All Things Bright and New to Me

As I stood in the shower this morning, I thought about the fact that I just pressed a button and a torrent of hot water jetted instantly out of the shower rose. “Power showers”, as they are known here in the UK, were such a novelty for us when we first got to London.

I then thought about everything else in our day-to-day lives that fascinated me when I first arrived here. Two months after we arrived here, I emailed my family a list of things that were different from what I knew. I had another look at the list today, and thought I would post it here.

Please note that this is my perspective and my opinion; some of these things might be familiar to those who live in South Africa, and perhaps not everything I have seen is typical of London. These are purely my observations of things that I found different.

Interesting, as I read through it, I realised how inured I have become to most of the items on the list. I found myself thinking, “Oh, right – that was new to us back then”.

We call this guy "Neil". Long story
  1. We saw a fox in our car park the other evening.
  2. We have heaters in both of our bathrooms, and even in our kitchen. (And in the lounge and bedrooms, of course.)
  3. We have power showers in our bathrooms: you turn on a power switch on the bathroom wall, and then press the “on” button on the shower, and out comes hot water, instantly.
  4. At Tesco (supermarket) you pack your own groceries into bags. And you get “green points” (like extra loyalty points) on your Tesco card if you bring and re-use your own bags.
  5. The shopping trolleys at our local Tesco have a sign on them that reads: “These trolleys are programmed to stop automatically when pushed beyond the red zone.” The perimeter of the shopping centre (i.e. the car park) is colour-coded, with the red zone being the outermost zone. If you push a trolley over that line, it will literally stop. We discovered through experience, and wondered why the trolley stopped suddenly, jarringly, and would not budge a further inch.
  6. [I did see a shopping trolley on top of the bus stop a few months ago – not sure how it got beyond not only the “red zone” but how it was lifted to such a height. I think drunkenness might give you extra powers and imagination.]
  7. Despite commonly held beliefs, Londoners can be pretty friendly and helpful.
  8. It seems to be OK to swear on television (not on the news though).
  9. It’s a crime to beg. [The crime is “Begging and summoning alms.”]
  10. You can get arrested, or at least a warning, for peeing in public.
  11. Some buses won’t stop at the bus stop you’re standing at unless you flag them down.
  12. If you’re travelling on the bus, you need to ring the bell for it to stop at the next bus stop. Unless someone flags it down from the bus stop or a passenger rings the bell, it will not stop.
  13. Some bus drivers will wait for you if they see you running for the bus.
  14. At some shops you can scan and pay for your purchases yourself – i.e. no cashier involved.
  15. Sometimes it costs you 30p to spend a penny [go to a public rest room].
  16. You can buy booze on Sundays and you can buy wine and beer and spirits in the supermarkets. [In South Africa you cannot buy alcohol in a supermarket on a Sunday.]
  17. Wherever you go in London, you will encounter people from a huge variety of nationalities. It is truly a multicultural society, quite remarkable. I thought we lived and worked in a multi-cultural world in Cape Town, but honestly – we know nothing compared to a city like London.
  18. You can’t buy green (Sunlight-type) soap, and the local mayonnaise generally tastes junk. You can’t buy margarine in the UK – it is an illegal product. And you can’t buy cane spirit in the UK because it destroys your memory.
  19. What was I saying?
  20. You can get about 80 channels on Freeview television. But a TV licence costs about ZAR1,500 a year [£145.50].
  21. On weather reports on TV and the radio, they use terms like “bright”, “breezy” and “dull”.
  22. You can get free daily newspapers (Metro and the London Evening Standard) at the tube stations – with the result that most commuters are up on the latest news, like “has Simon Cowell shaved his hands?”
  23. We have mobile phones, from which we send texts. (Not cell phones, nor sms’s.)

I continue to notice new things, as you know, and I usually blog about them. I’ll never be a Londoner, but I can now make my way around a city that initially felt so wildly “forrin” to me.

Sunshine signing off for today!

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Sunshine Overseas

Where I live right now is overseas.  When I hear anyone here talk about going overseas, I wonder why they would do that because they’re already here. In my vocabulary, the UK and Europe are overseas. Everywhere else in the world has a name.

(Please note that this is purely my perception and my take on this word.)

In my experience, the word overseas has always held a certain fascination and hint of glamour. I remember, as a child, hearing friends talk about going overseas on their school holidays. I would kind of melt into an envious heap, thinking,

“Ah, you’re so cool. You’re going overseas. AND you’re allowed to wear nylon socks with lace at the top.”

