Tag Archives: weather

Awkward Conversations with Foreign People

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Hello, reader!  How’s the world treating you today?

One of the best things about living in England is the mutliculturalism.  (What makes it even better is that every time someone says that, Nigel Farage gets a stabbing pain behind his eye.  I have absolutely no evidence to back that up, but you never know…)  This is particularly relevant in London: did you see the re-imagined tube map showing the languages spoken in different parts of London?  Here it is.  How cool is that?!

I don’t understand why UKIP, racists and other generic twats get their knickers in such a twist about British identity.  Firstly, other nationalities have all sorts of beautiful, fascinating and useful things to teach us, as evidenced by all the purloined objects in the British Museum.  If we didn’t think that foreign stuff was cool, we wouldn’t have nicked it in the first place.  Secondly, we’ve kept all the Britishness we’ll ever need.  Seriously, we have.  There are certain British values which to this day remain undiluted, unwavering and inexplicable to people from elsewhere.  Our identity as a nation and our global reputation rest upon these unshakeable pillars of completely peculiar principles.  Here are some examples of things which we Brits are totally fine with, but which we find difficult to explain to people from other countries:

Bonfire Night
“About four hundred years ago, a bloke with a bit of a chip on his shoulder tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament, so now we burn effigies of him.”
“And this is a happy time?”
“Oh, yes.  Fireworks, fairground rides, family outings.  All good fun.”
“You celebrate a four-hundred year-old terrorist attack.”
“…Well, yes.  But it’s a failed terrorist attack, if that helps.”

Queueing
“You just stand in the line?”
“You just stand in the line.”
“What if you’re in a hurry?”
“You have to wait.”
“What if you need the toilet?”
“You wait.”
“What if your feet get pins and needles?!”
“You just wait.”
“What if somebody jumps the queue?”
“Ah, well that’s different!  In that case, you TUT.”
“Yeah?”
Very loudly.  And then you carry on waiting.”

Why Tea is So Important
“It just is.”
“But why?”
“It’s traditional.  It’s English.”
“It’s Chinese, actually.”
“Yes, alright, but we like it over here, too!  It’s comforting!”
“How so?”
“Because it’s…hot?”
“So is coffee.”
“Yes, but…”
“And hot chocolate.  Hence the name, ‘hot’ chocolate.”
“Yes, but you wouldn’t find the queen serving hot chocolate to her guests at Windsor, would you?  She’d serve tea.”
“She’d serve coffee to the Americans, I think.”
“Perhaps.”
“And actually, I don’t think she’d be serving it.  I think she has staff to do that.”
“I’m not having this conversation.  Go and put the kettle on.”

Talking About the Weather
“If you don’t have anything nice to say, comment upon the weather.”
“Why?”
“Because weather is the ONLY thing that you can talk about with absolutely anyone at all, without needing any prior knowledge of them as a person.  Unlike religion, politics, current affairs, art and literature, talking about the weather doesn’t involve having an opinion or risk offending someone else.  It’s an excellent way to start or maintain a conversation with someone by purely stating empirical, uncontroversial facts. No one can argue with ‘nice day today, isn’t it?'”
“If you don’t want to talk to someone about their opinions or discuss interesting topics, why on earth are you talking to them?”
“…I have no idea.”

Sarcasm
“So you’re saying one thing, but you mean the opposite.”
“Yeah.  It’s a type of humour.”
“But why do you need it?  Why can’t you just say what you mean, like America does?”
“Oh yeah, because British people would love to be more like America.”
“Really?”
“NO.  THAT WAS SARCASM.”

So there you have it: the British identity in a nutshell.  Obviously those are all a bit silly, but you know what I mean: we’re a pretty odd bunch, and our identity as a nation isn’t going anywhere.  We are the affable, slightly strange grandfather at the global dinner table, and we’re ok with that.  We also need to be ok with other cultural identities, even if they seem strange to us.  Bearing that in mind, could somebody take Farage’s toys away and send him to his room?  No dessert for intolerant eejits, I’m afraid.

Have an amazing Tuesday!

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The Summer – Autumn Trade-Offs

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Happy Monday, reader!  How was your weekend?

Despite making a glorious comeback effort over the past week, Summer’s career is definitely over.  Make way for Autumn, the awkward but loveable bassist of the seasons.  It’s time to trade our flip flops for wellies, and to have The Discussion about turning the central heating on.

