Travelogue, Part 1
A week-and-a-half into this retirement thing, I felt it was high time to give an update to my buds left behind, especially those of you still working for a living. How tiresome.
So greetings from somewhere in the UK! Actually, if you want to know where I am, you could try searching on a map for Belsize, which is in Chipperfield, which is in Rickmansworth, near London. I say "near" London, because it appears so on a map, but feels a world apart. My daughter's daily commute, starting from here on the northwest side of London, to a university also on the west side of London, is 2 hours each way!
When Dawn described "village life," I had imagined an actual village, with shops and eateries and pleasant strolls among the villagers and such. But no, this is an area of homes and farms and fields. The only establishment of any sort that is walkable from here is the pub that lies almost immediately next door. It goes without saying that we shall become well acquainted.
It is not that civilization is all that far -- it is a mere 2 miles to a lovely area just as I had imagined above, but you cannot walk there from here without trekking much of that distance on the pavement of the local "main drag," which is a non-starter for reasons I shall soon explain.
My daughter rises to catch a cab precisely at 6 a.m. each day, takes it to a metro station some 4 miles away, and transfers her way to her destination, reversing the process and getting home after 6:00 each night. This, despite the fact that she has a car, left here by her husband when he took his new job in Dubai. She no longer drives, having learned that doing so is illegal, which she was originally given to believe was a technicality of sorts, having exceeded the year's period during which her Arizona driver's license could be used.
This car, which was to have been our ticket to seeing the local environs, was itself left by a friend of Dawn's at the aforementioned metro station, a mere 4 miles from here in Croxley Green. After Dawn paid a few days' extra parking fare, Nancy and I ventured via cab to the station on our third day here to retrieve the car. We choose the middle of the day, far from any heavy traffic period, and set Nancy's "maps" function. I volunteered to drive.
Now, the roads in this part of the world are ancient, and have been modernized simply by having been paved at some point during the previous century. Originally laid out for pedestrians, livestock, and the occasional cart, they are amply broad enough at all points for two bicycles to comfortably pass each other, with thick hedges, solid trees, or the random stone wall penning you in on each side. Down these paths hurtle mostly compact vehicles, careening around curves with obscured visibility, encountering each other head-on.
Of course, I exaggerate. There is at every point at least 2-to-3 inches between side-view mirrors, so long as at least one of the vehicles is literally scraping the hedges or polishing the granite curbs. There is obviously an elaborate dance and sophisticated rules by which these vehicles alternate slowing or embedding themselves into the hedges to allow the other car to pass. These rules are, however, beyond comprehension.
When in more civilized stretches through villages, rather than widen these suddenly busier streets, the locals compensate by allowing parking virtually anywhere, typically with one wheel over the curb, and the dance now includes indecipherable rules by which one lane of traffic or the other stops, far in advance of these blocks-long stretches of parked cars, to allow a caravan of opposing traffic to proceed. Notification regarding whose turn it is to proceed is communicated via telepathy.
Every other intersection or so one finds a roundabout, a remarkably efficient mechanism by which to move traffic. This efficiency, of course, depends upon knowing what on earth one is doing. One might think that being greeted by the "yield to traffic in the circle" sign would mean that one should yield. That was certainly the assumption I made, to the consternation of the line of drivers behind me. What it actually means is: don't enter the circle until you have enough room that the oncoming traffic has just enough space to brake so as not to crash into you.
Doing all of this while on the wrong side of the road, sitting on the wrong side of the car, crossing traffic to make right-hand turns, and shifting our manual transmission with the wrong hand, provided me with an exciting new challenge on that 4 mile drive home.
Admirably enough, I only ate the hedges 10 or 12 times during that initial drive home, whacked my left side mirror nearly off against a tree, and helpfully assisted in filling potholes with excess available rubber from our tires. The best thing was the enlightenment that I inspired in Nancy, as I've never before heard her exclaim with such enthusiasm her appreciation for life in this world.
