I’ll just be over here amusing myself…

I wanted a tagline for this blog.  So I googled “blog taglines” because I’m that creative.  I found several random slogan generators.   After running through about half a dozen random slogans for “this blog”,  I chose the stupidest one and put it up.  This made me happy because I am that easily amused.

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Yesterday I went to the dentist.  I didn’t like it.

swans teeth

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Castle Continued

The castle is set on the outskirts of a small town.  There is a road that runs up to the castle with houses on the opposite side.  The road ends at a small carpark and there is a small river beyond that.  Everything around it is small:  the castle is BIG.

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The view with your back to the castle. Just regular houses. And a pretty street light.

Along the main gate passage there are entrances to the two gate towers and to the creepy stairwells.  I didn’t go into the creepy stairwells.  And not because of this:

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OK.  Partly because of that.  And this:

Can you feel the creepiness?

Can you feel the creepiness?

I searched for the name of the castle on Flickr and did not find any photos of the creepy lower passages.  There were plenty of photos from the wall walk so it’s not like the castle is only visited by the faint of heart.  And tons of photos of the warning pictographic characters falling, slipping, hitting their heads, etc. so it’s not like the other visitors didn’t notice the descending staircases.

Watch your head, little man.,

Watch your head, little man.,

I walked around a bit not knowing where to go first. After a while I thought I’d enter the nearest tower.

Entering the first tower.

Entering the first tower.

Crunchy gravel underfoot, light from above, sound of birds outside and wasps inside.  The top is about 30 – 40 feet up.  I didn’t like it in there.  It felt weird.  The bad kind of weird.  Normally, I’m a big fan of oddly shaped sort of cubby-holes.  And I’m not claustrophobic.  But I couldn’t shake the sense that bad things happened in here.

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This is not a happy place.

A few photos and a short video later, I got the hell out of there.  It was much nicer outside.

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In Scotland I had thought that I would like to spend a year or so wandering the country taking pictures of beautiful old stones.  I could have easily spent a week in this place.

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Two gatehouses and so many towers – four main towers of the inner ward and another bunch set about the outer curtain.

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Everywhere I turned there was more castle!

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Southwest Tower in the background. Also known as the bird tower.

It was a very peculiar experience.  I was ecstatic to be in such an old, beautiful spot.  I felt a strange connection to the past but also felt very much in the moment.

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Yes, I am overfond of the through-the-doorway shot.

Below is one of two photos I took from inside a gatehouse tower.  I took over 400 photos that day but I couldn’t bear to be in the tower for more than a few seconds.  It was horrible.

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My brief forays into the towers were fraught.  I was incredibly freaked out and it was a strange kind of fear.  Not like the fear I’m most familiar with.  Not the existential fear.  It was a very immediate kind of fear despite there being nothing in the vicinity that would hurt me if I stood still.  But standing still was the LAST thing I wanted to do.  I wanted to run. My sypmathetic nervous system was in overdrive.  But why?  I’m one of the least superstitious people you would ever meet but I couldn’t ger over the outrageously bad vibes in there.  “Bad vibes”?  What does that mean apart from “I don’t like it.”

I’d been thinking about fear for a while.  And later, in a caff in London, I had a very good think about it and came up with a theory.

trip 1184

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Five – O

Preface:  Ah, yes, it’s a bad sign when you see a post with a preface.
I was really angry about the events in Baltimore and angrier about the press coverage.  (FYI:  calling rioters and looters “thugs” is fucking racist.  Call them opportunists or miscreants but by calling them thugs and white ne’er-do-wells by other names, like hooligan, gangster, delinquent, etc., you have made a choice.  A poor choice.)  So I wanted to write a post about social media and the police.  I started it weeks ago but couldn’t seem to get it right.  So now it’s almost exclusively about my experiences with the police and it’s a bit of a ramble.  I decided that if I didn’t post it unfinished, I probably wouldn’t post it at all.  For a while I thought not posting at all was the better option but then I just got sick of seeing it mocking me from the drafts folder so….


