Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Down A Ton

Oh boy.

What's that I see over there? Teams of rowboats from the Metropolitan Police trolling over the Thames flinging grappling hooks into water, slowly retrieving them, looking for the Season 5 'Downton Abbey' ratings?'

I don't know if the ratings are really down, or maybe even up, but the approval rating is waaaay down in my house. If Julian Fellowes thinks he's going to succeed with a New York Gilded Age version of 'Downton' in a year or so, I'll save him the trouble. Fuhgetaboutit!! It's one thing for Americans to observe the British, but it is an entirely other thing for Americans to observe Americans acting like the British.

My feeling is if Bates gets arrested and sent to the hoosegow it will because his agent asked for him to be written out of the script so that the actor can pursue "other interests."

Lots of hooks in the water in Episode 4, but no fish coming up. It has really gotten tedious. Except for the hats. I would have never known there were so many styles of hats for women to wear. Is there a 'Downton Abbey' website for hats? That might be where the real money is. And Miss Bunting, with her ever-present Blossom chapeau is a positive scene stealer. Or, is she Napoleon? A tart-tongued social upheaval radical who is there to keep letting the air out of Lord Grantham's stuffed shirt. Deflagateship.

We do get a bit of a history lesson if we bother to lookup who Keir Hardie was as Anna refers to him in Mrs. Hughes's room as being a favorite subject of Branson when he was a "downstairs" person and more of an outgoing socialist. Certainly, Miss Bunting is a bird of the same feather.

Does Thomas have the earliest form of AIDS? Is Edith's estranged beau a Nazi? Will Lady Mary get slandered by Lord Gillingham at the club when he chuckles to the boys that Lady Mary Crawley is easier to get into than community college? Does England of 1924 even have community college? Oh dear.

'Grantchester,' immediately following 'Downton Abbey,' does, like the A-Team that once immediately followed a Super Bowl, and 'Blacklist,' which this year immediately follows the Super Bowl, continues to delight.

Everyone smokes so many short unfiltered cigarettes I've taken to opening a window in the house. Even the women, who of course leave red lipstick tipped butts in the ash trays, contribute to what everyone will later learn is a major cause of lung cancer and heart disease.

No matter right now. Sidney, the vicar, continues to drink all kinds of alcohol and solve crimes. This one in Episode 2 is a heist and another murder. He does it all in an hour, and when you see him zipping through the village on his bike you know he's gotten to the bottom of things. Just like following Lonnie Quinn the weatherman, who when his sleeves are rolled up, pay attention. Even when he misses the projected snow accumulation by over two feet.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Down Memory Lane

As a lifelong New Yorker I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that Joe Franklin has passed away at 88. I'm fully aware that there are millions of New Yorkers who might think that the name Joe Franklin signifies that a second baseman passed away. He had that kind of name. Or, at least, that's the name he came to be known as.

Joe Franklin was a television and radio personality who many cannot recall ever seeing or hearing on TV or radio. I wonder if his shows had ratings. Perhaps negative. He was never destination media.

And yet, as a sometimes sick kid who was home from grammar school in the 50s I remember seeing him on television, when the television worked. A television set in the 50s was full of tubes that burned out. They could sometimes be replaced by a repairman who came to the house. Tubes were sold in hardware stores, and you could get your tubes tested if you wanted to. Not your picture tube of course, because this was a mammoth cone buried in a piece of furniture that moms dusted and put pictures on top of. It was the 1950s version of a piano. A blown picture tube was the end of the world for the set.

Often, at least for our set, being that we had a second-hand everything, the set had to be taken to the "shop." This signified that the guts of the unit would be carted down the front stairs and disappear from the house for an unknown period of time. There was little worse in life at that time than to hear "the set has got to go back to the shop." Telling classmates this was your fate earned sympathy.

