Wednesday, April 30, 2008

British Bulldog in the USA

On Saturday morning I took Son Number One to a town sports session. Each week, 3-5 year-olds play a different sport, including softball, basketball and lacrosse.

We signed him up a week ago and after we had put his name down I felt like a proper father. I imagined him at 21, world-renowned double champion of lacrosse saying to the reporters, "well it all started when my Dad took me to training when I was four." What a great father. This reverie lasted about three minutes then it occurred to me that all the other children would probably have been playing these sports since they could walk, whereas Son Number One doesn't know a baseball bat from a cricket stump. The other four-year-olds would be like an oiled baseball machine, pitching, batting and catching like professionals. They would chew him up and leave him crushed in the outfield.

I immediately bought a mini-basketball and a T-Ball set and set about drilling him relentlessly. T-Ball is baseball for people who can't throw. The ball is placed on a over sized tee, about two feet high. This way, the batter can learn by hitting a stationary ball. I could have done with the equivalent cricket set when I was a child. Actually, the last time I played cricket I didn't touch the first three balls and that was all the bowler needed to get me out. Luckily, someone hit the ball at me when I was fielding, so I was able to catch him out and make a small contribution to the team. Catching a ball that is speeding towards my face is one of my few sporting abilities.

So last weekend found The Family hitting, catching and throwing baseballs around, with regular breaks for a bit of basketball on the drive. Son Number One showed himself capable of hitting the ball about twenty feet one time in four, which wasn't that much worse than his parents. Even Bagpuss got involved putting a ball on the tee, then prodding it with the bat so it fell off again.

Apart from the tee, we bought an aluminium aluminum bat, a mitt and four balls. The balls are meant to be a little softer than a normal baseball, but they still sting a little when powered off the tee by Il Capo. The bat is surprisingly cool. Even though it's a child's bat it still feels very comfortable in the palms and I found myself swinging it at various imaginary curve-balls, slow-balls and burglars.

So after all this preparation we arrived at the playing fields. We had to walk past the big boys setting up for football soccer. Son Number One is wary of big boys. I don't know if it's a natural feeling or it's something he learnt in the four months at school in England but as we approached he held my hand tightly and pushed himself close to me - which I have to say is one of the best feelings in the world. Nothing beats being Protecto-Dad, especially when the threat is some 11-year-olds playing keepie-uppie.

The 3-5's coach turned out to be a Liverpudlian and instead of a sports baptism by lacrosse, he had the children playing stick-in-the-mud and British Bulldog for an hour, though to be honest there was less blood in the British Bulldog than I remember from my childhood. The only sporting faux pas came when he told us it would be soccer next week and asked Son Number One which football team he supported. Son thought for a couple of seconds then said, "The blue team."

The best quote came while standing on the side-lines during a complicated game of tag that involved children being kangaroos, seaweed, and an octopus. One of the Mummies hearing the coach's Scouse accent, turned to her baby in a buggy and said, "Isn't it great? He sounds just like a Wiggle!"

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Refreshing, and nutritious too

I was thinking about work when I was shaving, which was a mistake as I got a little savage and sliced my lip. I staunched the flow and it dried until I was just eating an apple which has broken open the cut. I know this because I took a drink of water and left a swirl of blood in the cup. Another sip from the other side and now there is blood on the water's surface and on the side of the cup.

So, should I drink water with my own blood in it, or is that a little dark?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Losing the battle

I am being taunted.

I am being taunted by an animal with a brain the size of a pea.

I checked the trap this morning and the mouse had eaten half the peanut butter. He stood on the first electrical contact and ate all the peanut butter he could reach from there, but then stopped before he reached the second contact. If he touches both simultaneously KA-PLOOIE! But he didn't touch both, so no ka-plooie, just an empty trap and a full mouse.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ballpoints, Biros and Bics

Nanny took the cushion covers to the dry-cleaners after Bagpuss had scribbled all over it with a pen.

"It's got Biro on it", Nanny tells the dry-cleaner.

"Where's that from?", asks the uncomprehending dry-cleaner.

"Hungary in the 1930s", replies Nanny.

