Reversepilgrims Blog

a northwest family moves to the UK

Time to unpack the fat pants August 25, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 11:51 pm

The Brits may opt to avoid salt, but there is no lack of fat in the food supply here.

In our first six weeks in England, I can safely say we’ve never been outside walking distance of a fish and chip shop. They will supply you with half of a fish, battered and fried to a crisp on the outside, steamy and flaky on the inside, accompanied by a pile of fries that could easily soak a hundred napkins. Except they don’t give you any napkins, just the brown paper it’s all bundled up in and a tiny three pronged plastic fork to eat it with. I suspect they are either trying to save trees or avoid the evidence. In either case, I’m all too happy to keep working on mastering the miniature utensils as the alternative is to lick your fingers to no avail, and it is well worth the effort.

There is also the endless array of sausages I can’t seem to stop “taste testing”. You can buy them all wrapped up in flaky pastry from bakeries or on the sausage aisle in the stores. The basic types are pork or beef, of course, but there are special varieties like Lincolnshire and Cumberland, and the brands are endless. Just for fun I checked my online grocery shop (they will deliver just about anything here) and there were 80 different sausage products available. Whew! (In fact, dinner tonight was a couple of sausages and a criossant. It’s impossible to pass up when those savory links just melt in your mouth and the tastiest all-butter criossants come in 4 packs for a pound, about a buck fifty. Now I know why my sister’s cholesterol was off the charts after living abroad for years!)

There is, however, one thing that could quite possibly be responsible for an entire dress size increase in itself–the dreamy dairy product called “double cream”. It is absolutely to die for. It’s a little like whipped cream, but it’s dense, like…well, possibly an extremely smooth cheesecake or creme brulee can come close to this blanket of goodness for your mouth, but it’s truly in a class all its own. Plus, there’s not all that hard work involved with those delicacies. You just spoon it out of the container, pause in awe as it melts on your scone, and then enjoy every last bite.


Roundabout instructions August 16, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 3:32 pm

One of my new friends gave me a book entitled “The Official Highway Code”. There was no doubt in my mind that she was trying to tell me something. Actually, I was very grateful for the help. I’ve heard from other ex-pats that even though I have a year to get a UK license, I should start studying and sign up for a few driving lessons if I hope to pass the test. Can you say ‘awkward’? I’ve wished that I could start my life over at 15 on occasion, but this was not the part of the teenage experience I had hoped to re-live. I put up with my creepy Drivers Ed teacher for eight weeks and passed my test with flying colors, thank you very much. But, then again, there were no roundabouts in my little hometown. Come to think of it, we had to go to the neighboring town to check off the “merging” and “parallel parking” portion of the test.

I flipped immediately to the section on roundabouts. This portion of the UK driving experience, approximately 95% (I may be exaggerating slightly here), has me baffled. Some people signal, some people don’t, and even though we are all turning to the left, some people signal right…it’s all very confusing.

So here it is, the official word on driving in roundabouts. My favorite part is where it says “…be aware that they (other drivers) may not be signalling correctly or at all.” Thanks for the tip.

This photo is of the classic roundabout with arrows showing the basic traffic movement through it. This is nice. It is quite logical. The only problem is that less than half of the roundabouts are this straightforward. There are exceptions everywhere and it’s hard to see the painted arrows showing which lane goes where when there are cars constantly running over them.

So you feel OK after a while, until you run into roundabouts like this one—which look and feel a bit like it’s your turn on the Wheel of Fortune. You won’t find directional information, N, S, E or W, on the signs anywhere, they just expect you to know the name of the town that is in the direction you want to go. Um, can I buy a vowel?

I also love this helpful section in The Official Highway Code on multiple roundabouts. Need I say more?


How about 1776? August 15, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 9:38 am

In the letter that accompanied my “chip and pin” (debit card), they cautioned consumers not to choose famous dates…like 1066…as their pin number. So, my ever so clever husband suggested 1776, as if that wouldn’t occur to British thieves. Look out 007.

As with many historical facts that seem to infiltrate the very fabric of English life, I found myself embarrassed by my ignorance and went to Wikipedia to shake the cobwebs out of my head. Unlike many English citizens, it has been quite a while since I gave the date much thought.

I can’t exactly pinpoint why I never developed a love of history. I tend to cite the fact that I grew up in Washington state, which has only been a state since 1889. Unlike my husband, who grew up in Virginia, I did not attend countless field trips to battle fields and colonial sites as a child, we went to the science center and to Canada. Maybe all the teachers who are enthusiastic about history lived on the east coast, too, but whatever the cause, I could not entirely recall the significance of the Battle of Hastings (1066). And, I could see from the line above my significant other’s brow that he was struggling a bit as well.

