Tuesday, June 30, 2009

5 down

After a week of our fitness challenge I am 5 pounds lighter.

We didn't make a huge change to our lifestyle, we just agreed not to eat out, order in and utilise the treadmill.

We also took the dogs to the dog park a couple of times so they didn't get lazy.

We went to Galveston for the weekend with friends so that also included exercise with plenty of swimming, playing football on the sand not to mention the many trips up and down the stairs at the beach house!

We're going down for the long weekend this week too so I think that will make up for missing out on the dog park and treadmill.

My Wife also made a great start so I am very proud of her too.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson

I was really shocked and saddened to hear that Michael Jackson died today.

Despite all of the allegations that dogged him over the last 15 years or so, you can't deny that Michael Jackson was one of the biggest stars we've ever seen.

We've all been fascinated by Jackson's life, from his first TV appearance with The Jackson 5 at four years old, through his solo career, Thriller, to all of the crazy stories about oxygen tanks, chimps, Peter Pan, Lisa Marie Presley, baby dangling, kids with masks, skin conditions, plastic surgery etc. In the 50 years Michael Jackson lived, we certainly got our money's worth.

If you've followed the Jackson story over the years, it's hard to see how he ever stood a chance. He never lived a normal life so when things didn't go his way, he couldn't cope. He simply did not know how to live in the real world but the real world was fascinated by him.

It's always a shock when somebody so well known dies, especially unexpectedly at a relatively young age.

He had been rehearsing for fifty dates at London's O2 Arena (Millennium Dome) and maybe the stress of everything that involves was too much.

The next few days will see the story continue to unfold but for somebody so well known, Michael Jackson had a way of keeping certain aspects of his life secret so maybe we will never know the whole story.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

You're in need of help with your grammar

My wife has a very good blog over at "One off'".

She writes very well and is informative and funny but there is one area she needs improvement on and that is the difference between 'your' and 'you're'.

I've tried explaining the different to her and I know she understands really but it's one of the first things I notice when reading it. It's much easier to notice spelling mistakes in someone else's writing than your own so I make no guarantees I have not made the same mistake myself!

It's just in the excitement over posting she forgets or just doesn't notice so maybe this will help her focus (or just cause me to get another dead arm).

Monday, June 22, 2009

Return of the onion bag?

The English Premier League have cancelled their contract with Setanta for next season and are opening up an auction for other companies to bid for the games Setanta would've shown.

The collapse of Setanta is bad news for me for a couple of reasons. The first is there is a chance that there will be less English football shown in the US.

It may also see the end of Special 1 TV. Hopefully someone will pick up this show as it is much more entertaining during half time than the usual former players spouting cliches. My Wife will be very upset if there is no more Special 1 TV.

Losing Setanta will save us $15 a month but at what cost?

The most worrying thing about this situation is that ESPN are one of the companies bidding for the available games.

ESPN have never broadcast English Premier League games in the US but this may change now that they have lost the rights to the UEFA Champions League.

And if ESPN have some more football to show, it will likely mean the return of the horrible Tommy 'onion bag' Smyth (with a why???).

So me plea to ESPN, should they win the rights to the games, please treat them with the respect they deserve and create a new football channel for the English Premier League. You can even call it 'soccer' if you want but please please please do not give Tommy Smyth another contract.

I'm sure I would not be the only person willing to give you the $15 a month we're saving on Setanta just to keep this idiot off our screens.

So I repeat my plea from last month to Mr ESPN: No more onion bags!

Also, look here. I'm not the only one.

The bidding for Setanta's games ends today so we will find out soon.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Pound for pound

My Wife and I have decided we're going to spend July being good. Basically, we are not going to eat out, or order in, and actually make use of the treadmill we bought earlier this year rather than just using it occasionally.

We've set ourselves some goals which I won't go into too much but you'll be able to track our progress in the 'pounds down' section of the blog.

If we make it to the end of July then there's a good chance we'll want to carry on. We didn't want to make a huge commitment to change our ways all of a sudden forever as we know from experience that wouldn't work.

So it's smaller steps at first. Wish us luck!

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Greatest Sauce of all

I don't know how you feel about sauces but when I find one I like I'm very loyal.

I don't use sauces that much really, I prefer to taste the food rather than the seasoning but you can't beat Chick-Fil-A's Polynesian sauce. It's like sweet and sour sauce, only better!

