A Long Time In Politics

Hurricane Wilma shines the spotlight back on the U.S. government's ability to handle emergencies.
The 2,000th American dies in Iraq.
Presidential aide Lewis Libby implicated in the Plame scandal.

Supreme Court nominee Harriet Myers withdraws under criticism from the President's core supporters.
Lewis Libby is indicted for perjury and faces 30 years if found guilty. Karl Rove is also under investigation. The President's approval rating falls to 39% - the lowest on record for a second-term administration.

With facts like these you don't need much editorial. But spare a thought for the thousands of mothers worldwide who have outlived their children. It's not right that the incompetent send the loyal to their deaths.

Ode To T. E. Stockwell

I heart T.E. Stockwell
For he and his hath put me back
On the straight and narrow.
The wide and the fast track.
Where the band is broad and the A.D.S.L. impresseth.

Thou must have haddeth no clue
Eighty years ago
That diversification would be the saviour
Of your ailing supermarket, Tesco.
Yet it were and your speedy-yet-affordable internet package doth rock.

(With apologies to E.J. Thribb.)


Up The Downs

Less than ten minutes from where I live is a big open grassy space called The Downs. Bristol's all hilly undulation and The Downs has a fantastic view of Brunel's original suspension bridge, the Avon gorge and the city lights. (As a child I couldn't understand why such high ground was called The Downs but I've since looked the word up in the dictionary.)

These car days I go "up" there when I need some time to myself. It's a great spot to smoke, contemplate the meaning of life and wonder if you left the oven on. By day the area's used for wholesome activities like junior football leagues and kite flying. But after dark it's transformed into Bristol's most reknowned gay pick-up point, much like Clapham Common in London. There are usually a lot of cars parked with their lights out on the mile-long road to where I smoke but I've yet to be propositioned myself. What's wrong with me, dammit?!!

Last Wednesday there was an impromptu firework show courtesy of a bunch of kids not necessarily old enough to buy fireworks in the first place and, on Monday, nine cars and two motorbikes came roaring down the main approach and had a doughnut competition on the grass for about twenty minutes. Three cars lined up with their lights on full beam to illuminate the makeshift arena - which I thought was pretty good co-ordination for delinquents - and they recreated Thunder Road for me despite not even being twinkles in their daddies' collective eyes when Grease was released.

The Downs: if you've nothing better to do, it's the place to go.

List In Translation

crisps = chips
chips = fries
jam = jelly
jelly = jello
braces = suspenders
suspenders = garters

All these and more can be found at Chris Rea's English-to-American Dictionary. It's funny for me to see so many phrases that I wasn't aware of when I lived in the States. I wonder... did my friends and colleagues have any idea what I was talking about half of the time or did they gloss over the parts they didn't understand? That might explain the lukewarm response to some of my best jokes.

I was good at French and German vocabulary in school and really lousy at grammar, and I put this down to simple economics: when you "pay" one word and get one back that's a worthwhile return on your investment. Grammar was never so satisfying so I tended to avoid phrases and whole sentences wherever I could. (Still do. See?) Two U.S. phrases in particular I could never adjust to:

be sure to = be sure and

"Be sure to do your homework" in Britspeak means "do your bloody homework or else" whereas in Yankspeak it seems to imply two separate actions: "be sure that you want to do your homework AND then do it". I know that's not what it means but, on face value, that's what the words mean. Isn't it?

by accident = on accident

What the Shakespeare is going on here?! When you do something "by design" that's also "on purpose". It's all prepositions and abstract nouns and I could never get my head around which made better sense. But it grated every time I heard the natives say "on" and I'm sure my use of "by" had a similar effect on them.



"The last time I criticized the British education system someone said to me, 'A bad workman always blames his tools.' The next time someone says that to you, tell them you're so impressed that you want them to write it down for you. Then hand them a carrot and a postage stamp."

- Comedian Adam Bloom in The Problem With Adam Bloom (2005).


