Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Christmas Eve in all the years of my marriage until the last few were always stressful for me. As an Episcopalian, I always look forward to the wonderful Midnight Mass at my parish church. The music was glorious, both from our wonderful tracker organ to our choir of over 40 well-trained voices. The church was decorated beautifully, and everyone was in a good mood, as we began with 1/2 an hour of carols. The church was packed, and it was standing room only.

However, Barbara is as Norwegian as one can be, considering she was born in Southern California. Celebrating Christmas Eve with feasting and distribution of gifts is an important part of her culture. For weeks before the event, she would be building up a supply of Norwegian food, including for many years some Lutefisk - cod preserved in lye. This requires soaking for several days, to eliminate the flavor of the lye. Barbara would complain that one could not obtain decent Lutefisk, even at Nordic House, where she did most of her shopping. There were many other Nordic items on her shopping list: Pickled herring, fishballs, lox on flatbread, gjetost (sweet, dark goat cheese), Jarlsberg cheese, and pressed lamb. She would also buy a huge box of Best Norwegian chocolates.

We would start the evening with egg nog, and move onto red wine. Barbara would always make delicious Norwegian meatballs, and (in addition to a salad with all the trimmings)and a lime jello, with cream cheese and pineapple. A favorite of son, Brian.We would then exchange gifts. There were usually 15-20 people present.

At some point, Santa (one of our sons) would appear, and distribute gifts to the kids. To avoid the need to purchase and wrap gifts for all the adults, we would draw names, so that each person could make a single gift, subject to a maximum prize, $50 until inflation encouraged us to increase it to $75. (We still practice this approach to gift-giving, there is no minimum value of the gift.Then would come dessert - pecan pie, pumpkin pie, julekake (a Norwegian lighter version of heavy fruit cake), all served with whipped cream.We always sang carols, usually unaccompanied, and everyone was having a fine time - and then I had to leave to be in time for less intimate carols and Holy Eucharist, just when I was wanting to stay with my loved ones. Something had to give, and a few years ago I learned to wait until the 11AM Christmas Day service, allowing me to stay at our house until all the guests had left, before going to bed.

Some years ago, Brian and Marlene began offering their home for Christmas Eve. They also introduced us to an additional "gift-exchange". One chooses some unwanted item, and wraps it up. All the wrapped gifts are then set out, and we all draw a number from a hat. No. 1 chooses first, and unwraps the gift. So it's identity is clear to all. No. 2 then has a choice of choosing another gift - or taking away the first gift from No. 1. As each number is called in turn, the same process is followed. As more "white elephants" are revealed, the taking of someone else's choice becomes more popular. No gift can change hands more than twice. This year, I first selected an emergency flashlight and a red triangle, to be used behind a disabled vehicle to warn upcoming traffic. But that choice was not to last: another player took it from me, requiring me to find a replacement. I was lucky: from the shape of the package, I correctly guessed that it contained a pound of See's candy, which I managed to hold onto until the end of the game.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Indoor games

At this time of year, my memory reminds me of the joy I had as a child with indoor games. I learned the classics, checkers/drafts and chess. I also learned how to play poker in my early teens, although often without stakes, or with minimal ones. (Except in the rare instances when the odds were in my favor, gambling never held any charm for this tightwad.)

I also used to enjoy contract bridge, it's older cousin (auction bridge), and it's primitive ancestor, whist. "Snap" and "Beggar-my-neighbor" were other enjoyable past times in the early years.

I was particularly entranced by board games Dover Patrol, in which two players position their fleets, made up of small cards with the type of vessel visible only on one side, were a lot of fun, as were the military version (L' Attaque) and an aviation one, the name of which I have forgotten, were also favorites. Then there was a combined version known as Try Tactics.

I attended a wonderful British-style Prep school (from age 8 or thereabouts until 13). All boys enjoyed a "hobby hour" every weekday evening. One could go to the library and read the paper, or read a book, but also it was permissible to play a board game. Well over 70 years ago, the best game of all appeared on the scene: Monopoly. There was a British version, in which the cheapest properties were in the East end of London, and the most expensive were Park Lane and Mayfair. One problem with that wonderful game (essentially "stolen" from it's forgotten inventor by Parker Bros.) was that it was almost impossible to finish a game in one session.

