Archive for September, 2005

School days

Sunday, September 18th, 2005

It’s very difficult to get any information out of Rachel and Joanna as to what they did at school. Our question is usually answered with a shrug of the shoulders and “dunno”.

The one thing that we did glean from Joanna is that every morning they have to face the flag, put their hands on their hearts and pledge allegiance to the Bank of America. It seems that advertising starts early.

Sam has been looking to volunteer at the school. Before anybody can do that, they need a TB test. Not a police check, a TB test.

If you’re from Europe, you are likely to fail this test because of the type of vaccine used in the BCG jabs that you had at school. The American health system is aware of this but won’t take any chances.

Sam had to have a full medical exam and a lung X-ray to prove that she didn’t have TB. We’re still waiting for the results.

In the meantime, she’s out robbing houses etc because, obviously, it won’t count against her when she works at the school.

A moment of reflection

Tuesday, September 6th, 2005

It’s been just over 3 months since we first landed here and I thought it was about time to laugh at a couple of the more mundane aspects of the American lifestyle.

#1 – American radio

Unlike the UK where radio stations are sporadic across the frequency spectrum, here the radio waves are jam-packed with stations. It’s difficult to pin down a particular station to enjoy because they cater for all tastes.
The station that our alarm clock is tuned into is Star 101.3. It’s output is mindless pop to the extent that I firmly believe that they got a “Now That’s What I Call Music” compilation CD for Christmas last year and can’t stop playing it.

Repeat tunes are “Hazel Eyes” and “Since You’ve Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson, “Let’s Get It Started” and “Don’t Phunk With My Heart” by The Black Eyed Peas, “Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go” by Soft Cell which is usually preceded by the jingle “Bay Area Classic!!!!”

This has been going on for 3 months since we tuned in.

They have “Whatever” weekends where, it appears, they load up a playlist on to their iPod, hit the shuffle button then bugger off to the beach for the weekend until someone comes back in on Monday to reset it.

The morning DJ is called Don Bleu. He’s been doing this for over 25 years and it shows. He thinks it’s hilarious to keep doing what Noel Edmonds finally figured out, years ago, was a pointless waste of time: the crank phone call. In Star 101.3-land, it’s called a “Bleu-per” (blooper) call.

Oh how we laugh as Don pretends to be an official who’s intent on winding up the recipient until he reveals his true identity at the end. It’s like Clark Kent. Nobody realises he’s Superman until he takes his glasses off. This man has a distinctive voice and when the reveal happens, everybody knows who he is so how long does it take them before the penny finally drops ?

#2 – Mobile phones

This country is in serious need of a wake-up call.

Yesterday, I saw a woman pull up to a stop sign with a child in the back seat. The woman had one hand holding a mobile phone and the other brushing her hair.
We’ve seen drivers of huge trucks turning corners with a cell phone tucked under their chin.
The aforementioned Star 101.3 runs adverts (sorry, commercials) for the California DMV which states that you shouldn’t use your cell phone in a construction zone (road works). Does this mean that you can use it in any other place down the freeway ?

#3 – Dangerous dogs / news reporting

The local TV news channel runs regular reports of the latest person to be attacked by a pit bull. The most prominent case was a 12 year old boy who was mauled to death by the family pit bull. That in itself is a tragic event (and still is). What is slowly revealed over the course of a a few days is the following…

The mother of the boy explains to reporters that the dogs are family pets and have never harmed anyone before.
The mother of the boy had gone out to work/get groceries leaving the boy on his own.
The mother of the boy had locked the boy in the basement before she went out.
Somehow the boy had managed to get out.
The family had 2 pit bulls, one of which was female and in heat. The other was (hopefully) male and not neutered because they were hoping to breed puppies.

So we’ve gone from a random, seemlingly inexplicable, mauling to reckless abandonment, incarceration and a dog protecting his mate.

San Francisco is currently at the point that the UK was in about 1991 just before the Dangerous Dogs Act came into place. The media want to hunt all pit bulls to extinction.

