Saturday, October 31, 2009

Let's Eat Candy

I hope I will get a photo of Evelyn in the Dorothy dress I wrote about the other day. Until then, here are some old favorites:

Friday, October 30, 2009

We're not in Kansas Anymore

Over the years I've made a number of Halloween costumes. There is quite a wardrobe to pass around, so I only made one this year. This one will start its journey around the cousins with Evelyn. Let me show you the pattern. It's a Simplicity pattern and it comes in sizes 3,4,5,6,7, and 8. I made a size 7. Cute little model, isn't she? She's poking at her dimple a la Shirley Temple.There was another pattern starting at a size 8. I did not see fit to buy it and this photo is a bit blurry and shiny—I had to creep into JoAnns with my camera and commit sartorial espionage.

The question for today: compare and contrast these two models and their
dresses and decide which one you would send your daughter to elementary school in.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A History Lesson

I enjoy the occasional present: fun when it is something I have expressed a desire for, even nicer when it is a surprise. Several years ago Andrew presented me with a surprise—a book entitled Educating Women, A Pictorial History of Bedford College, University of London 1849-1985. I got my Bachelor’s degree at Bedford and I had always surmised that the names of various buildings and Scholarships were derived from founders of the college and the book proved that to be true, while it traced the history of the college from the beginning, through the war years, through the addition of (gasp) male students to the eventual merger in 1985 with Royal Holloway.

I was thumbing through it yesterday. I am afraid I had not paid much attention to the history of the college while I was attending it. I should have, because the women who supported it financially and with hard work in those early days were fighting for an unpopular cause—the education of women. There were photos of them, most the kind of women we would have uncharitably called old battle-axes. I came across a photograph of the first Principal, Miss Emily Penrose. Here she stands erect and imposing in her pleated shirtwaist. The book is vague about her own degrees—remember it was not until 1878 that the University of London allowed women to take degree examinations, and not until the 1920’s that they were allowed to do so at Oxford, thanks the diplomatic skills of Miss Penrose, who had left Bedford for Somerville College. I do know that she taught Ancient History.

Why did I notice Miss Penrose's photo? Yesterday the Wall Street Journal interviewed a trio of experts on the reasons why America lags behind in Math and Science. I wasn’t going to read the article, but this photo of a radiant blond caught my eye. Who is she? Amy Gutman, president of the University of Pennsylvania.

What a difference a century makes.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Calling all Economists

Surely gold is gold is gold is gold . . . That being the case, why does it matter who I buy gold from? I really don't get it.

It goes without saying I wouldn't buy it from some guy who was last heard of breaking into an office suite in the Watergate.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fares Please

Some time ago I wrote about our family's transportation in post war Britain. It was a pleasant surprise to come across a tangible memento of those days.

This is a tuppenny hapenny bus ticket issued by London Transport. When I first started riding on buses there was a driver, who had no contact with passengers, and a conductor, who held the color-coded tickets on a wooden board with springs, not unlike a series of mousetraps. This contraption was replaced by a machine with a roll of paper. The conductor punched in the relevant information and out came a ticket like the one in the photo. Since most buses were the iconic red double deckers and the conductor could be upstairs when the passengers boarded, there was a certain amount of honor involved, because fares were calculated from the point of boarding to the destination.

Some time later as buses were re-designed and transportation costs needed to be cut, the system was changed, conductors were eliminated and fares handed over to the driver on entry.

Oh, and that tuppenny hapenny business? Back then our currency consisted of pounds, shillings and pence. Twelve pence = one shilling, twenty shillings=one pound. A halfpenny, pronounced hapenny was legal tender as was the bright copper coin equal to half a hapenny, i.e. a farthing. Of course, England eventually switched to a decimal system and it is a source of some embarrassment for me when I am in England that I have to rummage through my wallet like someone who is completely ignorant of the system. Which I just about am. Give me a thrupenny bit any day.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

It's All in the Title

I heard a homily today about leadership and how great leaders eschew titles: Francis of Assisi wouldn’t take Holy Orders and assume the title which his elevation entitled him to, Fr. Bill Cunningham, who founded the successful Focus Hope program in Detroit, refused the rank of Monsignor.

Would that my Medigap insurance company felt the same way. They erroneously refused to cover my shingles shot until my phone call made them admit they were wrong. Actually, they never said they were wrong, but they sent me a nice letter telling me they were “pleased to inform you that your claim was approved”. Then came the “if you have any questions paragraph”, followed by a signature which must have come from an early work of Gilbert and Sullivan:

L***** H****
Inquiry Resolution Specialist
Government Grievance Inquiry Unit
Client Services Department

I have no idea what it means, but she did (eventually) make the payment.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Get off the stove, grandma . . .

. . . you're too old to ride the range. A dumb putative title for a country and western song, but one that Ernie loves to quote. I was reminded of it last night.

As a sidebar, I must admit that there were two deterrents to resuming this blog—one, the fear that the templates, the settings and the HTML editing would have changed, and two, the challenge of updating links.

The first fear was pretty ungrounded and the link update is tedious, but not difficult. While I was away I didn't read any blogs and now I discover some of my favorites are gone or moved to other platforms. So I'm not done yet.

One link I am keeping is to a well written, well researched blog entitled Time Goes By. Any of you who are older or are planning on becoming older, would do well to read it. The author, Ronni Bennett, runs the gamut from pending legislation, including everything Medicare recipients should know about Health Care to whether long grey hair is attractive. One of her biggest bones of contention is the stereotyping of seniors and the vocabulary used to describe them.

Back to last night and the latest edition of Top Chef. There's always bickering and backstabbing among the contestants and yes, I know it is edited for maximum effect, but last night, as they were awaiting the judges' decision, someone said, "I hope grandma is gone." He was referring to Robin Leventhal, aged 43. That's forty three, people.

