Archive for June, 2011

She flies with her own Wings

Friday, June 24th, 2011

A couple of bizarre stories came out of Oregon during the past 10 days which I can personally relate to. Karen Butler, a 56-year old tax consultant from Toledo, Ore., woke up from dental surgery one day talking funny. She has found her life transformed since receiving dentures which left her with-depending on whom you ask-an Eastern European, Swedish or British accent. A year and half later her “foreign “accent remains.

Ms. Butler had all her top teeth and front bottom teeth removed in November 2009 because of gingivitis. A week later the swelling had gone away, but she still sounded strange. Her dentist told her she just had to get used to her new teeth.

But as weeks stretched on with no change, Ms. Butler did some online research and she diagnosed herself with Foreign Accent Syndrome, a medical condition with only a few dozen documented cases.

The syndrome is often the result of brain injury; though it is uncommon, most neurologists will see at least one case in their career, said Dr. Helmi Lutsep, professor and vice-chair of the Department of Neurology at Oregon Health and Science University. Sometimes a person just sounds slightly off; other times there may be a more dramatic-sounding accent, Lutsep said.

“We don’t know exactly how or why it happens, but it simply affects rhythm of language,” Lutsep said. “I’m absolutely convinced this is a real phenomenon. These people are not making it up.”

There have been only about 100 known cases of the syndrome since it was first reported in the 1940s. The most famous case was a Norwegian woman who was hit by shrapnel in World War 2; she developed a German accent and was ostracized as s result.

Other cases include a British woman from Devon who developed a Chinese accent following a migraine, and another British woman who had a stroke and now sounds French. There are simple explanations to these apparent phenomena. The woman from Devon obviously had a fetish for Chinese food and the other woman was obsessed with French kissing.

Neurologist Ted Lowenkopf says FAS affects only a small area of speech-just the pattern and intonation. Strokes and brain trauma usually cause major damage to the brain and leave people with far bigger speech problems than just a change in accent.Ms. Butler may have suffered a small stroke while she was under anesthesia, but she won’t know for sure unless she has a brain scan. (She says her insurance company won’t pay for one.)

In the meantime, it’s possible that Ms. Butler could get her American accent back through intensive speech therapy. But unlike other people with FAS who have become depressed by their change in accent, Ms. Butler likes her new one. She says it has made her more outgoing and is a good conversation topic.

Having heard and seen her on video, I believe she is suffering from MMS-Mrs. Miniver Syndrome because she sounds very much like the late Greer Garson, an English actress who won an Oscar in 1942 for playing the role of Mrs. Miniver. Ms. Garson’s posh English accent was the result of a silver spoon and a plum being placed in her mouth at a very early age to which Ms. Butler could attest. Greer Garson holds the dubious distinction of making the longest acceptance speech in Oscar history- 5 minutes and 30 seconds-which prompted the organizers to place a time limit on speeches and ban the use of silver spoons and plums as accent aids.

Since I became a US citizen in 2008 I have tried in vain to rid myself of my Welsh accent and adopt an American mantra .Until I read about Ms. Butler’s plight  I thought I  suffered from JWS; John Wayne Syndrome. My wife claims that each time I attempt an American accent I sound like the Duke, and she accuses me of walking like him too. Maybe there is something to this foreign accent syndrome after all.

Turning to another intriguing story from Oregon, the City of Portland drained off some 8 million gallons of its fresh water supply a few days ago. Why? Because some kid decided to take a leak while hiking with some friends.21-year-old Josh Seater was caught on surveillance camera urinating into the city’s reservoir; later telling police that he”had a pleasant buzz and I should have known better.” City officials however, freaked out and decided to flush 8 MILLION GALLONS OF DRINKING WATER down the drain.

Public health officials say, however, that urine is sterile in healthy people and that the urine in the reservoir was so diluted – perhaps a half pint in millions of gallons – that it posed little risk. How much did the estimated two cups of urine cost the city? Nearly $30,000. Nice one Portland.

Now I have been known to be caught in uncompromising situations with the desperate need to relieve myself of some bodily fluids. Normally one can find refuge behind an unsuspecting tree providing there is no thunder and lightning in the immediate vicinity. However I do recall an embarrassing episode on the way home from a skittles match a few years ago.

 The twelve man team was traveling home in the early hours from Cardiff to Swansea having consuming copious amounts of Brains’ Dark and the infamous skull attack. In one voice we demanded the bus driver pull over on the hard shoulder for an emergency bathroom break. We quickly alighted the bus in a crossed legged motion, feverishly jumped over the crash barrier, and unceremoniously rolled down the embankment into the dark abyss landing in an ungainly heap of bruised limbs and egos.