I’m reliably informed by my father, in Perth, Western Australia, that a very similar thing happens there when someone gets bitten by a shark. Everybody wants to go out on boats until there are no more sharks left. What’s unsaid is the fact that there are approximately 10 – 20 fatalities worldwide from shark attacks. Work it out for yourself (or as we Americans say: you do the math).

On the lighter side of the news, a reward is continually increasing for information on the man who deliberately ran over 12 ducks at a local car wash (being recorded on CCTV).

#4 – Sports

This country is obsessed with sport. It’s very alienating to be caught up in a conversation with people continually quoting statistics at you. See the explanation for batting average on one such statistic. When you start going into decimal places, it’s time to worry. I think the only reason why all these statistics are being compiled is to generate sales of Top Trumps.

It’s also the case that people will inquire about your cable or satellite offering to find out which sports channels you can receive. DirecTv is the leader in satellite broadcasting and, if you’re an avid sports nut, you get that.

For the most part, going to a sports bar and watching 20 different screens simultaneously is a favourite pasttime. It kills the conversation stone dead, but there’s nothing like going to a bar with your friends and not talking to them for a couple of hours.

#5 – Kids’ meals

A favourite topic of Sam’s.

All of the restaurants we’ve been to are family oriented. When we’re taken to our table by the host or hostess, the girls are given some crayons and something to do while they’re waiting for the meal to arrive. This is a great idea because it actually distracts them if they are hungry.

Choosing the meal is really easy in the fact that I think there is only one company in the Bay Area that provides children’s meals for all the restaurants. The choices are: Macaroni Cheese (or Mac and Cheese as it’s called here) and fries, Corn Dog or Hot Dog and fries and Chicken Nuggets and fries. Every single restaurant. Every time. We almost pre-order the meal before we get there.

It’s the same mentality that makes advertisers tell us that Peanut Butter is a healthy sandwich for your children to have.

Some places offer a vegetable side dish to go with it but who really wants to eat broccoli with a corn dog ? TGI Fridays served mandarin orange segments with a hot dog last night.

What’s the difference between brussels sprouts and bogies ? You can’t get kids to eat brussels sprouts.

(Drum roll – hi hat)

You’ve been a wonderful audience. Try the veal, I’m here until Thursday.

Sunrise…sunset

Tuesday, September 6th, 2005

Today was the first day of school.

This has been very much a Circle of Life thing because Joanna is officially a school goer so, now, both the girls have taken the next evolutionary step.

For both of them, it was a series of firsts. First day of a new school term, first time in an American school, first time at school.

School starts at 08:30 and finishes at 14:45 each day apart from Wednesdays when it finishes at 13:30.

This morning, we were very organised. Everybody’s clothes had been laid out and backpacks packed. Lunches were made and everybody was up in plenty of time for breakfast and a bath/hairwash. We got to the school along with a couple of hundred other parents.

It was a bit of a melee because there was no indication as to where we were supposed to go. We ended up having to ask a couple of parents what we should be doing and managed to find a list on a door which explained which class Rachel was supposed to be in. We’d already been told Joanna’s details so, in that respect, we had a head start.

Unfortunately, although the list told us the name of Rachel’s teacher and which classroom she was in, it didn’t tell us where the classroom was or where the children are supposed to meet before going in. Eventually, we found the classroom and stood outside for a few minutes until the teacher arrived with the rest of the class in tow.

I have to admit to a lump in my throat as Rachel went in. With Joanna, she is luckier because she is in the same kindergarten class as our next-door neighbour’s kids so she has people she knows. For Rachel, it’s all brand new. There’s no doubt that she’ll fit in like she did when she started school in the UK but it’s a new country and she doesn’t know anybody.

Sam is at a loose end now. She’s been with the girls for the past 3 months and now the house is empty in the mornings. The worrying thing about this is that she called me today to detail exactly what she’d bought when she went shopping today.

I hope this isn’t the start of things to come.