Piercing

I got very interested in piercing. Not tattoos or other body modifications, just the piercing. As someone who has never worn jewellery in his life, it was a new adventure for me.

Let’s dispel a few myths.

It’s not an expensive exercise. You can get a septum piercing for £25, maybe more depending on the jewellery you pick.

It can be painful, of course, when it is done as people are sticking needles in your body, but only for a short time.

Piercings need to heal. Some can take months, others days.

If you don’t like it, take it out and it will heal. There may be a scar, but that’s no problem for me at my age.

Yes, you do have to think carefully if your piercing choices might affect your employment. It shouldn’t, but you can see that someone, for example, serving in a posh restaurant may be frowned on if they have a face full of piercings.

Having piercings does not mean you are a bad person, but it does make you more approachable for vagrants on the streets.

Travel

I retired at the age of 60 after nearly 40 years as a teacher. I have been offered part time work, but decided that I was really going to retire.

So, doing up my flat (apartment), going to the theatre and concerts and such like have been entertaining me for more than three years now.

My first holiday was to one of my favourite places, maybe my favourite place. Chicago. Lots of other places in the USA followed: Washington, Seattle, New York of course, and Canada, ie Toronto.

I get a reaction from people I know. It’s usually ‘oh boring’, ‘but you have been there before, lots of times, you must have seen everything’ and ‘why not go somewhere more adventurous’. Someone said ‘oh you must hate cities, hire a Winnebago and drive through the wilderness for a couple of weeks’. As I don’t drive, get bored by sea, sand and scenery and love culture, people and activity, it is obvious I will go to a city.

When I am too old to fly long distances, which will be very soon I imagine, I will go to nearer places. Stockholm is on the list, as is Glasgow.

But, I don’t understand why people want to criticise me for my holiday choices, especially to places they have never been to.

Christmas is here

Actually, it seems like Xmas has been here since Easter. Certainly, pubs and restaurants were taking last minute Christmas bookings in July, some people I know had decorations up in October, I wrote my (few) cards weeks ago. The food delivery services were saying get your last minute booking in September.

When I was little, Xmas was a big thing for several reasons. The country came to a halt basically from Christmas Eve until after the new year. Shops were rarely open, people didn’t go out. It was dismal. All you could do was stay home, watch tv, eat and argue.

But now there are plenty of places open on Xmas Day even. OK, public transport does not run, except certain services, and taxis charge a fortune, but pubs and restaurants are open and busy, and many shops. By Boxing Day, it’s back to normal (the USA don’t have Boxing Day) in the UK. Some, not many but some, people work. The sales are on, everyone literally does DIY.

The need to buy a 15 tonne turkey to get a family of 4 through 3 weeks seems to have gone. Whatever made Xmas special, and that does not mean good, is no more. Here in the UK, we are becoming even more American.

Americans celebrate Thanksgiving with turkey, then the next day it’s sales. After Xmas day, USA shops are open for people to return gifts for something they actually want. We don’t do that here – you can’t really return stuff unless it is faulty. We’ve mostly forgotten the so-called religious significance, thank goodness, and it’s a time for shops to count their profits. Don’t make expected sales at Xmas and you are doomed for the year.

Food

It’s not for us to tell you what to do if you are visiting London. What we enjoy doing may well not interest you. Just look on some web sites, get a decent travel book and ask your friends.

What we can do, what we feel we must do, is tell you things we think you should avoid. Ignore our advice if you like, of course.

This is about food.

You will recognise all the usual suspects in London, McDonald’s, Subway, Starbucks, Burger King and so on. They will probably be very different from your local outlets. They may sell different things, the items may taste different (different ingredients tuned to different tastes), probably more expensive. If you want something special, say, X but with Y not Z, the server will look at you as if you are stupid and will probably give you a sharp no! No flexibility here, they don’t bend over to accommodate your needs. And more expensive.

The UK has a number of chain restaurants. Some are OK, others may well be best avoided. Cafe Rouge, Bella Italia, Garfunkels, Prezzo, Aberdeen Angus Steak restaurants and others seem, in our experience, to offer poor quality at inflated/tourist prices. Never has the microwave worked so hard. Some have been involved in a tips scandal.

Lots of pubs serve lovely food, but beware of these terms. Some offer an extensive menu at cheap prices. Others offer ‘home cooked‘ food, which probably means bought in frozen and microwaved. Some offer ‘home made‘ food. This usually means there is one item, maybe a few, highlighted with the words home made and they should be. It does not mean necessarily that all items are home made. If you are in a pub where you order at the bar and food is brought to your table, then tips are not appropriate.

We know people who object to certain restaurants because of the companies that own them. Pret A Manger had associations with McDonald’s in the past, Giraffe and Harris + Hoole is or were owned by Tesco.

It’s really hard, near impossible, to get a really cold drink in a shop. We don’t do ice.

On a different matter, Brits eat pretty much everything with knife and fork. Well, not fast food burgers, but everything else, even pizza. We know how to use cutlery: knife in the right hand, fork in the left. We don’t use one hand, we don’t cut our food up like baby servings, then swap a fork to the other hand to eat.

Your forefinger should be along the top of the knife and fork…

and it is probably the worst bad manners ever to use your cutlery like a dagger: