08 October 2011

There is a distinct bite to the winds now, Autumn is here and shouting that Winter is not at all far behind. We are going like gang-busters trying to get things done around the house and gardens to have the house ready for what all predictions say is going to be a winter at least as severe as last year if not more so.

Now, last year just after what would have been Thanksgiving Weekend in the US, our area of Scotland was hit by heavy snow and a huge drop in temp that lasted until late January. The snow melted off just enough for our wedding guests to make the drive to our wedding-just. The temps came up enough for people to be comfortable, but in essence Scotland slogged through a deep freeze that began in late November and continued until late February.

And 'they' are saying this winter will be at least as bad. At least-which means it will likely be colder, earlier, longer than last year. I'm reviewing instructions for homemade snowshoes and I'm not kidding about that. There is an art to good snowshoes, I learned a little about it when I lived on Kodiak Island, Alaska in the mid Seventies. Snowshoes are wonderful both for getting around and for working off the pounds. (And my doctor wants me to lose at least two stone, and would be thrilled if I managed to make that a full thirty pounds loss)

So Paul is going through his checklist for essential repairs that have not already been done (it's been a busy summer since I got back from the States, and he'd already been busy while I was gone this spring), and I am going through every article of winter clothing and bedding we own.

Now, things are of course done a bit differently in the UK and it's been interesting to see how very different things can be! I mentioned in an earlier post that the amounts of food one buys in the shops are much-much smaller than what we are used to in the US, and now I'd like to bang on about the clothes washing machines.

Paul came with an under counter front load Hotpoint clothes washing machine capable of washing a 6kg load (6x2.5=15lbs of laundry in one load) but it really works best if there is no more than 10-11lbs of wet laundry in that poor thing.

Which means even if I could force the double and queen sized duvets in the machine I would burn it up and have a very cross husband to contend with.

Laundromats, places I avoid like the pest-and-plague ridden horrors they were in North GA (the owner shut off the hot water, now I ask you how the heck you are supposed to sanitise anything in cold water, and yes, bedbugs and lice were a constant problem in the schools...) are not something easily found in Scotland market towns. Everyone either has a clothes washing machine, or they take everything to the cleaners.

Including and especially duvets.

But not us.

We ran a bubble bath for the first duvet, sized double, and took turns agitating (read kneading, it was incredibly hard on the back and I think the king sized one is going to be snuck down to the cleaners), soaking, rinsing, agitating, and then using body weight to press the water out of the duvet and hefting it out to the back garden where it dripped for a full twelve hours, and then was hefted back into the house when the sun went down. Still wettish, I draped it over my lovely tower airer (drying rack) and it took four days to dry.

Because in Scotland, a top loading, large capacity washer is considered an unconscionable affection and display of conspicuous consumption. They are wasteful-use a lot of water and electricity, but in the process you get a hell of a lot of clothing and bedding washed.

My mother had an American top loader in her home near Manchester, England, and growing up I did think it luxurious whenever we visited her but that was because at our house on the desert of Southern California, my sister and I washed all of the family clothing and linens in a huge cauldron every Saturday morning. We had a portable wringer that we attached to the cauldron and my job was to feed the fabric through it while she cranked the wringer, then pull it out of the cauldron into baskets until she could refill and reheat the water for either more washing or more rinsing. I'll never forget the day my dad brought home the wringer washing machine, my sister sat down on the front porch steps and cried for an hour with joy.

There were a lot of reasons I liked visiting my mother in England, the laundry was one of those reasons. Until I met Paul I hadn't been to the UK since the Princess's wedding, and so it's taken me a while to figure out that there were HUGE differences between England and Scotland!

Tumble dryers, better known in the US as a dryer, are also something of a luxury, and the only people who have them are either middle-class with young children, or rich people. Dryers use an incredible lot of electricity. (Yes, Mum had one of those, too)

Of course, they also would come in VERY handy in the damp climate of Scotland, but that is not something my husband is quite prepared to buy into. In the months when the wood stoves are not burning it takes DAYS to dry anything if the sun isn't shining long enough to get things dry on the clothesline.

