QSRs

The community of Tofino, British Columbia  is considering a ban on fast-food franchises and chain restaurants including Tim Hortons, Starbucks and the usual cast of characters.

In 2008 Los Angeles, California banned new fast food franchises from being built in South LA. This is a seriously poverty-stricken area of the city and they figured taking away the McDonald’s would help improve the health of the citizens.

A lot of school boards have banned all forms of junk food from being sold on school property. Others have lobbied to have fast-food restaurants banned from the vicinity of schools or even to have fast-food advertisements banned from school areas and from television during children’s programs.

Meanwhile, the fast-food industry, or QSRs (Quick Service Restaurants) as they’re called within the industry, is growing by leaps and bounds.

McDonald’s is located in 126 countries on 6 continents and operates over 31,000 restaurants worldwide. The McDonald’s that opened in Moscow in 1990 is the busiest in the world.

You can get a Big Mac almost anywhere these days. They’re called  Maharaja Mac in India; Croque McDo in France, and McFiesta in Guatemala.

The largest McDonald’s in the world is in Beijing.

Burger King has more than 11,100 restaurants in more than 65 countries. KFC is located in 25 countries. Subway has almost 40,000 restaurants in 90 countries. Pizza Hut is in 97 countries, with 100 locations in China. Even Taco Bell has 278 restaurants in 12 countries other than the US.

Fast food has been around since Ancient Rome. A lot of people didn’t have facilities for cooking back then, so on almost every street corner were stands that sold bread soaked in wine.

They’ve been flogging street food like this all over the world for ages — from East Indian noodle shops to Middle Eastern falafel joints to West African kebob carts.

Because most QSR food is meat-centered, (also fat and salt-centered) I don’t often eat it. I will occasionally have a veggie burger at Harvey’s – but never their horrible salt-saturated “crispy” fries.  Harvey’s really has the only palatable fast food veggie burger. They used to have good fries, too, but then they switched to these nasty fries instead.

There are other fast-food veggie burgers, but they’re all pretty bad. I have no idea what that thing is they sell at A&W, for instance. It’s a hard dry disc with slippery brown chunks in it, drowned in slimy white stuff and held together by a small stale bun.  They call it a Swiss Veggie Deluxe for some reason.

So, If I want to grab some quick lunch on a Saturday it might be a Harvey’s burger or some pad thai from Thai Express. But really, that’s about it.

I can’t even remember the last time I set foot in a Wendy’s or a Burger King and I certainly haven’t been in a KFC since long before they changed their name to initials. I think I’ve been to Starbucks once in my life.

But I know plenty of people whose day isn’t complete without a coffee from Starbucks or Tim Hortons or who swear by the McDonald’s McBreakfast McSandwich or whatever it’s called or who have pizza night from Domino’s every Friday.

Is there any QSR you visit on a regular basis? Are there any you would miss if they decided to ban them all? Would you like to see a revival of the wine-soaked bread stand? I think I could get hooked on that one.

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PS: I’m not taking a laptop, but will do my best to find some sort of internets over the next week to perhaps combine a couple of rest stops with some blog updates. But if that doesn’t pan out, I will be back the following week with stories of my travels. Maybe even with some photos if all goes well. Meanwhile, please talk amongst yourselves.

The Silent Strangers on Your Blog

Let’s examine a hypothetical situation, shall we? Let’s suppose you are a blogger and you have a pleasant, widely read blog about your life – your family, things you do, places you go, local interest stuff.

Okay? Now let’s suppose that one day someone decides to write an article about bloggers and your blog is one of the several discussed in this article. You only find out about this article by accident as it’s not in a widely-read publication. You read the article and find the author has made some devastatingly  unflattering assumptions about you and your family based on what he has read in your blog.

Questions to consider: 

  1. Are you flattered that your blog was included no matter how nasty or reductive the author was about you? 
  2. Are you angry that you weren’t consulted about being included in this article or that the author did not seek your permission to include your blog? 
  3. Would you feel violated in some way? 
  4. Would it change the way you viewed your blog or what you did with it in the future? 
  5. Would you contact the author and what would you say to him?

Some of you may recognize that this hypothetical situation is based on something that actually happened recently and will notice that I deliberately changed some of the circumstances and have not named the blog or the author/article in question. I didn’t want to make this about that situation specifically, but rather about situations like this, generally.

