This weekend I settled down with some relatives to watch my very first Eurovision Song Contest in fifteen years. Would it live up to my memories? I wondered. Or has the Eurovision changed beyond recognition -- like Radio One and MTV, belonging to a new generation, the one about 10-20 years younger than me, now wearing leggings, ballet pumps, bat-wing tops, and mulletty hair-dos (just like *I* did, long ago...) But Eurovision did not disappoint. It is still as deliciously awful as ever, still an opportunity for superior Brits to chortle as each and every European country (and that includes Isreal, go figure!) entered their 'top' artists in a 'pop' contest.
Britain is still united this time of year, not because we are rooting as a nation for our entry to win (we came a resounding last, and no one cared) but because we come together in a collective sense of superiority -- a) we are a nation with a long history of producing good music, and so any sense of 'competition' is a farce, and b) we just adore watching as young hipster presenters from Turkey, Serbia, and Iceland butcher the English language with attempts to make the funny jokes and ha ha-s for de international audience. (Yep, the English is still the colonizing language, and don't you forget it!) It's especially funny when the French commentators come on, because they refuse to speak English, and so everyone gets confused when they pronouce 'huit point' for "Arr-may" and no one quite knows which country they are referring to (Armenian, fyi).
But mainly it's the acts. And this year did not fail to disappoint. As soon as I set eyes on the Russian performance 'I Believe' by Dima Bilan, it was clear we had a winner. It was not the overwrought lyrics and wild flayling of limbs in a white open shirt and bare chest that did it for me, nor was it the dramatically writhing solo violinist that accompanied the singer, though these were gifts enough. No. It was the ice-skating.
If you want to share in the whole experience, check it here. (If you want to skip to the good part -- John Denver on Skates -- then fast forward to about 2:30 minutes in)
Part Two (Yes, that's all very well, Joy, but, like WTF???!)
I know. I know. I won't pretend I've not been tempted to just put an 'On Indefinite Hiatus 'post up and give the blog an official breather, but I've never quite been able to do it. I know if I do that, there is a strong chance I'll not come back to it, and while I am not as sure about where blogging fits into my life as I did in those first breathless and excited years, I am not ready to give up on it yet. I've mentioned before, but one reason I find blogging very different right now is that since moving back to the UK I have skewed sense of audience and purpose.
I was chatting to my cousin about it this weekend (and how nice is it to be able to have a cousin over for a weekend) but it's really a simple fact that the context I once shared with other bloggers is not the same any more. The shift here is less about the move to England (though massive this is -- case in point, Eurovision Song contest post that will likely mean very little to you!) and more about the fact that I have so little spare time, and this means I can't read you all and engage in conversation (although I am seriously thrilled that my old partner in crime, Her Bad Mother, has pushed out that boy child, and in a jiffy too!) As I struggle to write a post now, I realise it's not that I don't have material (I have spades of it, obviously). It's because I feel like I am throwing stuff out there, but not really taking part in any sort of community activity (yes. I know that sounds hopelessly cheesy). I can't reciprocate, comment, react, or support any more -- or at least I can't to the same degree. I have very little clue what's going on with everyone, and BlogHer and other conferences last year suddenly seem a very long time ago. It's like looking back at a parallel version of myself.
oh GOD! How tedious and self-absorbed. Ennui...
So long story short, if I am going to keep up this blogging lark, I have to find a different sense of purpose and motivation. You lot are very motivating, but to reap the benefit of that motivation you need to be present, and I'm not and really can't be in the same way. So, will it become writing for writing's sake? What does blogging from this space really mean?
We are still Bastard People, and buying a property in England is bastard hard-work. Many moons (but just two posts) ago I said we were likely buying a house. That likelihood has increased dramatically, and it looks like we're set to decamp from this mould-infested rental in a couple of weeks. This both pleases and grips me with stomach-twisting fear. Not ANOTHER move. Not another massive change, another school to settle Jack into. The whole process has been complicated horribly by the hoops we've had to go through with surveys and searches and reports, and the mad things that happen when many many parties miscommunicate with one another.
