Sunday, June 20, 2010

The End (Was) Nigh

It seems I need to start this blog with another apology as it has been a number of weeks since my last input. I guess the main reason is that as most of you now know, I have returned from New York. Whilst I am undoubtedly glad to be back with my friends and family, New York was an amazing experience and writing this blog kind of adds a sense of finality to the trip that I guess I was trying to avoid.

So, being that I’m back and blogging it would be fair to assume my return came without the melodrama of my flight out? Guess again. While I thankfully avoided a repeat performance of Glaswegians do Celebrity Daathmatch, there was still a healthy dose of National Lampoons style mayhem involved.

To set the scene we need to begin the evening before my return when my American colleagues graciously threw me a leaving party and the place where all the important things happen: the Irish bar over the road. Several pints of (really really good) Guiness and a few shots of “real” tequila later and it’s safe to say I wasn’t gonna be doing any packing that night. On the bright side I can tick off “throwing up” on my checklist of things to do in the Big Apple.

Flash forward a few hours, let’s say just enough to wake up slap bang in the middle of your hangover, and it’s time to pack and get ready for work. Word to the wise people: two pints of water before bed is NOT sufficient to fend off a hangover in New York and they are certainly a lot worse on that side of the pond.

So my final morning at work went well and after an all too brief final few hours in the office it was time to leave and the office had book a car to take me to the airport. Unfortunately, due to a few crossed wires the driver had to collect me from a different area than he had been told. Not a huge deal to an average driver, all he had to do was turn a corner, but I had to get the world’s most disgruntled taxi driver.

Apparently, because he’d had to collect me from a side road we were facing the wrong way and had to navigate downtown Manhattan traffic during the rush of Memorial Weekend and this was, entirely, my fault. Now I’m sorry but for starters, I’m the customer, I’m automatically right. Secondly, Manhattan is made up of the infamous block system. If you ever look at a map it is literally a cross section of horizontal and vertical roads, all at perfect right angles. This means that for anyone with a whole brain cell, just take the next 3 right hand turns and you’re back where you wanted to be! Not for my retarded driver, now we had to drive through Chinatown.

So, having extended my journey unnecessarily, I thought I would kick back and enjoy an air conditioned, unofficial tour of the city as we fought to leave along with all the other deserting rats. Except that’s too easy isn’t it? So instead I had to listen to the driver ramble on about how he should never have taken this job, and how he hates driving in the city. In the end I couldn’t help it; I had to subtly point out that if that’s his attitude he’s in the wrong bloody job!
Two mind numbing hours later my chauffeur dropped me at the airport and good thing for him the journey had been prepaid, including tip. If it had been left to me he would have gotten sweet FA.

Interestingly, JFK was much less hassle than Heathrow and given the paranoia these days regarding security on air flights I was somewhat surprised at how easy it was to enter the departure lounge. No 3 mile long queues to pass security, just a quick scan and off we go. Honestly, I went through more to get on the boat to Liberty Island.

After a reasonable wait in a very comfortable waiting lounge it came time for my flight. We were due to take off at 7:30 so as you can imagine, when the clock hit 7:45 and the plane wasn’t even at the gate, people were getting frustrated. As it happens, a delightful voice over the intercom informed us that the plane was at the airport and had been all day, getting cleaned and prepped just for us. Unfortunately, the parking area is on the other side of the airport and it takes time to get it over.

Now I realise that I’m just a puny passenger and not a high flying pilot or anything but might it not have made sense to start taxiing the plane an hour earlier if it takes that long? And if the plane had been being prepped all day why did it need a security check and 20 min prep time when it eventually did turn up??

To be fair, the wait wasn’t too horrific but it certainly did not put me in the best frame of mind for what greeted us on the plane; an ignorant, irritating and downright ungrateful little wretch of a child who declared at the top of his lungs that he wanted his toy truck. They say the speed of light is the fastest thing in the universe. The Pratchet fans may think gossip is the fastest. My vote goes to parents with an irritating child in a public place; those people produced toys seemingly from thin air. Of course, speed and accuracy are two very different things and sadly none of the conjured toys were the favoured truck.

Still, it wasn’t all bad as I certainly had the last laugh during landing. To set the scene a little, I was sat on the right hand side in the aisle seat in the second row of Cattle Class. The Son From Hell was sat in the centre in the first row, so all that was in front of him was the wall to the galley area. As the plane started coming down, the Mother suddenly noticed a peculiarly queasy look coming over her son’s petulant little face...

