Sunday, June 27, 2010

Who won the bloody war?

You may find both my English and American passports in a Zip-lock bag on a small secluded beach just beyond Rye Playland, beside the neatly folded stack of clothes.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The upper lip re-stiffens.

Okay, after England's performance today, I'm grudgingly willing to resume to mantle of Albion. But what a great -- and well-deserved -- result for the hard-working USA team.

I think I have this whole football thing worked out: England has never invented a sport that the rest of the world hasn't learned to play better; while America has never invented a sport that the rest of the world has learned to play.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

All the news that's fit to print.

Headline from Associated Press:  "Miley Cyrus: I'm really comfortable with my body."

Oh good. I was so worried. (Oy.)
I've been wondering about the suitability of this next one, which has been sitting on my desk for a month. If you still retain any respect for me as a writer and humorist (ha!), stop now: do not read any further. But there's such an irresistible ambiguity, particularly for American readers. Ah, what the heck, I'm 53, go for the funny.

This is from the British Press Association, via the Guardian newspaper. Children and those of a tasteful disposition have been warned. Under the headline "Pensioner imprisoned for having s*x with donkey and horse." (See, I told you.)
A 66-year-old-man was jailed today for having s*x with a horse and a donkey. Joseph Squires was sentenced to a total of 22 months, a Leicester crown court official confirmed today. He previously pleaded guilty to bu**ery of a donkey between 2 February and 5 February 1999, and b*gg*ry with a horse between 15 and 18 March 2004. Squires, of Leicester, also admitted charges of damaging property -- relating to the two animals on the same dates . . .
On the same "dates"? Dates. Was it dinner and a movie first? That would account for the property damage -- it's hard for a donkey to work those tip-up seats in the multiplex. But what movie would you choose to get her in a romantic frame of mind? (Note that I say "her." I'm assuming, of course, that the animals were female -- I'd hate to see this cross the line into something kinky.)

And why so late? I mean, did the donkey suddenly say, "Hey, that guy said he'd call me, and it's been eleven years . . ."

Okay, enough with the filth. But it makes you proud to be British, which is more than can be said for the England football team, who need a collective kick up the a--

No! Must . . . resist . . . lure . . . of  . . . cheap  . . . equine . . . pun . . .

Monday, June 21, 2010

You had me at "toga."

I'm usually far too late with interesting links, etc. But if you're a film buff, here's a link to three and a half minutes that'll gladden your heart, a reminder that movies have words, too. Are you not entertained?

Who needs an Edgar when you get this honor!

No, it's not my character Finsbury the Ferret. It's my character Oliver. Or at least a real beast that was specifically named after him. Courtesy of Diane Plumley and Paul Petrocelli. (Mind you, I named a fictitious London suburb after her.)

Friday, June 18, 2010

I am an American.

Still half-English? Not any more. Not after this evening's pathetic goalless draw against Algeria. Algeria. (Who played very well, incidentally.) From now on, you can call me Al. And I shall be leaving the letter U out of all further utterances. Sorry, ot of all frther tterances.

That hint of leek.

One of my friends (and favorite authors) is the pseudonymous Rhys Bowen, who like me has set stories in Britain (Wales in her case, so I can't say "England"*) that have found their audience on this side of the Atlantic. Here's an interview with her in the UK's Daily Telegraph online from earlier this week. I hope it inspires you to explore her back catalogue while you're waiting for me to get my act together.

Rhys also maintains an excellent and in my opinion oversubscribed blog called "Rhys's Pieces" (how does she come up with them?) which you can find by hopping over to After you've read my blog entries, and then only if you send all her followers back in this direction!

(Did I mention we're old friends?)

Here's a quick Rhys (aka Janet) story. When I still lived in Manhattan, I'd arranged to meet Rhys the Bowen for coffee during one of her visits from California. On my way out of my apartment building, I remember telling someone -- possibly a neighbor, could have been the doorman -- that I was on my way to meet "a famous writer." The cafe where we were meeting was about ten blocks away, and halfway there, I spotted a frail Arthur Miller, heading along the sidewalk in the opposite direction. So I was able to tell Rhys that we now had a standard for her fame -- someone you'd pass Arthur Miller to get to.

*A prophetic aside, given England's dismal World Cup performance a few hours after I first published this post.

You were brave.

There's a killer in the family.