Until I read the obituary I was not aware that the channel I watched Joe on was Channel 7, and that the call letters then were WJZ-TV instead of ABC. I wasn't aware I was part of history, since Joe's show was the first show on the air for the that station to be broadcast in the afternoon. In those days, TV stations had hours of operation. They actually came on the air at certain times and
went off with the flag flapping in the breeze and the National Anthem playing.  Tuning in when these stations were not broadcasting delivered a sinister symbol and a high pitched sound to your living room. This was known as a "test pattern" and lead you to immediately turn the set off unless you wanted Martians at your door.

So, here I cam sitting cross-legged in front of the set, no doubt too close to the set, because there wasn't a kid in America who wasn't warned about sitting "too close to the set" and along comes Joe Franklin spinning nostalgic stories, with guests on I had no idea of who they were.

Maybe it was Joe's voice. There was a gentle patter to it. Maybe he was the first Mister Rogers. The show had a jaunty, old-time piano playing music for the opening theme. No matter, I watched Joe Franklin in the early days of television.

From what I could gather, he was always seemed to be talking about the past. Maybe this is where my penchant for nostalgia was developed.

An aspect of reading obituaries, particularly of old New Yorkers, is finding out what their parents did. The mothers were usually housewives, but certainly not always. The father's occupations however are always varied.

Joe's father was a "paper and twine dealer." This sounds like an occupation that could not provide enough money for a single living soul. Yet, at the family flower shop, I always placed orders with Janine Paper and Twine and saw their trucks deliver the rolls and reams of paper we used to wrap flowers for customers. It was a real job that made real money.

In reality, it is hard to believe that Joe Franklin was only 88 on his passing. I was once on the subway, perhaps 20 years ago with a friend and noticed a fellow seated who was carrying what looked like movie reel canisters that were marked "Joe Franklin Show." I muttered out loud to myself, and apparently loud enough for this person to hear me, "Joe Franklin! He's still around? "The guy started laughing himself.

Due to today's snowfall and where we live, I have no hardcopy of The New York Times to see what organizations might have acknowledged Mr. Franklin's passing. I'd like to think the Friars Club's Abbot has a sentiment posted.

Eighty-eight years sees a lot of changes in New York, and in the world. Now if the TV goes, we just throw it out.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Relative

Through the benefit of following an Australian news professional on Twitter (@lifeasinzy) I got a link to the picture at the right, a frilled shark that was caught by a fishing trawler in Australia.

If the fish looks prehistoric, you're right, because it is. The species dates back 80 million years, which is longer than the Granthams have been living at Downton Abbey by a considerable amount.

Not that that this specimen is that old, but the lineage is. Normally found only in waters between 1,200 and 1,500 metres down, this one got caught in a fishing net at 700 metres, the maximum a trawler in Australia does down. And certainly even at 700 metres, a recreational fisherman doesn't get a line down that far. A fish like this has not been seen for over 80 years.

The fish, a combination of an eel and a shark, has 300 teeth on 25 rows. This one also looks like it has pyorrhoea. It is so scary looking dead that alive the fish would seem able to even scare a corpse. If Luca Brasi slept with this fish, he's still having nightmares.

The story of the catch even made the network evening news here in the States on Thursday. This made me feel as someone who is plugged into events all over the world, because the picture and the story link were something I read early on Thursday morning.

Because the fish is so rarely seen, it can't possibly have a nickname, unlike the hacklehead that is caught by party boats in Long Island waters.

On one such excursion I was on a young fellow pulled up a very odd looking fish. He asked the mate what it was. The mate answered a question with a question, and asked the young fellow if he was married.

Huh? "It's called a mother-in-law fish."

No wonder some people choose to live together.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Wha' happened? How did 'Downton Abbey' get so boring?

There are some memorable moments in this season's Episode 3, such as when Daisy is admonished by Mrs. Patmore to get a move on the "spotted dick."  Yikes, what is a 'spotted dick?' That is certainly an ailment I haven't seen a cure advertised for on the evening news, but then again, I really haven't had it on lately. Waiting for a Super Bowl ad?

