25 August 2009

On being an American Overseas

When I first moved to England in April (and, if I'm honest, well before that too) I was very careful to keep my opinions about things, both in the US and the UK, to myself. I didn't want to sound like one of those Angry Expats who move away from their home countries as some form of protest and continue to be angry with the government/politics/social programs/etc etc of said country in loud and obvious ways as they make a life in their new country. I didn't want to sound like a Homesick Expat (though I think in my heart that's really what I have been), who has moved to a new country for a specific reason, not just because he or she fancied a new way of life. I just wanted to generally be Simon's wife and be ignored. I'm really good at playing the wallflower, at least in public.

Something has changed, though, recently. I think it started with a woman that I met in Wakefield at a bus stop. As soon as I answered her question, she surmised that I was "not from around here" and when she found out I was American...it was ON. She had never been to America, mind you, but had heard such dreadful things about it. Forest fires, earthquakes! Houses built into the sides of mountains! Places only accessible by trams! The HORROR. I mentioned (when I could get a word in) that I was actually from the eastern coast of the US and what she was describing sounded like the western coast. "Well, how different could it be, really, it's all America after all. Dreadful!"

I had been sort of insulated, I think, by not working and staying home a lot of the time. The people I socialized with were my inlaws and Simon's friends, none of which would tell me if they did bear ill will toward America. (None of them do, to my knowledge, but if they did they wouldn't say it in front of me.) The gloves have come off, though, and once I got those pesky things off my hands I found myself free to remove my rose colored glasses. Interesting what you can see when the world comes back into its intended colors.

I feel that I need to pause here and say that while I do love the UK and the people that I've met, I dearly love America (warts, overpriced health care, and all). I am doing my best to make a life here with my husband, but I will be totally honest and say that if he came home from work tonight and said "I've got an idea, let's move to America," I would have half our bags packed before he finished the sentence. Having said that, I will further admit that I tend to be a little biased when it comes to rhetoric that I perceive as America-bashing...but come on, it's that age old idea that I can talk about my family but you'd better watch it if you do. Right?

With the release of Mr. Megrahi, the man convicted of being behind the bombing of the Pan Am flight that crashed into Lockerbie, Scotland, anti-American sentiments seem to be on the rise here. Not that they were dormant prior...the health care reform debate (which again, I'm not blogging about, if you're keeping score) had already put the US in the enlightened European cross-hairs and labeled most Americans as short sighted selfish cretins. And while I know that for the most part, British people don't really think one way or another about Americans in their day-to-day lives, I still feel that I have to defend my homeland...loonies included...whenever anything of that ilk comes up.

So here I go. I find it interesting that when Mr. Bush took the US to war with Iraq (not Afghanistan, mind you) and claimed it was on humanitarian grounds, to spread democracy and end tyranny, many enlightened Europeans pointed out that the real reason seemed to be so that the US would not lose one of its sources of oil. Seemed logical. In fact, it was so logical that I, loyal American and not yet expatriate, had no trouble believing that to be true. So when the Scottish parliament (which by the way, is an arm of the UK government as a whole, what with the whole United Kingdom thing) releases a convicted terrorist to his home country which has, by the way, a whole lot of oil and a good relationship with Britain, no one thinks it's anything but enlightened compassion. Huh.

And yet, I try not to say anything because I don't want to further the stereotype of the Loud American...well, until now anyway. The next time I hear "...and that's just because, as we all know, America is at least two decades behind the rest of the world. aren't they?" I may have to speak up. Maybe. I know that America is still learning, still growing. But I also know that I am at heart, an American, and that I accept her faults and hope for her future. I just hope that my adopted home and its people can learn to do the same, for me and for America.

19 August 2009

Hello...from the edge of the world...

Not really. Perhaps one of the more northern corners, though.

Today we visited Dunstanburgh Castle, or the ruins thereof. The place is almost fairytale like in its simplicity, its history, and its massive fields where Sheep May Safely Graze (nods to Bach, my parents, and an English friend of theirs)...and Walk Right Past You.

Don't get me wrong, I'm no city girl, really...I know what sheep are, and I know how big they are...but to visit your grandmother's former farm when you're very little and see the one or two cows there, or to visit a working farm where Sheep Are Safely Grazing Behind Fences is a very different thing to walking along a path and seeing them not five feet from you. My niece kept saying she wanted to touch one, but we convinced her that they weren't tame and wouldn't stand for such treatment.

Here's the part where I eat a little crow, but only just a little. Ben, I now understand why when you were up on that hilltop in Wales and the sheep stared at you it was a bit unnerving. They're strange creatures, sheep, with their "strange, wide, staring yellow eyes," as my father-in-law so aptly put it today. These weren't wild animals, certainly, but they're close, living up on this wild and wonderful hillside with nothing but clover and sky and ocean.

