Sunday, January 28, 2007

Ward off Winter Blues

I’m still wading through the blogs I discovered in the nominations for the 2007 bloggies awards, and I have found a couple of gems. I think, though, that a couple of my long-time favorites should be acknowledged. Lady Bracknell (see sidebar) took time out from her rant against the world of IT to bring to the attention of her readers a section of the 10 Downing Street web site that allows the public to initiate petitions to Tony Blair. I didn’t even realize there was a 10 Downing Street website. Naturally, this caused me to Google 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., but I don’t see where I can enter a petition. Anyway, these petitions are worth reading, especially when the spelling is correct.

A Circle of Quiet (also found in the sidebar) reminded me of days spent in the library. Remember these?

If you are as nostalgic as I am, you can create your own thanks to John Blyberg. Something good comes out of Ann Arbor!

Friday, January 26, 2007

And the Nominees Are . . .

The nominations were announced today. No, I am not referring to the Oscars, but to the Seventh Annual Weblog Awards. You have until February 2 to vote and the results will be announced on March 12. I always check out the finalists: they must be good, right? I bookmark them, and some I never read again. I always find a blog worth adding to my list of “must-reads” —and we don’t have to listen to boring speeches from the winners

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Beat-up British Broads

I suppose I fall into that category, but it is actually the name Ernie gives to the triumvirate of mature and gifted actresses—Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren.

Today two of the beat-up British broads were nominated in the Oscar best actress category. I haven’t seen Judi Dench in Notes on a Scandal, and I look forward to that, but this weekend we saw The Queen and I was blown away by Helen Mirren’s portrayal of Elizabeth II.The movie was magnificent. Perhaps it was a gentle dig at the monarchy, but it was a sensitive portrayal of the current monarch. So much was left unsaid, though much was indicated subtly by clever dialog, facial expressions or brilliantly edited vignettes. With the single exception of the incident with the 14-point stag, I thought the movie was a tour de force of understatement. I don’t know if Her Majesty potters around her bedroom with her hair in curlers, wearing a dumpy chenille robe, or if Cherie Blair burns fish fingers in the kitchen of 10, Downing Street, but I would like to think those are true to life details.

So on Oscar night raise your glasses to the beat-up British broads. There’s life in the old girls yet!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Getting to the Bottom of the Story

I wasn’t planning on writing about the Fourth Estate today. As often happens, serendipity played a large role. Perhaps I should title this, “The Blogs made me do it.”

I started the morning by reading Nancy Nall’s entry in which she wrote. “If I had it to do over again I wouldn’t have chosen journalism.” With her comments on the profession at the back of my mind, I went to check on a very different blog My Journey, written by a friend of Lucy’s as he chronicles his treatment for cancer (Hi, Cris.) In his January 13th post, he had cited a case in an Omaha court, presided over by his father, and today he noted that the coverage had gone national. Actually, if you follow the links, you will see that the story has also been picked up in the British press. The Google search lists the headlines of the various articles (just how many variations on bottom, booty, and bum are fit to print?) and the different slants on the reporting of the case would make for a great final in Journalism 101. You know the kind:

Compare and contrast the following articles, paying particular attention to the standards of the community involved, the gravity of the case and the appropriateness of the accompanying photograph.

That’s cheered up a rather dreary Friday.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

It's a Matter of Timing

Yesterday and today have been the coldest days of the year. So what have we been doing? Replacing windows, of course. Hopefully the splendid new windows will have some effect on our heating bill. I was so busy worrying about today's loss of heat that I forgot to mount a squirrel patrol. My two oldest children e-mailed me to be on the look out. Don't worry: squirrels like to gnaw their way in and will totally disregard this obvious invitation. I hope.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


A hundred and ninety seven dollars! That’s what it’s going to cost me to renew my British Passport. Or rather my European Community/United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Passport. Throw in all those European countries and I suppose it’s a good deal. Even though I am renewing, there is a long form, with several pages of notes and an additional category of Interpretation defining illegitimacy and containing lists of arcane qualifying territories. Before today I had never heard of the Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands.

