Before i Forget : Simon Jones's blog

January 2006


GeneralTuesday, January 24th, 2006, (2:06 pm)

When I was in Portland, up on NE 23rd Ave, I was in some store when I came across the rather provocatively named ‘Fuck this book.’ I always seem to run into interestingly named books in Portland. In the summer you might remember I posted about finding a book called ‘c*nt’ (I don’t mind swearing – I just can’t bring myself to say that word) and ‘The stripper guide to looking great naked.’ But this latest book topped both of them because it made me laugh before I even picked it up.

The book is the creation of a designer and photographer from LA called Bodhi Oser. The book is very simple, juvenile and profane some might say, and in truth it would take some arguing to defend against that claim. Basically Oser has taken a bunch of photographs of various different signs mischievously altering their message by using stickers with the word ‘fuck’ on them. It sounds very stupid, and it is, but right there in the shop as I flicked through the book I laughed right out loud a few times.

In answer to the rather apt question of “What the fuck?” Oser said “I don’t know, just had the idea one day and thought it would be funny. So I printed out stickers in a bunch of different sizes, took them everywhere with me, and started taking photos. It quickly turned into an obsession, and I ended up with a book.”

The author is quite open about the fact there is nothing clever or artistic behind it. Among my favorite signs were ‘Please fuck the cashier before pumping gas’ and ‘Fuck you for not smoking’ though it’s fair to say that you really have to see them to find them as funny as I did.

In fact it would appear that there will be another book, titled I would guess, ‘Fuck this book too.’ Oser has created a website at fuckthiswebsite.com where anyone can submit their own defaced picture for consideration.

I didn’t actually buy the book, but I did tell my brother about it via email that night. He then hunted it down on Amazon and sent it to me as a birthday gift along with some vouchers, for Amazon, not the other thing! So it now sits in my lounge where it raises an eyebrow then many a laugh from my visitors. Even my conservative parents found the book amusing!

Upon seeing the book my friend David then said he’d email me a picture of a memorial stone he had seen in Paris last year while he was looking for old departed relatives headstones. I know we shouldn’t laugh, but sometimes you just can’t help but it. ‘Fuck this book’ won’t go down as a classic by any standards I’m sure. But it raised a few laughs with my friends and I, and to that end I think it served its purpose.

Fuck this book at Amazon.com
Fuck this website

GeneralMonday, January 23rd, 2006, (11:40 am)

Mean spirited traffic wardens in London handed out over £300 worth of parking violation fines to the volunteers of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue charity that worked throughout the night on Friday and all day Saturday to save the northern bottle-nose whale that was lost in the River Thames.

Traffic wardens are famous for being miserable at the best of times, but Alan Knight, the British Divers Marine Life Rescue chairman, couldn’t believe that the cars clearly marked with stickers identifying them as belonging to rescue workers, would not be given some kind of special consideration on the day.

“I guess they have got a job to do. However, all of our cars have ‘marine ambulance’ on the side or ‘marine medics’… and I would have hoped they would have given us the benefit of the doubt.” Said Knight, adding that the organisation now has a £5000 bill to pay for the failed attempt to rescue the whale which died on Saturday evening while on a rescue boat to deeper waters.

[UPDATE] – All of the rescue workers had the tickets forgiven the following day after this news story broke.

The cost of doing good

GeneralSaturday, January 21st, 2006, (8:00 am)

It does perhaps sound like a headline taken from the National Enquirer, but since maybe as early as Thursday a 16-18ft (5m) northern bottle-nosed whale, an endangered species, has been swimming in the River Thames right through the heart of the city of London.

The three-tonne whale was spotted on Thursday in a group of three swimming at the mouth of the river. By Friday one of the group had managed to swim upstream and was soon swimming past some of the capital cities most famous landmarks. As news of it quickly spread crowds lined bridges and riverways to catch a glimpse of the animal.

It’s thought the whale became lost and disoriented and somehow ended up swimming up the the River Thames. A flotilla of four Thames rescue boats, including one manned with a crew from the British Divers Marine Life Rescue, were quickly dispatched to monitor the animal and to try and keep it from becoming beached as it swam into shallower water.

Alison Shaw of the Marine and Freshwater Conservation Programme at London Zoo, told the BBC that the northern bottle-nosed whale was usually found in groups of three to 10. She said “This is extremely rare in British waters as they are normally found in deep waters in the North Atlantic.” And said of the whale in the Thames “It is a very long way from home and we don’t know why it has ended up here.”

