BORN TO BE MILD 08/24/2008
 

i'm a movie lover.  i've watched and worked on them for a lot of years.  most people who know me already know this.

despite my love of film there are quite a few "classic" movies i haven't seen, so recently i decided to start renting the ones i [somewhat shockingly] have never seen.  movies like On The Waterfront, Lawrence of Arabia, Easy Rider and every single James Bond movie (no, despite the fact that i worked on "Die Another Day" i've never had to sit through the entire movie -- not that it qualifies as classic Bond anyway).

well, this past week my picks were "Easy Rider" and "Goldfinger" -- one distinctly American and one [sort of] British classic (the nationality balance was entirely unintentional).

anyway, i have to admit (at the risk of sounding uncool) that i was terribly let-down by Easy Rider.  i thought it was supposed to be this landmark, generation-defining piece of film about American youth, self-exploration and freedom.  but really, the movie was just fucking boring.  in fact, i fell asleep during my first attempt to watch it.  but in keeping with my goal, i got up the next day and finished the DVD.  to me the only interesting part of the whole film was Jack Nicholson's brief monologue after he got high for the first time.  i've done a lot of the stuff the characters in the movie do -- road tripped across America, smoked a lot of weed, dropped acid, rode a motorcycle, snorted cocaine and felt disenfranchised -- and Easy Rider is quite possibly the most UNexciting depiction of those things ever created.

good grief.

on the other hand, Goldfinger was awesome.  it was everything i hoped a classic Bond flick would be.  outdated, sexist and full of things that later became major pop-culture references.  there were Q, MoneyPenny, Pussy Galore and Oddjob in all their 1964 glory -- what more could a viewer ask for?  a hysterically equipped Aston-Martin, martinis (shaken, not stirred), a completely bizarre theme song belted out by Shirley Bassey and a glorious hero whose suit never wrinkled even after he spent all day in a Kentucky jail cell.  oh, the willing suspension of disbelief was delicious!

i've got a lot more classic movies on my list waiting to be watched, and i plan to get to all of them sooner or later.  all i can say is i'm pretty sure no matter how many movies i see, Easy Rider will remain near the bottom of the list.

i still can't believe what a let-down it was.

if anyone out there has seen Easy Rider lately and digs it, please leave a comment here explaining what you like about it.  i don't mean fond memories of seeing it back in 1969 -- i mean watch it in 2008 and tell me what (if anything) you find so great about it -- i'm truly curious.  perhaps i missed something.

p.s.
my favorite thing in Easy Rider (if i had to find one) might have been Peter Fonda's sunglasses.  they were pretty stylin'.

 
STUFF I MISS 08/23/2008
 

since i've been doing my shopping in London i've noted the sad absence of a few basic things i'd really like to have. 

one of these things is Neutrogena Body Clear Body SCRUB.  i love this super-grainy body exfoliating scrub -- i used to use it all the time -- and according to the internet it IS sold in the UK, but every time i check Boots or Superdrug or whatever store i'm passing through they never seem to carry it.  the skin on my body just isn't as smooth without it...

another thing i'm missing terribly is T. Marzetti's Veggie Dip.  the Dill Veggie Dip to be precise.  i've been eating tubs of this dip with raw vegetables since my college years (and that's a long time) and i really REALLY miss it.  my English partner had some when he was visiting the States and he agrees that it's awesome.  come on, Marks & Spencer -- listen here, Sainsbury's -- you need to stock T. Marzetti's Veggie Dip!

the next thing isn't really an item, but rather the way it's packaged.  you see, in British grocery stores it's  almost impossible to buy a large bag of potato chips.  in England they sell them in little single-serving packets (the kind you put in a kid's lunch box) and in the slightly larger Big-Grab-type bags, but if you reach for the full family-size bag of chips what you actually get is a big plastic bag with a bunch of single-serving packs inside it. 

umm, what? 

