A GREAT WAY TO END THE WEEK: LITTLE BIRD CAFE

After a long, cold, dreary week, there is nothing nicer than a warm, cozy neighbourhood place to relax in. Little Bird opened right across from the Chiswick Overground Station in July 2016 and we’d been meaning to come for a while yet life always gets in the way. But last night I walked along the river in biting cold and wind to meet my husband there for an early dinner. The thought of warmth, good food and drinks made it an easy 12 minute walk from near Kew Bridge and the fairy lights and steamy windows beckoned.

Inside, the restaurant reminded me of New Orleans for some reason. Jazzy strains of Amy Winehouse and Stevie Wonder, potted plants of all sizes and varieties (succulents, cacti, and palms) and white painted brick walls complemented with dark wood and lots of wicker and candles leant to the ‘Nawlins’ atmosphere. Lots of cushiony, deep couches in muted tones of olive and aqua were tucked away in nooks and crannies with tables and comfy chairs. It’s very small but they cram in a welcoming bar and in warmer weather, there is outdoor seating out front and a hidden garden/patio in back.  The staff were very friendly and helpful, however they reminded us a few too many times that they needed the table back in 2 hours.  We went through the small front room which was buzzing with couples and groups clearly out for a good night and down a small hallway to a back teeny room where we were seated in a luscious velvet couch that took me a while to get in and out of.

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They are known for their drinks but I think as much so they are known for the Asian fusion “tapas” which were all delicious.  As its “dry January” all bars and restaurants find clever ways to keep drinks coming, and I started off with a “Mocktail” called Lavender Hill.  Described as fresh blueberries, lavender syrup, cranberry & fresh lemon in a violet sugar rimmed glass. It was delicious, but went down very quickly for a £4.95 drink with no alcohol. My husband had the Ginger Beer Mojito (or Nojito as it was non-alcoholic too) and he swears his was better, but we weren’t going to start a bicker over that!

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We had 5 tapas to share plus 2 sides — way to much but delicious nonetheless. My favourite Dim Sum Pork Gyoza with black soy. They were thin, tender yet crisped on the outside and succulent pork and flavours inside. This was tied with the delicious Chicken Tikka Brochette with Coriander Mayo and Flat Bread. Charred with tikka flavours locked in, and the smooth, creamy mayo — I was in heaven! The Spiced Lamb Lentil Curry was quite a large portion but very tasty — i only wish they had brought more Sesame Naan with that. My husband loved the Courgette Frites and the Edamame was messy to eat but we licked the spicy sauce they were cooked in off the pods.

Little Bird is an invention of Lorraine Angliss who owns Annie’s on Strand-on-the-Green and Rock and Rose in Richmond. Funnily enough, when we first moved to London, we rented a house just down the street from Rock and Rose and everyone kept telling us about this cool restaurant that was owned by a friend of Madonna’s and how we HAD to go there. We were never very impressed with Rock and Rose, with its bordello-styled main room and chintzy wallpaper. But we moved to Strand-on-the-Green and discovered Annie’s and absolutely loved it. Delicious food, excellent service, professional staff, and a warm, inviting neighbourhood cafe.

At Little Bird, it has the same vibe, but perhaps a little cooler, and more fun.  The only slight disappointment was the Blackened Cod Fillet — my husband said it was a bit bland. But as the sultry lounge music played, our drinks in hand and bellies full, we wondered why we don’t do this more often. Now that Little Bird is nearby, hopefully we will!

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LUMIERE LONDON!

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For anyone who happens to be in the City this weekend, you cannot miss this. I am heading down on Sunday night, but a friend went last night and thought I’d share some photos:  Lumiere London

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My husband and I saw some “Son et Lumieres” Shows in France on our honeymoon years ago, but still remember what a beautiful spectacle it is, especially as they light up beautiful, centuries old buildings. But London has added so many other aspects to this show, and modernised it in an interactive way. See the photos below. You can go to different parts of the city for different routes and exhibits. Download the app and it will guide you to the different exhibits. Enjoy!!

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LOVING LONDON: The Ever-present & Underrated High Street

It is often said London is a series of villages that merge together to form a city. Travelling around the city for work and play, as a tourist and a local, I find each little neighbourhood has its own unique identity. But all these little enclaves are centered around a High Street (or Main Street to US readers) that is the lifeblood of that area.

Many people do not stray further afield than their own ‘hood on the weekends, even though geographically (and compared to the longer distances in the US) they are sometimes only 2 or 3 miles from the next village/town. Most people in Barnes are not going to venture to Chiswick, people in Blackheath aren’t going to go to Clapham. There’s so much to do right at your doorstep, there’s no need to.

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(Chiswick High Road)

You run into people you know on the High Street, you have your local butcher or green grocer (organic foods). The fishmonger is there. And the High Street shops like Jigsaw, SweatyBetty, Monsoon all have presences around the city.  State schools are all local and therefore most of your social groups. Plus there are a lot of local, wonderful eateries and pubs as well as the bigger chains like Byron Burgers, Carluccio’s and Cote offer good options for meeting up with friends.  A friend from the States sent me an article on best London pubs in the winter, wishing she could come over, but my list would be quite different — too many to choose from just in my own area that are cozy, comfy, fun, and most important, close by (topic for a blog post!) to tuck into on a dark, winter evening.

