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Saturday, May 03, 2003



If this, looks like some neo-surrealist facial caricature of twenty-first century human condition then, like me, biology was probably not a strength subject for you at school.

(Click on the image if you don't know where this belongs in your version of anatomy.)

From what I do remember, it remains a scientific mystery that humans are so nasally retentive , and receptive, given the amount of human skull-space dedicated to what I'd loosely call the brain's thinking lobes, separating us (most of us ) from all other animals, like dogs. They have relatively huge cranial blobs dedicated to the sense of smell and are very probably nasal erotics, focusing largely, it seems, on usually unpleasantly, still warm materials that none but a doggy would sniff at. With our such relatively small, smelling part of the brain ration, linked to the sense of taste, how come humans are such nasal retentives?

We have an amazing ability to recognise a vast catalogue of only slightly differing odours, whether nice or nasty, and that continues to baffle science somewhat. (The individual neurons, through which our sense of smell works, I read, last only some sixty days and don't replace.)

For me, the faintest whiff on a breeze can evoke strong memories I didn't even know I'd stored. Amazingly, it appears, one-day-old babies can detect bad, aversive smells and will grimace at, for example, fish and rotten egg smells (and yet they are, of course, blissfully immune to the foulness of their own first rear-end emissions.)

It seems that the skill of instantly recognising the putridly inedible is innate, vital to self-preservation when hunting for food, and common across a wide range of species. There is something of the Doggy-Pavlov in us too, for, even just the sight of something associated with a smell draws the same conditioned caution as would the actual source of the pong.

Our brains seem to be odour-networked in terms of linking smells they catalogue for us, and evoking, sometimes, a chain of vivid, previously posted, mental references.

The French President, is an excellent illustration of how, for example, a familiar , not necessarily pleasant smell, can be tolerated initially, but offence increases, over time, and eventually, the assault on the senses becomes so intolerable that it has to be dealt with and removed as it is not something, in this case, which will become sweeter in the passage or time. Click on Monsieur's visage to see what I mean.


Fresh Camembert (named after a French village), is, if you didn't know already, a delicious soft fatty cheese product of the Normandy region of France and has a very pungent aroma, even when fresh. President, I believe, is the factory, mass-produced for supermarkets, variety, not a farm product (which the better exemplar cheeses are.) Camemberts are usually sold in a sort of large puck-shaped round, wrapped in white waxed paper. They are often further packaged in a crudely fashioned, wafer-thin circular wooden box, although there are squared variants.

This form of packaging may seem illogical given the accomapanying smell it helps release should very probably be contained within a vacuum seal, but equally, I'm sure, to the cheese connoisseur purist, the facility to permit it tp breathe, enables the flavour to continue to mature by encouraging the bacteria that live in it and enliven it. The boxes have attractively tempting labels , and it is the combined traditional, authentic, paysan look of the product that seduces the gullible foreign visitor to make a purchase and actually take it all the way home.There are in fact a vast number of farmhouse cheeses that come in the same shape as Camembert. On the cheeseboard, it is the only one you could pick out with your eyes closed. Can you spot it here , with your open eyes? Probably not, but I like to help rest the reader's eye on these longer entries. The inclusion of the image is completely gratuitous.

Camemberts seems to love to travel. In hot car interiors or airport luggage, for example, they frequently hum all the way to your domicile as if to tell you this. Whilst it actually pongs like something that has already died, Camembert is best eaten soon, while it's still alive. The 'keep refrigerated' caviat is in fact very necessary but leads to a false sense of confidence in its ability to remain fresh. The real cheese-aholic, of course, relishes the way the taste of this particular delicacy, for them, perversely to us, improves proportionately as the smell increases in its putridity. In my experience, after the enjoyment of a sample wedge on a cracker or two at home, the wax paper goes back around it, the box, is refridged and, often, (I am ashamed to say), disloyally ignored or simply forgotten about.

It may have been forgotten by you, but it hasn't forgotten you, and quickly begins to remind you of its presence, making your fridge (and all who chill in her) begin to stink to high heaven!. Days pass blissfully by, the bacteria do their thing, multiplication wise, and emit their putrid gases, even though the cold should discourage them. You suddenly find yourself examining each others soles and wondering if the dog has thrown up somewhere out of view or worse. Suddenly, you remember where you left Le Camembert.

At this point the smell is usually so overpoweringly-ripe that it has to be immediately consigned, nostrils clenched, arms outstretched, to the bin furthest from the house, or better buried deep in the ground, like a pair of outlawed sweaty shoes or one of those breathtaking baby ammonia and methane emitting nappies( diapers) parents have to deal with, showing the respect for personal safety usually only shown to radioactive waste. I sometimes wonder if the majority of Camembert's, actually bought, at source, by none-residents, end up being thrown out , unfinished and, indeed whether this may be a thinly veiled French conspiracy to simply sell tacky wooden boxes.


All this cheese talk reminds me ; that chain of thoughts from the nose to the mind and beyond which , when mapped out on paper reveal the extraordinary network of associations from just a single word or a picture.

The objects in this image bring to my trivia-filled mind, for example, the complete range of red wines I have ever tasted, (and then all other drinks and where and sometimes why I consumed them), every wine and cheese evening attended, restaurants I have visited, the list is endless. Try it yourself. Following just one train of thought confirms the facility of the brain to store just about everything in your head. As ana example, for me, just a glimpse of a Camembert label and I am taken back, several years ago, to the days when I hitch-hiked up and down the British motorways when you still could relatively safely.


