Friday, April 10, 2009

That's POTUS To You!

from Jacqueline

A few months ago I made an investment – definitely an investment, if you look at the paltry offerings on the box these days – I bought the entire seven series boxed set of The West Wing. In my humble opinion, it retains its place of excellence in TV writing, even though Bradley Whitford never looks at the person he’s talking to as he swans along the corridors of power, and even though it amazes me that so many people can be engaged in the act of perambulation without spilling a drop of the coffee they’re carrying. But I digress. As far as possible, they were sticklers for authenticity on The West Wing, with Martin Sheen – President Bartlett – referred to as “Mr. President” or “President Bartlett” most of the time, unless it’s a cozy feely bit and he’s with someone who can say, “Jed, you need rest ....”

We’re wading our way through the first season, rationing our watching to two episodes per week. First up this week was the episode where the Supreme Court upheld an execution judgement that went to appeal, and the defendant – a double-murdering drug kingpin – lost. The lawyers scrambled to get the ear of The President as he could veto the decision. In turn, President Bartlett called upon his religious and spiritual guidance people, including the minister from his old constituency in New Hampshire. Enter Karl Malden, who had known Jed Bartlett since he was a young man. He asked if he should call him Jed. Now, as usual, I can’t remember the exact response, but Sheen’s lines went something like this, “Let’s stick to ‘Mr. President’ so I remember the weight of the decision is with the office, as well as the man.” The moment was so crisp, it hung in the air.

So, here’s where I’m going with this little bit of reflection. I have noticed an increasing trend on the TV and Radio news and on talk shows, and also in the printed and online press, to refer to this nation’s President as simply, “Obama.” Now, before anyone starts, yes, I know we can all think of times when the single word, “Bush” was used (and in our house there was usually an unflattering word that preceded it), but most often on the news, for example, he was “George Bush” or “President George Bush.” Whether we liked it or not, he was the president, and whatever was said about him, he was connected with the office (oh, help us, was he ever connected with the office?).

I have a sense that if the current press secretary were Alison Janney, this trend would not go on much longer. She would drag the entire press corps in there and remind them that they are talking about the President of the United States, and even though he may have the common touch, and even though we have come to know him through the thick and thin of his campaign, and even though we may not have wanted him there, for the most part he is the President of the United States of America. President Barack Obama is on business out there in the world, and even though I am sure he doesn’t mind the odd “Obama” this or “Obama” that – we would all do well to remember the importance of the office. Maybe it was in forgetting that got us into such a terrible mess the last time.

Talking about the common touch now, as you know, I have recently returned from the UK – in fact, while I’m here, sorry about last week’s non-appearance, but I had only flown in late the night before and I was not really in a fit state to post anything. While I was there, the US Cavalry rolled into town. You heard about the many cars, helicopters and secret service agents there to protect POTUS, and you may have heard about the President’s motorcade getting stuck in Downing Street – what a giggle that was, even with all that respect. I was watching the news with my parents that day – the arrival of President Barack Obama at Number Ten Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s official residence, the photo opportunity, and then the departure into the house. Just before he crossed the threshold, POTUS extended a hand to the solitary policeman who stands at the door of Number Ten (the place is always swarming with guys on the roof and up the street, but this policeman is a tradition). The President of the United States of America shook hands with the policeman, and they exchanged smiles and probably a hello. Then Gordon Brown, the PM, comes next, half extends his hand then remembers he’s about to touch the help, so shoves it back again, at which point the poor bobby is left with his hand hanging. Did I see him shrug with a wry smile? As soon I saw that footage, I said to my parents, “There you have it, there it is – that’s why I live over there!” Not that it’s all touchy feely here, and not that America gets it right every time, but there isn’t that centuries old upper crust elitism that still exists, no matter how many trendy restaurants you can now find in the East End of London, and no matter how many lords of the manor are down to their last Rembrandt.

My penultimate word today is about cars. How could it be otherwise, having seen the POTUS almost get stuck in his big old car on a London Street? One of the things that strikes anyone who travels to Europe, is the number of really cute small cars. Of course, there are those who lumber around in their Range Rovers and so on (disparagingly called Chelsea Tractors), but for the most part, you’ll see much smaller cars than over here, and many of them are so CUTE! Every time I am over there I see really snappy little cars (probably getting 60 mpg) and I’m thinking, “Why don’t we have that in the States?” Why don’t Toyota/Nissan/Ford or whoever take that design Stateside? I think the automakers here are being given the wrong instructions. Sure we can tell them to improve fuel efficiency, etc., but why don’t we just say, “Go away and make cute cars.” Not clunkers, not cars that couldn’t hold the road even if it had arms, but really nice cute little cars with great gas mileage and terrific reliability. Throw in a little retro, and you’ll be home and dry. Here’s one of my favorites:

Finally, today is Good Friday. I’ve written at Easter time before, so you probably know this is my favorite holiday. You can keep all your December and January holidays, but I adore Easter. It’s that new life thing – the air around our home is filled with the scent of orange blossom from the surrounding farms, my grass is green – in a few weeks it will be toasted brown – and signs of new life are abundant.

