17 January, 2006

the English language

I've been thinking about the unvarnished nature of English English. Both in the pronunciation and the actual choice of words. Anything that's taken from the French, never the most beloved of peoples here, is Englishized without mercy. There's a "t" in "fillet" of beef, and don't forget the "h" in "herbal" tea. And then there's the absolute literalness of terminology: you don't ride a subway, you ride an UNDERGROUND. There is a subway, but it's an underground sidewalk (sorry, pavement). English bacon is like Canadian bacon, and if you want American bacon you ask for "streaky bacon." Why streaky? Because it is. And while you're at it, you can ask for a can of mushy peas, because, presumably, they are. These should be steamed with a little slightly salted butter, not lightly, SLIGHTLY. And "soured" cream, which bald implication of the process involved makes it a bit less appealing, I'd say. All washed down with a glass of... cloudy apple juice. We might say apple cider, but truly, it's cloudy apple juice.

Ah well, I'm just marking time because until the new flat (fingers crossed that all gets signed and delivered) gets emptied out of its designer togs, our much less glamorous belongings cannot be delivered, and we can't settle in. Mornings are crammed with getting Avery in her perfect uniform, a real breakfast inside her to help her cope with the demands of Latin, maths, netball in Regent's Park, spelling tests and drama (not that she needs lessons in THAT), homework packed up, a track suit for games, or skating today, permission slips for a trip to the London Museum, then we're out the door. I've decided that a taxi is OK in the morning because we're neither of us up for struggling through rush hour crowds in the underground, and I don't really feel like sorting out the bus route from here when we will, one hopes, be leaving soon. Then I drop her off with all her perfect little compatriots, give her a kiss, and...six hours of waiting for her to come home! Perhaps I should be sightseeing. But that feels weird when I live here. But I could do with a dose of Westminster, perhaps. Then I walk to pick her up, which is a nice half-hour of stiff exercise, and we've developed a little snack habit, or two. We could walk down Weymouth Street to the lovely Villandry, a sort of London version of Bazzini, our old haunt in Tribeca, and have ice cream for her and a pot of peppermint tea, my new obsession, for me. Or head to the Patisserie Valerie in the Marylebone High Street for a decadent slice of sponge cake and mixed berries for her, and... peppermint tea for me. Then we walk home in the dusky sort of twilighty light. Yesterday we stopped at the dry cleaner's to ransom John's shirts (4 pounds 50 p a shirt! I nearly died), and the vet's for equally ruinous food for the kitties, eavesdropping on the incredibly English exchanges between the vet's nurse in starchy white and the elderly patients with their elderly owners, all looking like each other. By the time we get home, Avery is exhausted. I guess it's the strain of just fitting in, although from the outside it looks pretty effortless on her part. She came top in spelling yesterday, in the coveted Willy Wonka group level with just three other girls. And she won the netball race home, but for the blatant cheating of another little girl, she reports. The
children were apparently evicted from their outdoor garden two years ago on the whiny complaints of, from the north, the Turkish Embassy, and from the south the Chinese embassy. Who could object to the voices of little girls? Turks and Chinese, apparently. So they've installed a noise meter of all things, and the girls are being let out, cautiously, in small harmless groups, to play quietly and to see if they can qualify for outdoor play on a regular basis. There is a Wendy House! I've always read about them, but I never got to see one. Avery described its minute proportions in detail, but, "Mummy, there are spiders and cobwebs and we are afraid to go IN!"

Last night I returned to a favorite English culinary memory: the crackling leg pork roast. There's just nothing like British pork, drizzled with olive oil and salt, surrounded by fat garlic cloves and quartered onions. With it I had mashed potatoes, also seemingly so much yummier than American potatoes! And roast beetroot, and a sauce inspired by one of the UKTV Food shows I saw, a nice reduction of chicken broth and white wine (a horror with a screwtop lid, although John tells me there's a growing number of acceptable wines with screwtops), shallot and garlic, fresh thyme and heavenly English single cream. A really lovely, comfort food meal for a damp and chilly January night.

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