Friday, 29 October 2010

Gaining Pounds

It's been an age since I've contributed to my body of blog work, and just when you'll think this post is about my not-so-triumphant return to Weight Watchers, I've found a job with a salary attached to it.  For this shiny new job, I am required to travel by train to Cambridge each day.  It is a 50-minute ride, which has introduced me to the world of commuting.

Commuting is an alternate universe. In it, the people you see everyday are barred by an unwritten code of commuter conduct that prohibits any more communication than the occasional sideways glance that could pass as an acknowledgement.

The world of commuting can be quite lonely, a fact I find ironic in light of being surrounded by scores of other people. There have been days that I craved contact in the sea of humans, but this usually resulted in no more than a show-pony, peroxide blonde woman dragging her overloaded pullman luggage over most of my left foot's tarsal bones. She snapped a curt, "Sorry," but it didn't really register, as my eyes were crossed and I was rendered incapable of making any noise that could pass as human speech.

Commuters get quite testy over seating in crowded situations. A middle-aged man barked, "Fine, you take it!" to a young girl who happened to get to the last seat on the traincar before him. If he was this irate before 9 a.m., I think I'm correct to assume the rest of his day was doomed to be miserable. I'd noticed a number of people carrying bags that said "Bench" on them. Chumley informed me this is a trendy urban brand, far too hip for me to recognize. At first, I thought it was some English attempt to reserve seating at the station, knowing that most were far too polite to take open and notorious possession of a cramped seat. Did they sell these special accessories at some secret commuter gift shop? More importantly, did they ship in time for Christmas?

Commuting starts to form a very familiar pattern: drop off, ticket check, platform dash, wait. The atmosphere is all the while seasoned with well-rehearsed platform announcements that half the time are unintelligible. Either the announcer is new to the English language, the announcer is from Liverpool (also making him new to the English language), or the announcer has a pressing engagement with the refreshment trolley woman somewhere behind platform 2a. In the case that the announcement is intellgible, they are made with such a blah de vive that they effectively suck away any enthusiasm for one's destination, much like an emotional Dyson.

I was walking briskly to my train one morning, when I was subjected to the following station-wide announcement: "The train now arriving at Platform 4 will form the 0-800 service to Norwich, calling at March, Ely, Thetford, and... braaaaaach!" At the time, my head happened to be within three feet of the nearest loudspeaker, so there was no mistaking what had happened. The announcer had just belched into the PA.

I tell you, those train station bacon rolls are deadly.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

A Return to Stickiness...

It's been ages since my last post, but I have an airtight excuse.  It was, in effect, this fireplace and the house it was formerly attached to.

After passing the practical UK driving test (a story for another post, for sure), Chumley and I took custody of his 1911 semi (duplex) that was the bachelor pad B.C. (Before Claire.)  Since early May, I have been living a waking nightmare episode of "This Old House" in which Norm Abram keeps finding rotten skirting board after rotten skirting board as we have a looming move-in deadline.  I wake up afraid of flannel and low-rise work trousers.

Chumley's house had been occupied by tenants for the better part of the past six years, with some more careful than others.  In addition to the hideous Flintstones fireplace that soon became my own personal DIY albatross, we had a pathetic state of plastering, no attached floor covering, rotten skirting boards, rotten floor, and the funk of 40,000 years thanks to the smokers who vacated most recently.  One would have thought that they were smoking herring in here, based on the smell and the yellow ceilings.

In the past two months, I have personally busted out a fireplace, rewired a light fixture, rewired and replaced a door bell, and given myself a mild case of carpal tunnel syndrome by scrubbing an old oak floor once the devil's dustmongers (the plasterers) had sprayed it with pink tidbits, as well as everything else in the house.  I have scoured ebay for repro bargains, cried as I wrote a check to the carpenter, and thanked God I did not fall through the upstairs floor ala Tom Hanks in "The Money Pit."  These are things I thought I couldn't do, didn't want to do, and never want to do again. With every tradesman passing through, I required him to repeat the same mantra: "I've seen worse."  I found it coldly comforting.

Here are some life lessons I've picked up along the way: wood filler is awfully hard to get out of the hair.  Latex paint comes off your watch, but gloss paint isn't as forgiving.  And never add water to knotting compound, or else it will congeal in a sticky, brown mess you most likely saw back in school science lab.  No matter how desperate things get, do not imbibe the methylated mineral spirits unless your wish is a quick death.  Some days, a splash in my drink sounded like a great idea.

