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Saturday, July 02, 2005

Though Rockets Daren't Fly

A-Jul4Sm.jpg LTHOUGH IT IS NOT QUITE my favorite holiday, July 4th - Independence Day - comes a very close second. I love it. I would say that I adore it but that would be unmanly, and lord knows I don't need to invite any further emasculation than already slices my way throughout that day.

Although it is not quite July 4th at all today, I am nevertheless posting in anticipation because we've a busy weekend and I could not withstand the malevolent gaze that would burn my way were I to sit on my arse tappiting. Floor tiles are cracking and stripping even now.

As with most holidays here, the meaning of the day is important, and is celebrated. Holidays in britain are rarely so: they're mostly an excuse to relax, to do nothing, to perhaps visit a beach - a very welcome day off work, but given no more thought. Is that unfair? I don't think so. Here, on the other hand - while holidays retain their essential do-nothingness - there are usually rituals to perform, commensurate with the day. An occasion is marked.

In keeping with every other holiday but one - that being Thanksgiving - July 4th celebration begins in our family with a barbecue in our back yard. Because we can, we do. Before you ask, Christmas Day is a barbecue holiday here but not in our yard, on one of Ventura County's state beaches, where such things are permitted and where dolphins promenade just off shore. Barbecues, like almost everything else, are strictly verboten on nanafascist LA County beaches unless your company is able to pay for a permit and the mandatory security guards who must prevent potential drunkards wandering off-beach and across PCH. But I digress: this July 4th our backyard barbecue will christen a brand-new grill, yet to be assembled, that weighs an impressive 150lbs. Must be good then. It replaces our old grill whose burners have rusted to dust, but which was the first-ever birthday gift my wife gave to me. We are loathe to let it go. That it rusted is particularly weird, since nothing rusts in California: just doesn't happen ordinarily. I'm hoping to build the new bugger Saturday morning after the 25-yd dumpster has been delivered to the foot of the drive and the kids have begun emptying the garage, the family rooms, and the downstairs carpets into it. Big changes gathering momentum in the Bearded home. The upside of a gammy leg precludes my own participation in any of this lumpwork, heavy-lifting being well out; but that won't stop me from pretending to try, from attempting to lift something or other giving every appearence of pain and incapacity. Besides, what are sullen teenagers for, if not this?

Backyard barbecues are not entirely unheard of in Scotland either, as you might have supposed, although they are quite different in their execution. The same invitations extend to friends and family to gather at a house - no particular reason necessary - the same patriarch will have run to Asda and purchased a couple of single-use all-in-one tinfoil grills and set them flaming on top of a pile of bricks, or choice rocks temporarily hauled away from the rockery, laid out haphazard on the grass. It will be raining, inevitably. Pishing down most likely. Everyone - adults and a hundred kids - will be indoors peering through curtains, out the windows, drawn to the smoke and grilling burgers and sausages. Everyone inside but the host, who stands poking and prodding the meats like a boy with a stick at the side of a burn, ratty thing dead at his feet. He will be taunted and jeered by his cosily cold-comfort friends. And sodden; possibly with gin. Later, paper plates in the kitchen and laughter. Always that.

Three things set July 4th apart: fireworks, marches, and slagging - and therein lie my reasons for loving it. I make no secret of my enjoyment of marches, being a former lumpen bandsman who trudged through mining villages on annual gala days, school uniformed but tie coupled loosely, blasting a tuba while holding the music out front in a spare hand. Strictly american marches here though, as you might expect: no room for Johnny Foreigner when there's Johnny Sousa to blast. You'd think? One year we took the kids to the Hollywood Bowl for its orchestral fireworks, but it took them forever to get round to marches: they spent an hour playing sappy drivel - all-american drivel, true - that bored us to our seats. On this, a day for the rousing crump of a badass drum and the blazing of trumpets if ever there was, we have no need of pious prairie paens. I have taken steps this year, he declaims with blusto, to secure for this yard and its peoples the blessings of the Liberty Bell, the Washington Post, the Stars and Stripes Forever, the Star-Spangled Banner and others, performed as is fitting by the Band of the US Marine Corps; all using the gift of iTunes and an iPod FM transmitter bought me for Fathers' Day. There shall be marching. Oh yes.

