Friday, 29 August 2008

"A Question of Priorities" - Conflict, 1993

I love to eavesdrop, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. It's always been fun to overhear conversations while on public transportation. But I think I enjoy it even more since moving to England - although, to be fair, I sometimes struggle to understand young-Britspeak!

Yesterday, after work, I got one of the last available aisle seats on the 4:20pm park and ride bus from Oxford. As has been happening a lot lately, more and more people kept crowding on. With school still out for the summer break, there are lots of visitors to Oxford. Selfishly, I wish they'd come in and out of the city when we tired commuters weren't! But that's another blogging topic.

So standing right next to me on the bus were two early-20-something women. I was so curious to overhear their conversation that I turned off my iPod (but left the earbuds in my ears, as a way of disguising my curiosity). They had several shopping bags each, and they were chattering away about this and that.

Then they began excitedly talking about the new flat that they are moving into next week. They were also complaining about how "skint" (meaning broke, to my American readers) they both are, meaning that they can't buy many new things for their flat.

But here's what I enjoyed the most. One of the two young women kept talking about her financial situation. She said that she really wants three things and has been saving her money for them. The three things were - a car, a new laptop, and hair extensions. But she told her friend that she couldn't do all three. So she'd been thinking a lot about her life priorities. It wasn't an easy decision, she said to her friend.

What did she decide to do with her money?

She's getting the hair extensions!


Read all about what I'm listening to at Auditory Cortex.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

"Addicted to Love" - Robert Palmer, 1985

Sometimes I get an idea for a post. And before it's actually on the page, it takes an interesting twist. Such is the case with today's entry here on Lord Celery. I promise I'll explain my choice of song title later.

OK. So the original idea for the post was to tell my non-British friends and family about John's discovery this week.

I was feeling a little down last weekend. The Olympics were over. And the two weeks of US political conventions were kicking off this week, starting with the Democrats in Denver. As over-the-top as the conventions can be, I was sad to not get to see any of the coverage.

That's where John comes in. On Tuesday, he discovered that our TV channel called BBC Parliament is repeating the US convention coverage - from America's C-SPAN - off and on the following day! Yippee! Problem solved, then, and John's watching right along with me. I wonder if he's keeping count of how many times he's hearing phrases like "the great state of....", "the American dream", and "I'm the very first person in my family to go to college."?

Last night, as we watched coverage of Tuesday evening's convention activities - including the entertaining speech from Brian Schweitzer, the governor of Montana - John suggested that I take a photo of the TV screen to show Lord Celery readers what we're seeing. It is interesting to see American political coverage on British TV, with a logo saying BBC Parliament in the upper left corner!

(Click on the photo for a full-sized image.)

Obviously this photo was taken during Hillary Clinton's speech. John and I both laughed at the label "Hillary's husband" which was put on a shot of Bill Clinton during his wife's speech!

Now that's where the story would have ended...until this morning.

As I was getting ready for work, John just happened to turn on BBC Parliament in time to see Bill Clinton's own speech from Denver on Wednesday night. Knowing that I'm a big fan of Clinton's (I know that's a controversial comment for many of my friends), he came downstairs to tell me. I uncharacteristically turned on the little TV in our kitchen, as I ate my crumpets and peanut butter.

As usual, Mr. Clinton made a fantastic speech. Better than his wife's from Tuesday night, and that's saying a lot. I was really glad John had discovered that the speech was on TV this morning.

And here's where today's title song comes in.

When the former president's speech finished, and the resulting applause finally died down, the music that swelled in the background was - oh yes - "Addicted to Love"! (" know you're gonna have to face it, you're addicted to love.") I burst into laughter! How could the convention organizers have made such a gaff - or was it supposed to be a joke? I don't know. But it was absolutely hilarious!


Come see what I've been listening to at Auditory Cortex!

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

"Being Who We Are" - Wood Floors, 2006

I've suddenly realized that I'm not sure who "we" are for me.

This problem began to manifest itself during the Beijing Olympics. Why? Because as Britons were marvelling at the performance of Team GB, I found myself occasionally saying "We are doing so well!" And then I caught myself. I realized that I couldn't really say "we". I'm not a real Brit. I just live here.