After move in, we are edging toward finality.  To give you an idea, here's the fireplace after we took the place retro:

Much more on this in posts to come, as the saga and our wallet unfolds...

Friday, 23 April 2010

Flying Toward an Election? You Bet Your Ash.

An American friend of mine who had heard of the great abyss that was UK airspace until recently asked if our landscape was now "a post-apocalyptic waste land, like the true Earth in The Matrix or the world of Mad Max."  I have yet to see Mel Gibson roaming the streets with a mangy mut, but we have seen a bit of volcanic ash settling on the cars overnight.  I'm kind of reluctant to drive through the car wash in order to show an anticipated American guest what remains of Iceland and its economy, but that's really just an excuse to avoid cleaning the car. 

For me as an overstimulated fruit enthusiast, I cringed to see the UK's tropical fruit shipments were being diverted to Spain from Africa or South America, or worse yet, just dumped altogether due to lack of air logistics.  (Insert long, echoing "Noooo!" here.)  I don't think they grow much Tropical Gold pineapple in Portsmouth. It's been two days since my last golden kiwi. That sounds like the opening line of a fringe support group.  Order is restoring and I hear a jet overhead as I type, but television news is still carrying stories of UK tourists stuck on beaches in Tenerife.  They sent a naval ship to pick up a load of stranded Brits from Spain.  I'm sure the food was much better than the oxymoron of what passes for "airline food" these days.

Speaking of hot air, the news here has moved swiftly on to the upcoming UK election since airspace reopened.  As an American, the British election season is so comparatively short and therefore much more civilized.  An election date was announced just this month, and the election will be in early May.  Spit spot, job done.  There's none of this year-long campaign business or droning infomercials that is the US political process.  Most interesting, the UK has an extremely viable third party in the running, which would challenge those that think there is no way a third party could ever break into the US policical system.  Remember, they said US national healthcare wouldn't happen, too.

The recent, first-ever televised UK party leader debates are a good loan from the US system, as opposed to Texas toast or supersize fries.  For those election buffs/political science majors out there, it's fascinating to see the pundits here discuss who appears better on television, much like the Nixon/JFK contrast in US ancient political history.  The three party leaders are a bit staid.  Perhaps they're just real people, or not as used to working arm in arm with image consultants and spin doctors.

Gordon Brown did look a bit ashen in the first debate.  Well, is it any wonder?

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Talk About Green Tea!

Chumley and I decided to be somebody and use up pretty much all our Marriott Rewards Points in one go, posing as the rich and famous at the Grosvenor (pronounced GROVE - en- or) House Hotel on Park Lane in London this long weekend.  We mock what we don't understand.  By the time we got our luggage toted across London via the tube, we were feeling like two dim bulbs at a high-wattage address.  Restorative fresh air was in order.  A quick walk by the adjacent Dorchester Hotel's gardens brought the festive back. 

As my grandma would say, that garden was cute as hell.  The Dorchester is on the very short list of places to experience other-worldly English High Tea in London, with the High Prices to match.  The highest of High Tea is certainly a meal, and the Dorchester is giving it away at £46.50.  That's almost $75 a pop.  But the pictures I took were free.  Tea at the Dorchester attracts all sorts of visitors.
I'm sure carrot crudites are in order. 

Tea, anyone?

Monday, 22 March 2010

Rancor at the Roundabout

     Warning: The images in this license are obscurred to protect the guilty.

So, as of last Friday, I am the proud owner of a letter that says I've passed the theory portion of my driving test.  It was 50 multiple choice questions, some totally trippy, and 14 video clips where you must spot and click on the developing traffic hazards.  My favorite hazard was the small flock of sheep.  But wait, there's more.  I still have to take the practical exam (driving portion.)  Our local driver examination station has a 47% pass rate.  Good Lord.  It was easier to pass the bar exam.  I know for a fact the pass rate was significantly better.

Driving on the left was surprisingly easier than I thought.  Shifting on the left was a bit interesting - at least the pedals and gears are in the same place as before, except you're sitting on the other side of the car.  It took me a while to reprogram the brain to judge distance from the center while sitting in the opposite (I'll avoid the term wrong) seat.  It wasn't all daffodills and tulips, though.  Here are some early exchanges from Chumley's School of Driving.

