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Friday, 10 August 2018

Miss my Volvo

Liz and I run a Volvo C30 T5 R-design - out of all of the vehicles that I have owned in my long and fruitful life (and there have been many) this is undoubtedly the best. It is the most comfortable ride I have ever experienced, fast, the acceleration when she slips into turbo mode is nothing short of fantastic, reminding me of the days I spent going down the catapult on an aircraft carrier. Right now she is in the shop where they are trying to sort out a recurring airbag warning problem, and have given us a loan car until we get the Volvo back.


The loan car is a Dodge Avenger, and a couple of days ago I got to drive it for more than 200 miles - I had to take Liz to work in Littleton then drive to USCIS in St Albans near the Canadian border to have biometrics taken for my citizenship interview. I was at the wheel for about 2 hours each way along some of the finest scenery in this corner of the United States. But what a painful drive! after about 30 minutes of the drive in each direction the seat was so uncomfortable - the pressure on my Coccyx made me need to shift my butt while driving. I will be very happy when we get the Volvo back.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

The Northeast Kingdom

I live in the Northeast Kingdom - that will mean plenty to my local readers, but to those of you on the eastern side of the Pond, it will mean little. You probably will have never heard of it. Let me explain. The Northeast Kingdom is the name given to three counties, Caledonia, Orleans and Essex, in the far northeast of Vermont on the Canadian border. The name was first used in a 1949 speech given by the then U.S. senator and former Governor of Vermont, George D. Aiken. The Kingdom is bound in the east by the Connecticut River and the west by the Green Mountains. The main towns are St Johnsbury and Lyndonville in the southeast, Newport and Derby in the north, and in the southwest Danville and Hardwick. 


Known affectionately by locals as The Kingdom, the region lies outside the state's Green Mountain area, and is made up of a number of extinct volcanic islands that were compressed together by tectonic movement more than 400 million years ago. A sheet of ice over a mile thick covered the Kingdom several times during the Ice Age, which ended some 13,500 years ago. The retreating glaciers carved out the piles of granite, schist, slate and limestone to leave behind today's rock-scattered landscape. Some 80% of the Northeast Kingdom is covered by forest; a mixture of 60% northern hardwood (Sugar maple, Yellow birch, American beech and White ash), with spruce, hemlock and fir making up the rest. The brilliant colors of the leaves during Fall make this a popular tourist destination.



There is a relatively high moose population, along with white tailed deer, black bear, coyote, fox, bobcat, some Canadian lynx, and even some once locally-extinct marten. Smaller species include red and gray squirrel, and groundhog or woodchuck, muskrat, skunk, opossum, snowshoe hare, beaver, porcupine, raccoon and the small and adorable chipmunk. There have been reports in the past few years of the grey wolf being seen - this is certainly possible judging by the reports although experts say not probable.

     


The climate here is fairly predictable. Winter extends from November through to April, with the temperature often remaining below zero for weeks on end. The lowest temperature that I recorded last winter was -35˚ F (-37˚ C) - at the time colder than Alaska. .At the other extreme yesterday's high was +97˚ F (+36˚ F) after a full week of being in the 90s. There is plenty of snow in winter, with it often lying on the ground for months on end. A number of blizzards have produced more than 20 inches of snow overnight.


I have noticed that there is plenty of French influence in the region, which is not surprising as it borders French-speaking Quebec Province to the North. Many of the surnames in the region are quite obviously of French origin and in summertime and Fall you can see plenty of Quebec Province cars on the Kingdom roads and hear French being spoken by couples in the region's supermarkets.
I've been in the Great North Woods for four years now, the last year and a half up here in the Northeast Kingdom. I can understand why many of the older residents who can afford it migrate down to Florida with the onset of winter. I am too old to take up my once youthful passion of skiing - major spine surgery a couple of times has seen to that. So I will see out my days here with my beautiful wife and close to my daughter and three grandchildren, all of whom I love dearly. Were it not for them Liz and I would be living in the warmer climes of North Carolina. Next month Liz and I will drive down to Massachusetts for her birthday and to stay with her daughter and family. 



Saturday, 23 June 2018

Racism in 2018

Since I relocated to the United States a little more than three years ago I have been able to look with fresh eyes on Racism, particularly where it is related to politics. Few people will admit that they are a racist because of the stigma attached to the word. I am pretty sure that in this country I would never call myself a racist, although there are clearly a great number of them about. On hearing the word my mind immediately associates it with the South, where much of the population is either, in their minds, still fighting the Civil War, with the NRA, and with Trump and many of his followers. I do not yet have the vote, but have my papers filled out for citizenship (just have to find the $640 it costs to apply). When I do get the vote I will never be joining the ranks of the evangelists and the pro-lifers of the Right. It is very rare to see a person of color up here near the Canadian border - I venture to say that I have seen more black bears.

