Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ghoulish policy

Today, on Halloween, CABE (The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment)
issued a report on the uses of cemeteries as open spaces for all, not just the dead.

The report found that up to half of all open spaces in some local authority areas were made up of burial grounds - and that this is an untapped resource.

Sarah Gaventa, director of CABE Space, said “Cemeteries should not be considered solely as resting places for the dead, they should be designed with the living in mind too. The great Victorian cemeteries were designed and maintained as beautiful public parks for the enjoyment of all. Every local authority should have them in their green space strategy and ensure that their full value is realised.”

Our nearest green space is a graveyard, and we go walking there almost every day. I occasionally see other people using the cemetery for walking (even jogging once), but it's very rare. The cemetery workers are used to seeing me now, and they certainly don't make me feel unwelcome. But I reckon a lot of people wouldn't feel entirely comfortable recreating in a place of eternal rest.

quoth the crow

quoth the crow

give me more

Happy Halloween

feeding the crows at Wimbledon Common

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Darth Saudi

The King of Saudi Arabia is on a state visit to the United Kingdom. That means Saudi flags are flying on the Mall. That means that King Abdullah is serenaded by British military bands.

Guess what they played as he strolled up to meet the Queen.

The Imperial March - aka Darth Vader's march.

Heh.

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Update

This is so unbelievable, so apt yet so daring, that I started to doubt myself. But someone else saw it, too. Here's the clip from Channel 4 news - under a story called Saudi funded literature in British mosques I wish I knew how to get that up on YouTube, but here's one to tide you over:




FURTHER UPDATE - Noon 31 October 2007

Of course it's on YouTube now - spotted via Conservative Home.

Best line is "King Abdullah may not be head of an evil empire" - but then again, he might.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Contact me



VolAbroad@gmail.com

Or follow me on Twitter!





And in other sporting news...

I don't really much care for baseball. But I just want to acknowledge Jen - my expat blogger near neighbour - and her team winning the World Series. That must be amazing. That must feel like, well, like your team winning the World Series.

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I don't much care for NFL Football either. Tennessee didn't have a team when I left the US and no other team ever captured my loyalty. But apparently the NFL is looking to win hearts and minds on foreign soil. Namely British soil. In the Independent:

Rebuilt Wembley Stadium hosted the first regular-season NFL game in Europe, and fans of all teams have flocked to northwest London to see the New York Giants beat the Miami Dolphins 13-10.


But instead of drawing lots of British fans, a lot of the folks there were American.

Many in the sold-out stadium came from the United States, and the dreary sky poses no problem.


I'm sure the expat contingent in London put up a good showing, too. There's no firm estimate of how many Americans live in London, but we could probably just about fill Wembley stadium*. But the story nicely captures the feelings of a small contingent of Brits who love them some American football - all apparently hooked from catching a game on tv.

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* but not Neyland stadium.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

TennViews

R Neal is the East Tennessee blogger who inspired me to start blogging. The outlet which captured my imagination is long gone, but he's set up other community blogging outlets - like KnoxViews and now TennViews.

TennViews is described as Liberal views and opinion by Tennessee Volunteers for a progessive America.

Now while I wouldn't classify myself as a progressive in a global sense and I'm disillusioned with leftists and what I perceive as a growing divide between the liberal and the left. I'm fairly right wing by British standards, but I also fully recognise that compared to most Tennesseans I'm a way-out wacky lefty. At any rate, I'm glad to see this new outlet and I hope it becomes a vibrant online community that contributes to the political conversation in Tennessee and beyond.

And, I wouldn't mind if this meant that KnoxViews was more focused on Knoxville and Knox County than the recent drift towards national politics.

Time shift

Now y'all know I love the Vols, but I love my sleep, too. And lately, with the baby's night wakenings, I'm really not getting enough. So when a night or evening game comes on, I don't listen live. With a five hour time difference between London and Knoxville, yesterday's game against South Carolina would have started after midnight here, and I really need to catch my Zs when the baby's asleep.

We turned on the game this morning - they keep the free audio up at UTSports.com for several days. I stayed away from the Internet, I didn't check any scores. I just listened as live.

But of course, it isn't live. So if things get a little boring (say with a big old lead like 21-0 at half time), then there's a temptation to switch away from the game and just check the score. But it ain't over 'til it's over - and anyway both times that I've quit listening at halftime this season, UT lost. So I couldn't stop listening.

And then things started to turn sour. Very sour. All of a sudden South Carolina were up and then it was tied. And we remembered the other thing that's made a difference. Whenever the baby hasn't been dressed in orange, UT lost. And the little guy hadn't a scrap of Tennessee orange on. The Vol-in-Law scrambled around the house looking for orange accessories, which to be honest aren't actually that hard to find.

Of course, the truth was that the game was already decided. But it's amazing, how you can get wrapped up in the moment passed.

