America: The Land of the Big

Two overweight people on a benchSince I have been coming to Burger King to make use of their free Wi-Fi it has become apparent that America is the land of the big. Big Gulps being swallowed by big girthed people. The same huge folks who always go extra large for the small extra charge. These gargantuan folk are all ages and all seem to share the same appetites.

Watching these rotund and elephantine people from behind, they look like carbon copies of each other. The arm swinging waddle with bulging areas of fat beneath each armpit, the roll of fat round the waist and lumped on each hip. It is exhausting to see these huge examples of humanity move. The amount of effort required to move that much mass is amazing and tires me out just watching them move awkwardly toward their SUVs.

When I was a lad, being hefty was considered healthy. Skinny boys and girls were looked down upon. Those were the days when parents urged children to “eat that fat it’s good for you.” Put some meat on those bones boy. A time when those who did not have “love handles” would drink banana shakes with an egg or two in it to gain weight.

Times changed and people learned that eating fat was not good for you. Carrying around all that excess poundage was bad for your heart and meant that more than likely, those who had those “love handles” would meet their maker that little bit sooner.

Living in England for 32 years, I used to hear about “fat America” from mates and colleagues. While there, I observed quite a number of folks with weight problems and felt they were exaggerating. Surely the US was no worse than the UK. Since moving back though I noticed that the average size of the average American is “big.”

You can see them with those Big Gulp drinks, or their equivalent, eating the double whopper with extra cheese and the super-large fries, followed up with a large desert. Afterward, their hearts pound while moving all that fat through their veins and arteries. Heart attacks and strokes waiting to happen and when they fall, the floor will tremble.

It is depressing to witness so many trying so hard to kill themselves slowly with big appetites, big servings and little exercise apart from struggling to hit the next fast food outlet. Seeing fat parents, fat children and fat babies, is enough to put one off eating.

America land of the big you are burying yourself under the weight of food and drink. Learn moderation and exercise, before the entire country becomes a welter of bulging XXXL people who lose the use of their legs when these appendages refuse to carry the excess poundage.

For your own sake stop.

6 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Ruth Rendell Dead at 85 Another English Literary Treasure Gone

George Baker as Inspector Wexford with Louie Ramsey as Dora Wexford
Ruth Rendell, creator of the popular Inspector Wexford Mysteries, has died aged 85 and England has lost another literary treasure just months after P D James, who brought poet and police commander Adam Dalgleish to life passed on. Both ladies of crime had strong Suffolk links and Rendell, who suffered a stroke in January 2015, adored her adopted home in the country county. Both authors created “detectives” who became popular on the small screen as well.

Read the rest of this article at Viral Global News…

Life on the Real Desert: Snakes Alive

Snake crossing the road, @4ft
On the way to town today I came across a lady on the “main road” out of the estate. Standing by the side of the paved surface, clutching a hoe, she moved toward the center of the street and waited for me to approach on my bike.

“You could have crossed over,” I said, “It will take me ages to get to you.” This as I slowly moved toward the stationary gardener. It was my impression that she was heading to the desert on the other side of the road.

“Is that a rattler?”

The question caused me to turn, as I had passed her already, and head back to where she stood. “Careful, he’s right there,” she pointed to the rock and cactus frontage of the lot to my right. I looked but saw nothing that resembled any sort of desert creature. Stopping and dismounting I walked to where she was and turned to follow her pointing finger.

In the shadow of the property’s boundary fence, the long serpent was contentedly stretched out and occasional flicks of its tongue tested the air as it relaxed in the shade. It was well over four feet in length and unperturbed by all the attention. Whilst we discussed what sort of snake it was, the thing began to slowly move along in the shade.

Several attempts were made to photograph the placid creature but the shadows he, or she, stubbornly clung to, made it difficult. While we stood about taking snaps with mobile phones (cell phones) and deciding that the lack of rattles meant that it was not a rattlesnake, other folks from the area congregated to look at the traveler.

Snake in the shade
Do I look bovvered?

The calm snake, which a friend has guessed might be a Pacific gopher snake, moved into the hard pan after traversing a long stretch of fence line.

Snake in the shade.
The Snake-Fence.

This is the first live snake I’ve come across. The only other one was dead hit, apparently, by a car on the road running parallel to the highway. Red and grey and not rattles either, I still have no idea what sort of snake it was. The visitor also was the first creature that moved slow enough for me to take a picture of.

Yesterday I saw a kangaroo rat nimbly hopping across the vacant lot across the street from my home. It was huge and, for a rat of any kind, cute. Bold as brass, it ignored me completely and headed for a huge cactus with yellow “roses” on it. He, or she, disappeared as I got closer and despite standing there for a while it did not reappear.

