Author Archives: sam

What’s in a name

I changed my name about a dozen years ago. I didn’t change it to anything as spiffy as, say, Mark Twain, or offbeat as Kate Winslet’s husband Mr Rocknroll, but it met the main criteria of being different from that which I’d spent 20 years vaguely dissatisfied with. (If the math doesn’t add up to my age, that’s because I wasn’t always bothered.) I did it because I could, and it was easy. Except for the explaining part.

How do you tell your father you’re discarding the family name, apparently dissing him and the line of fathers which begat ungrateful you? If you’re a girl (sorry) getting hitched, it’s not an issue even in these days of fewer nées; patriarchy has its silver lining. Boys are expected to display the marque. That’s one reason for the extra enthusiasm with which cigars are handed out, at least in the movies.


“Eeny, meeny, miny, Moe. OK, you’re Moe. Don’t cry, your brother got stuck with Sue.”

I didn’t tell him at first, even going so far as to carefully remove all luggage tags when my parents would meet me at the airport for my annual visit to the homestead. But eventually it seemed prudent to gingerly let the cat out of the bag and hope for the realistic best, i.e., a shrug and a sad smile of acceptance. I honestly still don’t know how he took it; I don’t remember if his body language was mute with shock or I averted my eyes at the crucial moment. Other than a steady stream of perhaps-not-always offhand remarks which suggests it remained a sore spot, we’ve never discussed it in any depth. It helps to have cultivated a reputation for being [pick an adjective] odd/‘creative’/difficult.

It’s hard to gauge the importance of the name that’s been stuck on the birth certificate. On one hand it’s—sorry, papas everywhere—meaningless. On the other, it’s your bloody name, innit. Tends to crop up on a daily basis. Gets called over the loudspeaker, machine-printed in junk mail, chiselled onto your gravestone. In my case, constantly misspelled or at least mispronounced.

If I’d been born Native American and followed traditional conventions, my parents would’ve called me boy-who-cries-a-lot, thanks to colic. In my teens this might’ve then become hogs-mirror-with-comb, perhaps finally culminating in adulthood with naps-on-couch.


Not exactly a role model, but we all have our redeeming qualities

As it was, I went from something howmanyofme.com informs me only 28 other Americans shared, to a meeting hall of closer to 300.

The transition wasn’t too great of a lurch in the small family unit of me and my wife. She’d known me as my now official first name since the 80s, the initials my parents had bestowed having formed a perfectly serviceable moniker that happened to appeal.

I retained my middle name as a kind of keepsake. My new surname came more or less out of a hat, like my father’s, at least from the point of view of a zygote swimming in a universe of possibilities. (I know, a zygote doesn’t do much paddling. It’s more a wallflower waiting to blossom.)

My wife didn’t follow suit. There’s no reason she should have. She chose it; I didn’t. Who could have guessed she’d be landing on what was to be my maiden name.

Not long ago I started visiting my hometown on a regular basis via the local newspaper, which has been giving me space to write about life as an expat. Call it boy-who-crossed-pond. As a byline I chose my old name. It made sense; my parents and their friends would be reading. I wanted them to be able to say “Yeah, he’s ours” should they be pleased with the result, without resorting to tedious explanations. (On the flip side, should they feel the need to cringe, well, tough luck. Heh.) Though pen names are common enough, it’s an unnecessary obstacle in a conversation.

I’ve also reverted to my given name on Facebook. Not only is it easier for relatives who haven’t been kept apprised of my idiosyncrasies to process, it’s pleasing to feed data-hungry Zuckerbeasts white lies.

Ironically, as I have a bit of a lisp, my self-chosen name appears to be difficult to convey to anyone needing to take it down. “Fam?” I’m frequently asked over the phone. <Sigh>


Original art spotted in a gallery. Afford it I couldn’t.

PS. Walker, Sam Walker. 007½, licence to drive on the left.

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Merry Grimace

Camilla and Charles in their 2013 Christmas card, looking pretty much as you’d expect them to if you stumbled upon them: Want to trade hats? Not now Charles, maybe when we get home.

2014: Cheers

2015: Have a cozy Christmas

2016: Duty callsThe Croatian on the right is, as they say, hungry like the wolf.

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Faceplant

What blogs? you ask, if you don’t mind my conjuring you up and dropping you seemingly in mid-paragraph. Present company excluded, those would be Another Cycling Forum, since retired except for the slowly expanding l’image vidage collection, and Not Another Cycling Forum. Clearly I like forums, even when they’re not. I’m intimately familiar with the software, and prefer how threads work to posts on a more typical blogging platform.

This is a confession: I finally fell into Facebook. Not wholly; I’m not even using my real name. More accurate to say I’m using the old one. It’s one way of kidding myself I haven’t capitulated.

It’s not so bad. I mean, it’s the devil’s handiwork, but otherwise not as terrible as I’ve long been telling myself.

Not that I’m really getting anywhere with it. Few of my Friend requests have been RSVP’d.

I still don’t do Likes. Viral vids give me the hives, too many emoticons a case of eyeroll. Most sorrowfully of all, not everyone finds reimagining pivotal scenes in Shawshank Redemption conducive to carrying on a conversation. (To keep that little photoshopping project from having been a complete waste of energy, I cc’d it to Twitter, to be absorbed into the public commons in the fullness of time.) So far it’s been most useful as an outlet to vent my insomnia.

Where to next? Having placed myself in exile from all the forums I’ve ever taken up residence in, I may have finally reached a social media dead end: the dreaded Zero Club, where everybody knows my name. Even Medium.com, with its almost perfect interface, offers no solace: who needs sad stats floating on the screen in silent rebuke?

