Tuesday, July 31, 2018


Oh, yeah, we went to America. Sorry, I kinda forgot.

We left over a month ago and got back three weeks ago. And by the next day it seemed to slip into the past, as vacations are wont to do. I think this trip, more than others, slipped my mind for a variety of reasons: it was a shorter trip than usual, we didn’t take any side trips, and the weather was just the same as in Britain.

The decision to cut the visit short was based on our initial decision to go in July. I knew it would be hot, and the last time we were there in the summer my wife ended up in A&E. We hoped a shorter stay might prevent that from happening again. I’m not sure why we thought that; it only takes one afternoon of unrelenting sun to put some people on a gurney with a saline drip in their arm.

Chocolate health food. Yeah, we're in America.
Accordingly, we decided to take it easy on this trip, and stayed close to home. And home, this year, revolved around my son’s new house, which has a built-in swimming pool and central air conditioning. This, I found, made the 100-plus temperatures bearable. Just knowing the pool and AC were available made sitting in the shade, drinking beer and sweating, more enjoyable. Back in my day, knowing the only thing you could do to escape the heat was to drive to the nearest supermarket and stand in the frozen-food aisle, made hot days more oppressive.

We did manage one side trip, but that was just out to Cazenovia, the small town in mid-state New York where my daughter-in-law grew up. This was, by the by, the entire point of visiting during July. I wanted my wife to see an authentic, small-town, fourth of July celebration, and Cazenovia provided the perfect location.

Cazenovia has, somehow, become stuck in the late 1950s or early 60s, and is now some sort of Stepford town that looks like something out of My Three Sons. When walking down the street, you wouldn’t be surprised to see Fred MacMurray, or Ozzie and Harriet, step out onto their porch and wave at you.

(Gosh, you need to be real old to get those references.)

Hey, look! It's Ozzie and Harriet's house!
We went to Cazenovia early on the morning of the 4th of July to see my daughter-in-law run a ten-mile race around Cazenovia Lake. She finished about 9:30AM, but it was already hot by then. She said her time was about 9-minutes a mile, for those of you who care about such things.

Waiting for the race to end: My son, my granddaughter, my wife
my grandson and my other grandson.
My wife and I left my son and his family with their family and went off on our own adventure, which involved the shops and cafés of Cazenovia, checking into our boutique hotel and watching the 4th of July parade.

What is a small-town parade without a tractor pulling a wagon laiden
with young ladies on hay bales waving at people?
And that night, we watched the fireworks over Cazenovia lake. It was one of those rare, perfect days, the sort you normally only see on Leave It To Beaver.

Credit: Cazenovia Chamber of COmmerce
The next day, we all returned to my son’s house to continue sitting in the shade, drinking beer and sweating.

I think this was the main reason the holiday was so easily forgotten. We left Britain on a sunny, hot day, enjoyed a stretch of hot, sunny days in America, and then returned to hot, sunny days in Britain. Outside of my own bed, access to a swimming pool and readily available air conditioning, there was very little difference.

The haul: though the list is getting shorter, you still cannot get Cream-o-Wheat or French
Burnt Peanuts here. You can get pipe tobacco, but it is three times the price I pay in the US.
An interesting aside: we spent one morning in the Biergarten in Albany watching
England beat Sweden 2-nil in front of an audience of cheering locals.
When did America discover the World Cup? Last I knew, no one over there had heard of it.
My apologies to friends I couldn’t see on this whistle-stop tour, and assurances that, next time, we’ll come in cooler weather and stay a bit longer.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Another Day in Paradise

Here comes another beautiful, sunny day. When will the torment end?

Brits are happiest when their weather is awful. Oh, they’ll complain about it, and claim to be tired of grey, wet days in June, windswept Julys and August afternoons that require a puffer jacket and wellies, but deep down (actually, not so deep) they’re reveling in their misery. But what would you expect from a people whose finest hour was when the Germans were dropping bombs on them?

Accordingly, this spate of hot, sunny, summer-like weather has them in a state of panic. Granted, it is hot here, New York Hot, as I like to call it. I know it is as hot as New York because I was just there, and it is just as hot here as it was there, and to be fair to the Brits, that means temps in the mid-90s, which is pretty much unheard of.

