Monday, December 31, 2012

.....the More it Goes on Snowing

Catching that moment before it falls off the branches....(That's the maple tree that shades our patio in summer).

The deer motorway running through our back garden revealed (see the tracks behind the tree) They'll be casing the joint for now -  bushes watch out!

Pretty when you don't have to walk or drive in it...

A misty scene atop our highest local point, Chapel Hill. ps I think this beats New York City's dropping disco ball any time.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The More it Snows....

As I write, our kind neighbour, the one with the personal snowplough stuck on the front of his pickup truck, is getting stuck in the snow in our drive. I can hear some ominous revving. There'll be even more ruts come the spring.
         Meanwhile, here are two views of our garden table, used, in happier times, by the turkey family, once they'd graduated from learning to fly off the sunlounger. Yesterday.....

...and today..

And speaking of the sunlounger.

Perhaps the turkeys have taken up tobogganing.  The things that happen when your back's turned.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Joys of Driving in Snow

 We got back home from the airport to find we could actually get up our drive - just. This wasn't the case when we got back from a trip a couple of years ago and the snow was waist deep. We had to leave the car out on the road and fight our way through it like Scott of the Antarctic.  Fortunately a kind neighbour was on hand to rescue us with his personal snowplough, even though it was late at night. Western New Yorkers are like that.  And yesterday he was back again.

Unfortunately it was a little premature. Today we had around ten inches and the drive was somewhere under it.

The streets in town were pretty dire too. I struggled in to the hairdresser, crawling all the way and leading a convoy of pickup trucks probably intensely irritated and dying to pass but Western New Yorkers are kind drivers and don't hoot at you much.

                  The hairdresser, my usual source of local gossip, confirmed that I wasn't the only one fed up with the road conditions. According to her, the town snow plough drivers aren't what they used to be. "They won't come out unless it's at least four inches", she grumbled, "It's in their contract."       

Friday, December 28, 2012

We Get Lucky Again

  Considering the snowstorms battering this benighted country, we had a remarkably trouble free journey back from London. The big one hit Western New York yesterday morning and the early flight from our first staging post, Washington Dulles, which we weren't intending to take anyway, was delayed for hours while they got Buffalo airport clear. Some people, we were told, had been waiting since the previous afternoon. But ours was only delayed an hour or so - pretty good going by American winter flying standards.
  So it was welcome home to Buffalo Niagara International Airport, with something nice to look at while we waited for luggage. I'd really like to know why that wait's always so long.
   There's now a frisson about landing in Buffalo in winter. It's nearly four years since a turbo-prop Colgan Air Dash-8 fell out of the sky in a snowstorm while approaching to land, killing 49 on board and one on the ground. It wasn't the airport's fault. Buffalo is all there when it comes to snow but it was put down to the tired and poorly-trained pilots who made tragic mistakes.  Plenty of these small airlines service local routes, sub-contracted by the big boys. If you stop and think too much when flying in America, you'd never do it.

A Christmassy scene outside the terminal and signs of much snow-plough activity earlier in the day. Good, we needed the car for an hour-and-a-half journey home.

  On the flight, a full moon had lit up the night clouds under us in a spectacular show. Here and there, through gaps in the pale grey blanket, we glimpsed the twinkling lights of earth -  like a box of jewels peeping through cotton wool. Sadly the little Embraer jets don't have room for much hand luggage and my camera had been gate-checked. But it wouldn't have done the scene justice.  Best just to remember.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Happy (and Merry) Christmas!

 After Christmas in London, I'll be heading back to base. Blogging will resume on 28th December. In the meantime, some signs of Christmas spirit spotted around Western New York .........


And a wonderful Christmas and Happy 2013 to all my friends everywhere!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Of Christmas Trees and Their Skirts

Guess what we were doing this time last year..... 

