Sunday, June 29, 2008

What do you call a snake with no clothes on?

Il Capo and Nanny were out working in the garden during the recent hot weather when a snake passed them and headed up the path towards the house.

Il Capo shouted after it,

"There's no one home."

No I'm kidding. what she actually shouted was

"Holy Christ! Snake! SNAKE!"

When it reached the house it seemed to disappear, which hardly put these two ladies at their ease.  In fact that evening, Nanny moved her bed from underneath the window, so nothing would slither onto her in the night.

The following weekend we were at a barbecue at our next door neighbours' when someone noticed a snake on their drive.  A group of us trooped round from the back of the house to look at it.  Not Il Capo or Nanny, they didn't want to appreciate it.  It was a garter snake, about eighteen inches long. 

Like this one:

We stood around it in a crescent, which made it nervous and it moved onto our drive.

"Uh oh", said I.  "My wife won't like that", and I called Son Number One to help me drive it away from the house.  He was very excited by this duty and may not have been paying complete attention because even though it was between him and the house he ran straight at it, giggling.  The snake accelerated away towards our front door.  I overtook him and stood in the way, but as far as the snake was concerned I was not nearly as scary as a laughing child waving his arms and it went right past me and hid in a bush beside the front door.

Not a wholly successful manoeuvre maneuver.

I broke the news to the ladies that we had relocated the snake to three feet from our door.

They took it remarkably well, considering.

P.S. Snaked!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Barbecue - a comparison

When we lived in the UK, we had a barbecue. It looked like this.

We didn't bring it because for some reason it got rusty being outside during a British summer.  US customs don't like you importing rusty things.  Seriously, they don't like rust and will impound your belongings if you try and bring in rusty stuff.

Now we are living in a place where you can expect sun during the summer, I thought we should get a new barbecue, or grill as they are known here.  We went to Home Depot and I saw this.

It's got cupboards and drawers and it's even got a fridge for the beer and a roof so you can grill in the rain!  I'm currently in negotiation with Il Capo over its purchase.  As I keep stressing to her, if she ever threw me out the house, I could live in the grill!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Lunar Phase

A local student has been arrested and charged for something he did at a graduation ceremony. His actions prompted the Schools Superintendent to write to him.
"I deeply resent the fact that the Briarcliff community will have to erase the ugliness of your despicable act from what should be a completely beautiful memory that enriches their lives", she wrote.
If you don't want to see what he did, don't click here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

It looks like I'm going back to school

I have applied for my New York driving licencse. A local license is useful both as a universal ID and also because without one, car insurance premiums are close to treble.

You might think that having been driving for twenty years, having driven more than 200,000 miles, having never had an accident, (cough) well, not on the road, that getting a license would a a simple procedure. In a word, no.

I went to the DMV and got a provisional licence, or learner's permit. I won't go into huge detail about the DMV, except to say the staff seemed friendly and completely unaware that we visitors would prefer not to stay the whole day. Once I'd had my photo taken, a test was sprung upon me. There were two 16-year-olds, a girl with her older boyfriend and a boy with his mother (and that right there says so much about being 16), plus me and a German man. It was twenty multiple choice questions of which seven were about driving drunk. One of the other questions was:

Road rage is:
a) not an offense in New York
b) illegal, but allowed the first time.
c) understandable if someone cuts you up
d) a serious crime, punishable by 1-3 years in prison.

I managed to pass the test and got my learner's permit. I assumed the next step was a driving test, but reading up on the subject, I discover I first have to pass a five hour course where I will get a certificate that I then take to the test as proof. I'm not sure how much of the course is practical or theory, but seeing as the average charge for the five hours is $50, I assume that it will not be one-to-one tuition. So it looks like I'll be spending a Saturday in a classroom with a bunch of American school-kids.

It's going to be great


Interceptor. Isn't that a cool word? When I hear interceptor, I think of several things. I may think of the Jensen Interceptor, six litrers of V8, chrome-covered 70s fuel-gobbler.

Alternatively, I may think of this car:

I may even think of Annabel Croft

So, interceptor means power, it means charisma, it means catching bad guys and looking cool.

