Friday, July 29, 2011

Just Like America

It’s Friday and I’m off work and my wife is not, which means I am on my own all day without adult supervision.  This has happened before without me getting into trouble, but today two rare events aligned: my being on my own and having a sudden craving for American fast food.
Fortunately, or unfortunately as the case may be, in our town, this is not a difficult craving to satisfy.  We have an impressive selection of American fast food emporiums in town and all are within a five minute walk from our flat.  My one regret is that they do not have a Wendy’s, but then no place in Britain does.  I’m told Wendy’s did try to establish a foothold here, but the square burgers put the Brits off and they had to close.  We also had a Burger King but, despite the popularity of the place, they closed some years back, and that’s too bad because they do a cracking bacon double cheeseburger.
Despite these omissions, I could, if I desired, cross the street and get some Kentucky Fried Chicken, or partake of a Big Mac with large fries, but neither of these tempted me today so I settled on a hot Italian sub on an Italian roll with lettuce and jalapeno peppers at the local Subway.  I was particularly partial to Subway subs while I lived in the States and, if anything, I like them even better over here.  I don’t know what it is about the UK subs, but they seem to taste better.  Maybe it’s the bread.
So I went to the Subway and, as usual, underwent the same ordering disappointment that I always experienced in the States.  After selecting the bread and placing my order, one preparer put the meat and cheese on the sub and passed it to the secondary preparer who asked, “Do you want salad with that?”  This does not, as any American might suppose, mean “Do you want some shredded lettuce, cucumber slices, carrot slivers, garbanzo beans (to you Brits, those are chick peas) and dressing in a side dish?” it means, “Do you want some shredded lettuce, cucumber slices, carrot slivers, etc. on your sub?”  That cultural distinction caused a bit of confusion early on, but I am past that now.  The current problem is, however, is one that becoming bilingual cannot solve: the ridged training the Subway employees must endure to earn the rank of Preparer.
I like a little lettuce on my sub, but these people are taught only one way to do it and they cannot seem to deviate from the training.  No matter which country I am in, I’ll say, “I want just a bit of lettuce,” and the preparer will automatically scoop up a great handful of shredded iceberg and spread it over my sub while I’m saying, “No, no, just a little bit!”  Then they will dip their hand back in the lettuce vat and come up with another handful.  My pleas of “No, no, I don’t want any more lettuce,” go unnoticed as they spread even more lettuce on my sub.  Then they look up in wide-eyed innocence as say, “Sorry.”

"Do you want some meat with that lettuce?"
I probably should just let them get on with it; it’s not like anything I say can stop them, and experience has taught me it’s a lot easier to scrape off three-quarters of the lettuce when I get home rather than trying to add some.  So I, and my big sub filled with lettuce and no small amount of jalapenos topped off with honey mustard dressing, returned home.  It was wonderful.
Now, however, the peppers are making themselves known and the rumblings down below are making me wish I’d had the craving when I wasn’t in a position to act on it.
Too bad there wasn’t anyone around to keep an eye on me today.
Disclaimer: Subway gave me nothing for this ringing endorsement, except, of course, an abundance of lettuce.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Harry, We Hardly Knew Ye

My wife and I saw the final Harry Potter film last night.  (SPOILER ALERT:  Harry runs away from the battle at the critical moment, leaving all his friends to die, quits magic and becomes a CPA.)  It was an especially poignant moment for us, as the Potter films played a big part in our lives.
The fact that we were both Potter fans was one of the first things we discovered about each other.  We saw the first movie over the Christmas weekend while I was visiting, and just after we became officially engaged.  The cinema in Crawley was a half hour walk from her parent’s house in Pound Hill; it was a cold, clear night, but back then we had our love to keep us warm.  We still have our love but a fleece and a woolly hat is more appreciated these days.
The first book to come out after I moved here was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and, since neither of us wanted to be the last one to read it, we decided (before we realized what a tome the book was) to take turns reading it aloud to each other, a tradition we continued through the end of the series.  (It was especially fun for me, because I used to inject my own version of events, just to see how long it would take my wife to realize we were now in my imagination instead of Ms Rowling’s: “Oh, Harry, what a big wand you have…” breathed Hermione.)
The movies were also a tradition, and we religiously attended each as soon after the opening as we dared, waiting until most of the crowds died down.  I found the movie adaptations brilliant and very much in keeping with the books, which I attributed to the fact that the Hollywood Machine did not get a stranglehold on the franchise.  Had that happened, there would have been more car chases, sex and soppy moments, in addition to the inevitable breakdowns of the child stars.  (COMING SOON: Harry and the Prisoner of Betty Ford—Harry and Hermione must overcome insurmountable odds to rescue Ron from the evil clutches of the Tofu Eaters who want to take away his magic powder.)
Another cool thing was, Britain being a relatively small place and much of the movies being filmed on location, we were able to visit a few Potter locations without having to travel 3,000 miles and pay $21.50 each for a studio tour.
All in all, it was great escapist entertainment and I am going to miss the anticipation of the next instalment.  Still, it must be a relief to all involved—the kids (who are no longer kids), the peripheral players and even Ms Rowling—to put it all behind and have the satisfaction of knowing they have completed something they can be proud of and that is certain to become a classic.  (Everyone, that is, except the studios and publishers who are now wondering where they are going to find something to generate a gazillion dollars for them next season.)
And so, after ten years of marriage, we are now entering life without Harry.  I fear there will be an emptiness there needing to be filled; maybe I can get my wife interested in The Postcards Trilogy.  But first I’ll need a movie deal.
OUT NOW IN A THEATER NEAR YOU: POSTCARDS, The Movie – Love Among the Leprechauns
Starring Brad Pitt as Michael Harling
Angelia Jolie as His Wife
Mr. T as The Leprechaun
  • Can an American unsuited to life abroad find love in the bogs of Ireland?
  • Can a woman find any redeeming qualities in a man who can’t even order a cup of coffee?
  • Can Mr. T really make a convincing Leprechaun?
  • And what do Leprechauns have to do with this, anyway?
WARNING: This movie contains car chases, gratuitous sex and scenes so graphically soppy you will want to gnaw your knuckles with embarrassment.  Not recommended for children under six without an accompanying adult.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

