Lesson #168: The Titanic Moves On

The Titanic was built in the city where I have lived for the last two-ish years. I have never been to the docks. So when one of my closest friends in Europe came over to visit before I take my leave of Europe and the European life I’ve been living the last three years, I decided we needed to go. She has a morbid fascination with mega-disasters and I have a weird penchant for boats.  Perfect!

So, after two nights of heavy drinking of our very favourite beer from the place we both lovingly call home despite the fact that neither of us live there anymore, we decided to go check out the docks.

It turns out that we picked the right day to go. Today was the 99th anniversary of Titanic’s departure from Belfast. What it did in Southampton for 11 months before it finally had its maiden voyage, I don’t know, but it left Belfast 99 years ago today.

Other things we learned: The White Star Line called families of the lost crewmen and asked to be reimbursed for the lost uniforms, Bruce Ismay was a hero in British and Irish culture, but had an enemy in the American press who painted him in the way that we know him in popular culture in the west, the men who were working on Titanic were allotted 7 minutes of bathroom time per 12 hour shift…if they went over, they were docked that time the next day, and the things that ships rest on when in dry dock are called — not at all surprisingly — keel blocks, which, in the case of the Thompson dry dock, where the Titanic was worked on, weighed 2.5 TONNES apiece.

Things I already knew: Boats are neat!

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Lesson #167: Hurling, Very Basically

I love hurling…it’s pretty awesome. My friend who is over visiting and I decided to go patio-ing after the England friendly today since the weather was uncharacteristically gorgeous and there’s no better way to spend a weekend afternoon than with a pint of beer and some sunshine. We happened to run into a friend of mine who is from a small country town about an hour from where we live who was headed into the pub to watch the hurling. So we decided to join him for a pint and to watch the second half.

I don’t really understand hurling all that much. It’s a lot like Gaelic football — which is a crazy good craic — but not exactly. I find it more interesting because it’s kind of like if you took baseball and football and mixed them together with basketball and added a dash of that Tiger Woods Nike commercial where he bounces the ball on his club for a while.

It turns out that hurling is scored exactly the same way that Gaelic is. Three points for a proper goal and the a point for every time you put the ball through the uprights.

What else I learned: all the guys who play for the GAA are unpaid. Therefore, they have actual day jobs. And since the better ones play for club and county, they really must have very little free time.

Lesson #166: The Antiseptic War

I am strongly against the sterilization of combat photography that has been the stance of the American Department of Defence since Vietnam. I believe it is detrimental to the general public and to the overall understanding of the progression of the war to the average person. I believe the censorship of images (as what happened with Zoriah Miller a couple years back* and with the Ken Jarecke photograph during Desert Storm**) is a dangerous thing, even if it keeps the general populace placated.

Here’s what I learned: Three times as many bombs were dropped on Vietnam than were dropped during World War II. Granada was HIGHLY censored. So have all seven (!) wars in which the US have found themselves been.

What I already knew: The government is sneaky when it wants to hide things. The media enjoyed sensationalizing the Gulf War.

I don’t believe that combat photography should be easy to see, but I believe I should be given the choice to see it. So when I came across this CBC documentary today, I was fascinated. It’s about the progression of governmental control of combat journalism since Vietnam.

As a side note, I have about a dozen books of combat photography, so don’t think I’m saying this just because it’s something to say. I believe that it is important and, as I wrote a term paper on as a master’s student, that it can be artistic…for example, Larry Burrows made a number of photographs that mimicked etchings and paintings that were done of battlefields during World War I including the photograph of the dazed Marine having his wounds dressed, which mirrors the C.R.W. Nevinson painting, “The Doctor” and works on its own as a photograph whether you know the painting or not because of the colour of it. Blue eyes, red blood…it just works. I think that if you can accurately portray something so violent and bloody as a war and make it haunting and artistic at the same time, that’s a rare gift. The first book I ever picked up on combat photography had an image in it that I will never forget and I credit that image with my interest in combat photography. Because everything is wrong with it and it’s still gorgeous. (It’s actually a frame from Burrows’ famous “One Ride with Yankee Papa 13” photoessay, which appeared in the April 16, 1965 issue of Life Magazine.)

