Rest Rooms in the UK

Last night, I was attending a gig at one of my favourite Manchester venues. One of the people from the venue was standing near the stage, which put him right in front of the passage to the venue’s comfort facilities. I usually use my best British English, but I slipped and said, “Excuse me, I just need to get to the rest room . . . toilet. I need the toilet signtoilet.”

I wasn’t fast enough; he immediately said, “You Americans always seem to need a rest. I have a sofa if you need a quick lie down.” He followed with, “Americans don’t like to say ‘toilet,’ do they? Why is that?” I said, “Well, I think some Americans think it sounds a little crude.” (Note: I come from a family that was reticent about mentioning this process at all. The word “facilities” seemed too direct for us.)

He then said, “For Americans, ‘toilet’ refers to the actual device, doesn’t it?” “Yes,” I said, “If you ask Americans where the toilet is, they are likely to tell you it is in the bathroom.”

“Ah, yes,” he said, “When Americans ask to use my bathroom, I tell them ‘Sure, but don’t soak too long. Tea will be ready soon.’”

Goodness, how long does it take to make a cup of tea?*

*Yes, I do know the answer to this, but that is for another post.

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Fast Cars in the UK

Someone recently asked me whether I thought people in England drive too fast. The question took me by surprise because, no, with but a few notable exceptions people in the UK do not drive fast. It probably isn’t for a lack of a speedy impulse but for the restrictions UK traffic calming measures impose.

Yes, the UK keeps traffic slow through the use of ubiquitous speed cameras, speed traffic calming (1)bumps, winding roads that twist and double back for no discernible reason, one-lane two-way roads, and lines of parked cars on both sides of all public roadways. (Yes, there are motorways, but I rarely see one.)

All this combines to make travel in the UK quite slow indeed. It is a cliché to say that Americans think 200 years is a long time and Brits think 200 miles is a long way, but it became a cliché because it’s true. In the US, I would generally estimate my arrival time by allowing one minute for each mile. If I needed to travel 15 miles, I would allow 15 minutes (20 minutes if it was important enough to have a few extra minutes). In the UK, 15-mile trips regularly take 45 minutes or more, even without major traffic disruptions. A 200-mile trip is not something to be taken lightly.

For the most part, Brits are patient and courteous in traffic, taking turns and letting one another pass in a fairly equitable arrangement. You occasionally run into a rude and selfish driver, of course, but it isn’t the rule. Brits will tell you they are known for their ability to queue (stand in line) in an orderly, polite, and efficient manner.

If they are better at standing in queues than other cultures, it must be because they have so many opportunities to do so. Queues abound, and they are not famous for moving quickly. Things generally move faster in the US—except the post office. I typically get in and out of the post office much faster in the UK than in the US.

Life in the UK is mostly slower than what I’ve been used to, and I like it that way almost all the time. Sometimes the American in me breaks out and I get exasperated with pointless waiting, but every American has to be an ugly one from time to time, even if we are trying to dispel stereotypes.

Of course, Brits can lose their patience, too, when pushed too far. And that’s what Northern Rail has done. By making everyone late to absolutely everything, Brits in the northwest now have to rush around all the time, getting a taste of the American goal of always shaving a few minutes off travel time and being perpetually irritable. Surely, something will have to be done.

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English Politeness and Deference: Passing in Tight Places

I mostly appreciate the politeness I encounter in the towns and villages in northwest England, but sometimes my American and more urban sensibilities leave me a little frustrated. Necessity and custom in England require both vehicles and pedestrians to negotiate who will pass when space is too limited for traffic to move unimpeded. When the pause in movement is required by limitations of space, of course I appreciate theIMG_6911 polite manner most English residents negotiate who will pass first.

I don’t drive myself in England, so I will leave a discussion of vehicular negotiations for later, but walks often require similar etiquette. Walking on a footpath or pavement (sidewalk for the Americans) sometimes requires making space for someone to pass.* English manners demand that often both pedestrians will pause, turn to the side, and motion for the other to proceed. In short order, one or the other will give in and pass first with a cheery “thank you” to ensure that English politeness is rewarded.

That’s all quaint and lovely, and I find it absolutely comforting to know that people will still look out for one another in this way. Sometimes, though, the path is plenty wide for two people to pass without even pausing, but some insist on pausing and standing to the side anyway. As an American, I just find this to be an unnecessary and, I admit, annoying waste of time and effort. I still mutter a quiet “thanks” as I pass, but not without a taste of resentment. Sometimes, you just want to get on with your life, you know? I guess if I want that kind of life, I should stay in the city where one must look after oneself.

*In rural America, this scenario doesn’t play out often if at all. Rural America doesn’t have the population density of the English countryside, so it isn’t often you will pass anyone you don’t know. If you do pass someone you don’t know, you are likely to be suspicious and try to ascertain the stranger’s business in the area. Also, in America, if you are walking in the countryside, you are probably on private land, so you would definitely expect to know everyone you encounter. Any stranger would be a trespasser, and no one in America ever fought for the freedom to roam across farms and ranches. If you are English, please don’t ever try to cross a farmer’s land in the US. Most farmers will approach you with a loaded gun in hand, and shooting you would be completely legal.

