Sunday, 9 July 2017

Geekrant vs the Capitol Caper


Greetings Geekranters! Welcome to another edition of the obviously world-wide, nay universe-wide phenomenon that is my blog. I exaggerate, of course, but what writer doesn't?

Summer has arrived in Wisconsin, although it seemed to want to take its time getting here, lingering somewhere in the wings while spring rains hogged the main stage, until the point where I felt like I was on a daytrip to a British seaside town in late February not living in a American Midwestern city in early summer.

Summer did arrive in the end, although bringing with it a torrent of thunderstorms that hurtled their way east across the prairies of Nebraska and the cornfields of Iowa until they unleashed their fury on the City of Four Lakes. They opened up a barrage on us, unlike anything I have ever known. I am rapidly learning that despite the average Brit's stereotypical obsession with conversations that centre upon the regional meterological characteristics of our homeland, living on an island in the middle of the North Sea protects from most of the truly severest weather.

Here we live on the edge of tornado country, the weather forecasters actually break into regular programming to warn you about the storms they're tracking. Hailstones can turn a car's windscreen (or windshield, for my American readers) into a pretty useful colander in only a few minutes. Tornado sirens are regularly tested and people are instructed to make for shelter if they do touchdown. Looking out of the window at the storms with the lights off in our apartment, the sky became lit eerily by lightning that didn't seem to have any time and space from one bolt to the next. The atmosphere was full of magnesium bright flashes, on and off, as if some galactic preteen had found the light switch for the heavens and was flicking it on and off.

Looking down the street, the wind and rain pushing the trees one and way or another, looked like a news report from tropical islands hit by hurricanes, at least to my inexperienced eye.

We weathered the storms though, coming out unscathed, which is more than can be said for our neighbour's cars after a tree fell on them in the maelstrom. The atmospheric temper tantrum rumbled away east, disappearing somewhere over Lake Michigan and the mitten shaped state of the same name.

So now “eternal summer reigns around the bright city of Ward Drobe...”... sorry... wrong story. (although a reference or two to Narnia is never a bad thing.) Now summer has come to Madison, and the Lake City lies shimmering like a emerald jewel surrounded by pools of pure sapphire blue and everything seems right with the world.

I exaggerate, maybe a little, poetic license has to be employed from time to time or you would very rapidly get bored with reading my humble missives. Madison, as a city, has an amazing ability to seem permanently at rest, even at its busiest times of the day. Its like the city itself is a laid-back Midwesterner who just enjoys being by the lakes and having a good cookout with a beer.

The parks are full of games of flag football and softball, the cycle paths packed with people taking the opportunity to see the city in a more sedate and environmentally friendly way than by car, college students engage in every kind of outdoor recreation activity known to man and then some, boats of every kind meander their way across the aquamarine surface of the lakes. Above it all, the Capitol sits, like some citadel in a fantasy story looking over its kingdom and beyond.

Madison sparkles in the sun and the Capitol is everywhere you look. It completes every pristine view of Madison. Photo-bombing every good picture of the city, as if it was built to do just that, which, of course, it was.

To many British people, like myself, the significance of the capitol buildings of each of the individual states here in the U.S. is something that isn't always clear. To many of us, it might be seem to just be a glorified local council building but in a American state it is so much more. State governments here have a lot more influence than some local council in suburban England.

Most state governments are modeled after the United States federal government, being that each state has three branches of government: an executive (the state's governor), a legislature (often made up of two chambers, although the names of the chambers can vary) and a state Supreme Court. All of these distinct branches have their chambers and headquarters located in a state's capitol building.

As such the Capitol is where state law is written and voted on, judicial decisions are made on the constitutionality of the state laws and the governor and attorney general have their offices.

Madison's Capitol building can be found at the southwestern end of the Madison Isthmus. It is the highest building in the city. Legislation exists within the city that prevents any building from being taller than the columns which support the dome of the capitol.
So it truly was built to photo-bomb every picture of this city.

The more that I live here, the more I realise that the civic buildings in Madison, the parkland, even the landscape reflects the character of the people who live here. Madison is the people who live here and the people who live here are Madison. The Capitol is where the voice of the people of Madison and the rest of Wisconsin is heard. It is probably the greatest and most recognisable symbol that the city has. It can be found, in symbolic form, on the flag of the city, on the shield of the police department, on postcards and in the names of a bunch of businesses.

Interestingly it is nearly always open to the public to look around and as a place to petition the state government for pretty much everything. I'm pretty sure that I could sit within the Capitol underneath its granite dome, the largest such dome in the world, for hours and never get bored of looking at its beauty. From the dome, four wings spread out, so from overhead the Capitol looks like a cross at the summit of the Isthmus.

When I was growing up, my parents, particularly my mother, were always keen on my siblings and I having an appreciation of old buildings with their art and architecture and the history that those buildings reflect. They grew up in the Roman built cathedral city of Lincoln, so when they came to visit Madison with my brother, it seemed a “no-brainer” to take them to see the capitol building.

My mum loved it, of course. The Capitol was finished in 1917, a time which, historically speaking, puts it somewhere between the nature inspired forms of Art Nouveau and the more geometric, angular forms of Art Deco. Combined with that is the same neo-classical architecture that can be seen in much of the federal buildings in Washington DC. All of which, in a lot of ways, make it somewhat different from much of the architecture found in the U.K.

The interior of the Capitol is a secret oasis of art, with mosaics representing classical personifications of concepts like truth and justice. Different floors can be accessed by means of open marble staircases or by entering the elevators with their distinctly Art Deco feel.
Statues and busts are everywhere in the Capitol, many of them being representations of badgers, the state animal. Robert La Follette Sr, “Fighting Bob”, one of America's earliest progressive politicians can be found, in bust form at least, protecting one of the wings, with his shock of unruly hair and stern, determined gaze.

Madison has a history of progressive politics, going back to Mr La Follette Sr and so it should come as no surprise that during 2012 the whole building was occupied by progressive and labour union activists. They were protesting the present Governor, Scott Walker's plan to limit the collective bargaining rights of certain public sector unions in an attempt to bring down the state's budget deficit. This occupation developed into what amounted to a mini community located within the public spaces of the Capitol building and propelled the protests to the forefront of national and international attention.

Now, I can't make a comment on the righteousness or otherwise of the protesters case, that isn't the point of this blog, but it helps to show the regard that Madisonians hold their Capitol building. This is a place of influence, of power, of protest. This is a forum for the public's voice to be heard.

When my family came, we took the elevator up to the place where you can walk out beneath the Capitol dome and look out across the City of Four Lakes and see all that it has to offer. Later we stopped for a drink in a bar on Capitol Square, under the shadow of the Capitol and I reflected, in my own heart, on how different this place is to nearly everywhere else I have been in the world.

Here, government sits with the people, not among busy, traffic choked streets and metal fences designed to keep people out but surrounded by bars and restaurants, museums and art, aging hippies and coffee mainlining hipsters. Madison has a chilled out, open handed, welcoming vibe and that extends even to the Capitol building. I have only once been to the Houses of Parliament in London and then our time there was monitored, wandering freely definitely not an option. I have stood, in the cool surroundings of the Rotunda of the Madison Capitol and felt like I could stand there for an eternity, with nobody saying a word.

So summer reigns over the city of Madison, one of the most welcoming cities in the world and I am glad to be here, and it won't be long, I'm sure, before I sit in the Rotunda again and marvel at my surroundings and be amazed that I made it here. 

Till next time. Good Bye Geekranters!



Friday, 7 July 2017

Geekrant vs The Arboretum Attack

Greetings, Geekranters and thanks for reading. Welcome to another riveting edition of my soon to be inter-galactically popular blog. And another slice of my needlessly grandiose writing style. I hope you enjoy it.

