Settling in: Which is the Part That's Broken?



I realise the title of this post could be more succinct, more streamlined. But the somewhat awkward and disjointed phrasing I selected perhaps more accurately reflects how my brain is working right now. In sum: Not great.


I'm just starting my second week in the UK, all of it has been in self-isolating lockdown. So, other than the little lane leading to and from my flat, I haven't seen -- much less explored -- any of the country or even my new neighbourhood. All I have available to occupy my mental energies is what's indoors, around me (and of course via extension, the internet & TV). So perhaps I'm being overly sensitive to the bits that are -- so far, already -- going wrong. A micro-analysis of my environment spurred on by boredom and repetition. And necessity.


Any new culture -- hell, any new place -- comes with its own differences. Even in the US, moving from Alaska to Oregon came with its own adjustments: climate, transport, the workings of the new house's thermostat or washing machine.... But somehow, in this new country, those adjustments seem to have added weight and implications. It's not just that it's different here -- it's different in ways I don't even know are different. And I feel like I "should" be able to figure some of these things out on my own. And yet?


Overall, everything so far is fine. More than fine -- good, really. I'm not ill (no COVID contracted at the airports or on the plane, or in the taxi which drove me here to my flat in Wales). The dogs are fine and settling in. We've established a daily routine of outdoor local rambles up & down the lane so as to avoid interacting with people who might be coming and going from the clinic beneath the flat. I've had groceries delivered & finally sorted out the stove (there's a red switch on the wall that turns it on, in addition to the individual burners' knobs). The TV arrived and I was able to hook it up -- sort of -- and watch a bit of telly in the evenings.


But perhaps this is a good place to start, with the TV. Just two days after connecting the bits and bobs, it already doesn't work reliably. Netflix, sure -- Netflix can be accessed any time. But the other bits are questionable and seem to vary from one viewing to the next. Sometimes it gets "stuck"with the little spinning wheel of death (cursor) just circling round and round, not going anywhere. And the broadcast TV I was able to watch the first day has now lost its sound. Still has picture, just silent. (Yes, I checked the Mute button.)


So this has led me to the question above: Which part is broken? Where is the weak link? In the TV situation, it could be any number of places, right? The TV, the WiFi, user error.... I don't entirely understand the British "TV licence" thing, which I've been assured has been paid, for the flat, and I think just has to do with helping finance the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) channels, which I must say mostly provide quite high-quality programming. Is that little black box sitting next to the TV the router, then? Or something else? Fortunately, it plugged into the new TV the same as it was plugged into the old TV, but it doesn't seem to work the same. Or, I should say, it did but now it doesn't.


This may seem a frivolous matter. So the TV doesn't work or is fussy, so what? But the scenario repeats itself over and over again every day, in other ways, throughout the flat.


The heating, for instance. There are electric radiators in each room. The first day I stayed here was sweltering, and when I realised I could shut off the electricity at the plug, I did that. And that worked for a while. But over the weekend, the flat seemed to cool down. Were the flat's radiators somehow hooked into the clinic's heating downstairs, such that the clinic being closed on the weekend resulted in my flat losing heat, as well? I reached out to one of the clinic (& flat's) managers to ask, and was told the radiators work by stored heat, sometimes taking hours to heat up entirely. Two hours after having turned them on, I wasn't convinced they were working, but by the following morning (more than twelve hours later), they were hot. Last night, the flat was 75 degrees, in November. The heaters have been turned off since last night but the one in the living room (only that one) is still boiling hot. So I haven't figured out the timing of that, either.


Similarly with the hot water heater. It took me a while to realise there's no hot water in this flat. (The shower is an electric shower, which is its own on-demand miniature water heater which trickles down water that's either scalding hot or lukewarm but nowhere in between.) Because the outdoor weather has been mild (or maybe for some other reason), the tap water is tepid, from both hot & cold taps -- yes, they're separate here. In both Alaska and Oregon, if there was no hot water, the default tap water temperature was icy cold. So, again, I reached out to the manager. It turns out the hot water is on-demand, so there's a secret closet where I have to go turn on the water heater about a half-hour prior to when I think I'll need it. The closet (cupboard), by the way, is referred to as a "hot press," which is evidently Irish (as is the manager) and not even something the English say. So when the email from the manager says I need to look in the "hot press" and I try to be self-sufficient and google "hot water heater hot press,"I get nothing of value for my efforts. The manager laughs and apologises.


So this is what it is, then, to learn new things, a new way of living. Maybe it's only a problem for me because of self-doubt. Maybe I'm not good at asking for help and allow myself to feel foolish (or worse) when the solution is straightforward ("I should have tried that" or "I should have thought of that myself, sorry for troubling you"), or when the problem magically fixes itself (usually reverting to nonfunctioning as soon as the assisting individual has hung up or left the room).


Today I "fixed" a faulty email log-in by resetting my password ... to the exact password it had been previously, and after that I was able to access the website. Go figure.


When I'm feeling low or frustrated, I sometimes think I don't know how many days of this I'll be able to manage before my head explodes. I know stuff like this happened in the US all the time. Being unable to log in to a website did happen from time to time in Anchorage or Seattle. And I once bought the wrong printer ink in Bend -- but then I'd just hop in my car and drive down to Office Depot and ask for a refund. I don't even know the equivalent of Office Depot in Wales, nor do I have a car (yet). Besides I'm in quarantine for another six days anyway.


It's all part of the adjustment process. I do understand that. But it's still frustrating -- sometimes infuriating -- to try to tease out which are fixable problems and which are merely ... differences. And to weed out those which are just entirely broken (I'm fairly certain the water heater in the hot press falls into this category).


In the meantime, I'll probably just grab my book and settle in for a nice relaxing read. Paper pages to turn -- not much can go wrong with that.




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