Walking Home

Being back in my hometown for Christmas, I got my hair cut at the barbershop where I often had it cut as a child. My dad had dropped me off there and told me to ring him with the mobile phone that my mother has never used. I decided to walk back to my parents’ house instead.

I grew up in a small town, so it wasn’t that far to walk. I crossed the main street through town to the parking lot of the Dairy Queen, where I first remember having a hamburger. If I remember right, the Jiffy Burger was 19¢ – it was a thin patty with a red sauce and a couple of slices of dill pickle. I remember always looking forward to the day when I could have a Beltbuster, which despite its name, was not that large of a burger, except to a seven-year-old.

Just down from the Dairy Queen is the Presbyterian Church. As a little boy, I didn’t know what to think of Presbyterians, because we were Baptist and it wasn’t clear to me if anyone other than the Baptists were saved. That was until we became Charismatics and all sort of people started coming over to our house for prayer meetings, including the new Presbyterian pastor. One of the few times I was ill as a child, he brought over the Chronicles of Narnia for me to read. I’d never heard of C.S. Lewis. I’ve been a fan ever since.

After the Presbyterian Church, there is a bridge over the only bayou in town. Looking up stream, I could just about see where I took up smoking for a few weeks in the summer after the third grade. I had a friend whose house was at the end of my street and on the bayou and he used to steal his parents cigarettes. They used to buy several cartons at a time, so they never seemed to miss a pack. But like Bill Clinton, I never inhaled – I couldn’t get the hang of it – so this was a quickly passing phase. We also smoked grapevine. I suppose you can smoke a lot of things if you set your mind to it, but I never smoked any of those either.

Just past that was one of the yards I used to cut. It was owned by a lady in our church who had once had massive prescription drug dependencies and an extremely depressed outlook. After a lot of prayer, counselling, and what is called deliverance in the charismatic vernacular, she stopped taking all the pills and was a generally happier person. But like everyone does, she got old and now has Alzheimer’s and lives in a nursing home.

Just a couple of houses down from there is where my parents first met just a week shy of 48 years ago. It was my mother’s aunt and uncle’s house then and during my early childhood. About the time I started junior high they sold it and moved to another subdivision. It was bought by some Norwegians who started a travel agency and had a very attractive daughter in my grade, upon who I had a crush and about whom I would eventually write my first song on the guitar. I’m not entirely sure she ever truly acknowledged my existence and I’m very sure she never heard the song.  It was a pretty bad song anyway. She’s a friend of a friend on Facebook, so I’ve seen her profile picture. She is still very attractive and married to a captain in the US Navy. She still doesn’t know I exist. The difference is that now I don’t care so much. The Norwegians moved to the next town and the house has been two or three restaurants since.

I turned there, down the short side of one block (blocks in my hometown are decidedly rectangular, with the east/west running side about half as long as the side running north/south) to my street. I probably spent more time playing on this block than anywhere else in my childhood. On the next corner lived the only friend I knew with a trampoline.  I was mostly scared of it, but that’s not surprising, because I was mostly scared of everything. I never once did a flip of any kind. I know we did other things besides jump on the trampoline, but that stands out most in my mind.

Across and up my street one house was the Baptist parsonage. When I was in the first and second grade, as best as I can recall, I considered the son of the pastor my best friend. The summer I was in the second grade, he moved back to East Texas, as did his father, so the church called another pastor who only had daughters. One of them was several years older than me, but the other was a school year younger. I never considered her my best friend – but then I don’t know that I considered anyone my best friend at that point – but we spent an awful lot of time together. I saw her in Walmart a couple of days ago, because she was down to see her parents for the holidays, and she even remembered things I didn’t. I guess we stopped playing together sometime before junior high (though we hunted deer on the same lease during high school), but much of those middle elementary years was spent at her house, my house, or the block and a half between them.

It would have mostly been one of the houses, because in between was the hospital where I was born. In those days it was half the size it is now and took up an over-sized block, so the street zig-zagged and ran straight up into our driveway. The front of the hospital faced that displaced street with a semi-circle driveway that was the site of my only ever physical daring do, when I tried to go around it too fast on my bicycle, leaned over too far, and took the skin off my entire knee. Now the hospital takes up both blocks and the street is gone altogether, so I had to walk around the entrance to the emergency room, in front of the spaces for ambulances and the reserved doctor parking to cross the street to the house where I grew up.

So most of my life happened within a few blocks. I know you must be thinking (if you can still think after all this – I’m just glad that you are still reading) what about school and church? The elementary schools I attended were two blocks one way and the junior high was two blocks the other. When my dad’s first church moved out of our house, it moved one block away to a storefront on that main thoroughfare through town. For a couple of years it was ten blocks away, but before I left home, it was about four blocks away.

I’ve lived a lot of places since I left home, but the biggest single chunk of my life was spent in this small town on the Texas coast, within a three or four block radius of where I sit now to write this.

Back to Work

The last moments of freedom are slipping away. The Spring term begins in 18 hours.

On the other hand, the freedom of term break is very limited. I have been marking exams for the last couple of days. I would have started marking them as soon as we got home from Texas, but I couldn’t find them. The problems is that they were exactly where I’d left them. Unfortunately, The Woman had been clean out the car before we left, so I put a big plastic bag of rarely used school resources on top of them.

The bag draped over the sides of the box with the exams and it appeared that the bag was the only thing there. Then the terrier decided this bag full of papers and notebooks was her new bed, as she will sleep on anything however uncomfortable just to be off the floor. It is only because she got up yesterday afternoon and moved the bag slightly in the process that I saw the box of exams underneath.

Now I am furiously marking. The first set doesn’t need to be done for a couple of days, but I’ve got others to follow on that. I will hit the ground running on Monday.  I am starting new units with every year group at the beginning of the term.

I’m trying to do this while I am installing software on my Christmas present. I haven’t had a computer to call my own for quite a while. The second time I spilt tea on the computer I got during my teacher training year, it gave up the ghost. I have otherwise used by school laptop. With my first laptop in this job, it wasn’t such a problem. It was one of the better machines in the school. I installed some extra RAM and it did well. Until this screen died.

The cost of replacing the screen exceeded the value of the laptop, so I was issued an older laptop that had been used by a retiring member of staff. I’m sure it was a great machine in its day. I upgraded the RAM as best I could, but between that an the processor speed, it could not handle having a lot of browser tabs open, especially if they were running scripts like the Daily Telegraph or memory hogs like YouTube. If I was doing lots of online research, it would have trouble running Word at the same time.

I shopped online for several days and picked the machine that seemed to suit me best. A fast processor with lots of RAM and hard drive space. As it ended up, I got almost the same machine my dad bought my mother for Christmas (and that I set up over the holidays), but with twice the RAM.

Home Again

The journey home was much less eventful than the outbound leg. I realise even more just how bad Heathrow Terminal 5 is.

At Houston, the Fast Bag Drop was actually a fast bag drop. There were about five parties in front of us, but it took us seven minutes to get served rather than ninety. The actual process at the counter was much faster and more efficient. Security was faster, even though they had a drill and shut everything down in the middle of our x-ray experience. Boarding the plane was simple and straightforward. We even left slightly ahead of schedule.

The food was marginally better this time, thanks to the lack of turkey and stuffing and mushy vegetables. I’m not saying it was great or anywhere near the standard we used to expect from British Airways, but better than the westbound flight.

The only bad thing was the woman sitting in front of The Woman. She insisted on reclining her seat back the whole time, even when she was actually sitting up, away from the back of the chair. This put her seat and The Woman’s knees in constant contact. The Woman did kick her hard enough to get her to sit up during the meal, but before the lights were off for the overnight flight,  she had fully relined again back into The Woman’s lap, and as she had a bulkhead seat, she stretched out with her feet halfway up the wall. First-class leisure at cattle class prices. She intended to stay that way for breakfast in the morning, until the flight attendant made her sit up so The Woman could eat without her tray table pressing against her spine.

Terminal 5 is much better for arrivals than departures, though not necessarily for the distance to be covered before it’s all over. After a long walk on various different levels, it is then necessary to take a train to another part of the building, then walk long distances on various levels to get to passport control. The actual immigration process was quite quick and the bags were already on the conveyer belt by the time we got there.

Now comes the jetlag recovery.

British Airways – The World’s Second-Rate Carrier

Despite the best efforts of British Airways, we made it to Texas for Christmas.

When Heathrow Terminal 5 opened in March as BA’s new home for long-haul departures and arrivals, it was a fiasco. Despite all of the hoopla about the high-tech, state-of-the-art facility, nothing worked. We gave them nine months to work out all the kinks, but when we arrived at Terminal 5 this week, it was a fiasco.

We got in the queue for the “Fast Bag Drop” behind about six other parties. That took 90 minutes. I had checked in online at home to save time. Gave all the passport details, printed off our boarding passes and everything.  The Fast Bag Drop guy still had to run the passports through the machine and who knows what else before he would tag our bags and send them on the conveyor belt into the abyss.

We then proceeded to security, as we were instructed. We were promptly turned away because our passports hadn’t been cleared by the guy at Fast Bag Drop. So we had to go to another Passport and Visa Clearance desk. The woman there did the same thing as the Fast Bag Drop guy and sent us back to security, who finally let us through to the queue for the scanners. Since we weren’t flying first class like Olympic runner Colin Jackson, we weren’t in the same queue. But really it didn’t take as long to process the cattle class as we had feared.

Since we were 2½ hours early to the airport, we told the kids they could have breakfast there before we got on the plane. We didn’t know that BA would take so unbelievably long or that the boarding time on our boarding passes was incorrect. By the time we got through security, the instruction was to go to the gate. The Woman had to quickly find some sandwiches and we had to hustle to the gate. Actually that should be “gate”, since what it was in name and what it was in reality were two different things.  It was a bus stop.

Yes, at high-tech, state-of-the-art Terminal 5, we had to board one of a series of buses and be driven nearly to Berkshire to board the plane out in the middle of the tarmac. Thenwe had to climb up the stairs into the 747. most of you have seen a 747 and realise that it is not a small plane with doors near the ground. I had to climb into a 737 in Bristol and that was no big deal. There are lots of steps for a handicapped man with carry-on luggage to climb to get into a 747. I honestly have no idea how the several wheelchair users got on that plane.

