Oct 7, 2021

Transportation Management

 Me: "...I think we can still fit a kitchen island even if we put a fridge against the wall. No, the bigger problem is that right now we're used to just walking diagonally across this open space to get to the utility room."

She demonstrates.

Me: "With an island, we're going to have to go along like this, and then turn and go along like that."

She demonstrates.


TH: "Well...we're always crashing into each other coming and going from the utility room anyway. This might help."

His eyes light up.

TH: "We can use it for you to practice roundabouts!"

Me: "I..err...um. Really? Do you think that might actually work? I'll try anything."

TH: "We'd have to make it realistic. We'd have to make "brrrrum brrrrum" noises. Obviously."

Oct 6, 2021

Week Four (-ish)

 I know that a lot of people enjoy fixing up their house and making every little decor decision.

I am not one of them.

For more than a couple of weeks now, my days have consisted of waking up when the primary school next door opens, taping, primer-ing, or painting (or repainting) sections of cabinetry, making microwave meals, going for a walk, and then going to bed. For spice, we've thrown in pondering kitchen hardware (pewter effect? cast iron? How many of these buggers do we need, anyway, and what's the most non-horrible thing we can afford that many of?) and staring at two-inch flooring samples and trying to extrapolate that to a living room. 

I'm going nuts.

I don't actually have a sense of progress, because for every cabinet gained, we (for instance) discover that the reason there's no outlet near where we wanted to put the fridge is because there are no wires in that wall whatsoever because there's a massive chimney on the other side of it. Or that there's unidentified ugly cabling coming in from outside that we almost certainly don't want, but it's well and truly buried until ancient layers of paint. Or (but you get the idea).

I do like relaxing in the one mostly-usable room, the conservatory and looking out over the garden. There is a resident army of fat pigeons (not mangy city pigeons; these are the country version that look more like doves, or, at least, clean). Every day, they move methodically across our large lawn, pecking for insects, usually creeping in straight lines all in the same direction, looking remarkably like gardeners crouching over lawn scissors on the manicured green pelts in the tony suburbs of Bangkok. Several times a day, they'll all take wing as a group (side note: I really do think that British birds are louder. They all take off with that thunderous noise I associate with pheasants; even the pigeons. I have no idea why this would be.) and I'll see one of the three cats who claim our yard try to pretend it meant to simply scare, and not catch, the birds.

But, alas, that's the extent of our wildlife. It was an unexpected bonus of the house in Bristol -- with its yard a twentieth of what we have now -- that it had such a diverse abundance of birds and animals. I'm not even remotely a birder, but it was exciting to see so many unfamiliar types, and even a gorgeous goldfinch a few times. Just pigeons here. At a mile from the sea, there are even fewer seagulls than in Bristol, which I suspect has less to do with distance to the water than density of dropped french fries. (And Bristol seagulls are infamous for not waiting until they're dropped.)

Worst of all, I have yet to see a fox. One of my few pleasures of lockdown was to go for a stroll after about 9 at night. Not only was the city deserted ("city," hmpf), but you walked through a magical cinnabar sea of foxes dashing, darting, parting ahead and behind you, dissolving impossibly under gates and through dense hedges. 

Or boldly strutting in the middle of the street and sitting, studying me, from a foot away, if they were "our" foxes, bless them. We had a litter of pups born in the garden last spring, and not only were they the cutest things on the planet, but it was incredibly gratifying how safe they felt in our space. I'd leave fresh water (and, okay, sometimes cat treats) for them outside our glass patio doors, and they quickly learned it was fine to take a break from wrestling each other while laughing and giggling -- yes, foxes laugh and giggle -- pop up the stairs, and have some refreshments, even if I was standing immediately on the other side. I was worried about teaching them that people are safe, but foxes are scary-smart. They can distinguish individuals and they knew who was leaving the kibble -- they would only approach if I was alone, not with TH. They weren't pets, but we had a rapport. (More than that, TH's colleagues in town complained about rat infestations over the summer. Our garden was kept meticulously rat-free.)

