Wednesday, December 29, 2010


On returning from the “Midnight Mass” I engage with my personal ritual of over twenty five years in pouring a glass of Calvados and sitting in a comfortable armchair before the Christmas tree, allowing my thoughts to wander. It’s odd how the reflections change from year to year. Last year and the year before they were melancholic in nature; this year they were vivid in their detail, and nostalgic.

Perhaps it was due to a surfeit of Charles Dickens, but I had flashbacks to many Christmas Eves long, long ago. Tucked up early in a warm bed in an otherwise frigid bedroom in Himbleton Vicarage. Only the downstairs rooms had any form of heat, and even though my room was above the kitchen (and the magnificent Rayburn stove) it was never warm in winter. Then parading with my siblings in St. Stephen’s Vicarage, wearing dressing gowns and holding embroidered pillow cases in anticipation of Father Christmas’ visit that night. The bedtime parade was always at the foot of that enormous staircase which joined the hall to a small landing, and then continued up some more. It was a ritual always filmed by my father – enjoyable as an eleven-year-old, but so embarrassing as a teenager. Funny how attitudes change within just a couple of years.

My late teenage years hold no significant Christmas memories, and neither did my “twenties” – except that each Christmas was traditional and always enjoyable. Normal is a good word. Growing up in a normal family environment. The memories would return many years later when I was ordained in 1986. Then, in a parish in the West of England, Christmas Eve (and the long line of carol services that preceded it) was quite an exhausting affair. Many, many home communions; a children’s service; a Midnight Mass. Then up on Christmas morning for a 7.00 a.m. mass, and 8.00 a.m. repeat and the large and well attended Parish Eucharist mid-morning. Of course as the newly-ordained curate I would have to attend each one! At the end of Christmas morning I would load my car with presents and drive two hours to my parents’ house in Worcester – just in time for a heavy lunch. Often I was asleep in the chair mid-afternoon!

Life is simpler now, with just one service on Christmas morning. No wonder the memories are easier to recall. As I sit before the splendid tree, I toast all others who do the same.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Familiar Tale

In my recent post I made reference to the Ghost of Christmas Past, which, of course, is a principal visitor in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." It was almost deliberate, in that I am reading that short story in few days before Christmas. Why? Because I always used to do so in years long past, and each time would learn something. I am now reading the tale for the first time in perhaps thirty years, and it's descriptions, observations, comment and humor are as fresh as ever. I recommend it to all, that all may laugh, think, and then learn.

It's a wrap!

Pure self-indulgence, I know, but after a long day I'm relaxing with a martini and feel content with what I have achieved. The day began with my driving excited, giggling, Christmas-filled girls to school, and then spending an hour in a supermarket with the first part of the weekend food and drink list. (It wasn't at all busy, and no-one was rushing. I even found time for a leisurely cappuccino at Borders.) School pick-up was after mass at 10.00. Was it worth it, this two hour school day? Many parents no doubt thought not, or said not, but I disagree. The end of term mass was important to the community, as was the chance for students to give and receive their personal gifts. And they didn't complain. What are the priorities of some of these parents?

The next few hours was spent running errands, buying the meat for Sunday's "open house" party; collecting an order of petit fours, two bottles of champagne, one of Calvados; taking a mountain of plastic and cardboard to the recycling center, and then, in a basement room, pulling out bags and boxes containing the secret fruit of the last few week's Christmas shopping. A quietly happy time followed, as gifts large and small were carefully wrapped in colorful paper. A thoughtful, and even nostalgic task which I have always enjoyed, for it is as if the ghost of Christmas Past visits me at this time, and as I cut and fold and tape, I remember many days, people and conversations.

Now done, I can reflect some more.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ministry to all? Yes.

"The Royal Navy exists to function at sea. The Royal Naval Chaplaincy Service seeks to support the spiritual, moral and social well being of all personnel and their dependants. It has a unique role to play both in the front line and in support." (Royal Naval Chaplaincy Service.)

"The Chaplain is the friend and advisor of all on board." (Anon. A time-honoured Royal Navy understanding.)

