Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Short Wave Report

The simplicity of this hobby is that times spend between the headphones can be as brief or as long as desired, and often impromptu. A fifteen minute gap between prepping food and firing up the barbeque, a random spin of the dial, and I was listening to the news in English from Radio Kuwait. "And now the weather. Hot and dry!" I jest. By the way, did I ever tell you about my visit to Kuwait in 1996? I thought not. An account of five very interesting days coming up...

The Garden at the End of May: A Pictorial Post

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day 2011, but first...

I remember the day, if not the exact date, as clearly as if it were yesterday. I was thirteen years old, it was early June, and I was sitting with school friends on the grassy bank of the River Severn in Worcester, watching various races in a regatta. I think that King's, Worcester, were winning, as we usually were very good on the river, but that was not my primary concern. I was, that afternoon, more concerned about my watery, painful eyes, and my sneezing and shortness of breath. What on earth was happening?

The following day I was told by Derek James, our family GP, that it was nothing more than hay fever. Nothing more! How could it be worse, what with all the end of year exams approaching? But antihistamines were prescribed, and with minimal drowsiness I survived the ensuing weeks.

I grew out of such allergies in my mid 20s. There is no medical answer to why this happens, but it is generally recognized that it can occur. And I am thankful. For if I continued to react to grass and tree pollen today, I would possibly, if not probably be in hospital. For we are in the middle of a six week pollen season. The tree pollen, primarily oak, which relentlessly coats everything, takes the form of finest turmeric. My dark gray car needs hosing down every morning and evening. And the above images were taken this morning, after a brief thundershower, of my driveway.

My initial allergic reaction, circa 1969, was to something invisible. Those who suffer on Long Island today do so by the hand of pollen that is both visible and messy. Lord help them.


Our Memorial Day has been perfect, and not to be sneezed at. With suitable thoughts for those who have died in the service of this country, we quietly enjoyed a day of being at home. Pottering, as I like to describe it. After this morning's welcome rain showers the sun shone. I sat in the garden and read for a while, then sowed grass seed in barren places. Sandi and Kate ran a few errands, and then we all enjoyed an early dinner of grilled bison-burgers, various salads and fries! And I also reflected on how great the garden looked this late spring day. Which will lead me into tomorrow's pictorial blog...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sunday Evening Musings

After a delightful dinner with Eric, Kay, John and Annie, and a most relaxing day (if you can count preparing and cooking relaxing) I offer a few nuggets regarding this day, the Sixth Sunday of Easter.

A hearty attendance at both masses today. Combined numbers are in the three digits... Many new faces at the 9.30 service... (I really must remember more of their names...) ... N was there, a stranger to the congregation, large, tipsy and kind. He cried at the communion rail, and loudly muttered. "May God have mercy!" There was something beautiful about that, and about him making others uncomfortable.

This evening we dined outdoors, and what a delight it was.

This evening has been gently warm, and hopefully a sign of good weather ahead. And yet even at sixty-five degrees Kate is complaining and searching for her portable fan. To compensate for this the ceiling fan in the sitting room is running at warp speed. To think that a mere eight weeks ago there was still a remnant of ice on the deck and we were all complaining about the cold! Memories are so short.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A New Season!

From the streets of Manhattan, through the suburbs of Queens and Brooklyn, via the "fly-over" towns of middle Long Island, they came. And today they came in their thousands. Some set off early, very early. As I returned from taking Kate to school there was a disproportionate number of Mercedes and Range Rovers on Highway 27. Most travelled early afternoon, judging by the traffic reports and the increased frequency of ambulance sirens. The rump (ooh! Is that rude?) came into town this evening.

For this is the eve of Memorial Day Weekend. Memorial Day itself is when the United States pauses to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the service of this country (it is on a par with Remembrance Day in the United KIngdom.) But such a dignity will be swamped by the social tsunami that is the Hamptons' Scene. Let the parties begin!

This weekend also marks the cultural beginning of summer in this beloved part of the world. No concept of solstice for these people, and the old rural calendars might be, for them, from another planet. They will not notice the osprey young, the piping plover or the turtles. Come to think of it they will not notice even the people around them. Unless those people are "celebrities." Whatever that term means. I continue to wonder, and despair.

Bless them. For the "season" has begun. And the antidote to their urban arrogance and rudeness? Kill them with courtesy, for they don't know what to do with it!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Speak up!

