Tuesday, February 28, 2012


No, I don't mean the gentlemen jewel thief created by E. W. Hornung, the brother-in-law of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Nor am I referring to the historic Raffles Hotel in Singapore, which I once had the pleasure of visiting, and enjoying the famous rum-based Singapore Sling, invented there almost 100 years ago.

Instead, I want to talk about raffles as a fundraising device. I don't like these, partly on principle, although I have often cheerfully contributed to a neighborhood child's plea to support his school library or sports team.

I have always felt that gambling against the House is a mug's game. I very seldom make any kind of a monetary bet, although I have no objection to the concept of an even-chance bet with a friend. Accordingly, my pockets were not emptied recently when a couple of muffed punts kept the San Francisco 49ers out of the 2012 Superbowl.

Every year, the local PBS station (KQED) sends out a request for me to enter a raffle. It is illegal for the organizers to make the purchase of a ticket a condition of entry, so it is always stated in the fine print on the back page that you do not need to make a contribution to collect one of over a hundred prizes. For the price of a postage stamp, one can return all the numbers randomly assigned. I usually do this. (Barbara and I prefer to support the public television stations in our area (and near our Colorado "second home") with a tax-deductible donation.)

The return envelope has boxes at the back: one puts words on paper, telling How Cheerful the sender feels about contributing to KQED. The other box, in a smaller font, asks for a check if one is "not making a contribution at this time."

All the mailing is artfully designed to make the entrant suspicious that no prize will actually be awarded, unless a contribution is made. I trust that this is not true, but certainly I have never seen any publicity for a lucky winner who was "too cheap" to donate.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sex and Gender

Recently, the ACLU sent me a copy of the complete US Constitution, with all the amendments. I was glancing idly through this booklet, when I noticed the language of Amendment XIX. The first of two paragraphs reads as follows "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

I was reminded of the first time that I attended the Episcopal Church's General Convention, as an alternate deputy from the Diocese of California. Some speaker used the term "gender", meaning "sex". A woman deputy who came from Seal Harbor, Maine - named Charity Waymouth, got up to protest the use of the word "gender". "That is a grammatical term", she said, and urged us to use the correct word in the future.

I thought of Charity's vain efforts, because now 30 years later, it is rare to hear the term "sex" used, except with respect to the sexual activity of persons or animals. I think this is a pity, and I always try to use these two important words (sex and gender) correctly.

At least, the mealy-mouthed killjoys didn't manage to amend the title of a certain TV program. I doubt that "Gender and the City" would have had much success...

Monday, February 13, 2012

Trains - Part Two

Due to my error, we posted Part 3 before Part 2, so this is chronologically misplaced.

In the thirties, British mainline trains had been consolidated into four separate private companies: LMS (London, Midland & Scottish), LNER (London & North-Eastern), GWR (Great Western), and SR (Southern). Our convenient stations were on the SR, which had been electrified. This was convenient for fast trips to London's Victoria Station and the West End, but for me, familiarity bred contempt for this rather "boring" line.

My favorite was the GWR, which still used powerful steam engines. I enjoyed doing jigsaw puzzles, featuring the "Castle" and "King" classes of locomotive. I enjoyed the history of the company, headed in early days by the famous engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. I mourned the passing (many years earlier) of the "Broad Gauge" tracks, which allowed passenger trains to offer a more comfortable ride than the "Narrow Gauge" lines; I felt that it was tragic that the GWR eventually had to convert to Narrow Gauge to conform to the majority choice.

Early in 1936, I was recovering from 'flu shortly before my 9th birthday, and I couldn't return to my boarding school during convalescence. I'll never know if my father had to "pull strings" but, to celebrate my birthday, my mother drove me to the GWR Works at Swindon, not normally open to visitors, and we were given a personally conducted tour. Not until many years later did I learn that I had been shown around by the General Manager, as if I were a young prince of the royal blood!

The LMS was probably the biggest and most profitable line, as it served the cities of Birmingham, Liverpool, and Manchester. as well as Scotland. There was a rivalry between the two northbound companies. The LNER's "Flying Scotsman" was matched by the LMS "Flying Scot". In 1936 came the "Coronation" (LNER) and the "Coronation Scot" (LMS), to celebrate the new reign of King George VI.. In London, the main LMS station was Euston, but also St. Pancras was an LMS terminus. In those days, no trains ran through London from North to South (or vice-versa). LNER used King's Cross for its main line, as well as Liverpool Street and Fenchurch Street, mainly used by commuters.. To this day, (on PBS) the initials "LNER" can be seen on the opening credits of the Poirot programs, which feature a fast steam train moving from left to right.

I'm not certain why I preferred the LNER to the LMS. It was a logical choice, since the LNER took the East Coast route, and was the line to take to reach Hull, Grimsby, and Immingham, the ports which received the imports of most of the timber brought in to the UK for G.H. Renton & Co, which my father controlled. As a small boy, I was probably more affected by the LNER's sleeker, silvery rolling stock, than by any family loyalty. To reach Scotland, one could take the overnight sleeper on either line, and the LNER coach for northern Scotland was at some point joined (probably at Perth) to the LMS train.

In 1938, our family enjoyed a summer seaside vacation at Nairn a few miles east of Inverness. The chauffeur (Frank Coles) drove my father there, while the rest of the family went by train. I was able to persuade my mother to take us on the LNER train north.There was a dining car on the train, and we enjoyed our evening meal there, but the dining car was taken off (also probably at Perth) during the night. To my delight, breakfast trays were brought aboard at Kingussie. It was there that I first enjoyed a "bannock", the Scottish version of a breakfast bread roll. Six years later, I took the same route to join my ship (H.M.S. "Norfolk") at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. I remember looking forward to the breakfast tray at Kingussie, but in 1944 it seemed greasy and unappetizing. Perhaps my tastes had become more discriminating, but I really think that wartime had brought lower standards. Remember, north of Perth, we were in the care of the LMS. I'm glad I can't blame it on the LNER!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Trains, part three

I clearly remember the joy I felt in 1949, soon after I had returned from naval service in the Far East. I was lucky to have spent time in Ceylon, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaya, Sarawak, China, and Japan. Now I would be able to return to the Continent of Europe, off limits since 1939, due to the German occupation.

My elder sister and I, with two friends, took a train from Calais to Paris, where we entered a train that took us to Austria, a wonderful journey. In Zurich, we changed into a train that took us almost all the way to Obergurgl, for our first skiing holiday. (We had to walk the last leg of the journey, while our baggage was brought up by road, but it was all part of a thrilling journey.)

A few years later, I remember the excitement of a train journey to meet my fiancée in Venice, my first visit to that romantic city. Then there was the trip awarded me by business friends on the reconstituted Orient Express. Three memorable train trips in Europe. But for sheer luxury, I have to choose the Blue Train journey Barbara and I made from Pretoria to Cape Town. We also loved the train ride to the Copper Canyon in Mexico.

We still love long distance train travel, although the many journeys we have made on AMTRAK from the Bay Area to Denver lack the luxury of those in Europe or South Africa. In fact, we are scheduled to take the overnight journey again next month. We start at 9:10 one morning, and arrive on the following evening in Colorado. Alas, AMTRAK has to yield to freight trains, so arrival time is not up to Mussolini's standards!