Monday, November 26, 2012

People say the strangest things

And I'm not just talking about the idiocy of TLOML telling me I looked like Humpty Dumpty (surely ill-advised?).

Like, on finding out she’s a girl, ‘oh that’s brilliant! Girls are so great!’. It makes me wonder what they’d say if she was a he. ‘Oh what a shame, girls are so great,’ perhaps?

I shouldn’t be snarky, it’s just politeness I know, and of course people say it’s brilliant whichever gender you announce. 

But I am curious about the response I'd garner if I started saying ‘yes, we’ve found out… it’s an American,’ or ‘…she’s a goat’.

NY to London Freight

We couldn't pack everything. That screen we never painted, and the golf clubs he hadn't used for years, were jettisoned in New York.

Some habits I left behind quickly too. 'Line' and 'store' became 'queue' and 'shop' again within days of being back in London.

But there are three props and practices I did import.

1. Old  Bay
The finest pre-mixed seasoning in the world. I mainly sprinkle it on avocado, and add it to crab salad. TLOML would add it to the water he steams clams in, only the clams here are too small to bother with. Still, for anything fishy it's just perfect and I don't know of a British substitute.

2. The American way of saying numbers out loud. Saying 'twenty four hundred' is much more efficient than 'two thousand four hundred'. It takes a while to get used to be soon it makes as much asense as that French way of saying phone numbers ('47' '61' and '23' rather than '4, 7, 6, 1, 2, 3).

3. Putting a sheet on the bed between us and the duvet
It means you can lose the duvet but still have a thin layer of something to keep you warm. Nice in the summer. But more valuable is the energy saving: you don't need to change the duvet every time you change the sheets. Perfect for lazyboneses.

I wonder if these Americanisms will ever catch on in Blighty?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Turkey Day 2012

We did celebrate Turkey Day this year. But it was rather different to previous Turkey Days we have enjoyed.

By Turkey Day I mean, of course, Thanksgiving. The day Americans give thanks for the plentiful land God gave them. And thanks to the Native Americans for babysitting it so nicely till the Pilgrims got there.

Americans gather in large groups, and spend the whole day watching football, and the Macy’s Parade, while eating turkey with side dishes like ‘candied yams’ (sweet potatoes baked with a shit tonne of sugar and marshmallows) and ‘honey whipped butter’ (pretty much as it sounds). Also sometimes little wieners, aka tiny hot dog sausages, slow cooked in grape juice. Really.

Americans in America, that is.

For the Americans in London it’s a different story all together. And, thanks to the ongoing visa farce, TLOML is still very much still in London. I had booked a couple of days off in the hope we might hit Florida to see his mum for Thanksgiving (and sneak a little sunshine in too), but we are grounded. So we made the best of it.
Serves a minimum of 8 unless one of them is TLOML
We ordered a 12lb turkey, which we thought - based on TLOML's track record - would serve the two of us nicely, with some leftovers. But when it arrived the packaging claimed it would serve 8 at least.

My trusty old Good Housekeeping, for what it's worth, reckons a 12lb turkey will serve at least 15 people. Cue disparaging remarks from TLOML about British portions.

15 to 20 people? Really?
Nevertheless, it seemed likely we'd have turkey to spare. So we mustered some friends to help eat. Then panicked that we'd be short on food after all. A frenzied hunt for cornmeal - not easy to find in NW3 despite all the Americans who live here - and buttermilk meant I could add cornbread to the side dishes of sausage, stuffing, mashed potato, string beans with almonds, sweet potato, and sweet corn pudding.

My cornbread, of which I am disproportionately proud. It tasted like it does in California: miraculous
We had pecan pie for afters too. Even though it hurt a bit to keep eating.

No one was hungry but we forced it down anyway.

Yes, it was a lot of food. And yes, two days later we are still eating leftovers. Which means that, despite the absence of NFL and the Macy's parade, it felt like a fairly traditional Thanksgiving after all.

Just some of the leftovers..

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Hairy Baby

There’s a chatty lady at Big Corp who is always asking after my health and that of my bump. She usually looks a bit disappointed when I tell her (truthfully) that I haven’t really suffered any unpleasant pregnancy side-effects..

The other day I told her I had started to suffer heartburn, just to keep her happy. I had, in fact, had a smidge of heartburn. But I had eaten a massive curry accompanied with 2 pints of water, topped off with three satsumas. So it’s probably just actual heartburn, rather than the special pregnancy kind.

She was delighted. ‘Oh!,’ she cried, ‘You know what that means, dintchya?’
I had to admit that I did not. God knows I read enough Babycentre, NHS and Bounty emails and surf enough Mumsnet blogs, I thought I was reasonably well informed. But I missed the bit about the significance of heartburn. (Shame).

‘Airy by-bee,’ she cackled. Loud enough that people’s heads turned from quite far away. ‘You’re ‘aving an airy by-bee!’.

I recreated the sound for you here (turn your sound up for max authenticity - she really belted it out):

For the benefits of Northern and American readers, I will translate. She was accusing me of having a hairy baby. Which sounds disgusting to me. Like a little chimpy baby growing inside me, all matted and unkempt. Yuck.

