Posted by: closetfolkie | September 22, 2016

Weather or not?


What has happened to weather forecasts? It used to be that you’d have this reassuring, crusty old newscaster voice letting you know in a couple of terse sentences exactly what weather conditions to expect in the coming hours –  “Mostly sunny this morning, followed by increasing clouds and a chance of a stray shower during the early evening hours.” Or, as was quite often the case in the UK, “Rainy this morning, becoming showery later.”

I miss that. Now, of course, we have so much extraneous information that it’s hard to see the torrents for the breeze. We go online to any one of several hundred thousand weather sites scattered about the interwebs, where we’re regaled with endless charts, graphs and interactive radar images all showing you what the weather was like during the past hour. Want to know how many cloud to ground lightning strikes occurred this morning? No problem. Today’s pollen count? Click here. Perhaps you’d like to see a time-lapse visual (courtesy of our very own radar with a cutesy name) where you can see the precise movement of rain showers that popped up earlier this morning? Step right this way…

Given the  technology on display, you’d think that finding out whether or not you’ll be needing your brolly during the coming afternoon hours would be a straightforward affair. Alas no. With eye-catching distractions like the Marine Forecast, Ragweed Report and the ubiquitous Tropical Update Designed To Scare The Crap Out Of You As Soon As It Gets Cloudy Over The Cape Verde Islands, the actual forecast can easily get lost in the haze (no sunny pun intended).

At work today, I spent a several minutes on a local news website trying to gauge the chances of rain this very afternoon, but instead came away armed only with stats concerning current visibility, wind speeds and assorted regional rainfall totals during the past 24 hours. On the weather page in question, the main graphic was an oversized map of our region, which might have been helpful if there had been something informative superimposed on it, like, “Rain is very likely here during the next 2 hours; bring an umbrella or your hairdo will be as flat as a fart within minutes,” or even, “Not a cloud in the sky here; wear your sunscreen or perish, lobster boy.” That’s information I could definitely use. Instead, the map was plastered with a plethora of mostly identical numbers representing current local temperatures.

Whose idea was this? Has anyone embroiled in a Florida summer ever made a decision on whether or not to go outside based on the temperature? It’s summer, for heat’s sake! You know full well that it’s going to be between 88 and 92 degrees. Every. Bastard. Day. And, every night it will be in the mid to high clammy 70s. Is anyone really interested in an occasional one-degree difference in the daytime high between towns five miles apart? What possible difference could it make? These numbers should all be replaced with a single line of copy over the map that simply says, “Miserably to unbearably hot and sticky until sometime in late October. Or maybe November.”

So, I stumbled from tab to tab, passing on the Tide Times page because I’ve never once in my life wondered when low (or high) tide might occur in any locale I’ve ever been in. Similarly, I resisted clicking on the Sunset/Sunrise Calculator because the idea of entering the realm of mathematics to find out how dark or light it’s going to be at various times of the day seems a little daft. I mean, if it’s night it’s going to be a little dark, and when day breaks it’s going to be a little lighter isn’t it?

Perplexed by this soggy information overload, I did something quite extraordinary. Taking a breather, I tore myself away from the computer, walked out into the lunch room and took a peek out of the window. A real window, with a view and everything.

It was raining.



Photo by Bob Hinchcliffe.

Posted by: closetfolkie | February 18, 2011

Where have all the teapots gone?

As required by British law, I grew up in a tea-drinking household. Back then, a day without tea was … well, to be honest, I’m not sure what it was like, because I don’t ever recall it happening.

As I remember, the main reason for getting out of bed in the morning was that it made it a little easier to put the kettle on for that first all-important cup of the day. Funnily enough, getting up and having to endure those first few tea-less minutes proved to be too traumatic for my mum, who had one of those quaint old tea-brewing alarm clocks called a “teasmade” perched on her bedside table, so as to have a freshly brewed cuppa waiting for her as she woke.