Now that's a pretty serious and even ponderous opening to a post, but it stems not only from my experience and great love of naval chaplaincy and ministry, but also from the pivotal decision made today by the United States Senate to repeal the existing legislation that, whilst not prohibiting gay and lesbian individuals from serving in the armed forces of that country, shrouded the sexuality issues in condign ways that were tantamount to a game of hide and seek. My! That was a long sentence! Let's break it down. Keep it hidden and we won't seek. Give us a glimpse and we will act. (I nearly wrote "Show us a leg" but I know that would be open to innuendo!) Simply put, since the 1983 inception of the "Don't ask, don't tell" policies (under the guidance and approval of President William Jefferson Clinton, that great guardian of sexual morals) gay and lesbian military personnel have occupied a shadowy zone.

Hopefully, and now pending President Barack Hussein Obama's signature, that is history passed, but there is still concern with regard to some serving Chaplains within the American branches of the military. And these are those of the more fundamentalist evangelical groupings, of which (I am accurately informed) there are many within service chaplaincy. Their complaint is this: If gays and lesbians are allowed to serve openly (ie. Be themselves) in the branch of the military in which the plaintiff chaplain serves, and the Pentagon permits such diversity, then their Bible-based (sic) ministry, which does not accommodate such lifestyles, is compromised. Damn! Another long sentence. So, again, let's break it down. These padres don't like it because up until now they've had it two ways. First, a captive parish of existing Christian fundamentalists; and second, a target parish of vulnerable troops to which the same message could be delivered.

The reasoned answer to this, and one which is happily coming from the more balanced senior commanders, reflects the older rules and sentiments of the British Senior Service, the Royal Navy. You see, my somewhat pompous introduction was not without purpose. Given the news headlines it points to the fact that the military culture of the USA is joining that of its peers in Europe, and recognising the greatest value of all - that of the individual who volunteers to serve his or her country, and who is prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice in that cause. Regardless of anything more personal.

Of course the United Kingdom acquired this political and military wisdom ten or more years ago. But was that easy? Well yes, but before that change there were many nightmares. And on those I will write some more...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Years brushed away.

Today is a very sad day, for the painters are there painting the kitchen walls. Not that this is a cause for melancholy, for they badly need refreshing. No, it is rather the one section of wall tucked away by the back door that at a given moment today will be covered with new paint. And under that coat will remain seven years of pencilled height measurements - never to be seen again. I've heard of this happening to other families, but this is the first time in my home that cherished memories will be removed by a brush-stroke. And the last - for I think that we've all stopped growing.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

And speaking of signs...

A number of large, lurid crosswalk signs have appeared on Main Street, Bridgehampton, each one marking - yes, the four crosswalks. They seem to have appeared overnight, which is highly unlikely as highway workers do nothing at night except sleep. Needless to say their sudden arrival is quite a talking point on account of they being totally out of keeping with the rest of the permitted signage. To put up any sign in this designated historical district one has to have it assessed and approved various regulatory bodies, and that's no mean feat. Even the traditional (and corporate) "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You" was deemed by the Town Board to be unacceptable. So what of these bright yellow intrusions? Ah, they're New York State signs, this being a State Highway. That explains everything. I'm willing to bet that they didn't have to consult local authorities before adding insult to prevent injury.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Sign of the Times?

Seen at the Bridgehampton K-Mart store this week...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Shh! Don't tell.

It's not really for me to comment on the enormous headlines that announce the Wikileaks revelations to the world at large, but they do trouble me. Not because they uncover state and diplomatic secrets, for they do not. Neither do they truly compromise the world of diplomacy, international relationships and even espionage - for the contents of the released cables are already fully known to any government with even a half-successful intelligence service. More worrying than the release of these relatively low classification cables is the knowledge that the serious troublemakers in the global arena, Iran, the Taliban and the Al Qaeda-styled terrorist groups have intelligence gathering that can match most western agencies. How they must be laughing when we worry that Angela Merkel is seemingly made of political teflon or that the Duke of York made an off the cuff comment about press involvement in an important international deal between allies. This is the real world, for God's sake, and we have far greater things to worry about.

What much of these released cables point to is that the poignant truth that the political world, whether or not it involves the military, diplomatic discussions and comments, or even spying, is a gray and complicated place. And it is within this difficult and complex nexus that friendly and unfriendly governments meet. Sometimes they do business, sometimes they do not. But the very existence of their activity, even under the restraints of mutual suspicion, keeps the peace.

What does the obviously egotistical network of the Australian Julian Assange actually achieve? Well it temporarily boosts the sales of newspapers. It gives broadcast media a field-day in the absence of concrete new events. It also fuels the blogosphere, of which (I confess) this column is a segment.

