I used to be friends with a guy from Northern Ireland. We are going back thirty years here so quite a while ago. We’ve lost touch since as you tend to do with some if not most acquaintances.
This story is about his Dad.
As you may or may not know the weather in Ireland is awful. Cold, wet, windy, rains every day with a ‘y’ in it, or so the locals say. One traveler from Africa once remarked that it was like living under an elephant!
The result has been a continual decline in vacation resorts, towns and villages there. People still come for the golf, there is renewed interest in that with the recent success of Rory McIlroy and Darren Clark. But on the whole the locals prefer to get away for one or two weeks to a location with at least the chance of a bit of heat and sunshine.
But in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the period in which this story is set, foreign travel was a fairly new phenomenon for most ordinary people.
But my friend’s father and mother thought it would be a nice and different break for them and they booked two weeks in the south of Spain.
They arrived without incident, booked in to their hotel and that first night just had a meal in the hotel restaurant and went to bed. Traveling is always tiring.
The next day they partook of the buffet breakfast that most of the touristy hotels in Spain provide and after that went back to their room, got their towels and creams and so forth, and headed for the beach, which was only about 100 yards or so from the hotel.
My friend’s mother lay down on a towel to take some rays, as they say, and his father who wasn’t really the type of guy who liked to lay about all day, got a beach chair from which he had a better vantage point to survey the beach and sea activities.
We’ll never know whether it was the heat, or just the sight of bare heaving glistening continental bosoms, (they are not a bit bashful in some parts of Europe), but after about half an hour on the beach it all became too much for my friend’s Dad. All of sudden, without any warning whatsoever, he jumped out of his beach chair, started to yell like Tarzan, beating his chest at the same time, and ran towards the Mediterranean Sea.
There was a slight slope in the beach and by the time he had reached the water he had built up a considerable head of steam. His momentum took him quite a bit into the water, not quite waist deep but getting there.
Now, I should say that the Med is no Pacific Ocean, but there are nevertheless waves and as everyone knows the seventh is usually bigger than those preceding it.
And just when my friend’s father reached about as deep as he could on his feet he decided to dive through the next wave, which was a relatively big one. According to his wife, who was looking as this spectacle with more than a little bemusement, he was still doing his version of a Tarzan yell and beating his chest. And so into the sea he dived still yelling and open mouthed.
I forgot to tell you he wore dentures, which is rather crucial to the rest of the story.
Yes, when the wave passed and he resurfaced not a tooth of any kind had he in his mouth.
Of course he frantically searched for both sets of gnashers.
I love watching when people who don’t know how to dive underwater try it. Their ass goes way up in the air, their head maybe six inches or a foot under, and then after maybe two or three seconds they re-emerge gasping and spluttering as if they’ve just been down to the bottom of sea. I imagine that’s what he did.
But you know what the sea is like. Both sets of false teeth were long gone, never to be found again.
I have heard tell of people packing extra underwear, or shoes (hey ladies), or even glasses as emergency back-ups. But I have never heard of anyone packing an extra set of teeth.
My friend’s father wasn’t to be the first one to do it and so he had to spend the next twelve and a half days of his vacation completely toothless, only able to eat soft mushy stuff and soup, but having to avoid the juicy steaks completely.
And he looked like a prat, maybe not quite as bad as the photo below but you get the idea.
Well, as I am sure you (particularly the folks in the good old US of A) are well aware, today is the last Monday in May, otherwise known as Memorial Day and the official start of summer. I hope you have been and are enjoying a long leisurely holiday weekend.
There are lots of blogs doing pieces on Memorial Day, so I’ll try to make this one slightly different.
Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day and was established after the American Civil War to commemorate the fallen Union soldiers.
Slight rant for a moment. I get irritated when I hear idiots talking about the US Civil War. The Civil War in America was fought between Union forces (made up of Americans) and Confederate forces (made up of Americans). This isn’t going to turn into a history lesson as to the why’s and the wherefore’s, but the point is that at the time of the civil war the States of America were anything but “united”. Use the term “American” please. End rant.
The chances are that you may already have seen Ken Burn’s fantastic documentary series called Civil War. When it first aired on PBS something like 40 million Americans tuned in and it has been distributed and shown on the BBC in the UK and in many other parts of the world since. If you haven’t watched it yet, I highly recommend that you do so. It is a gem of historical information, photography, narration, music – the whole thing is just wonderful.
I have always been fascinated by the Civil War. I have visited numerous battle sites and know some people who have little museums and take part in re-enactments and so forth. Because it was fought in the mid 1800s and featured such well known historical figures as Abraham Lincoln and Robert E Lee the impression I had (for no logical reason, as sometimes happens) was that it was an event that happened a very long time ago. Then I discovered that the last Union veteran of the Civil War, Albert Woolson only died in 1956, not quite within my lifetime, but close enough to make me realize that this was not so long ago at all.
