Saturday, January 29, 2005

About the Post Office™

In an earlier post, I made reference to the Post Office™. Their website says this:

Post Office Ltd is a wholly owned subsidiary of Royal Mail Group plc and operates under the Post Office™ brand. Managing a nationwide network of around 16,000 Post Office branches, we are the largest Post Office™ network in Europe and the largest retail branch network in the UK handling more cash than any other business.

The Post Office™ also offers home phone service, home insurance, savings accounts, flowers, personal loans, travel insurance, money changing, and stationary supplies.

Can you just imagine the U.S. Postal Service doing all that?

A Plan...or Scheme

Just a plan I'm working on...

Visit each and every stop in the Underground and be photographed by the sign stating the station's name.

Can it be done?


When buying postcards in London, the shopper is faced with an amazing range of prices. For the generic views of London postcards, prices can top out at 50p or more apiece. Don't be lured, however, into the first shop you see. There are a number of shops, particularly in the more touristy areas, that sell the very same cards from 10p apiece, or 12 for less than £1.


First, before I tell you where I am, I have to tell you that I had planned to be somewhere else. Yes, I'm in London again, but I had initially planned on going to Cambridge. The weather, however, was somewhat rainy and I didn't want to wander through Cambridge in the wet. Plus, a few people I know were going into London today.

The morning started out with my adventures trying to change some money. Then, I walked around the Stevenage Town Centre. I bought a sticky bun (I'm sure there's a British name for it). Then, I stumbled across a market - an inside market with stalls selling everything from books and picture frames to hair extensions and washing machines. I also ran into a few of my students who seemed shocked to see me outside of school. Evidently, they thought I lived at school...who knows....

Then, I met two teachers from school and some friends of theirs and we headed into London. The two teachers from my school are both overseas teachers as well - one is Canadian, the other is Australian. Of the two friends, one is an Australian teacher working in Bristol, the other is her brother, visiting from Australia.

We headed towards Covent Garden where we got Cornish pasties and went to the Canada Store. The Canada Store also happens to house the Australia Store, the New Zealand Store, and the South Africa Store. It's a store that sells foods available in those countries that you can't easily get strawberry twizzlers, Kraft dinner, Kool-Aid, things like that. I bought something called a 'Perky Nana' from the New Zealand part. That product alone is enough to make me want to visit Australia and New Zealand.

We did some strolling about - we saw Buckingham Palace and the Tower Bridge. At the Tower Bridge, the rest left to return to Stevenage and I stayed in London to do some more wandering.

I eat dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. For only £5.00, I had a nice dim sum plate (including spring rolls, wontons, vegetable dumplings, toasted sesame prawn toast, and some interesting salty, crunchy green stuff) and a pot of tea (complete with bits of tea leaves floating about). It was very nice. I followed it up with (and I admit this rather sheepishly) some strawberry Baskin Robbins ice cream.

That's it so far. Perhaps I'll see some more things tonight.

Fun Fact

The Covent Garden tube station has 193 steps from the train platform to ground level (and one assumes 193 steps in the other direction as well). This is equal to climbing the steps of a 15-story building.

So, since the Underground people so helpfully announce every couple of minutes that there are so many stairs and that people should use the lifts instead...I had to take the stairs.

The thing is, there's a spiral staircase so you have no idea how far you've gone or how much is left.

But, there's a real sense of accomplishment at the top!

Something to keep in mind...

The next time you think you know everything, walk through an Oriental food store.


In America, when two people are walking and approach one another, the custom is that you pass on the right. (Kinda like driving.) Such a custom usually prevents the desperate back-and-forth, which-way's-he-gonna-go dance you sometimes see here. Evidently (and I've asked about it), there is no custom of which side to pass. The tube station escalators ask you to stand to the right so people can pass on the left. Other notices ask you to stand to the left. Walking down the sidewalk can be a free-for-all.

Spring Cleaning

The nice things about Tesco is that they remind you what you should be doing. In their 'seasonal' aisle, they currently have spring cleaning items. Since I live in a place where most of the cleaning is done for me (obsessively, compulsively done for me), I had little need for most of the products. But I did buy a bag of 50 wooden pegs for 46p. Of course, I thought they were called clothes pins, but still...they're quite useful for hanging socks to dry.

My Bank Account

This morning, I went downstairs and found not one, not two, but three envelopes addressed to me. (Evidently, the Royal Mail delivers very early.) And all three envelopes were from Lloyd's Bank regarding my new account.

It seems that my new account is finally open.

Now, for those of you keeping track, you'll remember that I first mentioned this account on December 1. So, after three overseas phone calls, several emails, two multi-page applications, having a copy of my passport notarized, requesting the offer letter from my job, requesting the corrected offer letter from my job, sending an original utility bill, going to Lloyd's three times in person, one mobile phone call, requesting another verification of my employment and address, and lots of waiting, I have finally managed, eight weeks later, to open an account with a service that is advertised as providing "specialist support making your financial transition to the UK easy and hassle free."

Well, that's a relief. I would hate to have opened the "difficult and full-of-hassle" account.

Trying to change money

I must have gotten spoiled by Maureen at the High Street branch of Lloyd's Bank. With her, I simply walk in, hand her my traveler's check and my passport, she fills out a form, and then gives me my pounds. Since this happened so many times (well, three) with no problems, I began to think this was routine.

The first problem is that her particular branch closes at 4:30 in the afternoon. Those of us with jobs requiring us to stay later in the afternoon have difficulty getting there by 4:30. But, there is another Lloyd's branch in Stevenage that is open until 5:00 and is also open on Saturdays.

So, I went in to the other branch of Lloyd's this morning (Saturday) to cash some traveler's checks. The teller looked oddly at the checks, almost as if she had never seen such a thing before. Then she told me that she couldn't cash them because it was a Saturday and Saturday is not considered a work day. Resisting the urge to look about me at the obviously crowded branch and the obviously hard-at-work tellers and then nodding sagely, I looked confused instead. She further informed me that since Saturday isn't a work day, they didn't have an exchange rate. She did point me towards the post office (actually, here, it's 'Post Office™' but that's another issue).

So, I went to the Post Office™ where they have a large, digital display (two of them, actually) showing their exchange rate for both currency and traveler's checks. Ah yes, I thought, this must be a place where they can cash my traveler's checks without looking at my strangely. Silly me. I handed the teller my traveler's checks and my passport and she immediately began to look worried and frantically looking to find someone else in the Post Office™ who could help me. Finding nobody else, she resorted to looking at an instruction card.

"I have to call for authorization," she told me. "Anything over 400." Now, I'm assuming she meant 400 dollars, but I'm not sure. I asked if I could simply exchange $400 rather than $500. Again she looked worried.

"That's up to you, I suppose," she told me, again looking at her instructions.

"How about $300?" I offered, beginning to feel as if I were at some sort of reverse auction. I don't know why, but the $300 seemed to relax her. I signed my checks, she typed a few computer keys, and I got my money.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Targeting a Sticky Situation

After realizing that they were spending £20,000 this month to remove chewing gum from the town centre, the Borough Council decided to implement GumTargets. Earlier this week, these panels appeared on sign posts around the town centre. The idea is that you stick your used chewing gum to the target rather than dropping it on the ground.

Of course, people could also use these handily-placed rubbish bins free of charge.

