Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Day In London

So I went on my first protest march yesterday, and what an introduction: about a quarter million marchers out to let the government know what they think of their draconian cuts.  It was really magnificent.

Hey, Look!  It's Big Ben!

Now, before I go any further, let me say that, like most people, I do have political opinions and, like most people, I do enjoy spouting them off in the pub when the discussion turns toward the nefarious doings of the current pack of assholes in power (because, face it, whoever they are, whether you voted for them or not, once they get into power, they become, de facto, “those assholes running the country”).  However, unlike most people, I freely admit my opinion really isn’t worth considering.  I know my limitations; I’m a project manager in a small computer company, it is all I can do to organize a simple project (and beyond my capabilities, if you listen to some of my co-workers) so running a country is outside of my remit and if, god help us, that responsibility ever fell to me, you could be certain I would make a hash of it.  So there will be no political opinion spouting here—the soapbox is safely tucked into the closet where it belongs.

All that said, and admitting I do not agree with all of the parties that were marching, I think the protest was a fine idea.  After all, the government has undeniably pissed off a large number of people, and we have the good fortune to live in a society where we have the right to let the government know that they have pissed us off and, furthermore, the ability to come together to express discontent without the government bombing us.

Look at me, will you, marching with the Communists.

So what it amounted to, for me, was a lovely walk through London.  And it was.  The day was cool and mostly pleasant, and we had the opportunity to view a host of London landmarks on our winding way to Hyde Park without the hassle of traffic or those pesky tourists being in the way.  We actually ran into a few people we knew (in a crowd that size—what are the odds), had a nice, and welcomed, early dinner, took a train home and arrived in time to catch ourselves on the evening news.

All in all, a perfectly fine day.

Granted, it won’t make a blind bit of difference; the government will continue to do what it is doing but at least now there are about 250,000 people who can feel just a bit better because they made an effort and did something.

That is democracy in action, and why I think the march was, not only a fine idea, but something that needed to be done, if only to preserve our right to do it.

Friday, March 25, 2011

100 Things

We’ve all seen those lists, the (pick a number) Things You Should Do Before You (pick a euphemism—attain room temperature, take the dirt nap, buy the farm). Now commonly called The Bucket List, they tend to contain things like Visit the Taj Mahal, Swim the English Channel, Climb the Matterhorn, Take a balloon ride over the Serengeti or similar non-accessible feats designed, it would seem, not to inspire, but to lower your self-esteem.

I’m on your side, really I am; I know you have your hands full just trying to keep up with all the CSI franchises, when would you possibly find the time, money and physical endurance to do something like “Take a boat trip the entire length of the Nile” or, “Stay up all night and watch the sun rise over the Rockies”?

So I’ve put together a list with you (and me) in mind. It will make you feel better about yourself because you can probably tick all of them off right now and just get on with your day.

My List of 100 Things To Do In This Lifetime 
for People Who Are Too Busy Earning A Living To Run Off To Timbuktu:

1. Fold a piece of paper in half
2. Visit the mall
3. Eat in a restaurant (McDonald’s will do)
4. Make a cup of coffee (or tea)
5. Buy a newspaper
6. Stay up and watch the late news
7. Take a nap
8. Buy a head of lettuce
9. Watch a movie
10. Smell the flowers
11. Have your hair cut
12. Take a bath (a shower will do if you’re in a rush)
13. Sleep in
14. Make a list
15. Yawn
16. Listen to the radio
17. Complain about the weather
18. Walk across the street
19. Sing (or try to; no one has to be listening)
20. Make another cup of coffee
21. Just sit
22. Open a door
23. Try on a new pair of shoes
24. Look in the cupboard
25. Say “Hell-o” to someone
26. Complain about your heating bill
27. Answer the phone
28. Swear (if you are a sensitive soul, a euphemism will suffice)
29. Clip your toenails
30. Ask a question
31. Check the time
32. Browse
33. Look at the moon
34. Sniff the milk to see if it’s gone sour
35. Wear shorts
36. Pick your nose (really, there’s no use denying if)
37. Admit you’re bored
38. Make another cup of coffee
39. Compliment someone
40. Tell a joke
41. Sit in a folding chair
42. Weigh yourself
43. Make toast
44. Break something
45. Fix something
46. Go upstairs
47. Wear a hat
48. Dither
49. Peel a banana
50. Speak in a funny voice
51. Scratch yourself surreptitiously in public when you think no one is looking
52. Talk loudly and slowly to a foreigner
53. Stand a coin on edge
54. Seal an envelope
55. Ask a rhetorical question
56. Cross your eyes
57. Wait in a queue (for those of you playing the US version – wait in line)
58. Forget someone’s name
59. Lock the door
60. Check to make sure it really is locked
61. Check it again
62. Make another cup of coffee
63. Step on the cracks
64. Chortle
65. Complain about the government
66. Over eat
67. Light a candle
68. Wince
69. On the day after the clocks change, note that, “It’s really 11 o’clock” when someone tells you it’s 10 o’clock.
70. Stand on one foot
71. Nod in agreement with someone who is clearly talking ballocks just to keep from getting into an argument
72. Check the mail (for those of you under 25, e-mail will count)
73. Wonder why
74. Recite a limerick*
75. Open a window
76. Stretch
77. Change your mind
78. Hold your breath
79. Look at yourself in a mirror
80. Give in
81. Curl your tongue (or try to)
82. Walk barefoot
83. Talk to a child
84. Feel the rain
85. Whistle
86. Admire a sunset
87. Ask a silly question
88. Take a drink of something and say, “Ahhh” afterward
89. Equivocate
90. Have dirty thoughts
91. Skin your knee
92. Celebrate someone else’s success
93. Mine your belly button for lint
94. Do the “I’m a Little Teapot” song. With the motions.
95. Take part
96. Give money to a stranger
97. Be brave
98. Be kind
99. Leave something unfinished


