Wednesday, December 31, 2014

First Contact – Part 4 – Jews

I began to get serious about playing music in middle school when I got an electric guitar and a small amp. Later I got a classical guitar and learned to fingerpick. Then I got a banjo and learned to fingerpick-pick. At different points along the way I would get together with friends to play music. However, it wasn’t until I was in college that I played in a serious band that actually got gigs.

There were four guys in our band: Billy, Mike, Roger, and me. Sometimes Billy would ask me to play a simple duo gig where he sang and played guitar and I would accompany him on my banjo. The most memorable duo performance was at the local Jewish Community Center. There was a fairly large community of Jewish people in Louisville, KY. In addition to the community center there was a Jewish Hospital, several synagogues, and a temple.

We were to play at a party after a basketball game on just a regular ole day. December 24. Yes, it was Christmas Eve, but of course that was just a regular ole day for Jewish people. My parents and I always exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve, but playing that evening was okay by me. I knew I’d be home in plenty of time for gifts. When we arrived, the game was still in progress. This gave us time to set up and be ready when the party started. And soon enough it did. A bunch of young people started streaming into the meeting area where food was ready for them to consume as they listened to the musical machinations of Billy and Randy. We played some bluegrass, John Denver, and other music appropriate for a banjo. Everyone seemed to have a good time and was very friendly.

After about an hour the party ended, we were thanked, and we packed up and left. I saw no money trade hands, so I assumed we had played gratis, which was fine. However, on the way home, Billy informed me that he had been given $50 for our efforts and gave me $25. Wow! That was quite a bit of money in the day.

So, that was my first encounter with Jews at an official Jewish institution. It wasn’t until more recent times that I actually attended a Jewish service at a synagogue. While in high school, my son, Andrew, had a semester of Hebrew. He also became interested in the religious practices of different groups. He began attending the local Jewish synagogue occasionally and I went with him a few times. He was actually a participant at one of the services. I found the services interesting and the congregants very welcoming and friendly.

One of the members of the synagogue is a blind man named Stanley. As it turns out, he is very good friends with a now-retired Christian minister named Carl. The church Carl was a minister at was just a few blocks away from the synagogue. Carl is also an adjunct professor of religion at our local university. Andrew had many classes with him, and they became friends. Occasionally, Andrew would meet Carl and Stanley for lunch.

Isn’t it nice when people of varied beliefs can come together in fellowship and not let their differences hinder a friendship? Hopefully, heaven won’t be as exclusive as some people believe it will be.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

First Contact – Part 3 – Jesus Movement

The Jesus Movement got its start in the late 1960s, continued through the 1970s, and then died out in the early 1980s. Parts of this movement were also associated with the Hippie Movement. The movement consisted mostly of young Christians who were fed up with the status quo and wanted to see real change in the world.

In 1975, I was in college and loved rock music. One group I really liked was Grand Funk Railroad, and they were coming to Louisville for a concert. Not being able to find anyone else to go, I had purchased one ticket.

It was January 26, and I had decided to go to Walgreens for an early dinner before the concert. Walgreens, as well as many other pharmacies, used to have what was called soda fountains. Later, they added food. As an interesting side bar, it was in 1922 that Walgreens invented the malted milk shake, which became an instant hit. But to get back to my story, the Walgreens near my house in the mid-1970s had essentially a small restaurant with very good griddle hamburgers. That’s what I was after for my meal.

As I was sitting there in a booth waiting for my burger to be cooked, a young guy about my age came over and asked if he might sit with me and ask a few questions. I didn’t have anything else to do, so I said yes. I don’t remember all that was said, but I do recall the following.

The guy asked, “Have you ever had those moments when you are at total peace with the world and everything seems to be in its right place?”

After thinking about it for a few seconds, I responded, “Yes, I have.” I was thinking of the times I would turn out the room lights, put on some ethereal music, and just lay still letting the music envelope me. I was thinking of the times when I would be laying on our couch at home with the cool flow of air from our window air conditioner swirling about me as I read a classic science fiction novel that took me to unknown worlds. I was thinking of the time I came across a Gregorian chant on the car radio as I was driving at sunset. All these things made me feel at peace with the world.

