Sunday, April 24, 2011

Monochrome America

Before we get into the meat of this post, allow me to say I hope all of you are enjoying, or have recently enjoyed, your Easter Holiday. As for us, it is a sunny, summery day here in Sussex – the hottest day in April since 1949 and the warmest April since records began – and we are taking full advantage of it by lounging around the sitting room complaining about the heat.

We did take a walk through town this morning, expecting to see it empty and shut up, but apparently there were a lot of people like us who had nothing else to do and thought a stroll down the high street would be just the ticket. And the number of open shops was scandalous; I thought there were laws against trading on Easter!  If I hadn't know it was Easter Sunday, I would never have guessed; it looked just like another weekend, and I find that a bit sad.  On the up side, KFC was open, so you could, if you wanted, bring your Easter dinner home in a bucket.  And from the look of the queue out the door, a lot of people did.

Anyway, after a pleasant walk around the park I have returned to my ‘office’ – the corner of the dining table – to work on The Cover.

The sequel to Postcard from across the Pond (titled More Postcards from across the Pond because I couldn’t stretch my imagination any farther than that) is well under way, and this weekend I put away my Editor’s hat in order to become head of the Art Department., which means designing a cover for the new book.

This shouldn’t be an onerous job; in order to make the brand easily recognizable, the new cover is the same basic design as the original. The difference is, instead of British icons in the foreground with America over the horizon, I decided to reverse it, with American icons in the fore. And that is where the trouble started.
This is the first cover: nice bold reds with colorful stamps
(or just take a look to your right)

American icons? Simple, the Capitol Building, the Space Shuttle, the White House, Mt Rushmore, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument… But as I pulled them together I found they had more in common besides being representative of America—they were all white.

This made for a very dull cover, so I tried again: a mailbox, cheerleaders, cup of coffee, a diner…all white-based if not totally white.

So I looked again, and found an off-white mailbox, a red car, the Statue of Liberty, a diner sign with some turquoise in it and a back drop of a collage of US money, which merely replaced the white theme with a green-based one. Now when I look at the new cover, I think of a Caribbean holiday.

So I’m back at the drawing board, trying to find a small group of items that represent the US—and is not registered McTrademarks—that are not all the same muted hue.

I’m tempted to leave it as it is, because a bland and monochrome cover would be a good metaphor for America—where else can you travel three thousand miles and still find the same stores and know exactly what is on the menu in any restaurant you enter—but, unfortunately, it makes an abysmal cover, unless I target those people who remember the Beatles’ classic White album.
Classic, don't you think?

Monday, April 18, 2011

They’re Baaaack

If I haven’t written about spiders in a while, it’s simply because I haven’t seen any.  With the arrival of spring, however, the monsters are on the move once more.

Now I don’t go out of my way to hunt spiders down; in fact, I go out of my way to not have to hunt them down.  I even occasionally allow a young spider, who has moved into a vacancy on the balcony railing, to live.  I adopt them as a sort of pet and watch them develop from cute little baby spiders that even I am not afraid of, into children spiders who look at the world with wide-eyed wonder (aww, they grow up so fast, don’t they?) and then into moody and insolent teenage spiders with their spider trousers hanging down their eight legs and their web a mess even though I have told them time and time again to clean it up, and finally into young adult spiders, eager to start a family.  This is when I kill them.

For the most part, I have no problem with the spiders who keep me company during my nightly cigar on the balcony.  They are everything I like a spider to be: somewhere I can keep an eye on them, quietly going about their own business and, most importantly, securely outside.  The ones I have a problem with are the ones who bushwhack me while I think I am safe in my flat.  This has not, I am happy to say, happened in a while.

Until last week.

We went into the bedroom to go to bed and when I turned on the light, there it was—one of the mutant spiders, the size of a badger, clinging to the wall.  Naturally, I panicked.  When my hyperventilation eased, I summoned up what courage I could find and decided to act, taking advantage of its spider Achilles Heel (they have eight, so it is a real disadvantage to them): the belief that if they remain still, no one will see them.  How they came up with that notion is beyond me—if a komodo dragon was sneaking up on you in your living room, you’d still see it even if it was standing still—but I am glad they did; for the moment, at least, I was safe and the spider was where I could see it.

