Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Always look on the bright side of things...

The Friday Project have published a book by a chappie called Steve Stack entitled It is just You, Everything's not Shit and the opening paragraph of the introduction reads:

In recent years there have been a number of popular books moaning about life and how crap it is. Whether it be grumpy old men, miserable old women, or people asking 'Is it just me or is everything shit?' I am OK with that, I accept that the world can be a crappy place sometimes, but do we have to be so bloody pessimistic?

Well, with an opener like that, I just had to read it and have him on as a guest on the blog, didn't I?

I'm delighted I did because it's a fun book, the sort of book you'd keep in your powder room and read in snippets. In segments that begin with the letters of the alphabet, the author lets us know about a few things in the world we should be happy about. There's 'Amuse Bouche'--a small appetizer given for free in good restaurants, similar to what's called 'lagniappe' in New Orleans. Some of his picks are naturally very Brit and will appeal to Anglophiles--Bacon sandwiches, The Pudding Club and A Quarter of (various candies sold in the UK corner sweet shops), but others are universal including honey (pots of it were found in King Tut's tomb still edible), unexpected encounters with wildlife--the description was so on point--and Dr. Seuss.

Anyway, here's the interview.

Should you be interested in Steve's book which isn't published in the US, he informs me you can order it directly from The Friday Project at half price as part of their Christmas offerings and they'll even mail it to you for free.


DMN: Steve, you conceived this book as a sort of humorous antidote to people who are always complaining or whining about stuff? How did you go about deciding what you wanted to include and what you were going to discard?

SS: It really was as simple as sitting down and making a list of things that I liked. That naturally makes it quite a personal list but I think that there will be a core of entries that are universal. Also, part of the fun of the book is disagreeing with it. I know people who violently disapprove of some of the entries and others who claim I have made terrible errors of omission. They are all correct, of course, but the point of the book is not to be a definitive list but to prompt people into a more optimistic frame of mind.

DMN: I was interested to see 'It's a Wonderful Life' made the cut. Is there a British film you could recommend as a close second?

SS: I am a big fan of Hollywood movies and It's A Wonderful Life is such an amazing and life-affirming film so not much comes close for me, although I think an honourable mention could go to the Michael Powell movie A Matter Of Life & Death with David Niven. Great stuff.

DMN: Your Pudding Club entry appealed to me because I'm a lover of puddings, especially Sticky Toffee and Syrup Sponge. They even sell these in ex-pat shops here in the US. Any club in Britain like that that's dedicated to appreciation of fine beer and ales?

I am not a big drinker but I hear lots of good words spoken about CAMRA (the Campaign For Real Ale). They have a website and shop at

DMN: When you gave the pyramids the nod, what did you compare them to? Did you consider the Aztec and Mayan temples. I mention these only because I had an opportunity to visit them and was bowled away by the engineering as well.

SS: I would guess that if I had also visited those amazing places they would have made the list too. I must confess that part of the reason for including the pyramids was that it made for a neat joke alongside the pyramid tea bags entry.

DMN: Tell us a little about the interesting artwork on your book's cover. What's the significance of the rabbits, lambs and ducks?

SS: Well my book is a response to another book called Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Shit? which had a road sign on the front. We thought it would be fun to parody that and surround it with lots of fluffy bunnies and cute animals.

DMN: Are you working on another project and, if so, can you give us a hint?

SS: I think I can possibly give you a world exclusive on this one. My next book, scheduled for Christmas 2008, is called 21st Century Dodos and is an affectionate look at the everyday objects and experiences that are rapidly becoming extinct - milk bottles, cassette tapes, that sort of thing.

DMN: I just have to ask this because everyone's dying to know....Tell us about something that bugs you.

I am not overly fond of dogs, it must be said. They slobber everywhere and smell.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The height of barbarity

Following up on my post about the Saudi prince who bought one of the new mammoth Airbus's, he and any other enlightened captains of industry over there now have a splendid opportunity to speak up and demand their country effects real change to better the lot of women and every day Saudi citizens.

A married woman and a male she was riding in a car with were both attacked by a band of thugs who pulled them from their car and raped both of them. Yes, that's right--the man as well as the woman. The female victim's punishment will be 200 lashes and a six-month prison sentence.


