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Back Buzz - March 7, 2006

pumping heart Caffé Nero, 28 Humberstone Gate, Leicester, Leicestershire

Recently we spent a long weekend in Leicester. The largest city in the East Midlands, Leicester dates back to Roman times. Today it is famous for the University of Leicester, the Leicester City Football Club, and the Leicester Museum and Art Gallery which houses the oldest dinosaur in Europe. And it also features a very popular club scene.

We'd been out on Saturday night and were meeting friends at a jazz pub on Sunday afternoon. So on Sunday morning, finding ourselves with a couple of free hours, we drove into the city centre to have an espresso at Caffé Nero.

There are two Caffé Neros in central Leicester: one in Market Street and one in the Haymarket Shopping Centre. We visited the branch in the Haymarket, which looks much like your typical city centre pedestrian shopping area, with plenty of high street shops with glitzy windows. On this particular morning the cafe, situated at the entrance to the covered mall, was buzzing with conversation and caffeinated energy. The staff who served us were very professional, just as in the other Caffé Neros I've visited.

We ordered double macchiatos which were a little on the weak side but still tasty and properly made, in nice Italian style cups with just the right amount of foam. I picked up a loyalty card in the hopes that a Caffé Nero will eventually open up in my home of Sheffield. Surprisingly this is the very first UK coffee loyalty card I've owned. I had dozens of them going in my wallet in Seattle, and when I moved to the UK I was close to cashing in on a free drink at Caffé Vita, Caffé D'arte, and Torrefazione. Ah, well, perhaps when I go back for a visit...

Because of the wide-open doors which catch the city breeze it was nice and cool inside Caffé Nero, which I really appreciated because I'd been a bit overheated of late. The day was bright and sunny and nice cool jazz was playing. There was even a large photo on the wall of "cool" ladies, laughing and dressed so stylishly in black. The passersby and cafe customers all looked cool and stylish as well. The only exception seemed to be a shopping bag-laden woman's male companion who plainly looked more bored than cool, probably with all the shopping. Ah, well, off they go again -- looks like she's just remembered a sale they might have missed.

The thing I really like about Caffé Nerro is that they consistently do the job so well there's really no need to go on much about it. I think it's a safe bet that if you find a Caffé Nero, no matter what the setting is, you're sure to get a good espresso. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, in this world nothing is certain but death, taxes, and a good espresso at Caffé Nero.

Oh yes, and losing at least one sock in the laundromat of life -- which reminds me of this recent e-mail conversation with my Bay Area friend:

Is the Laundry God playing dice with me?

About a month ago I did a load of laundry which included 8 of my socks. I know this because I always count out my socks before doing a load of laundry to make sure I have an even number. I hate ending up with an odd number.

When the load finished I took the clothes out and found only 7 socks. I double-checked and triple-checked and quadruple-checked the washing machine, and I shook out each clothing item thoroughly, but there were only 7 socks.

A few days later, when I went into the laundry bag to do another load of laundry, I found one lone sock and was overjoyed. I still couldn't figure out how it had found its way back into the laundry bag when it had been in my armful of laundry which made it downstairs to the kitchen, but I figured perhaps I had been hallucinating or something.

So I washed that single sock with the rest of the load. But when I took the wet clothes out of the washing machine there was no sock to be found. Once again I shook every single item carefully, and checked and scraped thoroughly the sides of the inside of the washing machine 17 times -- hey, if it works for OCB sufferers, why not me? -- just to make absolutely sure I hadn't missed anything. But there was no sock.

So now I still have an odd number of socks. One odd sock has been sitting on the top of my dresser waiting for its mate, but I have the feeling it will be a bachelor or spinster for the rest of its life.

Is there some law of statistics that isn't comfortable with an even numbers of socks? Can you say "cyclops sock clips" seven times slickly while cycling in a cyclone? You may be a candidate for this accessory made in the UK . . .

Actually I had hoped by searching online to find an answer to this perpetually perplexing question -- if not from Dr. Science or Ray Jasinski, then at least from some other creatively scientific thinker. But all I found were devices and advice on how to avoid losing an odd sock, and a silly cartoon or two about what really happens.

When I lived in El Cerrito and used a laundromat I almost never lost a sock. But since moving to an apartment equipped with a washer and dryer I have lost quite a few. That seems counter-intuitive. You'd think the probability of losing a sock was proportional to the distance travelled from your hamper to the machine and back to the sock drawer. But that's so only if you try to attribute the loss to the process of handling, rather than to the machines themselves. After observing the wash cycle, seeing that agitator thrashing back and forth, hearing that powerful pump sucking all the water out and sending it glugging down the drain, I have come to believe that the machine actually ingests a sock now and then. One time my neighbor asked me to come upstairs and help her dislodge a dress, the straps of which had gotten hopelessly twined around the shaft of the agitator. We managed to pull an impressive amount of fabric out from under the base of the agitator, but never completely freed it. (In the end she called for a washer repair man, who removed the agitator, and the landlady actually paid the bill.)

If a washer can consume a significant portion of a dress, I would think it could easily suck up a sock.

Can you check your vacuum cleaner bag to make sure it didn't end up there? Maybe it ended up in John Malkovich's sock drawer. I may have found the scientific answer after all. I haven't had time to verify the math, but it looks promising:

The Quantum Theory of Laundry

The Save The North Sea Project: dedicated to reducing the amount of marine litter, including lost socks (Keep Sweden Tidy Foundation)

Information on Oceans and Seas of the World (InfoPlease) Yes, I agree with you -- the Quantum Theory of Laundry seems plausible, especially the chaotic notion of socks randomly becoming lint and then socks again. But the fact that one of my socks can be expressed mathematically as a wave function makes me a bit nervous, as comforting as the idea is that the sock must always be in the system. What prevents the North Sea from being part of this "system", especially with this mentions of waves? After all, before laundromats people used to wash their clothes in rivers, lakes, and probably even seas, and any ecologist can give you evidence of laundry detergent in our rivers and seas.

Perhaps I should take a trip to the seashore to find my lost sock. But which seashore? And which sea? The North Sea? The English Channel? The Irish Sea? The Atlantic Ocean? Just because I live in England doesn't mean we can rule out the Pacific Ocean or the Indian Ocean or the Aegean Sea or the Tasmanian Sea.

This is going to take a very long time to find my sock. Perhaps I should just go downtown and buy a new pair. Last Friday I did a small load of laundry, as I was running out of clean socks. So I emptied the dirty-laundry bag onto the floor. In the pile I found 2 bras, 2 short-sleeved t-shirts, 3 long-sleeved t-shirts, 4 pairs of knickers, 1 pair of longjohns...and 7 socks!

As you recall, after doing laundry back in January I had ended up with one odd sock which has been sitting on my bedroom dresser ever since. So imagine my joy in finding another odd sock. When the load had finished I held my breath and went through the washing machine, making sure I retrieved every wet article of clothing. And sure enough, I still had 7 socks! So I hung them up to dry, basking in the warmth of the return of symmetry to my universe.

The next morning Andrew came downstairs with an armful of his clothes to wash. And on the top of his load he showed me what he'd just found on the floor: one odd dirty sock of mine.

In one instant my contentment, comfort, and confidence in life, the universe, and everything went flying out the window, possibly never to return.

So why does the Laundry God torture me so?