Spaf's Journal: Merry Olde England

Home

In the News & On the WWW

Short Bio

Full C.V. PDF indicator

Selected Firsts

Notable Activities

My Tumblr Log (Blog)

My CERIAS Blog Posts

Spaf & the US Gov

Courses & Teaching

Information for Grad Students

Students Past and Present

Research and Papers

Selected Quotes

Miscellaneous Items

• • •


CompSec 98
- or-
Botswana, Here I Come

8 Nov 1998
Sunday

Okay, so I'm sitting here at 33,000 feet (or, for those of you into the metric system, 9.2 hectoliters) above the Atlantic on my way to London. It is certainly not my intent to have any great adventures on this trip, but things seem to happen to me ... and around me.

Last week I was traveling in Texas. As usual when I go on these trips, my wife Kathy was transported into "Wild Kingdom." The cold weather appears to have driven some field mice into the house via some entrance we have not yet identified. Kathy discovered this while I was in Houston. I called her from a barbecue joint where we had stopped on the road to Austin. As the waitress brought my plate with a heap of steaming meat, Kathy regaled me with stories of finding a half mouse next to the cat dishes. Dinner was oh so much more interesting as a result (for me, as well as for the cats). The other half was not to be found (of the mouse, not my dinner -- I found that). The cats feigned ignorance -- not difficult for our cats, or for cats in general.

So, I returned from the Texas trip with two days to get clean laundry and sort my mail, hunt mice, plus visit with my friend Danny from Australia who was passing through. (Now there is a concept -- someone from Australia who simply happens to "pass through" West Lafayette. As if there is any place worth going to that has WL in between it and Brisbane. But I digress.) Two days is not enough time to adjust to the jet lag of Texas to London. (And, two months wouldn't be enough to adjust to the culture shock. )

So yesterday (Saturday) I spent doing some chores around the house. One of those tasks was rearranging all my tropical plants. The plants had been out on the deck, but there was a freeze while I was in Texas, so Kathy spent an evening dragging them all into the family room (I have a lot of large plants). She waited until Elizabeth was in bed, because she was muttering all kinds of interesting statements about me, my plants, and our assorted heritage and proclivities -- several wilted from the language, as best as I can tell; I am unsure if one ficus will survive with its bark blistered off. Yesterday, it was my job to rearrange them onto plant stands so that they weren't arrayed all over the floor. Of course, I dropped the biggest one and spilled potting soil everywhere. Luckily, I was able to sweep it all under the rug before Kathy came back inside. (Kathy, if you're reading this, you might want to vacuum under the rug.)

Then, as I got the last plants placed, I got a phone call from my Dad. He had heard from my uncle that my cousin was in the hospital. Mark (my cousin) had been hit by a car that morning (actually, I learned later, hit by 3 cars -- he was playing pinball, where he was the ball). He was in neurosurgery at the time because of severe head trauma. He had an aneurysm that needed immediate repair or he would be the one with a need for potting soil. This was coupled with broken ribs, a skull fracture, a collapsed lung and other associated bruises. His prognosis was very grim (apparently, his prognosis was also fractured in two places). This could cause me to cancel the trip to London. My uncle lost his wife of 60 years in August (no, he didn't misplace her -- she died), and this is his eldest son. 3 other sons have died over the years, and he's running out of immediate family to lean on. I'm next in line, in several ways.

So, Sunday morning, I slept late (wrong thing to adjust to the coming jet lag, but what the heck), and called the hospital in Rochester around noon. Luckily, my cousin has a hard head (in common with my uncle, my dad, and me). He was off the respirator and was actually responding to words! They are still listing him in "guarded" condition, but he is much improved. So, my trip was on again. Considering that I had to miss the CompSec conference 2 years ago because my mother died several days prior, I am glad not to have a repeat absence, for a variety of obvious reasons.

