Monthly Archives: November, 2013

Reflections on Sandy II: Fables of The Reconstruction

Sandy Castle

Photo by Samm Bury

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, Sandy Castle, a living monument to the indomitability of spirit of my runtish home state of New Jersey.

I’m a little late with posting this, given that we marked Hurricane Sandy’s one year anniversary a couple weeks ago. I posted then about the devastation that I bore witness to when I visited my cousin over the summer. The tone, overall, was somber and reverential, which was right and appropriate.

But there are and have been some amazing efforts made by Jerseyans to rebuild a vibrant area. Sandy Castle is one that I have seen developing since Spring, when Ed Jarrett, Guiness record holding sand sculptor got in touch with his friend, Jersey resident Alan Fumo, and decided to try to break his own record for the world’s tallest sandcastle, all proceeds going to Hometown Heroes, a group providing aid to those who suffered and continue to suffer in the recovery from the storm.

The local communities around the area of Point Pleasant really got behind the effort. And with a symbol so iconically evocative of childhood memories of the Jersey shore, sitting sandy toed and smiling by ends of the waves, building great edifices with turrets and spires and great big windows to the imagination, who couldn’t get behind the Sandy Castle project?

Jarrett pooled his “labor” from local district schools, with whole crews of children sweating it out in the sun (with regular air-conditioned breaks of course), dedicated to raising up the world’s tallest sand castle. Two of those laboring volunteers were second cousins of mine, Ian and Sean, who we had the privilege of having as our guides to Sandy Castle when we visited in August.


Sandy Castle: The Prototype

We saw Sandy Castle on our annual summer pilgrimage to the homeland, recollections of which often feature on this blog. After my cousin took us on a drive through the barrier island route, on which I bore witness to the destruction wrought by the terrible force that was Sandy, it restored my faith to take an old times’ sake walk on the boardwalk and to see this tribute to community spirit in a very much reconstructed and revived Point Pleasant Beach.

I know, I have often waxed lyrical about a misty eyed childhood spent loitering in places like Lucky Leo’s arcade wildly chucking skeeballs towards a target in hopes of winning tickets that would lead to brightly colored tat; or traversing the circuit of the old Waterworks theme park, down waterslides, floating endlessly in inner tubes on the lazy river, back up a slippery ladder I would pull my prepubescent self and back down the waterslides to start the whole perpetual cycle of waterlogged joy. But that’s because there are parts of Jersey that do hold that magic, that aura, are the seat of many a nostalgic treasure.

So it was gladdening to take my own son, with his older cousins, to this seat of nostalgia and to share with him, like the passing of a generational torch, the glories of the boardwalk. Not sure at first how he would react, being six, up past his bedtime, and not often on even mild roller coaster, we set him loose with his tickets to ride, his older cousins, and fun and merriment all around. Alighting from an airplane themed ride that swung him round at a gentle pace and allowed him to control the plane’s ascent or descent by a few feet either way with a throttle, he looked around at us, dumbfounded and inscrutable. Was he about to cry? Was he confused, nauseous, angry? None of the above as it turned out when the corners of his mouth surged upwards in a grin, his eyes widened and he crowed, “That. Was. Awe-some!”

Sean and Frey Point Pleasant

Bright lights, big boardwalk

My son had been baptised unto the boardwalk. The torch was passed.

On to Sandy Castle and a friendly greeting from Ed Jarrett, but the grand tour from my cousin’s husband and sons who toiled away helping Jarrett to build Sandy Castle. The first attempt to break his own record, which appears second in this post, was still up when we were visiting, complete with a list of items including flags, fish, gargoyles and other assorted castle ornamentations to sought out by visitors. Ed Jarrett’s first attempt crumbled slightly below the record mark after an unfortunate visit from some vehicles combing the beach and a special visit from Mr Obama who was keenly interested in Mr. Jarrett’s work. Like the shore itself though, Sandy Castle rebuilt, rising phoenix-like from the ashes to stand tall.

