It was a beautiful day and we went to a village jumble sale in East Sussex.  Little did we expect what we were to find there.  Although jumble sales seem to have been disappearing from the British culture in recent times, we have been blessed with at least one, if not two, each weekend since the new year started.  So, as usual, we were intent on what would be waiting for us at the jumble.

So, we were unprepared for what awaited us outside the jumble.  Firle is a very small village, as the map indicated, but we have been fooled by what looks small on the map and what we might find in real life.  Yet, when we drove in, there was no doubt that this was an excessively small village.  In fact, there was not even a through street in the entire village.  We drove in and found a sign for a free village parking lot.  A sign further on thanked us for not parking in the village.  We found out, as we got out of the car and walked around, that there were some who did park in the village, but we assumed these must be the villagers who lived there.  Who else would have been crazy enough to want to try and drive through to the end of the dead-end street?

Firle was not only small, it was compact.  All the houses and shops were close together.  Furthermore, it does not look like it has had any recent developments in at least the last 100 years.  We had to go into the local shop/post office to get a stamp.  It was the quaintest shop I have yet seen, with groceries in the main room and a small post office area in another room.  I saw through a couple of doors that the owner must live in the rest of the building, as one looked to be a parlor and another, a dining room.  As we came out of the parking lot, we saw a very old looking inn, and on our way to the post office, someone set out a basket of bread for sale in their front yard.  There were several farms adjacent to each other and a manor home somewhere in the vicinity, but we could not see it.  These farms must supply fresh produce and meat, for we could not see a butcher or greengrocers in the area.  Otherwise, it seemed self-sufficient.  The place was so quiet, especially considering it was right off of the highway (A27). 

Add to this, a nice medieval church (St. Peter’s) at the end of the street, unspoiled by modern technology or buildings surrounding it.  It was a perfect picture-postcard view from the street, looking up the path to the church.  Unfortunately, we did not have a camera with us today.  Inside the church, you could see how old the building was, with the plaster flaking in some areas.  We did not buy the guide but looked around briefly.  We plan to come back with a camera.

Firle was quite a find for us today.  It felt like we had stepped back in time, to a simpler way of life.  It is located east, and slightly south, of Lewes.  Now that the days are getting nicer, we will have to take our camera with us everyday, in case we run across another village like this.  There will be more opportunity for exploring on short days out, and we hope to report on them.

I had always imagined that it rained a lot in Britain. And it does. Otherwise, it would not be so green over here. However, it does not rain as much as Americans would like, so often, to portray. In fact, I have been surprised at the relatively mild weather here. I was pretty sure that spring had come in January. We had had some brilliant days of frost, and a light dusting of snow once, but overall, the winter had not been very bad. That is, until this week.

We were hit with heavy snow, the worst Britain has had in many years. However, it is nowhere near the amount of snow we had experienced in the US. Yet, because of its unexpectedness, the British were unprepared. This meant that streets were not properly plowed or gritted. Although my husband almost made it to the school, bad road conditions for other drivers forced him back. He was also concerned that we might not make it back in the afternoon to pick up the kids. Everyone on the radio urged people to stay at home. Unfortunately, our children’s school was one of few schools open. But, they took the cautious route today and closed the school, even though the sun came out during the day and melted most of the snow. We are expecting more snow at the end of the week but they predict that it will not be as bad.

The kids have made the most of their time at home by building snowmen and snowballs. I was almost afraid they would go through this winter without any snow-time fun.

Monopolies supposedly do not exist, however, we have found that BT still have quite a monopoly in Britain.  They may teach their employees to spread the word that they have the best service and prices, but since they own and control much of the phone network, would this not be against fair trade policies?  It seems you cannot even get started with phone or internet services unless you talk to BT first.  And because everyone has to, they are consistently and perpetually backed up.  How long must one wait to get a phone line in just because of some stupid rules they created for themselves?  We could not even get someone to come and set up a connection until we could tell them who provided the last service on the line or provide them with the previous number.  Having just moved in, how were we to be able to provide that information?  After three phone calls and three weeks, an order was finally placed, but it will be another three weeks before it can even be installed.  That’s just the phone line.  How long will it take before broadband can be added?

