Monthly Archives: March 2010

Dancing With The “Stars”

Having your cultural references surgically removed when you become an expat can be fairly wearing. If ever I watch television with The Special One, I spend most of my time apologizing for not knowing that the guy from CSI: Milwaukee was actually the former star of the hilarious CBS sitcom Three Women & A Toaster back in the 80s. Obviously I retaliate by trying to get her to name every vet in All Creatures Great & Small, but then she snorts with derision and mutters something under her breath about calling her tennis coach.

Anyway, given that my knowledge of D-List American ‘stars’ is marginally worse than my understanding of avant-garde Ukrainian crochet work from 1951-53, watching celebrity-based reality TV shows is about as enticing as a double date dinner with Tiger Woods and his wife. Infact, even just watching the trailers can be confusing for me, as I discovered this weekend when I saw an ad for the new series of Dancing With The Stars (the American, Bruce Forsyth-less adaptation of Strictly Come Dancing).

Don’t get me wrong, some people I know. I mean, there’s probably not a person alive who hasn’t heard of Pamela Anderson, although I’m starting to believe she might be more famous these days for her – erm – live action self-directed short films than for her glory days on Baywatch. Obviously Nicole Scherzinger is a Pussycat Doll, although a) I wouldn’t have been able to pick her out of a police line-up if it hadn’t been for the fact that she dated a British racing driver, and b) making up a silly surname does not automatically guarantee you fame. I also have to confess that in the early 1990s, I had a bit of a thing for Brenda from Beverly Hills 90210, and so the appearance of Shannon Doherty in the show would at least provide me with the opportunity to tell The Special One that I only married her because she too came from Tennessee.

Buzz Aldrin. Yes, that Buzz Aldrin. Even if we put aside the fact that he must be 97 by now (and that zimmer frame is going to be tough to swing around in a show about ballroom dancing), did Buzz really need to do this? I mean, seriously Buzz? I know you’re still upset that that Amrstrong bloke beat you in an arm wrestle for the right to be first on the moon, but is making a fool of yourself on national TV going to take away that pain?

As for the rest of the sorry bunch, I was initially lost for words. This Brit Out Of Water doesn’t give up without a fight though, so I quickly scribbled down their names, and have finally managed to work out what brought them to our TV screens.

Chad Ochocinco
Born and raised in Bad Axe, Michigan, Ochocinco (real name: Bill Perkins) is the inventor of the Sham Wow cleaning cloth. He officially changed his name three years ago, to reflect the number of different uses he claims his miracle cloth can be put to. Chad Eightyfive clearly wasn’t catchy enough for him. Became the subject of a controversy last year when federal consumer experts claimed that they were unable to find more than one use for the Sham Wow, and “even that doesn’t work very well.”

Aiden Turner
One half of the hit country combo, “Turner & Hooch”. Guitarist Turner met former flight attendant Holly Hooch in 1987, on a trip to Denver, marrying her three days later after a whirlwind Makers Mark-inspired romance. The pair began performing on stage together the following year, and are perhaps best known for the 1993 hit “You Caught Me Looking At Your Cupcakes”. The pair split in 2005, after Turner took a flight alone and was given a much-publicized ‘upgrade’ in the cabin’s rear galley by a blonde former colleague of Hooch’s.

Erin Andrews
The former Miss Poughkeepsie was stripped of her title when she was found stealing Chupa Chups from the supply cupboard of her paediatrician’s office. The “Beauty Star Steals Candy From The Babies” headlines forced pageant organizers to strip Andrews of her title, and prompted Andrews into a tearful mea culpa on Larry King. Andrews claimed to have developed a forty-a-day lollipop habit after the death of her beloved dog Francis in 2008.

Evan Lysacek
Star of the hit NBC comedy “Up Against The Wall”, Lysacek has perhaps the most irritating voice in sitcom history – quite an achievement in a field that includes The Nanny, and that woman from Will & Grace. Last year, Lysacek became the public face of Clorox’s multi-purpose cleaning sprays, although rumours abound that he is shortly to be replaced by Daphne from Frasier.

Niecy Nash
Until last year, Nash was the senior Republican senator for Utah, winning a landslide 2005 election running under the slogan “Niecy and Easy”. He narrowly avoided indictment on corruption charges after using public funds to put his son through culinary school, and was swept out of office after more than one million people joined the “Not So Niecy After All” group on Facebook.

Jake Pavelka
The Atlanta Braves catcher, who fought a very public battle with alcoholism. After one particularly heavy drinking session, Pavelka still managed to hit a triple in a key play off game against the Chicago Cubs, but ran the wrong way around the diamond to end up only making first base. Pavelka is now the poster child for Budweiser’s no-alcohol beer “Clear” (slogan: Even Less Tasty Than Bud Light).

Kate Gosselin
One time labour and delivery nurse who – not happy with having already had twins – turned to fertility treatment in her to have more kids, and ended up with sextuplets. Her and her husband – let’s call him “Jon” – then sell their souls to a television network in order to get some cold hard cashvaluable exposure for the struggles of parents with eight kids. Five years later, Kate and Jon split up, and their story was plastered over the cover of entertainment titles for approximately three years.

Yeah, alright, the last one was a bit far-fetched, wasn’t it?

The permanent marker

I’ve never really understood tattoos. I find it hard enough to commit to a month long metrocard, so the thought of being permanently branded with the kind of illustration that most people gave up drawing when they were sixteen fills me with fear and dread. The fact that you pay through the nose for it, it hurts like hell, and you can only get rid of it by having your flesh roasted like a nice piece of pork belly is neither here nor there.

For some reason, however, it appears that my deeply-held opinion is of little interest to the vast majority of Americans. Hard though that is to believe. Federal legislation passed shortly after MC Hammer’s brief flirtation with success demand that anybody wishing to have a hit is required to have at least one strap tattoo in order to be eligible for chart entry. And if you’re in the grip of a midlife crisis, but can’t afford a Ferrari (or the child support payments when your wife finds out about your affair with Mindy, the pneumatic blonde from the local hardware store), a tattoo is the choice du jour. Because, as we all know, tattoos look really great the older you get.

One thing I’ve noticed though is that women have tattoos in vastly greater numbers in New York than they do in London.

I’m not talking about the tiny pictures of hearts, snakes or stars that some women pick to decorate their lower back, shoulder or posterior. These are, after all, the bank charges of the body decoration world – mostly kept hidden until it’s way too late to avoid them. I’m not sure why these people don’t just buy a nice new piece of jewellery instead, thereby avoiding spending an hour in the company of a Hell’s Angel named Barry. But each to their own. I’m sure Barry’s actually a really nice guy who genuinely loves his mummom.

No, I’m talking the full-on murals that probably took a team of seasoned painters and decorators six days working around the clock to pull off. The kind of design that would make Sandra Bullock start sharpening her newly-bought collection of kitchen knives. No piffling stars or hearts here – just increasingly elaborate designs that suggest the work of a troubled youth who had run out of space to doodle and picked on the next available material that came to hand.

Favorite designs that I’ve seen on the ladies of New York include the complicated tattoo necklace (I presume she had alternative skin available for the times that the necklace didn’t accessorise properly with her outfit), and a frankly inexplicable design on the back of both knees. Although nothing really beats the trailing ivy that sloped from one woman’s foot, all the way up her leg. The fact that the shrubbery appeared to emerge from between two toes, implicitly suggesting that the ivy had incubated in some kind of fungal growth, clearly was of no concern to her.

Thankfully, some New York women take a much more practical view of tattoos. Taking the subway home last night, I witnessed a woman whose back of her hand featured three tattooed boxes, each a quarter inch in size. I pondered deeply on the strange simplicity of the design. Could it be some reaffirmation of the power of three, or a symbolic representation of the father, the son and the holy ghost? Or maybe she was simply halfway through the eventual design, with the initials of a loved one soon to appear within the boxes, maybe in an unnecessarily elaborate brush script?

Then ten minutes into the journey, she took out a pen and scribbled ‘pick up dry cleaning’ next to one of the boxes. In New York, it would appear that romances come and go, but checklists are truly forever.

Life’s too short to hate (or is it?)

One of the joys of fatherhood – whether as a stepfather or as a natural parent – is the opportunity to see the world with a fresh pair of eyes. I may well be world-weary even at my age, but even something that has become the norm for you can become truly exciting again when you’re introducing a child to a whole new experience.

As a result, my elder daughter – The Artist Formerly Known As The Youngest – and I found ourselves in a Thai restaurant yesterday evening, getting some much needed food ahead of a trip to Madison Square Gardens to see Alicia Keys perform live in concert.

The interesting thing about spending any amount of time alone with a 12 year old is that the conversation has a weird ebb and flow to it. For a few minutes you might sit in absolute silence as you desperately cast around for topics that might be of interest to you both. Then once you hit paydirt, you suddenly find that you can’t get a word in edgeways for half an hour, as a stream of consciousness is unleashed upon you and anyone within a 60 yard radius. And then silence again.

During one of these conversational ‘tirades’ last night, my daughter brought up the topic of hate, saying that she doesn’t understand why some people say that hate is too strong an emotion. She then proceeded to string together a list that may have included everything from her third grade teacher through to the socio-economic policies of the autocratic regimes of Central Africa. I wasn’t on the hate list, I’m happy to say, although that may simply have been a pragmatic approach on her part, prompted by my decision not to give her the concert ticket ahead of time.

Anyway, if I’d have managed to jam a metaphorical foot into her conversational door in order to squeeze a sentence in, I’d have said that I agree with those people who don’t have any time for hate. But then I realized that there is just one thing that drives me mad to the point of loathing – something that makes me angry whenever I see it, almost to the point where I feel like taking decisive physical action to remedy the situation.

Because, dear reader, violence against books just isn’t acceptable.

I grew up worshipping books – eagerly devouring every last page and twist of everything from the Secret Seven and the Roald Dahl books, to Agatha Christie and even Jeffrey Archer. And so sacred did all books become to me that I couldn’t even bear to break the spine, let alone deface them in any other way. I used to read books with the pages only as far apart as would be allowed by my thumb being wedged in at the bottom. Oh hell, what am I talking about – I still read books that way. No folded corners, no creases in the cover, and I always make sure to pick up the book that’s about six from the front in the bookshop, just so that it’s as flat as possible.

Obsessive-compulsive? Moi?

The Special One, incidentally, has a completely different view. She naively believes that books are there to be enjoyed. If she’s even in the same room as a book, its spine will crack spontaneously, in fear of the numerous pains that she is about to inflict on its pages. I wince in agony as she flattens the book completely with the palm of her hand, or leaves it splayed open while she goes off in search of a late-night snack. Hurt a book, and you are hurting me.

Recently though, I’ve noticed that more and more New Yorkers seem to be writing in their books. Maybe I’m just coming across more students, but it seems that the primary use for a biroballpoint pen these days is to scrawl copious notes (generally in green, I like to think) in otherwise beautiful and pristine books. Underlinings, rambling notes, and even doodles I’ve seen recently – is nothing truly sacrosanct these days? I’m thinking of starting a campaign for a legislative change which would allow any book being used in such a way to be snatched from the holder’s hand by any passing stranger. Watch out New York, the Book Police are in town.

Suffice to say that I managed to put aside my hatred for the course of last night’s concert, and a good time was had by all. The Artist Formerly Known As The Youngest burst into tears when Alicia Keys introduced Beyonce, and shrieked at the top of her voice when Jay-Z came on stage at the end.

She must have learned how to scream from seeing me shortly after her mother has picked up a book, that’s for sure.

A spot of admin

I’ve just realised that I haven’t actually updated my blogroll for about two years, which means it’s as out of control as my bikini line. There are many of you who comment here regularly whose blog isn’t listed, so if you’re missing and you’d like to be included, either leave a comment here or else drop me an email.

And yes, for the easily bored, this is the first blog post of mine that has ever come in at under 100 words. Move along now, nothing to see here.

Top secret dossier: how kids are saving the world

Irrational irritation is something I do well. You may have noticed. After all, there is no reason why the two people managing to take up an entire hallway and preventing anyone from passing should really annoy me. Getting past them might save me three seconds on my journey to wherever I’m going. And to be honest, I’m probably only heading to buy a packet of crispschips in the first place.

I try to pretend to family and friends that I’m as laid back as Hong Kong Phooey’s mild mannered janitor alter-ego. But just beneath the surface is a raging firebrand capable of getting annoyed at the drop of a hat. And, being a parent to two high school kids, let me tell you that there’s plenty of material to keep me in furrowed brows for many a long year to come.

Now obviously, I was a pure angel when I was a kid growing up back in the UK. I said all my please’s and thank you’s, brushed my teeth, helped out around the house, and never once complained when we had to walk fourteen miles to school in the wind and the snow. With no shoes. Or clothes.

My saintliness clearly makes me ideally positioned to comment on the weaknesses of American youth, I’m sure you’ll agree. The fact is that I never wanted to be the kind of person who would be easily irritated with the actions of kids. And indeed, most of the time I try to keep a lid on it. But to my great shame, there used to be certain things that would be guaranteed to drive me to distraction.

Until, that is, I learned that American youngsters are aware of certain laws of the universe that only affect those under 16; where previously I thought that their actions were designed to annoy, I now understand that they are just trying to save themselves, their family and – indeed – the universe, from eternal harm. These include:

1. The nuclear toilet
When the Cold War was at its height, a crack team of maverick US scientists gathered together a few miles outside Pike View, Kentucky, to discuss ways of creating a ‘self destruct’ button for the United States, should it ever be taken over by the Russians. The method they conceived would astonish the world.

Having infiltrated the factories of American Standard, the boffins managed to ensure that each and every toilet installed in US homes was capable of bringing about a nuclear winter of its own under certain conditions. The task force quickly decided that adults couldn’t be trusted with the instructions for detonation, so they instead recruited fifteen year old boys as their agents of destruction.

At its most basic, the plan works something like this. If a fifteen year old boy ever flushes a toilet, then the nuclear toilet device is automatically armed. If the child then fails to pee all over the seat, the weapon will destruct within five minutes. Some of the more modern devices are a little less sensitive, and will allow the agent to pee all over the floor as an alternative safety mechanism.

2. Job creation lighting
One of the less publicized elements of the economic stimulus act that was brought into force over a year ago was the formulation of PABS, or – to give it its full title – Powering America By Squirrels. The bottom simply fell out of squirrel training when the credit crunch hit, and the creation of job opportunities for squirrels and their mentors became a central issue on the campaign trail in some key swing states such as West Virginia and Ohio.

As a result when he came to power, President Obama decreed that large battalions of squirrels should be formed, and that they be trained to operate miniature canoes hooked up to dynamos, which in turn provide power to the national grid.

So successful has the campaign been that some trainers have become fat cats off the earnings, and the United States has an unlikely glut of electricity supply.

All teenagers have been informed of this, in a series of top secret communiques delivered through the public school system. As a result, each of them is intensely aware that every time they turn off a light, a squirrel is shot dead somewhere in Findlay, Ohio. And frankly, none of them want squirrel blood on their delicate workshy hands.

3. Impending hot lava destruction
For years the newspapers have been filled with stories that in thousands of years time, the Earth will crash into the Sun/be hit by a meteor the size of Australia/run out of oxygen and lead us all to breathe through specially adapted face-mounted raccoons. Frankly though, there’s a far greater problem that threatens the human race.

For years, the molten core of the Earth has been consuming the ground above it, sucking millions of years of rock into its shadowy vortex. Where once there were thousands of miles of protective strata, now the sod is like a fragile epidermis on the surface of a molten mass.

Indeed, so perilously thin is the outer layer of our planet now that in some areas of civilization, lava has broken through the ground. Governments around the world are working in unison to resolve the issue, but in the meantime there is understandable concern that if mankind discovers this problem, there will be panic, looting and rioting across the world.

As most of the holes appear confined to domestic bedrooms, children have been recruited by specially created federal agencies to hide the problem from over anxious adults. Under-16s have all been fitted with lava detectors, enabling them to sniff out holes as soon as they occur. These gaps can then be hidden by carefully placing as many of their possessions as possible on the floor over the hole. Most bedrooms appear to have multiple holes, often resulting in all shelves being cleared of items in order that they be hastily put to use on carpets and wooden floors.

Do note that some parents have attempted to insist on the clearance of the covering devices. Owners of such parents have been mandated to implement a ‘tantrum to kill’ policy in order to avert imminent disaster.

Rest assured that the future health of the United States is safe in the hands of this house’s very own agents. To any parents reading this, please try not to get irrationally irritated as I used to. Let’s support all our children in the sterling work they do in support of this fading planet of ours.