“That’s good,” he said. But, of course, that wasn’t the type of peace he had in mind. He was thinking of the peace that comes from a knowledge of God and his son Jesus Christ. He went on to share with me the Gospel as he understood it.

I told him I believed in God, but not Jesus or the Bible.

He said, “A group of us are meeting tonight at a friend’s house. I would love it if you would attend with me.”

I said, “I can’t do that. I’m going to a concert tonight.”

“Who are you going to see?”

“Grand Funk Railroad.”

“How much did you pay for your ticket?”

“Six dollars.” (Yes, this was the typical cost of a big name concert in those days.)

“If you will come to the meeting, I will buy that ticket from you.”

“I don’t want to do that. I really want to go to the concert.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.” Of course, I was also thinking that I wasn’t about to go off to some stranger’s house with some guy I had just met. There was no telling if this guy was for real or not. And later when I got home and told my mom about this encounter, she had the same thoughts, urging me not to go.

Well, we parted company, my delicious burger arrived, and later I went to Freedom Hall for the concert. It was fantastic. However, the guy sitting next to me was quite different from the one at Walgreens. When they started playing Also Sprach Zarathustra before Funk’s entrance, he stood up and started yelling, “Oh my God! 2001 A Space Odyssey! Oh my God! I can’t believe it! They’re playing 2001! Oh my God!” Hey, granted, I thought it was cool also, but this guy was over the top. He was obviously stoned, but he must have been godly in his own way since he apparently had a God.

Sometime after that first contact, I had a second contact with the Jesus Movement. But in a way it was a first contact since this time it was the hippie faction of the movement. A friend and I had been at an outdoor rock concert and were making our way back to the car. A group of Jesus Freaks (that’s what they were called) was sitting around in a big circle on the ground. As we passed by one person in the group asked if we wanted to join them. We thought “what the heck” and sat down.

Well, we sat there for about 5-10 minutes just kind of looking around waiting for someone to talk. Not one word was spoken to us the entire time by anyone. Finally, one of us said, “We have to go now,” and we left.


I have thought about these first contacts with the Jesus Movement a number of times over the years. How would my life be different had I sold the proselytizer my ticket and went to the meeting instead? Could I have ended up being a minister? Might I have been disappointed and then pissed that I missed the concert? Maybe I would have been robbed and killed. You never know about these things.

It’s also interesting to think about how different the approaches of the Walgreens guy and the hippie circle were. The Walgreens guy was very proactive. He came to my table. He asked to sit and question me. He asked me to attend a meeting. He was willing to put his money where his mouth was by offering to buy my ticket. Six dollars may not sound like much today, but it’s the equivalent of about $26 today. That represents several hours of work at minimum wage.

By contrast the hippie circle simply asked me to join them as I passed by. Then apparently I was to somehow sense their faith and absorb it by osmosis without any further action on their part. I’m not a Bible scholar, but I know enough to know that the Walgreens guy’s approach was the more Biblical one.

In closing, you may find it interesting that at a later date Mark Farner, guitarist and lead singer for Grand Funk Railroad, apparently became a Christian and began playing contemporary Christian music. My wife and I bought a couple of his CDs. They were quite good.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

First Contact – Part 2 – Hare Krishnas

Perhaps some of you remember the Hare Krishnas. They officially formed in New York in 1966 with the title International Society for Krishna Consciousness. They became quite visible in the late 1960s on into the 1970s. They were known for proselytizing around downtowns and at airports. Their popularity, I believe, was at least partly due to the band The Beatles popularity and their association with the Hare Krishnas, in particular George Harrison. Surely everyone remembers his solo hit after The Beatles split entitled “My Sweet Lord”. It was a very popular song that is still played in some venues to this day. It was about his longing to see the Supreme Lord, Krishna. Even the words Hare Krishna are part of the lyrics.

Anyway, in the early 1970s, I went into downtown Louisville to shop at a particular store. As I approached the entrance, I saw a Hare Krishna guy standing there.

“I would like to give you this book,” he said as he handed me a copy of the Bhagavad-gita.

I grabbed it from his hand, thanked him, and began to enter the store.

