Thursday, December 15, 2011

The twelve Days of Christmas – Southern State Side!

On the first day of my American Christmas Uncle Sam gave to me
A Wal-mart as large as the eye can see

On my second day of Christmas a red neck gave to me
Two snapping turtles
And a Wal-mart special ‘buy one get one free’

On my third day of Christmas a Texan gave to me
Three Texan turkeys
Two inquisitive turtles
And a Wal-mart shopping cart that’s wonky

On my forth day of Christmas a plastic surgeon gave to me
Four ‘Cougars’ (old birds)
Three Texan turkey hunts
Two fried snapping turtles for my tea
And a Wal-mart loyalty card for free

On my fifth day of Christmas the PoPo gave to me
Five stolen rings (from da ‘hood)
Four Cougar shoulder pads
Three Texan turkeys gobbling
Two bowls of snapping turtle soup
And a Wal-mart Employee Christmas songs CD

On my sixth day of Christmas the Tea party gave to me
Six Republican senators
Five stolen rings with real diamonique
Four Cougar implants
Three Texan turkey rifles
Two snapping turtle tails and gator tail stew
And a Wal-Mart shoplifter caught on DVD

On America’s seventh day of Christmas a cruel sad Yankee gave to me
Seven hours of American football
Six Republican candidates
Five stolen ringers
Four Cougar laser facial hair removal treatments
Three Texan Turkey decoys
Two baked turtles and a simmered ‘coot
And a Wal-mart 70 inch TV

On the eighth day of Christmas a Pastor gave to me
Eight bible study groups
Seven hours of explanation of American football
Six Republican nominees
Five spicy onion rings
Four Cougar teeth bleaches
Three Texan Turkey Hunting tanks (it’s extreme)
Two Snapping Turtles road kill
And the Wal-mart local druggie

On the ninth day of Christmas American Kids gave to me
Nine special allergies
Eight nutty (I’m allergic to them) bible groups
Seven hours of warm up in American football
Six Republican wanabees
Five burning rings (from butt blazin’ Sphincter Shrinker sauce)
Four Cougar fanny packs
Three Turkey Texan Dodge Rams, Texan edition
Two snapping turtles and road kill grill
And a Wal-mart people make-over for free

On the tenth day of Christmas John Doe gave to me
Ten ‘no-win, no-fee’ lawyers
Nine made up allergies
Eight bewildered bible groups
Seven hours of stoppage in American football
Six Republican teabagees
Five stinging rings
Four Cougar botox jabs
Three Texan Turkey tailgaters
Two bowls of fried turtle and grits
And a Fat Wal-mart jhort wearing shopping buddy

On the eleventh day of Christmas MacDonald’s gave to me
Eleven selections on the $ menu
Ten lucrative lawsuits
Nine extreme allergies
Eight blinkered bible bashers
Seven hours of commercial breaks in American football
Six Republicans high on e’s
Five hot stinging rings
Four Cougar eye lifts
Three Texan Stetson hats
Two snapping turtle shell bowls, hand polished by Jimmy Joe Bob
And a Wal-mart loyalty tattoo for free

On the twelfth day of Christmas a Cowboy gave to me
Twelve tumble weeds
Eleven toxic, glowing McRibs
Ten counter-claim lawsuits
Nine anti- allergen epi-pens
Eight buggering bible bigots
Seven hundred pounds of flabby American footballers
Six Republican sex scandal divorcees
Five shiny rings of fire
Four Cougar facelifts
Three Texan turkey thanksgiving roasts
Two snapping turtle shell bowls filled with buttered shrimp an’ grits
And free lifetime membership as a Wal-mart zombie

Merry Christmas everyone

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When the chips are down ...share 'em!

Dear Landlord
It is with mixed feelings that I write to you to inform you of the death of one of your tenants, Roland. We found him dead on the driveway. He just stopped dead in his tracks – literally. I nearly drove over him! We hoped that would be the end of their nightly parties that keep us awake into the small hours but they, his family and friends, gave Roland quite a send off….almost disrespectful.
When we took on the tenancy of this house we did not realise we would be sharing it with another family – a huge family. While they do not share our living quarters I recall nothing in the leasing agreement about subletting the wall cavity space and attic to others. We took it upon ourselves to get Roland and his rats evicted.  Before you object, whilst calling someone a "rat" is no compliment, a new study shows that rats do have some saving graces. They are empathetic and will altruistically lend a helping paw to a cage mate who is stuck in a trap.
It said:
Not only will rats frantically work to free their trapped cage mate; they will do so even when there's a tempting little pile of chocolate chips nearby, the study reveals. Instead of leaving their pal in the trap and selfishly gobbling the candy all by themselves, rats will free their cage mate and share the chocolate.

