Category Archives: Uncategorized

Back to the future

If you’d have spoken to me on the morning of May 1 1997, I’d have been a nervous wreck. As Britain went to the polls, it felt like it was time for change. After all, Britain had been controlled by the Conservatives (largely Margaret Thatcher) for 18 years, and the country was crying out for a new way of doing things.

Despite a tide of sentiment that was fundamentally in support of change, and even with The Sun coming out in favour of Tony Blair, I think plenty of people spent many hours worrying that the polls had been wrong, and that John Major would be swept back to power on the basis of fear of change. More to the point, Labour had made a habit out of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, so anything was possible.

As it was, Blair won a landslide majority, and Britain found itself with a Labour Prime Minister for the first time since 1979. The feeling on the streets of London (where I lived at the time) the following morning was like nothing I have ever experienced. People smiled, for a start. There was a real sense of public optimism, and a feeling that the UK was entering a whole new era. Put simply, Britain felt like a different kind of place.

Of course, that feeling didn’t stop dodgy dossiers, the Millennium Dome, slow handclapping at the Women’s Institute and cash for honours, but at the time, it was a new dawn for the country.

Fast forward eleven years (and head 3458 miles west), and America is potentially on the verge of the same monumental mandate for change. I’ve got that nervous feeling in my stomach again, despite polls that suggest there’s more chance of me being elected President than that funny little man with the grey hair. I’m reading the news voraciously, and I spend any spare time on this site looking for evidence that the country is turning increasingly blue. It feels like there’s never been a more important American election in my lifetime.

I’m actually out of the country next Tuesday, but when I return on Wednesday, I’m hoping that the immigration officers have smiles on their faces, and that the taxi drivers thronging in the arrivals hall have an extra skip in their step.

May 2 1997 felt like the start of a new chapter. Here’s hoping that November 5 2008 is the beginning of a whole new book.

The restorative powers of fat

While I am obviously a man of restraint and fine moral vigour, occasionally the desire to celebrate with a glass of two of chilled sherry can become a little too much for me. Unlike certain other of my friends, I’ve never been reduced to begging for cash in public or been forced to leave a family member’s birthday party and subsequently fallen fast asleep on a cold hard kitchen floor. But that doesn’t mean I’ve never woken up with a head seemingly pounding out its own vibrant African rhythms, and a clear yet somehow elusive feeling of regret and momentary self-loathing.

On such self-induced occasions, the body really has no choice but to accept emergency aid. Yet like a foreign power helping out in a region so that it can later lay its filthy hands on all its natural resources, that aid seems to provide initial relief before you later realise that it’s probably done as much damage as the original problem itself. With more grease than the elaborately coiffed hair of a 50s throwback, the hangover breakfast tastes like the greatest meal on earth while you’re eating it, but 37 minutes and 23 seconds later leads indirectly to the familiar pained cry of “I’m never ever drinking again.” And an afternoon on the sofa watching fourteen episodes of Murder She Wrote on some obscure cable channel.

Nevertheless, there are some times when only fried food will do. And for me, the meal of choice on the morning-after-the-night-before can only be the bacon sandwich. Crisped to within an inch of their lives, each rasher must carry a powerful payload of HP Sauce, and preferably be sitting on thickly sliced highly processed white bread. Artisan-made organic multi-grain loaves have their place, but that place is not the morning after, say, showing off your breakdancing skills to a rapt-yet-terrified crowd.

Sadly bacon in the United States is 98% fat, 2% pig testicle, and as a result, the bacon sandwich doesn’t quite have the same appeal. Instead, the hangover breakfast American-style comes either with eggs, or at least 87% more cheese than an Abba-themed fancy dress party. The everything bagel with ham and cheese is a welcome addition to the campaign to fight over-consumption, but it’s not the universal panacea that the body requires.

On Sunday morning, I woke up with a slight sore head and jokingly remarked to The Special One that she would be my hero forever if she brought me a bacon butty in bed, safe in the knowledge that the house was a resolutely rasher-free zone. Fifteen minutes later, she stepped into the bedroom with a toasted sandwich containing two split open and grilled smokey hot dogsbrats. American ingenuity and innovation at its best, I say. And you know something, it actually tasted remarkably good.

Didn’t stop me from having sausage, chips and beans for lunch at the local chipshop, obviously. But pretty damn good nonetheless.

