Barbecuing in the rain!


Sorry about the quality of the picture. I haven’t mastered my I-phone camera yet!

Larry has been in England over a year now and is still very much enjoying his life here. Here he is barbecuing in the rain. Look how much weight he has lost since he’s been living in England! He is really slim now and looks much better for it. I have been quite strict with him because he admits to eating junk food when he was in America, living on his own. I don’t really know what junk food is. Food is food, right? However, I suppose it is obvious that some foods contain far too much sugar and fat for our health.

Next month we are going to the doctor’s for our annual check-up and it will be interesting to see how Larry’s blood tests come out. For the last few years he has been borderline diabetic and took tablets to readdress that. Here in England, the NHS (National Health Service) does not give preventative treatment for that condition so when L had his blood tests, obviously the results were good because he’d been taking the tablets. However, now he’s had a year without those tablets and only been eating the food I’ve been giving him, I’m keen to find out what the difference will be. Do you take any preventative medicines?

Actually, we have had a lovely summer but over the last week or so it turned cold. Now this week we are going to get a heatwave. Our weather certainly is changeable!




My pansy teapot


The ‘Divine Harvester’

The discovery of tea is said to go back to Shen Nung, the deity with a bull’s head and the father of agriculture, who ruled in China in about 2737 BC.  Resting at the foot of a bush and being thirsty, he is said to have asked a servant to boil him some water.  A few leaves fell from the bush into his cup.

Seduced by the sweet and restorative beverage thus produced, he is said to have ordered this plant to be cultivated throughout the land.

from ‘The Book of Tea’ by Annie Perrier-Robert


Tea-time in our cottage is between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. depending on how hungry/thirsty we are, but tea drinking is an occupation that goes on all day. It starts for me at 7 a.m. when I have my first mug of tea. Then coffee at mid morning break, followed by more tea at lunch-time. Water with lunch, then coffee and another cup of tea at 2 p.m.  The next cup is made at 4 p.m and again at 6 p.m. At 9 o’clock it’s cocoa these days but sometimes tea again. Do you think that is excessive!

Just lately I have become hooked on Red Bush Tea.

Red Bush Tea

This tea has a unique flavour. It’s quite strong and definitely an acquired taste, but if you like your tea strong and I do! this could be the one for you. It’s certainly worth a try. Now I have an admission to make: if it wasn’t for the fabulous books by Alexander McCall Smith about the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, I don’t suppose I would ever have tried that tea; but it is a favourite of Mma Ramotswe. Mma Ramotswe sets up a Ladies Detective Agency in Botswana and with the capable help of her secretary, Mma Makutsi, she has lots of adventures. I am hooked, totally hooked on the doings of the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency and cannot wait to read each new book. Mma Ramotswe drinks Red Bush Tea all the time so I thought I must try it. When I saw it on the shelves in Sainsburys, I picked some up. Since then I haven’t looked back and I’ve also noticed that more and more of it has been appearing on the shelves.

Mma Makutsi on the left and Mma Ramotswe waiting for the kettle to boil:

Mma Makutsi and Mma Ramotswe

Assam is supposed to be the finest tea, but nowadays I find that lacking in flavour. No doubt my taste buds are getting old as well as the rest of me.

Do try it and let me know what you think of it.



Life in the U.K. – Larry’s update at four months.


Here is his take on the first 3-4 months.

Larry’s chair in Knoxville is empty these days because, as you know, he is now over here.

‘Three Months in England – or is it Four?

I must admit I have lost count. Time flies when you’re having fun!

Accomplishments this month include
• mastering the UK currency (which involves twice as many coins as in America),
• committing the local neighborhood to memory (it’s less than a 10 minute walk to the supermarket, dry cleaners, doctor, dentist, several restaurants, Bramingham Wood, and much more),
• rediscovering the problems caused by the U.S. Postal Service refusing to forward mail beyond U.S. borders (European countries have been doing this for decades),
• finally finding an “eagle” at Bank of America who understands how to make repetitive wire transfers to a UK Bank (although even she was unable to correct the mailing address on my Bank of America checking account),
• having minor surgery to remove a basil cell carcinoma (my 8th in the past 30 years) from the back of my neck, at no cost!

