EXPERIENCING THE BRITISH THEATRE AGAIN

When I was in the UK last month, I got quite emotional a few times as I did things that, during the darkest days of the pandemic, seemed like they might never happen again.  Obviously, it was fantastic seeing friends and family after so long, and great to attend my cousin’s wedding with loads of hugs, kisses, and re-bonding much missed aunts, uncles, and cousins.  I also learned to once again appreciate the freedom to travel between the two countries I love.  However, one thing that really underscored the return to some type of ‘normalcy’ to me was once again going to the theatre in London’s West End, which is the British equivalent of Broadway in New York.

First, let’s clear the air on a transatlantic spelling difference.  The British spell ‘theatre’ differently than ‘theater’ in the American spelling tradition. Just to complicate matters further, in the UK ‘theatre’ can only be used to mean a place of live plays and entertainment, whereas in the US you can also have a ‘movie theater’ where films (movies) are shown. In the UK this would always be known as a ‘cinema’.

My husband and I wanted to see something uplifting in London, and we both love musicals.  So, we chose to see (or rather I chose and he capitulated) “Tina – The Musical”.  This story of Tina Turner, while not in the same league as a classic show like Les Miserables, was very enjoyable.  The music was great, and her story of triumph over both poverty and her early abusive relationship with husband Ike Turner is inspiring.  The singing and sets were first rate, and it was just so good to be back in an audience of over a thousand people in the city I grew up in and spent many years as a young woman.

I have always found music and the theatre provide me with a welcome release from day-to-day stress and life in general.  Did you know that the ancient Greeks first noticed this process and coined the phrase ‘cathartic’ when they saw the strong impact theatre and theatrical traditions had on their audiences?  The philosophers of the day noted that their art forms of tragic and comic dramas really moved audiences and alleviated their burdens of daily troubles and woes.

The history of British theater dates back to Medieval times when travelling players would perform religious mystery plays in villages and towns, portraying the lives of saints and uplifting bible stories.  Community-based religious theater stopped abruptly in 1534 when King Henry VIII broke the British church away from the Pope and Catholicism in Rome so he could divorce and remarry.  Overnight, actors had to be part of a royal or aristocratic household to perform. A little later during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign (she was Henry VIII’s daughter), royal patents or licenses were given to actors to perform commercially and many open-air public theaters were built at this time.  The Elizabethan age was very important for theatre, and this is of course when the great author and playwright, William Shakespeare, first came to prominence.

So how did London’s West End district begin? During the 17th century, the first of the 39 theaters that make up this district was built and named the ‘Theatre Royal’.  We saw ‘Tina: The Musical’ nearby at the Aldwych Theatre, a more modern theatre which opened in 1905.  London’s theatres tend to be magnificent and opulent buildings.  The Aldwych is no exception, and it spent its first years primarily hosting musical comedies. Famous 20th century actors including Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh starred at the Aldwych and in 1960 the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company made the Aldwych its London base for 21 years.  Since then the Aldwych has played host to a number of musicals including Fame, Dirty Dancing, Beautiful and after a break due to the pandemic, Tina resumed last year.   There is much more information at www.BritishTheatre.com

I will leave you with a quote by the great American/Canadian film actress, Mary Pickford; “Make them laugh, make them cry….. What do people go to the theatre for? An emotional exercise. I am a servant of the people. I have never forgotten that”.

God Bless America!

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

VISITING STATELY HOMES

The best part of returning to England recently was seeing friends and family after nearly three years.  However, I also wanted to do some very “English” things while I was there to reconnect with my roots, and one of the most British things to do is visit one of its spectacular stately homes and gardens.

During our trip we stayed with some dear friends in their beautiful home in Surrey about an hour southwest of London.  Surrey is one of the four ‘home counties’, that is a county surrounding London which is popular with people who want to be close to the center of the metropolis via rail or road but also want to live outside of the busy city center.  On a beautiful sunny, but very cold Saturday, our friends took us to nearby Polesden Lacey for the day, a grand and stately home and grounds previously owned by the extremely wealthy socialite Dame Margaret Greville. 

Dame Margaret was an interesting character.  She was the daughter of William McEwan, a wealthy brewer and Member of Parliament.   Her father was keen to make a good match for his daughter and, as was often the case during these times, successful businessmen sought out impoverished nobility for their daughters to marry.  Both families benefitted since the daughters brought significant family money to the financially stretched “gentlemen classes” of England.  The newly joined families acquired a higher social status through the combination of nobility and money and if any love did blossom between the couple that was an additional benefit rather than a necessity for the marriage to proceed.  So, in 1891, Margaret married Captain Ronald ‘Ronnie’ Greville, heir to a baronetcy and a member of the “Marlborough house set”, the social circle surrounding the future King Edward VII.  

