George MacDonald Fraser, Father of Flashman

George MacDonald Fraser

Back in 1995, when I was living on the Isle of Man, I was able to interview George MacDonald Fraser (click for more info).  I was the vice-chairman of Clan Fraser Society of North America (even though I had moved to the Isle of Man) at the time and did so for the newsletter.  One afternoon, my wife and I met with him at the Sefton Hotel on The Strand in Douglas, across the street from the harbor.  We had tea and I interviewed the author of the Flashman novels (click for more on Flashman), several semi-autobiographical books about his experiences in Southeast Asia during World War II (click for a synopsis of one) and histories (click for a review of one).  The chairman of CFSNA was a big fan and, although I was not that familiar with his works, I read some of his books and studied up on him before the interview.  I was impressed with his writing and, as I interviewed him, the man.  He was most gracious and interesting.  Here is the first part of my interview with the late George MacDonald Fraser.

RLC: You have written fictional books and short stories, history, reviews, magazines articles and even worked for Hollywood. Do you have any favorite type of writing?
GMF: I would say the short stories are less trouble than anything else because I don’t have to do any research. And the same holds good for the film scripts. Again, very little research is necessary, and you can just sit down and do it, you know?  The Flashmans take an awful lot of reading and research in advance.  Naturally, any historical novel does.  But I wouldn’t say that I have any particular favorite.  No.
RLC: You worked as a newspaperman in Scotland as one of your notable jobs.  What was your most memorable story or event of this time of your life?
GMF: I think interviewing Oliver Hardy, because he was such a nice man, and exactly as I had imagined and exactly as he was on screen, sitting there in his bowler hat, looking rather weary, which he probably was.  Oh, I can think of things in Scotland when I was deputy editor of the Glasgow Herald, we effectively dealt a blow to Scottish nationalism,which I don’t approve of, although I’m getting more and more sympathetic to it as time goes by, and that was a great satisfaction at the time.  No, no particular stories.  How long have you been here?
RLC: We moved here in November.
GMF: Oh, I see.  Then the name Bill Shankly won’t mean anything to you.  He was a famous football manager with Liverpool.  I mean, he had this sort of reputation in Britain that Casey Stengal and people like that used to have in the United States.  When he managed a very small club I happened to be covering it for my local paper and I got to know him extremely well.  I discovered that of all the people that I have met, he is the one whose name, when dropped, excites the most offense.  Particularly in the north of England.                                                                                                                                   RLC: I think that is one of the things I had to get used to. The household names in America might not be the household names here, and vice versa. We always think that because of our common language, that everything is the same.
GMF: Oddly enough, I think it’s probably most marked in TV entertainment.  I mean, there are all sorts of household names in the States, Johnny Carson for example, that are almost unknown here.  And David Letterman and people like that.  Similarly, the same sort of thing in Britain.  There are those no one in the States ever heard of.  In fact, no one in the States heard anything about British entertainment at all until the Beatles arrived.  That changed everything.
RLC: Having spent some time in America, do you prefer the type of screenwriting on British TV to American, especially in regards to humor and that sort of thing?
GMF: I’ve never subscribed to the belief, which has always been proclaimed over here, that British television is the best in the world.  I don’t think it is.  In fact, I think it has deteriorated very badly.  No, I must say, when I go to the States (and I haven’t been for a few years now) I find myself slipping into it very, very easily and watching TV in hotel rooms and so on.  In no time at all I find myself on the wavelength, you know.
RLC: Did you find any particular shows you liked?
GMF: I’m trying to think.  Mind you, a lot of them are now seen in this country.  Um … well, of course, it was shown over here, I liked Soap.  It was shown a few years ago.  I suppose that it has died now.
RLC: Yes, it was actually fairly short-lived.
GMF: Recently I was asked by a producer in Hollywood (he’s trying to get a television series started and he wanted me to do it) and he sent me tapes of a show called Hercules. Have you ever seen it?
RLC: No.
GMF: It’s abysmal!  But anyway, he said this is the type of thing that is peak viewing in the United States and well up the charts.  I said, “I don’t believe it.”
And he said, “Oh, but it is.  You have no idea how things have changed.'”
It is pretty basic, I mean the Hercules myth, but you wouldn’t recognize it.  It’s just an excuse for slam, bang karate and that sort of thing.  No, I’m not a great television viewer in this country.  I don’t watch an awful lot, aside from news bulletins and old movies.  I generally watch an old movie before I go to bed, or a bit of one, you know.
RLC: I know you did some screenwriting. What was your impression of Hollywood? The type of “feel” you get there, the whole genre?
GMF: You know, I found it very quiet, a rather relaxing place.  I mean the longest stint I had there was at MGM, Culver City, when I was doing a James Bond, Octopussy, for Cubby Broccoli, and that was very civilized living.  I used to turn up and park in the car park every day and watch Walter Mathau striding across looking very lugubrious.  I used to work in the building and that consisted not of writing but entirely of discussing.  That went on for weeks.  Then I think no one wrote it, you know.  But for the rest, most of the time I thoroughly enjoyed it.  My wife and I sort of lived in the “golden triangle” in Beverly Hills and very pleasant it was.  I must say they’ve got it licked for peaceful, quiet living, or so it seemed to me at the time.  I don’t know what it’s like now.  We had good friends there. Dick Fleischer, the director and others, Martin Ritt, who, alas, is now dead.  Most of my time there was actually spent in talking.  I didn’t do any writing there.  As I say, the usual procedure of a movie was to go and talk for long periods.  Then I would go home and write it and then go back and have more discussions and then come back and rewrite, you know.  I must say I liked it.  Last time I was there was to do The Lone Ranger, which never came off, for John Landis.  John and his wife are good friends, although I haven’t seen them now for a couple of years. I doubt if I’ll be going back.  I see no particular reason why I should.  The film industry is changing.  It was incredibly international when I was doing it. Movies would draw their people, their talent and so on, from all corners of the globe and filming would take place all over the world.  Now it seems to be getting more back to the old “studio” system.  More stuff is made in the States and, well, the tax advantage for working in Britain, I gather, is gone. It is a less international feel about it. And I think, too, my generation is getting a bit long in the tooth.  I mean, the people I worked with, an awful lot of them are now dead or my age.  People like Charlton Heston and George C. Scott must now be in their seventies and not as active as they were.  I don’t know the names of all the young producers and directors nowadays.
RLC: Did you have any producers, directors, actors and actresses that made an impression, either positive or negative, that is very memorable?
GMF: Steve McQueen.  We were to do a movie upon which six million dollars had already been spent, called Tai-Pan.  It was eventually made by Dino De Laurentiis with a different script, not mine.  But they sold my script to McQueen and we were all set to do it when the money ran out, or something.  I never discovered what.  Also, the poor guy was physically unwell at that time and died a few months later.  It would have been his last picture, if it had been made.  A funny thing about him was we met in his home which, at that time, was a penthouse in the Beverly Wilshire.  The director and I went up to meet him and talk over the script.  Within thirty seconds he said to me, “You’re from Scotland.”
I said, “Yes.”
He said, “I’m Scotch.”
And out it came. For about ten minutes I got the history of the McQueens.  He was very nationalistic. Very proud of his Scottishness was McQueen.  We got on very well.  Nice chap.  Reserved, in a quiet way.  Burt Lancaster. I spent a week with him.  Again, discussing a movie that never got anywhere.  That was a very civilized man.  Again, with whom it was very easy to talk.  Much better educated than the average movie person.
If I had to write again for someone, I couldn’t pick anyone better to write for than George C. Scott, because whatever you write he will make it sound a hell of a sight better than it is. And Oliver Reed.  I made five pictures with him and he’s never let me down yet.  Again, he can make it sound better than it is. Some people just have the gift.
RLC: Did you work with Charlton Heston?  Because, you know, he is a Fraser as well.
GMF: That’s right.  Oh boy, I heard about that.  Yes, his son, of course, is christened Fraser.  Fraser, who is now, I think, a director.  Yes, I made three pictures with him in two of which he was Cardinal Richelieu (click for more info on the Musketeer pictures) and the other one he was Henry the Eighth (click for more on Crossed Swords).  He was a very good Henry the Eighth, too.  Worked terribly hard and immersed himself in it.  Going through the script again before hand, I’d had Henry saying something about being king for five and thirty years.  He said, “Actually he’d been king for thirty-seven years.”  And I said, “Yeah.  Poetic license.”  He knew his business.  And we’ve corresponded now and then ever since.  He must be, I should think, thinking about retiring, you know.  Although, actors never retire.
RLC: They become more character actors, as time goes along, I suppose.  Do you have anything waiting in the wings, as far as screen plays?
GMF: At the moment, no.  There is always a sort of permanent thing of people saying they want to do Flashman for the movies or for television.  One of these days it might happen. I’m not particularly worried whether it does or not.  I’m quite happy with them in book form.

