scribbles tagged ‘cultural curiosities’

take time to smell the flowers

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011 | tags: , , ,  |

heart of a roseOnce upon a time, during an annual job performance review my manager suggested that I should be a little less efficient because it was making other staff feel bad.

I wasn’t living in the USA at the time. Quaint British ways.

I am now more adept at ensuring that I have work time allocated to allow me to be seen to be inefficient.

Lets think of it as my

  • ‘unfit for purpose’ time
  • extra tea-time breaks
  • fermenting good ideas while going completely off-topic time
  • employer funded socialisation time
  • creative teamworking
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road-crossing is an athletic skill

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011 | tags: ,  |

This article published in the British Psychological Society’s Readers digest concludes that “Athletes are more skilled at crossing the road than non-athletes (when they can’t go backwards or sideways while crossing)

For me this article raised many more questions than it answered, for example

  • Will local councils be sending pedestrians on athletics courses to reduce road traffic accident rates?
  • Will crossing the road be introduced as a new Olympic sport?
  • Did being unable to go side-ways or backwards during the crossing give the athletes an unfair advantage?
  • Will road-crossing skills be used to identify the potential athletes of the future?
  • Who funded this research? Is this a good use of their money?


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tinkle tinkle tinkle

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011 | tags: , , ,  |

servant call systemTyntesfield house has a bell-pull system to call servants. At the foot of the servant’s stairwell each bell is labelled with its location. I was surprised to see that nearly all the bells are the same size and shape.

They sound the same, they look the same.

Servants had to look at the bell moving then read the room description beneath to work out where they should go.

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comfortably middle class

Thursday, February 24th, 2011 | tags: , , ,  |

does that hurt?

It’s not what I was expecting. When you open the door to a stranger they normally introduce themselves or ask if some named person is in the house. We held each other’s gaze while I tried to work out what he was referring to, before moving us on

can I help you?

is Nicky in?      I meant your nose

Was my nose bleeding? I ran my forefinger under my nostrils then inspected my hand. No blood or snot.


He wore blue jeans, a Pringle jumper and a padded anorak that could have been picked up in a Marks and Spencer’s sale. Short back and sides, clean shaven, the boy lacked visual charisma. He looked comfortably middle class, visually unoffensive. Then it dawned on me that my nose-piercing probably made me unique amongst the people he talked to. Nicky was conservative with both a big and little c. She had already given me the benefit of her expertise on the painfully clashing colours of my dress, my unsuitable hair and recommended that I drop my friends because they risked being unsuccessful in life. They could drag me down.

Life. If she didn’t have one, she couldn’t fail. She was on-track for a Pharmacy degree, a husband, car, kids and holidays abroad. It didn’t map to my idea of life then. It doesn’t now.

Only when the temperature drops below -5 degrees

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Butlers from Belfast

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011 | tags: ,  |

Butler sink

This is my Butler sink. The Butler sink got its name from the role of the main user. The Butler of the household would use the Butler sink. As I talked to kitchen suppliers they all corrected me when I called this a Butler sink, no, its a Belfast sink. A quick online search tells me that Butler is the generic word for the sinks and Belfast describes more specific features, in this case a ‘wier’ style water overflow. This website describes how city names became associated with the design, and why different cities had different designs:

This is because, when butler sinks were first made in the late 17th century, each major city had a sanitation officer autonomously responsible for the ordering of pipes, basins, sinks, and decreeing sizes, styles etc. Different patterns were evolved and gave rise to specific types. Hence the Belfast butler sink was different from, say, the London butler sink.

Belfast, with access to plentiful water housed sinks with overflows, but London , built on clay where deep wells had to be drilled to reach water, discouraged water wastage and no overflows were accommodated. Therefore, the Belfast butler sink has what is known as a Weir overflow built into it, whereas a standard Butler Sink doesn’t

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antique communication devices

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011 | tags: , , , ,  |

Why I love England #16:  red telephone boxes

Red antique English telephone boxesJust around the corner from the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden is this fabulous row of antique communication devices. Many people 20 and under will never ever have used these. Why would they need to? They carry their own phones with them. In the 80’s a row of phone boxes like this in a city centre would have a person in each box talking and maybe one or two people outside, checking the change in their purses, waiting for their turn to make a private call.

According to this history, in the 1980’s most homes didn’t have landline phones.

