The Ginga one has asked me, her loving, doctorate-holding, and jobless husband, to contribute again and write a guest blog. She is currently on some sort of leadership conference thing today, and left the house bemoaning that she failed to look professional, let alone of leadership material. I sent her out of the house with a slap on her bum, and kiss on her cheek, and orders to bring me some money too. I am not a chauvanist, but I can play that part when necessary. And she looked very, very professional to boot.
So, now I have been pondering about what I have taken in as a result of my new-found status as ex-pat, and there are quite a few things, both good and bad, both poignant and misery- inspiring, and then there are others which are just, frankly, pointless.
1) So, I was told that people in the North were friendlier than people in the South, something which I was denying for some time. I would drop off my son at school, and no one would talk to me after the first week he attended. That first week was great, with lots of questions about why we moved, where we came from, and what we were planning to do. Then suddenly, it all went silent. I would smile and say hello, and about 25% of the time, I may get a friendly response. Most of the time, I got a look of panic, as the person would say hello back and speed away. A fellow ex-pat who lives near here told me it was because the English are quite tribal, and I am starting to see what that means. I mean, they are not as bad as the Germans, whom you can know for nearly a year, and if you call them friend, you will get an explanation about how you are not, since you and the other person do not really know one another. The other difference is, of course, to an English person, you can mention the War and they didn’t invade Poland (boom! boom! good ol’ Basil Brush and Basil Fawlty); however, even in the friendlier North, there is a bit of some strange stand-offishness at first. They do not like making eye contact with a stranger and saying, “good morning” in an overt way. I didn’t either, until I moved here and was the proverbial white elephant, accent wise. Slowly and surely, however, it changes. It started with old ladies suddenly talking to me as I jogged with my son. I jog with my baby boy in a jogging stroller, something quite common in the U.S, but here it still gets looks. We would be stopped at a light, waiting to cross the street, and out of nowhere I would get “well, that will keep you fit” or “soon he will be pushing you in one of those.” Then in a grocery store, an old woman told me all about her nephew, who calls his mother all the time, and although she, herself, never had any children, her glorious nieces and nephews always made sure to inquire after her. Now at my son’s school, people greet me, ask about either of my boys, and make jokes. It would seem I have been partially adopted into the tribe. I say partially only because I created an air of awkwardness when I suggested to one that we all get together some time for our kids to play. I have since learned that such suggestions are typically only allowed among mums; any dad coming in and trying to get some of that action summarily receives a bit of the cold shoulder. I can understand it, however. I think if my wife were hanging out at odd hours during the day with a host of dads, all of course for the purposes of allowing the respective children to play, I would be a little anxious. I admit to you all here now that I can be a tad jealous if the need arises.
2) Next thing: Tesco Club Points are great! It took me almost three months to get my Tesco Club Card, but it was so worth it. You get a point for every pound you spend, and then they send you a check, in points of course. I realize that it all somewhat dull, and being paid in points that you can only redeem at Tesco is a bit like working for Pullman and earning Pullman dollars, but there is something of an accountant in me for these kinds of games. You can even earn points for returning your plastic grocery sacks! So far, I have over 1500 Tesco points, so I am going to receive, any day now, a check worth £15.00 – that’s two bottles of really nice plonk, or one really really nice bottle, and since there was a report here recently that said a wine with a more expensive price tag makes us believe the wine tastes better (and the tests prove that when we taste the wine, we also still believe it), it is almost like getting a really really nice bottle of wine, drinking it, tasting its pecuniary value, but yet it costs nothing. Alright, I realize it cost me something, but I am getting the wine simply for shopping at Tesco. Isn’t that great? I can see by your eyes, you are silently judging me. Please remember I am a teacher who isn’t teaching right now, so I am a bit like a border collie who cannot go and herd sheep; I must make up my own games, and there is just so much “In the Night Garden” I can take – even though it is narrated by Derek Jacoby, who also just recently starred as The Master in Doctor Who and was a bad guy from the Magisterium in The Golden Compass.
3)English politicians are their own caricatures. There is no wonder why a show called “Dead Ringers” which featured puppets would be such a huge success. For one, they simply made the puppets look exactly like the politicians, and that was funny enough. They would add certain elements, for example the John Major puppet was colored grey, because his was a grey personality. All in all, the real humor was simply that the toys looked just like the original, and the original looked like something from Punch in the first place. For example, Tony Blair really is creepy looking! I remember when he was first running his campaign, and the Tories created attacks adverts that simply had a pair of evil-looking Blair-ish eyes, with the phrase, “New Labour, New Danger.” But look at the guy. He looks slightly insane! Look at Gordon Brown – he looks like a cranky bear. Look at David Cameron. He just scares me, even more now that he talks about being an “Inner Smiths Fan.” They are all an editorial cartoonist’s nightmare, because what can you do with them. You can make them slightly more grotesque, but it is as if they were designed, by their genetic code, to be in the public spotlight for our amusement. I do realize that “W” looks elfish, Gore looks like a sleeping giant, and Newt Gingritch does resemble a bigger version of one of the Lollypop Kids from Wizard of Oz, but you still have to work for it.
