“I’m sorry… What?”
“Where you from then? Visiting family?”
I was talking to the woman behind the counter at the Sisters Cafe. “Ah. No, from the States. Just doing some traveling. House sitting here this weekend before I head north to Scotland”.
“Oooh, Scotland. I’ve heard it’s beautiful. Never been there meself. Here you go. Bring your breakfast right out to you.”
I took the Americano she passed over to me and stopped to get silverware and hunt hopefully for cream. Nope. Milk again. Ick. In the absence of half and half, it’s always better to go for my coffee black rather than using 2% milk or (horrors) skim milk. People here always offer milk or lemon for your tea. You will be asked if you want “white coffee” or “black coffee”. But I assume that’s still referring to the addition of milk. Surprisingly, Brits don’t seem to be enamored of cream in their coffee. A sound reason for not staying here indefinitely.
It was Friday morning. I’d slept in, well past Rich and Cat getting up to go to work. Their plan was to leave for Bath (Hey! I was just there!) directly from work. We’d had dinner together the night before. In fact, Cat made a beautiful spaghetti bolognese and we spent quite a while talking. Turns out they’d only been in this house a month. They’d bought it mortgage free because the woman who had lived here previously was the original owner (she was over 100 years old when she passed away) and the house had never been updated with plumbing. It was almost unsellable. But they made an offer on it “as is” and are fixing it up to sell onward, hoping to make a profit on it. They’ve kept their living expenses small — sharing an older car, limited vacations, no outlandish spending — so they can use the proceeds to go on another RTW trip. RTW is hip speak for “round the world” or long distance, long term travel. It doesn’t seem to be as much an accepted rite of passage in the States as it is elsewhere. But it’s very common for individuals and/or couples to do a fair bit of international travel before settling down. Though in Rich and Cat’s situation, they’ve decided to forego a lot of the regular life activities of their peers (having children, fancy cars and going into fantastic levels of debt) so they can do more traveling.
They pulled out a hardback book they’d had made of their first RTW. It was full of pictures and blogposts from their six months on the road and all over the world: Australia, China, Indonesia, the States, and many more places I can’t recall. My little seven week foray to another English speaking country didn’t seem outlandish to them at all! We talked late into the evening then went to bed. I woke up early, as soon as the sky was light, but realized I had absolutely no reason to get out of bed. I rolled over and went back to sleep. When I awoke later, they were already gone.
I stumbled downstairs and rummaged around for coffee. None. Tea… and lots of it. But no coffee. I knew I had a lot of coordinating to do and wanted to have a clear head. After a week on the road at hotels and inns, I felt like I’d forgotten how to cook. “What? Breakfast doesn’t just appear in front of me anymore? Damn. That’s a shame. I really enjoyed that!” But cooking before and without coffee? That was too much to handle. I pulled on clothes and walked back down to the little cafe I’d visited the day before. Lots of things on the menu I didn’t recognize. But I found enough that looked familiar. Blessed coffee. French toast with bacon (which is so not bacon, as we refer to it, but more like a slice of ham). Outside table, where I could sit and ponder the oddly blue sky and what things I’d need to get done this weekend. First and foremost: laundry. Then find a place to be for the next couple weeks. After that, a few other items on the agenda that could wait until the first two were done.
After the walk home, I wandered through the house a bit trying to decide what to do next. Rich had kindly left his laptop for me to use. I put in a load of laundry and sat down to continue my search. Scrolled through house sit listings, wrote some more people, checked to see if I’d heard anything more back from recent contacts. One farm, near Glasgow, had said they’d be interested in having me out as their Scheduled WWOOFEr for the next two weeks had canceled. However I’d heard nothing more from them yet. A couple of emails said their housesit needs had been filled. I was getting nervous. I looked at train schedules and prices but couldn’t buy anything because I didn’t know where I was going. I went to hang my laundry out to dry. Pulled the load of white clothes out of the washer and lo and behold, everything was yellow. Aurhhhh!!! That’s when I burst into tears.
