|We speak the same language (well nearly), but living in England is
much different than living in the United States. We traded houses with
a couple who live in Sawbridgeworth which is thirty miles northeast of
London. The village is old but delightful as is most everything in England
and that is part of the charm.
Timbered buildings go back to the twelfth century and they aren't just
museums; people live and work in them. People don't even think of tearing
them down to rebuild new. It is not uncommon to find houses with thatched
roofs all over the United Kingdom. Shops often have squeaky, uneven wooden
floors and tiny rooms. In shops that have an upstairs the stairs are narrow
and curved which are difficult to manage. Only the newest most modern buildings
are handicap accessible. Because these buildings were built when people
were shorter, the doors are small and the ceilings are low.
Two neighboring houses in the village
of Much Hadham.
Ron is 5'6" and easily reached the
ceiling in an old pub.
The most obvious difference between the U.S. and Great Britain is that
the Brits drive on the left side of the road and their steering wheels
are on the right. It took a little getting used to for us to get around
while here. To compound the situation, the roads are very narrow without
shoulders and people can park almost everywhere.
Then there are the roundabouts. They are really an efficient way to move
people about, but they take a little getting used to. Each time we approach
a roundabout we need to read all the choices and quickly decide which way
to go. Add that to being on the wrong side of the road (for us) and going
in a clockwise circle with lots of other traffic and it becomes confusing.
Here are some examples (they are all different).
1. A road through the average village
2. Mirrors fold back so there is more room for passing.
Looks confusing doesn't it?
One of our readers wrote of their experience driving in England. After
landing at Gatwick, they picked up their rental car and started out to
explore castles. It didn't take long before they realized how hard it is
to read the signs and do what you need to do. After hitting the side mirror
three times and becoming frustrated, they headed back to Gatwick, turned
in their rental car and took the train to London where they stayed; they
forgot the castles. He added that they had a ball. I have to give Ron a
whole lot of credit. Although we have hit the curb more than once and touched
mirrors on occasion, he drove all the way to Scotland, Bath, Lulworth and
lots of little villages and did a great job. We put over 2,000 miles on
the car as a matter of fact much of it was on roundabouts. One thing I
really love while driving here in England is the absence of bill boards.
There just aren't any and that is refreshing.
And where do you want to go here?
Living in a house is way different than being a tourist staying only
in hotels or B & Bs. The English houses are different in many ways.
The rooms are small but comfortable.
It would be unusual to find a real king sized bed. Most beds we encountered
are just double beds---not queen sized (they call those "king" beds). If
one looks in the bedding section of the department stores, it will be easy
to find bedding for the single or double bed and not so easy to find anything
bigger although they have up to their king but remember that is the same
as the U.S. queen. Most beds will have a duvet (either feathers or synthetic)
with a cover over it and matching pillow cases. They generally do not use
a top sheet---the duvet cover is the top sheet and blanket all in one and
the cover is easily washed as needed. After our first trip to England in
1989, I fell in love with the concept and have duvet covers on my beds
at home, but I still use a top sheet and don't know why.
The house we lived in for 5 weeks.
Dishwashers, washers, dryers, refrigerators etc., are all smaller than
the U.S. versions. I was amazed when I washed my first load of clothing
here. The washer (a front loading one) took forever. I got out the manual
and learned that the shortest wash cycle (wool) runs for 55 minutes. For
cotton (whites or colors) the wash time is between 125 to 150 minutes.
That is just to wash the clothes. I couldn't find any detergents that looked
familiar so I used what was here and replaced the same. She uses little
packets of some sort of liquid (called liquitabs) that dissolves in the
wash. It was neat. I couldn't find a detergent with bleach and was surprised
to find some of the liquitabs in the stores contain fabric softener at
the same time.
Nearly every home has a garden and even if only a tiny space is available
flowers will be planted. There is nothing quite as pretty as an English
garden; it is a delight to the eyes.
We Americans are used to a post office being just that and nothing more.
Here the post office is where you go for milk, bread, meats, dry cleaning,
bill paying, magazines, currency exchange and oh, yes, where you go to
post a letter or package.
