Saturday, August 31, 2019

Ten reasons I got hooked on the British detective series Midsomer Murders

Binge watching has become all the rage. Why wait week after week for another episode of a favorite show? Why wait anxiously through a seasonal hiatus and begin watching again when you have a 21st century alternative – binge watch the entire series, whether a 3-episode miniseries or a show with a 20-year longevity. 

Yup, that’s me. The show: the British detective series Midsomer Murders. First aired in England in 1997, 21st season currently in production. Each episode 1½ hours. 119 episodes after 20 seasons. 

A lot of TV viewing. 

Too much squandered time, I admit. But the show is addictive. 

The setting is a somewhat affluent fictional county of small villages, farms, and country
manors. The manors are not as large as the grandiose Downton Abbey, but impressive nonetheless. Smaller dwellings also appear, characterized by low ceilings and doorways and tended flower gardens, crammed with the stuff of British middle-class life. Run-down shacks in the woods house folks of dubious backgrounds.

A pub or two play a part in most episodes, venues with dark wood paneling and a bar counter where detectives search for strangers and chat with tavern owners and barmaids. Village folks occupy cozy alcoves and guzzle alcoholic beverages, consume hearty meals, and gossip. A village church and its vicar recur...also the police station...and scenic narrow country roads, settings for car crashes, hit and runs, and mad dashes to prevent another murder. There is rarely only one homicide per episode.

Ten reasons I got hooked on the British detective series Midsomer Murders:

1.   I like detective shows, everything from Perry Mason, Murder She Wrote, Columbo and Castle to Elementary.
2.   Great scenery. Villages look unscarred by 20th and 21st century development – no chain stores or supermarkets, little traffic, pristine landscapes. Family-owned businesses proliferate, although financial troubles surface, a common theme.
3.   The actors look like real people. Apparently British TV does not feel the need to make every actor/actress handsome/pretty. 
4.   Interesting story lines and no annoying commercial breaks.
5.   The culprit is not obvious, but can be deduced.
6.   I am learning a little British lingo, and closed captions (British accents can be difficult to understand) ensure none of the dialogue or background sounds - music, doors creaking, footsteps - are missed.
7.  Lead actors are appealing.
8.   Don’t need to watch in sequence; each episode can stand alone.
9.   Amusing dialogue and dark humor lighten the drama.
10.Characters mirror real life - everybody has secrets, some relevant to the case and others irrelevant.

Midsomer is an idyllic (except for the murders) semi-rural region. I wonder what will happen when the writers kill off everyone living, working, and visiting the various Midsomer villages. 

How many more years can Midsomer Murders endure?

Meanwhile I am on season 16... 

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Lost then Found

After two weeks in Scotland it was time to get back to ‘real life’. We - hub and I - arrived home Sunday night. Monday was jam-packed with meetings, food shopping, reviewing mail, paying bills, and recuperating from jet lag and the seven-hour, unfun flight across the pond. No time to unpack.

I needed the car to drive to meetings and haul groceries. I knew where my key was. On the way out of the country we drove to the airport and parked at an off-site lot. I threw placed my key in a pocket of my backpack. 

Or so I thought.

Fast forward two weeks. Back home, I go for my key. Let is nowhere to be found, but not wanting to be late for my meeting I did not undertake a thorough search. I grabbed hub’s key and rushed out the door.

I did not worry, initially. Maybe I placed my key in a different backpack pocket, or someplace else entirely. After two weeks my mind and memory could be playing tricks on me.

Day two home. Time to unpack.

I emptied my backpack, not a usual task. Items like tissues, coins and pens remain forever in the bag. But in an effort to locate my key, everything came out. 

No key found.

I semi-panicked. It was time to methodically search elsewhere.

Maybe the key was in the car...a dresser drawer...a sweater or jacket pocket (unlikely, since I hadn’t worn either for weeks in the summer heat)...fell under the furniture...nothing. An unsuccessful hunt.

I realized the key might be forever lost. Maybe I took something out of my backpack, the key fell out and I didn’t notice. 

