Though it was drizzling in the morning, by evening, the sky had cleared and we had a very nice day.  We couldn’t have asked for better weather.  It’s unusual, but we’ve been enjoying a long stint of Indian summer.  It was perfect for Newick Bonfire Night.

Yes, I mentioned it last year, but I thought I’d do another post about Guy Fawkes’ Night in Newick.  Bonfire Night is 5th November, but we found out through a friend that Newick always has theirs the Saturday before the actual Guy Fawkes’ Day.  I don’t know what happens if it falls on a Saturday.  I do know that all the bonfire societies of the surrounding towns join in with the parade, and the largest parade is held in Lewes (at least in our part of the country).  Lewes always has theirs on the actual night.  So, if it falls on a Saturday, there will be some competition.  But, I suppose, since they all work together to stretch out Bonfire Night to at least Bonfire Week, Newick would probably hold theirs a week early.

This time last year, it was intermittently raining and drizzling, and the weather was cold.  It felt miserable to be out, but it did not prevent the crowds.  I had expected to see a larger crowd this year because of the fine weather, but it did not seem to make a difference.  It was still a good-sized crowd.

Because it was Halloween Night, there were houses decorated for the occasion.  Though it may not be celebrated like in the US, we did see some homes that went all out for Halloween.  Our neighbourhood, surprisingly, had trick-or-treating; though not all participated.  Nevertheless, the kids enjoyed it because they missed out last year.  They dressed up and one of them kept it on for Bonfire Night, so she fit in with the paraders.

The main street through Newick was closed off for five hours, so we had to park almost in the next town.  It was very dark in some parts of the street because the overhanging trees shut out the light; otherwise, the nearly full moon did shed quite a bit of light.  With the mist coming in, the full moon, the Halloween decorations, it lent an eerie atmosphere to the occasion.  Then, when you see the torches glowing in that setting, it was rather spooky, reminding me of a superstitious event from childhood that had frightened me.  On top of that, there were intermittent Bangs! from some firecrackers that the organisers let off.  If you didn’t expect it, you’d jump because it sounds like a big explosion.  Our youngest was scared at first, but she became accustomed to them.

For those who’ve never attended a Bonfire Night, you should learn to expect some politically-motivated speech before they let off the fireworks.  Also, some places may charge admission fees, but for the most part, the parades down here are free.  However, they do go around collecting donations.  Part of their donations go to some designated charity.  This year, it looks like the Motor Neuron Disease society will be getting a cut.

In comparison to last year, I have to say that I was rather disappointed by this year’s display of fireworks.  I do not know if they had more fireworks last year, or if it was because I was not expecting as much that it appears last year’s was longer.  I do know that the weather last year prevented smoke from accumulating in the air.  Unfortunately, with the clear and calm sky, smoke from the initial fireworks gathered in mid-air and did not move away rapidly.  It even obscured our view of the moon.  Because the fireworks, once started, are set through a timing device, they could not stop the fireworks until the smoke was gone, so much of the second part of the fireworks could not be enjoyed.

The bonfire itself seemed smaller this year.  It was high, but thin, so that shortly after it was lit, the tower toppled over and the effigy fell off.  We were at least 30 ft. away, but the fire was so intense that it felt like I was sitting in front of a roaring fireplace.  Also, the ash drifted very high and dropped very far.  While we were waiting to get into the village shop, at least 100 ft. away, we had ash raining down on us.  I was not paying attention to the ash and sparks at the beginning until the foam plate I was holding started dropping holes.  Our jackets also suffered some holes.

Despite all that, it was a good night.  If we stay in the area, I think this will become an annual routine for us.

I have never been a big fan of unions.  They began as a good idea, but it seems that the union organisations have gone out of control.  I find that employees are sometimes caught between union bosses and employers.  They are the ones who suffer in the long run.

Now, the Royal Mail strike is affecting everyone.  While blue collar workers who strike aim to cause disruption for their companies, the effects for the wider community is not immediately felt.  However, postal workers who strike cause havoc for everyone.  (Even worse than when the tube workers were striking earlier in the year – people made other arrangements for travel.)

