The Caramac Egg

As a child, I would look forward to Easter. Not because I was particularly religious, although I did get dragged to church by my parents, but in anticipation of three things: simnel cake, hot cross buns, and Easter eggs. simnel-cake

My mother didn’t always make a simnel cake, but there were plenty of years that she did. In reality, it’s a lot like a Christmas cake only without the icing plus a lot more marzipan. I’m talking about a British-style Christmas cake. No offense, but I’ve yet to find an American Christmas cake that looks appetizing. Since the marzipan is the best part of Christmas cake, I really liked simnel cake. If I could get a slice with a marzipan ball on top, all the better. If I was allowed to cut my own slice, I usually could. Angling the knife to maximize marzipan and minimize cake helped, too.  I think that sometimes we had the cake on Mothering Sunday, but on Easter Day other years. If you fancy making one, just click on the image and it will take you where you need to be.

I think that I used to like the idea of hot cross buns more than actually eating them. Hot cross bunsThere always seemed to be one mouthful with a gritty currant seed and it spoilt everything. I did like peeling off the cross and eating that first, prompting my father to tell me to ‘eat it normally.’ (But it WAS normal for me.) I had my first hot cross buns in years this year (far too early, but oh well ). Apart from a weird icing cross instead of the traditional pastry, they were fine. Again, the idea of them was more exciting than the actual eating.

However, the best part of Easter was Easter eggs. I don’t know why I used to get so excited about Easter eggs. I didn’t get to join in the great post-Easter Easter Egg Bragging that went on in school because I never got one of the giant fancy ones. I didn’t receive them in bulk from every relative and friend of my parents, unlike lots of my class mates. I didn’t get the type that came in fancy mugs or with something special inside. A kinder surprise here or there doesn’t count because I always got the one with the most rubbish gift imaginable. Nevertheless, I would look forward to two thin chocolate shells wrapped in foil and a much bigger box which, by the time they were unwrapped, came to very little chocolate at all. I’d break it up into little pieces and make it last forever.

However, there was one  Easter egg  that I would receive year after year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t even chocolate and I hated it. It was a Caramac egg. It was from my grandmother who no doubt lovingly bought them for all her grandchildren. (Or else she bought these only for my sister and me, and the others got the good stuff.  I’ve no idea. ). But she gave it us one each, every year.   Caramac is a kind of light brownish-orangey color, with a waxy, cheap chocolate-like texture, but with none of the flavor. It’s made of condensed milk, butter, sugar and artificial flavorings. Apparently there are plenty of people who do like it because the Nestle website has it listed, so it’s obviously still in production.  I’m not sure what happened to the Caramac eggs every year, but I doubt my parents let them go to waste.

Here is a bar of Caramac. Note the NOT CHOCOLATE appearance:th (Click on the image for a review!)


BYOB, or “What’s a Blue Book?”

One thing that came as a big surprise to me attending college in the US is the exams. Not the fact that we have to take exams, because of course I had to take exams in the UK, too. In the US, exams come up a lot more often than in the UK.  I like this because it’s a lot less stressful to swot up on a few weeks’ work than on a whole year’s work (or two whole years’ work as was the case for a couple of my undergraduate courses). Another surprise for me was that they just take place during regularly-scheduled class hours, rather than at a random time, in some room you’ve never heard of, in a building you didn’t even know existed (more stress). However, the most surprising thing was that you don’t get given a booklet in which to write your answers. You have to buy your own. My introduction to this was a line on my first syllabus: Scantron and blue book required for all exams.

I had no idea what this meant. My husband was amazed that we don’t have such things in the UK. I explained that they just give you a booklet to write in, and as you fill one book, you raise your hand and someone will bring you another. And another. As many as you need. In fact, perhaps this is one reason why UK colleges have less exams – the cost of all those booklets would really add up.

001 Anyway, a blue book is exactly that: a blue book that says ‘Blue Book’ on the front. When I saw my first blue book, I was amazed how small it was. I had a little further confusion when my next instructor informed the class he wanted us to bring ‘Green Books.’ Green Books turned out to be the exact same thing only with a green cover and a certain percentage of recycled content in the paper.

The second mystery item: the Scantron. It turned out to be a computer-readable sheet for multiple choice questions.002

As I took my very first Scantron exam, after filling in my name, I read Important : Use No.2 pencil only.

I wondered if it really was important or if I was about to fail thanks to my ‘B’ pencil. It was too late to find out if B was anything close to a No.2. In the end, all was well. But my first experience was nearly not a very good one.

Now I’m used to it, but at first it felt really strange to BYOB(ooklet) to exams! Oh, and I have a No.2 pencil now. Just in case.

