Friday, April 30, 2010

And you can’t even spell his surname…

Last night I was sitting on the couch reading (I was reading 'Reaper Man', a Discworld novel for possibly the gajillionth time, if you're interested)…when I noticed that Sunny had changed the TV channel and was watching to original 'Terminator' movie.

As I watched a few minutes of it, I realized something:

Arnold Schwarzenegger is the luckiest human being alive.

Think about it. The guy can't act…at all. He's as wooden as a Pirate's leg. He can't emote (when he tries to act happy or laugh he looks like Mr Potato Head taking a tazer hit)…He can barely talk for Christ's sake. He's not even what you'd call a good looking man either.

So he can't act, he can't talk and he has a face like a partially melted lesbian pensioner. The only thing he really has (or had) going for him was his muscles…but as we've seen over and over, having a set of bitchin' pecs and biceps the size of ostrich eggs doesn't exactly guarantee an awesome movie career. In fact, guys like AHHHhhh-Nold usually, if they're very lucky, get a line or two in a couple of 'real' movies. This is followed by a bit part or two in some crappy made-for-TV movies, and occasionally they get a role in a TV series that gets cancelled in halfway through the first season.

From there they only have two choices: Infomercials for gimmicky exercise equipment or softcore porn.

Ahhh-nold was lucky in two major ways: Firstly, 'The Terminator' was meant to be a bog standard, summertime 'chewing gum' movie…and instead it became an instant classic. For Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh-nold it was like getting the part of the angry janitor in 'Spy babies 4: The Doodie-filled Diaper Disaster" and then discovering 'Spy Babies 4" had the same impact as 'The Matrix'.

But the main reason Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh-nold is so lucky is that, not only was The Terminator a 'Turkey-turned-classic 'like 'Star Wars', he was given the one and only part he could play perfectly: A soulless, expressionless robot.

Think about it. Can you think of a more perfect person to portray an emotionless machine that Ahhh-nold?

Then, watching his career was like watching the nutters on 'America's Got Talent'. It was like he got popular as a 'joke' act…the talentless idiot who everyone keeps voting for because they're just so hilarious to watch…but then he stuck around for so long and starred in so many massively popular blockbusters that everyone sort of forgot that he couldn't act.

So, if we look at AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHhhhh-nold's career, he's basically an ugly guy who can't talk (no matter what the line is, he always sounds like he's gargling a couple of pool balls while a kitten claws his nuts), he can't act and has all the emotional range of a lamppost…yet thanks to getting the perfect role in the perfect movie at the perfect time, he went on to become one of the most successful movie stars of all time and then, just to put the icing on the cake, the people of California thought that this muclebound, awful actor was the perfect choice for Governor.

I thought you needed political experience to be a good choice for Governor…it turns out that all you really need to do is hang by one hand from the skid of a helicopter while going "glarglearglearglearrg" in every single movie you're ever in.

Sledgehammer Math

Yay! Another blog post based on a comment, again from Scratch (this is getting to be a habit).

Scratch said: "I have to agree with rayray though; surely you ought to be able to get *some* help from the government... At least you were here legally."

This is something I must have heard a hundred times over the past few years.

What no-one seems to realize is that as a legal immigrant, part of the immigration process is me signing an agreement that I have 'no recourse to public funds'. In other words, one of the conditions of allowing me to live here is that I won't be able to get any form of government help.

Again, I can't argue with the thinking behind it. It's to stop people moving here, immediately claiming unemployment, food stamps, Medicaid and government housing, and then sitting back and letting the American people support them.

I worked for the British Government in England, dealing with government benefits and I can tell you it's another case of the 'big picture' working great, while screwing a lot of people over on a case-by-case basis.

Basically, if you're an American citizen, you have options. If you lose your job and need medical treatment, you can apply for Medicaid. If you don't qualify for Medicaid you can go to a free clinic. For me, if it's a 'benefit', I don't have access to it. Worse still, even Sunny's access to a lot of benefits is cut back or restricted because of her marriage to me.

The only place that flat-out can't refuse me treatment is the emergency room, and they don't count lab-work or tests as an 'emergency'. In other words, they'll admit me when my meds run out and I end up in a coma…but if I turn up and tell them I need an A1C and a new prescription, they'll charge me $500 to tell me they're an 'emergency facility', don't do that…and have I tried a 'Doctor's Care' office or the free clinic?

In other words, yes, you're right…I really 'ought' to be able to get a basic level of help, but the truth is, I can't.

Now, while Sunny will have similar restrictions when we move to England, those restrictions don't cover medical care, and considering both our ongoing medical bills, even if it takes a year for the one or both of us to find work…we'll still technically be better off, because all we're doing now is gathering up debt faster than we can pay it off.

It's almost poetic, but while moving to the UK won't fix all our problems, at the very least it'll stop the bleeding.

Put it this way, as of right now, our doctor's visits and medications come to nearly $8500 a year, which is a lot when you're two people earning less than $24,000 a year. Once we move to England, with the exchange rate, we only have to earn 4000GBP a year each to actually come out ahead of where we are now.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Answering comments here because I've too much to say to fit in a comment.

Firstly to Evan: Yes, Sunny is coming with me. I've put too much work into her to give up on that investment. I also don't think I'll change the name of this blog, the actual title isn't location specific, and I don't think it's worth changing the URL and having people have to update bookmarks etc. All I'd do is lose readership, and it's taken five years to build up to the couple hundred a day I get now.

Secondly to Scratch: I won't be moving back to America, ever. In fact, this is one of the things I made absolutely clear to Sunny when we were discussing moving. I'd be willing to stay here for another couple of years and keep plugging away in the hope I'd find work, but if we moved, while I'm more than happy to come back to visit, I'll never come back to stay.

The simple reason for that is because it's just too damn painful. When I moved over here I had to leave everything behind and start over. Basically, look around your house and imagine you can only keep what you can fit into a decent sized suitcase. Then think of your family and friends, your pets, the places you usually hang out…and more importantly the million and one little things you take for granted that don't seem important until they're not available any more.

This is the second time I'm doing that. We'd built a life together over here for the past six and a half years, and now I get to leave it all behind again.

The simple truth is that I really, really, really don't want to go. I'm looking forward to seeing my family and friends again, I'm looking forward to not waking up every morning with a sense of dread over how I'm going to pay for my meds…but I love this country, I love the area where I live, and I'm going really going to miss it. As a big, bad 6"1, 265lb rough, tough, shotgun-shooting male, I can honestly say that every time I think about leaving, I feel like crying.

Last time I moved, this was more than offset by the idea of moving to a whole new country, getting married to Sunny and the adventure of the whole thing. People leave home, move into their own place and get married all the time, and that's all I was doing, only I got to move further away to a more 'exotic' locale. Moving back just feels like failure.

The worst part is that the vast majority of our belongings are going to have to be sold just to cover the cost of moving. When I say we're starting from scratch, I mean we're literally starting from scratch. We'll be moving in with my parents with nothing but a couple suitcases of clothes to our name.

Of course, the flip side is I get my good credit rating back, my diabetes treatment becomes a non-issue and I can finally get the minor surgery I've needed for the past three years. I also have a few firm employment possibilities and I get to see my family and friends again…I also won't have to put up with certain inlaws looking down their noses at me while whispering how I'm not working because I'm 'lazy' and just generally badmouthing me because they enjoy it.

As I mentioned in my last post, there's perseverance and there's idiocy. We moved into the house we're living in now as a stop-gap. We thought we'd be living here for maybe three or four months before I'd start work and we'd move somewhere else. Then, we've been saying we'll only be living here for 'a few more months' for nearly seven years.

The question is, just how long to do we live like this? One missed paycheck away from homelessness while hoping work is 'just around the corner'? Do I take a gamble that, after seven years of looking, I'll find a job before August when my diabetes meds run out?

The answer is no. The simple truth is I'm just the wrong sort of immigrant. With the economy the way it is now, no-one is going to hire me while an American wants the job unless I'm willing to work under the table, with no benefits, for two dollars an hour.

Long story short, it was a really hard choice. It's a matter of putting what I want to do next to what I actually have to do.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Homeward Bound…

Well, after nearly seven years in the USA, I'm extremely happy and extremely sad to say I'll be moving back to the UK later this year.

Why?

Well firstly there's the small matter of not being able to find work. I've had my work permit for five years now, and since getting it I've applied for literally thousands upon thousands of jobs and never got so much as a single interview or a call back. I joined four separate employment agencies, aced all their aptitude tests then never heard from them again.

I've spent five years setting my sights progressively lower and lower, until I realized I can't even get hired as a shelf-stacker at K-mart or as a cashier at the gas station. Even McDonalds didn't acknowledge my application.

Secondly, I have diabetes which I simply can't afford to have in America. No-one will hire me, so I can't get insurance and because I'm not a citizen, I can't get any kind of financial help either. When my current prescription runs out, I can't afford another doctor's visit or the tests I need, which means I don't get any more meds, which means I fall into a coma and die. That doesn't leave me much choice.

The final straw was a couple of days ago when Sunny came within a gnats wing of losing her job, which really highlighted just how precarious our situation is. With me not working, and no indication that this is going to change any time soon, we're literally one missed paycheck away from being homeless.

We talked it over and decided. Moving to England just makes the most sense.