But setting that aside with Cletus suitably dressed we appealed to the gods of football to turn back time - to reach back through the hours and change the outcome, because there was no way that Tennessee was going to pull this one out of the bag.

And in those long final minutes of sickening, growing dread that Tennessee was going to lose despite the fact that all the teams that needed to lose to keep us contenders actually had lost (Kentucky and Florida) it was tempting to turn to the score and end the pain.

And eventually my husband had to go out, so we succumbed to temptation. And you know what, Tennessee lost. Just as I suspected. And I turned to another website to get the story -and realised that I had somehow misread the score (I do blame sleep deprivation). Holy Moly, Tennessee won. All our last minute appeasements to chance had shifted time and resulted in the right score. Even the Vol-in-Law screamed in glee. (Of course, this set the baby to crying.)

Go Vols.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Bumbo cuteness

We have a little foam molded baby containment device called a Bumbo.


They've recently been "recalled" - because they're not really safe on elevated surfaces. Several babies have flipped out and fallen. Well, duh. We do use ours on elevated surfaces, largely because we're too old and crickety to really get down on the ground, plus Cletus likes to be able to look us in the eye. But you don't leave a baby unattended on a raised surface - or even on the ground - in one of these things.

But the recall isn't really a recall. All you get is a sticker saying not to use it on an elevated surface. My packaging and I think the Bumbo itself say not to use on a raised surface. But I've never been that good at following instructions.

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Some people love the bumbo, some babies don't really take to them. Our little guy really likes to be upright, so it's been a really good product for us. Plus he looks so cute in them.


IMG_7726-1 Baby and SmokeyIMG_9276

But even I gotta admit, it's not as cute as these Bumbo movies.

Bumbo I
Bumbo II
Bumbo III

And unlike most series - the sequels are better. Bumbo II and III are hilarious.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Trickertreat

I'm sorry I missed this she first posted it. Here's Ms Coble's conundrum. She has some spare Bibles. I'm gathering maybe she has quite a few spare Bibles. She's wondering if she should give them out to trick-or-treaters on Halloween.

I think I would have been coolly indifferent if I'd gotten a Bible in my treat bag. I'd have been OK with it if there'd been a mini Snickers bar that came with it.

Of course, I didn't need any Bibles growing up. I had access to plenty. Candy was a rarer treat.

But it's kind of a neat idea. Giving away surplus items at Halloween. I did once give away a ray gun that I had used as a Halloween costume prop to a trick-or-treater because I had no candy. He was really excited. It's too bad we just gave dropped off a bunch of books at charity shop only yesterday. We could have left a stack by the door.

Sorry, kids - no candy. But how 'bout this unreadable and depressing tome: The Losing Battle with Islam. All out of chocolate, but here's a John Irving novel - sorry, it's not one of the better known ones. Wild Swans is good, if a bit depressing. Take this Harlequin romance, when I was 12 I found them quite exciting. You might like this pulp fiction in Spanish that I thought I could use to improve my foreign language skills but languished unloved on my shelves for years.

And if we had a mad rush, I could give away pairs of shoes I no longer like and maybe scarfs or old sweaters.

Oh yes, Halloween could take on whole new dimensions.

Sicko crosses the pond

Michael Moore's film Sicko is finally being shown in British cinemas*. I'm sure many Brits will take this as an opportunity to gloat and to bask in the reflected glory of the sacred status of the National Health Service. Apparently, Mr Moore paints an overly rosy portrait of the NHS.

Don't get me wrong. I'm like many who can say "At least it's there." I've used the service for the normal, the chest infections and the sprains. I've used it for the stupidly self-inflicted wounds (I got glass in my eye from an art project gone wrong). I've used it during my pregnancy and emergency c-section. And through all that, I've never paid a penny for services and I've paid very little for prescriptions. Although, of course, I have paid. I pay through my taxes.

I've probably experienced some of the worst of the NHS. London gets a raw deal from most national services. We really don't get what we pay for. I could complain a lot about my maternal care. I didn't have a continuous relationship with any single person on the obstetrical staff. The conditions in the post-partum ward were extremely unpleasant (lack of privacy, noisy, hot and piss-poor decor**) and I rarely saw the same professional twice. But on the upside, they supported my home birth until I passed out of their clinical guidelines (baby was 16 days late). I could have chosen another, prettier hospital. But the hospital I chose was across the street from our house and is a center of excellence for obstetrical emergencies. And, at least, it was there.

And I never had to worry about how I was going to pay or what it was going to cost.

I never had to skip appointments because I couldn't pay. I never had to negotiate a payment plan with a hospital and hope it didn't go to c-section because then I'd have a bill I couldn't afford. This happened to women on the American baby discussion forum I participate in. Some folks on this forum even now have worries about their babies' health but are putting off visits to a pediatrician because they're waiting for new insurance to kick in.

