The Woman in the White Dress

The woman in the white dress is 24. I knew the woman in the white dress, yet I never actually knew her in the white dress.

Mom white dress copy - Copy_rev02 - CopyMy mother in 1953

I knew her in a long black dress and black cape that she made herself and wore to parties. I knew her in a  long, green bath robe worn every morning for years until it was full of holes and was replaced by a pink one. I knew her in pale denim jeans with multi-colored toadstools embroidered on the back pockets, and a jacket to match – well, it was the 70s.  I knew her in a pale, stripey sweater that she referred to as her ‘Italian sweater’ although it came from the local department store, but had a ‘made in Italy label’ inside.

I knew her arm- and knee-deep in flowers and branches as she snipped away large pieces of hedgerow for floral arrangements. This being particularly embarrassing to the teen I was as cars drove by on the one road that everyone had to take to get anywhere. We lived in a village of less than 4,000 people, so you know they knew who we were.  I knew her in an apron cooking and baking and complaining of splashes of food on her shirt. I never understood why she didn’t upgrade to a full apron rather than just the skirt kind.

I knew her constantly engrossed in a book. She had one on the go in almost every room of the house, picking up where she’d left off in each as she moved about the house. I knew her in her element as she knelt sketching flowers or scenes she intended to paint, ignoring my father’s complaints about the state of the house and the paintbrushes in the bathroom. Her philosophy on cleaning – the more often you do it, the more often you have to do it, so you shouldn’t do it too often – a philosophy I never really shared and thus adopted the role of chief tap shiner, and bath scrubber. I knew her sitting in movie theaters watching obscure or foreign language films that my father and sister turned their noses up at, but which she and I loved to see. I knew her in a tie-dyed skirt with bells and tassels at the end of my first year at university. My friend’s mothers wore jeans and white sneakers, and I thought “My mum really doesn’t dress like the average mum.’ Then I thought it again, only this time it had somehow become a good thing. Then for many years, I knew her only in letters and in phone calls.

Then one day I knew her in a hospital bed. A week later, I saw her arrive home, so pleased to be out the hospital. We knew she was ill, but not how ill. I didn’t see her as she came to the end of her days. 5 weeks later, I was out of the country, and got a call saying  she had said she was dying and wanted her family with her. I talked to her to say I was coming, but she told me she was sorry and that I wouldn’t make it in time. I begged her to hold on, but she just told me she loved me and that she couldn’t. She was right. I wanted to see her one last time, but my sister persuaded me not to: “It’s not her anymore.” And she was right. So instead I look at the woman in the white dress, and understand why my father was first attracted to her (and feel glad he was persistent despite her turning him down several times when he tried to ask her out on a date – I found a few years ago that they had known each other for 11 years before they got married). I’m really glad I got to know the woman in the white dress, even though I never knew her in the white dress. It’s hard to believe that ten years have passed since she died: Jan 30, 2003.


How to Become a Brit

Better start watching those Monty Python DVDs – they’ll be on the new British citizenship test. Now there’s a test that doesn’t sound so bad to study for!

Of course, there will be the usual politics and history questions you’d expect of this kind of test, but apparently there will also questions about music (the Beatles), gardening, and architecture. If you want to see how you’d measure up, you can take some sample questions on the Guardian website here.

Now, if there were a question about weather, well, the UK isn’t exactly known as a place to go get a tan. I do have memories of some gorgeous sunny days and the summers that I worked as a strawberry picker (picking Kentish strawberries for Wimbledon, no less) were all scorching hot. Nonetheless,  faced with a question about weather in Britain, you’d reply ‘It’s cold and wet.’ So, it was with great interest, and a certain amount of both amusement and shock,  that I read that the British government is considering running some compaigns to discourage people from going to Britain: one suggestion – “It’s cold and wet! You’ll hate it here’. The idea is to put off people thinking of immigrating to the UK. While understanding that immigration is an issue these days, it makes me a little sad to think the country would go to the lengths of actively putting people off.

