Archive for March, 2010

British Imports

British imports seem to attract fervent excitement when they hit the US. Liberty of London for Target seems to be winning over fans with its American debut.

A friend told me that there was a line outside the store in Manhattan. While I didn’t see a line at the Atlantic Station Target here in Atlanta, the displays were appealing. In fact, they were a lot more colorful than the ones I found in the store on Great Marlborough Street.

And the prices were amazing — not compared to other Target items. But they’re rock bottom next to their London department store counterparts.

I often tried, and failed, to find something at Liberty in London that cost less than 30 pounds. At Target, the flowered frames cost less than $10.

And as fun as sniffing the scented candles in Liberty’s Oxford Circus store was, you had to ask yourself if you really wanted one, since they were all about 25 pounds.

I got a black tea scented candle today for $10 (and seriously, who knew there was such a candle smell?).

So I have great expectations for all British imports. And I hope other Americans enjoy Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution as much as I did.

I loved watching Jamie try to win over the stern lunch ladies, and get an unhealthy West Virginia community to change their processed food loving ways.

His weeping in the playground during the premiere will surely woo viewers here.

And then, maybe his cook books will become more popular here in the US. Until then, I can serve his eggplant parmigiana to friends who come over for dinner, without worrying that they’ll know it’s from a book (and not from my imagination).

Historic Health Care Moment

I have to admit that I didn’t think the Health Care Bill would ever pass. Now that Obama has signed it, what will the news show pundits talk about?

And will people still ask me incredulous questions about the NHS in Britain, then tell me how strongly they hope that socialized medicine never comes to the US?

Of course, the new law, while revolutionary for the US, is still a world away from the UK system.

In London, all prescription drugs for me, as a mother who had given birth in the past year, and my kids, both under 16, were free; we visited the doctor without paying a pence; and of course, ambulance rides, wheelchairs, and other medical necessities carried no charge.

Even though people still have to pay for care, this law is a big step towards the safety net that the NHS offered all Britons (but I won’t spread that around, since the letter “N-H-S” still seem to make a lot of people recoil here).

Spring Has Sprung

As if someone flipped a switch, springtime has come to Atlanta. It’s as though the tree outside our house looked at the calendar, saw that spring had begun, and decided to bloom.

Those buds are robust enough to withstand the hail storm that was recently swirling outside.

Despite the freaky storm, it still feels like a new season. In London, a cold, rainy day with bare trees could happen in August, just as easily as it could in December.

Here, the seasons seem to be more obviously delineated. It may be raining, but it’s still about 60 degrees — not bad for March.

But the blooming tree isn’t the only sign of the new season. As soon as the cat who lives up the road started to use our front yard as a toilet again, we knew that winter was over.

We hadn’t seen the cat since October. During his winter hibernation, he hasn’t forgotten the location of his favorite outdoor litter box.

We caught him in the act earlier this week. I know from experience that chasing him away doesn’t deter him from relieving himself outside our house.

So the onset of spring isn’t all about flowers.

St. Patrick’s Day, U.S. style

The neighborhood bars have donned their Guinness flags; the television anchors are wearing green ties; and the local preschools have asked that children bring in green food – a request taken so seriously that the local grocery stores have sold out of grapes. It must be St. Patrick’s Day.

In London, I barely noticed the holiday. Nobody I knew wore green, marched in a parade, or wished anyone a “Happy St. Patrick’s Day!” in a fake Irish accent — or even in a real Irish accent.

Not even my Irish friends seemed to care.

I’ve heard that the celebrations to mark March 17th in New York, my hometown, are far more elaborate than what you would find in Dublin. On the Upper East Side of Manhattan, rivers of green beer would form in the gutters as revelers from the Fifth Avenue parade would drink and sing.

It’s truly become an American holiday.

Tiger’s Return

I am surprised to hear that Tiger Woods will return to professional golf next month at the Masters. A local golf expert who lives nearby was just telling me that he thought Tiger would sit the tournament out this year, since it would make his apology for his infidelities look insincere.

He thought he should miss the Masters, arguably the most prestigious tournament, to prove he was really sorry for his behavior.

But then, he has been on the sidelines since November. And months of rehab must get draining.

I wish the tournament wasn’t such a tough ticket to get, since it’s only up the road. I suppose that makes the Masters the logical choice for his return. I’ll be sure to tune in.

Beckham Out of the World Cup?

I hope David Beckham will still have a spot on the bench for the World Cup in June. Over the past several months, he’s emerged as one of the most clean cut of the England squad – an odd turn of events.

All of the seedy revelations about the sex life of former Captain John Terry made me nostalgic for David Beckham’s transgressions. When he was last widely reported to have cheated on his wife, he didn’t target a teammate’s girlfriend.

