Sunday, 30 January 2011

The Price of Milk

I am inclined to tell you that I wish I had done better research into the cost of living here before leaving Alaska. I looked at all the obvious indicators before I agreed to pursue the remainder of my education here. A flat would cost me quite a lot more, but said flat would have running water and a nearby bus stop. So if I subtracted the cost of petrol (car gas), insurance, and wear and tear on the Mitsubishi, the cost seemed to even out. The cost of heating would go down, but the cost of water would go up. Even with the two-to-one exchange rate in 2005, it looked to me like my life was about to become significantly cheaper.

I had not counted on the cost of food. Nor had I counted on finding that I could no longer subsist on the cheap canned food that had gotten me through my first year in Alaska. The exchange rate is now 1.6 to 1. The cost of a milk in England is also much easier to come by.

Type in 'milk' into any of these sites to see what the major grocery stores are charging. There are 3.7 liters in an US gallon or 6.6 pints in an US gallon.
Asda (Walmart)

If you want to see what your average weekly shop might be in your city you can use the tools at

Today the average price of milk seems to be about 84 pence per litre, 3 pound a gallon, 5 dollars a gallon.

I'm glad I hadn't been able to do the maths (math) when I began my journey to England. I think I would have been to terrified to come here.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

January Days

We have returned to the normalcy of January in England.

 And the optimists are out in force.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Pants, Again.

My favorite thing about 'pants' as a synonym for 'knickers' is that it's also an interjection. When you've put the washer on a hot wash with your favorite wool sweater, Pants! is a perfectly acceptable response. I find it useful at work these days, but mostly because I work with a group of young people who, rightly, point out my favorite interjections are terribly safe for work. Pants! isn't really either, but it is fun.

My least favorite thing about pants in England is best understood through a visual.

There you have it. Two pairs of pants. They are exactly the same size figuring for the differences in US and UK sizing. They both fit exactly as they are intended to, and they are both the same cut. So, Pants! are some of the things that I simply cannot get used to in this country. I will have to return to the States every now and then, so that I can have pants that fit the way I think they should.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Pants! Underwear! Panties! Knickers! And Trousers!

Here in England, the safest leg-covering clothing option for an American is jeans. It helps that it is now rare to be turned away from a those must-see tourist traps more broadly known as abbeys and cathedrals for wearing clothing deemed inappropriate. Though it is still possible that you'll be turned away for a lack of care when dressing to enter a place of worship, if only to get that last minute rubbing of your sixteenth-century ancestor's grave. Still jeans are safest for you American's taking a holiday (vacation) in to this particular mother country. 

They'll save you from announcing to your tour guide that you've got to run back to the hotel to change into a clean pair of underwear or your taxi driver that you've soiled your knickers on an early morning walk. No matter how well you command the English language, both are really just not done above a whisper in any country. You may find it easier to pack clothing you like to wear and delete the term 'pants' from your vocabulary entirely.

The English only use the term 'pants' to refer to underwear. They say 'trousers' where Americans will use the term 'pants.' Since American films and tv shows are so prevalent here, the English can tell you all about that particular difference in language. When faced with a real American demanding a cloth to get the coffee out of their pants, they'll still hear underwear. They'll still look at you quizzically, and they'll still bring you that cloth. The English are, when faced with rudeness (why are you mentioning your pants in public), always polite.

They also cut women's pants a wee bit differently than in the US. More on that problem, with pictures, on Monday.

Edit 22 January 2011: I have been informed that in the North folks do refer to trousers as pants. I must now consider moving.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Knowing When to Tell the Story

As it is with most of the friends I see here, Bath was a convenient detour when work brought my friend Beth to England. It was a detour made necessary by a project she has been working on for more than a decade now, a project that I hope as much for my own sake as for hers will soon be financed and completed.

The beginning and the end of Beth's and my story took place a decade and a half ago in the former ROTC barracks that made up part of Indiana University's dormitories. I was running a green toothbrush across my morals when Beth walked in and uncapped her own tube of toothpaste. I nodded to her, and she asked in return, "What happened to your mother?"

Eighteen-year-old college students are nosy. They ask personal questions of just about everyone. That week alone, I'd asked the our cleaner how many children she had (2 boys), another woman on our floor if the two men she was sleeping with knew about each other (no), and my neighbor why she was no longer a ballerina (proof that I was no better). I like eighteen-year-old freshmen a lot. I can't imagine a life in which I don't get to meet a whole new set of them at the beginning of each new term. Who else is going to laugh at my Grover impression when I explain prepositions? (They no longer remember Grover.) Nonetheless, when I was an eighteen and asking my own invasive questions, I largely hated my peers. I wanted to be like them more than anything else, and that was something that I thought was largely lost to me.