Americans have to contend with pennies (1 cent), nickels (5 cents), dimes (10 cents) and quarters (25 cents). Actually pennies are just used to fill glass jars. Hardly anyone pays with pennies anymore. In the UK there are coins for 1 pence, 2 pence, 5 pence, 10 pence, 20 pence, 50 pence, 1 pound, and 2 pounds. To help out a bit, the 20 pence and 50 pence coins aren’t round – they have seven sides. Why seven and not six sides or eight sides, you ask? No one seems to know. At least in the UK the 10 pence coin is larger than the 5 pence coin. I never did understand why dimes are smaller than nickels.

Suburban neighborhoods in the UK are designed for walking. There are paved walkways that go between houses, providing shortcuts that avoid having to walk along busy roadways with almost constant vehicular traffic (you can still choose the paths beside these roadways if you wish, but it certainly isn’t as pleasant). However, sidewalks are called “pavements” in the UK, whereas the pavement in America is the roadway itself. Obviously it’s important here to know what you are talking about.

This past month I ran across an interesting postal problem. The U.S. Postal Service will not forward mail to other countries. And Bank of America will not allow its client’s to have a mailing address outside the USA. That means that a form mailed to me from Bank of America never reached me here at my UK address. Since I didn’t receive the form (I was never told it existed) I didn’t return it. Because I didn’t return the form Bank of America deleted the information allowing me to wire transfer funds to my UK bank. Imagine my surprise when I called Bank of America and was told this little story. Fortunately, after also being told nothing could be done to fix this problem, I found an “eagle” in the Bank of America Wire Transfer Services Department who happily fixed it for me. Thank heavens for those few “eagles (I can do that for you)” in a world full of “ducks (sorry, there’s no way to do that – have a nice day!)”.

For those who believe universally available healthcare can never work, I suggest you investigate the UK National Health Service (NHS). I have seen the doctor here on several occasions, been diagnosed with skin cancer (again), had the lesion surgically removed from the back of my neck by a Russian dermatologist (she did a beautiful job of it), and I have yet to pay a single farthing! I have not had to wait for treatment nor been inconvenienced in any way. Everyone I have seen has been very professional, competent, courteous and genuinely concerned with my wellbeing. No forms to fill out and patient information is shared between doctors, hospitals, laboratories, etc. for maximum efficiency. I would highly recommend it. For those over 60 who aren’t looking forward to the healthcare issues associated with growing older, the benefits of the NHS are obvious.

One of the more obvious benefits of living in the UK involves the way the daily news is delivered, whether by radio, TV, Internet, or printed media. I find the greater focus here on the world’s news events refreshing and enlightening, although sometimes depressing. There’s a lot going on in the world that Americans don’t see. National events here receive appropriate attention to be sure, but reporting of UK events and politics is more reserved, and more time is spent on global events. Perhaps that is due more to geography than anything else, but the contrast with news reporting in the U.S. is dramatic. In the past few years I have grown particularly fatigued with the constant barrage of divisive political reporting in America, usually with obvious bias and unapologetic pandering to a select audience. Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow, where are you…..?

I remember a time when elected politicians claimed (believably) to be representing the views of the people who elected them. American political parties now claim that when they lose an election it’s because they “failed to get their message out”. Maybe it’s the people who aren’t getting their message in! Ten’s of millions of dollars are spent by political parties in America to “win people over to their point of view”. Perhaps politicians should spend that money attempting to understand the point of view of ALL the people who elected them, rather than incessantly “selling” the extreme ideology of an over zealous minority through a news media eager to grab the attention of an increasing polarized American public.

It does appear that American politicians these days are solely interested in their own survival and total destruction of the opposition. The desperation evidenced by factions within a political party willing to furlough thousands of federal employees and default on the full faith and credit of the United States of America, just to destroy a government program they don’t agree with, is something I never imagined I would live to see! It appears now that any means to political victory is justified. Will active sabotage of government programs be the next weapon of political warfare? Those who claim their actions are “saving the nation” seem to be willing to destroy the democracy it is built upon in the process. And the American news media is offering the spotlight and center stage to help them succeed.’

Interesting, isn’t it?



Life in the U.K. (Two months in England – from Larry’s perspective.)


