Slurring Language

Black British screenwriter and director Amma Asante jumped in on CNN yesterday in defense of actor Benedict Cumberbatch. He’d used the word “colo(u)red” on a U.S. TV talk show. She feels the anger directed at him for saying it is missing the point:

Opinion: Cumberbatch misspoke — now let’s get over it and fight real prejudice

Two countries separated by a common language. To understand Cumberbatch’s employing it requires first remembering that he’s not an American. It is now a decidedly “old-fashioned” word here in Britain, yes; but it is not unheard of coming very occasionally from younger whites (like Cumberbatch), although it’s far more likely to be uttered by one born before “1945.”

An older person I know had straight-faced congratulated me this way upon Obama’s election in 2008: “You have a coloured president now. America’s so much more open-minded. It’s wonderful.” Based on the contexts, as I’ve heard it, it is used as synonymous with “black.” Although it could certainly be tossed out as a slur or a put down, that’s not how I’ve (mostly) heard it said.

But how we internalize others’ descriptions of our race or ethnic background is intensely personal of course. I am not black and I would not presume to speak for anyone else as to how they interpret any description leveled at themselves. That said, the language issue raised there led me to recall a vivid, personal experience.

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A World Of Distractions

Enough of this and this is how you DON’T finish a manuscript. My wife had to be in central London early Friday. So we drove from Wiltshire to Enfield (the M4 again, but no Sara Bareilles this time) on Thursday night to sleep over at my in-laws.

London, Thursday evening. Temperature in centigrade. It's not Buffalo.
London, Thursday evening. Temperature in centigrade. It’s not Buffalo.

I was to spend the day at their house. I had brought along my Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (as well as all other required electronics). I thought I’d have a few hours to do some writing quietly.

What on earth was I thinking?

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Email To A Younger Self

Dear Rob,

How are things back in 1995? Heh, heh, who am I kidding? I know….

It’s January 2015 now. I’m the older you. I thought I’d write to you and give you a heads up as to how things will go over the next couple of decades.

That girl from France? Nuh, uh. No, you won’t be marrying her. I know she says she loves you, but she also has submerged “worries” you don’t know about yet, but believe me you soon will.

In the longer run, it’ll be fine. Yes, for a while you’ll be sure the world has come to an end, but most everyone thinks that at a time like that. You’ll pick yourself up and brush yourself off. You’ll do college teaching for a few years too, but will fall out of love with that; but, once again, don’t worry.

In a couple of years, you’ll meet another – better – woman, and you’ll end up married and living in England with her. As hard as that is for you to believe. Oh, and she’ll be on at you now and then good-humo(u)redly about that long ago “babe” from across the Channel.

Now, this is very serious, and maybe I shouldn’t mention it, but I feel I have to. Something horrific will happen to the World Trade Center in September 2001. You’ll be in London at the time, in your office at the university where you will then work. Your father will be retired by then, safe at home, and no longer working in lower Manhattan. I won’t discuss the terrible details here. Let’s just move along and stick with you personally.

In years to come, you’ll meet masses of great people you have no clue about in 1995. Several you will come to adore. Sadly you will lose one far before her time, but the idea you might have gone through life without ever having known her…. well, after you meet her you’ll soon find yourself unable to imagine never having known her.

Inevitably, you’ll get a bit grayer, but, hey, you will still have most of your hair. Not bad. You haven’t fallen apart just yet.

Eventually – as tough as this is also to believe – you’ll end up writing novels. Yes, I know you scoff at fiction and love history, but you’ll meld the two. You’ll even base characters on some of the very people you know now (including, of course, Uncle _____, as well as, uh, Mademoiselle…. oh, you know her name), and several who will leave us forever by 2015 (including that woman friend you will make in a few years).

You’ll sort of immortalize them. That’s writing “history” in a way too, isn’t it? Sure it is.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a computer surrounded by question marks
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a computer surrounded by question marks

Oh, and you love that Compaq Presario. You’re probably wondering on what PC I’m writing you this from twenty years down the road? Well, things have moved on a bit technologically.

America Online? Don’t ask. And I’m not writing this on a PC anyway. It’s called an iPad. And it uses wifi. Oh, and your future novels will be read on a Kindle, as well as printed by Amazon.

Sorry, sorry, I forgot. You have no idea what I’m talking about with those. Never mind. You’ll find out.

By the way, when you leave your final university job a bit over a decade from now, your boss in England will tell you that she’s sure you’re going to do something “really big” eventually.