In South Africa, it was a lot different - but there, racism was also mostly related to politics. The ANC has adopted a reverse apartheid frame of mind. They are vehemently anti-white and in their own way racist. Living there as a white person it was inevitable that one countered with the opposite. Although at my farm in the rural Eastern Cape I developed a rapport with several of the locals, especially with Julia, who ran the local shebeen, and with Headman, the local preacher who doubled as a gardener and odd-job man. I would probably have admitted to racism while living in that country, though not to those people of color with whom I had a rapport, but with those hard-line politicians like Winnie Mandela and Zuma - and especially Robert Mugabe. How I cheered when I heard that he had finally been ousted.

According to True North News Vermont, where I now live, has been classified as a racist state - although this is refuted by an article in the Manchester Journal. I'm not sure that many people of color would want to come to live in a state where the winters have so much snow and last for a good six months. The coldest night I recorded last year was -35˚ C (-31˚ F) and for much of the time, we were colder than Alaska.

Friday, 25 May 2018

More reflections

At 6 a.m. GMT tomorrow - that's 1a.m. EST - I will have completed 78 years of life on this planet, years in which I have set foot in 37 countries, met national leaders (Mandela, Smith, de Klerk), and all in all, led a very interesting and accommodating life. I have achieved 250 catapult launches and carrier arrests, survived a mid-air collision and a separate crash landing, appeared in repertory theater in a dozen or more plays, ridden in mine-proof vehicles with a police escort to assess the damage wrought by terrorists on lonely farmhouses, and  I have swum with barracuda off the Kenyan coast. Sure I have made some mistakes - don't we all? But I have striven to make my life both interesting and the life of a gentleman. I get livid when I read or hear of someone mistreating a woman, and though I admit to having sowed plenty of wild oats in my time, I don't believe that I have ever treated a woman with disrespect, and this may be backed up by my 13 years of marriage to Lizzie - still to this day without a single argument or fight. I pray every day that I will get to live at least as long as my late dad, who crossed over in his 94th year.

So what have I learned? What advice can I pass on to my peers, my relatives, and my friends far and wide? I have written extensively in another earlier post about Time, and I sincerely believe in all of my previous comments thereto. Namely, that Time is the most important and valuable asset that you will ever be given. Cheerish the Time that you are given, for you never know when it is going to be taken away from you.

I have been writing my memoirs - The Graceful retirement of an English Gentleman and to boost the page count have included as an addendum all of the poems that I wrote in my earlier days and all of the blog posts written in the Internet age. I am up to 236 pages so far, and when complete will distribute it to friends and family - for posterity and so that I am not completely forgotten.

I am an avid reader, getting through a couple of novels every week - but then I have a lot of Time on my hands. To keep myself informed of political affairs and the like I have taken to regularly read the Reporter at Large column in the  New Yorker magazine. Now that the warm weather is here (83˚ F today) I shall start painting again. I would have been doing so today but for the wind, which at a steady 17 knots was trying to get my easel airborne. Lizzie bought me a set of gouache tubes so I will try painting with those as a medium - there's a first for you.

Well guys, as you can see I'm still around and for any of you who are in the business am looking for some writing jobs, so if you're interested, do drop me a line.

Friday, 4 May 2018

No Collusion, No Obstruction of Justice, No Witch Hunt

No Collusion, No Obstruction of Justice, No Witch Hunt. Remember those words in a few months' time when the Special Counsel Robert Mueller eventually publishes his report or issues more indictments.

I am not a Trump supporter - indeed until I am a naturalized American citizen and have the right to vote, I will remain an unbiased onlooker, but will base my thoughts on what I observe in the so-called "fake" news. Frankly, the only real fake news is that published by Fox News and other right-wing news outlets.

Let's start my post with Korea. Many people are advocating that Trump should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize - not a bit of it! Let's not forget that North and South Koreas leaders got together and started the peace process without any help from Trump. My own view is that it could have just as easily been Kim Jong Un's sister that made the first overtures to her brother after her visit to the Winter Olympics.

Judith Thurman wrote in Time Magazine in January of /2017 in an article comparing Nixon, GW Bush, and Trump "But whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English."

This week has seen Trump take on Rudy Giuliani as part of his legal team in the White House, only to result in dropping the president into deeper water regarding the Mueller probe. Does it not bother anyone, especially House and Senate Republicans, that Trump is a compulsive liar. I have never in the many years that I have been here on Earth come across anyone who is such an obviously bare faced liar. But then there are many people here in the USA who have known for a long time that he is a con-man.

At yesterday's White House press briefing Sarah Huckabee Sanders was so confused that she didn't know whether she was coming or going. She was asked point blank by the gathered press corps yesterday how she expected them to believe her when she contradicted herself time after time. I guess that's the trouble when a buffoon of a president changes his mind so often. The Washington Post stated today that the president has knowingly lied publicly more than 3,000 times since his inauguration. Trump has stated that there was "no collusion" and "no obstruction of justice' so often that it has to raise doubts in any sane person's mind. You are wrong Mr Trump - there is NO Witch Hunt.