Random thoughts on home

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

It was a lovely trip home for Christmas.  I felt like I had a bit more time to relax than last year, and though there's never really enough time to see everyone as much as I'd like, it was still good.  This might be due to the fact that there was really no jet-lag at all, at least on the way over.  Last year I woke up at 3am on Christmas Eve, which was literally tiresome. This year I slept about 10 hours a night, which does remarkable things for one's whole outlook on life.  And though I had no major bloggy revelations while at home, there are a few things I did or noticed that made me stop and go "Huh."  And so onwards...

On Inside/Outside Nature Of Shoes:

This is something that always trips me up in London: shoes.  To clarify: it's not that my shoes literally cause me to trip.  It's shoes inside houses.  In Canada when you go over to someone's house - especially in the winter - you take your shoes off at the door and you spend the evening in your sock feet.  This clearly makes sense. Outside is a dirty, wet, mucky place.  Why would you wander around inside a house on its nice, clean, possibly carpeted floors wearing the shoes in which you just navigated the mean streets?  Ick.

Oddly, shoes-in-the-house is the rule in London.  Several times now I've been at house parties and taken my shoes off when I enter the house only to find that I am the only shoeless person in the building.  And keep in mind that London is a pretty comprehensively damp place a lot of the time, meaning that the odds of arriving at someone's house with wet feet are better than average. Still, the rule seems to be that shoes stay on inside the house when visiting.  Perhaps Londoners all have holes in the toes of their socks.

Whatever the reason, I was gratified to attend a pre-New Year's party in Winnipeg where everyone had their shoes off.  In fact, they took their shoes off outside the door of the apartment and left them outside.  When I saw the shoes piled up at two different doors in that condo building it gave me a little warm fuzzy feeling.

Shoes at the party - earlier in the night there were three times this many!
(The other advantage to this system is that if you like someone else's shoes more than your own you just have to make sure you leave before they do...)

On Other, Less Conventional Footwear:

I went skating for the first time since I left Canada! On New Year's Eve!  At the Forks!  It was good fun, even though I was obviously not as solid on my skates as I was when I was playing hockey regularly.  Also my skates were a bit dull, and despite the fact that the skating was very slow and the session was very short, there were still a few muscles that made themselves known the next day on a chilly New Year's Day hash run around my old neighbourhood.  Still, it was worth it, and I did manage to acquit myself a little more skilfully than the 5- and 7-year old in the group.  Phew.

Picture of Pam's feet.  (It's just like the good old days!)

And in the "You'd Never See That In London" Department:

Even though neither the Red or the Assiniboine Rivers are frozen over enough for skating (surely a sign of the coming apocalypse) there were still skating trails at the Forks, which were equipped with these cautionary signs where the skating trail passed over a pedestrian trail. 
(In fact, the general Manitoba/Saskatchewan area was weirdly un-snowy.  There were maybe two or three inches of snow cover over all.  What the Hell is that?  There's probably more snow in Yorkshire right now than there is in Winnipeg.  It's Upside-Down World!)

On The Difficult Nature Of Stuff:

I visited my stuff.  By which I mean I went out to All Canadian Storage and threw open the rolling door on the 5' x 5' storage space that contains most of my worldly possessions. (I really went to get my skates, and pick over the much-talked-about package from Africa, but it was still a nice visit.)  It was good to see everything and remind myself that it's there, but the more time the stuff spends in Winnipeg while the owner of the stuff is in London, the easier it is to live without.  It makes me wonder why I'm hanging on to it.  And it makes me wonder a LOT about paying $65 a month to store it.  I suppose it's because I purged so much when I sold my house that I figure that what's left must really be the stuff worth keeping - the stuff I will want again some day.  Then again, does life in London really require a French Horn? Or a 40 year old 110-volt sewing machine? Or my grandmother's good china?  Probably not.  But that doesn't mean it deserves the bin.

It all comes down to whether or not I think I'll stay, and for how long, which is a question I'm not really equipped to answer.  It depends entirely on how long I can continue to get interesting work that pays the bills.  Professionally, there is nothing drawing me back to Canada, but visits like this one make me remember that I have family and good friends that will never be a proper part of my life while I'm an ocean away.  No easy answers here.

Aha!  THAT'S where I put that trombone! I've been looking for that...

On the Usurious Nature of So-Called Beer Sales at the Chili's in O'Hare Terminal Two:

I don't know why I did it.  Why did I choose to fly home through Chicago instead of Toronto?  Oh wait, I know why.  It's because I still have this lingering idea, perhaps brought on my extensive international travel, or perhaps by natural Canadian inclinations, to believe that anywhere NOT in  Canada is inherently more interesting than anywhere IN Canada.  Whatever the reason, I transited through Chicago O'Hare airport in both directions on this trip.  London to Winnipeg was the worst.  I landed at Terminal 5 and had to clear US customs (“Food products? Why no Mr. Friendly US Customs Man, I certainly don't have biscuits and cheese and chocolate and cake from Fortnum & Mason. Not me!”).  Then I had to reclaim my heavy, crippled, broken-handled suitcase and re-check it, then get the shuttle to Terminal 2, then go through security again, and THEN get to the departure gate.  Fun times.

