Double Top

August 14th, 2021

My dad was a great dart player. He and my grandfather won the  Swansea Hancock’s Dart League doubles title in 1947/48. That was no mean feat. Darts was the undisputed pub game in the country. It would be decades before pool tables were installed in pubs, and very few, if any, pubs in Swansea had skittles alleys. Trivia Quiz leagues were a figment of somebody’s imagination back in the 1940s. My dad’s favorite shot was ‘treble 19.” Some darts connoisseurs would argue that he should have aimed for the maximum number of points, “three treble twenties,’ giving you a total of 180. Nevertheless it’s difficult to criticize a player who regularly scored 171.

I once asked my dad for advice on how to improve my dart game, but he wasn’t very forthcoming. It was probably similar to asking George Best or Ivor Allchurch how to play football, or seeking Fred Trueman’s advice on how to bowl fast, or asking Tiger Woods how to play golf. They all had one thing in common. They had a God given talent for excelling at a sport, but they were unable to explain to lesser mortals how to do it. Basically throwing darts accurately came naturally to my dad and grandfather. By all accounts, my grandfather (who  unfortunately passed away before I was born) was a bit of a hustler. He would go down to the pub with only enough money  in his pocket to buy one pint, put his name on the board to play the winner of the previous darts game. Losers were obliged to buy the winner a pint who remained on the oche to play the next opponent. Sometimes my grandfather would have an early night by losing his first match, but invariably he  enjoyed many raucous nights and several free pints when he was unbeatable.

They both played in a darts team in the Hancocks League for a pub called The Jersey Arms which was situated in the Hafod, best described as a blue collar district on the outskirts of the old town centre. A darts team comprised eight players who would compete with other pub teams over  a best of five legs. Each leg comprised 501 points with a double to start and a double to finish. Each player would take turns to throw three darts until one team ended the leg with an appropriate double.

My uncle Phil was the landlord of the Bevans Arms in Morriston, and quite often my dad would play  darts for my uncle’s pub team. My mum would sometimes serve behind the bar to help my uncle if he was short staffed while my dad played darts. One week, the team was a player short , and my dad persuaded my mum to make up the numbers which she reluctantly did. She was very short sighted, but vanity prohibited her from wearing glasses which she usually kept in her handbag.

A couple of hours had elapsed and the teams were level with two legs apiece. My mum had barely hit the dart board never mind trouble the scorers when the final and deciding leg began. The teams matched each other in reducing the 501 to reasonable proportions until they were both left with doubles to win the leg and the match. My mum was next up for the Bevans Arms and my dad pointed to the double twenty (DOUBLE  TOP,) and said: “aim for the top of the board Vi.” Her first two darts didn’t even hit the dartboard, but her third and final dart sailed miraculously into the small segment they call double top. The pub’s clientele erupted into joyous raptures, but my mum returned to her place behind the bar serving pints of Trumans ale, and exclaimed: “Never Again!”

The Interview

April 22nd, 2021

In just over a month I will be celebrating my 25th anniversary living in America. I’m not sure if celebrating is the appropriate term considering recent events, but it will do for now. I wrote several articles in the first few years I was settling into the great American dream which I have never posted on my blog. The following article is one of my favorites:

In 1997, while I was still working on the ramp at Hartsfield Airport, I was offered the opportunity to interview with a computer software company for a sales position. My wife’s relative worked for the company and encouraged me to apply and also set up the interview. He believed I would make a great salesman with my Welsh accent and unique charm (his words not mine!) I didn’t share his confidence in my retail ability, but he reminded my that the company was famous worldwide, and the products sold themselves by reputation. This would return to bite me in the leg later but I digress.

The interview was arranged for 4.30 pm, and I had ample time to work my morning shift on the ramp, drive home, shower and shave, and put on my wedding suit and power tie. I left the house one hour prior to the interview to avoid any possible traffic congestion, and to give my time to compose myself. I arrived 3/4 hour early, and decided to walk around to clear my head of negative thoughts. It’s hot in Atlanta in May, particularly wearing a suit and tie, and I was beginning to burn up. A sweaty head and perspiring palms are not really items on wishes to present to a prospective employer  at an interview, but there was no respite from the heat except for one straggly tree which was token contribution for landscaping a sea of tarmac. I decided to make a good impression and present myself 15 minutes early.

I straightened my tie, wiped the insteps of my shoes on the back of my pants, and opened the door to reception, but there was no receptionist to greet me. Remember this was 1997 when receptionists had not become an endangered species. I assumed she had stepped out to powder her nose, and I patiently waited and waited and waited. There was a glass door behind the reception desk which displayed a sign in black bold letters: EMPLOYERS ONLY. Through the opaque glass I could decipher human shapes scurrying back and forth, and I assumed somebody would notice me and attend to me. They could at least put me on the right track to fame and fortune, but to no avail.