The sad thing is, for all its problems, I love America. I love living here and I'm going to be really sad to leave it behind. In a perfect world, I'd get a job offer, Sunny and I could move to a nicer place and we could live out our lives here like we'd planned. However, after nearly seven years of living here and looking for work, it's just time to face reality.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I’m tellin’ ya for the last time…

Ok, so a few comments to my last post made me write this one, mostly Scratch's comment where she said:

"Personally, I don't think there's much a difference in "badness". It's all bad if you drink TOO much of it."

I hate to say this, Scratch, but in this case, you're dead wrong…and here's why:

No matter what you eat, your muscles and organs run on one fuel source: Glycogen. That's what 'metabolizing' means, converting the sugars in your food (such as simple sugars, carbohydrates and starches) into a form your cells can use. That's why simple sugars give you a 'sugar high' followed by a crash, because your body can convert Glucose to Glycogen really easily which gives you a burst of energy, but it's used up quickly, which causes the crash. When you eat more complex sugars, it takes much longer to convert them, which gives you a slow release of energy, so there's no crash.

Now, your liver is the organ responsible for maintaining your blood sugar level. If your blood sugar gets low, it releases more sugar into your blood stream, and when your sugar gets high, it releases insulin which transfers the sugar into your cells.

That's what diabetes is. Your liver is slow to react (or just can't react) and doesn't release enough sugar when your blood sugar is low (causing hypoglycemia) and doesn't release enough insulin when your blood sugar is high (causing hyperglycemia).

Now, the really important part is your liver also functions as your body's 'gas gauge'. When its glycogen stores are full, it assumes the rest of your body's cells are full as well, so it releases a hormone that signals your cells to stop converting sugars to glycogen for immediate use and to convert them to triglycerides (fat) for storage for later.

Normally, this is just fine and works with most sugars, except that only your liver can metabolize fructose…and it can't metabolize very much before its glycogen stores are full.

So, normally, the majority of what you eat is converted to glycogen for immediate use and doesn't get stored as fat. If you drink a soda with high fructose corn syrup, your liver's glycogen stores get full extremely quickly, and it signals your body to start storing the rest of the sugars you've eaten as fat…even though your cells are nowhere near at their glycogen capacity.

In simplest terms, high fructose corn syrup signals your body to store the food you eat as fat, and the first place it stores that fat is in and around your liver…until eventually, not only are you overweight, your liver can't function properly.

Ok, it's easy to dismiss the science, but I think I'm living proof of just how bad this stuff is:

When I moved to the USA, I was in perfect health (I know because I had to have a full medical as part of my visa application), I didn't have diabetes and no-one in the entire history of my family ever had diabetes either.

When I moved, my diet remained the same and the only thing that really changed was, because of the heat here in the south, I started drinking much more soda, something I drank very little of in the UK. Three years later I wake up one morning almost completely blind and discover my blood sugar is almost 300 (100 is normal)…and I have diabetes.

I don't think it's coincidence either that America has the highest obesity rate in the world and has the third highest number of diabetics… and these have risen sharply since the 70's when cane sugar was replaced high fructose corn syrup.

The truth is sugar simply isn't as bad for you as high fructose corn syrup. Sugar is just a really 'high energy' food, whereas fructose is a really 'high energy' food with a chemical makeup that forces your body to store it, as well as the rest of the sugars you ingest with it, as fat…even worse, as fat in and around your liver.

Now, I'll be completely fair and say a couple of regular sodas a week won't do you a lot of harm, but most people don't drink a couple of sodas a week, they drink a couple a day.

Basically, if you want to stay healthy and especially if you want to lose weight, high fructose corn syrup should be avoided at all costs…even if only for the reason that a single 16oz soda can be as much as 300 calories…and because of the fructose, that's 300 calories that's definitely going to be stored as fat.


 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Throwback

Commenting on my last post, Saffy said:

"You may be right about the sodas, but damn if they don't taste good! Those Throwback sodas taste like crap!"

I actually find that really interesting…especially as all sodas were sweetened with sugar until the late 80's, early 90's. It's not really about which soda tastes better, it's about what you're used to. It's like taking a sip of coffee when you think it's hot chocolate. Even if you love coffee, that first sip will taste horrible, just because it's not what you were expecting.

In fact, remember the whole 'New Coke' debacle? The only difference between the recipe for 'classic' coke and 'new' coke is that new coke was sweetened with high fructose corn syrup while classic coke was sweetened with cane sugar.

The funniest thing is that a company like Coca Cola doesn't just change their recipe overnight. Before introducing New Coke, Coca Cola went all around the country and conducted thousands of blind taste tests… and the result was clear, the vast majority of Americans preferred new coke to classic coke.

The problem was that Coca Cola was considered as classic 'Americana', so once the change in recipe was announced people reacted badly. Changing the recipe for Coke was like replacing Thanksgiving Turkey with Thanksgiving Tofu Salad. People responded with hate for the new recipe and Coca Cola Classic was brought back almost immediately.

However, and here's the real kicker, it's a hell of a lot cheaper to sweeten a soft drink with high fructose corn syrup than with cane sugar, so it was an inevitable change that Coke were going to make anyway, which they did.

Basically, today, Coca Cola Classic is 'New Coke'. The only real difference is the packaging.

In other words, there's been a complete 180. In the late 80's Coke introduced corn syrup sweetened Coke and people said it tasted like crap and demanded the original cane-sugar sweetened recipe be brought back. Then, the recipe was changed anyway and no-one noticed. 20 years later, we're all drinking our high-fructose corn-syrup flavored coke, which we so vehemently fought against…while saying the 'throwback' sodas, the original cane-sugar sweetened recipe that we fought for in the 80's, tastes like crap.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Truth in Propaganda…

"What? You brought that brand of soft drink to the picnic? Don't you know that's got high-fructose corn syrup in it?"

"So?"

"Well, you know what they say about that stuff…"

"What? That it's nutritionally the same as sugar and it's fine in moderation?"

"No… that fructose can only be metabolized by the liver which means a ridiculously small amount can fill your liver's Glycogen stores, which not only causes your liver to turn the remaining fructose and other sugars to fat, but also signals the rest of your body to stop metabolizing sugars and to convert them to fat as well."

"Well, the corn council says…"

"Which, of course, not only contributes to obesity, but particularly causes fat to infiltrate the liver, which is a major factor in the onset of type 2 diabetes among other life threatening diseases."

"But it is only the same calories as sugar…"

"Seriously, having a drink sweetened with high fructose corn syrup with a meal is basically telling your body to store everything you're about to eat as fat, and to store the vast majority of it in and around your liver, which is responsible for regulating your blood sugar."

"Wow, I guess I need to stop getting my information on the dangers and side effects of highly processed corn products from TV commercials paid for by a group of people who make a fuck ton of cash from selling me highly processed corn products."

"Yeah, it turns out the tobacco companies are wrong about cigarettes not causing cancer as well."

This commercial is brought to you by 'The Corn Council of America is Full of Shit' Committee.


 

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Talking Turkey.

So, yesterday morning I got up to discover the weather forecast had changed from the 'severe thunderstorms all day' to 'sunny with a touch of cloud'.

On the one hand, as always, I felt like the weather forecasters shouldn't be allowed to 'cheat' and should have left the forecast alone so we could all see how wrong they were… but on the other hand it mean we could try out the new grill.

So, first thing, Sunny and I went to Ingles and bought a bag of mesquite wood chips and a 2.5lb turkey breast. When we got home, Sunny went to lie down (she'd worked all night) and I went to work on the grill.

The grill, considering it was a 'worthless' $100 grill we got for $70, worked beautifully. I filled my chimney starter with Kingsford charcoal briquettes (something else the grilling elite say is worthless and you should never, ever use for smoking) and waited for them to heat.

While I was waiting, I put the wood chips in a bowl of water to soak and Sunny had made an awesome dry rub that I rubbed into the turkey (You'll have to ask her for the recipe, all I know is that it had a touch of garlic, onion powder, paprika and cayenne).

About fifteen minutes later the coals were ready, so I emptied them into the smoker's firebox and watched the temperature on the cooking side rise to 250 degrees. A quick adjustment on the fireboxes damper got me to the 225 degrees I wanted and I put the turkey on the grate and closed the lid.

The only downside to the whole cooking process is that while the sky stayed perfectly clear, the wind really did pick up and we got some very high winds while I was trying to cook. This initially dropped the temp in the cooking side of the smoker to about 200 degrees and caused the temp to fluctuate between 200 and 220 for the rest of the cooking time. Now, while I'm sure the people with the $1000 super-awesome-deluxe grills would tell me that if I has a SUPER SMOKE-O-MATIC 8000 SE PLATINUM EDITION like theirs, I wouldn't have had a problem… but, personally, I'll keep the extra $700 and just add half an hour to my cooking time.

The only other real issue I had was that I'd bought one of those instant-read meat thermometers at the store, only to discover it was broken when I tried to use it (unless, of course, a glass of cold water really was 170 degrees), and having only cooked at such a relatively low temperature a couple times before, it was difficult to judge when the meat was actually done. Of course, cooking at 200 degrees meant you'd have to work really hard to over-cook and burn your turkey…but not having a thermometer meant the only way I could check it was done was to cut into it, and because I had to cut into it without letting it rest for half an hour, when I did, I lost what looked like a third of a cup of juice from the incision.

