Friday, January 31, 2014

Snow in Virginia

Just when the kids were moaning about never being able to make a snowman the snow came to Virginia. Then a week later it returned. Of course south east Virginia could not cope. The schools have been closed for the best part of two weeks. The promises of snow plows ring as empty as the clang of shovels on the sidewalk.

For a while I was fooled by the snowmaggedon thing. To venture out would be to risk sudden death. By the time I reached the end of the street I would be like a soldier in the Grande Armee on its bedraggled retreat from Moscow, looking for horse flesh or worse.

Oddly enough after finally putting on my boots after two days of cabin fever, I made it to the store at the end of the street and it was open, even if the wine was unbearably sweet. By Friday I was driving on the slippery streets which were not so bad. It suddenly occurred to me that I had trampled through much snow back in those half forgotten days on the ski slopes and I had not lost any limbs to frost bite.

I have been on wooded paths edged with snow and relished the air as clear and clean as a bell. The words of Robert Frost came back to me and made me think of those places.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Teacher Fit for Justin Bieber

My scariest teacher back at school was called Clutson. Rumor had it he had been in a German Prisoner of War camp and had exported its methods to the classroom. Quite a lot of teachers at my primary school had been in the Second World War and a military ethos marched through the school. If Mr. Clutson had taken gym we would surely have dug an escape tunnel under the wooden horse.

Maybe Clutson had PTSD. Or maybe he was plain weird. He had perfected a technique in which he placed his thumbs on a student's neck and twisted as hard as he could. His favorite victim was Witts. I'm not sure if it;s accurate to describe Witts as a victim as he would purposely goad Clutson into getting his neck twisted to get some kind of bizarre pain fix.

The last thing I heard of Witts he was en route to jail for trying to place explosives in the gas tank of the caretaker at his secondary school.

Clutson would rather adeptly apply the pain and inform the hapless Witts: "Witts. I'm going to turn you off at the mains. Witts, I'm going to twist your head around so as when your mother sees you, she will say 'Witts why is your head facing your back?"

I seriously doubt if Witts had a mother; rather he seemed to have been spawned by a couple of mutant toads over at the sewage works. We are not Facebook friends.

I don't know what happened to Clutson, a small and rather disturbed looking man with beetle brows. I recall one day when he had a blazing fight with Mr. D, one of the school's other unrelenting disciplinarians on the playing field when the air turned blue with f words; always a good example to set to impressionable youth.

I'd like to say we went on to fill the ranks of the civil service, Parliament and successful business owners but most of my fellow students ended up walking around with placards or pushing supermarket carts, which are known as trolleys in England, with the exception of odd parts of northern England where trolleys are underpants. I'm not knocking it. It takes skill to hitch together 20 carts and push them around a parking lot without hitting anybody else's car.

The education system has a place for most kinds of teachers but I would like to think there is no place for teachers like Clutson. Then again there may well be. I'm sure Justin Bieber is in need of some re-education and I know just the teacher for the job.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Bad British NFL Commentary Goes Viral

I was pleased as punch when Bad British NFL commentary picked up 3.6 million views on YouTube; mainly because Bad British commentary is so good.

It's exactly the short of commentary I would provide, although funnier. In my time in the U.S. I have stubbornly refused to get excited about funny football played by men in motorcycle helmets and '80s style shoulder pads. I watched one Super Bowl and gave up because it was too long and it wasn't that one where Janet Jackson had a wardrobe malfunction.

This is another puzzling term for Brits because wardrobe is a big wooden cabinet - never the most elegant of things to bring along for a singing performance.

Bad British NFL commentary involves a commentary on Alabama v. Notre Dame playing "robot rugby league". The commentator is impressed that Alabama are playing a French team.

"wow a French team, good luck to them."

The commentary describes how a full back "runs a bit, catches a bit, falls over."
Another player is "caught by 83 like a dog with a Frisbee."

The commentator says Alabama’s full back "has a handkerchief in his pocket. He must have a cold but he’s pressing on regardless."

Then when some description of an official show up, the commentator says: "A man from prison has come onto the field."

Blimey, wallop, Mother Goose, crikey - it's really better if you watch it.

I heard The hunchback had a good game too.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Folks I Bump Into At 7-Eleven

I have a slight 7-Eleven dilemma. I'm about to go to a marketing social event thing but need an Altoid fix from a day of cussing and office breath. The good news is the 7-Eleven has a batter caliber of people than the one near my home ie. nobody has throw up on their construction boots and you aren't very likely to be carjacked or end up in a grisly gang initiation behind a dumpster.