* If you don’t know any, you can use this one. It was the winner of a contest to see who could use “Lewinsky” and “Kaczynski” (Ted Kaczynski of uni-bomber fame) in a limerick in the most creative way. I admire the author for avoiding the obvious rhyme:

          Lewinsky and Clinton have shown
          What Kaczynski must surely have known
          That an intern is better
          Than a bomb in a letter
          When deciding which way to be blown

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Bad Day For Britain

We just returned from town after what should have been a relaxing walk in the warm sunshine.

However, as we entered the pedestrian area of the Bishopric, we ended up behind a group of young people, probably in their early teens.  The girls were wearing leggings and shirts and nothing else.  (One of them was also wearing leopard print panties on beneath her leggings, not that this has anything to do with what happened, but since she went through the trouble to show them off to the world I thought I would help her out.)

What this young lady did was unwrap a lollypop and blithely drop the paper on the pavement.  My wife picked it up and deposited it in a nearby receptacle with the appropriate tisk-tisking and we continued on.  Shortly after, one of the young boys did the same thing.  This time, my wife picked up the paper and gave it back to him (they were young enough that, if they pulled knives, we might have been able to hold our own—we would never have been so foolish with someone 16 or 17).  She asked him to put it in the bin as littering was giving them a bad reputation.  No shouting, no chastising, just cause, effect and a request to do the right thing.

This is the area they were walking in, so they
were not the only one's being assholes.

So we all set off, with them looking back every few seconds to see if we were following.  We were.  So the boy went out of his way to walk past two bins where he made a point of not putting the trash in them, then veered into a gaming shop where, no doubt, he dropped it on the floor.

The little bastard.

I have written about this before, but it is one of the saddest things about living among the British: they live in an astoundingly beautiful country, yet the treat it as their own, personal rubbish pit.  The cities in America and, especially, Canada, are not filled with litter the way they are here.  Don’t the British have any sense of pride in their country?  And if they do, why don’t they teach it to their kids?

Typical condition of the Bishopric

It really annoys me, almost as much as what happened to my friend, NFAH, who was sent out of her own meeting to make photocopies for some guy just because she was the only woman in the room.  Now, I’m not saying this wouldn’t happen in America—sadly, it would—but at least there you are not required to address the offending dipstick as “Sir” just because he was knighted.

So I am afraid that, on this glorious “first day of spring”/”last day of winter” (depending on your calendar), I am not feeling particularly charitable toward my adopted country.

Please, please, please people, this is a lovely place, and there are plenty of appropriate places for your garbage, and cluttering up my view is not one of them.

And teach your kids some better manners.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

America the Sweet

On our recent trip to the US, my wife and I found America very sweet.  By that, I don’t mean to say the people were friendly and helpful, which they were, almost to a fault, but that many things were, literally, sweet.  The beer, the bread, the baked beans and even the candy were all tinged with a sweetness that made them cloying.

But the Americans, being a resourceful lot, didn’t stop there; if a food item wasn’t sugar-based, it was cover in salt or swirling with cinnamon, or a combination thereof.  And there was a lot of it: in a supermarket with 12 aisles, four were devoted to snack food and those devoted to “real” food contained items like toaster pastries and microwave pizza.  My wife, who just wanted something plain, unflavored and not containing 80,000 calories, searched in vain for rice cakes among the four aisles of offerings.  She did find rice cakes, but they were either infused with cinnamon or coated with a cheese-flavored dust of a color not found in nature.

One of the four snack aisles--one third of the entire store.

