Friday, May 25, 2012

Hot and Cold

A bit of our lovely new garden
I'm writing this whilst blissfully enjoying a patch of warm sunshine on the lawn.  It's about time.  British weather, ever a topic of conversation amongst the locals, has truly challenged me this spring.  Coming from Portland, where the rains close in sometime around the end of October and don't let up again until, say, June - I thought I was prepared for British weather.  I'm not one to complain much anyway.

After a crisp dry February and truly lovely and unseasonably warm March, the Southeast of England had to declare a drought condition and instill a hosepipe ban.  The irony is, about 10 days later it began to rain and it didn't stop for about 6 weeks.  I follow the Thames to work and each morning it got a little higher until it threatened to overspill the bank.  The nearby public footpath became a nearly impassable bog, and yet I still can't rinse my car with a hose. Worse than the rain, it was just so. damn. cold.

Let me first say, I'm generally not even sure, officially, how warm or cold it is around here.  I don't know how to judge temperatures stated in Celsius.  I'm confounded by a country that measures its distance in miles and its beer in pints, but goes all metric when it comes to stating the temperature.  I think it's some kind of conspiracy.  A conspiracy happily joined by my husband, who is perennially hot-blooded and gleefully took the opportunity to declare that 15 degrees is a perfectly legitimate maximum for the thermostat.  I had to look it up, but that is only 59 degrees!!

For weeks temperatures (outside) struggled to reach the mid-50s and I was in a semi-hypothermic state.  Having lived through a couple of Oregon winters with only a woodstove for heat - and that only making one room in the house truly comfortable, I'm no stranger to cold.  But I was completely caught off guard by frigid depth of the bone-chilling cold that crept into me and refused to be dislodged.  I ran a space heater under my desk at work, showered twice a day to try to drive the chill away and spent most of my time at home huddled under blankets and cradling a hot water bottle.

Last week, I'd had my fill and decided it was finally time to start bitching in earnest about the weather.  As the lovely Helen pointed out, at least that meant I was officially becoming a Brit.  And then two days ago (cue the chorus of angels and shining beams of light) the sun not only came out, but the temperatures suddenly soared to the upper 20s (that's low to mid 80s in real money).  I've been lovely and warm through and through.

Brits celebrated for all of about half an hour.  And then promptly began complaining that it was too hot.  Well, at least they're never short of something to talk about.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Ease on down the road? Not so much.

Do you know what the hardest thing about moving to England has been for me?  It's not the rat hole, or the fact that we're moving this weekend (again!) and have to load and unload (again!) all our worldly possessions,* it's not even $8/gallon gasoline.  It's driving.  The simple act of getting in a car and conveying myself from point A to point B - something I've been doing, even enjoying for over two decades.  When I had a convertible, there were few things I relished more than dropping the top, cranking the tunes, and carving up the lanes on a sunny day.  Road trips were an adventure - the journey was the destination.

* and by we, I of course mean D.  The man is a moving machine.

But now, the car is my nemesis.  If had only to learn the rules of British roads, it would be fine.  If I had only to learn to shift the transmission with my left hand instead of my right, it would be fine.  But the act of trying to do both, it stymies me.  The sheer concentration required to ensure that I'm shifting into the right gear and not jamming it into reverse or 2nd rather than 4th whilst monitoring the pertinent traffic approaching the roundabouts.  As D reminds me, I have to not only get comfortable on the roads, I have to pass a driving test.  So I need to develop good driving habits - not just get by.  And now, I question and second guess every little decision.  Did I shift up too soon? Shift down too late? Brake too hard? Signal too early? Turn too hastily in front of oncoming traffic? Block traffic for too long waiting to turn? Pull out at the roundabout too aggressively? Too timidly? Push the accelerator too hard to achieve optimum fuel economy? (The car, the tattling little brat, has a computer that reports on my sins in that area.)  The required concentration and resulting stress of a journey in the car is enough to make me want to abandon the effort entirely.

For those that have done this before with little concern or effort, my frustration probably sounds trite or silly.  "How hard can it be?" these fortunate souls ask, to which I can only answer, "You have no idea."

"Learning to drive" again after two decades of doing it as second nature is bad enough.  Not having the ability to jump in the car and just go is so much worse now than it was when I was peering over the precipice of adulthood, chafing at a lack freedom and independence before I'd ever really tasted it.

I need to stone up and just do this already before it develops into a full fledged phobia - but I never dreamt it would be so hard.