I once got a 200 mile lift, right down to London, that seemed a godsend , even to an atheist, as the passenger door closed behind me back then. Alas, on this occasion I had no reason to feel gratitude, it gradually transpired, and, in fact, I smelt a rat ( and it was a dead one ) so to speak.

This heavy goods truck driver ( both the driver and the truck were weighty) insisted on keeping the windows up, (all the way) and I was in no position to argue. The asthmatically throbbing huge diesel engine was, under a huge carpeted mound, that divided driver from passenger, and a most efficient radiant. It made the cab like a mobile sauna, but without the steam , condensation, (and, regrettably, without the essence of Scandinavian pine forest) In that warmth, safely tucked away invisible bacteria became increasingly excited and multiplied as if there were no tomorrow within that man's unimaginable shoes. There was, you see, an unmistakable olfactant assaulting my senses, rising as a vapour and circulating ,from the feet of a person, who drove, very possibly in the same socks and trainers ( sneakers ) all week. The oppressive heat made the offence to the nose tangibly worse. If I said that a two-week old Camembert would have been more fragrant to my nostrils, you'd get the picture. Thus begin to understand the nasal hell I endured in that long haul. Ah, but, as that door finally opened, on a lay-by, (pull-over ?) near London, and the cool, fresh air breezed on me as I jumped out, I felt like a man held under water too long, and at perishing point, finally breaching the surface and gulping fresh air.

Funny how that jovial lorry driver was completely unaware of the offence, even though his feet were not that far from his nose, and in that sense what excuse have nappy filling babies , other than as yet undeveloped memory files beyond those which they inherited. With recognition of external nasal threats comes genetic acceptance of your own, alas, and hence you need a best friend to tell you . I barely knew that driver well enough and, furthermore was keen to keep all my teeth.

P.S.My favourite cheese label, with the instantly recognisable image, The Laughing Cow. It was only when I came across this animated giff that I realised the iconic red cow isn't the original logo, and you'd probably pay quite a bit if you had an example of the beautfiful original design.
johncoxon 12:15 AM - [Link] - Comments ()

Friday, May 02, 2003

My city home, Salford, is blessed (or not) with a broad range of social and cultural differences and divisions. The extremes of the human spectrum are all here. Happily, and perhaps incredibly, decency is, as yet in majority! Curiously, between the extremes, there always seems to be a road. Enterprise, opulence and social conformity can be seen to thrive on one side of it, while perversity and disadvantage seem endemic on the other. A tough council housing estate, for example, one side of the road, and a restored, vast dockland area, on the other, (the latter, a city cash magnet for new investment, businesses home of expensive , new, private waterfront appartments.) A new and award-winning national war museum,

and also a prestigious arts cultural centre,

(each growing daily, in terms of international reputation, blossom on either side of the nearby Manchester Ship Canal (which once was the man-made channel that brought wealth to the city of Manchester)

It is incredible that, on the edge of that tough, and in some parts, very dangerous, housing estate, is a magnificent, splendidly preserved, totally genuine Tudor Great Hall.

It was in its grounds that, a few years back, I took this photograph. The English civil war between Parliamentarians and the Royalists, set Cavalier against Roundhead.

Today, there exist, historic societies; some folks, from all walks of life, like nothing better, on a weekend, than to abandon their vehicles, pull out their pikes, cudgels and blunderbusses, from their car tailgates or roof racks, and converge on some grassy space to faithfully re-enact civil war battles (striving in every possible way, to be historically accurate.)

On this day, I was passing, had a camera handy , parked my car and knelt on the lawn in front of the fierce on-going pageant and snapped this moment as the cannon was fired at no-one in particular.

I knew , when I first saw the prints, that my father would appreciate the shot. I sent him a print and even last week, twenty years after I took the picture, he still declared himself on the side of the Cavaliers/Royalist, whilst I did not, even then, divulge my preference for the Parliamentarians and the Roundheads.

Tonight, I created a draft guest book on my web log and immediately customised the freebie as radically as my skills currently allow. Their e mailed code had their links side by side, one for me and one for them. I sent their advert hyperlink to the bottom of my left column and swaped their guest sign-in button image with one of my own making.

Tricky, but possible to use a digital camera to photograph an existing mounted 35 mm picture and put it to immediate use. Click on my guest book invitation button and you will see that civil war picture, with the logo, 'your parting shot',as an invitaion to leave me a message. (I may think of better caption later , perhaps!)

It was accident, rather than design , that I pressed the shutter release at the moment the cannon fired and the guy that lit the fuse was frozen, in this self-defensive position, finger in ear nearest to the big bang ! Today, he looks like he is doing something else, bordering on heresy. Here is a caption that might fit, but I would love to hear additional caption ideas.

May be a comment under here or leave a guest note on my thus far, virgin on line facility, the new guest book?
johncoxon 1:32 AM - [Link] - Comments ()
Wednesday, April 30, 2003
Whether you are a re-cycling environmentalist, bargain hunter or Scrooge, Britain has a host of little-known outlets for you, where you can get your hands on authentic U.K. memorabilia for peanuts. Every foreign visitor should check these out for great contemporary and bye-gone bargains.

