Vive la France!

"Puisque vous êtes un Américain , aimeriez-vous que, avec le ketchup ?"

“Puisque vous êtes un Américain, aimeriez-vous que, avec le ketchup?”

I try not to be prejudiced.  Sometimes, however, I make generalized evaluations, which is a trait of being prejudiced.  I did that with the French.  I had read accounts of rude, snooty people there (especially the waiters) and even heard personal accounts of such action.  It is not hard to find people who blog about bad Gallic experiences (click here).  True, I’d also heard the opposite from other people (including one of my sisters who studied at the University of Strasbourg for a year), but the most recent accounts were mostly negative.  So I crossed France off my list of places to visit.  Why go someplace where I wasn’t wanted?  I stated to my wife that I would never go to France.  I’d rather eat my hat than go there.

Because we use American Airlines air miles, we have to make reservations months ahead to be sure of a seat on the plane.  This year we had planned to go to Greece.  Then all the economic problems there came to a head.  It was a season of elections and plebiscites.  There was even the question of whether Greece would go off the euro.  With such uncertainty about even what money to use, it did not look like a good time to see the Acropolis.  Where to go for the year’s vacation?  After a bit of discussion about the various possibilities, I said to my wife, “How about France?”  After I picked her up off the floor from a dead faint and finished eating my fedora (Why don’t they make hats out of tortilla chips?), we started making our plans.

View from outside our apartment.

View from outside our apartment.

Although I was less than gassed by the idea of going to Paris, which I understood to be the headquarters of the rude French and overpriced food, there was no way my wife would hear of missing it, so I booked an apartment on the Île Saint-Louis, which is an island in the Seine River, right next to Île de la Cité, where Notre Dame Cathedral is located.  It was a great headquarters seeing the main tourist sites (yes, we did the tourist bit), except for Versailles, which required a short train trip.  Don’t drive in Paris unless you are a LeMans champion, have a death wish, are certifiably insane or are all of the above.  But that’s true of London and Rome as well.  Then again, I feel that way about San Francisco (where I drive as little as possible) and I’ve heard it’s also true of New York City, although I’ve never been there.

The stairs of the Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile are worth climbing.

The stairs of the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile are worth climbing.

Since this is more about the people than the sights, I will only give a quick review of what we saw.  Skip this paragraph if you’ve already been there.  We went in late October and early November, so the crowds were not as bad as high season.  We bought a museum pass, which Rick Steves recommended, but found it really only helped with the line at the Louvre, a definite must-see that not only has great European paintings and sculpture, but ancient art and artifacts from the Roman, Greek, Egyptian and Assyrian cultures.  The worst line and crowds were at Versailles Palace, making it my least favorite Paris-region site.  Its formal restaurant was good, though.  The Hôtel National des Invalides, which contains the Musée de l’Armée and Napoleon’s tomb, was well worth seeing, especially if you like military history.  Notre Dame, of course, was wonderful and free.  The Arc de Triomphe sits at the hub of twelve radiating streets and has a nice view of much of the city from the top.  Well worth it.  However, one of the radiating streets is the famous Champs-Élysées and it was a waste.  It was packed with crowds and chain stores, with almost no small shops and cafes.  Go to you local mall instead.  We saw some other sights, but these were the main ones.

Eiffel Tower at night.

Eiffel Tower at night.

What about the Eiffel Tower?  We saw it close up, but did not go up.  The lines were very long and we’d been advised it wasn’t worth it.  So we walked below it and studied it from a nearby park bench.  It was impressive.  But at night, it was spectacular.  It had lights all up the structure and there was a bit of a light show every so often.  We also saw it from a bateaux-mouche (meaning “fly boat” because they hosted many of said pests in days gone by) dinner cruise on the Seine.  It was pricey and the dinner was one of the worst we had in France, but well worth it for the comfort (we had a private table inside and it was quite cold outside) and the breath-taking beauty of seeing the City of Lights after dark.

Resto Med near our apartment, where we had galettes.  Our hostess, the blond, was fun and helpful

Resto Med near our Paris apartment, where we had galettes.  Great cider, too.  Our hostess, the blond, was lively and a kick.

Now, to the food and people: both were a delight.  Did we have any rude waiters in Paris, the so-called City of Snub?  No.  True, your waiter won’t come up and say, “My name is Damon and I’ll be your server, sweetheart.  I love that sweater.  Are you a Leo, too?”  Being a waiter is an occupation, not a job, so they try to be professional and polite.  We had two that were rather aloof and some were just average, but none that were rude or gave really poor service.  Outside of Paris, many were even better.  Now, it’s not like our chain restaurants where the idea is to get you in and out as quickly as possible.  Waiters would think it rude to rush the diners.  Simply say L’addition, s’il vous plait, and they will bring you your check.  But slow down and enjoy the experience of dining rather than just eating.  It’s a different philosophy.  And don’t always expect it “your way,” but order what is listed on the menu. We didn’t try to mess with the menu the way you do in California, asking for multiple changes to what we ordered.  I did ask them to hold the crème fraîche on my salmon galette (savory buckwheat crepe) and that was not a problem, but did not make substitutions.  That’s simply not the European or British way.  Live with it.  On the bright side, we had very good food for very reasonable prices by avoiding the “tourist trap” places and the high-cost restaurants.  Salads never had iceberg lettuce and the ubiquitous French dressing was made with shallot, Dijon mustard, salt, lemon juice, red-wine vinegar and a bit of olive oil, not that sweet, ketchup-based garbage I remembered from my childhood.  Food was no more expensive than a restaurant of the same quality here and wine was cheaper.  The most expensive meal we had was at a nice restaurant in Reims, which cost 85.40 euros, or about $93, including wine.  I’ve spent far more here for worse food and drink.  Since tax and tip were included in your restaurant tab, it was often cheaper than here.

Mont Ste Michel- stunning place, but lousy food in the village

Majestic Le Mont Saint-Michel- stunning abbey, but probably the worst eateries in all of France in the eateries in the village below.

I’ve mainly covered Paris, but Paris was not one of the high points for me.  We rented a car at the airport and drove over to Reims, down to Troyes in the Champagne region, then over to Amboise in the Loire Valley, across to Pontorson near Le Mont Saint-Michel, up to Bayeux in Normandy, over to Rouen, then back to the airport.  We used those cities as bases of operations to see the areas around them.  I did a lot of driving and was ready for the rude drivers to cut me off or go so slowly in front of me that I would scream.  I’m still looking for them.  I’m sure they were in Paris, but I didn’t drive there.  The ones I encountered were far more polite that those I see on my trips down Interstate 5 to SoCal three times a year.  Not only that, truckers never pulled in front of you just before you passed them!  The highways were better than many in California and, I have to admit, so were the drivers.  Europe and the UK drivers don’t seem to have adopted, “I’m more important than anyone else” philosophy.

The town of Amboise, viewed from the chateau on the hill.

The delightful town of Amboise, viewed from the chateau on the hill above.

But what about people other than waiters and drivers?  In Paris on Saturday, after seeing Napoleon’s tomb we were looking for a place for lunch, but some were closed in that area.  I was standing on the sidewalk, trying to find a place with my smart phone and a map, when a fellow in running gear came up to us and said something in French.  “I don’t speak French,” I said.  “Do you need help?” he asked.  “We’re trying to find a restaurant,” I told him.  He laid out all the options and told us of a nearby recommendation.  We went there and had a good meal.  A Frenchman took pity on a couple of obvious tourists.  In Amboise, I went into a boulangerie, or bakery, in the early morning to buy breakfast.  The man behind the counter did not speak English and my French was not much better.  Using charades, I made my selection and pulled out a 5 euro note.  Since I could not understand the price he told me, I figured that was safe.  He said something and pointed at a small tray on the counter.  It had the hours for the boulangerie.  I checked my watch and, yes, he should be open, so I again offered my money.  Again, he pointed at the tray.  After a moment, he took my money and put the change in the tray.  The elevator hit the top floor and I realized he was trying to tell me I was supposed to put the money in the tray, that there was a proper way  to pay.  But he had given in to my ignorance.  I touched the side of my head, showing it had finally gotten through, and nodded with a grin.  He laughed and nodded back.  I was in his country unable to speak his language and not following the normal procedure, but he took it well and we laughed together.  That was far from rude.

Proudly standing next tot the man who I greatly admire, Lord Lovat.  I wore clothes like this and seemed to fit in well.

Proudly standing next to the man who I greatly admire, the late Lord Lovat, at Sword Beach, Normandy. In France, I wore clothes like I am wearing here and seemed to fit in reasonably well.

What’s my take on all this?  The French are not rude.  I am sure there are rude French, just as there are rude Americans.  I am sure there are French who have a strong dislike for Americans, just as there are Americans who have a strong dislike for the French.  But when you meet people one-on-one and don’t “cop an attitude,” it’s surprising how nice they can be.  I went to France knowing that it was their country and they did not have to be nice to me.  I tried to be polite to them and was surprised at how they responded.  I tried to fit in as much as possible, struggling with the few words of French I knew, and they seemed to appreciate that.  I even took up the scarf (no, not berets) that so many Frenchmen wore because I liked it and was several times taken for a Frenchman by the French.   Until I spoke, that is.  A good friend gave me a sound piece advice: when you go into a store, always greet the shopkeeper with bonjour (if it’s daytime, but bonsoir) and say au revoir when leaving.  It’s the polite thing to do and all the French do it.  If you’re going to France, don’t be the Ugly Americans (whom we saw a few times on our trip) and expect the French to kiss up to you ( a French kiss?), but realize it’s their country and you are merely a visitor.  You might be surprised at how well you are received.  I was.


Requiem for an Artist: Mahlon Fawcett

Moment of glory- Lonnie introduced at the Roamin Angel breakfast before the car show

Rare moment of glory-
Lonnie introduced at the Roamin Angel breakfast before the car show.  I loaned him one of my Vette shirts.

It’s Christmas time.  For many years, my good friend, Mahlon Fawcett, known as Lonnie, would come up to our house in Lake Arrowhead for our annual Christmas party.  Although that has been many years ago, my mind wanders back to those parties and my friend who will not be celebrating Christmas this year.  He is no longer on this earth, but I will not let him be forgotten.  If you are on this website, you’ve met him.  He did all the banners for my website.  His zany sense of humor and off-the-wall ideas come through them, as they often did in his work.  Perhaps that limited the appeal of certain pieces he did.  Yet he would do commissioned work, even Disney characters for a child’s room.  He did great drawings of film notables like Jimmy Stewart, James Cagney, Basil Rathbone and even Harrison Ford for me that hang in my pool room.  Although he knew almost nothing about cars, he enjoyed doing caricatures of car people in their hot rods and classic cars at the annual Roamin Angels car shows.  He loved drawing and would do almost anything requested.  His passion was his art.