The couple lived in London and, when Ronnie retired in 1906, they bought 1400 acres in the Surrey countryside and commissioned architects famous for designing the Ritz Hotel in London to entirely renovate the huge but old house on the estate. Sadly, Ronnie died in 1908, a year before renovations were completed, but the result was fabulous.  Margaret hosted her first house party at Polesden in June 1909, marking the end of her mourning and her return to society.  The guest of honor was none other than King Edward VII. This impressive estate was her weekend retreat and the place where she entertained royalty, politicians and celebrities at lavish weekend parties for over 30 more years until 1942, including Winston Churchill, Beverly Nichols and Queen Ena of Spain.  

So how does such a wonderful stately home wind up being preserved so beautifully and stay open for the public to enjoy into the next century?  It is all due to Dame Margaret’s generous donation of Polesden Lacey house and gardens to a wonderful British organization called The National Trust. This is by far the largest charitable organization for heritage conservation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland has its own National Trust organization which is run on similar lines and there are now other heritage organizations around the world.

Founded in 1895, the founders pledged to preserve historical and natural places and buildings of beauty or historic interest.  Set up by an attorney, social reformer and a member of the clergy, this non-profit organization was given statutory powers, starting with the National Trust Act 1907 which gave the Trust the power to declare its land inalienable, meaning that it could not be sold without parliamentary approval.  

In the early days, it was concerned primarily with the acquisition (by gift or purchase) of open spaces and a variety of threatened buildings.  Today The National Trust has nearly six million members and revenue equivalent to almost a billion dollars.  It is funded by membership subscriptions (starting at about $50 per year),  donations and legacies, direct property income, grants, profits from its shops and restaurants, and investments.

The National Trust has grown to become Europe’s largest conservation charity and focuses on preserving nature, beauty and history.  It owns and manages over 780 miles of coastline, over 500 historic houses, castles, parks, and gardens, and nearly one million works of art!  It is a wonderful British institution unlike anything else in the world, and Brits are extremely proud of it and its achievements.  There is much more information at www.nationaltrust.org.uk 

So back to our weekend visit to this lovely property.  As every British person knows, no visit to a National Trust property is complete without visiting the gift shop and getting a cup of hot tea and lemon drizzle cake in the tearoom.  I bought some traditional souvenirs including a dish towel, key ring and bookmark featuring images of Polesden Lacey, reasoning that all the profits go towards supporting the work of the National Trust.

Following my UK trip, this quote from author and journalist Earle Hitchner really resonates with me.  “The difference between America and England is that Americans think 100 years is a long time, while the English think 100 miles is a long way.”

God Bless America and the UK’s National Trust!

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

VISITING THE UK ALMOST 3 YEARS LATER

I finally did it! I returned to the land of my birth after nearly three long years. To make my trip even more wonderful, I was able to attend the wedding of my beloved cousin in the beautiful English countryside at a wonderful country house hotel.   Before the pandemic I was lucky enough to go back every year after relocating to beautiful Coastal Georgia in 2009.

I wondered what differences I would notice after not only such a long absence but also since the scourge of the pandemic.  It did seem somewhat different, but the question was had England changed, or had I?  Probably a bit of both.  

For starters, I had obviously forgotten about the weather – it was literally freezing for some of the time with snow and hail and grey clouds dominating the heavy skies.  To be fair, there were by British standards some warmer days in the 50s and low 60s when sunshine raised everyone’s spirits and the extensive spring displays of daffodils looked beautiful.  I had forgotten how green and pretty the countryside can be.  Of course, this is because of all the rain!

It also felt a bit odd to have a similar accent to everyone else. So instead of people asking where I was from, it was my American husband’s turn for that particular question and the good natured conversations about places and travel that usually follow.

The density of population seemed surprising to me, especially in London and SouthEast England, where I used to live.  The UK has approximately 68 million people living in the UK on just under 94,000 square miles, so 723people per square mile.  In the USA with a population of 330 million people living on 3.8 million square miles which means just 87 people per square mile.  So, the population density of the UK is over 8 times higher!  The UK is about the size of Georgia plus half of Florida.  See www.worldatlas.comfor more.  

The UK is not set up for cars as most of the towns and cities were builtcenturies before the automobile was invented, so there are too many people fighting for too little space – and parking spaces!  Traffic is heavy practically everywhere and all the time.  Outside of the car and as a result of this overcrowding, everybody apologizes all the time as we often bump into each other on the sidewalk.

I really noticed these changes over the past three years:

Contactless payments. The UK adopted the chip and pin paymentslong before they became popular in the USA and now, they have moved onto contactless payments which are completely touch-free up.  This is of course becoming more common in the US but seems universal in England.

