Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Austin and Ally again and I just poked my eye out

The kids have gone and done that thing again where the remote control disappears leaving the TV stuck on the Dismal Channel for weeks on end.



All thoughts of escaping somewhere sweaty wih Andrew Zimmern while he gnaws on a dish of tarantula eyes are sadly gone.

Worse still tonight's chosen instrument of torture is again Austin and Ally, another winner from the Disney Channel featuring goofy girl, goofy guy, obligatory chunky, spiky friend who is meant to be funny but is just generally annoying and incredibly idiotic ginger boy.

I'm sure the people at Disney have some kind of redhead prejudice because every show seems to cast them in the worst possible light.

So what is it with this show that hold's my daughter's attention? I have no idea whatsoever. I try to shut out this white noise in the background but even I realize I have subliminally watched the SAME episode of Austin and Ally about 10 times - you know the one where she is invited to sing but is too nerdy so she sends here annoying friend and uses a PA system and it all goes wrong... blah. Oh and there's the one where the guy snubs her at the dance but he isn't really being rude. He just can't dance.

Every time I see this show I die slightly more inside, even when I'm not seeing it if you know what I mean.

The good news on the Disney Channel front is Hannah Montana has either grown up or disappeared into the coarse talking rock from whence she came. There was also a show about two blonde twins,which obviously had some appeal with 8-year-old girls until they became gawky psychotic teenagers, losing any residual cuteness they once possessed and were sent off to live with Brittany Spears.

When I'm not being subjected to Austin and Ally it's Good Luck Charlie which is about a drama queen mom, a long suffering dad and more kids than you can shake a gnarly old stick at, although I've found shaking gnarly old sticks at random kids can get you in trouble. Although why they have to ring the door bell so many times I don't know.

On the annoyance scale I'd say Good Luck Charlie is slightly less annoying that Austin and Ally. But we are talking about putting one eye out here rather than two.

Another nefarious Disney show aimed at a slightly older age group perhaps is Shake It Up. This show is built around the dance skills of the two main characters - one's a red head and she's made out to be particularly dense - see what I mean about Disney and redheads. This character is played by Bella Thorne who is apparently and up and coming star of the Disney Channel.

Whoever wrote Shake it Up thought 'let's put in a few dance moves' and was dismayed to be told later they might make a stab at a plot.

The other mainstay of the Disney Channel is called Jessie and it's about the nanny of a rather eclectic bunch of kids - obligatory spiky girl, boy with an Indian accent that sounds like someone ridiculing an Indian accent, and a lizard that looks like a Komodo dragon.

This show puts warts on English people and depicts them as evil. Of couse I don't like it but it's better than ... well you know and yet another reason to barricade onself in one's room.



Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dunes out of reach


The imminent sale of the house by the sea means the beach may soon be further out of reach. And my favorite sand dune, Jockey's Ridge a mere name on a sign or an image in a brochure. If I let it recede.

I hope not because there have been places that have slipped out of my grasp. The wild coast of Northumbria which I promised to return to on the morning when I walked far out to sea in a fog bank, in the days when I could stumble for miles over rock pools - and  the sun tore the fog bank apart like a piece of parchment to reveal mile upon miles of dancing red rock.


(Dunstanburgh Castle - Terry Cavner)


I vowed to return but never did and when I finally do I may be unable to skip over rock pools. We leave the sea and recede into the bunkers of our minds lost in tiny houses behind yard and sheds,  until we are unable to imagine the vastness of the shore and the light that breaks over the dunes hurts our eyes.

Once in Wales at college after days of over drinking and over competing and deluding ourselves we would set the world on fire, we got in a car and headed to the sea. The freshness of the Gower Peninsula hurt, we wanted to find a dark nook in a low pub to hide in but we stuck it out on the beach, under moody skies and growling tides and slowly the place worked its magic, leaving us windswept and alive and uncynical for the first time in months.

And still those names are evocative - Rhossili with its endless sands and the little ruined castle at Oystermouth and the Mumbles, clinging to the skirt hems of Swansea described by Dylan Thomas as the "ugly, lovely town, crawling, sprawling, slummed, unplanned."


