Friday, August 31, 2012

Clint Eastwood - Off his rocker but he still rocks

The reaction to Clint Eastwood's rambling empty chair routine at the GOP Convention seems to have been all over the news networks reflecting our collective sense of humor bypass operation when it comes to politics.

Clint was meant to be neat little warm up act for the Republican party's nominee Mitt Romney; instead he stole the headlines.

Privately some of Romney's aides were said to be furious that Clint had taken the shine off their man's big moment.

Meanwhile Democrats were also jumping on the bandwagon, trying to intimate Clint was the real soul of the Republican party.

Commentator Ted Frier, a former communications director for the Massachusetts Republican Party, wrote in some blog or another. "Clint Eastwood's unscripted sketch in the closing hours of the Republican National Convention in Tampa last night finally managed to say something that was true: The Republican Party is an aging white guy ranting incoherently at an imaginary Barack Obama."

Personally, I was rather glad to see Clint's routine, not because I agreed with its content, but because it was refreshing to see a real unscripted moment after days of men in sharp suits delivering carefully choreographed scripts about how their grandfathers came to America 100 years ago without a shirt on their backs, and worked down the mine and finally got to live the American dream, bought a fridge big enough to bury a body in etc. through honest toil, blah blah (pause to hand out the barf bags).

Clint is probably a better illustration of the American dream. You work until you are 80 plus and somebody shoves you on a stage even though you have lost half of your marbles, for hoped for political gain. This is not wholly accurate. I'm not saying Clint is in the same position as the grey haired old lady with a hunchback who works down my local McDonal's, probably for less than $10 a hour, but hey she gets to see her picture on the employee of the month board every month because she doesn't grunt at the customers.

The Clint Eastwood episode just serves to illustrate how humorless and image conscious the world of politicians and those who feed off them have all become. God forbid that an octogenarian is allowed to mutter and spout off his real thoughts without a makeover by the spin doctors beforehand.

I may not agree with Clint's views but, to my mind he still rocks. He was the man with no name; he made chewing on an old dog end look cool; he was that unremittingly hard dude Dirty Harry, he made a war film from the Japanese perspective and he made Gran Torino. Nuff said.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

On the death of Trevor and other thoughts

It's rare these day when a Facebook post can stop me in my tracks but "RIP Trevor M" was like a great heavy concrete wrecking ball of a post that hit me square in the chops. I almost gagged on my beer; I hung up on my conversation mid banality.

It was posted by a girl whose life took a different turn from mine. While I have lived in eight different places and two different continents since I left school she has lived within a couple of miles of the school all that time. Her kids still go there. We have little in common.

When you are transient your life can become very segmented. Different people belong to different places. They are filed away under different names and drawers stacked with carefully pressed memories. Former friends, girlfriends and wives occasionally pop up on social networks. But they are detached from their bodies, nebulous thoughts and gestures filed away in lockers down far off and echoing halls.

But Trev. Yes that killed me. He wasn't just my year, he was my class. I hung out with him and spent idle hours in his basement. He was the first kid in the class to have the single of Ghost Town by the Specials before it became Number One. He was both cool and unassuming. He was thin and wore flannel trousers and a skinny black tie and had a Mod parker with a target on the back. He was a bit rakish like Terry Hall from The Specials. He died of a fit in his sleep.

Trev wasn't quite a friend but he was close to it. He was one of the guys we hung around with when we stood on the wall by the train tracks and mooned to the passengers on the 7.45 into Gloucester station. As you do. He used to beat me at football and tennis. It pains me to find my memories are already becoming skeletal; stripped down to the bare bones.

Knowing Trevor he held down a respectable but unremarkable job. Maybe he had a couple of kids. There are people like me who harbor dreams of changing the world and crash to earth like Icarus after flying too close to the sun. There are people like Daedalus who escape and then people like Trevor who have no inclination to build wings in the first place.

