Long random ramble about life in Britain

No pictures this time, just a lot of words. Paul is in Istanbul this week and I’ve been meaning to write a long ramble about what it’s like to live here, since I just passed the 4-month mark this week. So here it is. In no particular order. With some political opinion thrown in.

I expected that living in a new country (rather than just visiting for a week) would give real insight into how the way of life differs, the culture, the values. And it’s true. I don’t think life in England differs that much than in the US… in the daily go-to-the-grocery-store kind of thing. But I am definitely in a different country. Sometimes I can’t understand the what someone is saying, and they’re speaking english! And there are women here who really do sound exactly like those screechy matrons in Monty Python sketches!

I’ve been reading the newspaper every day (The London Times) plus getting the really-local Maidenhead weekly paper. Thanks to those two we’ve learned about events and places that would be pretty much under the radar of a tourist who relied only on a guidebook. I’ve been to a couple local fairs. We’re talking the kind of fair that has a dog show with classes like “waggiest tail”, and agricultural shows for your biggest tomato. I saw a local youth horse show that was EXACTLY like the old Thelwell cartoons of little girls on ponies that refuse jumps, etc.

Thanks to The Times we have learned about local events and festivals in London and elsewhere. We’ve gone to the Thames Festival and the Notting Hill Carnival in London. The Notting Hill Carnival celebrates the area’s Caribbean roots with food (jerk chicken, ummm!) and a wonderful parade with the loudest music I have ever heard. Each parade group had costumed dancers and/or a float preceded by a truck with a DJ surrounded by stacks and stacks of speakers. Our chests were literally vibrating it was so loud!! The Thames Festival was 2 days of events all along the Thames river in London. The day we went, they were having the Feast on the Bridge. They closed off Southwark Bridge to cars and placed two looooong dining tables with chairs all the way across it. You got food at all kinds of stands at one end, then sat down and ate on the bridge! They had a boat parade and all kinds of other activities (like fireworks) along the river. The Thames riverside walks have been improved so much since we first visited London back in the late 1990’s. Now you can walk miles and miles right along the river and see so much more. And we can be right there in about an hour’s travel from our house.

Unfortunately I lost my photos from July-early September in the hard drive crash, or I’d share pictures from these events.

I just read about the British Ceramics Biennial starting this week in Stoke-on-Trent, which I would surely have missed if I wasn’t reading the paper and here long enough to find out about it. I think if Paul can get away, we’re going to do a week-long trip (in another dog-friendly cottage) up north in the Peak District near Stoke and Manchester. We can do the ceramics exhibitions plus some great hikes in the Peaks, and even go check out Liverpool, etc. We haven’t been to that part of England on any of our past trips here.

Thanks to the paper plus listening to talk radio in Britain, I’m getting a handle on their politics. It is an election year and it will be pretty interesting to be here while that is going on next spring. Listening to the callers to the radio shows is a great way to hear about what real people are thinking, not just media writers. I listen to two different BBC stations plus a commercial one. Fortunately there are no syndicated shows like Rush Limbaugh over here. The presenters change every couple hours and cover all kinds of social and political topics of the day.

It is totally refreshing to have almost no USA news. I don’t miss one bit any of the USA media obsession/saturation with extremes of the left vs. right politics, and our idiotic celebrity culture. Over here, they have their very own set of politicians, tv stars, music stars, etc., and I hadn’t heard of hardly any of them. We get the bigger USA news and some commentary overview, that’s about it. I knew it would be really really good to step outside our country and get the perspective on what the rest of the world is doing and thinking about. And what I’ve learned is, that the USA isn’t the center of the universe. People really mostly care about what is going on in their town and county. “When will my road get repaired?” I’ve always heard that Americans are so self-centered, but I think it is the same everywhere. We just think we are the center of the world, because our media doesn’t show enough of what else is going on.

One of the problems getting the loudest noise over here at the moment is the large number of unemployed/school drop out youths running wild and with no support or prospects, and the drunken “yobs” in bars ruining all the town centers on weekend nights. I hate to say it but getting plastered does seem to be the national pasttime. Far more than in the US.

There is a lot more expectation that the government should solve every moral and social problem. Far far more than in the US. And they already do pay out a lot of money for all kinds of things we don’t, but I can’t see the society as a whole being any better for it. The socialistic slant here is actually kind of uncomfortable.

I have had an interesting experience with the famous British National Health System. In June I needed to get a booster shot for the Hepatitis A and B vaccine, plus a blood test to see how my thyroid supplements are working. I didn’t really understand how it all works here but our private health insurance said to get established with a GP here. So I did some webbing and found a local GP. When I got there it turns out it is the local NSH GP. They told me that since I’m a resident, I can get their services free like any other Brit. When I met the nurse she told me that the Hep AB booster shot wasn’t to be done for 6 months, and in the course of other discussions she said in the UK they don’t do mammograms for anyone until age 50 and then only once every 5 years! (As opposed to the US where they recommend it every year starting at age 40.) Hmmm. Anyway, I was told to come back in Sept for the shots and blood test.

This past month I found out from the insurer that what I really wanted was a private GP. So I did more webbing and found one of those instead. And honestly we didn’t feel it was right to use the NSH when we hadn’t been paying taxes etc. in to support the system. So I met with the private GP and she said the NSH nurse gave me the wrong info; I should have had the Hep AB booster 2 months ago. I know that is a minor thing, but it did make me wonder about the revered NSH. Especially as health care debate is all over the US right now and they keep pointing to the one over here as the star. The issue here is, who does decide when you should get important health screenings and treatments? When your government is paying–and they don’t have as much money for it now because of the tanked economy–what do they cut back on in health care??