It was now 4.30 pm, and I was beginning to become a tad anxious. Cold beads of perspiration were running down my back and my glasses were beginning to steam up. There was still no sign of a receptionist, but I assumed the interviewer would come and get me. Assumptions were not helping me in pursuit of the American dream, and I was now late for the interview. I had entered the desperate hours, and it was time to execute  Plan B except I didn’t have one. The only items in receptions were two chairs and a telephone sitting on top of the reception desk. A TELEPHONE!!!! It was now 4.45 pm, and with nothlng to lose, I picked up the receiver and heard a dialing tone. Now what? Dial “0” and wait. Following several rings, a little voice answered. I had a human contact at last and she said:

“XXX Company, this is Cindy, how may help you?”

“Hello, I have an interview with Miss Personality from Human Resources.”

“What is your name Sir.”

“David James.”

“One moment Sir while I contact Miss Personality and tell her you are here.”

“David, Miss Personality will be with you momentarily when she’s finished sharpening her claws. In the meantime, please have a seat.”

Five minutes later, enter Miss Personality.

“David Jones? You’re late; your interview was scheduled for 4.30.”

“It’s James actually, and I was early. I arrived at 4.15 and I have been waiting in reception for 45 minutes.”

“Didn’t you read the sign: PLEASE RING FOR ATTENTION?”

“What sign? There is no sign. What’s this an initiative test?”

“Oh never mind, I can spare you a few minutes. I thought your name was  David Jones, and not James Jones. Why is HR always giving me the wrong information? I’ve got hundreds of forms for you to complete. Sit down in that hell hole while I read your resume. If you manage to complete them before I go home tonight then I’m not fulfilling my job properly.”

I believed the British had the patent on red tape and petty bureaucracy, but I had obviously underrated Corporate America. I managed to complete the forms before Miss Personality could hotfoot it through the exit door, and she greeted me with a leer. She instructed me to sit down on a chair across from her desk. My chair was at least two feet lower than hers.

“What makes you think you can be a salesman when you have no experience in that field?”

“I admit I have no experience in sales, but I am well aware of your Company’s respected reputation world wide, and their products sell themselves.”

I mentioned earlier that latter comment would bite me in the leg. Little did I realize it would be a stake through the heart.

“Well that’s a gross over-simplification, and you’re sadly mistaken if you think our salesmen turn up at the office and the orders come rolling in>>>>”

“I’m sure there’s much more to it, but equally with expert training and guidance provided by your Company, I would be up for the task.”

“Do you know what products our Company sells, and who our main competitors are?”

By this time the interview was going to hell in a hanging basket. The products sell themselves line had sunk like the Titanic, and my mind was turning into a mushy blank sheet of paper.

” Hum, well hum, you sell computer software and stationery, and as for competitors, I’m new to America>>>>>>”

Well I have a meeting to attend in five minutes and unless you have any questions>>>>>”

My peers always stressed to me that the cardinal rule in interviews is to be sure to ask at least one question, or at least I thought so until>>>>>

” Yes, I do actually.  What type of areas are sales reps expected to cover, and what type of transportation do they normally use?”

The veins in Miss Personality’s temples grew to gigantic proportions and she was positively bristling with contempt.

“A car of course and covering an area anywhere between Alabama, Georgia and Florida. What other means of transport could you possibly use?”

I pride myself in being quite intuitive, and I had been acutely aware for some time that this lady hated my guts. This had to be the worst interview of my life. My job prospects at this Company went AWOL at the reception desk, minus the sign, and I decided to go down will all guns blazing.

“Well depending on the area, I thought maybe taking the train would be appropriate, and I also own an airplane (which I don’t) which I could use, providing suitable airfields were available, and my expenses were reimbursed accordingly.”

Miss Personality flopped back in her chair with an incredulous expression on her face. She looked for all intents and purposes like a cartoon character who had just been smacked in the face with a jackhammer.

“Just kidding>>>>> but it pays to have a sense of humor in sales, don’t you agree, Miss>>>>”

Slowly recovering her composure she replied:

“If you say so, Mr……David….. thank you for finally turning up for the interview. I will be reviewing your application over the next few days, and will decide whether to call you back for a second interview which would be with one of our senior sales managers. You will be notified by post. I appreciate your interest in our company  and have a pleasant evening. Please find your own way out.”

As I walked past the back of the reception desk I  noticed a card lying on the floor. I picked it up and written on the card in bold letters was: “PLEASE RING FOR ATTENTION.”

Approximately a week later, the standard reply arrived and surprise, surprise, my services were not required at this time, or at any other time.

What Ever Happened to Customer Service?

