10 Things: Modern grumbles

I have to apologise in advance – because what started out as a light-hearted look at modern irritations turned into a bit of a rant. Sorry about that and thanks to my lovely wife and proof-reader for pointing it out…

1)   Kindles: Call me old-fashioned but, when I read a book, I like to have an actual copy, not a download on some device. I prefer the feeling of stretching the back of the book a bit when you start –in the knowledge that this will hopefully be the start of a satisfying  (albeit short-lived) relationship with the words on the page. But truthfully, if you replace a shelf-full of books with a Kindle, you can’t show off as much. Yes, that’s one of the main reasons I think we all keep books – to show off when people come round. I can honestly admit that I disliked ‘On the Road’ by Jack Kerouac and have only kept my copy so that people will see it on the bookshelf and hopefully jump to the conclusion that I am a hip, edgy beatnik-type. A Kindle would rob me of that utter delusion.

2)   Self-service checkouts: “Would you like to purchase any of our promotion items?” “Do you have an advantage card?” “Please scan your first item”. “Verification needed – please wait for assistance”. “Do you have your own bags?” “Please place bag in bagging area”. “ Bag not recognized – please remove bag from bagging area”. “Unidentified item in bagging area”. “Please replace bag”. “Item not recognized – please try again”. “Please stop trying to destroy bagging area or I will call security”…

3)   The Nike running app: For always, ALWAYS deciding to stop working when I have think I have actually made a time that I am proud of, despite the fact I am wheezing like an asthmatic 80-year old carrying his shopping.

4)   Gastro-pubs: I don’t object to the fact that they exist, just the fact they seem to have taken over every single pub in Britain. I mean, sometimes I just want to be able to walk into a pub, get served at the bar and not be forced to sit at a table (due to ‘policy’) where a disinterested waitress will get stroppy because I just want a beer and, therefore, am unlikely to tip her. If I am actually eating, sometimes I’ll want something other than pork belly – maybe just a greasy burger or a piece of steak that looks like it’s been on the floor and was definitely NOT subject to ‘the 10-second rule’. Sometimes I want to feel I have lived dangerously by eating that steak and drinking out of a pint glass that looks like it hasn’t been washed since the most recent ‘change of ownership’.

5)   Gourmet cat food: I don’t have a cat and my feline-based gripes have already been documented on these pages, so the reason for including this is down to the fact that I saw an advert for it on the TV the other night. “You should put that in your blog”, said Mrs.D. So here we go…Why on earth would you want to pay more money for ‘gourmet cat food’ to show how much you ‘love’ your cat? Surely the very fact that you put up with its evil antics is enough to show that you at least tolerate the furry beast in the first place? Besides, is the cat really going to turn around and tell you that it really appreciated its latest meal with the hint of flaked salmon as opposed to the usual, congealed lumps it happily scoffs? No, because it’s a sodding cat! This is an animal that will happily lick its own genitals, so I can be pretty sure its taste buds won’t care whether the food is ‘gourmet’ or not.

6)   Reward cards: Shop at your local supermarket 10 times and you’ll get 5 points on your reward card. 200 points give you 20 tokens – which you have to redeem online. When you collect 1000 tokens, you can then apply via post (including a copy of your passport photo and a print-out of all your tokens) for a gold card, which will save you 47p off your next food shop. Alternatively, you can use it to pay for a night in a 2-star hotel somewhere near Bournemouth (dinner and breakfast not included).

7)   ‘Chuggers’ (those people who try to stop you in the street and get you to donate to any number of charities): Don’t get me wrong – I am a charitable person. I have taken part in a number of charitable events over the years and am more than happy to support friends and family when they do likewise. However, I do object to being accosted by ‘perky’ students who try and prevent me from reaching my destination by blocking my path and trying to get me to part with my hard-earned cash in order to earn them commission from whatever bib they are wearing that day. I also don’t see why they stand so close to each other. If I’m going out my way to avoid one of them, I’m certainly not going to change my mind within 20 yards. I am far from a rude person but, apart from on a football field, one such encounter with a chugger has been the only time I’ve ever sworn at a stranger in public.

