Time for Tea

They may have put a man on the moon, but the Americans cannot make a cup of tea. This is not a new failing; back in 1773 a group of Americans attempted to brew tea by pouring into the waters of Boston Harbour.

It is not as though it is a terribly complicated process; you pour boiling water over the tea. Not boiled water or warm water. Despite the practice of many restaurants here tea cannot be made by bringing a cup of hot water and a tea bag to the table. This lack of understanding of a fundamental principle is demonstrated by my office, which has no mechanism for boiling water. The only way to make tea is to use the tap on the coffee machine, which delivers water at just 190F (88 Celius) well short of the correct temperature for making tea.

Published in: on 26 February, 2007 at 19:11  Comments (1)  

The Oscars

 This is an experiment in live blogging; I am writing this as I watch the Oscar ceremony. In the UK, it is on far too late for me to have seen it. I have seen many of the movies nominated this year. My one hope is that the horribly pretentious and overrated mess of a film, Babel, does not win Best Picture; especially as the Americans seem incapable of pronouncing the name. However appropriate it is not called babble. I am hoping that the fabulous “Pan’s Labyrinth” gets the recognition it deserves.

I am watching the pre-Oscar show, with interviews on the red carpet. I have just learnt that at 31, Kate Winslett is the youngest actress to have received five nominations. Saw the three Mexican directors, two of whom created great works this year and the other directed “Babel”.

The Departed is an excellent movie, but Scorsese has done better work. The law of the Oscar’s implies that he may just win for this one while Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and The Aviator all failed.

I am watching with my mother-in-law, who has actually been to the Oscars in the late sixties.

Ellen DeGeneres is hosting and wearing a burgundy suit with a white shirt and shoes. Not sure about her dress sense, but she has a wit that is sharper than one would expect for a show of this type. She has just pointed out Jennifer Hudson, the American Idol reject “Who America did not vote for” and Al Gore “For whom America did vote”; that played better with the Hollywood audience than my mother-in-law who did not vote for the man who was once America’s next president.

First award is Best Art Direction. The winner is Pan’s Labyrinth. Yay!! One win from its six nominations so far.

We have to put up with commercials.

Will Ferrel is singing a song observing that comedians never win the Oscar, joined by Jack Black.

Thirty minutes in and 2nd nomination; best makeup. Another win for Pan’s Labyrinth. So my desire for its recognition seems to being fufilled.

Best animated short is third. I have not seen any of them, so nothing to say other than to note that “The Danish Poet” won.

Best Live Action Short goes to “West Bank Story”.

Now we are on the fifith award, for Sound Editing. This is a win for “Letters from Iwo Jima”; the partner movie to the disappointing “Flags of Our Fathers”.

Now we have sound mixing, which is presumably different from sound editing. The nominations seem similar for the two categories. The winner of the previous category, however is not in the overlap. The winner is “Dreamgirls”.

The set background looks as though it has been lifted from the Tardis.

We are now on the first major award, Best Performance from an Actor in a Supporting Role. The winner is won by Alan Arkin in “Little Miss Sunshine”.I did not see the movie, but Mark Wahlberg’s performance was a stand out in the excellent “The Departed”.

We are now listening to a song from the wonderful “Cars”, written and performed by Randy Newman with help from James Taylor. This was a film that spoke to the heart of the decline of Main Street in small town USA, with this song putting words to that core sentiment.

Now a song from Melissa Etheridge from an “Inconvenient Truth”, Gore’s climate change movie. She is preaching to the converted, Californian’s emit less than half the green house gases of the average American.

Al Gore and Leonrado de Caprio have both put on weight, Leonardo offered an opportunity for Al Gore to join the packed field of 2008 Presidential hopefuls. Al Gore just showed that he can do a joke other than his “I am the man who used to be the next President”. On the other hand, I have just shown I will use that joke twice in a single blog entry.

Ellen is joining in the Al Gore inspired green theme by recycling old jokes.

