Tag Archives: Holidays

Fourth of July!!!!

american flag photo: American Flag american-flag.jpgUnless you’re getting damned old like me you may not remember, but once long ago (1973 it was, to be exact) Independence Day was included in the Monday lineup of Federal Holidays. That lasted only a few years, because dammitall, we call it “4th of July!” and that’s that. But this post is actually about ageing.

On 4th of July back in my days when I lived in Bowling Green, Ohio, my friends and I had an annual tradition of taking LSD and going to the park to sit as close to the fireworks as they’d let us. I don’t know if you’ve ever done that, but, honestly, you probably ought to. It’s awesome! But I digress. My point is that, a mere fifteen years later, my tolerance for recreational drugs had deteriorated rather shockingly.

When I was about 40 years old I was at a hot springs resort in the Sangre de Christo Mountains of Southern Colorado. I hadn’t used any sort of illegal drug in, well, just about fifteen years, but in the evening, in a common room, somebody rolled a joint and passed it. Old habits kicked in and I took a hit and passed it on. Ten minutes later I actually made it to my bed before passing out. From Acid Freak to Narcoleptic in only a decade and a half. Sheesh!

I know that I’m probably better off. And, if you’re thinking of turning me in, go ahead, all of my drug use was too long ago to prosecute, and not in the jurisdiction where I live anyway. But my ageing, well, it’s progressing quite nicely, thank you.

I can’t tell you my best “getting older” stories because they’re a bit raunchy, but they illustrate just the sort of physical deterioration shown by my drug tale. But, for all of that, I would never go back! In more ways than I can count, it’s better to be old than it is to be young! Not least of which is that I truly can do whatever I want, pretty much, and nobody says anything about it.

Getting back to the title theme of this post, there was something we used to shout every year on Independence Day. Given Mr. Adams’ prescription on how to celebrate the occasion (which we follow to this day) it seems appropriate. Ready? Here it is:

4th of July!!!

4th of July!!!

4th of July!!!

Monday holiday my left foot!

Holidays and Holy Daze

The big holiday season is here, and this year it seems even odder than usual. For one thing, of course, there is the very rare convergence of Thanksgiving and Chanukah, which is sort of cool even though I’m not Jewish. I’m not Christian, either, though, but I like Christmas, so I’ll just point out for my Jewish friends that good turkey stuffing contains some bitter herbs, if you get my drift. Talk about a combo made in Yid heaven, huh? But the other unusual thing about Thanksgiving is that it is almost at the very end of November. It’s the 28th, which is only three days from the last of the month. In fact, it can not get any later, because if it tried it would be the fifth Thursday, and that doesn’t work. This has led some to suggest that Thanksgiving be permanently moved to, say, the third Thursday, so that Black Friday could be gotten underway in a more timely fashion. Uh, yeah. What’s Thanksgiving for again? Something about being grateful for what you have? Y’know, a gift given with love is a great gift, even if it isn’t what you first had in mind, and even if you didn’t go out on a frosty Thanksgiving evening to buy it by braving a crowd of determined shoppers. Geez, guys, give it a rest, will you? I live in a 24/7 town, and I would never tell anyone when they could or couldn’t sell anything, but I do wonder if those frantic shoppers have any idea why we have Thanksgiving in the first place. It’s not like we need an excuse to be gluttons, is it?

On Saturday comes the “official” start of the Christmas season, when every small town Santa will be putting on the red suit and schlepping down main street saying hello to the kids. This is an excellent thing, so far as I can tell. I think it’s great to have a season of being generous and forgiving, of parties and presents and of good cheer. The Romans thought so, too, which is why they celebrated Saturnalia over the solstice, in ways not all that different from the way we celebrate Christmas. In fact Jesus’s birthday is in the Spring sometime, but the Mass celebrating that birth was moved to coincide with Saturnalia in order to draw people away from Pagan gods. Like Saturn for example. December 25th was Mitra’s day, Mithra being a sun god that some Romans worshipped. It didn’t hurt Mithra that his day came in the middle of Saturnalia, and it hasn’t hurt Jesus any either. But as to Jesus being the reason we celebrate this time of year, well, no, it isn’t, but nice try. The fact that being generous and forgiving meshes well with “what Jesus would do” is a real bonus, though, I’ll give you that. As far as celebrating Jesus’s birthday goes, there’s no reason for a Christian not to, but one might be aware that everyone, even I, was born. That’s no big deal. Maybe there’s some other holiday you should be more concerned about? Uh, sure, maybe, right?

