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And the winners ARE…!

October 25, 2011

I’m so thrilled with the responses I got for October’s Versatile Blogger Award nominations!  Not only did this experience broaden my understanding of the blogosphere, but it also helped introduce me to some fantastic blogs, all of whom will shortly be added to my Blogroll.  If you’re new to the world of blogging, as I am, take some time out to peruse these masterpieces – yes, it’s intimidating at first to see such well-established blogs, but it’s also inspiring to see other people’s courage, realism and humor so well documented.

The following list identifies this month’s winners of the Versatile Blogger Award.  In order to accept the award, each of these blogs must complete the following steps:

a.  Write a post accepting the award and show the award’s image.

b.  List seven random, quirky facts about yourself – things that probably haven’t already come up in your blog posts.

c.  Pass the award on to 5-15 other blogs, ones that you already follow or for which you solicit invitations.

And that’s it!  The goal of the award is not only to highlight the best of the blogging world, but also to bring us all closer together.  I’m incredibly thrilled and gratified to have received it, but more importantly, I couldn’t be more pleased that it led me to other fantastic blogs.

Without further ado, your October’s Versatile Blogger Award winners ARE:

1.  Flipping Crikey, by Tracey.  While her most recent post about the UK citizenship sent my metaphorical American testicles up into my abdomen with fright, the blog itself is tasty, humorous and addictive.  Tracey is a UK native now living in Australia and encountering many of the same issues that I am, although she appears to be able to write about them with panache and sensitivity in a way that I have not yet mastered.  Even more alarming, after only a couple of years in her new country, she’s become politically active!  Follow her blog for understandable and approachable commentary on Oz’s political scene.  An expat blog to emulate – my hat is off to Ms Tracey.

2.  The Nomadic Family, by Gabi and Kobi, with contributions from their three beautiful children, Dahnya, Orazi, and Solai.  I have to confess here that I spent an inordinate amount of time surfing this blog, simply because I could NOT find the courage to navigate away.  While the tale of this truly nomadic and brave family is riveting, it also dares to strip bare the actual needs of the human body and soul.  Here I am, sitting in my comfortable faux-leather office chair, drinking coffee and enjoying the indoor heating in England and being completely blown away by what these people are doing with their lives.  If you have the chance – go look.  You won’t be disappointed.  Gabi, I would be willing to bet that the soul-cleansing class you teach IS valuable and DOES touch your students, even if you don’t always speak their language fluently.  You *live* what you teach and that counts for a great deal.

3.  Perking the Pansies, by Jack.  Much like the Nomadic Family, Jack and his partner Liam have undertaken a monumental life-shift that leaves me a bit speechless.  They are a British couple who decided to eschew all that London life has to offer and move to Turkey, blogging all the way.  The sheer degree of courage that this must’ve taken puts me to shame – I was nervous at times being out and about with my beautiful same-sex partner in Canada.  Jack also possesses the writing style of a true diarist – he unabashedly lays bares his perspective on large topics and small ones, commenting on the fall of Gaddafi in one post and his encounter with a fly in the next.  The sense of humor that infiltrates the entire blog leaves me with a bit of a naughty, lop-sided smile on my face that says, ‘I’ve read something that you haven’t…and you’re the worse for it.’

4.Down-Home South Jersey, by Jennifer.  I devoured Jennifer’s blog posts with glee – she hits exactly the same notes that I’m trying to hit, albeit with a bit more sophistication and style than I do.  Jennifer has moved to southern New Jersey and made it her home in every way, sharing her discoveries of her new environment with the public via her approachable and honest blog.  Struggling with a difficult economy while still trying to create a sumptuous Halloween for your children?  Check out Jennifer’s clever and tidy ideas for decorations and sweets.  (My personal fave is the pumpkins made of decorative paper and held together with buttons and bows.)  She sets challenges for herself via the blog and meets them, sharing all that she learns along the way with us so that we can learn too.  This is exactly the kind of ‘I Love My Home’ blog that sets the standard for all others.  Your home needn’t be somewhere exotic, Caribbean or dangerous to be beloved, explored and documented – it just needs to be yours.  Well done, Ms Jennifer.

