Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Wrong side of the tracks?

I was walking home from the grocery store the other evening and as I passed the site of the former train station on Dodd Street, I remembered a tidbit of information I’d picked up during CBRM council’s special meeting on March 31, the one held to discuss the status of Harbour Royale Development Limited’s progress (or lack thereof) on waterfront development generally and the new Central Library in particular.

Drawing of development planned for 75 Dodd Street

In a speech intended to convince council to fund a design and scope of work study for a new waterfront library, Cape Breton Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Kathleen Yurchesyn made the case for public spending sparking private investment, using the NSCC Marconi Campus as her example.

Yurchesyn said that although completion of the campus is at least three years out:

We are already seeing significant private investment. Brian Lund, developing two developments just outside our downtown core right now…that is going to have a tax revenue spin-off of $160 to $200,000 dollars a year in tax revenue. That’s $1 million in tax revenue alone from the private sector in the next five years. [Unless it’s $800,000, Yurchesyn plays pretty fast and loose with numbers]

DORA’s development down on Dodd Street, three blocks away from the waterfront, two $12 million buildings, that’s $12 million in construction costs not, we don’t know the assessed value of those buildings yet, but let’s just assume it’s $12 million for number’s sake [Pick a number, any number!], that’s more than, combined, for those two buildings, more than $600,000 in annual tax revenue a year. Multi-millions of dollars in the next five years. [I was trying to figure out what the significance of the five-year period was and then I realized, there is none, it just allows her to use the term “millions.”]

And then there’s the residential development as you see every day going into the Civic Centre on the Esplanade across from the Civic Centre. [So THAT’S what’s happening across from the Civic Centre. I was afraid it might be a quarry.]

I feel compelled to point out, as I do every time I discuss this Marconi spin-off issue, that according to the feasibility study into moving the campus, 86% of Marconi students live at home and moving the campus to downtown Sydney is not expected to change this. Moreover, the study concluded that any economic benefit to downtown Sydney  would be at the expense of other parts of the CBRM, a fact the Regional Chamber of Commerce has steadfastly chosen to ignore.

But it’s the DORA project I was thinking about as I passed the old train station site the other night. As I crossed the train tracks I suddenly thought: are they really going to build “two huge modern and welcoming multi-living units” next to the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway line?

Looking very closely at the drawing of the project, it looks like the tracks are there, but who would build a “magnificent” (DORA’s term) housing development within yards of a rail line?

Or does DORA know something about the likely fate of the CBNS that we don’t?


Pig of the Sea

I started back at my Duolingo Gaelic course this week because they’ve added new sections and I need to conquer them. I’ve admitted before in this space how well this language-learning app’s cheap psychology works on me — when a cartoon owl in a tuxedo tells me I’m “making this look easy,” I feel like fluency is just a lesson or two away.

But then a Gaelic speaker of my acquaintance addresses me in Gaelic, saying something other than the handy phrases I’ve mastered, like “I’m wearing a bonnet and underwear” or “I like haggis and Irn Bru” and I draw a blank. Basically, I’m not convinced it’s a good way to learn a language, although I do think it’s a good place to start.

When I last wrote about Duolingo (in 2019), the Gaelic word I featured was muc or pig and over a year later, pigs are again looming large in my imagination. But not just any pigs — SEA PIGS.

The Gaelic word for “whale” is sea pig — muc-mhara.

How did I not know this?

And the Gaelic for bottle-nosed dolphin is muc-bhiorach — pointed pig.

Humpback Whale breaching

Sea Pig, otherwise known as Humpback whale, breaching (Wanetta Ayers, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

I would have thought, given the importance of the sea in Scotland (and Ireland, where Gaelic originated) that it would make more sense for them to have called a pig a “land-whale” than to call a whale a “sea-pig” but they seem to have prioritize land creatures over sea creatures.

In their defense, pigs had apparently been important to them for some time, as this article I happened across in my googling suggests:

Prehistoric Britons Brought Pigs From As Far As Scotland For Stonehenge Feasts

The piece references research by Dr. Richard Madgwick of Cardiff University who found that prehistoric people of the late Neolithic period (2,800 to 2,400 BC) “transported pigs from as far afield as the North East of Scotland and Ireland” for feasts in Durrington Walls, a site that is believed to have housed the builders of Stonehenge. This although, as a photo caption explains, “Pigs are not the easiest animal to move large distances.”

(This means pigs in Scotland pre-date Gaelic which apparently didn’t arrive — from Ireland — until AD 500 and didn’t become a distinct dialect until the 13th century.)

But as I was snickering at the Scots for looking at a whale and seeing a pig, I came across this photo of the creature English speakers call a “sea pig” and it wiped the smile from my face:

Sea Pig

Photo courtesy Ocean Networks Canada g

Apparently, it’s actually a form of sea cucumber. I haven’t learned to say “sea cucumber” in Gaelic yet, but I would not be at all surprised to have it turn up in my Duolingo lessons, most likely in connection with bonnets and Irn Bru.


Pottering about

I’ve always liked pottery but I’ve never given much thought to how it was made or rather, I thought I knew how it was made — you put a bunch of clay on a wheel, shape it into a bowl, bake it in a kiln and voila! pottery.

But all that changed when I began watching The Great Pottery Throw Down, a British bake-off-style competition only for pots instead of pastry.

I hadn’t realized how touch-and-go the whole process is; I didn’t know you could work for hours on a pot (or an art-deco style punch bowl, or a 12-piece tea set) only to have it crack to pieces at the drying or firing stage.

Flapper Girl punch bowl, decanters

Flapper Girl punch bowl, decanters by Great Pottery Throw Down contestant Jodie. (Source: Twitter)

I didn’t know anything about glazes or oxides or traditional Japanese raku firing or hand-building (as opposed to throwing) and while I’d kind of understood that ceramics and porcelain and earthenware and stoneware were related terms, I didn’t know how they were related. (Now I do:  pottery and ceramics are the same thing; earthernware, stoneware and porcelain are types of pottery/ceramics.)

And even once I’d come to understand that porcelain was a type of pottery, I still wasn’t prepared the first time the contestants’ main challenge was to build a functioning sink:

"Mythical Ideas Made Real" sink

“Mythical Ideas Made Real” sink by Great Pottery Throw Down contestant Adam. Note mermaid tail stand. (Source: Twitter)

And having taken sinks in stride, I was still amazed when the challenge became “build a functioning toilet” and the contestant who won did so with a toilet shaped like a turtle:

Turtle Toilet

Turtle toilet by Great Pottery Throw Down contestant Ryan. (Source: Twitter)

All in all, it’s been a learning experience — and when you throw in a judge who is so enthused about pottery he frequently cries at the beauty of the contestants’ creations, plus the newest host, Siobhán McSweeney (Sister Michael from Derry Girls), it’s been a hugely entertaining experience too.