Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Changing Views

This post should have been called “Changing the post because it’s already the 27th of December and I still haven’t replaced my Christmas-themed blog yet” but that was too long and, as luck would have it, the topic I pulled out of the “Blog Topics to Write About When You Can’t Think of Anything Else” jar happened to be the changes that have taken place in Ireland since my life-altering trip there ten years ago.
This is relevant because I needed to do something to get The Santa out of the first slot…, I mean, because I just recently completed another rewrite of Postcards From Ireland—the hilarious, must-read chronicle of a portentous trip to Ireland (that’s what I’m expecting my publisher to call it, anyway)—and as part of the writing, I spent a lot of time going over the photos I took on the trip as well as traveling to some of the locations via Google Maps ™ ©
I wasn’t able to travel to a lot of the location I had visited during that trip because, as you’ll see when you read the book (you are planning to buy the book, aren’t you?) I was lost—both physically and metaphorically—much of the time. However, I did manage to locate the Killarney Court Hotel and find my way into Killarney from there.

The Killarney Court Hotel
Killarney’s town center wasn’t drastically changed, and O’Connor’s pub was still where I remembered it to be, but the outskirts of Killarney have changed dramatically, and not for the better.
This is the view I had from my hotel window back in August 2001:

View in 2001
This is the same view (from the road) now:

View in 2011
I suppose I shouldn’t be disappointed, or surprised; progress happens whether we like it or not (mostly not) but to cover up that stunning view with a gas station and mini-mart is simply criminal. I suppose they could justify it by observing that stunning views are ten-a-penny in Ireland, but if you don’t start looking after them, you’ll soon find them all concreted over and sprouting Tesco Supermarkets, McDonald’s franchises and betting shops.

And that would be shame.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Santa

Okay, here’s my other Christmas poem; that should hold you until Boxing Day.
My favourite season and my two favourite poems welded into one; what more could I ask?
The Santa
By Edgar Allen Moore
Once upon a yuletide dreary, while my brain with sleep was weary
and sugar plum fairies danced in children's heads beyond the bedroom door.
Not a creature here was stirring; mamma in her kerchief was worrying,
I in my winter's cap was touring presents lying on the floor.
Train set, race cars, aircraft carrier and a purple dinosaur;
all in pieces on the floor.
Ah distinctly I remember it was in the chill December
and the moon its eerie light upon the fallen snow did pour.
Presently I heard a clatter, wondering what was the matter,
straight I spied an elf much fatter than any elf I'd seen before.
Drawn by reindeer in a sleigh this elf drew up outside my door.
Parked and sat, and nothing more.
Then this burgundy elf beguiling my wan spirit into smiling
By the jolly countenance and fir trimmed uniform he wore.
“Elf,” I said, “these reindeer brought you, but really don’t you think you ought to
let them go.  If PETA caught you, they’d firebomb your house for sure.
Are you immune from PC zealots?  Tell me why,” I did implore.
The fat elf smiled. “I’m Santa Claus.”
Then, me thought, the air grew colder, and my flagging spirit grew bolder,
cheered by memories of my pleasures drawn Christmases of yore.
“Santa,” I cried, “these memories hold you, like angels wings they do enfold you,
Sweet Virginia could have told you: doubters tried and failed before
to bend you to their narrow purpose and make you something to abhor.
Quote the Santa, “Never more.”
Be that word our sign of parting, elf or saint, I said, glad heartened.
Whether Coke created or sent by legends from the lusty days of yore,
you remain the true Yule Spirit, Scrooge himself was glad to hear it,
my soul is light, my mind is clear; it sadly was not so before.
But now this light will shine its tiding ever from my bosom’s core
I’ll keep the season evermore.

The Santa

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Night Before a Politically Correct Holiday