New York Police Department obviously feel the same way, because they drive around Manhattan in the Westward Industries Interceptor:

Whenever there's a need for a three-wheeled, sub 40mph pursuit with optional milk delivery, the Interceptor is there.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

New York Bingo #4

Not strictly a bingo, but I'll crowbar it in anyway.

Il Capo, driving on the highway was overtaken by a man on a Honda Goldwing - jeans, t-shirt, helmet, and poking out of the helmet clamped between gritted teeth was a fat cigar.

Smoking a cigar while riding a bike at 60mph, is that not the embodiment of the American Dream?

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Hendricks by the Hudson

I see in the news that Boris Johnson has banned alcohol from the tube, probably prompting most people to respond, "You mean I was allowed to drink on the Underground?"

This brings to mind the beer at Grand Central Terminal.

New York has a different attitude about alcohol from the UK. Some rules seem more relaxed, others more rigid. It's complicated.
  • The UK is more relaxed, look at the 18 age limit on buying alcohol compared with 21 in New York.
  • New York is more relaxed, look at the closing times, usually 11.00pm in the UK compared with well past my bedtime (4am) here.
  • The UK is more relaxed, watch TV and you will see alcohol all over the place, on US TV people who drink are usually mad, bad or dangerous to know.
  • New York is more relaxed, the spirits liquor measures are almost twice the size (45ml to 25ml) and it's half the price.
  • The UK is more relaxed, you can buy all your alcohol in supermarket, in New York supermarkets only sell beer. If you want wine or spirits, you have to go to a liquor store (which isn't allowed to sell beer).
  • New York is more relaxed, people in the UK have been refused alcohol in supermarkets because they were accompanied by their teenage children, because they are accompanied by their 47-year-old mother, because they are foreigners, even for attempting to buy barbecue sauce without ID. In the UK you have to accept the judgment of the check-out girl as to whether you are a suitable customer.
As I say, it's complicated.

Anyway let me tell you about Grand Central Terminal. The best way to visualise Grand Central is as a large fork, with the main concourse that you see in the films as the head of the fork, and all the platforms laid out like the prongs. To make it more accurate, imagine your fork has 30 prongs and then another layer of 17 prongs underneath (Grand Central's platforms are all underground).

Now imagine you have a long chip French fry on the end of your fork. Actually, two large French fries, one on each layer of tines. These fries are tunnels that allow access to the platforms from the wrong end which is great for me as they exit just two blocks from my office.

Now, ask me what they sell in these French fry tunnels?

Beer and liquor. There are several concession stands selling a variety of beers as well as whiskey and vodka to commuters. You can buy a can of beer or a miniature bottle of liquor, unopened from a man behind a cart, in a tunnel, in a station.

Just knowing I can buy a couple of shots of gin on the journey home makes the working day seem a much more pleasant prospect.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Doris Day

Following Nanny's communication problems with the dry cleaner, Il Capo took responsibility for this week's trip. The conversation went something like this:

"I've got these trousers for dry cleaning," said Il Capo.

"OK, what's your phone number?" asked the dry cleaner. Il Capo gave our phone number and dry cleaner typed it into her computer to find our details.

The dry cleaner looked at the details on the computer screen asked, "Doris Day?"

Il Capo was confused. "Excuse me?" she said.

The dry cleaner asked again, "Doris Day?"

Il Capo nervously grasped the nettle and said, "Um... Doris Day is dead."

The dry cleaner stared at her and replied, "I said Thursday!"

Il Capo blushed furiously. "Oh! Sorry! Yes please!"

The shame of it now requires we find another dry cleaner.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Mad dogs and Englishmen

The news is a lot more interesting here. We turned on the telly this evening just as this story came on.

A bit of detail here.

Suddenly the bears seem a lot more cuddly.


Speaking of bears, this is an hours walk away. I think it's time for me to accept that this is a new and different country to the one I was used to.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Bearing down on us

Last week a bear was sighted 25 miles away. Now look:

A Mahopac resident who was weeding her garden off West Lovell Street came face to face with a black bear Monday.

