Saturday, 14 October 2017

CBR: SO cranky

Alright.  The Cranky Book Reviewer has been quiet.  Too quiet.

Since we discovered* the Westminster Library our first weekend here, we've been great customers (helping to fund it with late fees, for example), and I've noticed that perhaps, in Canada, I was mostly exposed to North American literature, whereas here, there are so many authors/artists that I've never heard of, because they're (probably) British.

I've read several books each by Carys Bray (somewhat interesting, but not Marian-Keyes enough to hold my attention**), and Gyles Brandreth, who, for some effing ineffable reason decided to write Oscar Wilde/Arthur Conan Doyle fan fiction.***

So, yes, here I am, obnoxiously criticizing highly successful, intelligent, published authors, because they have achieved what I haven't (and not just because I'm afraid to start again) and therefore are cheating, somehow.  (Warning:  there is more of that below.)

I digress.  For now.

I have always been a sucker for female celebrity comedian non-fiction; the apex of the genre (it is so a genre) is Bossypants by Tina Fey, which I have read at least seven times.  (I firmly believe that by doing so on a regular basis, I will one day achieve my dream of being Tina Fey, or at the very least, having her read that book to me in person while I drink wine.  And also we're best friends.)  That is the kind of thing I want to write, something that inspires and makes you laugh and realize that you want to be friends with the author or just wear their skin as pyjamas.

The rest of them vary in their appeal.  I've read memoirs ("memoirs" is used loosely) by Andrea Martin, Jenny Lawson, Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, and in the last two weeks, those by Lena Dunham and Miranda Hart.

Let me start with Lena.  She published Not That Kind of Girl  when she was 28 (I think?) so has therefore lived a very long and interesting life as an entitled millenial and should totally be telling other young women how she got where she is.


Don't get me wrong - her work is excellent, she's brilliant, etc. but she is also the privileged child of rich artists, and has capitalized on their connections due to that.

And not that there's anything wrong with that, because I would do the same, and love to do the same, but, well, see cheating comment above.  I'm just not interested in learning from someone who decided to be obnoxiously "quirky", abused lots of drugs at a young age because she was bored, rolled her eyes as a sport and was given every privilege, every opportunity, all while living off her very rich parents.  It reads like a spoiled (white) rich girl, but sort of wistful and self-deprecating and yes, very smart and very funny.

So I'm torn.  I loved it despite not wanting to like it at all, probably because she is so successful and so young, and her struggles weren't really struggles.  But mostly because I blame my parents, who have failed me completely by not being extremely rich, connected and/or eccentric.****

Finally, Miranda Hart, who is currently tied with Tina Fey in my heart (and yes, I will find her, our dogs will be friends, and we'll hang out), wrote a lovely-ish memoir called Peggy and Me, in which the adoption of a puppy changed her life.  She got into shape, wrote books, went on a successful comedy tour, rocked live theatre, starred in her own television show, renewed her belief in God, and met wonderful people, all due to her beautifully scruffy little dog.

I'm not saying that she's lying, that Peggy didn't do all that, but I'm saying that Ziggy (despite several of his own a-poocalypses) (such fun!) has just not yet improved my life to the same degree, despite looking sort of like Peggy and also being a dog.  I mean sure, he's been getting me out and actively exploring my new city, and he offers unconditional love on the condition that I've got treats in my pocket, but he has so far not fixed my extreme fear/writer's block, kickstarted my motivation to write, nor has he helped me convince Tom Ellis to star opposite me as a love interest in my very own television series.

So, to sum up, Tina, call me.

And Miranda, maybe I could swap dogs with you for a week or two, and we could see how it goes?*****

* I don't mean "discovered" like "founded", but that we walked by it on the way to the park.  Besides, the people who have famously "discovered" places and cultures have also famously destroyed/exploited them, whereas as I mentioned, we are supporting it by paying numerous dues because my "system" to keep all library books in one area of the flat is flawed.  Let's see Columbus do that.

** Go ahead and judge.  I'll own it.

*** Although I did love his Word Play.

**** My mom and dad aren't rich enough to be "eccentric."  They're just weird.

***** I will settle for a tea date.  And Tom Ellis' phone number.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Assorted Odd Huffling Facts

Hufflings eat weird food.  They always have.  Here, they eat an entire bag of Beetroot Horseradish Dill crisps, and really don't share enough of them with me.

Hufflings clean up good.  Like their mom, they dress in sweats and tatters most of the time, with mussy hair and food on their faces, but when they do it up, they do it up right.  We went to a housewarming on the weekend, and took the tube across town.*

The ride home is never as exciting as the way there.  It's late, we're all tired, and Tamsin adopts a relaxed post-party posture while Vaughn catches up on current events.

