Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Day in the Garden

My wife and I took Friday off so we could do something we have been meaning to do for the past eight years but just never seemed to get around to: visit Leonardslee Gardens.

Leonardslee, one of the prettiest gardens in England.

Leonardslee is just down the road from us. Hence the reason we have never visited; who wants to see something that is right in their own back yard? But Leonardslee is well worth the visit. It is one of the largest and most spectacular gardens in England and the Loder family—who own it—are also responsible for two other magnificent Sussex gardens: The High Beeches and Wakehurst Place. These have been a splendid trio of gardens for many years, though sadly, they are soon to be twins.

Bluebells in bloom at Leonardslee.

Wakehurst Place is now safely in the hands of the The National Trust and The high Beeches, though privately owned, is still going strong, but after five generations of overseeing the gardens at Leonardslee, the Loader family is packing it in. This is to be their last season; after this, the fate of the garden is uncertain.

Rumor has it that they sold out to some Russian zillionaire (who else, after all, could afford it) who is no doubt connected with the Russian mafia (name me a Russian zillionaire who isn’t).

Imagine this as a landfill site.

I realize the new generation of Loders probably has other ambitions aside from gardening, but it is surely a shame to see the tradition come to an end. The new owners are very likely already engaged in “negations” (“Nice house you have here; be a shame if something were to happen to it”) with local Councillors to gain permission to use the valley as a landfill so they can level the ground off and build high-rise tenements on it.

Leonardslee is also home to the largest Wallaby herd in Sussex (though, really, how many would you need to have to gain that particular title?).  The Wallabies, naturally, will have to go; you can't have them roaming feral around the car parks of the tenements, can you?  I expect the new owners will host a combination Grouse and Wallaby Shoot during their first season, followed by a massive Walla-barbee-Q.

Taste like chicken.

I’m just glad we made the effort to see these stunning gardens, and the adorable wallabies, while there was still time.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Outside the Demographics

Spring came into its own this past week and, uncharacteristically, carried on through the weekend. It was a wonderfully sunny and warm day on Saturday, which proved quite a bonus as my wife and I were heading to Essex to meet up with some of my fellow countrymen.

We reconnected with NFAH, finally met a few other bloggers in person and enjoyed a lovely meal at an Italian restaurant in the charmingly twee village of Saffron Walden. And if it came to my attention during the meal that I was, once again, the lone male at a table full of women, I certainly didn’t think much of it. It’s just the way things are.

Saffron Walden

But at one point, the subject of blogging and the blogging community was brought up (at a table full of bloggers, go figure) and I did point out that I seemed to be the lone male voice (with the notable exception of Brit Out of Water) in the expat world. I don’t consider my situation very unique, so why am I an honorary member of the Mummy Blogger crowd?

The answer, it turns out, is screamingly obvious; I simply managed to avoid realizing it these past eight years: expat blogs tend to be written by the trailing spouse (stranger in a strange land and all that), and in every case I can think of (aside from myself and Dylan) that trailing spouse is female.

Up until the moment one of my blogging friends pointed this out, I had never thought of myself as a ‘trailing spouse.’ But there you have it. At least in the future, when I go to these sort of gatherings, I won’t have to wonder about being the only guy there.

And I always do enjoy meeting up with my fellow bloggers. We may be from different backgrounds in the States, with different experiences and different expectations, but when we meet up over here as expats, we bring with us so many shared experiences that the basis for a friendship is already present. The conversation, even from the initial introduction, is never awkward because we feel as if we know each other already.

That’s a good way to be, even if I am the odd one out.

We spent a relaxing few hours together in conversation, then parted, with promises to keep in touch. Then my wife and I took advantage of the commerce opportunities Saffron Walden afforded before heading home on the train.

And as we passed through London, I naturally I treated my wife to dinner at an exclusive restaurant.

Hey, I bought you dinner, what more do you want?

All in all a remarkable day: good weather, good conversation, good friends and good food. I’m already looking forward to the next time.


