Thursday, January 22, 2009


21 Jan: 6:45 PM

The BBC (who apparently read my website, oh yes!) and the 'Listen Again' function have confirmed that Richard did, indeed, say I was an author. So I stand corrected. He did not mention my book, but frankly, I can't imagine 100,000 people scrambling for a pencil at 12:15 in the eveing saying, "What did he say the name of that book was? I've GOT to have a copy."

I was on national radio. I was introduced as an author. I held my own even though I was heavily outgunned. I have every reason to be pleased.

Am I am.

Here's the link to the show: Listen Again (Set the time line to about 1:10)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Waiting to Go On

I'm sitting in the bowels of the BBC building. It is an impressive structure with a grand entrance and courtyard, but inside it is a confusion of corridors and would look like an ordinary office building if it weren't for the banks of TV monitors and rooms with red "On Air" signs outside of them.

Richard Madeley just walked past where my wife and I are sitting, but he appeared not to recognize me. I can understand that; a lot of people are nervous when meeting me for the first time. I'm sure he'll warm up later, during the show.

In case you're wondering, I have time to write because we got here stupid early, but I prefer that to intelligently late. And, really, what's the worst that could happen? We get to have a good nose around the BBC and a cup of commissary coffee that is almost (but not quite) the worst cup of coffee I have ever tasted.

Even this late at night, it is bustling with activity. There are other people waiting here with us (but none of them as long as us) to go on to other shows. Young people with security tags around their necks stride purposefully up and down the corridors and urge lost looking people like me to follow them. It wasn't quite so frantic in the BBC Southern Counties studio last year; there were only three people there.

Richard is on the air now. He's doing an hour on his own before having the two of us inflicted upon him. I just hope I'm still awake by midnight, much less perky and interesting. I wonder how ExpatMum is doing.

The strange thing is, after being told what they expect from me and briefed on the premise of the program, I still have no idea what I'm going to do. Or say. I don't think it would be wise to over analyze it, however; I'll just go one and say whatever comes to mind. What's the worst that could happen, aside from having to wear a paper bag over my head for the rest of my life?

Next time, I'm going to have my agent get me a slot sometime during the day.


Well, at least I don't have to wear a paper bag.

The studio itself was no less hectic and not at all what I expected. There were six people in the booth (myself included) and all of us were vying for airtime. All the while those aforementioned earnest young people scurried in and out with papers or messages, and there were a lot of hand signals going on for the benefit of the producers on the other side of the soundproof glass.

First the good:

It was, as I had hoped, great fun, and I like to think I held my own. I have already received several e-mails from people in the States who say I did a good job. And I did not have to savage Britain – which is something I did not want to do. As it turns out, I didn't have the opportunity; I was too busy defending America!

ExpatMum and I provided, I hope, the requisite entertainment and actually got into a few lively exchanges. I recall at one point actually raising my voice and saying something like, "Are you telling me there are people dying in the streets over there? What did you do to that country while I've been gone?" (This was about health care.)

Overall I think we came across as well as anyone else and, as I said, it was good fun.

Now the bad:

Let's face it; I had an agenda. I'm an author. I've just published a book. I want-- no, I NEED-- people to know about that. I was told by the producers that this would be a panel format, but was assured they would mention my book.

They did not.

I'm not even sure if he introduced me as an author. After he said I was some guy from America with a blog, my mind went numb. Everyone has a blog; that hardly makes me special.

When I realized he had no intention of mentioning my book, I began frantically devising ways to start out a sentence with, "I cover that topic in my book, "Postcards From Across the Pond, and in it I say,…"

Ham-fisted, perhaps, but this was a golden opportunity, as if someone had handed me the winning lottery ticket, and I was not going to let it slip from my fingers and flutter into the storm drain. I was thinking so hard on ways to work the book in that a few times, when Richard directed a question at me, I realized I had no idea what the topic was and I felt like I was back in geography class being asked to explain the implications of the Peloponnesian war.

The next thing I new, the hour was up and I was unceremoniously ushered from the room, and the building.

