Saturday, 27 March 2010

Call Me

There's not a man I meet but doth salute me
As if I were their well-acquainted friend;
And every one doth call me by my name.
Some tender money to me; some invite me;
Some other give me thanks for kindnesses;
Some offer me commodities to buy:
Even now a tailor call'd me in his shop
And show'd me silks that he had bought for me,
And therewithal took measure of my body.
William Shakespeare (The Comedy of Errors. Act IV, Scene III)

1-5076. After fifty-mumble years I still remember my parents’ telephone number at our home in Tamarind Vale. It was a black rotary 'phone, and heavy with magnets (perhaps?) and my father had built a shelf for it in the dining room. Not exactly the best place and it was soon shifted around the corner onto a table in the living room. It was still there in 1992 when my mother died and I sold the house. That shelf in the dining room became the repository for a set of faux-marble busts of great classical composers. Very small busts, crowded together, and they fell from time to time and not one survived the fall.

The telephone was ours, all ours, for a few years. Then, as people built houses in the development (we had been the first), our neighbours to the north became our party line. Basically, this meant that we shared the line and if we were using our 'phone, Mrs Stevens next door could pick up hers and listen in, and could not make a call. We could interrupt her calls as well. Edna Stevens must be long dead, so I think I can reveal that she enjoyed the telephone and we often had to wait and wait for her to get off the line. She irritated the hell out of us.

We all used the telephone. I was calling my grandparents and answering the phone before I started kindergarten. We called Grandma Lancaster every evening shortly after our tea. When television came along, we called before the evening news. My mother was still calling at about 6.30 in the months shortly before her death.

About forty-five years ago, the Bermuda Telephone Company got rid of party lines and issued new numbers to everybody. Ours was 8-1259. The telephone was still a rotary dial, black and heavy, but it was a newer model, with rounded corners, not quite so Art-Deco. It outlived my mother.

I cannot remember many telephone numbers. A close friend could be reached at 1-3339, and then at 8-0943. But even though we dialled the grandparents night after night, I have no recollection of their number, which would have been unchanged after about 1960. I don’t remember our house number or postal code, or anybody else’s.

I believe telephone calls were inexpensive, sixpence for any length of time (within Bermuda). They were sixpence in the telephone booths. We used the 'phone, and called home if there was some reason that we should. (The movie is running late. I’ve missed the ferry to the Belmont Manor Hotel. We’re going to walk home because we spent the bus fare on Fruit Gums.) Not dead, so far as I know, is a girl who lived across the street from us. Both of her parents worked and their daughter, a child, was forbidden to use their home telephone when she was there waiting for her parents to return at night. Not only forbidden, but her parents put a tiny padlock on the rotary dial so that there was no turning it. I thought then, and still do, that it was strange to prevent a child calling for help if she might need it. Her parents were odd: they made their daughter wear her long hair in unattractive “pigtails” until she was in high school. Go figure.

Because a call was only a few pennies, I thought nothing of gassing to a friend for hours: a mad rush of thoughts and words. One cannot be quite so spontaneous by email, so I still save my pennies for streams of consciousness.

When I went to work for AIG, I had a telephone on my desk. It rang a great deal, internal and external calls. As one could not tell whether it was an outside call, whether business or pleasure, I would answer the telephone with “Ross Eldridge here ...” Trying my best to sound butch. My mother answered the telephone with a high-pitched and squeaky “Hello!” that my friends would joke about. We’d imitate her. Unfortunately, the wind must have changed direction when I was mocking my mother’s “Hello!” and that’s pretty much how I answer the telephone to this day. It’s just the “Hello!”... My other conversation settles down.

I recall my father’s first mobile telephone. He was particularly pleased to be able to talk on it while driving. This when mobiles were the size of a toaster. I got my first mobile telephone in, I think, 2004. I got to choose the number and picked one with lots of ones and threes in it. It may have been clever, damned if I can remember it now.

A friend of mine, alive and dim, had her first experience of a mobile telephone when out to dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Bermuda. Her dinner companion had a mobile 'phone in her bag and it rang during the meal. My friend was amazed by all this. She said to her companion: “But how did they know to call you here?”

