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Skating, congestion charge and fun puzzle

According to Natasha, Becky has not had this much fun at a figure skating practice in years.

At the skating rink in Leyton, which is about 20 minutes away from us (barring traffic – those who read my posts regularly will not be surprised that the same trip can take about an hour and a half with traffic), Natasha hired a new coach, so that Becky can practice at least once a week, while we are ruminating as to whether let her join the synchro team at a later date. The rink itself is quite nice (Natasha compares it to the one in Woodbridge, NJ). The coach, as I am being told, is really nice.

Becky has been coached in the past by a guy who was very demanding. Nice guy and clearly not a bad coach, but he kept a tight hand, drilling her in her moves and rarely dispensing any praise. Now, my precious daughter tends to sulk when not getting enough love. She practiced and did what she was told, but probably with very little joy at doing that. Considering that we are not raising her to be an Olympic champion, and that she is getting to be of age when she constantly needs to challenge authority, I can see how this year she might not have wanted to continue practicing at all.

The English coach, though, is totally different. He speaks only in terms of praise and finds a way to make drills feel like a pleasant activity. Becky skated for an hour with him with a perma-smile on her face, and her posture exuded joy of doing something the she loves. Immediately upon exiting the rink she inquired as to when the next session is going to be. I have not seen or heard that type of attitude from her in regard to anything not called computer. Amazing!

The practices will be weekly, for now. Then, we’ll see.

Kimmy, meanwhile, was scheduled to go to a Russian singing group with her friend Gabriella. The address was somewhere in London, and Natasha, paying it no special mind, got in a car and drove. Lo and behold, she crossed into the congestion charge area along the way.

This is an invention of the esteemed London mayor, Ken Livingstone. Central areas of the city are designated as off-limits for visiting motorists Monday through Friday, unless a rather hefty charge of £8 is paid for the privilege of driving in. Supposedly, it works quite well. Since its inception, the charge has reduced the number of cars in the center of the city, even though it is still congested rather badly. There are no barriers or toll booths. Cameras positioned around the “border” take a read of registration plates. I suspect that a large staff of municipal workers then manually matches the captured information with the receipts (I have a hard time believing that it could be sufficiently automated), thereby giving a boost to unemployment reduction. Cars that are determined to have entered the restricted area without having paid the charge are issued a fine, several times the size of the charge itself.

Until quite recently, you actually had to pay the congestion charge in advance of driving. There was no recourse against the fine if you forgot to pay or accidentally crossed the boundary (it is worth mentioning that the boundaries are thoroughly identified; however, English roads are not made for turning around if you find yourself going in the wrong direction – trust me!). After some mild public upheavals, the rules changed, and you can now pay until the end of the following day. We did not wait that long, and paid right away. Since there is no ticket punched upon entering the restricted zone, somewhere in the back of our minds we were thinking, Do we really need to pay? But we have heard from a couple of people who received fines in the past that the system works, so we decided not to tempt the Big Brother who watches over us through the ubiquitous cameras.

As far as I have heard, Mr Livingstone is planning to expand the congestion charge area and increase the fee. He also stands a pretty good chance of being re-elected for something like the fifth term…

Upon me coming from work today, Natasha suggested that we try solving a logical puzzle that her brother Alex sent us. It is considered that only 10% of the world population is capable of solving it. I humbly report that it took me less than 10 minutes, and most of that time was spent to explain my line of reasoning to Natasha. My audience undoubtedly possess a rather high average IQ, so I am leaving you today with that puzzle. Do let me know if you solve it, but please do not post the solution in the comments, so that later readers can do it for themselves. I will post the solution in a later blog entry.

There are 5 houses of different colors. The inhabitant of each is of a different nationality, drinks a single beverage, smokes a single brand and owns a pet. No beverages, pets or cigarette brands are the same in any two of the houses.

1. The Englishman lives in the red house.
2. The Swede owns a dog.
3. The Danish drinks tea.
4. The green house is to the left of the white house.
5. The green house owner drinks coffee.
6. The man smoking Pall Mall owns a bird.
7. The owner of the middle house drinks milk.
8. The yellow house owner smokes Dunhill.
9. The Norwegian lives in the first house.
10. The Marlboro smoker lives next to the man who owns a cat.
11. The man who owns a horse lives next to the Dunhill smoker.
12. Winfield smoker drinks beer.
13. The Norwegian lives next to the blue house.
14. The German smokes Rothman’s.
15. The man who smokes Marlboro lives next to the man who drinks water.

Question: Who owns a fish?

Good luck!

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