Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Legacy of Alexander Graham Bell

I am not really comfortable with a phone. I will write, I will e-mail and if you live close enough, I may even come over and knock on your door. Anything rather than pick up the phone. Sure, I have been known to talk at length to a caller: I guess it is initiating a call that is my problem.

It started with my childhood. Give me a few seconds to get comfortable on this couch and I will tell you all about it. Very few people had phones in England in the 50’s. Even if you wanted one, there was a wait of several months. We certainly would never have made the move, but my father’s job as an electrician at the Enfield Rolling Mills required him to be “on call”. So the Rolling Mills expedited the delivery and installation of our instrument. They extracted their pound of flesh and summoned my dad several times in the middle of the night. I remember him jumping on his bike and pedaling off through the dark and fog to solve the problem.

Waltham Cross 24645. That was our number. Can’t forget that one. It was, and still is, etiquette in England to answer the phone by stating your number. Mind you, we didn’t get a lot of calls because so few people had a phone, but over the years it came in useful. The instrument (functional black plastic) was installed in our front hall on top of the cupboard that covered the electricity meter and wedged up against the coat-rack. The hall was very cold in winter and there was no place to put a chair, so it was hard to get comfortable and have a heart to heart with anyone. Besides, my dad tended to hover in the background, silently urging me not to stay too long on the line.

That was my somewhat uncertain introduction to the phone and the unseen people it conjured up.Things got worse when I got to America, but time’s up for this session. I’ll tell you more next time.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

A First

Homilies can be shorter. That's a function of focus on the message, tighter writing, and thoughtful delivery. I never imagined it would be the result of a bomb threat, but that is what happened at today's 11:15 mass.

The police department and our priest handled it well. I hope it was for the first and the last time.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


I mentioned in an earlier entry that there are people brave enough to commit to a daily post during the Christmas season. The registration site is now up. I certainly won't attempt it, but I plan to visit the site daily in the hope of getting to know some new journalers/bloggers.

Friday, November 24, 2006


Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day, and for the first time since 1966 Ernie and I woke up to an empty house. Lucy had come home, but had gone straight to Elizabeth’s house for the night, Andrew, Marcie and family were in New Jersey and Al and Gody didn’t want to risk bringing the boys to Detroit so close to the new baby’s due date. For the first time in forty years I could watch a televised parade or enjoy a football game—and I did neither. I leisurely finished up some pies to take over to Elizabeth’s, where we celebrated a wonderful Thanksgiving day.

Last year I documented some memorable past Thanksgivings and I spent way too long today poring over old photos, mostly too murky to scan but clear enough to bring back memories and elicit a sigh or two.

Things change. This Thanksgiving will prove no more or no less memorable than those of the last forty years: just different.

Monday, November 20, 2006


I love this photograph of the Cam and King’s College taken on the Backs in Cambridge. Lucy took it on an afternoon we spent exploring both the shops and the colleges of my favorite English city. We had encountered a friendly porter at Trinity College who had given us a history of undergraduates from Sir Isaac Newton to Prince Charles, and who filled us in on the details of the famous Chariots of Fire footrace. It’s amazing to think of all the Nobel Prize winners, all the great scientists, writers and politicians who have sauntered casually on the grassy quadrangles of Cambridge and to wonder which of the current crop of students will achieve distinction.

One of the delights of discovering the ageless project is the reflective quality of the writers. Younger writers lead busy, interesting but frenetic lives and the journalers with birthdates in the twenties and thirties have lived through these periods and can sort out the wheat from the chaff. I have greatly enjoyed reading Goldendaze-Ginnie, because she seems to have a similar blogging philosophy to me. Here’s her encounter with an ill-starred Cambridge student, a poet who, had she lived, would now be 74.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

u mst b joking or r u smoking sumthg?

I interrupt my travelogue to bring you a little nugget from New Zealand, courtesy of The Usual Suspects. It seems that

New Zealand's high school students will be able to use "text-speak" -- the mobile phone text message language beloved of teenagers -- in national exams this year, officials said.
You can read the rest of the article here.

Now I love parody and would like nothing more than to write an essay on Beowulf or the symbolism of Gerard Manley Hopkins just to show you how it would read in text-speak, but I haven’t a clue how to go about it. I must have missed the class in intro to Western Civilization that covered text-speak. It raises lots of questions, doesn’t it? What’s next? Ph.D. dissertations? Speeches by presidents, rulers and popes?

