Thursday, November 20, 2008

Know Your Friends

Time for the annual update of "Know your friends."

1. What time did you get up this morning? 5:45 am
2. Diamonds or pearls: Diamonds
3. What was the last film you saw at the cinema? A matinee of the new James Bond film, "Quantum of Solace" on my birthday.
4. What is your favorite TV show? At the moment, it'd be "Spooks" or "Lead Balloon" (since my friend Pete writes it)
5. What do you usually have for breakfast? Coffee, a banana and usually an apple too.
6. What is your middle name? Why do you need to know? And if you're my friend, shouldn't you know that already?
7. What food do you dislike? I really, really, really hate stew and the stringy beef that goes with it.
8. What is your favorite CD at moment? The Party Mix my friend Caroline made specially for my birthday party.
9. What kind of car do you drive? We don't own a car, but when we need a car, we use a Streetcar Volkswagen Golf.
10. Favorite sandwich? Reuben (just like Kathy, who sent me this survey)
11. What characteristic do you despise? Dishonesty and thinking that rules don't apply to you.
12. Favorite item of clothing? My stripy cashmere jumper [sweater for my American friends].
13. If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would you go?
Tuscany, Italy.
14. Favorite brand of clothing: I can't say I actually think about it.
15. Where would you retire to? Hard to say, but maybe France or Italy (see above).
16. What was your most recent memorable birthday? Last week's, when I turned 40. I had a great day with awesome presents and people calling and stopping by all day (I felt like a queen) followed by a blow-out on Saturday with 80 people at the house that didn't end until 3:45 a.m.
17. Favorite sport to watch? U.S. college basketball. Go Nova!
18. Furthest place you are sending this: The World Wide Web.
19. Person you expect to send it back first? I don't actually care.
20. When is your birthday? Again, if you're my friend, shouldn't you know that?
21. Are you a morning person or a night person? I used to be a night person, but now that I'm old, I can see the value in getting up really early and getting things done. I might be at my most productive between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m.
22. What is your shoe size? 10 US/42 European. Though I learned again yesterday that my calves are too fat for new boots. Bummer.
23. Pets? I have two sons. I think that counts.
24. Any new and exciting news you'd like to share with us?
Our company just got a big contract, which means I'll be working flat-out between now and mid-December. Oh, and I just got named chair-elect for the Board of Governors of our school. I suppose it's like being president of the school board (NOT the PTA).
25. What did you want to be when you were little? A doctor.
26. How are you today? Fine, but stressed (see No. 24).
27. What is your favorite candy? Reeses Peanut Butter cups.
28. What is your favorite flower? Roses
29. What is a day on the calendar you are looking forward to? Our Thanksgiving feast, celebrated the Saturday after Thanksgiving so we can spend the entire day eating and drinking, as the Pilgrims intended.
30. What's your full name? Again, you should know this if you're my friend.
31. What are you listening to right now? Traffic outside of my front window.
32. What was the last thing you ate: Some leftover Indian curry. Yummy.
33. Do you wish on stars? Absolutely.
34. If you were a crayon, what color would you be? Red
35. How is the weather right now:Dark at 7:02 a.m. Winter-- and its six-hours of sunlight-- has arrived in London.
36. The first person you spoke to on the phone today? Are you kidding me? There's no one to talk to on the phone at this hour.
37. Favorite soft drink? I actually stopped drinking Diet Coke when we moved to London 10 years ago, but I did fall off the wagon on Election Night at the Embassy because I had to figure out a way to stay up until 4 a.m.
38. Favorite restaurant? Any place where I'm not doing the cooking.
39. Real hair color? It's probably getting closer to full gray all the time, but I wouldn't know because I haven't seen my real hair colour since I was 25.
40. What was your favorite toy as a child? Probably my doll, which I called, "Baby." I was a very literal child.
41. Summer or winter? Neither. I'm an autumn girl.
42. Hugs or kisses: Both
43. Chocolate or Vanilla? Chocolate
44. Coffee or tea? Coffee
45. Do you want your friends to email you back? I'm sort of hoping they'll have better things to do, but I do learn something interesting about my friends when they do send it back.
46. When was the last time you cried? I honestly can't remember.
47. What is under your bed? Boxes of photos and loads of shoes. Oh, and some Christmas presents since I already started shopping.
48. What did you do last night? Went to Covent Garden to return birthday boots to find out that my legs are too fat for any boot style. Bummer. Had to bribe to boys for above errand, so took them to TGIFridays as their reward, which I also liked because there's nothing like some wholesome American fried food. We got home and all collapsed on the sofa, watching the SImpsons together. By the time I got them off to bed, I was exhausted, so I watched my friend's show, "Lead Balloon" on BBC iPlayer since I missed last week's episode.
49. What are you afraid of ? Anything bad happening to my kids (ditto to Kathy)
50. Salty or sweet? Depends on my mood.
51. How many keys on your key ring? 3 (home) 5 (office)
52. How many years at your current job? Five months.
53. Favorite day of the week? Saturday: Pizza night!
54. How many towns have you lived in? I have lived in 13 towns in five states and two countries.
55. Do you make friends easily? I hope so (see No. 54).
56. How many people will you send this to? How many people read MarathonMum? Maybe two, if I'm lucky.
57. How many will respond? I really don't care, because this survey took way more time than it really had a right to do.

