Monday, February 27, 2006

"I Love Your Accent"

Until moving to NC, I had thought that I didn't really have much of an accent. It turns out, however, that I do.

It seems that a number of people here "love" our accents, although they can't always place them. On more than one occasion, we have been asked if we are Australian. Sometimes, people just ask us where we come from. Although seemingly an easy to answer question, it is difficult to judge what the person means. What the person means depends on the level of their experience (or lack thereof) of things non-US.

Map showing the countries that form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandThe reply "England" has resulted in anything from, "Well, obviously. What part of England?" to "I knew there was something European there -- English or French or something." The former tends to come from people who have been to the UK or have friends/family there. Mark spoke to one person who said that he used to know someone from England who came from a town called "Wales or something". Mark didn't have the heart to tell him that Wales is a different country, not a part of England. I think that he must have been getting confused between "Great Britain" and "England".

The other possible response to the question of where we're from might have been "Birmingham", but the US has more than one Birmingham of its own. Our standard answer is "Birmingham, England". This usually tends to answer their question.

After these conversation openers have been successfully navigated, we can move on. The nature of this progression depends on how interested in our being English the person is. A waitress might comment on her love of our accent, then ask us what we'd like to drink; someone who's been to England may discuss their holiday and the sites that they've been to. Mark had a long conversation in Walmart with a Vietnam veteran who had heard his accent. The veteran did most of the talking, about how much he liked Tony Blair. The conversation ended with him saying, "Well, when you go back to England, tell Tony that I'm a big fan." I'd like to think that he was joking.

Even once the origin of our accents has been established, our native language is sometimes in question. Several fifth graders, while Emily still had "new kid at school" celebrity status, asked her, "What language do they speak in England?" Recently, one of Emily's friends asked me, "Did you all have to take English lessons when you first moved here?" I think that she asked this because when I was talking to her I kept forgetting to use American words for some things (knickers/pants = underwear; trousers = pants; crisps = chips; chips = fries; courgettes = zucchini etc...). She must have started to think that we speak a different language.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Family Fun Night

School's Fun Night: Photo 1This evening, we went to the school's Family Fun Night. It's the equivalent to a school fete in the UK, with a bit of a kids' disco thrown in for good measure. It's funny, but we've travelled 4000 miles and the playlist at kid's discos are almost exactly the same, for example:

  • Cha Cha Slide
  • Birdie Song
  • Grease Megamix
  • Hey Macarena
  • Hey Mickey
  • Mambo Number Five
  • Crazy Frog
I always feel that these events are great for the kids, but extremely boring for the adults.

School's Fun Night: Photo 2The event was held in the local high school. If you want to know the definition of weird, try listening to Summer Nights while actually sitting in a US high school dining hall! I almost felt like I was right there, in the film!

We went with one of Emily's friends, who we brought back to our house to stay the night. All three girls are now in bed and Mark and I can relax for the evening.

(By the way, your eyes are not deceiving you. The bloke in the background of the first picture is indeed wearing shorts in February. This is not because he's "a tinny short of a sixpack," as we used to say when we were younger. It actually is warm enough for T-shirts and shorts in February (so much for "six more weeks of winter," Punxsutawney Phil!).)


I just found out about this and couldn't resist telling you about it. Take a look at Just enter the two terms or names that you want to fight it out and see who wins. For example, vegging wins over veging; and veging beats vegeing (see discussion in NC Museum of Natural Sciences). You can also watch one of the fights of the month (eg Winter Olympic Games vs. Summer Olympic Games or Bush vs. Katrina), one of the funny fights (eg My Girlfirend vs. Pamela Anderson or Marilyn Manson vs. Marilyn Munroe) or one of the classic fights (eg Ali vs. Tyson or Bill Gates vs. Linus Torvalds). Take a look and see what you think.

Friday, February 24, 2006

In Search of a Church

A CrossI think that the majority of this blog's readers are theologians (because they've clicked through from Mark's blog) Others may have religious affiliations of one sort or another; and I think that most are probably Christian. The Christian umbrella extends far -- from the very conservative to the more liberal.