However, the whole process was really very simple. It took three hours to cook, which meant I just had to replenish the coals once and add a handful of soaked and drained wood-chips to the firebox every twenty minutes for the first half of the cooking time. As it turned out to be a really nice (if a little windy) day…I just sat next to the grill and watched a few episodes of Doctor Who on my iPod while I waited. Many people might not like the idea of taking three and a half hours to cook a 2.5lb turkey breast…but sitting in the sunshine, watching one of my favorite shows and occasionally checking a thermometer…well, I can think of worse ways to spend an afternoon.

So, how did the turkey actually turn out?

Well, I'm not quite sure how to frame this, except to say that it was, without a hint of exaggeration, the number one, absolute best turkey I have ever eaten in my entire f**king life. The rub complimented it perfectly, I had a textbook-perfect smoke ring around the outside of the meat, the flavor was so deep and complex that it was almost impossible to think while you were eating some…and it was so juicy that… well… if you imagine sponge fresh out of the water, that gets you close to how juicy it was.

The best way I can describe it is that I've eaten mesquite-smoked turkey before from the deli, or in packages from the supermarket fridge, but after making my own, I'd really hesitate to call them the same thing. It's like the difference between sitting on a beautiful, tropical beach and looking and a picture of one.

Long story short, it was the best turkey I've ever eaten. So much so that I actually got out of bed at 3am purely to go to the fridge and make a turkey sandwich.

If you've never done this before, I highly recommend it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

It’s a box you light a fire in…

Why is it that no matter what you talk about, there's always some elitist prick who thinks they know everything?

Yesterday morning Sunny and I bought ourselves a new smoker/grill for our anniversary. As long as the rain holds off we're planning on breaking it in tomorrow by smoking a turkey breast for dinner.

So, I went online to see if there were any interesting recipes or tips on cooking one. I've always smoked meat by soaking the wood chips in water, making a tray for them out of tinfoil and setting it on top of the hot coals, you get a lot of smoke for a lot of time. However, having never had a dedicated offset smoker before, which opens up more options, I was considering using wood alone, or mostly wood with a bit of charcoal. The problem is that this is a little tricky because if you just let the wood smolder, you get creosote depositing on your food…but letting the wood hold too much of a flame gets the temperature far too high.

So, I looked around online… and stumbled upon a nest of assholes.

Apparently, any smoker/grill under $700 is 'worthless' because the metal's too thin and doesn't hold heat. The joints and lid don't seal tightly enough which lets the smoke out and extra oxygen in. I mean, these guys weren't just up their own assholes, but they were that very special type of asshole who thinks contradicting conventional wisdom on the subject makes them seem super clever.

Basically, according to these guys, you should get your $1500 grill then you should fit at least three extra thermometers to it, you should only order charcoal from across the globe at $50 a bag, you should never marinade meat first, or baste it while it's cooking. Blah, blah, blah.

You get the idea. These are the guys who would go on a fishing trip and tell everyone the way professionals fish is hold onto the hook and chuck the pole in the water.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong…but while I'll agree there are levels of quality… aren't we basically talking about a box with a fire lit on one side? I imagine it makes cooking a little easier if you have a grill that keeps a perfectly even temperature, where you can track the temperature by a hundredth of a degree… and it'd be nice to have one made of really thick, high-quality cast iron, but calling a hundred or two hundred dollar grill 'worthless' is just plain having your head jammed in your rectum.

Put it this way, up until now, all Sunny and I had was one of those little kettle-style tabletop grills and I've smoked chicken in that just by cramming all the coals over to one side and putting chicken on the other…and the chicken came out awesome. I'll put my chicken made on my little $30 tabletop grill against grilled chicken from any restaurant any day.

Basically, I think barbecue is a lot like wine…there's not a lot of difference between the very 'best' and the average (most people can't tell the difference between a ten dollar and a two hundred dollar bottle of wine), but elitism and snobbery has lead to people spending an awful lot of cash for no good reason.

Put simply, when it comes down to actually eating the meat you cook, I don't think anyone could tell the difference between a cut of meat smoked in a $100 grill or a $500 grill. It really is just a box with a fire on one side.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hobbies

In a comment on my last post, frequent commenter Scratch said that it 'sounds like I need a hobby'.

Regular readers will know why I find that hilarious.

For the newer readers, as of right now I:

Write, Draw, Paint, Run, Cycle, Target Shoot, Fish, Build Models, Play Video Games, Run a couple of blogs, fix computers, cook and do a little bit of gardening.

And that's just what I do now.

Put it this way, be out of work for over five years and you will find ways to occupy your time. Especially when your partner works 12 hour night shifts which means you're on your own most of the time and the nearest 'civilization' is well over ten miles away and you have no car or drivers license (well, a least no license valid in the country you're currently living in.)

Anyway, thanks to everyone who commented, but the simple truth is I know how to make friends. I had lots of friends before I moved here. It's just that my current situation doesn't exactly make it easy. I'd have to walk for nearly 15 miles just to get to the nearest road with an actual sidewalk and, once there, I wouldn't have the money to do anything…and unless I want to be the guy walking around K-Mart trying to start conversations with random strangers…that's just the way it's going to stay until I finally find someone who'll hire me.

I'm not trying to start a pity party or make anyone feel sorry for me, it's just the way things are right now. I know once I start work and get some transportation and a bit of disposable income things will change.

It shouldn’t be this hard…

With our sixth anniversary coming up, Sunny and I decided to treat ourselves and buy ourselves a new grill.

I absolutely love grilled food. It tastes absolutely awesome, and on our current health kick, grilling is a really healthy way to cook. Throw some chicken breasts on there, stick some water-soaked mesquite wood chips wrapped in tinfoil on your coals and you're on the healthy-train to Tasty Town.

We got an amazing deal that we'd spotted two weeks ago. It was the last one they had and we bought the display model…getting a $150 grill/smoker for seventy bucks.

Oh yeah, that's the part I was really excited about. It's a smoker as well as a grill. It has the separate compartment off to one side jus for your coals so you can cook with indirect heat. We're planning to break it in this week by smoking a big turkey breast.

…but, as always, there's a snag.

I was the display model, and because it didn't come in a nice flat-packed box, it wouldn't fit in the car. It wasn't a problem, I just unscrewed it from its stand, put the actual grill on the back seat and put the stand in the trunk. It was really simple, four screws that go through the bottom of the grill into holes in the stand.

So, we get home, and because Sunny worked last night and I just didn't go to bed, I planned to slap the grill back on its stand, put the cover on it and go to bed.

Four holes, four screws. How long do you think it took us? Five minutes? Six?

Try an hour and a f**king half.

I got one screw in and noticed that the second wasn't aligned. I don't mean off by a fraction of an inch that meant you had to work it in. I mean off buy a good ¾ of an inch. I took the grill off the stand and turned it the other way…it was even worse. I called Sunny to see if she could see what I was doing wrong. She tried. Neither of us could work it out. If I hadn't seen it assembled at the store, I'd have assumed they'd given us the wrong stand and took it back.

Instead, like f**king morons we spent an hour and a half trying to fix the damn thing, until suddenly, without warning, without us doing anything differently, Sunny managed to get three of them in perfectly.

Then she asked me for the last screw. I said she had it. She said I had it. We both got on our hands and knees and spent the next 15 minutes searching for a black, non-reflective screw in the grass. All I can say is: Thank God I cut it a few days ago.

Anyway, we finally got it together. I put in the coal grates and cooking grates…and started to really look forward to breaking it in tomorrow afternoon on Sunny's day off.

Then I came in and checked the weather. Sunny is off work Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We have heavy thunderstorms forecast for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Bollocks.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

So, last night things came to a bit of a head over my camera going missing and Sunny and I had an absolutely blazing row, probably the worst one we've had in our six years of marriage.

I'll be completely honest and admit my mistakes. I said some pretty horrible things that I didn't mean and…long story short, I went way too far. I instantly realized I wasn't saying things just to win the argument or make my point, but was just saying horrible, hurtful things because the red mist (or in this case, the red smog) had descended and I just wanted to punish her and make her feel bad. I'd spent three days silently seething and Sunny had given me an opening.

It wasn't her fault. I did have reason to be upset with her, but I had reason to have a 'heated discussion', not a screaming match. The simple truth is that I had the world's amount of rage built up, and she put a slight crack in the dam that was holding it back…and I took it all out on her because she was a convenient target and the person I was really angry at wasn't there.

I realized almost immediately after what I'd done and apologized and took back what I said, and we made up... Sunny proving she's a far bigger and better person than I am.

We made up… but consider this my public apology.

I don't mean this in an emo 'everyone feel sorry for me' way, but I think the main reason this happened is that I simply don't have any friends over here. I have people I keep in contact with in England, and a good few online friends…but without a job or driving license I just haven't had the opportunity to meet any new people.

Put simply, back in England, if I got pissed off about something, I'd call a couple of friends, we'd go to the pub, have a few beers and I'd vent for a while. I could get out of the house, have a change of scenery and deal with things that way. You don't notice it until it's gone, but when someone pisses you off or screws you over, it's amazing what something as simple as calling a friend and going to see a movie or something does to help you calm down and get over it.

As things are now, when I get angry at something I have nowhere to go, no way to get there even if I did and absolutely no-one to talk to. Basically, I have no pressure release. If I get angry about something, I have no way to let it out and it just builds and builds…and eventually gets taken out on people, or more precisely the ONE person, Sunny, who doesn't deserve it.

