Tag Archives: The Special One

Learning to be a grown-up

I’m proud to say that The Special One treats me like an adult. It comes as a shock sometimes, given that internally I still feel like the 10 year old putting penny sweets in a paper bag in the local sweetshopcandy store. But for some reason she still insists on talking to me like a 36 year old.

Of course, the problem with that is that she expects me to act like an adult. And so, when she asked me to read some passages of a book on birth to prepare me for the arrival of The Little One, she didn’t bother chasing me up like a kid with their homework to make sure that it had been done. She trusted me.

Of course, that was her big mistake. Well, my big mistake, but you know what I mean. Like all big mistakes, it eventually gets found out. Now, it would be embarrassing enough for any father to be caught out like this. It’s particularly embarrassing for me, given that The Special One actually wrote the book in question.

I guess the problem for me (apart from surviving the slings and arrows of an outraged wife) is that the best lessons I’ve ever learned have not come from books or classrooms, but through experience. You learn not to put your hand on the side of a hot oven by putting the aforementioned hand on the side of the aforementioned oven. You learn not to go all-in on a pair of threes by going all-in on a pair of threes. Life is a great teacher.

Now, learning through mistake and misadventure is all fine when it’s your own life you’re messing up. It’s a whole different matter when it’s a defenceless child you’re dealing with. And the problem is that there are some childraising issues that no book is ever going to be able to help you with.

Take fecal matter, for instance. No, please, take it. I have no idea why The Little One’s nappydiaper will one day contain half a litre of deep yellow Coleman’s mustard, and the next day resemble the aftermath left behind by a small group of partying rabbits. And unless a book contains a comprehensive colour chart vaguely reminiscent of a paint catalogue to help me identify the likely cause of today’s particular hue, it’s going to be of no use whatsoever.

Similarly, for years I’ve watched friends expertly turn a bottle upside down and dab a little bit of milk on the inside of the wrist before feeding their baby. So when The Special One left me with a bottle of breast milk to feed our daughter, I instinctively put a droplet on my wrist, as if I was a young ingenue applying Chanel No 5 ahead of a secret assignation. And then I realised that I had no frame of reference to tell me what I was looking for. I was guessing that it was for heat, but was it too little or too much, or was I actually testing for some skin-based poison, or to make sure that I hadn’t inadvertently filled the bottle with Sprite?

The fact is that mums either have innate knowledge that dads are not born with, or they read a hell of lot more about this childraising lark, or they make full use of their network of fellow mums to get their questions answered. My money’s on the latter (unless The Special One is reading this, in which case it’s clearly innate knowledge, darling).

If I’m right, then why is it that there aren’t some more ‘dads groups’ so that I can ask the unaskable among a group of my peers? A gathering of fathers would allow me determine whether purple trousers go with yellow tops, without being given the look usually reserved for the moments when I’ve accidentally stepped in cat vomit and trailed it through the house. Or to ascertain whether a particular type of crying is caused by actual pain, or an intense disappointment at my recent haircut.

Of course, the problem is that if you put a group of men in a room together, the closest you’re likely to get to baby talk is whether it’s possible to put day old pizza into a food grinder and serve it to your child. In the absence of any other foodstuffs, obviously – we’re men, not animals. And while I have every interest in a full and frank exchange on the weekend’s sports, it’s not going to help me work out where to insert that thermometer…

Frankly, I think it’s time for The Special One to write a book on childraising. I will definitely read it this time, I promise. I’m an adult, after all.

Losing track

Sometimes I long for simplicity. You know, the days when the only thing you had to worry about was how you were going to get away with hiding that pile of liver (with accompanying ventricles) on your plate, so that your mum would let you get down from the table. Or for the Saturday mornings that involved nothing more taxing than reading Whizzer and Chips, and idly pondering whether Bucks Fizz’s Cheryl Baker was prettier than her slightly grubbier cohort Jay Aston.

What you don’t realise when you’re 12 years old is that these truly are the salad days – times to be enjoyed and savoured before you have to start making weightier decisions than ‘should I drop this pile of clothes on my bedroom floor, or is there somewhere more annoying I can leave them?’

