Thursday, July 26, 2012

In Which I Ramble

I love to read collections of letters. They round out biographies, filling in details of the author's character. The letters of John Lennon, Hemingway, five volumes of Virginia Woolf—bring them on.

Many, many years ago my son bought volume 1 of the letters of C.S. Lewis and said he wouldn't get round to reading it for a while, so I could borrow it. I find the letters interesting, but not gripping, so the book sits by my bed and I dip into it occasionally when Ruth Rendell, David Baldacci, Daniel Silva and their ilk run out. The book is over a thousand pages long with biographical notes and a meticulous index—and there are two more books to follow. This volume is called Family Letters and spans the years 1905 to 1931. How are these letters preserved? Who keeps all these epistles? I suppose if I knew my correspondents were to become great writers or politicians—or even serial killers—I might hang on to all this paper, but I regret to tell those people who have written to me over the years, I just couldn't contribute to the collected works of your letters. In these letters Lewis writes mainly to his father and to a friend called Arthur Greeves and while his letters cover his education at public school and with a tutor, we don't hear of cricket matches and midnight feasts, but of Boswell, Paradise Lost and Tristan and Isolde. After his time at a public school, Lewis went to live with a tutor to prepare himself for the Oxford entrance exams.

Unlike me, Lewis got into Oxford, and though I don't cart around old letters, I have preserved a bunch of exam papers. They crossed the Atlantic with me, a reminder of a fifty four year old dream. Mind you, unlike Lewis, I did not prepare very exhaustively. I read the Daily Telegraph and had a good breakfast. That was it. This is one of several papers with which I was confronted. One question on the back of this page had the temerity to ask me to point out a weakness in the American Constitution. I wasn't too upset about not getting in: not many students from state schools ever did, though that year my great rival did get into Oxford to read History at St. Annes.

But I digress—a habit which probably didn't endear me to whoever read my entrance exams. The whole point of this post was to quote the beginning of a letter from Lewis to his father:

My dear Papy,
We have all been plunged into misery here for the last week because no one can remember the context or the author of a quotation that we all know as well as our own names. It started by Mrs. K. seeing it in the "In Memoriam" part of the paper and asking casually what it was from: since then we have ransacked our memories and books of reference in vain. You will laugh at us with scorn when I tell you it is the familiar,
E'en as he trod that day to God
So walked he from his birth,
In simpleness and gentleness
And honour and clean mirth.
But I am dashed if I can remember where it comes from. . .Try and enlighten us.

Five seconds with Google, and the answer is Kipling, Barrack Room Ballads. We've come a long way.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Scare

Here's a view of the marina at our park. It is shaped by an L-shaped pier made of solid metal on one side facing the lake and metal mesh on the side toward the marina itself. If you look you can see a couple of people fishing in the lake, one balanced precariously on the side of the pier.

On Friday evening a number of us had a picnic at the park and sat around talking. We then strolled out onto the pier. As we neared the end where the pier makes its L, we were startled by the sound of a car driving up behind us. Cars are not allowed in the park, let alone on the pier. This was no ordinary car, it was a police car, lights flashing, siren sounding. It was followed by a second police car. We stayed where we were, but we were close enough to see the police looking over the lake side and shouting down to people in a boat a few yards off the pier. It was chilling to hear one of the police officers speaking into his communication device, "Better alert the hospital." Then we saw a boy climbing up from the water and pulling himself over the edge. Soon there were four of them, probably in their very early teens, dripping with water, and the gaffs that were being lowered off the pier were thankfully only to retrieve backpacks. It appears that the canoe they were in overturned and they couldn't right it and get themselves back in.

Life on the pier soon returned to normal as everyone breathed a silent thank you that the incident occurred close to the pier and that the boys were wearing their lifejackets. I'm just using a photo I already had, but you can get an idea of  the size of Lake St. Clair.

And backing off the pier was yet another test of our police department's skills.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Big . . . bigger

In years past I wanted to be prepared for visits from my grand children. After they were weened or done with the bottle, after sippy cups, they needed small cups for water or juice or lemonade. So I went out and bought a collection of colorful cups (thank you, IKEA.) They are the ones to the left of this picture. If you click on the photo you can see that I even identified the cups with each child's name, because the little guys kept putting them down and picking up a new one, so that I ran out of cups way too quickly. Of course most of them couldn't read, but it was a good idea.

It occurred to me lately that those little cups worked fine six years ago when this photos was taken, but the two boys at the right are now six feet tall and the others are catching up. There have been five since then who can use the little cups, but the pretty blue cups on the right are much more suitable for this summer's guests.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

My Industrious Day.

What did I do today? On the up side I ate two tomatoes, the first fruits of the tomato plants. Cherry tomatoes—we aren't real good with the big ones. Of course, it is so easy to pick them off the plants while walking around the garden and then have nothing left to eat for a meal. By the way, ex-pats, do you still have trouble with "garden" and "yard"? I do, and cannot remember that in England the garden is the entire area behind the house, while in the States the garden is the place where things grow and the yard is all the rest. After fifty years!

On the downside, I spent hours trying to install a Dymo Twin Turbo labeling machine. Several years ago I had no trouble with the 330 Turbo, but this time it was a miserable experience. What is worse, I force-ejected a disc and when I tried to use it again, it was, as they say, "a bad disc." Dymo support won't be working until Monday morning and I don't think I will be able to understand a single word they say.

In a while I will be going to check up on some grandchildren. Thank heavens my daughter will already have left: she might ask me what I did today.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Any conversation in this country of late is bound to contain three topics:
1.  The weather
2.  Obamacare
3.  The economy in general and fancy bankers in particular.