Deregulation has not improved much in the BT monopoly.  Something must be done to make it easier for people to get phone and internet without having to pay through the roof for what could potentially be lousy service.

My first Christmas in England and I was at home for the entire period of the kids’ holiday.  It was the first time since my eldest was born that I was available for the whole holiday.  That can be a good or a bad thing.  The last time was by choice.  This time it was only partially by choice.  The other part was related to the difficulty in finding work during this recession.  Nevertheless, we strove to make it as special a Christmas as any other for the kids.  Of course, it did mean that many of their gifts were found in charity shops, etc. – not that they knew or cared.  They love shopping at charity shops themselves and they believe in Santa.

I cannot help comparing things in England with those in America, such as Christmas festivities and traditions.  We went to a Carol Service, beautifully rendered in an old church.  The Carol Services are found in America but they are quite limited.  Here, it seems every church has at least one Carol Service.  Another service that I have never experienced in the US is Christingle.  Unfortunately, we chose to travel to a distant cathedral for this service and were quite late.  However, we did arrive in time to receive the Christingle, an orange fruit with a candle on top and four toothpicks (supposed to be on each side) filled with sweets.  The service is similar to a Carol Service but seems more child-centered.  The Christingle is a symbol, where Christ is the light of the world (orange) and the four sticks represent the north, south, east, west.

The kids had wanted to go on a steam railway trip and meet Santa, but we could not make it.  We never did meet Santa this year.  But it was the first time we saw a pantomime in the great old British tradition.  We saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Panto is silliness to the extreme and I was unsure how the kids would react, but they really were entertained.  I had been afraid they might have found it too childish.  I was pleased to see that they got into the spirit of things and interacted along with everyone else.  It certainly helped that some adults in the audience were very enthusiastic participants.

On Boxing Day, we had dinner at my in-laws.  It was the first time in our married life that we ever spent a holiday with extended family.  It was the first time I was across the ocean from my own family and it did not seem to make much difference on the timing of our Christmas mailing.  In fact, we still have undelivered gifts on both sides of the Atlantic.  Christmas cards were kept to an extreme minimum, partly because I still have not found my address book.  The “being green” campaign  has not exactly encouraged Christmas cards.  So, most people got a short email.  I did not even have time to write the “yearly” letter.

New Year’s Eve, we planned to go up to London for the countdown.  But the car decided it did not have enough gas to reverse out of the driveway.  So, we were stuck until the day after New Year’s to even get out of the house.

So, as always, our holidays were full of ups and downs.  We miss our former church’s annual Boar’s Head Festival.  It seems many, or most, people over here have no idea about that.  We think we need to remedy the situation.

One of the most wonderful things about England that has not changed, despite the increase in immigration and the decrease in living space, is the use of public footpaths. These were created so that the public can have easy access, via foot, through fields and neighborhoods. These footpaths are clearly marked even though they may not be clearly visible if you rush by in a car.

What is so special about these public footpaths is that they are practically all over the country. There are books about some of them because they are located in very scenic areas. Imagine walking through someone’s property and seeing the view as if from their own windows. You do not have to own these properties (although it would be nice) to appreciate the landscape.

Of course, not all these footpaths go through scenic countryside. In the towns and villages, they may just be alleys. Nevertheless, they are convenient, if you are walking, to cross quickly and easily to the other side without going all the way around a block.

It seems the English are very protective of these public footpaths. Even with the increase in demands for living quarters for immigrants and welfare beneficiaries and the decline in availability of land, these footpaths and their signs remain untouched. Furthermore, the existence of these footpaths seem to encourage walking, not only for exercise but for leisure. I would like to cover as many of the scenic footpaths as possible and make notes of my observations.

In the United States there are several types of thrift stores. You have church-affiliated thrift stores, charitable organization shops, and other for-profit thrift stores. The organization of each is different but the goals of all are to sell goods at low prices. Primarily, the goods are second hand, most having been donated, in the cases of the church-affiliated and charitable organizations. Of course, some of these shops may also sell new items, usually close-outs, irregulars and such.

