Tuesday, August 30, 2011

No Respecter of Seasons

Right now I’m wearing my one and only corduroy shirt.  Let’s say it’s in honor of it being the Tuesday after August Bank Holiday weekend, which roughly equates to the British Labor Day Weekend.  If that sound like I’m fitting the occasion to the shirt, that’s because I am; I didn’t wear the shirt because it is the season for it, I wore the shirt because it came up in the rotation.  I wear corduroy any time of the year here.  Go on, call the fashion police.  I’ll wait.
You see, they don’t have the rule about not wearing corduroy before Labor Day here.  Frankly, I didn’t know they had it in America, either, until one day—and I must have been in my mid-thirties by this time—I went to work wearing my favorite corduroy pants (for the British contingent, that means I was wearing corduroy trousers, not underwear; corduroy knickers would chaff).  I was a happy fashion icon, until a friend of mine came up to me and asked:
“Why are you wearing corduroy?  It’s not after Labor Day.”
Imagine my embarrassment; committing such a fashion faux pas.  In truth, I didn’t give it much thought, until I got home and realized, “There are rules associated with this type of fabric,” and, uncertain what they might be (this was before the Internet, so I couldn’t just look it up on Google) I never wore any again.
Until I came to Britain.
Oh, I didn’t jump in right away; I’m not that brave.  It wasn’t until I had a few years under my belt, and my wife and I were shopping at Marks & Spencer and I saw this really nice corduroy shirt.  My wife said I should buy it.  I asked if it was a fashion crime to wear corduroy before Labor Day in Britain.  My wife asked, “What’s Labor Day?”
So I bought the shirt.

Okay, so she looks better in corduroy than I do.
And I can wear it any time of the year.  That’s because—in addition to there being no attire regulation against it—the weather is pretty much the same here all year.  Take now for instance.  I’m on the balcony enjoying a beverage and a cigar, it’s cloudy and a bit cool but still pleasant, and it could pass for a mild midday in February, an early spring morning, an autumn afternoon or, what it is, a late summer’s evening.
Sometimes I think the weather here is a bit boring, but when I hear reports of bridges, road and people being swept away in the latest weather disaster to inflict itself on my old home town, I think it’s not so bad over here after all.
As long as I have my corduroy shirt.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Out of Time: Shannon Bound

As part of my Tin Jubilee Celebration (ten years as an expat) I am re-running web journal posts (remember those?) from August 2001—the year I visited Ireland, met my wife and began this adventure.
Wednesday, 15 August 2001, 10:25 PM
I know it’s been a while since I’ve updated, but I’ve been kinda busy.  It will also be a long time before I update again, because I be kinda gone.
All this week I’ve been preparing for my trip to Ireland.  I went out to my favorite Irish pub and did some pub dancing.  I attended an Irish Festival with bands, and pipers, and our own Boland dancers.  I’ve been busy practicing my own piping and dancing.  I've been playing Irish ballads on my guitar.  I'm even working with my penny whistle.  And I’ve been drinking lots of Guinness.
Now all I have to do is pack.
In addition to all of this, I've been rehearsing my "Why yes, I AM a little bit Irish on my mother's side" speech.  I want it to sound natural, as if I've been saying it all my life.  Actually, her grandparents came from Germany but that isn't going to do me a lot of good in an Irish pub, surrounded by Irish Catholics, once they realize there is a Limey, Protestant in the midst.
When I used to sing in Irish pubs.  I sang under the name Merv Galway and never told anyone any different.  On St. Patrick's Day, when they all had a few pints of bitter under their belts and were ready to join up with the IRA, things could get fairly nasty at the mere mention of an Orangeman.  No way am I going to rub elbows with the locals in Ennis, Galway, Limerick or Ballina without some Irish in me.
I’ll be landing in Shannon on Friday morning, and from there I’ll be going on a week-long hiking tour of the western coast, through counties Mayo and Galway and Clare.  After that, I’m heading off on my own.  I’m traveling light and alone so I hope to cover a lot of ground.
And don’t worry; I’m bringing my digital camera and enough memory for about 350 photos. I won’t post all of them, but I’m sure I’ll be tempted to try.
Tomorrow at 2:00 PM I leave.  At this time I'll be hopefully sleeping in a plane somewhere over the Atlantic.  At midnight our time I land in Heathrow, then hop to Ireland's Shannon Airport, disembarking at 8:00 AM their time, 3:00 AM my time.  The jet lag is going to be a drag!
I hope to get through it before the hikes begin but I’m afraid it may be a problem.  Right now I'm very sleepy.  I hope I get my second wind before then.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Out Of Time: Hot, Mellow and Nostalgic