There were two moderately successful spin offs from Monopoly.Totopoly was a horse racing game, and Bulls and Bears was, as it's name implies, based on stock exchange transactions.

When I wasn't playing games of that sort, I always had my trains to play with. These were Hornby "Gauge 0" trains, originally clockwork, but later electrified. I was allowed to turn the loft over our three-car garage into a semi-permanent railroad layout.

At children's parties, and with the gathered family over Christmas, our favorite game was a form of "Charades". Our version was known as "Dumb Crambo". The first team would send a representative to the "secret" gathering of the rival team, in a far corner of the room. The representative would be given a word, and she or he would then try to act out the word in dumb show. The remaining members of the first team would try to guess the answer and call it out. Sometimes this was quite easy: If one observed the actor miming the action of sawing, and then of riding and perhaps whipping an animal, one knew it was "Sawhorse". Imagine trying to act out a phrase like "moral hazard"! It seems to me that young people of today are more likely to watch TV than engage actively in indoor games at their parties.

However, we now have a granddaughter, who entertains children at their birthday parties.
In my time, we would hire a professional conjurer. Justine performs as a "fairy", but she also performs some "magic" tricks.

Monday, December 14, 2009

What ever happened to noon?

I usually attend church at 10am on Sunday Mornings. I also like to give thanks in church on Thanksgiving Day. When I entered church on the 4th Thursday in November, 2009, I was disappointed, but not really surprised, to see that the time of the special service that day was printed on the bulletin as "12 PM". AGH!

No, I don't really expect younger folk to know any Latin, but I would expect them to understand that "AM" means "before noon" and that "PM" means "after noon". I have even seen 12 midnight shown as both "AM" and "PM". Yecch!

These solecisms would not be necessary if we adopted the 24 hour clock, which many of us learned in the Armed Forces. There is no ambiguity when one reads that dinner is served at 18:30. However, I despair of the English-speaking world adapting to the 24 hour clock within the foreseeable future. My sweetheart, who changed her name (admittedly with some reluctance) some forty years ago still occasionally asks me to interpret time, using the 24 hour clock.

These thoughts lead me to wonder why the USA is slow to measure distances in kilometers, etc. The metric system was, after all, long adopted for our currency, whereas until some time after I left the UK in 1957, we still measured our money in Pounds, Shillings, and Pence.

(The quaint term "Guinea", which used to be one pound and one shilling, is probably still in use in high-priced British establishment; however, if that is the case I really don't know whether that is pound 1.05, or something else.)

When I was growing up, the alternative to Fahrenheit was known as "Centigrade". That is, of course, now widely known as "Celsius". This system is widely known throughout the world, but we still stick to Fahrenheit in this country.

European regulations made it mandatory to scrap the names for traditional British weights and measures. I was glad to read quite recently that it is still permitted to order a pint of beer in a pub, but gone are the pounds and ounces of my childhood. At sea, a ship's speed is still measured in knots, where one knot represents one nautical mile per hour. This measurement is likely to remain, for navigational reasons with which I will not try to explain here.

On a slightly different topic, I well remember that when I took my car from England by ferry to the continent, I needed to change light bulbs for the headlamps, because in Britain we had to "keep left", and when we dipped out headlamps, the light shone on the left hand verge - which would have directed it towards oncoming traffic when driving on the right.

I believe that, at the end of WWII, when Petrol (gasoline) was strictly rationed, we missed great opportunity to change over to driving on the right side of the road. This would have been before we spent billions on the motorway system. In contrast, the Swedes made the switch, after due notice, in the middle of the night, with little or no major problems.

Monday, December 7, 2009


The quotation marks indicate that I am not really thinking about the ubiquitous ingredient for salads, but I think that I should start there. I guess that my favorite lettuce is a crisp Romaine, especially when it is part of a Cesar salad. According to Wikipedia, this is the same as what is known as "Cos" lettuce in the UK. The word "Cos" is usually suggested to come from the Greek island of Cos. This lettuce is reputed to have reached western Europe via Rome, which is why we call it "Romaine". In this country, French Culinary terms are viewed with favor, although no one seems to understand that an "entrée" is supposed to be an item at the start of a meal, not the main dish.

Another lettuce that I enjoy is known as "Butter lettuce". It certainly doesn't taste like butter to me, but it apparently gets it's name because it is allegedly so tender that it "melts in the mouth". An alternative name for this variety is "Bibb" lettuce, this lettuce is named after a 19th century grower, named "John Bibb". He developed this lettuce from "Boston" lettuce, which is similar but has wider leaves.

Then there are red leaf and green leaf lettuces. I think there was a distinctive name for this type of lettuce in the UK, but I have forgotten it.

I seldom never drive across the country these days, and I am rarely driven long distances these days. I do recall that when stopping for a meal in what are sometimes disparagingly called the "fly over states", one would always find salad made with Iceberg lettuce. Apparently it gets it's name because of the cool and crisp leaves, but to me it would be better known as "Cabbage lettuce". It is certainly compact and usually cheap. In our wasteful society, it is often used as a carrier for some other food, and it is usually left on the plate.

Enough about real lettuce. I seldom come across a sense I recall from B movies: "lettuce" was slang for money. Such as "greenbacks" a more familiar term for US currency.

By now, I have simmered down a bit from my frustration with what I once heard a friend describe as "lettuce". This usage refers to the custom of inserting loose leaf paper into programs. These are usually unwanted solicitations. Such an item was included in the program of a Berkeley Symphony concert we attended last week. It is always tempting to litter the auditorium floor with such unwanted inserts. However, I am not ready to indulge in such near-vandalism, despite being sorely tempted.

The church I attend offers a "bulletin" each week, essentially an order of service, with appropriate announcements and other information. Unfortunately, these totally acceptable four page or eight page documents are often disfigured with "lettuce". Yesterday, there was a single sheet of paper with canticles we were to sing; a single sheet of paper advertising a performance of an early English play; a form to volunteer to bring poinsettias and wreaths for seasonal decoration of the church; and a single page listing of those who would be functioning liturgically that day, with the regular list of clergy and vestry on the reverse side. I am happy to say that a friend and I managed to tote all this "stuff" out of the church to a suitable recycling bin.

And then there are the Sunday newspapers... Sometimes, as last weekend, a first distribution arrives on Saturday evening. Especially near Christmas, there are about two dozen separate advertisements. One is tempted to chuck them all straight into recycling, but the publisher cannily includes a copy of a magazine, largely featuring the rich and famous, plus the comic section with this bundle of rubbish. I am sure that there must be some poor souls who have the time and energy to sort through the pile of ads, clipping coupons which they may or may not attempt to redeem.

If that were not enough, when the news sections of the paper arrive on Sunday mornings, there is always a four page insert of even more advertising!

Perhaps this would be considered snobbish, but I would cheerfully pay a small sum each week to avoid receiving this "lettuce".

Monday, November 30, 2009


When I call the bank, I am usually asked a "Security Question". Although one of these questions is usually "What was your mother's maiden name?", that is not the only question. I am asked what was the make of my first car, what was my father's second name, and what was the name of my first school?

It occurs to me that these questions are not exactly PC for orphans, those who never knew their father, or the poor folk who never owned a car.

My first school was Micklefield. This was a small private school for girls and small boys. My elder sister had been attending this school for about three years, when I first went there in 1932, at the age of five.

Every morning, our chauffeur (Frank Coles, but never addressed by the gentry by his first name) would bring my mother's car around, driving it from the garage onto the main road, drive it a couple of hundred yards south, enter the estate again through the southern entrance to the driveway and bring it around to in front of the house. My mother would take over there, and drive the two of us to school. Within a year, my younger sister would be born and may also have started her school days at Micklefield several years later.