Sorry about the delay...

For those of you (both of you) who eagerly logged on this morning looking for the latest bits of my life in England and were rewarded with nothing new, I'm sorry. Last night, I was invited to dinner at another teacher's house. His mother-in-law fixed a wonderful roast beef and yorkshire pudding. Later, we played Skip-bo. As a result, I didn't make it to the internet cafe here yesterday.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Chips and Salsa

Just an update from an earlier entry...

I ate some of the chips and salsa last night. The salsa was of the Old El Paso Thick and Chunky Mild variety. The chips were of the Tesco Lightly Salted Corn Chip variety. The combination was very tasty. In fact, these tortilla chips, oddly enough, are some of the best I've found.

Today's Quote

From the A.Word.A.Day mailing list:

Prosperity is not without many fears and distastes; and adversity is not without comforts and hopes. -Francis Bacon, essayist, philosopher, and statesman (1561-1626)

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Health Insurance

Amidst dealing with a less-than-helpful American health insurance company, it dawned on me that perhaps I should figure out this British health system before I needed it. So, I stopped by my local surgery to register. After asking me to make sure I was sticking around here for at least six months, I was given two very small forms to complete (basically, my address, phone number and short (very short) past medical history), I was scheduled for a registration appointment with the nurse. My appointment is Monday at 4:35.

That was it.

No verification of my ability to legally work here. No verification of my ability to legally stay here for more than six months. No verification of my address. No "please wait seven weeks for an appointment." No looking at me like I was crazy.

All they gave me was this little bottle to fill with a specimen when I return.

How refreshing.

I don't know what the treatment will be like, but after the simple, painless registration, how bad can it be?

The Full Moon

I'm not normally a superstitious person and, knock on wood, I won't become one. But, I have noticed an interesting trend. When I taught in Roanoke, the students tended to be decidedly worse on the day of the full moon. Really.

So, today, when the kid were acting like lunatics (how about THAT reference...), I suddenly realized what today was.

That's right. The full moon. And not just any full moon - the full wolf moon. The Farmer's Almanac says this about the full wolf moon:

Full Wolf Moon - January: Amid the cold and deep snows of midwinter, the wolf packs howled hungrily outside Indian villages. Thus, the name for January's full Moon. Sometimes it was also referred to as the Old Moon, or the Moon After Yule. Some called it the Full Snow Moon, but most tribes applied that name to the next Moon.

Ah yes, the sounds of howling outside the village has been replaced by the howling at the classroom door.

Culinary Delights

I was strolling through Tesco yesterday. I didn't buy anything, but it's become a habit to visit the grocery store nearly daily.

Have you ever seen or heard of a new food product and been excited about trying it? Now, imagine a whole store of new food products! There are Jaffa Cakes, new brand names, fresh breads...the list goes on and on.

But yesterday, I finally found it. Haggis. And not just any haggis. I found The World's Favourite Haggis. I know it said so on the wrapper. And why would a wrapper lie to anyone?

And I can see why this haggis is the world's favourite...its first ingredient is sheep lungs (33%). I mean, who wouldn't simply adore eating something that is one-third sheep lungs?

More Pictures

Pictures from my day in London on Saturday have been posted at There are three new pictures in the 'Stevenage' folder, and a new 'London - 05-01-22' folder (probably the last London folder) in the list.

Monday, January 24, 2005


We had snow last night and today. Last night's snow amounted to about what you would have if you were to lightly sprinkle powdered sugar on top of a cake...and had just about run out of powdered sugar. Today's snow was just flurries - no accumulation. Just enough to set off the kids.

But, for those of you wanting more snow, my friend Chris sent me this fun website - - you can make your own beautiful snowflake! Plus, there's no shoveling!!

London Walks

Just a few more words about London Walks. Saturday, I took part in two walks led by guides from London Walks. (The details of my walks are listed below.) I found a brochure for this place last Saturday. Opening it up, I discovered a huge variety of walks held every day of the week. They offer tours on just about every London-related topic I can imagine – including basic London landmarks, Jane Austin, the Beatles, Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper, various London neighbourhoods, museums…the list goes on for quite a long while. They even have a few Explorer Days where they take day trips to sights outside of London.

Each walk is said to last about two hours. The cost is a very reasonable £5.50 – it’s even cheaper if you are a student, a ‘super adult,’ or have the Discount Walkabout Card. (Kids under 15 go free with a paying parent.) The Discount Walkabout Card costs but a single pound and entitles the bearer to £1 off of each walk after the first one. (The first walk costs £5.50 and the card costs £1. The second walk costs £4.50. At this point, you’ve broken even. Each walk you take now costs £4.50, saving you £1 each time.)

The guides are well qualified. The brochure lists the guides scheduled for each walk and then you can read their brief biography on the last page of the brochure. My morning guide, Stephanie, used to be an elephant trainer at the London Zoo. The Jack the Ripper walks are led by one of the top Ripper scholars anywhere.

The best part, though, is that to join a walk, you just meet the guide outside the tube station listed in the brochure. That’s it. No pre-registration. No pre-payment. Just show up, pay your fee, and off you go!

Mobile Phones

I got a mobile phone a few weeks ago. I had to – the place where I live has no phone. I didn’t get one of those picture phones but the phone I got (it’s a lovely Nokia 3100) does have limited access to the Internet.

Now, I can’t use it for too much. Checking my email is beyond its abilities, but I have found a couple very useful things.

First, I can check the weather forecast. So, if I’m planning a trek into London, I can see what the weather is like before I get there.

Second, I can check the train schedules. Arrivals, departures, last train to leave, trains arriving before a specific time…it’s great.

Fork This

Imagine a fork. Yes, the thing you eat with. It has a long handle, and there is a definite curve to the fork, particularly the part you put in your mouth.

Imagine how you use that fork. You make the most of that handily placed curve. It makes a nice place to put meat or peas on the trip from your plate to your mouth.

Now, imagine you are British. You turn that fork over, so instead of curving down, it curves up. You will probably still be able to balance that piece of meat on your fork. But try to balance your peas on the top of that hump.

And just so you know, it’s difficult to keep a straight face while you are watching someone try to pile their peas onto the top of that hump and keep them there while they try to take a bite.

It makes you think of two things:

First, how hard it is not to say, “Pardon me, but may I make a small suggestion…”

Second, this explains why British people eat so many mashed potatoes – its gluey texture makes a perfect bond to hold the peas to the fork.


In England, street performers are called buskers. Some of the tube stations have specially-marked 'busking pitches.' It's nice to emerge from some underground tunnel and hear live music being played for you and your fellow travelers.

Blue Light Special

Quick! You’re driving down the street in Virginia and you see flashing blue lights in the rear-view mirror. What is it?

That’s right. It’s a police officer. From the lights alone, you can’t tell if it’s a state trooper, a sheriff’s deputy, or a local police officer, but you know that it’s a police officer. That’s because in Virginia, only police cars are allowed to use blue flashing lights. Fire trucks and ambulances can use red and white flashing lights, but not blue.

Here in England, police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances all use flashing blue lights.

(That’s it. Just a random observation. Nothing insightful here.)

Highway Road Signs

Having complained about the dearth of street signs in residential area, it’s only fair to mention the signs on the highways. (First, I don’t think they’re called highways – they have names like motorways and dual carriageways, but you get the idea.)