As the evening drew in on Friday the whale became beached for a short while raising fears for its well being. Mark Simmonds of the Whale and Dolphin Society said “The prognosis is poor for this animal and the chances are that it is wounded, or distressed, or sick. So I am afraid I think people have got to prepare themselves that this animal may well not survive.”

Although sightings are rare the Thames has seen its fair share of interesting waterlife including dolphins, seals and sperm whales. In February 2004 a razor-toothed,red-bellied piranha was found in the Thames some 5000 miles from its native home in tropical rivers of south America.

In 1998 a 20ft long minke whale became beached on the banks of the River Mersey near Liverpool. The confused whale had to be recued twice but did eventually make it back down the river and to the safety of the Irish Sea.

::::: UPDATE – 7:06PM :::::

Sadly after a dramatic day of trying to rescue the Thames whale efforts failed at 7pm this evening. The whale was aboard a vessel racing toward the mouth of the River Thames when its condition deteriorated rapidly. As the sun began to set hopes of actually saving the whale faded quickly as it emerged the animal was not well enough to make a longer journey to deep water. Fears were that even if the whale was to be released at the mouth of the Thames it might again become beached at another location.

British news agencies have been following the story constantly all day with the hope of a happy ending. The riverways and bridges all along the route of the Thames were lined by onlookers hoping to catch a glimpse of the whale and hoping that it would make it to safety.

An autopsy will now take place and a complete picture of the whales health will emerge. Many experts feel that it may well have been sick before it entered the Thames. Despite the disappointing end to the rescue effort, scientists now have an opportunity to learn a great deal about the northern bottle-nosed whale, an endangered species of which currently very little is really known.

A spokeswoman for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said: “Whales around the world face deadly threats – from whaling by Japan, Norway and Iceland, pollution and habitat destruction, and increased noise in the ocean. We hope the whale which visited the UK Houses of Parliament can act as ambassador for all whales, and that its death won’t be in vain.”

Lost whale dies after rescue bid
Fears for health of Thames whale
Whale still lost in London
Lost whale swims further inland
Rescuers ready for Thames whale
Thames whale attracts thousands of people
Whale spotted in central London
Pictures of the whale in the Thames
British Divers Marine Life Rescue

GeneralFriday, January 20th, 2006, (10:04 am)

Debt collection agencies are always rude. I don’t have much opportunity to deal with them, but even when I spoke with one with regard to getting an unpaid debt owed to my company paid, they were still rude!

A few days ago I got a letter from a debt collection agency in relation to an unpaid final bill from t-Mobile (before I switch to Orange). I have already paid that bill and so I was surprised to get the demand from these guys giving me 6 days to pay or face some kind of legal ‘bover’.

The number to call them was an 0871 number, that costs 10p a minute, and so I was already feeling a bit miffed to have to call it but call I did. After nearly 10 minutes on hold I got through to a very grumpy bloke who didn’t greet me with a warm hello, or even a frosty hello. Instead he simply demanded my reference number in the same way a mugger might demand you wallet.

“Err, Hello.” I said “Could I have your name?”
“No” Came the steely answer. No bells, no whistles, no explanations and no reason. Just no.
“Excuse me. No?”
“reference number.” He demanded once more.
“Well could I have your name, just so I know who I am talking to?”
“You don’t need it pal, your reference number is all you need.”

Pal! I couldn’t believe he had just called me ‘Pal.’ If this is him being pally I wouldn’t want to see what he was like when he was being rude.

“I’m sorry Pal” I said “But just like you want my reference number, I want your name, if for no other reason just so we can refrain from referring to one another as Pal.”
“Look Pal, I am not giving you my name. Give me your reference number.” He said in a voice that was obviously becoming quite annoyed.

I felt bad for him. Imagine yourself locked in a job where you hate everything and everyone so much that you can’t even bring yourself to be the slightest bit polite. But my sympathy aside this guy had already set us into a stand off.

“Why aren’t you going to give your name?”
“Because I don’t have to, but unless you want me to hang up you have to give me your reference number.”
“What are you scared of?” I asked. It was a serious question. I’ve never understood why some telephone operators don’t give out there names.
“Are you threatening me Pal?” He snapped.
“My name isn’t Pal, it’s Simon but you can call me Mr Jones or Sir, okay Pal?” At this point I’m now annoyed. All I wanted to do was just resolve an obvious mix up but within the first moments of a conversation I’m already feeling aggrieved at the way I’m being dealt with.

