Monday, June 9, 2014


Twelve years ago, when I first moved into this flat, one of the first things I did was put up a flag.

I did this because I have always had a flag flying from any home I have lived in. I’m an American; it’s what we do. To be fair, I did know that I was going against the rules of my tenancy agreement, which stated that nothing was to be put on the balcony, but I didn’t think anyone would mind. I also didn't think that I would be violating an actual law. Not the bludgeoning to death of the delivery man and hiding his body in the coal cellar type of violation; more like the allowing your dog to poop on your neighbor’s yard sort. But a violation nonetheless.

However, the flag stayed up, no one complained, no kittens were killed and life went on as before.

Long may she wave
Because I had just come from America, it did strike me as odd that no one else was flying flags, but I soon came to understand that overt displays of patriotism were deemed by the locals as being a bit gauche and over-the-top, something an American might do. What I did not know was that, in order to fly a flag, you had to secure permission from the local council. The fees for the red tape to acquire this permission could cost hundreds of pounds and permission was not always forthcoming. Many councils, it seems, simply did not allow it. I think most British people didn’t know this, either, but since they rarely flew flags, it never became an issue. Until the summer of 2012.

That was the summer of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Celebrations and the London Olympics and, suddenly, everyone was patriotic and, without realizing they were breaking the law, everyone put up flags.

A bit over-the-top, don't you think?
The local councils, who make a point of knowing these things, did realize it was against the law and soon found themselves faced with the onerous (not to mention unpopular) task of having to put almost every citizen in the entire country in jail.

Then something truly amazing (and, as far as I know, unheard of in the annals of government) occurred: common sense prevailed. The national government, realizing they were sitting on a potentially embarrassing issue, quickly passed a law giving everyone and anyone the right to fly a flag.

However, if you happened to be living in a building you didn’t own—say, a rented flat, for instance—you had to have the landlord’s permission. And I did not. But, again, no one complained, no baby harp seals were clubbed with cricket bats and life went on as before.

Then yesterday this letter arrived:

“We [the landlord] have received several complaints with regard to some residence (sic) of Pelham and Waverley consuming illegal substances in their flats and within the communal grounds.

The above will not be tolerated and further to this letter anyone suspected of doing so will be reported to the Police and also have their tenancy terminated without further discussion.

I would also like to take this opportunity to advise residents that Flags are not to be displayed on the balconies or in windows within the development.”

So, in addition to having to dismantle the meth lab in the back bedroom and uproot all the marijuana plants I was growing in the loft, I had to take the flag down.

(Note to local police officers: the above was a joke—I do not have any illegal substances in my flat so please put down the battering ram and call off the drug-sniffing dogs.)

I admit to being more than a little disappointed. In the grand scheme of things, hanging a flag seems relatively innocuous when compared to drug trafficking, and the off-handed nature of the flag codicil appears to me like someone told the guy writing the letter, “and while you’re at it, make that asshole take his damn flag down!”

Oddly, my neighbors seem more upset about me having to take down my flag than I do. One of them even came to my door to give me a pamphlet that spelled out my right to fly the flag (conveniently omitting the part about needing the property owner’s permission). I’m touched by this but, there is little any of us can do.

So the flag came down and will likely stay down. For the first time in my life I am living in a place where I am forbidden to fly the nation’s flag. An era has ended, but no one was hurt, no puppies were abandoned and life will go on as before.

I just wish someone had been around to play taps.

Day is done...gone the sun...

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Joining the 21st Century

This is what happened:

A few weeks back we were out to dinner with some friends and they showed us photos of their new granddaughter by passing us their phone and having us scroll though a batch of images they had taken and/or downloaded. Needless to say, baby was beautiful and the proud parents were, well, proud and we all did the requisite amount of cooing.

But then it occurred to me that I could not show them—or anyone else—pictures of my grandsons. In fact, I have never shown anyone a picture of my grandsons (bad Grandpa!) for the simple reason that I don’t have any. All I have are JPG files from my digital camera or downloaded from Facebook, and all of them are on my laptop. Short of going to a specialty shop, I doubt I could find anything resembling a wallet-sized photo that I could carry around with me.

So the notion of getting a smart-phone flitted into my mind and was promptly batted away by the grumpy old luddite fly swatter because they are just annoying gadgets that serve no constructive purpose and will be rendered useless as soon as the next big solar flare erupts.

Oddly, despite being in the computer business and having ridden the bleeding edge of technology back in the barnstorming days of computing, I am a bit of a technophobe. I think it has to do with it all having gotten away from me. When I understood the technology, I liked it and used it to push the boundaries of what was possible. But now all the hardware, software and inner workings thereof are as mysterious to me as the Dead Sea Scrolls, and just as decipherable.

Lately, however, I have come to realize that waiting for it to all go sour or be made redundant by the Next Big Thing was a bit like being a guy who made musical cylinders in the 1890s and refused to have anything to do with records or record players because they were just a temporary fad and then claiming himself right when—100 years later—they were replaced by cassette tapes, CDs and iPods.

And so, despite already having a perfectly acceptable cell phone, I bought another one:

A perfectly acceptable mobile phone next to the world's most expensive photo wallet.
My old phone made phone calls and sent text messages. It cost £9 and had an instruction manual that fit on a folded piece of paper.

My new phone does Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, Kindle, Skype, photos, movies, word processing, spreadsheets, power point, voice recording, e-mail, music and a host of other tasks with varying degrees of usefulness. The instruction manual is 66 pages long and “making a phone call” is on page 23 (oh yeah, it makes phone calls, too). And it cost somewhere north of £9. Very far north.

But here is the absolute worst thing about it: I love it, and can’t imagine how I was living without it all these years.

I don’t have to tell you all that it can do because you all have one and are now wondering just how I did get along without one all these years.

I’ve been having a blast with it. I downloaded a ring tone maker and set up obnoxious ring tones for a number of my contacts, but then someone called me and this song erupted from my pocket and scared the life out of me so I set it back to the default ring tone. Otherwise, it’s good for a lot of useful things, like reading books.

So next time you see me, ask me about my grandchildren. I’d love to show you some pictures of them.