On arriving in the US, we found ourselves unfamiliar with the layout of the Christian landscape (although Mark knows a lot more than I do). We decided that we would try out different churches to see what we think before deciding where to attend on a regular basis. We decided which church to attend each week by proximity to where we live, working outwards. We looked at their websites first; just to make sure that they weren't TV evangelists or any other sort of weird.

Some churches had written liturgies and traditional worship/hymns, while others had less formal, unwritten liturgies and contemporary worship styles. Personally, I like both styles.

The more formal churches have structure, the sermons (and services) tend to be shorter and many of the old hymns have much more about them than modern hymns/choruses. On the down side, I have a short attention span and get bored very easily, although the ability to follow the service in the prayerbook keeps me going. The churches that described their worship styles as "contemporary" tended to have choruses. Any hymns tended to be up-tempo.

In England, over the years, I have been to different types of churches. Some were traditional (with written liturgies), others had contemporary worship styles and others still practiced charismaticism. Here, although styles of worship varied between churches, there was no hint of charismaticism in any of them. I found this quite interesting because, in my experience, contemporary worship styles quite often (although not always) went hand in hand with charismaticism.

When we visited each church, we had to ask ourselves what we want from a church?

I think that the most important thing is that there is enough to keep the children engaged. We don't want them to get disillusioned with church. In many churches, children become disillusioned at around teenage. Often, this disillusionment with the church extends to a more general rejection of Christian beliefs. I think that this is caused by certain perceptions (whether true or not):

  • that people within the church are judgemental
  • that people with in the church are hypocritical
  • that the church doesn't have adequate answers to questions being asked. When asking questions, they may be left with apologetic responses that don't satisfy.
  • that they don't have any friends within the church
  • that church services are boring
The most important thing is that we don't want Emily and Lauren to become disillusioned.

When we'd looked at quite a few churches and our radius was extending a bit farther than we'd like, we decided to take stock. We looked at all the churches we'd visited and discussed what we liked and what we didn't like about each one. We eventually settled on a medium-sized (by US standards) church with a contemporary worship style. We chose this church mainly because it was not too far from where we live and because it has a lot of children of Emily and Lauren's ages. We'll have to see how it goes from here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

NC Museum of Natural Sciences

When I was younger, we quite often went down to London. One of the things we would do in London was visit the museums. They were free to get into and were great fun, so made for a cheap day out. My favourite London museum was always the Natural History Museum and my second favourite was the Science Museum. Mark said that he really liked the Geological Museum, although Natural History was his favourite too. When I was older, I went less often, mainly because they started to charge entrance fees.

Yesterday was Presidents' Day -- the day when all US citizens pay honour to their presidents, past and future. It also meant that Emily and Lauren had Friday afternoon, as well as all day yesterday and today off school. Unfortunately, however, Mark still had to work, so we couldn't go off on one of our explorations. (I still haven't got a car, so if Mark's at work, I'm home-bound.) Friday afternoon was spent veging and the Weekend went by as such weekends often do. Monday was better for Lauren because she went roller skating with her friend. As Emily didn't want to roller skate, though, I had to spend another day at home.

Today, however, we went on a day trip to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh (NC's version of the Natural History Museum). The museum is on four stories and we only managed to see two of them before it was time to go home. The children also go to see the special Brain exhibit. It was a very nice day out, but we had to leave a lot to discover on another occasion.

In addition, the North Carolina Museum of History is next door and the North Carolina State Capitol is across the street. Then there's the art museums (Contemporary Art Museum & NC Museum of Art). We didn't get a chance to even start on those, so we'll definitely have to try and go again.

V for Vendetta and Watchmen

Am I the last person on earth to find out that they've made films of V for Vendetta and Watchmen? V for Vendetta's release date in the US is the 17th of March. Watchmen is still in production. V for Vendetta and Watchmen are the first graphic novels I ever read, back when I was a teenager.