My grandfather died when I was eleven.  He’d had a stroke and had been in a coma for two months.  The adults discussed whether I should be allowed to visit him in the hospital and if taking me to the funeral was a good idea.  They decided yes to the hospital and no to the funeral.  But my mother and I went to visit his grave occasionally.  He’s buried in a large old cemetery with beautiful old trees, gentle slopes, and winding lanes.  I adore that cemetery.  It’s one of the most pleasant and peaceful places in this city.  I don’t find it creepy at all.  My high-school was only about a mile away so one afternoon a couple of my friends and I went to hang out in the cemetery after school.  The southern part of the cemetery was unoccupied and had a carefully manicured lawn.  There we sat talking and goofing off for a couple of hours until it started getting dark and we decided to head for home.  Of course the gate was locked.

Random cemetery gates

Random cemetery gates

One girl was a bit freaked out by this but I wasn’t fazed.  We walked over to a part of the fence with a nearby tree.  Never a tree climber or fence hopper, I would have preferred to wait until the gate opened the next morning.  It was a surprise to no-one when I got stuck atop the fence.  We asked passing adults for help but we just looked like a bunch of crazy teenagers and were ignored.  What seemed like hours later, a policeman happened by.  I was very relieved that there was finally an adult who would help me down.  First he gave me a bit of a hard time for attempting to break in.  We assured him that we had lost track of time and only wanted to go home.  He suggested we might end up going home in a squad car.  To my credit, I did not roll my eyes:  I knew he was full of shit and frankly would have appreciated a ride but my friends were horrified.  Finally he relented and lifted me off the fence.  But he didn’t put me down right away.  He just held me by the waist and told me I shouldn’t be a bad girl.  This was confusing to me – I recognised all the words but there was something in his tone that wasn’t quite right..  He told me I had to promise to be good.  I was very uncomfortable at this point.  He held me against his body for a moment and then felt me up as he released me to the ground.  My first experience with police.  And sexual harrassment.  Apart from that time when I was in grade 3 or 4 and the man in the car called me over to ask directions but when I went up to him he had this weird thing in his lap that made me want to walk away.  I had forgotten about that until my twenties when I was at a friend’s farm (and by farm, I mean huge house an hour away from the city) watching an old episode of Match Game:  the man had looked a bit like Gene Rayburn. Seriously, there are a lot of fucked up people out there.

When I was 18/19, I lived in London for a little over a year (a 10-part multipost awaits if I maintain the energy for it).  I had booked a bed and breakfast for three nights and hoped to find another place to stay after that.  I called a few numbers from Loot (a free buy-and-sell type of paper – like a printed Craigslist) and got a couple of duds before I spoke to Roger who had a room for rent in his house where he lived with his daughter and another lodger.  It sounded great and it was.  The only drawback was that it was a stone’s throw from where John (my first love and at least 8 parts of the 10-part multipost) lived.  I decided that it would be silly to let John influence where I lived, whether near or far so I gave Roger a couple of weeks rent and went to collect my things from the B&B. I decorated the room with construction paper chains and tiny flyers for gigs I’d attended and made a plasticine garden and was deliriously happy.

I lived on this quiet dead-end street that the google van didn’t bother to turn on to.

When the other lodger went home to visit family, she let me have her radio.  I really enjoyed pirate radio.  Then she moved out.  Soon afterward Roger and his daughter went on vacation.  I had the huge house to myself.  Still, I mostly kept to my room but did more cooking in the lovely kitchen.  While they were away, the house was burgled.  I called the police and they duly arrived, dusted for prints, and took my statement.  I was pretty discombobulated and the police, in particular PC Raymond, were extremely kind and calming.  I was very impressed.

Fast forward several months.  I moved to a flat in an apartment building.  I’d had an exceedingly peculiar evening and returned to the flat quite late and was attacked in the stairwell.  Again I called the police and made a statement after answering questions about whether I had been drinking and whether I knew my attacker.  I called the police station a week later to find out if there was any news but they could not recall me having made any statement.  I was not impressed.

Rewind about a year.  Shortly after I left the UK the first time, from Enrichment at Oxford, John moved to Boston.  I came to visit him in March and we went to the St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston because he wanted to take photos.  We lost track of one another in the crowd and I was left to somehow find my way back to the subway station.  The parade had been fun and festive but the mood changed drastically when the parade floats had passed.  It went from joyful to creepy in seconds.  I was feeling my way along a road I hoped I recognised when a young man raced past me on the sidewalk.  Shouts erupted from behind me and when I turned to look, two policemen were racing to catch the guy.  I moved out of the way and hung back a bit.  One of the officers pulled out his billyclub and threw it at the guy’s legs. It hit him and he fell to the ground, skidding face-first on the pavement.  When the police caught up to him, they retrieved their club and started beating the shit out of him with it.  Then they turned him over and beat him some more.  Horrified, I crossed the street to be as far away as I could be from the scene unfolding on the sidewalk.  The beating continued for some minutes and in the single glance I made in their direction, I could see that the guy was a bloody pulp.  I was utterly freaked out.  Alone and lost in a strange city, I saw the worst beating I’ve ever seen in my life.  By police.  For no discernable reason.  There was no weapon because they didn’t frisk him when they caught him, they just went straight to furious violence.  I am still confounded by this.  I feel a kind of shame for not somehow intervening and trying to stop it but I also understand why I didn’t.

