Friday, May 31, 2013

Yorkshire Mix

Yorkshire folk have a reputation for being tight. I used to wonder why. Now I'm back in God's County, though, I'm starting to get some ideas.

This is a 'jar sweet' (as in, sweets you buy by weight, from a large jar), called Yorkshire Mixture.

I have never seen Yorkshire Mix for sale outside of Yorkshire. You can buy it in our local corner shop, the one where you have to order the fish two days in advance. It's an odd little shop - the shelves are half empty and it looks a bit rubbish and yet, despite having a limited selection it's actually good stuff. And they sell some locally baked cakes, plus locally grown veg. And of course a range of sweets in jars.

Anyway, back to the Yorkshire Mix. It's basically the odds and ends, misshapes and factory floor sweepings from all the other jar sweets. And this is our great county's official sweet. It says it all, doesn't it?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Baby bore

Finally free to travel, TLOML is making up for almost a year's absence from his client's offices with an extended trip. He's gone for a little over two weeks, hitting up clients in LA, Vegas and San Francisco, and visiting his colleagues in Argentina.

Lady P and I are keeping ourselves busy in his absence, but we do miss TLOML. In fact, there isn't space on all the interwebs put together to list all the ways we miss him.

One of those ways, in particular, is that when he is here I can talk constantly about the minutiae of Lady P's activities, to someone whose job it is to care. I'm not just talking about cute stuff like the way she started staring at her hand underwater in her bath, or how she turned from her front to her back. I mean the deadly dull stuff like bowel movements, naps (length, location, amount of fussing), feeds (volume, timing, number of burps).
I know I'm cute, but let's face it, my nappies just aren't that interesting
Usually these little updates are just background noise while gin and tonics are being mixed, cups of tea made, or we're wandering around the supermarket.

While TLOML is away, I send them on email instead. It's tantamount to a bombardment some days. I can send half a dozen emails or more, in a day, outlining Lady P's behaviour. A particular highlight for him, I'm sure, was the one telling him she did 3 poos in 20 hours. To his credit he responded, and not with a request for me to cease and desist. Still, I'm not sure how many more of these missives he'll want to receive. I probably need to rein myself in.

And yet what can I do? I can't stop thinking about this stuff. It is quite literally my full time job.

In the absence of TLOML I am seeing even more than usual of my favourite little sister, and she's doing a valiant stand-in job when it comes to tolerating the baby blatherings. But I see her eyes glaze over after ten minutes or so of my elaborating on exactly why I think Lady P woke at 4.15am.

I suppose that's why people join those mother and baby groups - so they can talk about this stuff with a bunch of people who want to talk about it. The thing is, I don't want to talk about it. It's boring (that's why I have avoided those baby groups). I just can't help myself.

So I have decided to quit. Go cold turkey. No more nappy news emails, and no more unrequested* updates on overnight activities. It won't be easy but it must be done. I am resolved!


Note the use of 'unrequested': pity the fool who ventures to ask the question 'how's she sleeping'. Man have I got some stories for them.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The yarn bomber strikes again

We may not have the cultural profile of London, NY or LA, but Saltburn has a thriving arts scene all of its own. The main attraction appears to be the yarnbomber.

I've posted before about the yarnbomber - the Royal embarrassment and Olympics displays of last summer. I thought you'd like to see up close some of the treats that that cluster of people on the pier are examining.

It's a sort of homage to Saltburn and seaside life.
Local star Meg the surfdog, and her owner

Those donkeys I mentioned

A heroic lifeboatman

A seagull turning its back on fish and chips (rather unlikely, that)

A full catch. Didn't know they caught octopus here. Wonder why it's so darn hard to buy then.

Alright, it ain't LACMA, nor the Tate, nor the Guggenheim. But this knitted art is worth more than all those galleries' contents to me - for they will raise a daily smile.

Saturday, May 25, 2013


To quote the popular poem*, 'Sometimes things don't go, after all, from bad to worse'.

Sometimes, after a week of absurdly wintry weather, the sun comes out. Instead of going back into the house to grab a rain coat, you go back in to pick up your sunglasses and ditch your quilted jacket. The sun shines so convincingly that the icecream van makes the trip up from Whitby, to sell 'gothic' (blackcurrant and liquorice) icecream on the cliff top.

Sometimes, after a month of waking constantly during the night for snacky, comforty, unnecessary-but-impossible-to-deny feeds, a baby sleeps for four or five hours on the trot.

Sometimes, after weeks of refusing to take the 9am nap that is the bedrock of a pleasant morning, the baby just shuts her eyes and sleeps for fifty minutes straight without any fuss.

Today was such a day. At first I was lost. What to do with my morning, now I didn't need to spend it pushing Lady P around Saltburn in the grumpy pursuit of sleep (for her) and caffeine (for me)?

The answer was to take my rested self, and my smiling, happy baby, off for a walk on beach and some coffee and cake with my sister and her family. To sit in the sun and watch my nephews play sweet twinny games. And to amble along the cliff top eating a Whitby gothic icecream.