I have a mobile telephone now. It is the barebones thing, no cameras, computers, movies, touch-screens. I can make a call, and get one, and I get texts from T-Mobile trying to sell me a new calling plan. I’m sure I could send a text, but I don’t know how, and don’t want to.

In my living room, I have my home telephone, land line. I do remember its number. (I don’t know my mobile’s number.) I try not to call out unless it’s at night or over the weekend as the calls within the UK are free then. I tend to email family and friends overseas. I nearly always use the speaker device in my front room. This gets Cailean going if he hears a familiar voice.

I have a rather good memory for many things, especially involving words and names. I’m useless with numbers, except for dates (years, not days and months) of famous events. Henry VIII died in 1547, Magna Carta signed in 1215. That sort of thing. When I think of all the people and places I have called often over the years, their telephone numbers a kind of identity code, it’s astonishing that I cannot recall these. I’d love to know the numbers of my childhood! Fortunately, my present telephone has all the numbers I use regularly in its address book.

I get calls. Usually when I’m eating my evening meal or watching something enjoyable on the telly. People trying to sell me time shares in a condo in Tonga, that sort of thing. Happily, I get calls that I enjoy.

Today has been different. Rather a lot of family calls in and out. My younger brother, Guy, a lawyer practising in the British Virgin Islands, slipped and fell in a companionway after skippering the sailboat Luxury Girl at the International Rolex Regatta in St Thomas, USVI. Guy hit his head, and was killed instantly.

I had this blog entry written in notes on scraps of paper. Today I’ve been out at the beach with Cailean, sitting in warm sunshine, thinking about my sisters and brothers. I’m the oldest; one doesn’t expect to be losing a sibling about 15 years younger.

Guy’s passion was sailing. Our dad, grandfather and great-grandfather Eldridge were all in the Royal Navy, as were (and are) other close family members. Guy liked to sail around the Caribbean. I think he had three boats. Guy’s partner, Sue-Ellyn, would sail with him, island hopping. Sun, sea, sand, surf, spinnakers and sails.

If one must die young, it seems to me that it might be good to die doing that which one so enjoys. I’m sure Guy was happy being a lawyer, but would not have wanted to trip over a carpet while leaving a courtroom. Guy was outside, on the sea, with his mates, on Friday. I imagine he must have been damp and salty. Chances are the last words he heard were the lads talking boat-talk. Nautical, but nice. Guy would not have had time to hear: “Watch out!” and “Oh! Shit!”

Call me (call me) on the line
Call me, call me any, anytime
Call me (call me) my love
You can call me any day or night
Call me
Blondie (Call Me)

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Murder'd Sleep

Now it's past my bed I know
And I'd really like to go.
Soon will be the break of day
Sitting here in Blue Jay Way.
Please don't be long, please don't you be very long,
Please don't be long, or I may be asleep.
George Harrison (Blue Jay Way)

I HAVE BEEN HAVING TROUBLE SLEEPING for about a month now. Not just being unable to sleep at bedtime, at night, but finding that I’m falling asleep when it is not convenient or appropriate.

I might be on a comfy sofa in a room with a number of my friends and associates, straining, admittedly, to connect with the conversation as I’m a tad deaf thanks to many years of very loud music (I have some roaring in my headphones at this moment, Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” sung in English by Kiri Te Kanawa and Thomas Hampson, I cannot write in silence) and I am suddenly aware that my eyes have closed and if I take one slow, deep breath I’ll be fast asleep. And I worry I might start snoring. I quickly open my eyes. One of my mates is an expert on the sleep of others. “You were falling asleep, Ross.” And there’s no denying it. “I was. Didn’t get much sleep last night.”

I seem to sleep well enough one night, and then have a few nights reading until an hour before sunrise. At 5.00 I figure it’s not too early to get myself a mug of coffee: I make it with skimmed milk rather than water, and I use artificial sweeteners. Four minutes in the microwave. And back to bed, and the book. I switch on the radio as well, 6 Music, and deactivate the alarm. And, almost immediately, I fall asleep propped up as I am. Next thing I know, it’s after 7.00, the room is quite bright and Cailean is emerging from under the duvet. He needs to pee. My coffee, untouched, is cold in its mug next to my bed. It can be reheated, and is. The day is under way.

