Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Kids' Stuff

We woke up this morning around 8:30 (Bethany, then Z., then me, in that order) and hung around the house for a little while. Z. had Weetabix and peanut butter, her American variant on a British classic, and I had some fruit. Then we hit the train again, transfered, and went up to Halifax, where Bethany had never been and the site of the National Children's Museum.

Bethany tells me the British government has a habit of building museums in cities and towns with no other draws, as a means of encouraging travel to less traveled locales. In the case of Halifax, it's just past some of England's rougher towns, home to various South Asian immigrants and cite of some nasty race riots a few years back. The museum, on the other hand, was just Z.'s speed, and despite a little whining (proof that she's finally acclimating?) she had a blast. Bethany bought her a juice box for the trip back to Leeds, where we went to a nice arcade (basically, a quality mall on very old streets) and sat down for a lunch of Yo Sushi, which delivers your food via conveyor belt. Z. had teriyaki and ate enough to warrant a tasty dessert of (Japanese?) pancakes with custard.

Then it was time to head home via double decker bus, which Z. cleverly deemed a "bunk bus." It's quite sunny and warm, so we may go for another local walk after tea to take advantage of nice weather. Hopefully it's this nice tomorrow, since we're traveling to York for the day, which should prove another wonderful side trip.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Back from the Country

We eased into the day today, packed some lunches, then took the train to Sheffield. I'd always heard Sheffield likened to some sort of industrial wasteland, and maybe at one point it was, but in the past couple of decades it's made a turnaround, and then some. Apparently, Sheffield is now the greenest city in England, not metaphorically but literally, with more trees and generally green foliage than anywhere else here. It sure seemed that way, as Sheffield was beautiful, covered with flora and surrounded by hills and valleys.

Bethany's friend Philo picked us up at the station and drove us to his house, where we met his wife Val and, eventually their kids and pets (one a particularly haggard-looking retired greyhound). Val entertained Z. while we all chatted and had a snack, then Bethany, Z. and I piled into the car and hit the country, just outside the city. And the country it was, with dramatic, picture-perfect rolling hills, streams, heather, trees, stones and roving sheep. After a hike, during with Z. complained not once, we went to the visitor center for tea and a scone, which Z. inhaled. We essentially closed the place out, as at 20 to five (official closing) they kicked us out. According the Bethany and Val, the British are tremendously lazy, and look for any excuse to close early or otherwise shirk their duties. In fact, we saw the shop keeper waiting for the bus on the way back to Val's home, the implication being that she closed up early to catch her own ride home. For all we know, maybe they close up early every day for the same reason.

Anyway, closing early may be one reason why we were unable to grab me a meat pie from a local butcher (which was closed by 5:15 - when do people who work later pick up meals?), but I can grab one in York in a couple of days, and a fabled Cornish pasty, too, a stuffed meat thing made famous by workers in Cornwall. These are things I can't get back home, unlike fish and chips, so I'm looking forward to more local comfort cuisine.

Another great day for Z., by the way, who was so knackered (!) she even fell asleep in the car before dinner, though she did wake up enough to nibble at a homemade pasta dinner. She made it home on the train with no complaints or meltdowns, too (and even used the cool cyber-toilet on the train, replete with button-operated doors and locks). Admittedly, she went to bed after her bath close to 9pm, and asked for a spoonful of peanut butter first, but I can only imagine how screwed up her internal clock must be, so have been quite patient with her shockingly minimal requests.

Tomorrow we hit the road again for a trip to Halifax, home of the national children's museum, where I suspect Z. will have a spectacular time. Which, by the way, the presence of Aunt Bethany alone has thus far more or less guaranteed.

Midnight Rambler

A combination of jetlag and Bethany's cool house roused Z. sometimes around midnight last night. Granted, she'd been down for five hours already, and I'd been asleep for three or so, but of course it wasn't enough. Bethany brought her downstairs to the sofa bed with me, and we both dozed until 9:30, when Bethany responsibly woke us up for breakfast. Z. was a bit groggy still, but she continues to be good natured and happy. She even ate a big breakfast of toast and jam and scrambled eggs, with juice.

