JFK and False Memory Syndrome

November 22, 2018

Fifty-five years ago today, my mother and father visited their closest friends, Ron and Betty, who lived a few miles from us in West London. I was in the backseat of the small black car.  It smelled of leather and my parents’ cigarettes. I was sullen because I was just turned 14 years old and I had far better things to do than visit my parents’ old fogie friends to play cards.

I remember this all so clearly because, just as we pulled up outside Ron and Betty’s row house, the car radio broke off its normal programming and a solemn voice replaced the happy chatter.  The voice announced that President John F. Kennedy of the United States had been shot and probably killed.  I can still feel the goose-flesh that crawled over my skin. I remember the loud gasp as my father realized what had been said.  John Kennedy was one of my father’s heroes, and he was mine too. He was our hope for the future, and now he was dead. Nothing else about that evening do I remember. I’m sure my folks and their friends discussed the assassination, but that has passed from recall.

Within two years of that day, though, JFK had — in my eyes at least — fallen from the pedestal upon which his charisma, his beautiful family, and his martyrdom had placed him.  He was quickly revealed as just another centre-right US politician who was happy to send the boys to war, who was happy to squander the nation’s wealth on weapons and imperialism, who had no answer to segregation but brother Bobby’s federal agents.  We also learned (perhaps we always knew) he wasn’t quite such a great family man, either; that Camelot was an expensive sham.

Kennedy and his people lived in the tuxedoed world of High Society that was soon to be swept away by the real world of Soul on Ice and Revolver.  We might have hated that big Texas bully who followed Kennedy, but it was Kennedy not Johnson who pushed the US into South Vietnam, and it was Johnson not Kennedy who brought forward the Civil Rights Acts. Looking back, we can now see that both Kennedy and Johnson were equal participants in the cabaret that is America the Superpower. Unfortunately for the truth, Kennedy will always have the smile, the beautiful wife, the cute John-John and Caroline, while Johnson will always be pulling the ears off those damn beagles.


My Perfect Weather

October 24, 2018

I went out shopping on the Drive this morning and it was the most splendid weather — my absolute favourite: cool without being cold, bright and sunny, refreshing and clean.  Nearly everyone seemed to have a smile on their face, so it wasn’t just me.

I ended the walk with a very pleasant sit down in Salsbury Park, watching kids play in the sand, and dogs chasing sticks among the thick piles of fallen leaves. I collected acorns for  our visiting squirrels and stretched out my legs in the sun.

Sometimes you just can’t beat the simple stuff.

The Full English

October 23, 2018

About eight years ago, I wrote a small piece about the demise of the Full English Breakfast.  It appeared to be on the rocks at that time.  However, a  video I recently discovered from 2016 is certain it has survived.

Apart from the detailed description of the Breakfast itself, this piece is interesting for the cultural asides about London streets, cafes, “builders’ tea”, and eating habits.

Back in the day, when we enjoyed a few Mediterranean cruises, I discovered that some of the finest English breakfasts were to be had on the cruise ships catering to the packaged English vacationer.  Long buffets filled with all the sides you could imagine, generally well-cooked and always available!

On Retirement

October 22, 2018

Today is the 9th anniversary of my enforced retirement from the world of business. That seems like a long time when you say it out loud; but it’s just a snap in hindsight, goes so fast.

And the changes in my life, our lives, since that day are far more extreme (and not unwelcome) than I might ever have imaged possible ten years ago. Different challenges, different pleasures, different skills, different vices, different speeds.

I’ll almost certainly have a long nap in celebration this afternoon!


Racism At Home

October 8, 2018

My mother was always a racist.

I was brought up in the working class London of the 1950s and early 1960s at a time when the city saw, first, an influx of eastern European refugees, second a surge of migrants from the West Indies, and finally many more from India and Pakistan.  My mother made it clear to me from an early age that she despised the Jews, the Greeks, the Cypriots and, most especially, “the blacks” no matter whether they were black or brown or anything in between.

