I'll never make a personal shopper...

>> Tuesday, 22 June 2010

I should be trawling through my files for something to use for this week's Gallery over at Tara's, but this week's theme is 'Creatures' and for the life of me I can't think of any suitable photos to use for it.


I can think of one I could use; that of a toad squatting fatly brown underneath an upturned log on the minibeast safari we organised for my son's 4th birthday, but since it just looks like a toad-shaped piece of bark (which I guess is the point of camouflage), I hardly think it's worth it. And I can think of one that I would like to use; that of a rolling wave off Noosa beach in Queensland Australia that shows water so clear you can see the silver shapes of fish hanging suspended inside it, but sadly that's an impossibility. Whilst the image is burned clearly (and I hope, for perpetuity) into my mind's eye, I didn't have a camera in my hand at the time, so I can't share it with you, I'm afraid.

So no entry in Tara's Gallery for me today.

Instead, a conundrum (and no, it has nothing to do with helping me come up with a schedule for what on earth to do with the Boys during the school holidays).

This afternoon I met a friend of mine who is soon to travel to England for the first time. Having lived in the US all her life, and not having travelled that much outside it before she and her family were posted to Moscow, she's keen to make the most of her experiences as an expat. A part of this is her wish to take home a tangible souvenir from each of the countries that she visits whilst she's more European-based. For example, she's decided that when they finally leave Russia to go back home to the US, she will take with her a samovar. This summer she's also visiting Norway (a troll is on her shopping list), Scotland (bagpipes are a planned purchase), and Croatia (where she's hit a bit of road-block as it seems the only things invented there were the tie and ballpoint pens. Who knew?).

What, she asked me, should she buy whilst in the UK? Her initial idea was to buy a tea set, which of course I pooh-poohed because, well, it's such a cliche (unlike the bagpipes, troll and samovar, obviously), and of course there has to be something permanent and tangible that reminds one of England that is more interesting than that.

She was interested. "Really? What?"

"Um...."

There was a long pause whilst I realised that for me, most of the things that speak of England are not tangible. Crisp Autumn days, the long-ago sight of burning fields in August, the sound of cricket matches (I almost wrote 'the sound of leather on willow' but who knows what hits on google that would turn up?), soft West Country rain, thunder and lightning ice-cream, eton mess, church bells on a Wednesday evening, patch-work fields, Class (with a capital ''C'), picking blackberries with purple-stained fingers in prickly hedgerows, rubbing dock leaves on nettle stings, cornish pasties, cream teas, roast potatoes and yorkshire pudding, mass hysteria over Wimbledon, morris dancers, school fetes, country shows, pub lunches, cotswold stone walls, Brit pop, 80's synthesiser pop, the New Romantics, The Wombles, Paddington Bear, St John's Ambulance, the Brownies, Bonfire Night - well, the list is endless*. But not one of those things can you package up and take home with you to pull out and show to someone to say 'And of course we visited England too, and this is what we came home with...'

She got bored waiting for me - her quintessentially English friend - to come up with something, and said "Well I guess I do already have my Waterford stuff, of course."

I woke up from my reverie. "Waterford is in Ireland", I replied. "Definitely not in England. You'll have an entire nation upset if you make that mistake, I promise - and it won't be the English. No, there must be something else. Other than a tea-set, I mean."

................

I've said I'll get back to her. Any ideas?

*BTW - I have a list of these for London too, but as anyone who's lived there knows, London is not really England...


20 comments:

Jen 22 June 2010 at 19:53  

If she's going for cliche, tea set is a good choice to be honest.

Or a bottle of Pimms? :-)

Glummy Mummy 22 June 2010 at 20:10  

How about a little model of the London bus? The kids have one and it's a wonderful souvenir. x

planb 22 June 2010 at 21:54  

You said it: The Wombles? Paddington Bear?

Otherwise, they do all sorts of kind of naff, kind of cool, tube-related stuff.

And on the same theme, but really cool, I'd get a print of The Great Bear, by Simon Patterson http://mapmaking.wikidot.com/the-great-bear. Might take a bit too much explaining, and doesn't really fit with the troll, samovar theme (she's probably right with the tea set there) but it's just so awesome...

