Friday, 27 May 2016

A Glossary of American Television Shows

These are only shows I've seen since moving to San Antonio in 2011, otherwise we'd be here all day. I haven't included anything which I've watched and then found myself unable to remember what it actually was. For example, I've probably watched at least one episode of The Flash, but who fucking knows?

A Charlie Brown Christmas - By the way, I'm also including American shows I saw whilst living in England if I've seen them again since moving here, and my wife watches this religiously every Christmas so it makes the cut. It also makes the cut because it's a classic. Just the scene with Schroeder tickling the ivories whilst a stage full of kids engage in oddly repetitive expressive dance is by itself better than anything else seen on television since about 1995.

Agents of SHIELD - This is some Marvel Comics thing based on a bunch of spies living inside a giant floating helicopter. It had the Man from UNCLE in it, or one of those guys - not David McCallum, the other one - unless it was just somebody who looked like him. I have no memory of what happened in the episode I watched except that it involved a lot of people discussing the importance of teamwork, and some guy in a dark room kept looking at a green glowing thing.

Amazing Race, The - Various unpleasant couples competitively quest forth to different locations in different countries so as to find clues as to the next place to which they will all be required to race amazingly. Some shit found in a windmill in Holland will mean they all get to spend the next episode questing forth to the place in Germany where Hitler gave his famous speech, for example. Most of the couples wear bright lycra jumpsuits and they spend a lot of time either running around, sweating, whining, or giving it 110%. Most of the couples come across as horrible wankers. It should really be called The Unpleasant Race.

American Dad - This is one of those animated shows which appears to be drawn by the Garfield artist - what with the big, heavily-lidded eyes and everything - and it contrasts the cutesy appearance with edgy jokes about date rape, sodomy, farting, coprophilia and so on. Junior loves it, and it's one of those things he'll watch over and over, hopefully missing 99% of the references. American Dad gives the impression of being funny as I pass through the front room while it's on, but once you sit down to view an entire episode, it gets headachey pretty fast - one to file under trying too hard.

Andy Griffith Show, The - This was a show from the fifties or maybe early sixties. It's the black and white adventures of a rural law enforcement officer and the hayseeds under his jurisdiction. Most of the jokes can be discerned as incoming about five minutes before they happen, much like weary travellers seen approaching from afar upon a lonely road, and the episode I saw was based around an hilarious mix up occurring when impounded jars of moonshine were stored in the same room as the lemonade the kids had made for their stand. I can't remember why Andy Griffith had nabbed the lemonade as well, but I guess that's cops for you. I actually found this show pretty funny.

Angel - Angel is a good vampire, and was probably the first of the current glut of good vampires who shun human blood. He solves supernatural crimes in this Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off, and although the show suffered from the same problems as the corporate entertainment franchise from which it was spawned, it was generally pretty good, particularly when it wasn't taking itself too seriously; and once they ditched the predictably heart-warming yet tormented Irish-themed character from the first series.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force - Laboured date rape funnies delivered by anthropomorphic fast food items in a production which additionally attempts to distract viewers from the piss poor animation by making jokes about its own general ineptitude. Worthless.

Arrested Development - I have no idea how I missed this one when I was living in England, but presume it must have been on after my bedtime, what with my having to be up at five every morning and everything. Arrested Development is fucking great - apart from the final series which was rubbish - and is not actually particularly far fetched. It could quite easily have been based on half the people who live in Alamo Heights.

Battlestar Galactica - Meaning the recent, heavily revised version, rather than the seventies one which was more or less Starsky & Hutch in a space rocket. This was one of the first things I watched when I got here and discovered that my wife-to-be had Netflix, one episode a day until I'd seen the lot. It was pretty darn great too, aside from the shitty ending with a Jimi Hendrix song as some sort of avatar of cosmic infundibularity, or whatever the hell was supposed to be going on there. Science-fiction television is mostly drivel aimed at selling action figures, but this was decent.

Better Call Saul - This is a Breaking Bad spin-off which is better than Breaking Bad. American television has spewn forth a ton of drama serials about lawyers, solicitors, and chartered accountants over the years, and it's a testament to the creators of this thing that I didn't even notice that this was one of them.

Big Bang Theory, The - This is a comedy show based upon the hilarious premise that nerds collect Batman comics and retain an in-depth encyclopedic knowledge of minor details of Batman continuity. Ha ha. It's also one of those sofa entrance hilarity comedies distinguished by half the cast being sat upon a sofa facing the viewer as another enters the room to a soundtrack of general hooting and hollering so as to suggest that we will soon be laughing our arses off. The new arrival usually makes some amusing observation such as I guess I missed the Nicks game, huh?, and that's when the comedy happens. Oh my aching sides. The Big Bang Theory seems to be very popular amongst people who don't actually understand what humour is or how it works.

Big Brother - American Big Brother is even worse than the English version. Unlike the English version, American housemates are free to discuss who they will vote to have evicted from the house, so that's pretty much all the fuckers ever talk about; and there's no phone-in vote so viewers aren't involved other than as passive observers. Additionally, where English Big Brother excels in filling its house with people more or less guaranteed to want to kill each other, in America it's mostly just whiny annoying wankers, and the obligatory Texan almost always turns out to be a closet white supremacist thus making the rest of us look bad, which is disappointing. The most annoying contestant I've seen thus far was the fedora-hatted Californian skateboard tosspot who asked a housemate from Colorado, so how's life in 'rado?, because man, those first two syllables - ain't nobody got time for that. Thankfully, he proved even more hateable than the rest of them brought together for that particular series and his anus was promptly booted back to 'fornia after the first week.

Black-ish - here's yet another one of those families, but with four kids rather than three, and they're black. As situation comedies of this general type go, it beats the shit out of about a million others, and the jokes are mostly funny, but I don't know. I'll watch it and I may even chuckle, but for some reason it never occurs to me to tune in the following week.

Bob's Burgers - It's a cartoon set in a burger joint featuring one of those cartoon families with three children which manages consistent brilliance without resembling The Simpsons in the slightest.

BoJack Horseman - I've seen the pilot episode twice, and I seem to recall a few chuckles, but for some reason I've never bothered watching the rest.

Breaking Bad - If not the greatest TV series ever made, definitely the greatest TV series about a chemistry teacher cooking crystal meth so as to finance cancer treatment ever made. The only problem with Breaking Bad is that you end up hating everyone in it by the third series, possibly excepting Jesse, and yet feel compelled to watch anyway. Having briefly regarded Breaking Bad as the greatest show ever made, I was surprised to find it such tough going and considerably less enjoyable second time around. In fact we gave up with the final series on second viewing. It was just too horrible.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Decent but possibly overrated series about a teenage girl and stuff who kills vampires and stuff and related supernatural horrors and stuff. It somewhat went off the boil and stuff when later episodes and stuff began to take themselves far too seriously and stuff, and the bovine Tara turned up to moo at viewers and make us feel all bad about shy people being shy and stuff; and then with the excessive reliance on mumbling Buffyspeak and stuff began to outstay its welcome and stuff; and it's a damning indictment that by the end the only good thing about the show was an American dude pretending to be Sid Vicious and stuff. Thank fuck and stuff they cancelled it.

Caprica - Incomprehensible but nevertheless enjoyable attempt at making a Battlestar Galactica spin-off. Shame it didn't last.