So this week, as I mentioned in my last blog, was Independence Day, which along with the plethora of patriotic pomp and circumstance and flurries of fireworks is a pretty wonderful excuse for a day off from work.

My wife picked me up from work on the 3rd of July and she suggested that we celebrate the holiday by doing something in the great outdoors, which as we were supposed to be going to the gym sounded like a great idea. I just didn't know where we were going.
We did some errands, including posting my final paperwork to change my conditional Green Card into a permanent one (we're both very glad that's done), and then headed towards our destination which my wife now told me was the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Arboretum. My wife has always wanted to take me to the Arboretum but somehow we have never managed to find the time.

An Arboretum is, at its most basic level, a collection of trees kept, generally for some kind of scientific study. UW-Madison's Arboretum is like that only on some kind of arboreal steroids.
The Arboretum was created in the 1930s as a kind of experiment and scientific study in what is now known as “ecological restoration”. The idea being to use the land of the Arboretum to create the sort of landscapes that existed in Wisconsin before the Europeans turned up and started turning everything into farmland and timber woods and generally messing around with nature.

The Arboretum contains a large amount of different landscapes, mainly prairies of various types, (including Tallgrass Prairie) savannas, (including Oak Savannas) a lot of forest land, wetlands and horticultural gardens. It is very impressive to look at, as if opening a window on the past to see what the original inhabitants and early settlers must have seen on a daily basis. It also is a lot of land to cover.

Back in Britain, many a sunny afternoon in my youth was spent exploring the grounds of Normanby Hall, the onetime summer home of the family who built Buckingham Palace and sold it to the Royals a couple of hundred years ago. Those grounds were extensive enough but I have a feeling the Arboretum would easily have dwarfed them.

One thing Normanby Hall has to offer over the Arboretum in July, is that wearing shorts isn't a matter of severe discomfort. That day at the Arboretum they definitely were.

The truth is we barely saw any of the Arboretum aside from the area around the visitor's centre. We had forgotten one of the many fundamental rules of Wisconsin, rules such as Brett Favre never played for the Minnesota Vikings, it was all a mass hallucination, Governor Scott Walker is a walking advert for “Just for Men” and if you're going out in summer never forget bug spray... oh and wear something more than t-shirt and shorts.

We had barely made it 200 yards into the Arboretum before we had to retreat before attack wave upon attack wave of Wisconsin's unofficial state bird, “The Mosquito” caused us to beat a hasty and hopefully dignified retreat from the Arboretum's verdant environs. The actual state bird of Wisconsin, the American Robin, is definitely prettier and less harmful to humans than the insectoid dive bombers known as mosquitoes. Alas, it was the mosquito that we ran into that day, my short clad legs inundated by itchy red wounds and our desire to see Madison's ecological restoration experiment postponed to another day with more planning involved and possibly some form of armour plating.

Trudging back to the car and thankfully removed from most of the blood-thirsty swarms, we chanced upon two more of the residents of Wisconsin's animal kingdom.

The first of these was a chipmunk, who, in my 1990s cartoon addled mind at least, went by the name of Alvin Simon Theodore ChipnDale III, and appeared to be nibbling something on the path in front of us. He was apparently oblivious to our attention but as any person who has tracked the wily chipmunk before knows, this is merely a clever ruse to lull you into a false sense of security so that you look even more foolish when you creep up on the creature and it runs off at the last moment. Which the young Mr ChipnDale did, leaving me and the wife most flummoxed.

Alvin having headed off into some prairie type grass which I would struggle to identify, we next met something that before I moved here and when I first moved here would have been astounded by but now has become somewhat commonplace to me. Strolling, or should that be strutting?, along the path in front of us was a wild turkey whom I shall call Nigel. As I have just mentioned, this sight while still impressive, no longer amazes me as it may once have done. Turkeys are native to the continental United States and can be often seen within Madison's city limits, clumping together in groups that might be seen in parks and woodland. Nigel the turkey looked at us with complete disinterest and then waddled off into the undergrowth. We made it back to the car and headed for home.

Every day here seems to be full of moments like this. Not just because I now live in America generally but because I live in Madison in particular. This is the city that I now call home and its got a vibe and an ambiance all of its own.

For those who you don't know, Madison is Wisconsin's state capital, home of the various sections of its state government and its headquarters, the visually impressive Capitol building. For a man who grew up in a nondescript industrial town, where not a whole lot ever really changed, in the North of England, one far removed from the sophistication and influence of a large city like London. (albeit a home town that I love)Coming from a town like that being in a city like Madison is a little different.

Not that Madison ever really feels like a hustling and bustling metropolis, its inhabitants would never allow it to become that. Located roughly in the centre of the southern third of Wisconsin and surrounded by farming country on nearly every side, Madison is a city of over 200,000 people but one that still mirrors, in some ways, the small town feel of much of rural Wisconsin while retaining a uniquely cosmopolitan, innovative and liberal viewpoint on most of life's great issues.

The city was founded by James Duane Doty, who started the whole city on a piece of swampy forestland located on a isthmus between two of the four lakes of the Yahara river chain, Lake Mendota and Lake Monona, Lake Waubesa and Lake Kegonsa being the other two. Doty was a former federal judge who lobbied extensively even before the city was built for it to become the capital of the newly created state of Wisconsin. As such, from its very beginning, Madison has been at the heart of every aspect of Wisconsin, an influence that the city takes seriously. From its world famous university to its liberal stance on political issues, to its environmentally friendly miles and miles of bike trails, this is a city determined to show a different way of living to the rest of the world.

Aside from the lakes, the city is full of green spaces, as if the urban planners couldn't bear to keep Wisconsin's countryside in the country and bought it right into the town. Cycle lanes are everywhere, with people regularly using this quick and easy route to get around.

This is the city of Frank Lloyd Wright, of course, the American architect who sought to marry architecture to the nature in which it must sit. This is also an American city with no skyscrapers, a consequence of a city rule that states that no building can be taller than the Capitol on its perch at the very top of the isthmus.

It is lovely place to spend a warm afternoon by the lakes, especially if you happen to make it to the University's Memorial Union Terrace, which sits right on Lake Mendota, with the boats on the lake and the sun high in the sky, it can be difficult to remember that this is a city in the middle of the continental U.S., not a seaside town on a sun drenched bay.

Unique culture is everywhere, from the intriguing signs that signify the entry into each neighbourhood from another to the student fed quaint chaos of State Street's shops and bars, this is every place you've been too and no place you could ever imagine. This is a place where plastic flamingos randomly appear on a hill in the centre of the university and summer evenings lead to concerts in the Capitol Square.

Madison is a city that feels welcoming, that feels laid-back. Even on the busiest, most stressful day in the middle of a brutal Wisconsin winter, it feels like the whole city is still one step away from going out on the lake, cracking open a cold beer and fishing with friends. That's because they all go ice fishing, of course.

Madison is full of music, bars and restaurants. Nirvana's breakthrough album, Nevermind was recorded here and Otis Redding's plane came down in the cool waters of Lake Monona. It is a place that at one point is full of high culture and dreams and on the other hand still manages to deal with the daily grind of work and more work that so many people find themselves in. In the end, I think we all need a place like Madison sometimes.

So this blog is my introduction to Madison for you, if you've never been here. It is by no means complete. Ever since I moved here, this place has welcomed me into its slightly off kilter embrace and I'm glad I ended up here, of all places. If the waves of love and romance are going to sweep you across an entire ocean, you couldn't do much better than finding yourself here. It is a wonderful place to live, even if I don't know even a tiny amount about it yet.

