Monthly Archives: March 2011

Time Conundrum

A small thought for today: it’s funny how a verbal tic can completely confuse someone from another culture. I refer, in this case, to my tendency, when asked the time, to reply (in appropriate circumstances) that it is: “Half nine”.

I’ve never thought anything of it – obviously, because it’s either something Englishers in general tend to do, or it’s a regional thing that other Englishers tend to comprehend. Over here, however, the looks you get in response tend to err towards the blank.

I first encountered it a few days before our wedding, when the females of the family species treated me to a girls’ night. Someone asked me what time the table had been booked for, I replied: “Half six, I think,” and I was then totally baffled by the hilarity I’d caused – to the point that I couldn’t work out what I was being asked to repeat.

To be fair, it’s a valid response. My brother told me a story of his own time-tic American encounter, which went something like this:

Unidentified American: Hi there, do you know what time it is?
Brother: It’s half two.
Unidentified American: *blank look* So… one?

Good bit of logic, there, but no, it’s not, it’s 2.30. Sorry, our bad.


Anniversary Learnings

As of today, we have been married for six months – how quickly time has flown. So what have I learned in this time?


1) It is not as much fun shouting “HATCH” when you see an upward-opening car door as it is shouting “THATCH” when driving through the English countryside. It is, however, easier to drive through smaller settlements without going hoarse.

2) Not having to take buses, trains and the Underground everywhere is its own form of bliss.

3) Certain members of local society are unable to resist staring at me, presumably in case I grow an alien head and eat them when they turn their backs.

4) You can get extra scoops of ice cream if you have an English accent. You cannot, however, get anyone in Walmart to understand what it is you need. Swings and roundabouts.

5) It helps to have a translator available when talking to those unused to one’s accent. I have the good fortune to possess a husband who immediately jumps in with, “She means two weeks,” when I accidentally use the word ‘fortnight’. This has the added benefit of making me seem important and exotic.

6) Winter is not nearly so unpleasant when the sun shines onto the snow. Conversely, my umbrella now cries itself to sleep in the drawer, assuming I no longer love it.

7) My editorial training is deeply ingrained, making a mountain out of every US English-based writing molehill. All documents must be triple checked for the purpose of adding commas where I do not think there should be any.

8 ) Cereal aisles are still terrifyingly incomprehensible. Doughnut aisles are not.

9) I have work to do on my telephone etiquette. Thanks to my terribly English phone voice, my sister-in-law has literally no idea what I am saying to her. She is mortified by this, I am amused by my own ineptitude. Not only that, I don’t seem to be able to grasp the correct greeting/goodbye process and am often left wondering why I have not been allowed to go away yet.

10) PED XING means ‘Pedestrian Crossing’. Obviously.

11) It is not possible to get away with a fake fur coat from New Look and a thicker pair of socks during blizzards. It is, however, inadvisable to request help from one’s father-in-law, who will punish your lack of foresight by making you wear a giant babygrow.

12) For all that I miss my family and my friends (and Bisto gravy), it’s an honour to be able to call this place home.

Flip It Like It’s Hot

Today, in England, is Pancake Day, known to those more pious than myself as Shrove Tuesday. It is a day that all British people look forward to, on the basis that, thanks to tradition – in which they were originally cooked to clear out the pantry, to make way for Lent – it is now required by law to stuff one’s face with pancakes, topped with lemon and sugar, until they come out of your nose.

I did not make this pancake; legendary British chef Delia Smith did. Mine were, obviously, much better.

I have continued said tradition, despite my lack of proximity, by attempting to kill my husband with liberal pancake application. I was kinder to Mum-in-law, but still made her join in. These are not American-style pancakes, incidentally: an English pancake is what is generally known over here as a crêpe. (Even though it is not a crêpe, which is French, bigger and even thinner.)

It wasn’t my best batch of pancakes, largely because the hob I use won’t get hot enough for the necessary quick cook. However, I am proud to report that I have not lost my touch and can still flip them like a pro. Several times a pancake, when I’m feeling feisty. I’ve come a long way from my days in the Brownie Guides, at the age of eight, trying to cook them over a camping stove in the car park and wondering why we kept ending up with balls of goo.

The best pancake I ever made, incidentally, was the one that I flipped straight onto Willis’s cleavage. But that’s another story.