In 1987, the post office, who deployed and maintained them, systematically replaced these red boxes with a more modern design with more glass and open to the air that reduced the likelihood of the box being used as a urinal, or the subsequent pungent smell. Pew! I remember the smell!  Some villages protested against the replacement and managed to hold-on to this much loved older design. But sadly, most red boxes were removed.

I guess they are still useful to a few people for actually hosting a landline call, they are also useful for keeping warm, dry and quiet for making a mobile phone call. It’s wonderful that the local council, as many councils in tourist areas, have decided to leave them here and maintain them in such good condition. For the tourists, and people like me who can be heard bubbling


antique communication devices
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intergalactic hazards

Thursday, December 9th, 2010 | tags: , ,  |

Recently the on-site health and safety police visited our work premises. They highlighted some of the more dangerous areas of our everyday practices. This device was cited as a potential risk due to an inadequate warning label.

They helped out by producing a temporary label, a post-it note:
Worm hole generator device

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do you take walk ins?

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010 | tags: , ,  |

Inside open-air restaurantThis is often the first question that I’ll ask the wait-staff at the door of a restaurant* in England.  Many, probably most, English restaurants use a booking system where you phone the restaurant in advance and book a table for your party.  In my early adulthood, I came to understand that if a restaurant accepted walk-ins that meant it wasn’t good-enough to attract sufficient custom to warrant a booking system. A restaurant worth avoiding. Promoting scarcity is an established purchase persuasion technique, for example, think of how airlines will often say ‘only one seat left at this price’.

China Palace RestaurantRestaurants that accept walk-ins are becoming more common in England, reflecting the more American style of first-come, first-served, or take a ticket and wait inline. When I first moved to the US I found the fact that you had to queue to get into many good quality restaurants a somewhat irritating pactice. I never really got used to it. I find fun in the notion of booking a good meal with the company of good friends, several weeks in advance, adds to the excitement and anticipation. Being able to walk straight into a restaurant knowing you are going to be seated and fed in a reasonable time is also a very pleasing experience. Both the restaurant and the customer are being respectful of each others resource management, as customer, this is a good use of my time.

* this use of the term restaurant excludes Pubs, Cafe’s and chain eateries with a substantial US presence such as Yo! Sushi, TGI Fridays, Wagamama…
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sell by retail

Thursday, October 28th, 2010 | tags: , ,  |

Sell by retailPainted above the door of many old English pubs is a sign indicating that they are licenced to sell liquors. The licensing system was introduced in the mid 16th century.  Licensing for Beer and Wine was distinct from Liquor licensing. Normally coaching Inns, places attracting wealthier customers than the beer and ale houses, were licensed to sell Liquor.

I liked this sign because it specified that the selling was by retail, pressumably as opposed to wholesale. With the ability to take the Liquor off the premisis purchasers might be tempted to purchase for illegal resale or big parties, effectively wholesale.

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no hangers for cloaks

Friday, October 22nd, 2010 | tags: , , , ,  |

Toilets!In these cloak rooms

My secondary school used to have a cloak room, rows of hooks for coats, jackets and gym bags. No cloaks. But if we wore cloaks we would have been able to hang them there. Unlike the cloak room signed here. In these cloakrooms  there is a sink, toilet, towell and one of those plastic-bag lined bins.

A TOILET! I’m gradualy getting acclimated to the UK where toilet is not a naughty word. Love it!

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glis glis invasion

Friday, September 4th, 2009 | tags: , , ,  |

When the wind blows the slates on the Wendy House roof rattle,   or could it be something else?

On a hot day the Wendy House roof timbers creak, or could it be something else?

Picture of a Glis Glis hosted on the Daily Mail website

Picture of a Glis Glis hosted on the Daily Mail website

According to an article in the Mail,   edible doormice are invading the home counties,   first introduced to Tring by the 2nd Baron Rothschild.

Luckily the Wendy House is out of the current glis glis play grounds and if they do come here I wont be spending a fortune on pest control services to remove them,   I’ll just put the fluff balls in the attic for a wee bit of fun every now and then.

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We came. We Swooped. We are camping.

Friday, August 28th, 2009 | tags: ,  |

We came. We Swooped. We are camping. is the slogan on the bottom of Robin Parr’s  ‘climate camp’ blog post.    This Bank Holiday weekend there is a climate change protest in London.   It’s a very British form of protest.   Camping.    It’s a protest against capitalism.   From their site:

the Climate Exchange is the system’s European stock market – must be exposed for the dangerous global financial game which it is. Carbon trading has not and will not reduce emissions. It simply makes corporations richer and allows governments to put on a charade that they are doing something about climate change.

