Remembrance Day vs. Veterans Day

Both Remembrance Day and Veterans Day are celebrated on November 11, but they mark very different occasions and have very different tones to them.

Remembrance Day (also known as Armistice Day) marks the “11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” of 1918 that World War I officially ended and is observed by most countries who fought in the war, including the Commonwealth nations.  I know in the U.K., the main commemoration involving the Royal Family and other dignitaries includes two minutes of silence at 11:00 at the Cenotaph at Whitehall, and the other ceremonies throughout the nation happen on Remembrance Sunday, the Sunday closest to the 11th.

Last year, to honor each life lost within the British Empire during the Great War, an installment of 888,246 ceramic red poppies was displayed around the moat of the Tower of London. "Tower of London Poppy" by JeyHan - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tower_of_London_Poppy.jpg#/media/File:Tower_of_London_Poppy.jpg
Last year, to honor each life lost within the British Empire during the Great War, an installment of 888,246 ceramic red poppies was displayed around the moat of the Tower of London. It was the 100th anniversary of the start of the war.  Red poppies have come to symbolize Remembrance Day because of the poem, In Flanders Fields by John McCrae.  The Royal British Legion adopted it as a symbol in 1921.  “Tower of London Poppy” by JeyHan – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Over here, Veterans Day is a different thing entirely. It is a day that honors those who have served in the armed forces, living or dead. Wartime, peacetime…it doesn’t matter. So, if you signed on the dotted line, it’s your day. That is why you will see lots of memes on Facebook thanking veterans today from the Americans.  Because we have Memorial Day on Bank Holiday weekend in May to honor those we lost, it’s a lot less somber than Remembrance Day.

Case in point, this is what The Boffin told me this morning.

“Happy Veterans Day! Go find some free shit.”

Yes, businesses here give veterans stuff for free on Veterans Day.  Here is what I can get locally and some national deals.

I also found out I can get a free tall cup of coffee from Starbucks.  Like the vast majority of Americans, I don’t care what color the cup is.  I’ll just take a Sharpie and draw Stars of David on it.  Or not, because the coffee tastes like water brewed through compost.

So it’s the same date, but different days.  However, it is all down to honoring our troops, and I appreciate them in whatever way they served and are still serving.  Thank you, all of you.

Bonfire, Guy Fawkes, or That Dude in the Creepy Mask from V for Vendetta Night

For the benefit for folks in my parts, November 5, 1605 is a national holiday in the U.K. celebrating the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot, the conspiracy to assassinate King James I by blowing up the Parliament building. Even though Guy Fawkes was the one discovered guarding the explosives, the mastermind behind the whole plot was one Robert Catesby. It’s a shame he never got the festival named after him, since it was his idea.

He was robbed. "Robert catesby npg" by probably by Adam, after Unknown engraver - National Portrait Gallery: NPG d21072While Commons policy accepts the use of this media, one or more third parties have made copyright claims against Wikimedia Commons in relation to the work from which this is sourced or a purely mechanical reproduction thereof. This may be due to recognition of the "sweat of the brow" doctrine, allowing works to be eligible for protection through skill and labour, and not purely by originality as is the case in the United States (where this website is hosted). These claims may or may not be valid in all jurisdictions.As such, use of this image in the jurisdiction of the claimant or other countries may be regarded as copyright infringement. Please see Commons:When to use the PD-Art tag for more information.See User:Dcoetzee/NPG legal threat for more information.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.English | Español | Français | Magyar | Italiano | Македонски | Türkmençe | +/−. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons
He was robbed. “Robert catesby npg” by probably by Adam, after Unknown engraver – National Portrait Gallery: NPG d21072While Commons policy accepts the use of this media, one or more third parties have made copyright claims against Wikimedia Commons in relation to the work from which this is sourced or a purely mechanical reproduction thereof. This may be due to recognition of the “sweat of the brow” doctrine, allowing works to be eligible for protection through skill and labour, and not purely by originality as is the case in the United States (where this website is hosted). These claims may or may not be valid in all jurisdictions.As such, use of this image in the jurisdiction of the claimant or other countries may be regarded as copyright infringement. Please see Commons:When to use the PD-Art tag for more information.See User:Dcoetzee/NPG legal threat for more information.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.English | Español | Français | Magyar | Italiano | Македонски | Türkmençe | +/−. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

For the most part, when I was living there 20 years ago, it was always an innocuous holiday full of fireworks and fun, although there was a question about the effigies. It is traditional to burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes on the town’s bonfire. Understood. Cool. Even before I came over, sometimes towns would throw in a likeness of someone who is persona non grata like the late Margaret Thatcher. However, what made me squicky, were the pope effigies in a few isolated areas. Now, you crossed the line into religion. I understood that the whole point of the celebration was the thwarting of a Catholic conspiracy against the Protestant king, but I grew up Catholic.  How was this OK?  Were these people saying people like me were not wanted?

