Archive for January, 2011
The slide night not being the greatest success and time still ticking by, I decide to try another form of immersion in the hope of becoming UK ready. A friend who has done the living and working in London thing gives me the lovely gift of a ‘Brit pack’ – two magazines, a packet of biscuits and some tea.
My friend is quite solemn about it all, however. ‘It has to be these biscuits and this tea,’ she tells me, looking me straight in the eye, ‘Don’t forget that’. The brands in question are McVitie’s Digestives and PG Tips tea. She also warns me that, despite what I might hear around the tracks, not to carry on with any warming of the teapot fancy pants malarky, but to learn to make proper tea – builder’s tea. ‘And you must have a nice sit down, as well,’ she finishes off.
So, one Monday, I take the kids to school and kindy and then come home to have a go at a different kind of tea ceremony (more crack than kimono).
I fish out everything I need and lay it out on the kitchen bench before me – the PG Tips and the magazines she’d given me. I even locate the packet of biscuits, hidden in the laundry (no one else ever goes in there). Back in the kitchen again, I flounder. What I really need is an English builder.
I find one on YouTube who goes by the name of Wonderwebb. He seems to know his way around a mug, teabag and a kettle. He is enthusiastic and coherent. He promises to show me how to make the perfect cup of English tea (okay, that’s not quite true. He promises to show me ‘how ter make det perfekt cup o’ English tea’.)
I watch his clip twice and then set about making my own. I follow the instructions carefully and soon find myself at the kitchen table, with my biscuits, magazines and milky tea, which I stare at warily. I’ve taken one for the team with the milky tea. I’m a coffee drinker, but when I do drink tea, I take it black. This often shocks people (especially the English), ‘Oh, black tea!’ they’ll pause, in the middle of bustling around the kitchen. ‘Are you sure?’ The black tea thing gets my 93-year-old English grandmother every single time and she has made me many a cup of tea now.
I take a sip of the tea. It tastes like… tea. With milk (bleh). The biscuits, however, are much more my thing. Exactly like the wheaten biscuits I used to buy, sandwiched together and wrapped in greaseproof paper, at my primary school tuckshop for ten cents (yes, I am that old). Next come the magazines. I start with The English Home to see what kind of lifestyle I might be in for overseas. And then very quickly work out it will be nothing like I’m reading about. There are several families whose homes are featured. Their children are named either something along the lines of ‘Francesca, Harriet and Sebastian’, or ‘Fox, Poe and Lula’. One family proudly tell the world they ‘storyboarded’ the ‘looks’ for all the rooms in their home, which makes me wonder why they didn’t simply opt for a unified theme like we did (ours is ‘Ikea’).
Next, I move on to the People’s Friend Holiday Special, where I am treated to ‘11 delightful short stories’. I read a very nice story indeed about Norah and Uncle Joe and take in a full page ad. for walk-in baths ‘enjoy the pleasure of safe bathing and showering again’. I leave the remaining ten stories for another exciting day. After all, I still have the rest of a box of PG Tips and 24 plain McVitie’s digestives to get through (fine, yes, I ate a third biscuit. It was broken and we all know broken biscuits don’t really count).
I could begin by boring everyone with details of visa applications, photocopying and form filling out of the kind that is singlehandedly destroying the Amazon, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll begin by extending an invitation to that most boring of boring things…
the slide night.
Back in the day, my parents made me endure many a slide night post-overseas holiday. As a teenager, everything was boring of course, but I was treated to boring on an epic teenage scale – dragged around the UK to air museums (Dad’s pick) and Roman ruins (Mum’s pick). Usually a set of grandparents would come along for the ride to up the torture. And when we got home, I was made to relive my suffering again with the slide night.
With a good two decades distance, I can now see how lucky I was to be ‘dragged’ all over the UK, Europe and the Middle East. While other school friends’ parents did the ‘dump them with the grannies and run’ trick, my parents were good enough to drag my sorry whingeing carcass around the world with them.
So, slide night day comes and our family heads over to my parents to see if we can catch a glimpse of what life might be like on the Other Side (of the world, that is).
It’s quite the event. We make popcorn. There’s a cheese platter. Drinks are served. I’m practically chipper about it until the carousel goes a-spinning and the first slide flashes up onto the cleared wall.
And then I remember why I hate slide night and want to get off this hellish ride fast.
Oh, what laughs they all have at my expense. My parents have pulled out two specific trips – the UK at age six and the UK at age twelve. Age six is fine. Sure, there’s the reasonably long list of ‘places your mummy peed’ my parents trot out to entertain the kids, such as at the top of stone castles and behind rose bushes in English gardens. There’s also the lengthy line-up of ‘animals your mummy harassed’, including various sheep, ducks and squirrels that most likely starved slowly to death after the toffee I force fed them stuck their little jaws together. We’re all wearing hideous flares in these slides – even my grandparents and my father – but so is everyone walking around in the background of every slide, so we all let this pass without comment.
Anyway, like I said, age six is fine. But then comes twelve.
Twelve is bad. So, so bad. A seemingly endless, torturous set of slides that consist mainly of Haircuts I Should Not Have Had and Clothes I Should Not Have Worn. Let’s face it – any pictures of your twelve-year-old self tend to be bad. For many of us, it’s the most ungainly time of our entire lives, and that’s including the point where you’re 97, in high care and have poor bladder control. If you’re lucky, you get through this awkward stage with the normal amount of family snapshots, many of which you can skip because you’re hiding out in your darkened room. Or, if you’re like me, you can take a big, fat family holiday and revisit your hideous form in all its glory forevermore.
The highlight (for my husband, not me), has to be the series of slides from Scotland of my twelve-year-old puppy-fatted self stuffed into a grey Scotty Dog wool jumper and matching kilt. Up until this point in time, my husband and I have been trying to maintain some mystery in our twenty-year relationship by not defecating in front of each other, but now I realise he’s seen something worse. Much worse.
Needless to say, my husband has the time of his life at slide night. Until I remind him there are plenty of pictures somewhere of his twelve-year-old self on a family trip to Slovakia where relations fed him sausage and cake until he almost popped, forced him to use substandard toilet paper on his soft Sorbent-loving backside and drowned the farm kittens shortly after birth.
And the kids? What do they make of the slide night? Well, they steal the popcorn at about the third slide mark and take off in the direction of their Uncle’s PlayStation.
At the end of it all, I ask my mother what was worse – travelling with children, or travelling with her parents and in-laws. She declines to answer lest she incriminate herself. Considering my parents are coming with us to Cambridge to help us settle in, this is probably a wise move.