Wednesday 25 May 2011

The Great Unknown

I know I act like a big know-it-all most of the time, but there are still a few things (and way more than are included in this post) that baffle me about my new-ish country.  Maybe you can help me figure it all out.

Painful Pumping
I've touched on this before, but why oh why do gas/petrol nozzles not have those little flippy bits that will keep the gas flowing for you without having to hold it the whole time?   Yeah, yeah, I'm sure its a health and safety issue (isn't everything?) and that my pro-flippy latch campaign isn't helped by the fact that it seems California has done away with them, but seriously, my hand hurts after filling the tank!  Is there no health and safety concern for my weak hand muscles?! 

The Placebo Effect
I recently had an appointment to change my birth control pill (sorry if that's a tad TMI) and innocently asked if the new pills would have the week of placebo pills included.  I was shocked when the told me all but two brands of birth control pills in the UK do not have this extra week.  What is this about!? Doesn't everyone know that not taking a pill (sugar or real pill) interrupts the all-important habit of taking the pill at the same time every day and greatly increases the risk of forgetting to take the pill again for the next three weeks?  I asked her why there were no placebos and she told me (I'm so not kidding!) "I guess we're more responsible here."   WTF!?

I wish I had known then that, according to recent reports, there are almost 400,000 unintended pregnancies in the UK every year with 40% ending in abortion.  I'm not saying that the inclusion of placebo pills in birth control pill packs would lower the rate any measurable amount, but I can't seem to understand any argument against them.

Will Work For Tea
Dear Mr. Workman - do you get paid when you come to my house to fix my boiler?  Oh you do??  Then why am I expected to also feed and water you whilst you are WORKING at my house?

Seriously, what is it with this?

 If you've not yet experienced an English workman, let this be a warning to you that you will be expected to be both his client and his wife.  I have no idea where this whole thing started and even less of an idea of why it still is the norm, but much to my displeasure, workmen are supposed to be given tea (and biscuts if you are really nice I guess) while they are working in your home*.  Now, correct me if I am wrong, but a workman drinking tea isn't a workman fixing my boiler, so why on earth would I want to pay someone to drink my tea and create more dishes for me to wash?  We even had a guy from the phone company at our office the other day and he called us out on the fact that we didnt offer him tea (because we were all very busy!) and when he mentioned it, all the ladies in the office jumped up and immediately apologized and frantically made tea. Apologizing for doing your work and leaving a man to do his work?  Really? 

If you really need to be drinking tea instead of working for the hour or two while you are at my house or office, first of all - you have a serious addiction and should probably know that tea stains teeth; and second of all - bring it yourself.

*Yes, I am sure there are some very polite people in America who do this as well, and if thats you, spare me the "I even do this and  I'm American" comments.  Clearly, you are just nicer than me, which lets face it - isnt very difficult.

Thursday 19 May 2011

When British Really is Best

You may not have noticed, but this week is British Tomato Week! (seriously why would you have noticed?)

Apologies to anyone in the British tomato industry, but I can't say I have really noticed the difference between British tomatoes and, well, any other tomato, to be honest. However, this Tomato Week has got me thinking about other British produce that is actually worthy of celebration:


I guess I've always looked positively on strawberries, but I could really take them or leave them... until... I tried a British Strawberry. Absolutely delicious! There are at least 12 varieties of British strawberries and I'm not sure what variety(s) I have eaten, but they are always sweet, perfect firmness and extra extra yummy.

Apparently, strawberries have been grown in Britain since 200BC and were eaten by couples on their wedding day as they were believed to be an aphrodisiac. Oh la la.

Sadly for British strawberry fans, they are usually only in season from June - August. Although this year, due to the very warm April and May, they have come up a bit early and are in stores NOW! I highly suggest you go buy some (be prepared to pay a bit extra for them - its worth it) and try one (or all) of the following enjoyment methods:

Strawberries and Cream
Photo: ITV
Strawberries and Cream - this traditionally British combination is a must-have at many summer time events (think Wimbledon, especially). Don't be surprised when the cream isn't like Cool Whip though - it will be unsweetened, but still quite good. Enjoy with a glass of Cava (don't tell anyone I like it better than Champagne) and if you're feeling extra fancy try this recipe for Brûléed Strawberries and Cream. omgyum.

Eton Mess - this dish, which has been served to the students of Eton College since the 1930s and is traditionally served at Eton's annual cricket game vs. Winchester college, is made up of strawberries, meringue and cream.

Eton Mess
Photo: Guardian
According to Wikipedia "the word mess may refer to the appeerance of the dish or may be used in the sense of "a quantity of food", particularly "a prepared dish of soft food" or "a mixture of ingredients cooked or eaten together". I'm in the mess = messy looking dish camp which is good because it means anyone can make Eton mess. There are no points for presentation on this one and you can't mess it up. Just put some crumbled up meringue in a dish/bowl/cup/your hands/whatever, add some sliced/chopped strawberries and pour cream over. Done. Eat. Yum.

Oh, and remember when we all decided that Surrey is the best? Here's another reason and another British best - The Chalk Ridge Rosé produced at Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking (Surrey) has beaten more than 360 challengers from 21 countries to claim the still rosé gold medal prize in the International Wine Challenge, the world's biggest and most influential wine competition.

Strawberries go nicely with rosé, dont they?


Monday 16 May 2011

Introducing: Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer

Remember when I introduced you to talk show host extraordinaire Jeremy Kyle?   I surely can't have you thinking that British "celebrities" can only be enjoyed on the sofa during weekday mornings! Once you've either got a job or found things other than daytime television to occupy your time, you will need something to watch in the evenings, right? 