Another night I find I’m struggling to keep awake after the early evening news on the BBC. Lying on the sofa would be fatal, so I sit upright on it. There are, at times, programmes on the television that I do look forward to and enjoy. I’m missing some of them, even those that air before ten o’clock. I set the BT Vision Box to record anything that I definitely cannot miss, and it has a replay feature so that much of the programming on the major channels can be accessed for a week after it first airs. However, that means trying to catch up another night. I’m not much for watching television in the daytime.

I have a growing collection of DVDs. I buy them on the cheap usually, when there’s a sale. I also get them from second-hand dealers. And the DVD rental shop in Amble sells off its titles after a month or two, sooner if they’ve not been popular. I don’t like to spend more than £1.99 on a used DVD. One can get movies for £2.49 when the online outlets have specials on slow-moving stock. The great thing about DVDs is that I can watch a film for, say, an hour, and before I get too sleepy (as I tend to, no matter how exciting the story) I can note where I was, and switch it off. Another evening, I can pick up where I left off and, because I have a rather good memory, nothing goes missing.

I’ve not been to the cinema in over a year. Well over a year. I believe the last movie I saw was Martin Scorsese’s “Shine a Light”. The nearest Cineplex to Amble is about 35 miles away, and it’s not on an easy bus route, so I can only go with friends in a car.

I will tell you that I kept wide awake during Shine a Light which was, of course, a concert by the Rolling Stones. The theatre had an incredible sound system, we sat in the front row, and the volume was deafening (meaning, I could hear it). Other trips to the movies have had me struggling to keep awake. I stayed with “In Bruges” but slept through “Pirates of the Caribbean” even though the latter was a good deal noisier. Pirates, frankly, was rubbish. Loud rubbish.

When I can, I go to live concerts. It is almost impossible to doze off with a rock band in the hall. I fold away in the car on the way home. Live theatre, plays, can be dodgy. I’m always anxious that the actors will lose their way (a holdover from a few years involved with amateur theatrics) and don’t often relax. Should one be relaxed when the action is live, a few yards away, music or dramatics?

In another life I recall the first time I addressed the congregation in a particular church. There would have been about 400 people present. I noticed only those in a row of seats near the door at the back of the chapel, a dozen or so elderly High Priests. Before I’d even finished my introduction, the old men were slumping sideways, fast asleep. I can see why some preach Hell and Damnation with the speakers on high. My soft-spoken Peace and Love is Seconal for the soul.

I once fell asleep at a live concert in the Rosebank Theatre in Bermuda. It was a fundraiser, a number of acts and rather haphazardly arranged. A little of Handel’s choral music, then a calypso. Some tap-dancing. That bloody “Summertime” by a mezzo-soprano. Sleep was a welcome escape.

One evening, forty-mumble years ago, I went to dinner with friends at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club. The RBYC was hardly my usual eatery. This was the sort of meal that started with drinks on the terrace, and then there was wine with the meal. More drinks to follow, and a couple of Valium. This particular dinner is memorable because afterwards we went to the Island Theatre (an oddly charming, if awfully run-down place) to see Laurence Olivier’s film version of “Othello”. This was a charitable airing of the film. I cannot imagine Bermuda providing more than one show’s audience, and that in a very small cinema. I’m not even sure that a play with a white man in blackface was entirely acceptable. (I recall being absolutely horrified to see “Black and White Minstrels” on stage in Morecambe as a child ten years earlier.)

We sat in the back row, upstairs, of the Island Theatre, in the corner. The Island Theatre had tattered, uncomfortable seats. I can still relive the feeling. One was allowed to smoke in the movie theatres then (just about anywhere but church, actually, and I’d have gone to church more often if I’d been able to light up during the Family Communion Service), but I was with people who would have frowned on that. I recall the opening titles, and feeling fuzzy in my Bacardi and Valium haze. And that was “Othello” for me. I slept soundly through the next (almost) three hours. Thank God!

Jumping ahead 25 years, I saw “Phantom of the Opera” staged in Los Angeles in June 1993 at a very large and well-appointed theatre, but from the cheapest seats. Call it “The Gods” if you will, but these Gods were totally out of touch with the world far, far below. I could not make out the words, dialogue or the lyrics of the songs. I had no opera glasses, I have rubbish eyesight, and I could not tell one over-dressed character from the other. What to do? I tried to clamp my eyes shut and get away from it. Could I sleep? No! I was trapped, awake, for a couple of hours. Happens that after the performance I was taken around to the stage door to meet the actor, Davis Gaines, who played the Phantom. Mr Gaines was very pleasant, posed for a photograph with us, and asked how we’d enjoyed the show. “Brilliant!” was my reply. “Loved it!” Though, to be honest, I hadn’t been able to make any sense of it. (I’ve seen the movie version on DVD and still don’t know what the heck is going on. I really don’t like the play except for the one song “Music of the Night”.) Phantom may have bored me silly, but Davis Gaines took the lead 2,000 times, playing to five million people. He must have liked it well enough. I wonder if he slept soundly when he got home after the show.

It happens that in 1977 the future Grammy award-winning musical director of Phantom of the Opera (and many other musicals on stage and film ), David Caddick, spent his Easter vacation at my home in Bermuda with his partner. David should know that I quite liked the film "Evita", which he produced, and that I stayed awake all the way through it.

Last night I slept well. I switched the light off around midnight and next thing I knew the telephone was ringing. I’d not set the alarm, a friend was outside. I did my best to sound wide awake, as if I’d been up for hours. It was 8.15. I’m feeling well-rested today. Well enough to catch up on my correspondence seeing as I’m not out in search of a pub lunch with some friends. I was going to read, but I’m so enjoying the music of the day, in my headphones, I believe I will trip out on that. Eugene Onegin is far, far better than Phantom.

Will I sleep tonight? The pattern is too unpredictable. In a week, I seem to catch up on missed sleep. Chances are I’ll be wide-eyed. Well, unless there’s something I really, really don’t want to miss.

I will go through the motions. Hot water bottle, pillows plumped, Cailean lifted onto the bed (he’ll vanish under the duvet for his 8 hours). But, also, a book or two, my reading specs, and the radio at hand. The musing of the night.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Shamrock and Roll

Well if you ever plan to motor west
Just take my way that's the highway that's the best
Get your kicks on Route 66
Well it winds from Chicago to L.A.
More than 2000 miles all the way
Get your kicks on Route 66

Bobby Troup (Route 66)

TODAY IS MOTHERING SUNDAY in the United Kingdom. This afternoon there were some lovely bunches of flowers for sale outside the two shops that normally have them in Amble, and a few unopened daffodils in jars outside the hardware store. Now it seems to me that mothers probably would have appreciated any floral arrangements first thing this morning, perhaps even last night. The shops were not doing any business.

When Cailean and I walked to the open-air market (every Sunday on the Amble docks) not only our main shopping street was quiet, but there were few stalls and shoppers on the docks (despite glorious weather). A week ago every man and his dog was there. Among the few stalls was the wagon that sells hotdogs. This wagon has flying over it a large American flag. I did try one of their hotdogs once, and it was watery, salty, and vile. No amount of condiments could save the thing. We don’t even do sauces and relishes well here. Hotdogs are often offered with soft, slippery fried bits of onion. Frankly, they are best avoided.

On the way home we bumped into one of Cailean’s dog friends, Humphrey, who is also a black-and-tan miniature dachshund. He’s a bit smaller than Cailean, more-mini. Lovely little fellow. And today, to our surprise and delight, we met Humphrey’s younger brother, only five months old (Humphrey, from an earlier litter, is Cailean’s age, two). The new wiener in town is called Bo, short for Bogart, and he’s a black-and-silver dapple. When three miniature dachshunds get together for a scratch-and-sniff, it’s a bit like a family of otters on a riverbank.

Passing the florists' shops again I noticed that no flowers had been sold. I was tempted to buy some, but they were awfully expensive. I might get a leftover bunch tomorrow for a fraction of the price.

We had St David’s Day on 1 March. The Welsh flag was flying in Amble’s Town Square (no sign of the Union Flag that day, or the bloody EU banner) for the day. There were a few forced daffodils on sale, and we’ve always got leeks to spare. The saintly David was actually Welsh, born in about the year 500 AD.

