By Joe Frost
This week will mark one year to the day since I left my home of Newcastle, Australia to make a new home in York, England.
The circumstances surrounding my move are generally met with some truly rose-tinted observations – “you’re so brave moving to a new country” (I’m one of over 100,000 Australians here, I’m seriously just a sheep in the pack), “it’s so romantic you’d move to another country for a girl” (two and a half years into a relationship you don’t end it over visa issues, that’s not romance, it’s pragmatism) or “you must miss your family” (I do but considering they live literally all over Australia it’s not as though I would see them every day if I still lived at home).
Regardless of my reasons for coming here, a year in to my stay I’ve come to the realization that, on the whole, I really do like it in England.
Whilst I have previously talked about ways I’ve started to become British and the things about Britain which baffle me, I decided to mark my anniversary by recognizing some of the things about this country which I really do love…
6. Pants fit me
Standing slightly short of six foot (it sounds better than saying 178 cm) and weighing in at roughly 85kgs (although the recent trip to Italy has me larger than that at present) I’m what you would call average build.
(Photo by FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
However when it comes to buying pants, I’ve always had problems. See a lot of those 85kgs are stored in my upper thighs, whilst very few of those 178cm are found in my legs. Simply put, I’ve got short legs and a fat arse.
(Or as the owner of Abicus on Darby St in Newcastle told me, I have “rugby player’s build” or “strong thighs”. I liked that guy. Bought all my jeans from his shop from then on, you should too.)
As a result of the strength in my thighs, I had always had issues finding pants that fit. Generally speaking, a pair of jeans with a 34 waist would be adequate to accommodate my rugby player build but the 34 waist also came with a 34 leg, which meant the jeans stopped about a foot after my feet.
It wasn’t a big deal I guess, I just bought my jeans and had my Mum take them up. But having moved to England I could no longer take pants around to Mum to get them tailored, instead I was going to have to pay someone to do it for me.
Or so I thought.
Soon after arriving in England I went shopping for some jeans and discovered that there were more than just the 34 waist, 34 leg options. They had 34 waists with 28, 30, 32, 34 and 36 legs.
I bought myself a pair of 34’s with a 30 leg and wore them the very next day, no tailoring necessary. I couldn’t believe it.
But then I started to think about it. I may have muscular, thick thighs and compact legs to match but is my lower body type really so unique? Based on the amount of friends who have borrowed jeans from me in the past, I would have to say no.
So it’s a strange situation that Australian shops only accommodate people whose leg length matches the girth of their waist. Actually strange is the wrong word. It’s moronic.
Bravo on taking care of me in the pants department England. Damn decent of you.
Of course one shop in particular takes care of more than just my pants. It dresses me entirely and does so with change from £20.
For those who are unfamiliar with it, Primark can be summed up in four words – greatest clothes shop ever.
Walking in to Primark is akin to the scenes you see of the Boxing Day sales in America – hundreds of people converging on racks of clothes in a shit storm of sweat, fabric and bargains.
However whilst plenty of clothes are probably destroyed in Primark’s human-induced, grade two cotton-cyclone, people are generally quite courteous to one another.
So what drives this fever-pitch of commerce? As basic as it sounds (and is), Primark do dirt cheap clothes. However, they’re also the kind of clothes you actually want to wear.
Chinos, jeans, t-shirts with sweet prints and hoodies all go for £10 or less. Your basics in the way of undies and socks are next to nothing. They also sell suits for £40 or under, which I wouldn’t recommend but if you’ve got an occasion which both requires a suit and for you to get so drunk you know you’re going to be sick on yourself then get over to Primark.
Australia has clothes stores which are comparable to Primark in price – stores like Best and Less and Lowes. However, except for your kid’s school uniform, you just wouldn’t buy clothes from either of them.
They are the kind of store where the clothes manage to actually smell cheap, and no amount of spin cycles gets that smell off. You buy your jeans from Lowes, people will smell you coming from a mile away (although they’ll probably buy you a drink out of pity, so that’s kind of a bonus).
(Photo by FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Plus do you really want to buy your clothes from a business where rugby league players, commentators and referees are seen strong representatives of the brand?
Meanwhile everyone from Kate Moss down to, well, me wears Primark. It’s the balls.
British food is a great source of comedy for every nation other than Britain. Insult their food and they will come after you, as then-French President Jacques Chirac found out in 2005, after the BBC came after him for reportedly joking “One cannot trust people whose cuisine is so bad.”
I will risk mortal peril with this statement but jokes about British cuisine being terrible have persisted over the years for the same reason jokes about German efficiency have.
Except when it comes to breakfast. Because holy shit, the Poms know breakfast!
