As you’re no doubt aware, we’ve spent the last three weeks in England. The north of England. In winter. In a house that is by no means large enough to accommodate four grown adults and three noisy, noisy children with a tendency to attack one another without warning. But somehow – against the odds, and the predictions, and the potential for disaster – we’ve had a ruddy good time.
The thing is, I love England. I even love England in the winter, when your toes go numb in your inappropriate Converse and you can’t tie your children’s shoelaces because you refuse to take off your mittens. I love the mud and the fog and even the fact that, on some days, the sun never actually rises (because, my friends, when the sun doesn’t rise, your children sleep FOREVER, and for that I would happily forfeit vitamin D for life, rickets and all).
I was born in England, Ben was born in England and my lovely husband is English. I’ve a lot to thank England for. Which is why, with all due respect, I can tell you that England is a little bit weird. And yeah, I’ve got issues with saying ‘with all due respect’, too. It’s the same as prefacing an insult with ‘no offence’. ‘No offence, but you stink of fish.’ ‘With all due respect, you are twice the size of your Facebook profile picture.’ It’s not respectful and it is offensive, but still, you take my point.
So ANYWAY, with all due respect, I’ve noticed some oddities about England this time around. No offence, but it’s a weird little island. Here’s why:
ARGOS. Argos is weird. We have no Australian equivalent of Argos, and with very good reason. ARGOS IS WEIRD. For the uninitiated, Argos is a brightly lit shop selling everything your heart could possibly desire, from christening bracelets to washing machines (we bought both from Argos, on Christmas Eve, and it was the saddest experience of my life). Here’s the thing about Argos: its shelves are bare. Yes! The point of Argos is that you choose what you want from a thick, laminated brochure tied to a table. Then you use a little Argos pencil to write down the brochure number, IKEA style. Then you join a very sad queue, wait in line for many days, until a sad sales assistant taps in your numbers, confirms (or denies) your item’s availability, takes your money and gives you a number. THEN you take the aforementioned number, join another sad group of people at a vague collection-type point, and wait for your number to be called. Every now and again, while you’re waiting for Tuesday to become Wednesday, a sad sales assistant emerges and ask, hopefully, ‘Anyone order a Nerf gun?’ only to skulk sadly back behind the scenes when it’s left unclaimed. I’d never realised how weird the Argos concept was until Christmas Eve, after we’d broken Paul’s mum’s washing machine through constant and relentless usage. And I said to Paul that it might make more sense to have the stuff on shelves, for people to select and purchase at their will. “What, like an actual shop?” Yes! Like an actual SHOP! What an inspired concept!” So yeah, Argos; Argos is weird.
BOOZE. Booze is everywhere. Heck, I’m not complaining, I’m just saying that it’s a bit weird. Like, the supermarkets sell booze, which some might say is as it should be. At our local Sainsbury’s, here in East Leeds, crates and crates of on-special Stella beckon you in like sexy sirens when you only want a pint of milk and some Jaffa Cakes. There’s wine and whiskey at the end of every aisle. Either English people have way more willpower than me, or they’re just drinking their way through the cold winter months. Either way, I applaud them.
COFFEE. Coffee’s a bit shit here. The tea’s good, but the coffee’s shit. I’ve struggled with this. They make me drink all the booze, but don’t offer me a strong flat white the next morning to soften the blow. I’m so desperate for good coffee that I personally thanked a girl in a coffee shop today for making me a not-shit coffee. “You’re from Australia, aren’t you?” she asked. “You people know your coffee.” Madame, we DO.
SALES ASSISTANTS. When I lived in England, the customer service was comically bad. I can say this, because I worked in customer service for a little bit, and was a complete bitch. ALL the people ALL wanting stuff ALL day long. It became tiresome. I brought my best London friend over to Perth, back in the day, and she got frightened at Bakers Delight ‘cos the girl said, “Hey! How ya going? Ya having a good day?” and Louise thought she must know her. Now, to England’s credit, the customer service is BETTER, but still a little half-hearted. The checkout chicks sit down in the supermarkets, and you have to pack your own shopping bags, like, YOURSELF. The first time this happened, the checkout chick and I just stared at each other, like a Mexican standoff. She won. And I had to pay for the bags.
TELLY. Now you know I love telly. What I love even more is English telly. It is outrageously good. Even the ads are good. My one regret of this holiday is that I haven’t watched more telly, what with the whole “giving my children the experience of a lifetime” thing going on. My best TV discovery since I’ve been here is Catastrophe. My friends, it’s out-of-this-world good. I watched the first episode open-mouthed and awestruck, because these people – Sharon and Rob, who also write it – speak my language, sarcastic swearing and ALL. Goddamn, they’ve even got a kid called Frankie (spoiler alert). Every night, Paul and I wait until his parents go to bed, switch over from Bargain Hunt and Cash in the Attic and watch back-to-back episodes in an attempt to fit all four series in before we go back to Perth.
God, I’m going on a bit here, aren’t I? That’s ‘cos Paul’s taken Ben to the football, and I’m watching illegally streamed telly with Paul’s parents, but there’s no sound, on account of it being illegally streamed, and now they’ve both fallen asleep on the sofa, and, well, this is awkward, isn’t it? Before I go and hide in my room with my light off, ‘cos Alice is sleeping with us, in a blow-up boat, I’m going to bullet point my final observations:
1. English dogs wear coats. At Christmas, the coats are festive themed. I always thought fur was pretty effective as a dog warmer, but that shows how much I know.
2. English people don’t draw their curtains, so you can see straight into their front rooms on dark winter evenings. I love this. I love the little glimpses into people’s cosy and heavily wallpapered lives.
3. Lunchtime options. England rules at the pre-packaged sandwich. Australia is piss-poor by comparison. What does one have for lunch on the run in Australia? A fucking lamington?
4. Traffic. England has lots of cars and not enough roads. I suggest walking if you want to get anywhere before tomorrow.
5. Chips. I can safely say that I’ve eaten chips with every meal since I’ve been here, including Indian takeaways and breakfast.
6. Toilets in bathrooms. I’m sick of my children coming in for a wee while I’m in the bath. And vice versa.
7. Which leads me to the subject of baths. I love having a bath, but it’s an OCCASION, not an everyday occurrence. I do not enjoy sharing bathwater with my children, unless I get to go first. I like coming out of a bathroom cleaner than when I went in, as a rule.
8. Carpet. English homes are heavily carpeted. Carpet and my children – particularly my children who aren’t completely toilet trained – aren’t happy bedfellows.
9. Vaping. It’s a thing. I don’t know what kind of thing, but it something to do with smoking, except not smoking. It confuses me. I thought people smoked to look cool, which begs the question, why would you smoke something that makes you look distinctly uncool? Like, a bit of a dickhead? I nearly wrote “confused.com”, there, but then who’d be the dickhead?
10. Houses. They all look the same. If I’ve walked into the wrong home once, I’ve walked into it a thousand times.
And there you have it. I could go on forever, but the TV is making weird, high-pitched noises now – it’s either that or Paul’s dad’s hearing aid – so I’m going to head upstairs to the bedroom that I share with too many humans and suitcases, and dream of pork pies and toilets with doors. G’night!