Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Northerners are Coming

Little B’s grandmother, uncle and aunt came and stayed at the B&B to visit. Before they arrived around the house they were being referred to as the Northerners from outside of Manchester. When I came in from work the other day, L introduced them to me and then said to them, “J- is going to want to hear your accent.” I think that embarrassed them because they didn’t say much around me, although I could hear them in the other room. It is a very different accent. I’ve attached this clip of Noel and Liam Gallagher from Oasis who are famously from Manchester. What in the heck are they saying???

Halloween Eve

Coming home last evening the B&B lights were out except a disco ball, and there were carved pumpkins all over the room. Living with a children’s entertainer, it doesn’t take much to whip up a children’s party for little B and his friends. Demonstrating L’s power to get people to do whatever she wants them to, she announced to me upon my entry that my devil costume was waiting for me upstairs. I marched up to my room to change. I was feeling uncomfortable in my all too clingy devil dress until N (other guest) came down in a skeleton costume and silver tinselled wig that L had laid out for him. Even grumpy lawyer U was made to bob for apples. The kids enjoyed the apple bobbing so much that they kept doing it. At some point, because I have a weak stomach, I just had to look away. All that spit in a bowl, yuck!

After the kids had been picked up, we finished the night with a nice steak and potato pie, northern style.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Adults Only at the Barbican

The Barbican has been getting a lot of press for their new controversial art display, Seduced: Art and Sex from Antiquity to Now. When I heard it was an 18 and older event that was too risqué for the American public, I had to check it out. I got a bit turned around when I got off the Tube and laughed to myself thinking about my cousin N asking people on the street for directions. I thought I could ask someone on the street, “Which way to the porn?”

The first exhibit piece is a giant fig leaf that Queen Victoria had commissioned to cover the privates of her cast of Michelangelo’s David. It then moved through very explicit and ancient sculptures, pottery, and pictures from every culture.

The most interesting thing about the exhibit is that these explicit forms of art were hidden by either the reigning government or the church to protect women, children and the lower classes that could be corrupted by what they saw. Two strikes for me! Would I come out of this exhibit okay???

Another fun fact is that the biggest collections of erotic art were hidden away in London, Naples, and…Bloomington, Indiana. Yes, because of Dr. Kinsey’s research, the University of Indiana has quite a collection. Funny enough as I walked through the display I was wearing my University of Indiana t-shirt as I was looking at some of the pictures from Kinsey’s studies.

There was a beautiful slide show at the end of the exhibit by Nan Goldin which captured the lives of a number of different couples. Some of the pictures were explicit, but some were just everyday life, making the subjects seem multi-dimensional.

Multi-tasking on the High Street

Years ago while driving with some friends from Huntsville, Alabama to Memphis, Tennessee we passed a shop called the Wood and Wax. Underneath the store name it read “gift shop and electrolysis”. Of course in the rural parts of the South you can always find a tanning salon/video rental store. Here we have a store that combines "Superior Quality Sandwiches" with "Sewing Machine Sales/Service & Repairs".

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Can't Get Away from American Football

Here is a picture of one of the tube stops decorated for the big American game this week.

Los Pacaminos – Tex-Mex in Chesham, England

Trivia question – What 80’s pop star scored his biggest hit with a cover of Daryl Hall’s Everytime You Go Away? If you guessed Paul Young you are correct! What is Paul Young doing now? He is part of the band Los Pacaminos and they played in Chesham on Thursday night.

My favourite hobby in the States was going to concerts. Due to higher ticket prices and transportation issues, it’s obvious that the number of concerts I go to will be drastically curtailed. Because I have been missing it so, when N who lives at the B&B asked me if I wanted to go to a concert I said yes before he even described the band.

Who knew that I would be sitting in the local theatre staring up at the Mexican flag and the Texas flag? The music was actually very good. At times it sounded Cajun due to the accordion, at times it sounded like good old honky tonk country. Other times it did sound like traditional Mexican music which made me crave a margarita in a serious way.