Fireworks are trickier - a fact I find highly amusing. Most years - including this - we'll seek our skyborne entertainments locally, somewhere round sundown. We might venture out in the van to try to find some patch of roadside with a decent view of the sky above the High School, where the official city display occurs - the only permitted display, of course? More likely we'll head to the in-laws, who live a mile or two inwards, away from the combustible fringe we inhabit. We'll sit on their front lawn watching the skies. The biggerbombs of the city display will be visible in the distance, but all around us will be the lively bursting in air of illegal mexican rocketry that local amerexicans seem able to acquire with ease. All fireworks are illegal hereabouts this time of year. Indeed there's only one part of Los Angeles, even, that allows them to be sold openly, way down in Garden Grove seventy-odd miles away. But they only sell "legal" illegal fireworks there - the tame and timid whitebread stuff, wildly overrated Phzzzts that rather resemble those "disturbing content" warnings on Fox. We spent a hundred bucks on such zingers last year, waited until dark to set them off, prepared a steel base in the center of a quiet side street to launch them, then had them confiscated by the polis five seconds after one of the sprogs lit a sparkler. Confiscated the whole bloody bucket. It was clearly our own stupidity that led to this: we had tried to light them as safely as possible. Had we hid in the backyard and fired-off the wildly illegal Mexican variety we'd have had no problem, clearly, for while Officer Dibble was writing our ticket and growling his stern rebuke, his face, his plain-clothes prowler, indeed his notebook and writings, were all iluminated brightly by the bursting rockets, and shrieking roman candles launched from every street around us. Ours were the only ones taken: we were the Example, the Sacrifice, the Point Made. Funny thing was, strolling round the streets later that evening, we heard such rumors about what had befallen us. We had, by several accounts, been arrested and taken away. We did not deny this.

That here in the Golden State in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave the nannies had smacked our bottoms and taken away our nasty fireworks on this our Independence Day, our National Effing Fireworks Day, the day Jeff Goldblum and Randy Quaid destroyed the Alien Invaders using real rockets no less, well that was just dandy with me. It gifted me the last laugh on a day of abuse at the hands of the colonial contingent. For my favorite part of all the great Fourth of July holiday, is the day-long merciless slagging sent my way; in which my manhood and nationhood and heritage are torn apart. It isn't just that I'm british, and therefore We beat you! and We kicked your redcoat asses - standard response to any question or remark:
- Cup of coffee, baby?
- Coffee? Sure. None of your stinking Tea - because, you know, We Beat You!.

Type of thing.

It isn't just that I'm british - I'm scots, and therefore doubly despised on account of our national preoccupation with complaining about the english; with hating the english; with being hard-done-to and having our shoulders chipped by the english; with our perpetual whining and gnashing about the english, but our never having done anything about it. After all these thousands of years we're still under their thumb, and run away like pop-socked schoolgirls from any hint of independence. Not like we americans. We kicked your asses and sent you all crying back to Blightey. I mumble a few words about Bannockburn and Robert The Bruce and Proud Edward's Army - but it's pointless: 1314 was an awful long time ago.

But here at the end of day, family brooding on the lawn, here I can always turn round and say, in all innocence, Bonfire Night in Britain, we're allowed fireworks you know?. Hah!

What you delicate, sensitive North Americans cannot seem to come to terms with - and I'm including Canadians in this generalization - is that british people show their friendship by viciously slagging - roasting - themselves and their friends. The harder, more intense the slagging, the better the friendship. Something like that. My wife detests that aspect of our character, and my faint-hearted colleagues recoil in such horror and offense - they take it all so personally, so deeply - that I've had to stop doing it altogether; even with other expats, though not entirely in their case. This is such a shame, and it's something I've come to miss deeply about the old place. Worse, not only does the habit require constant feeding to maintain its edge, but in starving oneself, so to speak, one becomes overly-sensitive oneself: can't recognize a joke any more, start to take slaggings literally and personally blah-di-blah. I find myself slowly turning into a shocked and fainting pansy? It is therefore most welcome to see the old spirit rise on the fourth of July. I'm usually so pleased that I neglect to mention how you americans are all very good at dishing it out, but totally unable to take it. I'd get my arse handed to me if I dared. Not complaining, Just saying.

In any event, enough from me. I'll away and let you enjoy your holiday, people - have a great Fourth, and if you are able, fire-off a rocket for Old Bastard Bearded.

<AAARGH>MY BEAUTIFUL NEW STAINLESS STEEL GRILL was smothered at birth - buckled and bent and crippled in its box! I had to take it back to Target this morning, which was totally sold-out of all BBQ-related merchandise. So it was off once again to Home Depot where I managed - just - to snap a cheaper, flimisier model which is still twice the size of our original. The place was mental today - not helped by a burst fire hydrant and a 50-70ft Geneva Fountain smothering First St. Anyway: back on track with a replacement brand new grill.I managed to build it all by myself, and now I'm quite knackered. I expect to sleep through tonight's game at Dodger Stadium. We're playing the Diamondbacks [at least, I think we're playing the Diamondbacks?] Both legs are aching like a bitch. 5pm on Saturday night and the entire horrid slidey-white floor tiling is up and away, piled in the dumpster. A very busy day all told - a trip to a ball game should be just the thing to recuperate by.

<DOUBLEPLUS AAARGH>WHAT A TOTAL TUBE! It was a day game, dammit, a day game! We misread a "1" as a "7" on the tickets! Oh dear me, such good seats, too. and we had to give-up our seats in early June because of a sick and contagious child. Utterly sickened we went to the mall. Bought a Dodger shirt and hat at last, and not for no $170 either. But still - disaster on the ball game front.


Anonymous stephenesque said...