When you move countries well into your adult life, it’s not just friends and family you leave behind; you’re also abandoning all the shortcuts through life that makes everything that little bit easier. Like where to locate that difficult-to-find essential ingredient for your world-beating fish pie, or where to get a haircut that doesn’t make you look like Yahoo Serious. On a bad day. Put simply, moving abroad generally robs you of you comforts and your go-to people. You may establish a new set after a while, but it’s never quite the same.

Of course, losing your geographical shortcuts is particularly difficult, especially when you’re in a car with a screaming small person who knows no better. And if driving with The Special One wasn’t tough enough, we now have a baby daughter to travel with as well. Every saved metremeter is a leap forward in averting Crymaggedon*, so knowing that you can avoid traffic meltdown by taking a quick right turn is invaluable knowledge. Or rather it would be, but for the fact I have as much spatial awareness in New York as a half-blind cockroach with an alcohol problem.

Nowhere is my lack of locational understanding more telling than on the New York subway. In London, I knew every shortcut, every sign to ignore, and every tactic in the book for navigating around the inevitable engineering overruns or closed stations. In New York, even after two and a half years of daily commuting, I’m often lucky to get home.

I used to think that the issue was my rank idiocy. But now, my dear friend New York, I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem’s not me – it’s you.

See, the good thing about the London Underground is that the tunnels are essentially separate. I mean, sure, there are occasional spurs off the main line if for some inexplicable reason, say, you want to go to Totteridge & Whetstone. But basically any given train can go down one tunnel, and come back up the other side. You know where you are. Even if ‘where you are’ is ‘on the way to Totteridge & Sodding Whetstone’.

In New York, it seems that every train has access to every tunnel. And while that’s great for avoiding the results of some unfortunate driver’s latest magic trick (“Roll up, roll up, watch the incredible Martino turn one body into 872 largely unrecognizable parts with just one leap!”), it’s less good when you don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of the train system. Three times this week I’ve got on a train only to be told that it’s actually running on another line. Intense discussion raged between various passengers each time about the ramifications for various journeys, and the tortuous alternative routes that could be used instead. And I just sat there like a wide-eyed mole who’s just been electrocuted, wondering if The Special One would lose respect for me if I went above ground and phoned her for help.

Simple is as simple does, it would appear.

* Coincidentally, Crymageddon is a small town in South Wales. The Little One’s version is less welcoming to coachloads of tourists though.

Maybe I just got out of bed the wrong side this morning?

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of labels, it has to be said. Not the ones that come inside your underwear, although frankly I think I speak for us all when I say that it can be rather annoying when they get caught in your netherlands when you least expect it. But grouping people into one amorphous mass because it’s just kind of easier to say “crazy” rather than “that woman with the collection of frogs perched on her head” just doesn’t really work for me.

I’ve attracted a few labels in my time. The current favourite for the kids (The Little One mercifully excepted, although possibly only because of her inability to form understandable words at this point) is ‘fat’. Seemingly a little harsh, but hopefully nothing that a month of not drinking alcohol won’t sort out. That said, my tag as ‘gadget geek’ is probably well-deserved, although if I continue to purchase with the pace I’ve been keeping up over the last five years, the next label I’ll no doubt be acquiring will be ‘vagrant’ thanks to The Special One kicking me out on the street.

It doesn’t even have to be me that’s being labelled in order for me to get annoyed. A few times over the last three months, one relatively distant acquaintance has consistently referred to The Special One as ‘mommy’ eg How’s mommy? Is mommy sleeping well? What are mommy’s plans for going back to work? It’s all I can do to stop my fingers slamming the keys through the keyboard in fury as I reply. After all:

a) Do you think that using the word ‘mommy’ with me is ever going to induce joy in my soul?
b) You are a grown adult with a good education, do you really have to talk like a five year old?
c) My wife has a sodding name, you know.
d) I’m pretty sure that if she defined herself by anything, The Special One would be likely to use ‘world champion cumberland sausage eater’ rather than ‘mommy’. I appreciate that she’s had three kids and that they’re a hugely important part of her life, but she also peed the bed three times when she was young and she doesn’t expect people to refer to as ‘legendary bedwetter’.

But the label I least like being used to describe me is ‘expat’.

