Category Archives: Tales

Pickstone Origins

Stone mound nr Cado NW France

The Pickstones are a very ancient family but we were not always called Picksone.

We originated somewhere in what is now north western France. Our family, or more properly our tribe, were stone gatherers. We gathered stones and arranged them in shapes considered pleasing to the Gods. We were not druids yet we worked closely with druids because our stone arrangements were used by them in religious festivals.

No one is entirely sure when we came to Britain but our family legend has it that we came to take part in the stone gathering for what was to become stonehenge. Our family at that time was called Ramasspiere which may be roughly translated as stone harvester. We stayed in Britain for centuries after the stonehenge job was completed.

We settled in Angelsy and prospered there until many of us were wiped out by the Romans. Some of us survived the Romans and as the centuries passed our name slowly evolved from Stoneharvester to Stonepicker until it eventually became Pickstone sometime in the 13th century.

Stone circles were out of fashion in medieval England so we diversified into other stonework and became founding members of the free masons. We returned to our origins in 1917 when daylight saving was introduced. Daylight saving requires that all clocks be adjusted by one hour. This is simple enough for modern 20th century clocks but it is a major undertaking for stone clocks such as stonehenge. The circle of stones must be rotated to maintain accurate celestial alignment. Who better to accomplish this painstaking task than the ancient order of Pickstones.

My great grandfather Obelix was the first of the Pickstones to hold the title of Grand Master of the Stones. Each year until his death in 1941, Grand Master Obelix would supervise the shifting of the stones to their precisely surveyed new positions. My Grandfather continued the tradition and he was followed as Grand Master of the Stones by my uncle Obelix. The job of Grandmaster of the Stones is largely ceremonial these days because GPS coupled with 3D predictive modeling has made the work child’s play.

An interesting footnot to my families history occurred when an engineer in Anthem consulted with my uncle Obelix on the finer points of stone and sun alignment for a memorial to be built in that town.

Vietnam and Me

Approaching Gibralter
Approaching Gibralter

I saw a post a little while ago referring to Jane Fonda as “Hanoi Jane” and which characterized her as a traitor. It reminded me of my one and only involvement with the Vietnam war.

I was once a fully paid up member of the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR). Military duties involved weekly training at HMS Eaglet moored or rather cemented to Salthouse Dock, just around the corner from the Pier Head in Liverpool. We had our very own mine sweeper (HMS Mersey) which we used to invade the Isle of Man from time to time, on weekends only as is befitting for weekend warriors. The Royal Marines did the actual invading of course, our role was to provide the transport, hot kai and covering fire. Covering fire was fairly minimal because the locals objected to naval gunfire in the middle of the night.

Once each year we got to play with the grown ups in the regular RN in exotic places within the last remnants of the British Empire.

On one such outing in the late 60s, during a break in exercises with the US sixth fleet, I was on shore leave in Gibraltar with the rest of the crew. We were drinking with some US Marines in one of the many bars on Main Street when one of the Marines asked one of my shipmates “why ain’t you guys in Vietnam?” My mate, a fellow Scouser, injudiciously replied that “the Vietcong seemed to be doing just fine without us”. Naturally a bit of an altercation ensued. Glass went flying everywhere and much furniture was converted to firewood.

No one was seriously hurt but the incident inspired a Hornblower inspired commando raid the following night. Some intrepid souls swam out to a US destroyer and painted “Liverpool FC” in Liverpool’s signature red along its side. The graffiti wasn’t noticed until the following morning as the fleet was leaving harbour and the US destroyer was hastily recalled by an outraged american admiral. The entire crew of HMS Mersey were  obvious suspects and so the ship was thoroughly searched and the entire crew interrogated but no incriminating evidence was ever found, nobody confessed and nobody snitched. Strangely, HMS Mersey was the only vessel that had no red paint on board.

My country of birth did not get involved in Vietnam while my adopted country did. The Vietnam war, its causes and its aftermath will continue to be debated endlessly. I happen to be on the side that thinks the US invasion of Vietnam was a mistake but honest people can honestly disagree and dissent is not disloyalty. Political criticism of a war in no way impugns the bravery of those who fought in it.

Bible Fairy Tales

BibleFairies

I used to file the bible in the fiction section of our school library, I did this so often that I was finally caught in the act by our overtly Christian librarian who sent me to see the headmaster.

Expecting dire punishment, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the dreaded headmaster, Mr Adrian Bristow M.A.(Cantab), could barely conceal his amusement and sentenced me to a light Simpsonion punishment of writing out 100 times “I must not interfere with the library filing system”.

I wish that I had been witty enough to have thought of this most appropriate of editorial efforts.