Lazing On A Sunday

I got up at 1300 today with nary a comment from the old person I live with. I knew it was going to be a good day right then.

I drank a small pot of fresh coffee, watched the news headlines and blogged. I smoked a cigarette and cleaned the downstairs half of the house (not at the same time). I took time out of my busy schedule to help my dad put a dead motorbike into storage. I walked the back route to the grocery store and recognized all the dips and bumps I used to jump on my B.M.X. bike more than twenty years ago.

I cast my mind back to last Sunday and roast dinner for seven at The Lion & Lobster in Brighton. Joeri and Ric played chess and I was a fag hag. We failed a crossword puzzle for several hours but I finished a Sudoku for the first time. We planned the next day's train journey to the nth degree and I read an nth of the Uncut magazines The Mod saved for me while I was A.W.O.L. Our evening consisted of four different types of whiskey, four Nepalese curries and a drunk man who wanted to hug us all in the street.

Now I remember: this is what weekends are all about!

Ford Paused To Contemplate His Ford-ness

My mother is considering reverting to her maiden name of Ford. (This blog was named after a Douglas Adams character and the car I'm driving is a complete coincidence too, I swear!) My passport needs renewing next year so, if I'm going to follow suit, I should do it soon or not at all.

The issue is threefold. I'd welcome being able to pronounce my own name without having to concentrate and ridding myself of a name that totally belies my rural roots (Sheppard) would be a bonus. I'd also like to honour my mother for all she's done for me, though my father's been refreshingly supportive of late so I'm not just trying to find new ways to piss him off! My middle name (Charles) was given for his father and would seemingly cover my ass when it comes to representing his side of the family but I'm sure he's going to react badly, despite that.

The ideal solution would be to find a way to commemorate both parents. But double-barrelled names are pretentious and Ford-Sheppard sounds like the motor company just built their first tractor. What would you do with your own name in similar circumstances? What would you do if you had my four names to choose from? How many names is too many? It's one thing to be saddled with a stupid name from birth but if I make a bad choice now I'll have no-one to blame but myself. I'm overwhelmed with possibility and could use some guidance here.


J Plus Three

Despite meticulous planning, I was late for the first day of my new job. A suicide at a London train station on Sunday caused rail disruption until the following morning and affected my journey. Luckily, the incident was well-reported and no-one at work held my arrival time against me. We're based in a swanky shared office complex, so I stole wireless internet access from a neighbouring business until my ethernet port was ready.

Yesterday, we picked up a Ford Focus Zetec Climate and visited our first retailer. An hour later we returned to the car to find police cordoning off the entire area following a suspicious car-versus-person incident. From the safe side of the blue and white tape, it looked like the Zetec had taken some collateral damage but what we feared were scratches turned out to be nothing more than unfamiliar lines on the bodywork! I get to keep the car for the duration of the project I'm working on, which is three months minimum.

I've got a shed-load of reading and researching to do, but nothing seems too complicated so far. I'll be in the office some days, working from home others and driving still others so please bear with the blog while I adjust to the new routine and pause to admire my car a lot.


Stage Design and Radio Drama were intensive practical courses at university and I could choose to study only one. I chose design and didn't regret it but radio still has a place in my heart. Some of my favourite comedies started on radio before graduating to television (The Day Today née On The Hour, for example) and sometimes dead T.V. shows live on in sound only.

The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy was born on Radio 4 and the "look" of that universe is so much cooler in your imagination than when brought to life on a B.B.C. budget from 1981 - or even on a British independent film budget from 2005. Some of the series' best jokes play on your sensory deprivation and create laughs that are impossible in most other mediums:

Deafening volcanic eruptions and other explosions, followed by a beat of silence.

Ford: This rock we're trapped under... how big do you think it is?

Likewise, the series of Doctor Who audio plays from Big Finish Productions is mercifully lacking in the gaudiness and graphic violence that marred the final decade of its television counterpart. Not being able to see the lurid patchwork coat worn by Colin Baker's character is an immediate plus. It's so bad (really, it is) that I can only bring myself to inflict a small portion of it upon you here, loyal readers.

