Alternative Eating

Yesterday I talked about Greggs, and Alert Readers will have seen from the picture of the Earl’s Court outlet that next door is the Paul Café.

Paul is for people who think that going to Greggs is infra dig. I discovered Paul one day when the line of Greggs customers ran out the door into the street (in pouring rain), and not interested in waiting that long for a pastry I went next door instead.

As the decor suggests, Paul is more up-market, and unlike the Britain-only Greggs, they’re an international organization. (In the U.S., they’re in the Washington D.C. area, Dade County FL and Greater Boston, as I recall.) They’re all over London, I noticed, although I never went into any outside Earl’s Court.

Also unlike Greggs, which is more of a kiosk than a restaurant, Paul is a more Parisian kind of place: more relaxed, more comfortable and more expensive (and in rush hour just as busy, unlike what the pictures below would suggest).

However, if it’s French-style food you’re wanting — and I do, almost all the time — Paul has you covered like a king-size duvet:

Good grief. This is yet another place where I could eat breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner for a week and not get close to trying all the dishes available. And everything — everything — is freshly baked, like Greggs. Unlike Greggs, where the ovens are right behind the counter, Paul’s bakery rooms are either upstairs or in the basement — that steel door on the left of the pic isn’t an oven but a dumbwaiter which drops off fresh merchandise every few minutes, as the sales numbers from the registers indicate turnover. It’s a very efficient system and as a one-time retailer, I applaud it.

Oh, and one more thing: I think that Paul’s coffee is better than Greggs’s coffee, although not by much. Greggs’s tea, in contrast, is much better, perhaps because the Brits know more about tea than the Frogs. And as the pics indicate, Paul’s seating is more comfortable — in the smaller Greggs stores, come to think of it, there are no tables at all.

I love Paul. Now this is a store which I do wish would open in Plano, if only for the reason that inexplicably, we have nothing of its kind in the area (sorry, La Madeleine doesn’t count). There are a couple of near-misses, but if Paul opened here, I’d have to walk five miles a day instead of my customary two, just to avoid the Zeppelin syndrome.

Another thing I like about Paul is that their outlets aren’t cookie-cutter lookalikes. Here’s the South Kensington shop:

The outside tables and chairs are, I think, an act of purest optimism given the typical London climate, but you have to give them kudos for trying to make the place more Parisian.

The next time you go Over There, don’t leave Paul off your list. As I said earlier, they’re all over London so there’ll probably be one nearby wherever you find yourself.

No need to thank me; it’s all part of the service.

Working Dogs

I read this link from Insty with open-jawed astonishment yesterday because while I was out earlier in the day, I’d already started to put together a similar essay on the topic.

Maria D. Fitzpatrick of Cornell University and Timothy J. Moore of the University of Melbourne said they analyzed the mortality rates in the U.S. and noticed that many older Americans – but disproportionally men who retire at 62 – are affected by sudden increased rates of death.
“A lot happens in our early 60s. Some change jobs, scale back working hours or retire. Our health-care coverage may shift. We may have fewer financial resources, or we may begin collecting Social Security,” Fitzpatrick told The Wall Street Journal. “About one-third of Americans immediately claim Social Security at 62. Ten percent of men retire in the month they turn 62.”
The numbers, according to the study, show that there is a two percent increase in male mortality at age 62 in the country. “Over the 34 years we studied, there were an additional 400 to 800 deaths per year beyond what we expected, or an additional 13,000 to 27,000 excess male deaths within 12 months of turning 62,” the professor said.
The researcher blames the increased mortality on the retirement as retirees tend to withdraw from life and no longer see the point in engaging.

Quite honestly, I think I have a better take on this than the study. Here’s why.

I took an older guy somewhere during my early-morning Uber shift, and we got to chatting about retirement. He was in his early sixties and was thinking about retirement in the next couple of years or so — he’d reached all the retirement “qualifications” in terms of his age, length of service, and so on — and when I asked him what he was going to do after retirement, he said quite simply, “I don’t know.” He had no outside interests other than his work, he said, and had no hobbies or anything to keep him occupied when he would quit working.

