Sunday, August 21, 2005

Scents and sensitivity, and the weather?

I am very fond of scents. I wear perfume nearly every day, and have aromatherapy lotions and bodywashes galore, along with several essential oils. It seems to me, however, that folks here are crazy about things scented. So much so that when I tried to find an unscented laundry detergent(washing powder), I was not terribly successful (I think there's one in the local health food store - when I run out I'll try there). It's not that I don't like the smell of freshly washed laundry, it's that I do like the smell of freshly washed laundry, without the smell of other things, that is. And there's also a personal setup difficulty - my mum-in-law keeps the laundry detergent in an open box along with all the various scented cleaners, air fresheners, deodorizers, etc., in the same cabinet(cupboard) as her pots, pans, and plastic colanders. The other day I made spaghetti, and I swear I could taste the Daz (a popular laundry detergent brand).

Now, one could say that it was just my mum-in-law's propensity for scents, but I've noticed that folks are far more likely to have an air freshener in their car. In fact, there was this interesting gadget in the car we bought that had some air freshening liquid and a vent, and it attaches to the air vent. When I mentioned all this about scents and the English to my husband, he said in heavy dialect, "It's 'a drains, idnit John". (Yes, mum-in-law actually has drain freshener.)

Truly I don't know why all these scents are needed. If you watch the sky here you'll literally see the weather change, in remarkable contrast to the climate in California. The clouds blow across the sky so rapidly, you can watch the fronts come in, and you feel like you're looking at a weather map. Smells, smoke, pollution**, it all just blows off the island. So things aren't particularly smelly*.

And when it comes to the laundry, there's the added freshening aspect of hanging the laundry out to dry. It gets blown around(about) so thoroughly, most of the scent of a detergent is gone by the time you get the clothes in from the line. Maybe that's why the scents are so heavy, so there's still some left after hanging outside.

But getting back to the line: I find myself watching the weather forecast to determine when to do washing. It's a little odd. Oh, yes, we can hang things inside, but there isn't a whole lot of room. And it's true we used a clothesline in California, but it wasn't necessary to check the forecast from May to October. Here you pin(peg) laundry(washing) up, and take it down, and pin the same damp things up again. With all the blowing and the moister air, the clothes come out much softer. Heck, there was so little wind in California, we rarely used clothespins(clothespegs), and the clothes were crispy in an hour.

I think I'll become quite the weather forecast aficionado - it'll make up for not having The Weather Channel.

*garbage collection is only every 2 weeks in this area, which means in the summer months, the bin gets pretty darn smelly
**much to the chagrin of the surrounding nations

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Coinage and Mr. Whippy

I'm not a serious collector of coins, but I do have a small collection of coins that interest me. I saved (in some cases, inadvertently) lots of coins from the European nations now using the euro. Over the years, I found that I had 2 favorite coins. One is the French 10 franc coin, not the 2 color one of later years, but the older, smaller diameter, thicker one. This coin is no longer in circulation. My other favorite coin is the British pound sterling. Like the old 10 franc piece, it is thick with a relatively small diameter. It is a beautiful bronze-gold color, and comes with varying designs on one side, representing the different countries in the United Kingdom: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The unchanging side has a profile of the queen.

What I like about it is not the designs, but the weight, color, and hand-feel. It's hard to describe, but it feels and looks like it has real value. The only problem is that it is heavy, and there is no pound bill, nor even a 2-pound bill. In fact, the smallest bill denomination is 5 pounds, and that's quite a lot of money (more than US$9 at the current exchange rate). This means that you wind up with lots of heavy coins to carry around; the 2-pound, 2-pence, and 50-pence coins are also fairly substantial. Only my wallet isn't really constructed for carrying a lot of change. And so there is change in the bottom of my purse/handbag, change in my pocket, change in my wallet, change on the kitchen counter, change on the dresser, change in the car, change that my daughter plays with, change everywhere. I find myself buying Mr. Whippies from the local ice cream truck/van just to get rid of change (at least that's my excuse).