On the one hand, I can't wait. On the other hand, I hope that the film-makers haven't wrecked them. You may also want to look at the V for Vendetta Shrine.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The TARDIS Lands on Sci-Fi

In the UK, the new series of Dr. Who is due to start on the 15th of April (just before Easter).

Here in the US, the Sci-Fi Channel have bought the Christopher Eccleston series of Dr. Who and are due to air it on Friday nights, starting this March. The exact date of its launch is not certain yet, but rumour has it that it's going to be the 17th. I'll let you know when the dates are no longer just rumour. Emily and Lauren are all set to watch the whole lot again.

So, in anticipation of the forthcoming event, here's ten things you wanted to know about Dr. Who, but were always afraid to ask:
  1. The Doctor doesn't have a name, but is just known as "The Doctor".
  2. The Doctor looks human, but is actually an alien from the planet Gallifrey. He has two hearts.
  3. The Doctor is a Timelord.
  4. A Timelord's ship is called a TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space).
  5. The Doctor is always accompanied by one or more travelling companions. He currently travels with Rose Tyler (played by Billie Piper).
  6. The Doctor's biggest enemies are:
    • Daleks (a Nazi-like race of aliens who live cocooned within machines that keep them alive)
    • Cybermen (pre-dates the Borg by a long way)
    • The Master (a baddie Timelord)
  7. A TARDIS can disguise itself to blend in with its environment and not be noticed. The Doctor's TARDIS always looks like an old fashioned British police box because its chameleon circuit is broken and The Doctor has never got round to fixing it.
  8. The TARDIS is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.
  9. The TARDIS is not just a ship -- it is also alive.
  10. Timelords can cheat death by regenerating whenever they are about to die. The Doctor always used to become younger with each regeneration, but seems to have equilibrated at about age 30 or so (I suppose that one cannot have him running around saving the world in a nappy (diaper). Christopher Eccleston is the 9th Doctor.
OK, we're not getting the new series, but repeats are better than nothing.

Aston Villa vs. Man. City

Just watched the Aston Villa vs. Manchester City football match (FA Cup 5th round) on Fox Soccer Channel. Man. City scored in the last few seconds of the match (with their goalie getting stuck in at the Villa end, having abandoned his own goal). You should have seen Villa's faces!

God's Own Country

Michael Pahl's blog The Anglo-File, Too is always a good read for me. This is because The Pahl family are Canadians living in Birmingham, England. We spent 10 years in Birmingham, have friends there and are very fond of the city. The Pahls' first impressions of Birmingham are in their September 2005 archive and includes photos of very British things like double decker busses and red phone booths.

Turl Street, Oxford, UK
Turl Street, Oxford
(Mark's college (Exeter)
is on the left.)
They have also been on "pilgrimage" to two other cities that are close to our hearts -- Cambridge and Oxford. I grew up in a city that's about an hour north of Cambridge (Peterborough) and had relatives who lived just outside Cambridge, so used to go there for day trips. In later life, both Mark and I had (and still have) family in Cambridge, so again used to visit often (and sometimes we'd throw in the odd gig at The Junction or Corn Exchange while we were there). Oxford is special because Mark lived there for 10 years and I lived there for 6 years. It's where we met and where Emily was born (Lauren was born in Birmingham). We also still have friends there.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Brit Awards

Although I didn't get to watch them, I had a quick look at the results of the 2006 Brit Awards. It made me feel slightly out of touch. I don't know whether this is because I'm not in the UK, so cannot keep up with the latest bands there or whether it's just that I'm getting old. At the end of the day, I don't really give a hoot about the Brits, but let's take a look at some of the winners anyway:

Lamar (British Urban Act)

I've heard Lamar (including live at Party in the Park a couple of years ago). If the award was for Most Formulaic Load Of Old Rubbish, I'd understand. As it is, I don't understand how Lamar can win anything. If The Streets had a more recent album (his last one was released in 2004; the next one isn't due to be released until April 2006), then he would have my vote. Even without The Streets in the picture, there's got to be something out there that is better than Lamar.