So there will be more blogs on this subject, the subject of Madison that is, not insane mosquito attacks and mad dashes back to the car.

Frank Lloyd Wright deserves many blog posts, the city's love of sports does, a whole series could centre on what can be found on State Street alone. I could write for months and still not tell you everything there is to know about Madison and even then my friend Ralph, a native Madisonian, would still tell me more that I didn't know. But it doesn't matter, I'll keep writing about this place because its home now and that's no bad thing.

So keep an eye out for another blog from me and if you want me to blog about anything you think it would be interesting to read my perspective on, just let me know. Till next time.

Good Bye Geekranters!



Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Geekrant vs The Backwoods Rifle Range


Greetings! Salutations and Happy Independence Day, many thanks to all readers (of all nations) of my altogether too infrequent blog. I must apologise. I have been remiss, I have allowed the maelstrom that is the everyday world of a adult male living in the Western world in the first half of the 21st century to take its toll upon my bringing my blog to you. I have also, as can been seen by the last sentence had a tendency to ere on the side of melodrama.

Much of the point of this blog is to chronicle my experiences as a British person living in the United States, an ex-pat, as the phrase goes. As such I live in a world full of discovery and wonder, adjustment and growth, cultural misunderstandings and social serendipities. This is my life. It is reality, just as much as it was a dream before I moved here. Sometimes the greatest adjustment I have to make living here is to try to marry the dream and the reality together.

I find myself between two worlds. Before I moved here and even when I visited, I was the dreamer, the tourist and I although I live in the everyday humdrum reality of making a life for myself and my family here, I am not an American by birth and therefore still find myself caught between reality and the dream. So it is both interesting and a little bit strange to see another person see this place for the first time and understand that I can never solely be the dreamer again.

So what has triggered such introspection? My family came to visit, of course.

Now, I love them but it has never been said that any member of my immediate family is anything but a person of strong opinions and entirely lacking in fear to express those opinions. My wife has had to restrain me on many occasions from expressing my dissatisfaction with a whole myriad of things which include, but by no means are limited to: American News Anchors, the lack of chips(fries)at Chinese takeouts in the U.S., the Ellen show, the Dr Phil show, Peyton Manning, the seemingly superhuman American ability to not require a type of potato at EVERY meal, doing your own tax returns, football (soccer), football (American Football). Truly my wife is amazing for putting up with these rants especially as she is “Minnesota nice” and therefore doesn't quite understand my opinionated Britishness.

So I was interested to see my family's reactions to America. My parents and my brother came to see us, which means a lot, as it means my father's first flight at the age of 62 was a full on, long haul, 8 hour flight across the Atlantic Ocean. We had a good time, although as most family holidays go, it had its short tempered and chaotic moments as well. It is strange, to see someone experiencing something for the first time that still seems so new to you, but is in fact, rapidly becoming a normal part of life. And, on top of that, there were guns.

Now I don't want to get into the inevitable arguments that ensue whenever Guns and America are mentioned within the same article. So much has been said on that issue by people better informed than I and, for that matter, far less well informed than I. It is a argument that everyone seems to now feel they possess a right to comment on equally whether they live here or not. Such is the ability of the internet to make us all experts and political commentators within our own lunch times. That being said, my brother wanted to shoot a gun while he was here and, bearing in my mind that I live in a state with a lot of hunters and outdoor enthusiasts, I reasoned it was a good idea that I was, at least familiar with the workings of a firearm.

This is the point, of course, where anyone who knows me and occasional clumsiness, runs screaming for the hills in hopes of protecting themselves from a stray bullet flying their way, but bear with me, dear readers, if only for a little longer.

The first week of the visit of my kinfolk (as I imagine Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone or some other gun totin' frontiersman might have said) we took them over the Mississippi into Mrs Geekrant's home state of Minnesota. We wanted to show them where my wife comes from, let them meet the rest of our extended Nordski family (including the newest addition, our niece Gabby, barely a month old at time and making her first appearance in her uncle's attempt at literature when she's not even three months old), and generally experience a side to America that most British people don't get to see.

We showed them the town of Red Wing, famous for its work boots, its pottery (at least locally) and for being one of the places young Bobby Zimmerman wrote a song about on his way south and out to New York and his new identity as Bob Dylan.

We talked at my in-laws kitchen table, my family and my wife's united in a way that reminds me of where I come from but is also somehow uniquely mid-western. No matter how distant the relationship, you're family and you always will be. My mother enjoyed the chance to dote on our newborn niece and my dad enjoyed playing games with our other niece and nephew (all three children are I suppose my parents grand nieces and nephew. I never really thought of my father as a great uncle). Suddenly I saw how marriage can tie families together, making distant people one and whole.

And, after all that, we took my brother Andy, shooting. Now I'm not really sure why Andy wanted to shoot so much, although he always was a fantastic shot on any video game you care to mention. Still he wanted to go and so Andy, my wife Kelly and I, went shooting. And when I when I say we went shooting, we were going back to basics.
When British people think of Americans shooting nowadays, we often think of television, cop shows and movies with dimly lit gunnery ranges, where some crack-shot makes a perfect grouping of shots on a paper target 50 yards away and pulls it back towards him to show his unbelievable coolness and skill. We were weren't doing that.

We were shooting empty storage tanks, hanging from a tree, in the middle of nowhere, with no cell/mobile signal. With myself, my wife, my brother and my father in law there in the back country. In all truth I fully expected Richard Thomas' voice to start narrating what surely would be the most high octane episode of “The Waltons” ever.
Despite the lack of official firing range though, this was as safe as could be. The men showing us were friends of my in-laws from church and were fire-arms safety instructors and they told us, in no uncertain terms that if we started messing around or if we even got some basic part of gun safety wrong, that was it, they'd pack it all up and call it a day.

My parents had stayed back in Lake City, Minnesota, where our hotel was, walking around the marina, pottering around in little riverside shops and cafe's. We, on the other hand, started from hand-guns and progressed up to rifles.

We were on the edge of a meadow at the edge of a wood on the side of a hill in the middle of what is often known as the boonies. Each gun was shown to us and how to fire it properly. My brother excelled in handguns, I definitely didn't. I fared better on rifles, although the recoil on a 12 gauge shot-gun nearly broke my shoulder. My wife, shot fantastically and my father in law, who I neglected to mention earlier, former Navy man that he is, easily held his own, not that it was a competition.

It was surreal, I often find it amazing that I made it here to America, I definitely didn't expect to see my brother shooting rifles in a Minnesotan wood while my parents looked for nick nacks in Mississippian gift shops. But such are the surprises of life.

I have already said that I don't want to add to the already voluminous cascade of opinions on the issue of American gun control or lack thereof and I don't, but I think I understand the conflict better now than I did before I moved here.

America is a nation, more than any other, built on one concept above all else. That concept is freedom. We can all sit and scoff, make noises about the nation's failing in that regard, especially if we sit on the outside looking in. It seems to many like an impossible concept to build a country upon. It probably is. Maybe, in the end, the ideals America was founded upon are its greatest strengths and also its greatest weaknesses.

Each man sees freedom as a different thing, wants freedom to be defined in a different way. Sometimes that leads to conflict. Every man sees themselves in the Founding Fathers, believe that if George Washington were here today, he would side with them. However I think I understand now, I will probably never be a hunter or a gun owner but the men who showed us how to use these weapons were and I could see how seriously they took that ownership and how sacred it was to them. To them this is something basic to a human's ability to make their own way in the world and to define for themselves what freedom looks like.

