Saturday, January 21, 2012

Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life

When we desire an adventure, we get an adventure, apparently.

We arrived in a town of North Essex, an area of southern England, south east of London, after being awake for nearly 24 hours. We lucked out on both flights, the first flight arrived an hour early to Chicago -O`Hare Airport after catching a mad tailwind, and the second arrived well over 30 minutes before it's scheduled arrival time to London-Heathrow.  Roughly an hour and a half after meeting a friend of the family for ride, we were dropped off at James flat, a split-level structure; a condo which is what is called a flat in England (same goes for apartments).

A chilly rain had set in, and as we got into the flat James realized there was no heat and no electric, so despite not having slept in a over a day, we walked into town, a roughly 25 minute walk one way, where we put money on the gas card. It's not uncommon for gas service to be prepaid and activated with a card in England, money being deposited on a card the size of a credit card, which is then slid into the meter when gas is needed.

We walked around town, despite the drizzle, James pointing out all the little shops that are his favourite, buying some apples, bananas, instant coffee, eggs, bread and a butter "spread", and about four hours later we arrived back at the flat. As James made several attempts to get the pilot lit on the boiler, to get the heat started, I set out about the flat finding candles to bring to the bedroom, since not only would the candles provide some light, particularly after I set them in front of a mirror I had found in the bathroom, but with the door closed to the bedroom the candles would put off at least a bit of heat for the night, handy since it looked like we not going to have heat for the night.

It wasn't particularly cold outside, but the flat had been sat empty for nearly four months now, and so it was frigid and damp. I crawled under the available blankets we had placed on the mattress that had been left on the floor of the bedroom, my legs and back aching from the usual physical problems, travel and the cold; while James continued to work on the pilot light, watching my breath hang in the air, a fog backlit by candle light. It reminded me of childhood. 

Our home until we were thirteen year old, growing up on a farm outside a small town in the northern part of the United States, was heated in the winter primarily by a wood cook stove, not having enough family income to use fuel all winter long. At night the fire was sometimes left to burn out, and the house, poorly insulated, would become a deep freeze. Literally. We can recall on several occasion waking up to a frozen glass of water on the night stand, after falling asleep wearing a winter jacket, mittens and knitted cap to bed to stay warm. Who knew that such a thing would have prepared us for a trip to Europe over 20 years later.

We are lucky to being with though, having a place to stay at all right now.

James flat had been for sale for months, and he had finally gotten a buyer the weeks leading up to joining us in North America in September. The foreign buyer had told him he could leave things in the flat as-is and he would clean it up after the sale, but the lawyer has been lazy completing the paperwork, and four months later the flat sale still has not been completed; so at least we have a place to stay, with a bed, a stove, running water, and a small amount of house wares, in the meantime, that is free (aside from the heat and electric, once it is in working order) and private.

James managed to get the stove top lit, but was not able to find the key for the electric. In England the electricity is activated by using a key provided by the electric company, a key that James no longer had wince the box had been changed after he moved out. Electricity, by the way, is what powers the boiler, so there was no heat for the first night and morning at all, meaning no hot water either. 

The flat was short on blankets last night, it was hard to locate the heaviest one in the near darkness, but luckily James had the smarts to bring a hot water bottle in his luggage, and he actually enjoys cuddling (even when we don't), so he was not at all upset later when we had to lay close to share body heat.

While we snuggled with the hot water bottle, and tried to warm up James side of the bed a little with it, the blankets pulled up over our nose, James set out to find some of the food he had remaining in the flat. I had found a jar of red sauce earlier and he remembered a large bag of pasta somewhere in the kitchen, and so he made a bit of dinner.

As we huddled on the bed next to James, sharing a bowl of spiral pasta  with a light Bolognese sauce, we joked with him how we were lucky we had allowed Cassandra to gain us 10-15 pounds over the last few months because had we been the weight we were last year this time, we would have been far worse off in trying to get our body to create and maintain any sort of body heat. 

James, of course, was, and is, upset. He wanted us to have a great first day. We tried to make light of the situation, both because we didn't want him to feel bad, and also because we're tough, and sure it was uncomfortable, but most of us are not a princess.

"At least it will be memorable" I beamed at him, poking him in the face with my finger lovingly.

We went to sleep fairly early, and awoke around midnight. James had just woken up and he was worried and fretting, holding him tightly I said reassuring things to him in attempt to calm him. Not really that tired he grabbed a nearby candle and picked up where he had left off reading to us on the plane from a book called The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

We managed to get sleepy after a couple of chapters and fell asleep wrapped in James arms. Waking this morning mostly refreshed from sleep but not at all anxious to crawl from beneath the blankets, warm with a night of body heat, we felt slightly less optimistic, but resolved to a good mood.

Finally after an hour we managed to crawl out of bed, sponge wash with a cloth and water boiled on the stove, and for breakfast instant coffee and an apple we had purchased last night from an outdoor market. Outdoor markets are an occurrence in many towns, nearly three times a week you can buy any number of types of goods from small stalls set up along the street; the fruit and vegetable rival grocery store produce prices.

We walked into town today, passing swans bathing in a stream, and an old Roman castle, the sun made a brief appearance lighting up the splendid Europe architecture and the green all over the town. Its winter in England, which means the leaves have all fallen from the trees, but the grass remains vibrant, and many of the tree trunks are covered in thin layer of moss. As soon as we are settled a bit more we plan to spend several days photographing the city.

We went to the library, passing several types of shops on the old cobbled roads of the inner town. The bakeries smell intoxicating, the restaurants beckon. It will be several weeks before we can afford to allow ourselves a treat, but we have already started a wish-list. There are no malls here; no giant box stores; though there is a Staples store and a McDonalds along the “big drag” which is a heavily used roadway only one lane wide (wide being an exaggeration in Europe when talking about a street or road of any sort in a town or city) in each direction, most other chain restaurants and stores are few and small, and wedged between locally owned specialty stores each unique in it's own right. 

We came to the library today because we were not able to write at the flat, the electricity should be turned on this evening so we can write from our laptop, and we may have internet access via tethering from a cell phone later, but who can be sure.

We could just keep writing. There's so much to say, about the beauty of this place, the 
interesting sights, the expensive prices, the worry we have looking at the next four months here,  particularly after the flat sale is final, and the fears we have if James doesn't find a job fast enough, but there is plenty of time for that, and we're anxious to go see if the electricity will work, there's no 100% guarantee.

Meanwhile, the British seem to have a poor concept of whispering, at least at this library, it’s pissing us off nicely - James said we are free to tell them to shut up, but we're not ready to let everyone know we're not "one of them", though you can tell just by looking at us. Something about the way the English look is very..."English". They also pay little attention to the people around them when they walk, which honestly is not uncommon of most American either - lacking awareness of their surrounds. 

Observing the locals, and listening to them interact with each other, is great; they all have thicker "more British" accents than James, and it's like being in a British film. We are constantly giggle silently to ourselves. Now where is Simon Peg?

~ Frank & et al

Please note, for the time being our travel entries will be written here, and copied to our other blog, Our Frank Adventures, where eventually all of the entries regarding our travel adventures for the next 12 or more months will be solely be entered.

1 comment:

  1. I love it! My kid & I are moving back to the UK in a few months & most of the things you describe are what I'm expecting our first few days, even months to be like. I'm glad you're all enjoying the adventure xx