Monday, August 7, 2017

The Awkwardness of Meeting People from Home

There’s always that moment and awkward conversation when I meet someone from England.  This is how it usually goes:

Hello, how are you?
Fine thanks, and you?

……[Awkwardness]….

So, how long have you been here?
…… 2, 4, 10, 15, 20… etc years …..

          What part of England are you from?
  ….Doncaster… Rugby… Milton Keynes… Brighton…. [Pretty much anywhere in the country that I’ve either never been or is no where near anywhere I’ve ever lived.]

Oh, okay
….. [More awkwardness]  ….

What brought you here then?
[Insert any number of reasons…]


.. crickets...

  Sooo, um, how do you like the weather here????”

And there it is - the great British small talk 'go to' - the weather!!!


What makes it slightly worse is when a friend wants to introduce you to someone and says “Oh, you both sound exactly the same - you must come from the same town.”  You know, like we all live together in a big commune and everyone knows everyone, including the Queen.

This happened the other day.  I was given the "you sound exactly the same" speech and told I would meet 'her' later.

Fast forward about an hour and over he trots to my desk, all excited, and says 

          “Meet (so and so)  She sounds JUST like you!”  

Well,  I liked her immediately because when he said that, she rolled her eyes!  Oh, true English attitude.

Then, the moment she spoke, I knew straight away that we was, in fact, from “near me” and she did “speak exactly the same.”  So with baited breath, I asked where she was from and bloody hell, if she didn’t say Croydon!!  Or South Croydon to be exact.  

And to my never ending embarrassment, I actually squealed and shouted "Oh my God, I lived in Caterham!"[Which will probably mean absolutely nothing to anyone]

That broke the ice and we did actually have quite a nice chat - no tea though.  It’s just a shame I don’t remember her name, but I do know she lives in Denver. 

But getting back to that other bit…. Yes, I squealed, I FLIPPIN' SQUEALED.  Could I be more America… ugh!  


Friday, April 14, 2017

The Holiday Camp

The school summer holidays, six whole weeks of doing nothing and going back to school seemed ages away.  What a great feeling that was and what made it even better was when your mum and dad said you would actually be going on holiday, and not any old holiday, but to a Holiday Camp. Butlin's or Pontins, how bloody fantastic! (Little did we know)  A totally British institution, the holiday camp.  I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the world that has anything like it.

The first Butlin’s was opened in 1936 in the glamorously named Skegness by Billy Butlin who’d had a terrible holiday on Barry Island in his youth, (and who hasn’t?) and wanted something better.  He grew up traveling around the country with his uncle’s Fun Fair and branched out into having his own Fair which became so successful he was able to develop a static fair in Skegness in 1927 which, in turn, morphed into a holiday camp when he built “chalets’ which allowed people to stay for a week or two.  Food was included (three meals a day) and there was live entertainment every night.  The weekly rate in 1936 was between 35 shillings and £3, approximately £173 today.  Cheap at half the price!  
The very first and original chalet is now a listed building
Picture Courtesy of Mr. M. Evison .

I’m not sure how fancy the inside of the chalets were back then, but having been to a Butlin’s in the 1980’s I can truthfully say, they are crap.  It always seems that no matter what time of the year you plan on going, it rains.  I can clearly remember a couple of occasions when I spent a wet and soggy week in Bognor Regis (another glamorous sounding place).  

Most of the camps seem to be built in the most unsunny (is that a word?)  places, with names that do not conjure up daydreams of palm trees, beautiful beaches or even nice weather.  [Bognor, Skegness, Pwllheli, Clacton, Minehead, Barry Island] It’s usually so cold you can’t use the swimming pool for fear of losing your toes to frostbite, the arcade is full of whiny children and the playground is a flooded mess.  Mum and dad trying to make you play board games and wishing they hadn’t bothered to book the holiday at all.  Looking out the window onto the desolate landscape is what British holidays are made of.  
More like an Army barracks
I think the main reason we were taken to Butlin's or Pontins was because of adverts like this, which made it look like your parents would have the best time and wouldn't have to put up with you all day. A holiday club is all very well, unless you are that extremely shy child that doesn't make friends easily, then it was a week in hell.

But on the plus side, without Butlin’s we wouldn’t have such jewels as the Glamorous Granny Contest, Miss Lovely Legs, Holiday Princess (aka, Bathing Beauties) or Red Coats (Blue Coats if you were at Pontins).  