Oh, and rock. Let's not forget the rocks. Clumsy Nancy+Path With Many Rocks=me imploring my niece not to try to hold onto me lest we both go arse over teakettle down to the rocks and surf.

Well, I didn't say arse. In fact, I am not sure I said teakettle. But we did have to stop holding hands until we at least got on to the thickest grass I've felt under my feet outside of a golf course. I wanted to curl up in it and take a nap...and all I could think of was my Daisy bounding over those hills...and running nose to nose into a sheep and then fleeing for her life.

It was a good day but I'm completely exhausted and my back is still screaming from the fall down the stairs. I'm all right if I'm walking around, but sitting is a nightmare and GOD FORBID I should change positions. I may take my pillow and get down on the floor, but I don't think that will help.

Tomorrow is back to reality, away from this magical fairy land. I'll be taking back 100+ photos and the big smile you see in that picture...and making plans for my next trip. Bamburgh and Alnwick Castles, you are ON MY LIST.

18 August 2009

So I made it down the slippery rocks...

Cragside House
Originally uploaded by Nancy Dunne
...but not down the stairs.

We went to Cragside House today in the rain and fog. The path leading down from the front of the house is wide rocks and is slippery. I navigated them like a champ, even paying more attention to my niece than where I was walking to make sure SHE didn't fall. I was even taking pictures and more worried about where the camera was than where I was placing my feet, and not even a stumble. Maybe that was the key.

After we got home, I had just read her a bedtime story and was coming downstairs with my laptop and blackberry in my hands. My mother in law was on the phone, and I was coming down as quietly as I could to the sitting room...and then at some point something happened...there was slipping and pain and an attempt to NOT let my laptop go flying. And from now until eternity (or it's fixed) there will be a lovely mark on the wall in the stairwell at my parents in law's house where the laptop crashed into the wall as my tailbone crashed into the steps.

Bless her, my mother in law (and sister in law, who was the person on the phone) were very concerned but I'm none the worse for wear. A bit sore is all...tailbone and ankles and definitely ego. Dangerprone Daphne Stikes Again!

17 August 2009

Mini-Holiday to the North

Today I started my mini-holiday visit with my parents in law in Lucker, a small village north of Newcastle. Getting here was all about the drama, but now that I'm here, settled, and no longer damp (I'll explain THAT in a minute), I'm so relaxed I nearly fell asleep eating my dinner tonight.

Simon and I departed Keighley on the 7:05 train. I left him at the Shipley station to go to work and continued on to Leeds. Unlike the other trips when I've had about 2.2 seconds to find and board my train before the whistle blows, this time I was waiting on the platform 20 minutes before the train even showed up.

As I got on the train, I noticed that the signs by the doors said out of order. I wasn't sure what that meant, other than I wasn't going to be able to know which coach I was on...and since I had an advance purchase assigned seat that might have been good information. Imagine wandering up and down the aisle in a plane until you find an empty! I soon decided to just board a coach and hope for the best, and ended up with a lovely window seat. I didn't have to get off the train at all until it called at Alnmouth where my parents in law and niece would be waiting to collect me.

We passed through some of the most gorgeous parts of the UK...York, Durham, random gorgeous countryside with random gorgeous white and fluffy sheep, etc. whizzed past my window as I fought sleep. Luckily for me, every time I'd relax enough to doze off Mr. Ticket Taker would want to see my passes, so I was sure not to relax at all.

At Newcastle a couple boarded and came to stand at the seat directly behind me. The man ordered the man that was already sitting there to vacate their seats, to which he responded that the reservation system wasn't working on the train. (Note to self: that's why the outside signs read Out Of Order). The couple repeated that they didn't care, these were their seats and he would have to get up. Not "could you please" or "if it's not too much trouble," mind you, but "Mate, I'm not playing with you here. If you don't shove off right now I'm gonna tip my tea right on to you, I swear."

The distance between seats was small. I suddenly became acutely aware of my surroundings.

"There's no need to threaten me, sir, there are no reservations on this train so I don't think I should have to..."

"I'm not playing, mate. Move. Get out of my seat. NOW."

Acutely aware of surroundings turned into holding anything that might be damaged by flying tea or other spoils of this tiny train war that might come hurtling into my non-reserved seat directly in front of this altercation.

Finally the seated man leapt from his seat and slammed his belongings down into the seat next to me. I started to protest that he'd nearly poured his coffee on me until I noticed the shade of purple that his closely shaved head and ears were turning,and thought better of it. He sprinted off down the aisle toward the next coach and I hoped he was scouting out a seat. In a few minutes he returned, collected his things, and took off again.