Over time, blogger become accustomed to their small (or large) circle of commenters who we think of as our “readers”. They are nice, normal, intelligent people (for the most part) and make us feel comfortable and make us feel like we’re part of a safe, supportive community.

But that’s not reality.   The reality is that many, many more people read your blog than actually comment on it. You’ll know this, of course, if you have a stats counter.

You have no idea who these people are, why they’re reading your blog or  how they even found your blog. You may never know what they’re doing with the information, ideas, photos or words they find on your blog. Maybe they’re doing something good with it. Maybe they’re doing nothing at all with it. Maybe they’re doing something not good with it.

Do you think about all these lurkers, these silent strangers, who every day become privy to the bits and pieces of your life?

The De-Stinkers

Ottawa’s Green Bin program is, if not exactly in full swing, then at least in semi-swing. There have been a few problems: 

  • The city suddenly realized that it was going to have problems meeting their contracted targets  with OrgaWorld Canada. One of the issues seemed to be that the bins are too small to collect the 80,000 tonnes a year necessary.  
  • A lot of homeowners are miffed about the entire program;  some refuse to use it; some have their own composters; some think the bins are too small; some just like to complain about everything the City does. But then there are other people who love their Green Bins a lot.  
  • Meanwhile, OrgaWorld, it seems, is not even operational enough yet   to process the waste that has been collected so far. They have until April 1st or the City can cancel the whole contract. I wonder what will happen then? 
  • There was some significant hue and cry about the extra $68 per year the city will be charging each household in taxes in order to pay for the bins. 
  • And, as the warm weather slowly creeps over Ottawa, people are starting to worry about what this means for their Green Bins. Maggots will move in to enjoy the goodies. The bins full of compost will start to smell; which in turn will attract rodents. As the weeks go by the bins will get kind of gross and people will become more and more reluctant to use their Green Bins. 

Well lo and behold, some smart cookies are capitalizing on this last issue and have formed a Green Bin cleaning company called Bin Aces Inc. They’ll come to your house or business with their magical cleaning truck and clean and disinfect your green bins, recycling bins and even garbage bins for a modest fee and on whatever schedule suits you best.

The coolest part of this company is that they are able to process and recycle the water they use for cleaning so that they can clean 200 bins using the same amount of water a regular joe would use to clean just two bins. They use only environmentally-friendly detergents and none of their waste water will contaminate our rivers, lakes or streams.

All cities with green bin programs have spawned these bin cleaning companies – not all of them are environmentally friendly and not all of their prices are this reasonable.

In the interests of full disclosure I should mention that while I’m not getting any benefits whatsoever from mentioning this company on my blog,  the owners of Bin Aces are related to a co-worker of mine, which is how I heard about them.

I wanted to acknowledge them because I like to mention local, small business-owners – especially when they’re first starting out and they’re doing something interesting. Also,  I don’t want to see the already beleaguered Green Bin program fizzle out because people will start to turn against their Green Bins when they’re no longer shiny-new and daisy-fresh…..which is likely to happen in the next six months.

So, while I know this is a very boring post for non-Ottawans, I’m hoping you’ll at least be amused over the fact that the capital city of Canada just recently got on board with a composting program – a good decade behind most other cities. Or, that you might be amused over the fact that Ottawa had about a thousand other cities from which to model a green bin program, and yet still managed to get so much of it screwed up.

Or, if you’re still bored, we can just talk about Paris some more.

I’ve Got a Loverly Bunch

In my experience, on certain islands in the Caribbean, when you go to visit someone on a hot afternoon, instead of giving you a cold beer for refreshment they give you a warm coconut.

The family is usually sitting outside their small bungalow working on something or other. The visitor comes around the side of the house calling “afta-NOON” along with the last name of their host. Before the visitor has ambled his way slowly around to the back of the house (because nobody walks fast), the man of the house appears with a large machete and an armload of tender coconuts.

The family nods at the visitors and pauses in their work. The visitors nod at the family and accepts a coconut from their host. He has deftly drilled two small holes in the coconut from which the visitors are now obligated to drink the coconut water (technically known as “liquid endosperm”). The coconuts are passed around among the assembled group until they’re relatively dry.

