Thursday, April 24, 2014

Toilet Humour - A Letter to America

Dear America,
Something has been bothering me for a while now.  Why are your toilets so low to the ground?  And why, oh why, is the gap under the door so big?  That gap is huge for heaven's sake!  I’m sure other people using the toilets can see my knees - it’s very unnerving.  I don’t want complete strangers to see all my unmentionables.  [And I won't even mention the gaps around the door]
The first restaurant toilet (or restroom) I ever used in the USA was an experience, to say the least.  First of all, it was all fancy and had wallpaper and dimmed lights, very soothing.  Then there were the toilet seat covers.  Wow, a little cover to put on the seat, how very civilized.  
But then I went to sit down… Oh, it was so very low.  I fell so fast I firmly hit my bum on the seat and I think my derriere nearly hit the water.  What a shock – I think my feet came off the floor too!  Nobody warned me that the toilets were so low.  Now I see why you have the seat covers – you can’t do the “squat” that we ladies have all perfected in England, you have to sit on a public seat.  Eeeww.  And with your knees up to your chin no less!   

[I tried the squat a few times and trust me, unless you're a gymnast with legs of steel, the toilets are way too low for you to hold that squat long enough to completely empty your bladder] 
You can see my knees!
So obviously, I inevitably went back to England for a visit and totally forgot how high the toilets were over there.  I did the whole thing in reverse and ended up on the seat with a thud and Oh Good Grief… they don’t have seat covers!!!  
So thank you, thank you America for making me all germophobic and paranoid.  I’m beginning to feel like I should take a tape measure into the toilet with me so I can measure the height before I sit.
Yours faithfully,

Which way round?
P.S.  Oh, by the way, which way around does the toilet seat cover go?  Does the little flap thingy go in the back or in the front??  After 20 years, I still can’t figure it out.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Full English?

So I posted this photo on Facebook yesterday because I was so pleased to have found 'almost' English bacon and I got some of the weirdest comments from American friends.
Mmm.. look at those lovely eggs and is that British bacon?
One of those comments was "'Beans and eggs together? that's an interesting combo. It's not something I would have thought of" ... and I was actually really confused and I don't get it. Why wouldn't you have beans and eggs? Is there something terrible about having baked beans and eggs together? I don't understand the need to have even thought about it - it's just natural.   Go ahead, if you’re English and reading this – what would you have thought of that question?  I bet you’ve never questioned it either.
A full English breakfast is eggs, bacon, sausage, mushroom, tomato and fried slice, with some variations depending on what you have in the fridge at that time. I don't like fried tomatoes, so beans are my thing.
Another comment (from a Brit, of course) was "Peanut butter and jam – that's a weird combination!" And I agree!  Oh, and putting pancakes and syrup on the same plate as your eggs and bacon - now that's very weird!  And being expected to use the same knife and fork for it, ugh.  Sweet and savoury should not be mixed on the same plate.
I’m sure we just grow up and get used to what we are given to eat, but who decided that breakfast needed a pudding?  Why does bacon and eggs always come with pancakes?
Then came the questions from the Brits –
  • where’s the sausages and black pudding?
  • where’s the mushrooms?
  • where’s the fried tomatoes?
  • where’s the HP sauce?
  • where’s the fried bread?
Come on now – I’ve been here 20 years and only just found something that could be called “English” bacon.  Give me a chance already!  J

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gun Culture - It's Not for Me.

“Can you bring my gun down from upstairs” Dave asked me the other day.  That was a question I would have never thought I would hear in my life.  But this is America where everybody has guns, everybody.

I stood there, looking at the thing, trying to figure out how to hold it.  I wasn’t sure which end I should grab.  Should I hold it on the end the bullets come out of, or should I hold it by the handle?  What happened if I held it too tightly and accidentally pulled the trigger and inadvertently blew my foot off?  But then, I didn’t want to hold it so lightly in case I dropped it - and inadvertently blew my foot off.  What a dilemma.

I opted for the handle end, between my thumb and forefinger, just kind of hanging there, held out in front of me.  In hindsight, this was probably the most likely way for me to blow a hole in myself.  Dave stood, open mouthed, as I came down the stairs.  “It won’t kill you” he said.  Well, actually,  I think it probably would, to tell you the truth!!!

