Trent Country Park Obelisk

On a rainy English – near Bristol – Monday, how about a photo taken about 22 hours ago, on a sunny Sunday on the edge of London?:

The Trent Country Park Obelisk, London. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The Trent Country Park Obelisk, London. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The inscription on the base (somewhat above the flowers left on the ground; I have no idea who had left them or why) reads: “To the memory of the birth of George Grey, Earl of Harold, son of Henry and Sophia, Duke and Duchess of Kent.”

Interesting addendum, shared on the British Listed Buildings site:

The following should be added to the above description “The date of 1702, possibly added when the obelisk was moved to Trent Park, is incorrect. The Earl of Harold was born in 1733 and died in infancy.

Hmm. A bit of Monday morning history, too. :-)

Sworn To Secrecy

Not exactly an uplifting Monday post. For that, I apologize in advance. Sorry.

Sunday evening, my wife got an email from a friend whom we, and most everyone else, already know has a serious, long-term illness. She wrote that she has just been told she probably has only months to live. She noted that the only person who knows that is – unsurprisingly – her husband (they have no children).

And now, so does my wife; she’s second. She asked my wife not to tell anyone else; but, naturally, my wife immediately told me. However, I don’t really count as someone else, because I’m essentially a “dead end,” a cul-de-sac: I’m certainly not going to tell anyone.

There I was yesterday morning, thinking, oh, I’ll have a quiet day and try to “de-stress.” In my creative cocoon, I was seeing light at the end of the latest tunnel: the sequel is almost done. Finally, that struggle is nearing its end.

How unimportant the likes of that always seems whenever we are unexpectedly thrust back into unforgiving, actual reality.

View of a section of Trent Park, London, at dusk. [Photo by me, 2014]

View of a section of Trent Park, London, at dusk. [Photo by me, 2014]

Earlier this year, we’d already endured the worst death I have ever experienced. “I wonder if that’s what they told Kam?” was my knee-jerk response when my wife told me about this, more distant, friend. Later, we tried to lose ourselves in the first episode of the newest season of Downton Abbey.

Life is full of harsh moments like this. Yet this is new to me: What does one do with information like this when you are asked to keep it in confidence? The person facing the terminal illness has shared what she has been told of her fate, yet where does that leave those few who are told and then sworn to secrecy?

All I can say is that, having slept on it, possessing such information leaves me with a guilty sense of awful insider knowledge. Even if keeping it “quiet” is based on the best of intentions (to spare feelings, worry, etc.), important people are being left out of the loop; and they shouldn’t be. Ultimately, in my humble opinion, it’s never fair to them.

Presidential Stamps

Going through those old family photos on Sunday, we also found a large envelope. It had been sent in the 1920s to London by ancestors of my wife who were living in California. I noticed the stamps – and the prices:

1920s U.S. stamps. [Photo by me, 2014.]

1920s U.S. stamps. [Photo by me, 2014.]

“Whoa,” I said to my wife. “Andrew Jackson and John Tyler stamps? 17 cents to mail that big envelope from the U.S. That was a lot of money in those days.”

“Tyler?” she asked.

“John Tyler,” I repeated. “He was a president in the early 1840s. He followed William Henry Harrison, who’d followed Martin van Buren.”

Tyler she didn’t recall. But she knows van Buren.

Our family happens to be Martin fans. :-)

******SPOILER ALERT******

******If you have not seen Charade with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn STOP reading here.******

“Think they’re worth anything?” she asked me.

I shook my head. Somehow, I suspect they aren’t likely worth a fortune. ;-)

History Stuffed In A Drawer

Yesterday, at my in-laws, my wife and I went through old family photos and letters. We did so at the request of a distant relation. She believed some snaps of her close relatives might have been scattered in among them.

She thought so because the stash had been held by my father-in-law’s aunt. That aunt had been kind of a “family historian.” She died without children about 10 years ago, and my father-in-law had inherited most of her possessions – including all these photographs.

Well, the historian in me salivated as we thumbed through them. I couldn’t get over them. There are just a few samples. [All photos reproduced, Copyright © 2014 by R. J. Nello.]

The first two below look like they could’ve worked for Harry Selfridge:

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Very serious:

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Not as serious:

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Posturing (the man on the left has a cigarette hanging from his mouth; the one of the right, a pipe):

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“1941”: that year, and the photographer’s name, are all it says on this photo:

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This last is of my wife’s future great-uncle and great-aunt on their wedding day in 1943 – he in RAF uniform:

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That one immediately above is a rarity: few of the pictures have names, dates and locations written on the back. Arrgh! Don’t you just hate that!

They were taken, we estimate, mostly between about 1900-1950.