When giving road directions in the UK, it was commonplace to use the names of pubs to direct people. Across the road from the head gardener's cottage was the Beehive, and further up the road into town was the Angel. My mother would drive up the hill (a wonderful place for tobogganing during the brief winter snow season) and enter the High Street shopping area. We would go past one of our favorite haunts, the Ancient House Bookshop, still in business when I was last there a few years ago. On our left was the well established store known as Northover's, which rather strangely offered furniture, white goods, and funeral services. In those days, one could drive through the tunnel which took the road under a small hill. Nowadays, the tunnel has been blocked off, and to get to the North one must turn left down a shopping street, past where Lloyds bank is and the wonderful toy store (La Troube's) stood. I can still remember the names of some of the establishments, including our grocery store, Napper's.

In those days my mother seldom went shopping, in the way that most of us do today. She would order what she wanted on the phone, and the goods would be delivered later the same day. Handwritten entries were made in an account book, which was delivered to us monthly. When they arrived, my father would sit and complain about my mother's allegedly expensive buying habits, and write checks. This was a world without credit cards, but one did not need to pay cash if you were known to the store.

Just passed the grocers, one would need to turn right, eventually reaching the point where in the old days one emerged from the short tunnel.

Turning north, my mother would drive over what was known as a gated "level crossing", as a grade crossing is known in the UK. Reigate station was on the right, and soon thereafter we would turn left, and we children would be dropped off in front of Micklefield.

I started off in Kindergarten, where I was often bored, as most of the children were learning to read. My sister had taught me to read and I was already pretty good at it. Another boy and I were allowed to play a card game, in which one had to match words to pictures. The only problem I had with that was matching "boy" to the child, and "lad" to the youth. I don't remember very much about the lessons, except that we studied pre-historic times, and learned how our ancestors would trap animals by digging a large hole and covering it up lightly with branches, etc, so that the future food would fall into the hole, where it could be dispatched.

I was soon moved up to the next form (grade) - British children in private schools were promoted when ready, and not arbitrarily by age. I found that most of my fellow students were still learning to read, and a very kind headmistress allowed me to sit in her studies, and read aloud to her. The book was Kingsley's "The Waterbabies".

These memories, and many more, of Micklefield came flooding back when I recently found a copy of a history of the school, published at it's 75th anniversary, in 1985. The school had waxed and waned over the years, but was thriving then, as it is now. My dear relative through marriage, Jane Lindsey-Renton, worked at Micklefield until her recent retirement.

Soon the school which gave me a good start will celebrate it's centenary. These days, I am torn between the American public school system, where my beloved wife served until 1983; the virtues of the right kind of home schooling, now being enjoyed by two of our grandchildren; and the elitist private school, like Micklefield, which I was fortunate enough to attend.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Nowadays, I consider myself a man of peace, although I'm not a pacifist. I voted for George McGovern in the California primary of 1968, and I marched in San Francisco to protest George Bush's little war in Iraq.

However, in my early days, I was an officer in Britain's Royal Navy. I gloried in my studies of Naval History, and numbered many admirals, from Sir Francis Drake to Lord Nelson, among my heroes.

In more recent times, I have enjoyed the Hornblower novels, and later the wonderful Aubrey/Maturin novels of the late Patrick O'Brian.

When I read stories about the huge ransoms paid to Somali pirates, I long for the days of those brave seaman of fact and fiction.

Every time that a ransom is paid to the pirates of Somalia, they are able to buy more powerful boats and heavier armaments. It is easy to understand the logic of ship owners and their insurers, that it is more economic to pay ransom than to leave ships and crew to molder away in Somali hands.

However, I am rather shocked at the pusillanimity of the many governments who allow this to continue. In my opinion, it is time to act with force to put an end to piracy near the Gulf of Aden. I am aware that the pirates don't remain at sea, but skulk away on land. I am fully aware that the forces of many nations are occupied in Iraq and Afghanistan, but many of the affected nations are not so caught up in other conflicts.

In 1980, almost thirty years ago, two Episcopal priests were charged with "trading with the enemy", because of their humanitarian efforts to assist those trying to leave Cuba. After spending thousands of dollars on legal fees, Joe Morris Doss and Leo Frade (Both now Episcopal Bishops, the former in retirement) were exonerated. Perhaps the legislation needs tweaking, but I consider pirates to be enemies, not withstanding the charm of Johnny Depp, but if Cuba could be considered an "enemy", how much more should the pirates be considered our enemy? I would be happy if other nations would create similar legislation, so that any corporation or individual yielding to ransom demands from pirates would be subject to prosecution for "trading with the enemy".

