The Boffin has taken up archery again, so when he gets into something, he has to explains what he does for hours on end.
This morning’s conversation revolved around his shoulder about how it doesn’t hurt when he draws his bow, but it does hurt when he pulls his phone from the case on his belt. After his extensive demonstration of his point, I exclaimed, “OK, Robin Hood!”
I have been thinking about the term “educational system,” and people have a tendency to say, “I am a product of ________ educational system.” It could be a national educational system. It could be a local educational system. It could be a state educational system. If you moved around a lot, it could be international.
My point is that unless you know the person’s schooling background, you have no idea what he or she is talking about. And even so, how big is that system a part of? A local homeschooling co-op? The New York Public Schools? Richard Taunton Sixth Form College?
But when we say we are a product of such a system, our audience gives it heft and weight, as if it has meaning when our audience really doesn’t have a clue what we are talking about.
Why am I bringing this up? Well, every so often, I get sucked into the Romantic Anglophilia sites, and I usually end up regretting it. Anglotopia published an article that was, in and of itself, good for what it was trying to accomplish. It was a surface comparison of primary schools of the U.K. and the U.S., and it made itself clear that it was generalizing and acknowledged that different schools had different policies. I have no issue with this article.
The problem came in the Facebook comment section…where evil usually lurks. People took an article about uniforms, recess, and lunch/school dinners and turned it into the “Let’s bash the American educational system!” party.
Look at the number of likes, folks.
So, we have two women who they said they went to school in the U.K. and in their snobby way extolled the “system’s” superiority, and, a bunch of Benedict Cumberbitches, including a fair share of Americans I am sure, who are falling for this dream education hook, line, and sinker. And we had one gentleman who was a product of our “school system” who wishes we had the U.K.’s.
Well, color me impressed. You went to school in the U.K.? Shall I buff your shoes with my hair, since I am nothing but a Savage Colonial? I know. We’ll get the guy who wishes we had your school system to do it.
Now, for the reality. Education is patchy no matter where you live. There are good and bad schools, and British parents worry just as much about as American parents about their children’s curricula, standardized tests, homework, and futures. We are all in this same boat, and we have to remember that.
Meanwhile, if you ask The Boffin about this educational experience, he would give you a mixed review at best. While he has appreciated his education, he has always maintained that he learned more outside of school and that the biggest misconception about British education is that you can only learn innovation in university. Innovation comes with learning how to make do with little. Formal education had nothing to do with his achievements in innovation.
So, we are very happy educating The Sprog here and do not feel like she is missing out on anything by being in the States. I can certainly do a separate post about why it works for her over here, and American education does not take away from what is good about education in the U.K. The reverse holds true as well, so there is no need to tear the United States down to make the U.K. look good.
I can understand the frustration of dealing with a school designed for the masses when elements do not work for your children. But is it necessary to put halos around another country and what you believe to be this homogenous happy system based upon hearsay?
Maybe I need to open a Romantic Anglophile Rehab Center.
A shop assistant at Old Navy tossed this line at me while I was waiting for The Sprog to try on clothes in the fitting rooms. (As a side complaint, no 10-year-old should be wearing women’s clothing. It’s The Boffin’s fault and his freakishly tall side of the family.)
I countered with, “No, I lived in England before I met him. He married me because I knew how to make a proper cup of tea.”
Then I had to explain the English Tea Ceremony.
I don’t think she understood my point.
What else could I have said in response to this?
“Actually, he married me for my accent. My Philly suburban honk radiates class and sophistication in his culture.”
“It was a marriage of convenience. He needed to escape the oppressive dictatorial regime in the United Kingdom.”
“My husband is actually the 12th Lord of Southampton. We are just shopping at Old Navy to keep his cover.”
“Yes, I did marry him for his accent. But when I finally listened to what he actually said, it was too late.”
Today is the day that Queen Elizabeth II has become Great Britain’s longest reigning monarch.
