Saturday, June 26, 2010

From Starbucks to CineBistro - a week on the run

Another week of writing and blogging and grabbing coffees on the run is at an end. As is the case with most weeks, I've met some great people and failed to spend enough quality time with them. So I make few apologies for using an entry from my official blog here as the alternative would be a dull rant about house chores and a disorder I was recently diagnosed with that makes them potentially bad, if not fatal to my health.

My sneak peek of CineBistro in Hampton's Peninsula Town Center on Tuesday has been playing havoc with my long held perceptions of both movie theaters and bowling alleys.

Think the movies, think rushing into a dingy auditorium while the trailers are still playing, spilling popcorn on the greasy floor while half listening to a voiceover for Jimmy's Bail Bonds. The concessions stand is a hole in the wall in which a disaffected member of staff with holes in her teeth dispenses candy at exorbitant prices; the seats are cramped and inevitably the person in front is blocking out the movie with an inconsiderate hair style.

Think bowling alleys, think ripped seats and cigarette butts, think guys with sleeveless shirts and hair styles like Patrick Swayze in Road House, squaring up for a fight by the pool table. Think cheap red bowling shoes and coke in plastic cups.

CineBistro, which opened on Friday manages to fuse both elements along with dining in an upscale way.

For a start visitors approach this 48,000-square foot facility up a stairway that looks like it should lead to a luxury Vegas casino.

The eight movie theaters feature 40-inch leather seats and swing away dining tables. There are even double "love seats" up front to ensure amorous movie watchers don't need to skulk away on the rear seats.

The food being served is a cut above popcorn and candy. The menu includes Seared Ginger Sesame Tuna with a Salmon Spring Roll, Asian Slaw and Spicy Wasabi Sauce and Churrasco Steak and Frites, prepared by chefs who have been trained in Italy.

It comes at a price as do the cocktails at the designer bar. The bowling alley is described as "boutique" in the official publicity and it's certainly not like the kind of grubby lanes you find in small town America. There are no notices banning shirts without sleeves but bow ties are more in keeping with the ambiance of CineBistro.

A flavor of the experience is conveyed on the website which has photographs of women in cocktail dresses and a man in a suit standing outside a white limo.

Hampton will be entitled to think its limo has arrived when CineBistro opens its sumptuous doors on Friday.

It can only be hoped that the marketing people are right in supposing Hampton Roads can support such a venue because the only others are in Miami and Tampa, where there are surely more white tuxes per square mile.

I'll have to check out CineBistro now it's officially open but it won't be the same with the general public in there.

My work blog can be viewed at

Unlike this one it's official

Saturday, June 19, 2010

RIP Yoda

As it turned out those summer evening walks with Yoda were short lived.

During his last days Yoda was confined to a downstairs bathroom after numerous mishaps on the wooden floors. Mishap is a convenient word that masks the unpleasant reality. Dogs like people can go downhill fast and their last days are seldom dignified either.

Still from the outside Yoda looked like any other small 11-year-old dog, graying in places, but still up for a walk.

Because of his confinement I made a point of taking him out around the development nightly. Zara would join me and the experience proved strangely bonding.

For that half an hour Yoda was his old self again, gamely skuttling along with sidewalks, flitting in and out of the pale white lights and the benign shadows of the homes.

As people settled down for the night the twilight took on soft edges, the crickets chirped in the nether distance and a half moon rode up in the clear southern skies.

On such nights Zara and I would count the frogs on the sidewalks and joke as I swung the trash into the hole in the dumpster, often missing on the first attempt.

Here and there a solitary figure would be seen on a patio, mumbling an evening greeting or low conversation from a couple sitting under an umbrella would drone like bees across the lawns. But for the most part we had the night to ourselves. Walking was addictive. It felt like we could go on until the pink dawn glittered in the east, but in reality our walks were seldom longer than 40 minutes.

And Yoda, with his bold Union Jack festooned lead from Harrods, seemed to belong to another time; a time of hope and possibility before routine set in.

I had driven down to Monaco with Nic more than eight years ago to leave him with a solitary pet sitter, who lived alone with her dogs in a house perched on the side of a hillside. In the south of France even the concrete pillars of the nearby flyover, seemed to resembed a piece of modern art.

Yoda had criss crossed the streets of Nice and Toronto and tore up the grass in his speed in Regent's Park. He had been smuggled into numerous restaurants in his carrier and occasionally developed hicups which we had disguised by strategically coughing as we ordered from the menu.

And all of the time he had loathed me, making a point of barking when I came into the room. For long months at a time I would return the compliment, while stopping short of actually barking.

When Nic moved to the US a few months earlier than me, we shared a terraced house in London and an atmosphere that could have been sliced with a 5-ft long chain saw. I would glare at his histrionics and he would pee on the kitchen floor to spite me.

When I had to catch him to put him in a large container for the flight, he bit me. But after the plane landed at Dulles and I saw the solitary container drawfed by the tale of the jumbo, I felt a small wave of something I had never felt before and later made a point of going out to the gas station to being beef jerky back to the Days Inn.