Of course going through a third country meant I also had to get some US alternate currency to have a bit of supper while I was waiting for my (late) flight.  So I located a bank machine, figured $20 would be ample, proceeded to a handy Chili's restaurant with my new American twenty dollar bill and scanned the menu.  Oddly, there were no prices listed for the different (crappy) beers they had.  Naturally alarm bells should have rung at that point, but I must have been a bit too jet-lagged to hear them.  So I ordered a Sam Adams beer and a pulled pork sandwich  confident that $20 would cover dinner with room to spare.  (The sandwich with fries was about nine dollars, so this was not an unreasonable assumption.  Or so I thought.)

Ha!  The bill arrived and I just about choked.  $19.96 in total with all taxes, but before tip.  This means that my (mediocre, pale, American) beer cost just under 9 bucks.  NINE BUCKS FOR A CRAPPY AMERICAN BEER!  I just about called the waiter over to say something indignant like, “Mate, you are taking the piss if you think that glass of watery slop is worth five pounds fifty!”  Instead I fumed silently and picked my jaw up off the floor and pulled out my credit card. This is because I am a polite Canadian, and because I live surrounded by, and acclimatised to, a nation of people who would not raise a fuss for anything less than the severing of at least two major arteries (“Honestly Nigel, just use your school tie as a tourniquet and stop whinging.  People are starting to stare!”)

For future reference: the Chili's in O'Hare Terminal 2 is a gigantic RIP OFF when it comes to beer.  You are warned.

On the Utterly Desiccated Nature Of Winter On The Prairies:

I lived through 40 Canadian winters before I left the country, and I don't ever remember having chapped lips for two weeks straight.  Maybe I've lost my natural resistance having been away for too long, but about 1.3 seconds after arriving I started reaching for the Chapstick and ended up reapplying it about every six minutes.  How is it possible the nation is not populated entirely by a race of giant human/raisin hybrids?  It makes me think that breakdown of Canada's economy these days must be something like this:

Canadian Economy

On The Gratifyingly Dramatic Palette Of Sunrise On The Prairies:

Maybe it's just London.  Maybe there are spots in England where the sunrises and sunsets are as glorious as they are on the prairies.  But somehow I doubt it.  I've been conscious for a reasonable number of sunrises in London now, and they are almost always utterly unremarkable.  At least compared to this example from just outside Saskatoon.  Fantastic.
If anything, the colours are more muted in the photo than they were in real life.

So lovely, you have to look at TWO photos of this particular sunrise.

And that was my trip home.  It was 97% nice, 1% outrageously expensive crappy beer, and 2% Cheeseburger-of-Doom-on-New-Year's-Eve-at-The-Pancake-House-at-the-Forks. (Which was not nearly good enough to want to encounter again a few hours after it went down.  But enough said about that, because frankly my stomach is still a bit shaky three days later.)

I'm back to work tomorrow morning and I expect that within a few months work will become all-consuming so it was good to have a decent break over the holidays.  So it's nose-to-the-grindstone (if by grindstone you mean computer screen) and back to life in the big city.  Stay tuned for further exploits and, I hope, some much, much better beer.


P.S.  Dear Winnipeg:  Did you get the Jets back?  Really?  I never would have known.  You'd think that people would talk about that more.  And wear more Winnipeg Jets gear.  And complain more about not being able to get Jets tickets.

See what I mean?  The guy in the seat in front of me from Winnipeg to Chicago...

P.P.S.  Dear London: See? You're not the only ones who can't get tickets to major local sporting events.


jamy said...

Shoes in the house is pretty standard in the parts of the US I've lived in--though I see more people with a shoes off policy.

Sounds like a good trip home!

Andy said...

I am a little surprised about your experiences in London. I have lived in various parts of the uk and found that the majority of people here don't wear shoes in the house. I am married to a Canadian so as you imagine we are shoes off house. But this is a rule I grew up with, so when we got our first house it was taken for granted that shoes come off at the door. Its a civilised custom to go barefoot or wear slippers in the house. I also suspect that most people here do that as well. Although being typically British, they may not always admit it!

Colleen K. said...

Hey Pam: catching up on your blog and very much enjoying it. You might be satisfied to hear that Saskatchewan is currently experiencing temps in the -38 range with windchills of -47 and that we have substantial snow on the ground. Winter has finally arrived!! This is more like it! Yours, with my woolies on, Colleen

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