Thursday, April 7, 2016

Things About Life In England Lately




The English are nothing if not encouraging. And yes, it's really that steep.


I'm aware that, according to my last post, this one is supposed to be about the last day of our Edinburgh weekend, but - as I've said before - it's my blog, and I'm the decider, so this one will be about Other Things, and Edinburgh will just have to wait, as will the recent Easter Holidays, spent in Belize (main point about Belize: It Is Warm There.)

No, today's post is about the stuff that has been floating through my consciousness for the past few weeks.  Most of it doesn't fit in any particular category, but it has become pervasive enough that I feel it might be worth posting.  Also, it actually has something to do with expat life, which (ok, very loosely) is, one might say, a theme of this blog.

So, without further ado, some Things About Life In England Lately:

Donald Trump:  In the first place, as an American expat, I've had to do a lot of Explaining lately.  It seems that, no matter where I go, no matter what the context of the discussion, or with whom I am speaking, the topic somehow invariably defaults to Donald Trump.  The English are truly fascinated  (or maybe 'bemused' or possibly 'gobsmacked' would be the better choice here) by The Donald's popularity in the USA, and always want an explanation for him.  Here's the thing:  I don't know either.  I've read a lot of analyses and op-eds, but it is still unclear to me What The Hell Is Going On In US Politics.  This, of course, has led to my starting to wonder if my inability to understand American political thinking is a result of having been living out of the country for nearly 5 years come June (do any of you remember when I started this blog to record our '2 year assignment in Korea'? Yeah.  Anyway.) In any case, I'm finding it difficult and tiresome to keep clarifying that I have no insights to share, and that I that I don't know what the American electorate are thinking either, except that it would seem that many of them are dissatisfied with the Status Quo. Which leads us to

People Who Swear They Are Moving to Canada/England/Australia if Trump (or another candidate) is Elected: I do get that most of these people do not really plan to move anywhere regardless of the election outcome.  However, this is what I would like to know:  How many of these people have gone through the visa application process? My guess would be:  Not very many.  And I know I cannot be the only expat who is thinking this.  I am saying this as a person who came close to shrieking despair during hours of waiting in the Korean immigration offices (not to mention the multiple trips I made because I didn't have the correct document, apostilled by the 3rd Undersecretary to the Foreign Something and needed to go find it - translated into Korean - before I could move forward.)  You try hunting down the right person in the right government office (via a bad international cell phone call with a 13-hour time difference, of course) who can overnight express mail you a certified copy (apostilled by an internationally authorized notary) of your marriage license. Then maybe you can understand why I start twitching when people chat blithely about 'moving to _____' in the same way they chat about a trip to the grocery store.  From my perspective, it would seem that relocating the family to an underground bunker somewhere Out West to live, subsistence-style, off the grid and wait out the apocalypse would be preferable to undergoing the immigration process.  But maybe that's just me.

On a less contentious note, let us leave politics behind and discuss one of my favorite topics:  language.  Specifically, the use of the word 'scheme' in British English.  Here in Britain, the word 'scheme' is used regularly, and in a straightforward and benign way, to mean, plan or program(me). The problem for me is, in American English, the word 'scheme' has distinctly negative connotations, typically in reference to an evil/underhanded plan: The villain's scheme to take over the world was foiled by the intrepid hero. In American English, you just don't use the word scheme in any sort of positive context, with the exception of the phrase used exclusively by English teachers "rhyme scheme."   In fact, in American English, you can just go right ahead and replace 'scheme' with 'plot' -it's that negative. It follows then, that scheming is a distinctly negative adjective, as in You scheming, underhanded such-and-so and calling someone a schemer implies that the person has been rubbing his/her hands together in a dark room, cackling with glee over a nefarious plan.  So my point is, the word 'scheme' in American English is pretty much bad. Not so here in the UK, where, in the last week, I have received not one, but three notices referring to some sort of scheme:  a residents' parking scheme, a neighborhood cycling scheme, and at my own university, a scheme that recognizes excellence in teaching, referred to as the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme.  All this just to say that I understand logically what is meant here is a 'plan' or 'program', but somehow I cannot filter the cobwebby wisps of negative connotation out of my mind.  Someone remind me about this in 2017 and I'll see if I feel differently after another year of constant exposure.

Old House Culture:  As most of you know, the house we are renting is an Edwardian-era terraced house, built ca 1910, and is, of course, one of the more modern structures in Bath, which is known for its Roman-Era baths and its Georgian crescents.  All this to say:  a lot of people here live in Very Old Houses, many of which are So Old As To Boggle The American Mind.  It is always amusing to me to run across 'The Old Vicarage" (built 1760 but updated in 1820) and then, around the corner, find 'The New Vicarage" (circa 1910) which, by American standards, would be considered Pretty Old on its own merits.  (Aside:  I was vastly entertained to note that the main dwelling at the Cardiff Castle was built in the 1400s, and 'modernised' in the 1500s and again in the 1700s.)  My regular walk to the shops takes me past a chapel built in the 1200s and previously attached to a hospital for those suffering from leprosy.  MrL and I refer to this fondly as 'The Leper Chapel' although it has a properly respectful name which fails me at the moment.

Along with the charmingness that is Old House Culture, you do, of course, have a few downsides, one of which, we have learned, is Visitation By The Occasional Mouse, which is only to be expected. Unfortunately for us, the most recent visitation must have occurred just as we packed up our diving gear and headed off for nearly a fortnight to Belize. (I don't have a clear concept of Mouse Years, but I'm pretty sure that a couple weeks for a mouse would be enough to produce and raise a family to adulthood.) As best as we can piece things together, a mouse (mice?) took up residence in my tea towel drawer, built a nest out of tea towels and plastic carrier bags, and then - inexplicably - set off on a pilgrimage into the recesses of our walls or under our floorboards, where he met with an untimely demise (no doubt hastened by his injudicious consumption of my tea towels and carrier bags), and began forthwith to rot decompose.  This apparently took place shortly before our return from Belize, so all we noticed upon arrival was a slight mustiness, which we chalked up to the house having been shut up for so long. We were, of course, wrong. Within a day or two, 'musty' had metamorphosed into 'putrid' and I began tearing open and ruthlessly purging every cabinet, drawer, cupboard shelf, and container in the kitchen with the singlemindedness of a woman gone mad.  After two days of fruitless searching, scrubbing, and deodorizing, we came to the sinking conclusion that the bastard malcontent had expired under a floorboard or in a wall, and that we would just have to Deal With It Until The Process of Decomposition Was Complete (MrL's offers to locate the source by tearing the cabinets out of the wall or ripping up the floor much appreciated, but unlikely to be embraced by landlord.)  Subsequent trips to Home Base (the Home Depot of England) allowed us to stock up on a number of powerful odor neutralizers and - you're going to love this - 'Rodent Sachets'.  Clearly, we are not the first (or the last) people to run across this problem. The neutralizers claimed to suck the bad smells out of the air (can this really be done? I doubt it) but the Rodent Sachets made no such grandiose claims.  Tear open the sachet, they said, and place as close as possible to the source of the odour.  Lasts up to 6 weeks.  In other words, Put this powerful-smelling thing as close as possible to where you think the mouse died and this stuff will mask the smell so you can tolerate it until decomposition is complete.  So, we did.  and - after a few days of initially smelling like a Port-a-Loo (think 'organic stench masked by powerful man-made chemicals') the kitchen is starting to become bearable again.

Anyone know how long it takes a mouse to decompose?