Catfish - This is another reality show, one in which online sweeties discover that the person to whom they've been emailing their intimate hamburger or hot dog shots is actually a fifty-year old male sex criminal from Missouri and not, as they have been led to believe, a youthful Beyoncé lookalike eager to move in and start a family. It's sort of fascinating to watch, providing you can get past the entirely unnecessary soundtrack of the worst music you've ever heard and the fact that everyone involved refers to each other as bae - because it can sometimes be hard to spell the word baby; but sometimes it gets a bit too depressing given the high quota of tattoos, piercings and ear gauges on display; and as for those text message montages of u mean so much 2 me, I feel like I can tell u anything, and the rest - sweet Jesus.

Chowder - This is a children's cartoon about a little purple guy who looks a bit like a cat, and who seems to live in some sort of pseudo-mediaeval feudal society. All I can really remember of it is that the episode I saw - possibly the pilot episode - featured a joke which made me laugh so much that my sides hurt, so that really happens.

Cleveland Show, The - See American Dad. It has its moments, and I wanted to like it, but...

Dance Moms - Pouting borderline psychopathic mothers encourage pre-teen daughters to compete in competitive dance events whilst pointing out how the offspring of rival matriarchs got to prance about to Like A Virgin last week and so this week it's Shanillia's turn, you fucking cunt. The high levels of passive-aggressive on display in this show are frankly terrifying. It's like a live action re-imagining of hell as envisioned by Hieronymous Bosch but with greater emphasis on little girls in pink tutus dancing to that Cher song which sounds like it was recorded inside a flying saucer.

Deadwood - It's about a load of cowboys in the old west who say fuck a lot, and the worst of the bunch is the bloke who runs the local antiques shop, which is called Ye Olde Bide-a-Fuckin'-Wee Antiques 'n' Shit. I tried one episode but it all looked a bit grim and seemed to feature more murdered prostitutes than I usually require of a television show.

Don't Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23 - I saw two or three of these and I think it made me laugh, but I can't remember anything else about it except that the blonde one reminded me of Lamb Chop of Shari Lewis fame. I think there was a scene set in a whole food restaurant because I vaguely remember being annoyed.

Duck Dynasty - Duck Dynasty is a reality show following the fortunes of a family of hillbillies who run a duck call manufacturing operation. For some reason everyone seems to think it's amazing. The five minutes I watched comprised footage of them arguing at the warehouse, with the argument escalating into open hostility disguised as pranks. One guy emptied a sack of some white powder over the other's head. The victim looked pissed off, as was then underlined by footage of him commenting upon the incident, explaining how the guy had emptied a sack of some white powder over his head, but that dang fool had better watch out because payback sure 'nuff do be a bitch. This was followed by footage of the victim emptying a retaliatory sack of some white powder over the first guy's head. I'm not sure what the powder was, although I have a feeling it probably wasn't cocaine. It was like watching an episode of The Three Stooges in slow motion.

Empire - My wife loves this one, and it's basically a Mexican telenovela by virtue of the dramatic faces pulled every thirty seconds; except I suppose, technically speaking, it's actually just Dallas with black people, and instead of oil they're trading in R&B singers.

Family Feud - I think this was remade as Family Fortunes in England. A game show host asks thick family members to name a kind of animal with four arses, and points are then awarded depending on whether their answers correspond with those given by members of the general public who have been asked the same question. Our current version is presented by the comedian Steve Harvey who is otherwise very funny, and makes the best of finding himself obliged to work with idiots, but is still very much polishing a turd where this thing is concerned.

Family Guy - See American Dad. I almost liked this one. As with all the other Garfield spin-off shows from the same stable, it's hilarious until you sit down and watch an episode all the way through.

Futurama - Brilliant, obviously.

Garfield and Friends - See my treatise entitled Garfield = Jeremy Clarkson which is to be found elsewhere on this blog.

Glee - This one started off so well that it fooled even me, then took about a series to reveal itself as the same old aspirational stage school shite about all which can be achieved if you just dare to dream hard enough. I suppose it might be awarded points for smuggling a gay character onto mainstream telly, although all the gay people I know - and for some weird reason I seem to know a ton of the fuckers - hated Kurt's guts, so I'm not even sure if that really constitutes a victory. The best thing about Glee was the psychotic sports coach played by Ayn Rand. She was great.

Goldbergs, The - The Goldbergs is a situation comedy based on someone's actual memoirs of growing up in the eighties in America, and sometimes it makes my wife laugh so much that she falls off the sofa. Having grown up in the eighties in England, I find this one a bit mystifying in places. It's not without chuckles and I can appreciate that it's a quality product, roughly speaking, but more than anything it impresses upon me that America and England are very different countries, despite the superficial resemblance.

Hell's Kitchen - If Gordon Ramsay has any failings it is only that his generosity of spirit leads him to go easy on those who foolishly agree to be fired out of an allegorical cannon on one of his celebrity cheffing shows. Additionally, much of his televisual work wastes precious airtime pissing about with recipes, airtime which might be better spent showing Ramsay kicking some perpetrator of culinary idiocy down a fire escape or battering an uncooperative waiter about the head with a cricket bat through which twenty or thirty six-inch nails have been driven. Never mind. I never really liked this one so much as Kitchen Nightmares because I've never really cared whether Paul Daniels can make a soufflé, or that Noel Gallagher has just turned up, and - blinkey-blonkey-blimey - he's ordered the curry! This is like the English one except I have no idea who the celebrities are, and when Ramsay starts bollocking his team they salute him and bark sir, yes sir like in Full Metal Jacket.

Hey Jessie - Jessie is a Texas teenager who goes to babysit a bunch of wisecracking kids in New York City with presumably hilarious consequences. I've never actually seen the thing, just heard the annoying theme song blasting from the kid's room at Motorhead decibels over and over, one episode after another. Jessie herself is currently starring in a shampoo advert of some description, thus allowing me to report that she resembles a Hispanic Kerry Katona, but is significantly easier on the eye than such a description doubtless implies. Hopefully Jessie, as a Texan, spends most of the show either protecting the second amendment or threatening to secede from the union, but being as it's a Disney production I imagine it's the usual crap about brushing your teeth and not being mean to the weird kid, not even when that screwy-looking son of a bitch is effectively giving it away.

Ice Road Truckers - All I can remember of this one is footage of some guy wrapped up so as to endure subarctic temperatures stood forlornly upon a frozen river pointing at his truck, its front end sunk deep into the ice. 'My truck is in the ice,' he explains to the cameraman, and then we watch various attempts to pull the truck out of the ice. The most interesting thing about this one, at least to me, is that it's edited by an English bloke, and an English bloke I know because I was at college with him. I saw him last year and he explained that he landed the job because apparently Americans don't know how to edit reality television and regard English people as experts in the field. They should probably ask English people what they should make their reality shows about too while they're at it. Had they asked me, I could have told them that this one probably wasn't the greatest idea.

Jessica Jones - This is another Marvel thing. The character is somewhat after my time, although I gather there's a tenuous connection to the Purple Girl who used to be in the Alpha Flight comic book, which I used to quite enjoy. Her powers seem to be mainly to do with smart-arse one-liners and shagging, and apparently Doctor Who shows up in the later episodes. Comics sure have changed since I was a kid.

Keeping Up with the Kardashians - I saw about a minute of this once, and it was the one with the arse whining about something or other. I don't know who these people are or why they exist.

King of the Hill - I always loved this animated show, but I love it even more now that I live in Texas. When people ask me how my life now compares to how it was in England, I tell them that it's a lot like King of the Hill because it genuinely is, and as it happens, yes, I do know someone just like Boomhauer. It is my firm belief that King of the Hill may ultimately prove to be the greatest television show ever made.