Hub and I could not rely on one key long-term. But replacement turned out not to be a simple undertaking. Or cheap. Keys nowadays are computer-programmed. We could not make a copy at the hardware store.

Hub called the Honda dealer and set up an appointment. The dealer needed the car to program a key. No problem, they told him, a one-hour job. Price? A lot. But we had no choice.

Hub rises early for the 7:00 am appointment and is out the door 6:30...

An hour later he reappears. “Finished already?”

“No, the repair department didn’t have the part. I rescheduled. The part will be in tomorrow.”

You are probably thinking, why didn’t the shop tell him when he called they did not have the part? Why didn’t they check before scheduling the appointment? I guess that would require too much trouble on their part. Better let the customer waste their time.

That afternoon I resigned to complete my unpacking and repacking. A small pile of items removed from my backpack sat on my dresser, including two plastic rain jackets. I picked one up and noticed a small bulge in the square-folded piece of plastic. I thrust my hand in the folds, routed around and – voila – MY CAR KEY!

I ran into the family room waving my key and shouting, “I found my key! I found it!” Hub thought something terrible happened...

But I solved the mystery!

Hundreds of dollars saved.

Next time I will write down the safe and secure place I store my key. 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Impressions of Scotland

Wildflowers brighten the Scottish landscape.
Two weeks immersed in the land, culture, cuisine, and literary legends of Scotland, and I returned home exhausted. It took a couple of days to adjust to the time change and recover – mostly from a seven-hour flight confined to an American Airlines middle seat. Years ago a younger, more flexible me would have bounced back the next day. Oh well...


I spent most of my time in the town of Dundee. Before boarding a bus in Edinburgh for the city, about 1½ hours north of the capital, local folks inquired Why Dundee? It is not a popular tourist destination. The city is attempting an economic rebound centered on education and tourism. A branch of the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum opened in January, 2019, and new hotels have opened.

I spent nine days in the city attending a writer’s conference sponsored by Murphy Writing of Stockton University (New Jersey) in cooperation with the University of Dundee. I attended workshops, wrote a great deal, walked miles, ate too much, and toured city and countryside.
Conference attendees stayed in University of Dundee dorm rooms.
This is the view from my room, the river Tay in the background.
The Cuisine...

A fun part of travel is sampling local fare. Fish and chips is a Scottish staple, available for a reasonable price at almost every pub in the country. Lightly breaded and fried, the fish usually haddock, with thick steak fries, also not immersed in grease, are delicious. Calories undetermined...

Baked beans are another local favorite, part of a typical breakfast and often found with dinner entrees as well. Peas, sometimes whole and other times mushy, are also a common meal accompaniment. 

The quintessential Scottish food and the national dish, however, is haggis

pudding (a boiled or steamed dish) composed of the liver, 
heart, and lungs of a sheep(or other animal), minced and 
mixed with beef or mutton suet and oatmeal and seasoned with onion, 
cayenne pepper and other spices
The mixture is packed into a sheep’s stomach and boiled.

The Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote a poem, An Address to the Haggis, immortalizing the dish. Here is the first stanza (there are 8 stanzas) of the poem in the original Scottish English, followed by a modern translation:

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, 
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.

Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.

I don’t want to give the wrong idea about the country’s culinary diversity. A wide range of eateries exist in Edinburgh and Dundee. We sampled French, Greek, Mediterranean, Italian, American (burgers of course), and Indian restaurants, along with local favorites. Cafes are everywhere and the coffee is wonderful.

A rainbow bagel discovered, and sampled, at a cafe in Dundee.
Local culture

Some cities dot the landscape with animals – like this one spotted in Edinburgh –

Dundee has its penquins, a nod to the city’s shipbuilding and navigaton history -

Dundee also is proud of its eight-foot statue of Desperate Dan – the strongest man in the world - a British comic character born in Dundee in 1937. 

Desperate Dan, the strongest man in the world!

The city also sports other comic characters – one example here:
A comic character, in front of the sailing vessel Discovery. The ship is anchored in
Dundee harbor and is open for tours.