We all know that there are problems with American health care, but there are problems with the NHS, too. Just different problems. Problems which Michael Moore didn't raise: From Peter Bradshaw's review of Sicko in The Guardian.

By way of contrast, Moore visits those countries with free healthcare: Canada, France and Britain. And this last visit is the one to make us sit up. With much elaborate comedy and saucer-eyed cod-acting, Moore visits the NHS hospital of Hammersmith in London, and deploying many a gasp and double-take, refuses to believe that the sick folks aren't charged hundreds and thousands of dollars. He doesn't mention the waiting lists, the filth, the degrading mixed wards and the MRSA that are a staple of all media coverage of the National Health Service. So perhaps he's got a starry-eyed view of our healthcare.

And he goes on to suggest that maybe Mr Moore has the right idea:

But isn't it obtuse to focus so excitably on what goes wrong with our health service, when so much more routinely goes right and when, incidentally, there are those with a vested interest in promoting these scare stories as an excuse for privatising it? Isn't it, for all its faults, exactly the miracle that Michael Moore portrays it?

Actually, no. The NHS is not the miracle that Mr Moore portrays. It's a system, designed by humans. Humans with good intentions, but humans who get things wrong. Like all systems it has its flaws. And when we ignore the flaws and make the system sacrosanct then we have no chance to learn from other systems and to correct those flaws, to innovate and improve.

The same with the American healthcare system. It's not the envy of the world any more. It's inadequate and does not provide the American people what they pay for. It's the most expensive health care system in the world and it's no longer delivering the best outcomes.

But yet, there are some really good things about American health care. There are some wonderful things that need to be kept and nurtured. Americans, like the British, need to look with a clear eye to their health care, keep what's right and fix what's wrong.


________________

*I won't be seeing it - at least not in the cinema. I don't like the cinema and what with the baby and all, it's not really easy. But I anxiously await the DVD release.

** You can say that this matters little, but I think that people do fare better in nicer surroundings. Partly things were bad because I gave birth in June - and a new maternity ward was due to open in September.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Real names

I named lil Cletus after my grandfather, my mom's dad. He also has my surname as a second middle name and, of course, his dad's last name. Yes, it's a poncey, long-winded four moniker solution. It's a lot of name for a little guy. I couldn't not give him a second middle name though - since his middle name and his last name put together are the name of a college in Tennessee. Yep, he might have been Cletus followed by Freed Hardeman, David Lipscomb, Carson Newman, Austin Peay or Volunteer State without the clever inclusion of an additional name. I'd be looking into possible scholarships, but that would mean he'd have to go to one of those schools.

Like any expectant couple, we played the name game. Only with boys' names, there was no contest, no discussion even. I was firm on my selection. And everybody, and I mean everybody seemed happy with that. This is largely because my grandfather was a widely respected, well-liked fellow who exuded integrity and honesty and affability. On girls' names, we struggled a little. He likes girly names and I like names that conjure up images of iron maidens. For example, I really like the name Gudrun. Even though I'd never have the guts to use it, I really like it.

I have some very strict guidelines about names. It has to be a real name, in common (though perhaps not frequent) usage in English speaking countries. It should not be a faddish name - either in beginnings or endings. (Here's a great post from the Baby Name Wizard blog about trends in name endings). And I have some other pet peeves, too. Are you using a surname as a first name? That's fine - but is that a family surname? Are you actually entitled to it? I hate youneek (unique) spellings, too. I also dislike nicknames given instead of full actual names - like Will, not William on the birth certificate. Seriously, parents they don't charge more for the extra ink.

Are any of these you - or your kids? Well, sorry. Sort of. I guess. No, actually not really. And some of my own family have done these things.

On my baby discussion forum there were endless, endless polls of names - people wanting feedback on a potential baby name and then getting really upset when they got it.

Here's one:

What do you think of the name Lacey Lane Lastname? Be honest.


OK, honestly? Honestly, that sounds like a stripper name. Yep, thanks mom and dad for saving your baby from a fun night of coming up with a porn star alias.

But that's hardly the worst of it. Over at Suburban Turmoil, Lindsay (is that a family name?) has compiled a list of some the worst baby names ever. My nomination - Truly Scrumptious* - made it to the finals. But the best (worst) one in my opinion is....Crystal Meth.


_____
*a co-worker's friend's partner named his daughter from a previous relationship Truly Scrumptious, a character in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Who watches the watcher?

Head of UK Government Audit steps down after loads of tasty meals

Sir John Bourn, the guardian of the public purse who ran up bills of £356,000 on travel and £27,000 on meals, is to step down from the post in January, it was announced today.


This just tickles me silly.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Every two hours

Cletus was always a good sleeper. At just over a week old, he would go four, five or sometimes up to six hours at a stretch. At just over six weeks old, he was "sleeping through", going down somewhere between 8:30 and 10 pm, and waking up somewhere between 5:30 am (on a bad night) all the way up to 7 on a rare lucky morning.

