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.