The World According To Fred is my blog, although no, my name is not Fred - but don't worry, that's a common misconception... My posts are a compilation of all the things that pass through my mind - a running commentary of my view of the world. Please feel free to comment and please say if there are any subjects you would like Fred to take a view on - I really do want to know!!!! In the meanwhile enjoy:
The World According To Fred

Friday, 28 October 2011

Little Benefits

Hakuna Matata. What a wonderful phrase! Hakuna Matata – it ain’t no passin’ craze. It means no worries, for your DofE days… So for some insane reason, having completed Bronze, I decided to continue with Duke of Edinburgh and enrol in Silver. Utter madness.

For those of you who follow my ramblings, you’ll know that on my Bronze training day, I lost my phone.  Well, unfortunately it seems to be a regular occurrence. On the way to Exmoor – where our three days of torture was to be hosted – we stopped at Fleet Service Station and, to cut a rather long and worrying story short, my phone and iPod were recovered by me and my dad Saturday night after a cleaner had found them in the toilets and handed them in to lost property. Excellent job well done, I think. I wrote on my previous DofE blog that the moral of my phone troubles is not to “put your phone in the front pocket of your hoodie, especially if you are walking through large fields”. I think the moral of this more recent episode is not to trust Fred with anything valuable whilst on an expedition. And that the idea of learning from your mistakes is really a lot easier in theory than in practice. Still, a month without your phone and Facebook proves that communication is underrated. And that half term can induce lunacy and an (increased) obsession with One Tree Hill.

Needless to say, it kind of marred the rest of the experience, though that was kind of done anyway by the three days of hill climbing and two nights of sleeping in a cold tent. I really shouldn’t be complaining as I did volunteer for this – an oversight explainable for Bronze, but not so much for Silver. Then again, what else is a blog for, except complaints and warnings? But to whichever genius told me and my team that Exmoor is “really flat” – let me ask, do you think Mount Everest is just a little hill? Either that or we got exceptionally lost and ended up near Snowdonia. Flat, yeah right. Let’s hope that New Forest is better.

A lot of your mood is based on sleep, food and weather. We were incredibly lucky to have enough sunshine to be dry but not too much to be uncomfortable. Well as unnecessarily uncomfortable as you can be when you are carrying around your own weight on your back and walking 13 miles uphill each day. At least it wasn’t the torrential downpour of my Bronze assessment. Food checked out, though I don’t think I’ll eat pasta two evenings in a row again, being a rather tedious meal, and I’ve definitely learnt to put my custard creams and Jaffa cakes in boxes rather than bags to ensure they remain separate and don’t merge to become Jaffa Creams. Oh, and if I find that in Tesco next week, I am claiming plagiarism. But snacky food is always good fun. In the words of a great team member “We’re so British, sitting on a hill side eating digestive biscuit”; I suppose you have to find a light in everything, even if that thing is being stranded in the middle of nowhere. Sleep, however, was an entirely different matter. On our first night, we were placed on a hill and ended up all rolling into each other. On top of that, I had issues sleeping and spend most of the night trekking between my cold tent and the warm, rather decadent-for-a-campsite toilets. At least I could see the stars, which literally lit my path. Cliché, I know.

However, it certainly taught me (again) how a little team work can go a long way, and lacking it can pull you to pieces. On a high, we roamed the hills singing a combination of Busted, “The Power of Love” and – our theme tune – Hakuna Matata. We made as many ginger jokes as possible when in the company of our red-headed teacher (especially when he got us lost in a field and we thought we were going to be shot by a farmer) and ridiculed a particular person who thought that Free Willy was a dolphin. On a low, there were tantrums and yelling and foot stamping. Not to embarrass anyone, of course. I think DofE is one of those rare moments in your life when you get to see someone as their raw selves. When you have no make-up to hide behind, are sleep deprived and hungry, your real self unwillingly slides through, sometimes surprising even yourself. You have heart-to-hearts with the people who normally wind you up; you re-connect with the best friend that you haven’t spoken to in far too long and you bond with the people who you thought you’d never know.  Yet it works the other way too – you don’t speak to someone for three days and despite the fact that you’re physically closer than you normally are, you’ve never been further part. Most of the time it’s the pressure of the situation that causes irrelevant fissures to appear; but sometimes this strain can simply reveal the underlying issues, and you can realise that people aren’t who you thought they were. Not negatively, just different. Especially when they haven’t seen either mascara or eyeliner in three days and look like a zombie. I guess that just shows the reliance we place on little Benefits.