An embarrassed tree
          Hubby and I were in The Home Depot, America’s answer to B and Q. He was insisting that we really needed to get a Christmas tree skirt. Now, I had lived happily in Britain for many years and never heard of a Christmas tree skirt, let alone invested in one, so I was a bit bemused. No good American home, however, would be seen dead without a Christmas tree skirt. I suppose it’s another of those things that separates us, like not having a Boxing Day and eating roast beef or ham rather than turkey for Christmas, most of the nation’s gobblers having already been despatched at Thanksgiving. And perhaps it says something about the slight coyness of some American attitudes – just like Victorian piano legs, the bottoms of trees need to be covered up. Maybe that’s why Americans also like euphemisms like “rest room” but I’m probably reading too much into it.
  Anyway, we got the least garish tree skirt we could find – a fetching bright red velvet with sequins, although we still hadn’t got a tree to put it round. We usually buy one from a local  farmers’ market, inevitably choosing a day when the winter gales and blizzards are just starting to get up steam and you have to yomp round the rows of trees at lightning speed, teeth chattering, with little time to be finicky about whether the tree’s wonky or not.  Then we bring it home, balanced on top of the car, still covered in frozen snow, so we have to leave it on the porch to dry out. 
  Americans go big on interior décor for Christmas, wreaths on doors, lush green garlands over mantelpieces, imitation frosted fruit and scented candles everywhere. Most of it can be quite cosy and tasteful, though I think only an American can really master those garlands. (I tried my best one year with fir-tree branches from the garden and wire but the whole thing started to sag and collapsed ignominiously before Christmas had even got going.)
   Speaking of tasteful, while we were at The Home Depot, hubby suddenly chortled, “Only in America!” He was pointing to one of those candlewick sets to fit on top of, or tuck around your various – er restroom fittings. This one had a rosy-cheeked Santa Claus logo and said “Merry Christmas”.  Well at least it didn’t say “Happy Holidays”.  Privately, I wasn’t sure about “Only in America” but I kept that quiet.
   I find an invaluable source of cheap Christmas baubles is what we call the Dollar Shop. Everything in it is a dollar and it’s about the most popular place in our local town before Christmas. You can find some quite sophisticated-looking  things lurking in there and I take great pleasure in getting a bargain that would probably be ten dollars in some snooty Gift Shoppe. What is especially nice is that they ask people to pay an extra dollar for a toy from a box on the counter, to donate to a crate of gifts for needy children.  This is hardly an affluent area and the people who frequent the Dollar Shop are probably the least affluent of all but I notice that the crate is always full.   

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Be Careful What You Wish For

