Friday, April 2, 2010

It's a Good Friday Sing-a-Long!

Hot cross buns!
Hot cross buns!
One a penny,
Two a penny,
Hot cross buns!

If you have no daughters,
Give them to your sons;
One a penny,
Two a penny,
Hot cross buns!

When I was little, I sang this song. And like the other children, I had no idea what it meant, but didn't particularly care. Who knew what any of those nursery rhymes were about? After my fifth grade recorder concert, I never gave 'Hot Cross Buns' much thought and remained blissfully uninformed. Not anymore.

A hot cross bun is a bun. A bun that has a cross on it, and is served hot...a hot cross bun. I don't know about anyone else, but I was mildly disappointed to learn that's all they are. In England, they're eaten on Good Friday to commemorate the crucifixion of the Christian Messiah. Hence the cross.

As for the rest of the song, I wouldn't make the argument that it's particularly informative or even interesting. Thanks to inflation, it's been quite a while since you could get anything for a penny. And why would you sell various quantities of the same product at the same price? So that's not really teaching realistic consumer awareness or economics to children. And I can't even think of a reason why sons would only get buns if they don't have any sisters.

Really, why are these seriously out-dated (and let's be honest, creepy) nursery rhymes still around? Take 'Ring Around the Rosy' for instance. What child wouldn't enjoy singing about plague-ridden corpses burning in the streets? Then there's 'Three Blind Mice'. Knife wielding farmers' wives who mutilate seeing-impaired rodents = jolly good fun! We can't forget poor 'Jack and Jill', who while performing a routine chore fell perilously down a hill, resulting in Jack's broken skull. And seriously, Miss Muffet, what the hell is a tuffet?

Anyway, I made hot cross buns.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Juicy Bits

If you're in America, and you're referring to the 'juicy bits', you're probably getting to the good part of the latest piece of gossip. But if you're in England, you're probably talking about orange juice. Juicy bits are pulp.

I find this ironic considering the pulp is the least juicy bit of juice. I was told though that 'pulp' sounds too literal and unappealing. Okay, I'll give them that. But then they need to see my point about calling the bathroom the 'toilet'. Saying that you need to use the toilet, or asking where the toilets are, is much too literal and quite unappealing.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pleasant Pheasant

Sunday roast: A big thing in the UK and a nice tradition that some families still have in the US. A lot of effort can typically be expected to go into this meal. But I imagine that few go to more elaborate lengths than a trip to the local butcher's (which in itself has become a rarity in the States with the heaps of readily available shrink-wrapped animal parts waiting in mounds at WalMart) to pick up a piece of meat. But there's no need to go to into town when dinner wanders into the front garden.

I glanced out the window earlier this week to see a brightly colored bird, the size of a house cat, peacefully pecking at the lawn. "Oh, look! It's so pretty!", I said to my British beau. And next thing I knew he's marched into the yard with a loaded rifle. Apparently these lovely birds have been bred for the sole purpose of being hunted, evidently by lazy hunters who don't want much of a challenge, which would explain why it did little in the way of fleeing for its life as I watched, reluctantly curious, from the bedroom.

Given today's cornucopia of rehydrated, dehydrogenated, freeze-dried, flash-frozen, genetically-modified, prepackaged bounty, I've always seen hunting as a cruel and unnecessary hobby. But as I was reminded by my proud provider, "In these economic times, who can really afford to pass up a free meal?". So feeling as though the unfortunate fowl was owed the respect of a dignified death, we consulted YouTube for a step-by-step guide to how a pheasant goes from pecking to plate.

We were fully equipped with plastic gloves, bin liners, vacuum cleaner, newspapers, paper towels, bleach,...and knives. Though my job was little more than holding open a plastic bag, I'll still omit the details. I was surprised, however, by how horrible it wasn't. It didn't take long for it to resemble what I would find in any freezer section and for some reason that's the stage where we can comfortably disassociate life (and subsequently death) from our food.

I realize that this experience is hardly unique to the UK and there are plenty of people in the US who prepare food this way quite regularly. But I will note that even while this was the first time I've been so intimately involved with the origin of my dinner, the abundance of locally grown and produced food in the UK is notable.

Most labels in a supermarket boast "British Beef", "English Cheddar", "Made in the UK". We even get our milk delivered to our doorstep fresh from a dairy farm a mile up the road! It wouldn't even be difficult to stock a pantry with only products produced within just one county. This is something that I can't imagine being able to do in the US.