April 3rd, 2021

Lock down restrictions are beginning to ease in Atlanta, and we decided to take advantage by taking our three grand daughters to Applebee’s which is a reasonably priced chain restaurant. The parking lot wasn’t very full when we arrived, but the good news was the dining room was now open, according to the big sign displayed in their front window. We opened the door and noticed there were a couple of staff members sitting at the bar, but none of the tables or booths were occupied. Nevertheless, it was relatively early in the evening and we waited patiently at the front desk waiting to be seated.

Approximately ten minutes at elapsed when a sullen hostess came walking up the steps towards us, brandishing a bunch of napkins which she slapped on the desk. We were all wearing masks and so was she, standing the required six feet apart, but she gestured in an aggressive manner for us to stand further away. It was not going well. In fact it quickly went downhill:

Wife: Hello.

Hostess: Can I help you?

Wife: We need a table for a party of five please.

Hostess: Name?

Wife: We don’t have a reservation.

Hostess: We don’t take reservations.

Wife: Why do you need our name?

Hostess: To add you to our wait list. It will be a 35 minute wait.

Wife: What are we waiting for? ( pointing to an empty dining room.)

Hostess: We don’t have enough staff.

Wife: Thank you very much.  (sarcasm dripping from her every fiber) We’ll go somewhere else. Background comment from me: But there’s nobody else here!!!!!!

We trudged back to the car and Grand daughter No 2 exclaimed: ” My stomach hurts. I’m so hungry.”

Postscript: The reason for the wait could possibly have been the result of online orders. But we will never know as the hostess with the charm and personality of Meghan Markle  grudgingly told us they were short of staff. We eventually found a restaurant at the third time of asking which saved Grand daughter No 2 from wasting away.  Lock down caused by the pandemic has been very stressful for restaurants and bars, but that’s no excuse for staff to be churlish to customers. Needless to say, hell will freeze over before I set foot in another Applebee’s.

The Little Man from Honduras

December 4th, 2020

I was pottering around the front yard on Saturday afternoon and pondering how I could trim my hedge which is over 15 feet high when I noticed a transit van trolling past very slowly. Next thing I know the van had turned around and was now parked outside my property. Out jumped a little man in white overalls and baseball cap who proceeded to shuffle tentatively down my drive.

I told myself to behave in a  nonchalant fashion as he approached me, but to be on my guard if he drew a knife, gun or paint brush. The paint brush came to mind because he had smatterings of paint on his overalls and a sign on his van indicated he did painting and too many other things to mention.

He bid me good day in broken English and proceeded to point at my driveway. Maybe I was slow on the uptake, but we were lost in translation and I was becoming very frustrated and I blurted out: “What do you want?”  He somehow cobbled a few words of English together and asked if I wanted my driveway pressure washed. That must have taken a huge effort on his part because his English was worse than my Spanish which is limited to si, gracias,  por favor and no mas ( thanks to Roberto Duran.)

I attempted to explain to him that I usually  did the job myself at which time my wife joined me and she can speak Spanish reasonably well. They exchanged pleasantries, and I was beginning to have second thoughts and blurted out again: “how much would you charge?” His eyes lit up in delight and said he could do it for $200. I then enquired when he could perform the dastardly deed and he managed to conjure up Monday at 9am. We shook hands and he left with a big smile on his face before turning around to say: “si you Monday!!”

Now, those not familiar with pressure washing, it plays havoc with your lower back if you are a reasonable height, but the little man from Honduras was too short to cut cabbage and would merely bend at the knees  to complete the job.

It rained cats and dogs on Sunday and leaves were falling like dollar bills when the stock market crashed. My wife assured me she had checked the weather forecast and the rain would ease up over the weekend. I woke up Monday morning and looked outside. Admittedly the rain had stopped but the driveway was quite wet and hundreds of leaves were stuck to the surface, and it was quite chilly. I thought to myself that surely he would not turn up in this weather.

There was no sign of the little man at 9am, but my wife said that Latinos were always late and to be patient. She was on the mark because his van pulled up outside around 9.45am. I urged her to ask him did he want to return another day when the weather improved, but he shrugged his shoulders and said he would do it.

An hour had elapsed and he was making decent progress, but suddenly I couldn’t hear the machine running. I looked out the window and he was frantically pulling at the cord on the machine and oil was trickling down the driveway from where he was standing. I stepped out of the house and asked him what was wrong. It was his turn to blurt and he said repeatedly: “oil, oil, oil……..” I let him have two bottles of my high quality oil and immediately regretted it  when he cried out: ” la maquina es basura” which translates to “the machine is trash” according to my wife.

He said to my wife in Spanish that he had only used the crappy machine twice and he looked like the sky had fallen in on him. But have no fear, Jamesy’s here. I offered him my machine and his eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. My wife and I pulled the machine from out of hibernation and it started first time, purring like a Honda which it is. Only to find the nozzle on my spray gun was broken. But all was not lost when The Little Man from Honduras stepped up to the plate, and miraculously attached his gun and nozzle to my machine, international cooperation at its finest.