Kitchen Nightmares - As with the English version, here Gordon Ramsay descends upon the eating establishments of fools in order to explain why no-one wants to eat their shit food. The high point of the English version was probably the complete knob who fancied himself an award-winning chef despite never having actually trained, and who was serving a hockey puck sized slice of black pudding on square plates drizzled with chocolate sauce as his signature dish. Ramsay naturally had him crying within about three minutes. It was amazing. Unfortunately the American version is less entertaining, because we don't like those sexual swearwords over here, never mind the sight of someone having their head kicked off by an irate Ramsay. Most of the venues upon which the lad descends seem to be either pizza places or burger joints, and whilst he nevertheless scares the living shit out of everyone involved as good as he ever did, I guess the really violent stuff just doesn't get broadcast. It's sort of like giving Pavarotti his own show on the condition that he doesn't sing. Also, there's sometimes a bit in which they all get together and pray out loud, usually something along the lines of dear God, please make it that so our restaurant stops being shit; and Ramsay joins in too, when really he should be stood to one side, mocking them all whilst smoking and drinking a can of Kestrel.

Leave it to Beaver - I'm not sure how I ended up watching an episode of this. It's a black and white thing from the fifties, the slow-moving adventures of a small, well-meaning child who finds himself embroiled in moderate scrapes with vaguely amusing consequences culminating in a heavy-handed message - you have to help your friends, that sort of deal. I'm not opposed to gentle television on principal, but it really makes you wonder how dull the rest of the schedule must have been during the era when this was a hit. Leave it to Beaver resembles early video art more than it resembles comedy.

Lilyhammer - This isn't a Sopranos spin-off although I get the feeling it wants to be, and the Jools Holland of Bruce Springsteen's band is easily as watchable here as he was playing Silvio Dante. The Scandinavian setting comes close to inspired, and the show only really falters when it really does pretend to be an episode of The Sopranos, getting Paulie in to play that priest, implausibly sending half the cast to New York and so on. Stick to the episodes with ice and snow and you won't go far wrong.

Lost - This was amazing for three or maybe four series, and then turned suddenly and dramatically to shit. New mysteries were piled on top of older, still unresolved puzzles, and it began to feel as though they were making it up as they went along for the sake of seeming weird and interesting like some goth drawing spiders on his own face before he goes to sign on. Particularly pointless was the killing off of Charlie the former Hobbit. It didn't quite do it for me as I'd always hated the character and didn't really care that he'd pegged it, so it felt like an ostentatious diversion from everyone having forgotten what the story was supposed to be. Charlie as a supposed Gallagher brother never really worked if, like me, you regard Oasis as the most worthless bands of more or less all time, and yet they still found a way to make him even more annoying with his dreary fixation on Clare and the baby, who became his equivalent of John Steinbeck's Lenny asking George to tell him about the rabbits.

Louie - Louis CK is presently my all-time favourite comedian, roughly speaking, and whilst this not-quite-autobiographical show isn't always what you might conventionally term funny, I think it stands as a testimony to his wit that he can come up with some of the most profoundly depressing material ever broadcast, and yet somehow it still feels like comedy, even when you want to slash your wrists afterwards.

Mad Men - I think I made it to about the sixth episode before I realised that I couldn't give a shit whether any of them lived or died, or what happened next. It probably could have done with a few jokes. Maybe it had a few jokes but I just didn't notice. The thrill of seeing a man smoking a ciggy on telly also wore off after a while.

Making a Murderer - This is a thoroughly depressing ten-part documentary about a supposedly innocent man being locked up in prison for eighteen years of his life, freed when it's finally proven that he didn't do it, then locked up again for a new crime he almost certainly didn't commit just as the state was about to say sorry. I say supposedly innocent for the sake of impartiality, but he looks innocent to me. Some have accused the programme makers of bias, but you might just as well say that all those World War II documentaries made Hitler look bad and there was a lot more going on that we don't know about. On a positive note, Making a Murderer at least shows that people still know how to make documentaries - contrary to what you might believe from a quick glance at the History Channel - but unfortunately this one is, as I say, profoundly depressing because it doesn't say much for the legal system.

Malcolm in the Middle - This was a prequel to Breaking Bad, and is probably the best thing any of these people have ever appeared in.

Maron - See Louie, but with an entirely different comedian, and again one who doesn't really do jokes. The episode with Danny Trejo is pure gold.

Middle, The - I still don't know what it's supposed to be the middle of, but never mind, and Malcolm is nowhere to be seen. Like Malcolm, Bob's Burgers and a thousand other fucking things, this is a comedy about a family with three children, a big one, a medium-sized one, and a little one. Despite the wearying familiarity of the premise, The Middle is sort of watchable because the actors are good and the jokes are funny, or at least superbly crafted - although it never quite loses the feeling of having been designed by committee.

Mighty B, The - My wife likes this one because the main character is called Bess, which is also my wife's name and is what the B stands for. This is another children's cartoon, but one of the good ones. It has a lot of energy. It's sort of like listening to three different Ramones albums all at the same time.

Mike and Molly - This is another sofa entrance hilarity comedy with the unique angle of there only being room for two on this sofa because Mike and Molly are both quite fat, which I suppose means they're jolly. I only saw about ten minutes of this, and most of the jokes seemed to be about cakes and how hard it is to not eat them, but it made me laugh a couple of times.

Modern Family - This is an odd one in that it does all the sort of things I tend to enjoy in a comedy, and doesn't bother with a laugh track, and it has obvious wit, and yet...

Munsters, The - Obviously the greatest situation comedy of all time (please disregard any previous claim I may have made to this effect) and superior to the Addams Family because the Munsters don't realise that they're monsters. They may as well have stopped making television shows after The Munsters. It has pretty much everything.

Must Love Cats - I don't remember much about this one aside from it being a reality show about a guy who visits people who own cats, and who sometimes sings songs about them - the cats I mean, not the owners. He has an acoustic guitar. I seem to recall one episode in which someone with a massive garden had enclosed the entire place in a vast Jurassic Park style cage with overhead walkways, all for their cat. It impressed me anyway.

My Cat from Hell - This is very similar to Must Love Cats, and the guy even carries a guitar case around as he visits cat owners. His name is apparently really Jackson Galaxy, and he used to be in some band or other, but now the guitar case is just full of cat toys. It's often fascinating, and Galaxy somehow manages to be both likeable and aggravating at the same time.

My Name is Earl - Along with The Sopranos, this was the greatest show ever made; and along with King of the Hill it's more or less as close as dammit to a description of how I find life in Texas. I don't yet have my hair cut into a mullet, and I don't drive a Camino, but otherwise it's more or less the same. Of all the cancellations ever to cruelly pluck decent shows from the starry firmament of our viewing, this has surely been the most bewildering and the most criminal.

Nanny 911 - I used to watch Supernanny - roughly speaking the English version of this - and found it sort of enjoyable in so much as any of those bullying shows wherein simpletons are reprimanded for their oafish ways are sort of enjoyable. Weirdly, the American version seems to staff itself from the exact same pool of English televisual nannies - at least one of whom I always found slightly bothersome due to her resemblance to an ex-girlfriend. Weirder still, these nannies seem to represent a Thunderbirds style task force answering the call of distressed parents unable to cope with their generally repellent offspring. They all live in a quaint English cottage - apparently their version of Tracy Island or Avengers Mansion - and each week the Overnanny draws their attention to a new case. The Overnanny is an ancient nannorial matriarch of such wisdom and power that she never actually leaves the cottage. She isn't formally identified as the Overnanny, so I'm just taking a guess with the name. Anyway, each week she bids that her teamsters do gaze forth upon that which is revealed in the mystic mirror of telling - usually footage of screaming toddlers flinging bowls of cereal at clueless parents; the nannies pull faces like unto the duck of disapproval and make tutting noises, and then the Overnanny decrees which of them has powers most suited to the challenge. Many Americans seem to have a weird and possibly unhealthy fixation with all things English. Apparently only we have the power to tell junior to shut the fuck up, clean his room, and stop acting like a cunt.