5.  Sing Like No One’s Listening, by Rachel.  A young American woman takes a huge leap of faith to become an au pair for five girls (five!) in Australia.  A precocious letter-writer, she wonders how she’ll keep all of her family and friends back home involved in her new life and share the wealth of her new experiences in such a way as to make them feel, taste, touch and smell her adventure.  The answer?  A beautifully-written, photo-filled blog!  Aside from being a consummate professional when it comes to keeping everyone ‘in the loop,’ she also deviously works in reviews of books, movies and the stunning Oz scenery.  The result is a beautifully rendered ongoing snapshot of life down under, as experienced by a fearless, peerless American girl.  As if that weren’t enough, the very first thing I saw when I logged in was dozens of pictures of baby kittens!  No one tell Rachel, but I was sneaking peeks at her blog all day long.

6. Grow Old With Me, by Amy.   A gorgeous, family-oriented blog that is truly a celebration.  On the surface, Amy is documenting the daily challenges that accompany raising five children, ranging in age from 8 months to nine years old.  If you look a bit more closely, however, you’ll find the literature of a love affair – an affair that Amy carries on every day with her family, her home and the Father.  Most days the joy she relates radiates from the screen in a way that most people could only dream about.  And then there are the pictures!  Amy is clearly an accomplished photographer and it shows.  Check out When Jack Dons A Jacket, if you don’t believe me.  I sincerely hope that one day my love of my subject matter will be so clearly reflected in the photos that I take.

7.  Women Travel the World, by Rosemary.  I have to confess that when I first saw this blog, I was profoundly intimidated.  It is clearly professional-looking and servicing an already-established consumer base.  Then I started reading.  This is a site run by women, for women – any woman at all.  The articles reveal an approachable mindset, reaching out to encourage travel and exploration in every family.  Addressing everything from how to pack, where to stay and what activities are well-priced and fun, this site has it all.  The awards listed on the home page are clearly well-deserved – I felt humbled reading through it, but excited as well.  Travel has become such an important part of my life that it fed my grin to know that there are sites like this out there, designed to bring others like me into the fold.

8. Culinary Hopscotch, by Kyle.  I do not consider myself to be a ‘foodie’ in any way, shape or form, but the premise of Culinary Hopscotch hooked me from the very beginning.  The idea is this:  a young woman approaching ‘a certain age’ (which appears to be 25, judging from the pictures), decided to set herself a massive culinary challenge – to travel about the world and study as many different cooking classes abroad as possible, then translate each recipe into her own culinary language and blog about it.  Her trip has ended now, but I thoroughly enjoyed going back over those posts from her trip and soaking up the flavors vicariously.  While I have trouble burning water, it’s clear that Kyle is an expert.  However, she has managed to produce a series of culinary posts that are both understandable and appealing, even to those of us who don’t know coriander from cardamom.  My fiancée has already bookmarked the blog and will be checking back for recipes. (Kyle, if it’s not there already, could you perhaps post the recipes for those Indian dishes you learned with Nikita and Mrs. G?  What if I said ‘pretty please?’)

9.  The World is Waiting, by Liv.  There are hundreds and hundreds of travel blogs out there, believe me.  Expats by the dozen want to share their experiences in their new homelands and travel writers/photographers are constantly trying to satiate the public’s need for glamerous pics of exotic lands.  The biggest challenge each travel writer faces is to make his/her blog different in some way.  For all of you still searching for that mysterious ‘X’ factor, check out the work Liv has done on this blog.  Are there exotic snapshots of gorgeous diving trips?  Absolutely.  Top Ten lists detailing what to do in various locales?  Check.  But then there is more – this UK expat takes the time out explore the details and explain the cultural differences between her native home and her current home, regardless of where that might be.  I found myself reading dozens of posts while my tea got cold, forgotten.