Following an eventful hour of extreme emotions, he was back on track  and completed the job without further interruption. It was a job well done and would have been worth every penny if he hadn’t been forced to use my machine, oil and fuel and of course my water. To make matters worse, my darling wife gave him a tip, and in doing so made one little man from Honduras very happy.

 

 

Twenty Four Hours

September 26th, 2020

It’s true what they say. Life can be jogging along quite nicely with very little drama or disruption and then unexpectedly from out of left field, boom! I had been experiencing some mild chest pains for some time, but they were inconsistent. Then last Tuesday I was having dizzy spells and I lost my balance a few times to add insult to injury.

Following some constant nagging from my dear wife, I decided to call my medical provider, Kaiser Permanente. Most of the branches remain closed owing to COVID 19, and one has to negotiate a series of ever decreasing circles to make an appointment with one’s doctor. I was eventually put through to a nurse adviser who asked me to describe my symptoms. Twenty minutes elapsed and she announced that she arranged for me to have an evaluation at one of their Medical Centers which was open.

She then proceeded to give me instructions: ” please arrange for somebody to drive you there within the next two hours. Go to Advanced Care and collect $200, no that’s Monopoly.  Give the Receptionist your name and health care number. She will do the rest.” My wife drove and we arrived a little after 2pm, but  wasn’t allowed to come in due to the COVID 19 restrictions.

No sooner had I found a seat in the waiting room practicing social distancing and wearing a mask, I was whisked into a medical room by  a couple of nurses who took my temperature and blood pressure. Another nurse arrived shortly after, sat me in a wheelchair and transported me to the Cardiology Department. Yet another nurse directed me to a private room and asked me to remove my clothes and put on one of those ridiculous hospital gowns and lay on the bed.

The vampire nurse arrived and extracted the first of many blood samples. A very sallow looking doctor walked in and announced that I was being wheeled out for a couple of X-Rays and would be having a CT-Scan later in the afternoon. I returned to my room and was hooked up to a series of wires which were fixed to my chest. The blood pressure strap was attached to my arm and would remain there for the rest of the day and night, taking my blood pressure every twenty minutes.  Oh yes, despite my repeated protests it was confirmed I would be staying overnight for continuous observation. Did I forget to mentions the oxygen clip attached to my finger. The Vampire nurse returned and inserted a IV tube in my arm to save me from any unnecessary punishment. This would prove to be very useful the next morning.

Somewhere among these various tests I attempted to call my wife who could have been dying of heat stroke sitting outside in her car. I had no service on my phone and a nurse was kind enough to lend me a phone. Fortunately my wife was still breathing when I finally managed to get through to her, and I gave her list of essential items I needed to survive the night. She did a pitiful impression of Arnie, and said: “I’ll be back!”

Later in the afternoon with X-Rays and CT-Scan completed, a nurse  hooked my phone up with the medical center’s WIFI. I called my wife again, and  I pleaded with her to bring me some food as I had not eaten since 7.00am, and a nurse had warned me that Medical Center cuisine was barely edible. The nurses were very  considerate, but my wife was my guardian angel. She dropped off my essential supplies along with my evening meal at approximately  7pm which was delivered to me by a masked security guard. Chicken nuggets, waffle fries and diet lemonade from Chik-Fil-A had never tasted so good.

I devoured every single morsel and crumb, and attempted to settle down for a very long night. Try having forty winks with a blood pressure strap squeezing your arm every twenty minutes, wires attached to your chest, an oxygen clip attached to your finger, and an IV tube dangling from your arm. By the way I can’t sleep on my back.

Miraculously I was beginning to doze when there was a knock on the door and in walked yet another nurse who I hadn’t seen before. She wanted to take another blood sample, but because of some protocol couldn’t use the IV tube, and promptly stuck a needle in my hand to earn her share of the pickings.

I was instructed not to eat or drink anything after midnight, and I attempted to batten down the hatches for the night. Thank goodness I had my kindle to rely on because sleeping was virtually an impossibility. I did manage to doze for an hour only to be awakened by another nurse who determined my oxygen levels were low and she proceeded to place a breathing tube up my nostrils. No you will not sleep on my watch!!!

Daylight finally arrived at around 6.30, and I was informed I would be taken at 8.30 to another department and prepped for a “nuclear stress test.” The normal treadmill test was not available because of COVID 19. Upon arrival  I was required to drink a pint of water and walk continuously for twenty minutes. I was then transferred to another room and a chemical was fed into my body intravenously which simulated the treadmill test.

The only reaction I experienced was chills with goose bumps rapidly appearing on my arms. Feeling no worse for wear apart from goose bumps and having to eat peanut butter crackers, and  drink a small glass of coke to counteract the chemical circling my body, I was wheeled back to my room to await the results of my tests.

