This Must Be the Place: Putting Down Roots – Finally – As a First-Time UK Home Owner

Chapter Three: The Dreaded Shed

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The coronavirus has put the kibosh on a slew of social activities for the time being, forcing many of us to conjure stay-at-home alternatives to fill our days. Bread baking has seen a rise in interest, as has posting the hit-and-miss results on Instagram. (Sorry, @theaussiebaker, but it appears you’ve seriously singed your buns.) Some dedicated fitness buffs have created home workout routines in order to beef up or slim down. I know, it sounds cuckoo to me too. My pal Tim is learning a bit of French, which will come in handy if he’s ever again able to travel to France, or even order in a French restaurant. (This COVID-19 is merde, non?) More than a few of us have even resorted to awkward video chats with friends and family to stave off boredom. Will Aunt Karen ever get her microphone to work? Tune in next week, or the week after, or the week after, to find out! Continue reading

This Must Be the Place: Putting Down Roots – Finally – As a First-Time UK Home Owner

Chapter Two: Pump and Circumstance

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Mea culpa. In a previous post on adjusting to life in the UK, I dismissed the widely held view that it is exceptionally rainy here, noting with premature smugness that the weather in the months since my arrival hadn’t been any more inclement than anywhere else I had ever lived. Well, this past winter definitely dampened that naïve notion. From mid-November through the holidays and into the new year, the forecast was persistently grim for much of Britain. In Portsmouth, the coastal city that my spouse and I call home, steady downpours occurred almost daily. And though the clouds parted for brief interludes, you could always count on one thing: At the exact moment you left the house to run an errand or whatever, the heavens would open up. The deluge didn’t subside until March – clear skies greeted us right around the time we were all ordered to stay indoors to keep the coronavirus at bay. Isn’t it ironic, Alanis?

So yeah, newsflash, the possibility of looooong soggy spells in Britain is all too real. As such, homes that have areas below street level, like the two-storey flat the hubby and I bought back in October, need extra protection against flooding. This is why there’s a sump pump on our property. Having hitherto lived my life fully and freely above terra firma, I’ve never encountered one before. In the aftermath of the stressful incident described below in vivid detail, I Googled “what is a sump pump and how does it work,” and discovered that it’s an electric pump system that propels excess water through a pipe up and away from the house and into an external drain. Whether this is done by physics or by Order of the Phoenix-approved wizardry, I’m still not sure.  (Wikipedia has the full breakdown, but it’s a lengthy entry and I lost interest pretty quickly.) On a Googling roll, I then did a search for “sump etymology,” because who would name something “sump” on purpose? I learned the term is derived from a “Low German” word meaning “swamp.” Obviously, then I had to Google “Low German,” because that sounded kind of judgy and, well, things just spiraled from there. Continue reading

Absolute Beginner: The Adventures of a Middle-Aged U.K. Newbie

[Blogger’s note: I was born and raised in America, moved to Canada for love in the early 2000s, and recently relocated again, in my 50s, with my British-born spouse to the southern coast of his homeland. This is an occasional series about learning new tricks in Merry Old England.]

Keep the Change – No, You Keep the Change! The Tricky Business of Tipping in the U.K.

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Illustration by Jeff Cohen

The spouse and I ventured to Winchester one Sunday this spring to see a favourite singer-songwriter perform at a rustic pub near the town’s train station. While waiting for the show to begin, I sauntered up to the bar and ordered a lager, forking over a fiver to the sullen barman behind the taps. He slid the pint towards me and deposited the change, a 50-pence piece, into my outstretched palm. “Mind if I leave this with you?” I asked, hand still thrust toward him. He peered at me with a marked expression of distaste, as if I’d replaced the shiny coin in my grasp with an eviscerated dung beetle, or a ball of freshly foraged belly button lint, or a teeny-tiny MAGA hat. “I’d… rather you not,” he huffed, and folded his arms tightly across his chest as if to further protect himself from our toxic transaction. “Well, okay then,” I muttered, sheepishly pocketing the pence. I slunk away feeling like I’d committed some grievous faux pas akin to clipping my toenails during a church sermon, or publicly declaring that I actually enjoyed the Game of Thrones finale. Continue reading

Absolute Beginner: The Adventures of a Middle-Aged U.K. Newbie

[Blogger’s note: I was born and raised in America, moved to Canada for love in the early 2000s, and recently relocated again, in my 50s, with my British-born spouse to the southern coast of his homeland. This is an occasional series about learning new tricks in Merry Old England.]

A Toast to the Roast: Tucking into Britain’s Traditional Sunday Feast

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Photo by Andrew Burbanks, taken at the Cowshed in Bristol, England

Waaaaay back in the hot ‘n’ hazy days of summer—you know, eight weeks ago—I boldly proclaimed central air conditioning to be mankind’s greatest invention. Well, I take it back. (I’m a fickle blogger, aye, so I am.) That was warm weather me talking, high on salty sea breezes and sunscreen fumes. Chilly weather me, wrapped in a comfy, musty cardigan, pumpkin spice latte foam sloshed across my upper lip, is more inclined to bestow superlatives on autumnal pleasures. Snuggling with the spouse, so uncomfortable during the summer heatwave, earns high marks, as does binge-watching darker fare on Netflix, like The Haunting of Hill House. But the single greatest rite of fall has got to be gorging oneself to the point of delirium on an excessive feast, something Americans raise to an art form on Thanksgiving, which as I post this is just a few days away. (Lucky Canadians already had their Thanksgiving in October.) As a Yank myself, I should be pining for this annual jubilee of gluttony right about now, but I’ve discovered a U.K. equivalent that totally satisfies my expat hunger pangs. Even better, I don’t have to wait for a holiday; I can belly up to this gut-buster on any given weekend. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you my definitive pick (at least until spring) for mankind’s greatest-ever invention: the British Sunday roast. Continue reading

Absolute Beginner: The Adventures of a Middle-Aged U.K. Newbie

[Blogger’s note: I was born and raised in America, moved to Canada for love early in the new millennium, and recently relocated again, in my 50s, with my British-born spouse to the southern coast of his homeland. This is an occasional series about learning new tricks in Merry Old England.]

A Bloke Afloat: Getting Chummy with the English Seaside

btyWith the hottest summer on record in the UK nearing its inevitable end, it’s time to take stock of the personal highlights and lowlights of these past few muggy months. One definite lowlight: no central air conditioning in our flat! In the sweltering American South, where I grew up, central air is as essential to life as grits and saying “thank you, ma’am.” Here in England, the climate is usually less steamy. Most of the time my partner and I feel sufficiently cooled at home by opening windows and, of course, downing a few icy gin and tonics. This summer, as the weeks dragged on without any hint of rain and temperatures hovered in the high 20s C/mid-80s F, I was an ever-moist mess. Continue reading