Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Wedded Bliss

To date, my journal has steered well clear of most controversial aspects of religion and politics here in the USA. However, there should be nothing controversial about this:

In Atlanta, Georgia, a 37 year old woman is charged with a variety of sexual offenses against a 15 year old boy by whom she is pregnant.

Nothing remarkable about that you might think, just a sorry tale, and indeed you would be right. Whatever the circumstances, it's hard to accept that this woman shouldn't have known better.

This is where the story takes a turn for the bizzare. The couple are planning to marry, and the law will allow it. Georgia allows the marriage of children, of any age and without parental consent, if the girl/woman is pregnant.

Let's try to count the number of ways this is wrong ...... I lost count!

This is a charter for child abuse. No if's but or maybes. It is wrong, wrong, wrong. It is state sponsored pedophilia. Quite frankly, I am struggling to understand why George Bush doesn't have tanks surrounding Atlanta/Hartsfield International Airport, securing access for *Cotton Storm*, the operation to liberate this Third World abusive regime.

This law was enacted in the sixties, in an attempt to prevent or reduce the numbers of children born out of wedlock. What the hell were they thinking?

And where were the church leaders while all this was going on? They are, apparently, able to dictate which books are available in schools, prevent our children participating in normal *teen* activities and reach right into the Oval Office. What they seemingly cannot do is stop legislation that sanctifies child abuse. I wonder why?

Is it, do you think, because they were too busy opposing effective sex education, and the use of contraception in a manner that might have reduced the unwanted pregnancies in the first place?

All this, and I haven't even mentioned Roe v. Wade !!!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

House Rules

We try to extend a *liberal* outlook into aspects of family life. Both Jodie and I believe in helping the kids understand why they should or shouldn’t do stuff, rather than simply telling them how to behave. *Telling them* never seems to work anyhow :(

As a consequence, there are very few *rules* in this house. Generally there are only two:
  1. No writing on the walls
  2. Obey all the rules!
Recently however, there has arisen the need for a third rule:
    Whatever you want to say, if it starts with the name of a brother or sister, we don't want to hear it.
Those blessed with just the one child might not readily see the imperative for this rule. I feel confident though, that parents of two or more children would agree that this rule ought actually to be hard-coded into the genetic make-up of all children. Quite frankly, the fact that it isn’t is ample evidence to disprove the theory of Intelligent Design.

“Michael hit me, Mom”, “Natalie bit me”, “Mackenzie said I am dumb” …. By the time breakfast is over, replying with “Not hard enough, apparently”, “Bite her back” and “Well are you? Ok then, ignore her”, is all wearing a bit thin.

It seems to me that Rule #3 is eminently sensible. I don’t, however, hold out too much hope for real success with it, judging by the amount of writing on the walls!

Later ….

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Coughing Re-visited

So I apparently need to explain *Cough Syncope* some more. I’ll try to do it slowly, using little words! To help a little, I offer this from MedicineNet.com:

Definition of Syncope

Syncope: Partial or complete loss of consciousness with interruption of awareness of oneself and ones surroundings. When the loss of consciousness is temporary and there is spontaneous recovery, it is referred to as syncope or, in nonmedical quarters, fainting. Syncope accounts for one in every 30 visits to an emergency room. It is pronounced sin-ko-pea.
Syncope is due to a temporary reduction in blood flow and therefore a shortage of oxygen to the brain. This leads to lightheadedness or a "black out" episode, a loss of consciousness. Temporary impairment of the blood supply to the brain can be caused by heart conditions and by conditions that do not directly involve the heart:
Non-cardiac causes: Syncope is most commonly caused by conditions that do not directly involve the heart. These conditions include:
  • Postural (orthostatic) hypotension: Drop in blood pressure due to changing body position to a more vertical position after lying or sitting;
  • Dehydration causing a decrease in blood volume.
  • Blood pressure medications leading to low blood pressure.
  • Diseases of the nerves to the legs in older people (especially with diabetes or Parkinson's disease) when poor tone of the nerves of the legs draws blood into the legs from the brain.
  • High altitude.
  • Brain stroke or "near-stroke" (transient ischemic attack).
  • A migraine attack.
  • Fainting after certain situations (situational syncope) such as:
  • Blood drawing,
  • Urinating (micturition syncope),
  • Defecating (defecation syncope),
  • Swallowing (swallowing syncope), or
  • Coughing (cough syncope)
that trigger a reflex of the involuntary nervous system (the vasovagal reaction) that slows the heart and dilates blood vessels in the legs and cause one to feel nausea, sweating, or weakness just before losing fainting.

Now it appears from reading this, that nowhere is it suggested that a single low dose of Sudafed, a minor painkiller and a couple of beers are responsible. For what it’s worth, the ER doctor was totally unconcerned. His view was that only the alcohol was likely to have contributed (it lowers blood pressure), but even then, only marginally.

I go to the trouble of offering this explanation not because I am defensive about it, but simply to let y’all know that feeling smug by thinking you are safe because *yer not that stoopid*, actually offers you no protection at all … you heard it here first!

Actually, having just re-read that passage above, there are a few cause of Syncope that may, or indeed may not, bear further examination ….

Can you imagine suffering *Defecating Syncope*? Jeez! Don’t squeeze so hard, take your time sister. This being a family journal, we have probably explored that scenario quite far enough. Still, as a guy I imagine I would prefer *defecating syncope* to *urinating syncope* …. Less far to fall!

What comes from all this? Only one thing really. If you feel a major coughing fit coming on, or you are experiencing one, sit down. Do not stand and try to walk, you might not make it. Simple.

By the way. The cuts on my head are healing nicely, and it finally feels like I am getting over this cough.

Steve and Natalie sporting matching *owies*

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Proud Parent Syndrome

I am proud of both of my boys, but on this day, I am particularly proud of Thomas.

After many years of dedication and commitment, Thomas graded today for, and achieved, 1st Dan (Black Belt) in Shenen Jitsu (Karate).

He isn’t yet 13 years old.

Many congratulations Tom …. You earned it.

Also, a warm mention to Tom’s Mum, and other family for the continued support they offer. It is appreciated.

Cough Syncope (It makes you fall over)

Thomas …. When you read this remember … I am ok.

All is well and there is nothing to worry about (
I’ve had the flu! Nah, not the *bird* variety, just your common or garden upper respiratory viral infection. Generally I am rarely sick. When I am, I simply find the whole thing a bit of a bore. Quite frankly, sneezing, aching joints and coughing gets old pretty quickly. But ya just keep on *keeping on*, and try to be pitiful, for sympathy, while still doing what you need to do.

That is pretty much how this dose of flu was, until last night.

It started on Thanksgiving, and proceeded along a well-trodden yet desperately annoying track for a week or so. By Friday I was thinking about whether or not we would make the bar that night. It’s a karaoke bar, and I love to sing ….. without the singing, and feeling sick would be a bit like denying yourself a chocolate, then sitting watching everyone else eat them!

In the end we went, and it was ok. I coughed a bit, but sang four songs and didn’t massacre any of them more than normal. My throat was feeling pretty ropey when we got home tho, so Saturday was doubtful.

In the event, we went to the bar after returning from the Okmulgee Christmas Parade, and dinner with the family. During dinner a friend had called and asked if we were coming out ….. he said George was complaining the list of singers was too short, and where was the Limey Bastard!!!

We got there at 10.15pm, via home for me to swallow a swift Sudafed and a couple of painkillers. Yes, I am aware of the consequences of alcohol and medication but … it was the first meds all day, and there wasn’t going to be much alcohol and I wanted to sing a new song dammit!

As we walked in, George appeared and said I was next on, unless I wanted to wait until we had drinks. Nope, gimme the mic and stick on The Dance … it’s easy, and my throat needs *easy*. All was well, and apart from the occasional mild cough, I felt good. The bar was pretty empty, and even the air smelled a little better than normal (I’ll vote, by the way, for a smoking ban in OK bars).

After that I stumbled through Alan Jackson’s *Remember When*, but nailed *Wonderful Tonight* pretty well. Jodie loves that song, and I like to sing it for her. All through, I was coughing a little and was close to thinking maybe we should go home soon. What happened next came right out of the blue.

I had just finished that last song. I was sat at the table next to Jodie, and chatting to Chris, another friend. I felt my chest tighten, and began to cough hard. I needed air. Go outside, it’s cold …. refreshing. I push my chair back, stand, turn. I am coughing so damned hard and my lungs seem to be fighting my diaphram. The door is there, just there, two or three steps ……..

*Wake up Steve!* It’s Jodie ….. mmmmmm, I’m cosy and warm, why is she yelling at me. And what the hell are these people doing in our bedroom? Weird. *Steve! Steve! Are you ok?* ….. Damn …. It dawns … I’m still in the bar, and something just went terribly wrong. Must get up, Jodie wants me, and George …. I can see Rick and Chris. What the hell happened?

So I sit up. I suddenly take in great globs of info all at once. I must have fallen down, the music is playing but Rick stopped singing. He is here with the microphone and Britney has dialled 911 and is talking to the emergency services.

*I’m ok*. I am feeling great, I can breathe, I’m not coughing and I appear to be the only person in the bar not worried about me. My face hurts though and I’m scared. This is just not normal and I want to go home. *Take me home Jodie, please*.

*I’m taking you to the hospital*, she says. Hell no! That’s gonna cost a fortune, and I’m fine, I just need to go home. I ask George to get Rick to come to our house when he finishes the song (still not apparently thinking straight). I needed to be out of there, to calm down, to let our friends see all was well, and sleep, I wanna go to sleep. My face hurts, and I can feel a lump on my forehead. The worst problem though is that my glasses are all bent out of shape, and I’m having real trouble keeping them in a position where I can see well.

We get outside. *Are you driving?*, I ask Jodie, and receive the kind of withering look such an inappropriate attempt at humour deserved. *Get in. We are going to the hospital*. I persuade her that we should go home first, then, reassess when I’ve cleaned up a little, and had a glass of water.

I tried, a guess a little half-heartedly, to suggest all I needed was a good nights sleep. After all, I just feinted, right? Surely if Jodie keeps an eye on me we will be ok. She isn’t buying it for a New York second. Honestly, I looked at her and she was scared stiff. Only a doctor was going to reassure her, and I wasn’t dumb enough to try to suggest otherwise, anymore.

I’m going to cut a long story mercifully short here. I have, in the past, made remarks about the US Healthcare system. Those comments have been a mixture of positive and otherwise, and they still stand. Having now experienced the ER in a large city hospital, I have a little more to say, but in the next post or so.

Suffice it to say that I am fine. Maybe just a little more in touch with my own mortality than I was yesterday, but fine nonetheless :)

Howard Stern

I like Howard Stern.

I have been thinking ahead to the point where we will be able to justify a subscription to satellite radio, and decided that Sirius will be the service we choose. Howard's program was part of that process.

I had been wondering why he was prepared to swap his massive *Earth bound* audience for the relatively untried new service, and one with only 2 million subscribers.

Then I discovered he had signed a 5 year contract worth ... wait for it ...

500 million dollars !!!

So, that nicely explains THAT!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Road Rage

LONDON (Reuters) - Deaths from car crashes in developed countries are nearly 400 times greater than those resulting from international terrorism, according to a study published on Thursday.

As many people die every 26 days on U.S. roads as were killed in the September 11, 2001, attacks, and politicians should bear this in mind when allocating resources to combat two "avoidable" causes of death, researchers said.

I have been driving for what seems like *forever*. Actually, it is 30 years, or thereabouts, since I first donned a bright yellow crash helmet and wobbled precariously down Bybrook Road on a second hand moped.

In the years that followed, I estimate that I have driven between three and six hundred thousand miles, on both sides of the road, in about ten countries and on two continents. I have taken, and passed, driving tests in cars, vans, mini-buses, motorcycles, forklift trucks and on a tractor.