Well, currently, you’re still working on that. ;-)

All The Best,
The Much Older You. :-)

Bath, A Birthday…. And Crazy People

After yesterday’s heavy post, let’s have some photos for New Year’s Eve. With my in-laws, we took my now newly 20 year old nephew to lunch at Cote Brasserie in Bath on Tuesday. A couple of Bath snapshots:

Bath Cathedral (with an England flag flying) [Photo by me, 2014.]
Bath Cathedral (with an England flag flying) [Photo by me, 2014.]
Road junction in Bath. Note the sun drenched buildings in the distance. [Photo by me, 2014.]
Road junction in Bath. Note the sun drenched buildings in the distance. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Back on Monday evening, we’d already – three of us – had a birthday brandy at home, including my nephew. This being the U.K., it is perfectly legal for 18, 19 and 20 year old adults to consume alcohol. I know some of my fellow countrymen may be shocked and scandalized to learn that…. but, please, no fainting spells. ;-)

One way to observe a 20th birthday. [Photo by me, 2014.]
One way to observe a 20th birthday. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Having a walk at a favorite spot earlier on Monday, I grabbed a photo of some people next to the Westbury White Horse who thought they could fly:

On Monday afternoon, crazy people about to jump off an extremely high hill, just next to the Westbury White Horse. [Photo by me, 2014.]
On Monday afternoon, crazy people about to jump off an extremely high hill, just next to the Westbury White Horse. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Have a Happy New Year, wherever you are in the world. :-)

Boxing Day

Happy Boxing Day morning. Or, as they say in the U.S., uh, nothing.

“You don’t have Boxing Day in the U.S.?” my niece asked me a little while ago as we watched TV.

“No,” I confirmed. “Back to work. The holiday is only Christmas.”

As we discussed that, an ad for the new season of Revenge came on.

“Oh, Revenge is starting here soon,” I observed.

“What’s that?”

I tried to summarize it for her. “It’s an American TV show about disgustingly rich people on Long Island who are involved in all sorts of illegal and nonsense stuff, and a girl is out to get revenge against their family. It’s so over the top it’s ridiculous. But you have to watch it from the very beginning.”

“Ooh, sounds like I’d like that!”

We’ve spent Christmas here in Essex (not far from Stansted Airport) with my brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and our two nephews and niece. The kids are now ages 20, 12, and 17, respectively – not really “kids” any longer. (My niece now even has a boyfriend!) It has been great fun.

Yesterday, shortly after midday, Red River with John Wayne happened to be on some TV channel. As a huge Duke fan, upon stumbling on it my brother-in-law left it on. Lightheartedly he also declared standing the middle of the lounge that we had reached midday and not even opened alcohol: “It’s noon Christmas Day and I’m not drunk yet?”

After he walked out, Red River on, my sister-in-law appeared.

“We must be getting older,” I joked to her. “We’ve forgotten to drink anything so far.”

“I know,” she replied. “I’d love a cup of tea. Sad, isn’t it?”

She noticed Red River. “Oh, don’t tell me….”

“I guess he thinks it’s a Christmas film,” I smiled.

“Change the station, Rob. Don’t let him sit here and watch it,” she laughed. “He’ll get nothing else done today.”

He never did get back to Red River, and we got through Christmas dinner just fine. Afterwards, we FaceTimed my parents in America. “The best invention ever!” my mother exclaimed. Everyone on this side of the Atlantic was happy to see my Dad looking so well.

No one drank too much either. We were indeed all mature and restrained. Later last night, though, after the youngest two had gone to bed, we did have some – not all of the bottle! – Sambuca:

Post-dinner drinks. [Photo by me, 2014.]
Post-dinner drinks. [Photo by me, 2014.]
I feel fine this morning. We had just a bit. We didn’t overdo it. ;-)

My mind as I type this is drifting to 2015. The third book needs to be attacked: when it’s all on you, nothing gets done unless you do it. Yet I’m also finding that taking a few weeks’ writing pause has been necessary – like a vacation.

A year ago in January, I was able to jump into what eventually became Frontiers with far more zest than I’m currently able to summon up for the – as of yet unnamed – third book. That funk won’t last I’m sure. I suspect most of the reason is tiredness: I’ve been at this now mostly non-stop for over two years in producing the two novels so far. I think I’ve earned a few weeks’ writing respite.

Have a good Boxing Day. :-)


My Dad’s procedure went well. (Hope you enjoyed your French music this morning. ;-) ) He has his implant. It’s called an “Implantable Cardioverter-defibrillator.”

We’ve just left him and have returned to my parents’ house. He looks pretty well, all things considered. He’s going to be in hospital overnight.

