July 30, 2008

How public like a frog

Filed under: misc — Duchess @ 9:55 am

For a while, when I called my mother and asked what she was up to, she would say, Oh, just looking for men on the internet.  Since she found her current husband that way, she’s a great believer in online dating and has been urging me to have a go for a long time.

I’m trying to get over my sneaking suspicion that only losers need to find dates that way.  I’ve been separated, and then divorced, for seven years and in that time I think I have met just one new, single, heterosexual man of appropriate age (soon known as my Stalker to the friend who introduced us).  I keep reading about skyrocketing divorce rates, and assume that for every divorced woman there must be a divorced man, so I don’t know how it works out that the world is full of single women and attached men.

Anyway, a year or two ago I set up a “profile” on a dating site, and then I immediately made my profile invisible.  I guess they have that option especially for nuts like me.  Now and again I logged in and edited my invisible profile.  When I got to the US this spring I edited it to change my location and to update what I last read.  (Often Trollope these days, since you ask; I need comfort food.)  Visible or not, you don’t have to pay money for this.  You can lurk, edit and update forever for free. 

Very late one night recently, when I had had a wee bit too much red wine, I clicked the button that said Visible to All.

About seven am the next day, I logged on to toggle it back to invisible.  I was full of remorse of the morning.  I had drunk too much and been foolish.  I wasn’t ready.  Internet dating wasn’t for me.  I would only meet creeps and losers.

Because of the way these sites work I knew for sure that no one Looking for Women within 30 miles of me was on line when I made myself visible late that previous night, and I reasoned that only a sex maniac would be Looking for Women at seven in the morning.  If I made myself invisible really fast I would be safe and I could go back to lurking for another year or two.

I logged on and in big red letters a message popped up that said You’ve Caught His Eye!

Oh great.  I have caught the eye of a sex maniac, Looking for Women at seven am.  I panicked and made myself invisible.  Then I thought, what if I like the sex maniac?  I made myself visible again.  And then I thought, what am I thinking?  I made myself invisible.  Finally I decided that these sex maniacs are going to think they are in an episode of Bewitched (at best) or (worst) that their potential date is a psychotic, the way she’s popping in and out.  I gave myself a lecture: this is Internet Dating.  You are meant to Be Visible.  That’s how you Get Dates.

Anyway, I reasoned, it was too late.  I had already put myself on view. I made my profile visible again and kept it that way. 

But then I didn’t check my email for a whole week, in case someone had sent me a message.  I know that makes no sense.  I know I am supposed to want to get emailed.  In a funny way the possibility of not being chosen feels easy – in that case they are idiots, who wants them?  But I can barely stand the idea of men looking at me and picking me as if I were some object.

When I finally checked I saw that several someones had emailed, and here’s where the next catch is.  You don’t know if it’s the hairy guy in a hat who is looking for a woman who can heat with wood and is willing to toil in the garden (it was) or the skinny bicyclist who doesn’t like fish (it was) or the screenplay writer who really did win Cannes a long, long time ago (it was) or the good ol boy looking for a good ol gal and he might mention what size of foot she should have but he doesn’t like to say in advance  (it was). Oh, and Dancing Man emailed too.

You know you’ve got emails, but you can’t read them or reply to them and don’t even know who they’re from until you pay.

My lurking days were over.  I paid.  I had decided to try this probably stupid idea, and if I was going to do it I had better find out who those messages were from and what they said.

So now I am a full fledged member for three months.  Not only does my (visible) picture have a big red border whenever I sign in that says Online Now! when I go off line it says Active Within 3 Days (or, worse, Active Within 24 Hours).  Now, that’s just gross, isn’t it? 

Meanwhile I have two dates, which I confessed to the Lawyer Sis who was visiting the other day.  I logged on to the site to show her my matches (oh damn, now it says Active Within One Hour).  She took a quick look and noted that the first one was missing a tooth and the second was a lot older than the 60 he was claiming.

I pulled off my specs, stuck my face an inch or so from the screen, and studied their pictures. 

Damn! I would never have agreed to date a guy missing a front tooth, if I didn’t have such poor eyesight.

July 24, 2008

Suitable for vegetarians

Filed under: misc — Duchess @ 4:32 pm

I would like to apologise for the recent carnivorous tone of this blog, and to say, that although moose were undoubtedly harmed in the Manley Incident, all mentions of killing Fatted Calves were purely metaphorical.  (For which I guess I also ought to apologise, because I clearly promised no metaphors.)