At the same time I have been involved in five minor accidents. Only one of these was my fault (the most recent one) all were minor, and only one involved an injury (to me). I have ten years no claim discount with my most recent insurance company.

I consider myself to have an average driving record, and I think I am an average driver. I am actually aware that I am not quite as good as I was ten years ago, and have responded by generally driving a little slower, and more carefully. Ironically this probably makes me a safer driver than before, and doubly ironic is the fact that the only accident I have ever had that was my fault, was the most recent. This was a minor *rear-end* on a wet Interstate 40. The cars in front were stopped, I *very nearly* stopped too, but the Teflon Tyres on the pickup didn’t want to cooperate …. Such is life.

So, with my experience of a variety of driving conditions, vehicles, roads and countries, I have reached a few conclusions.

The first is that the worst driving I have ever encountered is here, in the United States. Not everywhere, y’understand. I had no issue at all in Maryland and Washington DC, but *here* here …. Oklahoma. Yes, by the way, I have driven in both France and Italy!

I need to be mindful that *I* am the newcomer, the one unused to local customs and traditions. Like the one that says that *weaving in and out of fast moving traffic in a bright red Chevvy pick-up with *spinners* on the wheels* is not only appropriate, but positively life-enhancing. Let us neither forget the charming habit of joining a highway, from a minor sideroad, by pulling straight out into the off-side lane and proceeding to drive along at 30mph, just a few yards in front of cars bearing down on you at anything up to 90mph. Don’t worry, they’ll swerve round you. Seriously though, the practise of *under-taking*, that is, passing on the inside of slower vehicles is the norm. It takes some getting used to. Try it in the UK and you’d expect a blast from the guy you passed at best, and a prosecution for dangerous driving if you were seen doing it.

I am not suggesting that *under-taking* is inherently dangerous, but it is when you aren’t expecting it; and Limeys just don’t expect it ( From what I see daily, many Americans don’t expect it either.

As I drive the streets and highways around here, it’s surprising there aren’t more accidents. People on phones (every other car it seems). Folk reading the paper, putting on make-up (British women, and some of the men, do this too), chastising the kids, not strapping kids down, dogs jumping around ……. The worst feature though is simply a general lack of awareness of what is going on around, coupled with a few complete lunatics who, quite frankly, shouldn’t be allowed to drive. Not in a million years.

I have long held the suspicion that every new safety and comfort development the car makers comes up with, further isolates the driver from the road, and other road users to the point that some of them don’t seem to realise that others actually exist. When I started to drive (first motorcycles, then cars), drivers were constantly made aware of the limitations of their vehicles, and had a much greater *contact* with the road and other road users. There was also a good deal less traffic to contend with, and speeds were lower.

These days, all that is reversed. Crumple zones, side impact bars, anti-lock brakes, seatbelts, airbags ….. you actually have to work quite hard to hurt yerself in a modern car, although try and remember that other road users don’t benefit in the same way. At the same time, better heating, audio systems, sound-proofing and, especially here, suspension set so damned soft you wonder if there is a road at all; all serve to encourage a belief of *quiet invincibility*.

Why else would a guy, with his wife and kids in the car, tailgate an 18-wheeler at about 80mph on Highway 75? I mean, he can’t see past, he couldn’t possible stop in a hurry. If the truck brakes hard, this nice family is dead. The guy doesn’t want to kill his wife and kids so I can only assume he simply has no concept of the danger he just put them all in. I know a degree of tailgating by aggressive drivers has always happened, but this is different. It’s routine! Commonplace and frightening.

Washington DC (like the UK) has already outlawed the use of a handheld phone while driving. If it’s a good idea in DC, where the important people (sic) live, then surely those in the *flyover* states deserve the same level of protection? I know there are those who will wish to defend their (probably Constitutional) right to call their Mom while driving, but the UK banned the practise and hey! the world as we know it did not end. It’s just a small example.

One thing that I do like here is the idea that a State issued drivers license is a privileged, not a right and, in some States, it can be suspended for not being a *good citizen*. There are, however, serious issues of double jeopardy in the way this idea is implemented.

It does seem to me that one of the ways we can reduce the accident rate is to help drivers regain their awareness of their surroundings, in a much more meaningful way. If we can drastically reduce the vast number of minor accidents caused by inattention, etc, then the way is clear to identify the real abusers, and get them off the road.

To the brain dead moronic tailgaters there is an easy answer. The problem appears to be one of their neanderthalic belief in their own invincibility. This is a cause for concern because it’s always some poor innocent they kill, someone who had no choice but to stand in the bus queue they ploughed into …. You get my drift …..

After the first offense I suggest they are made to drive *adapted* cars. It can be a model of their choice, but here is the rub. All the safety devices are removed. No anti-lock brakes, no airbags or seat belts. Remove the side impact bars. Then, bolt a 10 inch steel spike to the centre of the steering wheel.

That should slow the buggers down.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Sooners v. Cowboys

OU 42 OSU 14

Good job!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Black Friday

I am completely cured of the burning desire to experience, first-hand, the *spectacle* that is the opening of the post-Thanksgiving Sales, in the USA.

The day after Thanksgiving (4th Thursday in November), is called *Black Friday*, by the retailers and advertisers. The reason is simple; this is the day the retail stores get their annual sales figures back into the black, following disappointing summer sales. Quite why they are disappointing you would need to ask them, as it happens every year and you would think by now that the disappointment was more, er, expected!

Anyway … Thanksgiving is a wonderful occasion. It is, more-so even than Christmas, a day when families come together to give thanks. I wrote about this last year, and this year was every bit as delightful … as was the sweet potato casserole. This outpouring of goodwill appears to affect some Americans so much that they feel the need to atone the following day. Thus Black Friday is also the day when the feral American descends on the stores, to mix with decent folk whose only crime is to be so well organised they had the stores, and relevant target purchases, written on *easy to use in the crush* index cards. Next year, she needs to get them laminated, and maybe she (Jennifer) won’t miss the biggest bargain she was after. I shall make a special Banoffee Pie to commiserate … but I digress.

