Tuesday 21 June 2011

Summer Solstice (and something much better)

Today is the Summer Solstice - the longest day of the year, the day the Earth's and the moon's axial tilt is most inclined towards the sun, and the day a select group of people (druids/pagans/whatever they wish to be called) gather to watch the sunrise at Stonehenge.  

Here's some photos of this year's celebration, but truthfully, I really couldn't care less about the Solstice or Stonehenge, I just needed an excuse to tell you about this place that is much much cooler...

Photo: Wikipedia

Behold Carhenge! A Stonehenge "replica" in Alliance, Nebraska built using 38 vintage American cars  painted grey and errected in exactly the same positions as Stonehenge's stones.  Oh and unlike Stonehenge, its absolutely free to visit.

Totally Awesome.

Saturday 18 June 2011

The Next Big Thing

In honour of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012 (a celebration of 60 years on the throne), a current town in the UK will be crowned a city. This may sound a bit odd to those of who not familiar with the idea of city status in the UK, but to the cities who have applied this is a big deal.

As you may know, historically, a place in the UK could only call itself a city if it had a cathedral, but now there are a variety of factors (including, but not limited to population) that determine whether a town can be called a city and city status isn't handed out willy nilly.  There are actually only 66 cities in all of the UK (A full list can be found here).  The newest additions to the City Club are Brighton and Hove, Inverness and Wolverhampton which were given the status in 2000 to mark the new millennium, and Preston, Stirling and Newport which were awarded city status in 2002 for the Queen's Golden Jubilee  In total, only 14 new cities were created during the 20th century.

Twenty-six towns are in the running for the Diamond Jubilee City Upgrade (it's not really called that, but seriously, what else do you call it?) including Chelmsford, Milton Keynes, Coleraine, Perth, Doncaster, Croydon, Bournemouth and Reading.

My money is on Reading - literally.  They are the odds-on favourite according to Paddy Power at 11/2, followed by Doncaster and then Bournemouth.   Wait... Whats that?  You didn't know you could place bets on this kind of thing?  You're telling me you've never been in one of the millions of betting shops you see in every town and probably pass by multiple times a day?   Well, listen up -  I'm not normally one to advocate potentially addictive activities such as gambling, but you really haven't lived until you've placed a bet on the colour of the Queen's hat at her next public appearance or the nationality of the next Pope.   

But back to this city thing - what will the winner get?  Well... nothing really, except I suppose they could do a "nanny nanny boo boo" dance in front of the lowly towns, and probably more importantly, I think they can then have a city council which gives them a bit more power which apparently can even usurp the power of the county council (surely another reason to do a "nanny nanny boo boo dance"!).

Go Reading!

Friday 17 June 2011

Mythbusting: Royal Ascot is Posh

I went to Royal Ascot last year and I think if I'm honest, I expected something very high brow, very proper and very British. What I experienced was indeed very British, but to say it was proper or posh would be a lie.  I'm sorry to any of you who think otherwise, but unless you are in the Royal Enclosure, the truth is that Royal Ascot (even in the Grandstand) is a glorified piss up.  It's usually good fun and the best reason to buy a new dress and head piece of your choice, but posh it is not.

I didn't go this year, which is probably for the best because a) it rained heavily the morning of Ladies Day and that would have totally ruined my hair and b) THIS happened:

Royal Ascot Brawl
Photo: Daily Mail
I'll leave it to the Daily Mail to fill you in on all the details, but basically some drunken hooligans got in a huge fight, at least one person was arrested for Class B drug possession and the organizers of the event have introduced a "drug honesty box", asking racegoers to deposit their drugs in said box before entering the gates.  Yes, seriously.

Sure, there's a dress code, so most people are dressed in their best (a highly subjective term), and the Queen is usually there, but contrary to popular belief, it is not an event reserved for the poshest of the posh. 

I think an older gentleman I met at last year's Ladies Day summed it up best when he glanced at the woman next to us with her orange skin and poorly fitting dress, shoving a sausage in her mouth and said "its true what they say - you can't polish a turd". 

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Scampi vs. scampi

I am sure there is some psychological term for this, but ever since I heard the news that there is a looming scampi shortage, all I want is scampi; and lots of it.  

As I was munching on some last night, I remembered the first time I ordered scampi in England and thought I might be kind enough to save any other American newcomers the potential confusion. 

When most Americans think of scampi, they probably envision a heavenly dish of shrimp/prawn in a cholesterol busting garlic butter sauce maybe with some white wine and possibly served over some pasta or with a hunk of bread to soak up all the buttery goodness.   This is what I wanted when I ordered scampi in a pub (ok, it was a Harvester restaurant if I'm honest, and probably an early bird special if I'm really honest):  
American Scampi; Photo: Jon Sullivan

Talk about a school girl error!   This is what I ended up with:  

British Scampi; Photo: FishFanatics
British scampi are equally delicious, breaded, fried, fishy bits... maybe sort of comparable to large popcorn shrimp, but they arent shrimp at all.  British scampi is supposed to be meat from the tail of the Norway Lobster (sometimes called a langoustine) and if you see it sold as "whole tail scampi", this should be what you get, but otherwise it could be any form of breaded and fried fish/shellfish chunks.  Tip: Stick to the whole tail stuff if you can. They are usually served with chips (french fries) and peas if you are unlucky enough to not get a substitute (I hate peas!). Dip them in tartar sauce and they are tasty tasty! 

Do you think I can clear out enough space in my freezer to stock up on scampi to get me through the pending shortage!?

Thursday 9 June 2011

Introducing: Prince Philip

So, he's not exactly an obscure pseudo celebrity as the other people featured in my Introducing series, but on this day before his 90th birthday, what do you actually know about Prince Phillip? 

Photo: Daily Mail
Vitals: Official title - Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.  He was born 10 June 1921 in Greece as Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, but does not consider himself Greek (he says he's Danish) probably because his family was exiled from Greece following the Greco-Turkish war.  Philip spent his early years in France and attended an American school in Paris before being sent to England at the age of seven.   

Relationships With Other "Celebrities": You may know his wife, The Queen of England.  They've been married for 64(!) years and have four children... You may know them too - Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward.   In order to marry Liz, Philip denounced his Greek and Danish titles, converted to Anglicanism and naturalised as a British citizen. He also adopted the surname Mountbatten from his maternal grandparents.  (learn more about royal surnames here)

Best Scandal: He has a bit of a loose tongue, to put it mildly.  I'll let the Daily Mail recap some of his best gaffes.  Don't skip this bit!  Trust me.

That's a Bit Strange: Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip are actually third cousins through Queen Victoria.

Coming to America?  Somehow I doubt it.

Happy Birthday Old Chap!

Monday 6 June 2011

The ____-est villages

We spent a bit of time in the Cotswolds recently and came across a village with a strange claim to fame....
Photo: Jon Le-Bon
In true LadyLiberty fashion, I failed to take a photo of this sign, so am left with a watermarked one that clearly belongs to someone else, but as you can see, Brinkworth in Wiltshire is the longest village in England!* Who knew? We took a drive through to see what all the fuss was about and left disappointed - it certainly didn't seem any longer than any other village I've ever been (its supposed to be six miles long), but I'll take their word for it.  

Perhaps more interestingly, this got me thinking - what other ____-est villages are out there? 

Longest Name
The village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch in Wales has the longest name of any place in Europe.  Wikipedia can give you a pronunciation and a lot more info if you are interested.

Largest Village
Since there is no official definition of what is a village vs what is a town, there is stiff competition for the title of largest village in England.  It would appear that the two front runners are Kidlington (pop. 15,000) in Oxfordshire and  Ecclesfield (pop 31,000) in South Yorkshire.  Both have never taken on a town charter and are still run by a parish council rather than a town council so technically they can still be called villages, BUT Ecclesfield is actually a suburb of Sheffield, so I am going to disqualify it and give the title of Largest Village in England to Kidlington.  Congratulations Kidlington-ites!

Smallest Village
St John The Baptist Chuch, Ault Hucknall
Photo: Geograph
Again, we've got a bit of competition here and more semantic game play since just as there is no definition of when a village is a town, there is also no definition of when a hamlet becomes a village.   I'm somewhat reluctantly giving the title to Ault Hucknall in Derbyshire which apparently has only four dwellings and a church.  Depending on who you ask, it is because the village has a church that is can be considered a village, although to be totally happy with this distinction, I'd ideally prefer it to have a pub before calling it a village. 

Wettest Village
According to the Met Office, the village of Glenfinnan in the Scottish Higlands is the wettest village in the UK (and the third wettest place).  This village located on the edge of Loch Shiel recieves an average annual rainfall of 118.98 inches.  Oh and if you like that show Highlander, you may be interested to know that Connor and Duncan MacLeod (whoever they are) were both supposedly born in Glenfinnian.

Friendliest Village
In 2008, some researchers from Sheffield University named the village of Bramhall, near Manchester, the friendliest spot in the UK.  According to their report, they "found very little evidence of community division or people feeling isolated".  Conversely, the report named Edinburgh as the place with the weakest communities, followed closely by Headingley in Leeds, the Hyde Park area of London and the university area of Cardiff.

*There is some debate about this as a few other places claim to be the longest village in England

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Olympic Ticket Trials

If you don't live in the England (or maybe you've just been living under a rock somewhere) you may not know that today was the last day for people to find out if they have been allocated tickets for the 2012 Olympics.

Back in April, residents of the UK were given the opportunity to enter a ballot for tickets for all Olympic events.  We were asked to request all the tickets we'd like, but were not promised any at the time of the request.  Starting in May until midnight this morning,  ticket buyers' credit cards were charged for the tickets they were allocated, but were not told what tickets they'd just paid for. 

My card has been charged for a fraction of the amount of the (mystery) tickets I requested, which is wonderful because apparently 250,000 people who entered the ballot have not been allocated any tickets at all.  Those who have come up empty handed include London Mayor Boris Johnson and some even some family members of competing British athletes.

On the other hand, some people were a bit luckier...or unluckier (is that word?) depending on how you look at it.  Case in point - Steven Hunt - the gentleman who requested £36,000 worth of tickets back in April, expecting to be allocated a very small amount, but ended up with £11,000 worth of mystery tickets! Woopsie.  Let's hope he has a lot of patience for crowds and really enjoys listening to random national anthems.

Don't worry though if you didn't snag any Olympic tickets of your own, anyone who entered the ballot and was not successful will apparently be sent an email containing details of a second chance purchasing opportunity.  

422 days and counting...