Thursday 16 June 2011

Bus Failure and Symmetry Amidst a Month of Sandwiches

THURSDAY: Lunch on this sparsely staffed day is a refreshing sandwich starring Saint Paulin cheese from Normandy, bought at a magnificent cheese shop in Chesterfield, with basil pesto, sun-dried tomato, and chopped pointy red pepper on a whole wheat bakery breadcake. Ooh-la-la buon delicioso!

FRIDAY: Running, running, being paid for running, running...and on this physically active day, running to keep up with the production line, I've got a sandwich I'm naming The Wag. Not only is it a waggledance of a sandwich, and definitely not a footballer's wife or girlfriend, but I was laughing as I compiled it this morning: a bit of Roulée, thin slivers of gruyere, and chopped red pepper and spring onion, a sliced chestnut mushroom, and fresh parsley, And it's surprisingly good.

THE FOLLOWING THURSDAY: As a reward for speeding at Mach 6, or perhaps Warp 2, I've just finished a delightful feta sandwich with basil pesto, spring onion, and red pepper, while I read a book on innovation. Why gaze at Metro with its sensationally reported news bites while grazing on an ordinary shop-bought sandwich? I want to learn! I want to taste! I want to be smarter and eat tasty, innovative food. Modular innovation is what I'm talking about: the eating process is the same (bite, chew, swallow, digest) but the components are much more exciting.

THE FRIDAY A WEEK LATER: Good god, is life busy. I don't know whether I'm coming or going anymore. I've enjoyed this week's sandwiches, especially compared to the free lunch I had on Tuesday at a seminar in the Sheffield Cathedral, where I experienced the most tasteless quiche I've ever encountered. Quasiquiche.

On Wednesday I had a Stilton sandwich on a very crusty roll with spicy lime chutney. And today I've got an encore of gruyere and Roulée on a sunflower seed roll with roasted red peppers. Yum. It's really not difficult at all to make a very tasty lunch.

In the midst of another Icelandic volcano erupting, this time much more pronounceable, I'm worried that the discovery that electrons are perfect spheres may disprove supersymmetry. I just hope the folks at the Large Hadron Collider find the Higgs boson so that string theory can finally be validated. But enough about mundane things -- I'm once again going to talk about buses.

THE WEDNESDAY FOLLOWING ANOTHER WEEK: I've just had a 4-day weekend where I realised I was too burned out to do most of the fun stuff I had planned. Is that sad or what? At least I got a bit of tedious work done.

My sandwich is exciting: a multigrain Sainsbury bagel with smoked salmon, cream cheese with onion and chives, and a few capers. I've also got a cherry tomato, some tiny carrot sticks, and fruit consisting of cherries, black grapes, satsuma, and nectarine. Yes, it's spring!

Often I'm late to work because either I missed my bus by a minute or the bus never shows up. A couple of Mondays ago my bus did show up, 5 minutes late -- but it was being towed by a large towtruck. So I had to wait for the next bus and was late to work. Four days later my bus showed up on time. When it stopped at the next 2 stops the door rattled loudly like metal scraping against metal. At the third stop the door fell off -- so we all had to get off and wait for the next bus. So I was late again.

I don't remember many bus incidents in my years in California, except for the occasional scary bus driver late at night which inspired me to write some lyrics for my band. In Seattle, aside from a rare tragedy where a psychotic passenger shot the driver as the bus had just crossed over the Aurora Bridge, sending bus and passengers tumbling off the bridge and onto houses and apartment buildings below -- I don't remember any major problems with buses. There was only the occasional disconnection of an insulated shoe from the overhead power cables on the electric trolleys, but this was quickly remedied by the driver stopping, hopping off, and reconnecting the shoe by manipulating the pole attached to the top of the trolley. Since I've lived in Sheffield I have 1.) been on a bus when it was sideswiped by a Supertram; 2.) been on a bus when it crushed a parked car; 3.) been knocked down and run over by a bus, and now 4.) been on a bus when the door fell off. To borrow from an American saying, at least I get a bang for my buck. But when one is simply trying to get to work on time, the thought of being fired from a cannon and parachuting into one's workplace sounds safer and more reliable.

I won't even start on the accident-prone Supertram, as I hardly ever ride it myself.

SOME FRIDAY: Today's lunch is a leftover delight: a small bit of smoked salmon with a slightly larger bit of leftover grilled basa, a wonderful Vietnamese fish also called river cobbler in the UK. The fishies lie on top of cream cheese with onion and chives and are decked with chopped spring onion, chopped red pepper, and a bit of leaf. Along with a selection of late spring fruit (satsuma, grapes, and nectarines), I've got a lovely vine tomato and a baby carrot. With the German e coli scare in the news, no way am I giving up my raw vegetables and sandwiches. Just wash them well and deal with it. life is a risk, and raw vegetables make me happy. So there.

ANOTHER THURSDAY: As I watch my life speed away I must rush to keep up with my lunches before the sun burns out. Today's it's the second tuna sandwich of the week, with my lovely mayonnaise-less tuna flavoured with capers, cumin, and yogurt and held onto the sandwich with onion and chive cream cheese. Tomorrow I have a free lunch, thanks to the clearing out yesterday of the University library cafe fridge by the catering manager because all of the sandwiches and salads had reached the magic Use By date. Will I die if I eat the Ploughman's baguette 2 days past its Use By date? I hardly think so, and I'm doing my tiny part for the planet by not letting one perfectly good Ploughman's baguette go to waste while billions of people on this planet go hungry. Besides, it's, well, a free lunch. In the current economic climate it's common sense to take advantage of anything free.

This morning the only unoccupied row of seats on my bus was the very last one at the rear, so I sat in the middle of the row to take advantage of the leg room. As I looked around me I noticed the two people sitting on each side of the row in front of me were occupying the aisle seats, leaving the window seats empty. The row in front of them was also occupied by only one person on each side, this time seated in the window seats. And as I continued a survey of the rest of the seats I realised my own unconscious middle positioning was no accident, as I had simply kept the perfect symmetry of this bus. At the next stop a woman boarded and walked down the aisle toward me. But before I could shift over to the right, leaving her a mirror-image seat to my left, she had seated herself next to one of the window-seat occupiers, therefore breaking the symmetry. For a moment I was annoyed; but then I remembered that evolution wouldn't happen if it weren't for symmetry-breaking, as demonstrated by the growth of frogs from the egg through the tadpole stage.

But in the case of this bus, it was devolving, not evolving: another old rattletrap bumping and grinding along until its final journey to the scrapyard. I mean, if it was evolving, it might sprout wings or flippers or grow turbo jets -- or at least develop the ingenious ability to keep to its route schedule so its fares aren't always late to work.

No chance: it was simply a temporary mutation of symmetry that went unnoticed in the grand scheme of transportation development.

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