Two Months in England – Bigger and Newer are not Better

‘Having just completed my second month in the UK two fundamental concepts in America are in jeopardy. When I was growing up in Texas in the 1950’s I learned that “bigger is always better”. That’s because up until 1959 Texas was the largest state in the United States of America. And all Texans know that Texas is by definition the best state in the Union! Thus, bigger and better clearly go together. “Smaller” simply can’t be better. (It’s probably against Texas State law!)

In America “new” is always better as well. It must be because all the advertisements tell us that it is, at least 25 times per hour on national television. But there’s a problem with “new” – it isn’t (new) for very long. By definition, new is perishable. Nothing stays new. By contrast, old gets even more so with the passage of time. Since time only moves in one direction (as far as we know) then “new” is always perishing while “old” just keeps getting better.

What does this have to do with life in the UK, you ask? During my two months here I have become a student of the contrast between “new” and “old” and between “bigger” and “smaller”. Everywhere you look in this country there are monuments to at least 1000 years of carefully recorded history. Towns and cities are built around massive stone cathedrals and churches that often took four or five generations of workers to construct over several hundred years. Everywhere you find structures that have withstood hundreds or even thousands of years of natural weathering and human wear and tear. These are not simply tourist attractions, but vital centers in the daily operations of the community. There is a universal respect for the “old” that I find very reassuring. At the beginning of a tour of the Tower of London one of the Beefeaters asked, “How many Americans are in the group?” Several hands went up. In response the Beefeater said, “Just think! All of this history could have been yours.” While I am proud to be American and have great respect for those who fought for America’s independence in 1776, the Beefeater’s comment made me a bit envious to say the least.

There are plenty of great new things in England. I find the quality of television programming in the UK much superior to that in America. Traffic on the roadways is much better managed with roundabouts instead of four-way stop and red light intersections. And here the stoplights turn yellow before they go green as well as before they go red – believe it or not that really helps. I suppose it’s the way the “new” and the “old” are blended together that impresses. Houses are built to last several hundred years without needing a new roof or other major upgrades. There is an appreciation for maintaining what you have rather than simply building all over again in a new location and abandoning the old in place. Looking at a cathedral built in 1023 AD gives a since of permanence and comfort – it’s stood the test of time and will be there when I come to visit again in 5 years, or when my grandchildren want to visit 50 years from now. Looking at a new American shopping center, my first thought is, ‘I wonder how long before all the shops move out and leave it sitting empty.’

Bigger is better if you have infinite space and natural resources. That’s the assumption in America – there will always be new land to build on and an infinite supply of bricks and mortar. Well maybe so, but is that really better? Or is it just cheaper for the builders? Spend an afternoon sometime counting the number of empty abandoned shopping centers and storefronts in the average American town or city. When space is at a premium refurbishing is the better option for many reasons, cost being just one of them. Forcing American builders to pay for demolishing their buildings as well as constructing them might change the American landscape for the better.

Some of you may remember Dinah Shore. She was a popular singer in the early days of television when advertisements were in integral part of the TV show. “See the USA in your Chevrolet” – that was Dinah’s trademark catch phrase. At an average cost of 1.4 GBP per liter ($8.56 per US gallon) it’s very expensive to “see the UK “ in your private car. I’ve found traveling by bus or train in the UK is much less expensive and much more enjoyable. “Seeing the UK” in a Hummer would not only be prohibitively expensive but physically impossible. Small cars (if you find you really need a car at all) can negotiate the narrow roadways that would be impassible for a Hummer or large American SUV, and they get twice the miles per liter (gallon) as American cars. Bigger is better in the UK when 50 people can ride instead of only 1 or 2.

Watch this page for my third month in the UK.’


When Larry was very newly arrived, one of the first things I said to him on the way back from the airport, was ‘Think small’.  I was anxious that he would find the cottage too small and overcrowded for comfort. We have no closets for clothes so one of the first things Larry had to do was to buy a wardrobe to put his (much reduced) clothes in to. He also had to get used to the idea that things needed to be moved around a lot.  For example; if you want to get to something, you need to move at least one or two other things out of the way first!

As the time has gone by, I have been keen to introduce him to places of space. We have visited St. Albans and seen the marvellous cathedral there and last Friday we took Dylan to Dunstable Downs, an area of extensive chalk hillside where the view is spectacular.

So far so good!


