Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Mad Dogs and English People

Fat common people in tight clothes licked ice-creams and ate oozing buns and shouted.... "It's a shame so many young people are bald now," she said.
"Is it AIDS or this awful chemotherapy? I am sure we never had either." "It's the fashion, Ma." - from "Old Filth" by Jane Gardam

Poster at the Fashion Museum, Bath, UK
My dentist, as well as being a self-proclaimed expert, is a philosopher, and not a bad one at that. "Every morning when you wake," he tells me, "there are two channels, and you must choose one. One is the sadness or misery channel, and the other is the happy channel. People LIKE happy people and if for no other reason, you must take that. But if you have trouble, start the day with music, music that will guide you towards taking the happy path."

I've tried to my dentist's advice over the past weeks, but it's been hard. New York can be a lonely place, especially during the festive season. And this festive season, what with a few not-so-nice experiences, I've found myself taking the sad channel by default.

At one stage I became so depressed that I thought I'd buy a dog! Seriously. ASIF I could have a dog in a New York apartment. I imagined a comforting little puppy welcoming me home every night. I watched other New York women (yes, they are mostly women) hugging their dogs during the morning elevator commute.

Then reason set in. The only type of dog I could accommodate would be a dog without a digestive system. I just can't see myself following a four-legged creature around waiting patiently to scoop up its excrement in a plastic bag. Or paying a dog-walker $20 a day to do it for me. No. I had to find another path to happiness.

So that's the "dog" part of the title of this posting. Now for the second channel.

English People
English people. I visited the UK recently. Not for the first time. The first time I went there was a hundred years ago. I remember my first UK job. It was teaching at a "remand" home - for adolescent "criminals", somewhere far away from Golders Green where I lived, but still in London. Industrial greater London. I had to get the Tube, change a hundred times and then get a bus.

My first day. I navigated the Tube system and found what I thought was the correct bus. After about 50 minutes I looked at my watch, saw I was late, and looking out of the window saw green hills and hedge fences. I was in the country-side. Not a building in sight.

After asking the bus conductor where I was, and realizing I was hopelessly lost, I burst into tears. I told him I was late for my first day at work and what was I to do. He suggested a cup of tea. Really.

I can't remember the upshot of this story, except that I did have a cup of tea, arrived somehow at the remand home, and survived England.

Bath, UK
A hundred years later. My plane back home to New York from England left at 9:00 am from Manchester airport and I was staying in London. I decided to do the sensible thing and spend the night in a hotel near Manchester airport. I booked into the Crown Plaza.

The day before my flight, friends dropped me at Euston Station and I took the train to Manchester Piccadilly station, and then the local to Manchester airport. It's a pretty big airport. Nothing as big as JFK or Heathrow, but if you've never been there before, still confusing. On leaving the train, I took an escalator or two, looking for signs for the exit, or for information about transport.

Eventually I found courtesy phones for the airport hotels. There was a line. A Japanese tourist was sobbing into one of the phones and then ran off in obvious distress. Next in line the person in front of me was German. He threw his hands up in horror after a few seconds and left under his rucksack. It was my turn.

I dialed the Crown Plaza,. "I am at the station at the airport. Where is the courtesy bus?" I asked.

"Oh, near the doors?" came the answer. "Which doors". "The front doors."

"I am not familiar with this airport and there are doors to the outside all around," I explained. "How can I tell which ones are the front?"

"Well just go up a set of escalators and down another and look to the right and there they are," a very patient voice explained.

"But I already came up one set of elevators? So should I go down again?" I asked.

"Depends which one you came up," was the answer. "What were they near?" Was she serious?

Same Things, Bath, UK
I was becoming distraught.

And on and on it went in the same vein.

As we spoke the line behind me was growing. Doors to the outside kept opening and closing, bringing in freezing air.

I started to cry. "I don't understand," I was sobbing, when suddenly a woman wearing a Crown Plaza uniform miraculously appeared.

"The bus is outside and I will take you to it," she said.

And continued, "When we get to the hotel, you know what I'll do? I'll get you a nice cup of tea!"

Ah!The English solution. But what was even lovelier was the familiarity of it. The cup-of-tea-solution. Some things don't change.

Maybe my dentist is correct and the second, the happy path, is not so difficult to choose.

And that concludes the second part of the title of this post - "English people". You have to love them!

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