But the death of Trevor haunts me for another reason. I have had a dream about being at Trevor's house all those years ago. We listened to Ghost Town over and over again in his basement. But something terrible happened to him and he was taken away in the night. Like all instances of deja vu, it's fuzzy around the edges. It's undefined but the feeling of horror isn't. And the next day I walked down those now strange and deserted streets of adolescence. And they were both the same and different from the faceless suburbia I delivered newspapers in. Bodiam Avenue with its hill, suddenly dreadful and insurmountable on my bike. They were deserted streets in my dreams and nobody moved on them, as if Armageddon had come in the night and took everybody away.

And bands won't play no more.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Prince Harry strip pics leave newspapers feeling naked

Just when the Royal family was in danger of becoming boring and mainstream along comes a few photos of a naked Prince Harry playing strip billiards with girls in a hotel room in Vegas.

Prince Harry addresses a Walking with the Wounded press  conference

My questions about the latest Royal scandal appear to be rather different from anyone else's - being ..

1 What the hell is strip billiards?

2 Does it involve any balls being potted? (owch).

Personally I'm rather happy to see the Royals getting in a spot of bother. It seems so long since those pictures of Fergie having her toes tucked by her financial advisor, the Squidygate tapes etc. Even the Duke of Edinburgh is too sick to insult any foreigners these days.

In contrast Harry is keeping up the Great British tradition of making a mark in the United States. Like Hugh Grant without the mugshot.

Harry has a bit of a history of being a lad. In 2005 he showed up a friend's fancy dress party wearing a Nazi costume complete with a swastika arm band.

"Harry the Nazi," declared the Sun.

Usually when Royal scandals erupt there's the tabloid story and the erudite story - namely about how the tabloids have covered the issue. It was no exception this time. After the Leveson inquiry into press intrusion the newspapers heeded the Clarence House pleas for them not to use the pictures.

Then a day later The Sun made a sudden U-turn and published the pictures, painting itself as a champion of press freedom.

Today's front page "Heir it is," gave readers the "pic of naked Harry you've already seen on the internet."

The line is ironic because it's the foil to so many newspaper headlines that make much of how they are offering readers exclusive pictures before any other publication. Obliquely I wonder if this headline is a epitaph to the newspaper industry in the age of the internet.

You also have to wonder if the Royal Family has kept up with the times. Is there really any point if urging the official media not to publish pictures when anybody with a computer can access them on a myriad of sites?

The Sun's editor championed the public interest cause pointing out half of the world had seen the pictures on the Internet anyhow and its readers had a right to see them. I'm not sure if the public interest argument wasn't undermined by the fact most of its readers had probably already checked out Harry online.

To be fair these pictures weren't entirely tasteless. Personally I found images on The Sun's website of Celine Dion wearing a rabbit mask and dungarees adorned with stuffed bears and Kim Kardashian doing an impression of Diana Ross, considerably more toe curling.

Harry's hotel japes were the sort of thing soldiers do when they go on vacation. To pick a totally random name, entirely unconnected with Harry, it's the kind if cadish escapade you could imagine former Household Cavalry officer, Major James Hewitt engaging in.

The trouble is when you are third in line to the throne what happens in Vegas is unlikely to remain there.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Down to earth and subliminal quick lane sexism

After a holiday I usually have about a day of euphoria and then the real world sets in again. But worse than before. That's when I crash.

(Posh permatans Image credits: RealSelf)

It doesn't help when a funny warning light comes on in the car and it feels like it's about to shudder to pieces at stop lights.

Today I finally took it to the same place that just did a $600 service on it four weeks ago (so as it would never break down again...right)

I walked into the service room. On the right at the desk was a middle aged man wearing overalls with a spanner sticking out of the pockets. On the left there was a woman with a permatan who had overdosed on foundation and gaudy gold jewelry and was casually examining her long red nails.

Now I may not be a very spiritual person but I felt this strange and unseen force propelling me to the right of the room.

I realized with a start that I had a lot more faith in overall man to sort out my shuddering car problem than finger nailed woman. Immediately internal doubts started to crowd into my head. Was I, in fact, a subliminal sexist?

Did I have more faith in overalled man because he was, in fact, a man? And had I wanted finger nail tips (although this is highly unlikely) would I have gravitated to the left?

