Friday, May 27, 2011

Memorial Day

It’s Whitsun Bank Holiday here in Britain but, to me, this weekend will forever be Memorial Day:

Even though summer didn’t officially start for another few weeks, Memorial Day always served as the Ceremonial beginning of the season. In my younger years (before Blogger, even) the day was filled with tradition and always seemed—no matter how treacherous the weather had been during the month—to bring blue skies and summer-like sunshine.

It always began with a parade and my dad and I always marched—me with the Boy Scouts and dad with the Stuyvesant Falls Volunteer Fire Company. We would assemble at the Foreign Legion Hall, form up and march through the streets of Kinderhook to the sound of brass bands and cadence calls. Everyone came out to watch (really, this was the most exciting event to happen in town all year), wave flags and cheer their friends. The parade ended in the cemetery, where local politicians pontificated and one lucky student from Ichabod Crane Central School read Flanders Fields.

After breaking up, we would put flowers on my Grandfather Denny’s grave—a soldier of the Great War—and join the crowd back at the Legion Hall for a barbeque. There was beer, burgers, pretzels, corn on the cob, potato salad and watermelon, and if Nat King Cole’s classic “Roll Out Those Haze Lazy Crazy Days of Summer” was not playing on the loudspeakers, it would be running through my head.

We would arrive home in mid-afternoon, at the hottest part of the day, in time for the next and most important ritual: the first swim of summer.

My sister, myself, our neighbours, the Bogarski’s—three girls and one boy around my sister’s age—would meet up, wearing swim suits under our shirts and shorts, and begin the long walk to the swimming hole. The dirt road running past our house would have recently been tarred to keep the dust down and the warm tar would squish under our feet. From there we walked the hot tarmac of County Route 25 and after that the dusty fields sloping down toward Kinderhook Creek. We followed the old wagon road, kicking up low dust clouds in the stagnant air, and followed the edge of the fields to a break in the trees that gave access to a bend in the creek that, for as long as anyone could remember, was known as “Wagners.”
Wagners, where I spent a good number of lazy summer days.

Wagner’s was a deepish pool in an otherwise shallow creek, bordered on one end by The Rocks and the other by The Rapids, their monikers making them sound grander than they were. Along the near side, a path lead to a rope swing which, at this time of year, provided the best way to enter the water—not for ease of access but for the sake of getting it over with quickly. In May, the water would be high and fast and staggeringly cold. Still, once you let go of the rope and got over the initial shock, it wasn’t too bad.

We would swim until our lips turned blue, then pull on our shorts and shirts and set off on the return journey. We rarely bothered with towels; we knew we would be dry by the time we reached home.
Me, in my early thirties, taking a nostalgic dip at Wagners.
And, yes, I am swimming in my underwear—contain yourselves, ladies.

In the evening there might be another, impromptu backyard barbecue, with beer for the adults and more soda or Kool-Aid for us kids. The evening would be cool and the specter of school still loomed over us, but you could feel summer, hiding behind a thin veil, waiting to come out.

Here, now, it’s just a day off.

Friday, May 20, 2011

For a Short Time Only

Wouldn’t you just know it! My book is finally out and the world is going to end tomorrow. Typical.

And there is even worse news for you living in the UK; aside from the world ending here first (for some reason, this apocalypse arrives at 6 PM and follows the time zones around the world), but in addition to that, my book is only available on, so you will either have to wait a week or two (but who has time for that; certainly not you) or use international shipping, which can be expensive (but just what are you saving your money for?)

I think the sensible thing to do is obvious: everyone, and I mean everyone, needs to buy my book immediately.

- Buy the book
- Download the ebook for Kindle
- Download the ebook for Kindle in the UK
- Download from Smashwords

Do one, do all but do it now, because tomorrow will be too late.

I realize, if you do buy the book, it won’t arrive before the apocalypse, even if you use priority mail, and I’m sorry about that, but what is important here is that I am able to know that for one, brief, shining moment before we all become dust, that I was a best-selling author.

