Sunday, October 25, 2009

Safe as Houses

Yesterday I did a really dumb thing - though I only realised afterwards.

Having driven my son to his football game in our neck of Suburbia, I forgot to close my car door, leaving it not merely unlocked, but wide open. The double-beep of my alarm confused me somewhat when I pressed the remote, but I thought nothing of it, and went off with my kids to the pitch 200 metres further on.

Inside the car, albeit in the glove compartment, were my sat-nav and expensive digital SLR camera.

An hour later, the game was over and I ran back to grab my camera for a team photo. Seeing the open driver's door, I initially panicked, but was soon amazed to discover that nothing had been touched and everything was still in its place.

Try a stunt like that pretty much anywhere in Europe, and you wouldn't have had a car to come back to, let alone any valuable contents!


Raking the leaves in the garden this afternoon, I was reminded of a could-have-been-clever feature on the plastic compost bin I bought in the summer.

As the assembly instructions for the bin point out, the bottom doors can be slid out completely to use as scoops for putting fallen leaves in your compost.

Sound nifty? Well, it almost is.

Having removed the doors, everything falls right out of the bottom of your composter again.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


There's nothing quite like finding out about your home country in a faraway place. 

I remember hearing about the Wall come down in Oxford, being told about Diana's death sitting around a safari-park campfire in Swaziland, and watching the events of 9/11 unfold on my TV in Paris.

Less where-were-you, but nonetheless interesting, is the discovery that I made today while listening to NPR: that "filth" is actually an acronym of the term "Failed In London, Try Hongkong" in reference to people who emigrated to the Far East in the 18th and 19th century because they couldn't make it in England.

I wonder if that makes me FILBAPTD.

Odd Bank Statement

I know we've just lived through a financial meltdown, but should I be worried about the following bank statement?

(Click on the image to enlarge)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Vowel Prolongation

How many syllables are there in the word "east"?

If you thought there was just one, you'd be as intrigued as I was this weekend when I heard a weather reporter from northern Michigan pronounce the word as if it had at least three syllables.

Try it yourself: as odd as it sounds, it's actually no mean feat!

Thursday, October 8, 2009


They sometimes sell the weirdest things at Costco, a wholesale shopping club open - for a small annual fee - to all.

One of this month's special offers is a one-year supply of dehydrated and freeze-dried food, the sort of nuclear-winter preparedness pack favoured by end-of-the-world religious extremists and gun-totting, commies-in-our-backyard nuts.

Even taking into account the Costco discount of $200, it still costs $800, which is a heck of a lot of money in my book. And given that Costco only ever buys things in huge quantities, it seems rather an absurd gamble to stock something this outlandish.

Well, it appears Costco has once again perfectly gauged its target audience's consumer preferences, because its Web site bears the following note: "Due to overwhelming demand, any orders placed after 09/30/09 will not ship until 10/28/09".

But this begs the question: what is it that people in America are so scared about that it causes them to flock out and buy emergency rations?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Americans love vaccinations.

Year after year, the norm seems to be for everyone, adults and children alike, to get vaccinated for seasonal 'flu, thereby protecting themselves against one more illness their bodies could easily fight off unaided.

The Swine 'Flu epidemic has therefore got people in a real panic, and medics (undoubtedly aided and abetted by pharmaceutical companies) are encouraging people - including pregnant women, I might add - to get a Swine 'Flu jab as well as their usual seasonal 'flu vaccination.

This is patently ridiculous, not least because the Swine 'Flu vaccine is not effective in protecting the only sectors of the population - young children and the aged - likely to suffer ill effects from contracting the disease.

Don't get me wrong: I'm all in favour of immunisation, especially since it has helped eradicate many serious illnesses that we simply couldn't survive otherwise. But I do feel that knee-jerk vaccination is one of the reasons why Americans have a far higher prevalence of allergies - i.e. over-reaction by their immune systems to harmless substances - than Europeans, for example.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Shades of "duck and cover"?

(Sign outside children's inflatables hall)

(I gather they're not the most successful forensics team)

Odd Products

(I just feel sorry for poor Margarita)


Caution: hard to remove from the packaging

Motor Mania

I thought I had plumbed the metaphorical depths of America's motor mania. It is becoming increasingly clear that I have merely scratched the proverbial surface.

While out running today, I saw yet another incarnation of the national obsession with non-human locomotion: a motorised seed and fertiliser spreader. Thanks to this contraption, the athletically disinclined no longer need to walk behind their manual (or should that be pedal?) "broadcast" spreaders, but can lounge comfortably in a bucket-seat atop their petrol-powered (bien sûr!) buggy and drive around their suburban lawns instead.
Jeez, I'm sure there are people over here who would have their legs removed at the hip and replaced by a bionic Segway if only some bright spark found a way to get rid of all that energy-sapping leaning.

Seen But Not Heard

It's bad enough that pharmaceutical companies can advertise their medicines in the US as if they were just another dietary supplement. But when you start pushing drugs for controlling allegedly "attention-deficit" kids (which parents openly - almost proudly - tell you about), and then add insult to injury by offering a $50 discount on your first purchase, that's just sick.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Self-fulfilling Prophecy

You may recall that my children's language skills were tested last autumn and that my perfectly bilingual son was deemed in need of English as a Second Language input at his American school. 

As you know, Tom and his sister Anna were retested in April. Well, I've now received the results, and you'll be glad to know Tom is now considered to be not merely on a par with his peers but above-average in listening, reading, writing, speaking and comprehension, putting him in the top linguistic category: advanced proficiency.

This means that the ESL teacher who first assessed and then "serviced" him (her choice of words, not mine) can praise herself on a job splendidly done.

Eat your heart out, Henry Higgins. Ditto Joseph Heller, for that matter.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


I must say I did titter somewhat this morning when I heard on the radio that the Wisconsin Tourism Federation had decided to change its name on account of the ridicule it had been attracting from bloggers in particular for the unfortunate acronym it has unwittingly given great prominence on its logo to date.

The organisation will henceforth be known as the Tourism Federation of Wisconsin.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Too Much of a Good Thing

When I came over to the US and went to sign up for a mobile phone subscription, I was asked how many minutes talk-time I wanted. In France I had had a two-hour plan and that had more-or-less sufficed, I told the sales assistant. Imagine my surprise therefore when she informed me that the minimum subscription was for 450 minutes*. "But don't worry," she reassured me. "Unused minutes aren't lost: they get rolled over into the next month." So that's the subscription I took**.

For the past year, therefore, I have been using my "cellphone" to make nearly all my calls in an effort to utilize the glut of talk-time minutes available to me.

Yesterday I got my latest bill. I have 3039 rollover minutes.

* I should point out that in America you are charged for both the calls you make and the calls you receive on your mobile phone.
** By way of an interesting aside, my subscription is actually for 450 daytime minutes. It also includes 5000 minutes evening and weekend talk-time. As such, if my calculations are right, to use up my night-time allowance I would have to make phone calls on my mobile for two-and-three-quarter hours each night and every Saturday and Sunday.