Wow! I praised my lucky stars. I believed I might have stumbled on some kind of slacker method of baby control.

Of course, on the downside, Cletus was a skinny little fellow and a slow gainer.

Well, lately he seems to be chubbing up and growing and now he's waking every two hours through the night - ravenous. I'm tired.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Baby's first trip to the pub

IMG_9372-2

We're baaad parents.

It was only afterwards that we noticed that his hand is actually on the pint. Don't worry, though it's not as bad as it looks. This is only a shandy - half beer and half lemonade (Brit lemonade - it's like Sprite)

This was the night of England's loss to the Springboks in the Rugby World Cup and Tennessee's unfortunate loss to the Alabama.

At least we got one thing right, notice the boy's little socks.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

That bites

Man, I hate it when UT loses to Alabama. Sucks. Sucks. Sucks.


-0-


We left at half time to go to a party in a pub. We took Cletus, which might have been a mistake. Folks were watching the rugby world cup finals in the pub (England v South Africa). England was looking for a second championship in a row. Emotions were high. Cheers were loud. Everytime England scored or had a chance, the pub roared and Cletus burst into tears. Maybe it was the noise, or maybe he's a budding South Africa fan.


Of course, we're raising him to support England in football - soccer and rugby, too I guess - and Tennessee in football (football). Not a good time right now.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Death threat

Wow.

Goodbye old friend

Our beloved coffee maker has given up the ghost. It's just a filter drip thing, but it has a lot of nice features that we've grown used to, that we rely on:

  • spring loaded valve thingy, so you can get a cheeky half cup before the brewing cycle has completed
  • removable water tank, so you can take that to the sink and back - also so you're not tempted to use the carafe which would introduce coffee to the innards of the machine
  • thermos carafe - instead of the glass decanter with hot plate beneath - this means that your coffee never scorches.

It also has some other features, like a timer and strength modulator and I think you can reverse the polarity, but we don't really use those. But the ones listed above, we need them now.

The pump on the machine has packed up, it's caked with lime scale. London water is ridiculously hard, it's well 'ard. If you fink your appliances can escape unscaved, yer having a larf.

C'mon mister coffee, come and haff a go if you fink yer 'ard enough. Yeah, you and yer coffee mate.



We've had a few close calls with the coffee maker - for a couple of years we had a paint brush stuck to the bottom of the carafe with blue tack because I'd broken the spring loaded valve thingy and without the extra height We nearly gave in and got rid of it a couple of times, just because we were tired of people asking "Why do you have a paint brush stuck to the bottom of your coffee pot?". And yet we could hardly blame them for asking. But we persevered with our rigged appliance because we couldn't find a replacement. The market is saturated now with one cup encapsulated coffee makers with their expensive tied brands of coffee or cappuccino-latte frothy extraordinaire jobbies which look complicated and difficult to clean and likely to cause steam burns and I don't even like cappuccinos and lattes and poncy coffee drinks. Eventually the Vol-in-Law found, ordered and installed a part which allowed us to dispense with the brush.

But there's no such easy cure this time. I've tried some home descaling methods - I've run three and a half bottles of vinegar and two doses of oxyclean through the thing. It's improved the situation somewhat - since I've caught quite a bit of calcite grit coming through the machine, but it's still not working right.

In the mean time we've been using a coffee press, which produces unsatisfactorily small amounts of coffee which goes cold all too quickly. And on Thursday we bought a filter drip machine for such a cheap price that we can view the machine as disposable (it cost the same as two and a quarter venti Americanos). And the taste? We probably should have spent the money on the two and a quarter coffee shop coffees.

I've identified a replacement coffee maker that has all the features of our old one - plus a descaling mode, but we'd have to take a second mortgage out. But we're getting desperate. Might be time for a call to the banker.

Beat Bama

It's just a darn shame I don't know any Alabama expat bloggers. When I had the bet going with Chris for the Georgia game, it sure added a little extra sparkle. It would be fantastic to make some Bama baby in England (heck, anywhere in Europe would be fine) wear the beautiful Volunteer orange.

The best part about it was that the Vol-in-Law finally felt like he had a bit of a stake in it - given that his only son might have to wear the red and the black. For once, he listened to the game and said "we" when referring to Tennessee. He's never really seen himself as a fan - merely a Vol-in-Law.

As for Cletus, my husband knows the boy has only one option in the NCAA fandom stakes, on my side it's all UT. In the UK, universities and sports don't really go together - although Cletus will be free to support Daddy's alma mater in the annual Oxford-Cambridge boat race.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Great Leap Backward

This morning on BBC Radio 4's Today Show, there was a feature on a Chinese family and their privations under the new economic system. The reporter told the very sad story of a family with multiple health problems and the struggle to make ends meet. They were separated by great distances and the father was working in the precarious black economy in order to keep bodies and souls together.

But the reporter kept going on about how this family were the victims of the new China, the losers in China's booming new economy.

