Archive for the 'blog' Category


Dr. Seuss asks Roald Dahl: whatever happened to The Leaky Brain?

The other day I searched in vain
For some sign of The Leaky Brainthe-leaky-brain-call-me

This lady, see, was so much fun
Among my reads was number one

The first I’d go to in my reader
Some days I’d wish I could go meet her.

But then one day near end of summer
She stopped posting.  What a bummer!

Did she get a fake ID
And go to live up in BC?

She failed to leave a mail address
Along her sidebar.  Such a mess!

I wonder if she’s still alive!
Not long ago she did survivethe-leaky-brain-acrobat-photoshop

A dive into the world of porn
We all laughed.  But then one morn,

She up and left.  Came back no more,
She only left an open door,

For comments still come far and wide
Though nowadays no source of pride.

Oh I know.  Just let me guess…the-leaky-brain
She’s found those candies in her dress

But choked on one while a-composing
Another post that’s based on hosing

Hunky guys who wear no shirt
Just another daytime flirt.

Or did those strippers she made fun of
Catch up with her and give her some of

That rice that she was yelling for?
Tell me please.  It’s such a bore

That I can’t find my Leaky Brain
Since she’s not here my life’s a pain.

Maybe she’s in North Korea
With Kim Jong-Il, caught diarrhea

Or is she now a Twitter victim?
In two-line bursts, her wit and wisdom

Lost among the pointless chatter
Of many things that do not matter.

Then again, she is a teacher.
Could it be that, like a preacher,

She had to keep her nose quite clean
Until the day her blog was seen

By the chairman of the school board
Who looked unfavour’bly toward

A teacher unafraid to show her cooter
Instead of teaching kids computer?

Although some blogs have had a boost
From their authors getting dooced

It seems our Leaky Brain has flown
Leaving me to sit and moan.

The web is full of jokes and stuff
Crap and garbage and plain fluff

‘Tis rare originality
Pokes through all that banality.

So if you find The Leaky Brain
The one whose drips were quite insane

Tell her to send a signal flare
Some sign of life.





Canadian blog awards

After much hemming and hawing about whether or not to mention this, I have decided once again to interrupt my 10-part series on Turkey to announce that this space has been nominated for Best Personal Blog in this year’s Canadian Blog Awards.

Much hemming and hawing because I am terrible at self-promotion of any kind, in real life as well as blogging.

But if you’re not doing anything over the next two minutes… you could, like…vote, eh? You’ll have to scroll down a bit to find the Letters Home name, but it’s there.

In true Canadian style, if I make it past the first round I’ll be more than happy.

Thanks to blogging pal Indeterminacy for the nomination. 🙂


A funny thing happened on the way to Bremen

I got lost.

Lost because I followed the signs for the bike path, which seemed clear enough to me at the time.

I mean, it does seem to indicate Bremen that way doesn’t it? So I took the turn and ended up on this horrible stretch of cobblestone and sand, absolute hell for anyone on two wheels. The former because if you don’t have all the latest fancy-dancy bike suspension rig-thingies the rattling pummels your balls to hamburger, the latter for how it gums up your gears.

After gritting my teeth and cursing whoever it was that must have turned the sign 90 degrees to the left and forcing a traverse of that awful, monstrous and neverending line of cars and trucks I was so hoping to avoid, I somehow got on the right track again, re-joining the path I’d printed out thanks to Via Michelin.

Via Michelin is really helpful if you’re cycling. You enter your start and end points, say you want to travel by bike, and voilà! Out comes a clear description of how to get from point A to point B on two wheels. No need for expensive bike path maps you can never figure out how to fold up again anyway.

Once in Bremen I met the friendly owner of Gästehaus Peterswerder 35 euro a night for a single with shower, great breakfast, clean and homey – locked the bike up in the back, showered, ate lunch overlooking the Weser, flaked out for a couple of hours, then met the first group of bloggers.

