What's Been, What's Coming

Christopher Fowler

Hot Enough For May

Southern Europe is experiencing an unpleasant, debilitating heatwave. This afternoon in Barcelona's Palo Alto market a young woman fainted in front of me and was instantly attended by an ambulance team. Instead of being concerned for her I could only think that the NHS would have warned her of a two-hour delay. The market is the least likely to ever be compared to Camden Market, being filled with clever independent craftspeople and beautiful objects. Everyone wants to stop and chat about art. There's no litter, no crowds. Covered in total sunblock, I cower from the beaches (where I am likely to fall over) and hide away with friends to eat enchiladas and discuss creativity. I end up trying to explain the derivation of 'Nag's Head' to a bemused English student, unsure how I got myself into this situation. Storms - the fabulously named tormentas - are on the horizon both here and in London. It feels like late August, not May. For a world city Barcelona has shockingly few green spaces, but the most beautiful, an immense 'global garden' in Montjuic, is perpetually empty because you must reach it by cable car. 

Clean, Green, No Dry-Clean

Now though, the city is greening after alternate streets have been pedestrianised, making a massive improvement to everyone's lives. Municipal gyms have swimming pools on their roofs and cost pence. Exercise equipment is freely available. The only litter comes from tourists, who have waddled back en masse in the narrow backstreets. The first time I stayed in a city with little rain I was shocked by how clean my clothes stayed. I now travel so lightly that even my small hand baggage is half empty. I'm amazed by how some families appear to be emigrating according to their luggage.

Face Offs

We visited another market where our friend Becky bought something for her dog to chew on; a rabbit's face. The ethical pet shop also had other severed body parts for your favourite pet to savage. Perhaps this is common knowledge among dog owners but I've never seen it before. Mind you, this is a market which is selling glass penis sculptures next to children's comics, so nothing would surprise me. Back in London I'll be returning to work on my final memoir and going into more treatment. I'll be at Waterstones Islington on Wednesday July 6th for a duel of the detectives with Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw. I've been billed as a Special Guest Star, which makes me think of Angela Lansbury turning up in shows like 'Columbo'.  


Stu-I-Am (not verified) Sun, 22/05/2022 - 20:50

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

My, my don't we look sporty. Could almost mistake you for a tourist. However, the lack of a t-shirt proclaiming "I'm With Stupid" at the end of an arrow, funny hat and sandals worn with socks, properly identifies you as a resident intellectual. And thanks awfully for the skinned rabbit face, complete with ears (extra charge, were they ?). Put me right off my 'Lapin à la crème,' it did. But yes, as other dog owners can attest, canines would most assuredly show a preference for 'severed animal parts' if they could get them. Not so unusual for an animal who will eat --- shall we say, 'used food' at the drop of a... well at the 'drop,' shall we say. Moving on to higher pursuits --- one of its many claims to fame (and infamy) as you well may know, Montjuic figured prominently in the measurement which produced the first prototype metre, at the end of the 18th c. And that ends another episode of 'You Don't Say!'

Jo (not verified) Sun, 22/05/2022 - 21:37

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I don't think he looks spotty Stu.

But the metre thing was interesting. One ten millionth of the calculated distance from the North Pole to the Equator. I shall squirrel that one away and bring it out at Christmas.

I find it quite hard to work in imperial now and find the US system of decimal imperial both impossible and bizarre. I suppose it just depends what you are brought up with. Although as an experiment I recently asked a 12 year old nephew how tall he was. Four foot eleven he replied immediately. In metric he could only hazard a guess. His use of different scales varied according to what was being measured or how big it was. So it would seem we are stuck with our dual system a while yet.

Martin Tolley (not verified) Sun, 22/05/2022 - 22:30

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Jo, how we conceptualise the world in its many dimensions is probably like learning/acquiring our first language. What you have at the start of the process acts as a sort of template (or yardstick?) which you use to compare later experiences and back-translate. My father, a child of the 1930s who worked with cash in the 1990s always converted UK new decimal pence back to pounds, shillings and old pence; and was frankly a whiz at the mental arithmetic needed. And many of his generation were similarly handicapped/gifted. He once took me with him when purchasing some timber flooring for a DIY project because he couldn't hack metric measures. In the builder's merchant's the old salesman went through the catalogue of floor tiles and planks, explaining they were available in metric dimensions of 1 and 2 metre lengths and thicknesses of 3mm, 5mm etc. When my dad asked him how much they cost; the instant reply was five shillings and fourpence a square yard, or 2 for ten bob.

