Monthly Archives: October 2007


It’s Halloween and in America this is a big deal. Brits will no doubt be giving derisory tuts as they read that but that’s because in the UK we are the victims of marketing pressure to adopt yet another artificial holiday just so that retailers can sell more junk to us. But over here it’s different. OK, every retail outlet is choc full of plastic, light-up, spooky crap, but it feels different. Mainly because here, everyone buys into it. Kids really love it, and it’s been said many times that it’s their favourite holiday of the year – and that includes Christmas! Here it means, dressing up, having fun and getting hold of buckets of sweets. For the adults it’s the same but with drink instead of the chocies.
So we’re now sitting outside on the front porch rocking benches, tapping away at our laptops like a 21st century Ma and Pa Kettle. Michele is hoping that the armies of dressed up children will suddenly descend and demand sweets…like it was in her day.

But evidently things have changed. Daily Mail culture (or rather Fox News culture) has made everyone believe the streets are crawling with child molesters and general nonces. Sad really.

Oh wait! Here comes one now. There’s loads of them! Oh yeah – over here the costumes don’t necessarily have to be scary – in fact some of them are just plain old fancy dress; consequently all the little girls go round as princesses and all the little lads go as ninjas, superheroes or corpses.

In the UK, all you get is a bunch of teenage delinquents demanding money with menaces.

Last night we went with Michele’s brother and his wife to a Haunted House called “Bate’s Motel.” We were bought tickets in advance with the added enticement that “they’ve got a corn maze too!” Obviously, I haven’t got a sodding clue what that means or what the whole thing was about so we went along.

Thousands of people drive to this big field in New Jersey the middle of Pennsylvania, park up and then join astonishingly long queues to enter either a scary house, a scary corn field or go on a scary “hay ride” – nope, me neither.

Let me tell you, the scary house and the scary corn field were genuinely frightening. Each was pitch black, full of “actors” dressed up as terrifying things, willing to jump on you in the dark, and all sorts of other nasty stuff in there: giant robotic rats, hanging meat (mainly fake), and people with chainsaws. My heart was racing for about an hour afterwards.

Afterwards, Michele and I were absolutely shaking with hunger and so we all went to a massive diner and ate much too much food, whilst laughing at the ludicrous wigs on the customers which may, or may not, have been Halloween costumes.

Today: lovely cycle ride along the creek again.
My favourite quote of the day is from Helen, Michele’s mum:

Martin, you look like a freak.

The airport panto continues

If you’ve been unlucky enough to have to get on a plane in the past couple of years, especially across the Atlantic, then you’ll no doubt have been irritated by the ridiculous pantomime of the airport security checks that you are required to endure just so the stupid people feel a bit safer. The limited liquid rule is particularly irritating, based, as it is, on a bizarre knee-jerk reaction to a very dubious threat.

There’s an old joke that involves asking someone why they’re performing a bizarre ritual, such as constantly throwing confetti out of a car window.

“It’s to keep the crocodiles away” the person explains.

“But you don’t get crocodiles around here,” you point out.

“See it works well doesn’t it!”

Now this is not just a crap joke, it also seems to be what the UK government are basing their airport security policy upon.

According to an article in El Reg Baron Bassam of Brighton, the government’s lordly gobshite on the matter, explained the need for the 100ml restriction of all liquids and gels thus:

The fact that there has not been a serious incident involving liquid explosives indicates, I would have thought, that the measures that we have put in place so far have been very effective.

So, not only has this measure prevented terrorists creating liquid explosives in airplane khazis, but it seems to have also put off the crocodiles as well!