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

July 23, 2008

Report from the Survivalists: Moose Incident in Manley Hot Springs

Filed under: A long way from home,The Survivalists — Duchess @ 1:38 pm

Two Athabascan Natives from Minto, in the interior of Alaska, were driving along the Manley Road when they came upon a couple of bull moose.  Now moose are not in season, and anyway, it is illegal to shoot from the road, but the Mintoites killed the moose anyway.

They had guns with them, but they didn’t have knives, so they couldn’t butcher the animals.  Leaving their kill by the side of the road, they took a little detour to the General Store in Manley (where half the fun is getting there) for some refreshment before returning to Minto for knives.

Now the store, which used to be owned by one of the Survivalists (my mother’s husband), isn’t supposed to sell alcohol to people from Minto, because Minto is dry.  Only the current owner claims he doesn’t know who’s from Minto and who’s not, and, what with not much passing traffic now gas costs $6 a gallon up there, a sale is a sale.  He sold the Mintoites whatever they wanted.

While the moose shooters were getting smashed and looking for their knives, some of the Manley Natives called the Fish and Game troopers to report the illegal shooting.  Fish and Game told the Manleyites that they were too busy to deal with it, so it was okay for them to go ahead and salvage what meat they could.

Unlike the Mintoites, the Manleyites had knives.  They hauled the moose back home, right around the corner from my folks, and began working on the carcasses.

After some time, the shooters came back with knives and reinforcements from Minto and demanded their kill.  They claimed they needed it for a Potlatch Dinner (not to be confused with a Potluck Supper), which apparently trumps Fish and Game laws.  There was a stand off, each group claiming the moose for their own, and for a while it looked bad.

Luckily there was an Elder from Minto present who said to the Manley people, You have done a lot of work.  You keep what you have already cut up, and we will take the uncut meat.

Thus it was settled, though there are still a lot of angry people, some of them well fed.

July 18, 2008

Killing the fatted calf

Filed under: This is not a mommy blog — Duchess @ 4:31 pm

Two of my four children, oldest and youngest, are coming tonight.  Back in England, when they came home I really did do something akin to preparing a feast worthy of any number of prodigals.  And if I didn’t exactly kill a calf, I practically bought a cow, since the girls are inclined to drink at least six pints of milk a day. (That’s British pints – 20 ounces each.)

Here, I reckon there is nearly a whole calf in the freezer anyway, and I didn’t shop.  I’ve got a handful of excuses: the car is out of petrol, with just enough to make it off the island and to the station if I don’t get lost, and I am bound to get lost.  But the real reason is I can’t remember what my children eat.

In the days when one or the other of them needed new shoes every few months (which I recently worked out went on for about 25 years, at at least 30 quid a throw) I would take them to a very posh, old fashioned, scoldy, shoe shop.  It was the only one in Oxford where I could buy their shoes, because they had freakishly thin feet (I don’t know, maybe it was from being half American).  The shoe fitter would say, What size is your child wearing now?  And I would look sort of dumb and peer hopelessly inside their shoes at the rubbed out place where the size used to be printed and confess I didn’t know.  Then she would glare at me as if to say, What kind of Bad Mother doesn’t know what size shoes her children wear?  (That would be me.)

What I do know is they won’t eat the same food.  Two of my children eat little or no meat and two of them eat mainly meat (although one apparently has a programme for giving up meat and I’m damned if I know where he is on the timetable).  At least one won’t eat pasta but likes rice, and one eats mainly pasta, but never, ever rice.  I think some of them sometimes eat potatoes, but frankly I haven’t a clue which ones.  And now Silverbridge (oldest, natch) has a lovely new wife who, as far as I can make out, eats absolutely nothing.  The Lawyer Sis is coming too, but she’s easy because she mostly eats mayonnaise.

The Baby is flying in from England, and I haven’t seen her since mid April (what kind of Bad Mother abandons a child who is barely sixteen and buggers of to an island thousands of miles away just because she takes her midlife crises really seriously?  That would be me.)  Silverbridge and his wife, who have just moved from Las Vegas to Seattle, will pick her up at the airport and bring her here. 

