Apropos of nothing, the sequel

Monday, August 1, 2011

More random observations about the little things that make life different, or interesting, or just plain odd, on this side of the pond.

On the disturbing nature of the packaging and storage of eggs:
Eggs.  They are so simple.  They are so basic.  What can possibly be weird about eggs?  Well, let's start with the fact that cartons of eggs come in several sizes in my local Tesco.  I can get a carton of six eggs, which is not strange in the slightest.  The strange thing is that the next size up from six is… ten.  A carton of TEN eggs.  What the Hell is that?  How can you mess with something so fundamental as a dozen eggs? It's like selling socks in packages of three.  I ask you: What kind of a society packages eggs in cartons of TEN?

Photographic evidence
I'll tell you.  It's the kind of society where eggs are stacked on supermarket shelves approximately 732 miles away from refrigeration of any kind.  The cartons (of ten!) are just piled up on a shelf like bags of flour or cans of beans.  I suppose it must be safe.  I mean it's not like people over here are dropping like flies due to unrefrigeratedeggosis or anything.  And I'm sure someone will pipe up here about how it's totally fine (Ian?), but as a person who grew up in a world where eggs belonged in the refrigerator, it's just kind of creepy.  Next I'll find people storing open jars of mayonnaise next to the Corn Flakes.  Ick.

Eggs on the shelf

I am honour-bound to report that sometimes eggs come in cartons of a dozen.  But not always.  And if you look closely at the above photo you’ll notice that they also come in cartons of 15.  Honestly, it’s like the Wild West out here when it comes to egg packaging.
(Bonus odd food packaging related thing: Store bought bagels come FIVE in a bag. Weird, I say.  Just weird.)

On the frustrating nature of multi-directional parking:  
You know how in North America you can look down a street full of parked cars and all the cars on one side of the street are facing in the same direction?  That does not happen here. Here, even if you're traveling down the left side of the street, it's perfectly acceptable to cross a lane or two of opposing traffic to park on the right side.


Let me stress here that I did not have to search for a place to take this photo.  I was sitting on the couch blogging and thought, “Damn, I need that parking photo” and picked up my camera, walked out the front door, turned down the first side street, and snapped away.
Aside from the fact that it seems slightly unsafe to allow people to swerve across the street to bag a parking space, there's another reason this practice is annoying.  If, for instance, you happen to have grown up in a country that drives on the right and you happen to move to a country where they drive on the left then you're already at an disadvantage when attempting to cross the road.  At first your instinct will tell you to look to the left, which is wrong.  Then you'll gradually get used to things but start to second guess yourself, so you look left, no wait right, no, no left was right... and so on.  Then you start to look around for other cues about which direction the traffic is flowing so you're not forced to rely solely on your faulty instincts.  You may not have realized it, but one of the big cues we (or at least I) use to figure out the direction of traffic flow is by looking at which way parked cars are pointing on either side of the street.  Ha! No luck there.  Like Mom always said: “Look both ways when you’re crossing the street.”

On the lawless nature of phone number mnemonics:
Phone numbers have an extra digit, and you've always got to dial the area code, which means eleven numbers.  That's not hugely weird in and of itself.  What's a bit strange is that there seems to be no generally agreed way to break those eleven digits up into a series of shorter numbers as a memory aid.  You know how North American phone numbers always go "da da da (pause) da da da da"?  Or if you're including the area code it's "da da da (pause) da da da (pause) da da da da". And you write the numbers this way: (xxx) xxx-xxxx.  Always.  Without exception.  Oh sure, sometimes people who are trying to be arty will leave out the parentheses or the dash.  But no one would ever write a phone number as xxxx xxx.  Ever. That would be freakish and possibly borderline sociopathic.  Here, there are no rules.  I tend to think of my mobile as xxxxx xxx xxx (5 3 3).  But my work number is xxxx xxx xxxx (4 3 4). 

Just recently, walking down the street, I saw signs that display phone numbers as 3 4 4 and ones that are 4 3 4.  It's just disconcerting. I never really thought about it, but I suppose at some point in the formative stages of North American telephony someone laid down the law about how we write phone numbers (something to do with that "Pennsylvania 6500" thing I guess).  Whoever that person was, he had no equivalent over here, leaving Britons to flounder and make things up as they go along. 

(Bonus odd number-related thing: I’ve noticed that when people are telling you phone numbers over here they are much much more likely to say “double two” instead of “two two”.  But the quirkiest thing is when you get three digits in a row it’s not “two two two” or even “two double two”.  It’s “treble two”.  That’s so cute!)

On the heartening nature of billboards in the public transit system:
Here’s something I notices almost as soon as I arrived, and I love it.  You know what they put on billboards in the tube?  Yes, there are ads for movies and car insurance and video games.  But there are also ads for books.  Books!  Posters advertising new offerings from popular authors sit right alongside the ads for the latest Hollywood blockbuster.  And you know what else you see a lot of?  Ads for galleries and museums.  I know London is a town that thrives on the tourist trade, so I suppose it’s natural that they want to make sure everyone knows what’s on a the Tate Modern or whatever, but I just find it charming and sort of restorative of one’s faith in humanity.  I mean how can you say too much bad about a society that produces six foot high colour ads for a book?
Book ads
Ok you’re right, it’s not like they’re pushing a new edition of “The Canterbury Tales”, but still…nice.