This made me wonder if Roland’s mates had tried to help him when he dropped dead on the drive. I imagined the closing scenes of ‘The Champ’ with Roland playing the part of John Voight and a little baby rat urging him to get up. Made me feel bad …until the partying began at 2am again. Sleep deprivation can drive you to murder. ..  I would never kill but I confess I hired a professional. A contract killer. Really – I had to sign a contract!
The first assassins to quote for the job were more used to ‘gators, hogs and ’coons’ and seemed disappointed that it was only some rats. The assassin did get quite excited when he examined the attic. ‘You got yourself a BIG rat problem’. I knew that. I hear them scurrying past my head every night in the wall cavity. What he meant was the rats themselves were BIG based on his examination of their poo! I don’t know if this is scientific: big poo= big rat, because I could challenge that with my son as an example: small boy=monstrous poo. There isn’t always a correlation between the two - in my experience of small boys at least. Anyway – they offered to gas Roland and his crew, seal all holes and remove all copses. Sounded too Nazi and guaranteed extermination doesn’t come cheap. The cost was extortionate (and even though I am deducting the bill from the rent we pay it seemed too much and I was concerned by the extreme tactics. I have cats and small children potentially smaller than the rats in question if the exterminator's assessment of the rat size was anything to go on!)
The Bug Catchers, our next wanabee assassins focused on smaller pests and pointed out several places with termite infestations which I would have preferred not to be conscious of but it is only fair to let you know they are eating your house! As they were cheap we hired them to kill Roland.  Their method was good old rat baiting traps.  It worked! Once! If Roland is typical of his kin, he was quite small, disproving the correlation between poo and rat size. He had a glossy coat and appeared to be very healthy - other than the fact that he was dead. The good news is – as rats appear to be sociable animals they will share their chocolate chips – Hopefully Roland shared his stash of rat poison. Apparently they really like it ...but not that much. The traps were laid over a month ago and only this week has it yielded results. Roland has paid the ultimate price for his decadent party lifestyle. He died for his crimes. When I reported this to the Bug Catcher man who called to refill the traps (using those very words) for some reason he couldn’t speak. He was virtually crying laughing. Roland deserves more respect!
 Had I been in the UK I would have considered something more humane but we couldn’t find anyone offering humane rat catching. This is Texas. If it weighs less than 5 pound you can kill it with chemicals from Wal-mart. The Bug Catchers led me to believe that the rat eats the poison, dies instantly and they clear the rat from the trap. What actually happens is the rats might eat the poison if they can stop partying in my cavity long enough. Cruelly, they then may last up to 5 days before stopping dead in their tracks – if we are lucky- on the drive. If we are unlucky they may make it back to the attic and die there! I am not going up there amongst the piles of huge rat poo to find out – nor am I going to plug the holes in my cavities. As my Husband also refuses to do it, you will have to send a man in to do that. Failing that – we will have the secondary problem of a bad stench to deal with.

Yours sincerely

Your Tenant

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Neighbours? Everybody needs good Neighbors*… or just hire a professional!

When I was at school I used to go home for lunch as I didn’t like to leave my dog all day by her self. My friend used to joke that the dog couldn’t wait for me to go out so that she could have wild parties and invite all her doggy mates round. He was confusing me with the dog! It was me that had the wild parties when my dad was on nights – all evidence removed by the time his shift finished at . Best of all – I could spend the day recovering in bed while he was sleeping and he didn’t know. I don’t know why the neighbours didn’t tell him. (I guess he will know now! Sorry Dad!)
I never had to worry about leaving my pets (or kids for that matter) in the UK. I had my family and friends and neighbours to rely on (in one house we lived in my next door neighbour constituted all three!).
It is always good to have nice neighbours but there are no guarantees. When you move to a new country you have no network of anything trusted, it takes time. We were lucky in North Carolina. From day one our next door neighbours were really lovely people. Interestingly none of our immediate neighbours were American. We were imports from all over the world: china; Ethiopia; India; Britain. A real mish-mash of people and being foreign was something we had in common. I made friends with some neighbors – at the bus stop and community pool. They were good friends who I could call on to help out – for example to collect the kids from the school bus if I was running late or to feed the cats if we were away for the weekend. We also paid a local high school boy to look after the cats on occasion. He was soooo sensible and earnest and trustworthy.
Having recently moved to Texas and not having a school bus or a community pool, I haven’t really met any neighbors. As a result, I find myself having to pay a fortune and employ a professional cat sitter for my upcoming trip to the UK. I say professional – I’m not sure if you need a college degree in America to call yourself Professional – there probably is a Professional Pet Sitting training University. Really! While it costs a fortune to have a cat sitter, I can’t leave them to fend for themselves. They would probably have wild parties and at the very least wee everywhere (although they do that anyway- they are very old). They are too old to go out and catch mice for dinner. Besides – the critters here would probably eat the cats – raccoons, lions and tigers and bears, Oh My!
I was feeling rather down when it was pointed out to me that if I was nicer I would have a great pool of local people, neighbors of the American kind, to rally round and look after the cats while I was away. I mustn’t be too hasty to put on rose-coloured spectacles (metaphorically only, now I have had my eyes lasered and I can see!).  If I am honest, while I sometimes miss having a morning chat at the school bus stop and really miss having the few real friends I made in North Carolina close by, I quite enjoy not knowing anyone here. I tried really hard to make friends and fit in before but it was quickly apparent that culturally I felt very different from the people I met. In my first week in Texas, before my car arrived, I was walking the children to school. Clearly horrified by my heroic attempt to walk, a neighbor stopped and gave us a lift. She kindly invited us round to dinner and later the following week when the removal men arrived she dropped dinner round for us to save us cooking. Truly kind and thoughtful. We met for lunch with another neighbor. There were strong undertones of God and the Church in the conversation. I was invited to a church event that weekend. I politely declined. I said I didn’t know anyone in the UK who went to church. I have never seen them since. This may be because a) I am not very nice or b) because I’m not one of Jesus’ sunbeams. It served as a sharp reminder of the elephant that was always in the room with my American friends in NC. I have decided that it is easier not to try and that $627 for a cat sitter while we are in the UK is a small price to pay for the glorious isolation I find myself in. Sure, I am lonely and very bored and alone – but there is something worse than that – something devastatingly lonely and that is being bored and alone in a room full of ‘neighbors’.

Nobody likes me, everybody hates me…going down the garden to eat worms (and cockroaches and snakes and lizards and scorpions and other Texan critters)  It could be worse; I could still be in North Carolina! I still subscribe to i-neighbors in North Carolina. This is the latest thread from yesterday – entitled ‘SCARY!!!!’ from those lovely neighbors. As usual – I haven’t changed a word (other than names) – I don’t need to! The red bits are me!

