Monthly Archives: September 2011


I know I’ve gone quiet lately, and it’s because I’m really occupied with things that I can’t write about. So, so much for that. Nothing to say, move on. I suspect everyone who has had to deal with a residence visa knows how much you really don’t want to talk about the process while it’s ongoing.

I’ve run across a range of British words and phrases this week that have made me think “hmmm…?” so I thought I would post these in a light-hearted post that has nothing to do with the things that are making me crazy right now…

More-ish. The first time I heard this, I assumed it meant “Moorish” and was referring to some aspect of North African culture with which I was not familiar. But it turns out that it is a British word to identify things that are really tasty such that you want “more”. I like it, I’m just not clear on the distinction between “more-ish” and “tasty” or any other word for delicious. There is some subtlety here that I am not comprehending. I liked it better when I thought I just didn’t know enough about North African food to get what sorts of flavors were being discussed.

Cookery. I signed up this week for a course to learn more about baking bread, the science behind it, and how to get better at it. I might then take another course on how to bone a fish and then cook it. (This is part of my new philosophy for the world, in which I am going to take inspiration from my sister and start doing some more interesting things, like taking classes outside of work.) I was amused to realize that where I would use the term “cooking” the Brits would say “cookery”. So I am off to a class in cookery school. Full report to follow.

Plimsolls. I have to admit, I had never heard this word in regular usage, but it showed up in a post by Lynneguist last week, and once I had seen the word, I managed to run across it again–with great confusion of the “I have heard this and don’t know what it means” variety–later in the week. As far as I can tell, the meaning is “cheap tennis shoes” in American, of the sort that would never be used for much outside of fashion in the US but which are apparently the required shoes for gym class in the UK. Interesting. I think if I had been asked to run a mile in these I would have organized some sort of protest, but perhaps British gym classes do not do the same sorts of things as we did in the US in the 80s.

In work. This is an interesting one, as it seems to treat work as a noun that one can exist inside of. I suspect the American equivalent for “having a job” would simply be “working” and, as I am not a linguist, I am interested in how the two forms arose to be so very different. One often hears this in the UK (and Europe more generally) in the context of the phrase “youth unemployment,” a phrase that I have been assured is not on the radar in the US at all right now. Of course, in America we have “in school”, and just to keep things interesting in the UK we have “at Uni” so as to make sure it’s never quite consistent or obvious which words go together.

And a final one, a sign spotted on my walk home tonight: “Garage is in constant use“. I am interested in the use of the word “constant” here. While I can acknowledge that a garage should be in constant use, because it is a place to store things and one is probably always storing things in a garage, the intended meaning was of course that no one should park in front of the garage door because it might need to be used at some point (likely not constantly). I am amused.

I will end this by stating that I am not at all criticizing these Britishisms, as I–now resident in the UK for nearly five years and hoping for more years to come–am merely interested in the language. I get in mild trouble now when I’m back in the US, as I was last month, for the amazing range of British words and pronunciations that I have picked up in the last five years. This has led to an increasing fascination with language, linguists, and other things about which I am not an expert. But for the moment, it provides a very nice distraction from the things I’m worrying about, so I’ll go with it.

Vacation, Interrupted

I know I have been quite quiet lately. There is, of course, a good reason. And regular readers of this blog will have been able to guess what happened.

I went to the US for my usual August holiday, to see my friends and family in Minnesota and to go to the beach for the only proper holiday I take in any given year. (And even then I typically work at least 1.5 days per week because, well, that’s the nature of my job, it never stops, not even in a European August.) I managed to completely ruin all of my Minnesota plans by losing my wallet in the Milwaukee airport en route, and thus did not have a car and completely changed where I was staying and what I was doing. This was not all bad, I might add, as it contributed to the great vacation skill acquired on this trip: I learned to knit. But that is a story for another day. What is important for this story is that I was heading to the beach for two weeks of idyllic paradise and relaxation after what had been a somewhat discombobulating Minnesota experience.

Beach day 0: Pack my beach things into my beach friends’ car and drive from the DC area down to the North Carolina Outer Banks. Arrive late morning after an ungodly early start, have a nice beach arrival lunch, pick up the beach house keys and pack in to the beach house. After unloading and settling in, head for a walk (just a mile up the beach and back) and cook dinner.

Beach day 1: Have a nice long walk on the beach (3 miles up the beach and back) and food and etc.

Beach day 2: Have a long day on the beach, swim, surf. Happen to be sitting on the beach when an earthquake happens not far away, and totally feel it. Start to become aware that in addition to the earthquake, there might be hurricane trouble coming.

Beach day 3: Obsessively read and outer banks websites, knowing that the hurricane is coming. Try to enjoy the beach regardless, have another 6 mile beach walk. Total beach miles to date: 14.

Beach day 4: Awake to an impending sense of doom with regards to the hurricane. Read obsessively over coffee. Happen to be on the local website the moment the mandatory evacuation order is posted. Change out of PJs and pack out of beach house. Arrive back in DC area in early evening to prepare for hurricane.

(non)Beach day 5: Hurricane preparedness. Buy bottled water and canned goods.

(non)Beach day 6: Hurricane. Play board games and wait out the storm.

(non)Beach day 7: post-Hurricane. Go for a long walk in the sunshine, see many downed tree branches but otherwise feel as though the whole thing had not happened.

(non)Beach day 8: Waiting day. Spend the day working and regularly refreshing the Outer Banks news to see if there would be a resumption to beach 2011. Find out at 3 pm that vacationers will be allowed back at 10 am the following morning.

Beach day 9: Groundhog day. Take beach day 0 and repeat. Pack the car, drive 300 miles, have lunch while waiting for the all-clear to re-enter the beach house, pack in and settle in for a nice evening.

Beach day 10: Back to paradise, right? Except the beaches were closed to swimming due to trees and other debris. Long walk (6 miles) and dinner.

Beach day 11: repeat of beach day 10. Still no swimming, but lots of impressive driftwood, if by driftwood you mean entire trees littered along the beach. Another 6 miles of walking and documenting.

Beach day 12: Finally, some swimming.

Beach day 13: Swimming and another 6 mile walk. BUT time to start packing, as it’s over.

Beach day 14: Pack up and move out.

Total beach miles walked: 32. Not bad given the circumstances. Number of days spent in the Atlantic surf: 3. Pathetic for a two week holiday. Books read: 2. Far below the usual standard, but that’s because I spent four days transiting between DC and North Carolina. Not to mention all of the packing.

Silver lining: I had an adventure and have a story to tell. The beach where I was, in the northern Outer Banks near the Virginia border, was virtually unscathed. We had power at the beach when friends in Baltimore and Boston had none. I worked on my new-found knitting skill, which is, as I mentioned, a story for another day.

Moral of the story: Do not vacation in the outer banks if you are averse to hurricane evacuations. That’s two years in a row for me, Earl in 2010 and Irene in 2011. Earl was better timed, in that it was at the end of my two weeks, while Irene was as inconvenient as possible. But, she says as a scientist can only do, statistically I am unlikely to be this unlucky next year, after two forced evacuations in a row. Yes, the Outer Banks are totally worth the effort, and I will continue to take my holidays there. Hurricanes are just part of the adventure.

I’m back in England now, and the paperwork battles for my visa are now in full swing. This holiday was supposed to be the stress-free vacation before the paperwork storm, and it did not end up like that. First Milwaukee, then Irene. But I’m stuck with the mantra “anything that does not kill you can only make you stronger” and so here I go into the next phase of life. Wish me luck with the paperwork and hopefully my next beach vacation will involve 14 full days of beach bliss.