Saturday, December 27, 2008

Primark: Where the Seconds are Firsts

Primark is a very cheap clothing retailer in the UK. You can buy a pair of jeans there for around £5 (NZ$12). A t-shirt is around £3 (NZ$7.50). And not just on sale, that's every day.

About a week ago I bought a grey jersey there which I quite like (it was £5.87), and so yesterday I decided to go back and get another one of the same style, but in a different colour.

I bought it, took it home, took of the tags, put it on, and then immediately took it off again because it was inside out. Unfortunately, when I pulled it through the other way, it was still inside out.

My tan jersey, not inside out.

During the making of the jersey, someone had obviously forgotten to turn it inside out before sewing the trim on. So the sleeves, the shoulders and the strip around the bottom were all overlocked on the outside rather than the inside. Just to be sure, I compared it with the grey version, which had no such problems.

We still had the receipt, so we decided to take it back this morning. Since I did like the style, I decided to get a replacement. However, when I went to pick one out, they were all sewn like that.

It's too haphazard to be an intentional design, so we think the mistake must have been made on the whole tan-coloured line. Primark just decided to just go ahead and try to sell them anyway. Still for £5.87, it's hard to complain.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The British Christmas Tree Adventure

It was a bright and sunny day. Freezing cold. Everywhere, white frost sparkled and crunched underfoot as we made our way across the long grass of the paddock, to the stand of Christmas trees by the creek.

We were undertaking a British tradition, as introduced to us by Mike: the yearly finding of the Christmas tree.

Apparently, the traditions are:

1.) You actually have a *real* Christmas tree. And it's not a Radiata (North American) Pine, either. It has short little needles. The same type of tree seems to be standard throughout Hampshire, if not most of the UK.

(Here is the one we eventually chose.)
2.) Taking a tractor ride to the stand of pines grown for the occasion.

I thought he was joking, and that it was just for the kids. But, no. Everyone climbs on the back of a trailer pulled by a tractor with straw bales for seats. The tractor is decorated. Cheesily.

3.) Picking a tree takes a long time. Actual arguments break out over which is the "best" tree. One with the perfect blend of symmetry, an even "spread" of branches vertically, and strong top branches to put angels on.

4.) The company lends you spades (so you can literally dig up your tree and plant it in a bucket) or a saw.

It's a huge family affair, and everyone takes photos.

The Christmas tree farm also doubled as fishing ponds stocked with fish, where you could sit and fish, for a fee. (I think that's cheating, but the Brits are big on fishing and who has a fishing licence and who gets what spot. Meh.) The night before, the temperature had been around -6*C after midnight. A hoar frost. The pond had ice on it. Mike threw a stick into the water. It skittered across the surface and came to rest. The top of the pond was solid ice, about 2cm thick.

I wanted to put Sheepie on top of the ice for a photo, but I didn't want to fall in. So Brendan was leaning down to put him on the ice when the old man who had been driving the tractor saw us from the other side of the paddock, and bellowed, "Oi! Don't break the ice! You'll scare the fish!" I think he misunderstood what we were doing, because Brendan was holding a small saw in the other hand.

After looking at many, many trees, eventually Mike was satisfied he'd found the best one, although it was slightly bare at the back. It was surprisingly light to carry.

(Mike had a Christmas party with 60 mince pies and most of the village attending. The village kids absolutely loved decorating it! Brendan and I are not huge mince pie fans, so we ate far too many Roses chocolates instead and had to buy Mike a new tin! And then we ate half of that one in one day too. Oops...)

I hope y'all have a fantastic and safe Christmas holiday - we're going to be spending Christmas Day with Brendan's aunty Yvonne, uncle Andrew and cousin Turner (and friends) down in Southampton. Which will be fun, I think. We're having a no-present Christmas this year, owing to cost of postage>funds.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Basingstoke, home of the 'chavs'

Apparently. 'Chavs' is technically a British word for street kids, but it seems to generally connotate people of low class/ intellect, who are 'trashy' and wear baseball caps and sweatsuits. Or something like that. Think the character 'Vicky Pollard' ("Yeahbutnahbutyeah") of the TV Show 'Little Britain' or groups of Cockney 'lads' ("innit?").