1st American Edition
Signed by the author

RLC: Mentioning Flashman brings me back to the book. It was my first introduction to your writing.  It was a very interesting book. The first time you pick it up and you start reading about this fellow…very unique.  Probably the most famous anti-hero in literature, I would say.  Aside from the fleeting description in Tom Brown’s School Days that you attribute this character to, how did you become inspired to create this fellow, who is the ultimate in self-interest?
GMF: I don’t know.  I know I wanted to write a Victorian novel and I ‘d had the thought, I don’t know when, probably when I read it when I was about twelve years old, “What happened to this character.”  In a sense the work was done for me because it’s clear from Tom Brown’s School Days when he was expelled from Rugby, in the late 1830’s.  Right.   What would he do? He’d go into the army.  What was happening in the military world at that time, and so on.  So it was just a question of fitting him into history, which is what I’ve been doing ever since.
RLC: Having read them, I’ve found them to be full of detailed descriptions not only of points in history, but also locations, such as Afghanistan during that period and the Civil War period in America with Custer and the gang.  The incredible amount of research in there, obviously.
GMF: That’s the best bit of it.  That’s the best part.
RLC: What I noticed in that is there are certain times the characters become very alive, and sometimes in a negative way.  Custer and Elphey Bey and such.  You see them as pompous fools and idiots?
GMF: Well, an awful lot of them were, you know.  Or so it appears now. Yes, I suppose all the great names of history have their weaknesses and their follies.  An awful lot of history is as incredible as fiction.  You wouldn’t get away with it as fiction.  That, as I say, is the fun in finding out, and finding out, where possible, the real truth behind the legend.  You know, just the small facts and the small details.
RLC: Yours, of course, are considerably more fleshed out than you can find in history because that is the nature of fiction.  If you just had a dry recitation of facts it would be quite boring.                                                                                                                            GMF: That’s right. You have to have Flashman in the middle of it, you know.
RLC: How much freedom do you feel to make someone like Elphey Bey or Custer more fallible than they were or do you try keep-
GMF: I try to keep exactly as it was.  There is only one person I am conscious of perhaps having made out to be a bit more of a villain than he was, and that is Bismarck.  And yet, he was a thorough swine.  There was a Russian called Ignatiev (Count Nicholas Pavlovich Ignatiev, statesman and diplomat) who I may have been a little unfair to, but that’s all.  I will not, in any circumstances, take liberties, particularly with female characters. Unless they were promiscuous I won’t say they were.  I won’t attribute misbehavior to any historical female who wasn’t guilty of it.
RLC: Now, I have noticed in your Flashman books quite a few characters who sound very historical.  Do you bring in what I would call minor historical characters that people might not even have heard of that you encountered in your research?

Alexander Haughton Campbell Gardner a.ka. Gordana Khan (1785–1877)

GMF: Oh, yes.  When I did the one before the last one, Flashman and the Mountain of Light, I discovered, about the Sikh War in the 1840’s, these two American adventurers of whom I had never heard.  Incredible men upon whom I am convinced Kipling based The Man Who Would Be King, because their careers are so parallel and the timing is right.  One of them published his memoirs in 1891 (extracts from Gardner’s journal were published in 1853 and Harlan published his in 1842.  Both men died in the 1870’s.) and Kipling produced The Man Who Would Be King five years later.  I’m quite sure he was inspired by them . That kind of character, this man Gardner (Alexander Gardner-click for more on this adventurer) who came from Wisconsin and went about Afghanistan dressed in a full suit of tartan including a tartan turban.  I mean, there he is, and there’s a photograph of him, God help us.  And another, a fellow from Philadelphia (Josiah Harlan-click for more info on his incredible story), who made himself, very briefly, king of a tiny Afghan kingdom.  That is where, I’m sure, Kipling got the idea.  He didn’t last long, and ended up as a dentist in San Francisco, as far as I remember.  But an astonishing career.  There were some very hard fellows about in the last century.  (Some sources consider Sir James Brooke to be one of the inspirations rather than Gardner- click for more)
RLC: One of the things that is very obvious is that Flashy always comes out ahead, in spite of what you would think were some very grave errors of judgement where you think he would be branded a coward.  You always make sure he has an “out.”  How does this inevitable survival of such a person reflect your attitude toward this sort of real life individual?

President Custer?

GMF: I think they do.  I often wonder how many great reputations are genuinely earned.  The more you look into historical characters the more faults and the more virtues you find.  You generally find, this is my experience, anyway, that where there is a myth, so-called, there is a genuine basis for it.  I mean, everybody knows about Custer.  They may not know all the facts and all the details about Custer, but he wasn’t a bad sort.  He made a terrible mistake.  And it was a mistake he could have attempted to justify, because he had done the same thing before and it had worked.  But at Little Big Horn it didn’t.  What is not generally known about Custer is his political ambitions, that he genuinely had his eye on the Democratic nomination.  And he hoped in the far West, in the Little Big Horn campaign, hoped he would win such a glorious reputation that it might see him not only into the nomination, but into the White House.  And God knows, why not?  It happened to Eisenhower, you know. I suppose it happened to Andrew Jackson.
RLC: And even Washington.
GMF: And Washington, quite.  What Custer would have been like as president, God alone knows.  Because he was a pretty hysterical character, or very emotional, anyway.  I don’t think he would have been a great success.  Mind you, I’m not sure who became president that date, after Grant.  Johnson?  No, Johnson was before that.
RLC: After Grant was, ah….                                                                                              GMF: What was the one that was assassinated?
RLC: That was McKinley.
GMF: Wasn’t there one who was assassinated around about 1881?                             RLC: Garfield. After Garfield was Arthur.
GMF: Was it Arthur?
RLC: Chester A. Arthur was later. Then you went to Cleveland, then Harrison, then Cleveland again, and come to McKinley.
GMF: Early 70’s.
RLC: Tilden ran against him, ah….
GMF: Tilden.  That’s a name that rings a bell.
RLC: They made a deal.  Actually the Democrats had the majority in the election and they made a deal with Republicans that they would get the White House in exchange for pulling out the occupation troops in the South…Lemonade Lucy was his wife…I’m into history and it’s like all of a sudden I can’t remember anything.  I hate that.
GMF: I know that Grant was still President.  Grant did two terms, if I remember.  And I think he was just about going in ’76.  That was just about the end.
RLC: Lincoln won in ’64.  After him, up to ’68, was Johnson.
GMF: That’s right.  Through ’72 and ’76 was Grant.  I don’t know who it was from ’76 to ’80.
RLC: If I don’t think about it, I may come up with him.  That would have been interesting, Custer as President.

End Part 1

I believe in Santa Claus

Doubting the existence of Santa is not new.  On September 21, 1897, the editor of The New York Sun newspaper published a reply to a letter from a an 8 year-old girl that has become a classic.  In it, he gives that famous line, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”  Now I am here to say, “I believe in Santa Claus.”  (click here for the entire article)  He also wrote, “The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.”  Maybe part of the reason is that I am Santa Claus, to give the children a Santa to see.  Well, not all year, but a few special occasions each year.  But more on that later.  Let’s talk a little about who Santa Claus is.

