Sunday, February 20, 2011

Brush With Glory

Something incredible just happened.  We watched a local team (Crawley Town) lose and we couldn’t be happier.

This is an oddity on many levels, not least of which is that we willingly watched a soccer match.  Outside of the World Cup US v UK I don’t think we’ve ever turned on the telly to watch 90 minutes of men in baggy shorts chasing after a ball.  Add to that the fact that we were satisfied with the final score (Crawley lost 1:nil) and you have to agree it was a fairly unusual day.

Unusual also for Crawley town football club, who found themselves playing, on national television, against Manchester United.

The fans, just a little excited

 Now, I can’t claim to know much about soccer—other than the point is to kick the ball into your opponent’s net more than they kick it into yours—and I know even less about the league structure, but somehow, through the strange workings of the playoff structure, a local team was matched up with a world-class soccer club.

This could never happen in America.  Imagine the Albany Diamond dogs (What? They folded eight years ago?  Never mind, stay with me.) suddenly being tagged to play the New York Yankees.  How exciting would that be for the players, the fans, the club management and, well, everyone except maybe the Yankees.

This is how it was over here:  the Crawley team got to travel to Manchester’s Old Trafford Stadium; the club gets half the gate, so they made millions in the deal; the players got to show their stuff on national TV and maybe catch the eye of a big time scout, Manchester, knowing they couldn’t be beat, had the opportunity to rest their A team for (let’s face it) more challenging opponents and let their B (or C or D) team have a go; ten thousand Crawley fans travelled to Manchester to watch and I am certain many of them will declare that to be the best day of their lives; Sussex was able to feel, for a day, just a bit more special.

They lost, but they still won.

That, in my book, is a win, win, win, win situation, and you don’t get many of those.  Additionally, Crawley held their own and allowed only a single goal.  Zero to one is a perfectly respectable score under those circumstances, as opposed to the very real possibility of 7 nil or some other, equally embarrassing number.

It’s over now, but I think the event gave, at least this part of Britain, a better boost than the Royal Wedding will.

Kate and Prince Bill, sorry, not interested.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Naked Truth

Imagine this:

You and you wife are driving through a foreign country.  You approach a border crossing.  You have your passports and travel documents in order so you are not worried.  But at the check-point, an armed guard orders you to a secluded lot.  There, another armed guard confiscates your car keys, passports and travel documents.  You are then ordered to a building, near a wooded area some distance away, where other armed guard are on patrol.

Shitting yourself yet?  I was.  And I wasn’t crossing the frontier in some backwater banana republic; I was on the I-87 travelling from Canada to the United States.

American Border Crossing

Now maybe I’m more sensitive to this because, as an American, I expect my country to welcome me with open arms when I return to visit instead of treating me like an enemy combatant, but I think they are going just a bit overboard.

All of this is coming up again because of a planned trek back to the land of my birth, where I am, if the TSA is any guide, decidedly not welcome.

And that’s a shame, because America is an affable country.  Once inside, you are surrounded by ease, comfort and people who will go out of their way to lend you a hand should you need one, and that’s what most Americans see, because they never step outside.  Well, let me tell you what it looks like from out here: you are living in a prison.  It’s a nice prison, a big prison—so large you can’t see the walls when you are inside—but surrounded, as it is, by (sometime virtual, sometimes real) barbed wire, armed guards and towers bristling with machine guns, it is a prison, nonetheless.

I use to mitigate the stress of returning home by flying into Canada and driving across the border—a traditionally short and pleasant ceremony—but, as demonstrated above, the TSA have sewn up that loop hole but good.  Now, the only choice I have is whether I want to be treated like a prisoner or an enemy.  So I’ll choose prisoner, which is how they treat you when you fly into a US airport.  There, the TSA goons strut about in their uniforms, looking thuggish, glaring at you, just waiting for you to step out of line, but as long as you keep your mouth shut and don’t draw their attention, you can usually get through with only minor discomfort.  I’ll take my chances with them before I step into the interrogation hut again, thank you very much.

And, this trip, they’ve added yet a new wrinkle—the ESTA.  My wife had to fill out invasive and nonsensical (“Are you planning to subvert the US government?”  Are you really going to answer “Yes” to that?) on-line form and pay $14 to be granted, by the US Government, the privilege of being allowed to travel to their border.  That’s all, just to travel there.  Once you show up (and they tell you this in no uncertain terms) they can still turn you away if they don’t like the look of you.  That’s like charging your friends a fiver just for showing up at your door, whether or not you let them in.  I find that objectionable.

