Blog – Staying Healthy and Playing with a Bishop

The good news is that the Doctor said I was fairly healthy, the bad news is that he said I had the “English Disease”.

No, not that disease, my new American doctor says we English all have a vitamin D deficiency.

My first introduction to the US Health system started a month ago.  If you are not aware, the American nation spends twice as much per person on Healthcare as the UK, or France, Germany or Sweden.  But the system in the US is very different to the UK, with the majority of cover here being private, as opposed to being funded out of taxes in the UK.  There is a complex set of partial “safety nets”, but it is estimated that 16% of the population have no cover at all.

Male life expectancy on average in the US is 4 years less than in the rest of the high income countries in the Western World.  A combination of bad lifestyle, and a huge gap in the availability of proper health care to the poor.  Most observers reckon that the US is now the only “developed” nation that doesn’t offer universal healthcare, and there certainly isn’t a majority interest in fixing this problem as Mr Obama has discovered.

But I guess I have to be happy that we have taken out a top of the range health care policy.  Dr Igor has a lovely bedside manner, and a strong Czech accent.  We swapped Prague drinking stories, and he told me my liver was fine, great news, I will have to drink to that later.  Off to a fake Irish pub to celebrate St Patricks Day, something they obsess about around here.

Dr Igor asked when I had last had a health check, the answer of course was “never, we just don’t do that in the UK”.  He then gave a thorough examination, including checking my prostate.  Ummm.  And then he told me what he was going to do for me….8 blood tests, a scan of my kidneys and bladder, and a colonoscopy.  Back a month later, and he decided my cholesterol levels were high, and with absolutely no discussion of my diet, I have magic statin pills.

My blood pressure was slightly raised, I tried to explain it might have something to do with the internal examination he had just done.  But, hey, another pill for my blood pressure.

So what does all of that tell me?

I am obviously delighted to have been put through such a thorough check up.  And I loved the good doctor, great sense of humour, even with his finger inserted in sensitive areas.  But how much of this is necessary, and the cost of it all is unbelievable.  We have the best of schemes, but we still co-pay, up to a maximum of $2k per annum.  Each prescription cost me between $10 and $70, there is a charge for everything, mostly covered by the insurance, but every price to my mind is over inflated.

Vrinder and Mandeep, our dear colleagues had their lovely baby out here, the charge to the insurance company was over $20k.

The American nation is a great and prosperous place.  We love most aspects of our life here, but the population are being ripped off big time by the Health sector, paying twice as much per head, and yet not, as a nation, getting the proper return.  The well off do pretty well in the system, but bad exercise and diet for large swathes of the nation, and a huge underclass who can’t afford to be sick, paint a bad picture.

And to prove I am healthy, I have been playing tennis twice a week.  Unfortunately the only people who will play with me on a regular basis are the old age pensioners, an interesting bunch.  This week I was partnering the Bishop of Denver who has his eye on me, he wants to convert me to the ways of  the Lord.  I would have been more co-operative, but his belief didn’t save us from being embarrassed by a bloke who took his heart pills between games, and an 81 year old.

The Bishop then told me he had used me as an example in his sermon at Denver Cathedral last Sunday.  I was the English non believer, part of the 95% of Brits who walk on the dark side.  He says he will give me the CD when it is available this week.

A strange week, with lots of bashing from a doctor and a bishop.  Only in America.

Language – joining people or separating them?

Language is a strange thing, words are used in different ways in different cultures.  The locals here in America still laugh at the things I say, last month it was “Punter”, by which I rudely meant prospective customers.

But pants is one of the funny ones, what does that mean?  Always a problem if an American says you have nice pants.  And please don’t react when someone compliments your wife on having a nice fanny.

Not that they would.  Sex is something that doesn’t exist in America.  A singer “accidentally” pops a very small amount of breast out on TV, during a strange event called the Super Bowl, and everyone is still talking about it two years later.  Bizarre, somehow they want to protect their children from these things.

Our Jake is off to a school prom tonight, huge palaver, an hour and a half of photos with their mates before they even get on the bus to take them to dinner.  And they all get searched getting on to the bus, 17 year old kids, but of course they can’t have an alcoholic drink until they are 21.  The problem is they go to college at 18, are they really not going to drink?  Away from home, over protected and fussed over, but in theory they still aren’t allowed to drink.

But of course they do, the licensing laws here just do not make sense.

Cars are close to sacred beings in some parts of America, but at least here in Denver they aren’t any different than they are in England.  In fact there are considerably less high end Porsches and Ferraris than you would find in Oxford or London, but otherwise the cars are very similar.  However take a short flight to Texas, and you find a different world.  Huge trucks, enormous wheels, and 12 lane highways.  I love Texas, and Texans are so positive that it can be very refreshing, but almost to a man, they don’t get English cynicism at all.