At least I will not have to deal with a countersignature:

That person should be a British citizen, other British national or Commonwealth citizen who is a member of Parliament, Justice of the Peace, Minister of Religion, Bank Officer, Established Civil Servant, or professionally qualified person, e.g. Lawyer, Engineer, Doctor, School Teacher, Police Officer or a person of similar standing.
There is something charmingly Dickensian about that list. I still remember getting my original passport application countersigned. I was sixteen and my countersigner was the Reverend Gordon Francis Hulbert Girling, Vicar, St. George’s Church, Enfield. Amazing the things we remember!

Then there is the matter of a passport photo. It will probably show the same wrinkly, grey haired woman who turned up on my driver’s license. Note 10 covers photographs. Normally the British write even their instructions in flawless English, but the author of this document was probably rather taken aback at the content of the sentence:
Provided they show the full face, religious head covering need not be removed,
resulting in a rather ungraceful bit of syntax.

There is in our family an iconic passport photograph. It was taken in 1971, prior to a visit to England so the kids could spend some time with their grandparents. The children had to be added to Ernie’s American passport and the poor dears don’t look too happy about it. Is it any wonder that shortly after this, I entered a building with them where the Wayne County Health Department was administering immunizations, and was greeted with the query, “Are you from the Children’s Home?”

If a passport renewal seems a pain, wait until the Fall when I have to renew my “green card.” I am pretty sure you will be hearing about that.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Dear CVS

I know you are a big conglomerate drug store and all and that you can’t possibly be expected to know everything about your customers (clients? guests?) Although —and this is a sidebar—you seem to know that Ernie has been sneaking into your store and buying verboten candy bars. You rewarded him with a frequent-Hershey-muncher coupon. But I do think you should make an effort to learn something about the locale in which your stores are situated.

Detroit has its share of problems: it’s always fun to hear visitors wrestling with the pronunciation of streets such as “Livernois”, “Gratiot” and Detroit’s nod to the German immigrants, “Schoenherr.” Grosse Pointe is, on the whole, genteelly anglicized, naming its streets after English counties and the odd Prime Minister. There are exceptions: we tell our visitors to exit from I-94 at Cadieux (and helpfully supply the pronunciation, “Cad-you”.) A few inhabitants have to admit to living on a street called “Goethe”, which has been surgically de-umlautized to become “Go-thee.” Your Grosse Pointe store is on Kercheval. That’s KER-cheval in Grosse Pointe speak. So you can see why it is unnerving to place a phone order for a drug refill and be welcomed by a recorded voice announcing, “You have reached CVS, located at 17120 Ker-CHEV-al Avenue in Grosse Pointe.” Look into it, would you. Make it part of your next “in order to better serve you” exercise. After all, if we allow you to get up close and personal and sell us Depends and Athlete’s Foot medication and . . . well, other stuff, you could at least attempt to pronounce your own address correctly. There’s always Walgreens.

I don't believe this. I wrote this entry this morning after I called to refill a prescription and was welcomed by the message that had upset me for months, if not years. It is now late at night, and before posting the entry, I thought I would call and check the wording of the recording. In the last twelve hours, they have changed it! If this entry had appeared yesterday, I would have thought I had global power. As it is, it's just plain creepy.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Requiem Redux

When I mentioned in an earlier post that Abide with Me is a traditional English hymn for a funeral and one that I would like played at mine, a childhood friend e-mailed me and said that it isn’t common any longer in England. But I didn’t care: I find it comforting. My decision was vindicated last week, when a military band played it as Gerald Ford’s coffin was moved to its final resting place in the winter twilight of a Michigan afternoon.

I saw what Diana meant a couple of days ago, when I learned, via Incendiary Granny, of the existence of a list of the top ten songs played at funerals in England. It is as follows:

  1. Goodbye My Lover - James Blunt
  2. Angels - Robbie Williams
  3. I've Had The Time Of My Life - Jennifer Warnes and Bill Medley
  4. Wind Beneath My Wings - Bette Midler
  5. Pie Jesu - Requiem
  6. Candle In The Wind - Elton John
  7. With Or Without You - U2
  8. Tears In Heaven - Eric Clapton
  9. Every Breath You Take - The Police
  10. Unchained Melody - Righteous Brothers
Some of these I have never heard of, and although the list originally contained twenty titles, I can’t track down the second ten.