Sir Malcom Rifkind, a member of the British Parliament, a former Foreign Secretary, a deeply Jewish intellectual, filled with common sense, and a man to whom I once had the honour of passing the port (quite a few times!) at a mess dinner, made a piercing comment in today's UK press, when he said,"There is a difference between “the public interest” and “the public are interested.” And he is so right. Assange and his secretive, almost self-righteous campaign panders to the latter. The former must be remain in the hands of those who know the importance of "balance and peace."

Monday, November 29, 2010

Escaping on a Day Off...

I did not have a strong urge to escape today, but after the rudeness and annoyance of yesterday's liturgical interruption I needed restoring. I woke this morning with many thoughts. First, how about another hour's sleep; second, my God, this coffee's good. And third, I'm going fishing today. And so after the school run I returned home, did my traditional trip to the "dump," and then set about preparing simple tackle. The ponds I wanted to fish involved a few miles of walking through the woods to the north west of here, so this would have to be a light pack. A telescopic rod, reel, and various bits of fishing kit (including a tub of worms) all fitted into a small House of Hardy canvas shoulder bag.

Having parked the car and walked to the west bank of Scoy Pond I realized that I had not paid attention to the weather. That bank had been in shade all the day and the previous night's frost had left a veneer of thin ice across most of the water. Time to walk around, through thick brush in places, to the east bank. There the water was clear, and I set up the rod.

A hour of great sport followed, with many yellow perch being caught. Ordinarily I would have kept a few, as they are delicious when pan-cooked, but on this sunny, late autumn day, I returned them all to the water. Except one, that is. He was firmly hooked, and I was reeling him in when there was a swirl of water, a violent snatch, and my line went limp. From my fishing days in Devon, UK, I knew what that meant. There's a pike in that water... and I will return. With the correct tackle.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent Sunday evening - musings

Advent Sunday has always been one of my favorite days of the year, marking a clear boundary between the folk-festivals of Autumn and the beginning of the Church's New Year. Pumpkins and straws are cleared away to support the prophet Isaiah's words: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths." Symbolically, and spiritually. And I have always enjoyed preaching on this day. Yet (without judgement on the soundness of my homily) I was, today, denied that pleasure by a group of noisy children. Now I love the noise of children in church. A cry, a laugh, a squeal - even at an inopportune moment of the liturgy - fills me with delight and blessing. But when such children are allowed to continue to noisily disrupt I surely have to draw a line. They continued to do so, and their parents (whom I do not know) did nothing, and I interrupted my sermon to invite the family to take the children out into the beautiful sunshine. Yet they did not respond. Eventually they did leave. During the Creed. Sad. Indicative of a certain modern parental attitude. This did mean that I had to preach my sermon three times today, as the original recorded soundtrack was ruined by the little urchins. Speaking to an empty church this afternoon was ... interesting.

Late this afternoon I visited the Falkowski farm for the last time this season. They close their stand today, and every year I visit and wish them well for the winter season. Today I was their last customer and bought the last two bunches of beet-roots before wishing them every blessing.

And in the face of all this wonderful reality I wonder about the Episcopal Church ...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

I'm sorry, but ...

There are many times of the year when the seasonal message from the leaders of the Anglican world are listened to more than usual, and Advent is one of them. As people prepare for their Christmas they like to have a sound and well-grounded preliminary message.

This weak, poorly delivered and badly edited homily does not fall into such a category. Going to bed five minutes early and hoping for a middle-of-the-night revelation is ... well, make up your own mind. Oh dear.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Day Thoughts Delivered This Morning

I have to preface this and every Thanksgiving sermon of mine with the disclaimer that, for me, Thanksgiving is an adopted feast day. That’s a natural enough admission from one who grew up in another land, but it pays to be honest! Yet it has become my most favorite of days, without the pressures and intensity of Christmas and Easter, and the razzmatazz of the Fourth of July. A day to spend time with family and friends, to enjoy company and cuisine, and to try to do so simply, and in a genuine spirit of Thanksgiving. In this respect Thanksgiving Day had adopted me as much as I have adopted it. It is a perfect example of mutual agreement!

