Friday, February 27, 2009

Congratulations !

If you want to make sure something will never happen, give it to a committee.

If you want to be even more sure, do not put anybody in charge.

To further improve your chances, spread the members over several sites.

Preferably several countries.

Even better; over time zones with little or no overlap.

Mixing wide variations in hierarchical level will ensure that even if anybody understands the problem, he will be inhibited or over-ruled.

Encourage communication by Voice Mail.

If there should be any sign of agreement, introduce some new member who needs to go over the whole thing again.

Throwing in a new computer system occasionally can buy you a lot of time.

As a last resort, try budgetary restrictions.


Congratulations, you have just invented General Motors!



…or probably any one of many multinationals, I just happened to have that one handy in a moment of frustration!

Parting thot: "Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things." – Peter Drucker

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Wot's a Thot ?

The illustration here is the best I can do from memory of Mr Chad, the ubiquitous graffiti character of immediate post-war Britain.
Usually asking "Wot! No eggs?" or "Wot! No bacon?" as a reflexion of severe shortages in that ration-book era.
I expected to find lots of old original drawings via Google, but only found a few modern rehashes.

Thot ?

As an incentive & as a reward, I wanted to start my blog posts with an attractive/interesting/curious picture (not necessarily relevant to the post) and conclude with a genuinely interesting quote (quotation, if you prefer and again not necessarily related to the post) so that at least you would not have totally wasted your time here.

I wondered what to call the last line.
  • Quick quote?
  • Afore ye go?
  • Parthian shot?
  • Parting thought?
  • Short thort?
In the end, I telescoped 3 & 4 into "Parting Thot" which I assumed would conjour up "Parting thought" along with an onomatopoeic evocation of an arrow being fired into a target…

It seems I overestimated the capacity of my readers to make such lexicological leaps, as they both responded by "Huh?"

Or the more expressive French version, "Hein?"

Actually, "Hein?" is well worth mastering, as it can save you all sorts of grammatical tomfoolery with subjunctives & interrogatory word-orders etc.
Start by strongly curling your upper right lip. (Maybe upper left lip, depending on your –handedness? - I can't curl that bit…) Ambidextrous students should definitely not curl both lips.
The "H" is silent.
The "ei" is about like "a" in "can" but strongly nasal. Practice by pinching your nose until you get the hang of it.
The "n" is also silent, but not wasted, as it was the clue to making the "ei" nasal.
The "?" is the most important bit.
You need to impregnate your "ei" with a rising tone, pitched somewhere between interrogation and incredulity.

Practice frequently so it becomes automatic, otherwise you will miss many opportunities to join in the conversation.

Parting thot anyway: "Person stand on corner with mouth open long time, waiting roast duck fly in." – Chinese Proverb.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Avoidable Accident

Years ago, back in the UK, on a nice sunny day with perfect visibility, I was driving lazily on a straightish 2-lane road with few cross-roads & not much traffic – about as far from an accident situation as it is possible to get.

A nondescript car gradually closed up on me from behind, signalled, overtook, signalled, pulled back well in front of me & eased ahead.
A bit later, I watched, without paying much attention, as he signalled again, pulled out & passed another car in front.
Then, to my horror & disbelief, a car pulled deliberately out of a garage forecourt on the right (transpose for non-UK use) straight into him.
At that point, a head-on collision was unavoidable.

For a long time afterwards, I was unable to imagine how this accident could have happened.

Much later, I was sitting in a café opposite a T junction, idly watching traffic coming up to the T, stopping, and joining the main road.
Those who were turning to their right (transpose for non-UK) and therefore crossing the main road, stopped, looked both ways, waited for suitable gaps, then drove off.
Those turning to their left (transpose…) stopped, looked at the approaching traffic on their right (…) waited for a suitable gap, then drove off – without looking to the left!
Every one!

Suddenly, I understood the original accident.

Subsequent observation showed that drivers only look in the 'expected traffic' direction, including when joining roundabouts (reasonable) or when joining other roads at T junctions or slip-roads (NOT reasonable!).
Analysing my own behaviour, I found I was doing the same…
This was a chilling observation, considering the hundreds of occasions I must have been putting my life at risk up till then.

I have made very sure to look both ways for the last 40 years, but I still need to do it deliberately – it is not a natural reflex.