Captain’s Log, supplemental. Old media is offering a balm. I’m apparently acquiring a small band of faithful readers of the column I’ve been writing for a newspaper back in Ohio.

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Halftone memories

As a kid I spent five years delivering the local paper. Wednesdays were thickest with ads, Thursdays thinnest. Saturday mornings coldest. The most replayed mental video clip of my young life was an impossible shot from the street to a postage-stamp sized porch which was surely a mile away. My final tally was 2 broken windows and countless dented aluminum doors. I never left them on the lawn, though that would have been quieter.

It started a lifelong fascination with the press.

The paper was staffed by a talented photographer who made a lasting impression. He was allowed to spill acres of beautiful black ink over countless spreads. He left around the time colour was arriving. It was never the same (and neither was he, from what I saw of his career).

Lately I’ve been writing for the media I used to damage property with. They don’t have a big budget for this sort of thing; in fact I’ll be making about what I made as a paperboy.

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Sugar Addicts Anonymous

[Takes a symbolic 12 steps to the podium.]

Hello. My name is Sam, and I’m a sugar addict.

[Pauses for “Hello Sam.” The sympathy in the air is palpable.]

It started when I was a child. Candy bars bought with paper route money. My grandmother’s peanut butter cookies. Easter baskets with chocolate eggs as god intended. The dark bounty of Hallowe’en. Coke or Pepsi (depending what’s on sale) guzzled at all family functions and regularly in between.

oldpepsi
Pepsi sadly couldn’t teach the world to sing

You wouldn’t know it to look at me. Always running around or riding my bike, I sweat it off as fast as I can suck it in. But true addiction is born.

scarface
Sugarface

Fast forward to early adulthood
Still eating crap, still mostly getting away with it. I’m in deep.

bassetts
Words would be superfluous here

Later…
My wife gets a job at an ice cream shop in Brooklyn. Needless to say it comes with fringe benefits. Chocolate dipped sundries. A gummy menagerie. Ice cream by the pint. Bassetts butterscotch, OMG. By conservative estimate I gain 35lbs. I could blame my metabolism, but really, who’s kidding who.

weighstation
Scale says what?!?

It’s a mad mad mad mad world
We move to the UK. Not long after arriving I decide to go vegetarian (thanks mad cow disease) then vegan, also cutting out refined sugar, if not sugar substitutes (hello agave syrup). The weight falls off… then over the years, creeps back up again, though not as much as the Bassetts era. I take up bicycling in a big way, which helps. From time to time I binge. I’m never again clinically obese, but I am clinically annoyed with myself.

stop
OK you made your point

Three months ago
After one big sigh too many I completely stop eating foods with added sugar. I’m not obsessive about it?—?things like ketchup are allowed on the table?—?but anything that can be unambiguously labelled a dessert is verboten.

The first few days are headache-ridden. I rough it out. Soon I settle into a routine. This involves savouring everything I still allow myself, which is plenty, and not giving in to psychological hunger for empty calories. As long as I’m at it I cut out snacks and keep a food diary, giving myself a reasonable caloric allowance for my activity level.

fudgelove
Fudge loves you too

It’s not really that hard. It helps that I often tell myself it isn’t forever; one day I will have fudge again. It’s just that today, then today, then today again, is not that day.

My pants (after 20 years in this country I still can’t quite bring myself to call them trousers) loosen their grip around my waist. No wonder, a stone and the better part of another stone has disappeared, who knows where. I’m no whippet, but I’m fighting trim. It feels good to be here again. Whenever my resolve weakens I hike up my pants and think, well, not today.

I’ll always be a sugar addict.

Thank you for listening.

[Sits down without a glance at the table of biscuits and root beer. They don’t go together anyway.]

***
109

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Spanner in the works

It often comes as a surprise to those who, when they think of pet rabbits at all, picture them outdoors in hutches or worse [NSFB – Not Safe For Bunnies],  that they can live quite happily inside with the humans. They can usually be litter-trained and are odour-free: both big pluses. And they are incomparably adorable. Meet Oreo:

allears

aka spanner, so-called because when we spotted him in a shop all the arguments against having a bunny ground to a stop.

spanner

He’s just over a year old, and has the run of most of the house, the exceptions being the kitchen and the storage room where his hay is kept.

ohay
thank goodness I don’t have hay fever

Aside from hay – we get ours by the bale from a local farmer – they also dig their greens.

greens
and reds, it looks like

The main order of business for anyone wishing to share heart and hearth with leporidae domesticis

spot
spot the lagomorph

is to bunny-proof your own hutch. This involves safeguarding wires, which rabbits appear to be far more fond of than carrots, and restricting access to books or whatever your new housemate fancies.

skinnybunny
looking for the fireplace to go with the screen

grooming
paper towel rolls: très chic, non?

Still, you must prepare yourself for the inevitable small nibbles that start appearing in home furnishings.

lampshade
thanks for the assist

And they will. Go. Everywhere.

ledgerabbit, read

obox
it was in the way

Rabbits are crepuscular, which means they’re most active in the mornings and evenings

sleepy
behind the couch is apparently much more comfy than on it

but really, once you’ve let a rabbit in, he’s liable to scamp about in your head 24/7.

phone
am I on your contacts list?

Wonderful as it’s been having him in our lives, he’s a lot of work and worry. When rabbits are sick they can go downhill very fast, so you’ve got to keep a close eye on them. As a prey species, most don’t particularly like being held, so many people’s reason for wanting one in the first place (lots of hugs, of course!) goes right out the window. But he’s an appreciative magnet for pets, grinding his teeth in approval – a satisfying reward known as ‘tooth purring’. All in all, we’re glad he’s ours and we’re his.

comfy
works for me

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