I'm not saying that this family weren't suffering. I'm not even saying that a little bit of socialist intervention might not have made their lives a little easier (like, you know, socialised health care or universal access to good education, or even an agricultural extension agent). But let's not compare the realities of present day China with the rosy, lies of China's Maoist past.

Sure the dad might be working all the hours coming in a Chinese boomtown and Granny might be gleaning wheat from the side of the road. But in the Great Leap Forward, they wouldn't have even had that much to eat. During Mao's time there wasn't even the freedom to travel to the city of your choice to have your labor exploited. China's Communism didn't even attempt a proper welfare state - it was just grinding, totalitarian misery.

Bringing up baby

Channel Four has been showing a series called Bringing Up Baby, which features six sets of parents trying three different baby care methods.

  • The 50s method of Truby King which is all about strict routine, seems similar to Ferber or BabyWise methods.
  • The 60s method of Dr Spock - trust your instincts.
  • The 70s continuum concept - basically hard core attachment parenting, wearing the baby all the time, co-sleeping, etc.

The parents were supported by mentors who espoused these approaches. Each of these women was completely nuts on her own approach, so although this was called an experiment it was really about pitting these opinionated women against each other. It was supposed to stir strong feelings, and it did. (For example, two of the three mentors though that breastfeeding in public - even discretely, was simply beyond the pale.)

The 50s method, which involved only cuddling your newborn for 10 minutes a day and letting the baby cry it out from birth, and leaving the baby in the garden for "fresh air" for four hours unattendend made people on my British parenting forum go insane. And rightly so. To me it seemed like the sort of treatment doled out in Romanian orphanages. But if you keep the baby to a strict routine but painful routine at first, apparently you can get it to sleep conveniently from 7pm to 7am and take naps and generally not cause too much bother. That does sound tempting in a way, but the whole thing strikes me as a bit pointless. Why did you have a baby if you were simply planning to shut it up in some other room like some pet you don't like?

-0-

One of the things that's surprised me about the whole child rearing lark is that there actually isn't any consensus on the best approach. That it seems like doctors and health visitors and everyone else have a variety of conflicting information that they'd like to force upon you. Feeding, schedules, weaning, bedtime routine. There are no answers. I know that every baby is different, but we have been having babies for quite some time and we've also had the scientific methods of observation and even experimentation at our disposal for a while now, too. So why haven't we actually put the two together to come up with some decent answers. It seems like the only thing there is some scientific clarity on is breast milk is the best thing you can feed a baby - advice which most of the population in the English speaking world ignore. Of course, that's probably because you get so much conflicting advice about what's the best way to go about it.

Anyway, I've decided that it's probably more about what the parent finds appropriate than what the baby will thrive on. After all, the little mite knows no difference.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Too old

The leader of the Liberal Democrat party, Menzies Campbell, has resigned. And although it's all over the UK news, American readers will be forgiven for not knowing or caring. The political equivalent in the US would be Dennis Kucinich dropping out of the race for the Democratic nomination. It would be Who, Who Cares, and Just how do you pronounce that anyway? (As far as I can make out Menzies is pronounced Ming - like the Dynasty).

But what is interesting about the whole thing is how this came to be. For a long time, almsot since he took over the party leadership 18 months ago, critics inside his own party and the chatterati have been saying he's too old to lead the party and would be too old to fight a general election. It's true that the guy looks about 80, but he's actually only 66. And while 66 is pretty old, really, it's not exactly ancient - and there are many, many successful politicians that age and older.

Now my personal opinion is that the guy was just lame. It wasn't that he was too old, he was just wrong. Maybe his slightly quirky, fuddy-duddy manner is a winner inside the Lib Dems, but to everyone else, he just seems dull as a cardboard sandwich.

So why is everyone ducking the issue of his incompetence and lack of charisma and blaming it on age? Are baby boomers trying to push out the last remnant of the pre-1945 generation? Do folks think that somebody's too old is somehow nicer than saying they just can't cut it? Maybe Menzies Campbell is too old to be fooling himself about his abilities.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Postal strike

We haven't had any mail for the past couple of weeks. Nothing. Not a bill, not a postcard from a vacationing pal (not that we get those anymore), no gardening catalogs or the bizarre mailings (mostly Scientology, psychic fairs and woodland preservation) addressed to the previous residents of our house. Nothing.

There's been a postal strike, you see. And though theoretically there has been some post coming through in some parts of the country in the breaks between strike days, we've had nothing. But now the strike is off, apparently.

But still no post. Until today. After two weeks, we got an American Express bill and some cultist mailing to a previous resident of our house.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Ferris fall update

Remember how I posted about the woman who fell off a ferris wheel a couple of weeks ago. Well, her son got married yesterday and she managed to go to his wedding. She wasn't exactly leading the rhumba, but she saw her over-30 son get hitched (that is old, old for Lawrence County) and is apparently in good spirits. She does have long, hard row to hoe though.

