Sunday, 30 December 2007

Life in a northern town, er, latitude


I may be in the south of England, but this latitude is fairly far north. Days are mighty short this time of year. This is a view of the Kennet Canal at 7:45 a.m. this morning. Yahoo! weather says sunrise was at 8:09 a.m. By 4:03 p.m. it will be nightfall. It's all part of life in a northerly latitude. In contrast, the summer days can be quite long. According to BBC Weather, "In the north of Scotland in midsummer the day is eighteen hours long and twilight lasts all night." Wow.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Brits dig consumerism, too

Man oh man was it a zoo out there today. I went out with the hubby intending to buy a little pink Christmas tree for next year. A tad tacky, but in a totally fabulous way. The crowds were thick as people picked up wrapping paper and ornaments for next year, and shiny holiday goods were getting picked through pretty fast. There went my hopes of trying to wait for things to get marked down again before buying.

In the end we got a 5-foot shiny purple tree from Marks and Spencers for 12 pounds instead of the little pink one. It's kinda cool in a tack-tastic way. Awesome. And probably way too big for our place. Eh, who cares, at least I got in my shot at shopping with the post-Christmas bargain-hunting masses.

Ho Ho Holiday viewing

Some thoughts on my holiday viewing of TV and movies (which was sparse):

Christmas Eve: Taped Ella Enchanted in the afternoon to watch that night with the spousal unit. I thought it would be something light and silly with a sweet ending for us to watch, and it was. It was completely inconsequential, but nice light fare for the holidays -- once we got past wondering what dark things could befall poor Ella if she ever ran into a pushy flirt in a bar who would never expect a woman to actually do the rude things he was slurring over his beer (she was bound to be obedient).

Christmas Day: Taped the Dr. Who special but haven't watched it yet. Watched Love Actually, which I had seen part of before, but never the whole thing. Turns out it sucks actually. And I really hope our Christmas dinner guests didn't follow my advice to watch it that night as a holiday film, as the nudity, cursing, and couple of bleak story lines would make them wonder what my concept of a holiday film is. Not that those aspects of the film bothered me (the bad script topped that list), but our guests wouldn't have appreciated such scenes in a Christmas flick. And did anyone else notice that the film was oddly weight obsessed? Everyone kept saying Natalie, the chick who worked for the PM, was fat. I think the joke was supposed to be that she was not fat, but the joke just didn't work. Why was it funny to say she's fat when she wasn't? So that any woman in the audience her size or bigger would feel bad? For that matter, why would it be funny to call her fat if she *was* fat? Then the rock star kept calling his manager chubby. Which was true, but why was that funny? Why was childish name-calling among adults part of a feel-good holiday film? Then the dad made fun of the overweight sister of the cute Portuguese waitress. Again, why was it funny? No real attempt at humor was made. Some writer for this film had a complex or something. Or just wasn't a terribly good writer, as was made obvious by 90 percent of the crap in this steaming pile of dog poo of a movie. Don't get me wrong, lots of things made it bad, but the weight thing just stuck out because it was so mean and unfunny. And because I freakin' hate movies that try to make all women feel bad by stressing that a woman who is average-sized or only slightly overweight is a huge fat cow (screw you, Bridget Jones Diary!).

Boxing Day: Watched the Christmas episode of To The Manor Bowen. I've really enjoyed this show following a designer and his family as they remodel a country home. This final episode in the series was a bit of a let-down because it was largely a clip show, but that's why it's good to film it first and then fast-forward. Then we watched the movie The Lives of Others. Wonderful film. One could even argue it as appropriate for the holidays, as there was sacrifice and redemption. Sort of. I'm not sure how to describe it, but it was the best movie I've seen in awhile.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

He ain't crazy, he's my husband

Today is my one-year wedding anniversary. My hubby's been with me through good times and lots of bad (meaning my knee problems and surgery early in the relationship that might have scared off a wimp). In honor of the event, I'm sharing a few of his words of (questionable) wisdom. I've taken to jotting down some of his funnier comments -- and the ones that would sound just awful taken out of the context of knowing his sense of humor!

Here, now, some memorable quotes from my darling husband:

"I only torment because I love. I'm like the Phantom of the Opera." --probably said after a tickle attack

"Once you get started with this cleaning business, there's no end to it." --after I tried to get him to help straighten up the place

"From now on, we're not buying anything unless it comes from the 99P store." --after he discovered the store and bought a couple of bags of mostly junk. He hasn't been back since.

"I love you more than a kitten loves string." --that's just him being sweet

"I'm not lazy, I have chronic fatigue syndrome." --said when he was being lazy

"You can't read that, it contains adult materials." --teasing which evolved after he learned I don't like movies that are too violent or gross

"Later I'm going to have you write an essay on obedience." --he thinks that's a funny joke, and I get to hear some variation of it at least once a day. It's usually followed by an unprintable comment from me.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Housework is fascinating ... in print, anyway

I'm not sure what it says about me that I find "The Housewife's Handbook" to be a real page-turner. I think what it reveals is not that I'm all domestic and love reading about cleaning, but rather that I'm so clueless about all things domestic that I'm surprised and amazed by the tips in this book.

For instance, I never knew that you shouldn't wash knives in the dishwasher, I just thought our dishwasher sucks because it makes weird spots on the knives. I never really used a dishwasher before this past year because, although my apartments had them, I didn't need them because washing one fork used to eat a frozen dinner really didn't constitute a full load. I started cooking a little once I got married, and my escapades learning to make a decent meal are another story.

I also never knew what to do when the garbage disposal started to stink (though I recently figured out on my own that grinding up orange peels solved the problem), how to remove stains from tea pots, or how to unblock a drain without using a costly store-bought product. I was so fascinated by what I was learning that I kept reading tips out to my husband, who feared I was going around the bend. I've found several useful tips, and I'm only at page 53. I stopped reading because now I want to own a copy so I can highlight interesting bits -- this book is from the library. I plan to order my own copy soon.

And that, my friends, is a definite sign that I'm not a kid anymore. Party time is over. But never fear, I'm not quite ready for a subscription to Martha Stewart's magazine, either. I want to know how to get rid of weird stains and smells, not create radish roses. I still hate housework and will do the minimum required to feel comfortable in my home, so no worries about my moving to Stepford. Now if only I could find a book that would do the cleaning itself ...

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Jerks, please hide your nationality

Why do some Americans act rude and shallow and make us all look bad? I guess that's because people who are rude and shallow come off that way. And because being outrageous gets more people to read (and talk about) your stupid, full-of-holes column. Oops, I think I'm helping publicize a moron! Oh well, I had to, just to say, "Please don't judge us all by one obnoxious bad egg, um-kay?"

Friday, 14 December 2007

Ouch! What's up with commercials?

The above photo is from a TV commercial here where a woman falls down, slamming her knee painfully into the floor. It's for a company that will file a lawsuit for you. It hurts to even watch this ad, particularly given my knee problems.

Lots of commercials in this country seem to be a bit graphic when it comes to showing painful-looking things. Like the commercials that show car accidents, or a child laying lifeless in the street, or a teenager playing around and getting hit by a car. I've learned when to sense danger coming in an ad. If someone is in a car or in the street and there doesn't seem to be a point to the commercial, watch out! They're likely to slam their head into the windshield without a second's notice. It's a bit much for me!

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Idiots

Apparently, the cool new thing for young women to do is post pictures of themselves being drunk and stupid to a Facebook group. These genius college chicks often include their full name and where they go to school. This is why employers Google applicants. And also why some animals eat their young.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Saturday, 8 December 2007

"Oh, good grief"

That's what my husband said when I told him that tonight in clubs in Reading police will be doing random drug testing. They'll use a high tech device that costs £40,000 to detect traces of drugs on one's hands. If you're caught drug-handed, as it were, you won't be arrested but will be banned from the club -- for one night. Ohh, scary, that'll convince people to stop using drugs!

Seriously, all that will happen is people who get busted will move on to another club. I doubt there are many of the testing machines, and there may only be one. It will be used in several clubs, but I'm guessing the cops will move from place to place -- so once you've been caught at one club, move on to another club before the police get there (as it sounds like they will be testing before you get in the club). Or it will just convince those who lack the imagination to have a good night without using drugs to wait until they get in the club to take drugs and fry more of their precious few remaining brain cells.

