Category Archives: Remembrance of things past

The betrayal of Scooby

Lego Scooby Gang

When I was child, I enjoyed childish things.  Like Scooby Doo and The Monkeys.  I loved Scooby, it introduced me to the concept of mysteries and crime fiction, something I love to this day.  I liked Velma’s irrepressible nature and her insistence on the rational.  There are no ghosts.  There must be something behind all this.  A man in a mask.  And through hard work and improbable traps, you can get to the bottom of it.  Oh, and we would have got away with it, too if it weren’t for you meddling kids.  Meddling kids and their triumph over conniving adults.

But when I became a woman, I put away childish things.  Until my own child became big enough to demand television.  And it was to my great delight that Scooby Doo is played endlessly on certain satellite channels and my even greater delight that my son loves to watch Scooby, too.  The original Scooby shows are still fantastic and one of the few cartoons that I can sit through without becoming annoyed.  Sometimes I watch them.  And sometimes I just let them flow over me, as comforting as a cradle song, while I do something else. There’s something wonderfully nostalgic about watching episodes about a man in a mask with an impossibly contrived scheme to bootleg records. Yes, actual LPs which were copied laboriously in a secret, creepy cave studio and then smuggled across a river by a henchman in  ghost pterodactyl hang glider contraption.   Oh, the days before peer to peer file sharing. If  you wanted a copy of Dixie Chicken live, you’d have to make a shady deal with a man who talked pterodactyl – Veek! Veek!

But these kids channels don’t just show the original Scooby and the series that followed in the original format. They show new modern Scooby, where Fred no longer sports a cravat.  They show a bizarre and poorly drawn spin-off which features only Shaggy and Scooby living in the home of their rich uncle with a robot butler that’s forever getting them out of scrapes.  And they show Scooby movies with complicated plots and commissioned soundtracks. 

Yes, they show those originals and they also show – on occasion – the ones with Scrappy Doo.

It sends a shiver down my spine.

Yesterday, there was a Scooby marathon and after they’d run out of the original and the next series and the movies, they showed some Scrappy Doo episodes as well.  Like every Gen-Xer, I hate Scrappy.  Scrappy is evil.  Scrappy is symbol of all things rotten.  And so Scrappy cannot be shown.  My son did not understand, but the channel was changed.

But watching Scrappy again as an adult as I did on one occasion not too long ago, I realise it’s not Scrappy’s fault.  Scrappy’s introduction to the show coincided with a complete change in format.  Instead of mysteries, it was random running around with ‘real’ supernatural elements.  No more looking for clues.  No more solving puzzles using ‘logic’.  No more nuance of personality from Fred and Velma and Daphne.  It might as well have been a different show.  And we Gen-Xers, only being young’uns at the time, didn’t see that they were dumbing the show down in a misplaced effort to salvage the ratings – instead we blamed Scrappy – who from an adult perspective isn’t as annoying as I remember.  It’s the whole show that’s annoying.  It’s a betrayal of Scooby and a betrayal of us as the audience.  There was no mystery to engage with, we were only being served up dross in the form of Scooby snacks to consume passively.   It was perhaps the first time we were aware of the entertainment industry treating us like morons – and we could never forgive the messenger. The live action Scooby movie even played on this – casting Scrappy as the ultimate villain (sorry for the spoiler, but honestly the film is pretty wretched).

The boy is only 3, so he screamed and wailed when I insisted that no further Scrappy shows can be watched in my house.  So long as I pay for the roof which shelters the tv that I bought receiving the satellite signal that I subscribe to there will be no Scrappy.

(Photo credit: fallentomato )

Fred and The Big Burg

When my mom visited recently, she brought me a copy of Fred Thompson‘s new book Teaching the Pig to Dance: A memoir of growing up and second chances.  Fred Thompson grew up in Lawrenceburg and this is memoir of his growing up, but as much about the town viewed through his eyes as it is about him.  And it’s the same place I come from.   Sort of.  I only went to high school there, but my mother grew up there, as did my brother and many, many of my family live there.  So I guess it’s my hometown.   Anyway, if I ever made good, it’s the town that would claim me. Feel free to bury me there if you like, but not before time.

British readers probably wouldn’t know he was a senator from Tennessee or remember that he had an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2008.  His campaign for the Republican nomination was hotly anticipated, but his declaration in Lawrenceburg’s public square in 2007 was the high point of the campaign.  It all kinda went down hill from there.   Some people might remember him from his role on Law and Order where he played the gruff Southern DA.  But it’s fair to say that he’s doesn’t figure big in British cultural consciousness.