On C.D, the coat is more frequently used as a plot point - such as when our hero escapes certain death at the hands of an alien race by convincing them he made it out of the skins of his former enemies! It's as if, by removing the stylistic excesses, the writers reverted to telling stories of substance instead. Baker's hands seem freed too, allowing him to finally perform the role with some degree of dignity as opposed to stumbling around like a confused rat in a technicolor maze. BBC7, the digital-only radio station with a mandate to avoid elitism, now broadcasts the Big Finish audios alongside The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes and other popular stories. Though I'm good at being somewhere else on Saturdays and missing them all.

See how I fooled you with an anagram in the title and it was another Doctor Who-related post after all? Moo ha ha. Die Welt ist meine! Etc.


New Tech In My Life

My friends in America had an unspoken competition to see who could buy the biggest television. Someone bought a 52" so the next guy got a 60", etc. I couldn't justify the expense or the space in my apartment to take part personally but it was pretty sweet to stand by and reap the rewards.

I just stayed a couple of days with a friend, Tony, and his is the biggest I've ever seen. He's got a hi-quality video projector mounted on the ceiling and the 84" screen sits barely an inch off the opposite wall. If my arithmetic is good, a 4:3 aspect 84" screen gives over 3300 square inches of image. Now that's what I call home cinema! The 21" set at the bottom of the linked photo looks every inch the 1:16 scale model of its new big brother. Oh, how I wish I'd picked up Supervixens earlier in the week...

His computer set-up was fun to play with too: a wireless mouse and wireless keyboard. I was sat on the sofa using the projector screen as a monitor and a lower case letter in the body of one of these articles was as big as my thumb. And two days on broadband was like regaining the use of a limb. Tony, if you're reading, you're my God For The Week. (Sorry once more for setting fire to the plant pot on your balcony with my cigarette butt. Can we call it a ritual sacrifice?)

The Stock Exchange

A few of my recent impulse purchases have backfired on me and I was THIS close to eBaying them for a fraction of their cost when I bothered to read the back of a receipt:

We will happily exchange goods for another item or gift vouchers within 28 days of purchase provided they are in a saleable condition and accompanied by an adequate proof of purchase. We will not exchange multiple goods or previously exchanged goods. Your statutory rights are not affected.

The words "faulty", "damaged" and "unopened" are conspicuously absent.

Virgin Megastore asked if there was anything wrong with the DVD I was returning and I 'fessed up that it just wasn't what I thought it was going to be - I thought it would be good and it was shit. The sales assistant didn't bat an eyelid. In fact, I swapped my initial purchase for two movies because a sale had started in the intervening week and they only care about matching price for price! Nice.

I assume these changes are a move by high street retailers to compete with amazon.com's generous terms. Whatever, it's a rare big-up from me for British customer service!



I was watching a late movie last night when I heard a near-distant bang. The second one got me out of my chair and investigating. At the front of the house I noticed how light it was outside for midnight...

Luckily, this is not our car. I called 999 and many neighbours came out en masse and talked to each another for the first time since the Silver Jubilee street parties of 1977. Owners of nearby vehicles ran around in their nightgowns. One said his rear lights had melted! The funniest part was when a man on a bicycle rode his usual quiet late night route home and found himself passing through a scene from Ladder 49.

"Arson about" seems to be the thing to do in Bristol lately. Less than 24 hours previously a warehouse belonging to Aardman Animations went up in flames, destroying most of its thirty-year archive.

Update 0945 BST: W.P.C. Hotness just rang my bell (which isn't a euphemism, unfortunately) looking for witnesses. She said someone was in custody already but it's not easy to get forensic evidence after a fire.


Top Five U.S. T.V. Shows Now Available In The U.K.