The highway road identification signs are much more detailed. Approach a large roundabout and you could see a huge, gigantic road sign with a diagram of the roundabout. And the more roads meeting at the roundabout, the more detailed the sign. Imagine a huge spider had been squashed so that its legs are sticking straight out from its body. Now add words.

I’ll have to see if I can find a picture.

Residential Street Signs

Have you ever been in a residential area and wasn’t sure which street you were on? One nice thing about Virginia is that the roads are all clearly marked. With very few exceptions, if you come to an intersection, you can glance up at the pole on the corner. Those handy green (or sometimes blue) signs tell you both the name of the street you are currently on as well as the name of the intersecting street.

In England, it’s much more difficult. In neighbourhoods here in Stevenage, when you reach the junction (they don’t have intersections here), there may or may not be a sign. Notice that I said ‘a’ sign. If the streets are labeled at all, only one of them is labeled. And sometimes the sign is angled so that it could indicate either the street you are currently on OR the intersecting (junctioning?) street.

The redeeming fact, though, is that those signs, when you can find them, are much larger than those in the United States.


The other day I bought a packet of carrot batons at Tesco. Carrot batons!! I was so looking forward to perhaps twirling them in the air or maybe even leading a parade. Imagine my surprise to find a packet full of sliced carrots.

I couldn't even wave them near a parade.

How disappointing.

Another Adventure

In three weeks, we have our half-term holiday. And since one of the reasons I came over here was to travel, that's what I'm going to do.

I just finished booking a lovely (hopefully) week in Salou, Spain. It seems there are lots of things to see and do in the Costa Daurada area.

So why Salou, you ask?

The criteria was fairly simple. First, I didn't want to go anyplace I had been before. Second, I didn't want anyplace cold. Third, it had to be relatively affordable. After that, just about anything would work. For some reason, you can't really search the flight schedules with that criteria.

Since I had never heard of Salou (I had to Google it to find out where it was) and my flight back from there was less that £8 (before taxes), I thought I'd give it a go.

I leave on Saturday, February 12th and return on the 19th.

Another Adventure - Problem 1

I just remembered that I don't speak Spanish.

This could be a problem.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Today in London

Ah yes...if it's Saturday, it must be London.

Despite my penchant for wandering at will, today I had a schedule. I joined the 10:30 tour of the Docklands ('Docklands - Manhattan on Thames') offered by London Walks. The walk lasted slightly more than two hours, during which the 15 people in the group learned about the history of the Docklands, from past as one of England's busiest ports, through the sudden and nearly immediate end to dock operations, on to its present role as one of the main business hubs in England.

Lunch was a smoked salmon sandwich, organic popcorn and a Diet Coke, all enjoyed sitting on the steps in Piccadilly Circus. Incidently, when you purchase prepared food as take-away, you aren't charged the 17.5% VAT (Value Added Tax). When you eat in, they are required to charge you the extra. So, it's cheaper to take-away and eat elsewhere.

After lunch, I took the Spies' & Spycatchers' London tour. Again, the walk lasted just over two hours. We were treated to stories of the Cambridge Ring, the five men who were spying for the Soviets and managed to penetrate the highest levels of both British and American post-WWII intelligence.

Dinner was at the same pizza place I visited on New Year's. Tonight, however, I tried the buffet. I enjoyed the sweet corn and onion pizza but I passed on the dish of pickled beets.

And now, I find myself once more in the internet cafe near Leicester Square.


This blog has a spell-check feature. (I know you don't believe that, Mom. Really, there is...I just have to remember to use it.)

And, when I remember to use it, it works pretty well.


When I wrote the last entry about the sheer and utter fixation on blackcurrants over here, each time I typed the word 'blackcurrant,' the spell-check wanted to change it to 'flickeringly.'

The British Fascination with Blackcurrants

It's everywhere - blackcurrant tea, blackcurrant yogurt, blackcurrant drinks, blackcurrant jam and conserves...the list goes on. Tonight, I unwrapped a reddish-purple "sparkling fruit drop" anticipating it to be either strawberry or perhaps cherry.

But no. Even as it passed into my mouth, I knew. It was a blackcurrant sparkling fruit drop.

The Worldwide Gourmet has an informative page all about blackcurrants.

I believe my favorite serving suggestion would have to be this:

Place blackcurrants over high heat until they burst, add butter and serve with duck breast, guinea-fowl, roast pork or poached skate with vinegar.

I didn't even know you could poach skates. I wonder if it would work with roller-blades, too?

But I have to agree with this warning:

Handle as little as possible.

Is it too much to ask to have some grape-flavoured things over here?

Dictionary of Everyday British Terms - Part 4

British / American

kerb / curb

plough / plow

draught / draft

nappy / diaper

drink driver / drunk driver


Something I heard a mother say to her young son tonight...

"It's beetroot. Would you like some? It's very nice."

(Just so you know, it was a pickled beet. From the salad bar. At a pizza place. I, however, tend to agree with the kid - beetroots aren't very nice.)

Fun Tube Station Names

(Link to the London Underground)



Canada Water




Dagenham Heathway

Dalston Kingsland

East Ham



Pudding Mill Lane


Tooting Bec

West Ham

Coins of the Realm

I’m not an expert on the symbols used on British money (but you can easily find it if you Google), but they do have some nice coins. (I was going to put in a link to some information and pictures, but I'm having a dreadful time finding a decent site.)

The 1p (that’s one pence) coin is similar in size to an American penny. It appears to be made of copper.

The 2p coin is also copper-coloured and is close to the size of an American quarter.

The 5p coin is silver-coloured but very small – smaller than an American dime, just not as thin.

The 10p coin is also silver-coloured and just a touch smaller than the 2p coin. Also, it has ridges along the edge, similar to those on an American quarter.

The 20p coin is slightly larger than the 1p coin. It is silver-coloured and is rounded but has seven distinct edges.

The 50p coin is also seven-sided and silver-coloured. It is just a bit larger than the 2p coin.

The £1 coin is a yellow-golden colour and is just larger than a 20p coin. Like the 10p coin, it has ridges along the edge. Unlike the smaller-denomination coins, however, there is also an inscription along the edge. There are several different obverse images (somewhat like the new designs on the American quarter or nickel). The edge inscription varies depending on the obverse image.

The £2 coin is the largest of the eight coins and is made of two different metals – one golden-coloured and the other silver-coloured. The edges are ridged and include the inscription, “Standing on the shoulders of giants.” There are several different obverse designs.

My favourite coin is the £1 coin. Small and gold-ish, using these coins makes me think of how it might have been to pay for things using gold coins. Though they aren’t wide in diameter, they are thicker than an American nickel. They make an impressive-looking pile when you have a lot of them.

Accents - Part 1

It was interesting to walk around school my first week and watch kids’ faces as I spoke.

“You’re American!” was the typical response. (It kind of makes me wonder what they said to the two Canadian teachers.) I alternated between replying, “So, how’d you figure that out?” and, “No, I’m from the south of London.” Actually, I should have said southwest of London and pointed them towards the map. But I digress…

I’ve also enjoyed listening to all of the accents over here. There isn’t just one “British accent.” Instead, there are a variety of accents. Earlier this week, the BBC had a piece about different London accents. It’s fun to listen and try to figure out the different accents.