In most American cities there are at least two freeways to get from A – B.  In theory the grid layout makes navigation in America easier, and certainly cities like New York are much easier than London or Paris.  But GPS…..sorry Sat Nav is still a boon when travelling in America, even if no Americans understand they didn’t invent it.

If you really want a fun argument, try and explain that they didn’t invent mobile…..sorry Cell Phones.

But back to Sat Nav.  Denver has a strange problem with street names.  We live in Galena, and there are 6 of these in the Denver Metropolitan Area.  Goodness knows how many Fulton’s, Ida’s and Geneva’s there are, they are everywhere.  It is as if they got a job lot of road name signs and they just never managed to buy any more.

So you have to be very careful when looking for a street, you have to know the post code……sorry Zip code, and area.  The situation is further complicated by the mania for redevelopment.  So a street is named, split up, but not renamed.  Last month I was in an unfamiliar area, about 3 miles from our house, and found myself on Havana Street.  Another of those repeating names, but no, I realised it was the same street which passes the end of our enclave….sorry, estate.  The only problem was they broke up Havana, with a reservoir and a state park.  Some roads stop totally at the freeway and start again on the other side – with no connecting tunnel or bridge.  It all makes driving very complex.

Early last year I came over to Denver to look for an office, I needed an address for our Visa application.  I had been to the Denver Tech Centre area many times over the previous 6 years, but you learn to rely on Sat Nav (sorry GPS).  I had spoken to a managed office provider locally and arranged a visit to view the premises.  So I left my 9th floor hotel room, went down in the lift, and got in to my car in the car park.  I keyed the address in to the Sat Nav, and 6 or 7 minutes later I was parking at the Regus office centre.  Up in the lift to the 9th Floor, and the manager proudly then showed me their best available room.  I stared out at a fantastic view of the mountains, and ………straight into my hotel room which was exactly next door, 50 yards away.  No, technology doesn’t always give you the best result.

Some of the oddest language differences have appeared in the last month.  Remember the green stuff you put in stews for flavor and garnish?  It’s called Erbs.  Every time Heather asks for kitchen roll, the American ladies laugh out loud.

But the one that cracks us all up is the Italian cheese you put on pasta in nice restaurants.  No it is not ParmeSHAN, why oh why would it be called that?

Two countries, one language, yes, but actually it is a very different culture here.  There are 6 churches within half a mile of our house, priorities are different.  We are adapting slowly, and there are huge benefits, great food, fantastic service, and some really nice people, but we still really miss our lovely open friends.

And when you think of America, please don’t ever make the mistake of thinking we are very similar.  Two very different cultures, with one messed up language.  Remind me to write about Ben and the Spelling Bee contest (very Lisa Simpson) some time.

Life at a Mile High – America and Consumerism

One of the biggest changes in the life style in America, by comparison with the UK, is the rampant consumerism.  Planning is a bit more under control in Colorado, in most American states strip malls are everywhere, whereas here there are just shopping centres every 10 miles or so.

But I have to admit I have occasionally succumbed to the shopping bug that runs at full pelt in this country.  I wandered in to my favourite shirt shop, Lucky Brands at Park Meadows, a long 10 minute drive away, and purchased a most lovely shirt.  Getting back home, I showed it to Heather, and told her how great I thought it was.  Yep, she said, it is exactly the same as one in your closet (actually she said wardrobe).  What an idiot.

IMG_0807It is astoundingly dry here, static is an issue at a mile high, not what my dear English friends want to hear, but the weather here is fantastic.  We have had 4 weeks at below zero, but for the last few days it has reached 20 degrees C.  Strange lumps of snow linger in the corners of the garden, and fountains are still partially frozen, I guess that shows how deep the freeze was.  But most of the time the sun shone, so it didn’t feel so bad, and it just never rains, amazingly in 4 months here it has only rained once (for less than 10 minutes).

The climate plays terrible tricks in other ways.  I bought a Xmas tree the first weekend of December, Ben was feeling down, so we went and bought it to cheer him up.  But within 2 weeks it was dead, dried out, kaput.  We had an artificial tree for Xmas.

The Xmas lights round here were astounding, they competed for trophies in the local media.  The house over the road had two deer made out of lights on their front lawn, but one night someone mounted one on top of the grazing one.  We all laughed, but IMG_0797perhaps this is not in tune with the average middle America sense of humour.

Our pathetic attempt at lights was probably the joke of the street, but everyone is far too polite to comment.  But it did make us think of the Deddington tree again, yep, I learnt a lot of my decorating abilities from last year in the square.

Last weekend was our Jake’s 1IMG_08187th birthday, not one of the great events in a growing lad’s life, but one well worth celebrating.  Izzie bought him a lovely American flag based tie, the best the “thrift store” had to offer, and his mother and I helped him buy an amplifier so he can form a band, become a superstar, change the world and enable me to retire.  At last.

