Thursday, January 29, 2009


Once again, America has the last laugh.

I may have scoffed at the idea of treadmills and the associated almost Buddhist notion of running yet not advancing, but I am now having to eat some very humble pie.

Faced with the twin onslaught of eating too much (pie or otherwise), which has more than made up the kilos I lost so easily over the summer, and the fact that it's simply too cold (-8°C on a good day) and dangerous
to go running outside (sharing slushy roads with oversized cars is no fun), I am going to have to throw in the towel - or rather wrap it round my neck - and head down to the gym for what is literally an exercise in futility.

Be Prepared

While out shopping for stationery at Office Depot yesterday, I came across a series of kits of documents for a variety of situations; wills, tenancy agreements, business registration and suchlike. What I was particularly interested to discover given America's litigious culture was the following:

And in case things don't work out, Office Depot has another handy ready-to-use kit:


Last night we watched the Coen brothers' latest film, 'Burn After Reading', starring Brad Pitt and George Clooney, whose performances were remarkable for their complete inability to be funny (describing everything as "shit" isn't). In fact, Brad Pitt would be my nominee for this year's Razzie in the Most Over-the-Top Acting category. The film's only saving graces are a wonderful John Malkovich and an amusing last 30 seconds.

But that's not what I wanted to talk about.

Trawling through the bonus features on the DVD for some light relief, I discovered an interview with the film's costume designer, who described how she dressed the apparently hunky Mr Clooney to make him look like a dork: a grey polo shirt tucked into belted jeans and trainers.

As a person who regularly wears a grey polo shirt tucked into belted jeans and trainers - something I have specifically done today out of protest - I take great offence to this remark. Unless, of course, sporting this combination makes non-hunks like myself look like Gorgeous George.

Any (confirmatory) comments? Mum?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

American Sports

My son Tom is determined to try all the sports that the New World has to offer - though not necessarily the obvious ones.

Having taken a crash course in lacrosse, a game clearly invented by native Americans as a way to club European settlers without getting shot in response, he is now signed up for an introduction to pillow polo, a sport which has nothing to do with polo nor uses pillows.

As you can see in the image above, pillow polo is a lot like hockey, but with softer sticks and a sponge ball. Nevertheless it is undoubtedly designed to get children used to hitting each other with sticks in preparation for a career in ice hockey's "world league", the NHL.

Incidentally, I was amazed to hear on the radio the other day that a recent attempt to ban fighting from ice hockey failed when nearly all the NHL's coaches and owners rejected it because the move would change the nature of the sport! Take these quotes from two general managers:

  • "I think it's become integral in terms of how the game is played. I think it acts as a bit of a thermostat (...) and I believe that most of our fans enjoy that aspect of the game."
  • "Any discussion about the elimination or abolition of fighting will be a very brief one. I don't think there's any support for that whatsoever."
Earlier this month, a 21-year-old player died from injuries he sustained in a fight. Last week (see video below), another player suffered seizures following the pummeling he received just seconds into a game.

(Notice how the referee just stands by and watches the fight, making no attempt to intervene?)

Meanwhile, my daughter Anna has chosen a far more global sport to pursue: gymnastics. Though this too could point her to another great American "sport": cheer leading.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Part-Time Pres

Now that George W. Bush has left the White House for good, it is safe to reveal that he didn't actually spend a lot of time there.

As reported by various sources, including AFP, NPR, CNN and NBC, President Bush had one day of holiday for every three days at his desk. Indeed, he was on vacation a jaw-dropping 77 times
during his eight-year presidency, frittering away almost two years playing golf or clearing brush on his ranch.

By way of comparison, the previous vacation record was held by Ronald Reagan, who had 436 days off when he should have been leading the free world. The final figure for "Bush 43" was 490.

Given that most workers in the United States only get about two weeks' leave a year, is it any surprise that few people are sad to see Dubya go?

Yum or Ah?