...Excluding Shows I'm Addicted To, Have Written About Extensively Already And Would Somehow Be Watching Even If They Weren't Being Broadcast Here

1. The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
A new digital channel called More 4 (from the people at Channel 4) starts broadcasting in 45 minutes and The Daily Show is their second show. We'll get each episode the day after its U.S. showing.

2. C.N.N.
My main news source is B.B.C. News 24, not least because you can get the latest headlines at the touch of a button 24 hours a day. But comparing how different networks report the same event can be fun.

3. The Office: An American Workplace
I may yet get to see the U.S. adaptation of the Ricky Gervais comedy.

4. Lost
Except I missed the first episode AGAIN and, as with a novel, I can't bring myself to watch Chapter 5 before Chapter 1. Same goes for Deadwood and Carnivàle. If I miss the start of Rome, I'll really be annoyed.

5. Mythbusters
I'd like to bust the myth that presenters Adam and Jamie aren't lovers.

Praise For (The) Kaiser Chiefs

(The) Kaiser Chiefs are the best new band I've heard in a long time. Mix The Clash with Adam & The Ants, simmer for 40 minutes, add a sprinkling of vintage Blur et voila!

Ricky Wilson is a better singer than Joe Strummer and Damon Albarn combined and can really belt it out in a theatrical way. The backing vocals too are more interesting than most "indie" bands and where my Adam Ant comparison comes from. I saw them in interview before I'd heard any of their songs and they instantly endeared themselves to me because they dress well and are genuinely amusing people who I'd love to go down the pub with. I can't say the same about Oasis.

There's a playfulness in their music too: Caroline, Yes is a response to The Beach Boys' Caroline, No and their debut album is called Employment. Like Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear, which paid his divorce settlement, I like it because it acknowledges that they could really use the cash!

They sing about how half-naked girls out on the town on a Friday night are "not very sensible" and how getting mixed up with drunkards who just want to fight (Oasis again) is "not very sensible either". Personally, my fondest lyric is "all I wanted to be was a million miles from here, somewhere more familiar". It's followed by a quadruple refrain of "oh, my god! I can't believe it! I've never been this far away from home." (What Alan Alda says in Crimes And Misdemeanours is true: comedy = tragedy + time.)

So, this is me procrastinating about cleaning the house before my father comes home from vacation tomorrow. Just like (The) Pixies, there's no "The" in their name anywhere on the album yet trying to observe this convention when writing or talking feels really awkward. Grammatically speaking, what's a boy to do?


Like Licking An Ashtray

Smoking is bad for you. Even for people like me who don't do much exercise, giving up is the single most effective thing we can do to improve our overall health. And it's expensive here compared to Virginia - approximately twice the price for cigarettes and five times for loose tobacco.

I once kissed someone who smoked American Spirit "natural" cigarettes. Talk about holding a mirror up! It was disgusting. I've quit twice. Once I lasted for five months then went to Spain and told myself it didn't count because I was on holiday. By the time I got back, I was hooked again. Next, I gave up for a new year's resolution but flew to Spain (again) with a new girlfriend two days later. To say I was tetchy would be an understatement... I chose to disappoint her by breaking my resolution so quickly rather than spoil our vacation with irritability and mood swings.

Tobacco products in E.U. countries come with gargantuan health warnings: big black heavy type on a white background in a black-bordered box that's bigger than the Malboro logo, on both sides of every pack. These range from the classic "smoking kills" to "smoking causes premature ageing of the skin" to my personal favourite, "smoke contains benzene, nitrosamines, formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide". The next step is to use pictures of diseased lungs like they do in Canada. And watch our public services slowly erode as the most heavily taxed product in the country goes off the market and the war budget stays where it is.

Paradoxically, I'm in favour of smoking bans in enclosed spaces (except airports where you can't leave the building when you're on a connecting flight. In this godless age, I can't believe they'll provide a chapel but not a smoking room. I guess smoking just became my religion!) England is poised to ban smoke in pubs and restaurants like Ireland, Wales and Norway before it. So my choice will soon be freeze outdoors in winter or quit. Now that my father knows I smoke, much of the illicit thrill is gone anyway.