We had a busy birthday weekend, we had some Americans round, and some mad Aussies.  Good fun, and on Sunday we went up to see Red Rocks, a great concert venue, we look forward to seeing Justin Beiber in the summer.  And then on we went to The Fort, a local restaurant based on old western cuisine, but please bear in mind that old is 1860 around here, there was no-one here before that.

And the great news is that the birthday regime from Pizza Express in Banbury lives on, they banged a drum, the mad local bloke dressed as a “First Nation Citizen” produced the hat, and there was Jake in the Buffalo head being told………Gryffindor!

The clientele IMG_0819were instructed to join in 3 times….Hip Hip  Hazaa, but no-one can explain this strange choice of words.  The buffalo steaks were great, but a poor substitute for Ben who had set his heart on Rattlesnake only to find they are currently hibernating and therefore not for catching (or eating).

Who says culture doesn’t cross the globe.  Earlier in the weekend we had been subjected to 2 renditions of “Happy Bar Mitzvah to You” from an adjacent table.  And the local Synagogue is offering “Jew Chew” to the high school kids at lunch time.

So life here is all a bit of a shock.  Think I will have to do something about the nylon carpets and the “Joey” sofa, something you do have to see to believe, imagine a 7 piece corner piece with individual controlled progression from Economy to First Class, but how will I ever get it home to England?

Think I need to put a damper on the electric side of life.  At least that what Heather says.   Poor me.

Accents and other Things that are Different

I have a bad habit I need to confess to.

Well all right, I only have time for one today, but I need to get it off my chest.  I think my problem became very clear to Heather, my lovely wife, some 20 years ago when we went to meet with one of our clients, up in the North of England.  In Rochdale to be exact.

After lunch, the boss man took Heather to one side and said (I won’t do the accent), “if Mike continues to take the micky out of me, I am going to knock his block off”.  But I wasn’t taking the micky, it was just the first example Heather had experienced of my terrible problem.

When speaking to anyone with an accent, within minutes I will be attempting (but badly) to speak in the same lingo.  I wonder if there is some kind of 7 steps process that can help me.

To be serious for a moment, the key difference between the UK and the good old US of A is the attitude to guns.  Like most Europeans, I find the amount of gun deaths in America to be very disturbing.  The quoted figures of less than 50 in the UK, to over 11,000 in the US has to indicate that this is a key problem.  But, no matter how many times I try and discuss the issue with sane and grown up Americans, I simply don’t understand the huge commitment the majority have to owning a gun.  I am still working hard, but it is something deeply cultural.

If you haven’t seen it, go to YouTube and view some of the Piers Morgan interviews of the last few weeks.  Piers is a man that few us in Britain liked, and most were happy to see leave for the US to take up a nightly TV interview slot on CNN.  But he is has really come to life in my view, although not in the minds of most Americans, who have started a petition to have him deported.

On a show last week Piers interviewed a Larry Pratt, who looked perfectly normal, argued quite sanely, but when Morgan put the gun death numbers in front of him, he suddenly announced that the UK figures were rigged, and really there were 790 gun deaths a year in the UK.  The problem is that people believe these things.

Earlier in the week Piers interviewed an Alex Jones from the NRA (National Rifle Association), who foamed at the mouth, and with bulging eyes told Piers that he needed the guns to ensure that the UK didn’t invade again, invoking the American War of Independence.  Bizarre in the extreme to an outsider, but lots of people see him as a hero, people keep telling me they need more guns, not less.

Some of the differences about living in Colorado are a bit weird.  When Heather came to give me a kiss earlier, she gave me a shock.  I mean an electric shock.

Denver is a mile above sea level, and despite freezing cold temperatures on occasions, it is very dry.  The sun shines for over 300 days a year, and it has only rained once in 3 months, both of which make the freezing temperatures more palatable.  But the climate, and the wall to wall nylon carpets, creates static electricity like I have never seen before.

The lack of air also means my tennis is hopeless, the balls fly out, and even a short rally leaves me lying on the floor gasping for breath.  At the Broncos game this afternoon, some of the opposition footballers were given oxygen on the side lines to enable them to cope.

I needed a bit more than oxygen to cope, football is a great game, but after it went to extra time it took 4 ¼ hours for 1 ¼ hours of action.  Unreal, particularly at – 12 degrees C, 75,000 fans created a fantastic atmosphere, but they don’t have a roof.  It snowed.  And they lost in extra time.

And there were opposition fans in front of us who everyone chatted with, and they even survived the home team managing to lose a game they were 100 – 1 to win at one point.