And could I say "we" when referring to the US Olympics team? Sure I could - by birth, anyway. But it didn't seem fair, really, to put too much claim on a team from a country that is no longer my country of residence.

So that leaves me....where, exactly???

Maybe I shouldn't think so much. I'd be less melancholy if I didn't think so hard about life sometimes.

But the fact is, I just couldn't help thinking about this "we" issue. Thinking about it a lot.

Let's take stock here. My most important "we" is my marriage and relationship with John. I can't imagine finding a more perfect partner! John is the greatest gift I've ever received in my life.

So that's great. I'm a "we" with my husband.

But from there, it starts getting a little murky.

Perhaps I'll feel more like a part of the "we" of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland when I take British citizenship. I believe I'll eventually do that. The admin is a little difficult to accomplish right now, but it isn't impossible. (I should write a post about this - it has to do with was I physically in the UK exactly three years prior to the exact date that UK officials receive my citizenship application - not easy to manage when I've travelled out of the UK as much as I have for work over the past 5+ years.)

Maybe, then, being a "dual" (holding passports and citizenship for both the US and the UK) will help.

At the risk of sounding even more goofy than usual, I can only say - we'll see!


What have I been listening to recently? Go see at Auditory Cortex.

"Just Wondering" - Truman, 2004

BBC news reports keep referring to the "Democrat" convention going on now in Denver, Colorado. That sounds strange to me, as I've always called it the Democratic convention.

But, then again, we don't say the "Republican-ic" convention, do we?

I feel so sorry for people learning English as a foreign language. It's so complicated, isn't it?


Read all about what I've been listening to at: Auditory Cortex.

Monday, 25 August 2008

"The Mighty Quinn" - Manfred Mann, 1968

I've known my Houston-area friends Bill and Carole for more years than the three of us would care to admit. I'm delighted to have just received the first photos of their first grandbaby - a beautiful little boy, born last week in California.

Here's little Quinn with his very proud grandfather...

(Click on the photo for a full-sized image.)

Our heartfelt congratulations go to happy parents Jenny and Jon, to maternal grandparents Carole and Bill, and to Uncle Hunter! And we love the name "Quinn"!

And you know, although he's certainly a mighty little fellow, I don't think Quinn looks the least bit like an eskimo, do you? ;-)


Friday, 22 August 2008

"Love the Way He Smiles" - Alastair Riddell, 2005

As we lucky folks in the UK have a 3-day Bank Holiday weekend beginning tomorrow, I'm doing a lot of smiling this morning. And that leads me to today's offering on Lord Celery.

This terrific young friend of ours is the reason why John and I refer to producing a big cheesy grin as "doing a Lee"...

All together now, everybody - gimme a Lee!


Come see what's been playing on my iPod and in my car at Auditory Cortex!

Thursday, 21 August 2008

"(Ain't It) A Real Good Sign" - Albert King, 1976

I was just thinking this morning that I often blog about either the park and ride bus (or something that's happened getting to it, on it, or after getting off it) or the little Sainsbury's supermarket in Oxford. I hope you aren't getting bored with these locations. But that's where a lot of interesting things happen to me on a day-to-day basis.

This morning's episode was on the bus itself. It seems that the display was broken on the front of the bus being used for the 7:15am pickup. The driver - my favorite female driver - had called in to report the problem but was concerned that nobody would be sure which bus she was driving as she cruised through Oxford.

So with the help of passengers - I had a pen and another had a piece of white paper - she went to work on a makeshift sign. One of the guards at the building there came up with some cellophane tape to stick the thing in the bus window.

And even though you can't see much of anything from this angle, the result was this sign - as seen from my seat up in the front of the bus. (I affectionately call it the "catbird seat", and it's my favorite place to sit.) The sign is in the lower left corner of the front window of the bus.

(Click on either of the images for a full-sized version.)

When we got to Oxford, I told the driver that I wanted to get a photo of her sign. I wish I had snapped one of her, too, but I was feeling uncharacteristicly shy this morning.

I love the eyes in the zeros. The driver had laughed earlier as she made the sign, saying that she felt creative this morning.


