Friday, December 17, 2004

American English, and U-Boats!

I have been developing a theory about the curious dislike of vowels, displayed in the way America uses our language. I accept, by the way, that it is *their* language too, and that 280 million people (many of who speak Spanish as a first language) are entitled to make changes as they see fit :)

Nonetheless, waging a wicked and merciless campaign against a vowel (or two) is simply an unreasonable use of the nuclear deterrent. I put this quite highly, as none of the other nuclear powers have seen fit to abuse our (their) language in such a manner. Indeed the French have a Government dept. tasked with the job of actually preserving French and keeping out English/American expressions. They are losing the battle, I think for two main reasons. One is that French, like all languages, is a living language …. which will develop and change to reflect the experience of native French speakers. The French really cannot want their language to die, and become the *Latin* of Europe. I do take the point that certain steps should be taken to prevent the other main reason their language is being corrupted ….. McDonalds.

In another place, and at another time, I had cause to be thankful to McDonalds for their influence in separate matter, but this is a family journal, so if you want to know what I mean, you are gonna have to ask :)

I do not, nor do the French, thank McDonalds for *le Big Mac*, *les fries*, etc.

But I digress …..

It seems that over the last hundred years or so, the letter *u* has been sent to Alaska. Not literally, you understand (there is no *u* in Alaska either), but I was trying to think of where America would send things they don’t much approve of, and I came up with Alaska ….. or maybe Salt Lake City … I’ll have to ask an American :)

So, for my American friends and readers, here are some *original* spellings. Colour, labour, favour, flavour, favourite … and here is an odd one *aluminium* …. Note the second *i*. When I pronounced the word *al-u-min-ee-um* in conversation, my friend Lori just giggled … Harumphfff!!!

Which all begs the question: “Why?” Why is it that America chose to outlaw the *u*? Was there an ink shortage? A pressing need to write or read faster?

Or is it, as I believe, a conspiracy by Piano Manufacturers? Yes dear, you did read that correctly, and there is no *u* in Piano either …. Not even in *Pianoforte*, to give the instrument much abused in bars it’s proper name :)

You may know (or soon will) that the very best pianos are made by Germans. Such famous names as Bluthner, Bosendorfher, Bechstein are among them. The most famous of all being the name of Steinway. Yup, I know Steinway are American, but here is the thing …. They are too a German family. Rather like our Royal Family, as it happens. And I would be perfectly content to accept that we were to blame for the American persecution of the *u*, were it not for the fact that the only Royal we tried to export to the United States (HRH The Duchess of York or *Freeloading Fergie* to her friends) was promptly sent home with a *Return to Sender* sticker on her forehead.

So, if the Germans are responsible for stealing the letter U, then what possible motive could there be? And now we have the crux of it. Have you noticed how the Germans name their submarines? Yes, they are called *U-Boats*, and they all have an identifying number beginning with a *U*. What is more, they needed quite a few. A recent Hollywood movie about how America won the war was called U-571. That equates to five hundred and seventy one words that need to loose a vowel, just to provide the names for the German Navy. It all makes sense.

Steinway immigrate into the United States, begin to make pianos (good ones too) …. In the meantime they are quietly amassing a stockpile of *U*s, German Navy for the use of. This allows Germany to attempt to wrest control of the world from Britain …. An attempt which ultimately fails, but in return for help in defeating the new owners of the stolen *U*s, we gratefully give control of the world to our latest, if a little tardy, ally the United States of America.

So guys, you swapped the letter *U* for world domination …. Not bad, not bad at all :)

ps. G W Bush apologised recently, for the USA being a little late entering the last two world wars. He promised to make up for it by being *extremely prompt* for the next one!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Nature of *support*

I spend a small part of my time attempting (with varying degrees of successs) to support people trying to quit smoking. The quit smoking group I am a part of is currently *adjusting* as people leave, and others arrive.

My journal has, thus far, been about my travels, and that will continue. But sitting at Baltimore airport, then Chicago O'hare waiting for planes I wrote the following, and I thought I would include it here:

For some time now, I have been giving some thought to the nature of *support*. What it is. Who can give it and how, and why is it so much harder to receive, than to give? This last being especially pertinent now, at a time of *giving and receiving*.

Before I continue however, there are a few remarks I wish to make.

The views expressed in this post are mine. I have taken them from nowhere, and they are qualified by no one. I am neither a psychologist, nor a psychotherapist, although I have worked closely with both for many years. I do have much experience in the successful delivery of support to children who very badly needed it, and I also have significant training, and some qualifications in that field.