Maybe that’s just as well: I would hate to think of my countrymen going to their final resting place to the sounds of the march from The Bridge over the River Kwai or a selection from Abba.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Naughty, Naughty

The British Broadcasting Corporation was always known for being stodgy. Times have changed: when I listen to the BBC news now I am struck by the rainbow of ethnic names and by the diverse accents of many of the reporters. Back in the day "Auntie" demanded a standard “BBC English”, and the newsreaders were for the most part male and certainly the product of reputable public schools and universities. I wrote about my childhood friend Muffin the Mule. Someday I will get around to The Archers and Mrs. Dale’s Diary.

When I was looking for a photograph of Richard Dimbleby yesterday I was reminded of a most uncharacteristic broadcast he presided over in April of 1957, on a par with Orson Welles’ adaptation of The War of the Worlds. Viewers of Panorama (a kind of 60 Minutes magazine program) were treated to an account of the massive spaghetti harvest in southern Switzerland, delivered in all seriousness by the earnest Mr. Dimbleby. If the audio link doesn’t work for you, here is the text:

'It is not only in Britain that spring this year has taken everyone by surprise. Here in the Ticino, on the borders of Switzerland and Italy, the slopes overlooking Lake Lugano have already burst into flower. But what, you may ask, has the early and welcome arrival of bees and blossom to do with food? It is simply that the past winter, one of the mildest in living memory, has also resulted in an exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop. The last two weeks of March are an anxious time for the spaghetti farmer. There is always the chance of a late frost which, while not entirely ruining his crop, generally impairs the flavour and makes it difficult for him to obtain top prices in world markets.

'Spaghetti cultivation here in Switzerland is not, of course, carried out on anything like the tremendous scale of the Italian industry. Many of you, I am sure, will have seen pictures of vast spaghetti plantations in the Po Valley. For the Swiss, however, it tends to be more of a family affair. Another reason why this may be a bumper year lies in the virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil, the tiny creature whose depredations have caused much concern in the past. After picking, the spaghetti is laid out to dry in the warm Alpine air. Many people are very puzzled by the fact that spaghetti is produced in such uniform lengths. This is the result of many years of patient endeavour by plant breeders who have succeeded in producing the perfect spaghetti. Now the harvest is marked by a traditional meal. Toasts to the new crop are drunk in these poccholinos, then the waiters enter bearing the ceremonial dish. This is of course spaghetti--picked early in the day, dried in the sun, and so brought fresh from garden to table at the very peak of condition. For those who love this dish, there is nothing like real home-grown spaghetti'.
The BBC was flooded with inquiries on how to grow spaghetti. Their answer? "Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Where's Richard Dimbleby When You Need Him?

I have heard it said that no one does pageantry like the British. But I watched the memorial services for President Ford and the pomp and ceremony surrounding his burial, just as I had watched the even more elaborate trappings surrounding the funeral of Ronald Reagan in 2004, and I must admit that the protocol and the split second timing of the proceedings were second to none. Only one thing was missing: Richard Dimbleby.

We are so used to the phalanx of reporters, analysts, color commentators, statisticians, background commentators, in-depth observers, presidential historians and research assistants, all with pages of notes and laptops at the ready, that it is hard to believe that the BBC rolled all those functions into one job description and the person doing the job was Richard Dimbleby. He had begun as a radio reporter and there are audio files of his war-time reporting, including the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. But he came into his own describing the pageantry of the British Royal family, first on radio, later on television. Here he is describing the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in his “warm and mellifluous voice”.

He was called “the voice of the nation”. I would love to have heard him tackle one of these state occasions single handed.

Caroline is Three

My tenth grandchild, Caroline, is three years old today. I took this picture on New Year's Day when she and her family and some of her cousins were visiting.I am surprised she is not wearing/clutching something ducky. For the longest while she has been nuts about ducks.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

My New Year's Resolution

I'm going to stop wasting time with silly web sites.

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Grand Duchess Beryl the Recumbent of Leper St George
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title
Can't you tell?

It was all Kymm's fault.