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June 18, 2004 

Monday 14th June

Yesterday was a very long day. After leaving the house at 7am I arrived at the airport in plenty of time to check in. American Airlines were very nice, and swapped my allocated seat for a different one which should have given me more room, as they didn’t have any fire exit seats left. After a cup of tea and a wander round duty free (purchases: 1 bottle of Three Choirs wine for my hosts for Sunday night, 1 bottle of Southern Comfort for me) I went through to the gate and got on the plane. When the guy in the seat in front of me put his seat straight back before we’d even taken off I moved to an empty seat towards the back of the plane, and from there had a very comfortable journey. The film selection wasn’t great, but I managed to watch Dirty Pretty Things, 50 First Dates, Against the Ropes and the end of Touching the Void (which I’d seen before) while eating chicken pasta for lunch and pizza for tea (all good films, and 50 First Dates made me cry horribly).

After a 20 minute queue I immigrated (with a black mark on my file for not answering all the questions correctly) and headed to the baggage collection for a 45 minute delay while the crew tried to work out how to open the cargo doors. The first things I noticed about Miami airport were that it’s full of old people and people doing seemingly useless jobs (the guy who stood by the baggage carousel picking all the suitcases up and standing them on their sides, for example). The second thing I noticed was that there are adverts for medicines everywhere, like the Americans tell their doctors what to prescribe them.

A successful pick up and an hours drive later and I was at my new boss’s house, being introduced to his wife and two kids. Barbeque steamed fish, salad and French bread for dinner, with a nice bottle of wine, followed by water melon and home-made chocolate brownies. I managed to watch, ooh, 10 minutes of The Blues Brothers before having to go to bed at 8:30 before I fell asleep on the sofa.

Today I’ve been awake since 5:30, and in work since 8. I had a 30 minute lunchbreak in the café downstairs and am back at my desk until 4. So far, so good. The office is one of these ‘rent-a-space’ things, and we have a very small portion of it. The air conditioning (which comes in straight above my head) seems to be set on sub-zero. The telephones have lines, so I can pick up and then yell to someone else, “Fred on line 2 for you”. If there was a Fred. I have a desk where nobody can see my computer screen without giving me prior warning. I’ve changed the settings on my computer so that it thinks my keyboard is a UK one, despite the markings on it. Now all I need is to find a supermarket to stock up on bananas and fruit teas and I’ll be happy!

Tuesday 15th June
“Freeze dried battered French fries are not fresh vegetables”

Except in the US, apparently. That’s a quote from the court case just finished trying to overturn the decision of the USDA that freeze dried battered French fries are fresh veg. But apparently only commercially, not nutritionally, so that’s okay!

Yesterday evening I had a starter for tea and couldn’t finish it. There’s a problem with portion sizes over here – to give you a clue, here’s what I had for my starter. 2 chicken breasts, sliced in half, battered and deep fried with waffle fries and peri peri dip. Now does that sound like a starter or a main course to you?! This morning was more healthy however – a large plate of fresh fruit to compensate for my cholesterol overload last night.

The show was interesting – I met lots of the suppliers we’re dealing with, learnt some stuff, and managed to pick up some gifts (including, but not limited to, a rubber duck, a rubber fish, an apron, a beach ball (given out fully inflated, helpfully, so that area resounded with the sounds of engineers pinching the non-return valve and deflating them), and last but not least, a beer cooler). After a trip back to the hotel I managed 3 minutes in the pool before being evacuated because a tropical storm had come along and, so to speak, rained on our parade (they don’t let you in the pool if there’s lightening around). Then a shower, changed and off for dinner.

The Epcot centre (Every person comes out tired? Employee paycheck comes on Thursday? Answers on a postcard please!) is an amazing place. I thought it was just that big round ball thing, but apparently not – there’s bits from every country. We had dinner in the American Adventure, although we didn’t get to see the show. We did get lots of wine, a very fine lobster bisque, salad, and a main course consisting of steak, salmon and chicken on a bed of mashed potatoes (see what I mean about the portion sizes!?). After the main course we were taken outside to see the fireworks while drinking more wine. Amazing fireworks. The best show I’ve ever seen, with a fire so hot we could feel the heat from across the lake. (Energy crisis? What energy crisis?). Then we went back in for desert – a kind of apple strudel – and after dinner drinks. All in all, it was a lovely evening, and I got some tips as to where to go and what to do while I’m here. I’ll tell you if they’re good tips when I’ve been.

Wednesday 16th June

Today was mainly spent travelling back from Orlando. After a couple of hours in the office I was driven up to get my hire car. I’ve been a bit nervous about this up until now. Although I’ve driven on the right hand side of the road before, and I’ve driven an automatic before (once), I’ve never driven a left hand drive automatic on the right hand side of the road. I set off okay, remembering to drive on the right and remembering that in Florida it’s legal to turn right on red. I even managed to turn right on red myself, and got myself onto the correct road. When it came to pulling out into traffic to turn left, though, I got a bit nervous. I’d spent the last five minutes telling myself to drive on the right but keep to the left hand side of the lane. Pulling out I was suddenly surprised by the amount of car to my right. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get used to that. I’m going to stick post it notes on my dashboard – “Drive on the right” “Remember your car is to your right” “There’s no amber after red” “Cars overtake on both sides”. That kind of thing!

I also made the mistake of going to walk to find something to eat for dinner. After finding a pedestrian crossing across the road (all 8 lanes of it) I waited for it to turn to green. And waited. And waited. When it eventually did, I set off at a brisk walk, but I’d only got across 2 lanes before it turned to red and I was caught in the centre of the traffic. All this is not helped by the right on red rule, and the fact that Americans aren’t used to seeing pedestrians. After all that the only “restaurants” within walking distance were Macdonalds, Burger King and Taco Bell. I thought I’d give Taco Bell a go (I couldn’t be bothered to go back and get the car, and I’d not eaten in one before). I won’t be making that mistake again. I felt so ill when I got back to the hotel that I just went straight to bed. And for your info, American TV is rubbish, despite what Channel 4 seem to think.

Thursday 17th June

So to today. I’m currently sat in the office waiting for my lunch to be delivered (because you can’t walk anywhere, and the café downstairs isn’t up to much outside toasted sandwiches). I’m busy, and apparently have already saved the company enough to justify my trip (I’m wondering if this means I can take a few days off now then!). I’m enjoying the experience. Resolution for tonight is to drive somewhere nice for dinner to make up for last night. Maybe I’ll even add something to this blog… but maybe I’ll just give you time to read this lot before I start up again. Have a nice day!