You should make 2 resolutions, if you don't want to end up some day in a head-on collision:
  1. Look BOTH ways before even starting to put your nose into a traffic lane.
  2. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER overtake across any opening from which another vehicle could possible emerge. Even if it is obvious he must have seen you…
Parting thot: "A lesson is not learned until behavior changes." - Gordon Sullivan - Chief of Staff U. S. Army

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sneezing with an English Accent…

You have all seen the wartime film where the hero daringly escapes from the prisoner-of-war camp, then, using only the three words of German somebody wrote on the back of a cigarette packet for him, bluffs his way through Germany & Belgium & home to fight another day?

Well, "Mon oeil!" (see explanatary post with same title).

I have lived in France for over 30 years, understand written & spoken French perfectly, speak it fluently & even write it reasonably, by SMS-generation standards.
But when the phone rings, in spite of the mental beret over my eye, the mental baguette under my arm & the mental Gauloise hanging precariously from my lower lip, my Jean-Gabin-gutteral "Allo…" is always met by "Ah! Vous êtes Anglais?" where the interrogatory intonation is added for politeness, not from uncertainty.

The other day, I was in a tram in Strasbourg (there is a very good network of modern trams, some of which were even made in England) – anyway, I was in the tram & sneezed, whereupon a little old lady looked up and said, "Ah! Vous êtes…."

Parting thot: "Nice guys finish last" - Leo Durocher (sad, that one…)

Vive le Crouton!

Stop buying peanuts!
Stop buying crisps (potato chips)!
Stop buying bretzels!
Stop throwing away old bread!

Make Croutons!

Croutons 1.0.1
  • Cut old bread into 1cm cubes (about 25/64" ).
  • Toss in olive oil & whatever else you like.
  • Put in oven at 200°C.
  • Take out after 15 minutes.
  • Don't burn your fingers trying to eat too soon.
  • Try to leave some for later.
Gourmet Guide to Croutons.

You all know the rancid bread syndrome.
You buy nice warm fresh bread every 3 or 4 days.
When you get it home all warm & odorous, you still have half a loaf from last time.
If you are "economical" (I daren't say "Scottish"…) then you put the new bread away & force yourself to eat the old stuff until it is hard or green.
Then you eat the new bread, except it is anything but new bread any more.
And so on – you keep buying new bread but you never get to eat new bread.

The other approach is to rush home with the new bread, make six black cherry jam sandwiches with the butter just melting through, skip dinner, throw the old bread away & buy another new loaf the next day.
(As an aside, I once threw a loaf of bread out of a moving car at a horse in a field, but it bounced off the fence & hit a passing motorcyclist, so I am more careful how I throw bread away these days).
If you are "economical" again, you can try giving the old bread to birds, or making bread pudding &/or bread sauce, or going fishing, but it will beat you in the end.

Then somebody invented croutons & all our problems were over!

Now when you get home with the new bread, you put the old bread in a bag in the freezer marked "croutons".
When you have enough (about half a loaf is enough) or when you can't wait any longer, you get it out of the freezer & wait hours till it is soft enough to cut. That is the worst bit. (You can cheat & use the microwave.)
Then cut it carefully into cubes, and 1cm is about right.
You will get a better, cleaner, result, with less crumbs, using a really sharp carving knife than using the normal serrated bread knife.
You don't need to cut the crust off, or to discard the triangular bits at the end – that just adds variety to your croutons.
If you have time, leave it several hours like that to harden a bit – it will be easier to handle & be less mushy when you add the oil, but don't worry if not.

Now you need to coat the cubes in olive oil.
There are spray tools for this, which probably work well, but I have not tried.
Say 10cc of oil for 250gm bread, but you will need to experiment, depending on your bread & your idea of a good crouton.
Put the cubes in a big bowl so you can toss & stir without getting them all over the floor.
If you just pour the oil onto the bread, it will all be absorbed by the first croutons, leaving none to spread around on the others.
There may be better solutions, but I try to turn my oil into a thick creamy emulsion first, by adding some water & beating with a little electric blender, introducing air too.
Then it does not soak in too quickly & you can toss, then stir, the bread cubes to get them lightly oiled all over.