200 things you simply have to know about New York (part three)

Here’s the third installment of the epic list to celebrate 200 posts. Think you know New York yet? Think again.

101. If officials made it any easier to access the subway without paying, babies who have consistently had their candy taken from them for the last 200 years would be relieved of their ridicule.
102. Aviator sunglasses are compulsory uniform in New York. Especially on the subway.
103. You have to pay a toll to get out of Brooklyn on the Verrazano Bridge, but it’s free to come back. This can only be a ploy to stop cheap New Yorkers from leaving.
104. It is easier to thread a camel through the eye of a needle than to find a New York block that doesn’t have some kind of shop offering you ten different types of turkey.
105. Native New Yorkers love their city with a passion.
106. If you ever needed proof that the legs of 80% of Americans will drop off if they’re forced to walk more than 100 yards in a day, look no further than New York and its subway system that stops every ten blocks.
107. Drop a nickel from the Empire State Building and it’ll be worth two cents by the time it hits the ground, such is the economic crisis afflicting the US at the moment.
108. Too many Brits in New York use their nationality as an excuse for their arrogant behaviour. It’s no excuse, fellow countrymen…
109. There are more knock offcounterfeit bags purporting to be genuine Prada/Coach/Louis Vuitton than in all of Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore combined. It’s easier to pick up a fake Chloe handbag in Chinatown than it is to get a portion of General Tso’s chicken with steamed rice.
110. Everybody’s desperate to be part of New York. Especially the people of West New York. They’re in New Jersey.
111. I’ve seen more broken feet in New York in the last two months than I’ve probably ever seen in my life. Either that, or vain New Yorkers have been told that the orthopedic boot you have to wear is actually a post-modernist fashion statement. But only if you wear it on one foot.
112. There is so much construction work in the city that official estimates suggest the whole of New York could be rebuilt within three years.
113. The cannoli. Why?
114. Walking past a bar and seeing ‘soccer’ on a big screen still surprises me every time.
115. It doesn’t matter whether it’s 3 in the afternoon or 2 in the morning, there is traffic everywhere in New York.
116. Especially when you’re in a hurry to get to the airport.
117. If you can conceive of a type of entertainment, then there is somewhere in New York that will be able to provide it for you. Even those fetishists who insist on hearing German Schlager music while having their toes gently stroked by feather-toting Azerbaijani immigrants.
118. The prevalence of the one cent coin is directly due to the sheer volume of 99 cent stores in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
119. There has not been a consumer product yet invented that will not be directly delivered to your door by one or more New York stores.
120. For a city that banned smoking in bars well before the UK, there’s a hell of a lot of smokers in this city.
121. Please stop making me wait for the rest of my party to arrive before you’ll seat me in your restaurant. I promise you that they’re just having a cigarette outside.
122. More New Yorkers take advantage of the opportunity to drink until 4am than anywhere else in America. If New York didn’t exist, Advil would have to invent it.
123. As a neat counterpoint to number 82 on the list, when the sun is blazing at 97 degrees and there’s 80% humidity, New York is about as tempting a destination as war-torn Cambodia.
124. Times Square is the rich man’s Piccadilly Circus.
125. Halloween in New York is incredibly scary. Not because it’s when ghouls and goblins come out to play, but because of the likelihood of being trampled to death by marauding kids seeking out sweetscandy.
126. New Yorkers are taxed according to the average number of syllables they use every day. Their refusal to pronounce every syllable is the reason that a shudder of fear shakes you to your bones when you realise you’ve got a New Yorker on your charades team.
127. Mayor Bloomberg is no Boris Johnson. Thankfully.
128. Grand Central Station is both an utterly stunning piece of architecture, and a fine place to get some food. Apparently you can also catch trains there.
129. ‘Sorry’ is the most-uttered word by the British in New York. Ironically, the apology was outlawed for all native New Yorkers, by state judges in 1969.
130. I’ve yet to find a restaurant or bar in the city which offers Pepsi that doesn’t taste like it’s been made in a Soda Stream.
131. New York is one of the world’s biggest cities, but they still couldn’t win the 2012 Olympics bid.
132. La Guardia airport is the worst airport in the country, with only 58% of its flights arriving on time. And JFK and (New Jersey’s) Newark aren’t too far behind…
133. You don’t know the meaning of stress until you’ve spent a few hours in the company of a New Yorker. Especially if you happen to be sitting next to one on a flight arriving at La Guardia.
134. New Yorkers share their city with some of the most disgusting looking bugs in the world. And the cockroaches are silently plotting to take over the city in a bloodless coup.
135. Everybody always wants something in this city.
136. New York women have the biggest hair in the world. More hairspray and hair curlers are sold per square mile than any other metropolitan centreer in the world.
137. Air quality is Beijing-esque. On a good day.
138. If you fancy spending a half a day in a queueline, just go to your nearest post office.
139. My mother always told me to avoid puddles of standing water on a dry day, just in case it’s urine. If I was to take her advice in New York, I’d never get on the subway.
140. Having your buttons broken by every dry cleaner you take your shirts to is part of the city’s unique charm
141. It’s difficult to feel too ‘out of water’ in a city where you can easily buy Mr Kipling’s cherry bakewells, and Curly Wurly’s.
142. It’s still shocking to find that shops stay open later than 6pm.
143. Finding a needle in a haystack is nothing compared to attempting to find a cleaner who will turn up every week, not charge the earth, and has papers confirming their legal right to be in the country. Or at least faked papers confirming their legal right to be in the country.
144. Getting a drink on the house actually does happen. Not very often, admittedly, but it’s always nice when it does.
145. If you want to have a proper conversation about the state of Manchester United’s attacking options, just get in a yellow cab and tell them that you’re English.
146. If you want to see dogs treated like human beings by women in big sunglasses, New York is the place for you.
147. No excuse is too small for a celebration in New York.
148. By law, disaster movies have to show New York being obliterated.
149. Lindsay Lohan accidentally taking somebody’s coat home from a club is front page news in this city.
150. The city is apparently known as Gotham, but I’ve never seen a man dressed in a cape, a yellow belt and with his pantsunderwear on over his clothes.