Good times. Long may they last. And, oh yes, may they happen for you.

*Like many people I first saw these lines on the tube, in the Poems on the Underground series. Apparently Sheenagh Pugh 'long ago got sick of it'. It's a solid poem, but perhaps she felt it was cheapened by its popularity - kinda like the way I imagine the way The Lumineers might feel about that Ho Hey song. Anyway, for those who didn't see it on the tube, here it is in full.

Sheenah Pugh (b. 1950)

Sometimes things don't go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man; decide they care
enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Have baby, will travel

Given our transatlantic lives, we knew we couldn't put off travelling with Lady P for long. Our recent trip, as she was hitting  the grand age of twelve weeks, was something of a baptism of fire then. We headed to a somewhat inaccessible resort town in the US for a week on a beach and a wedding, taking in TLOML's old college town on the way home.
Yeah, got my passport, ready to fly, whatevs
Getting to the Outer Banks is no short hop: it involved a couple of long drives, and three flights. We laid our heads in plenty of places too, staying in an airport hotel the night before we left, then a beach house for a week, then a couple of nights in different hotels as we made our way home. Plus Lady P met about a dozen family members - not to mention the guests who cooed over her at the wedding we attended.

All told, it was for a little baby to handle. And Lady P managed admirably. She was passed from person to person, all of whom wanted smiles, cuddles and photos. She actually seemed to enjoy socialising most of the time. And when she wasn't exactly smiling, she at least wore an expression of bemused tolerance.
Lady P in the glare of the paps
Perhaps we'd worried too much. But we did spend a good deal of effort preparing for the trip. For example, we had her sleep in a travel cot at home for a few nights so it would feel familiar once we hit the road. And her clobber took up almost as much room as mine. As well as that travel cot, we packed several blankets, the BabyBjorn sling, a couple of familiar toys, and enough nappies to pad a small cell. I think it was worth doing all of that, as it reduced the number of emergency dashes to supermarkets, and meant much of her surroundings smelt, felt and sounded like home. I made sure in the mornings to sing the songs I always sing at home, and every night we followed the same bathtime /bedtime ritual we established when she was just a couple of days old. I think all those things helped her stay calm and happy.

(In retrospect we could have packed about a dozen fewer blankets, and we should have remembered to pack a bottle brush. We'll know for next time.)

By the end of the trip our ability to control Lady P's environment was severely challenged. We had no means to sterilise her bedtime bottle* in our hotel room. We went to Rite Aid in search of that weird sterilising fluid, but to no avail. In the end I spent about half an hour cleaning her bottles, using rubbing alcohol and piping hot water that the hotel kitchen promised us had been thoroughly boiled. Plus our room had a shower, which rather put paid to her sacred nightly bath. Again, we thought creatively and Lady P enjoyed her first shower. We figured anything that involves splashing water and nudity would do the trick.

Our resourcefulness paid off. She didn't get a horrible dirty-bottle-related sickness, and she slept like an angel that night. (In her buggy too - allowing us to sample the culinary delights of Chapel Hill.)

All in all, Lady P proved to be a very good, adaptable little traveller. Who knows, we may even take her on a trip again one day.

*Don't judge us, breastfeeding police! We all have our vices. Hers is a bottle of formula before bed.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Going to Carolina (various observations)

Before our recent trip I hadn't spent much time in North Carolina. Not unless you count two weeks running workshops in a faceless office on a faceless business park.

So, now I know it a little tiny 8-days-longer better, I thought I'd summarise my observations of North Carolina. None of them amount to a post in themselves but in the name of documenting my transatlantic adventures, I think together they add up to something worth posting. (Don't tell me if you disagree).

5 Things I Just Learned About North Carolina:

1. When you order a tea in North Carolina, they think you want a sweet iced tea. When you order tea in an English accent in North Carolina, they'll look at you like you're crazy and say 'hot tea?!?'. Hot is pronounced 'haht', by the way.

2. There are many porches, and rocking chairs. People clearly like to spend their time rocking gently on porches. Who can blame them?
A government building in Duck, NC
3. They know just exactly how to make fried chicken and biscuits out there. And how to eat the sides (with a spork).
Bojangles, home of an excellent fried chicken biscuit

4. There is plenty of history in North Carolina. And you know something's old because it says so on the sign. Or should that be, 'signe'?
5. The sky really is as blue as the songs  (Allman Brothers, James Taylor) suggests.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Large cars and long journeys

As I have mentioned a number of times, everything is bigger in America. Including the steak we grilled last week. And the average beach house.
This is what passes for a 'cottage' in the Outer Banks, NC
And, of course, the cars. The cars have to be bigger because the road trips are so much bigger too.

We drove for about three and a half hours from the airport near Raleigh, to the Outer Banks, and back again a week later. I though that was a fairly long drive. How small the British think! At the wedding we went to in Duck we met one couple who did the same Raleigh-Duck drive, and back, in a day. Another guy we talked to had just driven up from Miami, 17 hours away.

Tomorrow I'm going to visit my sister in Cambridgeshire, probably a three and a half hour drive. I think of it as very far and consequently it's not a trip I expect to make very often from Saltburn.

