Caught in the act: one cat, attempting to stockpile Christmas tree baubles for personal, nefarious use. The war of bauble attrition has begun, and I do not expect to win.
Apparently, America has set an official date for the advent of the Christmas season and made sure to inform all relevant parties, including the weather. I woke up this morning to find my dear husband trundling back and forth carrying large boxes and trailing tinsel, while snowflakes flurried from his beard and festive songs blared from the television. Apparently, it is now Yule.
In England, we’re not really sure when Christmas begins. If you ask the supermarkets, they’ll tell you it’s somewhere around May, when there’s empty space on the shelves where the Easter eggs used to be. If you ask the tellybox advertisers, it’s approximately September, when the first twig of holly sneaks into an ad break. If you ask my family, it’s a vague date in mid-December when the panic shopping begins and someone remembers the tree. If you ask me, it’s about December 19, when I suddenly discover I have once again missed the last day of post and won’t be sending any cards. Again.
Consequently, I’ve always found it quite a challenge to get into the Christmas spirit. There’s a tipping point between ‘far too early’ and ‘too late to do things properly’, a single moment when it feels right to have festive feelings. The rest of the time, I’m not entirely sure if it’s Christmas or not – although I do suffer a vague knot of worry throughout December regarding wrapping paper.
In America, on the other hand, Christmas begins as Thanksgiving ends, making the latter holiday a handy indicator for the former. As soon as you’re done shovelling turkey into your mouth, it’s time to send someone out to the garage to fetch the tree and start checking Amazon for gift-giving bargains, while the snow begins to dutifully fall.
This is a regimen I wholeheartedly approve of: I can now schedule my season, confident in the knowledge I haven’t got it wrong. Although I will inevitably still fail to send out Christmas cards in time.
It also gives the cat a full month to steal all the baubles, a challenge she accepted less than a minute after the tree was finished.
Forgive the recent interruption in your regular scheduled program of nonsense; it can be blamed almost exclusively on the addition of proper television to our household. Where previously we survived on a diet of Netflix and Hulu, we are now the proud owners of 6 million pointless channels and 3 or 4 acceptable ones.
BBC America is, of course, my favourite treat. It’s a little lacking in its Russell Howard and a bit urgent in its Gordon Ramsay (and, inexplicably, Star Trek: The Next Generation), but it does keep the lads from Top Gear on my screen almost 24 hours a day.
I am also an avid fan of the ability to record almost every channel at once. This comes in handy when I can’t work out where in the channel list I’ve ended up and find myself stranded, flopping about like a helpless fish, somewhere between the pay-per-view porn and the mountain of movie channels all showing the same three films.
But what I mostly want to discuss with you people is your advertising. At first I was astonished by the pointy fingers, because in England one is not allowed to call one’s competition names in the pursuit of sales. “We’re better than [insert relevant brand]” is a definite no-no where I hail from, although I’m already sufficiently indoctrinated that I can no longer work out why.
Then I became fascinated by the content of the adverts themselves. My all-time favourite U.S. advertisement was for a Wendy’s fish fillet burger, featuring numerous helicopter shots of icebergs and glaciers, gleaming frostily in the Arctic sunshine. This did not suggest an irresistible taste experience to me; I was, rather, left wondering if fish fillets are cold and a bit crunchy.
I thought nothing could possibly top that advert for absurdity… until this week. It began innocently enough, with various shots of husbands staring lovingly at their wives as they displayed the tics and oddities with which the husbands fell in love in the first place. One wife is startled by a horror movie, for example, while the husband looks on fondly.
I believe the idea of the set-up was to advise us all to keep appreciating the little things about each other, even when many years have passed. A heart-warming sentiment, I think you’ll agree. But then the television began bellowing at me:
“AND THAT’S WHY YOU NEED TO BUY OUR ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION PILLS, SO YOU CAN KEEP APPRECIATING THE LITTLE THINGS.”
