Saturday, June 25, 2011

Taking the Heat

They say it is going up into the 80s today and, possibly, up to 90 tomorrow (we’re talking degrees Fahrenheit here;90 Celsius would surely introduce us to new levels of “uncomfortable” unless, of course, it was a dry heat).  This is going to make the flat a bit warm, especially with the mischief I am currently committing.
My wife is off on a ‘girls day out,’ leaving me unsupervised.  As I had little else on my TODO list, I volunteered to do some laundry while she was gone (am I the perfect husband, or what?).  Now, that doesn’t mean I asked how I should go about washing and drying said laundry, I merely stated that I would do some; the complex instructions concerning how and what and why (involving the spare room and a rotation of drying racks) I should do each task came for free, the main thrust being that the dryer should not be used.  This left me with two options: I could make what I had perceived to be a simple task into a complicated one by following the more onerous (though admittedly more eco-friendly) instructions, or I could wait for my wife to leave and do it my way.
As you have no doubt guessed, the washer is churning merrily away on one load while another waits in the queue, and the drying is humming (don’t tell my wife) and heating the kitchen up nicely.
This dryer, you see, is a new model, one that took me some time to puzzle out.  You need to boot it up before you can use it and selecting the drying settings is as complicated as changing the dashboard clock in our car (which is why it is still set to Standard Time).  This dryer also has no exhaust port for diverting steamy air out the window.  Instead, it has a cunning device inside that sucks the moisture out of the air and deposits it into a cistern.  The hot air, however, blows straight into the kitchen.  In the winter, this is a welcome source of auxiliary heat, but in the summer it makes the kitchen unbearable, especially when you are boiling up something on the stove at the same time.  Hence the drying racks.
So I am currently sitting in the slightly cooler living room, waiting for the heat.  It was raining and cool this AM, but now the sky is slowly clearing and the thermometer is rising.  It is coming, oh yes.
The strange thing about heat in Britain is that it doesn’t have to get very hot for them to start moaning about it.  But allow me to quickly interject this before all my British fans start sending the hate mail: it really does feel hotter here, and I cannot explain why.
In the States, I never even thought about going swimming until the temps were solidly in the 80s, and there was nothing better than lolling in the creek in 90 degree weather.  A day in the mid-70s would often see me in a long sleeved shirt or even a light jacket.  Here, I find myself thinking that it is so hot it must be in the 80s, but when I check the thermometer, it is only 74.  Strange business, summertime in Britain; it rarely does get really hot, and when it does, you still can’t go for a swim because the ocean—whatever part of Britain you are in—is freezing.  The best you can do is sit on the sweltering beach and stare longingly at the water, knowing that, if you did jump in, you would immediately go numb and have to crawl back to your beach chair and sit in the sweltering sun again, only now you would be sticky and exuding sand from every orifice in your body.  Maybe that is why the heat seems more extreme here, because you know—aside from standing in the frozen food section in Sainsbury’s—there is no relief.
I just checked the thermometer and we’re climbing closer to the 70s, so I expect the kitchen will be getting uncomfortably hot by now.  Its lunchtime, however, so I guess I’ll go in there and cook up some spaghetti sauce on the stove.
For those of you new to this blog, I draw your attention to the WHAT’S NEW section of the sidebar.  This has been a feature since Postcards From Across the Pond began (nearly ten years ago) and I have continued carrying it forward because it still serves its purpose.  Since my posts are more like articles, news of what I am up to—how my books are coming along, chat about the family and my new grandson, how we’re feeling and doing on a personal level—is reserved for the What’s New section.  There is also, often, a bonus joke.
I make this announcement only because of the recent change of venue and the awareness that people are coming to this blog for the first time.
We now return to our regularly scheduled post.
As I was working on this post, my shipment of book arrived.  How fortuitous!

These are the books I am using for the Pre-Release Sale (or if you simply want a signed copy).  Those of you who have ordered yours, it will soon be on its way, and those of you who have not, well, what are you waiting for?
Otherwise, the paperback release is set for 4 July, but you can buy the eBook for Kindle here:
Amazon UK
Or on Smashwords in a variety of other eBook formats.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Fantasy, the Reality

