The First Last Words

August 6, 2009

Well, here we are.  It’s been two years since I left the UK, and a lot has happened in the mean time.  But, I’ve always been meaning to write a summary of my experiences: the good, the bad, the ugly and the sublime.

Back when I was in High School, around the age of 15, I went on the first of two trips to Europe with my mother.  This was one of those If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium -type of pre-planned tours, and I had a wonderful time.  After the tour, we spent an extra week on our own in London.  I loved London back then.  Mother hated it.

Apparently, she used to live there at some point shortly after WWII. (Her father was an Army officer.)  I know this because she assured me that she knew the city well, as we wandered around on endless wild goose chases, looking for this museum or that shopping street.  Like any city, I think a lot had changed in the intervening 40 years, and the changes frustrated her.  Not to mention that after a month of tooling around Europe on a very cramped bus with about two dozen other hapless American tourists… well, I think by the time we got to London she was simply tired from the whole experience and felt ready to go home.

Shortly before the trip, the film A Fish Called Wanda had come out in theatres and Mother seemed to have a real affinity for Kevin Kline’s character (or at least his deadpan wit).  There’s a scene in the film where he spitefully (yet very humorously) splashes the water in Michael Palin’s fishtank, yelling “Wake up, limey fish!”  Whenever Mother got frustrated with anything in London, she would mutter “limey fish” under her breath.  I didn’t really see the point of this.  After all it is their country.  We’re just tourists.  By the end of the trip though, as my luggage containing a month’s worth of dirty clothes and a pile of souvenir guidebooks was being rifled through at the airport (because, you know, a 15-year-old American kid travelling with his mother… what could be more suspicious?), I have to admit I turned to my mother and conceded, “limey fish” (much to the confusion of the people examining my dirty socks).

But, that was 20 years ago.  And, as I mentioned, you can’t really judge a place as a tourist.  So, how would I describe Britain after nearly two years of living and working there?  It’s impossible to sum it up in one word, sorry.  So, I’m going to give you a list.  Three lists, actually.  The “best of…”, the “worst of…” and the “I’m still trying to makes sense of…”  Admittedly, these lists will end up saying a lot more about me than they will about Britain, but at least I’ll have answered those two most frequently asked questions: “What was it like?”, and “Do you wish you could go back?”


Mark Russell & the 80s, meet Wikipedia

March 15, 2007

Mix the politcal wit of Jon Stewart, the face of Elliot Richardson, the fashion sense of Tucker Carlson and the song parody skills of Weird Al Yankovic together, and you have Mark Russell.  In the 1980s, Mark Russell’s PBS specials combined biting political satire with a folksy piano-based humor.  The results were catchy songs filled with more pop-culture references than the average viewer could possibly understand.

And, it occurred to me that a) you can’t find his stuff online anywhere and b) it’s perfect for Wikipedia links.  So, without further ado, here’s my favorite Mark Russell song from the 1980s, which summarizes the entire decade, complete with every pop-culture reference convieniently explained through the magic of Wikipedia.  Enjoy.

1980 was a rotten year
When Mount St. Helens blew.
Abscam congressmen taking bribes;
Tell me what else is new.
Inflation climbed up to the sky.
Jimmy said “Trust me, we’ll get by.”
But the hostages were the reason why
By November, old Jimmy was through.

1981 was worse with another inflation hike.
David Stockman with his budget acts,
And don’t forget the baseball strike.
But, Sandra Day O’Connor made history,
Air traffic controllers got no sympathy,
And, the new gun-lobby spokesman was John Hinkley.
That’s what 1981 was like.

Many people reached their moment of fame
Back in 1982.
Names like: De Lorean, Von Bulow, and Anne Burford Gorsuch
To mention a forgettable few.
Little E.T.’s long-distance call,
The Falklands were saved. Why? I can’t recall.
And the only survivor was Tylenol,
Back in 1982.

’83, ’83,
Hitler’s diaries and Klaus Barbie.
Grenada was where,
In the glory we’d share.
We saved Grenada
Because it was there.

’84 everybody was bettin’
On Reagan
and Mary Lou Retton.
Bernard Goetz in the subway was gettin’
Target practice in friendly New York.

’85 as a year was so manic.
Philadelphia was bombed in a panic.
Over Bitburg emotions were manic,
But, at least they found the Titanic.

Speaking of Bitburg, in ’86
Kurt Waldheim’s reputation fell.
Cory Aquino took over in Manila,
Clint Eastwood, mayor of Carmel.
Rehnquist was Chief after long delay.
Andy and Fergie’s wedding day.
Our diplomacy in Libya? Bombs away!
The Iceland summit was also a bomb.

1987 was the craziest year in the decade.
It was the year that could have been.
Inside trader Ivan Boskey could’ve afforded
To keep Oral Roberts from being called home.
Fawn Hall could’ve been a movie star.
Oliver North could’ve been governor of the 51st state of Nicaragua.
Robert Bork could’ve been on the US Supreme Court.
Gary Hart should’ve stayed off the USS Monkey Business.
And the only people who behaved at all well in 1987
Were Baby M and Max Headroom:
A surrogate child and a computerized dummy.

Well, by 1988 we were all
Back on the campaign trail.
The was the anthropology of Jimmy the Greek
And the war record of Captain Quayle.
Pentagon procuremen, what a fleece.
The Moscow summit, would it lead to peace?
And, whatever happenned to Edwin Meese?
And, Elvis sited every day without fail.

1989 events went hardly according to plan.
Jim Wright, John Tower, the Alaska spill
And a budget which overran.
But, Communist countries are starting to vote,
And the wall has come down, and it’s okay to gloat.
America and Russia in the same boat!
And, in the ’90s, we attack Japan.

More info: Mark Russell