Whew, right? Nope.

Along comes Friendly Mr. Train Porter to discuss with the suspects behind me how the now very angry man felt threatened and afraid after the altercation and wanted to press charges.

Wait. Hold on, I'm on a train, not in a pub. WTH?

Turns out the bloke that hightailed it to another coach went straight to a porter and told on the rude couple now behind me. He told them that they had two choices: One was to disembark at the next station and continue their journey on the next train, therefore putting the whole matter out of the train company's hands and letting them off with just a warning, or stay on till their destination (also the other man's destination) and visit the police in the train station once they got there.

They were still on the train as I scurried off at my stop.

I'm here now, the drama is over, and I'm relaxing and enjoying the gorgeousness that is the NE of England. If you click on the picture of me in this post, taken reflected in one of the water features in the Alnwick Gardens, you can see what I've taken pictures of so far. And yes, I do love the macro setting. What?

Today was a trip to Alnwick Gardens and it started out rainy but soon turned into a perfect English summer afternoon. My niece, who is also staying here with my parents in law, had a good time running her fingers through every fountain there and then drying them off on various parts of ME, but I didn't mind. It's all part of summer holidays, and I didn't stay damp for long.

(Told you I'd explain it.)

14 August 2009

Bet you thought I'd talk about Health Care Reform, Didn't You?

Hello from Gaffney!
Originally uploaded by Nancy Dunne
Nope, not here. Not today. I think I have said more than I probably needed to say and definitely read more than I ever wanted to read. It all proves to me that if you ever want to get something done in America, all you need to do is band together and YELL.

Well, might not get what you wanted to happen, but you will certainly garner the attention of the entire world. Make sure that it's the kind of attention you want, that's my advice today.

And PS-the NHS is working just fine, thank you. You get what you pay for. Okay, NOW I'm really not going to talk about this any more.

I'm all about the anecdotes recently. Here are two that I found funny at the time, all related to the fact that recently I've had to start wearing my glasses again to use my computer sans migraine. Time for a trip to the eye doctor I guess.

First off is the fact that my purple glasses, the ones in the picture up there, are my Superman Frames. There are no logos or otherwise comic related features to them, nor can they provide xray vision or deflect bullets. That's okay though, because if I got shot in the eye I could just pop into an NHS clinic and bob's your teapot, I'm right as rain and don't pay a cent on the way out the door...oops, sorry, got carried away.

The reason these are my Superman glasses is that when I wear them people who have known me for YEARS (pre-glasses, that is) don't have a clue who I am. Seriously. Every time I put them on I think of the time two years ago when I was at a professional conference in San Francisco. Someone I'd known in interpreting for literally years walked right past me after looking me dead in the face. I called her name and she turned around and looked at me with that deer-in-headlights look that means "Oh dear LORD I don't remember this person but clearly she knows me and now what am I going to say and..." and I took my glasses off.

"NANCY! I didn't recognize you!"

The power of the glasses is undeniable. I bet I could rob a bank and people would be left saying "I know it was a woman, but because of the glasses she had on I have NO recollection of what her face looked like."

The second story involves my other pair of glasses. They are half rimless, with a silver bar across the top and orange arms. Yes, Louise, I think I AM obsessed with orange. Anyway, I had them on once while visiting a mall local to my parents. There was a LensCrafters in the mall, and I thought that it would be a fantastic birthday present to myself to have some new frames...perhaps all orange, or blue with orange...or maybe black.

Plastic, anyway, regarless of colour, because the metal frames get heavy and try to slide down my nose but are thwarted by the "nose pinchy thingys" that I'm sure have a name but I call 'em as I see 'em.

I walked into the LC at the mall and asked about getting new frames. I told them I had a LC prescription and as she looked it up in the system, she asked me why I wanted new frames when the ones I had were Just So Cute and fit my face Just So Perfectly.

Let me interrupt here to say that Georgia, where my parents live, is a RED state. RED RED RED. As in Republican. Also, let me add that this took place in November of last year, when we all knew who had just LOST the election.

I said, "I want new frames because these are heavy and pinch a bit (she's nodding and scanning the computer screen which hasn't produced my prescription yet) and because frankly I'm tired of people telling me I have glasses just like Sarah Palin's." Apparently the magical sound of Democratic Dislike for Ms. Palin was all the computer needed to find my prescription and render some bad news.

"I think she's a stunning woman," the LC employee said. "But I can't help you, your prescription has expired as of December 2007."

