Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Crunchy Nut Cornflakes Arrive in America!

It is a well known fact in England that the best cereal of all is Kellogg's Crunchy Nut Cornflakes.  They have been around for decades and it is hard to imagine a world without them.  Somewhat surprisingly, when we came to America in 2005, we couldn't see any sign of them anywhere.

Yes, Kellogg's  cereals appeared to be a big deal.  Yes, there were Corn Flakes and Frosties and all manner of other staples.  The look of them might be a bit different, and the names might be a touch different too;  Frosties were "Frosted Flakes" but who cared?  Seeing many of the same things gave one a happy home-from-home experience.

But where were the Crunchy Nut Cornflakes?  Surely they could not have by-passed the USA?  Apparently so.  Amazingly, for some reason, Kellogg's had never got their act together to introduce the Brits' favourite cereal over here.  Until last week, that is.  We had popped into our local Food Lion and there they were, innocently sitting there on a special "Two for $5" deal.  Of course we bought two and the first had already been eaten within the first few hours of purchase.

It turns out that Crunchy Nut Cornflakes do indeed originate in the UK and that America has dragged its feet in introducing them.   The Manchester Evening News last week carried a feature on the topic:

Crunchy Nut Cornflakes makes Atlantic jump

The article explains that they were invented in Manchester back in 1980, in Kellogg's Trafford Park factory.  The brand is now worth £94m and finally it gets its first US outing.

As I have often said before, it becomes easier to be a resident alien in the USA all the time. Now we have the reassuringly delicious home-from-home taste of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes. What's next? Walker's Crisps? Now, that would be something.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Ultimate Expat Devices I: The Internet Radio

I often used to think how wonderful it would be if you could have an internet radio.  I mean a radio that sits in your kitchen but that connects to the internet so that you can listen to Radio 4 and 5 Live at your leisure while you do your housework.  Surely such a thing could not be too difficult to invent?  I used to talk to others about the idea and sometimes, if I was lucky, I would get mild interest.

Of course there is the laptop, and of course the expat listens to the radio on the laptop all the time.  But it's not ideal.  I can never get the volume loud enough on mine, and you end up mucking about trying to enhance it by plugging different things in.  And in the mornings, it's hopeless.  I want to come downstairs and have the radio on within seconds while I feed the cats and make the tea.  I don't want to wait while the laptop boots up, and while I find the web page and the link.  The tea's made by the time I've even begun to hear Victoria Derbyshire's voice.

So I've long thought that an internet radio would be a fantastic thing.  Surely it could not be that difficult for a bright techie to invent one?  It's easy to get hold of DAB digital radios -- they are always going on about them on Radio 4.  How much more difficult would it be to invent a radio that links in the your WiFi at home?

Well, it emerges that there already is such a thing.  Although I had never heard anyone talking about it, I went looking, on a whim, to see if I could find an internet radio.  And it's one of the best things I've ever purchased.  The ultimate expat device!

It turns out that there are several on the market.  The one I went for was the Grace Digital Wireless Internet Radio featuring Pandora and NPR (GDI-IR2000).  I've had it now for several months and I absolutely love it.  It takes a few minutes to configure to link to your Wireless router, then you can add in your BBC presets, in my case Radios 1, 2, 4, 5 Live and 6 Music, and then the radio comes on to your preferred station in a matter of seconds.  The sounds quality is excellent and I get a real buzz from just "having the radio on" for a lot of the day.  It's like rediscovering the joy of the radio again.

I usually listen to live stuff on the radio, but you can also go to On Demand programmes and I sometimes do that -- though there is the disadvantage that if it does cut out in mid-stream, it goes back to the beginning of the programme again -- you can't pause, rewind or fast forward.

I get the feeling that there are great riches to be had on the internet radio, thousands of stations from all over the world, but I barely scrape the surface.  I don't care.  For me, it's the ultimate British expat's device -- a pipeline to BBC national radio.  I'm back to having a BBC soundtrack to my life again, and I love it.  Every British expat should have one -- best $120 or so I have spent.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Yorkshire Tea arrives at our local Kroger

I don't care what anyone else says but Yorkshire Tea is the best tea there is. And for the last five years and more, we have had two options: (1) Bring back a big box of Yorkshire Tea whenever we visit England; (2) Make do with Twinings Breakfast Tea or similar. Well, this week all that changed with the arrival of Yorkshire Tea in our local Kroger. It's a bit steep at $4.99 for a small box, but these are the small pleasures that make the life of the British expat just that little bit more cheery.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

How to catch the Ashes as an expat

The Ashes began last night and cricket fans everywhere are excited. Resident Aliens out in the USA and elsewhere have a harder time in viewing / listening than those in England or Australia, so I'll share some thoughts just in case they are of use.