Then, barely into my second cup of coffee, Kathy called me down into the basement. She had found a spot where the cats had thrown up. Now, this is not unusual. The cats have hairballs, and they are constantly chewing on my plants and Elizabeth's toys. The resulting masses are then regurgitated as little land mines for us to find if we are dumb enough to walk about in bare feet. Anyone who has owned long-haired cats can describe similar experiences. Cats groom themselves a lot, get a stomach full of loose fur, wait until it is wet and gooey, and then leave it someplace where it will: a) stain, b) gross out visitors who don't have cats, c) be stepped in by the unwary, d) all of the above.

This mass was a little different than most. It was lumpy, had a lot more fur than usual, and looked a little bloody. Kathy was worried that one of the cats had eaten something particularly noxious and was gravely injured. We could only be so lucky. So, there I was, trying to have some coffee and wake up so I could pack. Instead, I'm playing detective, squatting by an indeterminate gelatinous mass -- trying to analyze cat puke for composition. Some poking revealed little vertebrae. Aha! The other half of the mouse! (Or else the cats are really, really ill.) I was surprised -- unless the mouse was green and sprouting from one of my planters, I don't see why they would have tried to ingest it -- that isn't their style. Oh well -- they are getting old and may have mistook it for one of Elizabeth's stuffed Mickey Mouse toys.

Then Kathy found another mouse, in one of the traps. I was summoned (nay, commanded) to dispose of those remains as well. My role in the house is to be blamed for mice getting in, and then disposing of the residue when they are found -- intact or otherwise. It's nice to feel wanted. Thank heavens we don't have iguanas or skunks coming into the house (yet).

Through all of this, Elizabeth was demanding to see, and I was trying to keep her from participating. She was also informing us (and the cats) that she would never eat a whole mouse. Of course, I didn't want to ask her about eating a half mouse: Elizabeth is precocious -- the cats might actually have been innocent.

So, with the mouse situation temporarily under control, and the cats eyeing my plants suspiciously, I packed my bags, threw them in the car, and headed to my office to pick up my passport and tickets, and then on to the airport.

As I parked my car, I saw the shuttle bus approaching. I hurried to pull my bag out of the trunk. Of course, I wrenched my back in the process. I am now discovering that airline seats don't do much to soothe muscle spasm.....

At the check-in, all proceeded normally. The women behind the counter closed her comments and questions with: "Who should we notify if there is 'a problem'?" Well, that prompted some thought, especially in the context of what happened to my cousin. There are a couple of people who should be notified if something happens to me so they can start the party early. A few others could relax (for instance, Sofie wouldn't need to worry about me calling her sister in London and getting good stories on her — hmm, it could also be that Sofie is concerned for her sister's safety...?). And there are a few people I have rather perplexed right now who would undoubtedly breathe a sigh of relief not to have to deal with me anymore: I'm afraid I'm in a state of mind where I suspect a few of the people who matter the most to me right now wouldn't miss me a whole lot if I had "a problem' onboard a 767 over the ocean. (Of course, if the problem is flatulence, incontinence, or stentorian borborygmi, I'm sure they would much prefer to miss me.)

To stall for time, I asked "What exactly do you mean, 'a problem'? If I was discovered in a compromising position with a flight attendant in the airplane lavatory and refused to come out, would that be a problem?"

"Well, yes" she said.

"Okay, then I'd want you to tell everyone because they would get a heck of a laugh."

"No, sir. We mean something serious as 'a problem'."

"So, if I got severe food poisoning on the plane, would that be serious?"

"Yes, it would!"

"Then I'd want you to contact my lawyer and a good doctor."

(Audible sigh.) "Sir, do you have a wife?"

"Yes. I suppose that could be considered a serious problem too, but American Airlines didn't have anything to do with it that I know of."

"Sir, what is her name and phone number? There is a line of people behind you."

"They're all going to call Kathy? No wonder she never has any free time....."

"Are you trying to be difficult?"

"No, I'm not." (I should have said it comes naturally -- I don't need to try. But she was beginning to look hostile.)