I've gone for walks after dark here, and even detoured through garden allotments, hoping to get my fox fix, but not a single glimpse. I understand that out in the countryside, when they actually have the option, foxes choose to live far from people. I can hardly blame them -- it's a big part of the reason we moved, too. But I miss them intensely and didn't realize how much they improved my world until they were gone.

Sep 20, 2021

Landed and Leisured

It's the end (and a bit) of week three. I meant to notate each week of the move, but my sense of time, already hanging by a thread from the pandemic, has been obliterated. These weeks have taken about a year.

The move went...pretty smoothly, I guess, for something violating the space-time continuum. We got the key on Aug 26th, and spent the day just marveling at how much bigger the cottage got with all the sellers' stuff out of it (space-time has had a rough week all around). We also marveled at all the things you don't notice even on multiple visits to a property. Like: that nearby freeway (motorway)? Pretty damn loud! That ugly kitchen floor that I had remembered as easily-replaceable lino? In fact, not-at-all-easily-replaceable tile. Carpets? Threadbare, and more stained than not, with...what is that, incontinent Labrador? The sellers, bless their hearts, not only failed to leave any sort of cheery note, but left us perhaps two decades' worth of sticky, smelly crud, crumbling paint, and cobwebs on every horizontal and vertical surface

It didn't take long to realize (verified by the shoeboxes of cryptic receipts left in the kitchen) that nothing in the house has been maintained for at least ten years. All the exterior doors are crumbling and reveal large patches of blue sky through their holes and cracks; opening most of them caused the door handle to come off in our hands; the dishwasher spat out the detergent and refused to continue; fiddling around with it caused the entire baseboard to come off.

More urgently, they didn't leave us the key to the garage, where I'd planned to stash all my stuff arriving from the US the next day. We considered trying to get a locksmith, but my experience with the UK suggested there probably wasn't any such thing as an emergency locksmith, and, even if there happened to be, we couldn't afford them.

As a change of plans, all my stuff went into the outbuilding we'd planned to use as my office, and, because I wasn't supervising the movers so much as running around trying to identify and pull out chairs so that we could host the cluster of ten in-laws who'd announced they were descending on us the next day to "help," the team managed to completely fill the entire outbuilding in the least efficient stacking job possible.

Which meant, in turn, that when we moved TH's stuff out of Bristol on the 28th, it all had to go in the house. But since we had determined on the first day that all carpets have to be pulled up and replaced with basically anything at the earliest possible opportunity (and learned shortly thereafter, after visiting several flooring places on the afternoon of the 27th, that the earliest opportunity might not roll around until Christmas or later), all his stuff had to be stacked in the few rooms that won't be affected by the flooring diktat.

All of which is to say that it's felt like camping for the last three weeks. There is SO MUCH that needs doing that I've unproductively spent entire days just walking from room to room and feeling overwhelmed and despairing and panicking as the anticipated costs grow and grow. I started huge projects, like contact-papering every interior cabinet surface of the large kitchen, and then realized how time-consuming and expensive they would be and abandoned them. We spoke tentatively to each other about whether we'd made a huge mistake, whether it would even be possible to just turn around and re-sell and whether that might in fact be a good idea. The obstacles piled up: we sort-of got internet working, although the router could barely push it through the eight-inch walls, and then the provider shut it down again, bizarrely claiming we'd cancelled it; the conservatory roof leaked; the macerator toilet in the ensuite (and if you're lucky enough not to know what that is -- the macerator I mean; not an ensuite -- don't ask) started roaring to life at odd intervals throughout the day and night. 

A few days ago, while TH was at work, I had a bit of a breakdown -- not collapsing inward into inert depression, as per usual, but raging outward in a wild burst of energy. I set up the conservatory, stacking all remaining boxes high on the periphery and dragging in a sofa and bookshelves and other furnishings, and completely filling the bookcases, and, basically, creating a cozy space that (as long as you didn't look towards the boxes) didn't feel like camping at all.

And, oddly, that was the turning point. I cut a million corners in setting up that room -- I didn't scrub down the walls or remove picture hooks, or any of the other things we agreed would be our procedure. With that new paradigm in mind, we've tackled the kitchen with renewed vigor -- cabinet interiors will be covered in primer rather than contact paper; the countertop won't be replaced until much later if ever; and so on. "Good enough" is our new rallying cry.