ESPN Does College Stereotypes: Painfully funny

Now that college hoops season is underway, and Villanova (my alma mater) is again projected to do well, my thoughts naturally are turning to my favourite spectator sport. Here's an article from USA Today about an ESPN advertising campaign that was cancelled. Find your alma mater, and nod in agreement or thump your desk in outrage. Frankly, I consider being called a "poor man's Duke [University]" a compliment.

I've edited the team list just to include Big East and other notable teams [Sorry Tommy, Dayton didn't make the cut]. To see the full story, go to here at USA Today.

ESPN drops ad campaign that was to portray college stereotypes
By Michael Hiestand, USA Today

ESPN canceled plans Thursday for a TV ad campaign touting its college basketball coverage after learning that the actors were to depict sometimes crude stereotypes of students at specific colleges.

A leaked memo from Anomaly, a New York agency that has produced past ESPN ads, described a casting call for actors in which it sought someone to portray a Tennessee student as "a slutty girl who would hang out at the cowgirl hall of fame" and a Notre Dame student who is "an Asian kid ... who's always fighting."

The concept of the ad was to have students working at an ESPN call center, representing their schools as they phoned people to try to get them to watch ESPN college basketball coverage.

The campaign was killed as soon as the memo leaked. "Our marketing department just learned of this casting call today," said ESPN's Mike Soltys. "The language and approach reflected in that document were not approved by us and in no way represent ESPN or the respect we have for the college community."

In the memo, which first appeared on, the "defining characteristic" of the Marquette student is that "you don't really remember her." The Kansas student "takes great pains to point out that Kansas is very cosmopolitan." Syracuse would need a "Jewish kid" who loves college — "all you can eat buffets in the cafeteria, who knew?"

The Purdue student needed to look 14 and the Oklahoma student needed to be "wide-eyed, as naive as they come."

The content of the memo is reproduced below.



Director: Matt Aselton
Casting Director: ERICA PALGON
Interview: Thurs 11/13 and Fri 11/14, Mon 11/17
Fitting: 11/21
Shoot: 11/24, 25
Location: New York



All roles are ages 18-22 yrs old. WITH THE EXCEPTION of PERDUE.

The concept: The spots take place in the ESPN College Basketball Call Center (CBBCC). All of these guys are there representing their schools, calling people on the phone to get them to watch more College Basketball. Basically they are selling college basketball.



MALE. Our guy for Duke UNIVERSITY is a smart, with it, young WHITE male. He's handsome. He's from money. He is, in short, the kind of guy, everyone can't stand. He is the kind of guy everyone wants to be.


FEMALE. She's a Southern bell. She is the counterpoint to Duke. Being young and pretty everyone wants to be around her. She's charming. Not a dingbat, she's sharp.


MALE. Straight out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog, Texas is a young man's man. He is the kind of guy that could field dress a deer and then take you to the debutante ball in 20. Polite, farm boy. He's good at everything. Except call centering.


MALE. Kansas is straight off the farm. However, he takes great pains to point out that Kansas is very cosmopolitan, as witnessed by their record, their burgeoning tech industry, and their hybrid corns (bonus: modified by fish genes!)


MALE. Connecticut is all things Connecticut. He's a little bit older. He's a little bit thicker around the waist. He's WHITE. He's also competitive. Very. Waspy, blue blood.


MALE. Villanova is the poor man's Duke — he's not quite as handsome, he's not quite as rich, he's not quite as dapper. After 2 or 3 beers though, who cares? As he's friendly enough.


MALE He's an ASIAN kid who is in to all things Notre Dame, ridiculously so. Oh, and he's always fighting. Every time we encounter him he always has some words or another, be it the faint traces of a black eye, or a scab or whatever. He epitomizes the fightin' Irish.


