Monthly Archives: October 2019

The Queen’s English

Photo by Suserl just me from FreeImages

Halloween, at least the American version, has jumped the pond. People put a lit Jack-O-Lantern on their porch and hand out candy to those dressed in costumes. Only they don’t dress in “costumes.” They call it “fancy dress.” We noticed this a couple of weeks ago on an outing. We passed a pub with sandwich board advertising a Halloween Party and “wear your fancy dress.” I had seen other signs on thrift stores for “fancy dress” and wondered if they sold prom dresses or cocktail wear? Which then made me wonder how often the common British folk were required to wear “fancy dress,” and should I start to worry if we ever were invited somewhere. The sandwich board regaling “fancy dress” in the same sentence as Halloween put my anxiety regarding dress code requirements to dinner parties at rest.

Translation: Fancy dress simply means, “come in a costume.”

However, this led to an interesting exchange in our house several days later, and I thought I might use this opportunity to practice dialogue. My day job is a math teacher (maths teacher in the UK) but I like to write. Someday, I may even publish a second novel (I have started it…about 37 times. And finished it…twice. Stay tuned.)

Here is one more example that the citizens of Great Britain speak a different English…

David is gone for three days. It may not sound like a big deal, but he is the one who has kept the rest of us alive. Grocery shopping, meal planning, dinner execution. Literally, keeping us alive. It’s a job I’ve done before. A point the two of us have discussed recently with great overtones of irony. But, one cannot subsist on irony, so, I tie on the apron, and get to work. Dinner for us girls. I haven’t had to focus on work for the past week so I have time to visit the store, and plan a meal. Sausage and butternut squash risotto. The recipe called for red wine. Sold.

I’ve missed the creative outlet of cooking. Not that I’m ready to take over the task of keeping us all alive. I am probably enjoying it because it’s not something I’ve had to do everyday.

Dinner finished, my two daughters and I sit down to eat.

“Are you girls excited to go to Wicked in a couple of days? And just so you know, my friend from work told me it was going to be way better than the musical we saw here in Wimbledon.”

“Oh really?” My youngest doesn’t look up from her dinner.

“What are you wearing?” My middle daughter joins the conversation.

“I’m dressing up. “ I assume this means conversation is in full force, so I continue. “It is in Central London this time and not a matinee. So, dress up.”

“In a costume?” In the incredulous tone of voice only a teenage girl can fully and wholly articulate.

“Um, not a costume.” My age is showing and I’m trying not to sound confused. “More like fancy. More dressed up than before.”

“Fancy dress?” Both girls are now looking at me.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“So a costume?” A small choir of two teenage girls in unison.

“Why would I wear a costume to the theatre? I’m not planning on joining in.” Do you ever have that feeling like you are missing something relevant? Both girls are now staring at me. Awkward half seconds tick by. I’m wondering how long they have known me. Have I ever worn a costume outside of a Halloween Party? Why would they even…and then a flash of light and I get it.

Images and lines from Abbot and Costello, “Who’s on First,” flash through my mind in rapid succession. “I don’t know…no, I Don’t Know’s on third…”

The only rational thing to do at this point is to carry the entire conversation on my own because I now think it’s hilarious.

“Why would I wear a costume?” I ask. And before anyone can answer, I keep going. “But you said you were wearing fancy dress…” I change the pitch of my voice slightly. (Think King Julian of Madagascar.) And I thoroughly amuse myself as I proceed to parody the best duo in comedy.

In mid-stride I hear, “Like Who’s On First. I get it.” At least my children are educated. But her recognition can’t slow my roll. I feel as though I just found my stride, so I obviously keep going. Another two lines at least.

“Right, fancy dress…so a costume…Why would I wear a costume?…”

Both girls have gone back to eating. But that is the beauty of writing. I get to re-live what I think was a hilarious interlude and now the frivolity has been transcribed into the written word for all of posterity. Heavy is the head…

Happy Halloween! Be safe and have fun in your Fancy Dress!!!


In the Queue with Qualls

I had a post written about Isaac and how he is in boot camp and how it’s the first time we have been apart as a family. It’s a bit of a tear-jerker. Quite frankly, I’m tired of crying. I’ve cried because I miss that kid like crazy. I have cried because I am overwhelmed at work. (They call the trunk of a car a boot. Extrapolate that out and you get how education might be extremely different as well.) I’ve cried for my girls when they have felt overwhelmed. I’ve cried because of hormones. I’ve cried. 

