Sunday, December 25, 2016

It's Looking at Lot Like Christmas Again

So another Christmas has arrived and another year is on the way out. This morning I got a knock on my door, slightly too early. It was the kids and they were showing some modicum of excitement about the stockings that had arrived on their bedroom doors

I cast off my habitual state or morning grumpiness and headed to the tree swallowing raw coffee grounds for sustenance.



Christmas is a strange time because it can make you feel very old but nostalgic at the same time. We all remember that one Christmas which was a perfect distillation of the joys of existence. For me, it was the time we woke up at 5 a.m. and opened presents in the dark. I received a book about Scottish ghosts and read it to my sister in the early hours.

Then there's that time when you realize the magic had gone. I recall a time a year or so after receiving the book of ghost stories when I was in the middle of opening my presents and suddenly the crass hollowness of it all gripped me. I was too old for Christmas.

The great thing about having kids is that you can relive it all through them. Giving feels a lot better than receiving and it's often the cheap, quirky toys that fascinate them more than the big, expensive gifts.

Christmas, when you think about it, is ridiculous on so many levels. You drag a tree into your house, shove glass balls on it and open presents under it. You eat certain foods for obscure reasons. Which is why this year, I will mostly be making Marmite smeared tofu. The kids just don't realize it yet.

Christmas makes me feel old but I'm also grateful to be able to do this with my kids. I never take it for granted. I'm also grateful to the special person who lent me her stockings last night, as well as supplying additional presents, or I would have been shoving everything in Aldi bags.



Best Christmas song ever - sadly both gone...


These small and insignificant rituals are meaningful because they shield us from the world outside. As we opened presents, bodies were being picked up from a plane crash in the Black Sea. Just days earlier, a truck was driven into a Christmas market in Berlin.

The world is being run by mad men and our generation is disappearing at an alarming rate. The world without David Bowie and Prince is a flatter place. Carrie Fisher still hangs on.

My stats tell me that few people read this blog anymore. At times I consider taking it off life support. But it's a very insignificant thing compared to everything else. In a world of memes, tweets and short concentrate spans, it can be good to take a little more time to write. Shut off your smartphone, encourage your kids to do the same and take the time to find out who they are. I might even take this advice one day.



Saturday, December 10, 2016

Introspection

I hate it that I can be this way. Peevish, petty and point scoring. I get irritated and I say something I don't mean. Or I mean it but it's a small sunflower seed of resentment that I whip into a giant flower and beat the undeserving victim with it.

I give up and I walk away. Then suddenly I'm here the next day. It's cold and I feel the void. I took it for granted but when the love is gone it scours and leaves acid holes within me. That text I get every morning when I wake. The minutiae of her day. It seems remarkable and I'm undeserving in my complacency.



Then when it's gone I know the ordinary was extraordinary. The small, blank screen is an immense crypt of misery where gargoyles weep from the high walls. I'm watching the kids sing Christmas songs. Their mouths move, but I don't hear the words. Instead, the No Doubt song is playing in my head. I'm losing my best friend. I keep losing over and over.

I know it's a pattern. That beautifully crafted sand castle with the impregnable walls is eaten by the tide every time. You vow to build it bigger next time, but it's washed away again.

In truth, I don't want it washed away again on another bleak morning tide. I have never known such certainty in love, never felt such perfection in anyone's imperfections and scars, never basked in such warmth of the soul.

The long hours we have spent next to each other and in each other's arms can surely not mean so little. I hate it that my ill-thought words could cleave us apart in this way.  I'm old enough now to know she is my everything. My north, my south, my east, my west, to ape Auden.

If I have to travel alone on this road I surely will. But your absence will cut me deeper than any wind.










New York City - Many Years Later

The first time I saw the skyline of New York I felt a chill. We had arrived at a chaotic JFK airport and trundled in a taxi van through the ragged back streets of Queens. Nothing prepared me for the first sight of the soaring Empire State Building sticking up like a giant syringe in the sky, and the high towers that crowded her shoulders.



On the first night, we became lost in a labyrinth or bars and couldn't tell the taxi driver where we were staying on Park Avenue. It was an alcohol and angst-filled time. We could be happy in the haze of a drunken hour but far too sober suddenly at 5 a.m. My marriage was cold turkey by then. I was going through the motions,  knowing but not fully coming to terms with her affair with somone just a few seats across every bar.

Being a journalist one never wants to be the story but looking back, I realize I probably was. So I buried myself in Bonfire of the Vanities, felt keenly the decline of Sherman McCoy and ticked off the group tourism activities washed down by copious amounts of overpriced beers.



I looked up too; at the eggshell blue sky above the Statue of Liberty and the snow that tumbled from a dark sky the next day and skipped down Fifth Avenue. We went up the North Tower and shuddered at the sheer distance above the flat roofs, little realizing that two years later people would be throwing themselves through the glass and to the ground below.

New York gives you space and perspective. It quickly cuts your problems down to size. On the last day in New York, I broke away alone and went to the Lower Eastside to tour the tenement museum where scores of families lived in teeming squalor early in the 20th century.

When you are suddenly alone after so many years it's frightening but liberating. I thought of all those people who had come here so many years before with just their shirt on their backs and thrived, or at least survived. I resisted the cliche of an old song - if you can make it here you can make it anywhere.



The second time I arrived in New York it was more than 16 years later. I was driving a sleek silver car with the kids in the back. It would a neat ending to say I had achieved the American dream and made it but that wasn't exactly the reality. I still don't live in a house with too many rooms with a wife who has a pedicure every week. I'm probably old enough to avoid such a grisly fate now. The car was a rental. The hotel may have cost an arm and a leg but it was a ragged place behind the car repair yards of Jersey City. It looked sketchy, but we walked.

The skyscrapers were as high as ever, although the Twin Towers had been replaced by the sleek Freedom Tower due to that aforementioned act of premeditated horror. . They seemed smaller than 16 years earlier. Maybe living in America had changed my perceptions. Those giant feats of man and machine and those images of workers on gantries high above the drop had become cliched.

I didn't get the buzz at first. There was the stress of finding the right bus and the numerous texts from the ex with instructions to prevent the kids falling down manholes. I wanted that carefree sense of adventure to kick in again. What if I had lost it a long time ago? What if America had long since swallowed me up in its anality?  Or perhaps there comes a time when we all turn into our parents.