* Benefits to having to walk/take the tube everywhere:  no designated drivers needed!  (hic)

Thursday, 21 September 2017

DG Explores British Cuisine to Mixed Reviews But Mostly Shock and Horror

When in Rome, as they say.  (For some reason.) (Even when they're not in Rome.)

But, I digress.

With the convenience, wonder and confusion of online grocery shopping a weekly challenge, I have discovered that:

  1. Everything you order is much smaller than you think it will be.  Teeny tiny, in fact.  We went through a jar of mustard in 3 weeks, somehow.
  2. When you think you ordered something, you probably ordered something else.  Like, you wanted pickles to go with your sandwich and you ended up with that dreaded "sandwich pickle".* And/or
  3. It just doesn't look/smell/taste right.  Like yellow mustard.  Even though it's a familiar brand (Heinz), instead of being a bright...well, mustard yellow, it's a pastel, and therefore suspect.  And Quaker Instant Oatmeal:  it's different.  Different flavours, different texture, but you get past it, because meh, it's oatmeal.
  4. You will forget at least 3 critical items, but can't just order them separately because there is a £40 minimum. So you have to wait until next week, or find £40 more worth of stuff to buy.  (However, as you can order wine, beer, and liquor in the same order, it's doable.)
  5. There are some things that you just can't get here.  Like chili powder.  No, I don't want "powdered chillis", nor will I spell chilli with two Ls, dammit.  Or seasoned salt, the "spice" we sprinkle on our macaroni and cheese.  Or, for that matter, decent macaroni and cheese, which is PC White Cheddar Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese, although there are several (unspeakable) varieties of canned mac and cheese available...  I shudder.  
SO, if you're looking for an appropriate housewarming present or care package, maybe it should include any or all of the following:

Image result for clubhouse chili powder
Image result for twizzlers

Image result for bridge mixture

Image result for a job that is mentally challenging

But, I digress again. This is a cry for help!

Now being just the Domestic Goddess and literally having nothing else to do and intensely interested in providing only the best meals for my family, I have started watching cooking shows here and there instead of day drinking.  So far., and have been inspired by up-and-coming local legend Jamie Oliver to try a few recipes (or "receipts", as they call them here). (No again!) (see also, there is only one damn L in chili.)

On Tuesday night, fresh from Vaughn's first kickboxing class (so many pushups and burpees!  I gotta say, the kid held his own... must be from all that training at home**)... um...where was I?  

Oh yes, I made lamb koftas.  Ground ("minced") lamb is very easy to come by, and is a common food.  The kids have adapted already, even the squidgy little one who wasn't keen on the idea until she ate some on a pizza with arugula ("rocket").  (Lamb pizza!)  I had to improvise a bit with the ingredients, adding za'atar (which contains sumac, so was close enough), tomatoes for extra colour and taste, and using both mint and parsley from my kitchen garden***.   It was a hit!  

Last night was not as much of a hit, according to the peanut gallery. I made cauliflower cheese, which I had never even heard of until I saw Jamie's show.  But, why not?  It's essentially everyone's favourite food (cauliflower) baked in a roux that is green from everyone's other favourite (pureed broccoli) and a sprinkling of cheese, bread crumbs and almonds...and thyme from my kitchen garden!  Who wouldn't like that?

Everybody but me, it seems.  Humph.  The important thing was that I liked it, and it's good I did, because that's going to be my lunch for the next four days.

Onward!  Next stop, Coronation Chicken?

Hey, where did everyone go?

* Sandwich pickle, in fact, has grown on me.  On a sandwich with "mature" cheddar and "french-style" mustard, it's quite tasty.**** 

** in our house, if you say a naughty word (from "stupid" and "butt" on up), you have to do one pushup for every year of your age.  So, if Tamsin calls Ailsa stupid, she does 4 (excellent) pushups.  If Vaughn, for example says, "Daddy said f&%$!" then he has to do 8 pushups!  And Fis has to do 44.  We are very fit.

*** Which I also ordered with my groceries!  And it's been a week, and it's still alive!*****

**** The kids and Chris still hate it.  More for me!

***** Update:  except for the chives.  They didn't make it.  I repeat, the chives are dead.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

I found my thrill...

Alternate title:  Primrose Hill Sweat Set 

So, there are many wonderful things about London so far.

For example, the kettles boil water for tea in literally 30 seconds.  It's ridiculous that this technology exists here, but not in North America.  I love it.  I have also purchased a teapot, so I can boil it quickly, then refill my cup over the next hour or two.  (Mom has promised to make me a tea cosy, so in the meantime, I use a dishtowel.  Which is probably simply not done.  Note to self:  only invite expats over for tea.)


Oh yes!  There are super-fun workout stations at lots of parks.  Now that I know better, I can call them by their proper name:  Trim Trails (such fun!).  There was a trim trail looping around behind the Nepean Sportsplex when I was little, and it was fun to do as a kid.  As an adult, I have discovered that I am far heavier than a child (ok, I am somewhat heavier) and thus enjoy these body-weight exercises proportionally less.

