Saturday, June 26, 2010

What Happened?

I wasn’t planning to post anything until after the England game tomorrow so I could update you all on the World Cup. However, I wonder now that any of that is necessary; everyone over here watches it, so they already know what happened, while the people in America…

If I were to make a good joke at America’s expense, I would go on to say, while the people in America don’t have any idea what is going on, or don’t care, or whatever. But I just stumbled across this video (I understand it has gone viral, so I’m not sure how I avoided it so far):

Apparently, America has awakened to the World Cup in my absence. I am simply gobsmacked by the amount of celebration surrounding this goal and the number of people watching it. Incredibly, if you go to the 238 mark, you’ll even see my old home city of Albany, NY (right before the shot of “Some guy in Arkansas”).

All I can say is, well done, America. Now the rest of the world can’t continue to make fun of you for being so unaware of soccer. (And, yes, I call it soccer. As someone else noted, we already have a wildly popular game called football, so we have to call it soccer, like the English used to, in order to keep from being confused. Deal with it.)

Watching this video, in addition to amazing me, makes me sorry I was on a train from Greenwich (that’s GREN-ich) to Horsham. This time I am going into town to watch it on one of the outdoor screens at a local pub. Superstitious as any fan, I notice that they do well when I’m not watching, but I’m not going to let that stand in my way. They will win, or not; this is more about being part of it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My Wife Walked Thirteen Miles in the Middle of the Night and All I Got Was This Lousy Tee Shirt

It’s midnight and instead of being tucked up in bed as any sane person should be at this time of night, I am in Horsham park with twelve hundred other people as part of the charity walk my wife signed up for.

But, you ask, if your wife signed up for it, why are you there? That must be the young, single men asking the question, the rest of you—the long-time married men and, of course, the women—completely understand.

The truth is, I wouldn’t have missed this and was, in fact, planning to go out and watch it anyway, so I figured I may as well sign up to and help out.

When they told me I was going to be a marshal, I thought I was going to be issued a Stetson hat and a tin star; a six-shooter, I figured, would be too much to hope for. As it stands, a six-shoot might come in handy because I have been assigned Station 11, which sits at the epicentre of five popular pubs and is in front of the only kebab shop on that side of town. Now, Horsham is a safe enough place, but the night belongs to the young and, as a fifty-five year old man, I would be enough of a target just being on that same corner with 157 youngish revellers who are drunk enough to want to eat a kebab, and all I am armed with is a bright yellow vest reading, “Marshall.” It may as well have a bull’s eye embroidered on it.

My job, they tell me, is to guide one thousand women wearing blue shirts and bobbly headgear safely across the intersection at prime chucking-out time. I am there to protect them, but who is going to protect me?

3:30 AM

I’m back home now. Having been ordered to “Stand Down” (my, but aren’t these ladies very military?) I found myself with nothing to do but return home and loyally wait up for my wife, who is due to finish about 5:30 AM. Then we’re going out dancing.

It all went very smoothly. The kebab shop was inexplicably closed. And on a Saturday night. I have to wonder if this was not somehow arranged because, when those women began arriving at around 1:30, there was certainly not enough room on the side walk for them, me and the usual horde of intoxicated, rowdy and yurking-up-in-the-gutter youngsters. They began appearing in dribs and drabs (the walkers, not the drunk people) but once the main body arrived—wearing their signature shirts and the glittery, ping-pong ball antennae they were issued—it looked liked the world’s largest, and most orderly, hen night.

I also turned out to be not alone. For the first hour, I guarded the corner on my own, but with the shop closed all I saw were a few puzzled partiers lurching by—lads in saggy jeans and untucked shirts accompanied by teenage girls skinny as the stiletto stilts they teetered on and wearing nothing but knickers and a bra—wondering where they were going to get their kebab. But just before the walkers arrived two young men in Marshall jackets appeared and helped guide the long blue line safely into the town center.

Afterward, I returned to the park and hung around long enough to see my wife return from the first leg of the route and set off on the second. They tell me they have raised over £140,000 for St. Catherine’s Hospice so, all in a all it has been a safe and successful night.

The only downside is, I had to give back the marshal vest, so all I am left with is the tee shirt. I really wish they had given me a tin star.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Take Your Wife to Work Day

As I write this, the movie Death on the Nile is droning on in the background. This is strangely appropriate as I am currently in the Agatha Christy suite, which is, they assure me, the best room in the Royal Seven Stars hotel located in the quaint and quirky village of Totnes in South Devon. For those of you who haven’t been following this blog closely (and if not, why not?), Totnes is the location of one my employer’s customers, so I have spent a good deal of time here over the past year and a half.

The Canal, the bit I am really familiar with.

It’s a welcome departure from the places I usually travel to for work—inner city Travel Lodges, Premier Inns on the local industrial estate—but that’s not the only thing that makes this trip different: this time, I’m on holiday.

I finally got fed up with staying in such a pretty location and only seeing the hotel and the short, but beautiful walk along the canal to our client’s offices. So I booked a long weekend and my wife and I have spent the past two days exploring the town and the surrounding countryside. It’s been an interesting holiday, staying in a place that is so familiar, yet made foreign by having different things to do and my wife with me.