Even if you're lucky enough to have a farmer's market, or even a WholeFoods, within a 25 mile radius, you'd still have a hard time consuming such an array of local goods. I get the impression that consumers have much more of a voice in the UK. It's an island that could fit inside Alabama, with more than 60 million people, and they've managed to keep a lot of food local. So why on earth can't the United States, with its vast amounts of land and hundreds of millions of consumers not successfully demand more locally grown, produced, and sustainable food? I mean, consuming is what we do!

Sunday, February 21, 2010


I think J.K. Rowling must have had Nick Griffin in mind when she wrote Lord Voldemort's character. Given his 'pureblood' propaganda and ability to communicate with snakes, the similarities certainly are uncanny. The dementors of the BNP, I mean, the demeanor of the BNP, does give one an overwhelming feeling of despair. And he has been quoted as saying that Muggles "are the most appalling, insufferable people to have to live with". Oh wait, my mistake, he said that about British Muslims.

For those who aren't familiar with Nick Griffin and the British National Party:

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Grey Skies Smilin' at Me

In some ways, my high school education was lacking; particularly in the area of international awareness. So my early academic exposure to English culture wasn't exactly extensive. British literature was limited to Macbeth. I'm pretty sure one of my English teachers thought that we invented the language, and seemed to have her own version of it. And we somehow managed to gloss over centuries of colonial rule under the British Empire (but then again we had "social studies" not history). So until too recently, my knowledge of Great Britain consisted mostly of the stereotypes.

I may have heard a rumor that British food was inedible, heard mention that the weather was pretty dismal, and saw endless cinematic evidence that their oral hygiene was, er...poor. After spending some time there though, I've found the food quite charming, the teeth generally healthy (thanks to a nationalized health care system!), and the weather, well, rather bad. But surely that's a matter of opinion. I mean, 113 days of rain and more than 3,000 hours of overcast every year must be someone's ideal climate. Though English weather certainly did live up to its reputation the first time I landed in London.

During the flight, we had soared along the blue horizon and through the wispy white clouds. I was brimming with excitement as the pilot announced our decent into London. But as we went lower, the clouds grew darker. And we got a drizzly, foggy welcome when we touched down. I knew I really must be in the UK!

I wasn't disappointed on my next trip either. Like some sort of weather-time warp, the sky transitioned from wide-open blue, to mildly oppressive grey. Without fail, each time I fly to England I receive the same dreary greeting. And it always puts a smile on my face. Here's hoping that Wednesday's forecast calls for rain!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

T-minus 10 days (and 10 books)

In ten days, I will at long last embark upon my journey to begin an internship in the United Kingdom. The term "at long last" may seem a bit dramatic, and I imagine some will think cliche, but I am prepared to justify the use of this sappy prepositional phrase.

I suppose the wait really started when I first visited London for New Year's two years ago. It was my first trip to Europe and indeed the first time I left the continent on which I was born. Instantaneously, I swooned for the tiny island that could just about fit snugly within the borders of my home state. Everything was fascinating, from the tube to the toilet. Oh yes, even the toilet. I couldn't stay away from Britain; from then on I just kept coming back. It probably wasn't the food that had me hooked, it certainly wasn't the weather, and I hadn't yet realized the brilliance of the BBC. So maybe it had something to do with a guy.

Through a series of well-timed coincidences and uncomfortable social situations, I had fallen for a local. A trans-Atlantic romance certainly sounds like the stuff of fairytales and steamy paperbacks while you're still together on the same continent. But the reality of jet-lagged visits, timing Skype calls to fit each others' schedules with a five hour time difference, and the ever present visa issue quickly hits you (and your bank account) hard.

So after two years, countless frequent flyer miles, 1 lost passport, and a lot of patience, I will at long last be living in the UK. And I will blog about my experiences and struggles as I settle into a new culture.

To help the assimilation process along, I've comprised a list of 10 British novels, from the contemporary to the classic, that I will read during my first months. In theory, these books will provide a glimpse of English culture and life as perceived by 10 literary artists over two centuries.

The list:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (2007)
Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954)
1984 by George Orwell (1949)
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (1945)
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (1937)
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847)
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (1847)
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (1838)
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)

Naturally, I could think of nowhere better to begin than by finishing the Harry Potter series!

I should note that my journey is far from over and I expect to encounter many more obstacles and visa fiascoes as I transition to an American expat living in Britain. But I haven't given up yet and with only a week and a half of pre-departure planning and packing, the light at the end of the deceivingly long tunnel is brighter than ever!