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Category Archives: United Kingdom

There’s a joke, sort of, that I remember hearing around military bases in Europe. An American family moves into a host-nation community. For the sake ease, lets say it’s an American family moving into a neighborhood of Belgians. The new neighbors want to make the American family feel comfortable and welcome, so they invite them over for a “Barbecue.” Hot Dogs and Hamburgers are served. Yet, all the Belgians are wearing ten gallon cowboy hats, and they say the words “Fuck” and “Shit” after every sentence they say in English. Then, they begin to talk very lovingly about handguns and rifles. They even bring out the firearms and fire off a few rounds as “target practice” on some empty beer bottles. The Americans are aghast, speechless. Suddenly concerned, the Belgians say, “But we were only trying to be sensitive to your culture.”

Of course, I’m exaggerating a little to prove a point. Two people of different nationalities and cultures misunderstand each other all the time. In a way, it’s a lot easier to get into one of these misunderstanding if you’re coming from countries that are culturally related, like the USA, Canada, Australia, and the UK. The misconception of a “shared” English language, leads to a bunch of faux pas. For example, it’s perfectly acceptable, in England to say to a woman, “Can I Knock You Up?” It means, “Can I come to your house in the morning and knock on your door?” not “Can I get you pregnant?” In the US, saying “I’m stuffed” after a meal means you’ve eaten too much. In England, “Stuffed” means something sexual.

The story about the Belgians, however, contains a slight cultural arrogance — it assumes that it’s the Belgians (or other nationalities) that are responsible for cultural misunderstandings with Americans. Any American living abroad has likely heard tales of American stupidity — it’s where the term “Ugly American” comes from, when describing the moronic antics of American tourists. The Defense and State Departments always warn ex-pats to not act like and “ugly AMerican,” and to blend in as much as you can. Sometimes, the desire to assimilate has strange results.

I know, because today, I’ve been a bit of an “Ugly American” by complete accident and attempted goodwill. My family has spent a lot of time in the United Kingdom — in England, and in the self-governing colony of Bermuda. So, we’ve experienced “Boxing Day,” the 26th of December. In the years since, my parents and myself do stop to wish each other “A good Boxing Day” — for my family, when we lived in Germany, it’s like how we used celebrate Nickolaustag on Dec. 6 (I would wake up to find presents stuffed into my shoes). So, “Happy Boxing Day!” we’d say to each other, not knowing exactly the history of “Boxing Day.”

So, today, I’ve been giving everybody good “Boxing Day” wishes through email and other wise. Even to a Canadian friend and fellow writer, as I sent her a copy of my book, 10$, and a contract for a poem she wrote for Death In Common. Then, I start wondering — why do the Brits and Canadians have a bank holiday on 26th? I googled and cringed at the results:

…the one thread common to all is the theme of one-way provision to those not inhabiting the same social level. As mentioned previously, equals exchanged gifts on Christmas Day or before, but lessers (be they tradespeople, employees, servants, serfs, or the generic “poor”) received their “boxes” on the day after. It is to be noted that the social superiors did not receive anything back from those they played Lord Bountiful to: a gift in return would have been seen as a presumptuous act of laying claim to equality, the very thing Boxing Day was an entrenched bastion against. Boxing Day was, after all, about preserving class lines.

So, in short, I’ve been treating everybody as if they were either my servant or of a lower social economic class, today. Yes, I’m a complete and total, grade-A .moron. I’ve already sent a quickly worded apology to that Canadian friend of mine. And this blog post is my general mea-culpa to the world

One of the things, when hanging out on horror fiction message boards, is that you often find yourself talking to Canadians and Brits. Sometimes, the subject of food comes up. Since I used to live in the UK, I usually find myself publicly disparaging certain bits of British cuisine, especially black pudding. Usually, the response is “But I love black pudding!” So much so, I sometimes rethink my position, because I only had it once, when I was 7 — and 7 year olds nearly hate everything that isn’t sweet or made of chocolate. So, I thought I’d do a bit of googling on “black pudding.” So, I end up on the Foodio54 Blog, and it’s post about “The Five Most Disgusting Dishes Ever.” Yep, black pudding is one of them, and so is scrapple. However, there’s some shit on there that I can’t mention again, for fear of involuntary regurgitation.

Again, I must point out the truth The Chocolate Blog offers, this time about the Cadbury Flake:

Upon hearing the news that Cadbury are to launch Flake Dark next month, I immediately went out and bought a multi-pack (5) of the original Flakes. Call it my mini protest if you will. flake wrapped.jpg
I noted upon opening the multi-pack wrapping that the Flake was…smaller than usual. Please oh lord of all things cocoa let the reason be that multi-packs are meant to have smaller Flakes in them and not a. Cadbury have reduced the size of the Flake or b. I have grown so big that everything seems smaller these days.

Ignoring the smallness of the Flake I must say that they were it was flake two break.jpgas yummy as ever. (of course the other 4 remain in the pack for later) I put forward the same question as with Cadbury Chocolate Buttons, ’same chocolate, different taste/experience?’