St George’s Day is on 23 April. He’s the patron saint of England, noted for slaying a dragon. I tend to confuse St George with St Michael because there’s a wonderful sculpture by Jacob Epstein of St Michael overcoming Satan on the outside of Coventry Cathedral. England’s patron saint, George, was not English. He was born in Palestine in roughly 275 AD. Happens George is the patron saint of a fair number of countries including Ethiopia, Greece and Russia. And Georgia. 23 April is said to be the day, in 1564, that Shakespeare was born. Actually, nobody knows that for sure, but he was baptised on 26 April that year. He died on 23 April 1616, which may have been his fifty-second birthday.

The Scottish patron saint is Andrew. Now he was, apparently, the brother of Simon Peter, and like him one of the Apostles associated with Jesus. I’m guessing he was born in the Middle East in about the year zero. 30 November is St Andrew’s feast day, and the national day of the Scots.

The Irish celebrate St Patrick’s Day. He was not Irish, but was born over the Pennines from where I live in Cumbria. He was a Roman-Briton and may have been born in 387 AD. His feast day, the national day of the Irish the world over, is 17 March. On that day the beer turns green, as if by magic, and one might see someone wearing the traditional headdress with the words "Kiss Me I’m Irish" written across it.

Now, I have no idea whether our florists will have shamrocks for sale. I don’t know if many Irish folks live around here now that there’s no industry. We do have Irish Travellers (you’ve heard them rudely called “Pikeys” or “Knackers”) that pause in this part of the northeast, and they are generally not welcomed with open arms. Will the pubs in town have green beer? I’ll look for signs of this. Now that one must smoke outside of any public building, glasses and mugs are often left on the pavement outside the Waterloo, the Dock, Pier 81, and so on. There may be a green residue in those. Perhaps green vomit in the gutters.

In late October of 1979 I was the designated passenger (and map-reader in those days before the SAT-NAV) as a friend drove us across North America from east to west. We were following the old Route 66 once we moved inland from the Carolinas. My friend had one of those enormous gas-guzzling Fords, eleven years old, and it was heaped with things we thought we’d need for a winter in the Rocky Mountains. That included, for the journey, a pup-tent.

We used the tent for the first time just outside Oklahoma City, setting it up in a grassy field that seemed to be owned by the KOA. It was dark when we walked into the field and got the tent up. We’d had a meal at a roadside cafe called The Picket Fence. It had a jukebox and I put in a quarter and we listened to the Rolling Stones’ song “Miss You” ... Not one of their best, but it was played in the discos, and a cafe in Oklahoma.

When I woke in the morning, I pushed open the flap of the tent and saw, close up, a spider doing the arachnid equivalent. A trap-door spider. And then, to my horror, I realised that we were sharing the field with a herd of cows. This would not be a KOA! No wonder there had been no office, no toilets, and no showers.

We hustled ourselves out of the field, closing the gate behind us.
On the Interstate we made good time heading west until we reached the Texas Panhandle. Suddenly, as we came over a rise in the highway, the car’s bonnet started steaming, then billowing, and the car began to lurch about. My friend got it onto the shoulder of the road where the engine gave up completely. We pried the bonnet open and boiling liquids sprayed about.

I’m sure we were cussing, but I don’t recall. I would have been panicking, I reckon. There was, however, a sign by the highway indicating a service station not far ahead. My friend set off in that direction on foot, and I quivered with fright in the car. At least it was a sunny afternoon.

My friend returned in a tow-truck sort of vehicle driven by someone from the garage up ahead. The mechanic hitched up the dead Ford and we all drove into the nearest town. It turned out to be Shamrock, Texas.

Shamrock, Texas, in 1979, looked a bit like the end of the Earth to me. I’d been accustomed to beaches in Bermuda, not dust and tumbleweeds and wooden, raised sidewalks. There were a fair number of boarded-up store-fronts; everything needed a lick of paint. The mechanic said he’d look at the car, and we went looking for a Coca-Cola. When we returned to the garage the mechanic said things looked pretty bad: The Ford’s radiator had completely disintegrated. What’s more, that model and year the radiators had been peculiar. It would not be possible to get hold of a new radiator to fit the eleven-years-old car. We were buggered.

At that moment, I said something odd and, at that time, not unexpected. I told my friend that if he quit smoking then and there (something I’d done recently, so I was insufferable on that subject) everything would work out. My friend agreed, though not happily, and we wandered around Shamrock waiting for the miracle. An hour later, back at the garage, our mechanic was smiling. He’d been to the town’s dump and had actually found a 1968 Ford, our model. He’d been able to cut the radiator out of it.

I think we paid about $100 for our afternoon in Shamrock, Texas, which was a fair bit in 1979. I’d asked what exactly the people in Shamrock did, with it being little more than a service station. The oddest thing, it turned out.

Every March the Shamrock Post Office receives many, many cards and letters to be posted on from there with the Shamrock cancellation mark on the envelope. Cards and letters celebrating St Patrick’s Day, going all over the world.

It was late October, as I mentioned, and the town was quiet and dusty as we drove back to the Interstate.

We pushed on to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and then into Colorado, sleeping that night in a genuine KOA near Durango. Durango was (and is) a resort town, quite upscale in an historic way. The scenery is exquisite with rivers and waterfalls and mountains. It seemed very much like the Promised Land after the Texas Panhandle. We should have stayed there. But that’s another story.

Every St Patrick’s Day I think of shamrocks, and 1968 Fords in Texas. Season of the Hitch.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Don't Ask. Don't Tell.

I’m a Jew.
I’m small.
I’m homosexual.
I live in Sheffield.
I’m fucked.

Alan Bennett (The History Boys)

LAST WEEK I HAD A TELEPHONE CALL from a young woman. Hardly necessary to mention that the call came in the evening when I was busy having my tea and watching Coronation Street.

“Hello. Is this Christopher Eldridge?”

“This is he.” (I am named for my great-great-great-great-grandfather, Christopher Eldridge, born in Leicestershire on 27 July 1777. However, I normally use my middle name, Ross.)

“I’m calling on behalf of the Liberal-Democrats.” She does not even take a breath. “What we’d like to know tonight is how you intend to vote at the upcoming General Election.” (One must be held before the end of June, likely date is 6 May.)

There followed a pause on my part.

“Mr Eldridge? Which party will you be supporting?”

“I believe,” I told the young woman, “that one’s vote is a private matter. It happens at the ballot box on Polling Day.”

“Oh,” she said, followed by a long pause. I imagine she was looking at her guidelines. “We just want to know who you will be voting for, Mr Eldridge.”

I said that I’d prefer not to tell her and as she was about to say something I put the telephone handset down.

I might have reminded her that William Gladstone, the Liberal [sic] Prime Minister, steered the bill that became the Ballot Act of 1872 through Parliament. Prior to that time voters had to mount a platform and publicly voice their choice of candidates to a recorder who would note it in his polling book.

Obviously that left the recently enfranchised working class (the Reform Act of 1867 had given some 1,500,000 men the vote, doubling the electorate) open to pressure from the employers who could, and would, listen in as votes were cast. I recall all this from my history lessons forty-mumble years ago.

The woman from the Liberal-Democrats on the telephone had my name, my 'phone number and probably my address. She might have known my age. This was not an anonymous opinion poll.

I offer this experience as a word of advice to my readers. One does not have to share one’s choice of party or candidates with family, friends, employers, one’s church, or with political parties. If the Secret Police turn up at my door, I am not compelled to tell them who I will be voting for in a few months’ time. (In North Korea the rules would be different, and perhaps in corrupt democracies propped up by Britain and the USA, like Afghanistan, as well).

I have been voting in general and other elections for about forty years. I have never joined a political party, and I have voted for both right-leaning and left-leaning candidates, but based on the issues and not ideology. When the candidates have been present outside the polling station, I have offered a firm handshake to all and sundry with no nods and winks. I say I’ve never joined a political party and I should clarify that. I once sent a £10 donation to a party to help fund a project that I believe in. But I carry no membership cards.

I once helped a friend sort through a box of index cards on which was gathered information on all the voters in a political district in Bermuda. The cards were compiled by one of the two major parties then operating in Bermuda. The prospective voters were not contacted and asked for their choice of candidates. The names on the cards came off the electoral roll, and then a committee tried to figure out which party the voter might support based on his or her address, surname, and any information that might be gleaned from other sources. One thing noted on the cards was the voter’s race. This was not written down as black or white (the two parties being different mainly by racial make-up). Some reviewer simply made a mark with a coloured pen on cards of voters who were thought to be non-white. As I recall, my friend was updating the cards. Perhaps a voter had moved to a more upscale address and might be judged more conservative. New voters would be added and dead and departed people would be pulled from the box.