Congrats Carter and get well, Gracie.

Oh, and this being the age of the internet, there's a YouTube video of the incident. Thankfully, you can't see anything.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Snap back

Last week, I'd barely posted about the possibility of a snap election and Gordon Brown ruled it out. There won't be an autumn election, after all. I guess it shows how much I've become acclimatised to political life in England. I couldn't fathom the notion of an autumn election. Oh, pounding the pavements (the sidewalks) in the waning light, the slick layer of damp autumn leaves underfoot, knocking up voters in the gathering gloom. (American readers - that merely means knocking on their doors and asking them to vote.)

But of course, in America we do have Autumn elections. In November - gloomy, gloom, gloom. But it's a lot different when all you have to do is mail your ballot in on time. Even the campaigning we do as expats (there are at least a quarter of million votes in this country) is largely over by the end of September and is darn right wrapped up by the time we lose daylight savings.

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Speaking of gloomy, gloom, gloom- the press now senses weakness in the Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He was accused of bottling it by calling off the election. And then this week, in the pre-budget report (a sneak preview of the budget announcement later on), the new Chancellor Alistair Darling announced tax policies which had been proposed a mere days earlier at the Conservative Party Conference. The tiniest of tweaks and it's Government policy. Now one could say that this was Darling's doings - as he's supposed to be in charge of matters financial. But no one believes that Gordon Brown, who until recently held that same job for 10 years, doesn't retain complete control over his old domain.

Now, I don't mind - because on one policy I'm fairly neutral (a poll tax for non-domiciled residents) and on the other (a rollback on the inheritance tax) - I'm in favor, though it's not likely to benefit me given the crap financial position of my in-laws. But it does look like blatant political plagiarism - and since these same tax cuts could have been part of an election budget, well it looks like Labour has run out of ideas of their own. And for once the press called them on it.


Shadow Chancellor George Osborne used the announcements to goad Gordon Brown about his decision to abandon thoughts of a snap election.

He said: 'We all know this report was brought forward so it could be the starting gun for the campaign, before you took the pistol and fired it into your foot. (Metro, 9 October)




Of course, they still seem to have got away without many commenting that it's a set of measures that will actually raise taxes over all. It's a strange political magic this Government seems to have, I don't know how they do it.

On Wednesday, in a sad attempt at humor, Gordon Brown pointed derisively to a petition on the Downing Street Website calling for an autumn election. It had only 26 signatures then. The next day it had over 8,000. Gordon, Gordon, Gordon - don't call attention to things online that you're just trying to dismiss.

Everything the PM does now just looks a little bit lame. I knew this would happen eventually, because he is a man of limited soul, a control freak who just isn't as smart as he thinks he is and he hates fun. But the Labour party faithful are surprised. Surprised, but they're noticing. Here Iain Dale highlights left wing faithful Polly Toynbee sticking the boot in to Gordon. Et tu, Polly?

__________
Although the Downing Street petition website does nothing and seems to influence policy not at all, I still think it's a nice idea. As blogger-supreme Iain Dale once suggested, (if I recall correctly and I'm paraphrasing) it would be a fine thing if say the top ten petitions were presented daily or weekly to the Prime Minister. I agree. There needn't be an obligation to do anything with the petitions, since these things are obviously subject to manipulation and internet chicanery - but yes, folks in power should be looking at these on a regular basis.

Can you imagine a similar thing for the White House or the Governor's mansion? Power to the People.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Very demanding

The Vol-in-Law's teaching load is now in full swing and Ol' Cletus is ever more demanding of attention, which is leaving me little time for blogging or anything else.

How soon is too soon to send him up the chimneys or down the mines?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Lawrenceburg Vice

I've had several hits on the site this morning looking for information about the availability of liquor and the freedom to smoke in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee.

Like I'm some sort of authority on low-level vice in Lawrenceburg.

Really Mom, I'm not. I haven't had that depth of knowledge for years.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Dreaming of Knoxville

Last night I dreamed I was in my tiny little two-up-two-down terraced house front room watching tv with my brother. I have about a million channels - and it seems that new ones do get slotted in all the time. My brother found UT Sports TV. We couldn't believe it. It was nothing but a continual loop of UT Sports and sports commentary- and it was airing a football game that we could only just make out through the screen snow. We reckoned it was the Arkansas State game and I was frantic figuring out how I could subscribe to this channel (and how much it might cost me) - when the snow began to clear and the image was nearly perfect.

Later on in my dream, my husband and I went for a little walk and took a back way from our house that we hadn't taken before. We walked a little under ten minutes and came out into that West Knoxville shopping center that houses the Dollar Movie theater. Wow, we thought - we can finally go see some movies, but then we noticed the Dollar Movie place was boarded over - and we couldn't tell if it was a temporary condition or if $1.50 movies were no more.