“Listen Pal, I don’t care what your name is, I don’t need to know it, we’re not going on a date! All I need from you is your reference number,” he snapped.

I responded in kind. “Now I want your name because now I want to complain about your attitude PAL! All I wanted was to sort out a little misunderstanding and you’ve just..” -click.

And that was it. End of the conversation with t-Mobiles friendly debt collector who I’ll call ‘Pal.’ Ordinarily I would record a conversation like this, but I assumed it would be a simple call to address the obvious mix up as t-Mobile already have my money (I checked before I called). Of course I am kicking myself now, I should have recorded it, that way I could have shared it with the world on the net.

I can’t be bothered calling them back. I’ve got better things to be getting on with, but for now I felt that returning their letter to them might be a start. So I wrote a little note on it for their benefit, then popped it into an envelope with no stamp so they have to pick up the penalty postage when they get it back.

Okay, so it might not have been the most mature thing to do, but it made me feel better.

GeneralTuesday, January 17th, 2006, (10:16 am)

Inspired in part by Shae’s recent experimentation with podcasting (though still not sure if we can forgive the lounge music), and the fact that a customer asked me to set up a podcast for them yesterday, I decided to re-release my ‘American Reality Radio’ series as a podcast.

Podcasting is of course the latest internet craze so I am unashamedly jumping on the bandwagon, but in many ways I like to consider my ‘Reality Radio’ series to be way ahead of its time, even though I do say so myself!

Some seven years ago I went to America on vacation to hang out with my friends (that included Erin who was then living in Mass) and I wanted to try and record the experience somehow. The problem was I had very little money at the time, and there was simply no way I could afford a video camera. I did, however, have a hand-held cassette recorder so I decided to record sound clips and fun stuff with that then in the evening that same day I sat and edited the recordings, mixed them, then encoded them into ‘RealAudio’ format and threw them online for my friends back home in the UK to listen to. I even created a website exclusively for the purpose too!

The thing is, I look back at that process now and I’m just amazed that it was even possible! I had a PowerBook 1400 C running Mac OS 8 which is absolutely good for nothing nowadays. I seriously used that same PowerBook as a doorstop last year! I attached the tape recorder to the PowerBook using a phono cable, then with Macromedia SoundEdit I began importing and editing the audio. After I had chosen my clips I hunted around Erin and my other friends CD collections looking for tracks to add to the ‘shows’. Ripping a CD track is effortless these days, but back then there was no iTunes or anything like that, so once again there was a long winded process to get music from the CD into a format that SoundEdit would allow me to integrate into the shows.

After the show was edited I would leave the Mac alone for a while to encode it to RealAudio format and compress it to a size that was small enough to stream over a standard dial-up internet connection. I had to learn how to buffer stream the files which needed to compress down to less than 3 or 4 Mb each. Then I would write the webpage, create the graphics, add the links to the stream file then email all my friends the address of the latest episode, as well as RealAudio who also listed the show.

In hindsight it seems like an enormous amount of effort to go to in order to share a few funny moments with friends. But in when I listen back on these shows I am really glad I did, and glad too that I didn’t have a video camera to record hours of video that I probably would hardly ever have watched. The shows trigger my memories and bring a smile to my face each time I listen to them.

Of course, back in 1999 podcasting didn’t exist, there was no iTunes music store to share my work and MP3’s weren’t heard of, let alone MP3 players such as the iPod. Ironically if I had created these shows some 4 or 5 years later I have no doubt they would have reached a far greater audience.

So it might seem a little fruitless to share the shows now in a ‘podcast’ format, but after setting up a customers podcast yesterday I figured it wouldn’t take me long to quickly create re-release the show in todays more easy podcast form. Maybe some people will find it and enjoy them, maybe they won’t, who knows. The shows and the original website I created have been online for some seven years with very little change in that time, and while I may have created them just for me and a few friends, it doesn’t seem outside the ethos of the original idea to release them as a podcast for whomever else might want to enjoy listening to some random English guy explore American life with his buddies on the East Coast.

EDIT : My ‘Reality Radio’ Podcast is now available on iTunes. Do a search for ‘Simon Jones’ or ‘Reality Radio.’

