Eb's U.K Update

Trip Start May 31, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , Washington
Sunday, October 7, 2007

Hey all! Eb here.

Okies, Liam had his turn last time at bloggin' 'bout Blighty, so now I'll have a crack at it, even though it's late and we're now in the USA, I just had to get this one out. There'll probably be another US update soon.

Here goes:

Electric Showers.
They exist.

Now, the sum total of what I learned in 7th grade electronics class was:

a) It's a better alternative to 'Statistics' when you're forced to choose class electives
b) Capacitors explode like all get-out when you stick them into mains power sockets and turn the juice on.
and finally,
c) Electricity and water are a bit of a no-no.

I can understand the concept of electric hot water. It's been around for years, faithfully heating up my morning wash. That's fine. But why the hell would a person decide to go a step further and not only create an electrically powered shower, but to put buttons, levers, pulleys and switches not just *near* the water but *in* the shower recess itself? What happened to the good ole tap?

I don't know about you, but even the thought of those tacky, penguin-shaped in-shower radios that suck onto the tiles conjures up images of me jiggling about like a Tickle-Me-Elmo with sparks shooting out my ears the moment I touch it. So I was understandably wary of tooling about with a circuit board whilst wet and in my 'all-together'.

But the Brits, Scots and even the Irish seem to love them; Love them like their first born child - even though they're remarkably over-engineered. Personally, when I've just woken and not yet fitting the dictionary definition of 'sentient', I want nothing more than an easy ride to a toasty bathe to wash off the blear and set me up for the day. I want to shamble into the bathroom, turn the tap on, jiggle my hand under the stream while the pipes heat up and step in for a spell.

I don't want to do the following:

* Get into the shower and fiddle about with anywhere between 1 and 3 different dials controlling heat, speed, intensity, mode or type (Type? Type of what?! Water? Hrmm, I'll take the Perrier today - those bubbles make me feel so *alive!*)

* Hit 'Start' and hope for the best

* Commence frantically fiddling again because the settings aren't actually making the water 'hot' per se, more a steady stream of needle-pointed icicles which blast me square in the face
* Tumble backwards into the soap holder, firing a half bottle of Panteine into the ceiling fan

* Leap out of the shower, freezing and dripping wet

* Find an external switch or pull string (often located *outside* the actual bath room, resulting in hill-llairous hijinks involving towels and co-ed hostel dorms)

* Use that external switch to turn the main power on, because that had to be done first but I forgot to do it.

* Turn off the ceiling fan because it's raining shampoo and spinal injuries

* Get back in the shower and re-commence setting and dial fiddlage.

* Get out again because I managed to blow the fuse.

The idea behind these showers is that they use less energy and water than a regular shower. They are therefore more economical. I'd like to sit down and quantify how much water and energy (on people's part and on the electric company's part) is expended every morning as we duke it out with the beloved electric shower and then see how 'economical' they really are.

Then again, I couldn't sit down and quantify anything. I didn't take 'Statistics' at school. I took Electronics.

Anyhoo, I won't bore you with much more about the UK, since Liam went over it with wit and aplomb last time. I'll press on to the rest of the journey.

Liam and I left the UK for the USA on September 12th. We'd run out of money around the 10th. That is to say, we'd run out of money for the UK. We figured they had enough of their own. Just to illustrate the wallet-stopping point a lil better here, let me give you an example.

(Eb clumsily fits a sock puppet onto her hand, realises it's on inside out, and abandons the idea...)

Okay, well, basically at the time when we were in England, the Aussie dollar only got about 40 UK pence. Okay, that hurts, but it's do-able.

Or is it.. ?

Imagine with me, dear reader, a place with a 0.4 exchange rate but, one that is also 1 to 1 with regard to the cost of things. Allow me to illustrate (Eb pulls down a blind with a complicated chart on it and produces a pointing stick):

Okay, let's assume fish and chips and maybe a drink at home in Melbourne is something like $6.50. The same meal in England is 6.50 (Just to clarify, that's six *pounds*, fifty pence) minimum, maybe even 8.50. (Eb puts on some glasses, whacks on an accountant's visor and breaks out one of those adding machines with a docket roll attached)  Okay....6.50 at point four...carry the one....That's 16 to 21 Aussie dollars minimum for a plate of fish and chips. *British* fish and chips. Made with cod. As in: "Ewww, cod!"