Married to an American Moment of the week:

While watching the television.
Me: What’s he eating?
Wife: It’s a Chupa Chup
Me: What’s that?
Wife: It’s a boiled sweet on a stick.
Me: You mean like a Tootsie Pop?
Wife: What’s that?
Me: It’s a hard candy on a stick, but with a piece of Tootsie Roll inside.
Wife: What’s a Tootsie Roll?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Balls Up

In the end, apathy and lack of money won the day.

About a year ago, the Shelly Fountain, Horsham’s iconic and vaguely pornographic water feature, fell into such disrepair that it was shut off and left forlornly empty. As time went on, the town polled the citizens to see what they wanted to do with this marvellous work of art that had put Horsham on the map.

The Glory Days.

The response was underwhelming.

I wrote to the local paper stating the case for repairing the fountain, but it appeared I was a lone voice crying in a sea of curmudgeonly complaints. No one, it seemed, had wanted the poxy thing to begin with and they saw this as their chance to get shut of it. A Facebook page dedicated to bringing back the Horsham Christmas lights enjoyed 3,037 supporters; a similar page to show support for the fountain rallied only 315. Condemned by social networking, its fate was sealed; The Council decided it would have to go.

So the great ball was propped up on steel girders and the fountain area surrounded by a metal fence, and there it sat, sad and broken, like a death-row inmate waiting for the padre and warden to lead it on that final walk to the metaphorical gallows. There would be no phone call from the governor.

Waiting for the hangman.

But then a miracle reprieve arrived from an unlikely source: the economy collapsed, austerity budgets were adopted and, when The Council looked into removing it, they found digging it out and paving over the area would actually cost a lot more than fixing it.

Repairs began in March, which The Council made very clear were not paid for out of the district coffers but with grants from the art foundation. The fountain was cleaned and fixed and filled and ready to be re-unveiled at a ceremony during Horsham’s popular English Festival.

At the appointed time, the crowd gathered, the speeches were made, the fountain revived…and shut off due to an electrical fault.

That's all folks...

So now it sits, a little cleaner, but empty, nonetheless, waiting for the repairman.

But at least it’s still here.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Feeling the Love


My wife is participating in a sponsored half-marathon for St. Catherine’s Hospice.
Okay, she’s not actually running, and it’s only a half-marathon, but she is doing it between midnight and 6 AM so she deserves some support.
Horsham Midnight Walk to sponsor St. Catherine’s Hospice
19 June 2010 – midnight to 6:00 AM


I just cancelled my ISP after eight complaint-free years to sign up with BT Broadband, on the theory that having a consolidated bill and paying two pounds less each month would somehow transform my life. That’s like divorcing your wife and marrying your dental hygienist because you’ll save money on your biannual cleaning and won’t have to drive to the dentist.

I’m sure someone out there has done that and is dying to tell me how badly it went. Thanks, but don’t bother. I’m committed; the hygienist is awaiting my call and the wife already found out. I told her, I mean, I informed my ISP this morning. They took it hard.

This surprised me. England not being the spiritual home of customer service, I fully expected the rep to give me the equivalent of a verbal shrug and move on. Instead, they dragged me through the seven stages of separation grief, which, as an American, pleased me. We don’t like people letting us cast them aside lightly, so I’m used to a bit of grovelling when I call to cancel a service. I think I was more prepared for it than the rep.

“But we’ve been together so long! Was it something we did? Have we made you unhappy?”

“No,” I said, my voice laced with faux regret, “it’s not you, it’s me. I’ve changed; I’m not the person you thought I was when I signed on.”

“But we can change, we’ll make you happy.”

“But BT is offering…”

“BT! That slag! You deserve better! Please come back to us.”

“I’m sorry, really I am. I know I shouldn’t have been looking around when I was happy with you, but this deal caught my eye and, well,… You really don’t want to stay with someone as fickle as I am.”

“It’s not your fault. We forgive you! Can’t you see how much we want you?”

“Look, I gotta go. I need some space right now-“

“No! Please! Can we still be friends?”