The problem is not so much with being away from my homeland, although that in itself brings its own problems such as missing friends and family. But does the tag that comes with leaving your own country really have to be quite so negative sounding?

a) It defines me by where I used to be, rather than where I am now. I went to Rhyl when I was a kid, so should I have been referring to myself as ‘ex-Rhyl visitor’ for all these years?
b) There’s an implicit assumption that I cannot truly be happy until I am returned from whence I came. I mean, most nights I do look out of the window and watch the rain pour down as I dream wistfully of black pudding, but even I smile sometimes.
c) Is it just me, or does it somehow suggest that I was thrown out of my own country, possibly for my role in the Great Train Robbery?

My biggest problem though is that I’ve seen too many TV shows featuring British expats in Spain. And frankly, I don’t like the idea of being lumped in with some over-tanned tracksuit-wearing former hairdressers from Bermondsey whose idea of having exotic food is having tinned tomatoes with their egg and chips. Call me a snob if you like, but my idea of exploring the world is not ‘drinking halves of mild in Ye Olde Red Lion just outside Torremolinos’.

Essentially, ‘expat’ has become too much of a catch-all for anyone living away from their home country. Reluctantly accepting that the world would fall apart without collective nouns, I think we need a wholly new label rather than attempting to reclaim ‘expat’ as a proud tag for adventurous world citizens.

But what to call people who have no vote, a permanent look of confusion, and who regard ‘wherever in the world we happen to be’ as their true home?

“Disenfranchised befuddled turtles” just isn’t going to cut it, is it?

A long overdue Halloween missive

It’s pretty astonishing how being a father to a month old baby can change your perspective on the things that matter in life. Although, for the avoidance of doubt, I will never like peanut butter, no matter how much my daughter comes to believe it to be the lifeblood that keeps her in existence.

Nut spread issues aside, all other opinions and theories are now officially open to change. And that was never more evident than in my reaction to Halloween this year.

Now, bear in mind that I am the man that wrote this. I think it’s fair to say that I have never been the biggest fan of Halloween. Most Americans tend to take it more seriously than, say, breathing. In the same way that the likes of Hallmark have managed to persuade us that Administrative Professionals Day is a worthy use of our hard-earned cash, so costume manufacturers have managed to convince Americans that a pagan ritual is a good reason to provide extensive job creation for 7 year olds in Indonesia.

But then introduce a small child to the mix (one too young to even see a pumpkin two feet away from her, let alone participate herself) and everything changes. Suddenly when Halloween arrives, you’re focusing on whether you’ve got enough sweetscandy for everyone, and pondering whether you should probably go out and buy another three tons of mini Snickers bars just in case.

Of course, the presence this year of She Who Was Born To Worry probably helped foster the festive spirit. Particularly as after a couple of visits from local kids, she designated herself The Candy Witch, refusing to dole out more than one sweet per child, and giving venemous looks to anyone who failed to say thank you.

So while I resisted costume this year, and instead dressed merely as ‘confused new father operating on two hours sleep’ (a look that I pulled off with comparative ease, if I’m honest), I nonetheless entered into the spirit of the occasion. Fortunately enough questionable events occurred to ensure that I could maintain the healthy dose of overarching cynicism that you all have come to expect of me.

1. The little princess with dietary restrictions
The very first knock at the door came from a tiny princess, who could have been no older than six. She immediately endeared herself to us by pushing her nose up against the screen door to peer inside. Indeed, she was so sweet, I even managed to fight off the overwhelming need to get some spray cleaner and wipe off her smudgy little paw prints from the glass.

And the first thing she said as The Special One opened the door and proffered the bowl of many delights? “My mommy says that I’m not allowed any chocolate.” This came as a blow, given that the “many delights” in the bowl were solely chocolate-based. Thankfully The Special One managed to convince her that the Reese’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup (the root of all candy evil, by the way) actually contained no chocolate, and sent her on her way with a smile on her face. But what parents send their kids out with specific dietary restrictions? “Now, little Elsie, remember that high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavourings are fine, but chocolate and gelatin are out. And don’t ring number 87’s doorbell this year – you know your brother’s never been the same since the electric shock.”

2. The little brothers and sisters
The age range of the trick-or-treaters varied wildly, from the three year old who practically had to be dragged up the steps to the door, to the dubiously aged teens whose skirts were short enough that their parents felt the need to accompany them. As a side note, I’m all for the principle that Halloween is an opportunity for women to show some skin, but I live by the motto that says if your parents need to come with you, you’re not old enough to show some skin. And as a further side note, if my daughter is reading this in – say – 2025, the age at which you are old enough to show some skin at Halloween is approximately 35.

