Life in the future

Recently I read a collection of articles by Arthur C. Clarke called The View From Serendip. Here’s the review I posted on goodreads:

I finally picked this off the shelf because some of it is about Sri Lanka. Unfortunately for me, not very much of it. It’s a random collection of articles, most of which have Clarke speculating on where technology, and specifically space exploration, will go during the last few decades of the 20th century. But his prose style is quite irritating: by turns dry and smug, with the occasional stilted attempt at humour.
Having said that, some of the predictions are remarkable. While he misses the mark on some things (he couldn’t have imagined the stalling of the space programme) he also basically predicts – in the early 1970s – the Internet, email, RSS feeds, social media and smartphones. For that alone it’s a valuable piece of history. It’s just a shame there wasn’t more about his life in and around the Indian Ocean (apart from a couple of snorkelling trips).

Yesterday I was driving the 10yo to an appointment and she put on the car radio. Some 60s-style jazz full of Hammond organ noodling came on and we listened to it for a bit. We had a conversation about how old-fashioned it was; how music has changed; whether old people (i.e. me) can like modern music too. Then she asked me what I had thought the future was going to be like when I was a child. I was stumped for a moment so I told her that I’d read and watched a lot of science fiction and that I was probably expecting things like a colony on the moon within my lifetime.

She said that she imagines flying cars will happen in the not too distant future. Then I explained about all the unexpected ways in which life has changed since I was young, and what things were like before mobile phones and the Internet.

Her final comment before we arrived at our destination was that she thought technology made people lazy, whether it be because they feel they can duck out of appointments at the last minute by sending a text, or because they don’t feel they need to learn facts or arithmetic because devices can provide the answer with a quick click or swipe.

Wasabi Kit Kat

My wife recently came into possession of a box of wasabi-flavoured Kit Kat bars. She scoffed them all herself, naturally, but one of her colleagues also had a few lying around and generously donated them to me.

The packaging is as pretty as you’d expect from the Japanese.

Box interior. It originally held twelve pieces. They’re fairly small: thumb-length, basically.


On the back of the individual Kit Kat wrapper is, ummm, a space for you to doodle? Write a shopping list? (“Need more wasabi Kit Kats”).


The thing itself in all its pale green glory.


And the taste? The wasabi flavour is definitely there, but combining it with the chocolate has removed its spicy kick. Which is the whole point of wasabi, as far as I’m concerned. This is wasabi for the kind of people who like alcohol-free beer.

Still, if this has whet your appetite wait until you read this review of 15 different flavours available in Japan, including pear, sweet potato, and tea.


Compare and contrast: Last Saturday I went to a friend’s birthday party. I had a few beers and got home around 1:30. I slept until 5:30, then woke with a pounding head. I was awake until 7:30 when I was sick. The pain was sharp, located in a precise spot just at the base of my skull, and impervious to Paracetomol. The usual “never again” thoughts passed through my head. Now when I’d had the drinks (although they were stronger than I’d anticipated) I knew that a certain quantity would be enough to have this effect the next day. But somehow that’s never enough to stop you.

Then yesterday I took my kids for vaccinations in anticipation of our trip to Sri Lanka at the end of December. One of them in particular was very upset about the idea of a small amount of brief pain, even knowing that it would be over in a matter of seconds. The suffering, at least in terms of physical pain, was much less than mine, and yet the emotional stress was that much greater. It’s like the opposite of those old “delayed gratification” experiments. We’re more upset at the idea of a little pain right now than the strong possibility of maybe even greater pain in the future (even if only a few hours in the future).

Spend, spend, spend

I’ve always had a slightly unusual (I think) attitude to spending money. I’ve gone through periods when I had none, and periods when I had plenty, but the kind of things I spend it on haven’t changed too much.

After leaving the educational system I spent several years in and out of freelance employment. When I had work I was comfortable enough, but during extended workless periods I had virtually nothing and would often have to stretch my meagre resources until the arrival of the next Jobseeker’s Allowance payment, counting the number of slices of bread I had left (yes, toast is a square meal). Yet strangely I could always find a few quid to buy a cinema ticket.

To be clear, I was never in long-term, unavoidable poverty. I chose my work situation (I was trying to break into the film industry) and at any moment I could have abandoned that strategy and got a proper job. In fact that’s more or less what I ended up doing. The point is I always had options. I wasn’t trapped in poverty.

On those occasions when I got a bit of spare cash I felt a bit weird about spending it on anything unusual. I remember after I got one of my first wage packets thinking “Wow, I could actually buy a CD player with this”. And I did, but it still felt like a big step to spend that much money on one thing.