Earlier in the day we took the boys to have some jabs, they have to have a huge number in order to be allowed to be in school.  The fire station where they were giving the inoculations was in a suburb called Aurora, much more of a mixed community than the enclave that is Greenwood Village.

Walking in to the temporary clinic, a couple of the locals greet me, calling out in support of my Broncos shirt, Go Broncos.

As I say, I have this terrible habit of copying the way people speak, honestly, I don’t mean to do it.

And now I can add Jive Talking to my failings, and my family thinks I am a rude and dangerous person.

Anyone know of a cure?

Xmas Parties and Freezing in America

I have to start with a startling confession, my wife has been stalking me at parties.

It was a good Xmas, or as the whole of America put it, the holidays.  It is certainly a strange idea to a European immigrant, but they are so scared of upsetting someone, that they don’t wish you “Happy Xmas”, it is always “Happy Holidays”.  All very odd, as a Hindu work contact said to me this week, he still celebrates Xmas.

Politeness is endemic in middle America, and unlike far away places like New York, Colorado drivers are also very polite.  But they have this very strange traffic control device, known as the All Way Stop.  Just imagine that you are going down a straight road, which is clear and visible for several miles, you approach a junction, and then this red sign looms, All Way Stop.  A merry dance ensues, when cars approach in all 4 directions and stop in turn, and then eventually someone goes.

It is bizarre, as if the local traffic planners have never seen a roundabout.  In fact they have just built a roundabout in the area, and it certainly leaves a lot of locals very confused.  I have seen people heading the wrong way round the first one round the corner from our office.

The driving competition in the house is hotting up, with Jake and Heather both beating my amazing 92% pass rate of the driving theory test.  They both made 96%, yet another thing I am not going win at.  But you have to feel sorry for Jake, the kids round here can drive a year earlier, at 16.  But, we have discovered that he has to hold a driving permit for 12 months before he can get a full license, so he will actually be later driving on his own here than if we had stayed in the UK.  Perhaps a good job his lovely girl friend can drive very well.

You would not believe the cars that some of the kids drive out of the school car park.  Jake saw a Ferrari draw up alongside a kid, the driver got out and moved to the passenger seat, and then the kid got in and drove it off.  No surprise they get an accident in the car park every year, this term a boy was run over twice.  He got a broken leg as the girl backed over him, and a broken shoulder when she pulled forward again.

Xmas day was great, snow on the ground, and the lovely Roz and the fantastic Wayne staying with us.  The ground outside was frozen, and so was the dinner.  Heather ordered two ducks and a goose off the web site of the most expensive food shop in the country.  Whole Foods is an unbelievable place, I counted 20 types of olives at the “olive bar”, they have an enormous range of every type of food, beautifully presented.  It is like Selfridges food hall, but 100 times bigger.

Heather turned up to pick up the food on Xmas Eve, to find the items were frozen.  An argument ensued, but the store manager did not seem to understand that the web site not mentioning the minor fact that the items were frozen was significant.

But in some areas American law has a very extreme amount of consumer protection.  In particular I fail to believe that anyone ever buys the drugs they advertise on the TV, if not every ad break, at least several times an hour.  We have all read the leaflet which comes with our latest miracle cure, and wondered which of the many side effects will get us.  But on American TV drug adverts, the side effects are read through thoroughly, which leaves you no doubt that the drug is not at all useful, but absolutely deadly.  Obviously such protection does not extend to food stuffs on the Web.

And the best Xmas news is that we were invited to a few local parties.  The things we all missed most were our friends and family, and the Pub.  But round here, the drinking takes place at people houses, and we certainly managed some drinking with some really lovely people.  And some of them were Australian.

But the big problem is that Heather is very concerned that I am going to upset everyone, which will then mean that she won’t get invited to a party ever again.  Where did she ever get this idea from?

But the real problem is that middle class American men right now are obsessed with tax, and particularly in not paying more tax.  And I am not good at ignoring comments on big issues, and so the discussion begins.  Again.

I am consciously trying to avoid being party political, but it is only logical to me that middle America has to pay more tax.  Every country in Europe is paying more tax, due to the recession, which was started by the American obsession with selling mortgages to millions of people who could not afford them.  But in the last 4 years America has had tax cuts through this recession, and the Government has borrowed to pay the recession costs.

Now there is a price to pay.  Is this an argument I can refuse to address?

As I say, my wife is stalking me at parties.  The key benefit is she is looking great, she has lost huge amounts of weight, and is very lovely.  Perhaps this is another reason I need to keep starting the arguments having this discussion, but I am not sure I can cope with the chunks her high heels are taking out of my shins.

Two Countries (maybe three)

There are many things that are much better now we are living in America, and to be personal for a moment, my favourite is that my wife no longer snores.