Funny enough, Paul Young did not sing a single note. Late in the show he explained that he had the flu and you could tell something wasn’t right. You usually don’t see a guitar player blowing his nose with a hanky. His female fans didn’t seem to mind.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Just in Time for Halloween

It is dark (and cold!) when I leave the house in the morning for work. The B&B cat was sitting outside and I couldn't resist snapping a picture. Because of the darkness the flash came on, which I assume caused the glowing eyes. It's that or... the devil.

Food Memories

I have mentioned in the past that I have a friend in the States that spent a good portion of his teenage life in England. I had a work-related call with him yesterday and after we finished talking business he asked, “So what do you eat every day?” He wanted to reminisce over his favourite foods from the UK so we talked about pasties, doner kabobs (like a gyro), and chippies (fish and chips shops). He asked me if I had visited any of the bakeries. I told him that there is a bakery on the high street here that I pass every morning and they have the most decadent looking treat. It is a long donut split down the middle, filled with cream. I told him how every day since August when I walk past I think I’m going to go get one of those today. What has stopped me is that I have a floor to ceiling window in my office that looks out to the rest of the staff and I could just see them looking in at me as I was eating this messy donut and losing any ounce of respect I might have. I could shut the blind on the window but I have not done that yet and it seems a bit much to do that in order to eat a donut! I am going to get one of those donuts one day. They look like heaven (and hell).

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Tea and Religion

Some nights when I come in from work I have a cup of tea with L. When I was a kid I used to have tea in the morning with my grandfather with milk in it and he would say, “This is how the English drink it” (he wasn’t English). I have since grown to like my tea straight; no sugar, no milk. But every time I have evening tea with L I think of my grandfather because as she hands me a cup that has milk in it. I think she may be trying to convert me.

I bought a book that lists great places to have afternoon tea in the UK. The preface lists the benefits of tea and one of them is that three to four cups a day contains 45% of your daily fluoride requirement. According to the same book, only 11% of the UK’s water supply has fluoride added. Since almost everyone here drinks tea with milk, at the end of the day, the sink at work is filled with dirty teaspoons. It’s a sight to see. The other difference about beverages at work is there are coasters in all the meeting rooms and people use them.

I had dinner with two of the guests the other night and we had quite a lively conversation about a lot of things. Somehow religion came up and I commented on the fact that not a single person since I have moved here three months ago has mentioned going to church or anything religious. Inevitably in passing, someone in the States will mention religion to you even if it is just something like “on my way home from church Sunday I stopped at Target”. They might take it a step further and witness to you, which was a term that caused puzzled looks around the table. One of the guests said, no people wouldn’t talk to you about religion here. That would be considered impolite and embarrassing. I thought that was a hilarious comment.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Funny Moment at the End of the Day

I had a work colleague in the States instant message me this evening to ask if I was available for a telephone call. I said yes and my phone rang moments later. After I said hello, someone from another department in our building said to me “Hello J-, I’ve got a telephone call for you. I’m going to try and transfer it, but if I accidentally disconnect him, he has an American accent if that helps you know who’s calling”. I said thank you and my work colleague was patched through. I found this so funny because if my colleague hadn’t told me he was calling ahead of time, the American accent clue would not have given me much to go on.

The School Saga Continues...

Last week I sat down with a local to talk about secondary schools. Two people told me that getting your child into secondary school is the hardest thing with schooling in England that you can do. I didn’t feel so bad when I heard this. Our situation is complicated by the fact that we will be looking to live in one of two counties with very different school systems and entry processes. It was recommended to me that I should look in Hertfordshire because the process of getting in is based more on living in a certain area than a county-wide test. However, I emailed a school that I had heard good things about in Hertfordshire to see if I could come and visit and the email I got back simply said, we are over-subscribed, which means there are too many kids wanting to get in the school than there are slots. So even if I moved into a house across the street from this school, A could be sent elsewhere because of the over-subscribed state. There are also the selective schools to consider. Just because it is what we would call a public school that doesn’t mean that the school doesn’t have an entrance exam. So what was recommended to me was that I decide the radius of the area I am considering living in and then start listing out all the schools that fit into that area, contacting them, and schools will fall off my list because of entrance exams, over-subscription, etc. This person told me that when they were looking for schools they basically lived in an area where all the schools were relatively good so that if the over-subscription issue came up at the school they wanted, the alternative placement would still be good. I never dreamed it would be so complicated.