Somewhat panicked, he said, “WAIT! We ask for a donation in return for the book.”

I said, “I don’t want to give a donation. I thought you said you were giving me the book.”

“Well, yes, but we ask for a donation.”

“Are you saying I can’t have the book unless I give you a donation?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“How much?”

“We ask for at least three dollars.”

I handed him the book back and went into the store.

Obviously, this guy’s approach was not going to entice very many new followers. He either needed to actually give the book away and then ask for a truly volunteer donation, OR he needed to ask for a donation and let you know that you will receive a copy of the book if you donate at least three dollars.

That was the first and only time I remember having an actual encounter with the Hare Krishnas. Needless to say, I was not impressed.

First Contact – Part 1 – Church of Christ

Since it’s the holiday season and a time of the year where quite a few religious people celebrate, I have been thinking about interesting first encounters with religious groups. I thought I would share some of the best stories with you. Keep in mind that I may have had earlier contact with people of these faiths, but not in a religious context.

I wasn’t raised going to church much, but when I did attend it was Baptist churches. So, my first religious encounter with a Church of Christ member was in college. Mark was a friend in high school, but we never really discussed religion until we started college. I can remember one day standing in the school parking lot discussing the book of Revelation. Mark did not believe that the tribulation, rapture, thousand year reign, lake of fire, etc were actually going to happen. At that time in my life, this was foreign thinking. The Baptist churches I had attended and the evangelists I had listened to on TV all taught that they would actually happen.

So, I asked Mark, “Well, if the book doesn’t mean what it sounds like it means, then what does it mean?”

Mark replied, “You have to first understand that some parts of the Bible are literal and other parts are figurative.”

I inquired, “Okay, so how do you tell the difference?”

Mark said, “Well, that which is literal is literal and that which is figurative is figurative.”

I was dumbfounded. What he said was obviously true, a tautology in fact, but it helped not one bit in making a determination about literalness or figurativeness. There had to be something more definitive. Yet, we kept going around and around and never really understanding each other. This did not leave a very good impression on me of the Church of Christ. And to make it even worse, Mark’s preacher had a regular radio program which I began to occasionally listen to after my conversation with Mark. One day the preacher started talking about how some things in the Bible were literal and some were figurative. “How do you tell the difference?” he asked the audience. His answer: “That which is literal is literal and that which is figurative is figurative.” Oh, boy! Well, at least I now knew where Mark had gotten that phrase from.

Interestingly, after I graduated from college and took a full time job in Alabama, I made some new friends. They invited me to church, and I went. Lo and behold, it was a Church of Christ. I was a bit hesitant, but decided to give it a chance. Over time I began to understand how they actually distinguished literal parts of Bible from the figurative parts. I began studying with a teacher, Jim Massey, at a local Church of Christ college every Sunday evening. Jim was a man of many hats in the church. He was a minister, evangelist, teacher, missionary, author, and more. I was very impressed by the logical manner in which he approached the Biblical text and how he attempted to look at the Bible as a whole when determining doctrine. I eventually joined the church, and Jim baptized me.

Shortly afterwards, I was back home visiting my parents in Kentucky, so I decided to give Mark a call and tell him the good news. (Note that the conversation may not have been exactly as I quote below, but the gist is accurate.)

“Hey, Mark. Guess what.”


“I joined the church.”

“Which church?”

“The Church of Christ.”

I was ready for his excitement to burst forth.

“Okay. Let me ask you a few questions.” Mark said.

Uh-oh, I thought. What’s up?

“Do you have a kitchen in the church building and eat in the church building?”

Oh, no. I had learned enough about the Church of Christ in the short time I had been a member to know that there were a number of divisions in it with differing beliefs. One of the more conservative wings was known by the group I had joined as the “anti brethren”. Not in the sense that they were not our brethren, but in the sense that they were opposed to more things than we were.

I responded, “Yes we do.”

Several more expected questions followed. I finally said, “Okay, you are apparently in the group we call the anti brethren.”

“Yes, I am,” he said.

So, after getting past my initial impression of the Church of Christ and then actually joining it, I was still not in the right group according to Mark. I guessed I was still bound for hell; I just didn’t know it. I wondered how many other people were in my situation. After all, if you believe you are right with God, but really aren’t, you don’t even know to seek out an alternative.