Ironically though, the best sentence I've found in the history of Butlin's is this beauty:
"The first day of the camps opening saw snow and during the next three days of the season Bill (Butlin) was aware that although the holiday makers had settled in very well they seemed to lack enthusiasm." (emphasis added) 
That pretty much sums up how everyone feels about a holiday camp nowadays - Lack of enthusiasm.

But what about in America.  There is no such thing as a holiday camp… there are, however “Summer Camps.” It couldn’t be called a holiday camp, as a “holiday” includes a celebration, i.e. Christmas and July 4th. But I digress.  An American “Camp” is something that children do, on their own, in the mountains, or the middle of nowhere.  Parents just pack up their kids and ship them off.  You know, you see them all the time in films.  Little wooden cabins in the forest near a lake, which apparently you are required to swim in.  Sounds absolutely horrible.  Not to mention, there's usually a mad man running around said forest with a massive knife.

These camps are usually called something weird like “Camp Waziyatah.” “Camp Moosilauke,” “Camp Wicosuta,” or Camp Weequahic.”  I kid you not, these are names of real camps in Maine, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania respectively.  [Although it may look like I had my fingers on the wrong keys for a moment].  I’m sure they are also designed for parents to have a child free summer.  
It's a bit more fancy looking
I don't plan on going to a holiday camp any time soon, unless, of course, it's something like this one, because, hello, wine, no children and no contests.  Also probably no swimming.
Then again, I wouldn't mind this one too much either.

What are your memories of holiday camps?  Were you ever a glamorous granny?  Do tell.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Harry Potter and the Very Expensive Beer

Last week I had a bit of a skive off work and we went to Universal Studios for the day.   We had gone there back in the summer and the lines were horrendous - including spending 1.5 hours in line for the Harry Potter ride, only to be told it had broken down [Grr…].  While we were there, we had decided to pay the extra $14 for our tickets to last a year.   It turns out their version of a ‘year’ is actually seven months (which included many, many black out dates), but whatever, we had great plans to use our tickets loads of times, so it would be a great deal.  As usual, that didn’t happen and we only had a couple of weeks left to use them, so off we went.

It was a Thursday, in the middle of a week of hellacious rain storms and we managed to get a day with no rain whatsoever.  The place was almost empty…. Brilliant!  I’m not going to do a post about how great the day was with the longest queue being only 10-15 minutes, although that was lovely. Nope, this one’s about Harry Potter. 

I’m not a big Harry Potter fan, by any means, I think I’ve seen all the films, but couldn’t tell you for sure.  But he’s English for goodness sake, so what’s not to like.    First up, is the obligatory picture of entering Harry Potter Land.  I will call it that because I have no idea what it’s actually called (see, I know nothing).

With all the hype and uproar over the place, you would think there would be more than two rides. Yup, only two and we went on both of them.  One of them, though, was so short I hadn’t even begun to scream before it was over.  I cannot imagine queuing up for over an hour for a 30 second ride.  I would have been so bloody fuming.  As it was, I hardly had time to catch my breath, it was that fast.

Then there’s Butterbeer.  What in the heck is this abomination?  Good grief, it was awful.  “It’s quite sweet,” they said.  “Try it frozen,” they said, “you will probably like it better.”  Ugh… it’s the sweetest drink I believe I’ve ever had in my entire life.  Pretty much a cup of sugar with a tiny tad of water and butterscotch flavouring.  Basically, its diabetes in a glass.  We shared one and couldn’t finish it.  Trust me, it’s the furthest thing from beer that you could ever imagine.  My recommendation would be to steer well clear and don’t waste your money.
Don't do it!!
But then we found the restaurant – the English restaurant no less.  The menu was tempting, although why it would be called a “Traditional English Breakfast” when it has breakfast potatoes, scrambled eggs and a flippin’ croissant, I don’t know.   It didn’t tempt me as I was sure the bacon was American streaky bacon.  As it was, I couldn’t decide between the Beef Sunday Roast (even though it was Thursday) and the Bangers & Mash.  It took me a minute and then I noticed the ‘roast potatoes’ were actually sliced and baked (possibly) with herbs, so definitely not your mother’s Sunday roast! Bangers & Mash it was, and to tell you the truth, it was pretty nice.  My only request would have been to have lashings of gravy on the mash when in fact, there was none.  (oh and that tomato was a bit dodgy and the peas were hard - but overall a good B)
Sausages - no gravy





















The price was quite reasonable too…. That is, until we wanted drinks.  They didn't do a nice cup of tea, obviously so I went with the next best thing - beer!!  The other half had a water (lightweight), but we both needed a seat when they told us the prices.  $4.00 for a water, which is a bit steep, but I've probably paid more, to be honest.  As for the beer well…. I think they like it a bit much…. $11 for an IPA in a plastic cup, no less, not even a glass.  Maybe they’re charging English prices?