Me, driving around a roundabout: Look kids, Big Ben!
Chumley: Crickets chirping.  Apparently, he has never seen "National Lampoon's European Vacation."  Aren't we always learning more about our spouses?  Pay attention!
Me: How do I get off this thing?
Chumley:  Turn right.
Me: Right?!  How do you expect me to do that?!  It's a series of lefts!! Ugh!

Behold what I was dealing with, oh right-hand drivers, and feel my pain:

Chumley: I want you to go straight over the next roundabout.
Me:  Won't that be difficult?  This car doesn't have four-wheel drive like my old Jeep did.
Chumley:  What are you talking about?
Me:  You don't want me to drive through the grass, do you? (edging straight forward toward landscaping.)
Chumley:  NO!  Go around, AROUND!  Take the opposite exit!  UGH!

So, nota bene, turn right means take the exit at 3 o'clock.  Go straight over means take the exit exactly opposite you.  Most importantly, the quickest way to change Chumley's usually pleasant demeanor is to put him in fear for his life.  For what it's worth, I do that less often nowdays.

My driving lessons on how to pass this dang driving test start next week.  I hope the instructor speaks American.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Foreign Food Fetishes

A dining companion asked me last night, "And how are you finding the food in England compared to the U.S.?"  The honest answer is delicious in some cases, but dastardly in others.  There's also a food limbo, where seemingly unmatched foods are thrown together and become tolerable to the beaten-down palate, but just barely.

My first case study is the ubiquitous English comfort food, beans on toast.  Heinz has cornered the market on tinned (canned) baked beans here. Unlike Beenee Weenee, they are in tomato sauce as opposed to barbecue or some brown sugar-laden medium.  The beans are a vital component of full English breakfast.  Hot buttered toast has a remarkable calming effect to the English, and adding a ladle full of beans and a smattering of cheese (optional) is even more tranquilizing, I understand.  I will eat beans on toast now that I've gotten some practice.  But trust me, too many is hardly conducive to intestinal serenity.

Case 2 is a repulsive, noxious "condiment" called Marmite.  My first experience of Marmite was in the States, when I observed Chumley smearing some on hot toast (see a pattern here?)  It looked dark, syrupy and ominous.  When I inquired further, Chumley made no attempt to describe Marmite, but instead urged me to take a sniff.  One whiff and there was only one thought that came to mind.  "This smells like some sort of... by-product!!"  Sure enough, that's exactly the case.  Marmite is the yeast squeezin's after the brewing process.  I can only imagine its discovery by some legless man doing a face plant in the bottom of a brewery vat, accidentally licking the floor, and thinking it tasted good enough to mass market.  I pray God will keep my path from crossing any more jars of Marmite.  It is not to be borne.

I have been trying to convince Chumley that the combination of yellow sponge cake, maple buttercream icing and festive bacon may indeed be manly and toothsome, but so far, no dice.  Case 3, not adopted officially as a recognized food item, is the bacon cupcake.  Behold the creative use of bacon in tandem with maple.  Isn't coating your crispy bacon with a little maple syrup a tempting thing to do?  I generously offered to whip up a test batch for the guys at Chumley's work, but my offer was politely refused.  Specifically, Chumley said, "Cake, good.  Bacon, good.  Baconcake, not good."  I see.  Perhaps the solution is to send the cupcakes with a side of bacon and see if any creative men make the connection, but I doubt a pile of bacon would last too long among purely XY chromosomes.  Decorative bacon might be too much to wish for.

Case study 4: It turns out that one of the hallmarks of culinary Americana, the peanut butter and jelly (jam) sandwich, is repulsive to most Brits, including Chumley.  Firstly, jelly in American translates to preserves or jam in English.  Jelly in English is Jell-o in American, which could lead to a nasty surprise for the rookie American ordering it with hot buttered toast.  I found out first-hand about the repelling powers of PB & J when I naively offered it to my movers on their lunch break.  None of the burly, strapping men would even try it.  Chumley said it was the best thing I could have done to put them off asking us for anything else.  Hm.

I now keep one in the freezer for use on Jehovah's Witnesses and door-to-door salesmen.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Real Estate Spookulation

We live near a lovely village called Alwalton.  I am enamored, and I understand it has always been regarded as quite exclusive.  In doing some web surfing for this post, I stumbled across this census-like listing of who exactly was living in Alwalton in 1279. I'm sure that is officially older than dirt. I note back then, someone's rent  was three hens and one cock yearly.  What a deal.