A day and a bit after the President of the United States' address to both houses of the British parliament (an event upon which I stumbled upon as I visited a parishioner, and we watched it together) I am still puzzled. Not about the historicity of it all. About that there can be no doubt. No, it is something far deeper. As one who both enjoys homiletics, and is trained therein, I found myself appreciating the oratory of Mr. Obama, but then decided that mere oratory wasn't enough. Like any sermon, preached by me or listened to by me, I wanted substance and integrity. And I found his speech to be lacking in both fields. Perhaps I should read the transcript again, but I doubt that any new pearls of diplomatic wisdom will emerge. The content of his homily, watched by most of the world, was both predictable and shallow.

Oh, and his comment about two nations being united by a firm belief in the rule of law? Set aside international contentions for the moment. United States diplomats in London owe the city authorities over five million pounds in traffic violation and congestion fees, yet consider themselves outside of such jurisdiction. Rule of law, Mr Obama? Let's start with the local ones...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Short Wave Report

In the week after Easter I came across an old multiband receiver that had been gathering dust in the basement for many long seasons. It was, and still is a Realistic SW-100 (above) manufactured by Radio Shack in the 1980s, and in perfect working order. One quiet evening I sat out on the rear deck, ran a ten feet length of wire from the radio to the drainpipe, and spent a happy hour and more exploring the short-wave bands.

That unplanned activity was in one way a pure nostalgia trip, as it took me back to my teenage years when I was an avid short wave and medium wave listener. A DXer, to use the hobby jargon! From my bedroom in a huge vicarage in Worcester, with various antennae (including a hundred foot wire that ran the whole length of the property!) I would listen to the world. And in writing to those stations, the world would communicate with me when a reception verification card was sent – a QSL, again to use the correct jargon.

In those distant and different days I had some rather good radio equipment: A Grundig radio, an ex-army communications receiver, and a double valve (yes, valve! “Tube” to American readers) shortwave radio that I built myself after following instructions in Practical Wireless.

In rediscovering this hobby I cannot justify many expenses, but have already found some used equipment in local thrift shops. And a balance remaining on a Christmas gift card enabled me to splurge a little on Amazon.com and purchase a rather good Grundig S-350 with digital tuning. Now that’s posh, especially by 1970s standards!

Distant and different days have come to life again, but are they really different? Yes they are, in radio ways both good and not so good. Even disturbing. But more about that in the next Short Wave Report!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Loyal Toast

It was dignifying to see and hear President Barack Obama, standing with glass in hand, and inviting others to do the same as he proposed a toast to, "Her Majesty the Queen." And the band played, and yet he continued to speak, delivering two more lines of respect and gratitude. And despite that faux pas it didn't really matter on such an occasion. It appears, however, that a BBC reporter needs a little education. To quote from the BBC News website:

To conclude, the president proposed a toast to the Queen, but there appeared to be a mistake as the band played the opening bars to God Save the Queen before he had finished.

A mistake on whose part? Certainly not on the part of the band. The musical cue at events such as these is a simple one. It is the words, "The Queen." Then the baton is raised and the opening bars of the anthem are played. Don't blame the band, and don't blame the President of the United States of America. Blame his protocol advisors, and then pile shame and blame on the pig-ignorance of the BBC, who ought to know better when commenting on such events.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Death of a Gentle Man

Opening the papers early this morning (well, flipping open the MacBook) I read with great sadness of the death of the one-time Irish Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald. To be honest I had not realised that he was still alive, but he had lived to the very respectable age of eighty-five, and had passed away earlier this day. I was saddened, not just because Mr. FitzGerald was a wise and reconciling politician eager to gently lead the politics of the Republic of Ireland out of the clutch of the Roman Catholic Church and into a more modern, pluralist way of national life; it was also because a few of us had a brief and unscheduled encounter with him in 1984.

A group of us in our middle year of training for the priesthood at Salisbury and Wells Theological College were on a lengthy tour of Ireland, both the Republic and the North. We were spending time in Leinster House, Dublin (where both the Dail and Seanad √Čireann, the Lower and Upper Houses of the Irish Parliament) are to be found. Three of us had become separated from the main group and found ourselves in a rather grand room with many tables and artifacts. A man entered who looked somewhat familiar, and he smiled, asking us to introduce ourselves. That we did, and then we realised that we were talking to the Taoiseach himself. Not merely talking, but he found someone to bring a tray of coffee and biscuits, and we all sat around at one of those enormous tables for at least a quarter of an hour. He excused himself saying that he had to go and meet with ... and here I forget the title, but it was someone who sounded extremely important.

Rest in peace, Taoiseach. And thank you for your time, Memories such as those are rarely made these days.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

FACEBOOK. The Great Divorce.