St. Nicholas of Myrna

St. Nicholas of Myra with a white beard and the red attire of a bishop

Being in love with history, I am compelled to give a little history of the old fellow.  The name Santa Claus is derived from the Dutch Sinterklaas (click here for more), a red-cloaked bishop with white hair and beard who brings gifts to good children on the eve of St. Nicholas’ Day, December 6th.  His name comes from Saint Nicholas, the Greek Bishop of Myra (now in Turkey), who was known for his generosity (click here for more).  Early on, gifts were given to children in some countries on St. Nicholas Day, not on Christmas Day.  From Jolly Olde England came Father Christmas.  As early as the 1400’s, King Christmas would ride in the Christmas festival on a decorated horse.  Remember, Christmas trees were not a part of the English Christmas celebration until German Prince Albert brought them across the Channel when he married Queen Victoria (although they had been a part of the Royal Family’s since the time of George III), so decorating a horse had to do.  Over time, he also became known as Father Christmas, an old man in a long, fur-trimmed cloak.  However, King Christmas was known for bringing fine food and drink to the Christmas celebration, lots of it, rather than toys for children.

Father Christmas

Father Christmas

When the Puritans took control of England in the mid-17th century and banned the celebration of holidays, originally Holy Days, by anything but church attendance, Father Christmas was a casualty.  He also became a cause célèbre for the Royalists who longed for a return to the wilder, less restrictive days of the Stuart kings.  After the Restoration, when Charles II regained the throne, poor Father Christmas had served his purpose and was almost forgotten.  However, in the Victorian Age, he returned to prominence as the spirit of Christmas.  In fact, the Ghost of Christmas Present in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a version of Father Christmas, dispensing Christmas cheer from his torch.  Check out the movie version with George C. Scott for a great example of how he looked to the English of that era (more on that and other versions of the movie here). But how did he join with Sinterklaas to become Santa Claus?  That’s an American tale.

Thomas Nast's Santa Claus

Thomas Nast’s 1881 Santa Claus

When Clement Moore’s (click here for author dispute)  “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (also known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas”) was published in 1823, it created much of the mythos.  (click here for the entire poem)  This was the first time we have a sleigh with the reindeer numerated and named.  St. Nicholas is dressed in fur (not red, though) and comes down the chimney to fill stockings.  While much of this is in the Dutch tradition, he does his good work on Christmas Eve or early that morning, not on St. Nicholas Day!  Next came Thomas Nast’s drawings that appeared in Harper’s Weekly from 1863 through 1886.   Nast is best known for creating the elephant as the symbol of the Republican Party and the donkey for the Democrats, but also did Santa.  His elaborate drawing of “Santa Claus and His Works,” was included in an 1869 printing of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” and gave Santa his now-traditional red attire.  St. Nicholas had become Santa Claus.  Nast also gave us Santa’s home in the North Pole that he termed “Santa Claussville, N.P.”  and evolved Santa from a short elf into a full-grown man.  The drawing of Santa he did in 1881 is much like the current standard concept of Santa, except for the politically incorrect pipe.  Thank you, Thomas, for giving us our Santa.

Santa and Coca Cola

Santa and Coca Cola

In the movie “Miracle on 34th Street,” the young Alfred says, “there’s a lot of bad ‘isms’ floatin’ around this world, but one of the worst is commercialism.”  Yet, it is a commercial ad campaign that refined our image of Santa Claus.  Nast’s Santa looks dated to us now, too 19th century.  It was Coca Cola that gave us the 20th century version that we still identify as the real Santa.  Although Coca Cola began using Santa in its ad campaigns in the 1920’s, it was Haddon Sundblom who drew the ones in the 1930’s until the 1960’s that we now consider the real Santa.  Since Santa didn’t and wouldn’t get any residuals from his images, the jolly old elf was the perfect promoter for Coke.  Still, we do get to enjoy the art and Haddon’s images are our image of Santa to this day, so that wasn’t all bad.  (click here for the Coca Cola Santa story)

Santa and a believer at the Roamin Angel Toy Drive in 2015

Santa Claus and a true believer                                  at the Roamin Angel Toy Drive in 2015

So what about me being Santa?  I believed in Santa as a child.  When I found that he was my dad, it didn’t damage my psyche.  I appreciated the magic that my parents gave me at Christmas, how they made the holiday even more special.  Since Christmas is about God’s gift of his Son as a child to mankind, isn’t there something appropriate about having a saint’s namesake bring gifts to children?  Even the idea of naughty and nice lists teaches accountability for our actions. I still believe in Santa.  In the mid-1970’s, my parents gave me a Santa suit for Christmas.  It was not an expensive one and they did so more as a joke, but it began a change in my life.  I wore it to our towing company Christmas party at a local restaurant, kidding around with the office staff and the drivers.  One of the drivers was sitting on my knee, telling me what he wanted for Christmas, when a waiter came up and told me a little boy would like to talk to Santa.  I went over to his table and took him on my knee.  As he told me of his Christmas wishes, it all changed.  It was no longer a joke.  I was taking on the mantle.  Since then, I have been Santa for many children, including my own daughter.  I only hope I have given as much joy to them as they have given to me.

Santa MacClaus and Mikey MacElf ring that bell.

Santa MacClaus and Mikey MacElf ring that bell.

I have also appeared as Santa MacClaus, ringing the bell for the Salvation Army at Christmas.  The response has been great.  Seeing people laugh at the Scottish Santa and contribute to help others at Christmas is wonderful.  Having the kids, eyes going wide to see Santa in a kilt, is hilarious.  Interestingly, none of the kids have a problem with that,  Santa is Santa no matter what.  And the cause is great for Claus.  All the money we raise goes to help others in our local community, whether it be for toys and clothes at Christmas or to keep the homeless from freezing to death in cold weather, it’s worth a little of my time.  Plus I love being Santa, bringing joy where I can.  I will keep doing it as long as I am able.  After all, I believe in Santa.


Cozy Mystery

St. Nicholas of Myrna, Father Robert Bruce's church

St. Nicholas of Myrna, Father Robert Bruce’s church

My next book, The St. Nicholas Murders, is what is known as a “cozy mystery.”  That brings to mind sitting in front of a warm fire, sipping tea and uttering, “My, my,” as one reads the yellowing pages of a hardbound book.  As with many generalities, there is an element of truth in that.  One website seems to say that (click here) and I find much of the description to be right.  However, I must clarify what my book is and what it is not.  If you checked the website, she says that the amateur sleuth is normally a woman.  Well, Father Robert Bruce is very manly.  Unlike Father Brown, he is tall, handsome and fit.  I will defer to the “usually” and say that Father Robert is very unusual.  He is an amateur who is drawn into the case and becomes a friend of the local chief of police, the Chief.  I think they are very likeable, unlike my favorite P.I. Morg, who is the protagonist in two of my books and often lashes out at those who get in her way.  Still, I think she’s lovable, too.   Anyway, there is no graphic sex or violence.  The language shouldn’t be offensive, unless one is a total prude.  I mean, if bitch or bastard singes your ears, don’t read any of my books.  Hopefully, that will not be the case for most cozy mystery readers.  But enough about my latest book, let’s talk about what makes a cozy mystery such an oxymoron.

Important Update:    I went to a writers’ conference on Kauai this month.  I met with an agent who is looking at The St. Nicholas Murders, so I will not self-publish until I hear from her.  Although I do hope she will take me on as a client, I am too old to count on it.  More as soon as I know what will be the fate of my latest book, but it will not be by Christmas.

Freddy Kruger, not my kind of guy.

Freddy Kruger, not my kind of guy.