I recall just a few weeks ago when my work contract took forever to reach me.  My job and our financial state were in terrible danger.  I remember thinking that perhaps if one of those workers were waiting for a critical document, they might reconsider the strike. 

Today, we almost missed the deadline to register our daughter for secondary school.  Granted, we should have taken care of this ASAP, but we only received the paperwork last month and we really haven’t had the time to investigate schools.  People used to this system would know what to do, but we are very new to all of this.  So, when we sat down to do the application, we found that we had to have it in by noon today.  Secondly, it was not the time of posting, but the time of reception.  Thirdly, the mail strike meant that delivery on time was  not guaranteed.  Some school districts extended the deadline, but others refused.  We managed to drive around the neighbourhood and found some internet access – just enough to get online and submit the application right as the clock struck noon.  Of course, we wonder if it will really matter in the long run, because we might move and will have to apply for special consideration at a different school later on.  It’s so much easier to apply for schools in the States.

Royal Mail have tried to counteract the impact of the strike by hiring 30,000 temporary workers to catch up, as well as to ramp up for the upcoming Christmas season.  Of course, the unions are not happy about this because it may, in effect, the negate the effects of the strike.  But, I have to agree with RM in saying that the strike is extremely irresponsible.  Why should we, the common people, have to suffer because of their disputes?  Did they expect that the public would rally behind the union and demand that RM give in so that we can resume our daily lives?  RM is already in financial trouble so the government wants to sell part of it off.  What concessions can they possibly make during this recession?  That’s what I cannot  understand.

What I fear is that this strike may force many companies to start using the internet for all communications.  UPS and FedEx will take over the delivery of parcels and all the other postal services will be handed over to other departments.  Some might think this image of the future is for the best – the “greenest option”, but I personally still enjoy getting handwritten postal messages.  And I fear problems arising with the use of email for all communication, especially legal issues.

I’ve been here for a year now, so I should know better, right?  Of course not.  I don’t use the mail very often.  There has never been the need.  Also, when I do mail anything, it’s usually not of the “return” variety.

So, when I returned the CRB forms back to my prospective employers, I did not expect that it was already postage paid.  You see, in the US, these return envelopes usually have a note at the top corner where stamps are placed, stating that postage has been paid.  Easy to understand.  How was I to know that “Freepost” meant that postage has already been paid?  Not only that, it was placed right in the middle of the address label.  How was I to know that it was not part of an address?  I wasted two days, or one mailing day.  And with the postal strikes affecting delivery down here, it could mean even more days than that.

Britain was once branded as “a nation of shopkeepers”.  Unfortunately, that image has slowly disintegrated, and very recently, the destruction of the small shop has become so commonplace.

As an American, I do find it convenient to shop for everything in one place. But the quaintness of the small family-owned shops is so essentially British that I hate to see that institution dying.

When we made up our minds to move here, we thought we’d like to support these small shops. Unfortunately, with the recession, it has been difficult.  We live in an out-of-the-way spot, where there are no small shops, so it’s easiest to go to the nearest grocery store for everything.  Also, it’s the big shops that can offer special deals, and when money is tight, it’s the driving force.

But, there are other shops that are closing down due to competition, not from major retail chains, but from charity shops.  And this makes it even sadder.  I have seen four small bookshops close recently in towns nearby.  I love books, but I especially love the old, used ones.  And two of those bookshops sold used books.  Unfortunately, the charity shops have taken business away from these stores, making it harder for them to compete against the big names, like WH Smith or Waterstone’s.

Though I shouldn’t rant on charity shops, I can’t help it.  These charity stores are unlike the thrift stores in the US.  Of course, they do whatever it takes to make money for their charities, but I can’t help wondering how much of their money actually goes to benefit the charity, and how much goes to pay the executives, etc.  In addition, some of their pricing is more like a discount boutique.  They even strive to look like one.