10. Changing Me For the Better, by Eileen.  Whenever I feel anxious about a post I’m writing or nervous to share something personal with blog readers, I sneak a glance at Eileen’s work.  Eileen is documenting her emotional journey through getting a gastric band implemented, and how that affects her life, health and family.  Although this blog is new, she has already taken some big risks in what she has decided to share with the world, and I simply could not be more proud of her.  Yes, this Eileen is the same Eileen to whom I refer in my various blog posts – she is my mother-in-law-to-be.  Rather than engaging in blatant nepotism, however, I feel the need to include this blog in the award winner list because of the dedication and intense bravery that Eileen shows every single time she sits down at the computer to write a post.  Many of us write off the cuff and flippantly at times, but it’s always good to be reminded that there are also bloggers out there who share real pain and genuine struggles.  Bravo, Mum.

And there you have it!  Congratulations to all winners of this month’s Versatile Blogger Award contest and most importantly, thank you for sharing your wonderful work with me.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the days I have spent surfing madly through all of your blogs.  It was definitely time well spent.

Before I sign off for the day, I need to say thank you once again to my friend Pete, who passed the award on to me and started me along this path.  Pete, I cannot thank you enough for this honor.  I’ve had a *wonderful* time getting to know other blogs and starting dialogues with their various authors.  I would never have had the courage to do something like this if you hadn’t kick-started the process, and for that I whole-heartedly appreciate your kindness.  Your work on Evolution of Insanity and Twist of Hate remain the standard against which I measure all others.

Are YOU the next Versatile Blogger?

October 17, 2011

As I’ve only started this blog about a month and a half ago, you can imagine how thrilled I was when my friend Pete presented me the Versatile Blogger award.  (If you picture a scrawny chick dancing around and chanting “I’m ver-sa-TILE! I’m ver-sa-TILE!” in an incredibly poor imitation of a Native American fire dance, you’ve got it.)  I did that for a good two days or so, until my fiancée couldn’t stand it anymore and finally suggested that I go be versatile upstairs for a while.  Then I got to thinking…what does it mean to be versatile in the blogosphere?  I’m basically using UKate to document my journey to learn to survive and thrive with my new family in my new homeland, but perhaps there could be more to it than that?  I’ll definitely have to give this some more thought.  It’s entirely possible that through blogging, I can give myself at least a rudimentary education in the past, present and future of this part of the world.

In the meantime, I’ve been instructed that part of the process of accepting this award entails listing seven totally random facts about yourself.  If the Oscars did that, I’d watch.  So here goes:

1.  I’ve dated an Olympic tri-athlete.

2.  My red hair and large boobs are completely natural; my enthusiasm for haggis is definitely not.

3.  I met Sandra Bullock and Matthew McConaughey at a party once in Austin.  Matthew was drunk and/or high and Sandra was incredibly polite, even when I went up to her and exploded into something like “Ohmygod, you’re so COOL!”  Bless her heart, she responded with “Thank you, I’m sure you are too.”

4.  I lived for several years in a community full of astronauts and rocket scientists and worked for NASA (briefly).

5.  I have ruthlessly murdered umpteen million small aquatic creatures.  When I was very small, my Nana would bring home bags of shrimp freshly caught on the boats.  The bags often had little crabs and frogs in them, still alive.  I was instructed to take those crabs and frogs outside and play with them ‘until their batteries ran out.’

6.  I don’t like sticky.

7.   I sing the French National Anthem loudly in moments of extreme victory, without the words but with a great deal of arm-waving.  For more minor victories, I resort to Baby Got Back.