Of course, this will all fix itself when I finally get someone to hire me, can get out of the house and start having an actual life again…but that doesn't help much now.


 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Anger doesn’t even come close.

I've written this post three times already, and then decided not to post it because usually I dislike 'airing dirty laundry' in public or through fear of offending anyone.

Fuck that shit, because it's been three days now and I'm still just about as furious as it's possible for a person to be.

Remember a couple months ago when Sunny's son took my camera and returned it broken with all my irreplaceable pictures deleted?

Well, a couple of nights ago, as I've actually come to expect, there's a knock on the door at two in the fucking morning and there's Sunny's son, with more self-inflicted bullshit drama. Apparently he got into a fight with the person he was staying with (something he also has a habit of doing) and, as fucking usual, he lit a fuse, was shocked when something went bang and then turned up on my doorstep, basically saying 'fix it'.

Going against every instinct I had to tell him to just get the fuck out of my house and to stop making his problems my problems, I told him he could stay for a day or two, mostly for Sunny's sake. You may think I'm being a little uncaring here, but all his problems are self inflicted. He appears to deliberately make the absolute worst possible decision in any circumstance, ignores every bit of advice we give him…and when it inevitably blows up in his face, he turns up here.

Put it this way, over the past couple of years, Sunny's son has put a major strain on our marriage. This is a married father of three I'm talking about, not a 16 year old kid.

The worst part is I spent the past five years fighting for him. I thought people never gave him a chance and always gave him a raw deal. I got in blazing rows with people because I wouldn't hear a bad word against him. Then, I come to find out recently, that he'd been lying directly to my face the whole time. Over the past six months he caused even more drama with his self-inflicted bullshit which caused so much friction between me and Sunny that it nearly broke up our marriage.

Then, after all that, he apologized to me and I decided, for Sunny's sake, to just let bygones be bygones and give him the benefit of the doubt.

So, he stays with us for a night, calls a member of the family who he hasn't seriously worn out his welcome with yet…and suddenly has to leave right then and there. Fuck the fact it was 8 at night and I had the grill lit cooking dinner. He suddenly needed a ride to Sunny's niece's house. I wonder what the sudden big rush is, but no…of course, Frank says jump and Sunny says 'how high' and she drives him over there.

Two days later, I remember I have some pictures on my new camera that I haven't transferred to the computer yet. I open my drawer, the camera isn't there. I look next to the computer, it isn't there either.

Let me point something out here. Since my last camera was knocked into a pile of her son's laundry because she wasn't watching what the fuck she was doing, and then her son decided to wipe all my pictures and destroy the camera rather than return it, I take really good care of the new one. If it's not in my hands it's in my drawer or next to the desktop.

I spend the next three hours turning the house upside-fucking-down looking for it, and it's nowhere to be found. The charger for the battery is missing as well.

Sunny's response to all this can be summed up like this: She couldn't give a shit…and when I get pissed about this, then she gets pissy at me because it's not her fault.

Only one of two things could have happened. I know exactly where I left it, so either she's moved it or decided to tidy my desk and it's ended up in the trash…or her fucking son has stolen it. I don't think that's much of a stretch considering Sunny's carelessness led to the destruction of my $800 camera and her son has a real habit of things going missing around him. I also think it's just a BIT of a coincidence that I have my camera, Sunny's son stays overnight, and the next day it's gone.

The part that really pisses me off is that Sunny calls her son and asks if he's stolen it. He said 'no'. According to Sunny, that's case closed. Because, of course, if he had taken it he would have said immediately.

I cannot describe just how fucking furious I am right now. There's absolutely no way I can afford a new camera now, but the real point is I shouldn't fucking have to.

I've honestly had enough. I'm completely and totally done. Sunny's son is no longer welcome anywhere near my fucking house, because even if he didn't take the camera this time, he's done more than enough to piss me off with his constant bullshit, and as of right this second I am completely out of compassion and empathy and giving people the benefit of the doubt. I've spent 6 months putting up with mountain's of bullshit for Sunny's sake, and considering she's shown absolutely zero concern for my feelings, that stops as of right fucking now.

If anyone has a problem with that, they can go fuck themselves.

 

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Doctor Who

[First off, there are no Spoilers for the new season of Doctor Who in this post…there are however, one or two spoilers if you haven't seen 'End of Time' yet. You have been warned]

Well, I just watched the first episode of the new season of Doctor Who, with Matt Smith as the new Doctor.

I'll keep this completely spoiler-free…which means that all I can really say is the following: I actually liked Matt Smith's Doctor. Only one episode in, I can't really say how he'll stack up against David Tennant or Tom Baker who are my 'definitive' Doctors… but I went in expecting not to like him, but he won me over almost immediately. He definitely plays a 'new' doctor, but with a definite nod towards David Tennant's portrayal which really works.

I was also a little worried that they'd done too much of a clean break by not having one of the old Companions stay on, or even the old Tardis…but the episode made me realize just how much baggage the Doctor had picked up over the last three seasons, something which was really beginning to bog down the overall storytelling. Traditionally, Doctor Who was about the Doctor with a Companion or two as an audience proxy…but by the end of last season we had a huge supporting cast with complicated and interwoven relationships… and a Doctor so damaged that he would be almost impossible to write for, not to mention there'd have to be a guest appearance by an old companion or the cast of torchwood every week to keep the continuity plausible.

Basically, I really liked how they finished 'The End of Time' with something of an 'epilogue' where the Doctor went round and tied up all the loose ends with his companions, letting us know for sure how things turn out for them and their families…while also drawing a definite line under Tennant's time as the Doctor.

As for Matt Smith, while I obviously can't give a final judgement on him after one episode, I actually buy him as the Doctor, which is actually more than I can say for most of the previous Doctors after a single episode.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Spam, Spam go away.

Over he past six months or so, my little blog here took a sudden and dramatic upturn in popularity.

First of all, Wil Wheaton linked here to a review I wrote of his audiobook which tripled my readership overnight, and my review of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull got put on StumbleUpon by someone, which doubled my readership again.

This is obviously not a bad thing. While I tend to write more as a sort of therapy for myself, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't extremely happy and flattered that I have a decent sized readership.

The downside is that once you have a blog with a good amount of content and a good amount of readers, the spammers show up.

This is the second time this month where I've got out of bed, checked my email (my comments get sent to my email) and found 50+ spam comments...usually on older posts, probably in the hope I won't notice them and take them down.

Now, I know that spammers rarely, if ever, actually read any content on the sites they spam, but on the million to one chance that the owner of that creepy Japanese porn site I keep getting inundated with spam about ever reads this...spamming my blog will do you no good.

Any comments I recieve on this blog go to an email address, and that email is pushed to my iTouch, something I have within reach at all times. Every time I get a spam comment, I delete it immediately.

In other words, creating an account, getting past the captcha and cutting and pasting your spam gets you approximately a minute of exposure on this blog, and the first thing I do after deleting your comment is report you as a spammer.

In other words, keep it up, fucker...I can keep going longer than you can.

Changing the Tune

Earlier today, Sunny and I were at the pharmacy waiting for her meds to be filled when I went off to look at the books and magazines while we waited.

I stumbled across a book by some Conservative Pundit about how President Obama is destroying the country, how he's worse than Hitler, destroying the American way of life, yadda, yadda, yadda.

The part that made me stop was when I read the blurb where he said it was the duty of 'every patriotic American' to do everything they could to put a stop to the changes President Obama is trying to make.

I suddenly had a flashback.

I remember watching the news back when President Bush was in office, where a Conservative Radio personality at some rally or another looked directly at the camera and said it was 'un-american' and 'un-patriotic' to question the President and that true 'Patriots' support their President and Government no matter what. This, of course, was met with wild cheers.

At the time, I wondered how anyone could get what it means to be a Patriot so wrong…but it made me chuckle today how much they've changed their tune. Last year it was unpatriotic to question anything the President does. This year, it's the 'Duty of every Patriotic American' to fight just about everything the President does.

Well, it turns out that these people not only don't understand what a patriot is, they also seem to not understand the basics of democracy.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Awesome.

I don't get to say this too often, but I honestly feel kinda proud of myself today.

Around this time last year, I pulled the lawnmower out of the shed to cut the grass and I got roughly a third of the way through before I had to quit. I found pushing the lawnmower so strenuous after half an hour pushing it, my heart felt like it was about to burst out of my chest and I was breathing like I'd just come up for air after spending five minutes underwater.

Well, today I took my usual three mile walk (which has gradually changed into a half-walk/half-run over the past few weeks) and I was enjoying my audiobook so much that when I got back, I decided I didn't want to go back inside the house just yet…so I decided to cut the grass.

I should also point out here that this isn't an average front lawn I'm mowing. I'm mowing at least a couple of acres of fairly hilly ground with a push mower. In fact, as an experiment today, I left my Nike+ app running and decided to see just how far I actually walk when I cut all my grass.

I turns out I walk about 3 miles to cut the whole lot. The actual app said I'd done 2.9 miles, but I'd paused it halfway through to talk to Sunny and I'd been back cutting grass for ten minutes before I remembered to start it up again.

You may be wondering why this made me proud of myself.

Well, as I mentioned earlier, last year I cut maybe a third of my grass, or just over a mile's worth, and I was literally physically incapable of going any further.