This rental might be mould-infested, but at least it feels relatively familiar now, and there's a Waitrose in walking distance.
I console myself with images of new fitted kitchens, restored fireplaces, and freshly painted Edwardian rooms. I try not to think about the 30 year dank decor that will greet us on arrival, smoke-stained and stinking of doggies, which we'll have to remove with steam and vigorous applications of chemicals and elbow grease. I tell myself that bashing down the 1970s tile that covers the fireplaces will be fun. The knocking down of the wall between kitchen and dining room, a gas. All sorts of dangerous things for Sam, our now 18 month old, encounter and likely eat.
But still, Spring has sprung in England, and we have become members of the National Trust. This means we have purchased sensible walking shoes and cagoules for the family so we can enjoy bracing and damp days out at Tatton and Lyme Park to name but a few. I'm learning to enjoy my family in a different way, and have never had so much fun at a wedding as I did a few weeks back when my little brother got hitched.
Life is definitely good, but it's also more different than I ever anticipated it would be.
You'll need: A lump of modelling black clay; some white pipe cleaners; a couple of double-headed thumbtacks; and finely tuned artistic ability...
First, you need to make your Dalek foundation. This will be the basis for your modelling:
To get this shape, you need to take your clay firmly in hand and just keep moulding.
You may think you'll never get there, but trust me you just need to be patient. Don't be afraid to use pressure, as the clay can totally take it. Also, the warmth from your hands creates a nice glossy veneer on your model.
Next. Place a three thin sausages of clay around the 'head' of the Dalek:
Then proceed with shaping the tiny balls.
I found that to make the balls stick, a little lick will do the trick nicely.
Next, stick a sharp object like a pin or nail into the head to make a decent sized hole:
This is where your 'Dalek Radar' thingie sticks out. You make this with your pipe cleaners, a little knob of clay, and some tin foil:
You've gots yourself a Dalek!
I hope you enjoy making this at home as much as I did. Right now I only have one, as I simply didn't have the energy to do it all again in the same afternoon.
(Fig. 1. These people are not us. But they have just bought a home, and so have instantly become more Attractive and Fulfilled. This, therefore, is a representation of What We Will Become After We Have Been The Bastard People)
Way back in January, just easing ourselves out of post-Christmas malaise, and wondering what we might do with ourselves that might not involve eating, drinking, or buying stuff, we embarked fresh-faced and enthused into the whole House-Buying business. What better way to spend a weekend than to set up a series of appointments and tramp through other people's houses, escorted by owners who looked upon us with rapt expectation? Initially we felt an instant bond with such owners, we had been in a similar position just a short period ago, of course -- trying to sell our precious house in Michigan while the economy went down the toilet. We understood.
We would not be the types of people to parade through someone's cherished home and then sharply reject it because a hallway was too narrow or a bathroom not palatial. We were not Bastard People. Even if we did not especially like a house, we would at least be respectful enough to let the estate agent know in a timely fashion, and not leave the owners dangling.
Fast forward a couple of months, and witness the path of devastation and dashed dreams behind us. To become a homeowner in this day and age, especially in holymother-of-effing-god-HOWMUCH?? England, one must become The Bastard People.
Pretty soon we were doing dash-and-run viewings, cramming appointments in between nap times and descending on the freshly cleaned homes with two kids in tow -- one of whom drools in copious amounts. Sure, they just spent the last couple of hours making their place spick and span for us, but did it have a third bedroom that could actually be a third bedroom? (lady. a 4ft by 5 ft room does NOT a bedroom make). Sure, mister, you may say that the noise from the train tracks at the end of your garden are 'hardly a bother because trains are electric now' but when the 10:56 am to Manchester went by, we all smiled at one another over the din, our teeth chattering politely as we pretended it was not that big a deal. I think it took your estate agent about 5 days to finally get me to return their call after our visit, desperate for our 'feedback.' "Try a thundering train at the end of the garden" I said.
What I meant to say was "It's a great house with lots of potential, but we've decided to keep looking." Maybe my not-so softly softly approach was kinder in the end, anyway.