 

Just like in beautiful Coastal Georgia, there is a lot of building going on. The difference is that instead of new subdivisions on newly cleared land, most of the building in the UK is really just fitting in more small apartments or townhouses into already overcrowded towns and housing developments.  Lots of “brownfield” development on top of old industrial sites.

 

The price of gas (which the British call ‘petrol’).  In Coastal Georgia we are all complaining about paying around $4 a gallon.  It is generally more than double in the UK! This is mainly because the British government charge 60% tax on top of the cost of the rising price of the oil itself. A fill up cost us about $150 during our travels!

 

Drivethrus are expanding outside town centers.  Last time I was here it was really just a few American branded fast food restaurants which offered drivethrus, and they were thought to be pretty exotic in many parts of the UK.  Now there are drive-thru coffee shops and pharmacies and more. Drive-thru banking  has not made it to the UK yet there are rumors that these could arrive next year, with major banks in talks to replace local branches with high-tech virtual banks with video tellers. Once introduced, customers will be able to open a bank account, ask for an overdraft, or even apply for a mortgage from the comfort of their own vehicle (visit www.bbc.co.uk for more information).

I think that my biggest revelation was that while I will always love the UK,Coastal Georgia is now solidly my home and I do feel like I belong here – in spite of my accent!

Having said all that, it was fantastic to reconnect with friends and family after so long, indulge in favorite British food and reconnect with the land of my birth.  I say goodbye this week with a quote from the English 19thcentury poet Robert Browning “Oh, to be in England now that April’s there.”

God Bless America!

– ENDS

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

THE JOYS OF SPRING

Spring has sprung!  Earlier this week saw the vernal equinox, one of only two times during the year when the Sun is exactly above the equator. And you know what this means – the first day of Spring and party time!  Garden parties, weddings, Spring Break, steaks on the grill, and every other form of celebration you can manage to have outdoors. So, let’s take a break from the stress caused by the pandemic, war, international tensions, and gloomy Old Man Winter, and instead think about some of the unique ways around the world that we humans celebrate the coming of spring and beyond.

In Thailand, the Songkran Water Festival kicks off after spring equinox, which is celebrated as New Year’s Day.  The six-day party is filled with music, dancing, religious ceremonies, visiting elderly relatives and – especially – water fights.  Although it is an ancient tradition, today tourists get in on the act as well with water balloons, buckets of water, hoses, water guns and surprise tossing into the nearest available river.  Everyone – children, parents, grandparents, and anyone passing by – is subject to a good-natured dousing.

In Bosnia, citizens come together on the first day of Spring for Cimburijada which, roughly translated, means “scrambled egg party”.  Since eggs symbolize new beginnings, drinking, dancing, and scrambled eggs are on the Bosnian menu all day.  In the town of Zenica, they have been cooking up a 1,500-egg omelet on this day for centuries.

Back in the land of my birth, the little English town of Brockworth in Gloucestershire welcomes Spring by throwing a nine-pound wheel of Double Gloucester cheese off a very steep cliff, and a bunch of runners jump off after it in a race.  This is of course the world-famous Cooper’s Hill Annual Cheese Rolling, in which the goal is to catch the cheese, which has a one second head start and can reach speeds more than 60 mph, but to do so in a way without breaking your neck.  A visiting Australian writer and cheese-racer, Sam Vincent, “questioned his sanity” as he “crouched on the summit of a diabolical slope…. awaiting the call to start what is surely the world’s most dangerous footrace”.  Every year it has its fair share of scrapes, bruises, and broken bones, but no fatalities yet in this 200-year-old tradition. After the race, you can have a drink with your fellow adrenalin junkies at the Cheese Rollers Pub, named after the race, in the nearby village of Shurdington.

On the other side of the world in Northern India, the Hindu festival of Holi is celebrated.  This is all about color, with participants throwing brightly colored paints and powders at one another all day, each of which represent one of the rich colors of Spring and the new year.  It is happy and festive and, by most accounts, very messy.

In Guadeloupe, the group of French islands in the Caribbean, Spring means it is that time of the year for the La Desirade Goat Festival.  Goat owners on the small island of La Desirade dress up their goats in sunglasses, bathing suits, hats and jewelry, and parade them around on the beach in a competition for best-looking goat.  This is accompanied with music, dancing, and lots of street food.  Goat curry is one of the most popular dishes (I kid you not – pun intended).

