Category Archives: Blogging

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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The Original Winger meet the ‘original’ winger

By Calvin Palmer

Searching for video footage of Stoke City’s 5-0 triumph over Bolton Wanderers in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final, I came across a web site called The Original Winger.

Now as every self-respecting Stoke City fan and devotee of The Oatcake fanzine messageboard knows, the “original winger” is none other than acclaimed English author and bon viveur Stephen Foster.

Stephen is well known for his books charting the fortunes of Stoke City — She Stood There Laughing; …And She Laughed No More – as well as the best-selling Walking Ollie and Along Came Dylan.

His most recent work is the autobiographical From Working-class Hero to Absolute Disgrace.

Now if I was Stephen, and being in the litigious United States, I would be in touch with my lawyers regarding the use of the name The Original Winger.

I am joking of course. Stephen aka winger would heartily approve of The Original Winger. It is an American web site based in Los Angeles and inspired by the lifestyle and culture of soccer. I do wish Americans would use football instead of soccer.

It regularly features video highlights of matches from Europe and America’s MLS, along with music videos, articles on apparel and photographs of beautiful women such as Alyssa Miller.

Stephen also runs a blog site – Stephen Foster’s Blog – and as enjoyable and entertaining as it is, especially the comments, he has not been able to come up with the goals that saw Stoke City reach the FA Cup final for the first time in its 148-year history.

Tea With Calvin carries the embedded video of the highlights of Sunday’s game and those memorable, almost unbelievable goals.

Apparently people outside of the United States cannot view the video. Here is the link to Stoke’s five goals.

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Railway station buffet brings back taste of Branston Pickle

By Calvin Palmer

The taste of Branston Pickle, as in a cheese and pickle sandwich, had been a fading memory for the past 11 years. I knew when I moved to America that I would have to forego certain British delights – oatcakes with Lyle’s Golden Syrup, McVitie’s Dundee cake, John West Skippers and smoked mackerel to name but a few.

Branston Pickle. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Branston Pickle was first produced in 1922 by Crosse &  Blackwell at Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire. It takes its name from the nearby village of Branston.

In 2004, production moved from East Staffordshire to Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, where 28 million jars are produced annually. It is estimated one-in-three UK households purchase Branston Pickle.

Such is its popularity that it now boasts its own web page and can even be found on Facebook.

After attending my father’s funeral in Stoke-on-Trent, I found myself with an hour to kill before catching the train back to London. Feeling a little peckish, I made for the railway station buffet.

Instead of the drab and dingy establishment I remembered from the late 1960s and early 1970s, I was faced by bright and airy surroundings.  Gone were curled up ham sandwiches on the counter beneath a glass lid and a pile of Eccles cakes that could easily have served as hard core for anyone laying a concrete driveway.

The buffet’s food was arranged in well-stocked display units, one of which contained a wide selection of fresh and pre-packaged sandwiches.

But what to choose? The cholesterol-friendly chicken salad seemed a likely candidate until I spotted ham, cheese and pickle on wholewheat bread. My mouth began to water at the thought of Branston Pickle and my indecision was over.

Sometimes when a thing is eagerly anticipated, the reality does not meet the expectation. It was not the case here. Taking my first bite, I immediately reconnected with my English roots. The tangy pickle tasted exactly how I remembered it.

Could I go another 11 years without ever sampling this peculiarly British delicacy? No.

Some months ago, my branch of the Publix supermarket chain began stocking a small selection of British food, albeit at grossly inflated prices. Hartley’s blackcurrant jam can be had for $3.99. Even Lyle’s Golden Syrup is available but without Potteries’ oatcakes, it holds little appeal. And yes, Branston Pickle also has its place.

When grocery shopping, I always paused by the British food and looked fondly at packets of Maltesers, Aeros, McVitie’s Digestive biscuits, Heinz Baked Beans and other assorted goodies. Many a time, I actually picked up a jar of Branston Pickle and then placed it back on the shelf, saying to myself that it was an indulgence I could not afford.

But with my taste for the pickle rekindled by my UK trip, $4.99 for a jar seemed a small price to pay to excite my tastebuds. On the first grocery shopping trip on my return to Florida, a jar was duly purchased.