So, let’s move on. 

Today, I had a training day in a different part of London. It was called “acclimatization” training. There’s a great deal of irony here. It was just under 60 degrees Fahrenheit (I won’t do Celcius yet) when I left the house and clear, but it’s London. Someone sneezes and it starts raining. “Never leave home with it,” means rain coat and umbrella. But now, I’m literally underground, in my trench coat, in a heard of people. They are British so it is rather civilized. No eye contact. Never talk to anyone near you. And pretend this is what you do everyday of the week. 

I proceeded to transfer to a different subway line, and then walked at least half a mile through a small homeless camp to arrive at the building where my training was to be held. I was soaking wet and it hadn’t started raining yet. Thank God I’m still on my American strength deodorant. I found the bathroom (or toilet as they call it-they can be literal, just mostly choose not to be) just to take a moment to collect myself and attempt to look like a professional teacher, not a professional athlete. Toilet tissue came out as an attempt to absorb the aftermath of my trip. 

Ok. Breathing back to normal. Sweat was no longer pouring down my back. Progress. Until I began to wash my hands and I glimpsed in the mirror. There were a dozen small flecks of white all over my face and neck. Like I was a recently pubescent boy learning how to shave and my first attempt was my whole face. 

Remember when I said the day was about acclimatization training? I seriously thought of turning around and repeating the journey home. How much more acclimatization training can one person endure in a day? The queue alone was so incredibly British! But I stayed. The rest of the day was spent listening to a British lady who spoke rather fast and I spent half the time trying to decide if she was saying “half” or “have.” (More irony.) Remember I am a math teacher so the distinction is rather important. I’m not going to lie; I was thrilled when I thought the day was over. I finished my survey and enthusiastically headed for the door, only to find my acclimatization training was yet to be over. A short bus ride to the tube station and a quick switch to the second train when two stops in, the conductor comes on the intercom to say the train will no longer go to my stop, but will “terminate” early. We all pile off the subway, stand on the platform, again with a great deal of British decorum. I desperately wanted to ask someone if they thought the next train would actually come. They all stood so poised and assuming. They make sweatshirts that say “Keep calm and carry on” for an actually reason. It’s how they are. But in my American head, I was already planning two alternate roots. I could ditch the subway and find a series of buses that would get me home, or say, “screw it” and hail a cab. But today was after all, acclimatization training, so I held fast to the British decorum and continued to “carry on.” 

The next subway train came. Maybe it was the British who can claim the whole, “If you build they will come” ideology. We all got on, as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred and of course, I had to process this. I’m standing again on a train I hope will get me to the literal end of the line and I realize today was really about one word–capacity. We spend a great deal of time determining if we are “glass half-full” or “glass half-empty” and I think we are obsessing about the wrong thing. We are asking the wrong question. Who cares how much is in your glass? (I’m tempted to insert a gin comment here.) The question you should be asking is this, “Am I allowing my ‘glass’ to grow?” 

We all think we have our capacities. We believe there are limits to patience, grace, strength, insert your word here. And consequently, we spend a great deal of energy managing the ends of those limits. “I’m running out of patience.” I felt that today. Standing on and off subway trains for almost two hours, but then I saw a little boy take the gum out of his mouth and proceed to wrap it around his thumb after he has subsequently touched every public surface within a foot radius. 

That made me chuckle. So much so that I actually made eye contact with the girl standing next to me who had obviously seen the same thing. Maybe I’m not almost out of patience. So then I had to think what if our limit is really only a construct, a feeling? What if, in reality, there’s an endless supply? Today’s training could have been a test. How acclimatized am I? If it’s a test, there is a limit. The glass will reach a certain measure. That’s it. Pass. Fail. The end. 

But maybe it’s not a test. What if it’s just an opportunity? A chance to change the capacity, to grow the glass a little, to stretch the boundaries.

I used to think patience was a string. It could be consumed. At some point I would run out. But now I’m not so sure. I think it might be a rubber band with a tremendous capacity to grow. Or maybe a piece of gum wrapped around and around and around your thumb. Maybe it has the capacity to keep going. Maybe we have that same capacity.

We all need a bit of acclimatization training now and then. It stretches us. Pun intended.