Monday, October 08, 2007

They wear it well

Hey look y'all - Chris in Oxford comes good on the bet. I'm sure you're thinking it's bad enough that Georgia loses, but to have to wear our colors must rub salt in the wound. And then you had to dress your baby and your dog in the beautiful Tennessee hues. But to put the old Volunteer logo on your bbq grill well, I gotta hand it to you - that's good sportsmanship.

Your little feller always looks adorable even in red and black, but to this Tennessean's eyes he looks even better in orange. That's one fine picture for the baby album.

I'd say better luck next year, but I wouldn't mean it.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

How 'bout them Vols?

Well, hey hey - Go Vols. What a fantastic game - (Tennessee wins 35 to 14) Between you and me, I wasn't quite sure they had it in them. Well, I thought the Vols definitely could win, but I wasn't sure they would win and I certainly didn't think they would trample. Phil Fulmer must have found a can of whoopass he'd forgotten about way back in the back of the cupboards.

Or maybe Phil told the Volunteers that there was a little tiny boy across the big, big ocean who would have to wear Georgia kit. Yep, I bet against another expat blogger - a Georgia fan - that if the Bulldogs won I'd dress my boy in Georgia gear.

"Y'all don't want to see that baby Vol wearing red and black!" Coach Fulmer told the assembled kids in the locker room. "Y'all don't want to see that sad baby's face when he sees himself wearing red and black. Men, think of the children."

On the upside, a young boy in Oxford will soon be introduced to beautiful Tennessee orange. His daddy, even posted a Rocky Top mp3 on his Georgia supporting blog. Magnanimous in defeat - I got to admit that's more than I would have done. Rocky Top has hardly ever sounded so good.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

sleepy Vol

Sleeping Vol baby

Shhhhh - the Vol Baby is sleeping.

We've nearly woken him up FOUR TIMES in the first half of the UT - Georgia game. It's hard to keep quiet when you hear Tennessee Touchdown.

Things are looking good for the Vol household in the SEC expat blogging feud.

Keep it up y'all.

Go Vols!



The other UT

Hey, boys and girls - while this week I might be obsessed about a game pitting beautiful orange against dreaded red, so are some other folks. Different shades of red and orange though. It's the Red River Rivalry, the Texas-OU game.

I don't really have a dog in that fight, but I know a lot folks from Texas who do much gnashing of teeth over this one. So good luck, Texas.


And it's a nice excuse to post this photo of a yellow rose I took this week.
yellow rose

Hook 'em, Horns.

Snap

Maybe I'm getting older and times moves faster, but it seems like we've hardly finished with one election before starting with another.

Of course, I'm also watching two cycles. Britain's and America's. So that doubles the fun.

The next big one due was supposed to be the 2008 US presidential race, but now we may be facing a snap election in the UK.

The Prime Minister has the privilege of dissolving Government and calling a general election at any time he or she wishes, but must call one every five years. And once parliament is dissolved there are 18 days until the next election. (Details from politics.co.uk at the end of this post)

So when they say snap, they mean snap.

According to political wags, PM Gordon Brown is holing up with his advisors this weekend to pour over polling data deciding whether to dissolve or not to dissolve. Political opponents and the press are taunting the PM. Call the election and it's political gamesmanship, going now because he thinks his chance will be too slim in future when his policy chickens finally come home to roost. Don't call the election and it's because he's a coward, too timid, overly cautious and afraid of losing.

If an election is called in the next couple of weeks, there will be an absolute frenzy of political activity. Lots of leafleting and canvassing and general electioneering. For myself, I've already started to think about how I can participate while dragging around a baby.


_____________
Information about general elections in the UK

How an election is called:
Under law a Parliament has a maximum duration of five years starting from its first meeting following a general election. These means that a general election has to be held every five years, although the Prime Minister of the day can call one at any time within this five years. The current Parliament started on May 11 2005 so the Prime Minister has until June 3 2010 before an election needs to be called. Typically though, a general election is called well before it has to be by law. An election in 2007 would be unusual in coming just two years after the last general election.

After deciding to call an election, the Prime Minister will visit Buckingham Palace to ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament. A proclamation will then be published dissolving the current Parliament and calling a new one.

Once Parliament is dissolved MPs cease to be, even if they are standing for re-election. During the election period they are not permitted to enter the Palace of Westminster or use any of its facilities. However, they and their staff will continue to be paid up until polling day.

Unlike MPs, the Government will continue to be the Government until the election results are declared.

Election timetable
The election timetable runs for a total of 18 days, starting with the dissolution of Parliament on day zero and ending with polling day on day 17. Weekends and public holidays are not included as part of the timetable.