Yes, it was tea for breakfast, followed by tea and a couple of biscuits for the mid-morning snack known as elevenses. After lunch (with tea, of course), we’d wait out the afternoon (punctuated by an occasional tea-break) in anticipation of the evening meal. Even then, the food only really served as a gateway comestible to the real reward: lashings of tea afterwards. Small wonder then – and it may have been a regional thing, I’m not sure – but rather than calling it dinner, we always referred to the evening meal as tea.

Now, the level of tea consumption for the rest of the evening was largely dependent on your social calendar. An evening at home presented numerous opportunities for brewing up: having a cup while watching the evening news; having a cup while tackling a crossword puzzle, and of course, having a cup while deciding whether or not to have another cup of tea. If, on the other hand, a visit to the local pub was on the agenda (which it often was, if memory serves), then any thoughts of tea drinking were usually put on hold until the late evening. It sounds quaintly eccentric to me now, but in those days before caffeine became a real … er, buzzword, we thought nothing of coming home from a session at the pub and having a big mug of tea as a nightcap.

Now, my mother wasn’t a tea snob by any stretch. She had no desire for gourmet blends with silly added flavourings or nuts and berry additives; good old Brooke Bond PG Tips was her brand of choice, and it was a permanent fixture in our house for as long as I can remember. I’m no tea snob either, although there are those who would vehemently disagree. (Of course, these are people who have openly admitted to drinking tea with ice cubes in it, so they’re not to be trusted.) I do, however, maintain a fierce loyalty to the PG brand, and continue to pay through the nose for it in the imported food section of my local Publix supermarket.

Mum was no purist, either; she was quick to liberate herself from the drudgery of loose leaf tea and its attendant tea strainer (despite its allegedly superior flavour), and readily embraced the convenience of the tea bag. She did, however, have certain iron-clad tea-making rules that you had to abide by. Firstly, the water had to come to a rolling boil before brewing, in order to extract the maximum flavour from the tea leaves. Secondly, and I’m not sure if this was based on superstition or science, the milk had to be added to the cup before the tea was introduced to it. If she caught you adding milk after the fact, she’d make you pour it out and start again. As big a faux-pas as this was, in her book, it was nothing compared the biggest tea-time transgression of all: brewing tea without using a teapot.

To my mother, the idea of simply dunking a single tea bag into a mug of water and calling it tea was akin to heresy. Tea was to be brewed in a teapot, and then poured from the pot into the cup or mug. Further, since drinking tea was also a social event, the employment of a single tea bag would never do. “A bag for every person, and one for the pot” was her mantra. If there was three of you, you’d put in three bags and then add another, so that when you replenished the pot with more boiling water, there was still plenty of flavour for the obligatory refills.

Sounds simple enough, right?  Well, it is, unless of course you venture to America, where coffee is king, and tea is a bit of an afterthought. Ordering a decent cup of tea in a restaurant in the US isn’t really that much of a problem, but actually getting one, is. On a stateside visit back in the 1980s, my mother almost shortened her vacation when she discovered that ordering tea usually resulted in being presented with a mug of warm water with a side of tea bag. She really didn’t know what to make of it; not only was there an obvious lack of boiling water, there was absolutely no sight of a tea pot anywhere. If that wasn’t enough, the tea bag was emblazoned with the dreaded word: Lipton.

In my experience, Lipton is to tea, what Budweiser is to beer. It may have unlimited marketing muscle and brand-name recognition, but the product itself is a pale imitation of the real thing. Speaking of marketing,  I always thought it hilarious that Lipton saw fit to add the word Brisk to their packaging. I have to wonder if it’s their way of telling us that if we drink their tea in a really brisk fashion, that we’ll barely notice the absence of tea flavour. Judging by their share of the US market, it seems to be working. Me? I just briskly walk past it when I’m in the grocery store, which seems to work well for me.