Anyway, I digress. Kids of all ages came round, and they all received candy for their efforts. Even the ones who had dressed as “a kid wanting candy”. But on at least six separate occasions, once they had received their bounty, a kid would proffer another bag and say “Candy for the little one – she’s too young to come.”

Now, I’m still new to this parenting lark, but I tend to believe that if you’re too young to trick or treat with your whole family in tow, you’re too young to be eating sugar snacks. Leading me to the inevitable conclusion that “the little one” is a Halloween scam, with kids taking advantage of doting parents who sigh wistfully at the thought of poor little Johnny in his Merlin outfit, crying at home on his own while the older children go out to forage for him.

Next year, “the little ones” will be getting a bag of raisins and somw dried apricots, mark my words.

3. The double dippers
I appreciate that I’m getting on a bit now, but I’ve still got all my own teeth, and most of my mental faculties are intact. Sure, I forget the occasional thing or two, but The Special One’s electro-shock punishments are having a positive impact on my will to remember, I can tell you.

Anyway, the point is, if you come and get candy from The Candy Witch while dressed as a purple fairy, and then you come back twenty minutes later to try to get some more, we will remember and we will send you away with a flea in your ear. If you come back as something completely different (say, a pink fairy), we will almost certainly not rhave any recollection of you whatsoever and will lavish you with as many Twizzlers as a girl can eat.

4. Commuting to Trickortreatsville
Despite my cynicism, I have to say that Halloween promotes a healthy sense of community, with all the residents of a neighbourhood interacting with each other on a level that’s more harmonious than “for the 837th time, can you sodding well turn that music down?”

But when you’ve got carloads of kids being shipped into an area by their parents because it looks like a place where you might get Toblerone rather then Tootsie Rolls, it’s suddenly less about community, and more about a 12 month campaign of reconnaisance and intensive evaluation of candy sales across the five boroughs. The kids probably sell their swag in their schools for the next year. Or save it for the next Halloween, to provide the gift of gastroenteritis to unsuspecting locals.

Still, I’m starting work on my Halloween costume for 2010. Like a born-again convert, I’m going to put some serious effort into getting it just right. I’m thinking ‘new-ish father operating on three hours sleep rather than two, but still as confused as ever’. Better start working on those bags under my eyes right away…

Funny how things change

It’s strange how your concept of what is acceptable in life changes as you grow older. When I was an eighteen year old, there would have been more chance of me running through the streets of my home town sporting nothing more than one fluorescent sock and a smile, than – say – wearing a cardigan in public. Fast forward twelve years, and I found myself in a store pondering whether I should buy the aforementioned woollen item in black or in grey. Needless to say, I bought both and wore them with pride. 

Similarly, I spent the first thirty two years of my life steadfastly avoiding any piece of music that could in any sense be termed as ‘worthy’. While rock, pop, alternative and metal could all find a home in my extensive collection, there was no space for classical, opera or – shudder at the thought – modern jazz. Then with no warning I suddenly found that listening opera was a perfectly pleasant accompaniment to coffee and croissants on a Sunday morning, and suddenly the flood gates were opened. I still draw the line at modern jazz, you’ll be pleased to know.

Things change. Perceptions change, and so do our priorities. So when The Special One burst into our bedroom in floods of joyful tears, and then dragged me into the bathroom to show me a pregnancy test, I was almost shocked to realise quite how happy I actually was.

After all, for thirty years I’d lived in abject fear of being ushered into a bathroom and having a positive pregnancy test thrust into my sweaty shaking palm. Let’s be honest here. When you’re a bachelor, being shown a pregnancy test could potentially feel like the visual equivalent of having a cell door slam shut behind you. When you’re a man who has found their partner, the news opens the door of life, from behind which the high-kicking Rockettes emerge to perform an octane-fuelled number entitled ‘The Start of a Whole New Dynasty’.

Of course, having successfully managed to avoid the dreaded positive test for so long, my success suddenly counted against me. After all, I had no frame of reference to tell me what the piece of strange looking plastic I was looking at actually meant. All I had to go on was that there was a line in the clear window, and that my wife was crying. With evidence like that, even Hercule Poirot himself would throw his hands up in the air and claim that there was nothing he could do.