At this point, I gave her Kathy's name and our phone number. After all, if 'a problem' occurs at 33,000 feet above the Atlantic, there isn't a whole lot anyone else could do over the phone. This would at least give Kathy some extra time planning what to do with the insurance money. I'm sure buying some more mouse traps would be on the list, and lining up someone else to dispose of Mus musculus parts.

After this exchange, the clerk undoubtedly tagged my bag as headed for Botswana and threw it on the conveyer belt. I proceeded to my plane.

Which sat on the runway. And, after a 20 minute delay, flew to Chicago. Where it sat on a taxiway for 30 minutes. By the time I got into the terminal, I had 10 minutes to get to my plane. As I type this, I hope my bag made it too. Unless it is headed to Botswana.

Update, 8 hours later.

After writing the above, I fell asleep. This is not easy, considering I was in one of the cheap seats that reclines a whopping 3 degrees from vertical, and where the guy in the seat next to me was typing away with great animation. Actually, I think there was something wrong with him, because he didn't have a computer.

Monday

I was asleep as we crossed over to the next day. However, I doubt I slept more than 20 minutes total. I had a very vivid dream about an encounter with a tiger, and I awoke with a start. I tipped up my tray as a result, and spilled a cup of water down my leg. The only benefit of this was to encourage the people in line waiting to squeeze into the lavatory to give way and let me in first. I let them assume the worst.

Otherwise, the flight was uneventful. We arrived at Heathrow early, I got my luggage (not routed to Botswana after all), I cleared customs, and I was on my way. I caught the new express train to Paddington station (nice train -- much better than taking "The Tube").

To understand what was happening, you need to visualize me. (Sorry if that is a discomfiting image. ) I am wheeling along a suitcase weighing 55 pounds (I brought a lot of papers to read), and a briefcase weighing about 20 pounds with my PowerBook in it. I have on a sweater, a coat, and a hat. I'm wearing some rather baggy khaki pants -- I've lost a lot of weight recently and had no time to get new pants, so I cinched up the belt and went with these.

London's Underground (the subway) is quite good. The stations are old & quaint in spots, but the service is timely and clean (usually). However, most of the stations were built many years ago. They have lots of steps. No escalators. No elevators. Stairs.

So there I am, cursing gravity, carrying 75 pounds (about 534000 Angströms, in metric) of luggage (it was weighed at the airport, so I know this is correct) up and down flights of 20-30 stairs at Paddington, and my connecting stations, etc. With a sweater and a coat and hat on. Where it is 62 degrees outside (1.082 radians). I can say that my perspiration system works. I can think of only one good reason to get that hot and sweaty. And she wasn't there.

As I was stumbling up one set of stairs, I couldn't help but recall my spousal unit's last words to me as I left the house hours before: "Aren't you going to wear a heavier jacket? It's winter!" Clearly, the woman has already made plans for the life insurance money. Luckily, I kept the "light" jacket.

At the last station, I had a flight of about 50 steps to go up. So I gritted my teeth (I would have gritted someone else's, but none were in reach) and started up the stairs. To fully appreciate this, I should also add that when I purchased my ticket for the Underground, I had received about 500 coins in change. The British use a lot more coins than we do, in various denominations. They are all very thick, and made of metals like lead. Plus, the ticket machine had given me change using lots of coins of smaller value than needed. So, I had dumped them all into my pocket.

Now, as I used the poor man's Stairmaster, both arms stretched out to the max, the weight of the coins, the poor fit of the pants, and general entropy set in. My pants slipped lower and lower, and then unsnapped. I'm standing halfway up the stairs (wrong side, too -- here in London everyone walks on the left except for sweaty Americans), I can't set my luggage down without blocking the stairs, I'm flashing anyone coming the other way, and another two steps and I'll be mooning whoever is coming up behind me. How like me to let the natives see the sights rather than the tourists! Sigh. I now know how to juggle luggage whilst getting (re)dressed.

One good thing from this. I pulled my back again, only this time it undid what happened at the airport parking lot. I think. I also believe my arms are now a little bit longer. And I've lost about 10 pounds (approximately 16 dollars) of water weight.