Having undertaken a quick check for broken body bits and secured flies, we scrambled back up the bank, and sheepishly returned to the bus (I knew I couldn’t keep sheep out of this.) However there was a sense of satisfaction circulating the friendly confines of our charabanc; we had accomplished our mission and avoided damage to life, limbs or property. Tax payers were certainly not penalised  by our lack of bladder control.

Postscript: I would like to thank readers of my blog for taking my hit counter past the 100,000 barrier. My anti-spam software appears to be eating all the comments regardless of status, and hopefully this will be rectified shortly.

The World is riddled with Weiners

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

I keep using this analogy in my blog, but it’s relevant to the subject matter. Former Labor Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, once said that a week is a long time in politics. Anthony Weiner, the wretched little Congressman from New York was hoping and praying that Wilson would prove prophetic from the grave because time was running out on this grotesque little reptile. 

This is the man who sent suggestive messages and lewd photographs of himself to unsuspecting females on Twitter and then had the audacity to claim he had been hacked and was seeking legal advice to clear his name. A few days later more damning evidence confirmed that the little weasel had initiated the whole sordid exercise, and he then proceeded to hold a press conference to admit his guilt and offer a tearful apology. He concluded by stating he would not be resigning.

One wonders why the little reptile didn’t resign when he was exposed as bare face liar and sexual deviant.Well one of his mentors is Bill Clinton who arguably committed a worse indiscretion by having oral sex in the Oval Office with a young intern and then denying it ever happened. He even survived moves to impeach him, so the sordid little Mr. Weiner crawled back into his cave hoping and praying for the condemnation to pass by. By the way who in his right mind would vote for a candidate called Weiner?

Surprisingly, the dust was beginning to settle until more candid shots were published on the internet. The little Weiner was pictured in a locker room standing bare chested with a towel wrapped around his waist proudly holding his twig and berries for the unsuspecting world to titter or twitter. It was then announced that his beleaguered wife of less than 12 months is pregnant. She is a senior aide to Hilary Clinton who should be able to relate to what the poor woman is going through. Mercifully for the wife, she was hastily shipped overseas on assignment to avoid the incoming flak.

Naturally, the Republican Party was calling for Weiner’s head (pardon the pun) ever since his admission of guilt while the Democratic Party stuck their head in the sand hoping the unfortunate incident would blow over. However, that vile grandmother, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Minority Leader in the House popped her head above the parapets and concluded that her party colleague needed professional help and should resign to give him time to recuperate. Quite what sort of help she had in mind remains a mystery, but by casting him adrift, the little Weiner was a dead man walking, politically anyway.

Now before you Brits adopt a holier than thou attitude, need I remind you of a little weiner in your midst in the shape of Ryan Giggs, the 37 year old football player that has been a fixture in the Manchester United line up for over 20 years. Recently he was responsible for serving an injunction on a newspaper preventing them publishing a true story of his affair with a reality star.

 There was much worse to follow when it was revealed that he had been conducting an 8 year affair with his sister-in-law, his brother’s wife. Apart from some youthful indiscretions, Giggs’ image has been portrayed has a clean cut family man of whom any mother would be proud. A couple of weeks ago, I was about to write a tribute to one of the greatest football players produced in Britain; admiring the way he had shunned the bright lights, took good care of his body to play for so long in the top flight of English football, the most decorated footballer in the history  of the English game.

As a fellow Welshman I feel badly let down. It is weird how fame and fortune appear to give celebrities the license to commit any heinous act in the knowledge that somebody in their entourage will cover it up. They believe they are above the law and do not have to conform to a moral compass which normal people adhere to.

 Call me old-fashioned, narrow-minded or whatever but Ryan Giggs crossed the line in terms of decency, hypocrisy and arrogance and should do us all a favor and quietly retire. I’m not sure what annoys me more; his dalliance with his sister-in-law and total disregard for his brother or his attempt to curb the freedom of the press.

Arnold Schwarzenegger recently admitted fathering his housekeeper’s ten year old son; apparently conducting the affair right under the nose of his unsuspecting wife. His wife is a Kennedy and she of all people would be patently aware of alpha males’ predatory instincts of the opposite sex. Once again it’s the sheer arrogance of these famous, nay infamous, personalities that never fails to amaze me. It’s no co-incidence that Schwarzenegger only admitted to the affair when nearing the end of his second term as Governor of California.

Mercifully, it was announced an hour ago that the little Weiner finally announced his resignation almost three weeks after the intial publication of the photos and messages on twitter. He didn’t go quietly; leaving no doubt in the media’s minds that he was determined to regroup and return to public office at some time in the not too distant future. The arrogant little toe rag genuinely believes that his country needs him.

In Dublin’s Fair City

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

It was Memorial Day weekend and my wife and I decided to spend a few days relaxing in Savannah. For those of you unfamiliar with the route between Atlanta and Savannah believe me I16 that connects Macon with Savannah is one of the most boring drives you will ever undertake.

