Monday 20 October 2008

Welcome, Post Readers

Greetings to anyone who may have stumbled here from John Kelly's Commons, my new Washington Post blog. John Kelly's Voxford was the blog I wrote during my year in England. It's pretty much moribund, but if you, like me, occasionally pine for England, you might find some memories here, reasons both to miss England and to be glad you're not there. Here's something I wrote about British supermarkets. Here's a piece I did (with video!) on Oxford's strange May Day traditions. Here are reflections on the incredibly uncomfortable bus ride between Oxford and Cambridge (71 roundabouts!).

I hope you'll take time to stop by John Kelly's Commons and let me know what you think.

Sunday 21 September 2008

Guardian Angle: Binge Britain

I'm in the Guardian again today, a Comment piece that had been pinging around in my head while I was living in England. The premise: The Brits don't have a problem with binge drinking. Well, they do, but that's just because they have a problem with binge everythinging.

So, welcome to any Guardian readers who have washed up here at my blog. I'm afraid it's a little stale, given that my day job has reaffirmed its primacy in my life. And that job is as a columnist at The Washington Post. Most of what you'll find here in Voxford are impressions of the 10 months I spent living in Oxford. I hope my affection for your scepter'd isle comes through (even if the Daily Mail did infuriate me).

I'll actually be in Oxford this weekend, where I hope to do a little bingeing of my own. Pint of Old Hooky, please, barman. Oh, make it two....

Monday 25 August 2008

The Washington Post March

I know there are plenty of people who don't believe I work at The Washington Post. (They are, of course, outnumbered by the people who don't care that I work at The Washington Post.) But I do, at least as of this morning, and physical proof can be found on Page B3 of today's edition:

A rather easier way to read my column is to go to John Kelly's Washington at I hope you'll read me in the paper (or online) and will dip into my blog, when it starts in a few weeks. Even now the code for it is being hand-written by Shaolin monks.

I Think I'm Go Go

In other news: My Lovely Wife and I saw Squeeze last week at the 930 club. The Jam, the Smithereens, Wreckless Eric, Squeeze... I'm slowly seeing all my old favorites. This Squeeze was without drummer Gilson Lavis and keyboard player Jools Holland. Jools is a big TV star in England, hosting a late night music program, and probably couldn't consider a reunion tour. Gilson is his drummer. The replacement keyboard player, Stephen Large, was good, even if he did remind me of Crispin Glover. And so was drummer Simon Hanson. Hanson was a freaking machine.

In fact, the whole evening had a bit of an assembly-line feel to it. The performances were impeccable, the arrangements interesting, the singing terrific. But it seemed mechanical in places, not the relaxed Squeeze I've seen before. Of course, when I say "before" I mean 25 years ago at Ritchie Colosseum, when they opened on Elvis Costello's "Trust" tour. "Argybargy"-era Squeeze is my favorite, before the songs got overly mannered. I love Difford and Tilbrook but want to get my gun when I hear "Annie Get Your Gun."

This was Squeeze's first U.S. gig on a long tour so maybe they were playing it safe. And the joy that the band is capable of did shine through on the wonderful encore-closing "Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)." "The record jumps on a scratch," they once sang in another song. What's a record? What's a scratch?

Thursday 31 July 2008

For Your Amusement

My Lovely Wife and I once competed to see who could come up with the least appropriate store for Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. What retail establishment would be most out of place among the crush of shell shops, henna tattoo joints and beachware emporia selling T-shirts emblazoned with "MILF in Training" and "I'm not as think as you drunk I am"? I won with a bookshop selling rare first editions of Melville and Hawthorne.

This is not to say that Myrtle Beach is the tackiest place in America or even that I dislike the city. I worked there the summer between high school and college, at a joint called Polack Pete's that sold Polish sausages late into the night. Every summer my family spends a week about 25 miles south of Myrtle, at a relatively unspoiled place called Pawleys Island, where there isn't much to do besides collect shells, swim, tan and read. Day trips to Myrtle Beach remind us why we like Pawleys so much.