Then the host hacks each coconut in half so swiftly and cleanly with that giant machete, that it makes the back of your neck tingle. The host slices small wedges from the outer green skin of the coconut (the exocarp) and hands everyone half a coconut. The wedges are used as spoons from which the visitor is now obligated to eat the coconut jelly (aka “endosperm”). 

The endosperm is the stuff that later turns hard and crusty so people can grate it and use it to spoil perfectly good baked goods and other confections.

I was never quite sure if this Passing of the Coconut ritual was actually supposed to be a welcoming gesture or if it was meant to discourage visitors. Because, while it’s an interesting novelty to eat a coconut like this once; once is really more than enough.

None of this stuff has any flavour to speak of. It looks very much like that for which it is named and boasts a rather gaggy texture. However, it’s impossible to refuse to take part in this ritual or say you’ve already visited 4 other people that day and are full up with endosperm.

On the up side, coconuts are very nutritious and have been so revered for their nutritious and healing properties by cultures all over the world that the coconut tree is nicknamed the Tree of Life. Every bit of the coconut tree is used and usable from its roots to its trunk to its bark to its leaves to its seed.

In traditional medicine around the world, coconut is used to treat a wide variety of medical problems including; syphilis, tuberculosis, asthma, typhoid, bleeding gums and even dropsy! Modern medicine, likewise, has a long list of the beneficial properties of coconut and coconut oil, in particular.

Still, my favourite uses of the coconut is the coconut bra.

 And coconut monkeys.

 

Have you ever wondered why coconuts are called coconuts (Cocos nucifera) when they clearly contain no delicious coco? Well, it’s because “coquo” means “monkey face” in Portuguese. Portuguese explorers named them this because of the indentations on the shells that make them look like monkeys — though not like any monkeys I would like to meet. 

Some interesting coconut facts: 

  • Coconut oil was the world’s leading vegetable oil until soybean oil took over in the 1960s.
  • There are more than 20 billion coconuts produced each year.
  • Coconut juice or coconut water is the liquid inside a coconut. Coconut milk is produced by steeping grated coconut in hot water then straining; coconut cream is coconut milk cooked down until it thickens, or grated coconut steeped in hot milk instead of water.
  • Falling coconuts kill 150 people every year – 10 times the number of people killed by sharks.

Many songs have been written about coconuts including:

  • I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts (written by Fred Heatherton)
  • Coconut Woman – Harry Bellafonte
  • Coconut Rum – Ron Bertrand
  • Coconut Skins – Damien Rice; and,
  • Does anyone remember Harry Nilsson’s Coconut song (1971)? Have you ever wondered what “put the lime in the coconut” means? There’s been a great deal of speculation on this over the decades.

I Pack My Bags

So, on Saturday, XUP Jr. and I are going to Paris (yes, the one in France)  for a week. This will be her first time in a foreign country, not including the US. I think I’ve been neglecting an important part of her education in this area because she was quite irate when I came back with only 205 euros in exchange for 300 of her dollars.

“Where is my other hundred dollars?” she demanded, like I’d stolen it from her. This reminded me of when she was 4 and to surprise her one day I traded in about eight dollars worth of the coins she’d amassed for a shiny new, purple ten dollar bill. Holy moses, what a carry-on that sparked.

“You stole all my moneeeeeeeeeeeeey! Where’s my moneeeeeeeeeeey! I don’t want this stupid piece of paper. My own mother steals my moneeeeeeeey! I can’t belieeeeeeeeeve it!  I want my money baaaaaaaaack!!”

No matter how many different ways I tried to explain that I’d actually given her more money and that this paper money would be easier for her to take shopping, it wouldn’t wash. I had to give her the coins back.

Fortunately, she’s a little better equipped to see reason these days — although she’s still looking at me with some suspicion about the euros. Then when I told her to save the receipts for anything she buys so we don’t get charged duty on the thousands of dollars worth of designer goods we’re going to snap up for a few hundred euros, she laughed at me.

“Why would they care what we bought? And how would they even know what we bought?”

Sigh….

I’m looking forward to this being a real eye-opening experience for her — something to give her a teensy bit more wisdom, cultural awareness and sophistication.  At least she’s come a long way from last year when I suggested we go to Paris for our vacation and she said, “Why? What’s to do there?”