I hung my stuff on the line, had a good cry, put the next load in the washer (colors this time) and went back to the computer. After a couple hours, I was starting to go around in circles… “Where can I go? How should I get there? How can I get there if I don’t know where I’m going? Where can I go?” And repeat ad nauseum. I finally decided I should go find the nearby market, find some bleach and some coffee and maybe a few food items. During all this activity, I believe Carly moved from her heated bed upstairs to her spot on the couch downstairs and also went outside once. Did I mention that she was also blind? So, not too much required of me on that first day except to be sure the back door was open so she could get some sun.
I checked to make sure Carly was in the house, grabbed my wallet and sunglasses and ventured off in search of the market. On my way through the neighborhood, I passed by a locked gate through which I could see a huge swath of allotments. Wow! I’ve always seen them in programs on the BBC — urban sections of land used by area residents for cultivating food. I’m no historian, but I believe the system was started during W W II when England had severe shortages. People were encouraged to raise their own meat and vegetables and assigned one of these allotments if they worked it. Very exciting to see the rows and rows of individual plots with their variety of utilizations. I’m sure it’s kept up more for pleasure than necessity these days. It makes a lot of sense though, based on the size of yards in the neighborhood. You might have room at home for a few rows of lettuce and a couple of tomato plants, but truly, not for much more than that. Not sure you can see much from these photos, so you’ll have to recall images from your own store of BBC shows!
At the grocery store, I bumbled around looking for things . I found that bleach was located not with laundry supplies but with cleaning supplies (also that you have a choice of either “thick” bleach or “thin” bleach… Huh?). Dishwashing soap is called “washing up” liquid. I kid you not. Says that right on every bottle. Could only find instant coffee. And worst of all, after going up and down the dairy aisle about four times, I could find nothing richer than whole milk for coffee. With a sigh, I picked up a small container and headed for the checkout stand. Luckily, it all operated much like the ones here and I was out of their in no time at all.
Back at the house, I pulled out a beautiful loaf of bread I’d found, made toast, got my bleach (thin) ready for rewashing my whites and pulled my colored load out of the laundry to find everything in it tinted reddish pink. What?!?!? Did I even have anything red with me?!?! After pulling out the items, I found a pair of maroon leggings which may have been the culprit, though I don’t see how as I’ve washed them numerous times before without any problem. I blinked hard a few times and resolutely went off to the backyard to hang up my pink and purple clothes. Oh, by the way, my brand new blue and white silk sweater was in that load. I think I had another cry when I discovered it. Didn’t exactly turn pink. But the white silk stripes are vaguely violet now.
Things got better after this. They really did. Otherwise, I might have decided to pack it all in and fly home.
Again, I spent time on the computer trying to put together an alternate plan. By the evening, I gave up and watched tv because I was tired of thinking and tired of trying. I didn’t want to post to the blog until I felt better and/or at least had my next steps put together. I tumbled into bed pretty early.
The next two mornings I woke up with the light and lazily turned right back over to go to sleep. I had nothing I had to do and nowhere I wanted to go. Instead, I hid out at Cat and Rich’s house, pet and fed the cat, read, searched on the computer and sat in the backyard knitting. There really wasn’t anything I wanted to visit in Birmingham. In fact, when I’d asked Rich and Cat where I should go or what I should see while there, they looked at each other and shrugged. I ventured back to the market, now jauntily stilling in and right over to the items I wanted (a cooked chicken, some salad stuff, cookies, etc) then made myself a few meals. I administered pills to Carly each morning by breaking them into minuscule pieces and smooshing them into pieces of chicken. She growled at me while eating them but hey, it worked!