If the Prime Minister goes ahead with a November 1 poll, then the timetable for the general election will be as follows:
Day 0 – Tuesday October 9 - Proclamation and issue of writ
Day 7 – Wednesday October 17 – Last day to register to vote or for postal vote
Day 17 – Thursday November 1 – Polling day

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Ratcheting up

Goodness the rhetoric is strengthening in advance of the UT-Georgia game. This expat blogger declares a feud. Well, he might be from the swamps of North Florida, but he's rightly reckoned that folks from the hills can be dangerous, especially when challenged.

And the challenge is getting mean - strong talk from a team with a junkyard mutt as a mascot.

There were strange folk up in the hills, you see - moonshiners, hillbillies, people who didn’t understand the principles of genetics. If you looked at them wrong they would start a feud with you and never rest until your entire family was hunted down. Well, turns out you can take the Vol out of the hills but never the hills out of the Vol.

First off, there's nothing wrong with a little entrepreneurial distillation action, all the folks on Rocky Top get their corn from a jar and it tastes better by far that way.

And as someone who's worked in politically correct England for a while, Chris should know better than to throw around racial epithets like "hillbilly". I'm proud to have been born on a mountain top in Tennessee (technically the ridge running through Fort Sanders affording a beautiful view of the Knoxville campus) - and I prefer the term Appalachian-American, thank you very much. Under the Race Hate Act, you can actually be thrown into jail (gaol) for stirring up cultural hatred - and then who's gonna be wearing the prison orange? But don't worry, I won't be making a complaint - I know it all arises out of pure jealousy from the swamp dweller - for we all know what rolls down hill.

And as for the fighting Volunteer spirit, well hell yeah - bring it on. I don't care if you have raised the stakes. Now that we're calling our stadium Fort Neyland your dawgs will find this a much less hospitable locale.

My boy, myself and my dog will all don orange if by some bizarre act of the devil the Vols and their fat little coach manage to slip past the mighty Dawgs. By accepting this bet, you are succumbing to the inevitable fate of adorning young Cletus, yourself and your little cat in glorious red and black.
Dress my cat? That's just crazy talk. And in red and black? You know how the English feel about animal cruelty. But if by some chance, the puppies squeal through - we'll see what we can do about the cat.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

And so honor must be satisfied

Well, well - you can understand why Georgia might be feeling a little confident going into this game what with the bizarre reverse home ground winning streak.


But what this fellow describes is just hubris. Pride goeth before a fall. And to say we've had a decade of bad football in Tennessee is just a lie. Hmmm - we've had a national championship somewhere in the last ten years. Sure, it's now at the outer edges, but still.


And we've got something else, too. Phil Fulmer knows that he can't play choke artist on this one. The Big Orange Army will be taking scalps this Saturday - and they can be from Dawgs or they can be from coaching staff.



The Bet


My brother didn't lose a tooth down in Athens "defending Smokey's honor" just to see his nephew dressed in red and black. But I've been challenged - one expat blogger against another with the ultimate stake: one tiny expat SEC fan against another - his son vs. mine. If the Vols win - little Zach will finally be dressed right - in Tennessee Orange. If Georgia wins, and though it sickens me to write this, poor old Cletus will have to don Bulldog colors.

Which would be a shame, because as we all know, my boy looks so good in orange.



I do note that like a wily, welching Georgia fan Chris has already laid the foundation for a get-out clause.

Would it be inappropriate to use our sons in a bet? Son of losing fan wears colors of the winning team? Or will our respective better halves step in…

Mine sure won't. Although he's from Northern Ireland and doesn't even much care for college football, he perversely likes to see Tennessee squirm. (Grounds for divorce, I know) Although even he can appreciate a win like the thumpin' we gave the Dawgs last year.

So here's what I propose. Losing team's fan dresses son in winning team's colors - for real. With team logo (this can be photoshopped, since NCAA baby gear is impossible to source in the UK). Photo to be posted on the loser's blog by Wednesday. First in a post, then kept in the sidebar for a week.

Go Vols





Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Southern gothic

In a strange way, this story typifies some of the reasons I sometimes miss living in the South and at the same time why I don't. And I think it also proves that smoking meats is a great means of preservation.

Monday, October 01, 2007

talkin expat trash

This week I'd like to highlight the blog of a fellow American expat, Chris Della Vedova. His blog is pretty, it has music clips and interesting posts about science and politics and sports and stuff.

We have some other things in common besides our nationality. He has a brand new baby boy, too. He's also a recovering smoker. He thinks Steve Earle isn't quite so good since he got so politically bitter. I don't know for sure, but I bet he thinks the SEC is the toughest football conference in the nation. Anyway, that's where his heart is.

And that's where the similarities end. You see last week he combed the baby clothing aisles of Oxford (England, not Mississippi) for suitable team colors for his little Zach. But instead of choosing a beautiful golden orange, he chose red and black.

He's raising that kid to support Georgia. And to my mind, that's just bad parenting.

Hey Chris, I hope the sound of your bitter wailing come Saturday night when Tennessee woops your Dawgs doesn't wake up your baby.

UPDATE: I'm challenged, and I accept.