So many questions run through your head at this point. Was The Special One crying because she had thought she was pregnant but wasn’t? Were her tears a reflection of the fact that she had changed her mind about having a child after all, and the thought of continuing my gene line filled her with a sense of unutterable dread and foreboding? And why on earth has technology not developed to a point where a pregnancy test can have a little thumbs up sign to indicate that your little general has successfully delivered its payload to the required destination? Even a written sign that says ‘you’d better start saving, mate’ would be better than a non-descriptive line.

Thankfully she doesn’t seem to mind too much when I ask what the hell is going on, and happily tells me that I should probably not make any plans for September. I hug her and tell her that it’s all going to be OK. For some reason it feels like it should be her who’s reassuring me though.

After all, it seems like I’m going to be a dad. 

Some mothers do have ’em

For the first eighteen months or so of my relationship with The Special One, I became an expert at sleeping in two sessions. Given that we were on opposite sides of the Atlantic, and she would often be working until well into the night, our first opportunity to speak might not come until 11pm in New York, which was 4am in the UK. Being the perfect partner that I so clearly am (ahem), I was willing to go to sleep for a few hours, be woken by the phone at ungodly o’clock, and then put my head down for another three hours or so of kip when we were done talking.

Though I was generally pretty good at it, there would obviously be occasions when I wouldn’t get back to sleep at all, and as a result I’d turn up at work the next morning looking like a cross between Bernard Madoff and Widow Twankey. Sometimes (particular after one too many port and lemons), I’d sleep blissfully through the repeated phone calls from The Special One, happily snoozing as my beloved tried to get in touch. Coincidentally, the amount of alcohol necessary to reach that point was enough to create a hangover the next morning that made me look like a cross between, well, Bernard Madoff and Widow Twankey.

The key – when I actually managed to be awake enough to take the calls – was always ensuring that the two sessions of sleep were roughly similar in length. The closer the phonecall came to the time that I was due to be getting up anyway, the less likely it was that I’d get a good night’s sleep. And as a result, the periods when there were only four hours time difference between New York and London – as we’re experiencing at the moment – were always like manna from heaven.

Time is, of course, a key difference between life in the US and life in the UK. For example, we’ve finally reached the point here in New York where it’s still joyfully light outside as people leave work (unless you’re a lawyer working late, but there’s probably not many of those left these days unless playing Solitaire has become a billable event). But as the year wears on, I know I’ll become wistful for the days of sitting in sunny and light London pub gardens until 10 or so at night.

More pertinently right now, it’s Mother’s Day in the UK on Sunday, and given that there are still six weeks or until it happens over here in America, it is pretty damn impossible to get a card to send to your mum. Last year I think I crossed out the word ‘birthday’ on a card intended to wish someone many happy returns, and this year I’ve opted for a nice view of New York. But it’s hardly the best way to tell your mum that you love her, let’s face it.

Fear not though, I think I’ve come up with the perfect solution.

Mum, if you’re reading this, can you buy maybe three or four Mother’s Day cards from the shops this weekend, and then post them to me so that I can send them back to you each year from here on in?

Pick some nice ones, though – I don’t want you thinking I’m cheap.

How to know everything there is to know

One thing that makes a New Yorker stand out from the crowd is their absolute stubborn refusal to accept that they could ever be wrong. You could be an undisputed world expert in a particularly obscure field of quantum physics, and yet you would still find a New York street cleaner who’d be more than happy to pick a quarrel with you regarding your chosen specialism. And don’t even think about chancing your arm in an argument with a New Yorker over a topic they think they might know something about. Like coffee, swearing, or honking your car horn when it’s least necessary.

The necessary adjunct is that if you’re never going to be wrong, then you need to know everything. Luckily New Yorkers aren’t shy in proclaiming their knowledge of anything and indeed everything. Google is good, but if you really need to get an answer, then you need a New Yorker. You may not get the right answer, but you’ll get it with a hell of a lot of conviction.

I’m lucky that – in the shape of The Special One (who has been resident in New York for around 20 years) – I live with the world’s leading expert on absolutely everything. It’s like living with a living breathing encyclopedia, albeit one that occasionally makes the kind of claims that make Wikipedia look like the font of all knowledge. There is literally nothing that she doesn’t know the answer to, whether it’s the identity of the 1946 FA Cup winners or the colour of the pants I’m wearing right now. And woe betide you if you dare even timidly question her belief that it was a) the Birmingham Raiders and b) neon pink.

