Familiar Things 1

Now that I’m back, and my body / brain have more or less got over the fact that it’s really 11pm and not 5am, I thought I’d share some of the things I found I missed whilst Over There.

Carrying a gun:
Of course, that’s streng verboten in Britishland, but as I’d been staying out in Hardy Country for most of the time, I hadn’t really missed the 1911 or backup S&W 637 on my hip. However, when Doc Russia picked me up at DFW, he dropped the S&W into the seat divider with the casual comment, “Thought you’d want this.”

…and he was right, of course: as I slipped it onto my belt, it felt at once familiar and comforting.
Also, I like driving with guns in my car without that feeling of paranoia that the fuzz are going to get shirty with me just for doing so. One one occasion, Mr. FM and I were traveling north to the shooting range, carrying the usual assortment of rifles in the back of the Land Rover, when we had to stop at a supermarket en route to get supplies. I offered to stay in the car to look after the guns, but Mr. FM pointed out to me that if the rozzers were to find me in a car with guns that weren’t licensed to me, I’d be arrested — in other words, it would be less hassle just to let some criminal asshole steal the guns. Ugh.

BBQ and coffee:
Most of the time, I didn’t bother buying or ordering BBQ while Over There  because, well, I live in Texas. It would be like Mr. FM ordering a lamb curry or steak pie in Dallas: not the same, and most likely inferior. Last night I went to dinner at Bone Daddy’s with the Son&Heir and Canucki Girlfriend. I have three words to say: “burnt ends” and “brisket”. Welcome home, taste buds.
Likewise, I missed my Keurig, big time: as Longtime Readers know, I favor Krispy Kreme Light Roast in my K-cups, but wherever I stayed, my hosts had Nespresso machines with super-strong coffee in pods. Fortunately, I found a way round the problem, simply by making two cups from one Nespresso pod, using a big coffee mug to mix the strong and weak brews. Curiously, though, now that I’ve come back to my usual coffee, it seems quite weak by comparison — but I’ll get used to it in a while because it still tastes better.

Left-hand drive (LHD) cars:
…and their companion, driving on the right. Remember that I grew up in South Africa, and drove RHD cars in the left lane for a dozen years — so driving in Britishland was no big deal, just requiring a little muscle memory and perception change. However, I’ve been living Over Here for thirty years so I’m really more familiar with our system — and by the way, it sure is good to drive on wide, multi-lane suburban roads again in my VW Tiguan. On that topic, I rented two cars while in the UK, a Hyundai I-something and a Ford Fiesta.

Both are tiny cars [5,000-word exposition on getting my burly fat ass in and out thereof omitted], but no matter how small the car, most country roads in Britain are not two-lane, but 1½ lanes wide (and often less than that). I cannot tell you how often I held my breath as another car would pass me by, missing my wing mirror by what seemed like millimeters. (Even cheap rental cars Over There have the electric “folding wing mirror” feature, and it’s easy to see why.) Mr. and Mrs. Free Market, of course, drive their Land Rovers and Range Rovers with the knowledge that, as Mr. FM casually puts it, “he’s going to lose this one”, so oncoming cars generally get the hell out of their way; when you’re in a weenycar, not so much. And don’t get me started about trucks…
All that said, however, I have to say that it was a pleasure to drive among polite, courteous drivers who don’t mind yielding right of way and who don’t take it as a personal insult that you’ve usurped “their” position in the lane. Most of their asshole drivers seem to be in BMWs or Audis, but that’s pretty much the same Over Here in north Texas.

Opening hours:
Good grief, British retailers are lazy. Out where we were, supermarkets closed at 4pm on Sundays (!) and only re-opened at 6am on Monday. On weekdays, they closed at 9pm, on average — and this was true of Morrisons, Waitrose, Sainsbury, Tesco, whover. It didn’t seem to help their stock situation, though: lots of gaps in the shelves meant that even Waitrose was often out of stock of popular items much of the time, despite their long closing hours. (London, of course, was different, for obvious reasons.) The night before last, I realized that I’d run out of a couple of necessities, so at 11pm I went off to the nearby Kroger — and had to wait in line at the checkout.
And don’t get me started about pubs. Good grief: I have no idea why Brits accept the fact that landlords can dictate the hours wherein one may order food (generally, 12:30pm to 2pm for lunch, and 4pm till 8:30pm for dinner), as opposed to the Stateside attitude of [gasp] letting customers eat when they’re hungry. Some pubs advertise “Food Served All Day” on chalkboards outside, but let me tell you, they are few and far between. On several occasions I’d feel peckish, but after a while I got sick of going to pubs which weren’t open for food service — and I’d end up finding a Greggs instead (a national bakery chain which serves excellent sausage rolls, by the way); meaning, of course, that I also didn’t buy a half-pint of bitter, either so a double loss of revenue for the pub. Idiots. (I have a story from Mr. Free Market on this topic, but I’ll save it for another day because it’s a long one deserving of its own post.)

