Across America by Greyhound Bus

Fifty years ago this month I arrived in New York on a student charter flight and traveled to San Francisco on a Greyhound bus. This is my account of my 1970 trip, first published in The Dabbler in June 2012.

The kiss was the longest, most passionate I had ever seen outside a movie. The passengers craned their heads above the seats for a better view while the driver tapped his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel. The young couple stood in the bus doorway, he on the dusty ground, she leaning into him from the bottom step. We were somewhere in America, the land spreading flat and empty and endless all around. The scene might have had all the emotional drama of a classic movie lovers parting, but we all knew these lovers had met a mere 24 hours before.

This is one of the most vivid memories of my cross-country journey, New York City to San Francisco, in the fall of 1970. I wish I could tell you that I travelled in a painted, Continue reading “Across America by Greyhound Bus”

The Dream of an English Garden

Spring is here at last and my thoughts turn to the garden. Weeds are already beginning their annual takeover before I’ve even finished cleaning up the dead remains of summer past. A good time to reprise my garden dream first published in The Dabbler in 2013. One bit of good news – no mad robin disturbs the spring idyll this year.

An ideal English garden border

As I write the demented robin who inhabits the dogwood tree in our garden is repeatedly flinging himself against the window in a kind of avian kamikaze assault. The thump, thump, thump of bird meeting glass is a strange counterpoint to the sweet tweeting and trilling of the other garden birds. I don’t know why the robin does this every day for hours, Continue reading “The Dream of an English Garden”

On Thanksgiving and Guy Fawkes Day

The Execution of Guy Fawkes by Nicholas Visscher

One of the oddest questions I’ve been asked since moving to the U.S. is “Do you celebrate Thanksgiving in England?” Yes, this was a real question. I resisted the temptation to answer “Yes, we celebrate that the Puritans left and took their repressive ban on dancing and merriment with them!” More tactfully I said “No, but we have our own November holiday, Guy Fawkes Day.” That met with blank stares. So I explained that Guy Fawkes was a guy who plotted to blow up King James and the Houses of Parliament in 1605. He was part of a Catholic plot to restore the true faith in Protestant England. “You mean you have a day to celebrate a domestic terrorist?”  “No, no” I hastily corrected. “We burn him Continue reading “On Thanksgiving and Guy Fawkes Day”

My Love Affair with Gerard Manley Hopkins

Last Saturday I watched the funeral service for Senator John McCain at the National Cathedral. I really tuned in because I wanted to hear President Obama’s eulogy, but I was soon drawn in by the beauty and dignity of the ceremony. The music was magnificent, particularly John Rutter’s setting of The Lord is my Shepherd and Renee Fleming’s Oh Danny Boy. Several speakers mentioned McCain’s love of literature, but I could not have been more surprised by his choice of a reading from the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. The chosen passage was from As Kingfishers Catch Fire beginning with the line “the just man justices.” One rarely hears mention of Hopkins in public life in America and Continue reading “My Love Affair with Gerard Manley Hopkins”

The Amazing True History of Yankee Doodle

To celebrate the July 4th holiday I reprise the amazing true story of an American patriotic song, first published in The Dabbler on June 3rd 2015. Could it be that Yankee Doodle Dandy started out as a British insult?

yankee-doodle

In recent years I’ve spent a lot of time singing nonsense songs to my grandsons. Nursery rhymes and traditional children’s songs, often imperfectly remembered. So sometimes I make them up and improvise pure nonsense as I go. The other day I found myself singing the American patriotic song Yankee Doodle. This time I remembered the words exactly but, as if hearing them for the first time, it suddenly struck me what utter nonsense they are. What on earth does the song mean? Continue reading “The Amazing True History of Yankee Doodle”

Church and State, Skirt and Flag

For the benefit of new readers who did not follow me in my Dabbler days, this is the first in a series of favorite posts from the Dabbler Archives.  This piece first appeared in The Dabbler on August 31st 2011.

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I could not have chosen a more eventful time for my first visit to America than the summer of 1969. Americans were still reeling from the assassination of Robert Kennedy and the disastrous Democratic Convention the year before. Richard Nixon was President and the word “quagmire” was being used about the Vietnam War. There was an edge of danger in the air. I felt as though I had departed a world of smudgy grays and entered a vivid Technicolor movie. Los Angeles was all bright, searing light and straight lines dissolving into a yellowish smog. Everywhere enormous, garish plastic creatures loomed, the icons of consumer culture, making the city seem one vast Disneyland. Baking heat Continue reading “Church and State, Skirt and Flag”

Surprised by Patriotism

 

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To celebrate July 4th I dig into The Dabbler archives for a piece I wrote some years ago recording my gradual acceptance of the American holiday and some memorable celebrations over the years. One July 4th I was surprised by feelings of genuine patriotism when I heard the National Anthem performed on a Chinese violin. In this season of xenophobia the sentiments seem especially timely.

Surprised by Patriotism