The things we were sure would be issues haven't been. The choir loft stairs are odd but not so bad. The public footpaths that ring the property have been almost silent. So, yeah, we completely failed to get an accurate read on what to expect, but we (knock on grimy, sticky wood) seem to be coming to an end of the "discovery" period. Sure, our to-do list runs to twelve single-spaced pages, even with our more relaxed guiding ethos, but there's a bit of momentum (and a new and functioning mesh network, and dishwasher). We walked down to the beach at sunset today, and returned just as the darkness was gathering. We'd left a light on, and it was glowing warmly out from the small window underneath the huge overhanging wisteria (note to self: see if the hedge-trimming guys can also give the wisteria an autumn cut-back). "It's a sweet little cottage, isn't it?" I asked TH, and he agreed. Of course, it isn't -- yet. But, I think -- perhaps -- we're starting to reach the point where we see what it might become.

Sep 8, 2021

It's the Little Things

 At an otherwise very nice, extremely well-organized and COVID-sensible choir, the lady at reception asked for my surname, and then: "Christian name?"

First name, sure. Forename, yup. Given name, fine. Christian name? Really? Do Jews have those? I hesitated, which must have seemed weird from her perspective, because who has to pause on that question? I'm 100% sure nothing ill or exclusionary was meant by it, and I recovered from being thrown off balance, and all was well, but, yeah, just that vertiginous little moment of "whoa....".

Aug 22, 2021


The Forth Bridge Experience - Network Rail

Not terribly long ago, I read something disturbing on Twitter, and couldn't believe it was right.

"Hey," I called out to TH, "if I said, 'I'm quite happy,' does that mean I'm somewhat happy, or I'm really especially happy?"

"Somewhat happy," he called back, without hesitation.

It was the quite unhappy end of certainty, for me. As at least half of my two regular readers don't appear to be American, let me explain: in American, it means really, especially happy.

For those of us using English 2.0, "quite" is a simple intensifier: it always means "very much so." Someone who is quite pretty is prettier than someone who is merely pretty. If I'm quite full, I'm stuffed.

In English 1.0? It's complicated. Apparently, a man who is pretty gets more dates than one who is quite pretty, and if you're quite full, there's room for ice cream. But, wait! Something that's already "at max" ("like what?" "Um, I don't know; 'gorgeous'?") behaves more like English 2.0 -- quite gorgeous is more luminescent than gorgeous. It's quite tricky.

What makes me lose sleep is the thought: I never would have known. I mean, we're mutually intelligible enough, that a nuance like this might have permanently eluded us, while yet keeping us at slightly cross-purposes. Insomniac thought #1: Review all past mental tapes of relationship conversations. Was he "quite" happy? Insomniac thought #2: What other unexploded linguistic mines are out there?

My old undergraduate friend Willard Van O. postulated that translation was fundamentally undetermined. If you were an anthropologist among a remote tribe, and your interlocutor pointed to a rabbit and said "Gavagai," would that mean rabbit? Maybe. It also might mean "rabbithood," or "the name of Lucy's pet," or "eww, don't eat that." Reference is inscrutable, lacking an omniscient external dictionary. We can take our best guess, but we'll never really, truly know.

This sort of thing actually comes up more often than you'd expect in our relationship. English 1.0 and 2.0, often presumed to be coextensive, are probably not in fact more than about 85% overlapping, in my experience. Ambiguity is common enough that I often just try to get it from context rather than tiresomely ask for clarification and definitions (though I now do random spot checks far more often than I used to, post-"quite": "So, when you say 'x,' you mean...'"). We talk often enough, and at enough length, that I'm generally pretty certain that I'm able to fill in any gaps with gleaned background. How certain? Quite confident, let's say.

One expression TH is fond of using in speech is "painting the fourth bridge." I didn't know it, but, yeah, got it. Rather cute. Sure, let's say you have three bridges, Each one needs to be painted in turn, so that by the time you finish painting the third, the first needs painting again. It's the fourth bridge. So, you paint the first, but now the second of the three has its turn to be re-painted -- in essence, it's become the fourth. Try as you might, you can never, ever paint the fourth bridge. Quaint, but wise.

