The Bad Beginning

Many people have asked me how things are going in England, hoping to hear fabulous stories of our Second Grand Overseas Adventure (the first being our Japan junket). Sorry to disappoint, but I’m finding England to be simply dreadful.

I had a bad start, and very little that has happened here has made me want to stay. It’s probably a fine place to visit—especially if you have deep pockets—but I can sum up by saying that it’s too expensive for what you get. Where as in North America a common maxim of business is “under-promise and over-deliver,” the general rule of commerce here seems to be “overcharge and under-deliver.” In general the people are reactionary, materialistic, small-minded, insular, xenophobic, and obsessed with class. I much preferred Japan.

I was going to tell a few stories first, and get to the complaints about housing later, but this piece of writing seems to have a different idea. The stories, which will follow at a later time, may or may not be about our former landlady. And even though they’re fiction, I really shouldn’t post them yet since we still have a few outstanding issues to resolve with her. For now, please forget that I said anything about stories—and you can permanently forget that I said anything about the stories having anything to do with our former landlady, because they’re fiction—and get ready for some housing complaints.

Our initial housing situation was terrible, being a cottage that was remote, cluttered, damp, moldy, and home to an assortment of noxious critters. Add to this the coal smoke seeping through from the adjoining cottage, the frequent, though irregular 10-minute bursts of drumming coming from the same cottage at any hour of the day or night, and the English winter—this region is considered to be part of the English Riviera, which means it’s only cold, grey, and damp, without the snow—and you can imagine my discontent. Happily, we’ve moved to more a more pleasant location and things are looking up.

Coal smoke you say? I, too, was quite surprised to find out that coal is still a common fuel for people to heat their homes in winter. Luckily, our dismal former cottage had gas-heated radiators, though the radiators had idiosyncracies of their own. Our new place has fully functional heating that is mostly sans idiosyncracies. But we do live across the road from a coal yard.

As for the drummer, I once described his ability to keep a beat as resembling the rhythm I imagine a Fremen’s footsteps would make crossing the Arrakis desert. For those of you who haven’t read Frank Herbert’s Dune series of science fiction books, Arrakis is a desert planet inhabited by giant worms who live in the desert sand. These worms are attracted to steady, rhythmic sounds—for example people walking through the desert—and generally prove fatal to those who fail to introduce randomness into their footsteps. Dune is an excellent series of books, though I think it has a bit of a slow start. Arrakis is part of an interplanetary empire, the only source of a substance called “spice,” a drug which enables easy space travel. The governance of Arrakis—and hence the right to mine the spice—is given out by Imperial decree as is politically expedient. Of course there are freedom fighters on Arrakis—insurgents, if you will—as well as a certain amount of Messianism and of course a great deal of bloodshed. There may be something in the plot about the overextended empire being unable to adequately cope with the insurgents, and eventually being brought to its knees, but that might just be me projecting current events into a story I read a long time ago. Dune was also made into a motion picture in the 1980s, directed by David Lynch. And much as I like Lynch, I think Dune is much too complex to be done in a single Hollywood movie. I haven’t seen the later 5-part miniseries that was made by a different director otherwise I’m sure I’d have something to say about it.

But I digress. I’m planning to complain write about our location some other time—it’s a long story that I’ve already started a draft of—but I can’t mention critters without describing them, can I? We’ll go chronologically.

Imagine that you’ve recently arrived in England after 30-odd hours of planes, airport lounges, staging areas, train stations, trains, and taxis, disappointed that the place you’ve signed a 6-month lease for is inconveniently located. It smells damp and mildewy, you’re jet-lagged so you can’t sleep. Having lived in Japan, you generally don’t wear shoes or slippers in the house, and, in fact, the landlady has forbidden the English custom of wearing outside footwear inside the cottage. At two in the morning, after hours of futile attempts to fall asleep, you tiptoe barefoot down the stairs so as not to wake those who are able to sleep. The fixture in the hallway is luminous enough that you don’t need to blind yourself again by turning on the kitchen lights. You step down onto the floor tiles to reach for a water glass and… squish. Something slimy underfoot. You hit the light switch, and when your eyes have adjusted, you discover six or seven variously-sized grey, shiny blobs on the floor. Plus the partially-flattened shiny grey disk that had the misfortune of placing itself under your sockless foot. Ranging in size from half an inch up to about three inches in length, these are not the large, bumpy, colourful, and friendly-looking specimens that you remember from the days of your childhood camping trip in the interior of southern British Columbia. No, these resemble nothing less than oozing, monochromatic, semi-motile dollops of something out of an Iron Chef’s nightmare, where the theme ingredient is “gelatinous substances found on the viscera of diseased elephants, brined, and then soaked in aqua vitae for seven years before being reanimated via fiendish techniques developed by Bobby Flay better left to the imagination.” Yes, the kitchen is infested with slugs. Ugly, grey, common British garden slugs. Absent by day, they invade when the lights are out.

Oh dear, I seem to have run out of time. I’ll have to write about the other creatures next time.

One thought on “The Bad Beginning

  1. Ah the long lost Ed and Lia!
    I’m sorry to hear that England isn’t quite what you expected…although I can’t believe the housing situation could be that much worse the the kyoshokuin jutakus?
    Mark and I are in the planning stages of the big jump right now and I’m trying not panic at the thought of returning sans-job….however,the next time I’m doubled over in a stress-induced panic attack and wheezing into a paper bag I’ll remind myself that there aren’t any slugs in my kitchen…heheh, I suppose it could be worse…..
    -Carol

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