Monthly Archives: April 2014

Serving up a bit more weirdness

So, because it has endless possibilities and is very entertaining I’m gonna just continue for a little bit more on the lines of my previous theme, namely, what I find mad (funny) about America and, for today’s particular delectation, we will be gorging on something sweetly bonkers. But first, like a little tray of amuse-bouches to start us off, here are a few more unlinked funnyosities that have popped into my head since my last post:

  • I think everyone knows that they adore a bit of British blue blood over here, but actually they (those with whom I’ve ever had a royal chat at least) hate Camilla vociferously and deeply, still affronted by her usurping of the goddess Diana, whereas the lady Cam is one of the few I quite warm to because she seems to be a bit of a laugh.
  • Americans eat pickles a lot. That’s one from the list I’ve mentioned before, but as a bonus illustration of this love affair, if you take part in any long distance run or bike ride here, you’ll get sliced pickles, pickle juice and sometimes even a great big whole one along the way.  Apparently it stops you cramping, but even so!
  • Public loos are, indeed, public. That would be public in the sense of not private. Cubicles often don’t go above shoulder height, never go down to the floor and the inch wide gaps round the doors actually let you see in (or out, so you can catch the eye of the person who’s looking in on you, for example). Another from the list above, but just so odd and disconcerting that I thought it worth drawing your attention to.
  • Sticking on the loo (humour me, do), portaloos are called portapotties and the phrase ‘to go potty’ doesn’t mean to go loopy, it means to go to the loo. Which is loopy. Yes? I mean actual grown-ups use this phrase.
  • Now, I could go on about the words literally forever, but I’ll finish (for now at least) with just one more: entrée. It is the word that is ubiquitously used in restaurants for the main course. I don’t think I need to explain why this is hilarious.

Moving on, then, to the entrée of this piece (admire what I did there, please!). If I said “Girl Scout Cookies” to you (and you were not American or hadn’t spent time in suburban America in early Spring) you might imagine a group of noisy, laughing lasses, surrounded  by a puff of flour and with greedy fingers wiping clean the bowls of cookie dough while soft-baked, all-shaped, choc-chip-ful, nutty, fruity biscuits lie cooling on racks. In other words, home-made. And by young girls. Maybe with some supervision, at home or by Brown Owl or whatever the US equivalent of the pack leader is.

And if I list the following ingredients, I suspect that, wherever you’re from and whatever time of year it is, you’d visualise some kind of highly processed and packaged sweet food stuff: whole grain wheat flour, enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), sugar, canola [rapeseed] oil, dried cranberries (cranberries, sugar, sunflower oil), malt syrup (from corn and barley), invert sugar, natural flavor, baking soda, ammonium bicarbonate, salt, mono calcium phosphate, soy lecithin, distilled monoglycerides (BHT and citric acid added as antioxidants).

If we put the two together what we actually get is: Cranberry Citrus Crisps Girl Scout Cookies = highly processed and packaged sweet foodstuff.  It’s bordering on the libellous IMG_1899isn’t it?

Girl Scout Cookies, I’ve learnt over my two short Spring seasons here, are an American institution. We’ve bought quite a lot of them, off friends whose daughters are Girl Scouts and who (the friends not the daughters) are heavily engaged in their selling via email and face-to-face supplication, and off strangers who set up week-long stalls, aka barricades, outside all the local supermarkets.  This year we majored heavily on the afore-mentioned Cranberry Citrus Crisps as well as Mint Thins. Neither are very nice, to be truthful. I’d rather buy Jaffa Cakes or Ginger Nuts or HobNobs or any number of American equivalents on the shelves of Kroger. If I have to eat processed biscuits I don’t really care how much they cost, price doesn’t come into it, it’s all about that nom taste, and GS Cookies don’t deliver.

Oh I do understand how important it is for Girl Scouts to raise money for and awareness of their undoubtedly worthwhile activities. But per-lease! I’m sure it could be done more imaginatively and, for the girls themselves, more engagingly. Like really baking for instance. On the packet of my Cranberry and Lemon Crisps is proudly printed: “Selling Girl Scout Cookies helps girls develop 5 skills that they use throughout their lives: 1. Goal Setting 2. Decision Making 3. Money Management 4. People Skills 5. Business Ethics”.  What bullshit! It makes them lots of money, doubtless (the troop buys in boxes and boxes, the parents commit to buying then selling on x number, and, I’m guessing here, probably end up with an excess of the worst flavours which they only just manage to chomp their way through before next year’s onslaught starts again), but it’s hardly Harvard Business School stuff. And no fun for anyone. That mixture of homespun, homegrown, nurturing, Mom’s-apple-pie fakery with the grooved, seasonal, this-is-what-we-do-in-March tradition with the hard-nosed, boring, bringing-it-back-to-business reality is sooo American. And, yes, it’s also weird.