Have a wonderful, abundant weekend, and may your Easter be filled with joy – and chocolate. Here, have a hot crossed bun ....

PS: Oh, perhaps I should have explained for non West Wing fans: In the first episode, Sam Seaborne (Rob Lowe) takes a call which refers to his boss - "POTUS" - the President Of The United States. He'd just run his bike into a tree.


  1. Oh, but I am lonesome for a good hot cross bun!! Thanks Our J. And welcome home. We touch down in London mid next month and really looking forward to it. :-D

    Great post. And a nice portrait of reasonable respect. I admire the office of the President of the US (POTUS) and have never seen it brought so low as the previous administration. President Obama is a sorely needed 'statesman' in that office.

    Happy Easter to everybody!

  2. from Jacqueline

    Lovely to hear from you, Marianne - and you were quick off the mark, I only just finished writing and posting this piece! Safe travels back to Blightly for you.

  3. Marianne, got any HCB recipes you want to share?

    I agree about the cute little European cars, Our J. I once rented a Renault in Holland that was approximately the size of a Costco grocery cart. Importing them could be a safety issue but is probably just protectionism.

    Lovely to have you back.

  4. Hans and I just finished watching the entire "West Wing" series a couple months ago (our local library carries several copies of each season). There are so many poignant moments that have become embedded in my memory and I certainly remember the one between Pres. Barlett and the minister. Lucky you to be still in the first season. It was a sad day when we got to the final episode. Enjoy.


  5. My guilty pleasure is NCIS. Sorry. I know it's fantasy, but it's fun and a great ensemble. I always cry when they repeat the episode with the Iwo-Jima vet who wants believes he accidentally killed his best mate while they were under fire on Iwo, and the was seriously wounded by a mine. Saw that one again last night. Sigh.

    HCB recipes, Patty? Can dig one out of my Aussie cook books if you really want one. :-D Let me know. It's something I haven't made since high school cooking class.

    Hugs all round,

  6. Sorry the last bit was garbled. The Iwo vet accidentally killed his mate while trying to keep him quiet, at the urging of the rest of the unit. He thinks the accident happened for the wrong reasons/causes...


  7. from Jacqueline

    Patty, the best HCB recipes are in old English cookery books, however, here's one that isn't bad:

    I would just make plain pastry crosses though, you don't need sugar for them. And please, no lemon curd or icing crosses, definitely not at all good.

    Pauline, you just have to wait for a year, then start at the beginning again - that's what I do with a couple of my favorite series. Even though I know the stories, it's always lovely to watch. But the West Wing is the best - the writing is crisp and assured, the scenes memorable and the acting first-rate. And the series always seemed to be extraordinarily timely, whatever the subject. The great thing about owning the whole series bumper box of the WW, is that you get "bonus material" - I have yet to watch any of it, but I am sure it will be good viewing. Lovely to hear from you!

    Marianne, I haven't watched NCIS, perhaps I should.

  8. Lena Kestrel4/10/2009 1:32 PM

    I venture to post this comment with some trepidation, as you all seem to know each other. But here goes. I have just finished my third Maisie Dobbs novel. (Everything is closed down tight in Switzerland on Good Friday; so, so I couldn't rush out and buy "Among the Mad".) Feeling sad and fighting withdrawal symptoms, I started browsing Jaqueline Winspear and came upon this blog. --- Couldn't agree with you more on all your points! Respect, small cars, The West Wing, everything! Especially your appreciation of President Barack Obama's friendly handshake and how we lack this kind of easy warmth - meshed beautifully with great statesmanship! I am thrilled by President Obama and I love your books!

  9. from Jacqueline

    Lena, thanks for joining the conversation! We have our regulars here, but we also have many, many visitors to our blog, some comment and some don't - in fact, we keep an eye on our "viewership" and we have readers in just about every continent, which isn't bad at all.

    Lovely to hear you've enjoyed my books - indeed, if you've finished the third, there's the fourth and fifth to read before you get to AMONG THE MAD, so there's more waiting for you. And though you may disagree, I'm glad to hear the shops are closed in Switzerland on Good Friday - when I was a child in England, the only shops open were those selling hot crossed buns, and around ten in the morning when they'd run out, that was it, everything was closed. It was that element of respect for the holiday - plus I suppose everyone was sitting around eating those buns!

    Do join us again, Lena - we're all very different writers, and we usually have something to say for ourselves!

  10. Lena, welcome!!!! You are now a member of the family. Thanks for the HCB link, Our J. One never knows, I may take it for a whirl in the kitchen. Because I'm not much of a TV watcher, I have never seen even one episode of The West Wing nor have I ever seen any ER episodes, which apparently was on the air for a gazillion years.

  11. lena, do go and buy jackie's other bookd tomorrow. then you will have two motre bankholidays to read them all. enjoy!

    jackie, how cruel of you to mention hcb's. i'm no good at baking and john always craves for them this time of year.

    happy easter to all of you lovely naked people.