When I was about eight years old, I had a “girlfriend” who turned out to be Jewish. Her parents were kind folks who invited me to tea and fed me Marmite sandwiches. My mother quickly put a stop to that. In the mid 1960s, with a youth group that I was a member of, I did some social work, helping young East Indians settle into West London. My mother was furious, calling me a traitor. She was invariably rude to black nurses, bus conductors, and others that came her way.

Vicious though she could be in public, at home mother’s racism was generally expressed only in private conversations between her and me. I am sure my father was aware of her prejudices but he, like his parents, was a man of immense toleration for people of all races and she rarely spoke about it when we were together as a family.

For more than 30 years, from the 1970s through the first few years of this century, my mother and I were completely estranged for reasons unconnected to her prejudices on these matters.  About ten years ago, a friend of hers who had discovered Skype, persuaded the two of us to reconnect. It was difficult at first but, these days, my mother and I have developed a good relationship based on telephone calls every two weeks. A few years ago, when she was stricken with cancer, I returned to London to take care of her for a short while. We got on very well.

I called her yesterday and we chatted for quite a while, laughing and joking about a number of things. Since my father died in 2000, she has lived alone in a pleasant cottage at the end of a pleasant cul-de-sac in suburban west London. At one point in out conversation yesterday she was explaining that both her neighbours on either side of her were even older than her: one is 91 and the other 93. Completely out of the blue and without any hesitation she said “When we three die, those horrible black people will take over our houses, I bet, and the neighbourhood will be ruined.” I swiftly changed the subject and we moved on.

It was the first time I had heard her speak that way since I was young. I guess I wasn’t shocked by what she said — I had heard much worse from her in the distant past — but I was taken aback, and I find it difficult to know how best to react.  My mother had very little schooling and she is not open to intellectual debate. She is almost 91 years old and in failing health; she and her opinions, though vile and against everything I believe, are no danger to third parties at this point.  Other than write this piece, I shall probably do nothing. But I fervently hope that this doesn’t become a topic of conversation ever again because I, too, am a man of strong convictions and I can only bite my tongue for so long.

Beep Beep Beep

October 4, 2018

I was just a few weeks away from my 8th birthday when my father sat me on his knee specifically to listen to our old radio spit out some strange sounds — “Beep.  Beep.  Beep.”  Even through the static we knew we had never heard the like of it before.

On October 4th, 1957 — just sixty-one years ago — the space age began with the launch by the Soviet Union of Sputnik, the first man-made satellite.  I’m sure the surprise in the US was far greater than we felt in Europe.  We Europeans were already terrified of the power of the grey beasts just a few hundred miles to the east of our cozy nest in West London.  It seemed to many that Russian tanks could overrun Europe at any moment, and the technological genius of Sputnik simply confirmed our anxiety.

But again, there was always that secret spot inside that reveled in the fact that a European power had beaten the Americans into space.  And for my socialist grandfather and his cadre of friends, it was yet another sign that the Workers’ Paradise was superior in every respect to the Mickey Mouse- and Doris Day-loving capitalists.

In the end, I’m sure this had little to do with the ultimate end of the Cold War.  The costs of the space race were minuscule compared to the economy-shuddering trillions spent on the arms race by both sides.  But without Sputnik and all that followed, we would be a very different and more distanced world today.

More Appreciation of BC’s Medics

September 20, 2018

The Everloving and I spent a good portion of the day today at VGH’s Kidney Clinic where we met with a social worker, a nurse, a dietitian, and a pharmacist to discuss the current state and the future of my deteriorating kidneys.

It was a remarkable series of meetings. We learned a great deal of useful information about food, about how to read and understand blood work results, and how to manage medications within the context of the disease. Perhaps more importantly we learned that we are now part of an incredibly supportive team.  Everyone at the clinic, from the receptionist to the doctors, were kind and courteous, and they gave of their service entirely without any judgement or insistence on harsh rules.

I understand that not everyone is or will be fortunate enough to find all the help they need. But for me, there are no complaints and I am deeply grateful for all the assistance that the BC medical system provides.