We shop a lot at thrift stores for various items. It gives us a chance to compare one thrift store against another. In recent times, we have noticed that although places like Salvation Army and the church thrift stores have continued the tradition of selling things very cheap, because they cater to the poor, Goodwill is starting to sell at higher prices and are pickier about what they sell. No longer are they selling everything that is donated. It seems they sort through the donations, keeping only the very best. This is good news to some, who do not like going through “junk”, but it does mean that their prices are higher.

Coming to England, I have found that there are numerous charity shops, each affiliated with one charity or another. However, I can’t say that their prices are very charitable. These charity shops sell “good” second-hand goods as well as new items. “Thrift” is not the term I would apply to any of these shops. They remind me of the Goodwills in America, only somewhat costlier. I have seen box-loads of donations outside the doors of these shops, yet the stock does not appear to be much changed nor are the shops packed. My question is, “Are they even keeping these donations or just throwing them out?”

What is the purpose of these charity shops? Are they not there to help those in need? Or are they only out to make money for their specific charities? And how much of their profits actually go to the charity as opposed to the pockets of the administrators? Are people donating to these places thinking they are contributing to a worthwhile cause/organization, while the administration gets rich? Is it right that these organizations receive free donations and turn around and mark them up?

In these days of credit crunch when people are losing jobs and homes and have less money to spend, why are these charities pricing items so that these people cannot even afford to shop in charity shops?

Recently, we entered a shop and bought some books.  There were signs posted stating that certain books were individually priced while the rest were under one umbrella pricing.  When we went to pay, the clerk, who is supposed to be a volunteer, took it upon herself to decide the books were too good to be under the blanket pricing and repriced them especially for us.  Was that fair?  Was that charitable?  It’s like bait-and-switch.  Why should consumers have to pay more because one clerk thinks the price should be higher than what another clerk determined?

Everyone talks about the poor condition of public toilets. It is true that most publicly maintained toilets leave much to be desired. However, when they are free to the public, I can’t really complain. What I can complain about is the condition of publicly maintained toilets where you have to pay to get in.

In the US, all public toilets are free. However, not all places will offer public toilets – keep that in mind. The ones that do will vary in cleanliness. I suppose that many of us who have ever travelled on the highways and encountered those “Rest Areas” have had some unpleasant visits. Nevertheless, if you are very desperate, you just have to hold your breath, quickly finish the necessities and rush out, wishing you could find a nice clean shower. I must say, though, after thirty years of highway travel, I have seen some improvements in many of those Rest Areas. Similarly, gas stations, restaurants, shops, etc., may offer public restrooms and some take greater pride in their cleanliness than others.

In the UK, there was a time when you couldn’t find a free toilet, unless you were a patron at some restaurant that offered one. Now, you can find more of them, although, they are still quite limited in some areas. Some towns now offer separate toilet facilities and you can see them posted on street signs. My experiences of these places vary as much as in the US. Yet, I’d rather risk using these facilities than wearing diapers.

The one place you are sure to have to pay to use a toilet is in the major train stations. Unfortunately, they are also the worst maintained toilets. Imagine my disgust at entering a small room with four stalls, two of which are out of order but only one has a sign on it; the other is almost overflowing with human waste; a third is out of toilet paper; and all four toilets look as if they have not been updated in the last fifty years. For 20p I would have expected a McDonald’s quality toilet. Despite the fact that these toilets are poorly maintained, it goes to show that people are desperate enough for this convenience to pay 20p to squeeze into one of these rooms with ten other women. Consequently, these toilets may never become free and they may never be properly maintained.

To add to all our troubles with internet access and computer use, the library denied us the use of an adaptor with our laptops. We live in a remote area and have not had a phone line installed yet due to uncertainty with our work situation. We paid for BT Open Zone (double-paid, nonetheless, due to an error in the Click and Buy service BT uses) but we can hardly find BT Open Zone anywhere convenient to us. We have to resort to using free internet in the local café (don’t know if they mind or not, but at least we buy something there every time) or pay for use of the internet at the library. Libraries do not provide wireless service.

Sometimes, however, we want to use our laptops without getting on the internet. But the laptops can only run on battery for a certain amount of time. It needs recharging. Sometimes we are able to recharge as we use them in the café, but not always.