The very last step of accepting the Versatile Blogger award involves selecting a number of other blogs to pass it on to.  I’ve been told that I can select anywhere from five to fifteen blogs, but I’m so very new to this entire universe that I don’t even follow that many!  The blogs I follow the most regularly have already gotten the award.  So, here’s my plan – I need to find ten good, solid, entertaining blogs to award.  In order to find them, I would like for you to submit nominations of your favorite blogs, or perhaps your own!  To submit, all you need to do is leave a comment at the end of this post with a link to the blog in question and a single line describing the blog in general.  (I.e. This is the UKate blog, and she mainly writes a lot of drivel about visiting places in England.)  The winners will be selected over the weekend.  Easy peasy!

Thanks again to Pete for this award – I really am terribly excited about it and can’t wait to add the award icon to my blog page.  I’m also looking forward to finding the next ten recipients of the Versatile Blogger Award!

Families, Felines and Fritos

October 13, 2011

The last time I saw you, I was frantically trying to get a hold of some chips and snacks.  Oddly enough, the very next day I was called to go house-sit for Tweet’s Aunt Mary for a couple of days.  This is what I found in the kitchen pantry.

Snack Heaven

Is that a can of Pringles on the bottom shelf, you ask?  Oh yeah, it is.  Jackpot!

The main reason why Aunt Mary required a house-sitter became abundantly clear as soon as we entered the adorable bungalow in a village called Dilton Marsh, just a few minutes from Tweet’s parents’ house.  This is Mary’s new housemate.

Tweet holding the baby boy

As we were dropped off, we were told that his name is Arima.  Could we remember that name five minutes later?  Of course not.  Over the course of the next two days, we called him Athos, Amorous, Aramus, Army, ‘Arry Potter, and Jack Black.  We finally settled on “Ari,” and left it at that.

In all seriousness, I have to confess that I was really nervous about this.   I was just getting used to how different British homes are from American ones; how on earth was I going to cope with another one?  Also, I was taking a BIG step in volunteering to take on a role that is specifically designed for a family member.  Would I be accepted in this role?  Would everyone feel comfortable having me do this?

Fortunately, Tweet was able to accompany me.  (She’s been in the process of interviewing for jobs, so I wasn’t sure she’d be able to at first.)  Needless to say, I was delighted when her schedule cleared so that she could come along.  For the first two days, it was just the two of us in the house.

On the third day, Tweet’s grandparents brought Mary home.  She hadn’t been feeling well and had been taken to the hospital for some tests.  Fortunately, she was just fine, but I still ended up staring into Nana’s eyes as she asked us to stay with Mary for another couple of days ‘just to make sure,’  and I found myself unable to say no.  Nana is an intelligent, powerful and somewhat intimidating Scottish woman and I kinda got the feeling that no one said no to her.  My Irish Nana was exactly the same way; the resemblance was eerie.

So we spent another two and half days with Mary and Ari, watching movies, cooking, chatting away and giggling.  We had a wonderful time.  I’ve spent so much time over the last several weeks learning about the many differences between British and American culture, but the most startling thing I’ve learned while at Mary’s house is that families are the same, no matter where they live.

Do aunts/uncles/grandparents like to tell embarrassing stories about the younger folk?  Absolutely.  Did pictures of said embarrassing stories get produced as evidence, including three-year-old Tweet naked in a bathtub with stuffed animals?  You bet.  Are there odd family dynamics (these cousins don’t get along with those cousins, this uncle streaked at a family Christmas party, and that uncle isn’t allowed to drink whisky or he gets ornery)?  Of course.

Most importantly was the fact that by the time Nana and Papa came to pick us up and bring us home yesterday, I no longer felt like an outsider to the family.  I had slipped several times and said ‘Auntie Mary,’ instead of  ‘Ms Mary,’ and she hadn’t minded at all.  Instead, I felt that I’d gained a quirky-cool young aunt – the kind who takes you out to lunch sometimes and talks about crystals, spirits and angels.

I have no idea what kind of angels are watching over me these days, but I feel much more confident about becoming a true member of this family now. I really love them all.  And the next time I feel the need to play with a kitten or get my salt-snack fix?  I’m heading to Aunty Mary’s.