  Believe it or not, one of the things I miss in rural Western New York is travelling by public transport. Coming to London for Christmas, it's nice not to have to drive everywhere. Hubby and I were headed to Sussex to visit relatives.Remember those old ads?  "Let the train take the strain", we thought.
  It started off  promisingly. We arrived nice and early to take the train down to Chichester, from where there was an easy bus ride, we were told, to Midhurst, which was where we wanted to be. This would be simpler, we were told, than going to Haslemere, which was nearer but would involve two bus rides. I had forgotten that, where British public transport is concerned, nothing is ever simple.
  Things looked really good until we were a few minutes out of Clapham Junction. A place called Selhurst, to be exact. Which I could tell hubby very little about save that it had some connection with Crystal Palace football club.  That was then. Now, the name Selhurst will live in infamy. The train wasn't supposed to stop at Selhurst but it did. And that was the first time we heard the ominous words, "Conductor, please contact the driver." We didn't know then but we know now that the words "Conductor, please contact the driver" are an unfailing portent of trouble ahead. 
    Then came the first announcement. There was a landslide in Hooley - or was it Horley? The train was stopped. Some time later, the next announcement. The conductor was bravely negotiating with Control to unlock some platform gates, so that passengers who wanted to could actually leave the train. If they were so inclined they might find a bus to take them to East Croydon. We looked out through the foggy drizzle to a seemingly abandoned station. We wanted to be marooned there even less than we wanted to go to East Croydon. We decided to stay
  . After a while, the lady driver came on. "I expect you can tell I'm smiling", she said, "Because I have good news. They've cleared the landslide. We'll shortly be on our way.".  This time we got as far as Horsham.
   "Conductor please contact the driver", boomed over the tannoy. We started to feel uneasy.    The conductor came on again,  "We're sorry to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that because of flooding in the Arundel area, this train will be held here indefinitely. We waited an indefinite time. Then, another announcement,  "Replacement buses will be available outside the station entrance."  We all piled out and a man resembling Second Officer Lightoller marshalling passengers to the last lifeboat on the Titanic. tried to herd us in the direction of the buses.  There were, it transpired, no buses. We stood waiting in the dripping rain, in the company of forlorn families with their Christmas luggage, while a Southern Trains official wandered around aimlessly with a walkie-talkie."We should," I said to hubby, "Have gone to Haslemere."
  Then several buses went past  but none stopped. "What colour are these buses we're waiting for?" shouted a man. "Dunno. Pink I think,"  said the official.  Then a promising-looking coach with "Luxury Travel" on the side stopped opposite us.  Considering the number of waiting passengers, it was not very big. We gritted our teeth and prepared to charge. The official with the walkie talkie called out, "May I have your attention please!"  We all  turned and crowded round in desperate expectation, like animals waiting to be fed. 
  "I've got good news for you!" said the official. "For those of you who weren't looking forward to taking a bus, there's a train at platform three. Control has decided the floods are not a threat and the train can proceed." 
  "Where's the train going?" we shouted. "South", he said, without going into detail, "Everyone should take this train and you will be informed when we know what the stopping pattern is. Please listen carefully for announcements."
   We listened very carefully indeed. We had to because the stopping pattern proved to be a moveable feast.  As we stared in alarm out of the train windows at muddy fields full of half-drowned sheep and flood waters lapping the track, the train rattling along a virtual causeway, Control finally decided that the train would terminate in a place called Barnham.  This was just one stop from Chichester, oh so tantalisingly near. "But" said the Conductor, "If you want to go to Chichester, all you need to do is cross the platform, where a train to Portsmouth is about to arrive.  The train arrived. We got in. We sat and waited. I remarked "Any minute now, we're going to hear... "
  "Conductor please contact the driver", blasted the tannoy.
  Then we heard from the driver, "We are just waiting for a driver", he said, "Well what are you?" growled my American husband, rapidly tiring of the charms of Southern Trains."
   The driver stuck to his guns.   "Passengers for Chichester are advised to cross the platform and take the train about to arrive. We apologise for this delay, which is due to a landslide in Hooley, (or was it Horley?) floods at Arundel and a fire at Brighton."
  "Good grief, I muttered, "Those Mayas got the blinking date wrong. The end of the world's today, not yesterday.  Only one woman lost her cool and started screaming at the driver. "The trouble with British people", I said, "is that they're too stoical".
 "This wouldn't happen in America", said hubby.  I forbore to mention that you're lucky to see a train in America at all. 
   When we finally got out at Chichester, it was four hours later and the bus for Midhurst had just left.

Friday, December 21, 2012

American Christmas Spirit

While I'm getting ready to spend Christmas in London, here's one from a previous year ......


  Noel and Blitzen Junior, in their scarlet halters, were standing outside the Hobby Shop, patiently letting little kids pat them, or even pet them, as Americans say.  It was my first close encounter with a reindeer and I never realised how small they are – small but perfectly formed.  Noel and Blitzen and their seventy brethren live at a reindeer farm near Buffalo and their diaries get full at Christmas time.
   The Hobby Shop was refreshing - a taste of what Christmas must once have been like here. It was full of traditional toys, like dolls’ houses, toy soldiers, farm animals and those authentic aeroplane kits. In the centre, model trains chugged around perfectly designed miniature townscapes, including that ubiquitous law firm, Dewey, Cheatem and Howe, which made hubby chuckle.
  It was refreshing because it’s easy to get cynical about the public side of the American Christmas with its synthetic cheer, especially when it’s subsumed into one long end-of-year pleasure-fest, starting with Halloween. In these politically correct days, this collection of celebrations is all lumped together as “The Holidays”.  Perhaps even “The Holidays” is on the way out;  I spied some wrapping paper with “Happy Winter” on it. There doesn’t even seem to be a special Christmas food that unites Americans. Turkeys are for Thanksgiving. If they survive that, they can mostly relax. Many of our friends and family go for roast beef and Yorkshire pud  for Christmas, although they have been known to eat something they call Minced Meat Pies.
   And even if your ultimate Christmas spiritual experience is shopping, it’s hard to find anything original. Well I’m talking about our neck of the woods. It’s probably very different in the glitzy cities. I suppose, in western New York, where cash isn’t too plentiful, people get what they want to pay for and like things to be predictable. The other day, I was in Rochester. It’s about two hours from us - one of those northern cities full of gracious old buildings now fallen on harder times.  Rochester’s downtown is no longer a place you’d particularly want to stroll around. Most shopping these days happens in out-of-town “malls”.  I entered one and I could have been anywhere. The same stores, selling the same stuff, to the same formula, the same stands touting the same joke calendars  and the same dubious piped music. It’s no good trying to rush out before “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”;  it’ll only catch up with you at the next place along.