A lot of us tend to regard this time of year with trepidation and mild despair, because the days are getting shorter and before we know it we’ll be panic-buying for Christmas.  If we think about it, Autumn has a lot of fun stuff to offer that makes up for losing our Summer sensibilities.  Here are a few examples:

Sunbathing to Sauntering
No more sunbathing at every available opportunity, but now we get to enjoy leisurely walks on crisp, cold days.  We might not be able to top up our tans, but we can still enjoy the fresh air.  Even if it’s raining and miserable, there’s always the jumping-in-puddles option (as long as you’re wearing wellies.  This activity is not appropriate for those of us who favour canvas shoes).

Floaty to Fur-Lined
Pretty summer dresses get relegated to the back of the wardrobe, but on the plus side, wrapping up season is here.  There’s a lot of joy to be taken from being snug in a scarf, and being justifiably smug about owning a matching pair of gloves.  I personally am very excited about wearing my penguin jumper, because it’s SO COMFY.  Childish but not chilly is how to dress this season (although I confess I haven’t consulted any women’s magazines about this point).

Picnics to Pies
Goodbye, healthy salad and picnic snacks.  Hello, hearty stews and home-made pies.  Actually, this isn’t even a trade-off thing: who would choose salad over pie?!

Lazy Days to Long Nights
Like everyone who possesses an iota of sanity, I hate getting out up when it’s cold and dark.  If the sun isn’t out of bed yet, then why the hell should we be?!  Equally, getting home in the dark when it’s something stupid like five in the afternoon is just depressing.  What happened to long, drawn-out, sunny evenings and early, blazing sunrises?  They’re gone, I’m afraid.  There’ll be a reunion tour next year.  In the meantime, we can partly dismiss our despair by remembering that we are more likely to get to sleep at a decent time during the winter, because the earlier sunsets make us feel more tired, and that a sunrise that happens at 11.32 am (I’m exaggerating a bit, but you know what I mean) is still a sunrise.  A sunrise which we’re more likely to see, in fact, because who is ever awake at 5.34 am during the summer?  Exactly.

Festivals to Festivities
Festival season is over: pack up your tents and put away your dry shampoo.  Wherever you’ve been this summer, I hope you have some nice memories and several entertaining photos.  We also have a lot of great events to look forward to in the next few months – Hallowe’en, Bonfire Night, Christmas, New Year – and there may even be a few birthdays and engagement parties in the mix.  Summer is a great time to meet new people, spend time with old friends and go on bizarre adventures, but let’s not forget that Autumn is pretty good for all of those things, too.

Have a superlatively hilarious Monday.

Here Comes the Sun

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Good morning and a very merry Monday to you, dear reader.  How was your weekend?

In the grand tradition of Brits overdoing it on the first day of sunshine, I have some very fetching sunburn on my back.  In the equally grand tradition of Brits just after the first day of sunshine, I crossly insisted that I hadn’t been in the sun for very long, and that I “shouldn’t” be this red.  That’s right.  I am so British that I subconsciously imagine a system of justice behind the weather.

Tomato-complexion aside, the sunshine has a lovely effect on lots of things.  I think that there are a few which deserve a bit more attention:

  • The most average-looking places look like movie set locations.  For example, I am not a huge fan of South London, but Kennington yesterday was a delightful sight.  After the new writing night I skidaddled down to a pub by the river for a friend’s birthday, and found my lot on a rooftop terrace.  This would have been fairly glitzy for us on a normal day, but in the sunshine it felt like an industry party in LA, darling.   (Except that we had wine and cupcakes, not champagne and cigars.  Close enough, right?)
  • You feel so much more zen.  It’s probably a combination of things: cloudless skies remind us of infinity, lying on the grass makes us feel more at one with nature and being warm in general makes us a bit sleepy.  I mean, philosophical.
  • Life becomes a window shopping trip.  This might be more for girls than guys, but I love seeing what kind of sandals, sunglasses and pretty summer dresses people turn out in when the temperature gets above 22 degrees.  Also, people are happier and more confident in their nice summer clothes, so if you really like someone’s outfit you can actually ask them where it’s from, and not get a standard “stranger danger” glare.
  • Sunglasses make everyone look amazing.  I really don’t know what it is about sunglasses, but everyone looks really, really good in them.  I have no idea of the psychology behind this (especially given that eyes are meant to be the windows to the soul and therefore pretty important in attraction, surely), but sunglasses make everyone look like rock stars.
  • Sunglasses make everyone feel better.  This one is fairly obvious given the last point: when we know we look good, we feel good.  Instant confidence from something as simple as a pair of glasses is one of the weirdest and loveliest side-effects of weather like this.  Also, sunglasses of different tints and hues give people unique perspectives: for instance, my friend Rob’s sunglasses are a brown-ish colour.  More than once yesterday we were treated to the exclamation “Everything looks like a photograph from the seventies!” I don’t know why that made Rob so happy, but it did, and who are we to judge?
  • Ice cream trucks are everywhere.  Creepy and perturbing music aside, ice cream trucks are essentially vehicles of joy, and their purpose is to deliver deliciousness to all and sundry in a given postcode area.

