Friday, August 20, 2010

An Englishman abroad...

Sorry for my absence the previous two Fridays, but I’ve been on holiday with my family. And apologies also if this blog is somewhat disjointed, but I’m writing though a fog of jet lag (anyone got any good remedies for jet lag? I once had chance to interview a senior executive at a huge worldwide corporation, who spent his life shifting time zones. ‘How do you cope?’ I asked, out of personal and professional curiosity. ‘Off the record,’ he said. ‘Whenever I reach a place, I drink as much beer as I can and knock myself out. The next day is a struggle, sure, but it works.’ Sadly, with three kids, this isn’t an option for me…)

We visited the United States, taking a road trip that incorporated parts of Maryland and Virginia. I’m an Americophile (if there is such a word) so love visiting the US. I find it a bewildering, fascinating place, rich with contrast and contradictions. I thought I’d share a few observations from this trip.

  • Glen Beck. Oh. My. God. I’d seen clips of this popinjay on various satirical TV programmes over here. But nothing prepared me for watching him delivering one of his unhinged rants live on air. Just a snippet - Glen was lecturing us on the wasteful budget of Philadelphia’s civic leaders. They spend millions on free libraries but not enough on combating crime for his tastes. ‘Look, I read more books than most people,’ he simpered, though the evidence so far was to the contrary. ‘Libraries are good things.’ The anger built in his face. ‘But how can you read books with blood dripping into your eyes?’
  •  US roads are in a seriously bad state. Thankfully my hire car was made of stern stuff, but a few billion could be ploughed into re-laying them and so help ‘this economy.’ (I heard the phrase ‘this economy’ more times than I heard the phrase ‘I love your accent.’)
  • Driving on the Beltway around Washington, the phrase ‘murder is everywhere’ carried a fleeting, extra resonance.
  • How many blocks away from Ground Zero is it acceptable to build a mosque? Four? 16?
  • Why do mosquitoes eat me, a hairy, sweating, beer drinking, fast-food guzzling bloke, alive, and leave my practically teetotal, healthy diet eating, fragrant, mildly perspiring wife alone?
  • Old Bay Seasoning is as addictive as crack. Probably as nutritious too.
  • In Ocean City I saw tourists queuing around the block to eat crab. A local had told me that the ‘local’ crab the tourists were waiting patiently in line for was actually imported from south east Asia. Flush with inside knowledge, I ordered the Chesapeake Mahi-Mahi instead
  • Why take a perfectly good beer, drain it of all taste and append the tag ‘light’? The good Lord had an answer if real beer makes you feel fat. He called it vodka.
  • I passed near or close to several Civil War battlefields, and sadly couldn’t visit them all. The ones I did were awe-inspiring and humbling. However, if the South’s cause was ‘glorious’, what does that make the cause of those fighting to preserve the world's first true democracy and end slavery?
  • When I’m rich I’ll buy a place where I can see those wild Atlantic waves crash on the shore.
  • In the airport waiting to fly home I saw someone wearing a t-shirt with Dubya’s grinning face on it, bearing the legend ‘Are you missing me yet?’ ‘No’, I thought. ‘I'd managed to wipe your entire existence from my memory until now.’ Then: ‘How much trouble is Obama in if people are getting nostalgic for you?’
  • Baseball is a glorious game, though it loses some of its lustre when the only games you can view feature the Orioles. 


Dan - Friday


  1. Dan--

    I believe those mosquitos were eager to drink from such a deep fount of pithy, accurate observations.

    One correction: Never question the gloriousness of the South's cause.

    Those people wearing chains, picking cotton, being raped and tortured, were not slaves. They were living expressions of state's rights. And the people who owned those people weren't barbaric. They were the most refined, genteel, honor-obsessed make-believe British aristocrats rural America has ever produced.

    I only mention this for your own protection; you may visit America again someday, and wouldn't want to break the law that makes it a crime to be insufficiently sentimental about the Confederacy.


  2. Dan, if you should return to the southern states of the United States, keep in mind that in the south that period of difficulty between north and south is referred to as "the war of northern aggression."

    Why or why did you vacation in that part of the US in the summer, especially this summer, the hottest one on record? The capital of the United States was built on a swamp. Before the advent of air conditioning, British diplomats assigned to DC were given the same hardship pay as those assigned to the islands of the Caribbean? At least those sent to the Caribbean had beautiful beaches and the deep blue water to assuage their longing for a British summer.

    Even watching the Washington Nationals might have been better than watching the Orioles. I hope they were playing someone worth watching, although I know that the Red Sox were not down there recently.


  3. Lenny, thanks for the tip. I once travelled around the South (by Greyhound bus no less - not my wisest move) and I observed some of the um, quirks you mention. On one tour near Charleston I asked a guide if the South, or at least its slave-owning states had ever thought about issuing an apology, the same sort of debate that was taking place in Australia re the Aborigines at that time. Cue silence, rolling tumbleweed. No, I think the answer was.

    Beth, it was as hot as hell. The trip was arranged a while ago, to celebrate my dads 70th and catch up with our relatives in Massachusetts. The east coast of Maryland was chosen as the venue, and we headed south afterwards. Thank God for that air conditioning. As for the Orioles, no such luck - the Mariners were in town. Nothing like a bottom of the table clash...