Today, I did a three mile walk (and I ran about a mile of that), then I went another three miles pushing the lawnmower…and when I was finished I was a little out of breath, but the kind of out of breath where you can still hold a normal conversation.

Basically, today proved that I'm in dramatically better shape than I was a year ago. Last year, pushing a lawnmower for a mile in the sun was enough to literally lay me out. Today I did over six miles and barely broke a sweat.

I think if everyone who feels they need to lose weight of get in shape could feel the way I do right now, they'd instantly stop making excuses and get on the treadmill.


 

 

Monday, April 12, 2010

Head-desk

It's pretty obvious to anyone that knows me that I'm a huge technophile. I love gadgets. If it's shiny and has buttons and flashing lights, I want it.

However, sometimes I see something that's just technology for technology's sake…and even I have to step back for a moment and say, "Really, guys? Really?"

For example, I've written more than a few posts about e-book readers, and how I think they're the most pointless technology on the planet. I just don't see the point. They're about the same size and shape as a paperback…but are also expensive, fragile and need batteries to be of any use. There's also absolutely no need to carry an entire library around with you.

Now, this is where people point out Amazon's 'Kindle'… but I'll point out the only thing that makes the Kindle worth buying is the free cellular internet and access to Wikipedia that comes with it.

For those keeping score, that means the main reason to buy a Kindle is for something other than reading books.

Anyway, earlier today I visited the iTunes app store and discovered the most ridiculous 'technology for technology's sake' thing ever.

Ok, so we've all heard about the iPad right? If you haven't, it's an oversized ipod touch. As an aside, I think that the iPad itself is another totally pointless device. It's basically a cross between a laptop and a netbook with all the drawbacks but none of the advantages of either. No physical keyboard, so you can't really work on it and no flash support in the web browser which all but cripples it.

Well, anyway, I was browsing the iTunes App store when I came across what I thought was a free scrabble game. Then, the more I read, the more I felt like banging my head on the desk.

Ok, so here's the thing. If you have an iPad, you can buy a scrabble game for it. The iPod Touch scrabble app is just a letter tray that you use in conjunction with the scrabble game on the iPad.

So, I want you all to picture something here:

Imagine a family of four people sitting around a $500 iPad with scrabble running on it. Then, all four people have an iPod Touch each which cost around $250 each.

Can anyone else think of any possible reason that you'd want to spend $1500 to play scrabble rather than just go get the board game off the shelf for less than twenty bucks?

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Civilization!

I'll start at the beginning.

About two weeks ago, I noticed a drip in the bathroom. Crawling under the sink so I could look at the back of the bath-tub, I noticed the stop valve for the hot water faucet was leaking. It was no big deal, it was a slow drip, maybe about a pint of water per day… and a quick inspection showed there was nothing wrong with the valve itself, it had just worked itself a little loose and water was leaking where the valve was connected to the pipe.

So, the fix was relatively simple. All I needed to do was remove the valve, clean the screw threads, put on a fresh layer of nylon tape and tighten it up. Unfortunately, I had no idea where the main water shut off was for the house, so I had to wait a few days until I could get my stepson over here who knew where it was.

Then, the day after I discovered the leak, I was emptying the bucket and when I put it back under the drip, I felt another drip of water hit the back of my hand…coming from somewhere else.

You know that feeling when your insides just freeze? Yeah, I got that. The feeling that a minor inconvenience is about to turn into major trouble.

I ended up lying on my side in a very cramped space, shining a flashlight in the pitch darkness, looking for the source of the new leak. With a totally 'oh…shit.' I realized that there was water dripping right from the bottom of the hot water heater itself. That looked like a problem I probably could fix with five minutes and about seven cents worth of nylon tape.

A bit of research on the internet confirmed my worst fears. If your actual water heater is leaking, from the tank itself and not from one of the fittings….there's no way to fix it. It's just broken. Then, One thing gave me a glimmer of hope: One site said if the TP valve is blocked open, it can make it appear the tank is leaking when it isn't. The fix for that was simple and easy, something even someone like me should be capable of: You get a bucket and open the TP valve to clear any debris that may be holding it open.

I did this and a few second later I had a bucket filled with rust-colored water. I took this was both a good and bad sign. The water was so rusty that it was highly likely that something was holding the TP valve open slightly…unfortunately, the water being so rusted could also mean that the tank had started to rust through and was beyond repair.

I flushed the valve a few times before closing it and leaving the heater alone for twenty minutes to see if the leak stopped. Unfortunately, when I walked back into the bathroom I was greeted to the sound of running water…that is, water running directly onto the floor. I grabbed the flashlight, looked at the underside of the tank…and the bucket I had the pipe attached to the TP valve was just pouring. I've no idea if it was jammed open slightly before…but it was certainly jammed open now.

For those keeping score, previous to my attempt to fix the tank, I had a very manageable leak that we could deal with easily by emptying a bucket every day while still having hot water while we waited until we could afford a new heater.

After my attempt to fix the tank, we had a choice of no hot water at all, or we could flood the house. As you can probably guess we went for the former rather than the latter.

Long story short, for the next two weeks we had no hot water.

You know, it's amazing the things that you barely notice and take for granted…that can just about ruin your life when they're taken away.

As regular readers know, I've been exercising a lot recently. The weather has been getting hotter and hotter…and trust me, there's nothing quite as unpleasant as coming in from a run absolutely soaked with sweat…then having to boil the kettle to get some hot water so you can have a stand-up wash in front of the sink.

The thing is, recently, I've been priding myself on just how 'handy' I've become. Before I moved to the US, the way I fixed things around the house was by saying "Dad? The (whatever) needs fixing." However, in the past couple of years, I've done roofing, worked on the car a little bit and quite a bit of plumbing. To most people in their late twenties, it might not seem like a big deal to crawl under the house to repair a burst water pipe, or replace the valve heads on a leaky faucet…but to me, it was kind of a big deal.

Well, it seems fate was listening to me bragging on myself and decided it was going to teach me a lesson. Sure, I can cap a pipe fairly easily, I can repair a leaky compression faucet…but installing a water heater is something that's totally beyond my skill set…and hiring a professional was out of the question. We could just about afford the $250 for a new heater…what we couldn't afford was another $200-$300 to have someone install it for us.

Luckily, my stepson is extremely handy and knew what to do.

I'd love to say he helped me install the new heater today, but it was much more a case of I watched while he did it (although in my defense, I did wrap the nylon tape around a few of the fittings).

Anyway, it took most of the day, mostly due to the fact you never get all the fittings you need during the first trip to the hardware store…but we finally got the damn thing installed…and after a bit of a scare where I realized our old water heater was a 120v model and the new one was 240v, so we didn't know if the set-up could supply enough power…we got the thing installed, filled the tank, hooked up the power and left it to heat up the water.

An hour later I turned on a faucet, and after it deliberately made me wait for what felt like five years until I was starting to panic and wonder if Lowes would let us return a perfectly fine, fully-functional water heater just because I'd bought the wrong one, I felt hot water, glorious, amazing, miraculous hot water hit my hand.

As I said earlier, it's amazing the things you take for granted until they're gone. I've got up twice in the past hour just to turn the faucet on and giggle like a schoolgirl when hot water comes out. I feel like a caveman who's just discovered fire for the first time.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I now plan to go stand under the shower for at least a week.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

A couple of months ago, I discovered this little gem on Yahoo Answers:



I read this few a few times and found that it captures just about everything that's wrong with the world today in one small, elegant package.

Here's why: This is an example of a very ignorant person with no idea the world works, who wants something absolutely impossible, expects everyone else to do it for her...and believes that people shouldn't be allowed to disagree with or offend her, no matter how retarded they're being.

First of all, there's the belief in magic and the ability to turn yourself into a mermaid. Secondly, she thinks the fact that she takes this 'seriously' and 'finds it offensive' when people contradict her actually counts for anything.

You know what? I'd love the ability to turn trash into gold with a snap of my fingers....would it matter at all how 'seriously' I'd take it, or if I found the people telling me grow up and stop living in fantasy land 'offensive'?

No, because I'm being a fucking idiot wanting impossible things.

However, the part of this I find most hilarious is the fact she wants to become a mermaid because she 'knows there is a lot more to life that war and hate and wants to escape it all'.

Firstly, I love the attitude. Don't take responsibility and try and fix anything, just run away.

Most of all, I love the sheer, earth-shattering ignorance of the idea.

This is a girl who watched 'The Little Mermaid' like it was a documentary. There's a reason wildlife is called wild life. The seas aren't a case of all god's little creatures living in harmony...they're a case of all god's creatures killing each other for mating rights, food and territory.

Now, the image I posted above was a screenshot I discovered online today...the actual original Yahoo Answers post was much better because it had a few hundred comments...but surprisingly, the majority of them weren't people telling this idiot to grow up and try living in the real world...they were complaints from other idiots complaining that she obviously wasn't a witch, because they were and could tell she was fakin'.

This is why I'm for plain speaking and hate all this politically correct bullshit. Sometimes people need to be offended. Sometimes the perfectly correct, appropriate response is to point at someone, laugh and call them fucking idiots.

Political Correctness tells us that everyone's opinion is equally important. NO. IT. ISN'T.

All I'm going to say is that if you think a person who believes in magic, thinks it's possible to turn yourself into a mermaid and thinks the seas are filled with singing lobsters having adventures deserves just as big a say in how the country is run than anyone else...well, let me just say I'm pointing at you, laughing and calling you a big fat retard.