She broke the law because she was in the company of a man who was not a male family member.

So the prince and others can now deal with a concrete and pertinent issue of justice and not wax on about how it takes time to change his country and America took years before they gave women the vote, yada, yada, yada. That argument is disingenuous and Westerners are not gullible as you seem to believe we are.

The fact America changed should be a catalyst, NOT a reason for obfuscation by men who're making millions a minute. Until Saudi Arabia changes, it can only be regarded as a barbaric kingdom.

And the current American administration should be ashamed. Many serving in its highest echelons wear their religion as a banner and reason to attack others with whom they disagree, yet they do not speak out when it is right and proper to do so. The current reason goes, 'it might upset the Saudis and cause them to pull out of the Israeli-Palestinian meeting scheduled tomorrow in Annapolis.' Horseshit. Nothing concrete is expected to come out of that meeting. At least the Canadian government had the balls to say the woman's punishment is barbaric.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A buying frenzy

Well, it was inevitable, wasn't it?

Now that the dollar is sinking fast--it hurt when I was in the UK two months ago and the exchange rate then was 2 dollars to the pound, but now its 2 dollars ten cents--there are plane loads of Brits, Irish, Germans, French, Italians, etc. arriving at JFK and Newark to buy us out of our increasingly probable recession . They're coming armed to the teeth--with Euros and empty suitcases, of course. And they're not heading for the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building.

Apparently they're heading for some obscure town up state where there's a huge complex of outlet stores--DKNY, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, etc... One guy from Dublin was interviewed on the telly this morning, gleefully telling us that he can buy 5 polo shirts here for the price of one in Ireland. And the stores are accommodating them cheerfully, offering them discounts for every $100 they spend, because Americans have their wallets tightly closed this season. The chains here are stating they're going to have a miserable Christmas season.

I wonder how long it's going to take the European Community to realize they should be collecting taxes on all this booty that's a comin' westward.

Now we hear China's considering dumping some of its huge dollar reserves, though we did also learn last week that the size of their burgeoning economy has been grossly overstated and the US will remain dominant for many, many years to come.

There's even talk that the Euro might become the world currency.

The only good side for us is that American exports are up and our deficit is shrinking. I am a bit cynical here because, given the trend in America for the past ten years according to the Gospel of Lou Dobbs to send all our manufacturing overseas, I'm wondering what American products we have left to sell. And it's not just physical goods I'm talking about either, because people from India call at night trying to get me to take out a mortgage, swap my phone service or try a new credit card.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Private Airbus's and Paris Clones

A Saudi Prince--there are 6000 princes in the desert kingdom, which makes them as ubiquitous as vice-presidents of corporations in the US--has purchased the new A380, the largest flying airplane in the world built by Airbus. Apparently, he wants to use it as a flying palace, though if people wish to visit some of his Middle-East residences and vacation resorts (according to Diana Sawyer's interview on Good Morning America) they'll have to use his other jet with its gold-lined sinks and white mink duvets.

The chappie is the richest man in the world and has many investments throughout the world, including the US, and is dead progressive because he lobbies for women to be allowed to engage in commerce and wear Western clothing. He also wants "almost all" people to have good opportunities, though it was not determined who did not qualify. From what I could reckon, his philosophy thus seems to be something akin to the "elephant must be eaten in small chunks", though there is no mention to any desire to bring an end to the large chunk of autocratic rule by that country's monarchy and instituting democracy.

However, he must be applauded somewhat for his tenuous moves in the right and enlightened direction.

As an aside, we were treated to views of some of the decor in his residences and, from what I could see, they looked a trifle tacky, especially an area or compound--or perhaps "county" is the more fitting word--that is designed to resemble a country in Africa with its abundance of stuffed wildlife that seemed to include adult lions, antelope, etc.

Speaking of tacky, Paris Hilton is in Philly this evening. No, it isn't to do a charity event, sadly. It appears her promise to turn around her life and do good is, just that--a promise. She was in Macy's to launch yet another fragrance.