The Turkish restaurant near the ferry port on a night of interminable greyness on the edge of Swansea when only the lights of the oil refinery lit the way out of the shadows, had some dubious looking fare on its blood rimmed trays. Sheeps testicles said the man with the moustache and the large chopper, so I took a rain check and opted for hummus.

And there was no bed on the ferry, just a vibrating floor under the stairs, a snack machine and the smell of adventure and the brightly colored houses on the harbor front at Cobh waking up to the weak dawn.



It was strange to arrive in Cobh where so many others had departed from the hollow shell of Ireland, emaciated and dying, clutching a few belongings and the remnants of a dream that they might survive the voyage and see the New World. But it's where we all end up, landlocked and far away trapped between picket fences and the vanishing point where the corn field kisses the sky.

Still if you have ever woken up to the sound of sea gulls wheeling above the cliffs or heard the fog horns, you'll know you can only be away from the sea for so long.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

E L James, Fifty Shades of Grey and the odd appeal of 'Mummy Porn'

The woman was mired in middle age and didn't seem like the kind to be swayed by "Mummy porn."

But she was almost breathless in her enthusiasm for this one. "It's called Shades and Grey and it's a trilogy. I don't read much but I couldn't put this down. I had to rush out to the store in the middle of the night to buy the next one. And I don't read much."


I don't think the fact it was a trilogy was the issue. She didn't seem the type to put her foot on the gas to get a copy of Return of the King.

Fifty Shades of Grey it seems is about a demure girl who starts a relationship with a billionaire who wants to dominate her on his yacht, in his Penthouse and just about anywhere else you can think of dominating an erstwhile demure girl.

I had never heard of it.

This may be because I have had my head in the sand for the last six months - or maybe just up my own bottom.

Now I come to think of it I recall some conversation a few weeks ago among wannabee authors about the rise of "Mummy Porn."

The argument goes something like this. If you sat on the train leafing through a copy of "White Hot Quivering Passion," you might get self conscious. But because everybody now has a Kindle, other folks can't tell what you are reading on the train - and you don't have to take it up to some sales assistant who will shout out in a loud voice: "Price check on "White Hot Quivering Passion."

Fifty Shades of Grey, according to the Daily Mail explores the "relationship between submissive graduate Anastasia Steele and manipulative billionaire Christian Grey who wants to dominate her in his 'red room of pain'."

It sounds like The Masque of the Red Death by Poe, but I doubt if it's anything like that.

Author E L James, who is outselling JK Rowling and everyone else in the stratosphere, is a previously little known writer in her late 40s who tends to show a lot of cleavage in her publicity shots, no doubt to be in tune with the racy nature of her novel.

I'm still curious about how a few spanking scenes can fill three novels but obviously it worked for Ms. James and her great big bulging pocket book.

Matthew Curry of Lovehoney, a seller of erotic books and other stuff, told the Daily Mail the novel has dragged the erotic sex industry cleanly out of its brown paper bag.

‘Not only has Lovehoney seen nearly a 400 per cent increase in sales of erotic fiction, but an increase in the sales of blindfolds, restraints, and intimately revealing lingerie as turned-on couples recreate some of the book's steamy chapters," he said.

All of this leaves a dilemma for us wannabe writers. Do we get off our high horses, read the thing and pen some "Mummy porn" in the hope that one day our cleavages will be featured in the Daily Mail (time to step up those gym sessions for me) or do we sit tight and hope it goes away?

When I first heard about this I had it pinned down as some LA fad. It left me feeling all British and superior. But it turns out E L James is British while her rather more eruidite and less accessible namesake Henry James was an American who hung out a lot in Britain.

So perhaps it's really Americans who are uptight about sex in the same way as many can be about religion while the Brits drop out and let it hang out.

Don't just take my word for it. Read this headline from the Palm Beach Post.

Brevard libraries pull erotic best-seller 'Fifty Shades of Grey'


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Stepping Out of the Shadows

It took me quite a few decades to emerge from the deepest of shadows but I may be finally coming out. You see someone stole my identity quite a few year ago leaving me anonymous to the outside world. Technically he didn't steal it because he had it first, but you know what I mean.