 Although the PG brand of tea was considered an everyday tea in the UK, their marketing pitch was that they allowed only the top two leaves and a bud from the tips of their tea plants, to be used in their tea blend (hence the PG Tips handle). I’m not sure how much of this was hype, but I have to admit that their tea tastes like … well, tea. To drink a cup of Lipton’s finest is to realize that the company has relaxed these guidelines somewhat, perhaps to allow for the inclusion of any fallen leaves, twigs (and maybe even a little topsoil) that might lie within 2 or 3 feet of each plant’s drip-line. Given this dirt-in-a-bag approach, it’s hard to imagine that even having water at a full rolling boil would be able to extract much in the way of tea flavour. Still, I’m sure my mother would have at least appreciated the gesture.

If you think I’m exaggerating about the disrespect shown to tea in the US, try buying a teapot. Oh, there’s no shortage of them on the shelves of department stores and on the pages of trendy home furnishings catalogues. They’re available in a wide array of colours, finishes, and in a variety of patterns so diverse that you’re bound to be able to find one that matches your home’s decor to a tee. Unfortunately, as nice as they may look in your kitchen, their appeal is purely decorative, as they’re often quite useless when it comes to actually pouring tea.

I discovered this years ago, when I bought 3 or 4 of these aesthetically pleasing but functionally inept teapots in rapid  succession, becoming increasingly bewildered as each of them would happily deposit as much tea on the counter as they did in the tea cups. I’d try a slow and gentle pour, and the tea would dribble out of the spout, down the belly of the pot and drip on to the counter; a more aggressive pour would result in part of the stream of tea overshooting the cup, with the remainder of the flow once again dripping dutifully onto the countertop. What kind of design flaw is this? Is it a conspiracy masterminded by major coffee retailers looking to break the spirit of the last few tea-drinking holdouts? A marketing ploy instigated by paper towel manufacturers, perhaps? Or is it the result of lingering anti-imperialist resentment; some Boston Tea Party-inspired scorn visited upon unsuspecting British tourists and immigrants?

Mercifully, I did eventually find a functional teapot. It was very plain in appearance; dull even, but whether a slow trickle or a full flowing pour, it worked perfectly every time, and the tea always ended up safely in the cup. Consequently, I used this particular vessel for years, and it seemed that all of my teapot turmoil was behind me. And it was, until one afternoon over this past Christmas season when my wife and I spied a little beauty on the shelf of our local Pier 1 store. We’d previously bought a couple of strikingly patterned tea mugs from the very same store, and this pot was obviously from the same line, matching them perfectly. My guard was down; it beckoned to us, and so we took it home.

With the old tea pot relegated to an out-of-the-way shelf in the kitchen cabinet, the new one quickly took pride of place on the kitchen counter in readiness for its daily duty. The next morning, I nonchalantly poured boiling water over three PG Tips tea bags nestled in the new pot, and readied the rest of my breakfast. It wasn’t until that moment when I picked up the pot and prepared to pour, that teapot anxiety struck, and the thought flashed through my mind – ” Oh, I hope this bloody thing works”.

Oh dear. The first pour overshot the mug by several inches. Quickly steadying the pot, I went for the gentle approach and aimed again. Oh dear, dear. As I watched the tea dribble down the underside of the spout and pool on the counter, I reached angrily for a paper towel, snorting at the realisation that I’d been lulled into complacency by the years of faithful service courtesy of that plain old pot, and had completely forgotten about this apparent plague of dysfunctional teapots. Although momentarily buoyed by the fleeting thought that Dysfunctional Teapots would be a great name for a band, the levity was brief, and I was left feeling duped.

So, of course, the trusty old teapot was trotted out of retirement, and the new one assumed a decorative role in a glass cabinet in the kitchen. The thought crossed my mind that perhaps I’d just been incredibly unlucky in my past teapot selections, and wondered if most of the teapots in circulation could in fact do a fine job of depositing tea into a cup or mug without major spillage. Even so, to be on the safe side, I flipped over the pot in order to look at the base and make a note of the manufacturer. If anything untoward were to happen to this pot, I wanted to make sure that I could replace it with another one from the same trustworthy potter. 

