning light came on and started flashing. I didn't actually know that light could flash but, under the circumstances, I felt a conservative translation would be 'STOP OR YOU WILL DIE'. I bounced into a parking lot and optimistically tried shutting everything down and then turning it back on. Hey, I was a Microsoft Windows user too once. The resulting vibration might have been a seat feature if the car felt remotely safe to drive.

I called the CAA.

I rode with the tow truck across town to the VW garage, resentfully eyeing all the other vehicles around us.

"If we see another yellow beetle, could we just stop and switch them over?" I asked sadly as I spotted a grey bug parked by the curb.

"No problem. I know a guy who'll get you a set of keys for it for $150."

.... all in all, it was probably a good thing we didn't spot car like mine. I wasn't sure what my bill from the garage was going to be, but I was fairly certain it wasn't going to fall below $150.

The price of the repair was a particular concern. In all likelihood, I would be selling the car by the autumn and, at 10 years old, it wasn't going to be worth all that much. An added complication was that I had brought it into the country on a temporary import, so it would be preferable to sell it back in the USA rather than pay tax and duty on it in Canada. That meant that it had to be able to reach the border. I didn't like the idea of pushing.

I sat anxiously at the garage while I debated what my cut-off sum was; the amount at which I run from the room, denying all knowledge of having ever owned a car or evening knowing how to drive. I decided it was somewhere close to $1000. Around the price a serious engine malfunction would probably cost. I knotted my shoe laces tighter.

Miraculously, it turned out to be the ignition coil. Not cheap to fix, but not $1000 either. What was more, the garage had one in stock and fixed it within the hour. I had been hesitant about going to the VW dealership; as a general rule they are more expensive that a generic garage. The fact they were open until 8pm, looked at my car immediately and fixed it on the spot made it all worth while. The only bad news they gave me was that my spark plugs and wires also were showing wear and the oxygen sensor (emissions detector thingo) also needed replacing 'in the next few months'.

I'm pretty confident that'll mean after September.

Meow

May. 15th, 2011 10:02 am
pergamond: ([Random] kitten // rar)

There are several surprising things about Killman Zoo.

Firstly, it is home to one of the largest collections of big cats in Ontario.

Secondly, despite this first point, it has almost no signposting. My GPS unit point blank didn't believe it existed and tried taking us to a school instead; the only location of note it could detect in the rural fields around Hamilton's tiny airport. Google maps did acknowledge the zoo's existence and took us down a rough gravel track where we eventually saw a small square sign directly opposite its entrance. The website for the zoo describes it as "truly one of Ontario's best-kept secrets". Evidently, they're completely serious about that.

Thirdly, several of the cages contained two cats of different species. A female lion and tiger shared a run and a cougar with a lion. Everyone seemed okay with this....

Finally, it has possibly the most unfortunate name for a place containing large carnivorous animals. Since its founder was a man named Murry Killman, the origin of said name is understandable, but I think in such a circumstance I might have changed my name to Willnotkillman.

The animals are housed in cages that look like they've been cobbled together out of salvaged wood. In fact, the whole area has the feel of a animal rescue centre, except for the fact the pens contained GIANT MAN EATING CATS rather than, you know, raccoons. On the other hand, maybe Hamilton is frequently plagued by wild jaguars and the zoo is just very good at rounding them up. It would explain why the local Canadian football team is known as the Tiger-cats.

In addition to lions, tigers, cougars, jaguars and panthers, the zoo is home to a bear, emus, pigs, turkeys and a whole bunch of bunny rabbits. Evidently, there had been some concern for the fate of said fluffy bunnies, since there were large signs all around the zoo stating 'we do not use live prey'. Since there was one pen that was labelled 'African porcupine' but now seemed to consist only of rabbits, this precaution might have been introduced for the reverse reason than most would presume. 

The cages themselves appeared not to be terribly big which left you with the mixed feelings of pleasure at being so close to the animals mingled with concern for their welfare. However, a closer inspection showed that the cages interlinked to give a more respectable sized run, and each cage had a door into one of the large open areas that were alternately occupied by the zoo's inhabitants. Nevertheless, the website indicates that not everyone is satisfied with this solution since it lists warnings to PETA and Zoo Check that Killman Zoo is private property.  To me, the cats looked healthy and one suspects if they were very unhappy, those cages wouldn't hold them for long. Undoubtedly though, any such containment is a hard moral call.

With me on this trip were a couple of friends and their eight-month old son. While we all admired the cats, the baby's all time favourite site was .... a tree. This was likely due to the meanness of his parents in not letting him stroke the large tiger. With one hand on the tree bark, he looked at me and grinned.'

"Mu-mu-muuuummm."

 I raised an eyebrow. I see the logic kiddo, but your generalisation is too great.
pergamond: ([Tamora Pierce] Circle // Tris)
In addition to evil old biddies who think my idea of a fun evening is to have my car breakdown on the sidewalk, there is another lady who frequently passes by my house. She is short with thin greying hair that is cropped to chin level. Her clothes are usually baggy and slightly ill-assorted and she speaks in a pre-occupied manner. She looks to be in her forties and despite seeing her regularly in the same place, I have often wondered if she has somewhere to live.

Regardless of her situation, she is always friendly and treated my stuck car debacal with a great deal more sympathy than the afore mentioned evil biddy. Once she told me she owned a yellow car too. I strongly suspected this was an equally friendly bare-faced lie.

This evening on the way back from work, I saw her not on my road, but near the highway. Crossing the road to head home, I greeted her and asked how she did. I recieved the usual vague answer of "fine, fine", followed by:

"I suppose I can walk back home with you."