But, as gym memberships are very expensive (the cheapest I've found so far is £49*, and I'm proud to say that I think I held my poker face quite well when I got a quote from Virgin Active for £93 per month**), and I don't have all my ducks in a row yet to have my Canadian certifications recognized, I have been slumming it out in the open.

Now, I'd heard of the Primrose Hill Set, a very posh and famous group of people who sat on the hill in the 90s, but imagine my delight to discover that it's a 10-minute run from my flat, and also incorporates an amazing dog park, clean public washrooms and a fantastic trim trail!  I sussed it out one Sunday with the kids, and ran back on the Monday morning, to do a proper workout.


I was the least fit person there, by a landslide, and worked harder than I ever have (sorry, @StadiumWorkout, you don't even come close) to just barely struggle through a few reps at each station...and paid for it for three days after.  I'm not exaggerating:  these are, seriously, my fellow participants.

So far, I am Not Enjoying It At All, especially on rainy days*** when my already poor grip strength is absolutely nonexistent.  Or at the finishing move of the workout, which involves me sprinting running jogging whimpering to the top of Primrose Hill, then slowly coming back down for the cooldown jog home.  Or on any day (or two) after the workouts, when it just hurts to be.  But, as my goal is to become (re-become?) "prison fit", I'd best keep on. I want to feel challenged and exhilarated, not defeated, and I know that it will come, as long as I keep going.

After all, as they say, "whatever doesn't kill me will make me stronger."

However, as I like to point out, OR it will kill me.

Fun fact:  I walk up and down High Street almost daily, and hang out on the Hill (at the bottom of the hill, or at the top for an instant, gasping and aching), but I am getting very tired of being mistaken for Kate Moss.  Or would be, if anyone had ever mistaken me for someone exactly a foot taller and startlingly good-looking, which they possibly haven't yet.

Hey, it could happen.

* Thanks for the keyboard tip, Jolene!
** For example, I didn't splutter, "Don't you know who I AM?  Shouldn't YOU be paying ME to be here?"  See?  Poker face.
*** Most days are rainy days.

Or, hire me! (Less fun, but the idea is the same.)

Ziggy for Hire

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Survival Tips, One Month In

How to not get into a traffic accident in London: 
Don't leave your house.  Ever.

You can't tell if a street is a one-way just by looking at which way the parked cars are pointing, and definitely not by the width of the road.  Also, if some jerk is double-parked, completely blocking a lane on a narrow street, this is normal and acceptable, and you have to scoot around him quickly, hoping that nobody is coming from the other direction.  While shifting with your left hand.

This is all conjecture on my part, as I have not driven here yet, and honestly, now that I've experienced it from the passenger seat, really don't plan on it.  (My dreams of jaunting off to Haworth and the moors for a day are bubbling away.)  However, I do have a better understanding of why cars in Ottawa with red diplomatic plates drive the way they do.  After all, I filled out a form when I got here, showed them my drivers' license, and -- hey!  I'm allowed to drive here!

Note:  I should not be allowed to drive here.

I am trying to find a "Driving for Diplomats" course, which is different than a "Driving for the Never-Drove" course, in that you need to actually break the part of your brain which thinks it knows how to drive and what the rules of the road are, because whatever you thought they were, they are not.  For example, let's say you're driving down a street in London, and you get to a stop sign.  What do you do?

If you think, "Stop!", you're wrong.  The correct answer is, "They don't have stop signs here.  You are obviously not in London."  Well, how do you know when to stop in London, you ask?  There is a double dotted line, of course.

And you're just supposed to know.

See?  I need to break my brain and start again.  Luckily, our Volvo (Mulva) is almost ready to go, and, at approximately 7 times the size of the average British car, will be able to squelch/thwart/conquer anyone who gets in my way, no matter where I am going and on what side of the street I am using to get there.

How not to get hit by a car or bike in London: 
Don't leave your house.  Ever.

Pedestrians don't have right of way at all.  Somehow, I still have the same three kids (I think) that I arrived with, despite several close calls, the closest being when we crossed with the crosswalk light (and a loud "squee" sound to prove that the crosswalk light was lit), and a cyclist nearly mowed Tamsin down.  Grrr.  Those double-dotted stoppy lines* don't mean, "it's ok for you cross here if I am approaching, because I will be stopping."  Sure, the car will stop, but it doesn't seem to be their job to make sure you are safely on the pavements (like a sidewalk, only British!) before they start again.

When I previously mentioned that children are expected to walk nicely and decorously with their parents, that also means that a random child, running ahead or lagging behind by even a little bit, is not expected (because it's just not done), and is thus fair game.

...come to think of it, maybe that's why children walk so nicely with their parents and nannies here.  The bouncy ones have all been run over.

(So sorry.)

(it's probably true)