Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What happened?

Me (new glasses - you like?) over Loughborough

I've been in the UK for 6 months now and I can't believe I've hardly written a word about what's going on here! What happened to June – not even one pic with a hollow sounding promise of more details soon, not a bad pun in sight, or an obscure tv reference? Compare this to my Swedish blog where every slightest cultural difference was chewed over, discussed and digested like one-too-many a bad meatball metaphor, here I am treating the daily British experience just like a warm, flat, English ale. Nothing to write home about.

But write home I should, and that's my problem. Things aren't as different/novel/exotic here (to me) as they were in Sweden. Sorry to the small numbers of dedicated Swedish readers out there, but I still consider my main audience my family and friends back home in Australia. And for them the concept of "fish and chip Friday" is not as interesting as “pea soup Thursday”. Which I don’t think I ever actually wrote about, but you get the point. We in Aus have a strong tie to ye olde mother lande, and know the beer is warm, the chips soggy, and the peas mushy. Our forefathers and their forefathers, the BBC and a whole lot of backpackers all tell us about this green and pleasant (but grey and miserable) land. Who did we have to inform us about things Swedish? Just a muppet who can only says "bork".

Also, I am way busier. The daily pressures keep up a very high pace, and I am simply not home as early and am more tired, and seem to have more things to organise than before. I have an electronic drumkit sitting in the living room that I’ve hardly played. A trombone gathering dust in the corner and blogs unwritten... but it isn't all bad news. There are also lots of holidays to plan (next comes the Edinburgh fringe festival and over 2000 shows to choose from).

I also don't live alone, but in a share house, so there are a few more distractions which means less time in front of the PC. In actual fact interacting with real people rather than virtual ones should be a good thing. The only problem is that 2/3 of my housemates are also work with me, so I spend about 20 hrs a day within 5 meters of them. And work-related conversations are rarely avoided.

Combine these factors and I guess I just don't find my life as desirable to talk about as it was at the arctic circle, and I seem to have less time/will to do it. And the most interesting stuff about work... I can't really talk about for confidentiality reasons.

But I’ve never been known to not whinge when given the chance, so here goes my first list of “Things I can’t quite come to grips with”. There are definitely some things that are really, really "british". And the first:

-“ You right?”

Said with the exact same tone of voice a concerned friend would use if you had just tripped over, or given yourself a papercut, this is the English version of “G’day”. The tone of voice is too enquiring for me to treat it as a greeting, and I am constantly wondering if I look like there is something actually wrong with me. And an appropriate response to “You right?”, is of course “You right?”. Now that’s wrong.

- “Kit”. A very English-ism, this is used every time you or I would use the work “gear” or “equipment”. Except for actual gears on a piece of kit.

- Not great fish and chips. This surprised me, as I expected this Bastion of Britishness to give me great fish and chips. But instead... I’ve had really good fish, but almost never had good chips and for one main reason: they are usually pre-cooked and sitting around. Even the fish! It is rare to get everything cooked to order like at home, especially on a Friday when the demand is huge.

- The mix of metric and imperial units. Lots of metric is around, except for miles when driving, and pounds (weight) and gallons appear in fine print on labels. But when I wanted to I couldn’t find an imperial hex-key in the lab for the life of me last week!

- The invasion of US style coffee chains. Lattes are weak enough as it is, and when I first saw the same measly shot of coffee go into a ‘regular’ as into a pint-glass sized "large", I quickly got used to ordering a regular size but with a double shot.

- The weather. It is shit, simple as that. During the week of midsummer we still had the heating on at night and I changed back from my optimistic purchase of a summer doona to an autumn one. It is raining right now, and due to the wind I’ve gone through 2 umbrellas already. I’ve worn shorts on only a handful of days, and naturally the fine weather is during the week, during work hours. Even when it is sunny, it is often too windy to hang out washing outside without it being blown off the line.

-Curry, which I can’t not think of as Indian, has been absorbed from India into English cuisine and is as common in pubs as a chicken parma and appears on home dinner plates as often as pasta.

-Living costs aren't so much of a surprise after Sweden. Things are basically expensive. The trouble is you have exactly the same brands, sometimes with exactly the same numbers on them, but there is a >2:1 differential cost, so a pack of biscuits for 1.50 is really about 4$AUD. Pizza Hut was the biggest shock for me: a standard pizza was 30$ AUD! For 2 pizzas a drink and some sides, it cost 18£ (~45$).

- Wall to wall carpet in the bathrooms and toilet. Just plain wierd and unhygenic. And also there are no power points in the bathrooms. Just a little thing, but absolutely none of the (2) houses I've lived in have them.

So what is good about living here? The countryside is really beautiful, and certain areas like the Lakes and Peaks district (see earlier pics) are gorgeous. Some old castles and manors are cool, and London is reasonably close – I just did a day trip last week to catch up with friends, do a bit of shopping and listen to a bit of jazz. And Europe is still close by – I’ve been to a conference in Switzerland, Vienna for a long weekend with Christina, and have plans for Edinburgh...

But Loughborough is again a small, student town, which gets empty in the summer and has little to do in it on a weekend. It's not London. It is hard to imagine settling down here long term... but work is good and it is too early to make long term plans. Is it an improvement on Lulea - no and yes.

Anyhow, that’s enough words for this post. More pics and details to come, I promise.

Our house, in the middle of the street...

In Vienna, Shönebrun Palace