A blog post on the Guardian cites the ‘Whitechapel Anarchist Group’ as complaining about the event,   not because the cause is inappropriate but because the the protesters are inappropriate:

many of the protesters at the camp are middle class students and graduates who are about as revolutionary as the Scouts

I love that this form of protesting, camping-out, enables anyone to participate,   because everyone should have a voice.   With as many as 1 in 6 households    in Britian not containing anyone who is ‘working’,   there are plenty of people excluded by the capitalist system.

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‘in my day’ threshold

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009 | tags: , ,  |

This week I passed a threshold.   The ‘in my day’ threshold.   In my day…

  • Phones were connected by cables to walls in the hallways of homes or in red-boxes on the street.
  • Televisions had a dial with 4 positions on it,   one for each of the known channels and one spare channel

And much much more or less

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a bit sensitive

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009 | tags: , , , , , ,  |

Hairdresser Business Owner (HBO): you’ve been in before haven’t you?

Wendy: yes,  only once  several months ago,   its grown a lot and kept a very good shape, it was a good cut

HBO: yes,   I remember. Lucia, the Phillipino lady, cut your hair really short.   She’s in the Phillipines as the moment,   she owns a bed and breakfast there and its their peak season,   its alright for some!

HBO: your scalp is a bit sensitive,   do you have a stressful job?

Wendy: (giggles) Sort of because…(unpublishable)

While the assistant washes my way-past-its-cut-by-date mop the HBO checks her records.  

HBO: you came in here  last September, no wonder its grown so much

Wendy: I’m impressed that you recognised me

We talked about her business,   she hasn’t been hit by the credit crisis because ‘everyone needs a haircut’   and her business has been established for over 9 years.   We both agreed that we liked Reading a lot because of the nice people we’ve met here.   She was born in Reading,   studied in London with Vidal Sassoon,   travelled the world then came back to Reading to set-up her business.  

It’s the best haircut I’ve had in over a decade.  

I’m a very happy bunny

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10 to 1 on

Saturday, January 31st, 2009 | tags: , ,  |


to people relaying extremely sad stories,   such as the Samaritans  hear,  do you think I would:


  1. use active listening skills?
  2. tell people to stop whining and pull themselves together?
  3. ask lots of rather silly, mispronounced, miss-spelt, jargon laden, incomprehensibubble questions?
  4. laugh maniacally?
  5. play with Excel and ignore the stories?
  6. fall asleep?
  7. all the above?
  8. none of the above?
  9. other, please specify…
  10. wibble wibble wibble

I’m thinking about taking bets on this one,   what are the odds for each option based on your knowledge of my past performance?

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playing and LP

Thursday, January 29th, 2009 | tags: , ,  |

The small ceremony of playing a vinyl Long Playing (LP) record has been temporarily lost from the Wendy House. Below are the Dr. Wendy recommended steps taken to play a vinyl LP*:

  1. select the record, review the cover-art and song listing for each side.  
  2. select a side to play based on personal taste or consultation with people in the room
  3. Tip the album cover slightly with one hand to slide the LP from the cover into the other hand
  4. Place the cover on a surface near the record deck
  5. Slide the record from its protective sleeve taking particular care not to touch the grooves
  6. Place the sleeve on top of the record cover
  7. hold the LP up to the light and check there are no large visible scratches that might interfere with the quality of your listening experience
  8. Place the LP on the turn-table with the side to be played facing the ceiling, the hole in the centre of the vinyl over the peg in the centre of the turntable
  9. select the turntable speed by turning the switch to the slowest speed, 3rd position, 33rpm, the switch should make a pleasing clunking noise with any position change
  10. Postion your body so that you have a good view of the position of the expensive diamond needle above the outside grooves of the record
  11. Lift the record-player arm and move it towards the record edge it where it can gently drop onto the outside rim or the record, or between tracks if not playing the whole side
  12. Pick-up the LP, album, cover and sleeve to review and admire their art work and content
  13. Start bouncing around, waving your arms and singing
  14. Laugh as any nearby cats run for cover

There is a risk that I may purchase a turntable this year in order to recapture this meditatively pleasurable ceremony wth my small collection of 200 or so pre-1986, rarely played, vinyls.

* Singles and 78’s both have subtle yet significant variations on the above ceremony.

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scottish taxi driver

Friday, January 23rd, 2009 | tags: , , ,  |

At Darlington train station I walked up to a man stood by a driverless taxi

Wendy: Are you the Taxi driver?

