A Pox on You Charles of Super English Force

Who says you can’t make any money teaching kids? According to a 2010 article in the Christian Science Monitor, a top “Star Tutor” in Hong Kong can make up to $1.5 million annually. One got so rich by helping children in the education-crazed city state that he has his own fleet of Ferraris. That’s a lot of coin for an educator. And awfully Magnum-like of him.

Star Tutors aren’t your typical after-school help. They command large audiences and market themselves as if they were pop-stars. According to friends of mine in Hong Kong, however, a Star Tutor’s special skill doesn’t really involve learning as much as “telling” kids what, in all likelihood, the questions will be on their tests. Cough up the cash for a Star Tutor and your chances of earning an “A” on your next exam skyrocket. When I was in school, we called that cheating. And we didn’t have to pay for it.

I’ve often (half) joked to my wife that if we ever move to Hong Kong I’d like to become a Star Tutor. Either that or the next drunken master. So you can imagine my horror when I discovered there was already a white dude named Charles banking lots of HKD. That’s right, Charles is part of K. Oten’s “Super English Force.” Super English Force you ask? I’ll let the photo speak for itself. Yes, this ad is on the side of a bus.


Me Like History Books

Since the middle of last year I’ve been digitally archiving the books I read on the website Goodreads. Why? I read so many books while writing Man of War that I had a hard time keeping track of them all. A virtual bookshelf not only helps me remember what books I’ve read, but what’s inside them. I think 85% of our learning is visual (don’t quote me on that), so I guess the “memory spark” I get from seeing a cover works.

In all, I read sixty-two books while writing Man of War, in between jetting off to reenactments and holding down a full-time job. I nearly lost my mind, and yes, my wife is the most patient person on the planet. I often make reference to this within its pages.

Here are my three favorite books from the sixty-two I mentioned before…in no particular order.

A Little History of the World, by E.H. Gombrich. Gombrich is a master storyteller and he’s at his finest in this charming book. Wisely titled A Little History of the World, it often feels as though you’re reading something he’s recited dozens of times to a child.  He devotes most of his time to Western history, which is fine, and don’t expect anything too in-depth. In fact, he pretty much ignores the American Revolution, which I’d argue deserves more than the line or so he dedicates to it. Still, it’s a great introduction to history.

Founding Brothers, by Joseph J. Ellis. Far more in-depth than Gombrich’s tale, Founding Brothers takes a look at a number of key events that helped shape our early republic. Often a challenging read, it’s nonetheless a fascinating exploration into our Founding Fathers’ deft political jockeying. The portrait he paints of the men is, not surprisingly, a heck of a lot more complex than your typical high school history class.

April, 1865, by Jay Winik. I defy any American to read this book and not become completely obsessed with The Civil War. While the raw material of this tumultuous month (the fall of Richmond, Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Lincoln’s assassination and the subsequent manhunt for Booth) is already pretty captivating stuff, it took a diligent researcher and storyteller like Winik to put it all together in an engrossing package.



I’m an Anglophile. Guilty.

I’ve loved most things British since I was a kid (with the exception of hooligans, binge drinking and saying that one goes “to hospital.” Don’t they know you go to the hospital?). At first it was new wave music: Echo and the Bunnymen, New Order, even Depeche Mode. Then in 92-93 I studied acting at this place, and fell for Shakespeare. After I returned I liked to use the word “whilst” in sentences.

Mostly though, I love British comedy. The Goons, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Blackadder, The Mighty Boosh and especially Alan Partridge. (Strange thing though. Never got into Python. Hard to believe, I know.)

On a recent flight to Hong Kong I watched all six of Partridge’s latest Mid-Morning Matters videos on Cathay Pacific’s wonderfully plentiful in-flight entertainment system. What’s particularly amazing about Steve Coogan and his team of writers is that they can hold your attention with only three cameras and one setting. Hats off to them for making me chortle and annoy my fellow Cathay Pacific passengers.

The episodes used to be on YouTube, but were recently removed. What remains are a few outtakes from the series.

Looking for British comedy online? Click here. An Anglophile yourself? Try this.

I Heart Real Books

I got a Kindle for Christmas. It’s…fine. I like that I can look up words on the spot (did you know that “bonny” means “pleasing to the eye?”), that books cost $9.76 and I can read sample chapters for free. However, one of the Kindle’s drawbacks is that it’s not made of paper. Am I the only person to notice this?

Just a hunch, here, but I think e-readers are better suited for reading fiction which I don’t do much of. After I got it, I showed it to a few friends. Half said “Don’t you love it?” and half said “I’m never going to speak to you again.”

Like real books? You’ll love this:

How to Break One’s Eardrum

Step One: Grow a hideously itchy beard.

Step Two: Pay your two-dollar entry fee to the Brooksville Raid, Florida’s largest Civil War reenactment.

Step Three: Dress in over-sized itchy woolen fatigues, a pair of old Campers and borrow a Kepi from a kind Yank. Take your position next to a rather corpulent infantrywoman who, like you, is new to the reenacting hobby. (And who, from this time forward, shall be known as Roseanne Barr.)

Step Four: Blithely go about volleying blanks with your fellow soldiers while Roseanne Barr mistakenly loads three packets of gunpowder down the barrel of her replica 1862 Enfield musket.

Step Five: On the “F” in “Fire!” pull the trigger of your musket, then as the crack of Roseanne Barr’s makeshift “cannon” knocks you and your fellow reenactors ten feet sideways, bend over, grab your ear and scream an expletive.

Step Six: Play dead and later shoot a video in which you narrate your demise (below at 1:15).

Coming this weekend, the 32nd annual Brooksville Raid, Florida’s largest Civil War reenactment.



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