A battle of wits

There are many old stories which describe a battle with a difficult foe, the triumph, the subsequent celebration, and then the dawning horror of realisation that the victory has merely encouraged a worse enemy forward. In the Iliad, Hector fights and kills Patroclus, believing him to be Achilles. Achilles, grieving the loss of his close friend, kills Hector, ties his body to his chariot and drags it around the walls of Troy. Beowulf, in his story, rips off Grendel's arm provoking the wrath of Grendel's Mother, who visits his hall and decapitates his most trusted warrior. In the film Piranha II, the fish grow wings and attack people from the sky.

And so it is with The Family. I trapped and killed Hunca Munca, a mouse who had been living in our kitchen rent-free. Having since discovered there was another mousy lodger, I have been putting the trap out each night with no success.

To recap, the trap is a black box with a hole in one end. The hole leads round a couple of corners to two metal plates on the floor. You put the bait by the plates and turn on the electrics. The mouse enters the hole and treads on both plates completing the circuit and zapping the mouse. Because we have inquisitive children I have been turning the trap off during the day and putting it in a cupboard. I doubt the charge is enough to seriously harm a toddler, but it's not the sort of bet I'm willing to stake my daughter on.

So each night I have been arming the trap and putting where we have found rodent evidence, each morning de-activating it and putting it away out of reach of small hands. After several days of this, Il Capo has begun to doubt my ability as a manly mouse killer.

"Put some new peanut-butter in it", she said, "The old stuff's been in there a week, it doesn't smell as much."

"No", say I. "I'm not using up all my peanut butter on a bloody mouse."

"It's not your peanut butter, it's The Family's peanut butter."

"I don't care, I'm not giving it all to the mouse", I say, reaching for the peanut butter and unscrewing the lid. "Look, it's half empty already. He's probably been in here, unscrewing the lid." I get a paper towel to wipe the old peanut-butter out of the trap, open the trap and... the trap is empty. When I checked it in the morning it was con peanut butter, sin mouse, now it it sin peanut butter as well. My furry foe has been ignoring it when it was live but gobbled it all up when the trap was disarmed. I point out the implications.

"So it's been on the counter, during the day?" Il Capo is appalled.

And so the battle enters a new phase. We move from night-time traps to a twenty-four hour assault. Non-stop trapping, up on the counter away from little hands, near little paws. The only problem is that yesterday the mouse ate a chunk of peanut butter as big as him and probably twice his weight. I doubt he'll be hungry for a while.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


I was walking past the Waldorf=Astoria Hotel yesterday evening when I was accosted by a fat man covered in gold braid. (That's not a typo by the way, the Waldorf=Astoria has in its name what they call a double hyphen and what everyone else calls an equals sign.)

"You can't come past", said he.

"What?", said I.

"Someone's coming, you can't come past. You can go that way", pointing across the street.

Aha! Someone eh? This is New York, lots of important people here. If someone is coming, I'm not going to stand in their way, so I crossed the street. The doorman turned his attention to an old green car parked outside the underground car-park entrance, but the driver ignored him.

From the other side of the street I realised that the sirens I'd been listening to for the last couple of minutes were The Someone. There was a motorcade approaching very slowly. There were about eleven vehicles, with the vanguard being a police cruiser with lights and sirens flashing. Most of the rest were dark vans with black windows. In the middle of it all was a limousine with little flags on the bonnet. The flags, Lily could probably tell you were South Korean. Looking in the news later I saw that New York was receiving South Korean President Lee Myung-bak that day.

When the cruiser reached the blocked car-park entrance there was a momentary pause and then the cruiser's load-speaker rang out, "Move your car NOW, Sir!"

The green car was gone within five seconds.

Police here seem to get a lot more respect than in Britain.

"I'm melting! I'm meltingggg!"

It's 79º today, it was 83º yesterday. In March it was low 30s, so we've gained 50º in a month.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Nelly Kelly was sure some fan, She would root just like any man

The baseball season has just started - The games begin in April and they play almost every day until October. Coincidentally (as far as I know it is coincidental) both local teams are moving out of their stadiums at the end of this season. The Mets' Shea and the Yankees' 'House that Ruth Built' are both being replaced and curiously both new stadiums are being built alongside the old ones.

The new Yankee stadium was estimated to cost $800 million, but when it's finished next year it is now expected to top $1,300 million dollars. It's nice to see it's not just British who are gloriously optimistic when pricing these big structures. Having thrown the occasional fit when a car repair came in £100 over the quote, I do wonder how the contractors broke the news of the price hike
"Good afternoon gentlemen, I hope you are enjoying your coffee, please try one of the little cakes. Now, I know you're eager to be updated on the stadium and I can tell you that it's coming together very well, however before we get into that I want to draw your attention to a couple of amendments to the price estimate.