Of course, it can be difficult, too. After two or three times of saying, “What was that?” you almost want to say, “Could you spell that for me?” But with my luck, it would have extra letters (like “favourite colour”) or a zed (like “zip – zed ee pee”).

Accents - Part 2

One student asked me, “Why do Americans think all British people are posh?”

My reply was, “Probably because in the movies, whenever someone is supposed to be portrayed as upper-class and sophisticated, they have a British accent.”

I mentioned this to a teacher earlier this week, and she said, “But how about Disney movies like The Lion King? Scar, the bad guy, has a British accent, and all the good guys have American accents.”

It’s something to think about…

Accents - Part 3

One thing I noticed right away was that when saying the number “three,” one of my students pronounced it “free.” At first I thought he was just pronouncing it wrong. But then I listened some more. Many of the students at my school pronounce it like that. Students at the school where I observed this week pronounce it like that. Several of the teachers I talked to pronounce it like that.

In fact, many times, the 'th' sound (blend?) is pronounced 'f'.

So I suppose that this title should really be ‘Accents – Part Free.’

Accents - Part 4

Ok, so this is not technically an accent observation, but it is part of the speaking patterns. When giving a phone number or spelling a word, any pairs of numbers or letters are often said as “double.” For example, the phone number 01438 622944 would be said as, “zero one four three eight, six double-two, nine double-four.” If the last six digits were 655553, it would be said as, “six double-five double-five three.” Similarly, the word “ball” would be said as, “b-a-double-l.”

So, I thought I understood it until I heard someone spell the name of our school, Collenswood. It was, “C-o-double-l-w-o-o-d.”

I was hoping it would have been, “C-o-double-l-double-u-double-o-d.”

(In case that’s not clear, the ‘w’ is up there as both ‘w’ and ‘double-u.’)

So I suppose that this title should really be ‘A-double-c-e-n-t-s – Part Four.’

Accents - Part 5

In England, I have noticed that there’s a speech pattern among some adults and children that goes like this:

“The first thing you do is make a table of values, yeah? Then you choose values for x, yeah? You substitute the x-values and solve for y, yeah?”

I thought it a bit odd until I realized I did the same thing sometimes:

“I’m new here, right? And in America, the schools are different, right? So, the Head thought it would be good for me to observe at a different school for a few days. Make sense?”

So I suppose that this title should really be ‘Accents – Part Five, Yeah?.’

A Potentially Bad Idea

I went to Tesco Extra grocery store yesterday afternoon. My trip was inspired by the news that we are supposed to have some snow this weekend. And, in parts of the United States, it seems to be the local custom to flock to the grocery store when any poor weather is forecast.

Also, I was bored, hungry, and had a pocketful of money. And that is a potential recipe for disaster. Luckily, since I have to either walk or take the bus, the disaster was thwarted by my limited ability to carry things.

The damage was limited to just under £15. I bought the requisite foods to have on hand in case I get snowed in: bread, peanut butter, and jelly. Of course, it was a loaf of European bread which means, despite the fact it was sliced white bread, it was freshly baked and meant to be eaten soon, unlike American sliced white bread which can last for weeks. (Sure, it may get stale, but it’s still useable. Trust me.) The peanut butter is British peanut butter, which I have heard is somewhat different from American peanut butter. The jelly is actually jam, a nice-looking strawberry jam. So, if the snow comes, if the power goes out, if I can’t get out for days, I’m ready.

I also bought two chicken wraps - a southern fried chicken wrap and a barbeque chicken wrap. Tesco makes a very nice chicken fajita wrap so I’m looking forward to trying these new wraps.

Into my shopping basket also went a packet of express rice and a packet of peas pilaf. Beats me what they are, but the picture on the front looked good and you can microwave them in the packet, just like the four-cheese tortellini I got as well. Next, I found a roll of sesame and poppy seed thins – an eight-inch long sleeve of crackers. (They are very, very tasty with the Cheshire cheddar cheese I already had at home.)

Those of you familiar with my snacking habits know my penchant for tortilla chips and salsa. In Roanoke, I regularly frequented one of the local Mexican restaurants. In England, I have yet to find a Mexican restaurant. So, I also added one small jar of Old El Paso medium thick and chunky salsa and one small bag of tortilla chips to the basket.

Finally, I bought a pack of AA batteries for my digital camera.

So, the potential disaster was averted.

And halfway home, I realized I forgot the newspaper I wanted to get.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Academic Review Day

Today at school was Academic Review Day. Instead of having classes, we scheduled short appointments (10 minutes long) with our form students (like a homeroom class). Those students whose parents were unable to attend were still expected to be at their appointments. It was a nice way to focus on each student individually to discuss their progress so far and to talk about what they needed to do to reach their target marks.


At long last, I have finally posted some of my photos from the first few weeks here. Currently, I'm using a Yahoo! photo album because it's free. I have set up a totally new Yahoo! account for these pictures.

Go to

The pages may take a while to download.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Just a quick note...

I've been having trouble with the blog server recently. So, if there's a longer-than-normal period of time between posts, it may be that the server isn't working when I'm able to get online. Of course, if there's a waaaay longer-than-normal period of time between posts, you may want to call and check on me.


One of the great things about travelling on your own without a set schedule is that you can wander. It’s easy – just walk about and look at things. In the past three weeks, I’ve come across a number of things that I would probably have never seen or done had I relied on a guidebook or a set schedule.

By wandering around the streets near King’s Cross Station, I ended up at the British Library and saw some of DaVinci’s original notebooks.

By wandering around the streets near Trafalgar Square, I found the Institute of Contemporary Art and saw not only a very well produced Iraqi film, but also some locally-produced skate culture films.

By wandering near Westminster Abbey, I not only stumbled across a museum of funeral effigies, but was able to attend Evensong.

Now, perhaps I would have eventually seen and done all of those things anyway.

But maybe not.

The Weather

Ah, England. Cold and damp, right? Well, not really. At least, not where I am. Certainly, many places further north (like Scotland) are having very cold weather and snow, but the London area hasn’t been extremely cold since I’ve been here. A few days we had very strong wind. It’s done a bit of raining (but not what I would call a proper downpour). In fact, Chicago gets twice the average rainfall as London (or so say the people from London Walks).

Most of the times I’ve checked, the weather in Roanoke has been colder than the weather here. (Yes, Roanoke did have that really, REALLY warm spell, but I’m talking about in general.) Last Saturday, I sat on a park bench in St. James’s Park and ate my lunch – and I wasn’t the only one. You can’t do that if the weather is awful.

In fact, I seem to remember the weather in Blacksburg being much colder and wetter than the weather so far in this part of England.

But typically, about the only time we have much rain is when I leave my brolly at home.

Where I Live

Earlier, I posted a brief description of where I am living. That was mainly for those people who were afraid that I would be living under a bridge for the first few weeks. Now, however, I am able to post a more detailed description of my living arrangements.

I live in a five-person house-share near the Old Town in Stevenage. I’m right on the bus routes so riding to the Town Centre takes only about five minutes. If I’m feeling energetic (or too cheap to pay the bus fare), the Old Town is a short fifteen-minute walk away. The Town Centre is only about a five-minute walk past there. The Old Town has some nice shops, places to eat, a small grocery store, banks, and a post office. The Town Centre has larger stores (more chain stores than independent stores), a nice, large Tesco Extra, a Staples (yes, the office supply store), a TK Maxx (yes, TK – not TJ – I don’t know why), the bus station, and the train station.