While you are blending, is the time to add all the exciting stuff to get your own unique custom-flavoured croutons.
No limits here. Send me your suggestions.
Good starters would be lots & lots of crushed garlic & some pepper.
Other interesting ideas include: soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, tomato ketchup, curry paste/powder, chopped onions, etc.
Don't add herbs at this point, they just get carbonized, but you can add them afterwards.
In fact, this is one aspect I am still experimenting on – at what point to inject interesting flavours so they don't get burnt off.

Preheat the oven to 180/200°C, spread the oiled cubes on a Teflon-coated tray, put the tray in the oven & don't go away.
They should be ready in about 15 minutes, but that will depend on the exact temperature, type of bread, size of cubes & on how you like them.

Leave them to cool on the tray and add any extra savoury items you fancy & which would not have survived the oven.
Herbs, Piment Doux, maybe a very tiny sprinkle of salt?

Then put in a sealed bowl.
Theoretically they should keep for 6 weeks, but they never get a chance…

With soup, traditionally they are floated on top, but I find that a soggy waste & prefer to nibble them crisp from a side-plate.
They are also delicious in salads & replacing, say, potatoes in all kinds of meals, not to mention as appetizers & snacks.

Trouble-shooting your croutons:
  • Too crunchy all through – cubes too small.
  • White bread in the middle – cubes too big.
  • Black – forgot to take out of oven.
  • White – forgot to put into oven.
  • Nice colour, but too much like toast – not enough oil.
  • Rather greasy – yes, you're getting the hang of it already…
  • None of the above – just keep quiet & eat them before somebody else does!

Parting thot: "Wise men talk about ideas, intellectuals about facts, and the ordinary man talks about what he eats." - Mongolian Proverb

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mon oeil!

Approx. pronunciation : Monnoyy

Literally : "My Eye!"

Invaluable little French utterance expressing total rebuttal of whatever has just been said.

Manages to have all the vigour, but none of the vulgarity, of the equivalent English-language expressions, which mostly involve parts of the anatomy not normally exposed in polite company.

Parting thot: "Human beings are the only creatures that allow their children to come back home." – Bill Cosby

Japan: Not Origami

In 1988 I was sent to Japan for 3 months as Resident Engineer inside the Engineering Department of one of our OEM Customers.
I had previously traveled & worked in several countries in Europe & in North America so was not expecting any eye-openers, except the radically-different language.
How wrong I was!

It's always dangerous to generalize about a whole nation or people, as there are usually more differences within any population than between populations, but the Japanese taught me that they were collectively capable of better consensus-seeking & cooperation & basic civility, than others in my experience.

Whenever there was a problem, a multi-department group would convene, explain the problem, propose actions, choose one which was efficient & 'good enough' then go away & implement it.
No bickering.
No agonizing over which proposal was maybe slightly preferable to another.
No looking for whose fault it was.
No defending private turf.
No need to check with the boss.
This was a revelation!

A detail which struck me was the waste-paper handling.

Back home (this was before Desktop PCs & e-mail) we were proud of our good information flow, which consisted of writing memos & making sure everybody who might need to be on copy or might want to be on copy, plus their hierarchy, was on copy.
So, having written a memo, you either photocopied it, say 20 times, or, depending on your status, got a secretary to copy it.
This meant a lot of work for the photocopiers in all the offices & there were usually queues at them, even though they worked nearly full-time, so you often had to run up & down several flights of stairs to find one with a short queue.
We had efficiency squads who worked on finding faster photocopiers & cheaper paper.

On the receiving end, you had a constantly-filling in-box to deal with.
Having read a memo, or at least noticed it, you then either filed it in your own numerous binders in your own big filing cabinets or, usually, screwed it up & flung it in your own waste-paper basket, along with the empty coffee cups & apple cores.
Important people needed more than one waste bin.
Every night, squads of cleaners emptied the bins into big bags, then into skips then onto trucks where it was taken away as low-density mixed rubbish.

In the Japanese office, which housed over 100 engineers & technicians, there was a single, one-shot photocopier and it sat silent most of the time.
Anybody could make as many photocopies as he wanted any time, but first you needed to go to your supervisor (they all sat at the back where they could keep an eye on you!) and ask for his photocopier card & as many sheets of paper as you liked.
Then go to the photocopier at the front of the office, in full view, feed your sheets in one-by-one, pressing the button each time, then take the card back.
So there was a lot less paper distributed.

Then, everybody had a couple of trays on their desks - usually shallow lids from cardboard boxes the A4 paper had arrived in.
There would be a '1-side' box & a '2-side' box.
When you had finished with an incoming memo, or any other bit of paper, you put it flat in the '1-side' box.
When you wanted to write something, you would take a sheet of part-used paper from the '1-side' box & use the clean side.
When the paper was full on both sides, instead of screwing it up & throwing it in your bin (you couldn't - you didn't have one) you placed it flat in the '2-sides' box.
Every Friday afternoon, one Engineer (by rota, not a secretary…) would come round all the desks & carefully put all the '2-sides' paper flat into an A4 cardboard box the paper had been delivered in. One week's waste from 100 peole would usually not fill one small cardboard box!

Draw your own conclusions...

Parting thot: "There is a better way. Find it !" - Thomas Edison

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Morgan Three-Wheeler

When I was a student in 1963 my first car (motorised device with more than 2 wheels) was a 1934 Morgan Super-Sports Matchless MX4 Beetleback.
Big name for a very tiny vehicle!

The picture here is of an identical one I found last year in Auto & Technik Museam Sinsheim near Neckarsulm, historical home of NSU.

This one is a lot smarter than mine, but mine was red...

In fact it was small, red, fast &
dangerous, which sounds like the start of an elephant joke!

Wish I had it now, instead of having sold it for £95 - but then I bought it for £65 so it seemed like a good deal at the time...

The Morgan Three-Wheeler was an interesting example of being the best answer to a particular question (the most economical way to go fast without (all) the discomfort & danger of a motorcycle) and it stuck to, and improved on, the same basic design for nearly 30 years.

It was an object lesson in lateral thinking & distilling down to the bare essentials.

Mine taught me a lot about driving, especially about anticipation as the 'go' pedal had
a much bigger effect than the 'stop' pedal.
In fact the brake pedal only acted on the rear wheel so could at best have had limited results even if it had worked.

The main braking effect was from the hand brake working on the front wheels by inefficient cables.

Not as stupid as it sounds, this allowed you to apply the hand-brake & leave it on the ratchet while you got on with heel-&-toe double-declutching to a lower gear for some welcome engine-braking.

It also taught me a lot about being towed, including being towed home for 100 miles at high speed in the dark & rain, as the original cone clutch had a nasty habit of discarding all the loose ball bearings needed to release it.

At that point you could carry on for a time, doing clutchless gearchanges on the crash box for as long as you didn't need to stop (more practice at anticipation).

If you could see you were going to have to stop, you could try to do it facing downhill, so you could coast away afterwards & then snick into gear on the run, but sooner or later this would all come to a hopeless halt.

I carried a lot of spare ball bearings in my extensive on-board tool kit (with saws, hammer, files, wire, tape, chains etc as well as the usual sissy spanners & screwdrivers) and it was easy enough to take the engine off at the side of the road & put new balls in, but when it happened for the second time with darkness looming in the sleet on the Derbyshire moors, it was time to phone home.

The cone clutch was a very bad idea anyway & the most delicately finessed smooth start always ended in a 'shudder-snatch' nutation effect reminiscent of the last gyrations of a spinning coin as it gives up & snaps onto the table, even after thorough degreasing & treatment with the recommended Fullers Earth.

So I replaced it with a plate-clutch adapter kit which was a revelation in smoothness & reliability.
I seem to remember it also included a pulley on the front of the flywheel which allowed driving a dynamo off the engine, instead of off the back wheel (correct me if wrong).
Of course there was no way you could then install a normal Vee-belt on a pulley located between the engine & the flywheel so you had to use a special split belt with a screwed-together link...

I also learned about starting the engine with a starting handle as that was the only way.

This was a big, 990cc V-twin motobike engine, so not to be treated lightly.

Normally, you started by being sure the hand-brake was on & the gears in neutral, then turned the petrol on, set the ignition timing & mixture richness, then maybe tickled the carburettor if it was cold then pulled up on the handle, when it would usually start immediately & settle down to the beautiful off-beat idle you can see & hear here.

If you stalled in traffic, then it was necessary to run through all the above settings as you leapt out of the car, grabbing the starting handle which lived at the side of the seat, swing the engine & leap back in again & drive off (no doors - no seatbelts...).
The big thing to remember was to retard the ignition timing from the normal running setting, otherwise as you pulled the handle the engine would snap backwards, snatching the handle from your fingers & flinging it at your face...

