Archive for the ‘Answer Us Back! Your time to opine’ Category

airport security

January 27, 2016


Bit of leftover business from last year’s AMT – following AMT329, Phil in Pennsylvania writes:

Helen, answer me this: why didn’t you smack Olly for his idiotic suggestion that people should let their children ride baggage carousels at airports?

Maybe I did, but you couldn’t hear it on the recording…

I’m a “below the wing” worker for a major international airline, so half my job is taking bags off planes and delivering them to the carousel. Every day I see the address tags, straps, buckles, locks and strings getting pulled into the small gaps between the steel plates on those carousels. How is a child’s shoelace, or the drawcord on their hoodie, or their finger any different? I don’t believe in putting children into protective bubbles, but I also believe that parents shouldn’t act like complete morons just for a laugh.

Although, to be fair to the parental Manns, in this case it was the child Olly being a complete moron, to their consternation.

Phil also provides the inside scoop on what the baggage carousels are really for:

Your answer to the baggage carousel question left out a couple of reasons for the existence of carousels: tracking and security. At every step of the process, we use handheld scanners to read the tag on each bag, so we always know where it is. Going on the plane… scanned. Coming off the plane.. scanned. Delivered to the baggage carousel… scanned. If all the bags were just dumped into a big pile, it would be awfully hard to properly scan them.

Also, the area where we drive the baggage carts and deliver the bags to the carousel is a secure area. We pull up to the carousel, open the security doors at either side of the carousel, scan the bags and put them on the carousel. Once all the bags are unloaded, we close the security doors again. (One of my coworkers is now the subject of a police investigation because he didn’t fully close one of the doors a few nights ago. That’s a major you-can-be-sacked sort of mistake.)

Those doors are only just big enough for the bags to fit through, although a person could squeeze through if they tried. But what if the door were big enough to drive a whole cart through? Far too easy for people to wander through, far too hard to secure properly. So, the carousel’s real purpose is to deliver the bags to the passengers while keeping the passengers (and terrorists) out of the secure zone where the planes operate. And then let the airport workers sit in the back, undisturbed, so we can listen to podcasts while we wait for the next plane to arrive.

We can definitely endorse that last reason.

Also, it’s not just us being given the scary once-over by immigration officers in American airports – and it’s not just the American officers who are scary. Noah in San Francisco writes:

A few years ago I (an American) was flying into Gatwick. I was coming to London representing my art gallery for an art fair. When I asked by HMS Customs if I was there for business or pleasure, I answered “Business” in a proud fashion. I had never traveled for business before and was feeling quite proud of myself for doing so. I was, in the blink of an eye, an “international businessman” — but when I looked up to see the eyes of the customs officer, did I realize my grave, grave error. He had the look a starved jackal gives a frightened sheep. The ordeal that followed — what’s the nature of your business, who are you traveling with, just exactly why are you conducting business on our territory and thus clearly depriving others of work — was thorough, exhaustive and exhausting.

I explained everything: the fair was advertised all around London on large banners, advertised in all the current newspapers and magazines; nothing was done in secret, this was a well-publicized fair. He wasn’t having it, and after reappearing after 30 minutes, escorted not only me, but my fiancée and young sister to airport jail! We were thrown in the tank, questioned separately (my fiancée and sister were in separate queues and answered that they were there on please, only making matters worse). I think my sister got the worst of it as she got her diary read and passed around by several customs agents. I MAY have made things worse by answering the question: “Have you ever been searched by this before?” with “Well, once in East Germany in 1987, but it only took half the time.”

My fiancée (and now wife (and mother to my kids)) would insist I was being remiss if I didn’t mention the kind gentlemen jailer who fed us a seemingly endless supply of strangely-delicious triangle sandwiches.

A few hours later, we were released sans passports. Sis had to pickup our passports at the airport the next day, along with sincere apologies from the higher-ups at HMS Customs.

End of Cautionary Tale.

Could’ve been worse, Eric. A friend of mine, on his way back from a holiday in Florida, was held for several hours on suspicion of being the Atlanta Bomber.


papal holidays

January 26, 2016

pope snow

Erica has been listening to AMT291 in which we fielded a question about what the Pope does on his holidays. She says:

I once met a priest who had been part of the Swiss Guard, which is basically the Pope’s secret service. He told me that Pope John Paul liked to go downhill skiing well into his 70s. *

I honestly can’t remember if I imagined a white ski outfit with a cross on the front or if he said that is what he really wore. I am fairly certain it’s the former. **

Well, readers, have any of you actually spotted a Pope on his hols? Whizzing down a black run, robes flapping behind him; or sunning himself on a beach in a pair of papal Speedos?