Anne-Margaret 23 June 2010 at 00:11  

Wedgewood. That's what I always give to people from the UK but that is more based on the fact that my boyfriend is from Stoke-On-Trent where all the potteries are. It goes along with her Waterford though.

sharon 23 June 2010 at 03:50  

Dartington Crystal! Can even buy it online if a trip to the south-west corner isn't on the cards.

Wishing you joy of the very long hols in Potski land. Any suggestions for an amazingly bored 26 year-old with a serious spinal problem? Signing him up for physio hasn't filled him with pleasure.

CherylT 23 June 2010 at 04:20  

Fish and chips? A map of the tube? Don't ask me, I'm quintessentially American,

Iota 23 June 2010 at 09:32  

Marks and Spencer undies. That's what I've bought so far.

Couture 23 June 2010 at 13:56  

I would have to second the Wedgwood idea. Or perhaps a little silver something from Garrads or Asprey?

Expat mum 23 June 2010 at 14:12  

I quite often bring people tea towels from various parts of England. A tea cosy would be quintissentially English too. They sell some nice ones in the National Trust shops, and I'm sure she could find them in London. (OK, bit naff I know, but very English.)

The Expatresse 23 June 2010 at 18:20  

PLEASE: tell her to be VERY careful with the samovar thing:

Technically, foreigners are not allowed to export samovars that date from before 1945, said Elvira Chechegova, an art historian at the Moscow Committee on Culture. But she said that the Ministry of Culture sometimes allows pre-1945 samovars to be taken out of the country.


"If it's a common model and in poor condition they may allow you to remove it," she said.


Foreigners wishing to export samovars dating after 1945 still need official permission. They first must go to the Moscow Committee of Culture (8 Neglinnaya Ulitsa, 921-3258 or 924-3453) which, for a fee of 1,000 rubles, will give the preliminary papers. The samovar must then be inspected at the Historical Museum on Red Square (Tel. 292-0928).

Source: http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/the-past-still-gleams-in-restored-samovars/349470.html

Potty Mummy 23 June 2010 at 18:23  

Jen, only problem with the Pimms - which is otherwise an excellent plan - is that one would imagine it won't be a long term souvenir. Or at least, not if she brings it anywhere near me, at any rate...

GM, good plan - or maybe a BIG model? (She's from Texas. I forgot to mention that.)

PlanB, love the tube idea, will definitely suggest that one. Paddington? I get it - not sure she will.

A-M, yes, Wedgewood would do it. Especially as a tea set. (Not sure if she was planning on taking out a second mortgage, though)

Sharon, I love Dartington. Good idea. Unfortunately I can't reciprocate with any for your son (other than perhaps to give him a tapestry set?)

Cheryl, you may be American but a brit had the same idea on the tube, so perhaps not so quintessential after all.

Iota, of course! Why didn't I think of that!

Couture, go on, just come right out and say it. Jewellery. And why not?

EPM, I'll suggest it. Although I think she may be looking for something with a bigger price tag (see previous comment reply about her being a Texan).

Potty Mummy 23 June 2010 at 18:25  

Expatresse, I will tell her that - although somehow I suspect she'll have wanted new one, in any case...

Anonymous,  24 June 2010 at 04:06  

I think a beer mat stolen from a pub!

Jennifer 24 June 2010 at 11:24  

My Russian father-in-law consumes my PIMMS in a shot glass on the sly. I kid you not.

Bush Mummy 24 June 2010 at 17:56  

Wow what a wonderful list.. did that make you a teensy bit homesick writing that? A girlfriend is over from Canada where she is now living and she says you don't appreciate how truly amazing London is until you leave it.

Hmmm English souvenir.. Marmalade? Loose leaf Earl Grey tea? Marmite?

My au pair is taking home a solar powered mini waving HRH Queen which she is particularly excited about.

BM x

Belgravia wife - sort of 25 June 2010 at 16:00  

Not sure how you would get it home but actually you could make it at home which makes it the perfect option - cucumber sandwiches, crusts off. Yum xx

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