Taste of Texas

Anyone who has been to America (and even those who haven’t) knows that the USA is famous for its restaurants and therefore, food. So, instead of trying to cram a full and proper summary of everything consumed in the states into my Kids In America, I decided instead to create a blog as a food critic. A Taste Of Texas, if you will.

I think that Applebee's is one of those great icons of American food, alongside McDonalds and Subway.  It was also the first time that I learnt the difference between English and American “Lemonade”: ask for it in England and you’ll get Sprite or its equivalent; ask in America and you’ll get what we Brits call still, cloudy Lemonade. However, when it comes to drinks you've got to hand it to them – free refills on soft drinks really make you love going out, though when one glass is the size of a bucket, you don’t really need more than one.

What to eat: Fiesta Lime Chicken

Baskin Robbins
So I know how Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream ultimately rules the frozen confections, but when faced with a countertop of 31 different flavours, you have to admit that Baskin Robbins forms a close second – not to mention the variety of ways it can be served to you. Being a pig, and momentarily forgetting the American size definitions, I ordered two different scoops of ice-cream. I won’t make that mistake again.

What to eat: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

Billy Bob’s Texas
The World’s Largest Honky Tonk! Although we weren’t able to hang around for the rodeo held inside the enormous room, we did stop to shop and eat. We thought that we would attempt three starters for our lunch, not realising that a Honky Tonk starter was a very large English main.  Three very large English mains. For lunch.

What to eat: Chuck Wagon Nachos

Chilis Grill and Bar Restaurant (Detroit Airport)
Well, as we were leaving our holiday, this was never gonna be a “happy” meal. Yet even under the circumstances, this was probably the worst meal of the holiday. Although the food itself was good, in comparison to other delicacies I had eaten over the previous ten days, it was like dry toast compared to caviar. If you like fish eggs, of course. But it was the service that really put a downer on it all - everywhere we had eaten, we had been waited on like demi-gods, but here we were basically ignored. Go figure.

What to eat: Big Mouth Bites

IHOP (International House Of Pancakes)
 So it’s probably quite wrong that at the International House of Pancakes I didn't have well, pancakes, but there are certain things you just get a craving for. What I didn't know was that my breakfast came with eggs, hash browns and sausages. I was acceptably full afterwards, to put it simply.

What to eat: Biscuits and Gravy Combos

In-N-Out Burger
Quite jet lagged and gasping for anything to eat, we stopped at a drive-through for dinner on the first night. I would say that the burger was outstanding, but I was really quite tired. And realistically, it was a burger. What else is there to say?

What to eat: Cheeseburger

La Hacienda Ranch
A Mexican restaurant built on its origin’s borders, La Hacienda is the real deal. As tasty as it was, this for me was not what I had anticipated. When it comes to Mexican, it means Old Es Paso’s box sets which, frankly, are just Tex-Mex and the urge to yell “No Burrito for you!” a la Ugly Betty So when I was served two rather odd looking wraps, I was wondering where my Enchiladas were. Not saying it wasn’t good, just… unexpected.

What to eat: Chicken Enchiladas

Le Peep
You would’ve thought that after ten days in the states that I would’ve gotten used to the portion size (and you’re probably sick of me mentioning it), but when I ordered two pancakes I didn’t expect two inch-thick, dinner-plate sized cakes. That together with their extraordinary sickliness tied to make too much for one meal. My dad joked that no-one took a doggy bag for breakfast. I said that I had two mornings worth of pancakes. Win-win.

What to eat: Blueberry Pancakes

Papa John’s
I don’t think there’s a lot to say – it was order in pizza, and to be perfectly honest, I prefer Domino's and Pizza Hut. Plus on my last night, I was kind of fooded out, so I didn’t eat a lot. Trust me, it’s very rare.

What to eat: All The Meats

Rafain Brazilian Steakhouse
This is the single most value-for-money occasion I have ever experienced. All you can eat of 16 different kinds of meat, all served on a service of waiters who pounce competitively every time you switch a small card on your table from red to green to signal that you want the food to flow. From Garlic Picanha to Chicken Breast wrapped in Bacon, I ate the most out of everyone I was with, by quite a bit. Then again, I wasn’t about to let food (literally) walk by when there was no extra cost involved in me eating it. Bizarrely, the best dish was the roasted pineapple. Doused in cinnamon, spit roasted, then served still warm - it was ambrosia. Even after I had “finished” eating, I would still scan the room for the pineapple and flip my card over whenever it appeared. After rounds of beef and lamb, the waiter came over and asked if he could get us anything and I requested some chicken. The same waiter then saw me mid-pineapple-hunt and said “Can I get you anything? Some pineapple? Or some chicken perhaps?” I was sufficiently embarrassed, but not enough to say no.
What to eat: Roasted Pineapple

Red Lobster
For me, Red Lobster only means Happy Gilmore. It’s one of those bizarre cases in which you think that something is made up only for TV or Film and you think you’re hallucinating when you see it for real. For fish, it was great value for money (but then everything in America is) as well as absolutely delicious. Just glad I didn’t have to pick out a lobster from a tank.