This set off all sorts of alarm bells in my head, because I’d confronted the very same thoughts when I planned on retiring back in 2016 on reaching age 62 (which seems to be the “killer” age discovered by the researchers).

Worse than that, I either know men personally or have heard of many instances of men who have died soon — very soon — after retiring early. (When men retire at a later age, they paradoxically seem to live longer, as the study shows.) Sometimes, men die within six months of getting their gold watch, after many decades of working with little or even no time off for illness. Where I differ from the study is that I think I know the real reason why this happens.

We’re working dogs.

As long as men have work to do, we do fine. We have a purpose in life, we get up in the mornings with a day’s work ahead of ourselves, and this gives us a reason to live. It’s all tied up, I believe, in our inherent nature as providers and all that goes with it. When that activity stops earlier than expected — at 62, most of us have at least fifteen or even twenty more years to live — subconsciously we still feel that we are capable of working, providing and in short contributing to ourselves and others.

But when that ends, it’s as though a switch is turned off somewhere and our brains simply say, “Oh well, that’s it,” and we die. It may be that illness has been kept at bay through our industry and now given an empty playing field, so to speak, it takes over; or it may be that we do things that are more dangerous (the study mentions driving more as one activity), or perhaps we working dogs just feel useless and our existence, pointless.

It’s one of the reasons why I started blogging (i.e. writing) again after Connie passed away; all those years of caring for her had given me something to do, a purpose in life and now, faced with a life impossibly empty, I could well see why some cussed old fart would just say, “Ah, fuck it.” And die. Believe me, the thought of letting go crossed my mind often.

But this isn’t about me. This is about all men — and a couple of close friends withal — who are contemplating retirement, but without having any kind of backup work to do after they retire. And I’ll bet there are more than a few of my Readers who are looking down the barrel of this very gun, if not now, but soon. (My reader demographics skew towards cantankerous old farts because I am one, and we tend to seek each other out.)

And let me tell you, I fear for these men’s lives. We can’t handle boredom — not those men who have heretofore led active, fulfilling lives working.

Some men try to hold on, become consultants in their erstwhile fields, and either fail (because the market isn’t as great or as receptive as they thought), or they discover that consulting means selling yourself on a daily basis — and can’t bear the job because failure, in almost all cases, means (to them) that they are worthless. So instead of leaving the workplace as successes, they have to quit ignominiously as failures.

Even in our old age, we need a purpose in life, something that gets us out of the house and outside our own heads (the latter being a dark and unpleasant place, trust me on this) and something that will occupy our hands and minds. We are men: we are supposed to work.

And this is why, I believe, that men who retire at an older age are less likely to croak soon after retirement than the younger ones; their minds and bodies have finally said, “Enough!” — and they can let go, be inactive and just play with their grandchildren. But the younger ones are at risk, and they die, tragically in numbers disproportionate to the expectancy.

Some men just refuse to quit working and work until one day they keel over. Some men do charity work in their retirement, but others (e.g. myself) are just not cut out for that kind of thing. Some men take up hobbies which consume their time — just visit a model railroaders’ show and see the demographics of the stallholders — but I have to tell you that a hobby started late in life is seldom going to hold your attention for too long. Some men dream of adventure, and do stupid stuff like exploring the tropical rainforests — like hobbies, a lot of this stuff is best begun when you’re a young man — and sadly, what men discover is that even though they may have retired “young”, their bodies can’t do what a younger man’s can. More failure.

I don’t have an answer to this. I wish I did, but I just don’t. The sad fact of the matter is that without work, we die. And the younger we are when we quit work, the sooner we die.

I welcome any and all ideas, experiences, anecdotes and advice in Comments. It may all be for nothing; but what you say may save a life, and what you read may save yours. And if what you have to say is too personal, feel free to send me an email — I’ll anonymize the thing, take out all the personal details and post the distilled content later. Have at it… please.

This might be the most important post I’ve ever written.