An Innocent Abroad

The new book is slowly taking shape and revelations from those past years continue to surprise me.  (Note to Readers: Mentioning my current work in progress again is either a savvy marketing ploy or points to the fact that there isn’t much of anything else going on in my life at the moment.  You decide.)
The chapter I just finished recounts how I arrived in Ireland with a suitcase, a backpack and no idea what I wanted to do.  I was staying for two weeks and had signed on to do some hiking with a group from Britain for one week, but the rest of the time was open and I had not given a thought about what to do, where to go or how I was going to get around.
At the time I thought I was being adventurous but, in looking back, I can’t believe how stupid I was, and naïve, and lucky (they almost didn’t let me in) and so very American.  I expect, if I really could find out where my head was at back then, I would discover I was simply assuming that, since they spoke English there, Ireland would be much like the US, which is sort of the assumption I made when I moved here.
When you come from a place as big as America, that really is an easy mistake to make, but to embark on what was to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip that had been booked months in advance and not to have pondered, even for a few moments, about where I might like to go or what I might like to see sounds a bit random, even for me.  Maybe, if I spent long enough sifting through the fragments of memories, photos and diary entries of that time, I’d find I wasn’t naïve, or lucky, or stupid, but simply too lazy to bother with an itinerary.
These days, I don’t travel to Haywards Heath without a full Southern Rail timetable in my pocket.  I’m a grandfather now; spontaneity no longer plays a large role in my life.  The notion of showing up in a foreign country on a whim makes me think, “Oh dear, don’t you think you’d better book a hotel and hire a car first?”  My old self didn’t think that way.  My old self seemed to believe adhering to a schedule was no way to let life happen to you.  And I suppose there is a time for that; everyone, at some point in their life, should just show up with nothing but a suitcase and go where the road leads them.
All I can say is, it worked for me.  How?  Well, you’ll have to buy the book to find out*
*Shameless marketing alert.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day Release

This post is for all of you readers who have not yet been assimilated into the eBook culture.  (Resistance is futile.)
The paperback has finally appeared on Amazon UK (after a fashion) so I picked this day to announce the release because, hey, it’s Independence Day, and what better day to celebrate my book infiltrating the UK than the day we first read a proclamation that said we were very very uspset with them.  Also, for you movie buffs, it could relate to the movie, Independence Day, signifying your continued struggle to resist the juggernaut of eBooks and eBook readers, maybe fancying yourself as Will Smith, punching that ugly alien right in the kisser, or Bill Pullman, the dignified defender of all things American.  Or maybe that crazy guy who flew his airplane into the alien mother ship at the end of the movie?
But, for whatever reason (fear of change, love of books or the knowledge that, once we all have e-readers, then the government can really roll out their mind control experiments…where’s my tinfoil hat?) you have resisted.  Or at least you have been holding out for the paperback copy, which doesn’t necessarily mean you have resisted, just that you want a paper copy, too.  Maybe you are bi-literate, or a spy.  For Them.
Before I get too far off base, perhaps I should confess that I actually have an eReader myself, although most people call it a laptop.  I downloaded the Kindle for PC a while back on a whim and now have about a dozen books in it.  And I have to admit I see the appeal.
But for now, nothing takes the place of an actual book.  If you feel that way, you can order the real, honest to goodness paperback copy of my latest round-up of hysterical adventures in the UK from these locations:
And now a work about Amazon UK:
When the book was first published with Amazon’s Createspace, I was under the impression that the paperback would appear on within a day or so (it did) and on Amazon UK in a week or so (it did not).  I kept telling people to be patient, the book would appear sooner or later (it didn’t).  Further research confirmed that admission to Amazon UK is A) not automatic, and B) out of the hand of the author.  In short, it would appear on Amazon UK, or it would not, and there was nothing I could do about it.
So I republished the book in a desperate bid to fool it into appearing on Amazon UK.  This was based on the premise that, if another author had the book appear on Amazon UK only to have it disappear after she republished her book, the same thing might happen in reverse if I republished mine.  Crazy, stupid idea, right?  Well, it worked.
The prices are still a bit wonky and erratic, but I expect that to settle down over time.  In the mean time, if you are hesitant to use Amazon UK, you should:

Order the book directly from my website

  • It’s cheaper
  • You get a signed copy
  • Your friends will envy you
Thank you for listening.  We will now return to our regular broadcasts.