Monday 19 November 2012

Immigrant Districts of London

With thanks to the Telegraph, here is a visual tour of London's so-called Immigrant Districts.

The "habit" of immigrants moving to areas with a large population of their own nationality is not at all unique to the UK, but interesting nonetheless. 

Does the habit of immigrants living in "immigrant areas" bother anyone other than me? 

Would you want to live in a Little America or {insert your own country here}Town? 

Monday 5 November 2012

Every Country Needs an Excuse for Fireworks...

... and in Britain, its Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night (or day). 

The story goes that on 5 November 1605, a man named Guy Fawkes (and his cronies) tried to blow up the House of Lords in an attempt to assassinate King James I.  Fawkes had 36 barrels of gunpowder that would have surely done the job, but someone tipped off one of the Lords and the men were caught in the act. The people of England were apparently so happy that the King had not been killed, they lit bonfires in celebration.  A few months later, the 'Observance of the 5th of November 1605' act was passed in Parliament and November 5th became an annual public holiday.

And what happened to Guy Fawkes? Eight members of the Gunpowder Plot were captured and eventually sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.  Ouch.

In modern Britain, Bonfire Night is often celebrated with fireworks instead of a bonfire (likely due to health and safety concerns). Some towns and villages will host a public bonfire (and sometimes they will burn a lifesize Guy Fawkes doll thingie) and you do still get the odd person thinking they can manage their own bonfire in their garden or something, but this is usually a pretty bad idea. It likely won't come as a surprise that the London Fire Brigade responded to a call for an out of control bonfire every 10 minutes on last year's bonfire night.  Leave it to the experts folks.

'Guy' burning
Sadly, the tradition of Guy Fawkes/Bonfire Night is being pushed aside by the growing popularity of Halloween.  When I moved here even just three years ago, you could hardly find a pumpkin in a store, much less costumes and cookies and pumpkin shaped cakes and now Halloween is a £300 million business in the UK.

Do your part to keep UK traditions alive - do a search here to see if there are any celebrations around you.  Many will have taken place last weekend, but there are still some to come.

Oh and if you have pets, Bonfire Night (just like Forth of July) can be a scary time - keep them safe and happy!

Wednesday 15 August 2012

Me, Me, Me

Am I the only one who hates blogs that read like diaries?

Sadly, I'm starting to think I am which is why I've gone off blogging for awhile.  I only tell you this because I had an amusing comment left a few weeks ago that said  "Your blog is pretty good, but you suck because you can't be bothered to write more than every now and again. I won't be reading again."  I'm taking it as a compliment because frankly I'm desperate for compliments.

I've done some traveling, I've been to a few Olympic events, had some drinks with a few Royals, got a fancy invite to the exclusive-ish Ivy Club, but really, no one wants to read about me.  Why can't other bloggers figure this out?  Every other blog I "follow" at the moment is so self-absorbed rather than informational, inspirational or even humorous that I really can't be bothered.

Examples?  Here are the two most common.  Surely, you all know blogs like these: 

Dear Diary, 

Today Fred and I woke up at 5:00am to go somewhere. We went there and ate some lunch. {insert detail after mind-numbing detail of your day here}.  Tomorrow we'll go somewhere else. We're so interesting!

Love, Me. 

OR ...

Dear Diary, 

My baby pooped again.  He's so cute.  Here's another photo.

Love, Me

So, to the man who will never read my 'pretty good' blog again because I can't be bothered to write often enough, I do apologise. Maybe you're an awkward sod like me and will understand my backwards protest. I'll try better, but will not resort to writing about my daily activities.  That's what facebook is for. (duh).

Monday 9 July 2012

The Chap Olympiad

Just a quickie to say that I am saddened beyond measure that I have missed the Chap Olympiad. With events such as umbrella jousting and butler racing, and a dress code that requests attendees wear "elegant finery, military wear, formal wear or dandy wear", encourages against any sportswear other than cricket whites and strictly bans demin, I have definetly missed the best event of the social season.

Check out these photos and try to tell me that you don't understand my devestation. Unless, of course, you did attend the Chap Olympiad - then I really want to hear from you!  Tell me all about it!

Friday 22 June 2012

Fried Green Grits and other American "favourites"

Those journalistic geniuses at recently published an article titled 'Favourite foods in the US and why they havent taken off around the world'.  I saw it on a "friend's" Facebook page and refused to click on the basis that anytime anyone makes generalizations about things Americans like, they always get it wrong. Always.  Then another "friend" shared it, then another and I finally took a look.  Turns out, I can answer their question really easily - these "favourite" foods havent taken off outside America because they have hardly taken off IN America. Oh, and they are gross.

What are these American favourites?  