If you see me walking around town these days, you’ll notice something that looks remarkably like a beeper clipped to my belt.  No, I’m not going retro on you; it’s a pedometer.
This was my wife’s idea.  She’s trying to save my life (good thing, too, as no one else—least of all myself—is making the effort) by encouraging me to eat my five-a-day of fruits and vegetables, drink more water and get out of the flat once in a while.  It’s not that I’m terribly out of shape, but when I arrived on these shores, I weighed ten stone four (144 lbs) and was fit as a dancer (in fact, I was a dancer).   However, a decade of office work, as well as the exchange of Jigs and Reels for writing and editing, has resulted in my six-pack somehow becoming swaddled in a generous layer of bubble wrap and me being compelled to admit, albeit grudgingly, that a less sedentary life style wouldn’t do me any harm.  Hence the pedometer
I do try, I really do.  I even started working fewer hours at my job but, unfortunately, that simply provided more time for me to write.  I would be at in my “office” (the end of the dining table) when my wife left for work and in the same place when she returned home, having, during the interim, travelled only to the kitchen to acquire more coffee and the loo to get rid of it.  So now I have to show some numbers to my wife when she gets home, which means I’m not getting as much work done because I have to type with one hand while I shake the pedometer with the other.  It’s not so bad in the office; I still eat at my desk but the guy who sits next to me runs during his lunch break so I just have him take the pedometer with him.
It's not that I object to fruits and veg, it's just, who has the TIME?
Today, however, I felt like slacking off; my book is published, the Blog Empire is complete and I hate marketing, so I thought I’d meet up with some colleagues.  I figured I could catch an early bus, get a salad and a tuna and cucumber sandwich for lunch at an outdoor café, then meet up with my work mates for a relaxing beverage before finish the afternoon off with a pint and a cigar in the beer garden.
So I caught the bus, intending to do some reading on the ride south.  Instead, I fell asleep; when I woke up, it was raining.  I got off the bus, huddled against the rain and reviewed my options.  The outdoor café was out, but idea of a pint—while sitting snug, warm and dry in a welcoming pub—held appeal.  I pulled my jacket tight and marched through the gale.
When I entered the pub, however, I found stacks of boxes piled on the bar top and the landlord sweeping the floor.
“We’re not open yet,” he informed me.  “But there’s another pub down the road.”
Back into the rain.  The other pub wasn’t open, either.  The only open shop along that busy stretch of road—aside from the laundry, money exchange and a photography studio—was an offie.  I loitered in there, trying to keep dry, until the clerk started casting nervous glances my way and I felt obliged to buy a packet of crisps and leave.
So now I’m sheltering in a rubbish-strewn, urine-smelling area under an overhang on the side of an abandoned car dealership like some homeless person, eating a bag of paprika potato chips for lunch.  Not exactly the day I had planned, but I’m out of the flat, getting some exercise and eating at least one of my five-a-day (potatoes, after all, are a vegetable).
Maybe next week I’ll just stay home and work, and offer the kid downstairs five quid to wear my pedometer for the day.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Choice That is No Choice

When is a choice no choice at all?  Answer: when you are ordering coffee in the UK.
Currently, in our town, we have three major coffee chains on the high street, along with at least five eateries that also serve coffee.  And if you care to walk 100 yards to The Forum, you’ll find another coffee outlet and a few cafés.  You might think this would be a coffee hound’s wonderland, but to me it represents a virtual coffee drought.
Granted, I can go into any of these establishments and order from an expansive menu that includes, among other delights, a cappuccino, frappuccino, mochaccino, latte, Americano and any number of other grand sounding names for water squeezed through ground up beans.  But the problem is, every single one of these ‘different’ types of coffee is made in exactly the same way: a shot of espresso poured into a cup of hot water.  How, then, is this a choice?  How, also, is this even coffee?  Pouring espresso into water to make coffee is like adding water to a raisin and calling the result a grape.
Another issue here is time.  These days, coffee is “hand-crafted” by “trained baristas” (read: teenagers who were sent to Coffee Universe by the Job Centre because they happened to be hiring that day) and each cup takes forever.  Generally, when I am after a cup of coffee, it is between trains at Victoria station, and the last thing I want to do is stand in a queue with 57 other frantic commuters while the barista casually takes 57 different orders, carefully crafts a tiny cup of espresso and pours it into a cup of hot water.

In the States—ironically, the origin of this type of coffee culture—it is still possible to pick up a cup of joe on the run.  Want a cup of fresh brewed coffee in a hurry?  Stop at a Stewart’s store, or even a Dunkin Donuts.  Don’t really care about the quality of your coffee and just need a cup of hot, brownish liquid?  Then use the McDonald’s drive-thru.
Coffee addicts, in America, still have a choice; they can wait an age for a pretentious cup of Crappamochaccino topped with cinnamon-sprinkled whipped cream, or pick up a large, authentic cup of filtered coffee like a normal person.  Here, it seems no matter where you go, all you can order is espresso water.  I even went into a Wimpy’s and had to order a latte.  In a Wimpy’s, for chrissake!  (For those of you in the States, Wimpy’s can be compared to, well, not much, really; imagine a down-scale Denny’s in a depressed area of the city and take way the ambiance and fine cuisine and you’re almost there.)
I suppose by now you’ve guessed that I happen to be in one of these establishment.  It’s not my fault; I was lured into the newest coffee emporium to open in our town, hoping against all evidence to contrary that I might be able to get a cup of coffee in an establishment that promotes itself as a coffee vendor.
Alas, it was not to be.  I’ve taken a few sips of the rancid liquid in the oversized cup in front of me, but I can’t bear to drink any more and I am desperate for a cup of something, anything, the even remotely resembles coffee!
Wait a minute.  I just remembered there’s a McDonald’s on the corner.
Gotta run!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Friend Will Help You Move…

… a good friend will help you move a body.  At least that’s what they tell me.