Oh, well.

Before I close, I would like to relate an interesting story about Jim Massey. He was known for being open minded. If he ever became convinced he was wrong about a Biblical issue, he was not above admitting his error and changing his position on the matter. In fact, in one of the classes I took from him he admitted that his position on a particular doctrine, after studying the issue in more detail, had changed since he taught the class the previous year. This impressed me.

Anyway, shortly after Jim baptized me, I had been studying the issue of drinking alcohol and had come to the inevitable conclusion that the Bible taught that drinking was not a sin, only drinking to excess. Somehow word got back to Jim. He caught me one day and asked me if I indeed believed drinking was okay. I said I did. In fact, I told him, the wine used for the Lord’s Supper was obviously alcoholic. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul chastised the believers for misusing the Lord’s Supper by getting drunk. Jim told me that the Greek word used there meant to be full, not drunk. I asked then why the translators translated it as drunk. He asked me to come to his office with me. Jim knew Greek and always carried a Greek New Testament with him to church. He pulled this out, went to the passage I was referring to and showed me the Greek word. Then he pulled out his Greek dictionary and looked that word up. I asked him what it said. He responded, “to be drunk.” After a pause, he said, “I’ll have to study this some more.” I never heard back from him on what he concluded from this study, but I always admired him for not trying to weasel out his dilemma, but rather used it as an opportunity to come to a deeper understanding of Scripture.

As for me, I was also open minded and willing to change my beliefs. After studying the Bible in more detail over the next several years, I ultimately concluded that many of the “facts” in the Bible could not be substantiated. I was therefore compelled to leave the church. I discuss all this in detail in my book God Is: Exploring the Nature of the Biblical God. It can be purchased in paperback or Kindle format at Amazon.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Remembering My Friend Joe

I was recently informed that my good friend, Joe Gautney, had died. I have known Joe for about 36 years. He was working at TVA when I first started working there in the late 1970’s. Soon after hiring in I was asked to attend a one-week statistics class in Chattanooga. Joining me were Joe Gautney and two other employees: Jim Watson and Warren Fowler. Joe, Warren, and I ate dinner together every evening and engaged in other activities, one of which was going to a drive-in movie. Jim ate dinner with us the first evening, and then decided to do his own thing the rest of the week.

One of the things a lot of people, including me, remember about Joe back in those early years was his dedication to jogging. Weather permitting, we’d see him outside jogging around our work area during lunch.

Several times over the years Joe and I worked near each other, but never together on the same project. In the late 1990’s when TVA employees were going through an extensive RIF, Joe was laid off. Well, he was supposed to be. Through sheer tenacity, he was able to find occasional odd jobs. That in combination with his annual leave and leave without pay saw him through until he was able to get a full time position again.

For several years in the mid 2000’s, Joe worked in an office I passed every morning on my way to my office. Joe always arrived at work early, so most mornings I would stop for a chat. Joe and I could talk about anything. We’d talk about work, family, the future of TVA, retirement, etc. We also talked about religion and politics, topics on which we totally agreed. We were skeptical of both.

One thing I really admired about Joe was his commitment to honesty and justice. For Joe, your word was your bond. Whenever a person or group broke their word or didn’t fulfill an obligation, Joe was not above becoming angry and even downright ornery. And that’s not just me saying this; Joe would readily admit this about himself.

In the late 2000’s, when TVA was consolidating buildings, Joe and I were both moved to cubicles in a different building. We were located very close to each other so were able to continue our friendship. Joe was extremely diligent about keeping up with and being frugal with his money. If I ever needed answers to questions about our pension and 401K, he could usually answer them.

Although I had met Joe’s wife, Janice, a few times over the years, I never really got to know her until Joe started inviting me to have lunch with them on Thursdays. You see, just about every Thursday, Joe and Janice would eat lunch at a Chinese buffet in town named Evergreen. I became a semi-regular participant in those lunches. I found Janice to be just as friendly and down home as Joe was and really enjoyed our time eating together.