Half an hour later in Times Square, I looked up at the iconic facade of the New York Times, The square was as overrated and commercial as I remembered but there was energy, yellow taxes honking angrily and people diverging from all directions. I picked up a map and herded the kids east. Finally, I felt that old joy of adventure washing over me again.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Why Canada is Getting More Northern Exposure

There can be a tendency to dismiss Canada as cold and boring. On my first trip to Canada, I visited Windsor, a crushingly-dull low rise place across the Detriot River from Detroit.

from the well-manicured flower beds close to the waterfront I looked in awe at the high towers of Detroit, Michigan. The river was wide but the distance didn't muffle the police sirens. Windsor has a fraction of the crime rate of Detroit. I was fascinated and wanted to be over the river in the U.S.

Lake Louise, Alberta


It's taken some time and a curious turn of events but like many US residents, I'm now looking at those prosaic flower beds in a new light.

Canada has a popular and dashing progressive leader in the form of Justin Trudeau. America has grumpy, intolerant old men.

Canada becomes more attractive with every mall, nightclub or movie theater massacre I read about in the United States. It becomes more attractive with every medical bill for hundreds of dollars charged against my useless health insurance policy.

Canadians, like their country, can seem a bit cold. But they haven't perfected hate the way we have in the US and they still have the Queen on their notes.

It's probably no surprise that websites that help people move to Canada have crashed due to the weight of inquiries since Trump was elected.

Canada may seem like a somewhat kitsch place of Mounties and maple leaves but it can be cutting edge these days. Toronto has shed its image of being New York run by the Swiss to becoming a thriving Bohemian city.

Vancouver has always been trendy and breathtakingly beautiful, even if unaffordable. Canada remains cool in a climatic way, although global warming may ensure it's temperatures become pleasant.

As demonstrations choke America's cities, as police and minorities shoot each other dead, it's tempting to just lose yourself in the vastness of Canada's interior.

Wrap a thick fleece around you and stare out at the emerald waters of Lake Louise for a few months.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Last Days of the Republic - On Route 58

A strange thought occurred to me over the weekend. What if these are the last days of the Republic and we are about to be swallowed up by the orange peril in less than two days?

Stranger things have happened. Germany's Weimar Republic, a creaking democratic institution died in 1933 as Adolf Hitler, who became part of the government after winning 37 percent of the vote a year earlier, seized power.

In 1921 in Italy the fascist party of In 1921, the Fascist Party of Benito Mussolini was invited to join the coalition government.





These two frightening despots did not come to power through a revolution. They used the tools of democracy and turned them on their heads. There's no doubt hate is on the rise. You don't need to go much further than the nearest Twitter feed to find it.

It's also clear that this election is a lot more stressful than those that went before it. I have heard reports of people with PTSD and other forms of stresses. On what I hoped wouldn't be the last weekend of the republic, I decided to take a road trip west.

I was heading for Hanging Rock and Pilot Mountain in North Carolina. I wanted to clear my head on the high ledges and catch the foliage. The fact the campgrounds were full made me wonder about how much isolation I would find.

I headed out on Route 58 which may be Virginia's answer to Route 66, although a lot more dull.

The highlights of Route 58 include the paper mill in Franklin that was meant to have closed a few years ago but still belches out foul-smelling fumes.

There are a few broken down garages, schools in Southampton County that look like jails and there's a big RiteAid somewhere on the route.

After driving for about an hour-and-a-half I got to Emporia where a bewildering array of fast-food restaurants with huge neon signs on large poles rises out of the fields. Emporia is known for its high rate of thefts and the poisonous fried food in Appleby's, a place that touts itself as family-friendly, but probably contributes to the high divorce rates in these parts.

South Hill and South Boston are like mini Emporias, although there are some not unpleasant old streets if you ever escape strip malls of Route 58.


With about an hour-and-three-quarters to the wilderness, I was starting to wonder if my car would make it. The rattling of the wheel was getting worse. I had visions of breaking down and coming to grief. Watching Deliverance for the first time recently had not helped.

Occoneechee State Park


Then it happened. I reached for my lukewarm McDonalds coffee and the car moved to the gravel by the side of the road. There was a terrible noise and suddenly the car was rocking all over the road. I eventually stopped to find the rear tire was shredded.


At times like this, I was thankful for my AAA membership. There was a spare in the trunk but there was far too much debris above it to move it and the last time I tried to jack up a car, it almost fell on my head. It was probably just as well. When the tow truck guy showed up he informed me the tire workshop AAA had routed me to would not have my kind of tire until the day after Christmas. He found a place in Danville that was open for another hour.

Shortly after getting into the tow truck, I realized my iPhone had vanished and is probably still on a grassy verge near South Boston.

The reality of my predicament dawned on me as the tow truck guy drove away and the waxy man behind the counter glared at me and pointed out they usually don't help people half an hour before closing.

He took my key and went off muttering, I saw my car being jacked up an hour later.

When I finally got back behind the wheel, I was relieved to find the car actually moved. I thought about continuing to the state park but suddenly felt a curious sense of emptiness without my phone. How was I going to find a remote state park without Siri? I stopped at a couple of gas stations and asked about maps. They looked at me like I have inquired if they stocked rocks from Mars.

I thought about seeing more of Danville but a recent survey listed it as the worst place in Virginia and the glum demeanors of the people in the tire shop had convinced me. Finally, I wound my way back to Route 58. The return journey served to remind me how long roads feel when you have no real destination. On the road to Halifax, I was struck by how every other house had a Trump sign outside it.

The feeling of anxiety was growing. I was spending the last weekend of the republic on a back road to nowhere.

The only highlight of the trip back was finding the understated but pretty Occoneechee State Park, a sanctuary with no Trump signs as far as I could see, a place where understated people went to wander around and generally lose themselves.



Sunday, October 16, 2016

Donald Trump - The Last of the Famous International Playboys

For weeks now we have been held captive at a horror show that's otherwise known as the U.S. Presidential elections. It's apt that it's now October because this is being trapped in a haunted house stalked by a maniac. Watch Don't Breathe and you'll get an idea of how it feels.

This election is like no other because rather than seeing two politicians playing the game, we are witnessing pure psychosis.



Too many words have been written about it already. There's too much vitroil on the feeds. There's not much left for me to say other than Donald Trump - WTF.

In some ways, the election is a demonstration of why we should be who were are rather than who we want to be. Sure most kids on the block who kick around a ball want to have super skills like Lionel Messi but that doesn't mean they should be shoved into Barcelona's starting line-up.

But this is what it's like to be Donald Trump. It's like me during an out of breath walk around the block been told.