Treats From Small Children

Biscuits provided by small people: why have we not picked up this trend in England? It’s genius: fabulous niece calls (via Motherly Metatron) and offers cookies for sale, offer is accepted, cookies then arrive, cookies are consumed in an extreme hurry, small people around the country are aided by our greed.

The cat was suspicious at first.

Unfortunately, I will not be partaking in the cookie goodness. Hubby ordered 3 boxes for himself and 1 for me and, unfortunately, I don’t like cranberry biscuits. What possessed him to choose dried fruit for a chocaholic I cannot begin to imagine*, but the thought was, at least, there.

It didn't last. Snuggling biscuits is, I feel, an appropriate response.

The Thin Mints look marvellous, as do the Peanut Butter Patties (both, you will note, chocolate-based), but I have been ordered to “keep my shithooks off the goodies”.

Ah well, maybe next year.

*I do know the answer to this, come to think of it: it was because he ate the ones he bought for me to try last year.

Blogger Challenge: My Life in Books

I have been ordered by my brain twin, Pignut, to pick up a challenge that’s doing the rounds of the blogosphere. The idea is to choose five books that have had profound influences on your life: one from childhood, one from your teenage years, two from adulthood and a guilty pleasure.

Two of our four bookshelves. The one in the foreground has two layers of books.

Not an easy challenge when reading is one’s most-loved pastime. I owned more than a thousand books before moving to America, not to mention the hundreds I’ve borrowed, nicked, Kindled and lost. I have so many favourites it’s taken me a week to convince myself not to just list them all; I have, however, finally managed to pick my five.

The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark

It was a toss-up for favourite childhood book between this and Black Beauty, which I’d read about six times by the time I was five. I can’t quite put my finger on any particular influence it had on me though, other than a love of horses and a long-standing confusion as to how an ostler could have lasted five years without a drink. Surely he was really bloody thirsty by the end. The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark, on the other hand, was an almost constant companion during my formative years. It’s about Plop, an owl who is, as the title suggests, a bit iffy about night-time, and his long-suffering parents’ attempts to enlighten him.

On his nightly adventures, he meets various other characters who show him positive aspects of the dark, such as fireworks, camping and astronomy. I found it endlessly funny and profoundly comforting – and it’s probably the reason I became a bit nocturnal. These days it seems only to be available in picture book form, which is a shame because most of the lovable text is missing.

The Lord of the Rings

I first read this when I was quite young but, much like Joey from Friends putting books in the freezer, I was so upset by Shelob that I weepingly gave it to my mum to look after. It wasn’t until my teenage years that I began to appreciate the sheer depth of its wonders, and it remains my favourite book to this day. It has inspired me to imagine and attempt to realise my own worlds, and the stories within them, and ignited a general love of fantasy that has influenced my reading choices ever since.

My proud display of Tolkien hoarding

Such is my appreciation, and also Hubby’s, that, between us, we own seven different copies of the trilogy. The fact that Peter Jackson’s dabblings in Middle Earth are also my favourite movies does nothing to hurt.

American Gods

Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors; if you have not yet read his books, you may perhaps have seen adaptions of his work in Stardust and Mirrormask. Endlessly inventive and two sidesteps from the norm in terms of style, his books take you to worlds you’d never thought to imagine. I also have a soft spot for Neverwhere, about a man who gets trapped in an alternative London where Earl’s Court tube station is literally the court of an earl and The Angel, Islington is literally an angel, living near Islington. Good Omens, which he wrote with Terry Pratchett, is arguably the book I should have chosen as far as life influence is concerned; it was, after all, in response to my blogging of a passage from it that Hubby and I first spoke.


But, for good or for worse, American Gods is the first I read and the first time I was dragged into Gaiman’s mad genius mind. The premise is that gods and mythological creatures only exist because people believe in them, and the book focuses on the old-world gods that immigrants to the US brought with them. Because belief has declined radically since that time, the gods, too, have diminished. And they’re not particularly happy about it.

