Saturday, 26 February 2011

Toilet Doors without Peeping Holes

I don't know whether to post this under Fabulous Things about England or Things That Annoy the Poo(p) out of Me (first installment coming soon). Or maybe I need a series of posts on things my British friends have noted about the United States.

Not so long ago my friend S. mentioned that, while visiting the US, she'd felt awfully exposed in the public loos because of the gap between the loo doors and their walls. I rather suddenly realized why early in my stay I had felt so completely claustrophobic in English public toilets.

You'll have to forgive the poor photography below. Both my friend in the US and I found that it is virtually impossible to get a whole toilet door in a photograph.

US public restroom door #1

It looks like just a sliver from this angle, but my American friend was kind enough to provide us with a close up as well.

Now imagine you're in the queue with a small child who asks questions.

The Brits have a rather obvious solution to peek-a-boo in the loo.

It's all about hinges.

I think I can add stall doors to the list of ways in which British engineering is better than American engineering.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Fabulous Things About England #27: Trainspotting

Sydney Gardens, Bath: London-Paddington Line

It's half-term here in Bath. The kids have a week off of school and plenty of time to spend with their families before the long-haul to the Easter Holidays. I have a love/hate relationship with half-term. I love that the three-o'clock buses aren't heaving with school children. I hate that town is teaming with people at midday. I love that I get to see my friends' children when we meet for coffee. I hate that it becomes very hard to concentrate in the public library. I'm both a curmudgeon and a happy human jungle gym.

As such, I was lucky enough to be asked to go play in Sydney Gardens on Monday. Much to my surprise, this included a spot of trainspotting. We sat on the bench and ate a packet of crisps while we waited for the Paddington-bound train. The kids loved it. Me, I could have done without wandering off to find the playground. I was thrilled to sit and watch the trains go by.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Mist with Bouts of Sunshine

A few weeks ago, we spent three days in a row above 10 degrees (50F). It rained all of those days, but my feet were hot in my boots. I was thrilled at the idea of removing them and moving on to strappy flats. I suggested to the housemate that we turn the heat off. She pointed out that it is February. The heat is still set to winter.

We are now misty.

With bouts of sunshine.

 Both are sure signs of March.

I think these are crocus. Are they I wonder? What are your sure signs of spring?

Saturday, 12 February 2011

American High Schools, Customer Service, and Cheerleaders

Twice since moving to England I've worked retail. Twice I have voluntarily spent my time selling clothing while selling credit, spacing hangers evenly, and picking stock up off the floor. Twice, I have sat through training sessions which did not focus on how to work the till or the law governing the selling of store cards. Instead I sat with a sufficient amount of irony while I was told how to provide "American Customer Service" which apparently involves smiling like a clown, asking customers personal questions, and interrupting a browsing customer no matter what their body language says. Firstly, what the English perceive as American customer service is not American customer service. Secondly, English customers are oddly not Americans. Let's just say there were many months in which my sense of the ironic kept me from biting my tongue right off.

I held that first retail gig long before any of us saw a giant recession coming but shortly after the first High School Musical hit cinemas. I worked with many young women who had left school at 16 (which is to say they graduated) and decided to pursue careers in retail. Retail here is a perfectly acceptable career choice with a defined career path, and I was one of only a handful of part-time interlopers who were funding an education. I was also endlessly fascinating because I had a unique perspective on what goes on inside an American high school.

Well, endlessly fascinating for just long enough for me to tell them that, "No. No, high school is nothing like that. It's a terrible dark miserable place." And I'd return magically to my roll of part-time staff.

By the time I started gig number two, the giant recession had hit, and I found myself part-time staff for a company that didn't hire staff for more than thirty hours a week. The demographic had changed. Suddenly the folks working in retail were university graduates. Some like me had graduate degrees. More than a few had skills this country desperately needs, but there are still no jobs. Among the staff, leaving school at 16 for a dream job in retail was a rarity. But the store still had that handful of part-time staff putting themselves through uni. Only this time, there was Glee all over Channel 4, and  Friday Night Lights had started to make late night appearances. The question had changed from "Is it like that" to "Who would I be?"