Should you need to send a package, buy a few groceries, or satisfy your need for a sudden crumpet and tea in the upstairs tearoom, Alwalton's post office is an excellent destination.  Historically, I've taken guests to the Alwalton post office as a treat.  I had a very reasonably priced fruited tea cake with butter, which was like a big, lovely, fruity English muffin. I can also vouch for the quality of the carrot cake and the takeaway Bakewell slices, which are an almond cake dosed with raspberry jam and a bit of icing.  Just when I was worried about not fitting through the doorways horizontally,  I noticed the sign on the ceiling beams warns, "Duck or Grouse!"  The thatched roof is something to see, as well. 

Not far down the street from the beloved post office was a property listed for sale for the absolute bargain price of 175,000 pounds.  Better yet, the agency was hosting an open house the next Saturday.  I was just curious, so I had Chumley check out the listing.  It certainly fit the definition of quaint. According to the estate agent, with my helpful translations/editorial remarks:
A charming (dodgy) Grade II listed (big brother is watching you to see you don't do anything naughty like put up vinyl siding or a sunroom) semi-detached stone cottage in need of full modernisation (oh dear) with large garden (overall plot approximately 0.3 acres.)  The cottage is thought to date back to the mid 17th Century with 19th Century alterations. (Double doh - it was last improved in the 1800's?) Built of limestone rubble with ashlar dressings and a Collyweston slate roof. (It's not going anywhere fast.) Situated in the heart of the picturesque village of Alwalton adjacent to the small village green. The accommodation now needs full modernisation. (Contender for "Understatement of the Year.") A particular feature of the property is the large (?!) garden that in all extends to just over 0.3 of an acre. To the front of the property there is a small garden (postage stamp) enclosed by a low hedge (obstacle course). Gated access to the side of the cottage leads to a large garden in all measuring just over 0.3 of an acre. The gardens are extensively laid to lawn interepersed into which there are a number of mature trees with a small garden timber shed (one could use this structure as kindling, but that's about all).

I scrutinized the picture, and something jumped out at me. 
"Do you see what I see?" I asked Chumley. 
"There's honestly no telling," he replied, quite rightly. 
"Orbs!  On the roof. It's haunted! Freaky!"
Chumley and his rational mind stared me down. "It's just a spot on the lens," he scoffed.  "Still want to see it?"  He was intrigued by what 19th Century additions would look like.

We showed up to a bustling house - apparently, word got out that it might go on the cheap.  It was wired and plumbed, but barely.  There was a spider in the bathtub the size of a small Toyota.  I crept around each corner, on the lookout for that orb in the form of old Uncle Clive.  Something resembling a tree held up the roof, which was bowing like an overloaded donkey's back, but was apparently structurally sound.  "If it hasn't moved in the last 400 years, why would it start now?" Chumley reasoned.  The structural surveyor had peeled back manky newspaper paper used to smooth out the wall surfaces upstairs, dated from 1953.  Chumley started chatting about his vision for the place, what walls he would move, how it could look.  I, for once in the decade, became deathly silent while trying not to concuss myself on the low ceilings.  He finally sensed what was wrong.

"Please don't construe any of my comments as actual interest in buying this place," he said.

Thank God for that.  We hear it did sell, allegedly for over the guide price.  I hope whoever bought it has more vision than just old Uncle Clive rattling around upstairs.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Pub Quiz!

I have yet another cultural experience to tuck under my belt (more like wedge, after Christmas).  Chumley and I and a couple friends partook of a pub quiz.  Quizzing is a sport here, but a striking cultural difference is that you can win some major coin doing it in the UK.  No pesty little laws against gambling to worry about.  We sat down with our scorecards and a drink at The Falcon Inn.  The quizzmaster announced the pot would be 96 pounds, so the cash signs rolled over our eyes and we began.

In this incarnation, the quizmaster called a number.  If it appeared on your scorecard, you wrote the answer down to the question that followed.  It was possible you wouldn't have the number, which was especially peevesome if you actually knew the answer to the question being asked.  It was much like trivia bingo, minus the troll doll good luck charms most serious US bingo players swear by.  There were a few highly unattractive men in the vicinity, some with long hair, but I thought Chumley would leave me by the kerb should I attempt to rub their heads for good luck.