While I consider you all my friends, there are a certain few among you who fit into the ‘help move a body’ category (you know who you are), but you don’t have to worry, I’m not going to call you up in the wee hours of the morning (this time) to ask you to meet me behind the abandoned warehouse with a box of Hefty bags and a shovel, I’m only moving my blog.

Big changes are coming to Postcards: with two books out, I am now an established author (in my mind, at least) so I figured I’d take the opportunity of the book release (now arbitrarily rescheduled for the 4th of July) to spiff the place up.  There is a new author website all about ME, a new Postcards blog and a site dedicated to what I am now calling The Postcards Trilogy.  It’s all so exciting.

Right now, however, it’s a bit of a mess.  You know how it is when you move, you come across stuff you dragged along with you from your previous move (or moves) vowing to sort it all out when you get the chance only to end up stowing it in the attic and stumbling over it when you undertake your next move.  I’m finding boxes labelled ‘Old Posts’ containing updates from ten years ago.  And the movers just came up from the basement with a stack of albums from when my kids were still in single digits.  Awww, weren’t they adorable?  And, look, photos of the family reunion in Maryland.  Gosh, how they’ve changed!  But not me, understand.

Yeah, better put that all away or I’ll be here all day reminiscing.  The new place will be easy to find.  For those of you on The List, the URL will be in the e-mail.  For those of you with this URL in your favorites (that would be all of you, right?) I’ll post the new URL here with a link that will take you there.  I can’t reveal the new URL yet, the painters are still in and the carpets haven’t been laid yet.  Soon, though, very soon.

The blog will not only be in a new location with a new look, it will be on a different platform, which means a lot of the familiarity we enjoy here will be replaced with different things—not better, or worse, or newfangled bullocks, just different.  No one is more suspicious of change than I am, but trust me, it will be fine: take a deep breath, click the link when you see it, and follow me on my new blog.

It’s strange to think that I never even wanted to come here and now I’m sad to leave it.  Back in those days, I thought I could hide in my cave and scratch HTML onto slate tablets for the rest of my life, but Blogger, Twitter, Facebook (and their half-wit cousin, MySpace) kept coming around and bugging me to come out and play.  Now HTML is a memory, blogging is a way of life and, if I want to give myself a fighting chance to sell more than seven books, I need to make peace with the new kid on the block, Social Networking.’

So in this way-too-fast-paced-for-my-liking world, I figured it was time for a change, time to focus on the future and where it can take me, and time to leave the past behind.  In this brave, new cyberworld, we…  Excuse me, the movers are back.

“Guys, can you load up all these boxes?  The ones marked ‘Old Posts’ and ‘Reunion Photos’?  When we get to the new place, just stow them in the attic; I’ll sort through them later when I get a chance.”

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Scotland and Beyond

We have just returned from a week in South West Scotland, a fetching corner of the country tourists tend to overlook.  Accordingly, we have not seen a Starbucks, McDonald’s, KFC or Burger King in seven days, and have been living among people who know how to prepare a good haggis, appreciate fine whisky and understand the satisfaction of a well-made cup of tea with a plain scone and butter.  It was wonderful.

Kirkcudbright's local castle; every town should have a castle,
don't you think.  And Kirkcudbright is pronounced ka coo' bree.

The weather was wonderful, as well, so much so that I begin to wonder about the famously awful Scottish weather; every time I have ever been there the weather has been grand.  In fact, the final two days were downright hot, and the Scots didn’t seem to know what to make of it.  They told us the previous week had been rainy; it seems we brought the sun with us.

We had many adventures, but I’ll save those for later in the week.  For now, suffice it to say it was a good week on many levels but I was very glad to arrive home after an eight and a half hour drive.  Trouble was, we didn’t bring any rain back from Scotland in exchange for the sunshine we brought them.  When we arrived home, it was positively baking, making the grass look like it should at the end of a New York August instead of the beginning of a Sussex June.

It may have been quiet and out-of-the-way,
but the the traffic could be a nightmare.

We toured the town after dinner last night and noticed that, in our absence, they finally finished fixing the tiles in the Forum.  The plaza is not that old and they have been working on it for ages, with large, fenced off areas filled with cement mixers, piles of stone and wet sand.  But sometime during the previous week, they finished, cleaned up their mess and left.  It was good to see they spread a layer of litter over the newly laid stones so they wouldn’t look out of place; these guys are thorough.

Scots taking advantage of one of the three days of hot weather
they will have this year to swim in the ocean, an activity that
seems to consist of getting wet up to your knees, then running,
squealing and splashing, back to the shore.

But that was yesterday; today, I am pleased to note, has brought some rain.  Not the usual sentiment I have toward less than agreeable weather, but it was really getting desperately dry here.  We can only hope we get a decent amount.  If not, I may have to return to Scotland to bring some more back.