In a completely inadequate nutshell, the winner of the battle became the first widely accepted king of England (William the Conqueror). You can begin your query at if you like, but of course, there are historians who disagree on many of the details, so if you want to really be able to talk shop with the guides, you have a lot of late nights ahead. Ah, welcome to England.


The tale of two hospital visits August 14, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 6:34 pm

Gig Harbor, USA, Spring 2009

My 5 year old son runs in to find me, his face all red and streaming with tears. He has swallowed a nickel and it hurts…really bad. First, try to assess whether it will block his breathing or not…he is breathing OK and seems to be getting better by the minute…decide not to call 911, knowing how expensive a trip to the ER can be…call medical insurance as we are getting in the car to see if we can go to the new local hospital 4 miles away…yes, they say, we are covered, but we pay 80%  in addition to the $100 deductible. He seems better and I talk to the consulting nurse on the way to the hospital and wonder out loud if I should continue to the new hospital in town or go the extra 20 minutes to our HMO hospital in the city where I know it will be covered. She understands my dilemma, all Americans face it–how to get the care we need without risking our mortgage and food money. It’s a financial gamble to go to the new hospital because it’s outside our HMO…but, if the nickel is stuck vertical and it flips down flat, it could cut off his airway. I decide to get to the ER within 5 minutes and risk the big bill.

We enter the new building (that looks a little more like a luxury hotel or spa than a hospital with the dazzling architecture and décor) and are greeted by two friendly staff members at the desk. As soon as we fill out multiple forms and give them our insurance cards, we are escorted back to a trauma room fully decked out with an array of life-saving equipment. We are seen by the nurse and a doctor within 10 minutes. We are escorted by another staff member to the X-ray facility where the tech takes a couple of X-rays. He shows me where the nickel has ended up on his computer screen. It’s in the intestine, and that is a good thing.

We are escorted back through the shiny new, immaculately clean hospital to the trauma room. As we wait to speak with the doctor, a woman comes in with a computer on a wheeled cart to get all of our information for billing purposes. The doctor comes in and talks to me for about 5 minutes about what happened, explaining that the nickel went down the esophagus instead of the lung. He said the little guy should pass it within a week or two. He said to keep an eye out for it and if we don’t see it within 10 days, come back in for another X-ray.

In about a week we receive a thank you card from the ER staff. Seriously?!?! I can’t believe that this is what medical care has come to. About a month later we get a bill from the hospital for nearly $400. I almost called the hospital to ask if they could take the card back and refund me the cost of postage and the per minute rate for 6 highly trained staff to sign it and someone to send it. That could add up to a few hundred bucks easy. We could have done without the escorts, too!

I’m so glad that my son was OK (he did finally pass the nickel without further fanfare) and grateful to know that if they were prepared to deal with any and all possible scenarios, but a thank you card–that hit ‘completely’ on the ridiculous scale.

Total time at the ER: 45 minutes

Total cost: $500

Grimsby, UK, Summer 2010

My 9 year old son hobbles over to me in the gym of the leisure center crying in pain. He explains through his sobs that his foot flipped under as he was skidding on the mat (doing exactly what he was told to stop doing several minutes earlier). It hurts so bad that he can’t put any weight on it. He is very upset as this is the worst injury he has ever had (lucky him). Get the trampoline coach to take a look at it. After he has him move it slightly and checks for immediate swelling, he says it is probably not broken but we should have it looked at. We get directions and head to the hospital for an X-ray. Be prepared to wait, they cautioned.

We pull into the pay car park in front of the “Diana, Princess of Wales Hospital”. My husband gives my son a piggy back ride into the ER. It is an older building and my first thought from looking around at the cloth covered chairs and far-from-sparkling floor was—don’t touch anything. We check in at the desk and the woman takes only our names, my son’s date of birth and our address. No forms to fill out. No insurance cards to copy. It does not concern her in the least that we don’t have a national health number yet or any other form of insurance. We are told that we will be seen by a trauma nurse for an assessment, then wait for the doctor. She verified that all the wheelchairs were taken. We sit down carefully among the 34 people in the waiting area.