Nurse Jackie - Following whatever the hell happened at the end of the final series of The Sopranos, Carmela got a job in a hospital, changed her name to Jackie and started banging Father Phil who, by pure coincidence, has also undergone a complete change of identity and profession. She took a load of drugs for a few series, was sacked for taking drugs, then was reinstated, over and over so as to save having to change the name of the programme to either Nurse Zoe or Former Nurse Jackie. It was great while it lasted, but after she'd been sacked and reinstated the seventh or eighth time, the plausibility of the whole situation began to suffer, and it all turned to shit.

Office, The - I've only watched the first episode so far, and whilst it's clearly a quality product, I really can't get past it being a more or less word for word cover version of the English situation comedy starring Ricky Gervais and others. I liked the original a lot, so I find this karaoke act kind of strange, although I guess I'd be interested to see what happens in the later episodes, those made past the point at which they ran out of Gervais to recycle and had to generate their own material.

One Step - I've checked online and this is the name given to an advertising campaign for something called Prevnar 13, specifically to a commercial repeated with such frequency that it has come to seem more like a television show, and it's always a mad scramble to find the remote and hit the mute button when it comes on. American television commercials are weird. You might imagine them to be fairly slick, but the great majority appear home made, like those things you used to see at the cinema in the seventies - fancy a meal after the film? Then why not come to the Jade Pagoda conveniently situated in the high street and so on and so forth. Living in Texas, this means that half of the adverts I see involve a red-faced man shouting about trucks whilst stood in front of his car dealership. Generally more professional are the adverts for products designed to stop you dying of something, generally aimed at seniors and shown in the breaks during Wheel of Fortune; and these seem to go on for minutes and minutes, usually with somebody reading out a long list of legally prudent disclaimers - may cause drowsiness, may cause death, and even may increase severity of asthma symptoms, which turned out to be one possible side effect of a product otherwise promoted as a means of relieving asthma symptoms. Anyway, Prevnar 13 is some kind of jab which inoculates against a whole variety of conditions - so far as I can tell - and so the advertising runs with the gimmick of it being just one thing which is able to address many problems; and so we see footage of perky oldsters doing just one thing in order to illustrate the point - some guy cooks a single sprig of asparagus on his barbecue grill, a slightly aggravating woman purchases a single strawberry from her grocery store, and most annoying of all Dr. Russell from Space 1999 goes to the gym and does her single sit up. It probably isn't Dr. Russell from Space 1999, but the woman looks a bit like her except more smug and a lot older. She's got the leotard, the leg-warmers, all the shit. She unrolls her exercise mat - or whatever you call those things - and then does a single sit-up, her face bowling forward to fill the screen as she does so. She says, 'One,' out loud, counting her single sit-up, and then gets up and goes home. It's the expression on her face as she counts her single-action work out, a sort of half-smile with just a faint hint of superiority which asks and just what are you doing with your life, you fat fuck? It makes me want to kick in the screen, but I never do.

Orange is the New Black - Semi-autobiographical life in a women's prison and amazingly they managed to not screw it up, at least not yet. This one's right up there with The Wire and The Sopranos in my estimation.

Pair of Kings - Pair of Tossers would be more like it. Junior was briefly addicted to this show, and thus did I see a few more episodes than I would have liked, the number of episodes I would have liked to see being none at all. The premise is that a pair of wisecracking kids implausibly end up as rulers of an obscure presumably south-sea island, the kind where cars tend to be made out of bamboo with a couple of logs for wheels, like on the immeasurably superior Flintstones. This thing might have had some charm had it been made by Hal Roach back in the thirties, but it was made by Disney and ran from 2010 to 2013, so just how good do you think it could be?

Parks & Recreation - This one is a work of art - just beautiful. It's only failing is that Ron Swanson isn't a real person.

People's Court, The - The People's Court is a televised court presided over by a Judge who isn't actually a Judge so much as just some woman who makes decisions about what seems right. The cases brought before the court are usually things like when some bloke sells his car, but the car turns out to be shit, or somebody put their penis into an extra-marital vagina, or some guy owes twenty dollars and he doesn't think he should have to pay it. It's mostly minor stuff, and you can usually watch about three of these things before you begin to feel bad about yourself. A recent National Enquirer headline ran with something about People's Court being rigged, which I suppose would mean something to readers under the illusion of it being a real court, just like the one in which Steven Avery was found guilty of a crime he had no reason to commit. Talking of hysteria and the wisdom of the mob, some readers may have encountered facebook idiocy concerning sharia law and how entire cities in Englishland are now under sharia law because of Muslamic immigrants and political correctness innit. Aside from being untrue, I watched a documentary about sharia law as practiced in Islamic countries a while back, and the weird thing was that it actually seemed a lot like People's Court, so I'd say facebookers need to know what the fuck they're talking about before repeating such bollocks.

Phineas and Ferb - I have a feeling this is Disney getting down with the kids. It's animated in that sort of wacky angular post-Ren & Stimpy style favoured by production companies who've realised that three kids and a crime-solving dog will no longer cut it with today's sophisticated under-tens, and it follows the vaguely wacky adventures of a boy-child who invents things; but there's something unpleasantly wholesome about it, and the nagging hag of an older sister as stool pigeon and destroyer of all that is fun strikes even me as a bit sexist - and I couldn't ordinarily give a shit about that kind of thing.

Portlandia - Much that is terrible about the modern world, or at least its media image, apparently comes from Portland - twenty year-old men with full beards, breakfast cereal restaurants, bands called Ha Ha Tonka, multinational conglomerates attempting to pass themselves off as a Women's Institute knitting circle but with hippies, and adverts for the same soundtracked with corporate ukulele; and Portlandia takes the piss out of all that. The only problem is that it somehow seems to resemble the very thing it's taking the piss out of, or at least it does to me. These Americans can be so inscrutable at times.

Raising Hope - I get the impression that this was an attempt to remix My Name is Earl in such a way as to avoid cancellation. It has some of the Earl magic for sure, but steers just a little too close to sentimentality for my liking, although I like the funny-looking woman with the ukulele and a missing tooth. She's cute.

Real O'Neals, The - They're Irish, they have three kids, and one of them is a homosexual. I say they're Irish, but they're actually Irish-American, which isn't the same thing. No it isn't. Drinking Guinness and wearing a green hat with a shamrock printed on it is not the same as being from Ireland. I know actual real Irish people from Ireland, and most of them think you're fucking ridiculous, quite frankly. This show was probably okay, but I couldn't get past my own irritation, even despite the presence of the otherwise wonderful Martha Plimpton. Also, I'm not sure quite how they qualify as real given that this is a sitcom rather than a fly-on-the-wall documentary. I suppose they're real like The Real Ghostbusters were real, so I guess this is a meaning of the word real with which I am unfamiliar, specifically one which translates to not as good as the film. Sure enough, my impression of The Real O'Neals was that it is not as good as Bridget Jones' Diary, which is the worst film I can think of at the moment.

