Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas

I thought I’d take this opportunity to break my blog-silence by reporting a Santa Sighting:

Santa spotted in Horsham Park
Spotted in Horsham Park Christmas Eve morning, apparently taking time out from his busy schedule to enjoy a stroll in the unseasonably mild December weather.

I hope he got back to work soon, though, I’m expecting my gifts under the tree this morning, and I’m not taking “It was too nice to think about working” as an excuse.

In other news, there isn’t much news; hence the silence. But I thought I’d leave you all with a little Christmas gift, a video of 10-year-old Kayleigh Rogers, from a Special Needs school in County Down, singing a version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.



You’re welcome.

Have a Happy Christmas. Over eat, play with your toys until they break, cry, laugh and, most of all, enjoy each other.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Trump Means Trump

This is the second time in six months that I have had to break tradition and talk about politics on my blog. I apologize for this, and fervently hope it does not happen again.

So here’s my take on the Trump Triumph.

I stayed up all night watching the returns come in, feeling a sickening sense of deja vu. My jaw, once again, dropping closer and closer to the floor as state after state turned red and Trump rode to victory on the back of lies and xenophobia, the same donkey that carried Britex into town. (I know it’s Brexit, but I like Britex better; it sounds like something you’d use to unblock your toilet.)

His lies were so bizarre, his hate-mongering so egregious (“I’m going to register every Muslim” – by making them wear yellow, eight-pointed stars, perhaps?) that only someone intent on not thinking could fall for them. But fall they did.


The first thing I did when it became obvious Trump was going to win was take down my American flag and re-hang it upside down. As tradition dictates, the US flag is due to come down on Remembrance Day, to be replaced by the UK Flag for the next six months. But instead of putting the Stars and Stripes back up next Memorial Day, I proposed to fly a Canadian flag. (As an American in exile, I don’t need to move to Canada, but that shouldn’t stop me from becoming an Honorary Canadian.)

Then I took the 7 AM bus to Brighton to join a panel of expat Americans invited to share our views on local radio.

In the days leading up to the broadcast, my fellow expats and I mulled over things we wanted to say. But we arrived at the studio shell-shocked and speechless. Still we did all right. (Here’s the link. We’re only on for the first hour. The link is good for 28 days after the publication date of this post.)

After the show, I went back home, had a pipe and a think and a nap. I feel marginally better now, and here’s why.

Separate, if you can, the man from the actions. Pretend he’s your goofy uncle Tony, an ambitious guy with wild ideas. He becomes a property developer and, with his flair for self-promotion, puts himself in the public eye. He parlays that popularity into a reality television show and becomes a national celebrity. And then, in a move you, your family and practically everyone else in the world thinks is insane, decides to run for President. And yet, despite all odds, he sweeps through the Primary. He then galvanizes the electorate in a way never before seen and, contrary to the predictions of the pundits, pollsters and political prognosticators, wins the Presidency.

This nothing short of miraculous. It would have you jumping up and down on the sofa screaming your support, “Tooooon EEEEE!! Tooooon EEEEE! Tooooon EEEEE!!.” It is the stuff that dreams are made of.

But, alas, it is not your goofy uncle Tony, it is Donald Trump, the most odious man on the planet, a man with all the unctuous charm of a used-car salesman. That’s what makes it the stuff of nightmares.

His conciliatory acceptance speech, which he clearly did not write, did not have me fooled for a second. You don’t go from fanning the flames of division and hatred one day to someone who wants us all to live in peace and harmony in a wonderful garden the next. He has been a hideous humanoid since he first came into the public eye and he was still one yesterday. He did not change into a decent man overnight.

Also, there was no “we” in that speech, no “Let’s all work together for a brighter future.” It was all “I will do this,” and “I will do that,” and “You will be so proud of me.” Trump is a perfect narcissist, it is always, at all times, all about him.

I understand why he was elected. I get it, I really do. You’re sick of the same old shit. You’re fed up with business as usual from the government. I am, too. I want change, I want someone to shake things up. But Trump is not that man.

As it turns out, many were willing to overlook what he was and concentrate, instead, on what he was not—a career politician, a role Hillary personified in spades. It was the perfect storm of elections, fuelled by people who hated Hillary versus people who hated Trump. It could never have been anything more than a freak show. And in the end, people hated Hillary more than they hated Trump.

Is there a bright side to this, other than for comedians (who are now fist-pumping the air in glee) and the British (who can, once again, feel superior to Americans – “And you thought WE did something stupid!”)?

Everyone has their favourite Trump Doomsday Scenario, but I think there is room for hope: Although Trump is a force to be reckoned with, he has never tackled anything like the US Government. It is massive, and possesses an unfathomable amount of inertia. When Trump slams face-first into that, and Newton’s Laws of Motion come into play, it will not be pretty.

"Say whatever you want; I still got the last laugh!"
Trump will blame everyone but himself for his inevitable failures, rant like a child and the US will become already is the laughing stock of the world. But (and here’s the bright spot) people with that sort of reality-denying mentality often suffer complete mental breakdowns when confronted with undeniable truths. I’m not wishing anything on my new President-in-Waiting, I’m just sayin’.

I fervently hope I am wrong, that Trump will rise to the challenge, but I think the best any of us can hope for is that Congress sits on him hard enough to keep him from doing too much damage over the next four years. And therein lies the brightest ray of hope (and one that will allow the US to regain the moral high ground over Britain): unlike Brexit, Trump is not going to be President forever.

Hopefully, this will teach us (myself included) to start paying more attention to the people who rule over us. We need to hold these people to account, and encourage less corrupt politicians to run for office (I’d say “uncorrupted,” but we’re talking about politicians here).

Also, I hope this car-crash of an election has sated at least some of our hatred. We hate Trump, Trump supporters hate Hillary (and immigrants and Mexicans and ….). They also hate us, and we hate them, and the Brexiteers hate the Remainers, who hate the Brexiteers.

(SIDE NOTE: I noticed, over the past months, that Hillary-haters hate her with an unreasoning vitriol that stretches the boundaries of mania. I wonder if they all woke up this morning and, finding nothing to hate, just laid in bed staring at the ceiling.)

This has got to stop. (Not the lying in bed thing, I quite like that; I mean the hate.) Really, stop it. Just take a step back, have a cup of tea, or a beer, and relax. We’re all in this together, and if we don’t at least start tolerating each other, we are going to find ourselves in a very dark place.