No major further trauma occurred on the way to the hotel. I took off my coat because I was overheating and wrapped it around the handle of my luggage. Of course, it came off and I ran over it with the luggage. Twice. But that isn't anything to speak of, compared to everything else.

My hotel is a 4-star hotel. I am unsure who gave it the 4 stars -- the munchkins? The elevator door was so narrow (as was the elevator), I had to turn my luggage sideways to get on it. I have a "double executive room." My office at Purdue is bigger than the room, bathroom, and closet combined. Heck, the bathroom in my room at the Hyatt in Dallas was bigger than this room. There is only one drawer in the entire room into which I can unpack any clothes. There is no shelf or mantle in the bathroom near the sink to set things on. The desk has no room for more than one stack of papers. It's amazing. I can think of a few women who would be absolutely crazy if they were here. (Not only because of the size of the room, but they'd be crazy to be in a hotel room alone with me. Or they would be, once I finished with them. But I digress.)

After I download my email one more time, I'm going to go downstairs and eat. I ate at the restaurant last year, and the food is pretty good. Then I will come back up here to do some more reading for tomorrow. Then sleep and perhaps dream of tiger hunting. In the morning, I will try to go back to Paddington, sans impedimenta, and find the train to Exeter. There, I will participate in a thesis defense as an outside reader. Then back here for beers with conference attendees (unless I hear from Sofie's sister).

Tuesday

I got up early to travel to Exeter to sit as the external examiner for a Ph.D. thesis viva (exam). Getting up early wasn't much of a problem as I wasn't able to sleep. I thus was not terribly awake as I stumbled into the shower and pulled the curtain -- only to have the curtain and rod come out of the wall and envelop me. I fought a brief battle with it, and succeeded in getting it put back up. Out of my briefcase came my trusty Swiss army knife, and I reattached the rod to the wall (I'm told this is terribly nerdy, but what the heck, I'm terribly nerdy).

After getting cleaned up and dressed, I set out for Paddington Station (again) to catch the train to Exeter. I stopped along the way to grab a bagel and a cup of coffee for breakfast. The coffee was way too hot, and simply awful. Not only did I not drink it, but I managed to spill some of it down the front of my shirt when someone bumped into me on the way to catch the train. Sigh. I really should learn to walk on the left here.

The train was late getting in to Paddington, and thus late leaving. I spent some time in the onboard bathroom, trying to wipe out some of the coffee stain. I emerged with a big wet spot on the front of my shirt. This prompted some raised eyebrows from a matronly woman sitting on the aisle. I simply said "turbulence" and walked by; I suspect I gave her something to think about for a while.

The train ride itself was uneventful (and I fell asleep along the way, awaking with the pattern of the seat cover on my face, my contact lenses glued to my eyeballs, and a stiff neck).

The folks at Exeter treated me very well. I had lunch, sat for the defense (the student passed -- that she was French, attractive, and smart enough to base her research on previous work I performed influenced me in no way -- well, in no way related to the exam) and then I dashed off for the train, which I caught with 5 minutes to spare.

The train back to London was a local that stopped at every little village along the way. Still exhausted and a little jet-lagged, I fell asleep again. I awoke as the train pulled into another small station. I wonder if I was talking in my sleep, for everyone who had been sitting near me had moved elsewhere, except for one young girl with purple hair and at least 5 visible body piercings. Also, either she had been in a fight or had applied black eye shadow very badly (or her genetic heritage includes raccoons not too many generations distant). She was sitting across from me and staring until she realized I was awake, at which point she tried to surreptitiously stare at me while bobbing her head back and forth to music played way too loudly on her Walkman. I did a quick check, and there was no obvious drool down my beard, and I had remembered to close my zipper at the last loo stop, so I guess it might have been the killer bow tie I was wearing (one Andra had helped me pick out -- thanks, I think).

