Friday, October 27, 2006

Black History Month in Britain

October is drawing to a close and I felt I had to say a little something about my recent observations. While back in the US, everyone is participating in beer and schnitzel-laden Octoberfests or Halloween events (such as my friends' annual Great Pumpkin Demolition Derby) or even food fares such as the Turkey Testicle Festival in Byron, Illinois (check out the website; it's for real, ya'll), Britain has selected the month of October for something altogether familiar to us Americans.

October in Britain is Black History Month! That's right, people! No mere 28 (unless it's a leap, thus 29)day silliness here. A full 31 days to commemorate and celebrate the history and influence of blacks in Britain.

Now, I somewhat agree with Morgan Freeman that having a BHM is ridiculous. As he said in an interview for CBS' "60 Minutes" in Dec. 2005, "I don't want a black history month Black history is American history". However, with the pathetic state of education in the US, especially with the lack of regard to the participation and advancements donated to the American culture by blacks...well, sorry, Morgan, we still need to put it out there.

Seriously, America really isn't the openly liberal country it pretends to be--so there isn't going to be a time in the near future that our general school history courses are going to genuinely teach about how this "mighty" country was built and made rich off the labor of enslaved Africans. And I could go on but you get the point.

Ok, off my soapbox now...

Since we still need a BHM, let me continue. Like most black-inspired celebrations, there are some wonderful pluses and some embarassing minuses.

As far as the great BBC channels are concerned, October is simply the month to catch up on all your missed Dr. Who episodes before the next season starts in November.

I must say, I was quite surprised to not see ONE show in honor of BHM. Well, hold on, that's not true. Today, they did show on an independent channel, a 1987 wretched version of "Uncle Tom's Cabin". God-awful, I tell you.
That was it.

While there is some acceptance that black history does matter, at least by the Education Minister Lord Adonis, you still don't get much on television.
Even after a search online for television program formats for the BBC, I came across BBC Four where (that is, IF they presented any programs) they might have been shown. According to the BBC website, BBC Four is the channel "niche programming for an intellectual audience, including specialist documentaries, occasional 'serious' dramas, live theatre, foreign language films and television programmes and 'prestige' archive television repeats". But all the historical and/or archaeological programs were just descriptions on Anglo-saxons, Romans, Tudors, Victorians, Lord what's-his-face and his entire lineage; the world wars...blah blah blah; you get the point.

The best thing I could find--the hell, the ONLY thing I could fine was UKMTV's broadcast of the "Black in the 80s" (which is strictly based on American culture).

Looking to other mass media forms, there's radio and more specifically, the BBC's black-centered radio station (hip-hop, R&B, Dancehall, Garage, and Drum & Bass) and webpage for 1Xtra.
Now, while we see this repeatedly shown as a 5 second demo spot on most television stations in the US with very little material content behind it, cities all over Britain participate in BHM in some of the most interesting and thought-provoking ways.

Events were organized by all types culturally invested parties-- from the individual to the corporate. Lectures, cooking demonstrations, music/dance/speech performances, special museum tours, and art exhibitions were just a few of the incredible opportunities that cities provided during BHM.
Glasgow, for example, offers a "slave tour" of the Merchant City area of downtown. According to the organizers, Glasgow Anti-Racist Alliance, the walking tour "reveals the hidden clues of the great wealth and prosperity of Glasgow which is inextricably linked to the exploitation of African Slaves and black people from the former British Empire."

Other cities I heard participating included London, Norfolk, Birmingham, Liverpool, and Brighton.

For anyone sincerely interested, one just needed to get online and type in black history month in the uk and several million hits appeared in 0.20 seconds.
The most comprehensive guide but by no means exhausted collection of events is found at

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Days of Decadence, Part 2

**Let me extend my gratitude to Andy Catlin and Sharyn O'Day for allowing me to use a few of their pictures for this post**

Earlier this year, Andy started doing serious thinking about what he wanted to do for his 40th birthday. The only idea that made sense was to rent a large holiday house in the country and invite a heap of our friends for a long, lavish holiday. We decided it would be for 4 days (considering most of his friends already took their 2-3-4-or more week vacations earlier this summer). Just to make it more colorful, I invited some friends of mine from the US as well.