In Bermuda one was always for one party and, logically, against the other. It is a bit like that in the USA, I gather. In Bermuda one does not take fire at (or make jokes about) both parties and leaders, one takes sides. Comedy and commentary is one-sided.

In Britain we tend to have a go at everyone, regardless of political identity. Thatcher and Blair are remembered and hated equally. ("What the hell were we thinking?") We all seem to feel no love for Gordon Brown (Labour), David Cameron (Conservative) and Nick Clegg (Liberal-Democrat). After the expenses scandals we dislike and distrust all the elected MPs and the appointed Lords.

We are a country at war in Afghanistan, and one worries that politicians resort to war when they are having a hard time on the home front. The Second Falklands War might be inevitable with the Brits and the Argentines wanting diversions from economic crises. The candidates from our three major parties are not promising us war or peace, advance or withdrawal. We are getting no firm policies promised, things change on a whim. There is no candidate who will say what he really stands for; he’s too busy shuffling his feet over revelations in the press.

Unlike the United States, we do not have Oprah Winfrey or Pat Robertson to tell us who to vote for. Oprah imposes her will by throwing a party for her party and injecting a degree of hysteria into a campaign. Robertson’s God stares out through the broadcaster’s eyes and dares White Christian America to defy Him. The parties are basically Gay and Straight.

Britain is essentially a non-Christian country if votes are tallied. The BNP (British National Party) which is far-far right, and seeks to keep Britain British ethnically and racially and culturally, is probably the closest we come to a Christian party. There is, somehow, something of Pat Robertson in the BNP’s Nick Griffin, though Pat Robertson is probably less likely to approve of cross-burning, and Jew-baiting, and the eradication of deviant homosexuals and democrats.

What is outstanding is that one might be a Gordon Brown Labourite, a Liberal-Democrat supporter, High Tory, or a friend of the BNP. One might intend voting for the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) to get Britain out of the EU. One might be voting Green. There was a Party of Jesus Christ in the last election. We even have The Monster Raving Loony Party if you fancy wearing a funny hat. We don’t seem to go for dyed-in-the-wool blue or red here.

The important thing is, thanks to William Gladstone, we have the secret ballot. We have the ability to vote our consciences. No political party worker has the right to quiz us and to mark boxes alongside our names. No man can threaten us unless we actually choose to take up a banner and march in the street. To decline to vote is to refuse an important right: The right to be part of society. No one candidate will meet all your needs, but an unselfish look at the issues and vote on what is best for the most might be satisfying.

Vote! You need the exercise!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010


"If the doors of perception were cleansed
every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up,
till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern."
William Blake (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell)

ON 14 AUGUST 2008 I made my first entry on this Barking Mad Blog. It was my “Arrival” and “A Bit Late” but “Well-Dressed” and featured a picture of Cailean sleeping in his bed under my desk. He’d have been less than six months old. He has that same bed today, still under my desk. Yes, I do wash it every week or ten days. Cailean will be two years old in a few days’ time.

This is entry 100 on this Blog. Clearly I have produced more than one a week averaged over the last year-and-a-half. I’m surprised. Pleasantly, I think.

Forty-mumble years ago when I was at Warwick Academy, I guess I’d write a composition for my English Language classes (Frank “Buck” Rogers taught that class, and our subjects were taken from former GCE Examination papers) once a fortnight, perhaps less frequently. I only recall two subjects: “Lawnmowers” and “A Day in the Life of My Town”. Ugh! I wrote longer essays in History classes: “The Glorious Revolution” and “Lord North and the American War of Independence”. Ugh! Still longer essays in Biology: “A Field Trip in Paget Marsh” and “The Rise of Coelenterates”. Ugh!

We spent a good deal of time writing (using fountain pens, not Biros or pencils). We did not have multiple-choice questions in any GCE subject at any time. The only occasion requiring a choice and a box inked in was for a Scholastic Aptitude Test that was supposed to be interpreted by professionals at the Department of Education who would then tell us what careers we might be best suited for. They had me down as an architect. I had abysmal results on the Spatial Relations portion of the Test. Go figure. Ugh!