I'm listening to a good audiobook at the moment, a series of lectures on Victorian England. They're not deeply scholarly, but brimming with interesting connections and little facts I didn't know. The one on architecture, for example, talks about the River Forth, in Scotland. Bridges over it kept falling down, until the Victorians put up a really over-built one. It's hugely big, apparently. Hard to paint.

Aug 6, 2021

Three Weeks

Until we move into our new home in Clevedon! (Oh, was that context missing in previous posts? It's not like I re-read any of them.)

Time is currently both glacial (threeeee whooooole weeeeks) and insignificant (must pack up whole house! Reserve van! Execute nimble maneuvers with utility companies who act like no one has ever moved before in the history of England!). It's also a highly anxious time: it's unusual for the timing of a purchase to slip once contracts have been exchanged, but it was also unusual for our last purchase to fall through (which I would explain here, but I'm still not certain I understand it myself). 

Also, our landlord is being a dick and is unwilling to wait two weeks to show the house until we're out of there. This would be aggravating during normal times, but the idea of seeding our tiny space with dozens of potentially infectious individuals during a time of uncontrolled delta variant spread in this city, when both our vaccinations are old enough to be waning (and mine was the fairly feckless AstraZeneca to start with), and I've been carefully avoiding indoor venues for over a year...well, it's not something I'm taking lightly. And, while it's cortisol-raising, there's part of me that's delighting in being the worst nightmare of the patronizing and arrogant little boy running the estate agency the landlord uses. I have no particular animus against realtors in the US, but it's amazing the difference it makes not to license a field or require any knowledge or qualifications. Two years of UK house-hunting have led to the inescapable conclusion that estate agents here range from unhelpfully mendacious scum to slightly less than utterly appalling. (Your mileage may vary, but probably won't.)

I have keen memories of crying for a week after I bought my last house in Virginia (what have I done?), and I'm just fervently hoping that might have been more a function of, ahem, other factors that are not part of the current decision framework (who have I bought this house with?**)

We're both trying to manage expectations: yes, the new house is ringed with public footpaths, meaning that we'll hear people walking by at all hours. Yes, the freeway is disconcertingly close, and, while the noise isn't too bad during the day (masked, no doubt, by the screaming children from the primary school next door; sigh), it remains to be seen what that sounds like at 3 AM. (Probably not very different than my apartment above the Long Island Expressway in NYC, and that was not a fun time.) And, yes, this was the very best thing we could find in our price range after two years of active house-hunting. I mean, other than the place we saw on our very first day of looking and quite reasonably discounted because it was our very first day of looking.

It's been a long, strange journey, and it's hard to trust that it might be wrapping up soon.

**I jest. The funding for the Virginia house was 100% mine; there was no "with"in any meaningful sense other than physical presence. And yes, that was a very large part of the problem, as things turned out.

Aug 3, 2021

Tap, Tap, Tappity Tap

 Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

Retiring? Is hard. Moving to a foreign country? Is hard. Weathering a pandemic? Is hard. Retiring, moving to a foreign country during -- well, you get the idea.

Also, writing? Nearly impossible.

Not to mention, the blog just doesn't know what it wants to be when it grows up: collection of funny language mishaps? A deeper diary of re-enculturation? Brysonesque musings? Shower thoughts? Political screeds? And do I need to change the name, now that I'm moving out of Bristol? I have questions.

But I'm unexpectedly tickled by the blog analytics, deliberately crude as they are (because I'm supposed to be writing this for me, not you). Hej and bonjour, sudden influx from Sweden and France! Who are you, and why are here? (But, welcome.) None of you seem to be coming back, mind, but that's probably on me.

So, I promise: I'll do better, or, at least, differently. Probably with elements of all of the above, at least until things settle into a rhythm. And I'm likely not going to change the name.

Apr 20, 2021

Medical Anthropology

No picture on this one, for reasons that will become obvious...

