Tuesday, 27 January 2009

On Being British

I love being British. Much as I love America (and I do) I am very happy to live in a country where we don't have hurricanes, earthquakes, guns or fifteen-year-olds driving cars, and I rejoice in free healthcare, the BBC, and being able to get from anywhere to anywhere else by car in less than a day. Of course we also don't have Disneyworld, Taco Bell or drive-through banks and post offices.

I am well aware that most of my readers will be American. I think the map on the right proves that fairly conclusively. I could go on for weeks about the differences between the Brits and the Americans – in culture, outlook and language, but I’m going to choose not to. There are plenty of other blogs, sites and books on the subject - I especially recommend Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Big Country and Notes from a Small Island. Until I find I’ve run out of material and need to comment on the fact that “momentarily” here means “just for a split second” but “in a few minutes” there, I will leave it at an observation that any American whose name is Randy would be well advised on no account to introduce himself to anyone British.

Rather than comment on differences, I would like to use this forum to ask a some of questions about America which have been bugging me. Feel free to reply in the comments section.

  1. If what we call Petrol here is called Gas there, what do you call Gas?
  2. Are American pigs a different shape? The only bacon I could find during my visits to the US was streaky. Why don’t you have lean bacon?
  3. When everything there is so much bigger than it is here – houses, fridges, cars – why are your bathtubs so small?
  4. How much annual leave do you get in a year? When we went to Florida we booked two weeks in our accommodation. This seemed to cause terrible confusion at the office, leading to us having to move to a different apartment halfway through our holiday. They explained that they never have guests who stay more than a week (but the place really wasn’t that bad.) I get 4 weeks off work each year, plus public holidays and the week between Christmas and New Year, and that’s pretty standard here. Do American workers not get much holiday?
  5. Please will someone bring Taco Bell and Wendy’s here? Oh, but Thank You for Subway. We’re going there tonight. It’s the only place in Britain where you get free refills for your drinks, and so we are darn well going to drink the soda fountain dry.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

On Barack Obama

I'm not American, but I couldn't help noticing that you've had some interesting goings-on over there. For one thing, a brand shiny new President, a very good-looking and charistmatic chappie whom everyone seems to like, even those who didn't vote for him.

I have no clue how American politics work. I once asked some American friends to explain the policies of each Presidential candidate to me so that I could work out who I would vote for were I entitled to do so. Basically, I explained, I would vote for the one who is going to ban abortion and guns, and bring in a free healthcare service like the NHS we rejoice in here. Apparently that was neither of them, so I would probably have been forced to abstain.

I find myself liking Barack Obama too, and not just because of the brave new world "I have a dream" thingy. (It's less of a big deal here because we never had the kind of racism America did. My theory is that it's because the British empire, at its height, included large swathes of Africa and Asia, so when the indigenous peoples started coming over here -bearing in mind that Britain abolished slavery in 1833 - we were terribly happy to see them. Here, after all, were British people with dark skin; brothers and sisters from afar; walking and talking evidence of the might and scope of the glorious British empire.) No, the reason I have so suddenly taken to Obama is because of his wonderful way with words.

I listened to his inaugural speech on a treadmill at the gym, as rock music played from a class which was taking place. The soundtrack was somehow very appropriate. Obama really knows how to use language. Metaphor, hyperbole and the most incredible rhetoric all delivered with conviction and determination. I have always maintained that language is a powerful weapon, and well-chosen words can stir emotions like nothing else (except perhaps music), and Obama is well aware of this. (Or his speechwriters are.) At the end of the address even I was moved, but I wonder how many of those listening could successfully paraphrase what he actually said. Lots of stirring stuff and a grand delivery, but really it boils down to "Things are going to change for the better because that's what we want, and we have to be nice to people."

I admire people who understand the power of words, and can use them to their advantage. I just hope, when it comes to foreign policy, none of it is lost in translation.

