Thursday, August 29, 2013

Odd Woman : North West Camp Ground, Chesapeake

It's probably the nature of odd people that you can encounter them at the most unexpected time. I could cope better, I feel, if some guy jumped out of the trees with a bid Odd Person Alert placard so as I knew what to expect beforehand. It doesn't seem to happen, though.

Earlier this week I took my daughter camping. It wasn't really out of any love of camping given my recent experience of deflating air mattresses and cicadas the size of nuclear reactor rabbits. But it was better than another 5 day working week.

In reality this meant being dragged to a playground at 7.20 a.m. and forced to sit on a see saw in a decaffeinated state that was bound to result in abject grouchiness.

I ambled over to the toilet block for the hell of it and encountered a large, glassy eyed woman near the entrance. Fortunately, she didn't seem to notice me. Like I said her eyes were glassy.

Instead she was having a conversation with a man inside the men's room.

"Frank. Aw Frank," she drawled in an accent that sounded a bit like she was from New York. "We've lost the bag of souvenirs. Did ya hear me Frank? All of the souvenirs have gone."

I felt like interjecting at this point to mention a large Souvenir Snake had been recently spotted in the vicinity and was last seen heading west with an "I love Scranton" T shirt in its mouth.  I decided not to speak up.

Frank was heard muttering something inaudible in the shower.

"Ayee Frank. I can' believe it Frank. All of those souvenirs. Everything gone. Frank - the bag's gone," she wailed. "Everything gone. The souvenirs, Frank. Oh God, no."

Frank muttered again and her voice returned like the wail of rockets.

"Waa waa Frank. What the hell can I do. I don't know what to do."

To my amazement the woman was actually weeping. I felt like suggesting she go and watch some videos of the victims of a chemical weapons attack in Syria.

Frank continued to mutter. He may even have broken wind and finally she went away.

Then I heard him mutter the word "shit," over and over.

I walked away thinking I might have bags under my eyes and be facing a morning of paddle boat and crazy golf blackmail. But I was blissfully happy in the knowledge I was not Frank.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Nation of Bumper Stickers

In Britain you can’t always tell someone’s politics or outlook in life from a first meeting.

In America it’s easier. You just look at their car.
This morning I was parked behind a hulking great black pickup truck in the Lowe’s parking lot and I noticed a U.S. Army sticker on it. Another bumper sticker read: “Proud to be defending my religion and my gun.”

well who would ever dare to suggest you did?

The pickup also had a “Choose Life” sticker and a “Don’t Tread on Me” License plate featuring a rattle snake.

Immediately I formed a mental picture of the driver of this vehicle and it wasn’t as somebody who bounces through fields, patting fluffy bunnies on the heads crying out: “Ooo let’s check out the new Andy Warhol exhibition.”

I did some more research on the rattle snake license plate. Fox News, appropriately enough, states: “The Gadsden Flag, originally used by the U.S. Marine Corps during the American Revolution, was meant to represent the 13 original colonies and their battle for independence from the British monarchy. It has recently been adopted by some Tea Party groups as a message against big government.”
You won't have that many if you continue to starve them
Now personally I am affronted by the Tea Party's hijacking of tea because we all know the decent tea was taken east with the British withdrawal.

Last week I had to write a piece about a church in Virginia Beach and saw a car which also featured the Gadsden Flag license plate along with bumper sticker that stated: “Don’t Blame Me. I voted for Romney.”

I felt rather smug at the fact I was able to correctly match the congregation member to his vehicle due to his menacing side burns and general demeanor.

Back in the Lowe’s parking lot I saw a much smaller car bearing the stickers “I brake for turtles” and “Coexist.” I developed a very different mental picture of this car owner to that of the black pickup. Maybe I could get them together in the same room some time.

The other type of bumper sticker that amuses me is the achievement one. We are probably all familiar with “Proud Parent of an honor student at xx,” or “My Daughter is in the Navy.” There’s also the one about someone whose dog is brighter than your honor student. Some of these bumper stickers are so desperate it makes you feel sorry for the owner.

“Proud parent of student who can write her name in cursive at Western High” or “My Sister Holds Down a Job as a Janitor," comes to mind.

The other car adornments that amuse me are the stick families. I mean serious WTF?

Recently I saw one with the normal stick person format that read: “I couldn’t care less about your stick family.”

I mean really. So you can push out 4 kids. Give them a few more years and you’ll be telling the world how they almost made honor roll.

I wouldn’t say Americans wear their hearts on their sleeves, but they certainly do on the backs of their cars.


Monday, August 19, 2013

A Sunny Afternoon in Childhood - Paradise Creek

I think fondly sometimes of those eggshell blue days of childhood when there was a spring in everything and an incessant chorus of birds in the trees. The sea was lulled always and the sun went on long into the evening, casting its shadows as I drew trails on the beach, away from my parents, beyond a headland and out of reach. Somewhere amid shifting sands there were sea caves and coral and then the day of mist when we skipped across rocks and drew back at the sight of a crab, monstrous and magnificent in his red enormity.