Neighbor 1:
I did wonder here if ‘carpet’ was some sort of euphemism – although if it was ‘rug’ might have worked better! She typed it in CAPITALS to emphasise just how SCARY!!!!! it was
Neighbor 2
Back in the summer the XXXXX sales people came by my sister's house in Durham and they operated the exact same way you described. Better to be safe than sorry though!
Neighbor 3
He came by our house as well. We didn't let him in. I did see the green van but didn't catch the plate number either.
Neighbor 1Thanks Guys I feel a little bit better knowing it wasn't just me.
If it had have just been her – it might have been because they thought she was a dirty cow with dirty carpet!
Neighbor 4
I believe we need to have some sort of sign at our community entrance gate saying something like 'Sales prohibited'. I told my wife never open the door unless I am home. Thank you for sharing this information.
I wish I had such good advice before I purchased $150 of shite steak from a door-to-door sales man a few weeks ago. Although I would never have followed any instruction from my husband to ‘never’ do something!
Neighbor 5 The voice of reason?! The one that says what the silent majority are thinking? Maybe not! This IS America!
Wow I didn't know black people were that SCARY!!!!! I am pretty sure if two Caucasian males showed up at your door and offered you a free bottle of carpet cleaner you will be just as SCARY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Neighbor 1
Do not make this something it's not. If it were two white people I would have said just that. Do not put words in my mouth. It's people like you that keep the race card going. You might want to get all the details before you insinuate a person is
racist. FYI, Slander can be sued for.
The sad thing is – I bet she would win!

Neighbours- everybody needs good neighbours! Thankfully they are now only my ‘virtual’ neighbors. Who needs neighbors like that to look out for you and cat sit?! I’ll stick to the professionals!

*Neighbours is spelt Neighbours unless referring to American neighbours, in which case I have called them neighbors out of ‘respect’ for their native tongue and inability to spell correctly!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Alles Klar

The glossy freebie mags are full of adverts for cosmetic surgery and cosmetic dentistry. Bombarded with images of perfection I can see why some people might be tempted to succumb to the surgeon’s knife. I find a trip to Wal-mart usually cures me of temptation. Surrounding myself with the fat, ugly and bewildered of America gives me a much needed boost of self confidence. I suppose everything is relative though. I avoid the up-market supermarkets full of coiffured women with big hair, shiny white teeth and big breasts in case I feel the urge to go any buy some.
I read that a British woman flew to the states for buttock implants in February. It went wrong and she died. I can only begin to imagine the epitaph! Why would anyone want a larger bottom? I have a particularly large bum and have never felt blessed by this natural phenomenon. I don’t think skinny assed people look at my bum and think ‘I wish mine was that big’. Even those people who have arses that are so flat they look like they have been hit with a shovel don’t give my huge backside a second glance (not in envy anyway).
One glossy ad did attract my attention though. At first I thought it was for teeth but remembered that any person in an American ad has huge white teeth. He was the Doctor!  Not only did the service offered appeal to my sense of vanity, it was practical too. I decided to go under the knife! Well not quite a knife, more a ‘blade free’ laser! Corrective eye Laser surgery!  I can’t say I entered the process blindly, more in an ignorant haze. A visual haze I have had and has got progressively worse since I was around 17! A prescription of -3 in both eyes meaning I can see very little without glasses!
I booked a consultation and they asked me if I had watched the videos of the procedure on their website. I said I had but I hadn’t. I felt certain if I had watched them I wouldn’t have been there at all. Getting Lazik surgery on my eyes is something I have considered on and off for years and usually quickly dismissed because I was too scared. I don’t suppose the woman who had silicone injected into her arse expected to die, but I guess they warned her of the prospect of a lumpy butt and she considered it a risk worth taking! With eye lazik the bottom line is blindness. That had always seemed like too much risk. The doctor said even immediately after the surgery I would be able to see the numbers on the wall clock. ‘What clock?’ I asked. He smiled politely – probably having heard it a 1000 times. He then left me in a room to read and sign pages of consent with warnings such as the machine could malfunction which may be ‘accompanied by visual loss’ or the risk of infection which may result in ‘loss of the eye’. I was really worried when I read that my flaps may become displaced resulting in ‘significant visual loss in both eyes’. I felt certain ‘flap displacement’ might make my eyes water …but blindness? One of the most common results is that you might still need to wear glasses, especially at night and while it might cure short sightedness it might make near vision worse resulting in the need for reading glasses. My near vision is very good!
Like the ass woman I blindly ignored all of that for the promised glory of being glasses free and being able to see the wall clock (which I actually couldn’t!). The biggest reason was that I needed new glasses and had run out of contact lenses from the UK.  Knowing what a pain it has been to find a doctor and a dentist I couldn’t face finding an optician. I wanted a more permanent solution. Typically, in my American experience, they would not reveal the cost until I was fully hooked. Now that did make my eyes water. After the surgery I will have to take ‘artificial teardrops’ to produce the same effect!
On the morning of the surgery I took my valium as instructed and I have to say I was disappointed. I have never taken such drugs and I was hoping for a much better effect. How do people get addicted if the first try is so crap? On arrival they could see that I was still a bit feisty so they gave me another valium. The effect of the vailum kicked in about 30 minutes after the surgery. I liked it!
I’m glad I entered the Laser room blind, as in not really knowing what to expect. I didn’t expect them to use some sort of device to suction my eyes open. I didn’t expect the numbing drops to sting like buggery (apparently). I didn’t expect the smell of my own eyeballs burning to waft up my nostrils while the doctor kept telling me what a great job I was doing. He was right; I was doing a great job holding on to my sanity. I almost prayed and when I saw the tunnel of light I thought my almost prayers had been answered and I was joining butt woman – only the light was red so I assumed it wasn’t heaven I was going to! On the plus side it didn’t hurt at all and really only lasts about 15 minutes in total. When I sat up I really could see the numbers on the clock – like I was looking at them underwater though.
I was sent home and given a sleeping pill to sleep for 4 hours. When I woke up I could see without glasses as well I could see with them 5 hours earlier. Every time I wake up I can see a little better. I have 4 different eye drops to use for the next week and I am to avoid any strenuous activity to keep my flaps in place (the ones they cut into your cornea so they can blast you with the laser). No housework for me! In fact I can see so well it makes me tired. I want to ‘take my glasses off’ and give my eyes a rest. On the down side I cannot read the time or texts on my mobile phone. My ‘nearsightedness’ is worse! This may or may not improve and I may or may not need reading glasses. They said it takes months to stabilise!
One thing they did not give me fair warning about and I may have never have gone through with the ‘surgery’ if they had was that I cannot wear any makeup for a week! A WEEK!!! I have blonde eyelashes. I look like a pig! The cost of the eye surgery was increased considerably when I had to rush out the next morning and buy and emergency pair of designer sunglasses. It has been raining and cloudy in Houston ever since. I look ridiculous.
Oh, and the other down side is I never used to put my glasses on until I was completely dressed and ready. In our bathroom we have one whole wall that is a mirror. Now…Alles Klar! I can see my self clearly when I get out of the shower and I really do need some attention. I can see the wrinkles before makeup… I can see the boobs before the push–up bra is in place (or rather, I can’t)…. And my bottom…Oh Lordy!  Do they do bum reductions?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Let there be light.... Again!