There are huge grocery stores here now where they were few and far between
when we were here in 1989. Back then nearly everyone had milk delivered
in one quart glass bottles. We don't see many that have that luxury any
more with the super markets nearby. One thing surprised us at the supermarkets;
all of the cashiers sit on stools and they work rather slowly from that
position although I am sure they are less tired at the end of the day.
And everyone has to bag their own groceries. The super markets are well
stocked with good varieties in things, but most containers are small.
For example paper towel rolls are only nine inches tall. I don't know how
big ours are in the U.S. but I know they are taller and in the U.S. the
rolls are thicker too. The paper towels that Brenda had here were quite
useless because they were so thin and flimsy. When we went shopping I found
Bounty had arrived and it makes a big difference. The rolls are still the
UK size though, but the quality of the towel is better and more expensive
too. The grocery stores will have lots of varieties of cakes and desserts
but only one or two brands of bar soap. The stores even have pre washed
salad like we do in the states so all and all shopping was good.
The post office in Much Hadham where
Ron mailed a letter is a fully stocked grocery store and more.
Most towns of any size have a butcher and a bakery or vegetable stands
in a store front. They display their wares in the window just like shoes
would be displayed in a shoe store.
I have never yet seen any one handle food with plastic gloves on. I watched
a butcher put some raw meat in the window with his bare hands and in a
restaurant we watched as the owner made sandwich after sandwich and pizzas
and calzones (molding and pressing the dough etc.,) by using his bare hands.
It seems that food handlers aren't required to use gloves. We purchased
some chicken breasts from the butcher and he reached in with his bare hands
to get them for us and before he did anything else, he did wash his hands.
The above pictures were taken in
the town of Barnard Castle
On the same topic of hygiene, the restrooms which are simply called
"toilets" here do not offer the paper seat covers nor do they have paper
towels which is fine except there are nearly always two doors which have
to be opened by pulling on a handle in order to get out of the bathroom
area. These two doors are fire doors. I am used to washing my hands, then
using the towel to touch the door handle if there is one. I prefer it when
you can use your elbow to push the door open but not in England;they open
in instead of out.
The people of England are very friendly when you speak to them, but
they generally will not speak to you first. One of the hardest things for
us to deal with was not being able to meet any neighbors. We made sure
that we introduced Brenda and Peter to all of our friends who in turn invited
them out and so on; we felt quite lonely at times. One day when we took
a walk on one of the many public paths, we met up with two different couples
and talked for the longest time. What a treat that was.
Television sets are small in England and unless you have satellite you
will only get four channels. There are few commercials though so that is
Pubs (public houses) are everywhere. You can spot them quite a ways
away because of their attractive hanging signs. The names are clever and
cute and usually combine two words like the Plume and the Feather or the
Hand and Crown. The pub meals which are usually served from noon to two
then not again until seven in the evening (if in fact they serve food at
night) are very good. We just had two of the best meals ever.
Top right chicken and asparagus
pie at the Bull Inn
bottom (L-R) steak and ale pie chicken in a peach
sauce both at the Hand and Crown Pub
In any of
the homes we visited (not really that many) and all of the B & Bs we
have noticed that they use electric showers to provide a boost to the water
pressure. They all look similar but some actually create instant hot water
from a cold water tap. That makes a lot of sense, really. When we
were in England in 1989 none of the B & Bs had anything but a bath
tub to offer and trying to wash our hair from two separate faucets rather
than one was very difficult. We can only remember one or two that offered
one of those rubber hoses that would attach to each faucet and it had a
spray at the end. Sitting in the tub you would have to hold the hose over
your head to shampoo and rinse off . It appears that showers are
now popular and this is how they do it. I am not sure why they need the
electric variety but that is what they do. But even this year our bathroom
at the Castle Inn was spartan.
As I mentioned we were living here but we did play tourist. We didn't have
to pay bills or tend to other household things except we did cut the grass
twice. From our previous visit we thought living in England would be a
bit like going back in time to a place where living was slower. But the
English are catching up to the hustle and bustle of the world. They drive
fast and seem to be in a hurry. We got honked at a few times when we were
traveling the speed limit. It was, for the most part, a relaxing vacation.
At the Castle Inn in Lulworth this
we had for a shower.