And then what kind of Bad Mother would so indulge and spoil her children that she will cook up separate meals for each, exactly to order, and wait on them hand and foot? 

That will be me.

July 15, 2008

The Duchess has phone envy

Filed under: misc — Duchess @ 10:28 pm

A long time ago, when I was a better person, an Economist declared, in his charming British way, that he liked me because, for an American, I was remarkably uninterested in Consumer Gerbils.

Now, as a chat up line, that could probably win a prize. Also it was true, I wasn’t very interested in what the Economist was talking about, which after some moments of confusion turned out to be stuff like cars, televisions and washing machines (oh, I see, consumer durables). 

Reader, I married him.  I would like to say, for the record, that there were many advantages to being married to the Economist for nearly two decades.  He’d never mow the grass (on account of the opportunity costs) but he did teach me that it was okay to want stuff, that in fact under many circumstances I was doing good by wanting stuff. 

Nevertheless, on the whole, my wants are modest.  I like pretty things, but mostly I own trinkets, and I buy my clothes at outlet stores, final reduction sales or Costco.  I like housey things, but my life has been unsettled and nomadic for a couple of years so I no longer ever buy pretty cushions or crockery or candles, let alone consumer gerbils.

But the fact is, I like toys, and, for a long time my two favourite sorts have been bicycle stuff and telephones.  I guess they suit my peripatetic world.

A couple of Christmases ago, my gainfully employed elder son bought me a bicycle GPS thingy that tells me how far I have gone and what my heart rate was, and my speed and my average speed and how to find my way home, and I love it.  I never go on the bike without it.  This spring, when I quit my job my colleagues very generously gave me an Amazon gift certificate and instead of spending it on books (which I think they rather thought I would) I have spent almost half of it on a super light weight quick release seat post rack for my bike, a travel bag to fit the rack and a snazzy German made basket (good for groceries or poodle) – all extravagant stuff I never would have bought for myself.  I was so happy with my purchases that for a whole month I had the bike in the living room so I could admire these new accessories, stroke them as I walked by, strip away the velcro and pull the bag on and off, climb on the bike, balance the poodle and practice releasing the quick release lever.  The dog was very forbearing.

As for my other favourite: in England I had a phone, not a lovely sleek iPhone, but a great clunky thing. It didn’t fit very well in my handbag, but it did pick up email.  I tried to love it because it was a toy, and because of the email and because it was the very first (and only) thing I ever bought on ebay.  

I’m not normally a flakey sort of person (despite all evidence to the contrary) but I managed to lose the case (on my birthday) and afterwards carried the phone in a sock.

A couple of weeks later, I was racing (on my bike) in my lunch hour to the post office.  My daughter working for the VSO (British Peace Corps) in Uganda had sent an urgent SOS for knickers.  It seems that in Kampala there are no underwear shops, and, though she could buy anything else (including cell phones) on the street, she just couldn’t bring herself to buy underpants and bras.  Must be something about the way I raised her.

So I was sending emergency Marks and Spencer supplies, only I was late, and had the parcel on the bike rack and the phone in the sock and, well, I guess the phone fell on the ground (cause it was big and clunky and didn’t really fit in my bag).  As I was posting the parcel (where the guy in the post office shook his head and said this will never, ever, get there, but if you want to pay extra then they have to sign for it before they steal it), my friend, whom I was due to meet for lunch, was phoning to say she was going to be a little late.

Only I no longer had a phone.  It was lying in a sock next to my bicycle where it had fallen from my bag. 

Under normal circumstances I probably would have recovered my phone, in the sock, when I went back to the bike.  Not many people would want to pick up a sock lying by the side of the road.

But when the sock begins to play The Star Spangled Banner it is quite another matter.

I want an iPhone.  I really, really want an iPhone and if I get an iPhone I promise I will look after it and never, ever put it in a sock. 

July 11, 2008

I’m a Brit not a Bedoin

Filed under: misc,This is not a mommy blog — Duchess @ 12:19 pm

And I don’t sleep in tents, were the words of my ex when I suggested, many years ago, that we take the kids camping.  So, though I camped some when I was a child, and a lot when I was a young woman, I didn’t at all while I was married.  After my ex and I separated I bought a couple of tents and for a few years took my youngest, with half a dozen or so other little girls, to a campground about five miles from home where we made makeshift somemores out of chocolate digestive biscuits and raspberry flavoured (because that’s all I could find) marshmallows. 

