Monday, December 26, 2011

"Centering around"

Does anyone else share my distaste for this phrase? It seems contradictory. One can center "on" something. One can place items "around" things, and people can gather "around". But how can one "center around"? Enough of that short rant.


This will be posted on "Boxing Day". (I apologize for the delay in a recent posting, but normally we post on Monday, so that the blog is available on Tuesday mornings in all the time zones in which my readers reside.) In the UK, Boxing Day is a recognized holiday--not in the US. Because Christmas fell on a Sunday this year, December 26 will be a Public Holiday here. My calendar notes "Christmas Observed", which isn't exactly how I would state it.

Traditionally, December 26 was the day when wealthier Brits would give their Christmas "boxes" to their servants and to the tradesmen and public servants who delivered goods, newspapers, and mail to their homes. When I was an employer in my insurance brokerage business, I handed out bonuses earlier, so that everyone had some money enough to go shopping for gifts and goodies before the holiday. These days, the letter carrier and the paper deliverer, the house cleaner, and our two wonderful assistants are the main recipients.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


A few years ago, hurrying to make a connection at Dulles Airport, I was struggling with a heavy carry-on, and I keeled over. I was soon up and on my way, but I felt weak and humiliated. A year or two later, I rebelled at Barbara's suggestion that perhaps I should take advantage of a wheelchair. Who, me? I was only 80. Sure, I can't walk as well as I used to do, but I'm otherwise healthy...

I began by just using a cane, but sometimes it's a long walk, and I began to need an arm, and it was hard to manipulate a "wheelie", and walk the long distances to be found at many airports.

Now, I don't own a wheelchair: not much use in the Berkeley hills. I do have a "walker", which I reluctantly use on level ground. But it wasn't easy to realize that it was as much for Barbara's sake as my own that I should stop relying on her arm and a cane, but should ask for a wheelchair at airports.

I do that now, and I have learned that there are compensations. Mostly we fly on Southwest, and we are both "pre-boarded", so we can choose seats in the second row. I take the aisle, and she takes the window. With luck, there's a vacant seat between us. We have met many interesting immigrants who push my wheelchair, and they are always grateful for the tip we give them. .

I have found flight attendants uniformly friendly, courteous, and helpful. Yes, having learned to accept my disability, I find air travel not that bad--although I do miss the "good old days" when I could check in a few minutes before take-off without having to go through "security".

Monday, December 12, 2011


Growing up in England, I always associated poppies with November 11, Armistice Day. When I was about 3, WWI had ended just a dozen years earlier, still much within the memories of all adults. On Armistice Day, one was expected to contribute to the British Legion in exchange for a red poppy. The larger the poppy, the more one gave. I recall we also contributed for a poppy to display on each of our cars. We were told that red poppies were features of the Flanders fields on which so many of our countrymen had fallen, during what we called the Great War.

The British have moved the commemoration to an adjacent Sunday, which is called "Remembrance Sunday". I am told that Armistice Day is still observed, but that the emphasis now falls on the Sunday.

Whereas the Flanders poppies are an attractive shade of red, our State Flower in California is the golden poppy. In many areas, these grow profusely, but an early lesson for me was that there is a state law against picking those beautiful poppies..

We think positively about those red and golden poppies, but there is another poppy which usually elicits a negative reaction: the opium poppy. I had often read about fruitless attempts to eradicate this important cash crop, and so I always had a very negative feeling about opium poppies. Recently, a good friend told me about the time (towards the end of the 19th century) in which the attitude towards opium was far more benign. A lot of paraphernalia is needed for opium smokers, and in its heyday this drug had many admirers, who became collectors of expensive equipment used by opium smokers. I was told that, although opium can be addictive, and those who abuse the drug often become very "lazy", for most smokers the effect is not harmful or lasting. They become very relaxed and carefree. My informant told me that it was commonplace for friends to share a pipe after a dinner party, much as smoking a cigar (after the ladies had left the dining room) was normal, during the years when I was growing up.

I seldom see poppies now: the opium poppy is illegal, I mustn't pick the golden poppy, and there aren't many red poppies around my home.

Monday, December 5, 2011


It has been many years since I have attended my last pantomime, a form of entertainment primarily enjoyed by the British. My experiences are mainly from London in the years before WWII, but the peculiar art form of the pantomime continued to flourish 50 years ago, and probably still does. Other major cities, such as Birmingham and Manchester, have their own productions.

Pantomimes have names that are familiar to most British children, usually relating to fairy stories or legends. Some examples are: Dick Whitington and His Cat; Puss in Boots; Little Red Riding Hood; Sleeping Beauty; and Beauty and the Beast.

There are certain additions to this entertainment. It is primarily designed to attract families with young children, and performances begin in December, lasting into at least early January, when many school children are on holiday.

The plot is usually very loosely based on the traditional story. Almost always there is a Principal Boy, (played by an attractive young woman in tights), and a Principal Girl, usually wearing a pretty dress. There is usually a Dame, played by an older man. There may be a horse (played by two men as "front legs" and "hind legs").

The Dame is usually played by a famous comedian; in some instances, a pair of comedians appear.

The show is designed to make use of popular songs. Any relationship to the plot is strictly coincidental.

A typical ending will bring the Principal Boy and Principal Girl together, perhaps singing a duet.

The humor (especially as introduced by the Dame) if often broad, but never quite obscene. The young people I knew usually tired of the "treat" of attending a pantomime after puberty. However, I did have one more experience of a pantomime. I was living and working in London after graduating from Oxford. Almost every week my best friend (Perry Calwell), also a graduate of Oxford, and I would visit a "settlement house". These were establishments to be found in the poorer quarters of a city, largely used by young people as a place to gather and entertain themselves. A few staff members, typically young university graduates, lived on the premises, while working at jobs in central London, a short bus ride or tube journey from the settlement house.

Perry and I, with support from the staff, decided to write and perform a pantomime one year. We soon faced the problem that one could never count on the appearance of cast members at our weekly rehearsals. Perry and I spent a lot of time and many evenings working on this project, despite our frustrations. We convinced ourselves that our efforts were worthwhile, as they did serve to keep a good many teenagers "out of trouble".

We did eventually put on a performance, which (despite it's major shortcomings) was very successful. At the end, Perry and I agreed that this was the last time we would try to put on a pantomime. I have not attended one since.