Robin was not eliminated and "Grandma" is still riding the range.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Only in Grosse Pointe

One of the aims of this blog is the celebration of the absurd. Where better to find inspiration for a post than the Crime Watch section of the Grosse Pointe Times. Take, for example, the October 1 edition. I pass over the bunny trapped in the window well, the criminal suspected of “wasting perfectly good butter by putting it on a colleague’s car” and give you—

Bear Complaint made.

Police responded at 4:37 p.m. Sept. 21 to a possible ordinance violation after a neighbor complained about a 10-foot inflatable bear in a University of Michigan shirt on a front lawn.

The city’s ordinance states that lawn ornaments can only be displayed for a reasonable amount of time. Since U-M football games are still going on, police did not feel this was an ordinance violation.
No mention of the neighbor taking this all the way to the Supreme Court.

Friday, October 09, 2009

I have news for you, ANA

So, Air Nippon Airways has started asking passengers (in Japanese) to use the bathroom before boarding their planes. This in the interest of a greener planet.

I don’t know about you, but I make as many visits to the bathroom as is humanly possible before getting on a plane. Ever hear, “Hey, Mabel, let’s not use the ubiquitous, clean and spacious bathrooms in the terminal, so we can wait until we reach cruising altitude to climb over the fat guy in the aisle seat, squeeze around the coffee or meal service carts, wait in line in the cramped aisle and finally use the Lilliputian facilities in a space which resembles a sardine can?”

What planet is Japan on?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Sylvia Smith, December 14, 1939-September 15, 2009

Lindsell Hall was a University of London residence hall in Swiss Cottage. There were four houses of the “Upstairs Downstairs” variety, joined to two more on a couple of levels. In this photo you can see an outside bridge on the left. The houses were converted into a myriad of rooms, mainly by constructing a wall from the corridor to the middle of the handsome bay windows. I moved in about 50 years ago to the day. My room was on the ground floor, somewhere to the right of this photo, across the hall from the Lindsell Hall Dean, a Chemistry professor who wordsmiths must have had in mind when they came up with the phrase, “dour Scots woman”.

The prime rooms were on the top floor—once the bleak sleeping rooms of tweenies and housemaids. I had one in my last year with a glorious view over the housetops of Swiss Cottage and St. Johns Wood. The kitchen and laundry room were in the basement and there were a few student rooms down there, mainly, I think, in the left hand building.

It was from one of those rooms that music came pouring out as we explored on that first day—music that was alien to most of us who were just discovering the Beatles. The record was “Four Freshmen and Five Trombones”. The record player belonged to Sylvia Smith, and she quickly became a close friend. She assured me in a letter just a few weeks ago that she was also humming along at that time to a Bartok violin concerto, but it is the Four Freshmen that I remember. I loved the way she said “Scunthorpe” and she introduced me to a delicious bread, forever know as “Sylv’s mum’s plum bread.” Try saying “ moom’s ploom.” She visited my house in Enfield and intrigued me with details of her minor, Agricultural Economics.

She moved out of Lindsell in our senior year into a flat with Anne and Maggie and Jan. I don’t know how much they studied, but they sure had a good time.

Then came the year when I was working on my ed. certificate and Sylv lived in a minute flat on Haverstock Hill. She put her minor to good use working for the Pig Industry Advisory Board—“This is my friend Sylvia. She’s in pigs.” Later she was in sheep. She got to know my friends. I got to know hers. When I needed cheering up, she came to the rescue with a mushroom omelet.

Then for almost 50 years we lived thousands of miles apart. Our correspondence was sporadic. Sometimes there were gaps; sometimes the letters were frequent (Sylv refused to use e-mail.) We stayed in her house in London and Kate and Ron used it as a base for exploring London on their honeymoon. She reminded me lately that she had taken Al in when he failed to find a job in Paris. We usually managed birthday cards: her birthday was just four days after mine. She remained friends with many of my former friends.
Here she is (second from the right) when she witnessed the wedding of my classicist friend, Frances.

She remained passionate about music, traveling all over England and Europe to Music Festivals. I was forever getting postcards from Prague or Stockholm extolling the Mahler or the Mozart. She took advantage of everything cultural London had to offer. About 20 years ago she bought a second house, in Scotland. I never could pronounce Kirkcudbright, but I looked forward to the day when I could get organized enough to visit her there. When she retired and left London, she bought a second residence in Scotland, a flat high in a house at the mouth of the Clyde where she could watch the ships making their way up to Glasgow. Just as she was beginning to enjoy the results of the remodeling of the flat, she was diagnosed with cancer. She never told me: I am not entirely sure who knew the severity of her illness. I think it gradually leaked out and our mutual friend Frances kept me in the loop. It was easier to live on the one floor of the house in Kirkcudbright, so she spent most of her time there, refusing, in her Sylvia fashion, any intrusive treatment. Even more defiantly she bought a new car, attended as much as she could of this year’s Orkney music Festival and spent two weeks driving around the northern tip of Scotland. Then it was off to the hospice ward in Dumfries. I spoke to her there and she didn’t want sympathy. She enjoyed a lovely day in the sunshine in her garden when an ambulance and nurses took her back for a day. The last time I phoned, she was too ill to talk and a few days later Frances called with news of her death.

I have asked her sister for some recent photos of Sylvia. I don’t really need them. Her real face, the face of a young woman starting college, flashes before my eyes when I see the words Kirkcudbright or Scunthorpe, when I eat a mushroom omelet or when I hear a snatch of the incomparable Four Freshmen singing Angel Eyes.