I can’t put my finger on why my night’s sleep is no longer interrupted by Vesuvius.  Certainly, Denver is a mile about sea level, and the atmosphere up here is very different.  It is so dry, and I do feel ashamed to admit this, but I have had to resort to the use of moisturising face cream.  Yes, things are really changing in the Ward household.   Sorry, men.

There are so many things that are different, we assume that because we speak the same language and use the same words, that we are very similar.

This week’s big laugh has centred on that lovely piece of food that one has after the main course, made from pastry, with things such as fruit on top.  Yes, a flan.

But our lovely Izzy calls it a FLON, in fact every American calls it a FLON.  Laugh, we all corpsed.

When we moved, I had to have a good talk to myself, there are certain subjects that I can never discuss with any American, certainly no-one I meet through work or in this middle class enclave.  As they say at sales school, never discuss religion, politics, or sex.

And this week it has all gone completely pear shaped, but the good news is the worst error was Heather’s.  Buying a turkey baster this afternoon, she actually told the shop assistant, in the poshest, most lovely kitchen shop you have ever seen…….that the device was phallic.

If you haven’t spent much time in middle America, you will be amazed at the relationship they have with sex.  It really just doesn’t exist, and this poor posh shop assistant didn’t even know what the word meant.  But she laughed when she worked it out, which I think was a 50:50, the 50% of the population that I can’t discuss religion with would have thrown us out.  The problem is you can’t tell which camp they are in.

Before I describe my big error, a moment of serious diversion.  I will blog on it at some point fairly soon, but I think I am waiting for some kind of moment of revelation on the attitude of America to guns.  I hate guns, and let’s face it, none of us are happy with 5 year old kids getting killed.  But I now have a Twitter exchange going on with a grown up man, who describes himself as a lawyer, who tweeted direct to me “return to the UK and live in fear of the armed criminals….why do you think more UK police being armed”.

There is such a bizarre lack of reality and logic in the American approach to guns.  There are 41 gun deaths a year in the UK, 10,000 in the US.  But they just don’t get it.  It is very upsetting still to think about this subject, and it comes back to all 4 of us almost every day, but I must move on.

So we went to a local party last weekend, my first, something I really needed and I really enjoyed it.  Really enjoyed it.

In my defence I was on drugs, a quick ridiculous trip to the UK had wiped me out, and left me with a bad cold.  Not that it is a cold over here, they don’t have colds, they have flu, but hey, give me drugs.

A few days in Calgary, in the very oil (and money) rich part of Canada, at 10 degress below didn’t help.  I could give you another diatribe on the difference between US and Canada, but….I digress.

So several 007 cocktails later, beers, wine….yes, I was flying, I was indestructible.

And I broke rule 1.

Yes, I lectured my lovely new American neighbour on the inevitability of taxation, the deferred price to be paid for the US induced recession.  I would like to say that my argument was very logical and I was not trying to be party political, I just know there is a price to pay, and in Europe  every tax payer is paying this price.  But in the US they have deferred the economic medicine, and the “fiscal cliff” approaches.  They deferred the tax rises 4 years ago, and government spend has increased, yes, there is a price to be paid.

The US political system is now very polarised, and the problems in achieving compromise is very difficult, and the middle classes are very unhappy.

Yes, he told Heather I was “left wing”.  I just hope he will talk to me again, I certainly can’t go in that kitchen shop again, and I continue to think of the phantom flan flinger.  I don’t think Chris Tarrant would have got a laugh out of a FLON flinger.  But maybe after so many good nights sleep I have lost it, and for once in my life, I could be wrong.

Friends – old and new. And a Grumpy Young Man

My lovely wife thinks I am being very grumpy.

The good news is that she isn’t saying I am a grumpy OLD man.  It would of course be accurate to describe me as old, but, hey, I am not ready to give up yet.  I can still use that wonderful line, what is it………yes, perhaps I am as old as the woman I feel?

As I have said, the service in America is fantastic, so long as it is being delivered in the private sector.  The US Government, in its many forms, is a bureaucratic nightmare.

Two weeks ago we discovered that I needed a Colorado Driving License.  We only found this out when finally getting close to taking out a car lease.  We had eventually found a good car broker, and a Japanese car company who would finally take us on.  They were all a little bit confused when I agreed to the lease without having driven the car, but, hey, I didn’t have time.  And sorry John, I didn’t really care enough.

But then Heather discovered that I needed to have a Colorado driving license in order to register the car.  And that anyone moving to Colorado to work needed a local driving license within 30 days……and no-one had told us.  I was driving illegally.

At this point, Vrinder from our UK office had arrived to tie up his move to the US, and so off we went to the driving license centre.  We needed to take the driving test, first the theory, and then the practical.

At this stage I have to explain that I had a panic attack.  We were driving from a conference north of Denver, Vrinder driving, while I looked up the driving test.  And then I realised that I couldn’t answer the questions, they had rules, and I didn’t understand them.