Refugee

Stranger in a Strange Land

It came as a shock when I discovered that I was no longer English, or at least not as English as I imagined myself to be. There was no great earth shattering revelation, I just realized one day that the zeitgeist of “Englishness” had moved on without me.

The revelation could hardly have been more banal. During one of my infrequent visits back to England during the eighties, my Mum announced that she was popping out to Azda. I asked innocently what’s Azda? This was like asking what’s Coles in Australia or what’s Walmart or Sears in America. Simply asking the question marked me as “other”. I had become a stranger in my own land.

The first time I visited the USA I was still very much the Englishman, so English in fact that I had difficulty finding a postbox because I was naively looking for something painted red.

Mailbox02

I soon discovered that not only are postboxes not painted red in America, they are not even called post boxes.

Decades later, after spending years in the USA, I found that I could still make the sort of mistake that would bring a deep cover soviet agent to the attention of the FBI.

While moving into my house in Houston, I asked my new neighbor “where is the nearest mailbox?”. You see I had the vocabulary down pat by this time, I knew that mailbox was American for Postbox, I understood that the orientation of ones pecker is not to be remarked on in mixed company while the word fanny is perfectly alright on the American side of the Atlantic but definitely not OK in the UK.

Years of living and working in Texas had made me more or less bi-lingual but had failed to alert me to the bi-directional nature of American mailboxes. This ignorance marked me as other and definitely “not from around here” and caused my neighbor to wonder what sort of ignoramus had just moved in next door.

An English letterbox is usually cut into the front door of the house and is strictly a one way device allowing the Postman to fulfill his duty by dropping the morning post inside the house. Australian mail boxes, like their American counterparts, require their owners to venture outside, no matter what the weather, in order to retrieve their letters.

Mailbox01

Now here’s the thing, the mailbox at the end of an American driveway comes supplied with a cute little flag mounted on its side. I discovered from my Texas neighbor that an American mailbox is bi-directional, he told me that you can put out going letters in the mailbox and that by raising that cute little flag your friendly mailman will pick up your letters and deliver them to the Post Office. Brilliant! I mean how clever is that ?

If not ignorance of a local supermarket chain or unfamiliarity with the character of your own mailbox, something will always give you away. No matter how well you speak the lingo, no matter how long you live in a place you can never be a native.

No matter how much we love our adopted countries, we foreigners still crave the company of our own cultural and linguistic tribe from time to time. Whether it’s an English style pub, a Texas barbecue a church or a mosque, everyone needs a break from being a stranger in a strange land.

Stranger In a Strange Land

So there I was in the bar of the Steak and Ale just across Central Expressway from the Texas Instruments plant in Richardson (Dallas), Tx circa 1976.

I was with Steve (Evans?), a fellow Englishman, enjoying that delightful institution of happy hour while talking to a a few of the local inhabitants. After we had got past the “y’all aint from around hear” part and expressed our undying gratitude for Uncle Sam rescuing us from those naughty Germans, we were asked what we were doing in Dallas.

This was 1976, the bicentennial of the declaration of independence of these good people from my oppressive English ancestors.

I couldn’t resist it, so I told them that Steve and I were lawyers from England and that we were here to renegotiate the lease.

What Lease? They asked.

The lease that General Washington signed at the end of hostilities, I explained.
They looked at me quizzically.

I explained further that the American lease was for 200 years and that it was about to expire and that Steve and I were there to renegotiate the terms of an extension to the lease or explore the possibility of a buy out.

They seemed slightly relieved when we explained that the lease agreement only covered the original 13 colonies and as such, Texas and all lands west of the Mississippi were not part of the lease agreement.
They only twigged that we were taking the piss after some other UK friends around the table couldn’t keep a straight face.

I had completely forgotten this conversation from forty years ago until I was reminded of it by the attached clip. Apparently history is still a foreign language in Texas.

Stranger in a Strange Land

Stranger in a strange land.

So I was in a Holiday Inn in Richardson Tx, the one next to the Texas Instruments factory in Dallas. It was a Sunday morning in 1975 and my first visit to the USA.

I switched on the TV and started channel surfing, a new experience for me because in the UK at that time there were only 3 TV channels. I was fascinated by a rerun of Startrek because I had never seen it in colour before and didn’t know that the crew wore different colored T shirts. Travel truly broadens the mind.

Finally I dropped onto what I thought was a comedy show, it was only after the presenter began exhorting his audience to kneel down in front of their TVs, so that God could tell them where to send money, that I realized I was watching a televangelist. I didn’t know the word “televangelist” at the time but I soon discovered that they were a thriving industry in the USA. They still are. The attached clip would be unbelievable except that it is typical of Tel-evangelical bragging about their successes in conning their congregation out of their hard earned money.

It’s a shame there is no Hell because these arseholes and all their despicable mates truly deserve to go there.