River Monsters - Junior presently spends most of his time attempting to impress people by relaying fascinating facts in a portentous voice resembling that of Doctor Doom as depicted in seventies animated superhero fare, usually the sort of fascinating facts no-one with half a brain would care less about - the life cycle of the world's most dangerous squid, the amazing stuff which you can get from Japanese vending machines and so on. Needless to say, he's a big fan of River Monsters in which some bloke relates folk tales of this week's reputed killer fish, describes just how terrified he is, locates something significantly less deadly which clearly isn't the thing he was looking for, and then concludes that perhaps we shall never know as the music swells to a predictable crescendo. The show would last about three minutes if you edited out all the embellishments, recaps, and associated horseshit.

Roseanne - I watched a few of these in England about a million years ago, and they seemed fairly funny. I saw a repeat more recently whilst living here, and it still seemed fairly funny. I still don't understand how Friends got made. I'm not saying Roseanne was some sort of comedy year zero, but Friends nevertheless seems like a backwards step by comparison.

Salem - I managed about ten minutes, but it was too much like listening to a Fields of the Nephilim album for my liking.

Simpsons, The - It may be well past its golden age, but it still beats most of the competition.

Six Feet Under - It wasn't quite The Sopranos, but Six Feet Under was still pretty darn good. It wasn't quite a comedy, but it had a sense of humour, and as such probably struck just about the right balance for what is essentially a soap opera based around a funeral parlour. I'll add extra points for it keeping up the pace right until the end, rather than tailing off into an implausibly shite treading water phase after the first three or four series as was the case with both Lost and Weeds.

Sons of Anarchy - I assumed this was some sort of post-apocalyptic deal but no, it's just a bunch of bikers, pretty much The Sopranos in piss-stained leathers with a chicken stapled to its jeans. They drink hard, they raise funds by illegal means, they ain't keen on the law, and they communicate exclusively in short gruff sentences excepting the point in each episode during which young Jax Teller reads a little more of his late father's unpublished memoirs and it briefly turns into The Waltons. It's kind of shit, but it's watchable.

Sopranos, The - I probably could have lived without quite so many dream sequences, but otherwise this was more or less the greatest show in television history, which I offer as scientifically verifiable fact rather than mere opinion. If you disagree, or if you're reading this with even so much as a twinge of now just hold on there a moment, stop reading right now and get yourself to the office of your nearest education authority because you need to start all over again at grade school level. People who don't like The Sopranos are just wankers, and useless wankers into the bargain. It's as simple as that.

SpongeBob Squarepants - Words seem inadequate as medium for the summary of just how great this show is. If you've just woken up from a long space voyage spent in suspended animation. SpongeBob is a yellow cuboid denizen of the deep who hangs around with a starfish and works at an undersea fast food outlet, and as such his adventures closely resemble the science-fiction novels of A.E. van Vogt. I'm not even sure I'd call it a children's show. It's kind of a thing in itself.

Super Mario Brothers Super Show, The - See Don't Do the Mario, Please... elsewhere on this blog.

Suspect - See Catfish, except lacking the generally entertaining presence of Max wossisname, and suffering from the problem that it's the exact same thing every week. Some person is worried that their friend or partner is moonlighting as either a prostitute or a stripper, but it turns out that they're just taking an evening class; and it's easier to call in a nosey television show than to simply ask what the fuck is up with you never being around and shit? The show is further hamstrung by the leaden presence of co-presenter iO Tillet Wright - and yes, that's how we spell it with the first letter in lower case - who is named after one of Jupiter's moons and reminds me of more or less everyone I ever crossed the road to avoid back in 1987. She is the human embodiment of the decision to wear a fedora with a leather jacket whilst playing a trumpet in Camden Market. I'm sure she's a delightful person, but she makes me want to buy Whitesnake albums and eat the raw meat of something I've killed with my own bare hands.

Toddlers and Tiaras - This is another reality show in so much as that it comprises footage of stuff which actually happened, but in all other respects it's what Heironymous Bosch would be doing if he was alive now and working for whatever lame channel thought this shit was a good idea. Every week we meet a different group of psychotic morons and watch as they tart up their five year-old like a hooker and have her compete in alarming beauty pageants. I don't know if Gary Glitter is particularly a fan of this show, but I wouldn't be too surprised if that were the case.

Total Drama Island - Junior has watched some seriously headachey shit over the years, but this one makes most of them look like one of Harold Pinter's less eventful plays produced in a Trappist monastery. Total Drama Island is animated in that vague sort of animé Pink Panther style which seems very popular with the younger generation, and purports to be an animated reality show, sidestepping the point that the only saving grace of most reality television is its spontaneity. Total Drama Island works if you regard the word awesome as a viable humourous punchline regardless of the context, or you piss yourself laughing when something is described as swag, or when an observation is prefixed with the word hashtag, as though all human experience is one big Twitter feed. For the rest of us it's just screechy zero-ideas shite which doesn't need to exist, and it was probably written by a computer.

Trailer Park Boys - I saw one of these and can recall having received the impression of it being just the sort of thing I might like, but that was four years ago and I still haven't got around to watching a second episode. I guess that must tell you something.

Ugly Betty - As everybody in the universe knows, Ugly Betty began life as Yo Soy Betty, La Fea, a Colombian telenovela about a right old munter attempting to make it in the fashion biz, and the Salma Hayek version is just one of numerous regional variations. Less well known is that Yo Soy Betty, La Fea wasn't that amazing. At least I didn't think so, and assuming I was watching the Colombian one rather than some regional variation. It just looked like your average telenovela with endless scowling, leering, heavy breathing, heaving bosoms, dramatic exits, and not much in the way of chuckles - not that there's anything wrong with telenovelas, but Ugly Betty is significantly better, just as anyone who ever covered the Velvet Underground will logically improve upon the original.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - I didn't watch enough of this to be absolutely certain of how she qualifies as unbreakable, but I suspect it's probably her relentlessly perky disposition thrown into sharp contrast by life on the mean streets of the big city. It's a comedy written by Tina Fey, which probably tells you all you need to know. If you piss yourself laughing every time Tina Fey wrinkles her nose and pulls that I'm just a little bit quirky face, then this may well be the show for you. Personally I thought it was shite.

Uncle Grandpa - This is another Cartoon Network children's animation which tries far too hard to be weird, hence the name, and probably the fact that I can't remember the first thing about it beyond how entertained I wasn't. SpongeBob has a lot to answer for.

Waltons, The -  I know it's schmaltzy, wholesome enough to have someone's eye out, and features writing so heavy handed as to make your average episode of Scooby Doo resemble the work of Jorge Luis Borges, but Goddammit I loves me some Waltons, and so do you, unless you've got something wrong with you. Even my mother likes The Waltons. Sometimes you just have to swallow your pride and accept that nothing good ever came from attempts to reinvent the potato.

Weeds - Weeds was amazing up until they accidentally burnt the entire subdivision to the ground, forcing the cast to relocate to a house near the Mexican border whilst Nancy took a job in a shop which, by pure unlikely coincidence, housed one end of a tunnel leading to the home of some hunky cartel dude. I'm not sure how many series that was, but I think it was about three, and then it all turned to shit. It felt as though they were just throwing any old thing into the mix in the hope of something working - Nancy shags the cartel bloke then everyone else, Kevin Nealon finds a suitcase full of heroin at a circus and has to flog it all before the clown notices that his stash is missing, an alien saucer lands and they come in search of a truly mellow legal high blah blah blah... It just became hard to care after a while.

