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And The Oscar Goes To…David Beckham For “Marley And Me 3.”

      Former Manchester United darling David Beckham returned to Manchester yesterday wearing the colors of AC Milan: their opponents in the Champions League. If you don’t know who David Beckham is, then you probably aren’t aware that there is going to be this “thing” called the World Cup, which lasts for a month in the middle of 2010. It will be watched on telly by more people all over the world than any other sporting event in the history of the world-ever. I’m just sayin’.

        I’m not having a go at you if you’ve never heard of David Beckham. It just means that you probably don’t pay much attention to what’s going on in the news, sports, or popular culture. People who live in the wilderness writing the next great American novel or those who cannot read or are deficient in vision, hearing, or otherwise impaired at all could also be forgiven for not knowing who he is. All of this I’m fine with.

          The rest of us know Beckham by virtue of his talent on a football (soccer) pitch, his marriage to former Spice Girl Victoria (Posh), his good looks, his ever-changing hairdo, his tattoos, his tabloid nicknames: “Golden Balls” or “Spice Boy,” or his friendship with Tom Cruise, or the fact that his name was in the title of a successful independent movie about female soccer players.

          I know who he is because for years I rooted AGAINST him when he played for Manchester United and rooted FOR him when he put on the England shirt. It was my first Beckham related conflict. My inner conflict regarding David Beckham is something that has haunted my past, as it haunts my present, and no doubt, somehow, my future.

             Why are you conflicted now? You may ask. Well, my second conflict arose when Beckham began playing in the U.S. because he plays for the Bay Area’s arch-rivals in, well pretty much everything: Los Angeles. However, I’m happy that Beckham is drawing attention to the sport I call “football” in America, because it is a wonderful game and needs players of his ability and stature to come and play in the soccer league for it to improve. Only by raising the level of the MLS will this country’s top footballers choose to play here rather than pack their boots and shin guards and play in the more established leagues of the World: England, Spain, Germany, and Italy.

            In his first few weeks in Los Angeles, he tried hard to impress his new employers, who were paying him exorbitantly. But it was at the expense of performing properly for his home country, my home country—England. Beckham played the full 90 minutes of two games on different sides of the Atlantic in the space of 36 hours (on a bum ankle.)
In the last few minutes of both games, Beckham was skipping and hobbling around on his ankle as if the cortisone painkilling injection that he may, or may not have had, wore off after 85 minutes, which of course was at least 5 minutes shy of how long it should have lasted.

If he had been a horse he’d have been sent to the glue factory.

           My future conflicted feelings over David Beckham are ones I can only imagine. The media say he’s being groomed for Hollywood. I can only assume that these same people were grooming him before they heard him speak. Beckham is a good footballer and a handsome and wealthy man, but in interviews he comes across as a slightly inarticulate, shy eight year-old boy. Hollywood has tried to make stars of lesser talents though. Maybe if they put him in a film where the lead character was a dog, or Scarlett Johansson, he might do okay. I mean, who doesn’t love ScarJo, right? I know I do. Perhaps Jude Law and Hugh Grant’s time is done. It’s time for a new good-looking Brit for Hollywood to swoon for. Oh, David, I probably won’t go to see any of your films. Unless of course there is a steamy love scene with Scarlett Johansson, and therein lies another possible future conflict.

Beckham and co-stars rehearse for “Marley and Me 3”

© Copyright Matty Stone 2010

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Hump Day Comic Relief

  Today’s effort from The Bay Area Brit is a smattering of my cartoons to get you through your Wednesday. Enjoy.

Saloony Toons

        The Bay Area Brit is not much of a fighter, and I’m okay with that. I have always tried my best to avoid “fisticuffs,” but have occasionally been on the receiving end of a well-aimed boot or punch to my head. Usually after trying to diffuse a volatile situation in the manner that Oscar Wilde might try to stave off an assault by the Marquess of Queensbury–by using wit and reason.
My crime for being targeted on these occasions? Being in the wrong place at the wrong time when a person of questionable evolutionary achievement decides to indulge in the primitive pleasure he receives when inflicting pain on another person.

        Random acts of violence have always baffled me, yet we see it on telly all the time. We’ve all seen those Westerns where the big, drunk cowboy starts a fight in a saloon; one fellow is then jostled by another guy, spills his beer and then the punches fly left, right, north, and south. Next thing you know the conflict level has gone from “skirmish” to “brouhaha.” bypassing “melee” altogether.

         I know it’s a movie, but let’s say the huge brawl destroys the interior of the only saloon in town: Furniture crashes through mirrors, men are thrown onto tables and chairs, which splinter and break under their weight. Then of course there’s the inevitable destruction of liquor inventory; as the bartender ducks below the bar, a chair is launched at the row of whisky bottles. This is all going on while the biggest, drunkest guy in the room (who started the fight) swings on a chandelier until he and the light fixture crash on top of the piano breaking its legs sending the imitation Steinway to its ignominious demise with a tuneless crunch.