But if you don’t mind (a lot of) rain, go make a cup of tea (check out this fun post about making tea on, watch Monty Python, and prune a few roses. Then fill out the application and take the test!

What’s in a Tag?

This weekend I was reading about a recent announcement made by the French commission in charge of protecting the purity of the French language (the Commission Générale de Terminologie et de Néologie, for those of you interested in such things).

The commission has decreed that the term hashtag  (you know, ‘#’ placed in front a word to make it easier to search for a topic on Twitter) is to be used in French no more. Instead it should now be known as a mot-dièse.

French people are criticizing the choice of word because it actually refers to a sharp sign (♯) rather than a hash symbol (#). This point explained to me why the sharp sign had suddenly become a hash. It hadn’t.  I’d just never seen the two side-by-side before and now realize they are two quite different things (embarrassing ignorance). They are also saying that people already used to talking about hashtags are unlikely to start using the term anyway, making this change merely an academic statement rather than something practical and useful.

This whole thing started me thinking. How many of us had even heard of a hashtag just a few years ago? Is it an English word, or is it just a “Twitter word” – specific to that particular medium of communication? I can’t help thinking it is a jargon word for a very specific area of communications rather than a “regular” English word? Still, it’s interesting to see the words the French commission comes up with to replace foreign loan words. Wouldn’t that be a fun kind of job to have?

I had my own ‘tag’ issue this weekend, too. I wanted something to hold together all the file cards I will be using for some classes I’m taking this semester. In the UK, I would have gone and bought myself some treasury tags. It occurred to me that I didn’t recall seeing any here. I asked my husband if he thought I could find them at an office supply store. He’d never heard of a treasury tag (and the more I keep saying it, the stranger it sounds), so I looked on the Office Depot website. Nothing there, and I’ve now decided to use a small box instead anyway, but I still wonder if they are sold in the US, and if they have a different name. They are short pieces of thick string with a strip of metal at each end. You thread the metal through a hole in a sheet of paper, and it falls flat against the hole so that it doesn’t slip out, neatly keeping your papers together.

Here’s a picture: pimporntreasurytag3(source:

Do people use these in the US?


Pots and Pans

Sometimes the same words just don’t have the same meaning to two different people. This happens to me less than it used to, but from time to time when I use a British expression my (American) husband will look at me and say, “That sounded like English, but I have no idea what you just said.”
I remember once suggesting we get some ‘pot plants’. My husband looked shocked. He’s not interested in gardening and plants at the best of times, but shock is not the usual reaction when I talk about plants. It turned out that while I was envisaging a row of terracotta pots filled with the colorful varigated of leaves of a coleus, or a tall, sharp mother-in-law’s tongue, he was imagining the neighbors calling the police.
Lesson learned: in American English pot plants = trouble, potted plants = leafy attractiveness.

In fact pots cause me linguistic trouble in general. I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I end up in utter confusion in the kitchen when one asks the other for a pot (him to me) or a pan (me to him):
Annov: “Can you pass me the small pan?”
Husband: “Pan? We only have this large one.”
A: “No, the saucepan.”
H: “That’s a pot.”
A: “It’s a pan – a sauce pan.”
H: “But you say frying pan, not frying pot. So a pan is wide and flat.”
A: “OK, yes. Well, can you pass me that small pan?”

We laugh about that, and a whole load of other things:
A: “I feel like chips.”
H: “Do you mean chips as I understand them, or as you understand them?”
Like I said, sometimes the same words just don’t have the same meaning to two different people.


