Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ode to the Security Guard at Somerfields

Head back, hands on his belt, he saunters into the store almost daily. After surveying the premises, he calmly makes his way to the back. No chillies today. He takes two bananas from the "fresh" section-- no second-rate bananas for this man.

Even at the cash register he does not focus directly on the person serving him, but keeps alert to all the shoppers-- one never knows when shit's about to go down. Just two months ago some teen girls nabbed a pensioner's purse as she set it on the ledge to look at the Royal Galas.

Yes, technically Atkinson's Fruit Shop is not his responsibility. But a mere two shops down, one can never be over-vigilant. If crime struck this small fruit shop, the reputation could quickly spread and topple even the mighty Somerfields. It's his job, dammit, and he takes it seriously.

There is talk amongst the fruit-shop employees that the gravity with which he treats his job, as well as his insatiable desire for hot chillies and bananas, is due to some inner doubt that his toned physique and manly strut can't fix. Do these phallic foods hold the key to his psyche? Or will we learn more from his carefully buzzed sun-whitened hair? You truly are a mystery, Somerfields Security Guard.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Voice of an Angel, pt 2

Ryan and I really couldn't believe it when, on Thursday morning, Angel walked in to the kitchen while we were eating breakfast and invited us to watch her at a karaoke competition Saturday night. What was she singing? You guessed it, Avril Lavigne's "Complicated." Practice makes perfect, I guess.

So last night Ryan and I found ourselves in a crowded club where we were the only non-Chinese speakers. When Angel invited us to be her guests, I felt pretty flattered. The few days clicked by and I hardly gave a thought to the fact that her hair is clogging every drain in the house, or that we are once again almost completely out of gas. We started some pre-cooking for our Thanksgiving celebration last night, and Angel sauntered in dressed to kill to hand us a note in Chinese.
We handed it to a table of ticket-takers like 2nd graders with a note from their mom. We couldn't read it, but guessed what it might say "Don't roundhouse kick these outsiders, they are my flatmates." After being admitted, having to leave and get in a huge queue, and then being readmitted, we spotted Candy who we met earlier this week at the pub. She welcomed us and handed us programs, then the guy next to her asked "Can you read?" And realizing the entire program was written in Chinese, handed the programs back.

We found our seats, there wasn't room for Angel and her friend Tom to sit with us, but she came by often to check on us and remind us to vote for her. (She even pre-filled out our ballots for us.) There were 20 acts, and while Ryan and I are used to karaoke being high on drunken showmanship and low on actual singing, we found the opposite to be true. People were taking it really seriously, singing ballad after ballad with plenty of emotion. Also, people kept running up and handing them things on stage, like a bouquet of roses. The best was this guy who was really into his ballad-- a girl ran up on stage and gave him a Winnie the Pooh bear, and he continued to gesture and sing full-force with what looked like Winnie the Pooh for a hand.

But the hands-down best was the girl (? Ryan and I argued this one) who rapped in Chinese while twirling nun chucks around dangerously fast. Like most acts, we hand no idea what she was saying, but we managed to catch on to the call & response. "[When I say] quai [you say] ha! Quai ...ha! Quai ...ha!"

Angel was second to last in the running order, and although she could've won on outfit alone (micro mini and fishnets) sadly, her singing was not quite up to the high standards of the karaoke competition. It was nice to hear something upbeat, and also in English, but it wasn't her year. Nevertheless, I did feel an odd sense of pride watching her pump her fist in the air on that tiny stage.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Good Wife

On a completely unrelated note to my previous blog (nothing if not disjointed, are we?) I thought I'd relate an interesting conversation I had last night.

Not many people came to the pub, due to a huge and confusing lab report due tomorrow. Oliver, Antoine, Katharine, and a new girl named Candy joined Ryan and I. Candy was discussing her difficulty in deciding to pursue a PHD. The way she explained it "There are 3 types of people in China: female, male, and woman with PHD." Which is really a shame, and also rather a blunder on the part of Chinese men, if you ask me. Oliver suggested she marry a Westerner, I said she doesn't have to get married at all, and we stumbled on to the complex topic of marriage.

Oliver complimented (?) me by saying that Ryan was lucky to have a wife that is not an engineer and is willing to follow him half way around the world, not worried about her own career. This is partly true, but not entirely. I do care about having a career, I just don't know as what; and in the mean time travel seems fine. Ryan said he was surprised to hear someone outside SPU espousing a love for (what Oliver deemed) a housewife. Its certainly not seen as the American ideal.

Housewife can be a sharp word. On one hand, I think its a lovely idea to stay home and care for children, the house, the cooking, etc. I think housewives generally don't get enough credit for the complex task of running a household of people. On the other hand it seems to imply a dullness, as if all the interests and hobbies one would have would revolve around groceries or laundry. Also there is the idea that she is "the little woman" acquiescing to her husband's whims on slightest demand, not an active manager of her family's affairs. Would the same be thought of a house-husband?

