Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Lots of Lessons

I still find myself steaming after my encounter with company number three’s representative.
Reluctantly I am beginning to acknowledge that it was his attitude when asking me about my nationality and accent that have upset me the most. You see, he touched a nerve.

When I came to England in the late 1980’s and met G, it didn’t take me very long to realise that England was the place I wanted to make my home. My reasons for this included, but were not exclusive to, the fact that G lived here. Anyway, I believe that in most cases, if someone chooses to make a new country their home, they ought to feel the sense of belonging that comes from being a citizen of that country. The paperwork I used to come to England all those years ago meant that after five years of residency, I could apply to be naturalized. Although many people accused me otherwise, marrying G didn’t hurry the process along at all. In fact, when I did apply for naturalization it was based entirely on my time of residency, and not on our marriage. For those who did accuse me of marrying for a passport I think sixteen years of marriage – and the renewal of our vows at our tenth wedding anniversary – probably did a good job of proving them wrong.

Anyway, during those first five years, I desperately wanted to be a citizen. I also desperately wanted to fit in. Although being “the Canadian girl” really helped me to be remembered and was a great thing when one is a “temp” or “Kelly girl”, it was also a huge burden. What if people were judging all Canadians based on my behaviour? And sometimes being different was the last thing I wanted. So I cultivated a British accent, picked up as much vernacular as I could, and tried to blend in. Please don’t misunderstand, I was very proud of being Canadian, but as I had chosen to make my home somewhere else, I really wanted to belong there. But despite all my efforts after two years of working in Soho, everyone from shop keepers to new acquaintances were still asking me the dreaded “where are you from?”. They would always look at me incredulously when I said “Sydenham” (the district of London where we lived).

To make matters worse, when we did go back to visit Canada, I had picked up enough English expressions and my Canadian accent had softened enough to make it sound like I didn’t belong there either. The first time someone asked me where I was from in a shop in the town I was born in I was thrilled. By the thirty-ninth time the thrill had worn off. I began to realise that no matter where I was, I was different. For someone who has always sought the approval and acceptance of others, this was agony.

Even all these years later, I still get asked where I am from no matter what country I am in. At home in England, I get asked. Visiting Canada, I get asked. I’m always the different one, always the foreigner, even though officially I am a citizen of both countries. I consider myself to be British and describe myself as such, but officially I am still a citizen of both.

Happily, as the years have worn on, I have learned to cope better with this situation most of the time. I try not to think about the fact that I never quite blend in. After all, who wants to be ordinary? My voice has become flexible enough that, with concentration, I can use one accent or the other. Yet ninety percent of the time I really cannot be bothered to make that much effort and on the whole my accent is usually pretty mid-Atlantic. However, if I get very stressed, I sound very Canadian. On a day like yesterday, stressed as I was, the last thing I was thinking about was what I sounded like.

Yes, clearly the representative from company number three did touch a nerve, one that is still very raw despite nearly twenty years of living with it. I really do not mind being asked where I am from, it is just that sometimes the tone it is asked in can be very upsetting. It is like when some says “In this country, we” when they are explaining a situation, as if I’m just off the boat. I wonder why I am so insecure about this after all these years. I put so much stock in what other people think of me, even people like the annoying man from company number three. I really need to concentrate on getting my confidence from inside myself, and not from what other people say or do.

This move really is teaching me a lot of lessons.

The Joys of Moving

I always get three quotes for moving companies (or removal firms as we call them here in England) when we move. This is not an experience I enjoy very much to be honest. Having to walk through my house with a total stranger, opening every cupboard and perusing every nook and cranny, is an experience I find extremely uncomfortable. There are also other frustrations surrounding these quotes which make them very stressful. My experience this time has been fairly true to form.

Company number one’s representative was nearly twenty minutes late. Although he apologised, he did not phone to say he was going to be late. I know he had a phone because when I called the office to enquire where he was, they said they would call him. Not a very good start. Having said that, representative number one was very polite, reasonably accommodating and acknowledged that I did know a bit about the business of moving. He offered me choices as to the services I required. Content to have every other cupboard door opened, he trusted my description of the contents of those whose doors remained closed. As promised, his quotation arrived fairly promptly.

Company number two’s representative was very punctual and polite. He did not insist that every cupboard was opened and was happy to take my word for what was inside. (I’m not in the habit of lying about the contents of my cupboards to removal companies. It isn’t helpful when it comes to moving day.) When I mentioned our lovely geriatric cat I was pleased to see he looked genuinely concerned, although sad when I found out that the reason for this was that he had just lost both his lovely geriatric cats in quick succession. He then attempted to suggest everything he could to make sure that the move would be as stress free for the aforementioned feline possible. I was offered choices, and he spoke to me with respect and the acknowledgment that moving is something I have done many times before. When I mentioned the other companies we were getting to quote, he said nothing but nice things about them, but promised his service was better. His quote has not yet arrived, but I did not expect it until tomorrow anyway.

