Placemat

As you read this, I will have reached the end of the first leg of my sabbatical in Britishland, and I’ll be boarding the craft which will wing me back over The Pond to Texas:

…although, to accommodate my somewhat errr enhanced bulk (thank you, Wadworth 6X, steak pies, fish & chips and Full English Breakfasts), the airline should really be using one of these:

Regular blogging (whatever that is) should resume tomorrow.

And lastly: a huge, enormous thank-you is due to Mr. and Mrs. Free Market for their unbelievable hospitality given me during my stay Over Here. When I come back in late October, I’ll be staying elsewhere — details to follow — but, as they say, words cannot express my gratitude to these wonderful people because, quite graciously and with absolutely no fuss, they saved my life. I am not worthy.

Half An Ale

Continuing on the saga of my expanding gut, I was amused by this little thought from James May:

…and ordinarily, his sentiment would be correct. The correct measure is indeed the pint:

However, I have learnt a few things about this pint business. I tend to prefer my beer in said quantities, as evidenced by this pic of my breakfast beer in Edinburgh:

(Explanation: I had arisen from my hoggish slumber too late to be served breakfast, and the pub hadn’t yet started serving their lunch menu. I was in dire need of some sustenance but my knowledge of local brews was scanty, hence my selection of Tennant’s, the Edinburgh lager, which is absolutely dreadful. No wonder the Jocks are always fighting each other if that’s what they have to drink. I didn’t even finish that glass.)

Anyway, my normal choice of ale taken in pint units is somewhat compromised by the stiff DWI/DUI laws they have Over Here. If I’m walking (e.g. in Edinburgh) or being driven (e.g. to Blenheim), I can freely imbibe from pint glasses, and I have. But if I’m driving, then I have to drink in smaller quantities, e.g. this half-pint of local brew Exmoor (ugh) taken in Salisbury’s Haunch of Venison pub:

(I know, a half-pint looks ridiculous in my giant paw. Whatever.)

You might think that this is counter-productive, in that I would just drink more half-pints to achieve the desired state of inebriation, but actually (and this has been scientifically timed by The Englishman), I tend to drink a full pint (especially of 6X) in about the same time it takes me to drink a half-pint — ergo, I end up drinking half the normal quantity, and thus is P.C. Plod kept off my fat, beer-loving Texas ass.

Call me Mr. Responsible.

(And for those who are about to get all scoldy on me, don’t bother. Like so many of my writings on suchlike topics, this post should be taken with a ton of salt.)

Falling Over

For many years now, I’ve suffered from a mild form of vertigo — a feeling of dizziness felt especially in high places, but not necessarily just there either.

The first time I felt it was when I lived in Chicago. I had a bad cold, I’d just had a hot bath, and when I got out, I nearly fell over. I thought the feeling would pass, but the dizziness didn’t go away, and I started to feel really bad. I was alone in the apartment — The Mrs. had gone shopping with the kids — so in a panic, I called 911 for an ambulance. As luck would have it [sarcasm alert], The Mrs. arrived at the lobby to the apartment block precisely at the moment I was being wheeled out in a stretcher. You can no doubt imagine her reaction.

Anyway, I had all sorts of X-rays and such at the hospital, and they found nothing wrong with me, and to add to the irony, I felt much better — so much so that I checked myself out and went home.

The next time I had a similar experience was much later, in Texas. Same thing, except I didn’t have a cold and hadn’t just had a bath. I was getting out of bed and couldn’t stand up without falling back over onto the bed. By this time, The Mrs.’s health had deteriorated to the point of being essentially bedridden, I didn’t want to pay for the EMS guys to carry me the few miles to the hospital, so the Son&Heir took me.

(Some background: I have a family history of heart disease — it’s killed several on my mother’s side — so I’ve always been wary of anything untoward happening because I’m generally in very good health. Hence my excessive caution, and going to the hospital in both cases.)

Anyway, on this occasion, the same thing happened in Plano as had happened in Chicago: tests, X-rays, MRI etc., and nothing bad had happened; that, plus the fact that I was (once more) feeling fine by the end of it, meant that I checked myself out again and went home.