Not counting the time spent living in Las Vegas, Nevada, the last time I lived in a desert setting was in 1980 – 1982 in Alamogordo, New Mexico. I cannot remember too much about colors of flowers or seeing too many creatures scurrying about, but I do recall falling in love with the desert itself. White Sands was just down the road from my trailer and my first wife, along with our son, went out a few times to that amazing gypsum land.

The entire time I lived in England, the question of returning stateside was continually cropping up. I said, at the time, that only if I could live in the desert…

Yellow flowers on huge prickly pear cactus.
It’s the yellow rose of…Arizona…

Well, here I am. Living in the great Southwestern desert. The land of Billy the Kid, Apache warriors, the Navaho and Mojave. Each time I ride my bike into town my imagination runs riot. Reading about days gone by in the state, and the local area, fuels my trips of fancy. Wild west outlaws, larger than life characters and prospectors searching for personal riches reside in my mind.

I have been talking to a neighbor about looking for gold and he has relayed some marvelous tales of robbery and mining. I will be sharing some of these stories soon. In the meantime, I shall be researching this land that features so heavily in literature and film.

23 April 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Real Life in the Desert: The Lizards are Getting Bigger

deserted house in the desert

When I first moved down here in the real desert, the lizards were these teeny little dark shadows that flitted over and around small rocks and pebbles. Now the little fellers are getting bigger and longer, and scrambling over stones and the odd smallish boulder. They must also be that bit slower as I can see them easily.

The tiny shadow lizards moved so quickly that they seemed to be an optical illusion. A lighting fast streak of shade that disappeared before your eyes could focus on the small creature. Now they stay in view long enough that even without glasses they can be seen.

These are not the only desert denizens that are making regular appearances. Something that looks like a rat, but prettier, darts across the roads and can be seen very easily. These bold creatures will stay in the shade of a small bush and watch you pass. Monsieur Rat, or mouse, is around six to eight inches long, not counting his tail, and while not as cute as the chipmunks that scramble over the boulders that line the road, they are not ugly by any means.

After being here for a couple of months, where there has been no previous sign of them,  buzzards are now regularly  circling the hard pan on either side of the road. One persistent chap kept dropping down to the scrub brush along the washes. Presumably the “dead” animal he was going after was not quite ready to be put on the menu. There are, however, a great many new items alongside, and on, the roads  from rats to lizards and the occasional rabbit.

As it is spring, baby bunnies are hopping around the area. The cute creatures are not as numerous as the ones back in Suffolk. In the English countryside, there were always plenty of the tiny things clumsily jumping here and there, wide eyed and (sorry) bushy tailed learning about their world. The desert bunnies are obviously the offspring of the huge jack rabbits that call the hard pan their home as even though they are “babies” they dwarf their British relatives.

The appearance of the buzzards, or vultures, I can never remember which of these huge carrion loving creatures live in this part of the world, is a reminder that death is never too far away for denizens of the real desert.

The little house on the hill..
The mysterious house on the hill…

 

On the way home from town yesterday, as the sun dipped slowly behind the surrounding hills of Quartzsite, I found the police had closed off the only road open to a bicycle. The cars could take the alternate route via the Interstate, but my two-wheel self-propelled vehicle could only take the route in front of me.

One of the on-scene officers explained that the road would be closed for at least another two hours. Looking ahead I could see two motorcycles on the right hand side of the road. One looked as though it had been damaged, the other did not. Pointing to the left side of the pavement, I asked if walking my bike through on that part of the road’s narrow shoulder was acceptable.

It was.

As I pushed my bike up the small grade, the two motorcycles came and went whilst I tried not to be too morbidly curious. Glancing over, once or twice, I could see that one bike had hit the boulders on that side of the road with enough force that it buckled the front wheel and twisted it to the left; until it was almost completely back under the petrol tank.

A lone helmet lay on the small shoulder of the two lane road just in front of the large rocks. On one big boulder in front of the abandoned safety item a blue arrow had been spray painted. It pointed up. At a wild, and most likely over-imaginative, guess? It looked like the rider went airborne at the point of impact.

Later, as I neared my destination, a couple who had been driving pulled up beside me and asked about the blocked road. I explained about the bikes and added that I would not be surprised if the accident had ended in a fatality.

They were not impressed with the thought of a dead biker but then, they were both of an age where impending death is not so much a concern. To this older couple, death looked to be just another all too close step in their own personal journey. Being a sprightly young thing in my late 50s, I still struggle with the inevitable advent of my rapidly approaching mortality.

It may well be that along with the lizards getting bigger in the real desert, that living in this hot and harsh climate is not just about surviving, but also about dying. The manner of death for the creatures that are native to this environment is often a quick visitation under the blazing sun. Cause of death: A speeding car, an ATV, or a hikers boot. After all, living is also about dying. As the late Katherine Hepburn once said, “Of course life is hard, it kills you.”