And here in the USA, Spring means Spring Break for millions of college students.  Following two years of COVID-induced travel restrictions, this month will see record numbers of college students heading to Florida beaches.  The Daily Mail newspaper predicts that 570,000 students will be in the Sunshine State this week.  Admittedly, there will always be some worrisome headlines about the crowds, risks, and a few isolated incidents, but let’s remember at its core this is about millions of young people celebrating something as old as the human race – the joy of Spring and how great it is to be young and alive.

I say goodbye this week with a fantastic quote from the late, great American comedian Robin Williams.  “Spring is nature’s way of saying LET’S PARTY!”.

God Bless America!

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

OK BOOMER – I’M TALKING ABOUT MY GENERATION

A few weeks ago, I was having lunch with my editor at this newspaper.  As always, our conversations were pretty wide-ranging, and we somehow wound up discussing the challenges and realities of being a more mature part of the workforce, and how we relate to the younger generations who work with us.  In some ways this is a shocking concept to me since it seems like only yesterday that I was a bright young thing carving out my career in London.  It is sobering to realize that my first job in a big London agency was 35 years ago!

I was born in May 1966, so I am solidly and proudly Generation X, and I get very irritated if a younger person cuts across me with “OK, Boomer!”  You probably know that this is a dismissive comment sometimes used by Millennials and Generation Z to reject the attitudes of the older generations who they often perceive as not even trying to understand what they think.

Since there is some debate on where one generation ends and another begins, I turned to the Pew Research Center www.pewresearch.org for a definitive answer.  “Generations provide the opportunity to look at Americans both by their place in the life cycle – whether a young adult, a middle-aged parent or a retiree – and by (being) born at a similar time”.  Pew Research defines these generations:

  • The Silent Generation – Born 1928 – 1945
  • Baby Boomers – Born 1946 – 1964
  • Generation X – Born 1965 – 1980
  • Millennials or Generation Y – Born 1981 – 1996
  • Generation Z or Zoomers– Born 1997 – 2010

This generation is followed by the up and coming Generation Alpha – my grandchildren whose parents are, of course, Millennials.

Lots has been written about Baby Boomers, who are often described by  commentators as confident, independent, principled, focused, self-reliant, stubborn and strong-willed.  The Boomer I know best, my husband, definitely checks all those boxes.  

So, let’s talk about my own generation. Gen X is generally described as the “middle child” of generations – caught between the larger groups of Boomers and Millenials. We are very independent since we were the first generation in which both parents worked outside of the home in large numbers, or in many cases raised in single-parent households.  Remember, our parents’ generation really normalized the idea of divorce!  The phrase “latch-key kids” entered the language while we were growing up since many of us would come home from school to an empty house. 

We were raised during the transition to the digital age, so while we did adapt to new technologies, it does not come as naturally to us as later generations.  After all, we grew up in the pre-digital world – went to the library instead of the internet, used public pay phones to call a place on a landline rather than a person on a cell, read paper maps, and sent faxes!

Gen X grew up during significant events that shaped our world today including the Cold War, the Challenger disaster, Chernobyl, and the Berlin Wall coming down.  Many of us are resilient, self-reliant and flexible – because we had to be – and we try hard but don’t expect to win every time.  We also wonder why some other generations aren’t more open minded, since as a group we place a high value on tolerance.

Interestingly, Gen X is known for being very entrepreneurial, and we generally do tend to have a rather rigid work ethic.  Many of us came of age when President Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were in office, when taking a lunch hour was for wimps, and we aspired to put on our power suits and stride into our careers!

Millennials, on the other hand, tend to be more socially conscious, technologically advanced, and expect wide access to information. They are not only comfortable with their smart phones but integrate them seamlessly into every aspect of their lives.   They want a lot more flexibility in their working environments and expect a lot of feedback, career development and understanding from their employers.  Millennials are not afraid to question and voice their opinions as they were raised to express their views and have them taken seriously.   Because of this, I believe they are great at out of the box thinking and problem-solving skills.  

Most of the people in my agency are Millennials, although I do have a Boomer and a Zoomer in the mix.  I also sometimes rely heavily on the micro-generation of “Xennials” who were born between 1977-83 to translate for me!  This group grew up in a pre-digital world but adapted early on to fast-moving technologies. 

So finally, my editor and I agreed that despite these generational nuances, Americans of all ages have a lot more in common than not. Yes, there are differences but there is much more in the way of long term shared values, beliefs, ideals and reasons to respect each other.  On that note, I leave you with a traditional and thought provoking Chinese proverb: “Each generation will reap what the former generation has sown.”

God Bless America!

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

THE EAGLES HAVE LANDED!