FEMALE. Pittsburgh is a tomboy. She obviously grew up in the neighborhood and isn't going to take any guff from anyone and she'll wallop you in the eye with a crowbar if you suggest different. So don't. Think Tina Fey type.


MALE. Jewish kid from Long Island that is loving the college experience. It has opened up a world he never knew existed. All you can eat buffets in the cafeteria — who knew? To Syracuse, everything is a party.


FEMALE. Georgetown, a 4.36 GPA who's lived in 9 world-class cities, but all the time in her sister's shadow (her GPA is 4.37). She's sort of the female Duke, except most people like her. Think Reese Witherspoon.


MALE. No one knows what Gonzaga looks like because no one knows where to find him. He is still stuck in the grunge look, reckless, in from the wild. Flannel look. Chews tobacco. Guy that would go to school in the Pacific Northwest.


FEMALE. Marquette, on a scale of 1-10, she's a six. A B-, C in every category you can define a person by. Her defining characteristic is you don't really remember her. You're not breaking your arm to get to her, but you're not chewing it off to get away. She does have a winning personality though. Midwest, sweet girl.


MALE. He looks like Jim Tressle (head coach of Ohio State football) in the dress code. Red sweater vest. Always. Doesn't care for swearing either — of course we never really test this out as they are commercial advertisements and no one swears in them, but it's true nevertheless. A Republican.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

U.S. Election Night: The Hottest Ticket in Town

For probably the only time in our life, we had tickets for what the British newspapers were calling "The Hottest Ticket in Town": the Election Night party at the U.S. Embassy in London.

Given the time differences between the U.K. and the U.S. this party was not for the faint hearted. First of all, it didn't start until 10 p.m., which is usually only about half an hour before I usually go to bed on a weeknight. Second, you had to be committed to staying pretty late, given that the first results-- for Kentucky and Vermont-- were posted at midnight (GMT), but the results from many of the states wouldn't be known for hours later.

But in the end, staying up all night and still going to work the next day was totally worth it, not only because the party was fantastic, but also because our man won and made history.

As you can see from above, CNN's hologram technology was deployed so that partygoers like me and my friend Anne could get their picture taken with Barack Obama. OK. It wasn't actually a CNN hologram, but a more old-fashioned cardboard cutout, but I think the results are pretty impressive. They had cardboard cutouts of all the candidates so that partygoers could get their picture taken with them. As you can see from above, John McCain is peeking over Obama's shoulder (really he should have his Sad Grandpa face on), as is Sarah Palin. From what I saw-- since we spent most of the night stationed next to the cutouts since it was in the room with the large electoral map-- Obama was the most popular cutout with whom to have your picture taken, with Palin lagging slightly behind him. I don't know if this portents the 2012 election, I'm just reporting on what I saw. A few people, out of sympathy or perhaps irony, got a picture with McCain. But Joe Biden was like the ugly sister going to the school dance: nobody paid any attention to him, and by the end of the night, he had been pushed all the way into the corner: ignored and unloved.

Before the party, they said that many "celebrities" would be there, but I was pretty dubious. I said I'd only be impressed if I bumped into Gwenyth Paltrow. As it happens Gwenyth was at a film premiere in Paris, so I didn't see her, but I did see dozens and dozens of well known people. I spent most of the night staring at a person thinking, "I know this person. Where do I know him/her from?" and then mentally circulate through all the possibilities only to come to the realization that the person I was staring at was a member of cabinet or a television reporter, including former Cabinet minister Ruth Kelly, former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, Nick Robinson, the chief political correspondent of the BBC and Janet Street-Porter.

At one point, when Anne had gone wandering through the party, I sent her this text: "I've just spent the better part of an hour standing next to an Oscar winner." Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, who won an Oscar for "The Color of Money," whose last movie was "The Perfect Storm" with George Clooney but is now a London resident, was there with her husband, the Irish director Pat O'Connor. I couldn't remember her last movie, so handily Mr. MarathonMum had his iPhone, so we could IMDB her. I can't quite decide if doing an Internet search on someone who's standing right behind you is rude or resourceful, but we did it anyway. I never did get a chance to chat with her to talk about being from the Chicago suburbs, but let me tell you with authority: she looks absolutely amazing for 50.

Josh Hartnett, currently appearing in London in the play "Rain Man" was apparently there, but I didn't see him-- though I did see a picture of him the next day and he had been in the room where we spent most of the time. Perhaps I had been downstairs listening to a live set of Squeeze greatest hits sung by a member of Squeeze.