Sandy Gargoyle

Sandy Gargoyle

Sandy Castle at Night

Sandy Castle by the light of the moon

Sandy Castle explored, other traditions were to be kept. We taught my son the fine art of skeeball, pastime of kings. I learned, finally, that the joy is in the playing of the game, not in the prizes, which are always cheap and tatty unless you are a world champion skeeballer (I’m pretty close I’m sure. I need practice). Alas, he is too young yet for that lesson and there is joy in acquiring tokens for tickets for prizes.

Frey Skeeball

The Glorious Game

And so the witching hour came and so concluded our time in this idyllic cradle of neon for another year. My heart was lifted though, with the notion that the shore would survive, thrive, and create new memories for us for years to come, and that Sandy Castle stood as testament to it.

Sandy Castle

Standing against the wind. Photo by Samm Bury

What You Need To Know About London Before Packing Your Belongings!

The Glitz and The Glamour Oh My. Image taken from

The Glitz and The Glamour Oh My. Image taken from

Quite excited today for The American Londoner’s first guest post (I know. Hitting the big time!). This one comes from Chris Jerome at Refresh Accommodation, a superlative short term let service based here in London. Short term lets are just the sort of thing you will find handy if you are at all interested in leading a wilfully nomadic lifestyle or staying for longer than a vacation in order to get a real taste for somewhere. Enjoy! 

Having lived in London for the past eight years, I have come to understand the many pleasures and pitfalls of this truly amazing city. There are things which will surprise you, some which you learn to love, and others you never really come to understand at all.

Whether it’s the indecipherable vocabulary of East End cockney taxi drivers, hidden gems of pubs and cafes or extortionate prices of hotels and B&Bs, London really is a place you need to pack and prepare for.


The Routemaster, iconic London. Taken from

The Routemaster, iconic London. Taken from

What better place to start than with the peculiarities of London transport? Getting around London is relatively easy, with a wealth of black cabs and colourful cockney drivers. Whether you are looking for a tailor in Brick Lane or a curry house in Mayfair, they will find it, using their encyclopaedic ‘knowledge’ of the streets.

Some will ask probing questions like “Is that on the corner of Liverpool Street or the one next to Greenwich park mate?”, to which the answer is usually “I’m not entirely sure”; others will merely nod and begin on their way. To really enjoy this rich experience, make sure you pack your wit, as the ride will often provide an opportunity for banter.

The London Underground provides an amazing and extensive network of locations and stops, complete with a rainbow coloured map and ‘soft’ seating. The ‘Oyster’ card system allows you to get around without having to carry one of those questionable orange tickets, while being significantly cheaper for multiple trips. However, it can be a good idea to carry a map; I would often fall asleep and miss my stop, ending up somewhere like Barking; quite maddening.

However, unlike the cab drivers, I find it amazing that you can sit on a crowded tube and not engage in any form of conversation whatsoever; while Londoners are known for being socialites, they are uncannily shy in the company of fellow travellers, so make sure you pack a book to read; a venture across the Central Line from West Ruislip to Epping can take a while.

The Great Outdoors

Picnic London

Image from

While England is hardly admired for its sunshine, the months of spring, summer and autumn show the countryside in all its glory. London is blessed with a wonderful selection of parks and gardens, which I feel are best enjoyed in the autumn, when the tree leaves start to brown and fall to the floor. Take a leisurely walk around Hyde Park or Richmond Park, just be sure to pack your thermals, the winter soon starts to bite.


London at night

Stay in the middle of it all. Photo from

If you are going to London for a short break, beware of hotel prices, which can be really expensive. Double guestrooms in areas like Paddington or Notting Hill can cost up to £250 a night, with the contents of the mini-bar usually costing the same. However, if you want to feel more at home, serviced accommodation can be a much more cost-effective alternative, with providers like Refresh Accommodation giving you access to an entire apartment, allowing you to stock up and drink from your own fridge!

 Where to Imbibe

The French House

Still one of my favo(u)rite watering holes in the capital. Samuel Beckett drank here. From

On the subject of drinking, London is by far one of the best drinking locations in the world. With so many cosy pubs and trendy cocktail bars, you will never go thirsty; just be prepared to spend £4 on a pint of lager and drink ales at room temperature. For the classier customer, ‘gastro’ pubs provide a wealth of fancy food and wines at somewhat inflated prices.