In the years since I became aware I was but a pale clone of this other being it became increasingly hard to maintain equilibrium. If people addressed me at the bus stop I would jump; trips to the library became fraught. I withered in the shadows and I hid from the sun, headpieces full of straw - alas.

In the early days people remarked on the coincidence and I even took his books from the library. Sometimes I even returned them. it seems like a happy sort of serendipity at first. Little did I know those innocuous books containing drawings of castles, Roman forums and pyramids would soon become thousands of tons of rock piled above my head.

My mother forced me to write to him, although I still recoil at the grim recollection. In hindsight my multiple personality syndrome by hyperproxy began at this very point.

"Dear David Macaulay. I have the same name as you and I also like drawing castles," the letter may have said. "I am also from England."

The letter omitted to say "I'm not freaking famous and I'm eight-years-old."

He duly wrote back saying the sort of things minor celebs say to such letters. "Thanks for writing - consider putting in for a new mother etc."

I still remember the letterhead with its rather pleasantly illustrated bricks.

In later life he dogged me. The Internet only made matters worse. Whenever I tried to Google my stories he would pop up. My first appearance was on page 18. I added the 'l' in a vain attempt to gain individuality. One person who commented on my blog came across his picture and had me down for being even older than I am.

But I dwelled in the shadows still. Mostly. Except when I was in bright sunlight by the swimming pool.

But the other day a very odd thing happened. I Googled myself (we all do it right? We just don't admit it) and up popped Brits in second place.I didn't even have to use the 'l" It wasn't a one off. It still does.

The moral of the story, if there is one is this - keep plugging away and you may eventually be your own person. You won't always be eclipsed by some mustacioed bloke from Lancashire.

Friday, June 15, 2012

This Charming Man - Meeting the Girlfriend's Father

In the immortal words of Vicky Pollard my attidue to posting the next chapter of the novel was "Yeah but, no but."

However,when I thought about it I thought what the heck. Especially as a couple of people had wanted to know what happened next. Is it pretty? No but yeah but.




This Charming Man

I had never seen Miranda nervous before. To be fair I had only known her for three weeks but the intensity or our relationship made it seem much longer.



"What's with you Phil? Nobody has wanted to meet my folks before. Nobody in their right mind. Are you in your right mind? You don't seem left brained."

I liked her when she was chirpy.

"Obviously no brained to want to meet your father, darling."

"Don't call..."

"I know. I'm sorry."

Miranda was talking faster than she usually did and walking erratically down Brick Lane. Nobody paid her any attention even in her boots and short skirt. They were too busy sizing up the menus in the curry houses or sightseeing or looking for cheap clothes in the limp racks that hung in the street.


"It's a long time since I've been to Whitechapel."


"Now don't knock it Phil. You know my obsession with Jack the Ripper."


"Less than healthy if you ask me."


"Phil. You are so old before your time and I didn’t ask you." She turned to me and her lips were a strange hue of red, more crimson than blood or cherries. She kissed me full on the mouth and cupped my cheeks in her hand. "Mmm you are still sexy for an old guy."


But she was distracted, the forthcoming visit playing on her features, making her forget the moment as she noticed an Indian girl, less than 20 but hunched in the street with a crippling deformity.


"That's what too much curry does to you Phil."


Somewhere 10 minutes later a creaky iron gate turned into a garden on a half street, hidden from a main street under dark green yews that seemed to be perpetually damp even on a summer day.


"Phil this is dad," Miranda said and she seemed smaller and more brittle, her voice ready to crack like a reed.


Her father was a thick set man, swarthy with Italian good looks with dark eyes. He was dressed immaculately in a waistcoat with pin striped trousers.


"Young Philip. I have heard a lot about you. All of it good I may say which is unusual given Miranda's.."


"OK dad, Stop now."


"Yes dear. Do come in. This is a humble abode but we have some exceedingly nice cakes. Mister Kipling I believe. They are the best. Would you agree young Philp?"


"I would Mr. Barnes."


"Fantastic," said Mr. Barnes, throwing a wide hairy arm around my shoulder. "Don't you agree my girl is the best? The prettiest girl in all of the square mile and east to Dover dock, sir."