Consultation with the shorter OED reveals that "spotted dick" is "a suet pudding made with currants or raisins." The British are always doing something with currants and raisins and candied fruit. They probably invented fruitcake. Surely something for the ancestors. They love tradition.

We have of course Lady Mary. Her hussy week with Tony Gillingham was okaaaaaaay, but obviously she didn't see fireworks. She's back to playing Hamlet at the altar. I did tell the readers here that whoever does light her fire won't be any of the three finalists we were introduced to last season. She's likely to continue the playoffs, but the winner probably isn't in the league yet.

We have Lord Grantham upset that he's spent time on public transportation, dressed in a tuxedo for dinner, made reservations at Claridge's, only to see his wife waltz in flattered to no end after dining with another male at the Ritz and seeing and discussing Raphael paintings.

Lord G is "cross," as he later put it. His dislike for public transportation reminds me of John Kennedy Jr. when he discussed his mother's efforts to save Grand Central Terminal from becoming another unneeded glass office tower.

If anyone remembers, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was a driving force behind the save the terminal effort in the mid 1970s. She is seen in the photo with Mayor Koch, Bess Meyerson and the architect Philip Johnson, with Grand Central Terminal in the background. Jackie-O gave testimony and publicly appeared to help preserve the terminal.

Her son, John Jr. sometime after her death, sly acknowledged his mother's efforts to save the terminal, despite never really being one who used mass transit herself. Lord G., we knew Jacqueline, and you're no Jackie-O.

Maybe it is the whole attitude of the people on in 'Downton' that is wearing thin. Here's Lord Grantham, Robert, an Earl in 1924 whose parentage goes back to the Crimean war who frets over being in a tuxedo, having canceled reservations at Claridge's, being fed supper from his sister at her place in London, and seeing his wife come back after discussing a 16th-century Renaissance painter. He doesn't believe his wife can even have opinions on Raphael. You'd think his credit card got dinged for the cancelled reservation. What a toad.

Other threads are continuing, with Bates again in the frame for causing someone's death. But I really have to admit, these people are boring me now.

But then there's 'Grantchester,' which followed 'Downton' on PBS. 'Grantchester' is another of those charming English villages, this one near Cambridge, north of London, that the people who create those shows love to feed to their audiences.

These writers and producers also love to show us their train set. How many times are we going to see someone seeing their sweetheart off on one of those "carriages" with the window down and their head sticking out? And that piercing shrill whistle from the conductor. I hear it my sleep.

'Grantchester' is new at this point. The opening music almost sounds like the 'Downton' theme, but that's where any similarity ends. The main character is a vicar, played by James Norton, who, if anyone is old enough to remember, so closely resembles Richard Chamberlain in 'Dr. Kildare,' or James Franciscus in 'Mr. Novak,' that you might believe he's their son.

These were 1960s American TV shows. I only ever saw them in black and white, and they might have only ever been in black and white. Nevertheless, the vicar that Mr. Norton plays, Sidney Chambers, is easy to look at for the ladies, and by being a vicar, he's not bound by celibacy, or confessional confidentiality. He smokes, drinks booze, and entertains thoughts of bedding women. People tell him things, and he might tell others, if it helps solve the mystery of a death. He fought in WWII, and killed the enemy.

So, he's a bit of clerical Ms. Marple who zips through the village on his bike. He can pedal as fast as a train can leave town. He's environmentally aware in post-WWII England. He is assisted by a real police officer, an inspector, whose office at the station house looks like he's in a church, as he's surrounded by deep, dark wood paneling and stained glass windows.

The inspector, Geordie Keating, played by Robson Green, (two thoroughly English first names if ever there were ones) is predictably wary of civilians, smokes up a storm, follows soccer, and wears suspenders that pull his pants up so high it looks like they should hurt him. He lives in a modest house, with a lively wife, and two rosy red cheeked children who get their bath in a portable tub. The English love to show anyone who is paying attention how threadbare their lives were after WWII.