It's happened again! I have blogger's block! I don't write my blogs. I go into a zombie like trance and some time later I appear to have posted a blog with no idea how it got there. I can abdicate all responsibility for them! When I force them out they aren't funny (like yesterday's blog - just plain painful and tedious- although it was meant to be exactly that!) At the moment my head is full of material for blogs - I live in Texas FFS! I am bombarded with weirdness on a daily basis but the blogs seem to want to stay in the dark recesses of my brain - all warm and cosy! Maybe I am now so weird after living in the States for 18 months that the blogs prefer it in there! Maybe I should drink more... or drink less... to get the creative juices flowing. Maybe I need to have a fix of 'normality' in England to reconnect to blog world!
I am cheating today. It is tree putting up day today (I have so little to do I can dedicate whole days to such trivia) so I am reposting my blog from this time last year (maybe I had blogger's block that day too!) After completing this blog I received a GEM of an e-mail from i-neighbors in Cary NC on this very topic. I still subscribe even though I live in a different state because it amuses me on a daily basis! I have copied the i-neighbors email at the end:

Let there be light!
Sometimes it is easy to forget when you are a stranger in a strange land that it is the little things that are most weird. It is also those things that make you yearn for home.
I put my Christmas tree up. It is one of those snowy trees - cost a fortune and still look tacky next to real ones - but I like it.  Last year, in the UK, I bought some beautiful lights - Mistletoe leaves and the little white berries are the lights. They are still in the box!
Have you ever seen an American plug and plug hole? Again - for a nation so obsessed with dangerous killer germs (apple bobbers beware) they don't seem to consider the more highly likely possibility of getting electrocuted from their 3rd world standard plugs! They are two pronged affairs - there is an option for a third prong but it is rarely used. They don't appear to be fused. You have to have fit electrical surge protection as an extra to guard against frazzling your TV in thunder storms. Given the quantity and stunning quality of such storms it seems mad that they don't fuse their plugs. The holes you stick them in are just as bad. There is no switch so when you plug stuff in - if you do it at an angle you can have a mini light show from the sparks. That cant be safe! Thankfully my 5 year old son hasn't discovered this yet!
American visitors to my house LAUGH at any things I still have with a British plug attached. Yes - they are bulbous and ugly and often bigger than the device they power but they seem study and dependable. Most electrical goods from home don't work here. We got a couple of transformers to power the British Wii and TV for the kids and for my desk top but they are really expensive. We sold most of our electrical things before we came - There were some real winners on eBay! (See 'Take me home...') Can you believe someone would pay £360 for a 4 year old SMEG fridge??? A positive was selling the front loading washing machine and tumbler dryer and replacing them here for monstrous top loaders. They are fantastic!
We thought lamps would work. They don't - plugged in with an adapter plug they give off a feint glow and get mega hot!. That leaves us with a dilemma - buy nice lamps that you aren't ashamed of (other than their silly little plugs) or buy any old shit because they wont export back to Britain when we go home! We opted for the cheap stuff - Hubby is tight!
So it was with great sadness that I was prompted to reflect on strange little plugs when I came to put my tree up. My pretty little mistletoe lights wont work. It isn't that bad though - they don't seem to know what mistletoe is here (when I wrote this before I commented that mistletoe was a parasite and it was pointed out that it is symbiotic - it doesnt actually kill its host just goes and lives off it - rather like an ex-pat into a new country....) and the Christmas lights are very cheap. At home the occasional street has a house that is 'lit up like a Christmas tree' literally! you know - the very tacky ones that we all love but are glad they aren't living next door? Well here almost EVERY house is like that - and we aren't talking trailer trash chic! The bigger the house - the more lights and festive lit up figurines (more angels and Marys than Santas here given their tendencies). I guess my tasteful little berries would have looked as silly as their plugs!
I do need to point out that in the intervening year, my attitude to American plugs has changed. I now like them. I like the fact that my plug is now smaller than my hairdryer. I like the fact that my camera battery charger is tiny....
Aye there's the rub! I am starting to accept the unacceptable as acceptable and no longer funny! Hence no funny blogs. I clearly find American lack of geographical knowledge and inane-ness acceptable now!