Which it wasn't for most of the summer.

I begged him to go get the free kitchen wood stove a friend offered us because I knew that bad boy would have a fire going year round (my husband loves my cooking and baking) and I could have a ceiling hung drying rack, oops, I mean airer, that would have solved my drying troubles.

But the cost of the wood outweighed my need for clean and dry laundry.


We took delivery Wednesday of most of our winter wood supply, and it was a bit pricey. I understand my husband's position on this topic-I try to wear long janes, socks, undershirts, heavy shirts, and thick pants to stay warm. We are on a fixed income and have to be careful.

We had a forecourt (driveway) full of beautiful wood and spent most of the Wednesday last afternoon stacking it in the garage. The log store is taking longer to finish than we figured because it's been raining more than it hasn't been, but when finished it will sit just outside of the back door for quick and easy replenishment of the stacks next to the stoves.

I baked a huge lot of chocolate chip cookies. These are not the same as chocolate chip biscuits as they are called here as I used a Betty Crocker recipe-if you bake with an American recipe it's called a cookie and is an important distinction apparently. LOL, I made Southern Biscuits for my husband one morning and he told a friend I'd made him cookies for breakfast.

Actually, what I made him were scones-not a cookie the way we think of it, but what Southern Biscuits are called in Scotland.

But only if you use a Scottish recipe can you properly call them scones.

Jeez. When I visited my mother they were called crumpets!

Scotland is an educational experience in many ways:)

02 October 2011

Oh boy.

First, @ Zippy, Sadie and Speedy's Mom-Frugal is the only way to fly, but oh I do know what you mean about one illness! It is the one difference between the US and the UK that stands out as 'their way is better than ours'-that here if someone in the family has illness they can be treated within a reasonable period of time, with a reasonable expectation of survival, and with a reasonable expectation of that treatment not putting them into the poorhouse.

The NHS isn't perfect, and there are movements afoot in government to cut it back drastically, but it is a health care system that seems to work pretty well.

That young American man who died with the abscessed tooth because he couldn't afford dental care sticks in my mind, as does my husband and his battle with testicular cancer. NHS would have matter of factly saved the young man's life, and NHS matter of factly saved my husband's-Paul was diagnosed after age forty, and had it come back (metastasized to his abdomen)-not a good prognosis in the US (read they likely would have let him die for lack of sufficient insurance), and not an especially good one in the UK or anywhere else for the simple fact that returned, metastasized testicular cancer is usually a killer. But Paul is alive, and doing well-we're almost to the ten year mark. Could. Not. Have. Done. It. Without. NHS.

@Lee County Clowder-thank-you for that, I try to tell myself the same things but it really helps to hear it from someone else!

And now for Blog'O'TheDay:

The longer I am in the UK, land of my parents, grandparents, great-grands going back thousands of years, the more I realise I am probably the first generation of my family to be fully, wholly, genuinely American-funny accent and 'weird' spelling aside. Yes, to my fellow Americans, I sound British. I grew up on Queen's English, not American English, so according to the Yanks, I not only talk funny, I spell funny too. And to top it off, I'm excessively polite, and I start my day with either a pot of tea or a pot of hot chocolate-not the American coffee.

BigWoo. I've come to see it's more like the difference between being from Boston instead of Atlanta, not the difference of being from the UK instead of America.

I have been thinking this for a while now, and wondering how to express it (read vent, sometimes these people drive me just a little bit mad). Last night we watched the first 30 or so minutes of Nineteen-Eighty-Four and the need to say something drove me out of the room and into the back (soggy, it's been raining since late Friday night) garden for a 'real' cigarette. When I came back in Paul had turned off the movie and fallen asleep.

I wonder why my great-grandparents came back to Scotland, what was the big drive to live out what was left of their lives and then die here? Why was my father always self (and actions) identified as a man of the British Isles? Why my mother returned to the UK after the divorce was a no-brainer, but the longer I am in the UK, the harder I wonder what brought my great-grands back here, and why my grand raised my dad to be British, and why my dad tried so hard to raise me to be British as well.

