Home | American Pie

June 05, 2013

You Can't Go Back

...The two days in the City was a surreal experience. Familiar landmarks still were there, but seemed out of context among the new architecture that in my mind would have looked more at home in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore or San Francisco. The London Eye scrutinized us everywhere we went, imparting a carnival air to the once dignified skyline...

John Merchant pays a return visit to the land of his birth.

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May 22, 2013

Apply Here For Riches Beyond All Reason

"Since I’m not in line to inherit wealth, winning the lottery is the last option, and as the saying goes, 'You can’t win if you don’t play','' writes John Merchant.

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March 27, 2013

Not Much Between The Eyes

...One of the cats’ most unusual habits is to stash objects under a rug. I have never experienced that before – dogs yes, but never cats. I lift up the rug regularly and find a piece of uncooked spaghetti, a brussel sprout leaf, a green bean, or any number of small plastic items, all dropped by my wife or myself and snatched up before we even know they’re gone...

John Merchant brings us another engaging account of the developing lives of his two Siamese cats, Nikei and Ling-Ling.

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March 20, 2013

Land Of Opportunity

...Above all, the factor that convinced me that living in the USA was the right decision, was the almost complete absence of a caste system. Except for the extremes of poverty and riches, it was, and is, a classless society...

English-born John Merchant assesses the life he has lived in America for the past 40 years.

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March 13, 2013

Measure For Measure

"In my lifetime, the number of possible measurements in various fields has grown exponentially, particularly in the practice of medicine. Whereas at one time a physician’s best diagnostic tools were a stethoscope, his or her hands, keen observation and a background knowledge of the patient; modern medicine precludes all but the stethoscope,'' writes John Merchant.

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March 06, 2013

Money Maketh Not The Man

...They do not greet others, except for very close friends, and do not return a greeting from those they do not know. In their company you have the feeling that you are invisible...

Social observer John Merchant has been keeping a keen eye on his affluent neighbours and is far from being impressed by what he sees.

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February 27, 2013

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count The Ways

Columnist John Merchant takes a cool look at the commercialism now associated with Valentine's Day,

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February 21, 2013

Sweets For The Sweet

John Merchant brings good news. Chocolate, in moderation, may be good for you.

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February 13, 2013

A Crossing

"I’m at an age now when even the thought of spending weeks alone at sea is horrifying, but the desire to cross the Atlantic has endured, and in this my eightieth year I will realize that dream,'' writes ardent sailor John Merchant, confessing that the voyage will be made in a luxury liner.

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February 06, 2013

Many Names But Just One Institution

John Merchant reflects upon the high days and the low days of that great English institution - the pub.

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January 30, 2013

Perhaps A New Beginning

"On this Inauguration Day, for a few shining hours, acrimony and bitterness were forgotten, and the dark curtain of party politics drawn aside. Magically, the dawn of a new era in American history seems possible; an era of compassionate and humane government that will focus on social issues and put war behind it,'' writes political commentator John Merchant as Barak Obama is sworn in for a second term as President.

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January 23, 2013

'Till Death Do Us Donate

"Since I’m in my eightieth year I did not expect a change of heart or circumstances that would cause me to deviate from that. Then, this week, the 92 year old father of a friend died, and I discovered that he had donated his body to medicine and science,'' writes John Merchant, highlighting the desperate need for more organ donors.

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January 16, 2013

A Risky Business

...Freestyle skiing has no rules and takes place in wilderness areas often only accessible by helicopter. The sometimes near vertical slopes are unmarked, and littered with rocks, trees, ravines and cliffs. It represents one of the ultimate “high risk” sports, and attracts those who have “done it all.”...

John Merchant is puzzled by the rise in risky activities in the USA.

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January 09, 2013

Marking Time

...It didn’t happen overnight, and I continued to party on New Year’s Eve, and to think that the New Year would bring about desirable changes. And then gradually I realized that magical change was not what I desired or needed anymore...

Columnist John Merchant muses upon the great unfolding of time.

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January 02, 2013

Daddy's Little Helpers

"My remedy is to take advantage of any device, mechanical or technological, that promises to make my life easier and or better,'' declares John Merchant.

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Daddy's Little Helpers

"My remedy is to take advantage of any device, mechanical or technological, that promises to make my life easier and or better,'' declares John Merchant.

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December 26, 2012

Hands Off Christmas

John Merchant says that Christmas, with all its overt expressions, is like a red flag to the politically correct in theUnited States.

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December 19, 2012

How Much Is That Doggy In The Window

"The only problem is that all it takes is a disenchanted pet owner, or some extreme weather to set the animals free. Once free, the US has plenty of space and variety of habitat and climate for almost any species to thrive,'' writes John Merchant, highlighting the problem of pets - including 17.5 foot snakes - which are returning to the wild.

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December 12, 2012

R.I.P. PC?

"For at least the past 3 years, the pundits have been forecasting the demise of the desk-top computer,'' writes John Merchant, predicting that if the trend away from powerful off the shelf PCs continues there will be a return to a colourful phenomenon of the early days of the computer age.

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December 05, 2012

The Art Of The Volunteer

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November 28, 2012

My Scars - My Life

"The story of my life is written on my skin,'' writes John Merchant whos is currently recovering after a hip replacement operation.

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November 21, 2012

Light At The End Of The Tunnel?

...overall, the voting was well conducted, and the outcomes reflected an informed electorate. Justice was done in some contests – the bad guys got theirs, and the bright stars got their chance to show their metal. Probably the greatest fear by voters of all stripes is that the next 4 years will be business as usual...

Columnist John Merchant breaths a sigh of relief now that the American presidential election is over.


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November 14, 2012

The Physics Of Therapy

...I was told to use a “long reach,” one of those gizmos that golfers use to retrieve balls. Have you tried to pick up a razor blade with one of them?...

John Merchant is finding that space and time are assuming different "shapes'' as his body and mind adjust themselves to a new hip.

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November 07, 2012

Surgery On The Fast Track

...Two days later I was on my way home, with a mind clouded by drugs and medications that would take a week to disperse. The simplest task of hygiene or eating; or worse still, working on the computer, strained my mental processes and concentration to the limit. From the initial visit to Dr. Hackett, it had been less than a week!...

John Merchant emerges from hospital with a new hip.

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October 31, 2012

To War, To War

"With Iran, Iraq and Palestine on the boil, one has to hope that the next administration will embrace military restraint. If it doesn’t we may well be looking at a real Armageddon,'' writes a sombre John Merchant in this balanced review of America's military strength and commitments.

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October 24, 2012

Telling A Good Tail

...A droopy tail with no curl signifies “I am trying to get away with something you won’t like and so I’m making myself invisible.” Tail lashing can mean a variety of things, including: “I am about to pounce on this huge spider and bat it around until it’s dizzy. There’s a gecko on the window again, or OK brother, that’s enough rough-housing for one day.”...

In this deliciously entertaining column John Merchant confirms his growing ability to "read'' cat communications.

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October 17, 2012

Elsie Endures

...And it wasn’t just the food that had me gagging, the service then was about as bad as it could be, and remains thus. As I have commented before, if you rely on on-the-job training, the result is going to be a perpetuation of ineptitude and bad practices...

The quality of the food in US restaurants has omproved over the years, but John Merchant still resists following the script when dealing with waiters and waitresses - sorry, that should be servers.

Continue reading "Elsie Endures" »

October 10, 2012

Half The Truth Is Often A Whole Lie

"The main reason false advertising thrives is that it tells us what we want to believe,'' writes John Merchant.

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October 03, 2012

It Seems Like Just Yesterday

...America has been good to me, and good for me. I’ve had wonderful opportunities and experiences beyond my wildest dreams, and more than a few second chances...

John Merchant recalls arriving in the USA as an immigrant 40 years ago.

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September 26, 2012

Cattyness

...They do, however, appear to be aspiring writers. Paper and pens have fascinated them since kittenhood. Nikkei sits on my desk, or Sandra’s, waiting for us to forget and lay down a pen. In a flash, pen and cat are gone...

John Merchant brings another fascinating insight into life with two Siamese cats, Nikkei and Ling Ling.

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September 19, 2012

Time To Exhale

"If anything has become plain in the last year, it is that both parties are bankrupt of ideas and exhausted by the constant ideological battle they think is more important than running the country,'' declares columnist John Merchant as a Presidential election draws near in the USA.

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September 12, 2012

Summer In Florida - A Time For Reflection

Columnist John Merchant says that year-round residents in Florida are aware of seasonal changes that are both manifest and subtle.

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September 05, 2012

Can You Hear Me Now?

...How wonderful it would be if I could connect my camera to the computer while I was taking the pictures, and review each one in real time. On Tuesday my copy of Time Magazine arrived in the mail, featuring a special content on, of all things, wireless technology. One of the products highlighted was a memory card with a built in transmitter!...

John Merchant tells of a new wow! electronic gadget - an Eye-Fi.

Continue reading "Can You Hear Me Now?" »

August 29, 2012

Hello, Your Name Is Jane?

"Along with my own inability to remember names, I am given to rename people. For some reason, I associate a face with a name that only exists in my head. Thus, Celeste becomes Celia. On longer acquaintance the erroneous name will fade, but it takes a while,'' writes John Merchant.

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August 22, 2012

You Say Either And I Say Ither - Let's Call The While Thing Off

"A rejection of democracy in the Middle East, and two devastating wars there, have shown graphically that the gulf between many cultures is unbridgeable at this time in history. It may never be possible. How do you reconcile cultures that are exploring space, with those that still see stoning to death as an appropriate punishment for adultery?'' writes John Merchant.

Continue reading "You Say Either And I Say Ither - Let's Call The While Thing Off" »

August 15, 2012

It's 2012 - Do You Know Where Your Job Is?

...A faltering economy and millions of people out of work is in large part due to the erosion of our manufacturing base. Almost every day we hear the cry “Where are the jobs?” Anyone with the least amount of acumen would know that the jobs are gone, and it will take years and a lot of rethinking before they come back...

Columnist John Merchant foresees a bleak future for jobs, manufacturing and the economy in America.

Continue reading "It's 2012 - Do You Know Where Your Job Is?" »

August 08, 2012

The Five Ring Circus

...At the risk of offending my English friends and family, I thought it was the most awkward, miss-conceived hodge-podge I had ever seen. Whatever were the organizers and Danny Boyle thinking? It was more like Braintree comes to Athens...

Columnist John Merchant was far from impressed with the show which opened the London Olympics.

Continue reading "The Five Ring Circus" »

August 01, 2012

1984 And All That - And All That

"I think George Orwell would be dismayed to discover how far things have gone down the road he foresaw,'' declares columnist John Merchant, thoroughly alarmed at the US Government's electronic potential to probe into the affairs of its citizens.

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July 25, 2012

Furnishing Fads

...Thousands of dollars are being spent on home kitchens that would awe Jacques Pepin and Julia Childs, but will never smell of garlic or see pheasant under glass, or Beef Bourguignon, or even fish and chips. Perhaps a ham sandwich, or a bowl of cornflakes and a glass of orange juice, but dinner for six - no never!...

In some discomfort, John Merchant tells us of changing styles in the furnishings of American homes. Discomfort? John has given away two cosy recliner chairs - and the new chestunut brown leather "sectional'' won't be arriving until who knows when!

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July 18, 2012

Health Care

"The need is desperate for a comprehensive, government run health care system in the US. Poor people nationwide, and many young people, are without protection and unable to afford the cost of private treatment. The conservative objection is that it will further bloat already oversized government, and that citizens should not be subsidized in any way,'' writes John Merchant.

Continue reading "Health Care" »

July 11, 2012

Happy Birthday Nikkei And Ling Ling

"They enrich our life, and give it a whole new dimension,'' writes John Merchant of pet Siamese cats Nikkei and Ling Ling who are now one year old.

Check out this picture of the "stars'' featured in John's column http://openwriting.co.uk/gallery/index.php/John-Merchant/Nikkei-and-ling-ling2

Continue reading "Happy Birthday Nikkei And Ling Ling" »

July 04, 2012

Who Will Parent My Children?

"Sex always has been, and likely always will be an enormously powerful force, and one which can engulf morals like a blizzard. There’s probably no stopping illegal or aberrant sex, but at least make it as difficult as possible to enact,'' writes John Merchant, suggesting that some sexual offences against children smack of an abrogation of responsibility by generations of parents.

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June 29, 2012

The Martians Are Com... They're Here!

...The Martian influence is pervasive – the rapid spread of obesity; the names that parents are giving their children – Tureena, Keyeesha, Tiajanna, Jenell, Deaundra, and so on. Then there are the thirteen year old fashion models; the weird diseases they brought with them – flesh eating bacteria, the Ebola virus etc., etc...

John Merchant suggests that aliens are taking over on Planet Earth.

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June 20, 2012

Doctor Dolittle Revisited

"I have an aversion to prescription medicine, or any medicine for that matter. I was raised in a self-medicating family, which resorted to doctors only in life threatening situations,'' writes star columnist John Merchant.

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June 13, 2012

New York, New York - It's A Wonderful Town

New York City is not just a great place to visit and do business, it's also a great place to live if you can afford it, declares columnist John Merchant.

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June 06, 2012

Twilight

...Everything about living in the southern climes spoke to me – the cafe society, the bright colors, the clear, sparkling waters of the Adriatic and the absence of cold and rain were like balm...

John Merchant welcomes sunny skies and well-lit days.

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May 30, 2012

The Women Who Wield

...Initially and anecdotally, it would appear that women in authority behave pretty much as men do. They’re as ambitious, venal, corrupt, incompetent and ruthless. They are also mentoring, supportive and competent. Despite this, though comparisons are odious, there is a difference between men and women in the way they do business.,,

John Merchant considers the changing societal roles of men and women.

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May 23, 2012

Wons More, With Feeling

...OK. Do you want to play football?

Yeah lets. I used to think it was a stupid human game, but I really enjoy it now; even on TV.

Yeah that TV is something else....

John Merchant eavesdrops on another conversation between his pet cats.

Before reading on click to see the conversationalists http://openwriting.co.uk/gallery/index.php/John-Merchant/Nikkei-and-ling-ling

Continue reading "Wons More, With Feeling" »

May 16, 2012

Are Suoermarkets Really Super?

...For me, the whole concept of the supermarket of those days was offensive. Gone was the personal attention; the pleasure of watching the bacon being sliced just the way you wanted it, the convenience of being able to buy just as much or as little flour, sugar, cheese or any other loose commodity as you needed, and not what pre-packaging dictated....

When it comes to shopping columnist John Merchant prefers personal service.

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May 09, 2012

The Business Of Art

"Most people who aren’t actively involved in creating art, and whose only contact with it is to occasionally visit a gallery or museum, probably think of the art world as a somewhat dreamy, romantic and occasionally bizarre world,'' writes John Merchant, going on to destroy that illusion.

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The Business Of Art

"Most people who aren’t actively involved in creating art, and whose only contact with it is to occasionally visit a gallery or museum, probably think of the art world as a somewhat dreamy, romantic and occasionally bizarre world,'' writes John Merchant, going on to destroy that illusion.

Continue reading "The Business Of Art" »

May 02, 2012

Ninety Per Cent Plus Ten Per Cent Equals Discontent

"In the USA, always a land of millionaires and up, there are over 3 million millionaires of record, and in 2010, there were 40,000 North Americans with $30 million or more, up from 36,000 in 2009. In the same year there were 401 billionaires!''

John Merchant tells of the rich, the poor and the beleaguered middle class in the United States.

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April 25, 2012

The Pipes Of Pain

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April 18, 2012

This Old House

"One of the things I have learned about modern housing construction in the US is that there are three prices for a new dwelling,'' writes columnist John Merchant.

Continue reading "This Old House" »

April 11, 2012

Thinking And Speaking

John Merchant presents some choice examples of foot-in-the-mouth blunders by today's crop of politicians.

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April 04, 2012

Nikkei And Ling Ling - A Progress Report

...We expected, and hoped, that “The Boys” would be close, since they are litter-mates, but of course there’s no guarantee of that. However, I’m delighted to say that they are literally joined at the hip. It’s rare that they are each in different parts of the house for more than a couple of minutes, and if one is accidentally shut in a room or closet, the other will howl outside the door...

John Merchant brings us another purrfectly entertaining chapter concerning the lives of his cats, Nikkei and Ling Ling.

Continue reading "Nikkei And Ling Ling - A Progress Report" »

March 28, 2012

America, Land Of The Free - Oh Yeah?

Is America still the land of the free?

"New laws are added by the minute and very few are struck down,'' writes columnist John Merchant. "There’s this great mountain of legal restrictions that bear down on every little aspect of life. At the top of the heap are Federal Laws, then come State Laws, then county and municipal laws...''

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March 21, 2012

What Do You Think? - Surveys And Ratings

John Merchant has had his fill of survey requests to rate goods and services.,

Continue reading "What Do You Think? - Surveys And Ratings" »

March 14, 2012

Inked

...Yet it’s hard to find a woman, or even some late middle aged women at the pool without a tattoo somewhere on their body. And there are probably a lot more that aren’t visible even in a string bikini...

Curiosity leads columnist John Merchant into the “Ink Life Tour and Music Traveling Festival.”

Continue reading "Inked" »

March 07, 2012

When I'm 65

...With the increase in fatal sicknesses, and the greater likelihood of late life divorce, the chance of spending one’s final years alone are high. The divorce rate in the U.S. has leveled off with one exception—the rate is rising for those 60 and over...

John Merchant, an acute observer of the social scene, brings us another insight into life in present-day America.

Continue reading "When I'm 65" »

February 29, 2012

It's A Won-derful Day In The Neighbourhood

...What shall we do today Won Too?

Well, we could play with the toys a bit, so they feel good about having spent the money, though I’m not sure where we hid them. There’s so many place in this home...

John Merchant eavesdrops on the conversation of pet Siamese cats Ling Ling and Nikkei

Continue reading "It's A Won-derful Day In The Neighbourhood" »

February 22, 2012

Death By Primary

...As it turns out, the Republican manifesto is more appealing to the self-interested than is that of the Democrats. Thus, their platform of reduced taxes, less welfare and social services, reduced spending on education and culture, speaks to a constituency who are less capable or willing to see the big picture and the common good. It also appeals to those who are depende nt on structure in their lives – the religious and the military...

John Merchant homes in on the political state of the nation in the USA.

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February 15, 2012

The Sound Of Bits - Or Not

...I began to feel excitement at the thought of listening to my old favorites – “Bread,” “The Carpenters,” “Chicago,” “Neil Diamond,” “Stan Kenton,” “Dave Brubeck,” – what a feast was in store. I thought I’d try the LP’s first. Placing a Carpenters favorite on the turntable, I sat back to enjoy...

But John Merchant was in for a big disappointment, as he reveals in his latest column, yet all was not lost!

Continue reading "The Sound Of Bits - Or Not" »

February 08, 2012

You Are Not Alone - Even If You Wish To Be

...Recently, I heard two iconic statements that pinpoint what I am saying. The first was a phone call, in which the caller said, “Oh! I just wanted to leave a message. I didn’t actually want to speak to you.” The other was a response to an announcement that the tolls on a major highway were being automated for those who purchased a transponder. “That’s great,” the person said. “Now we won’t have to interact with the toll collectors!”...

Columnist John Merchant thinks that the trend to seek isolation in American society is increasing.

Continue reading "You Are Not Alone - Even If You Wish To Be" »

February 01, 2012

The Silver Screen Needs A Polish

...The auditorium was without embellishment of any sort: just a plain box. The movie began without preamble, except for a couple of cheap, car dealer commercials. The sound was crisp – and deafening. Even a key turning in a lock rattled your eardrums. Within minutes, we knew why we hadn’t been to the movies in years...

Columnist John Merchant is a long way short of being enchanted by the current movie-going ecperience.

Continue reading "The Silver Screen Needs A Polish" »

January 25, 2012

Greetings

The way people greet one another has continued to evolve across the world and no culture has more greetings alternatives than the USA, writes columnist John Merchant.

Continue reading "Greetings" »

January 18, 2012

Dinner In The Diner? Nothing Could Be Finer?

"I’ve long ago come to terms with the US dining milieu, but oh how I long for a leisurely, five course dinner, served expertly by a knowledgeable, European trained waiter, in a quiet, sumptuously decorated restaurant with soft acoustics,'' writes John Merchant in this tasty guide to dining out in the USA.

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January 11, 2012

Cats From Space

...Our immediate tasks are first to observe, and to get our charges used to the idea that we can do anything we choose, despite their efforts to, as they put it “Cat proof the house.” Such an offensive idea...

The cats are taking over in John Merchant's household. (I wonder if John and his wife realise that this message has been smuggled out to a worldwide audience by devious Won means? - Ed.)

Continue reading "Cats From Space" »

January 04, 2012

Where Oh Where Did My Boxing Day Go - Or Come From?

"Normally speaking, lexicographers are able to trace the origins of an expression or word and come up with a reasoned and credible explanation, but not in this case. Boxing Day defies rational explanation...'' writes columnist John Merchant.

Continue reading "Where Oh Where Did My Boxing Day Go - Or Come From?" »

December 28, 2011

Concrete Doth Not A Village Make

...As a whole, the US is a country where everything conspires to keep people apart – politics, race, religion, economics, two career marriages, the TV fetish and modern communications...

Columnist John Merchant hopes that a wireless link is not the only way that US citizens stay connected.

Continue reading "Concrete Doth Not A Village Make" »

December 21, 2011

Growing Up Siamese

...Cats are notorious for their short attention spans, but one thing ours never tire of is being petted. Nikkei and Ling Ling, like most cats, have ways of letting us know what gives them pleasure. This includes purring, rolling over on their backs so we can rub their bellies, and pushing their heads into our cupped hands...

John Merchant continues his engaging account of having two young four-legged boys in the family.

To read earlier articles about the cats - along with many more columns by John - please click on
http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "Growing Up Siamese" »

December 14, 2011

What's It Like Being Old Grandpa?

"The elderly are probably less revered in the USA than anywhere else on earth,'' declares columnist John Merchant.

Continue reading "What's It Like Being Old Grandpa?" »

December 07, 2011

Christmas Through The Looking Glass

"For millions of people in the US, the best and only Christmas gift they would hope for is a job,'' writes social commentator John Merchant in this chilliest of economic seasons.

Continue reading "Christmas Through The Looking Glass" »

November 30, 2011

Cats |In The House

...Much has been said about the therapeutic value of having a pet, and though I was happy for the people who felt they were benefitting, I personally had never experienced it. I guess I was too busy, or plain just not around enough...

John Merchant and his wife are finding that their lives are being profoundly affected by two young cats.

Continue reading "Cats |In The House" »

November 23, 2011

Science Marches On - No Matter What

"It would be comforting to think that all scientists are ethical, honorable, selfless individuals, and of course, many are. But it’s naïve to think that science is driven purely by the need to explain and demystify the arcane and obscure, inner world of nature. In reality, research is often motivated by less noble objectives like greed and personal aggrandizement,'' writes columnist John Merchant.

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November 16, 2011

Florida Has Winter Too

...To the winter visitors, what they see and experience probably is what they think Florida is like year round – certainly I did before I became a resident. But subtle though they may be, Florida has its winter characteristics, in addition to the weather. Many birds that spend the summer in the northern states and Canada, return in the winter...

John Merchant thinks of snowy days as he heads for the piil.

Continue reading "Florida Has Winter Too" »

November 09, 2011

Voting With Violence

...But just as it seemed the daily diet of bloodshed, violence and mayhem might be replaced by less troubling images, the reader now is treated to uprisings, protests, police and military reprisals, brought to them by the media and a host of amateurs with cell phone cameras...

John Merchant, disturbed by current social trends, confesses: "I’m shamefaced to admit that lately I have been considering the purchase of a hand gun for self-protection.''

Continue reading "Voting With Violence" »

November 02, 2011

The Middle £ast - A Problem And A Puzzle

"Democracy is a fine ideal, but it’s not a one size fits all way to govern. It may never be the right solution for some cultures,'' declares columnist John Merchant as he contemplates the revolutionary changes sweeping through the Middle East.

Continue reading "The Middle £ast - A Problem And A Puzzle" »

October 26, 2011

Cats En-Suite

...Though they had grown since we’d last seen them, they still seemed tiny and defenseless. Tiny they unquestionably were, but far from defenseless, as we would later discover...