Or maybe I could blame conditioning. The same conditioning that means the diapers I buy for my son have checkered flags and cars on them while the ones I once bought for my daughter had princesses on them.

Needless to say Sod's Law stepped in. Overall man picked up the phone and nail woman called me over.

And later she phoned to to tell me it would cost about $500 to change a couple of spark plugs because gasket heads couldn' t be replaced once taken off.

"Why it is so much?" I asked.

"Oh your car is different. It has a different kind of thing," she told me.

"It does. Oh?"

I'm still wishing I'd taken the right path, although for all I know it would have made no difference to what transpired.

(BTW has anyone ever seen Victoria Beckham smile. Would something bizarre happen to her face if she attempted it Just the once?)

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Art of Keeping your Head in Mexico

“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home," Dagobert D. Runes once commented.

Whoever the hell he is.

This was the kind of quote I had in mind in Cabo St Lucas when I went people watching. Jennifer Lopez, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston like to vacation here on the far corner of Baja California I'm told (presumably not together). I didn't see any of them. I saw a guy who looked like an extra from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

In retrospect I was unlikely to see too many celebs in Wal-Mart in Cabo.

The interesting thing about Wal-Mart in Cabo was that, while a lot of Americans have a poor opinion of Mexicans, the Mexicans in Wal-Mart were dressed far more stylishly than the Americans in any Wal-Mart you might be unlucky enough to visit in the USA.

That's not saying much. But it is saying there were no 300 pound women dressed in skin tight lycra, threatening to swallow you with a bare belly button the size of the Black Hole of Calcutta by the check-outs. There were also people working the check-outs.

Disappointingly wine is rather expensive in Cabo. Most things seemed to be.

I had been keen to visit Mexico because I had never been there before. I wanted the stamp in the passport - and to tick it off my list. The trouble is seven days spent in a pleasant resort isn't really up to the task of ticking off a diverse and vibrant nation of 113 million people.

And a dangerous one? Before I left some people looked at me in an odd way when I said I was going to Mexico. It was as if I had proclaimed: "Hey. I'm off to vacation in Aleppo, Syria. Anyone got some style tips?"

But these comparisons are not far wide of the mark in some parts of Mexico. Drug wars in the border city of Ciudad Juarez have left 10,500 dead since 2007, making the city a more dangerous place than anywhere in the Middle East, although the bloodshed is receding and the city has relinquished the title of the most dangerous in the world to the capital of Honduras.

Cabo didn't appear to be in the same country. The most dangerous threat seemed to be from timeshare sellers who have taken to calling it "fractional ownership" to avoid the bad rap timeshare gets.

In contrast it seemed like a pristine paradise made verdant out of the desert for the benefit of Americans. On a day of luminous clouds we drove across the desert through endless ranks of giant saguaro cactus to the sleepy town of Todos Santos where the Hotel California, made famous by the Eagles, stands on the main drag. I drank the tequila and got the T-shirt as well as a "sad tourist" sticker on my forehead.

Then on Wednesday and Thursday an odd thing happened. It started raining and it didn't stop. The hotel staff said it hadn't rained so dramatically in 12 years. The dry river beds became rushing brown torrents.

When the storm had passed I walked on the beach amid driftwood and half of the garbage of the Pacific that had come ashore. A tide of dirty plastic bottles and other items I didn't want to think about washed in and out of the river that had suddenly appeared on the beach.

A day later it had all gone and paradise was restored. But it made me think. I thought of the men in handcuffs under the bridge as the storm had arrived, I wondered where all the trash had come from and if paradise was an illusion like the airbrushed  images of Cabo in the coffee table book in the hotel suite.

If travel is about a greater understanding I had only brushed the surface. I needed time I didn't have to find the far away parts of Mexico off the tourist trail. Most of all as I look out the window at the rain falling steadily in Tidewater I realize I need to go back.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Heading South on a Blogging Break

We all know those folks who use the infamous phrase "blogging break" and never come back. Perhaps a decade later they will regain consciousness to find they are in a strange place wearing a beret and passing themselves off as a bloke from Belgium called Claude.