Here is a sentence I never expected to write.  Last weekend my husband and I saw The Eagles perform live in Savannah.   When we first visited Savannah in 2003 and then not long afterwards decided to make Coastal Georgia our home, it never occurred to us that this small, charming historic city would someday attract world class acts like The Eagles.  Of course, this was before Coastal Georgia’s dramatic growth, and long before the new Enmarket Arena arrived on the scene.  It was simply fantastic to join 9,500 other music fans who came to see The Eagles play.  This wonderful evening was proof to me that the exciting three dimensional world is returning in all its noisy glory! There seems to be a pent up demand to enjoy live concerts, theatre, movies, festivals, gala events and worship.

Seeing The Eagles has long been on my husband’s bucket list, so we splurged on 4th row seats for last Saturday night’s concert as a joint Christmas gift.  It was worth every penny and more.  As Don Henley said to the audience, their goal was to provide a three hour vacation from all the stress, hassle, and angst in the world, and boy did they deliver. The set opened with Hotel California, and they played every song in that album.  After the break, they played all their other hits and, as Joe Walsh said, “Wow, we’ve been everywhere, but tonight is the first time we’ve been to Savannah!”

The Eagles began in 1971, when Texan Don Henley and Glenn Frey from Michigan were independently hired to perform as part of Linda Ronstadt’s band. Frey and Henley became friends and formed The Eagles, becoming the driving artistic forces in the band.  After some changes in the early years, key members of The Eagles’ line-up consisted of Henley, Frey, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit.

I was a bit young for the Eagles’ heyday but older friends and relatives introduced me to their music in my teens in the 80s.  My husband, as a teenager in the US Midwest in the 1970s, loved their music with a passion but had never seen them perform live until last Saturday night as they kicked off their Hotel California North America tour here in Savannah.  In spite of the fact that Henley, Walsh and Schmit are all in their mid-70s they were in fine form.  Joe Walsh did comment to the audience that he “had more fun in his 20s in the 70s than in his 70s in the 20s” but his energy was impressive.  Of course, Glenn Frey died in 2016 but Schmit, a cancer survivor, still hit all the right notes and Don Henley’s voice did not seem to have aged at all. 

The Eagles were era-defining as their particular brand of country rock was very distinct from the disco sounds, heavy metal and glam rock of many other bands of the 1970s.  Against a backdrop including the likes of David Bowie, Deep Purple and Kiss, they became known as that great band that just walked onto stage in their blue jeans and began to play.  After the height of fame following the release of their masterpiece Hotel California album they disbanded in 1980, as punk and new wave music was becoming more popular.  After the band’s breakup, Don Henley was asked when the Eagles would play together again, and he replied “when hell freezes over”.  So, with a bit of self-deprecating humor in 1994, The Eagles reunited and released their album Hell Freezes Over.  The band toured pretty consistently until Glenn Frey died in 2016, but The Eagles re-formed in 2017, with Glenn’s son Deacon Frey and Vince Gill sharing lead vocals for Frey’s songs.

The Eagles are one of the best-selling bands in history, having sold more than 200 million records, including 100 million in US alone. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 and were ranked number 75 on Rolling Stone‘s 2004 list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”.  In the USA, the band had five number-one singles and six number-one albums, six Grammy Awards and five American Music Awards.   There is a lot more information at www.eagles.com

The Eagles were not quite as popular in the UK with only one top ten hit, Hotel California.  Joe Walsh is also not as well known in the land of my birth, but my husband was thrilled when as an unexpected bonus Walsh played some of his solo hits including scorching versions of ‘Funk #49’ and ‘Rocky Mountain Way’.  As for me, I was equally excited when Don Henley played one of his own solo hits ‘Boys of Summer’. I very distinctly remember motoring around London in my little Honda in 1984 listening to this fantastic song on the radio as it hit the UK charts.  And now, live in Savannah in 2022, it was even better.

I leave you this week with a poignant quote from the legendary Eagles front man Glenn Frey. “People don’t run out of dreams – people just run out of time.”

God Bless America!

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

 

LET’S TALK ABOUT THE NUMBER 300

This week’s column is about an unusual subject – the number 300.  Please humor me as I explore this interesting number.

Why is 300 special?  Well, it has several interesting aspects.  Mathematically, it is the sum of two prime numbers (149 + 151), and it is also the sum of ten consecutive prime numbers (13 + 17 + 19 + 23 + 29 + 31 + 37 + 41 + 43 + 47).  

In history, according to the ancient Greek writer and historian Herodotus, 300 Spartans resisted one million Persian invaders during the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC), which became the subject of the Warner Brothers historical action movie ‘300’.  Moving on another few centuries, in the Bible the number 300 is used many times, including in God’s instruction to Noah to build his ark three hundred cubits long (about 450 feet).

