At the Car Wash

I thought I had stayed relatively British during my 15 year stint in Los Angeles. I Iost count of the number of times people commented that I hadn’t lost my English accent, I insisted on packing my bags at the supermarket and I still had a roast dinner, complete with Yorkshire puds on a Sunday. But on my return to the UK it became apparent that I had become a little ‘LA’ when living there.

I’m pretty sure the smartly dressed man outside the National Trust property didn’t appreciate me tossing my car keys at him when I mistook him for a valet and I’m convinced the owners of the local petrol station think I’m a complete idiot.

So much so I’m too embarrassed to go back there.

I’m used to driving a big car…but on big roads. I had a couple of prangs in Los Angeles but I still blame the fact I honestly couldn’t see over the steering wheel.

But for the majority of the time I could navigate the five lanes of heavy traffic on the 101 freeway – it just turns out I can’t navigate my way around a village petrol station – specifically I can’t drive my way through a car wash.

I was so excited about taking the kids through one – yeah, I know I said I was going to find fun and trendy things to do in the countryside, but I was having one of those days. Automatic car washes are far and few between in LA – mainly because when you valet your car you get the option for it to be washed too – so I figured it would be fun.

The problem was it had been a LONG time since I’d used one. I sat in the car and actually googled “how to go through a car wash”. Then to make doubly sure I did it right I went into the petrol station shop and spoke to the lady behind the counter.

I carefully explained – much to her amusement – that I was basically a foreigner and because I’d lived outside of the country for 15-years I wasn’t 100% sure on how to use a car wash.  It was my kid’s first time and I didn’t want to mess it up.

She kindly gave me instructions that basically amounted to “line your car up, turn off the engine and the machine will do the rest”.

I still managed to mess it up.

Five minutes later I was stuck inside a dark car wash, with a pair of petrified children. I couldn’t get out because my door was wedged up against the oversized brush I’d somehow managed to get way too close to and I had to make my exit via the passenger door. Sheepishly and covered in soap suds –  with the kids still screaming blue murder inside the car I might add – I had to go and explain myself to the woman.

She took one look outside the window, looked back at me and called her daughter in to take a look at what I’d done. “Look, look” she said pointing her finger at the disaster zone outside. “We haven’t had anyone mess up this badly in years!”

Oh how they laughed!

She then picked up the phone to call her husband!

“Why not call your mum too while you’re at it,” I said, because by this point I was not only red-faced but also painfully aware my children were still stuck out there.

Turns out she was only calling her mechanic hubby to come and help. I then had to stand there as they marvelled, along with a few rubberneckers, at “how the hell I’d managed that.”

After a lot of manoeuvring, tutting and shocked shaking of his head he broke my vehicle free of the brush that had got caught underneath the wheel arch of the front wheel.

I thanked him very, very, very much and went to jump into the car to make a speedy and shameful getaway, when they asked; “Don’t you want another go? Your car is only half clean.”

At first I was convinced they were only asking so they could catch another failed attempt on camera and flog it to ‘You’ve Been Framed’ for £250.  But then the husband thwarted his wife’s plans by leaping into the driver’s seat of my car and positively INSISTING he drive my car and crying kids through the car wash.

Had this been in LA they would have probably forced me to pay for someone to come and fix the car wash and then sued me for damages. In the countryside however, they not only gave me my second £3.50 wash for free, but they also threw in two chocolate bars for the kids.

Lucky for me the English rain has kept me from having to go back and show my face, and terrible driving skills, any time soon! I knew there was a reason to love this weather.

Curry in the Countryside

Unlike other places in America, Los Angeles was the hub of healthy. Friends and family would visit and feel compelled to tell me how shocked they were at how few overweight people there were there. “I thought Americans were supposed to be fat?” guest after guest would ask as another perfectly pert posterior strutted past.

With the statistics showing that a third of U.S adults are obese, I can understand their confusion.

I do remember once waiting at Minneapolis airport and being left completely gobsmacked when I saw a VERY large lady in a wheelchair with a block of cheese in one hand and a loaf of bread in the other. She wasn’t just carrying her shopping, it was in fact, her snack! Her head bobbed back and forth like she was watching center court at Wimbledon as she took a bite out of the oversized lump of American cheddar in her left hand followed by a bite of her uncut loaf in her right. It was, for lack of a better word, incredible!