1. Grits. Seriously?!  Who outside a handful of  Southern states actually eats (and enjoys) grits?  I tried them once at an IHOP in Tunica, Mississippi and even after some coaching from a very nice waitress on how to best enjoy them, I couldn't manage it. Yuck!
Grit in Mississippi
2. Root Beer. Yeah, ok. Everyone should probably have a root beer float at least once in their lives, but do people really guzzle cans of root beer anywhere in America? I can't say I've ever known a real fan of root beer.  Maybe I've just been hanging out with the wrong crowd.

3. Scrapple.  Huh? 29 years of life in America, and I've never heard of it. A "favourite" it is not.

4.Cornbread. This is the one exception. Yahoo got something right.  Cornbread is delicious and people are indeed missing out if they haven't tried it.  Luckily for everyone in the UK, you can order it here.  And remember people, cornbread is not just for Thanksgiving and Christmas!

5. Fried Green Tomatoes. Again, unless you are a Southerner (or a major fan of Jessica Tandy) most Americans have probably never tried this "favourite" dish. I ate some in New Orleans once and they were alright, but nothing to write across the pond about. I think the fried Mars Bar has a better chance of making its way out of Scotand and around the world than the fried green tomato.

Thursday 17 May 2012

All that talk about the weather...

If you're new to this "living in the UK" thing (like within the past 6 weeks), you may think that A) it rains every day and the sun never shines and that B) the fact that it's been the wettest spring on record is the only reason British people talk about the weather all.the.time.

Allow me to clear up a few things (and lazily recycle a post from ages ago):

A)  It really doesn't rain all the time - see this old, but popular, post for "proof"

B) Unfortunately, the unusual weather pattern and persistant rain or even the previous drought conditions aren't the reason British people insist on talking about the weather at any opportunity.  This happens all the time, no matter the weather.  My suggestion - learn some meteorology phrases then learn to exhale deeply and say "it's so lovely out there" when the sun shines and roll with the punches.

Oh, and if you are feeling a bit of springtime SAD, the Telegraph has put together a slideshow thingie that basically tells that if you want sunnier days, move to the South. Duh.

Thursday 12 April 2012

Guest Post: How to eat a Full English Breakfast

Absolutely brilliant article which appeared in the Guardian today.  It's long, so I wont copy and paste - just go here and read it.  Well done, Tony Naylor.

 I agree on all points except the following:

  • Drink of choice should be coffee.  As this blog has already determined - tea is gross, with or without a delicious breakfast. 
  • Black Pudding should be banned from all future Full English Breakfasts (and every other meal for that matter).  

Full English for dinner tonight anyone?

Thursday 22 March 2012

Guest Post: Hospitality is just not the forte of the British

Guest Post (ie article stolen from news paper and posted on this blog) time!

Because we've all been thinking it: Come London 2012 time, what the hell is the rest of the world going to think of the infamous British customer service?

Take it away Simon Kelner... 
I was in Manchester last night, on an intensely private matter. Oh, all right, I was at a football match. Anyway, I was staying at the city centre hotel where I am a regular visitor. In the relatively short time I have patronised this establishment, it has changed names – and, I assume, ownership – three times, and in its latest incarnation it went from a hotel with a short, memorable name – just four letters – to one with a cumbersome, Americanised moniker – three words, 18 letters.

But no matter. It is clean, efficient, friendly and good value. There is nothing special about it, apart from the fact that, in my experience, British hotels are generally found wanting in at least one of those four categories. And that's before we even talk about the overheated rooms with windows that don't open, key cards that don't work properly (sorry to be a parody of a grumpy old man, but how I long for the days when you'd check in to a hotel and be given a key that was actually a key), staff who don't understand the meaning of service, and a dining room where everyone talks in a conspiratorial whisper.

It is a truism that comedy works best when it is rooted in reality, so the success of Fawlty Towers was in some part due to the fact that we had all had experience of similar establishments. The truth is, I think, that the British are not very good at the service industry. Servility doesn't come naturally to us.

Compare the way, in America for instance, you are treated at anywhere from a hotel or restaurant to a dry cleaners. My favourite story of the British service industry happened early one morning at Gatwick airport. I was having a cup of tea in one of the terminal's restaurants and I heard raised voices from the serving counter. I looked up to see one of the staff with his arms round a customer's neck, dragging him across the counter. "If you do that once more," he yelled, "I'll [expletive deleted] kill you, you [two expletives deleted]." The customer skulked off, and when I went to pay my bill, I noticed that the member of staff was wearing a badge. It read: "My name is Michael. I'm here to help you."

I remember a conversation several years ago with Tessa Jowell, then a Cabinet minister who had responsibility for tourism, telling me at a Labour Party conference that she'd just had a deputation from British hoteliers wanting government help. She said they might have had a more sympathetic hearing if she hadn't been paying an extortionate amount for a tiny room at a hotel where she was unable to order a cup of tea on room service.

