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Rated: 13+ · Book · Experience · #2223922
A tentative blog to test the temperature.
Ten years ago I was writing several blogs on various subjects - F1 motor racing, Music, Classic Cars, Great Romances and, most crushingly, a personal journal that included my thoughts on America, memories of England and Africa, opinion, humour, writing and anything else that occurred. It all became too much (I was attempting to update the journal every day) and I collapsed, exhausted and thoroughly disillusioned in the end.

So this blog is indeed a Toe in the Water, a place to document my thoughts in and on WdC but with a determination not to get sucked into the blog whirlpool ever again. Here's hoping.

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March 15, 2023 at 2:44pm
March 15, 2023 at 2:44pm

With my memory, every day is a whole new learning experience. I suppose it could be called GS (Goldfish Syndrome).
March 14, 2023 at 11:30am
March 14, 2023 at 11:30am
The Most Famous Person You Never Heard Of

That’s what my wife calls him and it was true - once. Now, of course, I’m one of his biggest fans. And YouTube reminded me this morning that the great man died only a few days ago (March 03). A sad day for all who ever heard David Lindley play.

Plenty of them have never heard of him even now. He was not one for having his name in lights or making a big fuss about his talents. Yet he played with most of the big names in the music business over the last forty years, so much in demand was his virtuoso slide guitar playing. Much of the time he was playing other instruments, usually of the stringed kind, for he could play anything. He is often referred to as a multi-instrumentalist or even a maxi-instrumentalist.

David had his own band (El Rayo-X) but he was far more often away playing for someone else. He had a special bond with Jackson Browne whose live performances without him are rare indeed. The world is a poorer place without him.

I had to pick a video as my thank you for the entertainment he provided over the years and that was impossible. There are just so many of them. In the end, I sorta picked this one with a pin but it’s as good as they all are:

Word count: 226
March 14, 2023 at 6:00am
March 14, 2023 at 6:00am

For several years now I have self diagnosed as having P.O.M.S. No need to feel sorry for me - I am sorry enough for myself not to need any help on that score. But thank you for the thought anyway.

What is P.O.M.S? Often confused by Australians as having something to do with Englishness, POMS, affectionately known as Poms, stands for Poor Old Man Syndrome. Affecting 97% of males beyond the age of sixty, the first symptoms of Poms are audible. You know those groaning sounds that all old people make when getting out of a chair? Well, Poms typically extends those sounds to many other situations. Getting in and out of bed is an example, as is the act of sitting down. Any function requiring a little effort will be advertised by a range of grunts and groans appropriate to the situation.

Later, Poms is evidenced by an increasing irascibility with inanimate objects. This can be manifested in impatient comments to a toaster a few seconds late in popping up, a string of insults directed at any implement that contrives to slip from the old codger’s grasp, loud oaths expressed when latches, catches and clasps refuse to cooperate, and similar occurrences obviously sent to torture a poor old man out of his usual uncomplaining nature.

These waves of bad temper are followed by a rise in sarcasm and rudeness in response to any attempts to sympathise or ameliorate the condition for the sufferer. Poms does not react well to company or assistance, its symptoms being purely self expression and nothing to do with cries for help or the like. It is probably best understood if one remembers its old name of C.O.B. (Crotchety Old Bastard).

If you have to deal with a sufferer from Poms, just leave the blighter to wallow in his own misery, that’s my best advice (and, as I have mentioned, I ought to know).

Word count: 327.
March 9, 2023 at 1:03pm
March 9, 2023 at 1:03pm
Advertise That!

I have said before that I watch very little television, a slave to the computer as I am. But it's one of those inescapable facts of life these days and I have not been able to avoid it completely. Inevitably, I have noticed a few things about television in America and perhaps the most surprising is the difference in the advertising.

Apart from the sheer overwhelming quantity of commercial breaks in the States (at times it seems that the program being shown is grudgingly inserted in tiny pieces in between important and informative collections of commercials), the style of the advertising is different. It is far more direct than British advertising; the message is "This product is great, it will change your life, it beats brand X every time, buy it NOW!" That might be effective (who am I to say it isn't?) but such straightforward hype hasn't been seen in Britain for years.