I have no pudding for you to round off this mealtime metaphor but do feel free to fight back, you Yanks out there, and entertain me with what you find strange about other nations (like the word pudding in this context which my Belgian friend V finds so funny). I suppose that would be just desserts…

From alien to acceptable in two years.. awesome!

18 wheelerI love American trucks! (In the British sense of the word truck that is: lorries, artics. Or in US English: 18 wheelers.)  They all, without fail, have shapely cabs, with a grand, proud profile unlike their dull, flat-faced British counterparts.  Chesapeake Bay Retrievers to our Cavalier Spaniels.  And they’re smart: metalwork shined to mirror standard, paintwork gleaming and in bold reds and greens and blues.  They blast along the highways and freeways in the centre lanes, intimidating yet somehow solidly reassuring, like they’re in charge. They loom up.  I remember being struck by their imposing, handsome bulk when I first came to the States yet over the last two years familiarity has bred nonchalance so that, mainly, I don’t notice them any more.

But it’s not just aesthetic and aural perceptions that can change, it’s less tangible stuff around attitude and acceptance, too. So, for example, as well as the distinguished trucks, another thing that has blobbed from being novel to normal about this country is the once curious ubiquity of flags and wreaths. Specifically flag-wise, the national ‘Stars and Stripes’ and, in Houston, the Texas state ‘Lone Star’ flags and, wreath-wise, door decs celebrating pretty much any holiday, feast day, season… you name it.

I passed a building (some kind of civic hall in a small town) the other day whose front was draped with the Stars and Stripes which, I swear, was the size of a tennis court.  Flags fly everywhere here, but they’re clearly obligatory at car dealerships, and the bigger the vehicles for sale, the larger and higher the flags; if it’s a pick-up you’re after, head for the sky filler!  I can’t say I love the flags like I love the lorries, and it’s a bit odd that there are rules about displaying them (I was going to elucidate about the Texan flag being the only state flag that can be flown at the same height alongside the national flag, but it turns out that’s an erroneous urban legend – all state flags can! However, there are plenty of other rules governing their flying, one being that the Stars and Stripes has to be lit up at night), and even odder that there’s a pledge of allegiance (“Honor the Texas flag; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one state under God, one and indivisible”). Nevertheless, there’s a pride in, and reverence for, something intangible (the country? the state? the individual? progress? democracy? freedom? the new world? the sunny climes? what?) that’s actually quite sweet and touching and a little bit refreshing (or it once was, at least, but now goes by unnoticed) after the sarky cynicism and world-weariness of damp old England where the Union Jack outside someone’s house usually means they’re a nasty and unintelligent racist [is there any other sort?].  I hope I remember that the rippling furling and unfurling and flapping of a vast flag in a strong wind is a sight to behold and can be a positive thing.

Then, lest we forget, there are the wreaths. The charming, floral, homely wreaths on front doors. Back home, some people put them out at Christmas, otherwise they adorn coffins, but either way generally they tend to be plain green. It doesn’t really work that way here. easter wreathRight now, we’re coming to the end of the Easter wreath season (think delicate pastel eggs, nests) and swiftly moving through Spring towards Mother’s Day (think yellow, think shrieking “Mom I Love You”). We’ve already had Christmas/New Year/plain old Winter and Mardi Gras; soon to come will be Memorial Day, followed before we know it by the approach of Summer, 4th July, Labor Day, Fall/harvest festival, Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving, and back to Christmas again. Possibly there’s a festivity or two I’ve missed out. And there’s a wreath for every occasion. I’ve already written about the crazy Christmas decor decorum and how it creeps up on you and this wreath thing is the same: when once it seemed kitsch and bizarre, inchmeal it segues into convention. If it sounds like I’m taking the piss, I’m sorry. I am, I suppose, but fondly, because in actual fact, for every Michaels shop-bought one, there’s a lovingly home-made, or at least customised, example and, truth be told, they do brighten things up. Now, if ever there’s a place that needs brightening up, it’s England so while no wreath has ever adorned a door of mine, that might be about to change as I head home to Blighty. That’s how normal it’s become. Blimey!

