Wonder Boi Writes

British Bits and Bobs

Hey All,

First of all I want to say a big thank you to every who helped me raise money for my alma matter, Illinois State University, as part of our Birds Give Back campaign. I did a drawing of everyone who donated at least $10, and the winner is Anne Hart!  Anne, just let me know which ebook you want and where I should email it.

And now it’s time to get back to business, and by business I mean looking at pictures I took when I lived in Northeast England last year.  

For those of you who have read Full English, you may have noticed in my author notes that much of my inspiration for the book stemmed from the time I spent living in a small, seaside village called Alnmouth.  I had to fictionalize a town/dukedom because of a few legal issues that could arise for having your main character interact with people of specific titles, and I also enjoyed the freedom of being able to add or subtract a few features for convenience’s sake.   That being said, virtually everything Emma encounters by way of culture shock is something my family and I experienced, and I wanted to share those, along with some of the spots around town that inspired various places in the book with those of you who follow this blog.

First, let’s start with the basics.  Emma’s house in the story is largely based on the house we lived in for a little over 6 months.  Ours was a triplex, while I made Emma’s free-standing, but beyond that, the location and the layout were largely the same.  Here’s a picture of my son standing outside of ours. 

One of the best features of Emma’s house was exactly the same conservatory as we had in our house. In America we might call this a sunroom or a 3-seasons room. Ours looked out over a small garden and then out toward the North Sea.  I loved to sit out there and stare into the vast blue yonder. It was always the first place to get toasty warm in the morning, and at night the stars shined so brightly we set up a small telescope out there. 

Out in the garden we has a small shed that was a regular perch for a pheasant we named Phez.  He stopped by on Thanksgiving and stayed much of the day. We could see him from the kitchen window seeming to revel in the fact that it wasn’t his holiday to be on the menu. 

Inside the kitchen, though, was where our culture shock began.  Our oven was a “fan oven.”  To be honest, I never did quite figure out exactly how that translated to my American recipes, but British recipes all seemed to list that option for cooking temps and times, so I learned to cook roast veg, meat pies, and Cornish pasties. I like to think I’m a decent enough cook to be passible with any oven. What I hadn’t yet tested my mettle with was the very British staple of the electric tea kettle, and like Emma, my issues began long before I even got to the point where I had to add water.  

That is a pretty standard English outlet, and even though our kettle had right type of plug, our kettle (and our lamps, and TV, and anything else that plugged in) wouldn’t work no matter what wall switches I tried, because every outlet in the house also had that little switch to the right of the plug that engaged the power to that outlet. Once you know it’s there, it’s not hard to figure out how it works, but most of our outlets were behind furniture or along the floor, and many of our small electronics were already plugged in when we arrived. If our friend Kelly hadn’t pointed out those little switches, I’m not sure how long we would’ve gone around flipping wall switches fruitlessly before we got on our hands and knees to check behind the couch and found the root of the issue.

The other perplexing switch in the house was connected to the water heater. Thankfully, our new friend Jane pointed ours out on day one and saved us from cold showers, but here’s what we were dealing with.

While our shower had it’s own little water heater attached to the pipes (“power shower”), if we wanted to do laundry, wash dishes, or take a bath, we had to turn on house’s main water heater in advance, hence the third switch (the first two were a timer and control for the radiators). After traveling around the UK quite a bit, we found many new houses no longer use this set up, but they are far from uncommon.

Much less perplexing to us was the village social life.  Alnmouth is home to about 300 residents, and it seems like we met most of them in two places 1) the cricket pitch and 2) the pub.  While Emma has neither the opportunity nor the interest to play cricket, even our introvert Emma had more than one occasion to find herself in the pub.  And of course, as a bartender and part time cook, Brogan practically lives there.  We feel somewhere between those two options on the pub scale. We certainly didn’t take up residence, but when we were in town, we rarely missed a “Friday club” with the locals to catch up on the gossip of the week. This is where we learned about everything from who was moving, to who was dating, to who was on vacation, and what was on tap for the weekend. In other words, this is where we learned what it meant to be members of the community.

Can’t you just picture Brogan standing behind that bar while all the locals sit just to the right and harass her good-naturedly?

And while we are on about places we ate, no report of our time in England, or Full English itself would be the same without a trip to Bertram’s. Though I didn’t use the name of the business in the book (again, sticky legalities), this is very much a real place, and it can be found just inside the city walls in Warkworth. I won’t rehash all the details I share in the book, but I do want to offer photographic evidence that the tower of amazing yumminess Brogan and Emma order is very much on the menu.

It really is quite amazing that we didn’t gain more weight while living there. While we didn’t eat like this daily, we did eat scones as often as we got the chance. The only thing that saved our pants from splitting was that the sheer beauty of our surroundings inspiring us to walk nearly everywhere and every day.

And now I’ve just devolved into showing you pictures of where I lived, but I hope that when you look at them, you can see why I loved this place enough to make Emma fall in love with it, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll fall a little bit in love, too.

March 19, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment


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