I have to be honest: I had to look at the last post to see where I was when I'd last written. This is, admittedly, no way to conduct a blog. Apologies.
Let's start with where I am now: Wales.
I know, it's been awhile. Sorry. To be honest, I've often thought of writing, but it's been a bit like standing by the side of a rushing river, waiting for a safe time to jump in, until you eventually realize there is no "safe time" and you just have to jump, now, where you are, and hope for the best. There's a lot to catch up on.
I arrived this past week -- five days ago, now? -- and was delivered immediately into on-site self-isolation/quarantine, in case I have COVID. Fourteen days (fifteen, really, because they count the first half-day as a sort of Day Zero). And people here take their quarantine seriously. My first day, I popped into the clinic downstairs (more on that in a bit), and they looked at me as if I were oozing pus and covered in boils, in spite of the fact I was standing well distant, all of us masked up, and them behind a plexiglass partition. OK, well, seems like overkill to me, but maybe I'd feel the same way had my own workplace needed to be shut down due to staff testing positive to COVID for a few days. Better safe than sorry, right? But maybe I'm a bit ahead of myself, already.
The whole process of moving to the UK has been a whirlwind since my last post.
- Selling the house in Oregon;
- Packing up & moving stuff into storage (some stuff) and boxes to ship (other stuff) and suitcases to take along (still other stuff). Also include a few trips to the second-hand shops to donate stuff I couldn't use but didn't want to trash, either. Oh, and also selling a few things on Marketplace. A busy time, chaotic.
- Arranging rental vehicles to accommodate all my stuff, including two enormous airline kennels and the dogs themselves;
- Driving up to Seattle to house-sit and dog-sit for my friends who provided sanctuary during the wildfires and at other low spots in my life (post-divorce; COVID's isolation); and
- Arranging the dogs' transport, which might warrant a post unto itself
Any posts written during those days might've smacked of the rampant anxiety I was suffering and might even have been incoherent, sort of like the nervous babbling you might find yourself spewing moments before skydiving out of an airplane. Sure, sure, you've got a parachute, but still. Sweaty palms, dry mouth, pounding heart -- yeah, this felt like that.
And then came The Big Day, the day I leave the US, maybe for good. I confess, I couldn't see it, and still can't, the possible impact of it all. I might never see any of those people or places again. (I mean, that's always true anyway, right? You might, any day, be hit by a bus or something -- but this felt different, chosen.) In particular, I gave my friend's dog a hug and kiss, as she's age six, so chances are slim I'll see her again. Even if my friends visit me in the UK, they won't bring her along. So it's a bit sad to be leaving these friends behind.
And of course there's the overarching implications of this: I'm realising my Big Life Dream (sorry, have to practise the British spellings now). THE biggest thing on my bucket list. What's the impact of all that? This idea and dream I've been wrestling for most of my life, especially the past few years more heartily than ever, finally coming to pass. That's profound, right? But I can't really look at it except from occasional side glances. Full on is just too much. Even now, sitting here alone in my Welsh flat, to stop and sit -- even for just a moment -- with the full of weight of "I did it," it feels entirely too massive for my heart and mind to hold.
So we'll come back to that later. Maybe.
Regardless of my thinking about -- or avoiding thinking about -- what a Big Deal that day was, I still had a job to do. I had to get my dogs arranged for their flight, including transporting them and the crates and my suitcases and the rental car to the cargo department of the airline. Then, along with the pet relocation agent, make certain we had all the (substantial amount of) paperwork in order, my dog's medications, their food and leashes and cage pads. Then to bid them goodbye for at least another twenty hours, between the nine-hour flight and pre- and post-processing & subsequent transport to our new home -- would they make it? (Spoiler: they did.) And then I had to make my own way to the airport.
Now, it's worth a moment's pause here to just remark on this part of it, maybe because this is a part I had sort of taken for granted and partially overlooked. I think it's safe to say I've become a seasoned traveler over the years, popping here and there over the globe, sometimes for a short jaunt to friends or family in the US, other times for month-long rambles across a new country. So airports are no mystery to me. But this was my first time flying during COVID, and it was just ... weird. For one thing, the airports -- normally bustling with the energy of people rushing this way and that -- were virtually empty and extremely quiet. With all the people -- passengers and staff, alike -- wearing masks and distancing (usually) two metres apart on the little dots or lines on the floor, the airport lacked its usual frenetic energy. Normally constant thrums of a human hive, both Seattle and Heathrow were barren wastelands. I half expected to see a tumbleweed roll across the concourse.
I guess the up-side is that departure and arrival were smooth as glass. Easy on, easy off. No lines at security. No lines at passport control. No dodging hordes of people with my luggage cart laden with more bags than I've ever carried anywhere. Just zipped right through.