Then, one day, the Bastard People found a house that might just work. A fixer-upper, for sure, but decent sized rooms and "original period features" (beneath a century of paint, wallpaper, artex, 1950s tiling, and cigarette smoke, but there all the same). A kitchen the size of a postage stamp, but 'potential to expand.' Right now it looks like we might just be getting this one, but until I know for sure I won't post a picture (also, don't want any of you shitholes to gazump us or anything, because I know what you're like). My husband's home improvement skills are going to be seriously put to the test. But I have faith, and I will be there by his side to support him -- offering whatever advise I can on colour schemes and fabric combinations (actually, I have a feeling I am going to seriously know my way around a wall-paper steamer-offer by the time we're done, but don't tell him that).
Turns out, after nearly 6 months of living in an urban-ish area, we realise that while in theory we are Country Mice (lulled by the idea of stunning views of the Peak District outside our charming cottage home) we are, in fact, City Mice, who like the idea of the country as a place close by to visit on weekends. We like our ameeeeenities, you see.
So please, wish us luck, and know that the Bastard People period was just a mercenary phase that should hopefully soon pass.
(insert apologetic rambling stuff riddled with excuses about not posting here...)
Good. Now that's out of the way, let's blog baby!
Now, where was I? Ah, yes. 'I blame Coldplay.'
Actually, maybe it's Kate Bush's fault. It was with Kate Bush that I discovered a great new game I could play all by myself at 11 years old. A game called 'let's pretend you're in a 'Music Video.''
Here's how you play-- whatever you are doing, be it walking down to the corner shop, sitting in the backseat of your parents' car, sulking in your bedroom, pretend that you are in fact in a 'Music Video.' You will need some background music for this, preferably Kate Bush's 'The Man with A Child in His Eyes' but Human League's 'Don't You Want Me Baby' will serve you equally well -- especially if you are tonging your hair.
If you prefer to go with a 'live' performance then a hairbrush is a must-have (naturally) and I would recommend the privacy of your own bedroom, where you can play 'your music' on a 'record player.' If you are taking this to the streets, then a Sony Walkman to play your 'cassette tape recordings' is required.
Once you have these items in place, you have a great deal of creative flexibility as to how you perform in your 'video.' With Kate Bush you might like to gyrate wildly but very, very dramatically around your room -- especially if that song is Wuthering Heights (Heathcliffe! it's me, your Cathy, I've come ho-o-o-o-me. It's me in your windo-o-o-w). But take care with the lyrics -- they are seriously deep and need to be intoned (or mouthed if you prefer) with the appropriate expression of mysterious and yet penetrating angst.
If you are making your video in public, then a certain level of discretion and a good deal of imagination is required. Yes, to an onlooker you might well look like some pimply-faced teen slumping down the street with a pair of head-phones on, but little do they know that a camera is on you and the end result will be a highly produced (quite possibly black and white) montage sequence: 'disaffected working class girl walks through scene of urban blight.' That's you missy, and guess what, you're in the new Smiths video!
I wish I could say that I have grown out of this adolescent game, but every so often an instance avails itself where I just can't help myself. Coldplay on the iPod while I commute is a surefire trigger. One minute I'm charging through the ticket gates to only just catch my train (again) and the next minute I am deep in the reverie of 'Warning Sign' (When the truth is,
I miss you. Yeah the truth is, That I miss you so) . Lights. Camera. Action. And I'm ON.
Add to that an email that appears on your PDA from a dear friend Back Home who tells you of a dream where you appeared back in Michigan...
"When I went to hug Joy, she said I shouldn't get near her because she had some kind of communicable disease.... Then, when we put Jack and J___ [our sons] together, and thought they'd be excited to see each other again, they didn't even really remember each other. I felt very sad in the dream, thinking that they were forgetting each other."
Add that and suddenly you're a blubbering mess on the train, and so the only way to stop your fellow passengers noticing your outpouring is to retreat inside your head and be in the Coldplay video about Loss. Channel that sorrow into a brilliant performance that your adolescent self would have truly envied.