Yesterday when he was taken to be euthanized I felt curiously detached. Death can do that to me. If I attend a funeral it always feels like I am watching someone else's life and death from a faraway place.
But the house felt emptier when I turned my key in the door last night and instead of barking there was silence.

And recalling all those escapades, those dark rainy days when youths would mock us during walks and yell out "rat on a string" made me realize how a dog can intwine itself with many lives and will always be there darting and barking in and out of all those jagged and half remembered memories for better or for worse.

A small dog may be a small consideration but death is death and Yoda's death seems like a precursor of worse to come, a small and furry but significant equation in balance with this life, this death.
We may walk again tonight under the southern skies. But then there will be two.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

England performance leaves us feeling green

I confess to going to watch England's game against the USA yesterday with a swagger and a degree of arrogance.
Frankly when we are talking about England both are dangerous qualities that are likely to result in acute embarassment and leave one a mumbling, shuffling mess after 90 minutes.
Indeed I have lost count of the number of times I have been watching England in the opening match of a World Cup or European Championship game, only to feel the euphoria draining away as quickly as the beer in my glass.
This time the beer wasn't even cold, but at least they have Boddington's at the Pub in Hampton.
And they also had Brits, looking around and blinking in a confused manner in the half light, as if they had been roudned by the Brit Bus half an hour earlier.
OK they also have rather confused servers wearing kilts and the flag of St. George at The Pub.
But there's little point explaining to Americans that Scots would rather see anyone win than England.
On the positive side it was good to see Americans getting genuiely fired up about their team. The decibel level was high in The Pub and the American fans even seem to have latched on to the British ability to sing rude songs.
Admittedly there were some customers who didn't get it. Families were showing up at the Pub at the time of the match and throwing their toys out of their kids' prams when they didn't get a table because nobody was leaving their places for the game.
All of which is a rather nice distraction from the match itself which can be added to the long litany of English disappointments.
Not that it seemed that way when Gerrard scored in the 4th minute. I joked to a colleague it would be 4-0 by the time I returned to the bar.
I had not reckoned on Robert Green and his now infamous green fingers. The rest is England history.
But at least if it calms all the usual fare in tabloids about how our lads are going to win it and Rooney is the new Pele, it's not all bad.
And let's not forget a poor looking Italian team drew with the USA four years ago and went on to win the World Cup.
I'm not holding my breath any more than Jules Rimet is still gleaming. But - who knows - it may be glittering darkly in some obscure place.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Football's coming home - almost

If one thing's going to make me feel homesick in the USA it's the World Cup.
Eight years ago on a visit to the deep south following the big match was about as hit and miss as prospecting for gold.
I'd rush to bars only to find the screens dominated by baseball or the wrong kind of football, a game played with protective helmets and shoulder pads bigger than Crystal from Dynasty. Queries to the management would be met with knitted brows; knitted monobrows in some parts of the deep south, actually.
And given that the World Cup was being held in the Far East, the time difference proved a nightmare.
I miscalculated England's crucial game with Brazil by 24 hours but at least I missed another abject defeat.
But it's getting better slowly. Today's game between England and the USA has engendered quite a bit of interest Stateside although football remains America's sixth most popular sport. I refuse to use the 's' word because an Englishman dies somewhere everytime it's uttered.
The good news is Hampton has a British pub and they are showing the match shortly. And while it may not be quite like home I'm sure after a few overly chilled glasses of Newcastle Brown I can get over my phobia of English men in kilts and fish and chips that doesn't quite taste like the real McCoy.
And finally England has a decent manager and has thrown together a few good results.
So maybe we'll make it through a few rounds before we crash out to the Germans on penalties.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Back to Blogging Bootcamp

A visit to the library today has led me to ask myself some hard questions about blogging.

I don't visit my local library as often as I should but whenever I do the women in there give me wary looks, although I could be just imagining this.

I'll come clean and admit I used to be paranoid but I am fine now because I have realized only half of the people who used to spend all day following me are tailing me now.

Even so I still feel the strain in my eyes in the library as my pupils dilate and I take on the expression of a random alcoholic in an ABC store as I gather in books from east and west, knowing I'll probably never read any of them from cover to cover by the due date.

I hadn't meant to get out Blogging for Dummies but when I saw it I thought - what the heck? What the heck one day I may look back on this as one of life's seismic what the heck moments.

Now I find myself randomly opening pages and getting more and more disenchanted each time. Of course there are the normal frustrations brought about by my rampant technopobia but I can cope with that. I don't need to concern myself with heading off free template problems because I have no clue what these issues might be. Likewise blog markup languages, pinging, RSS feed and Apache which until now I thought was a type of helicopter that got into trouble in Somalia.

I'm more worried by the perceived goals of a blog which include the number of readers attracted, the number of comments, followers and the ability to sell a product. By any and all of these measures if I was at Blog Bootcamp I'd be the overweight guy walking down a dirt road four miles into a 10 mile run.