We wanted our friends to come and be swept up in a Bacchanalian sensibility. Andy and I take party planning very seriously. We spent hours planning menus, debating types of wines to order, and arguing over the best snacks to make everyone happy. The only thing required of everyone else was to eat, drink and be merry! We wanted our guests to want for not and have them crawl away from hyper-hospitality.

In all, we invited 15 friends who were gracious enough to travel from the US, Canada, Ireland and other parts of Scotland to honor and celebrate Andy's day.

Some people arrived by international flight, some took the train, others arrived by car. We all trekked up to the northern highlands to stay at the Pitcalzean holiday house that Andy and I chose.

Let me just say that, it took some accurate details to find this house! I mean, it was out in the middle of NOWHERE! Well, sorry, there were tons of sheep and highland cattle.

We had an expansive area of land associated with secret gardens of apple trees, small burial plots, areas for relaxing on tire swings or getting a bit of exercise on trampolines. Funnily enough, only one person got hurt on the kids' toys. And that same man hurt his back on the trampoline and nearly gouged out his eye by a tree branch, trying to climb the tire swing. Ah, we're just not built like we used to, are we, Rik?

If you chose to walk off the property, there were beautiful hilly and flat pastures of countryside to take in. The little village nearby had an old church with a prehistoric Pict stone, thousands of years old, protected from the elements. Others took drives down to Loch Ness in search of the famous aquatic monster (she's still hiding away from the paparazzi, apparently). You never needed to worry about finding private time. It was always available.
The house itself was massive- large enough for everyone to have their own bedroom. Andy and I shared the Magnusson suite which gave us a huge bedroom with fireplace, a private drawing with fireplace and bay windows, and a gorgeous bathroom with a tub fit for two!

Now, I'm not a huge fan of baths...don't ask, I'm just am not. However, if I had this tub in my home, I could easily become a convert.When were all together, most of everyone's time was spent in either the kitchen, dining room or the library.

The kitchen was huge! It came equipped a large and long counter space, four sinks, an AGA oven and a conventional oven. I am officially in love with the NEVER shuts off. It can heat the room while you cook/bake your meals. It even comes in a variety of colors!! You can make anything at the drop of a hat. You can make a SERIES of dishes at once at anytime. I need this oven. I must have this oven. I don't know why we don't have these types more available in the US. Any person who loves cooking would sell their youngest for one of these beauties. As soon as I come into any money (yeah, right) it shall be mine. Wonder if I could sell some crack to...
never mind.

Sorry, for the drooling... but I have my nappie and I'm ok now.
Anyway, as I was saying, the kitchen was the heart of the house. While Andy and I did most of the cooking, everyone was wonderful with helping out with prep work or cleaning up afterwards. It can be quite stressful to cook for so many people but with friends who are just as appreciative of your culinary labors as they are to assist, well, that just takes all the worry out of it.

Daytime meals were simple. There was plenty of fruits, smoked salmon, salads and sandwich fixings. Andy and I saw to it that there was every kind of food that people might possibly need. While breakfast and lunch were self-serving, Andy and I orchestrated most of the evening meals. The first evening was simple enough: roasted chickens stuffed with haggis and topped with crunchy pancetta!
Sides usually included some kind of potato (God forbid you don't have potatoes at EVERY British meal!), mashed or thinly sliced and baked and in multi-cheese white sauce, that accompanied creative and tasty veggie additions or salads. For my American friends, haggis posed a bit of a challenge but they were all up for it! And hey, guess what? They LiKED it!! Back in the States, I swear, we revel in demonizing and despising any foreign dish that sounds...different. Most Americans have NO idea what haggis is, but culturally, we taught to turn our noses away.

