n blacktop. The stuff that covers roads. Perhaps you’d like to hear some road-making history? Hmm? Or perhaps not. Perhaps you’re sitting in bed naked, waiting for your husband to finish in the shower. Perhaps you’re on a train in a strange foreign country, hoping that this stupid book was going to be much more of a tour guide than it turned out to be. Perhaps you’re having a shit. Well, bucko, whatever you’re doing you’re stuck now, and so you’re going to hear a little bit of road-making history. A long time ago, a Scotsman named John Loudon Macadam invented a way of surfacing roads with gravel, this coating being known as “Macadam” – a term also used in the U.S. “What happens when the road aged?,” I hear you say. Well, I’m so glad you asked. Unfortunately as the road aged the gravel tended to grind to dust and so it was coated with a layer of tar – this being “Tar-Macadam,” which was concatenated to tarmac. Somewhere in the mists of time the Americans ended up using this only to describe airport runways, but the Brits still use it to describe the road surface.
n pop-up camper. A sort of folding-up caravan. It starts off as an average-sized trailer and then unfolds into a sort of crappy shed when you reach a campsite.
n streetcar; trolley. A device very much like a train except it generally runs on tracks built on top of normal roads and is often powered electrically by high-strung cables (I mean ones on poles, not ones of an excitable disposition). Trams are making something of a comeback in Europe generally, with new systems springing up in the U.K.
n the London Underground railway. Londoners are clearly not as inspired as Glaswegians, who call theirs the “Clockwork Orange.” In the U.S., these sorts of rail systems are known as “subways” which, no doubt in order to cause confusion, is what the Brits call the walkways which go underneath roads, where tramps live and drunk people urinate.
n tire. The black rubber things around the wheels of your car. The British spelling in this particular instance is, well, curious.
n subway (specifically underground railway): There’s an underground station two minutes from my house.
n shoulder. The edge of the road, populated by hitch-hikers, frogs and children urinating. That’s “frogs” and “children urinating,” not “(frogs and children) urinating.” Glad I could clear that up. Let me know if you have any other questions.
1 n windshield (of a car). 2 n one of those things that you put up on a beach that stops the sand from blowing in and stops those inside from noticing that the tide is coming in.
n fender. The metal part of a car that covers the front wheel and joins onto the bonnet. Perhaps it derives from the time when cars were made which could fly.
n the black-and-white striped pathways drawn across roads where pedestrians have right of way and motorists have to stop if anyone is waiting by them. The phrase has been slightly usurped by the less exciting term “pedestrian crossing.” While this very concept of “it’s alright, on you go, the cars all have to stop” is dangerous enough, a great deal of them are positioned straight after roundabouts where motorists are least likely to be ready for them. I swear these things are part of some sort of population control policy. To make them marginally easier to see, some of them are marked with Belisha Beacons.