So for many reasons my days as a regular smoker are numbered. I just don't know how big that number is yet.

the grauniad

My starring role in Revenge Of The Super-Cold this week kept me from my usual Saturday routine: coffee, more coffee, a cigarette and the best newspaper in the world. I only buy it once a week because, with nine supplements and a free DVD of a movie they helped fund (such as The Madness Of King George), it takes me that long to get through it.

The Guardian is no stranger to criticism. It's definitely leftist though rarely partisan. It thinks like me. Or, possibly, it has indoctrinated me into thinking a certain way! It's won awards for its online content and yet still has a reputation for schoolboy errors. Satirical magazine Private Eye coined the nickname "The Grauniad" due to the alarming number of typographical mistakes and also, I suspect, a desire to avoid lawsuits by referring to every thing and everyone by fake names. (I once sent a hilarious article from Private Eye to a colleague in Belgium and he responded dryly, "That was very British." Link followers, don't say I didn't warn you.) Legend has it that the paper once mis-spelled its own name, though in the top corner of a page and not on the masthead. In truth, the typos mostly ceased in 1988 when the publishers switched to an electronic typesetting system but jokes that good don't go away overnight.

They tried to fool me by launching a major redesign on the very day I returned to these shores but me and my Saturday Guardian are not so easily parted. What do you do when you can't find the font you want and don't want others imitating your success? Make your own, that's what! Helvetica is out and the new font is called Guardian Egyptian. It's now the only British national printing in full colour and the first to use the Berliner format - which is a new mid-size, halfway between the traditional broadsheet and the modern tabloid, and not in the shape of a doughnut at all. It's certainly a lot easier to control on a windy day yet not so small that you look like a pleb when reading it in public. (Snobbery 1, Everyman Complex 0.)

I'd pay the cover price just for the T.V. guide. Where else can you get programme descriptions as sarcastic as this?

BBC1 11.40pm FILM: Net Force (Robert Lieberman, 1999). Scott Bakula heads an F.B.I. team dedicated to solving crimes that take place on an outlandish computer system called "the internet" in the futuristic year of 2005.

Sky Movies 8.00pm FILM: The Chronicles Of Riddick (David Twohy, 2004). Chronically ridiculous.

Not helping its reputation is one of the more entertaining parts of the paper, Corrections. All newspapers make mistakes but mine has no problem admitting to them where others might require a court order before printing an apology. (Appearances can be important, I hear.) I'll end this thinly-disguised sales pitch with a quote that's so old it's probably apochryphal: "The omission of a Corrections section in yesterday's Guardian was due to a printer error and not a sudden onset of accuracy."


Geek House

It's Christmas for all you motherfuckers on broadband/cable connections. T.V. Tome has made available online ALL the special features except the episode commentaries from the Battlestar Galactica Season 1 DVDs. I suppose it's a form of marketing, acknowledging that sampling is by far the best way to garner interest in your product. Yay for that!

The big geek event of the week, though, is the release on both sides of the pond of Serenity, the first big screen directorial outing for Joss Whedon. Fans of the shortlived Firefly television show are salivating right now because they just got some resolution to the show's main plot thread. Why did the government mess with the brain of a child prodigy? Why has it hunted her across the known cosmos? The movie - hey, Cinema Paradiso is a film; this is definitely a movie - doesn't repeat what we saw already but doesn't make the unititiated feel like they're missing information either. What's that? Impossible, you say? Well, that's why Joss fans love Joss. And, if the reviews in the press are anything to go by, plenty of former George Lucas fans are learning to love Joss too.

I've stolen enough links from my friends; check out weblogs Heimlich Manouvers and I Quote Myself for more information. Plot spoilers have been clearly labelled because we all care so damn much.


J Minus Eleven

I can't wait to start work. Working leads to earning. The new job may only be one aspect of what I did before but it pays almost as much and the hire car is a definite perk. I'm still selling but I'm swapping Saruman for Iron Man.

