Apropos of Nothing, son of the sequel

Monday, November 28, 2011

More short, random observations of life on this side.

On the oddly bi-polar nature of driver's licences:
First of all, they're not called driver's licenses, they're called "drivING licences". I guess it's not the person that's licensed, it's the act.  I recently traded my Canadian driver's license for a UK one, which was relatively painless and not even that expensive.  The annoying thing is that driving licenses in the UK require you to take your test in a manual transmission vehicle if you want to be licensed to drive a manual transmission car.  Of course there's no way to prove that I took my driving test (27 years ago...ohmygod) in a manual transmission car because no one in Canada gives a damn about that and hence no records of that are kept (oh, also I didn't take my test in a manual, but that's not the point.)  The point is that I wasn't able to get a manual transmission license.  This, despite the fact that every vehicle I've ever owned and registered was a manual.  I suppose the fact that I owned them is no guarantee that I drove them.  So now I have to arrange to take a test to upgrade my license, because about 90% of vehicles in the UK are manuals, which is all kind of boring.  That's the first bi-polar thing about driving licence - the manual/automatic differentiation.

The other thing is the physical licence itself. It comes in two parts, like the old Saskatchewan licences.  There's the plastic photo card part that most people carry around, which is familiar. Then there's the "paper counterpart" which is a full A4 sized sheet and is a legal part of the licence itself. Theoretically you're supposed to carry both halves at all times, which almost no one does, partly because it's a pain and partly because it's just a flimsy piece of paper that will decompose in a wallet in no time flat.

Driving License 
It says: "Important Document - The photocard and paper counterpart should be kept together. Both must be produced when required."  And that's my photocard in the corner, the pink thing with the EU symbol and the unflattering photo.  Then again it's not nearly as unflattering as the ID photo on my new Olympic Park pass which makes me look 70 years old, three-quarters dead and supremely uninterested in everything. People gasp and make involuntary vowel sounds when they see it.  Then their eyes start bleeding...

On the similarly dual nature of laundry detergent:
Again, we've got a linguistic clarification to make here.  It's not actually called laundry detergent here, it's called "washing powder".  Also, dishwashing soap is called "washing up liquid" because doing the dishes is referred to as "doing the washing up". "Washing up" is apparently a phrase that refers exclusively to the dishes.  So it's "washing up liquid", unless it's "fairy liquid".  Not because it comes from fairies, but because the best-known brand of washing up liquid is Fairy.

Fairy liquid
Lemon Fairy Liquid, though it's most common form is Mild Green Fairy Liquid.
But back to the washing up powder, and something that baffled me for a long time after I arrived before I finally got off my butt and asked about it.  All washing powder over here is clearly divided and appropriately labeled as belonging to one of two camps: Biological and Non-Biological, usually abbreviated to Bio and Non-bio.

Bio vs. non bio
See what I mean? Clearly labelled.

And what's the difference?  According to our friends at Wikpedia (and let's just pause for a moment and consider that there are actually people out there who care enough about this subject to write a short but reasonably informative article about it) (Oh, and let's also have a short moment of reflection to admit that I am also in the process of writing about it.) (And don't forget you are reading it, so don't get snooty)... but back to Wikipedia, which says that biological detergent contains "enzymes harvested from micro-organisms such as bacteria adapted to live in hot springs... whose purpose is to break down protein, starches and fat in dirt and stains on clothing... for example food stains, sweat and mud."  Apparently those enzymes increase the cleaning power of the detergent, especially in cold water, which is odd if they're harvested from hot springs.  (And exactly how does one harvest micro-organisms from hot springs? With extremely tiny nets?)  I can't believe there are enough hot springs in the world to produce enough of these enzymes to fill the shelves at every Tesco, Sainsbury's , Lidl, Waitrose and Asda in the UK.  (Especially not the Asda at Putney Vale, which I think is large enough to be visible from the International Space Station.)  

No matter, the bio stuff supposedly works about 10-15% better. However the bio stuff is also harsher, probably because those enzymes must have to be pretty tough characters to survive in steamy, mineral-laden hot springs. Hence the existence of non-bio washing powder for babies, people with allergies and anyone who is generally just a whinging wimp. Nonetheless, the wholesale and absolute division of the entire laundry detergent world into two discrete types was disconcerting - a bit like walking into the grocery store to find the entire dairy section had separate areas for left-handed and right-handed yogurt.

On the most excellent nature of Christmas lights on Oxford and Regent Streets:
Oxford and Regent Streets are the hub of retail consumerism in London, centred at the intersection (or junction) of the two main roads, called Oxford Circus. There is handy tube station at Oxford Circus which I have NEVER exited without being completely disoriented.  This is because unless you were to conduct an exhaustively mapped, years-long, three-dimensional study of the various exits from Oxford Circus Station, I think it's completely impossible to know upon exiting which direction you need to walk to get to the Apple Store. I generally stumble up out of the tube and try to locate All Souls Church, which I firmly believed to be in an easterly direction along Oxford Street, and then orient myself from there.  Naturally it turns out that All Souls is actually north up Regent Street.  And surprisingly it also turns out that Regent Street and not Oxford Street is the one that curves south and east into Piccadilly Circus. Huh.  This goes a long way to explaining why I've always found Oxford Circus a tad confusing.

Navigational challenges aside, Oxford Circus is a shopper's paradise.  The area is home to big department stores like Selfridges, Debenham's, and the beloved Marks and Spencer (which really deserves a post all its own), and to the flagship stores for a lot of major retailers like Apple, Uniqlo, and the famous Hamley's toys store.  And because Christmas is high season for shopping, the Oxford/Regent Street businesses really do up the place with festive lights, which is really fun.

This, for example, is a Boots Drug Store (Chemist):

Boots Christmas Lights
Nice work Boots, but not quite as classy as:

Debenham's Christmas Lights
Debenham's, which I would say is roughly equivalent to The Bay.  But bigger, of course.  And highly skilled with the Christmas lights.

Lights like this are generally called "fairy lights".  So if it's Christmas time you could theoretically make a batch of fairy cakes and then wash up the bowl with fairy liquid all under the gentle glow of fairy lights.  How lovely.  Especially the cakes.  And not so much the washing up.

Brixton Station Steel Drum Band:
Lastly, a little taste of one of the things that makes living in Brixton fun and cool.  There is an Iceland store just next to Brixton Station (Iceland is another of the grocery chains,this one with a particular focus. And I'll admit now that it took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to understand that focus.  This after I'd had numerous trips to Iceland wherein I'd wander up and down the aisles thinking to myself, "Damn, they have a LOT of frozen food in this place. Weird."  Yep.  Iceland sells... frozen food.  Not one of my shining moments.)  Anyway, the front of the Iceland is a popular spot - usually for guys selling sticks of incense which is smelly and annoying and which I strongly suspect is a thinly-disguised front for drug sales.  The Bible-thumpers tend to hang out a little farther down the street around the same place as the Communists, but when the stars align the steel drummers come out, which is my favourite:

How fun is that?  All they need is some fairy lights and we'd have it all.


Anonymous said...

I think the driving licence photo is just fine. Very serious, yes, but not at all unflattering.

Now, when are you going to post the Olympic photo?

Anonymous said...

God you are too funny in this post.I laughed so much my tummy hurt.Thanks!

kathryn said...

I agree - all I really want now is the Olympic Park Pass Pic!

Colleen Kells said...

Having recently had a visa photo taken on a bad hair day augmented with a miserable cold, I found your comment on the ID photos particularly apropos! I suspect no-one would be willing to travel with me if they saw that photo. ;-)

Post a Comment