Company number three’s representative arrived very promptly this morning. By the time we had sat down in the living room he had put my back up by instructing me as to how we were going to formulate the quotation and telling me what I would be doing whilst he was there. He then pointed out my accent, speculated as to where I was from and looked dubious when I explained I had lived in England for some twenty years. “Still got that accent though, haven’t you?” he said in a vaguely accusatory way. I began explaining that we visit Canada frequently and that I speak to my parents daily before realising that I hardly have to defend accent or nationality to a total stranger, and one with a pretty heavy local accent of his own at that. When we did go through the house, this man insisted on the opening of every single blessed cupboard, and recorded every piece of furniture on his pad with a price beside it. When we sat down to discuss logistics, he told me exactly how I would be moving and did not offer me any choices. He insisted my china would be unpacked, whether I wanted it to be or not, and accused Company number two’s representative of lying when he said that I would have seven days to declare any breakages. He trashed Company one and two’s reputations and accused them of promising things they did not deliver on. As I have used Company number two four times in the past, I knew that they do deliver on their promises and they do allow you seven days to declare any breakages. By the time he left I was beside myself with trying not to tell him exactly what I thought of him. Needless to say, I don’t care when his quote arrives as I would move myself before I would use his company.

Chances are, I will choose company number two regardless of whether they are cheaper or not. I know this as I’ve done it four times before. A lot of the reason for using them so often is their attitude, both towards their customers and their customer’s possessions. I do believe firms who provide a service need to realise that the impression made by sales staff really does count for a huge amount. Let’s face it, company number three have already lost my business entirely because of their salesman.

Isn’t it funny how things work out though? I was checking through my receipts from previous moves this afternoon and I found that I did use company number three once before some twelve years ago. I recognised the move immediately as they left an entire cupboard’s worth of china behind in our flat. Luckily the people who moved into it were very understanding and (despite the English law that says if it is left behind after completion the purchasers get to keep it) willingly returned it to me. Later, when I was sharing my experience with my friend, she told me of an experience they had with company number three that involved a huge number of breakages. I guess company number three is one of those companies whose service, from the sales to the delivery, just never quite measures up. Thank goodness I have a choice. I just wish I had the nerve to call up company number three and explain to them exactly why they are not going to get my business. It would make me feel better anyway. Ah, the joys of moving!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

What To Do About Moving

We now have several different options for What To Do About Moving. In fact, What To Do About Moving is really all we talk about anymore. It is getting to the stage it is even developing a personality. Indeed, it is taking on such epic proportions I would not be surprised if What To Do About Moving developed form and came walking into the room and sat down at the table with us.

Our house is now for sale, and for rent. We’ve got two possible houses we may move to. We may be able to do a part exchange. My head is spinning. However I do have to acknowledge that it is a wonderful thing to actually have all these choices, and something I should be very grateful for.

Sadly all these choices are driving me to distraction. I am a creature of habit, one who likes to have all her ducks in a row and know exactly what she is doing. My diary is organised months in advance, and spontaneity is a concept I have struggled with for most of my adult life. I realise now that part of the reason for this move may well be that God knows I need to be more flexible and this is the divine lesson in learning to do that. The trouble is I am fighting the lesson, and until I give in and learn it, nothing is going to move forward. So I am trying desperately to let go of a lifetime of controlling behaviour and acknowledge that God has all this in hand. Some days are better than others.

I’m learning a lot about letting go and trusting recently. We had a small gap in the guttering that runs round the roof of our house outside of A’s window which has leaked for the last couple of rains. G tried to find a ladder tall enough to fix it but no one we knew had one. As I am the lightest of the inhabitants of this house (except our cat Jake of course) I was volunteered to go out on the roof of the extension (which I hasten to add is anything but flat and is actually on one heck of an angle slanting – of course – down to the ground). The idea was I’d pull the guttering, which had obviously slipped, back into line. I was quite confident as I started out of the window in the study – and even as I set foot on the very slanted roof. It was not until I started to move towards the gap and had to navigate yet another slope in the one side of the roof that I started to get really scared. I turned slightly to get myself on a better angle, and noticed that two of our neighbours in the close behind us were watching me curiously. I smiled and tried to look confident, and once they had ascertained I was not suicidal, they left me to it. However, their curiosity only served to make me realise just how high up I was and just how silly a situation I had got myself into. Now I was well and truly frightened.

So I began talking to myself, using positive language to increase my confidence. Thankfully all my neighbours seemed to have disappeared at this point as a woman talking to herself on a roof could possibly cause some unwanted attention. Of course, doubts in my own ability began to creep in and all sorts of negative language started to work itself into my brain.