"Can you replace Messi in the World Cup final against Germany?"

And I'm like; "Yeah OK."

It's hard to feel any sympathy for Trump but when this debacle is over maybe I'll find a small grain somewhere.

However, it's always a mistake when our egos take over our lives. Let's just look at what Trump was good at.

1 - Making money or at least making a show of making money;
2 - Being a reality TV star;
3 - Being an international playboy.

The idea of Trump as the last of the famous international playboys is a novel one but when you look at the old pictures of Trump he had a certain chiseled handsomeness and a level of self-confidence that made him popular with women.

If Trump was an inappropriate groper that was his business. He would either be cast in the Bond movie Octopussy, face charges or buy off people. It wasn't like he was running to be president of the United States.

It's almost impossible to see anything in the young, cocksure entrepreneur that aligns with today's overweight and angry, tangerine man who hates everything and wears cheap baseball hats to hide the dead duck on his head.

You can see how Trump got here and the answer lies in his all-consuming narcissism. Maybe the man with the flaccid duck on his head misses his old self. Maybe he knows women don't like him because he's Donald Trump - if they ever did - but because of his money. Maybe the constraints of reality TV no longer fit his bulging ego. Maybe the emptiness of his gold plated life just made him angry.

Either way, those comparisons of the last days of Trump's campaign and Hitler's last days in the bunker are not as fanciful as they seem. Hitler, delusional about his forthcoming demise was still giving orders to armies that no longest existed. Trump, Hitler and Mussolini enlisted hate on a grand scale to  achieve their dreams. We should not be surprised when Trump eulogizes Saddam Hussein and Vladimir Putin.

And it's still premature to write about the demise of the last of the famous international playboys. The election had not been held yet and falling into the orange abyss is still a very real possibility.

This song seems apt because any song by Morissey is always apt. And the last of the famous international playboys were, of course, the Krays - thugs who killed and maimed their merry path across London.




Saturday, October 1, 2016

Trapped in a Holding Pattern

Today I felt like my life is a holding pattern. I see the lights on the runway but they are a flickering blue. The man with the ping-pong bats shakes his head. No chance of taking off today.

The rain isn't falling outside, it's slamming. It has a weight heavier than water. My phone is already filling up with texts from the ex about unpaid bills. The same ones, month on month. Surely being ground down has never felt more numb? Comfortably so and those bills don't go away. They slowly wind down to the dank place of no return.Take me to the river, drop me in the water.

Holding Pattern - couldn't tell you if this band is any good


It's a Saturday but I have to work two jobs. The mountains seem a long way away. The sink is clogged again. Two jobs on a Saturday to pay the bills for the thing that's spiralling down anyway. By the time I'm on the road, I'm less agitated. Dead kids are being pulled out from rubble in Aleppo at the same time as we pull into Dunkin Doughnuts. They point at peanut butter pumpkin doughnuts. Pumpkin is the way of the world now. It's October and October is alway orange. When did we get so pumpkin obsessed? I doubt if there will be much trick or treating in Aleppo this Halloween.

The pastor tells me he has a serious disorder. Think sickle cell. Like being trapped in a cell. Held to ransom by those red blood cells. Why's he so animated? His joy has infected his whole core. It's addictive but makes me back off. Maybe there's something in this God business anyhow. I think of the book I failed to finish this summer. A trashy novel from the thrift store but some interesting material about Shakespeare. Worship from the wrong book and they cut you apart with red hot pincers. Throw in a hangman and the man with the tools for disembowelment.  Why did disembowelment and the church go hand in hand? Think the Bishop of Hereford with the red hot poker used to kill Edward II.

To think I saw the pit in the middle of the room. And it didn't look so bad.

Back to the holding pattern. There we go again - good and evil, hot and cold. Our inability to soar beyond our baseness. Leering at the screen. The sins of the flesh. The barrel bombs fall. I once wrote about it, a highway art program that nobody noticed on a wide suburban road in Ilford. I stopped the car, I walked two blocks and there it was beyond - blue beyond the blue exhaust fumes. Holding Pattern with its cold sapphire lights twinkling on iron poles, unlovely and unnoticed by the angry cars on the asphalt road to London.

Many years earlier I thought of Ilford in a different way. Left behind after class with Mr. G as we pulled out the black and white Ilford films and processed them in the dark room. The heavy and ripe smell of the chemicals and the anticipation as the ghostly images took shape in the negatives. I thought of the trees flitting by on the long drive home. The silence of my parents in the front seat, lulled half into a sleep and imagining the glades in darkness outside the window. I wondered about Mr. G. His daughter,  the annoying woman who tags me in Facebook posts of her holidays. It wouldn't take much to ask but what do I ask. And would connecting two worlds be too much for me? Too much time and space and the teen me no longer recognizable. Another place, another country. But not the privileged place of blazers and crests and houses. Just downbeat uninspirational suburbia.

Looking out at the hammering rain I wonder if much has changed. In a holding pattern still after all this time.





Thursday, September 22, 2016

Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and the Elusive Secret to Happiness

Here's something that has been troubling me. Not to the point of waking up and pacing but it's certainly a strange thing.

If we could be anybody who would we want to be? You can bet nine out of 10 guys would say they would want to be Johnny Depp or Brad Pitt, due to one or more of the following factors.



1 - Dashing good looks
2 - High octane careers as movie stars
3 - Unimaginable wealth
4 - Ability to pull just about any woman on the planet and probably quite a few on Mars or elsewhere.
5 - Innate coolness.

Yet when we read the accounts of the bitter break-ups between Depp and Amber Herd and Pitt and Angelina Jolie, some disconcertingly spiky words are dropped into the smooth mix - words like violence, alcohol, threats, drugs, and anger. Anger features rather prominently.

There's a cell phone video - admittedly used by Herd to obtain a restraining order - that appears to show Depp in an unintelligible rage. There are claims of an attack with a cell phone, drug abuse and Herd suffering bruises.

All of this should be viewed in the light of a Hollywood he said/she said kind of tussle.

However, there are well-documented instances of Depp losing it such as when he caused $10,000 of damage to a hotel room during a bitter argument with ex Kate Moss in 1994.

Meanwhile, all is not well over at Brangelina. Indeed, it has split apart and things got very unpleasant with the claims by Angelina that Brad Pitt was physically and verbally abusive to their kids while on their private plane, reports USA Today. He's now being investigated by the FBI.

Brad was reported to be wasted on a plane, verbally and physically abusive to a couple of the 20 or so kids and even tried to leave the scene in a fuel truck on landing. As one does after a mile-high bender.