So when Beth asked the question that she couldn't possibly have known was loaded, I thought about calmly putting down my toothbrush and decking her. Beth had decorated her door with names of musicians I'd never heard of before--The Wallflowers come to mind now. She'd carefully clipped words out of a magazine and made a collage of all the things she loved. She had a television with a video player, and she knew how to talk to our peers. And, I thought, she was as stupid as many of the women I'd come across already. She'd asked what she thought was a benign question that was in fact completely loaded. Since she wasn't going to want to be a friend of mine once I'd answered her, I'd do the next best thing to hitting her. I'd make her feel like she'd been sucker punched.

"She's dead," I said.

I'd hoped for shock. I knew that she was going to say oh, I'm sorry and back out of the room. I was going to be mildly annoyed if she cried and I had to tell her to go call her mother to feel better. And god help me, if she said anything about God and picking the prettiest flowers, I really was going to punch here. Never mind that the only person I'd ever punched was my sister.

"Mine too," She said.

Beth has a better memory than I do. She can probably tell you much more about how that conversation ended than I can. She can also tell you that we weren't some oddity of dormitory statistics. There were three of us that I was aware of who had lost a parent before our 18th birthdays. Twenty-one of us lived on the floor. The numbers were just about right as a reflection of parent-loss in the general population.

So when Beth approached me last year and asked if I would help her to write the script for a documentary she is making, I was willing to help. I am intentionally not saying happy here. I spent three years writing a memoir of my own experience of mother-loss. I knew what that had taken out of me, and I knew what it had given me. I also knew that a lot had changed for me in the intervening years. I no longer saw the loss of Mom as the singular most important event in my life. I no longer defined myself foremost as a motherless daughter. I no longer worried that when I failed people would assume it was the loss of Mom that made me fail. I no longer thought about my mother every day.

I was glad that Beth had reached the point where she felt she could finally put together footage she's been shooting for years into a product that would tell her story, my story, the story of so many of the young people in the US who find themselves lost during and after the death of a parent. It gladdens my heart to be part of Beth's project. It gladdens my heart to know that my words too will have the opportunity to be heard.

I wish this project had been around when I lost Mom. I wish there had been a film to tell me that I wasn't alone or even out of the ordinary. I wish that I had had the opportunity to see that my own success was still possible, that my failures were normal, and that there would be a life beyond the loss. Beth is trying to raise enough funds to get the project off the ground. If you can afford to help her see Boys Don't Date Girls With Dead Mothers come to fruition, I would certainly appreciate it. Her Kick Starter page is here. Even if you can't give (I need toothpaste again and that's just not going to happen. How big is pea sized?), encouraging words would be truly appreciated.

Because I very much appreciate a woman named Katie's help and her action, I'd also like it if you could click over to Uneasy Pink. She kindly shared the project with her blog readers here. She's faced the issue from the other side, as a mother who may leave children behind.

As for me, I've been looking through the memoir and wondering if I should begin sending it out again. It may well have set on that shelf for too long.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Fabulous Things About England #24--Herons

For awhile here, I spent most of my days just outside of town in the countryside. I first saw a heron from a bus window on my way to work. I yelled for the driver to stop as though my first sighting should have been reason enough to hold up traffic and make fifty students late for class. He didn't hear me. 
This one turned up on my way to the dentist not so long ago. He moved on rather quickly.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Fabulous Things About England Sometimes Happen Here

It is apparently traditional to explain one's long absence from one's corner of the web. I will, here, simply answer by saying the economy is really, really, bad. So I've spent the winter working in a department store in Bath and teaching via a distance education program in Alaska. The latter has saved my soul from the former.

Most of my time on the internet has been spent with students who have been lovely. They are also no longer my students. I get a new batch in the coming weeks. I am looking forward to them, but I am not looking forward to the inevitable loss of interest in all things not related to the classical argument. I lie of course. There is very little that cannot be used to teach the classical argument.

Fall was generally kind to this part of England. We had little rain and the sun hovered above us almost all the way through November. I was and am tremendously grateful. Anything that seems to lengthen winter days must be embraced with joy. 

And, as all of you Americans heard during the slow news week leading up to Christmas, we had snow. Piles and piles of snow. I hadn't seen so much snow since leaving Alaska five years ago. It meant quite a lot of overtime for me, as I can walk to work. So a few inches of snow made it possible to pay for a Happy Christmas.

The flakes on one afternoon were huge. I could not help but smile; though, I only stepped outside for a few moments. This is the way I always imagined English Christmases should look.

And that is what I got this year, a Christmas that look perfect and felt like home.

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