As suspicion began to dawn that her son was about to re-enact that scene from The Exorcist, the Mother lurched forward to find her sick bag, all the while saying “Honey, do you think you are going to b-“. That is literally as far as she got because an instant later the galley wall, the carpet and (thanks to considerable splash back) the people either side of him were redecorated a charming shade of puke green. Anyone who resembles Slimer from Ghostbusters has a pretty good idea of the end result.

So that marked the end of my hop stateside, it was an awesome trip and while my blogs may have been a little derogatory that was mostly for comic effect. New York is a fantastic place that I fully intend to revisit and I strongly urge everyone else to visit.

One final note, I had originally intended my blog to end upon my return as the whole purpose was to relate my experiences to my friends. That said, my blog seems to have gathered a few fans and a couple of people have expressed disappointment that this will end. Long story short, Alex has cajoled me into continuing the blog but with a twist; I’m also doing a book challenge.

For those who missed my earlier plugs to Alex’s blog & challenge, either cease to exist now or go and read it – there is no other option. Anyhow, Big Z is trying to read 100 books in a year and blogging reviews as he goes. I have agreed to read as many book as I can between 25 June and Christmas day, after which I can set a target for next year. My loose aim is 30 books by Christmas Day.

As for the blog, I will continue to blog whenever the desire arises. It may be a book review, it may be me sounding off on topics that appeal to me but hopefully it will remain as entertaining. If there are any topic requests, feel free to message me, all reasonable requests will be considered!

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Sounds of the Underground

It seems somehow fitting that today I wish to discuss the topic of music. For those who do not know, Sunday was a very sad day in the world of music is one of Rock's greatest legends, Ronnie James Dio, passed away. This man was a pioneer in the metal industry and will be sorely missed as he helped invent a large part of how Rock is today. Personally, my pick for the man's greatest achievement is the invention of heavy metal Charades with the awesome song "Rainbow in the Dark".

Onto slightly lighter matters, the reason I had intended to discuss music today is because living in New York there is so bloody much of it. All my music minded friends, never fear as I'm not against the idea of music just against the bastardisation that you encounter on a minute by minute basis whilst riding the subway.

For anyone who has not been to New York let me explain as the above probably sounds quite silly. For those of you who have had the "pleasure" of riding the London Tube system, you are probably all familiar with the generic homeless guy who sits at the intersection of the tube tunnel twanging away on his banjo. These people used to quite irritate me, not because I have anything against homeless people (I am in fact quite charitable) but because they force you to listen to that god-awful racket whilst you're trying to find you're train.

All I can say is, at least the buskers in London are stationary because the buskers in New York ride the system, literally. In point of fact you simply cannot take a journey on the subway without being harassed by at least one busker and the sad part is that after six weeks I consider myself painfully lucky if in a 20 minute journey I get away with only one person/group trying to bum money. In New York, the buskers make their way down each train carriage or darting between trains meaning that in any given journey you could, and likely will be, made to feel guilty numerous times.

Some critics of my blog have noted that I seem to be portraying New York in a somewhat downward light. To those critics all I can say is that I play 'em like I seem 'em but in order to quieten the masses and avoid any pitchfork scenarios I will point out that New York does upstage London in one aspect of its buskers; New York buskers come in a variety of types.

Whilst riding the tube system in London you are pretty much destined to see what appears to be the same generic homeless men playing the same generic banjo. I have sometimes wondered whether it is the same homeless men who just so happens to be in every single tube station that I frequent (as John would say "it's not paranoia if they are all out to get me"). If you are particularly lucky Mr Banjo will have a dog, though I suspect this is merely to throw us off the scent of the fact that there is an army of cloned homeless men wandering the streets of London.

In New York, although you have substantially more busking encounters every day, I would be very surprised if you saw the same people more than once. In fact, it's kind of like Pokémon: Gotta Catch 'em All. For example over the last week there has been Fiddle Guy, Trombone Guy, Saxophone Guy (who, as a brass player gets an additional D20 against Fiddle Guy who is a string player).

Last but not least, and the main purpose behind this blog, was "The Amazing Bongo Brothers". Five guys each with a Bongo. Now, let's start with the name which I promise you in England would have resulted in a lawsuit under the trade descriptions act. I think most people would agree that if you have the agility and proportional strength of a spider as well as the ability to swing through skyscrapers, it's pretty fair enough to refer to yourself as Amazing. Five guys who cannot play the simplest instrument in the world (barring the triangle) should probably be taken out back and shot just to ensure that the gene pool does not have to suffer their continued existence and potential procreation.

On the other hand, I can potentially see some useful these guys. Thanks to a certain friend who I met on a Job Centre course and shall remain nameless (Becky) I am mildly addicted to the television programme Spooks and there is a certain episode which focuses on the torture of a man by MI5 in order to extract information regarding a potential terror attack. It was an amazing episode but I can't help thinking if they simply came to New York and hired the Amazing Bongo Brothers, set them up in the torture room and told them "go nuts" the guy probably would have cracked in just shy of three minutes because honestly they sucked. That. Bad.