Manayunk ? Indian

We’ve had our first Indian meal since we landed. Michele’s mum, being a mum, insisted that we get a lift down the “fucking massive hill” (q.v.) to Manayunk rather than us risk life and limb on the cheap, convenient, safe, bus service. As it was raining hard and the hill we would have to descend was really quite massive (in the “fucking ” sense) we agree and got dropped off in the lovely Main Street.
First stop was a lovely little (in the sense of “big”) bar which thought it was Irish, called “Paddy O’Mally’s” or something equally insulting. But it turned out to be quite nice. Of course there was American Football on the many widescreen TVs and plenty of that pastiche Irish folk coming out of the speakers, but the barman managed to pour a couple of quite acceptable pints of Guinness and Michele’s “Mer-*low*” was quite good too. It turned out the barman had spent time in London, which explains his pouring skills, but the atmosphere was nice and allowed us to relax in preparation for our impending curry.
And what a curry it was. Everything was different to our expectations, but it was superb. In the spirit of scientific discovery I ordered a Vindaloo: the reasoning was that outside of India, it was pretty much a wildcard and that in the UK it just refers to anything that will cause anal bloodshed the next morning. When the lovely waitress asked “Mild, medium or hot” I knew I was onto a winner and asked for the latter.
To cut a long but pleasant story short, it was superb. Not oily, not too salty, full of flavour, and my Vindaloo was milder than the mildest I’ve ever had in the UK. It was however the best I’ve eaten in a while. OK, it was expensive for Philly but it really seems to have been prepared with love and for that I’m grateful.
Reassured that good Indian food was on offer in the area we caught what is now our second favourite bus route home – the 35. Like its number it comes second to the legendary London 36 route (but only when, in the old days, the 36 was run using Routemasters.)
The 35 is the official and satisfactory solution to ascending the “fucking massive hill” of Manayunk. Its sole purpose seems to be to carry us to and from suitable drinking/eating establishments in Manayunk. Nice one SEPTA.

BTW – I received a lovely message from “Stuart” who didn’t leave us his email address. Thank you for getting in touch Stuart, and good luck with the move. We both think that you should get in touch so that if there was anything we could do to help (like be reassuring) then we could do so – even though neither of us have any real idea about SF – good luck anyway people.

Had a good day today – check flickr.


We’ve got to the stage of exploring our new land in an everyday way: popping to the shops, buying bogroll, walking up to the post office and the offy – stuff like that. It’s a fascinating way to find out about the place and also makes us feel more at home. Tonight we explored a local supermarket and I was genuinely shocked. Ten years ago, a visit to Pathmark was like stepping back in time to the supermarkets in the 70s – remember “Presto” or “Caters” ? But this one, “SuperFresh”, was like an upmarket Waitrose! Seriously, their cheese counter made me weak at the knees, mainly because of the pong from some of the fantastic imported French gear that was doing its best to run away. And the seafood! Great swathes of shrimp (prawns), crab, tuna and tilapia all there waiting to be scooped up together with some seriously upmarket sauces. We drove home, in our car, like proper grown ups listening to a radio station that should really be called WSAD Thirty-Something FM as it played a load of music that only 30+ people who are desperately trying to cling onto their youth would appreciate. We’ve named our car Walter, which we both feel is an appropriate name for a respectable old gent like him. But since he was bestowed upon us and we jumped through the hoops necessary to get a licence plate, this is the first time we’ve used him.
We made a decision that we would not become car dependent and luckily the neighbourhood we live in is perfect for pedestrians…and cyclists. On Sunday Michele and I went on a beautiful cycle ride along Wissahickon Creek which was an utterly life-affirming experience and a 10 minute walk away. Michele observed that none of the families we encountered walking and cycling along were as heavy (in build) as most of the people you normally see on the streets. Funny that.
We’ve also managed to walk down to Manayunk and back again several times, a journey which involves ascending and descending what can only be described as a “fucking massive hill.” We’re going to get fit I tell you.

One reason we’ve been going there so often, apart from the high density of posh bars, pubs, and restaurants on Main Street, is that there’s a mobile phone shop there. We bought a couple of Cingular (AT&T) contracts, against the advice of many on tinternet who reckon that T-Mobile is the best thing since Worcester Sauce flavoured Wheat Crunchies. So far, apart from the guy in the shop trying a very lame scam, I’m really happy with it. I’ll spare you the boring details but AT&T really do appear to wipe the floor with the competition on all fronts as far as I can tell. Of course, my prejudice against T-Mobile based on experiences in Europe helped. As for customer service (the main gripe from the new world about AT&T) every time I’ve called them the service has been exemplary, and their automated menu systems far less offensive than T-Mobile’s or the bastard Social Security…you know I found myself putting on a ludicrous American accent just so their voice misunderstanding system will have a better chance of sussing what I was on about. In the end I gave up and just blew rasberries down the phone at it – a technique I strongly advocate by the way because I ended up getting put through to a human very quickly. But to be honest he didn’t understand me either and dropped the call. Sorry – you don’t need to know any of this.