I got back to the hotel in time to join the various attendees and staff of the conference who had appeared for a reception. I renewed acquaintance with many people there, including several people I wish I saw more often than once a year. This included Leslie. Leslie and I met last year at this conference. In the course of conversation (then), we discovered we were born in the same hospital in Rochester (NY), about 3 weeks apart. She had emigrated to Australia and then England. I, of course, was off-planet for a while. She also has a crazy sense of humor, so people around us were speculating about the true nature of the hospital. We did our best this year to reinforce those disquieting thoughts of mental instability. (As a result of last year we were responsible for a colleague of hers doing something embarrassing with a Microsoft mailer, which ended up getting written about in the Risks Digest. But I digress.) It started again with Leslie taking my arm and introducing me to people as her twin brother. The one guy who later said he noticed the resemblance was a real hoot.

I got to say hello to John and John, the erstwhile chairs of the conference. John's lovely wife was not in attendance, unfortunately. However, John's lovely wife was. This helped newcomers tell John from John (but once Jon gets married and gets an "h" in his name we're going to have problems). I also managed to say a quick hello to Tracy and Amy, two of the most attractive, humorous and helpful conference coordinators I have met. I later discovered that they are both engaged to be married later this year (but not to each other), so my plans to campaign for a repeal of the polygamy statutes was dealt a severe blow to morale. (However, it would be difficult to deal a severe blow to my morals, which were repealed some time ago.) Several other faces from other conferences were in attendance, most attached to bodies, so it was a pleasant reunion despite not having any glasses for the wine.

Some of us went out for Chinese food, then went to the hotel pub until about 1am. I went back to my room and called home. Then I finished the final touches on the presentation I had to do tomorrow. This was followed by an attempt to sleep.

Wednesday

I arose at 7am. Yow! I gingerly pulled the shower curtain. No problem! With a sigh of relief, I turned on the shower, only to blast my feet with cold water because I turned the wrong knob.

Severely awakened, I went down for breakfast. They had a Scottish breakfast buffet. So, I had broiled tomatoes, bangers (sausage), some scrambled eggs, and....haggis. This is a great way to deal with a hangover. Well, maybe not. This wasn't quite authentic haggis, because it wasn't served out of a sheep's stomach, but the flavor was quite ...unique... nonetheless. Grapefruit juice seems to cut it, however. Before I leave, I may also try the black pudding.

I walked over to the convention center, and gave my first talk. The audience appeared to be in coma -- exactly like one of my undergrad classes. How nice of them to make me feel at home! However, it is still disconcerting to be lecturing to an audience of about 150 , all of whom have their eyes closed, their jaws hanging open, and they are snoring. Even more annoying, it kept me awake.

I spent lunchtime finding a place to dial in and check my email. I got a bright idea and found a local dial-in for UUnet and used it to reach my GTE account. Success! I now had 33.6K access with a local call.

My talk after lunch was exceptionally well-attended, and I was really surprised -- it was really a talk about "blue sky" research, and I didn't think this would be a good audience for it. Maybe word had spread about my bow tie (another one Andra had helped me select). Actually, this is the first conference I have been to in Europe where I saw others with bow ties -- there were two people here with bows. The three of us were talking together at one time and people clearly gave us a wide berth (afraid it was catching, perhaps). We found we had basically nothing else in common, but continued to chat because it clearly unsettled everyone else who viewed us as a latent conspiracy.

I checked email again. I got one from the editor of Information Security Magazine. The editors and readers of the magazine have decided to name me as one of the 5 "Pioneers of Information Security." The other 4 are Peter Neumann, Donn Parker, William H. Murray, and Ron Rivest. That's distinguished company, but most of them have been at this about 15 years longer than I have. So, I'm a little hesitant at being named a "pioneer" because it makes me feel old. Also, I look lousy in a coonskin cap (unless I can get a matching bow tie -- must ask Andra).