That's fifteen miles from our house. At this rate they'll be at the door this time next week. The bears are coming for us.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

It's hot here at night, lonely, black and quiet

You know it's hot when you hear this on the weather forecast:
"...but we will get some relief on Wednesday, when the temperature will drop to 87 degrees."
It's been in the high 90s the last few days, which has been fun. In England, such temperatures would shut the country down, but it's different here. The most important difference is that here it's only 98 degrees outside. In England I would spend the time in a shady spot with an electric fan and copious amounts of beer, In New York, I move leave my air-conditioned house, drive my air-conditioned car, get into an air-conditioned train, spend five minutes in a non-air-conditioned, really quite warm Grand Central, then a quick walk to the office that is air-conditioned. No problems.


It seems other people have been selfishly using their A/C as well and all this extra demand for power is causing black-outs. If only everyone else used electricity more responsibly. I have taken the liberty of cutting the power to my neighbours' houses so to reduce the load on the local circuit. I wouldn't want any power-cuts in our area.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"We interrupt this program..."

We were watching Boston Legal last week when they broke into the program with news about Barack Obama's victory in the Democratic Party leadership race. The news program continued for twenty-five minutes and then they returned us to Boston Legal twenty-five minutes beyond the point we left! I guess this is a consequence of the network system, presumably programs are broadcast from a single national source with the local studio providing the news, weather and commercials. This makes sense when you consider that the previews explain that a particular program is broadcast at (say) 9pm Eastern, 8pm Central.

There is a radio station called Q103 near where I used to live in England. They have a sister station called Chiltern FM broadcasting about 30 miles away. While they have different DJs and adverts, they follow the same play list in the same order, with one usually a few minutes behind the other. If you are listening and hear a particularly good song, you can switch stations afterwards and there's a good chance it will be just starting on the other station.

I wonder why US tv channels don't even have that much autonomy, enough to allow them to show the same shows but at the time of their choosing. Having news shows that overlap the programs around them seems a little amateur.

Wildlife getting wilder

It seems there is more than just chipmunks out there:

This is about 25 miles from our house.

Yes, there is a town called Southeast, it's next to um, Sodom.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


I know my son is watching too much Scooby Doo when he asked me to do something and when I said no, he replied,

"Would you do it for a Daddy Snack?"

Big Bridges

There's a story in the local paper about a drunk driving for several miles in the wrong direction. These sort of stories are not that unusual, in the UK or the US. However, for me this woman added an extra dash of horror by driving the wrong way over the Tappan Zee bridge.

I don't really like big bridges. I love them for their beauty and for their engineering. They are one of the most impressive marks that man has left on the world, huge monuments to our ability to shape our environment. I just don't like driving over them.

In May 1980 when I was nine, my family went on holiday to Florida. We stayed in an amazing hotel in St Petersburg and we also drove to Orlando and Disney World. At one point we drove over the Sunshine Skyway.

The Sunshine Skyway was a bridge that spanned over five miles of Tampa Bay. Actually it was two bridges alongside each other. Each bridge carried traffic in one direction. The design of the bridge was to keep the road close to the water's surface for the majority of the span, and to have a high-point for ships to pass under. The same basic idea as the Tappan Zee bridge, shown above.

At some point in May 1980, I think before we arrived in Florida, a ship crashed into the Sunshine Skyway causing 400 yards of the bridge's span to fall 150 feet into the sea below. You can read all about why it happened in this detailed and fascinating St Petersburg Times article.

With one bridge gone, both directions of traffic ran on the other span until they built an entirely new bridge in 1987. I remember driving over it aged nine and looking out the car window as we passed the missing section. I thought about the cars driving up the slope of the bridge, not realising that the section was missing and the driving off the precipice into the water below. I found it very unsettling.

You can see what the bridge looked like after the crash and get a real idea of the size of the collapse in the opening credits of SuperBoy, a TV show that ran in the 1980s.

I don't like driving over big bridges. They make me nervous. To be honest, I've never been worried about the bridge coming down, more about being pushed over the edge by another vehicle. I tend to stay away from lorries when I'm on them. If a driver loses control of his lorry, I won't be nearby to deal with it. Now I have to contend with drunk drivers coming the wrong way as well as the lorries.