A couple of weeks ago, Leila caught her first chipmunk. A sudden dart into some undergrowth while we're walking on Milton Road and there's something brown between her jaws, protesting squeakily. I make her drop it, and an unscathed chipmunk scurries back to its loved ones with a tale to tell that rivals Beowulf. But the white devil has tasted victory.

Today, she is rooting among the hydrangeas in the back yard when she emerges suddenly, mouthing a clump of gray fur, like a dull purse. It takes three "drop it" commands for her to release her booty, and I drag her into the house, leaving the children to surround the still-squirming rodent. By the time I come back, they inform me that it's dead. A mouse or a shrew, perhaps a baby mole, something vaguely verminous, folded paws in the air, bright blood on the head.

Those of you with cats must deal with this all the time. This is a new experience for the Beechey boys. Their puppy has murdered Mickey.

Primus slopes off, uninterested. I tip the body into an open container and prepare to dispose of it in the garbage, the same way I dealt with its dead cousin found in the basement a week or two earlier. Secundus protests -- we have to bury "Soldier," as the ex-mouse has been rather belatedly named. (I didn't know he'd seen Key Largo). He will be the gravedigger and immediately starts chopping at the turf beside the body with a small hammer he'd already been using for backyard excavation. I suggest that we try to keep the lawn intact. He chooses another location for the grave, also under grass. I gently redirect him and Tertius to an earthy spot under a pine tree.

Secundus fetches a spade from the garage, and I try to dig a hole deep enough, between the rocks and stringy tree roots. Secundus speaks comforting words to Soldier, telling him that he'll have a grave as large as an apartment, with big closets. I smile. Tertius instantly scolds me for not taking the event seriously.

Soldier's body is tipped into the the dirt. We refill the hole. I haven't checked yet, but I think Secundus has made him a gravestone out of paper. He is sad this evening. I hope it doesn't rain tonight.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The daily . . . what? Insult? Compliment? Can't decide.

Primus: "There aren't many dads like you."

Self: "Explain."

Primus: "Well, with you, I get a dad and a dictionary." He pauses for a moment's thought. "And an encyclopedia."

I guess I talk too much. He wouldn't be the first to complain.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Definitely articulated.

My mere whimsy in referring to my favorite poet as "Alexander the Pope" (when I quoted from one of his Essays last Monday) gives me an idea for a game. It's not up there with those exercises that give you your porn name (mine's Rocky Lampton) or your Jedi name*, but it's simple and occasionally produces dividends.

Just stick the definite article in between your first and last names and see if you sound like a fictional character, and if so, what from. Best yet: Salman the Rushdie -- pure Tolkein.

*Alabe Goyat, the Yehfiat of Levothyroxine. Not very good. More Fiddler on the Roof than Attack of the Clones. But the mem-sahib's name came out as "Marma Jobal," which is good, and the fact that there really is a character called Jobal in Revenge of the Sith -- a movie I'm proud to say I have never seen -- strongly suggests that George Lucas was running out of inspiration in the naming department, too.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Now all around the room in one big line.

In the comments to "Beware the boy with one shoe" (June 11) Kathi Taylor sent this link to a great YouTube video made by the wondrous writer and illustrator Sandra Boynton, featuring national treasure B.B.King. I urge it on everyone.

Sandra Boynton has been big in our house. At one point, I had her complete works (the post title comes from Pajama Time), but I fear advancing age -- the boys' not mine -- has slowed down our acquisition. In fact, I love her line so much that in our humble two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, I copied some of her illustrations to make murals for Primus's bedroom. One wall had the characters from the immortal Barnyard Dance in two-feet high figures:

  . . . while on the opposite wall, her A to Z alphabet book trickled down and around the changing table:

When Secundus arrived, we yielded the bigger bedroom to the boys and their plastic undergrowth, and so Sandra Boynton's pictures now became the decoration for the master bedroom. Which was fine by me. They stayed until we moved out of Manhattan -- Tertius may have had a month to admire them from his cradle. But to get the apartment suitable for buyers, all the paintings disappeared under a coat of Benjamin Moore's Linen White, and these hastily grabbed pre-digital prints are the only record I have.

Also under the off-white roller went the wall-to-wall mural I'd painted in the boys' new room (Leonardo had the same problems), a collage of Primus's favorite books in an English landscape, with two of the Reverend Mr. Audry's engines anchoring the composition -- they happen to share Primus's first and second names.