Currently, there are four other people sharing the house. We each have our own small room with a bed, desk, closet, television, and sink. We have two shared bathrooms and two shared kitchens. We each have our own small refrigerator and a cabinet in the kitchen. There is also a washing machine for us to use.

To dry our clothes, however, requires more ingenuity. Lacking a tumble dryer (and facing a prohibition on leaving wet clothes hanging in our rooms to dry), we have been asked to use the clothes horse (not a real horse – imagine my disappointment – but a wire rack) in the downstairs closet below the stairs. It gets quite warm in there and things tend to dry fairly well in there. Well, things that don’t need to be hung on hangers tend to dry well in there. Things that need to be on hangers generally get hung in my room (Shhh!). As a last resort (or on Monday morning before the cleaning people arrive), we have something called an airing closet. This closet has a large tank (maybe a hot water tank?) with slatted wooden shelves built around it. The point, as I understand it, is that you lay your damp clothes on the wooden shelves and the warmth in the closet helps dry your clothes. That’s the theory anyway. In practice, it didn’t work too well for my trousers.

Each Monday, someone comes in to change the bed sheets and to tidy up. And by tidy up, I mean, clean up after the messy American. Now, before you start thinking about the filth, I must say that I cleared the floor, put my dirty clothes in my laundry bag in the closet, made the bed, and made sure my towel was hug nicely.

What I did NOT do was to NEATLY organize my desk. What I also did not do was to NEATLY fold my sleeping shorts and my sweatshirt. Upon my return from work, I found the Post-It notes on my desk VERY NEATLY arranged, my sleeping shorts VERY NEATLY folded and placed on my sweatshirt, which had also been VERY NEATLY folded.

So, each Sunday night, I make sure to neatly organize the things on my desk and to neatly fold all of my clothes. I feel tempted to change the sheets, too, but I wouldn’t want to spoil all the fun.

Phone Numbers

In the United States (and Canada and anywhere else on the North American Numbering Plan (or NANP), for that matter), telephone numbers conform to the following pattern:

540 – 555 – 1212

That is, three digits for the area code followed by a seven-digit number (well, a combination of a three-digit number and a four-digit number). When saying a phone number, there is a natural (okay, learned, but still…) flow: bum-bum-bum, bum-bum-bum, bum-bum bum-bum.

(As a side note, when I was growing up and area codes were not as critical to include since the only people you ever called who were long-distance were your grandparents. You still needed area codes, it’s just that most people you called seemed to be in your own area code and you rarely mentioned them. Thus, the area codes were contained in parentheses. Now, with the massive growth in fax, pager, and cellular phone use, it has become commonplace to give the area code as part of the number, hence the use of the hyphen rather than the parentheses.)

In England, things are different. Telephone numbers seem to follow this pattern:

And I say, “seem to,” because the same number might also be written as 01438 555121 or maybe 01438 555 121. Yes, it’s the same number of numbers but for someone new, figuring out where the breaks are is difficult.

Evidently, the first five numbers are the equivalent to American area codes (in this example, 01438). The last six numbers (555121) are the phone number. When calling from the same area code, you don’t seem to need to use the area code when you dial – just dial the last six numbers. Dialling from a different code requires all eleven numbers.

Simple, you say? Well, yes. Now. It’s taken me several weeks to figure this out!

On a related note, and just to confuse things, when dialling a UK number from America, you omit the first zero and just dial the last ten digits. After, that is, you dial 011 44. (In case you’re wondering, 011 is what you dial to indicate you are making an international call. The next two numbers, 44, happen to be the country code for the United Kingdom.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


Being the "exotic foreigner," I get asked a lot of questions about America. Often, different people will ask the same questions.

Here are a few I have been asked recently:

"Where in America are you from?"

Upon hearing that I'm from near Washington, DC, the next question often is, "Have you met the President?"

Today, someone asked me if I was from Texas. Must be my accent...

The same student also asked me if there was a Death Row in Texas. I thought it rather an odd question until I realized that England does not have the death penalty.

I'm also often asked if I own a gun. In England, it seems that guns are quite rare. In fact, I think I've only seen one the whole time I've been here (and that counts the police officers) - outside of Number 10 Downing Street (where the Prime Minister lives), one (and just one) of the guards held a gun.

Several students have asked me where I was on September 11, 2001.

A few students asked me about the election and referred specifically to George Bush or to John Kerry.

And then there are some students who are interested in the food. I've been asked (several times) if I eat hamburgers and if we have Skittles or M&Ms or Dr. Pepper in America.

Sometimes it makes me feel exotic. Other times, it makes me realize how out of touch from the rest of the world America can be.


Today, we completed our final day of observations at Longdean School. I taught two classes, a year 8 class and a year 9 class. In the year 8 class, I taught about the area of circles and in the year 9 class, I taught about scatter graphs.

Now, doesn't that sounds like fun?

A Few More Fun Words...

In addition to the Everyday British Terms, I have learned (or learnt, as we say over here) some interesting words.

In yesterday's Guardian newspaper, an article about food included a reference to a "Scottish spirtle." Evidently I wasn't the only person to be unclear about the term - there was a definition for it at the end of the article. A spirtle appears to be "a wooden stirring implement."

Also, over here, instead of proctoring an exam, you invigilate.

Finally, if something isn't working out quite right, it may be said to be a bit "wonky."

Dictionary of Everyday British Terms - Part 3

British / American / Example

nick / steal or arrest / "He nicked me bloody pen!" or "He were nearly nicked by the police!"

naught / zero / "Naught times naught is naught."

share / divide / "Four share two is two." (Note - 'divide' is also used.)

sort it out / fix it / "Your school uniform is a mess...go sort it out!"

revise / review or study / "Your homework is to revise for your maths test tomorrow."

skive / skip (as in class) / "Oi, the bloody lad skivved my class again today."


Something I heard a teacher say to his students today...

"I know it's confusing, but it's quite easy if you understand it."

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Where I Am This Week

Since I am new to the British educational system, my school thought it would be helpful for me to observe for several days at another school in the county. So, for three days this week (Monday through Wednesday), another teacher from my school and I am observing at Longdean School in Hemel Hempstead. We are spending our time visiting different maths classes taught by a variety of teachers. We will also be teaching some lessons tomorrow.

It is a good experience to be able to watch how other people teach. All too often, teachers seem to end up buried under so much work, there is never a chance to finish any of that work, much less go and observe someone else. It is nice to work in a place where such observations are valued and encouraged.

A quote...

I subscribe to the daily email from A Word A Day. It's a very nice mailing list - each day, I receive an email with a word (a word a day...get it?), its definition, and some other information about it. At the end of each email, there is a quote. Here is today's:

In a pond koi can reach lengths of eighteen inches. Amazingly, when placed in a lake, koi can grow to three feet long. The metaphor is obvious. You are limited by how you see the world. -Vince Poscente, Olympian (1961- )

You are the koi. Let the world be your lake.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Maths work in pen

As a math teacher in America, one thing really bothered me (well, lots of things, really, but that's another post...). I would insist that my students complete their math work in pencil. I became very bothered by work which was scratched-through or crossed-out.