Anyway, after I moved back home from the UK, I moved into a flat with three other women.  I chose this flat because although my room was in a poorly constructed addition with no heat, it had slopey ceilings.  Downstairs was another flat shared by three roommates.  One night they had a party and their guests spilled out onto the porch and the yard.  Some neighbourhood boys decided to come by and hurl insults at the folks downstairs, mostly racial slurs but also some homophobic ones.  The partiers yelled back and then the boys collected some stones from the park next door and started hurling them into the yard.  Someone called the police.  After a while, a squad car pulled up and an officer came to the sidewalk in front of our house.  F, my downstairs neighbour, went up to talk to him and one of the local kids joined them.  F addressed the boy directly, “Why do you think it’s okay to yell racist insults?”  Before the kid had a chance to say anything the cop said, “Well why not? Everybody else does it. The world’s built on racism.”  I was so astonished that a sharp “What?!” escaped from my lips.  The cop shot me a dismissive look and then turned and left.  F said he hadn’t expected anything less but I was incensed.  I called to file a complaint against the officer.  The woman who answered the phone explained that she would take my statement but a complaint would only be filed if the police deemed it worthy.  When I called the following Monday, I reached the same woman and she told me that they would not be filing a complaint and that the officer had merely been speaking philosophically.   Oh, well that’s alright then.

A couple of years later, I was living in a flat above a store on a main street in a rough but interesting neighbourhood.  One evening my roomate (F again) forgot to lock the front door when he left for the night.  I didn’t notice until the door opened downstairs and I heard feet on the stairs.  Assuming it was F, I didn’t even get up to look until I heard unfamiliar voices.  Two drunk guys were sitting on the landing at the top of the stairs.  They must have been in their 50’s or 60’s, clearly homeless and out of their minds.  I asked them to leave.  They refused.  They offered me a drink of what smelled like paint thinner.  They had a can of Sprite for mixer.  I was firmer the second time and told them they had to leave or I would call the police.  Again, they refused.  So I dialled 911 and let them know that two homeless guys had broken into my apartment, and that I was a young woman alone in the house and that I was scared.  I waited forty-five minutes for a squad car.  Yes.  Forty-five minutes.  They were harmless and just looking for a way to get out of the cold but the police didn’t necessarily know that.  When F returned, he told me I should have waited until he got home because he said the police would have taken them down to the beach to beat the living crap out of them for disturbing the peace.  Since F had called the “the world’s built on racicm” thing, I had no reason to doubt him.  I have since learned from newspaper articles that taking people to the beach for a “tune up” is an actual thing.

F moved out but I kept the flat (and his cat, the lovely Simon) because the rooms were large and the rent was reasonable.  I had a couple of different roommates but they were often out of town or staying with their girlfriend or boyfriend.  Alone again one night I woke to a strange noise.  It sounded like someone out on the fire escape.  I held my breath trying to locate the noise.  It was definitely someone on the fire escape.  I got up and turned the lights on and off and on again to let the potential burgler know that someone was home and this would not be an optimal location for a break-in.  Frightened, I got dressed and went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea since it was pretty obvious that I wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep.  Then I heard breaking glass from the back of the house.  I grabbed my keys and got the hell out of there.  Still half awake and scared, I walked up the street unsure what to do.  I asked the only person I saw on the street if they could make a phone call for me but they must have thought I was crazy because they ignored me and kept on going.  The next person I found stopped his car and said he would make a phone call for me if I would just do this one little thing for him.  I declined this offer and kept on going.  No more than 5 minutes later I saw a cop car.  With immense relief, I flagged them down and explained that someone had broken into my house.  “What, now?!”  Yes.   They followed me to the house.  Once inside, I led them to the back room where I’d heard the breaking glass.  As I was walking, still scared but happy to have back-up, I thought, “Wait, why am I leading the way?” We could hear that someone was still back there.  I got to the door and, still frightened and still unsure why I was in the lead, I opened the door and there was a grubby looking little guy rummaging through my roommate’s desk.  One of the officers asked me if I knew this person and when I said I did not, they pushed me out of the way and grabbed him.