I have known and worked with people who have never travelled out of their home towns, let alone travelled abroad. Or overseas. One of my colleagues in Harare said he had no idea what overseas looked like. He then asked,

“Are there many tall buildings there?”

My younger son went overseas on a school history tour three years ago. The tour took them to the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany, and they travelled in March. The day he left, I took the day off work to spend with him before we took him to the airport that evening.

It was 36 degrees Celsius that day – a typically hot March day in Cape Town. He was flying to Prague, where temperatures were expected to be about 0 degrees Celsius. It was strange for him to think about feeling cold.

A delightful, older lady was working at our house that day and we enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with each other and share sighs at the hot weather. I told her my son was going overseas that evening. She looked at me, bemused.

“Is it very far?”

I said to her, “Yes, it’s very far. And it’s very very cold.”

She looked at me even more bemused. Her frown disappeared as the penny dropped.

“Ah. He’s going to Springbok.”
(Springbok is a small town in the Northern Cape in South Africa, renowned for diamonds, copper and beautiful springflowers, but also notoriously much colder – for South Africa – than most of the rest of the country.)

I smiled inside as I thought, “Yes, he might just as well be going to Springbok.”

At that time, I worked for a non-profit organisation that provided counselling services, and trained lay counsellors. The receptionist who worked there (I’ll call her N) was a cheerful and chirpy character and she and I used to laugh together plenty.

Our favourite was to try and beat each other to say TGIF to each other every Friday. It was our thing. If I got in first and said, “TGIF!” she’d look up and me and say, “Thanks, God.”

One day someone arrived at the office, and said she had an appointment at 10h00. N checked the counselling appointment book and saw no booking for 10h00. The consummate professional, she smiled at the new arrival, asked her to take a seat and proceeded to run through the offices and whip up a volunteer counsellor to see the awaiting client.

She found a counsellor who was available, made sure the counselling room was tidy, and told the client her counsellor was on her way. The counsellor came through, introduced herself and off the two of them went into the counselling room and shut the door behind them. Five minutes later, the two of them emerged with much hilarity; the appointment the client had come to the office for was a job interview with the Executive Director!

N and I laughed like drains as we imagined what went on in the counselling room, with the so-called client not able to talk about her job experience because she kept being asked how she was feeling. How funny.

One of my direct reports was the administration manager, G: divine, well-spoken, nattily-dressed, eloquent and the most gentlemanly gentleman you can imagine. He led a team of four staff members, and they had regular team meetings. Occasionally he would invite me to join them, and it was fun to be included.

One of the team was D, the handyman. He was a constantly recovering alcoholic who worked like a Trojan when he was present. But he often went missing. We all loved him, and he was a central character in our offices. However, he had no time for meetings.

The first time I was invited to join the team meeting, someone asked if D would be there. At that moment, D walked past the meeting room and G asked if he was going to join them.

D didn’t break stride. He flung his left arm in the air and said,

“Ag, daai’s ‘n klomp k*k!” (That’s just a crock of s**t!)

I guess he wasn’t going to join us.

The meeting began. G, ever formal and eloquent, welcomed everyone, made a special mention of the visitor (me) and asked if anyone would like to open the meeting by sharing something.

“Feel free to speak, if you have something to share,” he said.

N, along with many of us, often battled to understand what G was saying because he usually used really formal language and long words (thanks to his prior career in the diplomatic corps). She was leaning heavily on the desk, her elbow only just stopping her face from hitting the desk. She looked at G with incredulity, she frowned, she wrinkled her nose, and then said,

“About what?”

Moving on swiftly then.

G read an excerpt from a book of inspirational sayings, quoting Mother Theresa. It flew right over the head of everyone present, and N continued to look at G with that expression of WTF (Why The Funny-Sayings)?

G worked us through the agenda and, after about half an hour, was ready to draw the meeting to a close. He invited any closing comments. N stood up and cleared her throat, then clicked her tongue on the roof of her mouth.

“I would like to say something please.”

G welcomed her to go ahead.

“I think we should always have Nomalanga with us at these meetings. [Nomalanga is my Xhosa name, and it means Sunshine. She meant me.] Because why? Because it’s so nice having her here; it feels like we have someone here from overseas.”

She sat down, G thanked her for her input and said he would give it some thought, and the meeting closed. I’m so glad I write a blog, because this was always so going to be in it.

Sunshine signing off for today, from overseas!