So could it happen again?
In America I very much doubt it.
Civil Wars are part of the teething pains that most countries go through. They have happened in England, France, Spain, Portugal, China, Russia, Cuba, Korea, Vietnam, Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and on and on; and they seem to be a constant phenomenon in one part of Africa or another.
There will probably be periods of increasing civil unrest in the US as the government ham fistedly tries to get itself out of the mess that it has caused by trying to steal more money from the ordinary people, but that’s a different thing. So I wouldn’t worry about it too much yet.
As for Memorial Day nowadays, it encompasses all Wars that American forces have been involved in, and it is a convenient marker to remind us of those who have willingly put their lives in harm’s way to protect us. The political decisions that lead to wars are not the fault of those sent to fight.
This weekend I have been remembering some of my friends who are no longer here. They are in a better place for sure, but they got there far, far too soon.
Yesterday’s post was really about a couple of funny helpline incidents. But by way of introducing it I started to talk about my love affair and history with computers. Well I didn’t stop thinking about that when I finished yesterday’s blog post and so another post was born.
I hope you find this at least a little bit interesting. Obviously I do because I lived through it. To younger readers I’m sure it won’t mean much, but maybe they can have a laugh at the archaic crap that at the time we all thought was just the greatest thing ever – and actually at the time so it was.
As I said yesterday, my first experiences with computers were on the big mainframes. We had them in university and quite honestly the stuff we were doing on them in those days you could probably do on a good scientific calculator now. But there we were punching cards and working out mathematical formulae and getting results that I’m sure no one understood or cared about but us. (I probably wouldn’t even understand them now either!)
Here are a couple of pictures of the big machines. Younger readers will note the handy compact hard disks used to store information!
Compare the size with one of today’s disks
My first tussle with the big boys was on something resembling this
And we inputted our data via either these punch cards
Or via these teletype machines that I called the “chuggers” in yesterday’s post (notice the paper tape at the left hand side that made everything work!)
Then the personal computer era began.
My first introduction to that was a Commodore PET. It was around 1977 or 1978, I think. A fellow student and friend of mine at the time, a Malaysian Chinese guy who’s family were super rich (I don’t think he ever told them the proper exchange rate so his monthly allowance was huge!) bought one of the first of these machines and he loaned it to me for a few days when he was away on vacation.
I was enthralled. Dear knows why. If you look at the video at the end of this post you’ll see just how basic the technology was.
But ignorance is bliss. There was nothing better around.
Needless to say I could not afford a Commodore PET, nor for that matter an Apple II which was making its debut at more or less the same time and was vastly overpriced as Apple stuff still is. In it’s defense the Apple II was a cut above the norm even in those days as regards looks and it had a floppy drive (which I think you had to buy as an optional extra) instead of the awful cassette tapes.
But something that I could afford was the budget priced, but very, very basic Sinclair ZX81. To call it a computer nowadays is a bit of a joke, it had little or no memory, you needed a cassette tape deck, and a television to help it along, and it hadn’t even a real keyboard. But it did come in kit form and was fun to build and do basic Basic programming on.
Of course my thirst for bigger and better machines was only getting started. Next I was on to something called a Dragon 32, which as the name implied had a massive 32k of memory – yes, you young ‘uns, I said 32k, as in kilo – of memory. There was talk at the time that the company were working on a 64k version, but hardly anyone believed that a machine with such a vast memory was possible or even desirable!
The Dragon 32 was another one fired up by a cassette tape and a tv screen connection, but it was okay for learing more programming skills and there were plenty of games available that amused everyone at the time.
Then for me came an epiphany, computer-wise. I was about to put my trusty, and maybe a little rusty, typewriter aside. I bought an Amstrad 8256 word processor. It allegedly could handle other tasks as well, but it was primarily a word-processing machine and it did that job pretty well and reliably using its inbuilt Logoscript software. You could store letters and documents on its floppy disks and it had its own printer as part of the bundle. All in all a good piece of kit for the time.
A while after that the whole game changed. And the game changer was the graphical user interface, GUI, and the mouse.
DOS was dead. We would no longer have to plow our way through screens like this
The Xerox 8010 Star Information System in 1981 was the first to use it.
But Xerox didn’t see the potential and didn’t capitalize on it. Steve Jobs and Apple did, and the Mackintosh released in about 1984 was the first to perfect its use commercially. It was a major change and brought computing into the reach of ordinary people instead of just the computer nerds and geeks.
Microsoft Windows soon dominated the PC end of the market with their 3.1 version doing a reasonably good job. Later versions like Windows 95, 98 and the appalling ME versions were rushed out and unstable. And, having learned nothing they followed that with a similarly unprepared Vista. All that did nothing for the reputation of the company.