Settling in – part 2

It’s easy to start thinking that pedestrians are not only few and far between here, but also actively disliked by the authorities. That can be the only explanation for the aggressively anti-pedestrian traffic laws. Firstly, we have the cynical “turn right on red” law. This means that if you are at a red light and intend to turn right, you can. Oh yes, you’re supposed to wait until the road is clear first but this is regarded as an optional rule by most motorists.
Secondly even if the pedestrian “walk” light is on, cars may still turn left or right across the crossing. In other words there is no safe phase for pedestrians. And why should there be ? Not using a car is, after all, anti-American; pedestrianism is just another form of terrorism.
Enough of the niggles though, in fairness there are quite a few life enhancing improvements that deserve a mention. The fact that people are generally more friendly, more helpful and less shocked when strangers talk to them is a nice thing. The abundance of good quality sea-food everywhere you go is also a pleasant change.
Oh yes, SEPTA, the public transport services, could teach TFL a thing or two. From the end of our road there is a regular, cheap, air-conditioned, fast, bus service into center city that takes about 20 minutes, even in traffic. Even though we’ve got a car it’s still easier to get the bus.

Michele has, of course, managed to get a lot of avian activities into her short time here. Yesterday there was Parrot Palooza, which I decided to swerve, having a far shorter parrot threshold than Michele. The other evening we decided to eat out in Manayunk (a bit like the Islington of Philadelphia) and it took five minutes from leaving the car to Michele having a cockatiel on her head. Walking along main street, her finely attuned bird-sensitive hearing picked out a parrot and so she dragged me into a junk shop where, sure enough, was a beautiful pearl cockatiel in a cage. The sound of Michele’s cooing brough out a long girl from the back who explained that she’d adopted it two days before and enthusiastically closed the shop door so we could take the bird out of the cage. Only Michele could find this place.

Right, we’re off out for a cycle through some nearby woods.

Settling in – part 1

We’ve been here for under a week, not a particularly long time, but it already feels different to one of our past visits. The overwhelming feeling that we should be looking at things long-term is forcing me to make deliberate attempts to “adjust.”
If you’ve ever spent time in America then you’ll know that the surface similarities shield a wealth of subtle but significant differences between the cultures.

The first and most significant problem I’m experiencing is with the language barrier; no-one understand a bloody word I say. You might think I’m exaggerating about this, but it really is getting right on my tits. Today, whilst I was wandering around “center city” on my own, I decided to buy a coffee from Dunkin Donuts [sic]. The Asian (in the American sense of the word) guy behind the counter, was flummoxed by my seemingly simple request for a “white coffee” and passed me onto another guy (this time looking of middle-east extraction) to translate what the foreigner was saying. After a lot of very basic exchanges in which he deduced my requirements he handed me a white coffee and advised “it’s a black coffee, not white.” “When it’s got cream in, it’s white!” I responded and then we both started giggling. It didn’t have cream in it by the way, it was milk – over here, it’s called cream, even if it’s milk.

Michele and I have spent 12 years laughing at our linguistic differences yet now we’re here we’re both regularly getting surprised by the things that don’t translate. Here’s another one: it seems that over here the term “mains”, used to refer to the electricity supply, doesn’t exist. Not only that, but the concept of a word describing that infrastructure is also absent. So there is no simple way of describing “a mains lead” or “a mains adapter.” This took a while to figure out and people don’t seem to feel it’s a problem! Consequently there’s no simple way to discuss “mains wiring”; you have to flounder around using words like “wall socket”, “plug” and the technically vague “AC.” Madness.

And mobile phones…my god. If mobile technology was the yardstick of measuring a country’s development then America would be level-pegging with Nigeria.