Even now after two decades of employment I still haven’t got used to spending money on certain things. Clothes, for example, as anyone who’s ever met me will attest. “What, you can spend several hundred Euro on dinner but you can’t buy a new shirt when your old one has a hole in it?” Nope. And for many other items which fall outside of the usual categories I’ll still waver for a while and often decide against it just because it feels weird to spend money on a thing I’ve never had and don’t absolutely need, just because I can.

I think it’s also partly because I’ve never craved objects, with the exception of certain functional ones like books. I’m not much of a gadget freak; I have a camera and computer and phone but I’m not constantly checking out new models and will usually only replace them when they break down. If I spend a large amount of money on anything it tends to be on an experience, whether it’s a meal or travel. Otherwise the big expenses tend to be communal or for other people: the house, the car, things for the kids and their school/activity-related expenses. And to be honest I don’t even need more books, as much as I could afford them. What I need is more time to read the ones I have. What I need is to retire.


By the way, according to the website Global Rich List I’m in the top 0.54% for earnings. Now this may make me sound like some kind of fat cat but even someone earning the average wage in the UK, for example, is comfortably in the world’s top 1%, and the average American wage-earner is in the top 0.5% like me. So all those “We are the 99%” placards you see at demonstrations should perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt.

School run

My kids take the school bus every weekday morning. It picks them up from the end of our road and, traffic permitting, they’re at school 15-20 minutes later. I’d let them go to the bus stop on their own but our youngest is still only 5.

If the weather is too inclement for cycling I then take the metro. There are often children sat around me on the metro making their way to various other schools across town. Most of them spend their time studying or revising for tests; quizzing each other on Flemish or English vocabulary and grammar. I resist the temptation to help them with their English homework.

I attended two different schools as a child. The first was a ten minute walk from home so I managed that on foot alone. From age twelve onwards I attended another school on the other side of town. This involved taking a public bus from the end of my road into the centre of town and then changing there onto another bus to the other side of town to where the school was located. No one else from my school lived in my area so I never saw any classmates on my journey. I don’t remember ever doing homework on the bus. I think I probably just stared out of the window.

There was a recent film about the journey children in different countries across Africa and Asia make in order to get to school. I missed it in the cinema but just found it on YouTube. I’ll show it to the kids one of these days as I’m sure they’d find it interesting.

Clear your plate

An article in the Guardian the other day tackled the thorny subject of the sequence in which you eat the various ingredients of a dish. Which is to say, if you’re eating a selection of items on the same plate, as would be the case with a roast dinner, do you mix them and eat several things with each forkful, alternate between them, or work your way through them in a specific sequence? And if it’s the latter do you eat your favourite thing first, or save it until the end? We occasionally have this conversation with our kids as children are often fussier eaters (as the article notes there’s even a name – brumotactillophobia – for the fear of having different foods touch each other on your plate). Ours tend to eat each ingredient at one time and save their favourite for last. I prefer to mix things up so that I finish everything at more or less the same time. Surely if the ingredients belong together in the same dish they should be eaten together? Otherwise they’d be presented as different courses? The only exception to this rule is that when I have roast beef I save the Yorkshire pudding for last.

I guess this is not an issue (or less of an issue) in cultures where different foods arrive separately and on separate plates (mezze, tapas, etc). But in that case I prefer to finish each individual plate. Maybe it’s the psychological barrier of the separate plates rather than one big one which makes me think that those foods should be kept separate?



Five mugs

A friend recently posted five consecutive photos on five consecutive days on facebook. The photo had to be of a mug and he had to tell the story behind it. As the month draws to its close and I run out of blogging material I present to you here, and not on facebook, my Five Mugs.

The Shakespearean Insult Mug, from the Unemployed Philosophers’ Guild. I bought this in San Diego. The only mug I own which is worth reading. I keep this one in my office.


The famous Orange Two-handled Mug. I bought it in Den Bosch in 2007. I use it less than I expected to because I’m not so keen on the feel of plastic, as opposed to ceramic, in my mouth.

The “I heart NY” Mug. Bought in Newark airport in order to use up a few remaining dollars before heading home to Yurp. But then of course the sales tax was added on (because Americans don’t like to include that in the display price) bringing the final price to more than the amount of cash I had left, so I had to pay for it with the credit card and so I still had a fistful of dollars afterwards. Obviously I only use this mug when I’m in a New York state of mind.

The Darth Vader Mug. This came free with some kind of confectionery. I rarely use it because it’s surprisingly capacious and I don’t need coffees or teas that big. No good for drinking from if held in the left hand.

The Ball-handled Mug. Bought in a small shop in Genova. The handle is actually less comfortable to hold than a normal one but I just like the way it looks.

Bonus: Anne found a wacky beer mug the other day in a bar in Brussels.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 101 other followers