   Evidently, reindeer are this year’s must-have accessory. Here in the mall, they bobbed their heads, rhythmically up and down, fluttering black eyelashes, surrounded by fake snow and fake presents and empty, echoing spaces. – well it was Monday morning.  Fortunately for them, they were fake too.

  OK, that’s enough of that. Yes, it’s easy to be cynical but somehow,  especially in our rural backwater, my American friends still find ways to cut through the commercialisation and the political correctness and get to the soul of Christmas. I love the way so many people put crib scenes, or crèches as they call them here, in their front gardens for all to see.  I love the way the garage attendant (yes, they still fill up for you here) pressed a little red-and-white candy cane into my hand along with the receipt. And in another store in another mall, I met an old boy shopping, trundling himself around in one of those electric chairs for the disabled. It was festooned with tinsel and words like “peace” and “hope”. At his feet reposed a small, cloudy-eyed beagle.  And no, he wasn’t collecting money. The man gave me the sweetest smile,  “Her name’s Patches”, he said, “You can pet her if you like.”



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Culture Clash: The Great Hot Water Bottle Misunderstanding

 It's comforting to browse the British shops and see hot water bottles in their cosy covers offered for sale in full view. This is not the case in America.  When I first felt the onslaught of the Great Western New York Winter (in the days when we still had one, that is) I rushed to Wal Mart to buy a hot water bottle. You'd think nothing would be simpler. You would be wrong.
  I scoured aisle after aisle, shelf after shelf. No sign of a hot water bottle, with or without a cover. (Odd, that. You'd think Americans would really buy into the cuddly panda bottle or the slinky fake leopardskin one but no, not a sign.) . So I asked an assistant. She appeared puzzled at first. Then she gave me a  pitying look and beckoned furtively for me to follow her. She led me into a dark recess of the store - past the Depends and Personal Hygiene products, the laxatives and dental floss, to a dusty shelf that, seemingly, no one had been near for years. She reached right into the back and withdraw a faded box.  Strange that a hot water bottle should come in a box but Americans are different from us.   
   I was in a hurry so I thanked her, grabbed the box and rushed to the checkout.  The girl at the checkout gave me a pitying look too. I thought of mentioning the one about the British having hot water bottles as opposed to the French having .... well, you know what I mean. But I didn't. I have enough of a language problem with American checkout girls as it is.
  It was only when I got it home that I understood. As I opened the box and withdrew the small, if adequate hot water bottle, along with an odd sort of rubber tube, it dawned on me that Americans don't  use hot water bottles for staying warm in bed. They've got electric blankets and heat pads for that.  As I read the blurb on the box I realised I 'd bought a do-it-yourself enema system.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Never Mind, Andy

 Having been in America for a while, I'm a stranger to these BBC voting extravaganzas. I sat watching the SPOTY* in a state of mesmerised horror. Is this way-over-the-top hysterical celebrity screamfest normal these days?  And what was that woman with the silly hairdo doing there, crooning her tuneless songs? I thought it was supposed to be about sport.  And why the absurd pseudo-poetic voice-overs, when all you wanted to see was a recap of the action.
   Not like I remember from the old days, when the adulation, such as it was, was more in proportion to the people being celebrated. A bit more down to earth. When Sebastian Coe did his 10,000 metre walk to the stage - admittedly looking a little embarrassed, you'd think it was the Second Coming. And those poor women athletes squeezed, no doubt by some hip stylist, into bum-crushing catwalk gowns and stilettos, looking as though they might fall over any minute. And I was terrified that Kate was going to be sick.
  This is not to denigrate team GB's glorious achievements and the huge, happy success of the  London Olympics, which I watched enviously from America.
  But did anyone else try to vote for Andy Murray and get a robot voice saying that the number wasn't recognised? I reckon it was a fix, or Bradley's gran was working overtime with her redial. But on the other hand, Bradley's a good bloke and thoroughly deserved his win.

