I’m a grown up and I can do what I want

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So, just to let you all know, I got my asthma meds and I’m all good to go. Funnily enough, my foray to the Walk in Clinic is the farthest I’ve explored here in Leeds. Mostly I’ve just kept to my immediate environs. (The pics up there are the house I have been staying in and Tarmy my charge.) I did come across an extraordinarily lovely and spooky cemetery that’s just a few blocks away from where I am staying. I’ll add some pics of it at the end of this post. I’ve explored many cemeteries on my travels, but this one by far was the most evocative.  Nature was left to do its thing unchecked, and many of the crypt and graves were covered in vibrant greenery. Some of them even had trees growing straight through. Nearly half of the gravestones were tilted helter skelter by the earth shifting. I prefer my cemeteries to have a wild unkempt look about them, as if the dead have joined in natures never ceasing expansion. The markers are much more majestic when Mother Nature is allowed to clothe even the long gone in her determined raiments. It embraces the dead with the vibrancy of life…instead of coldly separating them as it seems most modern cemeteries do. Its a reminder to me that nature and life are eternal. That being said…there is no way I would go there by myself at night. I don’t believe in ghosts, but looking at the way the earth bulged and shifted around the markers, I could easily believe in the dead crawling forth from the earth at night to roam about. Perhaps innocently enough…wanting to catch up on local events or to have a chat with their neighbors…play a few hands of bridge (those that still have hands). Then again, they might be hungry and want to eat my face. Either way, I’m not taking the chance. So I will happily explore during the day, but as I am partial to my face remaining in its current unchewed upon state, wild horses couldn’t drag me in there at night.

Even though I haven’t made it into downtown Leeds yet, I’ve still enjoyed my stay here. There is a small but surprisingly elegant shopping area only a few blocks away and there is enough interesting architecture around every corner that I don’t feel as if I have been missing too much. The fact is, no matter where I go in this country there are constant reminders that I am nowhere near “home”.  Even the mundane is different enough to make me look upon it in wonder. I was craving Chinese food, so I walked to the nearest restaurant. (I always crave specific foods after I have recovered from an asthma attack. I can’t eat when I can’t breathe so I’m usually starving and so happy to still be alive that I want delicious fatty food as soon as possible.)

You would think Chinese food would be the same no matter where you are in the western world…but you would be wrong. Starting off, there is the immediate difference that you find in every restaurant here, that when you order food you are asked “eat in or takeaway”…not as in the US “for here or to go?” That takes some getting used to. I inevitably end up answering “to go…away please.”. As I was waiting for my food, I noticed a letter tacked to the wall, so being the nosy boots I am, I leaned over the counter to read it. It was from the “Leeds City Council Anti-Social Behavior Unit”, and warned that “The area has recently suffered an increase in Anti-Social Behavior from some youths in the area, please call the following phone number if you see anyone exhibiting Anti-Social Behavior”.  It was such a brilliant example of English sensibilities. A letter like that written in the US would have replaced “Anti-social behavior” with “criminal activities”. Its small little things like this that delight me on a daily basis.  I also perused the menu in great detail, which wasn’t difficult as it took up the entire wall. Many of the menu items I’d never heard of. I wish I had ordered the Deep Fried Wang Tang just so I could see what it was, but I wasn’t brave enough. Besides, I rather enjoy imagining what it is, although I am fairly certain my imaginings are nowhere near the real thing. (To be honest, I hope not. I can have a bit of a naughty mind on occasion.)

Everything I ordered was something I have had many times in the States, so imagine my surprise when I got home and every single item looked and tasted different than I was used to. Fine, I can handle that. But what threw me was the bag of Styrofoam that came with the meal. Seriously. It looked exactly like those circular flat Styrofoam bits used for packing. I eventually deduced it was the English equivalent of the “Wonton Strips” we get in the US.  Being the brave soul that I am, I dipped one in my extremely pink colored “Hot and Sour Soup” and gave it a try. It made a weird sizzley noise, then became limp and soggy. I hate soggy food, but popped it in. And immediately spit it out. I’m waiting for someone to tell me that those are just used to absorb extra moisture in the bag while the food is traveling and that basically I ate a “dessicant pod”.

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So, as you can see, there is plenty of adventure to be found without having to go very far. I’ve added some pictures of the local architecture. Leeds started as a manufacturing town incorporated during the industrial revolution and it is apparent in the buildings. Thousands of rows of red brick homes, interspersed with a few here and there of stone. And of course the ubiquitous English chimney which always fills me with whimsy and thoughts of chimney sweeps and English nannies.

