Firm favourite makes a welcome return to the menu at the Sad Bastard Café

By Calvin Palmer

A staple dish at the Sad Bastard Café made a welcome return this evening.  Chilli Con Pollo is a house specialty. It is based on Chilli Con Carne but substitutes chicken for minced beef, or ground beef as the Americans call it.

The café has undergone many changes since its relocation. The wait staff, Brandy, has gone. When I say wait staff, Brandy used to wait at the table looking up at me with those doleful brown eyes waiting for a tidbit or two, which she got at the end of the meal and more often than not before the meal was finished. Brandy is a Chihuahua dog.

Under new quarantine regulations, she could have come with me to the UK but I did not know that I was going to have to extend my stay in the UK to undergo medical treatment. I parted from Brandy with a heavy heart. I still feel sad when I think of her, especially with the knowledge that I prbably will never see her again. I’m filling up.

Desserts have proved something of a challenge. The Publix brand Roadrunner Raspberry Frozen Yoghurt, which was a firm favourite at the café has disappeared. English strawberries have formed one replacement, along with Wall’s classic cornettos. Tonight, another favourite from years gone by was resurrected, Greek yoghurt and Rowse’s Greek honey. The latter proved just as impossible to find in the United States as Roadrunner Raspberry is in the UK.

In this age of the global economy and the Internet, I am surprised British and US supermarkets haven’t linked up to offer a range of foodstuffs and household items from both countries. Why is it Swiffer products, for instance, are the sole preserve of the United States? It does appear as if I may be able to buy the dusters on Amazon.co.uk but will pay a heavy premium.

But it is not all bad news. I did track down tortilla chips and salsa dip at M&S the other week and both products were every bit as good as those on sale in the United States.

But back to the Chilli Con Pollo. I started to cook it as I have done in the past, even to the extent of using Tefal saucepans and frying pans, but as I placed the chicken in the frying pan, something seemed to be missing. I sprinkled some Italian seasoning, a replacement for the Herbs of Provence, but I felt sure something else used to be added at this stage. Pepper sprang to mind so I used the pepper mill to add some. I have struggled to find any cans of ground black pepper. A little paprika was added and yet still something kept nagging at me. What was missing?

It was only when I sat down to eat the meal that it came to me – garlic salt. No wonder the meal tasted a bit bland and ASDA’s hot chilli powder was a poor substitute for McCormick’s hot Mexican-style chilli powder. Perhaps I should get in touch with Brandy and see if she can send me some of the latter.

So life at the Sad Bastard Café goes on after a fashion. It isn’t quite the same but it passes muster. I have also come to realize just how Americanized I have become.  In the months ahead, I am just going to have to use my initiative and improvise to overcome those ingredients and items that are unavailable and in other cases settle for second best. You would think a can of red kidney beans would be the same the world over. Not so, Bush’s dark red kidney beans are far superior to anything I have managed to buy in the UK.

Failing that, I could have a week back in the USA and stock up with all those items that are proving impossible to find in the UK. I wonder what the import duty is on Mexican-style chilli powder?

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Unpitted olives make eating with gusto difficult

By Calvin Palmer

I dined out this evening at Gusto! on Lord Street, Southport. I wanted to repay the kindness of the Polish waitress who served me a cup of coffee last night just as the restaurant was closing.

Earlier in the day, I checked out the menu and the fare on offer at this restaurant – pizza and pasta dishes – and discovered it was not exorbitantly priced and so set out to repay my debt.

I ordered the Margherita pizza. Yes I know it is the cheapest one on the menu but frugality is my watchword. Yesterday, I visited Boots The Chemist around 5:00 pm and picked up a packet of Tuna and Cucumber sandwiches marked down to £1. I added a portion of olives to make my pizza order seem less frugal.

The pizza was duly served and I had quite a surprise when I discovered the olives were not pitted. I also counted my blessings that I had not bitten down hard on it and broken a tooth. I think it was incumbent on the waitress to have pointed out that the olives still contained the stones. I am certain that would have occurred in the litigious United States.

I have also noticed that staff in English restaurants do not return to the table a few moments after serving the order to inquire whether everything is to the customer’s satisfaction.

There was another reason for my parsimony with regard to the choice of my main dish. I flicked through to the desserts section in the menu and caught sight of cassata/ pistachio ice-cream. Cassata is one of my all-time favourite desserts and the only time I ever got to eat it in the United States was at The Venetian Casino in Las Vegas. My last visit was several years ago and so I reckoned I was due a serving of  cassata.

The dessert was served by the Polish waitress but there was no flicker of recognition from the previous night. I thought perhaps not everyone has the memory for faces that I do and it was certainly true in America that people rarely forgot me after one meeting. I used to describe myself jokingly as “Once seen, never forgotten”.

It was only when the Polish girl suggested coffee that I asked her if she remembered me. “Of course,” she replied. I was relieved to hear that I had not sunk into anonymity. The coffee, taken outside with a couple of cigarettes, rounded off an excellent meal.

I used to detest eating out by myself but necessity, and being truly by myself these days, have forced me to put such idiosyncrasies to one side.

If any of you are ever in the Southport area, I strongly recommend checking out Gusto! You will not be disappointed by the food, the ambience or the service. But watch out for the olives!

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Divorce sends me back to the UK and waiting for my Peppy Miller

By Calvin Palmer

Regular readers of this blog, the three of you know who you are, will have noticed the change in the header photograph. The cityscape of Jacksonville is gone and has been replaced with a photograph of the Cromarty Firth in Scotland.

I am back in the UK for a while and facing an uncertain future after my wife – aged 56 going on 23 – decided to divorce me after 13 years of marriage. Her timing was impeccable. The announcement came on the eve of our wedding anniversary.

The news was not unexpected but it still came as something of a shock. Given that my income last year amounted to $90.40 from amazon.com advertising on another blog site, I had little option but to head back to the UK and take stock of the situation.

I am staying in the Highlands and Islands region of Scotland, courtesy of a friend from my university days who kindly offered me accommodation while I find my feet and rebuild my self-confidence before heading back to the United States to start my life there all over again . I will forever be in his debt.

After living in the Riverside area of Jacksonville, and on a busy road, the first thing I noticed was the peace and quiet. I have yet to hear a vehicle pass by the house at night; mind you, the house in Scotland is situated 150 yards from the road, which is a dead-end.

So the sound of trains blowing their horns at every level crossing has disappeared from my life – I kind of miss that – but I am certainly glad to be free of those inconsiderate bastards who used to drive through Riverside with their drums and bass tracks pounding from the subwoofers in their cars and shattering the stillness of the early hours.

I don’t know whether it is just me but the older I get I find my tolerance of noise is lower than when I was younger, so being surrounded by the Scottish countryside is perfect for me.

But there are drawbacks. My location is a little remote; the nearest village is a 15-minute drive away. I have had little chance to socialize. I am not sure the people in these parts will respond to conversation from strangers in the same way that Americans do. We shall see.

I made my debut back on British roads yesterday and did all right, given that most of the route was along single-track roads. They appear extremely narrow after driving on roads in America.

I have also rediscovered the noble art of pegging washing out on a washing line. In both Texas and Florida, despite the hot climes, washing was always dried in the tumble drier. I know, it was scandalous behaviour, right up there with driving a car powered by 3.5 litre V6 engine.

The highlight of the week was watching The Artist; my hosts had recorded the film on their Skybox. I knew the film had been well received by the critics and won a raft of awards but, hitherto, I had not been drawn towards it – a great failing on my part.

It turned out to be one of the best films I have seen in a long time. The lack of dialogue hardly seemed to matter, mainly because of the superb acting of Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, the masterful direction of Michel Hazanivicius and the wonderful score by Ludovic Bource.

The film got a bit too close for comfort in the final scenes after George Valentin was told to get out of the house by his wife. I readily identified with the character’s slide into reduced circumstances and could feel his growing sense of desperation. Unlike George, I have not sought refuge in a bottle; perhaps that will come later, although I sincerely hope not.

George was eventually saved from the abyss by the charming Peppy Miller, who helped him to bury his pride and resurrect his career.

Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) in a scene from The Artist. Picture courtesy of The Daily Telegraph.

Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) in a scene from The Artist. Picture courtesy of The Daily Telegraph.

When the film ended, I was left to ponder, where is my Peppy Miller? I hope she turns up soon.

So if any of you delightful women out there can come to the rescue of a writer/sub-editor/proof-reader/photographer and generally nice guy, just get in touch.

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Loneliness linked to phantom cigarettes

By Calvin Palmer

Today’s online edition of The Guardian features an article about the loneliness epidemic sweeping the UK.

The article stresses the health risks associated with loneliness and cites a report that states loneliness is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

That assertion is linked to an article in the Mail Online, which proclaims social isolation is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic, according to research by Dr Julianne Holt-Lunstad, of Brigham Young University in Utah and data obtained from 300,000 people.

Alas, the Mail Online article does not specify just how loneliness can be equated with smoking 15 cigarettes a day. And why is it 15 cigarettes instead of say 10 or five?

Is there a body of knowledge that can precisely show the effects on a person’s health of each cigarette smoked on a daily basis?

And what if a person is lonely and smokes 15 cigarettes a day, does that mean they are effectively smoking 30 cigarettes a day?

It all sounds rather implausible to me and smacks of the kind of junk science that is used to support anti-smoking and anti-tobacco measures the world over.

A photograph accompanying the Mail Online article has the caption: Me, myself and I: Loneliness can be as damaging for your health as smoking, research shows [sic]

Clearly working for the Mail Online means you do not end a sentence with a full stop. I wonder how damaging that can be to a person’s health? It is certainly damaging to your reputation as a working journalist.

And why does the caption only mention smoking when alcohol was also mentioned in the study?

It strikes me the Mail Online, like most of the mainstream media, has an anti-smoking agenda.

What’s the betting that every person associated with that article reaching the public is a non-smoker? I will wager they all like a few pints of beer or a few glasses of wine, hence the link to alcohol being downplayed.

You couldn’t make it up, could you? Well, actually they do.

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Common decency divides two nations

By Calvin Palmer

Two gymnasts entered the North Greenwich Arena at the London Olympics yesterday with the expectation of walking away with a gold medal for an individual event. One was American; the other was British. One was female; the other male.

Mckayla Maroney, one of America’s Fab Five gymnasts who took gold in the team event, was competing in the vault. In the build up to the event, NBC presented her with typical American hype and depicted her in a series of photographs that would not have looked out of place in a men’s glamour magazine. For the record, Maroney is only 16.

In the arena, Maroney strutted around with a look of smug confidence that only Americans can conjure up. The look on her face simply said: “The gold medal is mine. I don’t know why these other girls have bothered turning up.” We saw that look of hubris quite a bit during NBC’s coverage because Maroney was competing seventh out of eight competitors.

Eventually, her turn came. Her first vault was the best in the competition and partly justified that smug look on her face. Her second vault ended in disaster – she landed in a sitting position.

Maroney lands in a sitting position during the vault competition (AP Photo/Gregory Bull).

Occasionally, nemesis has a habit of striking the right person and no one was more deserving of her fate than Maroney.

The final competitor, Sandra Izbasa of Romania, completed two less complex vaults with few errors and outscored the American to take the gold medal.

What followed seemed to reinforce the sense of nemesis. Maroney, like a spoiled brat, failed to congratulate the Romanian girl. In fact, the Romanian girl, with good grace, went to console Maroney with a hug. Maroney was unresponsive, looking over the Romanian girl’s right shoulder with a stony sulky stare, consumed in her own disappointment.

In the men’s pommel horse event, Great Britain’s Louis Smith had high hopes of winning a gold medal event after he recorded the highest score in the qualifying round.

The pressure was on Smith after Hungarian rival Krisztian Berki delivered a flawless routine that earned a score of 16.066. Smith rose to the challenge and matched the Hungarian’s effort. With both men scoring 16.006, the gold medal went to Berki who had a marginally higher execution score – 9.166 to Smith’s 9.066.

Four years ago, Smith suffered a similar fate in Beijing when he tied with Croatia’s Filip Ude for silver but lost out in the tie-break and ended up with bronze.

Once the result had sunk in, Smith – unlike the petulant Maroney – walked over to Berki and warmly congratulated the gold medal winner in the true spirit of sportsmanship.

Sportsmanship from Smith and Berki. Picture courtesy of metropol.hu.

Smith will have won a great many admirers for the dignified manner in which he handled his disappointment. Maroney’s behaviour earned her zero points for how to cope with defeat. Her behaviour was anything but fabulous.

The face of a champion: Mckayla Maroney on the medal rostrum after only winning silver in the vault event. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

No one likes a sore loser and Maroney was sore in more senses of the word than one. She did herself, and her country, no favours with her conduct yesterday.

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British athletes create an Olympic night to remember

By Calvin Palmer

Sporting events conjure up many memorable moments but I doubt I will witness anything more moving or memorable than the medal ceremony of Olympic heptathlon winner Jessica Ennis.

The award of her gold medal crowned an evening of great British achievements that started with the Women’s Pursuit Team of Dani King, Laura Trott and Joanna Rowsell burning their American rivals off the track to claim not only Olympic gold but also a new world record, breaking the one they set in the opening round of the competition.

From the Velodrome, the action moved to the Olympic Stadium where Great Britain was in with a chance of claiming three gold medals in one session of an Olympic games for the very first time.

Ennis had the gold medal in her grasp even before she stepped out on the track for the final event of the women’s heptathlon. She surpassed herself in both the long jump and javelin earlier in the day. Ennis just needed to run the 800 metres event in a decent time to ensure the gold medal.

She did more than that.

Ennis led the field from start to finish, winning the race in magnificent style and racking up a total of 6,995 points, 306 points ahead of Germany’s Lilli Schwarzkopf in silver and 327 clear of world champion Tatyana Chernova in bronze.

There was hardly time to draw breath before Great Britain chalked up its second athletics gold medal of the night when Greg Rutherford won the long jump. His fourth round of jump of 8.31metres (27 feet and 3.1 inches for Americans) was enough to give him the gold medal, and for the first time since Lynn Davies won gold in the long jump at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. I hate to say it but I remember that.

The crowning glory to make it a night to remember not only for British athletics but also the whole of Britain came when Mo Farah stormed home to win the 10,000 metres race. Farah made his move just before the sound of the bell for the last lap of the race. He stepped up a gear that left the other competitors trailing behind. They tried to catch him but Farah proved unassailable and supreme.

On this magnificent evening, I doubt there is not an expat anywhere in the world who does not feel immensely proud to be British. I know I certainly do, although times of great British elation are also accompanied here in Northeast Florida by the loneliness of the long-distance runner.

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Did NBC doctor the soundtrack of the women’s team gymnastic event?

By Calvin Palmer

When I watched the live broadcast of the women’s team gymnastic event on BBC One, I was not aware of the North Greenwich Arena erupting in huge roars every time an American gymnast competed. The only loud cheers I heard were when the British girls were performing their exercises and routines.

Several hours elapsed between the end of the event and its broadcast on NBC TV. The technology certainly exists to alter a soundtrack. Did NBC TV doctor the soundtrack of the women’s team gymnastic event?

Watching the evening broadcast by NBC, one would be forgiven for thinking that the women’s team gymnastic event was only contested by three teams – the USA; the Russian Federation; and Romania. It also appeared from the NBC coverage that the Romania team comprised just one competitor.

There is editing and editing. NBC absolutely butchered the live coverage.

In an NBC interview with Michael Phelps, who has become the most decorated Olympic competitor of all time, the American swimmer said that it has been an honour representing the greatest country in the world. America may be great in many things but accurate TV reporting of events does not appear to be one of them.

NBC’s coverage of the women’s team gymnastic event reminded me of the kind of reporting associated with the old Soviet Communist regime, totally biased and a completely inaccurate representation of the actual events that took place in the North Greenwich Arena yesterday afternoon.

It would be an interesting excercise to compare the soundtrack of the BBC’s live coverage of the event with NBC’s edited highlights.

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