I was (embarrassing number of years old) before I realized -- I mean, really had it sink in -- that perhaps the US didn't have the best everything on the planet. I think this is normal for most people, and I think it's especially normal when it comes to medical systems. I mean, those are thoroughly grounded in science, aren't they? And science is universal -- so of course they should all be identical, and, if they're not, ours is right. Right?

In rural Thailand, there are livestock roaming the hospital, and if your visiting bipolar friend needs Lithium because he's about to run out, you just walk around until you find a bored 20-something doctor playing games on her phone and ask for it, and she'll consider for a minute and decide writing a script is less effort than arguing with you, and do it.

In Mumbai, the doctors ask whether you're veg or non-veg (this doesn't seem like such a bad practice, honestly). At a routine gyn visit, when the doctor learned that I was unmarried, he told me he would only do an external exam. When my 30-something self burst out laughing, he spent the rest of the exam silently but strongly radiating the accusation that I was the Whore of Babylon.

In England, you get a letter in the post inviting you for a flu shot, or for your pap smear, or for whatever else you ought to be having done. I like this a lot, because I can never remember when I'm supposed to get routine care, and always feel like I'm bothering an over-burdened system to go in for something that isn't an emergency. Getting a friendly written invitation is very civilized.

I really didn't want a pap test, not least because they're called "cervical screenings" here, and that's pronounced (per TH) "cer-VYE-cal," and I wasn't sure which was worse, to obstinately call it "CER-vicle," or to refer to it as a "pap smear" if that's not a meaningful term here. But I was overdue for one even before accidentally moving to another country a year ago, and, anyway, like everyone else, I've heard horror stories about the NHS. Might as well get on the wait list and deal with the appointment six months from now. "Of course," the friendly receptionist said, when I phoned on Monday (asking for the cer-VYE-cal screening; social anxiety trumps standards). "How about Wednesday?" "THIS Wednesday?" I sputtered.

So, Wednesday I strolled to the medical center that's a mile down the road (everyone is assigned to their nearest, though you have some scope to change that if you want). I presented myself to reception, and waited for the clipboard. You know, with the ten pages of stuff about insurance and billing and family history and HIPAA and everything else. There was no clipboard. I had brought every form of British ID that I've diligently acquired: my residence permit, my learner's driver's license, my NHS number, my US passport. They did not ask for a single piece of ID. (I was upset about that later, and raised it with TH as a serious flaw in the system. "Who'd want to take your pap smear in place of you?" he laughed. "Well, of course, someone who doesn't have their own insur....oh." I said.

I waited perhaps five minutes before a TV screen invited me to proceed to an exam room. I hate not knowing the protocol in a given situation, and I had interrogated TH before I left for the appointment: when I go to the exam room, do I immediately take my pants off? "Er, perhaps best to wait for the nurse and make sure you're in the right room," he advised.

The room was not the standard US doctor's office room: you know, aggressively sterile, full of aluminum countertops and jars of prodding instruments and swabs, and posters on the wall of the interiors of bodily cavities, and perhaps some unidentifiable large equipment that vaguely suggests that some unknown percentage of people who have previously visited these rooms has suffered abrupt deterioration necessitating immediate, heroic, and very expensive technologically-assisted intervention. I also truly hate those kinds of rooms. This was a clean and practical space, but it was also clearly a former residential house. It did not cause my blood pressure to spike in the way that those hyper-clinical sani-rooms do. ("Medical theatre," TH sniffed, when I told him about this later. "You're paying for the experience, and the customer wants to see value for money. They want all the swabs on the counter.")

The nurse was slightly nervous (not surprising, as my file probably said "is au fait with worms" and not much else), but extremely warm and chatty, and completely unhurried. We talked through things, I confirmed I was in the right exam room and dropped trou, and we proceeded with what was a fairly familiar routine. (No stirrups, though -- they don't have them here. And why on earth would anyone, really?) I was out the door a leisurely 20 minutes or so later, not having had to return to reception. 

