Friday, April 27, 2018

Glory, Glory

I have been living in Britain for over sixteen years now, and in my earliest days here, I heard about an ice cream concoction called a Knickerbocker Glory. It was, they told me, the ultimate childhood treat, a combination of ice cream, whipped cream, sauces, sprinkles and other yummy stuff served up in a tall glass.

It sounded like something I needed to try, so I kept searching for one, but they were nowhere to be found. The more I looked, the more elusive they seemed. My friends assured me they were a favored childhood treat, but it seemed they had become extinct during the ensuing years.

Yet I still heard rumors of them. Like the Yeti or Bigfoot, there were unverified sightings by friends and acquaintances, but never any concrete proof that they still existed in the wild or, more importantly, any sighting of my own.

Then, in an ice cream shop along the seafront in Ramsgate in Kent, there, on the menu, was the elusive Knickerbocker Glory. Naturally, I ordered one straight away.

Yummy, but vertical.

It was everything my friends had promised it would be, but left me wondering why it was considered the ultimate treat. I enjoyed it thoroughly, but in the end, it was just a vertical banana split, without the bananas. A banana split, being horizontal, has much more room for whipped cream and toppings and, as an added bonus, you get a banana with it.

While I am glad I finally got to tick that off of my To Do list, if I ever visit that ice cream parlor again, I’ll order the banana split instead.

Horizontal, and yummier.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

My Name is Michael

I’ve just had what you might call an intervention.

I guess I was in denial. You know the tune: I’m not dependent on it, I’m just a casual user, I can quit any time. It’s a comfortable little lie to live inside of, until something happens…

So, yeah, this morning, my Smartphone broke.

I visited most of the seven stages of grief—desperation, disbelief, bargaining, anger, hope—everything except acceptance. I performed CPR (Continually Pressing Reset) and tried defibrillation by plugging it back into the charger, but nothing worked. It happened hours ago and I’m still carrying my poor, dead phone around in my pocket, like Kala, the gorilla-mother of Tarzan, who continued to clutch her dead baby to her chest until she found a substitute in the white-skinned child. And like Kala, I’m still taking out its cold, dead body to shake it and press the ON/OFF button, hoping against hope that it will miraculously come back to life.

I was going to post a photo of my dead Smartphone,
but I need my Smartphone to take the photo.
Oh, the humanity!
I think my lack of acceptance is because it happened so suddenly. If it had been behaving strangely, or had a warranty about to expire, I might have been more emotionally prepared for it. But it was so sudden. Its alarm went off this morning, like always, I turned it off, unplugged it from the charger, checked my e-mail, updated my Garmin Activity-Tracker, read a few news articles, and put it on the desk beside me.

Not five minutes later, I got an e-mail saying I had a message from HMRC telling me I needed to log into their site to get an important message from them. (For you US readers, HMRC stands for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, which is the UK version of the IRS, and like the IRS, you do NOT ignore messages from them.) So I went to the site, put in my username and password and got a screen telling me they had—for security reasons—sent a text, containing the access key, to my mobile phone.

As soon as I picked up the phone, I knew something was wrong. It seemed colder than usual, less lively, less animated. I felt a chill bloom in my stomach. And then I looked into its blank, dead face. It was, it was…sorry, I can’t talk about it.

Since then, I’ve missed several alarms that were to go off to remind me to do things, I couldn’t check my schedule, I couldn’t use the satnav, I couldn’t look anything up, I couldn’t listen to any music, I couldn’t access the calculator. The emptiness stretched on and on.

It was then that I realized I had a problem, so I checked (on my laptop, because my phone…well, you know) for some group to help me, someone going through the same thing I was, and to my relief, there is an  organization to assist people like me. It’s called by the unwieldy name of Addicted to Smartphone (Small, Handheld Or Large) Electronic Systems, but is better known by the acronym ASSHOLES.

It was a relief to know I was in good company. Those people who use their Smartphones in the cinema or the theatre, they are ASSHOLES, the couples in restaurants who, over dinner, ignore each other and spend the evening glued to their Smartphones, they are ASSHOLES, the people who cluster in front of paintings in an art gallery taking photos of it on their Smartphones, they are ASSHOLES, the people on the train who shout into their Smartphones, “I’M ON THE TRAIN…” they are ASSHOLES, as are the people who wander into traffic while sending texts, or take calls while they are driving. They are, like me, all ASSHOLES.