Just occasionally though, it would be great if a New Yorker could put their hand up in the air and say “you know, maybe I am not the all-seeing one.”

On Saturday, I went to a local dry cleaners to pick up some clothes that had languished there for about five weeks; what can I say, I always like to test out their policy on how long they keep clothes. Anyway, as I walked in, a clearly frantic young woman was stood at the counter with a white silk Armani top laid out on the counter. The owner, a Chinese man who from previous experience has good but limited English, stood patiently as the woman pointed out some stains that had accidentally found their way onto the top.

Now, there are two things to say about these stains. Firstly, from where I was standing (which was pretty close), I couldn’t see even one. Secondly, there was not a single place on the blouse that she did not indicate had a stain on it. The owner looked on in disbelief as she urged him to place a ‘stain’ sticker on around forty seven different positions. According to her, the top was less ‘blouse’ and more ‘all over stain carrier’.

Having indicated all the stains, the desperate woman asked if there was any chance that the dry cleaning was going to make the stains any worse. Given that the entire top was apparently stained, I don’t know whether she thought that the dry cleaner was going to pour a gallon of crude oil on top of it, but that seems to be the only way that he could have made it worse.

Once the woman had finally accepted that the owner had at least seen all the stains, she then asked whether he thought that they would all come out. The owner insisted that they would.

“But why do you think they’ll come out?” she bleated.

“Because it’s the dry cleaning. All the stains will come out,” he insisted.

“But what makes you say that?”

“They’ll come out, I really think.”

“But what makes you think that they’ll come out?”

“The dry cleaning process will just get the stains out.”

“But what makes you say that?”

The woman turned to me, smiled awkwardly, and gave me the conspiratorial look that says something along the lines of “this guy just isn’t really getting what I’m saying, is he?”

Finally my indignation at her became too much, and I snapped “it’s because he’s the expert at dry cleaning, and you’re not.”

The woman turned back to the man, took her ticket, and stomped out. To be fair, she slammed the door like a complete expert.

Study: Americans are bigger than Brits in the bedroom department

When I moved to the UK, most of my furniture ended up either in a couple of houses in Cambridge, or in a big yellow skipdumpster outside my house. Given that The Special One was left in charge of bossing around the movers and deciding what did and didn’t survive the cull from my erstwhile bachelor pad, it’s perhaps not surprising that there’s little left from my days as a man gadding about London Town.

The one thing that did make the trip however is my pride and joy of a bed. As the first bed I’d ever bought, I spent many hours painstakingly, erm, lazing in a horizontal manner on dozens of options to ensure that I got the most comfortable sleeping environment for my money. And while I was prepared to leave the UK behind having met The Special One, there was no way that there was going to be a parting of the ways with my beloved bed.

The problem is that while in Britain my bed would be considered a palatial kingsize theatreer of snoozing delight, in the United States it’s suddenly like something that you’d put in a dolls house. There is no doubt in my mind that Richey Manic, Jimmy Hoffa, Lord Lucan and Shergar are not missing, but instead they climbed into an American bed somewhere and still haven’t managed to find their way out. Not necessarily together, although I wouldn’t rule anything out.

Every time I insist to The Special One that my bed is a king, the derisive snort I receive resembles the kind of noise I occasionally hear when cruise ships are leaving harbour at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Apparently there is such a thing as a California king, which is conceivably large enough to play a couple of sets of volleyball on. A wife could be cheating on her husband while he slept in the same bed, and the husband would be none the wiser. By comparison, my British kingsize is practically an American single.

None of this would be a problem, of course, if it wasn’t for The Special One. By day, she’s a perfectly normal woman. But when she’s in the deepest of sleeps, she twitches like a retired breakdancer who just can’t let go of former glories. Occasionally I have to wake her, just to make sure that she’s not having a stroke. At the same time, when she’s dreaming, she regularly issues forth grunts and groans as if knocking a vicious forehand volley across the net at Wimbledon. It’s like going to bed with Monica Seles and the Rocksteady Crew at the same time. And to be fair, if we were in a Californian king, we’d probably have room for all of them.

Still, given the economic climate, we’re sticking with what we’ve got for the moment and I’ll put aside my feelings of inferiority. After all, they say that size doesn’t matter in the bedroom, right?