So here's the kicker. You can have everything. You can be Brad Pitt. You can have the world at your feet and yet your life can descend into one long drunken trailer park brawl.

This is not without precedence. Think Elvis Presley killing himself on junk food and shooting up TV sets. Think Whitney Houston dying in the bath.

I'm a bit concerned about the electricity bill this month but now I'm not so sure I'll be much happier if I find the $100 to pay it.

I can't tell you the elusive secret to happiness. Maybe it's just be unremarkable.







Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Sinister Clowns of South Carolina and Other Tales

These are frightening times to be alive in America. Ignoring the bombs in New York, there's the small matter of the scary clowns who are terrorising parts of South Carolina.

In Greenville County, SC, children have been telling adults about creepy clowns who hang out on the fringes of dark woods and try to entice them into the trees. The children talk about a house by a pond that's so deep in the woods that its windows afford no light. We're not sure if its walls are made of gingerbread. Police have visited the house but found no sinister evidence like stick-on red noses or bulbous shoes. Nevertheless, it gets the imagination going. I'm thinking of a nasty Ronald McDonald walking in the woods to the tune of The Cure's The Forest.



Personally, I think this is the last straw. As if terrorism, North Korea and Vladimir Putin threatening nuclear war wasn't enough, people are now dressing as scary clowns and trying to lure kids into trees.

There's also a rather sinister looking orange clown who's down to the last two standing to become President of the United States. Just gag me with a sneezy flower thing now.

It hasn't been as bad as this since 2014 when creepy clowns were showing their ghastly faces across America, including one who was seen standing balefully in public places clutching black balloons.

I noted then how the World Clown Association became concerned that these incidents were giving clowns a bad name. To echo the prophetic words of Father Ted "Down with this Kind of Thing."

I also noted there is a word out there for the fear of clowns - coulrophobia. Make sure not to spell it coolrophobia. Clowns aren't cool kids. And whoever thought they were funny in the first place was probably on hallucinatory drugs.

If you are as old as me you might remember the days when the circus came to town. Not today's pale imitations but the big top stuffed with trapeze artists and lions, elephants and tigers.

Now ask yourself this question. Was there ever a kid who exclaimed to his parents 'take me to the circus to see the clowns.'?




Monday, September 5, 2016

The Last Day of Freedom

So this was it, the last day of freedom. We went to the pool on Labor Day early because we thought it would be packed but the lifeguard maintained a lonely vigil. The signs of impending closure were everywhere. The dirt and debris from the storm still lay at the bottom between the blue facade and the lifeguard apologized when he fished out a dead frog. Those lazy afternoons are over until May.

It seemed only last week when schools closed for summer and the kids faced long, sultry days free of testing and classrooms and the constant clatter of bells.



I knew I had felt sadder when the holidays were at an end and that joyous day when we threw our school ties in the hedge was a distant memory. In the interval, there had been long summer days by the lake, adventures at the disused railroad line and the obligatory family holiday.

We never went anywhere glamorous but the memories lingered in a deeper color than so many others. The cottage with the strange smelling 'garlic sausage room' and the thick leather chairs we would spin in, the garden alive with buzzing wildflowers, the hint of purple on the mountainside and the sgulls that cawed and wheeled high above the whitewashed alleys of St Ives. The simplicity was curiously powerful. Miles away there were kids whose parents never thought, or cared or just walked away into the deep vermillion Wild West sunset like the one we saw once simmering over the farm tractors of a Devon field.

I have tried to do the same. I took the kids to New York and the mountains of upstate New York. The trash blowing down the New Jersey street outside the motel was a light year away from those cliffs and bays of childhood memory but I hoped the experience would make a difference. They saw buildings that soared away from the pavements and dreams in stone and glass. I hoped one day they would look back in the way I do.

So it's back to school tomorrow and perhaps I'm more sad about the loss of their freedom than they are. Perhaps they don't even see it that way. The world has changed a lot and it's been more years than I care to remember.





Thursday, August 18, 2016

Tangier Island - A World Apart

I have always been fascinated by islands. They are like a microcosm of the mainland but there is something different about them. They are marooned and cut off. They offer wonder and terror and a glimpse of something else.



I have written about islands before in I is for Island. We don't need to retrace our steps in the sand, although it's true that the thought of islands takes me back in time to the humming of the boat, the screeching of the gulls and the trip across rocking seas to the desperately remote Farne Islands off the coast of
Northumberland.

Out fascination with islands is rooted in the tale of Robinson Crusoe. Desert islands are places of fascination, dipped in the sweetness of coconuts with an edge of fear to them. Plays and films have depicted people wrecked and trapped from Lord of the Flies to Lost.



Recently, curiosity took us to Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay. Tangier doesn't have palm trees or pristine white beaches or mountains shrouded in mist. It's low and flat and being relentlessly eaten away by global warming. The people on the island talk with a strange dialect that's meant to resemble old English but didn't sound that way to me. In fact, the people are descended from the Cornish who were ever a race apart, although it's hard to see why they would exchange those magnificent soaring cliffs for this brackish flatness.



On the day we visited Tangier the rain was falling steadily and the Chesapeake Bay was as dark as iron and as unprepossessing. But the rain slacked off as we arrived at Tangier and the sullen clouds gave the place an edge. The first thing you see are remote crabbing huts perched on wooden walks above the water, places where the solitary menfolk shell crabs above the slick waters of the bay.

Given the twin threats of pollution and global warming, it's a tough existence and many of the homes on Tangier Island are ramshackle and showing their creaking bones against the onslaught of the elements. There was water, water everywhere on the gravel paths fringed with oysters and the pooled yards of homes.



Even today Tangier Island seems far removed from America. It supported the British navy in the war of 1812 and feels somewhat cast adrift.

It was fascinating to walk about for a couple of hours but the alarming proliferation of Trump signs and the fact Tangier is a dry island meant we made doubly sure to catch the last boat out of the place.



Friday, July 29, 2016

Sluggish July

This summer is icooking my brain. The coffee turns my mouth sour but I still slug on it, drinking to the base, hoping to revive myself and to conjure up an original idea. It's late afternoon. I think of stagnant ponds, and rivers thick and sluggish with oil in a flat and industrial landscape. The heat out here is too thick to breathe. Heat index is the most over-used phrase. That and triple digits. There's no getting clean from it. Shirt and pants stick. Skin burns, necks ache.



It seems too long since we lay on your bed and looked at each other steadily.