You want me to have that, don’t you?

You know what to do.

And if you are reading this post-6PM on Saturday, 21 May 2011 then I guess you don’t have to be too concerned about using priority mail.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Old Favorites

We went out to dinner with friends at Simply Delicious in Bognor Regis the other evening.  Simply Delicious is a deli that holds a supper club on a semi-regular basis, and the food they serve is superb.

The menu this time offered a starter of pan-seared scallops and black pudding in a cauliflower velouté (velouté, I discovered when it arrived, is haute cuisine for “sauce”) followed by braised South Downs veal with wild rabbit and chorizo.  Accompanying these delicacies were some very fine wines—a Chablis and a Bordeaux.

So, while we dined on these culinary delights, what else would our conversation turn to but our favourite dishes?

The top runner—among both the British contingent and the resident American—was a fish-finger sandwich.  This, for the benefit of my American readers, if a sandwich made of fish sticks.  I have to admit, while I lived in the States, it never occurred to me to put fish sticks in a sandwich, but this was, I am here to tell you, to my detriment.

Likewise, a chip butty which, if you can believe this, is simply a French fry sandwich.  But this, too, is strangely satisfying.

If you, like I did at first, find these delicacies to be a bit, well, weird, consider that the notion of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich had the British shaking their heads in wonder.  Once I had them baffled with this colonial delight, I told them that, in America, you can actually buy peanut butter and jelly mixed together in one jar.

The piéce de résistance, however, was the peanut butter and bacon sandwich.  This had them thinking I was mad, or making it up, or both, even when I assured them that this, too, is so popular in the States that you can also buy jars of peanut butter mixed with bacon bits; they are right next to the jars of peanut butter mixed with jelly.

After that, mentioning the peanut butter and banana sandwich was a bit of an anti-climax.

But the rest of the meal was not; for the cheese course, we were treated to a wedge of (and I am not making this up) The Best Cheese in the World.  Don’t believe me?  Check this out – “Cornish blue reigns supreme at World Cheese Awards

Where cheese is concerned it, literally, does not get any better than this.

Then we had pink spam for dessert.  Go figure.

It wasn’t really pick spam, it was “New season Strawberry and Montezuma White Chocolate Parfait with Strawberry Sauce”

Today we’re back to the usual British fare—you know, beans on toast, faggots, spotted dick—but for lunch I made myself a special treat that left me moaning in gastronomic delight and nostalgic for all things American: a peanut butter and bacon sandwich.

Ahhh, a taste of America.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Wait is Over

I know you’re been losing sleep over this, but you can rest easy now:  More Postcards From Across the Pond is now out on Kindle (paperback to follow soon):

Here's what the people I bribed to write nice things about it are saying:

What a fantastic read!  “More Postcards From Across the Pond” is chock full of witty, wry observations that will have any reader—regardless of the place they call home—turning the pages for more.  I laughed out loud so many times my husband asked if I was okay.
Marsha Moore, author of the 24 Hours travel series

Anyone who's dreamed of or endured life in Britain will love Michael Harling's hilarious and on-the-mark tales in “More Postcards From Across The Pond.”
Leslie Banker and William Mullins
co-authors of Britannia in Brief

I paid some other people to say nice things, too, but that’s enough for now.  This book covers the second half of my first decade in Britain, and is coming out as a special, tenth anniversary event.  I hope you enjoy it.

If you have joined the ebook revolution, you can download More Postcards From Across the Pond from:

(the above are both subject to tax/VAT--wouldn’t you just know it)
 (cheaper, tax-free and has multiple download formats)

Optionally, if you are a troglodyte like me and do not yet own a Kindle, you can download a free Kindle app for your PC here:

Or you can wait a couple of weeks for the book; don’t worry, I’ll let you know.

If I have to say so myself—and at this point, I guess I do—this book is even better than the original.  (What?  You haven’t read the original yet?  Well now’s your chance.)