In modern day terms, it represents a perfect score in bowling, and it is also the lowest credit rating one can get on several systems of credit scoring. The 100 yard long playing area on an American football field is, unsurprisingly, exactly 300 feet long.  My husband occasionally tortures our dogs and I with old blues music, and he tells me in 1963 Howlin’ Wolf released the hit song “300 Pounds of Joy”, which was later recorded by others including Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi as The Blues Brothers.

Onto the mythological.  According to various websites on tarot cards, astrology, and numerology, 300 is also an angel number. “The number 300 urges us not to let a lack of clarity hold us back. No one knows what the future holds, focus on what will bring you happiness and fulfillment in the here and now”, according to numerologysign.com. Others say the number is urging you to trust your intuition, love those around you, and a lot of other encouraging advice.  Perhaps my favorite is from sunsigns.org – “Angel number 300 is a cue from the divine forces that you have to respect the people who were behind your success and be grateful. In other words, having good people will make your life better and great.” Is that stating the obvious or is it just me that thinks so?

If you are still reading, it leads to me answering the question which is now no doubt firmly on your mind – why in the world is the English Rose in Georgia rambling on about the number 300? Well, you are reading the answer.

Unbelievably, this is my 300th column for the Bryan County News! Well, they do say that time flies when you are having fun.

My first column appeared in October 2010, when the then-publisher of this newspaper asked me to share some of my perceptions as a newly arrived transplant from London, England to Richmond Hill, Georgia.   He knew I loved living here on the doorstep of beautiful, historic Savannah, and he had heard me speak at our Rotary Club about some of the quirks and funny differences in our cultures and ways of life. So was born “An English Rose in Georgia”, which has appeared every two weeks, 300 times, like clockwork.  I thought it would be fun to do for a few months, but here we are over eleven years later.  I am proud of having never missed a deadline, and I do my best to write about something new (and hopefully interesting) every time.

The topics of these columns have been about as wide-ranging as it is possible to be.  Famous people, historical events, geography, travel, popular culture, work, animals, random interesting facts that catch my attention and, of course, some of the amusing differences between the USA and jolly Ol’ England.  One of my early columns was even written in the voice of our British Labrador Retriever, who enjoyed his golden years here in Coastal Georgia.  I found it amusing that after emigrating to the US, our three British dogs woke us up at 3am for a while demanding breakfast – they were suffering from jet lag!

I really appreciate the response I get from my readers.  I have received a lot of emails over the years, almost all positive, and it never fails to surprise and slightly embarrass me when people stop me in the post office or grocery store and are kind enough to say they read and enjoy my column.  I also get some great suggestions for future columns from my readers, so please keep them coming.  Email me at lesley@lesleyfrancisPR.com .

I would like to give a huge thanks to this newspaper for allowing me to connect with the community I love in this very unique way.  And, to you for reading them!  Whether you read my column regularly, or occasionally, or even if this is your very first one, you have my heartfelt appreciation, and I am deeply honored by your support. Thank you.

So, since this column is focused on a number, I thought I would say goodbye this week with a math quote from that famous and fabulously funny American columnist Erma Bombeck:  “As a graduate of the Zsa Zsa Gabor School of Creative Mathematics, I honestly do not know how old I am.”

God Bless America!

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

NO MORE PARADISE BY THE DASHBOARD LIGHT

As we get older, the deaths of celebrities we grew up with unfortunately become more frequent. Last week’s sad news about the passing of singer Marvin Lee Aday, known as the iconic Meat Loaf, was another reminder of the passage of time.

I have always been enthralled by most things American, even years before I met my American husband in London. I clearly recall the first time I heard Meat Loaf’s voice on ‘Radio One’, a very popular British BBC radio station targeting teenagers. What a voice! This larger-than-life singer hit the British charts in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when I was an impressionable teenager. There was a small group of us at my very proper English all-girls high school who confessed to adoring the powerful vocals of this motorcycle riding, long-haired, 250-plus pound bad boy American rock star, but I think more of my classmates secretly agreed!

Born in Dallas to a gospel singing mother and a police officer father in 1947, this future star lost his mom when he was still a teenager. His mother had divorced his alcoholic father some years before and raised her son alone. He acquired the nickname Meat Loaf at a young age, some say because of his hefty size, and others say because of his love for this recipe cooked by his mother. Whatever the reason, the name stuck. He moved to California at the age of twenty to pursue his musical career and was soon fronting the band Meat Loaf Soul. He alternated between music and acting, and in 1970 he moved to New York to appear in Broadway musicals. He made his film debut in 1975 with thememorable role of Eddie in the cult film classic “Rocky Horror Picture Show”.