It's a good thing cameras come with built-in cat toys

Not Your Everyday Rant About Getting Lays

October 6, 2011

The Americans are coming! In bras!

Dear Diary,

Please give me the strength not to order an air strike against the United Kingdom.  Yes, my new home is beautiful, the people are wonderful, the culinary delights have been numerous and the alcohol is plentiful.  Big freakin’ deal.  How important are those things really in the long run?

In the course of my hard-hitting journalistic investigations of Somerset over the course of the last 36 days, I have uncovered some startling facts that have been kept out of the public’s eye for too long.  People need to know what happens here.  People have a right to know.

First of all, British homes are being poisoned with something called Embarrassing Bodies.  It is a ‘show’ for ‘entertainment’ on Channel 4.  I had been in the country for less than 24 hours when I was first subjected to this horror.  The episode on that night dealt with the question of “How Much is Too Much?!” with regard to…  I almost hate to say it, but..pubic hair.  (Oh, I know, Microsoft Word – I want that word to be ‘public’ too.)  This was the night I learned that British television is VERY DIFFERENT from American television.

(Quick note:  Even the webpage for Embarrassing Bodies has an explicit content warning at the top of the page.  Yes, it’s all in a medical context, but still possibly not safe for work.)

Not only did we see a variety of grasslands, jungles and plains that night, but we were also treated to a series of truly mind-blighting videos of how down-there hair can go wrong.  Very, very wrong.  Infections, pustules, STDs and how they affect the shorthairs – all on display on a flat-screen TV the size of a billboard.  I was alone in the house with my mother-in-law-to-be that night, and I was hyper-aware that my reactions to such things might very well reveal the kind of person I am.  (It was a test; I know it was a test.  “Let’s make the American girl watch really gross TV and see how she reacts!”)  I think I was lucky enough to gasp out something like “Ohmygod…gross,” once.  Fail.

Second, and most importantly, is my concern over the lack of quality salty snacks here.  I cannot emphasize enough how serious the dearth is.  Sugary sweets don’t really do anything for me; give me the salty chips any day.  Cheetos, Lays, Doritos, Funyuns, how I miss thee!  To be fair, we can get Doritos here.  In ‘vinegar’ and ‘plain with salt’ flavors.  What the hell?!  EVERYONE KNOWS that the ‘plain’ flavor of Doritos is Nacho Cheese!  And vinegar?  That’s what I use to clean out my coffee pot.  I don’t want Windex-flavored chips either, thank you very much, Your Majesty.  And the bags of what we can get are insultingly small.  The American-sized versions allow for both emergency chip-orgies or the 4-day ration plan.  (I’m a fan of the rationing myself.  I pet the bag over the course of a weekend and sometimes refer to it as My Precioussss.  That’s perfectly normal back in the US.)

All pics courtesy of, the bastards.

*sighs deeply*

I really want a good, big bag of chips.  If I could just have that, I could live through all the rest of it just fine.  Even Embarrassing Bodies.  Which is good, because the next episode is about the causes of vulval pain and a man who lactates.

Pump It! By the Bath-Eyed Peeps

October 3, 2011

My first World Heritage site

Twenty minutes away from our house is the ancient city of Bath.  While Mum and Dad went to run some errands, I was able to take a micro-tour of this magnificent place.  Some of the highlights:

1.  Great examples of the beautiful pale yellow Bath stone, quarried nearby and the basic compositional element of almost all buildings in a substantial radius.  Even the newest buildings in the city use it, making the place look like a lovingly dedicated monument to its own history.