No Surprise

When I got back to London after my trip to South Africa, the very first place I went to immediately upon getting off the Tube train from Heathrow was the Greggs bakery on Earl’s Court. It’s right across the road from the station, and despite (or perhaps because of) the gloomy weather, it was a beacon beaming its seductive Siren call [sic]: “Cup of hot tea! Sausage roll! Nom nom nom!”

I never stood a chance.

Greggs has come a long way, as recounted here, and one could easily make the case that they’re Britain’s answer to McDonald’s — in fact, they sell more sausage rolls than Mickey D sells hamburgers — and they’re opening hundreds of new branches each year.

Greggs serves my two favorite British “junk” foods, the ubiquitous sausage roll — and in retrospect, theirs is better than the offerings from any of the gourmet bakeries and boulangeries — and my recent discovery, the “steak bake” (meat pie). It took me a while to discover the latter because whenever I’ve gone into Greggs it’s to get a sausage roll. But one day the Devizes branch was out of sausage rolls (it happens sometimes, while the fresh batch is still being baked), and Impatient Kim said what the hell and ordered a steak bake instead.

Now I order whichever of the two delicacies is on the shelf — it’s when they’re both on the shelf that I hop from one foot to another in the agony of indecision.

I haven’t tried the chicken bake (the empty shelf on the bottom left) because… well, because I don’t much care for chicken pies, and anyway, why give myself a choice of three yummies when I have enough trouble with two? Brit friends of mine, by the way, swear by different Greggs pies — the steak & cheese and the cheese & onion each has its own supporters, to mention just two. Aaaargh.

Don’t even get me started on the sweet pastries:

There is not a single one of those that isn’t an avalanche of taste sensation, particularly if (like me) you have a sweet tooth. Like Warren Beatty, I’ve had ’em all, and all of ’em are wonderful.

Some guy wrote an article about how he ate solely out of Greggs (breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner) for a day. Hell, I could do that for a week and still not have tried everything I wanted to. The choices are astonishing, the quality superb, and there’s something for absolutely everybody (except vegans of course — there’s butter in every Greggs item — but the hell with them).

And yes, I’d have to spend the hours outside Greggs exercising just to prevent myself from assuming Zeppelin proportions inside a few days, but I’ve found that if I contain myself to just one sausage roll or one steak bake or one pastry a day, then I don’t put on weight at all. (The several miles I walk per day when in London may also have something to do with it.)

There’s a part of me that wishes Greggs would open an outlet here in Plano, while another part of me hopes they don’t. It’s one of my totally-not-guilty pleasures when visiting Britishland, and it should be everyone’s. So put it on yer “must-do” list on yer next visit to Britishland — and if you’ve never been Over There before (for shame), I should point out that Greggs offers a welcome respite from London’s sky-high prices. A meal for two with coffee/tea, for under $6? It’s Greggs, for the win.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about its neighbor.

Otherwise Engaged

Found this interesting pic somewhere on Teh Intarwebz:

What made it interesting to me (I don’t care about the Dakar Rally) is that Graham Duxbury and I are old friends from back in our schooldays at St. John’s College.

One day in (I think) “Potty” Chamberlain’s Maths class, he went round the classroom and asked each of us what we wanted to be when we left school. (We were, if memory serves correctly, aged about 14 or 15.) Most of the boys said the usual middle-class crap: engineers, doctors, lawyers, whatever*… except me (professional singer) and Dux (racing car driver).

Well, I sort of followed through (not as a classical singer, but rock musician — it was the Seventies, shuddup), but Graham did indeed become a racing car driver, mostly in sports cars (in what’s now the Word Endurance Championship — WEC —  but was called something else back then). In fact, unlike me, he was actually very successful in his chosen career; he won the Daytona 24 Hour Race, amongst others. Here’s his car at Le Mans, and here he is (left) during his brief stint in Formula 2:

He was also a celebrity spokesman for Brut, and there’s a great story to be told about that, but it can wait for another time.

A while back, I invited Graham to join me at the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin but he couldn’t make it because of some nonsense about getting involved in rallying. Because he’s always been into stuff that involved driving fast, I didn’t ask for details.

Well, now we know.

