Wednesday, November 6, 2013


For lunch today we had ham and mash, a particular favourite with my kids in spite of - or perhaps precisely because of - its culinary simplicity.

As my son was tucking into his ham, I was reminded of when he asked me what it was made of. "Pig butt!" I replied jokingly.

Given the Newblets' undeniable proclivity for said pork product, it was of course only a matter of time before someone uttered the words "I like pig butt and I can not lie".

Monday, September 30, 2013

Sport stacking

For about a year now, my 10-year-old has been into table tennis, or Ping-Pong, as it is colloquially called in these parts. This summer, his coach suggested he take part in the AAU Junior Olympics, a grand-sounding but sadly hyperbolic event conjured up by its grand-sounding but sadly hyperbolic organisers, the Amateur Athletic Union. For when we arrived at the venue to register him, we were disappointed to discover not athletes from the four corners of the Earth, but rather young people from the four corners of the United States.

Megalomanic monickers aside, the list of sports in which medals were up for grabs at the Junior Olympics was equally strange. Sure, there were typical Olympic disciplines like track and field sports, swimming, several martial arts, gymnastics, hockey (the non-glacial kind), weightlifting, wrestling and, as I mentioned at the outset, table tennis. There were also more Americocentric sports like bowling, cheer-leading, rope-jumping and baton twirling which, although not necessarily featured at the Athenian Games, are, at least, energetic and athletic in nature. For some odd reason, cricket also made the line-up, though I can't for the life of me imagine that they managed to scrape together more than two teams because NOBODY plays cricket in the US. So I guess the winning team got gold, the losing one silver and ... hey, who cares about bronze anyway?

And then there was sport stacking.

Sport stacking could only exist in a country that proudly and enthusiastically holds annual Rotten Sneaker contests (to find America's smelliest shoes), a beer pong "world series" (bouncing table tennis balls off various objects and finally into disposable beer cups), suite-jumping (photographing yourself leaping strangely on hotel beds), and hot dog-eating tournaments. Indeed sport stacking is so undeniably sporting that it has to remind you thereof in its very name - in case you didn't realise.

So what exactly is this sport that the International Olympic Committee has so shamefully overlooked since probably the dawn of time? In a nutshell it's this: contestants are presented with three piles of plastic cups. But these are not mere beach party plasticware like the cheap stuff used for beer pong. Oh no, these are state-of-the-art rigid plastic cups with holes in the top as approved by the World Sports Stacking Association and supplied by the only authorized manufacturer and, coincidentally, the governing body's official sponsor: Speed Stacks Inc, a link to whose site is helpfully provided in the top right-hand corner of the WSSA Web site.

The rules are as follows: the cups in the three piles must be arranged into a pyramid - "up-stacked" - and then disassembled into their original piles - "down-stacked" - as quickly as possible.

And that's it.
Stack 'em up!
To be fair, that's not quite it because at the start and finish contestants have to hit a bar containing a stopwatch - the so-called "StackMat" - which, not surprisingly, is also sold by Speed Stacks. And sometimes there are nine cups, sometimes twelve, and contestants either stack against the clock, against other stackers, individually or as a team. But it's not exactly rocket science, and certainly comes nowhere near the complexity of the offside trap in football or the intricacies of who attacked whom first in fencing.

But that's precisely the point: the rules are simple, the victors obvious. Just like there cannot be a draw in baseball or American football games or a coalition in US government (and don't get me started on the "us" and "them" of international relations), the winner in sport stacking is the person who hits the timing mat first.

Not surprisingly, therefore, sport stacking is extremely popular. In fact, it dwarfed all other sports at the AAU Junior Olympics in sheer numbers of competitors - all of whom, naturally, had to pay the organisers to take part. But
I'm always suspicious of monopolies, especially when money is involved. I therefore strongly suspect that the founder of Speed Stacks, a certain Bob Fox, is probably as rich as the inventors of other fads, like Silly Bandz and Beany Babies.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Open Letter

To the Cyclist in the Sauna,

Please note that a sauna is not a warmup, cool-down, stretching and newspaper-reading room. If you wish to use the sauna, ask yourself if you are wearing any (or in your case all) of the following items:

- A one-piece cycling outfit
- Socks
- Underwear
- Clip shoes

Should you upon close inspection discover that this does indeed apply to you, kindly disrobe and take a soapy shower rather than inflicting your disgusting stink on less perverse club-members.

Thank you.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


Before we came to the States, we used to hang all our freshly-washed laundry out to dry on two clotheslines in our back garden. In winter, or when it was raining, my home office would resemble a Chinese laundrette, with a variety of foldaway clothes hangers completely filling one end of "my" space every laundry day.