Personally, I’d prefer that stores start plugging Christmas maybe Thanksgiving week and no earlier. I’d also prefer that people keep in mind that there are a lot of holidays this time of year (even my Pagan friends celebrate Solstice or Yule) and that most of them urge people to be loving, generous and forgiving. Nobody is against you because they don’t call out your special holiday; zero clerks give a Pagan a “good Yule.”  For that matter, I’ve never heard a single “Good Kwanzaa, although my not being black might have something to do with that. This is a great time of year to let go of ourselves to the extent that we accept each other’s foibles and silly religious stories (any one you don’t believe in is silly, isn’t it?) Doing so won’t kill us, but it would make the holidays a lot easier to get through, don’t you think?

Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, Ho Saturnalia, Good Mithra’s Day, Good Yule, Good Kwanzaa, and last but not least, Happy New Year 2014!

That oughta cover it.

Christmas in the Old Country?

I was struck this morning by the national weather map. Luckily it only glanced off of my shoulder, but boy, that was close.

I mean, that I was struck by the snow cover this Christmas, which is extensive across the United States. It even stretches to the higher elevations in Clark County Nevada, and right up to the county line to the north, where Lincoln County is a winter wonderland, or so they say. (They have a steam train they call the “Polar Express” this time of year.)

The exception, and this reminds me of several years when I was growing up, is the little area of southern great lakes, or eastern middle west, whichever way you want to look at it, where I grew up. Yep, ol’ Tiffin will have a couple of chilly and cloudy days, followed by a bit of rain on Christmas. Once I spent Christmas Eve night up in the attic because we had a house full. I was lulled to sleep by the pitter patter of raindrops on the roof. Ah, yes!

So, for those of you living back in Seneca County and the surrounding area, I guess it’s Christmas in the Rain all over again this year. If you can, send the rain my way. The odds are way against a white Christmas anyway, and we could really use the water!

Steve

In Summary, England

There are two distinct Englands. One is seen on the left below. That photo was taken in a bird sanctuary in East Anglia right next to the North Sea. On the right is Tower Bridge in London. (London Bridge, the scenic one, is in Arizona.)


In between the two extremes are many towns and cities such as Nottingham, Leicester, Stratford and hundreds more that make up the England in which most English people live and work.

I learned some things about England which I did not know. I knew, for example, that England went Metric a long time ago. I’d never driven in England, though, and thought that only beer was still availble in the old measures (pints, to be exact.) In fact, the highways are signed in miles and yards, and the speedometer on the car I rented was exactly like an American one, with the Kilometers in little numbers inside of the list of “real” speeds in miles per hour. Petrol (gasoline) is sold by the litre (liter) though, at just over a pound per litre. Since a Pound generally buys the same thing a dollar will buy in America, gas isn’t all that god awful more expensive than it is in Nevada, maybe 25 percent or so more, which is less of a difference than I’d been expecting. Of course, right now the dollar isn’t worth what it ought to be, so pounds are expensive for an American to buy. On the other hand, if you have pounds and want to visit America, I can tell you that you’ll find it remarkably cheap. Come to Vegas, because everybody loves Las Vegas, and I’m not kidding. You’ll have a good time. We even have some roundabouts, if you’re feeling homesick. Also our petrol is cheaper.