What can I possibly say to that? Probably the same person you are? A Cheerleader? A rah rah girl? A jock? A three dimensional person? The international exchange student everyone loves? It seems mean to dash another dream. If you're wondering, terrible things happen to people in high school, not the least of which is this:

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Fabulous Things About England #26: Shopping Trolleys, Carts, and Buggies

If the NHS, clotted cream, and P.D. James weren't enough to keep me in this country, the shopping trolleys would. In the US, shopping carts--or buggies depending on your location--have two caster wheels. It is not only our obligation as Americans to complain about one of those wheels becoming stiff, or full of hair, or not full enough of oil, but also our obligation not to see the easy solution to the problem.

Here in the UK, they have seen the obvious, implemented it across the country, and then failed to send that solution across the pond. When next the two countries take opposing sides in a world conflict, the UK will win hands down on the basis of shopping trolley engineering alone. That's right, all four wheels on a shopping trolleys are castor wheels. And no, I have never ever run into a friend at the grocery store and had reason to whinge about the trolley pulling in one direction.

I attribute this difference entirely to the O in castor being more wheel like than the E in caster.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Gardens and Spring and Maybe Soon

Yesterday morning at ten, the fog was still so thick I couldn't see the tree in downstairs guy's garden. By eleven, we had full-on sun, and I was digging out my sun glasses. England is preparing for spring, as are the many style bloggers I so envy for their visual sense. Modern Country Style suggested a garden party to celebrate almost spring here on the island. My one poet friend in Fairbanks is thumbing through seed catalogs while another is painting his way to spring.

One of the ways I fantasized my life in England was with a vase of newly cut flowers on my table. It's not an expense that I can afford. Some five years later, I've learned to enjoy the cut flowers in their un-purchased state.

And to await the the hanging baskets, which will soon look like this:

I'm ready for summer. We had one last year, so it should be just another five years before the next one.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Fabulous Things About England #25--Small Children and Rugby

We've been misty with no rain. The temperatures have soared into the teens (50s) for the last few days, but it has been virtually impossible to tell the day from the dusk. Like most winter Sundays, yesterday was punctuated with the yells, whistles, and laughs of small children playing rugby. Some Sundays, they are so young that I can only make out specks tumbling over one another. In these things too, I find myself grateful and lucky.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Things I Miss From Home--Tootsie Rolls

After five years in England, it is reasonably rare that I crave anything that I can't get my hands on here. The problem did present itself more frequently in 2010 than it did in 2009. Since I can now speak to my family via video conference, I can also see things I had completely forgotten. Still, I can usually find or make the things that I see. Sun tea in my sister's glass--check. Cornbread--almost check. Jalapenos--close to check. Half-and-half--check.

I did spend most of last year looking at a giant box of Tootsie Rolls on the shelves behind my father's head. Each week, he'd offer to send me some. Each week, I told him not to bother. Sweets (candy) are heavy and therefore expensive to send. Besides, in between phone calls, I would completely forget about them. This Christmas, Dad and his wife sent me a whole box. There are only a few left. I'm pretty sure I have to share them.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

The View from There

I used to live in the far north where the coming of the cold is a comfort, a known quantity, a beautiful thing. I miss the yawning light of February in the arctic--the moment when there is more dawn than dusk but still no day.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The Weather Two Weeks From Here

Generally speaking, Bath gets New York City's weather two weeks later. Often their snow manifests itself as freezing cold rain, and their rain manifests itself as a deluge. Soaring temperatures in New York mean balmy afternoons and generalized whinging about 27 (80F) degree days. I suspect that we are just a few weeks away from freezing temperatures, and perhaps the beginning of spring is further out than I want to believe.

In the meantime, in the detritus of autumn the first blooms are beginning to show.

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