Ummm. And Now For Something Completely Different.

Now that I’m used to it, I actually like driving. Roundabouts are GREAT. You practically never have to stop because there are not that many traffic lights–you mostly see lights just in town centers where the intersections are too small for circles.

I like that there is almost no visual pollution, at least in the country towns I have seen and here where I live. By that I mean, no billboards or excessive signage on buildings. Not a lot of lit signs or neon. The councils must have strict laws about signs so they are very small or not there at all. Though that makes it hard to find a store or shopping center sometimes, they are so hidden! Plus there are hedges and shrubs everywhere bordering everything, so sight-lines are often short to non-existent. I drove past the Boyz’ boarding kennel three times before I learned where it was.

I never did get used to seeing women wearing BOOTS in July. I’m talking everything from high boots with high heels, to those fleece-lined UGGs types, all summer. And on 70-degree sunny days, too!! I can’t imagine the discomfort! I came from a place where I didn’t wear long pants from May to October. Though here I have been mostly wearing jeans and the kinds of light clothes you wear in spring and fall. It’s just not that hot here. And they complain when it gets anywhere near to 80°. Someone on the radio sighed with relief that the summer was over. I’ve heard it jokes that the Brits don’t really “get” summer all that well, they’d rather keep their pasty white skin covered up, ha. I always liked winter clothes better than summer so I’ll be happy enough for the next months I guess.

I love the morning fog. It’s really coming in now that the nights are getting colder but we still have these nice warmer sunny days. September was by far the loveliest month here yet. Mostly dry and still warm.

I Love Pubs. No matter where you are, you are close to one and can get something to eat and drink most of the time, and a place to sit down and nobody will bother you. We are not coffee drinkers so the whole coffee shop/cafe culture passes us completely by. I would never even think of going into a Starbucks. But pubs must serve the same purpose, in a more homey way. And the older ones are just so interesting! I love the way you just walk in and order your food and drinks at the bar, and pay. Then they bring your food to you. You don’t have to wait for the server at the end of the meal, you just leave when done.

So far I think you can’t get a decent cheeseburger in the UK. I keep trying, but they are invariably so overcooked they are like a hockey puck. And you can’t tell what kind of bread/bun it will come with, or what the cheese will be like. On the other hand, at McDonald’s over here the quality of their average burger is aMAzing!! Always fresh, hot, cheese melting, bun toasted… I can’t understand it! I can’t tell you how often in the US I’ll get a regular cheeseburger that is old and cold with the cheese half off the side. And I should know, I’m a McD Connoisseur. So for now if I need a burger fix I go to McDs here. And I’m Lovin’ It!

Also re: food. When they say your burger comes with a salad, they mean the onion and lettuce garnish on or next to your burger. Don’t expect a tossed salad, ha ha. I can’t find an “American style” Italian restaurant. By that I mean your ultra-basic, Sopranos-style red-sauce-on-everything, spag joint. They have lots and lots of italian restaurants here, with really nice perfectly fine pasta menus but it’s clearly all based on the Italy/European model. They just don’ know from meatballs and they never heard of Chicken Parm (my ultimate comfort food, sob!). And not a simple greens salad with italian vinaigrette dressing in sight. Which is what I was raised on in NY. So I sure miss that. Give me a run of the mill American chain like Olive Garden or Carrabba’s right now and I’d swoon!

By the way their fries (chips) are great. Not surprising since the UK has been making fish and chips for eons. I just don’t like the fish part. Oh, and their potato chips are called crisps. And they come in the sort of packaging that would make a Boulder tree-hugging recycler have fits. You can’t just buy a big bag of crisps. You have to buy a big bag, with all the crisps divided into 12 little sealed plastic bags. Each about a handful. And these little bags are too small and brittle to be re-used even as doggie poop pickup-bags. So if you want a nice bowl of chips you have to sit there and de-bag a dozen little bags. And you are left with this quite big pile of plastic bags to throw away. All the stores here are proclaiming how green we must all be and we have dutifully bought our re-useable grocery bags. Yet NObody has mentioned once getting rid of all the crisp-bags, aaaargh!

We are learning to love to drink soda warm, with no ice. You just can’t get it served to you with ice. And people here don’t even keep their soda in the fridge, they pour it right out of the bottles warm at home, too! But happily, there has been a revolution about drinking beer, and now they take pride in how cold they can serve it to you!

Most “foodies” will be utterly disgusted with me after reading all that, and I apologize. I’m just not into haute cuisine. I specialize in Low Cuisine and getting it served here is proving all over the map!

I love the horsey place we landed in. Yesterday I took the Boyz in the car to find a new place to walk. Over here, most all owned land has to have signposted public access via footpaths or bridlepaths (which are good for bikes too). Which is tremendous!! You can walk so many places where in the USA think how much of the best land is private, marked sternly No Trespassing. Here, the main trick is finding a place to park near a footpath. Yesterday we were driving down this little road we hadn’t been to before, a couple miles from the house, when we come upon a Cross-Country riding meet in full swing! In the middle of the afternoon, on a Wednesday! Horses jumping fences! I keep stumbling across things like this. People ride down the village street here. That Tudor house near here has a polo team. About once a week in the early evening they have matches. I haven’t found a way to get close enough to watch them because their polo pitch is in the center of their land. And I can’t find anything on the web about their team or league. But next time I see them I’m going to get into the woods off their bridle path and see if I can get closer.

Well, I guess that’s enough of this for now! I’ll save up another pile of little lifestyle musings for another 4 months from now.

Oh one last thing: I heard a funny expression today. Someone referred to an unhappy/disgruntled person as “throwing their toys out of the pram”. Made me laugh out loud.