The i-neighbors email where a kindly neighbor has pposted an email to warn the other good folk of the neighborhood about plugs, fridges and Christmas lights!
After plugging some xmas lights this past week end, i woke up on Monday with the unpleasant realization that the one plug in the garage had been "triggered" to safety. The bad news is that it is the plug where my fridge was and lost all my frozen food. It was not the breaker in the fuse box that was triggered but the GFCI plug in the garage where the fridge is. I ONLY had the fridge plugged there, and it has worked great aince we moved in August, but this plug is also on the same circuit as the two outdoor plugs that i have used to plug my xmas lights.... And apparently it overloaded the whole circuit, thus triggering the plug in the garage.
I called (the builders) because I thought something was wrong with the wiring of the outside plugs, but no, she said:
You didn't choose the fridge dedicated outlet upgrade (meaning there would have been a single plug wired directly to the fuse box, then lowering the risk over loading to zero) and by plugging too much on the same circuit you tripped the circuit.
It becomes better:
This is A WELL KNOWN problem and i get this phone call EVERY YEAR from new home owners, at THIS TIME of the year for the SAME complaint.
So thanks very much for letting us know the risk
How about you fix it instead of collecting complaints?
Third, we didn't pick any upgrade when we bought because the house was completed when we bought it. Had I known there would be a risk, i would have check things and not overload the circuit...
So be warned neighbors, your fridge in your garage may be on the same circuit as the outdoor  plugs, and during these time of cheerful lights, you may lose your food.
Bitter, but enlightened!

Hey! So am I!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

‘Computer says Nooooooooo!’

Moving states is an administrative nightmare. It is as troublesome as moving from a foreign country, although moving from North Carolina to Texas is moving to a foreign country and there are many Texans who still refuse to acknowledge they are part of the United States. The Lone Star State! It still hurts that they are not the Republic of Texas! To their credit though Texas is the only state allowed to fly its flag at the same height as the American flag. I like Texas. It has an identity. Everywhere flies the Texan flag. I don’t even know what the flag of North Carolina looks like. I bet some of those Texan flags fly a tiny bit higher than the American flag! Rebels! The children make two pledges every morning now; one to America and one to Texas.
Sadly, Texas isn’t a republic. It has the same brand of federal agents as everywhere else. In fact, it is one thing that the USA has in common with the UK, its Civil Servants do anything but serve. There is an IQ bar in America to work for the Federal Government; over 80 and you have no chance of a job. I have had a few too many encounters of federal workers over the last few weeks just to legally drive in Texas.
Firstly, I had to register my car in Texas. This involved getting a state inspection to say it was acceptable for Texas, reinsuring it for Texas and then re-registering it with Texan number plates. I got one of those hideous Déjà vu moments. Having never seen the woman behind the counter before, I got that weird feeling I had seen her in every government building I had ever been in; 40 something, too old to have ‘never been cut’ hair and funky goth rings and black nail varnish on, puppies spilling out of her Indian cotton gypsy top and a face like a slapped arse.
‘Computer said Noooooo!’ I didn’t have the correct paperwork. Déjà vu again! I have never registered a car in the states before and I had scrupulously checked what I needed but of course, there is always something. I felt like I had been here before.
Finally with shiny new Texan plates on my car I went to get a new drivers licence. We waited 3 hours and these places are never in nice parts of town. I had all the documentation. I had double checked on the website. I was only swapping a North Carolina licence for a Texan one.
‘Computer said nooooo!’. I hadn’t got my social Security card with me. I couldn’t have got the NC licence without it. I had a copy of it. I said ‘I’m just swapping from NC’. This made the Texan lady angry. Funny, I have seen her in every government office I have ever been in too; 50-something, dyed reddish hair piled high on her head and full of anger.  A university of Michigan study found women who expressed anger (at their husbands) lived 10 years longer than women who squelched it. She was gonna live for ever if this was anything to go by. She told me they couldn’t accept anything from North Carolina which is why she needed my SS card. …talking of SS….she reminded me of a high ranking officer!  I was too scared to tell her that Texas and NC were part of the same country.
I went home to get my SS card. Couldn’t find it anywhere. I had kept it in a special place until I moved and then put it in a new special place. Very special and very safe. Bugger! Another trip to another Federal office. There was cheerful 20-something who hadn’t been broken by repetition and the power she could wield over people like me yet. She would conform to it eventually or go crazy. There are a few zany government workers – one in every office – usually male, red trousers, 70’s perm and mis-matched socks who tell jokes only they laugh at. She was so jolly when she told me ‘Computer said noooo’ and I hadn’t got the correct paper work that I couldn’t be cross. I hope she turns zany and not just mean! To replace my SS card I needed all the paperwork I needed in the first place. Why? It is all on the system but the computer said no! I am a non-entity in the states. I only have a visa because hubby has one. I had to prove I am married to him again so I needed my marriage certificate.
I returned with the certificate. Bored yet? Think how tedious and boring it was to actually do all of this. You need to share my tedium and pain!!
Jamais Vu! I know I had been there before but what I got this time was something on a whole new level. The 60-something evil and bitter fat woman with a weird bob and heavy rimmed glasses that are only there so she can peer over them and glare. I explained that I had returned with the correct paperwork to replace my ss card. She looked at me like I was an alien (an illegal alien) and said ‘I can’t understand a word you are saying’. I was the only person in the building who had English as a first language.  I gave her the paperwork and the marriage certificate.
‘Computer said nooooo! You will need to change your name at immigration to your husband’s name’. I had a moment of Presque vu – when something is on the tip of your tongue but you can’t remember the word. Lucky, as I’m sure it is a federal offence to swear at a federal officer! I explained again that I needed a new SS card because I had lost it and that I wasn’t looking for a new name! Because my visa was apparently not sufficient I had brought my marriage certificate to prove a connection to the primary visa holder. She said it proved nothing as I had a different name on my passport to his. She said I might have got divorced! I asked if that would be sufficient to deport me – it was. I made a mental note of it in case of emergency homesickness! I explained the names on the marriage certificate did in fact match the names on the visa in the passport. Jamais Vu! Victory! It computed and she informed me that it would be in the post. (heard that before!) She then said she had a bad throat. Playing for sympathy now I had her beaten! Really?!! Presque Vu again. It was on the tip of my tongue to wish her a speedy end to life but I was at a loss for the words again!
I wonder if Texas was a republic – would I have had the same experience of registering to drive here as I did just changing states within the same country? Something tells me that it goes with the bureaucratic territory; that the job requires a certain sort of person! My new social Security card arrived today and I thought of a really safe place to put it. Jamais Vu! You know the punch line – there was my lost SS card safely there already! Just need to go back to get that new Texan driviers licence issued! What could possibly go wrong now?