It does make me wonder what visitors who come for the Olympics will make of it. The overcharging, the inefficiency, and the fact that many hotels seem to be run for the convenience of the staff. How many times I've heard that triumphant message, delivered with unfailing good cheer: "Sorry, the kitchen is closed for the evening." Whatever else, don't expect Team GB to qualify for the final of the 100 metres hospitality.

Text courtesy i Paper

Tuesday 20 March 2012

What's with that briefcase?

Tomorrow is Budget Day in the UK, the day where the Chancellor of the Exchequer (the guy who looks after the economy, currently George Osborne) presents the budget plan for the nation to the House of Commons.   I've got a few things to say about what George is expected to announce in the budget, but we'll save that for another day.

More importantly for now, chances are if you live in the UK, you have seen a photo or news clip that looks similar to this:

Have you ever wondered what the deal is with that crappy old briefcase and why the Chancellors always like to show it off? 

It's called the budget box or the Gladstone box.  Basically, its just a briefcase that holds the budget papers, but that old one in the photo above is special because it was used from 1860 by William Ewart Gladstone until 1965 when James Callaghan decided it was time for an upgrade and used a newer but basically identical briefcase.  In 1997 Gordon Brown upgraded the box again, but in 2008 Alistair Darling went back to using the very original box (trying to earn some points with some people maybe?).  George Osborne kept using it when he took over, but has since retired the original 1860 Gladstone box due to its fragility.  Tomorrow, you'll see him with a shiny new briefcase full of budget papers and when you do, you'll know all about the history of the budget box!  You're welcome.

Did you know? 

The Chancellor of the Exchequer is allowed to have an alcoholic drink whilst he presents the budget. This is the only time alcohol is allowed during speeches to Parliament. 

According to Wikipedia, previous Chancellors have opted for whisky (Kenneth Clarke), gin and tonic (Geoffrey Howe), brandy and water (Benjamin Disraeli), spritzer (Nigel Lawson) and sherry and beaten egg (William Gladstone).  Boring old Osborne apparently just has water.  What a waste!

Thursday 8 March 2012

2012 Beyond the Queen Awards!

Disclaimer:  if you are one of those expats who refuses to admit that anything in the UK could ever be as good as anything in America, stop reading now.   You are ineligible to vote in the 2012 Beyond the Queen Awards.

I thought we could play a little game and hand out some awards to either the US option for things or the UK option for things.  Sorry for the terrible explaination, but you'll get it as we go along.

Dominos Pizza.  A favourite in both the US and the UK.  Same logo, same quick service.  Different menu items. And the nominees are....
  • Brooklyn Style Pizza (US)
  • Pasta Breadbowls (US)
  • Deep Dish Pizza (US)
  • Double Decadence Pizza (UK)
  • Tandoori Hot toppings (UK)
  • Veg-a-roma toppings (UK)

Pringles.  Same lovely crunchy snack, same for-some-reason-exciting-canister-rather-than-bag containment method, very different flavours.  And the nominees are...
  • Mexican Layered Dip (US)
  • Loaded Baked Potato (US)
  • Honey Mustard (US)
  • Thai Sweet Chili (UK)
  • Prawn Cocktail (UK)
  • Curry (UK)

Discount "designer" department store type places.   Same double X, different second letter. And the nominees are...
  • TJ Maxx (US)
  • TK Maxx (UK)
Ps.  It appears that TJ and TK are not actually acronyms, but just arbitrary letters. Can anyone verify?

CiderMaybe not a very popular drink in the US, but there are still options.  And the nominees are...
  • Woodchuck (US)
  • Ace (US)
  • Aspall (UK)
  • Stowford Press (UK)

TV show that follows around generally annoying/stupid/spoiled/makeup caked people and passes it off as "entertainment".  Do any of these really deserve an award?  With reservations, the nominees are...
  • Whatever the latest Kardashian show is called (US)
  • Whatever show Snookie is on (US)
  • Real housewives of wherever (US)
  • Desperate Scousewives (UK)
  • Made in Chelsea (UK)
  • The Only Way is Essex (UK)

Intensifying adverb.  When an adjective by itself just wont do.  And the nominees are...
  • Totally  (US ex. "That is totally awesome")
  • Well (UK ex "She is well fit")

    Cast your votes below!

    Friday 2 March 2012

    Please keep your most annoying words over "there".

    I believe I have spoken before about my dislike for some British words - mostly the cutesy shortened words like "brekky" and "pressie", but I am embarrased to say that many of the most absolute cringe worthy words actually come from the homeland. 

    May I take this moment to plead with all British people to not look to America for "trendy" new words and phrases? Words aren't meant to be trendy. If it's trends you're looking for, wear some Gok glasses or something.