Of course, now, I realize my fears were unfounded.  The U.K. is a much more religiously tolerant place than the actions of Bonfire Night would make out to be.  The pope effigies are gone, and there is some debate about whether the effigies are appropriate for the modern age.  That is not for me to say, since I am on this side of the Pond.

While the Britons are deciding on what they want, this year, in Lewes, the targets are David Cameron with his friend, the pig’s head, and Sepp Blatter, the currently suspended and disgraced FIFA president.  That should make for quite a blaze.

The smell of bacon should mix well with the consequences of gunpowder, treason, and plot.

So Dame Maggie Needs to Eat.

Apparently, Dame Maggie Smith admitted on The Graham Norton Show that she occasionally shops at Waitrose in Storrington in West Sussex.  It is to be expected as she lives close by.

Now I really don’t understand how this became news considering that, while Waitrose isn’t the Harrods Food Hall, it is a pretty solidly middle class supermarket in which to shop.  I could see Dame Maggie picking up her provisions there very easily.

What would be newsworthy would be if she announced that she were a Tesco Clubcard member.  Even better if someone caught a snapshot of her in Tesco loading her trolley full of Carling Black Label.

No, I want a photo of her with the beer in the trolley while in the snacks section loading up on crisps too.

No, even better, she should be busting open a multipack of Walker’s Cheese & Onion crisps and getting started on the binge while filling the rest of her cart with Monster Munch and other essential sundries.

Hang on, one more detail, she should be dressed as The Dowager while she is stuffing her face with cheese and onion crisps in the middle of the snack aisle at Tesco with a trolley full of Carling Black Label and filling the remain space with Monster Munch and other snackables.

Because she is Dame Maggie, and she doesn’t give a shit.

Image courtesy of The Associated Press
Image courtesy of The Associated Press

Yeah, that would be cool.

The Shipping Forecast to American Ears

Not that The Victory is going anywhere, but it is a ship, and it is cool.  "Victory Portsmouth um 1900" by Unknown - http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsc.08801. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons
Not that The Victory is going anywhere, but it is a ship, and it is cool. “Victory Portsmouth um 1900” by Unknown – http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsc.08801. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

Audio media is still a critical part of British culture, and being an island nation, the BBC provides a valuable service by broadcasting the weather report at sea.  Produced by the Met Office on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Shipping Forecast has become a staple on the British communication since the telegraph days.

But that does not mean I understood a word of it when I heard it on Radio 4.  Stephen Fry created an accurate representation of what most outsiders hear when encountering this mystical broadcast.

Was this part of the citizenship test?  Was this code left over from the war, and the powers that be just kept it around for tradition’s sake?    Was this an elaborate game of Mornington Crescent that the U.K. was in on just to baffle foreigners?

But I developed a certain affection for the Shipping Forecast even though I had no clue about it.  It was very hypnotic and soothing.  It started with its theme “Sailing By” by The Perry-Gardner Orchestra, and the mood is set.  Then you had the reader say these cryptic words with a rhythm that was almost nautical and definitely soporific.  Insomnia was never an issue after the Shipping Forecast.

I ended up looking it up in a book in the Newmarket library because I was too embarrassed to ask anyone.  I shouldn’t have been.  After all, how is an American supposed to know how to decode the Shipping Forecast?

I am going to try to give a general summary of how it works.  When broken down, it isn’t that bad.  As you can see by the Stephen Fry graphic above, the water regions are divided and named.  There are also inshore waters that are named and coastal weather stations that are numbered, and they are mentioned in the broadcast too.