A couple of years ago, you may remember that during the U.S. Open golf tournament in Chambers Bay, Oz golfer Jason Day had a severe attack of vertigo which almost caused him to withdraw from the last round. Greg Norman, one of the TV commentators, did a little research on the ailment and described the symptoms — and to my astonishment, it was like reading a list of the things that had troubled me in the past. (I should point out that my G.P. has checked me out very thoroughly, and concurs with my self-diagnosis. I should also add that my annual check-up always ends with him telling me to bugger off and quit wasting his time because he has really sick people to attend to. Apparently, when I do die, he’ll have to beat my heart to death with a stick.)

Now, as I’m getting older, I’ve since had some more mild vertigo attacks, but nothing serious: an occasional wobble if I make too severe a turn while walking, or I might lose my balance momentarily on a staircase, and so on. In each case, I pause for a few seconds, my balance reasserts itself, and on I go.

As a condition, vertigo is suffered by 5-10% of the population, is mostly caused by a malfunction of the inner ear balance mechanism, and occurs more frequently as one ages. (For a fuller description, the Wikipedia entry is as good as any.)

And yes, I also have fairly severe tinnitus caused by a lifetime spent shooting guns without much hearing protection (until fairly recently) and by a youth spent playing loud music in a rock band. Cliff Notes: my ears are fucked.

Anyway, I thought I’d just mention this issue in case some of my Old Fart Readers get dizzy and can’t figure out why; this may be the reason, but in any event, get yerself checked out by a doctor just in case.

As I’ve often said, this getting old shit is not for young people: you need to be tough and cynical (as brought on by age) in order to get through it.

This post does require a pitchur to help get the idea across; so here’s another Kim, über-hottie Kim Novak, getting directed by Alfred Hitchcock in Vertigo:

Changed And Unchanged

So today I went to Harvey Nichols to make my token purchase (as promised here), and walked out without making one. Here’s what got up my nose about the place.

Harvey Nicks has changed. It’s no longer the calm, classy establishment I knew and loved from a dozen or so years ago. Now it’s brash, very pretentious and looks like someone in Marketing said, “I know! Let’s cater to parvenu Russian oil oligarchs’ wives and children!”

I was going to make a small purchase — I can’t afford Harvey Nicks’ prices on, well, anything — so I wanted to get something small, a present for a friend, nothing fancy, a beautiful bath soap that would be pure indulgence every time she used it. I walked up to the first salesgirl I saw at the cosmetics department and said, “I’m looking for some luxury bath soap. Where do you stock it?”
Soap?” The little tart acted as though she’d never heard of it.
“Yes… you know, a bar of something fragrant, something sinfully expensive and indulgent?”
Soap?” she repeated. “I don’t know… let me ask someone else,” and she sashayed off to another tart behind a different counter. Much whispered conversation, pointing and even a curl of the lip.

I was being snooted.

What was worse, I soon discovered, was that Harvey fucking Nichols does not stock any fucking bar soap, of any description — at least, not that I could discern or the snooty little shit knew about either.

So I left, and such was my dismay that I had to go to Fortnum & Mason for a recuperative lunch. So I did, hoping that Fortnum’s hadn’t made the same stupid marketing decision.

Bless the Lord, they haven’t. It’s still the same lovely, old-fashioned place that sells stuff like $1,500 carrier bags and $10,000 Christmas crackers, and which offers shoeshine service delivered by a young man in formal clothing.

I felt like I’d come home — or at least, home to Free Market Towers, which is very much like Fortnum’s, only without anything for sale. Anyway, after a frighteningly fine lunch of duck rarebit and coffee, I went up to the second floor (Ladies Accessories) and found… about a hundred different kinds of sinfully expensive and indulgent bath soaps. A delightful young lady — not a snooty little tart — with a charming French accent was only too happy to help me make a choice, showing me all over the floor to the different placements of said soaps, opening packages to let me inhale the fragrance, and in general making me feel like my business meant everything to her — and all this, for a $10 purchase, mind you.

So I ended up buying a lot more than one bar of soap — total purchase well over $40 — and then went down to buy small gifts of tea and such for my rotten, ungrateful and spoiled children.

Which I did. Then, still having not exhausted my ire at being condescended to by a snotty little shopgirl, I went down the street to the Maille mustard store, where a charming, helpful young man let me taste about a dozen exquisite mustards, and such was my self-restraint that I only bought half a dozen small jars thereof.