What Not to Wear - Clothes-horsey woman and a bloke bearing an unsettling resemblance to my wife's boss coax tattooed hoochie-mommas into not dressing like they're still fifteen and auditioning for an Insane Clown Posse video shoot. As makeover shows go, this one seems harmless and fairly watchable, I guess, if you like that sort of thing.

Wheel of Fortune - The host is a million years old and apparently a font of all sorts of horribly Republican opinions - according to the headline of something I didn't bother reading on facebook - but really, who gives a shit? It's a game show and it does it's job without shouting at you, and is as such significantly less headachey than Family Feud. It's also the closest America comes to Countdown, which I sort of miss, so that's nice too. My only real criticisms of Wheel of Fortune are that having the contestants engaged in continuous applause, even apparently applauding their own often unremarkable contributions, makes them seem a bit lobotomised; and secondly, those words and phrases. For those who have never seen it, Wheel asks contestants to pick letters and guess at a phrase or term denoted only by blank spaces on the quiz board with a clue given by categories such as around the house or sayings. The problem is that some of the categories just seem a bit ridiculous - things being one of the less helpful examples. Anxiety disorder, pearls before swine, and stegosaurus cheese alienation could all legitimately be regarded as things. In fact everything in the universe is a thing by some definition, so I don't really know why they bother with that aspect; and then we have clues leading to popular phrases such as people who dwell in glass houses shouldn't hurl stones or a rolling rock doesn't gather moss, or even living creatures like beautiful birds flying south. I know it's a petty grievance, but I really feel that whoever sets the puzzles needs to get their shit sorted out before the show ends up with contestants required to guess random sequences of letters, because that would be pointless.

Wire, The - The Wire was amazing, and it probably says something about me that I prefer television serials which aspire to be books, or rather to work in the same way as a good novel, as was a stated intention of this one. What it says about me is that I am a fully grown man. That's how I see it.

Year Without a Santa Claus, The - This is an animated children's thing from 1974 made by someone called Rankin-Bass. It seems to enjoy nearly legendary status over here, and yet I'd never heard of it. I guess maybe the English TV stations didn't buy everything America had for sale in the seventies after all. Anyway, I'm not actually sure what happens in this as I didn't see it all the way through, but it involves various reindeer and a character called the Heat Miser who has a dualistic counterpart in the form of the Snow Miser. Both of them sing their own big band numbers, which sound like they were written by the Foetus bloke. This was some seriously weird shit.

Friday, 20 May 2016


I'm in HEB, my local supermarket. I've just ridden twenty miles so my legs are aching. I've bought chicken stock and now I need milk. I'm at the chiller cabinet when she accosts me. She is small with bright blue eyes and reminds me of Pennsatucky from Orange is the New Black. She is animated, fidgety. She jumps up and down as she speaks, although this is almost certainly just how I remember the encounter.

'Can I talk to you?'

I am uncertain. 'Sure.'

'First I've got to ask you, are you old enough to vote and do you have a really cool job?'

What the fuck? I wonder. 'Well, I can't vote because I'm not a US citizen.' You would think she might have got this much from my accent, but never mind. I'm trying to work out what the hell is going on here. One of the store people walks straight past us so I assume this to be a legitimate enquiry by some definition. This person isn't just some crazy woman.

She seems excited. 'This is a challenge for me because I have public anxiety issues,' and she describes what sounds like some kind of therapy performed by inducing random strangers to conversation. 'What do you do for a job?'

She speaks with the cadence of someone conducting an interview, and it doesn't occur to me that I don't have to answer, or that I should tell her to piss off. 'I'm a writer. Well, I write novels. I mean it doesn't pay the rent but...' Already I'm making excuses when I'm under no obligation to say a fucking word. I see-saw back and forth between self-deprecation so as to avoid it sounding like I think I'm some big shot, and a sort of assertive pride: I write books, people I don't know have bought them, so fuck it - I am a writer.

'Have you ever spoken in public?'

'Yes I have.' I briefly recall the open mic events last year.

'Did you enjoy it?'

'It was okay.'

The conversation has thus far endured for mere seconds, but she talks fast. It's bewildering. This is her therapy, I decide, something to do with anxiety. I think this was what she said.

'Do you like to read?'

I would have thought that was obvious, given that I've just told her I'm a writer. 'Well, yes.'

'I'm going down under next year,' she says and describes some sort of competition or something she has won. It seems to relate to the therapy, possibly. 'Can you guess what I mean by that?'

'Down under?'


'Are you going to Australia?'

She is pleased. 'You know, not many people get that one right. Someone guessed Mexico just now.'


'I know - I mean how is that down under?'

'Well, yeah.' Much later it occurs to me that she may have assumed me to be Australian, as some do. The accents apparently sound similar to Texan ears.

'Do you like to read magazines?'

She has thrust some sort of laminated promotional brochure at me, a brochure listing the kind of dull magazines you see on the news-stand - Beef Cook, Men's Trousers, Ladies' Hat Monthly. I realise that this is a sales pitch, or at least it suddenly feels like one, but her angle is bewildering to me.

'I read, but I don't really read magazines. Mostly I read books.'

She changes tack to sponsorship and it sounds like I'm about to be signed up for something. A few months ago I paid twenty dollars for a subscription to the local newspaper - something I have no real interest in reading - because it seemed like the easiest way to get rid of the guy who came to the door. I'm not going to be caught again, if that's what this is.

Now she's making some claim about sales of these magazines benefitting disadvantaged children. It sounds like horseshit but I'm stuck. 'Look I—'

'If you can't do that, well then just a cash donation, as little as—'

'I can't really afford this sort of thing.' I consider telling her that my wife and I are trying to buy our house and money is tight.

'It doesn't have to be much, as little as five dollars...'

'I could give you five pounds.' I still have English notes in my wallet, pictures of the Queen. The joke doesn't work, and I see I have a five dollar bill. I give her the five dollar bill. She carefully straightens it out and adds it to other bills kept in a small folder alongside the laminated brochure. It seems kind of professional, but I later remember that charity workers usually spend five minutes flashing all sorts of ID before they mug you.

'Thank you! You have a great day, you hear!,' and she's gone; and I am free; and I buy milk and cat food and make my way to the till. A minute later I see my little friend walk past accompanied by a partner, another woman. They look busy.

What the hell just happened, I wonder.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Crazy Snot

We drove up Olney to North Vandiver, then along as far as Urban Crest. At Urban Crest we took a left to Crandall, then a sort of shimmy along to Greenwich at the end, and then again at Harmon, back down to North Vandiver and home. These are streets, lanes, roads, drives and places in Alamo Heights but no-one here seems to use suffixes which don't always even appear on the street signs. I'm in the habit of saying I live on Timberlane rather than Timberlane Drive because it would seem weird to me, as though I were trying to make a point; which is something different to my continued English pronunciation of the words banana and aluminium. Were I to go native with those two it would feel like the kind of impersonation which could lead to descriptions of things as real swellpurty, or mighty fine. Yet I'll say gas rather than petrol station because it's easier. I don't know what the rules are.

We drove up Olney to North Vandiver, all around and then back down again for the sake of measuring the distance, which came to five and a half miles. Today I'm taking the same route on foot in the name of exercise because my bike is still at the repair shop. If I can be arsed, I tell myself, I might do a couple of circuits of the block demarcated by Urban Crest, Greenwich, and Harmon, and I've worked out that if I do that five times it will add up to the twenty miles I might have cycled on my bike; except of course I know full well that I'm not going to walk twenty bloody miles, so I'm just walking until I get bored.