My dogs were, meanwhile, being checked in at the Heathrow Animal Reception Centre, required of all animal entering the UK, a process which takes between six and eight hours, even during non-COVID times. And they had their own delivery driver, so I went off to find my pre-arranged transport, a very nice man named Gary who owns a small business he's trying to develop into a bigger business, transporting people between airports and also shuttling them around his hometown. We chatted easily the entire three hours between London and my little town in Wales. (We're both Wittertainees, as it turns out. Small world. Tinkety tonk, old fruit, and Hello to Jason.)
It's funny to write this now because, in hindsight, I can see remnants of many of the worries I had during the planning stages, places where things might snag up. For instance, the airport transfer: How would that be during COVID? First off, the country of Wales (though not yet England) was in lockdown again. What does that mean? Would there be police checks on the roads? Would I be stopped and asked for my visa/passport? Would I be asked to justify my travel as "essential"? And none of that happened. I confess, jet-lagged as I was, I wasn't fully alert and aware of the entirety of the trip. I was awake and conversing with Gary, but sort of not entirely in my right mind. (If you've ever been on a long stressful journey, you likely know what I'm talking about. You're there-but-not-there.)
Before I knew it, we were in Wales, then Abergavenny, where I'll be working, then Brecon where I'll staying, for the first two weeks of self-isolation then until I can find a place of my own. Honestly, that moment, too, is a bit of a blur. In hindsight, I think I recognise the facial expressions of my future coworkers -- above their masks and behind their face shields -- as a sort of horror when I arrived, as I'm sure Gary & I just blundered in and up the stairs to the flat, wrestling with my suitcases while they were trying to maintain safe-distancing in such a small space. Probably not the best first impression: the brash American just running roughshod over their pristine protocols. The first of many missteps, I'm sure.
I thank Gary, who departs, and my coworkers return to work. Suddenly, I'm alone.
Here I am, in a flat, in Wales. I'm here. I didn't die or even have a heart attack (a real possibility, I thought, at various times over the past few weeks). Several of the boxes I shipped ahead have already arrived, as have the dog beds I ordered from the Amazon (thank god, its global domination extends to the UK -- thanks, Mr Bezos, on behalf of self-quarantined expats the world over). Now suddenly I have nothing but time stretching out ahead of me. Fourteen days' worth.
I started to poke around the flat which is both better and worse than I thought it might be. It's on the second (European first) floor, so there's a nice view, and plenty of light through lots of windows. That's quite nice, I think. And the weather has been uncharacteristically mild. And sunny! (also helpful to lift the spirits) The staff had made some efforts to welcome me with a few staple provisions already in the kitchen: milk, bread, chocolate (nice touch), oatmeal, orange juice. Kind of them to think of me. It takes me a while to figure out which part of the relatively tiny (compared to US) refrigerator is the freezer (it's the lower, larger part -- the upper part is about the size of a dorm fridge I had in college). And it's in a room that's not the (tiny) kitchen.
The flat has minimal furnishings but, again, the staples: a loveseat, a twin bed, a dining table & chairs. That's it. There are two IKEA boxes but they aren't yet assembled -- I'll build the wardrobe and nightstand table over the next two evenings. Two of the four rooms don't have working lightbulbs. But it's warm and clean and safe. And there's a good size field (per UK residential standards) out back of the clinic where I can walk the dogs, as I'm prohibited from leaving the area. (In truth, I think I'm not supposed to leave the flat at all, but I'm willing to pay the fine if caught, and I'm actually being very very obedient by only coming and going from the building when nobody else is about then wiping down all touched surfaces afterward, which is pretty good for me, as I'm not very good at following rules I think are rubbish.)
That first evening, I'm due a grocery delivery (not having known if the staff would be providing any supplies), but at the last minute, I realise I've indicated the wrong delivery address. The clinic has no number address on the road, just the clinic name then road name then postal code. But the post office or Google or whoever designs these things doesn't know that, so when I type in the postal code it offers me a few options, none of which are the clinic. There is *A* veterinary clinic listed, but it's a different name -- is that more confusing, or less? So I type in the first option "1 Ashfield Place." -- Upon arrival, as Gary drove the transport van down the lane toward the clinic, I remember now, we passed a house with a sign "1 Ashfield Place." That family was going to get my groceries tonight between 9-10pm! Oh crap! I tried to change it online, but it's too late. I tried to call the shop but I can't get my phone to work (my phone is a whole other problem, which I won't get into here). Suddenly, my mind is whirring: what if they keep my $60 worth of groceries? What if it wakes them up at 10pm for a grocery delivery -- that's so rude! Have they received any of my other stuff (i.e., how often have I erroneously defaulted to that suggested address)? Do they have my $40 phone SIM card, then?
