Thursday, 31 March 2011

The Post of The Month Club

One of the things I've been up to lately has been getting my butt in the chair to write. Part of that exercise has been trying to get something up on the blog each week. The part of my brain is now largely participating in that even if my bum is still avoiding the chair. I've learned that there are a lot of excellent writers out there. So has Happy Homemaker UK. She's set up a linky party to honor every writer's best post of the month. You should go over and have a looksy, and if you blog, a linky.


Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Warning: Census Exacebates Existential Crises

I'd been relatively excited for the census form to come through the letter slot. It landed in the hallway many days ago. It's a little like those Christmases when all I asked for was a scarf, and I was given warm socks, gloves, and stacks of books. I'd feel so tremendously grateful, but my neck would still be cold. My cold neck would keep telling me about the wind chill factor, even as my feet thanked my sister for the new wool socks. It wasn't a lack of gratitude, just a niggling whinge. I'd send my neck to bed without supper. That usually solved the problem.

At first I wondered if my great nieces and nephews would take the time, a hundred years from now when the specifics are released, to track down my name. I wondered if they would try to piece together who I was and perhaps why I was here instead of in the States. I wondered what they would know that I do not yet know. Do I remain? Can I be found in the 2021 census U.K citizenship in hand? Or, will they have to search for me in Australia or Canada or America or Belize? Will I finally be the maiden aunt that my three nephews and niece recalled seeing once every few years but not much after my fiftieth birthday? Will they know that the book, any book of mine, had finally been published? Will it seem odd to them that I hold an Academic title or will they know already? What will they make of the scattering of information the census will give them?

 They most certainly will not know that my pen hesitated and hovered when it came to giving my country of birth. It is an easy question. I am, by birth or otherwise, not English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish, or from ROI. I am without question from Elsewhere, Write in the Current Name of Country. Black tick mark, USA, and I am forever listed, by my own hand as foreign.

When did you most recently arrive to live here? How long do you intend to stay? Are you in good health? Do you help family and friends? Is your national identity: English or Irish, Scottish or British, or Other Write In? And your ethnic group: English / Welsh / Scottish / Northern Irish / British, Irish, Gypsy or Irish Traveller, or  Any Other White Background Write In? What passport do you hold: United Kingdom, Irish,  Other Write In?

I'm grateful to the UK for a lot of things. This year's census isn't one of them. So here is the story I would have told had I been given enough space.

Household Questions:
H6: Name of person 1, Name of Person 2
Actually our names haven't changed since question H3.

Individual Questions:
1. What is your name?
Actually my name hasn't changed since question H3 and H6.

4. On 27 March 2011, what was your legal marital or same-sex civil partnership status?
Never married and never registered in a same-sex civil partnership. It's terribly redundant by the way. The courts have been very clear that same-sex relationships cannot become marriages and dual-sex relationships cannot become civil partnerships. As for my marital status, I'm not married. Or if you prefer the term my grandmother used to use, I'm 'still single.' Yes, I know that I just told you that I'm thirty-three. Yes, I know that this government would let me have some extra dosh if only I'd go ahead and get hitched. Yes, I'm aware that there are a lack of marriages, if you ask some, and my singleness will lead to practical starvation in my old age. If you must know, no one will have me. And even if someone would have me, I'd have to ask permission of the government to get married seeing as I'm foreign. It's been months since I thought about it, so thank you for reminding me.

9)What is your country of Birth?
Elsewhere, write in name of Country, USA. I'd have spelled it out, but those whole nine spaces you've left me to do so, were oh so helpfully too short. Clearly, I am an American. Don't you read the blog?

10)If you were not born in the UK, when did you most recently arrive to live here?
12/2005. And in a few months time when the current government stands up in parliament to whinge about all those people who have outstayed their original visas, had the nerve to pay for a new one, filled in the all of the paperwork, sat in processing centers, and been given permission to stay longer, I'll know that you mean me. Never mind the countries actual need for highly educated persons. No, I know that you'll spit me out as one of those statistics that imply that I am clearly taking advantage.