I smiled, and said, ‘Really?’ and silently wished her to be struck dumb with heartburn.

Funnily enough at our last scan, a few days later, we were told that it was already possible to see the hairs on our baby’s head. I guess she will be quite hairy when she’s born. We were a little disappointed that the sonographer couldn’t tell us if she was blonde and fuzzy, like me, or had the poker straight, chestnut hair I dream of for my daughter. I wonder if, in the US medical system, you’d be able to find that out…

Needless to say I have not given Ms Chatbags the satisfaction of knowing she is right about our little chimp.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Silly things Americans say

TLOML and I went out a couple of weeks ago for a fancy dinner. (Once the baby comes we figure it's all about nights in with our slippers on eating Chicken Tonight in front of Strictly Come Dancing).

We had some stinky cheese, obvs, and it came with toasted bread....

Or 'toast points', as TLOML called them.

Just when I thought he had acclimatised. He's saying 'shop', and 'queue' and all that good stuff. And then he wheels out 'toast points'.
Pointing at toast does not make 'toast points' make any more sense
'Toast points' strikes me as one of the most ridiculous Americanisms of all. They're not even pointy!

Just sayin'...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The most sonographed baby in the world

We had another scan this week. This was our 7th scan. That's right, the seventh. Most women have two scans: one around 10 weeks to date the baby, and another at 20-odd weeks to check the development.

So, why so many for us? Well, neurosis accounts for at least one of them: the 7 week viability scan we had, the week before our wedding. (I just wanted to be sure the noble sacrifice of not drinking on my wedding day or honeymoon was worthwhile.) We've also had to have a couple of extra ones because our uncooperative baby won't get into the right position to provide some critical measurement or other.

Today's scan was not strictly essential. At our last checkup the midwife's tape measure suggested my bump was 1cm too small. Now I know fine well that if I'd eaten a big lunch before the appointment my bump would have been at least 1cm bigger. Maybe more if it was a curry, or beans, or something else, well, gassy. Still, we agreed vehemently with the midwife that we really should get that checked out, and signed up for the growth scan.

We like the extra scans because we like knowing what she's up to in there. She's pretty camera shy, so we never really get a clear view. We see a clenching fist, a kicking leg, a dinosaur-esque spine, and a nose, but rarely are all those parts assembled in a way that makes her look like a human baby. She's more like a collection of perfect but randomly sorted parts.
Last known sighting of our baby in profile, about 2 months (and several scans) ago

All of this slightly unnecessary care and attention make me very glad of the NHS.

When I was researching this post (I know, sounds odd to me too, but I really do do at least 5 minutes research before some of my posts) I looked at some US websites. I wanted to check because I had the impression that in the US most women get three scans - the same 10 and 20 week ones as we get here, and a third one towards the end of the pregnancy.

Silly me. Of course it isn't that simple. It completely depends on insurance provision. So I found women on one chat forum talking about only having one scan as they had to pay for any extras. Presumably lucky ladies on gold-plated plans could be scanned at the drop of a hat, like we are. But ouch, they (or their employer) will be paying a lot of money for the privilege.

So - without wanting to get all socialist on you (I know how TLOML hates that) - I do feel very lucky to be able to exclude money as a factor in my decision making where healthcare is concerned. The NHS really is bloody brilliant.

Admittedly we recently waited for 2 hours to see the midwife because of crossed wires on reception. But when I turned to TLOML and said 'doesn't this level of service enrage you, with your American standards?' he shrugged and said 'I'm just glad it's free'. Me too.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Boot Camp

I joined a boot camp last year in New York. It was eye-wateringly expensive, and borderline humiliating, as it required me to do undignified exercises in the Hudson River Park, in full view of promenaders. Still, it worked. You can do the same thing in London, at British Military Fitness, which looks muddier and more humiliating, but is at least cheaper. The equivalent some of my LA friends go to is Barry's Boot Camp, which takes place in air conditioned privacy. Obviously: it's not unusual for LA girls to workout in full make up, and they need to stay cool so that it doesn't slip off. (That's why the girls who run outdoors wear baseball caps - not to protect their skin from the sun, but from prying eyes).

What these bootcamps all have in common is that the exercises are tough, and the coach won't accept any slacking.

Now I'm applying everything I learned at Bootcamp Republic - and TLOML is applying his knowledge from years of serious swim training - to the bootcamp we are now running from Fox Corner. It has just one member. Jack, of 'fat Jack' fame.

Last week the vet told us he is 50% fatter than he should be. We switched his regular, low fat food for a prescription-only 'Obesity Management' one. But the real problem is his sedentary lifestyle. Hence the boot camps.

Here he is in training:
As you can see, he is a master of the 'limited movement' workout. Basically cat callanetics. But we're working on that.

In addition to the 'cork on a string' regime, he also now has a blue ball which dispenses his food, which means he can only eat if he pushes the ball around. Annoyingly he has worked out how to dispense it without pushing it very far. We're going to start pushing it around for him and forcing him to walk at least a few paces for each meal. And we're expecting a feathery-thing-on-a-spring to arrive any day now, which - until he outwits it - should provide the calorie burn we want him to get.