Scottish Taxi Driver (STD): Yes, Flower

I’m still not used to these gender specific addresses, this one made me smile. He had a broad Scottish accent which my year of living in Scotland has taught me to understand. On our journey the Taxi driver tells me stories. Each story illustrated how ignorant, overly wealthy, and offensive American people are. Stories included being a Jungle warfare trainer based in Malaysia , training the young US troops before they went into Vietnam.

STD: …they had NO idea, they turned up with their scented soap, their radios…

In another story a US soldier was bossing him around in a bar, calling him ‘Boy’ and giving him orders as if the American was superior in some way. One of the orders was to take the Americans travellers cheque for $200 to a currency shop, cash it and return the cash to the American. Can you guess what happened? The cabbie took the cheque, cashed it and never returned to the bar. The cabbie was keen to reassure me that he was not normally a thief but that US soldier needed to be taught a lesson.

I don’t think he thought I had an American accent.

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electoral audit

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008 | tags: , , , ,  |

Electoral AuditI’m now officially registered as a resident of the Wendy House in Reading Borough and entitled to vote.   Hoorah!

Next year I can re-register by text, free-phone or internet.   Very helpful.

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on not doing nothing not being doing something

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008 | tags: , , ,  |

Ever since the stranger in Reading pointed out that the locals are prone to using double negatives to indicate a single negative,   rather than a positive,   I’ve been noticing this phenomenon.   Examples

I don’t know nothing about it (Guv)

I didn’t eat none of it

There wasn’t nothing there

He didn’t have nothing to say

I probably didn’t notice this local language because I may not be prone to never using it myself.

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a paltry gewgaw thing

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008 | tags: , ,  |

Lampost, traffic bollard and paltry gewgar thing topped by a stone carving of a pineapple and decorated with the fasces symbol (ax and bound birch sticks) of strength through authority.

a local landmark

Originally commissioned in 1804 by Edward Simeon, director of the Bank of England,  to provide light for the Reading Market and act as an oversized traffic bollard for wayward wagons.   Also described as a pawltry gewgaw  thing contrived to  gain votes for Edward Simeon’s brother in  Reading MP elections.  

Locally it is more commonly referred to as the ‘Soane Monument’ after the locally residing, now dead, architect, Sir John Soane,  who designed both it and the Bank of England.     The monument is currently all clean and pretty because it was  restored in 2007.

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in Jackson’s menswear department

Thursday, May 29th, 2008 | tags: , , ,  |

employee:   do you have permission to take photographs?

Wendy: um, no,   do I need permission?

employee: no,   but it would be polite to ask

Wendy: yes,   you are absolutely right,   sorry,   is it alright if I take photographs of this wonderful store, not staff or customers?

employee:   yes

more about what menswear department (Jacksons) employee showed me… …next week…

in Jackson’s menswear department
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meeting the public

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008 | tags:  |

On a Saturday I like to get out and about and meet the public.  

Real people.   Look,   here they are,   all standing in  a line in NatWest.  

Perhaps they haven’t yet received their lovely blue shiny thingys yet?   Or maybe they enjoy talking to people and standing in queues,   how strange…

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wendy’s USA archetype

Friday, June 22nd, 2007 | tags: , , ,  |

I confess to be in search of an image that somehow captures my archetype,   stereotype, of the US.   The unexported America,   not the internationally spread coffee houses,   fast food chains,   cans and bottles of soft drinks.   The image must capture something of what is and something of aspirational.   I doubt my photographic skills will adequately capture and convey this image, if it exists.   Here is a placeholder that caught  part of the my archetype.

It  captures the styling of the  classic red pick-up truck and  the white picket fence.   I rarely saw them in the UK where box hedges appear to be the  territory border marker of choice.  

The overhead lines, on tilted poles, are seemingly ubiquious.     What’s missing from this picture?  

What would your photograph include?

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Golden Medical Discovery

Sunday, May 6th, 2007 | tags: , , ,  |

A ‘prince of quacks’ in Queen city.   Dr. Roy Pierce’s medical elixia appears to be an exemplar of ‘medical quackery’.   He created,   marketed and patented the ingredients of a range of ‘medical’ products.   There is a wonderful humour in the well-maintained barn-painted advertisement for this phenomena (medicine quack) of the wild-west.