Then there were the moors, the swathe of heather that blazed purple beyond the tennis court, the lazy thwack of ball on racket and the magnificent moors rolling leagues like the waves on the sea and the serrated rocks.

There was even wonder too in the castle, crumbled and dour that straddled the border between England and Wales and the clear kinking river, a silver blade cutting the forest, ringing on rocks, the sound of the rapids and the half remembered name Bibbling Bridge and babbling brook and those glades where elves could have lived, west of Watersmeet and east of Eden.

Many days had passed before we went back but some of the magic of childhood had drained away. There was the urgent flicking of the numbers on the clock, forms to be filled in, the need to get back before dusk, the to-ing and fro-ing the incessant nagging; the worries that should not be worries.


We went far over the cliffs. Like the opening of a great white curtain Gallantry Bower appeared, a giddy sweep of cliffs and a long drop down to the sea where the spherical rocks ground in the surf. Still we walked down to Mouth Mill, a shuttered up cove and the embrace of sleep came upon us.

I wonder now if the magic has gone for good. The path up the hill and the vanishing point to that hopeful sky reminds me. But I crest the hill to see a heavy concrete plant beside this park reclaimed from asphalt, its rivers newly unchoked. And when I see the 3-year-old I wonder if magic is in his limited vocabulary.

Or has the world moved on a long time ago?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Suffering From Redbox Angst

When I woke up this morning I realized the Redbox thing was bothering me. My daughter had acquired Oz the Great and Powerful from one of these red things you find beside 7-Eleven s (no not rednecks, although you find a lot of them there too).

That was about two weeks ago and Redbox charge $1 for every night. I calculated we had already been charged as much as it would have cost to see the thing at the movies, although maybe not in 3D.

"So where is it? Has it gone back?"

"No. I've lost the box."

"Great what's the point of Redbox without the box?"

I don't even know if the box is red or whether that just describes the box that contains the DVDs which you can find outside various places resembling those red boxes in Britain that are used to urinate in.

By this point I am becoming nostalgic for the days of Blockbuster when you could deal with a human being and get a big bag of M&Ms while you were there.

"Can you return it without the box?"

A shrug of the shoulders.

Eventually we located Oz the Great and Powerful cowering in a drawer and headed for 7-Eleven. We experimented with dropping the boxless DVD into a slot which was clearly intended for boxes. It got stuck at the top and there was an error message. The conviction that I was making a serious mistake hit me and I desperately tried to prize it out. The edges kept slipping from my fingers. What if you needed the box for it to register that you had returned it? Would Redbox - which was set up by McDonalds destroy my personal finances to the extent on which I would have to live on Big Macs for the next 20 years?

Redbox - it won't take you back in time

In the end the decision was made for me. The DVD dropped into the slot and disappeared out of sight. The usual reassuring message about returning your video did not show up either.

On the positive side a giant finger did not appear on the screen either informing me I would be screwed over.

On reaching work Redbox angst overcame me. I checked out various sites including Redbox is a whore by Ben Liebing.

I checked the Redbox rebuttal by Jeremiah Regan. Nobody told me if it was a sin to drop a naked DVD into the box. On the positive side I read somewhere there's a maximum charge, so maybe I should have kept the DVD. Still it's hard not to be consumed by Redbox angst.

In other developments hundreds of people have been killed in Egypt.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

EPCOT - A Celebration of the Future Past

Arriving at Epcot after a rain storm felt a bit like going into a time machine and emerging in a strange new world some time in the future that felt like the past. EPCOT is an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, a Utopian city of the future planned by Walt Disney, often interchanging "city" and "community." In Walt Disney's words.

It was opened in 1982, spans 300 acres and it is often referred to as a "Permanent World's Fair" whatever that means.

We probably should have paid a bit more attention to the 300 acre figure. As it was we decided to 'do' Epcot on the same day as Disney's Hollywood Studios which meant we were already fatigued by the time we arrived. The giant golf ball known as Spaceship Earth which is actually a geodesic sphere, greets visitors to Epcot.

No sooner had we arrived than that strange apocalyptic future/past feeling came over me. Epcot is meant to be futuristic but under gray skies it reminded me of one of those 1960s university campuses in Britain that were cutting edge in their day and now feel old and bleak.

Space was once the final frontier but now it's passé. The Future World segment of EPCOT boats a ride called Mission : Space - but space feels like the past these days, nobody bothers with the moon, the first man to walk on it has died and America has packed up the Space Shuttle.

All of this conspires to make EPCOT somewhat interesting as a visitor destination because there are no characters dressed up as giant mice waving at you. Of course the rides had closed due to the rain. We wandered through an exhibition hall where Zara was fascinated with the swinging of a giant hammer of the kind you can find in any 2 cent amusement arcade.