Then the readers give the wind direction (south, southeast, etc.) and whether it is veering (changing clockwise) or backing (changing counterclockwise).  You will hear a number from zero to 12 in there.  That’s from the Beaufort scale and that measures wind speed with zero being calm to 12 being hurricane force.  The announcers usually give the weather forecast and then the visibility (good, moderate, poor, fog).  Under winter conditions, they will also grade the icing (light, moderate, severe).  Oh, one more thing, they also keep track of pressure areas in millibars, so you will hear things like “Low Humber, 960, deepening rapidly.”

Back in 1993, the BBC aired the Shipping Forecast on TV and radio, and somebody was kind enough to post it on YouTube.  For some, this could be meditative.  For others, this could be pencil-in-the-throat boredom.  If you are awake after this video, you are one very strong soul.

It is probably easier to just go to the Met Office website to get a visual, but where is the challenge and fun in that?

My Attempt at Explaining Trick-or-Treating

Even though trick-or-treating has become more common in the U.K., it is far from the well-established tradition that it is in the United States.  I remember when I was stationed in the Air Force in the early 90s and having a conversation about it with my Ministry of Defense colleague.  She could not see the point of children going door-to-door threatening strangers for sweets.  From that perspective, it does sound quite weird, doesn’t it?

However, I loved trick-or-treating when I was little, and I love it even more as a mom when I take the Sprog out with her friends and seeing her feel the same joy I felt.  Of course, the payoff is in the candy, since I understand sugar on a deeper level than most mortals.  It is just as much about the atmosphere of autumn, the dressing up and playing make-believe, the giggling with your pals, and the thrill of the hunt.  It’s running into a classmate and having her tell you, “Hey, go to number 62 around the corner!  They have full-sized Twix bars!”  Sweet!  In more ways than one!  It’s finding your older brother TPing the gym teacher’s house and his hissing at you, “Don’t tell Mom and Dad!”.  You will figure out how many Milky Ways he has to cough up later to buy your silence.  (Not an autobiographical story.)  It’s the test of endurance.  How far are you willing to walk to fill up a pillowcase of tooth rotting glory?  And woe betide the house who distributed apples!

Much is made about safety concerns regarding trick-or-treating.  First of all, the whole thing about evil sociopaths tampering with candy has been an urban myth perpetuated by inflated stories in the news.  Of course, since it was hard to disprove these tales in the 80’s, my dad, in response, had to inspect the candy before we were allowed to touch it and used his authority to have first dibs.  This was also the man who told us that Santa liked beer.  He is quite a smart guy.

To be fair, it is good practice to look over the candy anyway just to throw out the ones that are choking hazards for the little ones and the sweets with open wrappers.

Secondly, you go trick-or-treating where you feel comfortable with the people and safety levels, and chances are, it is your neighborhood.  If you do not live in such a place, there are usually community trick-or-treating events.  For example, in my village during trick-or-treating hours, the businesses pass out candy.  With the fun-size Snickers, your kid may get a coupon for a restaurant you have been meaning to try.  I remember on one particularly chilly Halloween, one restaurant gave away mulled apple cider (non-alcoholic).  And the police are there directing traffic and guiding people across the streets.  So the kids get candy, and the village promotes local businesses.  It’s crowded, but well done.

But can trick-or-treating go overboard?  Well, you tell me.  There are neighborhoods jam packed with families.  Buying huge bags of candy is a necessity.  I took pictures at my local Target to give those outside of our borders an idea of what we can buy to stock up.

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I think it is a fair comment that it can be a bit much.

Wilford Brimley is talking about getting diabeetus from Halloween candy. Or he is telling the audience to eat their fucking oatmeal. Could be either one. By Marc Majcher (Flickr: IMG_6768) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Wilford Brimley is talking about getting diabeetus from Halloween candy. Or he is telling the audience to eat their fucking oatmeal. Could be either one.    By Marc Majcher (Flickr: IMG_6768) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

There is also the matter of what you do with the candy after trick-or-treating. The good chocolate can be frozen, but there is always those cheap candies like American Smarties that are basically sugar and food coloring that nobody wants to eat. Into the trash they go. Then there are the pencils, plastic rings, tattoos, and other tat that will end up in a desk drawer or hidden in the back of the kid’s closet. Those will be found next year during a bedroom deep clean. So we know there is only one place the rest of the candy can go.

The office break room.

If the parents are going to go down, they are going to bring everyone else down with them.

And thus begins the weight gaining season that will last until we make half-hearted New Year’s resolutions.