Have a sensational Monday.

Two Towers, No Hobbits

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Good morning, lovely reader!  Got any nice plans for your weekend?  I know for a fact that there are barbecues happening in London over the next couple of days.  Loving that weather-based optimism.

When I was writing this post I nearly called it “Real British Theatre”, but I disregarded that title for two reasons: firstly, it smacks somewhat of Nigel sodding Farage (and I have many faults, but voting for UKIP is definitely not one of them), and secondly it reminded me a little too forcefully of a university module I think I did, which was called something similar and was about theatre in the nineteenth century.  Maybe.  I think.  I don’t know, it was a very long time ago, and I wasn’t paying attention…

Yesterday I went to the Globe with one of my best buddies to see the play which, time-travel allowing, I’m pretty sure is Shakespeare’s homage to Tarantino: Titus Andronicus.  It was bloody, disturbing and impossible to stop watching.  It also had my absolute favourite characteristic of theatre: dark comedy.  It was funny at odd moments, it lightened the more blood-stained and grotesque scenes with a bit of whimsy, but most worryingly of of all, the actual subject matter and the characters’ situations made us laugh.  They also made us wince in disgust, groan in surprised nausea and sharply peg it out of the way when the actors were running around in the audience.

The actors had two metal towers on wheels to propel themselves around the groundling pit, and they used them spectacularly.  It still amazes me that something so un-British – barging through crowds of people, for heaven’s sake, and actually shouting at them to move, how very rude, I shall write to The Times – is such an integral part of the audience’s experience at the Globe.  The Globe is a beacon of British history and culture, and it attracts people from all over the – well, the globe, I suppose.  Ahem.

The un-British barging in a very British theatre is important, because it makes the story so immediate for the spectators (which is, after all, why they went to the Globe in the first place).  It made us feel genuinely at risk from the seething anger, the all-too-real swords and the fake blood being sprayed everywhere.  It was amazing.

The best things about this country are way beyond what politicians have to say about immigration or the Europe issue.  The best things about this country are the things that people gave us hundreds of years ago, and that we still enjoy today.  This country is about Winston Churchill’s determination, Charles Darwin’s curiosity and William Shakespeare’s imagination.

This country is about standing in the middle of an open air theatre and feeling things that audiences have felt about the same story for four hundred and twenty years.  That’s called a communal experience by the way, Mr. Farage, and the whole flipping point of it is that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from.

Have an amazing Saturday.  (Not you, UKIP.)

The Great British Nightmares

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Good morning and happy Saturday!  I hope that you drank in moderation last night, and if you didn’t, that your house mate/partner/unexpected guest has some painkillers for you.

As comedian Bill Bailey said in his show Part Troll, it’s very difficult to describe being British to someone who’s not from these blessed isles.  He came up with a pretty accurate description, though:

“We have strong prevailing south westerly winds, um…52% of our days are overcast, so as a nation we’re infused with a wistful melancholy…but we remain a relentlessly chipper population, prone to mild eccentricity, binge drinking and casual violence.”

I love that quotation, but I think that there’s another way to describe Britain – or rather, what it’s like to be British – to someone from a foreign land.  Predictably, I have chosen a method that allows me to provide you, dear reader, with a top ten list.  Here are the ten worst nightmares of British people:

1) How was your trip?

Particularly in London, people walk with purpose, direction and whenever possible, the speed with which to overtake the tourists just in front.  It is devastating, therefore, to massively stack it in the middle of a public place.  Sod’s law dictates that this will happen when you are walking past a group of threatening-looking youths, wearing supposedly flattering high heels or in a tube station during rush hour.

2) Stand clear of the closing doors

Speaking of the tube, it’s a wonderful feeling when you manage to squeeze into a crowded carriage on your commute, and if you’re the last one in there’s an Indiana Jones, just-in-the-nick-of-time element to your euphoria.  But this joy is short-lived if and when you discover that your errant coat/bag/scarf is the reason that the TFL guy on the platform keeps shouting “Stand CLEAR of the CLOSING DOORS, please!”