Sadly there is no 'Quick Trim' for cats. We're in it for the long haul I'm afraid.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Media storm

If you follow our most important news publications you cannot fail to have noticed the media storm around TLOML's plight.

No, I'm not talking about the Ash problem:
This photo only works if you know TLOML's true identity.
Admittedly when I say 'most important news publications' I mean the Independent, and our local free-sheet the Camden New Journal. And when I say 'follow' I mean 'read the letters pages'.

Both have printed my eloquently ranty letter about TLOML's ridiculous visa limbo situation.

As I've mentioned before, I love a good local rag. The CNJ is a genuinely good one - and I like it even more since it published my letter.

I'm pretty sure that neither letter will make any difference to the speed of our case. Probably rather more effective is the personal letter writing campaign TLOML is now embarked upon, barraging the Border Agency with pressing reasons for them to make an 'expedited' (if a process which should only take weeks, and which takes over 3 months can truly be said to be expedited) decision.

Still, I enjoyed writing the letters - and seeing my name in print. (If only it was on the spine of a best-selling paperback.)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Remember, remember

Remember, remember, The Fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason why gunpowder and treason
Should ever be forgot

As I write this the air outside Fox Corner is thick with bonfire smoke, and the sky alight with fireworks. Small scale, back garden fireworks, but nonetheless, fireworks. It's Bonfire Night!

For the benefit of my American readers allow me to explain. Contrary to what TLOML thinks, bonfire night is not the day we mark the overthrow of Parliament. It is not - despite the fireworks - the British parallel to the Fourth of July. In fact, it is the day we celebrate the thwarting of a plot (by Guy Fawkes) to blow up Parliament.

We celebrate it with bonfires, fireworks, and burning effigies of Mr Fawkes. In the weeks running up to the 5th of November, children carry their Guy Fawkes effigy around the streets asking passersby for 'a penny for the guy'. The money does not go to fund the rehabilitation of pyromaniacs, nor to pay for a better sprinkler system for the Houses of Parliament. The kids just spend it on sweets. The bonfires where I used to live were usually huge, with unwanted wooden furniture - I'm talking big wardrobes, as well as chairs and stuff - piled up 10 feet high, in a farmer's field or on the beach. In addition to 'penny-for-the-guy' funded sweets, people eat homemade flapjack* and drink tomato soup from mugs. Someone's dad sets off fireworks and everyone oohs and aahs.

Sadly in London there aren't many places where it's okay to light a 10 foot high bonfire. Instead a (decreasing) number of councils run public bonfires. They sound like a nightmare to me, really busy, full of kids and no-one's grandma walking around with a tin of flapjack. Some of the bigger gardens near us, judging by the smoke in the air, are hosting family bonfires tonight. But we didn't score an invitation to any of them.

So we opted for the arms-length approach. With a couple of friends, TLOML and I walked up Parliament Hill on Saturday night (when most of the big public bonfires were held) so called, apparently, because it is where Guy Fawkes sat, looking down on Parliament, to craft his dastardly plot. At the top there were maybe 100 other people with the same idea as us. We stood there for a while spotting a dozen or so fireworks displays going on around London - and some, we think, as far away as Essex. We lit sparklers and went to the pub and talked about parliament, freedom and X-Factor. (Only one of those three topics was actually discussed).

It wasn't quite the bonfire night of my childhood, but it was still very jolly.

* 'What is a Flap Jack, anyway?' TLOML asked of me a few months ago. He knows better now.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Still grounded...

TLOML is still bound to these fair isles. Not because of a hurricane. Not because he has become addicted to Maynards Wine Gums (though that represents a real and present risk).

But because he still does not have his settlement visa, and his passport is therefore still being held hostage by the UK Border Agency.

Obsessive, furious surfing of the interwebs reveals a lot of others in the same boat. We are now frequent visitors to the brilliant 'What do they know' site, which shows various requests for facts from the UK BA, under the Freedom of Information Act, and their responses to date. Most of the inquiries are politely asking 'WHAT THE FRACK ARE YOU PEOPLE DOING IN THERE? YOU'RE TOYING WITH OUR LIVES!'. Only without the green ink and shouty caps.

We scour the pages of What Do They Know looking for glimmers of hope. All we find are damning indictments of the UK BA's processing times. This poor lady has been waiting 8 months for her visa. This guy is like a dog with a bone, unearthing the fact that they don't even start processing your application till after you complete your biometrics (our biometrics were requested about 2 months after we sent the application. Goodness knows what they do with that 2 months. Probably spent it responding to Freedom of Information requests...).  This lady found out that, as of October, almost three quarters of applications made between February and June were still outstanding.

We could have a long wait ahead. So what's at stake here, if TLOML can't leave the country? Well, we could miss the chance to visit TLOML's mum for Thanksgiving or Christmas (and perhaps sneak in a little babymoon in Miami en route). More to the point, his US clients would love to see him face to face for the first time in months.

Really, much as he loves Britain and wine gums, TLOML doesn't want to be trapped here for months on end. And much as I love it here too, I can't help but agree. It's weird to be wishing your husband would go to Vegas, but I really do.