It was a very creepy kind of feeling to actually hold a gun.  Bloody Hell, nobody in England has guns, not even the Police.  They have to make do with a truncheon a.k.a. a big stick and a whistle.  Okay, maybe the whistle is a thing of the past, but you get it.  I think some police might be carrying guns now, but the normal person on the street really doesn’t have a need to have one.  Unless you are a Kray twin, obviously.  But then, they weren't exactly what you would call 'normal.'
The infamous Kray twins
Great White Hunter
But America seems to be the land of the brave, the land of the Great White Hunter where it is positively frowned upon or you’re a thought to be a tad odd if you don’t have a gun.  I’m not going to get into the politics of the gun debate, but I will just say that I think I will refrain from getting myself a gun, unless I happen to find myself somewhere in the Serengeti chasing a lion, and then perhaps I might borrow one (or just let someone else do the shooting).
Until then, I will make do with my whistle.
This will work.. right??

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

April 15, 1989

25 years ago today we witnessed one of  the worst sporting tragedies in history, the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
96 souls lost their lives that day and it doesn’t matter which team you supported at the time, or now, but this disaster resonated with every football fan in the country.  In fact, everyone in the country, it didn’t matter if you liked football.
I remember watching the events live on the television as it unfolded.  The telly cameras were there in force for the game and nobody actually knew at the time what was happening.  As fans were trying to get out of the Leppings Lane end onto the pitch, it became apparent that something bad was unfolding.  Visions of people lying on the pitch with terrible injuries still run around in my head.
Fans scrambled out of the terraces
The next day, the newspapers were full of awful photographs of people actually being crushed to death – I can still remember the face of the young man on the front cover of The Sun newspaper, crushed against the fence, quite obviously dying.  It was not only a dark day for football, but a terrible, terrible loss for the families and absolutely atrocious that the newspapers would print such pictures.
It hadn’t been long since I had been to the Sheffield Wednesday ground and actually watched from the Leppings Lane end.  Obviously, you can’t help but consider yourself extremely lucky that it didn’t happen while you were there.  It’s just human nature.
So this last weekend, every Premier League game (probably every game actually) began with a minute’s silence.  The games I watched had a perfect one whole minute of absolute silence.  That’s why it’s called a Minute’s Silence.  Growing up, I remember the whole country coming to a complete standstill in November for the Remembrance Day ceremony.  We would listen to the radio and wait in silence until Big Ben rang out.
Liverpool Honour the 96
Yet I’ve noticed in America, it’s called a Moment’s silence.  How long is a moment?  It is apparently not a whole minute as every time I’ve seen or observed this ‘moment’, it lasts from just a few seconds to much less than a minute and I just don’t understand why.  Americans are so very patriotic about everything, yet they cannot keep quiet for a whole minute.
But today, we should remember the Anfield 96, in silence or not.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Agony Aunts

I've just found out there is no such thing as an Agony Aunt in the United States.  Well, there is, but they’re not called agony aunts – they’re called Advice Columnists.

I was talking to a work colleague and mentioned so-and-so was a really good agony aunt.  Again I got the blank look and I could almost see a question mark above her head.  (I think this is becoming a theme). What’s an Agony Aunt? I was asked.  You know, I said, the person you write to in the newspaper and they answer your questions.  “Oh, an advice columnist” she said, “agony aunt  sounds so much nicer.”  And it does.
There seems to be a bit of a difference between the questions and type of Aunt/advisor in America too.
Marje Proops, Agony Aunt
I grew up reading Dear Deirdre, Marjorie Proops and Claire Rayner.  These women covered questions on sexual topics and various women’s issues which may have been taboo to some.  There was also relationship advice, usually in the theme of “What do I do when my boyfriend wants to tell my husband about us?” or other similar problems.   