There is a charity bookshop that we shop at.  We support it because the pricing is very good – not inflated like the charity boutiques.  Also, they don’t appear to trash anything.  The boutiques only like to display books that look new.  Then there are charity stores that aim to look like antique stores, so their pricing also reflects that.

So, yes, I bemoan the fate of the family-run bookshops that face competition from two sides.  I have noticed also that some of the clothing shops are ready to go the same route.  It won’t be long before the little baker’s and butcher’s will face that fate (though they can’t blame charity stores for their demise).

Use of the English language differs greatly on either side of the pond.  For example, asking for the local solicitor will probably elicit a very different response in downtown Indianapolis than on Balham High Road. 

Usually, it is possible to use the context of a particular phrase to discern its meaning. And then there is British slang.  British slang is extraordinarily rich and diverse, and in many instances incomprehensible to the outsider. Recently, several phrases came to light and I’ve listed below the results of our research in to their meanings. 

All round the houses, or just round the houses (sometimes pronounced ‘raaan the haaasiz‘).  This usually refers to taking an indirect route between two known points.  An example might be, “I’m an hour late because the cabbie took me all round the houses.”  Knowing a dozen routes between any two points in the A to Z is every Londoner’s birthright, and an entire lexicon of related phrases has evolved.  For an entertaining evening, go in to a public bar and ask “What’s the best way to get from Tooting Broadway to Putney Heath” or “What’s the quickest route from Thornton Heath Clock Tower to Stepney Green” – you’ll make friends for life.

Kip or, have a kip.  This is usually used in the same way Americans use nap.  An example might be, “Just popping upstairs for a kip.”  Apparently, in the 18th century, kip-houses were places where the homeless could get a bed for the night. 

Bottle, bottle it or bottle job.  In modern times, this usually refers to nerve or courage. If ‘your bottle goes‘, you ‘lose your bottle‘ or you ‘bottle out‘, then you lose your nerve, and are a bottler, or a bottle job.  It seems to come from the Cockney rhyming slang for arse, which is bottle and glass. And so, if you are terror-stricken and involuntarily lose control of bowel movements, you’ve lost your bottle! Recent media headlines in the UK have mentioned ‘Cameron Bottles It!’ or ‘Brown the Bottler’.

Little Buppa is a crazy little girl.  Recently, she was lying next to Daddy when she told him he smelled like beef jerky.  “Ummm. Yummy,” she said. “I could eat you.”  Then, she made a pretence of eating him.

Our family ate a lot of beef jerky in the US.  My husband did not like it at first.  He thought it tasted leathery. But, he discovered that there were different brands and different flavours.  Then, it became a part of our regular diet.  It was the snack of choice for long journeys.  My favourites were any that were spicy, while the kids preferred Teriyaki.  Beef jerky was pretty expensive until we discovered the cheap alternatives at Wal-Mart and they were edible.

Yes, we miss beef jerky.  It is such a rarity here that it is expensive.  We managed to find a small kiosk at a train station that had a small pack.  That’s the extent of the availability of jerky here. 

I guess jerky is such an American thing and it has not taken hold in the UK yet.  Though BBQs certainly have.  Maybe that’s more from the Australian influence.  But, then again, I would think jerky might be something the Australians would appreciate.  Even if it wasn’t beef jerky, the Australians might have kangaroo jerky.  Americans also like deer jerky.  (My husband wouldn’t touch the stuff, but the girls and I tried some – homemade).  If the Brits ever like beef jerky, they might consider deer and even lamb jerky.  That would be a novelty.

As I’ve said before, the EU is big on “green”.  Most political parties have some “green” agenda.  One of the big issues in this regard is the excess packaging on foods.  We have noticed this excessive packaging both here and in the US.  But the US does not make such a big stink about it.  Perhaps, now, with all the “global warming” and “climate change” talks, the US might follow suit.  Retailers are being fined for excessive packaging and most have reduced their packaging significantly.  However, the government is not fully satisfied.