We aren’t giving up on Buckinghamshire and the grammar school system though. I am now in the process of trying to get the educational authority to allow A to take the test from the States.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

American Delicacies

I stopped by Selfridge’s (department store) on my way home Saturday. They have a Food Hall which reminds me quite a bit of Whole Foods, or as my friend C calls it “Whole Pay checks”. It’s upscale food products as well as takeaway options. In Selfridges they have shelves dedicated to different regions of the world. I was embarrassed when I saw some of the things that the sold in the “American” aisle, things like strawberry marshmallow fluff and Lucky Charms cereal, really? That stuff is gross! But I couldn’t help but notice this holiday end cap which had Libby’s pumpkin, Stove Top Stuffing, and Borden’s canned egg nog on it. But the prices! I mean £4.49 for a box of Stove Top Stuffing?! I think one could probably cobble together some stale bread cubes and seasonings here in merry old England without having to buy a box of it for over $8.00.

Missing Home

And when I say home I mean my family. It’s funny, A. has been going through a rough time at school and I have been trying to talk to her about it. She won’t talk to me on the phone though if she thinks I will mention it. She wants her privacy and I have to give it to her. Instead we talk about things that on the surface, don’t seem to matter.

When I talk to H on the phone, I end up just sitting there in silence. The only thing I really have to share these days is work, and by the time I get home, I just don’t want to discuss it. Maybe A and I aren’t so different. We just want to hear each other breathe but not talk. We have had some key people leave the organization lately and I was thinking to myself how it’s temporary pain. After awhile, we will all forget what it was like to have them there and we will as they say here, get on with it. I am always afraid that my family will forget what it was like having me there every day.

The painters finished the living room and my beautiful no longer green kitchen so the house should be ready for sale this week! H has been watching the over-priced house down the street get marked down three times with no foot traffic. I can’t even think about it!

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Great Equalizer

My Chicago friend K used to say that the “L” was the great equalizer. You could see people from all walks of life riding it. The same can be said for the London Underground. I was standing on very crowded platform recently between a guy that had the refined looks of Jude Law and a beefy guy who was drinking the equivalent of an American 40 ounce. There was also a face painted sports fan and a guy in a dress kilt and bowtie looking like he was off to a wedding or some formal event. All of these people face the same frustration that come with public transportation.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire

So after I left S and B and ran my errands in London, picking up a book and some souvenirs that I want to get in the mail this week, I passed a street vendor roasting chestnuts. They were selling like crazy. I’ve never had a chestnut and got swept up in the moment and thought I would eat them on the tube ride home. He handed me the bag which had about seven roasted chestnuts in it for £1.50 (about $3.00) and I soon realized I had no idea how to eat them. I stopped and peeled away the outer layer. They kind of look like tiny brains under the protective coating. I don’t think I will buy them again. They were okay, but the texture was kind of mealy and it reminded me of an under-cooked baked potato. Maybe it was the vendor, but it just wasn’t my thing.

Saturday Visit

I left Chesham in the dark Saturday morning and chilled to the bone. As I passed frosted windows on cars, it was obvious the season had changed. Here I was in a long-sleeved t-shirt, sweater, and jacket, and I was freezing. The coffee shop wasn’t open as I headed to the tube station and so I was in a very dour mood. If I don’t have caffeine in the morning, I begin to think the world is coming to an end.