Fred before a packed house

Fred on the Square in Lawrenceburg

But he’s a big deal in Lawrenceburg, we haven’t had a politician from the Burg that famous since Davy Crockett packed in his congressional career by unwisely feuding with Andrew Jackson and went off to Texas.  (His statue still adorns the Square).   And, of course, he’s a big deal elsewhere, too.  He was part of Watergate, he’s a successful character actor, he’s played a big role in Tennessee politics particularly in the shift from being traditionally Democratic to what’s now called a Red State.

But the book isn’t about any of those things, really.  It’s about growing up in Lawrenceburg.  A small town in the rural South.  The buckle of the Bible Belt.  Reviews on Amazon say that he’s captured the story of growing up in the small town rural south.  And I’m sure Lawrenceburg is like a lot of small towns.  But I didn’t grow up in any of those towns.  I didn’t learn to drive and graduate from high school or get married in those other towns.  It was Lawrenceburg, so this book has a close, personal feel to me.  I recognise the road names. I recognised many of the people.  He lived for a while on Caperton Avenue.  I was on the next street over.  An identically laid out wide avenue with a central strip adorned with dogwoods and well kept medium sized houses.  But it wasn’t just geographical coincidences.  Only through reading this did I realise just how closely our lives have touched, even if we’ve never met.  Obviously,  I knew that before given that my grandfather dated his former mother-in-law after they both found themselves widowed.   But reading the book made me appreciate more just how much lives are intertwined in a small town.  Through blood and marriage and circles of friends and shared experience and proximity.  But there were two areas of intersection with my family that I hadn’t known about and which I found fascinating.


Fred Thompson spends a good chapter of his book on Ol Time Religion and the lessons he learned at his home church, the First Street Church of Christ.

At the end of the well-kept avenue where I lived with my granddad, less than a hundred yards from my grandfather’s front door that, being small town Southerners we never used, stands the First Street Church of Christ.  My grandparents were Church of Christ.  Every Sunday morning, every Sunday evening, every Wednesday evening for Bible study and every other time the church doors opened my grandparents climbed into their Ford or Mercury and drove about a mile down the road to the Pulaski Street Church of Christ.   On the way to Pulaski Street, you might pass three or four churches that could have cut down on the commuting. Some of them had a distance in theological teachings that far outstretched the physical nearness.  But First Street was a Church of Christ and its quasi-industrial squared off brick structure was more aesthetically intriguing to me than the sloping brown front of Pulaski Street.  I wanted to know why we didn’t go to church there and asked my grandfather.  My granddad was indulgent and usually not short of a full explanation, but he told me in a tone the brooked no further questioning.  “Honey, we just don’t.”

Fred Thompson’s outlined the schism which was the reason behind the terseness.   From Fred’s perspective, the preacher at the center of it all had served enough time (Church of Christ preachers serve at the pleasure of the Elders and Deacons and traditionally not much more than itinerant) and was a little high handed when it was suggested that he’d served enough time.  And apparently there was a lot of ugliness.  My grandparents left that ever-so-convenient First Street and follow that preacher to the congregation at Pulaski Street.

Fred describes the schism thusly:

Soon our little congregation, having been purified though diminished in size, was back to normal.  Some of our friends in the more ‘sophisticated’ Catholic and Presbyterian churches, with whom we carried on constant good-natured, if serious, arguments over doctrine, referred to our congregation, after our split, as the poorer of the two congregations.  One of their more clever blasphemers was heard to say, “Their church is so poor that their members have to bring their own snakes on Sunday.”

That preacher was the man who shared a platform with me when I delivered my grandfather’s eulogy even though he’d long since moved on from Pulaski Street.  He buried my grandmother and he buried both of my cousins’ other grandparents, too (I couldn’t help but think that they must dread to see him coming.)   Delivering a eulogy and arranging the order of service at a funeral is an unpleasant task, but even through my grief I found him a pleasure to work with.   I remember sitting on my grandfather’s back porch on a warm May evening telling him on the phone that my mother had told me to keep my eulogy to seven minutes.  He told me “Well, there’s too long and there’s not long enough.  I’d give it a little more time.”   And he was right and it gave me the confidence to say what I had to say and not worry too much about time limits during a point in my life when I didn’t speak in public as much as I do now.   And it was good.

