Monday, March 28, 2005


Firstly, many thanks to all of you who contributed to last week's post with a haiku or two. Of course it has been extremely difficult - not to mention unnecessary and potentialy hurtful - to pick a winner, but I rather liked Rehanna's ode to the land down-under, with it's heart-felt gratitude to vagaries of fate that have temporarily removed her line-manager. That said, I had disqualify her first entry for incorrect meter; the more affected "Shiv'ring" would have solved this problem with the necessary level of pretention, I feel. A lesson for next time, perhaps. Next time? [See how I pre-empt your internal dialogue; masterful, eh?] Yes, next time. For this has been such a roaring success that I think I need to encourage more of this audience-participation lark! More unreasonable requests next week perhaps.

Also special thanks too to Laura for the creature-whacking game. What fun!

So it was somewhere around 23rd and Salmon (it would be more helpful to say "half a mile from home" really, wouldn't it? But not so cool, eh?) that I saw the biggest rat ever. The thing was about 18" to 2' long not including the tail. It ran right in front of me and the car going the other way slowed to let it pass, allowing me a good view of the beast as it crossed in front of the headlights and lost itself amongst some bins on the far side. I stopped my bike in shock. "Bloody hell!" I said to myself, only out loud. The car coming the other way pulled in to park. As the driver got out of the car he saw me staring at the bins. He said, "Did you see that possum?"

Which, I suppose, would have explained matters, had I known what a possum was. In fact it was an opossum, which, although commonly called a possum in the US, should not to be confused with the possums of Oz-tray-lyah which are different apparently, although confusingly it is a marsupial, which I thought only lived, well, where women glow and men chunder. You live and learn. Anyhow, for reference, they look like bloody great rats.

So you get home from work and it's a little chilly and you think to yourself, "What I could do with right now is a nice dip in the hot tub!" Unfortunately, you had exactly the same thought the night before and your trunks are still wet. And, as everyone knows, there is nothing worse than climbing into a cold, clammy swimming costume. A dilemma, eh? Not at all: at last, a use for the domestic microwave! 25 seconds on high is all that's required. A little tip for you there.

Everyone is sick to death with me banging on about how bloody marvellous life is out here, so let's dwell for a moment on the dark side of American food. Initially I thought I'd write about all the foods I miss the most, until I realised they are all actually available if one is prepared to pay through the nose for them at Lady Di's, World Market, Pastaworks et al. That said, caution is required; they have "Cadbury's" chocolate at Safeway - but examine the label carefully and you'll notice it's made under license by Hershey's - and thus inedible. Even more subversive are the double-decker bars manufactured in South Africa. A lesson to us all to pay close attention to small print.

When in the US, avoid these foods at all costs -

  • American cheese. Not just the stuff from a can ("warning - may contain traces of cheese"), but any suspiciously quadralateral orange plastic substance masquerading as food. It is sometimes called Muenster or Swiss, just to trip you into believing it has some European credentials. It does not.
  • Deli meats. Only distinguishable by their colour, these tastelss slices of hydrated, textured water are allegedly derived from animals at some point during the production process. Ham, turkey, 'roast beef' even. Cylindrical, in the manner of giant Bernard-Matthews roasting 'joints' they are an afront to carnivores everywhere.
  • Jello (i.e. Jelly) as we all know, is for poor children as a special treat (e.g. the ones that cannot afford Butterscotch Angel Delight). It is not a side-dish. Please.
  • Chocolate in a solid form, including their "posh" varietals e.g. Godiva or Ghiradelli. Once cooked however, it improves significantly and is quite delicious in brownies, "french silk" / mud pies and esp. hot fudge sauce.
  • Bacon. Only the streakiest and wettest of super-hydrated streaky-bacon exists over here. Once cooked it shrinks to approximately eight percent of its uncooked volume and resembles a pork scratching.
  • Canadian bacon. That's what they call the circular pig product that represents the bacon in a bacon & egg McMuffin. Any port in a storm and all that, if you must you must.
  • Sponge cake. Heavily aerated air with traces of yellow tasteless sweet solid matter slathered in sickly "frosting" (aka icing). Only seen at birthdays. Horrid. Makes you wish for a slice of week-old Victoria Sandwich - never thought I'd say that.
  • Country Fried Steak - Steak deep-fried in breadcrumbs i.e. as if it were Kentucky Fried Chicken. There is no justification for this abomination.
  • Strawberries. Fibrous and watery, only good in cooked or liquidized forms.