There are a host of charity shops in most towns, large or small, in Britain. People donate their unwanted goods and clothing, always in clean and good condition, to these organisations, and volunteers play salespeople for a good cause. Organisations represented included, amongst others, world aid charities, (like Oxfam or War on Want), and those representing illnesses , terminal or acute , (Athritis , M.S., Cancer Relief) the homeless( Shelter) and animal welfare groups.
,br> Then there is the 'Car boot' sale where householders bring their bits and bobs , rent a pitch and sell things that are no longer needed from the back of their cars, vans or from portable decorating tables. Beware though, because these one-day sales often attract a few dealers too ( their prices make them obvious) and even people fencing stolen things!Outdoor Car booting seems to have largely replaced the traditional Jumble Sales which were held in schools, church and scout buildings to raise funds.

I regret the demise of the local Jumble Sale because you used to find some astonishing things and pay next to nothing. Here, below, for example , is an image ( and then a journal entry about it) of one item I cherish from a sale some 20 or so years ago , for which I paid a modest ten pence (16 US cents !


In my mid-twenties I regularly scoured the local weekend newspaper for a jumble sale within driving distance. At one in a church hall, I saw an uninteresting , stained, dark blue magazine-sized hardback. On opening it I was greeted by this wonderful sight.

I presume that someone had had this 1930's commemorative brochure book-bound for some sentimental reason, and to them, I am so grateful. I love the sepia pages with all the astonishing facts about this famous giant of a steam propelled, elegant ocean liner, one of the Cunard Fleet, formerly the White Star Line (one of whose vessels had a very well publicised, tragic disagreement with an Atlantic iceberg )

Ships in Britain usually are prefixed with the letters S.S. for Steam Ship or M.V. (Motor Vessel ), but the Queen Mary was prefixed, like the Titanic, with R.M.S. (Royal Mail Ship) The abundant illustrations within the booklet include original photgraphic sepia printed images and amazing diagrams, as well as copious, historically fascinating text and also a range of full-page advertisements from a bye-gone era. The booklet provides a wonderful insight into the sociology, technology and history of the day.

Transatlantic steamers were big business in pre-aviation days especially, and the vastness of the ships seemed to have two functions. One to celebrate technological one-up-man ship (get it? ship) but also that, the bigger the ship, the more passengers and the bigger the profit. Titanic was a lesson in the tragic vanity of man in my view. Cunard/ White Star loved to boast of the scale of their vessels. Cruise orientated modern Cunard do it to this very day ( of that more in a few paragraphs !)

This golden gem of a real-thing publication has the following two images , which I offer as samples. The scale of the R.M.S. Queen Mary was awesome at the time, and they superimposed the ship in two picture/diagrams to make the point. The essential grandeur and global superiorty in the then Empiric still, Great Britain ! .

Take an iconic London landmark, to re-enforce the superior notion ,that our country had of itself , in the more self-confident thirties, when 'Made in Britain' meant quality and solid, and place the vast ship next to it. You get this compelling diagram.

Then, again, you took something familair to our folks a big steam engine, multipled that by three and loaded a picture of one of the three, Queen Mary's huge steam funnels and superimposed three steam locomotives inside one to make the essential point.

i.e this new baby is huge! The Queen Mary was great engineering achievement, in the days when we had a huge and flourishing ship building industry. What another priceless historical photo illustrates is the gigantic formative phase of the ship's construction!

Curnard is still a highly lucrative business, as was White Star and both , in their day, commissioned poster advertising that today sell, easily, as works of fine art. They all have that romantic glamour of the day feel about them , some art deco but all wonderfully evocative graphics, particulalry to people like me who remebr steam ships and once travelled on one in the mid fifties to escape from Egypt with my family during the Suez crisis. Here is an fine example of Cunard poster art , taken from a web site that merchandises Cunard posters, cards and memorabilia, and if you access it , by clicking on this picture link, you can see thumbnails of lots of these old posters that enlarge on a mouse click.

Cunard, shortsightedly, disowned and decommisioned this proud old lady. For them it became a pile of unprofitable scap metal, albeit a mountain of it. American enterpise, god bless it saved her and still value it, as it has pride of place, I believe , moored at Long Island , and now is, amongst other things , the mother of all eating venues and conferencing amongst other activities. The new owner's website is comprehensive and impressive, and not entirely profit minded. There is immense respect for the old gal in its pages and a sense of valuing the treasure that they are now the custodians of.

In a real sense, the R.M.S.Queen Mary was one of a line of majestic vessels, on which, migrants from Europe sailed toward the American dream, and nodded, no doubt , a salute, to Liberty as she steamed by, at the start of so many new lives in the New World.( I actually e mailed the site with my front cover digi picture of my priceless 30's booklet that you see above and told them all about it, and promised a Xerox of it all, if it would be a valued addendum to their archive. No word as yet, but I will e mail a reminder alert, of this entry ,to see if they really do care !Click here for their site and some historical background.

Something is afoot in France, of all places, in a ship yard, as history is about to repeat itself, and yet I have heard barely a whisper of it! Monty Python pays irrverand tribute to the univerasal wisdom of France's René Descartes, but I can't recall if they ever mentioned Marcel Proust. Marcel wisely remarked, disillsuioning we romantic nostalgics for all time , that you cannot reclaim the past, but confusingly stated, aussi 'Plus ça change; plus c'est le même chose' ( everything changes yet remains the same) Cunard, unpatriotically have commissioned, very quietly, from a French (not British) shipyard ,a huge new cruise liner, of rivaled size and elegance to the R.M.S. Queen Mary, 'Queen Mary II', (A.K.A. QM2) to be launched in 2004, followed by another huge vessel investment, the Queen Victoria, the following year.