On the fleeting nature of bicycle ownership in London:
Remember last week, when I told you all about my troubles on my bike?  Well my shoulder is pretty much fine now, thanks.  As for my rear derailleur?  The fact is I’m not precisely sure how my rear derailleur is anymore, mostly because it’s not precisely my rear derailleur anymore.  This is because I presume it’s still attached to a bike that is not precisely my bike anymore.  It turns out that you can lock your bike up at Vauxhall Station late into a Thursday evening for two weeks in a row with an apparently laughably inadequate lock, but if you go for three weeks… well, that’s pushing your luck.

The sad, funny, you-gotta-laugh-because-if-you-didn’t-laugh-you’d-cry thing is that I’d been having an ongoing debate each week with a fellow hasher and experienced London cyclist who I often share a train with on Thursday evenings.  He was convinced that my lock was a joke and the fact that I was leaving my bike at Vauxhall with that lock was simply asking for trouble. So for the first two weeks I gloatingly sent him triumphant little text messages when I arrived back at the station, unlocked my bike, and headed for home.  Then last Thursday rolled around and it was his turn to gloat.

So on Friday morning I got back on the #59 bus and it was miserable.  It was slow and crowded and slow and full of annoying people with their iPods playing too loudly or people applying makeup or people talking loudly on their phones.  And I got to pay £1.90 for the pleasure of arriving at work cranky and too late for any quality crossword puzzling time.  Two days later, I got another bike.  This one is exactly the same as the old one, except that the rear derailleur is pointing straight up and down and functioning properly, which is refreshing.  (When I walked into the inconveniently-located sports mega-store where I got the first bike I went straight to the display of the same bottom-of-the-line £129.99 bike I’d bought 36 days before, flagged down a sales person, pointed, and said “I’ll have one of these, please.”  The sales guy was a bit taken aback and said “Have you had a chance to look around at all the models that are available?”  Clearly, he was not used to dealing with the now-hardened London-cycling type I have become.  My housemate only half-jokingly suggested that I might just place a standing order for this type of bike, so that I’d always have one or two in reserve. She’s freakin’ hilarious, she is.)

My new new bike.  And my new new bike helmet...
The other different thing is that the new bike is equipped with new locks.  Yes, that’s lockS, plural.  I’ve got £130 worth of bike (well, £150 with mudguards and kickstand) and I’ve got £121 worth of locks to keep it safe, which seems bizarre but apparently that’s what it’s going to take.  (The other other different thing is that these new locks add nine and a half pounds to the weight of an already sturdy steel-framed bike.  Yeesh.)

The Two Lock Strategy is one proposed by a few people in proper bike shops, and by my not-at-all-gloaty-VERY-sympathetic train-riding, texting friend.  I guess if you’ve got a really good, heavy chain lock and a very good quality U lock the would-be thief has to carry two different sets of tools to deal with them, which usually means they’ll move on to the next bike on the rack.  Note I said “usually” because of course there are no guarantees.  The simplest strategy will likely be for me to modify my Thursday night schedule so that I’m not leaving my bike at Vauxhall station but in the locked bike cage in the parking garage at work, which means my trip home will get longer, but not as long as the walk from stupid Vauxhall station.


Dyanne@TravelnLass said...

Those eggs - seriously, you "crack" me up here! ;)

And the bike/locks - all that (2 locks!) for... the "bottom-of-the-line" bike? Geez, you'd think they'd pick on the more pricey rides. I mean, as a business model (thievery) you don't target rhinestones when you could nab diamonds, yes?

Mitch said...

First off, Happy anniversary. Congrats on making it through your first full UK year, and still have the sense of humour to tell us (your blog followers) about oddly packaged eggs and their horrible manner of storing them... Seriously? nary a fridge in sight?!?!?!
And the parking, When I looked at the photo, that was my first reaction - But which way is traffic going!?!?!

Nice bike.


Anonymous said...


I wonder how easy it is to remove the saddlebag from that bike...

Jill said...

This is what i've learned about eggs recently (i'm a food safety auditor that inspects/audits food processing plants) North America is the only continent that washes eggs. Because we wash eggs to such a high temperature 104F, they have to be refrigerated afterwards. If we air blew them, like everyone else, we wouldn't need to refrigerate them. weird hey.

Ian Timshel said...

We wash the eggs we're going to pass on to others, but the eggs can't be washed if they're heading into the incubator.

I have seen eggs from stores that appear to my eye very old indeed. I'd bet the outer limits of commercial storage would scare me. The tell tale sign of age is how flat the egg lies in the pan and how runny the perimeter. The fresher, the higher and tighter the footprint.

It's all fine until you can taste the difference. :*)

Happy Anniversary!

ben R said...

5 bagels. Indeed, very very strange! And we were just having a conversation at work today about phone number layout, because we are going to 10 digit dialing next November.

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