Most cozy mysteries are about murder.  Merriam-Webster defines cozy as “providing contentment or comfort.”  How can murder be linked with cozy?  Perhaps it is just because there’s no blood and guts spewing in any of the scenes, but still has all the drama.  Still, it is odd.  Since I am not a fan of gory books, movies and TV shows, I feel much the same about sanitized crime, but it doesn’t explain why I love a good murder mystery.  Is it because murder is the ultimate violation of another person and we wish to see the perpetrator brought to justice?  For me, part of it is my love of solving puzzles, but why isn’t the puzzle about robbery or embezzlement?  True, there are mysteries about those crimes, but ones about murder far outnumber all of them combined.  Perhaps there is something in the human psyche that is drawn to the macabre.  After all, people slow and gawk when there’s an accident on the freeway.  And look at the popularity of Halloween.  There’s also the thrill of fear, evidenced by the popularity of roller coasters and scary movies.  Is the fear of death and cheating it part of this fascination?  And might reading about a murder be a safe way to get that thrill?  I’ll let you decide.

Sherlock Holmes in a three-pipe case

Sherlock Holmes in a three-pipe case

I do find it interesting that the murder mystery is a particularly English art form, the people known for polite restraint.  I remember reading about an accident in the Tube.  People started panicking and cramming the exits.  One gentleman said, “Here, here!  We’re English!”  Everyone queued up and orderly got off the train without injury.  While the yobs rioting at football (soccer) games have been far more common in the last few decades, the murder rate in the British Isles is far less than in America, about one fourth.  Yet the British have long had an obsession with murder.  Is this a paradox?  While, with the exception of Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin, the murder-solving detective was the invention of the Brits while the “hard-boiled” detective was an American innovation.  Sherlock Holmes solved crime by observation and logic rather than with fists and guns.  Poirot only uses a gun once, in the last episode when he dies.  It was published in 1975, just a few months before Agatha Christie’s own death and may reflect her failing health.  The idea of a little old lady solving crimes in her little village also came from the English.  Miss Marple far predated Jessica Fletcher.  As an aside, I do wonder how her village could continue to exist with so many people being murdered, but that’s a problem with a cozy mystery series. The English have long enjoyed reading about a good murder, both fictional and non-fictional.  Jack the Ripper was great for newspaper sales.  For the English person who reads of murder, it might be a way to break out from conventions of polite society without doing any harm.

Now that you have explored why you read cozy murder mysteries, indulge in one.  Make a Christmas present for yourself or someone you know of The St. Nicholas Murders.  It will be out by Christmas and would be a killer gift.

Alexander Rossi

Alexander Rossi stands by his car during qualifications for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Sunday, May 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Alexander Rossi stands by his car during qualifications for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Sunday, May 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

As stated in my The Union newspaper column on Saturday, September 10th (click here to read), recently I had a telephone interview with Alexander Rossi.  It was Wednesday, August 31st, and he was standing in line at airport security, getting ready to board a plane for the Indy car race at Watkins Glen.  At one point we paused our interview so that his phone could go through security.   I recorded it on my computer, but I had a problem.  The last two minutes of the almost 14 minutes are badly distorted.  I have no idea why and have been unable to clean it up.  Ain’t technology grand?  I have included the whole interview in case you would like to endure those last two minutes, but feel free to stop if it becomes too aurally painful.

Here is the interview in its entirety.

Alexander Rossi sits in his car on pit road as his team makes adjustments during an Indycar auto racing practice at Texas Motor Speedway, Friday, June 10, 2016, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Larry Papke)

Alexander Rossi sits in his car on pit road as his team makes adjustments during an Indycar auto racing practice at Texas Motor Speedway, Friday, June 10, 2016, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Larry Papke)

Since Alexander grew up in Nevada City, he’s a source of local pride.  He has come to town for this weekend and will be featured at several events.  The editor of the paper, Brian Hamilton, also did an interview and wrote a fine, front-page article that gave a lot of information on Alexander’s racing history and what is happening next for him.  You can read it by doing a search on the paper’s website,  I recommend it.

Gaining a Friend through Aussie Rescue

Cordon Bleu, better known as Blue

Cordon Bleu,
better known as Blue

On Monday, June 20th, Kelly and I finished the adoption process for Cordon Bleu through Aussie Rescue.  I never knew adopting a dog had so much paperwork.  We agreed to many things, including that we would never give Cordon Bleu, known as Blue to his friends and family, away to anyone, that we would never shave him (No way would I ever do that anyway.  I’d sooner shave my hair and beard.), never to let Blue ride in the back of a pickup (Again, something I would never do.), always keep him on a leash outside unless in a fenced backyard for 12 weeks (A good policy even for after that period.), etc.  We underwent a written online survey and a home inspection, as well as meeting Blue before we could adopt.  I haven’t felt so “under the microscope” since we applied to move to the Isle of Man, maybe even more so.   Am I complaining?  Absolutely not.  NorCal Aussie Rescue (click here) and Kim, who runs the operation in the area, want to make sure that the dogs she rescues aren’t sent to someone who will not take good care of them.  There is even a 30-day full refund period after adoption.  Considering some idiot abandoned Blue, I am in full agreement with a process to prevent that ever happening again.

Jilly-dog A real sweatheart

A real sweetheart

If you’ve been a reader of my blog, three years ago I wrote about the loss of my companion and family dog, Jilly, an Australian shepherd. (click here to read)  I was devastated.  After almost three years, I yearned to have the “friendly presence” of a dog in the house again.  Although I like the long-haired “working dogs’ like Aussies, I was afraid that I would always be reminded of Jilly and expect the next one to be a clone of her, so I checked out rescue border collies.  I filled out the application and kept a watch on the adoptable dogs.  Since I was looking for a dog no more than four years old and not too hyper, it limited my choices.  One great thing about rescue sites is you get a bio on each dog, letting you know age and personality, with a photo.  There was one dog that seemed ideal, but when I emailed the site there were eight others ahead of me in line!  Then, in January of this year, I checked NorCal Aussie Rescue.  At the rescue site, I saw Condon Bleu , who sounded good.  Then I read that he was “reactive with strangers” and wasn’t ready for adoption.  There was another Aussie, Rocco, who seemed a possibility.  I filled out the application and Kim, the person who had told me about Jilly being kept in Woodland’s animal shelter in 2004, responded.  She brought Rocco, who was called Rocky, out while she inspected our place.

Rocco, a.k.a. Rocky A big boy

Rocco, a.k.a. Rocky
A big boy

Let’s just say that at 70-plus lbs. and tall for an Aussie, Rocky was in the heavyweight class, as well as quick on his feet . . . er, paws.  He also put his paws on our marble table and on the grand piano (fortunately covered).  It wasn’t that he was a “bad dog,” just large and a bit rambunctious for our life style, never stopping his roaming around the house.  Still, I felt that familiar tug at my heart when Rocky was in the ring . . . er, living room.  I felt he could be trained.  After Kim and Rocky left, Kelly and I were discussing Rocky when we got a call from Kim.  She didn’t feel Rocky was a good match for us.  She takes her duties very seriously and did not want Rocky going to a home where there would be problems in the relationship.  Still, it was disappointing and we felt that the problems were more with us.  “We flunked,” Kelly said.

Cordon Bleu's photo on the Aussie Rescue website. Who wouldn't love a face like that?

Cordon Bleu’s photo on the Aussie Rescue website. Who wouldn’t love a face like that?

I would go on the the rescue websites periodically to check for new recruits, but no joy.  Days went into weeks and weeks into months.  Then I noticed that Cordon Bleu’s bio had been updated.  He was doing very well with people and dogs and was ready for adoption.  Well, he had problems with chickens and cats, but we have no cats and only eat chickens we get normally from Costco, so that would not be an issue.  I contacted Kim again and she brought Cordon Bleu (who I will henceforth call Blue, since the French word sounds too much like “blah”) out to see how he would do with us.  She told us that he was very attached to her, sticking close to her all the time, and was not sure he would do well with a man.  When she got here, we took him out into our fenced yard and played a little ball with him, then went inside and sat in the living room.  Blue came over to visit me at my chair and I rubbed his spine.  We seemed to get along.