Two years later he kicked off his musical partnership with lyricist Jim Steinman, and “Bat Out of Hell” hit the world by storm. It became one of the top-selling albums of all time, with worldwide sales of more than 40 million copies, but it had a slow start and mixed reviews. Meat Loaf was so little known at first that he began his “Bat Out of Hell” tour in Chicago as the opening act for Cheap Trick, then one of the world’s hottest groups. Touring and promoting “Bat Out of Hell” took a toll on Meat Loaf’s voice and left him unable to sing for two years, but after months of rehabilitation, he was able to get back in the studio and record his next album “Dead Ringer”.

Meat Loaf’s popularity waned during the 1980s in the USA, but he continued to have major chart successes in Europe and Australia – which is when I first fell in love with his music back in England. In fact,”Dead Ringer for Love”, a duet with Cher, was a top five single in the UKbut barely made the top 50 in the US. When Meat Loaf and Steinman got back together in 1993, they released the powerful “Bat Out Of Hell II” which went to the top of the charts in the US, UK, and 26 other countries. There is lots more information at www.imdb.com

Meat Loaf had suffered many health issues starting back in the 1970s, and over the years he had been very open about his struggles with alcohol abuse and mental health issues. I was living in London and remember the media frenzy when he collapsed on stage during his British tour in 2003 and needed surgery before he could head home to the USA. There has been much speculation recently about if he was suffering from Covid-19 but, in any event, I think we all agree that his death at the age of 74 is a sad loss for millions of fans.

My family and friends have been debating this week about our favorite Meat Loaf songs. Most Americans, including my husband and some colleagues at the office, clearly prefer “Paradise By the Dashboard Light”. While I can see that it is very amusing, and also a small opera crammed into an 8-minute song, I just didn’t “get it” back when it came out. In England, I had never seen baseball or heard the game commentary on radio. I certainly didn’t know what second base was – either in baseball or when used by young people experimenting with romance. Personally, “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” is my favorite, closely followed by “You Took The Words Right Out of My Mouth”. On the other hand, the radio always gets turned up in our cars when “Bat out of Hell” comes on. It is hard to believe that he has gone.

I will leave you with a quote from the star himself: “Rock n’ Roll came from the slaves singing gospel in the fields. Their lives were hell and they used music to lift out of it, to take them away. That’s what rock n’ roll should do – take you to a better place.”

God Bless America and Rest in Peace, Meat Loaf.

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009. She can be contacted at lesley@francis.com or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

LOOKING FORWARD TO 2022 WITH OPTIMISM

I have been in public relations and marketing for over 30 years, but I heard two new media terms recently – ‘doom scrolling’ and ‘doom surfing’.  The Merriam Webster dictionary defines these as “a tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing. Many people find themselves reading continuously bad news…. without the ability to stop or step back.”  This is closely related to ‘clickbait’, a more widely used term indicating a dramatic or emotive headline which is not necessarily real news but aims to – you guessed it – encourage the user to click on a link.

But is the world really that bad a place?  As a rational and intelligent adult, business owner, grandparent, and member of the community that I love, I do accept the realities of the problems around us.  Our ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain issues, worries on the international front from Taiwan to the Ukraine, and an increasing polarization of America are real problems that must be understood, met and dealt with.  

However, I am an optimist and insist on viewing the world in positive terms.  I am also thankfully surrounded by positive people in my family, my friends, and my team at work.  I simply refuse to cave in to the “doom and gloom” merchants and adopt a “woe is me” attitude.  I believe that the world is a wonderful and beautiful place which has substantially more good in it than bad.

I work hard at being realistic while retaining a hopefulness and confidence about the future, seeing the glass as “half full” rather than “half empty”, a phrase that was first reported used by former US President, Ronald Reagan in 1985.  I also like the quote by comedian George Carlin who said “some people see the glass half-full. Others see it half-empty. I see a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be.”  

A friend challenged me recently to name one good thing that came out of 2021.  What did I come up with?  The World Health Organization has approved the first malaria vaccine.  Malaria still kills over 600,000 people each year, over half of them children under five.  It is now likely to soon be a disease of the past like polio and smallpox.  Take that, click-baiters and doom-surfers!

My personal optimism tendencies sometimes lead me to think I can get all my work or chores done with time to spare – sometimes leaving me exhausted, running late and frustrated with myself. My husband calls it my own “personal battle with the space-time continuum”.