It's helpful to be the "token American" on a UK quiz team, as quite a few of the questions have to do with American movies, pop culture, or general knowledge.  I whipped up the answer "Meryl Streep" for at least one question, and that seemed to earn me some street cred. 

I was expecting quite a braniac population in pub quiz, but I needn't have worried about the table behind us.  The question was, "What is the name of the dissident Spanish terrorist organization commonly referred to as the Basque Separatists?"  I couldn't come up with that one, but Dangerous Dave at our table knew the answer.  Once a winner had been announced, we heard the correct answer was the ETA.

"Oh, no!" squealed a ditzy female voice behind us to her male companion.  "You told me it was the Sufferagettes!  Hmmph!"

Chumley and I shared the obligatory eye roll and wondered when this player's head had blown a bubble.  Trying not to laugh too loudly, Chumley muttered that the real Sufferagettes must be spinning in their graves about now.  And that made a nice all-purpose bogus answer for the rest of the evening on the questions where we had no flipping clue.

No one won the pot.  It should probably be donated to some women's voter league to ameliorate the karmic insult.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Scary Valentines

We received our annual Valentine's Day card from my mother a few days ago, and I have it displayed on the sideboard.  It's addressed to both of us.  I find it festive, and my mother never misses an opportunity to be festive.  Now that Chumley knows the cultural differences between US and UK Valentine's Day, he is content to have it on display.  (At least he hasn't taken it off display.)  However, this was not always the case.

I have a sneaking suspicion that my parents may like Chumley better than me, but suffice it to say, they are fans.  As one would expect, my mother sent him a Valentine's Day card in the year after I had introduced them.  It arrived festooned with a lovely foil heart sticker.  I spied it at his house and mentioned it in passing.  I was expecting gratitude that my P's thought highly of him, especially my mother.  But instead, his response was, "Yeah, it really freaked me out."

Unlike the US, where elementary schools have Valentine's Day parties and every member of the class is expected to give a valentine to every other member of the class, Valentine's Day UK style is reserved for the truly lusty.  I tried to find a card to send my parents this year, but gave up after too many references in the card aisle to underwear or the lack of it.  Here's a great blog entry on She's Not From Yorkshire that makes the point.  No wonder Chumley was freaked out.  He knew mom liked him, but this was ridiculous.

Now that I've explained how wide the US Valentine net is traditionally cast, Chumley seems calmer.  And the net is getting wider all the time.  Case in point: if Jesus can be one's Valentine, what problem could Chumley possible have with a little mash note from my mother?

Friday, 5 February 2010

Calling All Pajama Shoppers!

Tesco, the giant UK supermarket chain, made headlines this week by officially banning shoppers who show up in their pajamas (UK spelling: pyjamas.)  When the presenter read the story as we were watching the morning news, Chumley looked up from his cereal bowl with a wry smile, as if to imply that I was among the offenders who had caused the policy in the first place.  "As if!" I sputtered prophylactically.

There's no use denying that I love pajama time.  If I'm at home and going nowhere for the rest of the evening, I've been known to declare pajama time as early as 7 p.m.  Pajamas clear the mind and are much cheaper and safer than Valium, I think.  I match them with my Easy Spirit slippers.  Those occasionally need vacuumed due to so much wear and sock lint.  Thanks to their almost shoe-like sole, I have been known to wear them to take out the trash.  Or maybe return a library book to a drop box.  This is a slippery slope I'm on, according to Chumley.  I think he's afraid I'll start visiting the neighbors in my fuzzy pink robe (he bought me - facilitator!) for a tea and a chat.

Maybe the Brits have gotten wind of  It's worth a look, if you haven't seen it.  Chumley knew about it, and was all for the Tesco ban.  "We can't be having that!" he said, comparatively. 

I can't say I'm against Tesco on this one.  This comes from witnessing one particularly inappropriate pajama experience:  a young man wore flannel pajama bottoms emblazoned with bottles of Corona beer and lime wedges to his court date for driving under the influence.  Ugh.  That was almost as bad as the witness who showed up to testify wearing a t-shirt that said, "Honorary Oompa-Loompa,"  and took a nap on the benches outside the courtroom.  People!

Monday, 1 February 2010

The Perils of Island Air Travel

About nine years ago, I took the shortest flight I've ever experienced.  Including takeoff and landing, our total flight time was around seven minutes.  We were a group of female American law students concluding a weekend spent on the Aran Islands.  The Arans are off the west coast of Ireland, across from Galway.  After a weekend spent on rent-a-bikes visiting stone age fortresses and avoiding copious amounts of horse and sheep poo, we were loaded down with plenty of tea, toast, and Aran island sweaters. 

