X marks the what?

I remember being very excited about the fact that I was about to get the vote. Admittedly I hadn’t had to chain myself to some railings, get hit by a racehorse or even burn my bra in an attempt to get it, but nonetheless I somehow felt that my eighteen years of life had given me the necessary experience to shape the future of my country.

That my first general election was a showdown between John Major and Neil Kinnock was possibly a disappointment. It was like waiting forty years to lose your virginity, only to be told that the only two living females left in the world were Margaret Thatcher and the octogenarian from across the road who would never give you your football back if you happened to kick it into her garden.*

Still, I proudly marched into the polling booth that day and placed my cross against a candidate’s name with all the solemnity of a Death Row jailer pressing a button to release poisonous gases into the chamber. A little harsh to compare some of the 1992 MPs to poisonous gases perhaps, but given that their number included Michael Portillo, John Redwood and Michael Howard, not entirely unfair.

Since then I’ve voted whenever and wherever I’ve been required to, before cruelly being robbed of my electoral franchise by emigration to the US.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to bleat on yet again about taxation without representation, tempting though it is. Because the fact is, there seems to be so many elections over here that half the time I’d have no idea what I’m voting for in the first place.

For a start, you’ve got the primaries, which appear to be like the early audition rounds of The X-Factor or American Idol – mildly irrelevant to the main event, and of little interest but for the freakshow candidates. Come on, I understand that we need to exercise our democratic right, but do we really have to have semi-finals?

And then there’s some of the things that Americans seem to be asked to vote for. Right now in New York, there’s an election for the roles of comptroller and public advocate. I mean, do we really have to choose who is going to look after the finances – isn’t that why you select a governor in the first place, to make decisions about the best person for the job? And is American politics so far up its own posterior that we need somebody whose role it is to make sure that they listen to the public? Isn’t fear of being voted out at the next election enough for these people?

Next thing you know, there will be a run-off to choose who should make coffee at the Senate on a Tuesday, mark my words. With maybe a subsequent vote to determine whether they brew decaf or regular.

* Bless you, Mrs Lester. May your afterlife consist of watching on in horror as a succession of boys kick balls into your pristine garden for all eternity.

So THAT’S what you think about Britain?

Being British in America can sometimes be akin to life as a happy-go-lucky labradoodle – everybody thinks you’re very sweet, but they don’t really understand you, and they’re often shocked to find out that you really do exist.

The problem is that as soon as you tell someone that you’re British, people jump to certain assumptions. As far as some Americans are concerned, everybody has met the Queen, and quite possibly have had tea with her. I know I still miss my weekly cup of darjeeling and occasional chocolate hobnob with Her Majesty, as do most expats I’m sure, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve also met Harry Potter, David Beckham, or that kid from the Twilight movies.

For clarity’s sake, fish and chips is not the only food we Brits eat, contrary to popular opinion. We also eat black pudding on Tuesdays, and tripe on the second Sunday of every month.

And yes, absolutely every single one of us is stark raving posh. Whether we’re from a dilapidated estate in Newcastle, or a country pile in the home counties, each and every one of us was born with a plum and/or silver spoon in our mouth, and is the heir to a fortune built off the exploitation of children in the (former) colonies. Quite.

Of course, my insistence that “we’re just like you, you know” generally falls on deaf ears. And mostly that’s probably down to language. A lot of that might be our own fault. After all, if – as I did this weekend – you use the phrase “I’ve been running around like a blue arsed fly,” you’ve got to expect that people are going to regard you as being a bit different.

That said, Americans (whether cosmopolitan New Yorkers or sheltered West Virginians) love to perpetuate a stereotype as much as the next man, and never more so than when it comes to the British.

Last week, Metro newspaper published an article entitled “Be prepared for a second Brit invasion” regarding a marketing accord between London and New York, to drive locals in each city to visit the other one. Helpfully, Metro offered five “terms to know” for anyone hoping to either go to London, or understand the hordes of Brits apparently about to descend on New York. For your delight and edification, I list them below:

1. “Footie: Means football, as in “I’m off to watch the footie.”
If you’re a football fan, you should know that the first rule of being a football fan is “never refer to it as footie”. It’s marginally more acceptable than soccer, but only in the way that maiming is more socially acceptable than murder.