I said, “Nothing at all honey. You’re right. We won’t go. We’ll spend March Break in the mall instead.” She has consequently spent this last year finding out exactly what there is to do in Paris and is now quite looking forward to it — while struggling to maintain the most blasé attitude possible, of course.

I’ve never been to Paris and am the opposite of blasé. While my main purpose for this trip is to collect new blog posts (ha ha), I’ve also been enjoying going around at work saying, “Oh, sorry, I have to miss that meeting because I’ll be in PARIS.” I’ve done lots of research and mapped out an itinerary so we’ll be able to get to everything we really want to do and see while structuring it loosely enough so that we can still be as spontaneous as possible.

We are hoping to meet up with Linda somewhere along the line for a café au lait or a glass of wine (The official drinking age is 16, which seems to be the most anticipated highlight of the adventure for XUP Jr. so far.)

I’ve been dumbfounded at the number of people who suggest to me that we should visit the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre while we’re in Paris.

“Really? Do you think those are worth having a look at? We were thinking of spending the entire week at Euro Disney and Le McDonalds.”

I would however, very much welcome suggestions for any non-obvious places to visit while we’re there.  My main goal there is to soak up the atmosphere. We have a small apartment  in the Marais district, so I can shop the markets and bring back a baguette and some fresh eggs and make our own breakfast.

I have a couple of interesting off-the-beaten track things I want to check out and the child is looking forward to seeing some art (aside from the usual places she specifically wants to see the Palais de Tokyo , the Catacombs, the Moulin Rouge (because she’s seen the movie about 30 times) and of course, she wants to shop and spend all the money she’s been diligently saving for the past 4 or 5 months.

So, any other ideas, advice, suggestions, warnings? I just found out on a random blog the other day, for instance that sometimes the transit people don’t want to sell tourists the very reasonably-priced Navigo Decouverte   transit pass — which gives you access to all forms of public transit within the city for only 16 euros for the entire week. There are other transit pass options that are more expensive and I understand some of ticket guys do their best to convince you that only locals can buy the Navigo. So, anyway this blog thoughtfully provided a link to the Navigo handbook to print off, along with the relevant paragraphs highlighted. So I’m ready and even rather eager to having this argument now.

I’ll probably get a friendly, accommodating ticket seller though and will have to save my mediocre French outrage, arm-flailings and shrugs for another occasion.

I’m looking forward to tips from all you seasoned travelers!

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PS: For those of you who may be concerned, rest assured that Bazel has a nice person, who he knows and likes, looking after him and his home while we’re away.

Ugly Taxes

I have assembled:

  • A calculator;
  • A pen and pencil;
  • My best reading glasses; and,
  • A considerable pile of paperwork

It’s time to do my income taxes!

On the one hand I rather enjoy doing them and get them done as soon as I have all my T4s in hand, because I always get back a little money and I figure I might as well get is back as soon as possible.

On the other hand I have to see, in big round numbers, how much of my income the government gets to keep. It never seems right that I have to support myself and my child on only two-thirds of my income while the government gets a third of everybody’s income to conduct their business. And why do they get to keep our money? Because they said so, that’s why. It sort of feels like having the dessert stolen out of my lunch every day by the school bully in exchange for him not beating me up.

And then the government gets to do all sorts of stupid stuff with my money like giving it to people who didn’t do their jobs very well (automobile manufacturers, banks) or funneling it into programs that have no hope of ever working (war on drugs). I don’t think anyone would give me extra money for doing my job extra poorly or for coming up with harebrained schemes that required larger and larger amounts of funding every year and which, instead of solving problems,  create even bigger problems.

And you know what else seems really wrong about taxes? I’ll tell you what.  The fact that taxes punish you for doing good stuff.

For instance, the harder I work or the better my business does, the more of my money I have to fork over.

Sales tax isn’t right either. Here I am out being a consumer, keeping the economy rolling along and I get punished by having to pay an additional percentage of the cost of everything I buy.

And what about homeowners? The nicer they keep their properties and neighbourhoods, the more they have to pay in taxes.

You’d think the government would want us all to work hard and make more money. You’d think the government would encourage, not discourage us to buy lots of stuff. You’d think the government would applaud, not penalize us for fixing up our homes and neighbourhoods, wouldn’t you?