The newest attraction in M.B. is Hard Rock Park, an amusement park that's an offshoot of the Hard Rock Cafe empire. We're not theme park junkies, or the sort of people who have to ride the latest roller coasters. But I like amusement parks and I love rock and roll and was curious about the union of the two.

I think they did a pretty good job. It's a clean, well-run park (which isn't very rock and roll), with a sly, slightly anarchic sense of humor (which is). The Nights in White Satin ride, for example, is an update of the old funhouse ride arranged around the Moody Blues hit. And when I say "hit" I mean hit of acid, since the basic aim seems to be to recreate an LSD experience without drugs. Three-D glasses give the Day-Glo setting a wavery, edge-of-consciousness look, with patterns swimming around you as you creep ahead in your little car. When you're finished with the ride--after being assaulted from all directions by that overwrought song--you're deposited in the gift shop, where the candy section has a huge sign reading "Got the Munchies?"

There's a great live-action show that celebrates the lowly roadie, turning the laughable unwashed stereotype into a pumped-up hero. The "plot" centers around a fellow named Nigel and whether he will be able to cut it as a roadie. (Spoiler alert: He is.) There's lots of bouncing off trampolines, flying from wires, tumbling across the stage and setting off of pyrotechnics. A beach music-themed show is similarly energetic, with high dives and hijinks.

The rides probably wouldn't satisfy hardcore fans but they were good enough for me. I find that rides fit into two categories: the ones that make you sick and the ones that make you think you'll die. I actually prefer the latter, since I'm not afraid of death. But I really hate feeling like I'm going to throw up, even more than actually throwing up. Thus, I was not a fan of these tiny London taxis that spun around while wobbling up and down. I emerged with that sort of brow sweat that precedes a big upchuck, probably not helped by the Philly cheesesteak I had consumed earlier.

The most extreme death ride is a roller coaster called Led Zeppelin. It features six "inversions." I always wonder about the warnings you pass as you creep along in the line: No pregnant women. No one with back problems. No one of a nervous disposition. No one with a heart condition. I have a heart condition and I sometimes worry that the old ticker will self-destruct somewhere near the third inversion. But we mustn't live our lives in fear, so after viewing the video instructions about how to board the ride (you'd think we were going on the space shuttle) and watching a five-minute documentary on Led Zeppelin, the band (theme park operators are masters now at occupying you during your wait), I strapped myself in.

All the roller coasters at Hard Rock Park feature floor-mounted speakers that ensure your screams will be nearly masked by high-fidelity music. On Led Zeppelin, they played "Afternoon Delight" by the Starland Vocal Band. Just kidding. They played "Whole Lotta Love," a song which, "Clockwork Orange"-fashion, I now associate with having to clench my teeth to keep my spleen from landing in the lap of the person behind me. In other words, the ride rawks! I bought both the photograph of our ride and the DVD, which the helpful park attendant told me I owned the rights to, allowing me to stick it on YouTube. Somewhere, Tim Berners-Lee is weeping.

As with a lot of seasonal service jobs down here, the park is staffed largely by Eastern Europeans. How odd that their first, perhaps only, experience with America is at a southern amusement park. Or is that the perfect introduction?

Here's me with two bear skin-hatted beauties in the park's "British Invasion" section:

And here I am with the Banana Splits:

We really haven't heard a lot from the Banana Splits since their acrimonious breakup more than 30 years ago. (As you recall, Fleegle was dating "H.R. Pufnstuf's" Witchiepoo and her presence in the studio during the ill-fated "Let It Split" sessions alienated the rest of the band.) But I was chatting with the group's handler and he said they're demoing some new material and are poised for a comeback. You read it here first.

Friday 18 July 2008

What's In a Name? My Blog Needs Your Ideas

So, if certain technical hurdles can be overcome I will, before summer's end, be blogging on The first hurdle, however, is coming up with a name. Will you help me?

