Category Archives: British Foibles

The Day I Was Nearly Murdered (and then definitely wasn’t)

I’m not generally prone to panic. On the other hand, I am English and should not be placed in the vicinity of firearms without a very good reason. Because, this:

Englishwoman with a gun

In case it isn’t immediately obvious from the ineptitude of every Englishman ever depicted on film with his pistol pointed in the wrong direction (which is all of them), we’re not very good with guns. We haven’t got any, you see. To the English, a gun is a mythological weapon used in times of national emergency, such as when faced with terrorism or aliens. These are the only conceivable situations in which you should place a working firearm in the hands of a Brit, unless you want someone’s foot to be shot off.

Nope, the state of being best described as “Being Near Me With A Gun” is not one to be undertaken lightly. As far as I’m concerned, an unknown man prowling through the trees in one’s back yard while carrying a rifle does not count as a good reason to Be Near Me With A Gun and will do nothing but provoke anguish, distress and overreaction.

One cannot simply wander outside and demand an explanation under these circumstances, because the answer to, “What are you hunting?” will almost certainly be, “You”. Hopping from foot to foot while staring through each window in turn proved equally unhelpful, so I decided to gather photographic evidence of my murderer to help out the police in the wake of my inevitable demise (because our Police Chief is lovely and I wouldn’t want to cause him too much extra work).

Unknown man's truck

I immediately hit an unforeseen problem: no zoom on my camera phone and absolutely no possibility of being stupid enough to go outside. I think you’ll agree it’s a pretty ominous partly-hidden truck, though.

Next idea: call the husband. Scuppered by recorded message with no interest in predicament. Stage three panic imminent, I sent Mom-in-Law a nonchalant text, casually enquiring as to whether she knew of a reasonable explanation for there being a prowly man with a rifle outside the window. “Nope,” came the reply. “I’m on my way.”

There is one thing in this world more terrifying than a gun: a mother defending her own. I continued to hide bravely until her car appeared on the horizon, an angry dust cloud in its wake, ready and prepared to cut off the murderer’s path of escape. My heart swelled with relief to see the ominous green truck chased away, its proverbial tail between its legs. The day was saved, the damsel rescued, the murderer full of regret.

Anti-climactic addendum: it wasn’t a murderer, just a game warden. He was apparently searching for an injured deer by utilising his years of training in being unnecessarily frightening. And so, the moral to today’s tale of Almost Murder is as follows: when dealing with your easily spooked English guests, please be sure to leave your shotgun in the car. You really don’t want the rescue team alerted.


All Together Now: Poh-tay-toh

For the third time since we reappeared from the other side of the pond, Hubby was last night accused of having developed “a bit of an accent”. Not just any old accent, either: he’s rolling his vowels and curling his r’s like a proper southern yokel.

A yokel, yesterday

I know why it’s happened: he spent (another) fortnight immersed in the joyous surrounds of Southern England, where the accent is more pervasive than I ever thought possible. I didn’t realise I had a Dorset twang, rather than the posh totty BBC English voice with which I always imagined myself to be speaking, until I heard a recent recording of myself. It was a distressing moment, during which I was forced to come to terms with the fact that I do not have the dulcet tones required of a Radio 4 presenter, and that my yokel-ness has, if anything, strengthened since I left the country.

Furthermore, we’ve developed an addiction to Doc Martin since we returned home. If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s about an incredibly grumpy London surgeon who develops a fear of blood and is forced to demote himself to GP for a West Country village. It’s full of delightful accents and adorable old people.

Near some yokels, yesterday

We’ve also been avidly watching Downton Abbey, now available (thank the heavens) on Netflix, which explains why he’s dropping such phrases as “ship-shape in Bristol fashion” into everyday conversation. This is not a saying that ever made it over the oceans and is only going to confuse his fellow countrymen.

Interesting fact for the day (courtesy of my informational powerhouse of a father): the phrase refers to Bristol harbour, which has been one of England’s most important ports for a thousand years. The port is up the River Avon and has one of the most variable tides in the world, changing daily by up to 30m, and, when the tide is low, ships tend to get a bit beached. Consequently, until the Floating Harbour was invented, ships using the port needed to be well-made and sturdy and their cargo had to be securely stowed.