World's greatest cat but no help at all with burglers.  Maybe hamburglers.

Simon, the world’s greatest cat but no help at all with burglers. Maybe hamburglers.

They put him on the ground and began asking him questions.  One officer stayed with him and another asked me questions in the front of the house.  After I’d seen the scrawniness of the guy who broke in, I felt like “oh, I probably could’ve taken him…” but I was extremely frightened when I didn’t know what or who was in my home.  Having not taken the hint of the lights going on and off, he was likely not in his right mind (to put if mildly).  I was grateful that the police were able to come to my aid.

Apart from jaywalking, I’m a law-abiding citizen.  Although I have another half dozen stories about weird men doing creepy things (peeping tom, threatening psycho at the subway station, jerks following me home, jerks asking me to have sex with them for money, strangers making unsolicited obscene comments, a shitty boss who questioned me about my sex life, and all the usual stuff that happens to women every goddamned day), that is the sum total of my dealings with police.  There are a couple of bright lights, but there are way too many bad apples in there.

The first guy (the one who took advantage of my situation and felt me up when I was 15) was just a snake who happened to be wearing the uniform.  But should we hold him to a higher standard than your garden variety scumbag because he was wearing the uniform? Because he was employed at the public’s expense to enforce the law?  Because he was given emblems of authority in addition to his uniform like handcuffs and a gun?  From the other angle:  was he less worried about being held to account for molesting a minor because he was a cop?  Would the deterring fear of being caught or punished just disengage for this guy:  and would that make him more likely to do something detestable?  Apart from a teeny-tiny erosion of my self worth, nothing really bad happened there.  But really bad things do happen.  It is reasonable to believe that there is a ‘who’s-gonna-stop-me?’, brazen element within the ranks of the police because it is too easy to imagine an officer saying “who are they going to believe:  you, random person, or me, the police officer?”  So who polices the police?  And how can you know what their motivations are?  Who polices them?  At some point the buck is supposed to stop at some elected official but that doesn’t exactly make my heart sing.

Do we have reason to have faith in authorities:  in the police, in elected officials, teachers, doctors, bureaucrats, and others?  Your answer likely depends on how well those systems are working for you.  If you are marginalised because of your race, religion, bank balance, or whatever, you might have good reason to be cautious about putting your trust in institutions.  If you are poor and black in Baltimore and Ferguson and everywhere inbetween, those institutions are probably not working for you;  you might have good reason to NOT trust the police.  Or the justice system writ large.  (Here‘s a Frontline documentary called The Plea.  In it I learned that only about 2% of cases go to trial, the rest are settled with plea bargains.  In non-violent cases, the accused gets probation with time served if they plead guilty.  But there are multiple costs associated with probation and if you are too poor to pay, you are considered in violation of your probation and are sent back into the system, perhaps to plea out again with more costly probation, etc.  About 5 years ago, I decided not to watch Frontline anymore or read Harpers because they made me so angry but although I haven’t picked up a copy of Harpers, I find it hard to resist Frontline.)

I reckon there’s power in numbers.  If we all police ourselves and one another (and not in some McCarthy-ist or KGB-informant kind of way), perhaps we can regain belief in the social contract.  It requires speaking out.  A lot of people are scared to stick their neck out and I can be that way myself.  But we can effect change if we want to.  On the micro level:  intervene when we see some guy cornering a woman who is trying to escape; and say, “Look Sally, I think you’re a nice person but that racist joke is not funny” and that sort of thing.  and on the macro level, write your Congressman or Member of Parliament with regard to justice issues.  If there is a cause you feel strongly about, by all means, sign the pettition but then take it a step further.  I go to rallies in my area even though I don’t enjoy the shouting and am not impressed by sloganeering:  I do it because our electoral options are not always terribly broad and because it is a visible means of saying something that’s important.  Talk is cheap (thanks, Twitter):  but when we see other people speak up, I believe it makes it easier for us to speak up.

Also of note:  last week was the 30th anniversary of the MOVE eviction in Philadelphia.  There are a few films about this floating around:  Let the Fire Burn (trailer here) was where I first learned of what happened so it stands out for me.  If you are not familiar with this sad story, I’d recommend looking into it.  If you watch any of the films, be sure to have your critical thinking cap on because the producers have their own take on the events, like in any documentary.  But because the group is so divisive and the events are so incendiary, it can get hyperbolic.

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Spring hasn’t quite sprung but it’s on its way.   Buds on the tree outside the house showing the first bits of green.

Lots of moody cloud with a speck of blue sky.

Lots of moody cloud with a speck of blue sky.

More moody clouds

More moody clouds.  Also with Hydro pole and power lines.  And a bit of rooftop.  Clearly, I suck at composing photos.

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A great deal of restraint.

I had to turn off the TV.  If one more person on CNN remarked that the police in Baltimore were behaving with a great deal of restraint, I was going to scream.

My partner, R, is marking a test with a great deal of restraint.
My friend works for a tech company with a great deal of restraint.
When I was a teenager, I worked in a record store with a great deal of restraint.

Since the 10 pm curfew, the TV cameras haven’t shown more than a dozen people on the streets.  A couple of bottles were thrown before the people retreated.  Plastic bullets were fired at a few who remained.  But the police didn’t blow up the entire city or mistake a gun for a taser or drag and beat someone causing severe spinal cord injuries today, so I guess that means they are exercising a great deal of restraint.

Well, that’s nice.

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Particle Verbs

Recently, I dusted off my unfinished linguistics project.  For something to do.  To fend off the atrophy of my brain.
The bad news is that this led to questions I couldn’t answer.  That was also the good news.

So.  Particle verbs are nice and interesting.  Here’s a brief Intro to Particle Verbs for y’all…

English (and a bunch of other languages) have phrasal verbs.  That’s exactly what it sounds like:  phrases which work as verbs, such as found out or cooked up.

Transitive example (i.e. taking a direct object):

He counts on Susan.
He could presumably be counting from one to thirty while atop Susan.   But it was clearly meant in the sense of depending. Different “on”.

Intransitive example (no direct object):

              She looked into having her car fixed but the quote she got was outrageous.
The into here is not behaving the same way as it would in:
              She put the quote into the glove compartment.

Particle verbs look like ordinary phrasal verbs.  But they have a distinguishing characteristic:  variation.  The direct object can be placed between the verb and the particle or it can be placed after both.


She put the book down before going into the kitchen.
She put down the book before going into the kitchen.

Put = verb;  down = particle.

Other examples of particle verbs are pull in, put together, turn off, invite over, bring down, and many more.

There is no variation with pronouns. (Note: an asterisk before a sentence denotes that it is ungrammatical and a question mark before the sentence implies that it is not entirely clear whether it is grammatical or not. )

I put it down before going into the kitchen.
*I put down it before going into the kitchen.
She called me in for a chat.
*She called in me for a chat.

This is also true for “this” and “that”.
I asked her to clean that up.
*I asked her to clean up that.

It sounds odd but you can easily imagine someone saying it. So maybe it should have a question mark. I leave the asterisk because if this was written in a newspaper there would be letters written to the editors in indignation.

But if the “this” or “that” is part of a noun phrase, it’s all fine and dandy again.

I asked her to clean up that mess.
I asked her to clean that mess up.

I doesn’t work in passive constructions because the object has moved to the subject position.

The book was picked up by Sally.
*Picked the book up by Sally.

Where would you even put the “was” in that sentence?

*Picked was the book up by Sally.
*Picked the book was up by Sally.

And you can have weird noun phrases. They are not subject to variation either. Just as in the passive construction, the object is the head of the phrase.

I like the book she picked up.
*I like she picked the book up.

So why would you care? You might not. I do.

I think the reason I gave about the lack of variation in passive and noun phrase constructions is reasonable. But there could be another reason or you might want to flesh out the theory (particle verb!) a bit more. More interesting for me – and the basis of my project – is about the variation in itself. Rather than be concerned about the situations where variation doesn’t happen, I want to know why sometimes you would say “I picked up the book” and other times “I picked the book up”. And I had a theory. A good theory, I think. (Don’t steal it, please).

My theory is that longer objects will tend to be placed last.

“Duh” you might be thinking. But there’s more.