* For the benefit of my American friends, that's the Sports Personality of the Year Show.

A Gentler America

  As I get ready for Christmas in London, I realise what a small world it's become.  We are all in Newtown, Connecticut  right now, still following the news with tears in our eyes. Perhaps some reminders of the gentler America I've come to know are in order....

And don't forget the Reason for the Season...

Or the story of the my  Amazin' Daisy



Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Sad Day

   It's rather odd that one of the British papers has described the Connecticut school shooting as "America's Dunblane". America, not Scotland, is where this sort of thing happens. Time and time again. Every time I hear another story like this, I want to despair. Why doesn't somebody do something?  Yet,in my time in America, I've started to get a little more insight into this whole gun business. Not an understanding, exactly, just a little more insight. I'm currently in London and exposed to the full force of the "Mad country overrun with guns"  British media onslaught. I'm trying to think how my Western New York neighbours will be taking the news of this tragedy. 
  There will be tears, anguish, agonising, prayers but I suspect their first thoughts will not be "Let's get rid of guns".
    Everyone in Britain by now knows that the right to bear arms is enshrined in the United States Constitution. A right, that is, not to go around killing the innocent but a right to self-defence, to stick up for freedom, for good against evil, to hunt for food and sport. In our rural area practically every household has guns
  Around our way, children grow up with guns and before they can even pull a trigger, they're taught  to respect guns. They're taught gun rules. It's as natural as breathing. Like children growing up in central London are taught to respect busy roads.  There's no one in the world hotter on gun safety than the average American member of the National Rifle Association. And, incidentally there are huge numbers of Americans in the NRA. It's not an extremist movement; it's a very very mainstream organisation, something akin to, well, let's say the WI or the Rotary Club. If President Obama wants to "do something" about guns, he will have an uphill task.
   And it's not all that simple. There are different rules for different types of guns. Handguns versus shotguns, say.  Different states have different gun rules.  I understand Connecticut happens to have strict gun rules.  University and school campuses have no-gun policies, which wasn't much use in this case.
   And one argument my neighbours will inevitably use is that, if guns had been allowed on that school premises, some teacher may, just possibly, have despatched the gunman before he'd finished his dreadful business. Unlikely but possible.  Guns, after all, are for security. They make burglars think twice before breaking and entering. It's not an offence around our way to shoot an intruder in self-defence. In fact it's considered laudable.
   When people like myself cry, "Why does this keep happening in America?"  We immediately think of guns.  And no one is going to tell me that isn't part of the problem.  But one of the NRA's popular slogans is "Guns Dont' Kill. People Do."  And perhaps there is something else there. Something about American culture that fosters copycat killings. Something about American culture that is more likely to eat into unstable young loners, fill them with hatred,  turn them into mass-murderers.  I don't know. I just don't know.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

On Dressing for the Archbishop

I must say that another London plus is being able to wear heels and a pencil skirt and not look silly. In our Western New York locality, women who wear skirts tend to be members of obscure religious sects, or viewed as such. It's trousers day in and day out, even for the extremely circumferentially challenged and it gets boring after a while.  New York City is different of course but we are not New York City.