Guidbye and see ye efter!

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Edinburgh Scotland and the Fringe Festival

Three days exploring the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh, before the reason for my Scottish trip began – a writer’s conference – and 1½ days after the conference, barely enough time to see the sites of the city and experience the Fringe Festival.
Ad for the Fringe Festival (paid for by Virgin Air!) on
the Royal Mile, a cobblestone pedestrian-only street
connecting the medieval Edinburgh Castle
to Holyrood Palace, the royal family's residence when in Scotland.
 I admit I had never heard of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival before this trip. The Fringe? The Festival advertises itself as “the world’s greatest platform for creative freedom,” offering thousands of live performances - comedy and drama theater, variety shows, one person shows and full productions, music, dance, children's shows, circus -  over a three-week period every August. 

To get an idea of the extent of the festival here are some 2018 festival statistics:

* Over 400,000 visitors.
* 3,548 unique shows in venues throughout the city, including large theaters, pub, hotel and outdoor locations. Small hole-in-the-wall sites seat less than 100. 
* Over 56,000 performances: 697 free shows, 260 pay as you want shows, 1,937 premiers.

Hub and I saw four shows: one great (Showstoppers– improv musical), one very good (Fishbowl – no dialogue, three actors), one interesting (Trump Lear – a one man play), one blah. Most of the shows are one hour, so the blah one was bearable. The play’s premise (and title) seemed interesting – Too young to stay in, too old to go out, but the man who performed the one-man show did not do a spectacular job. 

We walked...and walked...our steps interspersed with the shows, stops at pubs and restaurants for a taste of local fare, cafes for coffee – the brew wonderful throughout the trip, visits to museums and historic sites. Edinburgh is a city of steps, steep hills, too many cobblestone streets, and during the Fringe Festival too many people. By the end of each day our swollen feet demanded downtime.

One of the restaurants I DID NOT patronize.
We did have lunch one day at the
Lucky Pig, a vegetarian bistro.
This restaurant served great food at a reasonable price.
Following the first three days in Scotland we boarded a bus for Dundee. Dundee? Why are you going to Dundee? Locals inquired. Why would anyone spend time in Dundee? the overwhelming response from our new Scottish acquaintances.

The answer in my next blog post...
Love this sign found displayed above a pub door.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

High Flying Fear and Once Again a Globetrotter

The road well-traveled beckoned, and I am once again a traveler.

But not yet on the road. More accurately, in the air. No superhighways, or roads of any kind, yet link the east coast of the U.S. with any European land, so I was forced to board a jet plane. An American Airlines plane, my seat assignment far, far in the back of the plane. 

I don’t know how long the plane had been in the air before I was ready to disembark. Unfortunately there were too many hours before my feet landed on terra firma. I could not sleep, the seat too small, too uncomfortable, with not enough leg room. My body contorted into shapes my aging body should not have to experience. Sore bones, tight muscles, itchy skin. 

So why am I putting myself through this agony on an aircraft?

To reach a destination on the other side of the pond – Scotland. Land of whiskey, the Loch Ness monster, kilts, Celts, clans and bagpipes. None of which I am particularly interested in, but nevertheless...

First meal in Scotland at the Alexander Graham Bell pub, Edinburgh

Scottish seagulls. Same as east coast US seagulls. Only bigger. 

I will be attending a writer’s conference. 

But first I had to endure the trip overseas.

For a time rough weather threatened, or so my imagination made me believe. I thought I would have a shortened trip and forego participation in the conference. I feared the wind would whisk me and the plane off to the netherworld. 

But the weather moderated and my heart stopped pounding, and only mildly thumped. Loudly. Hands numb? Or just cold. I couldn’t tell.

“...once through the clouds, you will be able to see land...” the pilot’s voice broke through my imaginings.

I rolled up the window blind, ever so tentatively, and peered out. Between the clouds, white and billowy and so innocent-looking now, I sight terra firma.

I sighed, sat back, and smiled. My Scotland adventure was about to begin.
the North Sea