Two hours later, yet another doctor   whom I had not seen before, entered my room. She announced that all my tests had come back and were negative. The tests couldn’t find anything wrong with me. So I was prompted to say: “That’s good news, but does that mean I’m a hypochondriac?” She replied: ” No, it means we have eliminated certain issues, and you will need to arrange an appointment with your primary care doctor to discuss the next course of action.”

Twenty four hours later, almost to the minute, my wife was waiting for me outside to take me home. Watch this space for further developments.

 

 

Sporting Moments from the Guildhall

June 6th, 2020

I spent 28 years in Swansea’s Guildhall working for The County Borough of Swansea and latterly Swansea City Council following local government reorganization in 1974. Following a failed attempt to qualify as an accountant I found my niche as a town planner. However my most memorable moments were  representing the Local Authority in a number of sporting activities. We are belonged to the union, NALGO (national association of local government officers) who organized sporting competitions between the various local Authorities across South Wales. They were knockout competitions, so if you lost in the first round the season was over!

The first sports competition I took part in was darts which comprised a team of eight playing the best of five legs of 501 apiece We traveled up the Swansea Valley to parts unknown to play our opponents and were soundly thrashed. There is a long interval between throws with a team of eight, and copious pints of beer doesn’t help the concentration. My lasingt memory was one of my team mates, Mike Hurst, teaching us bawdy rugby songs as we travelled back to Swansea in the mini bus.

Not long after, I read a notice asking for rugby players to form a team to play Port Talbot Town Council in a forthcoming match. I had played rugby in high school, but I had always had an inkling to play scrum half to emulate my hero, Gareth Edwards. My friend, David Abbott, and I signed up to play at scrum half and outside half respectively. We were soundly annihilated 0-40 on our home turf, and I was made the scapegoat for our abject performance. I couldn’t really argue with their withering assessment, so I decided to hang up my rugby boots and head for the hills.

When I moved to the planning department, the sporting challenges came thick and fast. Next up was lawn bowls comprising a team of four: Jack Jones (my old boss,) Gareth Jones, Dave Firkin, and your truly.  We bundled into a car and  headed for Llandeilo to face our opponents, who proved to be very hospitable hosts. They plied us with food and alcoholic beverages (mostly alcohol) during the match. So much so, that our skip  (the venerable Jack Jones) had difficulty keeping his balls (no pun intended) on the rink, and we capitulated in a drunken haze.

Skittles was probably my favorite and most successful  sports event in the colors of Swansea Nalgo. A skittles team comprises 12 players each armed with three wooden mis shapened balls which are rolled along a wooden alley with the intention of knocking down nine skittles standing at the other end of the alley. The game takes place inside a pub and is usually played over five rounds whilst drinking several pints of beer. Not one pub in Swansea had a skittles alley and we played all our matches in a pub in Pontardawe which is approximately 10 miles from Swansea.  We always ordered fried chicken in the basket for each member of both teams during the interval, but the meal was affectionately known across the country as the French Revolution (head in the basket, get it?)

A skittles match could evoke various emotions over the course of an evening, and could also lead to physical interaction which sometimes bordered on sexual harassment. We were playing a women’s team in the Cynon Valley, and two women began groping me as I was about to throw. Being the complete professional, I completed my throw and suggested they continue their massage on completion of the match. They replied: “What you take us for, we’re married?” All is fair in love and war I guess.

We had reached the semi-finals for several years only to be knocked out at the penultimate hurdle by our nemesis, Cardiff City Council. We made the final at long last, defeating our dreaded rivals on our own patch. The final was held in Cardiff against South Glamorgan County Council, and we felt we only had to turn up to win the coveted trophy.  We were dead level after four pulsating rounds, but unexpectedly lost our nerve in the deciding round. Well some of us did. My boss, Robin Blakely, rolled two of his balls (please) into the gutter along the alley which proved decisive.

I played cricket for Nalgo only once and never wanted to repeat the experience. It was really the Albert Quirk x1 who usually selected his cronies. He asked me to play because they were a man short, and I reluctantly agreed. Now I was a useful medium paced bowler in my twenties, but not in Mr. Quirk’s eyes. He eventually brought me onto bowl when the opposition had amassed a massive total and the batsman were seeing the ball like a “football” and smashing the ball to all parts of the ground. I bowled a couple of overs without success and retreated to the confines of third man. The most excitement I had that day was when Andrew Miners gave me a lift home after the match in his Triumph TR7. We had no seatbelts, red traffic lights were of no concern to him, and speed limits were for the faint hearted. Memo to myself, never accept a lift from Mr. Miners again.

Some of the quirky aspects of the Guildhall included a table tennis table in the “Green Room” behind the Brangwyn Hall. I played a couple times a week during my lunch break, and Martin Appleby asked if I would like  to play in a three man team against opponents residing in the Rhondda Valley. However, I was just an average player and no match for my opponent. Our best player was a 64 year old commissionaire on the verge of retirement who had a compulsion to deride his fellow team mates. Moving on……….