Union busting

While Fred was in law school, he came back to Lawrenceburg to clerk for his wife’s uncle during the most tumultuous summer that Lawrenceburg had ever seen. That year union organizers came to town.  The primary target was the biggest factory in town, but they thought they’d sweep up some of the smaller manufacturers while they were there, including Fred Thompson’s in-laws who owned a small factory making church furniture.  Unions and Southerners of primarily Scots-Irish decent don’t mix well. It’s my understanding that most of the workers voted against unionizing, but that the union men didn’t take no for an answer.  And then there was trouble. Big trouble.  Violence and blockades.

My grandfather was at the centre of that.  He served on the city council and was acting mayor at the time.  He played a part in organising a group of volunteers who bore arms and kept order in the town.   It was fascinating to read about that time from Thompson’s perspective.  Not one which differed much from my grandfather’s.  Thompson helped prepare the case brought by his in-laws, and my grandfather, too was involved a law suit but was defended by the company’s lawyers.   The judgment on my grandfather declared that he was enjoined “not to violate anyone’s civil rights, so long as he was not provoked.”

I captured my grandfather’s story of that summer in an oral history (here on Scribd  – starting on page 82)

A good read

And the book is really funny.  It captures that fantastic, classic Tennessee boy humor.  Dry.  A humor that waits. Funniest men on the planet, but you never know when it’ll hit you.  A Tennessee man says nothing for a long time, and then the funniest damn thing you’ve ever heard will come out deadpan, with barely a twinkle in his eye.  A quip that gives with one hand and takes with the other and leaves you thinking “Where the hell did that come from?”  Not that Fred has that sense of humor, not really.  He’s too much of a cut-up and a comic to dole out a joke meanly but with devastating effect.  But he captured it brilliantly, it’s like a ‘best of’ collection of cutting wit.

If you like politician’s memoirs, this book might be a bit of a disappointment in that there are few insights from the circles of power.  But if you just like a good tale, it’s an excellent read and does provide insight to the politician that Fred Thompson became.  And if you’re from Lawrenceburg, you really must read it.

Best laid plans

So, England finishes second in Group C and doesn’t get knocked out.  Excellent.  That was an agonizing 90 minutes, but at least England led for most of the game.  They play Germany on Sunday.  Not so good. C’mon England.  I sure hope Fabio has them practicing those penalties.

And USA finishes top of the Group and so go on to face Ghana in the next round.  Good? Maybe.

The last time the US played Ghana in the World Cup it was the last game of the group stages.   I was speaking at a performance management conference and though I had planned to sneak off for a little footie in the afternoon, it was at Earl’s Court and there wasn’t any place to go.  I planned to keep my head down and my eyes away from the Internet avoiding all talk of scores and watch the game replayed on the higher up channels of the satellite tv.

A good plan.

Until I got out of the train station at Tooting.  And I saw this:

victory drink

There was literally dancing in the streets.  They were thrilled.  It was the first time they’d ever reached the knockout stages. Let’s hope the Ghanian community of Tooting are crying in their beers on Saturday.


In a previous blogging incarnation, when I was part of the wider Tennessee blogging community, I got to know Katie Allison Granju.   She’s a little bit older than me, but it’s not impossible that our paths might have crossed at the University of Tennessee.  We probably had acquaintances in common.  Pictures of her first husband ring some kind of distant cognitive bell.  Maybe I had a civil engineering class with him, maybe I drank a beer with him on a Fort Sanders porch.  Who knows?

But really it’s through blogging that I got to know her.  In some ways, she has the life I might have had if I’d hadn’t met my husband, if I’d stayed in Tennessee.  And she was pregnant at the same time I was, a few months behind. That makes a connection that’s oddly enduring.    In the strange way of online connections she was really interested in my pregnancy and the birth of my son.   She’s the only person I know who had a longer labour and a worse birth story than I had and still had a positive outcome – a lovely girl.

When I stopped blogging much under my previous anonymous guise I sort of lost touch with what the Tennessee blogging community was up to.  I was busy.  I was blogging elsewhere.  But I’d check in here and there.  I knew she’d changed jobs.  I knew she was expecting again.  And just recently, I found out that her oldest son died.

Poor Henry.

Photo by Laura Beth Smid, originally uploaded to Flickr by East Village Inky as part of a memorial set

I knew he was having some issues from her postings.  But I had no idea the depth of their troubles, nor was it something she wanted to or perhaps ought to have revealed in her life blogging.  He was a drug addict and had all the attendant difficulties that serious drug addiction brings.  Rough company. Trouble with the law.

He was beaten in an episode that might be described as ‘drug deal gone bad’ and then he overdosed.  He suffered severe brain injuries.  He was hospitalised and then he developed a serious complication related to overdose and brain trauma.  And then he died.