How do you spell…?

This week I learnt that the American onomatopoeic expression for sneezing is a little different than the British. Or rather, in British English we have an additional one. I always hesitate to say ‘we’ because a creeping worry that maybe it’s ‘just me’ starts to wiggle in my brain. Anyway, in this case I checked the Cambridge Advanced Learners online dictionary.

It all started when I asked my husband how to spell ‘atishoo.’ He didn’t hear what I said and asked me to repeat it. But even after I had repeated it, his expression was as blank as before.
“I can’t understand what you are saying.”
I overexaggerated a fake sneeze. ” Atishoo, Atishoo! You know, the sound you make when you sneeze. How do you spell it?”
“I’ve never heard anyone sneeze like that. It’s atchoo.”
“Yes, but you can say atishoo, too.” (If only I could have produced my sister and blown some dust in her direction – that’s EXACTLY how she sneezes and the slightest speck of dust will have her atishooing all over the place.)
“I think you are making that up.” (If only I were so creative that I could invent new terms for every day things.)
I then went to the Cambridge Dictionary online and played the pronounciation. Again. And again. And again – so my computer sounded like a hayfever sufferer mid-summer. I love being able to play the pronunciation of words (‘jagUar’ not ‘jagwar’ had to be settled by Cambridge in the past!). Here’s the link to atishoo.

What do you sound like?

I was waiting with some other students before a 7:30 a.m. class the other day. One was fretting about submitting the homework due that day. We had been instructed to draw some diagrams and bring them to class, but she’d submitted them to the instructor via Dropbox and was worried the instructor wouldn’t accept them. I started explaining that I was sure the teacher would be fine about it, because she is the kind of teacher that really wants her students to do well,  and that I thought the only reason we’d been asked to bring the assignment was because it had involved drawing something and  the teacher was probably trying to make it easy on people who didn’t have access to scanners.

As I was talking, I became aware that the worried student, the woman opposite her, and a guy sitting on the floor fiddling with his laptop were looking at me somewhat strangely, with wide eyes. I started to wonder if I’d somehow said something different than I thought. Or if I’d rubbed my eyes and smeared my eyeliner into a panda-like pattern. I usually manage to avoid doing that until I get home: I can somehow muster enough will power to keep my hands away from my eyes until I walk through the front door, but it was an early class and I am not a morning person.   “Why are they looking at me like that…?” was the thought in my head. There was a pause, followed by “Oh my God. I love your accent. I nearly died,” from the guy sitting on the floor. The others nodded.

Oh – the accent. That is one of the strangest things for me as a Brit living in the US. People love the British accent. It gets me every time. I forget I sound different. I’ll be in a store and get asked, “Do I detect an accent?” Or “You have a bit of an accent there.” My first experience of the accent adoration was years ago when I went to stay with a friend in Wisconsin. We went into a book store. As I was paying, the clerk asked me something, ascertained I was British, and told me to ‘Stay right there. My manager loves British accents. ” Um, ok.  Said manager was summoned and further examples of accent were duly produced. In the bank a couple of months ago, I was in a hurry and hoped to run in and out, but on hearing my accent, the bank clerk quizzed me about where to go in London and then asked for advice in travelling in Europe. My accent makes me an expert on travel! My husband and I went to a yard sale a few weeks ago. The woman and her elderly mother heard me speak. Oh my goodness – out came albums of magazine cuttings of the royal family, books of castles of England, and a discussion of Churchill. The elderly mother said, with a definite twinkle in her eye, that she liked Prince Harry, although her daughter seemed to be on Team William. Then there is the lady at the supermarket who, on hearing me speak, always tells me excitedly that she owns part of a castle in Ireland. I smile politely and don’t point out that Ireland is not England – but I understand that a lot of people are unsure what exactly the United Kingdom really is. (And what about Great Britain? Find out here.) I’m also not sure how real the castle is. I have a lot of people telling me that their family name is this or that, coming from some small town in England. It’s invariably somewhere I’ve never heard of, but I enthuse and pretend I know what they are talking about. The place my accent gets the best reaction is at college. I get to pretend I am more intelligent than I really am! One teacher actually said “It doesn’t matter what you say with that accent; we’re all going to believe every word you say.”

But the funniest thing about my accent? The last time I was living in the UK (in London, in 2008), other British people would ask me where I was from. I’d reply Kent. They would then ask, “But where originally?” Um, still Kent. I was born there and lived there until I was 18. I’d confirm I was born in England. They’d then frown.  According to other Brits, I “have a bit of an accent.”