Like it or not (not, is my guess) Trump is going to be President. It’s not what I wanted, but then neither was Brexit. Sometimes you just have to take the hit and move on. I may not have any respect for the man, but I have respect the office. And I have a choice: I can continue to rail against his victory, I can crusade against him and his followers, and I can unleash my bile by plotting ways to bring him down, or I can not hate, and instead do something constructive.

Because the hate has to stop somewhere, and if I can stop it in me, that’s a start.

But I’m watching you Mr. President-elect Trump. And I’m keeping my eye on that Canadian flag.




Thursday, November 3, 2016

November Already?

The trees, this year, are giving a decent color show. Nothing like New England, but it’s as close as we can get. It’s also getting cold, but it’s a nice, sharp, sunny cold, just like a New York autumn.

That means it must be November, and I haven’t done a post since August.

I have an excuse, though: I’ve been busy.

Christmas is coming and, as usual, we are doing a homemade, history-related project for the G-boys as a gift. Last year it was the Battle of Hastings, and involved 20-foot “Tapestries” along with handmade shields and wooden swords. This year it’s Shakespeare, with the central offering being a hand-bound book supposedly written by the boys in alternating chapters. To make the task less onerous, the scripting of the book is to be done totally by computer, using handwriting fonts and other clever formatting tricks.

And as usual, I managed to procrastinate until the very last minute. Also typical, is the “scope creep” the project has undergone. In addition to writing a 30k word novella—in which the boys travel back to 1588 to meet, among others, William Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth, listen to the famous “I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman” speech at Tilbury and, of course, save the kingdom—we decided to include individualized Tudor Handbooks, which will be hand-bound and hand-written, with a pen and ink. These new manuscripts ended up being 16 typed pages long. Each. I’m currently writing out page 4.

This Year's Project
Of course, all these handmade books will have leather covers, which need to be decorated. So I bought some leather working tools so I can put designs on them, once I learn how to use them.

And remember, these are for young boys—the oldest is just 6. Hopefully, they’ll have fun playing with the quill pens.

So, yeah, I’m busy writing and editing and stitching and watching YouTube videos about how to make marks in leather.

And I joined a choir.

That’s not as out in left field as it seems. I’ve always liked to sing, and believe it or not, people used to pay me to sing. In my twenties and early thirties, I was a pub singer and I made a decent amount of money—more than I did at writing—so you might say I am a better singer than a writer.

But that was long ago. I no longer have the equipment, or the repertoire, or the stamina to be a pub singer, so when I recently became tired of playing to an audience of zero, I decided to become a busker. You know, one of those guys who stands on the corner singing along to a guitar. It’s a time-honored tradition over here, and on any given day, if it’s nice enough, there is usually at least one busker in the town centre.

My reasoning was, since I lived in the town centre, all I had to do was grab my guitar and go downstairs. It seemed perfect. So I got my Busker’s License (yes, there is such a thing) and practiced up.
Yup. All legal and everything.
Fortunately for the people of Horsham, before I felt ready to inflict myself upon them, I saw a flyer saying a new choir was starting up, so I joined that instead.

Turns out, choral singing is a bit different from pub singing. While pub singing can be described as a bit laissez fair, in choir, they have these things called “notes.” Apparently, they represent the correct tone you are supposed to sing. Not only that, you have to sing the tone at the same time as everyone else, and for the same length of time. Who knew?
All those black marks, they mean something. Who knew?
Accordingly, I now spend a portion of my time trying to make sense of these little black marks and squiggles and tenor clefts and measures and an assortment of other odd lines. But it’s a challenge, and good fun, and I am glad I joined. And, the people of Horsham don’t know what a close shave they had.

Then I joined a second Choir. I joined the second one because practice was in the evening, instead of in the morning, like Choir #1. And, because it is in the evening, my wife joined as well. This surprised us both, as she is one of these people who believes she cannot sing. Anyone can sing, and she proved it.

We both enjoy the new choir, and it’s great having a shared experience. We are now becoming choir geeks, which means we can boor the pants off anyone unfortunate enough to ask us what we’ve been up to lately.

The result of all this is, with Christmas fast approaching, I am practicing for two choral concerts, writing, editing, binding, stamping and carving, leaving little time for blog updates.

So, in case I don’t get back here before 2017, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.



Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Lovin' Summer

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, so what the hell have I been up to? Has civilisation crumbled in Blighty since the Brexit vote? Am I too busy scrabbling around for scraps of Fish n’ Chips and sleeping in abandoned BHS dressing rooms to bother posting to my blog?

No, nothing so drastic (though Parliament just reconvened, and if anyone can bring that about it’s them, so watch this space), I’m simply too busy enjoy the unexpectedly stunning summer weather.

SUMMER 2016
Just like New York, except the buildings aren't as tall and there's not as many people.
It is just as hot, though. Check out the guy in the background thanking the gods for the unprecedented weather.
To the uninitiated, summer in Britain generally consists of three hot days (not always contiguous) and long stretches of cloudy, 60 degree weather. And drizzle. But this year, it got hot. Proper hot; not the 75 degrees that usually passes for hot in Britain, but actually into the 80s, and a few times into the low 90s. And it stayed that way. We have had (and continue to enjoy) sunny days, blue skies and “where is the nearest swimming pool” temperatures for weeks now.

SUMMER 2003
Sunny, but at least 3 out of 5 people think it's too cold for short sleeve shirts/
This is the type of weather that drives people into supermarkets so they can hang out in the frozen food aisle. It is, in short, a New York Summer, and I have not experienced one like it since I landed on these shores.

It is also wonderful that I am able to enjoy it with (as opposed to despite) my fellow Sussexonians, who usually start predicting doom after three days of decent weather.

“Haven’t had much rain lately,” they’ll say, as soon as the words, “Nice day, isn’t it?” leave your lips. And then they’ll continue: “That won’t do the farmers any good, mind. We’ll be paying three month’s wages for a pack of cheese and onion crisps come October. This keeps up, there’ll be standpipes in the streets.”

SUMMER 1976
Yeah, we had standpipes in the streets
No, this time everyone seems to be enjoying it, and making the best of it by crowding into the frigid sea or taking the 23 bus to Arundel to lounge by the lido. My theory is, the gloom has not descended because something like this happened within living memory — 1976 to be exact — only it was worse, with severe drought and, you guessed it, stand-pipes in the streets, and those who remember it are happy enough just telling anyone who will listen about their recollections of that year, while the rest of us are just happy to be able to go outside in July without needing a puffer jacket.