John Merchant and his wife are getting to know the newcomers in their home, Siamese kittens Ling Ling and Nikkei

Continue reading "Cats En-Suite" »

October 19, 2011

You Say MC, I Say PC

...As time has passed, the capability of computers has increased exponentially, but my demands on it only fractionally, even though the computer is an essential, even integral part of my daily life...

John Merchant brings a vital report from the Microsoft-Apple battle front.

Continue reading "You Say MC, I Say PC" »

October 12, 2011

Hooray For The Katzenjammer Twins

...My experience of cat breeders has been that they were invariably women in their middle to late years, of somewhat neglected appearance, and fiercely protective of their litters and the parents who produced them....

John Merchant and his wife are on the eve of again becoming cat owners.

Continue reading "Hooray For The Katzenjammer Twins" »

October 05, 2011

The Song Is Eeue!

...It seems that every year, the tunes, I can’t bring myself to call them melodies, become literally more monotonous; the words fewer and increasingly meaningless; and the performances more extreme. In the face of falling album sales, the recording companies’ executives seem blind and deaf to the problem....

John Merchant is aghast at the abysmal state of current pop "music''.

Continue reading "The Song Is Eeue!" »

September 28, 2011

A Nice Cup Of Tea

“There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea.”

“If man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty.”

And life-long tea lover John Merchant heartily subscribes to those sentiments.

Continue reading "A Nice Cup Of Tea" »

September 21, 2011

Looking Inward In September 11

...Do beefed up security measures necessary mean that terrorist are dissuaded from planning death and destruction? I think not. Islamic extremists have never been rational thinkers, nor are they afraid of the consequences of failure.

The media might better ask citizens if they feel more secure about losing their homes or lives to a natural disaster...

John Merchant directs his thoughts to Americans in need on what has become a day of national mourning in the US.

Continue reading "Looking Inward In September 11" »

September 14, 2011

The Pitter Patter Of Tiny Feet

...My wife and I have been “providers” for cats, separately and together for years, but have abstained for the past 20 years, after our last cat died, because our peripatetic lifestyle wasn’t, we considered, in the best interests of these furry little critters. I use the word “providers” because you don’t own a cat, or have a cat, it owns and has you...

John Merchant and his wife will soon be soon be owned by a pair of four-legged males.

Continue reading "The Pitter Patter Of Tiny Feet" »

September 07, 2011

Art To The Rescue

...The most obvious signs of creative thinking are in the malls, large and small, which are tapping into the very active Florida art scene. One small, up-scale mall offered seven empty stores to the Bonita Springs Art Center as working studios. In return for being present in the studio, and agreeing to discuss their art with visitors, the artists receive a free and very elegant workspace, and exposure to shoppers...

John Merchant tells of a novel and imaginative way of fighting back in tough economic times.


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August 31, 2011

Virginia Is For Lovers - And For Me

...Interstate 81 took us through some of the most spectacular beauty I have experienced in America. The highway rose and fell before us, lined by foothills with apple green, upland grazing land that contrasted the dark green of the stands of trees. Behind them, tall mountains rose; some shaped like conical volcanoes, other rounded by the elements and the millennia that have passed since they were thrust up from the earth’s crust...

John Merchant falls in love with the State of Virginia.

Continue reading "Virginia Is For Lovers - And For Me" »

August 24, 2011

You Can Go Back

...The trip was sweetened by the expectation of staying in our friends’ beautiful house, set in the Connecticut woods, and by other friends’ promise of clamming on the Rhode Island shore. Just the very word “clamming” evokes a New England that, without realizing, we had missed. Just the very idea of obtaining food without expending anything but energy is appealing...

John Merchant and his wife pay a return visit to New England, their to acquire a memory to store in their special box of experiences.

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August 17, 2011

Government Of Some People, By Some People

"I believe that ordinary folk would like to feel that the best interests of their nation are being competently managed; that its resources are being used wisely, and that its fiscal policies are in responsible, trustworthy hands. Also that, as citizens, their safety is in good hands. In the USA, this is clearly not the case..'' writes John Merchant in this bleak assessment of the current state of the American body politic.

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August 10, 2011

Trapped In The Sargasso Sea Of Life

...We can’t recall how it began, but over the months, we developed ridiculous stories that we composed on our walk. Central to one story was the Cramping family of circus performers. Momma and Dad were trapeze artists, and Bobo, their daughter, performed a parasol dance on the slack wire. Grandma Cramping cramped. Each week we put together a new episode...

Columnist John Merchant tells of lakeside weekends that soothed the knots out of life and helped to build the foundations of a wonderful marriage.

Continue reading "Trapped In The Sargasso Sea Of Life" »

August 03, 2011

Now Is The Summer Of Our Content

"My wife and I are just about halfway through our first “year-round” Florida experience. Until last year we had summered on our boat in Connecticut, but then we sold the boat and committed to being year round residents. So far it’s been better than just tolerable, though we have August ahead of us,'' writes John Merchant.

Continue reading "Now Is The Summer Of Our Content" »

July 27, 2011

Lies, Damned Lies, And Statistics

"When it comes to examples of barefaced lying on the world’s stage, America takes the biscuit. Richard Nixon’s Watergate era, “I am not a crook,” and Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sex with that woman,” will forever echo in the halls of duplicity,'' writes John Merchant.

John thinks that In the global arena we are confronted by massive untruths everyday, some of them so consequential it’s frightening.

Continue reading "Lies, Damned Lies, And Statistics" »

July 20, 2011

The Power Behind The Boat

...With the throttle wide open, the boat does around 45mph, which doesn’t sound fast, but it’s damned fast if you’re used to sailing, or even motoring at only 6 to 8mph...

Veteran sailor John Merchant has gone over to the enemy. He now scoots around in a power boat.

Continue reading "The Power Behind The Boat" »

July 13, 2011

Trial By Waiting Room

...After a few perfunctory questions, the nurse swept out, saying over her shoulder, “Doctor will be in soon.” How can she sleep at night, I thought, after telling bare-faced lies all day, everyday. “Soon” is such an infinitely elastic term....

John Merchant contends with the anxious boredom of waiting, and waiting, before submitting to the surgeon's knife.


Continue reading "Trial By Waiting Room" »

July 06, 2011

Having The Edge Is Important

"All the men in my mother’s family were employed in steel making, and almost anyone I knew set great store by knife blades that could take a good edge when sharpened, and keep it. Every man carried a pocketknife, and many shaved with an open blade, “Cut throat” razor, which was lovingly sharpened on a leather strop. Knives were given as gifts that required the receiver to render a coin to the giver so as not to cut the friendship,'' writes columnist John Merchant.

For more of John's lively columns please click on
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And do visit his Web site
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Continue reading "Having The Edge Is Important" »

June 29, 2011

Why Can't A Woman Be Like A Man?

"Female medical doctors now outnumber male medics in the US, and so do female applicants to universities. In almost every field of endeavor in the USA, women are gaining the ascendancy, and men are letting it happen, perhaps because they, at long last, understand that women are an entity unto themselves,'' declares columnist John Merchant.

To read more of John's relevant and entertaining columns please click on
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And do visit his Web site
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Continue reading "Why Can't A Woman Be Like A Man?" »

June 22, 2011

Tinkering With Nature On A Massive Scale

Columnist John Merchant says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which despite its name includes a majority of civilians, cannot accept that Mother Nature will generally have the last say.

"They never met a river they didn’t think they could improve. Probably their most grievous failure is the Mississippi and Delta levee system that was designed to protect farming communities and cities like New Orleans, and failed miserably, most recently during Hurricane Katrina, and to a lesser extent in the spring floods of 2011.''

Continue reading "Tinkering With Nature On A Massive Scale" »

June 15, 2011

Today's Monday - Or Is It?

"In adulthood, all my days were clearly defined, so it was rare for me to ask what day it was.'' writes John Merchant, going to confess, that even though he is now retired, Sundays are once again his bête noir.

To read more of John's superb columns please click on
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And do visit his Web site
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Continue reading "Today's Monday - Or Is It?" »

June 01, 2011

By The Skinny Skin-Skin Of My Chinny-Chin-Chin

...But like any American citizen my age, things have started to grow on my skin. So recently, like it or not, dermatology has come into my life. A surgeon friend of mine said that if he had his time over again, he would become a dermatologist. As he put it, no emergencies, no weekends, and a range of conditions that never get completely cured...

Having had dealings with three dermatologists columnist John Merchant now has a date with a scalpel.

To read more of John's columns please click on
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Continue reading "By The Skinny Skin-Skin Of My Chinny-Chin-Chin" »

May 25, 2011

Summer Time, When The Living Is Easy

...Animated neighbors, who have scarcely exchanged a word for the past few months can be heard over the hedge, bringing each other up to date on family news. Pretty soon, plant nurseries that were devoid of any kind of flora will burst at the seams with Impatiens, Petunias, Geraniums, Begonias and Roses...

John Merchant, who was raised in England's bleaker northern climes, warms to the idea of summer in Florida.

For more of John's stimulating columns please click on
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And do visit his Web site
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Continue reading "Summer Time, When The Living Is Easy" »

May 18, 2011

Symbolism - How Powerful Is It?

"In these pragmatic times, one would think people would be immune to allegory, and it would be rational to suppose that symbolism had no place,'' says columnist John Merchant.

"Two very different events this past two weeks have given the lie to that supposition. The first, the grand and joyous wedding of handsome Prince William and his winsome Princess Kate; the second, the dark and gloomy assassination of Osama bin Laden.''

John's views on both events are relevant, trenchant and civilised.

Do read on...

Continue reading "Symbolism - How Powerful Is It?" »

May 11, 2011

All You Can Eat - But Not Food Of Course

"All in all, it’s one thing when a government has to protect its educated citizenry from self-destructive habits like smoking, drug use and reckless driving, but it’s a sad state of affairs when taxpayer money has to be spent to ensure people feed themselves responsibly,'' says John Merchant who is appalled by an increasing dependence in the USA on quick fix energy boosters raqther than well-balanced nutritional meals.

For more of John's tell-it-as-it-is columns on life in America please click on
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And do visit his Web site
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Continue reading "All You Can Eat - But Not Food Of Course" »

May 04, 2011

Watchin' All The Girls - And The Guys Go By

...The array of people ranged from toddlers to stooped and rheumy oldsters. Many folk, despite repeated warnings about skin cancer, lay roasting their bodies to a coffee brown, or flame red. If there were any dermatologists present, I imagine they were comforted to know that their future prosperity was assured...

John Merchant takes a stroll along a Florida beach to bring us word pictures more vivid than any camera image.

To read more of John's superb words please click on
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And do visit his Web site
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Continue reading "Watchin' All The Girls - And The Guys Go By" »

April 27, 2011

My Gardens - My Life

Creating a garden is like writing, or painting, says John Merchant. "You start with a blank page or canvas, and this can be intimidating on such a large scale.''

To read more of John's enthusiastic columns please click on
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And do visit his Web site
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Continue reading "My Gardens - My Life" »

April 20, 2011

The End Of Religion Is Nigh?

“My impression is that all the major world-religions are under assault, both from the inside and from external forces, and I’m led to wondering where this might lead,’’ writes John Merchant in this column which demands attention from believers and non-believers in a deity.

For more of John's thoughtful and entertaining words please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site.
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Continue reading "The End Of Religion Is Nigh?" »

April 13, 2011

Everything And The Kitchen Sink

...My mother cooked for the six of us in that small space. She cooked meals, baked bread twice a week, made pies, cakes, confectionary, jams, desserts, lemonade, ginger beer, and did the family laundry. She pickled eggs for the winter, pickled onions and herring, plucked and drew chickens, and skinned rabbits. She cooked and pressed ox tongue, arranged flowers from her garden, and polished her silverware....

John Merchant's recollections imply that the cook is the most important factor in good eating - not the kitchen.

For more of John's flavoursome columns please click on
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Continue reading "Everything And The Kitchen Sink" »

April 06, 2011

Got Reservations? You Bet.

...As of 2008, there are 562 federally recognized tribes in the United States, many of which have chosen not to become involved in the business of gambling. There are some 400 Indian gaming establishments operated by approximately 220 federally-recognized tribes.

These establishments are often a far cry from the seedy, glittery undertakings one might imagine. The Foxwoods Resort Casino is the second largest casino in the world...

Columnist John Merchant suggests that the ownership of thriving casinos by Native Americans does by and large bring a happy ending to a painful history, and unlike other centers of gambling such as Atlantic City and Las Vegas, the profits actually do benefit their locales and the tribes.

For more of John's keen insights into life in the USA please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
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Continue reading "Got Reservations? You Bet." »

March 30, 2011

Florida's Predatory Females

...Once a prospect is spotted, the laser goes down a list. Some hair – check. Acceptably small pot belly – check. Gucci trouser belt – check. Bally loafers – check. No stoop – check. Within the age range 45 to 85 – check. Once the scan is completed, the print-out instructs either to “Go for it!” or “Resume search – drinks too much, and has hearing problem” or some other caution...

Watch out gents! John Merchant informs us that predatory females are on the prowl in Florida.

For more of John's revalatory columns please click on
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Continue reading "Florida's Predatory Females" »

March 23, 2011

Smile Though Your Bank Is Breaking

...My wife’s aunt who is in her eighties, and has not had preventive treatment for years, recently needed an extraction and antibiotic treatment for an infected tooth. In the process, the examination revealed several other problems that needed attention, with an estimated cost of $10,000! Now that’s a lot of toothache...

John Merchant reveals that dental care in America can bring an ache to a patient's wallet.

To read more of John's invariably entertaining and informative columns please click on
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And do visit his Web site
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Continue reading "Smile Though Your Bank Is Breaking" »

March 16, 2011

Wot Worrit Eesed?

...It is one of the ugliest dialects you could possibly encounter, and all but incomprehensible to any but the speakers, with the possible exception of Chaucer, and linguistic scholar Frank Shaw, who wrote the books “Learn Yourself Scouse” and “Talk Strine,” about the speech patterns of Liverpool and Australia respectively...

John Merchant is no lover of the dialect prevalent in the industrial part of Yorkshire in which he grew up.

To read more of John's superb columns please click on
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And do visit his Web site
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Continue reading "Wot Worrit Eesed?" »

March 09, 2011

America's Gone To The Dogs

...It’s not too many years ago that American tourists returning from a visit to the UK, told horror stories of seeing dogs in pubs and restaurants. Well, no more. Americans have become “doggy” people. Like just about any new trend in the US, people have gone overboard with their desire to own a canine or two - or three...

John Merchant brings news that America has gone dog mad - and the US canines are living the life of Riley!

To read more of John's sparkling columns please click on
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John's Web site
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Continue reading "America's Gone To The Dogs" »

March 02, 2011

Church And State - Religion And Politics

"My own position is that religious belief is a very personal matter that should be kept to one’s self, and should not be proselytized, or used to wield power,'' declares John Merchant, pointing out that the body politic in the United States "oozes religiosity''.

For more of John's well-informed and very readable columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant
And do visit his Web site
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Continue reading "Church And State - Religion And Politics" »

February 23, 2011

Give Us A Sign

...Back in the days when the traffic signs painted on roads were hand done, all manner of typos appeared, to the delight of local newspaper photographers. Having done some sign painting myself, I know how easily mistakes can occur, especially when you can’t stand back to look at your work. Two favorites that have stuck with me are “YIEDL” at a merge point and “WOSL” at an intersection...

Ace columnnist John Merchant offers us another delicious read.

For more of his columns please click on
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And do visit his Web site
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Continue reading "Give Us A Sign" »

February 16, 2011

Whatever Happened To Utopia

...over the latter half of my life, the likelihood of a future Utopia has become as unrealistic as I guess it always was. Utopia apparently can only exist in the minds of philosophers and mystics...

John Merchant takes a sombre look at the world and its ways.

To read more of John's penetrating columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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Continue reading "Whatever Happened To Utopia" »

February 09, 2011

Another Day, Another Massacre

...Clearly, the passage of time, and the changes in weaponry and social mores indicate that a revision in the Second Amendment is overdue. It is also apparent that the “keeping to ourselves” social attitude that pervades modern American society needs to be reconsidered...

In the aftermath of the shooting on January 8, 2011, in Tucson, Arizona, where nineteen people including politician Gabrielle Giffords were injured, six of them fatally, John Merchant brings the oh-so-necessary words of calm common sense.

To read more of John's well-reasoned columns please click on
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And do visit his Web site
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Continue reading "Another Day, Another Massacre" »

February 03, 2011

Have You Seen My Car? It’s Red With Four Wheels

Cars have become so uniform that they’re now almost indistinguishable, writes John Merchant. "Computer color matching has made matters worse. Whether they are Fords, Chryslers, BMW’s or Mercedes or Nissans, they all look like the generic car.''

No suprise then that we are continually "losing'' the wretched things in supermarket car parks.

To read more of John's right-on-the button columnsd please click on
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And do visit his Web site
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Continue reading "Have You Seen My Car? It’s Red With Four Wheels" »

January 26, 2011

There's A Python At The Bottom Of My Garden!

...The Everglades National Park, covering 2,357 sq. miles, established in 1947, is located in the southwestern area of the wilderness. It is the largest subtropical wilderness left in the continental U.S. Interstate highway 75, which runs from the Canadian border to Miami, Florida, crosses through the Everglades in a section popularly known as “Alligator Alley,” for good reason. If you get a puncture there, keep driving...

John Merchant hopes that an estimated 50,000 pythons will deter builders eager to drain the Everglades.

More of John's royaly entertaining columns can be read by clicking on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
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Continue reading "There's A Python At The Bottom Of My Garden!" »

January 19, 2011

Hi, How Are You?

John Merchant says that in the past 10 years he has noticed gradual changes in American greeting rituals.

"Now, more people hug and even kiss, whether they be women or men, but not on first acquaintance. I’ve been trying to figure out the protocol, but haven’t yet been able to clarify for myself at what point in a relationship one should stop shaking hands and start hugging and kissing.''

To read more of John's best-you-can-find-on-the-Net columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
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Continue reading "Hi, How Are You?" »

January 12, 2011

Cyber Man - Faster Than A Speeding Bullet!

John Merchant, accustomed to on-line buying with a credit card, says the the $75 or so which he carries in his wallet lasts for weeks.

"When I charge something to my credit card, almost immediately it appears on the statement page on my computer, but not the credit for a return.''

To read more of John's perceptive columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
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Continue reading "Cyber Man - Faster Than A Speeding Bullet!" »

January 05, 2011

Doctor At Bay

...I was raised in a self-medicating family, at a time when going to the doctor placed an avoidable strain on a tight household budget...

Not surprising then that John Merchant should have put up such a long a successful fight against becoming a popper of prescrbed pills.

To read more of John's top-of-the-league columns please visit
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And do visit his Web site
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Continue reading "Doctor At Bay" »

December 29, 2010

Publish And Be Damned - Or Not?

...Counter to WikiLeaks’s behavior, we would do well to review the reporting of journalists Woodward and Bernstein of the Washington Post, when they investigated the Watergate affair. Ben Bradlee, the Washington Post’s Executive Editor at the time, insisted on stringent source checking and verification before publishing any of their columns, even though that risked losing the all-important scoop that eventually brought down the Nixon administration. Now that’s responsible journalism!

At a time when there is so much global instability, diplomatic relations are fragile, but never more essential. If diplomats, heads of governments and senior government officials cannot communicate freely without fear of disclosure, an dimension of international relations will be lost...

John Merchant's clear thinking on the Wikileaks controversy leads to the conclusion that it is definitely not always right to "publish and be damned'' - particularly when the "publisher'' is not a trained and experienced investigative journalist.

Continue reading "Publish And Be Damned - Or Not?" »

December 22, 2010

"It's The Holiday Season And Santa Claus Is Coming Back...''

...The population of the USA has long been unable to do anything without the accompaniment of music – all kinds of music. It blasts out at you when you’re in your car, waiting at a light. Your neighbor plays it while he’s barbecuing. It floats or vibrates from every open window, pops out of greeting cards and oozes out of the earphone that doesn’t quite fit in the ear of your fellow passenger on the bus, the train and the airplane...

And John Merchant, in a Grinchy mood, is far from enchanted by the Christmas music whis is currently blasting, floating, vibrating, popping and oozing into his ears as the USA goes Christmas mad.

Continue reading ""It's The Holiday Season And Santa Claus Is Coming Back...''" »

December 15, 2010

The Art Whirl

...In the part of Florida with which I’m familiar, the 130 mile coastal strip from Tampa in the north to Naples in the south, art in all its forms abounds. There’s a surfeit of two and three dimensional work in just about any media you can imagine – oils, water color, acrylic, stone, clay, glass, fibers, textiles, and on, and on. Binding all this together are a multitude of art leagues, associations, alliances and craft guilds...

John Merchant offers reasons for Florida's cornucopic art scene.

To read more of John's entertaining and informative columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant
John's Web site
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Continue reading "The Art Whirl" »

December 08, 2010

Christmas Among The Palms

...The first Christmas we spent in Florida, we made a decision not to perpetuate the traditions we had held to in the North. Holly and Ivy and Mistletoe, turkey and Christmas pudding just didn’t appeal in a sub-tropical setting. So we settled on something more Middle Eastern – rack of lamb, couscous and rice, with grapes and cheese for dessert...

Temperatures in Florida usually dip into the 70s in Decemmber, says John Merchant - "and we call that chilly''.


Continue reading "Christmas Among The Palms" »

December 01, 2010

Singing The Gymnasium Blues

...Throughout the voluntary and prescribed callisthenic phases, over several years until the present, I have never felt the experience was anything other than totally boring, and look forward to each session with about the same enthusiasm as a visit to the dentist...

John Merchant is no gym enthusiast, though he has become an acute observer of those who sweat and toil on those infernal exercise machines.

John's American Pie columns have provided a weekly reading treat for the past seven years for the many thousands of visitors to Open Writing. To catch up on columns you may have missed please click on
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And do visit his Web site
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Continue reading "Singing The Gymnasium Blues" »

November 24, 2010

Florida, A State In Economic Limbo

John Merchant reports that the most optimistic forecast for a return to a “normal” economy in Florida is 5 years, and many local forecasters are predicting 10 years to never.

"There are good reasons for the pessimism. Retirees from the US north, the backbone of real estate expansion in the State, now have to work longer, and the days of retiring with a generous pension and a sizable nest egg are over for many people.''

For more of John's on-the-spot clear-thinking accounts of life in today's America please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
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Continue reading "Florida, A State In Economic Limbo" »

November 17, 2010

Thou Shalt Have A Fishy On A Little Dishy...

...When Sandra and I gave up sailing last August, we planned to dust off our little power boat that had lain neglected for the past 6 years, and take up fishing. Putting our plan into action turned out to be more involved and demanding than we had anticipated...

After attending a "Salt Water Fishing Class'' John Merchant and his wife Sandra have yet to test their piscatorial abilities.

Continue reading "Thou Shalt Have A Fishy On A Little Dishy..." »

November 10, 2010

It Ain't What You Do, It's The...

Columnist John Merchant contrasts the public statements and the remedial actions taken in the two events which have dominated world news this year - the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the mine collapse in Chile.

To read more of John's engaging and informative columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

John's Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "It Ain't What You Do, It's The..." »

November 03, 2010

Things That Go Bump In The Night

...I think that many kids of my age, including myself, never developed an enthusiasm for celebratory pyrotechnics such as exists today, and I don’t recall ever marking Guy Fawkes’ night with a bonfire after VE Day. We’d seen destruction by fire on a scale seldom experienced, and had an intimate knowledge of the power of explosives...

Because of war time memories of flames and destruction John Merchant is still disquieted by explosive celebrations.

There's a wealthy of reading pleasure in the dozens of columns written by John for Open Writing. Click on
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And do visit his Web site
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Continue reading "Things That Go Bump In The Night" »

October 23, 2010

Africa And Chile Are Local?

...When I drive the 126 miles from my home on the west coast to Palm Beach on the Atlantic shore, 90% of the journey is through orange groves and vast fields of sugar cane. The groves are so large that the harvesting foremen track their position with GPS systems...

Millions of dollars worth of fruit and vegetables are grown in Florida. So why then, John Merchant wonders, do local supermarkets stock fruit and veg imported from South America and Africa?