15 March 2015

The Things We Do For Love

Burger King Sitting here in Burger King and munching my burgers, drinking coffee and cruising the net, I stumbled over an article by a “stay at home mum.” It was written by Liz Pardue Schultz and featured on Time’s website.

Her article pointed out, quite rightly, that being a stay at home parent in this day and age was not a job, but a privilege. Before I get a load of negativity passed my way, let me explain why I agree with the writer in her definition.

Back in the 1990s I had a bad back. No one could figure out why I was in constant pain and the amount of pills I took daily were ridiculous. I worked for ages, high as a kite, but still in agonizing pain. Finally, my doctor forced me to go to yet another specialist and thank goodness she did. The doctor used the latest technology to figure out what was wrong with me and how to fix it.

Despite all the bad press the NHS get, the organization saved my life twice, one figuratively and the other time literally. While I was waiting for surgery to sort out my problem, I became a “stay at home dad.” I looked after our daughter and cleaned the house. Pain was a constant companion and I was still taking handfuls of tablets but I had a captive audience for the frustrated performer that lurked just beneath my skin.

My daughter was, and still is, my favorite person in the world. Funnily enough, she was a mummy’s girl when she was very small, around nine months old or so, but when she got older, the funny chap who could do all the voices of each character in her storybooks suddenly got promoted above mum.

This guy would sing old songs, and teach them to her, and would spend hours getting her to drift off to sleep. After the surgery that completely fixed my back issues, I worked for two years at a nighttime job packaging and delivering newspapers and magazines. Six days a week I toiled and on my day off I slept.

Thee only thing that kept me sane was that I still picked up my daughter from school and had a few hours to spend listening to her day, telling her of mine, and playing games. A favorite was one where I would imitate Dean Martin and she would provide the chorus. The number one choice of song was almost always That’s Amore because in the chorus there was a woman who sang with such gusto she could have been performing for an opera. We would each compete to see who could match the singer’s range and decibel level.

After a while the job with the newspaper company got old, I had taken it to primarily get back into shape after the operation, and I learned that the Prison Service were hiring. I jumped at the chance as they had great retirement benefits in those days and it was shift work. The interview went well, although at the time I had no idea whether they “liked me” or not.

HMP/YOI Warren Hill

I took a pay drop to get my foot into the door and with the idea I could transfer from support, my first job, and become a prison officer proper, I left the nighttime job without a single doubt. Once I started my new job I realized I’d found the perfect job. Every other weekend off, many were three or four day weekends as well, the odd day off in the week and shifts that were sometimes only four or five hours in length.

Overtime was available, and necessary, when I first started. The pay for support officers was horrible and I could not wait to become a regular officer. The hours were the same for both jobs and after I was trained and upgraded to a “Guv” I still had loads of time to spend with my family.

While this was a blessing in terms of being with my daughter, it became a nightmare in terms of my marriage. My second wife had built up a lot of resentment when I was off with my back. Something faded in our relationship and she grew jealous of my bond with our daughter.

But this is not about the demise of my second marriage or my job in the Her Majesty’s Prison Service, it is about the things we do for love. The writer of the article (Remember that? Way back at the beginning of this Gone With the Wind post?) about being a stay-at-home mum not being a “job” made the point that the time she spent with her child was a privilege (I know, I’ve said that already.) but she was right.

I spent way too many years in a relationship that should have ended in the 1990s. I let a lot of overtime slip by and allowed some acting opportunities to pass because I loved spending time with my kid and when I wasn’t doing that, I was there for her when mum, or the world, would beat her up a little (metaphorically speaking) to help her understand or to just listen.

I could never understand mothers who fell apart when their kids grew up and left home. Until, that is, my own grew up and moved away to attend University. I had it easy though. I was urged to go up and visit my youngster whenever possible. This enabled me to continue playing video games with her, watch films with my “movie buddy” and learn what her life was like at “Uni.”

This worked out perfectly until she finished and by that time both our lives had changed forever. She moved in with me temporarily and then after I left the Prison Service, I moved in with her and her boyfriend. (A smashing chap who seems to have been made just for her.) The hardest decision I ever had to make was the one that took me back to the country of my birth and left my baby behind.

I have had an exciting life, nothing earth shattering, but normal? No, it could not be called that. But apart from my little adventures, lots of little things came together to make my decision to stick with a job that allowed me the maximum amount of time to enjoy my child growing up the perfect one. Sticking in a broken marriage was painful for everyone but it was still the “right” thing to do.

Amazingly, it was my daughter who helped me, inadvertently, to “man-up” and finally leave. God bless her and two close friends at work who helped me to grow up just enough to make my escape.

I still miss my “kid” but I know she’s in good hands, hers and her fella’s, and even though I miss her so much it hurts, we are both where we need to be.

I think.

Still, the things we do for love make up a lot of our life’s big decisions. Sometimes they are the wrong, or incorrect, thing to do, but often they turn out just right. Even if it takes years to figure that out.