So, Your Majesty, congratulations for not abdicating; not being found mentally incompetent; not being deposed, beheaded, and killed in battle; not falling from a horse; not contracting food poisoning; not being euthanized; not being shot by an arrow during a hunting trip; not ending up murdered in the Tower of London; not having an aortic dissection on the loo; and not having a hot poker shoved up your bum.
And most of all, congratulations on showing the restraint of using your powers to not having your husband executed.
It’s midway through Sunday lunch somewhere in England. Roast beef with all the trimmings. There sits, on your Nan’s prized serving dish with the dainty pink roses delicately painted around the edges, the Last Roast Potato. You want it. You crave it. And you know that the rest of the family is secretly vying for it too, including, whilst smelling of his usual Old Spice, Uncle Colin who managed to usurp The Last Potato of Loveliness the last five Sunday lunches. You need to make your move now.
“Excuse me, does anybody else want the last roast potato?”
The grizzled stares come your way. Your family shakes their heads and mutter their noes while you grab the Golden Starch of Deliciousness as your trophy for your clever timing and your Montgomery-like battle strategy. For you, you Clever Clogs, have triumphed in possessing The Last Roast Potato.
The complete inability to say, “I want _____,” at the dining table is one of those strange English etiquette things that I have no idea how to explain. All I know is that you are treated as if you grew another eyeball if you so much as lay claim on the last of anything. Being that most people do not have the refrigerator and freezer space to hold lots of leftovers, the English do not have the propensity to make extra to ensure everyone gets to stuff themselves silly. So, we are left with Last Roast Potato standoffs like the ones we see above.
The Boffin here…let me interject: One of the joys of a Roast Potato is the crack of the crust as you slowly break it open with your knife or fork (usually the latter). If cooked correctly, they are crisp on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside. As a result, the last roast spud cannot be shared because only one person will get that pleasure while the other scenario leaves two people with two piles of mush. If an argument does ensue over whose turn it is to get the last potato, then Uncle Colin usually reaches over and surreptitiously solves the problem.
In my family, if no one would touch the Last Roast Potato at the table, once the plates were clearly away into the kitchen, the food was fair game. Since we weren’t bound by etiquette at the dining table, we could reenact Lord of the Flies with tubers. And don’t think this mode of behavior is only tied to potatoes. The Last Yorkshire Pudding has left many resentments amongst relatives.
OK, it’s Karen again. Let’s flip the coin. Imagine, if you will, a poor unsuspecting person who didn’t know the game. A foreigner. An American. Someone like yours truly who actually took the roast potato when it was offered, but I was also a guest who was eating roast potatoes for the first time. So I was creating an English etiquette wormhole. I can imagine what was going on my my hosts’ minds because I certainly felt the tension.
“Must be gracious to our foreign guest who loves our food and is thanking us profusely, but she is taking the Last Roast Potato! Neurons short-circuiting!”
It would help if the U.K. issued a pamphlet to us when we first entered the country.
“Don’t talk in lifts.”
“A chicken salad sandwich has cooked chicken with lettuce and tomato. What you want is chicken mayo.”
“Don’t take the last roast potato or Yorkshire pudding when offered.”
If you grew up in England in the 60s and 70s, you had the opportunity to have been exposed to the most mind blowing children’s TV series ever, The Magic Roundabout. In the five minutes it was on in the evening, you found yourself completely detached from reality as if you had been smoking something you shouldn’t have. From the outside, it looked innocuous, with simple characters moving around a scenery of paper trees and flowers. The closest you came to being drunk before the age of 10, it should have come with a PG-13 certificate. When the BBC tried to move it from the 5:55pm slot just before the evening news, there was a huge backlash from the parents. This wasn’t just a kids show; this was CRT crack. The source of addiction wasn’t that it was a perfectly crafted masterpiece; it was because it didn’t make any sense whatsoever.