After Kim left with Blue, I wasn’t sure if we’d made the grade.  After a day of no word, I was concerned.  Once I’d met Blue, I really wanted him to join our home.  Hesitantly, I emailed Kim and asked her what was the next step, fearing that there would not be one.  She said we needed to have three days in a row when we would not leave Blue alone and that it would have to be after she took Blue to the vet again.  Kelly and I were meeting our daughter and son-in-law for lunch on Father’s Day, but it looked like late afternoon of that Sunday would work.  I was like a kid waiting for Christmas morning.  Due to misunderstanding on telephoning procedures, it ended up that Blue could not come to his new home until the next day.  I’m way too old to feel like the kid who Santa missed, but I did.

Kim brought Blue to his new home on Monday.  We went through all the signing, agreements and info on caring for Blue.  I’ve done some real estate deals and they do take more paperwork, but so does dog adoption.  Especially the part where you slice your palm and drip blood on the contract to seal the deal.  Just kidding.  I think.  Anyway, Kim trusted us and left Blue with us.

Blue's first day with us.

Blue’s first day with us.  He looks a little unhappy, but that soon changed.

He was anxious for several hours after she left, pacing the house, but calmed by the evening and was even sleeping on his back behind my chair.  When we put him in the crate last night, he would whimper a bit, but stopped when I said “no.”  I walked out of the room to do a quick email and he whined, even though Kelly was there.  One time he banged on the crate door and I took him out to see if he needed to wet, but he just wanted to stay up and play.  After about a half an hour, he was fine and slept through the night.  It’s sort of like a kid who has his first night at camp and misses home.  He never whimpered in his crate again.  In a couple of months, we hope to have him sleeping on his own bed.  I may have to put it right next to my side of the bed.

Blue on a leash. We weren't actually on our walk, but Kelly doesn't want to get yup at 5:45 a.m. to take a photo!

Blue on a leash. We weren’t actually on our walk, but Kelly doesn’t want to get up at 5:45 a.m. to take a photo!

Blue and I went for our walk at 5:40 a.m. the next morning along the Nevada Irrigation District canal (that I call the ditch) and he loved it.  It is a dirt trail that is right along the running water, with lots of trees.  There was no one on the trail, so we had a great time.  Jilly used to wet one or two times on the walk, but he marked our trail about thirty times!  I wondered how big his bladder was.  At least he did his part against the drought.  We have gone every morning since and he has been fine with the few people and animals we have met.  Well, except for the doe and fawn on the trail in front of us one time.  He really wanted to prove he could run them down.  We serve him Taste of the Wild dog food, so maybe he wanted a real taste of the wild.  When I went home afterwards I may have found out why he had so much energy.  I found the empty container for some cookies that had been on the kitchen counter.  He must have grabbed it while I was in the bathroom before we left for our walk.  He was on a sugar high.  Our walk has lengthened from about 2 mi. to 3.7 mi. (per the Mapmywalk app on my phone).  Blue seemed tired and slowed a lot the first day, but no longer.   I bet he could got 10 mi. now, but I don’t know that I could.  There is saying that a fat dog is the sign of an out–of-shape owner.  As lean and strong as Blue is, I only wish I were in commensurate condition.

It’s been about three weeks since Blue joined the family.  He tries to stay beside me all the time.  Whenever I leave a room, he follows right behind me.  I call him the strong, silent type because he’s not a barker, but sometimes he does whine a bit whenever I leave.  I also call him my bud, Ol’ Blue Eyes, True Blue and Blue Dog, but I like nicknames.  He’s only about 8 months old at most and I’m happy with that because I am very attached to him already.  I want him with me a long time.  Young age and a good disposition were the two key requirements for choosing a dog, but if I’d made a long list of wants, he’d have fulfilled about every one of them.  He is one great dog.

They trust us, giving us loyalty and love. This is how they are treated.

They trust us, giving us loyalty and love. And this is how they are treated.

There is a moral to this message: rescue a dog.  The dogs deserve better than they have been treated.  Dogs have given their lives in the military, will sacrifice themselves to save their masters from harm, and give unswerving devotion to the humans that own them, yet far too often are given only cruelty and abuse in return.  There are too many of our four-legged friends that have suffered by the hands of humans and we owe it to them to reach out to them.  Dog rescue services try to right some of these wrongs.  The people who run the rescue operations are some of the most dedicated, unselfish people you will meet.  If you prefer, go to an animal shelter and save one of those poor, neglected dogs.  A quick Google search will locate the rescue operation or animal shelter in your area.  So, rather than buying from a breeder or “puppy mill,” rescue a dog in need.  I close with a quote from John Galsworthy that speaks to me.  “The family dog – the only four-footer with rudiments of altruism and a sense of God.”






Scottish Games

A Pipe Band at a Scottish Games

A Pipe Band at a Scottish Games

Over Memorial Day weekend, I will be attending the United Scottish Society’s Scottish games in Costa Mesa, CA, known as Scottish Fest, (click here for info) selling my Celtic saga, Three Legs of the Cauldron.  Alas, I have only attended Scottish Games in California, so my impressions are not of any Games in Scotland.  Those are competitions in athletics and dancing, far different than the Celtic fairs of America.  Even the one at Braemar that the Queen regularly attends and draws about 20,000 people is focused on the competitions.  There will be kilts and pipe bands, but no clan booths or musicians (sorry, pipers, I mean no slight to your musical talents).  They harken back 950 years to the time of Malcolm II, known as Canmore or Bighead, who is said to have had the games as a way to have Scots compete with each other without someone literally losing his head. Since he’s the guy who killed the historical Macbeth, there may be some irony there.  But I digress.  Back to the New World.

Lady Saltoun, chief of the name Fraser and Lord Lovat, chief of the Lovat Frasers

Lady Saltoun, chief of the name Fraser and Lord Lovat, chief of the Lovat Frasers

The games in America are more of a fair or festival, hence the name Scottish Fest for Costa Mesa.  I first attended these games when they were held at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona.  It was 1981, a hot Sunday afternoon, and my little clan (family) barely made it to them before closing time.  They were a rather small affair then, but I was bitten by the Scottish bug.  My nearest tie is through my father’s mother, a Fraser.  A couple of years later, I went to the games the Clans of the Highlands used to hold in Chino as a member of Clan Fraser Society of North America.  Although a small games, they had the necessary components of a games in America: clan tents, vendors of about every item Scottish and not so Scottish as well as food and drink, and Scottish, or at least Celtic, musical entertainment.  Oh, yes, they also had Scottish athletic and dancing competitions as well as pipe bands.  Other games might add a Highland animal exhibit, sheepdog competitions, whisky tasting, historical re-creationist groups (Want to meet Mary, Queen of Scots?  Well, not the real one, since she’d be rather decomposed by now, but someone who has taken a lot of time to learn to act like she would have.  She just might be there.), and even odd events like beard competitions.

Caber Toss

Caber Toss

What do the Games in Scotland and the Scottish Games in America have in common?  Much.  The athletic competitions always have some uniquely Scottish events.  The most dramatic is the caber toss, which has been termed the telephone-pole toss by those of non-Scottish descent.  Some burly guy in a kilt balances a log the size of a telephone pole upright against his shoulder, slowly trots ahead and heaves it upward so that it lands on the other end and falls forward.  It’s supposed to land perfectly upright and fall directly away from the competitor.  Take it from me, it’s not easy even with a smaller, practice one. (click here to see)  Then there is the stone toss.  It’s like shot putting, except with an irregularly shaped stone weighing about 18 lbs. and done with no approach, feet firmly planted.   (click here to see)  Next is the weight toss over a bar, similar to a pole vault bar.  The 56 lb. weight has a ring attached for gripping and tossed over a bar 18 ft. or more directly overhead.  Not keeping an eye on the weight could be fatal.  (click here to see)  Then there’s a 28 lb. weight toss for distance.  Finally, there is the 22 lb. hammer throw for distance.  This is also an Olympic event.  In the Scottish games, the big guys throw it 185 ft. or more.  (click here to see)  In the Olympics, the record is 284 ft.  Of course, the Olympic hammer is 6 lbs. lighter and has an easily-gripped handle on the end of a chain instead of a simple pole!  Maybe the Scottish one is a little too much for the rest of the world.  The real kicker is that, unlike the Olympics, Scottish heavy competitors compete in all these events and over a relatively short period of time.  Not exactly the same, is it?