Unfortunately, Joe and I had not seen each other over the last several years. I semi-retired and was only occasionally at TVA. Joe finally fully retired. And as often happens in these situations we ended up not getting together anymore. Even so, I still think of Joe as a good friend and co-worker. I will miss him. Rest in peace, my friend.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Britain From A to Z: Z


I admit that it took me a while to decide what Z topic to talk about. My initial thought was to make the topic Zebra Crossing, which is a striped speed bump seen throughout the UK. I was going to simply show the photo below and leave it at that.

I later decided I wanted a bit more substance, but was having a hard time coming up with a Z word that had any relevance to my Britain trip. Ultimately I settled on Zeitgeist.

For those that don’t know, zeitgeist means “spirit of the age” or “spirit of the time”. It refers to the dominant school of thought that influences the culture of a particular place at a particular time. In this post I will be concentrating on the prevailing British zeitgeist as it relates to freedom.

While traveling across Scotland, England, and Wales, my sense was that I was in a free country. Our tour bus traveled about without governmental checks. We had to show our passports upon our initial entry into the country in Glasgow, Scotland, but I do not recall having to show them ever again, even when crossing borders into England and Wales. We traveled across a lot of rural areas and visited quite a few urban areas. Mostly, I felt about the same as I do when traveling across the United States. The main difference I observed was the accents.

Despite the overall decline of freedom around the world over the last few years, Freedom House still lists the UK and the US as free countries. When it comes to economic freedom, the US has been declining rather quickly. We are now no longer listed among the Free nations. Rather, we are listed as Mostly Free by The Heritage Foundation. Only six countries are listed as free. The US is now at number 12. The UK is slightly less free at number 14. It is sad to me to see countries like Chile and Estonia being ranked higher in economic freedom than the US.

Two social areas of freedom of interest to me are gun control and healthcare.

Here in the US, gun control has been a topic of hot debate for many years. Some would like to outright ban guns for ordinary citizens, only allowing the police and the military to have them. Others point out that criminals would still have guns even if they were all banned. Therefore, as long as the criminals have them, honest citizens need them for protection. From what I have read, Britain is further down the road on banning guns. They are still available, but my understanding is that it is more difficult to get a permit there than in the US as a whole. In fact, when we met Baron Dafydd Wigley in Wales (see my post on Xenophobia), one of the things he said was that the Brits simply don’t understand the US’s lax position on gun control.

Another area where Britain is further along the social trail is healthcare. Publicly funded healthcare has been around for years now. Interestingly, several people I encountered seemed to not like this. They pointed out how those with enough money also bought private insurance because the public system was inadequate in some ways. I think the biggest issue is the waiting time for certain tests and procedures. This is similar to some of the complaints coming out of Canada. While every Canadian I’ve talked to about their healthcare seem to like it, there are those times when Canadians have to travel to the US to get a test sooner than their system allows so that any necessary treatments can begin earlier rather than later.

Let us hope that in the midst of Britain, the US, and other free countries moving more and more down the socialist path, we will love freedom enough to stop before we lose control of our lives as has happened in too many countries around the world. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Britain From A to Z: Y


Christianity has dominated Britain for many centuries now. Even though most citizens still identify with the Christian religion, church attendance has fallen dramatically over the last 50-60 years. 2011 statistics showed that about 60% of Brits claim to be Christian. Interestingly, 33% claimed no religion or did not state a religion. The rest were Islamic (4%), Hindu (1%), or something else (2%). Apparently, the other worshippers of Yahweh besides Christians, the Jews, make up a part of the “something else”.

Because of the age of Britain, there are many incredible churches, cathedrals, and abbeys throughout. While on our tour, we saw many of these and were able to go inside several of them. One Sunday evening, my wife and I actually attended an Evensong service at Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed during the service.

Here’s a few of the churches we saw during our tour throughout Scotland, England, and Wales.

