Archive for June, 2010

Clearance to take off

I’m VERY excited. I’ve just received authorisation to take flying lessons. I can’t wait to start but actually just getting permission to start as a foreigner is an achievement in itself. I’ve filled in endless forms for the Transportation Security Administration and had my fingerprints taken by YET another organisation (I’m not going to make it as a cat burglar here).

I’ve had to apply via the Alien Flight School Program – which makes me think of ET having to deal with the authorities before landing his ship here . Maybe the program is less well policed in Nevada where there are all those UFO sightings.

I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

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Weird Chemist – ry

I’ve been here in the land of the large for a little while now, but I’m still amazed at the sheer scale of some thing. Take pharmacies for example…

I’m used to popping into Boots for a couple of plasters or a severely rationed pack of Ibuprofen. There’s not much choice and most of the good stuff even for colds and flu lies hidden behind the sadists at the counter who like to discuss symptoms VERY LOUDLY.

In America, packs of things are massive – you can buy jumbo pots of Aleve, Aspirin, Ibuprofen etc off the shelf. You also are rarely far from a chemist – there seems to be a warehouse sized one on every other block in Florida – presumably to cater for the legions of geriatrics and their complex medication schemes. They really are ENORMOUS. In fact – many are so big that they have drive through (sorry drive thru) windows, presumably so people can pick up their obesity medication from the comfort of their cars.

When you do venture in, you notice that there are WHOLE AISLES dedicated to conditions you weren’t aware were such a problem – I recently counted approx 20m purely dedicated to incontinence, but diabetes generally also has a vast square footage. Then there are the remedies for conditions I had never heard of. Such as Monkey Butt. I haven’t dared investigate exactly what this is for fear of finding out, but based on the other products in the general vicinity it has something to do with friction and/ or moistness. Eeuuuuw.

Anti-monkey butt

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Is nothing sacred?

Last year I was made redundant. As part of the severance package I was sent to a ‘talent and career management’ organisation. Some of the sessions were fairly useful, for example the ones that taught me how to write a US CV (for a start I learned that they call them resumes here). Some sessions were irritating – for example the one where some ‘expert’ told me that the reason European CVs tend to have more personal info about interests etc is because “it’s a different pace of life in Europe, they have more time.” Yeah right.

Some bits were more shocking. For example I learned that it is ABSOLUTELY NORMAL to be subjected to a drug test prior to being accepted for a job. OMG! I was completely in a state of shock (and still am for that matter). It took 5 mins for me to pick my jaw back off the table.


What an absolutely enormous infringement on personal privacy! I don’t even smoke cigarettes let alone anything else but if I wanted to spend my weekends stoned out of my skull I think that would be my business and not anyone else’s. I mean if it doesn’t affect someone’s work – why should they know?

Also, to get longer term readings, they could use hair, but instead, a possible new job has to start with your wee changing hands. Eeeeeuw.


US rejects the ultimate eco-friendly packaging


At around this time of year we start to see a LOT of sweetcorn in the shops. A great deal of the stuff is grown locally so there’s no wonder the supermarkets are stuffed with it. It is really cheap too. In our local supermarket they display the sweetcorn in its husks in something that looks a bit like a large, raised sandpit. This area is usually packed with people who are busy removing the husks and those silky, stringy bits and putting the discarded bits into little bins that are there just for that purpose. People will stand there for ages removing every last piece of husk from mountains of corn.

I think that’s odd. Why? Because everything else that people buy is overwrapped in one way or another. Just look at toothpaste which comes in a tube, in a box, wrapped in cellophane. I know that even 20 years ago it was completely acceptable in German supermarkets to leave unwanted packaging at the shop, but in the US people still seem to like the many layers of wrapping. I’m not a big fan – it makes everything a bit like pass the parcel.

So when there are no issues with the packing on most things – what on Earth is wrong with sweetcorn husks? Personally I like having the husks as they are perfect to BBQ the corn in – I just peel it all back, remove the strings, add some butter and put it all back togethter. Yum.

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Car rental that makes you mental

*Advance warning* rant to follow.

Over the last few months I’ve travelled to Europe a few times – each time hiring a car.  I have to say that car rental is one service where America is way ahead of the UK. I have travelled a great deal in the US and hired cars – mostly with a Avis where I have a preferred member card. On arrival at an airport I find the Avis bus, and the driver logs that I’m on the way. On arrival there’s a board which tells me where to find my car which already has all the contract details waiting in it. I get in and drive off. Many times on arrival in Chicago in the winter – I arrive at my car which has the engine running and the heating and bottom warmers on. Now that’s service.

The last few times I’ve arrived in the UK I’ve unfortunately used a different rental company. Despite similar preferred privileges I still need to wait in line for aaaages waiting for a bored and/or incompetent employee to laboriously process a significant amount of paperwork by hand. One one occasion I was told that I’d have to wait at least an hour for a car by some spotty oik who didn’t seem to think this was an issue (I went to another company – of course).

On return it is even worse. Coming back to London Heathrow the surly Eastern European car returns team don’t seem to appreciate that you probably have a plane to catch. Even if there are no other cars, they meander over impossibly slowly. There’s invariably a problem (some invented scratch that involves lengthy paperwork in their chaotic portacabin). Then, just as you think you are finally finished with them, the buses drive off just as you arrive at the door. Urgh.

These guys are particularly bad – but in general the service in the UK just isn’t up to the simplicity of car hire in the US. I don’t see why that should be – so come on chaps – sort it out!

I guess the one saving grace of the British hire companies is the cars. Nothing to rave about but they have nippy hatches and roomy diesels as opposed to the US offerings which make you feel like the missing Blues Brother and have an average of 4mpg. Also I know for a fact that the US chaps keep the PT Cruisers for people who are rude in the queue (I asked in case you are wondering 😉

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Bucks County Flying Trapeze

I know I haven’t posted in a while  – it’s all been a bit hectic. I did want to share something I got up to about a week ago though – my second go on the flying trapeze. I couldn’t believe it – over the last couple of summers one of the teachers at the circus school I go to has set up an amazing flying rig just north of where I live in beautiful Bucks county PA. You walk into a large field just off the river road and there you see this enormous trapeze rig. I’m pleased I’m not scared of heights because it is a long way up.

Anyway, I’ll cut to the chase – I had an amazing time and a little bit of the teachers’ awesomeness rubbed off – I managed a catch from a new position – splits.

Here you go – enjoy:

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