My Memoirs – Larry’s Third Week in England


Big-Chief Larry in Hitchin

Larry is now well into his fourth week in England. We have sorted most things and tomorrow is a red letter day because his new shed is arriving. Pictures of that will follow soon.  Before I give you his take on Life In England, I want to share with you how it has been for me. Since these are my memoirs, I feel justified to do that.
It has been a whirlwind of a three weeks, but somehow it feels like it was all meant to be because so far at least, everything has gone very smoothly.  Going back to the visa, which arrived after only a six week wait from application, this was our experience:
Larry put in for his visa, which included a large payment to the Home Office here and a shirt-box sized packet of documents for them to look through and check. The visa was a spouse settlement visa and it is valid for three years. Then it has to be renewed.  To make sure that we had filled in the documents correctly, we employed a solicitor here in England to help us through the complicated procedure. This involved extra cost but was invaluable help as it turned out.
Since July 2012, the sponsor(that’s me) has to show written evidence that he/she is earning at least £18,600 per annum. I am not. Since I am now on my pension, it doesn’t come to anything near that amount. However, since L and I are a couple, both on pension, he in America and me here, our joint incomes counted, so we were ok. I suppose it is unusual for retired people to relocate so far afield and it could have caused a problem, but it didn’t.
Living here as a threesome has been wicked. It’s so much easier when two can go shopping, then when they return, there is someone waiting to open the door and help with the unpacking.’ Many hands make light work’ as the saying goes, is certainly true in this case.
Of course there is  1/3rd more washing and ironing! and more cooking, but I’m not complaining, yet!
So here then is Larry’s diary for …
‘My Third Week in England
The word “Tea” (capitalized out of profound reverence) has a number of meanings in England, some of them less than obvious. For example, “Tea” is
• A hot drink served at almost anytime of day. People get “absolutely desperate” for it while shopping. Thus, there are tables and chairs and counters that serve tea and pastries almost everywhere. Teashops are outnumbered only by mobile phone shops in England. BTW “iced tea” does not compute here. I haven’t dared to ask for it, even on warm days in August.
• A meal served somewhere between 5 pm and 7 pm, consisting of sandwiches and/or pastries and, of course, the hot drink called tea. Evening tea is not to be confused with “dinner”, which is the main meal of the day usually (but not always) served around noon. “Dinnertime” is rarely in the evening as it was when I was growing up in America. And “Tea Time” can be anytime you want it to be, not to be confused with meeting your friends at the country club for a round of golf. (Confused yet?!)
• An entire aisle in Sainsbury’s grocery store.
• Something to be thrown into Boston Harbor in protest against unfair taxation… Sorry, I got sidetracked.
The point here is that when you are asked very politely if you want “Tea”, you might wonder if you are being offered a drink or a meal or something else entirely. I’m hoping experience will eventually be my salvation in this matter.Judging by the number of mobile phone shops in England, I have estimated that everyone in England is expected to have at least four mobile phones. I have only two at the moment, one of which (my Verizon iPhone from America) does everything except make phone calls, assuming there is a WiFi available. The truth is I really don’t expect to make many phone calls, at least not for a while. But of course that’s irrelevant – it’s the principle of the thing! After several weeks of research I have concluded that “unlocking” my iPhone and replacing the SIM card with one from a British service provider is only slightly less complicated that brain surgery. An exhausting search for reasonable alternatives has convinced me that a simple “pay as you go” mobile phone is the best option. It feels a bit like regressing into the 20th Century, which come to think of it wasn’t so bad.This week’s special discovery – the word “sorted” applies to people, not just to inanimate objects as I have always been led to believe. When I was a child growing up marbles could be sorted by size or color (sorry…. colour), eating utensils were sorted into trays of knives, forks and spoons, laundry was sorted into whites and everything else, etc. But in England it is possible for people to sort themselves, not by height or weight or ethnicity, but by successfully applying effort toward a particular outcome. For example, in the grocery store after all the items on the list have been purchased you will hear the phrase, “That’s me sorted”. Apparently after one has resolved all the issues of the day, they can then relax in a comfortable chair with a good cup of tea, and the phrase “I’m all sorted now”. Whether one can ever be really be “sorted” (short of death itself) is questionable, because new problems want solving every day. But the phrase “That’s me sorted” has a satisfying tone to it which I find very appealing. In fact I’m feeling more “sorted” with every passing day. Must be the Tea……Watch this page for my fourth week in England. Cheers!’