I feel unable to make a comment of who is right and who is wrong about the whole issue of America's attitude to guns, truthfully I'm not sure I really have a right to. But on that messy meadow on the edge of a wood, I think I gained an insight into what it is to be American. I realised that, for many, being American is about a never ending quest for freedom, the conflicts within its society coming from the different ways in which each person sees freedom. And maybe its victories come from that quest too.

I don't know what George Washington would think about America today, but I am happy to be here, despite its difficulties and contradictions. It has given me a wife, has allowed me to live miles away from everything I have ever known, welcoming me freely and it has given me a new life.

So from the pen of a Redcoat, Happy Fourth of July, whichever amendment is your favourite and whatever you think is freedom, I'm glad to be here.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Geekrant vs the Pack.

Greetings, Geekranters!

Welcome to another jam-packed edition of my ever popular blog, (at least I hope its popular, that really helps with the old self esteem thing you know) which finds me today slightly demoralised but undefeated and hopeful.

When I was 11 years old, during the summer term of my last year of junior school, one of our teachers started an American football club during our lunch break. It was nothing much, just a few guys trying plays and running pass routes on playing fields, while the rest of the school were playing on the playground. It is impossible to overstate the impact that this had on me. I am by no means a natural athlete and considering how this was before the days of mobile phones in the hands of pre-teen children, my lack of soccer/association football ability had seriously hampered my progression in the social status of the playground.

Ah!, but here was a sport that nobody could be ahead of me in, they knew no more about it than I did and as it was run by a teacher there was no way to leave me out of it. Our teacher decided to ask his favourite team to adopt us and they did, sending us all stickers and a poster for the classroom. That team was the Green Bay Packers.

Now it should be noted, that at the time I had no idea where Green Bay was, what state it was in or the history of the team but I went and stuck my sticker on my bed and so for years I went to sleep with a green and gold helmet looking at me.

As I have just mentioned I had no idea where Green Bay was, I certainly didn't imagine I would ever see the stadium, let alone live in the same state. I have been a Packer fan for approximately 23 years and I am amazed that I get to live in the land of the Green and Gold.

American football, is an interesting game, although I know many association football fans back in the UK who would disagree, it is. Its interesting, because of the identity that each team draws from its surroundings. While it is true that big clubs like Manchester United or Liverpool have huge followings across many countries, they don't always reflect the towns they represent in quite the same way as American sports do. They are more universal and as they have often been teams for longer, the communities they were originally formed for have changed, often significantly.

American sports teams however, from the moment of their foundings are all about the cities they come from, the states they represent, the people they speak for. The communities vote for what to name new teams, the logos speak to the attitude of the teams and when they take to the field, even the stadiums will be different depending on the climate of the city.

The Minnesota Vikings take their name from the Scandinavian nature of their heritage and culture, the New England Patriots from their area's history and involvement in the War of Independence, the Dallas Cowboys are as big, as glam, as grand, as an episode of Dallas, the Pittsburgh Steelers as industrial as an American blue collared work shirt.

Nowhere is that more true than in Green Bay, Wisconsin. In lot of ways, in fact, the team doesn't just represent a city, it represents the entire state.

Green Bay, Wisconsin, is not a large city, its population numbering somewhere around 104,000 at the last U.S. Census, it lies on a inlet of Lake Michigan known as Green Bay and it is passionate about its football team, the Packers.

Green Bay has by far the smallest television market of any team in the NFL, it is by far the smallest city with a franchise and it is can be found only by driving through miles of well tended farmland. Its team represents a state of only around 5 million and by all accounts it should be the proverbial David against Goliath in every competition between themselves and the big money teams.

Except that, in the strange history of the National Football League, it is the Goliath, the Colossus of Wisconsin, if you will. The Green Bay Packers possess thirteen championship titles, nine prior to the creation of the Superbowl and 4 since then. Their nearest opponents have around half that number. So forget what you think you know, the Packers are the most successful team, in terms of championships, in the history of the NFL. They are the only team to win three years in a row, managing the feat, not once but twice.

They were founded in 1919 and are the oldest franchise to still be playing in the same city. They have the longest record for inhabiting the same stadium, while other teams build new stadiums every thirty years or so, the Packers have been in Lambeau Field for nearly 61 years.

They are the only American sports team to not have some big money owner or an ownership group. They are owned by the fans. The team is Green Bay, it is Wisconsin. They will probably never leave this town, if for no other reason than the fact, that according to the team's constitution, all proceeds from a sale must go to the town to build a war memorial. They are the last of the small town teams that flourished before the Great Depression made so many go bankrupt.

The town is the team, the team is the town. They are immensely proud of it. The stadium is never anything but sold out. Its a family. And so its like so much of the state that has adopted me so well. You're here, you're family, let's go watch some football and if we can find some beer and brats along the way, all the better.

When September arrives in Wisconsin, Sunday afternoons are covered in the teams colours. Here, wood framed house are painted in green and gold, people wear Packers jerseys to church on Sunday mornings, Packers flags fly from seemingly every street. Every autumn Wisconsin goes to a very cheerful, very welcoming, very polite war. And they want you to come.

Tonight, they lost the NFC Championship game against the Atlanta Falcons. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers dragged his injury decimated, beaten up, limping team into the Georgia Dome. They got beat up even more. The Falcons, it has to be said, jumped up and down on them. In the midst of it all, they carried on. Even when the Packers give up, they give up in a hope filled way, fighting all the way, even though the game was over a long time ago.

I love this team even more now than when I moved here, because they represent so much that is good about Wisconsin and, for that matter, the whole Mid-West. They are a team of small farms and small towns, of Mid Western hospitality and simple virtues. Its unusual to see over the top celebrations from Packer players. In fact the greatest celebration they have involves jumping into the stands, their moment of victory shared by the fans, a moment known as the Lambeau Leap.

So, this is what Wisconsin is and I'm glad to be here. It welcomes you as if you were a long lost son and makes you one of its own. I am a person stuck in two worlds and from two places.

When Ray Nitschke, one of six Packers players to have retired numbers, finished his playing days, he listed his number in the local phonebook so everyone could contact him if they wanted to. In many places that would be mad for a sportsman to do. But this isn't any other place.

This is Wisconsin. And Wisconsin is my home. Its not where I was born but its my home today and so when next September rolls around Wisconsin will go to its polite war again and Sunday afternoons will be filled with Green and Gold and the hope of victory. After all, the state adopted me, just like the Packers adopted our little school club all those juvenile summers ago. 













Saturday, 31 December 2016

Geekrant vs The New Year Retrospective


So 2017 is on the horizon and here I sit at ten minutes past ten at night in the living room of our apartment here in Madison, Wisconsin and I must admit that I am reflective.

It has been some months since my last contribution to the pages of this blog, a hiatus that can be explained by work, lack of sleep, the endless turning of the wheel of the rat race and, obviously my mixing of metaphors. However it all adds up to the same thing. Life can get busy and when your life is caught up in the gradual transition from one culture to another, it seems somehow busier.

The legal process of leaving Country A for Country B, can be a lengthy one and when, on top of that, the person you love is in Country B and you still in Country A, is can seem interminable. On top of that, there is the adjustment to a new country and its way of life. So Mrs Geekrant and myself can find ourselves feeling rather burnt out from time to time. That's not to say that we're unhappy, far from it! However it is natural to wish that the merry-go-round that is existence would slow down for a while. Give us chance to catch our breath.

So, as I said, I'm reflective. I'm sitting here, caught in a strange moment. Everything and everyone that I ever knew lies in 2017, 6 hours ahead of me on the other side of a rather large body of water; Mrs Geekrant, myself and our life here hangs tenuously on to 2016.