    In the same breath/keystroke, may I also beg all expats to make a concious effort to not import such words into the UK?  When you sell your furniture or terminate your apartment lease in America, please leave the following words with the new owners/occupiers:


    Fail. (as a one word sentence)


    I can haz.  Or whatever people say in that strange cat language.

    Any words coined by the idiots on Jersey Shore.


    Ridic. (thanks to T for the "proper" spelling of this non-word)

    It's bad enough that the American public has to hear these words/phrases. Don't you think that those of us who have moved away from America might be spared?  Maybe as a pity gesture for us leaving all of our friends and family (and Target)?  I think we deserve it.

    Monday 23 January 2012

    Ascot Gets Tough on Fashion Crime!

    Remember when I busted the myth that Royal Ascot is posh?   Well, it appears I wasn't the only one who has noticed the drastic decline in standards.  The racecourse has tightened their dress code for the Royal Enclosure (at the Royal meeting), Premier Enclosure (at "regular" meetings) and the Grandstand (at all meetings).

    Royal Ascot: Fascinators have now been banned in the Royal enclosure and those in the Grandstand MUST wear a hat or fascinator (head wear was previously optional).  We now will be spared the dreaded boob fat spill-over because strapless dressed have been banned in the Grandstand (they were never allowed in the Royal enclosure), but unfortunately, they did not go so far as to demand that dresses "are of a modest length" as is required in the Royal enclosure, so we will probably still have to deal with loads of orange cellulite on display. For the men in the Royal enclosure, a morning suit, complete with waistcoat and tie, will be mandatory and cravats have been banned.  A suit and tie will be required for the Grandstand.

    "Regular" Ascot:  Men in the Premier enclosure must wear a jacket a tie, but more casual trousers or even "smart jeans" can be worn in place of the suit trousers. If it is an especially warn day, they will make an announcement that men's jackets can be removed.  Ladies should dress "for a smart occasion" and hats are encouraged, but not mandatory.  In the Grandstand, the standards remain low - basically, you can wear whatever you want, but you may not go bare chested.  Thank god for that.

    The new dress codes were put into effect last weekend when a "regular" meeting was held at Ascot. So, what did they do to the people who didnt meet the dress code?  Turn them away?  Pass them a leaflet explaining the new rules?   Of course not.  They actually tagged the offenders with orange stickers to mark them as a rule breaker!  Secretly, or not so secretly since I'm telling all of you, I think this is awesome, but the stickered racegoers didn't seem to appreciate it.  In true British style, they whinged about their mistreatment and embarrassment and now will be given a refund of their ticket price.  For the record: Ascot officials say they chose to sticker people so that they wouldn't be reprimanded multiple times by different members of staff.

    Photo: Daily Mail Online

    If you're planning a visit to Ascot in the future, the official dress code guidance can be found here.

    Friday 6 January 2012

    British Stuffs Review: Cheese and Onion Filling

    Happy New Year and all of that... Blah blah...

    I really can't spend much time on a New Year's post this year because a) they are boring and usually filled with promises I will never keep and b) I have something much more important to talk about - cheese and onion filling

    Sadly, I don't remember the first time I had a cheese and onion sandwich, although I have a feeling it was at the Co-op by my office for lunch one day in September of 2009, at least we'll say it was. I probably thought it was a bit strange to have grated cheese in a sandwich since all my past cheese sandwich experiences had been either grilled or with sliced cheese. Even if I found it odd, as I am a lover all things cheese, I am certain it didn't take much convincing to get me to try it.
    Cheese and Onion Sandwich
    For those not in the know:  a typical British cheese and onion sandwich is grated cheese (usually red Leicester and British cheddar), finely chopped onion, mayonnaise and sometimes spring onion or chives all mixed together to make a spreadable goop which is spread between two slices of white bread (of course you can use wheat, but white is best!)  It makes your breath smell bad, but tastes so good!  Oh and top tip: put crisps (potato chips) inside your sandwich for special occasion lunching or if you've had a very bad morning and need an extra smile.

    Just the good stuff!
    But enough about sandwiches.  There is more to cheese and onion filling than sandwiches!  Recently, I've been on a carb-cutting mission and while looking for non-carby things to stuff in my face, I came across the filling of a cheese and onion sandwich in a tub all by itself. Not thinking of how I was going to eat the delicious goop without the bread, I happily snatched it up.  I have since found a multitude of ways to eat cheese and onion filling without bread and I fear I have developed an addiction.  I won't share my culinary discoveries with you since honestly, some of them sound quite gross, but I would like to recommend everyone eats cheese and onion filling in some form this weekend - especially if you've never had it before.  It's a British institution, if you ask me, and definitely my first favourite thing of 2012!

    British Stuff Rating: 5/5 Paddington Bears

    Sandwich photo Credit: