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And I’ll have the Spotted Dick. With custard, please.

Spotted dick is a traditional British pudding made from mutton fat mixed with other ingredients, such as baking soda, flour, molasses, corn syrup, or nutmeg. You add raisins or dry fruit to this dough and you have “spots.” The dish is steamed or boiled and served with a custard sauce.

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Pouring custard over my awkwardly named dessert

Like Scottish haggis, Spotted Dick is kind of a joke food, especially to Americans. Like haggis, you can also find Spotted Dick in a can (Heinz),making it  a not infrequent gag gift (again, especially for Americans). Unlike haggis, though, in this American opinion, Spotted Dick is really good.

Why such an unappetizing name, then? “Dick” has been described as an abbreviation for dictionary, a policeman, an apron, a riding whip, a corruption of the “ding” in pudding or “dough,” a referral to the German dich (“thick or viscous”), and, lest we avoid it, male genitalia. Americans will usually most certainly turn up their noses at ordering something with that last meaning. After all, at least US restaurants offering Rocky Mountain oysters have the decency to label bulls’ testicles “oysters.”

But, the Spotted Dick I ordered recently was really just a sweet little spice cake with lots of raisins. As I happen to really like spice cake and raisins, I was enthusiastic about this dish at the friendly King Edward Restaurant by the sea. The waitress took my order with nary a smirk. (Continued)

The Heinz Ketchup American. An Ophelia Perhaps Mystery. Part 4.

IMG_1454“Not always, Mrs. P. Not always.”

Ti Jean was mad. He’d knocked over two of the begonia pots, then pulled tissues from my bathroom tissue box, and had shredded them all over my bed cover. Maybe September 30 couldn’t come fast enough.

“But I fed you, you bad cat! And I was only gone two hours!”

Maybe he saw the Applaws Senior can in the trash bin. Ti Jean walked out of the room, tail high, message successfully communicated.

I emailed Dinnis that I was going to miss the Beatnik reading group the next night. I had to give myself time to do research on this annoying mystery man. His hat was one clue. So I sat on the shredded tissues, pulled my computer onto my lap, then Googled “Dakota.” There was a Sioux Indian tribe, the two states of course, an art supplies company, and an apartment complex in New York City. (Continued)

One might ask if breakfasting at Starbucks when abroad is really traveling

IMG_1524One might ask if breakfasting at Starbucks when abroad is really traveling. I ask that myself when I enter one. Believe me, there are plenty of reasons not to enter one. Number one for skipping an English Starbucks is that they don’t have scones, at least not I the English Starbucks I’ve been in so far. But, despite this sconelessness, here are my reasons for frequenting this American franchise.

10. Like it or not, Starbucks is usually there. In London and Paris, certainly. In smaller big cities, yes.

9. Counter people are friendly. This is a big plus in famously snooty Paris, where ordering a café au lait at a small bistro can be an exercise in indifference.

8. It’s open early. Many Americans like an early start to our day, our lunch, and our dinner, yet, for instance, some of the coffee shops in Bath didn’t open till 10 a.m. 10 a.m.! That’s really late for Americans—even Americans on vacation. On this trip in the UK, the Starbucks open at 7:30 a.m. By American standards, that’s still kind of late. (Continued)

The Heinz Ketchup American. An Ophelia Perhaps Mystery. Part 3.

DSC05247Mr. Briggs

Before I meet Mrs. Briggs and Dennis in the waiting room, I stop for a bracing tea and scone, then find my way to the hospital vending machines. I don’t want to rush into this depressing situation. Nothing looks good in the machines, but I get three coffees and three Kit Kat bars anyway. Who knows how long we’ll be here. Is there a person on this earth who can refuse coffee and candy bars?

Juggling the cups and bars, I walk into the waiting room, empty except for Dennis and Mrs. Briggs huddled in quiet conversation. They look up as I approach.

“Is one of those for me?” Dennis says rather too loudly.

“Of course, my love.”

I hand over coffees and Kit Kats.

“I can’t have this, dear,” says Mrs. Briggs. “I’m diabetic, but I’ll save it for Oscar.”

There are industrious sounds of crinkling, tearing, and chewing. Chocolate has a way of putting things in perspective.

“What’s the news? There was a turn for the worse?” I say as Dennis crumples the Kit Kat wrapper. (Continued)

Moving down–and downhill–fast

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The Royal Crescent, Bath, Somerset

Jane Austen’s family spent time and rented rooms and floors of rooms from time to time in Bath, Somerset, England. The refurbished Roman baths provided entertainment and a promise of healing any and all ills, while the Royal Crescent and other stone “terraces” (apartment complexes) provided high-status accommodations where the Austen family could promenade in the parks and along the walks and pathways.