Tried to get the hobo in front of the pasty shop...failed

That's gorgeous Bath Abbey in the background

2.  The wide, open spaces!  I would never have believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself.  Before I arrived, I was warned COUNTLESS times of how much smaller everything would seem to me, a Texan.  Then I first saw little towns and villages and I totally bought it – I have no idea how people park cars here, even the European barely-there ‘cars.’  Then there’s Bath, where things are BIG.  Large lanes, huge buildings, open parks and decent-sized stores.  I absolutely loved it.  For any Texans considering a move to the UK, Bath would be the perfect transitional home.

The Avon runs through town, delighting humans and swans alike

A walk, snack and possible sunburn in the park

3.  The Pump Room, otherwise known as actual Roman baths (or ‘thermae,’ in Latin).  This set of baths (there are several in the city, which I totally didn’t know before I got here, I thought there was just one big one) has been surrounded by a more modern museum and really nice restaurant.  So nice, in fact, that we took one look inside and were instantly humbled – beautifully dressed people, a gorgeous piano being played in the background and richly dressed wait-staff.

Exterior of The Pump Room

Then we realised that the pianist was playing Elton John’s Rocket Man, and we couldn’t help but grin.  Sure, we were all wearing jeans and I had my camera and notebook, but what the hell!  We got seated and nervously glanced at the menu.  To our utter shock, the prices were actually very reasonable.

Our waitress made me giggle.  I’m getting used to people looking oddly at me when they hear my accent, but this young woman, who was possibly an extra in EastEnders, couldn’t seem to understand what ANY of us were saying.  It happened like this:

Duncan (Dad):  We want three desserts.

Waitress:  Free…desserts?

Eileen (Mum): (clarifying Dad’s perfectly understandable English) No, three of the Pump Room Glories.  The ice cream.

Waitress:  You…want free ice cream?

Tweet (my fiancée): (clarifying Mum’s perfectly understandable English) No.  Mum and Dad each want a Pump Room Glory, and Kate and I will split one.  That’s three.

Waitress:  I don’t unnastand…how d’ya get dose fings fo free?

Me (Kate):  *gigglesnort*  (I simply couldn’t help myself at this point.  And I was the only actual foreigner at the table.)

Mum:  (holding up three fingers)  I want THIS MANY of the Pump Room Glories.  Oh, and a coffee.

Waitress:  (giggling nervously)  Oh, I’m sorray!  I fought you wanted dem fo free and I couldn’t figuh it tout.

Me: (whispering to Tweet, making sure the waitress could hear)  But if we could get them for free, that’d be okay too…

The waitress froze in what appeared to be terror at this point.  The look I got from Tweet was pricelessly brutal.  I embarrassed myself by guffawing loudly as the waitress uncertainly made her way to the kitchen.  In the end, we got our orders and they were spectacular.  I highly recommend the Pump Room Glories, should you ever stop by.  I would also recommend ordering two (or four!) of them, just in case you’re in a hurry to get your dessert.

Indecently wonderful Pump Room Glories

While we waited, we kept eying the ancient stone fountain from which poured fresh-looking water.  The sign in front of the fountain offered genuine Bath Spa water, a mere 50 pence a glass.  A cute liveried waiter served it up directly from the fountain.  Why not?

Looks fresh and clean - what could go wrong?

My first concern was the fact that the glass became uncomfortably hot one second after it was handed to me.  It then began to steam and I had to practically run back to the table with it in order to avoid embarrassing howls and possibly second degree burns.

My second concern was the fact that Dad was really eager to try it.  He’s one of those playful guys who thinks its hilarious to see peoples’ faces after they’ve eaten something REALLY foul.  He took the first sip and, true to form, he gave absolutely no indication of what it tasted like.  I started to sweat as he handed the glass to me next.

Duncan the Dastardly Dad

I took a small sip.  It wasn’t…lethal.  It just tasted like granite and iron.  Really HOT granite and iron water.  Which, I suppose, is exactly what it should have tasted like.  I have to confess that I was secretly terrified that it would taste of sweaty, empty-bladdered Romans.  All in all, it’s not hugely pleasant but not awful.  Compared to some of the things I drank in Mexico, it was nectar.

