Sunday, November 01, 2009

A Really Spirited Village We Live In

The trials of the Pendle witches in 1612 are among the most famous witch trials in British history. Some of the twelve accused and charged with the murders of ten people by use of witchcraft lived in the area around Pendle Hill, which can be clearly viewed from our home here in Whalley. The prosecutor during the trials is now buried in our village’s graveyard.

Instead of handing out candy to the young Halloween trick or treaters knocking at our front door, Sarah and I decided to participate in something a little different last night. Led by local historian Simon Entwistle, we joined other people from throughout the local area on a ghost walk through Whalley. By the end of the evening we learned that in addition to being one of the more desirable places to reside in the Ribble Valley, our otherwise quaint and tranquil village is also a hotbed of documented paranormal activity.

Along with pints of ale, spirits are freely poured within the four pubs located in Whalley. What we didn’t know is that spirits of the supernatural variety have been long-time residents in two of them. The Bishop of Blackburn has unsuccessfully attempted to exorcise The Swan of the ghost of barmaid Mary Lane who committed suicide after her illegitimate child was taken from her. Immediately across the street, the spirit of a white-clad monk mischievously turns off keg lines leading up from the cellar to the beer taps at the De Lacy Arms. This same monk has also been spotted at the ruins of nearby Whalley Abbey, while the apparition of an attractive young nun is regularly observed strolling along the lane outside the abbey’s walls, as well as coming inside and visiting the past and current owners of one of the adjacent homes. An angry poltergeist has also repeatedly broken the windows of the building which houses the village’s Indian restaurant, to the point where local glazers now refuse to return to make repairs. Add to this the ghostly sightings of two young boys who walk along the tracks of our landmark brick railway viaduct, plus the horse-riding phantom of one of notorious highwayman Dick Turpin’s associates, which was once overtaken and "run over" by a crew of firefighters speeding towards an emergency call.

Sarah and I wrapped up this spirited evening walking back to the warm comfort of our home while sharing a mushroom and cheese pizza between us. What was that? Did you hear that? Only some autumnal leaves, rustling behind us in the night-time breeze. Or was it?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Because That’s The Way We’ve Always Done It.

Set foot upon these British shores and you will quickly take note that our motorways are dominated by automobiles with a manual transmission. Automobiles possessing an automatic transmission are rare and far between. While most of the rest of Europe (and the world) adopted the automatic transmission as standard equipment on its vehicles many years ago, the Brits have been content to stand by their beloved stick shift. Request an automatic transmission with a new car purchase in the UK, and you will be met with an exorbitant special order charge and a suspect look from the salesman. I once asked a car dealer why all the automobiles over here were still manual transmission? “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

As I write this, the UK is entering its second week of labor strikes staged by postal workers employed by the Royal Mail. The major hurdle in the contract negotiations between Royal Mail management and the union representing the postal workers is not about salaries or benefits; it’s all about modernization. The management of Royal Mail wants to introduce high-speed automated mail sorting equipment into its operations; technology which has been in use by the U.S. Postal Service and in other countries for many years. Royal Mail is losing customers to competing companies like DHL and Federal Express, and as a result experiencing record drops in its annual revenue. This is due in large part because every piece of mail that passes through the Royal Mail system is still individually hand-sorted by a human being. Why is our mail still being individually hand-sorted in 2009? “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Southampton Boat Show

Sarah and I have just returned from the Southampton Boat Show, which the organisers tout as the largest consumer trade show of its kind in all of Europe. Practically every type of vessel from simple canoes to opulent multi-million dollar/pound mega yachts were on display, both in the water and in specially constructed exhibition halls. As an avid sailor, I welcomed the chance to be able to check out what the various boating manufacturers were currently offering up, plus there were a couple of specific sailboats which the two of us really wanted to look at and examine first-hand.

While attending the show, we had the opportunity to partake in a complimentary "test sail" of the British-built Southerly 42. Cruising along the River Test, which serves as the main waterway leading into the English Channel, we sailed past the very dock where RMS Titanic had set sail from on her fateful maiden voyage in 1912. Hardly changed after all of these years, it is where the Cunard cruise ship Queen Mary II now begins most of her voyages.

We observed that one manufacturer of the aforementioned mega yachts had devised a very special recession-busting incentive for anyone willing to purchase one of their yachts during the boat show. Along with the purchase of the yacht, the new owner also received a specially designed key ring. What's so special about that, you may ask? Attached to the ring is the ignition key belonging to a brand new Bentley luxury automobile. We saw more than one high flyer, with champagne flute in hand, being escorted into a fashionably furnished lounge to finalise the deal.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thank You, Teddy

Along with the rising dawn, word has reached us from across the pond of the passing of Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Despite (or in a conscious recognition of) his own privileged life, the “liberal lion” of the U.S. Senate was a steadfast champion of the working class and the poor. Like his brothers before him, his was a constant and powerful voice on behalf of civil rights, justice, education, and fairness. During his 47 years representing the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on the senate floor, he fought a relentless battle to bring universal health care to all Americans simply because it was the right and just thing to do.