Cameron Diaz is announcing nominations for Best Animated Film. The winner is “Happy Feet”, an award that should have gone to “Cars”

The next award is for best adapted screenplay. The intro has clips that included the most famous screen portrayal of a writer, Jack Nicholson at a typewriter in a remote out of season resort. The winner is “The Departed”. This is major recognition that the film was “inspired” by a Japanese movie called “Infernal Affairs”, the writer even thanking the original movie. Hopefully, not the last win for this good film.

Nine down and Pan’s Labyrinth is leading, as the only movie with two wins.

We are now have moved to Best Costume design, presented by two of the stars from “The Devil Wears Prada”. The award going to “Marie Antoinette”, the winner taking her third Oscar as she wears a tux and seems far more nervous than one would expect from such an experienced winner.

Ellen just telling Spielberg how to take a picture of her with Clint Eastwood.

Gwyneth is announcing the award for Best Cinematography. The category has the most deserving set of nominations so far and is the third win of three for Pan’s Labyrinth. Every winner has struggled as English is not their first language.

Visual Effects is next up, with a win for “Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest” A film that may have flaws, but had effects fully deserving of the award.

Foreign language film, previewed by a French woman and Japanese man. This is an award I want to go to “Pan’s Labyrinth”, a fourth win would cement it as tonight’s big winner. But it is won by “Lives of Others”, which I have yet to see.

Ellen has changed into all white.

George is on stage to present Best Supporting Actress. The Oscars agreeing with the Baftas and the Golden Globes, while disagreeing with the viewers of Fox network and Simon Cowell and have given the award to Jennifer Hudson in a tear filled acceptance speech.

Best Documentary, Short Subject, is the “Blood of” something; ok this a category about which I know nothing. One of the two winners giving her speech in Chinese.

We now move onto Best Documentary Feature, which to the shock of no one was awarded to the previously mentioned Al Gore for “An Inconvenient Truth”. I saw this movie on a flight from Dallas; no points for spotting the irony. He reminds us that we have all we need to solve the crisis, except the will to act, which is a renewable resource. ( I think this might be a nod towards 2008)

A special Oscar for Ennio Morricone, these are awards given to old people who common sense tells you should have had a shelf full of them by now. If for nothing else, the iconic music of “For a Few Dollars More” deserved recognition.

While Celine Dion does her screeching, time to summarise the scores so far: Pan’s Labyrinth 3, Dreamgirls 2.

Ennio delivers his acceptance in Italian with Clint Eastwood translating a beautifully gracious speech into English.

Hugh Jackman and Penolpe Cruz announcing Best Score, which grants us the realisation that Hugh actually has an Australian accent. The winner is Babel, another Oscar not won by Pan’s Labyrinth.

The stars of Spiderman announce the nominations for Best Original Screenplay, the award least likely to go to Pan’s Labyrinth. The award goes to “Little Miss Sunshine”, its second of the night and a further delay to the “Brits are coming” night, as “The Queen” failed to win. So my favourite film won three of its six nominations and so is still the biggest winner of the night… so far.

Songs from Dreamgirls being performed by Jennifer Hudson and some wannabe called Beyonce.

Show was scheduled to end at 8:30, it is now 8:26. I wonder if they will scrap best song, best actor, best actress, best director, and best film… or will the show overrun? I wish I knew the answer.

Best Original Song is won by Melissa Etheridge for “We Need to Wake Up”, a shock as Dreamgirls had three of the five nominations in the category. This is the second win for Al Gore’s movie.

Kate Winslett is announcing winner of best Film Editing, which has a set of major films nominated. I hope that “Children of Men” gets the award, for it deserves recognition. The winner is “The Departed”. So maybe, it will be Martin’s night at last.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, last year’s winner of Best Actor to award the most obvious cert of the night; “Best Actress in a Leading Role”. The award goes to Helen Mirren for “The Queen”, a phrase I typed before the actual announcement. Based on recent wins for actors playing Capote, Elizabeth I, and Ray Charles I have a tip to thespians who wish to win an award; play a real life character. Helen dedicates the award to Her Majesty.

Most notable advert has been one for a product that is not available and will not be purchasable until June. The product is the i-phone from that well known manufacturer of music players; Apple.