They have made a lot of ground up with Windows 7 and 8 which seem to be a lot better both with regard to stability and functionality. And nowadays if you really hate windows you can run PC machines in linux based operating systems, just look for the penguin.
From the mid 1980s the PC market exploded. Many companies large and small, from the IBMs to brand new budget manufacturers (or rather, assemblers) were born. They all did basically the same job, used the same internal hardware and software and had internal hard drives that would store up to 100MB (yes, mega bites) and up to 4MB of RAM.
At first they looked like this
And then this
And then this
I had versions like pictures two and three. In fact I still have one of what I’ve called the modern generic desktop design in my office today. Of course the processing speeds and memory capacities of both the hard drives and the RAM have increased dramatically. Now it is not unusual to be able to buy a desktop computer with at least a terrabyte of hard drive storage and 8 GB (yes, giga bytes) of RAM, as well as extremely fast multi processors and large high definition flat screens.
All in all a great improvement. A lot of it not really necessary for the average user who just uses their computer for a bit of word processing and to surf the internet, but when it comes to computers most of us kinda have to have the best spec we can afford, rather than what we actually need.
And there was another revolution in computers. This one really took off during the late 1990s and it was the increasing popularity of the laptop. In earlier years the laptop had been the preserve of the business community and were priced accordingly, usually well out of the reach of the average consumer. As well as that the spec was well below that of contemporary desktop machines and no one like to pay more for less.
Then a few things sort of coincided. We had the near saturation of the desktop market with a subsequent slowing down of new sales. The cost of component parts like processors and memory consequently dropped as demand tailed off. And some of the smarter manufacturers saw this as an opportunity to create a brand new market that would allow them to sell affordable laptops with a near desktop spec to the same market that had previously only been interested, and could only afford, the bigger desktop computers.
I seldom if ever use my desktop at all now. All my work is done on my laptop. When I travel it comes with me. I’m writing this blog post on one like this right now
ASUS is a good machine. But I’ve also had laptops from Toshiba, Sony, Acer and Dell and for me they all worked perfectly fine.
As for the future?
Now that Steve Jobs is no longer with us will someone else invent things that no one wants, and that no one needs, and sell it to them at inflated prices, while generating their love and gratitude for it? Maybe, but I doubt it. I think that Jobs was unique in that respect. He was in the right place at the right time and the right man to take advantage.
What I can envisage is the continued development of faster and better processing; better internet communication speeds with more mobility; infinite storage capacity in the “cloud”; greater integration of all the bits and bobs we have at our disposal; and easier operation of it all through more voice activated control.
The future I think will be every bit as interesting as the past. If some ballax with an EMP device doesn’t fry all our chips, that is!
Only very occasionally these days do I use a travel agent. I prefer to organize things myself online. But then I am a fairly experienced traveler. For many other people, particularly the intellectually challenged it seems, the travel agent is their first and last port of call when organizing a vacation.
The following are actual stories provided by travel agents. Since I read these I’m wondering if there should be some kind of proficiency test before one is allowed out of the house let alone venture into another county or country.
That’s one for the bureaucrats to ponder over, but it probably won’t happen, after all most of them couldn’t pass it, and they all like their little trips at our expense.
As usual, I hope you enjoy.
What the travel agents said:
I had someone ask for an aisle seat so that their hair wouldn’t get messed up by being near the window.
– – – – – – – – – –
A client called in inquiring about a package to Hawaii.
After going over all the cost info, she asked, “Would it be cheaper to fly to California and then take the train to Hawaii?”
– – – – – – – – – –
I got a call from a woman who wanted to go to Capetown.
I started to explain the length of the flight and the passport information when she interrupted me with “I’m not trying to make you look stupid, but Cape Town is in Massachusetts.”
Without trying to make her look like the stupid one, I calmly explained, “Cape Cod is in Massachusetts, Capetown is in Africa.”
Her response… click.
– – – – – – – – – –
A man called, furious about a Florida package we did.
I asked what was wrong with the vacation in Orlando.
He said he was expecting an ocean-view room.
I tried to explain that is not possible, since Orlando is in the middle of the state.
He replied, “Don’t lie to me. I looked on the map and Florida is a very thin state.”
– – – – – – – – – –
I got a call from a man who asked, “Is it possible to see England from Canada?”
I said, “No.”
He said, “But they look so close on the map.”
– – – – – – – – – –
Another man called and asked if he could rent a car in Dallas.
When I pulled up the reservation, I noticed he had a 1-hour lay-over in Dallas.
When I asked him why he wanted to rent a car, he said, “I heard Dallas was a big airport, and I need a car to drive between the gates to save time.”
– – – – – – – – – –
A nice lady just called.