jamais vu involves a sense of eeriness and the observer's impression of seeing the situation for the first time, despite rationally knowing that he or she has been in the situation before.
Presque vu (The tip of the tongue, from the French for "almost seen") phenomenon is an instance of knowing something that cannot immediately be recalled.
Déjà vu (meaning "already seen") is the experience of feeling sure that one has already witnessed or experienced a current situation, even though the exact circumstances of the previous encounter are uncertain and were perhaps imagined.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Turkey Lurkey!

My son came home last week with a special project called “Turkey in Disguise” for homework. He had an outline drawing of a Turkey and his task was to use any materials he wanted to, to disguise his Turkey. I didn’t quite understand why but assumed it was something to do with Thanksgiving which is the end of November. We disguised his Turkey as a Christmas tree with lots of glitter and sparkle. I say ‘we’ but he wasn’t allowed to participate. I liked the irony of disguising the Thanksgiving Turkey as a Christmas Turkey tree. Thanksgiving seems to steal all of the traditions of a British Christmas and put horrible gravy on it!
The completed turkeys are on display in the school hall. I am now wondering if the project has an extra dimension linked to a big local sport. Turkey hunting! It must be big; the local Wal-mart has a whole aisle dedicated to it. I took a photo of it because seeing is believing. I had to wait quite some time while a man in a lumberjack shirt and hunting cap stroked the merchandise… for a long time. Every time I went back to take a picture he was still there picking things up and putting them down again. I’ve seen women do that in dress shops, feeling the fabric but never in a Turkey hunting aisle in Wal-mart. I posted the picture on Facebook and people thought I had taken it off the internet. It was real! It was local. It is a tiny bit scary!
So – is the ‘Turkeys in Disguise’ project ‘training’ the kids to spot real ones out in the wild? I was going to do a bit of light research on Turkey hunting but it is serious stuff. Nothing light or humourous about Turkey Hunting…except just how seriously people can take it! There is a National Wild Turkey Federation of which Houston has its own chapter… and the people who like hunting Turkeys have guns and stroke stuff in the hunting aisle of Wal-mart. I should know when I am on dangerous ground. Besides there are some things I don’t want to know about Turkeys, like male turkeys are called Gobblers and their red dangly bits are “‘major caruncles’ that are large and fleshy and engorged with blood during the spring.” I could have got by not knowing that. I disguised my son’s Turkey caruncles as blue icicles. That’ll stop any engorgement!
It is so serious that they hold special work shops to learn the call of a
Turkey and have contests in the ‘off – season’.  I am a little bored – I wondered if I should go along to a workshop or two but I can’t see myself putting the acquired skill of sounding like a turkey to any practical use. You can learn to mimic the female to attract a gobbler- not something I would be keen to do with all those engorged dangly bits!
You can buy all sorts of Turkey disguises, in this case to resemble a Turkey rather than disguise one! I bet you can even buy a special hat so that when you are lying in the grass doing your clucking, putting and cutting to attract the gobbler your head looks like the back end of a hen! Worry if you hear the ‘purr’ of a gobbler. You might need a new hat
I looked at the safety tips for hunting Turkeys on the National Wild Turkey Federation website  How dangerous can it be? …well you would be surprised but it isn’t the Turkeys that anyone needs to fear…

Here are some tips from the NWTF to consider when you're in the woods this fall:
  • Keep your firearm pointed in a safe direction, and leave the safety on until you are ready to shoot. I have to say – the guns used for hunting Turkeys seem ridiculously large – especially as it isn’t likely to end in a ‘kill or be killed’ situation! I read an article that said 20 million women own guns in the US. This Texan shoots quails with hers – big gun for a little bird!
  • Positively identify your target, and know what is beyond your target before you shoot. See – that school project – Turkeys in Disguise will come in handy! Make sure it is a Turkey not a hat made to look like a Turkey… or a Turkey made to look like a Christmas tree! Or a person… although it is a mistake it would seem any Turkey hunter could make…
  • Avoid wearing white, red, black or blue since these are the colors of a gobbler's head and body. This includes handkerchiefs, socks, T-shirts and even items such as candy wrappers and insect repellant. This is very important advice incase another Turkey hunter didn’t complete the elementary school project ‘Turkeys in Disguise’ and cannot tell the difference between a Turkey and a big gun wielding twat in a red neckerchief!
  • Select a spot that is in open timber rather than thick brush. Eliminating movement and camouflage is more critical to success than heavy cover. Erm! You’re hunting Turkeys. It ain’t ‘Black Hawk Down’
  • Sit against a large stump, blow-down, tree trunk or rock that is wider than your shoulders and higher than your head when calling wild turkeys. …and put your head between your knees and say wobble wobble gobble! ...And don’t wear your Turkey hat disguise with the top poking above the rock. Don’t want a home goal from another hunter! (I was going to say home run but they may be OK in American sport! Although judging from warfare- home goals might be too!)
  • If you imitate the sound of a gobbling turkey, you could call in other hunters. You should always be cautious, but especially when hunting public land. And if your Turkey sounds are that good – there are competitions you can enter… The fame! The glory!
  • If decoys are legal and you use them, place them off to one side and make sure you can see anyone approaching your decoys before the other hunter is within range. This is very important advice incase another Turkey hunter didn’t complete the elementary school project ‘Turkeys in Disguise’ and cannot tell the difference between a real Turkey and a pretend one!
  • Leave the area if you suspect there's another hunter already working the same bird. This is very important advice incase another Turkey hunter didn’t complete the elementary school project…
  • If another hunter enters your hunting area, never move, wave or make turkey sounds to alert the other hunter. Remain still and call out to them in a loud, clear voice to get his or her attention. This is very important advice incase another Turkey hunter didn’t complete the elementary school project…

