Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes...

Does anyone remember in the movie The Sound of Music when Maria teaches the children not to fear thunder storms? She sings My Favourite Things. I’ve always loved that movie, and pretty much any movie with Julie Andrews. That might be the subject of another blog, however. For now, I’d like to share a few of my favourite things, discovered in my relatively short time in Britain.

Clothes lines and traditional airers. Everyone knows what clothes lines are in their various forms. Many of us know the pleasure of drying laundry outdoors in good weather: the smell of fresh air in your clothes and linens. Ahhhhhh. In case you aren’t aware, though, a traditional airer is a handy device made up of wooden slats attached to cast-iron fixings and a pulley system that allows the lowering and raising up of the device. These are indoor systems for drying laundry. The huge benefit of clothes lines and airers is that they don’t require the use of electricity. Tumble dryers, while they add a level of convenience and speed to the processing of laundry, also use quite a bit of power and make one’s carbon footprint that much bigger.

Speaking of carbon footprint, another thing I like about being here in the U.K. is that I do much more walking than driving. I’m fortunate to live at the moment in a town where I can walk everywhere I need to go. In fact, we really only use the car about once a week, maybe a bit more in inclement weather. It’s good for the environment. It’s good for the bottom line. And I must say, it’s good for the waistline as well; I am literally tightening the belt.

Another admirable thing is the continuing use of old locks on doors. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of modern locks. But I really love that I have at least two old-style keys on my keyring. Where I’m from, we call these skeleton keys, although to Brits that term might suggest a master key that could open many different locks. When I held them up and asked my partner what they were called here, she replied ‘Keys?’

I like pubs. There are many nice pubs to visit. And since I also enjoy trying new varieties of beer (it’s all about moderation, folks), that’s a very good thing. The number of pubs and number of new beers available to me is the subject of an upcoming blog entry, but suffice it to say for now that one of my favorites is a Belgian beer called Leffe. You can only buy it in wee glasses as it is very potent – and really, you wouldn’t want to drink very much of it as you would end up face down in the front garden. These lovely Leffe half-pints are pictured at a pub in London called The Ten Bells. Speaking of which, any Jeanette Winterson fans out there? Well, Ten Bells is just about a block away from Winterson’s London residence. The ground floor of the building she owns is a tiny, tiny shop called Verde & Co. It sells coffee, artisan chocolates and food, and select fresh fruit and veggies. Indeed, oranges are not the only fruit.

Now we come to a delightful seasonal thing called mince pies. They’re tiny and tasty. I love mince pies and I can’t wait for Christmas to come again. I have to admit, I had a bias against the very notion of the mince pie because I thought it might be similar to my grandmother’s horrible mincemeat pies. Sorry Gran. If it’s any consolation, Grandpa told me once he loved them and was happy to have my portion. I can’t tell you how awful they were – I think she put finely diced pork in them. But I’m not sure if it’s that they really were awful or if the whole concept of a meat and fruit pie is just plain creepy. Fruit pies should be fruit pies and meat pies should be meat pies and ne’er the twain should mingle.

Anyway, I’m happy to report that there usually is no meat in the modern British mince pie. When I initially expressed my disgust about mince pies, my partner assumed it was because I thought there would be meat in them (I did, but not for the reason she suspected). To understand how funny this was you have to know that the term mince in BritSpeak actually does refer to meat. Beef mince or pork mince or turkey mince would be ground beef, ground pork, or ground turkey in American parlance. So... my dear, sweet partner thought it was simply a language barrier – you know, the whole Mark-Twain-two-countries-divided-by-a-common-language thing. She thought I had visions of a hamburger and raisin pie.

When I informed her that the mincemeat pies of my past did indeed have meat in them, she thought I meant actual mince, as in ground meat. And she was horrified to think maybe hamburger and raisin pies actually exist in America (even more disturbing, I can’t verify that they don’t). The possibilities for miscommunication are vast in a transnational relationship. Hilarity is a near daily experience. Which is another thing I love about being here.

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