Barbaric Traditions for the Lamb

Are we even speaking the same language?

I get irritated when I’m tired and a day of editing business-speak can often ignite the small fire somewhere inside that stokes my annoyance. Not as much, however, as the way our transatlantic cousins often massacre our perfectly fine English language. It’s not so much the way that a word is pronounced – we can all stumble over ‘entrepreneur’ although those of us who have a knowledge of French know that the last syllable should sound like ‘fur’ and not rhyme with ‘poor’.

I did, recently, get really cross with something I was reading online. It was about the launch of something, I think, (website? software?) and the writer explained how she was ‘birthing’ whatever it was. No! Please!

It’s amazing how far apart we can feel when talking to very pleasant people from whom we are separated by a common language.

Into foreign territory

Many years ago a friend, let’s call her Alice, and I decided to spend two weeks on holiday in the US. We chose to go in late September or early October, I can’t remember which, because we wanted to see the Autumn splendour of the ‘colours’ in New England. We booked a week in New York and another in Boston as well as a hire car for our Boston trip so we could drive around to see the trees. For both of us it was our first time in the US.

We landed, in mid-afternoon, at John F Kennedy airport and joined the queue to have our passports checked. The large, intimidating lady I ended up in front of seemed to be annoyed not to find any errors in my passport and suddenly barked ‘How much money you got?’ I was a bit taken aback as we don’t tend to be so direct in the UK but I named the modest sum I had with me. ‘You think you gonna survive in New York for two weeks on that?’ she said incredulously. ‘Yes, I hope so,’ I replied, adding ‘I also have a credit card’. (This was my very first credit card and I was rather proud of it.)  She cheered up immediately and waved me through.

Our time in New York was spent wandering around, shopping, holding on tightly to handbags ‘be careful,’ friends at home had said, ‘the streets are full of thieves’, going up to the top of the now vanished World Trade Centre, going to the movies to see Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark long before it got to the UK and sampling the enormous platefuls of food we were given everywhere.

Heading North on the Greyhound

All too soon our time in NY City was over and we boarded the Greyhound bus to Boston. We just had to experience the Greyhound! As we set off I felt that Simon & Garfunkel should at least be sitting at the back.

The journey took longer than we expected but we had booked into a hotel for our first night which was a very sensible thing to have done. Once we had checked in to the hotel we set out to find somewhere to eat. I don’t remember a great deal about that evening – which was nothing to do with the amount of wine we had. Alice had always wanted to try Pastrami on Rye which wasn’t a common dish in the UK then, but we knew all about it from watching Kojack. I do vaguely remember asking our waiter if I could buy the mug that my coffee arrived in. Yes, I know, it was a strange thing to do – and the waiter obviously thought so too – but it was an interesting shape. I was adamant and we eventually set off back to our hotel, clutching our mugs.

Sleep disturbed and potential death

The door of the bedroom we had been given didn’t seem to want to stay shut and as I was in the bed just beside the door I kept waking up to find myself looking down the corridor. This also meant anyone in the corridor had a fine view of me. Soothed by alcohol we fell asleep.

I woke up at some time during the night and turned over in bed with my back to the recalcitrant door. This gave me a clear view of Alice’s bed – which was empty! I sat up and checked if she was at least in the room. Nope, she wasn’t. Had someone come in and spirited her away?

We couldn’t afford to pay for an ‘ensuite’ room so we were using a bathroom in the corridor. Was she in there? I pushed open the door and there she was, on the tiled blue floor! She was groaning, so was still alive, which was reassuring.

‘Are you OK?’ I asked.

‘No, she replied. I think I’ve got food poisoning.’

‘EEEK! Why are you on the floor?’

‘It’s lovely and cool and I’m so hot!’

She assured me she would be OK. ‘You go back to bed,’ she said, ‘I’ll be better in the morning.’

I went back to bed. But I didn’t sleep at all well. Apart from the ever-present danger of someone lurching through the open door and, just for fun, stabbing me to death, I found myself, bizarrely, asking myself unanswerable questions. What if she died overnight? What would I do? Would her coffin be put on the same flight as I would be going home on in about a week’s time? I answered each one confidently with ‘Pass’.

Eventually, I must have given up this mental scrutiny and gone to sleep. I woke up in the morning and there was Alice, sleeping peacefully in her bed. Phew!

We didn’t dwell on the evening before and I didn’t tell her about my mentally measuring her coffin to see if it would fit across two seats on the plane. No, we got up and set forth.

There’s danger on the right

It was a Saturday and therefore, we hoped, might be a little quieter than a weekday, as we set off to pick up our hire car. It wasn’t quiet: it was really busy because, as we soon learned, the Boston Marathon was taking place that morning, starting in the middle of the city. I had insisted that I would drive the car first as I knew my nerve might crumble if I didn’t. We found the showroom, also in the middle of the city, and were sent down to the basement level where we found our (very small) car. The salesman gave us a quick tour as to what was where and left us, pointing out the ramp we needed to go up to get out.

