Monthly Archives: July 2009

A man walks into a bar (and other clichés)

I love a good cliché. With my unrivalled ability to roll out a casual inanity for every occasion, I could probably have been a football managercoach were it not for a terrifying lack of ability and an underlying loathing of anyone whose ego is so large that it can’t even be carried on to an airplane as hand baggage.

Nonetheless, I consider it a personal failure if I don’t manage to crank out at least one over-used phrase per day. You’ll simply not see me happier than the moments after I’ve just managed to slip a cliché into an otherwise normal conversation. Well, unless you happen to catch my pumped-fist salute coming out of the toiletbathroom, after a painful four day bout of constipation has triumphantly been brought to an end, that is.

Personal favourites include ” actions speak louder than words”, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”, “it ain’t over til the fat lady sings” or “no pain, no gain”, although try as I might, I’m yet to find a way to fit “there’s a thin line between love and hate” into a meeting without being given the look generally reserved for the moment when you realise that the falafel you just bit into was actually a breadcrumbed sheep’s testicle.

The fact is though that most clichés are borne of the truth. And none more so than “it’s a small world.”

Last night I walked into a perfectly everyday American bar just around the corner from where I live in the depths of Brooklyn. Faced with the choice of American beers that look and taste like water (or, worse still, look and taste like urine), I opted for a taste of Britain, in the shape of a ‘pint’ of Bass.

Bass is a strange thing. I’m not even sure that there still is a beer sold under the Bass name in the UK, and if there is, I probably wouldn’t order it (although to be fair, drinking canned Shandy Bass as a kid was one of my great not-as-illicit-as-it-seemed pleasures). But here, Bass seems to have a connotation of high quality – a seemingly safe bet when faced with mountains of six packs of Coors Light, Bud Light, and that weird lime tasting beer that I’ve never quite understood the point of.

Reader, I digress. Having downed my first beer with a speed that would make Usain Bolt’s face blanch, I walked to the bar to buy my second libation.

“Where in the UK are you from?” asked Woman Who I Would Call A Barmaid In The UK.

In the United States, being asked this question fills a Brit with joy and unabandoned glee because it means three things . Firstly, it means they’ve heard of the UK (not a given, trust me). Secondly, they haven’t confused you with an Australian, a Swede or a Canadian. And thirdly, there’s a vague chance that they’ve heard of some British city that’s not London.

“I come from a place called Chester,” I said meekly, readying myself to give directions from London or – at best – Manchester.

“Oh right. I spent my first day in the UK in Chester. My husband’s from Liverpool. I like Chester, although it’s a bit strange.”

I laughed at the thought of an American being confused by a city that has anything older than 500 years in it, and walked back to my seat.

A few moments later, a completely unrelated guy came over to our table.

“Excuse me, mate. Did I hear you say you’re from Chester? I’m from Wrexham actually. Nice to see you,” he said, before wandering out of the door.

Wrexham’s probably eight miles from Chester. I used to date a girl from Wrexham, and one night drove all the way home without realising I didn’t have my headlights on. I rarely came across someone from Wrexham when I was living in London though, let alone in suburban Brooklyn.

I’m now on eager alert for the random appearance of somebody who lived on my street as a kid, or who used to drink in the pub I used to work in and remembers the low cut Hawaiian style shirt I was forced to wear. After all, don’t these things come in threes?

Or would that just be a cliché?

Rushed off my feet

As anyone who is well acquainted with me will tell you, I have a bit of a problem with feet. However gloriously pedicured or preened your feet are, I’m guaranteed to recoil in horror at the mere sight of them. And don’t even think about asking me to touch them.

In fact, feet are probably the only good supporting argument that creationists have on their side, as clearly they were invented on a Friday afternoon, shortly after a higher being had invented the pub, lager, and a means of turning sand into something which could conceivably hold a pint of ice cold liquid. Faced with such temptation, it’s not surprising that he/she didn’t attain the levels of achievement involved in – say – the lungs, and instead used bits of material left over from fashioning the hands and elbows, and decided it was ‘good enough for the moment’.