SUMMER 2012
This is July. Yes, JULY!!
It has been so like a real summer that I have actually put off doing some chores until the autumn, with its cooler weather, arrives. (These chores involve digging large holes in my MIL’s garden to uproot some trees, so I’m not really being a wimp here.) It has also seen me wearing short sleeved shirts.

For the first several years I lived here, I didn’t even own a short sleeve shirt. I bought two about ten years ago, during a summer that flirted with “hot” for about five days in a row. After that, the shirts migrated to the bottom of my dresser draw where they remained for many years. But thanks to the current climate, I now posses a baker’s dozen of short sleeve shirts, and have been wearing nothing but (well, pants and stuff) for many weeks, even out doors.

SUMMER 2008
'nuff said.
It has been so consistently nice that my wife and I travelled to London a few weeks ago without even bothering to take a jacket or umbrella. Believe it or not, we simply walked out of the flat with the clothes we had on, without having to layer up. Incredible! I get giddy just thinking about it.

(I sincerely hope this isn’t like the jumper debacle. As with “not-so-hot” summers, Britain--in the south, at least--has “not-so-cold” winters, which rarely require the wearing of a sweater/jumper. When we had a genuine cold spell some years back, I gleefully bought a stack of jumpers and wore them around for a few days until it got up into the 40s again. They are now all tucked away in a box; I do not wish for the short sleeve shirts to join them.)

SUMMER 2004
Yeah, the guy in the background is wearing shorts, but someone is always wearing shorts,
so that's no clue to temperature. Check out his jacket, and the fact that whoever has their arm
around him can't supply enough love to keep him warm.
Don't get me wrong, it was a nice day, but it was not in the 80s.
Today. alas and alack, is the final day of summer, as the Brits count the 1st of September as the beginning of Autumn. The superb summer weather is still with us, however, and promises to remain for another few days, but as one might anticipate, cooler weather and rain are predicted for the weekend.

I supposed we should expect it, and we certainly can’t complain; it has been a memorable summer—one to compare with the historic summer of 1976—and I hope we are blessed with a repeat some time soon.

But lets hope these superlative seasons do not continue throughout the year; I don’t want this winter to be one we can compare to the historic winter of 1963.

WINTER 1963
Longest, coldest, snowiest -- sounds to much like a New York
winter to want to experience one here.
But at least I’d be able to wear my jumpers again.


Friday, July 8, 2016

Life on the Lam

It’s difficult for people who live in the US to understand, and even incomprehensible to expats from countries other than American, how one’s nation of birth can treat a citizen like a criminal for the simple fact that they chose to live in a different country.

If I am allowed to forget this throughout the year (which I am not) it is driven home to me every July, when I am required to register all my assets with the US Financial Criminal Enforcement Network.

This is akin to being on the paedophile register, and having to report in every year. The difference being that I haven’t actually committed any crime. Despite this, there are draconian penalties for not filing, and no excuses—even if you didn’t know about the law—for failure to comply.

This is what US Expat Passports look like.
But this is something I have been putting up with for years, along with the fact that any money I have in the US—if Uncle Sam has anything to say about it—should jolly well stay in the US.

Accessing my American money has always been an issue. My retirement system will not make deposits to a foreign bank, so they gleefully deposit into my US account and then say, “Good luck getting at that!” The banks charge a fortune for international transfers—the sending bank has a fee, then the receiving bank has a fee, and then the money is sent out at one rate but accepted in another, shaving off even more money--which can mean a loss of up to 10% for each transfer.

My solution was PayPal: simple cheap, efficient. But, as I found out this month when they locked down my account, illegal. Not that they said anything about that when I signed up, though I suppose it’s hidden in the Terms of Service somewhere. The first I knew was when I tried to transfer my US money into my US PayPal account and I got a message saying my account was locked, and to call them.

So I called, and a chipper young woman assured me that, yes, my account was locked because I was sending money to another PayPal account in the UK, which was registered to me, and that was definitely not on. I didn’t bother trying to explain to her that I was not a drug dealer, or an international tax-dodger, and that I was merely trying to get at my retirement income so I could do some non-nefarious things like, you know, pay bills and buy food, because I didn’t think it would interest her, or make her change her mind.

"No transfer for you!"
She did say they might unlock the account in the future but admitted they would probably lock it again if I made another illegal transfer. So I thanked her and hung up and began thinking about how I was going to pay the bills.

Realising that I had been using the PayPal method for years (they’re slow to catch up with you, but watch out when they do!) and that, in the interim, other methods may have been developed, I did a quick Google search and discovered a site called TransferWise.

It seemed too good to be true, so I was dubious. After some background digging, however, I discovered it was developed by the people at Skype and backed by Sir Richard Branson. This lent it an air of respectability—that, and the fact that no Americans were involved—so I decided to give it a try.

I like these guys.
In short, it worked a treat. It was dead easy, quick and cheap. And, I assume (fingers crossed) legal. The fee was a bit more than PayPal’s nominal fee, but TransferWise transfers do not switch rates between the outgoing and incoming banks, so that alone saves a substantial amount of money, which more than makes up for the fee.

And so, like anyone who has the law sniffing around after them, I am now living in a rather nervous state; happy that I can access my money, but wondering how long I will be allowed to do this before the banks raise a fuss that they are not getting their extortion fees, or the US government gets wind that I am taking my money and using it in another country, and they conspire to shut it down. Or at least deny it to American citizens.

The rest of the expat world will probably get to use it; not every country treats its expat citizens like criminals.



Saturday, June 25, 2016

To My American Friends

This is a humour blog. I know my sense of humour isn’t what t used to be, but I still try to keep it entertaining and amusing. I never do serious. I never do politics. But today I am making an exception, for these are exceptional times.

“What Happened?”

This is the question a lot of my American friends are asking. It really isn’t a complicated answer, but it does require some background, so I thought I’d post the reasons here so they could see how something so monumental could come about. This decision will affect, not just Britain, but Europe, America and the rest of the world, so it’s only fair to explain how—and why—we did this to you.


What, really, is the EU?

Here is an ironic fact that was floated around during the lead up to the Referendum: The UK never voted to join the EU. It voted to join the EEC—the European Economic Community—in 1973, and then voted to remain a member, in 1975.

The EU is the self-perpetuating bureaucracy that has grown up from the EEC. So the EU began with its base remit of overseeing free trade and freedom of movement within the member nations, and gradually grew into a monolith that passes laws on nearly all aspects of our lives. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. Yes, we have laws handed to us by unelected, foreign bureaucrats telling us how straight our cucumbers need to be, but the EU also has an excellent record on human rights, woman’s’ rights, worker’s rights, the environment, etc.