I lied, The Amazing Bongo Brothers are not last and can be upstaged by one individual who, I'm sure, believes himself to be the greatest entrepreneur since Richard Branson. This diabolical genius simply entered the train and walked down placing a hat in front of every person on the train. Let me reiterate: he played no instrument, gave no sob story about how he was attacked and had his ID stolen, he did nothing other than place of a hat in front of people and by gum he made more money than almost any other busker I have seen. If there are any scouts for The Apprentice reading this go to New York and sign him up because this man makes a (relative) fortune with no overheads.

Once again, to satiate the New York lovers out there rest easy because my final example of music encountered whilst travelling is of the polar opposite variety. Having encountered all of the above you can imagine my surprise when I descended the stairs at Times Square station to discover a string quintet by the name of The Elianto Quintet blasting out a truly phenomenal rendition of Viva La Vida by Coldplay. I cannot quite describe how simply amazing these musicians were except to say that they had me captivated in a train station for almost half an hour and I had to drag myself away. I even bought their CD. I've been listening to the Coldplay version almost non-stop for 24 hours and it's just not the same.

I should point out that the comparison between this amazing group and the buskers described above is a little unfair as I have since discovered that the quintet are in fact all students at the Juilliard School. For those of you unaware this school is one of, if not the Premier School for classical musicians in the world. Long story short, if any of you ever get the opportunity to listen to this group at any stage of your life I would thoroughly recommend attending. And if any of you are ever lucky enough to catch these guys performing in a subway be sure to put some money in a case as I guarantee you a concert worthy performance.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Anarchy in the USA (Part 2)

For those of you who tuned in last week you may recall that we left our daring adventurers (i.e. Dave, myself and Dave's colleague who has asked to remain nameless) recuperating after being mobbed by crazies in a bar following a Marine insurance dinner reception.

The story picks up the following morning when our intrepid heroes decided to head to midtown in order to do some sightseeing. This being the Financial District on a weekend the subway was of course out of question as the 2 & 3 trains are offline. I'm not quite sure why the people running New York seem to think that the Financial District ceases to exist on weekends but it seems grossly unfair, particularly for the poor whelps in lower Brooklyn who's only option for getting to Manhattan is to brave the roads.

So, being unable to utilise any of the subway stations in the immediate area, we set off for a walk to the nearest working subway station. This turned out to be quite pleasant - walking up Broadway is certainly an amazing experience and if we had not had to take this route we would have been denied the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of viewing the funniest named place I have ever seen: People with AIDS Plaza. Whilst I admire the thought behind this dedication, words cannot profess quite how strange it is to see it written on a road sign. Also, whilst I appreciate that it is fantastic that the city of New York has dedicated a Plaza to every single person who has AIDS, I always assumed that generally speaking these kinds of dedications only really work when named after a specific individual.

The rest of the afternoon proceeded relatively well and we saw a number of amazing sights such. One of these was the New York public library which not only has the dog statues outside familiar to anyone who has watched Ghostbusters but also offers the chance to see the actual Gutenberg Bible. Following this, we found the Rockefeller Centre and decided to go to the Top of the Rock attraction which is possibly the most well hidden attraction in the entirety of New York. I think this is largely why people go to the top of the Empire State building instead: because you can bloody well find the thing.

For anyone who has not visited the Empire State building you can walk around the outside of the building and there are approx infinite entrances, each staffed with a small army of individuals trying to get you to part with your hard earned cash in order for the privilege of queueing across four floors before you actually reached the observation deck. The Rockefeller Centre on the other hand offers much greater views and non-existent queueing time. The reason is because that the entrance to the Top of the Rock attraction is more elusive than the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. Honestly, I think Sauron had more chance of finding the One Ring than the average person has in finding the entrance to the Top of the Rock unassisted.

Having had a busy day finding and visiting each of these attractions we turned our attentions to potential evening activities. All eyes were on Mr Buckingham and suffice to say he did not disappoint. The Three Amigos set off for a bar with seemingly no name other than the street intersection upon which it sat. If asked to provide a name, my suggestion would be the Elysian Fields because this place seemed fit for Gods.

Essentially, this was the classiest establishment I think I have ever been or even seen on TV. It is the kind of venue that would be featured in programs like 90210 or Gossip Girl where all the rich kids hangout. The primary attraction being that the upper floor was a rooftop garden with ensuite bar. To give some indication of the view, this place is situated slap bang in the middle of the New York skyline, very close to the Empire State building which was, along with the rest of the skyline, fully lit up. The only downside being that we were on the 20th floor and as such the wind was bracing to say the least, however this was covered by the numerous patio heaters installed throughout the floor and the complimentary dressing gowns which made the entire affair look somewhat like a frat party/death cult.