British adverts are subtle, so much so that at times it's impossible to work out exactly what is being pushed at the viewer. I think this started way back in the early seventies, when overt cigarette advertising was outlawed. For a brief moment there was consternation amongst the tobacco companies - how were they to get across the delights of their product now? But they were saved by Benson & Hedges.

B&H brought out a series of ads that relied upon their highly recognizable brand color only. It became a game to notice the B&H gold hidden within the ad. They didn't make the game too hard, so everyone could play. It was a very clever exercise in subverting the rules: they were not mentioning the product nor any of its undoubted charms; the campaign relied entirely upon the market's already-established brand recognition.

The ploy must have been effective for all the other tobacco companies followed suit with their own variants of the idea. In fact, it was not long before products other than cigarettes were being advertised in the same way. And again legislation has contributed to this. It became unacceptable to talk about the speed and power of a car in its advertisement; apparently, we had to be protected from our lust to drive fast cars. So now car ads concentrate on the look of the machine. There is competition amongst the manufacturers to have the ad with the most unlikely angle of shot or the most removed from saying anything meaningful about the car.

I can't help but wonder whether these oblique advertisements actually sell more cars. Without access to actual statistics, it's impossible to say. But I do suspect that they do little more than make the customer feel good about the company itself. A polished, clever and attractive ad is bound to produce good customer relations, at least initially, just as a harsh and poorly produced one reflects badly on the manufacturer.

In America it seems that the obvious attributes of a vehicle can still be referred to. Truck ads especially will concentrate on matters of power and strength. Handling and speed can be portrayed, if not detailed in actual performance figures. And, most surprisingly to the British viewer, it is quite acceptable to trash the competition.

This runs throughout American ads - if your product has to go up against a well known brand, you should mention it and then give some figures that demonstrate how much better your version is. Of course, the cynical Brit thinks immediately, "Hang on a minute, I've just watched an ad for your competitor and it said exactly the opposite..." But the game continues regardless. Everyone can demonstrate just how far superior their product is than the competition by picking on one aspect where it happens to come out on top. The fact that names are named is pure horror to us Brits; our advertisers would not dream of doing such a thing. You may hint that your product beats "brand X" but to actually name it? Oh, no, that will never do.

Another major element of British ads is humor. This has developed to the point where some of the advertisements are much funnier than the comedy shows (okay, I know British comedy shows aren't very funny - the point is, their ads are!). Competition is very fierce in this area and it may be that the best comedy writers are snapped up by advertising long before the TV programs have a go at them. I can see humor beginning to creep into American advertising but it isn't the same. In the States, the viewer is left in no doubt as to what is being advertised; in Britain, the funniest ads are often the hardest in which to identify the product being advertised.

But it doesn't seem to matter. Produce a funny ad and the Brits will love it. They will repeat it amongst themselves, develop it and transform it into a catchphrase. And what greater success can an ad agency have than that the public accept an ad into folklore? Who cares that it doesn't shift any products? It makes people laugh and that's what really counts.

On both sides of the Atlantic the richest industries are the ones that advertise on television. In Britain that means insurance, loan companies, banks, car manufacturers and (strangely) charities. America does the same but adds an industry that would shock the Brits - the pharmaceuticals. Medicines are not advertised in Britain. I presume that this is because it is regarded as "unethical" to tout the amazing properties of your drug over the competitor's version (probably exactly the same thing but with a different name). And, of course, the real reason is that the public is deemed too stupid to decide between medicines and this is a decision for the trained professionals, the doctors, to make.

But in the States the drug companies advertise constantly and trash each other's products mercilessly. We are bombarded with pictures of happy, shining people whose lives have been transformed by some miracle cure or other. "Take just one Gubbledizer and be totally free of itching teeth for 24 hours! Finklebod only works for 6 hours so you have to take four to get the same effect!"

Then the medical ads have small print and this is what really catches my attention. They are bound by law to mention any possible side effects so, while we continue to watch the amazingly-cured patient frolic through meadows and sparkling streams, a rapid-fire machinegun voice rattles out the warnings. "Do not take Tubbydoodle if you suffer from heart problems, liver disease, recurrent headaches, ingrown toenails, double vision, extreme angst, violent hiccups or flatulence. Tubbydoodle has been known to cause skin problems, palpitations, hair loss, flat feet, facial tics and loss of manners in some patients. It has not been tested on patients with arthritis and bad tempers."