Unfortunately, there was no brand name to be found, which would have been depressing, if not for the sepia-tinged verbiage adjacent to the requisite Made In China stamp. There, for the teapot-curious among us to see, were the words: “Designed in Great Britain“.

Designed in Great Britain? Of course it was! Forget for a second, all the tired old stereotypical jokes about stodgy English cuisine, medieval dental technology and rampant football hooliganism; forget too, the incessant chatter about Britain’s decline as an international power. Apparently, there are still some things that the British do best.

I’m loathe to knock my adopted home; for all my griping, I certainly wouldn’t live anywhere else (well, maybe Canada, but only if they temper their enthusiasm for that professional wrestling-on-ice sport that they refer to as hockey). But, for all her lofty technological and scientific achievements, when it comes to matching the ingenuity of the sharpest minds back in the Old Country, it seems that America may still have a little catching up to do. While hyper-educated American engineers fritter away their talents at NASA, designing shuttles and building silly space stations (all probably without working teapots), British boffins have been busy advising the Chinese on teapot design.

Ah, there may be life in the old Empire, yet. Anyone care to drink to that?

Posted by: closetfolkie | July 22, 2008

Calm In Your Eye…

It’s official. I’m boycotting this hurricane season.

First of all, I refuse to acknowledge the concept of a hurricane season. Football has a season. Everything is scheduled in advance– you know when it starts, when it ends, and what time the games all start. People’s jobs (not to mention billions in advertising  revenue) depend on it. I wonder how long the commissioner of any major sports league would last, if, as he announced the commencement of the season, he admitted that he wasn’t sure how many games were on the schedule, and that the starting times were still up in the air, but that we should all remain vigilant and be prepared in case one broke out? It wouldn’t be pretty.

Obviously, I don’t object to being informed of the fact that the summer months are those condusive to the formation of hurricanes. I do think, however, that we’ve all grasped that bit of information at this point. I don’t even mind being prodded with an occasional “Summer is here and the time is right for panicking in the streets” newspaper pullout; just stop calling it a season, ok? Because when I hear the incessant “Hurricane season is here–are you ready?” sirens going off, it makes me want to grab a schedule to see exactly when the hurricane is going to be in town so I can make plans to go away for its duration. 

 Don’t get me wrong, by no means am I one of those people who denies the threat. You know, those prone to “Oh, we’ll never get hit”, “We always dodge the bullet” and other such proclamations. I fully understand that living as we do on a peninsula sticking out into a broiling body of water, and with many of our cities being about as high above sea level as the average shag-pile rug,  there’s always the chance that a major storm system might come to kick our backsides about. There’s a difference though, between understanding and accepting the risk, and living in a perpetually heightened state of alert and continual fear of it.

Unfortunately, unless you avoid the mainstream media, you don’t have much of a choice. Turn on the local news between June and November and there’s an excellent chance that you’ll be regaled with the hurricane slogan du jour. It used to be a simple “Are you prepared if the big one hits?” or a variation thereof, but recently, the tone of these catchphrases has taken on an altogether more menacing tone. The current mantra of the moment – “It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when” – dispenses with the idea of  cautioning us about the possibility of a hurricane; warning us instead, of the inevitability of a strike.

 To drive the point home, salivating television reporters will even show us the tracking charts of last summer’s storms compiled into one, with each storm track sporting a different colour.  Looking at this mass of squiggly lines superimposed over each other is a bit of a horror show. It’s like the combined anxiety of last year’s storm plotting, all rolled into one crazy maze of highlighter ink. The implied message would appear to be “See how lucky you  were not to have one of those squiggly lines run through your city name last year?” You’re left wondering how much longer this good fortune can continue.