Perhaps more amusing than the venue itself was the clientele which was once again like walking on to the set of the shows mentioned above. The disparity between the men and the women was quite frankly hilarious as the women were all dressed up as if this night was second only to their wedding night. The cocktail dresses were out in force, the hairstyles looked like they had taken longer to craft than the Pyramids took to build and the shoes were sleek and high-heeled making the wearer look like a goddess. Cue the Wedding Ring of Damocles stage left as Dave's companion was doing his level best to maintain his composure.

Contrast this with the appearance of the men, most of whom turned up in average jeans and an average T-shirt and enough gel in their hair to support the Brooklyn Bridge. Yet amusingly it was the men who had the last laugh because the majority of people naturally chose to spend their time on the rooftop deck, clothing was largely irrelevant as it was hidden under at least one layer of dressing gown. And while the trowel approach to hairstyling may have looked slapdash to begin with, the guys hair at least managed to maintain composure against the force nine gale outside.

The following day was Sunday and whilst Dave's companion was still in mourning for having to leave the wonderful venue of the night before, Dave was hungry and that could only mean one thing: we were headed to a bar. One thing you'll notice about New York, there are very few American bars. In fact, there are so many Irish bars that it's a wonder Ireland has any Irish people left in it at all.

Having found ourselves a pleasant little Irish bar we decided to kill some time before our baseball game by getting some food and watching "soccer" on the TV. Dave's colleague was the first to order and decided to go for the Irish breakfast. For those who have never visited the US, ordering food is about as simple as conducting a triple heart bypass by remote control and viewed through a kaleidoscope. For a country that requires you to specify precisely which type of tea you would like, the poor chap had no hope in ordering a simple breakfast. When asked how he would like his eggs done, his baffled English mind could only respond "in a frying pan". On the bright side, it did at least take his mind off the rooftop bar for a minute.

Fully sated, we headed off to watch our first ever baseball game: the New York Mets versus the San Francisco Giants. The first thing we learned about baseball is that the New York Mets absolutely suck. Of the nine innings that make up the standard baseball game, the Mets managed to actually score runs in only two of them. When the team paraded out at the beginning I was a little dubious as none of them particularly looked fit enough to run round the pitch. I soon realised this is because none of them ever get that far.

The second thing we learned about watching baseball is to dress as if you are going to watch Pingu Live at the North Pole because the stadium is in the middle of an open area and therefore subject to winds similar to those encountered at the top of the Rockefeller Centre. In the stadium's defence, the temperature in New York had dropped dramatically overnight but still, being there in the flesh it certainly felt like they should have been measuring the temperature using the Kelvin scale. Come to think of it, for those familiar with the concept of Absolute Zero, this may explain the lack of inertia from the Mets team.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Anarchy in the USA (Part I)

It seems I must start this blog with an apology. Much to my surprise it would appear that my exploits have proven of interest to some of you and as a result my blog appears to have developed a small following. As a result, I seem to be getting some pressure to put out these blogs faster than I have been and the gap since the last blog it seems is particularly long. Hopefully you'll understand why when you read this. Before I continue with a description of my exploits over the last week let me just say that I now have some tiny inkling of how George R R Martin must feel. Of course, despite the sympathy the man still really needs to get on with his blasted book.

Today I thought I would explain what I have been up to since my last blog so hopefully you will understand why it has taken so long. I'm sure most of you will have seen films such as "Dude Where's My Car" and "Road Trip" and the like in which some poor American lives through complete anarchy for a few short days for the entertainment of the masses. I'd always assumed these were sheer works of fiction but after the weekend I've had I now realise that these films must be documentaries.

To begin the narrative, I'm going to lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of one single individual: David Buckingham. As some of you will know, Mr Buckingham and one of his colleagues came out to New York last Thursday and it's been a rollercoaster ride ever since.

The first highlight of the weekend was Friday when a number of colleagues and I attended the MLA dinner function at the Chelsea pier. This was a wonderful event and a fantastic experience which allowed me to meet a number of individuals in our market as well as proving to me that you really can have decent food at these functions. The one stifling point of the evening was that my colleagues abandoned me and fled to a nearby bar without saying goodbye (apparently they thought I had left). As a result, Mr Buckingham and his colleague kindly offered to share a taxi back to our neck of the woods when we decided to visit a local bar...