2. “Bladdered: Means drunk. ‘I am so bladdered, I couldn’t gargle another pint.'”
Words fail me. I have never once in 35 years heard someone use the phrase “gargle a pint”. Even Dick van Dyke would have rejected it as too unbelievable. The irony, of course, is that most American beer tastes worse than mouthwash.

3. “Meat and two veg: Slang for male genitalia.”
Now, I’m no expert, but I struggle to be able to think of a situation in which an American in London (or a New Yorker talking to a Brit over here) is going to need this phrase. Anyone believing that “fancy a sample of my meat and two veg” is part of the essential lexicon of love, with the ability to win the heart of a passing Brit faster than any Shakespearean sonnet, should probably think again.

4. “Trainspotter: A dork. The kind of guy who keeps a log book of train schedules. The British love their trains.”
Show me someone who believes that the British love their trains, and I will show you someone who has not been to Britain. The sad thing being that American trains make their British equivalent look world-class.

5. “Brad Pitt: rhyming slang for defecation.”
Maybe I missed a meeting, but last time I looked, rhyming slang for ‘defecation’ was Eartha Kitt. That’s showbusiness for you. And there was me thinking that Brad Pitt was rhyming slang for “actor with marginally less talent than he thinks, with a penchant for screwing leading ladies’.

So, if this Metro piece is to be believed, Brits spend all their time drinking, shagging, shitting and watching football. Or trains. Thanks for the resounding vote of confidence in our collective personality, guys!

Still, at least we don’t believe that universal healthcare means an inevitable march towards Hitler death camps, eh?

Two years and counting

I often tell people how easy it is to forget that I live in New York. I mean, when your morning consists of getting drenched by torrential rain, squeezing up into somebody’s slightly musty armpit on the subway, and getting delayed exactly seventeen minutes more than is strictly necessary, it’s difficult to believe that you’re not actually in London.

Infact, the cities are so eerily similar at times that the recent second anniversary of me being a Brit living out of water passed without comment – or without me even noticing, to be honest.

Like a petulant child that feels it is being ignored or underappreciated, New York has spent the last two weeks trying to get my attention. After all, no sprawling metropolitan area likes to be taken for granted. As a result, the city employed three agents to provide me with a vivid reminder that New York’s like no other place on earth:

1) The deathwish biker
As I think I’ve mentioned, I don’t drive. I’m also pretty environmentally conscious, although my refusal to drive is more to do with a casual unwillingness to kill people than it is with a distaste for excessive emissions. But even as a non-driving eco-warrior, people on bikes can irritate the living bejeesus out of me. Don’t get me wrong, some of my closest friends ride bikes, and I preach transportational tolerance at all times. But come on, let’s be honest, there are some people who get on bicycles and turn into idiots. That doesn’t excuse the time that I opened a car door, and accidentally twanged a speeding biker into a brick wall, but it does maybe explain it.

Cyclists in cities the world over are bound by a common code to give the v’sflip the bird to at least twenty pedestrians a day, and to use pavementssidewalks to scatter passers by in their path. Nothing unusual there. But most of them at least have a vague desire to stay alive.

Not the New York cyclist that I spotted recently though. Waiting to cross a busy avenue, I stood patiently at the junctionintersection as uptown traffic slowed to a halt, before I stepped out into the road. I casually glanced up to see a cyclist approach the head of the stopped line of cars at speed, shout something along the lines of “parp, parp”, and plunge headlong into the traffic heading across town at high speed. Screaming “wheeeeeeeeee!” as he swerved through the cars as they screeched to a halt around him. With a triumphant wave over his shoulder to stunned onlookers, he carried on with his journey.

2) Shouty Bagel Guy
The bagels in our local bagel place are without doubt the best that I’ve ever had in New York. And trust me, I’ve spent many hours and piled on many pounds to check the veracity of that assertion. As a result, I’m more than happy to queuewait on line for five or ten minutes over the weekend in order to get my hands on some.

