Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sod’s Law: a Practical Application

This week finds me suddenly and unexpectedly sojourning through the land of my youth. It is a reflective time, an opportunity to visit old haunts, reacquaint myself with long-lost friends and face some forgotten ghosts. I am here on my own—no adult supervision—and I find it strange to be so far away from my wife for such a long time. For the past ten years she has been at my side almost constantly, and now here I am back in my old home town, free to run with scissors and stay up past my bed time.

This would be a marvelous opportunity to explore the arc of the expat’s life, or delve into the “what ifs” of a life left behind, or ruminate on the nature of home and the aching nostalgia for youth and times past. But instead I’m going to complain about the weather.

As you know (or you jolly well should if you’ve been paying attention) Sussex has been under water for the past three months. After a long, wonderful stretch of lovely weather, that culminated in late March in the most glorious week of sun and blue sky I have seen in ten years, the event I had been promising the doomsayers (they of the “we’re having a drought, we’re all going to die” persuasion) happened: it rained.

And it rained. And it rained. The weeks from the beginning of April through the middle of July conspired to make 2012 the wettest year in the history of the solar system (barring that bit with Noah some years ago). I accepted it with the usual British stoicism (“well, we really need the rain”), ironic humor (“Strange that we are still in ‘drought’ while the villages are being swept away by flood water”) and, eventually, the basic British attitude toward the weather: after ten year in Britain, I finally got it—the weather sucks.

By mid-July I was so very sick of rain and grey skies and low clouds and cold. On a recent weekend, my wife and I spent a Sunday afternoon sitting on the sofa wrapped in blankets, sipping hot tea and reading books, snug and comfy while the wind blew and cold rain battered the windows, which might have constituted a perfect afternoon if it had happened in February instead of the middle of sodding July.

And so, when it came to pass that I was to return to my homeland, I can’t say I was sorry to leave the dreary weather behind. My hometown, like much of the US, was suffering through a long spell of hot, dry weather and, despite the fact it is devastating crops and wreaking general havoc, I thought a week or so in the sunshine would do me a world of good.

But you already know this is not what happened. You know this, not because you have been studying weather maps for the past week (as I have) but because you understand (or soon will) that Sod’s Law is the fundamental foundation of the universe. Forget the Higgs Boson Particle, when they manage to dig further and find what’s behind it, they will find Sod’s Law underpinning everything. So here is the brief story of my quest for sunshine, you’ll know it’s true because you can’t make this stuff up:

I left Britain in grey, damp weather wearing a jacket. I arrived to a glorious summer night. The next day summer weather suddenly returned to Sussex, and rain arrived in NY. Now, while I have experienced some stunning interludes of sunshine and warm weather, every day that I have been here has had at least some rain and, overall, the skies have remained cloudy. It rained yesterday, it is raining as I write this—a steady, soaking rain that looks as if it is here for the day—and the worst thing is, the people here are cheering it.

Back home, of course, my wife reports warm weather and blue skies (and I checked the Met weather site—she’s not just having a laugh, it really is nice over there, sometimes warmer than it is here).

I have one more day here, and the forecast is for rain. I’ll be back in sunny Sussex soon, but the forecast for the day I return is—you guessed it—rain.

I’m thinking they should start sending me to areas of the world that are in severe drought; they could well use the rain, and it would be quite an achievement to finally harness Sod’s Law and use its power for good. As far as benefit to mankind goes, it would be much more useful than the Higgs Boson Particle.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Blast From the Past

Been busy lately. Not only with my real job but working on my novel, Finding Rachel Davenport, due out this autumn. But I am conscious of not having posted in a long time, so I thought I’d dredge up one of my favorite posts from the past. This one is about the time I got sick and threw up while staying over with some friends in Bognor; it’s such a favorite, I included it in my second book, More Postcards From Across the Pond.

Well, enough about me. Here’s more about me, and The Night of the Loud Burps:

The Technicolor Yawn
14 December 2009

Hopefully, you won’t think this represents a new low for me, but while I was up last night talking to Ralph on the Big White Phone, it occurred to me that we haven’t really broached that subject, and now is the perfect time for it.  If you’re a bit squeamish, or would like to continue to think of this blog as a welcome oasis of quality writing, you might be better off looking at something else.