  12. from Jacqueline

    Sorry, Sybille - didn't mean to make you and John ache with desire for a lovely HCB! Actually, I would love one too, but have to curb my appetite as I am now allergic to anything made of grains. I've only just got over not having any Christmas pudding!

  13. from Jacqueline

    Oh, and Patty, I am a big TV watcher, but I really came to enjoy The West Wing - but not until it had been out for quite a while. I thought I would watch to see what the fuss was about, and there I was, hooked! There are only a few other series I've enjoyed (Northern Exposure was one, MASH another), mainly because I can't be bothered to wade through the channels to find anything worth watching. I've never watched ER, never watched House, Cold Case, NCIS or any of those well-known shows. Good books and good movies, that does it for me.

  14. AAAAAKKKKKK! That recipe is in a foreign language. What's a k? A dl? Not to worry, I found a HCB recipe in my The Complete Book of Breads by Bernard Clayton, Jr.

    Okay, okay, I'll check my TV schedule for reruns of TWW.

  15. James O. Born4/10/2009 5:21 PM

    Jackie, I've never seen the WW but would like to.

    I absolutely agree with calling the person in the office President. No matter who is in the office. There is a phrse in the military "Respect the office if not the man."

    President Obama is the proper title. President Bush, President Clinton, the good President Bush and so on, even Presidents Nixon and Johnson (After lincoln, not Kennedy) All of them deserve a modicum of respect that should be common in a civilized society.


  16. Oh my, West Wing had some of the sharpest and most intelligent writing around, and I miss it badly. I do keep hoping one my family will remember it for one of the gift-giving days.

    And I'm reading a book now that deals with the American attitude toward British class distinction (with, of course, a mystery thrown in to keep things lively), so this is quite the timely post, Jackie. Thank you!

    Now off to find an episode of NCIS because I love that series too. And Marianne, I love that episode too. Charles Durning is touching and wonderful

  17. sorry to hear about your allergy, jackie. that must be quite a drag!


  18. Thanks for your comment, Fran. I was lucky with my WW complete boxed set - it was on sale via Amazon UK (worked out at about $75), and because I have a code-free DVD player, I didn't have to worry about it not working on my player (most international DVD's do not work on US DVD players).

    Yes, Sybille, the allergy is a drag - so is the one to chocolate.

  19. Jim, I knew you would have words of truth to add to the conversation, and "respect the office" is very much the truth in this matter. Respect in a civilized society is more important than many realize - even those small common courtesies that contribute to peaceful, respectful and rooted communities.

  20. I really don't watch much TV, and at the time that West Wing began, I was working evenings. Thus though highly praised, I never got into the show.

    As a matter of fact, the only show I watch with any regularity now is Chuck, a great show for all of us onetime geeks and dweebs out there. It's quirky. I like it. :o)

  21. Jeff, I only got to know WW in the last two seasons (not being a big telly watcher, I missed the previous seasons), however I became hooked, which is why I am having so much fun with going through it from the beginning. However, I confess, I have never heard of Chuck. Chuck?

  22. I've been reading for a while but have also been leery about leaving a comment. I couldn't resist this round first because I also bought the entire WW series for my daughter for Christmas. The box it came in is pretty cool too. But mostly I had to respond to the part about cars. We have an entire fleet of cute Little British Cars (LBCs) which is fairly unusual in Northern California. We have two 1959 Morrises (I drive a Traveler--woody wagon and my husband drives a pick-up), a 1958 Austin Saloon, a 1959 Austin Healey Bug-Eyed Sprite (which is the car that started it all) and our modern car, a Mini Cooper. My husband has been restoring all of these cars over the past ten years. Because of his LBC passion I have managed, after 30 years!!, to convince him to fly to England and we are going in September, just in time for the Beaulieu International Auto Jumble. Needless to say, "Top Gear" is one of his favorite TV shows.

    I love the Maisie Dobbs books and am saving the new one for my Sept trip. My mother was English and we visited my grandparents in Hastings for their 50th anniversary in 1961. I finally went back last September and stayed in Bloomsbury. I follow all of Maisie's outings on my London maps. This trip we will be heading to Hastings and I'll look for my grandparents' cottage in Fairlight and some of Maisie's haunts. I was so sorry that she and the doctor couldn't make a go of it but I suppose it was too early in the series.

  23. Lesley, well you've hit every button there - we used to have a Morris Traveler when I was a kid, and I love them! High on my list of non-essential wants is a rag-top Morris MInor, ideally in BRG (British Racing Green, as you know, though I would also love traditional black), the best little jelly-mould car ever made. My brother used to have a rare 4-seater Austin Healey AND I was in Fairlight a couple of weeks ago. I lived in the Old Town in Hastings for a couple of years, and my parents live in Three Oaks, which - as you know - is about halfway between Hastings and Rye ... so, small world. Thank you for joining the Naked Authors conversation!

  24. How exciting! I knew there must be a small world connection since Maisie was driving to Hastings. Let me know if you get serious about looking for a BRG Moggy.