   Mind you, when your usual route to the shops involves driving through ice and snow, there's not much call for elegant apparel. Especially if you might get stuck in a snowdrift. I very much indentify with the Renee Zellweger character in the film "New in Town",  who shows up in the dead of winter in some back-of-the-beyond one horse town in Minnesota, wearing stilettos and a sharp suit and staggers straight into a blizzard.
  But with London under the current arctic conditions, I am missing the long, bulky, down-filled coat which I bought because they swore it would keep even "hockey moms"(sic)  watching their kids' ice hockey games warm. I decided not to bring it and it serves me right for being a fashion victim.
  At yesterday's 80th anniversary service for my old haunt, the BBC World Service,  I came out of St Martin-in-the Fields with my teeth chattering.  It was good, though, to see so many old friends and to hear the soon to be former Archbishop of Canterbury (I didn't dare ask him if, in view of all the current controversies, he was relieved to be getting out)  extolling the virtues of this august organisation. It's good to be reminded, when the BBC is getting so much stick, of how the WS has been a lifeline for so many citizens of suffering countries through the years and of the journalists who risk their lives reporting the truth. Sad, though, that the World Service has been pruned of so many of its foreign language sections and especially sad that it's no longer based at Bush House. I didn't want to go and see the building now that everyone's moved out to some futuristic minimalistic hub. I prefer to remember the smell of those studios, the stairs and labyrinthine corridors echoing with history and the lifts and canteen where you were never short of an interesting conversation.
  Interesting too, that the local Buffalo radio station carries the World Service News. I was in a plane once, sitting next to a Buffalonian, who jumped up and embraced me when she heard I'd worked for the BBC. Of course, when you know the American media, you can understand that well enough.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Americans Love a Royal

 That's no great secret I suppose but I can certainly corroborate it. Back at the time of William and Kate's nuptials, one friend asked for the day off work so she could host a "Royal Wedding Party". (Of course, in Western NY, that meant getting up extremely early.)
  Now in London and having flown into the sad aftershock of the Kate acute morning sickness affair turning into the poor nurse prank victim affair, I can assure my British friends that Americans are covering every angle.  At the weekend, hubby and I met up with a good friend, who's a prominent Ob/Gyn in Buffalo. (That means obstetrician-and gynaecologist in Americanese and American doctors tend to be both in one. It's pronounced Ohbeegeewhyenn, which, being almost as much of a mouthful as the full expression, seems a little pointless. I say Obbgine myself, but that's not correct.)  Anyway, this friend was looking more than usually sleepless and said he'd been harrassed over the last couple of days by every TV and radio station and newspaper in Buffalo to pronounce on the health of the Duchess of Cambridge. He was even asked to appear on a chat show.  He had declined all the invitations as he already had more than enough to do, with all the babies wanting to show up in time to get their Christmas-I-Mean-Holiday presents. He had instead delegated the happy task to a hapless junior.  I still had to ask him, "Is she going to be OK?" 
"Yes", he said wearily, probably for the umpteenth time.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Flying Fantasies

Some of the things an exile in rural America dreams about when whiling away an overnight flight to London.

Christmas shopping where there's actually something to buy, even if it costs three times as much (incidentally, did you know that Boots No 7 is actually cheaper bought at Target in Buffalo?)
Catching a bus, ideally one of the few Routemasters still left.
Marks and Spencer
Pub lunches
Slightly warmer weather
Happy (not Merry) Christmas
Happy Christmas not Happy Holidays
Father Christmas (not Santa Claus)
Seeing the word "Favourite" spelt with a "u"
Shops saying "Order Your Turkey Now" in December, not November
and most of all:
Proper British bangers sizzled the old-fashioned way in a frying pan, till they're bursting on the inside and burnt on the outside and so hot that, being too impatient to wait, you burn the roof of your mouth. Guess what I had for supper?
But wouldn't you know, it's warmer in Western NY than it is here.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Off Travelling

   I will spend Christmas in London this year - for the first time in a while. Whereas once we would have escaped the snow here for a bit of respite in Blighty, it seems it's now the other way around. Oh well.. 
  Blogging may be erratic for a few days, depending on how many Flying Turkeys I encounter.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Who's this Mrs Claus, then?

The cherry-pickers have been making their way down our village street, putting up Christmas-I-mean-Holiday decorations. The results are mixed but they do their best. 

Here, out in the sticks, we are a little limited as to Christmas entertainment.  True, they are putting on the Messiah at St Mary's Church, which is a rather splendid twin-spired building with magnificent stained glass and unlike many American Catholic churches hasn't been, as they say here, wreckovated.
   And there's always the Santa Claus Lane parade through town,  which has plenty of Christmas spirit – although whether it’s really the sort of Christmas spirit you would want to pass on to your children  is debatable. It’s  mainly a boost for the benighted shopkeepers and an excuse to get people out and buying as much stuff as possible. But it does include guest appearances by "Santa and Mrs Claus".
    Wait a minute. Mrs Claus? I never met her in Britain where we always assumed St Nick was a Bishop and his alter-ego Father C,  a bachelor. But she's alive and well here.