Clean Your Computer...

A few days ago, I mentioned how my processor cooling fan lost a blade which put the desktop out of action.

Well, yesterday, I replaced the fan.

If you'll allow me a tangent for a moment...what the hell happened to computer and electronics stores? Not too long ago, if you needed pretty much any computer component, you could walk into a big retailer and they'd have exactly what you needed and you'd be helped by people who at least had a vague idea of what you needed.

I went to Staples, Best Buy, and Radio Shack...none of which had what I needed, and only the guy at radio shack actually knew what I was talking about. The guy at Best Buy actually walked off for a minute, conferred with another employee... and came back with one of those big fans you clip to the back of your X-Box!

Well, I guess the answer to why they don't sell this stuff any more is pretty simple. No one bothers building or repairing computers any more. I pointed out to Sunny in the car: In the mid 90's I built computers because I could build a computer for $600 than would cost $1300 at retail. I'd repair and upgrade computers because they were big investments. Today, you can buy a brand new computer for less than $300 at walmart, and who's going to spend the money and effort to upgrade an existing computer when you can just buy a whole new one for almost the same price?

I think the to average person today, their computer suddenly making a loud grinding noise and vibrating like hell is the signal to throw it away and get a new one, not just replace a cooling fan.

Anyway, back to my point:

I usually give the inside of my computer a cleaning at least once every two or three months. Nothing major, just a few blasts of canned air, followed by a trip around the case with a dust-buster.

This year, thanks to one thing or another, I completely forgot, and left the inside gathering dust for about six months.

When I pulled the fan off the heat-sink, here's what I discovered:


I probably could have just cleaned out the heat-sink, left the fan off all together and still had more efficient cooling than I had with the fan running. The heat-sink was so clogged with dust that, rather than helping the processor disperse heat, it was acting more like a blanket. I have a soft brush I usually use to clean the nooks and crannies of my PC case, but in this case it did no good because the dust was so tightly packed it just wasn't going anywhere. In the end I had to clean out between the vanes with a toothpick before the canned air or vacuum cleaner would even make a dent.

After putting on the new fan, the results were dramatic. The fan is slightly quieter than the old on anyway, but because the Heat-sink can actually do its job, it doesn't have to run as fast. Also, over the past month or so I'd had real stability problems with this machine that I'd put down to malware (I've ran more virus and spyware checks on this machine in the past two weeks than I have in the past six months)...but I guess that was just instability caused by the processor overheating, because it's running a lot better now.

Moral of the story...pop the side of your PC case once in a while and have a dust around in there.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Normality…

Scratch's comment on yesterday's post (where I selflessly ate squirrel for your entertainment) started me thinking a little bit. The part of her comment that inspired this post was:

"I'm afraid I'd have to draw the line [at eating squirrel] though. The oddist thing I've ever eaten was goose. Which tastes like really greasy chicken!"

One of the things about moving to a new country is that you start to see the things you eat and drink in a whole new light. You suddenly realize that there really is no such thing as 'normal', there are just things you're used to and things that you aren't.

For example, as a Brit, I drink my tea hot with milk in it. Not only do the vast majority of the people I know here in SC think it's really weird that I drink it hot, most of them turn green and damn near throw up at the idea of drinking tea with milk in it. Of course, if I went back to England and started drinking iced tea, most of my family there would look at me like I'd grown an extra head.

As I said, there's no normal and abnormal, just things you're used to and things you aren't.

Now, if you want to see just how weird some of the things we consider to be totally 'normal' can be, imagine explaining eggs and milk to someone who's never heard of them:

"Ok, there's this big fat flightless bird, and what we do is we get a male to have sex with a bunch of females, because when they get pregnant, instead of the fetus staying inside the bird, the bird pushes a sort of self-contained womb out its vagina. Then we gather up these 'mobile wombs', so we can cook them… fetus, placenta and all…they're really good fried. If you're thirsty after that, you can wash it down with a white, fatty liquid that we squeeze from the underneath of pregnant cows."

Basically, it all comes down to that mental disconnect. We eat eggs because we were first introduced to them as food, and we think of them as coming from our grocery store's refrigerator in those nice cartons. What we absolutely don't do is
think of them as calcium-coated bird-wombs that were squeezed out of a hen's vagina. In the same way, we'll drink cow's milk because we were introduced to it as a delicious white drink in a plastic gallon jug.

Think about it…we even say 'Beef', 'Pork' and 'Venison' instead of 'Cow', 'Pig' and 'Deer'.

My point is this: if we'd always been able to go to the grocery store and buy a bag of pre-butchered squirrel meat, no one would think there was anything even slightly weird about it. If people had to hunt and butcher their own chicken or pork, fewer people would eat it and WAY fewer would be willing to try it.

The basic rule of thumb is this: The more people who are aware of something as an actual animal instead of just as a type of meat, the weirder people will think it is. If I just say 'Chicken' to someone, there's about a 99.9% that the first thing that will pop into their head is food. When I say 'Squirrel' to someone, there's a 99.9% chance that the first thing they think of is the bushy tailed creature running up a tree trunk.

Basically, the meats we consider to be normal tend to come from animals that we domesticated early, or were abundant and cheap and easy to harvest when we move to a new area…which is why squirrel is relatively (and I use 'relatively' very deliberately) 'normal' as a food here in the south.

Basically, when it comes to 'exotic' food, meat or otherwise, there's almost no 'line' for me to draw, because as I said in a reply to Scratch's comment, what if my favorite thing of all time is something I haven't tried yet? As I mentioned yesterday, I thought squirrel was delicious…and if getting, preparing and cooking squirrel was as easy as pulling a bag out of the freezer at the grocery store, I'd choose it over chicken every time.

The simple truth is that if our history had turned out ever so slightly differently, I could have shot a wild chicken yesterday, tried it for the first time and people's comments would have been more like: "Ugh, chicken? No thanks. I tried it once and it just tasted of really bland squirrel."

…then they would have headed out for dinner to Kentucky Fried Squirrel or gone to McDonalds for an Ostrich burger.

Monday, April 05, 2010

The Squirrel Experience.

So, after letting my squirrel meat soak for about twelve hours, I decided to cook it and try it.

I was in the kitchen, pulling it out of the fridge when something suddenly occured to me:

"Sweetie?" I asked Sunny as I walked back into the living room. "How do you actually cook a squirrel?"

It turns out there's two main ways, you either stew the meat and make squirrel stew or squirrel and dumplings, or you dredge it in flour and fry it like chicken. I opted for the fried option for two reasons:

1) I haven't eaten anything fried in months and I really miss it...and this is a special occasion so I don't have to think about eating healthy, and...

2) You can't make much of a squirrel stew with just two squirrel legs.

Seriously, does this look like the basis of a stew to you?



Me neither. For size, those squirrel legs are on a saucer, not a plate. What I had was basically two decent-sized chicken wings worth of meat, so I decided fried was the way to go.

I kept the recipe simple. I don't mind blowing my own horn and saying I make some awesome fried chicken with fourteen different herbs and spices (In your face Colonel Sanders!)...but while chicken is basically a culinary blank canvas, the whole point here was to discover what squirrel tastes like, so rather than drown out its flavor, I settled for just adding a little garlic powder and oregano to the breading.

A few minutes later I had some golden brown, and rather appetizing looking squirrel. Here it is just before I took it out of the pan:

Tell me you're not hankering for some delicious Kentucky Fried Squirrel right now...I dare you.

Anyway, I liberated the meat from the pan waited to let it cool down a little...occasionally giving it a little sniff to see if I could discern whether a delicious tasty treat or a stomach-churning ball of pure evil awaited me. It smelled amazingly good. Once it hand cooled down enough, I picked up the bigger of the two pieces and took a bite.

My first reaction was: Wow! This tastes like really, really good dark meat chicken. Kinda like a cross between a chicken wing and a chicken leg, but with way more flavor!

My second was: Holy shit this is tough. What's this squirrel made of? Vulcanized rubber?

Well, taste first...

Yep, I'd go so far as to call it delicious. I'd originally figured that, at best, squirrel would be something I'd think was okay and would become a very rare, a once-in-a-very-long-while, when the opportunity comes up, camping trip thing...now, if I'm honest, I'm kinda disappointed that I can't buy it at the grocery store.

People had told me that squirrel was overly greasy and gamey, but I didn't get any of that at all. It was definitely rich, but it wasn't greasy, probably similar to good roast lamb, and it certainly wasn't gamey...which was probably down to me soaking it for most of the day today.

...but as I said, it was tough. In fact, I'd say it was 'just this side of edible' tough...but to be honest, I'd kinda expected that. Firstly, this isn't factory farmed, corn fed meat from an animal that was kept as immobile as possible to keep its meat tender and juicy. This is meat from an animal that used its muscles every single day.

The other thing is that, when I shot it, I could tell from its size that it was definitely an older adult, probably around five or six years old. Basically, if we're going to stick to he chicken analogy, a young, one year old squirrel is like a nice plump hen...whereas the squirrel I bagged today was an old rooster...and everyone knows you make Coq Au Vin with an old Roosters, you don't flash fry it.

That's obviously why a lot of people choose to stew their squirrels, because I get the feeling that if I'd got a few more and stewed them slowly in the crock pot, it would have fallen right off the bone.