As for expressions, it really is true that EVERYONE says “awesome” when they mean “fine” or “good” or “glad to hear it” or “fancy that!”. For a while I tried my hardest never to say it just because, but I’m no longer irritated by it. I suppose I’ve come to understand it as “fine” and “good” and “glad to hear it” and “fancy that!”.  And oh how I LOVE “good job”!!  As for “y’all”, “y’alls” and, especially, “all y’alls”, don’t get me started. I don’t think I can ever use them at home, that would be ridiculous (wouldn’t it?); but who doesn’t use them here? And why not? So versatile, so deep south, so – well – appropes for any occasion. And while to be told “have a nice day” is annoying in England (because it’s always insincere toe-the-line Mc-speak), “have a good one” is a natural, universal, cheerio-equivalent that I give as much as I receive these days. We all now say ‘to-may-to’ and ‘bay-sil’ and ‘dee-po’, and use ‘gas’ for petrol and  ‘restroom’ for loo, and more, just for a simple life. Who’d have thought it? If I stayed here long enough, would I get the drawl? [Mind you, can’t bring myself to say ‘wodda’ for water, it seems so awkwardly affected, and for the same reason haven’t been able to set foot in Whataburger, though that’s not been a major setback.]

The uninhibition (not sure that’s a word but it’s preferable to uninhibitedness, which is a word) of your average American, while definitely renowned and possibly a cliché, is nevertheless a truism. Shoppers in the supermarket actually do introduce themselves to you down the self-serve beans and pulses and nuts aisle; fellow queuers hand you their business cards; waitresses flatter you, “oh ma’am what a gorgeous necklace!”. It’s a perplexing business at first, particularly for us reserved and rather aloof northern Europeans. “Why the hell is this person I’ve never met before being so familiar?” was my wrinkle-nosed, head back, unnerved – and of course unspoken – reaction to begin with. But nothing bad has so far come from a chat with a stranger I’ve found, and lately I’ve heard myself complimenting people I don’t know from Adam on their hair and their clothes and all sorts. Whatever [or should that be ‘whaddever’?] next? [Sorry! Getting carried away!]

I read a recent Facebook post on the weirdest things about America that Americans don’t realise are weird.  It’s funny and I agree with some of it (including the flag thing, as above …) and it’s what set me on the train of thought for this post. But there are some weirder and more disturbing aspects of this country, if you ask me, and I plan to go there soon – maybe next time if I can work out how to word things reasonably sensitively (I don’t want to be shot, after all, nor do I want to offend). Today though, I’m embracing what once was – for me, two years ago – strange, that has now become surprisingly endearing, possibly routine and definitely acceptable, simply through assimilation.

But it has also made me ponder on how long (if ever?) it might take for weird and disturbing to become endearing, routine and acceptable. Redneck gun-toting Jesus-loving Republican, me? Could it ever be possible? Surely not. Let’s go with unexpectedly conformist. But, hey, who the bloody hell knows what could happen if I were to stay any longer, this is America after all.

Weighing up the pros and cons

So, Mr N has gone again. 12 weeks away, two here, and then, tonight, over.  He’s got 36 hours up in the air/stagnating between flights, I’m back home from the airport writing this.

just being at home

We’ve had an action-packed, fun-filled fortnight: three trips to the flicks, two to galleries, one each to the theatre, symphony orchestra and (a first) the Japanese Gardens, lots of street art, miles and miles and miles and miles and miles and miles and miles on bikes, a communal camp, meals with friends out, meals with friends in, lunching à deux, some tennis, a run in the park, a milestone celebrated as offspring no. 2 had his last day ever at school, beers in the sunshine, retail therapy, obvs some of that (more before the big bike ride than immediately after, you’ll understand). No work for either of us. School break for the boys in the second week. All in all a holiday at home.

Now, that’s not to say that there haven’t been some irritating little weeds in amongst the idyllic meadow flowers.  Somehow I have been managing to drive around the streets of Houston perfectly soundly for the last three months without needing to be told that the lights are turning red up ahead or that the car in front is changing lanes or turning left, but seemingly there has been call for the services of a co-driver these last couple of weeks.  And the fridge, apparently, needed a good clean. (Actually, it did and he gave it one. Still, though, the fact of those two truths doesn’t soothe the slight scratch inflicted by the – to prolong the vegetative metaphor – thorn of the unspoken but very real criticism.) The jet lag/insomniac combo is not a good one, either for the sufferer or the bed-sharer, plus our mutually borderline alcoholism – or in more forgiving terms, dipsomania – is not (we have always known but choose to ignore in the delight of our joint indulgence) conducive to sleep resolution; without him I can at least bag a lie-in. Oh yes, and a trumpet is very loud, which I’d forgotten, and the cutlery in the dishwasher should point upwards except for the sharp knives. Finally, but possibly most infuriatingly, is his irrational hatred of, and subsequent rageful ranting at, Michael MacIntyre, James Corden (who, would you believe it!, was a guest this week on MM’s chat show, opening up the gardens to a furiously withering watering of abuse from Mr N – although, don’t tell him, but I did think it was a very poor interview/chat and overall his series has been overly me me me and underly what we really want to hear from the guests, but shhhhh!) and Apple products.

But treats and exasperations notwithstanding, what is lost in the separation that is found in the reunion that is of most significance is the easily blurred but easily mundane: four feet up on the table watching the telly; coffee in bed not made by you; arguing about who is funny and who is not and why;  chit chat about books; shared pride in your kids that isn’t seemly to express anywhere – or with anyone – else; spooning in bed; family jokes and taunting and teasing; little gestures that have private meaning: raised eyebrows and shakes of the head, silent but knowingly reciprocal acknowledgement that, yeah, ‘let’s get a take-out’ is an acceptable statement today; end-of-the-day company, frankly, even if it’s in the room next door and in a bit of a mood; requited pleasures in ephemeral things which for me and Mr N, often, is in new words: he taught me this time the verb “ultracrepidate” which means to criticise beyond the sphere of one’s own knowledge – so far so good (and so useful, I’m certain, watch this space!) – but bear with me because it gets better… it literally means “beyond the sandal”, coming from a Roman story about a cobbler who was asked to critique the painter Apelles’ rendition of a sandal and, having given his opinion on said footwear went on to complain about other aspects of the painting, at which Apelles, we’re told, replied, “Ne sutor ultra crepidam”, or, in translation, “Cobbler, not beyond the sandal”.  I love my man and his etymology!  And you don’t get that on Skype.

Mr N and I have made informed decisions that have led to this current way of life and, if we so choose, could stop it now. The wolf’s far from the door. So the looming shadow and then actuality of his departure is tempered by our constant jabbering justifications and reasonings and weighings, up and down, of the pros and cons. Of course the pros outweigh the cons or we wouldn’t prolong it. Do we all agree?  Ask me in a couple of days maybe.

Fingers crossed (again)

Yesterday, at the end of two very long and tiring days of cycling, F (our 18 year old) sliced the top of his foot open on my chain ring as he helped to load the bikes onto the car. He came over all woo-woo-woo and shaky at the sight of the blood and, possibly, the pain as well. R, our youngest, was also a little freaked out. “It looks like a cherry pie,” he eugggh-ed  in squeamish fascination. (Cherry pie? No, I didn’t really get that either, except maybe for the red bit.)  He did, though, manage to find someone nearby who happened to have some Advil (that’s ibuprofen) to hand so he wasn’t entirely useless.  Mr N and I, as is our wont in such situations, tried to play it down but the lady with the pain killers was shaking her head, and talking about stitches and antibiotics, and F got paler. I can’t speak for Mr N for sure, but it was certainly not what I wanted to hear. At the risk of sounding selfish and, therefore, like a very poor parent, whilst genuinely sympathetic and concerned for my son, my winning emotion was an exhausted, wish-this-hadn’t-happened-right-here-and-now exasperation. Blimey, put like that, it does sound a bit heartless! But in my defence m’lord, as well as all the cycling – and hence a very sore fanny, which I use in both the American and British senses of the word, but mostly in the British sense –  we’d all been up since 4.30am on very little sleep and I had been hallucinating for some time about the Chinese take-out already on order at our neighbours’ and the glass of wine to accompany it. “It’s ok,” I reassured F (and, I hoped, Mrs Advil), we’ll go by CVS and get some butterfly plasters and stuff.”  We flung the remaining gear into the boot and headed off.  I didn’t look directly at the foot as we drove, but F was clearly not quite himself and I was definitely less unfazed than I was pretending to be, debating in my head all the way whether or not to turn the car round and head for the nearest emergency room. But there was part of the problem: I don’t actually know where the nearest emergency room is, having been fortunate not to have needed to visit one since we’ve been in Houston and not being the sort of person who checks these things out jic. The pharmacy and home, on the other hand, was a known, quick, ten minute drive away, the best no fuss option – just so long as it was the right option, if you know what I mean.