That’s not to say that people won’t venture into other areas but it tends to be for a reason. I’ll go to Covent Garden several times a year to see the ballet at the Royal Opera House and meet up with friends for an early dinner. Or visit museums and see exhibits, catch a play, do a Fun Run, take visitors to tourist sites. Any of these things will bring us into the city. But generally speaking, it’s unlikely we’ll venture from the Chiswick, Kew, Richmond area.

I don’t know if this is similar/dissimilar to the US (?). Do people in Brooklyn go to the Upper West Side on weekends? Do people in the Village head up to the Upper East Side? If you are in Union Square, would you go to Williamsburg? I think Americans are more used to travelling further distances as is the nature of a big country. But let me know!

If you hopped in a car and headed east, it’s less than 4 miles from Chiswick High Street to Kensington High Street, but on the weekends, that could take up 45 minutes, and then you have the nightmare of looking for parking. US expansion and growth included massive parking lots to their cityscapes, but London was already formed and established and there is literally no room.  By Tube, it’s probably 1/2 hour. From Fulham to Shoreditch in East London, it’s only 8 miles, but I don’t know anyone who’d drive it.   London is just too congested to even contemplate that.

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(Camden High Street)

Perhaps that’s why the public transport is so good (compared to anywhere I’ve been in the States, it’s VERY good). The bus lanes are actually that. I made the mistake of driving in one when I first got the car — twice in two days — and I got two tickets for £160 each, thanks to a CCTV camera (they’re all over London). Never again. Plus the Tube and trains run often and regularly. Even still, it takes us longer to get from West London to a concert at the 02 Arena near Greenwich than it would to go from our house to Christchurch Meadow in Oxford.

So the Hood is very appealing — especially if you’ve been running around this 10mill strong, gritty, cavernous, cold city all week.  You can see the Greens (communal village grassy squares at the centre of commerce and churches) dotted around as you fly over the city in approach of Heathrow and they fill a vital purpose to the landscape and zeitgeist of the “Big Smoke”, adding charm and reminding us of the history.

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(Clapham High Street)

London is an expansion of little villages that started to run into each other as the city exploded over time.  In the 17th and 18th century, Kensington and Chelsea were rural farm areas, known for their markets and gardens. Notting Hill Barns in 1828 was 150 acres of dairy farm and and Portobello Farm was cornfields and meadows. Shepherd Market was a little village known for its 15 days of a May Fair (where the area Mayfair got its name) and farmers brought in cattle and sheep to trade from the fields out West (including Shepherd’s Bush). Spitalfields was named after the hospital and priory founded there in 1100’s called St. Mary’s Spittel. And was considered rural until the Great Fire of London in 1666. Anyone under 30 hangs out in the ultra-cool, hip Shoreditch in East London but it got its name from the watery marshland it used to be back in Ye Olden Days (soersditch meant Sewer’s Ditch).

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(Notting Hill then)

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(Notting Hill now)

Like New York City, all these little enclaves grew over time, but unlike New York, they were edging outwards from around 1000 AD. It’s really fascinating to go to any part of town and see old Roman Walls or great architecture and palaces from long before America was even discovered.  It’s awe-inspiring. You don’t have to walk far to run into a beautiful, well-preserved building that dates back to the 15th or 16th century.  History is palpable here.

Nowadays, each High Street defines the character and livelihood of London.  Kensington High Street is all swank and money with its glittery high-end shops, Barnes is wealth and bucolic with the lovely duck pond, Shoreditch is vibrant, cool and hip, Nottinghill is eclectic, wealthy and boho, Camden is gritty and cool and hip city, Chiswick, Clapham and Putney are wonderful combinations of city and suburb near the River, Kew is insanely cute and almost rural with Kew Gardens on the doorstep, Kentish Town, Regent’s Park, Greenwich, Bermondsey, and on and on.

Tourists don’t see enough of these areas, but spend a little time here and you discover what each neighbourhood stands for and brings to the table that is the feast of London.

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(Kensington High Street then)

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(Kensington High Street now)

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(Bucolic Barnes)

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(Colourful Notting Hill)

 

Doesn’t Everyone Start Their Day Like This?

Driving my husband and daughter to the Tube stop and school, we were having a fun bicker about something trivial when my husband said “Hang on, hang on. Do you think we bicker more than other families, the same as other families, or less than other families?” My daughter was torn between the same and more. I said definitely more, for sure. Husband: “What?! No!! I would say definitely less! Why would you say more? That’s absurd!” And the bickering started up again. 😂

LITTLE LONDON SURPRISES

London can be a very cold, harsh, unfriendly and unforgiving city.  As much as I love it here, there are days when it really does try the toughest of spirits. But as we close out 2017, I can’t help but think of the small acts of kindness, the little gems that occur on a daily basis, the serendipitous events that unfold around this cavernous, brilliant, bustling metropolis. You just have to look.

To start with, there is the “driver’s etiquette”.  This is true country-wide but it’s really a sight to behold in the throngs of London traffic. Perhaps it’s the English tendency to queue politely for everything and anything, but even at the height of rush-hour and impatience, you will see the “zipper system” working efficiently. When two-lanes merge into one, everyone waits for each other and it’s the exception to the rule when someone jumps ahead. Likewise, at 4-way stops, it’s a polite “after you” indication that occurs (to the point that sometimes I wonder if anyone will go!).