I only expect to be gone for a week when I will be exchanging this (Anywheresville, USA)

For this (Mexico)


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Facebook Stereotypes - Part 2

Once upon a time back in the mists of time I wrote a piece about Facebook stereotypes. I think it's probably worth a follow-up because I have spotted more. Also it's so long since my last post that nobody would remember if I wrote the same things.

I'd say the novelty of the social network wore off back in the day, but we still go on there out of habit and to see what other boring things other people are doing out of habit. Who knows - maybe nuns go on there out of habit. It's become the 2012 virtual equivalent of a bathroom break. You don't enjoy it but you can't help it. Oh and the more pals you have on there, the more boring the everyday content becomes. Here are some more stereotypes.

1 - Blooming baby busters - yes the first time someone posted an ultrasound pic to announce to the world they were pregnant it was original. Not any more. And really I don't care to have an update every three days on 'my baby's progress' - just pop it out and onto the next.

2 - Kiddiewinkers - Not content with ultrasounds you have to post every episode of your kid's life - I am not kidding in saying someone on my fb page today posted an update saying she had suppressed a fart out of consideration for her kid. What a hero. And what about posting all those pics of your kids because you believe they are the cutest kids in the world? Actually I am always posting pics of my kids - but that's because they are - right.

3 - Sports nut - Usually men, these people would be 'oxygen thiefs' if they were talking to you and are stealing bytes by giving a running commentary of games that I have no perception of the rules of and teams I have never heard of. Here's an example freshly purloined from my feed: "Great listening to Richard Justice on the Nats pregame show. He kept saying how much he wished the great Shirley Povich could see this team. Classy." Eh? what? who?

4 Needy Bint - The NB will give every spit and cough of her terrible day, explain how she'll never get a boyfriend and how she's going to bed at 6 p.m. with a copy of Shades of Grey. She'd have a better chance if she didn't spend all nigh whining on Facebook.

5 - Dogmando - Dog folks seem to get big into their pets on line. They'll even use a dog as their profile pic, which makes it easy if you go out to lunch with them. Order a big bowl of Chum.

6 - Corporate Overseller - These folks can get right on your nerves when you roll out of bed with a bad headache feeling totally unable to face another Monday, only to read their bright and breezy motivational message, along with a picture of them beaming in their car ready for their best day of sales ever. blech.

7 - Ex politicians - I am friends with a number of ex-politicos, sadly. These folks make me laugh because after a couple of years of seeing their sycophantic drivel about the best government ever, now someone else is running the show, their postings are bitter and twisted about the administration and completely negative even when the government is doing exactly the same thing as their party was doing before.

8 - Rude Girl - we all have a rude girl in our friends' list. Mine befriended me because she thought I was someone else - maybe someone ruder and with more hair. Typical posts include 'Come on Federer - beat that f... Scottish t...."

9 - Dead Person. It's a sad reality of social networking that we all have dead people as friends. I have one guy who falls into this category. It feels somewhat impolite to remove them. But when their birthdays appear, it doesn't seem right to wall them (or write on their timeline, as it's now called). Get very worried if they poke you out of the blue.

10 - Exes - this is a thorny one, but probably most of us have friends on Facebook who we have intentionally seen naked, and may even have gone out of our way to see naked, at one time or another. Mind you it's hard to equate them with that small profile pic and who hasn't felt a sense of relief when they suddenly post a larger pic and we realize we really wouldn't want to see them naked at all now?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

My new lease of life from Great Britain's Olympic Success

I was a late starter to the 2012 Olympics which was curious considering I was standing there in the House of Commons back in the day when London was announced as the winner. Back in another time zone.

I was on the road during the lavish opening ceremony. Since then I have caught about half an hour of the American women's volleyball team, including the sight of a 6 ft 8 woman, and about 10 seconds of the backsides of the Australian women's water polo team. Neither experience was too shabby.

Fortunately I found the remote control that the kids had hidden so as the TV could be stuck on the Disney Channel on Saturday and since then it's been an Olympic riot.