We’ve had several of these should-we/shouldn’t-we possibly-but-not-definitely emergency situations with the kids over the years. And without fail, we’ve always not.  So F already has two scars on his head (one you can see, one’s under his hair) from accidents in the bath as a toddler; the first time a glass bottle fell and broke on him, and then he cut himself just above the eye on the edge of the tap.  Hmm, reading that last sentence over, it comes across as a little stark, the bottle incident. Let me clarify that it was an ornamental jar full of prettily colourful shells collected by all of us from beaches in France and England and Wales, a lovely family memoir of seaside holidays and an appropriate, watery themed, bathroomy adornment, which got knocked off its shelf accidentally. The tap thing was F’s own fault. In both instances, though, he was proud to have a bandage round his head for a couple of days.

Once, H (our oldest) got an infected chicken pock which caused her to limp in the most hilarious manner (I thought) but it turned out I ought to have been worried rather than amused somewhat sooner than I actually was, as she ended up quite poorly, off school for an extra few days and on her first ever course of antibiotics. She, too, has a deep physical scar to show for it. (But we do still have the video of her injured walk, and if you know her it’s a must-see. If there’s ever a wedding, we’ll be showing it. Perhaps then she can add a mental scar to the record.)

R, meanwhile, slipped off a windowsill and slashed his forehead on the radiator. He was 18 months old and we were about to walk down to school to drop the older two off and to transfer him over to the care of my childminder for the rest of the day while I went to work. And that day, I really had to be in the office for some reason that now escapes me. I can’t remember whether Mr N was working locally or away at the time, but he wasn’t actually at home at that moment and so couldn’t step in. I wiped R’s head, gave him a spoonful of Calpol in case he had a headache, kissed and cuddled him till he stopped crying and then, at the first sign of a smile, made my snap decision, and headed out of the door as planned. He was his usual happy self all the way to the handover, and his wound – and it was quite a wide and deep wound, I do admit – wasn’t bleeding any more. But I had that niggle still. The childminder was a bit shocked at the sight of him and his slash, but agreed to take him along to the doctor’s on my behalf and promised to ring me (no mobile phones then). When I arrived at work, I got the message that she was on her way to a&e at the advice of the doctor, but not to worry, he was still smiling. R ended up being glued together and was totally untraumatised. But when I picked him up at the end of that day, she told me (with some degree of judgement, I can’t but help feel) that the nurse at the hospital had expressed incredulity that “his mother left him with you like that?”  He’s still got the visible scar, but, hey, as I’ve told both boys all along, scars are sexy.

And then there was R’s finger incident, when, aged five, he flattened it in the car door. We were leaving a beach, on holiday in a remote part of south Wales, on a Sunday evening, in between Christmas and New Year.  We didn’t really know where the nearest town was, let alone a casualty department (probably no map to hand and absolutely no sat nav then, either) so we patched him up ourselves from the car first aid kit with antiseptic wipes, Savlon, plasters and painkillers.  Well, what would you have done? Over the next few days, we kept it clean and refreshed the dressings and it looked fine, scabbing over nicely (though still squashed) and it wasn’t hurting. Then, on our last day away, he fell over and knocked off all the scabs and scraped it further. I did take him to the doctor as soon as we were home, by which time (overnight) it had become infected, yellowy and puss-y. I got a telling off, probably rightly, for not having had it seen to in the first place.  His finger is deformed to this day. In fact, he told me that the mid-event masseuse the other night balked at it as she came to the stretching down the arm to the fingers bit of his massage and hurriedly moved on to his other hand.

So anyway, moving on hastily back to F and us last night and the end of the event and our drive home with gashed and bleeding foot and tussle (albeit silent and with myself) about what to do. We found butterfly strips and antibiotic dressings in CVS and antiseptic wound wash and bandages at home. He showered. The pain stopped. The bleeding abated. Mr N played nurse and  cleansed and plastered and bound him up. Then we all went next door for Chinese.