Listening to the lists they come out with makes me think that I'll take my chances with the original problem, thank you. But it turns out that it doesn't matter anyhow. You have to ask your doctor about the medicine because only he can prescribe it. So the whole thing is intended to put pressure on doctors to prescribe the advertiser's cure rather than the competitor's. It all seems a bit unnecessary to me. And a bit scary, too.

Finally, I should mention the differing attitudes of the two nations when it comes to sex. Many Americans are horrified when they see how British advertisers will happily use sex to push a product. Half naked people are a regular occurrence in British ads. Innuendo is applied liberally. And, if a few bare butts come into the shot, hey, it all adds to the fun.

But not so in the States. Naked flesh is definitely a no-no here. It seems that it is okay to talk about it, however. The pharmaceutical companies are the major offenders here and I defy any Brit to listen to an ad for viagra without blushing at least a little. Suggestion? Who needs suggestion when you can just lay the facts before your audience? And I'm not even going near the advertisements for "feminine products"...

Winston Churchill once said that we were two peoples separated by a common language. Of course, he was right. But he failed to mention that we also approach the matter of advertising in totally different ways. In the States the word is, "BUY THIS!" And in Britain it's, "Hah, that made you laugh did it? And what about this, ain't that a beauty? Pardon? Oh, you wanted to buy something..."

Word count: 1,429
March 1, 2023 at 12:50pm
March 1, 2023 at 12:50pm
A Flower for Ted

For a long time I have felt that the dead live on in the memory of the living. Only when a person is forgotten by all who knew or may have read of him, is a person truly dead. In this way, it could be said that Alexander the Great (or Grape, as the old joke has it) still lives in a way because he is not forgotten, even these thousands of years later. And this may be the unconscious motivation behind gravestones - a last effort to be remembered by at least the passerby, who never knew the deceased when alive.

This idea was the reason for the poem I wrote for Solace.Bring ’s Express It In Eight when the prompt was the word “prank.” It brought immediately to mind an old friend, Ted Flower, that I had not thought of in years. While not a true prankster, he delighted in the practical side of jokes and we often cooperated in bringing one into reality. It was the least that I could do, to write a poem in homage to the man ("Homage to Ted Flower if you’re interested).

My duty done, Ted began to slip away into the past again. Then, this week, Lilli ☕️ 🧿 selects the prompt “mirror” for the Promptly Poetry Challenge. It did it again, didn’t it. My mind went racing back to old Ted and a remarkable ability of his. He could write forwards in the usual manner but he could also write backwards. Then he proved that he could write upside down (the writing, not him). As if that wasn’t enough, he could write mirror writing that could only be checked if you looked at its reflection in a mirror (I did and it was perfect). And then he tears the ring out of it by proving he could write in all the other weird ways in mirror writing.

I checked them all and there were no errors. Yet he wrote them all at the same pace, unhurried but without pause, as though it were the easiest thing out there. If there was a trick to it, I never discovered it.

An ability like that makes one stop and think. It’s either some weird, inexplicable natural talent, like an idiot savant thing, or Ted must have spent hours, weeks, maybe even months or years, training himself to do it. I can’t imagine what would drive one to such extraordinary lengths to acquire a skill. Especially one so useless and pointless.

You could say that he picked a certain sentence and concentrated only on learning that. I can’t remember the sample sentence he actually used. But the time and effort required for even that is so unimaginable that I must confess myself baffled.

So that was one outstanding thing about Ted that I had forgotten over the years. He died quite young, in his forties, I think, and time has laid many strata over those days in my mind. But I wrote a poem in celebration of his odd talent and you can read it here (again, if you’re interested): "Mirror Man

There’s more, much more. Thinking of Ted has brought back plenty of memories. He was married to a delightful young lady, a German of irrepressible optimism and stocky frame, and my family had an intermittent friendship with her that lasted for a few years after Ted’s death. But she lived some distance from us and we were only able to see her on rare occasions. No doubt she keeps the old rascal’s memory alive and I do not need to feel too guilty for him drifting into the past as he has.

And, for a few days, he lives again in this unlikely writing talent of his. Good on yer, Ted.