So we upped sticks and flew out via Gatwick, weeping gently all the way - and wishing we hadn't eaten the fish. We arrived at Gatwick feeling a tad nervous. You see, I was in England - technically - illegally. I assure you I didn't mean it! It was more of an inadvertent 'slip under the radar' than an actual and wanton act of evasion. Promise. After Ireland and the ensuing hoopla, I wasn't about to goof again if I could help it.

Scottish security is tight. Damned tight. So tight in fact that as I stepped off the ferry from Ireland, my immigration procedure consisted of a man waving frantically at me and screaming "Don't ye worry aboot yer passpoort! The connecting train is almoost away!" It seemed that shuttling me from the ferry in Stanraer, a few miles out of God Knows Where, to civilisation in Glasgow was higher up on his list of priorities than making sure I was allowed to be there in the first place. I was there and no-one knew.

I felt like Jason Bourne but far less sexy, dynamic and adept with firearms.

So on the way to Gatwick, Liam and I rehearsed and re-rehearsed what we would say if questioned re how I got in, why I shouldn't be tarred and feathered as punishment etc etc. We'd denuded our bags of anything even remotely controversial and went over ourselves with a fridge magnet to see if we were inadvertently carrying metallic nasties.

No sooner had we stepped into the checking line than it began:
(cue ominous music, fade the lights)

A young fellow with smart shoes and an official-looking badge took my passport and told me to progress in the check-in line without it. I did so. In fact, if he'd asked me to stand on one leg and bark like a dog, I'd have done so, complete with both small and big dog sounds on command. Liam was being grilled by another official a little ways up. I went and stood behind him. Continental Airlines have little terminals than span the length of the check-in queue. Each terminal was equipped with a laptop and a little scanner like a credit card reader. The operator swiped Liam's passport and the set about asking him the sorts of questions a Parole Officer would pose. Liam did his best to answer, while I wondered where my passport had gotten to.

I had not long to wait before Smart Shoe Man came back, presumably equipped with a mental report on my monumentally stupid faux pas in Ireland. I tried to remain calm as I answered query after agonising query regarding my reason for visiting the UK, where I slept last night (true story), why my passport wasn't stamped, how many fingers was he holding up, dot dot dot.

Despite the onslaught of inquiry, Smart-Shoe was a pleasant young man and didn't fill me with absolute dread. This was bad. You see, I have a problem that I really should address. I have...and this is hard for me to admit... (Eb bites the back of her finger and chokes back a sob), whenever someone speaks to me, I become a person. I have a personality leak. I can not be an automaton. I just ain't wired that way.

Condemn me for this if you will, but I have a personality - a little odd at times, but generally not too bad, I'd like to think. So when I was posed with the seemingly ludicrous question of "Are you carrying a weapon or anything that may look like a weapon?", I looked visibly taken aback and replied loudly with "Oh goodness, no!" Nothing major. Right? It's not like I burst into fits of laughter and cried "What confounded fool would take a weapon or weaponey-like object even *near* a modern plane! Jeez, what kind of screaming moron do you take me for!?"

At any rate, I noticed Liam's posture visibly sink out of the corner of my eye. Shoey paused for a bit and narrowed his eyes. Crud. Had I goofed again?

Wordlessly, he walked off and consulted with a handsome yet stoney-faced officer who had better shoes and a nicer tie. He came back several agonising minutes later. I prepared myself to be clapped in irons. He eyed me a little more, then eyed my passport. I was hoping I hadn't soiled myself.

"Where are you resident in Australia?"
"Melbourne." I replied, before mentally slapping myself in the forehead.

Yes, I live in Melbourne, always have done - but before I left, I changed my residential address to my Mum's place in Mansfield so I wouldn't lose any re-directed mail. Crap! Crappy dang! Crap, crappity crap-stravaganza! I tried not to let on. He eyed me. I wondered what prison food was like.
"You can go."