yeah, they stuff a large chip bag with a bunch of smaller bags and you end up with a terrible amount of plastic packaging and not very many chips.  i have taken to eating Kettle Chips brand because they are the ones with the biggest bag.  maybe i haven't been through enough grocery stores to find the REAL bags of chips, but i'm fairly certain they don't exist.  what am i supposed to do when i have a cook-out and want to put out a big bowl of chips?  sheesh.

something else i can't find is Brown Sugar Splenda.  i am a big Splenda fan -- i use it instead of sugar on everything -- but when i moved to London i realized they don't distribute the "brown sugar" kind here.  this is a problem because several recipes i like require brown sugar, and without Brown Sugar Splenda i've had to use regular brown sugar, thereby increasing my caloric intake by god knows how much.  again, British grocery stores take note!

while i'm thinking about food i'd also like to mention that i tried some KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) in London -- and it was appalling.  apparently the Colonel's "original recipe" didn't make it across the pond.  the chicken served at British KFCs is fucking disgusting.  they should be forced to shut their doors or change their name.  really.

another food i miss in a guilty, i-know-i-shouldn't-eat-them-anyway sort of way is DONUTS.  you know, deep-fried, glazed, sugar-coated and filled donuts.  i have purchased donuts several times here in England and they are simply not the same as American donuts.  they aren't even deep-fried.  i don't know WHAT they do to them, but they're definitely not right.  two days ago i passed a Krispy Kreme donut place (the kind that's just a walk-up counter but not a whole shop) and i was tempted.  then i checked behind the counter and realized they didn't have any place where they were making donuts.  this meant, obviously, that whatever they were selling couldn't possibly be fresh Krispy Kreme donuts.  i might go back and investigate further later, so i'll let you know how it goes.

oh, something amusing i found over here recently is that Kellogg's doesn't sell Raisin Bran here.  they sell "Sultana Bran."  they also sell a cereal called "Frosties," which are actually Frosted Flakes with a modified name.  why they thought Frosted Flakes couldn't be marketed as-is in Britain is a mystery to me...

also, i can't find slices of American cheese for grilled cheese sandwiches.  there are a hundred kinds of cheese over here, but none of them are American cheese slices.  i understand that perhaps American cheese slices aren't in demand in England but come ON.  i also can't find Muenster cheese here -- clearly it is sold under some other name here and i have yet to figure out what that name is.  this week i couldn't even buy Bleu cheese.  you know, the white crumbly cheese with blue-ish marbling in it?  i had to buy Stilton, which i have yet to check for similarity.  i used the internet to find a cheese name associated with Bleu cheese and came up with Stilton...

it would be nice to be able to buy Dannon's Fruit-On-The-Bottom yogurt, too.  i can't find it around here.  particularly, i'd like to find Fruit-On-The-Bottom in Cherry and Blueberry flavors.

oh, and can anyone tell me why they don't sell soy milk in gallon containers -- or even just half-gallons?  every week when i buy groceries i have to buy like four small cartons of soy milk because it isn't sold in any larger size.  what's the deal?  where can a gal buy a gallon of soy milk in one big jug or carton?  why do i have to deal with all the eco-unfriendly packaging?  someone needs to fix the situation.

and well, that's about all i have on my mind at the moment.  i'm sure there are a ton of other things i haven't been able to find here that i'd like to have, but right now i've got to go hit the treadmill to burn off some of those damn brown-sugar calories.

 
 

i moved to England because i married an Englishman.  this Englishman is a well-educated fellow employed by a highly-regarded boys school in London.

in America we would all call the school where he works a "private school." 

this makes sense. 

the institution, which has been around since 1509, has extremely high admissions standards and if a boy does meet the academic requirements, the boy's family still needs to be able to afford an exorbitant tuition fee for the boy to attend.  they do have a sort of weak "scholarship" program for gifted boys without the full financial resources to attend on their own, but almost every boy in the school comes from an extremely wealthy background and their families pay dearly for them to attend.

my problem is this:  in England schools such as this are called "public schools."

umm...  pardon me, but i hardly think that that type of school can be considered "public."