Word count: 627
February 24, 2023 at 10:36am
February 24, 2023 at 10:36am

Fried Food Friday popped up on the newsfeed again today and, for once, it gave me an idea. So I answered “banana fritters,” and then remembered that I’ve always wanted to try a deep-fried Mars bar (a Scottish idea but reputed to be very tasty).

Suddenly I was overwhelmed with the memory of the only genuine Afrikaner koeksister I’ve ever eaten and the competition retired gracefully, knowing they were beaten. It was too late to enter it as my answer to the question so I thought I’d tell you about it instead (lucky you).

A koeksister is a South African doughnut, twisted into an attractive braid, and then deep-fried before being soaked in syrup. I don’t know what type of syrup they use but it is unbelievably sweet and tasty. And the whole koeksister is absolutely delicious and addictive in a way that no doughnut deserves to be.

There are recipes on the net but, in my experience, the only way to know about the real thing is to find a nice Afrikaner lady (Charlene Theron would do) and beg her to make koeksisters for you. If you’re as old as I am, the result will probably kill you, but what a way to die!

I really must stop answering those WdC Question posts on the newsfeed.

A type of South African doughnut, deep-fried and soaked in syrup.

Word count: 217
February 20, 2023 at 2:35pm
February 20, 2023 at 2:35pm
American Idols (5)

Numero Cinque: The Mailbox and Mailman

Everyone knows the American mailbox, that arched metal box with a flap at one end and a flag on the side, perched upon its post by the side of every driveway. Like the fire hydrant, we know it from countless movies, comics and cartoons, an ever-present companion to every suburban household. Here truly is a symbol of America, for you'll not see it anywhere else in the world.

There is so much more to it than meets the eye, however. That little red flag on the side, for instance; what's that all about? I have researched long and hard into this (I asked my wife) and can now reveal the secret. In America the postbox for mailing letters is actually quite rare, being confined to high density residential areas of the big cities. Instead, a much more sensible idea has taken hold: they use the mailboxes of the houses for both incoming and outgoing mail. If you want to post a letter, just pop it into your mailbox and move the flag to the upright position. Then, when the mailman comes along, he will see the flag and know immediately that there is outgoing mail in the box. He collects it, puts in any mail he has for you, knocks the flag down again, and off he goes, back to the post office.

Isn't that a brilliant idea? And so sensible, so labor-saving and so obvious. Think of all the shoe leather that could be saved if those trips down to the postbox in Britain could be done away with. I was staggered by the simplicity and efficiency of the system when I first heard of it.

Now, those of you who remember the old days of trade union power may be thinking of the poor mailman at this point. How fair is it that he be expected to carry a load to the post office as well as from it, you may ask. But that question falls away when we look at the American mailman.

Forget old visions of the mailman trudging through the blizzard, muttering under his breath slogans like "The mail must get through". That is an outdated image. These days the mailman is supplied with a little van that he drives through the streets, stopping at each mailbox.

And this van is something of an idol in itself. Imagine Postman Pat's little van, square and boxy, but painted white and with the flashy red and blue logo of the US Mail on the side. There you have the modern American mail van. And this van is unique in another way: it is the only right hand drive vehicle produced in the States. Why? Purely so that the mailman can drive down the right side of the street, doing his little transactions with each mailbox without ever having to dismount from his vehicle. In America, the job of mailman is a sedentary profession!

Oh the brilliance and wonder of it. I can only applaud the genius of the system and wonder why it has not been copied in other countries. And this is why I have decided to award the title of American Idol 5 to both the mailbox and the mailman; they are the essential parts of a whole system that is so American in its solution to delivery and collection of mail.

So let us stand and cheer these humble elements of a system that defines America so well. I give you, ladies and gentlemen, the US mailman and the mailbox!

The amazing US mail delivery service.

Word count: 586
February 18, 2023 at 10:04am
February 18, 2023 at 10:04am

I have the cat figured out.

After years of study and reflection, I have worked out the devilish feline scheme to control us and dominate the world. It’s all a hoax.

Everyone knows that attempting to provide a cat with the correct food at all times is a fool’s game. Something devoured yesterday is treated with total disdain for the following week, as though we were trying to poison the creature. The moment we decide that we have found the acceptable brand, the cat chooses to eat only what it was refusing before. We say that the cat’s very choosy, excusing it because it’s so soft and furry and has such big eyes and meows so plaintively to get its own way. Maybe switching things up a bit more, presenting it with something different every time will work.

