Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Toasted Sandwiches

In our family we have always been big fans of a great British delicacy called "toasted sandwiches", also known as "toasties" or, if you are from certain regions in the North of England, "Brevilles", named after the maker of the machine that does the toasting. I've been eating them for over twenty years. When I was a student, toasted sandwiches were pretty much my staple diet. They were cheap (e.g. one can of beans @ 3p, one loaf of wholemeal bread @39p plus butter), reasonably healthy and very easy to cook in my student room at Exeter College, Oxford. In fact, I often used to play host to friends for a feast of toasted sandwiches and my home-made bitter, brewed on the premises to the horror of my scout, Sheena.

When we left Birmingham, we chucked our toasted sandwich maker, which had become pretty gnarled and horrible and probably dangerous too. And then, here in the US, we soon realized that toasted sandwiches are not at all an American staple. In so far as people have heard about toasted sandwiches, it is not what Brits mean by them. For the first year or two of being here, we kept looking out for toasted sandwich makers, but among all the myriad waffle makers, smoothie makers and panini grills, we couldn't find a nice British style toasted sandwich maker. And then, one happy day a few weeks ago, Viola and the kids were shopping in Target and they spotted a toasted sandwich maker for only $10. They brought it home with them in triumph and we instituted Monday night in our house as toasted sandwich night.

We are now steadily introducing toasties to our the kids' American friends, so far with one hundred percent success. I should explain to American readers that the toasted sandwich maker seals the sandwich, which means that you can put in there all manner of things you could not think of putting in a normal sandwich, like baked beans, chilli, or spaghetti-0s (= spaghetti hoops). Equally, traditional sandwiches like ham and cheese work really well in a toastie too. Or try pasta shells and sweetcorn, a particular favourite of mine. And with a little mayonnaise and chilli pickle on the side, you have a lovely meal.

Monday, 30 July 2007

What American accent do you have?

On Feeble Mindings, Stephen Carlson links to a nice online quiz on "What American accent do you have?" Well, we've been in America for almost two years now, so I thought I'd see how I faired:

What American accent do you have?
Created by Xavier on Memegen.net

New York City. You are most definitely from New York City. Not New Jersey, not Connecticut. If you are from Jersey then you can probably get into New York City in 10 minutes or less.

Take this quiz now - it's easy!
We're going to start with "cot" and "caught." When you say those words do they sound the same or different?

I rather like the "definitely" in the above. Somehow, I don't think it's set up for British English speakers, but it shows that I've not yet picked up anything of the North Carolinian accent, perhaps surprising in that I can drop "y'all" in a pretty good accent into any conversation now, and I am almost able to do it without feeling self-conscious.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Launch of the BBC iPlayer, but not for British expats

The BBC launched its much anticipated iPlayer yesterday, which it describes like this:

The BBC is launching a new easy-to-use service that lets you access television programmes via your PC. Initially, BBC iPlayer is offering "seven-day catch-up television" – meaning that BBC TV programmes can be downloaded for free up to a week after transmission.

The programmes will be free for UK licence fee payers, at high quality and with no advertising. Once you have downloaded a programme to your computer you have 30 days within which to start watching and seven days to finish watching it.
It's the kind of thing which I would be very excited about if I were still in the UK. Being in the USA now, however, it feels like a damp squib. It is just the kind of thing that could be very exciting for British expats like us who so miss the ready access to BBC TV we once took for granted. There appear to be no indications, though, of any plans to release the player for expats. On Ask Bruce, they explain:
Programmes will only be available to users within the UK for two reasons:

* the service is funded by UK TV licence payers
* copyright is only cleared for use within the UK for seven days after the first broadcast
I think the points are bogus. The first simply begs the question. Many British expats, including me, would happily pay our UK TV licence to get access to the player. There are many online TV streaming set-ups that work on this kind of basis, like Willow TV for the cricket, which simply lock out non-subscribers. This point also covers the copyright issue too -- you simply get the copyright coverage for British subscribers wherever they are based.

Where there has been upset about the new iPlayer, it has tended to come mainly from those who object to the fact that it only works, at this stage, for PC users. AKMA, a dedicated Mac user, for example, is furious about it and he points to an article called BBC Corrupted. I understand their points but think they are overreacting. The following, for example, misses the point:
But with this decision all these high principles are thrown away. No chance then for the millions of the worlds poorest children who are about to receive the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) computer to be able to view BBC educational programming. The OLPC runs only Free Software and Free Software is, of course, the main competitive threat to Microsoft. I don't expect we will see an iPlayer built to the principles of free software whilst this incompetent BBC governance is maintained.
The reason people can't access this content internationally is not because of some deal with Microsoft, but because the decision has been made to block all non-British IP addresses. Moreover, it is clear that the BBC are planning to release the content to Mac users and others in due course, so I wouldn't be inclined to be too concerned. Again, other online TV streaming is often limited to Windows Media Player, and with no plans to make changes.

But one of the frustrating things about the decision not to release the iPlayer to international users is that it only encourages the illicit downloading of materials, which many users would happily pay for if the BBC would give them a chance.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

On the Britishness of Harry Potter

I was delighted to get a chance to see the latest Harry Potter film yesterday, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I was surprised to find myself thrilled with it. I hadn't read the book before going; it looked quite long and I have had only mixed success in trying to read earlier books in the series. I am tempted to try and read it now, though. I thought Imelda Staunton was wonderful -- laugh-out-loud wonderful. And I found that I enjoyed Daniel Radcliffe's performance much more than usual, perhaps because he was so good on View from the Boundary on his eighteenth birthday on Test Match Special the other day (still available under Harry Potter switches Quidditch for Cricket).

One of the things that really struck me about watching the film in America, though, was just how quintessentially British it seemed. It might seem odd, but it was not something I had thought about much before. I enjoyed all the shots of London, as well as the suburban life of the Dursleys, but noticed much more strongly than before how very British Hogwarts seemed to be. It's striking because Americans absolutely love Harry Potter. If anything, it seems to be bigger here than it is in the UK, and that is saying something. Viola and Emily went out on late night pilgrimage to the see the film at midnight on the day it came out, and the place was packed. A week later, they went out again, this time with Lauren, to a late night festival for the release of the latest and last book in the series, also packed. As a Brit living in America, it's quite heart-warming when you see Americans going crazy for something so very British.

Why I am experimenting with a personal blog

I have had an academic / professional blog now for almost four years, the NT Gateway Weblog. Because the vast majority of my readers are those with an interest in academic New Testament studies, I have always avoided posting on subjects not related to the subject of the blog. On occasions, though, I feel the inclination to write about other things. There are friends and family who could not care less about the academic blog but who are more interested in what I have to say about other things. Likewise, there are readers of the academic blog who could not care less about what I have to say about other things.

Viola has run a fantastic blog called The Americanization of Emily for some time now, and I have occasionally posted there as a guest. Writing there gave me a taste for blogging away from the NT Gateway blog, and it is something I think I will enjoy continuing. Recently she has been posting much less frequently, and I don't want my own guest posts to become the only thing to be seen there. Also that blog has its own special theme, our Americanization as a family, and I may want to write about other things myself.

So I am opening up my own blog, and I am grateful to you for visiting.