And so what if you don't use drugs and you get into the club? Why, then you'll drink a dozen pints or alcopops and act stupid! You'll throw up, fall down, bust your head, get in a fight or have sex with someone that would normally repulse you. Thank goodness your traditional fun night out won't be affected by that silly drug machine! Thank goodness you still don't have to be smart enough to be able to have fun without obliterating your senses! And thank goodness you won't have to be bothered by those idiots who act stupid because of drugs. You can party in the assurance that all the stupid behavior around you is due to excessive alcohol consumption, and you'll know all is right with the world.

Of course not everyone drinks themselves senseless when they go out, but I think a problem remains with those who do, even when you take drugs out of the equation. With all the problems of excessive drinking, from health to crime, you'd think there'd be more campaigns encouraging people to drink moderately. That seems to be a sacred cow no one wants to butcher.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Gloomy winter


This is what it looked like at 3:30 in the afternoon. By 4:15 p.m. it was full-on nightfall. It's strange to see darkness fall so early in the day, whereas in D.C. it was probably 5:30 or so before winter nights became ... well, winter nights.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Harlan Ellison rocks

Harlan Ellison is hilarious. Who knew? Apparently enough people knew to make a documentary on him, Dreams With Sharp Teeth. Thanks to The Medium is Not Enough TV blog for calling my attention to this riotously funny interview. I may have to actually read one of his books one day.



Sunday, 2 December 2007

Macho tissues for macho men

Are you a big, strong he-man who would decimate a normal tissue with one good blow of the nose? Is normal Kleenex too small, too week, too delicate? Are you sick of girly Kleenex?

Then try Kleenex for Men. It's the paper-product equivalent of what you'd get if John Wayne and Bruce Lee had a baby. Which they would never do, since they're not little girly men using little girly tissues. Hooah!

P.S. I bought this product, and it has yet to stop my husband from keeping a roll of rough Tesco value toilet paper in the living room for wiping his nose. That's a hardcore macho man.


Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Steve Martin, I love you

Ok, so you're married. So am I. Let that not prove an impediment to our true romance. No one else could've pulled off arrow-through-the-head, banjo-picking, anti-comedy like you. I still remember struggling to stay up way past my bedtime to see you on SNL in the late '70s. I remember a monologue where you put live cats and was that a trout? down your pants. I remember the Two Wild and Crazy Guys. I remember it all, for I loved you even then.

Then you did some silly movies. I was 11 or 12 and didn't quite get it at the time. But I got it, over time. And you got less silly. Then you wrote one of my favorite books, "Shopgirl." How can you know so well how a woman thinks, how we take completely different things from conversations than men do? You're insightful. My best friend shared your book with me and we fell for you, hard. Then I bought my own copy. Then I gave my husband a copy for his birthday. Little does he know my adoration for you, Steve.

And now there's your autobiography, one more in a long line of writing credits that prove you are entertainment's Renaissance man (you act, you do stand up, you write books, plays, movies, you're a student of art and philosophy, and you're cool in an off-kilter way). Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life was wonderful. It was interesting and well done -- my only complaint is it was far too short.

Be a dear, Steve, and remedy that with another book about your life after you dropped stand up. Do it for yourself; do it for your fans; do it for us. It is a one-sided love entirely based on my admiration for you as a writer and performer, but if us two crazy, mixed up kids can't make it in this one-sided, long-distance admiration fest, who can?

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Yep, Oprah is out of it

I know Oprah is mega rich, but come on, she grew up poor and should have a good idea of what is affordable. But celebrity seems to blind her to the simple fact that most people can't (and won't) pay $300 for an ugly blouse and trouser set (hell, I wouldn't pay that much for a beautiful blouse and trouser outfit, but I'm a bargain shopper), about $3,800 for a refrigerator with an HDTV in the door, or $42 for a set of three bars of soap. Remember, if you're translating into UK prices, these are all items in the U.S. and should typically cost about half of what you'd think of spending for similar luxury items in the UK, but they don't!

These are just a few items from the holiday list of Oprah's Favorite Things. This list appears monthly in Oprah Magazine and I assume also online. Now, I would imagine I'm in the typical middle-class income range of her typical reader (though I'm not a regular reader, but I have bought her magazine a couple of times in the States). She's probably got a lot of readers who have much lower incomes, and some who make much more. But I would guess my income fits the demographic of the target audience her magazine shoots for. But from the products she recommends, one would think her readers were all in the income bracket that has summer homes in the Hamptons and a ski chalet tucked away somewhere. I've seen her suggest candles that cost $40-$50. For one candle. The kind that if I were going to splurge and get as a luxury item, I'd go somewhere and get one of similar size and lovely fragrance for $10. Maybe as much as $20 if it were a gift. I just couldn't fathom spending more than that on a candle. But Oprah could, and thinks you should, too! Get real girl, we don't all have mad Oprah cash!

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Travellers? Seriously?

Reading seems to be plagued with travellers, a nomadic group that goes around in their RVs, parks anywhere, is accused of increasing crime, and generally annoys the hell out of people who like to live in a more stationary manner.

A local newspaper story titled "Travellers force children out" discusses the bizarre problem. In this story parents couldn't find a parking spot when taking their tykes to swimming lessons because a convoy of travellers filled up the parking lot. A court order had to be obtained to get them to move out. I don't know why you can't just tell them to pack it in without the time and trouble of a court order, but that seems to be common -- you can't just tell them to move along, presumably because they are a recognized ethnic group and they have rights, dammit, even if that means clogging up your street where you pay high taxes with their rusty old RVs. There was another problem recently where travellers had parked near a bridge in Reading and were causing a lot of annoyance, not the least of which being that the traveller children, being unencumbered with a need to be in school, where trying to force passerby to pay for the right to cross the bridge. Rambunctious little darlings.

Travellers are of Irish heritage, and apparently some live in the U.S. I never heard of that before the show The Riches, which is a U.S. program that recently started airing in the UK. It's a well-acted show (thank you, Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard), with a largely unbelievable plot. But I wonder how many Brits watch it and think the whole traveller society is much more prevalent in the U.S. than it really is? I'd never heard of or seen them before. The only group of RVs I've ever heard of parked in a lot belonged to "snowbirds" who go down to Florida for the winter, and they're more old and cold than a nomadic tribe. And they paid to park in an RV lot, rather than just randomly hanging out. Let's hope the whole traveller thing doesn't catch on in the U.S., 'cause this girls likes a place to park without being hassled by urchins, ya know?

Monday, 19 November 2007

Obnoxious gits beware: Using the C-word could cost ya

You gotta love it when snotty 29-year-old gits who earn more money than you (£45,000 a year, or about $90,000) actually have to suffer the consequences for being an ass. Here's what The Times says in a story titled "Labour aide quits after C-word rant":

An aide to the Labour leader at the Scottish Parliament has resigned in disgrace after calling the First Minister a “c***” at an awards ceremony.

Matthew Marr, chief press aide to Wendy Alexander, issued a grovelling apology for his behaviour at the Scottish Politician of the Year Awards last Thursday, which culminated in him screaming abuse at Alex Salmond before apparently ranting to bemused onlookers: “I hate the f***ing middle classes.”

As well as launching a verbal assault on a Nationalist politician sitting at his table and insulting a cloakroom attendant, Mr Marr is also said to have greeted a fellow guest with the question: “Is that your bird, then?”

...

Mr Marr had been in his £45,000-a-year post for less than two months. As Mr Salmond went up to collect the top award at the ceremony, Mr Marr loudly declared that the newly elected First Minister was a “c***”. Although Mr Salmond did not hear the remark, Jennifer Dempsie, one of his special advisers, who was seated at Mr Marr’s table, was said to have been deeply offended. She told friends that Mr Marr had spent the evening being obnoxious to her.

...

Mr Marr was also accused of haranguing the Nationalist MSP Christina McKelvie, a member of Holyrood’s standards committee. She said: “His conduct throughout the night, in particular to women, was inappropriate.”

Real classy bloke, eh? I hope he displays better manners when he's flipping burgers at McDonald's.