After 45 minutes we are seen by the triage nurse. The triage room was a tiny, with 3 chairs, a few basic examination tools and a computer desk at one end for the nurse on the rolling chair. She checked out his foot and asked if she could give him a dose of pain medication, and by the way was he allergic to anything. I asked what the medication was and her answer was something I’d never heard of. “Is it like ibuprofen or acetometaphine?”, I asked. She looked at me like I was talking in a foreign language. It has both ibuprofen and insert some other drug that I didn’t recognize here, she said. I wanted him to stop hurting, but no mother on earth wants someone to give their kid a medicine they have never heard of. She made it sound totally normal, so I said sure. She said they would get him in to see the doctor, but it would likely be a 2 hour wait. Back into the queue (pronounced “cue”, it’s when you are in line for something) we went.

It was another 2 hours before we were seen by the doctor. He came out in jeans and a shirt to get us himself and took us to the examination room. No scrubs. No massive ID badge. I gave my son a piggy back ride from room to room for the rest of our visit. (This was fine with me because it prevented him from touching too many surfaces.) As long as didn’t bump his foot on anything, he was OK. There was an examination table, a few chairs, some basic equipment on the walls and a set of cupboards, but far from the sparkly chlorine-clean of US medical facilities. Near the door was a cast cart that had clearly been recently used, as there was plaster still splattered on the equipment and floor. There was no clean sheet or rolling paper over the examination table, just a pillow, a bunched up sheet and foam sticking through the cracks in the side. Sit on the edge, I said, and don’t touch anything.

The doctor came in and asked what happened. He touched my son’s foot in a few places and said we were going for an X-ray. He quickly filled out a piece of paper and sent us down the hall and to the right. I hefted my son on my back and headed down the hallway. At the end of the hall it was all dark to the left, so trust me, I was only going right anyway. We got to the X-ray waiting room. There were only three people ahead of us in the queue and most of the lights were on at this end of the hall. Don’t bother ringing the bell, another patient told us, it doesn’t make any difference. The wait was only another 15 minutes or so. The X-ray procedure was nearly the same as in the US, but I was a little concerned when they didn’t cover my son’s body to take the X-ray. I had to stand behind the shield, but the tech didn’t cover him up, so I asked if he would. It wasn’t much radiation, he explained, just about twice what you get in a normal day as background radiation. That’s supposed to be comforting? So in a split second he’ll get what is normally spread over 48 hours? Why he couldn’t just take the crotch shield off the hook on the wall and cover him up? Maybe I was just over-reacting, I decided, there’s nothing like a hurt child to make a mother freak out…when in Rome and all that jazz. Then, we did our own little imitation of a spider (our arms were starting to droop in front at this point) all the way back to the big waiting room.

After about 20 minutes, the doctor came out and was talking to the people seated in the row in front of us (it was a bit like the waiting areas in airports). When he was finished talking with them he leaned over and said to me, “he’s fine” as he waved his hand from one side to the other. Great, it’s not broken! I turned to my son to give him the thumbs up and thought, oh, they’ll probably just give him some crutches and a wrap of some sort. When I looked up, the doctor was halfway down the hall. That was it. No paperwork. No crutches. No ace bandage. No follow up instructions. But he can’t walk on it, I thought as I prepared for the piggy back ride out to the car. I felt a bit like a spoiled child hearing ‘no’ for the first time, and then was even a little shocked at my own reaction. I am an American, aren’t I? I reassure myself that it will be fine. It’s not broken and we’ll take him to a doctor the next day if we need to. I also remind myself that it was all free, well, except for the parking.

Total time at the ER: 3 ½ hours

Total cost: 3 pounds (approx. $4.50) for parking

Thank goodness he really was fine and after a few days of hobbling, he was back to bouncing on trampolines. (I thought I could take him to our local medical facility the next day if it didn’t improve quickly, but I later learned that I was mistaken about that. There are signs for “Surgery” on buildings all over the place, so I thought they had advanced medical facilities sprinkled throughout the countryside. I was wrong yet again, “Surgery” is the name for a medical practice here, and they don’t deal with injuries, you have to go to hospital for that. And yes, I did leave the “the” out on purpose. You go to hospital, not “the” hospital, in England. I have found no rational explanation for this, but I’m working on it.)

I can’t even begin to compare the two systems, I can only share my thankfully limited experience. But I will say that despite the cosmetic differences that brought out the germ-o-phobe in me, and the general lack of hand-holding, it was certainly nice to know that the later incident didn’t deplete our summer fun budget this year.