Bethany tells me that one reason Brits don't eat scrambled eggs is that they haven't grasped (or embraced) the idea of mixing milk in with the eggs. That seems to be another old school English trait, perhaps stretching back to the penny-pinching pull-the-pants-strings-tight era. Why heat bathrooms when you can just heat the towels? Why warm the house while you're asleep? Heated kitchens? Who hangs out there, anyway? It's all so stubbornly efficient, though Bethany also tells me that many hear have been locked in a battle of wills with the very notion of recycling. Go figure.

Certainly the students here should recycle. You can tell which houses house university students by the number of beer cans scattered across the lawns of otherwise lovely Victorian homes. That and the occasional puddle of vomit with half-digested chips in the middle. Leeds is otherwise a pleasant little city, pretty, old, and coated with a light cover of grime hanging around from the coal-burning years. It also may feature more sandwich shops per capita than any other place in the world. How can any city support blocks with no less than five sandwich shops, including a Subway? Very odd.

We did have fish and chips last night which were so-so, since fish and chips don't travel well and we did carry out. I did notice a sign outside the shop, several feet back from the counter, down a few steps and around the corner, that noted the shop would be happy to come to any disabled person unable to amble up to the counter on their own. How such a person would get the attention of the people behind the counter - around the corner and up some stairs - is another matter entirely. Maybe that's the idea. Progressive? Yes. But only up to a point.

Off to the Dales!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sleepy Head

Between the travel and the flight, Z. only slept a few hours since Friday night, Chicago time. Yet amazingly, she completed her first day in the Uk with not a single complaint or meltdown, and even ate well (enough) in the process. By the end of the day, however, she was more pooped than I've ever seen her, happy but almost deliriously so, with droopy eyes and an unsteady gait. She zonked out on her air mattress at 7pm, Leeds-time, which puts her on perfect schedule to recover from any effects of jet lag almost immediately. Good for her, since tomorrow we go to Sheffield to chase sheep on the Derbyshire Dales.

It Could Have Been Worse

I had been asking Z. if she needed to go potty about once every five minutes in the hour before our flight to England. No, she kept saying, I don't need to. And she didn't ... until right after takeoff, in the middle of a choppy ascent, with everyone strapped to their seats. "I need to go potty," she pleaded. "Please! I can't hold it!"

After a while I pressed the call button to ask the flight attendant if it was OK to bring Z. the potty, but they ignored me and my flashing light, even as they walked by. So I eventually flagged one down and asked if it was OK to take Z. to the potty. "We recommend staying in your seat," she more or less snapped. That wasn't a no, but still. And yet, a couple of minutes later, I saw an adult get up and go to the bathroom, so I went back to ask the seated attendant whether it was still unsafe. "Can I take my daughter to the bathroom?" I asked again, noting that this dude had just used the bathroom. "If you do, we can't be held responsible," she grumbled. I almost told her she would be held responsible if Z. pooped her pants and stunk up the plane, but eventually just blew off her warning and took Z. to the potty, where she made the world's tiniest tinkle.

The rest of the flight was uneventful, even if the airline made sleep, how ever fleetingly, all but impossible with constant interruption and lights-on until there was just a couple of hours left in the air. Z. had no problem getting about three or four hours of sleep. I only got a couple.

Yet exhausted or not, Z. is thrilled to be in Leeds with Aunt Bethany, where they've played, shared a plate of mac and cheese and browsed the library, all on day one. Tonight is fish and chips takeaway night, which should strike her fancy before we make an early night of it to catch up on Z.'s zzz's.

The weather today was cold, but apparently the last of the protracted cold snap leading into 50s spring weather, though as Bethany noted and my own eyes confirmed, students here up north greet the slightest glimmer of spring by stripping down to summer garb that gave me the chills everytime one of the bare-limbed girls or guys strolled by. Brrrr!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Turn About is Not Fair Play

From :

Insurance companies say they have no choice but to honor contracts, and banks are pleading that their assets will be worth more if you just give them a little time.

For anyone, especially in business, who has tried to make those same arguments to insurers and bankers, to no avail, it's painfully rich.