My father-in-law was going to throw those photos (and others like them) out because there’s no need to keep them any longer. But just because few, or no one, now living remember these people any longer is beside the point. The photos are amazing and take us back to another era.

Needless to say, none of them will end up in the trash if I have anything to say about it! :-)
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Today is September 1. Coincidentally, Nazi Germany invaded Poland on this date on in 1939. Britain and France would declare war on Germany on September 3, and World War II had begun.

Why You Hate Mom Being On Facebook

I had an, uh, “interesting” phone chat with my mother in Pennsylvania last night. It went generally like this….

Mother: “Have a good trip back to England. Say ‘Hi’ to everyone for us.”

Me: “I will of course. Helen spoke to her mother. Everyone seems okay. She always misses Helen when she comes over here for a while.”

Mother: “Her mother adores her. Oh, you know, I noticed that your friend Carol’s husband, in England, that Helen wrote on Facebook that he’s written a book?”

Me: [Uh, oh. Gather thoughts, Rob.] “Yes, he did. He worked on it for over a year. In his spare time. I bought a Kindle copy….” [Darn! Why did you say you bought a copy!?]

Mother: “Well, that’s great to get something like that published the first time you do it.”

Me: [Still wary.] “He didn’t. He self-published on Amazon. That’s become a big thing now. There are lots of best sellers by people who do. He hopes it’ll attract some interest. He’s not expecting millions.”

Mother: “Getting published used to be about who you knew. My brother managed to know the right people. Now you can do it yourself. Have you….”

Me: [Trying to shift the discussion quickly away from my friend's book, which has that potentially explosive ***Acknowledgement*** to me issue (I don't want my mother buying it!), and what I suspected was about to be a question from her about my writing something myself someday.] “You know that Fifty Shades book. The one they’re making the movie….”

Mother: “….Of course I’ve heard of it. I bought it for your sister. And I was thinking, ‘What is this?’ She said, ‘It’s erotica.'”

Me: “I get the impression ‘erotic’s’ not a strong enough word. [Am I discussing that book with my mother?] Anyway, I’ve read she started out with a blog, writing fan fiction of Twilight, I think. When she developed her own characters and published it on Kindle, she sold like a gazillion copies. I read someone who also said it sold so many that way because women could read it on Kindle sitting next to their husbands and kids and no one could see what they were reading because the cover wasn’t visible!”

Mother: [After a laugh.] “How things have changed. Hey, you know those people living behind us? They moved….”

Whew. That was a close one. Book discussion concluded – by mother.

I think it was de Gaulle who once said a politician should never lie, but he must be careful about how he tells the truth. Well, whether politico or not, definitely don’t lie to your mother! Just avoid mentioning what she doesn’t directly ask. Or get her off the subject – quick! ;-)

Free Stock Photo: Several British bank notes.

Free Stock Photo: Several British bank notes.

Yes, we’re flying back to London later today. I may be quiet for a day or two. See you on here next from “over there.” :-)

“Natalie” Meet “Stéphane”

English Natalie and French Stéphane have been mentioned here just once before, and then only while discussing someone else. I’d not included them in my characters’ summaries. They deserve further explanation.

“Stéphane” is a cobbling together of views I’ve heard out of a variety of Frenchmen over the years. One example:

As Natalie focused on Isabelle briefly, Stéphane observed, smiling, “You know, James, a friend of mine works in a big medical research place. You know the language the Germans and Japanese and French and Americans and others speak at work? English! In Paris!” He laughed.

He owes his looks mostly to a one man I’d met a couple of times in Paris. His confident, friendly, outgoing demeanor, and excellent English, come largely from that real man as well. Here’s another bit from an exchange with James:

“My parents used to bring us on holidays to France,” Natalie explained. “Isabelle probably told you I met Stéphane in London. I thought, ‘Oh, not bad for a Frenchman!’”

Stéphane kidded Natalie in turn. “And I thought you were attractive for an English girl!”

“Natalie” comes to us primarily owing to inspiration provided by an English undergrad I knew while working in a Long Island college in the 1990s. Stick thin, thin blonde hair, huge blue eyes, and seemingly always smiling, she greatly enjoyed studying in the U.S. She knew she was exaggerating about England, yet joked to me once in her rather Sloaney accent, “Oh, it’s always raining, and everyone always has a cold.”

She was also a Francophile. And she spoke French well; but she voiced frustration French people she knew were always on at her to speak with them in English because they wanted to work on their own English with a native English speaker. I get that point in too, when Natalie greets Isabelle and Virginie at Isabelle’s fourth floor apartment door:

“That’s some walk up,” Natalie replied, breathing heavily. “May we speak French? I always need the practice.”

“I was hoping we could speak English,” Virginie answered in English. “I need the practice. Isa does too!”

I once asked her, “Why are you here in New York and not Paris?”