You know that thing, where you wait for weeks for a bill from your insurance company, and then have to decipher all the codes, and then check they did it correctly (one time I was billed for, I shit you not, my son's circumcision. For those who don't know me: I don't have any children), and then a few weeks later you get a bill -- or two; you never know how they're going to divvy it up -- for labwork, and you just have to hope the lab the doctor chose was in-network? And then even if they are, you have to create a login on the medical center's website and submit your copay and then set a reminder to log in a few weeks later to make sure there's nothing left after everyone has allegedly paid? There won't be any bills whatsoever here. (After all, they invited me.) The entire experience was 100% paperwork-free, aside from that initial letter, from start to finish.

Anthropologists aren't supposed to be prescriptive: "right" and "wrong" are culture-bound and relative, and meaningless across different belief-systems. I'm not an anthropologist, though, so I'm just going to say it: Yeah. This is the right way to do medical care.

Apr 9, 2021

A Conservatory Is Not A Grilled Cheese Sandwich

 First - yeah, okay; it's painful keeping a vein open, which is what this blog is supposed to be, and, I guess, why everybody doesn't just do it. I'd entered a script contest, working extremely long and hard on my submission, instead of waiting until the last minute and dashing it off like I usually do (which also confers the benefit of being able to say, "yeah, but I dashed it off -- the real victory is in finishing it at all"). And, of course, I still didn't win. Perhaps it was because it was a series of submission windows, and I waited until the last one, and they reported far more entries in the final window, and it would've won in a previous one. Perhaps it was because it was a British contest and a US-set script. Perhaps it was because the fashion these days is for bold, impressionistic, and emotionally raw pages, and mine was a coldly cerebral little thing, full of wordplay and burning questions of interest to anyone with a passing fancy in semiotics. Or perhaps it just stunk. I don't know, and, more annoyingly, I'll never know. What I do know -- honest -- is that writers much better than me shrug off a hundred rejections before landing anything. The problem is, there's a huge gulf between knowing that and feeling each failure as a visceral gut-punch that causes you to take a month(-ish) off from writing with a good sulking wallow in the mire of self-pity. Fail again, fail better, blah blah blah; I'm back.

Second -- a conservatory, I had to learn, is not someplace like Peabody or Oberlin, where musicians hone their craft. It's a pretty glass room that is unfortunately often too cold in winter and too hot (briefly) in summer to be useable, and furthermore, as sniffed at me by a realtor (estate agent) evidently more interested in establishing our places in a hierarchy than selling a house, is terribly middle-class. I don't care; I like them. Do we have a name for them in American? Sun rooms, maybe? They're much cheaper to add to a house than they are in the US, probably because they're so common (in every sense of that word, I'm now educated to report). And they aren't really sun rooms, because there's not much here in the way of sun. But in a place where it's generally too cold or rainy to sit out in the yard (sorry: garden. There are no yards here outside prison. And "garden" is a much nicer word.), I like the thought of bundling up in sweaters (jumpers. Again, adopted without objection) and blankets on a couch in the conservatory and listening to the rain as I write. So, I've been assessing the conservatory potential on every house we've viewed, much to the dismay of most estate agents. Crass Americans. (What, you might reasonably ask, do they call places like Peabody and Oberlin? Conservatoires, apparently, but I use circumlocutions when the rare ostensive need arises, because I just can't.)

Third -- the grilled cheese. The picture above is of the extremely well-regulated Finzel's Reach Friday market, which employs a one-way system, socially distanced queues (li-- oh, c'mon; you can get some of these from context), and a gilet-jaune to enforce everything. Weirdly, on Saturdays, Harbour Market, about 100 yards away, is an undistanced and mobbed super-spreading madhouse. Choose your covid-theatre performance wisely. The reason we're getting to know the various street markets is due to TH's enthusiastic conversion from "you want me to pay £6 for a cheese toastie?" to learning that American grilled cheese, made by Americans, is really not even close to being a cheese toastie, despite surface visual similarities (the same deceptive gulf that probably runs, still mostly unbeknownst to us, between the American and British usage of similar-looking words, I try not to think). To be fair, this particular artisanal company churns its own butter. It is glorious. And TH is obsessed with tracking the company's appearance at markets, and I really can't object even if greater familiarity with grilled-cheese goodness leaves me slightly jaded, and I do think he should maybe keep an eye on his cholesterol. 