American Reality Radio
The XML feed for my Reality Radio Podcast archive

GeneralFriday, January 13th, 2006, (8:14 am)

Well I won’t be forgetting this last birthday in a hurry! My girlfriend Posh (known to most people as Rachel Lindsay) got a last minute deal to end all deals on a pair of tickets to fly to Paris for the day. So as a surprise she took me off to Paris for lunch!

We arrived shortly before 11am after a short hop from Liverpool John Lennon airport. The flight on the way over curiously made me feel a little odd, but once we landed all was fine and we jumped on the metro and headed over the the Eiffel Tower where we were doing to jump on a dinner cruise boat that takes to on a slow tour up the River Sceine and back over the course of two hours.

It was, as you’d imagine, very enjoyable. The weather let us down a little, but for the cruise it didn’t rain which was good. It was just super cool to be in Paris for lunch. We had frogs legs for starter (of course), which taste almost exactly like chicken, then I had the duckling for main course followed by an assortment of french cheeses and red wine. It really was wonderful.

After the cruise we walked around for a while, went up to the first level of the Eiffel Tower and generally hung out. One of the great things about living in the UK is that you really are very close to places like Paris, Berlin, Brussles, Rome, etc so day trips there are actually very common. In fact the last time I was in Paris I drove there for the day with a couple of buddies!

Anyway, as we flew back in the evening all was well until for some reason the plane made a sudden descend. Very quickly I felt pretty bad again, but this time it wasn’t going away, instead I started to feel very wrong very quickly.

I decided to try and concentrate on something else but things soon became quite bad. Pretty quickly I had that ‘pins a needles’ feeling in both my hands and I was no longer able to move my legs, plus I was now sweating so much that sweat was dripping off my eyebrows! I then threw up into the bag which was both distressing and just plain old embarrassing. I fly so much I couldn’t understand how or what this was happening to me.

Crucially, through consideration for my fellow passengers, I made one critical mistake, I locked the bag over my nose and mouth so as to eliminate the smell for others as I know it’s not at all pleasant. However by doing this I should have realized that I was dramatically restricting the amount of oxygen I was getting. I was therefore breathing less and less oxygen with every breath and began to fade out. Moments later I lost consciousness at which point I am told the pilot requested a priority landing at Liverpool and a rescue crew to meet us.

Once on the ground we were met by a fire crew who came aboard and gave me oxygen for a while. I was drenched in sweat and so they took off a couple of layers, at which point, I’m told, I started to shake a lot. Paramedics arrived shortly after and I was taken off the empty plane in some kind of special lift, though I can’t really tell you anything about that because I was pretty much out of it.

I was taken to the Royal hospital and sat in the ER with a few weirdo’s for a while before being taken for tests. All I wanted to do was drink some water and lie still for a while, but they kept moving me around and even made me walk at one point, which just put me back to square one again.

The Dr said blood test revealed I was fighting “some kind of infection” so he ordered more test and put me on IV fluids. A while later he said that tests were inconclusive so maybe I should go home and see how I progress from there.

This has happened a few times before. Last time was when I was diving in choppy waters off Long Beach, Los Angeles. I collapsed and had to be pulled out of the water by my fellow divers. It was all very dramatic and they have teased me about it at every opportunity since. The time before that was when I was in a two seater plane over Mt Ascutnee in New Hampshire. Shortly after the flight I collapsed and as if that wasn’t dramatic enough I stopped breathing twice while unconscious!

I think I am now going to make an appointment to see a Dr about this. There seems to be no real reason for each of these incidents, and each time they happen I seem absolutely powerless to stop them from happening which is both a real drag and really distressing at the time for me and those I’m with.

On reflection I can see a number of things that may have caused me to be so ill. The day before I had had the most traumatic stage of the dental surgery to this point. It was the session where the dentist was digging out the fragments of shattered root from my gum. I was under a local anesthetic of course, so for me it was entirely painless, but as my nose was numb from the anesthetic I am wondering if that caused a mild imbalance in my inner ear which was then aggravated by the dramatic decent of the plane?

Also, my body was probably slightly weekend from that surgery maybe? I’d also not drank anything after the cruise, and although I wasn’t drunk, I had polished off nearly three quarter of a bottle of red wine over lunch, so I was probably dehydrated.

All in all it was a dramatic way to end my actual birthday. But at the weekend my folks and a few friends are coming up for a nice evening meal out. That will be a nice and less dramatic way to spend my birthday I’m sure. I’m going to just take it easy for today too so I’ll be tip top for tomorrow.

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