The new Sunshine Skyway is amazing, though.

Monday, June 9, 2008

New York Bingo #3

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

I saw a old woman in Bloomingdales in a fur coat with a chihuahua on a lead. Old woman with dog in shop - that's the bingo. However, just for added enjoyment, she was pooper scooping the dog's little accident from the marble floor.

A little bit more nature than was wanted

Il Capo came to pick me up from the station after I had accidentally drunkened myself in a bar after work.

"I bloody love you!"

As we got out of the car and walked up the path in the dark, I noticed something on the ground in front of us. "Look at that," I said. "It's a leaf," she said and bent down to pick it up, at which point it leapt straight at her face then off into the bushes.

It was a frog. Or a toad. Something amphibious and bouncy. No, not Pamela Anderson in Baywatch.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Little Differences 3

I just saw a bank advert commercial which was boasting about how they offer free chequescks and free ATM withdrawals. So I don't have to pay for you to give me back the money you borrowed from me? That's your selling point?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

"Would you offer him your hunger?"

I've just had a meatloaf sandwich for lunch - Am I American yet?

Friday, June 6, 2008

It's always primetime at the pump

I pulled up at a petrol gas station the other day and was brought up short as I reached the pump. Alongside the hose, the numeric display and the credit card slot was a tv showing the news and weather. This is, so I discovered, Gas Station TV. From my three minutes of exposure it appears to be short bursts of news and consumer affairs separated by adverts for Coke.

I never realiszed how much I was missing the telly while filling up the car until now. Imagine all those wasted minutes, kicking the tyres, making faces through the car window at The Family, gazing at the young woman filling up at pump number 3... All that time I could have been educating myself with GSTV. For instance, from that one short viewing I now know that "low fat" written on a packet of food doesn't necessarily mean a small amount of fat, merely that is has less fat than some similar product.

Who knew pumping gas could be so edutaining?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Veering off topic to the NHS

I've been reading about the NHS and how it is withdrawing treatment from patients if they decide to supplement their treatment with private medicines not available on the NHS.
Jack Hose, 71, from Bournemouth, whose entitlement to health service care was withdrawn by the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust because he chose to pay for a drug that is not normally funded by the state. Hose has been billed by the trust for £11,500.
Have a look at Doctor Crippen's site here.

I can think of three separate arguments against this

The logical argument
  1. These drugs are not available on the NHS, because they do not provide worthwhile effects for the money.
  2. We will not allow you to take these drugs because it will create a two-tier health service.
If taking these drugs gives me superior health care, then they are not as ineffective as suggested.

If the drugs are so ineffective then they are not putting me at an advantage over those that can't afford them.

The government are arguing two mutually exclusive things at once.

The extreme argument

I'm borrowing this again from a Doctor Crippen article, but this one does contain one rather rude word, so don't click unless you can take it.

You break your ankle. You go to A/E and are X-Rayed and plastered and sent home with some paracetamol for pain relief. The paracetamol really is not enough, so you go to the chemist and buy some over-the-counter Nurofen. Next day, you go back to the hospital for your plaster check appointment. The doctor asks you if you are getting any pain, and you say "not since I bought the Nurofen". The doctor refuses to see you and kicks you out, telling you that if you can afford private drugs you can afford a private doctor.
Realism argument

People can already add private aspects to their NHS health care. If you go to an NHS doctor and are referred to an NHS consultant, you can choose to pay to see the consultant privately and thereby move up the queue. The Government's argument is that you are paying for something that is available free, so it doesn't breach their principle, but if you have a serious condition and by paying you get it attended to months sooner, isn't that a two-tier service?

Given the purpose of this blog, it would be reasonable to make a few comparisons with the US health service. I will be writing about it in the future, but I don't currently have enough experience to compare and contrast the two systems.

A couple of other 'Britons in New York' blogs

Big Apple, Little Britainer
A Marmite lover's adventures in the land of light beer

This is an enjoyable blog written with humour.