And now we – my mother, my sister, and myself – are the ones who need to recover too. We’re exhausted.

It’s been – so far – a good, if tiring day. :-)

Monday Musical Interlude

I haven’t posted this “live,” but scheduled it last night to appear this morning. My Dad’s heart procedure is set for 8 AM. (He is having a small device implanted that will help his heart squeeze better.) We had to get him to the hospital for 7 AM, which meant we left the house well-before that…. which meant I barely had time to roll out of bed, much less post.

I’d been thinking I wasn’t going to be able to stay here in the U.S. for the procedure after it had been postponed a week. But my wife insisted, saying my mother needed me. We pushed back my return ticket to Britain so I could be here for it.

My Dad should be fine. But we are all still – perhaps understandably – a bit apprehensive. So how about a couple of blog-appropriate, upbeat songs?

Barba Gwen31 is an “independent” singer. Several months ago, on SoundCloud, I stumbled on her version of The Box Tops’ 1967 smash, “The Letter.” She sings it with a decidedly French panache:


Next, if you click on her photo below, it will take you over to her cover of “On Ira” …. but please, uh, do come back here eventually. ;-)

Hopefully, I’ll be back on the web “live” in a few hours and check in here with good news. Fingers crossed all will be well. Until then, umm, bonne journée. :-)

Give Thanks

Yesterday, sitting around the kitchen table chatting, my Dad (who has never been out of the U.S.) raised the issue of Qatar hosting the World Cup. He thought it was amazing it would be held there. I said it’s not; many visit the Gulf states every year, including millions of Europeans.

Without thinking, I happened then to mention that Kam had been to neighboring Dubai and she had…. loved…. it….

For a moment, I’d totally forgotten. In February, we lost her – a dear friend who was only 45.

Dad himself almost died in August of heart failure. My uncle (now 74), of whom I write a great deal about on here as a novelist and a writing inspiration for me, has major health troubles arising increasingly. I’m sure you too have much the same in your life.

View from my parents' house yesterday. Pennsylvania, U.S.A., post-snowstorm.
View from my parents’ house yesterday. Pennsylvania, U.S.A., post-snowstorm. [Photo by Mrs. Nello, 2014.]

Cherish those you love. We never know who won’t be at the table a year from now.

If you observe it in the U.S., or abroad, have a good Thanksgiving. :-)

Where, Where, Am I?

Had a good flight from Heathrow yesterday. It was a full plane – a 787 Dreamliner. Love that plane. It’s comfortable – even in economy – and with large overhead bins. It also has excellent cabin air: I never disembark feeling “beaten up” from a “stuffy” cabin. (Have always disliked the 777.)

Watched six Mad Men episodes on the way. That made the hours, uh, “fly” by. ;-) (I think “Roger Sterling” is one of the best written characters I’ve ever seen on TV.)

My Dad’s looking excellent. And it’s now just after 7 AM here in Pennsylvania, U.S. of A….

Tweeting at 4:30 AM Eastern Time. Awake!
Tweeting at 4:30 AM Eastern Time. Awake!

….but I started today a lot earlier. Love jet lag.

Just thought I’d say, “Hello.” Have a good Sunday. :-)

Our Younger Days….

You slightly more mature, uh, younger people might remember this. I once saw him perform live. I still recall him leading Chicago ripping into the Beatles’ “Got To Get You Into My Life” during the encore, and doing it possibly even better than Sir Paul.

Excuse me, with Frontiers now complete (and soon to be published), I’m just taking a moment:

“Whatever happened to our wild ways.
The hungry beat of our younger days.
We swore we’d never let them get away.
But so long to our wild ways.”

– Peter Cetera, 1992.

Happy Saturday. We’re flying to the U.S. for Thankgiving. My Dad’s (minor, hopefully) heart implant was yesterday pushed back from December 1 to the 8th. So I can’t be there. Oh, well. You never know with doctors and dates, of course, until they are actually in the operating room….

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of an airline travel billboard.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of an airline travel billboard.

In any event, see you from the other side. :-)


I just commented over at Damyanti’s “Daily (w)rite” blog:

Family happenings are, in their ways, history: social history. So it’s worth preserving. I think fiction is a superb way to do it – and even when what’s written doesn’t always show everything and everyone involved in the “best light.”….

Her post is entitled: “Do you Own Your Memories?” My answer, begun above with that paragraph, is a resounding “Yes!”

But if you have long read and followed me here, you – “God, she’s younger than my daughter!” – probably already guessed that. ;-)