I met my friends S and B at their hotel Saturday morning. They were heading to a football game at 3:00pm so we decided to meet early and do some sightseeing. Before I got to their hotel, I stopped by a coffee shop and got my fix. I wish I could have taken a picture of the coffee shop without looking like a tourist because the lattes that the waitress was effortlessly making were truly beautiful. There was also a large wooden table with a lot of people sitting around it and there was a sign that said bread and jam £2.00. It looked like maybe an all-you-could eat table filled with fresh baguettes, butter, and strawberry jam, however, it was one of the moments where I didn’t want to be a tourist and ask if that was the case. I got my drug and left.

When I asked what B thought of London on his first visit he said it was busy. I don’t know if I was just more conscious after his comment, but it did seem busier than usual. I was telling them that after a visit into London a few weeks ago I had come back to the B&B and asked L, if when she walked down the street, does she naturally veer towards the left or the right if someone also on foot is coming in her direction and she said, something like, whatever makes sense at the time. We Americans always tend to go to the right, so the streets of London seem even more chaotic with people walking on both sides. The three of us stopped at a café and then walked along the Thames down to Big Ben. It was a beautiful walk because for just that bit of time it was so peaceful it felt like we were the only people in London. They are heading to the countryside today and the weather has been beautiful. I hope they enjoy the trip.

We had decided to go visit the Winston Churchill Museum and underground war rooms. S had been to the war rooms but the Churchill Museum opened in 2005 so that was new to all of us. If you want to know ANYTHING about Winston Churchill, visit the museum. There is an interactive table in the middle where you can touch different dates during the war and see exactly what happened in history and what Churchill was doing on that day. The war rooms were interesting as well. Obviously with the London bombings, World War II is much more alive here than in the States. There were two chilling pictures on display. One was of Hitler standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, and the other was the destruction around St. Paul’s Cathedral during the London bombings.

By mid-day, S and I were stripping off our layers. The day turned out to be beautiful which makes the attached picture quite appropriate. In the war rooms this sign would report the weather above. I wish we could have spent more time together. They were off to get some lunch; I was off to run some errands and head home. I can’t wait to hear what they thought of the football game.

P.S. on the Bubble and Squeak

I showed the recipe card to L and asked her if she knew why it was called that and she had no idea. She said it's what they do with leftover vegetables. She then said, "They're trying to make it quite posh, aren't they?"

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Recipe for M

My friend M is recovering in Atlanta. She is always curious about the food in the UK so I thought I would post this recipe that was given out at my local Waitrose grocery store. I don't think a Bubble and Squeak is usually this highbrow. Get well M!
Bubble and Squeak Patties with sweet potato and Savoy cabbage

Serves 4

250g floury potatoes, such as King Edward, peeled and diced
300g sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
200g Savoy cabbage, finely chopped
25g butter
1 bunch salad onions, finely chopped
50g West Country Farmhouse Mature Cheddar Cheese, grated
Pinch dried wild rosemary
25g plain flour
3 tbsp olive oil

Put the white potatoes in a pan and cover with a little cold water. Place a lid on the pan and bring to the boil. Cook for 5 minutes then add the sweet potatoes and continue cooking for a further 9-10 minutes until tender. Steam the cabbage over the pan for the last 4-5 minutes until just tender, or microwave on high for 1-2 minutes.
Remove the cabbage, drain and set aside. Drain the potatoes in a colander then return them to the pan. Add the butter then season and mash until smooth. Mix in the salad onions, cheese, rosemary and cooked cabbage. Combine well then leave to cool.
Divide the mixture into 8. Dust the worktop and your ands, with the flour, then form the mixture into small, round patties about 2cm thick. Place in the fridge for 10-15 minutes to chill.
Heat half the oil in a large frying pan and gently fry 4 of the patties for 2-3 minutes on each side until lightly golden. Add the rest of the oil and cook the remaining patties, keeping the first batch warm in the oven. Serve topped with a poached egg and oven-roasted tomatoes.

He's Back with an Autumnal Message

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Is it time to go back to bed?

N got in the taxi this morning at 7:30 and I was ready to go back to bed. She left me her Frommer's London 2008 guidebook, stating that I could "borrow it until her next visit". I picked up some information about a local book club that I am thinking about joining which means I have two weeks to read Atonement by Ian McEwan.