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But my favourite is “the wave” and the blinkers “thank you” afterwards. Anywhere in London (and the UK), when someone is switching lanes ahead of you or you need to let the car in, or if a vehicle is turning into your lane from a left or right intersection (junction), you slow down with hands on the wheel and give them the one-handed wave — an indication that it’s ok to go.  Once the car moves in ahead of you,  he or she then “thanks” you by putting their blinkers/hazards on briefly. If two cars are at a face-off on a narrow street where only one can pass through, one will blink the headlights which is an indication that you should go ahead. Once you pass, you give “the wave” as thanks. It’s an absolutely brilliant system that works seamlessly in most cases.  Cars, busses, trucks, lorries, everyone does it.  When I go home now to the States, I find the driving unbelievably aggressive and self-righteous. Everyone just assumes that they are King of the Road and deserves to squeeze in ahead of everyone else. Very unbecoming.

Another present delivered itself to me in a complete stranger’s act of kindness. My girlfriends and I were doing a long 12 mile walk in preparation for a charity event one summer.  We started out in Chiswick, went along the Tow Path to Putney Bridge, turned up the south side of the river past Hammersmith and Barnes and up to Kew Bridge. As we were nearing the end of the walk, I realised I had somewhere along the way dropped my iPhone (don’t ask me how – it’s a bad habit). One of my girlfriends rang it and a lovely man answered. “Oh, excellent, you called! I was hoping you would. I have it here on my desk at work. I went out for a run at lunchtime and saw it on the Tow Path near Hammersmith Bridge and thought if that was my iPhone I would want someone to pick it up for me. So I did!” I know. Very lucky. But floored that in a city 10 million strong and geographically massive, some good samaritan went through the trouble to retrieve it and take care of it until I had called.

There are many others – a plumber who came to fix a problem with the sink who wouldn’t charge me because, as he said in his very East Laahhndon accent “This was too easy to fix. Took only 10 minutes and no parts. No worries”. Or a barista at Starbucks who ran after me when I left some cash on the counter.  Or a Sainsbury employee who picked up my parking card when I dropped it. Just yesterday, I dropped my reading glasses somewhere in one of the aisles, only to find them already at the Lost and Found when I got to the till and realised I didn’t have them. (Yes, I drop things a lot!)

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However, my last little miracle has a slightly different twist. When we first arrived here, we didn’t have a car and took busses everywhere. Our 6 yr old had gymnastics near Chiswick Bridge. We hopped on the 190 bus heading into London, got off at the bus stop, went into the club where she changed into her gymnastics outfit and I sat in the coffee area with the other parents.

She had an absolutely favourite grey cardigan sweater (jumper) that she adored, and given we had only been in the country for 5 weeks and we didn’t even have our furniture yet, I understood her attachment to things…as permanency was something she was unaccustomed to. She wore it everywhere.  She definitely had the sweater whilst on the bus on the way there, however, after she finished and changed again, we couldn’t find it.

I was torn — I know how topsy-turvy her life had been in the past 2 months, but I felt it was time to instill the lesson of holding onto things that are important to you. I was stern when we realised she had left it on the bus. “This is what happens when you don’t take care of things.” She was wailing. “This is an important lesson to learn, sweetheart. That sweater is gone. You will never – ever – see it again. I’m really sorry but you should have taken better care of it.” As we walked back to the bus stop the sobbing continued. “Mummy, can’t we ask the bus driver to find it? Can’t we call the bus company?” “It’s gone, sweetie. If you leave it somewhere, you will lose it. That bus has gone into the city now.” I really felt bad for her – she was only just six. But I thought to myself “she’ll never lose anything ever again.” Lesson learned. I was a bit cross and stood fast.

A 190 bus pulled up heading westbound towards home and we hopped on. I’ll be damned if that little sweater wasn’t sitting right there on the seat where she left it!!  I couldn’t believe it. The gymnastics lesson was an hour and a half. Plus changing time and the walk, we probably got off that bus about 2 hours earlier. What are the chances the exact same bus would be coming back on his route as we got on!? And even slimmer odds that the sweater would still be sitting forlornly there waiting for her. Of course, my lesson was utterly and completely lost at this point. “Look, Mommy! Here it is!! It came back to me!”

It was a long time before she realised that anything she loses doesn’t miraculously return to her. But I still laugh at this story — only in London.

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NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION: WHOSE SHOES WOULD YOU WALK A MILE IN?

Atticus Finch said in To Kill A Mockingbird “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” He is explaining to his daughter, Scout, that we mustn’t judge another person until we have experienced what they have been through.

I would like to think of myself as the magnanimous, understanding person Atticus was referencing,  but I know I fall short.

He does not mean the people you feel sorry for or empathise with. He is talking about people you — without knowing it — have judged…or misjudged.  The people you would normally find the hardest to relate to, the least likely you can understand. Not someone who is poor or disadvantaged, living in poverty or worse. Although that would be hard to fathom, that is something that most of us would want to do to understand the difficulties that person faces. That is the definition of empathy. This is not an easy path, but I think we assume this is what Atticus is talking about. Whereas the shoes of someone whose values you do not like, whose causes you don’t believe in, whose doctrines are not ones you subscribe to — those are shoes far harder to step into.

For me, it would be very hard to walk a mile in the shoes of an Islamic terrorist. I would not understand them, nor want to understand them. And that’s where I fall short. I would find it very hard to walk in the shoes of a racist. A member of the Ku Klux Clan or even some of the Afrikaners we met while living in South Africa.  I would really bristle to walk in the shoes of a serial sexual harasser. Or worse, someone who abuses and rapes women.  Politically, I do not completely understand Brexiteers. And I find it very difficult understanding Trump voters. I cannot fathom that they see Trump as someone who will save them and the country.  I struggle with all these things.