I was so surprised, both by the sudden change in direction and by Viagra being advertised on my tellybox – in the middle of the afternoon, to boot – that I burst into a giggling fit that ran unchecked for many minutes. I thought I had seen it all. I had not – but I’ve got 6 million channels now, so I’m sure I will have soon.
I have just discovered that the 100th novel written about Doctor Who, my most favouritist televisual delight, bears a title in happy alignment with this blog. Not so sure what to make of the terrifying poodle, mind you.
This discovery facilitates a neat sidestep to an issue I have only just discovered to be an issue: this blog’s title. Apparently, if my editor is to be believed (and he usually is), a “mad dog” in American slang is someone unlikely to be invited into polite society. Which is most definitely not where I was going when I named this blog.
It also casts certain aspersions upon my poor husband, who, after our dog refused to properly take up the mantle and thanks to the photograph I chose to illustrate the sidebar, has by default taken on the role of the mad dog to my Englishwoman.
I was actually referring to a line from a Noel Coward poem, which reads: “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun”. The poem satirises the unwillingness of the English to adopt the customs of the locals when abroad. More specifically, to stay indoors during the hottest part of the day when visiting the tropical climes of the colonies, back in the days of the British Empire. A bad idea when your bodily systems are adapted to drizzle and two-week summers.
As you might guess, I picked it to highlight my own ineptitude when it comes to learning new tricks. This is something I believe I prove with every step along my American journey, particularly when confronted by peanut butter. Although I suppose it remains open to interpretation whether this makes Hubby the type of mad dog Coward was referring to, or the type my editor disapproves of.
Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun
The Japanese don’t care to, the Chinese wouldn’t dare to
Hindus and Argentines sleep firmly from twelve to one
– Noel Coward, Mad Dogs and Englishmen
What is this, please, and why is it there? What it appears to be, and what it functions as, is an unnecessary gap in a public bathroom door. What it’s doing there is the mystery to me.
I’ve noticed these gaps turning up with alarming regularity in the restrooms of stores, eating places, airports and malls, but I am assured it does not occur in the boys’ equivalent. Which leaves me with several questions, outlined here in ascending order of importance:
1) Is it there to encourage a breeze to circulate? If so, is that a good idea in a public toilet?
2) Is it supposed to provide a view in case we get bored? If so, wouldn’t a nice painting or a puzzle book suffice?
3) Is this perhaps a method to keep women abreast of the length of the queue waiting to relieve itself?
4) Am I missing out on some sort of social phenomenon whereby women are meant to wave at one another on the way for a wee? Have I spent two years being unwittingly rude to my fellow bathroom-goers?
5) Alternatively, is it considered proper etiquette to avert your gaze as you pass each stall? If so, why is there opportunity to see inside in the first place?
6) What is the etiquette once you are ensconced in a stall? Should I be making eye contact with the people wandering by?
7) Most importantly, why just the women’s restrooms? Are we considered a liability to ourselves on the toilet, necessitating viewing holes to make sure we haven’t fallen in?
Perhaps Englishwomen are more shy when it comes to bathroom activities than our transatlantic cousins, or perhaps there’s a rogue builder out there who can’t measure his doors properly. Either way, I have taken to installing an optimistic yet ineffective privacy device to preserve my modesty until someone explains to me why that gap is there and what I’m to do with it:
This week, Hubby and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary. Two years of marriage and not a moment of regret – I’d call that a success, I think. The first time we celebrated an anniversary, I reflected on everything that had changed in my world since moving to the States and the new ways of life I’d been learning; this time around, I bring you a tangible improvement to my impersonation of a proper American wife.
We’re celebrating properly this weekend by allowing outside parties to feed and entertain us, but wanted to do something small to mark the day itself. As contribution to that sentiment, and because I can’t think of many occasions in life that aren’t improved by cake, I decided some baking was in order. And so I made a chocolate brownie cake with peanut butter frosting, with a candle each to blow out. It was delicious – and also the proof of my learnings.