But, though Jane’s family enjoyed pride and status for some years, her clergyman father George died in 1805, and the family suddenly couldn’t afford to live in nice apartments or rooms at the top of the hill.

Their first descent from their hilltop residence was to

Their final descent was to some rooms on Trim Street, a block-long street (more of a lane, really) down by the railway station and the Avon River, where I walked on a recent Monday afternoon. Even in 2014, Trim looked industrial and rather grim. (Continued)

The Heinz Ketchup American. An Ophelia Perhaps Mystery. Part 2.

A turn for the worse

Ti Jean is my gray striped rescue tomcat. He’s 17 years old, I think, but I’m not sure. My vet, Mr. Mukhurgee, says Ti Jean is in good health but a little overweight. At each visit, Mr. Mukhurgee also says he’s going to retire the next month. I tell him there is no way he can retire. He has to wait till after Ti Jean has died.

Ti Jean is also the only connection to my ex-husband. Robert Perhaps is British, and he and I were married for six years. We had a fairly amicable divorce except when it came to the cat. Robert wanted Ti Jean and I insisted on having Ti Jean, so we have to share him; right now it’s my six months with that little contentious ball of fluff till September 30. Dr. Mukhurjee says maybe I overfeed Ti Jean because I feel so awful that he has also to live with Robert. I’m the only one who takes Ti Jean to the vet. (Continued)

Hotel is in a great location but I wouldn’t exactly say we got lucky

I think we’re the only guests in this hotel. We do hear other people from time to time, but they only seem to  stay one night at a time. And for some UNKNOWN REASON these people are housed right next door to us. Why the staff can’t put at least one room between us and these nightlies, I do not know. There was the guy with a bad cough, the two girls who arrived at 2 a.m. and talked loudly till 4, and last night the guy who yakked on his phone. On our last night, it would be great if everybody else on our floor had already checked out.

Last fall when we booked this room, we must have been looking only at price and location, because otherwise this is a tired old dump. The basics are here–beds, carpeting, toilet, shower, hook on the bathroom door. But modern amenities are absent. (Continued)

The Heinz Ketchup American. An Ophelia Perhaps Mystery. Part 1.

DSC05239My mother called me Fi Fi and my father called me Pumpkin, but to my neighbors and writing students, I’m Miss Ophelia Perhaps, neighborhood detective. I live with a very difficult cat named Ti Jean in the tiny room of some family friends in Summertown, just north of Oxford.

After a brisk walk down Banbury every morning, Dennis brings me coffee with a slice of cake every day at the Albion Beatnik Café. I sit there in his front room and talk with old Mr. Briggs most mornings, except Sundays. That’s when his wife makes him go to church.

I spend most evenings over glasses of Pinot Gris in the Oxford Wine Café. In between the two cafes, I teach people to write and occasionally my neighbors ask me to help them solve mysteries.

But this rainy Wednesday morning, something’s wrong. The Beatnik is still locked at 10:14 a.m. Where’s Dennis? And where’s Mr. Briggs? Oh, hold on, there’s a note. “Emergency. Back later.” This can’t be right. And who wrote the note? (Continued)

Curtains

It was in the breakfast room of my small Oxford guest house where I started thinking about curtains. My server of corn flakes and coffee kept walking back into the kitchen, pulling the curtains behind her, closing off her work area from the public space where hotel guests were seating themselves at small, round, perfectly set tables. The server would walk back into the breakfast space with jugs of orange and apple juice, individual French presses of coffee, and bowls of corn flakes or cocoa puffs. Then she’d ask if we wanted white or brown bread, strawberry or peach yoghurt, and walk back into her curtained space.

Curtains separate public spaces from private spaces, the inner from the outer, the higher from the lower, the servant from the master, the rich from the poor, upper classes from the lower classes, the day from the night, and the server from the servee.

My Air Canada flights had curtains separating the first class seats from mine in economy. If I’d dared to walk past those curtains into first class, I’m sure I would have quickly been redirected to my economy seat. The curtains were a class wall I had not paid to breach. (Continued)

Movie groupings. Group Three.

Harry and Tonto (1974), Larger than Life (1996), and Duck (2009) are grouped together because all feature older men with animal companions. Themes of loneliness, masculinity, aging, and a sense of place pervade all three films.

1. Art Carney (famous as Ed Norton on The Honeymooners) travels west with his orange tabby cat, Tonto, in Harry and Tonto. Harry is a retired New York teacher in his 70s in New York, where he’s lived his whole life. Harry drives across the United States with Tonto, visiting his children, and seeing a world he never had time to see before. Carney won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance. (Continued)