It’s maddening, to me, that so many of us often appear to be living for that moment in late fall where we all breathe a collective sigh of relief at making it through another perilous summer unscathed, so that we can actually enjoy living our little lives again. Sure, the relief is palpable, but experiencing it year after year just wears on you. This feeling that you’ve once again narrowly escaped devastation by the skin of your teeth is not entirely comforting, especially since it’s usually accompanied by the disquieting thought that your luck could indeed run out at any time.

It never used to be like this. It used to be that dangerous weather had to actually exist before it became newsworthy. Now, even the potential for nasty storm formation is delivered to us at regular intervals via ubiquitous “Tropical Weather Updates”. Shouldn’t these alarmist bulletins really be reserved for a serious and impending situation? Certainly, if a category 4 hurricane was indeed making a beeline for us, I’d have no objection to an update along the lines of ” Attention! All of you silly buggers living in Florida – a huge and vengeful hurricane with a deceptively docile name is approaching your soon-to-be-altered coastline, and unless you’re supremely confident in your ability to tread water for the next three weeks or so, you might want pack your bags and go visit the more sensible members of your family still living in more temperate climes.”

What I do object to, however, is a tropical weather update (complete with its own logo)  where the presenter looks at the camera and half-apologetically says “Well, it’s pretty quiet out there at the moment…but a couple of clouds have been spotted off the coast of west Africa, and that’s where killer hurricanes are often spawned, so don’t let your guard down…”. If there’s no tropical weather news to report, why on earth are they airing the segment? 

I know that scare tactics sell newspapers and boost TV ratings and all that, but I’m really sick of living in fear for six months of the year. So, I’m done with it. This means that I’ll no longer be obsessing over weather forecasts updating me on the progress of a storm system that’s thousands of miles away in the eastern Atlantic, even if it is showing signs that it may well organise and set a course directly for my house. Even if a storm does form somewhere in the Atlantic, I’ll not be checking hurricane forecast advisories every fifteen minutes or so, in order to hear the latest wind shear gossip,  steering current discussions, and other meteorological concepts beyond my comprehension and control.

What I will be doing, is what I should be doing during the summer months:  I’ll be hacking away at the rampantly growing shrubs and vines that, emboldened by the summer rains, are threatening to envelop my house.  Then, after retreating to the Great Indoors for intravenous hydration,  I’ll be surveying Florida’s famed fauna from behind insulated glass. There, I’ll contemplate the cruel folly of Florida gardening, where the full beauteous bloom of your landscape occurs in the grip of summer’s cauldron, retreating into drab dormancy as soon as winter’s pleasant temperatures allow you to actually languish outdoors.

Yes, I shall begin to ponder this incongruity this very evening, with a perfumy, German hefeweizen, or perhaps a tart Belgian Saison ale for company; safe in the knowledge that English Premier League football kicks off in less than a month.  The date and time of the first match and all the matchups thereafter has already been announced (It’s not a matter of if,  but a matter of when, apparently.)

Ah, the arrival of world-class summer brews, and the world’s most beautiful game. It’s comforting to know there are some things you can rely on.  Here’s to the season!

Posted by: closetfolkie | April 1, 2008

As Safe As Hot Houses…

It looks like we’ll be staying here in Florida for a while. This time last year, there was a hopeful For Sale sign in the front yard, and the wife and I were busy planning our big escape to Colorado. Even as the housing market began its tailspin, it seemed quite possible that we’d make out quite handsomely by selling our house. So much for optimistic thinking.

With the national and local media continuing to bombard us with reports on how property values are plunging on what seems like an hourly basis, and housing inventory duly piling up, the idea of selling at anything remotely resembling a profit seems laughable. Not that I’m laughing of course. Why would I? Another insufferable and oppressive Florida summer is just around the corner, and I’ve barely recovered from the last one.

When I abandoned the UK some twenty years ago, one of the main motivations was to escape the dour and depressing climate. Moving to the Sunshine State seemed like the perfect antidote, which it indeed was, at first. At this point though, it’s starting to look (and feel) like overkill. Sunshine is all well and good if the temperatures are in the 60s and 70s, but when the miserably humid summer season hits, and even the overnight lows often hover around the 80 degree mark, the blazing daytime sun just adds insult to injury.

