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.