My buddy B from the St. Louis office and his lovely wife S should be arriving in London this morning. I will be meeting them outside their hotel on Saturday morning and am looking forward to seeing them.

I took this picture out of my bedroom window this week.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

N's Visit Ends

N spent the last two days of her time in England being a tourist alone. I had to go back to work on Monday. I was glad she visited. She and I grew up very close but over the years drifted but we have had a lot of similar experiences over the years. The last time I saw her was in Texas about a year after my mom died and I cried all through dinner. I haven’t shed a tear so I guess I’m better. Having N here was almost like validation that this was all really happening and not just a dream. Again, this is probably a result of spending way too much time on my own, but every once in awhile I would think to myself, is this all a dream? Having someone who actually knew me and my former life made sense of it all. It also was a measuring stick for how much I learned. Every day I have translated some phrase for her or explained some difference in the culture. She has also enjoyed being at the B&B and understands how it has kept me sane.

While I haven’t cried in front of her, I embarrassingly shed a tear or two in front of my boss today. I have been trying to keep the personal life out of work, especially the hardships. After all, I signed on for this. As I was leaving my boss’ office today after a meeting she asked me how the family was doing and I told her she probably didn’t want to ask today. I tried to get away but she asked further questions and I couldn’t hold it in. A. has especially been on my mind. Her former friends at school have not been so kind. The only explanation I can come up with is her friends have decided that they will leave her before A. has a chance to leave them. I will light a candle in every church I come across this weekend in hopes that the house will be listed next week and will sell quickly.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Another Saturday in Windsor

N and I spent a lovely day Saturday in Windsor touring the Castle and walking the streets. Since I knew the bus route to get us there, there were no surprises!

A Shock on the Way to Dinner

N and I had a very lazy day today. We decided to have dinner at the Queen’s Head a local pub that serves delicious Thai food. It was N’s second visit there. The Queen’s Head is in a gorgeous old part of town and just as we were walking through and I was telling N how much I liked this area with the uneven front doors, shorter than us both, I noticed a couple on bikes across the street smiling and looking in our direction. I was wondering, what the heck are they smiling at? When I finally saw what they were smiling at I jumped and screamed. In one of those tiny cottages was a gigantic bloodhound with a head bigger than mine that was hanging out the window of the cottage. When I noticed him, his nose was about two inches from N’s shoulder as she walked in front of me and passed him. When I screamed the bloodhound just looked in my direction with those bloodshot eyes and droopy skin but never barked. As I tried to get my camera out to take his picture, he pulled his head back into the cottage and went on his merry way. I will now probably become obsessed trying to see this dog again. Maybe it’s just his cottage. I can’t imagine anyone else fitting in there with him!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Oxford for a Day

L has been trying to get me to hire (rent) a car here especially since N was visiting and wanted to go to places like Oxford. On the bus the trip takes two hours, in the car only one. Well, L wasn’t calculating in the problems I would probably have finding things for the first time. I decided that while I did need to rent a car soon and start getting comfortable, it didn’t need to happen with N here where her life could be in jeopardy!

Friday we went to Oxford. As we left the house in the morning and I told L we were taking the bus, she laughed and said “Chicken!” Due to a scheduling problem it actually took us three hours to get home, but we just laughed it off and got through it.

We had a very nice day, taking a tour on one of the open topped double-decker buses, walking through the courtyards of the various colleges, and then having dinner at The Bear pub which is one of the oldest pubs in Oxford. It was very tiny, with lots of character. N wanted to try something local so she had the sausage and mash and a red ale. I had a delicious steak and ale pie; the best pub food I have had since I have been here. As we were getting off the double-decker bus earlier, N and I were talking about how treacherous the stairs were to get to the bottom floor of the bus. I am surprised I have not yet seen someone fall down one of those staircases, I always fear it will be me. Well, the ladies restroom at The Bear has almost the same staircase as a double-decker bus. I can’t imagine that there hasn’t been an accident or two over the years. All I had was sparkling water and I barely made it without a scratch.

