Reversepilgrims Blog

a northwest family moves to the UK

Optional but really tasty July 28, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 8:20 am
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The universal word on the street about English food is, no offense to my new friends, it stinks. I was cautioned to at the very least be prepared for disappointment. I say yes and no.

There are things I adore, such as the ham, the incredible cream-filled baked goods and the fish and chips, so much so that my gall bladder hurts and I’ve had to cut back on all of the above. The bread is yummier. From sandwich slices to hamburger buns, every biscuit, baked good and bap I’ve tried is chewier, softer and generally tastier.

Carrots in the basic bulk bag taste like they came straight out of the garden and the potatoes are actually flavorful (I haven’t seen a russet since I’ve been here, and they serve “jacket potatoes” (baked potatoes) all over the place). I am also a beet fan and I was thrilled to find that they have peeled, cooked beets sealed in packages in the produce section, all the yum without the fuss and/or the rubbery texture out of a can! The fruit is from this side of the globe, a little different, but still lovely. It is simply obvious that most of the meat and produce have not been trucked from ten states away. All hail the local farmers!

They have most of the same items, but they just don’t call them the same thing. I usually end up describing the food I’m looking for to the nearest unsuspecting Grimsby resident and we end up touring the store looking for it. They don’t have tater tots, but they do have “rasties”, which are flattened hash brown patties—not the same, popsicles are called “lollies” and they all drink something called “squash”. When the first person offered it to me I said a quick little prayer, ‘please don’t make it zucchini juice’, and it must have worked because I got a glass of something like fruit juice that they make by mixing a concentrated liquid with water to taste. You can even get it in restaurants, with no ice, of course. The versions I’ve had include either orange or black currant and are sugar free. The kids like it. Most of it comes “double strength” and trying to add a capful or a spash to a glass can get quite messy. A normal family could just mix it up in a pitcher, but of course one of our boys likes is weak and warm and the other likes it strong and cold. Shocker there, I know.

The food packaging just cracks me up, too. It is as if the marketers are a little more lighthearted here. In the directions for making macaroni and cheese, it lists the ingredients to add as water, milk and butter (optional but really tasty), see the photo. Ha!

And now for the part where I agree with the masses. Food tends to fall into three categories for me—‘Love it’, ‘leave it’ and ‘vow never to eat or even smell that again if at all possible’. Their version of a potato chip, generally called “crisps”, definitely fall into the final category. (Warning: the next sentence could cause serious appetite loss). Common crisp flavours include smokey bacon, t-bone steak, worcestershire sauce, tomato ketchup, savory chicken and prawn cocktail. After I got over the initial shock and waves of nausea, I ventured down the crisp aisle once again, sometimes you just crave salt. I could be missing out, I thought, so I decided to be brave and try a flavor or two (see photo of the bags I took…right before I threw them in the rubbish). The cheese and onion was in the “leave it” category at best, and it was all downhill from there. The smokey bacon made my stomach churn and the savoury chicken actually induced a bout of nausea that I fought off for several hours. If anyone in my family even suggests going down that aisle in the supermarket I give them a quick “No Crisps!” with a thick accent like Edna from the Incredibles when she delcares ‘no capes’ for superhero costumes.

Oh, and they are apparently obsessed with biscuits and/or buns with sultanas (raisins) and/or currants in them. They come in all sizes and sorts and they take up entire sections in supermarkets. I have tried several versions and I have to admit, the allure remains a mystery to me. My best guess is that it is akin to the apple pie in America.

At our first neighborhood barbecue on Sunday I was introduced to a spice concoction called “American Chip Spice”. It comes in a short, round white shaker complete with the picture of a US flag rippling in the breeze and lady liberty herself on the front. They use it on chips (fries) and burgers and all sorts of things. The kitchen full of Brits expressed a bit of indignant outrage that I’d never even heard of it, as they had been conned into thinking this little shaker came straight off our tables. It could be a midwest or east coast thing, but I’ve been in 45 of our 50 states and had never come across it. I did a little research just to make sure I wasn’t missing this product at our local QFC and apparently it’s a local thing. Here’s the website I found: complete with this description: “Originating in Kingston upon Hull, East Yorkshire in the North East of England, today it is most commonly available in chip shops & takeaways in the Hull & East Yorkshire area and has cult status among locals & people that at one time have lived in the area.” It tastes like your average msg-laden spice, a bit of barbecue, chili and ranch all rolled into one. Not bad. The one thing that it has going for it is copious amounts of salt.