Which I thought I was there for a while, British. On the surface I've slipped into the British routine with ease. I have no real trouble understanding the accents (for the most part, although some of the more rural Scots do flummox me), I know the right words-for the most part. I have caused a bit of a stir because the words I use for things are English, not Scots, or Welsh, and certainly not Irish, but for the most part I have 'fitted-in' fairly well. In fact I sense I am something of a disappointment in that I do fit in here so well, I think the locals were hoping for more of a Wild West Show from me.

If only they knew.

I walk in the park (not far from our house) and wish I had a gun in my shoulder-it seems the height of lunacy to go about unarmed. In America I was licensed to the hilt to carry concealed, and to use the thing at my discretion-a discretion trusted by sheriffs and police chiefs across the Deep South. That trust was earned on a number of occasions, the first of which was when I used my little snubbie to run a crack-head out of my front yard and into the front yard of a retired LEO (law enforcement officer) two places down from my 20 acre place. I put a round over the junkie's head and he took off running; a near neighbour heard the gunshot and rang the police.

Long story short, while the retired LEO was wrestling the guy into cuffs he kept around the house as a memento, the active LEO taking my statement was nodding his head condescendingly at my story, convinced I'd shot at shadows in the middle of the night. Until the radio came alive with the news that my neighbour needed a pick-up on aisle five.

The next day the sheriff AND the chief of police made visits to my driveway to enquire: "Ma'am, why didn't you just shoot that boy and save the taxpayers some money?" Turns out the kid (about 20) had a rap sheet as both a juvenile and an adult, and they were in the expensive process of deporting him to his native Germany.

Here's where the trust was earned:

I looked at both LEOs for a minute, thinking what should I say, and then simply answered "I just didn't feel like killing anyone last night." Both understood what I meant-the young man was built like a long time junkie, whippet thin. If I'd knee capped him (my original target), unless I applied a very quick tourniquet and then got paramedics there REAL quick, the kid would have bled out on my front porch. And the application of First Aid is something I would have done, thereby put myself in a worse spot-hopped up junkies bleed profusely and feel no pain. There would have been a very real and very dangerous moment he would have been well placed to take my gun.

Couldn't have that.

So when I put that round over the junkie's head I was hoping the little bastard would go and I wouldn't have to kill him. Because I didn't feel like killing anyone. Not that night, or any other.

Say what you like about South Alabama law enforcement and it's very likely spot-on. But they aren't all corrupt, they have a job to do, and they appreciate it when the citizenry can be trusted not to add to their burden.

Word got around, and no matter where I lived in the American Deep South, I could count on the local LE to trust me and my discretion. Renewing my pistol permit was never a problem no matter where I was living at the time.

It's an American thing.

And I am an American.

I grew up on the desert ranges of Southern California, off-grid (due to an old feud between my paternal gran and the Mullhollands) watching and helping my older siblings, my dad, and the hired hands slaughtering chickens, raising cattle, making soap in the same huge cauldron my sister used to wash our clothes every Saturday morning and scald the dead chickens every Saturday afternoon. I had a pet coyote, and knew to pay attention to my horse if he shied from a spot-usually meant a rattlesnake, a tarantula as big as a car tire, or something dead.

I learned to swim in the wild Colorado River, body surfed the beaches of LA and Orange County, and skied off Mt Baldy in the winter.

I had a .22 from the time I was five, and a snub-nose .38 from the time I was ten because by then my dad had sold off the ranch and we were driving into the ghettos and barrios of Long Beach and Wilmington to train his boxers, young men sent to him by parents in Mexico and other Central American countries to get them away from the continual wars, and young men sent to him by the LE of Southern California because they knew if anyone could wear out the anger of a young man headed for adult hard time, it was my dad. He did it through a boxing programme he started, and several of his fighters went to the Olympics and beyond. A few fell through the narrow cracks but most went on to straighten out their lives, graduating from college and becoming dentists, MDs, school teachers...

