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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Pardon Me *

The sun may have long since set upon the British Empire, but that last outpost of British culture known as the British Council still basks in the warm glow of a sun that remains steadfastly high in the sky.

While you lot were here checking to see if Photo Friday was up, I popped into Jerusalem and spent some time exploring the British Council Library across from the Malha Mall.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the British Council, they are an organization located in 110 countries around the world, whose purpose it is to promote British culture in the dark corners of the globe, secure the Queen's English as the preeminent international language and improve the lot of the unwashed heathen wherever they may be found.  OK, that may not be exactly the way their mission statement reads, but let's not quibble.  :-)

When I first heard about the British Council Library I pictured an old stone or brick edifice lined with thick Persian rugs... roaring fires in every grate...  and overstuffed chairs tucked into little nooks under the conspiratorial glow of oriental reading lamps.  I imagined retired British expats sitting around reading ironed copies of the latest newspapers from London while sober butlers hovered nearby ready to offer small glasses of sherry and port from polished silver trays.

As much as I would have enjoyed discovering such a Victorian-era club, I was pleasantly surprised by the modern reality of the British Council.

For roughly the equivalent of $80, ahem, I mean £45, members gain access to a very respectable collection of books and periodicals, as well as a nicely stocked library of music CDs and films and television shows on DVD.  There are also several complimentary Internet computers and a nearby machine dispensing free coffee (and of course, tea) to members. 

An added perk is that members are automatically granted free on-line access to a very robust suite of research tools including the the Oxford English Dictionary, a resource that has been beyond my meager means... until now!

The only catch is that the overwhelming majority of the available materials are either about British topics/history, or by British authors, artists and filmmakers.    I haven't checked, but I assume the cookbook section is probably pretty thin.  Not to worry though... I have a very nice recipe for Yorkshire Pudding I'd be happy to share if anyone is interested.

I'm sure the CD and DVD lending portion of the membership alone will quickly balance out the modest membership fee... and the OED access is a fabulous windfall on which I can't begin to put a price. 

However, it occurred to me that membership in the British Council would also be an excellent investment for anyone who does even a little bit of international traveling. 

Having access to an English-speaking haven in 110 countries around the world (and often more than one location in each country), with free Internet access and lending libraries seems like a very smart idea.  Think about what you spend at smoky Internet cafes and overpriced newsagents/bookstores each time you travel?  I think you'd agree that this is a much more civilized way to go.

There is also something comforting about knowing where to ask about a reliable local chemist (pharmacy) or physician in most of the world's major cities... and of course the location of a clean public convenience (toilet).

Since hearing about this wonderful resource from a friend and fellow traveler, I have been meaning to take out a membership in the British Council... and 'Bob's your uncle', now I have.


* You were wondering about the title to today's post?  Well apparently, unlike the US where 'pardon me' is used before or after causing any kind of disturbance or slight inconvenience... in the UK it is what one says after an unfortunate bout of flatulence.  Don't ask.


Posted by David Bogner on December 18, 2005 | Permalink


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Wow, cool!

OK, I have a few questions, because this library sounds very interesting:

1) Is that fee you mentioned annual?

2) Do they have the complete collection of Agatha Christie mysteries? I'm trying to finish them all.

3) Does the fee include use of the Lexus Nexis search engine?

4) Even if there are no fireplaces or butlers . . . is it a nice place to sit and read, or think, or work on one's computer?

5) Wireless internet?

Thanks for this tip, David. It sounds fun.


Posted by: Sarah | Dec 18, 2005 2:24:07 PM


1. Yes, that is an annual membership fee.

2. I didn't check on Agatha Christie, but you can call them to ask at (02) 640 3900

3. No, but here is a list of other online resources to which members do have access:

Ashridge: Ashridge is one of the worlds leading business schools, and delivers executive education and development to individuals and organisations that want to go further.

ebrary: ebrary allows for searching, viewing, copying and printing of books and other high-value documents from leading publishers

Economic and Social Data Service (ESDS): ESDS resource archiving and disseminating large-scale government, qualitative and other social science datasets via the UK Data Archive.