So, in exchange for the loss of some autonomy, we get to travel, work and live pretty much anywhere in Europe. Going from the UK to live and work in France is no more difficult than someone from New York moving to Pennsylvania. The reverse is also true, and many people from many different European countries now live and work here.

It’s not all good, but the benefits, for most of us, out-weigh the disadvantages. For some, however, they do not. There is a group of people who think Britain should be a totally sovereign nation. They genuinely believe we can enjoy more benefits and better lives outside of the EU. They formed UKIP, the UK Independence Party. Nigel Farage was their leader.


Why a Referendum?

The Referendum came about, not because UKIP finally forced the issue, but due to in-fighting in the Conservative Party. Although it was something the general population were becoming vocal about, there was no real need to hold one at this time. But a power struggle (sorry, I don’t understand all the nuances) forced David Cameron, the Prime Minister, to hastily agree to hold a Referendum.

Consequently, his rival, Boris Johnson, championed the Leave side. This was a political gamble. If Leave won, it would weaken Cameron’s position and Boris could become Prime Minister.


What Remain Did Wrong

The EU: In order to try to avoid a Referendum, Cameron went to the EU to try to agree some compromises with them. The EU refused to budge, showing themselves to be the pusillanimous, smug and self-serving bureaucrats that everyone feared them to be.

Cameron: The PM set himself up as the face of the Remain Campaign. This made people who didn’t like Cameron more likely to vote Leave. The Leave Campaign had no Front Man, so to speak; Boris, Nigel and some other celebrities and politicians campaigned, but there was no central character designed to rally around.

Parliament: In a vote of National importance, more than a 50% win is generally required for the change to take place. No one seems to have given this any notice.

The Remain Campaign Itself: They lied. They lied meekly and self-consciously and their hyperbole came back on them and made people distrust them more. The claims about house-prices, consumer costs, WWIII were all fairly embarrassing.


What Leave Did Right

They lied. They lied eloquently, they lied with aplomb, they lied loudly and often and long enough to fool enough people into believing their lies.
  • -          They said that the $350,000,000 a week going to the EU could go to the NHS.
  • -          They said they would halt immigration.
  • -          They said that Turkey was going to join the EU and that 1.5 million of them would swarm into the UK.

Immigrants and the NHS—two hot-buttons of the British public and the Leave Campaign played them for all they were worth. In short, they told lies people wanted to believe.


The Vote

Despite this, as the country went to the polls, no one anticipated the outcome. It was inconceivable, even to the Leave Campaign. Nigel Farage basically conceded defeat at the start of the “all-night vote-tally” show on BBC, saying he expected Remain to win by a slim margin, as indeed did everyone else.

I stayed up to watch the show, expecting to go to bed about 2 AM when it became obvious that Remain was going to win. Instead, I remained watching, along with the rest of the country, and the newscasters—our jaws getting closer and closer to the floor—as district after district reported Leave wins. I’m glad I did, otherwise I would not be able to believe it happened.

In my view, the Leave voters came in three groups: the True Believers, those who honestly believe a better Britain will come out of this, The “Don’t Like Foreigners” group, who were fooled into voting for something that was not real (I have no data to back this up, but I suspect this was the largest of my groups), and the “Didn’t Know What They We’re Doing” group, who treated this election like a General Election and voted “Leave” just to spite David Cameron or the Conservative Party or politicians in general and basically had no idea what the EU was or what voting to leave it really meant.
I made this chart up, please do not think it is official or represents anything real

 The pundits and the pollsters all took into account the “Don’t Like Foreigners” segment, but no one counted on the “Didn’t Know What They Were Doing” group to be so large. That was where the surprise came in, and why Leave won, and why this should have been a 65%/35% vote instead of 50/50. They should have heeded the words of the American philosopher, George Carlin; “Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”

As it was, of the 70 to 80% of the electorate who voted, 52% came out for Leave, and 48% came out for Remain—a 4% margin representing around 1 million people. This is hardly a mandate for a change of this magnitude. My feeling is, taking into account the people who didn’t vote and those who couldn’t vote (children, those abroad, etc.) the 36% of the general population who voted Leave are dragging a population largely in favour of staying in the EU, out of the EU.

In short, this was a mistake. And I don’t mean an, “Oh, God, we made a bad decision; that was a mistake!” type of mistake, I mean an, “Oh, God, we made a bad decision by mistake!” kind of mistake.

I truly believe, if they let us do the vote over again next week, Remain would win by a wide margin.


What Happens Now
  • There could be a recession that makes 2008 look like a walk in the park.
  • Scotland may opt to leave the UK.
  • The EU itself may crumble.

 All of this may happen. But then again, it may not.


My Take

Like much of the country, I am shocked. And still in the grip of disbelief that a relatively tiny group of baffled voters can drag an entire nation out of the EU against its will. It doesn’t seem right, it doesn’t seem fair.

But we are where we are. And if it we are here by accident, well, Britain has a rich tradition of having its history turn on lucky accidents.

We need to get over our shock and start looking to the future. There is a lot of optimism out there. The Leave politicians, as it became obvious the Leave side was going to win, were positively bubbling with enthusiasm at the opportunities that await us. Hopefully, they will take the reins and guide us to that new and better Britain they have been promising for the past ten years.

In truth, I don’t think a lot will change. There will be some pain as the UK and the EU work out their separation agreement, as the EU is determined to make us pay (they are going to beat us like a red-headed step-child every chance they get), but this will only serve to show us that we made the right choice. As one politician put it, “If you join a club, and then try to leave that club and they knee-cap you, then maybe that is a club you shouldn’t have joined in the first place. That’s not a club, that’s the mafia.”

If Remain had won, we would have maintained the status quo, and sat around complaining about the EU and looking at the abyss called Leave, thinking, “at least we’re not in there.” But now that we are in that abyss, we have the opportunity to be totally self-ruling, and if our Leave politicians are wise, and hold the good of the British people in their hearts, then things could turn out well.

In a few years time, I think things will be pretty much the same. The UK has a powerful economy and a vibrant financial sector. If there is, indeed, a recession, we will recover. Immigration will continue, both into and out of the UK. Trade will continue. Our financial sector will still deal with the rest of the world. The difference will be that our laws will come from Westminster instead of bureaucrats in Brussels.

What is happening now is the shock of something so unexpected happening, but once that shock is over, people will begin to grasp the advantages, and work for a better Britain.