I wasn’t so successful, you see, on the occasion of our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple. I was not yet able to drive and thus unable to sneak a proper gift into the house, so I improvised by making Hubby peanut butter cups, one of his favourite sweet treats. I worked on them tirelessly, patiently painting chocolate into heart shaped moulds, lovingly filling them with creamy peanut butter, excitedly experimenting with grape jelly in one or two.
Hubby was his usual appreciative self. He thanked me, made the appropriate cooing noises and dutifully ate every single peanut butter cup in the tin over the course of the next week. I was proud of my success.
Well, I was proud of my success until I tried one myself… and discovered that you’re meant to mix the peanut butter with icing sugar. You know how peanut butter sticks to the roof of your mouth and is impossible to swallow in large quantities and is more of a savoury treat than a sweet one? The chocolate shell didn’t do a whole lot to offset that unpleasantness.
It was an experience that was testament to my husband’s endless patience and kindness, so you can imagine how relieved I was to discover my peanut butter frosting was absolutely perfect – if anyone’s interested, you mix a cup of peanut butter with a stick of softened butter, stir in two cups of icing/confectioner’s sugar, whisk in individual tablespoons of milk until it’s fluffy and smooth and then lavish whatever small amount is left over on your cake after you’re done “taste testing” it. Just, whatever you do, don’t forget the sugar.
My roving and reporting recently took me to a board meeting from which I would need to drive 30 miles home after the sun had set. Nothing that worried me – I’ve often driven long distances of an evening back in England, why would something so universal as the night time be any different?
I never learn, do I? The small detail I failed to register is that America is a very, very big country with lots and lots and lots of road. Where England only has about a mile and a half of motorway and could afford to light every last inch of it with Olympic torches made of actual gold if it felt like it, the same process would require prohibitive tax dollars and an unthinkable amount of manpower over here.
A country this large also suffers much less from ambient light; this makes stargazing a joy, but doesn’t enhance the experience of night driving. As I hurtled home, desperately seeking the switch that turns the brights on in the vain hope of being able to see more than a foot ahead of the car and wondering how far I’d get before a curve in the road took me by surprise, I appreciated once again just how dark it gets over here.
The only towns within a 60-mile radius were the one I was coming from and the one I was travelling to. Neither are city-sized and you’d be forgiven for not noticing they were there, particularly at night. By contrast, you’re never far from a well lit city as you drive the UK’s roads and the ambient light seldom leaves you behind. Even when the moon is in hiding, you’d be hard pressed to find full darkness anywhere on the island.
Not to mention the sheer number of fellow drivers whose headlights shine along with yours. No matter the time of day, there are far more people on the roads than you see over here, as evidenced by the 15-mile tailbacks that can spring up out of nowhere. This occurs for no more complicated reason than that England is small, and English citizens are many.
We’ve also adorned our roads with these:
They don’t look very impressive during the day, but they’re terribly handy on a country lane at night. Cat’s eyes – so called because they emulate the reflective properties of a cat’s eye when you shine a light into it (but not the bit where the cat bites you on the nose for your insolence) – were invented just before World War II. They’re durable little buggers designed to sink into the road if you drive over them and they vary in colour to show you what bit of road you’re currently travelling.
The US equivalent, called Bott’s Dots, are apparently less durable, don’t sink into the road and aren’t a lot of use in areas where snow removal is a daily task. Wyoming would thus not be a candidate for dotting even if it wouldn’t require a billion or so of them to cover the mileage.
Ambient light, reflective eyeballs, street lights as far as the eye can see. All these things conspire to create a situation where driving on an English night is not much different to driving during an English day: you can still see where you’re aiming for and how many twists and turns you’ll be encountering to get there. If you’re an Englishwoman on the highways of Wyoming, on the other hand, you’d better hope you’ve been eating your carrots.