Christmas is coming, so it must be time to trot out my holiday poems again.  There must be someone out there who hasn’t read this yet:
A Politically Correct Night Before Christmas (um, I mean, A Holiday)
T'was the night before a Holiday, which one I can't say
or the politically correct will come take me away.
And I couldn't decide, for the life of me
if that thing in the corner was a bush or a tree,
when in front of my house a car horn did blare
so I put down my egg nog to see who was there.
A clean-shaven man in a gabardine suit
stepped out of a taxi cab near my front stoop.
"On Driver!" he said, and paid the cab fare
"Are you Santa?" I asked of the man standing there.
"I was once called Saint Nick," he said with a gleam,
"But lately that 'S' word has become almost obscene."
"I've been corrected for certain, though improved, I doubt it,
"Let's get out of this cold and I'll tell you about it."
I offered him cake, and bid him to try it.
"I can't," he replied, "You see, I'm on a diet.
"I'm not to have cookies or candy or sweets
"I must set an example for what children should eat.
"Overeaters Anonymous and dentists both feel
"that I need to stay slim and eat healthy meals.
"My clay pipe, of course, was the next thing to go
"The Cancer Society's lawyers said so.
"My fur suit and leather were found to offend
"militant vegans, so I had to change them
"for a synthetic blend in this neutral color.
"And I shaved off my beard to please one group or another.
"My reindeer all invoked their animal rights
"then the elves unionized and now they're on strike.
"But I no longer need toys, so they're free to go.
"Leaving presents in houses; that's illegal, you know.
"And my name has been changed, it's no longer St. Nick.
"It's now Shirley Abdul Jacob Dinosovitch."
I shook my head sadly, stunned by his speech,
was nothing beyond special interests groups' reach?
"But you aren't Shirley or Jacob or Abdul," I said,
"If you pretend that you are then you're out of your head.
"These groups want you to act as they think you should
"as if they are the ones who define what is good.
"I don't have a society, lawyer or cause
"but I do enjoy Christmas, and I want Santa Claus
"the way I remember, a jolly red elf.
"You're Santa, godamnit, get hold of yourself."
"You're right," he replied, "it's to myself I belong
"they've been holding me hostage to their values too long.
"I'm through taking cab rides, it's back to sleigh power
"and I'll offer the elves another dollar an hour.
"Let's cap this epiphany with a cup of good cheer,
"And for God's sake don't give me non-alcohol beer."
Coming soon: The Santa

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Season of The Long Nights

The end of December is rolling around again and that means it’s time to remind you how far north I am.
The answer is, quite far.
If you live in North America, unless you’re currently driving up the Trans-Labrador Highway on your way to Chimney Tickle, you’re not experiencing nights quite as long as we are these days.  And keep in mind, I’m in southern England; the people up in Inverness will have even more daylight shaved off of their 24-hour allotment.

For those of you who didn't pay attention in Earth Science
The good news—and the reason I’m reminding everyone of this—is that we’re just about over the hump.  The longest night is coming up and after that, it’s all sunshine and roses.
Well, after a few months, anyway.

This is what noon looks like right now; that’s as
high as the sun gets, and it sets quickly.
The Long Nights here in the north are what gave rise to a lot of our Christmas traditions, such as the Yule log, Wassailing (you have been out a-wassailing at least a couple of times this year, haven’t you?), holly wreaths, mistletoe, decorative lights, feasting and generally being as drunk as you can be at all times.
And it has also given rise to newer traditions, such as enduring a night of freezing cold for the off-chance of seeing a sunrise at Stonehenge (A clear day?  In Britain?  In the winter?  The odds are not good.).  This is becoming an increasingly popular activity among those who happen to own Druid robes and warm, woolen socks.  They claim to be re-enacting an ancient Druid tradition even though there is no real evidence that the ancient Druids did this or that the solstice at Stonehenge has any sort of significance.

Latter day muppets.
Still, it’s a great excuse to dress up, get drunk, party through the night and celebrate the dawn, which is, of course what it is all about; a sort of holding up of two fingers to the winter and welcoming in the spring.
And if, by some miracle, you actually get to see the sunrise, I expect it would be very pretty.

Sunrise at Stonehenge

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Baaah!  Not Humbug, Just Baaah!

A while back, The Council authorized a sculpture of some sheep to be erected in a busy roundabout on the A283 near the A27 bypass just outside of Shoreham to commemorate the founding, co-founding, current legal hold-up or latest petition in favor of The South Downs National Park.  Obviously, I haven’t been keeping up on The Park’s status as I should (I’m having a hard enough time keeping my eye on the EU) but suffice it to say the The South Downs National Park—according to Wikipedia—became fully operational on 1 April 2011 and covers an area of 628 sq miles in southern England.  There are a lot of people who are very happy about this and probably nearly as many who are not.
Settling the boundaries of The Park, of course, now allows B&Bs, Tea Shoppes and snobby Investment Bankers to advertize the fact that they are within the legitimate boundaries of an officially recognized area of outstanding natural beauty; these are the people who are in favor. It also means the lovely view of the downs the snooty banker enjoys can’t be flattened, paved over and adorned with several blocks of flats so unimaginatively ugly that they look like something out of the Borg School of Architecture.  Or, at least it’s not as easy as it used to be, which makes the developers—and people who hate snooty bankers—opposed to it.
(Aside:  It goes without saying that the development in question would have a sign hanging above it proudly proclaiming that 30% of the dark, cramped, shoddy flats would be “affordable.”  Now, I have addressed this before, but this is a different angle so don’t skip ahead—some of this material will be on the quiz.
If 30% of the flats are affordable, then by definition, 70% of them are beyond the fiscal range of the average buyer.  But, also by definition, there are more average people than above-average people, so who is buying 70% of the properties?  And where are the other 70% of the average people sleeping?  Under a bridge?
Okay, back to the sheep.)
It’s not unusual for councils to commission sculptures for roundabouts—there is a huge soccer ball in the roundabout just outside of Broadfield Stadium in Crawley, and in Dorking, on the intersection of the As 24 and 25, they have erected a giant cock.

