Saturday, January 31, 2009


A week from today and I should be in London, England. I'm ready. I've been boning up on British vernacular and customs. To better understand the brogue, I've been playing English movies on my telly (British, for television). This week I watched Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later--both good zombie flicks too--and Thunderball with Sean Connery as James Bond.

Not only do I have a better handle now on the accent, but if the dead should happen to rise up while I'm across the pond, I'll know how to dispatch them as well. And remember how I puzzled over an internet comment to be wary of English soccer fans looking for some "afters" following the soccer game my boys and I are supposed to attend? Well, I found out what "afters" means in British parlance.

"Afters" is what is referred to as "dessert" in Britain. I'm not entirely sure what it means in the context of post-soccer game activity. Maybe it's tradition for the losing side to pelt winning fans with muffins or cakes or something. Anyway, if I see someone pulling a fritter out of their pocket, I'll be prepared to duck.

Though I did finally receive an e-mail voucher for our hotel rooms, I still worried that I had not spoken to a live person throughout all of my travel arrangements. So I decided to call the hotel directly to confirm my reservations. Or bookings, as they call them in Britain.

That didn't prove easy to do. Three times I called the hotel in London. Three times I got the equivalent of voicemail and a promise that they would return my call. I didn't feel like playing international phone tag, so I hung up.

Finally I called the hotel chain's national booking (reservation) number and got a live English lady on the phone. After explaining my situation, she confirmed my booking and offered to give me my official reservation number. Great. Exactly what I wanted.

"Quebec, Oscar, Romeo--", she began. Whoa, whoa, whoa. I interrupted. What was this? She better repeat it and slow down. So this time she said, "Q-O-R . . ."

Ohhhhhh, I get it. It's like Q as in Quebec, O as in Oscar, etc. But isn't it R as in Robert, O as in Ocean? Apparently not over there. This wasn't covered in Shaun of the Dead.

Later I learned that she was using the phonetic alphabet used in civil aviation. Did she think I was flying MYSELF over to London? Hardly. Then she continued, "Dubbletoo . . . " Whoa, whoa, whoa again. I thought I had this king's English down but dubbletoo was a word I had not come across in Frommer's.

"Two, two," she repeated. Oh, I got it now. She meant double two. Here come the numbers. I wrote them down and at last I had my reservation numbers. She offered to e-mail me the reservation confirmation, but I felt satisfied that everything was hunky dorey. Hmmmmmm, I hope that translates the same in Britain.

Then she concluded with a friendly, "Buboye." Wow! She sounded just like the heroine in Shaun of the Dead.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Memorable Tuesday

On Tuesday an event transpired that restored my faith in the collective humanity of the United States. It was the end of a journey that started far across the country, the end result of a contest that had ordinary people like me riveted to the television or the internet.

It was the end of a journey that involved hope for the future, that involved trust in one another, where strangers from all walks of life connected in a bond with only one goal in mind. In the end, the team I was depending on and cheered for came in second. But on Tuesday, I felt like a winner.

On Tuesday, my fantasy football payout arrived in the mail. Yeah, baby, yeah. I was getting a little worried since the league commissioner had e-mailed me over two weeks ago promising to send my second place winnings to me. I had entered my fantasy team into this public league out of North Dakota, trusting them with my $10 entry fee even though I knew nobody else in the league. They were all strangers a thousand miles away.

So getting my pay-out was really special. I know, I know. There were other momentous events occurring on Tuesday. But this is better than change. This is a whole twenty bucks.

Isn't it wonderful how something like the internet can bring people together like this? I can reach out and touch someone a half a world away via my keyboard in the front room of my own house. I did that last week, offering condolences to a blogger in Israel on the death of her pet, and commenting on a picture posted by a blogger in Dubai.

I guess it is safe to trust people on the internet. I hope so because I'm still waiting for my hotel voucher for our upcoming trip to London in a couple weeks. I thought it was supposed to arrive by now, since it's been a while that I charged on my credit card over a thousand dollars for my trip package earlier this month.

It's an outfit that doesn't have a branch in the United States, so I was a little wary of doing business with them. But after Tuesday, I felt I could relax a little. You can trust those you do business with only on the internet.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Musings while shoveling snow in below zero temperatures . . .

Whoever thought that plastic show shovels were a good idea should be forced to shovel my walk with one. They don't chop up crusty snow, they crack and break easily; it's like having a paper umbrella for the rain.

I want Congress to enact a "Truth In Winter" statute. Winter-related songs may not portray the season in a beautiful or romantic manner. For example, the lyrics to Winter Wonderland would be changed from:

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening

In the lane, snow is glistening

A beautiful sight we're happy tonight,

Walking in a winter wonderland


Blizzards scream, are you worried,

In the snow, our car is buried

A dubious sight, we're trembling with fright,

Hoping that our furnace stays alight.

This morning it was seven degrees below zero according to the temperature gauge in my car. That's the air temperature, not including wind chill. This morning we were under a wind chill warning. That's beyond wind chill watch and wind chill advisory. That's hellish cold. Twenty and thirty degrees below zero cold.

I bought a pair of Lands End ski gloves for my wife for Christmas. SKI gloves! From a company that promises on its website that its styles are "scientifically tested to keep you warm, warmer and warmest! Guaranteed. Period." Wearing her new gloves this week to clear off her windshield, she showed me her fingers afterwards. They were bleached white and icy cold to the touch. Lands End will be hearing from me.

