Was it Sartre or Fred Rogers who once said, “Hell is other people’s children”?

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.”


My Ass Hurts (And Not In A Good Way)

Yes, my ass hurts because 'tis the season of self-flagellation. This time in the form of a tortuous "Bums and Tums" workout class that I have been hauling my dimpled regions to lately. (Well. Twice.) My lunchtime was spent kneeling down on all fours and cocking my leg in a drafty gymn. Oh, and the best part was that all around me were pert under 21s. Lovely.

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!)


Yea, Verily: What I Have Learned Living in England These Past Four Months

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.


Tardis Updates

I promised feedback on the house-hunting, and in an completely uncharacteristic gesture, I am actually keeping that promise and writing this entry. You're dripping with gratitude, I know.

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! ]

Nice, innit?

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.

Any thoughts?


A House-Hunting We Will Go.........

It's Saturday evening and I have just spent the main proportion of the time drinking cheap Chard (procured from Tesco Express, securing me Tesco Club Points, no less) and watching The One and Only -- hosted by Graham Norton. It was a reality game show with competing look-alike folk (Madonna! Rod Stewart! Diana Ross! Sinatra! To name but a few!) who will be on LIVE SHOWS over the next few week, competing for a dream job as LAS VEGAS look-alike tribute act. Well, for many of them, I suppose that beats the pub circuit in Wigan.

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.


Blogging. It's Calorie-Free.

Yet another yawning gap between entries means that there is way way too much to write about, and the urge to put it off becomes all the stronger. Nonetheless, I am not ready to give up the ghost on this blogging thing right now, because tis the season of miserable January and renewed interest in lives of others outside selfish little inner-sanctum returns... Also. If I'm blogging, I'm not helping myself to large portions of stilton, crackers, and chocolate truffles. This is a Good Thing.

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.