Like any other post though, I claim no expertise, I simply offer a view, for what it is worth. Please, take what you need, and leave the rest :)

Despite some recent evidence to the contrary, this is a support group, and a damned fine one! There are some who have expressed the view that this support should really be delivered with rather less *Off Topic* content. This is a valid view, but in my opinion, a mistaken one. Mistaken because this view misses essential nature of the way support is provided within AS3.

AS3 could easily be a *bulletin board* or a message board. Those long enough in the tooth to remember 1200 baud modems (and slower) will remember *bulletin boards* with varying degrees of nostalgia. Such vehicles were effective in their primary task of delivering information, but pretty useless as a medium for any discussion.

AS3, on the other hand, operates much more as a community. Few communities are comprised solely of a single dimension …. Indeed they would be pretty sterile environments were that the case. Think *Stepford Wives* in text. It is the process of quitting that brings us together, provides a common goal, a raison d’etre, so to speak; but it is my contention that the real support is delivered as much through the Off Topic content, as it is through the milestone congratulations, and the very pertinent discussions regarding quit methods and other (equally non-controversial lol) subjects.

I would argue quite strongly, that the fun, laughter and the downright enjoyment that can come from the participation in AS3, are in fact the glue that binds the newsgroup, and allows the delivery of effective support to people often feeling quite emotional and vulnerable. The spin off is that people here make very real *real-life* friendships, which come as a bonus none of us expects when we arrive.

Like any community, we have our friendships and rivalries, our fallings out and our love affairs. It is rich, diverse and has thus far, and will continue to, offer massive and sustained support to many thousands of quitters.

So what is support? Is it definable? Could we bottle it?

For me, it boils down to two aspects. The giving of support, and the receiving of the same. I will argue later that there are some cogent reasons why the receiving of support is rather harder. But in the end, those able to receive are best placed to, and in fact do, deliver the most effective help to others.

Giving support can and does take many different forms. If I post my meter, the number of replies can be as meaningful as the actual content of the individual responses. That is not to say the content is unimportant, quite the opposite ….. but the very fact that a milestone is recognised, and responded to, can leave the individual feeling accepted and valued. At it’s most basic level, AS3 offers this to most of it’s participants. No skill is required, neither is any real *empathy* called for, although the individual responses are more meaningful if the replies contain either, or both.

Still in the area of giving support, but rather more individual, are those posts that ask for help either by suggesting the poster is in some form of crisis, or facing a particularly difficult trigger. AS3 is generally, in my view, excellent at responding to these *cries for help*. There are issues regarding the people who I have heard described as *serial quitters*, but generally we respond quickly and in a meaningful way to such pleas. This level of response does require that folk give some regard to the nature of the plea, and therefore the tone of the reply.

At this point I would simply state my personal distaste for the phrase *serial quitter*. For me it has connotations of a lack of sincerity, or willingness to quit which I entirely reject. No one willingly puts themselves thro Hell Week time after time after time, if they can see any alternative whatsoever. Of course your mileage may vary, and that is your right. Personally, I have the highest regard for those unfortunate enough to slip back, repeatedly, but who also have the courage and determination to keep on trying. It may interest you to know that when I *failed* it took me ten years to pluck up sufficient courage to try again …. The *serial quitters* (sic) are braver than me!

A step beyond this are those people with problems that require more considered, or more expert help. I use the word *expert* advisedly, as this group contains the distilled wisdom of a generation of quitters and is, in it’s own way, quite *expert*.

We stray then, into the area of receiving support. I stated earlier that it is rather easier to give, than to receive.

I feel there is a very simple reason for this. Giving support requires that a person is willing to give, has the time to give, and has the capacity to provide something helpful. This actually can be as simple as providing a link to an amusing Flash game, which could be just the distraction needed by others, at that time. Others start threads of discussion to do with *What do you want for Xmas*, or *Seat Up or Down*. Each of these, I would suggest, is as valuable as any other thread in contributing to the building and maintaining of our community. Some may feel I put *community* too highly; arguing that in fact we are just a buncha misfits, or at best, loosely bound individuals. Well those people may be right, I just prefer my view is all :)

In any event, the receiving of support requires something way beyond that required to give. In my experience, in order to receive support one has to be prepared to hand over, to the keeping of others, a part of ourselves which is both delicate and private. We have to be prepared to confront and share our insecurities and vulnerabilities. This is, by any estimation, no mean feat and we can’t all do it. Issues of trust and identity are bound up in our egos, and it is a brave or desperate person who can ask for help. Of course, well rounded individuals with a specific need are also able to ask – I don’t profess to be one of those :)

So two things immediately spring to mind, if my suggestions are accurate. The first is that the time people need the help the most ie, on the point of a slip, is likely to be the time they find it hardest of all to ask; and that those believers in *Tough Love* (which I will come on to in a moment) had better make sure they are very careful how they handle some real vulnerability. The risk is of causing real and lasting damage if you get it wrong. I do hope this helps people understand why it is so damned hard to ask for help, and go some way to helping those supporters who get angry at not being asked, gain some insight into why it happens.