But in LA people were forever ordering their food “without cheese,” with the dressing “on the side” or requesting it sans bun aka “skinny style”.  My husband, friends and I used to joke about how far it could be pushed. “Hi. Can I get (because you don’t say “please may I have” in America) the bacon, avocado beef burger. But without the bun, bacon and avocado. Also is it possible to get a veggie patty instead of a beef one? I’d also like that without the mayonnaise and tomato, and actually scrap the patty all together”. 

I honestly don’t think the waiters would bat an eyelid if I’d done it.

In England and specifically in the countryside I’ve discovered it’s probably best to just eat it as it comes.

When I asked for ‘white meat’ – a very common request in America, simply meaning breast or tikka meat – from the local curry house, I’m convinced they thought I was being racist. 

Me: “I’d like to order a Chicken Madras but with only the white meat please.”

Them: “You asked for chicken, right?”

Me: “Yes, but can I just have the white meat, please.”

Them: “Chicken is white meat”

Me: “I know that but can I have the light coloured meat, not the dark meat.”

Them: “You didn’t order lamb.”

Me: “ I realise that, I ordered chicken. But could it be the chicken like the stuff that comes in the Tikka Masala.”

Them: “The best meat is the darker meat, why don’ you like it?.”

Me: “I do, I just prefer breast meat.”

Them: “I suppose you want white rice and not brown either!”

Kudos to the man on the end of the phone, I thought his closing comment was quite witty. 

But by that point I didn’t dare ask for the bottle of white wine they were offering for free for orders over £30.

“I’ll just take an onion bhaji thanks.”

Run For the Hills – If You Dare

Gyms can be terrifying places in Los Angeles. Time after time you’re subjected to visions of perfection who can be overheard complaining about the scrap of imaginary fat that is hindering them from squeezing their backsides into their size 000 jeans.

The men jostle for space at the mirror to grunt their way through their insane workouts and earn themselves their mid morning treat of one palm-sized, plain chicken breast.

But it turns out the gym can be a daunting place in the countryside too. So much so that my husband attempts to avoid the locker room at all costs. It’s not because he feels intimated by the village vicar’s impressive physique but because of the immense number of unnecessary, naked downward dogs in the changing rooms.

Let me explain. On his return from the local gym recently our conversation went like this:

Husband: “Hannah can I ask you. When you get changed in the morning, what is the first item of clothing you put on?”

Me: “My knickers, why?

Husband: “I’m just trying to fathom why every man in the gym feels the need to leave them until last.They are all bent over talcing their toes or pulling their socks on, some even their shoes, either completely naked or with just a t-shirt on.”

And so to give him a break from the nudist colony that he calls his gym, we decided to do some cross country running, where the only dangly bits we would likely come across were cow udders and the odd weeping willow.

It was a gorgeous day and while I was ready to just wing it and run where the wind took us, my dad insisted on giving us a map that looked like it had been hand drawn in the early 1800’s to give us some idea of the lay of the land.

“Go along Hollow Lane, turn left, past a gate, down the hill to the stream and run along there to come back to where you started,” he said.

map of somerset england
Not exactly the GPS run tracker I’ve been used to

Nothing after Hollow Lane was on the map however, but apparently it would be “obvious” once we got there.

It wasn’t! I saw no stream and after a few miles off the beaten track, we found ourselves sprinting past “Killer Cottage” and the “Kidnapping Cowsheds,” – properties quickly nicknamed by my own over exaggerating mind because why else would anyone build such a remote building other than to use it as a torture tavern?

As the cowpat laden track became so narrow you couldn’t escape the flies feasting on the excrement, and my husband getting quite sick of me asking “what do you think is up here?” I slowed my pace and I told him “save yourself, I can’t go on”.

The grandparents were looking after the kids and I proceeded to text them, what I later realised was, a bit of a dramatic text message.

text message to dad
The message did reach dad… once we were safely back home

My husband refused to leave a man behind and rallied me onward. An hour and a half (it felt like longer) after we set off for our jog I saw our car, the ‘C U Next Tuesday Mobile’ glimmering in the sunlight. I ran towards it desperately hoping it wasn’t a mirage and 20 minutes later, I was safe and sound at home.

Of  course I didn’t die from being stranded in a corn field. I wasn’t murdered by the local farmer or found tied up by a crazy shepherd. In fact the only person wanting to kill me was probably my better half, who once again had to endure my horrendous map reading – I still blame my dad for his crap map though – and put up with the fact I made a beautiful jog in the countryside into the first chapter of a bad horror novel.

jog in the British countryside
Worse places I could have been stuck

Perhaps I would have been safer going to an indoor spin class. The only problem was that when I Googled “spinning, South Somerset” I was directed to “The Somerset Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers”. I think I’d rather be lost….or worse.