Yesterday, we were working in the library and saw a notice warning us not to use our laptops with adaptors unless approved by the librarian. When we asked the librarian, we were told we needed an electrical certificate or proof that the laptops were less than a year old. First of all, we just bought these laptops new before we moved to England. We did not keep a receipt because we did not feel we needed them. That was several months ago and the computers work well. Besides, who would laden themselves with what was perceived as unnecessary papers in a transatlantic move. Secondly, in order to get an electrical certificate by a license electrician, it would need to have been serviced. It is not broken, so it has not been serviced. The certificate would state that the older laptops are in working order.

We can only assume that the certificate is necessary so that when you plug in your laptop, you don’t blow up their computers and other electrical equipment. It seems ironic when our laptops are so obviously newer than any equipment they have.

Gnats are an annoying but relatively benign insect in the US.  Like  many insects, they must have some use in this universe but I have yet to discover it.  Unless it is to be an irritant.  On the other hand, a UK relative of the gnat, the midge, has some very potent purposes.  Namely, to eat people alive.  Especially me.

While staying at my in-laws’, I would wake up each morning with new red itchy spots.  It got to the point that I was practically covered in it.  The itching was unbearable at times.  My family each had a few spots from time to time, but I was constantly finding new bumps.  At first, I thought it might have been mosquito or other bug bites.  But when it started increasing and I was its major target, I thought I was allergic to the change in detergent or something.  When we stayed at hotels and bed-and-breakfasts, the itching and red spots improved.  Therefore, I realized it wasn’t the detergent.

Finally, we moved into our own place.  We noticed, from the very first, that the place was infested with these gnat-like creatures at night.  They were very attracted to the ceiling light.  The red bumps returned.  Then we figured it out.  We were living with killer midges.  And the reason I was attacked at my in-laws’ previously was because I had slept in a room with the windows open.  Since I was the primary occupant of the room, I was the biggest target. 

Because we could not live without the use of the light, we had to figure out what to do with these murderous midges.  If you could have seen my bite-ridden body, you would have thought I had leprosy.  Anti-itch creams barely touched it.  We went in search of fly-traps and other pest control products.  It was very difficult to find, but we did track them down at Sainsbury’s HomeBase (an equivalent to Lowe’s or Home Depot in the US).  We opted for the electric bug zapper.

It was so pleasant to hear the little z-z-z-z-zaps!, z-z-z-z-zaps!, z-z-z-z-zaps!  We were soon ridding our little world of these pesky pests.  Not so fast!  The zapper failed in the night.  We managed to exchange it for another and this one lasted for two weeks.  Unfortunately, at this point, we lost the receipt and the time limit on exchanges had passed.  So the mocking midges are back, and I’m afraid.  Very afraid.

I’ve had many odd experiences in my life, and waiting at the car rental station for a day had to be one of the stranger ones.  Due to some unexpected problems with the rental of a car at the airport, I had to stay at the rental’s shuttle station until my husband could resolve the issues.  

Having just arrived that morning, my only meal was the airline’s breakfast.  It was inadequate for an entire day, yet I really didn’t feel hungry.  One of the shuttle drivers did offer to get me something late in the afternoon, but I declined because I wouldn’t have been able to go to the bathroom.  I had a daughter who ended up sleeping on my lap for almost the entire day.

My husband arrived back in the early evening and managed to get a car, but it was not big enough for all our luggage.  He had to take our daughter and some of the luggage first and return for me later.  It was a good thing he brought dinner because I was getting hungry at 10PM.

All throughout the interminably long day I had to amuse myself with people watching.  I thought, as I sat on a bench outside the rental office, I could make a good study of all the flights coming in and out of Heathrow.  Then I thought about the terrorists and it was sobering to think how they could use information like that.

Heathrow is such a huge international airport that I was amused by the various people who worked there, as well as those coming in or going out of England.  England is composed of such diverse ethnic and national backgrounds – at least at the moment – it makes for an interesting study of people.  I couldn’t help but imagine who all these characters were and what they did in life.  Also, just by the way they walk, talk and act, you can make assessments about their personalities.

Although I did not ask for it, the long wait at the end of the terminal turned out to be quite a unique experience and hopefully, I may make use of the information gathered.