It was quite astonishing to watch the line of Paris Clones waiting for their Goddess to appear--there were at least a bushel of bleached blondes. When interviewed, all spoke in awe of the huge talent and importance of this wonderful actress and how educational The Simple Life reality show was,
how it had changed their lives. Most startling of all was how they all finished their monologues with a nervous titter, a sort of baby gurgle minus the spit bubbles.

And they say cloning is illegal in the United States.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The pamphlet

Yesterday was election day in the US, so off we went to exercise our right at the local township office. As is usual, members of the Democratic and Republican parties were gathered by the entrance, canvassing people as they made their way inside.

A chap from the Democratic Party called us over and asked whether we'd like to review the ballot sheet which they'd blown up and pinned to a presentation board, which we did. A question included was whether we wanted the allow the county to raise money to buy farmland and keep it out of the hands of developers, and there were six or eight justices of the Pennsylvania supreme court seeking re-appointment--though it was wholly unclear which was Democrat and which Republican as is usual when local politics are involved.

As we were reviewing the board, the chap from the Republican Party came over, thrust pamphlets into our hands, and said, "You'd better read our positions as well, seeing as they're getting you to read their propaganda."

I thought he was joking, but his purple cheeks and tight lips suggested otherwise.

"Hey! Hey!, the guy from the Democratic party said. "That's not on. All I was doing was showing them the layout of the ballot. I didn't call them over to show them any literature from my party."

The Republican chap looked at the easel. "Oh, you put a ballot up, did you? That's alright then. Sorry. But guys, you should read what I gave you before you vote anyway."

Inside was more sedate and we chatted with the obligatory Republican and Democratic party representatives and the impartial overseer--who learned I was from Ireland and rabbited on about her Scottish roots--as we were signed in. It was the second time I used the new electronic voting machines, which are very satisfactory though I'm glad our voting district maintains a printout in the event of a challenge or malfunction.

All in all, I've a feeling next year's Presidential election is going to be a lot of fun. A lot of fun.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Hooves beating leaves

While working at my desk yesterday, I heard the loud rustle of dead leaves outside my window and looked out into the woods to see the most amazing sight. Five bucks of varying sizes were wildly chasing a couple of does.

November is the deer rutting season, which lasts until the end of the month. It's also the hunting season, but the bucks become obsessed with the does to the point of obliviousness and don't know what else is lurking behind the trees. I called Larry and we went out onto the deck to watch. They chased the does back and forth, the bucks stopping occasionally to check each other out (the size of antlers being a factor) and run the younger males off the land.

At one point, one of the does ran towards our house, stopped by a thicket and lay down. She watched the bucks prancing back and forth, her head moving one way then the other as she kept them in her sights. It was fascinating to realize she was hiding from them deliberately. The bucks sniffed the air and drew nearer and nearer because she was giving off a scent that she was in season. (The bucks actually chase teh does until they are exhausted.)

Out of the blue came the largest buck I have ever seen. He was a five-pointer (five points in his antlers which means he was five years old). He sniffed the air and walked with absolute determination toward the hiding doe. She saw him coming, rose and bolted. He gave chase. The other bucks didn't challenge him, merely watched and then fell into line and followed him. Probably hoping to learn a trick or two for whenever their turn comes to rule the woods

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Two 'Englishes'-One novel

Currently, A Son Called Gabriel is going through the process of being converted into a UK edition. The Friday Project will use the artwork created here by my US publisher, but will amend it to better suit their needs. The novel will come out over there in what's called 'B' format in March 2008 (mass market in the US). Very exciting.

Already I've been working with Clare Weber who's an editor at TFP and the copy editor they use is finding lots of American English that needs to be changed. I'd even forgotten how to spell 'pyjamas' because it's 'pajamas' here.

It's extraordinary. I've been living in the States for fifteen years and have no idea when I started to write 'American'. It just crept up on me. Now I wouldn't know if I was spelling a word incorrectly in standard English.

On that note, I was watching a documentary on PBS last year where they stated American English is now regarded as the official English language throughout the world. Apparently, more people abroad are taught or opt to be taught American English than Oxford English.

Yikes. Will a day come when Oxford English goes the way of Cornish, Scottish, Welsh or Irish?