 

You Got Mail

I am well aware that this blog is supposed to be about finding cool and trendy things to do in the countryside so a post about post offices may just make anyone who is reading this switch off.

Village Post Office in England
The next village’s post office is positively buzzing!

But I can’t help it. I’m taking a rain check on my post about a fantastic holiday in Devon for one about mail or post or whatever you want to call it.

A country road in Somerset, England
Traffic getting there was a nightmare

When we moved back to England a very good friend suggested my daughter and hers, who had known each other since they were babies, became pen friends.

Obviously being three and four years old they weren’t going to conjure up handwritten masterpieces, but we figured scribbles and stickers would be greatly appreciated.

However, the contents of the packages was less problematic than the physical action of posting them.

I kid you not that my email (yes, I’m aware of the electronic irony) to said pen pal friend’s mum read:

“I’m glad she liked the card. H has written T another one, but the pace of village life means the post office comes to visit us just once a week in the Working Man’s Club,” I wrote.  “I wish I was joking! I haven’t plucked up the courage to go in there yet. I don’t know what I’m expecting to find, but I I keep getting visions of the last man standing from the night before, being left in charge of the first class stamps and the stamp sticker pad has gone missing. This means he takes it upon himself to lick the stamps and even worse my envelopes with his stale cider breath,” I continued.

“So instead I drive to the next village where there’s an actual PO that stays open all day – except for lunchtime of course, because with all that foot traffic they need a rest. It also sells pet food, imports the local old lady’s knitted goods and if you’re really lucky you’ll find a second hand hamster cage for sale.”

Crafts at the village post office
‘Craft services’ brought on a whole new meaning at the village post office

She responded by writing that she’d “audibly gasped”.

But my fascination with the place meant I insisted on my husband paying it a visit too, only he had to leave because he said it made him want to cry!

I, on the other hand, love it. I’ve even braved the Working Man’s Club post office too. I won’t lie, it was weird. There was a raffle and they were setting up tea and biscuits, but it beats standing in a half hour queue at the Hollywood Post Office where I was generally greeted with gritted teeth, a frown and a $45 price tag to send a letter home.

hollywood california post office
My old local post office in Hollywood, California

My only issue with going again is that I’ve just been told the Natwest Banking Van visits Martock on a Wednesday and I’m not sure I’ve got enough time to post a letter, have a free cuppa and get to the next village in time to pile into the back of a van to deposit my pennies!

Bottomless Bucks Fizz to Bottomless Chips

Gone are the days of popping out for brunch, ordering a bottomless Bucks Fizz (Mimosas in America) and ending up, in the words of Micky Flanagan, “out out”. But that’s more to do with having kids than relocating. Although our local pub still closes after lunch and doesn’t reopen for dinner until 6pm, so I can’t imagine them pushing bottomless pints of Somerset cider!

So imagine my delight when during a trip to beautiful Dartmouth, I saw the words “bottomless” shining like a beacon on a blackboard outside a restaurant. I practically broke into a sprint, abandoning my kids, hubby and food loving friend (lets call him FLF) on the other side of the road. My disappointment when I noticed the words “Bucks Fizz” had been replaced with “chips” was glaringly obvious. 

Upstairs at Rockfish, downstairs was packed!

I stopped in my tracks, hands on hips and yelled rather inappropriately, I now realise; “Bloody chips! Bloody bottomless chips! We may as well be at McDonalds. What sort of a place sells itself on bottomless chips?”

“A bloody good one” a voice from behind me muttered as he walked out of the restaurant. 

Now it was my FLF’s turn to sprint, actually he’ll be the first to admit he doesn’t do that, but regardless I’ve never seen him move as fast.

I still wasn’t convinced – the initial disappointment still stingingly fresh – but since FLF had already bowled me over to get inside, and was busy tucking a napkin into his collar despite not having anywhere to sit, I figured I had little choice.

Anyway, turns out we had stumbled upon an AMAZING fish and chips restaurant Rockfish.

The spicy salt was amazing

Fantastic food, brilliant service and they didn’t discriminate against families like ours rocking up at their cool establishment with a pair of kids (and one FLF adult) chanting “fish and chips, fish and chips”.

They even had a designated area for the folk who dine around toy cars and crayons. 

My FLF didn’t manage to beat the restaurant’s record of 7 re-orders of their bottomless chips, although he insisted he could easily have done it if we hadn’t all be watching him, but we still left buzzing – it was just from fine food rather than endless glasses of bubbles!