Continue reading "Africa And Chile Are Local?" »

October 20, 2010

You Want To Fly In Comfort To Where?

...At the peak of my air travel, airlines were competing for business class travelers, and I was fortunate enough to be able to fly that class. Sometimes their efforts to spoil business class passengers went just a little too far...

But columnist John Merchant is no longer eager to jet around the world. "Nowadays I’m reluctant to fly, and when I have to, cringe at the prospect.''

To read more of John's entertaining and informative columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "You Want To Fly In Comfort To Where?" »

October 13, 2010

Yorkshire Lass - Postcript

...No more the challenge of pitting my wits against nature that only a sailboat, or perhaps a glider can provide. No more rocking gently at anchor as the sun sets and the stars take over the sky...

John Merchant settles into a life which no longer includes his beloved sailboat, Yorkshire Lass.

To read of John's time with Yorkshire Lass, along with many more of his illuminating columns, please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "Yorkshire Lass - Postcript" »

October 06, 2010

Hal Is Alive And Well And Living In A Car Repair Shop

...Back a few years, when you took your vehicle into the repair shop with a problem that you could describe accurately, a light of recognition would shine in the mechanic’s eyes, and he would immediately proffer an explanation and a plan to fix it.
Not so these days. My carefully worded account of the problem was met with stony faced indifference, and the tight-lipped response that their computer diagnostic system would decide what was wrong and what to do to put it right...

Ah, but will the mechanic be able to understand the computer's diagnosis?

John Merchant tells a tale to disturb car owners.

To read more of John's top-drawer columns visit
http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

Also visit John's Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "Hal Is Alive And Well And Living In A Car Repair Shop" »

September 29, 2010

Patriotism Is A Word I Seldom Use

...In my mind, there is something amiss with passionate, overt glorification of an entity as complex as a nation, especially a nation as diverse and as large as America...

John Merchant takes a cool look at the "my country right or wrong'' sentiments in the USA.

To read more of John's thoughtful columns please visit
http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And also visit John's Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "Patriotism Is A Word I Seldom Use" »

September 22, 2010

Yorkshire Lass – Part VII – Finis

…On the appointed day, the boat was hauled onto dry land to give the surveyor access to the bottom, the propeller and the rudder. The gentleman in question turned out to be a rather taciturn, grizzled man who was plainly not vulnerable to any distraction we might try to throw in his path. Equipped with a small hammer and an array of instruments, he proceeded to go over the hull inch by inch. Tap–tap, pause, tap-tap, refer to instruments, tap-tap, make notes, tap-tap. Sandra and I huddled together a discrete distance away, but close enough so we could attempt to read from his facial expressions any clues as to what he might be finding, but without success…

With feelings of regret, tempered by relief, John Merchant sells his beloved boat Yorkshire Lass.

John brings to a close his series of articles on the days he spent with the Lass.

To read earlier articles in the series and more of John’s columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

Also visit his Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "Yorkshire Lass – Part VII – Finis" »

September 15, 2010

A Trip Into Oblivion

...Do I worry about the recent incident? Not too much. Will I seek medical help? Not unless I experience a recurrence. I figure that going to the doctor with a condition that is no longer evident is like taking your car to a repair shop after the mysterious noise has stopped...

John Merchant tells of a recent disturbing experience when he was unaware of what he had been doing during the past three hours.

Continue reading "A Trip Into Oblivion" »

September 09, 2010

Yorkshire Lass Part VI

...The following day we set sail for Duck Island where we had spent a night on the outbound leg. The day was blessedly clear, with a fresh breeze that pushed us along in fine style, and we made good time to the Island, allowing us the luxury of an afternoon nap in the cockpit. Our luck must finally have turned. Later, in my half-dozing state, I observed that Yorkshire Lass was pointing in a different direction to the other boats in the anchorage.

That’s strange, I thought dreamily. Then suddenly I was wide awake, my heart pounding...

John Merchant, with the salty tang of adventure in every paragraph, concludes his account of a cruise from hell.

To read more of John's brilliant columns please click on
http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "Yorkshire Lass Part VI" »

September 01, 2010

Where Is "Dear Abby'' When You Need Her?

...She describes him as obsessive-compulsive and a chronic complainer. If that were not enough, in the lady’s opinion he is also mildly retarded and has a learning disability. She claims, understandably, that these limitations place an unfair load on her shoulders when it comes to handling the household affairs. And there’s more!...

Ace columnist John Merchant has been Googled into a "Dear Abby'' role.

Continue reading "Where Is "Dear Abby'' When You Need Her?" »

August 25, 2010

Yorkshire Lass - Part V

...As we entered Noank harbor, I inadvertently sailed over the anchor line of a resident’s boat, which became entangled with my rudder. At the end of a tiring day, and within yards of our slip for the night, initially it seemed to be a major problem that would take time and money to solve. But a guardian angel in the form of an amateur scuba diver, who happened to be living on his boat nearby, happily volunteered to untangle the line. This was the first of a series of incidents that would eventually result in us dubbing the trip, “The cruise from hell!”...

John Merchant, continuing his account of a love affair with a sailboat, tells of a cargo of trouble encountered while cruising to Edgartown on Martha's Vinyard.

To read the first four parts of this story and lots more articles by ace columnist John please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "Yorkshire Lass - Part V" »

August 18, 2010

Let The Seller Beware

...There’s something about house hunting that brings out the quirkiness in people, and there’s no telling how they will react when spending several thousand dollars...

John Merchant's accounts of buying and selling houses and boats provide ample evidence that logic is often absent from the proceedings.

To read more of John's nonpareil columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit ohn's Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "Let The Seller Beware" »

August 11, 2010

Yorkshire Lass – Part IV

…Like many boats of similar design, Yorkshire Lass does not back well, and requires boat-handling skills that I didn’t possess at the time. Sure enough, the breeze caught us, swinging the bow around, setting us up for a collision with an adjacent, very expensive looking yacht. Unfortunately, my instincts took over, and I reached out my right arm between our stern rails to fend off, which is a real no-no in boating. My action prevented a collision, but resulted in my wrist being caught in a scissor action between our rail and the other boat’s. Stainless steel being tougher than bone, my wrist lost the battle…

Not every day yielded plain sailing for John Merchant in his treasured boat, Yorkshire Lass.

To read earlier episodes of John’s engaging and entertaining account of his love affair with Yorkshire Lass please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit John's Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "Yorkshire Lass – Part IV" »

August 04, 2010

Illy Bandz And Singing Balloons!

"Almost daily I’m brought up short by an encounter with something that has clearly passed me by. Such an event occurred today,'' writes John Merchant, proceeding to tell us with great gusto of his discovery of Illy Bandz and Singing Balloons.

To read more of John's hugely entertaining columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/


Continue reading "Illy Bandz And Singing Balloons!" »

July 28, 2010

Yorkshire Lass - Part III

...In bright sunshine and a stiff breeze, we fairly flew eastwards along the north shore of Long Island towards Port Jefferson. Florence was in her element. Her only complaint was “Why can’t we go faster?”...

John Merchant continues his account of his love affair and first cruise iun his boat Yorkshire Lass.

Part II found him in Manhasset harbor after surviving the trip around the Battery, up the East River and through the dreaded Hell Gate.

Now read on...

Continue reading "Yorkshire Lass - Part III" »

July 21, 2010

Nuclear Power - The Elephant In The Corner

...Given that reserves of fossil fuels are finite, coupled with the problem of the atmospheric pollution they create, it is clear that a rational, viable alternative must be adopted. The elephant in the corner in all of the searching is nuclear power generation...

John Merchant thinks that a safe storage place for nuclear waste can be found, finding it ironic that "US citizens are more willing to vote money for projects to determine how much water there is on the moon, and whether Mars ever supported life, than they are to finance the development of plentiful and affordable electric power that could beneficially influence the quality of life on earth for everyone.''

To read more of John's invariably thoughtful and entertaining columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/


Continue reading "Nuclear Power - The Elephant In The Corner" »

July 14, 2010

Yorkshire Lass – Part II

…Exhausted from the long day, the excitement, and our battle with the bugs, we were soon ready to climb into our berth in the bow of the Boat. We fell asleep immediately, but were awakened at midnight by intense flashes of lightening, crashing thunder and a howling gale. After about fifteen minutes it was clear that our anchor wasn’t holding, and we were in danger of being swept into the Liberty Island sea wall…

John Merchant continues his vividly entertaining story of a 22-year love affair with a sailboat. The story takes up where Part I left us, watching as the sunset, reflected in the glass-clad skyscrapers of Manhattan, slowly gave way to the bright lights and neon signs of the City.

Part III will appear in Open Writing on July 28.

Continue reading "Yorkshire Lass – Part II" »

July 07, 2010

The Whole World In Your Hand?

...Then I heard the bad news I had been anticipating for a while; PC’s are likely to be superseded in large part by hand-held devices: cell phones, notepads, Blackberries and the like. This is not to say that PC’s will disappear, just that picking one up from a local retailer will not be easy, or perhaps even possible...

John Merchant, no technophobe he, is concerned at the develoipments in communications technology.

To read more of John's unmissable columns plesase click on
http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "The Whole World In Your Hand?" »

June 30, 2010

Yorkshire Lass - Part I

...At the time she was just a number in the Catalina Sailboat company’s production schedule, in Los Angeles, California. Once built, she was trucked 2,500 miles over the Rocky Mountains, to White’s Marina in the hamlet of New Hamburg, New York, on the east shore of the Hudson River. The sand- covered deck bore testament to the desert winds she had passed through. We were so happy to see her, the first boat my wife Sandra and I had owned together...

John Merchant begins an gloriously enjoyable account of a 22-year-old love affair with a sailboat.

The next episxde of John's adventures under sail will appear in Open Writing on July 14.

He will be back next Wednesday with his regular column which has been bringing pleasure to Open Writing readers for the past six years.

All of hos columns can be read by clicking on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit John's Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "Yorkshire Lass - Part I" »

June 23, 2010

Do I Know What I Eat?

...Somewhere deep in my psyche is a closet vegetarian waiting to get out. Fruit and vegetables constitute a large proportion of what I eat. When presented with a plate of food, invariably the first mouthful I take is from the vegetables or salad, and desert is frequently fruit. Nevertheless, I relish meat of all kinds...

John Merchant serves up a seriously tasty column.

To read the column which John refers to in the first sentence of this article, along with lots more of his entertaining and informative words, please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "Do I Know What I Eat?" »

June 16, 2010

Do You Really Want To Be There?

...Today, local TV stations in the US invest considerable amounts of money and energy to ensure that their viewers come as near to “living” the news as technology allows. So if you are of a mind, you can witness the deep distress of miner’s wives as they are told their husbands did not survive an accident, or the shocked faces of students as they file from their institution after a mass shooting...

John Merchant deplores the minute-by-minute TV coverage of news as it happens - including that being devoted to the current oil pollution crisis in the Gulf of Mexico.

Continue reading "Do You Really Want To Be There?" »

June 09, 2010

The Only Constant Is Change

...Then there are the restless volcanoes around the world, disintegrating ice caps, massive forest fires in the US and Australia, unprecedented flooding in many countries, devastating tornadoes, hurricanes and droughts. On the human level, anywhere you look there is war, starvation, oppression, genocide, terrorism, new plagues, and the resurgence of old ones like tuberculosis...

John Merchant thinks that life is now more more unpredictable than it has been for most of his years.

Thankfully the one thing that is predictable is the quality of John's writing. To enjoy more of his columns please click on
http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit John's Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "The Only Constant Is Change" »

June 02, 2010

The End Of An Era?

…Selling a boat is, for some people, including ourselves, a bittersweet experience. There is a saying amongst boating people that parting with your boat is the saddest and happiest day of your life. We have owned Yorkshire Lass for 22 years, a period of time that brackets a wealth of events, some momentous, both on the water and off…

As he heads north to spend another summer afloat John Merchant gives serious thought to concluding his days as a boat owner.

To read more of John’s fresh-as-a-sailor’s-breeze columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "The End Of An Era?" »

May 27, 2010

Do You Know What You Are Eating?

…The few farmers I have known personally are not a sentimental bunch. In response one time to my remark that I miss seeing cattle in the fields, one of them responded laconically that though I may care, the cows don’t…

John Merchant, providing disturbing facts about how Agribusiness produces what appears on our plates, asks “In the knowledge that livestock and crops are so adulterated by chemical food additives, genetic modification, pesticides, inhumane rearing and slaughtering, what is a concerned consumer to do?’’

More of John’s columns can be found at
http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "Do You Know What You Are Eating?" »

May 19, 2010

Software From The Skies

…I’m probably the only person in the world who watches the little download window until the software is safe in my computer, despite the improvements brought about by broadband Internet connections. Whilst the speed has increased dramatically, the files have become larger, and bandwidth has been absorbed by increased usage…

John Merchant confesses that closely monitoring the downloading of new software into his computer has become a compulsive habit.

For more of John’s superb columns which are compulsively readable please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "Software From The Skies" »

May 12, 2010

Don't Have A Tourist Attraction? Create One

...America, being the vast country it is, tends to engender tourism. You could travel the highways and byways for a lifetime and never have to make the same journey twice. If you’re a community seeking to boost the local economy with tourist dollars, the trick is to find a way to attract the sightseers and keep them in town...

John Merchant tells of some ofr the ideas which towns have employed to persuade travellers to tarry a while - from halls of fame to strawberry festivals.

To read more of John's sparkling columns please visit http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "Don't Have A Tourist Attraction? Create One" »

May 05, 2010

Immigration Woes

...Life in the US for immigrants has never been easy, and has proved to be the undoing of many aspirants. America loves winners, and can be a hard taskmaster to those who stumble...

John Merchant, himself a migrant, tells of the travails of some would-be American citizens.

To read more of John's columns, all possessing the rare combination of being both entertaining and informative, please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit John's Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "Immigration Woes" »

April 28, 2010

In Florida It’s Manana, Or Never

…For reasons I cannot explain, obtaining reliable help in Florida is far more difficult, in my experience, than any other state I have lived in. At the height of the real estate boom, getting anything done was impossible. Some businesses flatly refused even to accept orders…

John Merchant, tormented by devious and inept tradesmen, is now far cannier when setting on someone to carry out work around his house.

For more of John’s columns which paint a true picture of life in the USA, please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

Do visit John's Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "In Florida It’s Manana, Or Never" »

April 21, 2010

Computers, Masters Or Slaves?

…It was about that time that I started to detect a change in the attitude of computers, which seemed to become less and less friendly with each iteration of the Windows operating system. In some way they seemed to reflect more the geeky and humorless personality of their creator, Bill Gates…

Reviewing his five-decade link with computers, a frustrated John Merchant suggests that PCs are preparing us for our ultimate fate as the slaves of robots.

To read more of John’s brilliant columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit John's Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "Computers, Masters Or Slaves?" »

April 14, 2010

A Palm Tree Izza Palm Tree Izza A Palm Tree?

...When people come to live or vacation in Florida, they expect to see Palm trees, even though most varieties aren’t native to the state, any more than are Pink Flamingoes, Jacaranda trees and Poinciana. But they all go well with the Italianate and Spanish architecture so popular with designers and home builders in the southern half of the state. In truth, visually, the native flora are not especially appealing...

John Merchant points out that Palm trees have become a thriving commerical crop. The desire for Palms is spreading across America.

To read more of John's extra-special columns please click on
http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "A Palm Tree Izza Palm Tree Izza A Palm Tree?" »

April 07, 2010

A Throne By Any Other Name

...My maternal grandparents had the pull chain type, but in their case it was housed in an unlit brick cubicle across a small courtyard, side by side with three others; one for each house that shared the courtyard. The interior was lime washed regularly, supposedly for hygienic reasons. The lime may well have been efficacious, but it didn’t bother the spiders one bit.

They lived a protected life in dark seclusion, and grew to a monstrous size...

John Merchant draws our attention to an artifact we all try to ignore - the toilet.

To read more of John's ever-surprising columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "A Throne By Any Other Name" »

March 31, 2010

Married Couples Living Apart

John Merchant wonders whether the true test of the strength of a marriage comes when married couple have to live apart.

...There are pitfalls in the commuter marriage relationship of course. Mother Nature is predisposed to bring members of the opposite sex together, and doesn’t much care whether they are married or single. Therefore, being attached, but alone, does call for the exercise of some self-discipline, which is not always easy if you are lonely...

To enjoy more of John's not-to-be-missed columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "Married Couples Living Apart" »

March 24, 2010

The Royal Hotel, Scarborough

John Merchant tells of one of the most surreal experiences of his life while honeymooning at a famous Yorkshire hotel which attracted such guests as Winston Churchill and Hollywood star Charles Laughton.

Continue reading "The Royal Hotel, Scarborough" »

March 17, 2010

This Old House

...My first home in America was close to Philadelphia, probably one of the most historic cities in the Country, and I lived there through the Bicentennial celebrations in 1976. It was difficult for me to share in the wonder many citizens expressed when touring historic parts of the city at that time; 200 years was surely only yesterday in historic terms...

John Merchant, an Englishman born, had to readjust from measuring time in millenia when he settled in the USA.

Continue reading "This Old House" »

March 10, 2010

An Eye For An Eye - Well, Not Quite

...The results are quite spectacular. In the period from the first surgery to the second, I was able to compare each eye. The untreated eye saw everything through a nicotine colored film. The vision in the treated eye was clear and startlingly brighter...

John Merchant brings reassuring and encouraging news on the speed and efficacy of cataract surgery.

Continue reading "An Eye For An Eye - Well, Not Quite" »

March 03, 2010

On The One Hand, But Then...

...There is a wise old saw that says, “If a proposal seems to be too good to be true, then most likely it is.” Yet another piece of valuable advice is that, “If you want good financial counseling, pick a one-armed counselor, because if you don’t, what you will get is ‘On the one hand this, but on the other hand that.’”...

John Merchant thinks it is unlikely that anyone outside the arcane world of finance can be expected to make sense of convoluted investment proposals, genuine or otherwise.

Continue reading "On The One Hand, But Then..." »

February 24, 2010

Stoned!

...As I sanded and polished, my piece of alabaster started to glow with a pink and brown translucency, accented by a network of white veins that resembled a human nervous and vascular system.

At that point I was hooked. I couldn’t wait to get to class, and to start on my next piece...

John Merchant, whose working life was ruled by the need for expediency, finds that stone carving has radically improved hia patience and concentration.

Continue reading "Stoned!" »

February 17, 2010

A Message From Limbo

"Bureaucracy isn’t the exclusive province of government, as my wife and I found out recently,'' writes John Merchant, who recently became a non-person when his medical insurance provider switched its prescription service to another company.

To read more of John's powerful columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "A Message From Limbo" »

February 10, 2010

Love Is...

...In these days of pop music saturation, the word love has taken about its biggest beating since time began. In almost any pop song lyric, “lust” could be swapped for “love” without any danger of the song losing its meaning...

John Merchant shies away from the misuse and abuse of one of the most powerful words in the English language.

To read more of John's columns please click on
http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "Love Is..." »

February 03, 2010

Shaken But Not Stirred

...My personal event occurred at 3 am. I was in a deep sleep, but knew immediately what was happening. The shock felt as though my bed had been picked up about 3 feet and dropped, and there was an explosive bang. Adrenalin had me wide away in a nanosecond. I’d heard that the immediate safety precaution is to stand in a doorway, always supposing there is a doorway to stand in...

John Merchant relates the quiet story of his encounter with an earthquake.

To read more of John's columns do visit http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "Shaken But Not Stirred" »

January 27, 2010

Wherefore Art Thou Romeo, Or Juliet?

John Merchant says that when it comes to finding Mr. or Ms. Right it seems that the old familiar ways have been abandoned in favor of more technological methods – Facebook, MySpace etc., and online match-making web sites such as eHarmony.com.

“In my view,'' he adds "these methods are fraught with pitfalls, both calculated and otherwise.’’

Continue reading "Wherefore Art Thou Romeo, Or Juliet?" »

January 20, 2010

As The World Warms

…What I fail to understand is why such people are so opposed to limiting emissions, whether global warming is a factor or not….

John Merchant offers thoughtful and reasonable words on the world's most controversial topic.

To read more of John’s opinions on a wide variety of topics please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Continue reading "As The World Warms" »

January 13, 2010

Fade To Gray

…At my present age, I have become aware of a different kind of dying; not sudden and dramatic, and not clearly anticipated, but a gradual, an almost unnoticed, fading away…

John Merchant somberly contemplates the memory-lapse winding-down days which herald the approaching conclusion of many a human life.

Continue reading "Fade To Gray" »

January 06, 2010

The Long Arm Of The Recession

...Today, parts of the Chiquita neighborhood look like scenes from an “End of the World” movie. Foundations and half-finished houses stand just as they were when credit ran out. New, unpaved side roads are rutted and weed choked. Abandoned houses contrast starkly with well-maintained adjacent properties that the owners were able to finance. Banners that hung from the gutters to announce a model home opening, now lie draped and soiled in the overgrown shrubbery...

John Merchant paints a sombre picture of the aftermath of the real estate crash which probably began early in 2006, in Cape Coral, across the Caloosahatchee River from where he lives in Florida.

Continue reading "The Long Arm Of The Recession" »

December 30, 2009

Name This Decade

…Among some of the other packaging gotchers that get under my skin are the seductive dotted lines you see on plastic and cardboard containers. After struggling to open one, I see the dotted lines, a small arrow pointing to them, and the words “Tear here.” What a joke! After my fingers fail to make any impression, I risk my very expensive dental work, but even my teeth don’t gain me entrance…

This, and a host of other irritants, have led John Merchant to label the first ten years of the 21st Century the Gotcher Decade.

Continue reading "Name This Decade" »

December 23, 2009

Not "Only In America'' But Also...

John Merchant says it seems that global craziness has caught up with and even surpassed the US brand. However some happenings in America. resurrect astonishment. Take for instance Octomom, Balloon Boy, the Salahis...

Continue reading "Not "Only In America'' But Also..." »

December 16, 2009

To Seven Or Not To Seven

…I did as instructed, and inserted the disk.

It ran for about a minute, then froze. On the computer screen was a graphic that showed me I was still in Phase 1…

John Merchant, who is what the trade calls an “advance user’’ of new technology, installs the new Windows 7 operating system after bypassing a closed Gateway.

Continue reading "To Seven Or Not To Seven" »

December 09, 2009

Bad Economies Help Women’s Causes

…Women’s battle for equality in America now is being fought on many different fronts, and is a much more fragmented and less cohesive endeavor than in the past…

Pointing out the huge progress American women have made towards equality with men in the workplace, education and other fields, John Merchant thinks that the current economic downturn is likely to become another major catalyst for their further advancement.

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December 02, 2009

Thanksgiving - A Much-Loved Festival

...It’s pure speculation on my part, but I think the popularity of today’s Thanksgiving, which incidentally didn’t become a national vacation until the 1800’s, is in part because it has all the attributes of Christmas, without being commercial and sectarian, and takes place before the hardest of the winter weather sets in...

And this year many Americans have plenty to be thankful for, as John Merchant points out.

To read more of John's entertaining columns - a weekly feast of words - please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

Do visit John's Web site http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

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November 25, 2009

Ars Gratis Artis

...There still is a self-consciousness about the way Americans relate to art that goes back to the Country’s early days as a republic, and is especially the case since the end of the Civil War...

After sketching in the Arts scene in the USA John Merchant wans that whole generations are likely to grow up without any appreciation of the art that America has taken centuries to acquire.

To read more of John's columns, which are both enjoyable and well-informed, please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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November 18, 2009

The Mercy Of Quality

…Nowadays, signs of improved quality control are everywhere. At one time, if I purchased anything on line or by mail order I invariably kept the packing material in case I had to return it. I cannot remember the last time I had to do that…

John Merchant is pleased that manufacturers now produce goods of dependable quality.

To read more of John’s words of quality please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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November 11, 2009

Not All The Shingles Are On The Roof

...Now, superimposed on the burn of the rash, I was experiencing strange new sensations: shooting pains and other sensations that beggar description. I took these experiences to indicate either that my nerves were healing or being destroyed, and at this point I didn’t care which. Was I ever going to feel well again?..,

John Merchant goes through the profound agonies enforced upon him by a bout of shingles. Lucky are we that the pain did not diminish his writing abilities.