As we ate our dinner I had to laugh watching a table of students study the pitcher of ale brought back to their table as rounds were purchased. Every time it was a five minute conversation about whether the barkeep had stiffed them by not filling the pitcher up to the proper line.

N and I Go to London

So, as I have already mentioned, N and I spent the day in London on Thursday. N is my mom’s brother’s daughter. We were born three months apart so inevitably we were close when we were very young, but haven’t seen each other but periodically over the years when I happened to be in her city for business travel. We had so much to talk about. In a way, London was probably wasted on us on Thursday because we would be walking the streets, seeing amazing things but we were so engrossed in conversation, that we didn’t see much.

We started out with a tour of Westminster Abbey. I have no pictures because they do not allow photography. We thought we would try and track down a pub in Knightsbridge that N had heard about. It was called the Nag’s Head. Me, when I go around trying to find something I just struggle in silence until I find my destination. N takes the bull by the horns and asks everyone for directions. This is how we found ourselves in a lingerie boutique that sold bras for £250.00 (around $500). N walked by the shop and said, “Those two in there look like they have nothing to do”, looking at the two clerks. This cracked me up because really, do you need two sales clerks for a 10 by 10 lingerie shop? They buzzed us in and were surprisingly very eager to help. She was right; they needed a little afternoon challenge. We found the pub and had some nice sandwiches since we had missed the true lunch hour. We sat at the little table close to others, staring at an autographed picture of Robbie Williams, who used to be a regular patron (no longer since rehab!).

After deciding on a show to see we headed to the theatre. Cabaret was very good. I was telling N before the show that I want to take A to a show when she gets here since she is such a fan of musicals. I probably wouldn’t pick Cabaret to take her to since the subject matter is so mature. After seeing full frontal nudity of both sexes by intermission, N said to me that I better choose A’s show carefully!

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Full Day

My cousin N arrived on Wednesday. She did what I find impossible, she stayed up all day after the Chicago/London flight on Wednesday and saw some sights. Thursday we went into London and ended the day at the theatre. More later!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Life Lessons on Public Transportation

I just finished reading Sarfraz Manzoor’s book, Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion, and Rock ‘n’ Roll. They will be publishing it in the States and for anyone who likes non-fiction, I would recommend it. While his love of pop music is discussed in the book, it is much more about his struggles with being a first generation Brit. Manzoor even said it himself during his lecture last week that his story is extraordinary as well as extremely ordinary. Being the new generation in a new country, bridging the gap between a new lifestyle and your parent’s customs, is a typical story.

I was in the middle of reading this book, in fact I had it tucked in my purse on my trip to London on Sunday when I boarded the bus. I sat on the top deck of the bus by myself until a man of Indian descent, probably my age, climbed the stairs to the top deck with his son who looked to be about six years old. They sat next to me on the bus and I listened to most of their conversation the whole ride. While the father had a very Indian accent, the son had a very British accent which led me to wonder if the little boy was first generation British. Their conversation was the most serious I have ever heard between a parent and a child of that age.

In Sarfraz Manzoor’s book he talks about how hard his father worked to move his family to England. In fact there were eleven years where his father worked in the factories of England to make money before his mother and the children could join him. One of the major rifts between father and son comes from the son wanting to enjoy life, fall in love, have hobbies, etc. when the father felt like these were all frivolous pursuits. Listening to the father/son conversation on the bus, it was as if the book was in some ways playing out in front of me. I heard the father ask his little six year old son why it was important to own property (couldn’t hear his answer), tell him that he needed to start investigating careers because he had “a little time left before he needed to decide”. At some point during the ride the boy said something that must have been taken as a whine, but let me note, as a parent, I know whining (they call it a whinge) and this child’s tone and manners were impeccable. The father cut him off and said “Whinge, whinge, whinge, I am going to start taking 10p from your savings for every whinge and if it gets to be a problem it will go up to 50p.” He told him that he needed to start focusing on the positive and learning instead what he had control over in his life, so that if these things did not make him happy, he alone had the power to change them. I don’t know if the six year old picked up on the life lesson, but I heard him loud and clear.

