Archive for March, 2012
For the last five days the temperature has soared (yes, I must have acclimatised, because I actually consider anything over 15 degrees a noteworthy temperature now…) to a roasty, toasty 18 to 20 degrees. Everyone has suddenly become terribly cheery and you must remark ‘lovely day!’ to every single person you see. Everywhere.
I caught the bus into Cambridge yesterday for a spot of shopping and, as the bus took off, I began to notice that every single person surrounding me was talking about the weather. Every. Single. One. They continued all the way into the city (the English can come at this weather thing by many angles). By the time I returned to the bus stop to head home, it had hit that magical 20 degree mark. While several of us were sitting and waiting for the park and ride bus to show up, the man beside me remarked, to no-one in particular, ‘Look, everyone’s smiling!’. And he was right – they were. Everyone walking past had a smile on his or her face. But what was even more thrilling was that an English person had instigated a conversation at a bus stop (this never, ever happens).
As I got on the bus, I realised just how much of an affect the weather has on people over here. When it can have such a hold over your mood, it’s no wonder they feel the need to talk about it so much. It all reminded me of the Lily Allen song LDN. I’d always got the basic concept, of course, but had never really understood it before – what it was like to live in a country where the weather could truly make or break your day. How thrilling a whole clear, sunny, warm day could be. Now I see how amazingly English that song really is. When the sun’s shining, the English see everything with rose-coloured glasses. As they should, because, for the most part, how can I put it…?
Well, for the most part, the weather here is $#&%.
Right from the first week of our UK stay, I have been confounded by Morrisons. It started with Morrisons ads on TV, then moved on to seeing Morrisons trucks and Morrisons packaging in the communal rubbish bin at our apartment block. The problem was, I couldn’t work out exactly what the place was — was it like KMart, or was it just a plain old supermarket? The TV ad. they were showing on TV at this time was particularly confusing, as it showed kids actually wanting to go to Morrisons. Which meant it couldn’t be a supermarket… could it (advertising never lies, right?)?
When, six months in to our stay, I realised I had yet to actually see a Morrisons and was starting to believe they didn’t really exist, I thought I’d better seek one out. I needed to know where it stood in the grand scheme of things. You see, I’m quite impressed with the supermarket line up over here and how the English have managed to include where you shop for food into their all-pervasive class-consciousness. At home, it comes down to Coles or Woolies for me and they are both pretty much the same. But here — oh, no. It’s a whole different story. And I’ve spent many hours checking out what there is to offer in order to find out where I fit in when it comes to groceries. So, I may be wrong (and I’m sure someone will tell me I am!), but here’s how I think the supermarket class structure goes around these parts:
Where nice middle class and upper-middle class ladies buy their food. I’ve got to admit, I love Waitrose. There are fewer shoppers at Waitrose, which means you can actually stop and look at what you’re buying (impossible at other stores, which are packed all the time). They also employ lovely older people who handle each item you’ve selected gently, inspect it and say things like, ‘Oh, that looks lovely. Is it nice? I must try it sometime!’. They also give you a little green token you can put in your chosen charity box and validate your parking. What’s not to like?
2. Marks & Spencer Simply Food
This might not classify as a ‘proper’ supermarket, but you can pretty much buy everything you would need for a weekly shop here (much like Aldi), so I’m sticking it in. Lots of lovely little things in jars, fancy biscuits and chocolates and staff who actually talk to you.
Seems to be a bit more genteel than Tesco, but certainly not as expensive as Waitrose. However, the first time I tried to do an online shop with them, they #$%*&^ it up, then @#$*(& up my refund as well (though this was most likely my fault as I couldn’t understand the call centre woman’s Northern accent and thus had to answer yes to her every question). Oh, well.
Can be defined by one word: convenient. Hit a Tesco Extra and everything you need will be in the one place, including petrol. However, you’re not going to be buying anything special (for example, at Waitrose, you can buy Heston Blumenthal’s range, full of interesting duck and cherry sausages and chocolate and rosemary ice-cream, whereas at Tesco you will only be picking up some Jamie Oliver burgers if they’ve remembered to re-stock the shelves).
5. An odd mix of Morrisons, Asda and probably some places I haven’t heard about
Bargain options. You’ll do your weekly shop for at least £30 cheaper here, but you won’t have anything too exciting in your trolley and you won’t be stopping to browse.
6. Aldi and Lidl and other places I’m too scared to go to because I don’t know their Ways (I got in trouble once in Aldi for not putting my goods on the conveyer belt fast enough and have never been back).
Stocks mostly bargain basement frozen food and, oddly, no-one ever admits to going there, though the place always seems to be teeming whenever I walk past. I had a look in there once and was amazed by the variety of items you could actually freeze. You could buy 30 frozen profiteroles for £2 and a frozen fish finger butty for £1. I’m doubtful I will ever want to eat a £1 fish finger butty, but if I suddenly morph into fat Elvis, I’ll know where to go.
Like Morrisons, Iceland ran a very annoying ad. last year. The little story in the ad. followed some kind of celebrity singer finishing up a concert, then driving home to a lavish Christmas party, which her husband had obviously pulled together easily because he’d been to Iceland, right after he’d attached five million Christmas lights to their house. Of course, she wasn’t worried about the party, but drove home cool, calm and collected, in the knowledge that everything would be cheery and festive by the time she got home. Ha! We all know the truth of this. Any ‘real’ woman knows she would be more likely to be absolutely freaking out on the drive home, would accidentally hit one of those carollers (or three) outside her house due to distraction and, on entering the house, would find her husband defrosting products from Iceland under hot running water of every available tap in the house, whilst plying guests with drinks in the hope that they wouldn’t notice the lack of food.
The problem with having so many supermarkets on offer, and checking them all out, is a) I’m now undefinable when it comes to the supermarket class structure and b) you start to develop favourite items at each one. Now I find I have to stop in at Waitrose (Daylesford fruit bread, fig and date porridge, Rude Health muesli, three grain sourdough and Higgidy pies), Marks & Spencer Simply Food (curry pastes, mints), Tesco (peanut butter, wholegrain yoghurt and Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream that’s always on special) and now I’ve been to Morrisons, I have to go back there, too (bagels and cheap berries).
Thank God Sainsbury’s #$%*(# things up. It means I can slash at least one supermarket off my list…
Okay, give me a few moments to collect myself after my day of serious (albeit, drenched…) excitement.
No, can’t do it.
So, we were driving back from a night in Oxford this morning and realised we’d be quite close to Bampton, where they film the village scenes for Downton Abbey. I know from my excellent contacts (fine, downright stalking of the actors on Twitter etc.) that they’re currently filming series three, so we decided to take a spin past. Well, it’s all going on in Bampton, people! There are production signs everywhere, which was handy for said stalking purposes, because they showed us exactly where to go. Production base this way, location this way, cars that way. So kind of them! Here are some pics for the Downton fans among you (and if you’re not, there’s seriously something wrong with you). There was white bunting everywhere — for Mary and Matthew’s wedding, perhaps?!