The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.
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11:16am on Saturday, 23rd August, 2014:
There are some weird 50p coins out there:
Nice to see that Britannia has got out of her wheelchair to play some bowls, though.
12:56pm on Friday, 22nd August, 2014:
Someone left a message on my university phone number back in, oh, I don't know, March or sometime. Ever since then, the phone in my office has been ringing every 15 minutes. I don't know how to stop it, but in part that's because I haven't looked: I actually like having it ring every 15 minutes as it means I don't get so absorbed in something that I lose track of the time and miss appointments. It also means I don't nod off (well, not for more than 15 minutes anyway).
Today, there was no ringing of my office phone. There was yesterday, but not today. Someone must have reset the system; either that or messages expire of their own accord after enough months have passed.
I'm thinking I should maybe call my number from home and leave my own message on the answering system to reinstate my handy time-reminder. I don't suppose the people in the office next door would complain if I didn't, though.
7:50pm on Thursday, 21st August, 2014:
From this week's MCV:
244? Hmm, I'd be interested to see a list of those, given that there are only 193 member states in the UN (plus two observer states and 11 non-members); even FIFA has only has 209, and it includes countries that are parts of states (England, Wales, Scotland and Northerin Ireland count four times, rather than just once for the UK).
What is it with MCV and geography?
7:56pm on Wednesday, 20th August, 2014:
Look up a list of English language idiomatic expressions on the Internet — they're not hard to find. Choose one that's a bit descriptive — "water under the bridge", say, then use it once in a sentence both literally and as an expression: "I argued with my wife about rerouting a river, but it's water under the bridge now". Voila: an easy-to-construct and mildly amusing joke.
"I bought an umbrella this morning. Well, I was feeling a bit under the weather."
"A castaway asked me to give him a job, but I said no. He looked washed up to me."
"I'm always arguing with my brother about Photoshop. It may sound trivial to you, but he blows up everything out of proportion."
"The waiter said I looked like the kind of person who would steal pepper. I took it with a pinch of salt."
Congratulations: you are now capable of writing a joke capable of winning the best joke award at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Puns also work. Next time you want to think of one, climb up the inside of a church steeple and be inspired.
5:53pm on Tuesday, 19th August, 2014:
I was in London today to meet an old friend. I diverted via the Tower to take a look at the ceramic poppies they have there for the centenary of the start of World War 1:
It's a lot more powerful than I was expecting it to be.
6:51pm on Monday, 18th August, 2014:
My flights to and from Münster were booked using Flybe, but the aircraft were operated by Stobart Air. As any driver on UK roads knows, all Eddie Stobart lorries have female names (most of which have two components; three or one exist but are quite rare). I didn't see a name on the aircraft I flew on, but I did see names on the service vehicles:
The little truck on the left is called Julie. The air fuel tanker on the right is called Gasolina.
I think they may have made up one of those names...
2:39pm on Sunday, 17th August, 2014:
I've taken off my phone all the photos I took in Münster during my recent visit, so it's now time to bore you with some of them.
There were several of these large hobby-horse installations in the city, advertising a show jumping event:
No wonder Germany is so good at show jumping if they have it as a spectator sport for ordinary people.
This is St Lambert's Church, as seen down the main street of the old town, the Prinzipalmarkt:
A close-up view shows three cages, in which were kept the leaders of the Münster Rebellion of 1534-1535.
As you may have surmised, the rebellion did not end in success...
This is the rather less pretty cathedral, which had a food market outside it when I was there:
It looks quite new, mainly because it is: it had to be rebuilt following a visit by the US Air Force in 1944.
Here's a white tower:
I've no idea what it is apart from that it's a white tower.
This shop sign uses a rather unfortunate choice of font:
This is the Pinkus-Müller brewery, where we had the conference get-together. It's the only remaining brewery from the 150 or so that used to be in the city:
Obviously I wouldn't have bothered showing you a picture of it if the street hadn't looked so quaint.
This sculpture or whatever it is features a bunch of hands holding stuff:
It was handy in a different way, too, as I could use it as a landmark to find McDonald's.
Here's the town hall, which isn't far from the cathedral:
I took three photos of it but the sun was behind it for the other two. Fortunately, the changeable weather placed a cloud there for me on the third attempt so it didn't show up entirely in silhouette.
One of the streets in the centre has stars on it, each of which is inscribed with a different person's name:
Either Münster is the birthplace of hundreds of celebrities or there's something else going on here.
Several of the churches in the old town have this black-and-white style, in which the towers are dark and the main body is white:
I don't know if it's deliberate or not but it's quite effective.
From the menu of the restaurant we went to after the first day of the conference:
"I don't know what this stuff is, but if we fill it with pork it's sure to be fine."
Excuse me, do you know how far it is from Münster to York?
Ah, OK, thanks.
