Undefeated and Off the List

Ever since my first visit to the US, I have felt that I should have US sports team that I support, just as I have an English and Scottish football team that I support. (Norwich City and Queen of the South respectively) I have yet to pick a team in any of the major US sports, but this weekend’s events emphatically ruled out one team. My wife’s family are originally from Boston and in the absence of an LA NFL team, they tend to support the New England Patriots. On Sunday the Pats completed the regular season undefeated, becoming only the second team to ever do so.

Clearly, I cannot support a team that actually wins anything; how would I cope supporting a team where victory was the norm and the good times outweighed the bad. Being a fan is about being long suffering and enduring failure, at least it is if you support Norwich City.

The New England Patriots are off my list, as are Boston’s baseball team who after a long period without a World Series win, took the crown in 2004 and 2007. The Chicago Cubs last won a world series in 1908, now that sounds like a suitable record of heartbreak.

Published in: on 31 December, 2007 at 12:53  Comments (1)  


The 2008 Presidential Election seems to have been in full swing since the day after the 2004 Presidential Election. There have been full scale debates between the candidates seeking their party nominations since the middle of the year and incredible sums of money have been raised to pay for advertising. The election moves to the next phase on Thursday when the Iowa caucuses take place.

The purpose of caucuses and primaries is to allow voters on a state by state basis to select the person that they wish to see as the Presidential candidate for their parties. The actual election will be held in November 2008, with the winner taking office in January 2009. This is very different from the UK model, where a newly elected Prime Minister takes office the day after the general election.

The candidate for each party is actually selected by party conventions that will be held in the summer. However, most of the delegates at the convention are required to vote for the candidate that their state primary selected. The primary process is fairly new, states only started holding them in the early part of the twentieth century and they did not become generally binding until after the 1968 election. Before that time delegates were chosen by differing process and it was often not clear who would be selected as part candidate before the convention began; the eventual winner often emerging after many rounds of voting and discussions in smoke-filled rooms.

There is a detailed article on the role of the first caucus and primary that take place in the next week or so.

Published in: on 31 December, 2007 at 12:35  Comments (1)  

Christmas Candy

Here in the US, there are some differences in the items associated with Christmas. The most prevalent are candy canes, striped confectionary shaped like a walking stick. These are available both as real sweets and as decorations for trees and front yards.

Less prevalent, possibly unique to the house across the street, is the display of illuminated male genatalia in the window. Funnily enough, if you look at them right they almost look like candles. Last year on the lawn a few days down there was an animated Santa Clause and a reindeer. Judging by what Santa was doing to the reindeer he was educated in an English Boys School.

Published in: on 16 December, 2007 at 17:05  Comments (4)  

17,400 Pounds of String

There is a song by Weird Al Yankovic called “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota”. It tells of a family road trip to the eponymous tourist attraction. What makes this amusing ditty even funnier is that it actually exists. The town of Darwin, MN not only attracts tourists with this artifact, but has a Twine Day in its honour. To make this even more bizarre, it was once the largest ball of twine in the world, but no longer. In Cawker City, Kansas there is a larger ball of twine. In defense of Minnesota’s original it is the work of a single man, while the originator of Kansas’s record-holder died before surpassing the original achievement; others have made it the record breaker that it is today.

Giant balls of twine are not the only truly bizarre tourist “attractions” that exist in the US. I may work for a company that makes money from salvaged cars, but I would not wish to visit The International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame/Museum. Then there is The Cockroach Hall of Fame, which looks odd when you see its name, but becomes truly surreal when you visit its website and find out the full details.

I challenge anyone reading this to find a museum or any other tourist attraction half as weird as these examples in the UK.

Thanks to Ken Levine’s blog for the inspiration for this post.

Published in: on 13 December, 2007 at 20:20  Comments (4)  

The Sport of Kids

I was listening to NPR recently and heard something that I had trouble believing. However, I can now verify that the frankly astonishing claim of American ignorance is in fact correct. One hundred percent of Americans I surveyed had never even heard of one of the great UK sports; no one here seems to know of that great playground gladiatorial contest we call conkers. (I know that sentence would be less impressive, if a little more honest, if it had started with Both Americans, but hyperbole is my right in my own blog. Word’s US spellcheck does not recognize the word conkers, so that would seem to serve as further verification of this knowledge void)

As a service to any American readers of my blog, I thought I should describe the basics of this game. It is traditionally played in schoolyards during recess. A conker is a brown nut that grows on the horse chestnut tree. They are not edible, unlike those that come from the sweet chestnut tree. To play the game, you make a hole through the centre and thread about a foot of string through the hole. Each player has a conker and they take it in turns to hit their opponent’s conker. If your conker is the target, you let it hang from the string and once it is still your opponent gets to attack. Your opponent wraps his string around one hand, takes the conker in the other, and draws it up and back. The idea is to aim the swing when released so that it hits the other conker. If either conker breaks, the contest is over. If both conkers survive, the players swap roles.

