It's random, it's fascinating but more than anything else, it's down right weird.
Enter, once again, and at your own risk, the unique mind of Sheffield Steelers' Canadian defenceman Rod Sarich.
After nine years playing professional ice hockey in north America he washed up in Sheffield, England.
And he has been here since nearly a decade.
Despite his familiarity with British culture, he still recalls some of the culture shocks that lay in wait for him
And he will always remember some of the crazy days living the life of a sportsman in north America.
Here is Rod's latest blog: sit back and enjoy...
" And what exactly is a cream tea?”
“Or, for that matter, tea?”
My former, first year in the UK, self was truly perplexed by these strange misleading terms when I arrived in England back in 2005.
I thought tea was something you drank, without milk, at your grandma’s house when she was out of coffee. Nope. Apparently, tea was something you ate in the evening, most of the time not in the presence of liquid tea. But of course!
And a cream tea?
The first vision that danced through my head, and quickly exit out my ear into the rubbish bin, along with all my other first year misconceptions, was that of a comforting hot beverage prepared in the same manner as a traditional cup of tea but finished off with a healthy dollop of whip cream, not unlike a flamboyant cup of hot chocolate. Wrong again.
It was only when I ordered one of these unique British delights, and actually got to see a visualisation of what had, up to that point, been inadequately described in words, did things become clear. Of course, then, when the mystery of the cream tea was finally uncovered, I was confronted with yet another layer of intrigue and controversy – the endless debate as to what comes first, the jam or the cream!
Needless to say, this one has yet to be resolved in a satisfactory manner. But, just to stir the pot, I’ll sit on the fence and state here that it can, and should, be either; it all depends on the kind of cream you receive. If it’s the proper thick mortar-like stuff then go ahead and trowel it on first; the jam will glide nicely over top.
But if you’ve been disappointed with that crap straight from an aerosol can then you’d best go jam first or you’re likely to end up with Eton Mess all over your face.
And then there’s the whole issue of… well… well even after ten years in the UK I’m still not quite sure what the correct terminology is to introduce the subject.
Lets go with ….. (insert hesitation here)…. rolls? Or bread cakes? Tea cakes? Or, perhaps, baps? Or maybe cobs? Or, even more exotic, birdies, stottys, barm cakes, scufflers, oggies, morning rolls, viennas….. etc.. etc.. etc..
As a former outsider looking in, it’s only too apparent that the dishevelled lexicon of the UK’s sandwich shops scene casts a very dark shadow of awkwardness over any coherent attempt to order lunch.
I mean, it’s hard enough already for us (them) foreigners. You’re already trying to get your head around concepts such as grated cheese, or the option of adding sweet corn. To a sandwich? Really?
Forget being in a foreign sandwich shop; you’re in another sandwich dimension my friend. Say cob when you’ve unknowingly crossed into bap country and they’ll just stare at you; as if some three-headed beast has just stepped through the portal and into their local Greggs, looking to exploit the inter-dimensional meal deal.
The United Nations or ISO (International Office of Standardisation) really need to step in here and put everyone out of their misery. It’s somewhat understandable if you’ve traversed the ocean, or crossed an armed border, or even driven a couple hours down the road and found yourself vexed by some unknown local sandwich terminology. The reality is that people who only live ten minutes down the motorway from each other don’t recognise the various terms for what is universally referred to in North America as a bun.
But whoooaahhh! Hold on there partner! Don’t, whatever you do, try to order a sandwich using the term “bun”. Staff bewilderment will quickly turn to ridicule and they’ll scorn you right out the door. That, or you’ll be leaving the shop with a tasty heap of sweet corn and cheddar compacted between two slices of Battenberg.
But wait. As much as I’d like it to be, this isn’t intended to be yet another blog solely about food. After watching SPECTRE last week, the new James Bond film, I began thinking back to the early days of my hockey career. And not just to all of the strange terms and experiences I encountered living in foreign places but also the state of living itself.
There was a scene in the movie where OO7, sitting in his presumably long established London residence, receives a visit from Moneypenny who, upon arrival, sarcastically ask James “When are you thinking of unpacking?”.
This remark, alongside the barren walls of Bond’s city flat, made me think of the early years of my career when life was perpetually lived out of a suitcase – just a young hockey nomad roaming from one yearly location to the next, with brief returns to the farm in between.
In North America, a player who is consistently traded from one team to the next is regularly referred to as a “suitcase”, but the term could apply to just about any young and single player beginning their career. You arrive in some southern state in America, in my case Louisiana, they drop you off at your semi-furnished apartment and you’re left to your own devices.
My suitcase used to stay half unpacked for a good month or two at the start of the season. A “semi-furnished” apartment provided by the team meant your place would likely have a couch but almost never a wardrobe.
One year I had a cardboard box system for clothing storage with a design I’m still convinced I could sell to IKEA. My roommate thought it was brilliant and paid me in beer to help him build his own.
