Being in Britain is an experience which is proving stranger than I'd expected. For a start, shopping is a bit of an adventure, as I stare at the local currency in total bewilderment, like an old age pensioner at the beginning of decimalisation: 'what's this in new, ie European money?' Happily, the friendly locals are on hand to help pick out the coins and notes for me.
Either that, or I'm being robbed.
The other day, I tried to buy a top-up for my father's phone and asked for an Orange phone card, which seemed to me a not unreasonable request. The girl in the shop looked at me blankly, then asked if I meant a SIM card, which I didn't. I explained that I needed to put some credit on a phone. 'Ah, you mean a top-up voucher.' Not only is the money completely foreign, but so it seems is the language. Good job I didn't need a USB key.
A USB KEY!
Here, apparently, it's called a memory stick. Can no-one here speak Franglais?
Am staying at my father's apartment in Clacton, Essex, which is in a converted Edwardian hotel which looks out over the sea. Clacton is to Cockneys what Paris is to dead Americans, but without the art. The pier is arguably the main attraction, followed by the numerous pubs along the seafront all serving food in enormous quantities. The size of the portions is reflected in the girths of the locals. The obesity epidemic is terrifying. It's not just the amount of food consumed, but also the content. Returning from the supermarket, I poured myself a glass of purportedly red-fruit juice. It was the most sugary liquid I've ever come across. It was only when I read the label that I realised that you were supposed to dilute it. Even with water it was horribly sweet, American style.
The supermarket itself was astonishing. There were two types of trolley outside, the normal wire baskets on wheels and these other things which looked more difficult to push about. It turned out that they are designed to fit on the front end of those electric invalid scooter things as used by Madge in 'Benidorm.' People were whizzing around the supermarket in a sort of consumerist danse macabre and heaving hundredweight bags of oven chips and frozen burgers into the receptacles at the front. Worse still were the checkouts which were twice the normal width, a wise business move, as otherwise a large percentage of the shoppers would have been unable to fit through the normal channels.
I feel bad talking about it in a sort of chubbyist non PC sort of way, but walking through the town centre is quite distressing. There is an area where people tend to congregate, near the fountains and a certain fast-food 'restaurant,' which looks like something from Hogarth. Most people are of gargantuan proportions, including kids of nine or ten years old, who are never without either an item of junk food or a bucket of sugary drink, or both. If the parents were seen giving their kids cigarettes, drugs or whisky, everyone would be outraged, but this seems to be OK.
It's a type of benevolent neglect, made worse by the fact that if you talk to the same people, they always seem to come over as warm, friendly types, thus making one feel somehow guilty about criticising them in the first place.
It's coming to France; the fast food joints are seldom empty there either. All that we can hope is that it takes a long time to reach the same levels.