She needed to know how it was possible that her flight from Detroit left at 8:20am and got into Chicago at 8:33am.
I tried to explain that Michigan was an hour ahead of Illinois, but she could not understand the concept of time zones.
Finally I told her the plane went very fast, and she bought that!
– – – – – – – – – –
A woman called and asked, “Do airlines put your physical description on your bag so they know whose luggage belongs to who?”
I said, “No, why do you ask?”
She replied, “Well, when I checked in with the airline, they put a tag on my luggage that said FAT, and I’m overweight, is there any connection?”
After putting her on hold for a minute while “I looked into it,” ( I was actually laughing) I came back and explained that the city code for Fresno is FAT, and that the airline was just putting a destination tag on her luggage.
– – – – – – – – – –
I just got off the phone with a man who asked, “How do I know which plane to get on?”
I asked him what exactly he meant, to which he replied, “I was told my flight number is 823, but none of these darn planes have numbers on them.”
– – – – – – – – – –
A woman called and said, “I need to fly to Pepsi-Cola on one of those computer planes.”
I asked if she meant to fly to Pensacola on a commuter plane.
She said, “Yeah, whatever.”
– – – – – – – – – –
A business man called and had a question about the documents he needed in order to fly to China.
After a lengthy discussion about passports, I reminded him he needed a visa.
“Oh no I don’t, I’ve been to China many times and never had to have one of those.”
I double checked and sure enough, his stay required a visa.
When I told him this he said, “Look, I’ve been to China four times and every time they have accepted my American Express.”
– – – – – – – – – –
A secretary called in looking for hotel in Los Angles.
She gave me various names off a list, none of which I could find I finally had her fax me the list.
To my surprise, it was a list of hotels in New Orleans, Louisiana.
She thought the LA stood for Los Angles, and that New Orleans was a suburb of of L.A.
Worst of all, when I called her back, she was not even embarrassed.
– – – – – – – – – –
A woman called to make reservations, “I want to go from Chicago to Hippopotamus, New York.”
The agent was at a loss for words.
Finally, the agent asked, “Are you sure that’s the name of the town?”
“Yes, what flights do you have?” replied the customer.
After some searching, the agent came back with, “I’m sorry, ma’am, I’ve looked up every airport code in the country and can’t find a Hippopotamus anywhere.”
The customer retorted, “Oh don’t be silly. Everyone knows where it is. Check your map!”
The agent scoured a map of the state of New York and finally offered, “You don’t mean Buffalo, do you?”
She replied, “That’s it! I knew it was a big animal!”
I don’t know whether any of you have heard of Mr Nicholas Scotti? I hadn’t until I read about him on the internet. But his story is one that fits well into the ‘stupidity’ category that is one of the underlying themes of this blog.
Mr Scotti holds the title of being ‘The Worst Tourist In The World’, or certainly one of the least successful ones.
Nicholas Scotti is of Italian descent and is from San Francisco, USA. In 1977 he decided he would like to visit his relatives in his native Italy.
An inexperienced traveller, Mr Scotti booked his vacation trip using a travel agent and on the appointed day made his way to the airport for the flight. Getting on a plane was a relatively easy and quick process back in 1977 (oh, those were the days!!), and Mr Scotti made it on to the plane without incident. He settled down for the long flight.
En route the plane made a one-hour fuel stop at Kennedy Airport and the passengers disembarked.
But Nicholas Scotti didn’t know about the re-fuelling stop. He thought that he had arrived in Rome, Italy. He duly left the airport and spent two days in New York believing he was in Rome.
When his nephews were not there to meet him, Mr Scotti just assumed they had been delayed in the heavy Rome traffic they had mentioned often in their letters.
While tracking down their address, the great traveler could not help noticing that modernization and new construction had brushed aside most, if not all, of the ancient city’s famous landmarks, but that didn’t deter him.
He also noticed that many people spoke English with a distinct American accent. However, he just assumed that Americans got everywhere. Furthermore, he assumed it was for their benefit that so many of the street signs were written in English.
Mr Scotti spoke very little English himself and next asked a policeman (in Italian) the way to the bus depot. As chance would have it, the policeman came from Naples and replied fluently in Italian, which only helped to reinforce his belief that he was in Rome, not New York.
After twelve hours travelling round on a bus, the driver got fed up with him and handed him over to a second policeman. This one was not Italian and a brief argument ensued during which Mr Scotti expressed amazement at the Rome police force employing someone who did not speak their own language.
Scotti’s brilliance is seen in the fact that even when told he was in New York, he refused to believe it. The man was a veritable genius!
To get Mr Scotti on a plane back to San Francisco, he was raced to the airport in a police car with sirens screaming. Even then he remained unconvinced. “See,” he said to his interpreter, “I know I’m in Italy. That’s how they drive.”