If you know me well then you can imagine how good it is if I think it is better than sweet & sour sauce!

I used to be a fan of McDonald's sweet & sour sauce, which was better than any I could find in the shops (Chinese restaurants excepted) but even that pales into insignificance when compared to Polynesian.

I've even gone as far as looking at their website to see if they sell bottles of it but sadly not but if Mr Chick-Fil-A happens to stumble upon this blog, sort it out!

I have to stock up whenever we go to Chick-Fil-A, which isn't that often but it is the king of fast food restaurants but I used the last one I had last night. It goes with anything so I would love to have a bottle in the pantry.

A close second, although second behind all of the different variations of any sweet & sour sauce is Subways sweet onion sauce. It's the perfect accompaniment to their chicken teriyaki sub. Again, I've checked their website to see if they sell it by the bottle as it would be good on any kind of sandwich but sadly not.

Surely this is a missed opportunity for these chains?

I haven't been able to find anything close enough to either in stores so if you have any suggestions, please let me know!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Run it off lad

I know the football season has finished, even though the fixtures for next season have just been released, but I thought I would post about football. Just for old time's sake..

When playing sport, or exercising for that matter, do you ever get hurt, either a strain or something similar and have to stop? Are you ok to start again soon after? How about after a heart attack?

Belgian footballer Anthony Van Loo (great name by the way) collapsed during a game but was saved by an ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator).

What could have been a serious situation actually had a good ending as Van Loo's heart was suddenly shocked back into action, seeing him spring back to life after falling to the ground.

You can check it out here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Next Season..Update

A quick update on the newly released Premier league fixtures and my predictions.

Manchester United do indeed start the season at home to a newly promoted team (Birmingham City) followed by another (Burnley) away in the second game.

The Manchester derby takes place in the last four games, with the Chelsea game two weeks earlier.

The final game of the season is against Stoke City who struggled this season, their first in the Premier league.

Stoke are expected to struggle again so the only prediction I got wrong is that the game is at Old Trafford and not in Stoke.

Random indeed.

Next season

Next season's Premier League fixture are released this morning. This is a very exciting day for football fans, especially fans of the newly promoted clubs. Wolves and Birmingham have been there before but Burnley have made it the Premier League for the first time.

I was glad to see Burnley win the play off final against Sheffield United, mainly because I like seeing new teams come up and we've all seen Sheffield United yo-yoing up and down over the last 20 years.

The fixtures are created by a computer and are supposedly random but I've begun to doubt just how random they are over the last few years.

Funny how Manchester United seem to play one of the other so-called 'Big Four' in one of the last few games. This would happen occasionally if the fixtures really were random but when Chelsea were the main title challengers, it was Manchester United against Chelsea in an end of season 'title decider'.

The satisfying thing as a United fan is that even though the TV companies may put pressure on the Premier League to have a big game at the end of the season to decide who wins the championship, it never quite turned out that way and the title was usually sewn up before that game making it a meaning tie with lots of reserve and youth team players given a run out instead.

So my predictions for United's fixtures next season are one of the newly promoted teams in the first couple of games, probably the first game, and one of Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and/or Manchester City in the last 4 games of the season finishing up away to a team likely to be relegated guaranteeing them a big crowd and some lovely TV money.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hornby Train Crash

Former HBoS Chief Executive Andy Hornby has got a new job.

The bright young thing who drove one of Britain's biggest banks to the brink of collapse has been rewarded with the role of Chief Executive of Alliance Boots, owner of the high street chemist Boot's. He joined HBoS in 1999, becoming CEO in 2006 despite admitting to having no banking qualifications.

This is the guy who was dragged before the government to explain his actions along with Sir Fred Goodwin and actually refused to apologise, blaming the situation on a "global credit problem". He was forced out of HBoS (Halifax Bank of Scotland) in January 2009 and the company posted a loss of £10.8 billion for 2008.

His appointment is seen as a coup for the retailer who cite his "wealth of experience" as the important factor, preferring to not focus on his disastrous reign as Chief Executive of HBoS. Hornby was named in a report by the Guardian newspaper as one of the top 25 people responsible for the banking collapse.