Incidentally, this is the first time it dawned on me that for a region seemingly consumed with matters of health and safety, no major tourist attraction in the States would allow its visitors to do this:
Thanks to Tak from HK

Bearing this in mind, I arrived at the miniscule Inis Mor airport/strip of paved road with few expectations.  Our plane would be the smallest I'd ever flown in, a BN2a Islander.  It holds eight passengers and has a rear baggage hold capacity of 120 kg (264 lb).  I presented the only person around with my bag, perfectly prepared for the usual routine of weighing and tagging.  Despite being bulky, my new sweater couldn't weight that much. 

Turns out, it wasn't the weight of the sweater I should have been worrying about.  "Step on the scale," the crusty baggage dame told one of our party.  Surely she did not mean personally, but I saw a particularly peanut-like member of our group mount a flat scale as the dame jotted down the numbers.  This was turning into a Weight Watchers meeting from hell.  My first instinct besides panic was to shed all unnecessary weight in the form of coats, shoes, and hair accessories.  I didn't think I had time to sneak off to the bathroom/bush behind the building to adjust my weight further.  I was torn between the instinct to minimize, and the weighty thought that if I decieved and we were overloaded, we were all going to die.  My turn came.  I closed my eyes and stepped aboard.  She muttered something about stones, and told me to step down. 

How kind, she must think I have stones in my pockets to weigh what I do, but what was the damage? I wondered.  We were all joyously naive.  We had been weighed in stones (increments of 14 pounds), and none of our group had a flipping clue what a stone was, other that we had nearly fallen off some over the course of our weekend. 

We wedged ourselves on the plane, none the wiser, and it chugged down a strip that terminated at the edge of a cliff.  After a few nails were quickly whittled down, we thankfully had enough momentum to avoid dropping like stones into the sea and enjoy the rest of our seven-minute flight.

We were in the hands of an Irish bush pilot.  He wore shiny avaitor sunglasses and had coal-black hair.  We arrived at the Connemara Airport and watched him swagger off... into the bar.  It was 10 a.m.

I resisted being an American tee-total tattletale and admired him from afar.  To me, a stiff drink sounded like a fine idea. 

Friday, 29 January 2010

Language Lessons from the DVLA

So, there I was, sitting on the sofa, trying to be productive by filling out the health section of the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) application.  It was going quite well.  I was denying I had all sorts of maladies and syndromes and feeling unusually healthy when question 9 stopped me and my black ink pen in its tracks:
Had I ever had, or currently suffer from, repeated attacks of sudden disabling giddiness?
This was a real question?  Using the definition my American brain had learned, the answer would have to be, unfortunately, yes.  Oh, horror.

Let's see.  There was the time when Chumley and I went wedding cake testing.  The shop was so generous, they gave us six pieces of cake, all slathered in different flavors of italian buttercream icing.  When I expressed interest in the ganache, the cake lady used a trowel to spade a massive portion of dark chocolate nirvana into a styrofoam carry-out (take away) container, and helpfully suggested we take it home.  Of course, I ate the most of the cake and the all ganache with the spork (spoon-fork) she helpfully included.  Next thing I know, Chumley claimed I was levatating off the couch.  I think I was flapping my wrists for some reason, but I really have no recollection of events before the massive sugar crash of 2008.

There was also the ugly Mountain Dew (US soft drink) incident of 2007, where I ignored my heightened sensitivity to caffeine and drank a 22-oz bottle of the high-wattage Code Red on a road trip.  Chumley insisted on listening to a CD by the Arctic Monkeys, and I apparently insisted on percussing him in time to the music with the empty soda bottle.  I am grateful he didn't screech to a halt and force me to do a ninja roll out of the vehicle.

Perhaps I was being too broad in my definition of "giddy."  I asked rational, emotionaly controlled Chumley if he thought I "suffered from repeated attacks of sudden disabling giddiness."  "Only when you come across a roadside fruit stand," he replied.  Drat.  He had not forgotten the incident shortly after our move to England where I screeched the brakes at the prospect of patronizing a massive pick your own fruit farm.  It's not as if I left skid marks on the road, for heaven's sake.  It was serious - they had loganberries. His whiplash only lasted a few hours, anyway.