Forget it. This is an animal that eats mice, whole, from the head right down to the tail. It swallows everything, the fur, the skin, the bones the teeth, the claws, the entrails, the lot. And doesn’t blink an eye. I know, I’ve seen it done. And yet we think it will genuinely be disgusted by some expensive cat treat because it might be a little crusty having been rejected for an hour or two. Not a chance.

The cat is playing with us. It is overfed and can go for long periods without even thinking about food. The game is to have us running about, ever the servants, presenting it with ever more tasty and tempting delicacies. Don’t be fooled. It’s a cat playing a cat’s game.

The only answer is to choose a brand and flavour that has been accepted at least once before and give it to the cat. Give it nothing else until it has licked the dish clean. It’ll happen, I assure you. Steel yourself against the pleading looks, the pathetic cries, the begging whenever you enter the kitchen. This is a war of wills that you have to win. Be strong.

Of course, now you are going to accuse me of being a cruel, heartless beast who should never have been granted the honour of cat ownership in the first place. But I didn’t say this was my strategy, did I? It was merely a cry from my servitude, a desperate plea to others to save themselves. Just because I am completely unable to treat our cat, Pookie, in this manner, this is no reason why the evil scheme should not be exposed for all to see and understand.

Save yourselves while you still can!

Word count: 429
February 16, 2023 at 10:57am
February 16, 2023 at 10:57am

Wouldn't a truly smart phone cough gently and inform you that someone wished to speak to you, rather than crassly interrupting you with some awful parody of a TV show theme? Instead of wildly vibrating, wouldn't it respectfully touch your shoulder and ask whether you wished to accept a call or would rather the phone take a number and advise that you'd have your people contact them in due course?

I await the day…

The title of this rather obvious post is intended (quite clearly, I think) as a comment on that vile intrusion upon our lives that is the iPhone. But, as soon as I thought of the name, I recalled that “euphony,” far from being an iPhone for Europe, is defined as “the quality of being pleasing to the ear, especially through a harmonious combination of words” and/or “the tendency to make phonetic change for ease of pronunciation.” That seems to me to confirm the selection of title.

Word count: 161
Note: Definitions by Oxford Languages.

February 9, 2023 at 11:21am
February 9, 2023 at 11:21am
General Heinrici

I was thinking today that being old is like being General Gotthard Heinrici.

There was a time when I, like you, had never heard of General Heinrici. For me, his name first came up when someone I knew cited him as the best German general of World War II. As somewhat of a student of that conflict, I had to know more and proceeded to find out.

The story is quite surprising and somehow exemplary. Heinrici was a general who never won a battle. It’s in the investigating of the battles he was given to command that we discover his greatness. He was the man the Germans would call upon when battles were already lost. For much of the long retreat from Russia, Heinrici was put in charge and was the reason the Russians had such a hard time of it.

He invented what became known as the “empty bag technique.” With what seemed like a sixth sense, he would know where and when the next Russian attack would come. Heinrici would withdraw his forces from the relevant area during the night. When the Russians attacked, they would find no opposition and would hurtle through the gap, creating the bulge in the front line known as a salient. Then Heinrici’s forces would attack from the sides of the initial breakthrough, cutting off the Russian force and destroying it at leisure over time.

It was this feel for the exact time and place of the next assault that was essential to the technique. And only Heinrici had it. Time and again, he was removed for disobeying orders that he disagreed with, only to be brought back to patch up the disasters that resulted. His final disobedience was in withdrawing his armies to the west of Berlin, refusing to see them wasted in the futile protection of Hitler. Summoned to appear in Berlin for punishment, Heinrici took the advice of another German general and drove off in the opposite direction. He survived the war and died eventually in 1971, now celebrated in his homeland as a hero.

How is being old like being General Heinrici? Because being old is a matter of constant rearguard actions against an enemy that is going to win in the end. It’s all about saving a few faculties here, a few senses there, and keeping the wolf from the door a few more hours or days. There’s no possibility of gaining a victory, since the old enemy has all the cards, but you can make his job as difficult as possible. If you’re old, you’re General Heinrici.

Word count: 428

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