14) Do you look after or give any help or support to family members, friends, neighbors or others because of long-term physical or mental ill-health/disability. Problems related to old age?
Yes. Do you think that you could mention that alongside question 14, please?

15) How would you describe your national identity?
American. I'm foreign. I'm pretty sure we covered that before. I really want to describe myself as British, but I suspect that that isn't really what you mean.

16) What is your ethnic group?
Any other white background, please write in. American. Can we please, please, please only use the word ethnic when it is definitionally appropriate? And maybe you could consider that ethnicity does not exist except as a way to define the other. Someone remind me to address the ethnic group debate here and in the US.

22. What passports do you hold?
Can we talk about this? Would it worry you if I said Martian? I'm an American. I'm foreign. I am here legally. I get that I am not a British citizen. Can this be the last question that highlights this, please? It is. Good.

25. Which of these qualifications do you hold?
So I told them, but then they wanted me to tick a box if those qualifications are foreign. But only part of them are. Hmmm. I do feel for the statisticians.

34. What is your full and specific job title? Hourly paid lecturer. Yes, it is exactly the same job I held before coming here and spending a lot of time obtaining a PhD. Yes, it is true that I thought a PhD would get me a full-time permanent position. No, I couldn't have predicted that I would ever live through such a deep recession as this. Yes, I should have predicted that the humanities would be considered a convenient line item i the budget here and abroad. Yes, I see that I should have followed my mother's advice and become and engineer. No, becoming an engineer now will do me zero good, since new engineers are making a pitance.

38. In your main job, what is the name of the organisation you work for? The University of ________. Um Yes, I do see that that is not in the UK. Did I mention giving up a shop job to take another job and the new company going bankrupt? Did I mention that I love teaching online, but it doesn't actually pay the bills? I get that I am a complete failure in the obtaining work paying 35,000 pounds a year in order to fulfill the points-based system requirements. I get that that number is 11,000 pounds a year higher than it was 18 months ago. I get that I am more ancient in the land of the points based system than I am on the marriage market. I get that I am well qualified for work that you are desperate to have filled, but that work does not fulfill the 35,000 pound requirement. Thanks for bringing it up.

42. In your main job, how many hours a week (including paid and unpaid overtime) do you usually work? That depends on whether you ask the university or you actually add up my hours. Do you really want to have this conversation?

My name, today's date, and my telephone number are exactly the same as they were an hour ago.

I must sound even more bitter to you all than I do to myself. The purple form has been filled in (out) and popped in the mail. I'm reasonably certain that I'll not see another census form for at least nine years. By that time, we could all be living on Mars.

As for the above photograph:  All government forms in this country have a pastel main color with bright color highlights. Those of you who work in design can perhaps tell me why it is Easter year road in the government forms department. The census is no different. It's pastel purple with true purple highlights. True purple is also the universal color; it looks good on all of us. Boy does it stand out with the other mail. I feel like it should have been what we called diarrhea green when we were kids. Maybe I'm being unfair  because Census 2011 made me want to blow chunks (wasn't being a kid fun?).

Edit: Kym of the Kanon Collective in Denver points out that purple, as a royal colo(u)r, seems appropriate for any form which counts the Queen's many citizens.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Biscuits and Biscuits and Scones

We all know about the confusion. When American's say chips, they mean crisps. When Americans say fries, they mean crisps. When the English say American chips, they mean fast food french fries. When the English say American biscuits, they mean cookies.

When Americans say biscuits, they mean the above. American Biscuits are very similar to scones in that they're easy to make, flaky, and often circular. However, American Biscuits are savory where scones are sweet. American biscuits are poor food, where scones require a bigger pocket book.  American biscuits are meant to fill out a meal, where scones are meant to be eaten between meals. Most imporatantly, adding dried fruit to American biscuits is a most disgusting idea, while they're a perfectly acceptable addition to biscuits.