So far, so good. In one hour, the vicar has solved a mysterious death, probably found a soul mate, and developed the respect of a police inspector as they are seen strolling together at the end starting a "beautiful friendship," chatting through the meadow toward some some booze and spirited games of backgammon.

For now, 'Downton' is being eclipsed by 'Grantchester.' But it's still British.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Which One is Wild Again?

Through the spirit of friendship and a relay system that snaked its way with several handoffs through a village bookstore in a pleasant hamlet of a town in the northern portion of a New York county, I now have in my possession a full deck of United States military issued archaeological playing cards given to U.S. troops deployed overseas.

This is not a violation of any espionage act and does not subject any of the parties to federal arrest. The cards are the real thing.

They remind me of when I was in grammar school and I'd always go to school with a black mechanical pencil from my father's employer. Since he worked as a civilian at the Brooklyn Navy Yard the pencil was etched: Property U.S. Government. I took plenty of tests with those pencils and was worried when the word on the spelling test was "government" and I held the correct spelling in my hand. I thought, that I could be called out for cheating. I wasn't. I already knew how to spell "'government," but was worried that the teacher might not believe my version of events. No such confrontation ever took place. The things you can find to worry about.

The playing cards were written about in 'The Lives of Ruins,' by Marilyn Johnson in another iteration of highlighting occupations of preservation. In this case, archaeologists.

A good portion of Ms. Johnson's book is devoted to the United States military's efforts to learn from the overly repetitive news footage by CNN that showed an ancient vase begin removed without permission from a Bagdad museum. Looted would be the word.

If you remember, the military took a solid p.r. hit on that one, but some jabs were returned when the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfield did call CNN and ask them how many times were they going to show the same vase being removed in a news cycle? And truthfully, even Odell Becham's sensational one hand grab for the New York Giants in a recent losing game to the Dallas Cowboys wasn't shown as often as that vase that went out the front door. And we all know how many times Odell really caught the ball, right?

As described in 'Lives in Ruins' the Department of Defense (DoD) has made huge efforts to raise archaeological awareness amongst the troops, even with United States sites.

The deck of playing cards that I came in possession of reminds every viewer on EVERY card that ROE is first. Don't know what ROE is? Rules of Engagement. If being attacked from a protected sight, it is still in keeping with the rules of warfare to fire back.

I've apparently got the 'Respect Afghan Heritage' edition, a slick pack of 52 playing cards, with two jokers. How is the joker depicted? Here's where I'd like to catch Alex Trebek in an elevator and frame a Jeopardy-style question/answer that asks, "what image of Silenus, the jolly companion of the Greek god Dionysus put to in educating our troops?"

The answer Alex is: he's the Joker in the Afghan deck of heritage cards.

Silenus, apparently is a perfect image to use as a joker. He's a god's sidekick, an old guy with a beard and a head full of flowers. Just shows you, it wasn't all Greek philosophy those guys were into.

There are an additional two cards in the pack, one that suggest how the cards can be used to create a jigsaw puzzle to solve.  On this one, I've really got to wonder how many soldiers have put the cards to this recreational use. God bless them if they have.

The fourth extra card tells of the mission to adhere to, and the spirit the cards are being issued in. There are enough military acronyms used that make you think a three year old has taken all the Scrabble tiles out and gone to town with them. Or, you're playing Scrabble with a really sore loser who insists they've just made a word. No matter. All the blurb is as described in Ms. Johnson's book.

And what's ON each card beside the suit and rank? Pictures of sites that might be encountered, advice about digging, a warning about selling artifacts, where to put your LZs (landing zones), the portion of military law that makes looting punishable, and signage that might be encountered that identifies a site as being protected.

There is even a picture of the Status of Liberty, against a background of a beautiful blue sky above which is a Golden Rule: "How would you feel if someone destroyed her torch?"