Obviously "John Kelly's Voxford" isn't gonna fly. But "John Kelly's Washington" is no good either, since the aim is to distinguish the blog from my column of that name. Taking a cue from Voxford I could go with "John Kelly's Vashington," but that just sounds like a vampire pronouncing it. ("I vant to suck your blood. And read your blog.")

It'd be nice to go with something involving my name. I wasn't crazy at first about Post columnist Marc Fisher's blog's name: Raw Fisher. It seemed unsanitary, like an improperly cleaned cutting board. But it's grown on me and now I think it's among the best on our site. Joel Achenbach probably hated his last name as a kid (it sounds like a German trying not to vomit) but it came in helpful when it was time to dub the Achenblog. I don't really have a name that lends itself to that sort of transformation. "Kelly's Heroes"? "Kelly Roll"? "A John-diced View"? I kind of like "Johnorrhea" (catch it!) but that's even grosser than "Raw Fisher."

So, maybe something that doesn't include my name but that hints at what the blog is about, which will be tidbits from the Washington area and from my own brain pan. But call it something like "Capital Comment" and people will think it's about politics, which it won't be.

Oh well, that's enough dithering over what it shouldn't be. Tell me what it should be. Or what it might be. We're brainstorming here, folks, so all suggestions are appreciated. Leave 'em as a comment or drop a line to kellyj[at] If I pick yours you will receive some sort of probably worthless prize, in addition to my undying digital gratitude. Have a great weekend.

Friday 11 July 2008

All the News That Fits

I emerged from the Farragut North Metro yesterday morning and collided with a metaphor. A man and a woman were hunched over the newspaper street racks at the corner of Connecticut and L NW. They were scraping the names of newspapers from the brown metal vending machines.

The Financial Times had already come off. The Miami Herald had been reduced to "Miam" and the Richmond Times Dispatch was disappearing, one letter at a time. Those papers, I was told, had decided not to vend from the street racks anymore. Some, like the Financial Times, you could still get by subscription and at news stands. Others might be harder to get in D.C.

Street boxes in Washington for out of town newspapers have always been a bit of a vanity exercise. Surely it costs more than 75 cents for the Miami Herald or Los Angeles Times to wind up in downtown Washington. But if you worked for those papers you felt a little frisson every time you walked past. Of course, Washington bureaus are being decimated so there's just as little chance of an LA or Miami staffer walking past as there is of a Washingtonian fingering three quarters and saying, "You know what I need this morning? News from Miami." He can get it for free on the web now.

They weren't scraping off all the names. A few newspapers remained--and those free real estate books. And The Washington Post and the Washington Times still have their own separate street racks. But the impressively huge monster rack was being whittled away from the inside. (There's another metaphor!) What will be done with it when it's empty, and when all the other street racks--with their signature message: "Use any combination of coins," and their unspoken "take no more than one paper" honor code--are no longer needed?

Dump them in the ocean, I guess, an artificial reef for the fishes. If there are any fishes left, that is....

Friday 27 June 2008

The Most Gargoylish Friday Ever

In my manic final days in Oxford I raced around trying to do all the things I'd never found time for in the previous 10 months. I bought a pair of brown brogues at Ducker's on the Turl. I read a book in the Radcliffe Camera, the circular, light-filled reading room that is one of the Bodleian Library's signature elements. And I climbed to the top of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. This is the church:

This is the steeple:

Open the doors and see all the...gargoyles:

Finally, here's my favorite shot:

I wonder: Does that pigeon dream of being a gargoyle? Or does that gargoyle dream of being a pigeon?

And Finally...
I'm slowly lowering my body into the sitz bath that is The Washington Post. Alice Reid, my colleague (and Oxford alum; who knew?), is ably handling this summer's Send a Kid to Camp campaign. That's The Post's annual fund drive for Camp Moss Hollow, a summer camp for underprivileged children. I hope you'll consider making a donation to this worthy cause.

And if you're in the D.C. area, help me out: My columns don't write themselves, you know, so if you have any ideas for when I start columnizing later this summer, drop me a line: kellyj[at] I'm especially interested in questions for Answer Man.

Thanks, and have a great weekend. I think I'll be mowing the lawn again.