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Sun, 22/05/2022 - 23:46

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@Jo That's 'sporty,' Jo. 'Sporty.'

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Mon, 23/05/2022 - 00:22

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The extreme heatwave you felt/are feeling in Barcelona (as is Southern Europe, in general) is becoming the expected in number and length, rather than the exception thanks to global warming. And with the debilitating heat also comes rising sea temperatures,which can lead to increasingly frequent and violent 'tormentas.' The data put Spain, in particular,very much in a climate change danger zone.

Jo W (not verified) Mon, 23/05/2022 - 06:36

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

It’s looking like you’ve had an enjoyable and restorative break, Chris. May you have a safe journey home and not find the next lot of treatment too debilitating. X
By the way, is there a stork’s nest up there, on that chimney?

Jan (not verified) Mon, 23/05/2022 - 08:02

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hope the next round of treatments gos well Chris.

BarbaraBoucke (not verified) Mon, 23/05/2022 - 12:36

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Great photo, Chris! You look well rested. I also hope the next round of treatments goes well. My sister's dog would have loved the treat your friend bought for her dog. That's a good question about the top of the chimney, Jo W. I was so impressed with Chris's clean white trainers (my shoes are always scuffed and dirty) that I didn't look more at the rest of the photo.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Mon, 23/05/2022 - 18:09

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I thought "tower" rather than chimney so I thought it was a restaurant/office/viewing platform.
I, too, admired the sparkling shoes, although could be they're just new to minimize the luggage. (If you buy on arrival you can boast about how little you carry.)
Ontario has just experienced a derecho storm which has done considerable damage by uprooting trees and toppling power poles and even electrical towers. It is a sort of downburst storm of thunder, wind, and rain and has been rare in Canada up till now. It traveled through the area where they have occasionally had tornadoes so I imagine Alberta will have one before long.
It's the dryness that keeps the clothes clean. Dust in the air, rain falling and the result is muddy clothes. Helps that your skin stays dry, but let's not go there.
So glad you've had such a pleasant break and hope that Pete is relaxed, too. All the best for the upcoming treatment.
It's a long weekend and the sun has been shining, mirabile dictu, an almost unheard of event.

Alan R (not verified) Mon, 23/05/2022 - 18:31

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

If that's what Barcelona does to a guy - I'll have some of that - and make it a double. You are looking great.

The animal face looks like Frank the rabbit from the 2001 Donnie Darko movie. Especially the movie poster. Use it for the cover of your next "dark" novel, and save the photography or library fees.

It's interesting to know the speed of light is still measured in imperial miles at 186,000 miles per second. At that speed, it would take 2.5 million years to get to our nearest galaxy, Andromeda. Would it be quicker in Kilometers? Just saying.

Are they planning to do a digital live thingy from Waterstones? It would be such fun to be able to join you all there. Just takes a camera, computer and YouTube/FB.

Hoping the next treatment you face goes well. We both send our very best wishes from SA.

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Mon, 23/05/2022 - 18:51

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

After extensive forensic analysis, the top of the chimney-like structure looks to be either an antenna of some kind on what is probably a mobile phone mast/cell phone tower ---- or a very thin stork. My bet is on an antenna...or one disguised as a very thin stork.

Jo (not verified) Mon, 23/05/2022 - 22:22

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Ah sorry Stu, sporty. SPORTY. Not at all spotty. Not a bit.

Setting aside wood sheeting which pretends to be metric but is really still just 8x4, is there anyone in the UK that can mentally get any grip on the fuel economy of a car when we measure in miles and buy fuel in litres. Or, having worked it out with a calculator, derive any meaning from the answer. Miles per litre? I know, I know, buy an electric car and start afresh with kilowatts.

I'm glad the speed of light hasn't changed to metric or it would have been rounded up. Then where would we be?

