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Saturday, January 31, 2004

Hell Frozen Over

I think I have an explanation for the crappy British (and New Zealand) sinks. The clue was in noting that a British mixing kitchen faucet actually has separate output channels for hot and cold all the way to the end of the spout where it meets the air--i.e., someone's gone out of their way to keep them from mixing until the last moment. Why? Click... Because their water heaters are (or were) elevated rather than pressurized, which means the hot and cold water are not at the same pressure, and hence if you attempt to pre-mix them, you'll probably just get cold water out of the faucet with the hot water running backward (cold water running back into the hot water tank, and potentially overflowing it). So the crappy sinks trace back to an older style of water heater, which are apparently still in use in some (many? most?) places in the UK. I wonder if the same is true of New Zealand, or if they just adopted the sink style from the UK? (Anyone know how the hot water heaters work in New Zealand?)

Incidentally, in our last few days in Prague we went to one particular restaurant twice which bucked the trend by having great and honest service in addition to good food, great deserts, and competitive prices (as well as being open fairly late). It was called U Cizku, and I highly recommend them, especially if you want the bill to reflect the menu. They're at Karlovo Namesti 34, but the link has more details. The fruit chocolate fondue and the fried plums were both quite good. :)

Yesterday was a marginally hellish travel day, though I was mentally prepared for it so it wasn't too bad. It decided to snow in London the night before I left, which is apparently a very rare event (hence my preparation for a bad travel day) and even more rare that it persists as long as it did (London was still white when I looked down from the plane). The day started with a pre-dawn trudge for a couple kilometers over icy streets and snow, only to find the train I needed to catch was kaput with an indefinite resurrection time. They told the passengers their best bet was to walk to another station and catch a different line, but having run the options the day before I knew the odds were slim I'd arrive at the airport anytime soon via that route so I gambled on waiting, which proved fortuitous as soon after the other passengers had trudged off through the snow, they announced the train was on its way. The plane proved similarly angst-inducing, displaying "please wait" where the gate number should have been until some time after the plane was supposed to have left (this despite other planes explicitly showing as delayed). Meanwhile on the far end, they told Mike my plane was on the ground when I was still over the Atlantic somewhere, so he had to twiddle his thumbs needlessly as well. And going this direction the food sucked, because it's a lunch and a snack (carb overload with very little protein) rather than a dinner and a breakfast as it was going east. And the woman who sat next to me smelled really bad. She moved to a free isle seat much to my joy, but then returned to take the free window seat in front of me and managed to smell breath-holdingly bad even from there. Add it all up, and I was in bad shape by the time I arrived (headache, nausea), which was further inspired by getting redirected to the special room again for a rubber glove inspection of everything in my bag and pockets. Hair was even tied back this time! As best I could tell, it was because the passport guy (who marked my form with the evil "S") was incredulous that I claimed not to have purchased anything to bring back with me. Also, the dispatcher at the head of the line sent me to desk 26, which proved to be occupied (she fucked up, should have sent me to desk 24), so I paused for a moment near 26 (couldn't see it was occupied 'till I got near it because of the layout) and then backed up to 24, where he immediately asked me what that was all about and I explained exactly the above and he just had this glazed over expression indicating I had exceeded his logistical comprehension abilities, at which point he started scowling at the zero on my customs claim form. And the customs guy himself was a young punk on a power trip who repeated more than once with some apparent glee that things are the way they are because he says so and need no rhyme or reason.

I wanted to tell him that some day a robot will reach out and casually pinch his head off, but refrained.

It's a good thing I made the pessimistic choice to leave the remaining almonds I had purchased in Czech on the plane. It just felt like one of those days I had to have all my ducks in a row. I could tell by the way he asked the question that people often have bits of food with them that they hadn't considered to declare and that this is one of the ways they can cite and fine anyone they don't like--the customs analog to the speeding ticket. "No food at all? Not even a bit of sandwich from the plane???" Yeah, he really asked me that.

To cap off the evening, after establishing that I'd only need to survive the cold dash to and from the car, I threw all my (filthy!) warm clothes in the wash before leaving for dinner. (They claimed -14 degrees C when we landed, but it didn't feel that cold and I really needed to be clean.) When we arrived, I briskly prounced across the icy parking lot and into the restaurant, where they promptly informed us that, by the way, their heating was out. We had kulfi (ice cream) for desert to warm up.

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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com