As testament to history repeating itself and tempting fate, is there anything completely familiar to you about this artist's impression from the new ship?

Isn't this a parody of the stairs that hapless Irish Titanic migrant Jack, played by Leonardo, nervously descended into the first class portion (in a borrowed penguin suit) to greet Roses' world, circa 1912, in that blockbuster movie ? Here we are again, with a virtual on-line brochure,(complete, ominously, with technical site faults where images are red-crosses broken linked) but succsessfully making-size comparisons,textually, as done , more gracefully, with images, in my faded manuscipt. The all-new Queen Mary II is "only 117 feet shorter than the Empire State Building is tall" and " is as long as 36 double-decker London buses", (and will cost a mere $800 million, carrying 2,620 passengers). It is, virtually, going to look like this. (Not quite the romantic beauty that was R.M.S.Queen Mary)

Click on the image to visit the new site, and book your fantasy cruise Back to the Future now! Funny thing is, Cunard's "big wheel's keep on turnin', Proud Mary keeps on burning", and their investment millions will be recouped , as their massibe pocket-liners always have assured. But, given the passionately lavish, detailed recreation of the Titanic for that film, and Cunard's architectural salute to its fantasy in the shape of that famous staircase echo, wouldn't it have been a bolder move, to actually have built a full scale working replica of the original! (Then you'd know that the heart really does go on !)
johncoxon 9:10 PM - [Link] - Comments ()

Town twinning is an activity that evolved in Britain and European neighbours as the antedote to the global horrors of the Second World War when municipalities ( the local governments of our towns) officially signed peace and culture-sharing agreements with towns in other countries of like minds. That movement led to fruitful, small scale admittedly, cultural and educational exchanges between different countries and helped develop mutual understanding and respect of individual similarities and differences across borders. Hence, Salford, for example, is twinned with St.Ouen in the conurbation of Paris (in the old Paris Docks area on the northern loop of the River Seine and close to the new Stad National ( national football stadium)

You must be aware that some xenophobic and racist values stem from the international habit of stereotyping a complete nation. Hence, the German's all have no humour, get their towels on the pool loungers first ( because they are so well organised) and eat boiled,shredded cabbage and a lot of sausages (their worst fault ?). ( linguistic pun ) The French all smell of garlic, eat horsemeat , snails and frog legs whilst holding long loaves of bread and wearing blue and white stripped tee-shirts!

Stereotypical notions come from the use of the word the, before the nation noun, as in the French.

I just got inspired by the words world order and the idea that a new look at word order might lead to a new world order ! What about "Hi, I'm a person and I come from America?" "Hi. I'm a person and I come from France." Gary, a kid I teach is a lovely person who has a disability. He isn't a disabled kid. He is a kid with a disability. See ? The child first , not the wheel chair. See the person first not the flag or your pre-conceptions that group everyone together for a new world order !

Philosophically, at university , I learned about false syllogisms or reasoning. You can't accurately make a generalisation about the French, the English or the Americans because you can't know all Americans ergo.....? I am a person of English descent and decent ! I don't wear a bowler and a pinstripe suit, carry a neatly folded copy of The Times under the arm that isn't carrying the gimp umbrella for protection against a climate where to not carry one causes it to rain immediately!

Some of the people I call really good friends happen , for example, to live in France. One of my best friend's, formerly the City's Town-Twinning official, is married to a wonderful girl, who is also French,and they now have a beautiful baby/ young child called Andrew. Now that is my kind of international relations officer !

I remember the anger, frustration and shame Sylvie expressed when too many people , who were 'French', voted for Monsieur Le Pen. ( How can you warm to a man who hates so successfully and selectively and also has a pet rat called Boris ? What choice was there in electing either Chirac or Le Pen. Rien. ) Point is national policy is political and thus, if they erred governmentally, over support for the Iraq thing, how can you condemn the entire nation on behalf of the government they were forced to accept?

France, America and Britain have a national rhetoric cherishing freedom of the individual and for me, whilst that means exercising that right with responsibility, voting with your conscience and going against the consensus view takes guts and ought to be respected. Villifying a complete nation or an individual for being different and not taking the consensus view is not the mind set of a nation of people who are free. Nutty , unwise 'Dixie Chick' celeb 'cooked her goose' and her band's, but I would respect her right to defer, whatever I thought of her or her peers personally. The records may have deserved a boycott on lack of merit not political correctness although, to be honest, before the "Mr President, I am, as a Texan, ashamed of you speil, I couldn't name one of the band's songs and still can't. Ask a couple of gay guys I saw walking in the shopping mall a month back holding hands. How safe it is to express your true selves? Stand up and be counted takes increasing balls in my humble view.

Current Francophobia can only be justified if we actually know the entire French nation personally and that they all fully endorsed the government's policy.

(Er John, you said your Blog was apolitical ! What?s this? Change the subject to something you know the facts about.


At official level, we like to exchange gifts with our friends from our twin towns in Germany, France, Italy et al. We have a range of souvenirs up our sleeves, so to speak ,that go down well as typically British or local things. I sometimes give, for example, boxed sets of die-cast models that comprise a red London bus, a black London Taxi and a police car. Beware ; Not all cabs are black here these days; not all buses here are red and there are a range of police cars of course.