We brought a couple of unlocked phones with us and thought that the quickest and simplest thing to do would be to buy a couple of pay as you go SIMs in the short term. Now, in the UK, you can go to pretty much any crappy newsagent, kwik-e-mart or corner-shop and buy a SIM for a fiver. No forms to fill in, no activation, no hassle. You put the SIM in your phone and you start dialing. Over here, the procedure is a perfect working example of a “right palaver.” Firstly you have a choice of only two vendors: T-mobile (pronounced teemobil) and ATandT (ew). Secondly, you have to find a mobile phone shop that knows what the hell you’re talking about, which basically means going to a shop directly owned by one of the networks. Finally you have to pay over $20 just for the SIM, and fill a load of forms, get it activated, and register your handset with the network. if you were unlucky enough to buy a handset with it, you would get a severely crippled piece of shit with all of the juicy and functional bits of technology turned off. Thanks, I’ll stick with my M600, which now feels like something that’s been transported through a time-warp from the future.

more later…

The end of a chapter – part 2

Pickfords arrived at around 9am on the Friday, as they said they would. They packed everything and were out of the place by 11am. All we had left was a collection of odds and sods that would surely only take a day to sort out.
By Sunday night we had thrown out another 10 or 11 industrial bin bags worth of junk, taken 3 boxes of stuff and countless suitcases over to my parents place for “sorting out”. We didn’t have time to clean the filthy carpets as we’d planned, and left behind a bunch of perfectly usable, but utterly undesirable items of crap. Sorry Yasmin!

We’d planned to go over to my mum and dad’s on Saturday and spend the weekend with them. Instead we rushed over on Sunday night, absolutely exhausted and demoralised. We had a lovely dinner with them, my sister and her boyfriend and consumed a posh bottle of champagne that some friends had kindly given to us on the Friday night.

The next morning, we rose early and attempted to sort the wheat from the chaff in our boxes of junk; a task in which we failed miserably. But we ended up with what we considered to be a suitable set of bags and then spent a couple of hours nervously doing nothing while we waited for the cab to arrive. When it did there were tears and fears all round and it was extremely hard. None of the goodbyes had felt real on Friday – probably because of the drink and the normality of being in the pub on a Friday. But two goodbyes over the weekend combined with saying goodbye to my family really hit me hard. If you’re moving abroad, get a good stock of tissues.

I’ll spare you the details of the flying experience. In a nutshell it had a very high suck-factor, BA have really gone downhill and anyone who pays extra for “Club World” is either deluded or a cretin.

We’re still settling in to our new life in Philadelphia, but at the moment it continues to feel like the start of a long, luxurious, holiday. In fact, it feels slightly less stressful than the average visit so far because we don’t have to worry about the flat getting burgled/incinerated, the parrot or work. The parrot is currently half-way through a 30-day stretch at quarantine but is living life like Harry Grout if reports from the screws are to be believed. I have a job interview, which could replace the stress of work, but to be honest I’m looking forward to it. Apart from requiring a short trip to Manhattan I’m looking forward to exploring their tech environment; it’s a geek thing.

We have made progress in other areas though. Today I applied for a social security number without which I might as well be in a PVS as far as everyday life is concerned. Michele has begun to change her surname to mine in a desperate attempt to reset her credit history. We both now have rather spiffing official photo ids; Michele has a lovely new driving licence and I have a beautiful little Green Card. Both come with photos, fingerprints, holograms and weird shiny patches of arcane markings.

This morning we paid our first visit to the Bob’s Diner for brekkie. I eschewed the local “delicacy” of scrapple in favour of the healthy alternative: pork-roll and corned-beef hash. With egg. And cheese. Sorry mum.

It’s quite odd how at home I feel here. Having a loving extended family of in-laws helps massively of course, but the area of Philadelphia we’re in really is quite lovely. Culturally it’s very similar to south-east London, and we have some beautiful parks and woodland within walking distance. We also have a car that we can’t use yet. Bizarrely, you need insurance before you can apply for a registration plate for it. Even more bizarrely, as I have no licence, we have to pay extra on the insurance to have me removed from it! That’s just sick, weird and wrong.

There have been plenty of twinges of sadness, but all very minor so far and the future looks bright for the first time in ages. The only thing I’m not looking forward to is the spectre of all of our impediments arriving – that doesn’t include Humphrey of course – I can’t wait to see those fluffy feathers again.