To read more of John's columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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November 04, 2009

The Dominion Of The Aged

…Though living longer may seem attractive superficially, the reality is generally less desirable. While much knowledge has been gained about what it takes to prolong life, little progress has been made into methods for sustaining physical and mental viability through those extended, final years…

John Merchant believes that plentiful amounts of public money should be spent to make late life less fearsome.

To read more of John’s thoughtful columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his new Web site http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

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October 28, 2009

Not Here, But There

Everything in John Merchant’s small world has a place, and there must be a place for everything.

So where is his trusty cooking fork? And is he suffering from juxtaphobia?

To read more of John’s hugely entertaining and informative columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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October 21, 2009

Guilty Until Proven Innocent!

John Merchant reports that there is a growing unease in the US about the number of wrongly charged, sentenced, and even, in some cases, wrongly executed citizens.

He now has feelings of apprehension towards the police, rather than comfort in the knowledge that they are protecting his safety and respecting his rights, and concerns about being fairly treated if, by some mischance, he fell afoul of the law.

To read more of John’s shrewd, and sometimes disturbing, reports on life today in the USA please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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October 14, 2009

Thor – Alive And Well In Florida

...The mornings around where I live, generally have clear skies early, but being as flat as Florida is, it’s not long before you see the cumulous clouds building on the horizon. By noon, they are in full sail, like magnificent galleons. Towering ships, full of energy and menace, looking from the ground as though they’re made of whipped cream, not the vapor that they are...

In prose as urgent as the weather it describes John Merchant tells of turbulent storms in Florida and England.

To read more of John's memorable columns please click on
http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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October 07, 2009

Presidential Popularity – Fleeting And Fickle

John Merchant says it is not enough for Barack Obama to do well as a President. “He has to prove every day that he’s better than any white person who competed against him for the job. In my opinion, he deserves better than the sniping that’s going on. He’s being steadfast in the face of some crucial issues, and he has immeasurably improved America’s standing in the world. Once again, I’m proud and not embarrassed to be a US citizen.’’

John observes politics and social affairs in the USA with a clear ands informative eye. To read more of his brilliant columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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September 30, 2009

The Oblivions

…Daily, I am appalled at the litter in supermarket parking lots, in the streets, in parks, major highways, beaches, and in most public places, and it’s getting worse by the year. Why is it that people think it’s OK to toss their unwanted trash, and to expect others to clean up after them?...

John Merchant is highly offended by the “oblivions’’, those mindless folk who litter America in more ways than one.

To read more of John’s penetrating insights into life in the Land of the Free please visit http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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September 23, 2009

Winging South

…After 20 years, our boat is like an old shoe; comfortable and familiar, and she talks to us. The slightest change in the way any one of the many pieces of equipment it contains sounds or looks is immediately apparent, alerting us to an incipient mal-function or need for adjustment. Changes in wind direction or strength are signaled by variations in the creaks and vibrations that make a boat seem like a living thing. With so little space, everything has it’s place, and I can put my hand on whatever I need, even in the dark…

John Merchant and his wife have as usual, spent the summer months living on their boat in Connecticut. But now Autumn is in the air, and they are heading south to their home in Florida – and a greater level of comfort.

To read more of John’s superlative columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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September 16, 2009

A Night At The Movies

…My regular movie going ended in the era of “Laurence of Arabia,” “Ryan’s Daughter and “Dr. Zhivago,” which represented, for me, the cream of the art. I had also started to watch musicals, the pinnacle of which, in my opinion, was “West Side Story,” but “Sound of Music” did me in. Not long after that saccharine overdose, I went to live in the USA, where movie going had already degenerated into today’s minimalist experience. After twice finding myself in a half empty, featureless box of an auditorium, I decided to wait for the invention of the VCR…

John Merchant recalls the heyday of cinema going in Britain.

To read more of John’s varied and invariably mind-expanding columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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September 09, 2009

The Sacrifices Of War

…In an address to army cadets in the American Civil War, General William T. Sherman said "You may think that war is all glory, but it is all hell, boys." I wonder how many military recruiters would be prepared to say that to their potential recruits…

John Merchant muses upon why people volunteer to join the military, and the sacrifices made by those who go to war.

To read more of John’s perceptive columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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September 02, 2009

Do We Have A Deal For You!

John Merchant finds himself immune to the increasingly cunning ploys of the TV advertising merchants.

To read more of John’s entertaining insights into what makes America tick please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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August 26, 2009

Those Designing Computers

…Before I knew better, I resented the fact that inexpensive goods were mostly ugly and awkward. I didn’t understand that the cost of elegant design, and its application to manufacturing, would have made the goods unaffordable. For several years I was part owner of an engineering job shop, and it was then that I became sharply aware of what was involved in the cost of design, and the conversion of the design into an object…

Computer Aided Design has made it much easier to produce elegant and affordable products, writes John Merchant.

To read more of John’s well-crafted columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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August 19, 2009

A Morning At The Gym - Almost As Good As Sailing, But Not Really

John Merchant, deterred from venturing out onto the ocean by bad weather, has been spending time in the local gym. Herewith his shrewd sociological report on the slaves to exercise which he sees while sweating and suffering.

To read more of John’s brilliant columns please visit http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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August 12, 2009

US Medical Insurance Reform - The albatross around governments’ neck

…Private health insurance is expensive in the USA, and difficult to come by, especially if you have a medical problem when you apply. For those reasons, many citizens are under insured or have no coverage at all, relying on pro bono or emergency room services. The high cost of health care has several origins: unrestricted liability claims, the over use of costly diagnostic techniques such as MRI and CAT, and the expense of hospital stays. A knee joint replacement with a 48 hour hospitalization can cost $25,000, of which the surgeon may get $5,000, and the hospital the balance.’’

John Merchant expresses forthright views on one of the hottest issues in the USA today.

To read more of John’s vigorous columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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August 05, 2009

Waiting For The Raven

Connecticut has taken a bath this summer, John Merchant reports. “Some days it torrents, others it drizzles, and then there are just the regular rainy days.’’

The frequent and prolonged downpours make living on a boat, as John does at this time of year, a daily challenge. “Any cool surface on board is a magnet for droplets of condensation, including, in my case, my glasses. Canvas awnings and covers are a nesting place for fine green algae, and it’s only a matter of time before tree moss hangs from the rigging.’’

To read more of John’s columns laced with his deliciously dry humour please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

Continue reading "Waiting For The Raven" »

July 29, 2009

When Volunteers are Called For, Respond With Caution

John Merchant says that despite the greed, duplicity and acquisitiveness that has characterized life in the past few years in America, volunteerism and charity continue to be a mainstay of society.

But John warns that once you are known for being willing, any organization you help out will ensure you’re never short of projects.

To read more of John’s thoughtful social commentaries please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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July 22, 2009

Nature -Taking Back Connecticut

...During a recent stay with friends in a Milford suburb, I heard Coyotes howling for the first time. It was a startling and spine tingling experience, and truly a sound from the wild...

John Merchant tells of the proliferating wildlife in the small state of Connecticut before making a startling prediction.

To read more of John's superb columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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July 15, 2009

Boozer, Lush, Drinker, Drunk, Toper - Pick Your Pejorative

...I like to drink, and to be with drinkers. I don’t drink to forget; I can forget without drinking, and I’m not trying to shield myself from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune – I have never been so happy in my life. No, there’s just something pleasurable about being in the company of people who share my enjoyment. Counter to that, I’m never quite comfortable with those who habitually abstain...

John Merchant delivers some sober thoughts on the use and misuse of alcohol.

To read more of John's insightful social commentaries please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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July 08, 2009

Americans Are Going To The Dogs

...What these, so-called, dog lovers really want is a plaything for themselves and their kids. Dogs are like humans in the sense that they learn bad habits much more readily than they do discipline, though being the pack animals they are, they’re happier when they know who’s boss. The owner has the responsibility for adopting the role of the Alfa pack leader, and to remember that dog is man’s best friend, not the other way around...

John Merchant takes a cool look at the growing enthusiasm for dog owning and all-things-dog in the USA.

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July 01, 2009

If God Created Dinosaurs – Why?

…What, for example, was God’s thinking when He/She came up with dinosaurs, those outlandish beasts that could only have been designed by someone in the throes of a bad LSD trip? Were they an experiment that went wrong, or simply a playful gambit? The same question could be asked about the giraffe, the duck-billed platypus, the octopus, the whale the kangaroo and the mastodon, etc. It seems to me that intelligent design should produce creations of either beauty or utility, and preferably combine the two…

With powerfully persuasive words John Merchant takes the side of evolution in the seemingly endless debate between the Creationists and the Evolutionists in the USA.

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June 24, 2009

A Plague On The House Of Merchant!

…The mantra of my wife’s family, where food is concerned, is “Wrap it and refrigerate it.” On the rare occasions when I could persuade Bertha, Sandra’s mother, to put fruit in a bowl and leave it out, the minute I turned my back she would, with great agitation, wrap each piece in paper towel and cover the bowl…

John Merchant and his wife Sandra have widely differing views on how food should be stored.

John has written many tasty columns, all of them stored in the Open Writing archive. To access them please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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June 17, 2009

A Hinterland Made For Men With A Mission

…Recently, my wife and I drove 17 miles inland from Naples, Florida to visit another man’s dream, Ave Maria University. Like Walt Disney World, the University and an associated township, are being constructed on 5000 acres of farmland, purchased in this case by a foundation of $250M, donated by Tom Monaghan, a Roman Catholic philanthropist. Mr. Monaghan is the retired founder of the Domino Pizza chain…

John Merchant is disturbed by the way that men with money and power, such as Monaghan and Walt Disney, express themselves with grand designs in Florida’s flat hinterland.

To read more of John’s perceptive columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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June 10, 2009

Do You Know Where You Are? Your GPS Does.

John Merchant has been a user of the US Global Positioning System since the 1990s, using it to navigate his sailboat.

...No more pouring over charts in failing light: no more grappling with calipers and parallel rulers in a pitching cockpit: no more struggling with mental arithmetic that I was never any good at – just turn it on, plug in a few details, and there you are, wherever you are...

To read more of John’s well-placed words please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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June 02, 2009

That Growing Feeling

...there’s something deep in my soul that longs for a ripening tomato, or the unexpected discovery of a cucumber, ready for picking...

As the Jacaranda and Hibiscus bloom, John Merchant tells of his forays into gardening.

To read more of John's perceptive insights into life in the USA, and life in general, please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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May 27, 2009

The Unreal Estate Of South West Florida

…The signs of decline are everywhere. On a recent drive through Cape Coral, evidence of the cataclysm abounds – empty storefronts, vandalized abandoned houses, and public works projects in hiatus. A wonderful civic arts center, where my wife takes classes, is in danger of being closed by the City…

Property prices have plummeted in South West Florida, up to recent times one of the fastest growing areas in the USA, as John Merchant reports in this sobering article.

To read more of John’s acute commentaries on the Amedrican scene please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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May 20, 2009

The Call Of The Wild

…No more private gym, supplied with toiletries and towels, followed by a soak in the hot tub and a swim in the palm tree shaded pool…

Columnist John Merchant will soon be heading north from his Florida home to Connecticut, and his boat the Yorkshire Lass, there to sample what nature has to offer.

John's columns are a treat for reading addicts. To enjoy more of them please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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May 13, 2009

A Fishy Business

…In the American cities where I have lived, fishmongers as I knew them are rare, and the supermarkets did not offer fresh fish until comparatively recently. Then about three or four years ago, “fresh” fish counters started to appear in some supermarkets here; I suspect in response to the blossoming fish farming industry in the US and elsewhere in the world, and to the increasing cost of meat and its negative health connotations….

The local supermarket may be more convenient, but John Merchant is willing to drive the hour it takes to Andy’s Island Seafood Market to buy fresh-caught fish.

To read more of John’s superb columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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May 06, 2009

Who Are The Torturers?

…Recently, I read an article stating that an Al Qaida prisoner, held by the US, had been subjected to water boarding 184 times! Wouldn’t you think that if the prisoner had anything to tell he would have poured out his secrets after the first, or at most the second session?...

John Merchant points out that present day torture didn’t begin or end with Abu Ghraib. 'We still have no insights into the shadowy individuals who devise and supervise the programs... Only a few members of this higher echelon have been identified, and none brought to trial.'

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April 29, 2009

It’s Just An Abstraction

John Merchant considers the way in which we stereotype people, and art – then, after presenting an example of Palinese at its best/worst, indulges himself in a bout of stereotyping.

To read more of John’s perceptive columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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April 22, 2009

In Defense Of Grease

…my mother was a superb cook, and no, not just because she was my mother. The common denominator that ran through many of the foods she prepared was grease.

Her preference was lard, but she was equally at home with beef dripping, goose grease, or bacon fat as long as the bacon wasn’t smoked; and butter of course…

Food enthusiast John Merchant readily confesses that he is a grease monkey.

To read more of John’s superb columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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April 15, 2009

America's Lost Cities

…Cleveland, Ohio, another, one time, concentration of steel and glass manufacturing, lines the south shore of Lake Erie, with the other steel manufacturing centers of Toledo and Detroit to its west. All these owe their existence to the ease with which iron ore, oil and coal could be shipped in, and products shipped out. With the exception of Pittsburgh, all are now failing and could cease to be viable in the foreseeable future. Pittsburgh lost its steel industry, but is hanging on by turning its hand to computer-based industries, thanks to the influence of Carnegie Melon University…

John Merchant is appalled that America’s “disposable’’ mind-set results not only in empty plastic coffee cups and unwanted cars being tossed away but also once-thriving cities.

To read more of John’s columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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April 08, 2009

Searching For Dr Do Little

…When I walked into the Doctor’s office, the only thing I had wrong with me, as far as I knew, was that my fight or flight response was working overtime, that is if you discount the few extra pounds. My swollen ankles come and go with the weather, and my blood pressure is fine when I’m not in a doctor’s office. By the time I left I felt ten years older…

John Merchant has been driven, yet again, to find a doctor who recognizes that there is not much wrong with him.

To read more of John’s ebullient columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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April 01, 2009

The Remains Of The Day

...It wasn’t until I was drafted to Italy during my military service that I became aware of how debilitating, typically English weather had been for me. Suddenly I was alive and energized...

In this reflective column John Merchant recollects the misery of rainy days in England and confesses to a dependency on sunlight.

To read more of John's thoughtful words please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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March 25, 2009

The Rocky Road To Art

…My entry into the quarry arts came about as the result of taking a course in clay modeling. Adjacent to the studio where I took classes is an un-walled area given over to stone carving. As I messed and fussed with the clay in the hushed atmosphere of the studio, I could hear the ring of hammers against metal and the whine of all manner of power tools wielded by the jolliest, noisiest bunch of people you’re ever likely to encounter…

John Merchant tells in enticing detail of the day he took to stone.

To read more of John’s well-crafted columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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March 18, 2009

Family - The Folks We Love To Hate

.,.Based on my own experiences, families in the US are closer; due, I believe, to their immigrant history. Typically, one family member, or perhaps a couple, came to America with the express intention of establishing a base and bringing over as many of their kin as possible….

But families are often riven by disputes over money or religion, as John Merchant reveals.

To read more of John’s keen-eyed insights into social mores in the United States please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

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March 11, 2009

Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden

…A schoolteacher was taking her first golfing lesson. "Is the word spelt p-u-t or p-u-t-t?'' she asked the instructor.

"P-u-t-t is correct,'' he replied. "Put means to place a thing where you want it. Putt merely means a vain attempt to do the same thing."…

John Merchant takes a swing at one of the most popular – and definitely the most frustrating – of all games.

For more of John’s "well-driven'' prose please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

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March 04, 2009

Around The World And Home For Tea

When John Merchant was in his twenties and thirties he longed to take extended single-handed sailing journeys.

“…My consolation for being passed over, or more accurately, never considered for these bold ventures, came from a surprising source – my computer. From the day I downloaded the amazing “Google Earth” software, the world was my oyster. In almost the blink of an eye I could cross the Atlantic, or the Pacific; or drop in on the Gobi desert or St. Peter’s Square in Rome, or sit on top of the Matterhorn without getting frostbite…’’

To read more of John’s world-spanning words please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

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February 25, 2009

Was There Life B.P.?

…In the 1967 movie “The Graduate,” a young Dustin Hoffman was offered the sound advice that if he wanted to succeed in life he should “Get into plastics.” A myriad other plastics have been developed on the heels of nylon, each with the intention of making polymers more “application specific.” In other words, recognizing that there’s no such thing as one plastic that fits all…

John Merchant tells how plastics have become as vital to our lives as food and drink.

To read more of John’s brilliant and ever-surprising columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

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February 18, 2009

As Clean As A Whistle - Make That As A Spy

...Potatoes, celery, beetroot and turnip that everyone knows are grown in the fields, don’t betray the slightest evidence, when they are on the supermarket shelves, that they were once happily buried in dirt. When was the last time you found a caterpillar in a cabbage?...

The US is accustomed to an aseptic lifestyle, but John Merchant thinks that agents whose job it is to root out information on those who would do America harm should have a little more dirt under their fingernails.

To read more of John's insightful columns please click on
http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

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February 11, 2009

What's In A Name

…I never cared for my own family name, and unlike many of the immigrants who went before me, when I became a US citizen I was given the option of changing it. At first that seemed like a wonderful opportunity, but the more I thought about it, the more difficult it became to choose a new one that I liked…

Names mean a lot to those that own them, even names which are almost unpronounceable. Guess which name star columnist John Merchant opted for when given the opportunity to choose.

To read more of John’s sparkling words please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

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February 04, 2009

When Too Much Is Never Enough

…businesses that were happily taking over the chores and tasks that other people didn’t want to do are having to reassess their prospects. Meanwhile their old clients are, however unwillingly, going back to mowing their own lawns, walking their own dogs and cleaning their own houses and pools…

Taking a cool, calm look at the current world-wide financial mess, John Merchant feels that what we are experiencing is not all bad.

Continue reading "When Too Much Is Never Enough" »

January 28, 2009

Caste In America

Before citizens of the United States of America could anoint a royalty, they had to set about building a caste system from the bottom up, says John Merchant.

And John goes on to reveal the family that many Americans now think of as their own version of “royalty’’.

For more of John's outstandingly readable columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

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January 21, 2009

My Love-Hate Affair With The Telephone

…The nearest public phone was perhaps a quarter of a mile from my home, which was an easy walk except on dark rainy nights or in the dead of winter. But too often, when I arrived at the kiosk the ‘phone was out of order, necessitating an extended walk of about a mile and a half to the next kiosk. This solution didn’t always work because my intended was living in a residential nursing school and had to stand in line to use the one ‘phone in the hallway of the dormitory…

John Merchant conducted his first serious romance via public telephones. Then the ‘phone was a passport to a married future. But nowadays John’s attitude to cell ‘phones is a long way short of enthusiastic.

Every one of John’s weekly columns is worth reading and re-reading. You can find them all by clicking on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

Continue reading "My Love-Hate Affair With The Telephone" »

January 14, 2009

Christmas Past

…There was a tree of course, and mistletoe and holly and ivy; all gathered by my parents from the woods behind our house. Newly fallen snow was a bonus. My overall sense of that time was therefore more primeval than spiritual: more to do with seeking reassurance that the sun would return to full power after the winter solstice, a concern that is buried deep in my Nordic genes….

John Merchant was enchanted by the Christmas celebrations of his boyhood – but admits that he became more and more downhearted as Christmas 2008 approached.

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January 07, 2009

The Talents That Bloom To Blush Unseen

…One day when I was sitting at the bar of an English pub eating lunch, I became aware that the man sitting next to me was filling page after page of a notebook with minute script. This went of for so long that I became intrigued enough to set good manners aside and try to read what he was writing. To my surprise it was mathematical formulae of the most complex kind; equation after equation.

By his dress and general appearance, and the toil worn condition of his hands, he was clearly not an academic, which only served to increase my curiosity….

John Merchant recalls the straightjacket placed on intellectual people by the limitations of Britain’s educational system half a century ago.

To read more of John’s thoughtful words please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

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December 31, 2008

Take A Letter Miss Smith - Please!

…About the time I entered the work force in the 1950’s, the personal, private secretary had risen to be a corner stone of commercial enterprises. If, as a manager, you qualified for one, you were considered to have “arrived.” Only senior managers and executives were granted the privilege of having their own dedicated secretary; and a privilege it was. Almost exclusively occupied by women, the job encompassed far more than pounding a typewriter and taking dictation….

John Merchant mourns the demise of the secretary in this computer-driven age.

For more of John’s brilliant (and self-typed) columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

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December 24, 2008

On The Run

…Statistics from various concerned organizations say that around one in seven American kids between the ages of 10 and 18 will run away at some point, and that there are one to three million runaway and homeless kids living on the streets in the United States…

John Merchant recalls the two occasions during his childhood when he ran away from home.

To read more of John’s insightful columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

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December 17, 2008

A Woman's Health And A Man's Concerns

In November, 2007, John Merchant received a telephone call from his forty-one-year-old daughter Kathryn who announced that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

In this wonderfully supportive and encouraging article John tells of the progress of his daughter’s treatment.

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December 10, 2008

There's A Lot To Be Said For A Little Repression

…Democracy is a fine ideology, as is free market trade. Unfortunately, their long-term, practical success depends on a citizenry who are responsible, ethical, and humanitarian, and willing to put society before self. It clearly has been demonstrated that the western world is far from qualified, in those terms, and the possibility exists that it will never be. Homo sapiens, after all this time, is still in survival mode…

John Merchant suggests that the democracy envisioned by the founding fathers of the USA is long overdue for revision.

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December 03, 2008

The Expectations Of Aging

…Like almost every other life experience, each of us has to learn for ourselves how to handle aging, and the experiences of others aren’t really helpful. William Shakespeare probably laid out the progress of aging best with his ballad, “The Seven Ages of Man,” but this was more of a simple road map and I’m more curious about the topography along the way…

Though John Merchant is now what used to be called old, he is buoyantly optimistic about his future.

To read more of John’s illuminating columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

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November 26, 2008

If You Can't Stand The Heat, Turn Off The TV

…There are dueling chefs, iron chefs, world traveling chefs, glamorous chefs, homely chefs – the inventiveness of TV producers has no bounds. The Food Network boasts an audience of 84 million viewers, and I would bet money that only a couple of thousand of them actually cook….

John Merchant steps into the American kitchen where today’s only essential appliance is a microwave oven to re-heat the take-out Chinese, the pizza or the TV dinner.

For more of John’s thoroughly palatable commentaries on the American scene please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

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November 19, 2008

It's The Little Things In Life

John Merchant brings a brief introduction to nanotechnology, a field of research spanning electronics, chemistry and medicine.

“Something in my gut tells me that nanotechnology will transcend the almost Merlinesque characteristics of contemporary drug therapies, and that the tiny dwarfs will truly be good for what ails us,’’ says John.

To read more of John's enlightening columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

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November 12, 2008

Big Boys And Their Toys

...The second communication goes something like “Good gracious me, what a grave difficulty you are enduring. You have my deepest sympathy kind sir, but please conscientiously undertake the following remedy that will blow your mind,” Egbert entreats me. Presumably Alphonzo is off shift. Egbert includes a 15 point list of steps to be taken that are “guaranteed” to solve the problem, but my confidence level sinks when I realize that the list is identical to the one I had included in my original email to describe the procedures I had already followed...

Oh the frustration when those big boys' electronic toys refuse to work as they should! John Merchant resigns himself to years and years of dealing with the Alphonzos and Egberts who man customer support services.

To read more of John's wish-I'd-written-that columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

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November 05, 2008

"Manners Maketh Man''

…Gilbert Harding, that irascible BBC TV personality of the 1960’s, defined good manners as a way of behaving that does not intrude on the pleasure of others, and that about sums it up for me…

John Merchant looks forward to a return of the age of chivalry.

For more of John’s vigorously entertaining columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

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October 29, 2008

The Language Of Love

…After more than twenty years of marriage I’m long accustomed to the idea that the call of “Honey” isn’t likely to infuse me with warm, fuzzy feelings…

Columnist nonpareil John Merchant muses on the meanings of that supposedly sweet word “honey’’.