*A larger version of the photograph is here. And graphic, so don’t look at it if you don’t want to see it.

**There’s an interesting BBC article about it here.

Lesson #165: Otters

My cousin and I were talking today about how I want a baby otter. Because seriously, they’re the cutest. things. EVER.

It turns out, I have no idea if you could legally have an otter and if you can, whether you would want to.

Some quick research suggests that one can, and many people do, keep otters as pets. They’re apparently very playful, but tend to get a bit bite-y when begging for food. The legality of doing so varies…

Lesson #164: My People Are the Best Fruit Juice Drinkers!

I stumbled on this map* today and it kept me occupied for quite some time. It was fun to see what the countries I’ve lived in have been best at. Beer drinking is on that list, but that one I actually already knew that. The Czechs consume a staggering amount of beer per capita. Like 25 litres per person per year more than the second country on the list — incidentally, also a country I have lived in.

Anyway, Canadians are apparently excellent juice drinkers. Awesome! I’d have said that we’re the best producer of professional hockey players, but maybe that one’s too obvious. That’s all most people know about Canada. Hockey players, maple syrup and yaks.**

I suggested this to my cousin and she replied, “but we are so good at catching da taste!” She gets major points for quoting a juice commercial from 20 years ago that starred a potential Hall of Fame second baseman.

*In general, this site is way fun!

**Well, if you ask my best friend, yaks are on that list.

Lesson #163: There Will Come Soft Rains

When I was 15, my English class had to read the Ray Bradbury short story, There Will Come Soft Rains.* Footnoted at the bottom of this was the fact that the title was based on the Sara Teasdale poem of the same name.

It occurred to me today that despite having had that knowledge for 15 years, I have never actually read the poem even though it’s included in the story, so I thought I’d remedy that.** I had always assumed that the poem was about spring and stuff. It’s really not. It’s about exactly the same thing that the Ray Bradbury story is about — more or less. Teasdale’s poem was written in the immediate aftermath of the First World War; Bradbury’s story is about a nuclear holocaust. Both, however, are about life continuing (in Teasdale’s case nature, in Bradbury’s an automated house) without noticing the annihilation of humanity.

The poem can be found here, among many other places. The short story is here.

*It’s actually the August 2026 chapter of The Martian Chronicles and it’s an excellent story. I highly recommend it.

**I really don’t like poetry. I can’t tell you how many poetry units I bluffed my way through in high school.

Lesson #162: Nottingham Caves

Autobiographical note: I secretly love the Robin Hood story. I blame Disney’s singing foxes for this. My parents will be able to give a fairly accurate estimate of how many times my brother and I watched the Disney version of Robin Hood when we were kids. It was a lot. Each of us has a copy of it on DVD — he gave me a copy of it and Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men in Tights on DVD for Christmas a few years ago.*

So here’s what I know about Nottingham: The evil Sheriff of Nottingham lived there and made Robin Hood’s life difficult.**

Here’s what I learned today: There are a whole bunch of caves underneath Nottingham. Like 500 of them. That were used as far back as the medieval times for a wide variety of things. Like tanning hides and storing stuff. And probably hiding. Anyway, the University of Nottingham and the British Geological Survey have teamed up and are mapping out the caves in highly accurate 3D renderings. And you can fly through them should you be so inclined. I am so inclined, so I totally spent half an hour playing on the Nottingham Caves website.

*And lest you think this is freakish, half the people on my floor the second (and last) year I lived in residence were obsessed with that movie. We had at least three viewing parties over the course of the year.

**I choose to ignore the fact that Robin Hood was effectively just a highwayman.