I have hope. I’m ready to follow. We just need someone to lead us.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The End of The Universe

No, this isn’t about the EU Referendum. If you want to read people’s thoughts on our decision to drop out of the world’s largest economic and financial community to set up a mom-and-pop store on a side-street, you can go almost anywhere else on the web.

Besides, I expect you’re all as sick of pundits second-guessing the causes and consequences as I am, so no discussion of the UE Referendum here. Nuh uh, not on my watch. Instead, I’m going to tell you about the demise of The Rising Universe, aka the Shelly Fountain.


Don’t panic, they mean the fountain. Kevin Griffin and his Cars are safe.
The Fountain has been an ache in the town’s tush almost since the day they bought it 20 years ago. When I first arrived, the romance was still pretty fresh and the Fountain was well-cared for, happy, and busily going about its daily business—being a landmark of the town.

See, you think of Horsham, you think of The Fountain. (Ironically, I found this article on the day
started taking it down.)
But, alas, the romance was not to continue in that happy state for long. You see, The Fountain was a bit like a trophy wife. Horsham was lucky to get her. In fact, she’d had her eye on a much sexier town (Cambridge) but he saw her for what she was and wisely decided to stop answering her texts. So she came to Horsham. The conservative market town couldn’t believe his luck and took her on before realizing what a high maintenance gal she was.



And that’s when things began to fall apart. “You never pay attention to me anymore,” The Fountain would whine. “You need to spend more money on me. I can’t go out looking like this! I need a new dress.”

So stodgy old Horsham, unable to appease his glamorous young bride, began spending more and more time in his garden shed, paying little attention to his increasingly acrimonious wife. (One has to wonder if he discovered her secret, but ignored it and hoped it would go away.)

[Begin Long Side Note]

The Fountain’s secret, by the by, is extremely well kept. I think I am the only one who knows it. Well, me and my barber. I wrote a blog post about it back when Horsham finally cut off The Fountain’s allowance and they began having sparky conversations about where their relationship was going. This happened, I might add, some seven years ago.

But I can’t blame Horsham for taking so long, though; nothing like The Fountain was likely to come along again and I’m sure we’ve all let an old romantic partner hang around even though the relationship has become toxic. You know it’s over, but you don’t have the courage to put a bullet through its head. (The relationship, not the partner. Unless, of course, you’re in Texas.) Relationship Inertia: we’ve all been there.

Here’s the link to that post, if you can’t figure out The Fountain’s secret for yourself. Skip to the bottom, it’s a long and rambling post and only tangentially about The Fountain.

[END Long Side Note]

Anyway, something finally snapped and Horsham has given The Fountain the shove. In truth, it never could have worked. Horsham was disillusioned with The Fountain and lacked the will to keep Her in the style which she demanded. So she’s gone. She’s left a hole, but time and some emotional distance will help fill that in. Not to mention a few Council Workers.

Taken today: Yeah, she’s a planter now. How fitting.
So now it’s over, and Horsham is left shaking his head, wondering what he could have done to make it right. But it’s sort of like the EU and the UK. At first the UK was treated well and things were going along smoothly, but then the EU got a little...bossy. It wasn’t much, at first, just the usual, “I don’t want you wearing that dress. Why did you put on that shade of lipstick? Are you going to make me punish you? It’s not my fault, you know, you make me do it…”

And soon EU was treating us like his bitch, and, well, where do you turn? Who can you tell? Oh, it was so…humiliating…(sniff)…sorry…sorry…

(take a moment)

Anyway, like Horsham, UK finally put her foot down. She arranged an intervention and, gripping ‘the talking pillow’ in her lap, she told her pushy boyfriend just what she thought of him.

Taken Last Week: The slowly decaying fountain, or a metaphor for the EU.Take your pick.
So the EU—um, I mean, The Fountain, this is about The Fountain—is gone now. Those long painful years of having the external reminders of a shattered relationship staring Horsham in the face are now over, and already the Bishopric looks a lot nicer. So, well done Horsham and Fountain, for finally working out your differences and moving on.

Let’s hope the same happens for EU and UK.



If you’re been effected by any of the issues raised in this blog, please visit:

Relationship Violence
Signs of Domestic Violence

or call the HotLine: 00 800 6 7 8 9 10 11

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Distress Signals

This is not a book blog, so I don't often review books here, but I am making an exception for this one.

Distress Signals is the debut novel of Catherine Ryan Howard. It is a solid thriller with an unlikely protagonist and a unique setting. The writing is tight and fast-paced, and the story intriguing enough to keep me reading long after I usually stop.

Distress Signals concerns a disappearing girlfriend (Sarah), her just-about-to-be-a-famous-writer boyfriend (Adam) and his efforts to track her down. The tension is ratcheted up by Adam having only a week to do the rewrites on his first movie script and, if he misses the deadline, he loses the contract and the 6-figure advance and any chance of working in Hollywood again. As a writer, this really concerned me, and I kept mentally shouting at him, “Do the rewrite! She'll still be missing next week! You can look for her then.” A bit cold, I know, and fortunately, Adam didn't see it that way.

His search leads him to the cruise ship Celebrate, and the deeper he delves, and the more lies he uncovers, the more he becomes convinced that Sarah did not simply do a bunk, but was the victim of foul play. And when, at last, he finds someone who believes him, someone who has had a similar experience to his, someone who he can join forces with, things only get darker and more sinister.

In a desperate effort to uncover the truth, Adam and his new ally book onto the Celebrate to find and confront the killer. But the showdown is not what they expect.

And the rewrite is still not done.

Visit:


Buy:

CATHERINE'S BOOK





Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Memories

Some of you may recall a post I wrote back in the autumn of 2014 detailing my decision to store my journals in my in-law’s loft. The rest of you, take your Omega 3 tablets and have a look at this. Or not; really, there’s no need to remember everything. Which is sort of the point of this post.

The takeaway topic of that previous post was this: although I was willing to physically part with the journals, I was not yet at a point in my life where I felt ready to throw them away. (Well, that and the realization that—as a younger man—I was a bit of a muppet.) Turns out, that day came sooner than I thought; my therapists would be so proud.

A number of factors went into this decision, none of which are relevant, but once arrived at, I could not implement the solution fast enough, and until I did, I lived in fear that they might lie forgotten in my in-law’s loft, only to be uncovered decades from now by some hapless new home-owner who would unwittingly open them, read a few pages and think, “Who was this asshole?”

Happily, it transpired that I recently found myself alone at my in-law’s house and, having previously secured permission to start a bonfire in their backyard, trotted the numerous volumes out of the house and began setting fire to them, one page at a time.