She replied, “My father’s company sent him here. Ah, but if they’d sent him to Paris?” [A broad grin and mischievous wink followed.]

A certain “class” of the English tend not raise their voice during an argument, or when angered; instead they become cooler and cooler. She fit that stereotype. Here’s one sample of how I portrayed and fictionalized that aspect of the character: Natalie quietly complains to Isabelle about her cousin Maddie’s American roommate’s appalling behavior during summer school in Italy:

“She managed to get a part-time job in a club,” Natalie continued. “Maddie says she’s sure the girl’s got no work visa, so it must be an illegal cash job. She comes home with losers and smokes cannabis with them too. Bible-waving Americans think Europeans have no morals? A load of old tosh.”

Fictionalizing an Anglo-French couple having met in London and now living in Paris was aided by my encounters with several French in Britain. One person in particular unwittingly helped: a Frenchwoman in an Anglo-French marriage. “Simone” and I worked together in London for over five years.

Flags of France (l) and England.

Flags of France (l) and England.

We had lunch a few times only the two of us. (It was normally a small mob.) I always hate talking shop over lunches. So when provided with any one-on-one opportunity, I usually sought to get her to share a bit about her life in France.

In turn, she’d sit in the pub with her glass of red wine (seriously; but never mind about that), and angle instead to talk with me mostly about England and us foreigners living in the country. She once observed wryly, “I came to London to get a Ph.D. I ended up with an English husband, and no Ph.D.”

Unsurprisingly the U.S. normally also came up. She had visited America – Florida – only once, and had never been to New York. Nevertheless, she knew a great deal about the country, and was intensely interested in it. Maybe that was why hearing details about my life back in New York was also of interest to her?

Take a wild guess. Which of us regularly prevailed when it came to the choice of pub lunch conversational topics? Hint: it sure as heck wasn’t me.

In writing these novels, I’ve come to feel the entire concept of “fiction” could itself be termed “fictional.” F. Scott FitzgeraldErnest HemingwayHow many others? Locales may be altered, names are changed, individuals blended together, facts rearranged and repositioned so they best suit a narrative, but novelists certainly derive characters and plots from their own real life experiences.

I readily admit, I have. ;-)

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See related:
Quick Take 8: (Our Leading Lady) “Isabelle”
Quick Take 7: “Maki”
Quick Take 6: “Mark”
Quick Take 5: “James” (Where It All Starts)
Russians
Quick Take 4: “Béatrice”
Quick Take 3: “Uncle Bill”
Quick Take 2: “Valérie”
Quick Take: “Virginie”

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Plane Courtesy

Back on Friday, we were on British Airways, which we almost always fly internationally (save for Ryanair). This flight was on a 777; that’s what BA uses to Newark (although they are supposed to be using Dreamliners too, I believe). I still don’t like that aircraft; but I will admit this one was a better cabin experience than many previous 777 flights. image The flight (in comparison to, uh, others) was relatively uneventful. One exception was finding ourselves upgraded to premium economy. The other was, less happily, discovering ourselves sitting behind a late twenties/ early thirties, American couple.

Yes, we all have our off moments. Still, this was all too much to have possibly been a mere series of coincidences. Please pardon me as I get this off my chest. ;-)

The male half of the couple was seemingly one of those people who “things just happen to.” Somehow he dislodged/ broke the plastic cover enveloping the outer leg of his aisle seat. Using his laptop, he almost sent a drink flying as well. The cabin service director at one point also announced that an iPhone had been found in a lavatory. Guess whose it was?

Sitting in front of me, his companion apparently inhabited her own, shall we say, “plane of reality.” She proceeded to recline her seat (in premium seats recline pretty far) for nearly the whole flight, including during meals. Yeh, why have perhaps an ounce of consideration for the person behind her? Indeed, did she even notice there was someone behind her?

More ridiculous, mid-flight, to reach her seat after having used the lavatory, of course he didn’t stand up and let her pass; she decided to climb over him. Naturally in grabbing the back of her seat to seek extra balance for this gymnastics move, she managed to shake and push back her already reclined seat even farther – so much so that it clipped and nearly knocked over an open bottle of water I had on my tray. I’d think nothing of behavior like that from an eight year old. But from an adult?

Twice her pillow also slid back to us after she’d gradually pushed it brainlessly between their seats. Once is an accident. After the second time, instead of shoving it back again between their seats, I just left it on the floor. She displayed no obvious interest, or concern, about it having vanished.

After landing, as we stood waiting to disembark, I glimpsed the dim-looking and self-absorbed expression on her face: it reminded me a little too much of a certain study abroad U.S. student who has been seen a great deal since late 2007. It all clicked. Suddenly, everything that had gone on before made more sense. ;-)

We’d met up in London a little more than a week earlier with an Alaska college friend of mine and his wife during their first visit to the British capital. Over lunch, he noted that he thought the people-watching is absolutely amazing. His wife (whom we did not know before then, and now do) agreed enthusiastically, and added that she couldn’t get over the incredible variety of shoes seen on the women. At that, my wife grinned and concurred with her wholeheartedly.