"I am forced to agree with you Mr. Barnes."


"Good young sir," and noticing Miranda had disappeared upstairs he turned his wide swarthy features to mine his broad arm heavy round my shoulder. "Between you and me sir, Miranda had a troubled childhood. There was the death of her mother and well I had my issues and she got in a lot of trouble at convent school."


I remained silent, not wanting to know more about Miranda's troubled childhood so early in our meeting, if at all. Fortunately Mr. Barnes seemed like an easy going type who failed to notice my silence before adding. "Of course she redeemed herself in adulthood and has become the fine lady we all know and love."


He assumed such a upstanding air, I half expected him to show me his Royal Doulton collection is in humble abode in a humble neighborhood. In turn I would complement his toby jugs and resist the the urge to elaborate and tell her how I had loved her close to the railway line last night and come to the conclusion it was electrified and we could be the first pair of burned lovers in the history of Burnt Oak. We were certainly getting a whistlestop tour of London's more obscure places.



. Barnes told us he was attending his niece's school piano recital and we were welcome to come along. I couldn’t square the accommodating Mr. Barnes with Miranda’s comment about her father being sick in the head.


"No. I am going," I heard him tell somebody somewhat abruptly on the phone before turning to us with a broad grin. "Miranda. You look so pretty. You are a lucky man Philip."


"Mr. Barnes I think I am the luckiest man this side of the Tower Bridge."


His brows knitted momentarily. "The other side too, of course, Mr. Barnes."


"Of course you are son," and his big wide, hairy arm was round my shoulder again." Miranda is what they call a classic English rose. With some Italian in the mix." And he let out a loud chuckle.


As the toilet flushed I was in the lobby with Miranda. "I don't know what you are talking about. He seems like a great father."


But Miranda was steadily chewing on her nails and didn’t seem to hear me.


"I didn't know you went to a convent school."


"Hell yes. Worked wonders."


Mr. Barnes had given me a glass of wine and I was somewhat in love with the world. Even the ceramic ducks on his wall seemed to have a post-modernist flair.


The effects of the alcohol wore off on the walk to the school during which Mr. Barnes provided a running commentary. "You can still see the holes on the wall of the Blind Beggar from a shootout involving the Krays."


We turned and the small East End school appeared. Mr. Barnes shook hands profusely with teachers on the door and we sat down to see his niece, a precocious blond haired girl of 15 go through the motions on the cello as Vivaldi sounded out brassily across the hall.


"Marvelous recital," twittered the principal. "Next week do come and see Brahms. There is pizza in the auditorium. Lemonaid too.”


Mr Barnes squeezed my shoulder. "I am partial to a slice of pizza. Wigwams do the best pepperoni. Are you familiar with them Jimmy?”


“I don’t think I am Mr. Barnes. It’s Philip by the way.”


I don’t think he heard me. He was making a dash across the hall to the makeshift pizza and fizzy drinks table. By the time I caught up with him he had picked up his paper plate and joined the line, still humming some bars from the concert. From stage left I spied a spotty youth who could not have been more than 17. He came zipping across the floor on a skateboard, skidded to a halt and cut into the line in front of Mr. Barnes.


"Hey son. I think you have cut in front of me," Miranda's father commented lightheartedly, still whistling the dying chords of Vivaldi.


The youth stared at him with expressionless eyes, the gum moving up and down in his mouth.


"Appears that way granddad,"


"Hey son. I think you have cut in front of me, "Mr. Barnes repeated. He was no longer humming or whistling.


"That so?" said the youth.


"Yes," replied Mr. Barnes. I felt a pressure on my hand as Miranda squeezed it a split second before the impact. It was a dull crack and the youth was lying on the floor, blood pouring out of his forehead.


I still see the scene sometimes in slow motion when I am anxious or waiting at a bus stop. Mr. Barnes casually head-butting the youth and the teen's yelp of pain as blood flowed from his smashed up nose like a fountain. And Mr. Barnes turning away and trying to brush off the rivulets of blood as if they were cake crumbs and making another comment about Wigwam's pizza, except nobody was laughing. Not Miranda, nor I, nor the principal who had turned white or the police officers who took him away.