Recently I discovered a new couple of gems for my library of nice souvenirs to present to foreign guests or friends. British icons, tragically, very well made, competitvely priced, but bearing the ironic logo 'Made in China'

I speak of the famous bright red telephone box and the famous red pillar box ( letter box) which I discovered locally in the form of scale model money boxes . That vivid red pigment was once the livery of the G.P.O. ( the General Post Office) There is something solid, ( the old phone boxes weighed a ton each), well-engineered and practical about these two icons of British life and both suggest a sense of permanence and continuity with the past.

But, the reality today is a little different. We still have, re-assuringly, I feel, a great many pillar boxes and they are still in the traditional bright red, but also a range of new styles too have emerged, not as stylishly solid. But the telephone box has undergone a radical design transformation which reflects social change.

Here is how the modern phone box 'icon' would look and it wouldn't make a great souvenir unless you want to challenge someone's sense of humour or lack of sentiment or the shortcomings of accepted symbolisms of national identity!

The essential feature, if you look closely, here is the shattered glass panel. The old style box was replaced to prevent increasing acts of vandalism, ironically. They hadn't predicted a major culture shift in boy-girl binge drinking and mental malaise that struck certain elements of our nation's wrecklessly drinking youth comparatively recently. The old style box had temptingly small panels of glass that you could modestly smash a bit at a time were you so inclined. Erroneously, it was thought, much larger panes would be of interest only to the real psychopath and would remain largely intact. Alas this theoretical deterrent became something of a challenge with unhappy drunkards or socio pathic, disaffected teenagers,as a valid target for gratuitous criminal damage on the way home from binge drinking sessions.

Whilst that design of cast iron red phone box had been around since the thirties ( and the few that remain are actually preserved as listed buildings) it was always much better than it looked. It was unventilated and stank of cigarettes, body odour and sometimes urine. Often the phones didn't work and the pay boxes were broken into more and more. It was floored with litter. The GPO had a cleaning programme but it didn't work awfully well. The new booths don't touch the ground so the wind clears any litter away. You don't need to know about desirable post codes and cool places to live. If the modern phone booths in an area have intact glass, buy; if they are scratched Perspex, don't buy. Praise the mobile phone revolution. You never need to go in one of our disgraceful new phone booths as a result of it!

A last thought about the word icon, a symbolic image that epitomises something. There were those sumptuous Russian and Greek religious icons on blocks of wood with images of Christ , a person whose image could not be legally represented in his lifetime. Thus, an icon, while being symbolic is essentially an image, often idealised or something to be looked up to, remembered fondly when things change for the worse. Essentially all icons are, then, I suggest, eye cons !


As the last of the white wine kicks in I thought, for a moment, of Plato, Aristotle, Pythagorus, Socrates, and later Leonardo da Vinci and maybe Will Shakespeare. The Greeks, I was told, said it all two thousand years ago, and in modern times, we hear about normal distribution and graphs of surveys of all things natural with a normative curve, showing bulk in the average, a small pecentage at the elite end and the bottom of the pile. Numerically, in all things, the average rule. Height, weight, shoe size , you name it. Plato had his political 'Utopia', the aristocracy ; the philosopher king and the State, a triangular power base / pryramid with a broad base of an 'oy poloy'slaves, a middle orgnising / managing group and an elite. Wealth, income, intellect and influence were distributed accordingly in his vision .

All Nations have their bigots, their crazies, their trailer trash, their anti-socials and their negatoids and all negative influences gradually increase in numbers as life gets more complicated, it seems to me. You think for yourself or you are mostly the mouth piece of conscensus, messed up by your personal baggage or received ideas that you take on as your own and that can be so destructive. You are , in the end, either a negative force or a positive one. Most people, the average bulk in the graph of norms, are content to be ordinary, don't want or seek power and want peace and contribute rather than take. Even as the boundaries of acceptable behaviour change, the world is mostly full of nice people still and the crazies are a minority and will remain so. Tell me I'm wrong, but I believe, world wide, despite local difficulties and conflict, the bulk of our fellow men and women have more in common with each other than any physical, economic, social or religious differences put up to deny this. So why don't we focus on our commonality, or at least try to ?
johncoxon 12:54 AM - [Link] - Comments ()
Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Voila! C'est un souvenir de Paris.

Souvenir is of course a word used in English speaking countries borrowed from, dare I say it, la langue française. If it's got to be Freedom Fries now, souvenir will be a no-no too I guess, but what can we use instead? In its lowest form, the traditional British holiday souvenir usually translates 'Something touristy-cheap and tacky ( with a place name ) ; thing we picked up on holiday, paid too much for, as a remembrance'. A bit of a mouthful. We have the elegant Latinate memento, or there's the homesy keep sake or even token. Keep sake does for me, with its suggestion of something you keep for sentimental reasons. (A huge sombrero, with Costa del where-ever emblazoned on it, the kiss-me-quick hat, or an imitation donkey from Spain, for example, never appealed to me enough to bring home with me.)

My wonderful vacation in Florida a few years back ,was my first experience of the United States. I really enjoyed the less populated/ popular Keys and, for example, Universal Studios. Disney was O.K.ish, although some of it had a sort of fifties feel to it and in parts was reminiscent of more innocent childhood times now , regrettably, lost. A culture difference I noticed, especially at Universal was, dare I say, the omnipresence of souvenir outlets. Well, more precisely, after each thrill-ride or cinematic experience, the layout forced you through a store heaving with themed merchandise.