An American would think nothing of popping down to Cambs for Sunday lunch. Is it because America is such a big country? Or is it because the cars are so big? Or are the cars so big because the country is so big? And is that why the roads are all so very long?

Answers on a postcards please. Or just drive up and tell me in person.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The generous portions of the American South

TLOML, Lady P and I are enjoying a week on a North Carolina beach, catching up with family and friends and introducing Lady P to the many benefits of the American lifestyle.

Like being brought iced water when you sit down in a restaurant without having to ask twice. And massive top loading washing machines, and gigantic fridges and dishwashers. And many other features I'm sure I've posted about before.

Perhaps most important of all, certainly for TLOML, is the food here. We are in the land of shrimp & grits, fried chicken, pecan pie and other heart stopping delights. And we bought some steak to cook on the grill at the beachhouse.

These are they. The hardback book next to them is for scale.

Thick, aren't they? When we get home we'll have some similar cuts waiting for us at the butcher in Saltburn. But they had to be ordered three weeks in advance so he could hang the piece of beef for us ready to cut to TLOML's specification. Over here that's just a regular old steak, on offer at the Food Lion.

Sometimes, I suppose, the best things come in rather larger packages.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Trading Hours

We love Saltburn. It's a lovely place to live. One of the things we love about it is the quality and diversity of the local shops. It's a little short on good restaurants, but there are plenty of nice places to get a coffee, there's a decent deli, a great bakery serving locally baked bread, and an excellent butcher. Our corner shop does a great range of locally sourced produce, too.

So far, so good.

And yet...

And yet, we fall foul of the English disease - as TLOML puts it - of a lack of financial ambition. These local traders would rather have a shorter working day than make more money. So the butcher knocks off sometime around 3pm, or whenever he's done for the day. On Saturdays the independent green grocer closes at 5pm and the gift shop at 4.30pm. Our corner shop shuts at 6pm and isn't open at all on Sundays. Half the shops selling clothes, jewellry and bits and bobs are closed every Monday. And the chippy near us closes at 9pm.

Our favourite chi-chi coffee shop is closed Monday to Friday.
According to TLOML in the US these quirky hours would just never exist, for everyone who runs a store wants to be open for as long as there might be people who want to buy from them.

I'm not sure lack of shopkeeper greed is the whole reason these places are open for such short hours. I think it's actually lack of demand. After all, up here most people eat their dinner by 7pm - what kind of lunatic would want fish and chips after 9pm? And who on earth goes gift shopping, or wants for exotic vegetables, on a Sunday? Only a foolish Londoner, used to being able to spend money 24/7, I suppose.

No, I think its the lack of consumerism which means this town's many lovely shops just aren't terribly available. The good people of this town are spending their time surfing, walking their dogs or sleeping - while idiots like TLOML are saying things like 'let's pop out and buy some bok choi to have in that stir fry' or 'it was S's birthday yesterday, I'm going to go and find her a present'. I wonder if, after a few months of living here, we'll be better organised and less eager to shop at all hours. Or if we'll just become massive internet shoppers instead. In the interest of keeping Saltburn's local traders healthy, I hope its the former.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Apropos of nothing, on streets and their names

Our address in Malibu was '20700 Pacific Coast Highway'. That's right, twenty thousand and seven hundred. You'd be bummed if you were coming to visit and you hit Pacific Coast Highway at, say, number 37, wouldn't you? It's not uncommon for a US street address to begin with such a long number. A scan through my address book reveals a 4010 Rodalite Drive, a 3517 Woodcliff Road and a 5463 Paradise Drive.

These big numbers are partly driven by the fact that the number leaps another 10, or 100 (depending on the city's system) with every block. But it's also because in the US a single road will run for many miles under a single name. Everything really is bigger in America, I suppose. Pacific Coast Highway is a great example, running as it does the length of California, for over 650 miles. Strange to think that we were living, technically, on the same street as someone 8 hours drive north in Mendocino County.

The streets of Saltburn are rather shorter. It's almost as if the Victorian planners had too many ideas for this little town. In addition to the jewel streets - a set of streets running down to the clifftop, called Emerald, Diamond, Ruby, and so on - there are a number of grand-but-small terraces and short 'parades' of houses.
So Victoria Terrace turns into Albion Terrace after just a couple of bends in the road. Glenside would be a decent length but for the fact that a block of it is called Balmoral Terrace, and Windsor Road is interrupted by a single block of Warrior Terrace.

As a result I can't imagine there's a house number higher than, say, 150, anywhere in this town.

This kind of name changing along a street is not uncommon in the UK. After all London's Oxford Street is only so-called for a bit more than a mile, before becoming Bayswater to the West and High Holborn to the East.

At this point I'd like to make a pithy, insightful comment about the significance of such a difference between us Brits and our American cousins. But I'm afraid I've drawn a blank.

I think we just file this one under 'Quirky Transatlantic Differences - About Which No Conclusions May Be Drawn'. Or, to coin the irritatingly popular phrase, "Just sayin'".