What to eat: Seaside Shrimp Trio

Taco Bell
Ah the definition of Tex Mex! The best burrito I have tasted, I think I could’ve eaten ten more. So it’s probably a good thing I didn’t, unless I wanted to role onto the plane. Still – this is definitely the one American chain we need in Britain.

What to eat: Grilled Chicken Burrito

Texas Land and Cattle Steak House
Land and Cattle was the first restaurant we ate out at on our arrival in the US, and my first experience of their enormous portions. The food was delicious, and being a lover of fish I ordered the tacos and was then treated to the complaints of the waiter who said that I was in a steak house and should therefore be eating meat. Still, peer pressure has never stopped me eating what I  wanted before. Or stopped me eating at all in fact.

What to eat: Mahi Fish Tacos

The Cheesecake Factory
Admittedly, I’m not a massive fan of Cheesecake – dairy products are a massive no-no for me and although most people will plague me to say that there isn’t really cheese in cheesecake, there’s something really not right about it. Nevertheless, I’d thought I’d try some from the biggest house of cheesecakes in America, and I was pleasantly surprised. However, I think they gave me the whole cake, as it was enormous slice and even for me it was quite sickly. And insanely filling.

What to eat: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cheesecake

Kids In America

America – the land of the free, the home of the brave and a great big tourist attraction all rolled up in one. Aside from price of tickets, immigration and the excruciatingly long plane journeys – made bearable only by the free food, drink and inflight movies – travelling there is virtually pain free. Especially when the only alternative to flying is still tarnished with the idea of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet floating around on a piece of wood.

With simple roads the size of an English motorway and no roundabouts in sight, driving on the opposite side of the road was the least bizarre thing about American traffic. As we drove towards Dallas, we passed under a freeway – for those of you who don’t know what a freeway is, think of the moment in Transformers with Optimus Prime, the unsurprised child and the mother with a serious delayed reaction; a giant web of bridges, criss-crossing over one another, like something out of a futuristic sci-fi movie. 

Needless to say though, the most confusing thing about America is going from air-conditioned indoors to gorgeously warm outdoors. In England, you trade stifling hot indoors for icy cold outdoors – even in summer. However, when you visit a country for its warm weather and therefore pack for it, it is a little disconcerting to be sitting at dinner wishing you had brought a jacket for the cold indoors. You may think I’m mad for wishing for the heat – it was after all averaging around 42° every day. But in America, it is not the sticky, stifling, suffocating that the Brits see briefly in that day we call “summer”. It is a comfortable warmth, that still manages to give you the stupidest tan lines, making you look like Neapolitan ice cream whenever you try and amend them. It was quite funny – when we got home, I had several people telling me that it was the warmest day in ages. It was 15° and I sat wrapped up in bed in a woolly jumper, freezing cold.

However, there is never a more satisfying sight than an American Outlet Store on sale. It’s a triple discount. I’m not exactly a fan of the brands, simply because of the outrageous prices the sell their clothing at – but when it’s half the price, there really is nothing harder to resist. The funny thing is walking straight out of Hollister into Abercrombie&Fitch and seeing the exact same clothing throughout the store with just a different logo on. I envy whoever produces the plain versions of it all – they must make an absolute fortune. Alike with stores, it is fun driving around and seeing all the American commonplace items that are well known to everyone simply because of their feature on American TV shows and films. Walmart, 7 Eleven, Red Lobster – despite the amount of them that there are in England, I actually smiled when I saw the first American McDonalds.

However, the accent is something else. I still don’t understand how people with the same origins can sound so completely different – the same goes for Australia. Still, it was relatively fascinating to have our accent loved and thought of as part of the cast of Eastenders. And they were polite as anything – it was all ma’ams and sirs. Not exactly the slating and swearing you hear in England. If there could be only one thing I miss about the States, it has to be the manners. You know you’re back in Britain, when you get shoved out of the way in a hallway and thrown filthy looks for every necessary question you ask of someone who’s “Happy To Help”. I guess the weather’s just pathetic fallacy.

The USA is a big and beautiful land – and that’s from the miniscule portion that I saw.  Hopefully England will see how successful its neighbour is and get its act together, preferably in my lifetime.