Peter T (not verified) Tue, 24/05/2022 - 08:03

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I don't think my dog would have liked the rabbit's face. He was very fussy. He liked cheese sandwiches, medium mature cheddar on white bread with butter and most certainly no margarine. Make them with margarine and he'd attempt the very complicated process, for a dog, of disassembling the sandwich and scraping it off.

Barbara (not verified) Tue, 24/05/2022 - 14:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

It's an old industrial chimney. A number of them are still visible on a pictorial map of Barcelona from 1963.

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Tue, 24/05/2022 - 14:53

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@PeterT Peter, I presume as a proper British dog, he also required the bread crusts be removed.

Joel (not verified) Tue, 24/05/2022 - 17:10

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@ peter t @ stu-i-am
what? no watercress?

Joel (not verified) Tue, 24/05/2022 - 17:11

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

or is watercress reserved for delicate ladies finger sandwiches? or have i watched too many period british series on pbs?...lol

Peter T (not verified) Tue, 24/05/2022 - 20:41

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Stu-I-Am, In fact, he did prefer the crusts removed!

Joel, I don't think he had a taste for any kind of salad. Cheese and fish were definitely the top of his list followed by anything sweet.

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Tue, 24/05/2022 - 21:00

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@PeterT Not a surprise Peter. His fellow countrypeople bin 1,2 billion edible bread crusts a year --- the equivalent of 50m loaves of bread.

Peter T (not verified) Tue, 24/05/2022 - 21:06

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thankfully, when my engineering education became serious, the UK or at least my university had adopted SI (International System metric). For purposes of serious calculation involving forces, flows and energy, it makes life considerably easier and safer. I have worked in the US and on US projects with their decimalised Imperial and it's pretty horrible. The problem with metric is that many of the units aren't natural sizes. Much as feet and inches might be a mess, they are on a human scale of phalanges and feet. It's quite usual to find drawings of very large structures, a hundred metres long, with all lengths in millimetres. It seems very odd.

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Tue, 24/05/2022 - 22:24

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@Peter Peter, interesting you should mention the 'natural' basis for the Imperial system. By and large, the physical embodiments of the original approved measures (e.g. hands, barleycorns and left feet) were used primarily as learning devices. Clearly just to be contrary and confuse issues, the Yanks went their own way and picked up the weights and measures Britain discarded in reforming them in the 19th c. And, of course, at the same time the French decided to overthrow the monarchy, they decided to 'overthrow' Les Rosbifs' 'we're-the-biggest-empire-so-you-measure-things-our-way' Imperial system, with metric --- to the cry of 'off with their feet,' no doubt.' That was very specifically based on the natural world --- with the metre based on the dimensions of the Earth, and the kilogram, on the mass of a volume of water of one litre (a cubic decimetre).

Helen+Martin (not verified) Tue, 24/05/2022 - 23:02

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Of course, there is also the "it's that big/wide/high/deep/across" system where "that" represents a distance indicated by extended fingers and/or hands. Whole ships have been built using the tracing improvement on this system and I have been known to measure a calligraphic line depth with fingers squeezed together.

A Holme (not verified) Wed, 25/05/2022 - 10:42

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Father Ted to Dougal holding two toy cows. "These cows are small, the ones out there are far away. Small. Far away."

Helen+Martin (not verified) Thu, 26/05/2022 - 21:29

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

A Holme - that is a lovely example.

Peter T (not verified) Sun, 29/05/2022 - 07:23

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

UK gov is reviewing a return to old units. We can look forward to road signs:
London 3 leagues 1/2 a furlong and 2 chains.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Sun, 29/05/2022 - 19:31

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

It's all what you're used to, Peter, or can adjust to. I've never had to use old British money but as long as it doesn't go beyond L/s/p I can work it out and can even deal with Guineas (which defines class) although I have to really think to do it now. I'm happier with Celsius than Fahrenheit and I'm pretty comfortable with kilometres. Acres are clearer than hectares and I don't think there is a metric equivalent for sections and quarter sections. Yes, I'm 5 feet tall and don't ask about weight but it would be in pounds. I shop and can cook in metric but my stove is fahrenheit.