Talk about getting whirled from one world to another. From hours of long, solitary stretches lined with oak to patches of pine forest, horse pasture and cornfields with nothing to listen to but the twittering of birds to suddenly be thrust into the company of people bent on over-using a particularly strange adjective at almost every turn…


At one point that first evening I just couldn’t take it any longer and so finally blurted out WHY are you guys calling anything and everything MOIST?

Turns out it was really a running gag they were pulling to see how long I would be able to hold off asking what they were going on about, which I readily admitted I was reluctant to do. When you’re pushing 50 and don’t get out very much and don’t pay attention to pop culture or what’s on American TV it’s a safer bet to follow the old adage: better to keep mouth closed and appear dumb than open mouth and remove all doubt.

Which is probably why I don’t talk very much unless the beer’s been flowing. Rather I take notes. The much-missed B from Eurotrippen wanted to know just what I was jotting down all the time during the Dresden meetup she and her husband hosted last year, so here’s a transcription of my scribblings this time ’round: (links added for flavour and freshness)


thankfully not a gravy moment – Adam

Everything is referred to as moist – what is MOIST?

= fantastic

Write Feuchtgebiet translated excerpts post with moist as hook? headbang8 is member

The Culture Code – buy it or find at library?

Madmen – new TV series – slingbox what costs etc?

Fresh Air NPR Podcast – look up in list

Dexter – psychopath as hero?

Well, there you have it. No nuclear launch codes, I’m afraid – not even free passwords to stuff white people like, especially if you’re a queer expatriate living in Weimar.

Speaking of whom, Adam set the bar pretty high by mentioning my post last time about Dresden was the best of the Whiney Expat Blogger write-ups that time around.

Well, don’t get me wrong – I do appreciate the compliment, Adam – but comparisons are for boy scouts dangling their wieners around the campfire. The reports from across the country are starting to trickle in and – no surprise – we all enjoyed it in our own way.

Highlights for me besides the lovely fall weather and relaxed atmosphere was the chance to finally meet so many people face-to-face.

Like Jen and Sparky, my sole contact with Jen up to now having been comments on her blog, a couple of emails and one enthusiastic Baaaaayyyy-beeeeee! she gave me as she answered her phone expecting it to be her number one.

And headbang8 – as much a pleasure to meet in person as to read online and I’m bracing myself for his weekend review – as well as Diane Mandy, Max and Doggie, sharp-as-a-razor G, our fearless tour guide, organiser and providor of wonderful gift bags Claire, Kim from Bremen, PapaScott from Hamburg, tireless traveller Heidelbergerin and beau, although the latter belongs to the usual gang of suspects rounded up for fingerprinting, eyeball patterning, Canadian passport control, inadvertent impromptu golden showering and general posterity.

I also enjoyed slipping into the relative safety and comfort of social avoidance mode for a couple of hours in late afternoon to have the energy to make it through the second evening. It was on that walkabout that I managed to really see what was all around me, observe detail in buildings, the faces of the people and above all avoid coffee at Starbucks or sliding on dogshit.

It was on that wander through town that I came across a surprisingly common sight in Germany. Some guy dressed in funny clothes sweeping the steps of the city hall clean.

Seems if a young man reaches his 30th birthday and still isn’t married, he has to go down to the town hall and perform the task for his friends and family. They helped out by spreading around hundreds of beer bottle caps which they promptly kicked around as soon as he’d managed to get a few into anything remotely resembling a pile. Ordnung muss nicht immer sein.

The ride back was wonderful. I managed to make it in six hours instead of seven on the way out by ignoring the bike path signs and simply following the Via Michelin map and directions. A tail-wind helped. As luck would have it the S-Bahn I wanted to take from Harburg over the Elbe to Hamburg was closed for repair for a stretch so I had to lug the bike with gear off the train, onto a crowded bus, off the bus, back onto the S-Bahn and then onward, making the journey from just south of the Elbe to home 15 minutes longer than if I’d boarded a train at the station way back in Bremen.