Notable connections. I notice she went to Cambridge University which strikes a chord with me as I was educated in Cambridge (cough) . This story mentions a visit to Myers of Keswick. Coincidentally, The Family have raided their piggy banks and are planning a trip there at the weekend. There are currently lots of dinner time conversations about bangers, penguin biscuits and jaffa cakes.

You can tell how much I miss sausages by the fact I've spent about ten minutes staring at the photo of them even though they are raw.

This is a good introduction to her style: Let them sit down

A Brookyn Lad
A Lancs lad raises his boy in Brooklyn

This blog is a little different as it is often more a photo-journal, starring the author's young son. So you get posts like this: Dead Tortoise
and this: Heidi and Billy & Billy and His Pals & Billy Eating Sausages Like a Nut
and my personal favourite: Faulkner’s South

What do I have to do, to capture people like that? Turning off the auto setting on my camera would help, I suppose.

No comment from me

From my local paper:
"Personally, it was upsetting to see all our hard work turn into a huge penis," Cummings said.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

She can't be bargained with. She can't be reasoned with. She doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And she absolutely will not stop

I read that Barack Obama is now backed by a majority of the Democratic delegates. Hillary Clinton said in response, "I will be making no decisions tonight."

You have to admire her tenacity and single mindedness, a majority of the delegates who will make the decision have publicly stated they will vote for Obama, yet she behaves as if she can still win. Her only options now are to attempt to change delegates' positions (several weeks ago she stressed that even if a delegate represented voters wishes, they were still free to vote for whomever they wanted) or legal action.

The papers here have spent the last couple of weeks talking about when she will quit, yet I wonder if she will. Her attitude to this campaign has been that of the Terminator, she has said anything and everything to demonstrate she is the preferred choice. Why stop now just because she has lost?

Bathroom etiquette

While at Orlando airport, I took Son Number One to the toilet bathroom. We entered a stall and he noticed a foot showing through the gap beneath the separating wall. Before I could stop him, he was on his hands and knees trying to look under the partition into the adjoining stall. I can just picture the poor man sitting there lost in his own silent thoughts, suddenly noticing a happy smiling face looking up at him from beside his ankled trousers.

This reminds me of the first time I took him into a public toilet in England. I held him up in the air, under his armpits so he could use the urinal. When he was finished, I put him down, and he immediately reached into the urinal and picked up the blue block of detergent that had been sitting there next to the drain hole.

There are so many programmes on tv about the same rubbish topics - why is there nothing to warn you about this sort of stuff?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Job swap

Speaking of Disney, I couldn't help but wonder as I queued for the attractions last week, what would happen if the people in charge of the DisneyWorld rides and the people in charge of the DMV swapped jobs? (The DMV is the Department of Motor Vehicles, where you must go for a licencse and annually for vehicle registration. Here's an example of the DMV experience.

The DMV line would wind past interesting posters on the walls perhaps about the history of the car, classic US cars, or fascinating facts about how many people are attended to each day, to offset the impression that no one is. They might have car crashes installed as exhibits to warn of the dangers of inattention or drinking. They would definitely have someone in an animal suit, perhaps a flat roadkill animal.

Space Mountain, on the other hand, would have an aircraft hanger filled with plastic seats and a couple of fans whirring away high above. You would take a ticket, wait for your number to be called when you would go and stand next to a 40 inch stick to prove you were tall enough. Once observed to be satisfactorily tall, you would take another number and sit down again until you were called and asked if you were pregnant, suffered back or incontinence problems, or had a fear of enclosed places. Having taken another number and sat down a third time, you would wait to be taken to a window where you would sign three forms and pay a fee (cash only). Then you would be led to the ride, to discover that it was no longer in the dark so the security cameras could record the ride, in case of a later law-suit.

By the way, I'm writing this on the morning train and I have a gentleman next to me, sleeping, his head slumped forward. Every time we go around a left bend he snuggles up against me. What is the correct etiquette here? Should I wake him? Should I give him a gentle push onto the man on the other side? Perhaps we could ping pong him back and forth. If I had the aisle seat, I could stand up at a strategic moment and watch flop horizontal, but I'm stuck against the window. Help me here someone!