Euro Disney, near Paris, doesn't, I hear, make the same big bucks through merchandising as the original because, "been there or on it or seen it , now I've got to buy a reminder of it" isn't a particularly European culture feature, although this, through children, transfixed by TV cartoons, fad blockbuster films and video games, and cynically targetted toy T.V.advertising, is changing.

I rarely go for made for the tourist' type souvenirs, wherever I go. I prefer the authentic where I can find it. From Florida, for example, I treasure a genuine aluminium Florida car registration plate I retrieved from one and a half fathoms of crystal clear Keys water and cleaned up and mounted on a wooden plaque back home. I also have three brass coat hooks, fashioned like swans necks and a host of embroidered American big game fishing competition badges which I trawled from a yard sale near Marathon. (I had no urge to buy one of several hand guns that were on offer.)

On other holidays it might be a simple pebble, shell or a fossilised lemon shark tooth. My one momento indulgence has to be the concert tee-shirt, even though the prices are a rip off. I had seen David Gray and I had to have the tee-shirt. I have to admit to a small fake bronze statue of the Eiffel tower, ( useful education resource, honestly ! ) One man's meat is another man's poisson as they say; beauty and good taste are, I guess, in the eye of the beholder. Not everything plastic and factory-made for the tourist is completely awful ( although I can't actually think of something that evidences this ) But I shouldn't be too hard on the stuff some people buy as reminders of places they've been. 'Living in the Past' was a great Jetrho tull number but not, for me , a way of life; thus I am very picky about my souvenir choices. And the picture experiences , stored in the photo album section of my brain, are the most treasured tokens of what went before.

This Citroen die cast car model above, I photographed, just now, on the back road, laying on my belly with my camera on Macro. Got some weird looks from the local kids and rushed back in before they got to me! Note how dusty my souvenir is. But, it is an icon for me; a car, the Traction that reminds me of old French police movies like Maigret and I always wanted to own one. Because this model was well made as a toy for French kids, it makes a great souvenir for me even with its manufactured authenticity. I was a bit embarassed how dusty I'd let it get when I saw it through the lens.

Another slightly flawed momento, this time the symbol for me now of an idyllic holiday in Britanny, North West France last year ( my first with Angela) where they had these lovely wooden fishing boats that were so different from our own in shape and style. This model is the nearest I could get to a decent momento-reminder of those Breton fishing boats I loved to watch and photograph. It was probably never actually made in Britanny or any part of that country (that to some begins and ends with a capital F, post Iraq conflict), but more likely, produced in some Far-East sweat shop. It is still a pleasant reminder as well; I remember the shop and the charming courtesy of the Breton lady who wrapped it for me. Memories are made of this, as Dean Martin once crooned.

johncoxon 8:08 PM - [Link] - Comments ()

When you have gone past the fifty mark, trips to the bric-a-brac shop or an antiques market can bring mixed emotions. You lift some piece of aging ephemera with a knowing smile, as if greeting a long-lost friend ; an everyday object from your childhood and you want to own it. Ah Nostalgia ! Is it or is it not what it used to be? As you lift one of these childhood relics and turn it to see the price tag, there is that sharp intake of breath and you quietly put it back mouthing silently "You must be joking!" Stuff you threw away, like tins and packaging (as worthless,) forty or fifty years later, turns up and has almost iconic graphic value in comparison to things you are throwing away now.

I went through a late mid-life crisis a few years back and the shelves in my den began to be littered with carefully cleaned and preserved sauce bottles, various everyday food cans and tins. I know now that I should have carefully wrapped and stored them away so that, in future years, someone would think they had struck gold! Alas, that idea didn't survive my swift enforced exit from the ex-matrimonial home and I was forced to consign tomorrow's antiques to the dust bin.(Trash can)

Joni Mitchell summed up this whole phenomenon , without knowing it, with the prophetic words "you don't know what you've got 'till it's gone". Just think! If you are reading this, at a more tender age than me, you might like to have a more careful think before you lob those empty forms of packaging into the dustbin. I assure you that some of that stuff, you call rubbish now, will end up coming back to haunt you, with a price tag, at some date in the future.


Now I don't know if it is my fading eyesight, or whether it is because I have been, like so many of us, sensitised to look-alikes by all those doubles masquerading as Saddam Hussein, but, it occurred to me that this fading image on a match box, has a striking resemblance ( match-pun intended) to actor Tom Sellick. In fact, this is one Captain Webb, a Victorian gentleman , who became the first person ever to swim the twenty-two mile stretch of sea between England and France.

Now as a frequent visitor to France, I prefer to take the ferry across the channel, especially as it is estimated that, were you to fall overboard, common wisdom has it that you would very probably die of hypothermia within about fifteen to twenty minutes.

As a former, very tall but relatively skinny, resident of Weymouth, and veteran of freezing Christmas Day swims across the harbour, I know personally, three much bigger , broader, men than me who have swum the Channel (and one, astonishingly, did it consecutively both ways would you believe?) I used to play in the local junior water polo team, and more than once , we played , unsuccessfully, on the choppy salt-sea pitch, against guys like them. Channel swimmers Phillip, Gregg and Merv were big guys and well, may I say, as politely as I can, very much better 'flesh-insulated' than I was. And even they smeared themselves all over with thick grease when they made their respective channel crossings to prevent vital body heat loss.


In my childhood days I was a phillumenist and I practised phillumeny. There is nothing illegal about this and I did grow out of it. The Captain Webb matchbox reminded me of those early days when I was an avid collector of match boxes and match box labels from all over the world. This match box is the only one I have these days and I keep it safe to illustrate some of the more bizarre ways of reaching France in my lessons. With the advent of the disposable gas lighter, (the preference for most smokers these days), the variety of match box brands has become very limited, at least in this country.