I remember Operation Entebbe, as it was later called, when the Israelis made a surprise raid, rescuing most of the hostages held by Idi Amin, and his cohorts in 1973.

If the nation whose ships have been hijacked are afraid to put their citizens "in harms way", I would suggest that there are mercenaries to be hired, who would be glad to undertake the work with suitable logistical support, although personally I would prefer that Marine commandos undertake this task. The pirates who surrender should be given a fair trial, but those who resist would do so at their peril. Teams in professional sports in this land include Raiders, Buccaneers, and even the Pittsburgh Pirates, but off the East African coast we are not dealing with fictional characters like Captain Hook. The real pirates of the present era are creating havoc, and it was time they were stopped.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Open-air weddings

I don't really remember any open-air weddings from my days in England. Barbara believes that we attended one a few years ago, on a hot day in June, and I certainly remember the reception being out of doors, but I think we had come from a church. Since most of the weddings I do remember were held in churches, the lack of an al fresco pattern is understandable. When I attended a wedding in South Africa a few years ago, we left the simple Presbyterian church for a reception at the country club. We were out of doors for an apperitif, but the large numbers made it more practical to sit down at our appointed places inside the clubhouse.

It is a different story in California. I remember a small wedding held outside a Presbyterian church, with the reception to follow. Over thirty years ago, close family members decided to exchange vows in a Bay Area park, and the weather was kind. Not so when, more recently, a young friend and her husband choose a nearby winery for their nuptuals. It was a drizzley day, and even the couples choice of two llamas as ring bearers did not make up for the weather. Fortunately, we could shelter in one of the barnes used for wine-making, although we did also venture out for the food.

On a recent Saturday, a lovely family wedding was held in a garden overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It was a foggy day along the coast, but we had been advised to dress warmly, and only a few in thin dresses were shivering. We were advised that the sun would come out in the early afternoon, and it made a fitful appearance, but the afternoon was never really warm.

I remembered one delightful wedding in the Napa Valley, famous for it's hospitable climate for the fruit of the vine. I felt very sorry for those who had dressed semi-formally for the occasion, because it turned out to be a very hot day.

I have an embarassing memory of attending a wedding in England when I was perhaps 11 years old. We left the church, and walked across for the reception in a garden. From somewhere I had picked up a phrase without understanding it's meaning, trying to make suitable conversation with two middle aged women ("ladies" to me in those distant days) I asked innocently if they thought the happy couple "had been a bit previous". The women were aghast. One of them said "My, you are a sophisticated young man." In those distant days, "nice people" did not cohabit prior to matrimony - though, being human, perhaps the couple had indeed sneaked off somewhere to be "a bit previous" in any case!

Monday, November 9, 2009


We loved it when owls would visit our Colorado "ranch". It isn't really a ranch, although it had been a working cattle farm until a developer bought the property and turned it into five parcels, ours being just over twenty acres. The beautiful home that won for Barbara's eldest daughter, the architect Kristin Lewis, the top design award for the Colorado north chapter of A.I.A. a decade ago, is actually a two-stor(e)y house, with the lower floor below grade level. There are two abandoned silos on our property, and it was a delight to watch the owls when they would perch on one of them. The owls used to feed on the prairie dogs which often infest the area. Reluctantly, because these little pests are often very cute, and we disliked ending their life, we went along with our neighbors exhortations, and eliminated the prairie dogs.

No prairie dogs, no owls.

It wasn't long before the prairie dogs came back, but owls are few and far between.

I recently had a dream. I had called a friend on the eastcoast who mentioned a friend of his living in the same area. I heard him say that this friend was also his "owl". I did not understand what he meant, until he explained. My friend's friend was a retired neighbor, who was a fount of information to a small group of people. If he didn't know the answer to a question, he knew how to find it out, even if google didn't help! When I woke up, I thought more about this, and decided that it was a great idea for a small group - perhaps members of a club or parishoners at a local church - to choose someone they trusted as their "answer person". After all, many societies had their shaman or "medicine doctor" who performed similar functions for their societies.