But, isn’t the point that we do attempt to understand the opposite point of view? That we do try to listen and deconstruct it? You do not – at all – have to agree with it. But I would love to sit with a Trump supporter and really have an explorative, educational exchanging of views. Bridge the gap between us.  If we could discuss where he/she is coming from, how they arrived at this place in time where they felt the only answer was voting for a former TV-celebrity billionaire with no experience in government and no record of helping others, that would be a start.

I want to understand the racists whose views were formed from a young age. How did they arrive to the bias they so clearly have? When living in South Africa, we met Afrikaners who rolled their eyes and said things like “Well, your blacks aren’t like our blacks” as if we were merely discussing the difference in primary schools or bad restaurant service when in reality we were discussing racial tensions in the US and South Africa. I was appalled. I found myself judging. “How can they be so overtly racist?”

My husband pointed out to me that the woman we were speaking to had a completely different background and upbringing to us.  Economically, we were probably similar to her, and around the same age, but that’s where the similarities stopped. We all grew up in the 70s but in South Africa there was state-run media and the government controlled all the information that was fed to the public. She did not see the international news stories about the fatal youth uprising in Soweto or they were told a very different story – one that was far from the truth.  They didn’t have televisions in most of the houses and farms until well into the 70s, Pink Floyd’s The Wall and other outside media was banned countrywide, and they heard about things blacks were doing to whites through the filter and skewed POV of a scared white minority government.  They were 12 or 14 years old at the time whose parents told them the government was right.  My husband pondered were we to be born in South Africa with parents of a certain generation and the government lying to us, with a media machine in place to counter anything we might have heard, would we have turned out any better? I don’t know.

Of course, we would all like to think we would have seen it — would have sussed out the racism and inequalities and known about the apartheid system to keep blacks uneducated and seen the injustices. But would we have? Really? I don’t know. It was then that I realised I had judged them and found them lacking. I had gone to anti-apartheid rallies in the 80s. I bought the single “Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City” by international musicians who took a stand. I followed Mandela’s release and cheered when he won. But wasn’t it me who was lacking? If I couldn’t take away all the freedoms and education and bias that I was brought up with to see what kind of person I might have been had I been born in Pretoria rather than New York, aren’t I close-minded? I am assuming I’d be the better person, but I don’t know that.

I find the art of listening is lost on this narcissistic social media world we live in. So I would love to know whose shoes are the hardest for you to walk in. Whose point of view do you really not understand? If we could all listen to each other, sit for a spell, exchange points of views, come to some sort of understanding – with respect for each other – wouldn’t we be a better world for it? My New Year’s resolution is to do just that: I will try to listen more, judge less. Join me?

 

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TALKING TO TEENS DURING THE HOLIDAYS? START WITH YOUTUBE REWIND 2017

Does anyone know the Big Shaq song “Man’s Not Hot”? Do you understand it at all? What is he SAYING? Never heard of it at all? I like to think of myself as a semi-cool parent, but I just don’t get it. He’s wearing a big winter coat on a beach in Miami saying he’s not warm enough to remove his lovely jacket. And then he exclaims ‘skkrrrra-pop-pop’ (roll your r’s on the skrrrr).  He’s gone from a virtual unknown to nearly 100 million views on YouTube for his video. And apparently, it’s in contention for the Christmas #1 song in the UK this year!!

So although there is much to pontificate regarding the iGeneration that is serious, I’m focusing on the more fun (and challenging) aspect of pre-teens and teens:  How do you carry on a conversation with them?

I imagine at some point this holiday season you will find yourself stuck by the tree with some eggnog and a moody, bored teenager opposite you who would rather be sticking needles in their eyes than hanging out with a bunch of old fogeys. Family gatherings at the holidays are ripe for bringing together people with little in common to talk about.  And today’s kids are foreigners with their own fads, lingo and trends that make it near impossible to find common ground. 

Although we think this digital world is isolating, it’s also connecting in a way that we never had

 

My daughter told me this morning on the way to school that, yesterday, YouTube just released it’s annual “YouTube Rewind List”.  Who knew?! This is a list of all that happened in their world that helped to shape the year. She tells me anyone who is anyone between the ages of 12 and 20 will know this list.  It includes rappers, DJ’s, YouTubers, popular songs, fads, challenges, trends, etc. This is an excellent starting point:

But. It is so much more interesting to watch WITH your child as they will be able to explain all the points of reference you don’t get. The video starts with a girl in an orange sweatshirt dancing. “Oh, that’s that girl — she’s famous for her dancing” exclaimed my Child. She went on from there, stopping and starting at every point I didn’t understand or get. “Wait,..you don’t know about ‘The Floor is Lava’?!!?” No, sweetheart…Do you know about Trump’s latest stunner in moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?

One of the things that’s so vital as a parent is open lines of communication. But if I shut out everything I see as silly in her world, I’d be clueless to her POV.  To me, YouTubers and fads and songs that I have never heard of are trivial, trite and time-wasting. They are not going to change the world. But discussing her interests and seeing things through her eyes will help me to understand how she and her friends think and respond; help me see how they relax and how they are inspired; what makes them laugh or cry.

