Fireworks: UK vs. US

UK                                                                   US
-damp, cold                                                   -hot
-a few fireworks in the back yard          -have they stopped yet this year?
-a penny for the guy                                  -fundraising
-big bonfires                                                 -barbecues
-burning effigies                                          -barbecues
-winter coat and gloves                           -shorts and T-shirt
(and of course both places have plenty of organized public displays)

Yesterday was the 4th of July. Here in the US, that generally means fireworks. Lots and lots of them. In my neighborhood, the explosions started about 2 weeks ago with whistling noises, occasional  booms of things that sound too loud to be legal, and the on-and-off crackle of fire crackers at strange times of the day. However, all of that pales into insignificance compared to the sheer volume (both in quantity and noise) of fireworks that go off on the 4th itself.

The first time I spent July 4th in the US was when I visited here in 2005 or so with my husband when we were still dating. I was amazed by how many fireworks people set off. How could they keep going for so long? How much money did these people spend on fireworks? Didn’t they know it was dangerous to set these things off in the street? Of course, I promptly forgot all about it until we moved here in 2010. That year we had just had a very, very tall tree cut down and the whole of the back yard was covered in twigs, sawdust, and tree branches. 622049
Let’s just say we didn’t sleep so soundly that night, with a yard full of tinder and fireworks exploding all around.

This year, the July 4th temperature was 110F, and it has been a very dry year, so I’m very thankful that we didn’t have a tree situation this time. The whole notion of fireworks on a hot, hot day (and night  – they go on until at least midnight, without a single break, as though each house has coordinated things so as to maintain a constant stream of explosions) is very different from my experience of fireworks growing up. For most Brits (although perhaps less now than when I was younger) fireworks means November 5th. Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night. It also means a high likelihood of a cold, damp, drizzly evening rather than scorching sunshine. As a kid, I didn’t think it was all that much fun to wait around getting freezing cold just to watch something that was over in 5 minutes. Having fireworks in the summer certainly makes sense from that point of view. Well done on the founding fathers for signing the declaration in July rather than November. Of course, we need to remember Mr. Fawkes, without whom November 5th would be forgotten. Sometimes when I was a kid, I’d see teenagers sitting outside shops with a stuffed pile of clothes, collecting a ‘penny for the guy’. I always wanted to give a penny, but my mum would tell me it ‘was begging and it’s not allowed.’

It looked fun though. That part appealed to me a lot more than the fireworks, although now I find it a bit strange to encourage kids to build effigies to burn later on a fire. Do kids still do that these days? Here in the US, fireworks are sold to raise money for various organizations. Where I live, I’ve passed firework stands raising money for a school, a fraternity, and a racing pigeon club (!).  I’m not a fan of allowing random people to set off fireworks in their own backyards, but it’s a way of raising money.

As a scaredy-cat child (I’ve written before about the fear instilled in me by various public service films I watched growing up), I was uncomfortable at the fireworks displays to which my parents took my sister and me a few times. At least twice, we went to displays at the village vicarage. There would be a giant bonfire with a guy on top and a small fireworks display. Of course my parents would want to get close enough to see, while I’d be convinced the bonfire would collapse, burning everyone within a mile-wide radius. I was once offered a sparkler. I declined. After all I’d seen the warnings on TV where a little girl picked up a spent sparkler and ended up with a giant bandage on her hand.

Now, I’m still not too keen to get anywhere near fireworks, but a nice, organized display can be pretty spectacular. fireworks



Orange is a color that always makes me feel good. This week, I’m enjoying little bursts of orange around my backyard. What’s your feel-good color?


(Click on the images to see them close up.)

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.

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!)

Burning Up

As a child, I was quite worried about spontaneous human combustion. I know that worrying about suddenly bursting into flames is not the average childhood preoccupationtoys, games, and what’s for dinner would have been more normalbut I was fascinated and genuinely worried by it. Any time that I felt hotter than normal, I wondered if it was a precursor to something terrible about to happen.

It’s all down to a documentary we watched in class in primary school. I’m not sure why we were shown that in primary school because I’m pretty sure it wasn’t related to the curriculum in any way, but it’s marginally better than the practical music class I had a couple of years later  where we had to learn the words to the Mash theme song and play along on xylophones, triangles, and tambourines. Nice tune, but terrible lyrics for a child. Imagine, an 11-year-old searching for an E on that xylophone while singing ‘Cause suicide is painless.’ Just wouldn’t happen these days. Or so I hope.

I didn’t tell anyone about this combustion-related concern, so clearly I knew it was unusual, but nonetheless it was very real. In retrospect, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t tell anyone at the time. If people didn’t already think I was a strange child, this would have persuaded them.

As a result, I find it fascinating when I come across articles such as the following about the death of a 65-year-old man in Tulsa on Monday:  Spontaneous Combustion considered in Sequoyah County death. The articles are always inconclusive, as is this one, but the fact that the police would even consider it as a possibility fascinates me. When I read Dickens’ Bleak House, the one part that struck  me was the death of Mr. Krook through spontaneous combustion. An-illustration-from-Dickens-Bleak-House-shows-the-discovery-of-alcoholic-rag-and-bone-man-Krook-a-victim-of-spontaneous-combustionDickens believed spontaneous combustion was real, but his belief went against the current of the times and he received a lot of criticism for including it in the story line. However, there are plenty of other literary references to it. In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte describes a character as “in a frame of mind and body threatening spontaneous combustion.” Maybe that’s how I was feeling as child! I don’t know that I really believe in it, but it’s an interesting idea, and a convenient explanation for some very strange occurrences.

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