So we did the 42 page Colorado driving manual on the I25 freeway from Broomfield to Littleton.  It is not ideal reading aloud from an iPhone, but you make the best of these things.  But the good news, being old, it is perhaps best to do the learning immediately before the test.

But when did I last do a test?  I was terrified.

So we took our “deli queue” ticket, and sat there for an hour.  We took the written test, although it nearly went pear shaped when the man asked Vrinder and I to stop comparing answers.  We both got 92%……high fives, big smiles.  No cheating.

And then the nice lady checked me on the immigration computer, and it all went wrong……again.

Let’s cut it short, skipping rapidly over another 2 hour wait in another US Government office  to prove I am who I am (…..a free man….).  And now I have my driving test booked, 40 years of driving, but they want to give me a test.  The 16 year olds here don’t get a real test, anyone coming in from Spain or Germany don’t get a test…….can I remember how to parallel park?  I can tell you that most Americans simply have no idea.

And that is why I am grumpy.  Well partially.

The biggest difference in our lives is the lack of friends, and a lack of a centre to the community.  We have made some good friends in America, there are some lovely people here, but it isn’t the same.   There aren’t any pubs in middle class, middle America, there is no-where to congregate.  Life is very family focussed, and in other places, very religion focussed.  Not that there is anything wrong with family, or religion, but there are no places where you pop in and happen to meet your mates.  Yes, did I say there are no pubs?

We all miss our friends, places to go, rubbish to talk about.  Just chatting.  Shared experiences.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, a curious American holiday celebrating the time that the Puritans arrived in the new world, and sat do to eat with the existing residents to celebrate their new life.  And then, of course, the immigrants gave the locals diseases that killed them, and then eventually they killed the rest.  A lot to be thankful for really.

But we got invited round to our neighbours for dinner, a fantastic meal of turkey and lots of trimmings.  And then we went down the road to another house for drinks, and good laughs.  Yes, lots of friendly and funny Americans, who made us very welcome.

Not like old friends, but progress in our American Adventure…..apart from terrible queues in government offices.

It would even make young people grumpy.

An Election and other very serious issues (sorry, no jokes, this is serious)

The thing about Americans is that they are positive…….very positive.

There is a game you can play.

Almost all Americans have this strange idea that they want to ask you whether you are “doing OK”….. “having a good day”.

Try answering “well not really”.  This really throws them off base, well actually, most pretend they haven’t heard your answer.  Bizarre, why ask a question you don’t want to know the answer to?

In the world of work it can be just as apparent.  If you ask any American businessman how business is, you will always get the answer “great”.   Even if he is about to go down the toilet.

It’s cultural, this is a society very much based on politeness and positivity.  Most of middle America doesn’t understand those great English staples, cynicism and sarcasm.  And self doubt is a really problem for most Americans, they want to hear that the USA is the best country in the world, something most British people find to be very vulgar.  Americans want to feel they are in personal control.

For instance, last month huge winds struck the East coast, and the coastline around New York was devastated.  Over 100,000 people are still without electricity, many hundreds, maybe thousands are without homes.  The communities pull together as one would hope anywhere in the world, this is not just poor people, this is a fairly affluent part of the USA.  A European would look at this situation and say “what is the Government going to do about it?”

Which is one of the ways it all goes wrong in America, because most affluent middle class Americans hate Government.  They want “small government”.  For instance, Mitt Romney campaigned on stopping spending on alternative energy investments, on dismantling Government investment in such bizarre ideas as flood prevention.  30% of the population don’t believe global warming played a part in this natural catastrophe.

Yes, this week I am having a rant, sorry but the US election really got to me.

Firstly I must apologise to all American citizens, I am truly not sure I should be allowed to comment on your election.  I can’t vote in it, I have only been here 7 weeks so I am hardly qualified to comment on it.  But now it is over, perhaps some perspective can help, after all, the US just re-elected the most powerful man in the world.

As our Jake said, thank god the TV adverts are all over.  Mind you, the Xmas adverts then started, so I suspect he has changed his mind.

Political advertising has to be the most unbalanced thing you will ever see on TV.  They pour vitriol on each other in a manner that no nice polite European society would ever accept.  The issues get twisted and subverted in a very unreal manner, and the candidates just end up as caricatures in some kind of medieval pantomime.  Think Punch & Judy meets children’s playground.

Any subtlety of message, or any in depth discussion of facts is very difficult.  There is very low newspaper readership in America, and some TV channels are blatantly biased, but at least there are channels like CNN who do offer good independent coverage.  But every debate of an issue on the main channels ends with the two sides being represented in a very confrontational argument, and at the end…..where is the man from the BBC summing it all up for me?