I often suggest that children should celebrate the 4th by eating their burgers with imitation wooden teeth in honor of George Washington's famous set of oaken dentures. Alas, my ideas are always shot down.

11:06 AM  
Blogger DarkoV said...

I realize you've been laid up and all, but the positive (at least for your readers) on this unfortunate event is that your recent entries have been longer and, therefore, filled with ven more of your uniquely put observations.
I'm not sure if folks visiting your site give you enough credit on your painstakingly created little blog pictures (what the hell are those things at the beginning of each blog called anyway?). Today's was especially creative. Love the barbecue by the flute & fife parade. So, thanks for not letting the pain keep out the humour. Cheers!

12:50 PM  
Blogger F.C. Bearded said...

Aaw - you're making me blush. Thought you'd buggered-off on vacation to Croatia? You trying to tell me they have innernets there, too?

The capital letters are a very poor form of illumination, a medieval art that I am especially fond of. But it'svery hard to draw with a mouse, so I end-up cutting and pasting and playing tricks with The Gimp.

I just acquired a digital pen, though - which I'm discovering to be even harder to use than a mouse. Lots of practise lies aheadbut I doubt, no matter how hard I try, I could ever replicate the freezing damp of an alpine scriptorium, a necessary pre-requisite to beautiful illumination.

Enjoy your vacation, won't you?

5:06 PM  
Blogger Whisky Prajer said...

What's this, eh? Mark Canada as an effette, slag-free zone, do you? Never been to our eastern provinces, then? Those folk know from slag, let me tell you! (Though I'll grant they should never have tried their hand at single malt whisky.)

As I type this, my neighbors seem to be enjoying a good sky-smacking, setting off left-over fireworks, and cheering it all on. July 1 is altogether too nice a celebration, but we do pride ourselves on having beat back the Yanks and setting fire to the White House (at an opportune moment in history, mind you - we tend to panic whenever the US shifts its arse these days).

Hmm. Looking back at the parentheses, I'm beginning to catch your point. Canadian slagging: "Sod off, you c**t! But then, we're wankers, too, eh?"

7:21 PM  
Blogger F.C. Bearded said...

I think it is perfectly valid to judge you all based on the Canadians, Asian-Americans, and American-Americans I work with. A bunch of wilting violets, these Canadian men who consider themselves hockey-hardened cry like babies if you're the least bit harsh to them. Whaaaaaa. I got so fed-up having to apologise to them after meetings that Ijust said "to hell with it!" They wear you down, you know. Granted, one of the American-Americans is coming around to our way of working. Except it turns out he was born in Holland and moved here donkey's ago. So he's Dutch. As in "Dutch" not corrupted "Deutsch".


9:09 PM  
Blogger Whisky Prajer said...

I see I'll be dusting off my "sheep" jokes, then....

2:51 PM  
Blogger F.C. Bearded said...

While on vacation on the lonely Western Isles - I believe it was the northern part of Skye, where the names of places, like Vatternish, are all Viking in origin...

Out for a walk one day, came across this wee mannie crying his eyes out at the side of the road.

"What's up, good sir?" says I...

"Woe Woe. Ye see thon lovely wee hoose - the one with the thatched roof? Ah built that hoose. Ah thatched it stitch by slicing stitch. Do they call me 'Sammy the Hoose Buiulder'? Dae they hang!"

"And ye see this fine tarmacadamed road you're staundin oan - TWO lanes wide tae - well ah built this road and laid the tar all by mahself. Cut it oot the living peat for five miles in either direction. Dae they call me 'Sammy the Roadbuilder'? Dae they hang!"

"And this sumptuous fully-secure dry-stane dyke that lines their fields? Ah built that. Ah carted they stones fifteen mile frae the quarry up at Vildernishy. Dragged each and every one o ' them doon the hills and across the braes, then stacked them - skilfully mind - stacked them intae this fine wa'. Dae they call me 'Sammy the Brickey'? Dae they HANG!"

"One sheep. That's all it took."

7:34 PM  
Blogger DarkoV said...

Missed the gam altogether? Mr. B., you have gone full California! Not only not showing up at the usual L.A. fan time of the 3rd inning, but not even there to leave at the usual L.A. fan time of the 6th inning. LAPD will be there shortly to pick up your kilt and give you a pair of board shorts. How quickly have the immigrants fallen!

And don't try one of those sheep jokes as proof you're still a Scotsman at heart...It'll only sound sadder. Just crank up the b unit and chill out.....dude.

9:32 AM  
Blogger F.C. Bearded said...

So embarassed about missing that game. To prove my guid scots sensibilities are not quite gone, I cried myself to sleep because those tickets were free dammit, and a didnae even huv tae pay fur thum!

With regards sheep jokes, I'd advise Mr W.P. to be very careful where he treads. His country, after all, was populated by the terrible Highland Clearances of the late 19th Century. I shall refrain from pointing out that his countrymen, unlike my own, were rather shagged by the sheep than the other way round.

But that would be too unkind,so I won't.

12:20 PM  
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12:54 AM  

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