Saturday, April 11, 2015

Oh to be in England!

This other Eden, demi-paradise

I am more than ever convinced that I have too long resided in this island.

As my old buddy Bill Bryson is fond of reminding us, we are not just separated by a common language but are actually more exasperatingly separated by language, custom and mores (apologies to Caesar for paraphrasing his Commentaries on the Gallic Wars).

I must be getting old. The daft things that you have to put up with in order to live in England are beginning to get to me.

I was in Roys supermarket (the largest village store in England, so they proudly boast) – though this experience is equally frustrating in almost any shop in the land. English people wander about in shops seemingly without any sense of purpose and completely oblivious to anyone or anything around them. They stop right in front of you for no discernible reason. They cheerfully block an aisle, or even a clearly-marked exit, whilst they have a chat with someone or anyone about nothing. They will stand in front of a display case preventing anyone else from examining the wares. They will seemingly puzzle over which brand of shoe polish to buy so you cannot just reach in and get the one you already know you want.

Then if you are truly lucky enough to reach the checkout your problems are just starting. The English can't handle paying for goods at the checkout. You may well think they have all sprung fully grown from the head of Zeus and; therefore, have never shopped before. This is the only logical explanation. They are unable to position their loaded trolley so as to enable it to be easily unloaded. They cannot load their purchases onto a moving belt. Even though the checkout aisle is clear ahead, they cannot (or more likely will not) move forward to where the unloading can start. I would rather have an impacted wisdom tooth extracted with a pair of needle-nosed pliers without anaesthetic than watch them trying to pack a shopping bag.

Having already established that the physical effort of getting the goods ready is beyond them, we come to the paying. No English person has ever done this before. They are to a man (or woman) all paying-virgins. For each and all – it's a first. It must be, because they stand with the “open-mouthed-guppy expression” on their face when the cashier says, “That's 42 pounds and 68 pence, please.”

They are truly astonished that they have to pay. They root about in their handbag for their purse. They cannot get it open without some extravagant effort. They are unable to find their credit card without searching every available nook and cranny and examining the old bus ticket they find instead.

God forbid that they are paying with cash! Wait! I hear the reader cry, surely cash is easier! (Not so, you foolish, silly ones.) When paying with cash they examine every note even though all the notes are different sizes and colours to aid in identification. Then the fun really begins. Instead of handing over 43 or 45 pounds and waiting for the change, they fumble about trying to find the exact combination of notes and coins to settle the bill. All the while they are convinced that they are doing the shop, the general public, the bystanders, Uncle Tom Cobley and All a great and wonderful favour. Get on with it you gherkin brains!

Finally the paying process is over. Those in the queue who have not become terminally ill or incapacitated in the wake of this excruciatingly long process begin to dribble with the excitement that they might be about to move forward. (Hold you hard – not so fast!)

Now the bags have to be adjusted in the trolley. The purse has to be replaced in the handbag. The inane chat with the checkout assistant has to be concluded. (Sorry did I not mention that throughout the paying process the shopper is carrying on a running commentary with the cashier including tales of past exciting things that have happened whist shopping, the health of various family members, the outlook for the General Election, the fortunes of the local football team and other even more interesting trivia?) All this has to happen before they can move the foot or two from the end of the conveyor so the next person can move forward. (No, I am not making this up!)

What is truly amazing to me is the on-lookers do or say anything. I am often tempted to forcefully, yet politely, say something like. “Excuse me, could you please move/hurry up/get on with it/stop scratching your bum, etc.” Somehow I never do. I am more than ever convinced that I have too long resided in this island.

Down to the pub last evening for the quiz – during which I remembered another thing that drives me nuts about England. My team-mates are both driving instructors. Great! I'll ask them about the driving habits of their countrymen.

Driving is a complex activity. The cognitive and motor skills required are more than complex. So, why do people make it more difficult? Have they been taught to be ignoramuses or did it come naturally?

Somehow after passing their driving test people learn bad habits. Or, is it the way they are taught?

I asked. Tell me this: “On the driving test you are, quite rightly, penalised for “”not making progress””, correct?”


“So, why do people stop in the middle of a main road to let some twank pull out from a side road?”

“No idea.”

“Where, then did they learn this crazy manoeuvre?”

“No idea.”

“Am I then free to shoot them for being gormless idiots?”

“No comment.”

Do the folks who do this realise that they are quite likely to cause an accident? Do they care? Are they sub-normal?

There you have it – two reasons why I need to keep myself deeply rooted in Missoura!