Hubby’s opinion of the matter is that he’s leeching my accent from me, to be helpful. A couple more trips back to England and he’ll be wearing a flatcap and wittering about poh-tay-tohs, and I’ll be calling everyone sons of bitches and forgetting how to make a cup of tea.

So is it mainly fairies and princesses?

Yesterday we celebrated our fourth Christmas of the year. An excessive number by any cultural standard, but in our case they were a necessary evil: we spent the actual day in England, with my familial bits and pieces, which meant that we were legally required to repeat the process with Hubby’s matching set upon our return.

We had no choice but to also schedule in our own, private Christmas morning, because otherwise we couldn’t have dedicated a morning to the celebration of toys and candy, and, yesterday, we started all over again with my sister-in-law and her family.

This particular branch of my new hoarde of family members includes my 7-year-old niece, of whom I am uncompromisingly fond. We found some excellent gifts for her while we were in England, but nothing to compare to the goodie bag my mother put together. One suspects she is yearning for grandchildren.

A vial of fairy dust, Disney princess eau de toilette, a tiara emblazoned with the word “Princess”, a crown pendant on a golden necklace, bubbles with fairy artwork on the bottle… these, and many more, were stuffed lovingly into her gift bag. It was awesome, and I was inappropriately jealous.

Several hours after opening her presents, my niece wandered over to me, tiara a bit cock-eyed and eye-wateringly overscented with child-friendly perfume. “So, in England,” she enquired, matter-of-factly, “Is it mainly fairies and princesses?”

“Kate Middleton and Graham Norton,” whispered my husband, without missing a beat, and, for a moment there, my pride in his cultural immersion almost overwhelmed his point.

“Yes,” I replied, upon consideration. “In England, that’s almost all we have.”

Candy for Armadillos

It’s that naming thing again – it gets me every time. Hubby bought me a candy-making book for Christmas and I have been dutifully churning out nougat and truffles ever since. Last week I made “caramels”, the end result of which foxed me because they tasted like the chocolate-covered toffees you get in Cadbury’s Roses. Caramel, which, to me, ought to be runny enough to end up on your chin, appears to be the consistency of toffee over here.

Yesterday, I made “toffee”. It’s not, it’s a Dime Bar. Perhaps I’ve been mislabelling my snacks all this time, but I was expecting a chewy delight that stretched out about a metre when I tried to take a bite. This toffee is crunchy and buttery and really very good, but it really isn’t what I was expecting. Fortunately, it’s precisely what Hubby was expecting and I’ve had to hide the tin to stop him eating the whole lot at once.

Oh, and, for those unfamiliar with Dime Bars (“Smooth on the outside, crunchy on the inside” – or, as Pignut so eloquently put it, “Hard toffee… like toffee that just woke up from an erotic dream”), they are a lot like Heath Bars, apparently, or Skor (but without the nasty Hershey’s coating. I’m sorry, but Hershey’s tastes like feet). They were advertised during my formative years by comedian Harry Enfield, who claimed not to like them, instead preferring: “Armadillos! Crunchy on the outside, smooth on the inside”. Genius, but Hubby does have a point when he says UK advertising is a bit mind-boggling.

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.

Betraying My Homeland

In the land that saw me birthed, it is generally regarded as a sin to mix sweet foods with savoury. We do have the odd few exceptions, such as cranberry with turkey, apple with pork and pineapple with gammon, not to mention ham and pineapple pizzas, but, as a general rule, the eyes of the many would widen in disgust were I to announce what I had for lunch the other day.

Bacon pancakes with a fried egg and maple syrup, presented lovingly by Hubby, who had even fashioned my pancakes into a Mickey-esque shape. Such effort and affection went into this dish that I was forced, for the sake of my marriage, to put aside my natural inclination to gurn.

It was good. Really good. I began by gingerly separating the bacon pancake from the one with the syrup, but that didn’t last long.

I happened to be chatting to two of my UK-based friends at the time, both of whom, when I admitted my enjoyment, were more disgusted with me than the food:

Kitty: You’re letting the whole country down with statements like that.

I have failed my entire culture. On the plus side, I had a really nice lunch.