I tried one of my new employer's products on Tuesday and caught myself slipping into "demo mode", over-emphasizing key words and game terms as I went over the rules with a friend. My test bunny didn't seem to mind being talked down to and began to see strategic options quickly. He told me to read the full rules before we meet again. Game on!


How Euro Are You?

There was a fab debate programme on BBC2 tonight about the question of Britain's future in Europe and, because of our penchant for text messaging (plus the usual phone-in and online options), a tally of the nation's views was kept throughout. It was completely unscientific, of course, because everyone taking part was self-selected and had an interest in politics to begin with. Some people won't even watch BBC2!

Comedian Dara O'Briain did a fun segment busting some of the newspaper scare stories that all-too-frequently misinform the uninformed here. "Europe Says Cook Your Pets Before You Bury Them" twisted a fine piece of legislation to protect soil from infection by cattle carrying B.S.E. (Mad Cow Disease). And "Europe Bans Buxom Barmaids" wilfully misinterpretted measures to safeguard outdoor workers from sunstroke. The Sun and Daily Mail really do have to be seen to be believed...

Growing up on Star Trek and its United Federation Of Planets, the big question of whether to integrate or not is a complete no-brainer for me. I find it mindboggling that others in my family could watch so many episodes with me yet so completely miss the point. Also, with my background in international business (he said, making it sound much grander than it is) it's inconceivable to me that anyone can think opting out of the single currency is going to help our economy in the long-term. We're already separated from the mainland by water and language. We don't need additional barriers to Britain being a viable trade partner.

Take the Euro test yourself and share your result in the comments section. (I was categorized as "Mr. & Mrs. Chiantishire", i.e. very pro-integration.)


Friends In High Places

I've caught up with so many old friends in the last two weeks, it's wonderful. I've given directions to strangers twice and I've bumped into two people I used to know purely by chance. Needless to say, such things were impossible when I lived in Virginia and they help me feel like I'm back where I belong.

Racheal (sic) lives in Waterloo. We drank and ate and caught up on four years of gossip about people we went to university with. I was stunned to see this over Borough High Street, just south of London Bridge. Maybe we'll get our own Surveillance Camera Players soon?

Gareth lives in Blackheath. There's a church on the heath and, using that landmark, I once pinpointed where he lives from a plane as it circled before landing at Heathrow. There's a microbrewery three doors down and another a mile away in Greenwich - where the Mean Time comes from. Walking from one to the other on Tuesday, we paused next to Greenwich Observatory and I fished my camera out of my ever-present male purse. I made this! (Warning: it's a 2.5MB image, and that's after reducing the size and quality by 30%. iHud was the only free site willing to host it so you'll have to click a second link on their page to see my behemoth.)


Top Five Woody Allen Films

Forget about his scandalous private life for a second - Woody Allen has made some funny films. (He also made some painfully boring films in the Eighties, but I would too if I was married to Mia Farrow.) I can confidently recommend five gems that don't have him making out with leading ladies less than half his age, though he's still an acquired taste. So acquire some taste and come straight back!

1. Bullets Over Broadway (1994).
John Cusack stars (replacing Woody) as a 1920s playwright who's mortified when a local gangster shows a flair for dialogue and successfully improves his latest work.
"Was there nothing in the original draft you feel was worth saving?"
"The stage directions were lucid. Best I've ever seen. And the colour of the binder. Good choice."

2. Love And Death (1975).
An extremely silly parody of Russian existentialist literature, though I argue that you don't need to have read any (I haven't) to enjoy the film. If you like Bob Hope, Mel Brooks or Charlie Chaplin then there's something here for you.
"We have to take our possessions and flee. I'm very good at that. I was the men's freestyle fleeing champion two years in a row."

3. Annie Hall (1977).
If you've never seen a Woody Allen film before, start here. It's a modern love-gone-wrong story told using split-screen, animation and other techniques unusual to the romantic comedy genre. If I was blogging about my celebrity crushes 30 years ago, I'd leave space for Diane Keaton.
"I don't want to move to a city where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light."