This wasn't looking good.  I feared I would be barred from driving, purely on the basis of being suceptible to intense joie de vivre.  No wonder the motorways were filled with such grumps.

When in doubt, Chumley consults the atlas about all matters, regardless of their relevance to geography.  In moral quandaries, I consult the dictionary.  To my delight, Merriam-Webster has come to my rescue once again:

1a. Dizzy 1b. causing dizziness 1c.whirling rapidly.
2a. lightheartedly silly; 2b. joyfully elated.

I confess I am only familiar with two, above.  I may have whirled rapidly after the cake incident, but only verbally.  If I did dervish even a bit, it was in the living room and I posed no danger to anyone but Chumley.

Emotional motorists, unite!  I won't have to pursue my discrimination claim any further. I'm elated, but not joyfully enough to be giddy.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Confessions of a Former Duvet-theist

Being overtired and the weather so gray and rainy, I've developed a bit of a fixation on sleep lately. England loves the duvet, as does the rest of Europe.  There was a time when I did not believe in duvets.  I refer to that time as B.C (Before Chumley).  There I was, making my bed in the old fashioned, conventional way: fitted sheet, flat sheet, blanket, comforter.  The end. Goodnight.

One day, I saw Chumley with a pile of cloth on the floor and a white, cushy comforter spring into action.  He held up one end of the comforter, muttered something about corners, and he reappered 30 seconds later, ready to button the comforter into the duvet and get on with his life.  He detests flat sheets and blankets because he claims they catch on his so-called "big" feet.  (I have not heard him say, "Do these shoes make my feet look fat?" yet, but the pains he takes to wear "slimming" shoes, you'd think he was Son of Sasquatch. Hardly.)

Duvets looked like trouble.  Sure, you could whip off the cover and put it straight into the wash without the worry of dry cleaning or even washing a bulky comforter, but getting the pesky cover on was another matter.  I think that to properly case a duvet, training must begin in utero.  (The same goes for understanding the rules of cricket.)

In wintertime, Chumley would upgrade to the winter-weight duvet lining.  Mmm, cozy.  But by far the best part was making the bed.  In two shakes of a spring lamb's tail, it was done and over.  The anti-bedmaker in me rejoiced.  And duvet beds were just so darn fluffy.  I was a convert.

Now, if I could only work on my duvet skills.  My first attempts made it clear that Chumley and I were had wildly disparate bedding abilities.  I quickly was swallowed by the duvet.  It felt like pitching a highly decorative tent, and I hate camping.

At long last, I am happy to report I have managed a sub-5 minute duvet change.  I consider it a rite of passage.  I hope to improve just in time for the 2012 London Olympics.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Chickens on Ice

The most consistent theme of our great Christmas odessey was that Chumley and I seemed to be the harbinger of miserable weather wherever we went, and no more painfully so than in Cornwall.  As is Chumley, Cornwall is very mild, even milder than the rest of the island, thanks to our friend, the Gulf Stream.  Cornish palms abound, and it's extremely rare for the temperature to ever hit or, God forbid, drop below, freezing.  Intrepid travelers that we are, Chumley and I left the house around 11 a.m. in snow on the East Coast, and arrived on the West Coast at 6:30 p.m.  We covered about 270 miles.  Most of this was highway/motorway driving, which still means we averaged only 41 miles per hour.  The cause?  A little snow on British roads prevents you from going a long way.

My mother-in-law has become a chicken enthusiast in the last year.  Besides the fresh eggs, she's done chicken watercolors, there's been chicken photography, a particular chicken-tending wardrobe, and all the chickens have names.  Chumley joked that they should be Fricasee, Jalfrezi, Korma, etc., but they are much more civilized names like Bella and Bossy.  After days on end of below-freezing weather, the water feature in the back garden/yard had frozen, and the chickens decided to put on an ice show spectacular.  We knew they had not been practicing "Bolero" by Torvill and Dean when one began pecking at the ice in an effort to break through, and the rest who stupidly joined the Ice Capades could not manage to leave the ice rink, despite announcements from management.

The locals found the cold appalling, and the roads were surprisingly slick.  It's not like the US, where the salt trucks drive all night and the roads are perfectly passable the next morning.  Not only were they running short on salt all over, but we heard on the radio that the council had gritted 800 or so miles of A roads (the major ones.)  In Cornwall, that doesn't quite cut it, as 80% of the roads are not A roads.  I don't think a road in Cornwall exists that doesn't involve a hill.  So, more ice skating for the rest of us.