Giving your meal a round-trip ticket is no joy in any circumstance, but this particular episode took place while we were staying with friends.  We’d spent a lovely afternoon browning around Arundel, a quaint little town with a castle and a cathedral that, as a bonus, happened to be having it’s Christmas Fete while we were there.  There were bands and beer booths and the type of small town festivities you generally only see in Midsommer Murders.  Afterwards we retired to our friend’s manor for dinner and some postprandial libations.  We had a nice chat, then retired.

An hour later my eyes shot open and I found myself fully awake in an unfamiliar room wondering what it was that roused me.  And a voice, way in the back of my mind whispered.

“Get ready, you’re going to throw up.”

“Hey, who said that?  That’s a perfectly ludicrous idea.  Get it out of your head right now.  Think good thoughts.  Yes, that’s better.”

“No, I think you’re about to toss your cookies.”

“No, clearly not!  Stop thinking that!”

“Sorry, but it’s true.”

This went on for some time.  I don’t know about you, but this is necessary for me, it is a sort of coming to terms, my “seven stages” of nausea, if you will.  It suits me well because, by the time I reach acceptance and head for the porcelain bus, I am immediately ready to start driving, so to speak.  And that’s a good thing, because once you assume the position, there’s no sense in hanging about.

And so I stumbled through the darkness, found the little room and proceeded to serve up what looked like a Dulux color chart.

Over the years, having been in a variety of relationships, I have had occasion to be around other people while they were making friends with the toilet and I have always marvelled at the ones—and this means almost all of them—who manage this feat in relative silence.  I once had the opportunity to witness the young lady in the seat next to me making use of her air-sickness bag, and if I hadn’t known what the bag was for, I would have had no idea what she was doing.  (I have always dreaded having to make use of one.  Have you seen the size of them?  I could fill three with the first gastro geyser.  I’d have to have a line of people on one side passing them to me and another line to pass the full ones to.)

Anyway, you get my point, many people seem to be able to have dinner in reverse gear in relative silence—I, however, cannot.  When I start calling the buffalos, that’s exactly what it sounds like; this is an activity I like to share with the rest of the household, the neighbors, and the people down the street.

Chagrined as I was, I put it down to excess and returned to bed.  An hour later I was wide awake and arguing with myself once more, signifying that it wasn’t a drink-induced spewing, but a bonafied illness.  This continued on an hourly basis until I had fully reviewed the day’s menu.  My friend, who drank as much whiskey as I had, slept blissfully through it, but his wife, with her mother-radar, was not so fortunate.

In the morning, I felt like ten miles of bad road, but my wife and I managed to make our way home without incident (read: I didn’t make a carpet pizza on the train) and I slept the day away.

I feel marginally better now (thanks for asking) but, with another three day business trip beginning tomorrow at 5 AM, I find myself wavering as to my fitness for such a task.  Part of me wants to just stay in bed for the next few days, but the other part of me (that tiny portion some people call “responsibility” but I refer to as “that sanctimonious prig”) insists that is not an option.

I suppose the only thing I can do is pack, get ready, and see if I can go the night without yodelling down the porcelain canyon.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Another Independence Day

It surprises many of my American friends just how small a dot the 4th of July is on Britain's radar.  To answer your question: No, the British are not still upset about losing the revolutionary war, nor do they give much thought to it.  They concern themselves with the War of American Independence (which, by the by, is what they call it—it was no revolution for them) about as much as the average American concerns his or her patriotic self with Whitsun.

In past years, this day has received little notice from me, as well; being, as it is, a work day, I traditionally find myself in the office, on the road or otherwise in a position not conducive to celebration, causing this most American of days to suffer more than its fair share of neglect.  This year, however, I was able to do something about it:

On the day—that is to say, last night—the stars aligned and I found myself home at a relatively early hour, with the shops still open and my wife out for the evening (leaving me without adult supervision).  So I nipped into town where I bought the makings of a barbeque (a minimalist barbeque, at any rate) and a few sparklers.

Now, I have seen disposable barbeques before, but up to this point I had never attempted to light one, nor had I enjoyed the opportunity to cook on one as it sat in the middle of my postage-stamp sized balcony.  Sadly, I never did discover the delights of preparing burgers on a tinfoil packet filled with smoldering charcoal because the only advantage the disposable barbeque provided was to fill the sitting room with smoke, thereby giving it an authentic 4th-of-July-picnic aroma.  The charcoal may have smoldered, but it never got hot, so I ended up cooking the burgers and hot dogs on the stove and dousing the disposable smoke-machine with water before the neighbors decided to call the fire brigade.