I don’t know, but it seemed a bit expensive to me, but I suppose that's what you expect at a tourist attraction, isn't it?  Then again, the more they charge, the less likely there will be drunken hooligans running around the park, unless they are really rich hooligans, that is!

That's a really tiny water
All in all though, it was a fantastic day and the bonus of a couple of bangers, which I wasn't expecting, was nice.  I may have sounded a bit negative about Harry Potter world earlier, but they've done a great job and it looks lovely with the sun shining.




Oh Blighty, how I miss you!  (Even pretend Blighty)

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I Am An Uncommonly Brilliant Gift Giver

When I worked in England and I don’t know if this is still the case now, but when it was your birthday, it was your responsibility to bring cream cakes to the office for everyone.  While this seems to be a bit backwards, at least you were guaranteed to get a cake you actually like.  This doesn’t seem to happen in America.  Sometimes there is a monthly “birthday celebration" with a cake for the entire office, but nothing like those delicious real cream cakes of my memories.

Why am I going on about this?  Well, I work in a big office and there are birthdays almost every week. I don’t buy presents for most people, but the couple I do like buy for usually end up with alcohol.  We’ve morphed into regular beverage connoisseurs.  The problem is, you can get a little bored with the same old bottles of wine or gin.  [No, really you can….]  

This last Christmas, I was surfing the interweb looking for something alcoholy - but cool - as you do, and I came across the best website.  Uncommongoods is a website selling handmade, recycled and organic products which contain no leather, feathers or fur.  It may sound a bit like a hippier version of Etsy, but don’t be fooled.  They actually have really great stuff and you can pretty much find something for everyone.  For example, and going back to my alcohol obsession, I got these glasses for my lady boss.  Yes, she likes a tipple too and her poison is gin.  These were absolutely perfect, except maybe there's not enough gin. (*smile*)
Great Gifts for Women 
Each item has information on where it’s made, how it’s made and who made it.  Some items are made to order and have longer ship times, so you might want to check that out if you are ordering for a birthday and have a deadline.

Everyone  who knows me knows I’m a sucker for anything, anything, England-related and the more obscure the better.  Not for me silly plastic items with a Union Jack sticker on it, no I want something with a bit of class!!   My poor husband has to live with my obsession and England is slowly but surely taking over the house.  I even buy him British things now and again and I found these beauties which will be great for our upcoming wedding anniversary, because I’m sure he can’t wait to get a few more London-themed items. [*sigh*]
But who wouldn't want these coasters of London?
You really should take a look if you want to be that "cool" person who gives the best gifts that everyone will want to use and not just put in the cupboard to re-gift later.  Oh, and another nice touch...every shipment comes with information to obtain a free shipping label so you can re-fill the box with donations and send it off to a charity.   See, the more you buy, the more you can donate! Can't ask for a better excuse than that, can you?


This post was sponsored by uncommongoods.com.  The opinions are completely based on my own experience.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

It's Raining, It's Pouring....

It’s been raining in California for the past two weeks.  By rain, I don’t mean a little drizzle, I mean full on pouring; raining cats and dogs; pelting down; bucketing down, whatever you want to call it, there’s been a lot of rain.

Now this is California, the state that has been under drought conditions for as long as I can remember. Every year we are told “save water” and “don’t wash your car or use your hose.”  The lack of any rain whatsoever just creates terrible summer fire conditions and without fail, every summer there is a glut of fires sweeping through mountains and towns.  

Fast forward to 2017 and we have the wettest winter in 20 years.  Northern California is on track to have its wettest winter ever and southern California is expected to tie it’s wettest year ever, which was in 1968-69.

It’s the end of the world, and I mean that quite literally.  California people do not know how to cope with rain and it might as well be acid coming from those clouds (which it possibly might be, but that’s another story entirely).  