The most competitive and enthralling game I took part in was a football match between Swansea City Council and West Glamorgan County Council, both of which were located in  Swansea about a mile apart. It was the semi-final stage of the Nalgo competition and we played at Fairwood which was used as a training facility for Swansea City Football Club. The game was a battle royal between two very competitive teams with the play ebbing and flowing from end to end. The lead changed hands several times, but West Glam finished stronger  and won with a flattering score line of 5-3. I bumped into their captain, Mike Nantcurvis, the next day somewhere in town, and he was anxious to tell me it was a great game. I thanked him, but it was little consolation for losing.

We had some great times courtesy of NALGO despite ending up on the wrong side of the result for most of the time. How does that old saying go: ” It’s not the winning that matters, it’s how you play the game. What a load of codswallop.

 

 

Me and My Machete

April 19th, 2020

It’s bamboo season at the James household which means bamboo shoots will soon be sprouting up all over my yard and I need to cut them down as they appear to prevent them from becoming a sequel to “The Day of The Triffids. Another movie that comes to mind is “The Naked Jungle” but I’ll save the analogy for another post. I find the best tool for controlling the bamboo is my trusted machete. You have to cut them at the source before they engulf you and your yard.

My machete recalls another incident where it played a key role in getting my car back from a local car accessory store. I had left my car at the store to have roof rack fitted. It’s approximately half a mile from home as the crow flies. However I live at the end of a cul-de-sac, and walking the length of my street onto the adjoining highway would take three times as long to reach the store.

However there is a more direct way which would require cutting a path through brush and brambles to the rear of my property,  negotiating a steep bank which terminates into  a local church car park, and then onto the highway a couple of hundred yards from the store. Hence the need for the machete. It was a sunny spring day and I deemed the undergrowth not to be too intimidating.

Perhaps wearing a polo shirt and shorts was not the appropriate outfit to take on this challenge. Anyway I reached the base of the bank perspiring profusely with an accumulation of cuts and scratches on my arms, legs and neck. The steep bank presented more of an obstacle than I anticipated, but I eventually stumbled into the car park on my hands and knees. Luckily there was nobody around to witness my foolishness.

I recovered my composure to the best of my ability in the circumstances, and gingerly made my way along the road to the store which was now a mere 200 yards away. I was so relieved to make the store  that I forgot I was brandishing a machete, and seeping blood on various parts of my body. I opened the door to the reception to be confronted by the owner and another customer who immediately stopped their conversation and stared at me with terror etched across their faces.  My fellow customer finally cut (no, he didn’t have a weapon, not that I could see anyway) the ice and asked: “Tough neighborhood????” I just replied: “Oh no, I was just taking a short cut (there’s that word again.”) The owner stammered: ” Your c–c-c-c-car is r–r-r-ready Mr. James. I replied: “Let me catch my breath, and I’ll put my machete down and get my wallet out to pay you.” The owner said: “Take your time, Sir. I’m going to the restroom for a rub down with a damp edition of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution.”

A Guide to Coronavirus-Related Words and Phrases

April 13th, 2020

Asymptomatic: someone who has not show symptoms of being ill

Cluster: a disease of infection “cluster” is a place where people are affected by the same health event at the same time in higher-than-expected numbers, the CDC says.

Community spread: the term means that people in an area have become infected with the virus, including people who are not sure how, or where, they became infected.

Complications:-pneumonia is a reported complication of COVD-19.

Coronavirus: a large family of viruses that can affect people and animals. The name comes from the Latin word for “crown” which is what coronaviruses resemble under a microscope.

COVID-19– An abbreviation of “coronavirus disease 2019”, its the World Organization’s official name for the new coronavirus.

Incubation period– the amount of time it takes for a person to show symptoms after being exposed to a disease. Experts believe the incubation period of COVID-19 is between 2 days and 2 weeks.

Infectious: an infectious disease is an illness spread by pathogens, such as a virus or bacteria. They are sometimes different from person to person. Many infections are contagious, like the flu, but some, Like food poisoning, aren’t. COVID_19 is an example of a disease that is both contagious and infectious.

Isolation: isolation is put in place for people who are known to have the virus.

MERS: Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, is another known strain of coronavirus. It was first detected in 2012, and its largest outbreak occurred in 2015.

Mortality Rate: the mortality rate of a disease is defined by the CDC as the frequency of death in a given population in a given time period.. For COVID-19, it would be calculated by dividing the total number of deaths by the total number of cases.

Novel: a novel form of a disease means it is new. Before it had an official name, COVID-19 was referred to as a novel coronavirus because the strain hadn’t been seen in humans before.