* It’s true!
** Also true. But maybe he’s wearing his full pope-dress under the appropriate ski-wear. Dare to dream, Erica.


The Administration System of Christmas

December 22, 2015


We speculated about the best way for a parent to handle the Administration System of Christmas in AMT328 and 329, but how do you actual child-rearers do it? Brian from Montana writes:

My oldest daughter came to the truth about Christmas’s “Administrative details” on her own.

But when she asked, “So were you lying to me?” I channeled my inner Obi-Wan and said, “That depends on your point of view. Is there a magical man that can break the known laws of time and space to deliver presents each year to kids around the world? Of course not. But, did a man dressed in a red suit stop by our house the past 4 Christmas Eve’s to bring you and your siblings gifts? Yes. (We know a guy.) Are there hundreds of thousands of such men around the world who love kids so much that they put on a big red suit and bring them happiness? Yes. So, in a way, Santa is VERY real, he just isn’t magical, but why is that so important? And now that you’re in on the secret, you can be a part of it.”

She was elated at such a prospect, and I dislocated my arm patting myself on the back for avoiding what was, for me, a traumatic revelation when I found out.

We’ve been treating The Administration System of Christmas quite flippantly in the past couple of episodes, but perhaps we should be more careful if the revelation is traumatic for people. I recall a particularly traumatised Administration System of Christmas victim in chapter 1 of the Lights, Camera, Christmas episode of This American Life. Can any of you outdo the parental deception efforts there?


shitting log

December 22, 2015


Here’s the inside poopscoop on the Shitting Log that became our new favourite festive tradition in AMT329. Lauren in Mexico City writes:

Caga tió doesn’t actually have anything to do with uncles – it’s tió (‘log’ in Catalan) rather than tío (‘uncle’ in Spanish) so the name means “Shit log”. It comes from the imperative, “Shit, log!”, which is often part of the songs sung whilst hitting him. There are some examples in this multilingual video.

The tió is always made from a real log and many families buy several different sizes so the tió gradually “grows” over the weeks that the kids feed him. When it’s time for him to shit, the kids are sent out of the room for a minute while the presents are stashed under the blanket.

I lived in Catalonia for 8 years and have my very own little tió who now lives at my parents’ house. My mum is a big fan and brings him out of the attic every Christmas with the rest of the decorations. She usually sends me a photo of him for good measure, so I’ll do the same to you:

caga tió (1)

Like babies, logs are cute, till they start shitting.


preggers Virgin Mary

December 10, 2015


Ding ding ding, someone who knows what they’re talking about has written in! On the subject of paintings of the visibly pregnant Virgin Mary, Asa says:

I’m a historian of medieval art, so I was delighted to hear the subject come up in AMT328. You were talking about the lack of medieval images of Mary pregnant. There are, though, TONS of these. The trouble is that you need to know the right term to search. “The Visitation” is the term for a scene wherein Mary and her cousin Elizabeth get together to celebrate their simultaneous pregnancies — Mary pregnant with Jesus (of course) and Elizabeth a bit further along in her pregnancy with John the Baptist.

The associated feast was made church policy in 1389, which might be why there are more images starting in the 15th century, but there are also just more of all kinds of images starting in the 15th century. The Knight’s Templar theory you found is almost certainly not right. Pretty much everything said about the Templars is tinged with Dan Brown conspiracy theories.

Here’s a bit of info, here’re some images, and more here. In case you want to see some of the earlier ones, here’s a 12th century example, and an early 13th.

I bet there are older ones, but that’s surely more than you wanted, anyway.

Here to help with any of your medieval art historical needs!

Readers, this is your big chance to solve all those medieval art questions that have been plaguing you since birth!



December 9, 2015


Weddings are an emotive topic; Harry Potter is…also an emotive topic? So it is to be expected that you are feeling some very strong emotions following AMT328‘s mention of a Harry Potter-themed wedding. Look how worked up Steven is:

The “why not” for a Harry Potter (or similar) wedding: because it’s the very worst kind of forced fun. The very idea of going to a wedding where people “play Quidditch” makes me squirm with awkwardness, even considering that I’d obviously sit inside at the bar with the older members of the wedding party. I would rather not go at all than endure being around that, which I know is totally irrational, but there we go.

Like Steven, we intimated that wedding guests would not be properly playing Quidditch, causing many of you to write to tell us that Quidditch is a real game that real people play. Yeah, we know there’s a flightless version of Quidditch – similar to field hockey, but you play with the stick wedged into your crotch – but for attendees of a Harry Potter wedding, it’s this




fake boyfriend

December 8, 2015


Harriet in Carentan, France is a real person, I think. She writes:

When I was about 11/12, my mom made up a boyfriend for me. He was called Tarquin and she would do impressions of him and the kinds of loving things that this, entirely fictional, person had said to me and these impressions were always done in a high-pitched voice with lots of flutterings of hands and overly posh accents.