Lonnie titled this one "Bomber's Moon."

Lonnie titled this one “Bomber’s Moon.”

I met Lonnie in the early ’80’s.  John, his brother, worked for me as a tow truck driver.  Finding out that I had an interest in Sci-fi, he told me about Lonnie’s work and brought in a few pieces to show me, which I bought.  I kept asking John to meet his brother, but he said that Lonnie was a recluse who hated meeting people.  For a year or so, John would occasionally bring in pieces Lonnie had done and I would buy them.  Then, out of the blue, I got a call from Lonnie asking me to meet him.  I went to his small trailer, where he showed me more of his work and asked me if I was interested in anything.  When I hesitated, he said, “Just give me what you think it’s worth.”  That was Lonnie.  He loved to draw, but hated marketing himself.  As it turned out, brother John told Lonnie I was making him give the art to him, so Lonnie never got any of the money.  But Lonnie’s phone call ended that scam.  And, as Bogie said to Louis in Casablanca, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.  Did I mention that Lonnie loved old movies even more than I do and could do voice impersonations of many of the old actors?  He did.

Time Travel ala  Lonie

Time Travel ala Lonnie

Over the years, Lonnie and I became good friends.  I tried to promote him and his art.  We went to a San Diego ComicCon in 1986, where he sold art at a table there.  Unfortunately, people there were looking for comic books, not original art.  I got him a review by Disney, which didn’t pan out for unknown reasons.  I got him an interview with DIC Entertainment that went quite well.  The very young executive we met with loved Lonnie’s art and described a new series that he thought Lonnie could do.  Lonnie and I both were on Cloud 9 when we left.  I kept telling Lonnie to do a follow-up call, but he felt it would be too pushy.  Then, months later, the series came out without Lonnie.  I tell this tale to demonstrate two facts: I believed in Lonnie, but he did not have enough self-confidence to push open the doors.  In retrospect, I feel guilt that I did not do more pushing for him because I could see he would not.  If I had, maybe Lonnie would have had a successful career in animation.  I’ll never know.

To understand a person, know his upbringing.  Lonnie’s father died when he was a teenager.  His mother was an alcoholic.  When he was an adult, she married a two-time convicted child abuser whom she chose over Lonnie.  Then there was his brother, John, who had been telling Lonnie that I was forcing him to give the artwork to me to keep his job.  His only romantic interest Lonnie married, but they soon separated and never met each other again.   I have no idea who she was or where she now is.  Out of this came a man who was kind and gentle, living to draw.  Lonnie was a big man when we met, over six feet and maybe 230 pounds, but never used his size to intimidate.  He was a good soul.

Christmas card Lonnie drew with my '72 Vette

“Sorry, Comet, if you want to be Robin, you’ve got to wear tights”  A Christmas card Lonnie drew for me with my ’72 Vette

Lonnie had no formal art training, but had natural talent and taught himself.  His passion for his art knew no bounds.  He would rather starve than forsake his calling.  At times, he nearly did.  I would give him money, but he always made sure he did something in return.  Any idea of a picture, any concept I had of a drawing he gladly did.  He gave as much as he received, probably more.  He did drawings of me as the Crusader he loved, back against the wall, bloodied but not defeated.  I asked him to do it after a trying day at work and it hangs on my wall in my office now.  He did Christmas cards with all the cars I owned over the years,  Anything that I asked, he did and did well.  I had so many panels he’d made that I gave a number of them back to him to sell.  Sadly, he entrusted them for consignment sale to Jim Van Hise who was, at best, very tardy on payments and who is now selling Lonnie’s artwork for which he never paid Lonnie a dime.  DO NOT BUY THESE ON eBay!!  If you love his work, I have his best pieces in my collection.  I will make copies of ones I have and have you send the money to a charity he appreciated in his honor.  I will only take the cost of reproduction and furnish proof of that amount.  Contact me if you are interested.

Star Wars tribute,  Obi-wan, are you there?

Star Wars tribute, Obi-wan, are you there?

Over the years, Lonnie spent time with us at our home.  I like to feel that we became the family he never had.  When he came up to Lake Arrowhead for our annual Christmas party, he participated in the video-taping we did of spoofed commercials.  He taped voice impersonations of John Wayne, Obi-wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness), Humphrey Bogart and Alfred the Batman’s butler for our answering machine.  He got to see snow for the first time at our house.  His R2-D2 snowman sculpture was exquisite.   When my family and I moved to the Isle of Man, my sister and her husband had a farewell party.  It was a nostalgia theme and everyone participated in lip-syncing to a Moldie Oldie.  I have a video recording of Lonnie mouthing the soprano solo of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” with his group.  I still laugh.

Typical cars how caracature

Typical car show caricature of me and my T-Bird

After we moved overseas, things did not go well for Lonnie.  He had his demons, mainly drink and tobacco. Drink cost him his place to stay and maybe along with his diet, his life in the long run.  But he did conquer alcoholism after becoming a Christian, totally abstaining.  However, the long-term effects might have caused his diabetes.  Tobacco kept its hold on him as long as I knew him, but at least he did not die of lung cancer.  After we moved back stateside, we had him come up to visit us for the Roamin Angel car shows in September.  It gave him a sense of validation to hear the praise for the drawings he did.  For several years, it was a vacation for him.  The only ones he ever really had.  But it didn’t last.

Lonnie doing waht he loved most at the 2003 Roamin Angel car show: creating his art.

Lonnie doing what he loved most at the 2003 Roamin Angel car show: creating his art.

Lonnie, bested by ill health and infection, ended up in an extended care facility.  I watched as he deteriorated, finally ending up in a motorized wheelchair.  Yet his mind and his talent remained alive.  I visited him when I was in SoCal, taking him to breakfast.  He relished the real eggs, sausage and hash-browns that he did not get “inside.” He talked about the art he did for people who lived with him or cared for him, oft times for little or nothing.  He taught kids how to draw, calling them his students.  His goal was to inspire them with the same love of drawing that he had.  And he did, a real success for him.  Money was never the reason for his drawing, but rather the love of creating.  Greed was unknown to Lonnie.


The last Christmas Card Lonnie drew for me.

“Merry Christmas, Santa.  We thought one Moldie Oldie deserved another!”  The last Christmas card Lonnie drew for me.

I was in France when I got a message on my home phone to call the facility where he lived.  Because the facility only had my home phone, they had been trying to get me for a couple of days before I retrieved the messages.  Lonnie had died on October 27th after an operation to remove one of his feet because of infection.  Having been out of the country, I never knew he was going into the hospital.  I was the only person Lonnie had given any authority to for his affairs and they did not know what to do with his meager belongings.  Linda Gutman, a kind lady from his church, handled everything for me, even though she had not known him that well.  Lonnie is gone, but will never be forgotten.  People who have his art will see him whenever that look at his drawings.  Every time I sit in my office, working on my computer and every time I walk through the pool room, I remember him.  While he never achieved greatness in the eyes of the world, he did in mine.  And he was a good friend.  Merry Christmas, Lonnie.




Alice in Wonderland

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland A early edition

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
An early edition

This is Alice’s 150th birthday and she certainly doesn’t show her age.  You’d never believe she’s a day over 100.  Like the brainy Athena from the skull of Zeus, Alice sprang from the imagination of  Lewis Carroll.  While oft mistakenly considered merely children’s books, both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (shortened to Alice in Wonderland) and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Saw There (shortened to Through the Looking Glass) are not simplistic.  True, they can be taken on the children’s level, where they are amusing and entertaining.  Queen Victoria enjoyed Alice so much that she sent for all Lewis Carroll’s other books and was surprised to receive mathematics treatises.  You see, Lewis Carroll, the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, was an Oxford don of mathematics.  Droll, erudite wit permeated both books.  Even his pen name is a reversal of the Latin translation of his first and middle names.  Originally, he planned to use an anagram of them, Edgar Cuthwellis, but his publisher thankfully nixed that idea.  So Charles translated his names to Carolus Ludovicus, then swapped them around and Anglicized them to Lewis Carroll.  Simple, eh?

Alice Liddell at 8 years old July 1860

Alice Liddell at 8 years old
July 1860

Although books have been written about why he penned Alice’s tales and what then happened, the short version is that the bachelor don took the  three daughters of his friend and college dean, Henry George Liddell, out rowing on July 4th, 1862.  Ten-year old Alice, the middle child, begged him to tell them a story.  He spun a fanciful tale about a young girl named Alice who followed a white rabbit down a hole to Wonderland.  At Alice’s urging, he put it on paper.  The working title was Alice’s Adventures Under Ground.  Fortunately, Carroll was persuaded to change it because the book might be thought to have something to do with mining, but he did give a handwritten copy with that title to Alice in 1863.  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published on November 26th, 1865.  While Dodgson expected to sell about 400 books, it was soon a runaway hit.  It continues to have many incarnations, including ones by Disney, Depp and even a porno version.  Alice’s tales have become a mainstay of children’s (and adult) fiction.

Humpty Dumpty sitting on a wall

Humpty Dumpty sitting on a wall before the fall

All this is nice, but so what?  It doesn’t make these books of enduring quality or Mensa standing.  Although Dodgson was a mathematician, there are no profound formulas or theorems of great repute in the two books.  Instead, it is the way he uses the English language, the banter and brilliance, the puns and portmanteaus that stand the test of time.  Consider that scrambled egghead, Humpty Dumpty, who uses “glory” to describe a “nice knock-down argument,” in Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Saw There.  It sounds like nonsense, right?  Yet it had to do with a linguistic debate as to whether words have an intrinsic meaning that is inbuilt and inherent or whether they can be defined or redefined at will.  When Carroll wrote the books, there was a strong school of linguistic thought that words had an intrinsic meaning.  Few now follow that school and the other view seems to be what we now follow.  “Cool” has nothing to do with temperature, but with popular acceptance.  “Sweet” doesn’t describe the sugar content of a food, but means “cool.”  “Ill” doesn’t mean sick, but “cool” or “sweet.”  Who knows what the newest and latest word will be tomorrow.  Since traditional dictionaries cannot keep pace with this rapid “evolution,” there are even “urban dictionaries” to help you keep up on this ever-changing patois of the youth culture, since yesterday’s youth are today’s AARP.  The upshot, it seems, is that Humpty was right when he said, “When I use a word, . . . it means just what I chose it to mean.”   An existential etymology.  Meaning of words do change over time, although that has been greatly accelerated in the last few decades.  Not exactly the stuff of a children’s book.

Jabberwocky. The stuff that fantasy is made of.

The stuff that fantasy is made of.

Another bit of linguistic wit is the poem “Jabberwocky,” which I can still stumble through  by memory to this day.  Again, it is from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Saw There and found by Alice in a book.  It is a masterpiece of pun and portmanteau words.  In fact, Carroll first coined that phrase for “two meanings packed up into one word.”   A portmanteau is a small suitcase with two equal compartments (ever hear of one now?), so Carroll used it to describe two words combined into one with elements of both.  Who does not understand that a motel is a motorists hotel?  Or that a brunch is a combination of breakfast and lunch?  Even the air many breathe has long been smog, or smoke and fog.  But the list keeps growing, with Labradoodle (Labrador Retriever/poodle mix) and frappuccino (frappe/cappuccino blend) now common parlance.  But grue as green and blue?   Chuggers from charity and muggers, meaning people who accost you for contributions for their favorite cause?  To me, chuggers were guys who downed mugs of beer quickly.  But I’m obviously dated.   I could go on, but there are far too many to list here.  And all this came from Lewis Carroll.  Consider this poem, which I quote in full because I like it and it’s my blog.  Hmmm.  My web log?


’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
      The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
      The frumious Bandersnatch!”
He took his vorpal sword in hand;
      Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree
      And stood awhile in thought.
And, as in uffish thought he stood,
      The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
      And burbled as it came!
One, two! One, two! And through and through
      The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
      He went galumphing back.
“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
      Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
      He chortled in his joy.
’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.
While it may seem like nonsense words, Carroll had specific meanings in mind for some of them, which he has Humpty Dumpty explain.  Some are portmanteau words, some are variations or derivations of normal words and some are whimsys.  Here is Humpty’s explanations.
  • “Brillig”: four o’clock in the afternoon — the time when you begin broiling things for dinner.
  • “Slithy”: lithe and slimy. ‘Lithe’ is the same as ‘active’.
  • “Toves”: curious creatures that are something like badgers, something like lizards, and something like corkscrews. They make their nests under sun-dials and live on cheese.
  • “To gyre”: to go round and round like a gyroscope.
  • “To gimble”: to make holes like a gimblet.
  • “Wabe”: the grass-plot round a sun-dial. It is called like that because it goes a long way before it, and a long way behind it. And a long way beyond it on each side.
  • “Mimsy”: flimsy and miserable
  • “Borogove”: a thin shabby-looking bird with its feathers sticking out all round; something like a live mop.
  • “Mome rath”: a ‘rath’ is a sort of green pig. Humpty Dumpty is not certain about the meaning of ‘mome’, but thinks it’s short for “from home”; meaning that they’d lost their way.
  • “To outgrabe”: ‘outgribing’ is something between bellowing and whistling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle.

The question I posit is that, even without an explanation of the words, do you understand the action, the basic concept?  The words bring images to mind, perhaps a little different for each reader.  Vorpal sword.  Manxome foe.  Uffish thought.  Snicker-snack.  Beamish boy.  You get a feeling for the intent without fully understanding the meaning.  It is a masterful stroke of lexical lightheartedness.

Cheshire Cat Pheline Philosopher or Feline Filosofer?

Cheshire Cat
Pheline Philosopher or
Feline Filosofer?

I tend to menander (mentally wander) a bit, so I will close with another favorite of mine, the Cheshire cat from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  He explains to Alice why he is mad.

“And how do you know that you’re mad?”    “To begin with,” said the Cat, “a dog’s not mad. You grant that?”                                   I suppose so, said Alice.                        “Well then,” the Cat went on, “you see a dog growls when it’s angry, and wags its tail when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry. Therefore I’m mad.”

In other words, madness (insanity, not anger) is going against expected behavior, not diminished mental capabilities.  By such a standard, I am happily mad. When Alice asks him which road to take, he gives her another delightfully illogically logical answer that pretty much sums up the way many live their lives.

Alice asked the Cheshire Cat, who was sitting in a tree, “What road do I take?”
The cat asked, “Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t know,” Alice answered.
“Then,” said the cat, “it really doesn’t matter, does it?”

Try explaining these concepts to an eight-year-old.  Yet an eight-year-old can enjoy Alice’s adventures without worrying about deeper meanings.  That is the genius of Lewis Carroll.  Happy birthday, Alice.  You look marvetastic.


Suddenly Royal, or Suddenly Stupid

Well, here we go again.  In the latest episode, “King” David, or Drew, talked many times about wanting to move to the Isle of Man permanently and getting a job driving taxi and/or being on the radio.  It is pure bunk.  I moved there with my family in 1994.  At the time, I had the personal recommendation of the British Consul and still had to write what was, in effect, an essay explaining why it would be good for the Isle to let me in.  I had heard that it was even more difficult to be admitted now, so I checked it out.

Isle of Man 1994 Yearbook, which KD obviously never read.

Isle of Man 1994 Yearbook, which KD obviously never read.

The only chance KD has is General Migrant, since his claim of kinship is not a grandparent, which is the most distant relative allowed for claiming kinship.  According to the official Isle of Man government site (not KD’s “official” site), requirements for “indefinite leave to remain” on the Isle under General Migrant are (click here):

The applicant must have spent a continuous period of 5 years lawfully in the Isle of Man, of which the most recent period must have been spent with leave as a Tier 1 (General) Migrant, in any combination of the following categories:
(i) as a Tier 1 (General) Migrant,
(ii) as a Highly skilled Migrant,
(iii) as a Work Permit Holder,
(iv) [Not used],
(v) [Not used],
(vi) as a Writer, Composer or Artist,
(vii) as a Tier 2 (General) Migrant, a Tier 2 (Minister of Religion) Migrant or a Tier 2 (Sportsperson) Migrant, or
(viii) as a Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) Migrant

Work permit holders don’t include taxi drivers or “radio personalities,” obviously, so what are his chances of getting a temporary “right to remain” under that category and hanging in for 5 years to make it permanent?  Since the changes to the law in 2010, they are nil.  Here’s what it says:                                                                                                            Tier 1 (General) Migrants                                                                                                   This route is now closed except for indefinite leave to remain applications.
That means that unless he was already there as a General Migrant in 2010 when the law was changed, that road onto the Isle is closed to him.  Thank God.

Perhaps KD might be able to hold a job for 30-48 days, but that’s it.  So it’s all a joke, just like KD.  No immigration, no job.  It looks like he didn’t check it out, TLC didn’t check it out or they both ignored the laws.  Most likely, there was no intention of KD and family moving to the IOM, just making a little “Reality TV” drama.A real knighting by a king.

Then came KD”s plan for an “investiture” of “knights,” an incredible farce.  Lord K thought it was a good idea.  Since he bought his title and KD has previously tried to sell “knighthoods” as “King of Mann” for 40,000 pounds, perhaps he thought he would get a kick-back for titles sold.  But KD had a hard time giving them away.  Stu Peters, a personality on Manx Radio accepted, possibly taking the mick out (pulling the leg) of KD, because it would make an interesting radio program.  Mol Holmes, the kind fellow who loaned KD a bathtub for the Castletown Tin Bath Race, refused.  Typically a Manxman who says much with few words, he merely stated, “That’s pushing it a bit.”  But “Push” is KD’s middle name.  Or one of them.  I have a few more I could add.

After a ludicrous rehearsal at the ruins of Peel Castle (not named in the show), he decides to ask his “royal etiquette expert,” Lady Cruella, I mean Lady C, if he should go through with it.  For once, I agreed with her.  “That is the official act of an acknowledged monarchy,” she told him.  “You are not an acknowledged monarch.  You are a claimant.  No phony investitures.”  The whale started to blubber.  “I don’t want to be an embarrassment,” he said.  WHAT!  That’s all he is.  Without embarrassment, he wouldn’t exist.  Lady C notes that European men don’t break into tears so easily.  It should be noted that neither to American men with cajones.

You're live on Manx Radio!

You’re live on Manx Radio!

I did love when Stu Peters interviewed him on Manx Radio.  Promised knighthood or not, the velvet glove was off the mailed fist.  As KD sat, doing some spastic boogie with his hands before the interview, he bragged about not preparing.  It was soon obvious.  Stu stated that the House of Keys had categorically rejected KD’s claim, then asked KD three things he would do as king, if they suddenly did an about-face.  KD was like a deer in the headlights, sitting there with a typically stupid look on his face and saying nothing.  Finally, Stu threw him a bone, asking if he would reduce income taxes.  KD took the bait and said he would reduce them.  Guess what?  the Isle of Man is a tax haven, having taxes far lower than the UK or Ireland, and the USA.  With a maximum rate or 20% and no capital gains or inheritance taxes, many rich seek to live there for that reason.  But KD was too stupid to even check out such basics about his “kingdom.”  His closing statements were well-considered to win friends and influence people, especially the Manx.  “I am the king.  That’s a fact,” he pronounced on air.  “You’d better get used to it.  I’m the king and I’m here to stay.”  Afterwards, when talking with his wife, he said he thought the interview went okay.  Another case of a grand delusion.

KD continued to display lack of class, and poor taste to the end of the episode.  When it came to taking his wife out for a special night on the town, what did KD and his wife wear?  Jeans.  While America is more casual in attire than the Isle of Man, we are not all slobs.  When we lived on the Isle and went to a quality restaurant, I wore a coat and tie.  And not with jeans.  Maybe he was taking Pam to that Scottish restaurant in Douglas: McDonald’s.  Probably splurged and bought her a Big Mac.  And three for himself, to maintain his impressive physique.  Or should that be Himself?

In closing, let me quote from other sources on the Net and comment.

According to Fox News:  Howe filed a claim with Her Majesty’s Stationary Office on Dec. 20, 2006, they published the claim in Queen Elizabeth II’s paper of record, the London Gazette, and after no one objected, they sent him a crown, robe and anointing spoon for the ceremony, he said. “It kind of blew up into something big,” Howe said. “I’m certainly not challenging the Queen’s authority or sovereignty over the island. I haven’t amassed an army or anything like that to invade, so I’m certainly not a threat at all.”

I'm your king.  Resistance is futile.

I’m your king. Resistance is futile.

Although I’ve already discussed why no one responded, who the heck sent him “a crown, a robe and an anointing spoon?”  I will go out on a limb here and definitely state it wasn’t the Queen.  As to KD not “amassing an army,” I’d love to see him and any idiots he might garner to invade the Isle go up against the United Kingdom Special Forces.   Really.  I’d love to see it.  Actually, the Manx wouldn’t need any help from the UK to kick his “royal” butt.

According to TLC, KD got an invitation to the Duke and Duchess’s royal wedding.  Why hasn’t he shown it anywhere, including on his official website (Click here)?  Smoke and mirrors, smoke and mirrors.

Next time I’m going to address KD’s ties to The Sovereign Magistral Order of the Temple of Solomon.  One good joke deserves another.  Or, to paraphrase the quote attributed to Admiral Farragut, “History and facts be damned, full speed ahead.”

King of Mann

Since my last entry, I watched the latest Suddenly Royal episode and had to fire another salvo.  His Royal Buffooness has kept up the pace, I’ll say that.  First he smokes the clutch on a motorhome he rents in what looks like the first few miles.  The motorhome looked fairly new, so the clutch would have been, too.  He should have let his wife drive if he’s so incompetent with a manual transmission.  I wonder who has to pay for repairs.  That, however, was not what really irritated me.  The two things that got to me were the TT Races and King Orry.

“King” Dave’s “royal secretary” Lord Kiss-up, I mean Kevin, tells KD (my new designation for “King” Dave) that he will have entry to the VIP hospitality suite for the hoi polloi because of his status.  Upon arrival, Lord K tells KD that it fell through at the last minute, hinting that it was a plot against his kingship.  KD notes a security person that would keep him out.  Bull.  Anyone can get into the VIP suite who buys the VIP Club package.  (Click here for the one for the race KD went to)  Either Lord K was too cheap to buy the ticket, they were sold out or TLC thought it would be dramatic.  Perhaps all three.  As a consolation, KD gets to ride in a car with a professional stunt driver at high speed around the TT course.  Anyone can do that when the races aren’t being run for the day and, with no speed limits unless posted, it’s legal to go as fast as you want in sections.  I drove it in my ’63 Vette at some pretty high speeds when I lived there, so I know.  Since the Manx have a rigorous driver’s test (17% pass rate, including retests, when I took mine and passed on the first go) and traffic laws (there will always be a ticket for an accident, since someone was driving unsafely), they have surprisingly few accidents.  Notice that KD didn’t drive.  I guess TLC learned his competency with the motorhome incident.  Also notice he did not go with a TT racer.  They have sidecar racers, but they didn’t have KD ride on one of those bikes, probably for the same reason.

King Orry

King Orry

Then came KD’s trip to King Orry’s grave to honor his ancestor.  His ancestor?  I thought he was related to an English Earl, not a Celtic-Norse king.  And a semi-legendary one at that.  I wonder how he did that genealogy.  Then KD identifies King Orry as Godred Haroldson (as is speculated by a few historians), but A.W. Moore, in his authoritative A History of the Isle of Man, does not.  I suppose a king doesn’t need to read the history of his kingdom any more than he needs to prove his lineage.  Since KD can claim to be descended from a legendary king without proof, I can now reveal that I am descended from King Arthur and want my kingdom, too.  Prove I’m wrong.

Queen Elizabeth II, "nobility within the Royal House of Mann" according to "King" David

Queen Elizabeth II is “nobility within the Royal House of Mann” according to “King” David

However, what really frosted my corn flakes was when I stumbled upon his website,   It deserves a full broadside.  Here’s a direct quote: The dynastic Royal House of Mann has legalized status and recognition as an autonomous part of the United Kingdom constitutional monarchy system, by royal assent and proclamation of Queen Elizabeth II in 2007, having binding effect by force of law. It was legalized as the “Independent Kingdom of Mann”, establishing and confirming it as a separate historical institution with its own sovereignty, that predates the UK system.   Let’s study this claim.  First, when did the Queen give royal assent and proclamation about KD’s claim?  He posted it in the London Gazette (not owned by the Queen, as stated in the show) and no one responded.  That doesn’t make it a legitimate claim.  The Queen doesn’t create monarchies and if she responded to every wack job that made claims of royalty, nobility, etc., it would lend them a legitimacy that they don’t have.  Better to ignore the little pests and let them fade away, as so many do.  There is no “binding force of law” here.  Where did KD come up with that?  It surely wasn’t from the Manx people.  The House of Keys (Manx elected parliament) has confirmed that the Queen is the Lord of Man and that there is no king!  For him to claim to be king is to go against the will of the very people he claims kingship over.  Perhaps the Manx need to handle this unwanted king the way the French handled Louis XVI.  He also mentions that the Kingdom of Mann predates the UK (United Kingdom).  So what?  The kingdoms of Scotland, Ireland and Wales also did.  That has nothing to do with anything.  The Isle of Man is not and never was a part of the UK, but is a Crown Dependency.  It has no more ever been a part of the UK than the USA was.  This paragraph shows that KD doesn’t even know the governmental status of the Isle of which he claims to be king.  I could go on about this joke of a website, but suffice it to say it is all as ignorant as that example paragraph.

One parting shot at the website is an official-looking UN logo and text on the right side that says, “The Dynastic Royal House of HRH Prince David, King of Mann, is recognized and supported by United Nations (UN) Non Governmental Organizations (NGO)”  The NGO listings include organizations like Baha’i International Community, The Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and World Young Women’s Christian Association, to name just a few, but has nothing to do with governments (as noted in its name).  So what that has to do with KD’s claim, I have no idea.  However, I went to the list and The Dynastic Royal House of HRH Prince David, King of Mann was not on it!  Click here to see for yourself.  Making false claims is not nice.  But then, that seems the modus operandi of KD.  I suppose he never expected to have anyone actually check him out.



Suddenly Royal

Coat of arms of the Isle of Man

Coat of arms of the Isle of Man                    “However you throw me, I will stand”

When my wife told me she’d recorded a new program on the grossly misnamed The Learning Channel (TLC) entitled Suddenly Royal about an American who is trying to claim his title as the King of Man, I was appalled.  We had lived there for five years and I did my Masters’ thesis about the Isle of Man during the 17th century and read a lot of Manx history.  I knew his claim was rubbish, at best.  However, we decided to watch it for the scenery of a place that was near and dear to our hearts.  Sadly, so far we’ve seen too much of “King” David “Drew” Howe and far too little scenery.

Bonnie Prince Charlie A Pretender With A Real Claim

Bonnie Prince Charlie
A Pretender With A Real Claim

So, you may have seen King Ralph and think it’s a similar case, a long-lost relative inherits the throne when everyone else suddenly kicks the bucket.  Not so.  Drew had his ancestry done and found out that he is the direct line descendant of Lord Thomas Stanley, the last man to hold the title of King of Man.  I’m assuming that’s what he found, but no proof of this has ever been provided.  I’m reminded of “Prince” Michael Stewart, who I met in 1990.  He was a pretender (unproven claimant) to the throne of Scotland, saying that he was descended from an unrecorded, yet legitimate, son of Bonnie Prince Charlie.  He refused to show me his proof, saying the Queen didn’t have to prove her claim.  Ever hear of him?  I thought not.  Last I knew, he was still living in a one-room apartment in Edinburgh.  Maybe I’ll tell more of his story another time.

Drew was an “auto-service manager” living in Frederick, MD, when he found out about his “royalty.”  He posted an official claim to be the King of Man in the London Gazette in 2007 and, because no one protested, it’s official now.  Or so he says.  “Prince” Michael Stewart did the same thing decades ago.  Since he is now universally recognized the King of Scotland, that must work.  Right.  I’m thinking of posting a notice there that I’m the King of Sky.  I mean Skye.  Medialife MagazineOne definition of the word “pretender” is “a person who pretends.”  Another is “a claimant to a throne.”   On the show, he’s a pretender in the first sense.  He pretends to believe that his claim isn’t silly and that he’s going to the island not because he’s being paid to by the TV show but because he’s trying to press his claim.  He and his wife, Pam, and their 12-year-old daughter, Grace, pretend that the things they do and the things that happen to them aren’t set up for the cameras.  Drew says, “A couple days ago, the local paper on the Isle of Man came out attacking me.”

Hmmm.  I wonder how’d I’d feel about someone claiming ownership of all of California because of a Spanish land grant?

World Tin Bath Championship in Castletown

World Tin Bath Championship, Castletown            Photo by BBC News

Drew sets off to win the hearts of the Manx people by entering the Isle of Man Tin Bathtub Race in Castletown.  Organizer David Collister described it as, “People just like to have fun and the spectators come because they like to see people get wet and they like to see people sink.  It’s two hours of family fun and slapstick entertainment involving household tin baths that your granny will have used in front of the fire.”  Drew dresses in a clownish king costume and participates.  I guess that, since the Queen did not, that makes him a winner.  Or a wiener.  Definitely a pretender in the first sense.

If “King” Drew wanted to participate in an event that would gain the respect of the Manx people, he should try the long-running, world-famous TT Motorcycle Road Race.  There’s nothing slapstick about it and it takes real cajones to ride in it.  Click here to find out why.

However, he is advised on how to be the new “King of Man” by two upstanding members of the British nobility and long term Manx residents: Lady Colin Campbell and Lord Kevin Couling.  Well, maybe not.  First neither of them live on the Isle of Man.  Secondly, there is a matter of character.  You be the judge.

In spite of her name, Lady Colin Campbell is not Scottish.  Lady Colin Campbell, a.k.a. Lady Poison Pen, was previously Georgia Ziadie.  She was born in Jamaica to a Lebanese father and English, Irish, Portuguese and Spanish mother.  She had a terrible childhood and her marriage to Lord Colin Campbell, younger brother of the Duke of Argyll, was just as bad.  It lasted fourteen months and she divorced him, claiming abuse and that he was a drunken addict.  Yet, she continues using his name forty years later.  Why?  Perhaps because it does give her more credibility as a writer of exposés of the Royals, from whence comes the Lady Poison Pen title.

According to the Daily MailWe are talking in the wake of a vociferous outcry in the media this week at the salacious and utterly unsubstantiated allegations in her new book The Untold Life Of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.
If she doesn’t draw definitive conclusions in the book, she does hold all manner of gossip up to the light for examination.
For one thing, she suggests that the Queen Mother — as well as her younger brother David — was the natural child of her father and the family cook, Marguerite Rodiere, because her mother was too fragile to have another baby after a nervous breakdown following the death of one of her older children.
The second bombshell is that the present Queen and her late sister Princess Margaret were conceived by artificial insemination, because their mother didn’t like sex . . . .
She points out in her book that the artificial insemination story has been doing the rounds as a rumour in some circles for years (which is certainly true) and that she had it ‘from several sources’.
Which, naturally, doesn’t mean it’s true.  And, happily for her, since all the players are now dead, no one can prove the point one way or the other.
There is no doubt that she loves to shock and can be horribly poisonous. Indeed, much of what Lady Colin says should, I suspect, be taken with a large pinch of salt.

No doubt, she sees “KIng” Drew as a way to get more publicity for her books, as well as a paycheck from TLC.  But surely the soft-spoken Lord Kevin Couling, who Drew said, “works with a lot of royal families,” is far better.  Right?  I’ll let the press describe him and his companion.  Mrs. Victoria Ayling.

According to the Mail on Sunday: Victoria Ayling, a high-profile ‘trusted ally’ of UKIP leader Nigel Farage, joined the openly racist party and attended its rallies as a student, according to her former husband, a friend and even her own mother.
A Mail on Sunday investigation has also discovered Mrs Ayling is being investigated by police after allegedly making abusive comments about her former husband – who is a transvestite.
The Mail on Sunday can also reveal that Mrs Ayling and her new partner, Lord Kevin Couling – who purchased his title, the 64th Lord of Little Neasden (my emphasis)– are also being investigated by police for an alleged hate crime against Mr Ayling.

But does “Lord” Kevin agree with Mrs. Ayling’s politics?  Spiegel online quotes him:
“Nowadays, you almost have to be ashamed to be British,” says her (Mrs Ayling) partner, Kevin Couling.  In school, children learn a great deal about the Holocaust and the women’s suffrage movement, he says, but not much about the country’s history. “They can’t even name the British kings.”  Besides, says Couling, Polish and Latvian immigrants are taking away jobs in the asparagus fields.

I feel sorry for all those native-born British who lost their asparagus-picking jobs to a bunch of Slavs.  But Kevin came to England from New Zealand, bought his title, and is taking a paycheck from TLC that could have gone to a native-born British lord, so maybe he shouldn’t speak.  According to The Armorial Register Limited, “Lord” Kevin is “Kevin Derek Couling, Lord of the Manor of Little Neston,” a title tied to the estate rather than hereditary.  Don’t look for famous lords and ladies in that registry, they’re not there.  Furthermore, Kevin registered his coat of arms in Serbia!  Cheaper, I’m sure, and maybe he got a few Serbs in to help pick his asparagus.

Finally, here is a caveat posted on the Armorial Registry website that should tell you who registers their arms there: The Armorial Register Limited is aware that at the present time proving the validity of the ownership of a manor and its associated right to be known as “Lord of the Manor of” is fraught with difficulty.  There are an ever growing number of businesses on the Internet only too willing to satisfy a seemingly endless consumer demand for “titles” and it seems that Manors and the right of their owners to be known as Lords have become the easiest target for less than scrupulous dealers. Our best advice is Caveat emptor “Let the buyer beware”.

Now that you have the cut of “King” Drew’s advisers, what about any validity of his claim?  Could he be king?  No.  In spite of what was said on the show, the Stanleys were the LAST kings of Mann, not the first.  Haraldr Óláfsson termed himself King of Mann and the Isles in 1237 and at least six other rulers after that held that title before the Stanleys.  Thomas Stanley made the ruler of Man the Lord of Mann instead of the King of Mann in 1504.  That cannot be changed.  The Isle of Man was sold to the Crown by the Duke of Atholl in 1765.  It doesn’t matter who anyone is descended from, the Queen is also the Lord of Man now.  Any Manx schoolchild knows this.  Of course, you have to be bright enough to read a little history.

House of Keys Logo - Green on White

House of Keys Logo

Lastly, notice that “King” Drew pushes his claim with no one who has authority on the Isle.  To date, no MHK (Member of the House of Keys, the Manx parliament) has been on the show.  No Deemster, or judge, has chatted with him.  His Excellency Lieutenant Governor Adam Wood has not received him at Government House (as I was received by His Excellency Sir Timothy Daunt while I lived there).  Instead, he tries to push his claim with a few locals in pubs and with people who do not have any authority.  When the “King” met with the Curreys, grandmother Heather, son Richard and grandson Cosmo, they gave him the go-ahead to pursue his claim.  “King” Drew acted like they were his only possible rivals.  I was puzzled.  Who were they?  The short answer: no one who had any say in the matter.  The long answer is below, but feel free to skip it.  Unless you are really into history.  I’d love it if you read it, since it took a lot to dig all this up.  I will understand if you don’t.

James Stanley- 10th Earl Of Derby

James Stanley-                       10th Earl Of Derby

Under the Stanleys, the title Lord Strange (an English title) was given to the son of the Earl of Derby until he inherited the earldom.  When James Stanley, 10th Earl of Derby, died in 1736 “without issue,” the title of Lord Strange and its barony, along with the Isle of Man, went to John Murray, 2nd Duke of Atholl, through the Stanley female line.  Since the earldom had to go only through the male line, it went to a distant cousin.  At the death of the 9th Duke of Atholl and 14th Baron (or Lord) Strange, James Thomas Stewart-Murray, in 1957, the title of Lord Strange and the Barony of Strange went into abeyance.  Charlotte Murray, the third oldest daughter of the 4th Duke married Admiral Sir Alan Drummond.  They had a son, John.  John had a son, Malcolm.  Malcolm had a son, John, who petitioned to regain and received the title of 15th Lord Strange from the Queen in 1965, but no land came with the title.  The title of 17th Lord Strange is currently held by Adam Drummond, who is one of five children and has two healthy children of his own.  Interestingly enough, he lives in a small cottage next to the castle that his mother, Baroness Strange, left with all her money to his youngest sister.  That’s a story that would be interesting to pursue, but not here.  The 15th Lord Strange’s second daughter is Heather, who married Lt. Andrew Currey.  Her son is Robert.  His son is Cosmo.  The chances of Cosmo becoming Lord Strange are little better than mine of winning the lottery.  And I never buy any tickets.  None of them have any claim on the kingship, lordship or any other title regarding the Isle of Man.

What is the opinion of the Manx about their “King?”  According to The Guardian: On Isle of Man websites, residents’ comments range from bewilderment to genuine concern. Mick, from Douglas, wrote: “What started out as an interesting and amusing story of a seemingly self-delusional American has now turned into something quite serious, as the monetary amounts stated are huge. Surely the authorities must intervene.” Kim wrote: “King David- get over yourself! You are NOT our King – you will never be our King. If you’ve got any respect at all you will give up this silly claim.”

So why has “King” Drew continued on this idiotic quest for seven years?  He claims it’s for his daughter, but the kid seems bright enough not to really believe his delusions.  So, is he deluded, a raving lunatic or something else?  It wasn’t until TLC started pumping money into this that he flew to the Isle.  Shrewd.  He and his family are only there for six weeks.  Wise.  Then, according to Medialife Magazine, “This may all seem harmless, but that same Telegraph story alleges that Drew was involved with a company that was selling supposed noble titles for as much as 90,000 British pounds (my emphasis). This isn’t mentioned in the premiere.”  He’s been doing this since 2007.  According to IOM Today:. . .  Noble Titles company’s website has been altered to include King David’s title and photograph. Among titles available are a dukedom for 90,000 or you can become a marquess for 80,000. The title of count will set you back 70,000 a countess 60,000 and 50,000 to become a viscount. The website states all proceeds will go to the Malawi Missions Project Charity by instruction of the King of Mann, excluding ‘investiture, regalia and administration costs’.  Uh, greedy? As backers of Hollywood movies have often learned, “costs” can eat up every invested dollar.  Or pound.  So what exactly is King Ralph . .. uh, Drew . . . uh, David?  I’ll let you be the judge.  If you can stomach the show enough to watch it for the spectacular scenery.  And if it survives.  Again, according to Medialife Magazine, “The true story behind ‘Suddenly Royal’ might be funny, or dramatic, or tawdry, but the creators of the show seem to have neither the talent nor the intention to tell it.”

In closing, why do I care enough to write this?  Because I love the Isle of Man and had many friends there who thought Americans were decent people.  If any of the Manx watch Suddenly Royal, their opinion of us will be that we are rude, crude and ignorant.  “King” Drew slurping his soup from his spoon and tucking his napkin under his chin?  Sure, I know it was orchestrated, with a slim, attractive wife accepting the behavior of her tub-of-lard husband, but “King” Drew went right along with it.  The Isle of Man can’t hate the publicity they’re getting from the show, but they also can’t have gained any respect for Americans.  We are buffoons of our own making.  Thank you, Drew, and TLC for harming the image of Americans in the eyes of the Manx, the British and the European viewers.  Your show is truly un-American.  As Kim on the Isle of Man said so well, my message to Drew is, “If you’ve got any respect at all you will give up this silly claim.”






Celtic Kingdom of Dal Riata

My next book, Three Legs of the Cauldron, will be out by Christmas.  It is a 6th century Celtic saga of Northeastern Ireland and Western Scotland, the kingdom of Dal Riata.  Here is a little history lesson about that little-known place and time.  This is a tad long, so consider it, “Everything you wanted to know about Dal Riata, but were afraid to ask.  And then some.”  Feel free to read it over a couple of days.  Or weeks.

You say Dal Riada, or Dalriata, or Dalriada, I say Dal Riata.
As with most Gaelic words, there is no authoritative spelling of the kingdom’s name.  Here, I will use Dal Riata, like I did in in my book.


Dal Riada

Dal Riada

Dal Riata was a kingdom that encompassed part of the current County Antrim in Northern Ireland and stretched across the northern part of the Irish Sea to Scotland’s Kintyre Peninsula (Argyll) and islands in the Inner Hebrides. Although initially it only had the major islands of Islay and Jura, at its zenith in the late 6th and early 7th centuries it expanded to all the Inner Hebrides, including Mull and Arran as well as Skye and even the Isle of Man, although it could not always hold those last two.  It was a coastal kingdom, never conquering and holding any inland regions of Scotland and slowly declined until united with Pictish lands to become the kingdom of Alba, then Scotland.  Its Irish lands were lost in the mid-seventh century, after the Battle of Mag Rath in 637, although the Dal Riatans seem to have continued to fight in Irish wars alongside their allies, the Ui Neills, until the mid-eighth century.

Dal Riata consisted mainly of islands and coastal regions.  The land was rocky, hilly to mountainous, and windy- not great farmland.

The origins of the kingdom of Dal Riata are lost to us.  It happened before recorded history, so all our records were written, at best, a couple hundred years later. It’s as though no one had written what happened in the early 1800’s or before in American history and we had to rely on the stories handed down through the generations.  While some of it might be told accurately, no doubt some would be forgotten, added on to for the sake of a good story or remembered differently by different sources.  Can you imagine how the American Revolution might be portrayed if all that survived were accounts handed down over the years by Tories and not written until now?

When did the Irish (or Scotti, as the Romans called them) first settle in Scotland?  That’s a matter of continued debate.

1. Some think it started in the 3rd century.  In 365 AD, the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellus wrote of Picti and Scotti as raiders of Britannia.  But were the Scotti raiding from Ireland or from Scotland?

2. Some think it was later when Dal Riata was settled, perhaps not long before the Duan Albanach (Song of the Scots) says that King Erc’s sons came to Scotland and moved the kingship there.  However, it was written in the 11th c, so it’s not accepted as historical proof.  Some versions of Senchus Fer nAlban (History of the men of Scotland) also include this.

3. The Venerable Bede wrote that in the late 2nd Century, Cairbre Riada, Son of Conary, King of Ireland, and Grandson of Con of the Hundred Battles, settled on the west coast of Alba.  Dal is Gaelic for place or region, making Dal Riada “Riada’s place” or “region of Riada.”  That might seem likely, but Bede was an Anglo-Saxon who wrote in the early 8th century who also said Ireland was settled by the Spanish.  Some versions of Senchus have a similar tale.

3. We do know some events and people from about 576 A.D. and have a high degree of certainty that Dal Riata was already an established kingdom at that point.

4. A revisionist theory is that the kingdom was not settled by the Irish at all, but a Pictish people that came under the influence linguistically and culturally of the Irish by trade.  This is a theory pushed by Scotophiles who might be a little Hibernophobic.  Or, lovers of things Scottish who might be anti-Irish.

Now you see the problems in trying to know with a high degree of certainty exactly what happened so many years ago.  For the most part, history is made up of opinions and even wishful thinking.  But you can take the opinions, try to sort out the fluff and wishful thinking, and come up with your best theory.  For me, I think Bede makes sense, since it explains the name of Dal Riata itself.  I also think the Duan Albanach explains how the king of Dal Riata came to be in Scotland instead of Ireland.  Until some new, long-forgotten text shows up to prove me wrong, it works for me.

Gaelic Celtic culture, basically the same as Ireland, with cenels, or extended families, being the same as clans.  The customs, laws, political structure, mores and values were Irish.  Brehon Law would have been the standard.

Hand-sown oats and barley were the grain.  The rocky land was difficult to plow, so the yield per acre was low.  The stones removed for cultivation did prove a source of building material for house walls and walls to keep in livestock.  Beef, mutton, goat, pork and fish, including shellfish, mackerel, herring and salmon, were primary protein sources.  Hunting added boar and venison to their diet and gathering brought in wild berries and nuts.  Stone querns survive, so we know they ground their grains for breads, soups and such.  Cooking cauldrons and shards of cooking pottery have also survived.

Clothing and appearance

Leine and Bratt

Leine and Bratt

Although few examples of clothing have survived, we know that wool was the favorite material, which has warmth and a natural water resistance.  A leine or tunic was worn by both sexes, with women’s longer than the men’s.  A cape-like woolen cloak, called a bratt, would be pinned with a brooch.  Men would wear trews, or trousers, in colder weather.  Men wore beards or long mustaches.  Ornate jewelry was worn by both sexes, with armlets, bracelets, torcs and brooches most popular.  Grooming was important and there is evidence of stone and wood bath tubs, warmed by heated stones, as early as 1200 BC.  Men were 5’6″ to 5’9″ and women 5′ to 5’4″.






Many people traveled on foo.  Those who could afford to, went on horseback, using trails rather than roads. Few carts or other wheeled vehicles were used due to terrain and lack of roads.  Being a coastal kingdom, boats were very important. Currachs, boats made of greased or pitch-covered hides over wicker frames, were used for peace-time commerce as well as for transporting warriors.  They had a single, square sail and benches for rowers.  Originally, they seem to have been seven-benchers, but later twenty-two was a standard crew, with ten benches with two oarsmen per bench.


Houses might stand alone or be in small groups, but there were no cities, towns or villages as such.



Round houses were made with a low wall of stone, timber or mud-and-wattle with a steeply pitched thatched roof.  They would normally have one door and no windows. The door often faced the rising sun.  They varied in size with the smallest being about 12 ft. around to the largest at about 70 ft. Most were larger and housed an extended family up to 30 people. Internal dividers would give some privacy. Smoke from the central hearth fire filtered through the thatch, but they would have been smoky inside.  Sometimes sections were set aside for livestock, especially in the winter, so maybe the odor of the fire helped against other odors.



Crannogs were artificial islands built on lakes by using timber pilings, piled lumber and/or stone and dirt rubble as fill.  Planks formed the flooring and a timber round house gave protection.  A wood causeway connected it to the shore.



According to Senchus, Cenel nOengusa had 430 houses, Cenel Loairn had 420 and Cenel nGabrain had 560.  Total population was probably between 7,000 and 8,000.


Celtic Cross

Celtic Cross

If the first settlement was in the 3rd c., Dal Riata was initially pagan, with the same gods the Irish had, and later became Christian.  Colm Cille (St. Columba, the church dove) founded a monastery on Iona, off the coast of the isle of Mull, in the late 6th c.  He was a noble of the powerful Ui Neill’s and is said to have fled there in penance for lives lost in a battle he caused. He is the first person of Christian authority to crown a king in Scotland, that being Aeden in 576 AD on Iona.  Colm Cille is credited with bringing Christianity to Scotland, although St. Ninian brought it to southern Scotland.  It is on the Isle of Iona that a couple of centuries later the monks created the Book of Kells.  It was taken to Kells, Ireland, to save it from destruction by the Vikings.

Political divisions
The kingdom was divided into Cenels, which are similar to Scottish clans, that held lands and had their own Dals, or tribal councils.  There were three Cenels named in the Senchus, nOengusa, Cenel Loairn, and Cenel nGabrain. Cenel Comghal apparently was one line of nGabrain that later became independent of it.  Check the map for the divisions.  Over all of them was the king, who depended on their support both politically and militarily.


Celtic Warriors from My Book

Gaelic Warriors from My Book

Warriors, for both the army and navy, were required to be furnished by each household.  According to the Senchus, Cenel nOengusa would furnish 600, Cenel Loairn would furnish 600 and Cenel nGabrain would field 800.  These, of course, are estimates, but equal an available military force of 2000 men for the entire kingdom.  Seldom would all be called. They were armed mainly with spears, swords and shields and operated either as foot soldiers or armed sailors.  Later in the kingdom, mail shirts and finally metal helms were used.  A number of naval battles were fought by the Dal Riatans, evidencing their skill as fighting sailors.

Kingship was not primogeniture, but normally went to a male within the royal derbfhine, or close family, but a king might just as well be succeeded by an uncle, brother, cousin, or nephew as by a son, elected by the Dal, or cenel council.  For many years the kingship of Scottish Dalriata alternated irregularly between the Cenel nGabrain and the Cenel Comghal until the royal line of the Cenel Comghal died out in the 7th Century.  At that time, the Cenel Loairn began to compete for the kingship, using the Celtic custom that a derbfhine could submit a candidate for the chieftainship whenever the chief died without a tanist (heir) having been appointed.

Dunadd or Dun Ad

Dun Ad Today

Dun Ad Today

Dun is Gaelic for fort.  Dun Ad was the fort of the king of Dal Riata.  It is located near Kilmartin on the Kintyre Peninsula, on a rocky hill in the plain near the Add river.  At one time, it may even have been an island in the river.  We do not know when it was first settled but became the seat of the kings.  It has two main, natural levels, with the upper fort or citadel not large, about 40 by 60 ft., only enough for the royal family and a small entourage.  There are various clear areas lower where more troops and craftsmen (there is evidence of smelting and metalwork) were housed.  It is reached by a steep trail through a natural cleft in the rock that was barred by a gate.  At one time timber walls added to the natural defense, but are long gone.  A Pictish boar, a cup and a footprint were carved into a rock in the citadel (no longer there) that has fueled many debates over their use.  It is not large and has very little water inside the fort, so it was of questionable defensive value. It was conquered at least one time, by the Picts in 736 AD who held it at least until the next century.


The Picts

Pictish Warrior

Pictish Warrior

The Picts never called themselves Picts.  Pictus, a Latin word for a painting, was how the Romans termed them because they had pictures painted on their bodies or tattoos, most likely the latter.  They would never have called themselves such.  They were most likely related to the Britons in the south and spoke a Brythonic Celtic tongue. They were competent warriors and became strong nations in Scotland.  Different tribes or petty kingdoms gained supremacy at different times, often uniting all or almost all of Pictland as one. They battled the Dal Riatans and the Angles many times, sometimes successfully and sometimes not.  They even occupied the kingdom as foreign rulers.  With no written language, we know them from what others wrote about them and from their art.

The Britons
Alt Cult (Strathclyde) was the main Briton kingdom that the Dal Riatans had to deal with. Sometimes they were allies, sometimes foes. The kingdom formed with the fall of the Roman Empire’s rule in Britain and proved strong, native British kingdoms could thrive again, at least for a time.  They suffered a major defeat by the Vikings in 870 AD, but the kingdom survived until the Battle of Brunanburh in 973 AD.  Wessex’s King Athelstan’s victory over a Norse, Alban, Pictish army ended Strathclyde’s power and it later became a part of Alba, Scotland.

Anglean Warrior

Anglian Warrior

The Angles

Bernicia and Deira were the main Anglian kingdoms during the mid-Dal Riatan period and united to become Northumbria before the Viking invasions.  Often termed Saxons in early writings, these Germanic invaders conquered more and more of Britain over the years, finally holding all of the region now called England.  They were fearsome fighters who defeated Dal Riatans in battle at times, but never conquered the kingdom.



Highwater mark for Dal Riata
King Aeden is considered the most powerful king of Dal Riata.  He is the first king whose reign is accepted by most reputable historians as accurately recorded.  Aeden raided Orkney, successfully battled the Picts, regained the Isle of Man, defeated the Maeatae in a bloody battle on the River Forth and formed an alliance with the Ui Neills that secured the safety of his Irish lands.  However, when he grew alarmed at the growing strength of the Anglian Bernician king Æthelfrith, he led his forces to Degsastan (somewhere on the Scottish-English border).  There, in 603 AD, he suffered a disastrous defeat when his superior numbers were decimated by the Bernicians.  He escaped with his life, but never was a major force in Britain again.

End of Dal Riata
Cináed mac Ailpín (Kenneth MacAlpin) united the Picts and Dal Riata as one kingdom circa 878 AD.  Which kingship he had first is a matter of debate, with some claiming the Picts and some the Scots.  Whatever the case, the new kingdom was Alba (from the Latin word for Scotland, probably coming from the word “white.”  Perhaps from their pale skin?). It was not a conquest by either people, but more of uniting against a new, seemingly unstoppable foe, the Vikings.  Much of the coastal lands and islands of Dal Riata were seized by them and the focus of the new kingdom moved inland to Dunkeld.. But that’s another story.