The US system is a classic two party system, with absolutely no chance of anyone coming in to disrupt their cabal.  And the parties appear to be getting more and more polarised.  Obama got re-elected because his campaign used old fashioned methods, to get his key supporters out to vote.  This time round his key constituency was women, the young, non-whites, and the “working class” (plus some wishy washy liberals).  Many business people I have met voted for him last time, perhaps a vote for hope and change.  But lots of these people deserted him this time, worried about increasing taxes, a perceived failure in the economy, and “left wing liberalism”.

On the other side the Republicans have an impossible job of trying to represent the broadest political church the world has ever seen, incorporating billionaires, the far right, and the evangelical Christians, as well as trying to reach out to normal middle class America.

Did I mention the billionaires?  This election cost $2.5bn, what could this fortune have been better spent on?

This is the problem with the American electoral system.  The enormous machine that is the two parties creates a huge swell that glosses over the real issues.  It turns into smears, and big slogans, but at the end of it, no-one really believes the elected president will be held to account.

Because, in contrast to most democracies, the US machine appears to be about the two parties, but in reality the candidates need their party during the election, and once elected they are to some degree removed.  Now Obama is in the White House, the “most powerful man in the world”, but he has the Congress and the House to work with, one held by each party, and to get anything done the byword is compromise, or in their words, “bipartisanship”.

To the vast and diverse US population it means huge amounts of haggling and indecision while nothing is achieved.

Generally US Presidents look to their second term to create a legacy, as an outsider I would say Obama has been a different kind of president, he made his mark in the first term with Medicare.  I spend hours even now with Americans who find universal healthcare an anathema, it is too difficult for people focussed inwardly to totally embrace what most of Europe see as essential.  Big Government is seen as the province of the weak, whereas most of Europe would see Government as necessary and inevitable, particularly when Sandy shows us how nature is really in control.

Unlike most of Europe, the American economy is growing, their unemployment rate is lower (at least on paper), and things are definitely moving forward, but most Americans don’t see it as doing well enough.

I really like America.  It is a country that gets things done in a practical manner, most voting is electronic, so the result was declared before 10pm our time.  But the real challenge is what happens now.  Can Obama build the economy, manage an inevitable increase in middle class taxation, and really deliver for all of America?  Seems impossible to me.

It’s a big country, with lots of different people, this is what makes it so interesting.

Rant over…….normal service resumes next week.

The Road Trip

The family road trip, it brings back many memories.  And not all of them are good.

My mind goes back to July 1966, my parents had taken me away for a road trip, Italy, Yugoslavia, I was very lucky the way that we saw Europe, it certainly expanded my horizons.  So there we were, a late Saturday afternoon on the bridge over the Rhine in Cologne, stretching our legs, admiring the view, when I heard cheering from a car radio.  And I realised that my parents had lied to me, they had told me it was an evening kick off.  We did watch the game in the evening, in a German bar, but by then the damage was done.  I would always know where I was when England won the World Cup, no-where.

Yep, road trips are very evocative, and can create memories that last forever, good ones and bad ones.  I had sold our American adventure to the kids based on seeing the “promised land”.   But when we got the kids into American schools we realised that they get less holidays than in the UK, a week in October, two weeks at Xmas, and a week at Easter.  So the opportunities for a trip during this week, the “fall break”, was too good to be missed.

An argument ensued when it was realised we would be away during that very strange American experience, Halloween.  The families round here were going crazy, there were tombstones in the garden over the road.  Ghosts were hanging from every tree.  But we went on the road trip any way, we did it, because it was there.

Utah is the next state west of Colorado, directly over the hills, the Rocky Mountains, nearly two miles up at the highest crossing point.  This is America, so the “freeway” is straight, and after leaving the metropolitan area around Denver, there is little traffic at this time of year.  We drive past the ski slopes at Breckenridge and Vail, just 100 miles from us on the south side of Denver.  Something to look forward to there I suspect.

We stop for lunch in Georgetown, an old mining town in the hills.  Very historic, all of 100 years old, “historic”, I ask you.

It is worth mentioning at this point that eating out in America is different to anywhere in Europe.  There is just so much choice, from burgers, to steaks, to Mexican, to any Italian.  In fact, anything but Indian (or Bangladeshi) curry.  If you do visit America, don’t have a curry, they really don’t get the flavour at all, I really miss our dear friend Mr Choudhury. 

We even went to a restaurant which served burgers laced with Jam, Bacon, Peanut Butter and Cheese, a JBPBCB. 

In America, you can eat out at a different restaurant every night, and almost all of it is good.  Needless to say, the portions can be ridiculous, does anyone need to eat a 12 oz steak?  There is a huge obesity problem in America, no surprise, a large part of America eats too much. 