I had never felt so much pain for my girl before or since. I wrapped my arms around her and told her it would be alright, even though the auditorium was spinning and through the tears that stained her green mascara, she shook her head and clung to me like wreckage and sobbed and the words wouldn't come out but when they did she had a curious look curled on her lips.


"So what did you think of dad then?"

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cat Sitting and Sex

With the writers' group deadline for pages fast approaching again I came to the grim realization my novel was in danger of being as dead as the deadline. With just over 1,000 words completed since the May meeting there was little danger of walking up one morning, looking in the mirror, seeing a beardy character staring back at me and exclaiming; "Oh look. I am Leo Tolstoy."







Then a strange thing happened. I drank a couple of glasses of brandy and started writing like a maniac. I had little idea of what I was writing. When I returned to the scene of the crime the next morning it struck me that the copy was ...

A - full of typos
B - some length had been achieved
C - not too bad given the circumstances.

Inevitably I had veered toward sex. If anyone asks me why I will tell them slowly: "Sex sells baby."

Well anyhow I am some way off a final product and who knows if the stuff will ever hit the desk of an agent let alone a publisher. But I have been reawakened with a sense of purpose and I have a better idea of where all the characters are going.

I can even see myself some day down the line on the line to someone who might have something obliquely to do with publishing.

"It contains sex and cats. How can you go wrong with a winning formula. Who isn't fascinated with sex and cats, although obviously not in a connected way? Dog lovers perhaps.

Oh well. For all you context lovers out there a couple of early chapters are posted as the "novel project" under pages. It won't help you much. I wrote maybe 6,000 words. Not exactly prolific but better than my usual two day output. This is an extract.

Cat Sitting and Sex

I came to appreciate Miranda's distinct hobbies. I have to confess I preferred sex to cat sitting, although I didn't tell her as much for fear of hurting her feelings. She was partial to her noxious smelling charges and wouldn't hear an ill word about the motley collection of felines she looked after at ramshackle terraced homes across London. She had a day job in an insurance office that she was always too bored to talk about. Cat sitting was more about her love for cats than the money.



There were times when we combined both of Miranda’s hobbies although I never felt entirely comfortable making out on a sofa and looking up to the see the yellow eyes of a couple of cats. Cats are territorial and it felt like a violation. Ali, an oversized and over vicious tabby with talon-like paws, unnerved me in particular by patrolling the top of the sofa and threatening to pounce.


Miranda laughed it off. "Ali car, Ali cat," she would purr, as if she too had gone over to the cat world. “He’s just a bit old fluffy bundle of love.”

“Hate more like.”


Unlike me, Miranda seemed to be a fan of voyeurism. If she couldn't shock anybody else the cats would do. Most of the time she seemed more intent on shocking human beings. We would be down the pub around her friends and acquaintances and she would give me a certain wanton look, start caressing my side in front of her friends and whisper in my ear. It alarmed me that they exchanged knowing glances and laughed quietly, as if Miranda's behavior was part of local pub folklore. And I found myself perplexed that the very behavior that had attracted me to her in the first place was starting to become a cause of annoyance.


"Philip," she would murmur hungrily in my ear and raise her long leg on the chair. Her skirt would ride up and in the next moment she had my hand and was leading me to the alleyway behind the pub where she was covering my neck with urgent kisses as she lifted her skirt for me.


At the time I felt at one with her and the big sallow moon hanging limp in the sky behind the Dog and Duck with the sickly sweet smell of blossom wafting in the late spring air and Miranda naked and white. But afterwards, I would feel a dull and throbbing nothingness and a mild sense of shame as we rattled back through nameless tube stations of north London, the allure draining slowly but surely out of the Northern Line.


Still I was addicted to her, more so after my fourth pint. I wanted to drink in her dark features and her high cheek bones and the warning signs made me want her even more. But afterwards as we lay on the bed or in more unorthodox places under a wide canopy of stars, I would wonder who she really was. Then there were nights when I wondered if her feigned boredom was real boredom. There were times when her emerald eyes gained a cruel light as she described her past conquests before suggesting we climb the gate of a locked up football stadium and make love on the hard, cold terraces among the fast food wrappers. The more extreme and uncomfortable locations the more I wondered if her loving bordered on a realm of hate, although even Miranda eschewed the notion of lying down on the highway.