You might think I enjoyed my stay in Britain, and you’d be right. It felt homey, in a good way, and the people were very friendly and tolerant of my American ways. One man even thanked me for bailing them out in World War Two, as if I’d had anything to do with it. Well, officially then, you are all very welcome, by British friends. Think nothing of it. Think of me the next time you’re in Boots buying batteries. Finally, in gratitude for being shown a great deal of hospitality, here’s something distinctly British, and even red, white and blue:

Warwick

Warwick was known as “The Kingmaker” because he pretty much was able to put whomever he wanted on the throne back in the day. For a while at least. Oddly, he straddled the fence during the War of the Roses, and you see where that got him. He had one daughter marry a York, and one a Lancaster. No dummy, he. He built a castle, which is now open to the public for a fee. A lot of English nobility lets the public tour the place for a fee. Got to pay the rent somehow.

Warwick has several attractions. There was a recreated Victorian holiday party in one section, a sound and light show about preparing to unseat a king Warwick didn’t like (Warwick lost) in another; something that was attractive enough to have a long line which we didn’t stand in as it was raining furiously, and at the time we were there a Victorian Steam Carnival. The calliope played Christmas tunes, including John Lennon’s Christmas Song. I think Mr. Lennon would have been amused.

But on with the show. Here is a view of Warwick castle form outside the front portcullis. Like all Medieval castles, this one used no glass in the windows. It has narrow slits in places for archers to shoot out of. It seems like it would have been rather drafty and damp, but I imagine that in its time it was quite the luxurious retreat for old Warwick.
Among other things, no castle of this type would be complete without things called garderobes. Without me writing exactly what a garderobe was for, can you figure it out by looking at this picture of a handsome man sitting upon one?
There was a furious cold damp draft coming out of that thing, I can tell you. Okay, a garderobe, generically, was a private chamber. Quite private. And that cold draft would be a real issue for most of us.

The place was a good one to tour. The medieval portions were fascinating, and the Victorian party was as well. Apparently Winston Churchill was a frequent guest before he went into politics (and one assumes after) as were a number of prominent citizens of the late nineteenth century. It was pretty elegant, as witness this festive meal laid out in the old great hall.

There are castles all over the country that one can tour. This is rated as one of the better tours, and I can see why. We also rode a Victorian racing horse carousel, which must have been one heck of a thrill in the eighteen-ninties.

Oddities

England, like every land, has some things that to someone not from that land seem rather odd, to say the least. Let’s look at a few.

The title link, should you care to click it, will take you to a site where you can study up on the meanings of British road signs. I had to interpret those signs to drive around, and I commend it to any American wanting to see how divided our two countries are by our common language. Some linguistic bits:

Do you know what a crawler lane is?

What does a sign to ‘Give Way’ look like?
And, of course, how do you interpret this?
Humped Zebras? What the heck? Can you figure it out? Believe it or not, this is a pretty straightforward sign, if you know English. I learned some English while I was in England. For instance, crawler lane is not a suburban street. If you want to know what it is, then use that Internet you’re connected to. I will say that you’ve no doubt seen a few.

That, of course, is not the only odd road sign we saw. For example, from just outside a village on the way to the races at Towcester comes this one:

No problem knowing what that means. We could have the same sign in, oh Wisconsin for example, and nobody would have trouble with it. The thing is, even in Wisconsin, I don’t think that enough badgers cross the highway to merit a special warning sign. Those English badgers must be a tough bunch, I guess.
An English superstition revolves around the Ravens at the Tower of London. A Raven, if you don’t know, is a crow old enough to develop a large body and an attitude to match. I’m not kidding, a raven really is a crow. These particular ravens are said to be good omens for the Tower, and it is said that so long as they remain in the Tower England shall not fall. They were there, I’m sure, during the Battle of Britain during World War Two. Here’s one taking a break from chowing down on some small animal it had caught.
The oddest thing about England, though, is that other than sitting to the right while driving, and driving left, and things like the ones on this post, it’s pretty much dead-on normal to an American. Some of the chain stores have different names, like the grocery chain Tesco, but Tesco has an outlet in Las Vegas now, so that’s not even odd any more. And some of them have names like McDonalds, or even Woolworths as in Stratford. I really got the idea that America is the child of England, and no doubt about it.
I promised something about roundabouts. In Washington DC they call them Traffic Circles. Dupont Circle is one. In England, and the Western US, they call them roundabouts. Picadilly Circus is one. Not one you’d care to drive through, probably, but it is a roundabout. A roundabout is a circular road instead of an intersection, which can have two, three, four, five, even more roads or steets connecting to its circumference. The signage is inconsistent in the Midlands, and all that turning literally made my arms and shoulders tired. In some neighborhoods in Littleton Colorado they are putting in roundabouts to slow the traffic (and they do work for that.) In the part of Las Vegas founded by Howard Hughes, called Summerlin, they use them as intersections (junctions to a Brit.) For the record, I hate ’em.

