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”

The Darkest Hour, The Suspect V

I finally got to watch the much lauded film The Darkest Hour last weekend. Gary Oldman’s performance as Winston Churchill certainly deserved the Oscar Award for Best Actor. Equally deserving were the creative group who won the Oscar for Makeup. In real life Oldman looks nothing at all like Churchill, but with an inspired combination of acting skill and makeup bravura he pulls off the seemingly impossible. Director Joe Wright brings a suspenseful “you are there” quality to the story of Churchill’s first days in office in 1940, battling with political rivals who favored a pact with Hitler and strategizing to save the British army trapped in Dunkirk. It is a “warts and all” portrait including Churchill’s excessive drinking and his controversial decision to sacrifice the garrison at Calais to buy time to evacuate the troops from Dunkirk. So far, so historical. But then came a scene I knew was an anachronism. Churchill giving his famous V sign for Victory. But that couldn’t have happened in 1940 for the V campaign didn’t start until Continue reading “The Darkest Hour, The Suspect V”

Fish N’ Chips N’ a Stripper

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“Now I can tell you what happened,” whispered my husband Mel when the children had finished eating and gone to play in the other room. He did have a strange expression on his face when he came back from the Fish N’ Chip shop with our dinner, a cat that ate the canary kind of smirk, but he said nothing until the children were out of earshot. It was his first visit to England and we were staying with my mother in the house where I grew up on Marks Gate Estate in Chadwell Heath. We were all tired after a long day of sight-seeing in London and nobody felt like cooking. So Mel offered to go round the corner to the Fish N’ Chip shop on Rose Lane and pick up dinner. He felt proud that he could go it alone, having spent a couple of weeks getting used to deciphering the London accent. He had also learned about ordering fish and chips, that you have to specify the kind of fish and that one of the choices is plaice, a fish unknown in America. But it turned out that the timing of his expedition would give him quite a different immersion in English culture. Continue reading “Fish N’ Chips N’ a Stripper”

Brass Rubbing

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Brass rubbings above the bookcase in my living room. On the right are Sir John and Lady Joan de la Pole

The line on the job application, paper in those days, asked “What are your hobbies?” I hesitated. The one piece of advice about job hunting I remembered from library school was “Never say your favorite hobby is reading.” Curious advice to give aspiring librarians, perhaps, but the idea was to avoid the impression you thought librarianship was just sitting around reading. You must project serious professionalism, information services not novel reading, people skills not shrinking violets hiding behind the covers of a book. But reading was in fact my hobby. Pretty much my only hobby. So I had to give Continue reading “Brass Rubbing”

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”

On My Bookshelf – Slant Manifesto

Slant Manifesto

Subtitled Catholics and the Left this worn little paperback sits on my bookshelf like a relic of another age. It was a time when English Catholics looked to Marxist thought to inspire a full expression of their faith. Released in 1966 by the Catholic publishers Sheed and Ward, Slant Manifesto is a compilation of writings by the founders of Slant. Slant was a journal published from 1964 to 1970 by a group of Catholic Cambridge undergraduates and Dominican priests, many of whom went on to become leading intellectuals and theologians. In the introduction to the Manifesto Neil Middleton explains that the group “is engaged in the exploration of the idea that Christian commitment at the moment carries with it the obligation to be socialist.” A sample of the chapter headings is a rough Continue reading “On My Bookshelf – Slant Manifesto”

The Mobsters and the Baby Shoes

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Back in the early 1970s my sister Angela worked for a temp agency in the East London suburbs of Essex. Her first assignment was with a company named Downy Baby Shoes. She imagined an office where grandmotherly women sewed baby bootees while softly humming lullabies. A cosy place, perhaps decorated with Beatrix Potter prints. The reality was far different. On her first day she found a rather grungy office in an out of the way alley presided over by two Canadian men. The boss was a supremely ugly man Continue reading “The Mobsters and the Baby Shoes”

That Was The Year That Was

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Long ago and far away in the England of the 1960’s television political satire was born. I was fourteen years old, precociously interested in current events, and allowed to stay up late to watch That Was The Week That Was. TW3 as it was known first aired on Saturday November 24th 1962. The star was a young David Frost and I was soon helplessly in love, my first big crush. The show was revolutionary. The hitherto staid and cautious BBC Continue reading “That Was The Year That Was”

On My Bookshelf – Swallows and Amazons

Swallows and Amazons

My favorite childhood book was never on my own childhood bookshelf. I borrowed Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome from my local library and enjoyed it so much that in subsequent weeks I checked out all the other books in the series. I do own a copy now, though it is currently on loan to my grandsons. This year was our fourth spending a week together at Deep Creek Lake in Maryland. I’m hoping the lake experience will draw Continue reading “On My Bookshelf – Swallows and Amazons”