If your conker wins its first battle against another untried conker, it becomes a one-er. If you win another fight it becomes two-er. If you two-er then losses to a new conker, that conker is now a three-er, taking credit for both the fight it has just won and the two victories that the now shattered nut had previously racked up.

Baking conkers in the oven or soaking them in vinegar hardens them and taints your record in much the way it would if Barry Bonds was ever found to have taken steroids.

This traditional childhood pastime is under threat in the UK. There was a school that required pupils to wear safety goggles when playing conkers; other schools have banned them as offensive weapons. The fear seems to be that a piece of flying debris will injure a child in the eye; though I am not aware of this ever having happened.

The local pub in the village in which I lived in the UK held a conker re-enactment of the Battle of Trafalgar. What will happen in future if new generations do not have the skills to participate; will the event cease to be, or even worse, will the French win? The loss of an eye did not prevent Lord Nelson leading the British fleet to victory in that decisive naval battle. I think it is important that we continue to encourage the playing of this great game, especially if only the British play it – this should ensure that there is one sport in which Britannia can continue to rule.

Published in: on 10 December, 2007 at 21:31  Comments (2)  

Buying Music

One area of possible difference between the US and UK that I cannot comment on is stores that sell records. It is a long time since I last went into a store and bought a CD. I now purchase music digitally via iTunes and get CD from eBay or online retailers such as Amazon or CD Baby. Online gives a much wider choice and with iTunes there is the thrill of instant gratification. With my iPhone I would not even need to wait until I got home to download and listen.

Today, however, I was regretting a loss that this approach brings. There are some record purchases that I can still recall, because of events surrounding the day on which I bought the music. When I listen to the music, there is an extra layer of pleasure to be had from the memories so evoked. One such album was “Brothers in Arms”. I purchased it in Brighton on the day that it was released. I had a serious hangover from the excesses of the night before; I had been celebrating/drowning my sorrows after losing the election to the position of VP Communications for the student body. I had not expected to win, but had enjoyed the campaign and received more votes than I had anticipated.

There is still plenty of opportunity for memories to be associated with pieces of music, but those that tie back to the day of purchase seems be a thing of the past.

Published in: on 8 December, 2007 at 18:12  Comments (3)  

Not a Marketing Scam

I received in the mail today an envelope which claimed to be a “US District Court Approved Refund Notice”. I assumed that it was some marketing scam, like those that claim you have won a million dollars. However, I was curious enough to open it and I found it was entirely legitimate. I am entitled to part of a class action settlement with Visa and MasterCard for overcharging on foreign transactions between 1998 and November 2006. You can either make a claim for $25, or by listing all of the transactions you mae abroad in that time you can get an actual rebate for the overcharge. Since I used my US card just once abroad in that period, in late October, I will take the $25. Not exactly a free lunch, but it would pay for us to go to our local Mexican for dinner – if we order poultry we have Money for Nothing and Chicks for Free.

Published in: on 5 December, 2007 at 19:55  Comments (2)  

Tree Shopping

In the UK, I have bought real Christmas trees from DIY stores like B&Q or Homebase. My wife was never happy with what was on offer. She saw the trees on sale there as “Charlie Brown Trees”. For those not familiar with the work of the late Charles Schulz, follow this link and look at the twig by Snoopy’s kennel.

You can trees from similar stores as well as supermarkets here in the US. Last weekend, though, we went to a tree farm in search of a tree. The farm grows its own trees, but since the traditional fir trees do not grow at this latitude and low altitude, they also bring tress in from Oregon. If you want one of their own trees, they will provide you with a saw and you can go pick your own. In addition to the trees and other Christmas ornaments, they had a Santa sleigh ride, an indoor nativity scene, Christmas music playing, and plenty of food and drink on sale.

Hot Spiced Cider was on sale and being drunk by people of all ages. Before an alarming picture of teenagers off their head on cider, wielding saws comes to the mind of any UK readers; I should point out that here in the US cider is non-alcoholic. Judging by the amount of effort that people were expending in cutting down their trees, those blades were not the sharpest.

Since the native trees did not like right, and none of the pre cut trees from up North were the right shape we left without a tree. There were several other places selling trees between home and this place, but since this was by far the largest we felt that it was unlikely that they had a better choice, so we shall probably buy a fake, which will be perfectly shaped. I would also be reluctant to try the place closest to us, as they were advertising “Economy Tree”; I think that these were what the large farm more honestly labeled as their “Charlie Brown Trees”, a collection of half bare, lopsided bushes that really do not qualify as tree.

Published in: on 5 December, 2007 at 19:27  Leave a Comment