The bearded queen that’s always on top

Regular readers may be excused for not knowing what the hell I’m talking about when I say that this blog is really two blogs in one.

On the one hand, it’s the nearly 200 posts since mid-January, 2007 that have come barking down the WordPress puppy mill at this address, along with the various pages and fiddly sidebar doo-dads few bother to click on but have come to expect when you stumble upon an everyday non-stick, peel-off, biodegradable, low-calorie passive-aggressive blog such as this.

On the other hand, there’s one post that regular readers have probably forgotten but which sets itself apart from the rest. One post that almost since its completion one cold, dreary day back in early December last year has drawn more than 200 times the hits, generated more comments and attracted more meet-’em-in-the-park crazies than nearly any other you’ll find here.

It’s the one making fun of some scam email where the so-called writer poses as a representative of the Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation, an organisation that does various good deeds for needy people in more places than I care to mention or bother to link to.

On the face of it it’s really hard to figure out why it’s so popular. One read-through and you think…meh. The concept’s been done before, and the jokes? As a great man might have said:

Sir, your post is both funny and original. Unfortunately, the original parts are not funny, and the funny parts are not original.

Seriously, I consider it a mediocre effort. A far cry from the gut-splitting one-liners I’d imagined coming up with as I got the idea for the post cycling home from work.

So what’s bringing them all in?

Is it the scandalous depiction of Canada’s beloved sovereign wearing the unmistakable facial attribute of a male, hinting at what might lie below?

Or is it the mistake in the headline? In another brilliant example of my aversion to research and chronic state of sloth, I adopted the scammer’s mistake by leaving out Elizabeth’s all-important apostrophe-s in the headline. So for months Google has been coughing up that post as high as the highly-coveted Number One Result Position when searchers wrongly type in Queen Elizabeth Foundation.

Not bad, eh? Try it yourself and see. Type in Queen Elizabeth Foundation into Google and see what you get. Do it many, many times and maybe you’ll help push it back up from the number three where it is now. 🙂

Speaking of bizarre visitors, I’m sure you aren’t one of them, but some guy calling himself a private investigator and who lives in his mother’s basement in Toronto definitely is.

Sans-merde Sherlocque really didn’t like the off-hand way I told a commenter that the stupidest thing anyone could do would be to send the scammers any money.

Of course he had to point out that it’s your identity they’re after, and in no uncertain terms in subsequent comments made it plain that I am indeed the lowest form of ill-informed pond-scum ever to disgrace the Internet, and furthermore … Well, at this point my eyes kinda glazed over, but you can take a look for yourself. For maximum impact, read them all.

I dunno – maybe I was a little too polite to him? He says he’s a fellow Canadian, after all.

Perhaps on a flight to Hamburg this very minute. Whoa.


Sometimes you just have to back up.

Especially when you have several tonnes of elephant headed your direction at seven in the morning.

Shot it in Kruger Park, South Africa in July, 2003 while out driving by myself looking for wildlife.

Update: now as YouTube video – WordPress video isn’t worth paying for, imho.


Things I’ve still not written

Another post about blogging. Sorry, Bruce.

I look at all I’ve written over the past year and a half and can’t complain about not being able to post regularly. Still there’s so much more I’ve wanted to post, but haven’t been able to get around to it.