Last weekend, loaded up with bags of fruit and vegetables, I stopped by to pick up breakfast. Ahead of me in the line stood a heavy set man with his stunningly indecisive girlfriend, who took around five minutes to decide she only wanted a small coffee. Having reminded myself that I’m not a New Yorker and can therefore have a modicum of patience, I bit my lip, waited my turn, ordered my bagels, and turned to walk to the till to pay. As I turned, my bags knocked with all the force of a particularly venomous feather into the leg of the guy ahead of me. He turned, and sneered at me using his top lip in a way that would have made Elvis look like an amateur, and turned to his girlfriend while shaking his head.

In a voice that almost certainly made me sound like a kid that was beaten up at Eton for “sounding too posh”, I looked at the guy and said “I’m sorry, but it was an accident you know.” And in a thick Brooklyn accent that could probably have been heard in New Orleans, he responded with “Yeah, well you got your bags right up my ass, haven’t you?”

Obviously I retorted with “that’s because your ass is so big that it’s practically impossible for anybody to walk into the store without hitting it.” In my head, that is. In real-life, I went red, paid for my bagels, and walked out of the shop in fury.

3) The Seat Snatcher
Nobody likes standing on the subway, but frankly it’s a fact of life in New York. I swear that some people train daily at home so that they’re able to race into a carriagecar and seize any empty seat before someone else sits in it. Even if they get in a good ten metresmeters away. Frankly there are few lengths that some commuters won’t go to in a bid to find a temporary home for their rear.

On one not-so-packed journey home, a man on the train I was on took the art of grabbing a seat to new lows. A small child vacated her seat temporarily to talk to a member of her family a yard or two away, and the lure of the bright orange plastic proved too much for the guy, who promptly sat down in it. The girl returned a few seconds later, looked the man directly in the eyes and burst into tears.

In my defence, I didn’t know she was coming back to the seat, and the tears were a slightly excessive reaction. I even offered her the seat back, but the damage had been done.

Still, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

A very public sense of loss

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve never exactly been a royalist. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the queen and her mob of dubious inbreds, and I’m sure they’re a useful attraction for the theme park that is Englandland. But you’ll never catch me manning the barricades with the republican forced when the revolution comes.

That said, the presence of royalty can do funny things to you, as I’ve said before. Back in the 1980s, when I was a kid in North Wales, Princess Diana came to our tiny little town in North Wales. I’ve no idea why she was there to be honest – probably opening a small envelope somewhere, on the way to opening a slightly larger envelope elsewhere in her putative kingdom. All I know is that we somehow knew that her car was going to be driving past our friends’ house on her way through the town, and as a result we gathered alone at the side of the road to watch.

As the tiny motorcade drove by, we waved gleefully at the main car with the royal standard flying from it. We assume she waved back, but to be honest, the windows were blacked out so we couldn’t even see her. She could have been flicking v’s and mooning at us for all we knew, in a desperate attempt to get back at Charles for forcing her come to the middle of nowhere to kiss babies and smile inanely at lascivious local dignitaries.

When I woke up one morning fifteen or so years later to find out that Diana had died, it’s fair to say that while I was shocked (and saddened for her two sons), the death didn’t have any personal impact on me. I seem to remember that some friends and I spent the afternoon at a long-planned barbecue, and that while we stopped to watch the emotional return of her body to the UK, the majority of the day was spent idly talking about football, work and – let’s face it – girls.

For the rest of the week until her funeral the following Saturday, I looked on with confusion as Britain collectively seemed to lose its head. I mean, it’s one matter to mourn – as I have, and will no doubt again – the loss of people close to you, but it’s a whole different thing to wail publicly in the street at the passing of someone you never met, however much good work that person did to raise public awareness of vital issues such as land mines and Duran Duran.

The strange thing is that it’s only in the last couple of years that Americans have stopped asking me how I feel about the death of Princess Diana. I used to feel like saying “oh you know, pretty much the same way that you feel about the issues of fiscal responsibility and escalating inflation in Zambia.” Instead I say something inane about the loss that Britain felt, and let the other person waffle on about how they felt that a shining star in the galaxy flickered out that night.