Thinking fast I went off in search of a cricket bat to bludgeon the creature to death with.  Then my wife, who was calmly reading in bed (she suffers from a disturbing lack of spider-phobia) said, “Don’t squish it against the wall, it will make a mark.”  I had to admit she had a point, the blood spatter would surely mean a forfeit of our security deposit should we ever decide to move, but how, then, was I to dispatch the beast?

“Brush it on the floor and then kill it,” my wife suggested.

She was, quite obviously, mad.  If that spider hit the floor I knew I would be leaping about whacking at random and hitting everything except the spider, which would take refuge in the ironing pile (we have an abnormally large ironing pile, otherwise this would not be possible).  Then, of course, I would have to rent a room at the Travel Lodge if I expected to get any sleep.

So I got a piece of plywood and the largest serving dish we had and performed a live capture, which left me with an angry, snarling spider strapped inside a serving bowl, wondering what to do next.

“Flush it down the toilet,” my wife suggested, flipping another page.

But I knew that wouldn’t work, as I would forever after be fearful of sitting on the toilet, in case the spider didn’t die and was, instead, waiting in the depths below for its chance to exact revenge.  So I released it into the wild by heaving it over the balcony and letting it abseil to the ground below.

That, I felt certain, would be the end of it, but last night, it returned.  My wife says it was a different spider, but I recognized the tattoo on its second to the left bicep.  It was in the same place, just waiting.

Another live capture and release was performed, but now I am rethinking the toilet flushing remedy: it took the spider a week to find its way back into my flat the first time, so now that it knows the way, will it only take three days? Or two?

Frightening thoughts to dwell on, so I won’t.  For now I am safe, and can relax and enjoy the grand weather, a nice cigar and a beverage on my balcony without having to worry about spiders.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Keeping Britain

When my wife and I took our evening stroll last night, the town was littered with trash.  Crisp bags, soda bottles, empty cans, fast food wrappers, soft drink cups lined the pedestrian areas and covered the Carfax like drifting leaves.

I’m growing used to such sights, so we were halfway through our walk before I remarked that there seemed to be more garbage lying in the streets than usual, to which my wife responded, “The kids are off from school for spring break.”

This isn’t going to turn into one of those cranky rants about litter and/or “these kids today,” so hear me out: this morning, as I walked the same route to the bus stop, it was spotless.  All the trash was gone, the bins emptied (as if they needed it) and all I saw were a few council employees with their sweepers, scrubbers and leaf blowers packing up and moving on to their next job.

Now, I get up pretty early and I catch the first bus of the day, so these guys (and gals) are up even before I am, scrubbing, sweeping, cleaning and making the town presentable.  As always, I gave them a silent nod of thanks as I walked by; without them, the picturesque market square would look like a Guatemalan shanty town.

What Horsham would look like without the Council workers.

We owe these people—and others like them, those who staff our libraries, work in our leisure centers, maintain our countryside and see to your son’s broken arm—a huge debt of gratitude.  And a salary, which is where the government and I part company.  They think a great way to save money is to fire all these people—and others like them—and rely on volunteers to do the work.  They are calling it, “The Big Society” and, while they dress it up as a “let’s all pull together” initiative, what it amounts to is attempting to rebuild Britain with slave labor.

Volunteerism has its place, but you can’t run a country as a hobby.  I am not espousing any particular political belief, just stating a fact: If you want services, you have to pay for them (as we used to say, “Ass, grass or gas, nobody rides for free.”); volunteers, as the name suggests, don’t actually have to show up for work and the proponents of this scheme may find enthusiasm waning once the “workers” discover that “satisfaction of a job well done” is not, in fact, regarded as legal tender.

So as I wandered toward the bus stop, through the pristine town bathed in the glorious dawn of a new tax year, I was at once grateful for the lack of litter and those who made it possible, and a bit fearful that, in the future, I will be making this trek knee-high in garbage.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Next Level

I’m afraid you’ll need to file this one in the “Grumpy Old Man” folder; sub-folder, “These Kids Today!”  Apologies for that up front.

As you all know, my incredulity has long been rising in direct proportion to the hemlines of the skirts (and inversely proportional to the tops of the trousers) I see the young people wearing around town these days.  There’s not a lot to say about that; we looked like idiots when we were young, now it’s their turn.  Fair play, and all, except:

Sometimes I see people adopting these fashions who are old enough to know better.  A willow-thin seventeen year old can get away with wearing a pair of knee-high leather boots and a skirt that leaves little to the imagination.  And her companion is welcome to his droopy jeans showing off his boxers.  These are unforgiving fashions and should not be attempted by anyone over the age of twenty-five.  If you insist on dressing like this and you are over the age of thirty, the police should be allowed to take you into custody.  You know who you are.