200 things you simply have to know about New York (part two)

51. Your stepsstoop is a much more civilised place from which to get rid of any old crap from your house than the back of a Ford Cortina.
52. Any city that can invent the beer milkshake is alright by me.
53. The view from the N train as you go across the Williamsburg Bridge is as good as any cityscape this country has to offer. I know it sounds strange, but that view of the Brooklyn Bridge just gets me every time.
54. Hipsters really do exist. Their level of actual hipness is only exceeded by their own opinion of themselves.
55. Everybody’s got an opinion in New York. And they’re not afraid to share it with you.
56. That’s an old lady behind you pushing you out of the way so that she can get off the train.
57. Nothing is sacred when it comes to advertising. Anything, anyone or anywhere can be used by big evil brands to get their message across. By the way, this blog entry is brought to you by Taco Bell: Thinking Outside The Bun.
58. The quality of the roads in this country is comparable to those in rural Tunisia. Except a little bumpier.
59. ‘Spicy’ is a swear word in New York restaurants.
60. Someone, somewhere in this city, is getting very very angry right now.
61. Mayor Bloomberg does not control this city. The makers of Boars Head deli meats do.
62. Well, either Boars Head or Chase Bank.
63. Given the number of manicure and pedicure salons in the city, I’m forced to the reluctant conclusion that the average New York hand has at least seven fingers.
64. There’s no shortage of parking in the city, but it’d still be cheaper to park outside Philadelphia and get a taxi back.
65. There must be a world surplus of cream cheese. It’s the only explanation for why delis put so much of the damn stuff on every single bagel.
66. People actually speak to their neighbours here. I didn’t know what the word neighbour meant until I got here.
67. That said, ‘nabe’ as a word is an assault on the soul of the English language.
68. Did I miss a meeting that declared frozen yoghurt one of the five essential foodstuffs?
69. The best day of my life took place in this city.
70. I’m not counting Manchester United’s two most recent European Cup victories in the above, obviously.
71. Hell hath no fury like a Brooklyn resident having a big apartment building built just down the road from their lovely brownstone.
72. If every deli in New York were placed alongside the next, they’d reach from here to Salt Lake City. Or somewhere else quite a long way away.
73. If you want to a scary night out, don’t bother with a trip to the latest slasher movie. Just attend a class play at your local elementary school and watch the parents.
74. Million dollar fines are issued to any New York radio station playing any more than 20 different records in one day.
75. New York apartments are like the everyday living version of attempting to fit 22 people in a Mini. Never in the field of human contact were so many squeezed into so little for so much cash.
76. Jars of sweetscandies seem to feature on everybody’s desks. Did I mention that New York has a collective sweet tooth?
77. Spontaneous combustion has been known to occur in documented cases where a member of the public has managed to find one of the three square yards in the city where a Starbucks cannot be seen in any direction.
78. Should Duane Reade go out of business tomorrow, the resultant collapse in the commercial property market in New York as approximately 67,000 locations instantly went on the market could make the subprime market look like a schoolkid losing their pocket moneyallowance.
79. There’s a truly astonishing sense of community in this city. Even if it’s generally rallied in order to prevent a bar from selling alcohol within an 83 block radius of a school.
80. There really is a hell of a lot less crime here than you’d think given the size of the city.