Complete and utter rubbish

And so, after only minor inconvenience and suffering an acceptable level of smoke-inhalation, I dined on a 4th of July-type dinner: a double cheese burger, a hot dog on a roll, some really awful pre-made potato salad and a small packet of crisps (that's potato chips to you over in the Land of the Free).

I have to admit feeling a bit disconnected from my homeland these days.  With a decade of living in Britain under my belt, I find I know more about European politics than the upcoming presidential race, and in any practical sense—such as knowing the price of a pint of milk (come to think of it, I don't know the price of a pint of milk here, either), how you are paid (direct debit, check, barter), what the current cell-phone coverage is like (when I lived there, it was rubbish) or how many people are left to die in the street because they don't have health coverage (well, that's what I heard)—I have no idea what you are up to over there.  But I am still an American, and because of that, when the 4th of July rolls around, my DNA longs for hot dogs and burgers, potato salad and a warm summer night filled with fireworks and Lee Greenwood belting out "Proud to be an American" from the boom box sitting on the tailgate of uncle Bert’s pickup truck.

Well, I managed the hot dog and burger, and almost enjoyed the potato salad.  I couldn't conjure up a warm summer night (it was 50 degrees and drizzling) and I didn't have any fireworks, but I did have some sparklers.

"Proud to be an American..."

My only regret is that I didn't look up old Lee on YouTube and blare my laptop on the balcony as loud as the speakers would go before distortion set in.  I suppose that's just as well; like the store-bought potato salad, it might have just proved a disappointment.  Sometimes, nothing short of the real thing will do.
C'mon, sing along!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


This afternoon, I made a pretty young woman very happy.  This is not something I do with any regularity these days, so I thought I should remark on it.

Her name is Rachel Davenport.  I don’t think she’ll mind me putting her name on here because, soon enough, she’ll be famous anyway.  You see, some years ago, my wife and I went into the travel agency where she works and booked a flight.  I’m not sure where we were going on that particular trip, but that isn’t important; what is important is that, as we left, she handed me her business card.

“Rachel Davenport, International Travel Consultant,” I read out to my wife, as we returned to the street.  “It sounds like a superhero.”

And so, over the next year, I wrote a book titled Rachel Davenport, International Travel Consultant about a young woman who works in a travel agency by day but fights crime as a self-styled superhero at night.  Admittedly, it was a strange concept.  Stranger still is the fact that I have found a publisher willing to take it on.

Chuffed as I was over this unexpected but delightful turn of events, I couldn’t help entertaining dark thoughts about the real Rachel, and what reaction she might have to being the subject of a book (because you know I’m going to make certain everyone in town knows about it).  Odds were that she would be flattered and happy with the situation, but there was always the chance that she and a few of her mates might corner me in a dark stairwell in the mall and do a beat down on me with their handbags.

“What the fook you playin’ at using my name and not paying me residuals, eh, wanker?  I’m callin’ my solicitor, innit!”

So, to put my mind at rest, I visited the travel agency where she still works and, with less awkwardness than I had a right to expect (seeing as I was a perfect stranger walking in out of the blue to tell her I had written a book about her), told her the story of her business card, my manuscript and the upcoming publication.  She was, thankfully, thrilled, and she and her work mates did a lot of giggling, speculating and extracting of promises to keep them updated on progress.

The book, of course, has nothing to do with her personally; I don’t even know her.  The heroine of my novel is an ex-child prodigy and media darling who decides to chuck it all in for the quiet life of a secret crime-fighter.  It’s sort of like Stephanie Plum meets Sheldon Cooper.  (What?  Too obscure?  Remember, Google is your friend.)

As I left, she offered me another business card.  It read, “Rachel Davenport, Manager.”

“Sorry,” I told her, “there’s no book in that.”

Stephanie Plum

Postscript:  Yes, the above is fact.  I did write a book based on a business card and a publisher really did agree to publish it.  The ebook will be out this autumn; the paperback will follow soon after.

Sheldon Cooper
Watch this space.