The YouTubers and DJ’s and videos of her era are the TV-stars, rock stars and movie stars of my era

Every generation has gaps in knowledge that need to be shared both up and down the age groups. My parents would take me to Broadway musicals in New York and in return I would play my Springsteen and Grateful Dead albums to them, explaining their cosmic relevance and likability.  They were willing to listen to me and my passions as long as I gave theirs a fair shake. My Child spends about 4 hours/week on social media and Netflix and YouTube.  She also competitively swims, plays hockey, rows, sings, plays piano and is a good student. So she’s well-balanced. My point is the YouTubers and DJ’s and videos of her era are the TV-stars, rock stars and movie stars of my era. It’s just a way to relax…and be different than your parents.

I am surprised, though, at how universal these trends are to a certain age group.  On holiday last summer in Greece, we had friends from Seattle join us with kids the same age as the Child — 11, 12, and 13 years old.  Our Child: Do you know Liza Koshy?  Seattle Child: Yah, love her. More recently the Child was texting with a friend in Washington D.C. and discussing Lele Pons, another big YouTuber who is Venezuelan-American, so I’m figuring she has the Latino world as well.  And then even more recently, Seattle Child and London Child were discussing Riverdale and how they both have a crush on Jughead (seriously, Jughead?!). Another well-known global YouTuber is an English-speaking Swede, so just another reminder that the digital world has no borders.  And there are no time-lapses between country/international release dates that we had growing up. They are all watching the same thing at the same time — globally.  I would argue that although we think this digital world is isolating, it’s also connecting in a way that we never had.

And the YouTube Rewind 2017 video shows much more than just Despacito, Ed Sheeran, slime paintball parties and funny dancing. It touched on social issues that were big in 2017 to this generation: the Houston and Puerto Rico hurricanes, the Ariana Grande/Manchester bombing, the Las Vegas shooting, the Vive La France celebrations from Macon’s victory election, the solar eclipse, and more.  It’s not just frivolous and non-sensical.

But besides the YouTube Rewind 2017 video, below are a few things I’ve discovered in conversations with my daughter that I thought might be useful. An “IN” and “OUT” List to help you navigate the pre-teens and teens you run into this holiday season.  Conversation starters.  Granted, they will probably still think you are totally unhip, but at least you might get a nod of appreciation for trying to bridge the gap!

The digital world is confusing for us “first generation” parents and I have definitely made my fair share of mistakes which I will write about, as well as lessons learned. But sitting here at my desk, I turned off my Sia “Everyday Is Christmas” new album I’d been listening to on Spotify and put on Big Shaq’s “Man’s Not Hot” to try to listen to the song through my daughter’s ears.  It’s actually a pretty funny and fun song, and after watching the video a few times, I found it definitely grows on you!

THEINLIST

People:

Liza Koshy – YouTuber — funny, in the opening scene of YouTube Rewind 2017

LeLe Pons – YouTuber — funny, Venezuelan-American, also in the opening scene of YouTube Rewind 2017

PewDiePie – YouTuber — Swedish, funny

Fine Brothers Entertainment — YouTubers, funny, from New York

Lilly Singh — YouTuber, Canadian, also known as ||Superwoman||

Logan Paul and Jake Paul — YouTubers, comedy and vloggers, created “Zoosh”

Marshmallo — huge DJ, also seen in YouTube Rewind 2017 video, he’s the guy dressed all in white with a marshmallow head and black eyes and smile painted on.

Cole Spouse — plays Jughead on TV’s “Riverdale”, a dark version of the old Archie and Jughead, Betty and Veronica comic books.

Gadgets:

Slime — if you don’t know what this is, you really are just coming out from under a rock

Fidget spinners — same as Slime, you really should know these

Challenges/Trends:

The Floor is Lava — this is a challenge when you are with friends in a store or mall or park and suddenly someone says “the floor is lava” where you have to find ways to stay off the ground. Seen in the YouTube Rewind 2017 video.

Backpack Kid — also on the YouTube Rewind 2017 video, he’s a 15 yr old YouTuber who dances with a backpack and swings his arms straight from side to side. The dance is also known as “The Floss”

Stranger Things — the whole show and cast are pretty awesome for both kids and parents

Lingo:

Beef — this has made a come-back from the 80s! If someone has “beef” with someone else it means they are not getting along

Squad — homies, clique, group of people who are close friends and get along

Triggered — this is when someone’s really angry, they get “triggered”

Savage — I haven’t quite figured out how to use this properly in a sentence but it’s something along the lines of pretend-dissing someone. Sorta a backhanded “ouch” moment.

Ship — to ship two people means you think they would be good together — in a fun way, not too serious. “I am shipping John and Jane. They hang out all the time and they are so cute.”

THEOUTLIST

Miranda Sings — YouTuber, funny – I was just getting to know her and her work when she started a TV show a year ago October on Netflix, and then never heard about her again. My Child says they stopped watching her once she went to Netflix.

Mannequin Challenge — sooo last year. When you take a video moving through a group people staged motionless in a funny position.

Pretty Little Liars — TV show about a group of mean girls who are stalked by a creep named A. But no one cares anymore who “A” is, as the storywriters keep revealing and then switching the murderer/stalker around.

Water bottle Flip — this was a challenge last year that was very popular where you take a water bottle and flip it up in the air to land perfectly on a flat surface without falling.

TAKE MEGHAN MARKLE’S (AND MY) LIFE IN THE UK TEST!