4)McVities’ milk chocolate and dark chocolate (called simply plain here) are simply the best things I have ever eaten … after Galaxy chocolate bars and Magnum Icecream bars (which are fantastic vanilla icecream on a stick, covered with Galaxy chocolate). For real food, I could eat curries every day. I am not partial to fish and chips, however, so there is still hope for my waistline.
5)For some reason, I cannot find French Roast coffee here. Not even from Starbucks (and yes, they are everywhere too). I can find Italian Roast, but not French. I once found “French Style”, but that wasn’t it; in fact, I am unsure what particularly was French in the style of the coffee, since no matter how strong I brewed the coffee, it tasted weak, until I went too far and made sludge. I had to return to the US for my mother’s funeral last month, so I stocked up on the good stuff, and then some heavenly friends sent me 2 (count ‘em 2!) pounds of my absolute favorite coffee in the world: Peet’s! So I am set for a bit. But one day, and that day will quickly come, I will have to go back and begin my search in vain again. I do not measure my life out in coffee spoons (that’s not what I said at all), but I do mark events by good coffee.
6)There is a rising wave of Puritanism here lately. Recently a teacher was dismissed for having been in a rather sexy ad for construction clothing. Now, granted, there was simulated sex suggested (all right, people were a-bumpin’ and a-grindin’, makin’ the beast with two backs), but still I had thought the moral views were more open here. I mean the first time I saw a topless woman was on Monty Python (and that was on PBS!), so it surprised me to hear of such concern. It also seems that those who profess to believe in Intelligent Design followed me out to the UK, because that, too, is getting discussion. It was a shock enough having my son climb into bed with us one morning and ask “Can we talk about the baby Jesus”, but it was close to Christmas, and he was in the school Nativity play (where he played Santa – go figure), but this wave of I.D. proponents in the UK makes me even more nervous than it did in the US. Sure, we can all play Natural Philosophers and admire the eye, and wonder how it could have been made by chance, but advocating teaching I.D. in the science classrooms is simply preposterous and far beneathe this highly intelligent, articulate, and amazingly literate culture. So stop it. And that’s all I am gonna say about that,
7)I am simply amazed that anyone in the US could posit that the National Health System is a bad idea! Even my brother argued with me that socialized medicine would mean no one gets good care at all (and he knows that most Americans are without health insurance, and therefore excluded from good health care, despite the US’s boasts of having THE BEST). Stupid arguments with siblings aside, I have been singularly impressed, not only with the care, but with the fact that I was able to get care so soon. My two sons and I got our NHS numbers almost as soon as we landed; my sons get immunized on a regular basis, I get my cholesterol medication, and we all get regular check ups. Go see Sicko and you will get a sense of how generous the system is. Sure, it has its problems, but remembering that Cook County Hospital in Chicago closed simply because it couldn’t afford to stay open any longer treating the uninsured (by its charter) and many such hospitals have done likewise, and you will know that something very wrong has happened with the American healthcare system.
8)British Telecom, or BT, sucks the big one! They are kind of like AT&T, only without any sense of customer relations, customer service, or anything that would resemble a company that has real business sense. I have lived here now for four months, and they still had my name wrong on the bill. I would stay on the phone, sometimes in a phone booth (yes, they still have them here) for hours trying to get through, only to get cut off at the last minute. When I did get through, I was told my name could not be corrected without canceling the whole account and opening a new one (which would cost £45.00, or $90.00). Some how then, trying to get things fixed, I succeeded only in getting a second account opened; so for four months I have been getting two phone bills: one for my actual phone number and one for another line, which was never used. Each month, I would call, be put on hold, and then be told everything was sorted only to receive two phone bills the next month. Our broadband is also with BT (don’t ask), and suddenly I was getting two bills for that. Take the worst experience you have ever had, times it by ten carried to that power, and you will have BT. I have read that they are actively trying to gain back customers who have left in recent years, but I have no idea how that plan has been put into place. Advice if you are moving here: go with Orange. They are a mobile phone company (cell to you yanks), so you don’t need to pay for line rental from BT, and you can get your internet service through them too. Avoid Virgin as well. The postoffice apparently offers phone service too, but I only just learned about that.
9)I am going out on a line here, but I think cars in Britain are better built than they are in the US (please forgive me Detroit and Lansing; hey wait, what am I saying; we drove Toyotas!). We have a Vauxhall Omega 2.5 litre, 6 cylinder monster earth f***er (my wife’s brother and sister in law generously gave it to us); Vauxhall is GM, and this particular car is a combination Chevy of some sort and the Cadillac Caterra (the Caddy that zigs). It is quite old, but it keeps on going. Sure, it drinks petrol like water (and it costs me well over $100 to fill the sommabitch), but I am well pleased with its reliability. I don’t think anyone in my family ever owned a GM car that didn’t some how die early because of bad design. Like all English-made cars, it leaks oil, but I have come to expect that.
10)The Peak district is by far one of the most beautiful places on earth. I would add a photo here if I knew how, but google it and you will see. Amazing, craggy hills and breath-taking valleys. I just love the place. My only complaint is that with all the rain, I have not had a chance to drive there and run up the Big Peak.
Well, there you have it. Thank you for reading the ramblings of an undignified house husband (yes, I do play Beatles songs for my boy, just like that other, slightly more famous house husband did for his boy Sean). And now back to your regularly scheduled program.