The TV and papers have been full of ads for about 2 weeks now, so I decided to go along to see what all the fuss was about. The mailbox has been full of ads too ….. I do hope the USPS charges very highly for stuffing our mailbox full of un-solicited, hardcopy spam, but I doubt it. Anything to make a buck, and who cares about the trees?

The teensiest fly in this ointment, is the minor detail of the sale starting at 5 am. There doesn’t seem to be much point arriving later than this, so 5 it is … ugh! The other small issue is one of having no money …. Hehe …. Oh well! So 4.45 am sees me driving along Admiral, towards Thomas’s favourite store, the Walmart at Admiral and Memorial. I am mindful that the bars haven’t been closed long, so I drive carefully and am rewarded when the car behind me, which passes just after the Mingo traffic circle, is a Police Cruiser. My smug feeling of satisfaction changes abrubtly to a modicum of *piqued interest*, as the cruiser turns into the Walmart parking lot in front of me. As I turn in, I realise something deeply troubling is afoot ….. the danged parking lot is full. FULL I tell ya, at 5 in the bloody morning!!!

So, I park somewhere in the next County, and begin the hike towards the store. I cast the odd fearful glance around as I go. This is not the crime free neighbourhood we would like it to be, and elderly men on their own, in the dark, are a tad vulnerable. As it happens, I see a teen *Hoodie* by the front entrance ….. but it turns out he is just waiting for his Mum … awwwwww.

Did I tell you the parking lot was full?

I enter, and pick up a cart. Here I need to apologise to my friends and family back home. I find myself increasingly using American terms like *cart* … A cart is a shopping trolley, ok? At least I said *Mum* and not *Mom*. So I take my cart and head off left up past the toothpaste and feminine products whose purpose I would rather not have described to me, thank you very much. As I walk up the aisle I can see a crowd gathered. At first the noise is subdued, kind of like a gentle background murmur, but it wasn’t to last. As I approach, the volume increases through swarm of angry bees an on to Boeing 747 at full throttle, with a hole in the exhaust (muffler). A crowd of about a hundred women, and two guys like me conducting a social experiment, are milling around a stack of Care Bears, shrouded in plastic wrap and being guarded by a Walmart employee wielding a craft knife. I suspect the craft knife is to be used to remove the plastic wrap, but I caught her eye and decided not to put this theory to the test. It was 4.55 am, and the crowed was baying for a countdown. The craft knife girl was determined to hang on until 5, but, knife or no knife, she was risking life and limb for a bunch of $5 soft toys. She did the math and cut the wrap.

Now I can tell you, that I have a watch that knows what time it is, to one second in ten million years. It was 4.58 am, so the sale started early!

Oh boy did it start. The shoppers (loose description .. imagine a herd of wildebeest that just caught wind of a lion, and you’ll be close), quite literally *devoured* the Care Bears. Boxes of product went flying as those assembled displayed a level of assertiveness that was out of all proportion. I got three …. Dunno where the girl with the craft knife went, I guess she was just trampled. So. I actually did want one of these bears for Natalie, for Christmas. Then I figured Jordan would love one too. The third was me being mean ….. I took three so that those fighting over soft toys would have one less to take, then, later, I could replace one on the stack to give a other shoppers a chance. I am a bit mean at times, and I giggled all the way around the store at the thought. Yeah, I know …. Bite me!

Onwards, ever onwards. The delight that was the scrum for the Care Bears was behind me, and I went off searching for that other *must have*. This was a radio-controlled 1.10th scale Hummer for Michael. These were being advertised for $20, and he would just adore one. Clearly the Care Bears were being bought, in the main, by women, who, for some reason had turned from normally mild-mannered and pleasant, to Linda Blair for the morning. The men were buying the radio-controlled cars, consequently the neat stack was unruffled, and I could chose at my leisure. I chose a big yellow one, and I can’t wait to see his face.

Between the Care Bears and the main toy department I could glance over to the Electronics section. OMIDOG !!! It was like New Orleans after the storm …. Not the flood, we are in desperate need of rain, but the sight of about 300 people, mainly young men, carrying TVs out of the store. I hope they paid for them, they really don’t want to run into the girl with the craft knife or that little old lady who sits by the door saying *goodbye* …. She scares the crap outa me for some reason.

As I write this, I can smell smoke, and Jodie just appeared to tell me she is NOT burning dinner, but that some fat I spilled is burning off the hob …. My fault again, but I am relaxed about it because we are having Chocolate Malts shortly. The parking lot was full, did I mention that?

I am going nowhere near the Electronics section. In any event, Jennifer has the Harry Potter movie we need on one of her cards, so that must be a given. I do have to kinda skirt the general area though, to get to the milk and creamer required to make my life *liveable* when I get home. The crush down this aisle is horrendous. It’s about 25 yards to the other side, but is moving very slowly. As I make my way down, I am being *assaulted* from behind by a cart. It’s not quite *Trolley Rage*, but annoying anyhow. I turn to find the driver of the said cart, banging in to me while looking left, right, anywhere but where she is going. “Excuse me Madam”, I politely inquire, “But do you think you are likely to get out of here more quickly by repeatedly ramming your cart into my Achilles tendons?”. She was pissed (angry) I could tell, but she muttered sorry and suddenly decided there was somewhere off to the left she needed to be, and disappeared.

I was home by 5.30 am. Jodie had told me “I will be asleep when you get home. Please don’t be funny and make me laugh, it wakes me up”. But I had to tell her the parking lot was full (Have I mentioned that?) … She promises to forgive me by New Year.

A little later that day, Jodie and I popped into Walmart in Okmulgee. The parking lot was civilised, and orderly with lots of space. The store was moderately busy, but no one banged into my ankles. On the other hand, there was not a single Care Bear to be seen!

