Sunday, June 21, 2009

Gothic Horsham

Horsham, for the past several years, has been on the migratory path of The Goth Kids. Every day they gathered around the edge of Shelly’s fountain, like crows on a telephone wire, looking angst-ridden and tortured. I didn’t mind; I like the Goths. They’re quiet, earnest, and dedicated to their fashion. And they’re very British. The gothic subculture, according to the 5-minutes of research I did this morning, began in the United Kingdom in the early 1980s as an offshoot of the post-punk genre. That’s what Wikipedia says, anyway, but I first encountered Goths when I was about 19, and that was in rural Columbia County, New York in the mid-1970’s, not London in the 80s.

The encounter was genuinely bizarre. I was doing some antique restoration work for a local eccentric; he had a PhD in something or other and lived in a dark, clutter house with his “ward,” a young effeminate boy named Jason. I got to know Jason a little through my visits and dealings with the good Doctor (he was just a few years my junior—Jason, not the doctor) and one day I ended up taking him and two of his friends to the Columbia County Fair.

His friends turned out to be two girls of about 16, who showed up with their androgynous companion dressed in black lace gloves that ran halfway up their pale arms, velvet dresses and hats—all of which they appeared to have found in an old trunk in someone’s attic. But I found this Victorian-esque style fetching, and it suited them and their odd, intense manner, so this experience is responsible for me, a fifty-four year old man, thinking Goths are cool. I hasten to add, the experience with my young friends came before poking metal studs into various and sundry parts of your body was in vogue, and although the young girls wore dark make-up, it was not of extreme variety applied by today’s Goths. Encountered someone with rivets in their skull and a bolt through their tongue wearing makeup that made them look like a panda bear back in 1974 would have been more than my heretofore na├»ve nature could have handled.

I would like to have a photo of our resident Goths to go along with this post, but as a species, they are elusive and shy and I was never able to get a good picture of them, so here’s a picture of Shelly’s Fountain, instead.

The Shelly Fountain, in all its glory.

Like a lot of things in Britain, when they first proposed to put the fountain in, people screamed blue murder, but now that it’s a bit run down and dated and they are discussion taking it out, well, it’s an icon of our town, and what would Horsham be without it, and where, pray tell, would the Goths gather?

So the fountain sits, fenced off, forlorn and used for nothing but a litter bin for local adolescents, leaving me looking forward to the day when they finally restore it to its former glory.

I realize this post isn’t totally about Britain, but that’s how living abroad is; some days you look around yourself and think, “Holy shit! I live in England; how cool is that!” and other times you stare at a disused fountain and think, “Where have all the Goth kids gone?”

The Shelly Fountain today; no Goths, no glory.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Briefly British - A Review

"Britannia in Brief" by Leslie Banker (the resident American) and William Mullins (the pond-hopping Brit) is like a Book of Lists for Anglophiles with bonus historical and cultural tidbits thrown in. As such, it provides excellent material for anyone planning to visit, move to, or simply think about the UK.

The text is concise, easy to read and packed with useful and interesting information. The opening pages provide an entertaining historical summary of Britain (no mean feat in itself) and are followed by some uniquely presented qualities and quirks of Britain and the British. I especially liked the geographical analogies on page 27, which equates unfamiliar British locations with locations more familiar to an American audience, a device they make good use of throughout the text.

Also in this eclectic collection, you'll find a brief list of what to eat with a knife and fork as opposed to your fingers, a guide to pub etiquette, a thorough overview of the transportation system, a rundown of notable British criminals and a few of the more popular euphemisms for "penis" employed by the British public. Really, what's not to like? Actually, in looking over the table of contents, it's hard to think of any aspect of British culture, history, society, sports or leisure pursuits (such as rioting in the streets) this pair has overlooked.

"Britannia in Brief" is, without question, for an American audience, but it will surely leave even the most casual Britophile chuffed to bits, and would even be of interest to trivia Anoraks who simply like to collect odd facts (such as "ysbyty" being the Welsh word for "hospital") in case they ever find themselves at a pub quiz.

And speaking of, nearly ever section ends with quiz that you can use to test your growing knowledge of all things British. I understand it can't be used as a substitute for the "Life in the UK Test," but it's not a bad place to start.