The other thing that would inevitably be missing from your place was pots and pans. Guys were always packing away frying pans in their suitcases at the end of the year. Though for some strange reason I never saw anyone arrive with one, unless they’d driven. The guys with vehicles always had the most luxurious apartments – blenders, coffee makers, beer fridges, and, most importantly, real plates and cutlery. One person had driven all the way to Lafayette Louisiana from Alaska! His polar bear shaped license plates more or less granted him rock star status for the entire season. He could park wherever he liked. Cops didn’t care.
Everyone was mesmerised by the plates.
Some of the apartments did have a small assortment of plates and cups but they were always a completely random mix, no doubt leftover from former tenants.
But even if you did have the necessary dinnerware, it didn’t mean you were going to use it. There are other options.
The two teammates who used to live above me in my third year pro were operating on a different wavelength. By this, I mean they had a different criteria of necessities for living comfortably and a very adverse attitude towards household chores – of any kind. In short they were very lazy. But at least they were happily compatible.
Their solution to a sparse dinnerware situation was to make pilgrimage to the local bulk buy supermarket (life line of all single hockey players - typically Sam’s Club or Costco) where they proceeded to buy 1000 paper plates, cups and plastic cutlery. There would be no washing up to do in apartment pig sty.
But the paper plates weren’t just for eating either. Quite often they were used for target practice. Lock a couple of bored hockey players in a room for a few days, add beer, and watch the creativity flow. The first apartment game invented was inspired by the bonus stage of the 1987 Sega Master System video game sensation Shinobi, where you attempted to throw shurikens (ninja stars) at enemy ninjas as they ran back and forth across the screen in order to earn bonus points. The apartment version involved one person (the target) running back and forth across the living room, from one bedroom to the other, while a “ninja master” Frisbeed paper plates at the human target, all the while holding a full beer in his hand. No shots on target - chug a beer.
Though their place may have been messy, as an occasional spectator, it was actually quite amusing to watch all the games those two jackpots would come up with. However, the games did tend to be less amusing at 3:00am when heard from the floor below.
The other interesting game these two geniuses dreamed up involved guns. Not actual guns but Air Soft handguns, which fire small plastic pellets that hurt quite significantly at close range. One afternoon I wandered into their apartment, which was never locked, and found the place strangely empty. I entered a bit further, wondering why the blinds were drawn in the middle of the day, as if no one was home, yet the music was from the stereo was pumping.
Nearing the kitchen I glimpsed one of the habitants cowering behind the counter wearing yellow safety goggles. If he was surprised to see me, I can tell you for certain that I was more surprised to see him - what with his forehead sweating, staring up from behind the counter, pointing a bowel-relaxingly realistic handgun in my direction.
Luckily, Dirty Harry didn’t fire. Instead he signalled with his eyes to the empty Air Soft packaging on the counter beside me. The penny dropped but not quite quickly enough. The empty packaging was for two guns, not one, and I was standing in no-man’s-land. Thwack! Thwack! To pellets to the back of the neck and I was kissing the linoleum. Knowing I was in a jackpot situation – no gun, no eye wear, no way these idiots were going to halt their game to let an easy target waltz out of the war zone – I needed to find a way out and quickly.
As luck would have it, leaning against the living room wall, and just in reach from the cover of the kitchen counter, was the one item they would never risk damaging with a errant shot, and it was large enough to shield me in my escape. I picked up the empty flat screen TV box from the wall of the living room, held it up in front of me and proceeded to walk unmolested straight out the door.
I’d hit them where it hurt.
So much so that as I left I heard the music switch off, a bit of brief shouting, and then the two of them dashing after me, chasing their precious box down the stairs and into my apartment. I ransomed the return of the box for two shots with the Air Softs on the bottom of my assailant’s foot, and a case of beer.
You may be wondering what magic power an empty TV box can hold over two gun crazed troglodytes, who never bat an eye when shooting holes into their apartment walls, or tossing spaghetti onto the kitchen ceiling to see if it would stick thus indicating it was cooked to their preference.
They never cared about wrecking anything at all, so why would they be so concerned about the welfare of an empty box? It’s simple really and I’ll bet any past early mid 2000 North American minor pro hockey players reading this will have guessed by now.
That box was going to be just as important as the TV itself when those two space cadets went to return it in two months time.
At that time, I’m convince half of the East Coast Hockey League must have been “renting” TVs from Walmart, exploiting their original packaging required, no damages no questions, 3 month return policy for large electronic devices.
You simply purchased a brand new flat screen, returned it three months later, selected an even larger and more expensive TV, returned it again three months later, so on and so on.
But critically you had to take very good care of the TV and the packaging. Not exactly the easiest task when living in the vicinity of so many “creative” hockey players, and beer.
Our own apartment hosted a few parties throughout the year and we were always careful to lock our TV and TV box in one of the rooms, or even remove them from the apartment altogether. It was a terrifically funny when everyone’s drunk, yet not so funny in the morning, kind of joke to smash up someone’s flat screen packaging; watching them crumple to the floor under the weight of the realisation that they’ve just truly purchased that cutting edge 42” 2004 Panasonic Plasma TV which will now eclipse their next 4 pay cheques.
And, more importantly, just how the hell are they going to get it in their suitcase?