While this Captain Webb match box looks old, it is from 1975 and was made as a commerative for the centenary of Webb's historic Channel-crossing, by the Bryant and May Company. Now there's a British company that rings a bell with older persons! Here is an example of a humble match box that was on the scene, it seems like for ever. England's Glory.( Reflecting national pride , perhaps, in a striking way, in our once very mighty'shock and awe' Navy.

I'm not sure if this little cardboard box icon is still around. The matches, curiously, themselves, I think, like the majority of matches here,originating from the pine woods of Sweden ( before our acid rain killed of most of their trees) had reddy pink heads of what I think was phosphorus paste. You could strike them on any rough surface so, if the sand paper-edged box got wet, you could find any rock or a hard place to ignite them in an emergency.( even on the zip of your Levis , I recall)

(Angela chipped in here, too, that in earlier days, on buses where you were once allowed to smoke, they actaully had ash trays, embedded in the back of every seat, above which was a chromed textured plate designed specifically for passengers to use to strike their matches upon." Now where did that distant memory detail come from ?",she asked, falling asleeep as she was about to do!")( God Bless her tolerance of my obsessive GMT,late-night Blogging and glory to the dustbin of both our minds that remember all this stuff. )

I also believe that those match factory girls suffered health risks in the early days that no-one bothered about as a result of the chemicals in early match head (I think the pink stuff was radio-active, ( or was that the girls who painted tiny luminous paint blobs on watch and clock faces ?"),but certainly carcinogenic in the early days.

And then, I found, also the image , on the Net as it happened , of this other box that brought back memories.

I haven't seen this box , either, for yonks,( Uk speak for eons or a very long time) and suppose the brand has gone for ever. I can still smell the box; just looking at it and I remember how irritated I used to get with the safety 'matches'it used to contain. I can't recall what these bluish match heads were made from, but the match box sides weren't sand-abrasive, but a purpled blue colour striking surface. Hence, if the box got wet, you could rub them on an abrasive surface for a year and a day and they would not spark. And then there was also this brand which has gone for good.

In conclusion, let me salute the W.W.Web. You don't have to worry any more about losing touch with those precious memories. Someone, somewhere collects it, knows all about;it has a site totally devoted to it.

It was so easy and pleasant to type in my browser 'match boxes'or 'phillumeny' (which the Concise Oxford Dictionary,here , stubbornly refuses to acknowledge as a real word) and be taken to a range of web sites of people who collect match box labels and boxes to this day.

Finally, am I confusing cigarettes and matches in my understanding of the US brand/term 'Lucky Strikes?'Dad told me that, during the first World War (he was too young to be a part of that conflict) using one match to light three cigarettes, helping two of your friends get a light for their cigarette from the same match, was considered 'unlucky' in the trenches. German snipers you see ! One light for your Woodbine. The sniper saw you. Second light , he took aim. Third light and he pulled the trigger and it was night- night nurse.

johncoxon 12:53 AM - [Link] - Comments ()
Monday, April 28, 2003

Now these three 'much loved' family pets ( Er ! how can you love fish ? You can't cuddle them, stroke them, talk to them ,or take them for walks on a lead ) live on our kitchen window sill ( well not literally ; they need the safety of their glass aquarium to keep their water environment in place ) They have a tasteful photographic glossy backdrop poster of underwater vegetation to help them feel at home and shield them from the sunlight. I have mixed feelings about the ethics of imprisoning fish and a particular deep dread of getting unfavourable comments deposited below from radical fish activists that I just know are out their awaiting their chance to strike

This species of fish are called, curiously, goldfish over here. It always puzzled me why they aren't called orange fish and especially why the French call them red fish (poisson rouge.) They are clearly a flashy shade of orange.

Now, from Science, we are told, watching fish in your tank lowers your pulse rate and reduces stress. Equally, goldfish are bottom-end of the market aquatic pets, very cheap and undemanding and, yet, personally I find them strangely calming and attractive beings. Some people risk a fortune buying elegant and sometimes beautifully coloured exotic tropical fish, keeping them in huge elaborate aquariums, and that would make me really stressed out because anything complicated would probably die on me and go belly up and I'd be riddled with guilt.

Goldfish have a reputation for being exceedingly dull creatures. I feel, instinctively that goldfish are in fact very interesting, but they just have a bad reputation because the unlucky ones have what I'd call goldfish bowl syndrome. Traditionally you could win goldfish at fairgrounds here , usually by hooking a smirking yellow plastic duck up and, when you got one hooked with the right number on its underside, you got presented with a goldfish in a see-through polythene bag filled with water. Most of these fairground orphans ended up in a very small, featureless , glass dome called a goldfish bowl ( as, sadly, do most goldfish bought for children from pet shops), with a bit of gravel and a strand of pond weed if they are lucky.

Goldfish bowl syndrome is manifested in your unhappy, often solitary goldfish, treading water, that is it hovers in one place, with only the occasional twitch of a fin, usually with its mouth facing you, right next to the glass, opening and closing it and very probably either mouthing fish obscenities, or " when are you going to get me out of here" at you.