My daughter lost interest when she was about 11 and I hadn’t been in a tent since then when I got a call late morning on Saturday from the hippies on the Extremely Small Island.  There would be transport for me if I was waiting by the “marina” at noon.  I rummaged about until I found my mother’s tent, bedroll and sleeping bag, and threw together a few clothes.  I also grabbed a random, and largely inappropriate, stash of food.

The marina is really just a narrow rocky beach with a boat ramp, right before the spot where an ugly seawall inadequately protects a partially washed away road.  As I stood by the roadside with all my stuff – which the Americans elevated to “gear” and which I finally remembered the Brits would have called “kit” – a pick up cruised by, stopped, and reversed back to me.  Dancing Man leaned out of the window and chatted me up while I scanned the horizon for my ship coming in.

Meanwhile several teenagers and a couple of engaging eleven year olds, who I realised were to be my fellow travellers, arrived with their gear.  We all watched as finally the boat pulled in and tied off on the mooring 50 yards or so offshore.

It took a couple of journeys rowing back and forth to the sail boat before we were all loaded and headed for the Extremely Small Island under power of a put put motor, since we were too many to sail. 

Twenty minutes later we rowed ashore to find an impressive camp already set on the beach, with a large, communal kitchen tent draped over the picnic table next to the fire pit.  Strung along the beach was a row of other tents, and finding a vacant spot I pitched mine.

My orientation consisted of the question, Did you bring wine? (yes) and a guided tour to the pit toilets.  

The children (all boys) wandered off and the grownups drank and ate guacamole (good call my bringing that).  After awhile the four womenfolk set off in search of the kids.  Just one of us was mother to any of them, but we all understood her anxiety.  At high tide only part of the shore is accessible, and we quickly covered it.  Back at camp the mother became really worried.  Two years earlier, apparently, the kids, clinging to cliffs as the tide came in, had to be rescued by boat.  None of the rest of us thought they would do it twice, but the mother was insistent and a search boat went out. 

Not long afterwards, a group of very wet children, rescued for the second time, shivered by the fire and slowly burnt the rubber of their drying shoes.  The teenagers sullenly blamed it on the overweight eleven year old who had been found clinging to a particularly precarious spot on the cliff side.  If it hadn’t been for him, they said, they would have made it.  There were minor skirmishes between the teenagers and the drunker grownups.  I had never met most of the men and noted that they, and the children, had curious first names: Kent, Solomon, Titus, Keenan, Egerton. 

After awhile I worked out that a communal kitchen didn’t mean there would be any communal dinner or anyone taking charge of the fire, except to keep it topped with driftwood.  I monitored smouldering shoes, drank wine and ate tortilla chips.  I felt alone, but this time I didn’t feel strange and I didn’t feel sorry for myself. 

The tide continued to rise and one by one we drifted off to our tents, except for a young man who stretched out on the picnic bench and tried to sleep until dozens of field mice, waiting for quiet, ran all over him.

The next morning the party began to break up.  Guys remembered they had to be somewhere that day and teenagers had work to go to.  By late afternoon it was only the mother, her eleven year old son, a friend of his, and I who were left.  As he departed, her husband promised to come back to fetch us the next day. 

The kids paddled about in a canoe, and the mother and I walked and panicked when, briefly, we lost my little dog.  We watched eagles watching us from the top of tall pines and hoped they didn’t fancy poodle for dinner.

The four of us (and the dog, phew) ate together beside the fire and the kids made somemores of the genuine variety.  We competed for the perfect toasted marshmallow while the fire slowly burned low.  As the tide came in a tug boat with lighted mast pulled an enormous tanker through the strait.  One of the kids said, sticking his marshmallow into the embers, It’s so nice to be here, with no one getting drunk.

I woke before dawn to the sound of another tug.  We breakfasted on what food was still left, rationed our water a little, and lolled in the sunshine.  I had forgotten the two things I love most about camping – the sheer grubbiness of it and the sitting around doing nothing, getting just enough too much sun to make you sleepy.  Along with my standards of cleanliness, my literary tastes plummet.  I happily read a really lousy thriller – it might be the first thriller I have read since a camping trip in the Sierra Nevada in the seventies when The Onion Field (a good thriller, as I recall) gripped me.