so i looked into this contradiction in terms and found a relatively reasonable -- though outdated -- explanation.  you see, once upon a time in old England these schools were "public" in the sense that they were open to all students in PRINCIPLE -- at the time of their foundation most were run by the established Church and were only open to males of the same Christian denomination.  in PRACTICE, however, many such schools were highly academically selective and pupils needed to pass a Common Entrance Exam before being admitted, and if admitted also had to be able to afford considerable fees for tuition and (if boarding) room and board costs.

a few years down the historical road schools evolved and did not require a student to be a member of a certain aristocratic family or Christian denomination to be admitted.  these too were called "public schools" because in THEORY any boy in the general public could TRY to attend regardless of aristocratic standing or religion.

later came tax-supported state-run schools (the ones we Americans would call public schools).  the thing is, England was already using the phrase "public school" to refer to something that was not actually public by definition.  it was still terribly elitist and heavily restricted to the average young person.

somewhere along the way America decided to call their own regular, tax-supported schools "public schools" -- after all, they were the ones truly open to the public without qualification -- and as private prep schools were founded in America the Americans rightly referred to them as "private schools" because they were privately operated on a high-fee basis.

this bit of history leads me to two questions: 

should we "modern people" modify the words used to describe these schools to accurately reflect the true and current nature of the schools, or should we stick to the archaic old English words that no longer accurately define what the schools really are? 

should English people continue to use words to describe schools that are the absolute opposite of their real meaning simply because it's "always been that way?"

this may be very American of me to suggest, but it seems like a little updating of terminology is in order.

 
 

i'm not sure what TV commercials you guys in the States are seeing these days, but in England i've been seeing a real doozy of a spot that i just had to post here and share.  i'm assuming it isn't being shown in America, but then again perhaps it is.

the commercial's for the drink Orangina and the best way i can sum it up is 30 seconds of bizarre CGI animal softcore porn.  deer in bikinis with jiggling breasts doing striptease bits from Flashdance, male bears walking on their hind legs while wearing bulging banana-hammock underwear, strange land-octopus ladies that squirt orange drink from their -- umm -- bresticles?  a chorus line of lady zebras in pink g-strings...  it's really quite the spectacle. 

i'm posting it here so you can see for yourselves.  watch it twice at least -- there's a lot of weird shit going on in there...

 
 

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart


since i moved to London i've been watching certain American TV shows either a day later, or a few months later - and in some cases a full season later - than i would be able to do if i was IN America.  one of the shows i try to watch regularly is The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

in London the television airs The Daily Show just one day later than the original airing in America, so it's not too bad - i watch it one day later than you guys in the States do.  definitely not a bad deal.

what amuses me is that the other day i was watching the channel that airs The Daily Show here (a channel called "More 4") and a few minutes before the show was due to begin a station ID came on and said:  "next on More 4 we've got the news from America."


and they were referring to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.


now, anyone who's watched the show knows why this is funny.  The Daily Show is NOT the American news.  it's not anyone's news.  it's a political- and current events-themed comedy show formatted like a news program.  Jon Stewart is a COMEDIAN and the show is aired in America on a channel called Comedy Central.


but here in London the show's being advertised as "the news from America."

it's yet another thing getting lost in the translation from American to British English.

if only the real news from America could be that entertaining.



 
GET CRACKING 08/03/2008
 

A soft-boiled egg.


i just ate a soft-boiled egg like a real British person. 

sort of.

in today's Sunday Times (London Times, not New York, of course) i read a little column written by British actress Emma Thompson.  in it she spoke ever-so-reverently about the eating of a soft-boiled egg.

i have seen a lot of egg cups around the shops in England and i've wondered:  why do British people eat partially-cooked eggs in tiny cups directly out of the eggshell using little spoons when it's so much easier to scramble, fry or hard-boil and peel an egg?

i asked my British partner to make me one -- he obliged.

we do not own "egg cups" so we had to sort-of balance the just-boiled eggs in small ramekins.  i was told to tap the edges of the egg all around until i could lift the top of the eggshell off like a lid.

this was every bit as hard as it sounds. 