I had tutors who taught me to think critically, grans who taught me to shoot straight if need-be, and to cook a decent meal with just about anything hanging around. I was raised to be at ease in a saddle, boxing gym, dinner party, or in a boardroom-my dad owned several businesses and trained me to run them too.

I had siblings who hated me, lol, because I seemed to be the reason our parents broke up, could shoot straight, ride for hours and still be able to help out around the place, and seemed to be my dad's favourite.

Competition was stiff 'round our place, and they thought it was the height of unfair that my dad took me everywhere with him. What they didn't know was that my step-mother was dedicated, apparently, to one thing only-killing me, and so Pop took me with him everywhere he went to keep me out of Dirty Dort's clutches.

I wasn't Pop's favourite, I was the replacement for the baby who'd died supposedly of SIDS 1st July 1955, but whose body was found dressed in a snowsuit in a nursery with the heat on full blast. Pop could never prove it but he always believed his second wife had sent the night nurse home, dressed the baby in the snowsuit, turned up the heat, and went to bed. He wasn't going to let that happen to me.

Another long story short, my parents married in the UK during the war. They had three children, then he got caught fooling around with the woman who later became my step-mother. She got pregnant, my mother did a Reno but stayed in the US at my paternal uncle's hoping for a reconciliation. The chippie had the baby Mother's Day 1955, by July of course, he was dead. My dad went to my mother for comfort, she got pregnant, when my dad didn't remarry her she gave birth to me, dumped me and two older siblings on my dad, and went back to the UK with my other brother.

I was not especially popular at our house. I could try to make a list of the things my step-mother did to me but the most illustrative is that on the way to have my portrait taken in my First Holy Communion dress, she tossed me out of a moving car and then tried to back the car over me.

Typical of those days, a neighbour rescued me, told my dad he should do something about that awful woman like institutionalize her, and washed their hands of it.

What my dad did was keep me under watch 24/7 (except when he was away on business, then he hired someone), teach me to defend myself including fighting back and speaking up loudly if someone was treating me badly, taught me to believe there was every reason to believe a better day WOULD come, and in the process raised a completely independent American girl.

My Pop taught me that if I wanted or needed something I should earn the money to buy it or learn how to make it myself-using repurposed material if needed. He taught me that if something wanted improvement to get out there and do it myself. The British for the most part want/need something but hit an obstacle and give up. Meh.

Americans for the most part aren't quitters, and I am an American.

It just took me 50+ years to figure that out. I grew up thinking I didn't belong in America, that I was more British than Yank. But.

I am an American.

I am strong. I am optimistic. I don't kneel in the mud and let 'Life' walk over me because it's what my forbearers were accustomed to do, and it is especially American that I would not stand for the squalor of the life the Winston Smiths of what used to be known as Great Britain meekly accepted as their lot, their due, their fortune, their fate.

I put up with about thirty minutes of that Doomer Porn trash movie last night and then couldn't take anymore. I am the girl who would have picked wild flowers to brighten up the cells.

I wouldn't have it any other way. 'Life' is not going to beat me down.

I don't have a scooby why my great-grands came back here but I will find out. I come from them, am only two generations out from them, and I cannot for the life of me figure out how or why any of my gene pool would come back to such a strange and sad way of life. Yeah, there is an amazing beauty to Caithness (where they are from and now rest eternal), and a breathtaking beauty to North Wales where we are really from, but...

People here are too meek. Too easily cowed. They live on top of each other and they accept a quality of life that is meager, small, and mean (cheap, it's a lexicon thing). They pay outrageous prices for tiny bags and bottles of things-OMFreakin'Gsh, a jar of applesauce here is the size of a small mustard jar and costs twice what a normal American sized jar would. It's as though these people take a perverse pleasure in deprivation.

And they do revel in it, and consider themselves vastly superior to Americans, calling us greedy cows because we expect a four dollar jar of applesauce to have some heft to it.

It's a head-shaker, a head-scratcher, and frankly? I find it obscene.

I'll continue to be the 'good American', the 'good guest'. But I am an American, and always will be.