8)   Rocket: I don’t think I was even aware of this herby pest five years ago – it was obviously the new leaf on the block at some point. Now it seems to be everywhere – salads, sandwiches, pizzas, burgers – you name it, it’s there and intent on ruining my meals by sneaking into my mouth unannounced and nestling in my teeth whilst I curse it.

9)   Companies that contact you over ‘mis-sold PPI claims’. Like a swarm of midges that just won’t give up, I have lost count of the number of adverts I have seen, as well as the HUGE number of phone calls and texts I have received from various people on the off-chance I have unknowingly taken out payment protection insurance. I fear that, come the apocalypse, all that will remain will be call-centres still trying to ring us about our financial history.

10)   Simon Cowell: I don’t really need to elaborate further on this one.

An apology to Coppertone Sport

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In my previous post, in which I listed 10 American Imports that I wish we had in the UK, I am ashamed to say that I made one glaring omission. So, without further delay, here it is:

11)    Coppertone Sport. Or, as I like to call it, the ‘little tube of genius’. The reason for this is that I’m British and do not tan well, if at all. In fact, my skin’s response when faced with any prolonged exposure to the sun is to go red and then peel. Incredibly attractive, I’m sure you’ll agree. Even the lobsters laugh. That was until I discovered Coppertone Sport in California three years ago. It’s brilliant. Despite it’s size, it seems to have a never-ending supply of sweat-proof, Factor 30 cream that will protect my delicate (but still manly) outer layer from the hottest of elements. It even has ‘replenishing antioxidants’. I have no idea what they are but they sound bloody important and therefore my skin must NEED them. Going back to the US last year, I was so pleased to discover it in Walgreens, I picked up a few tubes and completely forgot what I went in there for in the first place. In fact, I will also give an honourable mention to Walgreens – all your essentials in one handy place – marvellous. But Coppertone Sport saved me on a number of occasions from becoming a member of the sunburnt-Brit club. It’s small, it’s effective and – in my opinion – beats the hell out of anything we have over here. Forget the unpronounceable Piz Buin that doesn’t even go up to Factor 30 for poor saps like me. I’ll stick with the little tube of genius.

10 Things: American imports I wish we had in the UK

Following the news that Britain has successfully *cough* exported the singing embryos of ‘One Direction’ over to the US (you’re welcome, America), I thought I would kick off a semi-regular ‘lists’ feature – starting with a look at some things that our friends across the Atlantic have in their midst that I wish we had over here…

1)     More M&M’s flavours.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the chocolate ones. Mrs.D prefers the peanut ones and I think we both agree that the ‘crispy’ ones are vile. Yet in America, they also have peanut butter, almond, coconut, pretzel, wild cherry, orange chocolate, mint chocolate etc. I know you can get them over here in selected shops but that invariably involves having to pay £1.99 for the smallest bag and then needing to re-mortgage your house for the bigger sizes. Ok, ‘wild cherry’ sounds disgusting but the others (peanut butter and pretzel are my favourites) are damn tasty. But why stop at M&M’s? In the newsagent opposite my old office, there was a period of about a month when they stocked ‘peanut butter and cookie’ flavour Twix bars, direct from the US. I am not ashamed to admit that it made my week when I found that out.

2)     Good TV shows with more than 6 episodes a season. I love that, when it comes to the start of a new season of a US TV show, there are at least 13 episodes to look forward to – often even more than 20. In the UK, we get 6. It’s barely even worth it. Why is this, TV executives, why??

3)     Friendly customer service. Ok, so a huge generalisation and I am sure I will polarize opinion on this. But, despite being British, I like it when shop assistants and waiting staff in America ask me how I am and say ‘have a great day’ when our brief interaction has finished. The fact that they seem genuinely baffled when you ask how they are adds to the charm. Maybe it’s a bit cheesy or maybe I’m a bit needy (perhaps both), but I would happily choose this approach over the surly attitude that seems to prevail in the UK, where any question or attempt at conversation on my part is usually met with the same look of withering disdain as if I’d just farted.