The food on the plane was the most awful I have ever had from an airline. British Airways had always done well in the past. I suppose economic cutbacks being what they are, they couldn’t help the awful turkey dinner with overcooked sprouts and carrots.

Now I can’t say it was BA’s fault that it took well over an hour to get our bags once we arrived in Houston, or that a sniffer dog found the leftover half of a Boots ham and cheese sandwich so that we had to have all our bags x-rayed by US Customs. They weren’t responsible for my unfounded fear when we walked into the Customs x-ray room and the first person we saw was pulling on a latex glove.

The rest of it, I put firmly on their shoulders. I hope the journey back is better.

Honest Hate

At least he’s honest. Anjem Choudary has been telling Muslims they shouldn’t be celebrating Christmas. “How can a Muslim possibly approve or participate in such a practice that bases itself on the notion Allah has an offspring? The very concept of Christmas contradicts and conflicts with the foundation of Islam.”

He sees that all this bunkum about worshipping the same God is as offensive to Islam as it is to Christianity. Either Jesus is the Son of God, the incarnation of Allah, or He is not. To say that the Babe in the manger is the Most Holy One is direct contradiction to the very essence of Islam.

So I don’t see why it is such big news that he is saying this. He’s just being a good Muslim.

Why didn’t it make bigger news when Choudary, who is the chairman of the Society of Muslim Lawyers, praised the Mumbai attacks? Nobody seemed to notice when he called for the assassination of the Pope.  It is almost forgotten that he organised the demonstrations over the Muhammad cartoons, which included incitement to murder.

And why it is only mentioned in passing that his family is not supported by his legal work and he apparently isn’t well paid as Principal Lecturer at the London School of Shari’ah.  Perhaps he doesn’t have time for that with all of his preaching since he has to fill in for his mentor Omar Bakri Mohammed, who has been exiled from the UK. I’m just guessing that’s why they receive  £25,000 a year in state benefits.

It’s like, sure he is bigging up the deaths of 163 people in the name of Islam, but now he hates Christmas, too? Good grief. Why not actually expose that we are supporting the work of a domestic terrorist who doesn’t just hate Christmas. He hates us.

Freedom From Religion and the Politics of Abortion

The Christmas wars are here. It appears that this year, the atheists are out in more militant strength than usual. There is a new missionary spirit to atheism. Not content with just not believing, more and more atheists want you to not believe, too.

On of the groups that has come to the forefront this year is the Freedom from Religion Foundation. This is mostly because they put an anti-religion sign next to the Nativity scene at the Legislative Building in Washington State. The sign, which concludes with, “Religion is but a myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds” made the news because it was stolen almost as soon as it was put up. (The same sign has been used in the Wisconsin State Capitol for years.)

The public face of the FFRF is Dan Barker, who used to be involved in various aspects of Christian ministry, including stints as a pastor and fulltime touring musician. He now goes around debating Christians and writing “freethought” music.

Dan is the co-president of the FFRF with his uber-feminist wife Annie Laurie Gaylor. The FFRF was founded by Annie and her mother Anne Nicol Gaylor.  They aren’t as effective as spokespeople because they didn’t covert from anything, but come from a heritage of anti-religion. Anne’s father regarded religious belief as embarrassing.

Anne made her name as an abortion advocate. She was editorialising in favour of it as early as 1967 in the newspaper she owned with her husband. By 1970 she had founded ZPG (Zero Population Growth) Abortion Referral Service. According to the FFRF website, between 1970 and 1975, she made more than than 20,000 referrals. This was despite the fact that abortion was illegal in Wisconsin prior to Roe v. Wade. In fact, it was illegal in every state surrounding Wisconsin. It was only legal in New York, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii. So unless she was referring women to facilities in those states, she was referring women for illegal abortions. She wrote a book called Abortion is a Blessing.

I don’t find it particularly surprising that “freedom from religion” is tied so closely to abortion.  After all, it is religious morality that is the basis for saying abortion is wrong. It is religious morality that says there are certain boundaries for expressing sexuality and abortion is often the solution to dealing with the consequences of operating outside of those boundaries. What better way to support abortion than to attack the moral basis that opposes it.

Its just a bit ironic that it is the philosophy and politics of abortion that comes to the forefront at the Feast of the Nativity.

Giving the Gift of Death

Give the gift of death for Christmas! Do you know someone who needs a little extra cash to get that abortion? Buy them a Planned Parenthood gift voucher.

First alerted to this by Mere Comments, I found a more comprehensive story on Indianapolis Star website. I checked the PP of Indiana website (link intentionally not provided, but easy to Google) and sure enough they can be purchased in increments of $25, $50, $75 or $100.

The website does not indicate how much as abortion costs. You would think that would be a FAQ worth answering. Perhaps they don’t want the casual website viewer to know how cheap life (or death) really is. However, you can probably ring for that information before you buy your vouchers.