James Blunt (British Pop Act)

I have to admit that the only single I know of his is You're Beautiful. This was OK the first few times I heard it, but soon became irritating. The other thing is that I'm not sure that I'd classify James Blunt as "pop".

Coldplay (several awards)

Coldplay is one of those bands that I can objectively see that they're quite good, but they're not really my cup of tea.

Kaiser Chiefs (several awards)

I recently bought their album. It's good, but not as good as The Killers. However, as The Killers aren't British, I'd agree with the Kaiser Chiefs sweeping up a few awards.

Greenday & Madonna (international awards)

The Greenday award is another album that I recently bought. It's good, but I prefer The Killers. As far as Madonna is concerned, I quite like her music, but don't really like the look of her. I've always swayed between liking her and not and I'm currently in a "not" phase. It's not just the whole "mutton dressed as lamb" thing that she's got going on, but upon seeing her performance at Live8 I was embarrassed on her behalf. It really put me off her.

KT Tunstall (British Female Artist)

ditto Coldplay comments

Paul Weller (Outstanding Contribution)

I have to plead ignorance about what his contribution has been to music other than The Jam. The Style Council was rubbish and I lost interest in anything he's done since. Perhaps someone might want to educate me?


The other awards all went to people/groups that I'd never heard of. These are the ones that make me feel most out of touch. These are:

Jack Johnson (International Breakthrough Act)
Kanye West (International Male Solo Artist)
Arctic Monkeys (British Breakthrough Act)
Here's the BBC's Have Your Say Brits comments page.

Brit Awards aside, we recently jumped onto the post-CBB4 bandwagon by buying The Ordinary Boys's album. It's good old fashioned Ska and a good buy.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Valentine's Day

Joey CheekI woke up this morning to the news that a local lad (Greensboro, NC), Joey Cheek won a gold medal for the 500m speed skating at the Winter Olympics, wiping the floor with the competition. Not only that, but he's donated the winnings to Right to Play. Hats off to him, I say.

The realization that it was Valentine's Day came subsequently.

Every year Mark and I celebrate Valentines day, as do many couples around the world. We usually buy each other a present. It's usually something we both want, but need an excuse to justify the expense. We didn't quite get around to buying anything this year, but we thought we might get "each other" an iPod that we can share or something. We stopped buying each other cards after the first few of years or so of being married because each year we kept buying cards, then forgetting to give them to each other. We also usually have a nice meal together in the evening (another thing we haven't managed this year, although this is not cancelled, but postponed to the weekend).

Two hearts with flowers around themWe're not unromantic, just busy. We managed to have a nice lunch together. There's a nice chain of Irish-themed pubs, one of which is only about a half hour drive from where we live, called The Hibernian. It sells beers like Guinness, Newkie Brown (Newcastle Brown Ale) and Bass and is the only place we've found where we can sample the delights of Irish style sausages, black pudding and back bacon. The black pudding is like one would buy in a UK supermarket, not the good proper stuff that a butcher would sell, but it's better than nothing. The local supermarkets here don't sell anything resembling black pudding or UK sausages and one can only buy streaky bacon. So, although it was lunch time, we treated ourselves to as near as we could get to an English breakfast.

Valentines day here seems to be a higher profile event than it is in the UK. When I was at school, every year my older sister would be bombarded with mountains of Valentines from her many admirers. When I was a teenager, a few Valentines came trickling towards me, but nothing like the torrents that my sister received each year. The rule was simple -- if someone fancied someone, they'd give them a Valentine's card and/or present. That was that.

Two hearts with an arrow through themHere in the US, everyone seems to buy Valentines cards and presents for everyone. Lauren's class at school had a rule that any child who brought in Valentines had to bring them in for the whole class. It rather defeats the purpose of telling someone that they're special and you love them if you have to give them to everyone -- even those you may not even like.

By Valentines, I don't just mean cards, but sweets (candy) and presents too. Emily and Lauren came home from school with shed-loads of stuff. Many of the cards were home made. One of Lauren's friends told me that her mother had started her on the task of making 25+ cards back in early January. In addition, many households swap the US flag on the flagpole outside their house for a Valentines Day flag. Now that's dedication!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Dick Cheney

Dick Cheney shot his mate in the face. Would "What a dumb-ass," be the appropriate American-English response? At least John Prescott doesn't use firearms.

