We’ve spent most of the past few days packing — an emotionally draining way to spend the holidays. Actually, we’ve mostly been throwing out. I joked to M that by the time we’ve thrown out all the collected junk that fills every available space around here, we’ll discover that this house is big enough for us after all and we can stay!
It’s been a bittersweet job — I have come across photos and letters that span my years here in England, and it has overwhelmed me with nostalgia. I don’t want to look at them — just want them to stay tucked up in their cupboards, preserved and safe — but I have to look through them in order to separate the wheat from the chaff. And so I must endure this walk though the memories of my years here, sweet and painful.
I find it overpowering. I am exhausted after only a short while, and there is so much left to do, so much to pack, so much to throw away. I want to stop. I want to make myself a nice hot cup of tea, sit down on the couch, and pretend this move never has to happen. But I can’t do that — must plough on. And, I find, the only way to do that is to think positive and keep my eyes focused on the things to look forward to in the States…
Electricity outlets in bathrooms They’re illegal here because the electrical current is so much stronger. And, while I understand the safety principles involved are quite sensible, it does drive me nuts not to be able to dry my hair in the bathroom. More than that, it is a big problem in this house because there is no heat in the bathroom at all, and stripping off to crouch in a cold cast-iron bathtub for a semi-shower in a freezing cold bathroom — literally freezing cold — with badly fitting 100-year-old sash windows at 6am in January is a truly miserable experience. If this weren’t a public blog on the world-wide web, I might suggest that I’ve run an extension cord into the bathroom in order to power an electric fire but, as that would clearly be illegal, I won’t even entertain such an idea!
Doors Hung the Right Way Doors in the UK tend to open into the room, instead of toward the wall. I have no earthly idea why and it is annoying in the extreme. It effectively reduces the usable space in any given room by at least six square feet, because you have to allow enough space to walk around the door in order to enter the room. And given that the rooms in the UK are generally pretty small to begin with, this is no small inconvenience. Such a minor detail… yet, such a big deal.
Window Screens They don’t have them because they generally don’t need them. There are very few biting bugs in England. You can sit with the doors and windows wide open all summer and not get a single mosquito bite. But you do get flies. And depending where your neighbour has positioned his rubbish bins or how smelly the cat’s food is, you may get a lot of flies. So while I do love having the breeze flow freely from one wide open window to another, sometimes it would be nice to have the option — just simply the option — of window screens.
Mixer Taps In most British bathrooms, the hot water comes scalding out of a tap on the left side of the sink and the cold water comes freezing from a different tap on the right. If you want warm water, you have to either fill the sink up with a bit of both, or cup your hands under the cold and then transfer it over to the hot to get a mix of the two. Amazing as it may seem, mixer taps — although hardly cutting edge technology — are as rare as hens’ teeth over here. And here’s what’s more amazing: most Brits seem to prefer it this way! Well, here’s where my much-sung Britishness comes to a screeching halt — I like mixer taps. I look forward to the simple joys of warm water.
Raccoons, Opossums, Chipmunks, Fireflies, the Sound of Crickets, and the Distant Smell of Skunk None of these is particularly important — and I could certainly understand if you raised your eyebrows a bit in disbelief when you read the last one — but they take on an importance when they aren’t there anymore. I can’t say I’ve ever noticed chipmunks much, or possums, or raccoons… but they don’t exist here, and I kind of miss them. And beautiful summer evenings are just a little incomplete without a gentle chrrr-chrrr of a chorus of crickets and a twinkling display of fireflies. As for the smell of skunk… I don’t really know how to explain this, but I’ve missed it — that slightly repulsive yet strangely attractive scent drifting on the wind from the far distance while I’m out on a summer’s drive. M has no concept of that smell at all, and that is amazing to me.
Mailboxes I am looking forward to having my mail deposited into a metal box at the end of the driveway. I am looking forward to having to put on shoes, get my keys, and trudge out in the rain, snow, cold, and/or scorching heat to collect it. Here in the UK, the postman puts your post through a flap cut into your front door — the letterbox — and it falls neatly onto the doormat in your front hall. It’s a lovely little luxury to have your post delivered right into your house without ever having to set foot outside but… I have always found it unsettling to have a hole right there in my front door. Anyone can — and sometimes they do — bend down, push it open, and peer in. I have walked past my front door in my dressing gown to see a hand protruding from the gap and a pair of eyes suddenly locking onto mine — it was my neighbour telling me that the doorbell didn’t appear to be working, but it stopped my heart nonetheless. And once, when I was living in Norfolk, some of the rougher inhabitants enacted their midnight revenge on someone by pouring petrol through the letterbox and then following it with a lit match. The day-to-day practicalities of the letterbox are lovely, but I’d just prefer for my house not to have a hole in it that anyone can open and shove through anything they like. I will curse myself for saying this on some cold, rainy morning, but I do like mailboxes.