There are too many words, too much traffic, too many Tweets, too many bombs and knives, too much anger.

The people gather under Neptune. They interact very little. The look into the small screen - not the TV of yesteryear but the portable small screen. They catch Pokemon on the screen. They jabber with an other worldly language about squirtle. Squirrel, I say. No Squirtle - get with it, Dad. Where have you been? Under a rock? Under the sea bed like Neptune who frowns steadily at the storm-laden sky.

But I was with it some time ago, in another place and another era. There was a crowd in white, winding from the bridge at Magdalen and all of Oxford was coated in the glory of morning and unfilled potential and gleaming things to come. I saw them then, young and bronzed and lithe across the water meadows and the domes and the spires,  jumping with abandon in the water. I thought of Brideshead and imagined them now; fat lawyers and accountants behind dust-filled desks.

I wondered lazily if the bridge was blocked again and I thought of you - looking at me steadily across the heat haze, distilling a perfection out of all this imperfection.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Reviving the Unfinished Novel

It's true to say Reportage is a bit of a mess. Today I finally went back to it after a long time away and tried to make some sense of it. One reporter was working on an incident of police brutality. The other human trafficking in Cambodia. It probably needs some pixie dust sprinkled on it. That or a little less reality. There were chapters in various takes that seem to overlap. There are people doing unexplained things because the chapter that gives it context has disappeared and I don't even like the working title. By the time I finish it the newspaper industry may be ancient history.

Or perhaps not.

After I copied and pasted sections, I found I had almost reached 50,000 words. So only 50,000 more to go. I should be able to crank that out at Starbucks one lunch time. At least I'm back on the train and not hanging out drinking beer in the unpleasant station cafe.



Here's the prologue.

Laurent Bourgonville closed the curtains earlier in the day even though sunlight was still barreling down the street. Linda was ill again and being unbearable in the way only Linda could be when she was ill. He finally sat down in the pleasant semi-darkness and sunk into the old sofa when he heard her hollering again from upstairs, her voice sounding like one of the sirens he heard on the ships in his navy days.

“Lori, Lori. Where’s that damned herbal tea?”

A spasm of pain shot down Laurent’s leg as he stood up and hit his head on an ornamental owl on the shelf above him. He silently cursed Tracy and her barn owl fetish.

“Good God I’m coming woman.”

He shuffled through to the kitchen and momentarily considered the tea would be enhanced with a well-aimed globule of spit, just a small, neatly crafted one lovingly swilled around his mouth that blended in with the greenish murk.

He was standing on the bottom stair when Linda ordered him to stop in his ponderous tracks. “Lori. What’s going on outside?”

“I’m not a clairvoyant. Do you want your tea first or do you want me to look out of the window?” He knew the real answer would be both simultaneously, but even Linda wasn’t going to articulate that thought.

“Look out of the window, quick.”

He felt like telling her he didn’t do anything quickly at the age of 78, but he moved to the window and tugged on the carpet. “Good Lord.”

“What is it, Lori? What is it?” her voice had risen about 10 octaves like a miner bird’s, and he wanted to torture her then. The best he could do was slow delivery.

“It’s a few police cars.”

“We don’t have those on Beaumont Avenue.”

“Well, we do today?”


“What was that Lori?”
“I was saying there are quite a lot.” He counted six cars and a large truck that had the words “Mobile Command Unit” on the side.

There were flashing lights from ambulances too, and the street was cordoned off with yellow tape. Laurent had driven past many scenes like this in Chicago but never here on his street. 

It felt like another city had been transplanted to this respectable street in Seatown.

“I think I see body bags Linda.”

“Aww no not for dead people, surely.”

Laurent wondered if the cops had one to spare.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Battle of the Somme - A Grim Anniversary

A long time ago I had to drive down to Paris late at night in my battered Renault. In the early hours of the morning, I was getting sleepy and pulled over to a rest area to get a 20-minute nap. There was a slight chill and I tugged my jacket closer to me. Outside a thin mist was creeping across the flat treeless fields and clinging to the rivers that crisscrossed them. I remember the bleakness of the place and then I saw a sign that chilled me to the core. It read "River Somme."

I slept fitfully but decided to wake and get back on the road. The name had unnerved me and I thought of all the ghosts of the anguished souls who once struggled and died in these fields.





The first day of the infamous Battle of the Somme was exactly 100 years ago today in 1916. It still stands as a monument to a barbarity that is almost unparalleled in the last century.

The bloody mechanized war that pitted France, Britain and Italy against Germany, Austria and Turkey was in its second year. For months on end men lived and died in waterlogged and rat filled trenches on the front line, in constant dread of hearing the order to go over the top.

At Verdun, a 300-day offensive as the Germans battered the French lines had left 800,000 soldiers dead. 

In an attempt to relieve pressure on Verdun, the British army launched a massive offensive further north on the Somme. In the week before the battle began 1.7 million shells were fired by the British at the German lines to break up the barbed wire and demoralize the enemy.

Yet on July 1, when 100,000 British troops  were sent over the top, they found most of the wires still intact. The soldiers were out in no-man's-land being mowed down by German machine guns. There are many accounts of the terrors of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, of men missing arms and legs who suffered drawn out deaths as the life bled out of them in shell holes. On the first day of the battle, the British suffered 57,000 casualties including 19,000 men who lost their lives. It was the bleakest day in the history of the British army.

At the end of 141 bloody days on the Somme, the British, French and Germans has lost 1.5 million men and the British had gained a few miles of waterlogged soil that would be recovered by the Germans in 1918.

Today the Battle of the Somme is just another obscure piece of history like Waterloo or 1066. I had a great uncle who was a stretcher bearer during the battle but he never spoke about it and is long gone. 

On the way back from Paris, I returned to the Somme in daylight and drove down deserted roads until a thickset and brutal structure rose from the ground. It was the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, the 72,000 plus British Empire servicemen who never came home. The Somme remains an eerie landscape forever overshadowed by the Great War. Neat cemeteries of simple white crosses dot the dark hills here and the towns of Picardy seem mean, strained and cowering.

Sir Edwin Lutyens designed the Thiepval Memorial. The architect is better known for his country houses and his work in New Delhi, settings for cocktail parties and polo on a sunny day.

Yet by the time the monstrous guns finally fell quiet on the Western front, the days when Britain ruled half of the world were over. The aura of invincibility had been swept away in a few hours as the smoke cleared over the Somme and a generation was cut down. Those who lived went home but many of them were never the same. The blooded ghosts of the battlefields followed them to the quiet country lanes of old England. Thousands suffered shell shock, including the poet Wilfred Owen who was killed on the last day of the war but whose lines lived on to give it a frightening poignancy to later generations.