Glasgow Cathedral, Glasgow, Scotland

St Columba’s Free Church, Edinburgh, Scotland

Melrose Abbey, Melrose, Scotland

Grasmere Parrish Church, Grasmere, England

St Martin’s Church, Bowness-on-Windermere, England

Hawes Methodist Church, Hawes, England

York Minster, York, England

York Minster, York, England

Liverpool Cathedral, Liverpool, England

Chester Cathedral, Chester, England

Westminster Abbey, London, England

Westminster Cathedral, London, England

Bath Abbey, Bath, England

United Reformed Church Tabernacle Chapel, Rhayader, Wales

Holy Trinity Church, Porthmadog, Wales

The Fun Centre, Former Christchurch, Caernarfon, Wales

Presbyterian Church of Wales, Caernarfon, Wales

St Mary’s Church, Betws-y-Coed, Wales

Addoldy Cydenwadol Seion, Llangollen, Wales

St Mary’s Church, Kidderminster, England

Broadway Methodist Church, Broadway, England

St Martin’s Church, Burial Place for Winston Churchill and Family, Bladon, England

St Mary Magdalen’s Church, Oxford, England

St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, Windsor, England

Monday, August 18, 2014

Britain From A to Z: X


Union Jack, the flag of the United Kingdom

St George’s Cross, the flag of England

 St Andrew’s Cross, the flag of Scotland

 Y Ddraig Goch (The Red Dragon), the flag of Wales

Xenophobia is the fear (phobia) of strangers or foreigners (xeno). However, a milder definition of the word can be to fear losing one’s identity as a result of mixing with strangers or foreigners. It’s this latter definition that I am speaking to in this post.

For many years there have been struggles within certain countries as to the efficacy of being a part of the UK. We saw some of this while visiting Scotland and Wales. There are many in these two countries that feel that the needs of their respective countries would be better met as independent nations instead of being a part of the United Kingdom. Part of this is the fear of losing their national identity the longer they are joined with England.

One of the biggest aspects of a country’s identity is its language. Scottish Gaelic is considered to be the natural language of Scotland even though its official language is English. As expected, the farther north one goes into Scotland, and thus farther from England, the more people you find speaking Gaelic. Even so, the language is considered to be endangered. Similarly, Welsh is the natural language of Wales. But Wales actually has two official languages: Welsh and English. As expected, the farther West one goes, away from England, the more people you will find that speak Welsh, especially in the Northwest. Apparently the Welsh Language is not nearly as endangered as Scottish Gaelic. But there are fears that it is fading out as time goes by.

There have been and still are movements within Scotland and Wales to once again become independent nations. In fact, a national referendum is scheduled for September 18, 2014, in Scotland that will ask the question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?” It will be interesting to see how this referendum goes. I know of no such referendum scheduled in Wales, but there are those that promote independence. Apparently it is advocated primarily by the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru.

While visiting Caernarfon, Wales, we stayed at the Celtic Royal Hotel. Over 20 people from Minnesota that had some level of Welsh heritage were on this leg of our tour. Interestingly, one of those Minnesotans had family connections back to a Member of Parliament. It was Baron Dafydd Wigley. Wigley had served as Plaid Cymru Member of Parliament for Caernarfon from 1974 to 2001. Since early 2011, he has been in the House of Lords.

As it turned out, Baron Wigley was at our dinner that night and had agreed to talk to our group afterwards and even answer some questions. Of course, this was not to be missed, so we attended. It was very interesting. Here is a photo I took of my son, Andrew, with Baron Wigley.

I personally have no opinion about whether or not Scotland or Wales would best be served by independence. I know that it could lead to strained relations with England. But if all countries keep their wits about them, it could be innocuous for international relations and end up helping everyone concerned. Occasionally, a state or part of a state here in the United States, becomes so disgusted with Washington DC that talk of secession crops up. Even I sometimes become so disgruntled with national politics that I begin to think breaking away from it would be a good thing. But on the other hand, it would be a sad state of affairs for the differences between our citizens to become so pronounced as to break up our nation.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Britain From A to Z: W


I was originally going to devote the letter W to Weather. You know, talk about how Britain is known for rain and fog, and how we encountered little of that during our visit. But recently I have been watching a documentary series on TV entitled “The World Wars” on the History Channel. If you haven’t seen it, you need to. It is very informative and very well done. Because of it, I decided to make this post different from the former ones. Rather than talk about our travels across Britain, I will be talking about something that occurred over 70 years ago that made it possible for me to even make the trip.