         So how many times do you think the owner of the place is going to put up with these yahoos before closing his doors for good, saying, “Screw you morons. I’m opening up a deli or a piano repair shop.”

          Wouldn’t the drunken townsfolk realize the error of their ways when their only source of libation in town is closed AGAIN for weeks on end while the bar undergoes major structural repair to fix the ceiling, the piano, restock the bar, and clean the bloodstains off of the ceiling.

       Believing what we see in the movies to be true, alcohol assists life in imitating art.

      I was caught in the middle of an epic saloon fight once, but it was back in London and was scary as hell. I was working at a pub one busy night when some seven or eight guys suddenly threw their empty beer glasses to the floor and began swinging wildly at the other bar patrons. They hurled bottles and glasses at the staff, threw tables and chairs through the windows, and smashed up the jukebox. For no reason other than to trash the place.

        For five minutes the place was a riot zone. The cops were called, but by then the varmints had hopped on their horses and were halfway to Dodge (by which I mean, they’d legged it to the Bayswater tube station bound for a train to Acton or Dagenham where they would grab a late-night kebab, make lewd comments at some women, and pat each other on the back and talk about how “well ‘ard” they all were.)

            I have yet to be caught in the middle of a big bar fight in the U.S. However, whenever I enter an establishment I’ve never been in before, and know no one there, I’ve always got one eye on the big, drunk guy poised to start the fight and swing on the chandelier. Consequently, upon entering a saloon that’s a little rough around the edges, I’m usually pleasant and affable to the doorman or bartender, aware that an ally in a bar is a good thing.

           The last time someone wanted to pick a fight with me was last summer at a bar in Bolinas called Smiley’s. I only went to Bolinas because my wife was playing a show there. And from the moment we walked in, the doorman took an instant dislike to me. I couldn’t understand it, but I’ve seen it before: the less intelligent of the male American species seem to be intellectually intimidated or feel insecure upon meeting someone who speaks with an English accent. Maybe this creature was hatched in Bolinas and has never flown outside the bosom of his small town’s borders. Either way, he meant me grievous bodily harm. I worked in bars and clubs for years and the best bouncers in the business can fight, but avoid it at all costs. But not this guy.
So the Smiley’s doorman approached me while I was at the bar getting a drink and tried to provoke me into a fight. He poked at me with a swollen index finger and said: “You think you’re cool, but you’re not. You think you look and dress cool, with your retro bullshit but you don’t.” I shrugged my shoulders thinking, retro? Dude, I’ve dressed like this since forever, what are you talking about?
I looked down at his scabby knuckles and quickly realized that although he obviously enjoyed the fighting part of his job, he probably couldn’t throw the first punch at me in front of the bartender/manager who was only three yards from where I stood, and so although a part of me wanted to ask him what his problem was, I just clinked my glass to his and said, “Well, here’s to one of us not being cool.”

I could feel this moron’s adrenaline rise like raw sewage in a flood.

           Nothing further happened that night, but when the guy disappeared outside as we were packing up the instruments and equipment to leave, I felt sure he was waiting around the corner in the shadows.

          On Sunday night in a bar in Nevada City, I was talking to my friend Sasha about the incident in Bolinas and she told me I should have just put on the “tough, hardened English accent” she’d seen in films.
Oh, I suppose I could fake it for a second or two, but my lack of conviction would be quickly exposed in my eyes. I’m just not scary and intimidating like Ben Kingsley in the movie “Sexy Beast,” or Ian McShane in “Deadwood,” or Vinnie Jones in “Snatch.” I gladly play the fool and make jokes to avoid a trip to the E.R., and have done so since I was a kid in boarding school. I’m just not a fighter, and for the most part, am way better at getting out of a fight than getting into one.
And I’m really okay with that.

© Copyright Matty Stone 2010

Great British Heroes: #37 James Bond

       In both Britain and the U.S. James Bond has been a household name for nearly 50 years; ever since his first run in with “Dr. No.”

Read more

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Bloody stereo-Typical!

      My friend Roland joked at my expense for writing about eating fish and chips the other day. What he’s not taking into consideration is the British in me is compelled to eat things that most Americans would choose to avoid, whether it be for health reasons or otherwise. I hate to admit it but I am a stereotypical Brit.
I usually hate stereotypes. It’s not because I think that they’re far too often racist-they usually are. It’s because I really am one. I’m British. And yes, I talk differently from you. My teeth aren’t perfect; I like football and beer and pub food.