This lead me to think happily about owls and their legendary wisdom. It also reminded me of some good advice displayed on a wall close to the bathroom I shared with my elder sister until we moved in 1940, soon after my father's death. The sign read:

a wise old owl lived in an oak
the more he saw, the less he spoke;
the less he spoke, the more he heard.
Why can't we be like that old bird?

Great advice. I wish I had followed it more often!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Baseball in November?

It is bad enough (in my book) that we continue to call the annual contest between two North American teams the "world series". Of course, some of the leading performers in baseball are from such countries as Cuba, the Domincan Republic, and even Japan.

Some years ago, in additional round of playoffs was introduced by dividing the North American clubs into six divisions, permitting two so-called "Wild Card" teams to participate in the two rounds to produce the participants in what some wags describe as "the Serious". This year, teams representing New York and Philedephia are vying to become "World Champions". Those watching at the stadiums will be well advised to wear warm winter clothes. They can be thankful that they don't need to go even further north, as would be necessary if Toronto had made it to the final pairing.

I have mixed feelings about the actions of our former President, in approving the extension of what we call "daylight saving time". If one lives on the eastern boundary of a timezone, this unilateral move in the USA probably does save some fuel, which is good. If you live, as I do, near the western edge of the time zone, it gets a bit ridiculous, when it is still dark at 7:20am on Halloween. We now change back to normal time on the first Sunday in November. Thankfully, this year that took place yesterday, but in some years it will be as late as November 6.

In Britain, we called it "Summertime" that name would sound absurd in November, as most British children are thinking excitedly of "Guy Fawkes Day" (November 5).

(One advantage of having fireworks when it is dark is that young children can enjoy them at a much earlier hour than our American equivilent, the fireworks displays on Independence day (July 4).)

It was common place in my childhood to find children going around the neighborhood, calling out "Penny for the Guy" collecting coins to buy fireworks. Little did they realize the cruelty of setting the effigagy they had made on a bonfire. Few of them even realized that Guy Fawkes was sentenced to the even crueler fate reserved for those convicted of so-called "treason", nor did they realize that the eponymous originator of the beloved festival, in fact had been first tortured and then escaped the ghastly horrors of his sentence by jumping from the gallows, breaking his neck.

We have just concluded an American tradition, which I well remember horrifying my best friend's parents when they visited this country in 1938. Children ring doorbells of neighbors and complete strangers, calling out "Trick or Treat!". The idea is that you "buy off" the potential tricksters, by handing out goodies, usually candy. It is rare indeed to hear of anyone actually being "tricked", although I have heard of examples of air being let out of tires, of white wash being brushed onto windows, and of quantities of toilet paper being spread on bushes, trees, or anywhere else where it will take some time to clean up the mess.

One problem when our daylight saving time begins or ends on a different date from that used in most parts of the world is the havoc it plays with airlines schedules. There are parts of the US where (because of state boundaries and other considerations) daylight saving time differs from the expected pattern of being guided by time zones. When last I checked this out, the state of Arizona ignored daylight saving time altogether.

Typically, farmers - especially dairy farmers - dislike setting clocks back or forward. Cows can hardly be expected to understand why the milking routine has to be changed twice a year.

Anyone old enough to remember what is was like during WW II in the UK will remember that we had Summertime in the winter, and "double Summertime" in the Summer. All in the name of saving energy and reducing the hazards of driving without normal headlights.

Yes, we sure know how to mess things up when we con everyone to get up an hour early - but for the most part, it does work.

Monday, October 26, 2009

How to Trash a Successful Brand

In 1957, when my late first-wife (Lola) and I first reached California, we stayed with an old friend of hers from Liverpool, at that time married to a Canadian-born Phd (in psychology). I really admired their skill in running a counseling practice, known as The Learning Center, in a clever way. Most of their clients were the parents of children suffering from dyslexia. A non-profit operation, with it's own Board, encouraged tax-deductible donations from the wealthier clients. The non-profit employed the psychologist and his wife, who was the business manager. In parallel with this, a more conventional counseling practice charged relatively modest fees. The non-profit furnished the psychologist with an appropriate automobile, and so forth.