Miranda was my wildest fantasy but I also wondered if she was my worst nightmare. And I would mine a deeply pessimistic seam in my marrow as I realized the peaks of ecstasy would subside and I would be left facing a dark and terrible temptress who I barely knew. Afterwards as we lay exhausted I felt the flatness and when I looked into her eyes I only saw my own reflection. I was pallid and my fringe was brown and mopped in sweat and I wondered again what she saw in me.


In an effort to give us context and to help me regain a slice of the prosaic reality of my former life that I felt slipping away from me every morning, I suggested I meet her family, given that meeting mine was out of the question.


Her body convulsed at the suggestion and I felt her harden under me. "You are fucking kidding me, Phil?"


"Not especially."


"Yes. You are joking right. You have been drinking."


"Not much. I thought it might make sense."


"Oh yeah love. Crazy sense."


"How do you mean Miranda?"


"Let's just say mum is dead and dad is dead in the head,"


"I’m sure you are being harsh darling," Her arms slackened around me so I pulled her closer.


"You know I don't like you calling me darling."

"Not especially."


"God Phil you are pissing me off tonight."


"I have a PhD in it."


She withdrew down the bed and wrapped a cardigan around her shoulders. I realized I had killed an intimate moment. She flicked her hands through her hair and I melted as I saw how her long dark locks fell on her ivory shoulders.


"Phil. You can meet my dad but he's not normal. He's spent a lot of time in jail. He's a freakshow, Phil."


"OK love, I'm sure he's a nice guy." She gave me a winsome look and held her close. It was the first time Miranda had felt vulnerable to me. I heard the rumble of a bus on the high street outside, smelled the essence of tar that London streets give off and saw a sea of lonely yellow lights swimming across the city. Suddenly this metropolis felt like a big empty machine in the chill of a May night. I shivered at the thought of all the people in solitary rooms who looked in despair on the big city, at the far ends of its rail lines that spread out like steel tentacles. A chill ran through me and I felt the goose bumps rise on the girl's arms.


Suddenly a digital bleeping sound broke our silence and I realized it was my phone that seldom went off at night.


I flipped the lid and listened to a voice writhing around in the static.

"Phil."

'Yes. It's me."

"Hello Phil. It's Moriarty here." He trailed off in a series of coughs. I scoured my pre Miranda memory banks.

"Yes Moriarty. How did you get my number?"

"Bitch at the squash club gave it to me."

"Oh yeah. She's kind of rigid."

"Look. I can't make tomorrow's game, Phil. Something came up."

I had forgotten I was slated to play Moriarty or anybody else. Miranda had suggested breaking into London Zoo, although I hadn't fancied the monkey cage idea much. Even cats were preferable voyeurs than chimps.


"Oh hey no problem Paul."

"Good. Good." And there was an uncharacteristic silence as Moriarty sounded like he wanted to say something else.

Miranda squealed as she dropped a wine glass on her foot.

"OK well I'll be going now," said Moriarty, picking up on the squeal down the line. "You know I used to be like you."

And then the line was dead with no further explanation and I was left in silence contemplating the cold lights glittering like bitter little stars across London, a million miles away and turning away slowly in their solitude.

















Monday, June 11, 2012

Day of the Tall Ships - Norfolk, Virginia

Although I often feel Hampton Roads is a Godforsaken mosquito-infested swamp there are times I am grateful I am not landlocked. Like people in Kansas or Texas. Across miles of prairie and leagues of tumbleweed, hemmed in by ironstone hills and waterless deserts with only the specter of a twister to stir the sluggish air.




The Tall Ships, Norfolk, VA (David L Macaulay)
 
I have never believed the coastline around these parts is real. My highlight on the coast was the spring day the sun shone down on the tumbled cliffs of North Devon and the waves crashed noisily on the rock stacks of Hartland Point.There could be nowhere more beautiful, although the gentle lanes of South Devon that opened up into coves and hidden beaches under the eggshell blue sky came a close second.