Saturday, 17 November 2007

This is messed up

I just learned that a woman who stole my purse several years ago is passing her trashy self off as me. I didn't know her and have never seen her; she stole my purse at a supermarket. It had my wallet, cell phone, driver's license, credit cards, check book and social security number. Basically, the keys to my life and the means to make it hell.

I reported everything as stolen and didn't lose any additional money. I did go through tons of aggravation, worry, emotional stress and depression over it, though, as she wrote every one of the checks. I had informed my bank of the theft, but it turns out they didn't inform the people who tried to cash those checks she had written -- the bank just told them payment had been stopped. So I had to go to the bank for each check that came in and sign a fraud report -- the nearest branch of my bank was 40 miles away from where I lived (I had moved before the theft and didn't see a need to change banks -- oops). Then I had to send a copy of the fraud report and the police report to each person who contacted me trying to collect on the stopped check. Some of these people called me. They were rude and treated me like a thief at first (I imagine a lot of people that write bad checks claim their checks were stolen). I was able to convince all of them that I was telling the truth, but this was very distressing to have people call and treat me like a criminal after I'd already been victimized.

Due to something stupid the daft wench did, the police found out who she was and where she lived. But because she wouldn't answer the door when they knocked, they never arrested her. Yes, really. Yesterday I called the police where I filed the case and am trying to see what I can find out as I've lost my original copies of reports, but there's not much they can do now as she has apparently moved on to another town. I don't know her real name, though the police should.

I just learned that several months ago a man called my mother back in the States and told her she should check on her daughter in some city I've never lived in, because he thought her boyfriend was abusing her (it was the thief he was referring to). He said this woman worked for a friend of his. She had obviously been using my name or else the trail wouldn't have led to my mother. My mother told him that her daughter was happily married and living in England, but that her purse and ID had been stolen years before. My sister also called the guy and explained that this woman claiming to be me was not me and was in fact a criminal. My sis seems to think he intended to take action, but we don't know what he did, if anything. I'd like to call him and see if he can help me and the police locate this woman, but my mom and sis didn't save this guy's name and number (I can't believe they wouldn't find that important enough to keep, but I'm not trying to bash them here). Neither my mom or sis told me about it for fear it would deeply upset me (which it did), and they knew I was already under a lot of stress due to my knee problems. But they still should have told me, as now I know I have to be on my guard again. My sister let it slip last night, and the freak out began.

I guess I should've always been on my guard. This woman has my personal information and she has criminal intent. My husband scared me to death when he said what if she commits a crime and she's representing herself as you? Well, that means an arrest warrant could be issued for my name. There would be no current address that was my correct one, and I could prove the one who did whatever illegal mess she's up to wasn't me if by some stretch of the imagination the police located and tried to arrest me when I go back to the States. But I'm sure I'd be treated with a lot of disbelief and maybe spend a night in jail until the cops straightened it all out as they're pretty skeptical of people who say "it wasn't me." It's all very unlikely to happen, but I believe in worrying as fatalistically as possible and freaking myself the hell out.

Just a note on what type of woman this person is: when the checks came back, I saw she had written them to (and thus stolen from) places like the Christian Mission. That is a charity shop to help the needy, and it sells donated used items at low cost. That's where you pass a stolen check?! That's not only disgusting to steal from a charity, but it shows how she thinks -- why not go somewhere and buy new furniture or clothes if you're stealing checks? Oh no, she decided to run down to the charity shop to get some things she'd had her eye on, like that couch that smelled of cat piss or the stained mattress that someone died on. She also wrote a check for $30 to Taco Bell. How the hell many tacos did that heifer eat?! I just can't fathom how you'd spend $30 at a Taco Bell. You can get a small lunch for $2 and a huge one for $4 or $5. Was she throwing a party? And the best idea she could come up with for a place to steal food was Taco Bell? The mind boggles.

So here I am, feeling trapped and helpless and hoping some low IQ, low-class criminal won't add to life's problems and challenges. Which she actually already has, I just don't know how long it will continue or what degree of trouble she'll cause. That's messed up, y'all.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Magical Elves an urban legend in the making

England has great candy, and it's usually inexpensive. I love Hob Nobs and Mcvitie's chocolate digestives so much that I haven't bought them once since I moved here. Not once.

That's because on my last trip to the UK before my knees turned traitor and I could still get around easily, I lived off cookies - or biscuits, as the English so confusingly call them (it makes me think of something to be slathered in butter and dipped in gravy on Thanksgiving). Cookies were cheap and easy, and I wasn't up for spending my hard-earned dollars in high-priced restaurants. Even though I must've walked 8-10 miles most days, I still gained 5 pounds in two weeks due to my yummy fat-ass-making cookie diet.

So I try to avoid the sweets here, as I know I'll eat one at a time -- one pack of whatever it is, that is. This is a bit hard when you have a skinny husband who loves sweets and can eat all he wants without gaining an ounce, the beast. It's vile, but that's my situation. I make him hide his candy, and he hides it about as well as he puts on pounds. So I'm not saying I don't eat sweets at all, but I avoid them and don't usually buy them for myself, choosing instead to occasionally filch some from the hubby's stash if I'm jonesing for a fix. He doesn't go in for Hob Nobs or McVitie's, fortunately, or he wouldn't be able to keep any for himself. (Please note any low-cal snack bars marked low-fat don't count as candy, otherwise my system would go into shock from lack of chocolate).

Recently, I saw these little chocolate bars called Magical Elves at the news agent. They said they contained "Cadbury chocolate with popping candy." I was intrigued, and the bars were small, so I bought two and took them home to share with the hubby and see what the popping business was all about.

I got packs with two different elves, thinking perhaps this denoted different flavors. It didn't. We each ate half of our elves and traded the other half to see if any of it was mint flavored or some such, but no dice. The candy did pop, however -- pretty much like Pop Rocks from the '70s, but without the fruit flavoring. I wonder what happens if you eat a Magical Elves chocolate while drinking a Coke? There's a new urban legend just waiting to be born.

In the end, the elves weren't so magical. They tasted like your standard bit of chocolate, but with an odd, poppy sensation. I won't be tempted by them again when I'm at the store. Thank God they don't have Magical Hob Nob Elves on the counter, or I'd have to stop buying newspapers.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Free music, anyone?

This weekend I signed up for a free trial and 50 free downloads at emusic.com. Click here for the link that gives you 50 free songs (if you go to the main site first, it only lets you have 25). It's all indie music, so you won't find the current hits here, but there's lots of good music. It's all in MP3 format, so these work on any music player.

At the moment, I'm totally in love with string arrangements of pop and rock tunes by The Vitamin String Quartet. If nothing else, check out their versions of In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel, Boston by Augustana and All Along the Watchtower by Bob Dylan. Audio beauty, just as the original songs are, but in a different way. ITunes sells these too, btw, but at 99 cents a pop -- and I think it's double that if you have a UK iTunes account.

You do have to give a credit card to sign up, but can quit at any time within the two-week trial period without being charged. This is a U.S. site and I used my U.S. credit card to back the free trial, but as I was turned on to the site from a coupon in Time Out London (which I ditched for better offer), you should be able to sign up whether using a U.S. or UK address and card. I have yet to see how easy or hard it is to cancel; let's hope I don't regret my love of freebies! I don't anticipate any problems though, as I checked user reviews on the Web, and no one complained of problems quitting.

FYI, if you sign up, the site does keep a running tally of how many downloads you have left, and pay attention to that -- if you go over, it automatically signs you up for a paid account (the lowest being $9.99 a month for 30 songs). Happy listening!

Monday, 5 November 2007

"I hope this stuff isn't raunchy ..."

That's what my husband said as I pureed veggies for the spaghetti pie I was making tonight. That's not real encouraging, to have your man describe your meal-in-progress as possibly "raunchy." But that's my guy, always fronting with the "funny" comments. Of course, he never said anything I had made was raunchy and was merely referring to the unusual recipe I was trying, so I'll give him a break.

I was cooking up a recipe from the controversial new cookbook "Deceptively Delicious" by Jessica Seinfeld. It shows you how to hide vegetables in foods. It's aimed at kids, but I think veggies are gross, too, and my husband can only tolerate them slightly more than I can. So out comes the fun little book for tricking the tykes!