Amteasia Defined

I updated the definition of amteasia to add the third part after some comments reminded me of another part of the affliction.  It should have been painfully obvious.

amteasia – n. – 1) the act of brewing a pot or cup of tea and forgetting about it until it is at room temperature and strong enough to strip paint.  2) drinking your cup of tea, forgetting you’ve done so, then looking at the bottom of your cup forlorningly.  3)  Forgetting where you placed your cup of tea.

It was just here! Photo courtesy of terremonto. https://www.flickr.com/photos/terremonto/2325338494
It was just here!             Photo courtesy of terremonto. https://www.flickr.com/photos/terremonto/2325338494

Of course, amteasia is a by-product of preoccupation, a mind adrift. You are working on a last minute report at work. You have a million and one projects at home to get done before the children return from school. You made that valiant attempt to carve out a small chunk of time to get a little pick-me-up with a digestive on the side, and it all went pear-shaped. For some of us, it was a lost opportunity in a cup or a pot. For others, the beverage was drunk, but the moment passed us by.  You are momentarily gutted.

Tea is a drink that is meant to be sipped and savored.  It can be enjoyed in solitude or with conversation depending on your mood or inclination.  Japan has devoted a whole ceremony to tea, and the U.K. does the same as far as proper tea preparation.  Drinking tea really becomes more than just ingesting a beverage.  That pang when amteasia hits is that knowledge is that you missed the whole experience in whatever form it means to you.

So this is a PSA to remind the tea drinkers to slow down and savor your tea today.  You are worth every precious drop.

An American Bake Off in England?

Well, there are rumors…

And I am only going to keep it to the level of rumor until there is a formal announcement because the exclusive came from The Sun of all places.  While The Sun forces you to pay to read their fine journalistic craftsmanship and look at women’s tits, the story has been reported in other places.

Apparently, there is talk of ABC creating a baking competition show in the style of The Great British Bake Off (GBBO), only ABC will ship a bunch of Americans over to England, stick them under the baking tent, and give Mary Berry the honor of judging them.

How do I put this delicately?  Hmm…

Now I am writing this as an American.  If this ABC gives this show the green light, it will suck at such a low level that we will long for the return of The New Leave It to Beaver.

First of all, there is Mary.  What is wonderful about Mary in GBBO is that she has been a fixture in British cookery for decades.  People know her, and she has the credibility.  The production company didn’t just cast her because they tipped back a few gin and tonics.  But knowing American television, the powers that be are either going to portray her as Mary Poppins or Cruella De Vil thanks to skillful editing.  (Don’t forget that Disney owns ABC.)  She is English, so she can’t be a complete person, you know.

Then there is the superfluous exercise of sending a bunch of Americans to invade England armed with Grandma’s Brown Betty recipe.  I am sure it will attract the Anglophile viewers who will get all misty-eyed over the London field trips and countryside coach tours on which the contestants will embark.   Gives a boost to the British tourism industry, I guess.  However, it will be yet another program that plays into the stereotype of how everything is “quaint” and “charming” in the U.K., and, once again, Americans do not really see just how complex the country truly is.

Of course, the casting agents are not going to choose anyone with any modicum of knowledge about the U.K. and any of its baking.  Where is the fun in that?  Embarrassment and disasters draw ratings.  The producers also want the people with the personalities that are going to clash to create the most drama and to be sure they fill their demographic quotas.  I would be spending most of the show rolling my eyes over how ill-informed these people are, if I can get past the first 15 minutes of the first episode.

“Hey! We’re a different bunch of Americans misidentifying this as London Bridge, even though Karen is using the same photo as last time she made this joke.” “Tower Bridge from Shad Thames” by © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons

And I can imagine the technical challenges. Oh, let’s have some fun and give the Americans some exotic British ingredients. Make a jam roly-poly and use this.

By Ardfern (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Ardfern (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
“Um? What is this Aorta stuff? How do you say it? Sweat?”

But there could be an upside to this.  If the bakers are particularly, shall we say, misguided, we can have Mary set them straight.  Because they can’t do this style over substance Food Network/Duff Goldman/Cake Boss/Cupcake Wars business with the icing to the ceiling and explosives.  I am also talking about those who think it is OK to put Crisco in a buttercream and because they care about their rosettes being rigid more than the flavor.  It would be so worth it, if Mary just lost it after taking a bite, stepped out of character, and stated,

“This tastes like arse.”

Then I would take everything I just wrote all back.