There are bicycles everywhere in Münster. Here's a mass of them, but it's not unusual: I could have taken the same kind of picture in many side streets.
Of course, if I had done you wouldn't have had the opportunity to think, "hey, he was right about that thing they have with not cleaning church towers".
This is the magnificent Schloss, where our conference was being held:
There was a similar one at the Multi.Player 1 conference in Hohenheim. I rather like the way that Germany handed its old stately homes over to universities, rather than demolish them (which is what we did in the UK in the late 1940s, at the rate of one a week).
This little house was in the grounds of the Schloss:
The reason it was there was because the show jumping competition I mentioned at the start of this post was held in the Schloss's grounds, and this was part of one of the jumps.
The view of the cathedral from inside the Schloss positions the steeple of St Lambert's right between the cathedral's towers:
This reputation Germany has for prowess in engineering goes back a long way...
This sculpture is in the Botanical Gardens at the back of the Schloss:
Yay for science!
This is the view of the Botanical Gardens from inside the Schloss about 20 minutes after I took the previous photo:
Not only is Münster known as the bicycle capital of Germany, it's known as the rain capital of Germany, too. Never fear, though! They have these:
Yes, that's a vending machine for umbrellas. They're €4 each, although shops only charge €2.95.
It looks as if the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster uses the same marketing agency as the University of Essex:
Surely there can't be two agencies producing slogans this bland?
You can always rely on Windows:
No matter where you are in the world, it's always going to do this at some point.
The guys depicted on the War Memorial look to be attacking each other:
That explains a lot.
Finally, here's the view from my hotel room:
That's the Aasee beyond the trees. It's a lake. Given the amount of rain the city gets, if it weren't there now it would be within a week. It's quite pretty, though.
So that's Münster!
12:33pm on Sunday, 17th August, 2014:
From this week's Essex County Standard:
The moon is a planet?
There are so many people seeking so few jobs in journalism, how come so few of those employed have even a basic knowledge of science?
8:38am on Saturday, 16th August, 2014:
I don't wear glasses, which is somewhat unusual for a person in their 50s. I have some glasses, but I don't need them. This is because my left eye is good from close up to the far middle distance and my right eye is good from the near middle distance to infinity. Lots of other people have this asymmetry with their eyes and still wear glasses, but that's because if they don't then they get headaches. I never get headaches under any circumstances, so I have no problem. I only really notice it if for some reason my vision from one eye is occluded, for example if I were looking at something in the distance then someone stood in the way so that only my left eye had a clear view. Indeed, that's how I found out how it worked.
Last weekend in Oxford, I noticed I was getting a stye on my left eyelid. It swelled up during the week, and I still have it today. I'm hoping it's not going to turn into another eyelid-surgery cyst, but it could. Apart from making me look odd, which offends my vanity, it seems to cause my eye to relese some kind of oil which blurs my vision. Blinking will either clear it for a few seconds or make it worse; running my little finger over my eyeball will definitely clear it, but I'm reluctant to do this because, well, it involves running my little finger over my eyeball.
The net result is that my right eye is being asked to handle close-up work it's not good at. I can force it to focus on my laptop's screen, for example, but that's going to make it hurt if I do it for too long. Fortunately, suspecting that I was getting a stye on my eyelid, I took the precaution of bringing my reading glasses with me. I tried them out last nightin the hotel: it makes no difference for the left eye, which is still blurry, but the right eye can focus on stuff at a reading distance.
I'm thinking that maybe I'll dig them out of my suitcase to do some reading while I wait here at the airport. Then again, there's free wi-fi so maybe I'll just look at cat pictures or whatever's on the Internet these days instead.
9:18pm on Friday, 15th August, 2014:
Last night I walked past the restaurant we were eating at 3 times without spotting it. I had to switch on data roaming to find it on a map, so may be bankrupted by the charges upon my return.
Tonight was at a restaurant attached to the conference venue (well, it was in the grounds of the Schloss) so it was easy to find. I discovered that there was an all-night flea market on in Münster along the premenade (an avenue of treas following the course of the old city walls). At 10pm I therefore said farewell to my hosts and left to see if anyone along the 4km route was selling antique playing cards.
It started to rain.
The reason I couldn't find the restaurant yesterday was that the original restaurant (along with many others in the old town) had not fully reopened following a city-wide flood caused by torrential rain a month ago, so the conference organisers had to go with one slightly off the beaten track. This evening, I got a taste of that rain. It's heavy, persistent and relentless (a bit like the German economy). I got back to the hotel with my legs drenched beneath the knee, my bag (containing the laptop I'm writing this on) leaking water through the zip, my left arm (not covered by my umbrella) wet through my jacket; only my shoes remained watertight, but they're not going to look pleasant tomorrow.
Maybe I'll give the flea market a miss.