Unlike World Wat Two, the Great War was not a clash of ideologies and it's difficult to portray it as a battle of good against evil. Rather, a complex set of treaties led the great European powers into a war that nobody wanted to fight. The terrible global conflicts of the early 20th Century were the catalyst to the European integration that has unraveled of late. It's a stark testimony to how quickly things can go wrong.

Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? 
Only the monstrous anger of the guns. 
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle 
Can patter out their hasty orisons. 
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells; 
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, 
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells; 
And bugles calling for them from sad shires. 
What candles may be held to speed them all? 
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes. 
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall; 
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds, 
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds. 








Saturday, June 25, 2016

My Personal Brexit Hell Part 1

It's more than 10 years since I left Britain and I'm starting to wonder what's happened to it.

Certainly, Thursday night as the Brexit vote was counted was a stressful one. An exit poll suggested the lunatics would be beaten, albeit more narrowly than one might have wished. Like the vote for Scottish independence a year earlier, common sense would prevail.

Common sense is a British kind of thing, along with the occasional tendency to feel a bit superior. Sure the Brits have voted for extremism in the past. WMargaret Thatcher was a bit of an extreme maniac but at least she had a lot more upstairs than Ronald Reagan.

Of course,  Brits have always been a bit uneasy about the Europeans. We spent much of the last few centuries fighting the French and the Germans and before that the Dutch and the Spanish. Our football fans are still rooted in this mentality and we can't get over the fondness of the French for horse meat. It's a bit hard sometimes to understand this mentality, given that half of the country is probably of French descent post-1066. The Normans themselves were descended from the Vikings from Scandanavia and another quarter of the country was populated by Saxon invaders who were from Germany. The real Britons inhabit one village in Wales with a very long name.

I meandered somewhat from Thursday night but you get the idea. I checked the BBC website for the results and my smugness and belief that common sense would prevail was instantly wiped out. The vote for leaving the EU was ahead. Just about every provincial English town and city was voting for an exit. Only the Scots, a nation whose menfolk once day declared 'it's chilly up here - let's wear skirts,' were doing the sensible thing and voting to remain.

At least Boris is happy - sort of


I woke up to disbelief the next morning on social media. I don't have a single English friend who voted for Brexit. I don't know anyone who doesn't think Boris Johnson is a bit of a dick to put it politely,

Boris looked a bit shellshocked himself as he left his home on Friday and made his way past folks yelling "scum" to a press conference where he looked anything but triumphant. The Prime Minister had just resigned, the pound was bombing and half of the people who had voted to leave the European Union were going online to Google what the EU actually was. Boris looked ready to do a Lord Lucan.

The phrase "here's another fine mess you've gotten me into" which is often attributed to the hapless Laurel and Hardy came to mind, although apparently they never uttered it.

In the space of 24 hours, Britain had lost its coolness and those of us who hold passports has lost the chance to live in lots of pleasant white-washed places by the sea where we could drink good wine all day long.

It also meant we could no longer sneer at Americans. Voting for Donald Trump is no more nonsensical than voting for Brexit and America hasn't elected him as its president yet, to be fair.

A day after the catastrophe I'm still looking for silver linings from Brexit. For one thing, I'll be able to go to Britain without having kittens every time I see my bank statement and it doesn't make living in America seem so bad - at least until next January.

It's also given me a new appreciation of Scottish values. The replies to Trump's idiotic Tweet while in Scotland were a case in point. Comparing Trump to a "dehydrated oompa loompa" was one of the politer ones. Please do visit this site. I think I'll email a few to Hillary - perhaps not.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Not So Fond Memories of Down on the Farm

Facebook can be a strange media that hits you with the modern as well as bits of yesteryear and serves it in one big soup.

So, for example, I have a feed from the first newspaper I worked on. I usually ignore it but from time-to-time something will pique my interest.

When you live in America, you can fall into the trap of thinking Britain is the kind of place where people play cricket all day, ride bicycles with big baskets and say nice things to each other. My feed from the Western Morning News reminds me otherwise.


On the mean streets of Devon and Cornwall, some guy has been busy attacking his wife with a hammer in Painton, while some other guy has been busy goosing his flock of sheep on Dartmoor - that article didn't say if he was sheeping his geese.

Cars on the Tamar Bridge may be killing mussels and the World Dad Dancing Championships are returning to Devon.

It amazes me to think how seriously we used to take these kinds of things when I worked on the newspaper. Maybe old Millennial Me would have had a lot more fun than Back then Me.

Out of curiosity, I read the farming pages. It's a well-known fact that nobody apart from farmers reads the farming pages, that farming correspondents are invariably devoid of all social skills and they smell of manure and no reporter ever liked to do this job.

I still shudder at the thought of being sent one year to the Holsworthy Show to report on farming results. Covering agricultural shows involves a whole different language and it wasn't one that I wanted to learn.

Here's an extract from a recent Western Morning News farming report.

The interbreed terminal sire progeny group championship then went to the Blue Texel group from Rhys Cooke, with the Suffolk trio from Chris Holmes in reserve spot.
In the well supported pig section the interbreed title went to Hampshire Gilt Blewett Precious 76 from J E Sage, with the Large Black leader, Finnington Maltida from Jack Haywood following up in reserve.
Holsworthy


It raises a lot of questions, right? Such as what's a well-supported pig. Is it a pig with a large piggy bank? And who's interbred? The animals or the farmers?


The Holsworthy experience was a thoroughly miserable one. I had to drive for about an hour-and-half on manure-splattered roads in the driving rain to stand in a foul smelling barn wearing my undersized city slicker reporter's mac in deep-in-the-heart-of nowheresville.

When I finally got to interview a farmer he looked at me in a strange way as manure built up on my shiny shoes and my notepad tumbled into the mud.

"So what make of cow is this?"

The farmer looked distinctly unimpressed. I figured he might even  be a breeder but I didn't want to ask.

"Can't you see that's a cross limousin steer, not a cow? You're not from these parts"

At that point, I was rather glad I wasn't from those parts. Had I been from those parts I might also be sized up a prized cow. I had no idea what a limousin steer was, although I was badly in need of a limousine to get me out of the poo.

I had blanked out the ideas of agricultural shows for decades but after reading the report I was left in a state of bewilderment that there are still grizzled old farming correspondents on rural newspapers who are going into work every day to write this slurry.