Panicked, I call my one and only friend in the UK, Meredith, and ask if she can help -- can she please call the shop and see if she can give them the correct address? She also suggests I walk down to the house with the address, and slip a note through the mail slot. I forgot about mail slots, which I've never had in a US house. So, in spite of breaking the rules of quarantine, I decide to do that. I write a note and slip it into a plastic bag (Meredith's suggestion -- to give the illusion of sterility, maybe? I don't know, I just follow her advice at this point, as she's lived under UK quarantine a whole lot longer [six months] than I have [three hours]). I take my flashlight (torch) and walk down to the house. But when I try to push the letter through the slot, it won't go. I never did determine if it was user-error or a genuine problem with the mail slot, but suddenly I hear a dog start to bark. The porch light comes on and I jump back to a well-distanced ... distance, shine my torchlight on my face and wave in what I hope is a friendly manner. The woman grabs her boisterous spaniel by the collar as she opens the door. I tell her I'm so so sorry to bother her (a good British start, I think, and genuine) but ... And then I say a bunch of words about groceries and addresses and moving out of the US and more apologies. I probably sound half-crazed. I FEEL half-crazed by that point with the sheer accumulation of tiny errors and adjustments of that day and the preceding weeks. She's very kind and even says, "Oh yes, we've received several of your packages." So I apologise again. And again. She assures me she'll direct the driver to the clinic around the corner when they arrive, and bids me goodnight. I owe that woman a cake.
The groceries arrive, without incident, but I have no idea how this all works, with me self-isolating and keep social-distance. Do they set the bins down then step back so I can retrieve the bags? I enquire but between masks and Welsh accents and my own fuddled brain, I don't understand. So he hands me the bags. For the second time tonight (third if you count Gary), I am in contact with another person, illegally. But I'm sure he just wants to get home to his family on this now-drizzly chilly night. I thank him and haul the bags upstairs and start tucking things away. Some things look the same (packet of deli turkey, cheese, cookies [biscuits]), others do not (the packet of croutons is about the size of my wallet, and wow that's a huge container of table salt -- looks more like a quart [litre] of milk!). It's okay, I'm not hungry anyway.
I hunker down and wait for the dogs. First the delivery company said "Between 10:30 and 11:00" but then it became "Around 11." By 11:30, I'm pacing the floor. Around midnight, they arrive. The driver, a young man, is relaxed and calmly happy as he unloads the dogs -- I've been a bit of a pain in the ass to them up to this point, so I don't know what sort of reception I'm going to get. But he seems pleasant and polite and in no particular rush. (Knowing the Brits, he probably fucking hates me.) It's freezing cold out. We get the enormous crates unloaded and pulled around the side of the building, while the dogs run around the parking lot (car park) of their new home. They look physically sound but more than a little freaked out. I'm just relieved to see them safe, or at all, really, as I was initially told "it's getting a bit late" when I phoned them earlier and asked if I would be getting them back to me today. Again, more on that another time. They were safe and with me, so I was pleased. By the next morning, they were back to normal. Exhausted, we all go upstairs, to bed, in our new home.
So then, here we are, four days later. We've fallen into a bit of a routine. I've tried to make the flat seem like home while looking online daily -- sometimes hourly -- for alternative rental options. Thank god for the internet, really, which has allowed me to stay in touch with friends and look into questions I have about "UK stuff" like phones and cars and banks and other stuff I've yet to sort out. And monitor the US presidential election from afar.
I have to be honest, though. I still can't look at the enormity of all this. In some ways, it feels really small and insignificant. I haven't really done anything yet except fly into another country, get delivered to a flat, and assemble a few pieces of IKEA furniture. It doesn't yet feel like "I live here now, and maybe forever." I suspect that will come, probably to be helped along considerably when I start working. Or, really, even just interacting with other live human beings!
I think it's good. I feel OK. A bit culture-shocky from the prices of everything over here, if nothing else (petrol at $7 a gallon? guess I'll be keeping those hikes close to home for a while). And I'm a bit worried about the accents. English (language) isn't English isn't English, y'know? There's American "English" and England "English" and Welsh "English" (and New Zealand "English" and ... and ... and). Never mind that a car's trunk is a "boot," or "pants" are one's underwear rather than "trousers" (or, alternatively, "pants" also means "rubbish," which also means "trash"...), I'm mostly worried about communicating medical information to clients accurately. And also wary of misunderstanding colleagues and risking giving offense (offence). It turns out all those years watching the BBC have only prepared me for interacting with Londoners. Who knew.
So then I guess that brings me back to the blog. The Next Thing. Here I am, at the Next Thing. For now. Is it the final thing? Well, who knows, really. Too soon to tell. But I guess I can step outside my midwesterner's mindset for just a moment to give a little self-congratulatory "Hurrah!" (just a small one, though -- let's not get carried away)