One way I’d like to suggest to reduce packaging is by making larger packages.  Many might think this is clearly greedy American thinking and would increase waste.  But that is not so.  For example, I remember going to Sam’s or even Wal-Mart and buying the large 10-lb. bags of frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  It lasted us a while.  We weren’t constantly having to do a “big” shopping every week.  Here, the best you can do is a 2-kg bag of chicken quarters with skin and bones.  Now, I don’t mind skin and bones; I think it adds more flavour.  But, the problem is that you have less meat to work with, so you run out very quickly when you’re making dinners.  There is clearly less packaging in that one 10-lb. bag than in 2-3 2-kg. bags.  I don’t know how the Brits see this, especially because they do have smaller freezers.  But it should be an option for many of us.

Yes, I miss buying in bulk.  I’ve seen that many expatriates have discovered Costco.  But there are few of these around and without jobs, you can’t even be a member.  I miss being able to buy frozen foods for more than just one meal at a time.

This weekend was the perfect example of the summertime British festivities. 

We were aware of one fayre in our general area, but would have been unable to make it due to other commitments.  Namely, Stagecoach.  But, when we arrived at the school for Stagecoach, the kids refused to go.  The older one was tired after her morning gymnastics practice and had a meet the next day.  The younger was really just feeling lazy and used her stomach as an excuse again. 

However, she had homework for the mid-term break, so we decided to stay in the town and get the homework done – it required mapping out one of the main streets.  Afterwards, they wanted ice cream.  We thought we’d stop for ice cream and they might change their minds about Stagecoach, since we were an hour early.  However, on our way to get ice cream, we drove through Lindfield, a small village surrounding Haywards Heath.  Right there in the center, was a fayre.  And a very proper and traditional British fayre it was.  Rides, games, stalls, tombola, raffles, fancy dress competition, and food.  Things missing were shows, races and physical competitions.

Needless to say, they wanted to stop for that.  In the midst of having fun in the fun house and spending money on games, they forgot about their ice cream.  That is, until we had to leave when we ran out of money.  They still refused Stagecoach, but they wanted their ice cream.

Next day, we had the gymnastics competition in Horsham.  Our daughter competed in the morning session (8:30-12:00), but she wanted to stay for the afternoon session to watch other teammates.  In the middle of it, she was tired and wanted to go outside to play.  I stayed to keep our seats, while my husband took the girls out for a short spell.  It was unbelievably hot and the younger one came in after a while saying she didn’t feel well because of the heat. 
However, there was a fun-fair right there in the park where the gym was.  I believe it was a charity event.  The kids wanted to stay after the competition to enjoy the fair, but we were exhausted, especially since we had only been snacking all day.  We needed real food and were not about to pay a lot of money on junk at the fair.

But this weekend showed us that we were entering the season of fun.  On the way to the gym, we saw signs for a horse show and another for a dog show.  All of this, happening in one weekend.  I hope we survive this summer without going bankrupt or dealing with too many tantrums.

One of the differences I have noticed between the US and the UK is the social attitude.  On the whole, middle-class America is very conservative.  People in the UK show a more tolerant, or “liberated” view.  Which is better is left to the discretion of the reader.  I’ve seen this attitude reflected in three ways: 1.) church-going, 2.) same-sex marriages, and 3.) assisted suicides.

These issues can be sensitive and I suppose that I am experiencing this because the UK is a small country, so you have all these attitudes presented directly to you.  Whereas, in the US, the population is scattered and if you live in one community, the attitudes there might not be representative elsewhere.  Whatever the case, I believe there is still a difference.

1. Church-going.  Attendance at church has declined worldwide.  There are many reasons for this, but I’m not going to go into that.  I’ve seen many churches close, both here and in the US.  But, it is worse here.  Statistics show that about 10% of Britons go to church regularly (this is just the Christian population).  In the US, some communities report 80% church attendance.  Though that is not typical, I would say that about 50% nationwide attend church services regularly.  There are some strong atheist views here.  I’ve known agnostics in the US but not atheists.  Again, that may be the distribution of population.  As a result of the decline in attendance, many churches are closed or being sold.  Many have been turned into homes or council accommodation or other uses.  While it is good that some have been used for other purposes rather than to be allowed to deteriorate, it is such a shame to see these old buildings desecrated.  England has some of the most beautiful churches in the world, but only the most famous ones escape dereliction.  It seems that people here have very little time to explore religion or care about it.