In the end, the recipe was not bad. We really couldn't taste the carrots and broccoli in there. But the whole thing was way more work than I usually put into a meal (Most of my recipes are: boil some pasta and/or bake or cut up and fry some chicken breasts. Either open a jar of pasta sauce or a can of Campbell's tomato or mushroom soup to make a sauce. The end, good night Irene, that's all she wrote). The Seinfeld recipe was a crazy amount of work and cleaning up from my perspective, and I won't be making it again.

On the bright side, at least my husband didn't think it was "raunchy." Lucky for him; I would've felt just awful dumping the leftovers in his backpack while he slept. Now THAT would be raunchy.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

My Boyfriend is a Twat

No, I'm not cheating on my hubby. I just wanted to note one of the funniest book titles ever. I haven't read this yet, and the library doesn't have a copy, so I doubt it will go on my to-buy list as my dating of twats is long over, and I like to think of my husband as more of an occasional goober or doofus than a twat. But if your boyfriend is a twat, you might give it a read.

Zoe McCarthy also has a blog by the same name, which sounds quite funny. I've updated this post, as the reason the link didn't work for me before was user error! I've added the pic too, which wouldn't work last night during an odd Net slowdown.

Now that I've finally seen the site, I found some very funny merchandise proclaiming "My Boyfriend is a Twat." The coffee mug especially cracks me up for some reason; perhaps it's the thought of sipping it while looking up through your lashes at said twat (and if you stay with him, hopefully he's actually a sweetheart with the occasional twatish tendencies). The items are great if your boyfriend has a sense of humor. If he really is a full-on twat and finds it infuriating, perhaps you can request special "My EX-boyfriend WAS a twat" items, which you can then use as a means of letting him know he's getting the boot.

It's a dirty shame

The streets are awash with filth. That may be a bit strong, but it's what came to mind after I went to the mailbox this morning. Everywhere I went, there was trash -- empty crisp packets, discarded cigarette packs, stained fast-food cups, even a banana peel with a bit of squished banana still lying in wait inside like a yellow bomb ready to detonate under the feet of any unfortunate passerby.

The banana stays in my thoughts as it seemed the most dangerous item of the littered sidewalks, roads and waterways that are sadly a familiar sight here in Reading. As I hobbled (a term my husband uses to lovingly describe the way I walk as I still struggle to recuperate from a knee surgery that wasn't so successful) past it the first time, my hands were full with cane in the right and mail in the left. I noted other discarded items along the way, such as a half-full bottle of wine and a huge plastic ax that presumably recently was part of some Halloween costume.

Coming back, I almost didn't notice the banana among the yellow leaves scattered in my path. I've developed a terror or tripping or falling since my knee problems (and recent renewal of back problems) continue, and it startled me to think I might have slid on the peel. I don't catch myself well if I trip, and I don't move that easily. Falling is a scary thought when you know even a minor fall could undo months of progress. I thought of picking up the peel and carrying it to the next trash bin about a half block away, but bending hurts my back and knees and, honestly, the thought of how gooey and icky that peel might be and my lack of a tissue to wipe my hands all contributed to my leaving it lay. I'm ashamed of the admission; I should've picked it up anyway. I noted that other passerby (all who seemed to have no issues walking or moving freely) failed to pick it up, too, but that's no excuse on my part.

But I'll move beyond the banana-that-could've-been-picked-up issue-- my real concern and amazement is the quantity of trash and the carelessness with which some people seem to treat their daily environment here. I was taking another of my short walks last week (probably to the mailbox or to buy a paper, that's about as far as I can go on foot and still make it home for now). Three teenagers were walking along, talking and laughing. One finished up some candy and let its red foil wrapper flutter to the ground, seemingly without a thought, and kept walking. All in view of me, even. No sign of shame whatsoever. What the hell is wrong with people? Who wants to live in a trash can? But that's what a few thoughtless people are doing, turning the city where they live into one big trash bin for everyone. I keep telling myself to bring a plastic bag to pick up what I can, but as I rarely have a free hand for long when out and about, I never end up doing it.

It's a shame, as the city has so many pretty buildings and parks and the canal -- it could be lovely, and it is in some places. Don't look too hard though, or you'll see rubbish everywhere. I certainly hope it's not that everyone throws trash down without thinking, but enough people do to make a very noticeable difference. I guess it's all part of the anti-social behavior that's constantly mentioned as one of the ills the country is battling. Some people don't care about anyone else, or even what side effects they'll have to live with from their behavior. The effect of that can be seen everywhere.

If I weren't a young woman that gets around like a 90-year-old due to crappy genes and bad luck, I'd get a trash bag and go to work on some of it myself. But there's only so much that would accomplish, I suppose, and I'd probably tire of it as day after day the trash reappeared as if by some grimy magic. And the sad thing is, it shouldn't be necessary for me or anyone else to pick up so much rubbish. There is no lack of trash bins along the streets here; the only thing in short supply is whatever attitude would keep people from dropping trash in the first place, whether it be from a desire to not contribute to the filth or from shame at what others will think if they see the litterer in action. It's all a dirty shame.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Military recruitment -- Brit style

The military recruitment ads take a different approach here than in the U.S. They have much more emphasis on shooting guns (I guess the desire to use them is strong for some in a country where you basically can't own them? I personally don't care for guns, but it's kind of a macho thing everywhere, I think, that lots of men like to shoot guns. It's kind of like the love of zombie movies and kung fu. But guys can get those here, they just can't go out to the shooting range with a pistol and pretend they're James Bond -- unless they join the Army). The ads also include typical fare similar to U.S. ads about joining up for the challenge and teamwork, but the Brit commercials add in glimpses of how much fun you'll have partying with your Army mates! Because this is Britain, and by God, beer and clubbing had better be involved if you want to get the youths to sign up! Here's a British recruiting commercial.

In America, recruiting commercials traditionally emphasize learning skills that will serve you when you leave the Army, and getting money for college. There's also much about camaraderie and patriotism. Really lots about patriotism and pride, actually. And while you see glimpses of soldiers with guns, I don't think you often see them shoot the guns. Here's a recent U.S. recruiting ad. There's no gunfire, no blowing stuff up, no partying. It's focusing on pride in being involved in something larger than yourself, and making the most of yourself. It's interesting to see the contrasting appeals made in the U.S. and UK to recruit a volunteer force. Both appeal to a sense of wanting to make the most of yourself or challenge yourself, and the brotherhood of being a soldier. But they do diverge quite a bit in other areas. Hey, ya gotta know your audience!

Friday, 26 October 2007

Funny business

I've discovered a funny British comedian (Ok, it's not like I found him performing in some dive, became his manager and brought him to fame). He's not really new, but he's new to me. His name is Russell Brand, and he has quite possibly the coolest Web site I've ever seen. Check it out; the least bit of the fun you'll find is that his eyes on the main screen follow your mouse all over the page. I don't really know how it stacks up on content as I haven't gone over it closely yet, but on form, it rocks.

I discovered him through a series of specials that have run on the BBC all week. This is a uniquely British way of giving a comic a special -- instead of one show, he gets five -- one each night all week. It's kind of weird, but in this instance it worked well as Brand tackled a different topic each evening and made them all funny.

This multiple-show thing doesn't always work so well, as when a series of weekly shows called "A Bucket of French and Saunders" aired recently. I liked French and Saunders from their TV shows and had never seen their duo act. And still feel like I haven't. Even though they had something like six specials to go into a retrospective of their long career and to add some new bits, the shows were mostly a series of montages showing short bits of old skits. Do you mean to tell me that in six episodes, they can't show the entire freakin' skits if they selected their best? It ended up being something that you could get no humor out of whatsoever, unless perhaps you had seen the original bits and it refreshed your memory. It was all a bit crap, really. And had a bit too much of the gross body fluid humor that Brits seem to love (I do NOT need to see someone barf, spit up a loogie, have a bowel movement or make any joke that involves any fluids or poo that is ejected from the body. That's way nasty, y'all).

I was pleasantly surprised by Brand's show, as a lot of British comedy doesn't translate well. The only Brit comics really known in the U.S. right now are Eddie Izzard and Ricky Gervais, and Gervais isn't really known for his stand-up act (which I've seen on TV in the UK and really enjoyed). And until I saw Russell Brand, those were the only two Brit comics I really liked. I think Brand's humor would fly in the U.S., with just a few slight changes to some material U.S. audiences wouldn't get.

