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.