• Personal

    English Weather

    I have to say, English weather leaves a lot to be desired. Just sayin’, your weather sucks.

    And to think that I used to live on the strand (literally looking out of my front window onto the beach) in Hermosa Beach – Los Angeles, California. I must be crazy.

  • Personal

    English Weather

    Pah. Fie even. I hate English weather.

    Not that this makes me unique, pretty much everyone does here, even the ones who were actually born and raised here. It’s mid-June, and the weather is cold and grey, with a real mean wind blowing. It’s threatening to rain at any moment. This is a problem for the brisk walk that I had planned on taking during my lunchtime, both for stress management and for exercise.

    Sometimes I get really, really nostalgic for Los Angeles. I know that it’s not all beaches and sunshine (it wasn’t even when I did live right on the strand at Hermosa Beach, just steps from the sand and water). I have this very idealised vision of what it was like to live there, kind of a “good parts” version. You know, the one without gangs and smog and traffic jams and the possibility of getting shot. The good stuff.

    Just once, though…just once I would like to have a proper summer. One where the sunshine and warm weather last more than just a few days. I’m a hot weather girl, I really miss sunshine – I’m probably a much nicer (less depressed) person in the sun. I want an endless stretch of sunny, hot weather, frosty drinks by the pool, sleeping with the windows open to catch the moonlight and night breezes.

    That’s why everyone I know here has a dream of moving to Spain. Or Portugal. Or Greece.

  • Personal

    maybe I should go sit in the corner…

    I just had a fight with someone at the tax office over ongoing tax trouble that I’ve had since I made the mistake of working on contract during 2006. Ever since then, the government has considered me self-employed, and sent me penality notices for not filing self-employment tax returns (something nice about the UK is that most people don’t actually need to file tax returns unless you’re trying to get money back – it’s calculated, your employer pays the tax, and you don’t have to go through the hassle of a return). So, after one year where I paid a king’s ransom for an accounting firm to straighten it all out, and one year where I filed a self-employment tax return that was all zeros, and hundreds of calls and letters afterwards, I’m still in the same situation. I’m not even sure what years the penalties are referring to.

    So today, I take the latest penalty notice in hand, and at lunch I try to straighten it out yet again. The extremely snide woman (I don’t know if she started out that snotty, or if she just got more so the longer I talked to her) said that the government has the right to ask anyone to file a tax return for any reason. Fair enough…but how do I know in advance that they are going to require one so I don’t incur penalties?

    “I suggest you file a tax return every single year.”

    “Whether I need to or not? You mean, in direct contrast to EVERYONE ELSE I KNOW IN THE UK, NONE OF WHOM HAVE TO FILE TAX RETURNS?!?”

    “Yes. I would suggest that you file a tax return.”

    “Because I’m on some kind of a list. Is that what you mean? Am I being persecuted for being an American? Because no one else, as far as I can tell, has to file.”

    “Certainly not. We can require ANYONE to file tax returns. It is our RIGHT.”

    “Fine…then forever, for the rest of my life, I’ll file tax returns BECAUSE I’M ON A LIST.”

    I was almost crying when I got off the phone. I’d accused her of persecuting me because I was American. I said other mean things. I could hear her typing while we talked, which was probably a note on the system that said:

    KEEP THIS BITCH ON THE SHIT LIST FOREVER!!!

  • Personal,  Random

    Harvest Traditions

    The leaves are turning so fast, and as soon as we have the first really good storm, they will be gone. After getting out of the car this morning, I walked to work past a gorgeous old stone church, scuffing through drifts of gold and red leaves. I still haven’t gotten used to the sheer beauty of the countryside here – even though it’s much softer than the dramatic Northern California mountains that I grew up in, the rolling hills and small villages have a stunning beauty of their own.

    One of the many things that I love about living in the UK are the remnants of ancient pagan traditions that are everywhere. In the spring, many villages in our area will have well dressing traditions. Peak District Information says:

    The blessing of the watersupply, in the form of the well, is an ancient custom which is unique to the Peak District and the surrounding areas such as South Yorkshire and East Staffordshire. The custom had almost died out in the 1950s, but since then it has been revived with great vigour, primarily for the tourist industry.