But now that I know I’m one of the ASSHOLES, I can start my recovery. I can begin to start learning to live without my Smartphone, to be more self reliant, to realize I don’t have to be connected all the time. And someday, by the grace of God, and by taking it one day at a time, I may no longer be one of the ASSHOLES.

Yeah, her, too.
I am, however, going to go out promptly tomorrow morning to see if I can get my phone fixed. It’s okay though, really, I don’t have a problem. I’m not dependent on it, or anything, I’m just a casual user, I can quit any time.

If you want to find out if you are one of the ASSHOLES, take this quiz:

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Practice Retirement

My wife begins her retirement today. Sort of.

She’s actually been off for the past four days, but that doesn’t count because it was the Easter Holiday weekend and she’d have had it off anyway. Also, she’s not really retired, she’s just sampling the life of leisure to see if it suits her. It’s a sort of practice retirement, to see if she’s ready for the real thing.

Most people don’t find retirement difficult, but my wife has one of those jobs that defines you, like police, fire fighter or serial killer. She works in social services. It’s a calling, not a job, and it’s what she has wanted to do from an early age, so giving it up is not something to be undertaken lightly. Our Plan had her retiring last summer, but she decided she wanted to keep working. The Tory government being what it is, however, meant that the job, and its increasingly insane directives, began putting undue stress on her, and I encouraged her to rethink her decision.

Stole this off the web.
Fortunately, and uncharacteristically, her employer came to the rescue by offering something called a Career Break, which would allow her to take a year off—without pay—to rest, recharge, rethink and then return to work. Or not. It proved to be the prefect solution: she gets to be a layabout for a year, realize what it is like to have a lot of time on her hands but no income, and then decide if she wants to keep it that way or go back to the job that was slowly killing her. Really, it was a no-brainer, so she took the offer and her final day of work (for a year, at least) was last Thursday.

So far, thanks to the holiday weekend, it’s had no impact on us, although we did celebrate last Friday by going out to dinner at our town’s Michelin star restaurant, because there is no better way to commemorate a 50% loss of aggregate income than by spending the equivalent of our bi-weekly grocery bill on a single meal. But it was worth it just to be in a restaurant where the servers don’t wear name-tags and you’re discouraged from hanging your coat over the back of your chair. From today onward, however, things are bound to be a bit different.

When my wife was only home on weekends, I had the whole week to myself. I’d get up early, then write, play music, go into town, take a nap or go see friends, and not have to worry about informing anyone of my plans. On weekends, there was a different routine, involving a cup of tea first thing in the morning (yes, I do get up and make my wife a cup of tea first thing in the morning), then, generally, a walk in the park, a tour around town (just to see what they’re getting up to these days), a protracted discussion about what we might have for lunch, and then having it. And then I’d follow her around the flat and annoy her for the rest of the day.

That’s fine for two days in a row, but now every day is Saturday. That’s a lot of cups of tea, which I don’t mind, but it’s also a lot of days I might be tempted to sleep late, which would impact my writing. So I somehow have to get used to the idea that, although my wife is not getting up to go to work, I still need to get up early and do as much writing as I can before it’s time to bring her a cup of tea because, after that, I’ll just follow her around the flat and annoy her for the rest of the day.

I expect there will be a lot of adjustments. I also suspect that, like me, after a few months she’ll begin to wonder how she ever fit a full-time job into her schedule.

In anticipation of this event, and feeling that I ought to keep at least a little of my time free to spend with my wife, I sat down and listed all the tasks I was performing, and how much time they took up. The total came to 46 hours per week. Now, I don’t necessarily have to do all of those things every week, but still, that’s more than a full-time job, and I’m supposed to be retired!

So, as you can see, changes need to occur in both our lives if we’re going to achieve any sort of balance. I’m all for that; I suspect a lot of the things I do are unnecessary and won’t be missed if I drop them from my routine.

We’ll be keeping that morning cup of tea, however.

Stole this, too, but then I modified it.