Highland Fling

Highland Fling

Another common ground for Scotland and America are the dancers.  Highland dancing is not done with a partner and is energetic, to say the least.  The sword dance is done over a pair of crossed swords, supposedly originally done by Malcolm Bighead celebrating his victory over Macbeth.  If a dancer touches one of the swords in this difficult dance, he or she loses major points.  (click here to see)  The Highland fling requires the dancer to stay in the same spot while going through fast and rigorous steps.  (click here to see)  Both of these are performed mainly on tiptoe.  Although there are other dances like the sailor’s hornpipe, these are the essentials of Highland dance competitions.  There is no improv in any of these dances.  The dancer must learn the steps and follow them.


Lone Piper

The last commonalities for the New World and the Old World games are pipers and the kilts.  Pipe bands are the mainstay for the music at the games.  You can hear pipers practicing their music, often eerily wafting through the games.  You either love them or you hate them.  There is a joke that says that a bad piper sounds like someone strangling a cat.  A good piper sounds like someone strangling a cat gently.  However, if you’ve got any Scots blood in your veins, the sound of a good pipe band will send cold chills down your spine.  (click here to see and hear)  I remember when my wife and I were first in Scotland in 1986, we were driving along a glen when we saw some red deer and got out for a photo.  It was about 11:00 at night, but still twilight and the hills along the burn were covered with heather.  There was not a person or a house in sight.  A lone piper was playing somewhere in the far distance, echoing along the glen.  It was so beautiful it almost brought tears to my eyes.  (click here to listen)  I am a Scot, not only by some of the blood in my veins, but in m heart.

James Bond in a Kilt. No one to mess with.

James Bond in a traditional kilt. No one to mess with.

And then there is the kilt.  I cannot take the time to go into the entire history of the kilt and tartans, but what has evolved is a pleated wool garment with a tartan that is registered with the Scottish Register of Tartans.  For most, that means a Scottish Highland clan or Lowland family.  In America, you will see many men in these kilts at the games. but many more who are not.  They are custom tailored, somewhat expensive and, quite frankly, take a little courage to wear.  Although, as I said, I have not been to any Games in Scotland, I would imagine that is the case there.  Here, however, things have changed since I got my kilt in 1983.  Now there are Utilikilts and their Pakistani knock-offs.  These are off-the-rack, made in heavy cotton, solid-color or camo instead of tartan cloth and (shudder) have pockets.  While it’s a free country and anyone can wear whatever they wish, I will never wear a Utilikilt.  To me, it would be like wearing Jockey underwear (Y-fronts for my British friends) and calling them swim trunks: not the same thing and rather embarrassing to be seen in in public.  An American site summarized my thoughts very well.  “They took a traditional garb and perverted it.  A kilt is a symbol of Scotland and its history.  A Utilikilt is someone trying to functionalize culture.”

Scary dude in Utilikilt

Scary dude in Utilikilt

It’s like wearing white athletic shoes with a tux: just not right.  If you figure the cost of my kilt for the 30-plus years I’ve owned it, it’s not that much, far less than an iPhone and lasting far longer.  If you want to show your Scottish heritage, do it with the real thing and not a cheap substitute.  When you walk in a real kilt, there is a “swoosh” of the fabric side to side.  When you walk in a Utilikilt, it hangs stiffly down.  A U.K. site called it, “hardly a kilt at all, but a man skirt, marketed as a kilt.”  If you wear a Utilikilt, just be honest and say it’s a man-skirt.  Like a man-purse or a man-bun, it’s a masculine version of a feminine fashion item.

Wicked Tinkers- not exactly traditional Scottish music.

Wicked Tinkers- not exactly traditional Scottish music.


But back to the games.  For Americans, they are a Scottish festival as well as competitions.  The music reflects that, although I do wish there were more in the traditional style than the modern, rock-type, but the organizers book what draws the crowds.  While they’re not to my taste, I guess I can live with that.  The vendors provide a chance for purchasing British food and drink, Celtic jewelry, British knick-knacks and Celtic-themed clothing that varies from T-shirts to kilts and tracing your name’s ancestry.  There are also books on Celtic topics, which is where I fit in.  As I said, I will be autographing and selling Three Legs of the Cauldron at the Celtic Nook booth in Costa Mesa as well as Pleasanton, CA, over Labor Day weekend.  (click here for info)  Then there is that American innovation, clan tents.

Clan tents

Clan tents

For native Scots, they consider clan membership to be a matter of birth, not joining.  If you’re born a Fraser in Scotland, you are a member of the clan.  However, in America (and I now understand in a number of other countries as well), you join a clan society.  Requirements vary, but most bend over backwards to find a way to include those interested in membership.  We are a nation of mutts, so pure-blooded Scots are rare and oft times the connection is many generations back.  Many clan societies have ties with the clan chief or chief of the name in Scotland, but there is no copyright on a name and some are not connected with Scotland at all.  Nonetheless, it is all about preserving our Celtic heritage.  In this modern, mobile and transitory society, many of us are looking for roots, a tie to the past that will keep us grounded in the present.  Having manned the Clan Fraser Society of North America clan tent as Southern California Convener for many years, there is a special place in my heart for those who put time, effort and money into preserving this heritage.  That great duo, Men of Worth, have made a tongue-in-cheek song about them entitled The Clan Tent Cavaliers(Click here to listen)  At the clan tents, diasporan Scots can find their connection to their heritage.  Dedicated volunteers are more than willing to share their research and knowledge with any who stop by.  It’s all free.  If you attend the games in America and have any Scottish name in your ancestry, take the time to check out your clan tent.  It’s a part of the Scottish games experience in America.

Pogo for President

The Possum Himself, Pogo

The humble possum himself, Pogo.  Is he ready to throw that hat in the ring?

In 1952 and 1956, there was a dark horse running in the presidential campaigns.  Well, make that a light-colored possum.  It was Pogo.  The star of a comic strip of the same name, creator Walt Kelly described him as,  “the reasonable, patient, softhearted, naive, friendly person we all think we are.”  He was one of the good guys.  I mean possums.  While also termed “opossums,” I will use “possums,”  which is how these marsupials are termed in his native Ofekenofee Swamp in Georgia, near Fort Mudge.  Yes, those are real places, but there the reality ends.  In his comic strip, Kelly spun tales with more characters than a Russian novel, combining wit and wisdom, slapstick and shtick, puns and pithiness, and satire and sarcasm in a delightfully amusing mix.  In all the mayhem and madness, Pogo stands above it all, or rather sits on his flat-bottomed boat and fishes.  He is the epitome of what is right with America: honesty, integrity and lack of political ambition.  He is the antithesis of what it takes to be president nowadays.

I GO POGO! Do you?


In case you didn’t get the idea, I am not happy about this year’s choices for president.  In light of that, I am dusting off Pogo’s hat and throwing it in the ring.  Here and now I am announcing that Pogo is once again running for president.  Sure, like William Jennings Bryan and Adlai Stevenson, he is a proven loser, but Richard Milhous Nixon lost a run for the presidency in 1960 and a run for California governor in 1962, yet came back to win the presidency in 1968.  Pogo can do it, too, and I guarantee there’s no Swamp-gate waiting to wash out him out of office.  So let’s rally behind the true political outsider, the possum with nothing in his closet but striped shirts and who never offended anyone.  He’s never mishandled confidential government emails, never had a company he owned go bankrupt, never lied or changed his position on anything.  In fact, he’s never had a position on anything.  Except for a little swamp mud, he’s the truly clean candidate.  As of now, I GO POGO!

A poster from Pogo's ill-fated movie.

A poster from Pogo’s ill-fated movie.