Monday, 19 January 2009

On Blue Monday

I wrote my last entry on Monday 19th January, and discovered, after writing it, that the day was known as "Blue Monday". Apparently someone has worked out that 19th January is the most depressing day in the year. It's cold and dark, Christmas is over, and the credit card bills for the excesses are appearing on doormats across Britain and in mailboxes across America. With this pesky credit crunch, banks making record losses, house prices falling and redundancy rates skyrocketing, this same bigwig reckons it's the most depressing Blue Monday ever.

Well, pardon me if I beg to differ. By all accounts it might have been a bad day for me. My family thrashed me at Wii Monopoly (still the only game I'm any good at), I discovered that the new kitchen being delivered next month is two units and a worktop short, and I started a diet club and found that I my BMI is 27, which classifies me as overweight, and only two points short of obese. Furthermore, Blue Monday was the fifth anniversary of the death of my former father-in-law, and the previous day would have been my grandmother's 100th birthday, were she still alive.

But here's the plus side. I had a lot of fun playing Monopoly with my family, and we have a Wii to play it on! I'm getting a new kitchen! I have so much food to eat that I have to join a diet club! And I have wonderful memories of two dear relatives who lived long and interesting lives, and who I know I will see again someday. To top it all, I started a blog! So forgive me if I refuse to give in to the misery of the season.

On Blogging

A year ago I didn't know what a blog is. Now I am the proud owner of one, and have only to figure out what to do with it. I like to think of myself as a writerly type, but coming up with something witty and inspirational three times a week is going to be a real challenge. All suggestions gratefully received.

The great Kerry Blair (www.kerryblair.com) wrote such moving, funny and entertaining blogs that our publisher, Covenant, asked for permission to publish them. The result is her bestselling book, Counting Blessings. Kerry is such a talented writer than her fans would buy anything she wrote. I include myself among them, and I am currently bidding on her shopping list. To such I aspire.

It strikes me that finding time to write is going to a be a problem. I'm not mathematically minded, but here's how my time is supposed to play out:
  • We are told that we need at least 8 hours sleep a night. That's 56 hours a week.
  • I work a five hour day at LawCare. That's 25 hours a week.
  • I am trying to exercise and get fit. The experts claim that we need to do half an hour's brisk exercise three times a week. I am a member of a local gym and my workout and swim takes a total of two hours, three times a week. That's another six hours.
  • A recent article in the New Era suggested that we spend an hour a day on personal prayer and scripture study. And let's throw in another half an hour for daily scripture study with Hubby Dearest, and an hour a week for Family Home Evening. That's 11½ hours.
  • According to the various TV experts, we need to spend a minimum of two hours a day tidying and cleaning our homes, doing laundry, washing up, etc, in order not to get behind on everything. That's another 14 hours.
  • The two school runs I do each weekday take 1½ hours, and I spend about two hours each day cooking and eating meals. Add another 21½ to the total.
  • I don't watch a lot of TV, but I do enjoy Science Fiction, Desparate Housewives, America's Next Top Model and the odd BBC documentary. So perhaps it's fair to say that my relaxation time boils down to an hour of TV each day. 7 hours a week.
  • I also try to write books. I am currently working on one I promised to finish by April, so I am writing for two hours each evening. Another 14 hours a week.
  • Last, but absolutely not least, Church. 3 hours plus an hour's travelling each Sunday, two hours a week on my calling, Visiting Teaching, Enrichment, and driving the children to Faith in God and Mutual every Tuesday. Another 8 hours.
  • We are advised to go on a date with our spouse once each week, and go to the Temple together each month. A Temple visit for us is a round trip of about 6 hours, and our dates are usually about two hours, so let's call it 3½ hours a week. And round that up to five hours when we consider that we are supposed to have "Mummy-Daughter" and "Daddy-Daugher" time regularly too.

So, adding those up, carry the 1 - makes all 168 hours per week accounted for. That leaves me no time at all to get washed and dressed, chat to Hubby Dearest, visit friends, take the children to ballet, Brownies or riding lessons, or write blogs. So if you're reading this, something had to give! (It was probably the housework.)