4)     Sexy politics. Ok, so ‘sexy’ may be pushing it a bit but it’s arguably a lot more interesting than the stuffiness that runs through British politics. In the US, politicians are called Barack, Mitt and Newt. In the UK, we have David, Ed and Nick. They have rallies, banners and television debates. Hollywood makes movies around American politics.  They have primaries, senates, ‘super tuesday’ and something called a ‘tea party’. Now I have no idea what that is, but it sounds bizarrely fascinating. Even the more extreme personalities are not just eccentric but completely bat-shit crazy (yes, Sarah Palin, I’m looking at you). Even the bad guys are more emphatic. There are a number of British politicians I would quite like to punch, but if I had to choose between any one of them and Rick Santorum, I would land one on Santorum every single time.

5)     HUGE landmarks. Buckingham Palace, Stonehenge and Hadrian’s Wall are all impressive; I’m not denying that. But compare them to the Golden Gate Bridge, the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls, and there is really no contest. Times Square in New York is brilliantly crazy too. It’s like Piccadilly Circus on steroids.

6)     Augusta National Golf Club. Every year, I get misty-eyed as I watch the best golfers in the world head to Augusta, Georgia for the US Masters tournament.  If I had a ‘bucket list’ then playing Augusta National would be right at the top, but realistically it would be impossible due to the exclusive membership criteria. Even if that weren’t an issue, I would never be allowed anywhere near the gorgeous flower-laden surroundings and beautiful fairways for fear of hacking around and leaving massive divots in my wake like some sort of uncoordinated British tornado. So, it shall remain a dream.

7)     The legacy of Americana/Alt.Country Music. A genre I love, from all the way back to the sixties when there was Gram Parsons and the Byrds, via the Eagles in the seventies, through to the nineties revival lead by the Jayhawks and Uncle Tupelo – who were then followed by bands such as Whiskeytown and Drive-by Truckers. I know I sound like a music snob but, if these bands were from Blackpool or Milton Keynes, the music would not have been quite the same.

8)     Trail Mix and Diet Mountain Dew. Yes, I’m going down the sugar route again, although I’m pretty sure Diet Mountain Dew doesn’t have much, if any of it. Anyhow, the combination of this drink and a factory-sized packet of Trail Mix (a combination of peanuts, raisins, chocolate, cashew nuts plus whatever else they decide to throw in at the time) got Mrs.D and I through some very long, and occasionally scary, drives through California, Nevada and Arizona. Whether it was through the searing heat of Death Valley, down narrow roads next to some vertigo-inducing drops in Yosemite, or almost driving the wrong way down the Las Vegas strip (don’t ask), these snacks were always close to hand and mouth.

9)     Sirius Satellite Radio. I perhaps should have included this above as this was also a constant companion during our two-week stint in the west of the US.  There were a number of great stations, but my two favourites were ‘E-Street Radio’ – which was devoted entirely to the music of Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band – and ‘Spectrum Radio’ – which played album tracks from the likes of Whiskeytown, The Wallflowers, The Black Crowes, REM, Counting Crows, Fleet Foxes, Neil Young, Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam.  Coming back to Absolute Radio was something of a disappointment.

10)  The city vibe. This is another potentially contentious one. I was fortunate enough to spend a few days in New York last April and it was magnificent. Such a vibrant, diverse city that had a vibe where anything could happen and anything could be achieved. In comparison, London feels grey and tired, with a sense of disillusionment hanging over it. New Yorkers have great pride in their city whereas Londoners seemingly walk around with apathy. Maybe it’s a generalisation and comes from the fact that New York was new and exciting to me, whilst I commute to London most days, which I guess makes me one of the apathetic.