Since I got to England, I’ve felt as if everything is just a little bit off-kilter, like the world has shifted just a few degrees left. Our language is the same and the culture is so similar, but I feel a bit like a blundering idiot at the moment, not quite sure what I’m doing.
Take my arrival in Nailsea, where Tamara lives. I took the train from London and Tamara was picking me up at the station near her home. I knew the stop, when the driver announced it I got my bag, got up, and stood at one of the doors. The train stopped. The door didn’t open. I tried to find a handle to open the door – there wasn’t one. I thought maybe the train was just pausing before pulling up to the platform, I thought the doors must open automatically if there is no handle or button to open them, I thought surely the man standing in front of me by the door also looking like he was about to disembark would get off and I would just follow him.
None of those things happened. The train pulled away.
The man standing beside me saw the stricken look on my face.
“What stop did you want?”
“You just missed it.”
He informed me that to open the door you have to slide down the window and open it from the outside, and besides, you have to be in one of the front carriages to do that, this one was locked.
Shouldn’t there be a sign or something?
I got off at the next station, took the first train back the other direction, and fretted all the while that there was no way to tell Tamara why I hadn’t gotten off the train. Back at Nailsea I found a payphone and apologized profusely to her for causing her frantic stress.
“I’ve always said that was going to happen to someone,” she said. It made me feel a bit better about not being able to get off a bloody train.
Crossing the street is also a hazardous activity for a foreigner. I was expecting this, having been to Australia before. In London, and some places in Bristol, there are large white letters painted on the street at intersections saying “Look Right” or “Look Left”, with arrows, to help us folks who sit on the left side of the car from stepping out into traffic.
I spent two nights in London before getting to Tamara’s house – the first at Kirstin’s (who’s from Kyle, and is a teacher here), and Anna’s (my cousin from Calgary). I managed to see exactly no sights in London, which is how I wanted it. I knew I had very little time there, and will be in the UK for awhile, so I have time to go back and do a proper tour.
Instead, on our first night, Kirstin took us to the lawn bowling club down the street, of which she is a member, for the Friday night meat raffle. I won porkchops, and we drank a pint in the company of excellent old British men.
The next night Anna cooked me supper (tea?), and then took me for a pint at her local pub; it’s on a boat docked in the habour, and called The Wibbley Wobbley.
It turns out pubs in London close at 11 p.m., and they mean 11. We still had half a pint left each, but with the staff ringing the bell, flicking the lights on and off, stacking the chairs on the tables around us and giving us accusatory stares from the door, we decided to give in and leave our remaining drinks on the table. The next day she took me to the Greenwich markets before I caught the train.
I’m so grateful to have people that I know here, and to have Tamara to look after me. We met years ago, when we both worked at Second Cup in Calgary and she was in Canada on a working visa. Now she’s a lawyer in Bristol.
So far Tamara has secured me a job at her parents’ bed and breakfast, is allowing me to stay at her house for two weeks, gave me a pedal bike to ride this summer, a rain jacket, and her old cell phone so I didn’t have to buy my own. She prints me off maps and writes directions on them for me, and translates things into ‘Canadian’. I don’t know what I’d be doing without her.