The major difference between the two is the use of creme and eggs in scones, giving them a richer taste and a heavier texture. While I love my scones a little too much, I've been craving American food an awful lot lately.

I've spent the last year telling you all how little I miss from home. But I bought a plane ticket a few weeks ago, and I'll be visiting the States and my family for two weeks this spring. It's been four years since I've been back to the US and just as long since I've seen my family. This event more than anything else in the last five years has led to a generalized desire for the things I cannot have. Later this week, I'll tell you what all I intend to eat while I wander around the streets of America.

More than one child in the West Country is still missing. Among them is James Bubear. It is becoming more and more difficult to keep his name in the news. If you would please, click on the badge above and list your support for his family on the Find James Bubear Facebook page. James is a first year student at my Alma Mater. His family and friends are desperate to bring him home.

How Not to Offend Your Mother: Mothering Sunday

The shops here are full to bursting with Mother's Day cards, flowers, and gift vouchers (gift certificates). While British companies have taken on the all too American habit of suggesting, in May, that Christmas is just around the corner and placing Easter baskets in their windows before Valentine's Day has passed, the current reminders of Mother's Day are reasonably well timed. It is after all next Sunday.

Mother's Day is still largely referred to as Mothering Sunday here in England and throughout the United Kingdom. I have spent five years thinking that it fell sometime in March and feeling rather confused about which Sunday in March. This year I thought I had somehow managed to block out the holiday entirely, and I was therefore forced to go and learn something. I'm rather annoyed about this as this was supposed to be the year of learning nothing.

Mothering Sunday in the UK always falls on the fourth Sunday in Lent, and like its US counterpart, is widely celebrated in the secular sphere as well. I'm going to point you to my new favorite go-to website for all those niggling cultural questions. If a Junior School can do it better than I can, I'm all for letting them.

During my five years here in Bath, I've largely marked the day by buying my grandmother's Mother's Day card and putting it in an impossible to remember place in anticipation of American Mother's Day on the second Sunday in May. I did this so well the first year I lived here that Gram received an extra large bunch of flowers to make up for the lack of a card.

For those of you who are American expats, this is your reminder that to buy your Mother's Day cards this week. They will have disappeared from stores by the middle of next week. The American expat mother's I know often celebrate twice.

As for Father's Day, it is celebrated at the same time on both sides of the pond.

As for the sign above, I've asked around, and no one has seen that particular phraseology before.

Grief in the West Country

It has been a devastating week in the West Country.

A young woman went missing on her way home from a night out last week. Her remains were found and identified on Thursday, and a second young woman's remains were located on Saturday.

In an unrelated event,on March 7th, the remains of a young woman were found on a former industrial estate. She was identified late last week and her family are being informed.

There is still one young man missing in Bath. James Bubear too left a night out, and he too hasn't made it home.

While Mother's Day this year will be marked by many with the deepest grief by so many, there is still hope that James Bubear's may make it home to his mother. His friends and family are fighting to keep his name and face in the media. This is his story.

His family, friends, and tutors are asking for your help to keep his name in the media and to bring him home.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

I'm Learning to Run: I'm Learning Not to Think

Evolving Revolver did a very brave thing a few years ago. She sold up, moved to France, became fluent in French, had some ups and downs, met a man, made peace with the idea of returning to the States, got the man a visa and moved back to the US.

I've been thinking about her a lot recently. In part because if I don't find a job that pays enough to meet the points-based system requirements before September 8, I'll only have a year left in England. I've been thinking a lot about what that will mean for me, and I've been trying to figure out how to go about thinking about returning to the States. I've been thinking about what other options there might be, and I've been trying to envision how that move, more than year away at least, might look for me.

And I've also been reading over at Happy Homemaker UK. She's reasonably early in her UK experience, but she reminds me regularly why I'm fighting to remain here. I don't know whether or not the UK is a long term plan for her, but I do know the things she's enjoying are the reasons I want to remain here.