End of a chapter – part 1

Leaving t-shirtThe problem with attempting to blog about something like moving country is that both activities compete for time, and the former always outranks the latter.
So, we’ve now moved out of our flat, have shipped (most of) our stuff, said goodbye, landed in the U.S. and I haven’t written a single word about it.

So these are retrospective entries, but hopefully fresh enough in my memory to be accurate.

Moving house can be very upsetting. It’s a big upsetment. People get upset!
Bamber – The Chain

I won’t bore you with the details of the move as it’s all very predictable and tedious. But, we have learned some very valuable lessons which may be useful to someone:

  • We used Pickfords, and they were brilliant. Highly recommended for transatlantic moves…
  • That opinion may change when we get our stuff back of course.
  • The golden rule of moving house: The less stuff you are left with, the harder it is and the longer it takes to deal with. Consequently the “last little bits and bobs” take twice as long to deal with as getting the big stuff done.
  • Leave at least a week after the removals to clean/tidy up,get ready to fly and say goodbye to everyone. We left two days and it nearly killed us.
  • Deciding on what stuff to take on the plane for your initial time in the country is very simple: pack suitcases as if you were preparing to go on holiday for two weeks. Ship everything else! We, of course, didn’t do this and instead had an indescribably bad time for the last few days as we tried to squeeze everything into one suitcase each.
  • Despite what it says on any documentation from BA or BAA, or what it says on any automated message system, you are allowed to take two suitcases and one piece of hand-luggage with you when you fly to the USA. That little nugget of information, combined with the knowledge of the maximum weight of each bag (32Kg) would have saved us hundreds of pounds in excess baggage. thanks BA.
  • All airlines suck. BA, nowadays in particular, may get stuffed.

Because we didn’t know about these rules, we had four days of exhausting misery in which we also had to try and find time for emotional goodbyes and wistful reminiscences. Luckily we have some really good friends who organized an absolutely amazing leaving-do. There are plenty of photos that describe the event more accurately than I could ever do. Thanks so much to everyone that came, especially those that came a long way and those that I’ve been a really bad friend to with poor correspondence. Things will change now I promise.
To commemorate the event, Dan produced a truly brilliant t-shirt that everyone was invited to sign. In accordance with the ancient traditions of the craft, many people scrawled a cock-and-balls on it as well. Thanks everyone. It’s a very moving tribute.

Life, the Internet and everything

Despite BA fucking things up by neglecting to tell us about an essential step in the Humph transportation procedure, Humph should now be on a plane. We’re also grateful to the lovely people at BA’s Heathrow cargo terminal who were so understanding, helpful and just lovely to Michele and Humph during the period of turmoil.

Michele’s birdy friends on various Internet sites have also been more than supportive. Thank you people. It’s lovely to know that other people can under stand the trauma we’re going through by sending our beloved bird abroad.

Freecycle managed to sort us out properly today by sending people to remove over 100 VHS video tapes and a school table. We then managed to have a lovely evening in the pub with some really nice people.

It’s really not too bad at all…

Parrot scaring

We’ve been dreading this day since we first met Humphrey, our parakeet. She hates being touched more than anything else and yelps if you even go near her with your hand.
Of course, when she feels like it, she’ll land, climb, and fall asleep on us and does so all the time. But it has to be on her terms.
So we knew, at some point, we’d have to grab her and put her into her disgustingly small flight cage. That time is here and neither of us have slept much over the past few nights.
Catching her was as bad as I imagined. She knew something was up and wasn’t interested in taking part. She kept looking up at me with her wide glassy eyes as if to try and dissuade me from whatever it was I was about to do. But, loving her dearly, and essentially being a coward I made a complete nause-up of getting her in the box. She yelps you see, and it really jars me. So I released the grip and she was off. It took three attempts to get her and by then she was a little feathery bag of adrenaline.Now I’m sitting here by the light of this LCD, with 5mg of valium slowly kicking in, listening to bird-calming music and the horrible sound of an adrenal bird in a small wooden box scrabbling about.

That’s it. The cab turned up and Michele is now with her on the way to the airport. Cowardice again preventing me from traveling with her in the car.