To read more of John’s columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

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October 22, 2008

The Tabloid Presidency

…The ideological distance between each party’s devotees has never been greater, and the divisiveness engendered by this Administration has made it practically impossible to have a discussion about politics with anyone other than those who share one’s own views. This angry stand off doesn’t make for much movement of opinion…

John Merchant, a shrewd observer of the American scene, thinks that both the Democrats and the Republicans are too preoccupied with political infighting to do a good job of governing the country.

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October 15, 2008

Pinehurst

…So it was with no great expectations that I made my way for the first time to Pinehurst. No major highways pass nearby, so I found myself driving along a well maintained, but narrow country road, passing between successive fields of cotton and soy, and just occasionally tobacco. Every few miles I encountered an abandoned house, or one still lived in but clearly in need of rebuilding. Interspersed with these relics were the gaunt shells of no longer used tobacco and cotton barns…

But what John Merchant found at the end of the road was North Carolina’s best kept secret – unless you happen to be a golfer.

To read more of John’s first class columns please click on
http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

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October 08, 2008

America's Troubled Children

…The aim of many young parents is to have children without changing one iota of their own life style. In my view, dedicating ones self to the first three years of a child’s life is time well spent and later will pay dividends in better behavior…

Social commentator John Merchant is disturbed by the frenzied extremism and bad behavior displayed by all too many American children.

To read more of John’s commentaries on what is really going on in the USA today please click on
http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

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October 01, 2008

The Constancy Of Change

John Merchant is pleased with the changes he sees around him while sitting on his boat in Milford harbor, Connecticut.

John’s thoughtful columns will change the way you think about the USA. To read more of his well-reasoned words please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

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September 24, 2008

Weathering The Weather

…Tornados have flattened whole towns where nary a tornado ever appeared before. Hurricanes that hitherto mostly have avoided the Florida Gulf, in recent years don’t seem to be able to stay away…

John Merchant, assembling his words as a tropical storm toys with his pitching boat, ponders on the vagaries of the weather.

To read more of John’s breezy columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

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September 17, 2008

Watching The Birds

…It’s hard to have a favorite bird species; they are all wonderful, but I think seagulls take some beating. They’re always immaculate, and dressed to perfection. Nothing seems to faze them…

John Merchant finds it hard to imagine that gulls are intellectually incapable of enjoying their superb aerial abilities.

To read more of John’s soaring words please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

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September 10, 2008

Sailing To The Land Of The Robber Barons

…The current crop is more discrete, and hardly anyone outside their coterie of friends would know who they are, except perhaps the paparazzi. They make their fortune by less visible means than their predecessors – hedge funds, real estate investment, web dot coms, etc. The houses these tycoons are building today are slightly less grand – a mere 15 bedrooms as opposed to the 20 to 25 of their predecessors, and a fraction of the acreage, but none the less impressive. Twelve car garages and indoor skating rinks are standard fare. Many have boat houses the size of an average family home. The smell of big money still hangs in the air…

John Merchant, writing about Long Island, the home and playground of New York’s super-rich and famous, will inevitably encourage numerous “if only’’ dreams.

To read more of John’s superlative columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

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September 03, 2008

Those Gas Pump Blues

The soaring cost of gasoline has resulted in a change in driving habits in the USA, John Merchant reports.

But how long will those changes last? And what is the real reason for the huge increase in the price of gasoline?

For more of John’s thoughtful columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

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August 27, 2008

For An Immigrant, Status Is Everything

…The immigration official seemed to take an inordinate amount of time to study my passport and visa, finally telling me to step into a glass-walled booth behind him. My heart sank as I watched him consult with another official; the two of them alternately looking at my papers and a computer screen…

John Merchant sympathizes with the stresses and fears of those who leave the land of their birth to seek a permanent home in another country.

For more of John’s enriching columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

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August 20, 2008

Living With Today's Drug Culture

…Could it be drug use that accounts for the collapse of some buildings and bridges due to faulty design; a regular occurrence in the US? Is it drug influence that explains why hardly any business transaction these days is executed without a mistake? My wife spends hours every week on the phone unraveling billing and banking errors. What else could explain why airline pilots taxi onto the wrong runway, or trains meet head-on, or drivers find themselves facing oncoming traffic on the freeways?...

John Merchant says that extensive drug use in the United States is producing a culture that is mentally and physically flabby.

To read more of John’s insightful columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

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August 13, 2008

A Sense Of Place

…The two towns are so different that I cannot imagine what made the connection in my mind, but I’m glad it happened….

John Merchant sails into Port Jefferson on the north shore of Long Island, New York, and is felicitously reminded of a harbor in Wales.

For further delight read more of John’s columns by clicking on America Pie in the menu on this page.

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August 06, 2008

Starting Over - New Late-Life Partners

…All in all, I feel very fortunate to have found so much happiness, and a love beyond my greatest expectations….

John Merchant and his third wife have just celebrated their 22nd wedding anniversary. Although he himself has found great happiness John recommends caution rather than haste to those considering re-marrying.

“A late life remarriage is often bitterly divisive for both family and friends alike, and some of the wounds are never allowed to heal.’’

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July 30, 2008

Down Memory Lane - My Childhood Neighbors

…As was typical of suburban, working and middle class people of the time, social contact was confined to occasional exchanges over the garden fence, or a few pleasantries if one met a neighbor in the street or the local grocery store. It took years to assemble a comprehensive picture of the lives of any of them, and there were some surprises…

John Merchant reveals some of those surprises. One of the neighbors, whom he did not know at the time, was Monty Python cast member Michael Palin.

For more of John’s columns, all of them as enjoyable on a second reading as they were on a first, please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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July 23, 2008

The Miracle Of Electronic Navigation

…Now, boaters, motorists and even hikers have a GPS receiver with the capability to tell them where they are to within three feet, anywhere in the world!...

John Merchant, though not enamored of a lot of the technology which complicates our lives, is besotted by the miracle of the US Satellite System, and tells a salty tale which confirms its practical value.

For more of John’s bracing prose please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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July 16, 2008

My Smoking Career

...My smoking career began early in my teens. An uncle in Canada would periodically send us Canadian newspapers, and being aware of the post war exigencies and high taxes in England, he would enclose tea bags and loose cigarette tobacco. Since no one in the family knew how to roll their own, the tobacco just accumulated. For my first adventure in smoking I took one of my grandfather’s reject pipes and some of the cigarette tobacco to the local cinema. Yes, smoking was permitted - even pipes and cigars, believe it or not!...

Reformed smoker John Merchant recalls with nary a cough the days when he was in thrall to My Lady Nicotine.

To read more of John's invigorating columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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July 09, 2008

My Connecticut

…Connecticut is ranked the 48th state in terms of area, being only 110 miles long by 70 miles wide, but is crammed with diversity in that relatively small area. Timeless seafaring towns rub elbows with bustling business and manufacturing centers, and wealthy residential communities tucked in amongst well kept farms…

John Merchant presents an alluring introduction to a great small state.

To read more of John’s memorable columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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July 02, 2008

Hey Mr Tambourine Man, Don't Play A Song For Me

…I should also add that I have absolutely no credentials for writing this column. I have not listened to pop music willingly or attentively since “Chicago,” “Bread,” Carly Simon in her heyday, and “The Who” were in the charts.

So stop reading now if you choose, but know that my justification for covering the topic at all is that, like it or not, unless I’m at home, I am almost constantly bombarded with some form or other of this vacuous, dare I say it, art form…

John Merchant declares that even the finest music was never intended to be in everyone’s ear, all the time, everywhere.

For more of John’s vigorous opinions please click on American Pie in the menu pn this page.

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June 25, 2008

A Beer Is A Beer Is A Beer

…I hadn’t been in the USA very long when I had to make a trip to Milwaukee, the beer capital of America at the time, and home to such revered breweries as Miller, Schlitz and Pabst. I didn’t know the city’s reputation at the time, and wandered into a bar on my first evening, sat on a stool and asked the bartender for “a beer.” Laconic as most American bar tenders are, a look of pained surprise crossed his face. Through the clouds of cigarette smoke I saw heads turning, and wide-eyed stares of incredulity and hostility. I guess my English accent was the only reason I wasn’t taken out and burned at the stake for my crass use of the generic term…

John Merchant questions the mystique associated with the brewing and drinking of beer.

To read more of John’s columns, every one of which is guaranteed to satisfy the thirst for a good read, please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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June 18, 2008

Down Memory Lane - My Mother's Pantry

…My mother’s pantry harbored the soft, comforting smells it had absorbed in the years it had stored good cheeses and fruit, freshly made bread, hams and yeast and ginger beer, wine and milk…

John Merchant recalls the time when English homes did not have refrigerators – and the day he ate the dog’s dinner!

To read more of John’s brilliant columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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June 11, 2008

"Green'' Fever

“Environmental conservation has opened up a whole new dimension of spin and obfuscation to product marketers, who had been getting a little desperate for new ideas,’’ says John Merchant.

John believes that there is a desperate need to change our self-indulgent ways, but people need facts and a true understanding before buying into going “green’’.

To read more of John’s significant columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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June 04, 2008

Come Spring

...About mid-May we pack the Jeep with every conceivable thing we could really do without, and leave our home in toasty Florida for our boat in Connecticut. The 1,350 mile, three day drive north might seem onerous to some, but mostly we enjoy it. The roads are fast and good, some of the overnight stops are an interesting insight into very rural parts of the eastern US, and, most of all, at this time of year it’s fascinating to observe the foliage in its various stages of opening...

John Merchant and his wife migrate northwards, appreciating the wonders of an American Spring as the head for nose-numbing weather in Connecticut.

To read more of John's rewarding and satisfying columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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May 28, 2008

Alligator Blood - Good For What Ails You?

…It’s hard to find anything nice to say about ‘gators. Many people would say the only good one is a dead one. Apart from their skins, they aren’t good for much. And don’t let anyone tell you that ‘gator tastes like chicken – it don’t. A closer comparison would be chewing a pencil eraser, and just about as tasteless….

But what about alligator blood? Could it be a great cure-all?

John Merchant brings surprising news from alligator heaven – Florida.

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May 21, 2008

The American Dream - Hollywood Style?

When John Merchant left his native land to settle in America in the 1970s he was astounded to find that Hollywood movies had presented reality, rather than idealizing suburban life.

…The always-groomed, coifed and manicured “little woman,” driving her husband to the train station in the family station wagon for his daily commute into the city; the neat house on a spacious lot; two kids and a dog; church on Sunday, and back yard barbecues around a small swimming pool on weekends…

To read more of John’s entertaining columns which distil the essence of life in the USA please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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May 14, 2008

Down Memory Lane - Ecclesall Woods

…Wedged in the cleft of a branch, fifty or more feet up in one of my favorite beeches, I could forget my overcrowded and tense home life. I could see for miles, and when the leaves were on, no one could see me…

John Merchant recalls playing as a boy in woods that were said to be the refuge of the legendary Robin Hood.

For more of John’s thoughtful and entertaining columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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May 07, 2008

There Is Nothing Like A Dame - American Dame That Is

...As a result of constantly striving towards their status goals, I feel that American women have evolved into a society of chronic complainers. Their list of wrongs is headed by what they perceive as a lack of job and education opportunities. Yet ten Fortune 500 companies are currently run by women, and twenty Fortune 1000 companies. In education, women now make up nearly half of the Ph.D. recipients in the United States, and 58 percent of all undergraduates, according to the U.S. Education Department...

John Merchant ruminates on the changing expectations and demands of American women.

To read more of John's insightful columns on life in 21st Century America please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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April 30, 2008

Signs Of The Times

...The missed belt loop; failing to completely tuck your shirt tail into the back of your pants; putting on your tie over your shirt collar at the back; not zipping your fly. And the worst one of all, somehow tucking the end of the toilet roll into your clothing when in a public toilet...

Oh those tell-tale signs of growing old! Then there's the "other door'' syndrome...

Though you can ignore the date on John Merchant's birth certificate. He has the athletic mind of an extra-talented twenty-year-old, eager to grapple with the world and its puzzles.

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April 23, 2008

Like Falling Off A Log

...Most business owners I know prosper only by dint of hard work and diligence, particularly if they created their businesses from scratch. In truth there is no way to a fast fortune except if you’re a lottery winner or get a good stock investment tip...

John Merchant tells of men with the essential character and resolve to make the money roll in.

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April 16, 2008

Class, Crass, Money And Manners

...I’m embarrassed to admit that I believed if I succeeded in creating a better life for myself, the world I joined would be populated by people who valued civilized behavior, good manners and honorable standards. How stupid could I have been?...

John Merchant, reared in class-conscious England, has had his great expectations blunted in the egalitarian United States.

To read more of John's enlightening columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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April 09, 2008

War Games

…Now, in Iraq, young men in sneakers and jeans, armed with nothing more than handguns and the occasional rocket launcher, have shown that they are capable of besting the finest troops the US military can field…

John Merchant, in a powerfully argued polemic against current Western military tactics which refuse to acknowledge that conventional armies cannot successfully emulate insurgent militias, calls for different strategies to deal with 21st Century situations.

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April 02, 2008

The Scribe's Revenge

…The sad result of the declining importance attributed to writing skills in the USA, is that even supposedly well educated people have difficulty expressing themselves on paper…

John Merchant speaks up for that discounted and increasingly rare species, the writer.

To read more of John’s accomplished and entertaining words please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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March 26, 2008

Space Is At A Premium

…And what a visual disappointment the space walks are. What happened to the fictional promise of astronauts flying free, under their own power? What we are treated to in reality is the image of robot-like figures, barely recognizable as space walkers, encased in what is almost a space craft its self, fastened to a manupulating arm or a tether, gasping like old men as they perform the simplest task…

John Merchant casts a cold eye on the costs and minimal benefits of Space exploration.

To read more of John’s entertaining and enlightening columns on the American scene please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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March 19, 2008

Sticks And Stones

Sticks and stones may break bones, but words can also be profoundly hurtful, as John Merchant reveals when he casts an eye on name calling, from ancient times to the present day.

To enjoy more of John’s important and highly readable columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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March 12, 2008

The Ouzo Effect

…What fascinated me most about the scientists I have known in academia is their carefully chosen specialties. I say “carefully chosen” because the smart ones appear to select a field of study that involves either spending time in rather pleasant places, or researching phenomena that can only be described as sensuous, and sometimes both…

John Merchant considers the unusual and pleasurably mind-bending research being carried out by Dutch scientists into the “Ouzo Effect’’.

To read more of John’s words on an amazing range of topics please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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March 05, 2008

Thinking Green - Or Just Not Thinking?

Global warming is a hot topic in the United States, but the majority of consumers are taking their own sweet time to do the right thing, says John Merchant.

“What do the deniers think – that coal keeps growing in the ground; that oil is somehow replenishing its self; that trees are going to grow in a fraction of the time they do now so that they can be harvested more frequently to meet increasing demand? Do they imagine that the air pollutants will magically dissipate, and that the chemicals that leach into the rivers and lakes, or that are deposited there by industry and agriculture, will just go away?’’

To read more of John’s powerful prose please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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February 27, 2008

Down Memory Lane - The Vegetables

John Merchant recalls the pleasures, and the occasional pain, of growing vegetables.

To read John's articles on the contemporary scene in the United States please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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February 20, 2008

Learn Yourself 'Merican - Y'All

...Currently, the world is going through an unprecedented period of population movement from one country to another. Driven by economic, political, cultural or religious pressures, or a combination of all these factors, peoples are seeking peace, safety and prosperity in another land. Congruent with this upheaval is a rapidly escalating need to learn a second language. In the US, attempts to meet this need are spotty at best...

John Merchant says that many immigrants to the US learn some form of English by usage and exposure. Unfortunately, much of this exposure is to forms of English that don’t bear much resemblance to correct spelling, grammar and pronunciation.

To read more of John's columns, written with enviable linguistic command and vigour, please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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February 13, 2008

Political Awakening - Part The Second

...It was a high price to pay for my newfound interest in politics, and I wasn’t even sure that I’d be able to rouse myself at 4 am to be at the polling station on time. But on the day, there I was, still half asleep, being driven by my wife through an early morning mist to the Southern Baptist church that was loaning its facilities for the occasion. Other than two or three gas stations, the church was the only place showing any lights in the pre-dawn blackness, but as we approached, other headlights swung into the driveway, and soon a gaggle of bleary-eyed volunteers was waiting at the church door...

John Merchant volunteers his time and does his duty as a polling station worker.

His reward for a tough day on the voting front line? "My back and feet were not happy.''

Continue reading "Political Awakening - Part The Second" »

February 06, 2008

Oh Valentine, My Valentine, What Are You Eating?

...So now we send our pleas to be my Valentine to the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker et al. At the beginning of this trend I would browse the card racks, alternately fascinated and dismayed by the commercialization of this special day. Probably one of the most ludicrous examples I remember is a card that read “A Valentine’s wish for my favorite priest.” I had to wonder what the reaction might have been on the part of the unfortunate celibate who received it...

John Merchant muses on the changing customs of Valentine's Day. Is a bag of broccoli, accompanying a heart-shaped box of chocolates, a gift too far?

Continue reading "Oh Valentine, My Valentine, What Are You Eating?" »

January 30, 2008

Political Awakening - Part The First

…What scares me more is that it has taken almost eight years for many citizens to come to the same conclusion. The machinations of the Machiavellian Cheney and his front man Bush, coupled with the ominous and covert activities of the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency, have spurred many people like myself to take a more active roll in the political process.

Amazingly, and unfortunately, there is still a significant proportion of the population that can see no wrong in the way the Nation’s business has been conducted this past 8 years, but then, that was true of Germany in the 1930’s…

John Merchant, who was once apolitical or even anti-political, decides to become a Polling Station worker.

To read more of John’s vigorous and concerned columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

Continue reading "Political Awakening - Part The First" »

January 23, 2008

I Got A Horse Right Here, His Name Is Paul Revere

…That same day, my breeder friend had a horse running that was a “sure-fire winner.” I placed a small bet, not being much of a gambler, but encouraged by the knowledge that I had “inside information.” True to my friend’s confidence, the horse led through much of the race, then dropped dead just a few yards before the finish post – the story of my gambling career….

John Merchant’s “adventures’’ in the horse racing world will keep you chuckling for a week - and possibly convince you that it's best to keep your money in your pocket.

For more of John’s invigorating column please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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January 16, 2008

Strong Statutes Don't Always Good Neighbours Make

…In contemporary society, neighborliness is frequently absent, and parents are oftentimes distracted by the pace and intensity of their working and social lives. As a result, perhaps too much reliance is placed on statutes such as Megan’s Laws, and on inculcating fear into children’s minds…

Whilst not arguing against greater child protection, John Merchant thinks it is regrettable that parents are indoctrinating their children not only to be suspicious of strangers, but of any man outside their immediate family circle.

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January 09, 2008

Want To Be Virtually Surprised?

...At a time when social interaction is becoming more and more digitized through email, text messaging, online chat rooms and obsessive cell phone use, the last thing I want to forgo is parties. You know, the real parties, where after a couple of drinks you can talk total nonsense and tell lies to someone you don’t know, who you will never see again. Then again, I suppose you can do that online too...

John Merchant is a long way short of being impressed at the prospect of virtual on-line surprise parties.

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January 02, 2008

The Problems Of Uncontrolled Immigration

…America is a country of immigrants, and needs the influx to continue, but at a rate that allows for assimilation, and in a fashion that is based on legitimacy. An estimate of the illegal immigrant population in the USA in 2006 was 20 million. Of that number, 57% were from Mexico, 24% from Central America, 9% from Asia, and 10% from Europe, Canada and the rest of the world…

Immigration is a problem which affects everyone in the United States, says John Merchant – a problem which needs to be fixed.

For more of John’s straight-to-the-point words about life in the USA today please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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December 26, 2007

Fancy A Pigeon?

While standing in line at a Post Office in New York State John Merchant discovered a whole new meaning to pigeon post.

To sample more of John's enjoyable columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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December 19, 2007

A Lark From The Past

…One of my happy memories is of Christmas caroling. A group of us boys from the choir would get together two or three evenings a week, in the period immediately before Christmas, and work our way through the palpable darkness of the blacked-out neighborhood. I’m embarrassed to admit that we did it for personal gain, not for any, more noble, purpose. We concentrated on the bigger houses in the affluent parts of the parish, and were often invited inside to entertain a family gathering.

One of the boys knew the German version of Silent Night, and taught the rest of us to sing it phonetically. It didn’t strike us as ironic at the time, and none of our audiences ever complained, despite the vehemence of anti-German feeling at the time…

A faded copy of a church magazine reminds John Merchant of his days as a choir boy.

To read more of John’s invigorating columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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December 12, 2007

Breakfast With The ROMEOS

...Standard fare includes twenty different sandwiches, four or more soups, hamburgers, hot-dogs, fish dishes, omelets, pasta dishes, and every kind of salad you can think of. You can also order chops, steak, veal dishes, every kind of sausage and chicken. If you order a simple sandwich you will be quizzed as to whether you want it on white bread, rye or whole meal; toasted or un-toasted, mayonnaise or butter. You want coffee? Regular or decaff?...

John Merchant serves up a tasty column about American diners and delis - and the morning ROMEOS who patronise them.

For more of John's appetising words please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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December 05, 2007

Fresh - Is New?

The latest buzz-word in United States food marketing is “fresh.” Local supermarkets inform their customers that certain fruits and vegetables are just coming into season and advise them to look out for local brands.

"...Dutifully I started to examine every piece of fruit and bag of potatoes or carrots, looking for labels with farm names that might mention a town nearby; or even perhaps as far afield as 100 miles away,'' says John Merchant. "Well, unless you consider that California, a mere 2,700 miles away, is more local than say Chile or Taiwan, then I was out of luck. These supermarketers know not of fresh, or local..''

To read more of John's guaranteed-to-be-fresh thoughts on life in today's America please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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November 28, 2007

The Ten Thousand Folks Next Door

Each time John Merchant and his wife moved house they checked out a priority list of features they wanted to find in the new area in which they might live. These included an airport within reasonable driving distance that had flights that actually went to somewhere they might wish to go, good medical facilities, an active and robust cultural enviroment, the proximity of a large body of water and, perhaps most importantly, a significant university.

But even in an area which seems to tick all the boxes there are warts, as John reveals.

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November 21, 2007

A Night At The Symphony - Florida Style

...Our first foray into the Florida cultural scene was interesting to me on several different levels. In a part of the US where shorts and ‘T’ shirts are de rigueur for men, and for many women, it was a treat to see the ladies dressed in all their finery. Though the largest proportion of them would not see seventy again, they looked elegant and handsome in their long dresses, sparkling jewelry and beautifully coifed hair...

John Merchant enjoys an evening with Schubert and Beethoven - give or take the odd note.

For more of John's well-tuned columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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November 14, 2007

The Price Of Staying Alive - And The Problems Of Dying

"Whether they are willing to admit it or not, I suspect that the majority of American people over seventy spend a lot of time thinking about how long they are going to live, and whether their-nest egg, along with social security, will last them until the end. It’s a dilema,'' says John Merchant.

For more of John's clear-eyed commentaries on the 21st Century scene in the USA please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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November 07, 2007

The Pain Of Gain

...A recent trip to Europe reminded me that dental care, cosmetic or otherwise doesn’t have quite the same priority there as in the US. The Germans, Belgians and Dutch I observed laughed a lot, especially after a few beers. The unselfconscious, open-mouthed guffaws of my European contemporaries frequently revealed mass molar defections, and a few scattered survivors that were every shade of gray...

But the American pursuit of attractive teeth and a beautiful body involves pain, and parting with a good deal of cash, as John Merchant reveals.

For more of John's supple and healthy words please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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October 31, 2007

You Want It When?

In an age now accustomed to instant gratification John Merchant wishes he could experience longings for material things he knew he couldn't have.

Then again there are longings for things far more important than mere possessions...

For lots more thoughts from a cultured mind please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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October 24, 2007

Monetary Madness

...Now, when the higher interest rates are kicking in, the victims find themselves unable to make the increased monthly payments. This has coincided with the collapse of an over blown housing market, and the resulting drop in house prices. These homeowners then find themselves with a mortgage they cannot afford on a house that is worth considerably less than they paid for it, and that they cannot sell...

John Merchant considers the current sub-prime mortgage crisis in the USA, along with other episodes of financial madness.