Wednesday, 20 August 2008

"Summertime, Summertime" - Jamies, 1958

So just what is a typical British summer anyway? (Image to the right is courtesy of the BBC.)

Until December 2002, I'd often visited the UK. But I'd never actually lived here. It's funny what you discover about a country - and a culture - when you settle in to live there yourself.

Upon moving to Britain, I soon discovered the major preoccupation with the weather here. And there's a good reason why. While I'd have to say that I consider the climate here to be fairly mild, it is very unpredictable. Very hard to predict. And that seems to be true more in the summer than any other time of year.

Rather than writing much more about it myself, I'll just refer you to a very interesting article about the British summer from the BBC's website.

Meanwhile, if you intend to be over here this time of year, be prepared to layer/unlayer clothing...and always keep that umbrella handy!


Tuesday, 19 August 2008

"Get Out of My Way" - Asher, 2001

As I mentioned yesterday, John and I had a wonderful weekend near Pluckley, in Kent, with Mike and Eileen (John's uncle and aunt). I'll share a few of the photos here. As always, you can click on any image for a BIG version!

Doesn't their lovely home look like something from a travel brochure?

And our other hostess was the lovely Maud!

One of the highlights of the trip was a walk in Hothfield Common. It's a nature reserve, managed by the Ashford Borough Council, and given the label of a "Site of Special Scientific Interest". You can read about it on the Kent County Council's website. I also found an interesting PDF file about the area.

There are some fascinating examples of trees growing out of other fallen trees.

We saw wonderful heather.

And there was wildlife. These Polish ponies (sorry, Mike - I can't remember their name) happily graze away.

Mike and Eileen had told us that there are also Highland cattle grazing within Hothfield Common. We rounded a corner, during our walk, and saw the following right in the middle of the path...

And she (I think it's a "she"?) didn't budge. Even the sight of Maud (who was on a lead by this time, as you might imagine) didn't faze her as we approached.

They are such beautiful creatures, aren't they? This is the closest I've ever been to them...apart from the baby that John and I saw just outside our own village a few years ago.

It was a wonderful experience!


Monday, 18 August 2008

"Who's That Girl?" - Madonna, 1987

John and I were in Kent over the weekend, so I didn't have any blogging time. It will have to be a quick post this evening.

I thought I'd share something from TV Saturday morning, during the BBC's Olympics coverage. Click on the photo to see a full-sized image.

Don't you think that Ms. Green and Ms. Velodrome, the BBC sports reporters, have very strange names?


Friday, 15 August 2008

"Sweet Home Alabama" - Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1974

I just cannot believe a story I've heard on the BBC News.

The city council of Birmingham, England recently published a pamphlet with a photo on it. But there was a minor problem - the city pictured is not Birmingham in the UK but is Birmingham, Alabama!

I see that the story is already known in the US as well. Here's the AP's version of the story, via a link on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's site.

John has made a another point about this story. Imagine printing paper leaflets for 720,000 of your citizens to thank them for recycling? Don't you think there's something a little bizarre about that?

Anyway, I think it's really nice that an English Midlands city would think to show so much gratitude to their namesake city in America's Deep South!

Oh, and it's probably worth a mention that residents of the two "Birminghams" pronounce the name of their city very differently, too! The one here is sort of like "BHIRM-ing-um", while Alabama's is more like "bur-ming-ham" (emphasis varies, depending upon what part of the US the speaker is from).


Read about what I've been listening to at Auditory Cortex!

"What Do You Think About That?" - Brenda K Russell, 2006

Looking out of my office window first thing this morning, I thought my eyes had deceived me. Compared to my blog post a few days ago, just look at the black Porsche this morning...

(Click on the image for a full-sized version.)

Until now, I had no idea that Lord Celery - and the opinions of savvy readers like Bronx Boy and Milky Bar Kid - had so much influence!


Thursday, 14 August 2008

"A Life Upside Down" - Roger Bellon, 2000

Having been challenged by the fantastic examples on Stevyn's blog, I finally have found a candidate for I See Faces, right here on my very own desk in Oxford...