I try not to consider the stats but 17 followers in over a year and a couple of comments on each post if I'm lucky, certainly ensures my blog is a failure in the terms defined by Blogging for Dummies.

And in the era of social networking when following is everything let's face the harsh truth. I'm hardly a virtual Moses whose followers would walk through parted seas for me.

Page 151 of Blogging for Dummies has proved the most dispiriting so far. "A blog that gets lots of comments is a sign that the blogger is resonating with his or her audience - even if just to make them mad. A blog with no or few comments is probably just leaving people flat and maybe just isn't being read."

This advice makes me wonder if I should be more controversial. What a great job BP is doing in the Gulf. That kind of thing.

Another thing I should be doing, according to Blogging for Dummies is lurking on other blogs. This sounds slightly sinister like I should be wearing a dirty rancoat as I trawl through successful blogs, getting increasingly frustrated by their abject success.

The author Susannah Gardner suggests turning an offline hobby into a blog can lead to a successful hobby blog that's read avidly by likeminded people. "One of my hobbies is knitting, and let me tell you, the knitters have caught onto blogging in a huge way," she writes.

One of my hobbies is not knitting, unless knitting of one's brows while reading a help book counts, but this won't stop me putting in a link to a successful knitting blog because linking is apparently as important as lurking in the blogisphere.

That wasn't so painful. So maybe this is a cue to supply the links of the hardy followers who have stumbled across my blog in the blogisphere and have stuck with it against the odds.

I owe you all something - a Snicker bar, maybe.

Gardner also suggests reporting news is a good source of blog traffic. I shouldn't have a problem there although apparently the more specialized the reporting the better. Maybe I should curtail my blogs to news about crop circles in southern Wiltshire, although I fear I would run out of material in about 10 minutes.

Then there's always the personal diary blog approach espoused by life bloggers; my personal battle against weight loss and how I wrestled on the floor for an hour with a Frankfurther sausage that alone contained my daily input of saturated fat before man beat food. That kind of thing.

But when it comes down to it I fear my blog is too random. Topics occur to me such as how I have suddenly rediscovered The Beautiful South after practically forgetting about the group for a decade, or how Sam's Club gets me down more than any other store in America or how people drift in and out of one's life like the tide but leave an indelible impression that never quite washes away.

But for now I will focus. I will re-read Blogging for Dummies and get my RSS feed up to speed. And I'll buy that raincoat to go lurking.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Today I cheated

I'm not sure if I'll burn in hell or not but I'm off to the confessional, anyway. But will the fact I'm not a Catholic bar me? To be fair I have liked most of the Catholics I have met, even though I think the Church has major issues. Father I posted my work blog on my personal blog site because I haven't had time to blog in a personal way. On well here goes...

Hampton's 400th celebrations have concentrated on a lot of feelgood stuff about the harmonious relationships between the city's three main founding cultures; the Europeans, the Native Americans and the African Americans.

The three founding figures will be featured on a permanent memorial in due course.

Reading the overview for next Monday's mini conference at The American Theater in Phoebus, The Day Kikotan Became Hampton, I found myself thinking this might be more of the same.

Three years before a sunny July 9, 1610, the Kikotan Indians first beckoned to some white men whose ships were anchored at Point Comfort.

The Indians escorted the strangers to their nearby village to be feasted and entertained with music and dance.

Forget the hospitality of the Wampanoag Indians to the Plymouth colonists in 1621 that gave rise to a national holiday. The Indians were doing hospitality in Hampton 16 years earlier.

Soon English copper, tools and weapons were being swapped for Indian corn, fresh meat and fish. The good relations continued and around Christmas 1608 the Kikotans sheltered John Smith and his men while icy gales swept round Hampton Roads.

At Jamestown where Smith become governor everyone was having a horrendous time in the winter of 1609-10 known as the "starving time" as Indian hostility reduced the number of colonists from 200 to about 60.

Not so at the Eden that is modern day Hampton. "Residents of brand-new Fort Algernoune at Point Comfort flourished on fresh oysters and fish. They had sufficient abundance to fatten their hogs. Their plethora presumably was supplied by Kikotans," the conference overview material notes.

But in the description of the steamy summer day of July 9, 1610, a serpent enters the Eden.

An English tabor player appeared before the Indian village, rapping a little drum and dancing a jig. It was an accustomed way to issue invitations. the villagers surged forth into the sunlight "expecting a happy surprise."

"Never would they have expected the explosion of musket shot until it ripped their bodies, never did they see shooters hidden in the woods. This was the final day Kikotan was Indian, the first day it began to be English," the overview notes.

In other words the Day Kikotan Became Hampton was one of the first in a long catalogue of events that saw the native people driven from the land they had lived on from 1610 to the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890.

Monday's conference which has been organized by the Hampton History Museum Association begins at 6 p.m. The presenters will be Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Helen Clark Rountree, Wayne E. Lee, Stephen R. Adkins, Jeanne McDougall and Bob Zentz.

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