The easiest solution to the viewing problem is Willow TV. After our failure to get satellite TV installed at our place with all the trees surrounding us, back in 2006, I was delighted to discover that there is an internet service that is pretty good and constantly getting better. I pay about $150 a year to get Willow TV's coverage online and that gives you pretty much everything -- home and away test series, one-dayers and everything. The quality is not at all bad and constantly getting better. As of this series, they have begun a 1Mbps HQ stream and I had it on for a couple of hours last night without interruption.

There is usually a choice of streams on Willow, so that at the moment you can either get the Aussie coverage (which includes Richie Benaud and Mark Nicholas) or the Sky One coverage (with all the usual suspects). We have our TV set up for it and so we can plug the laptop into it and watch on-screen.

I like a bit of Test Match Special too, though, and this presents an additional challenge. For some reason, they block off access to TMS for international users. Actually, they forgot to do this on day one and I was hopeful that there was no block. But it is back in effect again tonight and will be for the rest of the series. Luckily, there is a solution -- Expat Shield. This is relative newcomer on the scene but I find it quite the best way to access the BBC iPlayer. It's advertisement-funded and you just download it for free and then switch it on when you want to get some UK-based material. As long as you can cope with the ads, it's a great solution, especially for listening to the radio -- it's close to an uninterrupted stream.

The other thing that adds to the expat's listening experience is the TMS Podcast, which is free for all and, of course, compulsory listening. In the build up to the Ashes, there was an excellent series of Times podcasts and I am hoping that there will be more to come. I was pleasantly surprised to see that The Times had made these podcasts available for free given their recent erection of a pay-wall for the much less desirable text content. The Guardian too had a great preview podcast and I am hoping that there will be more to come.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Two Minute Timelord's BBC Week, and My Guest Spot

A week or so ago, my friend Chip, of the excellent Two Minute Timelord Podcast, produced a special "BBC Week" in which he featured several guest presenters discussing the past, present and future of the BBC, celebrating the corporation and its flagship programme Doctor Who, while reflecting on the anxieties in the road ahead.  The series begins with 2MTL 165: BBC's Under Pressure; How's Doctor Who? (Chip) and continues with 2MTL 166: Perryman's Prediction: The Future of Doctor Who at the BBC (Neil Perryman), 2MTL 168: Toby Hadoke Knows His BBC (by Simon Harries) and 2MTL 169: BBC Week Finale plus Shaun Lyon of Gallifrey One (Chip);  and in the middle there, a guest spot from me: 2MTL 167: The BBC from Distant Shores, and That Big SJA Spoiler, which you can also catch here:

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Is an International Version of the BBC iPlayer on the Horizon?

Over on Anglotopia, Dana discusses the exciting possibility that a global version of BBC's iPlayer could be on the horizon (Talking Tellly: BBC head says global iPlayer is coming 'within a year').  Ever since the release of the iPlayer in 2007, I have been pressing for some kind of international version (Launch of the BBC iPlayer, but not for British expats). It has always struck me as something that would be very straightforward for the BBC to organize, and the advantage -- to them -- of the extra revenue stream would be substantial.

The technology is already there.  Subscription based internet television has been with us for some time.  The model used by a company like Willow TV (Watching the cricket in America) could be followed -- enthusiasts willing to pay simply go through a portal locked down by username and password.  Why not offer international users the chance to pay the BBC Licence Fee and then to gain full access to the iPlayer?

As I see it, there are two blocks on getting this done at the moment.  The first is the rights issue.  Certain programmes could just not be shown outside the UK because of the terms that have been negotiated.  This is especially true of sporting events, where rights are negotiated on a country-by-country basis.  But this hardly needs to be a problem.  There is already a model in place that can be followed here, and that model is the iPlayer itself -- the BBC Radio iPlayer.  I can listen to some events on Five Live Sports Extra, like England home test matches, but I cannot listen to others, like foreign test matches.  That's fine.  I understand that, and I will use the means we have here to access coverage legitimately some other way.  Likewise the football.  Much of the British football coverage is locked out to me as an international user, but it is not a big problem because I can access the football through American TV channels like Fox Soccer Channel and ESPN.

The "rights" issue is a red herring.  Any international user of a future iPlayer will understand that there are certain programmes that are blocked for rights issues, and we will put up with that in order to be able to access 90 per cent of the total content that is available.