I think they should stop taxing us on all that good stuff we do and start taxing us on the bad stuff we do — the stuff they don’t want us to do. Because the current system isn’t working out to well for either side, is it?

I’m thinking we could extend the alcohol/tobacco tax idea and start taxing other undesirable goods, behaviours and systems. For instance:

  • A tax on bad  environmental practices (motor-vehicle emissions; industrial pollution; use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers; usage of water by corporate agriculture; fishing depleted stocks; all use of carbon fuels including manufacturing; any use of non-renewable resources; etc)
  • A heftier tax on non-nutritious foods and no tax on nutritious foods (I know there’s already something of a wishy-washy policy like this in place)
  • Decriminalize recreational drugs and prostitution and levy a hefty tax on users.
  • A tax on crime. I haven’t worked out how exactly that would be implemented but I’m sure some smart tax lawyer types can figure something out. We could start with taxing parents of young offenders and parents of kids who vandalize, terrorize and commit other acts of hooliganism.
  • Tax on poor customer service. A complaint centre can be established for every province/state which collects customer complaints. Businesses are then taxed according to percentage of complaints per customer base or something.

Anyway, that’s the general idea. I think with a little creativity, vision and ingenuity we could come up with a lot of little things to tax that we, as a society, want to discourage.

I’m pretty sure the government could make a heck of a lot more money by taxing vices and bad business and other ugly stuff than by taxing  stuff like my income.

Think of how much new business we’d attract if they weren’t taxed.  Think of how much more stuff we could purchase, thereby stimulating the economy, if we didn’t have to pay sales tax and if we could keep that other third of our income.

I don’t know why no one has ever thought of this before? Hmmm…  maybe they have and were laughed at long and hardily.

Oh well, for now I have to get back to my tax forms…

Phthisis

So, the other day I’m sitting on the Slow Boat to China (also known as the #1 bus up Bank Street)  when I see two elderly people get on who look like this is going to be their last trip anywhere while in an upright position.

The two, a man and a woman, ever-so-slowly and laboriously heave themselves onto the bus and drop down in the priority seating area on either side of another elderly woman who looks to be in much better health and physical condition.

The two old people who are clearly late for an appointment with the Grim Reaper don’t appear to be together, but are similarly afflicted with what can only be double pneumonia or the final stages of Victorian-era tuberculosis.

They cough and wheeze and hack non-stop. Their faces are ashen-grey, their eyes rheumy, their bodies thin and bent. Their clothing is old and shabby and not too clean. They are alarming everyone on the bus who isn’t young, plugged into their iPods and/or totally wrapped up in themselves.

The woman sitting between the grisly pair looks especially anxious. I am sitting well out of the immediate contagion area, and am still trying my best not to breathe too deeply. The woman in the middle is doing everything she can to make herself very small; to will the closure of all her pores; and to bury her mouth and nose in a thick bundle of tissues. I don’t know why, but she tries not to be obvious about shielding herself by pretending to wipe her nose with that thick bundle of tissues for a really, really long time without stopping.

As the coughing pair continue to cough and cough and cough, I try to send the woman in the middle an urgent message with my non-functioning telepathy: “MOVE! Why don’t you move? No one would blame you. You look terrified. Save yourself!”

Those people look like they have something horrible, I think to myself. I hope I can’t catch it from way over here. Why are they out in public? I see each of them has a bag from the grocery store. Don’t they have anyone to care for them? To get them some groceries? How awful.  But still, what if one or both of them just stops breathing altogether?

I picture the old woman (who seems marginally closer to death than the old man) gasping a final, desperate breath of stale bus air and collapsing in the slush-covered aisle of the vehicle. Would someone step up and give her CPR, I wonder? Would I?

I shudder.

In any case, it doesn’t happen and she continues, just barely, to survive.

Why doesn’t the woman in the middle move? I think. I always move if someone near me looks or sounds like they have the plague or is particularly smelly. XUP Jr. is  horrified when I do that.

“MOTHER!” she hisses, at me. “That is SO mean!”

I don’t think it’s mean at all. I wouldn’t blame someone sitting next to me if they moved because I looked green like I might hurl into their lap or something.

“MOVE!” I try again to beam my message to the healthy woman in the middle.

Then the sick woman coughs something into her hand. It has colours. I’m halfway down the bus in the high seats, but I’m pretty sure I can see her examining wet hues of red and green in her hand.