“I don’t think so.”

I hung up, feeling a mixture of guilt, amusement and admiration. Whether or not it was true, they made me feel like they cared, and that gave me just the slightest pang of homesickness. It made me ponder my ISP infidelity and I began to second-guess my decision. Really, what was so bad about my current provider that I had to jump on the first sleek and shiny thing to saunter by? Maybe I was being too hasty. Maybe I should call them. Maybe they would take me back.

Then, as I replayed the conversation in my mind, analysing the begging, the promises and the resolutions, I realized there was one thing they had not done: they had not offered me a better deal. That’s the way we do it in America, Sparky, and if you can’t see your way to it, then get used to the sight of my backside as I walk away from you.

I’m so glad I didn’t weaken. Now I’m looking forward to my new ISP; I’m going to love slagging off BT.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

One Of The Girls

I had a different post ready to go up, but I was diverted by some arresting statistics. This worked out nicely because I was going to post a secondary item in the sidebar but that item lends credence to what these statistics pointed out so, thanks to being so alert (or easily distracted, take your pick), I can post now everything in a single article, the premise of which is:

Over the course of my life, I have spent an inordinate amount of time in the company of women.

I don't mean to say I am a modern incarnation of Don Juan, wooing women on two continents (having recently and successfully stormed Europe). No, I mean I just always seem to be around women, through no fault (or complaint, for that matter) of my own.

As a young lad, I had an older sister, a doting mother and an absent father. Dad was around—he often stopped in between shifts at the mill and sessions at the bar—but he didn't leave much of an impression. Mostly it was me, mom, my sister and about 6,000 cows.

I was, however, a Boy Scout, so I managed to do my share of male bonding during my teenage years, but just as it looked as if I was on my way toward a wall-balanced life, I joined a charismatic Christian cult. While I did make some male friends there, these organisations tend to draw more females than males, but not the sort who would do you any good, if you get my meaning.

After checking back into hotel reality, I got a job as a keypunch operator. To say this field has a disproportionate number of women would be like saying the ocean is damp; I was the only male in the entire department.

When my children were growing up, I was working nights while my wife worked days, so me and the other moms all got together at day care and, later, for school meetings and such.

As a born-again bachelor, I took up scuba diving, a truly manly sport. But then, ignoring the advice of a good friend (a woman, I might add) I went scuba diving in the Caribbean and, as it had for her, the experience spoiled me. I could no longer face the dark, cold lakes of the Adirondacks, so I sold my gear and became an Irish dancer. I mean, what choice did I have?

I was actually surprised by the predominance of women there, what with Michael Flatley being all the rage, but there was only one other man in the entire class.

So I went to Ireland, met my current wife and settled in Britain. And started a blog. Or three. And, without meaning to, I began to acquire followers. But is what I discovered about them while doing routine blog maintenance this afternoon:

Of my followers, 82.2784810126582% on my Postcards blog, 91.4285714285714% on the Pond Parleys blog and 88.4615384615385% on my writing blog are women. Now, this isn't a complaint, simply an observation, but my intent was to promote myself as an expatriate writer a la Bill Bryson and, instead, I seem to have become an honorary member of the mummy-blogging circuit

So what's a guy to do when he find himself, once again, surrounded by women? Go out and do something that puts him in contact with other people, of course. And that's what I'm going to do.

I have volunteered to assist my wife in her latest endeavour—a sponsored walk. She's doing the walking; I'm just helping out by being a steward. And you can help out by sponsoring her.

Click this link: to donate money toward the cause. The walk is to raise funds for St. Catherine's Hospice, a worthy charity. It's only a half-marathon, and they are only walking, but they are doing it between midnight and six in the morning, so she deserves a bit of support.

Oh, and did I mention this is the Midnight Walk for Women? Twelve hundred women, two thousand flashlights (torches), eighteen hundred bottles of water and me. I expect there will be a few more men there, but here I go again.

Don't worry; I'll bring my camera. Updates to follow.

And thank you for your support.