I was reminded of this example of American ingenuity when I learned that the Boston-based Elder Hostel organization, also a non-profit, had some relationship (I don't know the details) with two travel organizations, headquartered in the same city. The very successful Elder Hostel program presumably furnished the travel businesses with a mailing list for their own commercial offerings.

Barbara and I returned on Friday from what had originally been advertised as an Elder Hostel trip. We were surprised to find that Elder Hostel has changed it's name to "Exploritas" (ugh). The director of our program explained that the Elder Hostel folk were finding that as the Boomer generation reached the age of elgibility for Elder Hostel, they were not joining in the program with the numbers desired.

The Elder Hostel folk employed a consultancy firm, which held focus groups, etc. The upshot was that Elder Hostel changed it's name to "Exploritas", to avoid any reference to aging. At the same time, age restrictions were eliminated.

We have now attended three Elder Hostels: the first held at Apalachian State College in Boone, NC; the second at Sienna, in Tuscany; and the most recent one, in the Monterey area of California.

Elder Hostel attracts folk of retirement age, or approaching that. My guess is that far more women than men attend these programs, based on my limited observation. The programs are described as "Lifelong learning" and typically contain a blend of three or more unrelated topics. Our "magical Monterey" program combined biographical information on John Steinbeck and Jack London; with the music of Scott Joplin, the Ragtime pioneer; with the natural history of the region; a tour of the seventeen mile drive and other attractive points in the area; and winetasting, with the fine products of what is now the Carmel Valley appellation. We had three couples, and a dozen women, including widows and single women. The majority of those present were past or present school teachers or otherwise involved in education. I think we all felt that we were getting good value for our money, and cheerfully put up with the dormitory-style accomodations. Our food was quite adequate and varied.

No one there liked the change of name and the opening to younger participants.

I could have accepted a new name, such as "Senior Adventurers", but we didn't get to vote.

The website tells us that it has nearly 8000 educational tours in all 50 states and more than 90 countries. Participants are asked to pay by check, to help the organization avoid "more than $2,000,000 annually on credit card fees".

The people behind the program are professionals, and presumably know what they're doing, but I am left remembering the old saying "if it ain't busted, don't fix it".

Monday, October 19, 2009


I love music, or rather I love some music. I like almost all classical music, especially Baroque. I learned to love swing music and jazz in my early teens. I enjoy most folk music, and the protest songs of the sixties. Readers who know me will not be surprised to learn that I actively dislike heavy metal, rap, hip-hop, although I can tolerate "soft rock".
I never had any talent as a performer. The fine music teacher at my prep school, dispaired of my ability on the piano, and only once yielded to my entreaties to be allowed to learn to play the organ. I couldn't even play the recorder with any ability. I used to quip that the only instrument I played was what Brits call "a gramophone", and on this side of the Pond we term "a phonograph."
I have always admired skilled musicians. At that same prep school, one of our students was George Hurst, who became a successful orchestra conductor while still in his twenties. Another friend was Christopher Raeburn, who parlayed a deep appreciation of Mozart into becoming the renowned producer of musical recordings for DECCA, until his death about a year ago. I am lucky enough to have two sons who sing very well, primarily in church choirs, but in the case of the elder, in opera and in symphonic music.
Nowadays, I have become, with Barbara's support and encouragement, a supporter of the San Francisco Early Music Society and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, among others. I have learned to share her love of the works of Mahler.
As some of you will know, my stepdaughter, Laurie Lewis, has for many years been a star in the world of bluegrass, although she enjoys a unique blend of folk music and even some "pop". Laurie is a perennial star at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, the hugely popular annual 3-day program, held at several stages in Golden Gate Park. This is a wonderful gift to the city of San Francisco from the billionaire financier, Warren Hellman, who has become a good friend of Laurie's.
I had met Warren briefly at a San Francisco Foundation function, and Laurie had once introduced me to him. On one of the occasions when I attended Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, I was walking alone on a path someway behind the stage where music was being played. Coming towards me were two men, one of whom I recognized as Warren Hellman. As he approached, I blurted out "Oh, Warren, I didn't expect to see you here". What I really meant was that I hadn't expected to run into him like that.
Warren's response, before he moved on, was a perfect squelch:
"Well, I don't know why not. After all, it is my party"