One thing I do know: with this beta thing, I have the ability to tag posts and I often have problems deciding in what category I should place my entry. This one is easy. It is going under absurd.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Wilkin and Sons of Tiptree

Asked what they would like to see in England, most people mention a castle or an abbey or an otherwise historic site. Not Ernie: he wanted to make a pilgrimage to Tiptree in Essex and the factory of Wilkin and Sons, manufacturers of his favorite Tawny Marmalade. You can’t actually see the jam and marmalade being manufactured: fear of industrial espionage, I suppose. But look how excited Ernie, Brian, Brenda and Lucy were—there was also a jam museum! The museum was, in fact, light and well designed and rather interesting, preserving, so to speak, the history of the Wilkin family and of fruit growing in Essex. There was also a delightful gift shop. We can get a few of the standard varieties of jam and marmalade in Michigan, but we were tempted by some of the more esoteric kinds, such as Apricot & Armagnac, Orange and Malt Whisky. We purchased way too many jars, thinking we could carry them in our carry-on luggage, but the assistant pointed out that they fall under the gel category. Whoever would have thought of marmalade as an offensive weapon?

The tearoom was also worth a visit, and what better way to end the day than with a traditional English cream tea. Scone, clotted cream —and Wilkin’s jam.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Hi Cozumel, Hi Whistler

I discovered this little nugget in yesterday's Detroit Free Press :

"Among the latest in travel trends is the “procreation vacation.” Resorts provide couples who are trying to have babies on-site sex doctors, advice and foods and drinks intended to help the process. If it works, this will be the couple’s last romantic vacation in a long time."
I once met a kid called Geneva. Her parents informed that it was because she was conceived in Geneva, regrettably not the pretty town in Switzerland, but the one in upstate New York.

Any elementary school teacher will tell you that there are more than enough Madisons and Savannahs in school. Just imagine what names will turn up as the results of these procreation vacations arrive in kindergarten. My grandchildren will be playing with Cancun and Saugatuck, Mariott, Cordillera and Negril.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Another Face of War

This memorial stands just off Trafalgar Square. We first came here several years ago after we visited Edith Cavell's grave in Norwich. We returned last month with Lucy.

Friday, November 10, 2006

27 Bedford Crescent

I lived in the house on the left full-time from 1939 to 1959 and intermittently for the following four years. My parents spent their last years there. It doesn’t look too very different, apart from the satellite dish(es) and the strangely discolored wall on the side. Any balancing skills I have were honed on the crenellated top of that wall. Of course there were not so many cars back then, and you would have seen roses peeping up above the wall. I remember the gate as being wooden, not metal. That round window? Brian’s bedroom, otherwise known as “the boxroom”.

On the whole the street has held up well. Enfield was our first stop after my brother picked us up at Heathrow. I wanted to show Lucy where I grew up, and Brian took us on a nostalgic trip around town. Here we are standing outside number 27. We pooled our memories and noted the changes together.

The house doesn't look much older. And nor do we.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Once in a while, someone comes up with an idea which is so right that you can't imagine why no-one ever thought of it before.

I give you—the glass jar of anchovies.
Making pizza with anchovies has always meant tugging on that ring on the anchovy can that peels back half of the top. It peels back with a jerk, and even if you are lucky enough to retain all your fingers, they are always covered in smelly olive oil. Once you have achieved an opening, you realise it is not big enough to actually pry out a whole anchovy, so you have to dig around with some implement. And if you manage to get that far and find you have some anchovies left to save for the next pizza, you are faced with the problem of how to wrap up the remainder. In the tin? In a baggie? Whatever you decide to use, it is so small that it gets pushed to the back of the shelf, only to emerge in a petrified state six months later.

Is there a Nobel prize for small inventions?

Stonehenge Then and Now

This photo of Stonehenge was taken two weeks ago on a damp October afternoon. I had been saddened—though not surprised—when I learned several years ago that the site had been fenced in so the public could no longer wander around the stones. Somehow I imagined a barbed wire fence or some other intrusive barrier, but there is in fact no more than a low lying rope and the monoliths rise from a healthy looking expanse of grass. The visitor is directed around the site in a wide arc which affords several impressive views of the stones. There are plans afoot to reroute the road that runs close to Stonehenge and locate the new visitors’ center two miles away, bringing visitors to the site on shuttle buses. Solitude and isolation seem the perfect backdrop for this phenomenon.

How different from our last visit to Stonehenge in 1971. Here I am standing nonchalantly among the stones. That’s Al, who had just turned four, clinging to my legs and that bundle in my arms is the four-month-old Andrew. Somewhere (climbing on ten thousand years of history?) are the one-year-old Elizabeth and the two-year-old Kate.

By one of those strange coincidences I was taking care of Kate’s children today and caught sight of Patrick’s library book, a children’s biography of C.S.Lewis. In it there is a photo of the author sitting on atop one of the smaller stones at Stonehenge. I guess that was the thing to do!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

You Can Be Too Rich and Too Thin

While I was gone, Keith was at it again, supplying my name to a totally unsuitable catalog. This one is based in Colorado, and features many outfits with a Tyrolean twist. There’s the “Fritz” jacket, pictured with a blonde in a dirndl (loden top, print cotton skirt, silk (!) apron and cotton dirndl blouse, all for $1,450.) I am rather taken with the “Lukas” jacket, made out of goat suede, a fusion of Rocky Mountain High and "Captain von Trapp shows his metro sexual side".