Why not Pictland Instead of Alba?  Or the Roman Caladonia?  Some claim Alba was the Gaelic term for what the Picts called their kingdom, but there is no proof for that.  In fact, at one point it referred to all of Britain.  It was not until about 1286 and the Wars of Scottish Independence from England that it is referred to as the Kingdom of the Scots or Scotland. It gave them a national identity rather than that of a family or tribe (clan).  It defined the nation as a Gaelic entity, not English.  This is further demonstrated by Edward Bruce’s (Robert the Bruce’s brother) unsuccessful attempt to unite Ireland with Scotland.  By then, the Picts were almost forgotten.  While their art survived, there were no writings in their forgotten tongue.  It was the Irish-related Scots Gaelic that was spoken.  So Scotland it was to be.  And, besides, they would never have referred to themselves as “Picts.”

Primary sources for information on Dal Riata
Scottish kings are listed in the Annals of the Irish Kings
Adomnan’s Life of Columba was written in the 8th C by a monk on Iona.
Senchus Fer nAlban (History of the men of Scotland) which was a mythic history, census, and a genealogy of the early kings of Dal Riata, with the earliest existing copy from about the 10th c, probably written in the 7th c.
Duan Albanach (Song of the Scots) was written in the 11th century to show the line of Malcolm Canmore (of Shakespearean fame).

Buying Collectible Cars

I recently gave a talk on buying a classic or collectible car at a men’s group.  Here is is what I said:

When it comes to buying hot rods and classics, you hear a lot of rules. Some are good, some are so-so and some are lousy. I’m going to give you mine and let you decide how to rate them. For you who already know all this already, sorry ‘bout that. Don’t shoot me, I was asked to do this. Anyway, here are my rules.

My niece sitting in my '67 Jag XKE.  That car had a "WOW" factor that was off the charts.

My niece sitting behind the steering wheel of my ’67 Jag XKE. That car had a “WOW” factor that was off the charts.

First rule: If you’re buying a classic car or hot rod, don’t assume the experts know what it will be worth in a few years. When I got into hot cars, they weren’t classics. They were what I drove every day. I had a ‘67 Jag XKE roadster that I sold for $3200 and thought I made a killing since I’d paid $1300 for it less than a year before. Then I had a ‘70 Hemi Roadrunner that I sold for $2000 and thought I’d really scored since I’d paid $1400 for it two years before and it had been my daily driver. In average condition, both cars are worth in the six figures now. Since when I owned and sold them it was during the original gas crunch of the ‘70’s and the Hemi ’s mileage was in the gallons-per-mile if you put your foot into it, few expected them to go up in value at that time. However, if hindsight were foresight, we’d all be rich. Then again, I knew a guy who bought an ‘81 Delorean for 17k when it was a couple of years old because he expected the value to skyrocket and the average value is now 22k and another guy who bought a ‘78 Corvette Pace Car new for almost 25k and parked it after driving it a few years, expecting it to be worth it’s weight in gold, but it’s only now worth a few thou more than he paid for it. Even at the lousy interest rates lately, they would have done better putting the money in the bank. Although we’ve seen the value of some cars shoot for the stars again, if the stock market crashes like it seems to be doing now, their value will too. Buy a car because you want it, not because you want to make money off of it. They’re not money in the bank, but movable works of art. Be wise in how you buy, but do it for the fun of driving the car instead of as an alternative to buying a rental property.

My 56 T-Bird: a lot of work and money to break even on the money.

My 56 T-Bird: a lot of work and money to break even on just the dollars spent.

Second rule: Don’t rebuild it yourself. Now if you’re a mechanic and painter, bought the car at an absolute steal or have a friend who can do all the work for a pittance, then go for it. But the best way for the average guy to get in the hobby is to let the other guy do the work and buy it cheaply. Even the guys who do all the work restoring a car themselves will many times get pennies per hour for their labor, if that. If you have the skill to do the work and love doing it, that may not matter. Cars are a passion and, like most passions, have little to do with reason. Of my three cars that I restored, I have one break-even, one slight profit and one home run, when factoring in my labor. But I was lucky. In the future, If I buy another car it will buy ready-to-cruise. You may get people who say that they would not have been able to get the car they have in the way it was restored for the price they paid, and I will not dispute that. But could they sell it for what they have into it without finding the perfect buyer? Remember that finding perfection on this earth is about as hard as finding New Old Standard parts for a Duesenburg. I personally know a guy who built a beautiful show car with all the best stuff and had it for sale for over a year with no serious offers. It finally sold at an auction to a porn actress for over100 grand less than he spent on it. He said, “I don’t even want to know what’s going on in that back seat.” Unless you love turning a wrench and using a sander, my general rule now is to buy someone else’s labor on the cheap. Unfortunately, I’ve never followed that rule.

After many hours of work and many dollars  spent, the Bat Rod is on the road.

After many hours of work and many dollars spent, the Bat Rod is on the road.  If I sold it, my profit on hard dollars invested would be minimal.

Third rule: Everybody lies. I don’t really believe that is always the case, but Dr. House often said that on his TV series and it has an element of truth. When you’re buying a car, assume it’s a lie. No matter how good it looks, check it out. If the car doesn’t have a fiberglass or aluminum body, bring a refrigerator magnet to check out the body. If there’s bondo, the magnet won’t stick. It’s a quick and easy way to check for prior repairs. Bring coveralls, a creeper, a light and a mirror. Check out the frame, underbody, inner fenders and suspension. Look for rust, poor repairs and rotted bushings. If the owner doesn’t want you to do that, walk away immediately. Ask for receipts on all repairs and rebuilds the owner claims were done. While I won’t say he’s definitely lying without them, I wouldn’t put my money on his word. Check under the car for drips. If it’s dripping then, it will likely do a lot worse when you drive it home. Even a car that has been detailed can reveal its dark secrets if you look carefully. While still overseas, I bought my ‘72 Vette from a friend here who claimed he knew the entire history of the car and that it ran like a scalded dog. Supposedly, the interior was in great shape, all the chrome had been redone and all parts were there. I took his word for it. He lied. The rockers were tightened with no lash on solid lifters, the interior was bad, the chrome was shot and the boxes of parts had many omissions. I still have the car, but our friendship suffered a fatal blow. I just had to put a lot more time and money into it than I expected. The worst stories I’ve heard are eBay cars that were not checked out by the buyer. If you can’t check out the car yourself or do not feel qualified to make an educated evaluation, hire a professional. A cost of a couple hundred is better than a loss of a couple thousand, or more. It hasn’t happened to me, but has happened to friends, car guys who dropped their guard.

An auction car can look great, but have hidden problems.

An auction car can look great, but have hidden problems.  I bought this at the same time as I bought the ’65 convertible and the person who put in the shifter was an idiot.  Then it cost a fortune to get them back home.  The auction company lied about transporters to California.

Fourth rule: Avoid emotion. Auction cars are the most dangerous because you often have little time to properly check out the car and problems can be hid. Caught up in auction frenzy, you can bid on car without properly checking it out. While I have heard of great deals at an auction, many are not. I speak from experience. I bought an ‘65 Impala convertible that looked great. I hadn’t planned on bidding, but it looked so good, sounded so good and was going for so little that I threw in a bid. I got it. It was not until careful inspection that I realized some almost-hidden rust issues and suspension problems. Emotion cost me a couple of grand, because I fixed everything before I sold it. Well, that and I bought it right before the stock market “readjustment” of 2008. The double whammy of car investing. The same is true when buying from a dealer or individual. While I would normally advise against buying from a dealer, it can work if you know the value of the car and don’t let your emotions rule your brain. Remember that there is always another ‘67 El Camino big-block out there and be ready to walk away. The trump card for the buyer is “no.” Be ready to use it.

A before and after of my home run: a '63 fuel-injected Corvette

A before and after of my home run: a ’63 fuel-injected Corvette

Fifth rule: Know why you’re buying the car. If it’s just for an investment, I’m not the guy to talk to. I’ve made good money on most collectible cars I’ve bought and sold over the years, but I often sold too soon or walked away from one I should have bought because it didn’t appeal to me. If you’re buying a car because you like it, then consider my previous four rules. Normally, at least you won’t lose money if you sell. However, this is too often where emotion over rules the mind. Even if a car has no expectation of going up in value and is going to take a lot of work, you might want to do it. While I am not one of those “the journey is more important than the destination” guys, you can build the car you want, the way you want and have the satisfaction of doing it yourself. In my nine years of writing my car column in The Union, I’ve heard a lot of different stories about why someone bought or built a certain car. Often the story is not logical. But what love is? However, just like having STD test done before a marriage, check out that love of your life and know the consequences before you commit. If you think the rust and rot on the car you want is worth the cost, go for it, just like if the woman you love and want to marry has . . . . Well, you get the idea. Go in with your eyes open.

My last rule is on insurance. As a general policy, don’t go with regular insurance companies unless you plan to use the car as a daily driver. Companies like Hagerty’s and Grundy usually give better, more comprehensive coverage for far less than Allstate, Farmers or State Farm. When it comes to paying for a loss, insurance companies have Actual Cash Value, Stated Value and Agreed Value. Only Agreed Value makes sure you get paid what the policy says your car is worth. The other two allow the insurance company to wiggle out of paying you the amount your policy was for. Also, if the insurance company can make your car worth less, they can total it rather than repair it after an accident, even if it isn’t the best for you. Not that they would ever do that. Some companies make you get an appraisal to make sure it is worth that, others do not. There are normally conditions regarding mileage and when you can drive the car for collector policies. Check out the company you use to make sure it is the best for you.