The bar in question was a lovely little establishment by the name of Ulysses. As many of you know, I worked for a number of years in the R&B room of a nightclub but I swear to God even in the three years serving a bunch of horny students I never saw anything that paralleled what befell us. Having been in the bar for approximately 2 1/2 minutes David decided to retreat to the toilets. No sooner was he out of sight than a young lady moved in for the kill with me and Dave's colleague.

Many of you are probably wondering why this was a problem? Well, to begin with Dave's colleague is married and was hastily trying to show polite interest so as not to be rude whilst also ensuring that the lady in question knew he was out of bounds. All the while nervously twirling his wedding around his finger with a look of mixed desperation and awe. The second problem was one of age. For those of you who have visited Hull, I think this girl would have been refused entry to Spiders, the almighty haven of underage drinking itself. If I had thought to ID this girl I think she may have produced a Toys "R" Us membership card. And last but not least was a question of consciousness. When asked what she did for a living the "lady" in question could not seem to decide whether she was in marketing or a student. Personally I think saying student was pushing her luck but there you go.

Having deftly fended off the munchkin's advances, we were presented with the second opportunity of the evening. I will point out at this stage we had still only been in the club for approximately 5 minutes. Dave, having returned from the toilet in time to watch the final stages of the previous show decided to return to the toilet as he was feeling ill. Interestingly enough, this was the precise moment we were set upon by a pair of lovely ladies from Minnesota. It's like they were hunting in packs, I swear. These ladies decided that Dave's colleague really needed to remove his tie (we were still suited and booted from the dinner function) and that both he and I must ballroom dance with them.

Dave's colleague was feeling the full weight of the Wedding Ring of Damocles by this point and to his eternal credit (and fidelity) managed to politely decline. I sadly got to embarrass myself thoroughly by demonstrating that not all Englishmen can ballroom dance and thereby defeating the American theory that any male from England is actually Huge Grant. Nevertheless, the ladies were more than happy to oblige until Mr Buckingham returned, at which point it was like a screaming child running through Trafalgar Square scaring all the pigeons away.

That was the end of Friday night but this teen comedy is far from over, however to hear what happened next you'll have to tune in next time as the above events have taken significantly longer to recount than I had thought.

To give you a taste of what is to come, next blog will include the trials and tribulations of ordering a full Irish breakfast, the return of the Wedding Ring of Damocles and a guide on how NOT to watch a baseball game.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Food! Glorious Food!!

As you may have guessed from the title of this blog, today I want to talk about a topic which is near and dear to the hearts of many people. No, not pathetic little Cockney thieves in some reason to think they deserve two bowls of slop, but rather the topic of the famous song - food.

The food in America is a strange and curious thing, and it's funny because you simply cannot guarantee what is going to be good and what is going to be slop based on what it is and where you find it.

For example, in the UK if you decide that you need some ham or chicken slices to go in your sandwich you effectively have two options; you can go the Asda route which entails purchasing 300 slices crammed into a plastic package and which you know beyond all reasonable doubt consists of 80% water, 19% dog and 1% ham or chicken. But of course, it costs 99p (that's Asda price) and you are under no illusions that it will taste of anything but water and dog. Alternatively, you can go to Marks & Spencer's and remortgage your house, take out a bank loan and Max all your credit cards just to be able to afford two slices of premium ham/chicken. Of course, this colossal sum is justified by the fact that although it tastes nice, they smother enough herbs and spices over the chicken/ham that for all you know you could still be eating dog.

Contrast this to my experience in America whereby I raided the local supermarket for essentials on my first weekend and purchased a pack of ham and chicken which looked very much like the Asda variety. It was certainly priced like the Asda variety. Imagine my surprise when the following day I made a sandwich and was treated to a taste and texture of meat unlike anything you would find in the UK outside of Antony Worrall Thompson's fridge. If we had food like this readily available in the UK I don't think Jamie Oliver would need to strap children into electric chairs just to get them to eat a sandwich instead of a burger.

Which brings me on to my second point. As you are all no doubt aware, the United States of America is highly famous for being the burger capital of the world. Unless you have spent the last 10 years living as a nomad in Nepal you are probably at least passingly familiar with the documentary Super Size Me which details explicitly the problems arising from the fast food mentality of the US.

So given that I am in the home of the Big Mac, The Whopper and Wendy's you'd think it would be relatively simple to get a decent burger. My first attempt was at a place called Best Burger. Sorry lead me rephrase that, my first attempt was at a place laughingly called Best Burger. They could have called it "By God Shoot Yourself Now Rather Than Eat This Burger Burger" and it still would not do justice to quite how bad this disgrace for an organic compound was.