I may return to this list as time passes...

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Drunken louts are we

Living in the US one soon becomes accustomed to being treated as a minor member of royalty, one's accent carrying connotations of education, civility and sophistication to the colonial mind. All quite justified in my case of course. So it was 'refreshing' to be brought back down to size last Saturday in post-match conversation with a fellow from Greece. The discussion went something like this:

"So you're English?"

"Yes, that's right. Are you Italian?"

"Greek actually."

"Oh, Greece is a beautiful country. I once had a wonderful holiday in Crete."

"Oh really, did you get drunk and smash up the town?"

"No, umm, just walked in the hills, took in the sights, that sort of thing..."

"You English love to get 'pissed-up' and break things, right?"

"Ummm... Like all societies, we have our unsavoury elements..."

"Huh. Well, not that I have anything against drunken violence per se"

"Well I do"


"Well, for one thing it clearly gives us a bad reputation abroad."

"Oh - I see - I didn't realise you were so sensitive about it."

He was right, I did feel rather defensive. On the other hand, it's easy to get a bit nostalgic about the old homeland, so the incident reminded me of some of the positives about being somewhere else.

Look, I'm not entirely sure any of you are actually reading this. If you are, you are, in the main, frightful liggers who take, take, take from my limited store of wisdom but contribute nothing, yes, nothing to the ongoing dialogue of the blog or indeed transatlantic communication in general. There are some exceptions of course - you know who you are and I thank you and apologise for this tirade. But the rest of you are all bums or hobos of some sort.

Here's a chance to redeem yourself, then. Post a reply to this entry in the form of a Haiku. What's a Haiku, you ask? Well, it's a very simple poem of three lines with a 5/7/5 syllable structure. I used to teach 9-year-olds to do this, so I'm sure you're up to it. Here's one to get you started:

Springtime in Portland
And the living is easy
Wish you were here too

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Spring has sprung

I hear the weather's been rather inclement in England lately? Such a shame. Over here the temperature's hit seventy degrees every day since Saturday and not a drop of rain either. Marvelous. Yesterday lunchtime I accompanied Mr Bunszel to the local driving range for a spot of indiscriminate violence to golf balls, and, in my case, the very sport of golf itself. Having never really taken up arms on the fairway with anything other than a putter, I was more than delighted to simply displace the ball from terra firma with some regularity. Of course, the old targeting will require a bit more work. Still, at $5 for a large bucket of ammunition it's just a matter of time I think. An English accent is already something of a head-start in the golfing world as I understand it.

Rachel and I have been trying to make the most of the sunshine. On Sunday we took a bike ride around the city via the 12-mile long riverfront loop; it's flat, there are no cars, the views are pleasant and there are at least two places to stop for ice cream. Leon joined us on his brand new $1200 Cannondale 'Bad Boy' (you couldn't make this stuff up, could you?). It's a tidy piece of kit to be sure, a matt black superlight hardtail with disc brakes etc. As you can tell, I'm not at all jealous.

My recent adventures to the local dentist have lacked hilarity unfortunately. Actually the dentist himself was fine, replacing all three of my fillings with gusto and some artistry; indeed so confident was I in his skill that I opted to have one of them drilled without anesthetic and didn't feel a thing. I should have asked for a carry-over for the hygienist. What is a dental hygienist anyway, you're probably asking (or more likely not, but bear with me here)? In short, a sadist. A pick-wielding sociopath. I was thinking "gentle polishing", like an aged manservant might buff the Rolls with an old chamois prior to a trip to the lake. What I got was more akin to a US Marine warming up for a tour at Abu Ghraib. It was a bloodbath, I tell you, even before she brought out the dental floss. Cheese-wire more like. I always had my suspicions re hygiene and this has sealed it for me, I'm afraid.

Returned to Doug Fir on Friday night with Bart and Patricia and Troy and Santi; saw Helio Sequence - technically proficient but not really our cup of tea. The drummer appeared to be a disturbing amalgam of James Nesbitt off Cold Feet and Animal off The Muppet Show - one couldn't bear to look. On the plus side we were there early enough to grab a table. Made the tragic mistake of leaving my credit card behind the bar. Rachel finally emerged from the establishment some eight Lemon Drops later, making good use of yours truly for support. Another week in Paradise.