It feels quiet with a kind of stillness, the night seems silenced of its noisiness of city living. The ever-present distant hum of traffic stilled. Everyone is out somewhere at New Year's Eve's parties and the city centre is undoubtedly rife with revelers, heaving with humming hostelries and busy bars.

Life is good. Every new day seems to bring something fresh to our doorstep. It feels strange to know that it has been over a year since I saw my native shore. It doesn't feel that long and yet it feels like an eternity. Whenever I visit, I wonder, will I fall to the ground and kiss the dirt, crying for sweet England as the Californian accented Kevin Costner does in Prince of Thieves? Or will I realise that now I will always feel slightly at home and slightly alien in both worlds. Maybe that's what it means to be an immigrant. Or maybe that's just what it means to move away from home.

I have done many things this year, that I could never have imagined doing before. I have driven a boat, nearly killed myself going down a hillside on a quad bike (I ended up underneath it in case you wondered, although it should be acknowledged that I got the thing up there in the first place.), I've learned how to make bread, Mrs Geekrant's Uncle Jim showing me how in a relatively basic kitchen, in a cabin, by a lake somewhere in the North of Wisconsin, I've eaten a venison roast and seem the remains of deer strapped to the roofs of hunter's trunks on the highway. I have felt overwhelmed, despite my political geekery, by the endless onslaught of U.S. Political ads during the election. I have seen one of my favourite bands play in a venue only a 15 minute drive from our apartment (the previous two times I'd seen them it had taken me over 2 hours in a car to get to the venue.) and been amazed at the fact that every band's American tour passes somewhere nearby.

I have learned the drawback to the warm temperatures of an American continental summer, seemingly never-ending humidity and swarms of mosquitoes1; I have faced the harshness of arctic cold and seen my first true snow drifts. I have journeyed along the banks of the mighty Mississippi in every season that this world has been granted and have fallen in love with the landscape in all of them.

I have introduced a friend to the epic landscape that is the Mid-West. I have seen an Ice Hockey game and a Baseball game. I have seen opossums, chipmunks, hawks. Our car was once flown over by an eagle not 4 feet above our heads. I remember being a child and wondering if I'd ever see an eagle in the wild, now I have.

I have tilted my head back in the back seat of a convertible and watched as the trees bordering the road slowly drifted past and have understood the calling of the road in so much American literature. Maybe it is the echo of the pioneer in each American, to find some unspoiled piece of land and find their true selves there.

I am not an American, the thirty two years I spent growing up in a small steel town in the North of England mean I am pretty much a British man for life. Yet, despite my, by now well documented, difficulties with adapting to this culture, I find myself feeling more than just occasionally, at home.

The Mid-West of the United States is not the place that, as Rupert Brooke once said, “Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam” to me, but it is, somehow, my new home. I have fallen in love with much that it has to give and offer. There is a poetry to be found in its landscape, the optimism of its people. Its funny, to see that culture that has influenced so much of my life from afar, now from the inside.

When I was young, they repeated “The Waltons” on television, I still don't really know how I ended up watching it but I remember how it made me feel, the land and the sky, the world that was different. I also remember the credits from “Little House on the Prairie” where the little girls run down the hill, I was always intrigued by the history of those days. Those pioneers who set out to find a new land. A land that seems to go on forever under a sapphire blue sky.

I sometimes forget, I have been there. I have trod the same streets that Laura Ingalls Wilder trod and have seen the small hill town where Ulysses S. Grant lived before he went to war. The Republican party was founded in Wisconsin, Happy Days was set here, Harley Davidson manufactures here, so does Miller Beer, can you get anymore American than that?

So I'm pensive, because I love our life here but it still is sometimes strange to me. I am in a land of television dreams, a land that always intrigued me but I never wanted to visit. Maybe my whole life will be lived in the six hours time distance between the land of my birth and the land of my marital existence.

Still we make it work, we're happy. I get excited for tomorrow and wonder what's on the next horizon. I am an immigrant in a new land and tomorrow is a brand new day and a brand new year and there's so much more to see. Perhaps there is something of the pioneer within me, maybe all it needed was some unspoiled land and an open sky to come alive.

So, I hope you enjoyed my little rant tonight, I hope its not too disjointed. I didn't plan it as well as I plan most of my blogs, but I wanted to say “Thank You” to all of you for reading my little blog, so that required me to write something. It is a great pleasure to write it and know that somebody reads it. You are all wonderful.

So, Happy New Year and to borrow the Facebook sign-off of my wife's grandmother “Love to All!”




1Each state had its own state bird, of which Wisconsin's is the American Robin. However a running joke seemingly throughout the Mid-West is that the real state bird of every state is the mosquito.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Welcome to the UnConventional. The Internet and The Primary Season.


One of the strange things about moving here at the time I did rather say, ten or more years ago, is just what the advent of social media has done to the size of our world.



Now, I should make the point that I obviously have no problem with the internet or social media. It is a fantastic tool and I wouldn't have met my wife without it. It really did change my life. That's why I'm posting blogs about what its like to live as a British subject in an American world.



It can however have another effect, it has made the world appear much smaller to many people. We live in a world where the borders that exist between countries and cultures seldom exist in our minds anymore. No one is a foreigner in the electronic netherworld of the internet. We take in information, watch videos and form opinions based on what we find in cyberspace. So, while I try to understand this new world that I find myself in, I find that many people seem to already know more about this country than I do while living back in Blighty. Not that I'm making a judgment on anyone. Its just strange.



I have tried to stay away from politics while writing this blog, as its primary purpose is to talk about my adjustment to life here, it is a blog naturally more concerned with the minutiae of life than the cut and thrust of political debate. I have a tendency to be more than a little opinionated when it comes to matters of an ideological bent, but I'm not totally sure that I have the right to comment on the rights and wrongs of U.S. politics just yet.



Being a recent immigrant to these shores, I have a extremely defined legal status. I am a “conditional permanent resident”. My permanent residency is as a result of my marriage to Kelly but as we were married for less than two years when we applied, my residency is of a conditional nature for its first two years. After that I can apply to remove the conditional nature of my status.



Permanent resident status is what many people refer to as possessing a “green card”. I am required to have my card with me at all times, as it serves as my I.D. as well as proof of my right to stay in this country. It has many benefits that I share with U.S. citizens, I can work, I can pay taxes, I can gain a driver's license etc. However I have to tell the government every time I move house and I can't vote.



Voting is a reserve of full U.S. Citizens and I can't even apply to become one until I have been a full, non conditional permanent resident for 5 years. As I still have a year till I can apply for a change of status to reach such a categorisation, it means that it will be a full 6 years, at the very least before I can vote. So not only can I not vote in this Presidential election but I won't be able to vote in the one in 4 years time either.

Which is where the strangeness of the information super-highway hits me. Here am I, living in America, reluctant to make any comments relating to social and political issues because my voice really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of the American political system, if it ever does. However in the world of social media, everyone has a say in everything. It seems not to matter that you live 4,000 miles away from the U.S. because your opinion obviously matters in the coming Presidential election. And of course, everything posted online is more trustworthy than things found in the print and television media.



Now I'm not meaning to judge anyone who posts on this issue, but it shows just how the world we now live in feels connected like never before. We see it on the screen and we sympathise with our friends overseas and so we're going to let our voices be heard. Even if it doesn't directly affect us at all.



One of the subjects where this is most evident is in the videos posted online and the response to the convention season. In the classic, late 90s-early 2000s TV series “The West Wing”, the White House Communications Director, Toby Ziegler, attempts to pressure television networks into guaranteeing coverage of the entire Democrat Convention in the face of their natural opinion that no one will watch it. For many years, the convention has been covered less and less, with only the keynote speeches and candidates acceptance of the nomination getting any airtime at all. Now however, the Internet allows for the mass dispersal, promotion and spin of the whole over stuffed shebang.