For more of John's thoughtful words please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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October 17, 2007

Living On Florida Time

...“Laid back” is a phrase that is often used to describe the life style in Florida, and suggests an easy-going, benevolent atmosphere that borders on soporific. The reality is quite different in my experience...

John Merchant says that anyone who has lived elsewhere in America should allow at least twice or even four times as long in Florida for any task that they ned to have performed.

Then there's Florida road rage...

John tells you the things guide books would never dream of telling you. For nore of his choice words about life in the United States please visit American Pie in the menu on this page.

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October 10, 2007

In Search Of Identity

...My wife’s mother, who was six years old when she left Russia with her mother and two brothers, was not able to remember her place of birth except that it was near Kiev. She was approaching eighty when one day she turned away from watching television and said, “That was where I was born!” The TV was reporting the melt-down of the reactor at Chernobyl, near Kiev!...

John Merchant accompanies his wife on a search for her family identity.

For more of John's insightful columns on social trends in the USA please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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October 03, 2007

Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder - No More

...In the realm of the body beautiful, powerful commercial forces are at work persuading us that slim, long legged, blond haired, large breasted women with Barbie Doll faces are the desirable ones to procreate with. The “beautiful male” of the species is also tall, with dark eyes, beetling brows, a moody look, and abs you could scrub laundry on...

John Merchant says chemistry, medicine and technology now are much more powerful tools in attaining the standards demanded by those arbiters of the body beautiful.

For more of John's searching and sensible words please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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September 26, 2007

Cityscapes For A Modern World

"It requires only a single incident such as a burst water main or a chemical spill to bring significant sections of Manhattan to a grinding halt for hours,'' says John Merchant. "The failure of any one of hundreds of power distribution transformers can have the same effect. From time to time “band-aid” remedies like alternative side of the street parking and “bus only” lanes have been implemented, but these don’t address the root cause of the problem - too many people in too small a space.''

John says that bold decisions are needed to solve the problems of cities such as New York - then he proceeds to make a dramatic and practical proposal.

For more of John's enlightening columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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September 19, 2007

A Life On The Ocean Waves

...Summer storms are usually daytime events, but just occasionally a front will come through during the night, sending the boat into bucking bronco gyrations, defying our attempts to sleep. Anything that can rattle, will, and on one trip, we spent four days on a mooring in Watchill harbor in just such conditions. The motion was so violent that the local yacht club tender was unable to come out and get us off. After four days we felt as though we’d spent them in a cocktail shaker....

Life aboard a sail boat can be idyllic, but expect to be shaken as well as stirred, as John Merchant reveals.

For more of John's columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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September 12, 2007

Can You Hear Me Now?

...There is an urgency among cell phone owners that borders on hysteria, and it’s hard to view any group of people without seeing most of them on the phone. Who are they talking to, and why? Back in the days of pay phones, I don’t remember seeing long lines waiting to make that absolutely unavoidable, essential call...

John Merchant suspects that most cell phone calls are superficial and inconsequential.

For more of John's enlightening and enjoyable words about life today in the USA please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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September 05, 2007

The Up-State Life

...My house was one of just a half dozen that were scattered on a ridge that overlooked the Chemung river valley. The house of my nearest neighbor, whom I had not seen or heard from in the two years since I’d moved in, was perhaps 250 yards away...

John Merchant found that he was not welcomed with open arms when he went to live un up-state New York.

For more of John's enlightening words about life in the United States please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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August 29, 2007

It's The Journey That's Important - Not The Destination - Ha!

...The cruise was all that we had looked forward to; quaint towns soaked in history, majestic hills with the hatched patterns of the vineyards, good beer, and of course, castle upon castle upon castle, all set against the swirling currents of the storied river. But though the cruise was truly a dream come true, getting to and from Europe was more like a nightmare...

John Merchant experiences the extreme discomfort of flying British Airways - and he's still waiting for his luggage which was lost at Heathrow airport.

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August 22, 2007

Get Me Into Here

...On one level, I have a great deal of admiration for some of the packaging designers. I suspect their ingenuity got its start when they took up the Japanese art of origami. The things they can create from a flat piece of cardboard are mind boggling. Whenever I purchase a product packed in such a
container, the first challenge is how to get it open. The logical part of my brain says “This container, no matter how ingenious, is made from a flat piece of cardboard, and therefore all I have to do is carefully restore it to its original flatness.”

My illogical brain, the dominant part apparently, says “There is no way I can open this without destroying it.”...

John Merchant wrestles with cardboard and polyethylene.

To read more of John's well-packaged words please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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August 15, 2007

Give Us A Sign

...As with any form of visual saturation, people have reached a point where the signs of various sorts don’t penetrate their consciousness anymore. Unfortunately, this stage of inurement has been reached at a time when official traffic signs are blossoming like weeds, which is a clear indication that signs are not read...

John Merchant is offended by the plethora of signs which blight the U.S. landscape - signs which challenge the comprehensive powers of the dim witted and goad motorists into racing starts when the traffic lights change to green.

For more of John's brilliant columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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August 08, 2007

Anyone For Kayaking?

...But of all the fads and crazes, the one that is most difficult to explain is kayaking. It has been the sport with the longest gestation period, and its recent increase in popularity cannot be identified with a movie, or a personality who gained prominence in the Olympics, or anywhere else for that matter. Other than the specially constructed slalom courses that have been built in some high profile locations such as inner cities, the current population of kayakers do their thing unseen by most of the rest of the population...

John Merchant points out that 350,000 kayaks are sold annually in the USA - a mere splash in the ocean compared to the 18.2 million bicycles sold in the USA in 2006, but it is clear that the craze has reached critical mass.

For more of John's eminently readable columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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August 01, 2007

What Noise Annoys An Oyster

…In Florida, where I live in the winter, there is little escape from the auditory presence of Japanese internal combustion engine technology. On the highways, my ears are assaulted by the 4-stroke, four-cylinder, liquid-cooled, 16-valve motorcycles put out by Suzuki and Yamaha etc. One road they travel is fully 250 yards from my house, but on a quiet night you could believe they were coming right through the bedroom…

Unlike many people who suffer hearing loss as they age, John Merchant finds that his hearing appears to be getting more sensitive – a disturbing phenomenon in increasingly rowdy times.

To enjoy more of John’s ever-readable columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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July 25, 2007

So What Kind Of National Leader Do You Really, Really Want?

...The many politicians democratic countries have trusted to lead them in the past have arrived at that pinnacle by similar, though not identical routes, almost like a marathon to decide the fittest if not necessarily the ablest. Given the enormous increase over the years in the complexity of world dynamics, one wonders if the job can ever again be performed successfully by one such person....

John Merchant suggests that in the best of all worlds perhaps a cloned leader would be the ideal.

For more of John's stylish and well-argued columns please click on American Pie in the menu on his page.

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July 18, 2007

Sense Me Up Scottie - (With Apologies To The Trekkies)

...My bedroom looked out to Great Orme, and the call of the gulls would pull me out of bed at first light to climb as far up the cliff as I could, all the while being dived on by the agitated birds. The closer I got to their nesting ledges, the closer they got to parting my hair. To this day, all I have to hear is one gull call as I awake on my boat, to feel the thrill of that childhood experience...

Sounds and smells reawaken rich memories for John Merchant - and lucky are we readers that he shares them with us in this richly-evocative column.

For more of John's lively words please click on American Pie in he menu on his page.

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July 11, 2007

It's The Little Things In Life

...The push to make things smaller and smaller has not relented. Computers that once filled a good-sized room, now will fit in the palm of your hand. Mobile telephones that needed to be carried in a shoulder bag, today are almost invisible when clutched to the caller’s ear, giving the impression that the caller either has an earache or a painful tooth....

But there are anomalous and antiquated inefficiencies that linger on in the technological stampede towards miniaturisation, as John Merchant reveals.

To read lots more of John's incisive columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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July 04, 2007

Out Of The Mouths Of Babes And Sucklings

…I comb the newspapers and watch TV news until I’m dizzy, but it’s a rare day when I learn of a decision and think “right on.” OK, so it’s easy to second guess the decision makers, but even to a lay person, many judgments look wrong-headed at the outset, and play out predictably. Ehud Olmert’s decision to invade Lebanon. President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq….

John Merchant wonders whether younger people would make better, wiser decisions.

For more of John’s thoughtful columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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June 27, 2007

The Geezer Bench

...It is possible to sail alone, lots of people do: most famously Sir Francis Chichester, the redoubtable Chay Blithe, and the mysterious Bernard Moitessier, to name but a few; and not to mention the thousands of weekend, single-handed sailors. But in the end, sailing is such a specialized, almost minority interest sport, that sailors are inevitably drawn together. Only then can they converse freely in the curious verbiage of their chosen avocation. Only among fellow aficionados are their adventures and accomplishments accorded the kudos they rightly deserve...

And the place to share experiences at the sailing club of which John Merchant is a member is the Geezer Bench.

To read more of John's splendid columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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June 20, 2007

The Feminine Mystique

...In the animal world, males have been known to kill their offspring so that the female would be available for mating. That doesn’t make a lot of sense in the cold light of day, but then Mother Nature never intended us to make good sense out of sex...

John Merchant considers the role of women in society - particularly of those in Britain and the USA.

To read more of John's enlightening words please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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June 13, 2007

The American Nightmare

...Americans love their country, and want everyone else in the world to benefit from what they see as the fruits of democracy and freedom. This allows for almost unquestioning support of their government when it decides on war as a way to bring “freedom” to what it perceives as an oppressed people. “My country right or wrong” is not an idle catch phrase...

John Merchant shares the pain and bewilderment of millions of United States citizens on finding that their country has unwittingly assumed the role of the world's villain.

To read more of John's insightful columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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June 06, 2007

The Weather, Or Not

John Merchant says that at this time of year in New England, nature doesn’t stint on the entertainment.

"Many of the water birds now have young, and seem to want to stage them for everyone to see, like human parents at their daughters’ first dancing class recital.

The show might begin with a pair of geese, Momma leading, with Pa riding herd on a gaggle of goslings, exiting stage right. Moments later, entering stage left, a pair of elegant, white swans with their scruffy looking signets takes over the stage. Not to be outdone, a Mallard and his mate shepherd their young carefully through the performance. Then of course, no successful harbor performance could be put on without its chorus of immaculately costumed seagulls who contribute both grace and knock-about humor. For a dramatic finale, an Osprey hurls its self vertically from five hundred feet, wings folded, to snatch a fish from the water, hardly wetting its leg feathers.''

To read more of John's illuminating words please click on American Pie in the menu on his page.

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May 30, 2007

Global Warming - The World's Saviour?

...It is becoming clear that the whole world will feel the effects, and that none of the manifestations will be beneficial, at least the way it looks at the present time. Australia is suffering from its worst drought since 1900, along with record high temperatures; the polar ice caps are melting, and hurricanes are becoming stronger and more frequent. River deltas in low-lying countries are experiencing catastrophic flooding with loss of life, property and crops...

John Merchant wonders whether a shared "enemy'', global warming, will put an end to the internecine strife that divides so many countries today.

For more of John's thought-provoking articles please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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May 23, 2007

A Return To The Khyber Pass

John Merchant says he feels a kinship with the Afghani people, "perhaps because I share with them a feudal heritage, having grown up in England.

He respects the way they have set about restoring their society and infrastructure. "It seemed like only weeks after the Taliban were driven out that the schools were open, and for the first time in years, girls were attending. Gone were the oppressive burkas, and out came the make-up. Farmers were planting crops, and the markets were thriving in short order.''

For more of John's thoughtful words please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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May 16, 2007

The Slow Death Of Detroit

John Merchant says the American auto industry seems to be bankrupt of ideas and unwilling to seek inovation from outside. Today cars made in Detroit hold barely half of the US market.

For more of John's perceptive columns about life in the United States please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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May 09, 2007

Winding Down In La-La Land

The "snowbirds'' are flying north, after wintering in Florida. Now, for a few weeks, until they too soar off to Connecticut, John Merchant and his wife can enjoy for a few weeks the reduced congestion and the spectacular flowering trees and bushes that are just starting to bloom - the violet Jacarandas, the orange blossoms, the Frangipani, and the bright orange, Royal Poinciana trees.

Florida misses its "snowbirds'' who are so willing to volunteer their time to help others, as John reveals.

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May 02, 2007

The Mating Game

...As a schoolboy who never saw any of my female counterparts in anything other than a knee-length gym slip, white blouse and tie, and black, lace-up shoes, it’s more than a little disconcerting to see a heavily made up 17 year old in 4 inch heels, a backless dress and plunging neckline, with a skirt split to her upper thigh...

John Merchant tells if an American ritual, the junior and senior high school prom. He suggests the contemporary prom is like a modern-day version of the maypole dancing that took place at this time of year on the village greens of merrie olde England and some European countries. "Young couples would twirl and rotate until they were dizzy, helped along by copious amounts of ale and mead. The dance would end with the young men carrying the girls off to a bower in the forest for some hey nonny nonny, thus ensuring a new crop of kinder the following spring.''

For more of John's perceptive accounts of life in the USA please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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April 25, 2007

The Familiar Neighbor None Of Us Know

John Merchant writes about the neighbors we don't really know - neighbors who, occasionally, can turn out to be mass murderers or terrorists.

"Newspapers and TV pictures at the scene of such revelations generally show similar images of bewildered neighbors standing in the street, looking forlornly at the home that has recently housed such collectively evil and extreme passions. Almost irrespective of the country, the scene looks the same, and the interviews are carbon copies. 'They seemed like such nice people. We didn’t know much about them, but they always said 'hello' and never caused any trouble.''

To read more of John's illuminating columns please click on American Pie in he menu on this page.

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April 18, 2007

Take My Mother-In-Law - Please!

John Merchant says that contrary to the hoary, vaudeville and Borscht Belt one-liners from which he drew his title for this column, he had good relationships with his three mothers in law.

Each one had a very different personality, and their lives contrasted, but they shared a remarkable ability to deal with the adversity that each of them had been dealt.

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April 11, 2007

Life's Sustainer And Destroyer

"The North American continent today is characterized by the population’s gravitation to the waterside. It began as a trickle and has swelled to a flood in the past twenty years, unabated by the various natural and man-made disasters that have imperiled those who would go down to the sea and the rivers,'' says John Merchant. "Nowadays you’d have to be a multimillionaire to afford a place with a view of the ocean, a river or a lake.''

For more of John's engaging and entertaining thoughts on life in the United States please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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April 04, 2007

My Virtual Life In La-La Land

...We have a man-made, white sand beach, fringed with palm trees, and the whole scene, complete with Mediterranean style architecture, could easily be mistaken for a corner of the Italian Riviera. The several “villages” that the community is divided into all have Italian names, as do the streets; and the grand entrance is dominated by a fountain that would not disgrace Rome. Even the local shopping center is radiant with pink, amber and baby-blue stucco.

The lawns are watered and groomed, and there isn’t a weed or a bug in sight. No critters wander here, even though only a mile or so away there are signs warning of Florida Panthers. But they are on the outside, and know better than to encroach on our man-made paradise...

John Merchant tells of life in Florida's La-La Land, the fantasy communities that have sprung up to accommodate vacationers and retirees.

For more of John's thoughtful columns on life in the USA please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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March 28, 2007

Doctor, Please Do Little

...A gentleman, whose name I can’t recall, wrote a book about the psychology of medicine. In it, he stated that the problem with doctors is that they are compulsive healers. The first doctor I went to in America, after having told him that I was perfectly healthy, gave me a thorough medical exam, finally announcing triumphantly that he had found a problem. “You have a pelvic deformity,” he said with glee....

John Merchant focuses his healthy good sense on the task of choosing a new doctor or dentist in the United States.

Read more of John's invigorating columns by clicking on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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March 21, 2007

Mixed Use Communities

...Vast areas of wetlands and wilderness have been gobbled up by shopping malls, gated communities, strip development and just plain exurban sprawl. Very little land has been set aside for recreational use, and a trip to a post office or a municipal or government facility may require driving anything up to fifteen miles on congested roads...

But there is a worthy alternative to mindless exurban development in the USA, says John Merchant. The mixed use development concept - the idea of combinging commercial and business premises with private dwellings and restaurants, and placing emphasis on "walkability'' - is gaining in popularity.

Read more of John's thoughtful words by clicking on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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March 14, 2007

Vista, Oh Vista, Wherefore Art Thou?

…I left the store with a PC that could probably run a moon landing mission with breath to spare, and an LCD monitor that has a larger screen than most televisions I’ve owned. Feverishly, I hooked it up and waited with baited breath for my fist glimpse of Vista. And then there she was, promising more “wow” than probably my old heart could stand…

But there have been “tiffs’’ in John Merchant’s love affair with his new “girlfriend’’ – Microsoft’s latest computer operating system, Vista. She is so different to any other “girl’’ he has known that he simply can’t get the measure of her. “She was no pushover. Along with my new PC and monitor, I’d been talked into to buying some anti-virus software produced by Microsoft especially to protect my temptress. However, Vista was not persuaded and rejected the program.’’

To read more of John’s illuminating columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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March 07, 2007

To Blog Or Not To Blog

John Merchant has discovered that blogging seems to require a strong stomach for abusive and foul language.

"Why do these “writers” feel the need for the kind of unfettered self-expression that the rest of us find unsavory and even alarming? Is it that unspiced English is suddenly inadequate to forcefully express one’s true feelings, or is it that the inclusion of a heavy dose of expletives somehow makes the writing more persuasive?''

After pondering on the Internet equivalent of road rage John reaches a startling conclusion.

For more of his lively common-sense words please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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February 28, 2007

English As She Is Spoke - Or Not

...So given that we, as a nation, don’t attach much importance to correct, understandable English, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that we don’t insist on it for our immigrants. The belief is sometimes expressed that America will ultimately separate into several countries along ethnic lines. That California and the west coast states will become an Asian nation, Texas and Florida Hispanic, and so on. The absence of a strong, unifying, national language is one sure way to facilitate that...

John Merchant says that while the US adopts a laissez faire approach to what, in his opinion, should be the national language, the rest of the world is moving towards English as being the universal tongue for diplomacy, business, science and education.

To read more of John's well-argued and enjoyable columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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February 21, 2007

No More Bachelor Farmers

..."How am I going to meet someone when I’m working on a farm all day? I already know everybody who lives around here, which isn't that many people! Maybe I'll try online dating."...

John Merchant tells of FarmersOnly.com http://farmersonly.com/, an on-line dating agency for folk who work on the land in the wide rural reaches of the United States.

For more of John's enlightening column please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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February 14, 2007

It's All The Rage - Road Rage That Is

John Merchant reports that road rage is rife in urban areas in the USA, "Cities in Florida have their own brand, mostly related to the impatience of young people when they encounter older drivers, of which Florida has a high proportion. When these young bloods encounter what they perceive as hesitancy, or even, dare I say, “careful” driving, or spot an out-of-town registration plate, it appears to turn them into modern-day Genghis Khans.''

John's suggested cause for this antisocial behaviour points to a bleak future for affluent nations.

To read more of John's well-consider columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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February 07, 2007

Fear Of Potatoes

...My wife has a concept about metabolism that defies reason. If she eats three chocolate chip cookies one day, she believes that the half pound increase in her weight the next day is entirely attributable to the cookies. Would that weight gain or loss had such an instant and direct relationship. In the absence of such simplicity, the best course of action is surely common sense...

John Merchant, after considering the negative thoughts that many Americans have concerning food, declares "It was variety and happenstance, and not food neuroses that got us this far, against all odds. The varied diets we’ve had forced upon us through circumstance all these millennia made us strong and resistant to sickness and disease.''

For lots more thought provoking and highly entertaining words from John please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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January 31, 2007

Rest In Peace.Com

...Of all the web pages I have encountered, the one that stopped me dead in my tracks, no pun intended, was one for
my home town cemetery! More than just surprise at the actual existence of a cemetery web page, it was the heading that I found so arresting. In a wonderful example of unconscious, graveyard humor, the headline says “Welcome to Sheffield General Cemetery.”...

John Merchant's Web explorations took him on a surprise journey to unhealthier past times.

More of John's varied and invariably entertaining columns can be read by clicking on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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January 24, 2007

Hello Dolly - And Goodbye

...Ever since the first experimental atom bomb was exploded I have held the view that scientists are a lot like mischievous boys, or girls. No matter what they are told they shouldn’t do, they will use all their ingenuity and guile to do...

John Merchant is deeply disturbed at the risks involved in cloning animals.

"Once the ability to clone mammals was made public, the practice and its practitioners literally seemed to go underground,'' says John. It is estimated that there are between 500 and 600 cloned cows and 200 cloned pigs in the USA.

For more of John's thoughtful columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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January 17, 2007

The Good Patient

...The many yearnings I expressed were greeted by my parents with the standard, and after a while, anticipated response of “You’ll have to be patient and wait until the war is over.”

My first pair of long pants, a bicycle, an air rifle, a vacation by the sea, all were greeted by that same response...

A surgeon recently thanked John Merchant for being a "good'' patient - but is his patience wearing thin?

To read more of John's columns, crafted it must be said with patience and skill, please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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January 10, 2007

Succesful Democracies Need Informed Voters

In the recent US mid-term elections John Merchant was faced at a Florida polling station with a complex array of choices and decisions; so complex that the State had mailed out a “practice” ballot form with details of the candidates, and of the various constitutional amendments that required a vote.

John suggests that a case can be made out for a more parliamentary approach to government in America. "The opposers would say that such a system vests too much authority in the Executive Branch, and that there are too few checks and balances. My answer is that any system can be subverted, and the so called, “checks and balances” of the present system have not prevented Administrations past and present from riding rough-shod over rules and protocol, the war in Iraq being a case in point.''

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January 03, 2007

Mediland - Part The Last

...The remaining hours of my hospital stay were taken up mainly with the usual trivia that institutes of medicine have honed to a fine art over the years. You know, waking the patient in the middle of the night to ask if they need anything to help them sleep...

There are far more chuckles than winces in John Merchant's concluding account of an operation to replace a knee joint.

To read the three preceding articles in this series - along with many more of John's sparkling columns - please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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December 27, 2006

Mediland - Part The Third

...My deadline of 10 am passed, as did 10.30 am and 11 am. My “well scrubbed” body was rapidly acquiring the fetid characteristics that I was sure would result in septicemia if I ever I got to the operating table. When I could stand the tension no longer, I asked the lady with the clip-board for her insight. “I’ll send out my supervisor who will explain sir,” she said calmly, but evasively. I was not encouraged. What the supervisor had to tell me didn’t help either. We’re running a little behind sir, due to heavy loading in the operating theater and a shortage of rooms.”...

Things don't always run like Swiss-crafted clockwork in America's Mediland, as John Merchant explains.

To read the first two parts of John's adventures in Mediland - along with dozens of other absorbing columns about life in the USA - please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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December 20, 2006

Cooking From Memories

...I have a theory that the kitchen god eventually rewards those who persist by granting small, incremental successes, and eventually accords permission to proceed at will. Imperceptibly, as I gained experience, I actually started to enjoy cooking, and it ceased to be a chore and a source of tension. In fact I found it to be therapeutic in times of stress...

John Merchant tickles our literary taste buds by charting his journey as a cook, from indigestible disasters to tasty treats.

For lots more of John's highly palatable columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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December 13, 2006

Mediland - Part The Second

...Now, time spent in the hospital is just a brief period between the pre-op and post-op activities that take place all over town, and in your home, conducted by contractors. If medical practice continues this trend, it’s only a matter of time before the actual surgery will be done on your kitchen table!...

John Merchant, heading into hospital for a knee joint replacement, brings a wry and witty insight into the ways of modern US medicine.

Continue reading "Mediland - Part The Second" »

December 06, 2006

The Lure And The Perils Of Structure

...Increasingly in modern warfare, the military are being called upon to understand the culture of the people they are battling, and to be diplomats. Just as the War Colleges are always fighting the last war in the classroom, so the military’s post-war strategies are more aligned with World War II than contemporary conflicts. For some reason, no one in the military has cottoned on to the idea that these more recent wars are not about liberating people, and that handing out candy to conquered kids is not going to win over their parent’s hearts and minds...

John Merchant argues most persuasively that modern wars, fought for obscure and often obfuscated reasons, require the leavening of the steely eyed warrior with creative, autonomous thinkers whose task it will be to put the pieces back together after the destroyers have done their work.