Monday, October 8, 2007

St. Pancras Parish Church

I passed this church on my way to the British Library last week and had to take a picture. It doesn't look very Christian to me. According to their website, the design was inspired by "the Ionic Temple of the Erectheum on the Acropolis. If you would like to know more, follow this link.

Life in the Bed and Breakfast

For any of you who have read Bill Bryson’s Notes on a Small Island, you will remember at the beginning of the book Bill rents a room and is treated very poorly (makes for a great story!) by the owner of the home. Imagine my nerves reading this as I prepared to check into a B&B after my first week here. Well, I’m on week six of living in the B&B with no immediate end in sight since the house in St. Louis is not yet listed. While I am anxious to have H and A here with me, I am in no hurry to leave the B&B to live alone in a place until they arrive.

Living in a B&B has proved very entertaining and L has probably made it too cozy for me! It’s funny, I was their first B&B guest after they previously rented rooms on a more long-term basis, and now they have B&B guests that won’t leave. There’s N who isn’t checking out until January when he moves back to New Zealand. There’s the solicitor (lawyer) downstairs who is on week three, working temporarily here in Chesham. His Birmingham accent is so heavy that I still don’t know what his name is and I avoid conversation because while he seems nice enough, I’m embarrassed to have to constantly ask him to repeat himself. Then there’s me. I moved to a smaller room after I came back from America to save money. I have to share a bathroom with everyone but the solicitor which I thought would prove awkward but it hasn’t been an issue. That leaves one room open that has had a succession of guests.

Because there are no other accommodations in our little town L gets calls out of the blue for rooms, sometimes for that night. There have been some out of town workers, installing telephone lines and the sort that I have never even met because they have gotten in after me and left in the morning before me. There was a travelling artist who had a booth in a local craft show who told me over breakfast what it was like to be sent to boarding school at the age of eight. There was a nineteen year old young man working in the area for a few days who probably got more than he bargained for by being asked by L and I to remove a rather huge spider that was in the bath, and there was the “nutter” who stayed for two nights as she supposedly tried out for a local musical theatre program. After taking one look at her agreed upon breakfast she said she couldn’t eat any of it and claimed she normally ate soup for breakfast. She seemed heavily medicated to me, and gave everyone the creeps.

Through it all there is lots of laughter and socializing that I do not get at work or anywhere else. Saturday night all of us guests were invited to game night with many of L & P’s friends and it was loads of fun. Inevitably, since this was my second time meeting some of the people at the game night, George W. Bush crept into the conversation. I know that the Dixie Chicks were vilified by making some negative statements about the president when they were in London. But without cameras there to record my statement, I felt comfortable speaking my mind!

This week the rotating room will be rented by my cousin N, who is going to visit from Chicago for a week. I can’t wait to see her!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Visit to the British Library

My friend B had sent me an article about the British Library a few weeks ago and since then I have been wanting to visit. The British Library is a big deal. I was looking over their upcoming programs and saw one that spoke to me

Race, religion and rock ‘n' roll: How Bruce Springsteen saved my life - Sarfraz Manzoor

Sarfraz Manzoor was three years old when he emigrated from Pakistan to Britain in 1974. His teenage years were a constant battle to reconcile being both British and Muslim. Frustrated by real life, he sought solace in TV and music, but it was when his best friend introduced him to Bruce Springsteen that his life changed forever.
Retracing his journey from Lahore to Luton to Ladbroke Grove he pays tribute to the power of music to transcend race and religion – through the minor frustrations of his childhood to his response and analysis of the tragedies of 9/11 and 7/7.
Attendees are invited to partake in a brief iftar of dates and water, followed by a selection of halal canapés and juices.
Sarfraz Manzoor is the author of recently published Greetings from Bury Park, Race, Religion and Rock ‘n' Roll.
Supported by the Eccles centre for American Studies, The British Library and the United States Embassy.