This, of course, has been at least partially influenced, by the fact that the candidates this year are among the most controversial of recent years, neither of whom came out of the primary season looking like undisputed leaders of their parties.



So welcome to convention season, two weeks which amount to the most public, most drawn out and by far the most dramatic committee meetings in the world. Officially that is what they are, a meeting of each parties national committees where they each have delegates from every state in the Union and they each nominate their candidate for election to the highest office in the land. I am discovering in the midst of watching these conventions and people's reactions to very carefully selected excerpts of speeches that the Internet, watching “The West Wing” all the way through on no less than three occasions and knowing who Ronald Reagan's opponent was in the 1984 election have not prepared me for the experience of viewing this election from inside this great country.*



The Conventions however are only a footnote, merely a formality as it were and therefore the culmination of an entire primary season. By the time a candidate gets to the convention, they have already been on the campaign trail in some form or other for the last 18 months and still have nearly 4 months left to campaign. In answer to the question of when their journey to this exalted stage of their career started their speech writers will inevitably have concocted some heart warming story of the moment in their history when they realised that they wanted arguably one of the most powerful jobs in the world. But that is just hype.



Practically their journey begins with the formation of an exploratory committee. An exploratory committee's job is to gauge the level of support for the candidate both within their party and in the country as a whole, to start to acquire financial capital, no-one after all makes it even to the candidacy of their party without spending a stupendously large amount of cash. They also start to create the infrastructure for a national campaign.



If the exploratory committee thinks they have a shot then they will officially launch their campaign for the candidacy of their party. This is masterminded with just as much attention to detail and often flamboyance as a national campaign would be. They have a professionally designed campaign logo, a slogan designed to grab the public's attention, political directors, speech writers, spin doctors and media experts. They also have an ideological platform which will become the basis for their general election campaign position. That is if they make it to the convention as the nominee, of course.



The primaries are a battlefield, like any election. The battlefield is America and the individual battles are for the individual states. America is a federal republic which means that numerous aspects of political life are devolved to the states. Article IV of the U.S. Constitution defines the relationship between the individual states and the national or “federal” government, at least in theory. Each state has it's own laws, its own executive (a governor), a legislature (called numerous things depending on the state but generally mirroring the two chambered system of the federal Congress in Washington D.C.) and a judiciary.



The Republican Party and the Democratic Party are no exception. They have always been organised on a state level. The building blocks of the two party system in the United States is often found in the strength of their “grassroots” state organisations. This means that although the Office of the President is the executive arm of the federal government, the first electoral step on the road to it's oval shaped glory is to convince individual state parties that you should be their candidate in November.



Now, this isn't easy, America, for all its patriotic fervour is not some monolithic imperial power with a group mind that brooks no disagreement. Each state is motivated by its own issues. My adopted home state of Wisconsin, for instance, is obviously going to be extremely interested in the candidates stance on agricultural issues and awareness of rural and conservational issues as well as the economy and jobs. However a state like New York, while having a large rural area within it, will often tend to be more interested in the candidates stance on social issues directly affecting the inner city, primarily because the state is dominated by and named after New York City and its 8 million inhabitants. Water conservation and rights are going to be of interest to south western states with their dry climates but of no interest whatsoever to Washington state or Oregon with their abundance of rainfall.



To win the primaries therefore, the campaigns have to be ready to run fifty smaller campaigns for each state's hearts and minds. This was a revelation to me, even though I knew that, in principle, this was the way it worked. It turns out that when its your state's turn on the electoral merry-go-round, especially if yours is the only primary scheduled for that day, you start to wish that democracy itself didn't exist. That nobody wanted your votes for anything and that the candidates would kindly hurry up and get off your commercial breaks.



They advertise the candidate, like trying to get you to buy a used car. You are a consumer. Part of a demographic and a state they desperately need to win and so exposure to the candidates views are a must, this, after all is the ideological battlefield.



There are debates and mud slinging, gaffes and mistakes, speeches and less well intentioned oratory. It becomes a knock down drag out fight just to gain the chance to do it all again in November. Everyone is looking for that one vital moment to land the knockout punch and proceed to the convention as the presumptive nominee. The earlier you win, of course, the easier you can hide the fact that you verbally attacked the rest of the candidates from your party and present a unified front long before the convention winds around.



The conventions are supposed to exude a kind of celebratory party like kind of vibe. If the state rounds were all about trying to get the party to choose a candidate, this is all about showing off the candidate to the party and showing them that everything is ready for the general election.



This years conventions were held in Cleveland, Ohio, (Republican Convention) and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (Democratic Convention). The Republican National Committee had tried to inject a feeling of rock and roll into the proceeding by placing their mascot, an elephant, onto the silhouette of an electric guitar, referencing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nearby. This might have worked, if the Governor of Ohio, John Kasich, hadn't been one of the defeated challengers in the Republican primary and decided not to attend the Convention. Meaning that every news story that first day was about that decision. Not the start that the National Committee would really want to see. But something that often happens when the Convention isn't really sure about how committed the winning nominee is to the party's platform.



The Democrats had on the other hand gone with the tried and tested formula,you hold anything in Philadelphia, you use the Liberty Bell as your logo. And there it was, replacing the “0” in “2016”. No over the top drama here the first day. The winning nominee for the Democrats being a woman who many within that party have dreamed of having on this stage for a long, long time.



The conventions then proceed as usual, a working weeks worth of speeches, exhortations, rabble rousing, Bill Clinton talking about cartoons, Melania Trump talking about fashion and how she loves her Multi, Multi, Millionaire husband, Meryl Streep squealing like a teenage girl at a One Direction concert at the prospect of a female president. Everything is heightened, every emotion is extreme. America is after all one of the few nations in the world truly founded on an idea, a concept. Its not just that there is an American Dream, but that America is the dream and all of these people feel that it has been lost somewhere, like Richard Nixon dropped it down the back of the couch one day and nobody's been able to find it since.



There is no cynicism to the party faithful that flock to the conventions. They really do believe that they are the only ones who can save the American dream. They turn a blind eye to the failings of their nominees (because all politicians have failings) and the whole thing becomes a beatification, the nominee raised to sainthood, the standard bearer of their party. The opposing parties candidate now is seen in the opposite way. Like an enemy to the true fulfillment of the dream, at best a sadly deluded personage who should really have stayed at home.



There are many who believe that this election could be incredibly close, despite the Republican candidates tendency to indulge in silly posts on Twitter that help his campaign very little. People in the U.K. and that includes many who have become entitled to have an opinion by watching You Tube videos, wonder how that can be. The Democratic candidate comes across as a much more sensible bet, surely she's going to walk it. Why isn't she doing a victory lap already?



The fact it is, as the primaries are conducted on a state level so, to a degree is the general. Each state has a series of votes attached to it. In the same way as the primaries decide how the delegates will vote at the National Convention, these decide how the Electoral College will vote.



In the days before instantaneous communication, the Presidential election was decided by delegates to an Electoral College sent from their state to vote in Washington D.C. for the candidate their state had voted for. States with larger populations got more delegates than states with smaller populations. It was considered the only way to hold the election on the same day everywhere and get reliable results. Now although things have changed in terms of communication, the Electoral College still exists. This means a simple majority of votes in the country will do, you have to win states across the board.



This is where things could potentially get a lot closer. The Democrats have for many years easily taken the East and West Coasts. This means they take the largest state in terms of electoral college votes, California and also New York. They succeed in large cities and urban areas, but the American system is set up so that smaller rural states can't be ignored and have a say. And as the Republicans just as invariably take the second largest electoral college state of Texas. It forces candidates to have to listen to everyone in the country not just their natural voters.



