Category Archives: English Traditions

The First Day of Christmas

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.


The Mad Dog and the Englishwoman: A Concept Revisited

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
But Englishmen 
Detest a
– Noel Coward, Mad Dogs and Englishmen

The gift of tea

I’ve often wondered whether an animal can have a nationality. My dog doesn’t bark in a particularly American accent, nor does my cat show any obvious signs of craving chili dogs. On the other hand, the latter pet has been spotted on numerous occasions, scampering across the carpet with a teabag between her teeth. This is also the cat, I should point out, who steals lettuce leaves on a regular basis and has no interest whatsoever in catnip, so it’s possible she’s not the best example of sanity in the four-legged.

Despite all that, I have become convinced she is at least 50% English, something I assume she has achieved by absorbing my genes through Satanic rituals while I am sleeping. Or possibly by drinking my blood each time she gnaws my ankle when I have the cheek to move my leg across the mattress.

Here is my proof:

Shoe + teabag = shoebag

Several mornings ago, my cat sent me off to work with a carefully prepared gift. At first, I thought it was a very different gift of the ‘accidental poop’ variety, but it turned out to be a damp, used teabag. Most cats bring you mice and squashed spiders, but mine (sort of) understands that no morning should start without a nice cup of tea.

I’d have probably preferred a Twix, mind you.

“You’re welcome.”

Brand New Princess

I’m not sure how I feel about the upcoming royal nuptuals, probably because I’m far enough away that the only news I’m getting about it is… well, a bit odd. Not that UK magazines are any less guilty of dramatising proceedings with secrets, diet tips and general witter, but it’s more distracting when you’re not sure why people are interested in the first place. Mind you, one that I saw on the rack today was busily claiming Princess Di is still alive, crouching in a hole somewhere in Mexico, so perhaps the royal thing is more general interest than I thought.

I’m not sure we’ll get coverage here, which is disappointing, but understandable. However, we also don’t get a day off, which is frankly rude. I’m a self-confessed lover of all things British tradition, no matter how outdated or ridiculous, particularly now I’m half a world away. I never minded paying for the Queen to gallivant about the place because, as far as I’m concerned, she is an ambassador of all that ever made England great (“Look, Philip, I’m a stamp”). And being head of a happy, friendly Commonwealth that includes nearly a third of the world’s population can’t be a bad thing, surely? Either way, I am in a particularly sentimental mood, so bear with me.

It’s not the most exciting royal wedding of my lifetime, I’ll admit. I was just about old enough to be aware of Princess Diana’s pre-Mexico adventures (although, for some reason, I do remember having issues telling the difference between her and my Auntie Lee) and I have a Fergie and Andrew mug somewhere. I even asked Aunt Mary to base my wedding bouquet on the lovely drop one the Mexican fugitive had. But, perhaps due to a lack of proximity, I’m not seeing the requisite amount of pomp and glamour this time. Or perhaps not; I think the above illustration nicely sums up my awareness of the wedding-related mood in the UK, courtesy of Pignut.

Newspaper articles such as this one also do not suggest that people are getting into the spirit of things. Which is a shame, really – they ought to think themselves lucky they’re not too far away to peruse the merchandise shelves. Can I get nice teatowels like these ones here? No I cannot.

Final thought, courtesy of McHappyPants: what is your royal wedding guest name? Start with either Lord or Lady. Your first name is the name of one of your grandparents. Your surname the name of one of your first pets, hyphenated with the name of the street you grew up on.

Mine, rather unfortunately, is Lady Diana Fluff-Durlston.

Happy Easter!

Happy chocolate and bunnies day to all, on every which side of the oceans! I am pleased to report that Easter on this side of the pond did not disappoint, and was as full of face-stuffing and spring cheer as could be wished.

I did note one or two differences, however. Over here, you can buy empty plastic eggs to stuff yourself, and various candies with which to do so. This appears to be the norm, while larger fare tends to come either by itself or with toys. I like this tradition – I chose to fill my eggs with homemade candy and presented a large percentage of the local population with bags filled with white chocolate truffles, milk chocolate truffles, dark chocolate orange truffles, chocolate-covered caramels (which, as previously discussed, is really toffee) and toffee (aka Dime bars).

In England, we seem to have a more rigid idea of what makes a good Easter egg gift. While we do have smaller eggs for hunt purposes, our most popular brands package large hollow eggs with either a small selection of chocolate inside them or, for the larger options, with a few bars of the appropriate candy. Occasionally you’ll get a mug or other random sundry, but toys are limited to the insides of Kinder Eggs (which, for those who’ve never experienced the joy of one, are hollow eggs with a self-assembly toy inside). These eggs are these days shunted onto supermarket shelves as soon the Christmas wrapping paper is packed away.

Hubby, bless him, searched high and low and eventually found an egg-plus-chocolates gift for me. Not only that, it was a Cadbury egg. Not only that, it was full of Mini Eggs, my very favourite Easter treat. And not only that, he topped it off with a dozen mini Creme Eggs, the chocolate I would call my favourite Easter treat had Cadbury not cottoned on to their popularity and made them available for six months of the year, while still fooling us all into thinking they’ll go away soon. My Easter is complete.

Chocolate aside, we had a lovely day in the sunshine with the family, eating delicious roast turkey with all the trimmings and S’Mores by the firepit. This was a novelty for me, as my history of Easter meals is sketchy at best. Mother, who to this day doesn’t quite know what she was thinking, once served rabbit pie. Yes, my mother made me eat the Easter Bunny. And this year, she tells me, she served this:

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.