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It’s funny how much it can hurt!

Flash of Silver…the leap that changed my world Question #22 Rite of Passage Eight –A Taste of Things to Come– (1951-1953) Age 17-19 years old Q: Jesting: A jest has been described as a fishhook (and line) set in hard candy. At first it’s almost funny but after a while its humor melts and the […]

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Honesty, with words

Flash of Silver…the leap that changed my world Question #21 Rite of Passage Seven –A Fate Worse Than Death– (1951-1953) Age 17-19 years old Q: What advice would you give your young adult children when they first leave home? Did you do that, or did you keep it to yourself? When I left home for […]

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Leaving Home

Flash of Silver…the leap that changed my world
Question #20
Rite of Passage Seven –A Fate Worse Than Death–
(1951-1953) Age 17-19 years old

Q: When did you first leave home? How did it feel to have to make your own choices at last?

I have explained that I was a solitary individual without friends of my own age and having always had my own room. Suddenly everything was totally different. Hundreds of young men surrounded me, thirty-one of them in my room. My only prior experience with such a ‘crowd’ was in my early childhood at school. Was this to be a repeat?

Being first in line had provided me with several benefits. I got to choose which of the thirty-two beds would be mine. I had drawn my ‘kit’ and received my ‘shots’ with what seemed to be a new needle. My hair had been almost completely removed and I had changed into my jeans.

As my roommates arrived they were met by me, sitting on my made-up bed, polishing the brass on my webbing. It was as though I knew the ropes and I became, for just one day, the ‘old soldier’ in their midst.

I doubt there was any one of us that felt ‘at ease’, perhaps many missed the familiar and were apprehensive about the immediate future.

We shared one absolute factor…we belonged to a new more rigid world, one with very firm rules. I had left my home where I belonged and where I knew the boundaries. Everything about me now was unfamiliar, my options were severely limited and my greatest desire was to somehow…survive!

SO…what about now?

I’ve heard it said, over and over…so many times “Military service makes a man out of you.” This was certainly true for me and I do catch myself wondering if our present generation of eighteen year olds would also benefit from a couple of years of military service?

To live within a definite ‘chain of command’ was to learn how every layer of authority was responsible for the ‘welfare’ of those beneath them. It was for my benefit that I obeyed. The orders I was given may have sometimes been wrong but their intent was right.

I was to live with limited options for the next five years and then, much later, for another five.

I look back with gratitude for those ‘contained’ years that kept me, for the most part, from the folly that can come with youthful freedom.

P.S. This week I read Treena’s poem Creations Love

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I know my dad loved me…now!

Flash of Silver…the leap that changed my world
Question #19
Rite of Passage Seven –A Fate Worse Than Death–
(1951-1953) Age 17-19 years old

Q: Distant Dads: Was your dad distant, without too much warmth or interest in you? Can you recall just one memory of how he might have revealed his love for you?

Photo of Graham Kerr and His Dad

Poor Dad, he tried so hard…I can see this now but not at the time and not before it was too late to let him know that I loved him too!

He travelled across England (not far) and stayed with me overnight at a pub in Honiton, Devonshire. It was my last night before reporting to the British Army for my two years of National Service.

He settled down, after supper, to ply me with alcohol so that he could see how it might affect me. After two beers I was no longer thirsty. We had an early, uneventful night.

Bright and early we set out for the training camp. At exactly 0900hrs, the time set to begin a full day of induction; he deposited me at the Guard House, “Good luck my boy,” he managed gruffly. He shook my hand and turned about smartly…marching off with a stiff back and arms swinging with precision. He never looked back…but I stood still, watching him go.

I was first in line…a good start made possible by a good man. He had showed me his love but couldn’t say it!

So…what about now?

Oh how I miss him. I have over the years uncovered several very dear examples when he showed his love. He even put his quite bristly face against mine, just once, and seemed to kiss me; I have so wanted that to be so but cannot be sure. We were thousands of miles apart when he died. The doctors said that he had simply turned his face to the wall and had given up.

Please, if your dad is still alive and you can recall just one brief moment of his love…do tell him and see what God might do with even a tiny slice of affection? With God, all things are possible!

P.S. This week I read Treena’s poem Couple Power

 

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White tie and tales

Separated from others?