2. Same-sex marriages.  Yes, we have those in the US, but many have been overturned and only a few places allow for gay marriages.  Britain has allowed for it outright and many profile Britons have taken advantage of this.  Gordon Brown even took it upon himself to criticise the US for not recognising gay marriages.  However, I don’t feel he has a right to dictate what he believes to another country.  Though the US is a First World country, it does not necessary mean it has to adopt liberal attitudes that other First World countries choose. It is for the people of the US to decide that.

3. Assisted suicides.  It has not been long since Kevorkian was released from prison.  Had he practiced in the UK, the Britons might have been a little easier on him.  Though I will not say assisted suicide is well-accepted over here, there is this trend in thinking that it is OK.  I’ve heard so many stories about Dignitas and there’s even a report that half of the British doctors approve of assisted suicide.  You wouldn’t find that in the US.  Even the politicians want to discuss changing their laws regarding this.  An Australian doctor recently came to lecture some elderly people about their options for assisted suicide.  There have been numerous reports on suicide pacts being carried out.  I suppose that part of the relaxed attitude towards this may be because suicide is legal, even if assisted suicide is not.  In the US, suicides are illegal.  It may sound strange, because no one can be charged if they succeed, but they can be if they fail.  Perhaps, that is why Americans, for the most part, don’t see suicide as an “option”.  Or, it may be that Americans, in general, view death negatively.  I’ve known terminally ill people refuse Hospice because they associate it with death.  On the flip side, Britons reject Hospice because they want to take their own lives when they choose.  This suggests they fear the dying, not the death.

My conclusions might be flawed, but my perception is that Americans tend to go to church more, believe in the conservative and traditional idea of marriage and family, and they fear death.  Whereas, Britons are more open-minded about sexual orientation and “equal rights”, are Bible-blasting, and want to take control of their own lives, rather than live by someone else’s dictates.  Mind you, I’m not classing everyone on either side of the Atlantic into these categories, but it is a general perception.

It’s nearing the middle of May, yet we’re still experiencing some chilly days.  So unlike this time last year.  I can make that comparison because we were here on holiday this time last year.  We’re expecting rain for the next couple of days, but the forecast has been amended several times in the last three days, so I really don’t know what to expect.

The early spring flowers have wilted, the lambs have grown so big (though one still managed to squeeze in between the wire fencing the other day to nibble on our grass), the trees have all blossomed.  Father Christmas brought our older daughter a flower-growing kit and she started that very early in spring.  So far, we’ve had a lot of growth, but no flowers yet.  One is going to be a giant sunflower, so I can expect that to take a very long time to produce a flower.  The other three are small flowering plants, so I’m hoping to see something soon out of the marigolds.  I’ve only tried planting marigolds from seeds once.  Unfortunately, that was around the time we sold our house, so I never got to find out if it bloomed.

I don’t have much of a green thumb, so I’ve left the managing of the plants to the kids and my husband.  Though I’ve helped transfer the plantings to progressively larger containers.  The plants have been kept outdoors for the last month and a half, and surprisingly, the birds did not bother with the seeds.  Or, at least, we don’t think they have.

We have a blossoming tree that flows into our yard but I have not yet identified it.  Besides the buttercups and dandelions, we have no other blooming plants at this time. The daffodils are gone and the bluebells are about to.  The roses have not come out and I wonder if they will.  They look like they could use some pruning.  I’ll have to try those shears.  You can see why I’m anxious to have some flowers growing. It just would not be an English cottage without some flowers.  Driving around the countryside, I am very envious of those beautiful cottage gardens.