Seeing this wrapper on a tin of tuna at my local Costco yesterday reminded me of the absurd recent campaign by the American animal-rights organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to have fish renamed "sea kittens" because you're less likely to kill, cut up, cook and consume something that sounds cuddly.

Having said that, I wonder what lies behind the "chicken of the sea" branding. Leaving aside the fact that the picture on the label is not a fair representation of a chicken, are we to believe that the contents of this can have legs and wings, are battery-farmed and/or taste poultry-like? I very much doubt that any of these is the case. But I didn't buy any, just in case.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Rule of Thumb (contd.)

You know it's pretty cold outside when your cold and hot water pipes freeze in a wall inside the house.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


To quote my darling wife, "American snowmen have three balls."

She's right, of course. Whereas we Europeans are used to making our snowman with just a head and a body, over this side of the pond these wintertime creations all have an extra body part.

Although I have no insight into why this is, possible explanations put to me include:
  • Americans always have to do things bigger;
  • The third ball is actually a second stomach because so many Americans are overweight;
  • There's more snow in the States so they can build larger snowmen, and two heads would look odd;
  • American snowmen are actually snow-insects.

Odd Products

How old do you think I need to be to qualify for that discount?

So is it 100% orange juice plus other ingredients (making it how many percent?) or that the orange juice and other ingredients together make 100% (which would always be the case no matter how little orange juice it contained)?

I bought this because I like brie, even though the portions did seem a little odd. On closer inspection, I saw that it was only brie flavour. And on even closer inspection - reading the very fine print - I discovered that it is actually "brie-type flavour".

In other words, what I bought is something that is not brie nor tastes exactly of brie, but a bit like brie.

I can't wait to try it.

Rule of Thumb

You know it's pretty cold outside when you park a snow-covered car in your garage and it's got just as much snow on it 24 hours later.

Newcastle Piped Ale

Last night I drank a pint of my favourite beer: Newcastle Brown Ale.

Nothing strange about that, you might think. Nothing at all - except for the fact that Newcastle Brown Ale is only ever sold in bottles. And yet, as my children are my witness, I experienced first hand how my pint (sorry, 12oz) was poured from a tap (see the handle in the picture) in a local bar.

Fortunately, despite this novel mode of delivery, my "Newkie Brown" still tasted as good as ever. Though purist that I am, I did miss sipping it from my bottle in time-honoured fashion.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Did I Hear Right?

"Diet Dr Pepper: There's nothing diet about it."

But then ...?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

New Cocktail

Inspired by my recent discovery of Mountain Dew, I have invented a new cocktail. Comprising two parts (lager) beer and one part Mountain Dew, my creation tastes just like a traditional lime shandy, though thanks to its high caffeine content it packs a punch like a double espresso.

I call it a "Mandy" (patents pending in the United States, Europe and elsewhere).

Online Assistance

(Click on the image to read the help message)

Any ideas?

Going Down

The temperatures have plummeted this week, and the bottom has yet to be reached.

It was -20°C when we got up at 7am this morning, even though it should be rising to a balmy -13°C as the day progresses. However, if the weather forecast is to be believed, we should be getting far colder weather by the end of the week, with daytime highs of -18°C and a wind chill factor of -32°C!

I've already got snow-shoveller's elbow from clearing our drive. Am I now to get frostbite waiting for the school bus too?

Everlasting Christmas Trees

When you next need a Christmas tree (and by my calculations that should be in about 11 months' time), whatever you do, you must buy it at Lowe's - even if that means one or more journeys across the Atlantic.

My wife bought ours at the aforementioned chain of garden centres at the beginning of December. Since then it has stood - unpotted! - in our living room, and yet has shed no more than about 15 needles in all this time. Moreover, it still looks fresh and not in the slightest bit droopy after its six-week trial by dessication. I've had artificial trees do worse than that!