Dearest Meghan,

Congratulations on your first official week here in the UK! As the soon-to-be bride of our favourite royal you’ve seamlessly settled in to your role as a champion of his charities up in Nottingham. Hopefully you will continue supporting your own charitable work, but understand first step is all about fitting in here.  And your style!! Wow! It’s already being called “The Meghan Effect”. The handbag you wore sold out in minutes (Strathberry) as did the trench coat you wore for that first outing. So, well done, you! No faux pas, fashion or otherwise!

Next up, however, is the “Life in the UK” test. I understand from the Palace that you will be taking the steps all Americans take (no special treatment for you! How egalitarian!) and that means you are now transitioning from your Visa to the wonderfully British moniker called “ILR”.  ILR means – and I kid you not – Indefinite Leave to Remain. Think about that. Cocktail party fodder: ‘Are you a British citizen yet?’ ‘No, but I do have Indefinite Leave to Remain!!’ Ahh, er, hmm. Why not just say “Stay”?

Anyway, in order to get ILR, you have to pass the Life in the UK Test. They have changed it since I took it in 2013 and you should be thankful! It used to be something like 40 or 50 questions out of a possible 1500 questions and you had to get at least 75% right.  It was insanely hard. Questions like:

TEST #1 (OLD TEST, 2013)

  1. What percentage of all ethnic minorities (living in the UK) live in the London area?
  2. What is a quango?
  3. In the UK, the number of children and young people under the age of 19 yrs old is A) 13 mill B) 15 mill C) 17 mill or D) 19 mill.
  4. Which service does income tax NOT pay for? A) roads B) rubbish collection C) Education D) Police
  5. Scotland has their own bank notes. Are they valid to be used anywhere in the UK?
  6. What percentage of the UK population lives in Wales?
  7. TRUE or FALSE: During the 1950s, the there was an immigration shortage and the UK recruited West Indies migrants to come drive buses.
  8. TRUE or FALSE: The Queen is the Head of State of the United Kingdom.
  9. How many seats does the UK hold in the European Parliament (MEP’s)?
  10. Information about training opportunities can be found at which TWO of the following? A) your local college B) LearnDirect C) The Home Office D) the post office

*(ANSWERS TO ALL TESTS BELOW)

There was a disproportionate amount of questions (IMHO) on job centres, trade unions,  population statistics and the Welch education system, but perhaps that’s why they changed it. Now, there are online tests that include questions like (you must get 15 out of 20 right to pass):

TEST #2 (NEW TEST, 2017)

  1. When did Britain become permanently separated from the continent by the Channel? A) 50,000 yrs ago B) 10,000 yrs ago C) 15,000 yrs ago D) 18,000 yrs ago
  2. Who was reigning in Britain when Wales became formally united with England by the Act for the Government of Wales? A) Elizabeth I B) Henry VII C) Henry VIII D) James I
  3. Which flag has a diagonal red cross on a white background? A) Cross of St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland B) cross of St. David, patron saint of Wales C) cross of St. George, patron saint of England D) cross of St. Andrew, patron saint of Scotland
  4. When did the War of Roses start? A) 1462 B) 1478 C) 1455 D) 1388
  5. How many members does the Scottish Parliament have? A) 60 B) 90 C) 129 D) 120
  6. TRUE or FALSE: Pool and darts are traditional pub games
  7. Which British sportsman won 5 consecutive gold medals at the Olympic Games in the rowing category? A) Christopher Dean B) Sir Chris Hoy C) Sir Steve Redgrave D) Bradley Wiggins
  8. When did the UK join the EEC (European Economic Community)? A) 1963 B) 1957 C) 1973 D) 1977
  9. Which court deals with the most serious cases of children aged 10 to 17 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland? A) Youth Court B) High Court C) Magistrates’ Court D) Crown Court
  10. What is the name of the best preserved prehistoric village in northern Europe and which traces its origin back to the Stone Age? A) Skara Brae B) Maiden C) Bayeux D) Stonehenge
  11. When was the National Trust founded? A) 1890 B) 1895 C) 1980 D) 1910
  12. After the Black Death, new social classes appeared in England, including owners of large areas of land known as: A) Clans B) Nobility C) Gentry D) Judiciary
  13. Which of the following operas was written by Gilbert and Sullivan? A) Cats B) The Mikado C) The Mousetrap D) The Phantom of the Opera
  14. Who was the first English Prime Minister? A) Admiral Nelson B) Oliver Cromwell C) Henry Pelham D) Sir Robert Walpole
  15. How old do you need to be to apply for a free TV license? A) over 70 B) over 60 C) over 75 D) over 65
  16. Which British sportswoman won two gold medals for running in the 2004 Olympic Games? A) Dame Kelly Holmes B) Dame Ellen MacArthur C) Jessica Ennis-Hill D) Jayne Torvill
  17. What percentage of the total British population is located in England alone? A) 84% B) 79% C) 58% D) 60%
  18. Which court deals with cases involving personal injury, family matters, breaches of contract and divorce in England and Wales? A) Crown Court B) High Court C) County Courts D) Sheriff Court
  19. In which period did British film studios flourish? A) 1940s B) 1950s C) 1930s D) 1920s
  20. Where was the first tennis club founded? A) Brixton B) St Andrews C) Haywards Heath D) Leamington Spa

So much easier, right? 🙂 But you are a smart cookie.  You went to Northwestern, you’ll do fine!