Oh, didn't I mention the ice cream van? Near as I can tell, they are a ubiquitous summer institution. Everywhere you go there are the dulcet tones of the ice cream van, coupled with the throb of the engine and the smell of diesel fuel. The soft serve ice cream that they sell is usually Mr. Whippy, a confection which resembles whipped cream more than ice cream. I could easily eat a bucketful at a sitting, but I console myself with a simple cone. I figure it's mostly air, and what substance there is has little dairy in it - it seems closer to Cool Whip, though not quite so sweet. You can have a little syrup dribbled over your ice cream, several flavors to choose from. I always get chocolate. The fellow that comes to our neighborhood sounds Italian; the name "Joe's Ice Cream" is painted on the side of the van, and for some inexplicable reason the tune he plays is "Greensleeves", which doesn't seem conducive to drawing out children for a cone. Nonetheless, he takes the same route every day, and I know when I hear "Greensleeves" the 3rd time he's down on the corner. Yummmmm.

The question is, where do the ice cream van owners go after the summer? I must ask Joe.


Wednesday, August 10, 2005


There are so many things to say; I'm incessantly composing blogs in my head. But I'll restrict this one to the marrow.

The marrow? What the heck is a marrow?, my U.S.-based readers may well ask. And well you may. A marrow is an overgrown courgette. Simple as that.

What is a courgette?, they ask in frustration. OK, I'll tell you. A courgette is a zucchini.

So the English call the small oblong green-striped vegetable a courgette, which is directly from the French, whereas Americans call it a zucchini, which is the plural (and seemingly incorrect plural form) of the Italian zucchina. Whether Americans somehow misconstrued the plural zucchine (such mistaken adoptions being a time-honored linguistic tradition) or whether it is an irregular plural or an older form in the Italian, I don't know. Perhaps someone reading this will, and can send me a comment or email. Why the Americans adopted the Italian word is also a mystery, but I suspect it may be that the original source for the vegetable (or the vegetable name) was Italy. Another time-honored linguistic tradition; for an illustration of this, see the word for turkey (a native American bird) in many different languages.

Now, as for the marrow, it is called a courge in French, and likely a zucca in Italian (although I haven't been able to verify that; however, it would appear that zucca is the Italian equivalent of the American "large squash"). Courgette is the diminutive of courge, and likewise zucchina/zucca. But in England they become courgette/marrow and in America zucchini/squash. I'll lay odds that squash is from a Native American language; note, however, that it doesn't specifically refer to a marrow. Squash is a more generic term describing the entire family of squashes, including zucchini, spaghetti, pumpkin, butternut, crookneck, and many more. I would assume marrow comes from some native language of the British Isles. The truth is, people in the U.S. just don't see marrows around. If we did, we'd probably call them giant zucchinis, or some such. But for some reason, they're not grown.

OK, I admit that I have a good idea of the reason. They have so little flavor as to be fairly unappealing. It's not that they taste bad, it's that they don't taste at all. You see, I tried cooking a marrow by stuffing it with a spicy sausage and rice stuffing, thinking it might make for an interesting meal. The reality was that I preferred to scoop out the stuffing and leave the marrow behind. Next time, I told my husband, I'll stuff an eggplant. Uh, aubergine.


Friday, August 05, 2005

Welcome to my other blog!

Welcome all to my other blog, this one relating to my experiences as an American (specifically U.S.) expatriate in Merrye Olde EnglandeTM. I was posting my move information on my other blog, I18n G.A.L., so read there for the initial few posts.

The container arrived a week ago Monday, on July 25th. I had been dreading this day. It was scheduled to arrive at the storage place we had contracted with at 10AM. At 9AM we called the delivery company to find out if the container would arrive on time. At 9:45AM they called back to say that everything was on schedule and the driver would be no more than 15 minutes late. At 10:30AM, with 8 of us assembled at the storage place, shivering in the cold (yes, it can be cold in England in the summer), we get a call from the delivery company to say that the driver was currently in Bracknell, which meant he was about 2 hours away. We had asked for the driver's phone number and this time it was given to us. So the motley crew of 2 teenagers, 3 middle aged folk, and 3 retirees went back to our house for an early lunch of fish and chips from the local chippy. At 12:15PM we got a call that the driver had arrived at the storage place, and so we all loaded up into our cars and drove back out there. Remarkably, the container had not been opened; our seal was still sealed and our lock was still locked (and full of seawater). We kicked ourselves for not taking more wine and electronics!