I’ve been reading through her posts over the past few weeks this morning.  It’s incredibly tragic and incredibly moving.  Her beautiful, handsome, creative son – shockingly full of potential.  And now gone.  We cling so precariously to the threads of the good life.

His parents and his wide extended family are suffering a tremendous loss.  But they’re also celebrating.  Celebrating his life courageously; their beautiful boy.

I’m so sorry, Katie.

A Piece of Internet History

How does a gal from small town in Tennessee end up living in London and working with local government in England? It’s all down to Usenet, of course. And now it’s shutting down.

DURHAM, NC — This week marks the end of an era for one of the earliest pieces of Internet history, which got its start at Duke more than 30 years ago.

On May 20, Duke will shut down its Usenet server, which provides access to a worldwide electronic discussion network of newsgroups started in 1979 by two Duke graduate students, Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis.

Life’s a funny old thing…You make one tiny decision and forever after you follow a different path in life. For me, joining Usenet discussions was one of those little divergences with a butterfly effect.

I met my husband, when he was a graduate student at Sheffield and I was a grad student at the University of Tennessee via a Usenet forum and Unix email. A quirk of the system meant a response to the forum was sent to my personal email. Online etiquette was touchy then…everyone was sensitive to flaming. I sent him a strongly worded email. We entered correspondence. We met up in person in Wales a few months later.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

It'll grow out

Before my son was born, I made my husband promise that he would never, ever, ever let me cut the boy’s hair.  I have a bad history with barbering.

I’ve cut my brother’s hair a few times. Mostly when I was a teenager and he was just a little kid.  It never turned out well.  The most memorable occasion was when he about 8 and desperately wanted a crew cut which my mother would not allow.  He brought me a pair of blunt edged paper scissors and asked me to do the job.  I figured that if you just cut it short enough it would have the desired effect.  It turns out that this is not the case. I kept cutting and cutting and cutting, but it never looked right.  When my mother stopped me mid-job, it’s fair to say that the results were uneven.  Uneven as in near-bald in some places and tufty in others.  Being young and gullible, I told him that it looked good, and he believed me.  But it didn’t.  It looked like he had the mange.

Foolishly, seventeen years later, my brother asked me to cut his hair again.  It wasn’t so much that the memory had faded but that he was a bit desperate and assumed that my skills had improved. They hadn’t. But at least I had the right tools – a clipper and a set of guards.  But it turns out that good results are uni-directional.  If you run the clippers the wrong way, you still get the mange look.

And even more foolishly, even after seeing the results of my brother’s cut, my husband let me cut his hair.  It didn’t go well.  It was kind of a post-chemo look.  Apparently I told him that I knew I’d cut it too short in some places, so let some tufts remain in the hopes that it would even out the look.

Behind the bar

My brother and husband with the proprietor of a country and western bar deep in the suburbs of Hamburg, Germany

I found this photo and showed it to my husband just before scanning it in.  He said “it does not convey the full horror of that haircut.”

So, even with the full knowledge of what my haircutting skills are like, he let me cut Bill’s hair this morning.

To be fair, the boy’s locks were getting very shaggy indeed.  And we’d already tried a couple of times to get his hair cut at the hairdresser around the corner who had done an excellent job back in December.

At the playground

Shaggy, shaggy locks

So we got out the clippers this morning.  It all started out well enough.  But Bill soon tired of my clipping and decided we were done.  Although we weren’t.

I do it!

I'm unlikely to become a licensed hairdresser

And even though it wasn’t a perfect job – a little rough around the edges and over the ears, Simon did say that Bill’s hair looked better after I finished than before I started. And then added that this must be a first for me.

I do it

Bill’s quite fond of power tools, and this was no exception.  He wanted to be the one with power.  He decided that he wanted to do the haircutting and was aggrieved when neither Simon nor I would agree to let him cut our hair.  But if there’s one thing I know about haircuts, it’s that you should never, ever agree to let anyone near your head unless you’re sure they know what they’re doing.

Final touches

refusal often offends

He’s not crying because he’s having his hair cut.  He’s crying because he’s not doing the hair cutting.

Facebook fail

Facebook is a great way of promoting your town’s events.  The State of Tennessee has a great Facebook page to promote tourism.  But this question on my hometown’s Facebook fan page is just a little too Jeff Foxworthy and immediately draws some close to the bone humor.  Was this quite the effect they were hoping for?

Well, it’s Lawrenceburg, so you really never can tell.

(You may be a redneck if you, too, become a fan of Lawrenceburg, Tennessee)