How do you pronounce ‘Trottiscliffe’?

Go on guess! If you are not from near there, I doubt you’ll get it. (Answer at the bottom of the page.)

I often laugh when my husband tries to pronounce the name of various English towns and villages. Don’t worry, he laughs when I say American ones. I found one today to test his pronunciation. This is a place close to where I grew up. In fact, back in primary school, the first time I saw it on a road sign, I couldn’t believe that Trottiscliffe was the correct spelling for this place. The correct pronunciation has just 2 syllables. Yes, 2! All those letters condense down to a mere 2 syllables. Crazy British spelling!

(Apparently there is a stone burial mound there, too. You’ll need to know how to pronounce it to ask for directions!)Image

***The answer***
The pronunciation of Trottiscliffe, a village in Kent, is: /ˈtrɒzli/ “Trozli”. Did you get it right?!



Eating a sandwich the other day, I started to think about bread. The sandwich was good, apart from the bread. The bread wasn’t bad. It was nicely chewy, a little grainy, didn’t disintegrate due to juicy tomato slices, but it was sweet. Really sweet. Everything was good about the sandwich apart from that sweetness.

Until I started to live overseas, I didn’t give bread much thought beyond ‘Do I have enough for toast?” If bread on a holiday in a foreign country was different from the bread at home, it was no big deal. Vacations are opportunities to try all sorts of new things, and since vacations  outside the UK meant France, it was all very good! But when being overseas is your everyday reality, it matters a little more.  It wasn’t an issue when I lived in Italy. Plenty of decent (and not sweet) bread there. But as I moved further from home, I realized bread is certainly not the same thing in every country. To clarify, I’m talking about sliced bread. I know that buying a fresh, whole loaf is invariably tastier, but more often than not, I buy sliced loaves for convenience. I used to go to a bakery and get them to slice up a granary loaf while I waited back in the UK.  I’ve not seen a bakery, as I know it, in the town where I now live.

When I lived in Japan, I was amazed by the sliced bread. For a start, they don’t sell you the whole loaf. You buy it in bags of between 4 and 8 slices. It was often doorstep-thick, soft and puffy, but lacking in body and texture. Not to mention fibre! Wholemeal bread was relatively scarce, though it existed, but it too was soft, squishy, and far too sweet. japanese_bread01

I learned to eat rice balls stuffed with picked plums and wrapped in seaweed instead, or rice rolls filled with fermented soy beans. I still would if they were relatively available here. I really enjoyed them!

Now I live in the US, and bread looks a lot more like the bread I ate in the UK. Loaves are full size.  I have a wide choice of whole-wheat breads made of various grains. However, it still doesn’t taste like home. The main difference between British bread and American bread is the sweetness. Bread here is sweet. Much sweeter than English bread. One of the few things I remember from studying Dante  many years ago is the line in Purgatory where he talked about the saltiness of other’s bread. He was speaking both figuratively and literally   (the salty/bitterness of exile, and the actual saltiness of bread from outside Tuscany: see this blog post for an explanation of  Tuscan bread). For some reason that resonated with me when I read it and now I always think of that when I eat bread here –  while certainly not in exile, I’ve chosen to settle abroad, and the bread just isn’t right! It looks right, smells right, but it just doesn’t taste right due to that sweetness. Although here is now my home, there will always be little differences that will never feel quite right.

“Tu proverai sì come sa di sale
lo pane altrui,
(You will know how salty another’s bread tastes,)
Paradiso XVII: 58-59

And my preferred loaf? A nice granary. What’s yours?


101 Things to Do

I always feel a little embarrassed when people from outside the UK talk about this place or that place  which they loved when they were in Britain and look at me expectantly. I usually have to admit I’ve never been there. I was too busy exploring other countries.  Now that I don’t live in the UK, I find myself looking into places in the UK that I would really like to visit. Maybe the fact that I’m unlikely to be able to visit any time soon makes it more enticing.
One place I heard about a while ago was the Shell Grotto in Margate, Kent. My husband was reading a magazine and asked me if I’d ever been there. Although I grew up in Kent and visited Margate many times (day trips with my mum and sister), I had no idea that Margate was home to a rather bizarre shell grotto: shell grotto 1 According to the website for the grotto, its history is unclear, but it is a shell-lined grotto hiding underground. Another time, my husband asked me if I knew of a village called Pluckley, again in Kent. Apparently it’s the ‘most haunted’ village in England,and a mere 28 miles from where I spent the first 18 years of my life. Again, I’d never heard of it. It looks rather lovely in this view from the air:Pluckley (source:

Now Visit England is releasing a list of 101 Things to do in England before you go abroad. The complete list won’t be out until St. George’s Day (April 23rd), but of the things listed on the preview, I’ve done very few. According to the Daily Mail (in Balti in Birmingham, a night out in Newcastle), the list tells us to do things like swing through the trees in Sherwood Forest (nope, haven’t done that), watch cheese rolling in Cooper’s Hill, Gloucestershire (haven’t done that either), enjoy the windswept strangeness of Dungeness, Kent (I’m afraid I think of nuclear mutant crabs when I think of Dungeness – my image of that town is of the nuclear power station, so when I see restaurants offering Dungeness crab on the menu, that is where my mind goes – sorry!), and meet the ponies in the Dartmoor National Park (one I can check off – memories of an aggressive pony trying to get into our car near a tor when I was about 10). The list has a lot of interesting places, and I’ll be interested to see the full list on Tuesday. I know that the next time I do manage to get back to the UK, I’ll have to force myself to go further than London, which is my usual habit.

An(ne) Historical Relic

A historical, an historical, there are plenty of arguments for both should you want to look for them, and that’s not my focus here.  However, using ‘an’ today lets me make a little play on my name, so please indulge me!

Apparently I am now so old that almost no other living humans share my first name. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but I was rather shocked to find my name on the following list: 10 Vintage Girls Names: Unique Names You Don’t Hear Anymore.

It also made me laugh. I really don’t think the name Anne (or Ann as they spell it on the list) is a name that has ever been considered ‘unique.’ Boring perhaps, yes. But unique? No. In fact it still seems to be very popular as a middle name, according to the ‘Great Middle Name Survey’ (which admits to be less than scientific in its methods). I’ve certainly met a lot of middle-name-Annes. However,  as a first name, it is currently ranked  #996 in popularity. It ranked in the top 100 from 1899-1973. I was born a lot closer to one end of that range than the other!

And on that note, here’s a link to a bunch of famous Annes (and one Annette):

Are you a middle-name-Anne?

Give me your bag!

For some reason, the bus was particularly busy the other day. It felt like about five people got at every stop, so it was quite crowded. One woman got on with a very small child, a stroller, and a fairly heavy-looking handbag. She stood while her daughter sat. I was in the seat behind and noticed her bag.  Two thoughts went through my head at the same time.

The first thought was more of a memory/reminiscence. I suddenly remembered taking the bus in Seoul, something I did twice daily for several years. Sometimes, when there were no free seats, I’d experience older women (probably 30+ years older than me) tugging on my bag. The first time it happened I wondered why on earth someone was pulling my bag. Hardly a subtle strategy to steal a wallet! But it turned out she was offering to hold my bag for me while I struggled to stay upright on a bumpy ride. Seoul bus drivers drive fast and like to treat the clutch very roughly. Passengers lurch back and forth with the bus, watching passing cars come perilously close. In fact it’s not at all unusual to see cars and buses collide in Seoul. I would usually thank the person offering to take my bag and hold onto it, but some women would be very insistent and rather than conduct a handbag tug of war it was easier to pass it over. It was very kind of them to offer to hold it. I would feel uncomfortable handing over my bag, although it was usually a bag of groceries or a few books and nothing valuable. It wasn’t so much because I was worried they would take my stuff, but because it was usually a tiny, shrivelled old woman who didn’t look she should be carrying anything. Of course, those women were probably much stronger than me, despite appearances!

The second thought was to reach out my hand and offer to hold her bag on my lap, but just before the words came out I stopped. I suddenly wondered, here in the US, what would be the reaction to a stranger reaching out and grabbing a bag? I decided it might well be negative and decided against finding out. However, part of me felt bad that I didn’t try. It could have been a nice thing to do for someone. Maybe the woman would have understood my intention and accepted my offer. She might have understood but just turned it down. But on the other hand, she might have thought I was trying to steal her purse. Or someone watching might have thought I was up to no good. Since I did nothing, I’ll never know.

How would you react if a stranger offered to hold on to your bag on a busy bus? Would you offer to hold someone’s bag on your lap? The situation certainly made me think. Maybe I’ll offer next time.