Yet I am disappointed, not so much by the folklore behind the feast, and it is folklore, but by the vulgarity which has been injected into what is the most dignified of acts; and also by the insistence by many that Thanksgiving is purely secular in nature, and that any notion of God ought to be avoided in favor of over-eating and football on the TV. Their argument against religion falls at the first hurdle. And the second. For those early settlers, whoever they were and wherever it took place, certainly offered prayers for their very deliverance and survival. And when the observance of Thanksgiving became a part of national life, the intention, given by presidential letter, make the nature of this feast day explicitly clear.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

So began the Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. He was referring to the natural blessings of this land, as well as the diversity of industry and commerce that had sprung up, and multiplied despite the challenges of Civil War, international aggression and divided communities. And a balance had been restored:

… Peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Things were well and prospering, and the recovery from the years of conflict was under way. And Lincoln was able to stop and consider the past, present and the tentative future, and glimpse a greater power at work.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

Gracious gifts of the Most High God. And so the simple response to those gifts must be thanksgiving. Yet not merely on an individual level but as a people, a nation. He insisted:

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

And therefore, the invitation to do just that had to follow.

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

And that brings us, down the year, to this day. This wonderful day. This day when we look around us, and express our thanks for all the blessings that we have received – as many, and as one.

I feel sorry and disappointed for those whose moment of thanksgiving will depend on the touchdown, or the size of the turkey, or the sweetness of the pie. I would not begrudge them any of these things, but if that is all it means then I fear greatly for culture and civility.

Rather I encourage all people to read their history books, and learn from the wisdom and insight of so many who have shaped this country, and built its foundations.

Of course we will celebrate this day. Many tables, many foods, many languages, many family traditions – but with one heart and voice… Let us make Thanksgiving to God. Then, and only then, can we celebrate in whatever way we choose.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Get outta my way! I wanna celebrate Thanksgiving.

Just a short post, merely a cough of a comment. I dropped by our local supermarket late this afternoon to pick up a few items, and was amazed to discover that a normally busy store had been transformed into a zoo at feeding time. Shopping carts piled high were being navigated by people who had expressions of angry purpose and intent, suggesting that if they had been at the very first Thanksgiving celebration, wherever that was, they would have pushed past the prayerful settlers and insisted that their little brats really do need jello and marshmallows to make sense of this uniquely American cultural expression. Which saddens me, as one who has adopted Thanksgiving Day in a real way.

But more about that tomorrow, and more again on the Day itself.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Shaken, and Stirred

When in a pub or a bar I am the most easy-going of persons, especially when sipping a drink, but I confess that in such places, and restaurants included, I have a serious complaint that seems to apply to all but the most traditional of establishments. It involves the ordering of a most special drink. The martini.

In countless, unforgivable, moments in this part of the world, I have asked for a martini, only to be asked if I would like a gin or a vodka martini. An educated reader will join me in silently screaming at this point. Why? Because a martini is always made with gin, unless the customer (who is always right) asks for a vodka martini.

It seems that bartenders in New York where the most diverse cocktails in the history of drink o’clock were created are, now, sadly, guilty of this ignorance. And that’s a sobering shame.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Something so small. So old.

Let me begin by clarifying something: My father was never one to tell stories, exaggerate or reminisce. In fact he avoided telling any tales, be they of his many wartime missions as a bomber navigator in the Royal Air Force (and his times in India after the war ended.) Or his early childhood in Fishguard. Or his times in seminary. In fact, and I hope that I am not doing his memory a disservice, I do not even recall him reading me a bedtime story. And I hope that my recollection is wrong in that respect. For I loved him dearly.

My memory is crystal clear in one exception to my father’s reticence, even shyness, when it came to telling a story. I can’t recall the exact time and situation, but certainly remember the place. It was his study in the huge Victorian vicarage in Worcester, a house that would engulf at least three modern vicarages! (Ah, how times have changed!) And something must have sparked off a conversation. Perhaps something we had seen on television, or a homework assignment. Whatever it was prompted my father to begin to tell a story. And what a riveting story it was.

It had taken place only a couple of years previous to us moving into this suburban vicarage. We had lived for many years in the small rural village of Himbleton, and it was there that my father had been asked, as vicar and priest, to visit a farmhouse that was host to extraordinary events.

I can close my eyes and see him now, sitting at his roll-top desk, and telling how, in this farmhouse, the family was afraid. Furniture was moving in violent ways. Windows were being inexplicably broken, and a threatening aura prevailed. There had been, he told us, no recent tragedy in the house (which dated to 1420). Neither were there any young people involved, which, he explained, could sometimes create spiritual mischief. And I remember him smiling at this point. What next?

He went on to describe how he insisted on celebrating the Eucharist in this house, with the family attending. Then, how during that mass he felt a great sense of relief, and (and here’s where it becomes different) an urge to tell the family to look for a stone in the house. That he did. And the house was at peace.