The odd thing I've noted in the UK when it comes to entertainment is that the country embraces the best of the best AND the worst of the worst. The country has entertainers that are as good or better than the best that any other country in the world can muster. But, the worst crap actors, musicians, what have you, they get embraced, too. People that would be laughed offstage in the U.S. get specials here, musicians that are so bad I thought some shows on them were parodies (they weren't) can become huge hits here. I mean, we have some acts in the U.S. that it's hard to fathom how they sell records, it's true -- but acts that are much worse become huge icons here.

It's all just part of life in the UK. From the outside, we just see all the world-class range of things, from performers to restaurants to whatever. When you live here, you get to see the bottom of the barrel, too.

It's an odd thing that the highs are so high, and the lows are so low. But if you're a bottom of the barrel hack, try coming to the UK, you might get rich and famous here. If that doesn't work, move on to Germany and Japan; if they'll buy David Hasselhoff as a singer, they'll buy anything.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Gimme Shelter

Oh my god, I'm finally interested in the Rolling Stones. And it's all because I watched a documentary filmed before I was born.

All my life, the Rolling Stones have been in my consciousness, but only slightly, occasionally in the background. I liked some of their songs, I'd seen Mick do his unique style of dancing (which would've looked geeky as hell on anyone else, but Mick made it seem sexy), and I'd heard about them touring -- again. And again. I always admired that they kept performing, even though they've entered a time in their lives when the only thing most of their contemporaries rock are chairs.

But now I've realized they really are a great rock 'n' roll band, and all because I watched "Gimme Shelter" on BBC Four last night. The film follows the band on its 1969 tour, which culminated in the ill-planned and ultimately fatal free concert at Altamont.

It should've been a beautiful coming together of stoned hippies, rock music, and the resulting feeling of brotherhood with everyone else there that a good concert can bring. It turned into a rather grim look at how poor planning and using the ultra-macho, definitely not love-in types the Hells Angels (who were paid in beer) as security became known as the death knell of the spirit of the '60s. An "Angel" stabbed a member of the audience to death, and Angels beat many others, often using sawed-off pool cues to do so. They also had an altercation with a member of Jefferson Airplane and knocked him unconscious on stage. The news of this is what caused the Grateful Dead to drop out of the show.

There were three other accidental deaths at the show (not related to the Hells Angels) and four women gave birth (which shows the spirit of the '60s right there -- even if you were about to pop, you still went to an outdoor concert for 300,000 in December and whatever happens, happens).

For many other bands, all of this might have been grim enough to overshadow the excitement of the music and concert footage. But with the Stones, it was fascinating, and the music and Mick Jagger's stage presence left me really wanting to know more about the Stones and to listen to their music more. It was amazing to see this guy who was so skinny and not really the most attractive guy seem really sexy, and exhibit such appealing charisma that I'm pretty sure he was getting the babes even before he became a rock star.

It was also amazing to watch my husband react to the music from the concert footage shot before Altamont -- my wannabe badass, in reality very responsible and scholarly, husband kept going "Yeah!" and raising his arms in the air like we were at the concert. I think the Stones' music speaks to men in a special, gut-level way -- like war movies or Victoria's Secret models do. It just rivets them and gets them all fired up.

I'd love to read more about the Stones, Jagger or Altamont. If anyone knows of any good books on those topics, please share the titles!

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Hell, yeah!

A new study found that swearing at work boosts team spirit and morale. I've always been a fan of being able to swear in the office (keeping in mind that there are inappropriate times to do so and excessive swearing is uncalled for), because it's a good verbal way to let off steam when your computer crashes on deadline. Not to mention some words are just more expressive. These are often the words that will get you fined by the FCC.

It is interesting to note that the study was done by the University of East Anglia. That's interesting because it's a UK university, and you have fewer evangelical Christians in the UK (at least that's the perception I get). And those are the folks most likely to act like you sucker punched a toddler if you curse in their presence. Meaning I'd bet cursing at work is more likely to get you odd looks in the U.S. than the UK, which may be why a study done here found positive results from cursing (you can always spin a study). I could be wrong on that, but either way, I like working somewhere that it's OK to use the full range of your vocabulary -- warty words and all.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Excessive drinking is bad. Who knew?

The British like to drink. A lot. Or at least that's what people say. It's just one of those stereotypes that came about because it was like, true, or something. As one British friend told me, the Brits who don't like to drink went to America centuries ago. It's not as though Americans don't drink, it's just not as widely accepted that the only way to have a good night out is to drink enough to forget where you are, who you are, and how to make your legs work.

So today a lot of UK papers ran stories about how it's not just lower-income people who pound back the pints, but the middle-class do it too (gasp!). They do it with wine, but they're still tipping a bottle back a bit more than experts recommend is wise.

Is this really shocking news? The heavy drinking culture seems like a source of national pride more than a cause for concern to some people. Seriously, commentaries scoffed at any warnings about excessive alcohol consumption. What, tell us alcohol is bad? How dare you! There are other problems out there, so just ignore this one, OK?

Some said it was just another case of the government telling you what to do. I don't agree. The government would be telling you what to do if they banned alcohol or if they sent people to your door to get all up in your business and see what you're drinking and chastising you for it. But merely warning the public of a problem is more of an obligation than an intrusion.

People don't want to hear that what they like is harmful, but they need to know so they can at least try to make informed decisions. Americans may not want to hear that they should eat a healthy diet and exercise more, but it's important that they know, even if too many fail to act on that knowledge (a problem Britain is sharing more and more).

If you want to ignore the warnings, go ahead and do what you want. It's just a guide, a bit of advice. Few of us make the perfect, healthy choice all the time. Do what you will; I'm just saying burying your head in the sand doesn't make everything all better. Although, ironically, a few glasses of wine might make it seem all better ... hmm, there's a dilemma.

Monday, 15 October 2007

A case of art threatening life

Art's a funny thing. Some of it is striking and obviously took great talent. Other art is like something you came up with as a joke and couldn't believe someone paid $600,000 for it. That's what they've got at the Tate Modern in London -- a new piece of "beautiful" post-modern art that will leave an impression -- especially if you trip over it. It's a crack on the floor. As the Daily Mail reported:

Three women have been hurt by falling into Tate Modern's latest installation - a crack in the floor.

At 548 feet long, up to three feet deep and 10inches wide, it zigzags the length of the Turbine Hall and has been described as a highly original work of art.

But visitors have already paid the price for failing to heed warning signs. And a builder said if he had been responsible for the crack he would be sued for health and safety breaches.

One young woman had to be dragged out by friends after falling into the crack in the floor but was otherwise unharmed.

A few minutes later, another visitor to the gallery, who thought the crack was painted, also fell in - this time injuring her wrist.

One observer said: "Instead of art imitating life, here it's threatening life."

Colombian artist Doris Salcedo's work Shibboleth, nick-named Doris's crack, is the latest controversial installation in the Tate's massive Turbine Hall.

What a racket. Maybe next they'll cover the floor with broken glass and spikes, just to separate the true art lovers from the wimps who'd rather stay home where everything is safe and lacking in deeper, barely conceivable meaning.


Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Strikes suck

The postal service here is on strike. According to the Times, the strike ends Wednesday and then starts again next Monday. Are you freakin' kidding me?! They have been on strike since last Thursday as it is. I imagine postal workers going to unload mailboxes overflowing with mail, and by the time it gets all sorted they might deliver one or two pieces of it before they strike again!

This is a major problem. It's the mail. Many of us rely on e-mail and cell phones for most of our communication needs, but the mail is still invaluable when it comes to getting items ordered online (I've got a couple of things I'm waiting for now), when you subscribe to an online movie rental service (thanks to the strike, I won't be able to get my money's worth this month at all), and when you're waiting for important items being mailed from the States. I was awaiting some items that I was going to need to be very concerned about and report them missing if they didn't arrive in a reasonable amount of time. Then the strike came, and I no longer know what to consider a reasonable amount of time. And some people, like my mother, don't do e-mail. They like to send and receive letters; it means a lot to them to receive their mail. I'm sure lots of older people are the same way.