Every year I question whether or not I can take another hateful Florida summer, and here we are, in April, and we’re already well into into air conditioning season. This is inhumane.

They say that misery loves company, and I wouldn’t mind it as much if I seemed to have any. The thing is, most people I see, seem to be so used to this cauldron-like climate, that any reprieve from it, no matter how fleeting, usually results in a mass over-reaction in the form of clothes layering.

A couple of weeks ago, after a week or so of hot, muggy weather, we had what was probably the last gasp of cool air before the soggy grip of summer truly takes hold. Daytime highs were an enchanting 68 degrees or so; skies were crystal blue, and incredibly, overnight lows dropped to around 50 degrees. In short, it was as beautiful a day as I can remember. I was able to leave the house dressed in jeans and a long sleeved t-shirt without feeling overdressed; I was so happy, I think I may have broken into a skip on several occasions.

Then I started to notice all of the overcoats, sweaters and hats on display. I even spied one poor soul wearing gloves; a sight so perplexing and, well, annoying, that I actually accosted him and begged him for an explanation. He told me that he was freezing. Prying further, I asked him from whence he originally came. I was half hoping that he’d at least claim native status, which might have helped explain his hyper-sensitivity to the temperature change. Instead he hit me with a stunner– Ohio.

Ohio? How can this be? Shouldn’t this be downright balmy for an Ohioan? It’s all beginning to feel like a conspiracy to me. Even the weathermen seem to be in on it. Any excursion from a cauldron-like forecast is often accompanied by what almost sounds  like an apology of sorts; a meek Don’t worry, things will warm up for the weekend sort of comment, which makes my heart sink further.

Does no one else feel this anguish? My brother-in-law and his family, out in Boulder, Colorado, certainly don’t. They’re  sitting around in their arid paradise, dressed in sweatshirts as they plan refreshing weekend getaways to the slopes.

Meanwhile, I’m eyeing recipes for gazpacho, and other dishes I don’t really like that much, but will gamely endure, mainly because I can prepare them without turning on the stove. Having the oven on pre-heat and a couple of pans bubbling on the stove-top when you’re already sweating handily, is a sure-fire recipe for anxiety, stress and heatstroke. I know this, because I did it last night, and as a consequence, it’s ice cream for dinner tonight.

Posted by: closetfolkie | February 28, 2008

Absolutely Icebox…

I actually became aware of the American fascination with ice within minutes of my arrival on these shores. For some first-time visitors to the US, their first wide-eyed observation of American culture may involve the size of some of the vehicles being driven on the roads; for others it might be the rampant cheerfulness and often unnerving enthusiasm of salespeople in retail establishments here. For me, it was the staggering amount of ice cubes that I witnessed being crammed into customers’ glasses in the airport bar.

Watching the bartender thrust a tall tumbler into a vast ice chest, and pulling it out full to the brim, I couldn’t help but wonder where the cola was supposed to go. I mean, it was obviously a great deal for the establishment, since they were charging a couple of dollars for what amounted to a thimble-sized serving, but what struck me was that there appeared to be nothing resembling a complaint from any of the customers.

I soon came to realise that this is because, by and large, Americans love their beverages cold. Very, very cold. In fact, if their water and soft drinks aren’t served to them at a temperature entirely suitable for the safe transportation of harvested organs, they become ripe for an emotional meltdown.

Even more alarming, in my view, is the fact that this colder is better routine includes beer. As such, it is commonplace to see drinking establishments proudly trumpeting, via the ubiquitous Coldest Beer In Town signs, not the quality of their beer, so much as its serving temperature. These are no hollow promises either; any colder, and you’d be in beer on a stick territory. And to further numb your taste buds (arguably, not a bad idea considering some of the mass-produced swill often found masquerading as beer these days) the beverages will often be served in a frosty mug plucked from a freezer (presumably just in case almost frozen beer is not quite cold enough for you.)