"Now if you look down under the leopard-skin seat covers for the dugouts and the imported Kalahari sand for the directors' pitch and putt course, you will notice an adjustment in miscellaneous expenses from twelve thousand dollars to five hundred million dollars also we've managed to knock fifteen percent off the cost of hot-dog cabinets - proving our commitment to driving down costs."
The current stadium seats 57,000. The new stadium will seat 53,000. They are spending $1.3 billion dollars on a stadium that is in the same place as the old one but seats less fans. On the plus side, it is said that it will have a very nice bar.

Similarly the new Mets stadium will be Citi Field, with 45,000 seats rather than the 57,000 at the Shea. Admittedly there is more legroom which is a very good thing (Anyone who has sat in the away end at Sixfields and is taller than four foot six knows the pain of the curved edge of the rigid plastic seat in front as it is pressed deeply into your shins) but it seems remarkable that they don't even match the capacity in these stadiums.

New York takes its baseball very seriously. The New York Post this week ran two front-page articles about the story of a construction worker on the Yankee Stadium site who, being a Boston Red Sox fan, attempted to hex the new stadium by burying a Red Sox shirt jersey under the foundations of the stadium. The Yankees have now dug it out, but have claimed it cost $50,000 to do so and the worker has been threatened with both civil and criminal charges.

I'm hoping the the Yankees do file a civil suit just to see if they really stand up in a court-room and argue they deserve their $50,000 back because it was a necessary expense to prevent a magical curse cast by a mystical brickie.

Regarding criminal charges, lawyers suggest this case may fall under 'criminal mischief', which presumably carries a sentence of being called 'a naughty tyke' and having your hair ruffled.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Cast

  • Il Capo
  • My wife, for nine years without a break. The head of The Family.

  • The Squeakers
  • Our two children, consisting of

    1. Son Number One
    2. Our son. He's four years-old and very talkative. Loquacious would be a classy way of putting it.

    3. Bagpuss
    4. Our daughter, 19 months old and a cross between a happy pixie and a malevolent troll. When she wakes up, we all wake up.

  • Nanny
  • My wife's mother. She is staying with us and keeping us sane and well fed.

  • Mr Potarto
  • Me. I work in Manhattan, I live in Westchester County, having convinced Il Capo to look after me. Before we were here, we were in Cambridge, not Massachusetts.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Brit out of water

The first other ex-pat blog I've found is A Brit out of water and it's a good one. The Brit in question moved to Brooklyn last summer, lives with his American wife, known as The Special One, The Youngest, and possibly other children I've not yet read about. Try How to get a red in advertising and School papers for a taste. The simple use of effective graphics like the interstate sign holding the date and the days out of water counter is impressive.

Things I can steal from A Brit out of water:
  • Write really well
Hmm, I'll keep that in mind.
  • Find decent aliases for family members
I'd like to keep this blog anonymous, as it features my family heavily. I've never quite worked out how to refer to the recurring characters. Must sort this out.
  • Use of strike-out text
Moving from the UK to the USA involves learning second names for lots of things and learning when to speak English, and when to speak 'American'. My current plan is to generally speak British English and only provide the American versions when confusion arises. So route is 'root' not 'rowt' and depot is 'deppo' not 'deepo'.

The exception to this is when speaking to US Government officials - for them I'll say whatever makes the conversation shorter.

However, Home Depot is a name, so it would seem only polite for me to pronounce it as they would pronounce it. I wouldn't tell Colin Powell how to pronounce his name, so why Home Depot?

Anyway. moving back to the written word. Currently I've been writing the British word and providing the American in brackets which looks clumsy. A Brit out of water uses strikeout text like this: courgette zucchini

Which provides a little humour and also flows slightly better. Ok, the pilfering has begun.

Death of a tick, death of a mouse

We had the tick-man out at the weekend.

Number One Son was out playing a few days ago and that evening was found to be sharing his scalp with an uninvited guest. Said tick was removed most expertly by his mother (the son's not the tick's) and we are now on the lookout for a bulls-eye rash that is the tell-tale of Lyme's disease.

So we had the tick-man out.