Another shock was going to the drugs aisle for some aspirin and finding, readily available on the shelves, drugs that can only be obtained by prescription in the UK—anxiety medications, fat blockers, diet pills, high-strength pain relievers, etc.  This, coupled with the endless TV ads urging patients to demand specific prescription drugs from their doctors, led us to believe that the average American feels more adept at deciding what is good for them, medically, than is, perhaps, good for them.  Maybe my years in the UK have tainted my perception, but I like to leave decisions concerning serious medications up to my doctor.

At one point during the holiday, we bought a pack of Whoppers, just to see how they compare to Malteasers, the UK version of Whoopers.  They were, in word, awful.  The coating was, apparently, some sort of substance grown in a petri dish from industrial waste products that, I assume, was supposed to resemble chocolate in look, texture and taste.  They managed one out of three: the color was brownish, but it had the texture of an inner tube and a taste not far away.  And the center was so sickeningly sweet—not the malty flavor I have grown used to—that after three I considered going back to the drug aisle to get some Kaopectate.

Who thought this was a good idea?  Candy in the shape of Legos!

We also managed to confuse the check out team (really, three people on a register?) by trying to pack our own groceries and caused the staff at a Dunkin Donuts to retreat into a befuddled huddle by asking for coffee without sugar in it.

On the plus side, the service was refreshingly prompt and cordial.  At a diner we visited, a lone waitress was taking orders, bringing food, checking on coffee levels and fetching the check for all the customers.  Even so, the food was well-prepared, hot and on time and she always managed to linger for a few friendly words at each table.  In the UK, where they have eight teenagers behind the counter filling orders, it still takes half an hour to get a cup of coffee.

This is SALAD!  Isn't this supposed to be healthy and low in calories?

 So America gets mixed marks this trip: too much sugar, too many drugs but great service and really good coffee.  Overall, my years in England have made me unable to cope with the high condiment content of American food; I won’t say I was glad to return to Sussex, but my stomach certainly was.

Hey, look what I found at the local bookshop!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Cold, Cold Snow of Home

It had never been my intention to ever go back home during the winter, but a sudden surfeit of holiday leave coupled with the need to see my new grandson saw me and my wife in Upstate New York during the worst winter in thirty years.

We managed to land between snowstorms and arrived with little difficulty.  The only bump on the trip over was, as usual, the security interview, which had been beefed up—for your protection—with a few new questions:

When we presented our passports to the security officer, she eyed the pair of us and asked, “How do you know each other?”  To which I replied, “And just how is that any of your f*%king business?”  Or, at least I might have, if my wife hadn’t chimed in with, “We’re married.”  That satisfied the guard, despite the fact that my wife could have been lying; I might have just met her in a pole-dancing club the night before and decided to take her to America with me.  Does a couple travelling together suddenly become more secure when one of them claims they are married?  The mind boggles.

Then the guard asked my wife something.  My wife answered, “No,” then leaned to me and whispered, “Just tell her ‘No’!”  When I heard the question, I understood my wife’s concern:

“Is there anything in your suitcase that could be used as a weapon?”

I won’t even bother; think up your own scenarios—smothered with a jumper, eye poked out with a Q-tip.  The absurdity of the question screamed at me, but with thoughts of a small back room, rubber hoses and a big man pulling on surgical gloves held firmly in my mind, I simply smiled, said, “No,” and passed through the barrier, wondering if MacGyver would ever be allowed to fly again.

And then we were in New York.  It was bleak.

In a way, this was a good thing: it gave my wife a taste of what I had to put up with for the first four decades of my life, and reaffirmed for me that the decision to move to Britain was the right one.

We endured a snowstorm, enjoyed the thrill of driving on treacherous roads, shovelled snow, chopped wood and, along with our hosts, went slowly stir-crazy.

The experience reacquainted me with the joys of constant cold: dry skin, nosebleeds and nothing to do.  We couldn’t even go for a walk because the snow banks meant you had to walk in the road.  During the second week, my wife had me drive her to the mall just so we could walk around.  We watched a lot of television.

The most shocking—literally—thing I was reminded of was the amazing amounts of static electricity generated by dry air and slippers shuffling on carpet.  Every time I touched something metal I heard a sharp crack and then found myself slumped against the far wall, in a haze of ozone, with my hair standing on end.  Before I moved, I used to carry a large paper clip with me so I could ground myself anytime I got within striking range of metal.

But it was, naturally, all worthwhile.  We got to meet the new grandson, bounce him around and hand him back to his mom and dad when he got cranky.  He’s a loveable little guy and we’re already making plans to introduce him to Britain when he is old enough.  I think I’m going to like being a granddad.

And the day after we left, they had another snowstorm.