In England, however, it seems that it is required to complete maths work in ink. When I asked one of my classes why, I was told that it was to prepare for the maths exams when ink was required.

And perhaps it does force them to be a bit neater with their work.


Here in England, instead of calling them sweaters, the word is "jumpers." So I asked one of my classes why they were called jumpers. The answer?

"Because they're made from wool and wool comes from sheep and when you're trying to go to sleep, you count sheep jumping."


Something I heard a student say to his teacher today:

"Miss, I know what you're going to say before you say it...I'm psychopathic!"

Saturday, January 15, 2005

British Maths Impediment 2

So with one of my Year 8 classes (that's like 7th grade for those of you keeping track at home), we were discussing angles. We said that angles are two lines that intersect at a vertex. (Still with me?) And since there is a lot of vocabulary in maths, we were talking about the meaning of intersect.

In America, I generally say, "What do we call the place where two roads meet? That's right. It's called an intersection."

In England, when talking about two roads meeting, it is necessary to mention that in America, we don't have many roundabouts. (In fact, I could only think of one, perhaps two, that I've seen. And that leads to the question, asked in a horrified and amazed voice, "What do you have?" Eventually, though, we get back to the original question, "What do we call the place where two roads meet?"

The answer, of course, is a junction.

Saturday in London

Today I decided to take the train to London again. I had no set agenda this time, other than to visit the Russian Winter Festival being held in Trafalgar Square. Coinciding with the Russian old new year (according to the Tsarist calendar), the festival featured performances by many Russian groups. I arrived just in time to hear the Red Army Chorus. Later in the day, I also saw an aerial ballet performance, and a Russian rock band.

After the Red Army Chorus, it was getting to be time for lunch. Rather than search for a sit-down restaurant without a long line, I popped into the Tesco Express on Trafalgar Square and purchased a chicken fajita wrap, a Diet Coke, a packet of crisps (prawn cocktail-flavoured), and a very nice almond croissant. Instead of eating while walking, I looked for a bench. Trafalgar Square was filled with thousands of people attending the Winter Festival so there was no place there to sit. So, I wandered through a large, imposing archway into St. James's Park. The Park runs from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace. Along its other edges are Westminster Palace and St. James's Palace. I found an empty park bench across from the duck pond where I sat and ate lunch. The chicken fajita wrap is one of my favourite choices from Tesco's ready-meal sandwich selection. I had never had prawn cocktail-flavoured crisps before, but they taste much like potato chips dipped in cocktail sauce. Not bad. In fact, much better than the ham-flavoured crisps I had a couple of weeks ago. The almond croissant was very flaky (all down the front of my shirt, in fact), but terribly yummy.

After lunch, I walked about the park a bit and soon I found the Institute of Contemporary Art. They were showing "Turtles Can Fly" - a film shot on location in an Iraqi refugee camp. I also noticed that there was a special Night of Skateboarding Culture tonight. I quickly purchased tickets to both.

Since I had some time before the movie, I wandered about a bit more. I took the obligatory photo of the police officers at the gate at Number 10 Downing Street, as well as a photo of the non-mounted guard at the entrance to the Horse Guards. Further along was Big Ben, Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. I was in time for Evensong at the Abbey, so I slipped in. (See Side Note on Visiting Westminster Abbey.) It was amazing to sit there and think that similar services have been held daily in this place for almost one thousand years.

A returned to the ICA for the showing of "Turtles Can Fly." It's a terribly sad film about a group of children forced to grow up way too soon. In order to survive, some of the children must diffuse land mines and then sell them to earn a bit of money. All views on George Bush and the Iraq war aside, if this is how things were under the regime of Saddam, something needed to be done.

For dinner, I strolled along The Strand and bought a steak pastie at Charing Cross Station. It was hot and fairly tasty. I ate it as I strolled further along. Spotting another Tesco Express (and remembering my earlier almond croissant), I decided to get a chocolate one. It was very yummy as well.

Since it was almost time for the night of Skateboarding Culture, I headed back to the ICA. As people were coming in, an artist was onstage creating the backdrop for the performances. Instead of using traditional paints, he was using various colours of spray paints. The first item on the program was the screening of eight skating short films shot in a single day by local kids as part of a workshop. Some were quite good. We also viewed several other short skating films. Next was a hip-hop group followed by a DJ with his turntable. Following those two performances, the ska-punk band No Comply played.

I took a number of quite nice pictures. One day, I hope to be able to post them.

Currently, I am sitting in the same Internet Cafe as the previous two weekends. Not only is it convenient, it has the cheapest rates of any I have found.

Side Note on Visiting Westminster Abbey

In my travels today, I came across Westminster Abbey. (I realize that makes it sounds like I stumbled across some tiny place on a seldom-seen backroad.) I wasn't really planning on visiting the Abbey today, since there's an admission fee and I had a movie ticket for a showing in a couple of hours. And, when I checked the gate, the Abbey was closed to tourists today anyway (it was the Annual Day of Prayer). Nonetheless, a crowd of tourists was standing at the gate.

I decided to continue my wandering. Passing through a gate (the man in the guardhouse ignored me so I ignored him and went through), I found myself in a courtyard with another gate, this one leading to the museum at the Abbey. After more wandering and a visit to the museum, I stopped to read the list of events at the Abbey. Evensong, the 3:00 service, was due to begin in about 15 minutes.

Walking back to the main gate (the one with all the tourists looking in vain at the main doors), I went up the the one of the gatekeepers. "Is it possible for me to attend Evensong, Sir?" I quietly asked.

"Certainly," he said softly and moved aside. I passed through the gates, leaving throngs of tourists behind.

The moral of this story is to pay attention. Wander about. Read the notices on the walls. Not only was I able to visit the Abbey (without paying admission) on a "non-tourist" day, I was able to attend a service complete with songs by the Westminster Abbey Choir.

It's a small place, this England.

Today, as I was riding the Tube in London, I heard someone calling, "Matthew...Matthew..." Figuring it was a mother calling her wayward son, I didn't pay much attention. When the voice continued calling, I looked around. Across the car was one of the Deputy Heads of my school.

Of all the cars on all the trains...

Thursday, January 13, 2005

My Daily Schedule

Or as we say over here, my timetable.

Each morning from 8:30 until 8:35, we have morning registration. That's like homeroom or advisory - basically, I take roll. Then we have two one-hour lessons. From 10:35 until 10:55, the entire school has a break. There's usually a nice lady in the staff room who pours us tea or coffee if we choose. Next, we have two more one-hour lessons. Lunch is from 12:55 until 1:55. (Yes, an hour for lunch.) Afternoon registration is from 1:55 until 2:15. Then, we have one more hour of class and the students leave at 3:15.

Our timetable is on a fortnightly rotation (that's every two weeks). During that rotation, I see each of my classes six times (or generally three times a week, but sometimes it can be twice one week and four times the next). At most, I teach five classes a day. Sometimes, though, I only teach three or four.

It is nice to actually have a chance to stop and catch my breath every so often. And to be able to sit and enjoy my lunch? I'm still amazed by that one.

"Sir?" "Sir!"