Here's a few accounts of the Dick Cheney story:

The Independent
The Nation (Yahoo News)
Wired News

February 13, 2006

I liked Lorraine's "sympathetic" open letter to Dick Cheney.

Electrics & Electronics

One issue, when moving from the UK to the USA is the problem of electrical/electronic compatibility between the countries. This is a potentially expensive problem. I thought I'd outline what we did. If you're thinking of making the same move, perhaps you can make use of some of our good ideas or learn from our mistakes.

The main issues, as I see them are:

  • The US mains power supply is 110 volts, with a frequency of 60Hz, while the UK supply is 240V and 50Hz.
  • US colour encoding uses NTSC and the UK uses PAL.
When making the move, some people sell everything in the UK, then buy all new stuff in the US; but that is an expensive option, so we decided on a compromise.

We decided that the frequency difference should not be a problem for any devices that do not involve timers. Anyway, buying frequency converters would be more expensive than just buying everything new in the US. We took many of our electrical items with us because we decided that buying a few transformers would be cheaper. We gave away small, cheap items -- clock radios, kettle, toaster and that sort of thing.

There were some items that we did not want to get rid of:
Emily and Lauren's micro systems that are in their bedrooms

They wanted to keep these because they were birthday presents and fairly new-ish. One small transformer for each of their bedrooms sorted these out. The plan was to plug their bedside lamps into the same transformers, but they're still in a box somewhere.

Our computers

The laptops were fine -- they are all 100-240V and 50/60Hz, but the desktops and peripherals were a bit more problematic. Mark's desktop had a switch that allows conversion between voltages and frequencies, but mine did not. The peripherals were also a mixed bunch. I didn't want to get rid of my desktop even though it's a bit old and slow by modern standards (only 1G Athlon CPU) because I've done a bit to it -- added an extra CDRW, a firewire card, an NIC card, an extra hard drive, extra RAM; and I put a couple of operating systems on it (Windows and Linux). It's chunky, slow and temperamental, but it's my baby. If it was just the computer, I may have bought it a new power unit; but as there were other devices with this problem, I decided to buy a single transformer for the study/spare room. Any devices that would work off the US power supply were plugged into the wall (just using UK to US adapter plugs), any others went to the transformer.

A good tip if you're thinking of doing this is to take your multi-point extension leads with you from the UK. I just plugged one extension into the transformer, then everything else into the extension.

Televisions, VCRs & DVDs

We have lots of PAL videos and DVDs, so we needed a way to be able to play them in the US.

Our DVD player was a small TEAC separates system, which couldn't be made multi-regional via a handset hack. We could have paid a bit of money to have it converted, but we decided not to. It was cheaper to buy a DVD player from Walmart and handset-hack it to be multi-regional. We took the TEAC with us anyway, just because we couldn't bear to part with it. It is currently sitting in a box. I may unpack it and use it as a CD player (which will just need a little transformer), even though we can't watch DVDs on it.

Although we could watch both PAL and NTSC videos on our TV in England because both our TV and VCR were multi-regional, we would need a video converter (which would be quite expensive) to watch PAL videos on an NTSC TV. Multi-regional devices are harder to come by and more expensive in the US than they are in the UK. In the UK, you can pop into any electronics shop and pick up multi-regional devices; whereas in the US they're only available from specialist suppliers and are rather over-priced.

We decided to give away our main TV, but take with us a small, portable TV, a VCR and the Playstation. The plan was to set up a little "PAL corner" in our bedroom for watching PAL videos and for playing on the Playstation. This is now up and running. We bought a cheap VCR from Walmart to watch our NTSC videos. This means that we cannot watch PAL videos in the comfort of our sitting room, but the comfort of the bedroom is fine.
So, the state of affairs is that we have a transformer in each room that has UK devices in it. Each transformer has a single extension plugged into it and all the UK devices that are in that room are plugged into the extension. We have a "PAL corner" for watching PAL videos, but region 2 DVDs play through the cheap DVD player we bought from Walmart (after a quick handset hack to make it region 0). This, I think, has been cheaper than it would have been to buy everything new. It also helped us avoid the stress that buying everything new would have caused.