4. Deconstructing Harry (1997).
A writer thinly disguises his friends' lives in his best-selling books, and we see flashbacks to real events contrasted with their fictionalized counterparts. Billy Crystal plays The Devil!
"You have no values. With you it's all nihilism, cynicism, sarcasm, and orgasm."
"In France I could run for office with that slogan and win."

5. Sleeper (1973).
Another "early, funny" one about a Greenwich Village grocer who is cryogenically frozen when a routine operation goes wrong and is revived 200 years later. Could this be the first comedy science fiction film, just five years after 2001?
"I knew it was too good to be true. I parked right next to the hospital."

Overheard In Britain

"There are 28 Bristols in America."

"I'm hearing a slight accent..."

"We tried to get out of the ambulance but they wouldn't let us."

"He sticks his tongue in your ear when he's drunk. And he kisses men. He's not gay. He's just a pain the ass."

"Every time I closed my eyes I thought my duvet was crawling up my body."

"I think I talk almost as fast as you do."

"I'm trying to place your accent..."

"I didn't speak to you for years because of what he said about you."

"Our brains are just beef and electricity. One imbalance and whoosh!"

"I'm not going to comment and neither should you."

"She said she knew she needed to lose weight when she was sitting on the floor at a party and someone stood on her ass."

"My god! Your accent is messed up."


Centesimus Quinquagesimus

This is my 150th article here. I've officially run out of words!

Oh, alright then: Roman centurions were so called because they commanded a unit of 100 soldiers that marched in a 10x10 formation. Of course, this was on the way to battle. I'd like to know what the rules were for marching back with a lower number that doesn't have an integer (a whole number) for a square root.

The Awesome Jar

We went to The Curry House in Brislington on Saturday and, having come directly from The Black Castle pub, I asked the waiter where the bathroom was. He didn't flinch but my friends giggled muchly because Britons simply say "toilet". (On Monday I stayed with a friend in London and corrected myself on this point but he corrected me back because there was, in fact, also a bath in the room.)

Earlier I'd said "awesome" instead of whatever chav phrase is currently in vogue and I'm still thinking and speaking in dollars. Thus was born The Awesome Jar. It's theoretical at this point (for reasons of cashflow) but every time I let slip such an Americanism I'm supposed to throw a pound into the pot. But don't blog about it or anything, or this could get costly on my ass.

Top Five Cheeses

I heart cheese. I have a "Cheese" t-shirt. My mother's side of the family is from Cheddar, so I think it's in my blood. I could talk at great length about my top twenty or so cheeses but, because your patience isn't infinite and the format demands it, below are five of the best.

1. Leerdammer
The product of a cheese-breeding experiment, this slightly rubbery Dutch cheese is less than ten years old. Perfect in sandwiches.

2. Dolcelatte
When I was growing up, blue cheese was alongside parsnip, swede, tomatoes and spinach on the list of things I couldn't bear to eat. But those days are long gone now and all but the parsnip have been reprieved. It's the creamiest blue cheese I know and is so soft you can almost spread it.

3. Camembert
Serve me Brie or any number of similar French cheeses and I wouldn't necessarily spot your duplicitousness but I would definitely still smile - between mouthfuls, naturally. My mouth is watering as I write this!

4. Halloumi
A hard, bland, milky cheese... until you cook it: slice the "loaf" of halloumi into strips and grill them; wrap the cheese in pitta bread, fill it up with chopped lettuce and top it off with a liberal squirt of lemon juice; then watch me regress to my 19-year old self, too disgusted by the wheel of meat to eat a proper kebab on a Friday night when all the pubs had shut.

5. Mozzerella di Bufala
Very prolific in Italian cooking. The International Restaurant Standards Commission (which I just made up) scores major points for ensuring that, when away on business, insalata tricolore was available in every Italian restaurant I ever visited.