Deer ticks are a problem in Westchester County, due to the deer in Westchester County. The deer carry the ticks around, but the disease is carried by the white-footed mouse. I'm not sure how the ticks, mice and deer all meet up - perhaps a Bambi-style clearing with all the animals dancing and singing?

The tick-man leaves cardboard tubes around the garden (yard) in strategic mouse-friendly locations. Inside the tubes are pieces of cotton-wool soaked in a mouse/tick-dispatching substance. The mice grab the soft cotton-wool and take it back to the mouse house where it works its noxious magic.

I understand this only has to be done once a year - not sure why, I thought mice bred like rabbits. Perhaps they have such small feet that if you kill all the mice in your area it takes 12 months for any others to venture over the border of your property. Perhaps now it's the spring all the mice are settled in their homes and don't want to go out looking for somewhere new.

Speaking of mice, there is one less fleet-footed furry in the house today. Having swapped the previous trap that gave away peanut butter to any rodent that could squeak for it, I laid the new trap in the kitchen last night and in the morning there was Hunca Munca lying on her side with a great chunk of peanut butter in her mouth. She looked peaceful and more than a little surprised.

I suppose I should be flattered that all these beasties want to live in our house with us, but they must know I will defend it against all boarders.

Bloggy rivals

When I started this blog, I thought the biggest problem would be finding the time.

That is not the biggest problem.

If you have something you want to say, you can find the time to say it. The biggest problem with writing a blog is finding something to say.

A blog must have a theme. The theme is the purpose. Posts have to dance around that theme. Obviously the occasional message can be about something different, but generally the posts should be linked to the purpose of the blog.

This blog is still new and has not yet settled down. I haven't yet determined what aspects of my American escapade are interesting and which are of value only to my Mother. To this end, I'm going to read around the subject and see how other people do it. I figure if I steal two or three good ideas from five or six other bloggers then Potato Potarto should move from being jumbled jottings to being lucid and coordinated.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Extreme Geography

I've always believed America is a nation of extremes.

Here are two of them...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

"Tonight of all nights there's gonna be a fight"

We had a meeting with our intruder last night. They we were, cuddled up in front of Naomi Watts and a T-Rex when small, brown and furry ran along the skirting board and hid behind the television. I got a torch and shone it at the TV to pin him down while my fraidy-cat wife went to find a big box to drop on him. Unfortunately, my plan suffered a flaw that was revealed when the mouse ran through the light. That's not right! They're not supposed to do that!

Anyway, we chased him around the edge of the wall for a while until he lost us behind the sofa.

Today, I went to Home Depot to buy a trap. I wanted something that was climbing-eating-generally-poking-fingers-into-things-child friendly, so I didn't want poison or anything that could catch little fingers. I went for a box that has a little maze inside. You put peanut butter in the middle and in his hurry to chow down the mouse doesn't notice that he's standing on the electrical contacts. Disappointingly, after I smeared the extra-crunchy on the inside, inserted the batteries and flicked the on switch, the light that "will flash green once to indicate it is enabled", didn't. I've put it in the kitchen anyway, but I'm probably just providing an all-you-can-eat buffet for our murine friend...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Night-time Intruder

After the centipede comes someone else. We found a grape on the hob this morning, partly chewed. The fruit bowl is on the counter six feet from the hob. Somehow, the grape detached itself from the bunch, left the bowl and moved six feet to the right. Looking at the back of the counter, behind the bread-maker and some semi-permanent items on the counter I find tiny dark dropping-like specs, a couple of milimetres long and perhaps half a milimetre wide.

I think we may have a Mus musculus or possibly a Peromyscus leucopus.

Phew what a scorcher!

It was a proper spring day today. When I left the office this evening, it was warmer outside than it was in. 71 degrees and that was at 6pm. The children's rooms were hot so with trepidation I turned on the air-conditioning for the first time and...

It worked! There was a whirring and cold air arrived. Nothing went bang, or clunk or gave off smoke. It just worked. I feel calm now.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

New York Bingo #2

An occasional series listing things that are specifically American or New York.

Someone in the office invited me out for a "brewski".

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Scary Foreign Monsters

Well, the honeymoon with the USA is definitely over. Today we found this in the house...

Nobody told me they had things like this here! This isn't Australia!