I never stood on my head to look at it before. Perhaps that's why I missed seeing the face until this morning.


PS What music have I been listening to? Go see at: Auditory Cortex

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

"The Best Things In Life Are Free" - Les Paul and Mary Ford, some time in the 1950s

Here's my latest conversation at a till in the Sainsbury's Local, in the Oxford City Centre...

Me (tall, white middle-aged American woman): Good morning!

Him (small, brown young man in Sainsbury's uniform): Hello!

Him, as he starts nosing around in the basket: OH - you like bananas?

Me: Yes.

Him, as he continues to scan items: OH - you like crumpets?

Me: Yes.

Him: OH - you like (something unintelligible).

Me: I'm sorry - what did you ask me?

Him: You like prawns?

(Ahhhh...that's what it was. He saw the prawns in the salad I'd bought.)

Me (becoming a teeny bit weary of having the contents of my basket announced): Yes, I do.

Him: They are just little prawns.

Me: Yes, I know.

Him: You should see the ones in MY country.

Me: Where are you from?

Him: Bangladesh.

Me: Oh - I've never been there before.

Him: Really? Oh, YOU SHOULD GO. It's very nice. It's very cheap to go there. YOU SHOULD GO. They have big prawns there....and they are FREE! You know, they are in the sea there, so they are FREE. And they are very fresh.

Me: That sounds really good. I used to live in Texas. They have big shrimp there, too.

Him: Where is Texas? Is that in America?

Me: Yes.

Him: So you are American?

Me: Yes.

Him: OH - America - that's a VERY GOOD COUNTRY!

(A short pause, as he scanned the yogurts. He didn't announce those.)

Him: We have lots of fish in Bangladesh, too. Nice fish. They are fresh. And they are FREE!

Me: Well, that sounds good. I should go to Bangladesh.

(And then he scanned my chicken pasta salad - for tomorrow's lunch.)

Him. OH - you like CHICKEN? We have chicken in Bangladesh, too.

That was the final item. I paid him, smiled, and then I left.

I can't wait to get sent to his till again!


Monday, 11 August 2008

"You're So Exhausting" - Blue Eyed Soul, 2007

This car is often parked in the lot behind our office. What was the owner thinking when he/she made this ugly modification to such a beautiful car?

(Click on the image for a full-sized version.)


Sunday, 10 August 2008

"Feelin' Generous" - Knova Jones, 2007

Something quite remarkable happened to me in Oxford Friday afternoon.

I was in Marks & Spencer Food, in Oxford, getting us some things for the weekend. I had filled my shopping basket and was in the queue to check out.

In front of me was a nice-looking older woman, wearing a beautiful pale blue linen blouse. She was kind enough to reach over to the till and get one of those things that's used to divide one person's order from another. She put it down behind her things, ready for me to put my own items on the belt. It's thoughtful when somebody does that, and I thanked her.

That's when I noticed the gift bag that she was carrying. She had a magazine and a newspaper in it. It was a shiny black paper bag with a Westie on it. Hoping that she might be a Westie person - and could, perhaps, even help with a name of a local breeder - I struck up a conversation when I had the chance. I complimented her bag.

She told me that friends had given it to her for her birthday, as a gift bag for her present. She showed me that it had a button on it - and when pushed, the bag "barked". We both laughed. It turns out she had Westies as a child, but she told me she hadn't had one in years. I told her I had - in the States - and how much I missed mine.

She paid for her groceries and bagged them up. I slipped up into position to bag mine. That's when I saw her take the newspaper and magazine out of the Westie bag.

And she handed the bag to me!

I was stunned. She said that she wanted me to have it! I resisted, but she said she wouldn't have it. She said, and I quote - "That's what it's all about!"

And then she left, with a big smile on her face. And I probably still looked stunned. So did the lady at the till, by the way.

Here's the gift bag in question...

Here's the button to push to make it "woof".

And from the gift tag attached, I can see that the generous lady is named Hazel.

I never cease to be amazed by the kindness of strangers sometimes!


Friday, 8 August 2008

"I Feel Lucky" - Mary Chapin Carpenter, 1992

Happy start to the Beijing 2008 Olympics!