(I miss you too A. Horribly. And everyone there. But, uh, 'communicable disease'??)
Last night when I got home from work you were ready and waiting in your 'smart clothes' and excited beyond all reason. I was going to drive you to school where they were hosting a Valentine's Disco for you and all the other 4-6 year olds. I had been forewarned by your Daddy, who had made a similar trek with you to the 'Halloween Disco' in October, that this was pretty much an hour of complete and utter insanity. Good lord, was he right. When we got to school we couldn't get in right away, so you went careening around outside the doors aping at the other children and admiring the boys in their Cyberman shirts.
It doesn't matter if you know a kid, if they are impressive to you, then you'll head right up to them and say 'Nice shirt!' I don't know if it's their englishness or the fact that you can perhaps stun people into silence, but they normally don't react very openly, but when you turn away from them I see a slight smile of pride as they look down at themselves.
Meanwhile, you have your own little cohort of friends, and once we got inside the building you all had a marvelous time 'dancing' (and I use that term loosely) and piling onto one another in great heaps. Before I had boys I was very much on the 'nurture' side of the debate, but watching you and your pals say hello by wrestling one another to the floor makes me seriously wonder, and this creeping realization is only heightened by the fact that as you writhe on the floor all around you are pretty little girls in red and pink valentine's dresses, dancing much more skillfully to the beat.
For you the disco is about hurtling around the room with your friends but mainly it's about the Sweeties. Over to the side of the hall was a little shop selling packets of chews and gummies -- you are drawn to this place irresistibly over the course of the hour. Spinning off to tumble and then every few moments returning to beg for more sweets, more 10 pence pieces to buy them. "But puh-leeeeease, Mummy."
After about 4 packets, I had to put my foot down.
All that sugar and running around, and you got completely overheated. You were begging me to let you take your clothes off, which was something new and also somewhat alarming. Rather than draw such unwanted and dodgy attention on ourselves (I imagined you chasing around the hall in your spongebob undies) we opted to roll up your sleeves and trouser legs, and you reared off again with your pale legs poking out like sticks.
Finally you returned back to my side, and asked to go home. You happily place your hand in mine as we work our way out. That simple hand-holding. I wonder how long I have left of that.
I'm not being maudlin or anything, because I know that it's only natural that one day soon you'll be less likely to hug me on a whim or plant a wet kiss on my cheek, but it's also good for me to remember that one day I'll be looking at this time and wondering where it went.
I love you, sweet boy.
Other things once thought of as true:
Cary Grant saying “Judy Judy Judy” (he only said “Judy” or maybe “Judy Judy”, but c’mon; it is preposterous to think he would add the superfluous Judy!)
Humphrey Bogart saying “Play it again, Sam” in “Casablanca”. (in fact, he just said, “you played it for her now play it for me. Play it!”)
Shakespeare writing, “Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well.” In fact he wrote, “You mean I kissed that dead guy!? Yuck!” (The Complete Shakespeare)
It doesn’t surprise me that so many people are getting history wrong. It seems that within the last 40 years, the whole enterprise of history has been to dismantle itself bit by bit. I have taught in my classes how there are myths surrounding George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and it would appear that those lessons have taken root … a bit too strongly. True, Existentialism teaches us that we cannot be certain anything exists, with the exception of oneself (and here I always compliment my students on their imagining such a handsome professor), but what have we lost now in suggesting that nothing is real. Is 25% of the British public being ironic? What makes Churchill so unreal, and Holmes so lifelike? (I neglected to mention that the same 25% believe Holmes and Watson actually existed).
The article that I got this story from is clearly criticising the dumbing down of all Western societies, and it has a point; however, it is all an outgrowth of our dependence on the sound bite and the medium of television, which states outright that if it is on that box, it must be true. One only need recall the Presidential Debates, where George W. Bush denied that he had ever said of Osama bin Laden, “I don't know where he is. I -- I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him.”