It seems this is a house centipede. A 28 legged insectivore with big spiky pincers and a love of dark damp places. Don't know what he was doing in our house - it may have dodgy electrics and the refrigerator has seen better days (to be frank it has seen better decades), but we have no damp.

There's some nice information on them on Wikipedia, especially this little titbit:

Because they eat household pests, house centipedes are considered among the most beneficial creatures that inhabit human dwellings, but because of their alarming appearance, frightening speed, and painful bite, few homeowners are willing to share a home with them.

Anyway, I took him away and found him a new home far away from the house.

I'll get a dehumidifier, just to reinforce the point.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Viewed food feud pooh-poohed

I thought this story was quite interesting:
Welcome to the brave new world of Manhattan dining, where cameras keep tabs on diners in restaurants as diverse as the hip Boqueria and the haute Daniel.
New York Post...

I especially liked this bit:
Amy, a nonprofit Web producer who asked that her last name not be used, cops to taking trifles like "those nice stone things that they rest chopsticks on at sushi restaurants. I usually only steal in vengeance for bad service or a feeling that I've been wrongfully overcharged."
She may be a non-profit web producer, but she's clearly not a non-profit diner.


I was in a deli yesterday lunchtime looking for shredded coconut (dessicated) when the glass door disintegrated.

The whole thing turned to a thousand pieces and collapsed to the floor. No one was near it, nothing hit it - it just self-destructed.

And they didn't even have any coconut.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

House of Horror

We seem to have moved into Amityville. Only instead of rooms filled with flies, taps that drip blood and a voice in the basement yelling, "Get Out!" we have a couple of dripping pipes, a boiler that stopped working, a fridge that stopped working and lights that, erm, stopped working. Perhaps less the Amityville Horror, more the Amityville Disappointment.

Not our houseAs of yesterday we'd lost the boiler and two lights. Plus the dishwasher was broken, but we noticed that when we opened it on final walk through and the door fell off.

OK not Amityville, perhaps Mrs Potarto made a better comparison when she said, "I feel like Shelly Long in The Money Pit."

Walter: I'm not trying to tell you your business but you haven't even looked at my pipes.
Plumber: I looked at them three years ago. You figure they've improved with age?

Yesterday another light went and then I noticed water dripping from the ice-maker in the fridge-freezer. During the day, my better half got all the food next door into the neighbour's freezers - nice neighbours - and we spent the evening on the internet trying to find a place that would deliver in less than a week. Every other time we've bought something - a carpet, a bed, a dishwasher - they've been almost too eager to deliver, "I assume you would like that tomorrow, please pick a two-hour slot." When it comes to something we really do need immediately the shops have gone all old-world on us. Delivery in a week from Sears was the best I found, with some sites suggesting a three weeks' wait.

This morning another two lights died which motivated me to do a little circuit testing. The fusebox trip switches were all normal, but the first light fitting I looked at did not respond to new bulbs. I thought I'd try plugging the fridge into a different socket, so I got an extension lead and plugged it into a nearby socket. The extension lead has an led so you can see if it is receiving current. The led stayed off. I tried it in another socket - led came on. Back to the nearby socket - led still off. The socket has a little red button which is some sort of trip switch. I pushed it and the led came on. As did the fridge that is plugged into a completely separate socket!

$1,200 saved and I was awarded a hug, which was very nice.

We are the goon squad and we're coming to town

I just shared a lift with a woman in turquoise velour trousers and black furry moonboots with pom-poms on strings. It made my worrying about my grey trousers and brown boots seem small potartoes.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Things they don't have in the UK #2

TV adverts where men sing songs about Viagra.

Spring is sprung, the grass is riz

It was the first weekend of Spring and having just got back from a trip to the UK, suddenly I could hear bird song in the garden. There were robins which I've not seen before. Robins in America need some explanation. In the UK we are used to our robin, a small round bird with a bright red breast that stays all year round. In America they have a bird they call a robin but it's a different animal. It is the size and shape of a blackbird, with a black head and an orange breast. They migrate up and down North America and do not winter in New York.

If you've ever watched Mary Poppins you may remember the moment when a bird perches on her finger and sings to her. That is an American robin. What it was doing in London is never explained in the film - you probably have to read the book.

In the evening we had five deer walk through our front garden. I keep trying to get a decent photo, but a picture taken in poor light through glass with no tripod is either dark or blurry.