I think it probably had a speedometer, but mine had long since stopped working & that didn't bother anybody.
It didn't work as an excuse at the first radar trap I ever met either…

I don't remember a fuel gage.

The petrol cap, oil cap & water caps were just in front of the windscreen & you could easily see how much of each was left.

The petrol tap was just by your left knee & leaked a bit, so left knees smelled of petrol.
I remember there being some sparking electrical device (regulator?) just next to the leaking fuel tap & I remember it glowing red hot one day due to a short-circuit somewhere...

Your hair would also get lightly oiled on a long fast run due to unavoidable leaks from the exposed valve gear in front.

Appart from the absence of synchromesh, the gear selectors had another quirk, no doubt due to wear.

If you did not do deliberate square movements with the gear lever (which had first & reverse on the right & second & third on the left) then you could change into second without changing out of first.
This caused an immediate & total locking of the back wheel, with surprise & consternation all round!

There was a hood, but I don't know why.

It clipped on to the centre & outside screen pillars, so that with it up you could not get in or out or see forwards or sideways or backwards...

I did put it up when parking in rain or snow.

All the above can be excused in a car which was already over 30 years old, cost £65 and was being run on a student's-grant budget.

Certainly all was forgiven as you blatt-blatted across the moors, rocketed up hills, left incredulous Riley 1.5 drivers standing & generally behaved like Walter Mitty, Biggles or Snoopy after
the Red Baron !

All thouroughly reprehensible now, but I couldn't even spell reprehensible then.

As I said earlier, I dearly wish I had not sold it & could really enjoy driving it again now (sensibly!) on dry summer days only, but I see one was recently sold at Christies (!) for £17,000…

Nice description of the "goods" here.

Have a look at & listen to these links & you may begin to understand the irrational appeal.,Bj.1932.jpg

Funnily enough, the same layout is now being rediscovered for the same reasons in the latest American ecological commuter vehicle, the Aptera 2e.

Parting thot: "Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors" – African proverb

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Putting ze Finger into ze Gears

Another graphic & useful French expression with no direct English equivalent.

"Mettre le doigt dans l'engrenage" means taking an insignificant tiny first step which is going to end up drawing you inexorably into something - usually trouble!

Like saying "Bonjour!" to the 2 Jehova's Witnesses on the doorstep.

Or going the first few meters down an icy black ski-run.

Or opening a jar of Nutella...

Parting thot: "If your parents never had children, chances are you won't, either." - Dick Cavett

Frontier Post

A post about Frontiers.

When we moved to 'The Continent' in 1977, there were borders, frontier posts, customs officials, cute currencies, exchange offices & queues everywhere.

This was quaint at first, but a nuisance afterwards.

Going 'home' meant queuing at the French/Luxembourg border, first on the French side to make sure you weren't taking out too much money or works of art, then on the Luxembourg side to make sure you weren't bringing in hand grenades or ham sandwiches.
Each time facing the icy stare of armed border guards & with the very real possibility of having your car & belongings stripped in public if any of the kids made a silly comment or especially if you happened to have a beard &/or sunglasses at the time.
Repeat performance at the Luxembourg/Belgian border.
Then at the Belgian/French border.
Then at Calais.
And in Dover.

As far as I recall, England/Scotland was not a problem then, but maybe soon...

Similarly, going skiing to La Plagne (in France!) involved customs posts at Strasbourg/Kehl then a notorious tailback on the A5 autobahn for customs Germany/Switzerland at Basle then re-customs Switzerland/France in Geneva.

We used to have a drawer full of jam jars, each stuffed with left-over currency for different destinations & transit countries.
Before a projected trip, we had to see what was left in the jam jars, estimate what we might need for the trip & order the difference from the bank.
We had Belgian Francs, Luxembourg Francs (you could use Belgian in Luxembourg, but not vice-versa) Deutschmarks, Swiss Franks, Austrian Schillings, Italian Liras, Danish Kroners, Dutch Guilders, Swedish Kronor, Spanish Pesetas and something or other for Yugoslavia.
On the day, we needed to carefully select the right jars & stuff the right cash into many-pocketed purses, not to be lost sight of or mixed up on route.
For longer holidays, we had to order & pay for Travellers' Cheques to avoid carrying too much cash.