She even carried this bizarre joke on into my teens while I had real boyfriends and girlfriends. According to her these were insignificant relationships and that Tarquin was my one true love who I would eventually marry.

I’m in my 20s now and fortunately she has stopped mentioning Tarquin, and I had managed to forget about it all until I listened to episode 327. I’d thought it was just something weird my mom did, but now I’m wondering if in fact it’s a common joke for parents to make about their children and that most people just never mention it. I’d be interested to know if any of your other listeners have written in to say that their parents invented relationships for them.

Anyone, or is this just a me-and-Harriet thing?


Don Juan

December 8, 2015


Ryan in Brighton wants to check the certificate for Olly’s English degree. He writes:

In AMT328, did Olly pronounce Don Juan (Don Whan) as “Don Jew-an”?

If so, was this a Freudian slip?

He did, and it wasn’t! Olly was referring to Lord Byron’s lengthy poem Don Juan, in which ‘Juan’ was indeed pronounced ‘Jew-an’, to rhyme with such phrases as ‘true one’ and ‘threw on’. This is what passed for a joke for a Romantic poet.

Click here to read the poem (and if you make it more than 25% of the way through, you are doing better than I did). Here are the Cliffs Notes if you need help.


Show us your dolls!

November 10, 2015


Get yer dolls out for the lads! Following AMT326‘s conclusion that seeing Russian dolls is more satisfying than owning Russian dolls, we want to see yours.

Nick has supplied:

Whilst on honeymoon in Sydney in May 2012 I came across this fitting tribute to the ‘King Of Pop’.


Is it wrong that I’m a little saddened they’re not in chronological order?


And the dolls have been coming out on Twitter. We’ve got: (more…)

circus music

November 10, 2015



Duh duh diddleiddle duh duh dur durr, duh duh diddleiddle duh duh dur durr, DUH duddle ur dur DUH duddle ur dur duddluddluddle uddle uddle ududerder, here’s some feedback from Sebastian:

I just finished listening to AMT325 and wanted to chime in. I am an actual circus performer and I can say that the March of the Gladiators (which is the name that circus folk actually refer to the song as) is deeply loved among circus people. That song will make us all stand up a little taller and get ready to put on a show!

It is so tied to circus that it pulls people in from off the street to go see if there is a circus show going on. The only other song that I can think of that gets circus people feeling excited and nostalgic like that is The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.

As far as most of us are concerned, it hardly matters how the song came to be, it is just a part of circus life. You might hate it when you first join the circus, it might seem cliche for the first few years, but after years, when you’ve been from circus to circus to circus, that song stays the same and it becomes deeply comforting.

It may be deeply comforting – until IT gets involved.


Krakow kounterplan

October 28, 2015


Jules writes with some sweet advice for AMT325‘s Steve, who had inadvertently rumbled his wife’s birthday surprise for him of a trip to Krakow. We suggested that the least bad move would be for Steve to pretend he didn’t know. Jules advises:

So she doesn’t feel bad about him knowing, he should not tell her now – but he should learn basic phrases in Polish so when they arrive he can surprise her back!

“The cookies gave the location away when I saw the ad for Polish Rosetta Stone – I thought that was my birthday gift.” 😉

Then something positive can come out of him knowing in advance.

That’s nice-double-crossing on a level with a Richard Curtis film.* Have any of the rest of you transformed a rumbled surprise into a BONUS SURPRISE?

*Specifically Serena in Four Weddings and a Funeral learning sign language then getting invited to another wedding, just to woo Hugh Grant’s brother. So creepy romantic!


Antarctica options

October 26, 2015


In AMT312, the mysterious S asked about getting jobs in Antarctica, despite not being much use to Antarctica. However, Claudia supplies hope:

You mentioned tourism in Antarctica, but you forgot the corollary – someone must take the tourists!

There are several cruise ships that operate in the area of Antarctic Peninsula, most of them leave from Ushuaia. There are all sort of jobs on board the ships, ranging from cabin stewards, restaurant stewards, chefs, deck hands, boat handlers to ship officers. On the cruise department there are naturalists and guides that give lectures and guide passengers ashore.

Because most ships work other itineraries, this probably does not appear on a search for work in Antarctica.
The advantages of working on ships on relation to work on stations: we travel around and visit many sites. Bonus: we only work during summer!!!

Here are a list of crewing agencies that crew ships that work in Antarctica:
FleetPro, V-Ships and SeaChefs.

Good luck, S. If you hurry, you might be able to spend the imminent Southern Hemispherical summer living your Antarctic dream!