You can feel the wisenheimer in the meeting (you know there was a wisenheimer, and you know there was a meeting) that suggested that there be a variation of that admonishment using an aerial picture of the Pentagon, and another of the twin World Trade Center Towers. Cooler heads prevailed.

If anyone is old enough to have watched 'I Love Lucy' episodes (shown for the first time, or in reruns) you might remember the episode when Lucy cleaned out Ricky's closet and gave a shirt to Goodwill that apparently was Ricky's favorite. On finding out, a tirade of Spanish erupted from Ricky's, mouth and a search of the thrift stores in the neighborhood, with Fred in tow, ensued.

I can't complain that I've had the same thing happen to me, but the threat of a spouse throwing out a treasured piece of "junk" remains with all cohabitating couples.

There is no good idea that can't be copied, plagiarized, or adapted for another use. I surely don't have 52 shirts I could identify as personal relics, but I bet I could come up with 52 possessions I would not like to see removed under any circumstances. There are even things I'd like to protect from beyond the grave, but success at seeing those wishes adhered to is unreliable.

I'm working out the details, but my proposal, business plan, is simple. Create my own personal deck of cards designating clothes, objects, whatever, that I'd like to be respected and left alone. Distribute and update the deck to any and all household members who believe they need to throw things out because "no one is ever going to still want that."

There's got to be a market out there somewhere.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Words Are Much Alike

Flammable, not flammable, uninflammable, inflammable. The words can be confusing. Stay back from the truck.

Take a recent correction posted in the WSJ about something in their story about people using hyperbaric oxygen chambers for as yet unapproved treatment plans for autism and brain injuries. The correction reads:

Pressurized oxygen increases the risk of combustion. A Personal Journal article Tuesday about oxygen treatments incorrectly said oxygen under high pressure is flammable.

Okay, whatever you say.
I'll stand back just in case.


The Big Dig. There's Never Nothing There

When there was such a thing as empty lots in Queens, my grade school friends and I sometimes found ourselves playing in them. As young boys we were always one unsupervised adult day away from another tetanus shot. But who cared? This was adventure.

This was the 1950s, and because of a New York City taxation policy that used frontage to determine real estate  taxes, there were any number of vacant corner properties. Corner lot, more frontage. More moolah. Which is really surprising, because the real estate taxation basis never really became realistic until the Bloomberg administration. How much more could the real estate and sewer tax have been that it stymied corner lot development? Lots of corner properties had houses on them, but they tended more often than not to be occupied my physicians and dentists. So the world went.

In one of these empty lots in Whitestone my friends and I found what we firmly believed were the remains of trolley tracks. You'd think we found dinosaur bones. Considering that trolleys went out of existence, even in Queens, sometime in the late 1940s, our sense of what was really old was not very realistic. Never mind.

I think our teacher took such an interest that he investigated the lot himself. Turns out they were not trolley tracks at all, but some sort of steel beams, likely dumped illegally by a demolition company.

But you know what? Before our voices changed and our interests could care less about empty lots, we were, without our knowing it, archaeologists.

Ever bury money in the backyard as a kid? Willie Sutton buried his bank loot in parks: Central Park, Prospect Park, and would return to some very moldy, sometimes unusable United States currency when he got of prison, whether he was released, or he released himself. Willie was many things to many people. He was a legendary criminal. He was also an archaeologist.

Marilyn Johnson, in her new book, 'Lives in Ruins,' quickly sets us straight on what an archaeologist is. Right there on the first page, opening paragraph, she tells us if you're expecting to read about dinosaur bones, you need a book on paleontologists. Archaeologists study people, and what they left behind, "their bones, their trash, and their ruins."

So, if you want to read about dinosaur bones and human remains, you're going to have to--like the comedian Alan King once said about reading about love and marriage--buy two books.