Hailstones the size of golf balls and even larger fell on San Antonio last night. It was terrifying, not to mention deafening, and I've never experienced that sort of weather before. Thankfully, neither had my wife, so I'm hoping it won't happen again in my lifetime - it isn't one of those Texas things I'm just going to have to get used to, like incorrect pronunciation of banana or ambiguity as to whether such and such an address amounts to a road, a street, or a drive. This morning as I take my walk I'm also taking stock of the damage, because peculiarly ours seems to be the only house which didn't have one of those meteorite sized chunks of ice come through the roof. My wife's car is similarly undamaged. Walking up Morningside I pass a few vehicles with smashed wind shields, and plenty with hood or roof pitted by impact dents.

The first damage of which I take stock is my own knee as I miss a step and fall whilst walking across the parking lot at the dentists' office. This is Dr. Yarborough's surgery, so it's probably some sort of curse they've put on me because I got pissed off by the expensive and unnecessary treatment they attempted to con me into signing up for. I awkwardly get to my feet, direct dark thoughts towards the building, and then continue on roads strewn with the leaves of palms and yucca, plant detritus from gardens smashed up by last night's hail.

Eventually I reach the point at which North Vandiver crosses the Austin Highway, and I'm beginning to feel hungry. I suppose that's a couple of miles so far.

Fuck it, I decide, and enter the L&L Hawaiian Grill situated on the corner. Bess and I have been fascinated by the place for some time, wondering what the hell it is they actually serve. We have no idea what Hawaiian cuisine might look like and have assumed that the place is probably just a burger joint wherein a chef in a grass skirt sticks a slice of pineapple in your bun; but we don't know this for sure because neither of us have ever quite summoned up the courage to investigate. I order loco moco because it isn't a burger, and it's the weirdest looking thing on the menu, at least to my eyes. Loco moco turns out to be a bed of white rice, two beefburgers of the kind I used to buy frozen from Sainsburys back in England and which seem conspicuously absent from American menus, all topped with a couple of fried eggs. There's also some sort of gravy on this, and a side of what appears to be a cross between macaroni cheese and coleslaw but without the cheese. As I eat, I study the menu and find a lot of burgers, amongst them a salmon burger which looks decent, and dishes which somehow hint at sushi. Being new to this, it all strikes me as food invented by crazy people, or as a burger joint owned by a maniac who suddenly decides he's running a sushi restaurant, with a knowledge of sushi based exclusively on a scene from a 1960s Batman comic. The food is mad, but strangely it actually sort of works. It tastes pretty good, although there's too much rice, and crucially it tastes home cooked, which means even with a loony at the wheel, L&L Hawaiian Grill already has a head start over Popeye's and all of those places.

Given our working hypothetical model of an establishment selling mainly pineapple burgers, Bess and I have often wondered how the hell L&L Hawaiian Grill manages to stay in business; and now I have my answer in that it's packed with marines and other servicemen presumably attached to Fort Sam just down the road. I guess some of them will have been stationed in Hawaii, and so they come here from time to time. Bess later tells me that moco is Spanish for bogies - or boogers as she inaccurately terms them - but loco moco nevertheless tastes pretty good for something with a recipe which may as well be what do I have left in the fridge which hasn't gone off? It's hard to get past the thought that I am eating a dish named crazy snot, but not impossible.

I walk on along North Vandiver, passing the Quaker's Meeting Hall and a series of utilities trucks repairing overhead power cables brought down by last night's anomalous weather. I turn up Urban Crest, and stroll into the quieter depths of Alamo Heights. I've answered my own question of what food is served at the L&L Hawaiian Grill, and now I get to answer who the hell buys those things? This is a thought which occurs each time we pass a place on the side of the highway selling giant brightly painted figures beaten into shape from sheets of tin. It's always roughly the same line up of cows, dinosaurs, banditos, cartoon characters and so on. They're garden ornaments, and whilst the sight of them always raises a smile, I can't imagine wanting one for our own yard, and I have no idea who buys them. A hot dog in a sombrero grins at me over the fence on the other side of Urban Crest. He's about nine foot tall, as is his friend, the chicken, and so I have my answer.

At the corner of Northridge I pause to inspect a lawn embellished with a Trump campaign sign. It seems worth looking at because this is thankfully the first Trump campaign material I've seen in real life on this side of the internet. I've seen plenty of Bernie and Hillary material, and a fair quota in support of our own homegrown Republicans - Straus and others - but this is my first physical evidence of real people apparently believing Donald Trump might be worth a vote. I notice how there's similarly a Trump campaign sticker on the rear bumper of the truck parked in the driveway, next to one of the state flag with the word secede superimposed in forceful block capitals.

What sort of person might live here? I hear my inner Loyd Grossman ask. I suppose it depends upon which aspect of Trump's campaign most appeals to this individual, although given that Donald Trump seems to hate more or less everyone, it's hard to take a guess. This person might have a problem with all those Mexicans supposedly flooding across the border, and may therefore respond to Trump's vow to represent his or her views in that regard. Of course, someone who dislikes Mexicans choosing to live in San Antonio would have to be a fucking idiot, which doesn't necessarily preclude the possibility of this being the detail which has secured his or her vote. The secede sticker refers to the popularity of the idea that Texas might secede from the union of the United States, thus meaning we no longer have to have anything to do with jazz musicians or hippies who wear open-toed sandals - visits to Austin excepted - which is a nice idea but probably won't happen. I therefore have to assume that our mysterious family not only wish for a big fucking wall built across the bottom part of the state, but for Texas to become its own country, and one which logically wouldn't actually be under the jurisdiction of President Trump; unless they want Trump to move down here before we close the doors and change the locks. Maybe they haven't really thought it all through. Maybe they're just idiots.

If I have any idiotic qualities, they have been lessened by my walk, statistically speaking. I return home via HEB, our local supermarket, clocking up a sum total of just under seven miles, which seems like enough. I've eaten crazy snot, penetrated the mystery of L&L Hawaiian Grill, discovered who the hell buys those things, and observed Trump support. I am moderately wiser than when I set out this morning.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Friday Afternoon

It's Wednesday morning, still early and I'm wheeling out the bike in readiness for today's twenty miles. I'm feeling sort of pleased with myself because it's early, and here I am on the third day of the week and very much up for the distance ahead. Since adopting this regime five weeks ago, I somehow still haven't managed a full working week of twenty miles cycled each day. Something always gets in the way and it's usually me. One of the cats breaks down the bedroom door during the night, interrupting my sleep leaving me knackered and sluggish the next morning; or something on facebook pisses me off the evening before, necessitating that I have just a quick look first thing, and then I notice how I'm still sat there in my robe scrolling through pictures of kittens and it's almost noon.

This week will be different. I'm feeling so positive that I decide to make a minor adjustment to my gear thingy. My bike has twenty-one gears, the uppermost of which has been slipping for the past couple of weeks so it'll be nice to set that right, providing I can remember which screw I'm supposed to twizzle to make the adjustment. I twizzle and twizzle, and find myself doing a circle in the road at the front of the house in the highest gear, at last utilising the smallest cog of the assembly on my rear axle. Unfortunately my six lower gears now seem to be slipping - all of them, which is a bit weird. I twizzle again but I'm apparently now stuck with the highest gear. I make a closer inspection and notice how the cogs on the gear assembly of my rear axle now move independently of one another. I'm, pretty sure that isn't supposed to happen.