One of the things that really struck me was how much of the world the Axis (Germany, Italy, USSR, and Japan) took over during WW2. It had to have struck terror into the Allied nations. In 1940, Hitler decided to strike Britain with an intense bombing campaign. Many cities were attacked over many days. 60% of London was destroyed and thousands of people were killed, not to mention all the injured. It was Hitler’s intent to break the will of the Brits so they would ask Churchill to back down and surrender to the Germans. It had the opposite effect. The Brits were not about to cave in to a ruthless dictator. But, what to do about it?

Although England had a large naval fleet, they knew it could not stop the bombers. So, some fast, agile fighter planes were commissioned to take the battle to the air. Also, advances in radar allowed tracking of the German planes from the time they took off. The counterattack was extremely successful, with the RAF bringing down a large percentage of the bombers making their way to England. Hitler was so distraught over the situation that he decided to call off the British attacks and go after one of his allies, Russia. This ended up being one of the worst decisions he could have made.

One of the commentators on “The World Wars” show said he felt that England’s successful counterattack saved Western Civilization. I think perhaps he is right. And I’m so thankful for the resolve of the British people and their leaders, especially Winston Churchill. I really like Western Civilization and am glad it was saved.

In conclusion, let me symbolically take my hat off to the British. Thanks for being the stopgap during WW2 while the US was still contemplating what to do. It’s good to be your ally.

Here’s a few photos from London in WW2 that I found at . I can’t imagine the horror those people felt as they were being attacked night after night during the German blitz.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Britain From A to Z: V


When my son Andrew was conceived, several errant sequences inserted themselves into his DNA. He is so different from his mom and me that this has to be true. One area of difference is his taste in drinks. He doesn’t like the old standbys that I like, like Coke and Mountain Dew. Noooo-ooooh. He’s gotta have those weird drinks like Mountain Dew Baja Blast and Big Red. Ewwww. And not only that, he’s always on the lookout for even weirder drinks to indulge in. And he found a few in Britain. One he discovered early in our trip was Vimto. It’s a fruity drink that I don’t like. So guess what, my son LIKED it. It was almost as if Vimto was a Facebook message.

Surprisingly, later in the trip Andrew discovered yet another drink he liked even better: Irn-Bru. Have you ever heard a song by the 60’s band Cream named “Strange Brew”? Well, it could have been written about this drink, because Irn-Bru is one Strange Brew. And guess what. Cream was a BRITISH band. So, I guess they wrongly liked it also. It’s one of those drinks that brings back old childhood memories of liquid medicine I was made to take. Yet my son loves it. But perhaps it’s not so strange considering how much Andrew loves Britain, especially Wales.

But you know what? Apparently LOTS of other people love these drinks. Vimto was introduced in 1908 in Salford, Greater Manchester, England. Irn-Bru was introduced in 1901 in Scotland, the home of Scotch Whiskey, their national drink. In fact, Irn-Bru is often described as “Scotland’s other national drink”. You can’t last this long without lots of people liking your product. So, perhaps my wife and I are the ones with the errant DNA. Nah!

Interestingly, shortly after returning home to Alabama, we were shopping at Publix. Lo and behold, there in the International section were Vimtos and Irn-Brus. We popped a few in our cart and waited for our son’s reaction. And it was worth it. He simply couldn’t believe it. He thought he had left those flavors behind.

On a related matter, I had always heard that Brits like their soft drinks at room temperature; therefore most restaurants didn’t put ice in them. Well, this was somewhat true. However, some places did put a small amount of ice in drinks; more if you asked. But one thing I did not see was ice in tea. In Britain, tea is served hot. Iced tea is nowhere to be found; at least not in the places we visited. After two weeks of being on the wagon, I immediately consumed some iced sweet tea on return to the colonies. Oh, yeah!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Britain From A to Z: U


As are many countries, including the US, Britain is enthralled with heroes. Usually these heroes were a part of the military, but they can include political leaders and others, also. And in many cases, there are memorials and monuments built for those unknown heroes, or UNSUNG HEROES. During our trip to Scotland, England, and Wales, we saw many statues and structures built to honor both the unsung and the sung heroes. Here in the United States, the most famous memorial for an unsung hero is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery in Virginia. Here’s a photo of some students paying tribute to this unsung American hero. That’s my son on the right.