We lined up to experience the extreme weather exhibition, which was kind of ironic because we could have just stood outside. In the room we were treated to a tornado and sprayed with water while an elderly woman conducted an on screen quiz about what household design measures could be implemented to make the tornado less scary. I will never see an 'A' frame roof in the same light again. It was all rather low tech and somewhat enjoyable, even if the old guy in charge of putting the plastic emergency kit items in matching holes seemed like a bit of a control freak.

Then we walked north through the squalls, hardly conscious of the fact we had seen hardly any attractions in this brave new world of the future/past. EPCOT is nothing if not schizophrenic. The original plans for the park showed indecision its purpose.

Some of its designers wanted cutting edge technology, others international cultures and customs. So the model of the futuristic park was pushed against a model of a World's Fair international theme, and the two were combined. The north end of the park is devoted to world pavilions. My enthusiasm returned when I reached Mexico where there is a replica church, an Aztec pyramid, a candlelit restaurant and even a water boat ride. It's all very tastefully done.

The problem was by the time we had found Norway and Japan to be fascinating too, we were on our last legs and the distance around the lake seemed vast. We bypassed America, France and Canada. I didn't even stop in Great Britain - and not just because I know what a red phone box looks like.

I'd recommend this world pavilions to anyone with time on their hands, as well as a decent eating and shopping budget. Of course these places always make me wish I was seeing the real thing, but you can't fault the quality of these exhibits.

Sadly our Disney experience ended with the least pleasurable of games. Hunt the car. Almost lame from walking we arrived at the parking lot with a vague memory of a number and a letter. And we walked and walked as we tried to find the car. Finally a parking attendant suggested pushing the alarm, and we heard it going off in an area we had walked past three times. Disney had been fun but after a couple of back to back days, the idea of chilling somewhere miles away from Mickey Mouse seemed attractive.

Friday, August 9, 2013

All the Romance of the Movies at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Much time has elapsed since I last wrote about my trip to Florida and already it has gained a surreal quality as if I was never really there.

I'm probably not the only one to say that; Kissimmee with its souvenir stores morphed into the heads of strange wizards, its crazy gold courses and chain restaurants oozes the hideousness of tourist strips the world over. Fun this forced leaves hollowness and emptiness in its wake and when every home has its identikit swimming pool, it no longer becomes a luxury to aspire to.

Still Disney's Hollywood Studios was a highlight. After some of the disappointments of the Magic Kingdom I decided to take the advice of the guide book that can be summarized as:

1 - Arrive Early

2 - Leave All Whiners Behind in the Pool

Minus a couple of family members we arrived just after the park opened and headed for Toy Story Midway Mania, one of the most popular rides at the whole of Disney World, to get fast passes. The previous night my brother-in-law has regaled us with terrible tales of how being tardy would mean not getting onto Toy Story Mania until 5 p.m. Not that I cared so much as Toy Story leaves me cold.

Star Wars is another story, although I tend not to tell people about that night on a press trip fighting with cloaks and light sabers in the Tunisian desert as you see that odd look come over people's faces as they back away quickly, their nerdometer buzzing wildly.

We wandered down a street with the faux New York skyline in the background and suddenly it felt great to be alive. Better still we waited less than 10 minutes to get on the Star Wars ride which was fun, even though I feared I would part company with my cookies half way through.

Things took a turn for the more hardcore after that as we headed for the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in which you in a fall down the elevator from hell. The line here was already about 45 minutes but it was worth some arm pit time for this ride which is really atmospheric and replicates a haunted hotel perfectly, although I felt I was the only person admiring the faux columns in the court yard.

From here it was on to an overpriced cake and domestic between my sister and her husband, which we don't need to get into now; suffice to say looking on from the outside made me realize the pettiness of domestics the world over.

We headed for faux South of France to see a rather dramatic demonstration by stunt drivers which made me wonder how these guys ever get any insurance.

Finally the moment we had all been waiting for arrived when we got to ride Toy Story Midway Mania and shoot and virtual targets. The ride was stimulating but not really worth the hype that made it sound like the best thing since sliced bread, an expression I take issue with because it's more fun to cut your own. I emerged dazed into the daylight to find I had registered the highest score in the group that included small people who spend half their life shooting things in a virtual world.

Then finally we broke off from the others to go on The Great Movie Ride. I wanted to do this because it's so easy to lose sight of what it's all about. Yet when the sounds of the rides have died, the legends of Hollywood still endure, even when Bogart and Bergman looked like the Disney intern crafted their faces from bird crap.

Needless to say the Wizard of Oz display (see the video) was a highlight, but if we can learn one thing from the classics we should learn the witch is never dead. She reappeared in the tearoom in a frilly costume barking at us when we tried to buy a small bag of fries without the sandwich combo.

The magic of Disney has no end. Then another thunderstorm came along and wrecked our afternoon for a while.

I Don't Queue : Does That Make Me Unpatriotic?

I'm bemused by the scenes from Westminster today. People are queuing for 24 hours to see a wooden box. OK, it's a fancy box surround...