By the way, another little tip is that if you are planning on taking a TV, you will need a transformer that can handle a much greater wattage (about x10 or so) than your TV's specifications tell you. This is because a TV will have a huge power surge whenever it's switched on or off.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Ricky Gervais, Steve Merchant & Karl Pilkington Podcasts

Has anyone else been downloading the Ricky Gervais, Steve Merchant and Karl Pilkington podcasts from Guardian Unlimited? Apparently, they've broken the record for the most downloaded podcast ever. It's basically them just messing about and chatting, but is quite funny.

Celebrity Big Brother 4

This post is a little behind the times because the final of CBB4 was towards the end of January, but we have had to wait patiently for altruistic geeks to upload each episode to the internet before we had access to them (and if you are one of those geeks -- thanks). As a result, we've only recently finished watching them.

For the uninitiated, Big Brother is HUGE in the UK. The final of this year's Celebrity Big Brother pulled between 6.5 and 7.5 million viewers (depending on which source one reads). That's over 10% of the population. Add to this people in remote locations (like us) who download it, and you begin to get the picture. It is hosted by Davina McCall, Dermot O'Leary and Russell Brand, with Marcus Bentley providing commentary.

Every summer, 11 or so self-obsessed wannabes are put into the pressure cooker that is The Big Brother House, where they fight it out for about 3 months, while the public watch. Each week the contestants nominate the least favourite of their housemates to face the publc vote. The public then vote for their least favourite contestant. The person with the most votes is evicted from the house. The title of the show is derived from the George Orwell novel 1984 ("Big Brother is watching you"). This summer will be Big Brother 7.

Every winter, they do the same to a number of z-list celebrities who need the money; want to revive their flagging careers (or boost their fledgling careers); want to redeem public opinion that was lost because of some past misdemeanour; or who were just poorly briefed by their agents and don't know what they're getting themselves into. As in the summer shows, they stay the course for the money. In addition, proceeds from the show go to the celebrity's chosen charity. The timespan is shorter (this year it was 3 weeks) and the celebrities don't have cameras in the showers/toilets. Apart from that, it's the same as the summer series.

This year, there was:

Faria Alam
A Football Association secretary who is infamous for having had an affair with the England manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson. She was the least successful at rebutting the advances of Dennis Rodman.

Michael Barrymore
A comedian/family entertainer with a drink problem. He now lives in New Zealand. His British career came to a grinding halt after his fall from grace with tabloid opinions. This fall largely concerned a body being found floating in his swimming pool after one of his parties. Throughout the 3 weeks, he kept crying at every opportunity, did a lot of cooking, and picked arguments regularly. He came second place.

Traci Bingham
I'd never heard of her, but apparently she's a model and has been in Baywatch. She seemed to know one of the other contestants -- Dennis Rodman. In her opinion, almost everything was "Awesome".

Pete Burns
He is famous for having been a singer in the band Dead or Alive and for being completely weird. He spent the three weeks starting arguments and insulting everyone. He made headlines by taking into the house a coat made from Columbus Monkey fur, which was confiscated by the police.

George Galloway
A left-wing, outspoken Member of Parliament who was kicked out of the Labour Party in 2003. He is the token intellectual, the presence of whom is necessary to get coverage from the broadsheets and mainstream news. Last year this role was provided by Germaine Greer, but she realised her mistake early and left the house. Galloway recently made the US news by sticking it to the US Senate. Over the next few months, let's see if he can claw back some of the dignity that he lost during his time in the CBB4 house.

Rula Lenska
An aristocratic classical actress. I'd never heard of her before CBB4, but apparently she was in The Rock Follies.