The room is a bit different, too. I usually have a single, but I’m a guy who knows how to treat women so I booked the most expensive room at the hotel for our stay (actually, all the other rooms were booked this weekend, but we don’t have to tell my wife that, do we?) It’s large, with a sitting area (where I am writing) and a big four-poster canopy bed (mink handcuffs not include*) where my wife is lounging after a hard day of exploring the retail opportunities of Totnes and watching the big screen TV. All she needs is a little bell on the sideboard to ring for maid service.

The bathroom is the size of our spare bedroom back home and comes with a shower and a double sized bathtub/Jacuzzi (of course we did). But the luxury suite aside, there are other things to consider when bringing your wife to a place you are so familiar with.

When we checked in, the staff knew me, and called me by name. I felt a little like Benjamin Braddock in the Graduate when he brings Elaine to the Taft hotel where he is schtuping her mother, and found myself hastily introducing my wife in case the hotel staff had assumed that, after 18 months of staying in single rooms by myself, I had finally pulled. Then in the dining room on the first morning, the waitresses demonstrated an alarmingly thorough knowledge of my breakfast preferences and morning habits. In a more cynical woman than my wife, this might have aroused a degree of suspicion.

All that aside, we’ve been having a wonderful time. Totness is a charmingly eclectic village where the well-heeled and those of the Bohemian lifestyle mingle easily. It is also, apparently, where old hippies come to retire. The local attire is refreshingly different, as well; whereas, back in Horsham, the only remarkable nature concerning fashion among the young is its uniform skimpiness, here it is the dizzying variety of individual nonconformity. It’s a bit like Brighton, but smaller, more intimate and without the raucous nightlife.

Totnes High Street, with the local castle in the background.

I must close now as we’re getting ready to go out to dinner with some friends. Yes, I’ve lived in Sussex eight years but have made no friends among the local Horshamites or my co-workers, but in my visits here I have become familiar enough with people to keep in touch with them and visit with them when I return. Tonight we’re going out with James and his fiancĂ©e Jenny. James runs an organic flower business and routinely dresses as if it is 1860.

But this is Totness, so that is considered quite normal.

*I jest of course; the room is very tastefully furnished; there are nine mirrors in the room and not one of them is above the bed.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

PC Candy

A Mr. Simms Candy Shop opened on our high street a few weeks ago. Mr. Simms, I am told, is a franchise that has a fair number of stores up north and they are now beginning to extend into the south. Mr. Simms didn’t come for the grand opening, or maybe he did—it would have been hard to tell with all those people packed into the shop.

Candy, the recession-proof food.

This candy store is off to a good start, thanks to their winning formula: go into any Mr. Simms shop and listen to the people as the peruse the shelves and counters and you’ll understand that they are not selling confections so much as they are selling memories.

“Oh, I remember those! And look, they have golden nuggets and fruit salads and cola cubes; I used to save my pocket money to buy them.”

Smarties, but not as we know them.

The candy hasn’t changed—it’s still just sugar and it’s still as bad for your teeth—but the perspective has shifted. I dare say, with our adult palettes now attuned to fine wine and haute cuisine (or at least a bucket of the Colonel’s best on a Sunday afternoon) the candy probably doesn’t even taste as good as it used to, but the nostalgia value is hard to put a price on.

Except for one item: the candy, I mean, crayons.

Remember them, the hard white sticks made of sugar with one end tinted pink? We used to think we were so sophisticated, sucking on a make-believe cig…I mean, crayon, just like our dad, or mom, or mom’s new boyfriend.

I’m glad they kept the candy, and I understand the need for caution, but really, who do they think they’re fooling? Every school kid knows what comes in a cellophane wrapped, soft pack that you get into by peeling the top off of and shaking a few out. Crayons, right?

OK, these are chocolate, but you know the kind I mean.


The least they could have done was use the Marlboro hard pack that opens at the top; that would look more like a box of crayons and less like what your dad keeps stashed in his coat pocket along with his Bic lighter and house keys.

Repackaged cig…I mean, crayons, notwithstanding, I had a nice visit with Mr. Simms’ southern elves. It was doubly fun for me because I got to play the “what American candy does this remind you of?” game. I was pleased to see they had Smarties, and Sweet Tarts, though they called the Smarties “Fizzers” and the Sweet Tarts “Refreshers” and had to explain to me that British Smarties were similar to American M&Ms but without the “M” on them. And none of the candy tasted like American candy (the Fizzers, appropriately enough, fizzed). It was all too confusing. And they didn’t even have paper dots.

I expect I’ll make good use of the store; I have a grandchild on the way and I want him (fingers crossed) to grow up multi-cultural so we will, no doubt, be shipping bags of the stuff over for Christmas, Easter and birthdays.

And if my grandson grows up thinking that British children smoke crayons and colo(u)r with cigarettes, well, you can blamed the confection constables.


Allow me to disclose this: I may be an American, but I’m not residing in their jurisdiction so I don’t have to disclose a thing. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.

Okay, I feel better having said that, and now. I’ll disclose, not because I have to but because I want to:

Do you know what Mr. Simms gave me for the above, glowing review? Nothing. Not even a free Ju-Ju Bee or a packet of Twizzlers!

No matter; I don’t do this for gain; if I did, I would have quit long ago.