No one can agree on any of these topics, but as we read about Libor and see photographs of all the naughty hedge fund managers, there is some consensus that the bankers are nothing if not good dressers, with suits that cost a bundle and made-to-measure shirts and hair cuts that put John Edwards to shame. A certain dignity, a certain level of taste and . . . well, gravitas.

So imagine my surprise when I got a solicitation to invest my funds with the Securities division of Fifth Third Bank, "a registered broker-dealer and a registered investment advisor registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training." Sic. To encourage my participation, they sent me a sheet of rather tacky temporary tattoos. If you click on the photo and can read backwards, you will see that the hearts and roses and pirate equipment are accompanied by unforgettable phrases like Death Before Divestiture and My Banker is My Anchor.

They do not stipulate which parts of my anatomy I am supposed to decorate. They do give me instructions for applying the tattoos. And removing them. Even Jamie Dimon didn't come up with an insane gimmick like this. And he wears nice suits.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

A Question of Semantics

I am not a proponent of bottled water, but I always keep some around the house. Yesterday the temperature was up to 97° again and I was off to the doctor's office, so I grabbed a bottle just in case . . . well just in case.

Here's what the label proclaimed (and you can read it easily if you click on the photo):
Source: deep protected well, Breingville, PA and/or public water supply, Allentown, PA.

Public water supply? That means the stuff that flows from the faucets, right? I mean the stuff we get free, as long as we pay the water bill. Is NestlĂ© really charging us for tap water?

I suppose that is legit as long as they tell us. And they tell us in Spanish too on the other side of the bottle.

Friday, July 06, 2012

It's Gody's Birthday

Happy Birthday to my daughter-in-law Gody. This photo was taken in May after Frederick's First Communion in Virginia. I hope they will all be visiting us in a few weeks and I can get more photographs of this great family.

Gody received a nursing degree in Pisa (in Italian), a Master's degree in Brussels (in French) and after qualifying here as an R.N. she has undertaken a BS.N. (in Englsh.) That's going to take a while, but she is the most persistent, positive person I know and it won't be too long before I am posting photos of her graduation. See you soon, Gody.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Yesterday was the Fourth of July

And the least said about it the better. My brain melted in the late afternoon as we sat around the the swimming pool at our daughter's park, cowering into the last bit of shade. One of the things which makes me feel a "foreigner" in England is the use of Celsius, so some of you may need to go here.

We went back to her house for dinner, which is just as well as there was an evening monsoon. There was another one this morning and our garden is flattened. I just ran an errand and there were downed trees and non-working traffic lights. Nothing like the phenomenon encountered by my son in Maryland. He now has his power restored and can go back to the school where he teaches to retrieve the freezer-full of breast milk he deposited in the middle of the night when they first lost power.

By the way, notice the temp predicted for tomorrow?

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

I . . . couldn't . . . do . . . it

Baby number one was due on the Fourth of July. Fourth of July? I had only been in the States for four years and it seemed so wrong to have a baby on the Fourth of July. I was still observing St. George's Day and thinking that unexpected days off were called "Bank Holidays." So I had Al on the Third. Happy Birthday to my oldest son! He lives in Virginia and was fortunate enough to avoid the vicious storms and the power outage of the past few days.

I have written about him on his birthday in several past years, so if you really want to find out about him, you know how to find the entries. Here's one of my favorite recent photos of him, all 6' 7", dwarfing his dad and holding his son's hand. We were just leaving the National Air and Space Museum in Virginia.

We are looking forward to a visit from him and his family in August. As for me, I am getting ready to celebrate the Fourth of July.

Monday, July 02, 2012

A Purloined Clip

I don't like to steal entries, but I found this on The Usual Suspects.

The interviewer sounds remarkably calm.

Peyton Place Redux

Our local marina. We thought about a boat, but had five children instead.
Last week our community was described in the Wall Street Journal as a "tony Michigan town." Mind you, that was in an article about our annual invasion of fish flies: "This year, the bugs have been so numerous that store owners sweep up piles of dead bugs every morning. At night, thousands flutter around a single streetlight. Merchants try not to turn on their lights or they pull down heavy curtains to keep the bugs from piling up outside their businesses."

Fish flies aside, this is a pretty nice place to live—one of the last bastions of "old money", one of the best school districts in the country, two country clubs, a yacht club and a hunt club. Least you think I am boasting, I hasten to add that one of the great attractions of living here is the enormous diversity of houses, from the be-tenniscourted and be-swimmingpooled mansions along the lake to the duplexes and rental properties which are closer to where we live. 

A few months ago a woman who lived not too far from us was found strangled in her Mercedes in an alley in Detroit. The media descended on our police station, making it impossible to park outside our library, which shares a parking lot with the police station. Before arrests or charges or any investigation, there was a verdict in the comments of on-line newspapers—"It was one of "them."" "Allowing rentals was the start of all this." Those comments stopped abruptly when the husband (let's call him Mr. X) was declared a "person of interest." Then his handyman was arrested/turned himself in, I don't remember, and was charged with conspiracy to commit murder, and confessed. This gentleman has an IQ of 67. So far, so good, but as the details about Mr. X emerged, we were in a world of S&M dungeons, whips, mistresses—all in our "tony" community! Now Mr. X has been arrested for putting out a contract to have the handyman killed in jail. At least one mistress (she used to work in the institution where I was employed) has fled the state and fears for her life too. In a statement to a local TV station, a dominatrix, Lady G, said: 'Several of my clients or slaves have called me today. Since this has come out I've had like over 20 phone calls.
'They are all people who have been to his parties and asked if I was involved with them. Some of them were worried there might have been hidden cameras, things like that'.

Or a little black book. Grace Metalious, where are you when we need you?