George Best 1946 - 2005

I was priviledged to watch him play. Along with the whole football world, I was saddened to see such talent brought so low, and ultimately die too young.

George, thanks for all you gave me and so many millions.

For those who din't know him; he was our Babe Ruth!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Chocolate Malt

One of the wonderful things about travelling, is the discovery of things completely outwith your experience and expectations. This is all the more true when the things you are discovering are commonplace in the area you travelled to. The sense of wonder you experience is often quite unknowingly, added to by the wry amusement of those around you, who never looked at *it* that way.

A case in point was my recent post about High School Football. One of Jodie's friends reacted to that post by commenting on how strange it felt to see something that was simply an accepted part of her life being viewed by someone from outside.

Foremost among the new experiences has to be local food.

I could, and one day probably will, go on at length about the food I have tried in the USA. But I just want here to mention one thing ...... Chocolate Malt.

You could see this ...... thing ..... as a milkshake. Oh no! Revisit that. A well made chocolate malt is an *experience*, not simply a drink.

Many of the fast food outlets here have this on the menu. Many have it, very few appear to know how to make it well. One outlet that does is Braums. Braums also knows how to make decent burgers and fries, what they lack is any sense of urgency!

So, having explored the genre, here is my idea of a Chocolate Malt:

4 Scoops good vanilla ice-cream
3 Tbsp Malt Powder
4 Tbsp Chocolate Sauce (I use Hersheys)
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 Cup Milk

Mix the whole lot in a blender. Whizz until smooth and a decent amount of froth is on top. Serve in a well-chilled glass.

Of prime importance here is that you consume this drink well away from any children in the house. In this house that especially means *any under the age of three*. If you don't, you will have to waste a good deal by giving them some of it. Nothing short of scandalous!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


While we are on the subject of alcohol, and anomolies, here is one:

Homebrewing beer in Oklahoma is illegal. OK is one of the few remaining states yet to incorporate Federal law into State legislation. This means that, according to the relevant law, the brewing of wine or mead is permitted, but not the brewing of beer. In fact the statute expressly forbids the production of any alcoholic beverage not expressly allowed for in the law. The Federal position (now adopted by most states) permits the brewing of up to 100 gallons of beer per adult in the household. This is for home consumption by friends and family, and, I think, you can give it as a gift. The department that regulates these matters has stated it has no intention of attempting ever to enforce this law.

So if anyone asks, we make Beer Wine, ok?

For those who don't know, the US history of alcohol generally, is a pretty chequered one. The effects of Prohibition are still evident all over the place, and nowhere moreso than here.

At risk of serious trouble, I shall mention, very quietly, religion. Some of the Baptists in this state (the Buckle on the Bible Belt), believe that the Communion Wine of the Christian world, which represents the blood of Christ was, in fact, unfermented grape juice! What is interesting about this story, which appears, at first sight to be apropos of absolutely nothing at all, is that this interpretation is new. It is not mentioned in the bible, and was never mentioned by the Southern Baptist Churches until around the time of Prohibition.

Prohibition was bad law. There is no doubt about this, and it was rightly repealed. I do find it a little curious tho, that, at the same time as referring to the laws of God, as determined in the Old Testament, we are also told that the Church's response to being denied their Communion Wine is, in some way an indication now that ALL alcohol should be avoided. The *turning of water into wine* parable must be a little ... ahem ... inconvenient!

Anyway .... homebrew.

We do it, allthough if anyone asks, Jodie does it!

We were due to *do it* last Saturday. We had the ingredients and, for the first time *Stateside*, I was going to attempt an All-Grain brew. We specifically chose a brew designed to be the all-grain version of the partial mash recipe we tried last time. The end result of the last batch was great, and this one ought to turn out a little more complex, but essentially the same. If it doesn't, either the technique isn't working well, or the recipe is formulated wrongly. We shall see.

The last couple of weeks have been spent trying to convert a 5 gallon Rubbermaid drinks cooler into a mash tun. You knew we were close to achieving this when the last couple of trips to Home Depot cost under about $3 a time. I have been trying to get a cooler for weeks, and was determined to find one for $10. Just when I had resigned myself to spending $20 at Target, I found one, brand spanking new, at the local flea-market ... it seemed somehow, providential. So, various plumbing fittings later, I had replaced the tap with a ball-valve and fitted a mesh-screen on the inside. In the end, the screen failed .... more later!

Our friend Rick was keen to see how it all came together, so brewing was fixed for 12 noon last Saturday.

We ran a little late. Rick arrived at about 12.30, just in time to consume a large, and very welcome, fried breakfast, but the fateful hour couldn't be put off.

My brewing equipment is an odd collection of stuff put together with no money, but lots of imagination. I have two 100 cup West Bend coffee percolators each capable of heating 4 gallons of water to 180F. They came from Jodie's sister's house. They had been left in the garage by the previous owner along with a bunch of stuff that made the place look like a *meth lab*. Anyway, the relevant authorities declared it safe and I inherited these two machines, both brand new and unused. At my best I can't drink that much coffee, so we will use them as HLTs (Hot Liquor Tanks). Also from the same source is a borrowed turkey fryer. The last batch required only a three gallon boil. We can do this in the kitchen, but this time I wanted to boil six gallons, and the 54k btu burner is ideal.

Add this lot to the previous equipment for making *partial mash* brews, and we have what is needed to brew *all-grain*.

All went well until the sparge (rinsing the sugar from the grain). The strike water temp hadn't quite been sufficient for 154F, but future batches will be easier. Two quarts of boiling water added gave a mash for 45 mins at 152F, and I could live with that. Incidentally, at the end of the mash, the temp had held at 152F .... well done Rubbermaid!

The first few quarts were returned to the tun, and then the worst happened .... it stuck and no amount of *jiggling* was gonna make that wort flow again. After a few minutes swearing and poking around, I dumped the entire mash into the handily placed bottling bucket, and removed the completely collapsed mesh screen. I poked around the kitchen for something to use, and found one of those loose-mesh pan plastic scrubbers. Jamming this around the outlet, we dumped the mash back into the tun and proceeded to sparge. I was not hopeful, but it worked.