When I arrived in Britishland, it was steaming hot — I mean, close to Texas temperatures, in the mid-90s. When I left just over two months later, summer had already turned into damp, chilly fall — temperatures in the mid-50s and much cooler at night — while back in Texas, it’s still summer, of course, and I’ve been doing some Turkish-bath schvitzing just while walking from car to supermarket. Ugh. Mr. FM hates the British climate after summer; I have to say that on balance, I think I prefer it. My very first purchase Over There (after 6X and pies of course) was a fleece waistcoat, which is needed even on summer evenings:

I left it at FM Towers because I’m not going to need it until my return, but it’s going to come back with me in January, oh yes it will. I generally find the Texas heat oppressive and now I’ve been through a mild (by comparison) British summer, I dislike the heat even more. We’ll see how I do in the late fall and winter Over There, of course, but that’s typically been the time of year when I’ve traveled to Europe so it’s not an unknown climate to me. (And I used to live in Chicago, so cold weather doesn’t frighten me.)
Oh, and by the way, it’s really good to get back to temperatures measured in Fahrenheit and not that Celsius bullshit.

More familiar things as I encounter them.


Retail Developments

My body can best be described as a compact, stocky frame. In other words, I’m a tubby short-ass. I will also acknowledge that my dimensions don’t fit into the sizing scale used by most clothing outlets. My current waist measures 41 inches (give or take a half-inch or so) and my inseam leg measurement is [sigh] 29½ inches. For some reason, U.S. trousers measured at 40/30 fit me fine, but in the U.K., Marks & Spencer’s offerings require me to pick the 42/29 in order to fit me properly. Don’t ask; I have no idea why the two countries’ inches are of different length, and why I should have to go up a size at the waist, and down a size in the length in the U.K. (The same is true of shirts, by the way: U.S. XXL shirts fit me perfectly, but I have to get XXXL shirts at M&S to accommodate my 51-inch chest and 18-inch neck.)

I should also point out that M&S is pretty much the only place I buy clothes in Britishland, and the only place I buy underwear, period. (Cliff Notes reasons for the latter: comfortable, durable and quality workmanship.) One of the reasons I like M&S so much is that their materials feel wonderful: I have very sensitive skin, and clothing that most people seem to wear without complaint drives me crazy with itching/scratching.

I’ve told you all that so I could tell you this.

Via Insty, I note that Nordstrom is testing a “new” kind of store in California (where else?) that features “personal stylists” who will guide customers in their purchase decisions, advising them on fitting and such — and then having the customer order their final choices online, to be delivered later (I guess) either to the store for pick-up, or direct to their homes. Stephen Green says:

“That might be a smart move, given that expensive floorspace and (especially) carried inventory costs are two huge disadvantages of traditional retail versus e-commerce,”

…and I agree.

I’m not going to go into a critique of this methodology, because Nordstrom generally does things right and they are, if nothing else, keenly aware of their customers’ wishes and wants. All I can say is that if they’re going to offer tailoring services (as the article suggests), they’d better have their logistics ducks in a row.

Marks & Spencer has sort of gone this route, except that they now encourage people to look at what’s available in-store; if you can’t find your exact size, then order it online at one of the many kiosks in the store, and M&S will then deliver it to any M&S location you choose — even their food-only stores and gas station outlets — if those are closer to you than the department store. It makes sense, I guess, but it also drove me scatty a while ago when I went to shop for some trousers at the Salisbury branch.

I found not only one style of trousers I liked, but three — except that only one was available in 42/29. So I asked a clerk if they might have any 42/29s in the stock-room, only to be told that M&S no longer has any stock-rooms — what’s on the floor is what you get. So I asked whether they were getting any deliveries in the near future, and was told that one was expected in a couple days’ time. Would this delivery include more of the 42/29 trousers, I asked, and was assured that their stock re-ordering system would probably handle the shortcoming.

You can guess what’s coming, right? I went back a week later, credit card clutched in my sweaty little hand, only to find that nope, their re-ordering system had obviously missed the out-of-stock situation. So I gave up, and reassured myself that in a couple weeks’ time, I’d be able to go to M&S’s giant flagship store on Oxford Street in London to get the two missing items.