Epidemic: an increase in the number of disease cases beyond what is normally expected. Often the increase is sudden, the CDC says.

N95 and surgical face masks: N95 respirator masks are the type most proven to protect you from acquiring COVID-19.

Outbreak: an outbreak is defined the same way as an epidemic but refers to a smaller geographic area.

Pandemic: a pandemic is defined by the CDC as a disease that has spread to multiple countries or continents.

Presumptive positive: A COVID-19 test result is referred to as a “presumptive positive” when a person has been tested positive by a public health laboratory but the result hasn’t been confirmed by the CDC.

Public Health Emergency: The WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a public health emergency at the end of January. WHO defines a PHE as the imminent threat of an illness or health condition caused by bioterrorism, and epidemic or pandemic disease. It also defines it as an imminent threat from a highly fatal infectious agent or biological toxin  that puts a significant number of people at substantial risk.

Quarantine: in addition to separating sick people from healthy people, a quarantine also involves restricting a person’s movement.

SARS: severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, is another strain of coronavirus that was reported in China in 2002. It infected more than 8000 people in 26 countries by the time the outbreak stopped in July 2013.

Self-quarantine, self-isolation: people who largely stay inside their own home, hotel room or other space are said to s-q or s-I. However, there is a technical difference. Quarantine refers to people who appear healthy, but could be at  risk for exposure or infection. Isolation refers to separating  positive or presumptive cases from the healthy population.

Shelter in place: on March 16, six counties in the San Francisco area ordered residents to “shelter in place,” a directive aimed at keeping people  in their homes for three weeks, with the order widened to the whole state a few days later. It’s now being implemented around the world. It’s a fairly strict measure aimed at curbing community spread.

Social distancing: The CDC says social distancing is one way to prevent the spread of disease. It involves staying several feet apart from others whenever possible (a minimum of 6 feet is recommended) and doing things like avoiding public transportation and other crowded areas.

Symptomatic: a person who is symptomatic is showing signs of being sick or ill. Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, coughing and shortness of breath.

Transmission: Transmission refers to how a disease spreads. COVID-19 spreads primarily through droplets when people cough and sneeze. Its possible that the virus can be spread by touching surfaces that are infected, but its believed to be less common.

Ventilators: it’s a machine that helps a person breathe by expanding their lungs and supplying them with oxygen when it’s too difficult to do so on their own.

Weak positive: a COVID-19 test that comes back as “weak positive” means that low levels of the virus were found.

Z00notic disease: Coronaviruses are transmitted between humans and animals-that’s the “z00” in zoonotic. It’s believed that the virus originated in a shoehorn bat before being transmitted to another animal, and then to humans. Domestic pets are not currently considered reservoirs to widely spread the disease, however. Other zoonotic diseases include anthrax, rabies, lyme disease, swine flu, West Nile virus, salmonella and malaria.

A Valentine Weekend

March 10th, 2020

Not many husbands fly their wives 4000 miles to have a romantic Valentine dinner overlooking the picturesque Torquay Bay in Devon. Well, I assured it was picturesque because it was difficult  to see in the dark. One of the restaurant’s specialties was venison which we both love. We live in Atlanta, Georgia, as regular readers will know, where deer hunting is a very popular sport. But quite bizarrely, venison is rarely served in restaurants in Atlanta and you can’t buy it in the stores. There are meat processing plants which butcher the meat for hunters, but don’t sell the product to the public.

The real reason for our impromptu visit to the UK was to attend my sister-in-law’s funeral who passed away quite suddenly. It is quite weird how a sad event can create other opportunities. I hadn’t seen one of my nieces in approximately 17 years. Neither had I met my brother’s 4 grandchildren. That’s not quite true. I met the eldest who is now 18 years old when she was toddling around in a nappy (diaper if you prefer.)

We awoke from our slumber on Saturday morning to be confronted with Storm Dennis which was pounding the Devon coastline. Winds were whipping up a storm approaching 85 mph accompanied by torrential rain resulting in serious floods. A red amber alert relating to extensive flooding was  posted for South Wales where we were heading the next day for the funeral. The Severn Bridge which is the main route from England to Wales was threatening to close if the wind velocity didn’t subside.

Fortunately Storm Dennis decided to take a breather and we tentatively  began our journey  towards the Land of Our Fathers. The rainfall was incessant, but the wind had subsided. I could deal with heavy rain having previously lived in South Wales for forty plus years.

My son also attended the funeral, and we served as pall bearers, walking side by side of the coffin into the crematorium to the dulcet tones of Abba singing “Dancing Queen.” Neither of us knew whether we should raise our hands and perform a rhythmic wave as Abba fans tend to do, but fortunately discretion was the order of the day.