    Some sources attribute the practice to the period of the Black Death in 1348-9, when probably a third of the population of England died of the disease, but some villages such as Tissington were untouched. The local people attributed this to their clean water supply and gave thanks by ‘dressing’ the village wells. However, it seems very likely that the practice goes back much further than this – probably to pagan times – and the fact that many well dressings have a ‘well queen’ suggests echoes of ancient spring fertility rites.

    There are displays of tableaus created out of flower petals, the wells are blessed, and I believe there is usually a Queen and her court chosen. It’s lovely.

    Right now, however, we are starting to see notices for Harvest Festivals. Since these descendants of ancient rituals are now associated with churches and schools, I haven’t personally seen one, but it seems a lovely tradition.

    The traditional ways of celebrating the harvest still survive today in rural communities. Nowadays, children also take gifts of fruit and vegetables to church and present them during the harvest service whilst the harvest hymn ‘We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land, But it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand’ is sung. After the service, these gifts are distributed to the elderly and needy of the community. Many schools also have a Harvest Festival assembly and the gifts of fruit and vegetables are distributed in the local community.  Harvest Festival UK

    As an American, I do love the feeling of ancient traditions being part of the fabric of modern life. I used to think about that at the farm where I used to keep my horse – it had been farmland for ages, and cows and horses walked the same paths from the pastures that I did, back all the way to Henry VIII and before – it had been monastery land that was “acquired” by the crown and given to someone as a really nice perk.  Helping to bring hay in really brought that home – with some obvious changes to the technology used, it has been done on that land for hundreds and hundreds of years, and they all probably gathered for a huge meal afterwards as we did. It’s lovely to feel yourself a part of time.

  • Personal

    Things I Like About England

    Today we walked into the centre of the village where we live to get some library books, go to the bank, and so on. Although I’ve lived here for over six years or so, sometimes things strike me as strange, or wonderful, or a combination of them both.

    1. I really liked that people queueing (is that even how you spell that?) in our old bank, lovely with marble and carved wood, have their dogs with them on leads. I’ve seen an old man in a flat cap going into a pub with his border collie (back in the days before the smoking ban when you could have a pub that just did alcohol, no posh pub food).

    2. We went into the old-fashioned sweet shop to buy a few things. These shops always remind me of Honeydukes, lined with shelves of huge jars full of every sweet that you can imagine and also some very old-fashioned ones that you probably cannot. We asked for something that wasn’t readily apparent, and she said “It’s just around the corner – it’s not quite Narnia, but it does go on a bit.”  Lovely.  :)

    3. There’s a snack van that sells burgers and chips and things, and when I used to work at the college nearby, I’d come there for gorgeous drippy bacon and egg sandwiches. They may not have seen me for a year, but if I do go there, the husband will ask me what I’d like, I’ll tell him, and the wife will smack him on the arm and say “Well, of course she does”, like he should have known what I wanted.  I love it.

    Overall, I’m so happy here…so many things about this place just fill up my heart.

  • Personal

    Straightheads

    We watched an interesting (if not totally successful) movie last night, Straightheads with Gillian Anderson. It really made me think about the perceptions of class, and the difference between viewing the movie with American eyes vs. British ones.

    The basic plot concerns a career woman who picks up a bit of rough in the form of the kid who comes to install the surveillance system in her new luxe flat. She takes him to a very elegant work party, they end up making love, and then on the way home late that night they almost rear-end a decrepit Landrover with her Lexus. As they rev past them, the kid leans out the window, makes a rude gesture, and yells “wankers!” A few minutes later, they have an unexpected impact with a deer, and the Landrover catches up to them, with disastrous consequences.

    The three baddies in the film are dressed in padded gillets, corduroys, motheaten sweaters, and heavy boots. The main one is a farmer. The vehicle is a rusty Landrover probably twenty years old. An American seeing this film would assume that it’s one of a thousand “rich urban types meet inbred scary rednecks” movies, and would interpret the film based upon those assumptions. If you live in the UK, however, you have a very different perception of the men. Farmers are rich. Oh, sure, to a man they’ll all moan about how cash-strapped they are, but the cost of land in the UK would mean that the main bad guy was probably a millionaire. Puts a whole different spin on the movie, doesn’t it? Yes, they’re still violent men, but they’re the local gentry, and she has no place in their world; there’s a touch of droit de seigneur as Gillian Anderson’s character is thrown to the group like meat to dogs.

    Worth watching, although not a cheery movie, and weak in places. But interesting.