Ironically I was reading an article in USA Today the day before we left, and it listed the 50 most scenic drives in America. I was tempted to revise our plans, but we decided to brace ourselves for 250 miles of endless pine trees and brown fields dipping over the horizon. Suddenly I had a brainwave. We agreed to break the journey in two and drive 136 miles on Friday afternoon to Dublin, Georgia.

Dublin comprises of a population of approximately 17000 and the town’s economy was based on the local cotton, corn and soybean trades which blossomed with the growth of the railroad. In recent years the town became home to a small assortment of industrial distribution centers. Basically it’s a one horse town convenient as a midway point between Atlanta and Savannah.

Fortunately my wife discovered a guest house on line called The Post House which proved to be a little gem of a place. In 1903, T.L. Griner began construction of an 11-room, 7,000 sq. ft. Classic Greek Revival home that was often described as one of the grandest homes south of Atlanta. It consisted of Tiffany-style stained-glass windows, the only private home in this area of the state with a ballroom, 12-foot ceilings and interior Ionic columns.

The current owners purchased the property in 1998 and have lovingly restored the building, lavishing it with exquisite period pieces of furniture, fixtures and fittings. Selecting a place to eat isn’t problematic because there are not many restaurants downtown. Luckily, Deano’s, an Italian-American restaurant on Main Street did a mean pizza washed down with a good red wine. Surprisingly they didn’t serve cappuccinos.

However, the highlight of the evening was sitting in rocking chairs on the sumptuous front porch of the guest house; enjoying the protection of the towering Greek columns from a severe thunderstorm that suddenly erupted from a starlight balmy sky.

Following a good country breakfast we bade farewell to our kind hosts and embarked on the second leg to our destination. Savannah was founded in 1733 by James Oglethorpe and is dripping in history exemplified by its 22 park like squares. Each square has its own story to tell the visitor and you may stumble onto Forest Gump’s bench only to discover “life is a box of chocolates.”

We had made reservations at the Hampton Inn on Bay Street conveniently situated between the Historic District and The Riverfront which hosts most of the bars and restaurants. Following check in we made our way to Churchill’s, a British style pub, which was televising the Champions League Final live. Barcelona versus Manchester United turned out to be men against boys. There was a glimmer of hope when United unexpectedly equalized after 34 minutes and Barcelona’s coach looked slightly bemused.

However, the second half belonged to the Spanish champions winning comfortably 3-1. A six goal margin would not have flattered them such was their dominance over an outclassed United. Alex Ferguson appeared to be very subdued on the sidelines and looked completely dumbfounded by what he was witnessing and totally devoid of any ideas to stem the Spanish flow. It was difficult to comprehend that United were crowned Champions of England the previous weekend.

My wife was in need of a change of pace and atmosphere and we beat a hasty retreat to Wet Willie’s on the river front. Wet Willie’s is world famous for daiquiris, which are smoothies comprising 190-proof grain alcohol. Two of those and my wife was making Martha and the Vandellas proud (dancing in the street; get it?) The rest of the evening was a bit of a blur but we managed to reach the safe haven of our hotel room.

Sunday morning arrived and we took a leisurely stroll around the historic district; stopping occasionally to browse around some of the antique shops that are dotted around the city. Lunchtime beckoned and we popped into the Boar’s Head on River Street for the Sunday special; a pulled barbecue pork sandwich accompanied by the chef’s signature sauce. It was scrumptious.

Our visit to Savannah finished on a high note with a delightful evening meal at Elizabeth’s on 37th. My wife rates the restaurant very highly but its a little frou-frou for my taste. I was introduced to a service captain who looked very much like a waiter and he was kind enough to take our order. 

On Monday morning we checked out of our hotel and made the long and tedious journey back to Atlanta. The owner of the Post House had recommended we make a detour to Montrose where they were conducting a. Memorial Day antique auction. Montrose is approximately 10 miles north of Dublin and a break in the trip home didn’t go amiss.

It proved to be a unique event but bidding is not for the faint hearted, and we managed to escape with our bank balance still in tact.

We continued our journey home, and in the process I received a text from my son informing me that “The Swans are going up.” My home team Swansea City had qualified to play in the English Premiership next season for the first time in nearly 30 years. I was ecstatic and nervous all rolled into one mixed bag of emotions.

 The majority of teams promoted to the premiership only survive one season, and the threat of relegation can linger all season. The Swans last tenure in the top flight lasted two seasons and the subsequent drop through the divisions was quite dramatic. Hopefully the chairman and manager will learn from their predecessors’ mistakes and cut their cloth accordingly. See you next Memorial Day in Dublin and Savannah.