Longer objects will be placed last in spoken utterances more often than in written speech.

You might still be thinking “duh” but now that’s on you. I’ve got a comparative and a testable hypothesis. I’m ready for a statistical fishing expedition. Boy howdy!

Then I did the really smart thing I’m not going to tell you about.
I’m not going to tell you about the really smart thing I did then.

Once you start seeing variation, you can’t stop seeing it.

I scanned about 1500 pages of written text and went through (phrasal verb!) dozens, if not hundreds, of hours of spoken speech, combing them for particle verbs. I found about 1,200 particle verbs. Of those, only about ten percent were in constructions that allowed for variation. It was in deciding which were “good” particle verbs that I ran into trouble.

For instance, there was the interrupted object:

I will pull out for you the file.
I will pull the file out for you.
I will pull out the file for you.

Spoken emphasis changed the rules and there was general weirdness. These are actual examples from my research.

?You should take on this.
?Can I pull up this into a larger platform?
*You should bring in him.
?If you’re going to take on them, why don’t you just….

Should such examples count? Or are they just production errors? Is there something going on there that I should be paying attention to or is it just noise? If there’s a shift going on where these constructions are becoming grammatical, I want to know about it. Where do you put the asterisks and where the question marks? Can you leave them all off? Oh, native English speakers, lend me your ears! These are not rhetorical questions. I really want to know. Help me!

Side note: in second year, I turned in a paper to an archaeology professor that didn’t have a title. He hadn’t specified that he’d wanted one so I just put my name and student number and the name of the class on it. He took marks off. I was incensed! From then on, I made up the most preposterous titles. (I studied math so I didn’t have to write many papers.) After I gave a doozy to a professor in the linguistics department, he told the entire class about a graduate student he’d once had. This guy had chosen a really freaking complicated project for his PhD thesis. While the university will usually cut you off (particle verb!) after five years, this student had begun his thesis before the university had started using a cut-off (weird version of same particle verb!) time. He was 5 years deep before he started writing. And then he ran into a complication. He defended his thesis 8 years later. The title of his thesis? “What I did on my summer vacation”. I just about fell out of my chair.

FYI – sorry for the crappy formatting.  Don’t know how to fix it.  Tried two different things to fix it and neither seems to work.


Edit note:
Much of the messed up pronoun variation is of a particular kind.  It’s like countable mass nouns.

“Sugar” is a good example.  It’s a mass noun like “furniture”.  You can want less sugar and less furniture.  “Idea” is a countable noun.  You have fewer ideas – not less!!!! –  and you can count them.  You can have three ideas.  You can’t have three furnitures.
You can take two sugars in your coffee.  One sugar, two sugars, three sugars, four!  I just counted them.  But it’s a mass noun…
Because there is an unspoken “packet of” sugar and “packet” is a count noun.

Similarly, when you get an utterance like

You should take on this.

There is an unpoken “project” at the end.

Now it is standard to speak of two sugars.  Is it becoming okay to take on this?   Will it soon be grammatical to bring in him?

Also, that A-ha song from the 80s always runs through my head when I look at examples like this.  What did they think they were doing?

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Holy shit. It’s a castle!

There was a bit of hullaballoo when my mother headed back home and I continued my journey alone.   We’d been to Temple Meads Station the day before to arrange for her transport to Heathrow.

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A platform at Temple Meads train station

The folk at the ticket office told her that it would cost somewhere in the vicinity of £125 ($200 – $250) and it still wouldn’t be a direct journey – that she’d have to change trains (carrying all of her luggage for the first time, mind). The gentleman in the disabled customer service office was very kind and said that he would help her on the train in Bristol and would arrange to have someone meet her at the junction to transfer her bags to the other train. I was still shocked by the cost since for £21.50 you can get a train to Paddington station and take the tube for less than £5 directly to any terminal at Heathrow. I needed to remind myself that it was neither my life nor my money (and clearly not my decision).  I think they threatened her with a train and a coach into Heathrow (£41.00 – 126.50) and, given what happened on the coach in the Highlands, she was willing to do pretty much anything to avoid a repeat of that experience. But still, she could have probably found a cabbie who would have driven her directly for that sum.