First of all, the British Library is a stunning and very welcoming building. It is part research institution, part museum with many historical documents on display including the Magna Carta, illuminated manuscripts, some works of Shakespeare, and the handwritten lyrics to the Beatles’ Ticket to Ride and She Loves You. There was also a very nice exhibit on the establishment of India as an independent country and the creation of Pakistan. I knew nothing of the history there, as embarrassed as I am to admit it.

The beauty of the library is always the variety of people that you see there. As I stood in line to get a map and a ticket to the lecture, a man who I would guess was in his 50’s was in front of me and his bald head, face, scalp, and neck were completely tattoed with piercings sticking out all over his ears, nose and mouth. I have never seen anything quite like it. I wish I could have taken his picture.

The lecture was great and I bought a copy of the book and am reading it now. Just as I have always been fascinated with England, I am reading a book by someone who has had a fascination with my country. When I was talking to the author I told him I had recently moved to the UK from America and he wrote a personal inscription in my book that reads “J-, I hope the UK agrees with you!”

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

First Trip to Starbucks

It’s now autumn. The leaves are changing and the spiders seem to be out in full force. One of the autumn treats that many of my friends and I look forward to is the Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks. They are delicious!

A few nights ago L and I were talking about when I thought my family might get here. I was saying that I hoped November but if they weren’t here in November I wasn’t sure if I would go home for Thanksgiving or not. She started asking me about Thanksgiving and so I gave her a little historical background and also described the meal. I mentioned pumpkin pie. She said, “Pumpkin that you carve, in a pie?” I laughed and assured her it was good. I told her that if I couldn’t buy pumpkin at the store that I should have H. ship over some of the solid pack pumpkin so I could make one. I might die without pumpkin pie!

So having forgotten our conversation, I headed into Starbucks after work to treat myself to a Pumpkin Spice Latte. As I stood at the counter looking at the menu, it dawned on me, there will be no Pumpkin Spice Latte here! I thought about asking the barista behind the counter and thought better of it.

For those of you in St. Louis, if you like Pumpkin Pie you must get down to Ted Drewes and have yourself a pumpkin pie concrete. You will think you have died and gone to heaven.

P.S. I won’t be making regular trips to Starbucks, that’s for sure. I decided to grab a sandwich for dinner (ham and cheese with Dijon mustard) with my tall hazelnut latte and it cost me about $12.30. The coffee drinks are about double here than they are in the States. So now I’m sitting here wide awake but still hungry!

I Don't Get It

While I was wandering yesterday in London I decided to visit the Serpentine Gallery. It is a beautiful walk there through Kensington Gardens. Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraint is the current exhibit. I don’t know much about him except he’s married to Bjork and he’s a controversial artist. After leaving the exhibit all I can add to that description is that he is not my cup of tea. However, the building and the grounds were worth visiting. In front of the actual gallery is the Serpentine Gallery Pavillion which you can walk around the outside to the top, or sit inside and have a coffee.

American Ice Cream

I Become a Stalker

I took the day off yesterday because I had an appointment to get my National Insurance Number (I guess equivalent to Social Security Number). The appointment was quick so I took the train into London. As I was walking down the street I passed this guy a few times and was a bit slow to realize that it was one of the main characters from the UK version of The Office. He was also in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Of course I couldn't remember his name so I had to look him up on

Monday, October 1, 2007

More Food

On the weekend when I am out travelling my food of choice is often a Cornish pasty. You can eat them on the go and on a chilly day, they are especially delicious.

I was invited to have fish and chips with the family that runs the B&B Saturday night. My favourite thing about it was that the chips come with salt and vinegar on them. I also had a shandy as we watched Casualty. One of our party described it as a low-budget version of “ER”. The fish and chips were good but if I am going to consume that many calories, I would rather have a rich pasta dish or a good dessert.