Sunday, September 30, 2007

England - Where is it?

I was at the local supermarket buying some essentials (yes, Rik, beer was there on the list, but not milk and bread) when the check-out lady said, "So you're English." Smart, she could detect an accent. I wanted to point out that I didn’t have the accent, but I declined to be so educational.

"No, I'm Welsh."

"Isn't that part of Engalnd?" piped the lady behind me.

"No, it's a separate country, unless you listen to than plonker Prince Charles."

An argument ensued. The lady behind me was an 'English major' and other things which I did not understand, and so she ‘knew’. She quoted me Shakespeare:

"This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England."

Shakespeare was as demented as the next person when he wrote this. Couldn't spell to save his ass. England is not an island. It needs Scotland and Wales to keep it afloat.

Why do Americans relate England as the UK? I guess it's because most English people don't realize the difference. I recently read in a US newspaper that "Gordon Brown, the English Prime Minister".... that's the last time I read that newspaper. Tony Blair is Scottish too!

Unfortunately, even the Prince of Wales doesn't realize the errors of his ways. (A title thrust upon the Welsh who never wanted it.) He once mentioned that one day, he'd be the King of England. Such a plonker. Hasn't been an English monarch for over 200 years. Any wonder why the Scots and the Welsh want to break up the UK Union? Unfortunately, due to inbreeding, I suspect that Charles' IQ is on a par with my waist size - in inches. Check the eyes (too close together), and the low comb-over parting...

Here endeth today's lesson.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Rip-Off Britain

As an ex-pat (I have never been called Pat, by the way), I am always amazed at the way the Brits are being ripped off in so many ways when it comes to prices.

My biggest gripe is the motoring industry. Let's start with the price of new cars. As an example, a new Honda Accord in the UK will set the customer back about £18,000 ($36,000). Here in the US, the equivalent is about $24,000. A 50% price hike. Oh, Honda will argue that things are different in the UK and that the steering wheel has to be moved etc. Nothing but BS in my book.

Not only content to charge 50% for the same car in the US, a Honda dealer charges £135 ($270) for a 3,000 service, which is an oil change and a new oil filter. We have "Ladies' Tuesdays" over here, where any woman can take he car in, and get the same 3,000 mile service for $27. It does not affect the Warranty if the car is taken to a non-Honda shop. It invalidates the Warranty if the customer does that in the UK. My own local garage does an oil change for me for $10. Cash. My trusty Mercury steed is happy with that, despite the fact that it does leak some oil and burns some. But then, a gallon of oil here is about $8. In the UK - £20 ($40). I know oil is heavily taxed just like fuel is, but it's still a rip off. I guess the taxes pay for the free health care, which I believe is having serious problems coping with the number of ill people. If you have a cold or the 'flu, you must make an appointment to see the doctor. Usually three days away.

I don't smoke, but I was amazed at the price of cigarettes on a recent visit to Blighty. £5.50 ($11) for a pack of Marlboro (here it is about $4 and they are longer). It is claimed that it is the poor and those on welfare that smoke, begs another question, how can they pay this?

A desktop PC in the UK is nearly twice the price of a system in the US. Ditto laptops. It's the same systems but with a different keyboard! And they can be programmed to any country. They don't even have to change the power supply!

It isn't just the UK that is ripping people off. I've just come back from a delightful trip to Toronto, Canada. People often tell me, "We know where Toronto is, you don't need to mention Canada."

Well 'scuse me, but I want to make sure that people are aware that I'm talking about the Canadian one, and not any of the cites of the same name in Iowa, Florida, Kansas, South Dakota or Ohio.

Back to the plot. Alcohol seems to be a problem in Canada. Purchasing it that is. It is all controlled by the government. Interestingly, a can of beer is about $2 in Canada (the US/Canadian exchange is about on a par these days), and here in the US you can get a four pack of the same beer for about $2.50. I can't see me moving to Canada any time soon despite winning a nice sum at the Casino at Niagra Falls.

Lot to be said for the US of A. Best country I ever lived in. We have our problems, but I'll miss it when I move next year.

Here endeth today's lesson.

Friday, September 21, 2007


There are a few things available in the UK that I greatly miss here in the US of A. (There are a lot of things I don't miss, but that's another topic.) One of them is a pork pie. For those bereft of knowledge of this wonder of food, a (circular in shape) pork pie is made of cooked pork (the name gives that away - duh) although which parts of the pig are used is best not asked, which is wrapped in a delightful crusty pastry. Between the pastry and the meat, a 'jelly' is used. Personally, I don't like the jelly and discard it, but I've been told by learned friends that this is the best part. Be that may, there's nothing quite like a pork pie and a bag of crisps (chips in these here parts) - smoky bacon flavor is my favorite. I have frequently arrived at a UK airport and visited a small food emporium at the airport to buy these items and consume them before embarking to the world outside. Always good at 07:30 in the morning on a cold day in the UK, whereby one's brain struggles to accept the 07:30 time instead of 02:30 at home, and the 35 degree drop in temperature. There is a drawback, of course - I have to eat with my fingers, as a knife and fork are not supplied. Nor is a napkin. Shudder.

In a moment of being unable to sleep, I started to think about pork pies. An insomniac sometimes uses the time to further enhance his education.

So I've discovered a fascinating piece of information that will no doubt change some peoples' lives. In the 17th century, the pastry on the outside of a pork pie was known as the 'coffyn', and was there merely as wrapping to keep the meat intact. It was thrown away with only the meat being eaten. Sad. In later years, the populace started eating the pastry, mainly due to poverty and a lack of edible material.

The 'home' of the pork pie is a town in England called Melton Mowbray, whereby the manufacturers of said pie are strict in their claim that only a Melton Mowbray pork pie deserves to be called a pork pie. A somewhat dubious claim in my view, as the most prolific purveyors of pork pies are a company called Dickinson & Morris which has (only) been baking pork pies at Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe in Melton Mowbray since 1851.

After complaints from Dickinson & Morris, the European Union governing mandarins have pondered the question of the rights to use the term a 'Melton Mowbray Pork Pie' for years. Even Dickinson & Morris have admitted that their pork pies are made in the nearby city of Leicester. So much for authenticity.

Nowadays, supermarkets' own brands of pork pies proliferate, and in my view, are equally tasty, have less jelly and are much cheaper.

In my days of living in Palm Springs California, an enterprising Brit took to making pork pies and selling them. He was soon forced out of business by the authorities for using ingredients that were not authorized in California, and his attempts at using authorized food failed dramatically.

The pork pie gave birth to a famous hat - the pork pie hat, as worn by Gene Hackman in the movie 'The French Connection'. The hat does resemble a pork pie, without the rim, of course. Sadly, we rarely see a pork pie hat these days. I would love to have one. It would keep the sun out of my eyes when cycling.

Here endeth today's lesson.