Cheese and pickle sandwiches, albeit Swiss rather than English Cheddar, now accompany my late-night viewing of the Turner Classic Movie channel on a Saturday night. It is my little treat for the week.

If only American bakeries could come up with Hovis bread, I would truly be in seventh heaven on this side of the Atlantic.

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AT&T patently fails to communicate

By Calvin Palmer

My Internet connection and phone line went down in the early hours of Wednesday morning. I did the usual trick of turning off the modem and powering it back up but to no avail. I then noticed a flashing light — In Use — on the telephone and discovered the  line was dead also.

It was left to my wife to report the fault. She has a cell phone and I do not.

Our telephone and Internet service provider is AT&T. Despite the repeated offers from Comcast to switch I have remained loyal to AT&T, although in the past 24 hours my loyalty has been tested almost to breaking point.

First off, the person on the AT&T help desk suggested unplugging all the phones and disconnecting the modem. “It often brings everything back into service,” the person told my wife, without any mention of sending someone round to take a look.

I did unplug all the phones as instructed but knowing full well it would make not one jot of difference. And I was right.

But how was I to contact my wife and get her to call AT&T again.

Riverside, Jacksonville, has some of the last remaining payphones in the United States and one of them, fortunately is only a block away from my house.

Having never used a payphone since moving to America, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but figured the process would be similar to the one used by British Telecom back in Britain.

Luckily, I had a pocket of loose change but was taken aback when instructed to insert 50 cents for a 15-minute local call. First, I did not expect to pay so much. I figured 25 cents would be steep for a call. Second, I did not require 15 minutes. My business would take three minutes, five minutes at the most.

Of course, my wife was unavailable. She usually is when any emergency or crisis arrives and I need her assistance. Be it the direct line to her office or her iPhone, I can guarantee that in such circumstances I will get her voice mail.

My wife’s gorgeous voice, and she really does have a lovely voice, instructed me to leave my message at the end of the tone. I did so but would have much preferred to have spoken to her directly.

The Internet for me is not some idle playing – it is my life. I am dependent on it 100 percent for news, information and communication with the outside world. I also have this blog site to maintain, another one that deals solely with my photographic endeavors and my daily contribution to Blipfoto – all of which were destined to come to a grinding halt.

Most of my social interaction is conducted via the Internet. In fact, I met my wife in an Internet chat room. She was drawn to me by my ability to spell and punctuate correctly.

Any shopping I do, which has been precious little these past couple of years as my income has fallen to zero, is done online. It is my wife’s birthday next week and I was on the point of ordering something when I discovered my Internet connection had disappeared.

I need the Internet to function.

When my wife returned from work, she asked me if AT&T had been. I said not. I asked her if she had received my phone messages. She had not looked for them. However, she had called AT&T again and been told that a repair docket had been issued. She was pissed that AT&T had not turned up despite being given that assurance.

She called AT&T again. It emerged that I was not alone in having lost my Internet connection and phone line. Apparently, a major cable supplying the Riverside area was broken and many other people were in a similar position as me.

My wife was told that it should be repaired by October 18.

When this nugget of information was imparted to me, my reaction was unprintable. Since when has the United States become a Third World country? I asked, once I had vented my anger with a string of expletives. A vital service was going to take 12 days to repair? I was left speechless.

The glossy high-tech image AT&T presents in its TV ads seemingly bears little resemblance to the real world. A 12-day wait before my life could resume had me thinking strongly about switching to Comcast.

The gloom that descended over me today was heavy and intense. I had little interest in doing anything in the knowledge that I was isolated from the world and all that I hold dear. I kept thinking of how I was going to cope over the course of the next 12 days. It was a depressing prospect that I tried to put out of my mind but it kept looming large.

In the middle of the afternoon, I thought I would check if I could access a network on my wife’s laptop. In the past, such a move has enabled me to check e-mails and see what is going on in the world. However, these days most networks are secured by a WPA pass code, as is my network, and are inaccessible to outsiders.

I happened to go into the office, before heading to the Mac Pro, in what I term the “creative suite” – it’s the back bedroom in actuality — to work on processing images from last week’s trip to Atlanta, when I noticed the In Use light on the telephone had stopped flashing. I picked up the phone and obtained a dialing tone. I was back in business. Yay!!!!

So where did this mysterious repair date of October 18 come from?