We passed the glass around, giggling and making faces.  We then covertly watched many other patrons as they sampled the water for the first time.  The horrible faces they pulled as they tentatively sipped the water sent waves of comfort through me – yes, I may be an American on tour, but my water-tasting bravery was equal to this challenge.

P.S.  Later on that same evening, we went to a gorgeous Indian restaurant for a true British Indian experience.

“Try the vindaloo,” Dad encouraged innocently.  “It’s SO nice.”


A Smashing Good Time

September 30, 2011

Some days, everything goes perfectly.  The weather cooperates, the company in which you find yourself is delightful and the events of the day inspire you.  Such was my day yesterday.

Tweet drove me to a little village called Bradford-on-Avon about ten miles away from home.  We went to tour, to take pictures and generally immerse ourselves in the English-ness of it all.  It was my 27th day in England, and the first opportunity we’d had to go sight-seeing as a couple.  I could NOT have been more pleased – even the sun came out to bless our outing.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should state here that I’m trying very hard to be a legitimate travel blogger.  One of the less heartening things I discovered about myself yesterday is that I have a long way to go before I get there.  Much to my amazement, I was shy!  I knew that I should have been engaging more locals in conversation to learn more about their gorgeous home, but I just couldn’t muster the courage.  Thus, I ended up with a lot of pretty pictures and very little actual knowledge about the place.

This is Bradford-on-Avon.

View from the central bridge

The buildings in the foreground were industrial, a mill. They are now apartments (sorry, ‘flats’) with gorgeous views and substantial price tags.

Some of the sights made me giggle.  In the middle of a bridge in the center (sorry, ‘centre’) of town was a tiny, thick stone building with a single door – the old town jail, it turns out.  A sign on the side of the building tells you that this is where the drunkards would be thrown at night so that the village was spared their caterwauling.  I still think it might not be a bad idea.

Jailhouse rock, circa 1600

Not far from there was a little paved dog-walking path that ran along the river itself.  As a student and teacher of English literature, I couldn’t help but wonder if views similar to this had inspired Shakespeare himself as he wandered past it in his hometown, an hour away.

Avon calling

Some of the buildings in the center of town are so old that the brickwork is bowing out.  I’d never seen anything like The Bridge Tea Room & Restaurant (circa 1675), one of Britain’s most decorated tea rooms.

Old, but normal-looking from the front

The Bridge is the building on the left side of the photo – the one that looks like it’s collapsing.

Definitely drippy-looking from the side, much like myself

Many of the shops in downtown are not accessible by car.  There are tiny, narrow walkways everywhere and each is lovingly maintained and decorated.  This is Weaver’s Walk, where you can find the fronts of cafes and shops.

Low clearance

Door clearance is a head shorter than a person

Flowery path

That’s Tweet, my fiancée, on the path.  I’m a terrible photographer, so I shamelessly use her to insert as much beauty into my pictures as possible.

We ended our visit at the Lock Inn, a fantastic cafe and pub near the canal.  I asked the barmaid to decide what I should drink, and she gave me something called Wadworth Horizon golden ale, which was lovely.  She served me a half-pint of it after noting that I’m an American.  “It’s quite strong,” she commented half-apologetically and half-pityingly.  Pfft, I thought.  I drank it and was vaguely disappointed in how sober I felt.  Then I stood up.  Mysteriously, the world kept shifting to the right as I made my way back to the bar.

I had no idea what we ordered, but it was fried and DELICIOUS.  One of the dips was something miraculous called ‘Thai sweet chili sauce.’  I’m in love.

Made this Texan feel at home

I also tasted my very first ginger beer.  Alcoholic and absolutely scrumptious.  You see those innocent-looking pepperoni thingies?  Salty, tasty and INCREDIBLY SPICY.  Between half of this plate and my second half-pint, I was the happiest camper imaginable.  Yes, it was a perfect day.

And then this happened.


