Spotted Dick...

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by Gene Callahan by Gene Callahan

October 11

…heading down the escalator at the tube, but I didn’t catch him. (Dick, that is.)

  • In both the US and the UK, waiters in Indian restaurants typically wipe your plate just before they place it in front of you. Is this supposed to inspire confidence? It always makes me worry that the wait staff fears the dish staff is not really doing their job.

  • The new Scottish Parliament building was just opened… 3 years late and 10 times over budget. Who but the government could wind up 1000% over budget on a building? At least here they have the honesty to call state projects “schemes.”

  • The book store on the LSE campus is selling Waterstone’s Giude to Literarute for Dlysexic Chilrden.

  • The cigarette packs here have labels with big letters saying “Smoking Kills.” Well, at least one government scheme has succeeded, since the labels have reduced the number of smokers per capita in Britain to only like 10 times the number in the US.

  • There was a busker (that means someone who plays music or sings for change) in the tube (that means subway) tonight. The song she was performing was “Walk on by.” That seemed to me to be the most unfortunate choice for a busking song I’ve ever come across, as I heard the woman repeating, "Walk on by, don't stop, walk on by, don't stop."

October 12

  • UK sinks are puzzling. There are almost always two separate faucets, so that you can choose to scald your hands or freeze them when washing up. And some of the sinks have a nifty “instant-shut-off” feature, where the faucet only runs as long as you are pressing down the tap with one hand, making it impossible to rub your hands together under running water.

October 13

  • A banner day: I was able to bring my wash inside!

    We line “dry” our clothes where I’m living. The trick is to get them out and back in during one of the 12-hour windows without rain. Well, Sunday I mis-timed things, and today was the first time I was able to bring them inside.

    It’s not that they were actually dry, or anything like that. It was just the first time they weren’t dripping wet. Now they are in my bedroom, really drying.

October 14

  • Wednesday night, Ireland beat the Faroe Islands two-nil in World Cup qualifying play. In the States, of course, we’d say “two-nothing.” But no one ever seems to say “two-zero.” Why is that? And why do the Faroe Islands have their own football (that means soccer) team?

  • My clothes are again “drying” on the line. I hope to be able to bring them inside by Sunday. I’m thinking of skipping the washing machine altogether and putting my laundry straight outside, since it gets both washed and dried there.

  • I asked directions to a restaurant from a news agent. He told me it was right across the street from “steer box.” Now, I wasn’t sure what a “steer box” was, so I asked him where to show me it. He pointed across the street to a Starbucks.

  • While on the topic, it’s interesting to note the different effects produced by American and English rain. In the US, mushrooms pop up after a shower, while here each rainfall sprouts at least one new Starbucks.

October 15

  • Many of the doors around LSE bear a sign saying “Door Alarmed.” Well, I’m starting to become alarmed that all these inanimate objects are so worried.

  • And the library has a sign saying, “When in the library, your cell phone must be strictly switched to silent mode.” Now, I know how to switch my cell phone to silent mode, but how do I do so “strictly”? Ought I to warn it, in harsh terms, of the punishment I will deliver should it ring?

October 16

  • I’m beginning to get the notion that there’s some fellow named “Beckham” who is something of a celebrity here. It’s mostly the fact that his name has been in the front-page headline of some tabloid every single day since I’ve arrived that has suggested the idea to me.

  • In America, fast food service jobs are held mostly by Hispanics, in order to prevent the customers from wasting the staff members’ time by talking to them. England doesn’t have much of a Hispanic population, but fast food places here have gotten around that difficulty by employing Eastern Europeans who can’t understand the customers instead. Last night, I stopped at a sandwich shop. “Cheddar Cheese Sandwich” was listed on the menu. But how was it prepared? A typical cheese sandwich here might include pickles and mango chutney. (It’s not bad.)

    So, I asked the chap behind the counter, “What’s in the cheddar cheese sandwich?”


    Well, I had suspected as much, since cheese is constitutive of a cheese sandwich. (See, I’m already learning to talk like a fancy pants philosopher!) I was fairly certain there would be bread involved as well. But my curiosity was still not satisfied.

    “What else is in it, besides cheese?”

    He looked at me quizzically. “Ham? Tuna salad?”

    Did he mean that the cheddar cheese sandwich always includes ham and tuna salad? Was he saying he could put those in it if I wanted him to? Was he suggesting other sandwiches I might prefer, since I seemed so suspicious of the cheese?

    Who knows… I just said, “Thanks anyway,” and walked out.

  • I’m finally getting settled in here. Last night, for the very first time, I remembered the name of the road I live on, Buck Lane, when I wasn’t on the road! The fact that my house is prominently named “Buck Cottage” has been a big help in my committing this fact to memory in only two weeks.

    I’m also getting accustomed to the English driving on the left. When I first arrived, I could think, “I’d look left in this situation in the States, so I’d better look right.” But I’ve been here long enough that now I can’t remember which way I’d look in America, so I’m actually much worse at crossing streets than I was two weeks ago.

  • My friend Jan Lester has been trying to tell me that the name of the subway here is pronounced "tyube," not "toob." But he also tried to tell me that the rail stations have been "moving," so obviously he’s just winding up the Yank.

October 18, 2004

Gene Callahan [send him mail], the author of Economics for Real People, is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and a contributing columnist to

Gene Callahan/Stu Morgenstern Archives

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