trying to hold the hot egg in place burned my fingertips.  also, tapping an eggshell with the edge of a spoon all around the top edge, so as to crack off a perfect little lid isn't as easy as British people make it look.  my eggshell sort-of crumbled under the pressure of me smacking it, but i did get an opening in the top.  partial success. 

trying to scoop the egg white out from inside the shell left me a bit concerned that my next bite would have a fragment of shell in it, or worse, that i was wasting the precious egg by not scraping enough of the egg white out properly with my spoon. 

it seemed like a lot of trouble just to eat one egg.

the deal was that i would be made a soft-boiled egg if i promised to blog about it.  so this is my blog. 

the egg DOES taste yummy when runny and eaten with a spoon.  yes, indeed. 

is it worth all the effort involved in actually getting the egg out of (or off of) the shell?

i'm not convinced.

but hey -- i'm trying.

 
 

i just got back from a coffee shop / cafe in my neighborhood.  it was a place i had never been to before.  my partner and i had decided to stroll through this area called Chiswick near our flat and look for a spot to chill out, have a drink and read -- or whatever. 

as we were walking it started to rain (as it is prone to do in London) so we ducked into the nearest cafe on the block.

we went to the counter and ordered a large latte and a large chai latte.

we sat down next to the counter.

a cafe employee brought over our drinks when they were ready and we sat there a bit, sipping the somewhat-disappointing drinks.  (well, mine was disappointing.)  i pulled out a book and read a few pages, my partner pulled out a laptop and did some writing. 

i asked my partner if he paid for the drinks, because i didn't see him make any transaction.  he said, "no, you pay when you're done." 

i thought this unusual -- what if an unscrupulous customer skipped out without paying?  how did they remember exactly what you ordered without a printed ticket of any kind? 

well, whatever.  when in Rome...

when we were ready to leave i went up to the counter with some money to pay.  i had looked at the menu's price list on the wall and had the exact amount of cash required to pay for our two large drinks:  £4.30 (that's $8.60 for you Americans).  the only problem was, the woman behind the counter looked at me, tapped her cash register keys and promptly requested i pay £5.10 -- not £4.30.

now, i was standing right in front of the giant price list on the wall and i knew how much my order was supposed to be.  so i said to her, "is that for one latte and one chai latte?"  and she said yes.  i gestured toward the prices on the wall and she said flatly, "those prices are for TAKE-AWAY."

OHHHHH.  i get it.  i am being charged an undisclosed, unlisted EXTRA amount of money for my drink because i chose to drink it INSIDE the cafe instead of carrying it out.  and for whatever reason, it's apparently OK that the cafe doesn't post this higher price anywhere?

yes, apparently it's fine with everyone here -- except me.

this situation is typical of what i've seen in England.  in fact, it's probably typical of all of Europe.  no one does anything the way they're supposed to, there is shitty customer service pretty much everywhere you go, and you will probably be charged an amount that's higher than the one on the menu for something simply because someone at the cafe or pub decided to change the price without telling anyone.

i think this is shitty. 

it's not about the MONEY of course -- it's the PRINCIPLE of the thing.  i will now never return to Chiswick Cafe no matter how thirsty or hungry i might be, because they have dishonest business practices and unfriendly counter help.  there are so many cafes on our neighborhood sidewalks i would never have to return to one i dislike -- ever.  and that's a GREAT thing. 

the English businesses seem not to have learned that the consumer is the real boss.  if the consumer doesn't like the way you run your business they will take their money elsewhere.  in this day and age the only businesses who don't have to be nice to their customers are private, monopoly corporations like DirecTV or BT telephone company.

so Americans beware:  if you come to London and you order a drink at a cafe, and it says a specific price on the menu, you may be asked to pay a higher price depending on whether you drink the drink INSIDE the cafe, or carry it away somewhere else.

i would have no problem with any of this if the prices were honestly advertised.  but they were not.  they weren't even listed at all.

every time i go out and try to enjoy my new home i find another thing that's fucking stupid about it.

so much for assimilation.