To be honest, the hardest thing about the whole process was simply getting my head right with what I was doing. You see, this squirrel was also another thing to check off my 'man-list', because (other than fish) this is he first animal I've ever killed, skinned cooked and ate...and let me tell you, it's one thing to look at a cut of meat pre-packaged, frozen meat...but it's entirely another to look at a cut of meat that was looking back at you that morning.

As I've mentioned before, people have this weird mental disconnect between the food they eat and the animal it used to be. People simply don't associate hamburgers with the quadrupeds that eat grass and say 'moo'...but what I didn't realize was that I had a version of that same mental disconnect myself.

Had someone come to the house this morning with a big pot o' squirrel meat, I'd have cooked it and tried it without thinking twice...but it's a different matter when you remember peeling the fur and chopping the paw off the leg you're about to put in your mouth.

Anyway, while I understand that hunting, skinning and cleaning your own meat isn't for everyone... if you ever get the opportunity to try some squirrel meat, go ahead and try. It really is good.


"The animals we eat today aren't necessarily the best tasting, or even the most nutritious...they're simply the animals our ancestors first managed to domesticate...and, to put things into perspective, no matter what you eat, someone, somewhere will think it's really, really weird.

Redneck Black Belt

Well, I finally earned it.

Today, I decided to get up before dawn to see if I could finally get the frigging groundhog that's been living under the house, chewing on the joists and shredding the insulation.

So I got my air-rifle, started my stake-out behind a tree and waited.

An hour and a half later...nothing.

Then I was given a gift.

Sitting back, I spotted one of my nemeses...a squirrel ran across the roof. Not only had I spotted one of the bastards that did all that damage last year, I caught the fucker right in the act. I watched it crawl to the very edge of the roof over the bedroom...and start chewing at the very area I had to repair last year.

It gave me a perfectly safe shot, And sat perfectly still.

Finally, I can give my seal of approval to the Storm XT's ability to take small game. I hit it perfectly right behind the eye and it went straight through...killing it instantly. It dropped like a stone.

That was when I decided to earn my redneck black-belt. I'd killed the squirrel as pest control...but I decided to clean it and eat it.

Cleaning it was MUCH harder that I thought it was. Apparently, the easiest way to clean a squirrel is to cut just behind its tail, stand on the tail and pull it's back legs upwards...apparently stripping most of the skin like a sweater.

It didn't work...mostly due to me cutting too deep on that first cut.

In the end, it took me almost 45 minutes to get the thing skinned, but I managed to clean it without rupturing the stomach and in the end saved both back legs that ended up like looking like honest-to-god cuts of meat.

Next time, if there is one, I'll know to be far more gentle with the first cut, and use a MUCH sharper knife.

I'm currently soaking them in slightly salted water to clean out the blood, and I plan on lightly breading them and frying them up later...I'll let you know how they taste.

Oh, did I mention I was wearing a camo shirt at the time? BONUS!!!

[Ok, this is a really long post. It's a memoir from when I was a kid. I hope you enjoy it]

Today, for some unknown reason, I found myself thinking about a kid I went to school with. To protect the ignorant, I'll call him Jerry.

My first memory of Jerry was when I was talking to a friend about 'Double Dragon' that I'd just got for my Nintendo. It was lunchtime at school and Jerry was sitting at the same table as me and a few of my friends.

"Double Dragon?" he interupted, out of nowhere. "I beat that last week."

"Really?" I asked.

"Yeah, I beat it the day I got it." He said. "I'm playing 'Advanced Double Dragon' now. I'm right near the end."

Now, if you've never heard of 'Advanced Double Dragon', don't be too surprised… because it doesn't exist. In fact, the computer Jerry claimed to have played it on didn't exist either. Apparently, he'd played 'Advanced Double Dragon' on a top-secret Commodore prototype, the 'Commodore 6000'.

"A Commodore 6000?" I asked, incredulously, "There's no such thing."

"No." Said Barry, looking offended. "My Uncle works as a games developer for Commodore. It's his computer and game, they're not out yet. They're top secret, so I'm not really surprised you haven't heard about them."

I think every school had a kid like Jerry. The kind of guy who you can tell is lying because his lips are moving.

Jerry got so angry that we didn't believe him that he swore he could prove it…so that day, after school, I stopped at his house on the way home. While we were walking I honestly wondered what he was going to do when we got there. It was like that episode of Seinfeld where George lies that he has a place in the Hamptons and ends up driving people there to 'prove' it.

We got to his house, and he asked me to wait outside in case his 'Mum was asleep'…and came out two minutes later looking theatrically disappointed. Yeah, you guessed it, by an amazing coincidence, his Uncle had turned up that morning and had taken the 'Commodore 6000' and 'Advanced Double Dragon' back home with him.

Over the next few years, it was amazing just how many uncles would bring really cool shit over to Jerry's house, only to spontaneously leave and take their cool stuff back just before anyone visited. The other thing was that Jerry would always get really upset and angry whenever anyone told him they didn't believe him, no matter how outrageous the lie was. We nearly came to blows when I told him I didn't believe that he had a real, working hoverboard at his house…or that his next door neighbor was a stripper who often invited him over for parties with all her stripper friends.

Looking back, that was the scary thing about Jerry…when you called him on his bullshit, he'd get angry… but not because you were calling him on a lie, but because he was genuinely upset that you didn't believe him. You could look into his eyes and see that he wasn't just lying to you, but that he was mainly lying to himself.

Now, you're probably thinking that it's not unusual for someone to embellish a story a little bit to make themselves sound better. It's something everyone does (especially teenage boys), but Jerry never even bothered to keep his stories even remotely plausible.

You remember those kids in highschool who'd claim to have a girlfriend that no-one had ever seen? Well, Jerry had a fictional girlfriend as well…only whereas most guy's fictional girlfriends just 'went to a different school'…when Jerry was 13, he claimed he was dating a 26 year old underwear model. I remember he came out with that little chestnut right after gym class and got really pissed off when no-one believed him…the same genuine indignant rage that no-one believed his totally true, completely plausible story.

That was one of the things I never understood about Jerry. I can understand someone telling a small lie to make themselves look a bit better, but Jerry was a compulsive liar, and even lied when it was absolutely obvious that he was lying, and stuck to his guns even when he'd been obviously busted.

Much later, in college in the mid 90's, some of my friends pranked him by pretending to be a girl from another college in an internet chatroom. One morning, pretending to be this girl, they asked him to meet 'her' in town for lunch that afternoon…and he went, and came back… claiming that he'd met her and she'd given him a blowjob in the back of her car. Then, for about the next week, they got him to go into town every lunch time to meet her…and every time he came back he had another, more outlandish story.

Now, okay, that's a pretty mean 'joke', (that I can honestly say I had nothing to do with), but the joke isn't the point. A few days later, when he was in the middle of his latest story about how he'd met her for the third time and had a threesome with her and her model friend, the guys who were pranking him finally told him that they had been this girl all along.

They told him the screen name they were using for her, they quoted some of the things he'd said to her. They even pointed out how they'd followed him into town one day and watched him stand outside the McDonalds for an hour waiting for her.

How did he react? Did he call them assholes? Punch one of them? Storm off in a rage?

Nope…he stood there and to the people who had
created this fictional girl, he swore blind that she was real, that he'd met her every day he'd gone to town and had really had a threesome with her and her model friend.

As I said, this was a pretty awful and downright cruel 'joke'… but I only mention it because, to this day, I can't understand how he could stand there and keep lying when he knew for a fact that everyone he knew was talking shit.

Of course, Jerry had become a joke years before that incident, but to be honest, I always felt kinda bad for him. He came from a single parent home, his younger brother was a genius (he got taken out of regular school when it turned out he had an IQ over 170) and his sister was the exact opposite with pretty severe physical and mental difficulties…so it was hardly surprising that Jerry would do anything for attention…but on top of that, he honestly scared me a little bit.

You see, whenever Jerry came out with another of his 'stories' and someone called him on it, he didn't get angry or upset because he'd been found out…he got angry, because you didn't believe him. You could see it in his eyes. I remember the day I worked that out. We'd been talking about videogames again and he'd claimed he had full Virtual Reality system in his bedroom.

He got really pissed off when I called him on it and I remember thinking: Holy shit. He's not upset because I'm embarrassing him. He's upset because he actually believes what he's saying
right now.

It's like getting genuinely, honestly upset that your wife doesn't trust you when you're screwing her best friend behind her back.

Eventually, the way your dealt with Jerry was just to ignore him, because after ten years of his constant bullshit, it wasn't worth arguing anymore…and as I said, I felt pretty bad for him.

Then, one day, things changed a little bit.

I was 14 or 15. It was the end of a really long day, I was in a foul mood and Jerry had been hanging around all day and had been really getting on my nerves. You see, one of the things I haven't mentioned yet is that, as well as being a compulsive liar, Jerry could also be a real asshole, but as I mentioned above, I tended to give him a free pass on a lot of things, mostly because I felt kinda sorry for him.

It was the end of the day, we were sitting in French class. That night, some friends and I were getting together with our guitars for our regular jam session. I'd just got my Gibson SG, and I was looking forward to trying it out on my friend Dave's Marshall amp (I had an awesome guitar, crappy amp). While we were talking about how we needed a drummer, Jerry butted in.

"Ugh, I'm so tired." He said, yawning theatrically.

"Uh…right." I said. "…Anyway, I know Anthony's got that little drum machine, but…"

"Yeah, I was up really late last night." Interrupted Jerry again, with another theatrical yawn.