Freeway driving is horrendous and quite frankly a little bit scary.  People seem have two speeds, 30 mph and overly cautious (think “Sunday drivers”) or 80 mph while weaving in and out of traffic (passing those 30 mph-ers).  Invariably, they don’t have their headlights on either.  I’m not saying I’m a perfect driver and I’m usually somewhere towards the high middle of those two speeds, but I grew up in England for goodness sake, I should know what I'm doing in the rain.  But last week, even I was driving more carefully.  This is what is looked like…
Notice cars with no lights?
There’s a vicious cycle in California.  The summers are so very hot and bone dry which results in wildfires leaving big open areas of scorched earth with no vegetation.  Then it will rain, usually only a little bit, but always enough create flooding and to turn all the burn areas into mudslides. [I’m beginning to wonder why I still live here].  This year, though has been incredibly bad.  So much so that the famous drive through tree “up north” has fallen down.  

When I heard the news reports that the “Pioneer Cabin” tree was gone, I was a little upset, but only because it was on my bucket list to drive through it, or at least to get a photo.  You know the one I mean, it’s the one you see all the time in adverts for camping holidays in National Forests.  It was also in the opening credits of National Lampoon's Vacation.

The Pioneer Cabin Tree
It now looks like this:


Apparently the storm was just too much for the 3000+ year old tree and it toppled.  [You don’t think it had anything to do with having hardly any roots do you?]  I was gutted that I’d never get a chance to see it, but you know what, even though everyone’s so upset it fell, while doing a bit of research, I realized there’s actually flippin’ loads of them in California.  There’s an area of the Redwoods called “Avenue of the Giants” where you can drive through them all.  I also found this little info flyer-thingy which shows a few of them.  So maybe my bucket list is still intact after all.

What I have realized in the last few weeks though is that I actually miss English weather.  I've really been enjoying the rain as I've had the chance to wear my English raincoat and wellies and use my brolly.  It might have something to do with not having to put up with it every day though.  So I will just enjoy it while I can.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Bikers and Barbies

My other half is in a motorcycle club and around Christmas, there’s always a lot of charity going on. A few of weekends ago was their annual Toy Run which, this year, was to benefit Hillsides, a non-profit children’s foster care and family resource program in the Los Angeles and Pasadena areas of California.  Apparently they help 13,000 children (yes, that many)

I will admit that the day did not start brilliantly for me – we had to leave our house at 6:00 a.m. and the temperature was only 37f (17c).  On a motorbike that feels like -10, just so you know.  This year, I gave the bike a miss as I was designated as the 'toy truck driver.'  Thank goodness because by the time we were at our destination last year, I was absolutely bloody freezing and could hardly move.  Although it was nothing a nice warm Starbucks Crème Brulee Latte couldn’t fix, to be honest.  You might not think that’s particularly cold, but this is California, for goodness sake! 

The ride began at their clubhouse in Santa Clarita where scores and scores of bikers turned up with toys strapped to their bikes.  Some had small decorations on their bikes, some went a little further, like this man.  
A bit much?
I was left in charge of loading the truck.  Okay, let me re-phrase that.  My organizational skills were drafted to load the truck.  After watching people just throw the toys over the side and into a messy heap, which in no way would stay in the truck until we got to where we were delivering them, I began moving them around and packing nicely.  You don't want to be leaving a trail of toys down the freeway, do you?  Now I’ve had a lot of experience getting loads of stuff into a little space… obviously because every single time I come back from England my case is almost splitting at the seams with food, chocolate and Ribena, so if anyone could get all those toys in that truck it was me!!

And of course, no Christmas event would be complete without a Father Christmas.  Step up that man.... 
Green and white
Everything has to be just that little bit different, hence the green and white Father Christmas, which just so happen to be the colours of the motorcycle club.

So after a couple of hours collecting, we took the truck to the orphanage.  We get a great reception and the kiddies love it, especially when the truck turns up like this...



Of course, no charity event would be complete without a few celebrities thrown in, and this was no exception.  Riding with us were Robert Patrick [Terminator 2, Scorpion], Mike Beach and Emilio Rivera  [Sons of Anarchy].


After posing for all the obligatory photo opportunities, the toys were taken into the home.  This is what it looked like ...


Not a bad turn out.  It just goes to show all those big bad bikers are actually cuddly teddy bears deep down, but don't ever let them hear you say that!!