3) London is not your Oyster

Another London-based issue, and again this relates most strongly to the havoc of rush hour: being the person who queues up for ages to get to the ticket barrier, only to discover that your Oyster card simply does not want to play ball.  You definitely topped it up this morning, so what’s its problem?  “Seek assistance”, indeed.  I will try, but I have to apologetically shuffle back through this crowd of cross commuters waiting to use the barrier first!

4) Turn around (every now and then I drop my drink)

Assuming that you manage to navigate your way through the streets and train networks, you might make your way to a pub to see some friends and enjoy a nice, cold drink.  On a weekend night in particular, the inevitable queueing process at a bar is arduous (but it will not defeat you – you’re British after all, and you know how this works).  So once you’ve finally got your drink in hand, the next task is simply to turn away from the bar, carry your drink through the crowd of soon-to-be-sozzled people and find your table.  Easier said than done.  One errant elbow from an inattentive stranger and your pint/wine glass/soda and lime can go hurtling onto the floor.  Back of the queue.

5) Decaf soya latte with sugar free hazelnut syrup, thanks

The beverage-related nightmare doesn’t end there: as a nation we are globally renowned for our love of hot beverages, and it’s always alarming when you come across somebody who doesn’t drink tea or coffee.  (Honestly, it gives me the heebie jeebies just typing those words.)  Worse than that is to be a coffee or tea lover, but to be very particular about how you take your drink.  We live in a world where syrups, soya milk and cinnamon topping (why?) are available in coffee shops all over the country, but if you’re at someone’s house and they offer you a hot drink, it’s excruciating to have to say “er…do you have any brown sugar?”, or make a similarly difficult request.  I come up against this embarrassing situation quite often, because I’m allergic to dairy stuff and I don’t like black coffee.  It’s not  really my fault, but I’m English, ergo I am embarrassed by being honest about my preferences.

6) Well, gosh, I suppose, um…well, yes, actually, I do think you’re rather…I mean to say I think you’re very…no, silly me, forget I said anything

Being honest in general is not something that this country is good at.  We love a good moan as much as the next nation (by the way that’s not a dig at France, who are technically the next nation), but when it comes to being open and frank we are petrified.  I had coffee with a friend yesterday who advised me to be honest with someone about my feelings – Christ, can you imagine?!  One shudders at the very thought.  Getting a British person to be communicative on an emotional level is like teaching Keira Knightley how to act.  It really should be done at some point, but heaven knows how difficult and painful it would be.

7) The sneezing spree

Speaking of painful, sneezing several times in a row (for NO APPARENT REASON) is horrendously embarrassing, and it provokes most people to adopt a furious, baffled “what on earth is wrong with my sinuses?!” expression, in order to demonstrate to their companions that this is a completely unintentional display of violent noise.  The same applies to coughing fits, even if you’re ill and you’ve forewarned people of the fact.

8) Please leave a message after the person you’re calling has scrambled around in their bag, desperately trying to turn their phone off

Making any unintentional noise in public is excruciating to a British person.  Last night I genuinely had a nightmare that this happened to me: I had forgotten to turn my phone off, and someone called me in the middle of a theatre performance.  I go to the theatre most weeks and my memory for small tasks is terrible, so this event is a very real possibility, but only a British woman would wake up in terror at four in the morning because she subconsciously imagined her phone ringing during a production of A Streetcar Named Desire.  Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry were playing Blanche and Stella, as I recall.  Sterling performances.

9) Shall we dance?

You’re walking along.  Someone is walking in the opposite direction.  You’re on a collision course.  Panic stations: you edge left, and they move to their right.  You go the other way, and so do they.  CRISIS.  Instead of apologising and running across the road in blind terror, I think that we should all use the opportunity to have an impromptu boogie.  The next time this happens, take the other person’s hands and launch into a spirited impersonation of the ballroom dancing scene in The King and I.

10) Always take the weather with you

Last but not least, that great and faithful ally of awkward conversations: the British weather.  In this instance, it can create a nightmare scenario by simply changing halfway through the day.  When a gloriously sunny morning fools you into thinking that an umbrella won’t be necessary and then a downpour strikes as you leave the office; when a brisk morning leads you to don a jumper, only to find that the day has become a record-breaking scorcher by lunchtime; when the weather forecasters scoff in the face of a possible snowstorm, and within an hour of you leaving home the world looks like a Christmas card.  This is why many British people carry sun cream, an umbrella and gloves with them at all times.  (I’m not joking.  You should see my hand bag.)  Better to be overloaded with stuff than to let the weather lull you into a false sense of security.

Have a stupendously wonderful day, everyone.