Ms. Johnson is foremost a journalist with a literary background--and a poet. She'll pop in the subtlest of phrases that leave a delayed reaction. Take the opening narrative that explains where archaeologists get their volunteers from, their grunts, their go-fers. Somewhat like Tom Sawyer and his whitewashed fence, the interested are hooked into labor and even pay for the privilege to sweat and strain. She wonders if all this doesn't resemble some sort of "'pyramid scheme."

The book takes us longitudinally and latitudinally halfway around the world from New York. We start on a caraway seed-size island in the Caribbean, St. Eustatius, under Dutch governance. Pirates loved the place. Here, Ms. Johnson describes her "boot camp" where she first crouches with a trowel. Her travels are extensive, and impressive. She attends archaeology conferences and chats up more than one person smitten with the calling. She has a list of who she'd like to meet, but doesn't always catch up to everyone. Archaeologists don't always come out and play.

And in case your preconceived notion of an archaeologist is someone in a pith helmet in an Agatha Christie novel dying for tea time, then cocktails, you're going to be surprised. Some of the most interesting parts of this multi-layered book are the stories that were just on CNN if your TV was plugged in and on. Operation Iraqi Freedom, Afghanistan involvement of American troops have all produced work for archaeologists. The Department of Defense employees archaeologists? You betcha.

A glance at the author's dust jacket photo and it might be understandable how Ms. Johnson works her way into conference breakout sessions and manages to stay invited, especially to the one that numbers archaeologists and the United States military. One of the most interesting chapters is produced because of it. This is current. We're seeing this in our living rooms.

Profiles of archaeologists fill the book. One woman, Laurie Rush, works as a civilian archaeologist out of Fort Drum in Watertown, New York. This is an area of the state I'm familiar with and which even Ms. Johnson's prose fails to capture its bleakness. Harry Chapin, in an introduction to one of his narrative songs, 'Better Place to Be,' describes the area as where he spent a "week there one afternoon."

Ms. Rush has a staff and is the is the guiding force behind the playing cards that are distributed to the troops that depict historic, and hoped for protected sites, they might encounter in their deployments. An educated soldier is a better soldier.

The only shortcoming felt is that there are no photos in the book. Expense, and the ease of the Internet can be excuses. Still, a choice few would have been welcomed, especially a sample of the playing cards.

A small distraction. Pay attention, and you will encounter a word like 'paleoethnobotany." Really pay attention, and you'll learn the spelling distinction of an ancient Peruvian civilization that's not at all to be confused with an international sex club. Distinction is everything.

Ms. Johnson is smart enough to tell us in her poignant last chapter how today's debris is, a century or so from now, tomorrow's archaeological find. That Lincoln head penny with the newly designed back you no longer pick up because it has so little value, is a find a century from now.

There is even such a thing as "the archaeology of the contemporary past." I won't admit that this is what I realize I'm engaging in when I remind myself that I've been coming and going through New York's Pennsylvania Station for over 60 years now. But I do see the past, especially when I hold onto one of the remaining brass banisters with the giant ball at the top that line staircases from some of the tracks. What a find that is going to make someday.

The book is a joy to read and goes by fast. Just like time.

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Would you buzz this man through your jewelry store door?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Test Ride

The second episode of 'Downton Abbey,' Season 5, moves along the freight yard tracks with more cuteness than anything else. It is almost a lovable 'Leave It to Beaver' episode. Lessons are learned, and the older folk seem so wise.

Perhaps the main theme that gets some play is Lady Mary's prescient analysis of the coming housing shortage, when people like herself will be made, through necessity, to live in rooms far smaller than those of her grandparents. This of course is her rationalization for giving Bachelor Number Two a test ride through the twists and turns of pre-marital sex.  We're all going to follow this one closely.

Lady Mary expresses her theory to her maid Anna, that if in the future married people are going to have to live closer to each other, then they better be sure they pick the right spouse, because divorce is way too messy and not for her. Works for the scriptwriters, and gives us a chance to see if Lady Mary can actually raise the temperature in a room, rather than have everyone move closer to the fireplace as she enters.