Flash of Silver…the leap that changed my world Question #18 Rite of Passage Six –Early Tumult– (1950-1951) Age 16-17 years old Q: In your teens were you separated from others by your family or economic circumstances? Did this exclusion drive you to ‘succeed’? I grew up as an only child in the hotel business in […]

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The Bottom of the Ladder

Flash of Silver…the leap that changed my world

Question #17
Rite of Passage Six –Early Tumult–
(1950-1951) Age 16-17 years old

Q:

Did you have a menial job you hated but later look back on as a great learning experience?

At sixteen I only had one good suit but as I recall it looked ‘business-like’ and because of my unusual height (6 foot) it made me look more like a younger ’manager’.

My Father, the hotel’s general manager, thought otherwise; I was told to change into older “more suitable clothes” if I really wanted to be a trainee manager…“You will have to start on the bottom rung.”At sixteen I only had one good suit but as I recall it looked ‘business-like’ and because of my unusual height (6 foot) it made me look more like a younger ’manager’.

And so it began, in the men’s restroom, that Brit’s often call a convenience. For years I’ve been amused by the American invitation to meet “at your earliest convenience,” an unusual venue for a business discussion?

My menial start led to several other ‘lesser’ roles that served to help me adjust to who I was. I was a beginner. I knew nothing!

So I started at the lowest rung and as I climbed the ladder I associated with many good people who would not advance and for various reasons were ‘destined’ to remain in less desirable occupations of service.

I still remember these consistent ones with affection because they took me in as one of their own. I was mentored in the menial by truly warm people.

So…what about now?

Sixty years later I have a very crowded “been there, done that” t-shirt and along with each job a set of tender memories of those who did a small thing and did it well (over and over again) until it was done.

This has provided me with a desire to somehow recognize those who do repetitive tasks and who are not accustomed to being thanked. This includes some wait staff, especially in low cost family or chain restaurants. I often introduce myself as “Graham” and ask for their name and then use it in my ordering and when paying the bill and saying thank you.

I will also stop –as somehow led (not always) and say ‘thank you’ to janitorial staff for the ‘great job you are doing’.

Can I somehow ask you to join me in this little thing that can mean so much to those upon whom we so frequently depend for both our safety and our enjoyment?

P.S. This week I read Treena’s poem Stars

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The Fish and the Dam

Flash of Silver…the leap that changed my world
Question #16
Rite of Passage Six –Early Tumult–
(1950-1951) Age 16-17 years old

Q:

The ‘law of unintended consequences’ -clean hydroelectric power and its collateral damage to fish. Are such ‘developments’ eventually going to destroy life itself?

 

bb3da129-706f-4468-b595-db8cd15b52d1Sketch credit: Sandy Silverthorne

One would think that the abuse I experienced at my early school was a…tumult! The kind of sudden dislocation that matched the experience I imagined for the salmon going through a hydroelectric dam.
It turns out that I needed to wait for such an unsettling moment, one that would ‘snap at my heels’ for decades to come.

I discovered, whilst serving as a ‘busboy’ in the dining room, that I was seen as part of the ‘servant class’. As a busboy (or commis waiter) I could not converse with the customers. I was to be seen (perhaps not even that!) and never heard.

What was so difficult for me at 15 years old was that my father’s customers were my friend’s parents. I was from downstairs and they were upstairs. I was from a different class and I tumbled endlessly through that torrent of attitude (mostly mine) until I reached forty.

It isn’t only people who suffer at being seen to be lesser beings; it’s also nature itself that is degraded by the ever-present drive for commercial success that treads indifferently upon sensitive soil or waters en route to their personal acquisition of…stuff and/or status. Does the hot pursuit of money always leave wreckage in its path?

So…what about now?

I live these days quite close to the Elwah River in Washington State (USA) and am completely overjoyed by the changes that have been made in its tumultuous journey to the sea.

Two hydroelectric dams have been removed and with that has come the restoration of its eco-system that had been starved of its nutrient-rich salmon population for 100 years.

Nature has reclaimed the malnourished banks and wildlife of all kinds, the salmon are back and growing in numbers.

I have also found that I too have set aside my preoccupation with financial ‘success’ and I am no longer concerned about being seen as a ‘servant’. I love to be known as such and no longer hide my ‘lower status’ under brand named products and places that declared that I was a celebrity ‘winner’.