Coincidentally, given that Diana’s death was twelve years ago this week, America has just lost another member of its own royal family. No, don’t worry, Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen are both still alive, and all the Baldwins are safe and accounted for. But the Kennedy clan continue to show the importance of investing in a good black suit at an early age, with the passing of Edward Kennedy from brain cancer at 84.

In many ways, the television coverage of Kennedy’s death and funeral was weirdly reminiscent of that of Diana – round the clock and over-the-top at times. To be fair, Kennedy did much more for the world than the People’s Princess, although he had tragically failed to dance publicly with John Travolta before his untimely passing. But I still have to ask whether we need to see live footage of the plane carrying his body from Boston to Arlington.

The fact is that the big winners from these high-profile deaths are the TV networks, who manage to deliver high-yield ad breaks as a result of the demise of such well-loved figures. In years to come, we’ll probably find out that the likes of Fox, ITV, CBS and NBC employ a crack team of international assassins to take out international icons whenever business is looking tough. Poor Michael Jackson never stood a chance when the massed powers of Television Inc decided that his time had come.

If I were Madonna, I’d be looking nervously over my shoulder the next time a guy comes to fix her cable box, I can tell you.

Keeping mum

When you tell people that you’re going to become a father for the first time (or in my case, a father to a baby for the first time, given the presence of The Young Ones), you suddenly find yourself playing a game of Baby Bingo. As the well-meaning person you’re talking to rattles off platitudes with the staccato regularity of a machine gun, you can chuckle (or over dramatically fake abject terror) like it’s the first time you heard them, and surreptitiously tick each one off your list. Once you reach ten, you scream “Baby Bingo!” and run out of the room with your arms flailing above your head, before returning exhausted two minutes later to breathlessly wheeze “I’m a Baby Bingo winner and I hereby claim my five poundsdollars!”

Some of the bingo boxes are more easy to get than others, of course. “When is she due?” is practically checked before your conversational cohort has opened his or her mouth. I’ve become accustomed to answering “Are you having a boy or a girl? ” with “I certainly hope so!” such is the frequency of its use. And if I had a dollar for every time somebody said “Better catch up on your sleep now!” I’d be a rich man (although not rich enough to pay for even half the paraphernalia you seem to need to deal with the consequences of a steamy night nine months previously).

Other phrases come with perhaps less regularity, although still maintaining a frequency that would be the envy of the New York subway system if translated to trains. “Everything changes as soon as you take the first look at the baby” is a current favourite, while “Have you ever changed a nappydiaper before?” also seems to be a popular one right now. And don’t get me started on the number of differnt variations that people find in order to say “your life is about to come to an end”.

Having had so many questions and comments (solicited or otherwise) I thought I was ready for everything. Until I realiszed that my child is going to be born an American, and is therefore going to say ‘mom’ rather than ‘mum’. And frankly that put a bit of a dampener on my day.

Most Americaniszations I can deal with, to be honest, and I’ve learned to translate in my head before opening my mouth. But the moment I say ‘mom’ or ‘mommy’ will be a cold day in hell.

‘Mom’ just seems as uniquely American as peanut butter and ‘jelly’ sandwiches, or waterboarding suspected terrorists. I’ve already had to accept that the child might grow up to think that Hershey’s is an acceptable form of chocolate, or that there really is any point in (American) football. But there are some boundaries that really can’t be crossed. And that starts with ‘mom’. I’m British and proud of it, and I simply won’t give in to this slow and insidious creeping Yankification.

Now, enough of this chat – I’m off to have a bagel. Have a nice day y’all.

New York City: it’s not that scary

The night before I came to New York for the first time, I cried my eyes out. In part this was because I was leaving my first important girlfriend behind, and didn’t have the age or experience to understand that “three months apart = being cheated on within six weeks”. But at the same time, I was upset because I was a smalltown boy for whom travelling to New York on his own would likely resort in near-instant death. Knowing that you’re almost certainly going to pop your clogs on foreign soil within 24 hours can be upsetting, as I’m sure you can probably imagine.