The states in the centre of the country are often referred to as “Flyover States” because the Democrats have tended to ignore their issues while flying from their power bases on the East and West Coasts. These states have not always been fertile ground for the Democratic party and many that once had industrial cities within them blame the Democratic candidate for her agreement with her husband's signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which they feel destroyed manufacturing in America's heartland. They don't want food to be cheaper for inner city children because they have farms that need a fair price to survive. They also feel that all the money they pay in taxes to the Federal government goes predominantly on inner city areas with social problems that they don't have. They own guns for hunting, but feel vilified for possessing them by the anti gun lobby when they feel the real gun problem in the U.S. is with unregistered gun owners in the inner cities.



So this is the strangeness I find, we sit now on our computers and make decisions about candidates and politicians across the world based on our own ideologies defined by our own lives. I may listen to the Republican candidate and find much of what he says repugnant but I can't deny the fact that many in the heartland of America, couldn't care less about what he says about those issues so long as he brings prosperity back to them. There is an area known as the Rust Belt, it is made up of former manufacturing towns whose jobs have trickled away, Detroit, for instance, once provided much of America with its cars, now many worry that it could become a ghost town. There are many who hold the Democratic candidate at least partially responsible for this state of affairs. Many also feel that although the current President has done a lot for the big cities he has done little for rural areas and states which are majority rural.



So maybe this, I feel, is what I'm learning, the Internet has a great potential to inform us, to teach us, to show us the future and inform us of the past. It also, however robs us of our experience of the world around us. We no longer try to find out what the people around us think because so many of our friends are now like minded individuals who live on the internet making us feel like everyone in the world thinks the same as we do.



I am here in the midst of this country, trying to understand its many different ways and cultural peculiarities. I'm not sure which way I would actually vote in the long run. I know that for many this year, its going to come down to which of the candidates is despised least. The lesser of two evils. I am learning that sometimes the Internet allows us to get flippant about issues that many people take incredibly seriously and which affect many lives.



I have no judgment to pass on anyone. I can be as guilty of this as anyone can be. I just wonder whether the next time we find some video of a politician speaking in another country about things that we can't hope to truly experience, we seek to learn more, not put the video on our Facebook feed and say “I'll just leave this here...Mic Drop”, no matter how amusing the man's orange hair-do is.



Thanks for reading.


Saturday, 30 July 2016

Baseball, Brats and British Ex-pats


It wasn't until Neil asked where the Away fans end was, that I remembered just how different American sports and their supporters are to the British way of thinking. If its true that you can tell a lot about a nation and a culture through the sports they choose to pursue and how they pursue said sports, then Britain and America's special relationship is not as close as some might think.



Neil and I were sat, along with my wife, Kelly, high above first base at Miller Park, the home stadium of the Milwaukee Brewers, Wisconsin's only Major League Baseball team and Neil was trying to find his bearings. Come to think of it, looking back, he wasn't the only one.



Sometimes, when my working week runs smoothly, the weather stays just below unbearable on my own personal humidity scale and I manage to grasp the intricacies of some overly simple part of living here in America (such as operating the tumble dryer) I try to tell myself that I'm finally getting my bearings, learning my way around this deeply complex country and generally doing pretty well. Around about the time I get to thinking like this, circumstance tends to clip me around the ear and tell me I've still got a long way to go in learning to understand this foreign country.



Truth is, I am, on the whole, doing pretty well on the whole adjustment thing. I've learned, in most occasions, what is a correct amount to tip in restaurants, I'm getting better at understanding how jobs work over here and I have some inkling of how tax returns work.

However despite this, I still have a long, long, way to go.



It is fairly accurate to say that when we British think of the Americans, it has always been with a sense of familial relationship as if America is a younger sibling with a rebellious attitude and loud taste in clothes and music but family all the same. We don't think of ourselves as foreigners, not deep down, as saturated as we often feel with American movies, music and culture. But we are, even though we don't feel it and so, more often than not I find that my bearings are still a little eschew.



Despite following the NFL(National Football League), since before I was a teenager and gamely making an effort to do the same with the NHL (that's the National Hockey League) this past season, MLB, or Major League Baseball, is still mostly an undiscovered country to me.



On the verge of moving here, it occurred to me that I should probably choose a professional team to follow from each of the major sports in the United States. I figured that it would give me something to talk about at work with the guys, if nothing else.



So I set about choosing five teams using criteria which, quite often, verged on arbitrary and in at least one occasion, just plain ridiculous. I have followed the “Green Bay Packers” since well before the onset of puberty, so that was a given. Wisconsin doesn't have an NHL team so I looked across the Mississippi to my wife's people in Minnesota and the “Minnesota Wild”. The “Minnesota Timberwolves” stole my basketball allegiance with their logo, which, unlike the “Milwaukee Bucks” logo, looks absolutely nothing like a dead deer's head stuffed and mounted on someone's wall. Living in Madison, my college sports team had to be the “Wisconsin Badgers” and then I had to address the baseball situation.



Baseball was definitely at the bottom of my list of U.S. Sporting pastimes to get into. At times in Britain, we can see baseball as merely an overrated game of rounders, a schoolyard sport elevated to a ridiculous level of seriousness, but over here it is seen as “America's Game”. So I eventually realised that I had to at least find a way of taking it all in and learn to like it.



Baseball is the oldest of America's professional sports, as it was definitely the earliest to be organised into anything approaching the structure of a modern sporting organisation. The National League, which is one of the two leagues which make up Major League Baseball, (the other is the American League) was founded on February 2nd 1876. This makes it the oldest of the professional sports leagues in the United States, by far. The NHL wasn't founded till 1917 and until the 1960s only had six teams in operation most of the time, the NFL likewise wasn't founded until 1919 and didn't reach a national following until the advent of television in the 1950s and 60s. The National Basketball Association is strictly a postwar organisation, not being founded until 1946.



To put it simply, before the advent of television, cable sports broadcasts, multi-media extravaganzas, pay per view internet podcasts; before the birth of our increasingly connected hyper-active information super-highway influenced world; before all of that, Baseball reigned supreme over the American nation and its collective psyche.



Even now it has the oldest teams. There are still teams present in MLB that were found on that very first National League rosta, albeit with different names or locations. And it is this longevity that separates baseball from other sports here in the U.S. Baseball, I am learning, truly represents something deeper than just sport to many Americans. It is more than a sport, it is memory, nostalgia, a symbol of a more innocent time that many worry that this nation has forgot.



Baseball is the sport that comforted them through the great depression. It came of age as America itself did, soldiers in the Civil War playing it on hastily constructed diamonds in camp. Then it grew to professionalism at the the same time as the United States started to look beyond its borders to the rest of the world. In the 1960s, Paul Simon, caught up in the social upheaval and artistic milieu of counter-culture, desperately searches around to find an image to denote innocence, nostalgia and integrity for his generation. He ends up looking to a baseball player, Joe Di Maggio, asking where he has gone, as if baseball could, even then, save America from its own culture wars. Di Maggio, “Joltin' Joe” proved that maybe Simon was right in that assumption, when they eventually met Di Maggio asked Simon whether he was calling Di Maggio to account for something he'd done wrong. Simon merely said that Di Maggio was a hero and they were in short supply.



Baseball is innocence to Americans, its also dreams and nostalgia and echoes of the past. Kevin Costner builds a baseball field in a cornfield to find absolution in the arms of a father he couldn't talk to because of the difference in generations. So having realised this, it seemed that I should promote baseball further up my list of U.S. sports to start following.