I don't remember a strike of the postal service, ever, in the U.S. Perhaps it's illegal. Good. If the postal service can't solve its issues, get its act together and actually deliver the mail here, I sure hope other mail services rev up their competitive natures and step in to fill the gap. Amazon UK had already stopped using the Royal Mail for its first class packages before this strike even started. I can see why.

I understand the postal workers may have genuine grievances (though the Times story said one of the complaints was the workers didn't want to work the full hours they were being paid for). But work it out without tampering with something as potentially vital as mail service, or get a job somewhere else. We've all had jobs we didn't like, due to low pay or crap hours. And I know I lived with it and kept looking until I found another job.

Its good to try to stand up and change a bad situation, but an action that causes so many problems to the general public in a variety of ways is not the way to do it. In short, strikes suck.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

A new Sunday paper ritual for England

The experience that is enjoying a Sunday paper is different in England. I wrote about that before; but now I've created a new experience, my England routine.

I discovered that the Sunday Times is always a broadsheet (I don't like a tabloid on Sundays as part of the joy of a Sunday paper is sharing out sections with your sweetie in bed). I didn't know this as when I asked the newsagent if it ever came in a broadsheet, he said no. He also told me no when I asked if the store carried bread (I couldn't find any). I went back a different day and saw some (they must've been out before). Which means the clerk, while always friendly, probably didn't have a good grasp on English and found it easier to say no if he didn't understand the question.

The Sunday Times still isn't quite what I was used to in America -- only a couple of sales papers for expensive furniture stores, no coupons, no stores offering huge rebates on electronics items (you will never get a new printer for $20 here or a usb thumb drive for free after rebates like I did in the U.S.). And getting the paper delivered to the door seems unlikely and not worth the trouble. The newspaper company doesn't hire a delivery person; you get a newsagent to deliver it. I'm not sure how I can communicate that I want only the Sunday paper to my newsagent, who always smiles and says no if you ask him anything. I could go to another one, but then there is the problem of living in a gated community. I could give them a code to get in the gate, but the delivery person can't get in my building unless I open the door (no code will open the front door, only a key). I lived in a secure building in the U.S., too, but there the landlord gave a key or door code to the Washington Post. Here, there are different keys for each section of the building and I just don't imagine it's possible to get one for newspaper delivery. I've never seen a newspaper on anyone's doorstep. And I sure as hell don't want my Sunday paper ritual to include waking up early to let the delivery guy in.

So the comfort of home delivery and not getting out of the PJs until afternoon is gone. But I've got a new ritual that I enjoy, even if I'd trade it in a heartbeat for a good ole Washington Post delivered to my door for about $1.5o and then getting it free the rest of the week.

Now I go out in the late morning or early afternoon and buy a Times, take it home, put the PJs back on, and me and the hubby go back to bed. The Times may lack some of the cheap sale papers and coupons I like, but it's a great paper with lots of good magazines inserted. At $4, it's a lot more than I'm used to paying, but the several magazines inside make it worth it. The Times isn't ludicrous like a lot of England papers. By that I mean many will resort to name calling and outright accusations in headlines and stories that would never fly in the U.S. The Times is one of the "Qualities", meaning it's not a scandal sheet like The Sun. Papers like The Sun report all stories the way The National Enquirer would -- very sensational and hyped up and with seemingly little interest in truth, fairness or accuracy.

But the Times seems like a real, serious newspaper -- even if the layout often looks like something I would've gotten a failing mark for in college. As someone who has designed more news pages than I can count, I notice the look of a paper in addition to the content. I still don't get why the shoddy layout exists in a major paper in a city like London, where you'd expect more polish. But what it lacks in a polished look, it makes up for in offering an enjoyable read.

Here's a prime example: The Times had a long, interesting excerpt from Eric Clapton's autobiography last Sunday. They wisely included a section dealing with his love for Pattie Boyd, the wife he stole away from Beatle George Harrison. This sort of thing is good reading for a lazy Sunday and really nice to find included in your paper. Check it out. :)

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Wait, police *want* Mickey D's to close?

In the U.S., people love to make jokes implying that cops eat a lot of donuts. That's because you can often find police at a donut shop. The truth is, though, they frequent all kinds of fast food restaurants and diners on their dinner break or just for a cup of coffee and a snack to keep them going throughout their shift, and we notice them because they are in uniform (lots of other people are in those donut shops, too, but they're mostly not in uniform, so no stereotype is born). However, some police (in the U.S.) tend to hang out at certain restaurants a lot because many of these places give on-duty officers discounted food or free coffee -- the idea is that it keeps trouble down at the Burger King if the Po Po are around, so offer incentives to keep the cops on your doorstep.

Which is why it made me smile to read that police in Reading actually *don't* want a McDonald's to stay open until 5 a.m. There's a good reason for their feelings -- namely, that the oft-mentioned "anti-social behavior" by some in the UK can be even more of a pain in the arse to control if hoodlums actually have reasons to be out and places to go all night. But it's still a funny contrast -- cops that don't want a place to get a coffee and some pie on the graveyard shift?!

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

A guide for guys -- sweet!

The Times (London) had a story Monday titled "Because we're worth it" that gave an excerpt from a new book that gives men advice on how to be chivalrous without being sexist. Really, it's just a guide to the common manners that will make chicks dig you -- or at least convince them to give you a chance before writing you off completely.

The excerpt basically relays what I've been telling my male friends for years when they say they can't figure out how to treat a woman, as in: if it's OK to open the door, pick up the check, etc. The answers are yes, and yes, btw. That latter one has been the subject of many conversations with male and female friends, and through trial and error I arrived at this conclusion: When dating (at least for the first several dates), let the guy pick up the check. It shows he's got manners (if he's the one who invited you out, which is usually the case), he's considerate and that he likes you (I've never heard of a guy hesitating to pick up the check when he was was really into a woman; something chivalrous just kicks in, at least if he's interested in you and quite often when he's not -- which is why it's such a big signal that a guy's not feeling any sparks if he sits there ignoring the check). I would sometimes pick up my half of the check when still single, and it changed the tone of the date and the guys thought I just wanted to be friends or that I was saying "I don't like you." Even women I've known who said they insist on going dutch eventually changed their mind when they realized they were robbing themselves of a chance to find out something about a man's attitudes and feelings for them by letting him pick up the check. It may sound old-fashioned, but it really is important, at least early in a relationship when you don't know much about each other. And the man can learn something important when he picks up the check too: whether or not the woman graciously accepts your thoughtfulness with a word of thanks, or whether she takes it for granted. That also says something about her personality and what you can expect if you keep dating.




Monday, 24 September 2007

Can't you get an elevator to work in this country?

England is an anti-elevator zone. It's not that England doesn't have them, it's just that no one can be bothered to make them work.

At about half of the places I've gone (or called ahead to inquire), the elevators don't work (they're called lifts here). Which is fine if you don't have mobility issues, but really sucks if you do. The museum at Reading Town Hall, the library, a museum at Oxford. No dice. Outta luck. It sucks to be you. People were nicer about it than that, but basically, the elevators don't work and break down so often that many places just put up an "out of order" sign and call it a day. Or an eternity. I've been told more than once that repairmen do service the elevators, but can't seem to keep them running.

And some places should put up a sign that don't. I went to TK Maxx today (the UK version of TJ Maxx, only pricier). I hesitated before taking the elevator down to the lower floor as thoughts of UK being the Bermuda triangle of elevators blazed through my mind -- you go in but you might not come out. But as there was no "out of order" sign posted and the elevator came when summoned, I got in. Bad idea.

When I tried to go back up in the elevator, it wouldn't come. After about 8 minutes of sitting there and pushing the button (I'd only waited that long because others waiting for the elevator when I came down said it took forever), a woman came by and said she'd overheard employees upstairs say they were closing the elevator because it got stuck. Which was bad news for me, as the only other way out was the escalator. Did I mention I was on my mobility scooter? That ain't going up no escalator. And while my knees are gradually improving and I could actually get off it and make may way up the escalator on foot and call a cab to get home, it would mean abandoning my scooter. Not gonna happen. I would've stubbornly sat there until either they found a way to carry my scooter upstairs or the local newspaper came (they report on just about anything, and people getting the shaft is a favorite).