12:54pm on Thursday, 14th August, 2014:
My badge here at the Multi.Player 2 conference has my name as Richard Bartels.
I suspect I fell victim to a German spell-checking software...
2:43pm on Wednesday, 13th August, 2014:
I arrived in Münster at 11am, which was well before check-in time at the hotel, so I dropped off my bag and went for an explore.
Münster is swarming with bicycles. There are special red areas of pavement for them to use and they get most upset if they find a pedestrian on one, That said, they also ride on the regular pavement and the road, and they stop for no-one (not even fellow cyclists). From the evidence of their behaviour at pedestrian crossings, they can't even see them and treat them as if they were normal road even if the cars have stopped for people to cross. They're also avid bell-users.
As if walking around a city in which I don't understand more than a handful of words anyone says wasn't stressful enough... Still, it's a really nice place. My theory that all German cities have beautiful old towns has yet to be defeated by a counter-example.
10:30am on Tuesday, 12th August, 2014:
I'm off to Germany tomorrow, to attend the Multi.Player 2 conference in Münster. I enjoyed the first Multi.Player conference in 2011 (which was in Hohenheim, near Stuttgart) so I'm looking forward to it. I'm giving the closing address this time, which means I have to pay attention to the sessions and then summarise what I thought of them as a whole. Hopefully, most people will have gone home by that time so I won't bore too many of them.
Getting to Münster is much easier than I thought it would be. The nearest airport is Münster/Osnabrück, but it's not a very big one; I was expecting to have to fly to Dortmund or even Cologne. However, for some bizarre reason, there's a direct flight to it from Southend Airport. To put this in perspective, Southend Airport flies to Dublin, Newquay amd Jersey in the British Isles, 7 package holiday destinations in Spain, Venice, Geneva, Bern, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Groningen, Berlin and Münster/Osnabrück. Why an airport that only has 18 destinations in total would include Münster/Osnabrück as one of them is a mystery, but hey, I'm not complaining. Southend airport is less than an hour away from me by car, and is rated the best in the UK for customer experience (probably because it was the second-busiest airport in the UK in the 1970s so has more facilities than it needs).
Now all I need is for the online check-in for my flight to open, which it was supposed to do at 8pm last night but didn't...
1:42pm on Monday, 11th August, 2014:
This outfit, on display at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, was worn by T. E. Lawrence while leading the Arab revolt against Ottoman rule in the First World War:
I have to say it's in pretty good nick for a garment that was worn daily in a protracted desert war, but as the design of such clothing evolved over several centuries I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.
8:20pm on Sunday, 10th August, 2014:
The biggest and most pleasant surprise of my trip to Oxford came right at the end, just as I was saying goodbye to my daughter (who also attended it). A man about my age came up to me and said, "Hello, Richard". His face seemed vaguely familiar and his accent had a trace of something very familiar, but while I was trying to figure out who he was he gave me his business card: Stephen Hatfield MBA MSc MEng BSc MAPM CISSP AIMC.
The last time I saw him, in 1978, he was Hatty.
Hatty was the dungeonmaster of the very first game of Dungeons & Dragons I played. Four of us had chipped in for the rules: me, my brother, my friend Kedge and Kedge's friend Hatty. We bought the rules, passed them around to read them, and Hatty was first to make a dungeon. We played the first game in his house, and it was he who was responsible for the only paradigm-shifting experience I got from D&D, in our second encounter. We came across a door which our fighter burst open while invisible from the effects of a potion he'd drunk. We had our magic-user behind him, waving his arms to make it look as if he'd cast a powerful spell to do blast the door open. Inside the room were three or four skeletons. The magic-user folded his arms to give the impression of veiled power, which was a risk because those skeletons were tough (we'd had a hard time taking down just one in the first room).
We asked Hatty what happened. He rolled some dice. He told us that the skeletons ran away.
None of us were expecting this. We were expecting a fight or surrender, but not flight. It was then that I realised this wasn't a game about what the players thought would happen; rather, it was a game about what the dungeonmaster decided did happen. The DM was simulating the world on-the-fly. He was implementing its physics in his imagination.
We played many a game of D&D with Hatty as DM, then others among us gave it a go too. All good things come to an end, however: and after two years of regular D&D sessions Kedge and I went to university; Hatty joined the army. That was the last time I saw him until today. It turns out he now lives in Oxford, he'd seen I was speaking at the World Humanist Congress, so he turned up outside on the off-chance he might spot me. Amazingly, given that there were a thousand delegates to the congress, he did.
It's a wonderful experience to meet a friend after an interval of 36 years. For a few, brief moments, I was 18 all over again. I now have a glimpse of what it must be like when family members separated for half a century are rejoined.
Hatty works in London, so we can probably meet up for a coffee some time. I'll be really looking forward to it.
I think I may have to call him Steve, though...
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