I confess, I am the queen of “get a professional to do it”. That is one of the reasons I call myself a professional housewife, because I believe we all have talents that we should be proud of and use. One of my talents is being a professional housewife. It is not guttering repair, or anything to do with heights. As I found myself teetering on the edge of the roofing tiles (which incidentally make a horrible slipping noise no matter how carefully you step on them) reaching up to pull the offending piece of guttering back into place, I have to confess I was petrified. I have never been so grateful to finish a job.

This experience has taught me some things however. There are not many tasks to do with my household that I will not at least attempt. I’m thinner than I thought (I fit through the window!). I have incredible balance. I can fix guttering. I’m a lot tougher than I thought. It has certainly taught me that if What To Do About Moving does develop form and turn up and sit down with us at the table, it’s one demon I’ve definitely got the guts to chase away!!

Friday, August 03, 2007

What's really important

It has been quite a week. The chaos surrounding our move is still slowly simmering around us and I keep reminding myself that this move is a good - no, actually a fantastic thing - one that will change our lives in a way so positive I can only just begin to imagine it. The fact that I might get to actually have two houses really excites me, that is for sure! As does the idea that I will be closer to one of my very best friends.
She came up this weekend with her husband and family and I was reminded how much I miss them. We used to live across the street from each other until about eight years ago. Now we get together about three times a year, not nearly enough. This weekend was particularly lovely in that it involved two days where it did not rain! It was our first sunshine in ages, and I was the happiest I can remember being for a long time sitting at Ilam in the Peak District having a picnic all together. The kids were laughing and playing as we sat and chatted in the precious sunshine.
Anyway, regardless of exactly where it is, our new home should be considerably closer to hers so we should be able to meet up much more regularly. I can’t wait. In the meantime though I am still mired in the confusion this move seems to entail, having meeting after meeting with removal consultants, our premier banker and various new home builders. I am also still desperately trying to sort out our lives, having realised that in the space of this last nearly eight years we have accumulated a huge amount of stuff, most of which we do not need. In fact, most of which we have forgotten we have! Despite 12 trips to the dump and numerous trips to the charity shop I am still, embarrassingly, surrounded by clutter. There are a lot of sentimental things I want and need to keep, but if I don’t pull my finger out I am going to struggle to find space for them!
Of course, all this confusion often gives rise to short tempers and I spent a lot of last week behaving rather badly, and I was joined by my nearest and dearest in this most undesirable of pursuits. We snipped and snapped at each other, falling out and making up at such speed we often found ourselves forgetting whether we were contented or cross. As usual when one begins behaving rather badly, one often finds oneself snapped back to reality and regretting the amount of time one has lost being petulant or stupid, or even both.
You see, on Sunday afternoon, just after my friend had left, we had one of those awful phone calls. I totally was not expecting it, although the lady in question was quite elderly and had serious heart problems. However she was one of those amazing people whose vitality and zest for life just bubbles round her so that one really does not believe it will ever stop doing so. If ever someone really lived, it was my Aunt Trish. Not that her life was easy mind you. A divorced mom of five in the day when the very idea of single moms had people shaking their heads, she raised five lovely daughters who are a total credit to her. She had lots of friends, and she really did live life absolutely to the full. She travelled to England from Canada more than once, and knew more about the country I live in than I do. I’ll always remember seeing her arrive at my wedding with her daughters and my two little cousins. Most of my family were unable to make the trip, but they did and I really was thrilled. Although Aunt Trish struggled with heart problems in the last few years, she always insisted she was doing fine, and got up to all sorts of mischief – even going off on the streetcar by herself (at 83!!) despite being entreated by her daughters not to. They looked after her so well that she was able to live nearly independently till the end.
I was the only one who called her Trish. I can’t remember why I did that, but I’ve persisted in it my whole life. Everyone else called her Pat, perhaps a more suitable short form for Patricia than the one I chose. But to me, she was, and always will be Aunt Trish. She was my Godmother, the last one I had left. Of course, I’ve been busy these last few years, but I regret not having kept in touch better. I spoke to Aunt Trish about two months ago, and when we got the phone call saying she had died, her birthday card, along with a long overdue letter, was sitting on the side table by the door.
This very undesirable snap back to reality in the form of finding out about the death of someone I love has, not surprisingly, caused me to resolve to remember what is important. Life is far too short, and our family far too precious, to spend time sniping and snipping, regardless of what chaos is circling round one’s ankles. I’ve also resolved to get in touch when I am thinking of someone, instead of waiting till later. One of the difficult lessons in life is that we do not always have the luxury of later. But the most important things Aunt Trish has taught me were to not waste time worrying, to live life to the full, to experience everything you possibly can, to get out there and just live life to the full. Excellent lessons from a really amazing lady.