                    And to think I always thought that little old lady brush we had was, well, just a little old lady brush. Until hubby corrected me, "That's Mrs Claus!"  I think her hubby's gone missing for now.       
  I hope he remembers he's due at work tomorrow.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Spare a Thought for the Buffalo Bills

They love their sport here - all those local teams, the Huskies, the Lady Gators, the Bonnies, all ages and all kinds of sports, basketball, football (sic) , soccer (football), right up to the big shots - the Buffalo Bisons (baseball), the Buffalo Sabres (ice hockey - currently on strike).....and then there's the Buffalo Bills.
     Now  I don’t quite share the American people’s enthusiasm for their brand of football.  I really can't understand why they call it football.  So far as I can see, it's just a bunch of men with grotesquely padded shoulders standing around waiting for the TV commercials.
 But for all my scepticism, I do have a soft spot for the Buffalo Bills.
     Buffalo, an hour and a quarter away on the shores of Lake Erie, near the Canadian border, is western New York’s main city, with some beautiful old buildings and churches and a citizenry reputed to be some of the nicest folks in America.  At one time among the most prosperous cities in the country,  Buffalo is now in sad decline.  Buffalonians may have lost many of their great industries and a large part of the city’s population but at least they’ve still got the Bills.
    Their support, mind you, could be called the triumph of hope over experience.  And this season looks like being pretty well par for the course. Five games won out of eleven so far and the season ends at the end of the month.
    That’s not to say that the Bills are nonentities. Rather like England football supporters,  Bills fans look back to the glory days of the sixties,  when their team  won championships and had great players like Cookie Gilchrist. When he died not so long ago, the "Buffalo News" described him as “a man who ran like a freight train on the field and was larger than life off it”.
  The glory days nearly came back in the early 1990s, when the Bills played in four consecutive Super Bowls (American football's equivalent of the Cup Final) – the only team ever to do so, Buffalonians proudly point out.  Only they lost all of them.  The most infamous occasion in the Bills’ recent history came in the 1991 Super Bowl against the New York Giants,  when a player called Scott Norwood managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by narrowly missing a potentially winning field goal in the last seconds of the game.  Still, when the team returned to Buffalo, the fans were out in force at the airport with placards saying, “Scott We Love You”. That’s how much the big-hearted Buffalonians love their Bills.
   But the shadows are lengthening over the Bills’ stadium. Their owner, Ralph Wilson, has vowed not to sell the team in his lifetime but he’s now 94. Bills fans are dreading the evil moment when their team is sold, perhaps to someone outside Western New York,  perhaps even, horror of horrors, to a Canadian.  American professional teams can be moved hundreds, even thousands  of miles at the drop of a hat.  It’s all about the money. 
 Bills fans are dreaming up schemes to try and keep their beloved team in Buffalo. If a friendly local purchaser doesn't show up, it’ll just about break Buffalo’s heart.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Weather Update: Bloomin' Heather

Is this normal? "I hope this isn't going to be another weird winter", grumbled the woman in the optician's waiting room. I sort of agreed. While it's nice actually to be able to sit out on the porch in December, it is a little disconcerting. The temperature's shooting up and down like a jack-in-the-box and you just don't know where you are.  Especially when people in England call and say it's snowing there. Of course, I'd prefer Western New York to be, if not quite like Florida, then at least a little like North Carolina, with mild winters and pleasant summers. But when the expectation of everyone all the way down the food chain from humans to mosquitoes to daffodils is for a cold, snowy winter, a few warm days at the wrong time can really put a spanner in the works.  So I suppose it's better to have snow, even if you have to shovel it. Or better still, escape it and go to Florida.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Culture Clash: WNY Small Talk

