Holy Grail groupie November 13, 2010
It’s Friday, a.k.a. ‘Pizza and Movie Night’ at our house. After enjoying several 89-pence pizzas from Morrisons, the undisputed winner of the seemingly never-ending quest to replace the Red Baron, we stacked ourselves up on the sofas and piled on the fleecy blankets.
The boys usually trade off deciding what to watch, but tonight it was a unanimous decision–Monty Python and the Holy Grail. This unprecedented agreement was likely brought on by the current study of Vikings by year 5 and year 6 (4th & 5th grade) students at their school. The hallways are lined with Viking paraphernalia including helmets with nose guards fashioned out of silver construction paper, framed stories complete with sketches about the plight of the poor English villagers at the hands of invading Viking warriors over a thousand years ago and cardboard replicas of genuine Viking artifacts.
I realize that many Americans do not find this film funny at all, but I’m not one of them. I classify it as pure comic genius and will even go so far as to admit that it was on my personal “pro” list and quite possibly tipped the scales in favor of moving here. But don’t tell my husband that. Although he enjoys the film as much as I do, he should be spared the knowledge that his career and the home of the killer bunny were equally weighted in my book.
We bought the Monty Python boxed set when we first arrived in England, right after we found out there was an 8 week waiting period for them to come and hook up our cable. I had heard that customer service just wasn’t the same here, but I now have profound respect for the word dumbstruck. After I confirmed that I had heard the lad correctly, I was struck motionless with my mouth agape, my thoughts pondering the possibility that we had gotten off the plane at the wrong stop. Surely there must be some mistake, but no, that was the standard wait. Something could possibly open up sooner, he said. It better, I thought, or you can come over in your skinny black jeans and personally entertain my presently friendless children until school starts. The look on my face must have kept the young man up at night because miraculously, a spot opened up in just over two weeks.
Between adventures to castles and following the sat nav (Garmin) to various grocery stores, we enjoyed rolling around laughing and randomly reenacting scenes such as the Black Knight and Killer Bunny, but when the endless episodes of Top Gear finally graced our flat screen, the classics were relegated to the book shelf…until tonight.
I was minding my own bowl of popcorn when suddenly, as Lancelot went charging into the castle to save the wimpy prince, I recognized the entrance to the castle as one of the places we’ve visited in our travels. I always assumed that only star-struck loonies got all excited about going places just because they were in a movie, like those annoying tourists with binoculars looking for the houseboat from Sleepless in Seattle or the throngs of teenagers traipsing out to the soggy old logging town of Forks for a glimpse of Twilight country, but I suddenly found myself screaming like a little girl, “Did you see that? OMG–we’ve been there! Remember that castle? Can you believe it?!?!”
I was wrong, of course. Apparently, my castle identification skills are not exactly up to par. I’ll just have to add that to the list of things to work on, right after properly signalling in roundabouts.
But the really sad part is that thanks to the internet, I now know that the infamous castle is located in a small village near Edinburgh, a mere 5 hours and 14 minutes away, and wait for it…I might just have to change my destination of choice for my fortieth birthday from Dublin to Doune Castle.
Cue the loonie music.
No more Mrs. Nice gal November 11, 2010
Just when I think I’m starting to feel a bit more settled, yet another opportunity to unwittingly baffle, confuse and/or piss off a Brit presents itself. This usually occurs when I’m driving, but it can happen when I’m just walking down the street. Seriously, if I’m not concentrating, my first thought when faced with oncoming pedestrians–stay to the right–can get me tangled up in a stroller or nose to nose with a chap in a plaid hat.
On the most recent occasion, I was simply trying to be a courteous driver. As I was weaving along one of the skinny streets in our village, I saw a woman waiting to cross the road to her car, so I slowed down to a stop and waved her across. Nice thing to do, right? Right up until I accidentally threatened to run her over.
Let me explain.
I wish I could say that my motive was purely humanitarian, but truth be told I was also quite interested in taking a break from all the swerving. My elbows were starting to hurt. Driving in the village is a bit like boarding an endless Washington State ferry, except that there is no guy in a reflective parka waving you down the appropriate lane. There are also cars parked randomly on both sides of the road facing whichever direction they like. There appears to be some sense of order, with the cars staggered appropriately as to allow for a vehicle to pass between them at a 45 degree angle. But, with most driveways approximately the size of a picnic blanket, you can imagine that anyone with a potted plant or a friend over will add to the number of cars clogging up the street.
Not only are you expected to avoid these obstacles without a scratch, you are also required to abide by the rules of yielding to oncoming traffic, apparently designed to make this annoying fact of village life more tolerable. Until I locate an official copy of said rules, I’m going with these tidbits I’ve gathered whilst alternating between stopped and 30 mph as fast as possible: Keep one hand on the gear shift at all times. No smiling. Accelerate into and out of the swerves. Lean forward and look like you are on your way to the hospital, obviously in labor.
I have found many things to take forever in England, from buying a stamp to getting food at McDonalds, but there are two things that the British definitely do faster than Americans–make a cup of tea and drive. With their 240 volt electric kettles, you can boil a thermos full of water in less than a minute. Coupled with the finest grind of tea ever to grace the inside of a tea bag, it usually takes longer to select your mug than it does to brew the tea.
Due to the fact that driving falls into one of these highly selective endeavors, your eyes need to be constantly scanning the road ahead with your foot poised to switch pedals in record time. You must calculate precisely whether you should pull over to let the lorry (truck) pass first, or speed up, then stop after you swerve around the Fiat Punto (a rediculously popular supermini car). The timing is key, an improper pause or lackluster acceleration will earn you sideways glances and/or outright head waggling from drivers and pedestrians alike. Even if they don’t own a car, all Brits seem to know that driving is an art celebrated by any true patriot.
I can’t even imagine trying to talk on a cell phone or eat a burger while driving in this country (not that I did either in the states, we’re just discussing the realm of possibilities here). Even trying to have a conversation with a passenger can often pose a threat to your safety. I attempted to eat a few crisps (potato chips) on my way home from the store yesterday, but between swerving and shifting I ended up with more crisp bits on my lap and around the gearshift than in my mouth.
But I digress, back to the pedestrian crossing incident.
She smiled and stepped off the curb. We were both pleased with the whole symbiotic situation until she passed the midway point in the street. That’s when the trouble started. I unconsciously assumed that she was heading around the back of the car to get to the driver’s side, and wanting to keep up my end of the bargain with the aforementioned rules, started to engage the clutch. However immediately it registered that I was making a grave error, it was not fast enough.
You may assume it would be obvious to someone currently sitting behind the wheel of a right hand drive automobile that she would be opening the door on the street side to get into her vehicle, but four months of being in England hasn’t overridden the 20+ years of driving experience I have. As she reached to pull on her door handle, she heard the engine rev and looked up with wide eyes. The look on her face turned from fear to a bit of a glare as I hit the brakes and I could see her contemplating whether I was completely mad (crazy) or simply messing with her. Either way, I was clearly not getting the friendly wave at the end of this encounter.
I grew up in a small town, so I know how it goes. I’m doomed to be discussed at the local newsstand or church function over a stiff breath mint. You should see the way she drives… Paranoid, you say? Maybe, but since everyone I meet says, “oh, you’re the American”, I think not. The best one I’ve heard is that we are in the witness protection program. Well, they have to talk about somebody, maybe it’ll give the French a break.
But for the record, I was just trying to be nice.