My second attempt at a burger was along more traditional lines with a quick lunch at Burger King. This Burger was in fact passable however I should emphasise that phrase passable, and given that this came from one of the biggest names in the burger industry it was still a disappointment. The only saving grace is that unlike the UK, Burger King in the US do not have the audacity to charge you a months wages (and they get your order correct).

Fresh from the failed burger quest we move on to a pleasant surprise - the pizza. To be honest, I had not expected much from the pizzas here on the grounds that there was no reason to expect any different from the UK. I had of course underestimated the Italian presence in New York. Quite simply, the pizzas here are delicious and surprisingly healthier than in the UK as they are made according to Italian tradition. Please note, I said healthier, not healthy.

Last but not least, we come to the lunchtime menus which can only be categorised by the sandwich known as the “Chicken Parm Hero” for which I wholeheartedly and unashamedly blame Juan Martinez. To call this a sandwich is like calling the Statue of Liberty a "model". This leviathan is so large that when I had a foot long Subway the following day it looked positively miniscule. The Hero had quite literally changed my perceptions, or perhaps it is so vast that it simply warped space-time on my desk to such a degree that anything placed there now looks smaller. Of course if that's true, why does the amount of work on my desk not appear to have shrunk?

One final note before I sign off, with all of this talk of burgers, pizzas and epic sized sandwiches it probably sounds as though I'm eating as much crap is when I was a student. Never fear ladies and gents, the majority of my meals have so far been at a nice little Italian restaurant over the road where the lasagna is quite simply to die for. Of course, having said that it is the size of a small third world country. I am in America after all.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


As I'm sure all of you are aware, the United States of America can very easily name technology as one of its claims to fame. While they would arguably come second only to Japan, we must remember that it is the Americans who (arguably) put man on the moon. It was the Americans who, for better or worse, harnessed the power of the atom. It was in a small valley in California that some bright spark realised that by making computer chips out of silicon they could place a PC in every home.

It all therefore comes as something of a surprise that technology over here has the consistency of my grandmother's Bubble and Squeak. Sometimes you hit gold with a mouth full of delicious potato goodness, other times you are stuck with a mouthful of cabbage.

My first example is the humble lift, or elevator as they so lovingly refer to it. Many of my colleagues at work in Sidcup may be aware that as a general rule I avoid the elevator in our building like the plague. I currently have a theory that our elevator is perhaps the first elevator ever developed. Please understand, I do not refer to the first elevator created by man as judging by the look of the contraption it quite probably predates the early dinosaurs. In fact, this elevator is so ancient and decrepit that it wouldn't surprise me if the company simply employs handyman who seems to be the everyday "fixing" it.

But I digress, we should return our focus to the American elevators which are in many respects far superior. They seem capable or zooming me up or down 14 floors with the same grace as Superman showed in swooping down to save damsels in distress. Also, much like the aforementioned Superman, the whole journey takes approximately a billionth of a second. Even more fantastic, the display which accounts the floor is so efficient that it pretty much skips the numbers between the lobby and your destination.

Nevertheless, there is something quite foreboding about taking a trip in an American elevator. Earlier this evening, I went roaming around the apartment building in an attempt to find some of the fantastic facilities detailed in my hand out. Suffice to say my building must have been designed by the ancient Greeks because somebody obviously felt the need to include a good old-fashioned Labyrinth. I am reasonably confident that had I not been sidetracked into an elevator, I may well have discovered the Minotaur stalking the halls.

Inside the elevator I was treated to another seamless journey that took me from point to point with the same instantaneous transportation one does not expect to find outside of a Star Trek transporter. And I think this is the problem. I am a child of Great Britain, one of the greatest countries to ever pioneer the science of engineering. By nature we build fast mechanical contraptions that are incredible eyesores and usually function with a smoothness that can only be compared to the feel of rubbing a pineapple against a cheese grater.

But despite all this you can always guarantee that an English contraption will last through the centuries due to its basic sturdy manufacture. British craftsmanship may result in rickety contraptions and you are guaranteed to feel every bump, notch and jerk involved in its usage, but there is a certain safety in feeling the machine work around you. When listening to my dad talk about machinery, or Mark talk about cars, there is always reference to the operator feeling the machine at work. In these American elevators, the ride is so smooth that you do not feel the mechanics at work and therefore you do not feel the safety of physics propelling you up or down the building.

Along a similar vein is the cooker in my apartment. In true American design, the cooker seeks to hide absolutely every facet of its function and as a result I cannot comprehend how the freaking thing heats up food. Sure, it has a series of dials to operate, just like in the UK. However the innards of the machine are completely closed off, I can see no gas burner nor can I see the tell-tale signs of the electric cooker. It may as well run off of bloody magic. And since I cannot understand it, I do not trust it. On the bright side I am sampling more than a healthy amount of the local cuisine. Expect a blog on food in the near future.