We may wish we could get to know some of those people we all “watch.” Then there are others we actually do encounter whom we really wish would keep their distance. And the more distantly, the damn better. :-)

On Lexington

We met up Friday with a college friend of mine from my time at the University of Alaska – Fairbanks. (Don’t ask.) He and his wife had been touring Ireland, and were finishing their vacation with a week in London. Via Facebook, we had arranged to get together.

I’d last seen him in person twenty years ago. Yes, two decades. But he hasn’t changed… well, save for a few gray hairs, but we all end up with those. We had never met his wife. (We had been invited to their 2003 wedding, but could not get there.) It was great to grab the chance to do some catching up while we had a lunch at Mildreds:

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I wouldn’t normally note a restaurant here, but this one is worth a mention. It was full for lunch, and had a buzz; yet you could also carry on a conversation without yelling. The staff we encountered were friendly too.

I wanted a Stella Artois (that’s my favorite), but since they didn’t have that, I settled for a Budweiser – brewed in the Czech Republic. My wife had a glass of red wine, of course.

Oh, and the restaurant is vegetarian. I don’t mind eating vegetarian now and then. But I don’t think I could eat vegetarian all the time.

It’s my friend’s wife who is pescatarian. My friend joked – when his wife was away from the table briefly – that he is a meat eater. But he’s learned to eat lots of non-meat.

There are plenty of places to stop for a meal between Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus. But this one will more than do if you ever find yourself looking for somewhere tasty (as long as you are happy not to have meat), and reasonably priced.

Thus ends this, uh, “Trip Advisor” blog entry. :-)

Oh, and my wife told him about my book. A bit of a slip. Now he wants to read it.

I had no choice but to let him in on it. I also warned him that if he tells my parents, I swear I’ll unfriend him on Facebook. ;-)

Accents

Yesterday’s post was pretty serious. And maybe too heavy – even bordering on depressing. How about something lighter? :-)

A few years ago, I shared an office when I was working in a London college. Once I answered a colleague’s phone when she’d been away from her desk. On the other end was a woman she knew (but I didn’t) from another part of the university.

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I chatted with the caller briefly, took a message (we always did that for each other), and thought nothing of it. When my colleague returned, I told her, and she proceeded to return the call. Perfectly routine.

After they’d exchanged greetings, from the other side of the room I heard several “uh, huhs” out of my officemate. I glanced at her. Grinning while speaking, she looked back at me as she remarked, “Oh, yes, he’s American.” There was a pause from her end of the conversation, followed by a renewed smile my way. She added, “Yes, he is. Sorry.”

When my officemate got off the phone moments later, she said, “She asked who was that who answered the phone? I told her, and she said she thought you had the sexiest accent and asked if you are married. I told her you are.”

I replied, jokingly, and hyper-exaggerating my American accent in the deepest – and handsomest – verbal tones I could summon up, “Why, yes, I’ve been told before I have a sexy accent.”

We had a good laugh. Sometimes, it doesn’t take much to make your day, does it? Happy Thursday! ;-)

A Small Tribute

While walking our dog a few days ago, I had a “brainstorm”: in the sequel, in London (some of it is taking place in Britain), I would give our deceased friend Kam a literary cameo. I don’t know yet if it will make the final book, but here’s part of the early draft (click to enlarge), and I hope you enjoy it:

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A few points. In that scene, I’ve fictionalized a reasonably well-known club where we had hung out with her a couple of times. My choosing to place her there was owing to the fact we met Kam frequently after work at clubs, pubs, or restaurants.

Rob and Helen are also real people. And guess who? Like certain über-famous directors “walking on” in their own films, I thought I’d slot myself in as myself: Kam always called me Rob, and my wife’s name is actually Helen.

What fiction allows us, eh? A couple of other bits. Early in our real marriage, we did live in Godmanchester. (I even met the former prime minister, John Major, in person once, when he was still the area’s MP. Ah, another life goal fulfilled. ;-) ) Kam was also almost 27 in late 1995 (although the time frame is fictional in this sense: we were not yet married in 1995). I thought I would also drop in a small “inside joke” about Kam resembling Valérie – which of course she does, given fictional Valérie is partly based on very real life Kam.

If I go with this, Kam will become the only outright real person portrayed in a speaking role in the books so far. It’s just something: words and memories are all we have left. Tomorrow (May 2), she will have been gone three months. May she rest in peace.

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Thanks for stopping by. Hope you’re having a good Thursday….