"Eeeewww! You eat haggis?? Gross! How could you?"
"Um. Do you even know what it is?"
" pause)...Well, not really. But it's nasty, right? Don't they cook gross stuff in a sheep's stomach or something?! That's just freaking gross!"

There are Americans who will chow down CHEEZ WHIZ (It's not even cheese, for land's sakes!) and weird hot dogs (do most people know what nasty pig parts go into cheap hot dogs??) but yet, have the NERVE to put down someone else's food. We're not talking about eating slugs or other insects. It's ground meat and oats! It's one thing if you've tried it and dislike it. It's ok if you just don't eat meat, domestic or foreign. But shut the hell up if you don't even know what it is and insist on talking trash.
Just shut the hell up, will ya?!

Now...where was I?
Oh yeah...

One couple (friends of mine, Sharyn and Joe) made quite a fancy dinner-- duck a l'orange. The 70s are coming back, people! That was a wonderful evening--I didn't have to be in the kitchen at all! Sharyn and Joe were aided by their Irish sous chef, Fergal and they dished out a meal that had everyone continuously moaning with pleasure.
Not wanting a meat-centered meal every night, we also made a delicious soy-sesame marinated roast salmon with stir-fried veggies on one of our other nights.

Some evenings, we indulged in apperitifs. (This excludes the routine consumption of beer which began around 3-4 p.m. --a couple of hours after people woke up). I made lychee martinis and caipirinhas. Besides that, there were plenty of spirits of all types for mixed drinks.
After dinners, all would adjurn to the library where more whiskey, beer, and wine were consumed. As for desserts, I made a couple of French pear creme tarts. Luisa from Aberdeen made a traditional Scottish cranachan made with raspberries, liquored whipped cream, topped with toasted oats. A delicious and light alternative of what was to come the last two nights.

Late in the evening, someone would eventually bring out an assortment of cheese trays.

Nighttime in the library was unpredictable. We listened to music, mixed, mingled, had tarot card readings, dance lessons, comedic debates about politcs and regional variations on the english language, sing alongs, etc. you name it! Husbands were so gregarious and charismatic that they charmed other men into man crushes! Wives and newborn baby daughters might have felt slightly neglected.
Occasional visits were made to the snooker room but Americans found it too hard to play and back in the library, they went.

Needless to say, all the long days and nights had continuous drinking. I can't tell you how much beer and whiskey people put away. Quite a bit of wine was drunk too but we still had at least 12 bottles left.

Saturday late morning, Andy and I awoke to find a number of cards and gifts outside our suite! What a surprise! It was completely unexpected...and unnecessary. Even I received a few belated birthday gifts. Wonderful treasures that I will always love!

For the big birthday night, we had two roasted legs of lambs a la Andy, stuffed with bits of garlic and rosemary. The gravy was made with the lamb drippings, reduced down with pinotage wine, herbs and spices. It was definitely the highlight of all the meals. You really didn't hear that much talking. Everyone was too busy stuffing their faces with the best lamb they've ever had.
No kidding here. Andy knows lamb. He is a maestro with sauces and gravies as well.

The night before was Rik's birthday and so his darling partner, Diane, baked a heady, rich chocolate torte. Since I'm not a chocolate fan,
I could only sit and watch people get taken DOWN by the dense, alcoholic dessert! So, Saturday night, Andy's birthday night, was not much different.

For Andy, who is a chocoholic, I had some friends help me purchase the chocolatiest cake one could find. It was chocolate on chocolate on chocolate. Very little flour involved here. Truly decadent and not for the faint of rich and sweet palate. Coffee was brought out to help get the solid chocolate fats down to their bellies. It was THAT dense!

Throughout the evening, Andy decided to shave a bit of his goatee off at a time and achieve different facial hair looks. While it was funny, it was not attractive. The Fu Man Chu was bad enough but by the time he got to the creepy 70s cop mustache, I'd had enough! Thank god, it was gone by morning.