The metal of his own personal life was somewhat tarnished and contained a few dents and scratches; who among us doesn’t have a few dents or scratches of our own? It is what confirms that we are all fallible, and hopefully makes all of us better and more compassionate individuals in the long run. As challenging as it may be, the nattering bobble heads at Fox Noise would do themselves and the rest of the world a great service to maintain a respectful silence and not attempt to disparage the memory or public service record of the late senator.

Universal healthcare is once again being hotly debated, as it is a promised federal program that is being put forward by President Obama and his administration. It would be a grand and lasting tribute to Ted Kennedy if such a long-overdue program which would benefit each and every American were to be finally enacted. It would be the right and just thing to do.

Thank you, Senator Kennedy.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Michael Jackson

Three days after his very untimely death, the tributes continue to roll in for pop singer Michael Jackson. Hastily prepared television and radio retrospectives on his life and career are filling the U.S., British (and worldwide) airwaves. Amongst all of this, I have come across a very funny sidebar story that once again validates the adage, "It could only happen in Hollywood."

There is another Michael Jackson; the veteran Los Angeles-based talk radio broadcaster who began his career at the BBC and afterwards spent so many memorable years working for ABC. Like the recently deceased pop singer, the still very healthy and living (though slightly aging) broadcaster also has a "star" on the infamous Hollywood Walk of Fame. Because the deceased singer's own star was temporarily covered by a red carpet for a movie premiere, fans of the singer unknowingly started lighting candles and setting up shrines in his honor at the star belonging to the other Michael Jackson.

As Michael states on his own personal blog, “I am willing to loan it to him and, if it would bring him back, he can have it. He was a real star. Sinatra, Presley, The Beatles and Michael Jackson.”

Monday, May 18, 2009


Last week, in celebration of Sarah's birthday, the two of us spent an extended weekend away at Thoresby Hall. A large manor house (actually a small palace), it had originally been built in 1875 in the middle of Sherwood Forest as the home of Earl Manvers and his family. Pretty much restored to its original Victorian-era splendor, it has since been converted into a spa hotel. We spent our time partaking in rifle shooting, archery, croquet, swimming in the indoor pool, evening murder mystery parties, or simply strolling the estate grounds and viewing the nearby herd of grazing wild deer.

One morning during breakfast, we noticed an older gentleman dining alone at the table next to us. Perfectly balanced upon the table, next to his plate of toasted crumpets, was an oval-framed photograph of a very beautiful young woman. We introduced ourselves and quickly learned that our new friend's name was Arthur and that the photograph was of his wife, who had passed away 21 months earlier. A couple of times every year, Arthur and his wife would come to Thoresby Hall as a special treat to themselves. Every morning they would sit at this very same table and share their morning breakfast together.

At the very vibrant age of 88, Arthur is still coming to Thoresby Hall as a treat to himself, and every morning of his stay he and his beloved wife sit at their special table and share breakfast together. Do you want to know what undying love and devotion is? You've just read about it.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Fonz

While I never consciously look over my shoulder and prefer instead to always move forward in time, it is sometimes pleasant to reflect upon the past and occasionally reminisce about the more memorable chapters in one’s life. For a few minutes earlier today, I had the opportunity to do just that and be able to include Sarah in the experience.

Time flies when you’re having fun is an oft used statement which is in fact very true. It is hard to believe that 29 years ago I was a newly hired entry-level “page” at ABC-TV, learning the ropes that would hopefully allow me the opportunity to climb the corporate ladder at America’s leading broadcasting company. One of the shows that I worked on most Friday nights back then was Happy Days, which was filmed before a live studio audience on Stage 19 at Paramount Studios. Included amongst the talented cast of actors on this popular television show was Henry Winkler, who portrayed Arthur "The Fonz” Fonzarelli.

In addition to being an actor, Henry has gone on to a very successful career as a producer, director, and the author of several children’s books. The theme of many of these books is dyslexia, a learning disorder that Henry himself unknowingly at the time grew up with. As I type this, Henry is currently in the UK promoting the publication of his latest book.

Sarah and I were in Manchester earlier today and had the opportunity to have an all too brief yet still very pleasurable conversation with him. He was pleasantly surprised to encounter a former ABC Page (in England!) who had worked on his show all those years ago. As is his nature, Henry was very warm and gracious to Sarah as we briefly ventured down memory lane, before he had to continue on to the appointment at hand and Sarah and I had to move along ourselves.

Many of the people who I worked with, who started off their own entertainment industry careers as a page at ABC (as did many others at CBS and NBC), will soon be getting together for a reunion which I unfortunately cannot attend. When they gather to compare notes and reminisce, I can predict that most will be in agreement that those truly were happy days, and it was working with people like Henry Winkler that made it so.