We went to Canyonlands and the Arches National Park, but it is a strange thing about the Parks in Utah that most of the inhabitants of Denver have never been there.  It is only a 6 hour drive, 350 miles, freeway nearly all the way, and what fantastic sights.  A 300 foot natural arch, vast canyons, and huge sandstone buttes.  In some ways not as dramatic as further down the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon is 400 miles further south, past the wonderful Monument Valley.  But huge, dramatic and really very moving.

If you watch western movies, this is the habitat you will be used to.  We ended the trip at Dead Horse Point, paying homage to Thelma and Louise, dreaming of a better life as they went over the edge.

Great stuff, nothing like it in Europe, and out of season so there was almost no-one there.  Particularly no Americans, you can tell, because they always say hello, whereas the Japanese and the Europeans ignore you on the trail,

So we are back home to watch the final stages of the election, and the adverts seem unbelievably rude for us polite English folk, but more on that after it reaches a conclusion next week.    

The weather was lovely all week for us, 60 degrees and over, but nature showed who was boss on the East Coast with New Jersey and Manhattan under water with over 50 fatalities, and there are still millions still without power.  And even after this 30% of the US population still don’t believe in global warming, astounding lack of attention to reality.  Romney wants to cut all investment in new energy, to us Europeans the interest groups in US politics are very obvious.

And we got to our first football game, sorry “soccer”.  Loved it, but I really didn’t understand why after every goal the man in the “Arsenal Gunners” tent let off a huge explosion.  Very bizarre, and not reflected in a very polite game, with no diving, no poor fouls, and the few away fans mixed in with the home fans.  In fact, a completely different demographic, the majority of supporters were families with kids, at least as many girls as boys.

The two Colorado Rapids centre halves were under 5 foot 9, but Houston never put them under pressure. 

Apart from this, everything is big in America, it is hard not to be impressed by the American Dream.  Shame there aren’t any pubs though.  Image

US Society – thoughts on Cheese, Nuclear Turkeys and ……Cleanliness

Jake has a new nickname

I have a thing about litter.

Another lifetime ago I lived in Chiswick, in West London. I loved the area, but it was a messy place with piles of builders rubble, that passed for gentrification.

One day I was walking down to Chiswick High Road, when a car window opened in front of me, and the occupant threw a cigarette packet out. Without thinking, I bent down, picked up the packet, and threw it back through the car window. I hate litter, it was an obvious thing to do, it seemed right.

I kept on walking, but hadn’t got more than a stride or two before a huge roar erupted behind me, followed by the sound of a car door opening. These are occasions when one should probably act before thinking, but I turned, looked, and thought….”that man is big and angry”. Yes, I legged it.

I am thinking about this story now because we have moved into a lovely new area, in Greenwood Village, in Colorado. And there is no litter. By which I mean, NO litter.

This is the cleanest place I have ever seen. I have spent time in Singapore, where they literally lock you up for dropping chewing gum, but I have never seen anywhere as clean as South Galena Street. I haven’t seen any litter collectors, and there are very few waste bins, but there is no rubbish what so ever. Yes Middle Class Middle Americans take much more pride in what is around them.

At first impression these estates are nothing like anywhere in England.

First of all our estate has a great name, hey Sundance Hills has a much better ring to it than Walnut Close, or Gaveston Gardens. Well perhaps Mr Gaveston has some kind of story attached as well.

I keep wanting to tell people……I live in Sundance Hills. It just feels good.

And all the houses are individually designed. It is not like lovely old Oxfordshire, no offence guys, but your houses are all the same, these are all unique. Different materials, different styles, to an Englishman it is totally mad. To a town planner in the UK…..well he would die of fright.

It is all extremely lovely. And clean, did I mention that already?


Two countries separated by one language, but American men do share a pastime with Europeans, and that is watching sport. Last weekend we went to our first Football game, which of course doesn’t mean we watched some over paid idiots kicking around ball and falling over a lot (that is this weekend), we actually went to an American football game.

It stated with a tailgate party, what you & I would call a BBQ, and yes, someone brought one of the biggest gas BBQs I have ever seen. On the back of a truck. Like you do.

And everyone was lovely, someone even recognised the football shirts that Ben and I were wearing in homage to our league leading team. Couldn’t pronounce Leicester, of course, but all very sweet.

But strange things happen at football matches everywhere. At West Bromwich Albion they bounce up and down making strange sounds, at the Airforce Academy of Colorado Springs they throw cheese at the team. And when the home team scores, all the cadets rush to behind one goal and perform press ups. Since the score reached 25 points, and they do one for each point, they must have been knackered at the end.

15,000 people enjoyed a college football game in a ground which holds more than the average English Premier league team, and Our Jake had a turkey leg the size of his arm. But how can they make 4 quarters of 15 minutes each last 3 elapsed hours?

Everything is extreme in the American Dream, and I’m really enjoying it. The people and the cleanliness.