My wife has just written me an e-mail, saying that she telephoned AT&T again and was told someone had been dispatched today and the ultimate repair date was still supposed to be October 18. Also the promised phone call to her when the repair had been completed was never made. No surprise there.

I would have thought that if a major cable providing Internet and telephone service to Riverside had broken, it would have made the news.  I cannot find any reference to such a story. I doubt The Florida Times-Union would run the story even if it were aware of it. The newspaper may not like Big Government but it sure gives big corporations a free ride.

So just what is going on with AT&T, apart from making huge profits by providing a shoddy service and seemingly by employing complete idiots?  Has any repair man visited my house? No. Have I got my Internet service back? Yes. I guess the pixies must have fixed it.

So while I am grateful to the engineers and technical staff at AT&T for getting me back online, my contempt for the people at customer service knows no bounds. For a company in the communications business, AT&T patently fails when it comes  to communicating with its customers.

If any senior managers at AT&T happen to read this piece, I have one message for them: “Get your act together where customer service is concerned. You don’t know how close you were to losing my business.”

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Tea party represents a nasty stain on the political landscape

By Calvin Palmer

The ultra-conservative tea party has had an easy ride for far too long and been given an air of respectability that it hardly merits.

Now opponents plan to get down and get dirty in order to expose the movement for what it is.

Jason Levin, creator of http://www.crashtheteaparty.org/, says his group has 65 leaders in major cities in the U.S. who are trying to recruit members to infiltrate tea party events for April 15 – tax filing day – when tea party groups across the country are planning to gather and protest high taxes.

“Every time we have someone on camera saying that Barack Obama isn’t an American citizen, we want someone sitting next to the person saying, ‘That’s right, he’s an alien from outer space!’” Levin said.

The tea party says the backlash comes from ignorance. Now there is the pot calling the kettle black.

“They can’t actually debate our message and that’s their problem,” said Bob MacGuffie, a Connecticut organizer for Right Principles, a tea party group that also has members in New York and New Jersey.

The tea party advocates the principles of small government, lower taxes and less spending.

Hmmm, do they really? I wonder what the tea party reaction would be to a massive reduction in defense expenditure. I doubt they would be applauding such a move, even if it reduced their taxes.

A lot of people in Jacksonville support the tea party. These people do not want to see the downtown revitalized by city council money in case it leads to an increase in property taxes. They don’t want the city to spend any money on ensuring the Jacksonville Jaguars remain in the city. Other cultural and artistic pursuits would have to fend for themselves if left to the tea party.

They are the kind of people who welcome cutbacks in education so that children no longer learn about art, music and literature.

What kind of society do these people want to see? One where everyone becomes a couch potato in front of the mindless offerings of cable TV?

But they will clap their hands with glee to see taxpayers’ money spent on bringing a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to Mayport naval base.

And to the Jacksonville tea party people, I would ask them to consider one fact – the economic viability of the city is largely based on big government spending big money to maintain Jacksonville Naval Air Station, the Mayport U.S. Navy base and other military facilities.

But then we get down to the nitty-gritty of what really lies behind the tea party. In Jacksonville meetings, tea party supporters have paraded effigies of Barack Obama hanging from a noose.

And that is part of the tea party’s unpleasant agenda that masquerades behind the calls for lower taxation.

“Do I think every member of the tea party is a homophobe, racist or a moron?” Levin said. “No, absolutely not.

“Do I think most of them are homophobes, racists or morons? Absolutely.”

Another tea party organizer said the attempt to destroy the movement was evidence its message is resonating.

“We’ve been ignored, we’ve been ridiculed. Well, now they’re coming after us,” said Judy Pepenella, a co-coordinator for the New York State Tea Party. “Ghandi’s quote is one we understand: ‘First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.'”

God help America if the tea party ever wins. The sooner these myopic, mean-spirited, racist and selfish individuals are exposed for what they really are, the better for the political health of the nation.

The tea party and the likes of Sarah Palin represent an ugly stain on the political landscape not seen since the days of George Wallace. And that kind of mentality should have no place in the political conscience of the United States in the 21st century.

History has taught us only too well what happens when self-righteous clerks, petty-minded small businessmen, chicken farmers and war heroes seize the reins of political power.

[Based on a report by the Associated Press.]

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