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.

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?

I GO POGO!   I DO, I DO!

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.

 

King of Mann

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

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

King Orry

King Orry

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Suddenly Royal

Coat of arms of the Isle of Man

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

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

Bonnie Prince Charlie A Pretender With A Real Claim

Bonnie Prince Charlie
A Pretender With A Real Claim

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

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

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

World Tin Bath Championship in Castletown

World Tin Bath Championship, Castletown            Photo by BBC News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House of Keys Logo - Green on White

House of Keys Logo

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

James Stanley- 10th Earl Of Derby

James Stanley-                       10th Earl Of Derby

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Buying Collectible Cars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.hagerty.com/valuationtools/HVT/VehicleSearch
http://www.nadaguides.com/
http://www.buyclassiccars.com/value.asp
http://www.collectorcarmarket.com/
http://www.hemmings.com/

Old San Francisco

"HI, I'm Chad."

“HI, I’m Justin, your wait-buddy.”

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

John's Grill on Ellis Street

John’s Grill on Ellis Street

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

Johnny Walker and Soda?

Johnny Walker and Soda?

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

The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon

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

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

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

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

Dashiell Hammett

Dashiell Hammett in coat, tie and fedora

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

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

 

Happy Birthday, Bach

ill_be_bachWhile you may have heard that the famous Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach was born on March 21, 1685, he wasn’t.  Well, that’s what the date was when he was born according to Old Style dating, but the calendar changed before he died, so he was born March 31, 1685 according to New Style dating.  Is that as clear as mud?  Let me muddy the waters more.

Julius Caesar established a reformed calendar in 46 BC.  However, it lagged the astronomical calendar by 11 minutes a year.  Hey, what’s a few minutes a year?  By 1582, it amounted to 10 days, so Pope Gregory XIII did a quick-step and bumped the calendar up 10 days to correct that.  However, only Catholic countries, i.e., Venice, the Papal States the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, the Spanish Netherlands, Portugal, and France made the change at that time.  Although Protestant countries later fell in line, Bach’s Saxe-Eisenach only did so in 1700, making him born March 21, O.S. (Old Style), but March 31, N.S. (New Style).  Since I was also born on March 31, I opt to use the N.S. dating, making him a birthday brother, so to speak.

The Three B's Bach, Beethoven and Brahms

The Three B’s
Bach, Beethoven and Brahms

The “Three B’s” are considered the premier composers, all beginning with the letter B.  Although Bach, Beethoven and Brahms are now considered to be the three great B’s, it was not originally so.  In 1854, composer and writer Peter Cornelius described the Three B’s at Bach, Beethoven and Berlioz in an article meant to elevate Hector Berlioz to the stature of the already-recognized greatness of Bach and Beethoven.  If you’re not that familiar with Hector’s works, don’t feel like the Lone Stranger.  Although considered influential in the Romantic period, he and his works are not well known to the general music listener.  However, later that century the conductor Hans van Bulow replaced Berlioz with Johannes Brahms (Mr. Lullaby) in his assessment of the great Three B’s and the rest is history.

The Rabbit of Seville

The Rabbit of Seville

Getting back to J.S. Bach, let me give a more personal note of why I am so proud to have been born on his birthday.  I was not brought up in a household that listened to classical music.  In fact, the only classical music I remember experiencing was in Warner Brothers cartoons.  Who can forget Elmer Fudd singing “Kill the Rabbit” to the tune of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” in (click here) “What’s Opera Doc?”  Or Bugs Bunny singing “Let Me Shave Your Mop” in the revised version of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” (click here) “The Rabbit of Seville?”  Yet I had no idea these were but parodies of the great musical masterpieces lying in wait for me.

When I went to college, there were private listening rooms in the library where I could play records (I’m dating myself here) while listening to them on headphones while I studied calculus or fluid dynamics. One of the platters I played was (click here) “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” by J.S. Bach.  I was hooked.  Perhaps it was because his intricate precision appealed to my engineering mind.  Musicologist Hebert Anton Kellner considered Bach a mathematician because of this aspect of his music (click here).  Whatever the case, this superstar of the Baroque era of classical music became a favorite of mine and remains so to this day.  I can honestly say that Bach was a guiding light on my path of musical appreciation.

For those of you who remember the TV show M.A.S.H., when Hawkeye is giving Radar a crash course in classical music for a nurse he is dating, Hawkeye tells Radar to just say “Ah, Bach,” if the nurse brings up J.S.  The reason is that Bach is the penultimate composer, about whom nothing needs to be said.  Unfortunately, Radar doesn’t quite understand.  (click here)  Yet, the point is well made: the very name of Bach says it all.

Birthday Boy, Johann Sebastian Bach

Birthday Boy,
Johann Sebastian Bach

Only a fool would deny the fact that J.S. Bach was a great composer.  There are far better sites from far better musical historians who write on that, so I will not make any feeble effort to compete.  I will only say that he is the greatest to me.  I will also note that the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church has a (click here) feast day in his remembrance on July 28th every year (he died on July 28, 1750).  As an Anglican myself, I find this most appropriate for a man who wrote some of the greatest musical works of all times, primarily for the Christian church.  For an example, click here for a performance of “St. Matthew’s Passion.”