As it was, three or four beers under the radar of New York’s then-ridiculously lax licensing laws, and two Marlboro Reds hanging out of the window of my room, were enough to calm me down. I don’t even smoke, but cigarettes give you instant cool when you’re 18, until the moment you puke your guts up and suffer prolonged waves of self recrimination. Nonetheless, purchasing a soft pack of cancer sticks was enough to ward off evil spirits in my mind, and New York instantly seemed less threatening.

The fact is that New York just Isn’t That Scary. While it may be home to 8 million people and seem like a teeming metropolis, in many ways (like London) it’s just a collection of small villages and hamlets bound together by apartment blocks and corner shopsbodegas.

When you’re someone who cares about eating and drinking, of course, the problem is that there are so many great places to visit that you might never find, just because they happen to be off your beaten track or because they can’t afford an expensive PR agency. I’m almost certainly missing out on the greatest meal of my life right now, and all because Time Out has neglected to visit some Senegalese hole in the wall in the depths of Queens.

The flipside is that if you ever get the chance to wander, you’re bound to come across something good. And – as it turns out – all it takes is a failed sleepover to open your eyes to what New York has to offer.

Not that my sleepover had fallen apart, you understand. The Special One tends to frown on the concept of me having a sleepover, especially when it’s Drew Barrymore’s mummom who has called my mummom to see if I can come over to play for the night. But The Youngest is allowed much more flexibility, it would seem. Sadly when the birthday party sleepover turned out to be just a birthday party, it was me who was designated to make the long trip to The Middle of Nowhere to pick her up.

Fortunately the long walk to the aforementioned back of beyond began in Chinatown, and given that I had almost two hours to kill, that gave me plenty of time to explore. Luckily I remembered a blog post by NYC Girl Uninterrupted which had made me dream wistfully of dumplings for months. One visit to Prosperity Dumpling later (and only $1 lighter for the experience), and I had five delicious dumplings in a box in my hand. Admittedly ten minutes later I had lost most of the roof of my mouth to hideous third degree burns caused by the dumplings being kept at a temperature which suggested that they were the product of nuclear fission rather than the frying pan. But pain is so close to pleasure, and no more so than when your mouth is handling a perfect piece of pork and chive dumpling filling like a cross between foie gras and a small ball of molten lava.

Having sated myself on dumplings, I still had 45 minutes to kill, and so wandered randomly to find a coffee shop or bar I could while away the time in. The only place I could find in the area that was vaguely empty was The Ten Bells, a wine bar with blackboards and seating vaguely redolent of something you might find on a back street in Paris. Having taken a seat, and been poured a glass of Rioja by the guy behind the bar, I instantly felt at ease – and only mildly annoyed that I had missed their half-price oyster happy hour by a matter of minutes. Ah, the problems of the bourgeoisie…

As I sat reading a paper and drinking my wine, I reflected on the fact that the evening had been the perfect reminder of all that New York had to offer. Tiny little nooks and crannies filled with great food and drink – what’s not to like?

And then four annoying Sex & The City wannabes sat at the bar alongside me, were rude to the barman, and filled the air with inanity and self-obsession. My bubble was burst.

All idylls must come to an end it would seem, and for all it’s charms, New York’s just another city after all.

Clash of the titans

When it comes to sport, there’s no place for people who sit on the fence. I can understand people who don’t particularly like sport at all, but it’s the sports fans that can’t quite bring themselves to pick a team that are weirder to me. Yes, I know that in a ideal chocolate box utopia where the world is governed by cute little puppies, sport should be about the Olympic ideals and the dignity of sportsmanship. But this ain’t no utopia, and when it comes to sport, tribalism and the desire to win lead the way.

The thing is, I love a sporting rivalry; the above-and-beyond enmity and loathing that exists between two teams, sometimes than for a reason that was forgotten decades ago. The kind of competition between two fierce rivals that has fans of both teams thinking of little else for the week before they clash, and which causes the losers to slink off with their tails between their legs resolving not to read the sports pages for at least a month.