It's good that I've retired early, as that brief drive took two years off my life. Needless to say, Nancy has driven since, yet still infrequently, as each of those adventures takes another single year off what's left. Thus, we have been limited in our excursions, such as obtaining our SIM cards only a couple of days ago. These provide us with new UK phone numbers, which I'll list at the end of this communication, but which will do many of you no good whatsoever as there is no cell service here at all. With WiFi, however, those of you with iPhones may FaceTime us, although please, unlike my mom, do remember that we are 7 hours later than Arizona time (and it will be 8 hours once every other part of the civilized world goes to daylight savings).
Wait, why again, you may ask, is my daughter, who is well-accustomed to driving here, no longer driving? It is illegal to drive in the UK longer than a year unless you have a UK license. At 500 pounds cost and with only a month to go, it's not worth it. She might still risk it and just drive anyway, but for an experience she and her husband had.
Minding their own business driving one day, Anthony had to eat the hedges not to avoid an oncoming vehicle, but one that was literally flying through the air over their car, on a missile trajectory to collide with others. Naturally curious about the outcome, they learned that the driver had been arrested for driving without a UK license after having lived here for more than a year. Not planning on using her car to fly, yet wishing to avoid imprisonment, Dawn has chosen to pass.
We forayed out again today out of necessity, given our 6 pillowcases stuffed with laundry that we had to schlep to the laundromat. "Wait," you may say, "you've been gone barely a week. How did you accumulate so much dirty laundry?"
Ah, that leads to the next part of the story.
Especially for those of you hoping to join us here at some point, I should describe our abode. This is a quaint little row house type of cottage, converted from an 1850s carriage house. It totals 700 square feet, I presume inclusive of the expansive 6-inch by 2-foot closet. Downstairs is a tiny but cute art-deco fireplace, which we are required to fire up at least every other night, reportedly to help control dampness. And to light this fire we use? Why, good British coal. I'm not kidding. I'm making a fire with coal.
Excuse me, I believe that's Charles Dickens who has come calling at my door.
Upstairs are two bedrooms. We have the larger one -- the one with the expansive closet and a good foot or so space to circumnavigate the bed. When we were planning our trip, Dawn messaged us that when we arrived we would have to make the bed. "No problem," we thought, until we arrived to find the bed in pieces leaning up against the wall. We had to "make the bed," as in, follow the IKEA instructions to construct the thing. But I find I can follow directions better when there are no words, but merely hieroglyphics to instruct me, along with the helpful corrections from Nancy.
The other bedroom neatly frames the other bed wall-to-wall, but it contains the sole bathroom. That's right, my midnight pee trips involve tiptoeing past my sleeping adult daughter, rendered more acceptable by the absence of her husband in her bed, at least until he comes for a weekend next month.
These bedrooms are accessed by the narrow, and I swear 60 degree elevation staircase. This is no problem except for the fact that the first step down is immediately outside of both bedroom doors, rendering waking my daughter the least of my concerns during my slumbering pee trips. On the bright side, I may not need a repeat bone scan to test the progress of my osteoporosis. If, by the bottom of the stairs, I am still intact, I should be good to go.
It really is a sweet little cottage, but for the beast.
As some of you may know, Dawn has for years had Belvedere, a well-behaved little Schnoodle. For a year, Belvis became the office dog at Nancy's workplace in Nevada. But now that Belvis is a Brit, he no longer has the run of the place to himself.
You are no doubt familiar with the British obsession with royalty, and royal bloodlines that extend back as far as can be discovered. Well, the same extends to pure bred dogs. Apparently, it's not just the offspring of cross-breeding that have discounted value, but the parents themselves, having violated protocol by succumbing to the pleasures of the fur with a breed other than their own, lose value themselves. So when attempting to breed pure-breds, and two dogs with eyes for each other stray outside of their own kind, it is best to cover-up the transgression, and hustle off the newborns as quickly as possible.
Dawn and Anthony adopted such a puppy to add to their family. Juniper is the product of an English Spaniel and, wait for it... a Weimaraner. This 7 month-old puppy weighs some 40 pounds so far and feels like she outweighs me whenever she chooses to throw her weight around, which occurs roughly every 5 or 6 seconds.