Confused, numb and somehow feeling guilty, I proceeded to the check-in desk. A friendly (read: dangerous!) lady greeted me, took my passport and ticket and we started out on the road to check-in. She typed away for a little while, making small talk as she went. After a while, although I stuck to some very blunt answers, I started to feel dangerously at ease.
My ticket had a destination of New York, followed by Seattle. I have relatives in and around the Seattle area whom I intend to visit: folks who I'd be spending a fair while with and who have graciously offered me full use of their couch.

"Oh! Seattle!" quipped the check-in lady. "You'll be there a while?"
"Yes," I bluntly replied, focusing my gaze on the middle distance.
"Oh, it's a nice place!"
I agreed without emotion.
"Now," she started, "U.S. Customs require you to register an address you'll be staying at while in the U.S. Where will you be staying?"
"With my family in Seattle." I sounded like Robocop. I helpfully produced an address from my bag and spelled out any words I'd written unclearly. I was faultlessly professional.
"Thanks" she said. "It helps when U.S. Immigration cross checks this at the other end."
"You're welcome" I replied without flair.

I walked away from check-in feeling like the Kung-Fu Master of Check-In and Standard Response Technique. It was all very Zen.

I joined Liam at the exit and, as we walked to the security clearance area, we *carefully* chatted about things in case we said something without thinking first. Heaven help us if anyone heard us mention anything even mildly inflammatory, stupid - or could be perceived as such. In fact, we were so concerned, that we spoke very softly and with excess clarification about the most benign of topics.
Liam whispered:

"Do you...want water?.. For.. drinking purposes?"
"Yes...I would...enjoy water...to drink."
"Let us...purchase...water."
"I concur."

During this stilted and frankly weird whispersation, I made mention of the fact that I'd put my family's address in Seattle as my residence in America. Liam stopped dead. He looked like he'd been slapped in the face with a golf shoe. Apparently U.S. Immigration require a place of residence for the *first night* you're to spend on U.S. soil. That wasn't, for us, in Seattle - it was in New York. At a hotel. A hotel I'd booked in my name the night before. Crap. In all that hoop jumping and folderol, it had slipped my mind. The little diversion about Seattle being nice had planted the idea about staying on the...oh, I don't know, other side of the country!

"I concur."

We had not long to ponder my fate before we were whisked into a Security Check line, where our passports were taken (again), an unflattering photo was snapped and we were instructed to start removing items of clothing. Not one to usually do this without at least being taken to dinner first, I was rather obliging. Jackets were the first thing to go, then shoes.
"I'll take my bleeding pants off if it means it'll stop terrorism!" declared a toffy businessman with a hunting lodge 'What-What' accent. I didn't have the guts to tell him that an eyeful of him in a pair of Budgie Smugglers would terrify even the most hardened soul.

Our carry-on luggage and clothing were x-rayed up the wazoo and, short of a 'Total Recall' style full body scan, we were free; Free in the sense that we were dumped and stranded in what appeared to be a shopping mall; A mall where all the tonnes of miscellaneous items we'd jettisoned from our luggage for fear of confiscation were conveniently available - and at only *thrice* the price! How thoughtful.

Resisting the urge to purchase a 26 dollar 50gram tube of lip balm, I opted for a chappy mouth until America and instead finding some of that water we'd spoken of so deeply before. Flights are dehydrating. Water is handed out every so often but you have to start a rugby scrum with a stewardess to get anything extra. So we sat down at a cafe-bar-thing with 2 small bottles of tap water. I sobbed gently as I counted my change out of a ten pound note.

Flight time rocked around and we set off on our trip. All went well until about 4 hours in, when the plane flew into a spot of turbulence, or should I say, it flew into one of those industrial paint tin shakers you see at Bunnings. The ferry ride to Ireland had steeled my resolve against rocky rides and I emerged 40 minutes later, wearing Liam's fruit cup on my head like a little, drippy fez, but was otherwise fine. I am now the Kung-Fu Master of Shaking Plane Style. 

We arrived in the USA...but that's a story for another time.

Til then, thanks again to all those who have posted comments. We muchly appreciate 'em.


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