I went back and took a slight nap. Then, I joined the speakers and some of the organizers and we went to dinner -- at a Tex-Mex restaurant: "The Texas Embassy." This is right off Trafalgar Square. It appears that during the few years that Texas was an independent nation, they had an embassy in London. This was not it, but is a few doors down from it. It's run by a Scotsman (am I detecting a pattern here?). Considering that I was in Texas last week, this was a rather odd experience. The food wasn't bad, however, and I'd recommend it to anyone seeking a chalupa in London (that wasn't meant to sound risqué).

I told jokes over salsa and beer for about 3 hours. Among other mayhem, I caused one person to pass beer back up his nose, and another to choke on his salsa, so it was a good evening.

We then returned to the hotel and closed the bar at 2am. Great Irish beer (no Scottish beer that I could detect). One of the conference attendees was a guy from Latvia. He appeared in the bar about midnight. He appeared to have had a little too much to drink. He proceeded to drink more (straight Captain Morgan spiced rum -- ouch!) until his minimal English became completely unintelligible. After trying to make a pass at one of the Elsevier staff, and then at a statue near the wall, he collapsed in a chair and passed out. I was feeling a bit melancholy myself, so I stayed to prevent some of the rowdier (than me!) ones present from decorating him in creative ways. He was a long way from home, didn't know the language very well, and was probably quite lonely. Too bad he didn't quite hit it off with the statue.

We also had a young Englishman in a tux come in and ask if any of us had a cigar for his girlfriend. He had no idea why the Americans in the crowd were laughing hysterically and making Bill and Monica jokes, and it only got worse as he tried to explain. He was sincere. We were clearly not.

Thursday

I forgot to set an alarm. Awoke at noon!! This was clearly too late for breakfast haggis, so I went over the conference and joined lunch. Then I attended some talks and ran into Gene Schultz. Technically, Gene is at Purdue now. However, I have seen more of Gene at conferences we have both traveled to than I have seen him in Lafayette. Fascinating.

I spent part of the afternoon trying to find a phone number for Sofie's sister. There is no one in the phone book for London with the same last name (but, trivia fans, there are two Spaffords). I asked one of my acquaintances with ties to New Scotland Yard, but he indicated he wouldn't be able to help me unless I could convince him it was an emergency. Not knowing if Sofie's sister has a sense of humor, I decided not to make up a story about her being into smuggling and espionage.

Then I chatted with some of the attendees, and sat in on the final session, given by friend Leslie. Leslie managed to state that "E-commerce will allow small companies to compete evilly on the network." This "Leslie-ism" provided some mirth later in the evening. It also prompted several questions about some well-known companies and whether or not they were already competing evilly. It doesn't look so funny typed out here, but it was hysterical to me at the time, so ....

After the conference ended, we all went back to the hotel, and shortly boarded a bus for the conference dinner. This was held at the new, restored Globe Theater. The theater has been 40 years in the making, and is constructed near the original that burned down in the 1600s. It is the first wood and thatch building constructed in London since the Great Fire. Quite impressive. We got the tour, a lecture on the history of theater and the origin of some words associated with it, then went to the new annex to have dinner.

Dinner was some poultry (pigeon?) and vegetables. The food wasn't spectacular, but it was good. The entertainment consisted of some guy in a velvet, period costume wandering around playing a parlor bagpipe (Northumbrian, he assured me -- not Scottish) and then a flute. I asked him if he knew anything by Led Zeppelin. He was not amused.

The best part of the meal was the view across the Thames of St. Paul's Cathedral, all bathed in lights. Quite inspiring. I spent some time on the balcony simply watching the Thames flow by. I got a bit introspective (i.e., pensive, meditative; I've been gone for days, and my crack staff back home has everything under control without me. If the University finds out I am unnecessary, I have a problem). I was quickly hauled back in and given some chocolate, which helped a little.

We took the bus back into the hotel, and crowded the pub. I had sent next to Leslie on the bus, and she had somehow snagged a stocking on something and gotten a huge run in it. So, at the bar, she pointed this out to everyone and blamed me. Much speculation ensued as to how exactly this happened, including some postulation about unlikely anatomical features.