I don’t think I will be engaging in any Turkey hunting during my stay in Texas but I am glad my son has learned some potentially life saving skills in his ‘Turkeys in Disguise’ project and I have again been reminded, when in America… ALWAYS stick to the path. There is some weird stuff going on out there! This Thanksgiving I will be notionally giving thanks to the ‘other’ Turkey aisle in Wal-mart – the one with pre hunted and plucked Turkeys in the Freezer… if I can ever bring myself to eat Turkey again!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dear United Airlines

Dear United Airlines,
I’m not one to complain and I appreciate that merging with Continental is a tad bit confusing – I got sent away from the United check-in desk for my United flight from Raleigh to Houston and had to check in at Continental and then get on a United plane! Not confusing at all. A very smooth merger! One big team!
I don’t want to take sides but the Continental staff were very helpful. They fell for the ‘I don’t know how to self check-in, I’ve never done it before’ and did all that tedious crap for me which was good because my outward bound seat allocation had  not seated me with my children who are 9 and 6. Whilst this may have given me a peaceful flight, staff at check-in shared my concern that my children really did need to be sat with me on the flight for the peace and wellbeing of other passengers and for their own best interests. They relocated our seats without hesitation. The flight was full so changing seats was not without consequences for them to resolve at the gate with all those awkward miserable business travelers (I can’t call them twats because that is apparently very offensive in America! – Actually I think it might be offensive everywhere – just less used in the US)  who expect to sit alone. It could have been worse. They could have had my son sat next to them!
The return journey wasn’t so good. I’m really not one to complain and I appreciate that in today’s climate of political correctness you have to have old, fat, ugly trolley dollies, I do! But do you have to have so many and do they have to be that mean?

What’s the difference between a United air-stewardess and a rottweiler? Lipstick!

At check in, Bulldog #1 didn’t buy my ‘I’ve never used the self service check-in before, can you do it for me?’ and made me do it myself. The trouble with self check in is that lone travelers do not consider that passengers may want to sit together and take up single seats in the hope that they will be sitting alone. What they don’t particularly want is to find them selves sat with an unaccompanied 6 year old but that’s what they end up with by taking one seat up in every row. Passengers are not necessarily the best people to decide where best to sit.
I wasn’t anxious about the seating as it had been so efficiently sorted by continental staff – and you’re the same company aren’t you?  I was wrong.
Reality check #1:
At check in I was told by Very Fat bulldog #1 that I would have to ask for my seats to be reallocated at the gate.
Reality check #2:
At the gate I was told by Very Ugly Bulldog #2 that I would have to wait until I got on the plane. As all the platinum frequent flyer arses get on first, I was concerned that it would be too late once passengers were seated. I asked was there anything she could do to help me.  She said she could page the staff on board and ask them in advance but she was too busy… she didn’t seem that busy.  She seemed to be having a laugh and a chat with two other staff employed to tick the ‘politically correct’ employer box.
Reality check #3:
I pointed out that safety was the number one priority for airlines and that my 6 year old son’s safety would be compromised in the event of an emergency as I couldn’t expect a stranger to help him. She said at 6 his age was not a concern. I think she needed a reality check! I do not consider my son, at the age of 6, responsible. There was something more worrying than his safety in the event of an emergency. My real concern was that he would cause an emergency! He is a lively 6 year old! I pointed out that I could not be responsible for him if I was not sat next to him. She turned her back, walked through the gate and closed the door (I may have been ranting at this point) Still – she had told me they would sort it on the plane!
Reality check #4
Upon boarding Very Old Bulldog #3 told me to sit and they would sort it when everyone has boarded. Yeah, cos everyone is happy to move seats at that point! Boarded, belted and ready for take-off… That’s when she remembered to check (well – she was very old)!  She declared ‘oh good, you’re all sorted’. We were ‘all sorted’ and sat together because of the good sense (rather than an act of kindness I think) of the other passengers. They took one look at my son, unaccompanied, and next to them and immediately swapped seats until he was nowhere near them!

Maybe I was wrong earlier. Maybe passengers are the best people to decide where to sit.

So – United/Continental, I don’t know what your policy is on minors and where they sit but that isn’t really the issue.  The relevant point here is that you were mean to a passenger (me), anxious to sit next to her young son- for good reason! Next time I will not complain (because I’m not one to complain!). Next time I will let him sit where he is allocated and I will sit back and enjoy the experience. Next time I fly – it won’t be a 3 hour flight; it will be a 9+ hour flight. I’ve a feeling that my son, sat a distance from me,  is the best way to give the United staff a reality check on their customer service!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Trick or Treat?