There they go!
Those of you with particularly keen memories are now saying (Don’t deny it, I can hear you), “But you took photos of all those pages, so you’re not really destroying them!” Fair enough, but I don’t count digital images as a permanent copy (or more to the point, one I, or anyone else, is likely to read) and I fully expect they will find themselves on the business end of a DELETE command fairly soon.

Besides, digital copies don’t weigh anything, they don’t take up space and they don’t follow me around from abode to abode and continent to continent, growing year by year like the money boxes shackled to Marley’s ghost.

He ain't heavy, he's my journal.
And so, on a sunny afternoon in suburbia, I fed my life to the flames, occasionally glimpsing, on those pages, memories, long forgotten, that returned to me one last time even as the fire consumed them:

The entry I wrote while sitting in a graveyard on a sombre, November afternoon, with skeletal trees silhouetted against a leaden sky and dead leaves scattered among the tomb stones, which stirred an aching melancholy.

The time my friends and I sat up all night talking, then decided to go to a local beauty spot to watch the sun rise, only to discover we were facing west.

The heat of sunbaked macadam burning the soles of my feet as I walked to the local (only a mile and a half away) swimming hole.

The sudden, shocking chill of the Kinderhook Creek as I jumped from the rope swing into the green water.

The way the sunlight glinted off her hair.

The light in her eyes.

The turn of her head.

These, and many others that did not even get a final perusal, were snuffed out in the inferno, making me wonder if I was killing them, or if—no longer remembered—they were already dead. Whatever the case, one by one they flared, curled to cinders and became irrevocably lost, and their downy ash rose with the smoke, swirling through the air like a blizzard, further and further across the neighborhood, making me wonder how long I could expect to get away with this before someone called the fire brigade.

But no sirens sounded, and no police arrived with a ‘cease and desist’ order and, eventually, as I consigned the final pages to the flames, I felt lighter, and yet more whole. Who I am, what I am, now resides wholly within me. I am now the sum of what I hold in my mind, and not the product of millions of unread words mouldering in an attic. And even as these memories fade, it will be those I hold on to that will make me me.

I left the fire then and returned to the binders. Once heavy and significant they were now merely husks that had, at one time, held my life. Their time was over, their importance erased, their task complete. I threw them in the bin.

And then, for a time, I watched the fire die and turn to embers while, all around me, my memories settled like snow.


Monday, May 30, 2016

Retirement Review

I've been retired, this time, for six months now, so I feel it's time to reflect on how it is shaping up.

All my life I have been looking forward to retirement because I have so many other things I want to do. Writing, of course, is the big one—the wet dream of every writer: to have unlimited time to write. Heaven on earth, the ultimate joy, the...well, we'll get back to that.

I also fancied doing a bit of art. I used to draw many years ago, but I stopped because I couldn't fit it into my busy schedule that, in those days, included many hours devoted to drinking. Still, when I did manage to draw, I wasn't so bad. Over the ensuing years, however, I seem to have forgotten how it is done and I'm keen to see if I can figure it out again.

I drew this, so I could, at one time, draw fairly well.
This is how I draw now.
I also wanted to get my genealogy back into shape. I put an astounding amount of time into this some decades ago, back when you had to travel to the records offices of distant cities, and write letters, and make over-seas phone calls. The results were admirable, but the members of my family tree lacked the good sense and consideration to stop dying and having children, so the numerous branches need tending.

Lastly, and most at odds with my nature, I planned to watch more television, specifically movies. Somehow, I got it in my mind that I have missed a great deal of quality cinema over the years and proposed to devote some of my retirement time to catching up.

So, how is this working out in real life? Well, let me tell you about my typical day:

I get up, I go to my computer, I stare at the blank screen. Then I stare some more. When that doesn't work, I get up and wander around the flat, maybe have a cup of coffee, notice the dust on the books shelves and do a bit of tidying. Then I stare at the blank screen some more and realise it is almost lunch time. After lunch, I try to tell myself I can do something else—work on my genealogy, try to draw a picture—but I can't do that because I haven't written yet, so I stare at the blank screen some more.

Consequently, and unexpectedly, the main activity I engage in is NOT writing. That is the single thing I spend most of my time doing, NOT writing. And because of this, I don't do much of anything else.

The results of a typical day of writing.
I hasten to add that, despite all of the time I spend NOT writing, I have, over the past six months, finished one manuscript, started and completed another and am well into a third. It's just that the time I spent writing all of that pales in comparison to the time I spent NOT writing all of that.

(Before you start feeling sorry — or, more likely, annoyed — with me, let me state that this is not an unusual side-effect of the mental health affliction known as “being a writer.” We either write, and then castigate ourselves because what we've written is crap, or we don't write, and then castigate ourselves for being worthless because we are not writing).

Now, to the non-writers among you, this may seem like a doddle. I mean, you probably spend all day NOT writing and still find the time to work on your trapeze act and polish your milk bottle collection, but for someone like me, it's hard work. This is because I have so many things to NOT write. The main one being the eight-book series I am working on for my grandchildren. Let me tell you, there is a lot of NOT writing involved in that.

But I also spend a lot of time NOT writing posts for this blog, as the erratic posting schedule can attest to. On top of that, I also have plans for something I call The Patriarch Diaries—vignettes of my early years I want to collate for my grandkids so they can read of a time when televisions weren't flat and, when you needed to know something, you had to look it up, often at a library, in a book (a kind of paper stack bound together on one side that you could leaf through and look at the words printed therein).

Anyway, as you can see, I have so much stuff to NOT write that I really can’t fit much else in. But at least I'm not bored.

Someday, perhaps, I'll get my act together and start being productive (or as productive as I think I ought to be) in the writing arena. Then maybe I can spend some time NOT drawing.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Fit For Purpose

There is a saying being bandied about these days that I quite like. “Fit For Purpose,” or, more to the point of this post, “Not Fit For Purpose.”

What it means it that the item or entity in question is not capable of performing the basic function it was designed for. The best example I can think of are the hub caps I recently purchased from Halfords.

Hub caps have a simple job: they cap your hubs. I suppose one could argue that these hub caps do that, because they do cap the hubs. The problem arises when you want to move your car. Then they fall off. In order to keep them on, you have to purchase Zip-Ties made specifically for fastening your hub caps to your car. I qualify that as a FAIL, for the hub caps, not for the zip-ties, they work a treat. (But in a perfect world, they would not exist as there would be no need for them.)


My feeling is, if I have to modify something in order to enable it to preform its most basic function, then that item is, by definition, Not Fit For Purpose.