May I suggest Relocation, Relocation. It's kind of like House Hunters which you may have watched in America, but is hosted by the Lord and Lady of Real Estate, Phil Spencer and Kirstie Allsopp.

Kirstie - Born 31 August 1971 in London (Hampstead); skipped University and spent some time in India teaching English before focusing on interior design and ultimately moving on to TV work.  Never married (has long term partner) with two children and two step children. 

Phil - Born 11 December 1969  in Kent; was headboy at the uppity Uppingham school, started home finding company that spawned Relocation, Relocation and it's sister show Location, Location, Location; married once (current); two children

Phil and Kirstie
Relationships With Other "Celebrities": None for either of them, I'm afraid.... unless you, like me, think the two of them are having a lurid affair!

Best Scandal: The word "scandal" is a definite stretch with these goody two-shoes. Unfortunately for our gossip hungry eyes, Phil has been extremely successful at keeping his personal life very private. Kirstie, however, has a big mouth and once said that children shouldn't have homework, apparently has chased someone down for throwing litter out of their car and started a minor Twitter feud with another TV presenter over the length of her skirt ("It’s debatable whether that’s a skirt or not – hard to take her seriously," Kirstie said.)  Oh, and her brother is/was "friendly" with Courtney Love. 

That's a Bit Strange: Kirstie's father is former chairman of Christie's (you know, the auction house?) Charles Henry Allsopp otherwise known as 6th Baron Hindlip, which entitles her to use the title "The Honourable Kirstie Allsopp". Fancy fancy!  Also, Kath Kidston is her cousin.

Coming to America?  It doesnt look like it.  Both would struggle on the property side since their knowledge is focused on UK real estate. Although, Phil has been doing a show in Australia, so never say never.

Watch them in action in an "Embarrassing bits" special.

Saturday 14 May 2011

Surely not Surrey

I've always liked Lonely Planet travel guides until the shock and awe of this week's news that they have branded Surrey a "dull" and "uninspiring" county, whilst Manchester has been deemed "truly special". (??)

Come again? 

Surely, Mr Lonely Planet writer David Else, we can't be talking about the same Surrey!  Judging by your ill-informed conclusions, I bet my bottom dollar that you dont have the privilege to live in this charming, lively, beautiful county.  Let me fill you in on a few things you must have missed during your research trips to leafy Surrey ...

Perhaps you have forgotten that Richmond which is home to the expansive Richmond Park, Kew Gardens and the only view iEngland to be protected by an Act of Parliament.  Thats right - the view from Richmond Hill is protected by the Richmond, Ham and Petersham Open Spaces Act to preserve the beauty immortalised in paintings by Sir Joshua Reynolds and J.M.W. Turner, which was once described by Sir Walter Scott as "an unrivalled landscape".... In Surrey. 

View from Richmond Hill
Photo: Mine
Polesden Lacy
Photo: National Trust
Did you somehow miss a visit to Hampton Court Palace, Polesden Lacey and Loseley Park when you did your "research?".  You cannot honestly say that these beautiful buildings are "uninspiring"! 

Have you ever heard of the Magna Carta, Mr Else?  Look it up and you may find that the super important document was signed in Runnymede, just outside Egham in Surrey.  The memorials that are there today were even worth a visit from John F Kennedy!  After a visit to Runnymede, you can drive down the A30 toward Egham and look to your left where you'll see Royal Holloway University.  Not even the most hungover student would call this amazing building "dull". Major photo opportunity! 
Royal Holloway University
Photo: Quadnetics

Because I'm a nice lady, I'll give you some insider information - the best part about Surrey are the lovely, charming villages dotted around the county, especially those in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (you know about those special areas, don't you?).  The villages of  Elstead, Seale, Tilford and Shere are reason enough to visit Surrey.  

Need more? Surrey has the most golf courses of any county in England, the lowest crime rate, the most area of densely wooded land and is home to the likes of Pete Townshend, Dame Judi Dench, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and me!   Now, don't be hatin' Mr. E -  I realise that not everyone is lucky enough to live in Surrey, but everyone (other than you, I'm afraid) is welcome to visit. 

Wednesday 4 May 2011

The "Perfect" Country

I've returned from the Homeland full of Taco Bell, happily looking at my bank statement reflecting the fabulous exchange rate, imagining how "perfect" a country would be if we meshed the US (or Colorado in particular) and England....

The perfect country would have wide roads and high speed limits and gas stations would have the little flippy latchy things that can hold the gas nozzel handle down to save my hand muscles the pain of filling up an empty tank.

After I had a full tank (oh, and everyone would call it gas) I would drive on the left side of the car on the right side of the road to a Target with a large parking lot which would be next to a pub which is next to another pub and a Toby Carvery that sold roast dinners complete with Yorkshire pudding and cheesey creamy dippy appetizers served by overly friendly waitstaff who almost have you convinced that they give a crap about your dinner. 

Don't feel like driving?  No problem - the perfect country would have a fantastic rail network that would take you to all the charming villages, up to the mountains with surprising snow and on nights out that would end in Denny's breakfasts. 

If we got sick, we'd have easy access to Nyquil and Codine, or if we couldnt fix ourselves, we'd be treated by friendly doctors who wouldn't charge us a dime and make us feel like we were worth more than five minutes of their time.  

We'd enjoy over 20 days of vacation without guilt and spend sunny Bank Holidays and Federal Holidays drinking Pimms Slurpees along side ploughman's lunches and Monster Munch in beer gardens that always had table service


Oh yes. It would be perfect. 

PS. Red is US and Blue is England.  Clever, eh?