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The Productivity Syndrome (or why I stopped writing philosophy)

I taught at a community college, so I was never on this productivity treadmill, though replacement treadmills were provided. Anyway, I’d like to think philosophy could be driven by something other than meeting quota. But, so it is.

UP@NIGHT

You are at a conference, wandering around the book exhibit.  A former colleague walks up and greets you.  A few minutes into the conversation she asks the inevitable question.  “So, what are you working on?”  You say, “nothing.”  Or to make it perfectly clear, you say, “I am working on nothing.”  You are met with a suppressed shock (without the awe) that barely obscures your companion’s dark thoughts: you are living “dead wood,” worse, someone who has the gall to admit it.  You can’t bear to be seen like this, and quickly add, “but I am actively engaged in research in new areas of interest, which I fully expect will result in a series of articles or books.”  Not really dead wood, you see.  Just taking a working, productive, hiatus.  Never let it be said, or even thought, that one is not productive.

I have three articles sitting on my…

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US and UK Pudding Differences

Americans are sometimes confused by how Brits use the word “pudding.” In the UK, “pudding” basically just means dessert, so anything sweet could be a pudding. For example, what Americans call pudding (something kind of similar to a blancmange) would be a pudding, so it is possible to have an American pudding for your pudding.

But you would never have a Yorkshire pudding for your pudding, because a Yorkshire pudding isn’t sweet after all, unless it is used to make a Dutch IMG_1026Baby, which is like a sweet Yorkshire pudding sort of. A Dutch Baby enrages some Brits but not others.

No one would have a Black Pudding for pudding, though, because it is blood sausage, and I don’t think anyone would have a Suet Pudding for pudding, either, as I can’t imagine anyone ever eating a Suet Pudding for any reason sort of imminent starvation. American’s might choose a Steak and Kidney pudding before opting for a Suet Pudding, but not by much.

You might be excused for thinking a Christmas Pudding is a Black Pudding, but they are two different things. A Christmas Pudding is dark in colour but sweet, in a way that some people might find tempting to try.

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Writing Through Illness and Grief Group

While mourning his daughter Tullia, Cicero took to writing a book of self-consolation. Thinking himself the inventor of this type of self-help, he said, “Why, I have done what no one has done before, tried to console myself by writing a book.” (This is quoted by Han Baltussen in the Nov. 2009 issue of Mortality in an essay titled, “A grief observed: Cicero on remembering Tullia.”)

I certainly don’t think Cicero was the first to console himself by writing, but he seemed to find it of value, and many after him have repeated the exercise. Writing can be a way of releasing out inner torment when faced with grief or illness.

If you use or have used writing as a consolation, I’d like to invite you to join the Writing Through Illness and Grief group on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/256668978211572/). If you are not on Facebook but are interested in participating in other ways, please contact me at Randall@ethicsbeyondcompliance.com.

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Bob War (a humane farming manifesto)

I was an adult before I realized that barbed wire is not called Bob War, because that was how my grandfather pronounced it, and he happened to be the person who mentioned it to me most often, as he was the person who would always tell us kids that we needed to help repair the fence. Some concerned neighbour would call to tell him some of the cows were out, and he’d tell us to grab some Bob War and git in the truck. We’d drive out to the cow lease, which was several hundred acres, and find the wayward cows, round ‘em up, and repair the fence. Sometimes getting the cows back on the lease was the easy part, and sometimes it took all day.

Repairing the fence was always about the same. First, cut the broken wire and get it outbarbed wire of the way. Second, nail a new piece of wire to a fence post with a fencing staple. You have to get the staple just inside of a barb to keep the wire from slipping through. The hard part is stretching the wire to the next fence post enough to get a barb there to use it to secure the other end of the wire. Sometimes my job was to get the wire in the fencing tool and pull it around the post using the post and tool for leverage. It wasn’t really easy. It required all my limited strength, and it caused me no small amount of anxiety, as my grandfather was not easy going about it. My efforts were usually subject to some harsh criticism.

In the end, though, the cows were always contained, and the fence was always mended – one way or the other. I never felt much happier about it, but that’s how life is when you raise cows. And the cows were fairly happy, I guess, having plenty of room to roam. It made you wonder why they’d ever want to escape in the first place, though sometimes you knew.

Every farmer needs a few bulls, of course, but not too many, so each year we’d cull some of the bulls from the herd and take them to auction where they were bought and either put to pasture or slaughtered. Unless they were breeding stock, the bull calves were castrated and sent on their way to become steers, as steer meat is more desirable than bull meat. I sometimes participated in the making of young steers. You may think the testicles are whacked off with a big knife or something, but we had a device with a strong rubber ring attached and stretched open. We’d pull the testicles through the open ring and then remove the device, which meant the ring constricted around the base of the scrotum. It’s anyone’s guess whether this was more or less pleasant than a big knife.

It wasn’t my concern to know what happened to the calves we sold. I do remember, though, returning to the lease one evening to find a mother cow wandering around the perimeter of the property braying for her calf. She was well-fed and cared for, but she depended on her son’s executioner for winter food, protection, and medication. This is humane farming, you see, not the horrible things you see in the smuggled films from factory farms.

I don’t know how long Mom continued searching and braying for her lost one.

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