The rest of the process went to plan, but I was worried about the extraction we had achieved with our, less than textbook, method! Still, the colour in the boil kettle was good, and it smelled great.

At this point (just before the boil) I wondered was the specific gravity was going to be, so I measured it. This was a pretty stupid thing to do or, if not stupid, then at least pointless at this point however .... 1022 .... you are kidding me right? Jeez! ... even BudMillCoors starts out better than that! It was probably one of the lowest moments of my brewing career.

Jodie was serene, Rick was still eating breakfast .... so ... I engaged my brain.

Hang on .... there is over six gallons in the kettle, and it's very hot. Quick check with brewing software suggested that cooled, and reduce to five gallons, we might be ok (it suggested 1048, but I didn't put too much store by this).

I need a wort chiller. Four bags of ice in the bathtub cooled the kettle to 75F in 30 mins. That's pretty good, but ice isn't cheap, and it's not convenient either. The rest went to plan, and at around five o'clock just shy of five gallons of wort was in the fermentor, pitched with Wyeast 1968 at 75F, and at an original gravity of 1052. The target OG in the recipe is 1051.


As I type this, it has just been moved into a glass secondary and is in my brewing fridge at 65F. The specific gravity is 1012.

And hey Jodie .... As you will read this before you get home tonight. It tastes great!


The alcohol laws here are, to say the least, confusing; and lead to strange anomolies.

In Oklahoma, outwith liquor stores, beer can only be a maximum of 3.2% ABV (alcohol by volume). Liquor stores may sell beer of any strength they want, but if the ABV exceeds 3.2%, they have to sell it at *room temperature*. Nowhere, however, am I able to find a definition of *room temperature*. References in the laws to *not chilled* exist, but everywhere here is chilled most of the year, air conditioning sees to that. So, either that *chilling* is unlawful, or the law is so badly framed it's virtually un-enforceable.

Notwithstanding any concerns about refridgeration, the big three brewers here (Budweiser, Miller and Coors), all brew a special batch for distribution in Oklahoma and, I think, one other State. Their normal brew, tasteless thought it might be, still has a decent amount of alcohol (around 5%), but here it is 3.2%. Due to crazy distribution arrangements, the full strength product is not even available in liquor stores ..... you can get any number of micro-brews, or imported beers, but if you want BMC you have to go to Arkansas, or Texas ......

I'll pause for a moment to explain *tasteless*.

This is not meant to be a cheap shot at BMC beers, although I believe they deserve it, but a simple question about how the big brewers view their target customer base. Quite simply, they ALL TASTE THE SAME !!! Yes they do! Quit arguing. And the silly people who say they prefer one over the other (and thus pretend to know something about beer) simply demonstrate the fact that they know very little about beer!

I wouldn't mind, but the big companies have a vast depth of experience in brewing, employ some of the most skilled brewers and have access to equipment most breweries can only dream of. So why do they do it? Simple. I'll tell you .....

They do it because the marketeers and accountants run the brewery, and not the brewers. They do not set out to brew beer that will please most of their customers, they brew so as to offend the fewest! They all do it, and the result is that they are all brewing beer designed to be served so damned cold, and so lack definable character, that even if there were any differences between them (and there aren't), then you wouldn't be able to tell.

Did the Americans learn nothing from the UK in the seventies?

Our breweries tried that approach. It didn't work. CAMRA was born, and so began one of the most successful consumer pressure groups in UK history. They managed to persuade the major brewers that they would broaden their appeal, and please their customers by continuing to give them beer that was the envy of the world. They have largely remained true to this principle ever since. Sure the major brewers produce pretty cheap and cheerful *session* beers, but they also offer a range of high quality products that the US major brewers don't even come close to.

To be fair, when we are at our local Karaoke Bar, we drink Michelob Amberbok. This is a dark lager brewed by Budweiser, and it's not bad. It's not that good either, and Jodie has recently been heard to mutter something about supplying our homebrew to the bar ....

It's possible that the BMC group of brewers have it right. There are plenty of folk around here who actually LIKE their BudMillCoor beers.

Education of our friends continues. It may take some time.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Sear's *Promotions* Department

I am sitting at home, it's 9.30 am. We were due to go to Okmulgee today, but Natalie has been a little off-colour this week, and she is asleep on the sofa. I am doing laundry. I am doing it because a) If I don't, Jodie will come home from work and try to do it herself and ... b) I am an *all-round jolly good husband!*

The phone rings. This is not unusual, but normally, if anything but a name I recognise pops up in the caller display, then I just send it to voice-mail. However, starved as I am of adult conversation, I answered it, not knowing that after the call I would still be very hungry indeed:

Lady: May I speak to Mr M***** please?

Me: Who's calling?

Lady: My name is Juanita. I am calling from Sears.

Me: Are you trying to sell me something?

Lady: No Sir, I am not with the Sales Department or the Credit Card Department. I am with the Promotions Department.

Me: Are you promoting goods or services supplied by Sears?

Lady: Yes

Me: Could you explain to me how *Promoting* differs from *Selling*?

Lady: Well the Sales department does the selling, we do the promoting.

Me: *Insert dumbfounded noise here*

Me: I'd like not to be promoted to today, thank you.

Lady: Very good Sir, have a nice day.

I am at a total loss ... oh well, the sun came out so maybe the day will be slightly less surreal from here on ....

Saturday, September 10, 2005

High School Football

Last week, the High School football matches started for the season. They will be done by Thanksgiving, when the best teams will go forward to the State Play-Offs.

Nothing in my previous life prepared me for the *big deal* that is High School football. Sure I know that schools have football teams, so do UK schools, and they at least play with the right shaped ball. So I was a little bemused by two incidents.