We also continued our technical discussions (really!). I had a long discussion with Winn Schwartau, which was fun. I also chatted up several of the other attendees and speakers, and got a few leads to pursue for CERIAS later. After 3 years of this conference, I can say with great conviction that the most interesting and valuable conversations occur in the bar in the evenings. There are also some bizarre ones. I'm not sure I can capture the mood of the group, so I'll just say we abused and slandered most everyone present, and many not present, to general good cheer. I told more jokes, as did some of the other loonies present. It was generally agreed that I was "sick and wrong" and would be required to return next year. Our friend from Latvia did not appear. Oddly, the statue was missing. I went up before the pub closed and read my email.

I concluded the day by knocking all of my toiletries off the counter and into the bathtub and toilet by accidentally brushing against them with my elbow (dang small bathroom!).

Friday

Slept late again. I figure that if I am to return to Indiana tomorrow, I can start time shifting. I am staying up until 2am here to type this, so....

Once again, I accidentally ran cold water in the shower. The British don't quite understand plumbing and make the system a little too complicated....especially for people with no coffee in their systems.

I was going to go sight-seeing, but it was raining. So, I went over to the conference, had lunch, and sat in some sessions. Bill Cheswick gave the wrap-up and it was particularly interesting. I'm going to get him to Purdue to give it there.

Afterwards, I went out to dinner with Andy Smith, my coauthor on my next book. We went to dinner at a nice Indian restaurant. I came back, read some email, did some packing, and wrote more in my journal.

I am going to be very happy to get home. Usually when I travel outside the US by myself, I run into a "wall" at about 4 days where I get really homesick. It was worse this time because Elizabeth kept telling me (on the phone when I called) that she missed me. It was also better in that I had so many good and friendly people around. However, it still hit hard sometime last night and has continued through today. I can't wait to be someplace where they drive on the correct side of the road and spell things correctly.....

Saturday

I didn't sleep well Friday night, which is always beneficial before a long trip. Actually, I haven't slept well the whole trip -- the shift in hours, the haggis, and other things all helped to keep me awake. And, like the absent-minded professor I am becoming, I managed to leave my little travel bottle of melatonin at home. I'm not sure if it really helps with the jet-lag, but the placebo effect certainly seems to make a difference. I tried replaying one of my lectures in my memory, because that usually serves to put large numbers of people to sleep, but it didn't help me.

So, when the alarm went off, I got up and got dressed and packed. My clothing seems to have absorbed matter while here. Everything fit in the bag on the way over, with some room to spare. Now as I packed to leave, I could tightly roll up items, such as my dirty laundry, my clean clothes, my papers, and my spare shoes (hmmm, perhaps I'm a tad too tense if I can roll my shoes) and they take up less space packed. At the end, the suitcase would not close and was absolutely bulging. Maybe the gravity is not so strong in London as in West Lafayette? Could be: this may be the origin of so many people claiming that Indiana sucks -- it isn't suction, but stronger gravity.

Luckily, I had thought ahead and packed a smaller, collapsible bag. I expanded it and tried to decide what to put in it. I decided the dirty laundry would be the best bet. I'd leave my important papers, medicines, and so on in the hard-sided bag with wheels.

I went downstairs to check out, to get good news and bad news. The good news was that the fine people at Elsevier had put my room expense on their master account. The bad news was the incidentals. It seems that the hotel's phone service was supplied by some 3rd party company of larcenous individuals who didn't list the charges for phone service on the little card in the rooms next to the phone. My "free" Internet connection hadn't racked up any long-distance charges, but it had racked up a huge charge for local usage. Something like 1 pound (British currency; for the metric crowd, that's 2267.96185 metric carats, or .00044 tons of carrots, which cost approximately $1.66 US right now) per minute. I had been working on a paper and a lot of email while here, and had been online between 4 & 5 hours. So now, I need to find some way to recover some or all of that $500 or so from my University account. Ouch!