I plead with people to remember that *Tough Love* includes the word LOVE! It is a relationship based way of helping a person confront their own issues. It is damned well NOT a permission slip to beat up a quitter having a hard time. It is Tough, only because the process of learning about ourselves can reveal characteristics and traits we are less than proud of. Such insight is indeed hard to bear at times. It needs a relationship based approach, if anyone is to gain, and is most definitely a *loving* approach.

To those who believe *spare the rod, and spoil the child* is the way to go, then I recommend you leave. Other places will doubtless welcome your contributions.

I made the point early on, that I believe those folk who are able to receive support, are often best placed to give it. I think that the history of AS3 bears this out. I am clearly contending that a preparedness to face ones own demons, and an ability to trust that others will take care of the delicate parts of our psyches, combine to create individuals who are able to empathise, and support in a way that simply has to be valued and admired. AS3 has these people, and we need to look after them :)

In the course of the last fifteen hundred words I have made some very bold statements and assertions. There will be those who agree with it all, those who agree in part, and those who disagree because *I* am saying it :) I don’t think I will lose much sleep over the latter group …..

I simply remind you all that it is *One man’s view*. I claim nothing else, but I do congratulate and thank all those who made it this far!

December 2004

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Karaoke - Hell Yeah!

It’s *Karaoke Night* in a bar called *No Place*. Top of the bill (well, hidden halfway down actually) that little known, but clearly talented English baritone of exceptional clarity and tone, the one, the only and here for one night only, direct from London, England ……… Mr Steeeeeeeeve Bracken.


This all began months ago in a conversation with either Jodie or her partner in crime, Annie. Not sure which, but both are as bad as each other, so they can share the blame .. tee hee. *She* asked what I could sing …… “for my supper”, was the reply, but I didn’t get away with it, and the name of a song was demanded. At this point I tried really hard to put her off, racking my brain for the name of a song so unlikely as to be simply *laughed off*. All at the same time as not wanting to delay my reply so long as to appear evasive.

In the end I blurted out *Rhinestone Cowboy* … thinking huh, that should stall her for a bit. But no, alas, all that happened was laughter and a promise to ask George if he had that song available. Ok then, there is still some hope ….

A day or two later I get the bad news from Annie: "George doesn’t have *Rhinestone Cowboy*". Inside I am silently screaming for joy, and heartfelt thanks to the Gods of Karaoke … when she delivers the fatal blow: "But he will get it in time for your visit!!!!"

Utter consternation. Not only will he have the blessed song, but it will have been bought specifically for me. The chance of sliding out of this one are diminishing even faster than the prospect of actually finding Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. I am inconsolable. “Oh, very good” I say, “I’ll look forward to it”. Annie isn’t stupid though, and she saw through this pathetic ploy from the start …. Busted!


The week leading up was awful … I was sick. I picked up a cold from Lori, who prolly got it from those *Townies* in New York. I am finding that blaming New York for everything from Global Warming to ingrown toenails works very well everywhere except, probably, New York. Anyway, I was thinking that singing might not be possible. When I mentioned it to Annie her response was typically concerned and supportive … “Nothing short of death will stop you singing at my birthday party” … bugger!

I am surrounded, outgunned and outnumbered. This is not The Alamo, I give in!


So the fateful Saturday arrives. Kids safely delivered to their Dad, card and present bought and afternoon nap enjoyed. A word, before we go any further, about the birthday card. We got it in a sex shop in Tulsa (yes, of course they have them) Anyhow, I tried hard, while in the shop, just to look at the cards. But I couldn’t help the odd glance around the shop. What ARE all those things? And what on earth can they be for? (answers by email, in plain brown cover please).

My throat isn’t feeling too bad … damn! Oh well, if I am going to do this, I may as well do it as best I can, and a few beers first will go a long way to dulling the hearing of me, and most of the audience. If I see anyone with a video camera though, there will be blood.