So an employee came and helped by going upstairs via the escalator and then coming down in the elevator. It seems the elevator will let you summon it from upstairs, but not from downstairs. Which is a horrible thing if you *need* the elevator. Me on my mobility scooter or someone in a wheelchair would be trapped. Mothers with strollers (pushchairs as they're called here) would have a difficult time on an escalator, but could manage if they weren't laden with too many bags or more than one child.

I would note the employees were very helpful once they realized I was stuck downstairs with no way to get on the elevator (though one employee must have seen me sitting waiting for the elevator and he just went off, probably hoping someone else would deal with the problem). But the store and others with a similar problem really need to fix the elevator to avoid a major situation before someone gets trapped on a floor or trapped inside the elevator. Unfortunately, it seems it's easier to just close the elevator, thus making the store or museum unusable for the disabled, then it is to fix the problem.

I don't know why so many places have faulty elevators, but I suspect it comes down to dosh (that's cash to you non-Brits). They could cheaply give a broken elevator some tweaking that will keep it running for a day or two, or they could spend the cash to replace some parts and actually fix the problem. Guess which solution seems to win most often?

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Yob rule

A Reading newspaper had a story online today about problems with yobs in town, and the headline actually used the word "yobs." This is a bit funny as the closest thing the U.S. has to the term "yob" is "redneck," and you'd never see a U.S. headline about the police targeting drunken rednecks. The headline might say "troublemakers," but never "rednecks."

Yob is a funny sort of word that we Yanks don't use. A friend from Kent explained that it is "boy" spelled backwards. I'm not sure how the press decided to create the word, as spelling "boy" backwards to create a word for troublemakers kind of implies that all boys are trouble, which isn't true. Unless you have a teenage daughter, which thankfully, I don't. From what I can discern, a yob is basically a troublemaker, often hanging out in a group of other like-minded blokes, very anti-social, who likes to fight at the footy matches and maybe do a little vandalism to pass the time.

In the same vein, another distinctive term they have here is "chav," which I thought was pretty much a yob at first. And it's true that probably most yobs are chavs, but not all chavs are yobs. Or maybe they are; it's all a bit confusing. Perhaps the difference is that chavs love Burberry clothing. According to Wikipedia, a chav:

"... refers to a subculture stereotype of a person who is uneducated, uncultured and prone to antisocial or immoral behaviour. The label is typically, though not exclusively, applied to teenagers and young adults of white working-class or lower-middle class origin. Chav is used for both sexes, where a male chav is sometimes referred to as a chavster and a female as a chavette."

Also according to Wikipedia, CHAV is an acronym for Council Housing and Violence. Whatever the difference between chavs and yobs, if any exists, they all sound like what Americans might call "rednecks". Only we'd use it on the down low in jokes and conversations, but never in the media. Yup, that's right, the media -- and standards about what is and isn't considered PC -- are quite different between the UK and U.S. But that's a topic for another time.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Reflections of a hippie chick

England is big on summer music festivals. There's the Carling Weekend Festival here in Reading and Glastonbury and the Isle of Wight Festival and tons more. Ten years ago, I would've been out there ecstatically dancing in the rain while avoiding other revelers' lit cigarettes and their projectile vomiting (which follows after drinking and smoking and dancing all weekend, or at least it did in my day -- fyi, I was never the one smoking or hurling; instead, I was the chick sober enough to actually be annoyed if someone spewed on my shoes).

But now I'm 37. As I watched news reports of summer festivals, I realized the whole thing just doesn't sound appealing anymore. I still love live music, but the whole getting-crushed-while-needing-to-pee-but-unwilling-to-
lose-good-spot-by-stage thing went out with my 20s and never returned. Lots of things went out with my 20s -- like working for peanuts and dating Army guys -- but that era has ended, and good riddance!

I enjoy live music, and will go to a show if I'm sure there will be comfortable seating and clean toilets. My husband will go if I don't make fun of him for putting in ear plugs so all that big, loud music won't hurt his wittle ears. God, we're old.

The ironic part is I have often been called a "hippie chick," and this is in the real world where no one knows I've dubbed myself "Groovy Yank" online. It's probably because I have long hair, go light on the makeup, dig mood rings (and still use words like "dig"), and love poet tops and tunics. One guy (with shoulder-length hair who looked rather granola himself) once asked me if I was conceived during Woodstock. Which is unlikely, as my boring parents were home listening to Johnny Horton albums while all the cool people were watching Hendrix and getting sick on the brown acid. But he had a point ... I was born in April 1970, and Woodstock was in the summer of '69 ... OK, so my parents weren't actually AT Woodstock, but I could've been conceived while it was going on. Which was a nice thought, until I checked the dates, and Woodstock was only eight months before I was born. And yet another interesting-yet-misleading claim to make over drinks at bars died.

But it's just as well, as I'm not a true hippie -- I'm like a nouveaux hippie. I'm the kind of hippie that would've gone to Woodstock and danced in the mud, I just wouldn't have been naked or stoned while I was doing it. That behavior is best reserved for private times, like holidays with the in-laws if your husband continues to forget when your anniversary is even though you've been married less than a year. (You listening, sweetie? You'd better set a reminder on your cell phone. Wait, what am I thinking -- you'd better read the manual and figure out how to use your cell phone, then set a reminder -- Dec. 19. Either remember that, or we'll have a family Christmas you'll never forget.)

But the music-lover and hippie in me can still appreciate how awesome it is to have so many good music festivals in one small country. I think it's great in theory, if not in practice (at least not for this aging hippie chick). I may gripe about the cost of living and the NHS and freakin' roundabouts (grrr!), but when it comes to music, England rocks.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Reading Comedy Festival, baby!

The Reading Comedy Festival kicks off on Friday, Sept. 21. It includes stand up and other comedy shows and plays. I'm psyched as comedy holds a special place in my heart dating back to my days of minor immersion in the U.S. comedy world by way of performing stand up (as a hobby), interviewing comics for newspapers and doing PR for comics (also as a hobby on the side of my "real" job as a journalist). My relationship with comedy is a bit love/hate, as once you've seen a lot of comedy, you spot the hacks much more quickly and it takes more to impress.

But comedy still holds a special place in my heart, and it's worth it to take advantage of seeing a few of these shows if you're in the Reading area. A couple that I'm looking forward to are:

There are many more shows, but as much British stand up isn't to my taste (or perhaps the universal problem that there are far more bad comics of any nationality than good ones), these are the couple that seemed they might appeal to me. Stay tuned for my take on some differences between U.S. and UK humor!

An area blog log

Some local bloggers focus on life in Reading, whether it be good restaurants or area history. If you're curious about what's going on in this town, check out:

Reading Roars and West Reading Times (I learned about the latter from a post on Reading Roars -- gotta give my props!).

And while not a blog, the community speaks out at the Reading Town Forum.

Another blog of interest is I Hate First Great Western. The author doesn't live in Reading, but she does live in the area and she speaks out against the shoddy service of FGW (a train company that is the main option for getting to many destinations -- including London -- from Reading). I'm still appalled that FGW will only let disabled travellers who use a mobility scooter bring the scooter aboard if they can *carry* it on. As if. This particular problem isn't her concern (poor service is), but anyone who's willing to stand up to "the man" and fight is all right in my book, and it's something not many Brits seem to do. I get the feeling that demanding good service is considered pointless, obnoxious, and possibly even American-ish (and thus to be frowned upon). That's just my early impression as a newcomer here; either way, if you're curious about if it's really that wonderful and easy and cheap to get around England using public transport, as people always tell Americans is the case, take those tales with a grain of salt and check out I Hate First Great Western. On top of it all, it's a well-written site. Kudos, girl, and keep up the good work!

Another site generated by a local is Strategikon. It's not about the area, though; I'm including it merely because it's a new site of interest by a Reading academic who also happens to be an American expat. It focuses on all things involving politics and strategy, mostly involving American politics and figures. Get your learn on at Strategikon!

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Mmm ... sweet tater fries

Now in a break from my regularly scheduled lack of interest in doing or discussing things related to domestic chores:

Tonight I stretched my limited culinary repertoire to include a new dish: oven-baked sweet potato fries. Dipped in a mix of olive oil and spices, baked for 30 minutes at 450 F (about 230 C), and eaten with enjoyment by me and the hubby (who did the peeling and slicing of the potatoes, 'cause that's way too much effort to create a meal in my book). Served with steak. Mmmmmm.