If there is one thing I can say about the food in general here, it’s that everything tastes like I accidentally bought the reduced salt version—crackers, mayo, ketchup, even the food you get in restaurants. In discussing the lack of salt in this country with another mother, I learned that the powers that be regarding health in the UK have declared salt a serious no-no. Just as a polite heads up, she told me that it would be seriously frowned upon to shake salt on my children’s food–she definitely wouldn’t do it in front of the queen. Now I am not one to shake salt on everything in the US, in fact I’m a salt wimp compared to many of my comrades, but I can even be caught shaking salt on Ritz crackers here!

Being the scientific geek that I am, I attempted to research the actual salt levels in Ritz in the 2 countries and found several interesting facts. There are 6 types of Ritz crackers in the US, plus 2 types of pretzels and 4 versions of a cheese-filled cracker. In the UK they have 2–original and cheese flavor. That tells you a lot about food choices here in general. As for the salt content, I’ve either uncovered a major inconsistency in the use of the metric system, a conspiracy or I simply can’t do the math. Even when I account for the deflated US serving size, the US version works out to a lot less salt–but I’m here to tell you that if there is less salt in the US Ritz, pigs are circling the globe in flocks as we speak.

So my verdict on English food–I’ll miss the bread and ham and fish and chips (liberally showered with salt) when we go, but I’ll likely walk in and kiss the floor of the local Safeway when we get home.


Parking lots and mail slots July 21, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 10:10 am
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Walking through the car park (parking lot) of the grocery store makes me feel like a giant. There are no suburbans, giant SUVs or trucks so big you can’t see over the tailgate here. Forget mere double parking, an F-350 could easily take up four of these parking spots. What football (soccer) moms drive here would probably fit in the back of most US minivans if you took out the back seats. One advantage is that you don’t have to constantly peek around the ends of vehicles as you wander through the parked cars, you just look out over the top of the whole lot as if you were 7 feet tall at a rock concert. Motorcycles are common and I find myself doing double takes often because they seem so huge, until I remember it’s all the other vehicles that are smaller. There is not much more parking space in the neighborhoods. You can see from the photo that everyone parks right up to their house and even a small RV hangs over the sidewalk.

A little boy at the swimming pool asked us if that was our “massive Dodge” out there, which absolutely cracked me up because it’s about the size of a Toyota Matrix. Although the four of us fit nicely in the passenger seats, the space behind our back seat is only big enough for two laundry baskets. One stacked up on the other, of course.

There are roundabouts everywhere. Even what would seemingly be a simple T intersection is a roundabout here. If there isn’t room for a center island, they just widen the intersection and paint a circle with arrows around it in the middle. It feels a bit like they replaced all the stairs with fireman’s poles. There is also a sense of sport about driving in the roundabouts, as if one could earn a medal for merging without slowing down. I have driven once, just around the village, not so much to actually get the hang of it as to keep my apprehension from getting out of control. I did fine, apart from smacking my right hand against the driver’s door when I reached for the gear shift a couple of times. Now I just need to get my game face on and I’ll be ready to venture out.

Some days the differences seem endless.

There are no mailboxes, everything just comes through the slot in the front door like uninvited paper guests. There is one general delivery of the day, but there are also random mailings and flyers that magically appear. Sometimes they are stuck there in the metal flap and others land so far from the door they seemed to have opened the slot and threw them in. It makes me grateful for the three deadbolts and loopy hotel peek-a-boo lock on the door.

There’s the fact that I can’t remember our phone number.  My close friends understand why this is so annoying to me–I am the kind of person who remembers phone numbers that I don’t even need to recall any more. My cell phone directory in the US was full, but mostly just to make things faster. My brain is completely wired for 10 digit numbers that come in packages with a set of parenthesis at the beginning and a dash in the middle. Here the phone numbers are 11 digits long. It’s not that I find the additional numeral excessive, it’s just that there is no punctuation. Who knew I would long for a little more formality in England? I’ve tried coming up with my own little system, but the numbers never seem to come at me in the same way. Some people will give you 2 or 3 numbers at a time, others just go for the first 5 and break it up from there, and I am left just blinking slowly at those who rattle off all 11 at once. There is a standard in that the first five numbers are for the area you are in and the last six are for the place, but that all goes out the window for cell phone numbers. So, I have settled on carrying my number around on a slip of paper and having people write down theirs–maybe I should put a trumpet around my neck, too.

I am not feeling overwhelmed so much as I am simply saturated. We have not only moved to a different country–yes, there are bank accounts to be sorted out and appliance shopping to be done—but we’ve also gone from a two-car family to public transit users, home owners to renters, and city folk to village dwellers all at the same time. Not one of the differences is particularly enormous, they all just catch me off guard for one small instant after another. If I were one of those cute little dogs, my neck muscles would be tired from all the tilting of my head and perking up of my ears.