We certainly don't have it easy deciding amongst marriage, family, career. I reject the notion that people must fit gender roles, but now comes the task of carving out our own roles-- sometimes it seems almost easier to accept the standards of another time. But when I come home from a long day of work to my husband doing the laundry and dishes, I know that this hemming and hawing is worth it. Roles must be continually negotiated and re-negotiated, but if it means me missing out on the dishes, it's all worth it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Voice of an Angel

Ok, I'm going to keep this to a minimum because its not very nice. Completely true and un-exaggerated, but apparently not very nice.

Angel, my favorite roommate from downstairs, has been especially ironic to her name this week. On Sunday morning as Ryan and I left for church, we ran into her in the hallway carrying her groceries in, she jumped and proclaimed "You scared me!" as she always does (I think she must have nightmares about white people stalking through her house.) On arriving home we saw her groceries had been neatly arranged on the coffee table: rows and rows of juices, soda, cups, etc. I naively thought "she'd never have a party without asking us" and finished preparing for the arrival of my dear old friends, Julie and Justin.

They arrived later that night, as did Angel's party guests. At one point she knocked on our door to offer us Guinness in exchange for a bottle opener, but for the most part I sat in the room with my friends and husband, shaking my head at her brilliant idea of having a party at 11pm on a Sunday night. Luckily for us, her guests didn't stay too late, and we were able to get to bed before 1am (Ryan and I both had school/work the next morning).

Monday night I made some rolls, which were pretty successful now that I've figured out what "fast-action yeast" entails. (Google it) and left my watch on the counter while kneading. After dinner, we received one of the many free 2-hour long performances of "Complicated" by Avril Lavigne, as "sung" by Angel (and I use the term loosely).

Then, Tuesday morning, disaster struck. As I was rushing off to work at 7:30, my watch was no where to be found. Ryan and I rushed around but to no avail. After arriving home, I sat bitterly in our room, listening to Angel's never-ending tribute to Avril Lavigne (with occasional Sarah Mcachlan interludes) and accusing her of stealing my watch from the kitchen where I was pretty sure I left it. Ryan told me this was not very nice, and I explained that if I unfairly accuse her, I will find my watch on my own, and then feel guilty. Come on, that's how things usually work. But to no avail. As we attempted sleep (around 1am) the Avril Lavigne was too loud and emotional, and Julie/Justin nominated me to trod downstairs and ask Angel to be quietly. I begrudgingly did so. She was very sweet and apologetic, as she always is. As I climbed into bed with semi-conscious Ryan, he said "oh I hope we didn't stifle her singing" and I feared this, but next morning I went downstairs and heard more of this lovely singing.

The final blow came this morning, at 10am we were awakened by "Complicated" I got up and started getting ready. I looked over on the nightstand and THERE WAS MY WATCH! I yelled to Julie and Justin, who asked me if I looked there before. "Of course I did! I looked here 5 times!" Julie looked doubtful. "Don't make me think I'm crazy!" I said. Justin joked "you should thank Angel." And I did. In response, wafting through the floorboards was the ultimate terrible karaoke song, Whitney Houston's "I-I-I-ee-I Will Always Love You." BUT on further investigation, Ryan apparently saw Angel this morning and asked her if she'd seen it. She produced it from her room, claiming that she thought one of her friends left it. So, basically, I WAS RIGHT.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

One-Woman Show

So, after several weeks of church-searching I think we have settled on the "Parish Church" (Anglican). The service clips along nicely, the pastor is young and relevant, and although our first week wasn't filled with people dying to introduce themselves to us, we went back this week.

Ryan and I argue about the age of the pastor; he says late 30s I say late 20s. At any rate, she organized a "student's lunch" on Sunday and we stuck around for it. There weren't a ton of people, but it was a decent turn-out, mostly comprising of Czech students. What really struck me about this church is that the pastor seems lacking in the help department. She was the one fetching chairs, pouring tea, pitching ideas for future gatherings, I wanted to tell her to take a deep breath! There were a few older people about (one made us soup) but it seems like churches here are very grey and that trying to get young people connected is a very hard and important task.

Julie and I were discussing this last night (she and Justin arrived Sunday night) and talking about how Europe is less "churched" than America, which sometimes for me seems like it would be hard to be less churched than America, but apparently it's true. I know that most people our age aren't interested in their spiritual sides, mostly looking for social outlet and parties, but it still strikes me as odd. Maybe its just how I was raised, I need church as part of my community. Well, more to think about later.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Lovely Lincoln

Last Saturday the husband and I went to Lincoln, and I have to say I think it is the best small town in England. It isn't much advertised, and not in Rick Steves' guide books. We wouldn't have probably found it at all had our B&B host, Derek, not mentioned it when we first came to Loughborough.

It was an hour-and-a-half train ride from Loughborough, and when we arrived, we stepped out of the station directly into town center. Christmas decorations have already been hung, and the town was buzzing with Christmas shoppers, much to Ryan's dismay. He always complains about the early onset of Christmas stuff in America, but at least there we have Halloween and Thanksgiving as mild buffers. After bonfire, the English push straight on to Christmas. It is a huge deal here, the average British family spending 950 pounds on gifts!

But I digress. We made our way through the hustle and bustle, crossing over a lovely canal with swans being fed by old men. We made our way up the aptly named "Steep Hill" (worse than Seattle, I swear!) the walk could only be justified by what lay ahead: a huge cathedral and even bigger castle built by William the Conquerer. The castle's attractions were not terribly well kept, but it does hold one of the few original Magna Cartas. Probably the best site at the castle is the walk around the outer wall, which offers amazing views of the town, countryside, and cathedral.

The cathedral dates from the 12th century and was used as a double for Westminster Abbey in the film "The DaVinci Code." They had a fairly interesting tour about the history of the cathedral (I swear God wants it destroyed because its burned down like 3 times, been hit with earthquakes, and had towers collapse! Sounds like something out of Monty Python). They also had set aside room in the chapter house to display some of the props from the movie, and of course, there were lots of brochures about how Dan Brown is a liar and against Christianity and whatnot. I read the novel on our trans-Atlantic flight, and I thought it was mostly entertaining, but kind of pedantic, and his "facts" were far-fetched.

On our return, Ryan and I rented "The DaVinci Code" and it was a very bad film. All logic points that it should be very good-- great actors, locations, based on a best-seller, but the suspense didn't translate very well at all. Also, the parts of the novel they did change were for the worse. But it was cool to say "we've been there" and notice all the different parts of Lincoln cathedral.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Ebony Quits Top Model! (and I quit my job)

Ebony gets bitched out by Tyra, even though Ebony clearly has some serious issues she needs to work on, as opposed to being on a stupid reality show. This morning I called to quit my lunch lady job. No, it wasn't the Coach shoes incident, they washed up fine. I realized yesterday that it is impossible for me to do this job as well as my Atkinson's job, there is too much time overlap. And contrary to what I was told early on, there won't be any evening hours for me.

After all the weeks of pressure, I have done it. My boss didn't bitch me out, she just sounded disappointed. I feel badly, because I know they have invested time in me, but at the same point, I think its better to quit now than constantly be unavailable when they need me. But, thankfully, its over. Oh what tangled webs we weave when first we practice to deceive.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Lunch Lady, pt 2

Yesterday I began training at my substitute lunch lady job. I feel slightly deceitful in this position because my 2 jobs don't know about each other. As I've written earlier, while having multiple jobs in America is viewed as necessary by many, and noble by our president, in England it is frowned upon.

So, I have taken off a few days from the fruiterers under the guise of my visiting American friends, Julie and Justin, who actually arrive next Sunday. I shall have to make up a lot of adventures to tell my coworkers. Or claim that Julie and Justin never showed and act really bitter. We'll see. And the refectory where I lunch lady plans on calling me in from time to time, I don't know how often, to substitute. We'll see how this goes. At any rate, we move to Newcastle in less than 3 months and I'll be leaving both jobs to work FULL TIME in Newcastle.

I am struck here by the lack of upward-climbing in most of my coworkers. I don't know many adults in America who work only one part-time minimum wage job. Yet all the lunch ladies have been there for 8 years + and seem comfortable in their positions, minus a few complaints. Peoples' attitudes seem to be "take what you're given" not "strive after the perfect job" ala the American dream.

But on to the actual lunch-ladying. It is a pretty chill job. 30 minutes after my arrival yesterday we had a tea break, and about an hour after that we ate lunch. Then the children came in and ate their lunch. I was in the dish room, which I have done before on a smaller scale at Glacier Camp, and was mentally prepared for. At first it was kind of like being in a really disgusting relay race, in which your goal was to scrape leftover food into the giant garbage disposal ditch with your rubber gloves. Wearing rubber gloves, a plastic apron, and someone else's uniform, I felt impervious to the mess going on around me.

Then things sped up. The food was flying, the dishwater splashing, and the kitchen so loud I couldn't hear the shouting of my boss 2 feet away from me. And then IT happened. The straw that broke my lunch lady dreams. Shepherds pie on my Coach sneakers. The Achilles' heel of my uniform. It was disgusting and I had no time to remove it. Icky dishwater splashed on my face, food was everywhere and I was ready to throw in the towel. I left work reeking of Shepherds Pie and still not very hungry when dinner rolled around.