After dinner, we went outside for my birthday surprise: sparklers. Fireworks are little bit harder to come by here in Britain. There are sooo many rules and laws. It's unlike the American South where you could get your fireworks, firearms, and liquor all at one convienent stop-shop. Because you know ain't NO trouble can come of that!Still, watching things burst into flames is a popular pasttime for most countries. So, I took a chance that Britain was no different.

Yet, I wasn't sure how people would take to the sparklers. I always find myself worrying or wondering if certain entertainment traditions in the US can transfer to British tastes. This, fortunately, did! I handed out 80 sparklers to everyone and people were transformed into a bunch of 6 year olds.There were some of us leaping about, dancing, running in circles, while the rest of us just kept moving our sparkler sticks around and around for artistic blazing designs in the air!

After the last stick burned out, we headed back to the library for more music and dancing! I suppose you could say we were practicing for our wedding next year. The Brits wanted to see some salsa dancing and we Yanks wanted to know about ceilidh dancing.

A few American friends fell victim to participating in the (somewhat) chaotic, hand-clapping, foot-stomping dance rules. Ceilidh (pronounced "Kay-LEE"), to me, looks a lot like a faster, drunker, less-coordinated square dance. The promenades were easy enough. But the doesy-does looked outright painful! Poor Angela returned to Ireland with bruises on her arms! Still, it brought me many chuckles to see my US friends, Courtney and Joe, suffer under partners' confusion and get dragged around and around until dizzy. I don't know. It was still hard to understand the rules. Guess we should try it again when everyone's somber.
There was a point when we were asked by the Brits to do the line dance "the Bus Stop" or "The Electric Slide"(it has a bunch of different names throughout the US but every black has done it at every stupid wedding they've attended in the last 15 years). I think Courtney and I were confusing some of them. In another corner, Andy and his dear friend, Lisa were attempting some "Dirty Dancing" professional moves. If he was expecting to catch her like Patrick Swayze does at the end of the film, I was going to put a stop to it before someone broke their drunk-ass!

But since noone got hurt, the dancing further degraded to Fergal's dance lessons. If you've seen the dance sequence in the movie "Hitch" then you'll truly know what I'm talking about. I tried to avoid watching much of the hilarity but I did catch something like "Do the Ironing board dance!"

That's right...dancing as if you're ironing clothes.
Oh Fergal...why?

Anyway, I was pretty fuzzy and exhausted by 2 a.m. (did I mention that I had the flu) and had to hit the sheets. I heard guitars and lutes and whatnot were brought out for some folk singing.
The next day, we had to evacuate by 10 a.m. and it was quite a struggle for some, after such late night festivities. But we crawled out into the morning light, cleaned up our drunken messes of the last eve to make our goodbyes. We were shocked that most of us didn't have any significant hangovers (with one exception), boozing up till 4 to 6 a.m. every night. After an experience like that, you want to believe that people in their respective nations can come together and show respect, understanding, compassion for each other. Maybe that's the naive child in me, wishing everyone could just get along. What can I say? I have my cheesy moments.
We were glad to bring old friends together who's last meeting were under funerary circumstances. Finally, they had new memories of happy times to replace the most recent loss of mutual loved ones. New friends and connections were made. If we are making our worlds smaller, we can at least make them more than pleasant. Mixing all these people from different places could have been a potential disaster. But we knew we had beautiful friends that needed to meet others like themselves. Share the love, I say! It was an amazing few days.

Together, we all spent thousands of dollars or pounds (and gained 3-5 pounds!) to make this event worthwhile for all. We came as partners, moms and daughters, married couples, individual friends, family with a new-born --all to celebrate someone who believes that nothing is more important than sharing fun, friendship, and most of all, love.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Days of Decadence: Part 1

Hi everyone!
The reason for the long silence was the passing of some birthday seasons. We spent a couple of days and nights in Glasgow seeing some friends and celebrating my birthday.
Sept. 23 was mine (Andy was Sept. 30th) but Andy and I celebrated mine the day before. He surprised me with a personal shopper for the day in Glasgow and then with tix to see Jay-Z (Young Hova!) in concert that night. So sorry, everyone! I know it's been a while. But trust me, I've got a lot on my plate. Much of that will be revealed in the coming months. A lady has to keep some secrets...