I made my way to a taxi (no sense lugging my suitcase up and down the Underground stairs again), and thence to Paddington. The train was on time. I found my way to the right terminal, checked in, and everything was just fine. Made some purchases (two new single malt scotches to add to the collection, some goodies for a few special people, etc) and used up the remainder of my English money. I even had a chance to read the newspaper before getting on the flight.

In an odd coincidence, the flight attendant who took my ticket at the door was also the attendant in my section of the plane on the outbound flight. She had made one round trip in the interval and was getting ready to return to the States. She recognized me. She also looked at me and asked: "Did you sleep this week?" Hmm, I guess the past couple of days have taken their toll.

The flight was almost perfect, although sitting for 9 hours in a seat made for someone with Kate Moss's hip width didn't really put me in the best of moods. Every time I shifted position, my back end would hit the attendant call button on the armrest. Each time, one or two of the flight attendants would appear and ask what I wanted. On about the third instance of this, I explained it wasn't exactly me, but my bottom was inquiring if there were seats available for people with actual tissue layered on their skeletons. Subsequent uses of the call button resulted in no response from any of the crew.

The movie was fun (6 Days, 7 Nights). The food was okay. Everything was fine until they served the snack before we landed. As I was eating my sandwich, a little piece fell out and onto my shirt. I wiped it away. Ever had a little, tiny bug hit your windshield and leave a streak about 8 inches long that makes you wonder if the bug was really pressurized to about 100 psi? (100 psi is about 6.8 bars for the metric types, which means a bladder under great pressure...and mine is after even 2 bars and a corner pub.) Well, this little tiny speck of bread seems to have had several quarts of mustard in it: "did" being the operative word. I spent the next 15 minutes using club soda to attempt to remove the stain. The lady next to me was very helpful: "If you pour the soda on the napkin instead of down your shirt, you won't get that puddle forming in your seat." (While doing this, I harkened back to the Globe theater -- I wonder if Lady MacBeth tried club soda too? )

The landing was a little rough. At least I think it was a landing. We may have been shot down. Most landings don't involve that many bounces. I wonder if the controls were affected by me shorting out the call button with club soda? Whatever it was, I was glad to get off the plane and walk. And walk. And walk. The international arrivals terminal at Chicago O'Hare is clearly intended for the robust. Basically, the plane pulls up to a gate in Minnesota, and you walk to the customs hall in Chicago. By the time I got there, 20 minutes after leaving the gate, I almost had circulation and feeling back in my lower body.

I was well-behaved at the passport control. ("Here's your passport. Your passport photo doesn't include the mustard stain -- you should have it updated." "Thank you officer.") I got both my bags and made it through customs without being searched. I gave my bags over to the American agent for the flight to Indy. I then had 90 minutes to wait for my plane. An uneventful flight to Indianapolis followed. I waited by the bag return. My bag of dirty laundry was one of the first down the chute. I waited in vain for my other bag to appear. I visited the baggage office. They had no idea where the bag went. I had lots of transit time, and the two bags were together at one point. Apparently they had had some kind of falling out, because they went their separate ways (if my errant luggage is reading this -- come back. The duffle says it's sorry and really wants to see you again).

Sunday

The next day, 3 more flights from Chicago have made it to Indiana, and my bag has not been on any of them. The folks at American are puzzled, to say the least. Somewhere, my luggage is seeing the world. It has two of my suits, about 6 of my best bow ties, my class's midterm exams, a pile of papers to review, and my most comfortable shoes. It is clearly set to assume an academic lifestyle wherever it ends up. This is more than I am prepared to do tomorrow morning.

The folks at American assure me that they will find my suitcase. I have asked them to check Botswana, simply to be sure.

Postscript

My bag arrived Monday. It reconciled with my duffle bag, and the two are now cozily cohabiting the closet. My class, which met before the bag arrived, was greatly amused to hear that their midterms might be in Botswana. I got most of my phone expense reimbursed from the university. All is more or less back to whatever passes for normal around here.


Home > Miscellaneous > Journal/index > Merry OIde England


Copyright © 1999 by Eugene H. Spafford. All rights reserved. Do not copy without the author's written permission.