Oh! What's Occurrin'?

Our friends Rob and Sally introduced us to a British TV show called Gavin & Stacey. I'll admit that a good deal of the jokes go straight over my head, but I do get enough of them that I am hooked on this show- HILARIOUS.

Background for anyone who hasn't seen it:
There is a boy (Gavin) and he falls for a girl (Stacey) through work-related phone calls. The problem is, he lives in Essex (an area just north of London), she lives in Barry, Wales. Some background I needed for the show is that there are evidently strong stereotypes associated with being from Essex; additionally, the Welsh have stereotypes of their own with which to contend.

The story goes that Gavin and Stacey fall in love and get married, except they are from two completely different worlds, and must quickly adapt to their new life together. Each have a best mate who plays a vital role in anything either of them do. Stacey's best mate is Nessa, "an incomparable woman with an extraordinary life history", whenever she shares stories of her past experiences, it just makes the audience (or at least me) go, "wait, what?" Gavin's best mate is a simple guy named Smithy, who loves food and beer, is very protective of Gavin and although he can't stand Stacey's friend Nessa, she does wind up pregnant with his baby. Gavin's parents are key players in the story, as are Stacey's mother and Uncle Bryn (which means "hill" in Welsh) and they provide just as much humor as every one else. I highly recommend it! (On BBC America and available on iTunes.)

The point of giving Gavin & Stacey background? Ben and I woke up this Valentine's Day with nothing to do. With plans like that, we went a bit crazy and decided to drive to Barry Island (an old amusement park/seaside town in South Wales where Stacey and Nessa are from.) I'm not going to lie to you, it was a silly thing to do it was, but what the heck, neither of us had ever been to Wales, and why not? It was crackin'!

There is one scene in Gavin & Stacey where Gav's mum calls it Barry's Island (to which his dad responds "It isn't Barry's Island, it doesn't belong to man called Barry.") The scene was comical in itself, but after googling it on the map, it's not even an island! Barry Island is a peninsula! Ben and I spent a good 2 hours wandering around the shoreside, playing the 2 pence arcade games (where fictional Nessa works, there was a sign saying "Nessa has the day off"), and just wandering the promenade looking for sights from the show. It somehow turned into a fabulous adventure of a day that completely shocked the both of us! (We even had lunch at a chippy and had curry sauce with our chips!)

The drive was actually quite nice (aside from some Rugby traffic once we got near Cardiff), our GPS lady took us on a rather unusual route through mid-south east England - but once we got to the M4 everything was fine until we got to the bridge. There is an impressive bridge across the River Severn (that separates South Wales from South England), that charges a toll going westbound - into Wales. There is great discussion about this toll on the show for it is £5.10. Ben and I teased each other all morning about how this trip is costing us gas and five pounds, 10 pence (we even double checked that we had the 10p)! However, when we got there, it was actually £5.40!! I know it's only 30p more, but come on! That is a pricey entrance fee for any country! (Ben's coworker says a friend of his will drive all the way around because he refuses to pay to go to Wales!) We figured the extra 30p is compensation for the toll booth attendants putting up with tourists asking "What's occurin'?"


The Pagan Gods Must Hate Me

When I visited Ben back in April, he took me to Stonehenge. For some reason still unknown to us, the whole monument was closed, even the parking lot. We parked on the side of the road, with several other tourists, and took the best pictures we could through the fence. Obviously, I only got to see the monument from one side. Enough to be impressed by the size of the stones and awed by their placement; but still disappointed I didn't get the full Stonehenge experience.

Last week, Ben and I bought a car. We figured our first trip should be back to Stonehenge. (Pam and Joe got Ben and I a year-long English Heritage membership for Christmas - which means we get free entry to any English Heritage listed monument, castle, ruin, abbey, etc. in all of England). Because it had snowed the previous week, Ben and I threw all our winter clothes into our new spacious back seat, and headed north/west. While there was absolutely no snow when we left home, there was still a good 6-8" on the ground in Amesbury.

We got there around 10, the parking lot was open (improvement from our last outing) but there were already 3 tour buses in the parking lot. When we saw a 4th one turning in, we hurriedly bundled up and made a dash for the entrance. While Ben and I were excited about the monument and surrounding areas covered in snow, it presented a bit of a safety hazard and we were told only "part" of the site was accessible.

Since only part of the walkway was open (usually you can circle around the stones- albeit with a wide berth), I still haven't seen Stonehenge from all sides. We stayed for a while, listened to the hand-held audio guide you get, but soon the cold (and the 7 tour buses full of, um, tourists) got to us, so we decided we'd just come back another time...perhaps we'll call first to make sure it is actually open. ;)


Our New (to us) Car

I know I'm severely behind in my postings, but I just couldn't wait to break this exciting news! We bought a car! After months of talking (and arguing) about it, we finally got our immobile butts in gear and spent all last weekend test driving every mid-sized, 5-door hatchback currently being sold in the UK. We went to 10 different dealerships (Renault, Honda, Volvo, Seat, Audi, Peugeot, BMW, Mini, Toyota, Volkswagen), and even went to some 2 and 3 times. As a side note here, I gotta say, I am rather disappointed in this country's capitalistic nature- some dealerships were closed on Sundays, some dealerships simply didn't have any cars to test drive, and at some of the dealerships we visited no one even acknowledged us- even after 15 minutes on the lot!

After taking our long list of possibilities, we narrowed it to a short-list of only 2 cars: a Honda Civic and a Seat Leon. The Civic put up a good fight, but in the end, we are now (or will be in another day) proud owners of a Seat Leon (which I've been told repeatedly is just a VW Golf in Spanish badging).

It's a 2006, 2.0 T FSI Sport 5-Door Hatchback in Black Magic Metallic. For me, it has heated front seats, bluetooth capability, stereo controls on the steering wheel, dual climate control, and back-up sensors. For Ben, it has a manual transmission and a turbo.

Couple more comments on the UK car buying experience:
- We didn't drive off the lot with our car! So, we went in, said that's the car for us, did some negotiating...talked finance, got everything sorted and then were told when we could come get the car. What? Honestly, the sales guy at Toyota told us that it took them 10 days from signing paperwork until car delivery (Seat is doing it in 2 days), so we were prepared, but still, what is it that takes them so long? I just don't get it. Ben drove by the dealer today, the car is still parked out front- same as it was yesterday (and it's still listed on the dealer's website).

- Dealerships are only open until 5 or 6 pm; some not opened on Sundays. When do (employed) people find time to buy cars??

- This is just a UK thing, but since we don't have SSNs here, their credit check was... sketchy? We told them our names and where we lived. From that alone they gave us a financing option. How does that work!?! We could only finance the car in one name (since we're not married), so we opted for Ben (good thing, cause apparently one can't get financing without at least a learner's driving licence (spelled British-ly). The sales guy wasn't sure if we could register the car in both our names (again, since we're not married), but he'd try.

Doesn't matter! At noon tomorrow, we'll have a previously-used, new-to-us Leon. We've already decided where we're going this weekend. ;)