On our way out of the station, she arranged for a taxi to pick her up at the flat the following morning. Hiring cabs was always dodgy without access to a phone[i]. Early on we had thought of getting burner phones just for our travels but the prices we were quoted seemed insane. I had successfully arranged for a cab online when we needed to get to the train station in Edinburgh but she thought it would be okay to simply alert a cabbie to her need to get to the station by a certain time and he would just show up. He didn’t. By 6 am she was packed and ready to go. I hauled her bags out to the sidewalk and we waited. By 6:10 she was beginning to panic and asked passersby – few and far between at that hour – if she could use their phone to call the cab company. By 6:20 she was fully freaking out and went to the gas station a block away to use their phone. I stayed with her bags.   She hadn’t returned 15 minutes later so I locked up the flat and hauled her bags down to meet her and found her in negotiations with a woman getting gas and the attendant. They’d been trying to reach a cab company without success. After another 20 minutes, a cab pulled up and whisked her away. She messaged me later to say that it was a good thing she’d planned to leave at 6 am for a 1 pm flight 100 miles away. Quite.

There are pros and cons to travelling alone. Cons = eating by oneself and pros = pretty much everything else. All alone in the Bristol flat, I finished packing my bags, did some cleaning, planned my route to the station and then to Cardiff, had a final look round to make sure I’d left the flat in better shape than I’d found it, locked the door, put the keys through the letter box, raised anchor, and headed to the bus stop.

My excruciating planning paid off and the trip was uneventful. I was helped in part by the tip I’d received at the Apple store in Bristol about how to take a screenshot on the iPad. I still have about 20 of these screenshots of google directions and bus routes. And one taken at the Starbucks in the basement of Temple Meads station:

trip 735

An obvious gag I hadn’t thought of….  MI5 being the UK equivalent to the FBI.  Kinda.

My only regret about my time in Wales is that it wasn’t much longer. Like the-rest-of-my-life longer.

When I arrived at the flat, nobody was home so I checked out my room, had a quick shower and went out exploring.  I found the local arts centre, sat on the low wall surrounding it, and took a photo:

Sunny lane in Cardiff

Sunny lane in Cardiff

I continued on and found the Polish shop I’d seen on google maps as a marker that I was a mile and half from the flat.  I stopped in and asked if they had any pączki (a doughnut).  The lady there was very accommodating and said that if I came in the following day, she’d save a couple for me.  So the following day, on my way to the castle, I did exactly that and then continued on to the train station.

It was another brilliantly sunny day.   It was warm with the raincoat on.  The raincoat I’d purchased in a charity shop in Portobello, Edinburgh.  There were about 7 charity shops within 3 blocks of one another and we found the raincoat in shop #6.  Shops 1 – 5, in response to our desire to purchase a raincoat, were all, “Uh, everybody in Scotland already HAS a raincoat and no-one would even think of giving one away.  Duh.”  With just a bit of eye-rolling at the silly foreigners.  And if the raincoat hadn’t been mis-sized and on the wrong rack, I doubt we would have found one.  Quite a stroke of luck, the raincoat was.  You might reasonably ask why I travelled to Scotland without a bloody raincoat.  And I would answer that I was travelling for three weeks and there was a finite amount of space in my bags without having to pay for extra baggage (that I would have to haul around).  And that answer would be almost 80% true.

So I was waiting for a train, one of several options available on the open return ticket I’d purchased, to go see a castle.  On my own.  Naturally the train journey was thrilling.  And the connection to the bus for the rest of the way was filled with anxiety about finding the right stop, getting on the proper bus, and going in the right direction.  So I asked someone.  I found a couple of comedians standing a short distance from where I’d come down to the street from the train.  They were dressed as train officials but when I asked where I could find the bus stop for the X11, they said they’d never heard of it.  I gave them my skeptical, I-know-you’re-putting-me-on face.  To this, they said they weren’t sure they should tell me as I was so clearly foreign, and did they really want to share a national treasure, etc.  I said I supposed not and since I’d travelled all this way, at least they could let me a take a picture of them, the defenders of Welsh monuments.   Oh, it’s just the other side of the bridge where that red flag is:  you can see it from here.

The bus driver wasn’t any more obliging.  He, like the train dudes, eventually provided the information I’d requested but, also like the train dudes, needed a little more coaxing that I’d expected.  He never actually agreed to let me know when we’d reached the castle.  I was just hoping he’d relent when the time came.  After about 30 minutes of staring out the window at places I’d never seen before, the bus stopped and nobody got on or off.  I looked around at what looked like a typical suburban street.  “Castle!” the bus driver called loudly.  I thanked him, disembarked, and looked around, wondering where the hell I was.  It’s a castle so it’s got to be big, I reasoned.  I’m sure to see it if I start toward higher ground.  It was only a couple of hundred yards away but somehow it was entirely invisible from the bus stop.  And for a few anxious moments, the bus driver found his way onto my shit list.