Monday, October 12, 2009

Confessions of a Wuss

I did not know this word until a dear friend, long since removed from her Texas childhood, laughed at my moderation and said "Nigel, you're such a wuss". British readers of this are probably unfamilair with the term, but it is appropriately used on someone unwilling to take a firm position on an issue.

Being "slow to anger" is part of my culture. I was brought up to avoid whining, to keep calm, and listen to others. One of my favorite sayings is "make small alterations in plenty of time". This dates back to my naval days, when I was at the wheel of a war ship (Not normally the responsibility of even a junior officer) and the ship's captain told me to look astern, to see the squiggly wake I had left. I don't find it easy to change course - or my opinions - quickly or easily. This is not stubborness, but (I guess) an innate conservatism. I tend to support the "establishment" position. I am, by nature, a centrist - leaning slightly left. This certainly applies to politics, as well as other aspects of my self image.

I supported the farm workers when they had a strike against the growers in California's Central Valley, I even spent a day marching with them along highway 99 in the Central Valley. I also was glad to drive down to Delano, to present a check from my parish to Cesar Chavez in person. (In those days when we recorded events on colored slides there was a great picture of me shaking hands with Cesar Chavez, but I have been unable to find it for more than forty years.)

I was talking to some friends at church soon after that time, and announced that I wasn't really a radical. Our curate remarked "Nigel, no one would ever accuse you of being a radical". I knew he was right. In my self-esteem, I am proud of being an island of stability in a chaotic world. The other side of the coin, is that I really am a bit of a wuss.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

On Bath

When I lived in England over fifty years ago, showers were rare in private homes. The nearest equivilent was the hand-held shower, attached to a faucet. During WW II, we were urged to limit the level of water in our baths to five inches. In some places, lines were actually painted inside the tub to help find the right level. In the coalition government, the socialist Home Secretary (Herbert Morrison) was jeered at for suggesting that the daily baFont sizeth was "a middleclass habit". My own mother was among the many folk who would not have felt that the day had begun properly without their morning bath.

Prep schools in the UK are preparatory for those entering the so-called "public schools" which are infact expensive private institutions. We did not have showers, but we were limited to one or two baths a week. In the colder months, when we played soccer or "rugger" (rugby football) , we were expected to sit on a tile-covered bench and take a foot bath in a specially-designed container, which at least made use of warm water.

Things were different when I moved to the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, at the age of 13. Each dormitory contained a large communal bath, equipped with showers. I soon became used to starting the day with a brisk cold shower. There were also baths, and Naval Cadets were limited to one a week, although those who performed menial tasks for the Cadet Captains were allowed to take another bath, as a reward for their work. By this time, I had learned to enjoy a hot bath, and it was often possible to have a "second bath", meaning that there was no prohibition of making re-use of someone else's legitimate bath water.

Many of you will be accustomed to the "navy shower", inwhich one first soaks one's self and then turns off the shower, then one soaps themself, scrubs, and then uses another brief shower to rinse off. This was not strictly enforced for naval officers, but we all learned to be economical with water, as every sea going vessel can only carry a limited volume of water to be shared by all aboard. This can be supplemented by the desalinization of sea water, but this can only produce a limited quantity of fresh water.

On coming to the United States, I soon abandoned the bathtub for the ubiquitous shower. I can't remember when I last had a traditional bath - probably on a visit to the UK over thirty years ago.

My dear wife, Barbara, tells this story on herself from sometime before we were married in 1970. A friend offered to show her around the city of Bath, which he pronounced "Barth". When their train drew into the station, she saw the sign which read "Bath". She responded "Bath? Oh, I see, Barth!".