Which is why Neil and I were sitting alongside Kelly, in the seats of Miller Park, watching my final choice of baseball team, the “Milwaukee Brewers” take on the “St Louis Cardinals” one of the oldest teams in baseball.



Milwaukee is Wisconsin's most populous city and, according to my sources, the fifth largest urban area in the mid-west. Located in south east of Wisconsin, it lies on Lake Michigan, making it the northern end of a band of built up urban areas that wrap around the western and southern sides of the lake. The other end lies at Chicago, Illinois, of course. And in between them lies cities like Kenosha and Racine.



According to the all knowing Wikipedia, Milwaukee revels in a plethora of nicknames, such as : “cream city”, “brew city”, “beer city”, “brewtown”, “beer town”, “miltown”, “the mil”, “mke”, “the city of festivals” and “Deutsch-Athens” (German Athens)



Like many other cities within Wisconsin, Milwaukee was founded by French settlers coming down from Canada, but as time went on it became defined more by German and Polish influences along with lesser amounts of immigrants from other central and eastern European nations. If Minnesota, as I mentioned before, is known for its Scandinavian heritage then Milwaukee and much of Wisconsin, is known for its central European roots. Why else would the official “state dance” be “the Polka”?



Milwaukee celebrates its German heritage, glorifying in the German sausages known as “Bratwurst”, here known more often as “brats” and often boiled in a mixture of beer and onions and then thrown on a grill. They are pretty amazing and end up tasting like the best hot dogs the world could ever have created. They also love their beer, for many years Milwaukee was the largest single producer of beer, in the world. Despite losing three out of the four major breweries that used to make their home there, its still has the last one, “Miller” brewery, which is still one of America's most popular beers.



Milwaukee is also known for its festivals, with one happening virtually every week. This is a city of celebration. It even has its own Oktoberfest something not seen that much outside Germany, apart from in the rest of Wisconsin, that is. It boasts “Summerfest”, a massive music festival that boasts many more acts, three times as many days and definitely better weather than wading around in a muddy field in the English countryside and convincing everyone that Glastonbury Music Festival is not actually a colossal waste of money.



Milwaukee is also the closest Wisconsin comes to an old-fashioned, working class, blue collar, industrial powerhouse of a town, like Detroit, back in the day, or Pittsburgh. During the 1920s, 30s and 40s, it was the only city that the Socialist Party of America made a serious impact in politics and city government.



So what better place to go watch baseball in Wisconsin, or for that matter, any where in the Mid-West. A quintessential American industrial city, a melting pot of races, cultures, festivals and “America's Game”, the only game that travelled to this continent at least partially formed. The pomp, ceremony and the history.



The Milwaukee Brewers are the city's second major league franchise, since the Milwaukee Braves (originally the Boston Braves, who moved to the city in 1953.) left in 1965 for Atlanta. The Brewers first played in Milwaukee in 1970 and from then until the year 2000, they played at “County Stadium”. Then they built “Miller Park”



There is always a discussion when building American sports stadiums about whether to build an enclosed, indoor stadium or a traditional, outdoor, bowl-shaped ground.



Many areas, in the U.S., have extreme climates, of course. Arizona, for instance, with its desert heat or New Orleans, with its marshy, river delta humidity. In these cities, an indoor, temperature, controlled environment makes sense, it is even desirable for sporting contests. However, conversely, there are other sports teams, such as the veteran leviathans of the NFL's National Football Conference North, the “Green Bay Packers” and the “Chicago Bears”, who use the adverse weather conditions of their open air grounds to intimidate opponents. (If you interested in just how “adverse” this can be, search for the “Icebowl” game of the 1960s on the Internet.)



Miller Park is actually something in between, a stadium boasting a fan-shaped retractable roof which opens and closes to match weather conditions. When we went it was a Tuesday night game and there was the threat of rain. So the roof was closed.



So back, eventually, to where I started, in answer to Neil's question, there is no home end or away end in American sports in general. Home and Away supporters sit together and enjoy games together. While quite willing to “trash talk” opposing teams fans in the run up to the game, there is very little “hooliganism” associated with any American sport.



When watching such a game, it rapidly becomes obvious why many people in the UK don't like watching U.S. sports. In many nations, particularly the UK, sports are contests of strength, wit, skill and dedication. They are all about the game itself, the spectators are almost incidental. American sport, on the other hand, is different. My father always complains to me that the NFL, for instance, is not actually a sport, its theatre, a spectacle for the masses and he's only partially wrong.



American sports acknowledge the need to entertain, to put on a show to reward the spectator for coming. It is an attractive package, even though to say so seems like a betrayal to the no-nonsense northern town I grew up in. I have to say I'd rather watch a spectacle of some over-the-top American sport, designed for the fans as much as anyone else, than spend just under two hours on a wind swept, rain drenched, Saturday afternoon in February with nothing to take my mind away from the home team's dismal performance than a round of “Crossbar Challenge” at half-time and “Scunny Bunny” running round the sidelines like he's on some illicit substance.



Maybe that's one of the reasons we British, struggle to get our bearings over here. We're traditionalists, in it for the sport itself and while I admit to enjoying the trappings of U.S. sporting contests, it is with a fair amount of guilt. That this is too much ceremony for a game. “You're coming to watch the game, why do you need anything else?” We like to think we're on the right side of this argument, but maybe we're not.



America seems to accept fundamental concepts of modern sports that we British choose to ignore, even in their oldest game. They acknowledge that sport is a business. That teams are a brand. That if you want to appeal to families, you need a greater incentive that promising them they won't be sat next to a fan, screaming obscenities, questioning the parentage of the referee and chanting about if he was a bird, he would fly away and defecate on the away team's home ground.



So, here, the prices are generally better, the food in the stadiums is better. I had cheese curds and a brat and although I had a soda, Neil and Kelly both had a beer. This isn't the sort of place to give you a luke-warm pukka pie which you have to devour in 15 minutes while wondering how full the toilets are going to be.



When a home run is scored in Miller Park, there are fireworks under the roof, at the New England Patriots, a group of minutemen fire off a musket volley to greet touchdowns and Tampa Bay's Buccaneers employ a cannon shot from the pirate ship built into their home stadium to signal the same result.



This is still alien to me, as much as I enjoy it. We British, are purists, closing our eyes often, to the business-like footing of modern sports and shaking our collective fists at so-called progress.

We still believe that the point is to compete, even if we have no hope of winning, why else do we send so many athletes to the Winter Olympics when it barely snows at home anymore.



Maybe, we're not purists, just fearful pessimists. Maybe that's why I struggle to get my bearings. The Americans are the ultimate optimists. We look warily across the Atlantic, not wanting the Yanks to come and mess up our games with their brash lights and commercialised competitions. They see as part and parcel of making sports fun and inclusive to all. Even in baseball, where during the game we watched, there were at least two sing-a-longs, a mascot race involving different sausages, the “Famous Racing Sausages” and numerous chances to get yourself on the scoreboard with your outrageous dancing to the music played at the end of each inning.



So, maybe this blog is deeper thinking than some of the others, but I do wonder whether this is what it feels like to be an immigrant, ever torn between two ways of thinking, even when people share a language like we do. Maybe its about what you decide to keep from home and what you decide to discard. And maybe sports and entertainment and other forms of popular culture are where you're going to feel it the most. I am not sorry to be British and to have grown up in the North of England but I'm also now aware that no country is totally right and sometimes even the things we hold on to tightly are the things that should be traded in.



So I told Neil about the fans and we had a good time. The Brewers lost but they really aren't that good of a team at the moment. Thanks for reading.