Now, when I go into a restaurant and order a hamburger, I have in my mind the image of a food item I can pick up in my hand and eat like a sandwich. If I am of a more fastidious nature, I could cut it up with a knife and fork, but in either case, the item would be a bun with a burger inside it, perhaps accompanied by some onion, a slice of pickle and some ketchup.

Lately, however, when I order a hamburger, my meal comes to me on a roofing slate. The roofing slate, in and of itself, is not a FAIL, as it serves the same basic function of a plate, i. e. keeping my food off of the table top. No, the roofing slate is simply annoying. What is on the slate, however, is a tower of failure:

There is no way anyone, using any method, would be able to eat that. I can’t image what the cooks are thinking, but satisfying the basic function of food is not one of them.

Likewise, muffins are lately expanding at an unnerving rate:

I can’t say the above is Not Fit For Purpose, but it does require a bit of modification if you are going to be able to eat it. And just his morning, at our local muffin shop, I saw—on display—Maple and Bacon muffins. Again, not necessarily Not Fit For Purpose, but…bacon muffins?


When we buy a container of something, there are often instructions written on the side. Sometimes, these instructions are important. But more and more, as I try to read them, I find the print all but impossible to see:

That is the point of a pin, and what it is pointing at are instructions printed on a box of Kettle De-Scaling Packets. I am, without the aid of a microscope, unable to read them. So they are, in my view, Not Fit For Purpose.

I will admit that, while in my twenties, I might have been able to read text that tiny unaided. However, by the time I hit forty, it would have been impossible. But—and this is the crux of the matter—when I was in my twenties and thirties, I never found the need to de-scale my kettle, so during the time that these instruction were Fit For Purpose, they had no purpose, which, in my view makes them…well, you get the idea.


Lastly, (I have more, but I’ll cut you a break) is the career-centric social-networking site, Linked In.

Its stated purpose is to facilitate networking and help you find a suitable job, but that has never been taken seriously. Its real purpose is to look up past acquaintances to see if that bully from high school has ended up stocking shelves at Wal-Mart, or to find out if your ex has been fired yet.

But even lowering the bar to that level leaves Linked In wanting:


How am I suppose to stalk people if they are notified every time I check out their profile? This does nothing but encourage me to avoid Linked In, something I have to believe was not their intention. So, big FAIL.


In closing, I suppose it is only fair to point the finger of fitness at myself. This blog was originally started—some 15 years ago—for the purpose of keeping in touch with my family and friends back home. My detractors might say that it has now morphed into the ramblings of a grumpy old man and is therefore not fulfilling its original purpose. But it still does keep me in contact with at least a few people in the States, and I prefer to think of myself, not as a grumpy old man, but as someone with a keen insight into life’s absurdities.

Given that, I continue to consider myself Fit For Purpose.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Living the Dream

Today, I have a guest post, which is something I don’t believe I have ever done before (because, as we know, it’s all about me). But today, I am pleased to host Catherine Ryan Howard.

I encountered Miss Howard years ago on the ex-pats-with-books-about-being-ex-pats circuit. I bought her books — Moustrapped (about her time at Disney World) and Backpacked (about an ill-advised hiking trip in Central America) — and have been following her career ever since.

You see, Catherine had a dream, a big dream, to publish a novel, and I was keen to see her achieve it. On 5 May, that dream came true, and I couldn’t be more pleased for her.

There will be more on the realisation of that dream at the end of the post, so please read on while Catherine reveals her Impressions of Americans:


As anyone will tell you, there are some big differences between the lands that sit on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, even though both – for the most part – speak the same language. In September 2006 I moved from Cork in the south of Ireland to Orlando in Central Florida, itself on the south-easterly tip of the United States.

The first thing you notice when you start to get to know people is that no one seems to think they’re from the United States. For me, my nationality is quite straightforward: I was born in Ireland, therefore I’m Irish. My heritage is utterly entwined with this, because at no point was any member of my family anywhere else. (Not recently enough for it to matter, anyway.) So I was confused when I’d meet new people who’d been born in the United States but claimed to be Irish – and could even tell me what percentage Irish they were. I’d blink in confusion, thinking Unless it’s 100%...

I realised eventually that, because of the kind of country the United States is (i.e. relatively new, mostly populated by immigrants and their descendants), heritage and nationality are two different things, and equally important to the people who live there. They were just valuing this. Plus, it was nice being from the country everyone else seemed to want to be from, too!

The second thing I noticed was how differently both countries viewed travel.

When you live on a tiny island and you can drive from the top to the bottom of it in a single day without getting up at the crack of dawn or driving all night, you make it your business to get off it as much as possible. Passenger ferries and discount airlines make this possible, transporting you all over Europe and beyond.

The Americans I met just didn’t travel very far outside their country as much as the people I knew back home. When they went on vacation it was to other U.S. destinations, or to Mexico or the Carribbean on cruise ships. But then, who could blame them? There is so much to see and do and explore and appreciate inside the borders of the United States, if I was a citizen I’d probably never leave.

After I got home, I read a book called The Lost Girls by Jennifer Baggett and Holly C Corbett, which is about three friends who work in magazines in New York, who decide to leave their lives for a year to go travelling. This is a perfectly normal thing in Ireland that most twenty-somethings have done in some fashion. But a huge part of the book was taken up with the girls having to justify their decision to friends and families, who reacted as if they’d announced they were moving to Mars.

Catherine, living the dream, at Disney World.
And speaking of Mars….

My favourite thing about Americans and America, though, is the third thing I noticed: they’re big dreamers and they believe anything is possible. This is the total opposite to the national default position here in Ireland.

Bono (he of U2, our greatest musical export) tells an anecdote that pretty much sums up the Irish attitude towards dreaming, achievement and success. This is a paraphrase, but he says in the States, a guy looks up at the huge mansion on the hill and says, ‘One day, if I work hard enough, that’ll be me.’ The Irish guy looks up at the huge mansion on the hill and says, ‘One day, I’m going to get that b-----d.’

I’m more American in this area of my disposition, and regular trips to Kennedy Space Centre (hugely inspiring) and the Magic Kingdom (to watch Wishes, the night time fireworks display, which reminds you that a dream is a wish your heart makes – and they do come true) only made me worse. (Or better?)

At one point while I was living there, I saw that the ESA were looking for volunteers to simulate an eighteen-month mission to Mars by living in two shipping containers and limiting their contact with the outside world to radio messages played on a 45 minute delay (as would be the case if they really lived on Mars), and I thought applying for it would be a great idea. Then… Nothing. I waited. Something was missing.