John Kerry quoted him nearly verbatim in the debate, and all Bush had to do was say, “There you go with one of your exaggerations.” More than half of my students thought “W” had bested Kerry with that remark; few had stayed around long enough to hear the tapes after the debate that repeated Bush saying those very words.
So kidding aside, it is becoming increasingly problematic determining what is the truth (or what the truths are and what they mean). Politics has become simply about who can say something that sounds true, or as Stephen Colbert puts it, the winner must have “truthiness” – not, indeed, the truth, but the appearance of truth. And in this day and age where we cannot believe in the sincerity of anyone’s motives, for to do so would mean we have always already been duped, who could believe that there was once a leader who was a drunk, who was somewhat common, who made crass remarks about women being ugly, yet who stood tall in the face of an imminent threat (and then collapsed later)? Who could believe that some nurse on the battlefields of a place no one can even locate on a map could have been the impetus for so many humanitarian ideals? (and remember, nurses were supposed to be sluts then, or something barely above actresses).
The title of this entry comes from John Lennon’s song “God”, where he lists off all the things he doesn’t believe in: Elvis, Dylan (in one version he uses Zimmerman, Dylan’s actual surname – see, you can’t trust even your favorite folk singer … or is he rock because he went electric? Is he still Jewish?), Kennedy, kings, Gita, all concluding with his shocking “I don’t believe in Beatles!” He was an idealist, as we all were, and perhaps as very few are allowed to be today, denying the value of so many things that are put upon pedestals. We are repeatedly told heroes don’t exist anymore, and I think the statistic that was published today is the result of our embracing that idea.
Oh, and it is also because our schools suck and our kids are all morons! Go read a book, you stupid kids! You’d think all you had to do was play fucking Playstation!!
Main thrust of the programme? There are people out there with crappy real married lives who create insanely sexy online counterparts for themselves in Second Life. Big-boobed Girl Avatar meets Six-pack Boy Avatar, and the mouse-controlled bump and grind of naughty avatar bits begins...
The question. Is this adultery?
As we watched one husband talk about how his wife spends up to 14 hours a day in their bedroom in front of the computer with her 'boyfriend' while he's left to run the house, looks after four kids, and earns a living for them all, we thought that 'adultery' might well be the least of this family's problems.
In the concluding moments -- after this wife had spent some of the family's hard-earned cash to fly out to London to meet her 'boyfriend' in real life (and boy, did he look disappointed when she turned up at Heathrow) only to return to the bosom of the family -- her loving husband declared that his wife was 'Jenny' to his Forrest Gump -- she was wild, lived at the edge, hungry for life, but no matter what, he would be as steadfast as Forrest and remain there for her forever. To which my husband said:
"Yeah. But Forrest Gump was retarded"
We began to see why a virtual life with 'Elliot' might look so enticing to the woman, b'yatch though she was. And there was her husband, trying to make sense of it all by viewing it like the movies. We all want to escape, and for him it took the form of pretending he was a slow-witted adult male from the deep south.
Of course, all this gave the two of us an opportunity to look inside our own hearts, our own marriage, and ask one another the searching questions that had plagued us as we watched side by side.
"So. If you could create an avatar in Second Life, what would it look like?" I asked
The certainty and swiftness of his reply was impressive.
"Well who would you be?" (dodging the question -- pussy-ass)
"Cate Blanchett" (yes. I am seriously predictable)
"Cate Blanchett-as-Bob Dylan Cate Blanchett, or Cate-Blanchett-as-Galadriel Cate Blanchett?"
"DUH! Like you have to ask that question. Do you even know me at all?"
"You'd go for the pointy ears"
"Of course! I know you're a sucker for the pointy ears! I'd do it for you!" (also. who wants Bob Dylan wiggy hair?)
UPDATE: And here's me sneering at the idiotic ways of idiotic people, and writing an entire post about how my husband wants to be DAVID Banner, when I meant BRUCE Banner.
So far I don't think my husband has any aspirations to be a Dirty South Hip Hop artist, but then, he continues to surprise me. Such is our love.
Another feature from the GingaHubs...
While coming out of my son’s school the other day, we left by a different exit because I had parked in a slightly different place. I had no ulterior motive in doing so; I was just there early and wanted to get one of those prime spots, close to the door and facing in the right direction so I could zoom out with my precious cargo. As we were walking, one boy approached my son and simply said, “You!” There could very well have been the “F” word there in front of that “you” (can I say the “F” word in this environment?) but I couldn’t say. I asked my son what the boy had said, and whether the boy was a friend, and he responded, “it’s nothing for us to worry about, Daddy.”
Suddenly I WAS worried and I inquired deeper into the situation. It turns out the other boy and the other boy’s friend, let’s call him Joseph, because that’s his real name, often pick on my son at playtime. (he also looked something like the image here):
I had heard of Joseph before. It was a bit before Christmas, and we were driving toward home, when my son pointed out the window and said, “That’s Joseph; he fights with me at playtime.” After asking what that meant, I learned that Joseph would kick or hit my son during the lunchtime of later afternoon playtimes. I called the school to see what was happened, was told Joseph didn’t have a reputation for acting that way, but they would keep an eye on it.
Assuming no news was good news, this new event startled me to say the least. It seems according to my son’s somewhat cottage-cheese recollection that Joseph and mate often seek out my son when he is alone. They do not always hit him; on occasion, they “do other naughty things … like kick me.”
I wrote to the head teacher this time, explaining my concern, but not asking for blood or discipline. I know my son, and realize that there is more than a smidgen of culpability on his part here. However, this Joseph and other are older boys, and so that has me doubly wary. My son “tells” as he has been taught to do. It may sound like we are raising a snitch, which we are to an extent, but when he fights back, he does so in a rather uncompromising way, having finally lost all patience with the party who has wronged him, and worst of all, in the full viewing audience of the other teachers. Rather than have that, we thought it best to let the authorities do their job. This morning, my son suggested that he could “kick him in the balls”, which is, in one sense, a fine idea, but I had to tell him that to do that would get him into a whole different arena of dirty fighting, one whose doors were better left closed forever.
So, it leaves me and my wife in an interesting dilemma. I realize that kids of both genders are the human equivalent of lizards: they are territorial, they are crafty, they are jealous, they are essentially evil, and they will go after one another with a force equaled only by nature herself (and yes, they tend to urinate in strange areas). Despite the fact that I know my son is involved somewhere, I am also surprised just by how much I want to smack this Joseph and Company around.
I completely feel like I am back in the playground myself, only now it’s payback time and I have, just by chance, been given a rare gift: I’m pissed (not in the English sense, but that could work too), I am big, and I am mean. This little shit has harmed one of mine and he will pay, not only for this crime but for anything and everything bad that has ever happened to me or to someone I love! I do realize that poor Joe and his mate have taken on the mantel of responsibility for things they are unlikely to understand for a long, long time. And so, I return to sanity.
I write a letter. I remain rational. I explain things as articulately as I can, hoping this problem will get resolved in a civilized manner, and I feel more than slightly disappointed with myself. I am the Lizard King, and all I have to offer my son are words, words, words (yes, Hamlet).
Well, the next day things did change. Teachers got involved, talked with the boys, who were aghast that they had done anything wrong (not buying that completely). It is one of their games to go out to the playground and shout rude things to one another; somehow, my son, who doesn’t always have a proper sense of other people’s space, got involved and remained involved until this week past. They would seek him out, in part, because he was a part – sometimes even spitting.
Now I feel even more pathetic, although I remain proud of my primal desire to smite those who harm mine. And yes, my son is on a bit of a power trip with telling – he even told on a friend who took his hat one day, something they were doing to one another and having fun, but suddenly at dinner, the other boy was bad.
So to sum up: all children are demons (and not those cool kinds of daemons from His Dark Materials or the movie The Golden Compass). They will drag you down to the depths of Hell, just because they want something fun to do. In short – they are the living embodiment of every mother’s curse that we will have to endure what we, ourselves, put our parents through. To paraphrase Robin William, performing as Mr. Rogers, I now need to take my medication, because “some days it’s the only way I can tolerate you little shits.”
There was a handful of Older Women in the hall, and I found myself grinning at them inanely as we grabbed our mats and got down to the business of squat-thrusting. My smile said "hello! My name's Joy! I am old too! HAHAHAHA! Gosh, look at these here young 'uns. HAHAHAHA!" ("I am lonely will you please be my friend?!")
So far no takers.
This is a technique that has worked OK for me in America, where you can do something radical like strike up a conversation without fear of being frozen out, although I also had a fabulous possy of other Wobblyish Old Ladies to work out with (hungover. because we'd all been drinking a shitload the night before). I miss those ladies and our 9am 'Cardio Buffet.'
Actually, it's not all bad. I have enlisted a coworker to join me for a Tuesday lunchtime of Pilates as of next week, and me being her boss and everything, she said yes. If I cannot ingratiate myself with natural charm and wit, I am not above abusing my power. And then there's another lady who's agreed to do drinking with me in the foreseeable future, so life ain't bad. But will she squat-thrust?
(and let's give a hand for the Old Man, who will likely become a regular fixture around these here parts, and make them less tumbleweedy. Hoorah!)
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.
Sooo, the house I showed you in the last post was, indeed, like a Tardis. In other words, Dr Who, Daleks, and all and sundry of otherworldly creatures were crammed into the 8 year old boy's bedroom.
[note: one distinct plus of having homeowner there when you visit, is appearance of various kiddiwinks for your bouncing 5 year old to play with. Each house we visited had plastic daleks in it. This was the real clincher for Jack, let me tell you. Screw garden space to kick a ball around in, can we intone Exterminate! Exterminate! in machine-like monotone to our hearts content?]
However, for our needs it was not quite Tardis-like enough. While I am getting used to smaller rooms in Engerland, a 6ft by 6 ft kitchen still makes me want to weep, as does a 7ft by 7ft lounge. Nonetheless, the owner and her kids were sweethearts, and made us feel all the better about moving to that area (where? small town in the Peak District)
But there are Tardis's out there.! I present Exhibit B:
Looks quite dinky, doesn't it.? WELL, inside lurks a lounge like this:
And a kitchen like this:
We're quite smitten...
Downside -- that kitchen is on a lower floor to the main living area. Too much of a pain with a toddler? [Plus side: Whole cellar room to expand this kitchen to double it's size and make into attractive kitchen/diner/living area...]
Downside -- rather small garden, with stream running through it. Gorgeous, but the stream is quite low down, with stone walls on each side-- our kitchen would actually open out onto a bridge that goes over it. [Insert image of toddler falling down into stream, hitting head on stone walls, and...]
[Plus side: Trout! Heron that we saw! ]
This was the very first house we saw, so we're still looking, and trying to weight the options of quaint smallish house with lots of character with tiny garden and no offroad car parking, OR larger house with offroad carparking, nice sized garden, and ZILCH character.
It all feels so foreign. (Well, apart from the guzzling the cheap Chard and watching reality game shows).
I am unsettled this evening. I've vacillated between being overly excited and crushed by impending sense of doom. Once more I am living my life on Rightmove.co.uk, where I whiled many an hour away last summer trying to determine a place to rent for this entire fricking life move thing (sorry to be a stuck record. I am seriously boring myself with it. so. uh. sorry). Renting is all well and good, and thanks to the sage of advice of a few good souls (thanks Lindy) we found ourselves in probably the best possible area for newbies like us. The house is fine, even if the bathroom is a touch rank, and if it was ours... well, Changing Roomss/Trading Places eat your heart out. I have a husband who knows his way around a sander/nail gun/slab of dry wall. (and I, ehem, have good taste in decor) (if you give me a good magazine or summat).
But renting is not owning, and renting feels like biding time. So it's Time to Start Looking. We have secured a mortgage in principle that would buy us a fricking MANSION in our former home town (and MANSIONS for our friends, on US!!!) and tomorrow morning we embark on the first tour. Three in one day. With a five year old and a baby. Are we insane???