81. You can always guarantee that the only time you’ll actually see a crime taking place is while you’re showing around a nervous friend or family member who is convinced they’re going to die in New York.
82. On a hot day in June, with a pleasant breeze taking the edge off the sun, there can sometimes feel like there’s no greater place on earth.
83. The amount of time for needed for an outsider to make themselves understood to a native will always be in direct inverse proportion to the amount of time you have.
84. The sudden need for a taxi always rises about five minutes after the 4pm changeover has caused all bar three taxis to turn their lights onto ‘off duty’.
85. Recycling is particularly effective in this city. If London wants to play catch-up, all they need to do is place a 5p deposit on all cans and plastic bottles, and let homeless people do the rest.
86. Fresh Direct is heaven sent – imagine Ocado, but without all the Waitrose stores to make you feel guilty that you’ve had your groceries delivered rather than walking the eighteen yards down the road to get them. Admittedly Fresh Direct’s sixteen yards of foam wrap may be overkill for two bananas.
87. There are maybe only three public toilets in the whole of New York City. And I can’t find two of them.
88. New York is the undisputed cupcake capital of the world. New Yorkers didn’t even know that they liked cupcakes until these shops started appearing randomly on their streets.
89. Brooklyn is the new Manhattan. Queens is the new Brooklyn. The Bronx is the Bronx. And Staten Island is a funny little place that’s difficult to get to.
90. If you can make it here, you can apparently make it anywhere.
91. They’ll hold a parade for anything in this city. 60 years of Israel? Let’s have a parade. Releasing a Disney film? Time for a parade!! A new line of toothpaste now available at Rite Aid? Parade!!!
92. For all its urban sprawl, New York has some of the most impressive parkland of any city I’ve ever been to. Even if the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is a poor man’s Kew Gardens.
93. If I hear “Ladies and gentlemen, we are delayed because of train traffic ahead of us” one more time, I swear I will not be held responsible for my actions.
94. In Britain, your inducement to give blood is a biscuit. In New York, it’s Mets tickets.
95. World hunger could be solved if all the cinema snacks in New York were packaged up and airdropped in major poverty-stricken areas. Obviously dentists and industrial quantities of floss would also be required.
96. The phrase ‘thank you’ was abolished under the state 1883 Politeness Reduction Act
97. People, bacon doesn’t belong with waffles.
98. Strangers have no issue with starting up a conversation with you. Very disconcerting at first. Particularly for the British, who have to run a full background check on any newcomer before engaging in even a stolen glance with an outsider.
99. Salad is not drowned not dressed
100. By my reckoning, Christmas decorations should be appearing around the city in approximately 34 days.

This is not just a blog post

Now, I’m sure this is just a case of one American advertising agency taking the winning idea that its British counterpart came up with, and reworking it for another client. After all, these ads were pretty famous in the UK, and have been spoofed by countless people on You Tube. But if you ever needed proof that British ads are better than their American equivalents, here it is.

First, the British advert for Marks & Spencer’s:

And now, the Tropicana advert that I happened to see during, erm, Top Chef on Bravo last night:

Anybody got any other examples of commercials being reversioned for another brand altogether?

Oh, and by the way, this is not A Brit Out Of Water. This is a sleek smooth and sophisticated Brit, stepping delicately out of cool clear mountain fresh spring water.