Such is the power of helpful, sincere and well-trained customer service.

And fuck Harvey Nichols. They’ve lost me as a customer, too.

The Banality Of Luxury

So one of my British Things to do today was to go to Green And Stone Stationers and Art Supplies on Kings Road in Chelsea.

Green And Stone is a throwback to an earlier time, when people wrote on fine paper with ink pens, used blotters on letters and correspondence, and had actual writing tables. It’s also a place where, if you’re an artist (professional or hobbyist) you will find the best quality paints, inks, pens and such anywhere. (Think: bamboo calligraphy pens in nearly a dozen different nib widths, and you’ll begin to get an idea.) As someone once told me, “Seeing all this makes you want to take up that activity, just so you get to use the stuff.” And it’s true. Even if you’re not a calligrapher or artist, it’s worth a visit; I ended up buying presents for four people, all different, and only two of which were art-related — it’s that kind of a store.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about today.

I took the Tube down to Sloane Square, and walked the mile or so south to Green & Stone because I love Chelsea; the place is full of eclectic, interesting shops and many, many good places to eat that aren’t called McDonald’s and the like (although they can be found there too). Also, just off King’s Road are beautiful, classy neighborhoods (at not-so beautiful prices — whoa, it’s expensive, bubba) and also interesting establishments like The Chelsea Gardener. Best of all, because the area is upscale, the people are too: mostly classy people, well-dressed and carefully groomed. My kinda folks.

Anyway, on the way back I decided to take the No.19 bus rather than the Tube because it was a lovely day and I felt like looking at London rather than at a tunnel wall.

Part of the route was along Sloane Street into Knightsbridge, and of course it’s on this street where you find all the Usual Suspects: Dior, Ferragamo, Versace, Hermès, Pucci, Prada and all those furrin names. As a place of wealth and ostentation, it’s difficult to top Sloane Street…

…except that it’s not. I’ve seen Sloane Street many times before, only it was called “Hofbahnstrasse” in Zurich, “the Golden Mile” in Chicago, “Kollmarkt” in Vienna, “Northcross Mall” in Dallas, “Champs-Elysées” in Paris and “Park Avenue” in Manhattan. It’s all the same stores, the same overpriced merchandise and (pretty much) the same customers, only speaking with different accents and languages.

Phooey. You can keep all that crap. Give me a street with character like King’s Road or Upper Street in Islington (further along on my bus trip) any day of the week. Luxury shopping isn’t just overpriced, it’s banal — and I want no part of it.

Bucket List Entry #9: The Edinburgh Royal Military Tattoo

I’m not sure that anyone does pageantry like the Brits. For one thing, some of their spectacles have been going on longer than many nations have been in existence, and for another, they take place in the setting of Britain, the country with a history that dates back well over two thousand years.

The Tattoo isn’t one of the former: it’s only been going on for just under seventy years — a veritable child compared to, say, the coronation of the new monarch.

But of course, the Tattoo takes place in front of the storied Edinburgh Castle, one of the oldest buildings in the Western world, and the theme this year was “Splash Of Tartan” which harkens back to the mid-17th century, when Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite Scots were defeated at Culloden, whereafter the wearing of the tartan was forbidden, bagpipe-playing was banned, the Scots were disarmed and the Gaelic language was suppressed.

So of course, the official welcome this year was given in Gaelic, a ceremonial toast of whisky was taken by the guest of honor — a British officer who served the drinks to the clan leaders:

…and then came the massed pipe bands, playing, amongst others, the mournful Skye Boat Song:

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing
Over the sea to Skye;
Carry the man who was born to be king
Over the sea to Skye.

I am not a man with Scottish roots, and in fact there are many things about the Scots of today that I deplore; but even I had a tear running down my cheek.

I talked about my previous Bucket List item (tea at the Ritz Hotel), which I enjoyed for so many reasons; but the Tattoo was unbelievable. Everyone who goes to Britain in summer — during the month of August — should make a point of going. The crowds are immense, the atmosphere electric; and when the ceremony finishes with the Lone Piper playing his melancholy melody atop the battlements of Edinburgh Castle, I promise you that you will never forget it.