Silent Night

I’m surprised there hasn’t been more publicity about the fact, but the carol, “Silent Night” was first performed in a church in Austria 200 years ago tonight. I collect Christmas music. At last count, I had 28 English-language versions of “Silent Night,” plus another handful in German. This unorthodox version by the Temptations is by far my favorite. If you like another one better, I’m okay with that. However, if you don’t think Melvin Franklin was one of the greatest bassmen ever, you’re wrong.

Christmas Long Ago

I was reminded this week of two Christmases long ago.  First, I thought of the girl I dated at 16.  I think of her every year as Christmas draws near because her birthday is one-week-to-the-day before Christmas.  If you’re sixteen, and not prone to thinking ahead (but I repeat myself), coming up with two presents for your girlfriend only one week apart is pretty tough, and something you’re not likely to forget.

Then, there’s the girl I dated when I was 15.  When I first became interested in girls, I dated two who lived near my aunt and uncle, more than 30 miles from my home.  For Christmas when I was 15, I was already at a loss for gift ideas.  It was so long ago that roses had just been invented and did not yet cost an arm and two legs, so I sent my lady friend a dozen red roses.  I guess she wasn’t expecting a gift from me.  When I went to see her, she picked up a very small package, did something that may have been removing a gift tag for someone else, and presented it to me.  It was a red ball-point Papermate pen.  I do not still have it, nor was it the first time I gave better than I got.  However, it’s not the gift, but the thought that counts, right?

I took my wife on two extended trips this year because I’m not very good at thinking up appropriate gifts.  That’s not a recent development.  I’ve never been good at thinking up appropriate gifts.  

Things I Know

Twenty-one-year-old Nazi sympathizer James Fields drove into a crowd, injuring 35 people and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville VA last August has been sentenced to life plus 419 years in prison.  It was a heinous crime, and I’m okay with burying him at the prison to ensure he serves that part of the sentence that takes effect after he dies.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a young radical, elected to Congress in November, replacing a long-time incumbent.  She worked very hard to get there, and probably benefitted from circumstances such as changing demographics and her predecessor, Rep. Joe Crowley, not taking the primary challenge seriously.   Still, she is a freshman member of Congress, so I’m surprised at all the news coverage she is getting.

My wife won’t give me any hints as to what to give her for Christmas.  I’ve already taken her on two expensive trips this year (to California and to London) in lieu of presents.  I’d like to take her to Hawaii for Christmas, but I can’t afford that.  I’ve always been taken by the lyrics to the Beach Boys Christmas song.  You know, “I want to spend Christmas on the Kona coast of Hawaii.”

When I was a sophomore in college, I was a dj on my college radio station, I read my letter to Santa to my listeners.  I said, “Dear Santa, all I want for Christmas is a doll.  Her name is Karen and she’s 18 years old.”  Santa must have been listening, and I must have been very good.  I got everything on my list!  She was already my girlfriend for about a year.  Not right away, but eventually we married.  If I wake up on Christmas morning, she’s still here, and still the love of my life, I’ll be completely satisfied.

I’m pleased that I managed to find the last day on which it was over 50 degrees in weeks to put up my Christmas lights.

Could You Tone It Down, Please?

I have a dear friend, a man I’ve known most of my life.  I was best man at his wedding.  He would have been best man at mine too, but he was in the military and Uncle Sam didn’t choose to make him available.

He’s not the only friend I have who posts lots and lots of anti-Donald Trump messages and memes on Facebook, but he does it more than anyone else I know, and he does it to the exclusion of almost anything else about his life.

Keeping in mind that I didn’t vote for President Trump either, I can’t help wondering what my friend thinks he’s accomplishing.  He started making these posts before Trump won the election.  He has between two and three-hundred friends on Facebook. 

I’m willing to wager real money that every single one of his Facebook friends is well aware of his opinion about Donald Trump.  God knows I am!  Whether we agree with him or not, I’m pretty sure he hasn’t changed any of those people’s minds.  But I’m pretty sure he has annoyed a lot of his friends, me included, by doing this.

I knew him when we were both sixteen.  At that time, I used to argue a lot with the girl I was dating.  We argued mostly about religion.   She didn’t convince me of anything, but I did convince her to find another boyfriend, so I won, right?  My friend knew very well how traumatic that breakup was for me.  As a result of that teen-aged heartbreak, I refuse to argue with anyone about any faith-based belief.  Religion and politics are at the top of the list of things I won’t argue about. 

I certainly won’t argue with him about this.  He’s entitled to his opinion.  The problem is I know his opinion, yet he has repeated it to me multiple times a day, every day for more than two years.  I would, as I’ve said, like to know what he thinks he’s accomplishing.  I also wish he’d post a few things about the rest of his life.  We live very far apart, so we don’t get to see each other, or to talk nearly as often as we’d prefer.

Finally, a New One!

First, I didn’t think of this until after sunset, but happy Hanukkah to my friends who celebrate and to my reader too, in case he or she celebrates.

Also, let me add my voice to those people remembering former President George H.W. Bush.  He’s the only US President I ever got to speak with, and it was long before he was President.  I interviewed him on TV when he was Chairman of the Republican National Committee.  As so many other people have said, he seemed like a decent man to me.

