Monday, 14 September 2009

Ability to cope

One day, a long time ago, when husband and I were squatting at a friend’s place in London(whilst we searched for our first house) we had a visitor.

There was a ring on the door, and our housemate answered. A tired middle aged woman in a very long skirt, with grey unwashed hair, asked if she could please make a phone call. Our housemate, despite having lived in a big city long enough, let the stranger in. And for a while after that, we all sat on the sofa, watching her pacing the room, muttering one thing over and over again. That she just could not cope.

What is wrong?What happened?- we kept asking, but she just shook her head and kept repeating in a total desperation: “I can’t cope. I can’t cope!!!!”

Fortunately, husband had some experience of dealing with mental patients from the days he used to be a doctor. We managed to find out who her social worker was, and soon the visitor got taken away.

I often thought about her though. I was wondering –How does it happen?

She must have moved into this big city when she was young and full of hope, plans and ambitions. Maybe, she even had a cute boyfriend and a good job. At what point did it all suddenly get too much?

But the more I live in this country, the more I can understand.

Living in the UK is stressful.

A few nights ago, coming back from drinks with local friends, I noticed all the parking spaces were taken by the devoted church goers. (It was a Sunday, you see and we live near a famous church. This guy allegedly went to the states where he was personally touched by God.)

It is OK- husband suggested-park in front of our drive and move it in the morning, as long as you do it before 8am when the restrictions start.

It was my wedding anniversary that day. I had a day off, and was going to take things easy in the morning.

But I forgot I was not allowed to take things easy these days. I got a call from a work contractor as early as 7:30, and my dog decided he had the urge to be sick. My child wanted to “make stuff” before breakfast, and my mother urgently needed to know what I planned for dinner that night.

So.... I just forgot. For just one hour or so, my brain focused on 10 and not 11 things. And I missed the 8am deadline. My neighbour knocked on the door: the warden had just issued the ticket. I ran outside, frustrated. I never before understood the passionate loathing that Brits share for the parking wardens- until that day.

Please!- I begged the young warden- Come on! I live here! I parked outside my drive!

Yes-he nodded happily- I know, I am sorry. I already issued it and can not take it back.

This is when you wish you were in Baku. I would have slipped a 5 pound note in his sweaty palm, and that would be the end of it. Or, ten years ago, I probably would have just smiled and got away with it.

Instead, I went home and called my poor husband at work: to tell him just how much I hated this f**** country.

Where else in the world- I ask you, people!- can you get fined £35 for parking outside your own drive?

But most importantly, it is about deadlines.

There is always a date by which you have to do things. £35 if you pay within 14 days. If you forget to pay by then, it becomes a £70.

If you forget to pay your taxes. If you forget to pay your bills. If you forget to apply for a car tax disc.

Remember this, remember that…remember to fill some more forms. More paperwork. More taxes. More letters.

Please fill this form, and return by post by such and such date. Please let us know if you will attend parents meeting at your child’s new school. No, please don’t call us. We prefer papers that you have to fill in, and and send to us. More paperwork.

You fight the system every day and you try your best to remember everything. You learn this country’s rules. You set up direct debits. You learn where speed cameras are. And so you might feel, on occasion, that you are in charge, and everything is under control, but that probably means you just forgot something. And when you relax a little, it will sneak up on you. And you feel like the system is trying to get you. To turn you into that mad woman who wandered the streets of London, muttering to herself that she could not cope.


  1. Here in Peru, we are not that devoted to the laws either. So, I can totally understand your frustration.
    I guess it's the price you pay for living in a developed and organized country.
    Happy second anniversary, by the way!

  2. Napolean once called the English a Nation of Shopkeepers, but then the Indians and Pakastani's arrived and took over our shops, so we became a nation of Form Fillers. There are thousands of Civil Servants whose whole purpose in life is to design new forms for us to fill in so that they can collate information that they already have but do not share with each other. Getting a Parking Ticket is the pitts, but could you imagine if there were no Traffic Wardens and people just parked where they could find a space, which is not always that simple as there are more cars than there are spaces, it would result in utter chaos, but, in saying that, to receive a ticket for parking outside your own drive is not good. Do you think that me commenting to this blog equates to filling in a form?

  3. Willie: Honestly, this form filling is driving me insane. Save the planet my a***!!! More like "kill more trees so we could fill more forms!"

    @ Gabriela: 2nd anniversary? I wish! it was the 9th! :))

  4. I understand your frustration: no one likes to pay parking tickets. However, I'd like to remind you about "Prospekt Lenina" avenue back in Baku. Navigating it during the day is next to impossible because of all the cars that illegally parked (and double-parked, and triple parked) on both sides of the street. Don't you wish we had some law and order there?

    I hate bureaucrats, and I'm sure there are plenty of these useless creatures in the UK. But traffic wardens do a useful job... don't hate them...

  5. Sorry!
    I don't know where I got the idea it was your second anniversary!
    Anyway, happy 9th anniversary to the both of you.

  6. oh dear...It is getting like that her now, if I park outside my house the police come and tow my car away. It costs more that 35 pounds to get it back...yellow lines everywhere... police stand by traffic lights in the hope you'll 'jump' and they can 'jump' you..every document has to be notorised I must have spent days collectivity in the notory office...and the worst thing in Baku now is the cost..last year my 1 year multi entry visa cost me 265 manats...the equivalent , a wk permit + residency permit has so far cost me 2675 manats! life is stressful and expnsive..

  7. Congratulations - you have become British ! :-) Unfortunately I am not able to share your feelings in the same way. I have only moved to the UK from Azerbaijan a year ago and can still remember nightmares of Baku bribes, disorder everywhere, traffic jams, hungry police etc. But it is a bliss to be irritated when a policemen charges you for parking outside your drive - I envy you for that !

  8. @ Anonymous: Ha, yes I guess it is so true...I have lived here too long. I took off my rose tinted glasses by now. I also forgot things that annoyed the hell out of me back home. somehow, perhaps it is also the age and motherhood thing, there is just a lot of forms, a lot of papers, a lot of things to remember.....Aggggggrrrrrr!!!!!

  9. I just came back from a trip to Ukraine where most inter-city highways are just two lane country roads littered with potholes. Where people have to risk head on collisions just to pass a slow moving vehicle. I saw a terrible car accident with a young man literally crashed into his car and a truck on fire in a ditch next to it. There was no police in sight. Other cars were just driving around a car with a dead man in it. No one flinched, no one cared. We stopped at the next GAI station to tell them about the crash. Police had no radios, only cell phones and they weren’t in any hurry either. I keep thinking if this young man would still be alive if corrupt Ukrainian officials spent Government money on fixing the roads instead of building villa’s for themselves. And how many others were out there just like this young man.
    It’s a blessing to live in a country where overzealous police is eagerly enforcing the Law. It truly is.

  10. Here is my story that is opposite to yours :))
    I am parking at a parking ramp next to the office. And this year new owners decided to charge more monthly and suggested to pick spots. Of course 1-st level spots are more expensive and 7-th level are almost free. Just because I am scared to walk in the dark parking ramp I decided: I'll pay more, but at least I'll feel more comfortable to go to my car at 10 pm, when I have deadlines at work. Plus I don't need to drive 7 levels up and then 7 levels down. So what do you think happens? People are parking in my spot! It happened 5 times in a few months! What do owners do? They put notifications on windchild of violators!
    Why aren't you towing these cars??? - I asked them.
    The answer was: We need special license to do that!
    Here is example of bureaucracy again!
    Owners probably couldn't charge for reserved spots though... But they want more money! And I don't have a choice.