So many years, such a long hard journey…and now, such a peaceful acceptance in the midst of great people…who also serve.

P.S This week I read Treena’s poem Saga of Two Trees

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Are you a mentor-to-be?

Flash of Silver…the leap that changed my world
Questions #15
Rite of Passage Five – lower case gourmet
(1945 to 1948 –Age 14)

Q:

Could you, in the upstream later years, offer yourself to a young person as a mentor? If so, what would motivate you to do so?

 

I have gained mightily over the years from both men and women who were my senior in both age and wisdom. They were somewhat expert in their respective fields. You have already met André Simon, the President and Founder of the International Wine and Food Society. You will soon meet several more in both wine and food and the media.

My formal education had been disjointed by the war and constantly moving from school to school and had concluded at what we Brits call a “crammers”; a one on one teacher who, in a short space of time, “crams” ones head full of likely examination answers!

I succeeded in graduating by the skin of my teeth and began my culinary training at Brighton Technical College.

I had grown accustomed to ‘catching up’ in my studies and motivated, as always; by my fear of failing, I became a good listener.

Actually I was more of a ‘sponge’ soaking up everything and anything without much discernment. My mentors needed to provide wise counsel on what to accept and what to reject. For the most part I listened!

So…what about now?

Back in 2008 I struck out into a totally unknown ‘field’ and began to grow my own edible plants in a brand new kitchen garden.

Up until that time I had never met a plant I couldn’t kill (other than bamboo and mint). Rapidly a whole team of mentors who were incredibly generous with their time and patience surrounded me.

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Seven years later (time I let my soil lie fallow?) I was asked for my ‘short-lived’ advice and actually wrote a book “Growing at the Speed of Life!” about my first year. I’m cautions and try very hard to explain my relative inexperience but, at the same time, I love to see the joy in a new gardener’s face as they devour their very own homegrown vegetables! How about you –are you ‘expert’ at anything you could pass on; it’s never too late.

Graham

P.S This week I read Treena’s poem: “Sister in Seattle

 

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Mentored by Modeling

Flash of Silver…the leap that changed my world
Question #14
Rite of Passage Five –lower case gourmet–
(1945 to 1949)

Q. Who was your mentor during your discovery phase who has continued to influence you in your adult life?

I could not have been more fortunate in receiving some early attention from a man who influenced a great many wine and food enthusiasts worldwide. Monsieur André Louis Simon was the founder of the International Wine And Food Society. He did this when I was only one-year-old and engaged in a quite different kind of a bottle?

Mr. Simon owned a small country estate “Little Hedgecourt” near my parent’s hotel and it was there that at fifteen years of age we met. I knew of his reputation from my parents; exactly why he decided to share his life with me I shall never know. It wasn’t lengthy but it was certainly meaningful.

André was an enthusiast; he lived his message by being reasonable, moderate and exceedingly well mannered in a courtly fashion that fits the French culture so well. He modeled moderation but never, to my knowledge, railed against excess. He listened more than he spoke. He was a kindly man.

He explained to me one day (while sitting in a rowing boat on his small lake) that he had never taken up cooking the food he was so fond of eating. In his warm very French accent he recounted, “I decided to make a custard. When it had set I prodded it and the fork sprang back into my hand. I decided to stop trying.”

It was André who introduced me to great wines, by a simple sip, and encouraged me to always be engaged when eating…with both food and wine. “The two go so wonderfully together and when in good company the dining experience can be second to none.”

I was able to see this put into action as, day after day, I observed my father’s customers on their search for exactly that kind of enjoyment.

Over the years André and I had several opportunities to reunite. He was always gracious, even more so as he aged. It was during a visit to New Zealand that I had initiated that he mentored by modeling the extraordinary gift of gratitude.

André Simon, a truly great man in the world of fine food and wine, was, in his mid-eighties the perfect guest. He achieved this by being grateful for even the most minor kindness or hospitality he was offered.

Andre Simon

He liked to take a nap each afternoon and during that time he took the opportunity to write a brief thank you note to everyone he had met in the previous 24 hours. André came to our house for dinner during that visit and followed up by writing the introduction to my very first book.