A strange sight. Shorts, that is.
So, they panic. They’ve rarely seen weather like this, and, granted, they have to endure it without air conditioning, but sitting in the shade with a cold glass of Pimms and enjoying the unusually fine weather doesn’t seem to be an option.

The standard greeting these days is, “Hot, isn’t it?” and the news stories are all about how hot it is, as if we don’t already know.

We get shown weather maps like this all day long; it doesn't help.
As someone who has gone through many a heat wave—and in the days before air conditioning—allow me to tell you this: it is hot, and it will be hot until it stops being hot. Complaining about it only makes it worse, and panicking makes it worse yet, so just relax and enjoy it. You’ll be back to normal, grey, rainy, cool summer days before you know it. In the meantime, do what we used to do back in the day—go to a supermarket and stand in the frozen food aisle.

I, for one, am relishing the unusual weather. It’s a joy to finally experience a real summer again, especially when you consider that, for the first five years that I lived here, I didn’t even own a short-sleeved shirt.

So, Brits, chill out. Get back to complaining about Brexit, grab a cold beer or a G&T with lots of ice and find a shady spot to sit and admire the flawless blue sky. Expose your white skin to the sun (but not for too long!), watch the grass grow brown, and savor the dusty, dry scent of summer heat. Trust me, you’ll miss it when it’s gone.

This is the grass outside my flat. Most of Britain looks like this now.
Not so Green and Pleasant, is it?
The good news is, it’s due to rain tomorrow. I expect everyone will complain about it.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Isn’t That Special

I’m on the Special K diet, and I’m pretty sure it’s all my fault.

We were visiting my son in America the other week and he and his wife told us how they had taken the Special K Challenge* and had both lost a significant amount of weight (as if they needed to; she’s a marathon runner and he’s an ex-marine and still in prime condition). This diet involves having Special K for breakfast and lunch, and a light, nutritious meal for dinner, for a period of two weeks. I noted that I liked Special K and often had it for breakfast, so it would be an easy diet for me. The next thing I knew, after landing back in the UK, my wife and I had bought two big boxes of the cereal and I was putting my money where my mouth was, so to speak.

I don’t mind, really. As I said, I like Special K, so having it for lunch isn’t much of a change and having it for breakfast is no change at all, which is the problem. After a week, I haven’t lost an ounce and have, in fact, gained weight.

If you do go on the Special K diet, it would probably be best if you chose the
Original Special K rather than the Chocolate Delight Special K. Just sayin'.
For the record, my wife and I are not fans of fad diets. I’m pretty comfortable with my weight, and I am bang on the Normal range on the BMI chart, as long as I record my height while standing tip-toe. The only reason we went on this diet was that it seemed an easy win, and I would like to put a crimp in my weight-gain trajectory.

When I was in my twenties, I weighed one-hundred and twenty pounds, in my thirties, I weighed in the one-thirties, and so on. As you can see, comfortable with my weight or not, I have concerns for the future, so dropping ten pounds would be a welcome reversal. I look at it as future-proofing my weight. I do not, however, hold out much hope; I think I am destined to weight as much as I do and there is very little I can do about it.

Weight is a direct result of calorie intake versus activity. My wife and I are well aware of this, so rather than diet, we traditionally seek to decrease our calorie intake and increase our activity. To this end, I have—over the years—stopped taking sugar in my coffee and gave up having a chocolate biscuit (cookie) with my nightly cup of tea. We have also cut down on the number of times we go out to dinner, from several times a month to special occasions, and instead eat healthy, balanced meals at home (my wife is a vegetarian, so we eat a lot of couscous, lentils and rice, which is not a problem, because I like couscous, lentils and rice; but unlike my wife, I also like bacon burgers, meatloaf and sausage rolls). Lately, I have stopped ordering muffins to go with our cups of tea at the café and, when we go to the cinema, we don’t buy any treats to eat while watching the movie.