ADVICE: LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES

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My advice: Don’t do what I did. I sorta took it for granted that it would be a piece of cake. Most people going in there are refugees or immigrants who have scraped and scrabbled to get here. English isn’t even their first language! I was cocky – how hard could this be? There were about 20 of us in the waiting room and the ones who were cramming, noses in their books, until the very last minute were all the Eastern Europeans and the Asians (Chinese and Indians, mostly). The ones sitting back with arrogance and a yawn were us Americans, Canadians, Aussies, and New Zealanders.

What I did find somewhat ironic was when I went to take the exam, they give you a list of test centres closest to your address. For me, this was the Iranian Association in Hammersmith. Yes, I was taking a Life in the UK test at the Iranian Centre (?). I wasn’t entirely sure it was official — especially when i pulled up to a little run-down, nondescript store front on King’s Street in Hammersmith.

As we were about to be called, an Asian woman turned to me in broken English and asked “What day is St. David’s Day?” I replied, very self-assuredly and probably somewhat patronising, “Oh, I don’t think we need to know the exact date. We just need to know that St. Andrew is for the Scottish, St. David is for the Welch, St. George is for the English and St. Patrick is for the Irish.” “No, we need to know dates!” she said very frenetically, and started rifling through her book. I started to sweat. I hadn’t learned that! I started consulting my book too. March 1st for David, November 30th for Andrew, April 23rd for George and of course, because of my Boston roots, I already knew St. Patrick’s Day of March 17th.

The exam was quick and multiple choice or True False (and yes, there was a question about St. George’s Day). Once finished, you wait in the waiting room for them to call you into a glass-fronted office where you can all watch as they either hand you a certificate or they don’t.  I quickly called my husband “Can you use Scottish money in London?” “In Wales, do schools follow the Welch National Curriculum or do they have the same curriculum as England?” “Does the Queen appoint Life Peers or does the Prime Minister? Or does he advise her to do it and then she does it?” I was panicking. I watched as two Aussies – a boyfriend/girlfriend team who showed up with no books to hand – went in together and they both got rejected, came out looking rather sheepish.  Damnit! I should have studied more!

Needless to say, I did pass, but probably just barely. I know I got at least 4 or 5 questions wrong, so I was borderline.  So DO NOT do what I did. Study! Take it seriously! And then you’ll be on to learning how to drive on the wrong side of the road!! Another outrageously hard test here in the UK, which many people fail MANY times (there’s a story of a woman who has failed 90 times!). Perhaps, as you are going to be a Royal and all, you might not need it. But still, I shall guide you through.

 

ANSWERS:

OLD TEST: 1. 45% 2. non-departmental public bodies carrying out functions on behalf of the public 3. B. 4. B. 5. YES 6. 5% 7. TRUE 8. TRUE 9. 78 seats 10. A. and B.

NEW TEST: 1) B. 2) C. 3) A. 4) C. 5) C. 6) TRUE 7) C. 8) C. 9) D. 10) A. 11) B. 12) C. 13) B. 14) D. 15) C. 16) A. 17) A. 18) C. 19) C. 20) D.

 

MEGHAN MARKLE TOP 10 LIST: DO’S & DON’T’S

Dearest Meghan, Congrats! I know you have a lot on your plate today.  You don’t want to make a dog’s breakfast of this royal photo shoot this afternoon, hence I’m sure you are quite quite busy! However, if and when you’ve got a few minutes, here are some helpful tips for adjusting to life in the UK. Transplanted from the US myself for 7 years, and being married to a Brit for nearly 17 years, I thought I could be of some help. So if you need any, just get on the dog (cockney rhyming slang that Harry may or may not use (?). Translation: dog and bone = phone) and we can talk.