I have a quick look on the internet and encounter immediate frustration of the kind which can only be alleviated by extended swearing on facebook:

This morning, attempting to solve the mystery of my being unable to get into seventh gear on my bicycle for the last few weeks (or twenty-first gear, I suppose - technically speaking) I was bemused to find that the problem has escalated to the point that all of the cogs on the rear wheel (the thing is called a cassette apparently) now move independent of both each other and the wheel, meaning I can't use the bike at all. This in itself was annoying, but what has really pushed me over the edge has been my attempting to deduce what has happened by looking it up online, and it then taking twenty minutes before I could even get to the first clue due to the incomprehensible wall of jargon, videos in which mumbling tosspots explain if it needs a er um major adjustment then er um you er um turn it right around er um, however if erm the adjustment seems er the adjustment you require isn't er um so much then er um er you should only turn it a er um a little way, instructions informing me that the locking ring should be on the edge of the axle (not the end, like we would say in English) and that I need to adjust the splines, and there is no such fucking word. Splines were the aliens in one of those Stephen Baxter books, not something you find on a @#$%$#^&#$ bike. I came fairly close to shooting someone with my gun* due to the intense levels of frustration. Argh etc. etc.

Writing this out makes me feel better, and by this point I accept that I will have to pay a visit to Performance Bike. I can't even tell what's wrong or what has happened, so the likelihood of my being able to fix it myself seems minimal.

Bess arrives home. We sling the bike on the rack and drive out to the store. It turns out that I have a gear missing, just like in A Scanner Darkly. I have only six cogs in the set on my rear wheel.

Read that again if you need to.

The bicycle repairman shows me the wheel, and I count. I have just six cogs, suggesting improbable scenarios in which the seventh cog has been stolen by an avant-garde burglar, or removed by aliens for reasons only they will ever understand, or has simply ceased to exist due to the structure of reality having been founded upon our continued belief in the same, and in my case, in the seventh cog.

'I'll see if we can order a replacement,' bicycle repairman tells me, ' but it might take a couple of days.'

'Sure,' I say, still dazed. 'That would be great.'

Later, as Bess and I return home, I begin to recover a vague memory of there having been some kind of crappy plastic collar on the rear axle between the wheel and the gears, something I had only really noticed when part of it snapped, requiring me to yank the rest of it away so as to prevent what was left catching on the frame as the wheel turned. The problem is that the memory is so inconsequential and vague that I can't be absolutely sure of it having happened. On the other hand, I have historically understood my bicycle to have seven gears on the rear wheel due entirely to the switchy thing mounted on the handle bars, the gizmo which lists gears one through to seven, the gizmo for which there is no actual name because it doesn't need one; and I've never actually counted the number of cogs on the rear axle, because why would I?; and suppose the vague crappy plastic collar incident actually happened - it would have left a gap in which the six remaining cogs could become loose. So according to the maths there is a possibility that all this time I've been riding an eighteen rather than twenty-one speed bicycle, as though my world has become a particularly unambitious episode of The Twilight Zone.

All that I know for sure is that once again I will fail to keep up my intended twenty miles a day for the duration of the week.

I spend most of Thursday sat on my arse.

I begin Friday with an attempt to mow a bit of lawn because it needs to be done and it's exercise, but the result resembles the sort of inexpert haircut that plagued so many kids at my school. It only pisses me off further and is simply knackering rather than exercisey. It's like I'm hacking away at the lawn rather than mowing it.

Okay, I decide, I've got things done but I really need to get some exercise today, and Bess suggested I might use her bike instead. It's a decent bike, but not the sort of thing on which you would want to cycle twenty miles. She has the seat far too low, and the highest gear is seven. I'm also motivated by a feeling of guilt that my wife's bike is somewhat neglected and might be suffering from depression. It was new when she bought it, and it's been ridden from time to time, but not as a regular arrangement. I pump the tyres up to a bewilderingly modest 40psi, as suggested on the rims, then I fill a bucket with soapy water and clean off the accumulated grime until it looks bright and new once more, but for a faint suggestion of rust in the usual places; and then I take it out on the road. I get around the corner so far as Ginger Lane and turn back.

How the hell does she ride this thing? I come close to smacking myself in the face with a kneecap each time I pedal.

I fetch the wrench from my art supplies box, the one I use to open tubes of paint because Windsor & Newton acrylic paint is now sealed with hexagonal caps which can only be opened by robot artists. I use the wrench to raise the seat on my wife's bicycle by about two feet.

Cycling becomes much easier, although it's still no substitute for my own bike. I struggle up the hill of Byrnes Drive, then turn right at North Vandiver into the eastern reach of Alamo Heights. It's entirely suburban, just a criss-cross of quiet roads and no hills to speak of. I have a vague plan of just cycling around until I consider myself exercised. Ordinarily I would head off in the other direction and follow the Tobin Trail along Salado Creek towards McAllister Park, but it seems a little rugged for this bike. Once I'm exercised, I'll pass by HEB, the local supermarket, and pick up whatever I'm going to be cooking tonight for our dinner.

I enter Alamo Heights, a neighbourhood much like my own but for cleaner houses with lawns cut by better mowers. The streets here are named Greenwich and Kenilworth, amongst other things, which has always struck me as peculiar, given that I've lived in close proximity to both English places from which their names are taken. It occurs to me that if I keep on going in the same direction, I can shop at the North New Braunfels branch of HEB, which was sort of my first HEB. A change is as good as a rest.

I buy potatoes, tins of cat food, instant coffee, sugar, milk, tonic water, broccoli, pork chops, and some stuff with which to clean rust from my wife's bike. I also notice kumquats on sale, significant only because Bess and I were talking about kumquats the other evening. Frasier, our next door neighbour, has a tree full of the things, but those are the kumquats which resemble tiny peaches. Bess has told me there is another kind with skin more like that of an orange. This is the kind they have here in HEB, about the size of large grapes as they tend to be, and to my eyes they look like oranges for action figures.

I buy all my shit and just about get it stuffed into my backpack without too much grunting, and then I head back into Alamo Heights in the general direction of home.

When I first came to Texas, Bess was living in a flat on Emporia Boulevard, just one block from Greenwich. We only lived there for a couple of weeks before we moved to our present location, but the time seems much longer because I was in a different country, and everything seemed vivid and strange. My first experience of buying mundane crap such as scouring pads and margarine was in the HEB from which I've just come, and it felt different to buying such things whilst on holiday in a foreign country, although it's hard to say why. This square mile of suburban sprawl, of neatly tailored lawns, mesquite trees, and lone star flags, was my first experience of America as a place in which I was living rather than simply visiting. Now as then, it has a certain sparkle or promise by virtue of bearing no resemblance to any place I knew whilst growing up. Everything is alien and yet suggests familiarity, if not specifically to me. The sky is as blue as in the Peter and Jane books I read at infants school, and the houses are just as ordered and tidy even if the architecture is different.

Five years later, it still strikes me as peculiar that I should have come to live here, a sensation strongly reinforcing the idea that all this time I have been watching a film of my own life; although in case it isn't obvious, I very much like where it has gone. Alamo Heights reminds me of the strange blend of excitement and discomfort I experienced when I first came here. Contrary to the predictions of some, not once did it occur to me that I had made a decision I would regret, but I ached for the awful novelty to be experienced, processed and done with. I longed for the place to become familiar so that I would no longer have to think about it, and would be able to start living; which is thankfully what happened.

There are a million stories in the big city, and I suppose this was one of them, give or take some small change.

*: This is an allegorical statement and should not be taken as indicative of potentially violent or criminal behaviour, particularly seeing as the only guns to which I have access are Junior's collection of water pistols.