• [Essaying England]

    S&M Files, Episode 1: November 24, 1999

    England is well… England. The stereotypes are all true.

    Little lanes
    Wet weather
    Tiny shops
    Small cars
    Outrageous prices
    Little red chimneys
    British countryside
    All those silly Monty Pythoners everywhere. Two on the corner. One
    serving me at the store. Two figuring out how to hire a shopping cart.
    Help! I’m stuck in a skit.

    It’s like an overdone Hollywood set brought to life.

    Flew in from bright sunshine and fluffy into a slow descent into wet and
    drizzling. Welcome to London, Stephen Dodd.

    Our beautiful [temporary] home.

    We have no heat. This is not a mistake. This is a feature.

    Our three-storey flat is not heated. We stepped out yesterday to discover it
    was warmer outside. It’s like walking into a room and discovering all the
    windows have been left open all day. But they’re not. They’re just single
    paned with no insulation. And no heating.

    Well, that’s no entirely true. When they fire up the deep fryers from the
    Fish and Chips shop downstairs, we get leftover Fish and Chip heat. Mmmmm.
    Fish and Chip on the brain all day, everyday. Tune into your 24 hour deep
    fried fish and chips channel.

    Ok, the living room has two wall units that must be plugged in to work
    sporadically. You have to keep the living room door closed or the heaters
    just laugh at you. I wear thermal long underwear even in the living room.

    The bathroom definitely does not have heating. It is very reminiscent of
    using an outhouse on a brisk Jasper morning. Actually the “bathroom” on
    the top floor is just that – no toilet even though there is a definite spot
    for one. In the middle of the night the bathtub almost looks tempting.
    (Note to Michelles and mums – note the *almost*. We are civilized. Yes,

    It’s a relatively large three bedroom flat complete with washer/dryer in
    the kitchen for a modest $2000 cdn (or less) a month. It could charitably
    be described as run down. The carpets are the color of dirty cement.
    Flipping a switch requires a pause while the lights consider. I’m just
    now realizing how immaculate our old “adventure” house was.

    On the plus side, out the back between buildings, alleys and sorry looking
    brick gardens is – barely- a view of the sea! Out the front are double
    decker buses that look right into the living room as they go by. If I had
    a pole I could poke the bus as it goes by the window. Poke! Aiiieee!

    Down the street are dozens of tiny shops including a Safeway with almost
    seven or eight aisles. We tried our Safeway Club Card. It didn’t go no
    matter how many attempts the clerk made.

    Downtown Brighton

    Pretend you had a law that said all shops must be built on a back alley.

    Now imagine careening down the alley, dodging cars, lorries and
    pedestrians, thinking all the time that you were about to exit onto a main
    street. But you don’t. The alley’s just lead to lanes. The lanes lead to
    more lanes. It’s a good thing the curbs are low because the sidewalk is
    often needed as vehicle navigation. It’s like being in a maze, minus the
    minotaur plus a car.

    I’m glad I wasn’t driving. I kept wanting to pull over to the right which
    would have been terrible inconvenient for my insurance record.

    There are main streets. It takes two lights to cross them with a wee bit
    of tea break in the middle. The roads have “LOOK LEFT” AND “LOOK RIGHT”
    painted on them which is very handy as it seems even the locals can’t quite
    figure out the traffic.

    They love traffic circles here. Big ones, little ones. Odd ones. Whoosh.
    Imagine your local residential street corner with a traffic circle.

    Land of Culture

    Stopped at a convenience store for cell phone magazine. In one corner was
    the hardcore porn (can you say 144 pt “SHAG”), in the other family
    magazines with pictures of the Queen Mum. In between was this nebulous
    area of uncertain content. Blazing headlines and flesh prevailed. I had
    no idea if the inside would turn out to be Letters and Lovers of Better

    I would expect Pubs to be called the Crow amp; Dog or Iron Keep but the local
    pub bears “Spread Eagle.”

    Letting a House

    We went to two estate agents. They both smiled and looked slightly amused
    when we explained we wanted to rent a flat.

    One said, “oh, well it’s really quite slow and what we do have is really
    quite expensive”. You’ve got to be worried when a sales agent uses the
    word expensive.

    This is Brighton. The major city south of London. 2 Bedroom flats for
    rent: Agent #1 – Two. Agent #2 – One.

    Here it seems quite common to purchase a floor of a house with other people
    owning other bits and pieces. I can’t quite figure out who then repairs
    the roof or fixed the foundation. I suspect the answer is “not”.

    We did find a listing for a nice detached house (an uncommon thing) for
    rent for only �3400 / month ($8500 cdn).

    The market’s going crazy. My relatives insist we should buy instead for
    the same price. I’m tempted.

    Shopping Carts

    Sometimes it’s the little things.

    The shopping carts have independent back wheels. This makes it very easy
    for parallel parking. Very difficult for turning to avoid little old
    ladies or navigating heavy groceries up a steep inclines – like where we
    live. Yikes!

    The Phone Company

    BT Telecom at great expense put out an elaborate booklet and CD-ROM with a
    free phone number to call for questions about signing up with them. So I
    call the phone company and get “bzzt…This service is temporarily
    unavailable. <click>” Somehow it just seem appropriate. :)

    Having Fun

    No don’t get me wrong. I’m not bitter. It’s all rather amusing. Quite crazy
    actually but that’s alright; you have to be to live here. I’m starting on
    it now. :)

    Tomorrow, I see the sea. From here you can hear the Gauls.

    Miss you all.



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