Here there are no cliffs; just dunes and beaches and rivers and marshes which have a charm of their own, although at times I can long for the windswept headlands now receding into antique memory.



But when the tall ships came to Norfolk I felt the call of the sea and harbored an urge to be there under the sails watching the shores of a distant and savage land hoving into view.

I could lose myself in the labyrinth of sea and tide and estuaries and be happy in the knowledge that nobody knew me and I had no ties to the land. There's a thrill in the charts and uncharts drawn up by Captain Cook as he cheerfully greeted new lands.

But he left nothing for the rest of us; nowhere unexplored, nowhere uncharted.

The tall ships at sunset made me think otherwise and to dream of raising the anchor and set sail to an undiscovered Continent.



We spend too long mired in familiarity. Our spirits are dashed by routine. We tack toward adventure but hesitate and are lost in a retreat back to a safe harbor.

For a few hours Norfolk became exotic and unpredictable. Sailors speaking Spanish sauntered along the boardwalks, exotic women laughed from the decks of yachts. And the temptation to drift away on a tide of laughter came and went.

The ebb and the flow and the dizzy heights of masts. And suddenly the tall ships had gone to grace another harbor with their dangerous dreams.



There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,

There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar;




Saturday, June 9, 2012

Pastor Terry Jones and my Dead Squirrel

There seemed to have been a lot of selling points for having a garden at the time. Great for the kids, BBQs etc.


Since acquiring a large expanse of urban grass I have also been counting the downsides. The fact the bugs make it too dangerous to hang out in for half the year, the pine cones that need to be removed all the time and the quick growing grass.

I have a special face for mowing the lawn. It isn't a pleasant one. Women pushing babies past in strollers tend to cross the road when they see it playing over my features. Even the rough mothers - the ones whose strollers are packed with enough crack to keep Whitney Houston going for a couple of days, look afraid.

The lawn mower's a pig anyhow. Half of the time it doesn't start and the rest of the time you have to douse it with gasoline and light a match. I thought about starting my own landscaping company.I thought again.

Now I have putrefying wildlife to add to the list of garden gripes. The kids had been going on about a dead bird so I set out to investigate one bright morning, magnifying glass in hand like Sherlock Holmes at a crime scene. I got suspicious when I saw the curled up foot. The dead bird turned out to be a putrefying squirrel and it stank. The dead squirrel was the best argument I have ever seen for cremation.

It was also covered in crawling things. Even after three garbage liners the smell was discernible. We shoved it outside gate with a vague plan of dropping it into the wheelie bin of a neighbor we didn't like. But nobody was brave enough to carry it across the street so it resided on the front lawn until Friday when household refuse is picked up.

Had I been more resourceful I would have found a way of delivering the aforementioned squirrel to Pastor Terry Jones, a man who has made more unsavory headlines by hanging an effigy of President Obama on a noose outside his church in Gainesville, Florida. This may have been a cue for some bizarre looks at the post office, though.

In 2010 Jones courted more controversy by threatening to burn 1,000 copies of the Quaran. He incidentally ruined my day when I was asked to find outraged Muslims in a city with few Muslims and worked long hours finding the information for an article only for Jones to renege on his threat and for my article to be scrapped on deadline.

Of course this wasn't the most serious casualty of Jones' actions.

He later staged the burning of Islam's holy book last year. That event was blamed for subsequent riots and the killings of at least seven United Nations workers in the Middle East.

Whatever your political affiliation or religious view, I think it's an indisputable fact that this man is a moron. And don't even get me started on his fashion sense. It's a real shame about the putrefrying squirrel because it had Terry's name written all over its fast disappearing features.



Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Diamond Jubilee displacement and the other Elizabeth



When you are young you believe in the tooth fairy. When you are a bit less young but still impressionable you are moved by "God Save the Queen."

In 1977 when the Queen celebrated her Silver Jubilee I was 10. There were parties in the street, bunting and those curious plastic red, white and blue hats. We ate jelly and crisps and it was bright and breezy with a tinge of low cost flimsy naivety that was unique to the Seventies.