The Forbidden Corner August 7, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 11:05 am

Armed with a pamphlet full of objects to spot, we wandered into the Forbidden Corner with instructions to go in and find our way back out. Got it. We’ll have a blast solving the mystery, just like the gang in Scooby Doo, right? Of course. However, I felt my throat closing up a bit as we headed out the door and had to remind myself–the bad guys never actually catch up with Shaggy & Scooby, and no matter how creepy it gets, it’s always just some guy in a suit.

Part garden, part maze, part “underworld”, the grounds are a labyrinth of courtyards, tunnels, doors, statues and places where you get squirted with water if you aren’t careful. The object is to find your way back to the beginning and, of course, enjoy the sights and winding paths along the way. It has been voted the top family day out in the UK, and I wholeheartedly agree. You find yourself wondering how and where and why a lot, and that’s always the sign of a good adventure.

For us, family outings are always a bit of a gamble. Our utmost desire is to create family memories we will all cherish for a lifetime…offspring frolicking about, thoroughly entertained and engaged…parents lighthearted, relaxed and beaming with joy. Unfortunately, it rarely works out that way.

We may have honed our skills at packing snacks, sunscreen and optional clothing sufficient to maintain blood sugar and core body temperature levels, but mastering the physical side can only take you so far. I long for the ability to prepare like a master, then sit back and cheerfully glide where the currents of interest and ability take us, but I only seem to grasp what it is we will all enjoy and be able to manage without a nap just as we pass through another set of developmental milestones. It could be that our expectations are a little high (no, really?), but it is also true that the path to family bonding bliss is full of inevitable pitfalls. From weather to hormones, pesky co-adventurers to incessant, inconvenient bathroom breaks, there always seems to be something uncontrollable poised to steal our joy.

But not this time. This outing was just the right mixture of togetherness and adventure, definitely a day we will all remember. I would venture to say it  was a combination of the uniquely amazing location and our ever-improving knack for negotiating the rough patches. However, there is definitely another factor at work here. Even with just a few family outings under our belt here in England, we get the sense that there is just something more relaxed and leisurely about the pace of public events. Maybe it’s the 5 weeks of vacation that everyone gets, or maybe it is the lack of improperly supervised children, but whatever it is, the odds on decent days out have definitely gone up.


more icky crisps August 4, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 11:28 pm
Tags: , ,

I stand corrected on one aspect of my crisp rant–there are decent potato chips in England, and they are made by Walkers. But, I am not backing down on my assessment that most of the flavors are enough to turn a goat’s stomach and caution my fellow Americans in search of a homey snack to stick with the “Ready Salted” variety.

Here is another icky example, Irish Stew. Apparently it was a fun flavor put out for Walkers’ version of the world cup. Not only did they come up with creepy flavors from the UK, they spread the wealth and made chips in flavors for all the countries listed on the back of the bag. For the Americans they made Cheeseburger. I know that is as about as American as you can get, but in a chip? And then there’s Bratwurst and Spaghetti, eeeewwww. It could just be part of that English humor I completely fail to grasp on occasion, but that’s world cup fever taken a bit too far if you ask me.


car boot sale

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 11:14 pm

A mom on my son’s baseball team this year had recently moved back to the states from over ten years in the UK. She did a wonderful job of preparing me for much of what would qualify as “culture shock”, the tiny washing machines which are located in the kitchen, salad cream (a product that deserves a blog post unto itself) and the need to obtain a license if you plan to do something crazy, like watch TV in your own home. She also mentioned “Car Boot” sales and that I should try to go if I got the chance. (Thank you, Summer!!) So when I talked my new friend, Fiona, into going along, she said sure, and I know the perfect one to stop at first. I expected a few cars in a circle in the parking lot of a church, where people were selling items out of the boot (trunk) of their cars. Wrong again (I’m getting used to it). Maybe some are like that, but this one was an all-out festival of thrift held every Sunday in the summer in a giant open field. Apparently sellers start arriving at 5 a.m. and pay a few pounds to peddle their wares. There were little cars and big cars (check out how huge the small volvo looks above), caravans and trailers, trinkets on tables and stuff stacked on tarps.

Fiona and I had a great time chatting with the vendors and collecting many household items that I’ve been missing, like plates. The only drawback was that she wouldn’t let me buy anything with a picture of the queen on it (and the lingering cigarette smoke, which is a bit of a drawback in all outdoor spaces where there is a crowd here). I was, however, allowed to get an England hat, which was, alas, last seen with one of my boys, turned inside out and, oh, yes, full of marbles.


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