Golden Medical Discovery
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shock survey shows soft power preferences

Saturday, March 10th, 2007 | tags: ,  |

A  survey  of 28,000 people from 27 countries  conducted by the BBC World Service asked respondents  to indicate  whether each of 12 countries had either a negative or positive influence on the world.      The USA is perceived as having a negative influence on the world.   NPR prints an Associated Press news release on the survey results,   in rank-order for perceived negative influence:

  1. 56% perceive Israel having a negative influence & 17% a positive influence

  2. 56% perceive Iran having a negative influence & 18% a positive influence

  3. 51% perceive United States having a negative influence &  30% a positive influence.

When ranking by positive influence Canada is ranked highest (54%) followed by Japan and France.    The article cites Prof.  Steven Kull hypotheizing the reasons for this result “people around the world tend to look negatively on countries whose profile is marked by the pursuit of military power… …Countries that relate to the world primarily through soft power, like France and Japan and the EU in general, tend to be viewed positively”  

soft power (information as arguments) as opposed to hard power (weapons as arguments)  

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suffering from stupidity?

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007 | tags: ,  |



SMART WATER perks up your grey matter and can end random bouts of ignorance and absentmindedness with just one gulp.   SMART WATER.    You know it makes sense.  If you don’t know it makes sense,   you must be stupid so buy SMART WATER now and solve your stupidity.   Give it to your children,   your pets,   your granny…   …we all need a little more smarts every now and then,   you can rely on SMART WATER to solve all your ignorance challenges.  

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hedge your bets

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007 | tags: ,  |

why purchase only 1 Valentine’s card when you can save by buying and sending  8?

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Poppy day

Saturday, November 11th, 2006 | tags:  |

2 mins silence

In the United Kingdom, although two minutes’ silence is observed on November 11 itself, the main observance is on the second Sunday of November, Remembrance Sunday. Ceremonies are held at local communities’ War Memorials, usually organized by local branches of the Royal British Legion – an association for ex-servicemen. Typically, poppy wreaths are laid by local organisations including the Royal British Legion, ex-servicemen organisations, cadet forces, the Scouts, Guides, Boys’ Brigade, St John Ambulance and the Salvation Army. “The Last Post” is played by a trumpeter or bugler, two minutes’ silence is observed and broken by a trumpeter playing “Reveille”. A minute’s or two minutes’ silence is also frequently incorporated into church services on that day. The main commemoration is held in Whitehall in central London, where the Queen, Prime Minister, and other senior political and military figures join with veterans to lay wreaths at the Cenotaph.

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well shorn lip syncing Vikings

Monday, September 11th, 2006 | tags: ,  |

pie-dropping disappointment reigned on our US roadtrip when the place matt under the pie dish declared that the local Swedish Festival in small town Pennsylvania had finished before we arrived.   As a  self-confessed Viking,   I was disappointed to miss the pillaging and:  

  • cheer leading clinic (elementary)
  • Alberta’s Pie contest
  • lip sync contest
  • Viking ship races
  • Swedish language lessons
  • Barber shop quartets,   literally dozen’s of them

See the stain where the pie made an escape attempt on the paper place matt…


Something for every Viking



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a little something for the weekend?

Saturday, September 9th, 2006 | tags: , ,  |

The BBC debunks barbering.   The full article is worth reading. Here I’ve pulled extracts that  provide an insight into why Christian Ohio male  teachers might be considered of ill repute if they attended a barber:

Hair, it seems, had been a very important social and religious issue throughout all of the history of mankind, especially since many ancient superstitions revolved around it…     …In 1308, the world’s oldest barber organisation, still known in London as the “Worshipful Company of Barbers” was founded…     …By the end of the 18th century, most barbers had given up their rights to perform surgery, except in small towns where surgeons were not available. They lost their status and became labourers, fashioning wigs in the 18th and 19th century, and their shops became shady hangouts…     …the art of barbering was revived in 1893 when A. B. Moler established a school for barbers in Chicago. Several years before, in 1886, the Barbers’ Protective Union had been founded in Columbus, Ohio, which eventually became Journeymen Barber’s International on December 5, 1887. In 1897, the State of Minnesota passed the legislation for a barber licence.

In the 1970’s the English barber shops were still supplying their customers with  “A little something for the weekend“.   Their exclussively male clients could avoid the embarressment of going into a chemist* to ask  for ‘french letters’ over the counter where the shop assisstant might be  neither male nor discrete and other customers may overhear the request.   That’s very embaressing.   Barbers are discrete and approving of your opportunity to use the french letters.   How do I know this?   Let’s just say ‘word of mouth’   😉


* Chemist (UK) = Drugstore (US)

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