Monthly Archives: May 2014

We’re all short of time, survey finds


Larry David on DVD

A great way to spend your precious spare time

Time. When you are a working parent or even just a parent to small children, time is taken up with so much stuff that it’s hard to understand just where it all goes. Much of it seems to be spent doing things of no consequence.

When I find myself with 20 minutes to spare in the evenings – perhaps while the overtired kids are slapping themselves in the bath – I feel fidgety. I don’t know whether I should be sitting down and staring out the window or doing some minor chore that is undoubtedly lurking somewhere.

There are always clothes to be put away, clothes to be sorted, dishes to be washed, dishes to be put away and half a dozen other things to boring to mention.

So it comes as very little surprise that a survey of British families has found that, on average, they only spend three hours of quality time together in a working week. Nearly a quarter of the families surveyed said they get less than one hour of ‘us time’ together between Monday to Friday.

Before we start moaning about how our modern lives are destroying the fabric of family life, let’s just say that I regard this survey as less than scientific or impartial.

The research – based on an online survey of 2,005 British parents in May 2014 – was commissioned by HouseTrip, a company that is conveniently using the findings to urge people to take a holiday together.

But there is probably some truth in it. I have no idea what ‘us time’ is during the week, frankly. I’m usually so exhausted by the time I get home, that the only thing I really want to do is crawl onto the sofa, eat dinner and stare at the television. Sometimes I’m not even sure what the people on the TV are saying, but watching the flashing images is of some comfort.

Which, it seems, is how the majority of people feel too. According to the same survey, 65% of couples (who are parents) spend their precious ‘spare time’ watching television over talking (33%) or having sex (31%).

That clears that up, then. I always knew I was average.

This lack of time also explains why the blog has been neglected for so long. It has been sitting in a corner of my mind, occupying my thoughts nearly every day. But I have not felt inspired to sit down and get anything written in the evenings because I am too damn tired after a day spent running around.

If one of the few things you can rouse yourself to do in the evenings is watch TV like a zombie, I can highly recommend season three of Curb Your Enthusiasm over any conversations you might be tempted to have with your partner or children.


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American supermarket food comes to London

jar of peanut butter

At least we’ll always have peanut butter

It’s not always easy being an expat in city like London but it has got easier. I went through a phase when I felt totally out of place. It was like looking at a work of art hung crookedly on a wall. Everything felt slightly tilted on its axis. I got dizzy.

I’ve lived here for so long now that I don’t even think of myself as an expat anymore. I seem to have a vague cultural identity these days. I’m neither this nor that. I try to come to terms with it.

According to the last census, in 2011, there are about 180,000 Americans living in London; these are people who were born in the United States. It’s not, for instance, people born in the UK to an American parent.

Perhaps because I believed my stay here was temporary and bound to end some day, I’ve never sought out places where I’m likely to encounter Americans en masse. Where would that be anyway? I don’t have a clue because everything here labelled ‘American’ seems to be massively stereotypical. It’ll be a sports bar or a place serving ribs, burgers and hot dogs.

If you want to find places with an American identity in London, your best bet is to hit the high street. There are Gap stores and Starbucks aplenty, more than I have in my hometown of San Diego, for instance. If you want a grande caramel mocha frappaccino with whip cream, you won’t go without.

Then there are things that remind me of home – like the sudden proliferation of Mexican food chains selling everything from burritos to enchiladas. There are no Taco Bells here, but you are likely to stumble across a margarita at some point. None of it is truly authentic, but that’s beside the point. What these places are selling is the Mexican experience for Brits. In other words, the food is barely one step above Tex-Mex most of the time.

The trend for Americana has invaded supermarkets too, even in my little enclave of north London, which is not particularly touristy. I recently visited my local Tesco and discovered a small section dedicated to American (junk) food. In fact, it’s the worst representation of American food you could assemble – and there is quite a lot of bad food to choose from.

Box of Twinkies

If you want American junk food, you’ll have to pay

Should I despair that some buyer in Tesco seems to think that pink marshmallow spread qualifies as a product worth exporting to the UK? It makes pretzels look sophisticated. You can get Lucky Charms cereal, new varieties of M&Ms and Twinkies for a price. A box of the yellow sponge cakes will set you back $13 here. If you’re lucky you can find Aunt Jemima pancake mix and the syrup, also at inflated prices.

I wonder if other nationalities here feel the same. Do the Spanish cringe every time a new tapas restaurant opens on the corner with patatas bravas on the menu? Are the Italians sick to death of pizza and pasta restaurants claiming to offer an authentic experience? Do Indians get sick to death of serving creamy kormas to spice-averse Brits?

At least their food choices are vaguely palatable. It’s not easy to make a meal out of the ingredients you’d find in the American section of supermarkets here unless you’re happy to overdose on sugar.

I did give a large Tootsie Roll to my two hybrid kids after coming across it at Tesco. They weren’t complaining. And that’s pretty much in a nutshell. American food here seems to cater only to children.

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