Today these borders & customs posts have either disappeared or are empty hulks waiting to be recycled.
Except Dover, of course!
OK, you may get stopped by a smiling Gendarmette going into Switzerland if you have
n't thought to buy your annual Autoroute Vignette on Internet first, but that's about it.

We recently visited Krakow (future article...) going via Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Austria & Switzerland, without stopping for any border. Of course we stopped for all the wonderful things to see en route.
Thanks to Euros, Credit Cards & Cash Machines, we didn't need to juggle with the jam jars either, though we still have several, including Sterling & Swiss Francs.

A great symbol of the disappearance of frontiers is the graceful new 'Mimram' pedestrian/cyclist bridge over the Rhine between Strasbourg & Kehl.
Here you can (& many do) stroll casually between one-time enemies France & Germany, with no sign whatever of any barrier or difference as you do so.

Of course nothing is perfect - on the photograph you can see work in progress to protect the cables of the new bridge.
As I heard it, either to meet the budget or the opening date or both, it was decided to put the bridge up first, then protect the cables from corrosion later...
They are very proud of their newly developed technique, with a special machine which slowly climbs up each cable (complete with daring jockey) automatically wrapping giant handlebar tape round the cable as it goes.
Not sure whether this actually protects the cables from rust or just hides rust from dubious eyes. Time will tell…

Parting thot: "To make enemies - put up fences; To make friends - start talking to your enemies..."

Friday, February 20, 2009

Meet the Kids

Well actually, I think they would rather not be introduced too closely, so I will need to be very careful what I say & show about them.
At a stroke, that eliminates most of my subject matter over the last 30 years…
Just as a token of good faith, here are some snaps anyway.

Above are BB & AA in Bischoffsheim, ready for "La rentrée" (going back to school after the very long summer holidays).
In a review of one of the numerous "A Year in France" clones
of Peter Mayle's excellent books, the reviewer said something like: "I knew it was going to be no good as soon as I opened it & saw it started in January. Everybody knows that in France the Year starts in September".
Too true!

AA is currently making Mars bars, but compensates by volunteer work with Secours Populaire, helping underprivelidged children.
BB is a Software Engineer & Rock-Climber.

This is CC struggling with a recalcitrant croissant.
She now has 2 Masters Degrees, so don't write your kids off too soon!

DD after a long walk.
Now a Medical Stud
ent, which is a very long walk indeed…
They let an
ybody in for the first year of medicine (or anything else). Last year in Strasbourg there were still 1300 left to sit the end of year exams but they only accept the first 235 (Numérus Clausus, whatever their ability) into second year. If this is not a tragic waste of time, money & talent, then I don't know what is.

Parting thot: "Success is on the far side of failure." - IBM founder T J Watson

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Ze Fingers in ze Nose

The French language has some picturesque expressions which we find we increasingly introduce into our daily (English, in the family) conversation, either directly in French or translated literally.

For this one, we tend to stick with the French "Les doigts dans le nez" as the literal translation "The fingers in the nose" somehow lacks elegance!

If you can do something "Les doigts dans le nez" then it is really easy, no sweat, strolling, child's play (for you), "with one hand tied behind your back".

I never actually saw anybody, not even a Frenchman, trying to do anything with digits up nostril.
Maybe they practice surreptitiously?

As to exactly which doigts should be used or how the difficulty scale is calibrated, further research is required.

Parting thot: "People change what they do less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings." - John Kotter

Mrs 2CV67 is Scottish

Mrs 2CV67 is Scottish.

Everything else is incidental.

This is her in the '50s in Milngavie (pronounce mill-guy), Greater Glasgow, East Dunbartonshire, Scotland, GB, UK, Europe – but NOT ENGLAND!
She is second from the left.

Keen observers will note she is one of 4 sisters standing on a bench.
Subsequent observers have noted that whenever the 4 sisters meet (rarely as they are now scattered over the globe) then they frantically search for the nearest bench & leap onto it.
We have never discovered the roots of this obviously Pavlovian response & can only imagine the dour bushy-'browed forebear, cracking his sporran & glowering until they leapt up in chronological order & perfect spacing, when they might get a spoonful of salty porridge if they got it right (or 2 spoonfuls if they got it wro

"Mrs 2CV67" being something of a mouthfull, I am going to call her DS in future.
This is a do
uble "clin d'oeil" (nod & wink) at Citroen, who simultaneously produced the agricultural 2CV and the ethereal, beautiful, way-ahead-of-its-time DS.