Thursday, 7 August 2008

"Let's Talk About Cars" - Butthole Surfers, 1996

I've always been a geek-girl when it comes to my interest in things mechanical. I would have loved to have become an engineer; sadly, I'm horrid at advanced mathematics. So, that made the idea of an engineering degree a big no-go.

When I was a kid, my mother would try to lure me into the kitchen to learn how to cook and bake. I wasn't interested. I preferred getting up onto a step stool and peering under the hood of the car with my father. He and I talked about cars all the time.

So I know quite a bit about automotive stuff, but I don't know as much as I'd like to. That reminds me of something a car-enthusiast buddy of mine said to me in Houston years ago. He said that I was the only woman he'd ever met who could accurately use the term "normally-aspirated engine" in a sentence!

I use my automotive interest in one phase of my current job. You see, I get to discuss the differences between gasoline engines and diesel engines when I teach courses involving petroleum products. The students need to understand the chemical differences between gasoline and diesel fuel, so comparing and contrasting the two types of engines can speed up their understanding of the hydrocarbon chemistry. I enjoy watching some of the male students sit with their mouths hanging open, because I know more about engines than many of them do.

So it was a happy day when I recently discovered that I could get National Public Radio's "Car Talk" as a weekly podcast! For those of you who don't know about this program, you can go see their website via the link in the previous sentence. I was a regularly listener on Saturdays when I still lived in the States.

Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers - real names Tom and Ray Magliozzi - dole out loads of common sense and humor along with their automotive advice. Sometimes I have to stifle my laughter, as I'm sitting on a bus full of people as I listen. And these guys speak using plain English, too...albeit with strong accents from their native Massachusetts.

In this past weekend's edition (a best-of), which I was listening to during this morning's commute, they discussed brake fluid levels. I learned something new - that the more brake pads become worn, the lower the fluid level in the reservoir. That's because more fluid is being retained in the brakes to fill in the space created by the shrinking pads. Interesting.

Well, at least it's interesting to me. That - and many other things (just ask John) - is what makes me a geek-girl! And here in the UK, I've gained the additional title of "petrol head".


What am I listening to? Go see at: Auditory Cortex.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

"The Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades" - Timbuk 3, 1986

Have you ever heard of the term "familiar strangers"? I guess I was living in NYC when I first became aware of the term. It refers to people you see a lot but never actually get to know at all - and, in some cases, they are people with whom you never even have a conversation. Those of us who use public transportation or walk to work (as I used to in Manhattan) end up seeing a lot of the same people all the time.

I often go into a Sainsbury's Local food shop when I get off the Oxford park and ride bus in the morning. I've found it's a good place to buy lunch, water, juice, etc to take with me into the office. One of my favorite familiar strangers works on one of the tills there. (A till is the same thing as a cash register in America.)

I don't know her name, as she doesn't wear a name badge. She's probably in her early-20's and is of Asian descent - which here in Britain means that her ancestors were from India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh.

Here's what I knew about her, prior to this morning. I knew she was attending one of the colleges within Oxford University and was soon to graduate. She's been suffering an elbow problem and couldn't get the guy on the next till (which is a mirror-image of hers) to trade with her, so that she'd be bagging groceries with the other arm. And her studies have stressed her out so much that she once told me she's losing some of her "luxurious hair". And I guess that's about it.

I was assigned to her till #12 this morning. I asked how she was doing. She told me, with a big smile, that she had just graduated and was starting to look for a "real job". She doesn't know where in the UK she wants to live, as she's not from Oxford. I asked if she was stressed. She laughed and told that she's too tired to be stressed at this point.

As she bagged up my stuff, I doled out my lots-of-life-experience view of things. I told her that she should try not to be too stressed and think of this as the start of her next adventure. I said something about how even though the economy isn't great, there are lots of interesting career opportunities out there. I also told her that I firmly believe that there are always good things in life for good people. And I wished her lots of luck, in case she's off the till when I drop in again next week.

She looked like she was going to cry. And then she said to me, "Thank you. You make me very happy."

Wow. It's not often that you hear that from somebody you don't know at all, is it?