Our mathematics master, Eustace Pierce Roberts, a young, red-bearded Welshman from Denbigh with a blue MGB-GT sports car, divided punishments into two types. “Undone homework” resulted in Detention after school, during which time one would have to do the homework. “Misbehavior in Class” was rewarded by having an essay set, to be turned in the next day. “Iggy” Roberts, as we called him, would, I think, give an essay title on the spur of the moment. Usually very brief subjects like “Snow” or, after the entire class dropped rulers at a signal, “Falling Lumber”. We had wooden rulers, marked in inches, none of that metric nonsense.

I tended to do my homework, I was quite good at grammar school mathematics, and I was never put in Detention for having failed to turn in assignments. I rarely acted up in class with the others, and was pretty much a model student (my handwriting could have been neater). I believe I had to write on “Falling Lumber”. I was glad to. I enjoyed Iggy’s essay subjects and would, from time to time, write essays for my friends to hand in when they were being punished.

Once a term, for a few years as my grammar school career wound down, I would write a fair bit of the school newspaper, Quid Novi. I was its Editor. I was the anonymous poet (credited under my real name by “Anon”) and I would write up short articles, usually arising from quizzes the youngest children in the Junior School responded to. One could get a fair bit of mileage from questions like: “What does the Headmaster really do?” and “What is the worst school rule?” (We once determined that the school’s official rule book had over fifty listed, the Bible having only Ten Commandments.)

My school Leaving Certificate, which was posted to me in England because I went sailing (for the one and only time in my life) during our Graduation Ceremony, mentioned my efforts as Editor of the School Newspaper, and that I was Head Librarian, and that I was in the School Cadet Corps. Two out of three weren’t bad.

I had no essays to write at The Medway & Maidstone College of Technology, but I did attempt to learn something that might confirm my latent talent as an architect. I passed my advanced mathematics and physics courses, as well as Engineering Drawing. I hated it all.

Aside from business and personal correspondence, I wrote nothing original for over thirty years. Then I had this mad idea to write essays again, on subjects that came to mind. I tended to look back thirty years, to times before my pen had gone silent. When George Harrison died in late November 2001 I wrote something I called “What George Harrison Meant to me”. He’d been my favourite Beatle. I sent the essay to the newspaper and they published it. For several years I wrote, weekly, something that seemed interesting, and often the newspaper was interested. Not much money in it, but I enjoyed the writing experience. I moved on to reviewing art shows and theatre when the newspaper’s critic died. I certainly was no artist myself, or actor, but I’d painted at one time and had helped produce local theatrical efforts. I knew what I liked and could blather a bit about it.

Why do I write? I am a constant reader, in fact I usually have three or four books going, and pick up the one I’m most in the mood to read at any time. I can only think that all the reading feeds the writing. As I read, I make notes. I have scratch pads around the flat, and in my coat pocket, and things go down on the pages.

I tend to write for an hour-and-a-half, and that gives me about 1,000 words. Any longer and there is an effort required. Frankly, I find 1,000 words more than enough to read in one go, and when I’m finished I feel I need to read what I’ve written. Then it’s gone, I let go of it. There are 99 Barking Mad Blog entries, and now this one, that I shall probably never read again. Totting up the hours I must have spent writing these entries, it’s a month’s work stretched over a year-and-a-half. 100,000 words, a thin novel.

I’ve recently discovered Twitter, and I’m really enjoying writing in a box that permits 140 characters, or less. I do not use cute abbreviations, I insert appropriate punctuation, and I go with English, so usually longer, spelling.

Some five or six years ago I was hired on as a night school “teacher” for classes in Creative Writing. I’m not a teacher, of course, and it was more of a coaching position. We had very brief assignments to turn in the next week; most of the class time was spent in discussing writers and writing, and reading. I wanted to turn the people on, not off.

Using the correct faculties, one can “see” the world in a special way. Things at the far end of a telescope are brought within reach. There is light enough. One can hear the words being spoken. Then it’s just a case of scribbling them down on what is at hand. Keyboards fix the handwriting.

John Lennon: “There’s nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time. It’s easy.”

George Harrison: “See all without looking. Do all without doing.”

One hundred on the page. The ton-up. And now I’m going out into the light.