What we really need is clothes like the Eskimos wear. How about gloves, boots and socks made with whale blubber? I'm all for saving the whales but self-preservation comes first. You know that people who make their living working outside around here have the right clothes to keep them warm regardless of whether it's politically correct or not. Postal carriers probably have whale blubber underwear, mink-lined gloves, sealskin boots, etc. If PETA only knew.

Now, about this catchphrase "blanket of snow" . . .

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Fixture, Tout, Derby . . .

So what do the words in the above subject heading have in common? Until less than a month ago, I would not have known either. Now I know they all have to do with soccer. Er, pardon me, football (English translation).

I always thought they spoke English in England but now I'm finding out they almost have a language of their own. Fixture refers to sporting game dates, touts are ticket brokers or "scalpers", and derby . . . well, I'm still not certain of the meaning there except that I'm taking my sons to the north London derby in less than a month.

Scott had been planning a last bachlor's fling, er, holiday (English translation) with his brother Greg prior to his upcoming marriage in May. Scott considered taking Greg to an English premier league soccer game as Greg has long been a fan of the Arsenal Football club in London and of English premier league football in general, but Scott nixed the idea because of the cost.

When I heard about it, I thought maybe we could make it a father-son bonding adventure as we'd not had one of these in a while. It wasn't an easy decision, however. I don't like to fly and haven't flown in 25 years. The cost of an extended weekend in London is more expensive than you'd think. And as you get older, you find it's easier to say, "No" to such adventures. Maybe just for that last reason, I decided to go for it.

So I have my hotel reservations, plane tickets and a package that includes tickets to see the Arsenal face off against the Tottenham Hotspurs, a game called the north London derby because the clubs' respective stadiums lie about three miles apart in northern London. It is a fierce rivalry, I'm told.

We would be sitting with the home team Tottenham fans, the Spurs, I understand and expected to support them, much to Greg's chagrin. I did post a question in a London on-line forum, asking whether it would be inappropriate under such circumstances to cheer on Arsenal. And what other do's and don'ts might apply to this English premier league match-up.

Good thing. My first response said, "Do not under any circumstances wear anything red or cheer for Arsenal--you'll be at best ejected from the grounds by stewards or worse, well, I'll leave that up to your imagination."

Yes, I can imagine. Got it. No red. And no cheering for Arsenal. A couple others warned me to refrain from using the word "soccer" though they said my seatmates might cut us some slack when they heard our American accent. Accent? What accent?

Yet another warned, "If the home team loses, there will be some angry individuals outside afterwards looking for 'some afters.' Best to just ignore them and move along." Okay, but what does that mean--"some afters." What are they after and how will I know it?

Looks like I need to bone up on my king's English vernacular a bit more before I go. I think I'm on my way. Somebody directed me to the cartoon below. I actually laughed. I got the joke. Pour me a pint of fizzy lager, I'm feeling more English already.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Holidays Over

Holidays are over. The city picked up our discarded Christmas tree on Friday. We tucked the last of our decorations away in the attic for another year on Friday as well. Time to take stock of what I got.

I'm hoping to be able to watch Them soon, a French horror movie DVD given to my for Christmas by my son Scott. Got a couple shirts, a laptop cooler, a bottle of Buttershot Schnapps and this---check out the picture.

Yes, a hoodie in my favorite maize 'n blue that celebrates my success in fantasy football. Well, kinda anyway. But a legend in my own mind? Perhaps. More likely my fantasy football smacktalk rankled my nephew too much (I finished fourth; he finished ninth in our ten-team family fantasy football league this year, which is where I think he finished last year too).

To be sure, I would have toned down my rhetoric on the bulletin board had I known my nephew Vic had drawn my name in the family gift exchange. And he probably still remembers the University of Michigan sweatshirt I got for his youngest daughter when she was one (Vic's a big fan of rival Michigan State). He thanked me for the "poop rag" and said his daughter was free to spit up anytime she wore it. Sheesh. Why are State fans like that?

During our family Christmas gathering this year, I made sure everyone saw the stein I was drinking from. The message on the stein said, "Careful or you'll end up on my blog." So here's a picture of my nephew Vic, the one that gave me the hoodie. Handsome fellow, isn't he? Runs in the family.

I could have put a nice picture of his pretty wife Melissa on my blog too, but after I took a picture of her looking snappy in her short skirt, she grabbed my digital camera and BANG, the image was gone. I didn't know you could delete a picture so fast. Well, I shot another picture of her I don't think she knew about, so I'll post that one.

I did tell Melissa that I wasn't going to do a blog on our Christmas party. But she didn't tell me that she was going to delete her picture from my camera when she took it. So I figure we're even.

Now the holiday season is over, as is the fantasy football season. Vic will have to wait for redemption until next season. For me, I finished second in another fantasy football league, this one a "money league." Ha! So I'm even more deserving of that hoodie I got. I haven't got my payout yet, but I trust the league managers, some strangers from North Dakota who opened up their league to the public.

I thought I would have got my payout by now, but I'm not worried. If you can't trust strangers you encounter on-line, whom can you trust? And if they balk, I'll just e-mail them a picture of my stein . . .