He paused, saying that a couple of weeks went by, and then the farmer called him to say that in replacing a floorboard in the old scullery they had found a piece of amber, about an inch in length and less than that in width. But they were afraid to move it because the disturbances in the house had resumed. And so, he told us, he had to go and lift out and destroy the stone with a coal hammer. In his telling, as he took the stone outside there was a great deal of spiritual reaction and even violence in that large bookshelves were toppled and kitchen pots spilled, but once the hammer fell peace also descended.

Do you understand that story? I certainly don’t.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Pictorial Blog: Provincetown Color

Provincetown, on the furthest tip of Cape Cod, is renouned for its color, in more ways than one. It's buildings and its signs exemplify this! For your enjoyment, and mine, a few images taken on my last trip a week ago.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Telling it on the Mountain

Although not my first experience of what is inaccurately described as the “supernatural” a meeting, extraordinary in retrospect, on a snow-blown mountainside in Wales is as clear in my mind today as it was then, nearly forty years ago.

Several of us from the Upper Remove of the King’s School, Worcester were taken for a long weekend camp at the Old Chapel in a long and lonely valley in south Wales. The valley was the Grwyne Fechan. Yes, I know that placename creates problems for non-Celtic readers, but please enjoy it, as that name was in place well before most cultures drew maps. With the exception of the Italians, Aztecs and the Greeks, of course, but as none of those groups have an historic foothold in the Welsh mountains, and do not speak Welsh, at least to our knowledge, they are both welcomed and then excused.

The two teachers responsible for our party were Mr. Cunningham and Dr. Cattermole. The Old Chapel, once a place of worship for rural Methodists, was and is an outdoor activity base for the school, owned by them since the 1960s, and is now a well equipped building that probably offers better facilities than some of the farmhouse B&Bs in the area. Not so in 1972.

You see there was no running water, and so the first task of any group arriving was to collect water from a fresh spring some five hundred metres up the hillside to the west of the chapel. I, together with Rick Mayall and Simon Curle, was dispatched - three water bearers, each of us carrying a plastic ten gallon container.

The conditions were near “white-out” but we were able to follow a rocky trail up the slope. I was in the lead, but as minutes went by I realized that the visibility was getting worse and I was unsure where the spring, and its sticking-out pipe was.

Then the man told me, “You’ve just passed it. It’s over there.” And he pointed to a rocky outcrop about twenty feet away. “Thanks,” I said. And stumbled over to the pipe. Rick was the next to arrive. “Who the f___ were you talking to, Tim?” “Just this guy who helped us out,” I said. And he looked at me in a weird way. “Yeah, really?” We carried the thirty gallons of water back to the camp.

About a year later, on a similar trip, I told this story to a mountain guide, a local ranger, who quizzed me about this man that I had met. All I could say was that he was not dressed for walking on the mountain, snow or no snow. The ranger then told me that I was one of dozens who, over many, many years, had possible seen a man who had died looking for a lost sheep in the hot summer of 1927.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Reflections on All Hallow's Eve

October the 31st, and it was a Sunday. There was nothing spooky or spiritual about the dogs deciding that 5.55 a.m. was the start of the "pagan" festival. Trust me - the combined weight of three labradors (the fourth was in another room) is a bouncing alarm clock that no one can ignore. Once up, everyone's up. It's a simple canine equation that is impossible to deny.

In my sermon this morning I admitted that I had tried, in thought and preparation, and with a little humor, to splice together the gospel story of Zacchaeus (he who climbed a sycamore tree to see the Lord) and the unavoidable theme of this weekend. The modern American expression of All Hallow's Eve, namely Halloween. I stated:

I find Zacchaeus more interesting than "ghoulies and ghosties, and long leggedy beasties, and things that go bump in the night." And, of course I do, but even as I spoke those words, that old and anonymous Scottish ditty, I started to have deeper thoughts about my denial. Because I am interested in those "ghosties." I have to be as a result of my own experiences, and those of my late father, also a priest.

Ghosts. Ah! People can step up and ask,"Do you believe in ghosts?" My answers are always ambiguous, for the very word "ghost" is culturally loaded. Others, mainly rigiliists when it comes to religious matters, will assert that as a Christian (and a priest, to boot) I must deny such notions. Then I remain quiet, and remember that line in the Nicene Creed that we believe in a God who is God of the "visible and invisible."