And Dux, if you ever read this: the offer’s still open. Always will be.

*One guy said he was going to be a test pilot, but he ended up becoming a priest. I know, I know…


Following a link from Insty, I was reading Car & Driver‘s review of the Audi A7 (not that I’ll ever own one, but reading about any car beats reading about Nancy Pelosi’s bullshit by about a dozen country miles). All went well: car drives well, is comfortable blah blah blah, looks good etc.

Then came the speed bump.

For us, the chief benefit of the 48-volt system is that it allows the auto stop/start feature to operate more smoothly and more often. Cleverly, that system can trigger a restart when the forward-facing radar sees that the vehicle ahead begins moving, rather than waiting for the driver to lift off the brake.

Of all the bullshit inflicted on us by the Glueball Wormening cult, this “auto stop/start” thing is one of the worst. I remember driving a rental car in Britishland not long ago, and while waiting at a red light, the engine died — this, in a car which had only about 1,200 miles on the odometer. Panicked, I punched the ignition button, the car restarted (phew) and as luck would have it, the light changed and off I went. All was well until the next light, when the engine died again. This time, however, I didn’t panic, realizing that the 1100cc engine was being governed by “auto stop/start” on the basis that a tiny engine idling for two minutes at about 200 rpm is going to cause polar bears to die of heatstroke or something.

Here’s my problem with all of this. A starter motor is an electro-mechanical device, and as such has a defined lifespan before it stops working. It doesn’t matter how well it’s made — the higher quality simply means the mean time between failures (MTBF) is longer than for a cheaper economy starter motor. It is going to stop working, at some point: and as with all motors, the more it is used, the sooner that point will arrive.

So let’s do the mathematics on this one. Let’s assume that a particular starter motor has a lifetime of 20,000 operations. Let’s assume also, for the sake of argument, that a typical week sees you operate the starter about five times per day, while going to work, stopping at a couple of stores, running errands and doing chores, then going home. That’s 365 x 5 = 1,825 operations per annum, which means that your starter motor is going to last 20,000/1,825 = 10.985, in other words, about eleven years. Now with “auto stop/start”, instead of five operations per day, you’ll be hitting nearly twice that number, assuming that each day you have to stop at a couple of red lights or wait for traffic before you can make a turn, and so on. All of a sudden, that 11 years turns into 5 years — or much less, if you live in an area with more than a few traffic lights or which has heavy rush-hour traffic.

The actual numbers aren’t important, of course; what’s important is that at some point, your engine is going to stop, and then not restart. This would be bad enough at a traffic light; it would be much worse on a congested freeway like L.A.’s I-405 or the Long Island Expressway (which, as any fule kno, is an egregious misnomer).

I know, I know: the stupid engine-killing device can be overridden, which begs the question as to why it should be there in the first place.

And don’t even get me started about the wisdom of having a device which “can trigger a restart when the forward-facing radar sees that the vehicle ahead begins moving“. Quite apart from the issue of involuntary forward motion (a topic all by itself), it means that in stop-start traffic you’ll go from 5 operations per day to 20 or 30. Do the math yourselves.

It’s a stupid, pointless device and we should do away with it. Other than for “saving the environment” (i.e. specious and untrue) reasons, it has no place in a car. And if one day we reach the point where it can’t be turned off, it would be a reason not to buy that particular car, wouldn’t it?

After All These Years

Tami Keel talks about revisiting the 1911 as a carry piece:

I’ve had hardly any serious trigger time with 1911s for years now, so getting the opportunity to put several cases of ammo through a few over the space of a couple months was a chance to get a fresh look at the old object of my affections.
It reminded me how wonderful the trigger on a good 1911 is. The only way your trigger finger could have a more direct link to firing the pistol is if you reached inside it and pushed the sear off the hammer hooks yourself.
It reminded me of how slim the 1911 is. It may be a big-bore horse pistol at heart, but it’s skinny enough to carry inside the waistband with ease.
It reminded me of how it fits the hand.

