Sunday, August 22, 2010

Fine wine from Chesapeake

The weekend hasn't been so bad so far. I spent three hours yesterday demonstrating wine from urban Hampton Roads' only winery and today I'm giving 20 minutes' intensive care to the only blog I know that's losing followers.

Then it's off to Edenton to mooch around and look at a few cannons in the rain.

I've always been jealous of people who demonstrate wine in supermarkets so when a friend mentioned her work as a demonstrator, I jumped at the chance.

It's always amusing when I tell customers I'm demonstrating wine from Chesapeake. There's a recoiling motion of the neck followed by a loss of focus before they say very slowly and deliberately as if to talk over their sense of denial: "From Chesapeake?"

In fact Carafe Wine Makers produce the wine in a store on 1036 Volvo Parkway, suite #5 . Most customers become anxious about the thought of vines harvested off a road where they have probably spend some time twiddling their thumbs in traffic for long periods. I am always happy to inform them that the grapes are imported from some of the world's best wine making regions, predominantly in California.

The wine costs under $10 a bottle and is pretty good for the most part. I know as I have to spend most of the week finishing off the bottles.

Admittedly I get somewhat snobbish about our fruit mist wines such as the Sea Breezin, Riesling with a bold splash of Strawberry, which tastes more like Kool-Aid than wine to my mind. But sampling has helped me overcome my initial doubts. Many of our customers can't get enough of the stuff, especially the burly sailors at the local Navy base. My wife likes it too, which leaves me a free run on the reds.

I'm not sure if being British helps with the samplings. Yesterday a woman in Williambsurg assumed I must be a wine expert given my Australian roots. For a second I hesitated to correct her.

British vineyards aren't exactly world beaters. There's much to be said for global warming.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A date with Uncle Sam

So it's finally happened after interminable years of filling in forms and forgetting my social security number. I am about to be granted admission to the exclusive club that is the US of A.

On September 2, I will be invited to a ceremony in which I will be asked to cite the pledge of allegiance. If I place the correct hand on my proud, beating breast, Uncle Sam will take me in his embrace and I will spend the rest of my life living the American dream and pulling popcorm out of a gigantic refrigerator

Well. Something like that anyhow.

Over the next few weeks I will be thinking carefully about my past and my future. I will be buying copious amounts of Coors Lite and Bud and forcing myself to no longer believe it tastes like parrot vomit.

I will hire a therapist who will tell me Twiglets are bad and Fritos are good. I will seek to erase all memories of New York when I joined a group of rowdy Brits who stood on chairs in a pub, cigarette lighters in the air and sang Hey Jude.

From now on I will throw away my Beatles and Stones albums, stop going on about Robbie and Radiohead and start listening to the Beach Boys. And I will kick random corgis in the street.

At this rate I may even have to attend my first game of baseball and American football. I might have to find a team to follow. The Washington Red Sox maybe.

But I'm damned if I'm going to use the s word to described football.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


It disturbs me on a level that I can't remember the first time I met my father-in-law.

First meetings with inlaws are usually unforgettable experiences so I'm not sure why it's different with Jack. The process of elimination tells me it must have been in London; when we lived in a small row house in Islington where the streets smelled of diesel and the we woke to the sound of brakes from the tube trains on the Picaddily line and the gentle rustle of the sycamores.

My mind is usually like a tube map. I remember the station where I got on and the one where I departed. But Jack is out there wandering through my consciousness, through the tiny park choked with grafitti and the distant threat of violence, through the swanky lanes of Soho and the stores where shirts were folded to look like works of modern art.

And there was the Andy Warhol exhibition at the Tate that we breezed through and the squares that we walked through on sunny days, the numerous Japanese restaurants and the hurried departures because Jack always left it late to catch his plane back to Canada.

Jack always had an interesting tale to tell and was good to wind the night away with. It was effortless to hang out with him, notwithstanding his habit of lingering too long in shops.

While other relatives thrived on emotion and chaos, you could rely on Jack to resort to logic. You could rely on him not to be judgmental, to be in control of a situation and to be successful in everything he did in the business world. His charm and genuine warmth was guaranteed to translate into sales and a rapid rise up the corporate ladder.

He was less successful as a family guy, having been through a couple of marriages before dedicating himself to bachelorhood. Jack was the sort of guy who would come home with a big smile and an even bigger red setter in his arms, giving little thought about who would walk it. Or he'd show up in a new soft top sports car, with little thought of where the kids would sit.

I never saw his hedonistic streak and his determination to live life to the full as a weakness. I think I saw elements of myself in him.