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Gorilla Death Mom Michelle Gregg and The Netizen Bullies

I know I've had periods when I've thought social media was great and it's a component of my job, but I'm beginning to wonder. This isn't a new thing but the downside of social media was reinforced by the story of gorilla death mom.

This is a lot more serious than Chewbacca Mom (see previous post) but another example of how social media is leading to a collective loss of our minds. Gorilla death mom is Michelle Gregg from Ohio whose four-year-old kid climbed into a compound at Cincinnati Zoo and was mauled a bit by a gorilla called Harambe, who was then shot dead by zoo keepers.



The episode has sparked a barrage of online hate, most of it directed at Gregg. Judging by the level of vitriol you would have thought Gregg had shot the beast herself in the manner of Walter Palmer, the friendly neighborhood dentist who killed Cecil the Lion.

People loosely described as netizens took to Twitter, Facebook and the like to suggest, Gregg rather than Harambe should have been shot and to generally denigrate the mother as a low life. There's even a suggestion that the police could bring charges of neglect.

This is all rather disturbing as nearly everyone I know at some time or another has lost their kids.- granted  people without kids are less likely to. I succeeded in losing two kids in the space of as many minutes at Disney. Had the park not employed hyper-vigilant people, they'd probably still be wandering around the Magic Kingdom wondering if the line for Thunder Mountain had subsided.

What's worrying about the Gregg episode is how it illustrates how social media has set the playground bully free in a larger arena. It's a lot easier to say these kinds of things online than to someone's face. A zoo-type feeding frenzy then ensues with the mainsteam, and not so mainstream media, feeding off social media. This Daily Mail article is a case in point. What's the none-so-subtle message here and why is it relevant that the kid's father has a long criminal record? This article is really saying 'hate these people because they are black." Oh and they are overweight too - so that's a double whammy.

You have to wonder if there would be the same chorus of hating if a well-mannered, middle-class white, 70 year-old grandmother had a lapse of attention that led to her kid climbing into the gorilla enclosure.

This story also raises one more obvious rhetorical question to me, namely:

Shouldn't zoos construct enclosures that make it impossible for four-year-old kids to climb in and play papers, scissors, rock with a 450-pound gorilla? Just saying.

The concept of the social media bully would be less frightening if it wasn't so pervasive. Currently one of two candidates who is running for what is nominally the most powerful office in the word has made it this far by name calling on a grand scale. Marcus Rubio became "Little Marco," Ted Cruz was Lyin' Ted," and Hillary Clinton is "Crooked Hillary." It seems a rather long time ago since Donald Trump declared Rosie O'Donnel to be "a pig, a degenerate," back in the good old days when nobody took him seriously.

I always have this image as Trump as the punchy misfit who was bullied himself at school over his tangerine face and dead duck hairstlye and wrecks his revenge in shoes with steel tips behind the bike sheds, yelling "crip. loser, big ears or retard" at his victims.

I'm not saying politics has always been a gentle pursuit. Insults are part and parcel of the whole process.

Abraham Lincon once declared as a rejoinder to Stephen Douglas's arguments in favor of an expansion of slavery that they were "as thin as the homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had been starved to death."


Trump is the inheritor of the party that Lincoln brought onto the political scene which is really rather tragic when you think hard about it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Chewbacca Mom - Really?


Ok I'm not being funny or a miserable old git or anything but I just have three words - ChewbaccaMom - really?

If you have spent the last couple of days in a cardboard box or doing something meaningful you may have missed this phenomenon but the 130 million people who checked her out on Facebook clearly haven't.

So Chewbacca Mom is Candace Payne from Texas. She goes to Kohls to get stretch pants but ends up getting a Chewbacca mask instead and takes a selfie as she laughs hysterically. Errr and that's it.

Still, a couple of days later Payne has become a household name. She's carpooling with Star wars director JJ Abrams and is appearing on Good Morning America.

The Washington Post is writing analytical pieces on her transformative role in society.

Payne's video is a "reminder that life is filled with simple pleasures," it states. "Even with all of the negativity in the world, you can drive to Kohl's, buy a toy under $20 and crack yourself up alone in your car. it's uncomplicated, It's not stressful." the Washington Post states.

I have to say I found myself imagining the newsroom and the conference when some editor asked for volunteers to write about the transformative effects of Chewwy Mom. Suddenly all eyes go to the floor and pencils tap nervously.

Back in the day I recall the news editor lobbing a curveball at my features team when he wanted us to write about Dido's Thank You and how it was doing so well because everybody wanted to be happy and smiley and all that nonsense before he disappeared to the bar to drink himself into an angry stupor.

At least Dido had talent on her side and wasn't just famous for cackling to herself in a car. I guess one clutches at straws for amusement in the age of Donald Trump.







Thursday, May 19, 2016

Far Away Footie and Liverpool Blues

One of the worst deprivations I face living in the USA is watching footie from afar. I've never been a big fan of the U.S. version which features more shoulder pads than an episode of Dynasty, a statement that ages me badly, helmets and lots of stopping and standing around while men fondle odd shaped balls.

Football is called soccer in the US. It always pained me to come to terms with the word but a rather ill-fated episode of coaching under 5s last year, reconciled me more to the S word. I'm not sure if I was a great man (or child motivator for that matter). It's never a good thing when you are celebrating the end of the season at Pizza Hut and the kids start asking who you are. It's a long story really. As part of often acrimonious and unnecessarily costly divorce proceedings, I mentioned a time when the ex had resisted putting the 5-year-old into a local soccer club.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Kopp @ notahappybunny.com


The ex later enrolled him and even volunteered to be a head coach. The pressure was on me to coach an opposing team and I agreed. It soon became clear coaching 5-year-olds was not my bag. The sodden fields of Portsmouth, Virginia seemed a world away from the glory nights of long ago when Liverpool pulled off some of their greatest triumphs in the heart of Europe.

I'm not sure why I started supporting Liverpool but I believe it was a reaction to the elementary school bullies who were promising dire consequences for anyone who wouldn't support Manchester United. Withstanding the daily mortar attacks of snot projected across the class on rulers, it was still worth keeping my principles intact.

Supporting Liverpool was exhilarating and ultimately frustrating but never dull, But from the other side of the pond you often walk alone. Even when you can watch matches down the pub, there is little atmosphere and none of the old cheering and tribalism. The closest I came to recreating the mood was the game between England and the USA in 2010 when Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard scored early on, only for a pathetic fumble by the England goalkeeper to level the score. Watching England is usually an exercise in futility. That world cup was no different.