Andrew Majors (a.k.a. Maggot)
He's a singer in the band Goldie Lookin Chain -- sort of like a Welsh Beastie Boys minus the attitude.

Jodie Marsh
An Essex (a region of England) version of Traci Bingham, minus the "Awesome".

Samuel Preston
A singer in a Ska band called The Ordinary Boys. I'd never heard of him or his band before, but the show has caused their album sales to soar. A good romance (whether real or invented by the tabloids) in the house always boosts ratings. He provided this year's love interest by frolicking with Chantelle Houghton.

Dennis Rodman
Again, I'd never heard of him, but apparently he's a famous basketball player. He clearly has much too much testosterone than is good for him and spent the three weeks in the house having his sexual advances rebuffed by each of the women in the house, in turn. He also seemed to have difficulty stringing a coherent sentence together.

And finally, the winner:
Chantelle Houghton
A non-celebrity, Paris Hilton look-alike from Essex. She had to pretend to be in an up and coming girl band. If she successfully convinced the others that she was a pop star, she could stay in the house; otherwise she would be evicted. Because the British public love supporting the underdog and because the real celebrities were so self-absorbed that they bickered and argued for the whole three weeks, Chantelle was able to sweep the floor with them and win the contest, thus giving her her 15 minutes of fame (Warhol reference).
For the past couple of years, Big Brother has been a bit disappointing. We had thought that we might not bother with BB7, especially as we are in the US. However, this CBB was such fun that we're starting to rethink this stance. After all, what would summer be without Davina and Dermot?

Here's some Big Brother links:

Channel 4's BB Pages
Channel4's BB Archive
Wikipedia (delve as deep as you want to)
The BB Website
BB Blog

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Hoodwinked and Underworld

Yesterday we went to see the computer animated film Hoodwinked at the local cinema. Later that evening, we watched Underworld on DVD.


This was a G certificate film (G = General release; equivalent to U (Universal release)). It begins with Little Red Riding Hood visiting her Grandmother, who had been replace by the wolf and the woodsman leaping in at the crucial moment, maniacally wielding his axe. From then on, the police investigate the incident to uncover the diabolical plans of the "Goody Bandit" as each of the key players in the incident tell their version of events. Nobody is as they seem.

The animation is not as good as it could be, but the story is entertaining and the dialogue is funny. It'll help if you've seen XXX.


There's nothing like a good werewolves/vampires yarn and this is nothing like a good werewolves/vampires yarn.

We didn't bother going to see it when it was at the cinema because we had it on good authority that it was rubbish. However, with the current drought of any halfway decent films, the Underworld sequel began to beckon, but we felt unable to see it until we'd seen the first film, so we got it from Netflix.

I think that this film may have looked better on paper, otherwise how could they have managed to get Kate Beckinsale and Bill Nighy? To be fair, the storyline was not too bad, in a grandiose Dune or Matrix way, but the execution -- well, let's just say that execution is the right word for it. It should have been a "straight to DVD".

The recipe for this film is as follows:

Take equal amounts of Ultraviolet and An American Werewolf in Paris. Season well with Blade, The Matrix and perhaps a little Van Helsing (also Beckinsale, by the way) to taste. Add an irritating blue wash that passes for "gothic" and some delusions of grandeur. Place in a big bag with a good sized helping of horse manure and shake well. The film is now ready to serve.

By all means, get this film out and watch it, but remember, you can never get back those wasted two hours of your life.

Always Ultra with Wings?

This notice appears in many public conveniences around here:

Notice reads: Each employee's hands must be washed thoroughly using soap, warm water and sanitary towel or approved hand drying device, before beginning work and after each visit to the toilet.It appeals to my rather infantile sense of humour.

Friday, February 03, 2006

National Prayer Breakfast

I just read Bono's speech at the National Prayer Breakfast yesterday. If you're interested, here's a link to a copy of the transcript (it's on Lorraine in Seattle's blog):
Here's the Thing

Groundhog Day

Lauren with Fizzy the groundhog
Lauren with Fizzy the groundhog
Have you seen the film Groundhog Day, in which Bill murray has to keep re-living the same day until he can get Andie MacDowell to fall in love with him?

