[Blogger’s note: I’m an American expat twice removed, having relocated to Canada early in the new century and then to the southern coast of England in 2016. This post details an important event in my immigration journey that had me stressing over an exam grade for the first time since my student days decades ago. ]
You know the classic anxiety dream where you’re at school and the teacher announces a pop quiz for which you are totally unprepared? Also, for some reason, you’re wearing nothing but tighty-whities? I felt a similarly palpable panic while wide awake and en route to take the Life in the UK Test, a requirement for immigrants like myself who seek permanent residency in Britain. Mercifully for the townsfolk I passed on the walk to the test centre, I was fully clothed. And sufficiently informed, or at least in theory: I had read and re-read the three-volume study guide published on behalf of the Home Office, the governmental department that rules on visa applications. I had also taken more than 40 practice tests, both in the guide and online, and passed them all – out of 24 questions, you’re allowed six incorrect answers and I had not missed more than four. And I’d been through a comparable process in Canada when I applied for citizenship there. Yet I couldn’t shake the unnerving sense that I was going to blow it. Long-suppressed memories of my scholastic shortcomings in adolescence resurfaced on cue to fuel this fear – the C- on that baffling algebra exam, the D for that botched frog dissection in biology, the essay that was returned so full of red marks it looked like a crime scene. Let’s just say I was never the teacher’s pet.
Chapter Seven: Oh! You Pretty Things (Wherein the Author Reveals a Frankly Unsettling Obsession with Home Accessories)
I can’t walk through our downstairs living room without looking at the mirror. Not in the mirror, although I occasionally sneak a peek at the old mug in passing just to make sure I don’t have mustard in my goatee or my eyebrows haven’t fused together overnight or something. (I live in mortal fear of the unibrow.) No, at the mirror, a simple oak-framed piece of glass, the latest addition to the still-evolving décor of our flat. It’s as Scandi-minimalist as they come and possibly too plain for many tastes, but to me it is a thing of unparalleled beauty and elegance. Not only does it bounce light around a somewhat dark space, but its blond wood frame is aesthetically harmonious with furniture pieces nearby, so it ties the room together with aplomb. And when the hubby put it up, he couldn’t have positioned it more perfectly on the wall – dead centre over the sofa – so I’m proud to say that it’s very, very well-hung.
BLOGGER’S NOTE: Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on people across the globe. The intent of this series is not to make light of the pandemic in any way, but rather to examine the author’s idiosyncrasies, which existed long before the virus and, all being well, will be there long after. In these uncertain times, we must continue to take every available measure to protect our personal and communal health. Thanks for reading and stay safe.]
One thing I’ve learned in these many months of hand sanitizing, nasal swabbing, and banana bread baking is that I am a creature of habit to the max. Admittedly, I’ve shown signs of this tendency in the past – for instance, I’ll eat the same thing for breakfast every day for weeks before I force myself to switch it up. But under the string of lockdowns imposed on Britain due to the coronavirus, I morphed into my super-boring alter-ego, Captain Routine. While others bemoaned the tedium of one day blurring into the next, I reveled in the same old same old. I went grocery shopping at the same time every other day – mid-morning, before the lunch rush. I stuck to a fixed rotation of exercise walks, ambling in an easterly direction one day and west the next, traipsing south on the third day and north on the fourth before starting the cycle over again. I listened to an album every time I sat down to lunch – just one, all the way through, though I permitted myself the whimsy of choosing from a variety of genres. And I worked on this blog most weekdays from 2:00 pm until 3:30 or so, allowing for breaks to surf Amazon and Discogs. (Given that I’ve only managed to produce one post every couple of months, I’d say those breaks were many and lengthy.) It’s been a regimented, repetitive existence that has suited me just fine.
Chapter Six: The Everything Room (It’s a Man Cave! A Music Hub! Guest Quarters! It’s Also a Floor Wax!*)
So far in this series on the thrills and spills of property ownership, I’ve tackled such sexy subjects as sump pump maintenance,storage shed de-cluttering, and bath towel symmetry. And readers have responded by staying away in droves! Just kidding, air kisses for my core group of beautiful masochists who have stuck with me as I’ve nattered on about DIY and decorating minutiae. I humbly request that you indulge me again for this latest effort, a rather giddy love letter to my favourite living space in the Portsmouth pad that the spouse and I have called home since late 2019. Huzzah! It’s the upstairs sitting room!
“You must own so many records,” a new friend of mine remarked the other day as we were having a discussion about whether she should buy a turntable. (Shouldn’t everyone?) It was a logical assumption on her part, for even though we’ve only known each other a relatively short time, she’s already learned what those near and dear to me have known forever: Music is my thing. My passion. The flame was lit when I fell head over heels for rock ‘n’ roll at the tender age of 13 and in the decades since I’ve remained a voracious consumer of recorded music in all its forms. I feel like I’ve bought enough LPs, singles, cassettes, CDs, and yes, 8-tracks in my time to fill the Hollywood Bowl twice over. So you’d think by now, at the gruff-and-grizzled age of [REDACTED], I’d have a collection worthy of that Guinness book of other records. Yet it pains me to admit that the quantity of albums currently on display in our guest room/media den, where the hubby and I keep the stereo and other man-cave essentials, is a tiny fraction of what it should be, given all that I’ve spent on physical music over the years. What the devil happened? Aye, ‘tis an epic saga of voyages to new lands, fickle fortunes, and reckless raids on the treasure followed inevitably by crashing waves of regret. So sit back, wee buccaneers, whiles I tells me tale of woe. (I don’t know why I’m suddenly channeling Geoffrey Rush from The Pirates of the Caribbean, but there ye go.)
Chapter Five: Better Living Through Bath Towel Symmetry (The Making of a Martha Stewart Wannabe)
[WARNING: The following post contains first-world problems that some readers may find exceptionally silly. Discretion is advised.]
I stepped back, took stock of my efforts, and let out a heavy sigh. Nope, still not quite right. The spouse and I had just bought two new John Lewis bath towels, Dusty Green™ and Dark Steel™ to match our bathroom tiles, and my mission was to get them to hang together perfectly on the radiator/drying rack. I expected nothing less than precise straight lines and crisp right angles, with the towels displayed in a fetching stair-step pattern – the dark grey towel on the top rung to the left and its green mate peeking out underneath to the right. But the several attempts I’d made thus far had failed to meet my stringent standards. This time, the one on the lower rung drooped at an unacceptable slant. Gingerly, I tried to straighten it, which only succeeded in making them both go cockeyed. What was I doing wrong? Continue reading →