Then all of a sudden, through a haze of cigarette smoke and flashing lights I see Annie walk towards me. The lights are down, it is 11pm or so. She holds out her hand to give me something … in my befuddled state I stupidly take it. I look down, and I see I am holding a microphone, and the Intro is playing.

“I’ve been walking these streets so long,
Singing the same old song,
I know every crack in these dirty sidewalks of Broadway”


And it’s over. I did it. Badly, but I did it. And they all lied … even George said it was good …. I know you guys lied, at least a bit, but thanks anyway, and I’ll be back. Hell Yeah!

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Thanksgiving in Okmulgee

You either have to be American (or Canadian) or to have been there, to understand what Thanksgiving means to families. I was there this year, for the second time in a row, to share a family occasion that is without peer, anywhere else on Earth.

Thanksgiving is when families come together, free from the commercialisation that is Christmas, to be together, as a family, and give thanks. Quite what they are thankful for one can only guess, it will be a bit different in every home. The usual health, wealth and happiness, I imagine, but also community, country and the wider world.

Last year, my friend’s Mom had prepared a few words as was her habit. These were delivered with real sincerity, as was the Grace spoken this year, in the home of Jodie’s sister. What was clear to me last year as well as this, was the privilege I felt at being invited to this, most personal of events. I thank my hosts.

I was half expecting the people I met this year to be somehow *different* to me. Let’s face it, they are a church-going family from a small town in the mid-west of America. I am, at best agnostic, from a busy metropolitan area 5000 miles away. I wondered what we might have in common. But as I am finding out, such things start to matter a great deal less when you look below the surface.

At the start of the proceedings, Jodie’s niece had persuaded me to part with $1, for a bar of chocolate she was selling to provide funds for her school. So, business as usual. That is certainly something Tom and Joe would recognise. Pst! Don’t no one tell her, but I woulda paid more :) A little later, I was in the kitchen, busily trying to remember my *Rules For Not Upsetting Peoples Relatives* (we’ll come to them), when I picked up the lid of a casserole dish. On it was Jodie’s sisters name and address. It turns out that the church members regularly take along prepared food, so they mark the dishes in a way that makes it easy to get them back to their owners. I made a comment about rummaging through other folk’s kitchens to see what they had *forgotten* to return, and there were giggles, and some knowing looks …. hehe

The point of all this, tho, is something else. In that moment I had a glimpse into a community. A community where people are contributing simply as part of their every day lives. A place where getting the kids first to school, then college, while bringing home the bacon, is a simple fact of life. I saw the community I come from, and it felt good.

So, what are these rules?

1) Eat everything on your plate.

2) Compliment the cook(s)

3) Agree with the womenfolk

4) The older the woman, the more you agree

5) Never discuss Religion or Politics

There are others, but these are the basics. And they have stood me in pretty good stead these many a long year, with the possible exception of the mother of a girlfriend I had way back in the early 80s. After a reasonably harmonious afternoon during which I refrained from telling her to *shut-up* at least 6 times, she remarked to her daughter “That young man is so self-assured I don’t know why he needs a girlfriend*. To this day I am not sure what she meant :)

So yet again, Thanksgiving was a wonderful experience. Meeting Jodie’s family was everything I hoped it would be, in my turn, I hope I didn’t disappoint :) The last word on the day has to go to Jodie’s elder sister tho. If she had any intention whatsoever of discouraging me, then I’m afraid she completely blew it with the baked sweet potato. Quite honestly, they are worth making a return visit for on their own!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Choices - the return

Following the deep, unremitting tear-jerker that was the “Choices” post, I damned well better let you all know how I got on.

Quite frankly, I was a bit scared to go. Not of Jodie, she visited me while in England, and I knew we would be fine. No, the problems were two-fold.

Firstly, how would I like, or dislike Tulsa and secondly, the extended network of friends and family. The first is easy, and I will talk a little about what we did, in my next entry. The second has implications way beyond just Jodie and I, and is, therefore, much more difficult to get right.

Tom and Joe have met Jodie, albeit briefly, but they are not the only children in this equation. Jodie has three kids who have already experienced some recent changes, and I think we were both keen that they should be disturbed as little as possible. Well! To leap unerringly straight to a conclusion, it was great.