What's the secret? I haven't a clue. But at least I know where I'm going for this year's tree.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Dog Shit

Excuse me using this term, but nothing quite encapsulates the vulgarity of canine faecal matter like "dog shit".

Having slalomed through London, Berlin, and Paris in a vain effort to avoid stepping in you-know-what, I was amazed to discover that in the States - or at least this neck of the woods - dog owners taking their pets out for a walk will also take a plastic bag and then scoop up any offending solid matter that their pooch may exude en route. I've even seen runners stop so that they can collect the said excrement before someone else discovers it underneath their foot.

I wonder why this is. Are the fines for allowing your dog to shit in public (suitably) draconian, or are Americans generally as repulsed as I am by the sight of the stuff on the few pavements and paths that they are lucky to have (after all, a pavement is merely an extra lane of traffic waiting to happen)?

Miss Neighbor 2008

Forget everything disparaging I ever said about beauty queens.

Kirsten Haglund, Miss Michigan and Miss America 2008, is from Farmington Hills - and that almost makes her my neighbour!

But can someone explain something to me: what's the difference between Miss America and the Miss USA title, which was won by a completely different person? And who therefore gets to represent our great nation at the Miss World competition? If it's not "our" Kirsten, I'm going to be very disappointed!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Mountain Dew

Mountain Dew is America's fourth best-selling carbonated beverage after Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Diet Coke respectively. It's a sweet, citrus-flavoured, disconcertingly algae-coloured drink sold by Pepsi Co, originally named after a euphemism for moonshine, containing about 60% more caffeine than Coke (except in Canada, where non-cola soft drinks may not contain caffeine) and often incorrectly accused of causing infertility in men.  There's even an online petition to get Mountain Dew sold in the UK.

Just like Coke and Pepsi, there's no middle ground on Mountain Dew. People either love it or hate it. The first person I asked about Mountain Dew - and you know who you are - was extremely scathing about it, effectively equating it with inbred rednecks, if memory serves me right. The next respondent confessed to being more-or-less addicted to the stuff even though he was from way up north.

Having tried Mountain Dew for myself, I am definitely of the latter persuasion, not least because I was served my glass with a liberal dash of rum (or was it vodka?). Nevertheless, a more recent and more sober analysis has confirmed that Mountain Dew is indeed exceedingly drinkable, even without alcohol. That said, I must admit that it does make a great mixer, a fact confirmed by a cursory Google search, which turned up one site with an amazing 111 Mountain Dew-based cocktails.

But don't take my word for it. Try Mountain Dew for yourself - unless you happen to live in Britain, where you'll have to sign the aforementioned petition and hope it'll eventually be available in your local Sainsbury's.

In the meantime, I'll finish off my Bacardi 'n' MD. Cheers!

Joe the War Reporter

Remember Samuel Wurzelbacher, the man who became a household name during the American presidential election as "Joe the Plumber" despite being neither? Well he now has a new job: as a war reporter in Israel for a conservative Web site.

His qualifications (not that that's stopped him in the past)? He claims to be an expert on media bias. His first words as a war correspondent? "I don't think journalists should be allowed anywhere near war. I think the media should be abolished from reporting."

Given Sam the Sham's resounding success supporting John McCain's election campaign, Israel now undoubtedly has great cause to fear the outcome of its campaign in Gaza.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Statistics for Dummies

I knew that the recession was hitting people badly here in the States, but I didn't realise quite how badly.

This morning, I heard on the radio that pre-Christmas sales "fell by 400%". If this is true, people must not only have bought nothing whatsoever, but also returned three times as many products as they had bought in the same period last year.

Unless, that is, someone needs some help with their maths.

Friday, January 2, 2009


American milk is indestructible - it really is.

We left an opened bottle of milk in the fridge and went away for ten days. When we got back, it wasn't just cold, but perfectly normal and not curdled, sour or bad in the slightest way. 

I don't know what rays US milk is bombarded with prior to consumption - and frankly I'd prefer not to find out - but with longevity like this, who needs UHT?