Lady Mary is certainly not Lauren Bacall. Lauren Bacall's audition criteria for a man, as explained to Humphrey Bogart in 'The Big Sleep,' is hot enough to turn in a fire alarm. But, of course they're Americans. And they smoke.

Then there's His Lordship's dog. I watch 'Downton Abbey' with closed captioning turned on even when Laura Linney is speaking. I can understand the English I hear through the British accents pretty well, but there are the odd phrases, or pronunciations that leave me wondering "what the hell did they just say?"

Thank goodness for closed captioning. Not only does it get me past the words that are not clear to me, it also provides spelling of the words that I might not be familiar with. By keeping a pad and pen nearby I am able to write these words down for later look up in my shorter OED.

The dog is not a big part of the show, but their name carries the potential to wipe out all involved with the show in a terrorist attack. You hear his Lordship refer to the dog as 'Eyesis.' How a dog comes to be named 'Eyesis' is not known. In one brief scene Lord Grantham tells Lady Grantham that the current houseguest should stop flirting with his dog.

This seems odd, since it seems to all who watched the scene (with His Lordship just on the other side of the door) that the guest was flirting with Lady G., Cora, while discussing art. So, perhaps without knowing it, His Lordship has gotten his wife and the dog mixed up. This is knee-slapping stuff coming from the British aristocracy.

But, here's the danger. When you use closed captioning, you hear 'Eyesis' pronounced, but see it spelled Isis. Or, if you're stuck on caps lock, 'ISIS.'

A British costume drama set in 1924, broadcast in 2015, with a dog named Isis (Islamic State in Syria) might not escape everyone's attention.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Can It Be?

Can it be that a full year has gone by and we are now once again at the start of a new season of Downton Abbey? The time line for Season 5 has only advanced 12 years from the first episode that started off with an ironed newspaper that informed the household of the sinking of the Titanic and the death of a Grantham cousin. A male cousin.

It might be an understatement to note that the Downton timeline is moving slower than a snail. I will be dead and they'll be dividing up the tools in the shed before the saga reaches WWII. But, I'm sure given the ages of the cast,it has to move slow. If the show were to advance to even 1939 there would have to be a funeral a week just to keep the ages plausible.

Given all the series that have come and gone in that space of a year, it is hard to remember where we were when the Downton crew signed off last year. For myself, this has meant paying attention to Fargo, The Knick, Missing, Broadchurch, The Americans, Grace Point, a new season of Orphan Black, The Affair, The Game, King, The Bridge, and I'm sure others I've left out. Given the timeless plot lines that give us a dose of sex in all of these shows, it is hard to remember who's been shtuping whom.

I really feel someone has missed a marketing opportunity here (or I've missed seeing it) to sell a season synopsis in book form with photos and pull-quotes from the characters. Dame Violet gets in her share of course, but there are many other memorable arched eyebrow zingers.

Regardless, as the first episode of the new season turns the pages, the previous goings-on do come back to us. Several story lines are developing and branch out from the start like rail tracks in a freight yard. The first episode is decidedly lighter in tone. It is funny in several spots. No one dies from a medical condition, is murdered, or is raped. It is almost the Marx Brothers.

There is one scene in Episode 1 that is side-splitting. (Spoiler alert.) There is a rather unexpected overnight guest, Lady Anstruther, who works her way into a dinner invitation and a sleep-over. It is all very well planned so she can get close (really close) to the blonde hunk of a footman Jimmy who used to work for her, but now finds himself at Downton.

Lady Anstruther is perhaps late-fortyish, well groomed, and hot-to-trot for Jimmy. Her ashes have not gone out by any means.  When she looks at Jimmy she sees him in his Calvins (or nothing at all) underneath the livery of a footman.

The best scene unfolds as Lord Grantham, in his flapping bathrobe, flings open a guest bedroom door and shouts "fire," as one has really begun to roar in Lady Edith's bedroom.