One of the nice things about teaching in England is that the teachers are referred to as "Sir" or "Madam." Even my department head calls me Sir. How refreshing to walk down the hallway and hear, "Good morning, Sir," or to be in class and hear, "Sir? I have a question." It sure beats some of the names I've been called.

And, a few students have held the door for me, or even stopped to let me pass through first.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Spotted Dick

Finally, I was able to have a bit of spotted dick. In the canteen today, the nice ladies whipped up a batch of spotted dick as the dessert with the main meal (which consisted of a very nice cheese and tomato quiche, cooked carrots, and chips - I could have had the mash rather than the chips, but I declined). Served in a bowl full of custard sauce, spotted dick is a nice bready pudding with raisins and some sugar on top. It's not as sweet as many American cakes (or sticky toffee pudding), but it makes a right tasty treat.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

What language was that?

Last week, each local house received a copy of "Herts Beat" - the Community Newspaper from Hertfordshire Constabulatory and the Hertfordshire Police Authority. It's a nice, twelve-page color publication dealing with local community safety issues.

It's also available, in summary form, in Urdu, Gujarati, Chinese, Bengali, Italian, and Punjabi, as well as in large-print and Braille.

Sunday, January 09, 2005


People have asked me, "Are things expensive in England?"

I suppose the answer is both "yes" and "no."

For someone living here, and earning their money in pounds, most things (outside of London, anyway) seem reasonably priced. A daily newspaper is about £0.50. A meal at McDonald's might be between £3 and £4. A Diet Coke form the machine at school is £0.60.

The problem happens when you convert your dollars to pounds. Since you need about two dollars to get one pound, things are about twice as expensive here as in America. But that's probably more a function of the exchange rate than anything else.

One nice thing about England prices, however, is that they are almost always listed with the taxes already included. Which is nice, since the current VAT (Value Added Tax) rate is 17.5%. But, as it's included in the price, the amount on the tag is the amount you pay.

Wouldn't it make more sense if we did that in the U.S.?

The Elusive John Wesley Memorial

For all the Voices of Youth people who may remember our last night in London and all of the unsuccessful driving about to find the John Wesley Flame Memorial, you can rest more easily now. I stumbled across it yesterday, just outside the Museum of London.

There's a bit of information about it here (about halfway down the page, under the heading "Other Wesley-linked sites in the area"). I took a picture of it for you, and when I find a way to download things, I'll post it.

Yesterday's Adventures in London...Continued

In yesterday's update, I neglected to mention that I attended a wine tasting at Harrod's. I sampled a lovely Chablis and a nice white champagne.

After I left the internet cafe, I walked about and ended up in Chinatown. With its illuminated Chinese arches and restaurant windows filled with skinned animals, it felt truly exotic. I popped into the Loon Fung Chinese Market for a bit of shopping. Continuing my quest to learn other languages by drinking Coke products, I selected a Fanta Strawberry labeled in an odd, eastern language. I also couldn't resist the "Seedness Pumes," an exotic sweet the likes of which I had never tasted before. After paying for my purchases, I eagerly unwrapped my first seedness pume. After untwisting the wire tie, removing the outer wrapper and then the clear inner wrapper, I was rewarded with a nice salted prune. And I'm happy to report that is was indeed seedness.

I next strolled over to Covent Garden where buskers were raising money for the tsunami relief.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

British Television

On my telly, I receive seven stations: BBC1, BBC2, ITV1, Channel 4, Five, E4, and CNN International. I've managed to get caught up on wathing the Simpsons, Friends, ER, West Wing, Little Britain, and the World Dart Championships.

You've heard of the first four, right? How about the last two? I hadn't. The kids at school told me about Little Britain. It's a comedy that consists of short sketches. It was described to me thusly: "There's this bloke and he's in a wheel chair but not really and when his friend turns his back the bloke in the wheelchair but not really climbs a tree and then when his friend comes back and asks the bloke how he got in the tree the bloke says he fell up the tree." Really. That's how it was described - with no punctuation and a proper British accent.

The World Dart Championships need not description. It's two blokes who are playing darts. That's it. Only, they're in this huge room with people all seated at these little tables, watching and cheering. Not my cup of tea, really, but it's a nice way to practice your maths skills.


Just to follow up on some emails I have received (or, as I like to think of fan mail), I need to touch on the subject of tape.

In England, the clear tape, what used to be called cellophane tape in America, is called "sellotape". I think this is similar to us, in America, calling that clear tape "scotch tape" - the brand name, once capitalized, has become a common, uncapitalized noun. Like xeroxing things. But maybe that's a verb. Or a gerund. But the point remains.

Anyway, readers of Harry Potter books may remember that Ron (I think) tried to mend his wand with Spellotape. That's one of those little British details that was unfortunately lost on many American readers.

Today's Adventures in London

This morning, I signed up for a Network Rail Card. For a mere £20 yearly fee, the card entitles you to 1/3 off of qualifying trips by train. (And some other things, too, but I haven't figured it all out yet.) And, I found out about a Treble Card. No, it's not some type of music card, it's a pass that gets you to London by train, unlimited tube access, and a return trip all in the same day. And it works out to be a great savings.

So, I used my Network Rail Card to purchase a Treble Card. Then I hopped a GNER non-stop train to King's Cross Station. Then I took the tube to the Blackfriar's Station. I visited the Temple Church which was built by the Knights Templar in the 12th century. If you're read The DaVinci Code, you may remember that part of the action was set there.

Next, I visited the Museum of London, a very nice, free museum that traces the history of London from 250,000 years ago until today. Among their large collection the things on display is the chair in which Charles Dickens sat when he wrote A Tale of Two Cities.

Since it was getting to be a long time since my breakfast, I decided to conduct a scientific study which I have tentatively titled, "An Investigation into the Similarities and Differences Between the American and British Versions of Globally-Distributed Short-Wait Eating Establishments." The subtitle to this study is, "Lunch at McDonald's." I know, I know...I fly 4,000 miles to eat at McDonald's? For shame. But it was quick, somewhat simple, and cheaper than eating someplace else. I ordered a large Big Mac meal with a Diet Coke. The delightful order-taker informed me that they don't have anything called "Diet Coke" despite my pointing to the logo on the menu. SO I asked for a Fanta. The next person, the cashier, confirmed my order ("One American Meal?" - much to my chagrin) and passed me to a third person. This person asked what I wanted to drink. Having been told they had no Diet Coke, and not really wanting the Fanta I had asked for earlier, I asked for a Coke. Without a word, he put my cup under the dispenser marked "Diet Coke" and filled my cup.

After taking in some historical and cultural sights, I decided to visit Harrod's Department Store. Unfortunately, half of Europe decided to visit as well. So, despite the crowd, I have a nice time walking the many floors and seeing all the lovely things to buy. Although the £19,998 antique clock was very nice, I settled for leaving with an equally nice £2.50 tin of almond biscuits and some batteries for my digital camera.

Following a quick, stand-up supper of a Cornish Pasty and a Fanta, I ducked into the same Internet cafe I visited last week.

The night is young (though it's been dark for about three hours).

Not that I Needed Anyone to Be Happy for Me, But Still...

On New Year's Eve, I stopped at the toilet in King's Cross Station before I boarded my train. After I paid 20p (that means "twenty pence" not "twenty pee") to enter the toilet, a charming Indian gentleman directed me to the urinals. Upon successful completion of my business (and after washing my hands), the gentleman gave me a thumbs-up signal and wished me a Happy New Year.