Did you miss me?  It’s been what?  Six weeks or so?  I didn’t miss me.  Where was I?  First, I took Saint Karen (she must be a saint to put up with me) to London to celebrate our wedding anniversary.  Then, we both got sick.  If you’ve known the same person as long as I have known Saint Karen, you may also run out of ideas for presents.  In lieu of presents, I’ve taken her on two trips this year, in the Spring to California, and in the Fall to London.

This was our second visit to London.  We liked it in 2014, so we went back.

Everybody knows in Britain they drive on the left side of the road.  But in the Thames, they float on the right side of the river.  I asked, and captains on British Airways flights sit on the left side of the plane too. 

Travel is exhausting.  Here are a few observations you may not get from a travel blog.

Recommend:  Basil’s sandwich shop on a side street in Tower Hill.  Saint Karen and I stopped there early in our stay to get sandwiches.  I went back a second time, about a week later, and by myself.  One of the guys behind the counter said hello and asked how my wife was.  Another of the countermen told me the first time I was there I had dropped a five-pound note.  He gave it back to me, so my second sandwich was paid for with found money.  Friendly honest people making good food.  Can’t ask for a lot more than that.

The national sport of England isn’t football.  It isn’t cricket either.  From my observation, it’s jay walking.

If cars drive on the right, pedestrians should walk on the right.  If cars drive on the left, pedestrians should walk on the left.  Why?  So if they’re walking close to the curb they can see on-coming traffic.  But in London, as in Manhattan, there is no general consensus as to whether pedestrians should keep right or left.

In both the USA and the UK, most hotels, and motels I’ve stayed in, the bathroom mirror is located  so a man must watch himself urinate.  This happens so often, I believe it must be deliberate, but I have no idea why.

One thing I hate about air travel is the guy who is blocking the aisle while taking a long time to arrange his things in the overhead, and the seat.  I encountered such a man on the flight over.  He kept urging me to move past him.  He is large, I am large, but the aisle is anything but.  So, I couldn’t get past him, but it didn’t make him speed up his process by even one second.

We bought London Passes.  They offer discounted admission over a limited time period to all sorts of tourist attractions.  They worked seamlessly, but I’m not sure we saved any money because we don’t have the stamina to see more than two or three attractions a day.  If you’re going to get a London Pass, pay attention to the directions on their website.  The office isn’t easy to find.

On our first trip to London, we stayed in Southwark (the W is silent), not near a tube station.  This time, we stayed north of the Thames, near a tube station.  That worked better, but still room for improvement.  If you can, either stay at a hotel where you can do your own laundry, or one that has a laundry nearby.  Our hotel offers “laundry service,” but washing and ironing one dress shirt costs more than $9.00!  I don’t know about where you live, but the place I take my shirts at home costs $2.00 if you can’t be bothered looking for a coupon.  I bought a bottle of laundry detergent.  It paid for itself after I’d washed two pair of socks.

I wish both St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey allowed photography inside.  They’re both absolutely beautiful.  However, if Westminster is so Gothic, how come it doesn’t own a black t-shirt?

Have you ever seen something, and realized you wanted it both badly and immediately?  On Wednesday, outside St. Paul’s, I saw a restaurant with a sign in the window that said, “potage de poulet.”  For those of you who don’t remember three words of high-school French, it means chicken soup.  I ordered it, but they were out.  So, for the rest of the trip, I went around London looking, unsuccessfully, for down-home chicken soup.  When we got home, I had some, also a large soft drink with lots of ice.

There’s a decent barbecue restaurant on Tower Hill, so why not an American-style deli?  There are restaurants claiming to be American-style delis.  Their claim is dubious. 

We ate British food too.  I’m diabetic, so as much as I’d like too, I shouldn’t really eat a full British breakfast.  I like meat pies, but maybe because I’m not a drinker, I haven’t been impressed with the pubs I’ve found.  One, down the street from our hotel, advertises it serves breakfast until noon, which is fine, except it opens at 11:00 AM, so what’s the point? 

The hotel we’re staying in is nice.  It advertises as a business hotel.  A few things strike me as odd.  Two of them are probably building-regulation stuff.  There’s no electric outlet for the hair dryer in the bathroom.  They do have a deep, wonderful bathtub, but the faucet has such low flow that it takes 30 minutes to fill it up, so the water cools off some while you’re filling it.  A nice, hot soak is, therefore, out of the question.

Our room has a king-sized bed, which is great, and uncommon in British hotels.  As a business hotel, it could use a few more electrical outlets in each room (especially on both sides of the bed and at the desk.  Some USB ports would be nice too.  It could also use access to better cell phone signals.

We had a good time, but three days before we planned to go home, we both came down with a nasty bug.  We’ve coughed so much we kept each waking each other up.  When we arrived back in the good old USA, and caught our ride home, we dropped our bags in the living room, got in our own car and headed for one of those urgent care clinics.  We thought we had the flu.  How silly of us.  We both had pneumonia!  We’re fine now.

That was the only vacation we’ve ever been on where both of us were sick at the same time.  I don’t recommend it.  Still, we had a nice time in London and I expect we’ll travel again in 2019.