For more of John's well-reasoned words please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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November 29, 2006

Do You Speak Spaghetti?

...For the sheer joy of eating, give me an Italian restaurant any day...

In this mouth-watering column John Merchant tells of eating Italian food around the world. "Probably one of the best Italian meals I’ve ever had was in Hanover, Germany!,'' says John. "My favorite Italian restaurant in America is a hole-in-the-wall kind of place in Oakland New Jersey, owned by an Egyptian chef from Cairo!''

To sample more of John's delicious columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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November 22, 2006

Your Car's Computer - What Does It Know That You Don't?

...When computers were first incorporated into cars, my spirits rose. Now I wouldn’t be paying $50 an hour to have some semi-literate “mechanic” trouble-shoot my car problems by trial and error.

“Not so fast pilgrim,” as John Wayne used to say in his Western movies. Instead of the “helper” that I now expected to work on my vehicle for only $25 per hour, guided by the on-board computer, I found that my car was being serviced by a “technician” at $75 per hour! Well, perhaps it wouldn’t be a total loss if the diagnosis was done accurately and in half the time - fat chance...

John Merchant finds that a car computer is a major promoter of irritation rather than a friendly aid to reliability.

For more of John's sparkling columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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November 15, 2006

Lest We Forget

...The children of today can never know what it was like to take a plane trip without being searched and x-rayed, and without the presence of armed security people and dogs in the airport. They can never imagine being allowed on a plane after it had left the gate, or understand why “trust” is such a redundant word today. Our children will take for granted the threat of terrorism, and having their school lockers searched for concealed weapons and explosives, and having to enter school through a metal detector...

John Merchant says that the grandparents of today's world have an added responsibility. They have to somehow convince their grandchildren that the world was not always thus. "That though bad things happened in our lives, we felt secure, and we mostly trusted each other...''

To read more of John's clear-eyed commentaries on what is going in in the world, and particularly in the United States, please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.


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November 08, 2006

How Do You Catch A Gecko?

"But the darling of all the Florida critters is the gecko. Beloved by all, it unfortunately also likes people. Back in the days when people lived in huts with thatched roofs, geckos were treasured and welcomed into the house for their bug catching talents. While ever they were resident in your thatch, nary a bug would your see. Unfortunately, nobody told the geckos that thatch went out of fashion and that the exterminator now takes care of the bugs...

"I know how to kill bugs, and how to catch mice, woodchuck, raccoons and skunks, but capturing a gecko is quite beyond my ken.''

John Merchant tells of encounters with critters in the North and South of the US fof A, and also on the other side of the big Atlantic pond.

For more choice words by John please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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November 01, 2006

Our Educated Guessers

America's political decision-makers are better educated and more informed than ever before, says John Merchant. And yet "it would seem that even deciding which side of the bed to get out of on any given day is a crap shoot for our leaders.''

As you read John's powerful column you will find yourself nodding in agreement at the conclusion of each paragraph.

To read more of John's thoughtful columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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October 25, 2006

The Great Bed Fandango

"The mattress we slept on was left over from my previous marriage, and, like the marriage, it was lumpy and uncomfortable. My present wife brought her bedding with her; most of it the wrong size of course. Each morning it was a case of having to remake the bed from scratch because the fitted sheets didn’t, and the pillow cases were either too big or too small...''

When John Merchant set out to buy a mattress and bedding he did not anticipate a dizzying journey into an arcane world of spring interiors, double coiled coils, adjustable comfort levels, this fabric that fabric, etc., etc., etc...

After reading John's effervescent wide-awake account of that commercial expedition you may decide to sleep on the floor.

Continue reading "The Great Bed Fandango" »

October 18, 2006

Are We Sanitising Ourselves To Death?

...A recent study indicated that children raised in an ultra clean home, with much hand washing, were more likely to suffer infections than children who were allowed to play freely on the floor or out in the yard...

John Merchant - who answers the question in the title of his column with a resounding YES - says that in his opinion we often increase the hazards by trying to prevent them.

John is one of those rare columnists whose articles are always thought-provoking, and his subjects never predictible. For more of his entertaining words please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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October 11, 2006

From Rags To Riches To Rags

John Merchant for many years wore the customary battle dress of the "salary man'' - well-tailored dark blue or gray suit, white shirt, well-polished Bally shoes. Now living a second life as a writer he has become 'T' shirt man. "Give me a good ‘T’ shirt, a comfortable pair of shorts, and bare feet, and I’m as happy as a clam,'' says John.

If you wish to be happier than any clam ever knew how to be do please click on American Pie in the menu on this page, there to read more of John's well-crafted words.

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October 04, 2006

Heading South

As the leaves begin to fall in Connecticut, accompanied by a nip in the morning and evening air, John Merchant and his wife join the Monarch butterflies and the "snowbirds'' - retirees - who are heading south to winter in warmer climes.

Whether he's in the north or the south John continues to produce sparkling words. To enjoy more of his columns click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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September 27, 2006

The Launderette Revisited

...If all this were not enough to bring on thoughts of “Lord Jim”, or to make me feel like a bit player in “Our Man in Havana,” the man I take to be the owner of the place seals the impression. He is normally out of sight in the dark recesses of the dry cleaning operation, and emerges only to serve a customer or to apply his safe-cracking skills to a recalcitrant washing machine. Habitually dressed in a limp, gray ‘T’ shirt and grubby shorts, unshaven, and gleaming with perspiration, he has the hunted look of a man with a dangerous secret. Peter Lorre comes to mind...

John Merchant and his wife, who are living on their boat for the summer months, are reluctantly "dragged'' back into the sinister ambience of the laundromat.

Click on American Pie in the menu on this page to read more of John's satisfying words.

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September 20, 2006

My Neighbor NOAA

...when Dr. Loosanoff first came to Milford, he was charged simply with solving the problems of Connecticut’s dying oyster industry. Over-fishing and disease had depleted the oyster beds to a point where the industry’s future was in question. It’s a testament to the effectiveness of the work he directed that Long Island Sound oysters are now a multi-million dollar undertaking, and the oysters themselves are considered to be among the best in the world. Having partaken of oysters from many locations in the USA and elsewhere, I can personally vouch for that claim...

John Merchant pays tribute to the US Government's National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, known as NOAA, which was established in 1931 in a one roomed cabin mounted on stilts on the south shore of Milford harbor.

John enlists interest and concern in the important issues of our times. To read more of his columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.


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September 13, 2006

Rain, Rain Go Away

…Overnight, the rain has not just fallen, but has been hurled onto our boat as if by a high-powered fire hose. The leaks in the hatch that I thought I’d sealed during the last break in the weather were not up to this deluge, and a steady drip, drip of cool water falls on my face like Chinese water torture…

Thanks to kind friends, John Merchant now has an utterly appealing "harbour'' in which to ride out a watery storm.

To read more of John’s watertight, well-crafted and thoroughly worthwhile words click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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September 06, 2006

"'List To Me, While I Tell You''

John Merchant and his wife are finding that as a result of aging they now need lists to guide them through productive days. "To do'' lists, "to call'' lists, Christmas card lists, shopping lists...

"The only problem with my shopping list is that I have to remember to take it with me,'' says John.

For more of John's scintillating columns click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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August 30, 2006

Nature's Bounty

...Many US states produce peaches, but the Pennsylvania Cling Peach is unquestionably the most desirable. Large and furry, and with a rich flavor that is just a little tart, the ripe fruit are so succulent that it is impossible to take a bite without juice running down one’s chin. They also make into wonderful pies, and eaten fresh, provide an incomparable desert when combined with a couple of scoops of ice cream. In August, the peaches can be found in abundance on roadside stands throughout Pennsylvania and its bordering states, displayed alongside large and intensely flavored strawberries, blueberries almost the size of grapes, cantaloupe, and many varieties of pepper and squash...

John Merchant, a passionate advocate of fresh produce, writes mouth-wateringly of North East America's summer which brings a cornucopia of nature’s bounty.

To sample more "slices'' of John's appetitisng words click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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August 23, 2006

We Must Get Together Sometime

...In the past, I have had many fascinating conversations with fellow travelers, but nowadays it is practically impossible to engage anyone in a casual discussion on a train or bus or an airplane. They are either listening to music with earphones on, or speaking on their cell phones with an ear-bud microphone, deeply absorbed in a book, or pretending to be asleep...

John Merchant, who has recently been reading that American society is becoming increasingly unsociable, finds it hard to believe that computer "chat rooms'' should be preferred to sitting around a dinner table with a few entertaining friends.

For more of John's columns, which bring perceptive and hugely entertaining accounts of contemporary life in the USA, click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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August 16, 2006

Immigration, Then And Now

"There is now a perception that it is becoming more and more difficult to enter the USA legally, and it’s a fact that the parameters have been changed, and standards made more stringent,'' says John Merchant. "But this is weighed against a mistaken belief that it was always easier in the past to come to America. In reality, the standards applied in the past several years really represented a naive attempt by the US to be more liberal and welcoming toward all-comers...''

John presents two letters from the 1920s which illustrate how difficult it was to get even a visitor's visa to he USA.

John mentions three earlier columns which he wrote about attempts made by his wife's family to come to the USA from Russia. To read these moving and inspirational articles click on American Pie in the menu on this page then scroll down to find their titles - Florence, Bertha and Joe Bell.

Continue reading "Immigration, Then And Now" »

August 09, 2006

The Propulsion Wars

"As part of my crusade to bridge the gap between power and wind, I like to take my power-boat mates for a sail,'' says John Merchant, writing with salty gusto about the irrational antagonism between power boaters and sailors.

What emerges from John's entertaining column is not so much the conflict of the propulsion wars, but the fun and delight of being out on the water.

Read more of John's entertaining words by clicking on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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August 02, 2006

Are You Who I See?

...the Chinese and Japanese both follow a business practice of always having at least two people on their side of the negotiating table, one of whom does nothing but watch the facial expressions of the other party as the negotiating points are covered. The information they garner by those observations, including such subtleties as changes in eye pupil diameter, tell them more about how the transaction is proceeding than all of the spoken words...

John Merchant, an inveterate people-watcher, grew up in a tense household. "Without realising it, I was training myself in the very valuable survival skill of reading faces and body language that eventually became a lifetime hobby.''

John's weekly columns come at you from unexpected angles, always surprising, invariably interesting. For lots more reading pleasure click on American Pie in the menu on his page.

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July 26, 2006

A Milford Evening

...As the day oozed on, it appeared that every living creature was wrapped in a lethargic pall. The ever-present ducks had retired deep into the reeds, and the swans with their signets were treading water under the shade of a bridge. Even the normally boisterous seagulls were silenced. The harbor was glassy calm, without a ripple to disturb the mirror images of moored boats, and the only sign of activity was the irrepressible crowd of children in the pool. Their shrill cries of “Marco Polo” as they played the perennial swimming pool game seemed to die on the heavy air, when on other days it would have echoed shrilly around the harbor....

John Merchant tells of the tospy-turvy weather in the USA which this summer has been making it hard to differentiate between Cape Cod and Florida. Fortunately the brow-moping day which John describes so vividly ended with the freshening breeze of a true Milford evening.

Continue reading "A Milford Evening" »

July 19, 2006

When I Die - If I Die...

...Up to age five, the only unit of time was from one meal to the next, and the hungrier I was the longer that unit became. After that, a six hour day in school was an eternity, winter lasted for ever and summer was gone in the blink of an eye. Recollecting the previous summer’s vacation was like looking back on all history...

Time flies by. Time drags its feet. John Merchant, in sanguine mood, considers the course of his own helping of time.

John's lively columns are guaranteed to stimulate and entertain. For lots more reading pleasure click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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July 12, 2006

Baute Cuisine

...Our endeavors to maintain a varied and nutritious diet also have taken us to corners of the supermarkets we’ve never visited before. We sneak furtively into the frozen and prepared meals section, after previously decrying such products and the people who habitually consume them. It feels almost what I imagine it is like buying illicit drugs...

John Merchant tells of the problems encountered when preparing meals on a modest sailboat. Despite his protestations John makes being afloat sound like the tastiest possible way to spend a summer's day.

For more of John's satisfying word feasts click on American Pie in the menu on his page.

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July 05, 2006

Harbors Of Refuge

...there is something uniquely comforting about arriving in a harbor after a day’s sail. There is the sure knowledge that helping hands are nearby if needed; hot showers, and, more often that not, a good, fish restaurant. After a fragrant bowl of hot, creamy New England clam chowder, and perhaps a steamed lobster that had been caught that very day, what better finale than to sit in the cockpit with an after–dinner drink while the lapping of the water against the hull, and the setting sun, provide the best sound and light show money can’t buy?...

John Merchant takes us sailing on Long Island Sound. Boy, oh boy! The joy of it! John's vivid and enticing words can only be bettered by actually skippering a sailboat as it meets the waves.

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June 28, 2006

William Young-Veal Thompson

John Merchant's maternal grandfather was a a steel worker who lived in what could only be described as a shanty town. He was a profoundly angry man, with ample cause to be so, directing his wrath at politicians, employers, the clergy and any other entity that he perceived to be exploiting the working classes.

Despite too much hard work in appalling conditions, and too little money he found consolations in life. "He was happiest in his small greenhouse, heated by a peat stove, where he grew the most wonderful tomatoes and carnations, and then later in the season, cabbage-sized chrysanthemums. The scent of all those fragrant, growing things, mingled with the smell of his pipe and the peat stove, still lingers in my mind. He would hum quietly to himself as he pollinated the plants with a rabbit foot tied to a garden cane, or pinched out buds so as to leave just one flower on each plant.''

John uses his considerable literary talent to commemorate a man worth knowing.

Continue reading "William Young-Veal Thompson" »

June 21, 2006

This And That

"Our conversations are littered with words and phrases that are either intended to cover up a memory laps, or an inexplicable unwillingness to give something or someone a real name. “Whatshisface,” “whosit,” “whatsit,” “thingumibob,” “gizmo,” “doodad,” “doohickey,” “widget,” “whatchamacallit;” the list goes on and on...''

John Merchant deplores the habit of using pronouns in conversation without adding a noun.

Week by week in Open Writing John demonstrates that good grammar and provocative, humorous, lively writing go hand-in-hand. For lots more pleasurable reading click on American Pie in the menu on his page.

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June 14, 2006

Make Music Not War

John Merchant tells of his enthusiasm for the tuneful Cuban musicians who played at the Buena Vista Social Club which was set in the hills behind Havana.

Following a documentary about the Club which "rediscovered'' their music - a blend that derives from jazz, African rhythms, traditional Latin American forms and even gospel, delivered with a sweet, melodic style that is never strident - the Buena Vista musicians became hugely popular in the United States, Europe and other parts of the world.

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June 07, 2006

The Coming Home

"...the US government continues to foist phony wars on the population, supported by lies and obfuscation. Even more surprising is the population’s willingness to be bamboozled. Panama, Barbados, Somalia, Bosnia, the Gulf War and now Afghanistan and Iraq. When will it end? When will we look at the death, destruction and misery of the last 100 years and conclude that there has to be another way?''

At that time of year when the United States commemorates the fallen pf past wars John Merchant considers the justification, or lack of it, for past and present conflicts.

John concludes "If we’re willing to spend billions on a war, shouldn’t we be prepared to spend as much or more on preventing one? A naïve idea? No more naïve than thinking that warfare solves problems.''

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May 31, 2006

A Burg By Any Other Name

"In my opinion, the hidden beauty of place names in America lies in the counties,'' says John Merchant. He relishes county names such as Bertie, Duplin, Catawba, Caswell, Chenango, Delaware, Sierra, Socorro, Piscataquis and Androscoggin.

Most of all though John treasures the mellow names of English villages and towns - Potter Heigham, Wroxham, Flamborough, Wintringham, Ramsbottom, Feniscowles, Bedminster, Lullsgate - names which march back through time.

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May 24, 2006

Gus

"I’d take him walking along the lanes where we lived and he’d pull and pull on the leash until I’d get fed up with it and let him loose. He’d take off so fast that in a moment he was out of sight and earshot. I’d call him until I was hoarse, and then sit and wait as the winter afternoon sun began to dip over the Chemung county hills. It gets awfully cold on winter nights up there...''

John Merchant tells the appealing story of Gus, a recalcitrant Brittany spaniel who knew who was boss in his one-dog-and-his-man relationship. One day Gus came slinking back home with a chicken. A no-longer-alive chicken. Twice more Gus returned with similar plunder. And what do you think John's neighbour, the chicken-keeper, had to say about the matter?

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May 17, 2006

The Life Of Reilly

"This is the first time in my life that I chose a location for no other reason than that I wanted to live there. In the past, where I lived and how I lived was determined mostly by the need to be near family or by where I found work... The home we have purchased is spacious and modern, with beautiful views and a daily sunset that could make you cry.''

Reflecting on his lifestyle and his new lakeside home in Florida, John Merchant concedes that he is "Living the life of Reilly''.

Read more of John's thoughtful and invariably entertaining columns by clicking on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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May 10, 2006

Chernobyl - It's Legacy And It's Message

...the radiation during the explosion at Chernobyl, and the high radiation levels obtaining today, were and are far more severe than Hiroshima. Sixteen hundred vehicles and a number of helicopters used in the sealing of the reactor are still too radioactive to remove from the compound where they are stored. The Pripyat river, which flows into the Dnieper, and thence into the Black Sea, is still giving up its radio active silt, and the fish in the river are inedible. Hiroshima is rebuilt, but the prevailing feeling is that it will never be safe to re-inhabit Chernobyl...

John Merchant reflects on the grim results of the melt-down of the nuclear reactor in the place which his wife's family left to go to the USA in the 1920s. John, who worked in conventional and nuclear power generating stations, still believes that some version of nuclear power is a logical step in dealing with the diminishment of conventional fuels.

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May 03, 2006

The Internet Miracle

"For many people, the Internet is a pair of wires or a coaxial cable that leaves their computer and goes somewhere. They probably never give a thought to how it reaches their ISP or favorite search engine. They treat the Internet like the tap they turn on to get fresh water, or the plug they insert to use the toaster, and that’s how it should be. But let’s not forget the millions of miles of fiber optic cable that have been laid around the world, or the tons of expensive servers and other equipment needed to handle Internet traffic, or the hundreds of satellites that, silently and unseen, relay our e-mails...''

John Merchant, an enthusiastic Internet user for sixteen years, reflects on the miraculous comunications system which is the couldn't-do-without-it friend and servant to millions of people world-wide.

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April 26, 2006

Amyloid Plaques And Neurofibrillary Tangles

“We’re all afraid of finishing out our days in the foggy non-world of the demented,’’ says John Merchant. Lifelong learning and mental gymnastics may fend off such a fate. Why not give your brain a brisk workout by setting up a surround-sound system?

Better still, click on American Pie in the menu on this page and read more of John’s stimulating columns.

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April 19, 2006

Meetings, Meetings, Meetings

Having attended and chaired hundreds of meetings during his working life, John Merchant thought he was done with committees. However, now that he is a condominium dweller, he attends meetings of a condo owners' management board where he encounters people who have not been used to serving on committees. "I sit in my seat and squirm, and occasionally have had to leave the room out of embarrassment,'' says John.

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April 12, 2006

Joe Bell

John Merchant paints a vivid word portrait of Joe Bell, a member of his wife's family - an irrepressible entrepeneurial man who crowded at least two lifetimes into his 80-odd years. Uncle Joe came from Russia to the USA, via Cuba, in the 1920s. He launched a number of business ventures, in one of which he copied and amassed a unique collection of rare recordings. The Bell Music Collection was eventually purchesed and archived by Syracuse University.

John has written about other remarkable members of his wife's family. Click on Amrican Pie in the menu on this page and read about Cousin Florence, Sonia and Bertha. Read also his portraits of Gary, Jimmy and Jim.

Come to think of it, why don't you read all of John's archived columns. Each one of them is a polished literary gem.

Continue reading "Joe Bell" »

April 05, 2006

We're Doomed, We're Doomed - And It's Not My Fault

...What causes me even more discomfort is that I’m made to feel as though a generous slice of the world’s ills are my fault. OK, so I am American, but the Iraq invasion wasn’t my idea. It’s the last course of action I would ever propose, and I wasn’t even consulted. And what if I do own a Jeep that gets no better than 20 US gallons per mile at best? I’ve owned it for almost ten years, and nobody told me back then that its thirst for gas would create tension and even war in the Middle East, and now I can’t afford to replace it...

In this wise, witty and profoundly disturbing article John Merchant expresses resentment at being expected to shoulder the blame for a large slice of the world's ills.

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March 29, 2006

Humour, The Fascinating Enigma

"Purveyors of humour have been analyzed in just about every way possible to determine why they are driven to amuse their audiences. I don’t remember encountering a single convincing explanation, but of one thing I am certain, about the only form of humour that transcends national, ethnic and cultural boundaries is slapstick...''

John Merchant ponders on world-wide laughter, and the use of humour to put down sub-groups in society.

To read more of John's thoughtful columns click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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March 22, 2006

A Rite Of Spring


...After one false start due to snarled rigging, the sail is up, gleaming in the now bright sunlight. Suddenly our boat is a boat again, not just a hull; as ready to go adventuring as we are. I gratefully go below to the warm and fragrant saloon. Accompanied by the song of the first Mocking Bird of the year, breakfast never tasted so good...

John Merchant's joyful article celebrating the start of a sailing season will make the most hesitant water-wary landlubber consider the possibility of rasing a headsail.

Continue reading "A Rite Of Spring" »

March 15, 2006

A Man For No Seaons

…The first time I discovered what sunlight deprivation was doing to me was when I was shipped out to northern Italy as part of my military service. When I left the train in Villach, Austria, I stepped into the brightest sunlight I’d ever experienced. The beneficial effect was immediate, and for the rest of the 18 months that I spent in Trieste, I experienced the full joy of living….

John Merchant was no lover of the pale cool-coloured climate of his native land, England. Now he lives in sun-soaked Florida, enjoying 80-degree days, while some folk in northern climes are still clearing snow from garden paths. Lucky man!

Continue reading "A Man For No Seaons" »

March 08, 2006

Have A Nice Day - Maybe

U.K visitors to the United States remark on how pleasant the waiters and waitresses are, and the store clerks, says John Merchant. The restaurant experience starts with “Hi, my name is Scott and I’ll be taking care of you today.’’ Some request during the meal will elicit the response “No problem.’’ The dining experience is completed by ‘’You have a great day!’’

But are the store clerks, waiters and waitresses sincere and genuinely attentive?

Continue reading "Have A Nice Day - Maybe" »

March 01, 2006

Cousin Florence

...She's probably one of the few tourists ever to be left at the Great Wall of China by the tour bus, and not too much later to have her bridgework repaired by a back-street dentist in Shanghai...

John Merchant tells us of Cousin Florence. a doughty lady with an unquenchable zest for life. Would that we were all lucky enough to have a Cousin Florence in our families.

John's keen eye for a character, and the quirks and vagaries of life in the USA, ensures that his columns are a reading delight. Click on American Pie in the menu on this page and explore a treasury of well-crafted words.

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February 22, 2006

Gerikinesis - The Power Of Aging

...A remarkable feature of the “reality,” of my own aging is a phenomenon I have never seen described in the context of getting old, and I’m not sure what to call it. I experience it daily, and it manifests its self when otherwise inanimate objects suddenly take on a life of their own. I’m not alone; several contemporaries I know have similar powers.

Treasured possessions leap from my hands, fly through the air, and either shatter into a thousand fragments or skittle around the room destroying everything in their path. Objects I have placed in what I considered to be safe locations will hurtle from their resting place, defying gravity, turning themselves into lethal missiles...

John Merchant, whose words spring forth from an eternally athletic mind, tells of an astonishing physical phenomenon that is now his companion in life.

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February 15, 2006

A Friend In Need

"It was during one of our, by now infrequent, sunset chats that he broke down, and between gasping sobs, revealed the mental anguish caused by his wife’s treatment of him...''

John Merchant says a sad goodbye to his friend Ted, who, at the age of sixty-three, abruptly walked out on his abusive wife after 30 years of marriage.

For more of John's insightful, compassionate and sane commentaries on the American scene click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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February 08, 2006

Writers And Drinking

...If you like a drink, or to drink, don’t you think it would be wonderful if it were possible to keep that early buzz going indefinitely; to hang on to that clarity of mind, and to tap into the resolve and freedom of thought that alcohol promises? I suppose it’s the same with all mind altering drugs. They tease their slaves with the possibility of unlimited creativity, happiness, and freedom from doubt and fear, then dump them like a lover at the end of a summer romance...