The visit to the castle is one of the best things I’ve ever done.

I remember times in my late teens and early twenties when I shuddered with joy.  At nothing in particular, just with sheer happiness at being alive and walking down the street or sitting on the porch, or some other mundane moment.  I remember when so many things were new.  When I noticed the differences in things more than the similarities.  I wouldn’t describe myself as jaded or cynical but I am not young anymore.  I’m probably quite a lot younger than others my age – and I think not having kids is a large part of that.  (In my late twenties, I expressed the notion that one probably does not fully “grow up” until they’ve had children.  I still subscribe to that … for the most part.)

The castle transported me.  I felt a bit like a cartoon character in “WOWEE!” mode, all big eyes and dropped jaw.  Or like Daffy Duck in one of his rare moments of triumph but minus the next moment where it all goes horribly wrong.

ecstatic daffy

Just forget that the asshole bunny is right around the corner, ready to spoil this moment.

After my first visit to the UK when I was 18, I couldn’t wait to return.  The way I described it:  “it’s like the colours are brighter there.”  It was all heightened sensation from the excitement, newness and slight scariness.

The castle was a bit like that.  A lot like that.  It was better than real life.  It was astonishing and thrilling.

I recommend it.

I took over 400 photos.  They can recreate some of the thrill for me but they won’t do the castle justice.  You really should just go there.

But would I hold out on you?
After I took some photos of the exterior to get an idea of the moat, I went to the front gate.

Holy shit!  It's a castle!

Holy shit! It’s a castle!

Expectations exceeded.

[i] I had hoped to call home from London but all of the call boxes I came across were ripe with vomit, urine, and I-don’t-want-to-know-what.

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The many stages of conehead

Clean and clear (and under control)

Clean and clear (and under control)

Extendo-cone to keep Spock from scratching her belly with the end of the cone

Extendo-cone to keep Spock from scratching her belly with the end of the cone

A little worse for wear after a few days with the vet.

A little worse for wear after a few days with the vet.

After upturning her food and water dishes, the cone got wet.  We tried to dry it but it would never be the same.

After upturning her food and water dishes, the cone got wet. We tried to dry it but it would never be the same.

After the curious incident of the toilet in the  night-time.

After the curious incident of the toilet in the night-time.

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In case you were wondering: an update

Spock is coming home tomorrow.


We had her spayed on the 6th.  We returned with Spock later that day to get her fitted with a new, hard cone that she couldn’t wriggle out of as easily.  She had already cleansed herself of her stitches by that point.   A couple of days later, on the 9th, we returned to the vet because her wound had opened up and it was bad.  Rather than just stitch her up again, the vet re-opened the wound (even the bits that  had healed) to make sure there was no evidence of infected or gangrenous tissue.  They kept her overnight.  This stopped the clock on the 10 days before she could have her stitches removed and be free of cone.

We picked her up again on the 10th and the 10 day trial began anew, only now with a much bigger opening.  The vet kindly agreed to lend us a large cage so we could make sure she wasn’t doing any unsupervised jumping while we slept.  On the 15th, her stitches were still in place but there was a bad discharge so we returned to the vet who claimed that it was an infection and that she thought it best if we left Spock with them until the 20th so they could keep an eye on her and be certain there was no jumping.

We paid her a visit on the 17th to say hello and make sure she knew we hadn’t just abandoned her.  She was very animated.  The vet says there is no longer any evidence of infection and that she is doing well.  I hope against hope that she is well enough to resume running and jumping while cone-free because she is going to be one excited kitten to be home again.



Also, I decided that “fridge” having a “d” is just a bit of clipping.   Neither of its antecedents have a “d”:  “frigid” and “refrigerator”.   When shortened, it took on the accepted spelling of similar sounding words like “ridge”, “bridge”, “binge”, “edge”, etc. and paid its parents no mind.  Now that might seem kind of obvious if you think about it for a second but it is a function of my frantic worrying and low-level mania that this did not occur to me, a person who studied linguistics for several years.

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