Fourth -- "A conservatory is not a grilled cheese sandwich" is the astute complaint TH lodged as we wrung our hands over whether to make an offer on the cottage in Clevedon. It has a superb conservatory, large and private. It is 14 miles from grilled cheese. Would we come into Bristol on a market day just to have a good sandwich (and also, it must be said, excellent coffee from a different vendor)? Is that even ecologically ethical? But one spends far more time sitting in and enjoying a conservatory than eating sandwiches, right? How does one even compare these things?

But compare we must. I think the inflection point was when we found a detached house in our strongly-preferred Bristol neighborhood. One hadn't come on the market in that area at all for, literally, months. (Okay: one under a million pounds hadn't. It's a nice neighborhood.) We rushed to see it, and, well, it looked tired and small. There was marble flooring in the kitchen, and it had been improperly set and was cracked and pitted. The otherwise rustic-style kitchen had also been fitted with glossy black IKEA-style cabinets that were a monstrous obscenity. One bathroom needed a stall shower to replace the 50's-style paneled tub, and there were settling (hopefully...) cracks throughout the house. All fixable, except the purchase price would've cleaned out our budget entirely, and there was already another offer on the place. I gamely indicated how we might be able to squeeze our stuff into the pocket-sized living room by filling up the single-space garage. TH gamely talked up the location and its nearness to the supermarket. We didn't confess to each other until much later, when it came time to actually write up our offer, that we just simply really didn't like the place. But this was, clearly, a fairly-priced property (witness the other offer and the difficulty in getting a timeslot to go see it). We couldn't afford a square foot more, and it seemed extremely unlikely that when another one comes up in the neighborhood, however many months hence, that it might somehow be better -- for us, for this area, this was realistically as good as it was going to get.

So we bought the Clevedon cottage instead.

Well: it's a process here, isn't it? The mortgage has been issued in principle, but we've had that happen before. I'm not regarding it as more than a 50/50 proposition until after the (in-depth) inspection. On the other hand: it's stood for more than 500 years. It'd be rotten luck if it fell apart during our tenure.

As the UK begins to open up again for the first time since three days after I unwittingly moved here, I'm lining up choir auditions and filling out volunteering applications and freaking out ever so slightly that all these things that are 14 miles away might as well be on another planet outside the limited possibility that I might be comfortably driving by the time of the move. It's a leap of faith, or perhaps a silly choice, or maybe just a frustrated and rash reaction to the forced yoking of incomparable decision factors. Perhaps I'll sit in the conservatory and work assiduously toward racking up rejections and TH can bring home the sandwiches on his way home from work. Perhaps neither of those things will happen, but something else will. A conservatory is not a grilled cheese sandwich, and there are sharp limits on our knowledge of the future, and, for disjuncts like this, research can only take you so far.

Mar 7, 2021


We challenged the landlord. What that meant is that I gradually convinced my conflict-averse husband to advocate for our interests instead of the landlord's, and we did that tedious thing that we always do for any delicate email negotiation, in which we each write a draft and then I try to combine them, and then we each write new drafts based on that combination and I combine those, etc. (I'm not exaggerating. This is what we do. Drives me mad, but I've learned that trying to hurry TH along on anything is a false economy.)

To our surprise, the landlord simply said, "okay, I'll have the estate agents issue a formal notification," and that's the last we've heard on anything. So...the estate agents ought to know that the current notification period (DDTC) is six months, right? Or, because all estate agents are terrible, they've found some loophole that'll keep it to two? Or one? Dunno. I'm bracing for bad news and/or possibly infected strangers to be trouped through our house on very little notice.

We also made an offer on Pelican House on Friday, and have not heard a peep back. This is not terribly surprising, since we're being forced to use The Worse Estate Agents on Earth, also known as Connells. Seriously -- I called them up about 20 minutes after the listing came on the market and asked to see it. An audibly gum-snapping teen with one of the most irritating accents I've yet experienced here ran through what was obviously a script with me, hard-selling their mortgage services.

"I'm not going to use your mortgage services," I said. "I can say that with 100% confidence. Can I please just see this house?"

"What's your maximum price?"

"I'd rather not say. The listed price is well within budget."

"Well, the sellers are only interested in serious buyers. We'll need some proof you can afford it."