Instead, Beckham allegedly romanced an employee of a company assigned to look after him while he was in Spain. In many ways, an affair (which he denied) wasn’t so far out of bounds.

The Terry captaincy heralded a new era of sleaze. David Beckham’s presence could have a calming influence on the England team. I hope he makes a speedy recovery.

Corey Haim: The Death of an ’80s Icon

My English husband is usually the first person I talk to about big news events. But when I read this morning with great shock that Corey Haim had died, I didn’t mention it to him right away.

As a Brit, he didn’t have the same cultural icons that I did growing up. I wasn’t convinced that he would know who Corey Haim was.

I was partially right. He had seen “Lost Boys,” and remembered him from that. But I had to explain to my husband the breadth of Corey Haim’s fame in the 1980s: his constant presence on the covers of such teen magazines as Tiger Beat (I am not ashamed to admit I used to read that tween gossip magazine somewhat regularly); his starring role in a slew of teen movies, like “License to Drive” and “Lucas”; and his perennially wholesome and youthful good looks. Even in recent years, he looked young and healthy.

It was hard to give my husband an analogy of someone who defined an entertainment era as much as Corey Haim defined the ’80s for tweens. I could only come up with the Minogue sisters (Kylie and Dannii), although that’s a bit off base: they’re Australian singers.

I hope Corey Haim is remembered for his remarkable youthful career, rather than his tragic death.

The Starbucks Babyccino

Starbucks stores across London offer a free drink that I have yet to come across here in the US: the Babyccino.

If you’re with a baby, or even if you just say you are, the barista will froth up some milk in an espresso-sized cup for you. Then, you can sit down and drink your own coffee without feeling too guilty that you have dragged your son/daughter into a coffee shop that holds no interest for them.

Minutes of fun await at the counter with the sugars and other toppings. Capping the Babyccino with alarming amounts of chocolate powder and cinnamon make the warm foamy milk even more enticing to the toddler set.

When we moved to the US, I got blank stares when I ordered Babyccinos in Starbucks. After I explained what it was, the crews were happy to make it — but less obliging when I told them that in London, it was free (frothed milk comes at a price here).

We even occasionally ordered more than one Babyccino on our London Starbucks visits, since they were, as I mentioned, free. So it’s possible, because of our abuse of the free frothed milk and powdered chocolate policies in the past, that they will start charging for the little warm milks in London Starbucks stores in the future.

It’s also possible that our London neighborhood baristas weren’t heartbroken to hear we were moving to the US.

Buying British

When a friend told me that the local Publix on Ponce de Leon Avenue here in Atlanta had a new British food section, I scurried over to check it out. It was small, but thorough: the British items ranged from baked beans, to Yorkshire puddings.

PG tips tea was featured (even decaf!), Ribena (a syrup kids add to water to make it purple), salad cream (a mayonnaise like substance that one puts on lettuce) and McVities Digestive biscuits.

I was slightly disappointed to find that the top few digestives were crumbled. While excessive crumbs are always a hazard with those light cookies, I worried that they took a hit getting shipped over from the UK.

Unless, knowing that there is a demand for British products in the US, maybe there were produced here. And it’s possible the biscuits broke when they fell out of my canvas tote bags in the trunk of my car.

It took me about a year of living in London to find stores that sold peanut butter and low fat salad dressing. So, having been here for nearly a year and a half, I am right on schedule. I will be pleased to have the extra luggage space that is usually taken up by Branston pickle.

Now if only we can find a local liquor store that sells Pimm’s…

The Perils of Getting Gas

A year into my role as a suburban US driver, I made an alarming discovery. Getting gas without turning off my cell phone is forbidden.

I was filling up at our local station from the middle pump (a nice compromise between the top of the line gas, and the cheapest) and noticed this warning sign: apparently, when pumping gas, customers are supposed to turn off their mobile phones, as well as “other electronic devices.”

Really? It had never occurred to me to do this. And if I were to hunt around for my phone in my handbag, pull it out, and turn it off, I would surely drop the pump, and cause a big spill.

That was a scary thought, as another sign informed me that I was responsible for spilled gas. (For cleaning it up? Or just paying for it? The sign was unclear, but I didn’t want to find out).

The more obvious warnings are easy to follow: customers are not supposed to light matches or cigarettes while pumping gas. Open flames certainly seemed to be bad ideas in close proximity to gas pumps – but cell phones?

I looked over at another customer, who did not appear to turn off his electronic devices before pumping. Instead, he seemed to wonder why I was looking at him.

Maybe the main reason for the signs is to give drivers something to read while they procure gas. Otherwise, standing there holding the pump can get dull.