Then the real fun began. Some of the stuff was to go to our (my mother-in-law's) house, and some was to go in any of 3 storage containers we hired. The stuff going to our house was to be loaded into a rented truck that Richard had picked up at 8AM. The container sits about 5 feet off the ground, and so things must come down a ramp. The rented truck was also high up, but had a lifting platform. So, a couple of people were inside the container unloading, a few were on ramp and transport to the truck duty, and I and a strong teenager were inside the truck. The tricky thing is that container loading/unloading is Last In, First Out (LIFO). The problem being that we put light/fragile/awkward stuff on top and heavy stuff down low, but in unloading it and loading the truck, all we got initially was the light/fragile/awkward stuff. So I couldn't just load, I had to supervise the unloaders, the loading teenager, and the truck configuration. What the heck did we put in all those boxes anyway??? I started to see the sense in something our friend, Jeff, had said when we told him we got the container "Why don't you just get rid of all your stuff in the U.S. and buy all new stuff there?" I was grateful that we hadn't gotten a 40 foot container (we had a 20 footer).

It was surreal to see the stuff. It looked pretty much as it did when we sealed the container in our driveway in California. There it was. It hadn't been sold on the docks of Shanghai, nor shaken around as if it had been tumble-dried, nor drenched by seeping seawater. That stuff made a truck and boat journey halfway around the world and somehow reached us. It truly is amazing. I expect it will be bizarre to see it unpacked in some house here.

I won't go into the sordid details, but the storage containers were something like 5' x 7' x 7', so it was interesting to try and pack our furniture and larger items into them. Oh, and Richard was moving the containers around with a forklift. The storage place just pointed him to it and said to use it as he needed to. This would never happen in the States - the liability is tremendous. It was loads of fun to watch my husband driving this thing around (she says, with sarcasm oozing from her pores). At one point he tried to move one of the containers after it was full, and luckily one of the movers happened by and offered to move the storage container for us. Nerve-wracking stuff.

Of course, there was more fun to be had. The rented truck full of our stuff was then driven to our house (we had to leave the motorcycle at the storage place because Richard had removed the seat and we couldn't find it.) Then the truck had to be unloaded. For sanity's sake we just put everything in the backyard. The multitude of boxes were put on a tarp in the grass, while the filing cabinet, rolling tool chest, and miscellaneous other tools were put near the shed. By this time (about 5:30PM), all our helpers had to go (we had one diabetic who was low on insulin!).

Then Richard and I drove back to the storage place to put the motorcycle in the truck. Thank goodness for the electric lift. Richard strapped it in as tight as he could, and I put some wedges underneath the tires. Richard had the bright idea that I should ride in the back with the bike and shout if anything went amiss. OK, so here's my advice to you - don't do it. I kept recalling the related experience of my friend, Karen, who rode along in the airplane with her skydiving husband. He had neglected to tell the pilot that there would be a passenger on the way down, and there was Karen, hanging on for dear life while the pilot practically nosedived to get the next lot of skydivers. Yep, except at every bump we went over I envisioned the large motorbike tumbling on top of me. I stayed as far away as I could, and debated how to brace myself in case I had to roll out of the way in a hurry! Clearly I survived even this. We stopped at the British Home Depot (a.k.a. B&Q) to buy another tarp to cover the boxes in the yard in case of rain. Thankfully it hadn't rained on us all day. I got to ride home from B&Q in the front of the truck - oh, what sweet delight!

Once home, we starting hefting in as many boxes as we could manage, into any space we could find. At 10PM, after doing this all day, I told Richard I had had it.

The next day saw us moving and shifting more stuff. And the day after that. In fact, a week and a half later, we're still shifting stuff around, but less heavy stuff. My biceps have never been so sore.

And now the clock is ticking, as the storage isn't cheap. More to come.