       Comments about stereotypes come in two different forms: The ones that people say to your face. Often by well meaning galoots, who spend half their day hopping around while trying to remove their other foot from the gaping maw in the lower part of their face.
“You’re English; you must like fish ‘n’ chips,” they’ll say, usually with a dreadful pretend-English accent. While this is not nearly as rude as assuming that a tall African-American is good at basketball, or telling a gay man that he’d be a fabulous florist, or joking to a little person that he’d probably make a good rodeo clown, it’s usually followed by the. “It’s meant as a compliment” defense. It’s still a bit much. Then of course there are just the genuinely mean-spirited stereotype comments, which are usually hateful and something you wouldn’t dare say to someone’s face; which there’s no need to cover here.

                 However, for the sake of this blog and for the sake of Brits everywhere,  I’m going to embrace my stereotype. To such ends, Elvis and I will continue to seek out the best pub-style Fish ‘n’ Chips in the Bay Area.

          Although I already posted the first review from Barclay’s, I thought I should go over my requirements for the perfect restaurant fish ‘n’ chips. What I’m looking for: moist, flaky, clean, white fish. In Britain you’d be expecting cod, pollock, or haddock. In the U.S., snapper works well also, but if you can find fresh cod that would be the way to go. If you’re going to use a beer-batter, the trick is not to let the oil get too hot or the batter will be too crispy and a little burned tasting. However, you do want to make sure the fish is not undercooked. I’m also a big fan of the panko style bread-crumbed fish and although less traditional, restaurants will not be penalized for serving their fish this way.
Chips: not thin cut and definitely not frozen. The chips should be thick-cut and not too crispy. A bit soggy is my personal favorite. Salt and vinegar? You’d better believe it. Thinner chips lose their temperature much quicker; the hotter the chips the better.

          Fish and chips on the go should be served in plain paper, which is THEN wrapped in newspaper. Why would you let printing chemicals near your food? Bad show.

Batter and fry this up for Montgomery Burns, but don’t try to feed it to a Brit.

            Ideally I’m looking for fish and chips that come as close to the way I remember them from home as possible. I’m obviously not a professional food critic, but I have solid taste buds and know what British fish and chips is supposed to taste like. Feel free to comment and offer varying opinions, after all aren’t we all critics?

Over to you, Roland.

© Copyright Matty Stone 2010

Dining With Elvis

The Bay Area Brit reviews local restaurants with Elvis Presley

As some of you may know, Elvis Presley is alive and well and lives in a room in my house. Every week we choose a restaurant in The Bay Area and eat, drink, and talk about the old days. We each review the restaurant from our unique perspectives.

The Search For The Perfect Fish ‘n’ Chips

Barclays Pub 5940 College Avenue Oakland CA (near Rockridge BART)

     Our first review is of Barclays Pub in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland. I was craving something British to eat, and Elvis wanted some comfort food. Elvis still loves cheeseburgers and fries, but was reluctant to be seen eating fried food as he felt it re-enforced a negative stereotype regarding his eating habits. Of course he didn’t really say it like that; I’m translating. Elvis is 74 now and still drawls a little and cusses far too often for a man that grew up singing gospel music, but far from being an older caricature of his former-self, he looks quite distinguished with short gray hair and is in fairly decent shape. I assured him that no one would make fun of him, as everyone in the world believes he died in 1977.
When seen together in dining situations Elvis and I come and go with anonymity. Restaurant employees and patrons alike do not know they are in the same room as “The Bay Area Brit” and they’re oblivious to being in the presence of a man once known as “The King.”
We pass for a sort of “Odd Couple” version of a father and son.

       I ordered the Fish and Chips. The fish was a beer-battered Pacific Snapper. The portion was huge. I joked to Elvis, “We’re gonna need a bigger plate.” A reference to the movie “Jaws.” Elvis just looked at me with a confused look on his face.

         “Why don’t you just ask for one, then?” he said without a trace of a recognition.
“No, it’s from Jaws, Elv…I mean, Alan.” I call him Alan to reduce the chance of anyone recognizing him. It was also his codename at Graceland.
“Oh, yeah, the film about the shark, right. I saw that. Man, I almost pissed in my jumpsuit when that thing leapt out at those guys on the damned boat.”

“We’re gonna need a bigger plate.”

          Elvis’s burger finally arrived (he’d sent it back twice claiming it still wasn’t cooked enough. Personally I think that this sort of behavior is unacceptable, but who am I to argue with Elvis Presley?) He’d ordered it extra well done. “That mad cow disease is all well and good for you limeys, but I ain’t dying over it.” Elvis is a bit paranoid, and the burger came back from the kitchen looking like a hockey puck but he was satisfied and ate voraciously.
My fish was tasty and moist. The chips, which claimed to be cut English-style, were very good, but not quite fat enough to pass. The chips in a “fish ‘n’ chips” dish should be the size of a thumb and a little soggy. They should be piping burn-the-roof-of-your-mouth hot and doused in salt and vinegar.

