Monday, 14 September 2009
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.