I have just been reminded that in addition to the real life winners I mentioned previously, Reese Witherspoon won for June Carter Cash. The winner goes to Forest Whitaker for playing Idi Amin; oh another winner playing a real life person. See my Oscar rule seems to be proving itself in front of my eyes.

Steven, Francis, and George are on stage to present Best Director. Mr Lucas is having the micky taken from him for not having won an Oscar from Spielberg and Coppola (What a shock that The Phantom Menace did not get the award). Now Martin can join in the jokes as he wins Best Director.

We are now at Best Picture, presented by Jack Nicholson and Dianne Keaton. Please let it not be “Babel”. The winner is not that terrible mess of a portmanteau movie, “Babel”. At last it is Martin Scorsese’s night. “The Departed” is this year’s best movie, even if it it had the worst cover of a Pink Floyd song of any movie. Winning its fourth Oscar of the night, it is the big winner pushing Pan’s Labyrinth with three wins.

Two wins for Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth”, “Dreamgirls”, and “Little Miss Sunshine”

The 79th Oscar Ceremony finishes at 9:17, just 0:47 beyond the scheduled time.

Biggest shock of the night, Al Gore gets most votes but is declared the winner anyway.

So ends my 1st attempt at live blogging.

Published in: on 25 February, 2007 at 17:24  Leave a Comment  

Coining it

There are fewer different types of coin in use in the US; just 1c, 5c, 10c, and 25c coins.

The 1c coin is a disc made off a copper colour metal and is often refered to as a penny.

The other three coins are also round, but made of a silver colour metal. The 5c coin is often called the nickel. The 10c coin is called the dime. The 25c coin is often called a quarter. So far, this may seem reasonable, but it gets a little stranger. The 10c coin is literally called a dime; no where on it is the amount mentioned. If you do not know that a dime is 10c you are lost. Moreover, it is a significantly smaller coin in both thickness and diameter than the 5c one, also obscuring the fact that its value is twice that of the nickel. The 25c coin also lacks any mention of 25c, but at least has its name spelt in full as a quarter dollar. Thus US coins are very confusing for first time visitors.

A third attempt to introduce a dollar coin is being made; the last two tries in 1979 and 2000 met with strong public resistance. The dollar bill survives, unlike the pound note which was removed from circulation in 1988, five years after the introduction of the pound coin. The new dollar coins feature the head of George Washington and further releases will appear with the heads of all deceased presidents; so they will be popular with collectors if nobody else. If the early press coverage is a good sign, then the popularity will be limited to that first category of people.

Published in: on 25 February, 2007 at 9:53  Comments (2)  

Gee, I love your accent

A comment from Brit in the USA on my post concerning the problems of making myself understood talked about the way that people will comment on your accent. I have had lots of people remark on how much they love English accents. Once they actually said “I love your accent”, as though it was some conscious style choice that I had made.

I have had to repeat an order in Starbucks, not because I was not understood, but the woman taking my order wanted her colleague to hear my accent. It was somewhat discomfiting to my English sensibilities to have attention drawn to my differences.

I have also been asked if my accent was from Liverpool; which implied a lack of familiarity with regional accents from the questioner. It turned out, however, that she was asking as she planned to spend a year of college in the UK and wanted to spend that year in Liverpool. She wanted to know what the city was like and on hearing an English voice was hoping that I was a native of the city. She had apparently heard that was a dangerous, crime ridden city. I told her it was no more dangerous than LA; for some reason this did not totally reassure her.

(I realised having posted this, that it is my 100th post to the blog; a cause for minor celebration. Thank you to everyone who has commented on my blog either in person or on the site… at least I know that someone is reading my thoughts.)

Published in: on 24 February, 2007 at 10:49  Comments (2)  

Incomprehensible Accents

I have in previous posts made mention of occasional confusion caused by the differences in language between the US and UK. There is an additional problem that even when the words are the same, it seems that my pronunciation causes misunderstandings. Specifically, on several occasions I have asked for water and been met with a complete lack of comprehension. I have realized there is an easy solution to this linguistic issue; ask for wine or beer instead.