Here’s the flakey history for you ‘The Cadbury Flake bar was originally launched in 1920. The concept of the Flake was discoved by a Cadbury employee who filled the chocolate moulds. Once the moulds were full, the excess chocolate used to spill over the edge and fold down in a stream of chocolate. Once this stream cooled, the Flake product was created as the texture had many thin layers of chocolate and was very crumbly and flakey!’

God bless that employee!!

As a kid in the 1980’s, I used to love to buy these things. They always crumbled in my fingers, living a pile of chocolate on a strategically placed candy bar wrapper. Being the glutton driven seven year old I was in Britain, not only did I suck up the chocolate dust, but licked the wrapper. Every. Damn. Time.

I must quote the following, from the Chocolate Blog, for truth:

Double Deckers are one of those bars. We kind of ignore them when we choose our chocolate. But, when it actually occurs to us to buy one, we can’t understand why we left it so long. We binge on them for a couple of weeks and then leave them once again, to be ignored on the Sweet Shop shelf.

I guess the name is so apt in more ways than one. Just like the proverbial (double decker) bus; you wait for ages and none appear, then numerous ones arrive all at once.

The lower deck of this bar is crispy crunchy cereal and the upper deck is a chewy nougatine; all wrapped in milk chocolate.

double decker half1.jpg
If anything makes me nostalgic for the part of my childhood in the UK, it’s the mere thought of a Double Decker Bar. Cadbury has made incursions into the US sweets market, but as of late, it’s only been the large fruit-and-nut or other varieties of square segmented chocolate. So, the real treats, like the Double Decker, or The Flake, have largely remained in Great Britain, off limits to Americans.

Of course, the Brits don’t do patatoes as good as the Dutch or the Belgians, but then again, Cod-and-chips, preferably doused in malt vinegar and stained with newsprint, is also something I’ve been craving as of late.

Also, from Flickr, under creative commons, with the photo taken by mellowfood.

First, I really hate pictures of myself. But the pigeon on my dad’s head, and his facial expression, is kind-of priceless. Of all the places I’ve been to in the UK, Trafalgar Square seems to me the most memorable and iconic places in London. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been there at many moments throughout my life, both as a seven year old kid in the 1980s, and they as guy in my twenties in the 1990s. Plus, I always have weird dreams, and the sort of bird-blanket that are the pidgeons themselves can kind of smother you — hold out a hand full of bread crumbs or bird seed, and they really will crawl all over you.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that overseas brats/third culture kids strive harder than their stateside counterparts to create/embrace their own culture (or somebody else’s). Is it an irony that the band “America,” who once attended London Central High School, would have chosen any other name? Via Wikipedia:

Eventually the trio dubbed themselves America, honoring the name of the homeland they had hardly ever seen during their many travels around the world.

Which reminds one of the constant misperceptions the bands has had to endure:

Contrary to popular belief, the choice of the name “America” had no political overtones, and the group has consistently avoided political or patriotic use of its name.

Anyhow, here’s their song “Horse With No Name”:

And, largely, this is why the Reliant Robin was not so “reliant” sometimes.   It could easily tip over.  But that said, if you were scooting your way around commuter traffic, gridlock speeds would largely keep this from happening.  Still, this is why James Bond never had a car chase in one of these…..

First, I can’t think of a more thoroughly “British” name for a three wheeled car.   At this writing, though, the robin is all but extinct.  I remember it, however, not as the butt of a joke, like one would see in Mr. Bean’s adventures, but a car that, during the early 1980’s, was sometimes just treated like a fact of life on BBC Television.   Here’s a history:

Reliant Cars Ltd was established in 1935 though it was not until thirty eight years later that the Reliant Robin was born in 1973. Prior to this date Reliant had become very successful and well established as a car maker building its range of  3 & 4-wheeled economy cars and its high performance Scimitar range. The Robin was launched in November 1973 and followed the Reliant Regal that had been one of the most successful 3-wheelers world wide. The Robin had quite an tough act to follow but it was introduced in a blaze of publicity that boasted at the Robins load capacity of 30 cubic feet (with rear seats down) and yet at the same time it was a luxury 4 seater 3-wheeler. Designed by Ogle Design Limited for Reliant the Robin was the first car to not have a rain strip running above the doors, in addition it also featured a real opening window – features that were soon to appear on many cars to follow by other manufacturers.

The Robin became very successful and received a further boost when HRH The Princess Anne brought a Robin Super Saloon when she was living at Sandhurst Royal Academy.

Reliant announced in 2000 that the would no longer make 3-wheeled economy cars.

A month or so back, I posted a Chuck Mangione YouTube video here, stating that for me, it’s what I instantly identify as the “1970’s” and living in Germany.

Well, for my time in the UK, I’d have to say the definitive song had to be Madness’ “Our House.”  When I was young, that song got heavy rotation, and it was the first record I ever owned.  So, call me cheesy, but every time I hear “Our House,” it gives me a strong sense of nostalgia.

Literally, it makes me think of family’s home in the UK.  It was the only one my parents ever owned.  In the time that they left the UK and returned a decade later, they rented out it to Americans serving aboard the nearby RAF Daws Lea.  In the late 1990s, my father and mother returned to this house.  My father had received a principalship at London Central, and he planned to finish out his DODDS career and sell the place.  They did, and bough a place in North Carolina, thus ending the 3+ decades of working for the federal government.