It's turning out to be a rather introspective spring around here. I don't think that is bad thing, but I have at least five job applications to finish before Friday.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Pumps, Motors, and Camera Envy

It is an open secret around here that I really hate our washing machine. It is a good machine, and it has been going round and round for at least seven years. The drum is large enough for a decent sized load of laundry, which is almost unheard of in this country. I can do smaller loads without heaps of guilt on the eco+small load cycle; though, I don't do that often. Most importantly, it is not digital. This means fewer computer breakdowns, and I suspect longer life.

But the machine and I got involved late in our lives. We both had baggage. Mine comes in the form of allergic (and exercise induced) asthma. The machine's comes in years of not bathing well enough, regularly enough. I have to admit that I didn't help matters during the first two years of our relationship. And now, I, we, have a weekly fight in which I scrub it and concede that it can keep some of its grime. Look, I can't help wanting a newer, younger model. Even though I know they have commitment issues, they're also clean. The vinegar, hotwash, powdered detergent regimen works well on them. I know they break more often. I know using an older machine uses less energy than just the manufacture of a new one. I know. I know. I know.

And still when the old machine started whirring in a non-jet plane manner, I couldn't bear to mention my desire for a new machine. I thought I might jinx the possibility. I thought if this one was really truly dead, I wouldn't mind so much. Even though I knew it would be at least a week before I could rewash the mess of sopping laundry sitting alternately in the bath tub and the bathroom (no toilet) sink, I was totally willing to suffer the loss of a few pieces of clothing to the mold gods.

I rent, so the cost wasn't actually an issue for me. If we didn't rent, I would have been all about replacing parts rather than the entire machine. I am suffering from serious camera envy. If I had an extra 200 pounds going, I'd hand wash my clothing in order to satiate the camera envy. Did I mention washing machines are expensive? Fortunately, I don't have to replace the machine and the camera envy should pass.

When I described the problem as "the sound a blender makes when its motor burns out and two inches of water on the bottom of the drum," I was completely right. The pump motor had gone. A new one was fitted in a matter of minutes. We don't get a new machine. I'm pretty peaceful about that, but only because the repair man also performed the miracle of making the airplane takeoff sound much quieter.

Now we have this problem. A problem which I am sure would look prettier with a new camera. This is the old pump. There is a shed load of copper in there. Does anyone have suggests as to how one sends something like this for recycling?

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Saturdays in March

We've talked about the washing machine and its propensity for growing mold. We've talked about how to keep your front-loader from becoming squidgy with limescale and damp (mildew). We've talked about why we should all be using powder detergents because they have water softener in them, quite unlike liquid detergents. What we have not talked about is the curse of Saturdays in March and household disasters.

Four years ago, on a Saturday, water stopped going down all of our drains.

 Which led to a plumber spending the weekend in our house doing this:

All of which was ultimately caused by the original Victorian down pipe and a hundred years of sludge.

Three years ago, the gas fire stopped making fire but quite happily kept on spewing gas. Luckily the gas was easily turned off, but it still meant waiting for a week day, canceling plans, and spending hours watching the workman fix the fire.

Two years ago the front door lock broke with me inside. Conveniently, the downstairs neighbor was home, and he was able to rescue me before I completely lost it. I far prefer being locked out to being locked in. And for reference butter knives sometimes work better than screwdrivers, except of course where vodka is involved.

Last year the refrigerator just stopped frigerating within hours of both of us depositing fresh groceries inside of it. The new one turned up on Monday at approximately too early o'clock, delievered by drivers who decided not to take the old one away until Tuesday at midday.

Today, this machine made a fantastic impression of a birthing heifer.


It also decided to just hang onto three inches of water after the drain cycle and sprayed me with all of that water when I went to clear the filter. It's Saturday. The housemate has to do laundry tomorrow. She'll be the one on the bus with a laundry bag. I'll be the woman who smells like feet.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Posted: No Visitors or Friends on 27 March 2011

It is census season in the UK. In theory, we all fill in our census forms on 27 March 2011. This means that any overnight visitors on that Sunday night must also appear on our form. The form is long. I have no desire to fill it out on a Sunday night. We've gone ahead and filled in the thing. I do not want to have to fill it out any further. So while I love each and everyone of you, you are absolutely not welcome here on census night.