In the case of Claire Rayner, while advising teenaged girls in 1972, she was accused of “encouraging masturbation and promiscuity in prepubescent girls.”  Later, she was one of the first people used by advertisers to promote sanitary towels. {}
 American advisors, however, seem to be more directed towards etiquette, manners and social situations and skills by the likes of Ann Landers, Dear Prudence and Dear Abby.  I don’t make a habit of reading these columns, but always see them in the Sunday paper.  There’s even one column with questions like “If I had two cars and one got this many miles to the gallon and I drove to Texas…. etc”  Not really agony aunt stuff at all.
So really, I’m glad I grew up in England.  I got all the advice about any personal problems and issues  I needed (real or imagined) from the daily newspaper and magazines and I never, ever had to do the oh so embarrassing thing of actually asking my mum questions.  I’m not sure who would have been the most embarrassed. 
And you know, everything you read in those columns is the absolute truth.   And quite obviously, if you have a serious problem, the first thing you should think of doing is write to the newspaper!

Oh Dear...boys will be boys!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I Don't Know the Queen

All the interest currently being given to Prince William, Kate and baby George is having a terribly negative effect on my well being.  I think we all know by now the English do not like to be put on the spot in a conversation (or even in any kind of conversation, if the truth were known), but as soon as anyone knows you’re English, the topic is open… “Have you seen the pictures?”  Huh?  “You know, have you seen Wills and Kate in New Zealand?  And isn’t George just Daaahhling?”  “Such a cute baby, he looks just like his daddy”

I’ve even had people I’ve worked with for the last ten years ask me if I’d seen the photos and what I thought.  These people have never heard me talk about the Royal Family, let alone seen me drool over their photos.  So why, all of a sudden am I the font of all knowledge?  I know, I know, I’m English and I should know everything about the Royal Family.  I lived in London so we must have been neighbours.  Probably popped in every afternoon for a quick cuppa and a catch up.  Not.

Yes, I did see the photo of them in the window with the dog, but quite frankly, I was a tad more interested in the dog.  Dogs and babies make lovely photos, it doesn’t matter if you’re royal.  And yes, the jumper was a nice touch, with his name on and all.  I wonder if there was a photo we didn't see of the dog giving the baby a slobbery kiss.

We all have romantic memories of Princess Diana and little William back in the day, going about their lives under the microscope.  Nobody can say anything bad about Princess Di because she was so, well, pretty.  I remember getting a day off work for the Royal Wedding in 1981, the best bit of the day being when Saturday Night Fever was on the telly that night.   Oh, and having the day off work (did I say that already?)

But I’ve never been what you could call a “Royal watcher.”  It was incredibly, incredibly sad when Princess Diana died, I think I even kept the newspaper articles for a while.  It certainly brought the country together so we could all say how horrible the “family” had been to her.  But apart from that, the Royals have just been there in our lives.  Kind of like a distant relative that you don’t really know.

Marilyn moment: The Duchess Of Cambridge nearly suffered a wardrobe malfunction as she touched down in Wellington, New Zealand on Monday with Prince William and baby GeorgeAnd yet Americans are fascinated with the Royal Family.  I may be generalizing a bit here, but I’ve rarely met an American woman who doesn’t seem to know all the ins and outs of what they're doing and where they’re going and where they’ve been.  Chas and Di, Wills and Kate – they all have little nicknames.   Oh and don't forget Buck House. 

My favourite bit about the Royals (apart from having the aforementioned days off work for special occasions) is when they actually do something that makes them look positively normal.  This photograph of Kate is a perfect example.  You can see right up her skirt and yes, she has scrawny legs and knobbly knees, just like any regular person.  There's hope for us all.

Oh .. and then there's Harry of course!! Who doesn't like Harry with all his antics?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Beautiful Game

For a little while, back in the day, when I lived in London I played football for Crystal Palace women's team.  I think back then they were called Palace Eagles Ladies Football Club, or something like that.  I had to retire because I got pregnant and it's really hard to run around a pitch for 90 minutes with a bun in the oven. 
I would rather have played for Chelsea!
So when we emigrated to California it was nice to find out women's football was really getting a stronghold in the USA.  The world cup had just been played in Los Angeles and women everywhere decided it was to be the game for them.  Leagues were popping up all over the place and I managed to get onto an "over 30's" women's league.  (Yes, it was an old broad's league)  The standard wasn't high, but I hadn't played for quite a few years, so it worked for me.

Everything was going well, we even won a few games.  Every Sunday afternoon I was 'off to the match' for a nice bit of exercise - and then it happened.