This is what came into my head after reading the Daily Post – Writing Challenge: The devil is in the details. It doesn’t have all that much description after all, but I’m just trying to make myself write. Here it is:

A slender woman walked into a restaurant. As she grasped the shiny brass door handle, she noticed how rough and dry her hands looked. She thought of all the tubes of hand cream she’d buy, use once, and then discard because she found it impossible to do anything with slick greasy fingers.  She quickly ran her fingers through her hair, awkwardly tugging at a tangle in the ends of her dark brown hair, long overdue for a haircut. She made a mental note to look up a hairdresser on the Internet, but knew she’d just end up letting another year go by. She wished she’d arranged to meet her friend outside, or at the park, so they could have walked to the restaurant together, rather than having to walk in alone. As she scanned the room, full of elegantly dressed twenty-somethings, she wished she’d worn a different pair of jeans. A brand name even. But who can beat $1.99 at the thrift store? She remembered how proud she’d been as she paid for this pair. Now she just felt shabby. They were a dark, dark blue, but that was the only really good thing about them. The cut wasn’t quite right, and if she tucked in her sweater they looked dangerously like a pair of mom jeans.  She pulled on the sleeve of her sweater, suddenly feeling exposed. How long had she had this sweater? Could it really be ten years? It was her favorite sweater, three stripes of slightly unusual greens. But she loved it and it looked good on her, regardless of its age. Every pulled thread and fuzzy bump grew huge as she waited for someone to notice her and show her to a table. Glancing at tables of women with Kate Middleton waves, smooth make-up, and overly pumped and glossed lips, she felt very plain and dowdy. “Appearances aren’t important” she reassured herself, and believed it – life is far too short to worry about split ends and mascara-  yet she rubbed the toe of her boot against the back of her leg trying to erase the suddenly all too apparent scuff marks. When had those happened?

At last a waiter with slicked back hair came to show her to a table. He had very neat eyebrows, waxed probably. He gave her a quick look up and down, but it only served to make her feel  unattractive and old. She thought of the increasing number of gray hairs in the mirror each time she brushed her hair and felt old. Maybe it was time to try hair dye. But then there were those awful stories about people who’ve suffered an allergic reaction to the dye and have their head swell up to the size of a watermelon. That was bound to happen to her, even though so far in life she’d not suffered a single allergic reaction to anything. But you never know, do you? This restaurant was far too trendy and young. It had artwork for sale hanging on the walls. Nothing she couldn’t commission from a five year old.  “Will you be dining alone?” It took her a moment to register that the waiter had spoken. She always missed it whenever someone spoke, or else she couldn’t catch what they said and had to get them to repeat it, often more than once. She’d never been able to hear people well.

She picked up the menu — a single sheet of thick, homemade looking paper, written in an obscure font, surrounded by motivational messages — and tried to read it, but one eye focused on the door. Where WAS her friend? The other eye floated past the list of locally-sourced ingredients that practically came with a map coordinate so you could see the exact row from which a particular carrot had been yanked. She hated this kind of place. The seat was hard and the tables were too close together. She looked instead at a couple sitting at the next table. Was she staring? Gosh, maybe she was. They were just too perfect looking. Maybe it wouldn’t be so vain to get Botox injections? She looked young enough until she smiled, then her face became a terrific mass of lines. She really should stop sleeping on her side. That crease in her left cheek was getting worse. “Have you been here long?” Her friend had arrived. “No, I’ve just sat down. Haven’t even picked up the menu yet. It’s lovely here, isn’t it? I love this kind of place. I’m so glad you chose it,” she lied.

You’ve got something on your mouth…

I was browsing websites about Marmite, that dark, sticky, salty spread that you either love or hate (no one ever feels ambivalent about it), when I came across this older posting on about Marmite lip gloss.

Now, I love Marmite. I always have and I’m sure I always will. One of my favorite snacks is a nice warm piece of toast spread with peanut butter and Marmite. However, I think that smearing my lips with Marmite-flavored lip gloss would just have me going around thinking I looked like I had forgotten to wipe my mouth after breakfast. A friend once gave me a chocolate flavoured lip gloss and I just had to wipe it off – I felt dirty! It looks like the Marmite version is no longer, so it’s too late to try it now.

Do you like flavored lip gloss?

You've got something on your mouth

You’ve got something on your mouth