So, over the next few days, in this season of All Hallows, I am going to write some more. These will not be ghost stories, but they will be narratives from my own experiences and those of my father. I invite all to comment and add to these humble pages, which try to be honest in what they tell.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

On, but shortly to be Off Cape

I have spent the past few days on the Outer Cape. Not in my beloved Pamet River valley, for complex reasons, but in a tiny beach rental on the Truro/Provincetown town line. I have been reconnecting with old trails and places, as well as discovering the new. And out of necessity seeing the Outer Cape through new and creative eyes. Having taken over 200 photographs and pages of scribbled notes, perhaps you will allow me to share this time with you over the next week and more. (Typed on my Blackberry so please excuse errors.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

No, it's a cloud. (Photograph taken this week from the Montauk Highway.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010


As one who now visits Riverhead almost on a daily basis I am disappointed. There are only two places in this county seat (population 27,860, 2000 Census.) to drink decent coffee. And the first of these is Seattle's Best Coffee in Borders bookstore. But this afternoon the place was full to overflowing. I blame it on the local hospital staff and students, otherwise excellent people until they keep me from my cappuccino with extra shot. The other place is Starbucks in the Tanger Mall, a sprawling open-air shopping plaza some two miles from the center. There, or should I say here the coffee is excellent, but the place has no inside seating. So today I am forced to sit outside at a Tanger steel table on a Tanger fixed steel chair, where the Tanger umbrellas are furled for the season, the Tanger piped musak is blaring, and it is just starting to rain. At least I now have company...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Day at the Beach

The Hamptons Film festival was reaching its final reel. With the invasion of cinema luvvies and dahlings, their hangers-on and the great unwashed public trying their best to look and behave in an avant-garde way, it was definitely a day to get out of town. Sandi had a business meeting in Westhampton Beach, and so it was a perfect opportunity to have a family day out. Westhampton Beach is a village within the town of Southampton, with a population of a little less than two thousand souls. It is not to be confused with the neighboring Westhampton Dunes, two lines of large, ugly and crowded beachfront houses with a year round population of eleven. (2000 Census.) No, Westhampton is a compact and delightful place, and great fun to spend a few hours doing nothing in particular.

As you drive west along the old Montauk Highway through the leafy properties of Quogue you might be forgiven for thinking that that Westhampton contained little more than the usual collection of hardware and gas stations, a Walbaum’s supermarket (oh, please!) and the string of cheap pizza joints that define so much of commercial Long Island. But take the road south (signed “Beach”) and you will have a pleasant surprise. With a plush tennis club and high privet hedges the landscape changes within a short distance. Turn left at the Episcopal Church (Saint Mark’s. which has a commanding Baptist-style architecture) and enter Main Street.

To describe this two-hundred yard long street as “old-town” USA would not be an exaggeration. Quaint and old clapboard, stucco and shingle buildings line both sides, and occasional alleyways invite you to explore the shops that are tucked away. Of course the whole thing is designed to appeal to the visitor, but once you get into that way of thinking you actually start to enjoy it. (Besides, if you wanted hardware and car tires, not to mention pepperoni on thick crust, you should have stayed on the highway.) And then you start spending money, which is what they want you to do in the first place.

It’s not all sweet service however. I wandered in search of a cup of coffee and found Goldberg’s Bagels. The advertised iced coffee sounded good and I ordered a medium cup, except that they had no ice. No ice? But it’s iced coffee. It is chilled! It’s delicious! It wasn’t.

The architectural gem of Main Street is the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center. Built in 1932 as a large screen cinema the old style building has undergone many incarnations and usages before being turned into a state-of-the-art facility in the late 1990s.

And lunch? Nowhere better than the Post Stop CafĂ©, the pub at the east end of the street. Now this is a building with a colorful history. Built in 1914 as the first “free standing post office” it collected and dispatched the mail until 1941 when a replacement modern building was opened. Enter the Schramm sisters. Later that year Hattie and Nettie Schramm, the daughters of Max, a local entrepreneur, opened a stationery store which also sold fireworks in the back room. They were bought out in 1947 by one Myram Straw (with a name like that he must have worn boater and bow tie, surely) who continued the same line of business until the US government declared fireworks illegal. So what did he do? Well it was Mrs. Straw actually, who opened a “Luncheonette” which fed locals until 1958. That changed hands and name, and again, and again, but the place remains an eatery to this day. And a rather fine one too!