Now, to address those who claim that no candidate can be as clean as Pogo, especially one who lives in a swamp, let me squash that mud before it’s slung.  Someone will surely bring up the rather embarrassing 1980 movie, I Go Pogo: Pogo for President.  With Walt Kelly’s wry humor combined with Pogo’s consummate knack for pithy and profound observations, it should have been great, right?  With a cast of zany character actors like Johnathan Winters, Vincent Price, Ruth Buzzi and Stan Freberg voicing the cast, it should have been a hoot, right?  Wrong.  (click here to view.)  Walt Disney brought in Mark Paul Chinoy to write the script, attempting to adapt the late Walt Kelly’s comic strips (he died in 1973) and to direct it.  Chinoy showed his lack of experience (and, I would say, talent) as well as missing the mark on capturing Kelly’s use of satire, malaprops and “swamp lingo.”  The “claymation” stop-action movie would have been far better if Warner Brothers had done an animated feature, written and directed by Chuck Jones, the creator of Marvin the Martian, Pepe LePew, the Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote and Michigan J. Frog, my favorite.  But Disney’s version was more of a Pinocchio than a One Froggy Evening (click here), a kiddie movie rather than a sophisticated satire.  All in all, it was a pretty Mickey Mouse movie.  It went straight to video and never even made the cut to DVD.  For that, Pogo is thankful.  At least it wasn’t some even more embarrassing Kardashian-like sex tape, even though Pogo didn’t wear any trousers for the entire movie.

Albert with his cigar, possibly Cuban.

Albert with his cigar, possibly Cuban.  But it now might be a legal one.

Then there are some of Pogo’s friends.  The last president from the Goober State was another Washington “outsider,” Jimmy Carter, who had questionable-banker Bert Lance and brother Billy of Billy Beer and Libyan loan fame.  Yet Jimmy’s personal reputation was never muddied with their misdeeds.  Georgia good ‘ol boys were just part of the culture.  The same is true for Pogo.  Let’s take Albert the Alligator.  Sure he smokes cigars the way Billy drank beer, and that’s no longer accepted.  Sure he gets involved with characters like Howland Owl and Churchill “Churchy” La Femme (sounds a lot like Cherchez la femme), who are also friends of Pogo, but their plans always come to naught and Pogo has never been linked to any illegal or unethical actions himself.  Just like Jimmy Carter.  And unlike some other past and possibly future presidents.  Plus Albert has never done anything but smoke his cigar, unlike a certain former president who is a current candidate’s mate.  So you can go Pogo without fear he will be accused of an impropriety.

Miz Mam'selle Hepzibah, the next First Lady?

Miz Mam’selle Hepzibah, the next First Lady?

No improprieties includes sexual ones.  Although he has been linked to a certain Miz Ma’m’selle Hepzibah, the farthest they have gone together is across the swamp for a picnic.  True, being linked to a sexy French skunk might be thought unwise by some, but let’s look at this more closely.  Jacqueline Kennedy, nee Bouvier,  was thought to be French because of her beauty, classy style and fluency in French, yet is one of the most beloved First Ladies this country ever had.  True, she was actually only 1/8 French and 1/2 Irish, but no one thinks of her as Irish and in politics, perception is everything.  While there are species-ists who will never accept Miz Ma’m’selle Hepzibah, she is half white and half black, which is rather the current thing in presidential politics.  And if anyone insulted her to her face, she’d probably raise quite a stink.  In fact, if Pogo married her, it would likely keep his critics at a distance.  A far distance.  Not only that, it would prove his complete lack of prejudice and be very PC.

So, are you ready for the next step in American politics?  Are you willing to bring in the ultimate outsider?  The best man (or woman) for the job of president is not a man or woman: it’s a possum.  Reality is highly overrated, if the slate of current candidates is an example.  Be unreal.  Be a part of a real grass roots movement and help me bring true honesty, humility and ethics into the White House in 2016.  I GO POGO!  Will you?


Royally Banned

You question be being king?

R L Cherry, do you question me being king now?

It’s true.  I’ve been royally banned from seeing the tweets by His Pomposity, “King” Drew Howe, the the self-proclaimed King of Mann.   I was going through old emails, dumping many, when I saw this one that told me  @JodyPaulson had tweeted, “@RL_Cherry You know what? @HoweRoyal and his lovely family have done more for tourism for the Isle of Man than you’ll ever do. #Jealous.”  Obviously, I’d offended Ms. Paulson by giving the facts on KD’s bogus claim to kingship of the Isle of Man.  I agree that he has done more for tourism.  The best thing about the dog-and-pony show that TLC presented was that it showed some of the beauty of the Isle.  I’m sure that KD getting his show helped tourism.  That begs the question about legitimacy of his claim.  However, before deleting the above mentioned email, I decided to check out what good ol’ KD was up to and went to his twitter account.  There, I was greeted with “You are blocked from following @HoweRoyal and viewing @HoweRoyal’s Tweets.”   I have officially been declared persona non grata by the pretender to the Manx throne!  If KD actually did become king, likely I would be beheaded if I ventured back to the island that was legally my home for five years.  I can’t tell you how much that pleases me.  I must have become such a threat to him that he didn’t want me to see what he tweets.  KD is still free to view my tweets, but I’m not ashamed of what I write.  In honor of my new standing, I will fire my final salvo at the Faux King of Mann.  Or Man.  TLC can’t seem to decide which spelling to use.

Sir Terry Pratchett, author of fantasies

The late Sir Terry Pratchett, author of fantasies

After finding that I was royally banned from KD’s twitter, I checked out his “official” website (click here).  I suppose KD has not figured out how to ban me from seeing it.  Yet.  The site has been cleaned up since I last saw it.  No longer are there opportunities to purchase Manx titles of nobility for tens of thousands of dollars.  No longer are there ties to the rather dubious  The Sovereign Magistral Order of the Temple of Solomon.  Now it has a brief outline of KD’s claim, info on “Suddenly Royal,” and contact info, plus a number of touching family photos.  It still states that the “UK Barrister firm Pratchetts issued an official Barrister’s Opinion further affirming the legal use and possession of the hereditary royal titles of his ancestors in relation to the Isle of Man.”  I did a little poking around.  The only listing by Solicitors and Barristers for the UK is Pratchetts, 555 Lincoln Road, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, PE1 2PB.  It also states “Please note: Please be aware that we are currently updating all our solicitor listings, and Pratchetts my(sic) no longer exist, may have merged with another law firm, or may have different contact details to those shown below.”  Further searching reveals that it has a staff of one, Ian Pratchett, and specializes in “Injury Lawyers or solicitors, Divorce Lawyers or Solicitors, accident claim solicitors, accident lawyers, Criminal Lawyers, Conveyancing Solicitors, Immigration lawyers or wills and probate experts amongst others.”  There does not seem to be a company website for Pratchetts.  Obviously, this is not an old and prestigious law firm in London that one would normally contact about establishing a claim to a British throne.  Yet this is the rusty hinge upon which KD’s claim swings.  It would have been more appropriate if KD had sought the opinion of the late Sir Terry Pratchett, the author of the “Discworld” series of fantasy novels instead of Ian Pratchett, the solicitor.

Queen Elizabeth II, the Lord of Mann

Queen Elizabeth II, the real Lord of Mann

One interesting observation is that none of those who he admits have a better claim to the throne of Mann (if there were one to claim) have stepped forward to take their place in front of him.  Obviously, they realize that it is not valid.  In fact, Robert Currey (apologies again for my previous error in your family tree) is one of those who appeared on “Suddenly Royal” when KD met with him and his family regarding a claim senior to KD’s.  Mr. Currey commented on this site that, “At no stage has anyone in our family including my grandfather claimed Lordship or Kingship of Man. As my mother, Heather Currey stated on camera the Queen is the Lord of Man. Like many other comments, this was edited out.”  Such honesty did not mesh with KD’s claim, so actual reality lost to the fantasy “reality” of TV.  Damn the truth, full fantasy ahead.

Me in my fantasy role as a Scottish soldier of fortune

Me, as my fantasy Renaissance  Faire character.  I knew it wasn’t real.