Skeleton keys and mushy peas and dryers that take forever July 16, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 11:31 pm

A few things I was clueless about until we arrived are…you lock and unlock your doors with a key, from the outside AND the inside, with a long brass skeleton key befitting of a Sherlock Holmes mystery (I’d say that qualifies as a fire hazard, but since they have deadbolts at the top and bottom of the doors, too, I’m following the ‘when in Rome’ school of thought on this one)…ordering fish and chips means you get an entire half of a fish, battered and fried, yum!…fish and chips usually come with “mushy peas” and they are exactly what they say they are, yuck!…everyone drives like a bat out of you-know-where, mums and the elderly included, and don’t look for a reprieve on residential streets, apparently small children and speed bumps just add a level of excitement to the nascar experience…there is a switch for every plug-in, right next it, however the down position is ON, so if you are sleep deprived like me, it can take a very long time to get the electric kettle on.

Some things are exactly the same, though, like finding giant spiders in the garage, which, by the way, is the size of a large closet. And, we get the same sense of relief that comes when a creepy crawly thing has been properly disposed of. I’ll sleep better and know that it’s safe to go and get my two towels and four washcloths out of the dryer, where they have been for the past two hours.


All things great and small

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 11:21 pm

There is an art to moving belongings and people and pets thousands of miles away from home. People who have moved a lot talk about it with that mixture of know-how, their voice becoming matter-of-fact and comforting all at the same time as they share their memories, hand out advice, and throw in a few travel mishaps to insure that your game day shorts aren’t on too tight.

I’m glad I listened and grateful to expect that everything would be smaller—bathrooms, bedrooms, refrigerators, washing machines, dryers, cars, streets (think no room for street parking, but they do it anyway, turning every street into a life sized pinball game), newspapers, sinks and even the “take out” forks.

I also heard that they are not big on customer service. I have yet to meet anyone overly concerned with answering the phone, and it usually takes a few tries to get someone on the line. Then, I can usually count on the person I need to speak with to be on “holiday” or simply “out” until the next day or next week. Nearly everything shuts down for lunch for at least an hour, except the places that actually serve lunch, so don’t count on popping in the library, a store or the post office between about noon and 1:30 pm, in some cases 2.

There is an upside to all of this–they take time off work seriously here. Maybe with 5 weeks of vacation and a half day every Friday, we will, too. It is evident that people here work to live, not live to work. The front of the phone books are full of information on what to do with “leisure time”, and they have “leisure centers” complete with a pool in nearly every village. Acquaintances have brought us travel brochures and maps by way of introduction. My husband informed me today that the entire plant will be off for the first two weeks of August, including him. Seriously. He doesn’t even have a key so he couldn’t go in if he wanted to. And, apparently that’s not all of his vacation time, he might have to take a couple of weeks around Christmas.

I am beginning to wonder if we’ve fallen down a rabbit hole. I hope not.


Are we there yet? July 14, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 11:43 pm

It is noon here and the boys are out like little lights. The time change has been somewhere between slightly annoying and alarming for us.

It is safe to say that our oldest son is NOT a napper. He hasn’t been a napper for a very long time and he likes it that way, so when he crashed out on the last leg of our journey and woke up on the couch at around 8 p.m., it took some convincing that it was evening and not morning. The sun was going down, not up. He did not find this amusing.

We decided to take a walk around town to stretch our legs and get some air. It was still light out and the streets were quiet apart from the lone runner and reluctant dog walker (and the bus, but I’ll get to that later). I wondered out loud where everyone was on this lovely evening and my husband informed me that it was 10 p.m. on a Sunday night. Ah, summertime at the 53rd parallel. We took in the town’s winding streets, read the announcement board, chuckled at the sign posted at the double-gated railroad crossing that instructed drivers to ‘phone ahead’ if driving a slow vehicle or carrying animals, and then proceeded to get buzzed by a double decker bus as we ambled along the skinny sidewalk on the main road–it missed me by less than 2 feet at 40 mph! Now I completely understand why men generally walk on the outside of a sidewalk and was glad that I had chosen that configuration with my son. We then commenced to declare the edge of the sidewalk as the “pit of doom” and forbid our children from wandering to close to the curb.

Our youngest was awake long enough to see the family of foxes in the field on the school grounds, but he missed the last half of our first adventure in England—falling into that sleep of pure exhaustion atop dad’s shoulders. We are not so much catching up on our sleep as it is catching up on us. We took turns switching the incredibly dense little boy back and forth between us, draping his floppy body over our backs and shoulders as we made our way…home.


Airport antics July 11, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 12:56 am

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