The other issue is lack of imagination.  Those discussing the issues are not immersed in the kind of expat culture that would enable them to see how these things could work.  Only a short amount of time on the blogs, in the forums and so on would give the powers and authorities a feel for the kind of hunger that there would be for such a service.

The fact is that there are many people who love the BBC and who would pay for access.  It's not just the British expats, like me, but Anglophiles of all kinds.  And many of these people already effectively pay for access by means of VPNs and specialist services that find back-doors into the BBC iPlayer.  And that money is not going to the BBC but to others.

So I welcome the news that the Global Version of the iPlayer could at last be on the way, and if any of the powers that be would like to chat about it with enthusiastic Anglophiles and British expats living in the US, we would be happy to obliged.  And we wouldn't charge a consultation fee, either.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Watching the World Cup in America: the British Expat Experience

Good grief, it's here at last!  The World Cup starts today.  And just how excited am I, on a scale of one to ten?  Need you ask?

This is our second World Cup while living in the U.S.A.  Last time, I talked about World Cup Coverage in the USA and things look quite similar this time.  Here in the US, the coverage is not at all bad.  ESPN and ABC are sharing the coverage, as before.  You can catch every match, and everything is in HD. Quick, easy to see schedules available on the ESPN site.   All good stuff.

One key difference is that this time, England kick off with a match against, of all nations, the U.S.A.  So we had better batten down the hatches and take cover and just hope that we don't have the kind of embarrassment we managed in 1950, when we lost to the USA who at that point were still fielding amateurs.  So on Saturday, at 2.30pm our time, it will be "Come on England!", which is the way that the British say what in American would be "Go England!".

But how do you get the authentic English flavour when you are watching the World Cup in America?  It's not easy.  Being a football fan here is a bit like being a Doctor Who fan here.  It is well known enough for people to know what you are referring to, but not well known enough for anyone to have much in the way of actual conversation about the topic.  True, you might be lucky enough to meet one of the chosen few who loves football (or Doctor Who), but that is a rare treat.  It's a little bit like being a member of a cult.  Those flying the England flag in England are flying it now because they are cheering on England in the World Cup.  No question about it.  Those who are flying the American flag here at the moment are flying it because, well, because they fly it anyway.  The love flying the American flag here.

So to get a little taste of the English flavour of the World Cup in an attempt to feel at least a little connected, here is what we will be doing:

(1) BBC Radio FiveLive is the World Cup station.  I am listening live as I write this post.  I love the buzz.  No substitute. I'll be listening live as much as possible.

(2) Baddiel and Skinner's podcast.  I was delighted to discover this today.  Baddiel and Skinner have made the World Cup in the past, and the European Championships, and their Fantasy Football was a real treat.  Last time, they ran a series of podcasts for The Times which were essential listening.  This time, they are sponsored by Absolute Radio.  Already four are available.  You can guarantee that it will be poignant, insightful and most importantly, absolutely hilarious.

(3) Five Live World Cup Daily.  Clearly, FiveLive's podcast is also going to be essential listening.

(4) The Guardian World Cup Daily will certainly be worth catching.  One preview episode so far.

Of course one of the curious differences about watching the World Cup over here is that all the timings are different.  Those settling down to the England match on Saturday will just have finished watching the latest Doctor Who (The Lodger), which by remarkable planning or remarkable good luck features some football (and Matt Smith did, let us remember, actually play for my team Nottingham Forest back in the day).  They will already have had a beer or two, and it will be getting dark outside.  For us here, it will be early afternoon, with sun blazing and shining through the windows.

For American viewers, at least for those of us over on the east side, the three match times will be breakfast (7.30am), coffee time (10am) and siesta time (2.30pm).  I must admit that I would prefer to be able to settle down in an evening to watch the odd match, but I like the variety.  The breakfast time slot is going to remind me of the Korea / Japan World Cup of 2002 when we were eating our breakfast cereal out of special World Cup cereal bowls -- which we still have.

I suppose one of the big differences this time will be the first Twitter and Facebook World Cup.  No one was on Twitter or Facebook back in 2006.  It's going to be fun to have that added element this time.  And it is going to make any attempt to try to DVR matches to watch later on pretty forlorn.  So I am just going to have to try to catch as much as I can live.

Oh, and of course it will be important to be singing along to some rousing England songs over the coming weeks, with Three Lions the top of the list.  I actually love the new (2010) version:

But of course we'll be listening to snatches of the original too.

I think I might be too excited to go to bed.

Come on England.