Sunday, March 2, 2008
Things to know about England
The most important thing to know about England, bar none, is that while you can fly into the country with two carry-on items, you can leave with only one. A fact Continental did not tell me when I checked in for my return flight, which I only learned at the security gate. Unfortunately I had my computer with me, in a carry-on size suitcase, as well as a backpack containing my wallet, passport, lunch, iPod and other essentials. They said I could check my backpack and suitcase and just carry my computer on—-but that would mean I’d be checking my wallet, passport, etc. and also carrying my laptop on case-less, naked, which was clearly not a good idea. And put my good m0851 backpack through as luggage? No way! Fortunately downstairs there was a friendly kiosk willing to sell me a brand-new computer case I didn’t need for the equivalent of $70, into which I could cram my laptop and a few other items, and still have time to check my other stuff through.
The other thing to know is that to turn on any household appliance in England takes two separate actions. When I got up that first morning, in a house I’d never stayed in (one that my friends had just moved into, things still in boxes), in a neighborhood I didn’t know, Terry was already gone, having arisen early to go again to Heathrow (two hours drive) to retrieve his parents, who were arriving back after two months in South Africa. I had prepared for this eventuality by bringing food and tea, and patting myself on the back for such admirable forethought, looked forward to a shower and breakfast. It was not to happen. First of all, when I turned the knob on the stove, there was gas but no ignition. And no matches. And I couldn’t get the electric teakettle to work. And when I turned the shower thing on (I’m familiar with those little plastic boxes that provide infinite hot water on demand—-why don’t we have them?) no water came out.
Only after Terry returned many hours later, were these puzzles solved. To ignite the stove, he showed me, you have to turn on the burner, then push this teeny button way over on the left to ignite it. As for the teakettle, the problem was coordinating the off/on switch on the kettle (not clear) with the off/on switch on the outlet in the wall. That switch had two settings, one that you could push to reveal little letters that said “on” and one that made a red bar appear. To an American, or at least this one, “on” means, “hello, it’s on!” while red means it’s off. But noooo, “on” means “push here for on” and red means “it’s on.” Okay, then the shower. This one had even Terry, who had only taken baths in the house up to this point, stymied. In fact he’d been wondering what that pull string was for, hanging from the ceiling on the other side of the bathroom…