The last time I saw him we drove eight hours from South Carolina to Virginia. Jack stayed in the house for a few days. I'd catch up with him watching basketball at night after the late shift but I was tired and our conversations were cursory.

We saw him off at the airport but his independent streak kicked in and he urged us to leave so as he could browse the shops before his departure. My last glimpse was of him disappearing up an escalator, his jacket over his shoulder, very much the self contained corporate sales maestro.

And now I wonder if that will prove to be my last glimpse of him.

I'm not good with the word cancer because cancer happens to other people who I'm not related to. Cancer happens to the people I write about in stories and the pale kids who front fundraising commerials.

When I think of Jack coughing on every second word in an apartment a friend has let him stay in rent free in Vancouver I can only wonder if he looks out of the window and sees the majesty of the distant mountains and suddenly realizes they are out of reach.

I remember the hint of warmth that lay in the Vancouver spring the only time I visited more than a decade ago, the gentle whistle of the wind across the beaches that ring Stanley Park and the cherry blossoms, Housman's loveliest of trees hung with bloom along the bough.

And the anticipation as the coach lurched its way up to Whistler and the way the distant mountain peaks glistened with the ice of a million chandeliers as I pointed my skies down the slope to hurtle faster and faster down the slope, seeking the thrill and the danger at every twist and turn.

I'm not sure if Jack will see the cherry blossoms appear on the bough again or the snow glisten on the mountains. But as long as there is beauty left in the world I'll hope against hope.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Au naturalized

I am pleased to report I survived my naturalization test and am now well on the way to becoming well and truly naturalized.

I had expected a large room with a small official on a power kick, which is pretty well much what I got except for the fact the room was also small.

But I'm not going to be too critical before I know if  I have been accepted as a citizen of this great and upstanding nation.

Still I am already adopting the US mindset and am considering installing a large star spangled banner in the front garden; and we're not talking about the Confederate flag with a full sized replica of General Robert E. Lee, either. No siree.

I aced all of the questions with one small hitch. I blurted out that the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 14, 1776, before correcting myself. But not before the official could quip: "Aha Bastille Day"  squinting at me through narrowed eyes that suggested he suspected I was an accursed Frenchman while his nostrils twitched as he sought to pick up the smell of garlic.

He then pulled a velvet curtain shut, produced a pendulum and proceeded to hypnotize me.

"Cast out all impure thoughts of red phone boxes, muffins, corgis and warm beer," he intoned in a low, lulling voice.

As soon as I learn I'm in, I'm going off to celebrate with an ice cold Miller Lite. Just one mind and not at lunch time (obviously).

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Naturalization test day

Now this is alarming. I have my naturalization test for U.S. Citizenship tomorrow morning and I've only just found a CD of sample questions that I've meant to be learning for the last two months.

There I was assuming they would be asking the name of the brand of doughnut that is ready when the red light goes on or what's American for a car's boot and I'm hit with lots of grown up questions.

I figure my last chance to ace it is to learn a numbers game. So here goes.

The Bill of Rights consists of 10 amendments (presumably because the founding fathers, nay framers) were dischuffed about some of the original provisions.

The Constitution was written in 1787. This shouldn't be confused with the Declaration of Independence (which is somewhat dubious because it was written in 1776 when the US was still a British colony).

The Constitution has 27 amendments whereas the Declaration of Independence has life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The Declaration has been the result of much happiness ever since because July 4 is a day off work, whereas there is no holiday for the Constitution.

The Declaration also mentions freedom of religion which means it's acceptable to built large compounds in Texas and carry on in a dubious manner. At least until the Feds decide to send in the tanks.

The economic system of the USA apparently is capitalist, which is worth mentioning to some of the more rightwing commentators who seems to believe it's socialist - for now.

The Pilgrims arrived in 1620. The Jamestown folks arrived first in 1607 but the study guide doesn't mention them as they fought with the Indians instead of sharing supper.

There are 100 senators and 435 members of the House of Representatives. I keep forgetting this figure. If you knock off those who have been involved in sex scandals it's probably down to 400 which would be easier to remember. I doubt if this would be legitimate for tomorrow's test, though.

And U.S. Representatives only serve two year terms while Senators serve six. It hardly seems to be worth it being a Representative particularly as this would entail close contact with Nancy Pelosi.

Then there are some remarkably easy questions such as who is the President and who lived in America before the Europeans. These sort of questions unnerve me because they seem too obvious. Rather than the Native Indians I am liable to blow it by going on about Asiatic peoples and the Vikings.

I'm pleased to say the question of who was Thomas Jefferson's mistress does not appear to be on the test. I got this one wrong at work and earned myself some strange looks by venturing Betsy Ross.

Wish me luck.

Lost by the Sea

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