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.