Well, it turns out that yesterday was Groundhog Day. It was Lauren who educated me to this. I picked her up from school and she greeted me excitedly with a pop-up groundhog that she'd named Fizzy.
The train of thought was this:

The groundhog is brown
Cola is brown
Cola is fizzy

If you look closely at the picture, you'll see that she then extrapolated this to give the groundhog yellow teeth because cola rots your teeth.

A groundhog
A Groundhog (Source)
Groundhog Day is a day that falls half way between the Winter Equinox and Spring Solstice -- always the 2nd of February. On this day, groundhogs (also known as woodchucks) have special discernment in predicting how long the winter will last. If it comes out of its hole and sees its shadow, this means that there will be six more weeks of winter, otherwise it will be an early spring. The most famous groundhog is Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania (this was the one featured in the film), but many other parts of the country have their own captive groundhogs and make their own predictions. NC boasts two weather-forecasting rodents -- Sir Walter Wally in Raleigh and Lil Bit in Lexington.

Groundhog Central lists many groundhogs, along with their 2006 prognoses. There is even one where the groundhog died in 2002 and the prognosticating has been taken over by a llama! (By the way, have you heard The Llama Song?)

Emily and friend skipping
Emily and friend skipping
The other thing I did yesterday was to watch Emily (at school) skipping. Although, it turns out that a skipping rope is called a jump rope here. I'm not sure if this means that she was jumping, which one can do without a rope; or if she was jump-roping. Perhaps someone can let me know. The event was part of this year's Jump Rope for Heart campaign (American Heart Association).

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Learning my ABC

Coming from a country where one can pop into any supermarket or off-licence and buy any sort of alcoholic drink they like (along with any mixers that go with them), I find it inconvenient to have to go to different stores for different types of drinks. I also find the whole brown paper bag thing really bizarre. To try and get closure, I decided to find out a bit more about it.

ABC Package StoreABC stands for Alcoholics Beverage Control. The ABC Commission is the body that regulates the sale of alcohol in the state. The laws are enforced by the Alcohol Law Enforcement division of the Dept. of Crime Control & Public Safety. Although one can buy wine (including port and sherry) and beer in ordinary supermarkets, one cannot buy hard liquor. These can only be purchased at specific outlets (ABC stores). The stores have restricted opening hours. Our's is open for about eight hours a day and is closed on Sundays.

There are only 154 ABC stores in the whole of NC (generally one per county, although built-up areas will have more (Raleigh has 11)). To put this into perspective, imagine 8 million people, spread across an area that is similar in size to England, with only 154 off-licences between them! In NC, the ABC stores do not sell wine or beer. I have been told that this separation of wine and beer from hard liquor is peculiar to NC.

So, what's going on? Why does the US government have such a paternalistic/nanny-state attitude to alcohol? Unsurprisingly, the answer seems to be that NC (and the rest of the country?) is still living with the consequences of prohibition.

The other great mystery is, why is it called a "package" store? The answer was provided for me by Wikipedia -- it's because they package the booze into brown paper bags.

Thus far, I have made two trips to the ABC store. It's an amazing store -- four aisles or more just for whisky. As the Scotch and Irish whiskies were more expensive than the bourbons, we decided to go native. I hadn't heard of most of the brands, so was gravitating towards the familiar labels of Jack Daniels and Jim Beam, when I met a nice Canadian woman in the store who informed me that Jim Beam & Jack Daniels are only good "for cooking". She recommended 2 whiskies -- Knob Creek & Maker's Mark. I bought a bottle of Maker's Mark and a bottle of Elijah Craig, as well as a few other basics -- vodka, brandy, gin, rum and sambuca. The plan is to gradually build up the drinks cabinet until it contains a respectable range. I write this now with a long awaited glass of sambuca in my hand.

If you're interested, The ABC's of N.C. Liquor Laws is an easy to read article outlining a brief history of alcohol production in NC and is the fount of my knowledge.