As part of my Tin Jubilee Celebration (ten years as an expat) I am re-running web journal posts (remember those?) from August 2001—the year I visited Ireland, met my wife and began this adventure.
Saturday, 11 August 2001, 6:30 PM
While pre-packing this evening, I ran across a photo album.  That got me jonsing for more photos, which got me looking at all of my 2001 photos on my PC, which got me nostalgic for crisp autumn mornings and cool spring evenings and, yes, even nippy winter afternoons.  That set off the urge to enjoy the languid summer days we are currently experiencing, so I’m out on the patio enjoying the living hell out of this, the hottest day of the year.
The day is far from over, but the sun has hidden behind a bank of clouds in the west.  In front of me, and to my left the sky is still blue, and the temperature has fallen to a mere 96 degrees.
My impending trip also has me eager to enjoy these steamy days.  And is it some sort of hot!  This is day five of over 90 degrees and day three of over 100.  I’m sitting out here with a cold Trappist Ale and a cigar, doing nothing more strenuous than type and take an occasional sip and I’m sweating rivulets.  Still, this is highly unusual; generally, mid-August sees the beginning of cool nights and, once I leave, I won’t see another New England evening until nearly September, when the cool nights turn into chilly evenings.
And, much as I’ll miss summer, I won’t mind that, not at all.  I’m already looking forward to sweaters and flannel shirts and baking bread and making stew and cheeks tingling from the crisp morning air.
I have much to do before I leave, however.  There’s shopping, packing, visits, preparations, etc.  And it’s only a week away.  Next week at this time, I’ll be on my way, heading out over the Atlantic, hopefully in a fine state of inebriation.  At midnight, our time, I’ll be in Heathrow.  Two hours later I’ll be in Ireland.  Man, what a story that’s going to make!
The job is going well, too.  I’m a little lost, but I can feel myself catching on.  It is, after all, mostly a matter of being organized.  And I’m nothing if not organized.
But the interviews; what a sad thing they are!  I’m trying to hire some people but we’re at the end of the list where the bottom-feeders dwell.  I feel badly for them, I really do because I was there, I was one of them, I was trying, just like they are, to get ahead.  And just like them, all I encountered was frustration.  I would like to help them, but I’m looking for the one with that spark, the spark I saw in Nancy and in Diane (two of my ex-assistants) that says they have what it takes.  So far I feel like Diogenes searching for an honest man.
This heat is wilting me, but I like it.  Still, I think I’ll stop even this activity and just enjoy the rest of my Excalibur and Trappist ale.  I won’t have many more evening like this for a while.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Summer Nights

As part of my Tin Jubilee Celebration (ten years as an expat) I am re-running web journal posts (remember those?) from August 2001—the year I visited Ireland, met my wife and began this adventure.
Tuesday, 7 August 2001, 9:53 PM
The nights are soft and sultry lately, and the days hot and humid.  It’s the type of summer I love and, even though I can’t say I won’t appreciate the cool autumn afternoons, I’m still not sick of this weather.
It’s been an interesting couple of days.  My dancing and bag piping are taking up a lot of my time and I’m finding both to be satisfying.  Especially the piping; I’m on the actual pipes now, playing real songs.  This means I’m in that enviable position where, all I have to do is learn one song reasonably well and I’ve improved by 100%.  If I’m pleased with my progress, I must be doing well.
Last week, I took the twins out for their 21st birthday.  We went to dinner at the Outback Steak House and I gave them their presents.  They didn’t make a big deal out of it or anything, even though I tried to get the point across that this wasn’t just an ordinary birthday.
The next day, I left for Philadelphia to spend the weekend with a distant cousin and her husband who I had met through the family tree website.  That was a trip!  They were both very nice people and made me feel quite welcome.  Another distant cousin came over the first night and we visited and talked about the family for a few hours.  The only odd thing is (or maybe, in this family, it isn’t so odd) that my cousin and her husband don’t hold ‘regular’ jobs; they work for organized crime.  “Mostly gambling and counterfeiting,” as he explained it, making it seem like he was in banking or retail or something.  He works for one of the three or four operations in the city, collecting money and selling prescription drugs they get from the counterfeit scripts they procure from a pharmacist who is heavily into gambling.  “It’s a no-risk operation,” he explained.