World War Z

Less a book about zombies and more an examination of psychology, sociology, geopolitics and the general human condition, World War Z uses the concept of a worldwide zombie outbreak as the backdrop for a thought-provoking examination of how humans really would react in such a life-or-death situation. It’s told as a series of interviews, each with a different survivor, each one with their own experience of the outbreak. Some of the behaviour exhibited by individuals, officials and whole governments is utterly reprehensible, but in all cases understandable, and gives the shining moments of heroism, no matter how tiny, even more impact.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone with a passing interest in humanity’s foibles. Ignore the zombies, if they aren’t your thing – it’s not that hard to do, because they are secondary, at best. The horror comes from actions of their prey, making this a social commentary that hits the mark on every level. It was suggested as something I might like several years ago by Sparky Malarkey and, since then, I’ve read it several times and we often listen to the audio book on long road trips.

The Farseer Trilogy/The Tawny Man Trilogy

A bit of a cheat wrapping six books up in one, I know, but you can’t really have one without the rest. It’s also only a guilty pleasure if you’re a bit sniffy about fantasy novels, which I know a lot of people are.

It is, however, the best written piece of fantasy I have ever come across, aside from, of course, Tolkien. Unlike the majority of authors within the genre, Robin Hobb refuses to rely on the traditional bestiary dreamed up by Tolkien and invents an entire culture without a single reference to orcs and cave trolls. Her concepts of magic and race are a far cry from the norm and her story is unique. The books are each the size of doorsteps, but I devoured them within a couple of weeks. Admittedly, I stayed up till about 4am to do so.

(Honourable Mention: The Other Hand

I’m sneaking this one in because I only read it a couple of months ago and its influence is therefore new. Written by Chris Cleave, it’s the tale of a London journalist and a refugee from Nigeria – and that’s all I will say about it, for fear of ruining its impact.

What I will say, however, is that it is incredibly touching and beautifully written and there are sentences in that book that will stay with you forever. It will also make you cry, several times.)


And in summary…

The books I love best, as you can see, are the ones that pull me into a world that’s not my own, one where I can lose myself in mythologies, cultures and ideas. I’m not entirely sure what that says about me, other than that I sort of wish I was a wizard.

Boxing Houdinis

My morning meanderings were interrupted today by a request from Mum-in-law: with heaven only knows what trickery, the dogs had managed to escape their kennel. One had wandered up to Nan-in-law’s house, the other, as became clear from a glance out the window, was happily trotting in circles, sniffing the snow.

Left dog (Molly): Up at Nan's. Right dog (Carmen): Happy circles in the snow.

Before I moved here, my pet ownership experiences were sadly limited. My grandparents had a Yorkshire Toy Terrier (which is not really a dog) but living in London, in rented accomodation, put paid to the idea of my own dog or cat – and the critters I owned when I was little don’t count. My rabbit went mad, was given to a local animal park that had a warren and, when we went to visit, had killed off all its colleagues. My fish were neither furry nor huggable and my brother’s guinea pig just sat in the garden being big.

Joining a household with so many animal inhabitants was one of the many pleasures of my Wyoming exodus – largely because these ones are so full of personality and bounce. A little too much bounce, in today’s case; my task for the morning was to round them up and get them back indoors.

Previous escape attempt.

Carmen was easy to catch up with: offer her a cuddle and a bit of attention and she’s yours for the taking. Her closest animal relative is Eeyore; she likes to make out as if nary a soul has petted her in all these long years. Were she able to speak, her doe-eyed catchphrase would be: “Thanks for noticing me”.

Molly, on the other hand, is the most enthusiastic dog I have ever met. Literally everything excites her; she can generally be found sniffing, digging, plotting or thieving rags from Dad-in-law’s back pocket. Her victory list of bowled-over visitors encompasses children, adults and unwitting Englishwomen.

Our dog, Maggie: Princess, darling, general ball of adorable.

Apparently, part ownership in a pooch has honed my dog herding skills. I clocked Molly’s ears bouncing over the snow line, called her name in my most masterful tone, watched her screech to a halt and discovered she was still interested in the concept of bowling me over. She had a 100-foot run-up. I watched that jubilant boxer hurtle towards me and couldn’t work out whether to fling myself to the floor or leg it for the hills. There wasn’t time to decide but, thankfully, a small sidestep prevented the bum-on-snow she’d intended. All that remained was to bounce her towards the house.

That’s now two dogs and a Tasmanian-Devil-in-disguise that will mind me. Anyone know how to achieve the same effect on a slightly bitey kitten?