The first was my Mother-in-law asking if we wanted *season tickets* for Okmulgee High .... oh, and a parking lot pass .... yeah sure Judy, why not? We can go along with the other half dozen parents and stand, freezing, on the touchline, while little Johnny, Bubba or whoever run up and down needlessly for an hour. Anyways, it's a family tradition and, more than that, two happened ....

This was Sister-in-law Jennifer, for it is she, calling to ask if we would be at the game because Ashley (niece ... probably niece-in-law, not sure) was er *Flag Twirling*!!! I mean, it's not like there aren't enough flags around this country ... do they really need to *Twirl* them at a football game?

This attitude simply draws pitying looks from assorted in-laws, and they don't even tell me about the *Marching Band* :)

So, the big day dawns and Steve finds the occasional hint that he might need to rethink his position on school sporting events. I turned on the TV news first thing, to hear the sports section giving a run-down on the local High School games that coming night .... My ears perked up, and I begin to get the teensiest feeling that I might be missing something here. The BBC never do this for our High Schools. They mention Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, etcetera ... I have yet to hear them dicuss the prospects of even the most celebrated of our High Schools. *Tonights eagerly awaited showdown between the Snarling Tigers of Eton College, and the Destroying Dynamos of Rugby* is not the staple of BBC sports journalists! Tom's school, Homewood, has never, to my knowledge, crossed the radar of ANY sports correspondent.

So, hearing that the big game is a clash between Broken Arrow (Jodie's school district) and Union, has me wondering what is in store in downtown Okmulgee.

Okmulgee are playing McAlester. We get there, and I am not kidding, there must be about 2000 in the crowd. There are marching bands (1 per side), twirly girls (1 set per side, and Ashley is comfortably the best looking out there) and Cheerleaders yes, you guessed it, one set per side. There are more people involved in producing this game than yer average soccer international ... and the teams haven't come out yet!!!

Just as I am begining to get used to this and, actually enjoy it immensely, the helicopter arrives. I kid you not ... News Channel 8 in Tulsa has sent it's helicopter .... In 30 years of watching professional sports fixtures in the UK I only ever saw a helicopter arrive once; and that was to cart a badly injured football player off to the local hospital (They would probably do that here too, the difference being that the footballer would be asked for his credit card, and the hospital would be decided by the insurance company, but I digress).

Long story short time ..... it was great! Okmulgee were well on top by halftime (and won in the end) Ashley twirled, the band marched and the cheerleaders do what cheerleaders do (and they did it pretty well).

One notable incident during the 2nd quarter. An announcement on the PA system wanting to know who owned a cute, blonde 2 yr old in a Bulldogs t-shirt .... Bugger, where is Natalie???

Apparently she is in the Press Box .... they have a press box too? We retrieved her ... and the day ended well.

Just for the record, yesterday's game between Union and Jenks High Schools was played in the Skelly Stadium, Tulsa, in front of a paying crowd of 15000 .... mind blowing!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


This isn't intended to be a negative comparasion, just a simple tale
of three young boys.

This morning I had an email from my Dad. My son, Joe, was in hospital
in a small French town close to my parents home. Joe is 10, and lives
in England with his Mum. I am in Oklahoma.

Joe woke up this morning at 9am, with severe stomach pains. He was
taken to the local doctors by my Mum at 10am. By 10.30am he was in
hospital and had been seen and checked by 3 doctors. By 11am had had
his appendix removed and was in recovery. Joe is awake, all is well
and he will be home in a few days.

The French hospital needed to see a simple form from the UK before
discounting the entire bill by 80% for the little English boy. When my
parents get home, they can submit the invoices (mainly for meds) and
get most of the rest back too.

Two weeks ago (about) two young American boys were struck by
lightening here in Tulsa. They are in hospital making a slow recovery.
Last night on TV was a feature about their local Church raising funds
to help with the mounting medical bills that were causing the
children's families a great deal of distress. It seems likely that the
boys will recover, but that the parents will be paying the bills for
many years to come.

I thought of Joe and I thought of those boys. My heart goes out to
their parents.

ps ... Since writing this I have heard that one of the boys has died. My sympathies to his family, and to those who knew him - Steve 12th October 2005

pps ... I just now learned this from my Mum:

Just a postnote re Joes health care in France. We have just recieved the bill for joes medical care. To pay. 62euros. The charge is for meals and the 2nd bed provided for me while i stayed in hospita with Joe. Thought you might like to have that bit of info. (Steve 22nd Nov. 2005)

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

DVD Player

Ours is knackered ... and it's new. So off we go to Circuit City to change it.

"It's past it's 30 day exchange period" .... said the spotty youth who didn't graduate High Schhool "But I'll exchange it anyway", said same boy when he saw the look on my face ...

So we walk out with a $43 gift voucher, as they don't have in stock the model I wanted, that was prominently featured on their website. Neither can he find it on his computer .... at this point, I am worried we may be here a while :)

Onwards, ever onwards to Best Buy. They don't have the said Philips DVP642 either .... but they do have the 622 at a silly *open box* price of $45. As I was planning on opening the box anyway, when I got it home, this seems reasonable, we snap it up.

At this point, it's worth noting that I have a decent collection of UK PAL DVDs, all coded Region 2.


So, a multi-standard, Region Free DVD player is very much the order of the day. I checked, the 642 is a simple handset hack, and ... ahem ... assumed the 622 would be the same.


So, it's off to the store to buy the special One For All clicker that can generate the required signal to unlock the beast. Bought it, tried it, didn't work! Yeah, I know, we've all been there (or somewhere similar)

So, to recap, we now have a $43 Circuit City voucher, A brand new but not what we want Philips DVD Player, and a Universal Remote Control with no apparent use. A good days work then :)

Today we went to Arkansas. The purpose of this trip (marriage license) is a tale for another time. Suffice it to say, that into the trunk of the car went a DVD Player and a Clicker! Well! Who knows which stores we may pass on the way! So, a few hours later we are on the way back from Arkansas, complete with shiny Marriage License and, yes, the same DVD and Clicker we left with .... what is it with Arkansas? Do they not have Best Buy? Harumppfff.