I wanted to post:

  • At least one write-up of our trip to Mallorca last October, though I could write six. Yes, Mallorca, that German-package-tourist-hell-on-rollerblades. Know what? It was wonderful. Really, it was a great trip. Maybe photos and a few captions will have to do.
  • A supplementary page to A Month in South Africa and Lesotho, because we’ve actually done two months there, but three years apart. The page with photos and write-up is of our more recent trip. The first trip was very different, but still worth writing about.
  • An obituary, a eulogy, a letter I wish I’d written while he was alive to a special person and old friend from Quebec who died back in November, 2007. I got the news three weeks too late to even send something to be read out at his funeral.
  • Another one involving death, this time someone who interviewed and rejected me for a job as reporter at the South China Morning Post in 1994 when I first arrived in Hong Kong. I found out only a few months ago he’d died in 2000, an apparent suicide in London.
  • More on Paris. It was a very multi-layered, multi-textured encounter; a reunion, a look back, a look ahead, a language lesson, a mini second honeymoon.
  • A tragically hilarious account of a trip to Bucharest for work in early April, just before booking off sick for more than a week.
  • A follow-up to a post in January where I promised to later post some translated excerpts of a book I read in French and whose English translation won’t be out until September. A lot of readers said they were looking forward to it. I’ve read the book, but still have to deliver on the follow-up.

Those are just the ones I can name.

I have another two dozen drafts sitting in the queue, waiting for some more bone, blood and flesh. They’re like scraps of paper, really. Sometimes I wish they weren’t stacked up in such a straight, orderly line, because it takes away from the experimental feel to it.

Are two dozen drafts a lot or a few?  Blogging guru Lorelle says you should write your drafts and then publish right away so that your ideas don’t go stale. I think she has a point. The problem with letting things sit around in draft mode is there is no longer any urgency. I can write them anytime, so that’s when they get written: Whenever.

Or maybe I’m just lazy and have been taking the easy way out. Looking over that list, I know that each one of them would be a time-consuming challenge. The eulogy has to have just the right tone. The South Africa and Mallorca travel write-ups involve all that photo sorting and uploading. The Hong Kong/London suicide story might take a couple of telephone calls to sort out an unanswered question or two.

And besides, it’s summer.  Who wants to blog?


A few bloggers I’d like to meet, but maybe not in the sauna.

For personal reasons it was lucky that I was unable to attend the 2006 Whiney Expat Bloggers’ meetup in Bonn, but to make up for it I had a great time with many of Germany’s English-language bloggers in Dresden last year.

Now that we’re all having to decide where to meet up in 2008, you may be forced to get out a map to find the town of Wiesbaden because the voting seems to be headed in that direction. Wiesbaden? Where? What? And perhaps above all: why Wiesbaden?

Is it because the place is famous for and dominated by a huge spa?  Do you realise that if we were to meet in Wiesbaden and not go to the spa, it would be like squeezing into a small diner for lunch never once mentioning that 800-pound gorilla plopped down in the corner?

And of course you all know by now about German spa and sauna etiquette, right? I know some of us like to bare all online, but…

Anyway, I haven’t heard much of the place, so I thought I’d ask my wife and favourite German for her opinion, seeing as how I was pretty sure she’d never been there before.

So have you ever been to Wiesbaden? Never.

What have you heard about Wiesbaden? Pretty, with rich people.

Why rich? It’s not that far from Frankfurt, but it’s smaller, – anyway, not nearly as ugly as Frankfurt.

What have you got against Frankfurt? It has no soul. It’s just business and banks.

Would you go to Wiesbaden? Why should I?

Well, there’s going to be a bloggers’ meetup there. At least that’s the way it seems to be going. Are you going to this meetup?

I’m asking the questions for now. If you were to pick one place in Germany you think we should meet, where would it be? Hamburg.

You can’t pick Hamburg. (laughs) OK, Leipzig or Weimar. They’re two cities I’m interested in getting to know.

By the way, I like your haircut. You look very good at the moment.

So there you have it. Hamburg balcony poll results confirm a swing in sentiment away from Wiesbaden and toward Leipzig or Weimar. Besides, how can you not trust the opinion of someone who makes an observation like that? 🙂

And now: A few bloggers I’d like to meet who weren’t there last year. Not a complete list and in no particular order:

Oooh, kind of a stealth meme. How did that happen?

The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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britbeach / at / yahoo dot ca

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