When I moved in with Angela, as well as the crazy huge (but lovable) Labradors, Geoff and Beth, I saw, to my horror, that they had two very disturbed , institutionalised looking goldfish. They lived in a barely see-through, Perspex, water-filled box with a pond floor of gaudy fluorescent artificial gravel and, apart from a plastic, somewhat incongruous, deep-sea diver and green pot model of a bridge, plus a smirking plastic frog with a sign saying 'no fishing', they had nothing to swim or live for except a few thin flakes of fishy food that was dropped daily on the water surface and which they might consume with little enthusiasm. They were in fact remarkably dull. When a third goldfish was won at a fairground by a delighted Naomi, and introduced into the plastic 'cell hell', sadly all of the plastic-box occupants promptly floated inertly to the surface and twitched their fins no more. We had a solemn and tearful garden funeral service for them out of respect for eleven year old Naomi's feelings.

I went to a pet shop , looking for replacement fish to console the sensitive , young and grieving Naomi. The shop owner knew a thing or two about fish. He told me about aquariums, how goldfish loved to turn gravel with their mouths, graze on aquatic plants and how that tacky fluorescent artificial gravel stuff was too sharp and damaged fish mouths. I elected, on his advice, for real gravel, pond weed, a water filter and air pump and to vowed to promote fish health. I bought all the right stuff, binned the fluorescent gravel and the clouded plastic box.

Trashing the plastic deep sea-diver and the 'no fishing' sign froggies was traumatic for young Naomi ( and, sadly, Angela,) and as a concession we kept the green ceramic underwater bridge.

Because of the new living conditions, our fishy orangey trio of newly installed goldfish are very active and happy and do interesting things. They have also grown, as goldfish that are properly looked after in the right conditions do. I can feel my heart rate reduced just watching them happy. But now I am beginning to get guilt feelings again. They have begun to congregate together and are mouthing through the glass. What they seem to be saying is "Get us a bigger aquarium." Ah! suddenly these characters have appeared in the aquarium . Angela !! ? I thought we'd agreed natural habitat.Doh!

johncoxon 12:08 AM - [Link] - Comments ()
Sunday, April 27, 2003
Lovely Irish person, Karen, left a kindly comment with regard to my Volvo and 'Humvee' thing as did Dennis. He tells me he once had a Volvo station wagon (we call this type of car an 'estate' car) when he was in Germany and I was so sorry to hear that they are really expensive in America because they are practical and very safe and an ideal family car and would suit his future plans so well. Second-hand here they can be really cheap because most people are very, very conscious of how much fuel a car drinks ( even though the Volvo engine just goes on and on.)

Our motorway police use a version of my Volvo S70 estate car ( called the T5) which is the fastest factory car on the road with 300 plus BHP and very fast indeed. You can pick an ex-police T5 up here for peanuts but they are always white and mostly bad re-sprays after all the police stickers have been removed ! .

Before she moved to the States, Karen owned a Volvo too. She tells me that, like a lot of US mums, she drives a practical 'mini-van'. Excuse me. Mini van?!! This is what mini-van means in the UK.

Here the 'Mini' car was a sixties icon (remember the film the Italian job?) and the mini-van was a variant. I was too tall to drive the old mini and , frankly, whenever I got a lift in one in those days I was scared to death, peering at the road through raised knees. I knew that if we were involved in front-end crash, we'd be dead. Survival depended on your ability to cope, on impact, with having the transverse engine rammed into your chest.

From a British perspective, a Dodge Caravan is quite large car. I am not quite sure if that is what they call an SUV in the States but that genre all seem rather big and a bit O.T.T ( Over the top, er, excessive !). They are sometimes called 'people carriers' over here, a range of vehicles that tend to be the domain of wealthier families. Tony Blair drives one! There too is a sort of craze for 4X4 variants with off-road functions that are rarely, if ever tested!

I am not really status-conscious with regard to cars but I know that for a lot of people here, the car they choose to buy is very important statement of who they are and where they are in the income bracket ( or more usually the income bracket they aspire to!) You also see a large number of people who are actually in low income brackets but drive their symbolic aspirations. Hence BMW's particularly here , for example, are, curiously, a hot number, any age or condition. Owning a 'beamer'for some, means they are somebody, it seems to me !

Back to my Volvo. Angela has two huge, lovable Labrador dogs and they love to be driven ; the car has ample room for them even though they both have 'dodgy'legs ( prone as the breed is to arthritis) a bit of a struggle to make the leap from road to tail gate and often need my helping hand to get them up. We also went camping in France last summer and this estate car, so comfortable with its heated soft leather seats and air conditioning is great over long distances when you have a lot to carry in the back but also a young child who needs to spread herself across the back seat.

Today, I learned something new about my car! Daniel, Angela's youngest son, had a use for of our old fridge/freezer and I had promised to drive it over to his flat (apartment.) I discovered, for the first time, how to remove the luggage cover and back seat brace/ cross bar and, with the rear seats down, the huge fridge slotted in the back effortlessly and still had room for three people.

I guess the car you buy does say something about you, but for most of us, genuine people, we have to do an equation to do between our practical needs and cost. In my view, the H 2 , 'Humvee'is not, in any way an honest or practical vehicle and is completely ugly and excessively 'look at me I have money to burn and limited common sense'.I very much expect Catherine Zeta Jones to buy one or maybe two.

johncoxon 12:54 AM - [Link] - Comments ()

john/Male/51-55. Lives in United Kingdom/Engalnd/Salford, speaks English and French. Eye color is brown. I am what my mother calls unique. I am also creative. My interests are photgraphy/local history.
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