So ..... we call in at Circuit City (a different one) in Tulsa ... no joy. On to Best Buy where the nice lady gives me back all our money for the 622, pretty much *no questions asked*, but they don't have a 642 either. Grrrrr! This is getting very old. Thence to Walmart.

Now I need to mention a couple of things about our local Walmart. It's improved!!!! I guess they corporation is still giving generously to the wrong side, a matter for another post, but at least this store is now useable.

We return the clicker. The lady asked if there was a problem with it, and the simple explanation that it hadn't done what we thought it would was enough. But here is an odd thing .......

All the fancy-smancy electronics stores we visited, and guess who has the Philips DVP642 in stock? ...... hehe .... except they didn't!!!!

Just a space under the display model where all the stock should be. We even asked a knowledgeable sales assistant if we could buy the display model (yes, Walmart has a knowledgeable sales assistant. She works at the Supercentre at Admiral and Memorial, Tulsa, OK) Unfortunately, they really ARE display models, and have been mutilated beyond repair.

To make a hopelessly long story just a teensy bit shorter, another local store had 6 in stock .... thank you Sam :)

We now have a working DVD player which basically seems to enjoy the flavour of pretty much any disk I throw at it, including DVDs full of .mp3 files and jpg pictures .... kewl.

By the way, the DVD players in the local Walmart are pretty close to the cake section ..... multi-tasking being a speciality ......

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Abject and Grovelling Apology

In the last short while, it has been brought to my attention that I have criticised the United States of America, her people and proceedures, and all she represents, a tad more than strictly necessary. *Necessary* hasn't been defined, but I feel confident the good souls who take issue with me are decent, righteous, God-fearing types, whose wise counsel I would do well to heed. Indeed, it could be argued that ANY criticism of the USA is too much. Most especially if such verbal diarrhea comes spewing unchecked from an alien, a foriegner .... a sour-graped Limey. It could be, and it often is. Why, even your truly great and beyond criticism President reminded all other countries that if you weren't with the US, you were with the terrorists. We all stood corrected ... esp. the French.

So, I take this opportunity, even at this late stage, to offer up, for public dissemination and scrutiny, an unreserved apology to the entire Nation. I am convinced my detractors are a fair and reasonable cross-section of American society, thought and opinion, therefore I do indeed, stand corrected.

But before I finish ...... let's examine what I am apologising for ....

I apologise for spelling the word *apologise* without the required z.
I apologise for admiring the selflessness of the kind folk I met in South Carolina.
I apologise for inflicting myself on Jodie, for the rest of my life .... and I apologise to all the hearts that sank when the news broke (that last one might be a little tongue-in-cheek).
I apologise for praising publicly the Maryland doctor who treated me for almost no money in November, and I apologise to the Oklahoma doctor who promised to do the same if I needed it.
I am deeply ashamed for writing about Thanksgiving, a message in which I applauded the sentiment, and thanked the wonderful people who shared their homes with me.
I apologise that my birthday is July 4th.
I apologise for standing and looking in awe at the original Star Spangled Banner, with a tear in my eye when I felt the enormity of the symbol laid out on a table in front of me. This simple piece of cloth representing the hopes dreams and ambitions of the last, and greatest superpower, and her people.
I am deeply ashamed that, in that moment, I felt moved, and I felt at home.
I am aghast that Tulsan's have had to endure my Karaoke singing, and even more saddened by the friends I have made here.
It was outrageous of me to spend the last three years helping where I could to support American, and other, smokers to quit.
This is probably not the best time to mention that I am looking forward to spending the rest of my life exploring, contributing to, and and offering the little I have, to make this great country a little greater; but also a little fairer and more just, so I apologise in advance.

I have commited my future and my life to the United States. Not the country, per se, but the people, and more especially, one person who can't leave, nor would I ask her to. Because of my commitment, the future of this nation is important to me, so I also apologise for saying now that you ain't seen nuttin' yet. If I am paying the piper, I'm damned well gonna call the toon .... and my tax dollars are as valuable as anyone else's, even though they buy me far fewer rights than most of you .... and I apologise for pointing that out. To show I don't mind, it's my intention to ensure I pay a large amount of tax, knowing as I do that both State and Federal Governments will spend it wisely.
I apologise for smiling at the lyrics of Tom Paxton .... had he been an alien, no doubt the moral, the self-righteous, and the pontificators woulda come down hard on him. I especially feel the lyric "Our leaders are the finest men, and we elect 'em again and again" was ill-advised (full lyric available on request – I promise not to sing it, but apologise should I forget).

This journey has, thus far, been a wonderful one. The people I have met, even the ones I only nearly met. The sights I've seen and the places I've visited. I'll give you just one example of the inequalities I've personally witnessed, and I make NO apology for doing so.

I have been to Washington DC. I have seen wealth and priviledge, seats of power and all the trappings such a place considers the norm. But there is another United States. In Tulsa, on a street called Admiral Place is a large permenant Flea-market. Basically it's about 40 000 square feet of crap. However, it's harmless crap, and that's not the point. On the other side of the street is what can only be described as a ghetto. That, by the way, is a generous description. People are living, in the US in the year of our Lord 2005, in squalor and in abject poverty. Put simply, the place is awful, and this country should be (and many of it's people are) ashamed it exists. This wouldn't be so bad were it a one-off, but it isn't. In towns and cities from Seattle to Miami, San Diego to somewhere in the far north east, Admiral Places exist. So sure I'll criticise ..... I'll shout and I'll post and I'll damned well join the campaign to rid our society of such squalor, and I'll apologise to no man for so doing.

America is great, but it's also a work in progress. As an outsider, and alien, a Limey, a concerned human ..... whatever .... I'll do what I can to leave the place just a little better than I found it. If we all do the same, maybe progress can be made.

The United States of America was made what it is today by immigrants. Why do people so object to this proud tradition being honoured. Or maybe they are just dinosaurs.