I know that doesn’t sound like much, but on a whole, that takes a big bite out of our monthly calorie intake, and coupled with that, we are increasing our activity. And do you know how much weight all this self-denial has helped me lose? Absolutely none. In my mind, it would be better to keep all those treats and just remain at my current weight.

But we are where we are, and that is in the middle of our fortnightly experiment with Special K. I have fourteen more bowls to get through before I can return to bacon burgers, meatloaf and sausage rolls.

This is, as long as I don’t gain too much weight on this diet.

The Special K Diet: your millage May Vary.
Photo Credit: Stole it from a random website and changed it
enough (I hope) to avoid copyright infringement lawsuits.

* Special K, Kellogg’s Cereals or General Mills have not paid me for endorsing their cereal or promoting the Special K Challenge diet, nor have I written this post in exchange for products. And I’m a little bit miffed about that.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Too Old to OCD

Here we are, flying across the Atlantic again. Our 13th Trip is behind us so I’m not waiting for anything to go wrong again. I know it will but I’m a little more insouciant about it now.

If you count all the times I have done this flight, including those without my wife, I have done this trip 17 and a half times (the one-half being that time I came over to England and never returned) so there is very little to surprise me anymore.

Traditionally, I get through a flight by bitching about each of the segments—taxi to airport, security song and dance, waiting for our flight—but I just don’t have the energy for that these days.

Overall, it’s been a sort of loose trip. We packed, but not as carefully and meticulously as usual. I only got the cases down two days before we had to leave, and we sort of threw things we thought we’d need into them. And none of my usual “going to America” rituals came into play.

It’s not that I don’t want to go, which I don’t—I would happily have stayed in the UK this week to enjoy the glorious and nearly-as-hot-as-New-York weather—but I’m getting sick of being sick of the effort it takes to get there. All the moaning about the inconveniences and the delays and the food and… I simply can’t muster up any enthusiasm for that.

Therefore, I’m just going along with it, without all the rituals I used to employ to help pass the time and assure a safe flight. I’m still doing some of the rituals, but that’s because, in cases like this, they are truly important.

I recently found out they call this behaviour “Magic Thinking,” where a person thinks, “If I do such and such, then this bad thing won’t happen, or this good thing will happen.” I was surprised; it’s not magic, it works. Every time I fly I wear my lucky underwear and we have never crashed. What more proof do you need?

But, overall, being OCD takes a lot of effort and, these days, I can’t be arsed Oh, I’m still OCD, just not as much as I used to be.

I know there are cans in the cupboard with the labels turned to face the back or, heaven forbid, stacked upside down, but I don’t have the desire to set them right. You know, with the labels facing forward and right-side-up, as God intended.

Over the years, many spreadsheets have fallen by the wayside. I used to keep track of how much I exercised, what I ate, all the movies and plays I went to and all the places I have lived. That final spreadsheet came complete with a coding system comparing things like cost, porch, access to amenities, size, storage and location. These ratings were automatically run through a formula the produced a Quality of Life indicator. I no longer understand the coding system, or the formula. Other spreadsheets had similar systems that I no longer understand, and almost all of them had charts and graphs. I must have spent half my day updating spreadsheets to quantify what I was doing the other half of the day.

But my flight rituals, they’re important. Mainly because—as we have just discovered—they work. The underwear is the one people know about, because my wife knows, and we joke about it with friends. But there are others, those that other people do not know about. They are the true talismans. Because they work. But that’s about as OCD as I care to be these days.

I continue to keep meticulous track of our finances, even though I don’t really want to. I can’t put that aside, however, because it’s required (taxes, royalties, and all that). Likewise, I keep a spreadsheet of every book I have ever read but that’s also necessary because, well, they’re books I’ve read. I mean, you have one too, don’t you?

I never went to therapy for my OCD. I never needed to. I was comfortable with it, and it served me well, and now that it doesn’t it has fallen by the wayside. I now spend a lot more time doing things and a lot less time keeping track of them. And I don’t go through as many mandatory rituals.

But I still put on my lucky underwear every time I fly.

This is my 9th post of 2018. Above is a graph comparing post quantities from previous years.
What makes you think I'm OCD?