I had a better feeling yesterday when Liverpool squared up to Sevilla in the Europa Cup final after a breathtaking run in. I quickly ran into logistical problems. The game was scheduled for 7.45p.m. in Britain which was 2.45 p.m. in the United States. That's not an easy time to slip out of work. It was apparently possible to view the game on YouTube, I checked it out and received a message that the service is "not available in your country."

There was nothing for it but to 'watch' the game on live updates on BBC and the Guardian's website, although news of Liverpool's first goal was shared first on Facebook.

I started to wonder if I could get to a pub for the glorious second half. That's when things went slightly pear shaped and Sevilla scored three goals. Even with 10 minutes to go, I half expected a trademark Liverpool escape act.

Then a funny thing happened. Nothing happened.

I felt gutted but at least  had not broken out of jail to watch a fiasco. At some time in the night, I checked my phone and read an Egypt Air jet had disappeared. I started to imagine all those families waiting at the airport for a plane that would never land. it put my footie emptiness firmly into perspective.

Friday, May 13, 2016

My Video Blog Debut

It's hard to believe that in all the six years or so that this blog has been going, I am yet to publish a video blog even though those around me are doing it left, right and center.

So here's me making up for it. This video was taken at my kitchen table and it lasts just over a minute. About 20 seconds of prep went into it. If you are looking for words of wisdom, forget it. Still this does seem to be the way the world is going.

If Samuel Pepys were to be walking around with his famous diary today we'd accuse him of being a pompous old windbag.


Instead of waiting for Dickens' next installment, we'd be 'shove it up on YouTube mate.'

I have shot videos for media companies and anyone else who might be prepared to pay me a pittance for some time now. However, I try not to star in them. This one was taken on my iPhone and YouTube wants to do the shaky reduction on it. . All of which makes me wonder whatever happened to Shakin' Stevens and if he suddenly died would anyone notice. He could be dead already - we might not know. I digress.

I also forgot to do the horizontal thing. There's always next time, right.

Well the video was such fun, it was rapidly followed with Date With Dr. Diaper. This may seem like an irreverant chat, but it's actually a conceptual art project....




Thursday, May 5, 2016

On Upnor High Street

Walking down that cobbled street, I started to wonder if I had become a cliche of that kind of American who cherishes the historic. What was Upnor High Street in the grand scheme of things? Little more than an obscure lane leading down to the Medway - a couple of old pubs and some homes clad in traditional Kent weatherboarding. The Old Post Office was just that. The days when letters were sorted here were lost in antiquity. We posed for a picture. We put it on Instagram. We moved on.



There was a smart model of a sloop beyond a crumbling window sill. Daffodils were pushing their way out of the earth in the boxes set out in the shady areas beneath the buildings and we could hear subdued laughter from a pub garden, although it was cold to be outside on that April day, cold but stimulating for the spirits. If you listened carefully maybe you would hear the shoots pushing up through the thin soil.

Upnor seemed like a strange place for a family get together. It also seemed as good a place as any. The street was unremarkable compared to Rye, Stamford, Lavenham, Shaftsbury or a host of other places. It only merits a few lines on Wikipedia and its castle is understated. Even so there was a temptation to don a pair of bright green flannel golfing pants and a pair of white sneakers and yell out "Gee this is so quaint."



What do you expect when your leisure hours are haunted by too many strip malls, too much concrete. Functional is ugly but it is the utilitarian future. What use have we for cobbles anymore? The old sea captain's sloop will rot with the windows. The castle will be shunned and its curtain walls quietly closed off from visitors. It had been five long years since I have been back to Britain and the few days I was there opened and closed and now it's as if I never visited.

But there's something reassuring about finding things the way they are. The old people. Still there for now but just older. The same strange but reassuringly familiar oddities. The same family units, intact and at odds with the fragmented ones I have grown used to. I walked slowly down the high street. I breathed in the thin spring air and the fragile flowers and graceful windows and castle towers. And I wanted to hold onto a slice of it, to bottle it up and take it away with me like the most crass of American collectors.








Saturday, April 30, 2016

Z is for Zig Zags

There is nothing new under the sun. Although the brief episode known as Mankind may have seemed like an aberration or an experiment, it was not unique. For two million years after the demise of humans, the world buzzed and hummed in a perpetual food chain, but no one species returned to dominance. Then it zig-zagged back again.



The climatic crisis of the 21st Century had been a mere blip in the rise and fall of the earth. It only took a few thousands of years for the carbon to retreat. In the overall history of the planet, it would pale into insignificance compared to the radiation explosions of the sun before its eventual demise that would boil the oceans and waste any flora and fauna that remained. That happy event was still hundreds of millions of years away. The next people to dominate the world were a species of lizard called the Karnika. On the face of it, they were unprepossessing. Their eyes were overlarge and oozed blue gunk night and day. They had four legs but, like man, later stood up. Even this was not a pretty sight because the Karnika had one scaly leg that was longer than the other, making it difficult to escape from their enemies. Due to their vulnerability, they used their cunning to make up for their lack of athleticism.

In a Karnika village on a land mass that was known as South America a long time ago, the return of Boubus, had caused quite a stir. Boubus was the child of the chief who had disappeared into the forest a year ago to 'find himself.' Everyone in the village assumed he would be killed by a big cat or one of the other nefarious creatures that inhabited the forest, but one day he returned.

He had a horse with him and was dragging a cage full of exotic monkeys. But the return of Boubus was less remarkable than the contraption that was carried behind the cart. Wooden slats had been put together in an outlandish spherical design. The contraption rolled behind the horse.

A group of womenfolk gathered in the village square. The return of Boubus made them emotional. There was enough eye oozing going on to create a mound of ooze in the square that Boubus tactfully pulled his cart around.

His family and the elders of the village embraced him and then turned to the contraption.

"Can you see the ease of movement?" he cried. "Imagine how this will revolutionize our village and make it easier to harvest the crops."

His father mounted a rock with his smaller leg on the surface and his other leg on the ground. That way he attained some stature and equilibrium. "I am so proud of my lost son," he told the gathering crowd. "He went away into the jungle and came back with something wonderful. This is progress."

He pushed the cart and it moved forward. The motion caused his lizard nostrils to puff up and emit little squeaks of delight. He pushed it again and giggled..

So that's the A-Z Challenge zipped up for another year. This one was hard due to time constraints. A few posts were late but it wasn't the end of the world...