I was in time for Super Saturday, the best day in British Olympic history since 1908 when Jessica Ennis won the heptathlon by beating the competition over 800 metres, then 20 minutes later Greg Rutherford triumphed in the long jump. Mo Farah finished off the amazing afternoon with a gold in the 10,000m.

There were some other golds in obscure sports such as cycling and the egg and spoon race.

Since then I've been on an Olympic roll and not a Swiss roll either. Andy Murray inexplicably beat the Swiss Maestro Roger Federer at Wimbledon and superb, smashing whatever Sunday followed Saturday.

Half way through the game I was engaging in some unsportsman-like behavior, yelling and stomping round the room and teaching the two year-old the term "Swiss wanker," which is a useful one to know if you ever find yourself stranded on Zurich station without a cukoo clock's idea when the next train is coming.

As someone who spends most of his life surrounded by professional slugs, I'm pleased to say Britain's Olympic success has reinvigorated for for a few hours at least. We are so used to being a nation of also-rans that it's strange to be out in front. One more beer and I'll turn into Charlie Sheen, twitching and muttering "winning."

It's high time to find some British pride and to remember this was the nation that invented the flushing toilet - perhaps electricity too, although my daughter tells me that was an American called Thomas Jefferson.

On to the next - gold medal that is.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Demise of Jean or Shirley

One day last summer I was outside the house juggling my inordinately large bunch of keys, wondering why I still had the key to the shed door from a home by parents sold in 1983 on the key ring, when a large, old style Cadillac drew up.

An elderly the woman leaned out the window and said "Hi."

She informed me she lived in the house behind ours. She was called Jean or Shirley. Something like that. She had a reed like voice and a certain jauntiness.

"Have you live there long?"

"Since 1952."

I didn't know what to say so I made the obvious comment it was a while. It was a while since West Germany had eight million refugees, since Princess Elizabeth was crowned Queen Elizabeth II and Winston Churchill announced Britain had the atomic bomb. It was a while since TV made its first appearance in Canada and J Edgar Hoover revoked Charlie Chaplin's visa to the USA.

Jean or Shirley's home was a small white house, with a ramshackle looking conservatory. The glass looked thin and pale as if the cold seeped in. The paint seemed thin too, fraying at the edges. We resolved to call in but never did.

Later last year the street behind the house filled up with fire trucks. I went to investigate and a group of excitable kids told me Jean or Shirley had been carried out with blood gashing out of her head. It was the most exhilarating thing they had experienced in the street since the shooting. One of the kids mentioned glass.

She may have returned. I'm not sure. But recently I was informed Jean or Shirley had died. The grass has been growing long in the yard of the house with the thin conservatory. Some scrawny looking men were round there recently but I can't say if they were relatives or not. They were throwing objects around with little enthusiasm. Maybe they were from the council. Nobody seems to be in a hurry to claim the house.

Last night I took my daughter to the empty school. Sometimes it bothers me that she can use words like 'truncated' in context but has never learned how to ride a bike without training wheels. As she trundled along the path, kids half her age zipped past on their bikes.

The school of hard knocks had failed. I wasn't going to remove the training wheels again any time soon. Perhaps a few weeks shy of her 17th birthday.

We made a few circuits of the path and went to the park. The grass had grown long in the school holidays and vicious bugs descended on me in swarms. I took pictures of my feet and my daughter on my BlackBerry and posted them on Facebook. Not because I wanted people to "like" my feet, but because I was bored.

Still the bugs descended but I didn't want to leave too soon. The bug bites were penance for my bicycle failure but in the end we made our way back down the ragged streets, past the beat up store and the snarling dogs behind a high fence that sounded like lions but probably looked like poodles.

And on the side street by the white house I saw boxes on the street, mean and insignificant, left by someone who didn't care enough to open a trash can. I looked inside them and saw old papers and the soles of shoes - antique shoes that may once have danced to a long forgotten song.

They belonged to Jean or Shirley or whatever her name was. Something about them made me feel irredeemably sad.

On Blog PTSD

Now then. What the heck. It seems I had forgotten about my blog completely rather than just neglecting it this time. To return after so long...