Jodie has, in the past, affectionately referred to the kids as Bitchy, Whiney and Messy (Before anyone makes the kinda point I had to listen to before, just remember, I know that Jodie would lay down her life to save a single hair on those kids heads from coming to harm)

Anyway, a week later I feel I can safely conclude that “Bitchy” isn’t … well not much, and she is also the oldest, and a good deal of fun, and more ticklish that she admits to. “Whiney” can indeed whine for America. He is also a most loving and giving child (must remember to check on which day he was born) and Messy simply should be renamed: “I don’t know who the Limey is, but I’m staying over here and watching until I am sure he has been safely defused”!

In the end, it is my view that the children will be the ones who guide what we do, when, and how. Sure they will need help and support. Of course it is the role of adults to make “adult” decisions, and we will. But we will do so according to our best assessment of where the kids are at, and what will help the most.

This is what we will do …. So who’s gonna help us?

Minister of State at the Department of “Get a life”

Ok, so I thought this was an “English” disease. And it is true, we do have a bad case, but it seems the symptoms have spread way beyond our tiny borders. Borders which have repelled everyone since William the Conqueror, I might add, and He was invited. So maybe we are a tad more scrupulous about keeping things out, rather than keeping them in.

This is probably a “good thing”, as we can encourage the Spice Girls, and Arsenal, and the Welsh to leave, then pretend we are all out when they come back …. Talking here about precisely whom we may wish to keep out would need a little more space than I have available.

Oh yes, what is the disease? Well it is moaning, whingeing, whining and complaining, and assorted other acts likely to turn a perfectly good day into a trial. Worst of all are the people who simply refuse to accept that the world is a different and, by and large better place, than it used to be.

We English are used to this … the phrase “Little Englander” being commonly heard applied to those who refuse to accept the notion that “Johnny Foreigner” could possibly have a point of view. Oh, and if the point of view at issue happens to be Gay, Black or, in some cases, female, then Little Englander, from Sutton-Under-Wold, Home Countyshire, will be seen venting his ire to the point of apoplexy, In the local bar or golf club of a Sunday lunchtime.

So I have been in Oklahoma. A later entry will give my view of the Oklahomans I met, the welcome I had and the fact that I could easily spend the rest of my life there … but for now I wanna talk about the “seedier” side of life … the Redneck (attitude, not work ethic), the “Little American”.

Here is a revelation for me ….. you have them too …. Lolol And apart from anything else, they do provide an endless series of opportunities for mischief-making at their expense (best to avoid the ones actually carrying pump-action shotguns)

So here is where the Government Department for Get A Life comes in. I know the US Republican Party is a party of “small government”, and the idea of yet another Dept. of State might not appeal … but bear with me. My journal has actually separated Church from State already, a concept all y’all seem to be struggling with, at the moment. So I figure a teensy bitty new dept would be ok. Besides, the Democrats aren’t immune from gazing at their own navels either.

This department will seek to fairly govern ALL the population, free from prejudice and malice …. We ARE breaking new ground tonight … and strike fear into the hearts of the whingers, and more especially their attorneys, wherever they chase an ambulance or attempt to start yet another futile “Class Action” that benefits no one but the lawyers, and generally makes the place less open and relaxed that it could be.

It was an accident, ok? No one was to blame, no one should get 50 000 dollars because they broke a fingernail, schools should be able to organise outings, and fieldtrips with a element of fun and danger, without needing prohibitively expensive insurance because little Lori, or Randy scratched his/her arm on a nasty, wasty bramble ramble. GET A LIFE !!! Want your kids to grow up as wusses? Well then, protect them from every danger known to Man (or thought up by attorneys)

Attorneys, by the way (except for mine) should actually be told, en-masse, to get a life :)

So … next time I am in South Carolina, and I read in the newspaper about moves to have the Flag of the Confederacy flying alongside the Stars and Stripes …. The Minister will have the full authority to say “Dangnabit it ain’t gonna happen, no siree! You lost, deal with it, GET A LIFE”

I’m a Limey, and I love to hear Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans”. But here is the thing …. We lost, and we actually don’t mind. Apart from the aforementioned “Little Englander”, we are generally pleased at how our cousins from Left Pond conduct most of their business … we got over it! (plus it means that Europe, esp. the Germans, generally don’t hold us responsible for your Foreign Policy (sic))

So there we have it. An end to the whingeing and a return to the real values of the past people hanker after … freedom to roam, live peacefully, raise a family, without the attendant poverty and ill health that afflicted us all in the “Golden Years”

Just ….. “get over it”, and grin.

*editors note

The author of this journal accepts no responsibility whatsoever for the increased consumption of Krispy Kreme for breakfast, by Floridians.