Two people divided by a couple of pieces of bread

Whether it’s a sarnie, a butty, a filled bap or a crusty cob, I’ve mentioned before that I love a sandwich. And I’m fairly evangelical in my love of the bread-based snack product. So much so that I’ve even managed to convince The Special One to try (and enjoy) pre-packaged grated cheese and onion sandwiches.

However, our recent trip to the UK has revealed that there will always be a couple of essential differences between the two of us when it comes to the fine art of the sandwich. We’re working through it in counselling now, but I thought it was best to share the information with the group, so that fellow transatlantic partners don’t have to go through the same trauma. May our hell be your salvation.

1. All sandwiches, regardless of type of bread, filling or chosen condiment, start from essentially the same point from my perspective: remove bread from packaging, and slather in butter. This is not optional. The only exception to this rule is peanut butter, but given that peanut butter should never be used under any circumstances (least of all on a sandwich) so that shouldn’t pose any problems. Weirdly the only sandwich which The Special One has ever used butter on is a peanut butter sandwich. There’s no accounting for taste. Or indeed, lack thereof.

Oh, and for the record, mayonnaise is not butter in a creamy white disguise. It is therefore not a butter replacement and should never be considered as such.

2. Apparently cheese’n’onion crisps may be considered by some to be an unacceptable sandwich filling. Likewise sage and onion stuffing, on some arcane principle that putting a breadcrumb-based product between two slices of bread is somehow ‘bread overkill’. I fervently disagree. Carbohydrates have their place, and that place is ‘on my sandwich, thank you very much.’

The tragedy is that despite these two foibles, The Special One is comfortably the greatest sandwich maker in America, and a definite contender for the world crown. Her ability to make a sandwich that satisfies to the very last bite continues to astonish me. Clearly we have had to compromise though. The compromise that works for me is that on the occasions she makes me a sandwich, I get her to tell me that she’s put butter on it. I then don’t open up the sandwich to check that she’s telling the truth, for fear that the grim reality might cause me to stop eating it. If a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy can work for the US military, it can damn well work for me.

The curious incident of the missing letter

Anybody who knows The Special One will be well aware that she has an ill-disguised competitive side. Whether she’s playing a game of charades or just tossing a coin, she hates ending up on the losing side. As a result, she has an incredibly quick learning curve which, for example, has allowed her to win cash in poker games on three of the four occasions I’ve ever played with her. Some people would call it beginner’s luck, but I’d call it an abject refusal to be beaten. And woe betide anybody who gets in her way.

Of course, that means that I enter into any games with her with a certain amount of trepidation. After all, it can be particularly cold if you have to spend the night on the sofa due to an inadvertent victory at Mastermind.

Nonetheless, in a moment of weakness, I agreed to play Scrabble on Saturday night. And it quickly became apparent that Americans are the laziest people on earth. Not because The Special One couldn’t be bothered to pick up her own tiles (and brought in a local schoolkid to do it for her instead), but because they drop letters from any word that they (think they) can get away with.

Clearly, I’m well aware of the American propensity to drop u’s like they’re going out of fashion, and can easily deal with a bit of color, honor or behavior. But from yoghurt to chilli, and fillet to gauge, give an American half an inch and they’ll kick any letter they can out of perfectly spelled words, just to save the 0.12 seconds it would have taken to type or write it.

The problem is particularly acute in the world of medicine and the body, with words such as anaesthetic, foetus, caesarean, calliper and oestrogen all suffering a from a cruelly dumped letter. Although to be fair, most doctors have such bad handwriting that all of these are possibly just clerical/transcription errors of the kind that only get picked up when a patient realiszes that for the last six years they’ve been taking the contraceptive pill to fight excess gas.

In many ways, the American spelling changes make a certain amount of sense. After all, who really needs the extra ‘a’ in anaesthetic? Language should, I guess, be made to fit our needs and ease, rather than being rigidly rule- or tradition-based. Although given this, it seems strange that a nation so obsessed with litigation and legal action would continue to issue anything as peculiar as a subpoena…

When you’re playing Scrabble, of course, a dropped ‘a’, ‘h’ or ‘l’ can mean the difference between a triple word score and a humiliating four pointer. Or worse, allow The Special One to fit ‘feces’ into a tight space, and romp home with 27 points and the game. Damn America and its lackadaisical approach to scatological wordsmithery.

Still, at least I got to sleep in my own bed on Saturday.