There are also less ethnic clothes for your après ski enjoyment. I can’t imagine why Keith thinks I may be interested in this outfit. If you click on the photo, you may be able to read the prices: $1,298 for the shirt, $1,615 for the jeans.

And I’ll eat my hat (cowboy hat in mocha or camel, $188) if this model weighs more than 100 pounds. Or maybe the photo was taken by the amazing camera I wrote about earlier.

I could write so much more about the images in this catalog, but I will cease without even mentioning its name. I am sure the perpetrators of this extravaganza employ powerful lawyers. Wearing lederhosen.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Barista's Tale

On the left, ladies and gentlemen, you have the entrance to the close of Canterbury Cathedral, site of the martyrdom of St. Thomas à Becket and destination of all those pilgrims chronicled by Chaucer. On the right, you have Starbucks.

I rest my case.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Baby Steps

I never wanted to have a “blog”. I wanted a proper on-line journal, designed to my specifications, just like a regular grown-up. But I didn’t know how to go about it and when I realized that Blogger could do some of what I needed without much effort on my part, I jumped on board.

For a while now Blogger has been announcing their new and improved Beta Blogger and inviting members to switch over so they can utilize some new features. I am a proponent of letting sleeping dogs lie, but last night I took the first step and converted my blog. Now I am summoning up the courage to go the rest of the way. I do want a better way of inserting photos. I am not sure if I should disturb the status quo of colors and fonts: design is not my forte. I worked hard to make some changes. So here is the biggest turn-off:

Give your blog a whole new look!

We've introduced a new tool for customizing the appearance of your blog. Before you can use this tool, you'll need to upgrade your template. By upgrading, you will lose many of the changes you previously made to your template. However, we will save a copy of your current template so that you can access it later.
So if Amen with a T suddenly turns purple or disappears altogether, you will know why.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

This Devil Doesn't Wear Prada

England is definitely more “European” than it used to be. That’s clearly a by-product of being a member of the European Union. It is much less obvious in the rural areas than the big cities, although my brother’s small Cambridgeshire village now boasts a Mexican restaurant in addition to the Chinese and the Indian.

Nowhere is this diversity more apparent than in London, which is a vibrant microcosm of Europe. You see it in the restaurants and in the shops and especially in the clothes. Lucy was delighted to find a branch of Mango, one of her favorite clothes stores when she lived in France. I didn’t buy any clothes in England. I hate shopping for clothes anywhere, at any time.

I did, however, buy some pants before I left from a Lands End store located within Sears. I also bought this jacket in magenta with an orange lining and trim. I took it out of the bag and threw it on the sofa and didn’t touch it again until John arrived to drive us to the airport. It was then I noticed that the security tag was still attached to the sleeve.The kind that says, “Don’t take this off yourself or you will get ink all over the place.” I took the jacket anyway, hoping that the device wouldn’t set off alarms at security. It didn’t and I wore the jacket for two weeks, still wondering if Michael Chertikoff was monitoring my every move. A few people commented on it and I tried to look suitably nonchalant. It’s a great coat, even if it won’t grace the pages of Vogue anytime soon. It stood up to rain and to the wind whipping across the fields of Northumberland and I expect it to last through several Michigan winters.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

More Birthdays

Evelyn was four yesterday. When we left for Canton to have lunch with her and her family, I grabbed the camera to get a photo for this entry. Alas, we found a very under-the-weather little girl who had just returned from the doctor and who certainly didn’t want to have her photo taken.

Our oldest and our youngest grandchildren had their birthdays while we were gone. Linus was one and Emmanuel was nine. Happy Birthday, guys.

Words, Words, Words

Today marks the beginning of NaBloPoMo, formally known as National Blog Posting Month. Participants in this event commit to update their blog every day for a month. I will not participate. I have not got round to the obligatory post about “why I write a blog”. Maybe one day when I am at a loss for a subject I will address this issue, but I can assure you right now that I am not looking for more stress in my life, and feeling the pressure to put pen to paper, so to speak, every day in November doesn’t seem like a great idea. November is for Thanksgiving and the preparations therefor, not grinding away at a blog. Even worse, November is also National Novel Writing Month, when aspiring writers are urged to create a full-length book. Not content with this November logorrhea, those crazy characters at The Usual Suspects are likely to come up with their annual Holidailies challenge, when they ask participants to blog daily from December 7 to January 6. That includes Christmas Day, folks! They haven’t yet announced it, but if you check out last year’s site, you’ll get the picture.

So, bloggers, if you want to take part in NaBloPoMo, you have, by my reckoning, just 90 minutes to come up with a post. Or maybe they work on Pacific Standard Time.