Shakespeare

Well, if you’ve ever visited here in the past, you know that I write. Well, heck, I’m writing as I write this, aren’t I? Confusing language usage aside, Tami and I both wanted to pay homage to the greatest writer in the history of the English language. Shakespeare was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Avon is the river that runs through the town. It’s a quaint town, and was also decorated for Christmas. But England is crawling with quaint towns. There is only one birthplace of Shakespeare, and here it is:

Yes, that is just a house on a street. It’s tempting to think of it as a modern “fake Tudor” building, but it’s actually plain old Tudor. Henry VIII was king when the place was built. William’s father was John Shakespeare, who bought the property after marrying into an influential family. Young Will must have had a pretty good childhood, growing up in a nice house right on the High Street. Some of the other buildings are also from the same period, so it’s easy to imagine young Will getting a taste for adventure while messing about the town. He got in trouble once, for making a muck pile in the street. Muck is horse manure in this case. Kids, huh? The place was a B&B; (Inn) for a while, but it’s been a tourist attraction for centuries. Mark Twain paid a visit, so I feel that I’m in good company.

Shakespeare himself owned the house after his father died. He was a man of some means, and a deacon of the church. Which is why you’ll find his grave inside Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. Here’s a picture:

You can see a picture of the insription that you can read here. For the record, in case you have trouble with the plaque, the inscription reads as follows:

Good Friend, for Jesus’ sake forbear
To dig the dust enclosed here:
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.

I doubt not that, my having paid homage, my writing will never again fail to inspire and entertain.

And, just because I can include it, here’s a picture of the street on which Will Shakespeare grew up as it appears today:

Stratford is still a real, living town, with the usual things you’d find there, overlaid, of course, with a thick layer of tourist trap shops and facilities.

Oh, and very few roundabouts. Nice, that.

Nottingham

If you haven’t heard of Nottingham, I wonder where you’ve been living. Maybe you’re not English or a cultural descendant of someone who was, but anyone in America or the Commonwealth, not to mention the UK, knows Nottingham is where Robin Hood kept rescuing Maid Marian from the vile Sheriff of Nottingham. Well, long story short, we had to go see that place, right? So here’s the scoop.

First, there’s Robin himself, in bronze form, right behind Tami and myself. The wall behind him is a part of Nottingham Castle, which has nothing whatever to do with the famous outlaw. Robin Hood, for those who don’t know, is said to have robbed from the rich and given to the poor. They say the same about Pretty Boy Floyd of Oklahoma. Floyd was real (but not a nice man). Robin Hood, according to information available in his home town, probably is mostly fictional. Robin Hood was a common name for an outlaw, although there was a man named Robert (Robin) famously working the territory at the time the story supposedly took place.

Here’s a real part of Nottingham that’s pretty cool. This picture, with the handsome me in foreground, is of the Old Trip to Jerusalem Inn, which, if you’ll look at the large picture you’ll see is the oldest Inn in England. Founded in 1189. It’s built into the side of the hill under the castle. The food was good. Best fish and chips I’ve ever had, in fact. Try it when you’re in Nottingham.