The reason I haven’t gone out much is that I found myself in a bit of a creative frenzy and decided to ride it out and use it as best I could. Consequently I have been writing up a storm, cozy here in my little house with Tarmy the Wonder Cat to keep me company. At first I felt guilty for spending so much time alone working…but then I remembered that this trip is mine to do with as I please, thank you very much. So I hopped on the frenzy train, settled myself in first class (of course) and have been happily at it for many days. I might go into the city tomorrow as it is my last full day in Leeds, or I may not. Besides, my next stop is York which is only a 24 minute train ride away. Ironically, it is cheaper for me to take the train from York to Leeds and back then it is to take the bus from where I am staying into the city center. Go figure.

I’ve been banging out some short stories for my eventual compilation. Maybe when I’m done editing I will post one for your perusal. I leave Leeds for York on Saturday, and starting Sunday I will be helping out some friends who own a pub. I’m very excited to learn all the ins and outs of “pub life”. You can be assured I will tell you all about it!

Cheers,                                                                                                                 Rebecca

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Steve Irwin would have been proud

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It’s 4:51 am here in Leeds, and I have been up all night. That isn’t by itself all that unusual, as since almost immediately after embarking on this adventure I reverted back to the natural night owl tendency that is my default mode. Tonight however, I am awake for an additional reason- my asthma is acting up and my inhaler is empty. I’m not in any danger, its just mild wheezing at the moment, but it is harder to breathe when lying down so I am propped up on the couch waiting for the local Walk In Centre to open at 8 am.

I brought two inhalers overseas with me, figuring that way when one ran out I would have a spare, get a new one and then never be caught without. HA! Apparently one of the ones I packed with me was already empty. Oops. That was a nice surprise this morning. (Well, I say morning…)

Now, how does an American with no health insurance get a prescription filled in the UK, land of the NHS? Yeah, I didn’t know either. So after a bit of ‘doing the googling’, I decided to walk to a pharmacy I had seen nearby and get the info straight from the horses mouth. I shook the inhaler and figured I had about two or three puffs left. (A lot of asthmatics call an inhaler their ‘puffer’. Since childhood I have called mine my ‘squeezie breathie’. ) I wasn’t wheezing yet, but quite often an attack can be brought on just by the simple knowledge that you have no meds. There is a huge psychological component to asthma that you have to train yourself to control. When I have trouble breathing I’m like a friggin’ swami. Nothing ruffles me. It’s like the exact opposite of the movie Crank. (Speaking of asthma and movies, it drive me CRAZY when they have a character in a film having an asthma attack and they are LAYING DOWN. Do you hear me Signs? I’m talking to you. Or when they show someone using an inhaler improperly…like Samwise in The Goonies. Do some damn research. I’m available for consultation. Just sayin…)

Where was I? Oh yes..ok…so I headed off to the pharmacy, walking a pace about 1/3 of my normal one so as not to raise my heart rate. I noticed up ahead of me was a group of young men clustered together in the middle of the sidewalk. They were very excited about something, and there was lots of arm waving and yelling. They all appeared to be between the ages of 17-25, and as I got closer two more rode up on bicycles, bringing their number to 8. And they were completely blocking the sidewalk. Now I don’t like stereotypes or generalizations any more than you do, but lets face it…most women walking alone would be at least slightly tense about having to force their way through a large group of sparky men standing in their path. But I was full swami mode, and gave no fucks. Surprisingly, as I approached, they parted like the red sea as if to let me though. But then one boy stepped in front of me, and put out his hand in the universal  gesture that means ‘stop’. I halted, and geared myself up to be annoyed when he surprised me by saying “Be careful! There’s a snake!!” He then pointed to the ground to the left of me, and sure enough, there was a snake.

I am 100% sure that these boys were not expecting me to respond in the manner I did.”Oh cool!”, I replied. “Ooh, its a beauty too.” I squatted down to get a closer look at it. She was a beautiful pink color, not terribly large, probably about three feet fully extended. One of the young men behind me asked “Do you know what kind it is? Is it poison?” After watching it for a few more seconds, I turned around to reassure him. “No, I don’t think so. It’s not displaying any aggression, or opening its mouth. It kind of looks like a rat snake.” They all looked at me as if I were an alien.  The first boy (who I am naming Harry) then asked me, ” Do you know..does anyone around here have snakes?”  (For the purposes of this narrative, you must imagine all the boys speaking in a think, broad Yorkshire accent. If you don’t know what that sounds like, you must You Tube it. It’s wonderful.) Of course I had to explain to him that I was American and knew no one.  Another boy then asked me, “Can you pick it up?” Before I could respond, good old Harry spit out “No she can’t. She’s a girl.”