Here’s a photo from each of the three countries we visited showing a memorial, either to sung or unsung heroes.

Commando Memorial, Scotland

The Commando Memorial in Scotland is in memory of the men of the Commandos that died in World War II. It is located in the middle of nowhere, but is apparently near the Commandos training ground.

Nelson Column, Trafalgar Square, London, England

The Nelson Column is dedicated to Admiral Horatio Nelson, who was a British flag officer in the Royal Navy and known particularly for his service during the Napoleonic Wars. Obviously, he is “highly” thought of given how high they placed his statue on the column.

Rhayader Clock, Rhayader, Wales

The Rhayader Clock in Rhayader, Wales, is dedicated to the men of the city who were lost in both World Wars. It is considered to be sitting on the dividing line between North Wales and South Wales.

There were many more statues and memorials all across Britain dedicated to individuals and groups considered to be worthy of recognition. There is a human compulsion to honor those who sacrificed themselves for a worthy cause. Scotland, England, and Wales are no different. One difference with the US is that they have existed far longer than we have. Thus, there are many more people to memorialize.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Britain From A to Z: T

Traffic Signs

As I have already discussed, there are a number of words that are different in Britain than in the US even though we basically speak the same language. So, you might expect the same type of differences when it comes to traffic signs. And you would be correct.

Here are a few examples:

US Phrase                  Britain Phrase
Detour                         Diversion
Congestion Ahead       Queues Possible
Yield                            Give Way
Major Highway           Main Carriageway

Notice in the photo above that the road number is M40. M is used to designate main carriageways; what we call interstate highways in the US. Lesser roads are designated with an A or a B as seen in the photo below.

Also notice on the M40 sign above that there is a tenth mile designation. The small white post is also marked with a 66.4. These small tenth mile white posts could usually be seen every tenth mile on the M highways. Here in the US, our highways, including interstates, typically only have mile markers.

Although there are places in the US that have roundabouts, Britain seems to be full of them. Therefore, signs like the one on the right in the photo below are quite common. It shows the circle of the roundabout along with where you will be headed along each leg shooting off from it.

On some of the larger multi-lane roundabouts painted instructions appear on the pavement itself.

A useful feature along some sections of the M highways was the chevrons. There would be a sign instructing drivers to keep 2 chevrons apart. On the road would be painted chevrons. If you kept at least two chevrons back from the car in front of you and you were driving the speed limit, you would know you were a safe distance away in case of an emergency stop. This is much easier than trying to determine if you are one car length per 10 miles per hour of driving speed. However, you can see in the second photo below that not everyone obeys the two chevron rule. They better not get caught. Following closer than two chevrons carries a penalty of 10 years hard labor in a salt mine. Just joking; I think.

In towns with buildings on most corners, the names of the streets were often posted on the side of the buildings. It’s a bit disconcerting if you are not used to it, but quite cost effective. No post is required.

In towns and cities it is common to see signs such as the one below showing a great amount of detail about what is where and in which direction.

Finally, I’d like to mention the use of bilingual signs in Britain. Since English is the main language of England, the signs there are monolingual. However, in Scotland there are a significant number of people who speak Scottish Gaelic. This language is more common in the northern parts of Scotland as you distance yourself from England. The same is true in Wales. Welsh is spoken by a significant number of citizens, this being more common in the north than the south. Here’s a sign welcoming visitors to Fort William, Scotland. Notice the Scottish Gaelic at the top of the sign.

In Wales it was interesting that the signs in the south usually had English first, then Welsh, whereas the signs in the north had Welsh first, then English. Here’s an example. The first photo is what we saw as we entered the capital of Wales, Cardiff, in the south.

Compare that to these photos taken further north in Wales.

I originally thought, “How different it is to live in a place needing bilingual signs.” Then I realized that the US is becoming more and more bilingual, with Spanish on the rise. For instance, here is a Wet Floor sign I saw at our local YMCA. I’m sure the bilingual signs are even more common in the parts of the US bordering Mexico.

Well, that’s all folks. To paraphrase Bill Engvall, “There’s your sign!”