I can't be too down about this because, as I well know, good things can come from the strangest of places. It just would have been nice to be introduced as an author.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Apology in Advance

I've just been tagged to be the Ying to ExpatMum's Yang on the Richard Bacon Show. But I lost the toss so I have to take the Pro-US side.

Granted, I am Pro-US, but I'm Pro-UK, too. This, however, is entertainment and my job is to talk the US up and really trash Great Britain, while ExpatMum argues the UK side. It ought to be a hoot, but I certainly hope no one takes my diatribes seriously; my aim is to sell books, not have people burn them (or me).

And wouldn't you know it, the BBC are having problems arranging a local studio for me to go to so I have to drive up to London and sit in their main studio with Richard Madeley.

As an aside, the BBC Producer who spoke with me today told me Richard Madeley would be the host and asked if I know of him. I told him I didn't think so. He said that he was on the Richard and Judy Show. So I'm thinking, "Well, I'm at work when they are on, so whenever this Richard guy was a guest, I'm sure I missed him." So I said, "Oh, all right." Later, when I spoke to my wife, she told me he was the Richard in The Richard and Judy show. OMG! I'll definitely bring up a book to sell to him. (Note to US readers: this is like going on the Oprah Show as far as pitching a book is concerned.)

But now I have to cram for the big night and try to come up with reasons to not like Britain and arguments as to why the US is so much better. I did tell them this is contrary to what my blog and book is all about, but for the sake of A) the craic, B) getting some publicity, C) chatting live with ExpatMum and D) meeting famous people I think I can pretend that there are some things about Britain that really piss me off.

And perhaps I really won't have to pretend all that much; my wife thinks this will be a grand opportunity to blossom into the grumpy old man I am fast becoming. I have to admit I do tend to have one-way conversations with the tellyon occasion, but who doesn't. You can't expect a man to stay calm when there are yabbos getting off with a slap on the wrist, people cluttering up the streets, lager louts terrorizing town centers...

Hey, and don't get me started on customer service.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Buying Time

Never turn your back on a blog; the next thing you know a week goes by and, not only have you not posted anything, you don't have anything up your sleeve to post about. So what do you do? You have a look in your "Wrote this stuff some time ago, couldn't find a market for it and forgot about it" file for something to put on the blog to buy you some time until you can come up with a fresh, new post that doesn't mention the crappy weather or the various illnesses you've been suffering.

So here for your perusal is a story of my misspent youth, when the most important thing in my life was . . .

Impressing Heidi

At 17, all I wanted in life was a car and to impress Heidi, the casually stunning and serenely self-possessed young woman who seemed to make it her life’s work to overlook my existence.

Heidi went to my school but was from white-collar, college-bound suburbia and I was rural working-class so, even though we spent every Wednesday afternoon sitting in the same biology class, we occupied different universes. To make her notice me was going to require more than a box of chocolates. I, therefore, spent my senior year admiring her from afar and dreaming up unlikely and unsuccessful scenarios that would merit both her attention and admiration.

The weeks ground on bringing no inspiration. Then graduation day arrived and, despite my many distractions, I managed to receive a diploma. The next day I was off to Mexico to do volunteer missionary work with my church group. We were away for six weeks, and among the many adventures I experienced on this amazing trip was an introduction to a quaint Mexican tradition.

One night, I accompanied a group of local boys as they walked through the village streets to a house near the outskirts of town. They were in a jocular mood and one of them had a guitar slung on his back. When we reached the house, the boy with the guitar started playing and singing, accompanied by his friends. Naturally, I panicked; I was certain the Federales would swoop down on us and I’d be writing home from a Mexican jail, but the door soon opened and the parents came out, not to scold us, but to invite us in for hot chocolate. The object of the boy’s affection was suitably coy in her nightgown and robe, the parents beamed and I was just glad to avoid incarceration.

Recalling this event upon returning home, I realized it would be the perfect way to impress Heidi. There was absolutely no downside to it; it reeked of culture and romanticism, it was steeped in tradition and, best of all, wouldn’t cost me a dime. I recruited two of my friends and, at 1 o’clock on a Saturday morning, parked my ’65 Chevy on the deserted street in front of Heidi’s house. We crept into the back yard and positioned ourselves beneath what we hoped was her bedroom window on the upper floor. Then we launched into song. I don’t recall what we sang; something fitting the occasion yet suitably romantic, I expect, like “La Bamba.”