To his surprise, he's using a word that also describes the rolling around in the sheets that's going on between Lady Anstruther and Jimmy that is suddenly before his eyes. If Jimmy were Willie Nelson he'd get off a line to His Lordship, something to the effect, "are you going to believe me, or what you see."  But this is England, 1924, and Willie's hasn't even started out in Abbot, Texas yet.

The fire dominates the action, and is eventually put out. Lady Anstruther's fire is now doused as well, and she extends a good-bye with a promised early morning departure to His Lordship amidst the bustle of firemen and hoses on the drive in front of the manor so that no further embarrassment ensues. His Lordship heartily agrees.

So, there we have it. The story has begun. The game is afoot, to borrow a phrase. We will be treated to more upstairs, downstairs, inside, outside as the season further unfolds. Who knows, it might end sometime around 1928.

Friday, January 2, 2015

What Time?

One of the offspring was recently caught up in the sometimes confusing world of A.M. and P.M. as they relate to noon and midnight.

If anyone noticed, I didn't use the word 'respectively' in the first sentence, because noon can also be referred to as 12:00 P.M. and midnight can be referred to as 12:00 A.M. Actually, one second after 12:00 and one second after 0:00 is P.M. and A.M. respectively.

Their brush with the confusion stemmed from a professor who told them the time given to answer a certain question on an extensive test would take place between 12:00 A.M. and 1:00 P.M. This lead the wiseacre  child to tease the professor that they had 13 hours to answer the question. The professor, not ready to concede they might have been misleading, replied that noon was 12:00 A.M. and 1:00 P.M. was 1:00 P.M., therefore there was an hour given to providing the answer.

Apparently it's a common mix up to think noon is 12:00 A.M. and midnight is 12:00 P.M. Thankfully, the military and law enforcement people use military time and operate on a 24 hour clock, with 1200 hours being noon and 0:00 being midnight. This helps in real life and in TV and movies. Think 'Zero Dark Thirty.'

My own confusion with A.M., P.M. and noon and midnight occurred when I told Gus, who helped deliver flowers for us at the family shop, that the ship was going to leave soon and that he didn't have much time to get to the pier and deliver the flowers. The shipping news at the back of the paper said the ship would sail at 12:00 A.M. and it was now 10:00 A.M.

There was still plenty of time to get there before the gangplank came up, but there was, at least to my thinking, only two hours to shove off time. Gus got there with time to spare but came back with one over on the young student.

Gus was one of the itinerant delivery guys who would come by and hustle deliveries, for 50 cents, or a dollar, plus carfare. This was the 1960s, so this was real money then. He was reliable, and actually made the delivery rather than offer the flowers to a bartender for a few shots of rotgut rye.

Gus was somewhat tall, lanky, and as best as I can remember, always in a brown woolen coat--even in July. His teeth were bad and he of course spoke Greek and English. I think I can remember a Greek language newspaper sticking out of the overcoat's pocket. Thus, it was only English he couldn't read. So, when I told him the need for haste, based on what I read in the paper, he deferred to my knowledge of English and did hustle a bit extra.

He didn't return right away, but when he next appeared at he shop with the receipt the told everyone that 12:00 A.M. was not noon and that the ship wasn't going to sail that morning. It was sailing 12:00 A.M., but that was 12 hours later at midnight. What ship this was I have no idea, but we did sometimes get requests to deliver flowers to the usual passenger ships of the era, The SS United States, The Queen Mary, The Queen Elizabeth, and the SS France, as well as freighters.

I felt embarrassed, but showed him the paper and said it did say 12:00 A.M., so therefore he did have to hurry. He said no, that meant midnight. Plenty of time, son.

Like all the guys who would come by the shop and make deliveries, Gus was an unforgettable character. He was forever in the brown overcoat and once really did open it up and reveal that he had more watches pinned to the inside flaps than a Mexican general had medals on his chest.

A.M. or P.M., Gus had something to offer.