Friday, December 26, 2014

The Christmas Miracle

It’s the twenty-fifth of December, and you know what that means: after the orgy of gifts and the festive breakfast, when boredom begins to settle in and you decide to take a walk around the park, the True Miracle of Christmas occurs.

That’s right, this is the one morning of the year when people in Horsham—and possibly throughout West Sussex, and even the rest of the southeast of England—actually acknowledge one another.

To be fair, you can’t say “Good Morning” to everyone on a normal day—there are simply too many people. This is the root of the “Reserved Southerner Syndrome” but it does not explain the practice of—even if you are the only two people crossing paths on the South Downs Way—realizing a sudden urge to fiddle with your smart phone just at the moment you come within eye-contact range of the other person.

People in other parts of the country say “Good Morning.” I have personally witnessed this. Even the famously dour Scots will often stop and chat with you (try to stop them) but the Southerners remain a taciturn lot.

On Christmas morning, however—perhaps because they are imbued with the holiday spirit or, more likely, because there is hardly else anyone around—they will say, “Good morning,” or even, “Merry Christmas.” It’s quite startling if you’re not prepared for it.

And this was how it was this morning when we took a stroll around the town park. The couples, the people out walking their dogs, the parents with kids running around like excited chipmunks—almost all of them looked our way as we passed, smiled and greeted us. It was a strange, though not unpleasant sensation, like being suddenly and inexplicably transported to Devon.

But this phenomenon, like Christmas itself, is ephemeral: before we even completed our walk, as the noon hour approached and more people drifted into the park, the greetings become fewer, more grudging and soon stopped altogether. The joggers began staring resolutely ahead as they passed (yes, jogging, on Christmas morning—give it a rest!), the couples, when they came within hailing distance, suddenly turned toward each other in animated conversation and single people became very interested in the flora and fauna at the sides of the pathway as we went by.

Random Photo: Yes, this is what Christmas morning looked like this year.
It was incredible the lengths people went through to avoid even inadvertent eye-contact. And I’m not suggesting they were doing it intentionally—it’s something inbred, like their affinity for fish and chips and suspicion of foreigners.

Take, for instance, the young woman walking her dog. She was just ahead of us and we were slowly catching up, meaning that we would soon be uncomfortably close to her for an unnervingly long period of time, making unintentional eye-contact almost inevitable. So she stopped to check something on her dog—fleas, ticks, admiring the latest tattoo—until we drew level with her. Then, because we would actually be facing her at that point, she felt a sudden need to swivel and gaze off into the distance, thereby avoiding any possibility of awkward, interpersonal engagement.

When out of ear-shot, I queried my wife about this phenomenon and she equated it to being on a bus and having some creepy guy sit down next to you. “You don’t exactly want to strike up a conversation with him,” she postulated, “so you learn to ignore people.”

I countered with the observation that having to sit next to a potentially undesirable person for a protracted period of time could not compare to passing someone on a semi-secluded pathway, and that, in those fleeting moments, there could not possibly be any harm in acknowledging the existence of the other person.

We didn’t get to pursue the conversation, however, because I noticed a woman sporting spikey dreadlocks and facial tattoos coming our way and felt a sudden urge to fiddle with my smartphone.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Settling In

“Privileged” is not too strong a word to describe how I feel about having lived for a dozen years in the flat at 36 Pelham Court.

It was solidly and thoughtfully constructed. It was accommodating, quirky and wonderfully anachronistic. It was timeless, imbued with a sense of permanence and continually surrounded us with the comforting feeling of home.

All that said, having now spent a month in a flat built a mere decade ago, I have come to appreciate that there is a lot to be said for modern living.

For instance, we now have more than one plug point in each room. There is even a special plug point in the bathroom so I can plug my shaver in there, instead of having to take it to the office and use an adapter to plug it in. We now have “mixer” taps. No longer do I have to use the Hot tap until the water begins to scald the skin from my bones, and then switch to the Cold tap until my fingers turn blue. And the shower: I made many humorously disparaging comments about the weak drizzle that dripped from the shower in my erstwhile flat, but after a while I got used to it. Now, however, I realize what I have been missing all these years: the showers here—both of them—have the sort of water pressure that would do the North Korean riot police proud. (NOTE TO SELF: Do they actually use water cannons, or do they go straight to their AK-47s?)

Naturally, newer and more advanced doesn’t always mean better, and I have run across a few down sides.

Modern living, at the time these flats were built, meant “open plan.” As a result, the bulk of our new flat is made up of an area I call the Kiliving Room, wherein we watch TV at one end, cook at the other and sit down to dinner somewhere in the middle. It’s a strange sensation, not altogether unpleasant, but odd, like standing in an elevator and facing the wrong way.

The flat is also equipped with self-slamming doors. It seems the EU is very keen for us to always close doors because, gosh, the breadbox might explode or the wardrobe could suddenly self-combust and, with the door closed, you would have an extra minute or so to get out of your abode before turning into a cinder. You might even have time to grab the photo album on the way out.

In the past, they had to rely on people like my wife to make sure people like me closed doors but, frankly, they don’t trust my wife to do a proper job and, let’s face it, she can’t watch me every minute of the day, so at some point between the construction of our old flat and the building of this new one, they passed a law decreeing that every door had to be self-slamming and constructed of solid Kevlar.

As a result, a visitor to our flat might (SLAM) assume that my wife and I (SLAM) are having an un-ending quarrel (SLAM) because every time we (SLAM) leave a room, we SLAM the door.

This has resulted in the acquisition of a number of door stops, which now litter the flat, lying around in the general area of doorways like docile rodents, except they don’t squeak when you step on them.

The other, probably, unintentional side-effect of this law is that our hallway is really, really dark.
This is a picture of our hallway. At noon. On a sunny day.

One of the things my wife—an enthusiastic recycler—was looking forward to was a better recycling facility.

Can you blame her? This is the recycling area at Pelham Court.
Unfortunately for her, there is no recycling available in the annex, where we live. Unfortunately for me, there IS recycling available in the main building, which means that once a week I get to walk across the Forum—under the curious, collective gaze of pedestrians, shoppers and people sitting around drinking coffee—carrying a big box of rubbish.

But that’s a small price to pay to save the planet.

In short, it’s nice here; we like the flat and, as a bonus, this is our front yard:

Hey you kids, get offa my lawn!