I followed the directions for which spices to use from this recipe, and the tips on how long and at what temp to cook here.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Uptown Friday night

I fulfilled my wifely duty last Friday, and I have to say, I really enjoyed it. My "duty" is the thing where I convince my husband to actually get up off the couch and go out to DO something.

I'm not saying that he's lazy, because he's not. When he's on the couch, he's working. He may have his shoes kicked off and his feet up, but he's either grading papers, or writing his next book, or reading various things to stay informed on topics related to his field. While being able to do a fair portion of your work from home is good work if you can get it, it's still work -- work that tends to linger into the evening hours when typical instincts say it's time to relax.

And it's not like I want to go out all the time, either -- we're happily entrenched in "boring married couple" mode and I'm not looking to switch gears. But I do like to get out occasionally, especially as we're new to this city and there's a lot to explore.

We don't do typical nightlife. Usually when we go out, it's to the park or the library or the grocery store -- and it's in the cloudy, cool light of day. Not too exciting, but it's still getting out and seeing a small bit of the town. But Friday night I amped it up a notch: we went to the theater. Sure, it was a small venue apparently operated by the local town government, but it had everything I like: close, cheap (£6), music, dance, a sexy male lead. I'm all over that.

We went to see Mephistopheles Smith at the South Street theater in Reading. The show is a sexy, irreverent, irreligious hour with an evangelist who preaches the positives of hell, accompanied by his two "devilettes". It was written by Richard O'Brien, the man who wrote "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," which happens to be my favorite musical.

The theater was small and nothing fancy, but served the purpose and had a little bar in the back. The event was one more thing reminding me of how different the UK is from the U.S. -- an event sponsored by a city government in the U.S. would NEVER have a show encouraging people to indulge their vices and look forward to hot times in hell.

Paul Roberts
played the title character, and by the end of the show I thought he was quite hot, and it had nothing to do with his being the ruler of hell. That's how I end up feeling for many men who can sing or play an instrument well, which my husband thinks is funny but, like most men, also gets a tiny bit jealous of how much women dig musicians. It's not like I went on and on about it, but still, I did take notice. And it's not like Sweetie didn't comment on the cute "devilettes," so there. Not to mention one of them even pulled him out of his seat to dance in a scene, and I can tell you, that was the first time I ever saw him dance. He's no Fred Astaire, but he had plenty of good humor and gave it a rhythmically challenged go with a smile on his face.

Roberts really belted out the songs in true rock fashion, and we gladly shelled out £5 for a CD after the show. Unfortunately, none of the three songs I liked the most were on the CD, and the songs were sung by the previous cast -- the male vocalist did a much softer take on the songs, and it just wasn't for me. Not to mention the CDs looked like they'd been made on someone's home computer, self-printed labels and all. (FYI, the photo at the top of this post is actually of the previous cast, as I couldn't find a picture of the current cast. Indeed, all promotional ads I saw for this show had pictures of the old cast, which tells me this was a low-rent deal where the current cast is probably just doing a few shows -- a month at Edinburgh Festival Fringe and a few cities.)

Low-rent aspects aside, it was a fun show with great singing and we left smiling. Then we turned up the heat on our Friday night out on the town by going to Sainsbury's (grocery store) for some bottles of cheap wine. We made it home by 10 p.m. Oh yeah, we painted the town red.

All in all, it was a hell of a night.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Lament for the Sunday paper ritual

Oh, how I miss it. I woke up this morning, clinging to a waking dream of being able to step outside the door and scoop up a thick Sunday newspaper, darting back inside before the neighbors could see me in my wrinkled Old Navy sleep pants and T-shirt.


I'd go inside and climb into bed next to Cutie-Pie and we'd snuggle under the covers and divide up the sections. He'd skip straight to the opinion section to mull big issues and world events, and I'd grab the A section and make a show of reading through the headlines before tackling my real first choice: the sales papers. Because I care what's going on the world, but the sales at Target have more of a direct impact on my life. Besides, Sweetie will discuss the news with me while I browse the Lifestyle section.

In my fading memory, the Sunday paper is thick, heavy. There is section after I don't know how many sections, and that's before I pull out the hefty plastic bag holding all the sales papers and the Sunday magazine and whatever else sold some ads so they stuffed that in, too. I worked Sundays in the States, so we only got to enjoy the luxury of curling up together over the paper a few times that I happened to have the day off. We looked forward to a time when I would have all Sundays off and we could talk over the news and sales and new books and movies in bed on a Sunday morning (or afternoon) and get our hands stained with newsprint and tickle each other as we swapped sections and know that it was $1.50 well spent.

Now we live in England. I have all my Sundays off. But the Sunday paper isn't the glorious event here that it was in the States. At $4, it isn't cheap, either. It isn't even delivered to our home.

Sweetie went to a news agent when we got here (that's your basic news stand with mags, newspapers, fatty snacks and overpriced soft drinks). He was told you can get papers delivered at home, but it costs more than buying it in the store and apparently isn't done often as you see no ads for home subscription here, no papers awaiting readers on neighbors' doorsteps. And there goes part of the joy of the Sunday paper, being that it was a bargain and you could collect it at your doorstep without having to get dressed, brush your tangled locks, go out and generally wake yourself up more than you wanted to on a lazy Sunday morning. It usually cost less to have it home delivered in the States, or at the very worst, it was the same price as trudging out to buy one in a store or newspaper box. Not so here. If you can manage to get it brought to your door, you apparently pay more for the privilege.

And it's not much of a privilege, considering the Sunday papers here. They've pretty much all gone to tabloid format, one big section that I'm sure is easier to read on a train or bus or carry home from the store as you walk several blocks with the groceries you have to go buy every few days because the refrigerators here are too small to load up in one big shop.

So dividing the sections is out, unless you buy the Sunday London Times, which is the only paper all week where the Times isn’t a tabloid. And there’s no comics. And the sales papers, what a luxury we took for granted all those years! There are no sale papers in the British newspapers except for ones about pricey furniture, no coupons, no way to discover huge rebates at electronics stores on items I never knew I wanted until I found out it was only $20 after rebates. They have sales here, but not big ones, no we've-got-to-rush-out-and-get-that ones, not the ones that stores have when they've got a huge country of competitors breathing down their necks. England's a small country; you can pay either twice as much for things as you would in the U.S. or you can leave it on the shelf. Those are the choices, and the stores don't care much which way you decide. Shoppers are a captive audience competition-wise on most things. No need for big rebates and coupons, this is England. You're not going to get it so shut up already.

And so it's Sunday morning here; I'm not at work, I'd love to be snuggled up with my honey chatting over the news and comics and sales and tickling each other. But that's not the English Sunday morning. Instead, we each turn on our laptops and browse the news. Not that I'm missing out on chances to snuggle and talk and play with my sweetie, we do that every day. But a leisurely morning taking apart a big, juicy virgin paper waiting to be defiled by our eager hands isn't part of our Sundays like we dreamed. Did you know that an inexpensive, thick, sale-paper laden Sunday paper delivered to your door is part of the American dream, the American way of life? Neither did I. But it is, and I miss it.



Saturday, 11 August 2007

Music to my ears

On Wednesday, Hubby and I hit a local pub for a little live music. It was just the kind we love -- close and free! It was in the 3Bs pub in Reading Town Hall (and it still cracks me up that there is a pub in town hall!).

The show consisted of a pretty young singer, her sound equipment, and some CDs for backup music. Rochelle Parker had a nice voice and even some good original songs, though most of her sets were covers, which is what most crowds want to hear in a bar. Wait, did I say crowd? More like about 10 people.

One of the 10 was a rather drunk bloke that for some reason I had thought was a masculine woman with a short haircut ... until he came over, leaned on the back of my chair, and began loudly giving his critique of the show! He hated the singer's voice, said she had no stage presence, but sure, he'd f*** her! Those where his words, that he repeated a few times. My husband and I just said we liked the show and then tried to ignore him. Which was hard, as there was a bit of a BO issue. Ugh.

But he finally wandered off to harass others, and Hubby and I just enjoyed having a drink and listening to music in a low-key atmosphere. It was nice to get out, something us homebodies rarely do.