I actually met Andy Hornby once and I can honestly say that I have never seen anyone show such contempt to the people he was being introduced to. His eyes were glazed over, he did not make eye contact with anyone and got away as soon as he could. He spoke only with his minion who rushed in to announce his arrival before he showed his face.

He's still only 42 years old so has plenty of time to do further damage but at least this time it is not the public's money put at risk.

Monday, June 15, 2009

BNP = British National Pride?

So the BNP gained two seats on the European Parliament in the recent elections, the first in their history.

Whatever you think of the British National Party, whether you see them as the only party actually standing up for the British people, or fascist scum, I think the ground they have made in recent years is definitely a sign of the tide turning and people finally saying 'enough'.

The actions of the British government throughout the Tony Blair years did a lot of damage and probably did more to aid the cause of the BNP than anything the party did themselves.

Formed as a splinter group of The National Front, the BNP is committed to "stemming and reversing the tide of non-white immigration and to restoring, by legal changes, negotiation and consent, the overwhelmingly white make up of the British population that existed in Britain prior to 1948" and proposes "firm, but voluntary incentives for immigrants and their descendants to return home."

Are the British people more racist in previous years? Or are they just tired of health tourists and the British Government's open door policy that allows virtually anyone to come to Britain and claim benefits.

I think the economy has also played a part in the rise of the BNP. People are tired of scrimping and saving for everything aligned with the rising cost of food, gas, housing, taxes etc. Especially when they see people who have contributed absolutely nothing to the country living it up at the tax payers expense.

The recent elections saw Europe take a swing to the right as the entire continent seem to feel the same way about their own national identity. This is in sharp contrast to the election of a US President dedicated to levelling the playing field and sharing the wealth.

Big government took a kicking in Europe and it will be interesting to see how the main parties react in the next few years but if they don't take the rise of the British National Party, and other similar parties seriously it could well be theirs, and Europe's undoing.

I remember being when living in Stockport, I first received a BNP flyer through my letterbox. I'd heard about them in the news occasionally and their name was mentioned in the aftermath of certain football violence but I didn't really know too much about them. I was surprised that they existed so close to where I was living but looking back, Stockport is an example of the predominantly white northern towns where the BNP now thrives.

2010 is an election year in the UK. Gordon Brown, if he survives that long as Prime Minister will be aiming for a General election victory but parties such as the BNP are likely to gain more seats. I think most people don't particularly like or agree with the politics of the BNP but do not see a viable alternative who has the interest of Briton's as their main concern.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Rants in my pants

For an alternate review of The Menil Collection, check out my other new and exciting blog Fine Red Whine.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Culture Club...Part 1

My Wife and I have tried to take in a bit more culture this year. After Seinfeld last week, ok, maybe not that cultural but it was in the theatre district, this weekend we visited the Museum district.

With the economy the way it is, people are looking for cheap alternatives for weekend activities and a quick google search gave us a few ideas for free things to do in Houston. In the first of an occasional feature, I bring you a review of the things we discovered.

First up, we selected The Menil Collection, a collection of art, and artifacts collected by John & Dominique De Menil.

The Menil Collection is actually a series of buildings all within a short walk from each other. The main building houses exhibits that include historical artifacts believed to originated anywhere up to 15,000 years ago, to more contemporary paintings and sculptures, via the surrealist movement.

There are both permanent and temporary exhibits so there will always be something new to see. Artists featured include Picasso, Andy Warhol, Max Ernst, Rene Magritte, Henri Matisse, Fernand Leger, Man Ray & Yves Tanguy.

A slightly disturbing temporary exhibit is "Measuring your own grave" by Marlene Dumas. While fairly interesting and provocative, it's probably not suitable for the faint of heart, or children.

Even the building itself is a work of art, designed so that all exhibits are lit up by natural light, shining through the specially designed roof.

We walked around the main building for about an hour and 15 minutes before moving on to our next stop.

The free standing Richmond Hall is home to the permanent Dan Flavin Installation. This former grocery store is now an open hall, 128 feet by 50 feet across, empty but for a series of coloured neon lights along the walls.

I must admit I found myself looking around asking "is this it?" when we first arrived. Surely there is something more than an entire building with just a few different coloured lights around it? It turns out there wasn't. I wouldn't recommend making a trip especially to this exhibit, but as it's just a couple of minutes walk from the others it may be worth a look in just to see what the fuss is about.

We were the only visitors to this exhibit and I think it was a bit optimistic for the gentleman on the door to suggest we come back.

Our third stop was the Byzantine Fresco Chapel. While not too interesting from the outside, this building houses a beautiful, though very small, glass chapel. There is also a intricate dome featuring Jesus surrounded by angels, and another featuring the Virgin Mary.

Our fourth and final stop was the Rothko Chapel, designed American Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko and commissioned by Dominique De Menil. This is a strange little chapel as there are no religious monuments inside except for copies of the Bible, Qu'ran, Torah in the entrance.

The walls are adorned with large black or purple canvas and the pews are arranged in a circle so there is no single focal point.

The Rothko Chapel has featured talks by Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former US President Jimmy Carter and is a place designed for quiet contemplation.

All four buildings form The Menil Collection and are located in a quiet residential part of the museum district.

Entrance to all is free, although donations are invited. Even parking is free and accessible so this is well worth a visit no matter what your budget.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Friday night

When I lived in England, Friday night was a great night for TV. The advent of Sky + (DVR) meant that even if you had a life and went out, you could still catch up on your shows.

One show in particular that I used to enjoy, although rarely actually watch on Friday nights was BBC 1's Friday night with Jonathan Ross. I've talked about Jonathan Ross before as I regularly listen to his Radio 2 podcast.

The BBC makes quality television. It is funded in a unique way with the licence fee so it is commercial free.

However, BBC America is a different story. For starters, it is a commercial station. It carries advertising. It also shows mostly crap. Cooking shows, cleaning shows, attic antiques shows, shows that show you hot to clean up after cooking in your attic. It's pretty much a reality TV twilight zone with the same shows repeated a couple of times a day, and the unbelievably lazy 'marathons' which are basically just an excuse to show the same show constantly for three days.

To be fair, there are a lot of good shows on BBC America, but they take the easy option and mostly show dumb, mind numbing tv that the general public loves. Notable exceptions include the excellent Gavin & Stacey, Torchwood, Primeval etc although I maybe wouldn't watch the latter two if I still lived in England and had access to other shows.

I often wondered why the BBC didn't show more of the quality television that it is renowned for. Where are the David Attenborough documentaries? The funny and informative QI with Stephen Fry? Friday night with Jonathan Ross?

And now we finally get to the point of this post. The BBC have finally seen the error of their ways and are going to start airing Friday night with Jonathan Ross on BBC America. The starts on June 12th at 8pm (7pm central). Jonathan Ross is the BBC's highest earner by far so it makes sense to exploit his popularity and get more for their money.

Friday night with Jonathan Ross could be described as the UK's version of The Tonight Show, except it's only on once a week. It is a talk show and even has it's own house band "Four poofs and piano" who add a little gaiety to the proceedings.

The first show will feature Dustin Hoffman, Hugh Laurie (House) and a certain Eric Cantona, Manchester United legend turned actor.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A life time

Do you believe in fate?

My Wife has lived in the US for 20 years. She moved from Ireland in May 1989, spending a year in Boston before heading south to Houston.

It's actually amazing to think how our lives could have been so different. It's probably a miracle we ever actually met!

1989 is the year I started high school. I was 11 years old and dreamt of a career as a professional footballer. I never even considered that one day I would live in another country.

I moved to Houston originally in 1996 with my parents. Three years later I returned to England to basically get my late teens/early twenties out of my system.

Six years passed when I decided I'd had enough of living in a cold rainy city and it was time to spend my days in the sunshine. I'd been in Houston about a year before my Wife and I met.

In her blog today she ponders what her life would be like if her family had never left Ireland. If neither of us had left our home towns we never would have met.

I'm a cynical person and I don't normally buy in to all that soul mate, meant to be type nonsense but our stories could have been so different that I sometimes find myself wondering if everything we have both been through had to happen so that we would eventually find each other.

If you've ever seen the film 'Sliding Doors' starring Gwyneth Paltrow, it explores this question. The story is split in two to show how a woman's life would be different had she missed her train home from work and never discovered her boyfriend was cheating on her.

I don't claim to have all the answers, or even all of the questions, but I do know that whoever decided my Wife and I should be together and went to the trouble of making sure it happened, probably deserves a pint should we ever meet.