PS I saw Mr. Floweredy-Hat again this morning, proudly wearing his colorful bonnet despite the lack of sun. And he had a new addition to his outfit - a Che Guevara T-shirt!

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

"That's Not My Name" - Ting Tings, 2008

I thought I'd continue yesterday's tropical storm/hurricane theme again today. After all, I'm still glued to the National Hurricane Center's website for news of TS Edouard.

John was asking me questions about storm names last night. Most I could answer, but I wasn't entirely sure I could explain the "retirement" procedure for some of the storm names. So I found this interesting page on the NHC's site this morning, and I thought I'd share it with Lord Celery readers. Those of you who don't live along the coasts of the US probably don't know about this.

And you can see lists of the names of upcoming storms for 2008 through 2013. There's also an interesting history of naming hurricanes on the same website.

By the way, Janet was retired back in 1955. (I found a page, with photos, about the damage she did to one of the towns in her path - in Belize.) And although I don't see John on either the retired or the active lists, his Hispanic alter-ego Juan was retired in 2003.


Monday, 4 August 2008

"Tropical Storm" - Stanley Jordan, 1988

This is one time of year that I don't miss living in Houston, so close to the Gulf of Mexico.

Tropical Storm Edouard is making its way toward the Texas/Louisiana Gulf Coast. I don't wish harm on anybody, but I hope the storm steers toward Louisiana. I have a lot of friends in the Houston area, and I hope they will all be all right.

You can check the storm's progress on the National Hurricane Center's website.

While the "tropical storm" designation means that Edouard doesn't have winds severe enough to have gained hurricane status, don't underestimate the power of a tropical storm. Those of us in Houston in 2001 will never forget TS Allison, will we?


Sunday, 3 August 2008

"Shock the Monkey" - Peter Gabriel, 1982

Are John and I the only people in the UK who find the BBC's "Olympics Monkey" incredibly disturbing?


PS Go see what I've been listening to at: Auditory Cortex!

Friday, 1 August 2008

"Hit Me With Your Best Shot" - Pat Benatar, 1980

Following in the lead of two of my favorite bloggers (Jenne and Wendy), I'm going to try my hand at a bullet point blog entry. So here are the things I'm pondering as the day begins...

>I heard something on the radio here this morning that would not be heard on the radio or TV in the States. A woman, describing the difficult health problems she's had, said she was "desperately poorly". (I hear that people are poorly or are feeling poorly all the time around the office.)

>I wish I could retire and do whatever I want with my time. In a few years, maybe. In the meantime, we're plotting a strategy for 2009.

>John has the most kissable cheeks (of the facial variety). I'll bet that when he was a kid, people pinched them all the time. And I'll bet he hated that.

>When did I start turning my car stereo volume down when I need to concentrate on my driving? I used to be able to do almost anything with loud music playing. Is this a sign of old-age creeping up on me?

>How am I going to stand the next two weeks at work with Gavin away on vacation? It's going to be so uninspiring here in this office.

>One of my favorite "familiar strangers" on the park and ride bus this morning (I'm going to write a full post about familiar strangers in the coming days) really surprised me. I thought I had her figured out. 50s. Beautiful grey hair in a comtemporary short haircut. Nice clothes but conservative. Expensive handbag - black. You know, the slightly-trendy but still modestly-classy look. Well, this morning she appeared from her car with bright pink streaks in her hair, placed randomly from the crown of her head down toward her forehead. She didn't look embarrassed, so I guess it wasn't an accident.

>I don't think that we'll ever experience low-cost energy again. And I suspect that the days of the budget airlines and cheap flights are numbered. It's a good thing that we have email, webcams, and inexpensive international long-distance phone rates. Now we just need holodecks.

>I didn't know that John McCain can't raise his arms above about waist-level, because of the extent of the torture he suffered while in captivity - or was that just a fanciful discussion about McCain on the BBC TV's "Mock the Week" last night?

>I'm wondering if all of the McGuire Sisters are still alive. I'll have to Google them.

What about you? What are you pondering today?


PS Another bullet point - why won't my blogger template reproduce bullet points on the final published version of this story? I've had to put in stupid ">" marks to recreate them.