Encyclopaedia Britannica: Access to five encyclopaedia databases. Encyclopaedia Britannica's fully searchable text presented in an interactive format. Offering over 100,000 articles, 200,000 related web links, illustrations, maps, graphs and sounds.

Grove Art Online: Grove Art Online provides web access to the entire text of the Dictionary of Art with regular additions of new material and updates to the text, plus extensive image links and all the sophisticated search advantages possible.

Grove Music Online: Grove Music Online is an integrated music resource. It includes the full text of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (second edition). The New Grove Dictionary of Opera and the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (second edition).

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: 50,000 biographies of people who shaped the history of the British Isles and beyond, from the earliest times to the year 2000.

Oxford English Dictionary Online: Unique English dictionary on historical principles, updated quarterly

Oxford Journals: Research journals from Oxford University Press in the fields of Life Science, Medicine, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, Humanities, Social Sciences and Law

Oxford Reference Online: The ultimate online reference library - from Oxford, the world's first name in reference.

Oxford Scholarship Online: A searchable full-text database of OUP's scholarly books in Philosophy, Religion, Economics and Finance, Political Science. Abstracts and keywords aid searching and access to content. Institutions subscribe for unlimited multi-user access.

Thomson Gale Databases: Gain access to your institution's own Thomson Gale online reference and periodical resources, such as InfoTrac (including Onefile/Newspapers), Gale Virtual Reference Library (eBooks), The Times Digital Archive, ECCO and Resource Centers.

xreferplus: With over 120 books from over 20 publishers, xreferplus is the world's largest online reference service

4. It is a clean, quiet, well lit space with several nice places to sit. It is not a big library... everything is in a relatively small space... but I would feel comfortable going there to read or work if things were too hectic at home.

5. When you call about Agatha Christie you can ask about WiFi access, but I doubt it. They had three nice new Internet computers when I was there.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 18, 2005 2:43:23 PM

I pictured an old stone or brick edifice lined with thick Persian rugs... roaring fires in every grate... and overstuffed chairs tucked into little nooks under the conspiratorial glow of oriental reading lamps. I imagined retired British expats sitting around reading ironed copies of the latest newspapers from London

======== minus the ironed newspapers, that was the OLD British Council library in 'Bet Feigenbaum' on Rehov Haneviim (just near Rehov Hahabashim)in the '80's........

And if you get a chance to use the OED online - it's 'bout', not 'bought' !!! Sorry!

Posted by: Paul | Dec 18, 2005 3:20:48 PM

Paul... See, I always seem to arrive too late to the party! :-) And please don't apologize for correcting my atrocious spelling. You are in very good company and I don't mind a bit. Thanks.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 18, 2005 3:30:31 PM

knowing about the my history of admiring you from afar... you only elevated yourself in my eyes by teaching me a new phrase that will surely irritate and annoymy closest friends and family.. OK.. and Bob's your uncle! :)

Posted by: shabtai | Dec 18, 2005 3:47:33 PM

Paul - you answered my question. They used to have a beautiful old building with wonderful gardens.

David - "I assume the cookbook section is probably pretty thin"
Ha Ha Ha. Reminds me of an old Europe joke -

What is European Heaven?
English Policemen
French Chefs
Italian Designers
German Engineers

What is European Hell?
English Chefs
German Designers
French Engineers
Italian Policemen.

Yorkshire Pudding Rules.

Posted by: Lisoosh | Dec 18, 2005 4:22:35 PM

Welcome to the club, Old Chap.

You may yet find that there is no "catch" at all-prepare to be pleasantly surprised by the UK Film Industry and British Authors! (There's a reason it is called "English" Literature, y'know!)

Posted by: PP | Dec 18, 2005 5:18:01 PM

I heard it this way:

In heaven, the policemen are British, the chefs are French, the lovers are Italian, the engineers are German, and everything is run by the Swiss.

In hell, the policemen are German, the chefs are British, the lovers are Swiss, the engineers are French, and everything is run by the Italians.

Posted by: Sarah | Dec 18, 2005 5:22:48 PM

Sarah - either way British chefs = BAD.