First greeting me with her front paws seeming to reach my shoulders and a "kiss" not so much a lick as a nose plant into my face, she quickly presented me with the gift of my shoe, and we progressed from there. Given the chance, every cushion on the couch will be sent flying, and the stuffing joins the toys scattered across everything. I am treated to endless displays of WWE Wrestling matches between the dogs, and often am compelled to participate. This is basically non-stop unless Juniper gets hours of vigorous romping across nearby farmland, rain or shine (who am I kidding? It is always raining, unless it's sleeting). This serves to expend her energy nearly as much as mine.
Recognizing the advanced age of her father, Dawn has thoughtfully spared us from as much of this as possible, often walking the dogs alone, boarding both dogs during the day (a continuance of what she had been doing during the work day while she was alone), and enclosing them in a cage-like kennel for sleeping at night.
Each morning, perhaps half an hour after my daughter's 6 a.m. departure, I am woken by Juniper's "OMG I've got to poop right now!" whine. Stumbling my way downstairs I generally get to the front door just in time for her to step a foot or two outside before depositing copious puppy diarrhea on the front walk, but alas, not always in time. Even if outside, my choice is then to ignore the deposits and have them ultimately tracked back in, or do my best to scrape it up.
Both pooches then scamper upstairs, Belvis hoping to escape the madness and sleep with Nancy, Juniper hoping to touch every square inch of mattress around her before absconding with some article of clothing. I can usually manage to calm the beast down for a few moments of dozing on the couch during the morning, but otherwise wrestle for a few hours until both dogs are off to doggie day care.
I am repeatedly and endlessly covered in dog slobber, tracked in mud, and who knows what those other fluids are. I thus have soiled more laundry than usual, leading to our aforementioned trip to the laundromat, which of course required another life-expending drive, parking the car on the sidewalk and moving it three times, and a host of laundromat cultural lessons.
So just to pique my early retirement experience, we combined both driving and Juniper into a single adventure this week when we drove the dogs to the vet. Having just endured endless vaccines and other requirements to become British, Belvedere is required to repeat the process for the UAE. Of course, Juniper has to do it, too.
Despite the white-knuckle life-shortening aspect of riding in the passenger seat while Nancy drives (much, much better than I do), I at least have been able to assist in navigation between bouts of loss of sphincter control. But I could not do so while desperately wrestling the beast in the back seat to keep her from attempting to drive.
Thankfully, on the drive over to the vet, Dawn's father-in-law chauffeured us. I was especially grateful upon our transmigration of the "magic roundabout," which consists of a single large roundabout fed on all sides by 7 separate roundabouts, some of them one-way, some two-way, lanes of traffic crossing, and no stoplights involved. Roundabouts here go clockwise, unless others are feeding a central roundabout, which must then travel counter-clockwise, whose outer ring of traffic travels in the opposite direction. It's indescribable, especially at rush hour.
At one point during the vet visit, I was left for 20 minutes or so to constrain Juniper in the car while Belvis was with the vet. I mistakenly settled in for the usual wrestling match, until she caught me with a right hook that sent my glasses flying and myself wondering whether I still possessed lips.
Convinced I was now involved in MMA, I soon realized that Juniper could not abide even those rules as she landed several kicks which, as the British might describe it, were received "down low and full square."
Nancy then drove home admirably through rush hour. I am learning to just not look.
I remain alive, but not for long. So those of you who want to join us here may need to hurry!
Dawn is leaving us on March 12. The only firm dates we have for others being here are for Bobbie and Jack, here April 12 - May 5. We can handle more than one at a time as we have a sleeper futon sofa, and there is a "summer house" in the back with electricity and heat, but no plumbing. Thus, your late night pees may need to involve slogging through the mud before climbing the stairs and stepping past others sleeping. Either that, or chamber pots. :-P Or perhaps taking a cue from the dogs and watering the yard.
The easiest way to reach me is still through email: firstname.lastname@example.org .