Once again, you can guess what’s coming: not only did M&S not have that size in stock, but they didn’t carry that style of trousers at all. The Oxford Street branch did have some excellent shirts in XXXL, which I bought, but not the trousers I was seeking.

Never mind, I told myself: in a week’s time I’d be going to Bath, and surely I’d find my chosen trousers — which were now becoming something of an obsession — in Somerset. I’d also find some more of those excellent XXXL shirts in Bath (I’d cleaned out Oxford Street’s miniscule supply of the XXXL), so I could, finally, get all the clothing I wanted.

Not quite. Bath stocked the 42/29 trousers, which I snapped up greedily, but not that style of XXXL shirts — which they didn’t carry at all, and never had.


So when people ask me about going shopping, and why retail outlets are losing business to online shopping, I can give several reasons why. Because next time, I’m going to find the clothing I like at Marks & Spencer, not bother with looking for the sizes I need, and order them online.

But if I’m only in town for a short while and the delivery won’t be quick enough, I just won’t bother shopping there at all — which bugs the hell out of me because I love Marks & Spencer.

I love shopping at Nordstrom too, so I hope that someone there reads this and learns the appropriate lesson(s).

Great Moments In Stupidity #1,254

I remember once going to a class at university, and after the very first lecture deciding that this class was not for me because the professor was a.) a self-righteous do-gooder and b.) clearly incompetent, so I was not going to learn anything from the class and it would be a waste of my time. So I quit the thing and found another professor more to my liking who taught the same course. But I didn’t make a fuss about it — note how in the above story there are no names, no course titles and not even a specific college mentioned. It was a personal decision.

So you can imagine how I felt when I read how this journalista published an article about why she didn’t want her two-year-old child to be taught by fatties in kindergarten, and was then shocked — shocked! — when the fatties and their camp followers responded with vitriol.

Frankly, this little saga just gives me fuel for my forthcoming work, “Why Journalists Should Not Be Allowed To Vote” (a four-volume set, publishing date TBD).

Let’s ignore for a moment her specious reasons why she wouldn’t want a fattie to look after her kid, despite said fattie being “clearly a lovely woman: kind and great with children”, but equally clearly (to Mommie Dearest) a Bad Influence On An Impressionable Young Mind Because Fat. (I have no argument against this attitude because I’m also a fattie, and I’m sure a lot of women wouldn’t want me to teach their Precious Little Darlings either, albeit for slightly different reasons. Unless they wanted little Tyffenny to learn how to shoot, of course.)

No, what gets up my nose is that this priceless moron had to blab to the world about her silly philosophy — i.e. going to great lengths to shame fat people (and yes, she was doing precisely that), and then being bewildered when the reaction turns nasty.

Why couldn’t she simply have taken her kid out of the kindergarten and shut up about her reasons for doing so?

I dunno what it is about the modern world: why people do stuff like make decisions about situations, and then seek some kind of attention about that decision — for approval or validation, maybe? — by telling everyone about the reasons for that decision?

I know, I know; maybe Our Intrepid Scribe thought she’d be giving a voice to all those other people who want to snatch their children away from The Great Fattie Influence, and maybe she has. I’m sure a lot of people (mostly skinny, censorious busybodies, I bet) were nodding along in agreement with her original thesis. Well, I guess they aren’t as numerous (or at least as vocal) as the International Fattie-Symp Set.

Myself, I’m just enjoying the show: people who think that obesity is not only unhealthy but also a sin, versus people who think that everyone has a right to be obese, that “Fat Is Beautiful” withal, and that judgey people are Literally Hitler.

A plague on both their houses.

Disaster Squared

The other day, I was idly wondering what would happen if a Harvey-like storm / hurricane were to hit an area like Houston again — only this time, because Evil Glueball Wormening, all the cars were not powered by gasoline or diesel but by government-mandated electricity.

Fear not; in a fine example of synchronicity, Longtime Reader Mike G. sends me this little study which, if you’re too busy to read the whole thing, can be summed up quite simply: everyone would be fucked. Hard. A sample:

Imagine if the environmentalists had had their way and had managed to force the US into electric cars…something that is underway now in some countries like Norway, the UK and soon France. Germany recently has been discussing in earnest banning by 2030 the internal combustion engine.
And now imagine with Irma approaching if the millions of citizens evacuating populated south Florida had had electric cars instead to make the 400-mile journey to get out of harm’s way. After 100 miles or so these cars would have lost their power, and charging stations quickly would have become overrun with cars waiting to make the one-hour charge-up.
Traffic would have rapidly come to a halt.
These millions of stranded people then would have been sitting ducks waiting to be blown away by nature’s fury.