As anyone who has ever done interim repairs to their home will readily testify, botch jobs have a tendency to become permanent if they work – hence us being stuck with feet, a body part so ugly that it makes the scrotum look like a design classic. And all because of the pressing need for a cold beer and a packet of cheese’n’onion flavour crisps.

My perception is admittedly clouded by the two ingrowing toenails I had to have removed when I was at university. If there is to be a male equivalent to the pain of childbirth (short of using rusty shears to slice off the aforementioned scrotum to exhibit it in the V&A or MOMA), it’s the agony you experience when you’ve had both big toenails sliced off with a scalpel, and the anaesthetic starts to wear off.

Aside from the ‘Nam style flashbacks to the pain (‘you don’t know, you weren’t there, man’), the procedure left a lasting mark on me – one perfectly normal toenail, and another that grew back stronger, harder and more determined than ever never to be vanquished; the superhero of toenails, if you will.

Watch in horror as Meganail blunts your standard nail clippers! Look aghast as files are broken with one blow from Meganail!! Shudder with disbelief as you realise that Meganail might be the single living organism to survive all out nuclear attack!!!

Suffice to say that feet don’t do it for me, and I’m more likely to donate my design icon ballsack to ‘the people’ after my death than I am to subscribe to Peep Toe Monthly or whatever the shoe fetishist’s recognised trade publication is.

All of which makes my recent purchase of a pair of flip flops a little concerning. It’s a gross generalisation, but British men don’t really do flip flops. After all, they don’t accessorise particularly well with our bowler hats and tweed jackets. And given that a recent study showed that men from the UK have more hair per square inch of toe than any other nation on earth, feet are predominantly kept covered. And rightly so.

This leads me to the inevitable conclusion that I am becoming A Little More American Than I Am Strictly Comfortable With. Suddenly I’m wandering to the store on the corner with my feet on show for all to see, or eschewing my normal brogues-on-the-beach look for a little thong of leather between my big toe and curiously bigger, erm, toe-next-to-my-big-toe (my index toe?). It feels curiously freeing yet unmistakably wrong.

Fortunately, life has its way of restoring the natural order. Casting caution to the wind last week, I walked too far in my flip flops, and caused three inch blistered welts to appear on both feet. They’re still prone to bleeding now, and I can barely walk in normal shoes, let alone embrace my evil footwear demons.

Each time I look at my feet, I’m forced to acknowledge that I am British. May my oozing stigmata always remind me never to lose touch with my roots.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone…

Death has always terrified the bejeesus out of me, it has to be said. Quite frankly, I enjoy life too much to stop doing it, and (like being unable to go to that party with the rest of your friends from school) I’m simply too worried that I’ll miss out on something interesting.

Put simply, I’d rather not die if that’s OK with everyone? And if I do have to go at some point in the future (and I have heard vile and vicious rumours suggesting that will indeed be the case), then I’ve got no intention of departing this mortal coil for some substantial time to come.

That said, death is an ever-present element of – erm – life. Barely a day goes by without a famous figure – or, worse still, someone you know and cherish – popping their clogs. It’s an all-too-constant reminder that life is transient. I’ve lobbied Congress to use crack squads of shadowy figures to cover up every single death, but somehow they seem to resist my urgings. I had thought I’d been making progress with the suggestion that Elvis was really alive and well and living in Cleethorpes, but then Jacko dies and it seems that (to pervert the words of Mark Twain) reports of his life are greatly exaggerated.

It’s when famous figures die in your homeland that you realise just how much of an expat you are. For bad or worse, for instance, I probably saw Mollie Sugden more often than I encountered some family members when I was a kid, with shows such as ‘Are You Being Served’ and ‘That’s My Boy’ being on the mandated ‘shows that the kids can watch’ list. Reading about her death on the BBC website hit me hard. But eventually the shock that she hadn’t died about five years ago was replaced by a sadness that a TV icon had passed on. Which was itself then superceded by a nagging regret that there was no-one around me with whom I could share the news without having to spend ten minutes explaining who Mollie Sugden was. And you try doing that without near-constant reference to Mrs Slocombe’s pussy…

Talking of which, if Mollie Sugden needs an aforementioned pussy to keep her company (and, on the off-chance that there’s an after-life) she could do much worse than Claude, our wily and loving cat who passed away two weeks ago today. The Special One had had Claude as a constant companion for 19 years, happily receiving his gifts of dead birds, and tending to his injuries after an exciting but woefully ill-advised four storey leap a few years ago.