We then transferred to my brother’s church for a celebration of my sister-in-law’s life. Various people came up   to share their stories of how, where and when they had met my sister-in-law and recalling the impact she had  on their lives. They were interspersed with hymns and arias, and eulogies from my brother and his two daughters. The service ended with a video of Dolly Parton displayed on a giant screen singing a gospel, her ample bosom heaving as she attempted to hit those high notes. I learnt something new again. I had known my late sister-in-law for over 55 years and didn’t know she was a fan of ABBA or Dolly Parton.

We flew home the following Thursday, but the drama was not yet done. We fly standby owing to my wife’s former status as an airline employee. The plane leaving Heathrow for Atlanta was barely full which meant we were assured seats in first class. Not so fast my friend. We were informed that we would be confined to punter’s class (economy) because there were so few passengers who had to be dispersed for weight and balance purposes. Ten hours later we were touching down at Hartsfield Airport and relieved to be home.

Little did we know that the corona virus was hot on our heels. How many rolls of toilet paper do we have love?????

 

From Cavaliers to Roundheads

February 25th, 2020

I watched Wales playing France on Saturday, and was completely depressed by their performance. To be honest, I am not a great fan of modern rugby. It reminds me so much of rugby league which to me has always been a second cousin to rugby union. That is, when rugby union was played with flair and verve. I know rugby union went through a barren period during the sixties embodied by a match between Wales and Scotland. The Welsh captain on that day was Clive Rowlands. Playing at scrum half, he received the ball  from  the lineout for the umpteenth time, and proceeded to kick for touch approximately 96 times. It was a  diabolical spectacle. His gifted half back partner, David Watkins, never received a pass.

Rowlands’ performance led to a change in the laws. It was decreed that kicking directly into touch would only be permitted from within your own twenty five. Otherwise, the ensuing lineout would be taken back from where the kick was taken.

Fifty plus years on kicking from the hand still played a huge role in Saturday’s match. But this was much worse. Wales’s Biggar and Halfpenny continued to punt the ball aimlessly up the field invariably straight into the hands of their French opponents who to their credit showed far more imagination than their Welsh opponents. Why opt to kick and give possession of the ball to your opponents allowing them to counter attack?

I guess I romanticize over the golden era of Welsh Rugby in the seventies and eighties, but with justification. They claimed that Wales had an outside half (fly half) factory churning out the next super star. Believe me, the team revolved around the outside half until the great Gareth Edwards came along and stamped his own authority on a match from scrum half. But that’s another story. Let’s concentrate on the line of fly halves that adorned the Welsh jersey in the Golden era.

David Watkins started the ball (pardon the pun) rolling when freed from the shackles of Clive Rowlands. He was replaced by a legend  called “The King”, Barry John. He received the mantel “King” from New Zealand journalists following his exploits in New Zealand in 1971 when he guided the British Lions to their first and only series win over the All Blacks.

My dad and I had endless arguments about Barry John having the talent to play for Wales let alone being regarded as the best fly half of his generation. My dad was used to fly halves making side steps to elude opponents while John  would invariably swivel his hips and glide through the opposition. Unaccountably, John retired at the premature age of 27 when he was at the peak of his career. Fortunately, Phil Bennett was waiting in the wings to take his place.

Now Bennett played a pivotal role in one of the greatest games of rugby. In 1973, the All Blacks toured Britain and Ireland and finished undefeated until the last game against the Barbarians. The Barbarians were an invitational XV, but on this occasion it comprised the majority of the British Lions squad which was so successful in 1971. This match will explain the difference in rugby style between the golden age and the ponderous modern game. Running and passing the ball, beating an opponent with deft of movement, using magical skills of fleet of foot, and slick handling. It was poetry in motion.

Instead, Wales had a great opportunity to score a try to bring them back into contention just before half time, and France had been reduced to 14 men with one player sent to the sin bin. Time and time again they attempted to bludgeon their way over the try line which was only 5 yards away when the situation cried out for a pass to their backs lined up in anticipation. Needless to say, they failed miserably and France went on to win the match despite a couple of late tries by Wales. I was angry watching their abject failure to create any kind of magic. Worse still, I was saddened by the state of Welsh rugby, and the state of the modern game in general.

Before I sign off I must mention another fly half, Jonathan Davies, who  played with a swagger and managed to stamp his own personality and range of mercurial skills on the game. He was lost to the union game far too early when he decided to take the money and go north to play rugby league as did David Watkins. Both players were highly successful in Rugby League, which in the case of Jonathan Davies left a chasm in the Welsh team. Davies was probably the last of the artisans to wear the number 10 jersey for Wales which led to an inevitable decline in Welsh rugby.

Yes, Wales have won Grand Slams in the 21st Century, but the current attitude in the game was sadly summed up by the current captain, multi-capped Alan Wyn-Jones: “Test rugby is about winning matches and throwing the ball around can be very pretty, but it is not winning.” In response I would conclude by asking: why can’t we win with flair?