I await with bated breath to see how the Greens will respond to this hypothesis. (Of course, given that most Greens hate people in principle and espouse a policy of going back to nature, they’ll most likely shrug and say something about staving off over-population by natural means, the amoral assholes.)

This whole unicorn philosophy of the Greens is going to end up killing more people than the internal combustion engine.

Back In The U.S., Back In The U.S., Back In The U.S.A.

I should have been arrested.

Mr. Free Market dropped me off at Heathrow yesterday, after taking me on a long, meandering drive through Hardy Country which just made me glad I’ll be back at the end of October for Part Two of Sabbatical 2017. For the record, I was three hours early for my flight — which was a good thing, as you will see.

For reasons unknown, I hadn’t been able to check in online so I went to the check-in kiosk to do so. The message was “Fuck off, Yank” (not worded quite like that, but that was the gist of it) so I had to go and see an actual person, who checked my luggage (no overweight baggage charge, even though I was coming back with more than what I’d left with — strange) but unusually, she asked me all sorts of questions about where I’d been staying, why I’d been in the country so long, and so on. She was an airline flunky, not a security person, so I said curtly, “I was in Wiltshire to inter the remains of my late wife,” which brought forth an immediate apology and a quick check-in.

So: on to the security line. Remember, this was not my first rodeo, so I knew the drill: laptop into its own bucket, empty pockets, remove belt, boots, etc. — i.e. not a single suspicious thing on my person remained… and yet I still triggered the alarm which got me a full-body search and pat-down by, it should be said, a very polite, even apologetic Brit-style TSA guy who had, interestingly, an Arabic name. All this took ages, and I started to steam slowly; but just when I was about to open my big mouth and start asking pointed questions, the search came to an end, and I was free to wander around the maze of shops and such in Heathrow’s Terminal 3.

I bought a few things: newspaper, road food for the flight (I don’t touch airline food because ugh), and decided to grab a meal before I went to the gate. “The Curator’s” restaurant (quoi?) seemed decent, so I went in and got a (wait for it) fish ‘n chips along with a couple pints of bitter ale — not 6X, but not bad for all that — and had a long, leisurely read of the Telegraph. Eventually, I finished up and strolled down to gate 31 — of course it was a long walk down, did you even have to ask? — but when I got there, things got ugly.

I got flagged and pulled out for another random search — this time of my carry-on bag, which held all the office paraphernalia to do with my laptop. This agent was an Indian guy — complete with singsong accent — and he checked my bag like a ferret sniffing out a rabbit, as well as swabbing down everything with that little explosive residue-detector swab thingy. Then he turned his attention to me: again with the belt, again with the boots off, again with the pat-down, and this time I got swabbed for as well, just for good measure. Of course, I didn’t have any explosive residue on me — which seemed to surprise Mr. Patel — but I was nevertheless still close to one of Kim’s Deluxe #1 Explosions of Rage, but once again, the examination ended suddenly and I was able to board the plane.

I am convinced that I was profiled for close scrutiny long before I even got to the airport — hence the difficulty checking in online, the interrogation from the ticket agent and the two intensive searches by airport security.

Anyway, the airliner wasn’t full to the brim with people — in fact, I had an empty seat next to me so I could sprawl, manspread and lean away from the aisle so I wouldn’t get nailed in the shoulder by the fucking drinks cart every time it passed by (which had been my experience going over to Britishland).

This restored my good humor somewhat, so I flirted with the flight attendant, offered her my assistance should she have any unpleasantness with an unruly passenger, and also offered translation services in French or German should the need arise — all of which resulted in some primo service from her for the duration of the flight. I even managed a couple hours sleep.

Doc Russia picked me up at DFW and brought me back to his house where we adjourned to the Smoking Terrace and proceeded to drink pints of gin & tonic. (Seriously: G&T in pint glasses.) I stayed up to try and get my internal time-clock readjusted by staying awake until midnight (6.00am GMT), had the usual excellent chat with Doc, and went to bed to sleep.

Didn’t work. Four hours later my body said, “What the hell are you doing, still sleeping at 10 o’clock in the morning?” so I woke up and started to unpack my carry-on bag…

…and discovered a six-inch screwdriver which I had forgotten about and which had somehow escaped the notice of two security checks.

I could have been arrested.