Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Horrors of Moving to London

I just found this on my computer. It was a post I put on MySpace in 2008, just after moving to London's East End. I had forgotten all about it, and I think it is damn charming. I'm not sure what the original title was. If I can find the other installments I will post them. By the way, as painful as this was, I had forgotten much of it, which shows why everyone should keep a journal. Unless you're angsty and prone to revenge fantasies, in which case it is best to forget...

What happens when you play a Mike Payne blog backwards? You get your wife and kids back.

Despite a plague of last minute complications, I managed to move to London. After a sleepless overnight flight, I hopped off the plane early on the morning of June 21st, smelling like American teen spirit. I had to grapple with a strange case of mistaken identity when picking up the keys (too hard to explain), but eventually made my way to the front door.

I walk in, and notice my “furnished” apartment has no mattress. Also, the refrigerator doesn’t work. The light inside the fridge is on, but the cold wind ain’t a blowin’. And to complete the disrepair trifecta, the shower has no hot water. Cheerio, mate!

I moved in on a Saturday, so I couldn’t get a hold of the landlady until Monday. Fine. Two days of indoor camping. I can survive this. I used to be a Cub Scout.

So Monday rears its ugly mug. I get the landlady on the phone, and she seems somewhat sympathetic. “Oooo, surry!” she exclaims. She promises to stop by that evening and check the hot water and fridge. She apologizes about the water, but implies that I just don’t know how to turn the fridge on. I admit I’m not handy, but “on” and “off” buttons don’t usually require intense electrical training.   

She shows up that night. After examining the apartment, she acknowledges that indeed, the fridge is not producing cold air, and in sharp contrast to its intended function, the shower is not producing hot water. I explain to her that in America, we have hot showers and cold fridges, and prefer them to hot fridges and cold showers. She shakes off the culture shock and assures me that a tradesman will swing by the next day to mend all my troubles.

We’ve now reached Tuesday. While at work, I get a call from the landlady telling me the refrigerator is now fixed, but unfortunately, the shower needs a whole new tap, and the repair guy arrived so late that by the time he realized what was needed, the supply store was closed. I will have to take another cold shower Wednesday morning; my fifth in a row. “Oooo, surry!”

I’m fuming but controlled. I tell myself that at least now I have a fridge, so progress is being made. I rush home that night eager to throw some groceries in Ye Olde Icebox. I yank open the fridge door and wait for the Arctic rush. To my dismay, I discover that just as before, the fridge light is on, but there is no cold air. None whatsoever. I begin to wonder if the tradesman actually came by.

I walk in the bathroom, and it becomes clear that a tradesman had shown up. How could I tell?  Because he had managed to track mud all over my bathroom, including all over my new bathmat.
I call the landlady.  “Oooo, surry!”

She assures me again that a team of professional repairmen will be by tomorrow, and this time, they’ll have all the right moves. I’ll have a fridge and a hot shower by Thursday evening. Early 20th Century, here I come!

Thursday morning I take my sixth cold shower in a row. The thing with cold showers is that they don’t get easier. Once you’ve had two or three in a row, you start developing Battered Bather’s Syndrome. You begin to fear the dawn, knowing you’re just a few hours away from more abuse.  By day six, before I could bring myself to turn the water on, I had to stand in the tub and give myself a pep talk about the hardships my forefathers faced in the untamed swamps of Virginia. Then again, at least with malaria, every shower feels like a hot shower.

If you read the second paragraph carefully, you’ll know that during all this time, I didn’t have a mattress either. Yes, the mattress in my “furnished” flat was as absent as the hot water and fridge. In the interim, I had a half sofa-half chair-all uncomfortable furniture abortion to sleep on. It was so skimpy that even at 5’ 5,” I couldn’t find a position where my legs didn’t flop over the side. Ever tried sleeping in a plus sized barber’s chair? No, you haven’t. There’s a reason.

Thursday afternoon the landlady rings. She’s SURRY again. Turns out the tradesmen couldn’t fix the water, because the tap they ordered won’t arrive until Friday. As for the fridge, it’s a “special” model. Not special as in the Olympics--though it’s defective enough to compete in those games and inspire us all--but special as in hard to find. She gives me another “Oooo, surry” before informing me that when she had a problem with her own special fridge, it took four months to replace. She then tells me in her best problem-solving voice that not having a fridge shouldn’t be a problem, because I can always “eat fresh.” 

I waited for the laughtrack to start rolling. Nothing happened. Once I realized she wasn’t playing to the back of the room, I replied that yes, I could eat fresh. I could also grow my own food. Anorexia would be another option. But all of those alternatives would defeat the purpose of paying extra for a furnished flat with a refrigerator.

On a more serious note, as I’m stepping in all these booby-traps, I’m doing it alone. And without diversion.  In addition to having no friends in London, I was without the Internet. Or a TV. Or a stereo. I won’t bore you with the details, but a conspiracy of mini-crises befell me as I was getting ready to move, so I didn’t have adequate time to settle my affairs before skipping town. So with the clock ticking and the cost of international shipping so punitive, I wound up dumping most of my possessions on the sidewalk in front of my apartment. And contrary to what you may have heard from your friendly neighborhood blues singer, leaving it all behind isn’t as liberating as it’s cracked up to be. I left behind all of my comforts for an unfamiliar and so far, inhospitable place. Having a few more of my possessions around might have made things a little less dislocating.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog, already in progress.

Have I mentioned that my heaters weren’t working? Well, they weren’t. And even in summer, London can get cold in the morning and at night, especially when it rains. This is doubly uncomfortable when you’ve just stepped out of a cold shower. 

Appropriately, on July 4th, my new fridge shows up. I have to let the gas settle, so I’m not allowed to turn it on until the following day. When I do, it actually works. So on the two week anniversary of moving into my “furnished flat,” I can finally store food.
Around the same time, my mattress also shows up. Only it’s too small for the bedframe. Of course it is. My landlady also has a new couch delivered (admittedly, a very nice one), and hires someone to remove the sofa thing I’d been sleeping on (which you’ll recall was uncomfortable enough to fund the coke habit of a thousand chiropractors). However, when Delivery Guy removes the thing, he takes my blanket with it. So I come home that night to a cold apartment, and find that I don’t have even have a blanket to warm up with. I wound up sleeping on my new undersized mattress while wearing my winter coat for warmth. So there I was with no blanket no CDs to play, and no one to talk to, and all I could think was…I uprooted myself for this?

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