Akin to the story of champagne, the show was originally French (a stop-frame animation piece called Le Manège Enchanté), but it turned into something amazing when they gave it to the British. The source of the secondary fermentation was that the British public’s grasp of the French language in the 1960s usually extended to shouting a lot. So while the French animation studio provided the films, dubbing was necessary in order to have it viewed by more than a few people in Footlights. However, the films did not come with the scripts, as they apparently would have cost extra. So instead of translating the video, they just threw out the audio track and started from scratch. Eric Thompson (Emma Thompson’s dad) was charged with writing a whole new series of scripts which, whether deliberate or the result of some heavy drinking down the pub, bore little, if any, resemblance to the originals.
The French cartoon was already a little off kilter thanks to the creativity of Ivor and Josiane Wood and Serge Danot. Thompson’s script’s technically fit the visuals, in the same way that chicken fried steak is technically breakfast, if eaten before 10am. Names changed; plot lines changed; and some decidedly questionable language was included. Regardless, whether he was partaking in the sixties one puff at a time, the results were outstanding.
In addition to traditionally inanimate objects like cannons, lamp posts, oil lamps and a whole plethora of bric-a-brac taking on personalities, there were some key characters who would be in each episode.
The main one is Dougal, a terrier dog who fortunately lost his outrageous British accent from the original version but retained his love of sugar lumps. Generally grumpy, he is typically the center of the chaos which is going on around him. Always wanting to get ahead, win, or be seen as important, the stories typically end up with his plans going haywire and him stomping off or sedating himself with sugar. Walking the fine line between cardiac arrest and diabetes, he was a role model for us all.
Other characters include Zebedee (Boing!) who is obviously a jack-in-the-box, without the box. If you could get over his prehensile mustache, ability to accelerate at several hundred G and achieve orbit, and intense interest in the only human girl in this microverse, you could start to question what his purpose was in the show. In fact, I am fairly sure that this was the model for Sportacus in Lazy Town. However, I am glad that the latter did not go around saying “Time for bed!”
There was a pink cow called Ermintrude, who sounded like an extreme form of Hyacinth Bucket and expected the whole world to revolve around her. Given her grip on reality, either she had escaped from an insane asylum, or, as soon as her relatives turned up, she was going to be introduced to some very nice men who would take care of her. Given most British children had at least one relative who fitted the bill, our laughter gave us an opportunity to purge some tension.
We also met a snail called Bryan who was almost always cheery, optimistic and generally clueless. The fact that he was pink, had a shell that looked like it was glued on, and wore a scarf and straw-hat brings up the question whether the idea came from a schoolboy’s prank. Basically, he looked like a dressed up penis. Bryan was always my favorite character, todger excluded.
Joining the crowd was a rabbit called Dylan (actually named after Bob Dylan) who was either high or asleep, sometimes both. As with most stoned lagomorphs, he tended to hang around in trees and say ‘Man’ a lot. As accents go, his was almost as far as you could get from Elvis and still be able to connect it to the source. Given his narcolepsy, his role seemed to be more one of scenery than story development (if there was a story).
As if they weren’t enough, tack on a train, who is never seen carrying anyone or anything in her carriages. A complainer at heart, she seemed to have no practical purpose, operated on her own timetable, and became unable to move as a result of the smallest impediment. As characters go, she was perfect British Rail.
There were also two main humans. The first was a young girl called Florence (the aforementioned focal point of Zebedee’s hormones). Her main tasks seem to be taking a passing interest in what was going on, commenting about her hair or apparel, asking Zebedee questions, and doing her best to maintaining some level of sanity. Given that her surroundings generally consisted of cows driving buses, dogs making films, obnoxious trains, walking violins, and talking snails, she too was probably destined for the looney bin.
Finally, there was Mr. Rusty who operated the roundabout. Not sure how they ended up in this world, but, given his confused and detached nature, I wouldn’t be surprised, if we were just watching Mr. Rusty’s hallucinations after having made himself an omelet with some mushrooms he found out while walking.