We broke camp sadly, watching our pick up boat slowly drawing closer.  The kids rowed back and forth with the gear, and as they returned for a final trip were swamped by the wake of yet another tanker.  We baled the canoe with plastic food tubs leftover from camping feasts, climbed in with the wet children, and paddled one last time to the boat that sailed us to the world of running water, real beds and email.

I want to go back!

July 9, 2008

The last refuge of a scoundrel

Filed under: A long way from home,misc — Duchess @ 1:05 pm

Despite trying all day and into the evening on the Fourth to get one of the hippies, drunks or Democrats to come back and fetch me so I could join them on the Extremely Small Island, I failed.  There was nothing for it but to go to the other party.  The invitation said 6:30 and by then it was half past seven.

I cut flowers from the garden and made a sweet bunch of poppies, snap dragons, toad flax, delphiniums and peonies (everything is late this year), threw together my salad contribution and grabbed a bottle of wine.

The party was at a beach house with a panoramic view across the water – so wide that the hostess (who just about knew who I was after I told her my name) told me that this time of year they could see the sunrise on the right edge of the horizon and the sunset on the left.  Alas, she seemed unimpressed with my posy wrapped at the stem in wet paper towels and cling film.  I guess hers was more an exotic hothouse plants from the florist sort of world.

I added my bottle to the shared table (where, unpromisingly, it was one of two) and poured myself a large glass. (I was right in predicting it would be the only glass I would get.) Passing a table laden with salads, chips (crisps), and rows of red white and blue cupcakes topped with mini American flags, I tentatively wandered over to the tail end of the barbeque.

As he deposited a hotdog on my paper plate the cook said, pointedly, “So glad you could come,” and I realised at once that he must be the host and that he was quite sure I had crashed his party.

I ate my hot dog and chatted a little to the few people I knew or recognised, including Dancing Man whom I had spotted from an internet dating site (where I occasionally lurk but never have the nerve to post a profile myself).  I didn’t let on that I knew he was Dancing Man.

Most people had eaten and, for something to do, I helped clean up. Then, beginning to feel sorry for myself, I sat alone and watched the sun set.  Across the water firework displays were getting going, and from the next door house, hidden by a bank of trees, there was an occasional bang.  The several dozens of guests at this party pulled up their chairs to the water’s edge and waited.

After a very, very long time two young men rowed out to a barge loaded with fireworks and lit a fuse.  Loudspeakers began to play The Star Spangled Banner and the first rockets went up.

There’s nothing like being abroad for thirty years to bring out patriotism.  It has been at least a couple of decades since I was in the US on the Fourth of July and the anthem with the rockets thrilled me.  But I am afraid my enjoyment of the show ended there.  The music became increasingly loud and the lyrics increasingly aggressive and unpleasant until there was one that seemed to be saying we would put a bullet in your butt courtesy of the red, white and blue.

On the way home I caught the tail end of a much better display on the other side of the island.  I went to bed feeling sullied and fell asleep to the sounds of distant bangs as my fellow Americans celebrated on into the night.

July 4, 2008

The 4th of July

Filed under: A long way from home,misc — Duchess @ 12:29 pm

In England I used to annoy my neighbours by hanging an American flag out the window, but for the first time in forever I am actually in the US.

I’d forgotten what a deal patriotism is here.  Presidential candidates are fighting over who is the more patriotic, the radio is playing Sousa marches and flags are flying from lawns all over the place.  In England on the Queen’s birthday we get a verse of God Save the Queen just before the 8 o’clock news and there are a few discreet Union Jacks on government buildings and pretentious hotels looking to attract foreigners.  It isn’t a public holiday, nor are the other two possibilities, St George’s Day (for England at least) or Guy Fawkes Day.

I haven’t yet got definite plans for my day of patriotism.  The crowd I usually hang out with, the drunks, hippies and Democrats have all decamped to another island only accessible by boat.  I stayed home, partly because of the cat, but mainly because I thought I could rent out my bed-no-breakfast that I am doing for some extra cash over the summer.  (I didn’t.)

Meanwhile the well-behaved, grown up, hip replacement gang have invited me to a sober potluck on the beach.  I don’t know any of them, really, but it was kind of them to ask.

Either way there I shall be sure to do my patriotic duty to eat barbequed hot dogs and to ooh and ahh at fireworks.

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