Many of my friends have been recently shocked by my sudden departure from Facebook. Here I am using the word "friends" in a purely Facebook sense, for that social network's understanding of the term does not rely on actual physical acquaintance; neither does it contain the certainty of affection, or root, or history, or common cause. No, Facebook friends may be one or some of these things (and many of mine were) but the concept has been manipulated to mean anyone who agrees to join a personal network. Thus a person may boast of having over five hundred "Facebook Friends," even if that person does not, or has not have any other personal connection with these people. To another, maybe an objective thinker, this might be classified as trophy collecting.

I joined Facebook about two years ago, mainly as an offshoot of the fun my (then) 7th grade daughter was having with her "friends" who also, as they discovered the network, became my "friends." That naturally changed as they de-friended (awful assault on the English language there) and I weeded them out. And time went by...

About a month ago I realised that I was becoming more and more irritated by Facebook culture. It was one of those days when I was able to sit back, say nothing, and look at what my "friends" were posting. I did so in a completely non-judgmental way, for I had already decided that I was a part of all of this. And it was completely, totally, utterly egocentric. Often puerile. And, rightly prompted by my wife (who was also irritated by some inappropriate and self-serving comments) it became clear to me that despite my jolly postings, (and, oh, how they loved them!) Facebook was not really my natural way of communicating and networking.

Since my sudden departure ("He didn't even say goodbye!") I have exchanged so many wonderful emails with my true Facebook friends, and in a sense have rediscovered the superior value of "long-hand" communication. It is a sense of liberation, and I invite others to do the same. If any of my Facebook "friends" read this, and want to actually write to me in an email, I will respond. Much more can be said, and I will certainly "like" it! In the real sense of the word.


... But before writing anything else I am simply happy that, after many months of absence, Leo has finally moved into a new barber shop on Main Street, Bridgehampton, and I hope to be one of his first customers on Friday morning!

Friday, May 13, 2011

A trip down memory lane...

A chance find (above) sparked off a host of memories - most of which date to the late 960s and early 70s.

Sifting through a large envelope containing old papers, one of those temporary storage containers that almost achieved permanence by surviving countless moves and changes of life over the years, I came across the badge (above) of the Free Radio Association. Oh my! What an icon of my teenage years!

This brief reminiscence is a foretaste of a more detailed account on which I am slowly working, but for the meantime…

It was, in Britain and the rest of the northern hemisphere, the summer of 1970. I was fourteen (and three-quarters) years of age. And with many of my friends I was an avid listener to offshore radio. Those stations, pirate by popular acclaim, that continued to challenge the continuing refusal of governments (in particular the UK and the Netherlands) to allow free and commercial radio stations to be licensed.

Sadly (I was born too late!) it was just after the golden era of the pirate stations, which was the mid 1960s. The offshore fort stations were short lived, but to mention the big names: Radio London shut down in 1967, and Radio Caroline, which reincarnated in later years, went silent as a true independent offshore station in 1968. So what were we listening to? One station in particular. Radio Northsea International, broadcasting from the ship Mebo 2 in, yes, the North Sea.

(Oh, and there was also Radio Veronica, but that is another tale…)

(And later, Radio Atlantis, on which one, maybe two of my pre-recorded shows were broadcast…)

Where was I? Oh yes. Many were listening to offshore radio, but two of us at the same school, King’s Worcester, were actually emulating our nautical heroes and setting up our own land-based stations in the Worcester/Malvern area of the English midlands.

By the summer of 1971 two stations shared the same FM transmitter on alternate weekends, which gave us a two-mile radius. Norman Redfern voiced Superadio Enterprise in Malvern, and I presented North Worcester Radio in turn. All broadcasts were pre-recorded, an hour in length, and repeated as often as we dared. Were we busted? Not on FM, no, as the “authorities” of the time did not have efficient VHF trackers. But I was subtly stopped in 1972, having built an a.m. transmitter with a range of 20 miles. Yep! Centurion Radio didn’t last that long. (Chief Constable Hunt was one of my father’s parishioners, so that did help my case.)

As I said, I am working on the larger story, but in the meantime am happy to wallow in nostalgia. And perhaps to comment: In 2011, those who are 15 years of age shout, “Look at me!” In 1971, some of us at that age wished, “Listen to me!” And many did.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Spring has sprung!

... and, I have to say, about bloody time too! These columns have been resonantly silent of late (one might say as silent as an empty tomb) but like the buds on the trees and shrubs, and the grass which has been cut for the first time this year, all will now begin to grow again. Noisily? Not really, but with a word or two in edgeways. Let me throw down a teaser: The reaction to my leaving Facebook. Now that's a story worth writing, and so I will.