Popular consensus is that there are a lot of 'chavs' in Basingstoke, according to this Hampshire Chronicle article about the wonders of a Primark (cheap clothing shop) coming to Basingstoke. (The comments section is priceless, and fascinating from a cultural point of view. It very clearly shows British class distinctions - here, where you shop and what you buy is far more important than NZ, or even than the US!)

Anyway, we are very pleased to have moved back into civilisation last Sunday, chavs or no chavs. To a place with streetlights. Public transport. Being able to walk 10 minutes to shops. And most importantly, *warmness*. I was permanently cold at the last house. Especially so before our clothing arrived from the US, as we assumed we'd retrieve it the same month (summer). So I'd brought just one pair of jeans and one jersey/sweater. The house was heated only late at night and early morning, and was often colder inside than out. My hands swelled up so much from chillblains I couldn't wear rings. Within about 3 days here, in a warm room, the swelling had gone down.

Basingstoke itself is boring, but has been 'prettied up' by the local council. (Reminds us of Milton Keynes, actually.) It won 9th in the "Crap towns" survey in 2003. Probably the NZ equivalent would be Palmerston North.

While it doesn't have the charm of nearby Winchester or other 'market towns', Basingstoke does have a cute "Top of town" market area of shops in the original village style, and a nice railway station. The park by our house has also been improved with fountains in the ponds, and it has great running/walking tracks similar to the MK 'redways'. The large mall is the key feature (Top Gear apparently spent a day a few weeks ago, racing cars inside it!) and has obviously had a lot of money spent on it.

However, the houses in the suburbs are ugly, with a same-ness of white walls, a flat roof and golden bricks. Or red bricks. Entertainment options are about average for a city like this: we don't care to experience the nightlife in Basingstoke's four clubs, or check out the local neighbourhood pub, called 'Skewers', or visit the Vue movie theatre. (We're incredibly boring by most people's standards, aren't we?!)

So while I'm honest about Basingstoke's flaws, it's not a bad city, contrary to the 2003 "Crap Towns" survey. And I'm sure it's improved a lot since then. It has low unemployment, and seems to be OK for safety, as long as you're not in Popley. It's 45 minutes to central London by express train, and has lots of good points. The supermarkets are only 10 mins walk away, parking in our area is not an issue (although you do have to pay in the downtown area - hence why supermarket proximity is important) and there are plenty of places for me to run which don't involve narrow,unlit roads with hedges on either side,with cars doing 60mph along them. And we're not 4 miles from civilisation. We're looking forward to exploring Basingstoke more.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


Today I reached a marathon-training milestone: I ran 10 miles. It's the longest I have ever run, and I'm surprised at how much it wiped me out to do an extra mile. Now I just have to add another 3 miles (approx 30 mins running time) to get to the half-marathon (in March)!

I had to run most of the way in the dark, along the narrow roads, unfortunately. I had a little torch so I could at least shine it at cars and make them slow down for me. I know someone else who drives a few miles away to the New Forest so she can run there instead, since she also worries about the cars.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Town and Country

Famous last words... before we arrived here, I mentioned to Brendan that I might like to live in a quaint English village. Now, after almost two months of living in a quaint English village, I am ready to give up and run screaming back to the city again. Why? Because of streetlights. Yes, streetlights. At 4pm the sun has already gone down, since it's winter here, and by 5pm it is pitch black. And apparently the villagers don't want streetlights, since it means they would then be a town, forbid.

So I end up doing my marathon training between 3 - 4:50 pm, before it gets too dark to see the road. It's a bit worrying running along the country roads here sometimes, since they are mostly one-way and very narrow and winding, with tall hedges on either side.

Unlike New Zealand, where 'living in the country' really means that you can live at least 30 minutes from anywhere, living in the 'country' in the UK means that you live in a sort of suburb next door to about 50 houses, interspersed with maybe 5 paddocks on a 3km stretch of road. So it's really more like living on the outskirts of a town, but without the benefits of access to shops, street lights or public transport. We're trying to juggle two people, one car at the moment, made easier since I mostly use the car to attend job interviews in Southampton.

Add to this our landlord issues, and you have a recipie for Brendan and Tina moving again. Of course this was always meant to be a temporary fix until we could find a house in town, but it's a bit more urgent now. So we'll let you all know when we move.