Britain does sporting rivalries particularly well. In cricket, there can be little more exciting than a clash between England and Australia, even if the only thing at stake is a tiny urn containing a bit of burnt wood. Infact, so strong is the rivalry that the avid English supporters known as the Barmy Army (or, as I prefer to call them, the ‘Public School Oiks With Too Much Time On Their Hands After Daddy Died And Left Them A Castle’) have landed themselves in deep water for attempting to put the Aussie captain Ricky Ponting off his game with booing and some polite inquiries into the exact nature of his parentage.

Then there’s England vs Scotland (or indeed England vs Wales) in the rugby – a rivalry more explained by England’s political domination of its two smaller mainland United Kingdom territories. After all, when it’s still effectively legal in my native Chester to shoot a Welshman with a bow and arrow after nidnight, it’s not hard to understand why the Welsh and Scottish might get a little hot under the collar about a sporting chance to redress the balance.

It’s football (or, as I have to insist on calling it in the US, football) where the fiercest rivalries exist. Up and down the land, local rivalries such as Portsmouth & Southampton, Norwich & Ipswich, Chester & Wrexham, Sheffield United & Sheffield Wednesday, and Newcastle United & Sunderland all exist to fill newspaper column inches and the minds of those who support one or the other.

For me though, the fiercest rivalry is that between Manchester United and Liverpool. I mean, I would say that, given that the pain of being a sixteen year old in the away end at Anfield watching my beloved United taking a 4-0 beating at the hands of Liverpool still hurts to this day twenty years later. I’ve sung more songs about my inner contempt for Liverpool supporters (mostly people I’ve never met, let’s remember) than I’ve eaten bags of fish and chips. And let me tell you, I’ve eaten a lot of fish and chips.

Put simply, United fans and Liverpool fans hate each other, and never the twain shall meet. Apart from in the home of my (Liverpool supporting) sister and her (much more sensible and United supporting) husband, obviously.

And to be fair, I’d never have it any other way.

Here in the United States, the level of rivalry in sports just isn’t there. Sure, there are college sports rivalries, and occasional local tensions, but nothing that would inspire more than a vague “Rangers suck” cry in a crowded bar; presumably a reference to the quality of New York’s ice hockey team rather than the sexual proclivities of the state’s country park guardians.

Part of that comes from the fact that there’s really no such thing as ‘away support’ in American sport. Sure, people expatriated from their home city might put in an appearance when their team swings into their new town, but there’s no away section and fans of both teams sit together in relative harmony. Apart from when one or other has had a few Bud Lights too many, obviously. Fortunately the New York Knicks haven’t hosted a game against the Chester Jets yet, so I haven’t seen a need to test the theory out too closely.

There is, however, one rivalry that seems pretty deep rooted – the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. So, feeling the need for some sporting tension this week – and, more importantly, acutely aware that impending fatherhood means that there will soon be more chance of me being invited to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world than spend a night drinking beer and watching sport – I grabbed a ticket for the Red Sox trip to the new Yankee Stadium to witness the battle for myself.

The sad thing was, the rivalry was muted at best. Sure, there was the occasional t-shirt alluding to the fact that there was never a curse of Babe Ruth and that the Red Sox had actually just sucked for 86 years. But apart from the occasional boo for a Boston player, or a jeer directed at a Red Sox-hatted fan, it could barely have been more harmonious. Of course, it helped that the Yankees battered the Red Sox, although that merely seemed to empty out the stadium way before the end of the game.

Thankfully though, order was restored an innings before the end of the game. A young guy mistakenly walked up the wrong staircase after a visit to the bathroom, and looked around confusedly for his friends who were actually a whole section away. Enjoying his mistake, a crowd of Yankees fans roundly booed and jeered him, and sent him scuttling back to his own seat with his tail between his legs.

Some people would say it was the baseball cap with Boston’s logo on it that caused the heated treatment. But I know that it was actually his t-shirt.

After all, you can’t expect to wear a Liverpool football shirt in public and get away with it.

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