Unfortunately, due to the committees and focus groups which help chose today’s line-up, we will probably never see anything like The Magic Roundabout again on mainstream TV. It took a well animated show and that needed that extra something special. It was born out of a period where costs were lower; there was less choice (only 3 TV stations, kiddies); and there was a time slot which needed filling. It was the chicken and waffles of the BBC. Something that shouldn’t have worked, but someone gave it a go.
Everyone has heard the phrase, “It’s the little things.” Sometimes, the clichés are the most appropriate words to use to sum up the feelings a person has, and I do have some conventional and oddball things that I miss about the U.K.
Easy Access to Cadbury chocolate – We are talking some good stuff, and I can opine about this, but I need to explain something else. Hershey’s, being that they have license to the Cadbury name in the U.S., has blocked the import of U.K. Cadbury chocolate into the United States. Now, British expats and emigrants, who are normally mild-mannered about not having everything from Old Blighty at their fingertips, were ready to reignite 250-year-old grievances over this outrage. I will do a whole blog post about the divide between American v. British chocolate, and it is not as simple and one may think.
Shopping in Cambridge – Heffers Bookshop (before Blackwell’s bought it) was a place where I could lose hours of my life. Wax Lyrical, a candle shop, that had these wonderful floating ones in all these unusual shapes, e.g. cute little frogs and intricate roses. Woolworth’s for a little bag of pic’n’mix sweets (heavy on the fizzy cola bottles). I know what I had doesn’t exist anymore, and I don’t want to recreate it. But I can’t help but be wistful sometimes.
Towel Warmers – Dammit, these need to be standard issue over here too! There is nothing better than a warm towel upon leaving a shower or bath.
Pubs – Proper pubs with carveries. Getting a nice Sunday lunch with the roast of the day and a pint along with good conversation with the ones you love. Sticky carpet from the 1970s. Decor of random locally themed bits and bobs in a poltergeist style. Being ignored for 10 minutes until someone fills your drink order. Creeky wooden tables and chairs that miraculously do not collapse. (Must be held up by the same spirits that did the decorating.) It’s all part of the atmosphere and charm.
Tesco’s Cheese and Onion Rolls – The 6-pack of wonder. I looked at the label and did not read “crack” on the ingredient list, but they spoke to me. They said, “We want to live in your belly!” It was the “I’m tired. I don’t want to cook, and my ex-husband was at doing his overnighter at the fire station shift.” dinner. I still end up picking up a pack and chowing down whenever I go back. Every so often, I still check the website to make sure they are still available just so I can sleep soundly.
Weird Advertisements in British Newspapers – Since I subscribe to the Private Eye, I only receive a small sample of what I was accustomed to getting.
Because one would be racked with shame and regret over one’s swimming pool decisions at the baggage carousel, of course. And this guy is so preoccupied over not using Jolly Gel, his jacket will be caught in the teeth of the carousel when it turns on, and he will be clobbered by some family of Texan’s 50-lb Samonsites while he is struggling to break free.
Not Knowing How People Would React to My Accent – I know this sounds really weird, but hear me out. In the U.K., most people did not make small talk. But those who did were genuinely kind and curious about where I was from and wanted to ask questions or talk about the fantastic holiday they had. So many tales were told of fun times in Orlando, New York, and D.C. If I were talking to people around my age, I gained bonus points by saying I grew up sandwiched between New York and Philadelphia, which somehow seemed exotic compared to East Anglia, I guess. On the other hand, quite a few Britons mistook me for being Canadian considering my penchant for wearing my Philadelphia Flyers apparel. I would also be lying if I said all my interactions with the Britons were positive regarding my nationality. But given the good far outweighed the bad, I had no reason to be gun-shy.
The world is getting smaller through technology and imports, so I can get a good chunk of Britain shipped over in some way as treats, but some things have to remain over the ocean or in my memory. It only leaves me room for new experiences.