Above all, my advice is this: pack your common sense – enjoying your time in the capital shouldn’t mean paying through the roof; there are plenty of opportunities to find a bargain, you just have to look hard enough!

Remember, Remember…

guy fawkes the american londoner

Image taken from

…The 5th of November. That’s the rhyme that the English use to get schoolchildren to remember that great precedent-setting event of Great Brrritish history: the foiling of a terrorist plot. That’s right. Guy Fawkes celebrates the war on terror, four hundred years old and still going strong.

Okay, okay. It doesn’t just celebrate the foiling of a terrorist plot.

It also celebrates burning Catholics.

So, get your marshmallows out. The fam and I made it out to a community celebration on Saturday to watch some fireworks lit off and what can I say? It was festive, as a lot of these celebrations are nowadays — no longer indelibly connected with morbid origins, they’re now just about getting together with your neighbour, reconnecting and lighting off some pyrotechnic displays, a bit like on the 4th of July, which, by the by, this is the closest the British have to, with mulled wine and flasks of coffee instead of brewskies and hot dogs.

If you’re still confused about what Guy Fawkes Day actually celebrates, have a look at the video below. It’s wildly hilarious and explains the occasion quite concisely while raising some interesting points of comparison with our contemporary political climate.

Enjoy that? Good. As you know from my last post, I’m doing Movember again this year. I’ve already raised £30 because of some very generous donations so far, but I’d like to hit £100 this week. Please click on the link below and donate a fiver to raising awareness of men’s health issues and to the greatness of my tache (it will be great by the end of the month, I tell you). Thanks!

Pete Lawler’s Movember Space 2013 (Click and Give. Make a Difference)

A Month to Make a Difference!

Movember 2012, Me and My Boy

Movember 2012, Me and My Boy

Pete Lawler’s Mo Space 2013

So, I thought I’d sit Movember out this year. I was growing a nice trendy winter beard. I was a bit narcissistically self-conscious of the mature grey parts that have all of a sudden started appearing, but I’d learned to accept and even like my more mature look.

In case any of you don’t know, beards have become the coolest thing since sliced bread. You wouldn’t be caught dead in a trendy place like The People’s Republic of Hackney without looking like a well-groomed Grizzly Adams. I’m sure it’s a similar sartorial situation in your own cosmopolitan urban centers.

I was just starting to get to like the beard look on me. I fancied myself looking a bit DH Lawrence (American intellectual look, don’t ya know). The missus was even starting to tolerate/show a favo(u)rable attitude towards the facial fur.

The American Londoner

Me with with my beard.

Besides, I’d done me bit. Hadn’t I raised £400 last year and over £200 the year before?

That’s an excuse though, isn’t it? It’s a rationalisation. It’s what people say when they mean, “This has nothing to do with me and is clearly not my problem.” I’ve put a dollar in the collection basket. I’ve done my bit. I’ve bought my girl scout cookies. I’ve done my bit. I’ve bought my single source coffee. I’ve done my bit.

But then, walking around one of our quaint little local shopping venues yesterday, seeing bearded models in the window, I started to think, am I just putting my vanity over a cause that is far greater than myself? After all, men have a 14% higher chance of developing cancer than women and a 37% higher chance of dying from it. More than 100 men in the UK are diagnosed with prostate cancer every day. And suicide is the single highest cause of death in men under 35. Given that I’ve raised over £400 in the past (that’s around $640!), isn’t it morally irresponsible not to try to raise awareness of men’s health issues and funds for a great cause? And growing a tache is such a small thing to do to make a significant difference. So, I’m not trying to “big myself” up as the kids these days used to be fond of saying. I could be doing way more. But this is a small thing for just 30 days to make the world a little better.

Besides, the jury on the beard was still very much out. DH Lawrence was stretching it and “tolerating” is not the same as “enamored with”. I can always grow it in December anyway.

So, have a heart, dig deep, click on the link and give. Goal this year is £500 and if just 100 of you gave a fiver (that’s right. A fiver!), that it’d be men’s health that much more better off in 2014. I’ve kicked my tenner in. Go on. Make a difference.


Oh dear. Clean Shaven and Ready for Movember. Day 1

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