My final rant on technology should bring a smile to any of my colleagues reading this. As part of an initiative to cut costs last July the case handlers at my workplace were outfitted with the latest high-tech voice recognition software. Unfortunately when it comes to typing, my fingers move slower than continental drift. It is honestly a pace that can only be described as glacial. So naturally I jumped full on board with this initiative and my Dragon allows me to write lengthy blogs with ease. Others of my colleagues treat Dragon like the annoying Aunt at weddings; they keep their head down and pretend it doesn't exist.

The reason I bring this up is because it's not perfect and since I'm using dragon to write these blogs you may see the occasional screwup creeping in. Over the months of using dragon it has come up with some spectacularly wrong interpretations which we have affectionately entitled "Dragonisms". One of my earliest was when I dictated "please acknowledge receipt of this letter" and Dragon kindly typed "please ignore receipt of this letter".

On the bright side, Dragon usually understands nine out of 10 words which is a better level of comprehension that my mother usually manages, especially if the topic is technology.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


I want to start this blog by stressing that despite the cultural stereotype that all young people spend all their time sat in front of the TV, aside from watching DVDs, I do not really watch much television at all.

Quite frankly the quality of television these days is simply not up to the standard of the shows which were around when I was a child and as such I can't be bothered to look for the one golden nugget amongst the non-stop drivel that is the soaps and reality TV which make up the bulk of programming.

With the above in mind, I was amazed to realise that I was vaguely looking forward to watching American television. It was on a family holiday to Florida that I caught my first glimpse of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which would become a small obsession during my schooldays). I have recently become obsessed with The Big Bang Theory (expect a blog on this any day now) and was therefore looking forward to seeing this before it becomes available on DVD in the UK.

So with all this anticipation in mind I was pretty shocked to realise that American TV is quite frankly bollocks.

The main problem is that while we in the UK have a substantial amount of tripe littering our screens it is nothing compared to the absolutely galactic amounts of drivel that smears American TV. However, in all fairness, the issue here is probably one of our own doing. After all, we in the UK only see a small amount of American TV and it is usually cherry picked as being the best of the best.

We sit in our comfy United Kingdom watching such classics as Friends, Frasier and The Big Bang Theory and we think of America as a gigantic comedy manufacturing television studio. In reality, we don't realise that Americans have to sit through over 200 channels (and that's only basic cable) of 24 hour a day shite. When viewed like this you can see that it is merely a statistical certainty that by making so much programming they are bound to get the occasional hole in one.

With that problem aside, let's assume for a moment that you do discover a good TV programme or film to watch. All I can say is that I hope you like advertising because unless you have an incontinence problem and need the bathroom every five minutes, you are going to get seriously ticked off with the amount of adverts. Most stupid of which is the fact that they advertise the programme you're watching during its commercial break.

A lot of you are probably thinking that I'm exaggerating so let's give an example. On my first weekend here I found one channel playing the 80s Tom Cruise classic Top Gun. Having recently spent a weekend in Hull with Dave blaring out Kenny Loggins "Highway to the Danger Zone" I was feeling nostalgic and decided to watch it.

IMDB tells me that Top Gun lasts 1hr 50mins, yet on American TV this film was on for 2 1/2 hours. For the statistically impaired, that means that approximately 25% of the running time of this film was commercial breaks. And this calculation does not take into account the amount of time cut from the film due to it being pre-watershed. All I can say is thank God it wasn't Lord of the Rings.

So next time you will sit down to watch a rerun of Friends, take a moment to thank our American cousins for having the patience to sit through enough television to create a program like Friends. And also thank your lucky stars that you only have to put up with one 10 minute break.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Planes, Glaswegians and Passport Control

I've never had a problem with flying, in fact like most journeys I find the travelling and the method of travel to be part of the enjoyment. I had always suspected this was just childlike excitement when I went on holiday with my parents but, as I discovered when I went to the Canary Islands, I still enjoy travelling with the same childlike fascination. Who knows, maybe I just need to grow up.

So it's fair to say that when my boss laughed when I told him I was flying with British Airways, I was a little taken aback. When he then went on to explain that he cast himself as an "ABBA" (Anyone But British Airways) I began feeling slightly dubious about the journey.

Things begin at Heathrow airport, at the infamous terminal five which has caused so much controversy. To be perfectly honest, it probably wasn't worth all the hassle. The area where you get rid of your bags & sign in can only be described as a colossal waste of space. The security checkpoint personnel were friendly but again I think the whole system must have been designed by a baboon as I quite honestly think my blind autistic niece could have designed a better layout.