  Americans are often derided for the "Have a Nice Day” approach to life. On my visits back to Britain, I see it's beginning to creep in there as well. But perhaps we could still learn something from them. After years of suffering London shop assistants who won’t even lift their heads from their mobile phone conversations to serve you, it’s actually quite refreshing, in our local small town, to have someone come bounding up as soon as I enter a shop and start browsing, with a “Hiya! How ya doin’ today?”  The first time it happened, I assumed the assistant thought I was up to no good and gave her a sort of “I’m innocent, please leave me to mind my own business” look. But I’ve had to learn to go with the flow and accept that they’re not just actors trained to get you to spend money. They really are pleased to see you. Etiquette demands a sort of initial ritual sequence which answers “How ya doin’?” with “Good – and you?” and after a few more pleasantries, “Take it easy!” with “You bet!” When you’ve made either your purchase or your escape, you find - Britons take note - that things have now moved on from “Have a nice day”. Nowadays, it’s “Have a good one”, or, any time after lunch, the intriguing “Have a Nice Night!” Oh yes and somewhere along the line, you have to bring in the weather – “Stay warm!” in winter;  “Stay cool!”  in summer.
   So I’m gradually getting into the small talk. And speaking of small talk, the first time I went for a health check here, the nurse wrote down my cholesterol count on a piece of paper, “In case people ask you about it at parties.”  I have been anticipating this experience with some trepidation, but so far no one has asked. I suppose I go to the wrong sort of parties. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Squirrels and the City

     Londoners like me might remember when London was suddenly invaded by a herd of  lifesize, fibreglass painted cows.    Now, everyone's jumped on the bandwagon.  London and Chicago had cows,  Florida towns have dolphins and turtles, I drove through a place with turkeys, Buffalo had buffalos and our local town, sorry, city of Olean, (pop 16,000), not to be outdone, has ……..

 ...squirrels. Why squirrels, you may well ask. Well, for a start,  there are thousands of them here.  I’m always swerving as a street-crossing squirrel changes its mind for the fifth time. They sashay along telephone cables and scamper up and down trees, when they’re not chewing people’s wiring. 
  So someone decided it would be a wonderful idea to promote Olean by putting up four-foot-high squirrels in different designs all over town, painted by local artists and sponsored by local businesses (no tax dollars involved). It would, as they put it, encourage tourism and “foot traffic”,  in other words getting Americans to walk, which is an uphill task. The idea was that people would stop and look at the squirrels and their eye would fall upon one of the few downtown shops left open and they would go in.  The jolly rodents would “capture the essence of life in Olean”.

  In the down-to-earth, pickup truck driving, old-fashioned farming community which surrounds the town, such an arty idea met with a bit of scepticism at first. Squirrels don’t have that positive an image around here, except when it comes to shooting them. You can imagine the sniggers at the town council meeting. ”You want to put up WHAT?” For a time, Olean was Western New York’s laughing stock.Squirrel City. Ha! One of the city’s aldermen ventured that he and his family had just been to Vermont and seen a model moose, which people kept stopping to look at. But a SQUIRREL?
  Operation Squirrel nevertheless persevered and there are now brightly-coloured fibreglass squirrels positioned all around town.
 “This project,” said the County Arts Council in a nice bit of Americanese, “is engaging local people in meaningful debate about change, the nature of creativity, and the future of Olean’s main street.”
  Whether it's had much effect on either shopping or tourism, I couldn't say. They would have done better not to have pulled down half the picturesque main business street and the old, gilded theatre in the interests of urban renewal.
   But over the course of a few years, we've had Florence Squirrelingale and Sleep E squirrel, at the hospital (sponsored by a group of anaesthetists), A Knight to Remember,  by Armor Building Supply (get it?) J.R. (outside a company that works with the oil industry), the inevitable Ronald McSquirrel and many more.
   Recently I've noticed a dapper Polish officer guarding the Pulaski Club, complete with sword, twirly moustache and a Polish eagle on his tail. Pulaski being a Polish general who fought on their side against ours in the Revolutionary War and once saved George Washington's life.  No comment.

  Sadly, though, my favourite is no longer there. Sir Pennywise used to sit outside the Community Bank. He had a top hat, pince-nez perched on his snout, white spats and carried a money bag.  One of our brighter local citizenry had already tried to steal Ronald McSquirrel's red bag of  chips, known here as French Fries but when another tried to nick the money bag, it was too much. Sir Pennywise had to be moved to a place of safety.
  There still remains the ultimate squirrel. You can see him next week.