Did we (all, including the injured F) have a nice evening basking in our collective sense of achievement, easing of fatigue, delicious anticipation of bed, and the glowing warmth of food on the table, wine in the glass, shared anecdotes and good company? Yes.  Did we do the right thing? I really don’t know yet… 

Attack line 4

Right then, this is my fourth line of attack on Mr N (on the assumption that he reads this blog but chooses to remain diplomatically silent and, overtly at least, non-judgmental).

The background is this: we’re leaving America in July (see last blog post). Apart from R, our 15 year old, none of us has been to the Grand Canyon. [R went on his school trip last year. When I was at school we got day trips to places like Knowsley Safari Park, Hardwick Hall and Stratford-upon-Avon. Sad animals, historic houses and Shakespeare-land. Anyway.] So, I’ve suggested a last little trip, en famille except for H, oldest offspring. [She’ll be in Italy entertaining language students. In my day, holiday jobs were the weekend shift at KFC or working nights on the production line bagging frozen sprouts. Anyway.]

To my battle plan, then, and first mention – just broad suggestion – last week, by text to Mr N in Oz gets the terse and, I detected even on that wee phone screen, sarcastic response: “How did I know you were going to say that?”  Chirpily, I float back with, “Because it’s a fabulous idea.” Then some chuntering follows from him about the dates and details of our ‘repatriation’ (aka flights home, freighting of stuff – which will be bikes mainly it would seem judging by the fullness of our garage with said equipment, only one of which is mine, and I’m just parking it here). I reassure with a “Leave it to me”, to which he counters, “Haven’t you just been on holiday?” I have, of course, but I ignore the question because obvs it was rhetorical. That was my first line of attack over. Sowing the seed.

Sensing some slight resistance (if I’m honest, I completely anticipated it), I make a decisive move on to attack line two: his Mum and Dad, get ‘em on board, advocating on my behalf! During our weekend Skype call, I mention it and we’re away, they think it’s a brilliant proposition. “Well you’re only coming back to rainy old England, I’d put it off for as long as possible if I were you”, was one of Grandma’s dour and pragmatic pronouncements (and a little deflating it was too, it has to be said, that wasn’t really going to be one of my intended selling points of the trip!) but hopefully she’ll be a little more upbeat when she next chats with Mr N, as well as, importantly for my campaign, unbiased, but I suppose I’ll take whatever support I can get.

Attack line three was the direct sell.  A bit more meat on the bones and all the benefits, by email. I’m thinking, a four or five day trip to the Hoover Dam (appealing to the engineer in him and in F, his oldest son on the cusp), the Grand Canyon (on everybody’s bucket list, yes?, and, frankly, it’s on our doorstep) and Zion Park (cycling/hiking opps, that should prick his ears up), flying in and out of Las Vegas (maybe even time for a cheeky spin at the roulette wheel, who knows what might happen there). No probs anticipated with our demobilisation arrangements, I’ve started the conversation. Won’t be expensive. Would be if we had to do it from the UK. Told him to ask his Perth housemate what he thinks (I call him “holiday Jim” and for good reason so I expect that he’ll back me up).

I’ve had a message from him about toothache since, but nothing specifically, or even obliquely, about this which I’m taking to be a good sign.  He’s home in three days (for the first time in 12 weeks!) at which point, of course, attack line five will begin in earnest when he’s knackered, jet-lagged, but oh so bloody pleased to be back: full body blows from all angles and all three of us (me, F and R). He probably doesn’t have a chance. Especially as attack line six, the Normandy landings if you will, is likely to be my just booking it all anyway.

But just in case, as I said, this is attack line four (with photo included for added emphasis). I do know that we are incredibly fortunate to be in a position to even debate the possibility, but in that position we are. I also am aware that I’ve barely contributed financially to the family income over the last two years, which was not my choice but nevertheless means that, as with all our USA adventures, he’ll be doing all the actual paying if we’re strictly talking in monetary terms and not in things like organisational terms which, if he’s talking about it at all, then I suspect it will be in the former terms, though at least he’ll be with us this time – a big Brucey bonus from his perspective, n’Grand Canyonest-ce pas? And, what he does already know and you maybe don’t: I’m really low maintenance! I do camping, hosteling, shacking up in cabins, low-price motels; genuinely love a bit of squashing in and making do, you can play bananagrams and drink wine anywhere. Even the Grand Canyon. So when I say “not expensive”, it probably means “really cheap” in many people’s eyes.

Do feel free to take sides.