I kept my eyes on the window above, expecting to see Heidi open it and lean out, perhaps to blow me a kiss or toss down a flower. Instead, the back door opened. It took a few moments to recognize Heidi’s older sister with her hair done up in curlers and her face white and puffy from sleep. She held the screen door in one hand and clutched her robe protectively to her with the other. A single look silenced us.

“Good night, boys,” she said.

My guitar, my friends and my ’65 Chevy were back home in record time. I was too chagrined to go near Heidi’s house again and the next week she left for college.

I never found out if I impressed her. In fact, I can’t be sure she even heard us, or whether her sister told her about our midnight visit. I liked to believe she did, however, and imagined her occasionally reminiscing about my brave, though somewhat inadvisable, attempt at cross-culture serenading, secretly wishing her current boyfriend was as romantic and imaginative.

But, overall, I didn’t worry too much about it; I mean, at least I had a car.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Why I Blog

Sorry to get you here under false pretenses, but I wanted to make sure it caught Expatmum's attention, as she was the one who started all this. No, not the "Why I Blog" discussion, the Hot Toddy comments, which many of you joined in on.

(But just to keep you from feeling totally cheated: I'm sticking to my story about the voices in my head causing me to blog, and that actually isn't too far from the truth.)

I cannot imagine the concept of a Hot Toddy is foreign to Americans. At this point, I have no way of proving this one way or the other, but I can tell you with certainty that it was a new concept to me. So after several of you kindly echoed Expatmum's opinion on Hot Toddys—namely, that I simply MUST try them—I decided to give them a go.

My original plan called for mixing them up on a lazy Saturday afternoon, but as the saying goes, "we make plans to attempt interesting alcoholic remedies and God laughs."

Generally, when I'm sick, I'll wake up feeling like ten miles of bad road but, after a shower and some coffee, start to feel as if I can, if not face, at least slink through the day. This morning, however, I woke up feeling pretty good, but by the time I arrived at the office I was wishing I had stayed in bed.

I did ask my colleagues about where I could get some hot toddies and they thought I said, "Hot Totties" (Confused? Check the Glossary.), which turned the conversation down a whole different path. After some initial confusion, it became apparent what I was after, though we agreed that either one might make me feel better and, at the very least, wouldn't do me any harm. (Barring my wife finding out, or course.)

So I left at noon, popped into the market on the way to the bus stop for a lemon and arrived at my flat with all the makings of a Hot Toddy and some good, all-American, home cooking for lunch (we have a KFC right down the road, just across from the Kebab shop).

It wasn't until I had assembled the ingredients that one small detail began to niggle at me. It's called a "Hot" Toddy. One has to assume it's supposed to be hot. So do I actually put a glass of whiskey in the microwave? Do I heat up a small pot of single malt on the stove? Even through my fever-addled brain the idea that extreme heat and volatile liquids don't always complement one another, especially if you don't have an asbestos suit handy, stopped me before I did something that might have involved the fire brigade.

Incredibly—and without the benefit of my wife, who generally steps in to save me from myself at times like this—I actually did something intelligent; I looked up hot toddy recipes on the web.

So, one tablespoon of honey, juice from half a lemon (the recipe called for a quarter but I couldn't be arsed to cut it again) a bit of boiling water and a generous tot of whiskey later, I was set. (Oddly, many of the recipes called for tea, so I just put in some boiling water and doubled the amount of whiskey; it worked a treat.) Then I bundled up, got a cigar, took everything out on the balcony and discovered several home truths:

One: Hot Toddies are, indeed, very tasty.

Two: They do not go well with cigars.

Three: Drinking them in the cold is not a good idea—this is a drink you want to sip while tucked up in bed, not huddling is sub-freezing weather.

It also became quickly apparent that they taste better while hot (it's in the name, remember?) so I drank it down before it became tepid, finished my cigar (hey, cold or no cold, these things don't grow on trees) and went inside to make another.

