Monthly Archives: August 2007

One solution to the weak dollar?

Having been earning a good honest English wage for the last fifteen years or so, it’s come as a bit of a shock to the system to be earning a US salary.

Sure, I’ve been happily feasting on the weak dollar for the last eighteen months as I’ve travelled back and forth across the Atlantic. A Canon digital SLR at half the price? Don’t mind if I do. A PSP for less than eighty quid? Bring it on. And nights out in swanky restaurants costing slightly less than a La Reine and doughballs? That’ll do nicely.

But when it comes to earning greenbacks, I’m suddenly less than keen on the dollar that’s worth only marginally more than 50p.

Which is why when I was tapping away at the keyboard today, sending an email to a contact in the UK, I was struck by the brilliance of the American response to the problem: just pretend that the pound doesn’t even exist. There’s no sign of a "£" button on your average American keyboard (hey, my MacBook was bought in the UK, alright?), with anybody desperate enough to want to refer to such an inferior currency forced to plunge into the murky depths of menus, sub-menus and alt keys.

In an act of huge personal selfishness, I can only hope it’s a huge American conspiracy, with keyboard manufacturers in cahoots with the Federal Reserve to plague "£" key users with repetitive stress injuries until they eventually decide that enough is enough and stick with the dollar after all.

And before you ask, there’s no sign of a "€" key either. Maybe British Euro-sceptics should start talking to the likes of Dell and Apple about some special keyboards of their own?

A whole new world

It was a packed subway train that hurtled me into the city for my first day at work today, with more people crammed into one carriage of the enormous silver train than you’d likely see on the terraces of Chester City FC on the average Saturday. Nobody talks to anybody, obviously. New York’s no different to London in that respect. But even with the Bat For Lashes album blasting out over my iPod, it was pretty obvious that there was some kind of commotion going on a few doors down from my strap-hanging position.

A high pitched jabber, punctuated by occasional shrieks, attracted the turning heads of the commuters around me, each of us looking for the source of the strangely unidentifiable noise. With each stop that went by, the sound got closer, louder and more irate, until the train came to a halt in a tunnel a few stops from my destination.

And there she was. A short Chinese woman, well dressed in her beige rain jacket, with a polka dotted bag containing a paperback book and a wooden handled umbrella clutched in her hand. A picture of normality, you might think. If it wasn’t for the stream of invective issuing forth from her never-closing mouth, that is.

I’m not sure what it was she was saying, although with the occasional angry spluttering of words such as ‘yellow’ and ‘racist’, I suspect somebody had done something to annoy her. And a 25 minute barrage of Chinese and English abuse must have seemed the best way to deal with it. Whatever the cause, she successfully cleared a two metre radius around her with her relentless tirade…no mean feat in such a burstingly full carriage.

As the woman finally departed the train, ranting still as she stepped down onto the platform, the remaining passengers breathed a heavy sigh of relief. And – shock, horror – they even began laughing and sharing war stories with strangers around them, each with their own tale to tell about their encounters with craziness.

Something tells me the New York subway will provide an endless source of stories for this blog. Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

A heavy price to pay

One of the things that nobody ever mentions when you’re leaving one country for another is the huge cost. Not the cost of getting all your stuff transported from one side of the world to another, although that’s bad enough. No, I’m talking about the price that your liver has to pay as you see all your friends for farewell drinks…

Admittedly my stag do was a huge part of this, but over the last week or so, I’ve drunk the following:

  • c25 gin and tonics
  • 15 glasses of wine
  • 8 bottles of beer
  • 8 sambuca shots
  • 4 shots of whiskey
  • 1 midori and lemonade (it was green, it was my stag weekend, what can I say)
  • 1 blue curacao and lemonade (see above)
  • 2 pints of shandy

It’s not big and it’s not clever. And I’m sure all my friends will be glad to see the back of me after all the spurious excuses for nights out that I’ve come up with so far.

Shares in Solpadeine have rocketed over the last few days, I can tell you.

Ready, steady….

There are many things I’ll miss about London life, but there’s one irrational and wholly inconsequential behavioural trait that I’ll be glad to kiss goodbye to – Oystercard Unreadiness Syndrome.

Maybe you’ve not heard of this disease that’s currently rampaging through our capital city, but you’ve almost certainly seen it. It predominates in women, although is not exclusively confined to them, and its frequency tends to increase on occasions when those around the victim are running late to get somewhere. There is a simple cure, but education is still necessary to ensure that we stamp out this terrible illness.

Picture the scene. You’re on the bus. You’re late for a job interview/first date/goddaughter’s birthday party. You’re making good progress through the busy London roads, and all is looking fine. And then it strikes when you’re least expecting it.

The bus stops to allow a fairly lengthy line of passengers to get on. From the size of the line, they’ve been waiting there for, ooh, fifteen minutes. During that time, each passenger has no doubt been consumed with their own thoughts – "What do I need to buy in Tesco’s?", "I wonder why he isn’t answering?" or "Man alive, look at the legs on her", maybe? But each member of the ever-lengthening queue knows one indisputable thing – once the bus finally arrives, they’re going to get on, pay the fare, and (hopefully) sit down. It’s quite simply the law of the (transportation) land.

Most people get on the bus as expected, the beep of the ticket machine registering the successful acceptance of the validity of their Oystercard payment. But then comes our poor OUS sufferer. Identification is generally possible by the handbag she’s swinging from her shoulder. If it’s conceivably large enough to conceal, say, Liechtenstein, then it’s probable that she’s at the very least a carrier of the disease. She makes the short step up onto the bus, and then, confronted with the familiar yellow glow of the Oystercard reader, she makes the grim realisation that she has to offer some form of payment for the journey. Does she have her Oystercard ready, having known for the last quarter of hour that she was going to need it? Sadly not.

No matter how many times they get on a bus, OUS victims are crippled by an inability to remember to have their payment out and ready to use. And not only is it not ready, it’s hidden within the murky depths of that handbag, no doubt nestling cosily beneath the severed heads of three ex-boyfriends and seventeen copies of the latest Harry Potter blockbuster.

And so the hunt begins. Our hapless victim rifles through the bag in search of the ticket she never even knew she needed. Her mission unearths all manner of treasures. Marlboro Lights (six packets)? Check. Picture of her and closest mate on the slopes at Val D’Isere? Check. Small surface-to-air missile (collapsible)? Check check check.

Only after a complete dismantling of the bag and the laying out of all its contents on the floor, does the victim find the means to pay. With a cheerful ignorance of the villainous stares of the disgruntled fellow passengers who’ve been kept waiting for ten minutes, she walks to an empty seat and settles down to listen to David Gray on her iPod.

Victims in advance stages of the disease can find that after taking every single item out of their bag, the Oystercard was actually in their pocket all along. Variants of the disease include Credit Card Ill-Preparedness Complex (generally witnessed in long supermarket queues) and Fast Food Indecisionitis (where the level of indecisiveness increases in direct inverse correlation to the number of items on the menu).

We need to act urgently if we are to banish this world of the terrifying impact of this degenerative disease. Please do give generously, and help those that are unable to help themselves. Thank you.

PS In the United States, I can only assume that if somebody waits until they get on the bus to get out their payment, security marshalls will operate on a shoot-to-kill basis. Zero tolerance – it’s the only way forward.