This Must Be the Place: Putting Down Roots – Finally – As a First-Time UK Home Owner

Chapter Three: The Dreaded Shed

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The coronavirus has put the kibosh on a slew of social activities for the time being, forcing many of us to conjure stay-at-home alternatives to fill our days. Bread baking has seen a rise in interest, as has posting the hit-and-miss results on Instagram. (Sorry, @theaussiebaker, but it appears you’ve seriously singed your buns.) Some dedicated fitness buffs have created home workout routines in order to beef up or slim down. I know, it sounds cuckoo to me too. My pal Tim is learning a bit of French, which will come in handy if he’s ever again able to travel to France, or even order in a French restaurant. (This COVID-19 is merde, non?) More than a few of us have even resorted to awkward video chats with friends and family to stave off boredom. Will Aunt Karen ever get her microphone to work? Tune in next week, or the week after, or the week after, to find out! Continue reading

This Must Be the Place: Putting Down Roots – Finally – As a First-Time UK Home Owner

Chapter Two: Pump and Circumstance

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Mea culpa. In a previous post on adjusting to life in the UK, I dismissed the widely held view that it is exceptionally rainy here, noting with premature smugness that the weather in the months since my arrival hadn’t been any more inclement than anywhere else I had ever lived. Well, this past winter definitely dampened that naïve notion. From mid-November through the holidays and into the new year, the forecast was persistently grim for much of Britain. In Portsmouth, the coastal city that my spouse and I call home, steady downpours occurred almost daily. And though the clouds parted for brief interludes, you could always count on one thing: At the exact moment you left the house to run an errand or whatever, the heavens would open up. The deluge didn’t subside until March – clear skies greeted us right around the time we were all ordered to stay indoors to keep the coronavirus at bay. Isn’t it ironic, Alanis?

So yeah, newsflash, the possibility of looooong soggy spells in Britain is all too real. As such, homes that have areas below street level, like the two-storey flat the hubby and I bought back in October, need extra protection against flooding. This is why there’s a sump pump on our property. Having hitherto lived my life fully and freely above terra firma, I’ve never encountered one before. In the aftermath of the stressful incident described below in vivid detail, I Googled “what is a sump pump and how does it work,” and discovered that it’s an electric pump system that propels excess water through a pipe up and away from the house and into an external drain. Whether this is done by physics or by Order of the Phoenix-approved wizardry, I’m still not sure.  (Wikipedia has the full breakdown, but it’s a lengthy entry and I lost interest pretty quickly.) On a Googling roll, I then did a search for “sump etymology,” because who would name something “sump” on purpose? I learned the term is derived from a “Low German” word meaning “swamp.” Obviously, then I had to Google “Low German,” because that sounded kind of judgy and, well, things just spiraled from there. Continue reading

This Must Be the Place: Putting Down Roots – Finally – As a First-Time UK Home Owner

[Blogger’s note: I’m an American expat living in Portsmouth, England, with my British-born spouse. We moved to the UK together a few years ago and lodged in rental accommodations for a time, but eventually the property bug bit us and we purchased a flat of our own – a first for this fifty-something vagabond. Here you can read about the lows, the highs, and the near-constant DIY that have followed. Check back soon for the next installment in the series!]

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Chapter One: The Welcome Rat

Plump and bewhiskered, with a greasy brown coat and a long naked tail straight out of children’s nightmares, the uninvited guest seemed to take no notice of the two hulking humans peering at it disgustedly from above. It didn’t squeak, didn’t scamper away, didn’t try to gnaw at the nearest ankle. It just wobbled woozily in place, its eyes squeezed shut, its demeanor listless. I’m no expert on rodent behaviour – everything I know about rats I learned from the movie Ben — but something about this one seemed off. Was it sick? Had it lapped up a spilled pint in one of Portsmouth’s panoply of pubs and was now pissed out of its tiny mind? Or had it merely paused for a moment of quiet respite away from the, um, rat race? I got my grim answer when my partner pointed out the poison traps nestled in nooks around the courtyard where we stood, at the entrance to the flat that just minutes before had become ours. (We have since learned that such traps are common around these parts.) Poor little guy, I thought. Then a second later I thought, I am not picking that thing up if it expires right here.

My new life as a home owner was off to a bumpy start. Continue reading

Absolute Beginner: The Adventures of a Middle-Aged U.K. Newbie

[Blogger’s note: I was born and raised in America, moved to Canada for love in the early 2000s, and recently relocated again, in my 50s, with my British-born spouse to the southern coast of his homeland. This is an occasional series about learning new tricks in Merry Old England.]

Keep the Change – No, You Keep the Change! The Tricky Business of Tipping in the U.K.

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Illustration by Jeff Cohen

The spouse and I ventured to Winchester one Sunday this spring to see a favourite singer-songwriter perform at a rustic pub near the town’s train station. While waiting for the show to begin, I sauntered up to the bar and ordered a lager, forking over a fiver to the sullen barman behind the taps. He slid the pint towards me and deposited the change, a 50-pence piece, into my outstretched palm. “Mind if I leave this with you?” I asked, hand still thrust toward him. He peered at me with a marked expression of distaste, as if I’d replaced the shiny coin in my grasp with an eviscerated dung beetle, or a ball of freshly foraged belly button lint, or a teeny-tiny MAGA hat. “I’d… rather you not,” he huffed, and folded his arms tightly across his chest as if to further protect himself from our toxic transaction. “Well, okay then,” I muttered, sheepishly pocketing the pence. I slunk away feeling like I’d committed some grievous faux pas akin to clipping my toenails during a church sermon, or publicly declaring that I actually enjoyed the Game of Thrones finale. Continue reading