I got into the car and Alice got in beside me. I had learned to drive on a car with a manual gearbox and had never driven an automatic. It all looked completely different. I got out and shot after our salesman, blurting out in a highly embarrassed voice, ‘Em, could you show me how to get the car started?’ He was very nice about it and soon he was waving us farewell. I drove up the ramp into the middle of a huge junction jammed with cars all revving their engines. I don’t remember much after that but somehow I got us through the junction unscathed and onto the right side of the right road for Vermont.


Sunshine, autumn leaves and exercise?

The weather was wonderful and once we got into tree country the colours were just amazing. We stopped several times to take photos and shared the driving. We found our ‘Li’le Mountain Inn’, as it was described in the brochure and checked in. Our new hostess showed us around, telling us we could use the tennis courts if we wanted and then saying ‘I can show you where to go if you want to take a hike.’

A hike? A hike to us, coming from Scotland, meant something strenuous, needing walking boots, windproof clothing, ski sticks, possibly crampons and could take several hours – if not days. We managed to communicate that we didn’t exactly want to go for a hike. Undaunted, our hostess led us indoors, up the stairs and into a big room with a roaring fire and a large piece of furniture like a double bed that had been opened out and was covered in rugs and sheepskins, right in front of  the fire. We were then shown to our room and left to our own devices until it was time for the evening meal.

Enter Danny . . .

During our tour outside we had come across a young man, maybe about 18? who introduced himself as Danny. He was also a guest along with his parents, there for the weekend. He was very friendly and either had a penchant for older women or was unaware that we were a good ten to twelve years older than him. This didn’t seem to faze him at all – of course neither of us looked anything like our age!

When, later, we came down to dinner, we entered the room with the fire to find Danny spread out on the sofa/double bed with his parents sitting demurely in armchairs beside him. We introduced ourselves and chatted about where we came from and what we had done in New York. Danny’s father was very friendly but his mother was a little distant and we suspected that she was somewhat suspicious about our intentions, especially with regard to her beloved son.

Family Time

We moved to the dining room and Danny invited us to join them at their table. We got the distinct impression that Mr and Mrs Danny would not have offered the same invitation.

Danny decided that there should be some wine to go with our dinner. Mother’s head shot up. ‘Wine?’ she said, as though this confirmed everything she had suspected and her darling son was being led astray.  

We chatted as best we could though it was quite a daunting task to find any levity into Mr & Mrs Danny’s conversation. Soon our main course arrived and Danny realised there was no sign of the wine. Manfully he went to confront the staff behind the scenes and to ask where our wine might be.

I can’t remember what Alice had ordered (it wasn’t Pastrami on Rye) but I had chosen lamb. We hadn’t seen lamb on any menu until now and I was keen to see how it was cooked. I love roast lamb!

Danny came back to announce the wine was ‘on its way’ and we all tucked into our food. The lamb was excellent!

Here comes trouble

At some point, Mrs Danny noticed that I was eating something she didn’t recognise. ‘What are you eating?’ she asked. ‘Lamb,’ I replied, adding ‘and it’s delicious.’

‘Lamb?’ Mrs Danny queried.


‘But what exactly is it?’ was the next puzzled query.

‘Em, it’s roast lamb,’ I volunteered, wondering if sheep rearing was not a common occupation in the US. ‘You, know, a baby sheep.’

That was not a good thing to say.

‘A baby sheep!’ the horror in Mrs Danny’s voice was, well, horrifying.

Don’t ever do this!

Sometimes, you should take note of your own internal warning mechanism. Don’t continue! Change the subject!

‘Well, a young sheep,’ I said, adding foolishly, ‘As long as you hang it for the right amount of time, it’s very tasty.’

There was a clatter as Mrs Danny’s cutlery fell from her hands.

‘Hang it? You mean you take a poor little sheep and hang it with a rope around its neck until it’s dead?’

Everything Mrs Danny had heard about the barbaric British, the savage Anglo Saxons and the Violent Vikings, not to mention the perfidious Picts flashed across her face in seconds.

I think Alice came to my rescue and explained in a less brutal fashion what I’d been trying to say.

At that point the wine turned up – at last!

We had coffee, I downed a large glass of red and shortly Mr and Mrs Danny retired for the night.

A common language is not at all common

 Alice, Danny and I stretched out on the lounging thing in front of a warming log fire and discussed the English language and the chaos you could innocently cause by using just the wrong turn of phrase.

Teetotallers, vegetarians and vegans will be glad to hear that we both had vicious hangovers the next morning but there was no staying in bed – the hire car had to be returned by noon and we had many miles to go. We must have broken the US speed limit at times but as we had no idea what it was, we’re innocent, m’lud.

Please note: No lambs, young sheep or more mature sheep were harmed during the writing of this blog.

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