Archive for the 'Anglophilia' Category


vicious old queens

Frances de la Tour, Ian McKellen, Derek Jacobi and Iwan Rheon. (Image: Patrick Redmond)

There was a time when a show like “Vicious” might have seemed daring, but today it feels quaint, comfortable, silly. And I don’t think it intends to be much more than that, and that’s OK.

Continue reading ‘vicious old queens’


In Greenwich, Sicker, and Embarrassment on the Tube

July 3, 1997

It rained while we were at Greenwich today. Crummy weather. You’d never know it’s July. Damp and cold as a Michigan November. It kinda brings you down, and I’m already tired. I need to sleep. I’ve done a lot of walking, but I am really excited about everything. I think I have a cold or something. My throat feels worse now.

We couldn’t decide if people living in Greenwich divided their houses into two time zones if the Meridian ran through their living rooms or if the whole town was on one clock. No one here should be late, ever, to anything. ₤3 for admission to see the longitude line!

Continue reading ‘In Greenwich, Sicker, and Embarrassment on the Tube’


A Little Bit About the People I’m With

July 2, 1997

Recovering from a pint of Guinness and two pints of Fosters last night. I tried the eggs this morning at breakfast. Feh.

Decided to stay awake and do something instead of going back to bed as I’d originally planned. Throat was raw, probably from the dry ice at the club and shouting over the music and everyone around me smoking. I could have smoked a whole pack myself second-hand! I was wearing Courtney’s sweater. (I hope it doesn’t smell too bad.)

Continue reading ‘A Little Bit About the People I’m With’


In Which We Hitch a Ride with Firefighters, I Get a Crush, and We Get Misled in Central London

July 1, 1997

First day of class. Met Sarah and Lisa for breakfast, walked to Birkbeck Col. for class. Not a bad first day. I feel confident I can do as well as or better than others in the class. I had written an essay about how my initial ideas of London came almost entirely from films like Mary Poppins. A little trite, but not untrue. And probably not uncommon.

We found out that the prof will pay for us all to see the “Reduced Skspre Co.,” which Lisa, Sarah and I had planned on seeing anyway. Feels good to be saving money already.

After class, Sarah and I tubed to Piccadilly and walked around for about an hour before we met Lisa back at Birkbeck. We flew back because we were already five minutes late — and her class had gotten out 20 minutes early anyway! The three of us bought lunch at Safeway and ate quickly at Lisa’s room. Then we had to run back to Birkbeck because we were late  (again!) for the guest speaker, Brian Bates, who talked about Celtic mythology. Made it just on time — whew!

Then prof. Penn took us to some used book stores in the vicinity of the British Museum. Lots of old stuff. Saw a Herb Ritts photo album with quite a few early shots of Madonna. Yum! But S, L, and I got separated from everyone else. We walked around like we knew where the hell we were. Stumbled onto Holborn Station and tubed back to Piccadilly.

I whipped out my map and led the girls to some shops, pubs and cafes Michael wanted me to visit. They were in Soho, somewhere near Old Compton St. and Dean St. Saw a lot of pretentious but hilarious (and intimidating!) gay clothing stores (expensive!), an insanely queer salon called Cut/Uncut, and a few cute pubs and cafes. Got a latte at a little Greek cafe whose name I can’t remember. Wanted to pick up a Pride ’97 t-shirt, but they didn’t have any large size (just S, M, XL), so I’ll wait. Picked up a Gay Times to learn a bit about this weekend’s P97 stuff.

Tubed back home and got dinner. No mistakes this time!

Continue reading ‘In Which We Hitch a Ride with Firefighters, I Get a Crush, and We Get Misled in Central London’


A One-Apple Day: Our Intro to the Tube and Half-Price Tickets

June 30, 1997

Lisa had an episode in the cafeteria this morning. She wanted two apples, but one of the workers said, “No, only one.” It was mildly embarrassing, as any mistake would be. It felt like being scolded, and none of us was prepared for that. Ah, this is Europe — not the land of all you can eat. And apparently not the land of cafeteria workers who don’t give a shit.

After my shower and breakfast, the first order of business was to get a Tube pass for the next six weeks. Unfortunately, we got to Russell Square Station during the rush hour. Sarah still needed a photo, and we waited in line to be told so. So we decided to go get the photo and let the crowds die down a bit.

Continue reading ‘A One-Apple Day: Our Intro to the Tube and Half-Price Tickets’


Arriving in London, 1997, Part 1 of Several

A journal can be like a tightly bound coil. You start to unwind it, and it springs outward faster and faster until you have a big, jumbled mess. So many memories are compacted into precious few words. Most of the important stuff isn’t in the pages of the journal at all but in the head of the writer.

I’m going to start rewriting some (maybe all) of the journal entries I kept while I was in London on an overseas study program in 1997. I’ve been having trouble finishing any posts recently, so I’m hoping that looking back on something I already wrote might give me more fertile ground.

Recopying an unedited journal is tediously self-indulgent, not to mention unpardonably boring. Who cares about the contents of someone else’s journal, right? My duty now is not to relive my memories from 13 years ago, but to make a story out of them worth reading today. So, some light editing is definitely in order. I can’t resist correcting myself, so it’s actually easier for me this way. Besides, I was 20 at the time, it was a creative writing program, and I was trying very, very hard. There are plenty of youthful linguistic indulgences I can now take the opportunity to stamp out. i’ll let a few of them slip through — for effect. I don’t promise good writing, but I do promise, at the very least, the truth.

Continue reading ‘Arriving in London, 1997, Part 1 of Several’


Little Miss Jocelyn


Glass of Water for Mr Grainger!

Rest in peace, John Inman. Now you’re free.


So Long, and Thanks for all the Wiki

Douglas Adams was nothing if not a visionary. Of course, he was much more than that, but the thing about him that impresses me most is his concept of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I can’t say he predicted the Internet — any more than Jules Verne predicted space travel — but I think we can certainly say that he saw the potential of the Web technology we are now settling into.

The fictional Guide was written by intergalactic traveling researchers — hitchhikers — who sent their entries back to editors at the publishing houses of Ursa Minor who red-penned them (One of the major jokes in the Hitchhiker’s books is that the entry for Earth was boiled down to the diminutive and somewhat insulting “Mostly harmless”), compiled them and sent them back through the sub-ether to all the copies of the electronic book, the Hitchhiker’s Guide. Simple collaborative publishing. The convergence of laptops and WiFi made the Web into the embodiment of Adams’ vision.

This was not lost on Adams. For a while there was a site called H2G2. I think he started it, in fact. “Researchers” made entries about whatever they liked, or proposed additions to existing entries. A team of editors would review the work and publish the entries. A whole community of nerds came together over the project, including myself. I had readt the Hitchhiker’s books in elementary school, and have always felt them to be among the major influences of my life — how I talk, how I write, how I think. Adams himself made appearances on the site. I remember in particular his entry on tea, which taught me the invaluable lesson that it is not enough to merely pour hot water on a tea bag. Rather, he opined, the tea must be met with boiling water — not water that had just been boiling, but water that was at that moment boiling. In other words, one must briefly boil the tea leaves.

I wrote an entry on the OED, which to my delight was published. And then the BBC bought and absorbed the site. And after I got into an argument with someone over the shape of Michigan (He adamantly denied that it was the shape of a mitten and a rabbit. Idiot.), I realized I had little to no interest in maintaining a presence in an online community. I wasn’t ready to live online yet. A late adopter, me. So I gave it up. Someone else would have to write about Dolly Parton, I reasoned, and Michigan (uhm, check out the shapes) and Madonna.

And, as if by magic, someone else did.

What has been catching my attention lately is the phenomenon of wiki, from the Hawaiian word meaning “quick.” The collaborative writing of Wikipedia — no official editors; anyone can log in, create a presence in the wiki community and edit — is a step beyond the Guide. But rather than chaos, what seems to happen is that the people with good reputations are trusted, and their work sticks, and Wikipedia seems to take on some coherence.

Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of wiki. Meta-wiki. Yay! Fun with prefixes.


Oxford English Dictionary

I don’t think any part of me is English. I know I’m 50% of Polish extraction. The other half is mainly German, with a smattering of French (the Alsace-Lorraine region, my grandma says), Swiss and Native American. Not nearly enough of the latter to win me a scholarship, of course. And none of this is a source of pride or an attempt at establishing any sort of credibility; it is merely fact.

Nevertheless, my non-Englishness has not prevented me from feeling a kinship with England. It surfaced first most notably when I was a kid with my very strong reaction to Mary Poppins. I cried like a whipped child every time the wind changed and she left the Banks children. (This also led to an unassailable love for Julie Andrews.) When I got older, I bought the series of books by P.L. Travers, which I now, of course, prefer to the movie. (I think the “P.L.” stands for “persnickety lesbian,” which is why we love her.)

Now I collect the hard-cover, cloth-bound, first edition, British-published Bloomsbury editions of the Harry Potter series. The British spellings and slang just seem more true than what we see in the American editions. The British cover illustrations are far superior. Even the Bloomsbury typeface of the text is better.

When I was in London in the summer of 1997 for overseas study, I felt very comfortable. It was all a big romance for me — until I was dressed down by my writing professor once for something I wrote about the charming chimney sweeps dancing with Mary Poppins across the rooftops of London. Chim-chim-cheree and tally-ho!

Those men were overworked slaves of the aristocracy, he said — they often died of various kinds of cancer from the soot they inhaled throughout their lives — any child born to a chimney sweep inherited a short, dismal life of extreme hardship and abject poverty — shame on you, Eric, for romanticizing such a detestible way of life. You are overprivileged. You are petty. You are American.

Touché, Professor Penn.

However, those sweeps sure could dance!

So, I think I’m an Anglophile.

I am aware that this is a completely superficial appreciation for England. It is, after all, filtered through the lens of American history, literature, public television and BBC America. I’m comfortable with that.

But maybe I’m just biased.

Part of that love is manifested in an intense love of the English language — which, it is rumored, some people still speak in the U.K. This love knows no bounds but my general laziness for study. However, I did write a senior project in college on the history of punctuation. And I took graduate-level courses as an undergrad on the history of English. It was taught by an Oxford English Dictionary researcher. (I say this, again, not out of pride, and not to establish myself as any sort of expert — Lord knows, I am not — but just to show my love.)

English is huge. More than 400,000 words, and growing. Highly adaptable. Many of those words are absorbed (I will not say stolen) from other languages. As a result, it is monstrously confusing to second-language learners. (Even I, when typing “monstrously,” had to ask myself: Is there an E?)

I can’t wait until 2010, when the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary is scheduled to be released. Far more than a simple, boring compendium of definitions, the OED is a treasure chest of history. Every word is traced back to its earliest appearance, from Old English to modern Standard English.

I love the OED. I covet it. All 20-plus volumes of it. I want to pore over it with a magnifying glass. I want to sleep with each volume in turn, wrapping myself around its sharp, hard-bound edges.

Years ago, I wrote an article for the Hitchhker’s Guide to the Galaxy Web site, about the OED. I was inspired by a book I had just read called The Professor and the Mad Man, by Simon Winchester, about a criminally insane OED researcher and his relationship with the dictionary’s original editor.

I was amazed and gratified when the entry was edited (hence the British spellings) and published.

the untallied hours