          Elvis was very happy with the fries though and contemplated ordering another side of them. “Now, now, that’s just what the old Elvis would do,” I whispered. Elvis suddenly noticed a guitar hanging on the wall near the door and suggested he could pay for our lunch by singing a song or two. “You know like in my movies.”
“I don’t know. I think that’s a bad idea, pal.” He pulled a sour face after I shot down his suggestion.

         Overall it was a good effort for an American British-style pub. I paid the bill and Elvis said he wanted to leave the tip. In the old days he’d do things like leave the keys to a Cadillac if he thought the waitress was cute. Fortunately for us, he doesn’t have that kind of money at his disposal anymore.

© Copyright Matty Stone 2010

My Olympic Fever Just Broke

    During the icy winter months growing up in England, my friends and I used to steal wooden lunch trays from the school cafeteria. We’d trudge in the snow to the steepest hill on the school grounds and then jump on our trays and hurtle downwards at breakneck speeds. Believing in my own mortality, I only dared do the run a few times. My paranoid mind always got in the way of truly dangerous fun. I imagined the next day newspaper headlines “BOY KILLED AS LUNCH TRAY HURTLES OUT OF CONTROL DOWN SNOWY, SOUTH LONDON SLOPE!”

      The Bay Area Brit is a big fan of the Winter Olympics. Not all of it mind you, a lot of it’s pretty dull, and some events shouldn’t be confused with legitimate spectator sports.
I enjoyed the opening ceremony, even when they screwed it up at the torch-lighting. If you haven’t seen Wayne Gretzky’s incredibly unsure, nervous expression as the equipment failed, I highly recommend you seek it out on Youtube. Sweat beads were forming on the upper lip of the”Great One.”
The U.S. hockey team once again surprised everyone but me. I had no idea that they weren’t the best team, but apparently they weren’t expected to get anywhere near a sniff at a medal. Then there was Shaun White’s aerial “snow-crobatics,” which were totallllly breathtaking, dude. (Rumor has it his body is comprised of 89% THC. That’s why his hair is the same color as the incredibly potent Rye River red bud.) Which BTW if ever there was an endorsement for advocating marijuana legalization he should be the spokesperson. I mean seriously he can do all that when he’s stoned?

         The women’s figure skating was dramatic too. Ooh, okay, no Brits in the final. So, do I root for the American? Well not if want to back a winner I don’t. Nope, no chance there. She was too…Tonya Hardingesque. What about the darling, teenage South Korean favorite, according to the commentators the nation had already planned the victory parades. Or do I go with my heart and pull for the Canadian. Joanie Rochette, whose mother died suddenly and tragically of a heart attack a few hours before the Canadian was to take the ice for the first time.

I watched transfixed.

      Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Ice skating, really? But you have to understand as a Brit, that’s all we’re good at in the Winter Olympics. Come on, you remember don’t you? Torvill and Dean, Robin Cousins, John Curry. These are the names of British celebrities made famous by winning gold medals in Winter Olympics competition. Never heard of them? Well that’s because Americans have a hard time keeping up with their own gold medal winners. But I assure you back home these Olympians were treated like, (well actually better than) royalty.

       There was one British medal winner this Olympics: Amy Williams. Unlike in America, being British and winning an Olympic medal is sort of like not having to share the prize money with anyone else after you win the lottery.
I’m sure Amy Williams has sponsorship deals lined up left and right, and kids all over Great Britain will say things like, “Mum, when I grow up, I want to be just like Amy Williams and win a gold medal in the Olympics, and so I want to learn the Skeleton.”
Excuse me?
She won in what sport now?
Apparently the sport is “Skeleton,” which I assumed you have to be really, really thin to win a gold in. Skeleton, of course is a variation of bobsleigh, except without the comfort and protection of the sled. You’re basically flying down the hill on the base of a sleigh.

Stolen cafeteria lunch tray, anyone?

Give me a sport that is less dangerous any day: like Curling; the only way you can get hurt in Curling is if you’re busy looking down at the ice frantically shuffling and Shaun White’s snowboard lands on your head after a gnarly jump goes awry. Well that and being blinded by the precocious, colorful plaid pants.

      Anyway, I’m proud of our Skeleton Queen, Amy Williams. Long may she reign. Providing her lunch tray doesn’t snap in half, perhaps we’ll see her at the next Winter Olympics, which will be held in a place I will learn the location of approximately a week before the opening ceremony in 2014.