  1. Learn the difference between the geopolitical terms U.K, Great Britain and England. Most Americans don’t know what separates one from the other. Do the Brits? It’s so confusing!  And where do Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland fall? Learn all these! Be very careful what you call the Scottish (they’d be offended if you said they were British, even though the Welsh and the Scots come under the “British” heading technically). There is no better video to untangle all this than this excellent explainer that I used to show my American university students studying here in the U.K.
  2. When wearing a skirt at a garden party and it’s rather chilly, do not say to The Queen “I should have worn pants today”. This will be taken to mean you have decided to forego all undergarments and are going commando. Pants = Underwear. Trousers = Pants. Likewise, if anyone asks you at the wedding “How’s yer father?”, they are NOT inquiring as to the health or status of your Dad, in any way, shape or form.  And do not ask anyone else about their father. In this strange context, it is euphemistically referring to sexual intercourse and your sex life.
  3. BARKSHIRE (or as the Brits say BAHKSHER) and BERKSHIRE are NOT two different counties outside of London. They are, in fact, the same county! Similarly, with DARBYSHIRE and DERBYSHIRE, BARCLAY Square is Berkeley Square, etc. The vowels are what really mess us up here. And the R’s or lack of them. And just when we think we’ll be the same (i.e. Pall Mall, we Americans say it with long A’s. Surely they will too?), they go and do a reverse switch on us (and use short A’s: Pal Mal)! And then there’s just the weird pronunciations like Leicester is Lester, and Cockburn is Coburn and Chiswick is Chissick.
  4. Forget the word VERY and replace it with QUITE. “Very good polo-playing, Harry!” becomes “Quite good polo-playing”. In fact, remove ALL hyperbole from your lexicon and replace it with very subdued tones. “That was a super awesome ballet we saw!” Becomes “It was really rather good.” Or “You did such a great job on that speech! You nailed it!” becomes “Not bad. Well done.” I’ve already posted, but there’s an excellent explainer of what the British mean and say here. It’s a mine-field!
  5. You can fancy a pizza or fancy going to a movie, but do NOT fancy anyone other than Harry. Fancy can be used for many things but for people, it’s your Significant Other.
  6. Rent the Railway Children. It’s actually not a very good movie, and totally dated, but these crazy Brits absolutely LOVE it. They can quote from it, remember every actor in it (Jenny Agutter gets particular mention from men), and you offend their national pride if you say you don’t like it.
  7. The Importance of Tea: I’ve written about this before, but it’s a cultural staple that runs the generations. It’s in every office, home, school and very likely, the palace. If there is EVER a break in any conversation, some Brit will likely use tea as a way of dealing with awkward silences. If you are sitting with Charles and Camilla and running out of things to say, throw in “Fancy a cuppa?” and then signal for the butler to bring you all some tea. It’s also their go-to at trying moments. There’s a wonderful comedy skit where a family is gathered round the radio listening to Neville Chamberlin make the sobering announcement that Britain has entered into war with Germany (World War II) after which there is a silence and then the Grandad says “Cuppa tea, anyone?”. It’s brill.
  8. Land of Backwards Doors: It takes some getting used to. After the Cocoanut Grove Fire in Boston in 1942, major changes were made to building codes all across the US to make sure that all doors in public spaces opened outwards. This means office buildings, coffee shops, sports centers, grocery stores, houses, gas stations, etc. Here, there are no such codes and therefore you often go SLAMMING into doors because your mind is telling you they will go one way and they go the other. Don’t know the palace set up, but just be aware!
  9. Vernacular/Lingo: So much to learn!! Brill for brilliant. Dog’s breakfast, cock up, toad in the hole, spend a penny, blimey, crikey, etc. Likewise, they have no idea what “khakis” are – never heard of the word. And Fall means when someone actually takes a tumble. It does not mean a season of the year. Autumn is what we are in right now.  And, Will and Kate might giggle when you say “Guys, up ahead past the median, near that private school and past the grocery store, can we pull over so I can hop out on the sidewalk and then you can pop the trunk please? Gotta get my umbrella.” Translation: “Mates, once past the central reservation, near that public school and past the supermarket, could we please pull up so I can step out onto the pavement and open the boot? I would like to get my brelly.” Two nations definitely separated by a common language, as George Bernard Shaw said. By the way, they say BERNerd, not Bern-ARD.
  10. Pantomime: A lot like the Railway Children. It’s a cultural thing that is sorta lost on Americans but a huge part of Christmas, so you may be seeing one soon with the family. I’ve tried to explain it to Americans for years and it never comes out right: OK, it’s this play where they take a children’s fairy tale and sorta tart it up and mix it up. The lead female characters are always played by men, and vise-versa. “So it’s for kids?” Well, yes and no. Also for adults as there is some nuanced humour that goes over the heads of the kids. “So it’s a comedy?” Yes, but not like you think. It’s usually really bad jokes and slapstick. And lots of talking back and forth to the audience in a very silly way. Actor: Oh, yes I did!! Audience: Oh, no you didn’t! and that goes on for a while. It really doesn’t translate well, and Americans go in with all the wrong expectations, but it’s actually crackin’ good fun!

So, there you have it! Just a beginning cheat sheet for you.  And yay for another royal wedding! I think we Americans love the royals way more than Brits do. So we are all rooting for you to settle in nicely. It’s a lovely lovely place, this little island, and I’m absolutely chuffed you are coming over. Gobsmacked, in fact. Fabulous news. I truly hope the Brits will welcome you as I do. And congratulations again! Many secretly say they think Harry is the best royal, so well done, you!

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U.K. Does Remembrance Day Beautifully

Remembrance Day always gets to me here in London. Literally, the whole city (and country) comes to a standstill for 2 minutes of silence on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, and it’s a sight to behold. Today I was in Sainsbury’s doing a quick shop when literally every shopping trolley, every till, nearly every customer, all the employees came to a halt, bowed heads, and remembered. Always gives me the chills.

It’s not just Sainsbury’s. It’s the fact that the whole country, collectively, on a busy Saturday morning, stops its every day activities for 2 minutes and observes, remembers, reflects on those who died fighting for their country and our freedom during World War I. One year I came up out of the Tube at Sloane Square and the the whole square was motionless, like a mass mannekin challenge that had yet to be invented. The busses, the taxis, the people, the movement literally ceased. Engines turned off. Conversations stopped. All was still and silent. Absolutely beautiful.

I don’t think we can do this in the U.S. because of the time-zones, perhaps? Or because just too many people? My thought is that we Americans have a tendency to put weight, focus, thought, energy towards the future a little too much rather than reflecting on the past.  I think the Brits lean just the opposite (I’m sure there’s a happy middle somewhere), but in this case, they are very good at giving due reverence to history — perhaps because it was so close and so tangible and right here on Europe’s doorstep. They also have the poppy lapels out in force for about 2 weeks leading up to November 11th. They sell them for a pound outside grocery stores, at schools, in offices. You see them in all your meetings, on the telly with all the news anchors and presenters. A few years ago, there was a wonderful display of poppies at the Tower of London.  If you ever have a chance to be in England in the beginning of November, don’t miss this moving and emotional commemoration of Armistice Day.2014-11-04_poppies