Thanks for your kind wishes and thoughts. I haven't disappeared, but I have had the sickness bug (stomach flu) and a pile of marking (grading)  keeping me far from the blog. Oh, and the census form made me cry.  I will learn to post well in advance. I will learn to post well in advance.

Thursday, 3 March 2011


Last Spring

We are still gray sky and blah. Here in Bath, we had short periods of sunshine yesterday. None of them lasted long enough for me to get my trainers (tennis shoes) on and go soak up some vitamin D. I am not really certain why this winter seems to have lasted so long. I've lived through longer, colder, and darker ones--often all in the same year. I hated those too.

I am reminded that by the calendar spring isn't quite here. The vernal equinox isn't due for another seventeen days, and our average temperatures are not that much lower than in a typical year.  And all of the signs of spring are showing their glorious faces. The snowdrops and across the road the forsythia are in full bloom. From the bus in Box, I saw my first lambs of spring. Those last were by all accounts a bit early. Usually the Corsham lambs are the first to catch my eye, but soon the countryside behind my house will be feeding hundreds of them.
When I'm done with winter, but winter is hanging on to me, I am given to fits of impulse. In college, I'd fill my car with petrol (gas) and drive until my tank was half empty. I don't miss being a driver, but I do miss driving seventy on my way to wherever I end up.  Sometimes when the gauge hit half-empty, I'd decide to just keep going anyway. It's how I saw a lot of Tenessee, most of Ohio, and more than a bit of Kentucky. It's how I memorized all of the songs on John Mellencamp's American Fool. Petrol was cheap in those days.

When I first started writing here, I didn't tell anyone I knew about the blog. I saw it as a place where I could be whatever version of me I wanted to be. I saw it as a place where I could complain about my family and be uncouth in my wording. Then I started writing things that I wanted seen by the people who have known me for most life, and some of those people started dying. It was then too that something extraordinarily nice began to happen, people I didn't know started reading. I supposed that it was a combination of those two things--the loss of old friends and the meeting of new ones--that made me think that I'd like the comments here to be more of a conversation. But the new Disqus system was most definitely a product of a spring fever induced impulse. I don't know how I feel about it yet. It's entirely possible that I'll change my mind about it this evening. In theory, it should tell you when someone replies to your comments. We'll see.

In the meantime, a friend has kindly offered me a ticket to a reading tonight. I'm off to try to get out of the bleh.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Fabulous Things About England #28: Bus Stops

I used to drive. During my last winter in Alaska, I taught at a high school, the university, and the community college arm of the university. My close friends lived ten to twenty miles in the other direction. It was the rare day that I put less than sixty miles on my car, and the rarer day that I did not drive at all. I was last in the States four years ago; I haven't driven a mile since. Now when friends text and ask where I am, the answer is almost invariably on the bus, waiting for a bus, or wondering where the bus is. I do not miss the driving. It would take me much more time to travel from home to town if I took a car, but there are days when I tot up the hours spent queuing at the big blue and white signs.

Bath Abbey, February 2011

I stand nowhere more frequently than in front of a bank, looking out at Bath Abbey. I must have hundreds of photographs of those same flying buttresses. Very little changes. The same buses drive by me. The tourists ask for the same directions, and the clock turns or does not turn the time. It's easy to forget the happy luck that brought me here to look not on strip malls but on architecture greater than any I had seen before. It is as easy here as it was in Alaska to forget to see what I'm looking at, to forget to appreciate this city for what it is. I'm trying to remember to note that the abbey, aided by the light and sky, has moods of it's own.

I've lived here for five years now, and it has only recently occurred to me to photograph the back of the Abbey, to take the time to stand back and take in the whole of the building, to wonder what it looked like before the taxi rank twirled around it. What, I wonder, did those hundreds of years of tired people think when contemplating their place below its towers.
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