Tag Archives: Spangles

There’s honour among thieves

As a great philosopher once wrote, “we had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun.” Well to be honest, it was the Belgian songwriter Jacques Brel, but he sounds like a philosopher so that’s close enough for me. My suspicion – based admittedly on one trip to Antwerp nearly ten years ago – is that the Belgians know precious little about the sun, but being a Brit I’m probably in no position to argue.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, seasons. Seasons are one of those long-abandoned concepts that used to mean something, but have now been consigned to the dustbintrashcan of life, like Spangles, Cremola Foam and John Leslie. Or, if you’re an American, maybe Marathon bars, Shelley Long and ‘the respect of the rest of the world’. Although thankfully at least one of those appears to be making a long overdue comeback.

In terms of food though, seasons sadly seem to have vanished. As a kid, I used to eagerly look forward to the first strawberries of the year, or to the coming of tiny little Jersey Royal potatoes that tasted directly of the earth that they had come so recently from (thinking about it, it have been that taste principle that prevented me from ever eating the rhubarb that grew over the septic tank in the garden of my Little Chef Cousins). Everything had a time of year, and there was nothing you could do but await its arrival with the legendary patience of an 11 year old.

These days, there’s nothing you can’t find all year round, from tomatoes to asparagus. And to be honest, the world is probably a worse place because of it. The Special One and I are trying to do our own little bit to right the world back on its axis by trying to be locavores who only eat things grown within a certain distance of your home. Given that we live in New York and eat the occasional banana, tomato and avocado, we’ve pegged local as roughly “within 3000 miles” for the purpose of our experiment. After all, we’d have no friends left if we only cooked butternut squash and beetroot for five months of every year.

With California having ruined the concept of the plant world’s season, the United States has co-opted the word ‘season’ for many other things that Brits never seem to use. In Britain, the only non-climate related use of the word season is essentially a reference to the eleven and a half month cycle in which footballsoccer is played. In America, you’re never short of seasons, from the collective noun for a series of TV shows to the period of time when the Oscars, Golden Globes and Grammys take place (‘awards season’, obviously). Although in sports, it’s less about the season and all about the post-season (if you’re a Liverpool fan reading this, the post-season is the point during the year at which you look back and realise you haven’t won the league again).

Walking into the subway the other day, I noticed an LCD sign urging me to keep my jewellery safe. Having quickly taken off all my bling and stashed it in my bag, I read on. Apparently this time of year is “chain snatching season” and people need to be more aware of the risk of having your necklace snatched from around your neck while travelling on the subway system.

Criminals are clearly so much more civilised in America. To provide the best possible service to victims everywhere, they have obviously created a season system in which particular consumer products are targeted at specific times of the year. You always know where you are that way. It’s my guess that chain snatching season ends in a few weeks, to be replaced by the umbrella grabbing season. And by the time the sun is out, we’ll all be able to sit back and bask in the joy of plain old honest-to-goodness purse stealing season.

I can only hope that criminals who don’t stick to the season system are thrown out of the Thieves Union. After all, nobody wants their iPod targeted when portable music device nicking season has just finished, and the briefcase purloining season has just begun, do they?

The Great American Conversational Disaster

My ability to waste away hours upon end talking non-stop about very little is the stuff of legend. If Inane Chat was an Olympic sport, I’d have played an integral role in the triumphant Team GB homecoming from Beijing at Heathrow earlier today. Arguably the title of Sir Brit Out Of Water would have been a little excessive for one whose major talent is to be able to blather on about next-to-nothing, but I would have accepted the knighthood with the quiet dignity and grace that it so richly deserved.

The problem with being a Brit Out Of Water is that it’s kind of like undergoing the surgical removal of your small talk. The delicate seven hour operation, which conveniently takes place at high altitude as you fly across the Atlantic, extracts all of the cultural and conversational touchpoints that you’ve held so dear for upwards of thirty years, and leaves you almost 100% chat free for at least the next year. Sure, you can talk about events that have happened directly to you, the news, or universal feelings of love and loathing. But if an expat even thinks about straying into an extended discussion about anything else with a local, you may as well pull out a sudoku puzzle and settle down in a corner on your own for twenty minutes.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some great conversations with people I’ve met since I’ve been here, and I’ve met some fascinating folk. But having spent the last twenty years or so talking about football and the joy of Spangles, suddenly my capacity to connect with people on a sporting or nostalgic level has disappeared. While my ability to name every FA Cup winning side since 1968 may have made me a must-have on the London party circuit, my distinct lack of knowledge regarding the preferred starting line-up of the New York Knicks makes me a social pariah in some city circles. And while my witty bon-mots regarding Roland Rat or Multi-Coloured Swap Shop were the talk of the town, my vacant expression at the very mention of Three’s Company or Alice marks me out as a sad and lonely televisual outcast.

I’ve recently started paying a bit more attention to the Yankees (much to the dismay of The Special One) in the hope that I might be able to ferret away a few choice facts about Johnny Damon’s RBI or Derek Jeter’s OBP for use in a future conversation. The fact that I don’t know what an RBI or OBP is (and wouldn’t be able to pick Johnny Damon out of a police line-up) is neither here nor there. And I’ve decided that all future TV nostalgia chats will be veered towards Chips or Cagney & Lacey, given that I have more than a working knowledge of each. Admittedly it may get boring for my new friends to have to talk about Frank Poncherello or Sharon Gless week-in week-out, but some sacrifices simply have to be made.

In the meantime, any conversational cheat sheets from US readers would be extremely welcome. Packets of Chewits and cans of Irn Bru to anybody who helps me pass my forthcoming PhD in Trivial American Conversational Nuggets.