We now live in a nice, middle-class suburban neighbourhood in the United States where, like so many other nice, suburban neighbourhoods across this nation, clotheslines are completely forbidden. After all, drying clothes are unsightly (didn't you know that?). Although there is a burgeoning "right-to-dry" movement that is attempting to get rid of such homeowner association-imposed bans, the fact remains that we live in an area where we are simply not permitted to dry our laundry in the great American outdoors.

Loathe to don wet clothes lest we drip all over the house and/or catch our death of cold, we have therefore had to acquaint ourselves with a hitherto unfamiliar piece of household equipment: a dryer.

And what a jolly useful contraption it has proven to be. Rather than spending her evenings laboriously ironing all our family's sundry shirts, blouses, long- and short-sleeved T-shirts, trousers, shorts, pants and socks*, Mrs. Newbie has become a woman of leisure who merely transfers our wet clothes from the washing machine to the adjacent dryer, turns a knob, presses a button, and hey presto: wonderfully crinkle-free dry clothes. If she's feeling particularly energetic, she will throw in an "outdoor freshness"-scented anti-static sheet. But when the whim takes her, she doesn't even bother with that.

Unfortunately, this labour-saving device is also a gateway drug on the road to sloth. For having rid herself of the necessity to iron all our clothes, Mrs. Newbie finds herself hard-pressed to press even the essentials: our shirts. These now pile up - neatly folded - in a basket on top of the washing machine. Now and again, when we have no more shirts and blouses in our closet, she will rouse herself into action and iron a couple for herself. But mine usually remain in the basket.

Which is why I mostly just wear T-shirts.

* Just kidding: she never ironed our socks or underpants. Though we do know someone who does (I mean theirs, not ours).

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Preppers are about as American as apple pie is commonly asserted to be (albeit falsely). Like Tea-Baggers, Mormons, the Amish and the National Rifle Association (NRA), I doubt preppers could have developed - let alone thrived - anywhere but in the self-styled Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.

Fiercely independent, deeply patriotic yet doggedly suspicious of authority in general and government in particular, preppers tend to be politically conservative white Christians from low-income backgrounds. As such, they are like the distillation of the American psyche.

So what are they? Preppers believe that a catastrophic natural disaster or foreign invasion is just around the corner. Or, as they like to put it, "the shit is about to hit the fan" (SHTF). Convinced that the US economy, society and possibly civilisation itself are in imminent danger of destruction and/or collapse, they prepare - hence the name - for their chosen nightmare scenario by
  • Hoarding food
  • Stockpiling weapons and ammunition
  • Training in armed combat
  • Learning survival skills
  • Building emergency shelters
  • Disconnecting from the power grid and
  • Buying gold and silver, typically in the form of coins.
Although there may not be the 4 million or more preppers claimed by some of the myriad "survivalist" Web sites, they certainly are far more than a handful of paranoid gun-nuts. In fact there are so many serious preppers in America that Costco (a nationwide chain of wholesale stores open to the public) stocks a large selection of what it terms "emergency kits", ranging from water storage and filtration systems to a year's supply of food for four people, comprising 30,144 servings of freeze-dried and dehydrated meals (yours for only $3,999.99).

Preppers even have their own reality-TV show (sponsored, tellingly enough, by the Wise Food Storage Company and the United States Gold Bureau). Entitled 'Doomsday Preppers', the documentary series charts how various people are getting ready for what they see is inevitable: an all-out assault on the American way of life, be it man-made or environmental. 

Unfortunately, preppers are not simply wacky loners content to play out their apocalyptic or Chinese-invasion fantasies in their own basements or woods in the same way that people used to gather for weekend 'Dungeons and Dragons' sessions. Often enough, their paranoia spills over into violent confrontations with the law.

Only last week, police arrested a 45-year-old survivalist who had spent 5-6 years breaking into cabins in the Utah mountains to steal food and guns. And almost exactly a year ago, police
in Washington state hunted a 41-year-old man who had allegedly shot dead his wife and daughter. They eventually tracked him down in a sophisticated fortified underground bunker in the forest, where a SWAT team had to blast its way through the roof. When they got inside, they found the man dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, as well as 13 guns and shelves neatly piled with ammunition, food and other supplies.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Odd products

 Also known as egg-white (shell not included)

 Because bacon is so hard to cook

 Where Hansel and Gretel went at Easter?

 Just like an arm. Only more plastic.

As eaten by Sam Shepard

Linguistic creep

Movie. Soccer. Truck. Highway. Yard.

Five years ago, those words would not have passed my lips, except to mimic one of our American cousins. Although I definitely knew what they meant, I would certainly not have used them in everyday life.

That has now changed, and I often now catch myself saying I'll kick my daughter's butt or asking the kids if they wanted to watch a movie. Maybe it's because my Americanized offspring have absorbed more and more of the local lingo - they adopted the accent wholesale some time ago - and are using it more regularly themselves. Maybe it's because that's what is expected of me in the Land of the Brave and the Home of the Free. 

Maybe it's simply time we returned to the Old World and its quaint old-fashioned vocabulary.