In Australia breakfast is one of three options – toast, cereal or toast and cereal. In South America you’re lucky to get a bit of bread and, contrary to the fact they grow some of the world’s greatest coffee, some form of coffee syrup to pour in to your hot water.
In America breakfast is one option – diabetes.
(Photo by FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
The options on display in a British breakfast are amazing. You’ve got your bog-standard toast with jams (or marmalade to be culturally respectful) going all the way up to a full English. Although, to be fair, a full English breakfast is the exact same meal no matter which country you eat it in, the only difference is the name – in Scotland it’s a full Scottish and in Ireland it’s a full Irish.
We have full English breakfast in Australia but generally it’s missing one crucial ingredient – black pudding. For those who have never had it before you need only hear what it actually is to decide you never want to have it – it’s a blood sausage.
However if you were to go about breaking everything you eat down to the sum of its parts what would you ever eat again? The arse of a cow? How about the belly of a pig? The scrotum of a goat? Anyway, give black pudding a go, it’s awesome.
Even rarer still in Australia and perhaps, thanks to the Simpsons, the most famous British breakfast food are kippers. Kippers are herring which, since they’re smoked, can be eaten cold although it’s generally better to fry, grill or boil them.
I was made kippers early on in my time in England and was immediately a fan. I spent the better part of the next six months trying to find them before stumbling across them in my local supermarket, sealed in plastic with butter, labelled ‘boil in the bag’.
I gave it a go and spent the next week or so eating it for every second meal. My girlfriend is not a seafood fan but she put up with it right up until I told her how much I was paying for them.
“87 pence? That’s disgusting! I don’t care that you like them, you should never eat ANYTHING that costs 87 pence. Especially seafood.”
Now I only eat them when she’s out.
A recent article in my home town paper began thusly, “They get fast food thrown at them, are physically and verbally assaulted, are run off the road and have car doors opened in their paths.”
No, it’s not a story about carnies, it’s about cyclists.
(Photo by Haggisnl, Wikimedia Commons)
As fuel prices and global warming awareness has increased, so too has the number of cyclists on the roads. However, in Australia at least, understanding, respect and even basic care of human life for these cyclists has seen an almost corresponding decrease.
Cycleways in Australia are an embarrassment. In the city of Sydney over $70million has been spent on cycleways which are incomplete and in some parts, dangerous. However a large part of these cycleways not being all they could and should be is a result of the resistance from residents, businesses and in particular, certain aspects of the media (see the above link as proof).
Cyclists aren’t seen as members of the road community, rather merely (as Dan Flegg put it) insignificant vehicular insects.
Meanwhile, here in England, cycleways leading in and out of city centres have become central to urban planning. York is serviced by an excellent cycleway which feeds suburban cyclists in to the city along a scenic path with no traffic, before leading off on to broad cycleways on main roads. These cycleways are clearly marked – painted green to distinguish from the bitumen – and cars are not allowed to park on them.
Cycling to and from work was a dream for me, right up until my bike got stolen.
Of course it’s easy to implement good cycleways in a city like York – pedal for ten minutes away from the Minster and you’re in the country. What’s really impressive are the cycleways in London.
Have a look at the amount of cycleways which have been created all over greater London.
Granted the whole city isn’t just one big cycling haven yet, but for those who don’t live on a cycleway to the city there are maps directing you to quieter streets, greenways through parks or simply stations which offer places to park and lock up your bike.
Best of all in London is the Barclays cycle hire – an initiative many major cities are taking up and one by which any civilized city should now be measured.
For £45 you have unlimited access to Barclays bikes all year round. Don’t live in London? You can get 24 hour access for £1 or seven day access for £5. You pick up your bike at one of dozens of docking points in the city centre and, as long as you dock it at another within 30 minutes, you pay nothing more. Fees apply after 30 minutes but there are that many docking stations you really won’t have any troubles getting to the next dock – of course if you do it’s only £1 for 30 minutes to an hour.
This is a country which is so accepting of cyclists they have re-designed their roads to accommodate them and introduced extremely affordable initiatives so anyone can take advantage of these cycleways.
Compare that to the following footage of Newcastle and the way cyclists are accommodated for there – by painting a stick-figure-bike in the road rather than creating a designated section of road for cyclists to use exclusively.
It’s a none-to-subtle reminder to Aussie cyclists that roads are for cars and you are merely an unwanted guest.
2. The tabloids
Since first being exposed to the British tabloids in my teenage years, I have been of the opinion I would sooner discover my mother to have been in a porno than to have ever been in a British tabloid.
That’s not to say anyone who is unfortunate enough to be splashed over the front of one of Britain’s celebrity-obsessed rags is a whore – just that the people who sell their sordid stories of romps with footballers are.