By Saturday afternoon, the weather was glorious but I still hadn’t put together my next stay. I set up two chairs next to the outside table and sat out there, knitting furiously. Everyone was out in their backyards. The guy on one side was doing yard work while his 5 or 6 year old daughter jumped on her trampoline with some friends. The folks on the other side were in and out, working on their flower bed, hanging laundry, throwing a ball for their Jack Russell terrier and shouting back and forth in conversation with their neighbors.
The first morning I’d come out to hang a load of laundry, the couple with the Jack Russell had said hello and introduced themselves and asked if I needed anything. They were very friendly, if a bit hard to understand. Paul, in particular, had the thickest Brummie (aka from Birmingham) accent I’d heard yet. I had to look directly at him during our conversations so I could read his body language as well as hear his word. Occasionally, even with both, I had to stammer “Excuse me? What?” And ask him to say that again, please. We laughed about it. His wife, Julie, had a much lighter accent. Sometimes I would look at her for a translation.
Every time I came outside, they asked after me. “Alright over there, Suzie? Need anything?” I wish I could say it to you in exactly the tones They used. It was really quite endearing. But I tell you, when they talked up and down along the backyards, the conversation went right by me, as if I where hearing a foreign language. I would pick up one or two words for every dozen that went by.
Finally, FINALLY, by Sunday morning I was able to get a response from Ardunan Farm, near Glasgow. Their email was along the lines of “it will be refreshing to have a grownup here” and then I spoke on the phone with them. Again, strong accents, this time Scots, and I knew I’d caught only part of what was said. I do remember David saying something about the women they’d had volunteer on the farm were either wretched or “brilliant”. I resolved to be brilliant and made arrangements with them to arrive on the next Wednesday. They’d need time to clear and clean the present volunteer’s room and it wouldn’t be ready until then. Back to the computer to figure out more arrangements. But at least now I had a place to go! Also, the other farm farther south said I could come a week early and stay a week later if I liked. There was all my lodging and time replaced except the three nights from Sunday to Wednesday. Rich and Cat were due back Sunday mid day (then an email: Sunday late afternoon, then another: Sunday early evening, then another: Sunsay evening maybe 8pm???) I wrote them and said I’d made plans to travel first thing Monday morning, so I’d be here with Carly, no problem. I got on Ravelry and posted for help and info on places to stay in Glasgow. I bought a train ticket. And when I went back outside in the early evening, I accepted that offered glass of wine from Paul and Julie. Whew! Things had come together just in the nick of time.
The three of us chatted over the hedgerow for quite a long time. I heard all about their married son and daughter and grandchildren and about the days of “northern soul” in Birmingham (tons of American Motown-type music brought over and crazy, all-night dance clubs springing up), about the Brits’ view of Trump (How is it possible? Aren’t people over there educated?) and about lots of cricket. Then Paul went into the house and brought out a pennant for the Birmingham cricket team and gave it to me and went back inside, pulled out a commemorative glass from the Queen’s golden jubilee celebration and gave that to me as well. Then he and Julie discussed all the best ways for me to catch a bus to the downtown train station in the morning. They checked the schedule online. They talked about it some more. Uncertain I’d be alright, they made me promise to come knock on their door in the morning so Paul and Alfie (the dog) could make sure I got to the right stop and onto the right bus. I have to say, it was lovely to be fussed over, especially after the last few days of nervous web scrolling.
Rich and Cat got home pretty late that evening. I told them about my weekend and the latest developments. They chuckled over Paul and Julie, then thanked me for being there with their cat. “We know she’d be fine by herself and could probably skip her pills for a day or two, but we feel better having someone here with her”. I thanked them for the safety net of the weekend at their house. We agreed it was a good trade.
I was up with the light again in the morning, packed up my stuff, made some coffee to go and went outside to tap on Paul and Julie’s door. They were just getting up but in minutes Alfie came bounding out, followed by Paul. “Alright then, Suzie?”
“Absolutely!” I answered.
And we were off down the street.
Coming up… A bunch more pictures, the journey to Glasgow, and arrival at my first farm. Just in time for piglets!