Sunday, 26 February 2012

How we know what we know

On a recent visit to my mum's for a couple of days, amongst other things we did some crosswords and some online and offline quizzes.

It occurred to me while we were doing one of them that there is some random crap contained in my brain. Now I've asked myself many times why it is that I can remember all the words to Bohemian Rhapsody but can't remember something useful like when I need to pay my credit card or when it's time to worm the cat. I've stopped trying to answer that though.

However, I did start to wonder how/where I learnt some of the actual random facts that I do know. Yes, some of it was at school so that's fair enough, but a lot of it is from reading, TV quiz shows, Trivial Pursuit, overheard conversations and some other ways that I probably can't quite put my finger on.

As far as reading's concerned, for example, I read anything and everything by Stephen King for many years. Thanks to those books (and only those books) I learnt about Hefty sacks, U-Haul, Twinkies, Schwinn bikes, the American meaning of carnival (or carny) and many other things.

QI has taught me a lot - many of them the exact opposite of things that I thought I knew. Like the fact that it's completely untrue that water spins the opposite way in the two hemispheres. No, it always goes down the drain clockwise unless it's caught in an unnatural weather phenomenon that covers a vast area - like a hurricane.

I learnt from an overheard conversation on a bus that a calorie is the amount of energy that it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Centigrade. I kind of knew it was something to do with heating something but could never remember quite what!

On a side note, I'd like to correct the very common misconception that Hitler was a vegetarian. This load of old bollocks is trotted out regularly as evidence that "not all vegetarians are nice, fluffy, lovely people". Now, I don't pretend that they (we?) are all lovely but equally, I don't see why there has to be any more proof that veggies can be evil any more than the fact that the rest of the population can. But to return to the point - Hitler wasn't vegetarian. There is plenty of written evidence that he ate meat regularly - there's a disputed "fact" that he had rabbit for his last meal.

These days of course, most of us learn stuff from posts made by our friends (and total strangers) on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Reddit and many other online sites. We could go to a library and open an encyclopaedia at a random page or we can just go to Wikipedia and ask it for a random fact.

The BBC news website regularly has a page of snippets of interesting information. There are sites which post lists such as "10 Things We Didn't Know" - most of the time they will contain 10 Things you didn't know either.

We're bombarded with new information all the time these days and I'm not pretending that it's possible to remember all of it. Nor is it all completely reliable of course. But in the great scheme of things, it's a lot easier to stumble across useful and interesting information these days than it used to be. Whether the sheer amount of information makes it easier or more difficult to actually learn stuff, I really don't know.

All-consuming aspect of motherhood

 Another blog I've had drafted since last summer - thought I'd better finish it!

I should start by reassuring you all that I am not pregnant nor broody nor any of those other (to me - inexplicable) states of being that all women are expected to experience at some point.

My feelings on that haven't changed since my early teens. I don't want kids now and I never have. I've always been grateful for that because when it comes to things like socialising, holidays etc I like to do what I want, when I want. Call me selfish, call me what you want, but that's the way I am.

Over the years, I've witnessed a phenomenon that seems to affect the vast majority of mothers (I would say parents but I've really only seen it with women). I'm talking about the sudden complete inability to hold a conversation about anything other than their child.

I sometimes visit a local café for my lunchbreak from work. It's a lovely café with delicious food, comfy seats, friendly staff and ... lots of yummy mummies and their kids. I'm prepared to overlook that to get my fix of Higgidy Pie and mash.

One day last summer I was enjoying said pie when three women, babies and toddlers in tow, entered and took the table next to mine. For the next 45 minutes there was precisely one topic of conversation - the kids. Or at least, their experience of having/bringing up those kids. They literally just compared notes on feeding, sleeping patterns, weaning, expressing milk, childcare, toys, prams, nappies, colic, vomit, poo, schools. You get the picture! At no point did I even hear them properly talk about themselves let alone anyone else unconnected to the kids. The very first exchange between two of the women was:

"How are you?"
"OK. She's not been sleeping and she won't eat properly at the moment. Oh, and Darren (who I worked out was the woman's son) just got into the football team at school!"
"Oh bless her. Hope she gets better soon. That's great about Darren. I can't wait til Luke is old enough to play football".

So basically she didn't actually answer the question "How are YOU?"

And so it went on. And on. And on. Punctuated only by various noises emanating from the prams, pushchairs, highchairs etc.

Surely motherhood is meant to be just one facet of a woman's life, if she chooses to go down that road. It shouldn't be the be all and end all. It shouldn't mean a total loss of personal identity. Or maybe I'm just missing the point given that I've never been interested in that aspect of life.

Are delivery charges justifiable?

It's Sunday afternoon and I'm bored. Bored enough to post a blog - a long overdue blog admittedly but I'm still drafting the one I actually want to post. This one will have to do for now.

So - Royal Mail delivery charges. Or rather, the P&P charged by companies who use Royal Mail. I recently considered ordering a couple of things from a lovely local organic household products company. They make green, chemical-free, organic, cruelty-free and very lovely washing up liquid, surface cleaners etc. I've used one of their products before but can't get it where I got the first one so I checked their website. The prices were pretty good - just over £2 for a large bottle of washing up liquid.

Their online ordering system is a little weird. I ticked the two items I wanted and clicked "Purchase". Instead of getting an invoice and a payment screen, I just got a message saying "Your order has been submitted. You will receive an email detailing the full price including delivery charges and information on how to pay". Unusual, I thought, but OK.

48 hours went by and I'd heard nothing so I chased it up via the website. I received a fast reply from the owner, with an invoice attached. The two products I wanted to buy came to £4.95. The delivery charge - a flat £5! Ouch. Admittedly, the email did mention that I could have up to four products delivered all for the same £5 delivery charge but of course that would mean my spending more on products.

I don't think I'm particularly stingy or cheap but paying £5 delivery for an order that came to less than £5 just didn't sit well. Needless to say, I didn't order. Now that's disappointing on two fronts - I'm not getting the products I wanted and the company have lost a sale. I honestly don't know how much Royal Mail actually charge for delivery but even if the company wasn't making a profit on that, I'm still not paying it.

If you add to that the fact that in the last month I've waited 9 and 11 days for two parcels to come via Royal Mail, it's even less appealing. Given that the company is local and ethical etc, I honestly don't think they're trying to rip anyone off with the delivery charges but that just makes it all the more disappointing that I couldn't be persuaded to order with them.

I actually feel sorry for anyone trying to run a company which relies on the postal service - and I use "service" in the loosest possible sense of the word.