But Yorkshire Puddings still rule.

Posted by: Lisoosh | Dec 18, 2005 5:41:41 PM

Shabtai... Just so you don't attribute bad behavior to me. I get enough grief from my wife for teaching the kids 'disgusting habits'.

Lisoosh... Ah, you've just earned yourself a dinner invitation for your next trip to Israel. I [heart] Yorkshire pudding, but my wife doesn't care for it.

PP... I got my degree in English Literature, but I have to admit that I barely scratched the surface. I'm looking forward to digging a bit deeper.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 18, 2005 6:47:38 PM

Your Terry Thomas impersonation is impeccable.

Posted by: scott | Dec 18, 2005 8:46:50 PM

David - It's best when made in muffin tins rather than the traditional roasting pan - fluffier that way and a lot like popovers.

Posted by: Lisoosh | Dec 18, 2005 8:58:53 PM

Scott... I'd need to use a crowbar on my front teeth to get the spacing right... but thanks. :-(=)

Lisoosh... That's exactly what I do. I got tired of getting a big crater in the center of the pudding so I picked up a nice cast-iron muffin tin. Works like a charm! Great minds and all that...

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 18, 2005 10:01:07 PM

Not ALL British Chefs are bad...Jamie Oliver, anyone?

Posted by: PP | Dec 19, 2005 12:31:14 PM

PP... I wasn't bashing English chefs, but rather English Cuisine. :-) And just so we're clear I was doing so in good fun. I enjoy many typical English dishes at home... Yorkshire pudding being just one example. I think British food gets a bad rap mostly because it is relatively bland beside French, Spanish or Italian cooking. But my wife can tell you I enjoy bland.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 19, 2005 12:51:08 PM

As a girl with a Grandmother from Yorkshire, I agree that Yorkshire pudding does indeed rule. Always use at least 2 eggs, (or one more than the recipe states at least) and use a muffin tin to make lots of little ones. These are so much nicer than making one huge one. Also, they aren't only delicious with gravy and meat juices. Try them with golden syrup at the end of the meal. Fantastytastic.

Posted by: siobhan | Dec 19, 2005 1:42:56 PM

Oh and Lisoosh, I would say that standard British food is appalling - I've always preferred food from any other culture rather that my own - but there are some really good British chefs apearing on TV here now, not least of which is Gordon Ramsey. Nigella Lawson is fabulous too, I've tried many recipes of hers and they've all worked brilliantly.

Posted by: siobhan | Dec 19, 2005 1:47:43 PM

Siobhan -
As a Scot I can personally attest to the uselessness of standard British "cuisine", when visiting my family my husband will only eat in foreign restaurants - Chinese, Indian because he says that at least they have taste.
The joke is about Brits in general, not about specific British chefs of which yes, there are a few.

And no jokes about Haggis. Haggis rules too.

Posted by: Lisoosh | Dec 19, 2005 3:32:10 PM

Siobhan... I wouldn't go so far as to serve them for dessert, but I could almost forget about the roast beef if the Yorkshire Pudding is in good form. I'll have to try the extra egg, thanks.

Lisoosh... Haggis????? [walks away making retching sound]

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 19, 2005 4:46:27 PM

My English comes to you courtesy of Lisbon's English Council. Seriously.

Posted by: Lioness | Dec 19, 2005 6:18:02 PM

Lioness... That justifies every penny of my membership dues! Any organization that is responsible for you having more perfect English than mine is a worthy cause indeed. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 20, 2005 12:24:30 AM

How can Yorkshire pudding ever be kosher? Isn't it made of flour and milk and roasted under a joint of beef? If you have a parev version please share.

Maybe we'll bump into each other in the British Council Library one day :)

Posted by: Simon | Dec 20, 2005 8:06:31 PM

Simon... I used to use the parve cream in place of milk, but once I forget to add it and I noticed it didn't suffer any ill effects.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 20, 2005 11:49:06 PM

The British Council sounds lovely and all, but I am really indebted to you for introducing me to the online UK slang dictionary. Simply smashing!

Posted by: mcaryeh | Dec 22, 2005 1:55:46 AM

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