Visit the Britannia in Brief blog or visit their website to see more British Briefs.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Scone Conspiracy

Yeah, I'm back with the scones.

The thing is, I don't think of this as a frivolous issue. When a nation that has made tea and scones practically compulsory suddenly removes the option of plain scones—without consulting or even warning the public—something more than casual chance is involved. This smacks of governmental interference at the highest level, a serious breech of trust, an attack on our civil liberties and a disturbing turn toward totalitarianism.

Everywhere I go, I keep an eye out for plain scones (really, I do; it drives my wife crazy) and the results have been depressing bordering on panic. Our local market no longer carries them, I can't find any at the baker's and they stopped serving them in the National Trust Tea Shoppes (and if that doesn't prove it's a government conspiracy, I don't know what does).

Take a look at this photo:

The book is Alexander McCall's latest in his 44 Scotland Avenue series, "The Unbearable Lightness of Scones," (that's a scone in the upper left corner of the book, with raisins), and the card is from a popular novelty-card range and both serve to demonstrate how the anti-plain scone lobby is insinuating itself into the very fibre of our daily lives.

Lately, it appears the tide is turning, or perhaps the conspiracy is deepening. You decide:

Alert reader Rebecca Daly wrote to tell me plain scones are available in the bakery section of Fortnum and Mason. Unfortunately, their store is in London and I don't meet the "Net Worth" requirement for shopping there (though they tolerated my nosing around when I and my companions wandered in one evening while waiting for the concert to begin). F&M ( is a great place to pick up a Caviar Quartet (£450) and jar of white truffles (£300) along with some champagne (£145) to wash it down with (you can also pick up a bottle of 32-year old single malt for £360, but that's not really a bad price). Scones there, plain or otherwise, are likely to go for £57.44 a dozen, so in reality, this isn't making plain scones available at all; it's just another cynical ploy to create the illusion of choice when, the fact is, most of us are too poor to afford them.

Nope, no plain scones here.

Likewise, I have recently discovered plain scones at our local Marks & Spencer (quick primer for the US crowd: M&S is primarily a clothing store but years ago they added a supermarket section catering to people who think Waitrose isn't posh enough). They don't stock plain scones at the Waitrose we shop at, and I have never seen them at Sainsburys or Tesco, either. Granted, that's mostly because I don't shop at Sainsburys or Tesco, but that doesn't mean it isn't so, which supports my theory that the government is holding back all the plain scones, keeping them in reserve for the wealthy and the titled. This is class war at its ugliest, and it is so painfully obvious I sometimes wonder why The Daily Mail hasn't picked up on it yet.

Then at other times, when the lithium kicks in, I'll think maybe it's just a swing in the pendulum, and I'll treat myself to some clotted cream, strawberry jam and a package of M&S plain scones.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Road Trip

"Postcards From Across the Pond" is going on tour. Virtually.

I've decided to travel the world using the blogs of people I don't know. I'm calling it "The Kindness of Strangers Tour" and the idea is to visit as many places as I can. Just to see where it leads me.

Now that I'm actually starting out on this journey, it's difficult to remember how the original idea came about, but it has culminated in this:

I am asking anyone who follows me, or knows of me, or my book to host a guest post for me on their blog. Wherever they happen to live, I will count as having visited and will update The Tour Page with links to their blog. Never mind that actual, earthly locations mean nothing in the blog-world; that's sort of the point.

My website physically resides on servers somewhere in Massachusetts and Google, I understand, has its headquarters in California but their servers could be anywhere. Still, somewhere in a small town in Indiana, someone is sitting in their living room tapping out a post and updating it to Blogger (unless, God help them, they are using Wordpress) and that's the connection I want to make.

My first post is in Cornwall (I'll link to it as soon as it goes up); my next one could be anywhere. I'm looking forward to travelling through cyber space, meeting new people, exploring new locations—in a virtual sense—and posting about my adventures.

It should be fun, and I'm hoping people will catch the spirit of the adventure and join in so I don't have to quietly take down a bunch of empty pages in two months time.

Oh, and most importantly, I will continue my regular posts here. That's also the good thing about the blog-world; you can travel, and still stay home.

Hope to see you in Cornwall soon, and back here for my next post, and wherever I happen to end up after that.

Thanks for your support.