The crown was cheap too; a cardboard replica of the heavy headpiece that the Queen wore during the 1953 Coronation. It was enough to win me the class crown competition even though the velvet was derived from old curtains whereas the real thing, the St. Edward's Crown, made in 1661,  weighs 4 pounds and 12 ounces and is made of solid gold.

It was first used by Charles II as it had to be redesigned after the Restoration, the time the monarchy was brought back after Charles' father parted company with his head . There is speculation the lower part of the crown might be from Edward the Confessor's crown predating the Norman conquest in 1066. The Queen has not been known to wear it to ribbon cuttings and flower shows.



"Does one really have to do this dreadful north of England thing with all these commoners with bad teeth and acne?"


By the time of the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002 the monarch had endured a number of deaths not to mention scandals such as the divorce of Charles and Diana, Fergie toesuckingate etc.

In the ragged East End of London I tracked down some of the people who had held street parties in 1977 for a newspaper article but found most of them staring out through net curtains at the empty streets strewn with trash. The spirit of 1977 had gone, they told me, community had been broken down bit by bit. Most of the homes were occupied by people from Pakistan and India who had little time for the Monarchy and - this bit you can't print - they would say before telling me something borderline racist that I would never dream of printing anyhow.

Still I recall a concert and a big screen in Hyde Park and wandering through the crowds feeling indefinably lost.

And in 2012 I'm simply not there for the Diamond Jubilee, neither geographically nor spiritually. I haven't even seen any TV footage. It's not that I feel ripped from Britain or her monarchy - it's been a long departure.

It's also been a while since I saw the point of Elizabeth and, to be honest, she always paled into insignificance compared to the previous monarch to bear her name.



While Elizabeth II's biggest crisis may have been whether or not to return to London after the death of Diana, as depicted in the movie, Elizabeth I was rallying the troops at Tilbury in 1588 as a massive fleet gathered off the waters of England in the form of the Spanish Armada.

"I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm."

Of course Elizabeth I was scheming and ruthless. She had to be to remain as a woman on the throne for more than 40 years in the 16th century. And while the current Queen's biggest dilemma may be what to wear at a garden party, Elizabeth 1 faced quandries such as whether to execute her cousin Mary Queen of Scots and how to bridge a religious schism created by her father.

She was also iconic with her striking appearance and shock of red hair, notwithstanding the stories that she really had black teeth and was considerably less attractive than the painters - who valued their heads - would lead us to believe.

At least she wasn't dull, although it's sometimes hard to lose Miranda Richardson's comedic portrayal of her in Blackadder.








Wordless Wednesday on Tuesday - a comment on the Diamond Jubilee, Old Queens etc.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Rudy Eugene and our unhealthy obsession with cannibals




It was a normal sort of day in the neighborhood. The sun was shining.

Rudy's girlfriend said he woke up early, made coffee etc.  She said he looked in a closet and left home to go catch up to a "homeboy."

He left home with a Bible in his hand. She didn't say if he waved goodbye as he headed down the street or patted the Labrador on the head.

But some time later that day, things took a slight turn for the worse when Rudy was shot dead by cops for eating the face off a homeless man, while naked, on a causeway in Miami.

The case of Rudy Eugene is truly horrific even for Florida but it has fascinated a prurient public as much as it has appalled.

Before the attack Eugene's criminal record had been limited to a few misdemeanors for smoking pot, although there were some pointers toward a violent nature.

Bruce Baker writing in examiner.com says Eugene's girlfriend believed he may have been under a Haitian Voodoo curse and subject to a ""zombie apocalypse" at the time.

That or he had taken too many bath salts. Do you believe an apocalypse involving zombies is nigh? asks Baker before suggesting we follow him on Pinterest. See it's not just for girls.

Whatever the cause it's clear we have an unhealthy obsession with cannibals be they the small guys deep in the forest who shrink heads or Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the sinister character played by Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs, that won the Welsh actor an Oscar.

Implausibly we are invited to start liking the cold blooded cannibal as he helps find another serial killer. We can't understand cannibals. It's the last taboo. We are horrified but we are also fascinated.

Because Rudy Eugene is dead we will probably never know what caused this appalling attack. But we'd be safe in assuming he wasn't reading the nice, touchy feely parts of his Bible.