All the above are good points, and I agree completely. However, Tami adds:

But, most importantly? It reminded me of all the things I don’t miss about carrying and training with 1911s, and that list is a lot longer than I would have guessed it would be.
For starters, I had forgotten how much of an annoyance low magazine capacity could be. There’s a saying about high-performance fighter jets: they’re almost out of fuel just sitting on the runway, and definitely out of fuel after takeoff. The 1911 is like that. I mean, you have to change magazines just to shoot a 10-round chronograph string! Horror! Nine-millimeter 1911s mitigate this somewhat, but 10 rounds still isn’t a lot of BB’s in the tank when you’re used to 15, 17 or more.
Speaking of magazines, how spoiled I’ve been for the last five years! When I was carrying a Smith & Wesson M&P, I bought M&P mags and they worked. Now I’m carrying a Glock and I buy Glock magazines and they work. When I was carrying a 1911, I practically had to have a degree in the arcane and eldritch science of 1911 magazine selection.

Mostly, I agree with her take on the latter issue — although I should point out that Chip McCormick makes the excellent 10-round PowerMag: I’ve used them in IDPA shoots and when I travel, I carry five of them in my bag. (I agree, though, that 1911 manufacturers — especially Colt and Springfield — did themselves no favors by issuing such crappy mags with their new guns. Once I discovered the aforementioned PowerMags, away went the silly and unreliable 7-round “issue” mags — literally: I hammered them flat and trashed them. I’ve fired PowerMags exclusively ever since, and in my Springfield they’re even more reliable than Wilson mags.)

I still don’t get the fascination for high-capacity mags in a non-military / -law enforcement scenario. I mean, seriously: if the average gunfight is pretty much over, one way or another after three rounds have been fired, the remaining dozen in your double-stack mag are superfluous.

More of a problem, though, is that the 15-round hi-cap mags make a handgun’s grips a lot thicker — and for most women, that could be problematic. (It isn’t for Tami because she’s a big woman — her hands are bigger than mine, I think.) When she talks about how the 1911 “fits” in the hand, it’s because the grip isn’t like holding a pineapple. Even Connie (another big woman) had a problem with hi-cap mags — her Browning High Power was at the absolute limit, size-wise, for gripping comfort, and she used to admit that my 1911 felt much better in her hand. (The recoil, of course, was another story.)

Tami’s right about one thing: the 1911’s trigger is without equal among serious carry pistols. When and if I do quit shooting my Springfield 1911, the biggest adjustment I’ll have to make is getting used to an inferior trigger, almost no matter what gun I end up shooting. The only non-competition pistol with a better trigger (out of the box) is perhaps the Browning Buck Mark, and it ain’t a carry piece.

There’s one more thing to add in the 1911’s favor. When you’re carrying that 3-lb chunk of steel loaded with some fine hollowpoints, you have the confidence of knowing that in any adverse circumstances, you have at your command the finest carry pistol ever made, and one of the greatest cartridges ditto. And you don’t really need more than a few rounds either, if you know what you’re doing — and you should.

And I agree: when you’re blasting hundreds of rounds away at the range, it is more convenient to have more rounds between reloads. But I don’t own a self-defense gun to plink at paper. My 1911 is for serious business, and its weight, low ammo capacity and all the other “faults” of the 1911 are completely irrelevant.

Let me share with y’all a little thought I’ve been mulling over recently: if I do ever retire the 1911 (because recoil), I might seriously consider carrying a .357 revolver as its replacement. Yeah… six rounds instead of fifteen. Don’t care. Right now, my 1911’s PowerMags are loaded with only eight rounds anyway, so the difference is negligible.

Which revolver would I carry, you may ask? Why, the S&W Model 66 Combat Magnum, of course (because they don’t make the “no-back-sight” Model 65 anymore):

How’s that for “low magazine capacity”? (And by the way, the K-frame Smith “fits” in my hand better than a Colt Python. I’ve owned both, and I’m not exaggerating.)

You may all start shouting at me in Comments, now.

Egregious Mistake Department:  I mistakenly called Chip McCormick’s mags “ProMags” when in fact they’re “PowerMags”. Thanks to Reader DrewK for pointing that out, and the necessary edits have been made.