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Oh Harry darlin’, you were so lucky I was still firmly in swami mode. I turned away from him to the other boys. “I need a stick. Around three feet long, preferably with branches on the end that form a ‘Y’ shape.”  There was a tree right there, and immediately two boys jumped up and ripped down a huge branch and began to prune it down to the specifications I had given them. I turned around and saw that Harry was holding a piece of fence post about a foot long. He looked at me, and then dropped it and picked up a slightly longer stick. I then noticed he had cleverly fashioned a bag out of a tee-shirt, and he began to poke at the snake in an effort to get it into the shirt-bag. By this time, the other boys had stripped a branch to the correct size, and one of them handed it to me. I looked around and realized the crowd had grown…we’d added some older men who had been working on one of the nearby houses and a few more young’uns. They all watched the proceedings intently and were strangely quiet.

I then turned back to the snake, and for the next 5 minutes it was mano a mano. Harry had given up after the snake had slithered up his wee stick and he’d dropped the branch and taken up position as bag man, which was fine…except that every time I went to place the snake in the bag Harry squealed and dropped it. This could have gone on indefinitely, but luckily one of the workmen had procured a plastic box that had been used at some point for housing a critter, and after placing it on the ground it was then only a matter of seconds before I was able to gently maneuver the snake safely into the box.

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Of course, Harry ended up with the snake. I asked what he was going to do with it. I had figured they would take it somewhere wooded and release it, but Harry told me he believed the snake would die if left outside and planned on taking it home. Which was fine with me. I stood there for a few moments, looking at the crowd of 15 men, who were staring back at me, the only woman. After some awkward silence, I broke it by saying, “Right then, I’m off. Cheers.”, and I turned and continued on my way to the pharmacy. I turned around after a few steps, and saw the men were dispersing. A few were following Harry, but the rest were heading off in different directions.

The entire encounter lasted about 10 minutes, and at no time during it did I lose my swami cool. As a matter of fact, I was so determinately chill that it wasn’t until I got back to my lodgings after chatting with the pharmacist that the absurdity of the entire event hit me. And of course, I started laughing, and had to use one of my precious remaining puffs. It was worth it though. 😉

Well, I’ve made it! It is now 7:40am. Time to get ready to head to the Walk in Clinic and get a new ‘squeezie breathie’. Thank you for keeping me company tonight. It made it go by ever so much faster!

We’ll chat again soon,

Rebecca

P.S.  I did some research and it turns out she was a ‘cornsnake”, which is a type of rat snake. Non venomous, non aggressive. Doesn’t even have fangs.  I have to admit, that was probably a lucky guess on my part, I am hardly a snake enthusiast. I just read a lot.

 

 

 

 

Wherever the universe Leeds me…

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(Sorry about the bad pun in the title, I couldn’t help myself.)

So, yes, here I am in Leeds. For those of you unfamiliar with the geography of England, Leeds is in ‘The North’-only 24 miles away from York. (I loved all the road signs on the highway…’The North’…making it an independent destination as opposed to just a direction.) I have read many things about the historical class differences between the north and south of England and found the story familiar. After all, we have our own version in the States.

I love The North, especially Yorkshire. I freely admit to already having a romantic ideal of it in my head before I ever arrived due to my love of all things Bronte…but I can honestly say I have yet to be disappointed. Not only is the scenery breathtaking,(The Moors!)and the history fascinating…on the whole the people just may be the friendliest and finest I have come across. Oh, don’t get me wrong, they have of course the certain necessary percentage of cockwombles that every human settlement requires in order to function. But the rest of the population is just so damn friendly, open and kind that the arseholes end up just fading into the background. (Of course I haven’t yet been able to explore Leeds itself…so I may get out there and realize that the rest of Yorkshire is so idyllic because they ship all their knobs to Leeds.)

I’m looking forward to exploring the city, because even though it is only 24 miles away from York, the flavor and history is profoundly different. York is picturesque and quaint. Leeds is modern and industrial. It just needs to stop raining already so I can get out there!

Last Thursday I Skyped with a Dutch couple living in Germany who had liked my profile on mindmyhouse.com…(the website I use to find my pet sits)and had emailed me to see if I was available for the month of October. After our conversation I am happy to say that on September 30th I will be heading to Deutschland for a month! I’m glad to be getting out of the UK…not because I don’t love it here, but because I don’t want to push the limits of my ‘tourist’ designation. As a US citizen you are allowed 6 months in the UK without a visa of some sort, and at the end of September I will have been here 3.5 months. (I just typed that and almost plotzed. I still sometimes can’t believe that this is truly happening) I am planning on spending Christmas in London with my daughter Hannah, so I have to scoot my butt over to the continent for a bit so the Eye of Sauron (immigration) doesn’t lock onto me. Oh, and there is also the fact that I GET TO GO TO GERMANY! My future hosts Sylvia and Ernst have very kindly been helping me plan the best way to get from London to Grossenkneten. My charge while I am there will be Motek, a large handsome white shepherd. (And, I have recently found out that they have hedgehogs in their garden. This delights me in a very childish way.)

So, there is my future sorted until November 3rd. Leeds, then back to York, then off to Germany! And after that, we shall see where the universe leads me!