My main problem is the area where your hand luggage is scanned for bombs or other hazardous materials. For instance, why do they feel the need to point out on the sign that you are not allowed to carry nuclear materials? Surely the only people trying to smuggle a nuclear device in their hand luggage are not going to be put off by a sign telling them they are not allowed? Am I missing something? Is there a new Blackberry that requires a plutonium battery?

In addition, you are expected to queue for half an hour in order to be presented with a conveyor belt whereby you have to place everything short of your epidermis into a grey tray ready for a very bored looking security guard to scan it while you get frisked coming out of the body scanner. The problem is you are expected to fill the tray in 30 seconds, and this includes having to remove any laptops from laptop cases. Why can you not be given the tray at the start of the queue so that you can empty your pockets etc into the tray while you queue so that when you reach the conveyor belt you do not have to hold everyone up while you remove everything.

Moving on to the flight itself, this was a pleasant surprise. After being paraded through the first-class section, I found my seat in the rear of the cattle class. It was much better than I remembered on family holidays, with a television in the back of the seat in front and an on demand entertainment service with a huge selection of films and television programmes covering a variety of genres.

Of course, it is not usually the entertainment or the airline which provide the letdown but is in fact your fellow passengers. Sat in front of me was a Glaswegian couple and to my left were two Glaswegian guys. The wife of the couple in front decided to put her chair back, but given the velocity and force in which the chair reclined I can only assume that the age-old question of "who ate all the pies" has now been answered.

The Glaswegian fellow to my left decided that instead of dealing with the matter in a calm collected manner, he would deal with the matter by jamming his knees into the back of the chair attempting to push it back upright. Not wanting to be outdone in the rudeness and vulgarity stakes, the husband in front decided to climb over the back of the chair and threatened to punch the other Glaswegian's lights out. Given that by the look of him the only way to accurately measure this man's age was with carbon dating, my money was on the chap to my left.

Unfortunately this clash of the titans was quickly put down by the air steward who, to his credit, managed to quieten the situation in a very calm and amenable manner.

The rest of the flight proceeded very well, I spent the majority of the time watching the entertainment which included The Men Who Stare at Goats, Couples Retreat, The Simpsons and my personal favourite; an episode of The Big Bang Theory.

Having completed the flight, the only remaining obstacle was the US immigration and Customs check at JFK. All I can say is, if any of you ever lose your passport and had the audacity to report it as lost, should you ever find it again for God's sake tell the UK passport office that it has been found. The alternative is being shown to a small waiting room guarded by a couple of chaps with M16 assault rifles. Apparently, having a passport that is listed as lost or stolen is frowned upon in the US and making the mistake of not informing the passport office that it has been found is considered a gross mistake. I wouldn't mind, but it's not like the Americans never make a mistake, just ask Fidel Castro.

So, having narrowly escaped a Glaswegian fistfight and an anal probe by the US Customs and immigration service, I hailed a taxi and prepared to make my way to Manhattan...

To Blog or Not to Blog, That Was the Question

I'm told a very good place to start is the beginning, and since this seems logical I suppose I should begin my blog by answering the question "why are you blogging?".

The answer is very simple; it's all Alex Freeman's fault. If anyone is actually reading this then I'm sure that you will be familiar with Alex (as he seems to know absolutely everybody ever), and you will therefore probably also know that Alex has once again begun the monumental task of trying to read 100 books in 2010. As a little bonus, he has also decided that this year he will blog his effort with reviews of every book he reads. For those foolish people who have not yet read his blog, I strongly suggest you do so as it is highly entertaining and you may well discover a new book to read.

Getting slightly back on track, the reason that this is all Alex's fault is because while we were discussing his blog I stupidly suggested that I would like to write a blog but have nothing interesting to say. I am currently sat in an apartment in the middle of the Financial District of New York, literally within spitting distance of such famous landmarks as the Empire State building, the World Trade Center and (for anyone who spoke to Dave about his trip to the US) Brady's. Somehow I don't think the "nothing interesting to say" argument is really valid at this point.

So, since I'm going to spend the next seven weeks in one of the most interesting, dynamic and energetic places on earth (and seeing as I cannot be bothered to retell the same story 20 times) I thought now would be a good time to write a blog.

What will follow over the next seven weeks will be a diary of my experiences and thoughts of life in the Big Apple, in the hope that it will entertain you and preferably so that when any of you visit this wonderful place (I'm looking at you Mark) you won't make the same blunders as I undoubtedly will.

One final note, should anyone actually read this stuff please feel free to comment at the bottom and if there are any suggestions for places I should visit make a note either in the comments section on facebook and I will visit and blog it.