In today’s world it is difficult not to be overwhelmed occasionally by depressing and scary news.  I retain my optimistic nature with some simple but effective tools that my more than five decades on earth have proven to work for me:

  • The biggest thing is learning from history and remembering that “this too shall pass”, a great phrase from Corinthians in the Bible, and one of Abraham Lincoln’s favorite sayings.  I majored in history at university, and the perspective of centuries proves that the human race is absolutely resilient in the face of war, pandemics and natural disasters. 
  • Although it is essential for my work that I stay up to date on social media and daily news, I find unplugging from a constant 24/7 news stream and occasionally turning off my smartphone is vital for my mental health.
  • Getting enough rest.  It is tempting to maximize every day to the utmost and just stay at work to get that one more thing done, or staying up a little later at night to just check one more thing off my personal list.  I have learned that sometimes I just need to just call it a day and stop to remember that I am a human ‘being’ not a human ‘doing’!
  • Compartmentalizing problems and not letting them dominate other things I think, say or do.  Instead, I try to assess them, decide on a course of action and then just get on with it.
  • Hugging my loved ones.  The comfort of physical touch from hugs to stroking a pet has been scientifically proven to reduce stress for everyone involved.

I say goodbye this week with a quote from Annette Funicello, the famous American mouseketeer, singer and actress who danced her way into all those beach party movies with Frankie Avalon in the 1950s and 60s.  In 1992, when she was announcing that she was suffering with multiple sclerosis, she didn’t seek pity or sympathy.  Instead, she proclaimed “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful”.  What a great lady, and what great words to live by.

God Bless America, and Happy New Year! 

– ENDS –


Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

HAVE A CRACKING CHRISTMAS

I am proud to call Coastal Georgia my home. I love living close to our family, and this time of year I always look forward to seeing our granddaughters open their gifts early on Christmas morning.  It is a privilege and a joy.  I have also learned to enjoy some very American Christmas tastes and experiences including eggnog, parades, candy canes and traditional American movies, although putting up the Christmas decorations in November (right after Thanksgiving) still seems way too early for me. But as much as I love America, it has now been over two years since I have visited the land of my birth, my longest period ever being away from England.  So this year more than ever, I am thinking about the people and traditions across the pond that I will miss during this festive season.  

I have noticed that it is easier to obtain British Christmas treats here than it was when I first moved to the USA in 2009.   This has been especially important during these challenging times for travel and has enabled us to blend the best of American and British holiday traditions. One essential component of the Christmas season for any Brit is “the Christmas cracker”.  These are colorful paper tubes which contain a silly paper hat, a small gift, and a little slip of paper with a corny joke on it.  When they are opened by two people pulling them apart sort of like two people pulling on a wishbone, they “pop” with a small, cap-gun-like explosion. They must be set out on the fully decorated dining table before we begin our big Christmas day meal, along with the plates, silverware, and turkey or ham.  Anyone not wearing the paper hat or reading their joke to the group out loud is branded as grumpy or ‘not much fun’.  These cone-shaped crackers are simply a ‘must-have’ for British people to make any Christmas complete.   

I must admit that most Americans politely go along with the cracker pulling tradition at our home, but they seem very underwhelmed by the whole thing.  Like many things in life, perhaps you have to grow up with Christmas crackers to really appreciate them! My family have learned to humor me over the years although usually I am the only one still wearing the silly paper crown by the time we get to dessert.  That is when I try to tempt them with another traditional English treat – the Christmas pudding, sort of a hot fruit cake with warm creamy sauce poured over it.  Truly an acquired taste, that is one for another column!

So what is the history of the Christmas cracker?  London based pastry and confectionery maker Tom Smith invented them during the reign of Queen Victoria in 1847.  This British baker was inspired by a visit to France and began making traditional French bon-bon sweets for sale back in London.  Even though he wrapped the sugared almonds in paper and displayed them attractively, they did not sell well.  One evening as he sat listening to the snaps and pops of his fireplace, he had the big idea – what if he could make the treats crackle and pop like the fire when opened? He launched his range, originally called “Bangs of Expectation”, with his bon-bon candies and a love message inside the wrappers.  He had to make the wrapper bigger to include the banger mechanism.  When his sons took over the business, they added paper crown-like hats, possibly inspired by ‘Epiphany’ or ‘three king cakes’ from Europe which are decorated with these paper crowns. Over time because the edible treats in crackers often dropped to the floor when they were pulled apart, little trinkets replaced the candy.  By the 1930s, the love messages were replaced by jokes or riddles, and it is a British tradition that they need to be not very funny and are often well known to the group as the same jokes have been appearing in crackers for many years. “What did Adam say on the day before Christmas? It’s Christmas, Eve!” and “What do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire?  Frostbite!” and “Who is Santa’s favorite singer? Elf-is Presley”.  You get the idea. There is more information at www.historic-uk.com  

I say goodbye this week with a quote from Bob Hope, who was British born but turned American and became one of the world’s leading entertainers of the 20th century.My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?” 

God Bless America and wishing everybody, as we say in the UK, a very ‘Happy Christmas’!

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com