The other time that I find my accent is not what the listener understands is when I talk to my car’s GPS. The vocal instruction “Go Home”, which should have caused calculation of a route home, was met with the response “Showing campgrounds”; I hope Wendy was not showing some bizarre form of prescience. In case you were wondering, I have called my car’s GPS Wendy, because it has a female voice and looks after lost boys.

Published in: on 17 February, 2007 at 16:17  Comments (4)  

Country Living

I blogged when I was in LA about the shock of being in a metropolis. Now that I have moved to Northern California, I feel much more at home. Driving to work a couple of weeks ago, I saw deer in the open land between the Freeway exit and my office. Then last week the freeway was shut because it was covered with hay bales and a couple of days later another local highway was shut because there were goats on the road. The loudest sound in recent nights has been the croaking of a frog in the stream below the bedroom window.

Published in: on 17 February, 2007 at 10:02  Leave a Comment  

Time for a Holiday

Despite offering such services as renewing online, our local library seems stuck in the past. There was a sign announcing that the library would close on February 12, for Lincoln’s birthday. Lincoln’s birthday has not been a public holiday in the US for twenty years, losing its status as such in 1986 when President Reagan declared the third Monday in January as a Public Holiday to mark the birthday of Martin Luther King.

Thus, I find that not only do I not get all of the official public holidays off, but I don’t get the unofficial ones, that other people still get. Since Friday is one of those public holidays not honoured in the private sector, President’s Day (which is on Washington’s birthday) ; the library will have managed to have six days before February is much more than half over (New Year’s Day, President Ford’s funeral, Martin Luther King Day, Lincoln’s birthday, and President’s day)

Published in: on 14 February, 2007 at 7:30  Leave a Comment  

Superbowl Post Game

Discussion about last weekend’s Superbowl has continued all week on US news programs. However, the focus has not been on the hour of gridiron play; rather it has all been about the half time show and the adverts during that show. It would seem that the game has been reduced to a prelude and sequel to what really matters; a musical performance from Prince and adverts for Doritos and Snickers. The cost of the Doritos advert, made by amateurs, was $12, the cost of the crisps used.

Not from this year, but a true classic among Superbowl ads is this from EDS

Published in: on 11 February, 2007 at 10:04  Leave a Comment  

Football with an Oval Ball?

My sporting interest is focused on a spherical ball, but the most important news for those who belive that a ball can be an oval is that this weekend saw a record points total in a Calcutta Cup match. England beat Scotland, a return to form from the World Champions. In short, Johnny’s back.

Oh, you thought I was going to talk about another sporting fixture with an oval ball this weekend?

Well, I am half Welsh so the game that Ireland played this weekend I would rather forget.

I have a deep love for all things Italian, so it disappointed me to see their Rugby team thrased by the French.

You wanted me to write about another important oval ball match this weekemd?
There was also Southwold RFC v Cantbrgians RFC.

Oh, you expected me to blog about a game played in the US? |I think there may have been some sporting event here that was played over the weekend.
My assumption is based on the 50% plus of TV adverts in the last fortnight that made mention of a “Superbowl”. My favourite Superbowl advert was the one that made suggestions for a Superbowl party in which you used your kids’ paddling pool as an ice chest for the beer; oh how this country has moved on from the Volstead act.

Ok, the Colts beat the Bears and it was a good day to go shopping; for the stores were all but deserted.

Published in: on 4 February, 2007 at 23:53  Leave a Comment  

Family Pictures

In the UK offices in which I have worked, a few people would have a picture of their family on their desk. Here in the US, nearly everyone seems to have dozens of pictures of their family and pets. In same cases it seems surprising that they have managed to find room for their PC; although this too is often used to display a wallpaper picture of family pictures.

Even more shocking is the very un-English habit of people asking me if I have children. It is difficult to imagine work colleagues asking such a question in the UK; I am not sure if this a case of English manners or fear of having to hear someone use the question as an opportunity to sing the praises of their offspring.

Published in: on 4 February, 2007 at 8:04  Comments (1)