I replied that of course she could, took my headphones from my ears and fell into step with her. I noted she was shivering, despite a large sweater and I asked if she was cold, adding that at least the weather had become warmer the last few days. She agreed and started talking to herself in a low tone with words I couldn't make out. We had not gone many steps when her pace slowed and she stopped.

"I think I'm going to walk the other way now."

I should emphasise that this road was near absolutely nothing. Walk twenty minutes and you would reach the cluster of houses and shops belonging to Westdale village, the other side of which the University was situated. Twenty minutes in the opposite direction would see you in downtown Hamilton. An incredibly slow pace alternating directions would see you nowhere, unless you had a particularly favourite patch of highway concrete.

"Are you all right?" I stopped and looked down at her. For the first time, I felt as if I loomed above her stooping figure. "Are you sure?"

She insisted that all was well and started shuffling off along the sidewalk again. Reluctantly, I headed for home.

Technically, I had done my duty, yet there was no doubt that it was within my power to offer more. The problem, of course, is that more personal interventions --for example an offer of money or an invitation to my home-- come with an associated risk. If I gave her cash, it might set a precedent for a continual donation of funds which would deplete my own resources and, if she really was homeless, would not ultimately help the problem. If I let her into my apartment, I left myself open to robbery or worse. Undoubtedly, there are social services who could be contacted, but I'm not at all sure what I could tell them if I called. I should make it clear that never once has this lady asked me for anything, yet self-preservation makes me keep my distance.

It's not that I feel my behaviour is wrong or even unnecessary. It's just damn unfortunate.
pergamond: ([Toy Story] Buzz // wibble)
Hello March. I didn't see you there under ALL THAT SNOW.

It wasn't really the sheer quantity of white stuff that had me gawking out of my window on Wednesday morning. I mean, I live in Canada. I know that has consequences. Perhaps I was daft, but I thought that 20CM OF SNOW would be preceded by, you know, cold weather.

It wasn't even that we'd just had a brief warmer day. It hadn't snowed for weeks and on the weekend, I had finally dragged the bag of de-icing grit for the sidewalks back down to my basement. I had picked up my snow boots from their spot by the door and stowed them in my closet and laid aside my full length coat in favour of a fleece. I had even switched my violently coloured knee-length socks to violently coloured ankle socks. Seriously, spring was coming!

I noted my actions on Facebook and received the prompt reply that I'd jinxed everything and now it was going to snow on Wednesday....

.... I'm still hoping a weather forecast was involved somewhere in that.

Having completed a serious 20 minutes worth of slack-jawed gawking on Wednesday morning, I shovelled my drive and staggered into work. Notably, only the few most major roads had been cleared; something that was true even when I returned home in the evening. In Ontario, much of the snow clearing comes from residents with plough-attachments on their pick-up trucks. They get paid by the province for the work they do, but apparently I wasn't the only one who had packed up for the season.

Upon arriving in my office, I found my Facebook wall had become a site of blame:

"Cause and effect -> didn't you put your salt/grit back in the basement? Doomed..."

Sad but true. Evidently, the clearing of my drive had also been a repulsive act to Mother Nature and she worked steadily all day to cover up any evidence of my labour. It was extremely successful.

I returned home and wrote my message to the world in my car's rear windscreen.
pergamond: ([Futurama] Bender // Applause)
"That ... can't be right..."

I was watching the student cashier count out a pile of coins from the till for my change. The thing was, I'd given him $2 and my drink was $1.90. It might be first thing on a Thursday morning, but even I could work out that I shouldn't be receiving a fistful of silver coins back.

The cashier paused and looked at the till screen. It read:

Purchase: $1.90
Change: $0.85

"No ..." he agreed and then shrugged. "Just ... you know ... go with it." He passed me over the coins with a sunny smile.

"Um. Okay. Thanks." I took the coins and the drink and wandered off.

Probably a sociology student.

Late night

Mar. 8th, 2011 08:58 am
pergamond: ([Random] kitten // rar)
As the zamboni rolled onto the ice, we pushed open the rink door and made our way over to the benches. We stopped in the 'away' team's area and started to deposit our sticks and water bottles.

"Guys, we're the home team tonight!" Our captain had arrived and was now waving us to the next bench over.

We all turned to stare at him for a moment. "But....that one's further...." someone protested.

Can you tell it was a late game? It was.

Apart from the fact that everyone looks dazedly confused when the puck is first dropped, the other problem with late games is that the outside temperature is prone to plummet. As Saturday night swung to Sunday morning, the heavy rain morphed into horizontal snow. I left the rink to find one half of my car covered with a dusting of white icing powder and the other half buried under 2 inches. It was kinda awesome. And difficult to shift.

After about half an hour of dedicatedly fighting against nature's desire to preserve my car in ice while the fans warmed the windscreen, I was able to trundle away out onto the road.

Hamilton city is divided into two halves by what is locally known as 'the mountain'. This is a wholly inaccurate description for what is actually an escarpment, the same one that runs south-east of Hamilton to form the cliff from which Niagara Falls plunges. The ice rink is located on the raised escarpment while my apartment sits in the downtown city area below. This meant I was looking at a steep and snowy decent to get home.

I rolled unenthusiastically along the road, trying to follow the path carved by the few other vehicles up and about at this hour.  I could mentally see myself turned upside down in a ditch, my car wheels turning like its upturned bug namesake. Sadness!

Then, I spotted a snowplough. Sneakily, I went twice round the roundabout and slid in behind it to follow it down to the city. It was a bit like tailing an ambulance to avoid red light except .... much .... slower.

I ditched my new best friend at the bottom of the hill and scooted off for home. When I arrived, my driveway was already thick with snow. Should I risk trying to pull into it? Images of angry old ladies lecturing me on the location of my broken-down car filled my mind. I scuttled off to park in the street. That woman seemed just the type to be out at 2 am.

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