I came across the one bloody woman who decided American football should be introduced into the rules of the English game.  I was a right back (yes a 5'2" defender) and she decided she was going to be a quarterback or receiver (I had to ask what this position was called as I have no clue).  Anyway, there I was in front of goal, with her coming at me, full speed, trying to score.  I tackled her, got the ball and then I felt it, a full powered shoulder and elbow shove into my back.  I went up into the air, did a somewhat ungraceful backwards somersault (so I've been told) and landed fully and very heavily on my right shoulder with a resounding *CRACK*  Even the keeper said she heard it!

Oh the pain, the agony of a broken collar bone!  I'd never been in an ambulance before and that was the most painful ride I've ever taken - and quite expensive too.

I heard a few days later that that particular American football aficionado had complained to the ref when the game was abandoned because she didn't see why they couldn't keep on playing and just move me off the pitch. (Nice!) I decided right then I didn't particularly like that lady (for lady read "bitch").

I never did play again.  I decided I was a bit too, um, old and seeing as I wasn't actually getting paid to play, I should  hang up my boots.  (or cleats as they are inexplicably called in Americaland).
I then spent all my weekends ferrying my kids around southern California to their own football games.  And do you know what, not once did they find a child who thought they were playing American football.  At least the kids get it, kind of.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Small Talk - No Thank You!

There are some things that just make me cringe.  The English nature is to avoid standing out in a crowd or bringing attention to yourself, just blend into the backgound.  So when I am chatting away to a friend just minding my own business and someone I don't really know joins the conversation, listens to me speaking for a while and then says "Oh, I love the way you talk, keep talking, don't stop.."   I just instantly clam up.  I can't talk, and I really don't want to.

It happened to me yesterday.  It had been a while and I had totally forgotten just how awkward and squeamish it made me feel.  I cringed inside and went silent.

It's a terribly British thing to want to stay in the background, out of the  limelight and especially when it's a stranger talking to you who, horror of horrors, wants to keep on talking and engage you in conversation.  Questions like "How long have you been here?" and "Wow, you've still got your accent" are the usual openers.  I mumble that I've been here 20 years and yes, I tried to keep my accent.  But they just don't give up... I end up coming across as rude and standoffish, but that can't be helped, I didn't ask for the conversation, for heavens sake!

Don't Americans know that us British don't like small talk and won't do it, unless it's absolutely necessary and unavoidable.  Even then it's only in very exceptional circumstances and invariably the topic is the weather.  Don't make eye contact and whatever you do, don't smile at someone.  Oh good grief, they might think we actually want to start a conversation and that would be horrendous and extremely uncomfortable.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

What Does that Mean?

A Close Call

A few weeks after he started school, my son came home with a note that makeup photos would be taken the next week. That’s a bit odd, thought I, why would you have school photographs taken in makeup? Presumably this was a uniquely American thing schools did for a bit of fun. I was imagining him having a painted clown face or some such weird looking get up. He told me he didn’t want to participate and wouldn’t be going to school with any makeup that day.

Well – that was a close shave. It turned out “makeup” day was actually for all those children who had missed having their photos taken a few weeks before. Ahhh… it was a second chance to have get them taken. Bloody hell, I would never have heard the end of it if I had made him go to school with a painted face.

It's the Accent
When she was in First Grade my daughter told us she had to do a kern event report. I had absolutely no idea what that was and it was before the internet, so it wasn’t as if we could Google “Kern Event.” We went round and round trying to figure out what she needed to do. “It’s in the newspaper” she kept crying – “I need to get the kern event from the newspaper!” “Are you sure that’s what they said?” I asked her. “It wasn’t something else?” “No, no a kern event!” Oh, what to do – I was a bit flummoxed, to say the least.

My son walked into the middle of the conversation… “Stupid Girl” he says “It’s a current event .. C-U-R-R-E-N-T.. that's the way they say it” (don’t you just love big brothers?) Well, okay, that made sense, except she wouldn’t believe us. Bless, she was only 6 and didn’t understand the teacher’s accent.

These were a few years back, but it’s funny how that language barrier can catch you out now and again, just when I think I’ve got it handled, I’m thrown into a tizzy by a word I’ve never heard or which is pronounced differently.