I have seen online comments about “Suddenly Royal” that say how KD is such a great family man and how delightful his wife and daughter are and I agree it seems that way.  What’s my beef?  Although KD does come across as rather crude and rude, that’s not the issue.  And if this were just a little, private fantasy of his, that would be fine since I have nothing against fantasy.  I used to enjoy going to Renaissance Faires in character as a soldier of fortune.  But I never thought my Renaissance Faire character was a real person.  I never tried to make money from it and never forced it upon other people.  Fantasy is not reality.  Except for on reality TV, like “Suddenly Royal.”  KD has made himself a public figure by being on the show with his pretension to the kingship of Mann and thus opened his fantasy claim to investigation.

I watched all the episodes of “Suddenly Royal.”  If I hadn’t been writing about it for this blog, I wouldn’t have made it.  I won’t go over old ground except to mention that he never did address the fact that, while talking about moving to the Isle of Man, KD never addressed the fact that he needed to obtain permission to do so and never did so.  Big problem.  He never covered the history of how the Stanleys were given the kingship of the Isle by the king of England and did not inherit it, then changed it to Lord of Mann and finally the Murrays, who inherited it, sold it to the Crown.  Even if he were the heir (more than doubtful), he had nothing to inherit.  Big omission.  With that quick summary of my past blogs, let’s visit the last episode of the Howe saga, “Suddenly Royal.”

Thash a niesh red.

Thaaash a niiish red.

The family discussed moving to the Isle and what kind of job KD would find without talking about the difficulty of obtaining permission from the Manx government.  Since I’ve covered so much of that already, I’m only going to talk about the “Royal Garden Party,”  the swan song for KD before he flew off into the sunset.  In other words, took a westbound plane back to America.  In the planning, Lady C and Ms. KD do a wine tasting.  Now, I’ve never known of a wine tasting with just one red, one white and one sparkling, and a full glass of each, but that’s what they did.  I guess the choices were limited and they wanted a buzz.  Lady C said that all the invitations had to be hand written.  Not true.  Even for a very formal dinner, they may be engraved.  Not only that, handwritten ones should be on proper stationery with either the sender’s address or crest engraved or printed at the top.  This party was neither formal (black tie) nor was it a meal, so Lady C displayed her lack of true understanding of proper etiquette.  Then Lord K gave a lesson in receiving one’s guests, saying a lady offers her hand to be kissed.  Rubbish!  Having met titled ladies in Scotland and on the Isle of Man, I can say that this is pure balderdash.  I’ve never seen the Queen do this in any movies or photos either.  More unreal “reality.”  But, then, neither Lady C nor Lord K are actually from Britain, nor did they inherit their titles.

The location chosen for the party was stunning, with TLC no doubt footing the bill.  Unfortunately, I never caught the name of the place or where it was on the Isle of Man, didn’t see it in the credits and couldn’t find it online.  Nigel Sperring, who was the gracious host/butler for the event, owns the well-rated Albany House B&B in Peel, but that was not the location.  Too bad, I’d like to have known where it was.  The actual “Royal Garden Party” itself was not so stunning.  I counted about 25 attendees, other than the “royal family,” and, of course, none of those were in formal attire.  Considering all the publicity the show has had and that there was free food and drink provided, it was not a very impressive number out of an island of eighty-five thousand people.  Lady C was there, but Lord K wisely bowed out.  The Manx Radio personality, Stu Peters, was the most notable of those who attended and the only member of the Fourth Estate, if you consider radio to be a part of that.  The Curreys were also there, which I found a little surprising.  A few ladies from the Women’s Institute came, but not their Federation Chairman for the Isle of Man.  No Lieutenant Governor, no Members of the House of Keys, no Deemsters, no mayors, no bishop or rectors, no finance-sector notables no movers and shakers of any sort.  And KD considered it a success.  When people or events didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped, I remember my mother-in-law used to tell me, “Lower your expectations.”   If this were a success for his run at kingship, KD’s expectations must have been low, indeed.

King George VI: the stuff real kings are made of

King George VI: the stuff real kings are made of.

Then came the king’s speech.  Too bad KD didn’t learn from the movie of that name.  He takes the stage, as it were, overdressed in black-tie, formal attire.   After a few awkward sentences, he stands there like a deer in the headlights, much like during his Manx Radio interview.  Finally, Ms. KD feeds him his lines and he stumbles through them.  At one point in the series, KD had whined, “The people were mean to me. They didn’t take me seriously.”  How could they?  I know little of “reality” TV is real, but why let himself look like such a bumbling buffoon if there were not some truth in it?  After a few seconds of silence, the crowd starts to clap.  I’m not sure if it were because of Manx politeness or some TLC tech was standing in the wings with an “APPLAUD” sign.  After the party was over, KD commented that he thought it went well.  I suppose being delusional helps when you’re claiming something that isn’t yours.  At a true Royal Garden Party, the Queen (the Lord of Mann) enters after the guests have arrived and the national anthem is played.  It is a class affair.  (click here)  The Isle of Man anthem, Arrane Ashoonagh dy Vannin or Land of Our Birth, was not played at this affair.  Odd for a Royal Garden Party.  But, then, while KD has shown a lot of class during the “Suddenly Royal” series, it was all low.

King William's College on the Isle of Man, where my daughter attended.

King William’s College on the Isle of Man, where my daughter attended.

I don’t deny TLC’s “Suddenly Royal” probably helped Isle of Man tourism by showing the beautiful scenery and that, by being the instigator, KD had a part in that.  But that was not why he did it.  He got a free vacation to the Isle for him and his family, was able to publicly air his bogus claim and, I am sure, was paid as well.  It was not to help the Isle.  So what, Ms. Paulson, is there to be jealous of?  While my contribution to tourism has only been this blog, a few lectures and personal contacts, while I lived there, I was an active part of Manx society.  I was a member of the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, joined the Manx Classic Car Club, served on the Parochial Church Council at Kirk Bradden, and held the position of Chieftain of the Saint Andrews Society of Ramsey.  My wife and I were also members of the Friend’s of King William’s College, where we helped raise funds for my daughter’s school by organizing events like The American Dream 50’s party and a Western line-dancing hoedown with fellow committee members.  I also taught third-form history (8th grade) there for a couple of months while the teacher recovered from a mild stroke.  We were invited twice to the Christmas reception at Governor House by the Lieutenant Governor, His Excellency Sir Timothy Daunt.  Finally, my Master’s thesis, “The English Civil War and the Manx Rebellion: A Comparison of Seventeenth-century British Revolutions,” is in the Centre for Manx Studies.  So, while I agree that I have not done a great deal for tourism on the Isle of Man, when I went there it was to live and be a part of life on the Isle.  It was not to claim to rule over the Manx and exploit the Isle for my personal gain.  But, if hell froze over and KD did become king, I would be sure to wear a steel collar if I visited again.  However, I advise KD not to quit his day job as an “auto repair adviser,” whatever that is.  The Manx are not fools.

The Seal of the Kingdoms of Elgaland-Vargaland.

The Seal of the Kingdoms of Elgaland-Vargaland.

However, I am not heartless.  Poor KD is desperate to be a king, so I have a suggestion that requires no public support.  Set up a kingdom like the Royal Kingdoms of Elgaland-Vargaland [KREV] (click here).  Swedish artists Leif Elggren (now undisputed King Leif) and Carl Michael von Hausswolff established the kingdoms in 1992.  They are “all Border Territories: Geographical, Mental & Digital.”  According to its website, the Kingdoms have a flag, constitution, citizenship, ministries, embassies and, most importantly, a gift shop.  There, anyone can buy T-shirts, stamps, recordings of the national anthem, etc.  Since their prices are far less than KD was asking for noble titles, he could actually sell some and make a profit.  His kingdom could be where one enters when having a fantasy, an area in which he has some expertise.  I would suggest Fantasia, but it’s already taken.  Perhaps the Land of Drewablank?  Or the Kingdom of Howeboutit?  Give it a thought, KD.

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.