But beyond that, I was finally coming to terms with the reality that young fashion is so far out of my particular loop as to make it irrelevant.  And at least the girls generally wear a dark, semi-transparent garment that my wife refers to as “leggings” and I call panty-hose without the feet.  At any rate, as long as they are wearing them, the length of their skirt really doesn’t matter.  Too much.

Lately, however, I am afraid that the next logic step is being tested: wearing no skirt whatsoever.  When I first encountered this fashion, I had hopes that it was a fluke.  We live in a busy world, and it is entirely possible the young lady in question simply forgot to put her skirt on before she left the house—Lord knows, I’m capable of doing that—but I just returned from town and, as much as I would love to believe otherwise, there simply cannot be that many absent-minded young women wandering around the High Street.

This disturbs me, not simply because it turns me into a voyeur (they’re happy to dress like that, but just try snapping photos of them and posting them to your soft-porn gallery on the Internet and suddenly people start looking at you like you’re the pervert), but because it is so unfair.  If I decided I wanted to walk around town in my underwear, I would be arrested (or at least escorted back to the Home), so why should they be allowed to disregard the rules of a polite society.  In that direction lies anarchy.

Okay, I'll get off of my soap box now.  I suppose, in the long run, it is neither surprising nor a big deal, and I’m sure, sooner or later, I’ll get used to seeing waifs wearing underwear while I'm out shopping.  But it does make me wonder what the next step is going to be.

And if you are 38 year old woman who is thinking that this might be the fashion for you, I beg you, think again.
This a photo I took for my collect…I mean, to show you
what I have to put up with.  The offending women, for
legal reasons (this is a family blog) have been digitally rendered more modest.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Jubilee Preparations

With everything else going on in the world, you could be forgiven for not noticing there as some very significant dates coming up, and in the same year, at that.

That’s right, next year, in addition to marking Queen Elizabeth’s 60th year on the throne, is the 10th Anniversaries of “Postcards,” my arrival in the UK and subsequent marriage.  I decided to kick this off now because, frankly, I don’t have much else to do, and all of the significant 9-year anniversaries are now behind me:  trip to Ireland, initial trip to the UK, etc.  If I can keep the momentum going (assuming, of course, I get it rolling in the first place) we’ll have a whole year of it.  Won’t that be swell?  You’ll love it, honest.
Queen when she was inaugurated, or coronated, or whatever.
Granted, the Queen’s “Diamond Jubilee” both sounds a bit more elegant and—by virtue of the legions of serfs already working on it—should be better organized than my “Tin Jubilee,” but even with my dearth of resources I should be able to provide a few surprises, as well as a stroll or two down amnesia lane.
Me, as events are conspiring to bring me to England
Strangely, but fortuitously, enough, I ended up walking The Worth Way this morning without prior intent.  It was something that, through a combination of circumstances, simply happened.  But as I was already planning to kick off my “Ten Year Jubilee Celebrations” with this post, and the walk took me to the very first bit of real England I saw, the Tin Jubilee seemed meant to be.

The morning was warm and inviting, mirroring the sunny autumn afternoon of a decade ago when—on my first day in England, once I’d had a brief nap after landing and a spot of lunch—my future mum and father-in-law trotted me out for some local sightseeing.  I have not been back since, and the walk was filled with nostalgic epiphanies.
The Queen, as she appears now.
The first, and most impressive, was the Worth Church, dating from 900 AD.  My mind still fogs over trying to comprehend the history behind that.

I recalled the views of that landscape and how, back then, I marvelled at how unlike America they looked.  At the start of the walk, a footbridge crosses the M23 and I remember gazing down at the traffic, surprised that there was so much of it in a country like England where people still wore tweed suits and bowler hats and walked about carrying umbrellas.  And they were driving on the wrong side of the road!

Further on, I had my first encounter with a stile, right of way (the path went through a farmyard) and holly, which I had never seen in the wild before.

So I stand poised on a significant point; my tenth year stretches out before me, giving me much to think about and be thankful for.  Stay tuned.
Me now, looking a bit better than Liz,
but then she does have a few years on me.
Incidentally, isn’t tin a crap metal for a ten-year celebration?  I know it isn’t up to gold or even silver, but what about pewter?  At least you can make a beer stein out of that.