I'm fond of the distant chessboard landscape from Through the Looking Glass, but I take most pride in the curving fence to the left of Thomas. I worked for ages to get the perspective and shadows right. Again, I could only snatch some shots with a 35-mm camera with on-camera flash before the painters obliterated my weeks of work. Maybe one day I'll put in the time with Photoshop to get a better record of my efforts -- clearly starting with some color correction.

Ah well, another lost masterpiece. History's littered with 'em. As Alexander the Pope once said, "In human works, tho'  labored on with pain/a thousand movements scarce one purpose gain."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Brigadoon effect: Beechey on sport

I missed England's goal in the fourth minute, because I was trying to battle my way past Verizon's unnecessary robots in order to talk to a REAL Fios techie to find out why the ABC high-definition channel had an outstanding picture but no sound. (Hint for speeding things up: Scream "Shut up!" down the phone line every time the automated system prompts you for a verbal response.)

What worked in the end was the old solution -- unplug the set-top box for a minute. It fixed itself, to herald in an exasperating drone of vuvuzelas from the spectators. Couldn't hear a thing from the field or the atmosphere off the stadium. Maybe Verizon had the best idea in the first place? I say the hell with freedom -- ban these stupid noisemakers, the players hate them. What is this, a kid's birthday party?

I missed the USA's equalizer, because I was out delivering Secundus to a kid's birthday party. To play baseball. On this holiest day of the football calendar. (Yes, I said "football," not "soccer." Wanna make something of it? So, it's fisticuffs, eh?)

My take: Too much of the commentary focused on the amount of time it took for Wayne Rooney to get into the game. I remember exactly the same situation at the last World Cup, when we were lamenting that David Beckham had apparently donned the cloak of invisibility for most of the matches. At the international level, England should have a better strategy than trying to create chances for just one star player. Rooney isn't Pele.

(Am I the only one to think Beckham's hairstyle still makes him look like a tall cockatoo?)

On the other hand, a star goalkeeper wouldn't go amiss. Here's an idea for BP -- stuff Robert Green into the the leak. It wouldn't slow the oil, but it would make me feel better. I know even the best goalies make mistakes like Green's goal-scoring fumble, but it was the opening match of the quadrennial international tournament against the last remaining superpower, not bloody amateur hour.

Unless that new ball really is possessed.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Beware the boy with one shoe.

Tertius still being a first-grader for another two weeks, I have to make eye contact with his teacher before she'll release him from her aegis on the school's playground. (You'd think on a Friday this close to the end of term, she'd just be shoveling them out of the door with a merry lilt.) So I'm on my way to pick him up, when Primus looms into view around the corner of the school building, heading for home.

He is wearing one "heelie," those comically oversize shoes built to hold a wheel, which encourages show-off pre-teens to scoot around Costco at fifteen miles per hour, like hyperactive daleks, until they break their ankles and have to be shot. (Fortunately, Primus has yet to master balancing, and school rules force him to leave the rollers at home.)

His other foot is completely bare.

"It's because of a bowl of breakfast cereal," he explains with a grin as I pass.

Of course it is. I kiss him on the head, and we both continue on our way. He's eleven. It makes perfect sense.

By design.

Diligent (and persistent) visitors will have noticed the different appearance of this blog. Google introduced a new set of templates that offered a little extra control over the layout. It's still not the way I'd like it, but I have been able to tweak the HTML a little more than with the previous incarnation.

Incidentally, the sudden appearance of the bard in my header -- I had some fun Photoshopping the classic Droeshout engraved portrait to make him look suspicious -- is not merely because the phrase "This Private Plot" is lifted from one of his thirty-seven plays with "Henry" in the title (I forget which -- probably Henry IIID), but because WS himself features heavily in the book.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

That's Sir Mick to you, junior . . .

Okay, because it was in Newsweek, probably everyone in the world has seen this quote. But I love it. Mick Jagger, talking to a Cannes Film Festival audience about his earlier days:

"We were young, good-looking, and stupid. Now we're just stupid."

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Now, pay attention, 007.

Remember that post about not really having too strong an opinion about cars? I lied.

News today that the only surviving James Bond Aston Martin DB5 -- one of the two actually used in Goldfinger and Thunderball -- is coming up for auction in October, complete with retractable machine guns. Expected to reach about $5 million.

My birthday's in August. But for this year only, I'm prepared to be patient.