Grunt work

You’d probably have to speak to my mum about this, but it’s a fair bet to assume that when I was an insolent teen, barely a two syllable word crossed my lips. After all, why use a complicated phrase when a perfunctory grunt will suffice? Insufferable teen boys bear more resemblance to mountain gorillas than the insufferable grown men they will eventually become. Although gorillas at least tidy up after themselves, and don’t throw a strop when they’re told that they can’t watch Grange Hill and need to set the table instead.

Of course, the tried-and-tested stock phrase of the teen – male or female – is ‘uh-huh’. ‘Uh-huh’ is the gift that just keeps on giving. Trying to get an overbearing grandparent off the phone? Just ‘uh-huh’ in response to every single question (especially when the question is ‘are you capable of saying anything other than ‘uh-huh’?). Want peas with that? ‘Uh-huh’ to your heart’s content (even if the thought of peas makes your stomach turn – then at least you can throw a tantrum when they’re eventually put on your plate).

But, as I believe Paul said when he hastily typed one of his lengthy emails to the Corinthians, when we become men, we put away childish things. Or at least hide them in the corner and hope that nobody will notice. ‘Uh-huh’ was banished to the outer-reaches of our consciousness, and only called upon on occasions of national importance. Such as when The Special One asks me if I want another beer while United are on the attack in a vital season-altering game.

So ‘uh-huh’ was abandoned at about age 17, and never heard from again. Until I came to the United States, that is. Here, ‘uh-huh’ falls into the facile platitude category, and I swear that I hear it on a near daily basis. It’s essentially substituting for ‘you’re welcome’ or ‘it was nothing’. Or even ‘you’re bloody lucky that I’m such a nice guy and have demeaned myself by helping you out’.

It’s weirdly off-putting though to thank somebody profusely for their contribution to a project (even if that project is ‘ensuring that my caffeine level doesn’t dip below a five cup minimum’) and have them respond with a phrase more suited to a sweetcandy stealing youth with oozing spots and a penchant for mutilation, than to a smartly-dressed professional.

I’ve decided that the only way to counter this verbal drift is by turning the tables. Next time somebody asks me ‘what’s up’, I’m going to launch into a prolonged discussion of Japanese economics, and the effects of optimum taxation on the common man.

It’s the only language these people understand.

FFS

I’m not sure if it’s really possible to be a fan of acronyms, but I’ve always had a bit of a weird fascination with abbreviations and shortenings. I had an odd moment of satisfaction when I discovered that the TVR sports car company reflected the name of its owner and founder, Trevor. Despite years of accidentally catching advertscommercials for Bank Holiday sales at MFI, I had no idea until a few weeks ago that the abbreviation stood for Mullard Furniture Industries. And I’d love to meet Mr Block and Mr Quayle, whose orange-tastic stores that sell power tools and fertiliser still bear the B&Q name. Personally, I’m still recovering from the fact that no American would considering using the acronym DIY. Although not spending interminable weekends doing DIY is a concept that I’m much more able to understand.

But when it comes to shortening sentences and phrases into handy-to-text abbreviations, I adopt more of a zero tolerance approach. I’m tough on ridiculous acronyms, tough on the causes of ridiculous acronyms. I appreciate that it’s an attitude that makes me come across like an octogenarian whose cardigans smell of cat pee and Benson & Hedges, but I’ve just got no time for turning everyday phrases or sentences into tiny collections of nonsensical letters.

Until today, I thought it was just British youngsters that engaged in Wanton Acts Of Illicit Shortening. After all, no teen text is complete without a ROFL or TTFN. I’d rather have knives plunged into my intestines than see ‘4eva’, while ‘2moz’ makes me break out in hives. Or break into hives, and sit there until the succession of ever-more-deathly bee stings slowly take away the pain.

But then in a serious business meeting today, I had to remain resolutely unmoved when a visitor used the phrase “I know, I know! TMI, TMI!” It’s bad enough that anybody might decide that it’s appropriate to tell a story that involves ‘too much information’ when in a business setting, but do you really have to speak like you’re a ten year old with language issues? Next I’ll have people be so impressed by my gags that they’ll be LMAO (unlikely I appreciate), or saying TTFN as we say goodbye in the foyer.

The United States has come late to the SMS party, so there’s still hope that it can turn back from adopting this text language before it’s too late. After all, nobody wants the American language even more FUBAR’ed than it already is.