Oddly, what I do not find objectionable are the new airport scanners that peek beneath your knickers.  In fact, I don’t think they go far enough; if this is what it is going to take to stop the “confiscate granny’s knitting needles because she might use them to take the plane down” nonsense then we ought to just fly naked.

Seriously, once you slide your carry-on into the x-ray machine, instead of going through the scanner, you should be directed into a cubicle.  There, you would remove all your clothes, put them in the clear plastic bag provided and step through the other side of the cubicle, into the departure lounge, where the policy will be, “No Clothes, No Exceptions.”

I am so chagrined; I found this on fly Naked Airlines--someone beat me to it.

Having everyone naked—the guy handing you your x-rayed carry-on, the woman tagging your clothing bag and putting in on the trolley, the girls staffing the Starbucks coffee kiosk, the old man working the bar—would keep the passengers from feeling self-conscious.

And think of the savings.  The wand guy: no longer necessary.  The guy who pats you down: no need.  Now, there may still be a need to check certain people who might be hiding something in a place that will keep the item hidden even with all your clothes off, but that would be handled by a specialist in that booth over there in the corner and I just don’t want to know what is going on in there.

I suppose I’d allow the waitresses at Garfunkel’s to wear aprons to carry their pencil and order pads in, and the cooks, so long as the public can’t see them, would be free to cover up in order to avoid splattering hot grease in places you might prefer not to have it splattered, but no other exception, not even for the airline staff.

Amazing what comes up when you enter "Fly Naked" into Google
courtesy of

I think it’s a smashing idea.  Simple, cost effective, practically fool-proof and not much more ignominious than what they are already putting us through.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Olympic Dreams

I might have titled this post “2012 Olympics-Bound” or something similar, but I didn’t want to be sued.  Seems the UK Olympic committee has copyrighted the term “2012 Olympics” (darn, now I owe them another fiver).

This came to my attention some time ago in an article about a guy who wrote a book with the words “2012 Olympics” (oops, ka-ching) in the title (“The Incredible Lightness of Being at the 2012 Olympics,” “Winnie the Pooh and The 2012 Olympics,”  or “Debbie Does the 2012 Olympics” or some such thing) and the UK Olympic Committee sued him, with predictable results, namely: he sold a lot of books, and the UK Olympic Committee looked like a bunch of muppets, especially when it came to light they had also tried to copyright “Olympic” and “2012” as well.  (I would put the link to the article here but I read it in an actual magazine, you know, those things made out of paper that you can fold up and stuff in your briefcase or leave on the train so you don’t have it handy when you finally get around to writing about something you read in it.)

It’s a good job they failed in their attempt to copyright the individual parts.  Imagine having to go all next year writing 2012© on your checks (sorry, cheques), or having to pony up a royalty every time you needed to describe something of Olympic proportions; it’s bad enough we can’t use “2012 Olympics” without committing a copyright infringement (dear UK Olympic Committee, Want my money? Call my lawyer!).  I suppose we might have found a way around it: referring to 2012 as “not quite 2013” and Olympic as “really big, you know,” with a sly wink to let the other person know what you really mean.

But exclusive rights and violations thereof aside, I’m looking forward to The Games.  Over the years, the bar has been raised higher and higher, to the point where an average country like, say, Greece, for instance, would go bankrupt holding The Games, and to raise the spectacle to new levels would require a country that is unconcerned about spending vast sums of money it doesn’t have just to impress its neighbors and is in possession of a huge reserve of people willing to work for next to nothing.  But the US has hosted The Games recently so they let us take a shot at it.  (And, truth be told, we didn’t really want it, we just wanted to beat the French.)  So it is up to Britain to host the games in such a manner that the next country won’t have to try so hard to go one better.

I believe we are up to the task.

So when you’re watching the outdoor athletic events finals at three in the morning (while I’m watching at a more civilized time) and you notice that the landing pit for the broad jump looks an awful lot like a sandbox, and there appears to be a swing set and a jungle gym in the background and you realize they are holding the event in the playground of the Upper Beeding Primary School, just remember, the next country to get the games could be yours.