"But I just got these," I said, taking them off for fear that I might start sounding crazy if I wore them a moment longer, "last March, in Greenville."

"Well," she said, standing up to indicate our conversation was over. "They may do things like that in South Carolina, but we don't here in Georgia. Thanks for coming in though!"

I've got to read up on which UK politicians wear which frames before I go in for new glasses here. I should also take a third person with me, in case when I put the new ones on Simon ceases to recognize me and runs away from the crazy American asking for his opinion...

13 August 2009

Canal Walkers

Canal Walkers
Originally uploaded by Nancy Dunne
I was reminded today of a funny story I thought I'd share. Before I moved to the UK, I had a weekend visit from my dear friend Anne. She was moving to Greenville from Jacksonville and was looking for places to live. My best friend Leah was in town too, and the three of us struck out to find some of the properties Anne had found online.

I volunteered to drive because I was the only one that lived in Greenville and remotely knew the area. Pay attention to that word, remotely, as it will make sense later in the story. Anne brought along her sat nav in case I wasn't sure about some of the areas.

Turns out I wasn't sure about a LOT of the areas, so we turned on Yoda, Anne's sat nav (programmed to speak like Yoda from the Star Wars movies, hence the name). She was in the backseat programming in the address we were looking for while Leah helped me watch for street signs from the front seat.

Sounds easy, doesn't it?

Greenville, like most smaller urban-esque areas in the US, has mostly one way streets weaving through its downtown area, so if you miss a turn it may take three more to get you back on the right track. Poor Yoda was one wrong turn away from telling me "Your window you will roll down. Sat nav you will throw out the window. There is no more try, there is only bad driver." Finally we called my husband, already in the UK, who got us where we need to go by looking it up on Google Maps.

After 300 yards, left you must turn. At next place able, around you must turn. The other way, you must go. Thank goodness she had it set on Yoda and not Darth Vader, I might have wet my pants when that told me to make a U turn!

I thought of that when Anne mentioned coming to see me to take some photography walks, and I suggested she bring Yoda. "After 300 yards, bear right you must, or swim in the manky canal, you will."

12 August 2009

Birthday Wishes

Daisy's Eyes
Originally uploaded by Nancy Dunne
I could fall in, swim around, and live in those brown eyes. Happy 5th birthday, Psycho Puppy Girl, my Best Girl, She Who Restores My Sanity Daily and who reminds me that there is humor in everything. Even eating a postcard that Simon's had for 10+ years that can't be replaced. Thank you for taking our new life in your unflappable stride, for learning the buses and trains with ease and sharing the bed with me in the morning when Daddy's left for work.

And never, ever stop looking at me like that, my Brown Eyed Girl...my Daisy Mae Mae. Here's to 10 more birthdays just like today. Ta for being born, for being mine, and for letting me be yours.

11 August 2009

Blooming in August

Macro Berry
Originally uploaded by Nancy Dunne
So what's new with us?

Daisy will be five years old tomorrow. But that's a post for tomorrow.

I got a job...I start part time with Waterstone's Books in Wakefield on 23rd August. I'm amazed that they wanted me, actually...everything that could have gone wrong on the way to the interview did and I arrived hot, sweaty, tired, and wearing shoes that were a half size too small. I have blisters on TOP of blisters...but that was as good an excuse as any to pop into Clark's for another pair, don't you think?

I have experienced being utterly ignored by a bus three times in the last few days, so that's also new. There's something special about arriving at the stop, turning to see the bus coming and then watching it whiz by the stop without even braking. I know it's not because I've had Daisy with me either, because dogs are allowed on public transport.

We've had new blooms in the back garden, including the strange little berry in the photo above. I have made it to Wakefield and back on my own, even having to buy a ticket on the train by myself and manage to figure out which train went from Leeds to Wakefield. No small feat for a shy girl from Georgia, hey? Counted in the vein of small victories...

Next week I'll be heading north to Newcastle to visit my mother and father in law for a few days. Photo opportunities abound! So that's new as well...

I'll round out this terribly and happily mundane post with a funny story from a recent shopping trip. We'd added a soup bone to the grocery list for Daisy because her teeth are getting a bit manky in spots.. Simon and I were at ASDA (Walmart) on Sunday and we stopped at the butcher counter to see if they had any soup bones. Now I'm always worried that someone won't understand me or vice versa so I tend to make Simon ask for things. The woman said that they did, and took us to So and So who would show us where they were. Thinking it odd that they weren't in the butcher section but going with the flow because HEY this is a foreign country and all, we soon ended up in the housewares department looking at...

Wait for it...

Can you guess?

Soup BOWLS. Now if only she'd given us a bone to make some broth to EAT out of them...

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