John Merchant sips a gin and tonic while reflecting on the link between alcohol and creative writing.

To read more of John's thoughtful and entertaining columns click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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February 01, 2006

Moving Experiences

...A day later I got a call from the truck driver saying my furniture was loaded and would be arriving four days before the scheduled time! My resulting, panicked call to the moving company brought the response that this couldn’t be, because the computer said my furniture was still in storage. My reaction isn’t fit for the written page. Subsequent calls from the truck driver initially confirmed that it was indeed my furniture on his truck, and that he would be delivering it a couple of days; and he later informed me that the truck had broken down in North Carolina and he had no idea when it would be fixed!...

Moving house in America can be a draining, frustrating and generally traumatic and chaotic experience, as John Merchant, writing from recent personal experience, reveals.

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January 25, 2006

Ambition

"In my early twenties I went through a heady period when I thought I could do anything and be anything I chose. That intoxicating haze lasted into my thirties, when I began to be aware that steps I had taken along the way were not leading me where I wanted to go. In retrospect, I think this was the beginning of a time of maturing, but it was also a time of self-doubt. In the years since then, the realization has dawned that we are all different when it comes to achievement...''

In this column John Merchant considers the circumstances and traits which produce a Tiger Woods, an Oprah Winfrey, a Bill Clinton.

To read more of John's columns, which tune in to the intellectual and sociological heartbeat of life in the USA, click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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January 18, 2006

The Thieves Of Pine Island

"So on Monday it might be a little smuggling, on Tuesday a drug transporting project, and on another day some plain, old fashioned thievery. The influx of retirees on Pine Island is like manna from heaven for these enterprising criminals. While most of the incomers aren’t exactly wealthy, they have more than their fair share of acquisitions to embellish their retirement, and yes, some are actually quite wealthy...'' Black Beard the pirate would be proud of the thieves who are now plying their nefarious skills on Pine Island, Florida, as John Merchant reveals.

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January 11, 2006

Where There's No Good Will, There's No Way

"... there seems to be something in the genetic make-up of people east of the Mediterranean that amounts to a death wish. Despite the efforts of governments and powerful individuals the world over to bring peace and order to the region, the best that has been achieved in any one of these troubled countries is an uneasy and fragile truce...'' In this profound and sombre article John Merchant brings new thinking to some of the world's intractable problems.

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January 04, 2006

Reduced Educational Standards - The Law Of Diminishing Returns

"It seems to me that we have entered a critical stage in regard to declining competency levels. Sooner or later there will be a reckoning. I just hope I won’t be around to see it, but I fear that I will be...''

John Merchant takes a look at America's educational standards and is disturbed by what he sees.

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December 28, 2005

Village Life - Florida Style

"By January, the whole, human dynamic of the place is in full swing. As is inevitable with any large group of people, power struggles evolve, and eventually the Alpha resident emerges from the pack. For a group of people who are ostensibly here for no other reason than to escape the northern winter and enjoy themselves, interactions can become remarkably intense..."

John Merchant paints an entertaining sociological portrait of a sunny west coast Florida village in which many of the residents are "part-timers'', temporary refugees from the freezing North

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December 21, 2005

The Cult Of Personality

John Merchant, a columnist sensitive to the pulse of American society, deplores the cult of personality, along with those newspapers and magazine which print "vapid nonsense about people who are neither worthwhile nor interesting. If it were not for the spin-doctors who turn their client’s every twitch into banner headlines, their lives would pass unnoticed by all but their closest relative.''

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December 14, 2005

Dementia Of The Ears

"Very often, what I hear on the telephone, and sometimes in conversation, is reminiscent of what we used to do with the old record albums. One of the fun things one could do with them was to play them at a faster that normal speed, producing sounds like people speaking while breathing helium gas, or a chorus of Chipmunks....'' John Merchant's witty words on the phenomenon he calls D.E. will make you chuckle - but behind the humour there's an important issue affecting millions, which is rarely, if ever, discussed.

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December 07, 2005

Quackery

...the medical profession long ago realized it could not continue to keep patients in ignorance of their maladies. If nothing else, easily accessed information has forced medical doctors to come down from their ivory tower and treat patients like intelligent human beings, So with all this, isn't it surprising that the snake-oil purveyors are as alive and well as they obviously are? In fact quckery probably never had such an enthusiastic, or profitable following...''

John Merchant thinks we humans should come out of the cave into the light of day, and stop rattling the chicken bones.

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November 30, 2005

Garry

"In Garry’s (not his real name) case, he was very fortunate to have his mother as the strong influence in his life. He was born in Harlem, at the northern end of Manhattan. In the twenties and thirties a bastion of middle class black respectability, art and music, the district subsequently degenerated into a black ghetto...'' In this positive and optimistic column John Merchant introduces us to a man who is an inspirational role model for young African American men in the USA.

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November 23, 2005

Halloween

"Nowadays, the larger toy stores literally turn over all their floor-space to Halloween costumes, masks and decorations, and the supermarkets are stocked to capacity with special Halloween “treat” candy in traditional black and orange wrappers. Video rental stores stock up on all the old horror movies, and TV programming drags out all the grizzly favorites: “Frankenstein” in all its many versions, the Rocky Horror Picture Show etc...''
John Merchant says that just like other festivals in America, Halloween is excessively commercialised.

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November 16, 2005

Waiting For Wilma

... I had the nagging feeling that this might be my first, face-to-face hurricane experience... As hurricane Wilma headed for Florida John Merchant is forced to leave his Pine Island home. John's direct and dramatic account takes you into the eye of experiencing a ferocious storm.

To read more of John's columns about contemporary life in the USA - including After The Storm, his account of hurricane Charley which devastated parts of Florida last year - type his name in the search box on this page.

Continue reading "Waiting For Wilma" »

November 09, 2005

My New Minority Status

"American demographers have managed to “minoritize” the U.S. population just about every way it can be sliced. Thus we have Ethnic Minority, Racial Minority, Religious Minority, Economic Minority, etc., etc. The result of falling into two or more minority categories, for example: “Asian, Economically Disadvantaged, Single Mother,” could amount to a fate worse than death, or a blessing in disguise...''

John Merchant expresses civilised thoughts on ethnic minority labels.

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November 02, 2005

The Company Store Is Open For Business

"Elements of the 'company store' mentality persisted until comparatively recent times, and some still linger..... A family business that I was employed by still indulged in the Christmas handout, and the annual summer picnic, benevolently watched over by the company president and his wife. It seems that the robber barons who replaced the feudal barons just can’t get by simply employing people, they want to own them....''

In this thoughtful social commentary John Merchant, deploring paternalism, asks "Whatever happened to the idea of running an ethical operation, and providing good or even generous salaries so people could take care of their own dry cleaning, elder care and homeowners insurance? ''

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October 28, 2005

Looking For Salvation? Try Route 17

"The dusty little towns and hamlets you pass through seem almost abandoned on a weekday. The older clapboard houses have sagging porches, peeling white paint and rusty tin roofs...'' John Merchant takes us driving along Florida's Route 17, through places such as Nocatee and Zolfo. which never feature in those glossy holiday brochures.

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October 19, 2005

Higher Education - It's A Business?

"Somewhere in all this is the almost forgotten responsibility to ensure the very best education for the students, some of whom are paying annual tuition fees that poor people would be happy to have as their yearly family income...'' In this perceptive columnJohn Merchant highlights the conflicting demands placed upon college and university presidents in the USA.

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October 12, 2005

Doctor Then - Doctor Now

"I never minded a visit to his surgery. There were the tantalizingly mysterious smells emanating from his pharmacy, and copies of the glossy society magazine, the London Illustrated News, to read, from which I derived ideas above my station. By the time I was 8 years old I knew all about the polo crowd, and what an Aston Martin or Bentley sports car looked like, and how to dress for the Ascot races...'' With a healthy, vigorous and entertaining application of words, John Merchant compares doctors then and now.

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October 05, 2005

The Expiditious Making Of America

Unfettered entrepreneurialism, greed, and the desire to be free have all played a leading role in the making of America. But John Merchant suggests that expediency has been the prime lubricant of that mighty national machine.

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September 28, 2005

In The Beginning - What?

"In the last 12 months I have gone through two bouts of knee surgery, one major, the other less so, and the experience has taught me a lot about knees. I have X Rays, MRI’s and even photographs of the inside of my left knee, taken by a miraculous, intelligently designed micro camera. Let me say that if I had been the boss of the “intelligent” designer who was responsible for knees, I would have fired him – or her. You never saw such a Rube Goldberg contraption...''
In this well-argued article John Merchant, shunning both the Evolutionist and Creationist camps, suggests that mutation caused by irradiation has played a part in the development of the world and its inhabitants.

Continue reading "In The Beginning - What?" »

September 21, 2005

Sonia

When Sonia fled as a child from the Russian pogroms with her mother and two older brothers she could not have imagined the family tragedies and disasters that lay in wait in the forthcoming years. She survived them all, and lives on today at the age of 93.

John Merchant's wonderful and moving account of the troubled life of his wife's aunt Sonia encapsulates the indomitable fortitude and optimism that built the greatest nation.

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September 14, 2005

This Is The BBC Noos?

"...when it comes to delivering complex facts about happenings all over the world, in places with strange sounding names, you can't beat standard, unaccented English,'' declares JOHN MERCHANT as he deplores some of the stronger regional accents now heard regularly on the BBC World Service.

* *

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September 07, 2005

Stars In My Eyes

On a pristine summer morning, only half awake, John Merchant was contentedly drinking a cup of coffee when he saw his first Stars. Not in the sky. Not on a scrren or stage. These Stars had sails...

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August 31, 2005

What's In A Word?

"Words swim around in my head like tunes that won't go away...'' John Merchant tells of his zest for words. That zest, accompanied by a lively and inquiring mind, results in consistently enjoyable commentaries on life in the United States. For lots of good reading click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

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August 24, 2005

Music, Music, Music

"Over the centuries that classical music composers have been applying their genius to human expression, they have portrayed every emotion and experieince...'' In this well-tuned column John Merchant hears music in the Earth, the oceans, and the deepest reaches of space.

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August 17, 2005

You Say Frigid, I Say Torrid

John Merchant wonders why anyone would choose to spend time in Antarctica, with its ice, snow and long dark winters. With a shiver at the very thought of doing so, John declares "I become depressed if I don't get enough hours of sunshine.''

For more tasty slices of John's take on life in the US of A, dig into his archived columns. Click on American Pie in the menu on the right-hand side of this page.

Continue reading "You Say Frigid, I Say Torrid" »

August 10, 2005

The Card File In My Head

"The American continent is pitifully short of history, and I think I would be rendering a service if I could remedy the situation in some small way...'' John Merchant wishes he was a forensic anthroplogist, investigating and discovering how the American continent became populated.

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August 03, 2005

Computer As She Is Spoke

"The world of computer technology has always been arcane,'' says John Merchant. "That was fine when the only people who had to deal with it were the 'techies'. But nowadays, computers in all their various forms pervade our lives...''

John puts forward a suggestion that could make a fortune for some smart software developer.

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July 27, 2005

Hoarders And Chuckers

Are you are hoarder or a chucker-outer? You will chuckle mightily as you read John Merchant's deliberations on this weighty question - and while chuckling and laughing out loud some of you will inevitably, and perhaps guiltily, be analysing your own habits.

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July 20, 2005

Carcinagins, Poisons And Hazards

John Merchant wonders whether some of the standards and limits set by the US safety watchdog institutions aren't a little overzealous.

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July 13, 2005

All Dressed Up And Nowhere To Go

John Merchant remembers the days when men of all classes wore hats - and deplores today's ubiquitous baseball cap, T shirt and jeans dressing-down style.

Continue reading "All Dressed Up And Nowhere To Go" »

July 06, 2005

Warehousing Old Folk

"Being surrounded by one's fellow 'twilighters' is too much like being forced to look into a hundred mirrors every day...'' John Merchant turns a bleak eye on care homes. "Surely there is a better way,'' says John, deploring the fact that America, like most western cultures, does not treasure its elderly.

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June 29, 2005

The Incredible Shrinking Boat

Size really matters when it comes to owning a boat, as John Merchant reveals in this entertaining column. So, if you want to do your self respect a power of good, get yourself a fifty foot sailing vessel.

Continue reading "The Incredible Shrinking Boat" »

June 22, 2005

The Descent Of Man

John Merchant thinks that modern mankind reached its apogee in Victorian times - and now we're on the downward path.

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June 15, 2005

Silicon Voices - Heard From Your Blender Lately?

John Merchant suggests that the ever-decreasing size of microcomputer chips may one day bring talking electric razors, lawnmowers, food blenders, stoves, washers, dryers...

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June 08, 2005

'Til Life Do Us Part

Why would people who have held together through thick and thin for years decide that a life alone would be preferable? John Merchant writes about a growing trend for late life divorce in the United States.

For more of John's astute and fascinating columns on life in 21st Century America click on American Pie in the Open Writing menu.

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June 01, 2005

Real Estate, Thy Name Is Euphemia

At a time when creative writing is on the decline, the people who write property descriptions in the United States are producing some of their most soaring prose, says John Merchant.

Read more of John's insightful columns on life in the USA by clicking on American Pie in the menu on the right-hand side of this page.

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May 25, 2005

And Justice For All

John Merchant reveals that jury service in the United States is often a summons to boredom..

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May 18, 2005

Magnum

Did you know that greyhounds often sleep with their eyes open? John Merchant serves up a feast of information about the only breed of dog which is mentioned in the Bible.

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May 11, 2005

"Why Ask If Shad Do it, Waiter Bring Me Shad Roe.''

Smear your shad roe with anchovy butter, then serve with scrambled egg and cooked, sliced tomato... John Merchant serves up a tasty treat of a column.

Continue reading ""Why Ask If Shad Do it, Waiter Bring Me Shad Roe.''" »

April 27, 2005

1984 And All That

In this powerful and well-argued column John Merchant suggests that George Orwell's visionary novel "1984'', which introduced us to Big Brother, still contains a warning to the United States and Britain. Fear gradually erodes democratic institutions, and the foundations of fear have been put in place in America and Britain.

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April 20, 2005

Good Old - Bad Old?

Coots, geezers, old codgers... Those older men who are labelled with derogatory names still have a great deal to give to society, says John Merchant.

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April 13, 2005

New York State's Finger Lakes

"...The lakes are set in hilly farm country, and the approach to some of them by road is full of surprises for first time visitors because the lakes are hidden by the hills and surrounding woods...'' John Merchant describes one of the most beautiful and dramatic regions of the USA - a region to astonish the multitude who think of New York as a city, forgetting that it is a huge, spectacular State.

Continue reading "New York State's Finger Lakes" »

April 06, 2005

Jimmy

In this wonderful tribute to a wonderful man John Merchant writes of his friend Jimmy, a surgeon, and a memorably generous and humanitarian person.

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March 30, 2005

Just Don't Bug Me

Most Americans prefer not to be overweight, yet obesity has been on the rise for at least a couple of generations. Everyone knows the causes: too many calories and too little exercise, but few people actually do anything about it. John Merchant writes of the contradictions in a nation obsessed with health issues and desperately afraid of germs.

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March 23, 2005

There Are Triffids In My Garden

John Merchant has strange plants growing in his garden. "I hesitate to call them weeds in case they can hear me! I have lived in this house for seveneen years, and every two or three years a new batch appears that I haven't seen before in my life...''

Continue reading "There Are Triffids In My Garden" »

March 16, 2005

On A Bicycle Made For - 2.6?

In the USA the bicycle has grown into the fad to end all fads, says John Merchant. There are now 100,000,000 bicycles in the country - which equates to 2.6 persons per bike!

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March 09, 2005

My Backyard Nature Preserve

Imagine John Merchant's surprise when one late winter afternoon he saw a herd of 25 deer threading their way through his property. A Red Tailed hawk screams overhead, and a Bald Eagle comes flying proudly up the Hudson valley.

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March 02, 2005

The Cloning Of Catherine

"...if cloning humans becomes commonplace, as I suspect it will, there will be many parents who will live with some weighty decisions as the years go by. And I'm not sure that they will be equipped, philosophially or intellectually, to deal with them.'' John Merchant considers one of the weightiest moral issues facing humankind.

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February 23, 2005

Jim

"You would know it just by looking at him. The weather-beaten face, the piercing eyes, the lean build and the gnarled hands..." John Merchant pays splendid tribute to an authentic old salt - Jim Taggart.

John, himself a sailing man, leads you to taste salt spray on your lips, to hear the crack of a sail and feel the breeze ruffling your hair as you beat your way down to Bermuda.

Continue reading "Jim" »

February 16, 2005

The Birds - Too Much Science

"I would estimate that anything up to a thousand birds pass through my field of vision on a good evening. When they occasionally approachover the roof of my house, there are so many that I hear the rush of their wings seconds before they sweep into view..,'' John Merchant sits on his verandah in Florida, chats to a neighbour and watches one of the best free shows on Earth.

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February 09, 2005

The Hospital Survival Game

A recent stay in hospital has prompted John Merchant to come up with an idea for a new reality TV game show. John writes with great good humour - but the issues he raises are deadly serious.

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February 02, 2005

If You Go Down In The Woods Today

If you go down in the North American woods today you may meet something significantly less cuddly than a teddy bear. "It seems to me there's something wrong with an animal design that pairs a tiny brain with a body that is way too large and powerful for berry eating and salmon munching,'' says John Merchant of the Black bear.

(Due to my mistake the American Pie column did not appear on last Wednesday's front page. Read a new column from John every Wednesday - and click on American Pie on the right-hand side of this page to delve into an archive of his previous columns. Editor, Open Writing)

Continue reading "If You Go Down In The Woods Today" »

January 19, 2005

Oh Busy Band Of Pigrims

John Merchant has been forced to unlearn most of the "history'' that he was taught at an English grammar school. The dates of historical events were, of course, incontrovertible, but the flesh on the bones of the chronology was sadly misleading, or lacking.


Continue reading "Oh Busy Band Of Pigrims" »

January 12, 2005

Dent's Folly

In 1977, airline pilot, collector and millionaire American,Charles Dent, discovered that the drawings Leonardo da Vinci made for Il Cavallo in 1482 still existed. He became determined to bring the sculpture to reality and to present it to the Italian city of Milan...

John Merchant tells the story of how a 24ft high sculpture of a horse was cast in bronze in New York State.

(If a BBC TV documentary producer is in search of a subject, look no further than John's account of Dent's Folly - Editor, Open Writing).

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January 05, 2005

After The Storm

"Looking out from my bedroom window one morning I realised that my views were more sweeping than before...'' John Merchant returns to his winter home on Pine Island, Florida, for the first time since hurricane Charley blasted its way through in August and finds a changed landscape.

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December 29, 2004

Christmas In Florida

When John Merchant began to spend his winters in Florida he had to redesign his Christmas Day celebrations. Turkey, vegetables and stuffing, followed by plum pudding, didn't really resonate in 24 degrees Celsius weather - so why not Middle Eastern food? After all, Christmas started there, didn't it?

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December 22, 2004

The Wild, Wild East

"Come hunting season, the liberal gun and hunting laws license every crazy hillbilly, high school dropout, urban cowboy and red-neck to head for the woods, hell bent on shooting something.'' John Merchant explains why he quit hunting after settling in the United States.

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December 15, 2004

Bertha

John Merchant tells us of his mother-in-law, Bertha, who fled from Russia at the time of the Revolution. Bertha's story is far more astonishing than mere fiction.

Continue reading "Bertha" »

December 08, 2004

The Leg And I

When the anaesthetic wore off after John Merchant had had a knee-joint replaced his previously quiescent leg started yelling "Not fair'', over and over again. Soon the leg became The Leg, an appendage with a mind of its own...

Continue reading "The Leg And I" »

December 01, 2004

Snowbirds

John Merchant tells of the annual North American migration of the snowbirds. These birds don't have wings. They drive white Cadillacs, Lincolns, recreational vehicles...

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November 24, 2004

What Kind Of Joint Is This Anyway?

If you are squaring up to the possibility of having a hip or knee join replaced, John Merchant has some sound advice for you. John writes from experience. His right knee joint is now a high-tech assemblage of titanium and plastics, all held together with super-glue.

Continue reading "What Kind Of Joint Is This Anyway?" »

November 17, 2004

My Roosevelt Years

The friendship shown to Great Britain by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a ray of sunshine during the dark days of World War Two, says John Merchant. John lives just a few miles away from Springwood, the relatively modest home of America's only four-term President.

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November 10, 2004

Pain

John Merchant tries to externalise the way he is feeling after a recent knee-joint replacement by writing about the illogicality of pain.

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November 03, 2004

The Cormorant Wars

To the boat owner a cormorant is a foul, destructive, pea-brained, digusting critter, says John Merchant. And that's leaving out the expletives!

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October 27, 2004

Of Mice And Men (with apologies to John Steinbeck)

Gene research may one day improve the endurance of marathon runners, says John Merchant - but imagine its effect on an already hyperactive Siamese cat!

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October 20, 2004

An Apple For The Teacher

If there was ever a time to recognise and appreciate the vital role teachers play in the development of an American child, it is now, says John Merchant. And the most deserving of all are inner city educators.

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October 13, 2004

Grab-Ass Gardening

The English country garden is never likely to be challenged by its American cousin, says John Merchant in this humorous insight into gardening USofA-style. The North American gardener has to wage all-out war on bugs, beetles, slugs, critters and the weather.

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October 06, 2004

Guns

"Democracy, otherwise known as the right of irresponsible people to do whatever the hell they please within the law, relies heavily on its success on the maturity, good sense and good will of the indiviudal, to succeed. I find little evidence that the majority of the citizenry of America and other western cultures comes even close to being able or willing to deal with this reponsibility.'' John Merchant writes of the grim illogicality of America's gun laws.

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September 29, 2004

Thursday Night Races

In those Long Island Sound yacht clubs row upon row of nautical beauties tug impatiently on their dock lines, like horses in the starting gate, anticipating the jockey's whip, and not a jockey in sight. But come Thursday evening... John Merchant introduces us to the flavour and excitement of the yacht racers' world.

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September 22, 2004

Spin The Bad Guys

In his most controversial column so far for Open Writing John Merchant suggests that Al-Qaida is in need of the services of a good PR. Is John serious, or is he using black humour to shake up your thoughts? Let him know what you think.

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September 15, 2004

To Market, To Market

"Periodically, I have thought that product marketing has gone as far as it could or should,'' writes John Merchant, "but there seems to be no end to the techniques and devices marketers will use, and I'm sick of it!''

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September 08, 2004

Men Are From Mars - Women Too

In this thoughtful column John Merchant, who is now a home-worker, argues persuasively that social behaviour is not dependent on one's sex, but on occupation and life-style.

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September 01, 2004

The Elephant In The Corner

"It got so bad that if we did anything to cause a draught the dust bunnies would roll across the floor like tumbleweed in an old western movie...'' Brace yourself for laughter as you read how John Merchant employed an Albanian lady to resolve a domestic cleaning crisis - then squared up to an insoluble language problem.

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August 25, 2004

Virtual Business Can Be Too Real - Actually

We are still basically a tribal species, says John Merchant as he ponders the down-side of home working. "In this virtual business world we're reduced to a tribe of one, but that hasn't eliminated the need for power, influence and domination over other tribes.''

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August 18, 2004

Only In America?

There was a time when British folk thought that some of the crazy things which happen in America could never happen in the UK. John Merchant suggests that the "craziness gap'' between the two countries has narrowed.

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August 11, 2004

Long Island Sound - Or Is It?

In this vivid word portrait of Lond Island Sound John Merchant recalls the days when it was customary for the likes of Vanderbilt, Guggenheim, Chrysler and Woolworth to commute back to the City on a Monday morning in their private, chauffeured boats, getting into their city clothes and having breakfast on the way,

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August 04, 2004

Catalogues - Jewels Among The Junk

We are delighted to welcome a new columnist, John Merchant, who will regularly be taking a wry look at contemporary American life. In his first slice of American Pie John muses on the amazing goods on offer in the catalogues which arrive in the daily shower of junk mail.

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