Monday, April 9, 2018

Over It or Still buzzing? (the imperfect assimilation of a recent immigrant)

Catriona McPherson, a Scottish author who now lives in Northern California, has a new book out this week called, Scot Free. This makes her ideally suited to deliver this novel, right now. You may have seen Catriona's many Drinks with Reads posts, watched her win one of her many book awards or noticed that she's the Toastmistress for this year's Malice Domestic Convention. We'll have our book review tomorrow, but for now, let's hear from Catriona about what still amazes her about living here in California.

When Lexy Campbell (heroine of SCOT FREE) moved to California, she was charmed not only by her handsome husband-to-be but also by “the exotic allure of gas-station coffee, drive-thru burgers (with a U!), and right on red”. But when Mr Handsome turns out not to be husband-quality at all, some of the other charms wear off too. “…there I was, drinking gas-station coffee that tasted like fried shoes and eating heinous burgers flipped by people who could neither cook nor spell. Right on red is a wonderful thing but it’s not enough to build a life round.”

Today at Mystery Playground I thought I’d take stock of which exotic wonders are still amazing me, eight years after I arrived in California, and which I’ve got used to. Guess which of these can still make my heart skip a beat: mailboxes, water fountains, two sinks, a big fridge and public holidays.

I spent the first forty-odd years of my life with my post coming through a hole in the front door and dropping onto a mat.  But now, there’s a mailbox on a stalk down at the end of the county road where the tarmac turns to gravel. I can put stuff in it and raise the wee flag and, when Dan the mailman can’t cram a parcel in, I get a peach-coloured billet doux summoning me to the post office.

Over it or still buzzing?

Buzzerama. I LOVE MY MAILBOX! It’s so cute. It looks like a dovecote, or a little free library. It makes me happy every day.

Water fountains
I love water fountains even more than I love my mailbox, but I’m over them too. I use them most days and I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be without them. Now, in Scotland, it feels wrong to have to take water when you go out for a run. Or buy water if you’re thirsty. Chuh! Water fountains are genius. Thank you, America.

Two sinks

I knew early on in the process of house-hunting that I was probably going to have an en suite bathroom, for the first time in my life (outside hotel stays). This was amazing. And it turned out even more amazing. Because in my en suite bathroom were . . . two sinks! One for Irish Spring scum, beard bits, frogs, snails and puppy-dogs’ tails and one for sugar, spice, and this soap here. 

But am I over it or am I still buzzing?

Are you kidding? I’ll never get over the wonder of this. I deliberately wait until the scientist is shaving and then pad over to soak a little facecloth in cool, clear water and use it to wipe of my cucumber cleanser. We catch one another’s eye and say “Two sinks! Get us!” regularly.

A fridge you could live in
This house was foreclosed when we bought it and so it was completely empty. Boy, the hole for the fridge looked huge. I couldn’t believe there was a fridge that could fill it. I was wrong. People have come down the Zambezi in smaller vessels than my current fridge. Eddie Izzard’s probably planning to cross the Atlantic in something that would fit inside my fridge. And is it empty? Nope, because everything in it is huge too: ten pound bags of local oranges, quarts of milk (pints look dinky now), more yoghurt than anyone has ever eaten in a human lifetime, pickles of a range and number beyond all comprehension . . . 

But am I over it or am I still buzzing?

I’m completely over it. I’m used to it. When guests arrive from Scotland now and open the fridge they ask “Who’s all coming?” and I say “What?” They say “Who’s going to eat all that yoghu- Jeez! What was that noise?” (It was the automatic icemaker. Tee-hee.)


My yearly rhythm was set for long weekends at Christmas, New Year, Easter, May Day, Spring Bank, August Bank, and (recently) St Andrew’s Day. And what a long haul it sometimes was between Hogmanany and Good Friday. But here in California, you’ve no sooner got the tree down on the 6th of January than it’s Martin Luther King Day. And you’re still coasting from that on Presidents’ Day. Easter’s a sore point but Cesar Chavez Day coincided this year. Then Memorial/Labor (Which one’s which? Dunno), the fourth of July, Labor/Memorial (the other one – white gloves back in the drawer), Remembrance Day, Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas again.


You bet. Most of these holidays still come as a complete surprise. The scientist arrives home from work, saying: “University’s shut on Monday.” “Oh?” I say. “Why?” “Someone great but dead?” was one notable explanation a few years back. By now, I can name them all except Labor and Memorial. If anyone knows a trick for that, can you clue me in, please? Ta. 

You can always find Mystery Playground on Twitter @mysteryplaygrnd and on Facebook. You can also follow the blog by clicking the link on the upper right-hand corner of this webpage. 


  1. Labor is in the fall, when it's back to studies.

  2. My daughter in Michigan has a mail slot, and I covet it. All her mail except packages drop right into her hall coat closet, even if they are away. They never have to have mail held.

    Water fountains ARE genius, but they're shut off if it's cold outside, darn it.

  3. I used to get those two mixed up, and I'm a fourth-generation Californian!
    By now it's the shape of the word rather than the meaning. "Memorial" seems green and fresh, which is what happens in New England in May. Labor is much browner - fall on the ascent. I love your take on stuff we take for granted!