Beverage Labeling

On New Year's Eve, I stopped into a small stand and purchased a "Coca Cola Light." The label was similar to that of Diet Coke (the silver label) only everything else was printed in Russian. A small sticker added later gave the ingredients in English.

Tonight, I stopped into a similar stand and purchased a Fanta Orange. This label was printed in German and promises "Erfrischungsgetrank mit Orangengeschmack." A similar small sticker gave the ingredients in English.

I wonder how many languages I can learn from drinking Coke products?

Turkey Twizzlers - Update

You may have read about my earlier brush with turkey twizzlers. Having missed out on the culinary treat on Thursday, I made sure to be one of the first in line at the canteen on Friday.

First, let me describe them. Envision a closely-wound curly fry that is about six inches long. Now imagine it made of turkey. There you go.

I tried one.

It was bad. Really bad.

And then I found out that they have been banned from schools in Scotland because they are so bad for you. Really.

Dictionary of Everyday British Terms - Part 2

British / American

pudding / cake

biscuit / cookie

crisps / chips

chips / fries

jam / jelly

jelly / jello

hob / stovetop

Thursday, January 06, 2005

British Maths Impediment 1

In American, getting students to understand fractions such as quarters is simple. You just say, "think of money." It's easy, right? Four quarters in a dollar, each quarter is $'ve got a whole fraction/decimal/percent lesson right there.

In England, not only do they not have nice names for their coins, there's not even a 25p coin at all.


Student: Sir, I'm on report.

Me: And why is that?

Student: Because I've been naughty!


Another teacher: I've just put something in your pigeonhole.


My department head: Well, it's not a proper rubber but you can use's some sellotape to hold it together.


Me: So what do you call [insert item or action] over here?

Students: [insert name of item or action]

Me: Really? Interesting.


Me: Accent? I'm not the one with the accent...

Dictionary of Everyday British Terms - Part 1

British / American

jumper / sweater

rubber / eraser

rub out / erase

pigeonhole / mailbox

sellotape / Scotch tape

canteen / lunch-room

naughty / bad

index / exponent

maths / math

turkey twizzler / ???

Turkey Twizzlers

I'm a tad disappointed that the school canteen was out of turkey twizzlers today at lunch.

Yes, you read that correctly - turkey twizzlers.

They look like a long curly fry and are evidently made of turkey. Good, proper turkey, at that, from what I've been told.

My response to the kid who had them was, "they twizzle turkey in this country?" I was all set to try them, too, but they were all out.

It's a shame that this turkey twizzler craze hasn't yet caught on in American. I mean, have lived for 30 years and not to have know that turkey is one of the finer twizzable meats...

Proper Rubbers

Yes, I finally got a proper rubber! Of course, in the U.S., we call them erasers.

Nonetheless, the one I got today is loads better than the one I had yesterday.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Odd keyboards and such

On American keyboards (at least all the ones I've ever used), the '@' sign is just above the numeral 2. And the ' " ' (those are quote marks) are above the ' ' ' (that's a single quote).

In England, it's the opposite.

So, just try typing an email address - it ends up like this: mreames"

And, just try typing something that needs quote marks: @Stop!@ Jim said.

And prying off the keys and switching them doesn't appear to help.

Daily English Life Question 1

How come "cling film" doesn't?

New Year's Eve - Part 2

When we last left our story, I was in a nice Internet cafe just off of Leicester Square. After that, I walked about central London a bit - Trafalgar Square, the Embankment, across a bridge or two. I ended up staking out a spot to watch the fireworks...just outside the Embankment tube stop...after carefully verifying with a station attendant that I would be able to take the tube back to King's Cross to catch the train back to Stevenage...the last train back to Stevenage.

Unfortunately, other people, lots of other people, thousands of other people, wanted to use the same tube stop. So, after the fireworks, facing a huge, massive, insane amount of people, we were all turned to another tube station...a ways down the Embankment.

But I ended up making my train in plenty of time.

Nice pictures, including perhaps a short video I took, of the fireworks will be available whenever I find a USB connection over here.

Goodness...what's that I can't see?

Heavens, it gets dark early around this place. I'm sitting here in a nice Internet cafe in front of a window overlooking part of the town centre. Unfortunately, it's just past 5:00 pm and it's as dark as midnight out there.

Needless Worry

You may have ready about my concerns about New Year's Eve activities. I needn't have worried. As it turned out, my little staked-out spot for the fireworks in London were just down from the public toilets. Convenient, huh?

Unfortunately, everyone else thought so as well. So, the nearby corner where a fence and wall met became the new, cool place to wee. Streams of people began to trickle to this new-found "Wee Corner". At times, there were five and six people there, taking advantage of the facility. And nary a police officer nor any fines interfered.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

New Year's Eve

So I decided that it would be fun to go to London for New Year's Eve.

(As a side note, it's neat to say's even neater to be able to accomplish that! But I digress...)

I took a WAGN train to King's Cross Station. Unfortunately, I arrived on Platform 10b rather than Platform 9 3/4, but I got here nonetheless. I ended up at the British Library for a while looking at some of the exhibits. Among other things, I saw several pages from DaVinci's notebooks, the earliest known copy of Beowulf, and some of the tax stamps that helped set off the Revolutionary War.

After that, I took the tube to Piccadilly Square where I walked around for a bit. I passed the Planet Hollywood restaurant which was the eventual target of my last trip to Piccadilly Square. Just a bit further along, I stopped to listen to a band of Indian bagpipers who were raising money for the Asian Tsunami Relief.

After a nice dinner of pizza (yes, pizza...but it had chicken, bacon, and tomatoes...) followed by some tea I found this internet cafe. More details on New Year's Eve will follow later, as will pictures of my first few days here.

Arrived and Moved In

I arrived safely yesterday in Stevenage after successfully navigating the Underground and WAGN train to town. For those of you who were worried about me, I DO have a place to stay. It's a small (um...very small) room in a five-person house-share that is run by these people. Currently, I'm the only person there, but more people are supposed to arrive soon.

My flight was fairly uneventful. The lines at Dulles were long, but moved fairly smoothly. Despite my fears to the contrary, I was not seated in the last row next to the noisy lavatory on the screaming-baby flight. Instead, I had an exit-row (translation: all the leg room I could ever use) seat near a very quiet lavatory. The only problem was the old man next to me who kept taking flash pictures of the TV screen showing our position on a moving map. The head flight attendant had to ask him to stop and even threatened to have him arested in London. Sadly (or happily, depending), the man complied and no arrest was needed.

I arrived at Heathrow and cleared customs without a problem. I found the tube line to King's Cross Station and then the WAGN train to Stevenage. I ended up in Stevenage just before 10:00 in the morning, much earlier than I anticipated. Anna, the hotel manager, picked me up from the train station and got me all settled in my house-share.

Yesterday, I spent some time exploring the Old Town in Stevenage as well as the Town Centre. I bought a few groceries, some nice wooden hangers, and some books (old habits die hard...but I finally found a paperback copy of The DaVinci Code. After that, I unpacked, had a lovely sandwich for dinner, and watched some telly. By 8:00 pm, I was more than ready for a nice rest