"Seriously? What do you want, a screenshot of a bank balance?"

"Yeah, that'd be good."

"Well, that's ridiculous. I just want to see it; I'm not making an offer yet."

"But you didn't give a maximum price. So we don't know if you can afford it."

"But that would just be something I'd say--. Never mind. Okay. My maximum price is twelve million. Can I go look at it?"

The conversation ended with me hyperventilating -- I hate calling estate agents because we have trouble with each other's accents and I don't know the norms and I'm always terrified that something exactly like what happened on this call will happen -- and angrily telling her "you know what? Just forget it!" and hanging up. I eventually wrote a nasty email to the company saying that if they actually had any intention of, y'know, trying to sell the property, I was free the next day, and I got a call back from someone with a better accent who did not apologize and scrupulously avoided mentioning what just happened and booked us in to see the house without accusing us of being window-shopping time-wasters.

Anyway: long story short, I'm not shocked that they're ignoring our attempt to buy the house. Also, I really hate this agency.

Meanwhile, yesterday we tried out our alternative strategy of buying a house for cash. We found the likeliest prospect -- in a neighborhood a little farther out than we were previously considering, and clearly needing some work, but an okay size and a cute exterior.

The estate agent avoided eye contact when we arrived. "I'll just let you wander," she said, and explained that it was a post-death sale and that the son had moved in and "he's fallen on hard times. It's quite a sad story, really." The house was funereally dark, with the only light evading the thick velvet curtains managing to illuminate the heavily-textured low ceilings. The sitting room was bi-level. Not sunken; it just had a random staircase in it. Heaps of clothes were piled everywhere, along with empty soda bottles on the floor and jumbo opened packages of the British equivalent of cheese doodles. None of the kitchen cabinets closed, and the end one was crumbling into a pile of sawdust. The upstairs was covered in scrofulous carpeting. The toilet seats were up and vigorously expelling sewer gas from their scaly and discolored exteriors, which competed with a dank pervasive fug of cigarette smoke  and despair that permeated every porous surface. Someone had tried to cover it with harsh detergents, with the resulting scent being uncannily the exact smell of a neglected American 1950's cheap motel room with flat quilted pink bedspreads. A smoke detector chirped dejectedly. Being American and thus needing to find something positive to say, I remarked "gosh, that's a nice big water tank," to the agent as we fled, approximately four minutes after we arrived. 

We had some time to kill before the next appointment, so we walked by a listing we were meant to see but that had gone under offer the day before, and we easily confirmed that we would not have wanted it. We arrived at our next appointment early and encountered the owner, Phil, who was showing it. He had another appointment first, so we said we'd take a walk around the neighborhood and return. We walked around the back of the property, craning our neck to try to make out where the detached house ought to sit, presumably in the gardens of the solid row of terraced houses before us.

"Surprisingly small lot," I remarked. "Where is it?"

The inescapable conclusion was that it wasn't. We pulled up the listing and tried to work out what kind of unholy photographic wizardry made the house appear not to be attached to the ones next to it. And also gave it the impression of having a 15-foot orangery? Working through all the hypotheses -- the house in front of us had a detached annex, as did the one we were expecting to find; was the orangery maybe on the annex? Was it like a Spinal Tap Stonehenge? -- we eventually arrived at the correct one, which is that there were two listings on this particular street and the agent had simply disregarded my use of the keywords "the detached house for sale at [price point]." We dissolved in laughter at this point, despite the complete waste of the afternoon (and yes, Connells is actually worse than these guys, but we are also not terribly happy with these guys). We then went back to Phil and relayed what had happened. He was a bit confused, but his wife explained to him, "the agents -- they've done it again."

Result: utterly pointless house-hunting day. As of now, Sunday evening, we have no idea how long we can remain in the rental, no idea whether our offer has been accepted (or even relayed), and no prospects for moving. Keeping the perspective that things could be a lot worse (I am also simply waiting for my jab; the qualifying age is now within five years of my own), this is nonetheless an intensely frustrating time of becalm-ment, made more annoying by knowing that when things do start to happen, they will undoubtedly get a lot worse before they get better.