They do (some) things better here
I will be coming home on Friday, but right now I am laid low with a nasty cold, so I don’t feel up to the heavy work of house clearing. But the blog calls.
Living on my own means that I buy a lot of convenience meals – and these are much better here than I can buy in Richmond BC. Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer both have an extensive range of packaged meals which can be simply reheated. They are not frozen and have a very limited shelf life but are clearly very popular and with good reason. There is also a company called Cooks which makes nothing else – though they do seem to rely heavily on freezers. And they are not cheap. My old Mum used to buy loads of frozen stuff from the Eisman delivery service and even stuff which is still within its sell by date is of fairly poor quality – but similar to the Swansons and similar meals sold in North American supermarkets. You don’t have to be a hungry man to eat these – simply desperate and with no taste buds.
I like roundabouts – which are everywhere – and generally work well, though increasingly they incorporate traffic lights as well. This seems to be to allow traffic from minor roads to have some chance of crossing the major road traffic flow. British road signs are also very clear and reliable. I would not advise anyone to rely on Canadian or US road signs, especially off the major highways. But traffic on this small island is generally abysmal and seems to get worse every time I come back. Especially in older towns and villages with narrow, winding roads. Car ownership in UK continues to rise rapidly so what was a bad parking situation when I worked here twenty years ago is now simply dreadful. Enforcement seems to be very patchy in urban Essex – and everywhere people can be seen parking with two wheels on the sidewalk no matter what the restrictions posted might be. People also park every which way and not, as we do, in the same direction as the traffic – which to my eyes now seems wrong, though I used to accept it unquestioningly once.
Public transport is better – especially London Buses – but rural transport is still a huge issue. They now seem to be considering abandoning the conventional country bus and looking at something closer to a shared taxi – an idea I have long promoted for low density exurbia in Canada.
This trip I am using a rental car (much cheaper when hired locally and not at the airport – or through an airline web portal. Those apparent “deals” turn out to be pretty poor when you shop locally.) I have done a lot of long distance driving mostly to places which have either no or very poor local train service (thank you Dr Beeching) and often hauling lots of clobber – to charity shops and the dump. While “Happy Eater” have been mostly boarded up, new US style service areas now seem ubiquitous. The site layouts are nearly identical – motel, gas station, foodcourt – and the fast food (McDs, Pizza Hut, KFC) predictable. The familiar sense of lack of place is depressingly reminiscent of the midwest road trip. The coffee shops seem acceptable but again tend to be either the usual chains, or barely competent. There does not yet seem to be the “artisanal” coffee houses here, which seem to thrive within the Starbucks catchment areas at home.
The British press is far better than the Canadian with real competition; several quality papers striving for readership everywhere. This produces offers not seen at home such as free DVDs in papers. I have been catching up on movies I missed – “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and “Bagdad Cafe” were both given away by the Guardian since my last trip.
But undoubtedly the best thing is that in the month I have been here absolutely nothing newsworthy (in UK media terms) has happened in Canada!