Refusing one of these frigid mugs can be a little tricky. Often, the server cannot comprehend a request for a room-temperature glass, and will give you the old raised eyebrow look, with the implied question “Why on earth would you want a room-temperature glass when we have a freezer full of ice-covered ones at the ready?” A snappy “Because I actually like the taste of beer” or some such retort might momentarily make you feel better, but it usually only results in assorted waitstaff peering from the shadows, nudging each other and motioning towards the heretic at table five who has the temerity to refuse a frozen drinking vessel.

Of course, if you really want to ruffle some feathers, you can always order two bottles of ale at once, explaining that while you’re willing, due to time constraints, to quaff the first one as is, and deal with the accompanying novocaine-like effects of the over-chilled ale on your throat, you’d like to have the second one sit for a while, and warm up to something approaching optimum serving temperature, so that you can actually taste the quality hops, barley and malt that you’re paying good money for. Be warned though, that this may lead to a uncomfortable conversation with the server, and possibly even the manager, who will inevitably hit you with the old standby, “So, why do you drink your beer warm in the UK ?”

Although I don’t ever recall thinking of the beer stored in damp 55-degree cellars in northern England, as warm, I suppose it’s all relative, conditioned as we all are, by our own culture. Spare a thought then, for the poor unsuspecting American tourist as he visits a pub in old Blighty, and try to imagine his shock as he realises that the tiny ice bucket perched atop the bar has not been duly assigned to his cocktail alone, but is actually intended for the use of the entire pub. This is, of course, great fun for the locals. They know that there are only about a hundred or so ice cubes in the entire British Isles at any given moment, so it’s almost inevitable that another Yank’s quest for ice will end in tears.

Understandably, this Stateside fetish for the frozen has resulted in craziness like the ice-brewed beer fad, in which the manufacturer simply adds the word Ice to the brand name in order to make it more enticing. Then, of course, there’s the iced-coffee drink phenomenon, where perfectly fine coffee blends are frozen into submission. Iced tea, I won’t discuss; it’s reprehensible and should be outlawed.

It’s all enough to make me wonder about how this national obsession might be exploited, for both positive and ill gain. In the case of the latter, one can only hope that terrorists don’t figure out that rather than attempting to bomb our airports or bring down our planes, they’re probably better off working on sabotaging refrigeration systems nationwide. One can only imagine the carnage.

At my current place of employment, the recent malfunction of the lunch-room ice maker offered a glimpse into the kind of pandemonium we could expect in the event of such a catastrophe. Supervisors were seen holding spontaneous meetings that served as updates on the repair schedule, as well as morale boosts for dejected, and occasionally near-delirious office workers who were no longer able to pour their already chilled, vending machine-dispensed sodas over cups already full of ice cubes. The poor dears.

The next day, several workers even brought in their own personal coolers with their own ferociously guarded, personal supplies of ice. Amid ever-increasing murmurings of discontent among the troops, one particularly gallant supervisor set off on a reconnaissance mission and was greeted with tumultuous applause and a near-mob scene when he returned with a dolly loaded with two oversized coolers full of ice. It was almost like the entire company was functioning in some sort of emergency mode. It was really all quite surreal.

On a rather more positive note, I wonder if Al Gore’s award-winning alarmism might be more successful in instilling a greater sense of urgency in the general population, if rather than just warning us of devastating coastal flooding in the event of melting polar caps, he were to somehow equate such a catastrophe with an impending, crippling ice cube shortage. I have to imagine that the duly threatened and desperate citizenry would then rise to the challenge of attempting to lessen their dependence on those damned fossil fuels. I rather believe that they’d be dumping their Hummers left, right and centre, in favour of fuel-efficient transportation. Some of them might even go so far as riding bicycles to work.

Now, that… would be the coolest.