Happy 330th birthday, Bach.

Friday the 13th

13 friday2015 will have three of the ultimate of unlucky days, Friday the 13th.  February, March and November will all host one.  While not common to have so many, it will happen eleven times this century.  For friggatriskaidekaphobics, they will be very bad years.  In case you didn’t guess, friggatriskaidekaphobia is an irrational fear of Friday the 13th, deriving from the Norse goddess Frigga, the wife of Odin who donated her name to Friday, combined with Greek tris (‘three’), kai (‘and’), deka (‘ten’), and good ol’ -phobia.  Don’t like that word?  How about paraskevidekatriaphobia, which combines paraskevi (‘Friday’) and dekatria (‘thirteen’) with our beloved -phobia.  But enough esoteric etymology, why is Friday the 13th the penultimate unlucky day?  Herein lies the rub.  No one really knows.  So let’s explore some of the conjectures posited.

13 for dinner

13 for dinner with a Judas in the mix

Friday was the day Jesus was crucified after dining with 12 of his followers, one of whom betrayed him, although we do not know if it were the 13th day of the month.  That would seem to be very bad luck and should have credence, especially in so-called “Christian countries.”  Obviously, such a tradition of fear would have started a couple of millennia ago, right?  Wrong.  There is no ancient Christian tradition of Friday the 13th being unlucky.  While 13 has been considered an unlucky number to seat at a table for many years, even that cannot be definitely linked to Christianity.  Loki, the Norse god of mischief, was the 13th god at an unlucky Valhalla banquet and well may be the source of that superstition.  But, as far as the legend goes, we don’t know that the banquet was on a Friday.

Things got hot for Jacques DeMolay

Things got hot for Jacques DeMolay

Another theory is that it started when the fabled Knights Templar came under persecution by King Philip IV of France, known as “The Fair” because of his hair color rather than his equability, arrested Templar Grand Master Jaqcues DeMolay and other members of the order on Friday, October 13, 1307.  Now that really sounds like the source, right?  Unfortunately, (if you’ll pardon the pun) there is no reference to it being an unlucky day from that time hence.  In fact, as late as 1882 there is no record of Friday the 13th being considered particularly unlucky.

No way is that my room!

No way is that my room!

Friday itself had long been considered unlucky, again for reasons lost in time.  Perhaps it was because Jesus was crucified on a Friday, but pagan Germanic tribes considered it an unlucky day as well.  The number 13 has had a bad rap in most Western cultures so that up to 80% of high-rises are built with the floors numbered without a 13, but not in Asian ones, which consider 4 the unlucky number.  Why?  Oft times trying to attach logic to superstition is a wasted effort.  But when did 13 get attached to Friday as a double whammy?  It seems that a group of anti-superstitionists got together and officially formed the Thirteen Club in New York City on Friday, January 13, 1882.

The Thirteen Club was started by men who wanted to flaunt their disbelief in superstitions, including those about Fridays, when many hangings were done (we’re not talking pictures here), and of the number 13.  They also purposely broke many mirrors, which undoubtedly was good luck for the glass industry.  Ironically, the club may well have been the originator of the whole Friday-the-13th obsession, for they would hold a gala event when Friday and the 13th of the month intersected.  Branches of the club sprang up all over the States and Britain.   And with them, Friday the 13th observations of anti-superstition by their members.

However, the Thirteen Club may well have been the founders of what they despised: a new superstition.  In 1907, stock promoter Thomas Lawson published a  book entitled Friday, the Thirteenth.  In it, the protagonist manipulated the stock market to destroy his enemies by playing on their fears of Friday the 13th.  Obviously, since 1882 and 1907, something had altered in the Western view of Friday the 13th and the Thirteen Club may well have been the agent of change.  The club whose motto was “that superstition should be assailed and combated and driven off the earth” might have started one of the biggest superstitions of all time.

Jason Returns in Monday the 13th, Part XXX

Jason Returns in “Monday the 13th, Part XXX”

The consequences of creating Friday the 13th fears are pervasive.  A whole series of slasher movies might otherwise have been called “Monday the 13th.”  Or, if made by an Italian, “Friday the 17th,” since 17 is an unlucky number in Italy.  A British study found that since fewer people drove on Friday the 13th than the Friday before.  Since that resulted in fewer fatal accidents, it was actually a lucky day for those who might not have otherwise survived it.  Perhaps that’s a bit of “making your own luck.”  Then again, a study claims that $800,000,000 is lost annually by businesses that day because people won’t marry, travel and, for the most fearful, even work on Friday the 13th.  No doubt, there are those who will cite bad things that happened to them on some Friday the 13th.  But then, other people could do that for any day and date.  As for me, I opt to go with the spirit of the now-defunct Thirteen Club and thumb my nose at the superstition.  I won’t, however, purposely break any mirrors.  It’s not that I fear seven years of bad luck, but it’s a waste of money.