We pulled out of an impossibly tiny roadside parking spot and smashed into an oncoming car.  Nothing but our feelings and two paint jobs were hurt, but it definitely cast a pall on our afternoon.

It took us a few hours to overcome being upset about the accident, but it did make me thoughtful.  Waking up this morning, I couldn’t help but remember how wonderful the day had been, not the fifteen seconds of absolute panic the accident had engendered.  Had it been a perfect day?  It really had been, in the end.

So what have I learned?  First, that I need to be braver when I’m out adventuring in my new home.  Second, that road bumps do NOT have to spoil the adventure – in fact, in a weird way, they enhance it.  Stupid stuff is always going to happen; the measure of a true adventurer is in how they handle such adversity.


Becoming Savvy With Downton Abbey

September 27, 2011

So, last night, I watched my very first episode of a genuine British drama. (The two episodes of Doctor Who I’ve seen don’t count, as I really didn’t watch them so much as listen to them with my hands over my eyes. I have a very low fright tolerance.) It was called Downton Abbey, and I did not understand one blessed thing that was occurring.

It’s made me feel more speculative than usual. Beware: cheesy observations may be ahead.

It was yet another case of You Speak English But I Speak American. I never realised how incredibly different the dialects are – prior to coming here, I really just thought that the Brits would use a variety of funny accents. But noooo, they use an entirely different language altogether. Much like back home in Texas, much of the colloquialisms are related to local culture, even if that cultural reference happens to be hundreds of years old. It shocks the hell out of me when my 26-year-old fiancée starts explaining references from World War 1 or the 1600s.

Apparently, this is something to which I need to become accustomed. It was never more clear than while watching Downton Abbey last night. Neither Tweet nor I had seen a single episode of this new drama series, but she immediately understood everything that was happening. It didn’t seem to matter that it is set during WW1 and takes place at a lordly manor house populated by scheming ladies and conniving servants, all of which is completely foreign to her day to day existence. I paid for a great deal of education back in the US, but the most intelligent response I can muster while watching that show was…blinking in confusion. I understood the words they were using, but not the order in which they used them. Or why the servants kept hanging around listening at strategically-placed grates.

I asked Eileen, my mother-in-law-to-be, about this just now. Why is this so fascinating to the British public, I inquired. This is the single most critically acclaimed drama on television here…why? Yes, the acting and directing is fantastic, she affirmed, but it also provides valuable insights into our history. Her grandparents vividly remember living in such a world and consequently, she grew up hearing similar stories.

In a weird way, it reminds me of the American fascination with shows like The Real Housewives of [insert upper-class community here] or even Dallas. I was fortunate enough that my family moved to the US when I was young enough to become fully indoctrinated with The American Dream, which taught me very clearly that if I work hard enough, get enough education and behave honorably enough, I too can partake in material, social and psychological rewards. Imbedded deep in my psyche is the notion that I could be happy and rich one day. Thus, I watched shows like Dallas as a youngster because it provided insights into what my life might become. It was absurd and wildly over-the-top, but the houses, the cars, the sheer wealth and grandeur of it all might reflect my future. (Plus, they talked funny, so it was a win-win for me.) It seems that the popular dramas here in Britain reflect a mirror image – wildly over-dramatised reflections of their very real past.

So what have I learned? While the same materialistic societal measuring sticks that we use in the US abound here as well, they also measure their progress by how far they’ve come.

“It really used to be that way,” Eileen said quietly. “It helps to look at it and see where we were, and know that we’ve moved so far beyond it.”

The quiet dignity with which she made these statements has given me pause. Yes, British culture is bombarded with crap like Jedward and gluttonous reality TV, but it also keeps a constant, speculative eye on the past. I feel humbled and intimidated by this, but also hopeful – I’m an Irish-American, so their past is my past too. I need to start casting a wider eye upon my own journey; I’ve already come a thousand miles just to get here and I can’t wait to see how this unfolding past informs my future!