Little anniversary.

Friday, December 1st, 2000

Well, we’re rapidly approaching the 2-month mark: in just a few short days, Jeremy and I will be able to celebrate having survived our first 2 months in England. In hono(u)r of this occasion, I thought that perhaps I should take stock of some of the things that have changed in my life during these past 8 weeks. I don’t mean big things - like the fact that I’m living in a completely different house in a completely different city in a completely different country with completely different people. I mean more subtle, everyday sorts of things. Not really important things, but things that I’ve made mental note of recently. Things that just seem to have happened of their own accord, with no previous planning or deliberation involved. Things such as this:

1) My consumption of cheddar cheese has increased a thousandfold. I know I keep mentioning the cheese thing, and I know it sounds ridiculous, but if you could only comprehend the depth of my love for cheese in general and cheddar cheese in particular, you would perhaps understand. In other food areas, I have discovered a great fondness for Marmite, that bizarre, salty, vile-smelling, unbelievably potent, thick brown yeasty goo that people spread on their toast here. From what I hear, you either love it or you hate it, and I love it. I’m not quite sure what it is, but I love it.

2) I am now also in love with the BBC. I watch both BBC1 and BBC2 on TV, and I listen to BBC Radio 4 all the time. The BBC has great documentaries, serious news, and no irritating commercials to have to sit through. I’m so taken with it all that I will even be a good citizen and get a TV license in order to help fund the BBC. I want to work for the BBC. It’s just so darn classy.

3) Speaking of BBC Radio 4, I’ve started to listen to the radio a lot since I’ve been here, which is something I never did in Germany (because the radio stations were all atrocious). There’s a radio in our kitchen which is permanently tuned to Radio 4, a station which doesn’t actually broadcast any music, only talking: news, chat shows, comedy shows, plays, etc.etc. I have the radio on whenever I’m in the kitchen, and more and more I find myself just sitting at the table with a cup of tea to listen to some show or another. I guess this seems strange to me because I’ve never really listened to radio like that before, and the whole thing about just sitting and listening to a radio show (especially a play or something) seems so old-fashioned-but it’s a good kind of old-fashioned, like something that people really don’t do anymore, but should.

4) I’ve started drinking more tea than I ever thought possible. It sounds so cliché, but it’s true. It seems like any time two or more people wind up sitting together in one room in a house for more than 5 minutes, someone will suggest having a pot of tea. I’ve decided that the British consumption of tea must be related to the weather: when it’s cold and damp and grey, there’s nothing like a steaming cup of tea to drive off the chill.

5) I’ve managed to not get run over when crossing the street - meaning that I’ve gotten used to everyone driving on the other side of the road. Unlike London, Brighton doesn’t have “look left” and “look right” painted on all the crosswalks. You have to figure it out for yourself here, and I think I have.

6) I’m managing to figure out English money-I don’t mean how it works, I mean what the individual notes and coins are. This may also sound a bit funny, but don’t underestimate the helplessness that one can feel when one is trying to buy a newspaper or a sandwich, and one has to stand there and study each individual piece of currency before paying, because one cannot tell which coins are 20 pence and which are 50. I’ve gotten better; the coins aren’t really a problem anymore, but I still have to look carefully at the bills before I hand one over, because I’m not completely confident in my ability to tell a 10 pound note from a 20 pound note. And until I become really familiar with the money here, I am still going to feel like a bit of a tourist.

And in general, I’ve managed to more or less shake the feeling of just being on vacation. It’s still a bit weird to be here, but I think that it’s weird because it’s not weird. I think that I was anticipating that the move and the first few months in Brighton were going to be this big, traumatic thing, or that I wouldn’t be happy here right away and I would want to go back to Freiburg, or that I would simply feel completely and utterly out of place here.

But none of that has turned out to be true. Okay, the move was stressful, and the actual leaving bit was horrible, and the anticipation of the leaving bit was probably the worst of all. But now I’m here, and I feel just fine - and that’s kind of freaking me out. I keep waiting for the catch. I’m starting to think that I’m never entirely comfortable unless I have something to gripe about.

But I’ll put my eternal pessimism aside for the moment and simply take pleasure in the fact that I’m two months into My English Life, and England has not yet driven me crazy. And considering the fact that I am fairly easy to drive crazy, that’s really saying something.

Comments

1

I haven’t looked it up yet but Marmite sounds a lot like Vegemite. I had a Vegemite sandwich in Dallas. It was two inches of bread surrounding 2 millimters of Vegemite. There was not enough bread. It reminded me of the old joke about life being a dung sandwich. The more bread you have the less dung you have to eat.

Posted by Jim Wright

2

As far as I know, Vegemite is the Australian version of Marmite (hence the guy being handed a "Vegemite sandwich" in the song "Down Under"). I believe that Vegemite is made by Kraft Foods, and Marmite is made by Best Foods (or Hellman’s, depending, I think, on which side of the Mississippi you live), but I presume they taste the same.

I can totally understand why so many people hate Marmite/Vegemite. It looks like sludge and smells like the floor of a brewery, and the taste is something akin to licking a beef bouillon cube - but then, when I was kid I liked to eat beef bouillon cubes, so there you go… :-)

3

Some views on British TV & radio…

OK I am English & so may be biased, but yeah the BBC does provide one of the greatest TV/radio experiences on the planet. It is not just the programs but the links between the TV programs that are often so cool. The use of graphics & sound is great while the presentation is relaxed, friendly & fun. (Unlike the BBC World Service I see when abroad which I find very stuffy & serious)

Something you may miss if it is not pointed out is one of the BBC’s tricks of the trade - it often chooses people with distinctive personalities & lifestyles to explain gardening or cookery or what ever. These personalities, once given the airtime, often go on to become national celebrities - the presenters & the natural inter-play between them during a program often being more interesting than what ever they are talking about.

Happy uninterrupted viewing, well worth the US$ 150 odd licence fee I think. -

Btw Channel 4 is often equally as good - often the documentaries are more in-depth & the topics more of-beat or radical than appear on the BBC - actually it is their statuary requirement to broadcast a percentage of such programs.

For completeness Channel 3 (ITV) provides just popularist TV to attract advertising, so its popular, it does not mean its any good. That is except for Coronation Street, the soap opera that over half the nation is deeply addicted to watching. It has now being running one or more times a week, non-stop for the last 40 years - like the tea drinking - it’s a major English institution & form of therapy against life’s stresses. I very rarely watch it as I think it is too time consuming & too addictive but that of-course does not mean its not great television.

There is just so much good TV to watch in the UK, you simply cannot watch it all plus shop, eat, be social & do all the other things you have got to do. Hence I think this is why the UK leads the world in the number of video recorders owned per head of the population.

Posted by Vincent Bell

4

Something else I really like about the BBC is the way in which they combine television programs with things on the Web. I was really into the "History of Britain" series, and I thought it was brilliant that you could watch an episode of the show and then go online to chat with Simon Schama or whomever. They seem to do that for a lot of documentaries and other programs, and it’s a great use of multimedia (and I think that the BBC website on its own is truly excellent as well - enormous but well-organized and stylish and informative).

By the way, no one is paying me to do all this free advertising for the BBC. :-) But speaking of advertising, that’s another thing that’s wonderful about the BBC: no advertising. It’s worth the money I pay for a TV license.

I like Channel 4 as well; it is a bit more off-the-wall, which is good. ITV is just kind of there. I must admit, I have never seen a single episode of Coronation Street (or East Enders, which seems to be the other really big "thing" here).

All in all, England is definitely a great country in which to be a couch potato.

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