Perhaps the least whorish of these women are the ones whom appear on page three. For anyone who is unfortunate enough not to know what page three is, simply put, it’s the tits. Or more accurately, just tits.
The most important page of a newspaper, after page one, is taken up by girls with their tops off. However these girls use their status to highlight issues which are important to them, such as Hayley from Hull who said, “I would really love to use my position to highlight the plight of animal charities. It breaks my heart to see abandoned animals.”
The only proviso for becoming a page three girl in The Sun? “You need to be over 18 and all natural (no implants!)”
Aside from girls showing their God-given gifts and raising awareness for important issues (because people always read the text accompanying a photo of a topless girl), the tabloids are run on the kind of journalism which, these days, sees entire papers closed down.
However, as much as I hate the sleazy ethics of these rags and the non-news they run on their front pages every single day, I always find myself pausing as I leave the supermarket to run an eye over the ‘headlines’.
On the day after the massacre in Syria the tabloids had as their front page a photo of Prince William, lamenting that his mother would never meet Kate Middleton.
A day in which the world was condemning one of the most barbaric acts of recent memory and the tabloids went with ‘The Prince misses Mummy’ (obviously that’s not William’s fault but it didn’t look good).
(Photo by Fédération du scoutisme français, Wikimedia Commons)
It would be mortifying if it weren’t so hilarious.
1. Good drinking culture
I’ve been working in bars in England almost since the day I arrived twelve months ago. Whilst it’s not a line of work I particularly enjoy or want to pursue, it’s far easier to work as a bar tender in England than it is in Australia, because the Poms have a better drinking culture.
In all my years pouring beers at bars in Aus, I saw more fights than I can remember. And, though I met a few decent ones, on the whole bouncers were glorified thugs paid to stand next to a door being rude to patrons and looking to start – rather than prevent – fights.
In all my time in England I’ve seen one bar fight. One.
It was Christmas eve and a bloke lifted up a lady’s skirt, an act to which her boyfriend took exception. Despite being half the skirt-lifter’s size, the boyfriend took a swing at the sleazy bloke and, before I knew what was happening, the boyfriend’s mate was helping take the skirt-lifter down.
The whole mess came tumbling behind the bar, at which point I grabbed the boyfriend and his equally small mate, whilst my manager and one of the bouncers restrained the enormous skirt-lifter.
The story became the stuff of legend because I was said to have held two blokes back without so much as bumping my Santa Claus hat askew, while the manager and bouncer could barely contain one.
The fact I was holding back two members of the lollypop guild and the manager and bouncer were struggling with a guy who shared Macho Man Randy Savage’s DNA didn’t get mentioned (and I wasn’t about to bring it up).
(Photo by John McKeon, Wikimedia commons)
Anyway, my awesome fight ending abilities have only been put to use once, because there is less violence in pubs here. And I think I know why.
When I next return to Australia (probably this time next year when my visa runs out) and go out for a beer on a Saturday night I’ll be pushing 30. As such, I’ll probably be the oldest bloke in most bars after midnight.
There is a strange situation in Australia whereby once you’ve hit 30, you begin obeying Cinderella’s rules. The early hours of the morning are reserved solely for those in their late teens and early 20’s.
Last weekend I called last orders at 1:30AM to a bar which had people aged 18 through to their 60’s.
The middle aged don’t think they’re too old to have a night out – quite the opposite. Some of the busiest nights of the year are made up predominantly by people over 40. And they’re the kind of customers business owners want – people who have a higher disposable income than kids who work two shifts a week at a clothes store.
So what does this have to do with fights? I guess the broader spectrum of ages has a calming effect on the hot headed youths.
I suspect it’s that your desire to punch a bloke diminishes significantly when your Dad’s best friend is stood on the other side of the bar, having just bought you a pint and given you a wink when he saw you eyeing off the blonde in the little black dress.
(Photo by FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
In my home town, the middle aged just complain about how violent and anti-social anyone out on the drink is. They’ve been so successful in their campaign against people having a drink there’s now a 1AM lockout, 3AM curfew – if you’re not in a bar by 1 your night’s over and every bar in town has to close at 3. And the local police are even looking at winding it back to a midnight lockout, 2AM curfew.
Coming from the second biggest city in the state of NSW, it’s embarrassing that one of Britain’s smallest cities has far better nightlife.
Australia is and will always be my home. But as long as I’ve got a pair of pants that fit, tits to look at in the paper while I eat my breakfast of fish and then a pleasant cycle in to town for a night out which won’t end with me nursing a bloody nose, I’m pretty happy here in England.
Before Joe loved England, he was baffled by the place - 6 things that baffle me about life in Britain
A part of England everyone loves is the Rolling Stones. Man, can those guys do drugs! When bands implode #1 – The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St
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