If you were expecting me to tell you what car to buy, sorry. There are too many variables. Do you like foreign or American made? Do you want modern, nostalgic or classic car? Do you want street rod or pure stock? How much modifying do you want? Just like the women we love, there are many choices and not all of us agree on which one is best. You like a blond or a redhead? Voluptuous or athletic? Strategically added silicon or not? It’s all personal preference. If it’s stock, the older the car, usually the rougher the ride and the lower the performance. I wouldn’t dare tie that into my women and cars analogy. A ‘40 Ford coupe or a ‘57 Vette might look cool, but they were not all that comfortable to drive or ride in for long distances or all that dependable compared to modern cars. That’s why resto-rods, cars that look pretty much stock but have modern running gear and conveniences, are so popular. There’s a lot of debate on how it affects value, but that depends on individual car model and options. Clones have become popular for high-dollar muscle cars, like Hemi Roadrunners that were once plain Plymouth Belvederes and SS454 Chevelles that entered this world as humble small-block Malibus, so watch out if you’re in that market. A clone should cost far less than an original, so get documentation. Finally, the market for later-model cars that were once shunned, ones like the mid-to-late 70’s Trans-Ams, Datsun 280Z’s and the 80’s Pontiac Fieros, have gained popularity while still being affordable. They also have more creature comforts. Just be aware that smog checks are ,done on cars newer than 1975. Although, by law, all original smog equipment is supposed to be on any car, that’s not really checked. So what’s the next car craze? You tell me. I’ve put down a few websites that you can use to establish value of your dream car. Again, these are not perfect. Once you modify a car, which many of us have, it can affect the value positively or negatively. The main thing about a hobbyist car is to do your research and have fun after you buy it.

Here are a few websites that can help you find what a certain car will cost you. You will see that they do not all agree on values, so take them as background information rather than a bible.

Old San Francisco

"HI, I'm Chad."

“HI, I’m Justin, your wait-buddy.”

Old San Francisco is rapidly dying.  Sure there are cable cars and Queen Anne houses, but the shops around Union Square have none of that feel you get when you watch a noir-ish film like The Maltese Falcon.  Sadly, there is not much left of that San Francisco.  “Modern” is the zeitgeist of San Francisco now, I-Phones rather than phone booths and Starbucks and a Caramel Macchiato instead of a coffee shop and a mug of joe.  And with that comes the over-casual dress and attitude that is the current age.  White linen table cloths and dignified waiters in ties have fallen to disposal paper coverings and a guy in a Major Lazor T-shirt saying, “Hi, I’m Justin, your wait-buddy.  What can I get you?”  But not everywhere.  There are a few hold-outs who refuse to give in to the current trends.

John's Grill on Ellis Street

John’s Grill on Ellis Street

A couple of blocks south of Union Square is a haven of Old San Francisco named John’s Grill.   Not being a regular visitor of San Francisco, I’d never heard of it.  By chance, I was checking out restaurants on my smartphone (yes, I do have one) while my wife, Kelly, was shopping, I found it was close and sounded good.  Established in 1908, it was a favorite haunt of Dashiell Hammett.  In fact, you trivia nuts, it is mentioned in The Maltese Falcon. To be honest, I did not remember it at the time, only realizing it when I saw their website on my phone.  I loved the book, The Book, so much that I dedicated my latest Morg Mahoney mystery to it.  Obviously, I found that interesting and I called.  I had no problem getting a reservation, but then six is way too early to dine for most San Franciscans.  I asked if there were a dress code, since I was in Levi’s, and was a little disappointed that there was not.  We showed up on time, but opted to go upstairs to “the Maltese Falcon” Room, which didn’t open until six-thirty.  We took a seat at the small, but well-stocked bar while we waited.

Johnny Walker and Soda?

Johnny Walker and Soda?

I should have ordered Johnny Walker and soda, or two, or more, like Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, but had one Johnny Walker Black on the rocks instead.  Personally, I think soda ruins scotch.  The bartender, Louis, pronounced Louie like in Casablanca,  had been there for thirty years.  The bar was pretty empty, so we had a chance to chat.  He mentioned a few of the famous and infamous who had dined there.  He told us of how things had changed since he started.  Then, you would wear a tux when dining there on Friday and Saturday nights.  You wouldn’t have got through the door in jeans.  While he did not criticize the current policy, I got the feeling that he missed the old days.  The clock struck six-thirty (figuratively) and we went upstairs.

The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon

Downstairs was nice, with cloth table cloths and mahogany paneling, but was rather noisy.  More the hangout for locals coming in for a Grey Goose vodka martini or white wine at the end of the work day than quite dining.  As we hit the top of the stairs and walked past the display case with a black falcon that looked like a dead ringer for the one in the movie, the mood changed.  There was a guitarist playing mellow jazz.  Tables had more space between them.  We had a window table overlooking Ellis Street.  The waiter was polite, helpful and a study in black, with shirt, trousers and tie all in that basic color.  And he wasn’t named Justin and didn’t try to be our good buddy.

The menu looked liked something out of the 50’s or 60’s (click here to see it). There was no seared ahi or cranberry quinoa salad.  I probably should have ordered the Sam Spade’s Lamb Chops in honor of their mention in The Book, but I’m not in love with lamb.  Just because you like a character in a book doesn’t mean you have to eat and drink what he did.  So I opted for the sea bass.  My wife took a walk down memory lane and ordered the filet with Bernaise sauce, her favorite when we both ate steak in the 60’s and 70’s.  Nothing was listed for a starch but a baked potato (imported all the way from Idaho, no less), although I now understand fries are available.  We both had the baked potato, again my wife’s favorite.

The food was great and servings were generous.  Although my sea bass had a beurre blanc sauce and I’m not really into that, the fish itself and the veggies were perfectly cooked.  My wife said the same about her steak.  She was so impressed that she ordered the chocolate mouse torte and said that it was worth the calories, which is saying a lot.  All the way through, our waiter was attentive while never hovering.  It was just like fine dining in the 60’s.  It wasn’t cheap, but we’ve spent far more for far less quality.  If you’re ever visiting San Francisco, I would recommend  breaking your diet and splurging at John’s Grill.

I should mention that Zagat rated John’s Grill as the “#1 Steakhouse in San Francisco.”   Also,The Maltese Falcon Room is a National Literary Landmark and the meeting place of the Dashiell Hammett Society of San Francisco (click here for more info).  We chose wisely, both for food and for literary history.

Dashiell Hammett

Dashiell Hammett in coat, tie and fedora

Why write about John’s Grill?  Because it’s a dying breed.  This is Old San Francisco, with all the class of a Hammett novel.  If we lived in San Francisco, would we be regulars?  Maybe not.  I could almost hear my arteries hardening as I ate.  I do try to eat more healthily than I did in the 60’s.  However, the feeling of quiet quality, of dining rather than eating is becoming rare.  We were not rushed.  It would be a place I would go on special occasions.  And our dinner there was a special occasion.  I felt like I should have been wearing a coat and tie, even though it wasn’t required, and have hung my snap-brim fedora (yes, I have more than one and do wear them) on a coat hook by the door.  I was sure that I  felt the ghost of Dashiell Hammett sitting there with us, having lamb chops, baked potato and sliced tomatoes.   But maybe that was just the air conditioning.

Old San Francisco is fading away.  When you shop in stores like Saks and Neiman Marcus, you see people in frayed jeans and T-shirts (men and women) instead of suits and dresses.  Am I the only one who thinks we’ve lost something when we no longer make things a special occasion in our lives and dress accordingly?  Maybe I belong back when Hammett was writing about San Francisco.  When no one would have dared go to John’s Grill in Levi’s.


Magna Carta

King John signs the Magna Carta

King John signs the Magna Carta

The Magna Carta was signed by the wicked King John on June 15th, 1215, and it is having its 800th birthday this year.  Why is that important?  Because the Magna Carta is kind of the same as our Declaration of Independence and our Bill of Rights, establishing the rights of the people in England, right?  Aside from using the word “right” too often, that sentence has a serious problem.  The Magna Carta Libertatum, or Great Charter of  the Liberties, said little regarding the rights of all of the people.  Only in sections 15, 20, 27 and 39 are “freemen” directly named (more here).  Serfs, of course, are not. Then again, neither are black slaves in our Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, except for how many representatives slave states may send to Congress.  Neither serfs nor slaves had rights in any of these documents.  What was addressed in the Magna Carta?  A group of powerful barons (the 1% of their day) had a number of beefs with King John and were in revolt.  This was, in effect, a peace treaty offered to John with a threat dangling overhead like the sword of Damocles.  A number of the sections in the Magna Carta had to do with inheritance, keeping the king from plundering estates of dead nobles.  Others dealt with legal rights and the church’s standing.  However, some of the more interesting sections deal with removing relatives of Gerard de Athyes from positions of authority and freeing the son of Llewellyn and all the Welsh hostages.  Ever heard of Gerard de Athyes?  Obviously, it was meant to address immediate complaints as well as general principles.  Yet it is considered a milestone of contractual government.  Why?

Robin Hood.  Original artwork for Look and Learn (issue yet to be identified).

Robin Hood, real or not.

At the time the barons met with King John (yes, the bad guy who didn’t get along well with Robin Hood) on the Runnymede meadow, the concept of “divine right” was strongly ingrained in kings and, they hoped, the people.  After Charlemagne was crowned by  Pope Leo II, the king was seen as anointed by God.  At least by the kings.  As such, to revolt against him was to revolt against God.  Not a good idea.  Yet revolts happened.  Either there were those who did not recognize a king’s divine right or they were willing to risk the wrath of God for gain on Earth.  If the papacy also had an issue with a king, divine right became a non-issue.  Such was the case with poor King John.  In fact, the highest ecclesiastical authority in England, Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton, is said to have written the original Magna Carta.  However, things soon went south for the barons.  After a dispute with Pope Innocent III a couple of years before, John had surrendered England to the papacy as a feudal holding.  In other words, the Pope was John’s liege lord.  Wily John contacted Pope Innocent III about this charter and the Pope, seeing it as an infringement on his authority, declared it “null and void of all validity for ever.”

Magna Carta Libertatum

Magna Carta Libertatum

Yet, we have the Magna Carta around to this day.  During a war with King John against his barons in which they offered the throne to French Prince Louis, John died of dysentery, or severe diarrhea.  You might say he had the crap kicked out of him.  His son, Henry III, agreed to the basic terms of the Magna Carta.  Although it went through a few other revisions in the next few years, it survived to this day. Three sections still ring true: the ban on cruel and unusual punishments, trial by a jury of one’s peers and the idea that justice should not be sold or unnecessarily delayed.  Why is that so important?

The key issue here is the authority of a government.  Does God (or Allah) appoint a ruler who can do what he wants with impunity?  Or does a governing person or body rule with the consent of those governed?  The Magna Carta, in effect, says, “There is a contract between the ruler and those who are ruled.  Unless the conditions agreed upon by those being ruled are followed, that contract is null and void.”  It was an agreement between those ruled and those who rule.  It was, in a very real sense, the precursor of John Locke’s Social Contract, a theory that was a key part of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence and the founding of the United States of America.

On the 800th anniversary of the first signing of the Magna Carta, let us remember the main points: the ultimate authority is with those governed, we allow others to run the government and can rescind that power at any time, and no man is above the will of the people or has authority to act with impunity.