The downside is a keep backing into people. I don't mean with my butt either ; rather that big ol' backside of my SUV because I'm not paying attention (what was I saying?) Either that or the parking lot is undersized, yes clearly that is it. Yes officer - the parking lot is too bijou. It's the Napoleon of 7-Eleven parking lots and it wants to swallow Russia.

The first time the lady very kindly waved away my efforts to give her $5 as she drove away on her three remaining good wheels.

The second time was more problematic. The guy was driving a BMW. Admittedly it wasn't a very good one. After the crunch I jumped out immediately to find him examining what looked like a rather obvious scratch. I offered him my insurance details and he hummed and hawed in an embarrassed way. Finally he agreed to take my business card but he seemed more interested in my accent.

When he found out I was from London he became animated and told me all about his business trips there. He seemed to totally forget about his scratch. I thought of asking him for a beer but thought that might be pushing it.

Maybe I will risk going to the 7-Eleven for an emergency mint stop. I end up bumping into the nicest people there.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Dark Dreams of the Fens

I have a recurring dream I am back in the Fens. The road is straight and the black earth rolls away from me for mile upon mile. Even the nearest hedgerow is leagues away. Only icy culverts break up the monotony and given the flatness that pains my eyes, the sky takes on a new brooding force, exposing all under its withering glare.

I came here so many years ago to apply for a job in King's Lynn of all places. I had no perception of King's Lynn but the monstrous gran silo in the middle of the town unnerved me. I hadn't expected it to feel so remote - so end of the line. The people who interviewed me in the beaten up office unnerved me too with their great hooked noses that were like aberrations. Was this what happened at the end of the line? Your features grew to resemble the gargoyles on the great churches that towered over the lands, as you withered away in obscurity.

King's Lynn

I didn't get the job. But the man with the hooked nose offered me another one in Norwich. The favored candidate's mother had died so he could not take the position. Norwich was the end of the line too but compared to the Fens it felt like the great city.

Over the next few years I got to drive across the Fens on many occasions. I hung on lonely roads beside long silver canals that ran to the horizons. I followed the power lines. One time I tried to find The Wash, the indistinct and muddy sea where King John lost the crown jewels back in 1216. There's a story that he was poisoned by a renegade monk soon after and the hapless king died days later.


There's much about the Fens that suggest an end game. I never found The Wash - just giant pylons and windmill stumps that ran away into the North Sea. But I found Wisbech once, a place that made Lynn look cosmopolitan where heads and bulging eyes swiveled and a hush fell on the bar when I walked in. The bleakness of such places appealed to my restless soul. I drove through the tulip fields of Lincolnshire and south to Ely, a city named after the eels that squirm in these waterways, where a great cathedral with a glittering lantern rises from the Fens.


Graham Swift set Waterland here, a brooding tale of incest and dark practices in the marshes. The book is perhaps better then the film, but the film stars Jeremy Irons which makes up for any deficiencies. The book draws hard on the history of this isolated and reclaimed land.

Today the Fens with its vast industrial fields and over sparse horizons is a world apart from the fog and mist bound fens of Medieval times where people feared to tread because of swamp spirits. Only in preserved places such as Wicken Fen can we catch a glimpse of the mysterious marshes of yesteryear.

Wicken Fen

Still the landscape haunts me. It creeps up on me at night and I have that odd feeling that I am back in the Fens and sky is too big and the iron bound cold of the place in winter is back with me.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Miley, Phil Everly and an Apology for Outrageous Behavior

After a long period of deep soul-searching, amounting to at least 20 seconds over coffee this morning, I have been feeling contrite about that picture of Miley Cyrus' tongue in my last blog post.

Yes it was gross and disgusting. It may have put you off breakfast, lunch and dinner and was possibly linked to the execution of someone's uncle in North Korea.

I could very happily go the rest of the year, not to mention the next 20 years, without ever seeing Miley's tongue again.

Unfortunately, Miley seems to be a fad of our age in the same way as the Black Death was the in vogue trend of 1398. Miley's new song Adore You (ick we don't) has almost 35 million views on YouTube in a week and features her writhing around semi-naked for an utter change. Call in the originality consultants.

In contrast All I Have to Dream by the Everly Brothers has 530,000 views, is a fresher and more memorable sound that may move you, even though it's been around for four decades.

Sadly Phil Everly, half of the duo died this week. In their heyday in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Everly Brothers were labelled "the most important vocal duo in rock," having influenced the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel and many other acts.

And they did it without sticking their tongues out at anybody...

Lost by the Sea

 A tiny tragedy in an ocean of sadness makes barely a ripple. Still, I was taken aback to receive an email from a former wife (the one I nev...