You read that right. Squeeze songwriter and frontman Glenn Tilbrook was there, singing all of my favourite Squeeze songs. Our friend Chris, who was a rock star in a former life, even got to go up on stage and SING WITH HIM. Later in the evening, as we were getting ready to go (at about 3:15 a.m.) I had a chat with Glenn and I told him that I really loved all of those songs, and they took me back to high school and university. He was lovely.

They did have some party food to nosh on, but the real culinary winners were the temporary franchises of Burger King, Subway and Starbucks set up just for the party and serving all guests for free. Burger King really did work its magic at about 2 a.m. when my energy levels were flagging-- nothing like a free Whopper to perk you up. The presence of Starbucks also insured that I DID get my free cup of coffee after all, so that was something.

The real highlight of the evening was watching result after result go Obama's way. We hung in there for as long as we could, but left after they called Ohio to Obama, figuring that it was now in the bag. When we got home at 3:45 a.m., we put CNN back on, hoping that more results had rolled in, but none had. We finally capitulated to the siren song of our pillow just after 4 a.m. (I now know that if I had hung in there for probably just another 10 minutes, I would have seen them declare Barack Obama the next president of the United States.)

An hour and a half later, it was time for Mr. MarathonMum to head to work. Not surprisingly, he had slept through his alarm, so he asked me to go downstairs to tell the driver he was running late. I got to the car, filled with joy because of the result, and told the driver-- who happened to be black-- that Mr. MarathonMum would be right there.

"No problem. That's OK," he said. "When I got to the house this morning, I knew you were a nice family because you have the Obama signs in your window. He won! He won! He won!" For the next minute or so, this stranger and I jointly celebrated the fact that Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day 2008

I'm aware that we live in London-- I only need to see the big red double-deckers, black cabs or red post boxes if I'm ever in doubt-- so I also know that putting up posters for our candidate will have little influence for voters in the U.S. But when Thing One enthusiastically put these posters up a few weeks ago, we also thought that there might be some random undecided American tourists passing by who would see our posters and think, "If Obama has supporters in London, he must be a good man. I will vote for him!" You never know. (Thing One certainly hopes that will be the case).

It's been a fascinating year-- or two-- to be an American expat with a passion for politics, both foreign and domestic. It was thrilling to have a choice in the Democratic primary, when I actually had to devote some time to picking the candidate I wanted to support, rather than picking the lesser-of-two-evils or figuring out who had the best chance to win. In the end, I decided to back Barack Obama in the primary, only because I wanted a different name on the ballot. In every presidential election I've voted in since 1988, there had been either a Clinton or a Bush (or both, in 1992) on the ballot. It was time for a change.

In late February, I sat down with Thing One, Thing Two and a newspaper and summarized the position of all of the Democratic candidates. Thing One was most impressed with Obama's environmental policy, so in the end he decided to back him. Thing Two pretty much does what Thing One does, so he backed Obama too.

Ever since then, they've been asking, "Has Barack Obama won yet?", which forced an explanation of the primary season and general election season. While listening to Radio 4 (England's NPR, but more impartial) yesterday, they thought that once and for all it had been decided. They were crushed when they learned we still had one more day to go.

So this is it. Oddly enough I've now voted in as many elections as an expat ('00, '04, '08) as I did as a U.S. resident ('88, '92, '96). Now I'm off to the U.S. Embassy in London (thanks to our awesome friends Anne and Chris who scored the tickets for us) for their big party with 1,500 people including some "celebrities" (I'll only be impressed if I meet Gwenyth Paltrow.) It'll be a long night, but I hope to have a full account of the party on MarathonMum tomorrow.

Happy Election Day, everyone.

Free Coffee at Starbucks!

If you are in the U.S. and are reading this, you can go to your local Starbucks and get a free coffee for voting today. Sadly for us, this offer does not apply to expats voting absentee. I even asked! ("No," said the barista. "We're not doing that here. But I would like to know who you voted for.")

Apparently, there's some other offers you can exploit in the U.S. if you voted. For a list, go to my friend Kavita's blog at

Here's a picture of me (voted absentee in Illinois) and fellow expat Tanya (voted absentee in Nebraska) enjoying our NOT-FREE coffee from Starbucks. We should look sad-- sincer we had to pay for ours-- but we're not. We hoping/thinking/wishing that our candidate will be the new president-elect tomorrow. And that put a smile on our face.