"Really?" I said, dropping every hint I could that I wasn't interested. I continued: "Ant said he could…"

"Yeah, I was out 'til 5am this morning." Said Jerry. "Me and my band had a gig at this nightclub…"

I just lost it.

"No, you didn't, Jerry." I said. "Firstly, you've never set foot in a nightclub in your entire fucking life, Secondly, you don't have a band and last, but by no means least, you don't know how to play any fucking instruments and you can't fucking sing."

He started the usual tantrum, and I was so pissed off I just cut him off.

"Shut the fuck up Jerry!" I said as loud as I could without the teacher hearing me. "You're talk nothing but shit and you've been pissing me off all day. Say one more fucking word and me and you are gonna settle this after school."

"Any time, any place." He said.

I was flying on a mixture of anger and good old teenage testosterone.

"Ok, right after school, on the all-weather pitch…behind the school where no teachers'll see and break it up."

I know it sounds like I was the asshole here, but imagine someone pissing you off nearly every day for ten years, someone you've made excuses for and sometimes stuck up for when they didn't deserve it, getting right in your face after a really bad day.

The fight was, well…I'll tell you.

I'll be completely honest and say that by the time the fight started, I'd almost complete calmed down and was back to feeling sorry for him again. The guy was a real asshole but, as usual, he was lying because he was starved for attention and was desperately trying to impress people. I wondered what kind of life he must have to make him escape into fantasy so often…So, I just told him to fuck off, turned to walk away…and suddenly I stopped feeling so charitable when he tried to sucker-punch me the second my back was turned.

Five seconds into the 'fight' and it quickly dawned on me that Jerry had no clue what he was doing. At some point he'd claimed to be a 'gold belt' in karate, but all he was throwing were those ridiculously wide haymakers that do nothing but actually make the punch weaker…while giving me roughly a week and a half to react.

Now, I'm far from a skilled fighter, but I quickly realized that Jerry could literally throw all day and hit nothing but air, while I could punch him at will…but the problem was I just couldn't bring myself to.

If he was any kind of threat, I could have fought him, but this wouldn't be a fight, this would just be me kicking his ass. I blocked four or five more wild punches and just pushed him away.

"You know what? I can't be bothered, just fuck off home, Jerry." I said, dropping my guard. He was breathing like he'd run a marathon, his ridiculous punching style had already worn him out.

Sadly, I think Jerry thought he hadn't been hit because I was too intimidated (or just plain unable) to hit him, and he also mistook me taking pity on him for me being afraid of him. He actually thought he was doing well. He launched at me again…more ridiculously wide haymakers, punching with completely stiff arms, throwing from the shoulder. He looked ridiculous.

If I'm completely honest, wanting to let him go without hurting him was only half 'noble'…the other half was I'd never been in any real trouble at school, and I kinda wanted it to stay that way. If I beat the shit out of him, someone would obviously notice when he turned up for school the next day with a couple of black eyes, a thick lip and a broken nose…If this had been an actual fight, we'd have just been two kids getting into a fight after school. But if I turned up the next day without a scratch, that's not a fight, that's just me picking on him and beating him up.

However, Jerry was still swinging and probably playing the Rocky theme in his head. I realized what I had to do: I'd fight him, but go for body-shots only. I'd attack him, but avoid his face and not to do him any real damage…that way I could win the fight without actually hurting him. So I told him this was his last chance to walk away…and he laughed. Why should he walk away? He was winning.

So, I started throwing punches, not as hard as I could, but definitely as fast as I could.

Within seconds we were at the other end of the pitch, Jerry with his arms covering his head while I landed hundreds of fast, hard blows on his stomach, chest and arms. I was beating him back so fast that he quickly lost his footing and fell.

"Just fuck off." I told him as I stood over him. Unfortunately, Jerry had turned into a bad movie cliché. He was angrier than I'd ever seen him and as he stood up, he charged at me with his head down, going for a tackle. Unfortunately, he didn't think to, you know, actually keep his head up and watch where he was going and I just took a step to the side, stuck my leg out and sent him tumbling again.

On my way home, I felt almost good about myself.

You see, I'd been provoked, I'd faced a guy who'd given me every justification to beat seven bells out of him and I'd controlled myself. I could have done the guy some serious damage but instead I gave him the opportunity to walk away, twice, and then only used the amount of force that I had to in order to end the situation.

Yeah, Jerry ended up a little dirty and humiliated but, in the logic of a typically arrogant 14 year old, I also figured I'd helped him in some way.

You see, if Jerry was unpopular and a school joke simply because he talked shit all the time… and I figured that maybe the reason he lied so much is because he'd never faced any consequences for doing so. I thought that maybe he'd get home, think about what had happened and maybe decide not to lie so much.

…I arrived at school the next day to find out that he'd told everyone who'd listen that he'd dragged me to the all weather pitch after school, 'beat the shit out of me' and I'd 'run away crying'.

That day I had my first fight during school time. It didn't get broken up by the teachers, simply because Jerry was knocked out cold 15 seconds after it started, I ended up with my first detention…but I felt it was worth it.

I bumped into Jerry years later, just a few weeks before I moved to America. I asked him what he was up to.

He told me he couldn't tell me because it was all 'top secret', but he was 'working for the government'.

Some people never change.

Friday, April 02, 2010

They need to buy a dictionary.

Well, I managed to get about five minutes into 'Meet the Spartans' before I turned it off.

Is it just me, or has Hollywood completely forgotten how to make a spoof? I mean, go watch Hot Shots, Airplane or Naked Gun. These movies are spoofs… in the case of Naked Gun, not necessarily great spoofs…but actual spoofs.

You see, a spoof is meant to make fun of the movie it's based on, for example, in 'Hot Shots' they made fun of the clichéd characters in Top Gun, or the classic 80's action movie cliché where the bad guys can never shoot straight while the hero never misses. You spoof something by pointing out, then exaggerating the absurdity already present in the movie. Normal movies tend to be absurd but take themselves seriously…spoofs point out the absurdity in normal movies.

Then, of course, there's the straight jokes. like in Airplane when the press turns up in the control tower, one of them says 'let's get some pictures'…and then they take all the paintings and photographs off the wall.

You know, humor.

Now let me talk you through the first five minutes of 'Meet the Spartans'.

It starts like the opening scene of '300' with the narrator explaining how Spartan babies were examined for defects and any imperfect babies were thrown off a cliff…but then we see a close up of the baby, and it's a baby Shrek who says something about 'titties'

Strike one, movie. This isn't a joke, it's a pointless pop-culture reference that has nothing to do with the movie you're supposedly lampooning.

Then the announcer says that if the baby was Vietnamese, 'Brangelina' had first dibs.

Strike two. This isn't a joke, it's another pointless pop-culture reference.

Then, it cuts forward saying that the young king leonidas was tortured and taught to show no pain…and then it shows him being tortured like James Bond in Casino Royale.

Strike three, movie…you're out, because this isn't a joke, it's just another pop culture reference.

Is anyone noticing a pattern here?

Shortly after this, the Penguin from 'Happy Feet shows up, and then Carmen Electra dances in a skimpy outfit for no reason…then I turned off the movie.

This is a spoof that literally isn't a spoof, it's just a parade of pop-culture references that aren't funny. We're just supposed to laugh because somehow, a celebrity or character from another movie turning up for no reason, saying a catchphrase then leaving is meant to be funny.

Seriously, get on youtube and look at the trailers for all the so-called spoofs that have come out in the past few years (They're easy to spot, they're all called '(Something) Movie". I guarantee you will see the same thing in all of them:

A celebrity will appear on screen, say their catchphrase and then something heavy will fall on them.

Britney Spears/Paris Hilton/Lindsay Lohan will appear and says something to the effect of 'I'm stupid'

Carmen Electra's tits.

I'm sorry, but it's just not funny.

FFFUUUUUUUUuuuuuuuuuuuu

So I get up today, turn on the desktop and notice it's making slightly more noise than usual. I figure the fans are just working harder than normal because the weather's getting hotter, and decide to give the inside a clean once I'd checked my mail.

Just as I'm checking my mail, I hear a light 'clink' sound, and suddenly the computer goes from making slightly more noise than usual to sounding like a freaking V8 and starts vibrating violently enough to shake the whole desk.

I leapt for the off button (this wasn't a 'shut down safely' situation), unplugged the power and cracked open the case.

As I guessed the CPU cooling fan had lost a blade, which had taken out another, which had thrown the whole fan off balance.

So, obviously, I can't turn the damn thing back on unless I want the processor to overheat or the hard drive to mess up because of the heavy vibration.

Now, you're probably thinking this is no big deal. I've got the laptop that I'm using now, and a new cooling fan costs around ten dollars...but it kinda IS a big deal because not only is all MY stuff on the desktop, including my Nike+ stuff and iTunes library (meaning I can't log any walks or sync my iPod)...the desktop is my media server...meaning all my movies, TV shows and music that I usually stream to the TV are inaccessible.

Oh, and this week we have absolutely zero free money because we have to replace the fucking hot water heater.

So, yeah...it's getting uncomfortably hot, I haven't been able to take a proper shower in over a week, my back and legs are killing me and now my computer's bricked until I can get a new cooling fan.

In all honesty, I'm starting to seriously wonder why the fuck I bother getting out of bed in the morning.