The na
me DS was a pun itself of course, as in French the 2 letters DS are pronounced day-ess which sounds just like déesse = goddess.
So I hope I don't get too many complaints about that from the kitchen sink.

After Milngavie, DS studied at St Andrews, then worked at Canvas Holidays in Welwyn Garden City, met me, emigrated to Strasbourg, worked for Adidas in Landersheim, had lots of children & lived happily ever after!

No doubt she will appear frequently in these musings, though she does not enthuse much about cars, flying, PCs, Ubuntu or other important stuff.

Parting thot: "Lord, give me the courage to change the things which can & should be changed, the serenity to accept the things which cannot be changed, ....and the wisdom to tell the difference." – St Francis of Assisi

Magnetic Soap Holder

30 years ago, we found a magnetic soap-holder (not a magnetic-soap holder) over what was then the border in Germany (it was an adventure then, with Dmarks, customs posts etc) & have never regretted it.
In fact, I just counted, we now have 7 and I still have not put up the one for the bidet.
They don't breed, you need to buy (or make) them & that has been a problem when they seemed to be unavailable for several years, but now they are back in fashion, or at least in shops, so make the most of it!

Like any common soap dish, they can be stuck on walls or tiles or mirrors using screws or glue or little sticky pads but the advantages are:

  • The soap does not go all gungey but stays dry(ish) & nice to touch.
  • You don't have to look at or clean a messy soap dish.
  • You can keep using the soap down to the last threepenny-bit-sized sliver (memo: future post on threepenny bit).
  • Even without that, the soap lasts longer because it does not dissolve in its own juices.
  • Visitors are surprised & delighted and you have something to talk about at breakfast (if you like talking over breakfast…).
The disadvantages are:
  • None.

If you lose the special high-tech stainless-steel insert for pushing into the soap, you can do just as well, or better, with any crown cap off any beer bottle.
The coincidence is impossible & the original magnetic soap-holder obviously must have used a beer cap.

I saw somewhere that we have to thank the Red Army for the invention, but I can't image how or why.
They probably had beer caps & maybe magnets, but soap?

If that's the only benefit the Red Army has left to posterity, then the investment is going to take a long time to pay back…

Parting thot: "Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different." - Albert Szent-Gyorgyi.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


This is me in 1946 in Dudley, Black Country, Worcestershire, West Midlands, GB, UK, Europe, planet Earth.
I have changed a bit since then, but have the same colour
hair again, the same refined good taste in clothes, the same impertinence & a similar hammer.
The barrel & the horse got lost somewhere along the way.

Soon afterwards, I studied Mechanical Engineering at Leeds University in Yorkshire & applied it at Ford Motor Co in Essex, BorgWarner in Hertfordshire and General Motors in Strasbourg France.

Thanks to, or in spite of, my talent & training, all the above have since closed down, shrivelled up or been sold to the Chinese…

I was passionately interested in cars from birth until 30-something, but have grown up since.

My interest these days is in road safety & in the 'practicality' side of cars.

I love flying but it is limited now to occasional paragliding in the nearby Vosges Mountains (hills really, but Mountains sounds better).

The pseudo "2CV67" is inspired by the famously idiosyncratic Citroen 2CV car, of which I am currently on my 2nd (or 3rd if you count a Dyane).

The "67" is the Departement number for Bas-Rhin in Alsace, where we have enjoyed living since 1977.
As you might not guess from the name, Bas-Rhin is the upper bit of Alsace (round Strasbourg) & Haut-Rhin is the lower bit (round Colmar). This is because the Rhine manages to flow upwards on most maps, so Bas-Rhin is further down the river but further up the map.

Born British & naturalised French, I consider myself European first, French second, British third & English fourth.

The family includes Mrs 2CV67 & 4 no-longer-kids.

I intend to expand on all that, in a random sort of way, in future posts.
Hope to see you again!

Parting thot: "Whether you think you can or you can't – you're right…" – Henry Ford.