This time, I put on some sweats, got a good book and tucked myself, and my hot toddy, into bed (this, I suspect, would be where the Hot Totty might come in handy, but being a happily married man I opted to wait for my wife to come home so I could whine and wheeze and make her bring me tea).

That round went much better. I sipped the wonderfully fragrant and soothing beverage, read a few chapters and, strangely enough, soon fell blissfully asleep.

I was awakened some hours later by my wife. She had, it transpired, returned from work and, not realizing I was asleep in the other room, called to speak with me at the office. My boss answered the phone and told her I had gone home. She assured him I wasn't there, and then she came and found me, asleep in bed.

So now my boss thinks I pulled a sickie so I could nip off to the pub. But at least she brought me some tea.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Cold Comfort

When I was sick and lay a-bed
I had two pillows at my head
and all my toys around me lay
to keep me happy all the day.

Sometimes for an hour or so
I'd watch my leaden soldiers go
in different uniforms and drills
among the bedclothes, through the hills.

I sometimes sent my ships in fleets
all up and down the pillow sheets
or brought my trees and houses out
and planted cities all about.

And I was the giant, great and still
who sits upon the pillow-hill
and sees before him, dale and plain
the pleasant land of counterpane.
The Land of Counterpane – Robert Louis Stevenson

I've loved that poem ever since I was a child. It always sounded so 'English' to me--quaint, simple yet powerful--and now I get to live it. That's right, after having prepared an optimistic list of all the things I wanted to do today, I came down with the 'man-flu.' It's just a scratchy throat and a stuffy head, but I'm making the most of it. I may not have a squadron of leaden soldiers at my disposal, but at least I have my AlphaSmart Neo, a box of tissues and cup of Lemsip.

Like many men, I don't do 'sick' well but, fortunately, I don't do it very often, either. In the seven years I've been here, I have missed only one day of work through sickness. And if today hadn't been a holiday, I would have gone to the office (I also would have probably made pathetic noises until they let me go home, so I'm just as glad I don't have to go through that).

I could tell I was going to get sick when, the day before yesterday, I had a sudden craving for chicken rice soup. Now, no one in my family is Jewish so I can't tell you how I acquired this belief that chicken soup ranks on a par with penicillin as one of the world's great medicines, it's just something I've always known. (For the record, my wife's maternal grandfather was Jewish, but there's little advantage in that outside of some great nosh at certain family gatherings and, of course, a shared belief in the power of chicken stock and matzo meal.)

From the time I was a teenager, whenever I became ill with a sore throat and/or a cold, I would make my special concoction--Campbell's Chicken and Rice soup as a base, with added Minute Rice and lots of garlic and salt. It didn't always make me well, but it never failed to make me feel better.

When I experienced my first cold in England, there was a bit of confusion as I attempted to cobble together a respectable substitute without benefit of the key components but I managed to come up with a new recipe using indigenous ingredients that more than fits the bill.

The fact that it is miracle food is a no-brainer: it warms you up inside, the garlic opens your airways and the salt sooths your throat. But the most potent ingredient is belief: you believed it would make you better, because your mother told you so (this is even more potent if it is a Jewish mother). In my case, I just had to muster up my own faith, but that seemed enough.

I made a big pot of the special soup that first night. I finished it last night. Today I'm still sick. Bugger. It must be my mother's lack of faith.

This means I need to rely on my fallback strategy: kill or cure. The idea is to take a glass of whiskey and a cigar out on the balcony and sit in the cold, smoking and drinking, until I convince whatever it is living inside me that it will be a lot more comfortable somewhere else.

I've successfully employed this method on several occasions; I am not, however, suggesting that whiskey and cigars are good for you, more that the belief in something is often enough.

This time, I'm not so sure my faith is up to it. First of all, it's bloody cold out there, and a glass of whiskey and a cigar, at this point, is not going to help (plus, there is the disturbing idea that it's called "kill or cure" for a reason).

No, I think this time I'm putting my faith in a nice hot cup of Lemsip and a visit to that pleasantly familiar comfort from my youth--the land of counterpane.