The times we spent together were not lengthy but his gentle example in the midst of so much strident self-promotion has stayed with me over the years.

So…what about now?

André was, and still is, my flash of silver mentor and I would love to be more like him as I move on through the upper reaches of my life. Whilst I no longer consume wine, or alcohol in any form, I chose not to do so, in part, because of Andrés insistence in moderation being the key to avoiding excess and harmful addiction.

He understood that, if moderation was the standard, then excess would soon be obvious. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and so, for those who find it difficult (or impossible) to stop at say two glasses of wine, I decided that I had best not be seen publically (or privately) to continue with my early gifting and understanding of fine wines.

Do I propose that wine drinking or alcohol consumption is wrong? No, I do not –yet, let me once more say that André Simon’s early mentoring and his generous and kindly nature with his urging of moderation were helpful in my personal decisions and my public advice. By all means embrace moderation in all things and be sure to set a carefully thought out limit such as 1 or 2 glasses (8oz) of wine. If you cannot stay within that limit, then please consider seeking some help.

Graham

P.S. This week I read Treena’s poem “Waiting

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Art as an Addiction

Flash of Silver…the leap that changed my world
Question #13
Rite of Passage Five -Lower Case Gourmet-

Q:

Can the balanced association of wine with food be seen as an “art” form or is it a beautifully presented indulgence leading, occasionally, to an addiction?

I own an original oil painting of the Breton coastline and early morning fishing boats by Francois Carbu. It is a work of art that I choose to look at quite often, I find it quite motivating with its early morning energy. If it were not in its place I would miss it. Is it therefore addictive?

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I think not.

 

Recently I purchased a CD by Helene Grimaud that was simply titled. ‘Water’. It too is a work of art that I enjoy listening to, especially since it blends with my own work of imagination with a river. If it were not on my player I would miss it. Is it therefore addictive?

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 I think not.

Some would argue that a perfectly balanced seafood dish like Crepes Fruits de Mer served with say a Batard Montrachet (a classic white French Burgundy) is also an ‘art form’

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If it were readily available to me on a good menu in an excellent restaurant, would I choose  it? You bet your boots I would! Is it therefore addictive?

I am pleased by my painting and music but I am pleasured by the perfect juxtaposition of great food and superb wine. I see the painting and I hear the music but with the food and wine I see, I smell, I taste, I touch and can also, in some cases hear, as in ‘sizzle’? I can be fully engaged in multiple senses all at the same time to which I can add the heady enjoyment of the wine that so brilliantly transports alcohol into my bloodstream where it provides the sense of ‘wellbeing’.

I grew up in this environment; from the age of eleven I was introduced to great food and fine wines. The ‘pleasures of the table’ were explained to me as one of the chief pursuits of man and amongst the great ‘virtues’ of the epicurean tradition. Some of our customers were true ‘gourmands’ others were simply searching for a pleasant experience. Both often wound up quite ‘jolly’, to the point at which driving might not have been such a good idea. Were they addicted? That I cannot answer, all I can say is that they often returned and seemed, for the most part, to be well satisfied. I was pleased that they were pleased.

Looking back I can see how my interest in wine with food began when I was about fourteen. It was only experimental sips, but it came with very informed explanation and I listened carefully. Eventually (as you will find out) I became so practiced in this ‘art form’ that I became addicted to the ‘idea’ rather more than the underlying alcohol. I ‘knew’ the great wines even when presented in ‘blind tastings’ with labels wrapped in fine white damask. I became impressed by my ability and how it was admired by those with good palettes.

That…was to be my addiction and that’s how it began.

So…what about now?

There are, in the United States alone, about 17 million households where at least one individual is addicted to alcohol  and where the least amount, no matter how brilliantly wrapped in a fine wine, could result in harm. I have become interested in this and other kinds of self harm for at least the last forty three years. In 1975 I decided that my well know enjoyment of wine whilst I cooked on television might have triggered a desire to join me in  “just a short slurp”. Many have told me that they had done just that and for the most part there was no down side. There were those “odd” times when real harm followed such a joy filled performance and it was these that eventually got my attention.

I quit in 1975.

Do I think that food and wine can be an addictive ‘art form’? When its enjoyment becomes a ‘driving passion’ then yes, I do believe, it can.

 

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