Then…

She wipes her hand on the seat between her and the other woman.

This sends the healthy woman shooting out of her seat like a projectile. She repositions herself out of the danger zone.

“Yay for you!” I silently cheer.

The healthy woman looks grim and roots around in her bag for more tissues which she thrusts with both hands at the sick pair. The old man waves them away in a paroxysm of coughing. The old woman grabs them all and commences to coughing into them with even greater fury.

“You should both be home in bed!” the healthy woman says to them gently and with much concern.

 “Fuck off!” the sick, old woman manages to rasp, quite clearly and loudly.

The Hero in You

 A while back on Ellie’s 10 –year retrospective post she mentioned – casually and in passing – that she’d donated a kidney to her father. She even posted a picture of her gigantic scar. If you’ve never read Me, You and Ellie  this “Let’s Call it a Decade” post is a good post to start with. All three of these women lead remarkable lives.

Anyway, when I read about her giving up one of her kidneys to save her father’s life, I thought, “Wow, that is incredibly amazing and brave and selfless.” And then I wondered if I would be able to do something like that. Because my generosity has never been challenged to such an extent. In fact, overall, I’ve led a pretty self-centered life.

Becoming a parent can be said to be an act of selflessness, because lord knows you give up a lot of yourself mentally, physically, materially and every other way from before that child is even brought into the world until forever. But in at least as many, if not more ways, becoming a parent is also a very selfish act. The balance, I suppose depends on what sort of parent you are.

So other than the arguably selfless act of becoming a parent, and the one time when I sort of almost saved my child’s life[1] maybe, I haven’t done anything that could be considered really altruistic.

Some people give up a lot of their time to volunteering. As we discovered a few posts ago, time is a very valuable and non-renewable commodity, so I admire people who give up their free time to helping others. I’ve done very little volunteering in the last 17 years. When XUP Jr. was young my excuse was always that I couldn’t leave her home alone while I went out to do good deeds[2].  I don’t have that excuse anymore.

Some people choose professions that require them to put their lives on the line almost every day. Firefighters, for instance, are always in danger. So are soldiers. So are other people who work or volunteer in war zones or in third world or other countries with political unrest. There are even people who work here at home in areas where danger is a regular part of their day.

Then there are those  stories of people who sacrifice themselves at the spur of the moment, without hesitation, to save someone else’s – a stranger’s – life.  They dive into the ocean to rescue a drowning child. They run into a burning building because they hear someone calling for help. They plunge into traffic to push someone out of the way of a bus and end up getting killed by that same bus. These people amaze me.

As do the people who donate kidneys or bone marrow or bits of their liver or skin tissue or ova or who bear children for others who can’t.  And they’re donating while they’re still alive to family, friends and even strangers. How do they come to such a decision?

After I’m dead anybody can have whatever parts of me are still useful as far as I’m concerned – but a live donation? For my child, no question, I would donate whatever she needed. But for anyone else? Even a sibling or a parent? Man, I’d love to be able to say “absolutely” and I think, probably when it came to the crunch I’d do it. But, if I’m being completely honest, I’d have to say there is some doubt. It would depend on the circumstances, the risks, the benefits – I’d have to think about it. I hope I’d say yes.

What about you? What is the most selfless thing you’ve ever done? Or, what if someone you knew needed your kidney? Would you hesitate knowing the donation would affect the quality of your life and maybe even shorten your life, nevermind the risks inherent in such major surgery?


[1] She was about 6 and we were walking along, hand in hand, on the sidewalk when around the corner of a building comes running a big, ugly Rottweiler – teeth bared, growling and charging right at us. Without thought or intention, I stepped in front of my daughter and kicked the dog in the chops a split second before he pounced. At that same instant the owner came around the corner and yelled at the dog and then yelled at me for kicking his dog. XUP Jr. was screaming to beat the band and I finally came to understand what an adrenaline rush really feels like. But most of all, I was incredibly relieved that my first instinct was to protect my daughter. One never knows, right? Humans are programmed for self-preservation, right? How devastating would it have been if I’d just shouted “RUN! EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF!” and had taken off?

[2] Like Mrs. Jellyby of Dickens’ Bleak House. What an awesome novel that is – and I mean “awesome” in the full sense of the word.