A visit with The Family
Being in such a business, they tended to keep strange hours.  Phone calls were constant and he kept stepping out to the corner to “conduct business.”  I went to bed at 1:00 AM only to find out they both stayed up until dawn.  We had breakfast at 1:00 PM and dinner that night at 10 o’clock.  During the afternoon, he went out while my cousin and I stayed home and talked.  He returned about 5:00 PM with a big bag of freshly harvested pot plants and several thousand dollars.  My cousin and I continued talking while he dumped it all on the table and then we all began cleaning the pot and bundling the money.  Handguns were everywhere.
I can’t say I was spooked by any of it, but I wasn’t really sorry to leave.
Right now, I’m gearing up for vacation.  I’ve asked for my mail to be stopped, I’m starting to buy and borrow things I’m going to need and I’m making lists of what I need to bring and what I need to buy for people while I’m over there.  In two weeks, I’ll have been there for some time; in three weeks, I’ll STILL be there.  This weekend will be spent doing some final prep and next Thursday Jeanne—a friend of mine from work—is taking me to the airport.
After all those years with She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, I am so enjoying the single life, where every day is a new opportunity.  I like just picking up and running off to Philly or meeting people at a Feis (Irish dance festival) or going to a party and not having to look at my watch all the time.  I will not allow myself to be put back into that box!
Last week, on the one day I didn’t have something to do, I stopped over at Jeanne’s house.  That turned into quite a late night of neighbors and friends and beer and trips to search for a lost cat.  It was like something out of Seinfeld, and I had a ball.  One of her neighbor couples, Joe and Rosemary, had a friend form West Virginia up for the week.  Her name was Lynn and she apparently took a liking to me since she asked Jeanne if she would give her my phone number and e-mail address.  Of course, I told her she could.  Lynn, after all, lives too far away to be any type of threat to my freedom, and a trip or two to West Virginia might prove to be a nice diversion.
My new job is going okay, as well.  In many ways it’s comforting that it is all so hopeless; I’m not about to be held accountable for anything being late with absolutely no staff to work on any of the projects.  I had a meeting today with the people involved in the most urgent, major project, and the lead woman turned out to be another bagpiper.  In fact, she is the Pipe Major of Tara Hall, the band my piping teacher wants me to join.
Other than that, it’s been calm and serene.  I’m out on the patio now with my laptop, enjoying the warm night air, listening to the sounds of the suburbs and taking in the scents of summer.  Soon, I’ll be off to Ireland, and when I return, it will be nearly September.  I doubt I’ll have many more days to sit out here in bare feet and shorts.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Out of Time

Let’s take a trip, you and I, to a time before.
Before I was an expat, before Postcards From Across the Pond existed.  A time of quiet days, peace and a fragile tranquillity, when the belief in our invincibility still had a few precious weeks before it was shatter and I was looking forward to my first trip abroad.  A time, just ten years ago today.
I had an on-line journal even then.  It chronicled my adventures in Irish dance.  There were no blogs back then, not as we know them.  This was a time of innocence, when we few, we happy few, posted our rambling to an appreciative audience simply because it gave us joy.  No one thought much about ‘branding,’ no one knew such a thing existed.
It seems ages ago, and yet like yesterday, but the calendar assures me that exactly ten years have passed.  So this is what I propose to do, if you please, and if you’ll come with me.  No, this is not a marketing ploy, and I have no delusions of SEO or gain of any kind.  I simply want to go back in time, to that place before, and watch it turn into now.  Over the coming month, I will post the entries from my journal, mirroring the actual days in that August of ten years ago, the year I made the trip to Ireland and the unexpected journey into place I am now.
I’ll post the first entry on the 8th and, after that I am afraid the posts are somewhat sporadic, until the 17th, when I begin posting every day.  The first of many postcards from across the pond, though I did not know that at the time.
And so the journey begins; I hope you’ll come along, and if you enjoy the trip a fraction as much as I did back then, I will feel it has all been worthwhile.