So download, enjoy, tell your friends, post rave reviews and then go out for a pint—you’ll need one after all that.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Made in America

We’ve talked about my underwear before, so this does not, in fact, represent a new low for this blog. I didn’t intend to bring it up again, but today, while I was laying out the laundry*, I noticed my few remaining American under garments were starting to show signs of terminal wear.

I never thought I would see the day, but I think it is time to retire them.

These particular tighie whities, in case you haven’t been keeping up with the story arc, were purchased prior to my move to the UK and have been in service every since. For these long years they have provided unfailing support and comfort—a bit of home away from home.

My British underwear? Pha! They were inclined to stretch, wear out, rip and shrink in some truly uncomfortable ways. Many packages of them have come and gone while my American made Haines continued to soldier on.

And I suppose, if their inevitable retirement has arrived, this was an auspicious time. They were purchased in a big bundle from Sam’s Club just about the time Osama Bin Laden made it to the top of the USA’s Most Wanted List, so to put them out to pasture now seems a fitting tribute to them, representing America’s commitment to get the job done, no matter how long it takes. They are the Green Beret of underwear, and I believe they deserver...sorry, I got a bit misty there.

Better days: a photo from 2009 comparing 7 year old
US underwear to 7 month old British underwear.

So now I am consigned to second-rate undergarments. I did consider picking up another bundle on my recent visit to the homeland, but I was told the ones on offer are now made in China, so I declined; it would just have been a disappointment. All I can do is preserve their memory, and draw comfort from the fact that, for a time, I had the best underwear the world has ever produced. I only need to think of a fitting way to honor their passing; they simply cannot be thrown out, that would be a sacrilege on the scale of dumping an old flag in the trash.

I wonder if my wife would mind if I had one framed and hung it on the wall.

*actually, I was getting dressed after taking a shower, but I didn’t want that image seared into your brains at this early hour.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Back To Reality

We’re coming off a high here in Blighty. First the best Easter holiday weekend on record, followed by a lovely wedding that we had the choice of ignoring and just enjoying the day off, or vicariously celebrating without the hassle of dressing up, splashing out on a gift and sitting through the boring bits of the church service. (I don’t know about you, but I had lunch and smoked a cigar on the balcony while all the singing and readings were going on.)

This was my first Royal Wedding and I thought it was good fun. And it was nice to see that, at the last minute, the country stepped up to the occasion. There had been a good deal of apathy leading up to the event, but a respectable number came out or tuned in for the occasion and I, for one, was glad to see it. It was charming to see the British actually celebrating something; mostly (especially lately) they are so dreary. While there are always a few people standing on the sidelines carping about irrelevancies and generally trying to spoil someone else’s good time, for a great number of people it was a grand spectacle, centered around two young people who are (ostensibly) in love and starting a new life together. Not the sort of life anyone else on the planet enjoys, but that’s hardly the point.

I did my part to attempt to cajole my workmates into the mood by making a string of wedding bunting earlier this week and draping it around my desk. I had extra, and offered it to my colleagues but there were no takers. So I took it down on Thursday and strung it around my balcony so we could be the only ones in our block of flats to even remotely acknowledge the wedding.

I admit I was more into this than most people I know, but it’s not my fault, I am saddled with a double whammy: first of all, I am an American—and we all know how doo-lally they are when it comes to the Royal Family—and I am a naturalized citizen—who tend to be more devoted to their adopted country than many of those who are to the manor born. Given that, I think merely stringing up a bit of bunting showed admirable restraint.

But today, it’s back to business as usual. We had to de-string the bunting, take out the recycle and do a bit of shopping before being able to sit, relax and do nothing but look forward to the May Day holiday, which will provide us one final day off before we head back to our respective offices. For now, however, it is a splendid spring day and the flowers are about at their peak, making for an enjoyable day off.

It’s not all sunshine and light, though; the excesses invoked by festivities of the weekend made it impossible to find my preferred balcony beverage while we were at the shops, so I am forced to resort to wine as an accompaniment to my postprandial cigar.

Sometimes I wonder how I stand the hardships.