The training lasts four days, and after that I don't know when I'll actually be called to work. I know that right now I'm doing what I can because its impossible to make career steps when you're moving every 4 months. I'm just getting tired of busting my ass for minimum wage. Maybe I'm conceited, but I just think my time and efforts are more valuable than that.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Remember, Remember the 5th of November

Tonight is Guy Fawkes' night, and after a week and a half's worth, I must say fireworks are getting old. For those of you who've yet to see "V for Vendetta" the 5th of November lives in infamy for the Gunpowder Plot, a scheme between some Roman Catholic blokes to blow up Parliament with dirty James I inside, thus killing the Protestant heir. Apparently, one of the plotters wrote a letter to a Catholic Parliament member to warn him against attending that day, and his brother in Christ turned him in and caught Guy Fawkes red-handed. Poor Guy was tortured brutally and hung, and ever since he (and for awhile the Pope, but no longer) were burned in effigy every November 5th. Children were especially fond of the holiday and collected pennies from neighbors (or neighbours if you will) for fireworks.

Sadly, children can no longer purchase fireworks, and the holiday is often simply called "Bonfire Night." Since its on a Monday night this year, the real bonfire was on Saturday night in combination with a carnival at Loughborough Uni. It was an absolute zoo! I had to leave Ryan and some friends to find the ladies' and almost never found them again except for our very tall and awesomely-named Basque friend, Xalbat. (pronounced with a "zs" sound like "zsa zsa Gabor")

The fireworks display truly put all the 4th of July shows that I've seen to shame. They shot off so many simultaneously that it almost melted my brain in sheer amazement. (They did charge us 4 pounds a head to get it, I'm assuming they spent every penny of it on the combustibles). The only really disappointing thing was a missing Guy-- no Guy Fawkes at all! Apparently the whole "death to traitors and papists" thing is out of style and its really just a giant bonfire/excuse to drink (like they need it!). I think America should perhaps steal this concept. Think about it. Guy Fawkes was a terrorist, and aren't we at war with terrorism? The English have burned him in effigy every year for 400 years! That's probably how long we'll be at war with the terrorists and we've got to keep morale up somehow! Making a national holiday with fire and alcohol would at least give us one good thing that's come out of this war.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Halloween III: Season of the Brits

A few weeks ago I started nagging the default "organizer" of social events, Oliver, about putting on a Halloween Party. This is my favorite holiday for the obvious reasons: costumes, chocolate, and embarrassing my husband. (This year I made him dress like a lion! Not quite as good as last year's K-Fed, but the thrift stores here kinda suck)

I was viciously planning up until Tuesday night. The agenda included Stephen King's "Carrie", drinking games and maybe a few classics like "pass the orange." Now that I'm married, I really can't justify making everyone play spin the bottle, even though it would be great odds for any girl there.

But Tuesday night I got a message from Oliver that the room we'd planned on had been reserved by someone else. Disappointing to say the least. What will I do with all the black construction paper bats? But plan B was the good old Moon & Bell, so I tried to go with the flow.

Wednesday is my day off, so after the myriad of futile attempts at cleaning our giant filthy house, I decided to put up our Halloween decor around our house. I was going to decorate the outside of the house, but realized that the little kids would probably take it as a sign to come Trick or Treat, and we'd cruelly be at the pub, hoarding all the candy amongst the adults. As Ryan and I were making dinner and getting ready later, I realized there were no trick or treaters in our neighborhood-- probably because everyone here is Muslim or Hindu. I know the Hindu Diwali festival is going on this week, and I guess maybe the Muslims don't like Halloween.

But I digress. I dressed as Medusa, using a cut-up 29 pence children's mask, and I made Ryan go as a lion. We walked to the Moon & Bell and so NO ONE dressed up, probably because this is sort of a recently adopted American holiday. But our group looked pretty good at the pub, a lot of cheap masks and etc.

I met a few new people on Wednesday night (and no, I didn't give them my phone number this time) and these guys wanted to know all about America. It seems everybody keeps asking me what I "truly think" of England. I'm still not sure myself, but I usually tell them its very different, but that I like it. One of the guys, who had visited Florida once, said he didn't think it was different at all. I admitted that there were many similarities, but that the social rules were quite different-- that I still wasn't sure of many of them. To this he replied "There is one rule in England: to drink. If you drink, you'll be alright." And he's partly right. I've been pretty surprised to hear my coworker (who's a grandmother) bantering with older customers about how "pissed" they were last night and so-and-so fell asleep on the bus, and etc.

It was, all in all, a pretty fun evening. I think I did insult Kevin's wife when I was trying to explain what a "MILF" was (long story) and I definitely had a bit too much to drink, but that's really how one does it in this country, I think.