After a while, I realised what it was: no one had rolled their eyes and laughed at me, which is exactly what that idea would’ve been met with back home in Cork. Instead, people said, ‘That sounds cool. You should go for it. Why not?’

I loved my time in the States and go back as often as I can, if only for a reminder that big dreams are possible…


And here is the dream realised:

DISTRESS SIGNALS
a Standalone crime/thriller, published by Corvus/Atlantic.

Subliminal message: go buy it. Now!

Here’s the blurb:

Did she leave, or was she taken?

The day Adam Dunne's girlfriend, Sarah, fails to return from a Barcelona business trip, his perfect life begins to fall apart. Days later, the arrival of her passport and a note that reads 'I'm sorry - S' sets off real alarm bells. He vows to do whatever it takes to find her.

Adam is puzzled when he connects Sarah to a cruise ship called the Celebrate - and to a woman, Estelle, who disappeared from the same ship in eerily similar circumstances almost exactly a year before. To get the answers, Adam must confront some difficult truths about his relationship with Sarah. He must do things of which he never thought himself capable. And he must try to outwit a predator who seems to have found the perfect hunting ground...


Here’s the preview:
       ...of the first three chapters:


Here’re the Reviews:

“Pacey, suspenseful and intriguing … [A] top class, page turning read. Catherine Ryan Howard is an astonishing new voice in thriller writing.” — Liz Nugent, author of 2014 IBA Crime Novel of the Year Unravelling Oliver

“An exhilarating debut thriller from a hugely talented author. Distress Signals is fast-paced, twisty and an absolute joy to read.” — Mark Edwards, #1 bestselling author of The Magpies and Follow You Home

Here’re the links:

To Amazon.co.UK

To Amazon com

To Distress Signals the Book

To Catherine's Website

To Twitter: @cathryanhoward

To Instagram: @cathryanhoward

To Facebook: facebook.com/catherineryanhoward


ABOUT CATHERINE:

Catherine Ryan Howard was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1982. Prior to writing full-time, Catherine worked as a camp site courier in France and a front desk agent in Walt Disney World, Florida, and most recently was a social media marketer for a major publisher. She is currently studying for a BA in English at Trinity College Dublin.




Saturday, April 30, 2016

Impressions of America

Now that we’ve got the big stuff out of the way, it’s time to talk about the minutia of our visit.

This happened before we got to the US, but I wanted to share it with you.
Heathrow airport: still the best place to get a £2,45 ($4.16) glass of water.
Fist off, we arrived just after the biggest snowstorm of the season. That sounds bad until you consider that they’d had an unnaturally warm and snow-free winter. Still, it was a significant amount, but by the time we arrived, it was all but gone.

That was all the snow I saw; and all I wanted to see.
And, although I complained about the weather, it was actually very nice most of the time we were there.

One of the things that impressed me was Whoopers. Whoopers are the US equivalent of the UK Malteser. They are both about the size of a large marble, have a brown confection coating and a crunchy malt middle. That is where the comparison ends, however. I used to love Whoopers, but when I tried one while I was there, I found they tasted like chemicals. Then I read the label and found out why.

Where's the chocolate?
Nothing resembling chocolate comes anywhere near a Whooper during its creation. The ingredients for Maltesers start with “Milk Chocolate 75%…” Taste the difference.

I was happy to see that the Americans are as loopy over adult coloring books as the Brits. I think it’s a fine idea, but I’m not going to pick one up until I see a “Color by Numbers” coloring book.

They were, as in Britain, everywhere.
Twice—once when I went to visit my brother out in East Batshit and again when we went to Cooperstown—I came upon 4-lane highways out in the middle of nowhere with not another car anywhere in sight.


It didn’t surprise me that there were no other cars around, after all, we were out in the middle of nowhere. What surprised me was that they had built a 4-lane highway out in the middle of nowhere. Still, it was a welcome change from the congestion endemic to southern England.

As mentioned above, we visited Cooperstown, but we did NOT go to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Instead, we visited the Farmer’s Museum and the Fenimore Art Gallery. Both were spectacular. And the Farmer’s Museum had the Cardiff Giant!

Don't know about the Cardiff Giant? Look it up; it's a fascinating story.
In Newark Airport, and in a Friendlies Restaurant in East Greenbush, of all places, I came across something very disturbing: every table, every seat at the bar, every space at the counter, had a computer screen. You could not go in and not stare at a computer, which invited you to spend money on a number of diversions. I fervently hope this practice does not spread, but I am afraid it is inevitable.

If you don't want to stare at a computer screen, then you can't get anything to eat or drink.
And this is why I don’t want it to spread—we’re already too attached to computers as it is:

My Grandboys.
My friend's boys, when we were over for a visit.
We did, however, enjoy spending time with the grandchildren, which was, after all, the main reason for the trip. We were introduced to the Granddaughter—already 8 months old—and reacquainted with the G-boys—now aged 5 and (in six more days) 4. And we were finally able to give them their Christmas presents from 2015.

The theme for that year was the Battle of Hastings. (This year it's Shakespeare. We’re going to make British history scholars out of those kids if it’s the last thing we do.) To accomplish this, we gave them shields, swords and an altered version of the Bayuex Tapestry.

Not bad for an old pair of trousers and some Elmer's glue.
The swords were bought at the gift shop in Battle Abbey. The shields were made by my wife, who cut up an old pair of trousers, painted them with acrylic, painted over that with a solution of water and PVA glue and then waxed it. The result was a stiff material, much like leather. This was put into quilting hoops and studded with brass tacks.

Okay, so it not really a tapestry.
Random scene. You have no idea how long it took to do this.
The tapestries (I did one for each boy) were made on scrap paper that came as packaging in a box from Amazon. I painted the paper with tea to make it look old (I didn’t have to do anything to make it look beat up; it came that way) and then transferred images onto it that I downloaded from the Internet and fudged about with on Photoshop. Then I took colored pens and filled the images in with hash marks to make them look like sewing.

The man-hours to complete the tapestry were phenomenal. And then, when I finished, I had to make another.

Mitch pretty much ignored his tapestry in favor of the sword and shield (really, wouldn’t you?) but Charlie was fascinated by his. He spent hours unrolling it, then releasing the end and letting it roll up.

Amazing what will amuse kids.
But at least they got some enjoyment out of them.

I just hope they like the Shakespeare books half as much.

Mitch, Charlie and Reagan (yes, after the President).