David Bouchier


David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost twenty years. After coming to the United States in 1986 he continued to teach and to publish a regular humor column in The New York Times regional edition.  He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996. His latest book of essays, Peripheral Vision, was published in 2011. His other books include A Few Well Chosen Words, The Song of Suburbia, The Cats and the Water Bottles, The Accidental Immigrant and Writer at Work. He lives in Stony Brook, New York, with his wife who is a professor at Stony Brook University, and two un-musical cats.

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One of the most striking things about traveling in Europe is the constant presence of relics from older civilizations. They give us a time perspective, a reminder that we are just one civilization among many and that, in the vast timetable of history, we have been around for about five minutes, and will probably be gone in another five minutes.

Jane Austen died almost exactly two hundred years ago, on July 18, 1817. The anniversary bringing a small flood of new literary biographies. She wrote about a world that was, psychologically and socially a million miles away from present-day Britain or America, in the kind of English that nobody speaks or writes any more. The massive popularity of Jane Austen's work in the twenty-first century is therefore something of a mystery. Movies and TV specials have something to do with it, of course.

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There are still forty-four monarchies in the world, including those in Britain and Saudi Arabia, and I would be willing to bet that none of those kings or queens have any great affection for the month of July. Historically, two of the most devastating attacks on the principle of monarchy happened in July. The British King George III was cruelly rejected by his American colonists on July the 4, 1776, and in France, July 14th, Bastille Day, commemorates the revolution that dethroned King Louis XVI.

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History is such a confusing maze of characters and events that we cling to certain symbolic dates. The Fourth of July is one such date. Everybody knows that the Fourth of July commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Like so much of our historical knowledge, this is wrong. It is true that an unfortunate misunderstanding between Britain and her American colonies did blow up around that time. But the Declaration was not signed until July 19th.

Petros Giannakouris / AP

At school we learned a poem by Shelley called Ozymandias that began with the words: "I met a traveler from an antique land," and I always wondered where the antique land was. When I came to Long Island I discovered that it was right here, down in the Hamptons, where selling antiques seems to be the main industry in whole towns and villages. There is a mysterious force, like gravity, that attracts old furniture and what are humorously called “decorative objects” to certain places. This force has not been definitely identified by scientists, but I think it's called money.