Here’s a view inside. They burn coal in the grate which you can see behind me in the photo. There are several rooms, including one upstairs which appears to have been a part of the place when it opened. I’m pretty sure, though, that the crusaders on their way out didn’t dine on fish and chips and hard cider like I did.

A Day at the Races

At Towcester racecourse. That’s pronounced either the same as “toaster” or as “cow-stir” with a ‘t’ depending on exactly who you are talking to. The ‘cester’ part of the name means that this was once a Roman town. In fact it was then known as Lactodorum, and was, according to the Towcester Town Council, a “major staging post on the strategic road from London to Chester.” The original name means, according to Wikipedia, “Dairyman’s Fort”, which sounds right so far as I know Latin. But, we didn’t go to for a Latin lesson. We went for the racing.

Tami and I are big Dick Francis fans. (He said in the paper that he’s still alive, by the way.) He writes stories that in one way or another involve jump racing, steeplechase and hurdles. It is impossible to see an actual horse race of any sort live in Southern Nevada, so we were glad to be able to go to an actual English race. Twelve pounds admission on Boxing Day and Easter, free otherwise. We paid the twelve pounds.

Here is one of the grandstands, of which there are two. Between the two the bookies set up for business. Not Vegas bookies in a cushy room in some Casino, but actual bookmakers plying their trade in the field next to the racecourse.
Here’s a picture of one of them. I don’t think she’s named Gus. Must work for him I suppose. Anyway, these folks change the odds as they go along, and you won’t necessarily get the same odds or minimum bet from any two of them. For the big Boxing day race there were about twenty of them present. Of course, you can bet in the Parimutual way too, inside at the Tote, which is a country-wide betting system. We lost on the Tote, but did well enough on the bookies (we were picking “places”, or second and third place finishers, rather than winners) to be slightly ahead at the end of the day. Hey, I live in Vegas: slightly ahead is a great day at the track!

And I got a couple of really amazing photographs of races in progress. Witness the following:

That’s not retouched. I was right there at the rail. What a fun day it was compared to the flat races I’ve been to in the past.

London

We were in London the first night, as I said before. We, and by we I mean I, drove into the city, which was probably a stupid idea. Not only do they give you incredibly expensive parking tickets there, I was unused to driving from the right side of the car. Everyone assumes that driving to the left is a problem, but that’s easy. Show me a lane and I’ll drive in it. Heck, on the freeways I’m in the left lane a lot anyway. But sitting on the right side of the car makes it look like all of the oncoming traffic is about to run into you. Not pleasant when you’re tired anyway. And then there’s the roundabouts, but more about them later.

The photograph this time is of Harrods, the famous department store, as it was decorated this season for the holidays. It may be famous, but inside, it’s a department store. That’s not a bad thing, but frankly it ain’t worth going to London to see. It was pretty on the outside though, and we had a good meal at a pub overlooking the high street in Kensington, at Knightsbridge. No word on where that bridge went or whether only knights got to use it.

Later in the trip we went back, by train. The trains go about 180 miles per hour, which is quite impressive. You can buy a ticket at Stevenage, and maybe other places, that lets you go to London and return, and ride the subway and busses all you want on that day. A fine deal for a tourist. Here is a picture from that trip to town, of some big old clock they seem pretty fond of. Big Ben, to be exact. The first time I was in London I never heard it chime as they were repairing it. This time I never heard it chime either. I have no idea why not. Nice clock tower, though, isn’t it? We also took in the National Gallery, saw Westminster Abbey, and best of all from a tourist point of view, we visited the Tower of London. The place was started by William the First not long after 1066. Here are two pictures:

This is the White Tower, which is the one started by Bill the First. It was a home for kings for a long time, but by the time you may be familiar with, like Henry VIII, it was a good place to avoid as most who went in didn’t come out alive. An amazing place to tour.

And finally here is a bit of the old city wall of Londinium. It was put up shortly after the Romans arrived, a couple of thousand years ago.

Next time: off to the races!