Trick or treat
Smell my Feet
Give me something nice to eat
(or something pre- approved by my mother, like raisons…)

I love Halloween. Maybe it's the heathen in me! Even when it wasn't so high profile, when I was little, we had halloween parties. I always thought that Halloween was a relatively harmless bit of fun. Its origins are in Pagan Britain and it was later hijacked by the Christian Calendar. I thought that Jack o’lanterns and ‘Trick or Treat’ were American inventions to supersize and commercialize Halloween into an annual $7 billion mega money making machine. The shops dedicate aisles to Halloween as early as August and people begin to decorate their houses early October. Turns out though we can’t blame America for Trick or Treat, the custom of ‘begging’ on Halloween is mentioned by Shakespeare and in medieval times they carved lanterns out of turnips. Americans had bigger vegetables to hand and pumpkins are easier to carve!
I was pleasantly surprised by my first Halloween in the states last year. The atmosphere on 31st was lovely. People sat outside their highly decorated houses with cauldrons full of candy. Children walked the neighbourhood and got SACKFULS of sweets. It had a real festival atmosphere and the streets were full of kiddies in fancy dress. A real treat! Being acclimatized to the USA now I realize I missed some of the dark tricks of Halloween:

Traditional games like ‘apple bobbing’ (where you get a tub full of water and apples and, only using your mouth you have to retrieve as many apples as possible) are a life threatening hazard unless:
  1. Clear dangers of drowning are explained and a life belt is available. (Remember small children and inebriated adults can drown in centimeters of water)
  2. The water must be changed after each apple bobbing contestant as potentially deadly bodily fluids will be lurking in the water. Killer GERMS!
I didn’t realize why many neighbours were reluctant to participate in my Halloween street party apple bobbing – but having undergone Americanization I now know how foolish, dangerous and irresponsible my party shenanigans were!

My daughter was a rare thing last Halloween. She was a witch. Hardly any witches, ghouls or zombies! They are not appropriate. They are scary. My Son brought home a list of ‘safety rules’ he had copied for Halloween. They included wearing white ‘so people in cars can see you’ (nothing scary then in the traditional Halloween colour of black). My children have a ‘Vocabulary parade’ today at school where they can dress up in a theme related to science. I guess it is the school’s way of embracing Halloween but the children are explicitly not allowed to wear anything scary!

My son’s guideline also wisely advises to ‘check your treats before you eat them’. I guess they will end up with sweets you don’t normally allow but isn’t that the fun of it? I remember my friend’s little girl at my daughter’s 3rd birthday party. As requested I had supplied some vegetable rolls for her as she was being brought up a strict vegetarian. It was too late to stop her (unnoticed by her mother) as she chomped away on a sausage roll. I guess I could have stopped her eating 5 of them but she was enjoying them so much and it was a party! Halloween Candy is the same (sort of). I do not allow my children to eat blue sweets. They will happily be sticking their blue tongues out at me later, high on a sugar rush!
1 in 3 American children are obese, apparently. Sackfuls of sweets is bad news for fatties and not great news for dentists.
Great schools, an education website calls Halloween an "unmitigated disaster for parents trying to protect their children from OD'ing" on sugar, and suggests ways for parents to swizzle their kids out of the "upcoming tsunami of sucrose." (swap it for toys, sell it, give it away to late trick or treaters who come knocking, bulimic mother to eat it and puke it up later when the kids are in bed….)
Adding to the danger are allergies. 54% of Americans have allergies. They love them! We had American friends round to drink like only the Brits know how. The next morning we met up for breakfast and they were looking very much the worse for wear. One proclaimed he had terrible allergies that morning. Allergies? We call it a hangover!  My son got into big trouble for inadvertently drinking out of the water bottle of a boy with peanut allergies – apparently causing risk to the boy. I couldn’t work out the risk as my son may be a nut but he isn’t a peanut! My children tell people they are allergic to things just so they don’t feel left out.
I’m surprised there isn’t a general ‘no peanuts’ rule for anyone giving away candy. My daughter said yesterday I couldn’t buy peanut M&M’s to give away to Trick or Treaters incase of allergies. I kind of think if you’re getting free sweets it is up to you to check what you eat – so wise advice from the school!

The general rule is ‘if your porch light is on you welcome trick or treaters…. Unless you are a pedophile then you have no business having your light on. I had the misfortune to listen to a radio phone in on local radio this morning advising parents to look up the location of local pedophiles and be sure to avoid their houses for candy …If their lights are on, go round with the local vigilantes and put their lights out!
I have to say the whole Halloween thing contradicts some of the US watchdog guidelines to stay safe for Halloween:
§         Always tell your parents where you are going. (Traipsing round the streets knocking on random strangers’ doors)
§         Never approach any house that is not well lit. (unless it has spooky Halloween lights and adults in costumes lurking outside)
§         Remember anything weird that an adult says or does to you and tell your parents immediately. (that would be anything to do with Halloween then!)
§         Run away from people who offer you candy or other treats or want you to help look for their puppy or kitten. (…and the purpose of trick or treat, endorsed and encouraged by adults, is for children to take candy from total strangers)

The date:
Just downright inconvenient on a week day and retailers do better when Halloween falls on a Saturday! Simple! In the name of economics, ignore centuries of tradition and meaning and support law makers in Connecticut who want to move Halloween to the last Saturday in October. This would be highly convenient for working parents and children would not have to rush home from school, do homework or get up the next morning (except for Church of course).

So – Perhaps I was naïve last year. Halloween is not a celebration, based loosely on tradition and exploited for the benefit of children so they can dress up and have fun and get lots of sweeties. It is primarily of commercial significance – movable and not needing to be fixed to any particular date, for the benefit of dentists and bulimic mothers and fraught with E numbers and scary costumes. .. But if we stop the dressing up and the treats then it will no longer be of commercial significance and therefore have no point in American society. I have a great idea – rather than move the day – just ban it altogether to protect children from germs, sweets, allergies, pedophiles and other scary things! If you think about it too much it is definitely trick not treat!