Tell anyone about the demise of a 19 year old cat and they’ll likely say something alonge the lines of “well, he’d had a good innings”. And indeed he had. But he was a family member to us, and the one cat who had ever managed to make me like the damn creatures in the first place. Claude shared my propensity for watching baseball when the house was otherwise empty, and now every time I turn the TV on, there’s an empty place in my lap where a warm and skinny cat should be.

As you should know by now, Brits are part human, part Vulcan. As a result, we are incapable of experiencing emotion. Any water you may have seen coming out of my eyes was the result of a nasty retinal infection, and I’ll beat you over the head with my box of Kleenex if you suggest otherwise.

RIP Claude

RIP Claude

Ask a silly question

I’ve been asked some pretty silly questions in my time. Questions that make you look at the person that asked it in such a way as to make them check in the mirror to ensure that they haven’t got a spot the size of a small donut protruding from their nose. The kind of enquiry that makes you roll your eyes so far back in your head that they come back round the other side, like a particularly gruesome Vegas fruitslot machine. You know what I mean.

It all starts when you’re a kid, of course. When you’re asked “who did that?”, regardless of what the ‘that’ is, there are only two possible answers – “it wasn’t me” or “my sister”. You could have been asked who was responsible for the incredible Michaelangelo-esque painting that was brought home from school, or the impromptu shaving of the shaggy-haired dog (left hand side only) – it doesn’t matter…denial is the only option available.

Stupid questions, or questions that have only one possible answer, continue into later life. Whether it’s “fries or salad, sir?”, “do you think we should buy a big flatscreen TV, darling?”, or “do you think that Megan Fox is attractive?”, life is full of questions that just don’t need to be asked.

Of course, a language has emerged to deal with idiotic enquiries. “Is the Pope a Catholic?”, “do bears shit in the woods?” or “does Rose Kennedy own a black dress?” spring immediately to mind, although this generation might develop its own set of rhetorical responses to mindless questions, I guess. Whether “is Britney Spears a nutjob?”, “does Horatio Caine wear sunglasses?” or “is Michael Jacskon alive, well, and running a thriving nail salon in Norwich?” catch on is still unclear at this time.

Thankfully, when it comes to your interview for a green card, the United States has a whole series of brain-numbingly stupid questions to ask you to ensure that you’re not the kind of undesirable that they’d prefer to turn back at the border.

In fairness, some of them I can understand. Asking whether you’ve been involved in immigration proceedings before seems to be a good way to determine whether you’re a romantic soul who just so happens to have had the misfortune to fall in love with an American, or a state-changing chancer who simply wants to ensure long-term access to bagels and deep-fried vegetable products. But please, what kind of answer do they expect to receive in answer to the question ‘do you intend to commit acts of genocide during your stay in the United States?’ I mean, clearly I WAS intending to, but now I’ve signed to say that I won’t, I guess I should put my plans on hold.

Similarly, is there really any point to “will you engage in activities that will lead to the overthrow of the American government?” Some would argue that prior to January, answering ‘no’ to that question could be seen as disloyal to the United States, and possibly lead to your exclusion from the country on grounds of mental instability. But now I just have to accept that my days of political dissent are behind me.

Two questions during the immigration interview particularly stood out though. I know that marriage is weathering, and that I am not getting any younger, but nonetheless being asked whether I was a member of the Nazi party between 1939 and 1945 seems to be a little harsh. And, given that I was sitting next to The Special One at the time, did they really have to ask whether I intended to practice polygamy in the United States?

One look from The Special One should have told them everything they needed to know.