Tag Archives: Little Sis

We even have electricity

I know that it feels like America has been living in the dark ages for a while, and that Tuesday evening saw the re-emergence of this country as a respected player on the world stage. But it wasn’t until I went home to the UK this weekend that I realised just how far some people believe the United States has slipped behind.

Having questioned me at length about different British and American names for certain vegetables, Little Sis furrowed her brow and asked:

“Do you have apples and pears in America?”

This country’s return from the brink can’t happen soon enough, clearly.

Now that’s what I call autumn. Or fall.

I always loved autumnfall when I was a kid. Little Sis, The Cousins and I would regularly get taken to Delamere Forest by our grandparents to pick up chestnuts and pine cones from the forest floor, and tear about like loons to run off excess energy. More importantly, we got to eat our grandmother’s chicken soup, the taste of which still lingers to this day, regularly infuriating me that I can’t recreate it. I can only assume that the secret ingredient was nicotine or, say, crack cocaine, such was the soup’s addictive qualities.

Part of the joy of autumnfall was the low strong seasonal sun, and the crisp but not too cold weather that always alerted me to the fact that my birthday and the festive season were just around the corner. Don’t get me wrong, I loved spending time with my grandparents, but the fact that I might soon be getting some new Lego or a new music compilation cassette was far more important at the stage in my life.

But ever since those early days, I’ve always loved that in-between weather – the times when it’s not too cold and not too hot, and everything’s changing from green to brown or vice-versa. I may not be able to have the chicken soup any more, but I’ll take a British autumn day over Now That’s What I Call Music 74 any time.

Last week, as I headed home on the subway, the N train on which I was travelling emerged from a tunnel out onto the Manhattan Bridge, giving me a striking view of the Brooklyn Bridge and the stretch of water down towards the Statue of Liberty. The low sun shone majestically off the East River, casting an ethereal glow over South Street Seaport and the bridge. The particular shade of light could mean only one thing – autumnfall had arrived at last.

Instead, this weekend, we turned the heating on and pulled out the thick coats. It seems that in the north east of the United States, two or three days is plenty enough of autumnfall, and it’s time to get ready for winter. Sure, there might be the occasional balmy day to look forward to, but other than that, it’s snow, ice and soul-chilling winds all the way.

Whatever happened to traditional seasons that lasted for a few months rather than a few days? I can only assume that the credit crunch has hit New York so hard that it can no longer afford to pay its bills, and we’ve duly had our sun taken away by bailiffs. Maybe if we all club together we can have it turned on again by February?

In the meantime, I’m getting the blankets out of the attic.

Raining on my parade

After revelling in the glory of a long hot summer, this weekend saw all my gloating catch up with me. Having inadvertently – and inadvisedly – grounded The Young Ones for numerous indiscretions over the course of the previous week, The Special One and I found ourselves trapped inside by fierce rain and wind, with two children doing passable impressions of captive polar bears stuck in an all-too-small public enclosure.

After the 13th teenage tantrum of the day, a trip to the supermarketgrocery store suddenly seems like a tempting option. Sure, it means getting soaked to the skin within three paces of stepping outside the house (regardless of the availability of an umbrella), but that’s a small price to pay to avoid getting into a prolonged discussion about whose turn it is to feed the cats.

Unusually for a murky day in Brooklyn, the streets seemed busier than usual as I walked out into the persistent rain. Then I remembered the street parade due to head down our closest avenue that afternoon, and the advertising posters proudly proclaiming that the event would take place come rain or shine.

Stopping briefly for a moment to take in the parade, I watched as a group of cheerleaders marionetted their way past me, their hairstyles now welded firmly to their heads by their ten block march through the torrential downpour. The stick wielding Jessica Simpson wannabes were followed by a vaguely menacing troop of what may have been army cadets. The rain had forced them to don their matching dark green trench coats, causing them to resemble a maverick group of Eastern Bloc renegades hellbent on taking Brooklyn by force. If it wasn’t for the fact that not one of them was taller than 5ft 3, and that they couldn’t march in time to save their lives, I might have been mildly concerned.