I thought it best to break these stories up in two parts so it flows quicker for you.
But you won't have to wait a week or more for the second installment.

By the way, I should warn you that there is a little bit of this that might be sensitive to holy-rollers and those who think life has a movie rating of "G" for general audiences, and choose not to believe that the whole world watches (or at least accepts the existence of) porn.

One of the highlights was the Artto Hotel where we stayed. It's a cute, boutique-wannabe-style hotel. Funkey lobby/bar area, interesting architectural lines, blah blah blah.
The weird thing about the hotel was when you changed channels on the tv, you eventually end up on the porno network. You don't order it.

You don't pay extra for it. It's just there! And when I mean porn, I mean, hard-core chicks-with-dicks as prison wardens material.
And much of it Russian,Eastern European, and Castillian (I think) porn.
Strange stuff.
I mean, what if we had a kid staying with us and he/she wanted to catch an episode of Spongebob Squarepants? Instead, they'd get Pat(rick/ricia) boinking Bob in his pants.
I think it scared Andy a bit. It wasn't your basic girl-guy-girl variety.

Now, since I moved here, I haven't done any clothes shopping. I hate doing it in the States and I really didn't feel like trying to learn the ins and outs of the clothing stores here. Andy kept threatening to get me a personal shopper--a person qualified to assist in the searching and buying of clothing that would make one look supa!
The interesting twist to Andy's gift was that my personal shopper was a black woman, originally from Malawi, in Southern Africa.

People, I got to spend the entire day with another black woman! It was wonderful. I've been missing the company of my friends since I left but I'm meeting and making new friends. However, none are black and I REALLY miss my black community. Skin color, culture, music, etc. Sometimes, it's hard never seeing anyone that looks like you. And if you do, they are strangers and want nothing to do with you for that reason. I feel quite isolated at times. You know what I mean?
Anyway, luckily, I have a wonderful partner who understands those needs and tried his damnest to give me something for my birthday.

So Bayile ("my friends call me "Bee") Mbisa and I spent the day traipsing in and out of Glasgow's young and hip shops. Bee seemed to know every fashionable, young person within a 5 mile circumference! Turns out, she and her pals were going to the Jay-Z concert as well. Apparently, Bee is well established in the HipHop and fashion community of Glasgow. We got along splendidly and she even invited me to some African-Caribbean events later in October. So, it looks like I may have some interesting venues to check out.

Lovely woman. Brains. Beauty. Big heart. And very sensitive and attentive as to what I was searching for.

And the Jay-Z concert...amazing.
The man has so many hits, he could only sing half the song (literally) and had to move on to the next song, just to make through the program in time. But I must say, that was the last time I will EVER hold a Standing Area ticket. Why must stupid, young boys spend mucho pounds on cheap beer in a plastic container only to pitch it high in the air so that it sprays down on the rest of us?? HUH? What the hell is up with that?!

I'll tell you this, let one of those idiots do that at a Jay-Z concert in oh, say, NY, Philly,, yeah...ATLANTA!!!, and see what happens to his punk-ass! He wouldn't make it to the other side of the arena before losing 4 teeth.
Freaking ridiculous...


It's a shame that I was completely wiped out from the last few days, because Bee invited Andy and me to a Jay-Z after-party. Unfortunately, I had to go sleep-sleep.

The reason why we had to celebrate my birthday on Friday was because a good friend of mine S, and her mom flew in Sat. morning to help celebrate Andy's birthday extravaganza.
But that's for the next installment.
And promise! You won't have to wait a week or more. It will be up in a couple of days!