I think what has me rattled is the fact that each house will be shown by its owner/inhabitant. In the good ole U.S. of A we get to not deal with the actual homeowner, thankyouverymuch. Just me and my realtor -- true luv! But here, apparently, you have to deal not only with your own hopes and desires as you tour a home, but also those of the desperate sods who are showing you around. It's one thing to comment to the realtor about the living room the size of a pack-and-play, but I know I will gripped to just stroll around saying "ooh!' and "aaah!" and "how luverly!" as I smack my son's hand away from some porcelain object bought in Lourdes. And as someone who's just been through all that with their own home, it's hard not to empathize (update on that: the house is now being rented, with a clause that they will buy within two years. hoorah!) Cold blooded anonymity of American Capitalism, how I miss thee! (on this occasion)
(How about that Obama, eh?)
(p.s. UK Politics? Sucking serious ass right now. booorrrrring... When I left this country I was an ardent Labour Supporter. Gordon Brown? Gordon Bennett!)
Oh, and the other reason this house-hunting has me rattled is because I am still in quite a bit of denial over what it is we have actually done here with this little ole move and everything (is it time to just laugh this whole thing off and go home yet? no? well fuck y'then.)
This is one of them. The houses we're creeping over tomorrow. It looks quaint. I fear it is like a TARDIS but in reverse (for the uninitiated, just google tardis. but basically it's a time machine that looks much smaller on the outside than within, where it is mega. (fyi: Tardis's are very huge in our house right now, since Jack has become utterly and completely obsessed with Dr Who. Beats Lazytown, so we're in)
I shall report back on whether this is a time machine or not forthwith.
Whenever I look back on 2007, and think about where I was a year ago (answer: In Michigan with one month old baby Sam, healing c-section stitches, and filling up homemade Christmas stockings because my Mummy was in town) I'm blown away by all the changes we have made in our lives. This is mostly good, and this morning when I came into work after a chunk of time off I was really pleased to see my workmates. Frank and I are gearing up for some serious house-hunting, and are aiming to find a place with a nice woodshed where he can get cracking on Bed Frame 2.0., stoke up a wood-burning stove, and drink lots of whiskey/tea. This gives us a sense of excitement, and the British housing market has been polite enough to stop escalating wildly since our arrival (not that this doesn't mean we're like looking at about half a million dollars for a miniature semi somewhere).
Jack has settled into British primary school so so well that he received the plum role of Father Christmas in the school Christmas play, 'A Sack Full of Presents'; a remarkable production that featured not only Santa, but Rudolf, the Sugar Plum Fairy, Toy Soldiers, Mary, Joseph, Three Kings, Shepherds, and a Baby Jesus in a Manger. Yep. After 5+ years of dodging the whole religious issue, one term at a British state school where there is no separation of Church and State, and Jack has got Jesus bad. He has been coming home regaling us with tales of the True meaning of Christmas, and when we let slip that we were well aware of this King of Men dude, he looks at us with disappointed eyes -- you guys where holding OUT on me....
His devout Grandma would have been absolutely delighted. Finally!
I don't feel I can write this entry without noting something else monumental that has happened this last month, even though it feels slightly disrespectful or flippant to do so. A couple of weeks ago Frank and I flew to the states to attend the funeral of his mother. It still doesn't feel real that she has gone, especially as she was always one of those Lazarus types, a tough old bird who became deathly ill and then rallied back to full health. She passed away on December 11th, and we're still reeling from it really--the fact we didn't get to say goodbye, the guilt of being so far away, and having to tell Jack that Grandma has died. Right now we are grateful for the concept of Heaven that has crept into his little imagination.
So Christmas has been interesting. Frantic activity, travelling, eating, more travelling, crying, laughing, the lot. When we came home to our house on December 27th after 2 weeks of being away, it was a relief that it did, at least a little bit, feel like home. But home still feels a million miles away, and when I spoke to one of our dearest friends and neighbors the other day, I couldn't help the floods of tears that came afterwards from the sense of isolation. We miss them all so much.
2007. What. A. Flipping. Year.