The Dorking Cock - no, I am not making this up.
So the sheep should not have been a problem, except that some people thought they looked too real.  Apparently people were coming up to the roundabout and thinking, “Ohmigod!  There’s a flock of sheep loose on the A283.”  So the council, in their wisdom, attempted to ease people’s minds by painting the sheep green.  Then, of course (but you saw this coming, didn’t you) people drove up to the roundabout thinking, “Ohmigod!  There’s a flock of green sheep loose on the A283!”

The Green Sheep of Sussex
So instead of erecting a sign saying something like, “These sheep are NOT real!” they put yellow hazard barriers around them, so now people can’t see the sheep, but they can see the hazard barrier, which will make them think, “Ohmigod!  There’s an accident on the A283!  I’ll need to start rubbernecking and creating a traffic hazard!”
So now we have a sculpture, painted green and surrounded by hazard barriers for the safety of our commuters.
But that is not the reason I like Britain; the reason I like Britain is that, on the news, when they reported this story, the newscaster deadpanned:
“For those of you who live in an urban area, this is what a real sheep looks like.”

Actual Sheep
Really, you gotta love that.

Monday, December 12, 2011

We Need A Little Christmas

Boy, don’t people just piss you off?  Is there no end to the things they will do seemingly just to get your blood to boil?  And I’m not talking about David Cameron, Obama, Newt or the morons running the EU, I’m talking about the “special” people – you know, those people to whom The Rules do not apply – who do things like move the bollards so they can drive through a pedestrian area full of Christmas shoppers.
The problem is, once you get into a rant about people like that, you’ll be there all day if you don’t stop; it’s like eating potato chips.  And that’s what I said to the lady at the till in the shop where I was making a Christmas purchase (in the interest of keeping it a surprise for my wife, I won’t mention what shop it was).  The woman agreed (shop keepers are generally agreeable when you are handing money over to them) and we decided it was best to just leave the special people alone and just let them go on being special; no sense letting them ruin your day.
By the way, the woman in the shop started it; I may be turning into a grumpy old man, but I had been feeling quite chipper—peace on earth, good will toward men and all that—when I entered the store.  Once she began, however, it wasn’t long before I picked up the refrain and starting singing from the same hymn sheet.
After our agreed cease-fire I left the shop feeling as chipper as when I had gone in, which is a good thing because it was such a lovely, sunny day and I was out Christmas shopping in a town where Christmas shopping is a delight.

The Market Place
Unlike in a lot of places—US or UK—where shopping involves fighting traffic on the way to the mall, vying for a parking space once you get to the mall and then contending with crowds as you make your way through the vast labyrinth from store to store to store, all I need to do is walk five minutes into town and I’m in a Christmas wonderland.
Although we have a mall, it is well hidden behind traditional shops and, inside, its halls are festively decked and some of the employees are encouraged to get into the spirit by dressing up.  Outside, the shops are likewise decorated and the Saturday market—throughout December—is complimented by a Sunday Christmas market.   And every Saturday at noon a band plays in the Carfax bandstand.

What a 101 Dalmatians theme has to do with Christmas,
I don't know. And what a green dragon has to do with
either Christmas or 101 Dalmatians, I don't know either.

The Carfax Bandstand
On days like today, when the sun is shining and it is agreeably warm, it is an absolute pleasure to wander among the stalls and peruse the wares in the shops.  It almost makes the startlingly long queue at the Post Office worth the hassle.
So despite Cameron and his ilk, and the moron bollard-mover, peace, tranquility and good will reigned.  At least until I get home and turned on the news.