I managed to avert tragedy myself while crossing a street, loaded down with several glass bottles of tasty holiday beverages.  One false step on a traffic hump and I felt my shoe move beneath me to the sickening clatter of glass on pavement.  Chumley looked horrified and rushed over to help, but I quickly handed him my carrier bag while clearly compos mentis.  "Forget me, save the booze!" I whispered.  At least my priorities were right.  Chumley's sister opened the front door to find me spread eagle on a traffic hump, stunned mostly by the near loss of a bottle of Piper Heidsieck champagne, a Riesling and something French for good measure.  "What are you doing?" she yelled helpfully.  The correct answer was that I was suffering from a brutally tenderized rump roast, but I replied with what came to mind.  "I'm just sitting here in the street."  Streets are filthy, by the way.  Thankfully, I was wearing my festive black velveteen jeans.  I wouldn't have been a very popular party guest had it got out that not only was I dirty and smelled of asphalt, but I was solely responsible for killing all festive beverages like dogs in the street.  Talk about American prohibition.

From that point forward, my outdoor walking paranoia started.  I am indeed a very large chicken on ice.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Lessons Learned from a Wayfaring Christmas

Well, I'm back, possums, and I must say, I am just now getting over probably the worst case of jetlag I've ever experienced.  On reflection, this was likely caused by a number of factors:

1) An extended time separated from my Simmons Beautyrest World Class Pillowtop mattress, i.e. Westin Hotel's Heavenly Bed.  For those of you who read this blog for its essential tips on living, here's another little gem: never hessitate to spend money on a good mattress.  It was the last item we bought in a hurry before the cargo container left our driveway for England.  It's turned into one of the things I pine for when not at home.  It's just like sleeping in a giant pat of butter, and now that we have fresh sheets thanks to restorative, post-holiday housework, it's even less greasy.  Aaaahhh.

 2) Copious caloric consumption, mostly in the form of Lindor truffles and Oatmeal Carmelitas.  Not familiar with the Oatmeal Carmelita?  They only have the power to change your life (nevermind your waist size, it's too depressing.)  They're the all-time cookie favorite of the plethora my mother/frustrated caterer makes at Christmas, and I shared the joy by bringing a batch to my husband's family in Cornwall.  They call them "those oaty biscuits" but not out of disrespect.  How can the Pillsbury bakeoff winner from 1967 be wrong?  Should my fair readers find themselves with extra chocolate and caramel/toffee sauce just waiting to be properly applied, prepare to be dazzled.  The measurements are in American, but easily enough converted to metric.



2 cups Pillsbury BEST® All Purpose or Unbleached Flour
2 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups margarine or butter, softened

1 (12.5-oz.) jar (1 cup) caramel ice cream topping
3 tablespoons Pillsbury BEST® All Purpose or Unbleached Flour
1 (6-oz.) pkg. (1 cup) semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts


1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease 13x9-inch pan. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. In large bowl, combine all crust ingredients; mix at low speed until crumbly. Reserve half of crumb mixture (about 3 cups) for topping. Press remaining crumb mixture in bottom of greased pan. Bake at 350°F. for 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in small bowl, combine caramel topping and 3 tablespoons flour; blend well.

3. Remove partially baked crust from oven; sprinkle with chocolate chips and nuts. Drizzle evenly with caramel mixture; sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture.

4. Return to oven; bake an additional 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 1 hour or until completely cooled. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours or until filling is set. Cut into bars.

Finally, our flight schedule made me think we weren't circling London Heathrow, but rather Dante's Seventh Circle of Hell.  Chumley suggested monkeying around with melatonin for relief, but I just wanted a nap, and a snack at 3 a.m.  If you're flying American Airlines, indeed, this feat is possible.  We got in at 3:30 a.m. and reported to work the next morning.  I am still waiting to be contacted about our super-trooper awards ceremony.

Life lesson learned from this trip: NEVER, ever fly US to UK in the daytime again, even if it is hundreds cheaper.  The mind meddling and extended schedule screw-up are worth the difference in cost.

We did have an excellent visit and some adventures, which I shall portion out like Lindor truffles in the days to come.  To be fair, Chumley would portion.  I'm more of a snarfer/scoffer.  To me, leftover chocolate is not possible within the atmosphere of Planet Claire.