The final group I watched before sense returned to my rain-soaked brain was a marching band, resplendent in white uniforms which would almost certainly have been transparent had I been unfortunate enough to be watching a few blocks further down the parade route. Nevertheless, the ensemble oompah-ed with glorious abandon, bringing to mind the brass bands of the annual street parade that Little Sis and I used to watch when we were kids. To be fair, those bands of old were never blasting out Survivor’s “Eye Of The Tiger” while marching past a branch of Starbucks, but I think you know what I mean.

Thinking about it, I believe that this was actually the first time I’ve seen a proper street parade since the days of watching the Buckley Jubilee back in the 1980s. Saturday’s event may have been on the streets of Brooklyn, but with spectators and participants alike grimly gritting their teeth and getting on with the task in hand despite the driving rain, I’ve never felt more at home.

Return to sender

It’s amazing how the passage of time changes what you love and hate. When I was a twelve year old, I used to hate cauliflower cheese, butter and coffee, claiming that even being in the same room as any of these products would cause me to throw up. And to be fair, the first three times I drank coffee, I was true to my word. The dinner ladies at Buckley County Primary School didn’t care too much for my pleas of “I told you so” but it was some small comfort to me as I bent double, I can tell you.

Of course, I loved Whizzer & Chips comic book, potato waffles, getting anything in the post and playing heavily pixellated games on the ZX Spectrum. Above all, I loved Glynis Barber. Dempsey & Makepeace probably doesn’t mean much to most Americans on here, but it played a small formative role in my upbringing, and at least allowed me to get over the devastation caused by the realisation that I was never going to spend the rest of my life with Agnetha from Abba.

Everything changes. I now consume more butter than the entirety of Venezuela, and you shouldn’t even bother to talk to me before I’ve put some coffee into my bloodstream. I don’t read Whizzer & Chips, admittedly, although that has more to do with the fact that the title closed down in 1990 than a loss of faith with Shiner and Mustapha Million.

One thing that hasn’t changed is my love of getting stuff in the post. I’m supposed to say it’s the mail these days, but there’s more chance of me saying aloo-minn-umm than denying my love of the postie and her sack of many delights. Perhaps most people think of the deliverer of their letters as a man, but ours was a nice woman who used to give me and Little Sis a 50p coin each every so often. Inevitably, we used to look forward to the arrival of the daily delivery.

Even in recent years my childish excitement with the familiar sound of envelopes hitting the floor under the door (don’t give me any of that mailbox rubbish, please) hasn’t lessened. Sure, there were plenty of bills, but there was always the chance that a package would arrive with untold treasures inside. In reality, it was usually the offer of a new credit card with free balance transfers from HSBC, but you just never knew.

Until I came to America, that is. Despite not having built up 30 or so years of inadvisedly signing up to mailing lists, I get more junk here than I ever got in the UK. As well as credit card offers, I’ve had catalogues, loan opportunities, and even the chance to get a special rate subscription to Playboy. That went down well with The Special One, I can tell you.

But I don’t mind the junk so much. What really upsets me is the constant barrage of medical bills I seem to get.

Now, there are two things you need to know here. Firstly, I’ve got good medical insurance through work. Secondly, I’ve been to the doctors twice in the last twelve months. I’ve spent no more than 40 collective minutes in the building. So why do I get a barrage of bills, receipts and inexplicable letters from companies I’ve never heard of, claiming that I owe them for a whole series of acronyms like a GGT, LD or an HFP? I think they must charge by the letter, given that an INTRPT seems to cost a hell of a lot more than a ‘routine’ BCBS.

Whatever happened to the happy days of walking into an NHS clinic and walking out with nothing more than a prescription and a slight limp?

Next time I go to the doctors, I’m going to demand a glossary of terms. And I won’t even think about going to the bathroom, for fear that I’ll get an invoice from Toilet Diagnostics of New York® six weeks later.

I’d probably leave The Special One to explain that one to the insurance company, to be honest…