I wanted to make the perfect grilled cheese sandwich so I buttered the small frying pan (that I had brought all the way from Pakistan), and added the thick slices of bread and cheese – it was then that my eyes fell on the lid to a saucepan (the travelling companion to the frying pan) and a light bulb clicked above my head: the cheese will melt better if I cover the pan. It will be grand.
So I popped the lid on the frying pan and it slid a little lower than it should have but it wasn’t a big deal.
Till I tried to lift it. And try and pry as I could, the lid did not budge. The bulb flickered and fused.
A broken knob and bent fork later, Fahad decided to step in. Man to pan.
He exited the apartment and a few minutes later, remerged, a huge grin on his face and the lid pried loose from its unsuitable marriage to the pan. The edges of the pan were scraped and the scratches on its nonstick sides are not for the seriously OCDed, but I wasn’t complaining. And of course the lid doesn’t have its black knob anymore.
I can only imagine how my husband looked bent over next to the road, banging the frying pan on the sidewalk in the cool British evening.
In other announcements – we have moved into our apartment. It is located on Church Street and it used to be a tavern. But rest assured, it looks nothing like a pub from the inside. The reception has the world’s heaviest door that I need to lean with all my body weight to open, and our flat is on the ground floor. Which means spying activities for me in the day and for others at night (so I must keep the blinds shut).
And there are plenty of sounds, even in a quiet town in Nottinghamshire – car enthusiasts zooming by with strange loud car sounds, R&B at 11:30 pm, loud renditions of Twinkle Twinkle Litte Star by a mother-son duo (yes, it was very cute) and the sputtering of heavy bikes that are peculiarly popular here. In the morning I brush my hair by the window, looking at old couples wheeling their walkers slowly, cars stopping to let people cross the road and people always, always raising their hand in a thank you.
Which leads us to how polite everybody is in England.
And the frequent use of the word ‘cheers’ in everyday conversation! How did I not know this is how British people talk? My faith in popular media has been struck a blow. I mean, we all know everything about the fish and chips and football and beer and Hyde Park and how the London Eye is really not worth the money because it is essentially an arthritic Ferris wheel … but I had no idea that people talk like this here:
“Orright then, thank you,”
“Sure, cheers mate.”
“See you later.”
It’s used as a ‘thank you’, ‘you’re welcome’ and ‘bye’. For some reason I am very tickled by this. I haven’t been able to incorporate it into my conversation though. Not yet.
People have better manners on the road here than we do at the dinner table back in Pakistan. Huge buses come to a screeching halt if you so much as put a toe out onto the pedestrian crossing. And the other day, when Fahad and I were standing by the road to cross (there was no pedestrian crossing nearby in that suburban neighborhood) and cars zipped by one after the other, this jeep stopped a couple of yards away and flashed its headlights at us.
“It wants to mow us down!” my brain screamed till I realized this is the signal that they’re letting you cross. Pardon my Karachi-bred mind for thinking that was the car’s version of a bull pawing the ground before it charged.
Of course, as a brown visitor in the country, we try to be as polite if not more so than everybody else. Which means that we’re always saying either “excuse me, sorry” or “pardon me” or “thank you” while walking down grocery store aisles or skirting corners along the road.
And of course I miss home, and I miss Karachi. I miss the brazen ownership that one can only experience in one’s own country – (and yes, I know it is a privilege for the majority in-power class but laying that aside for now), the comfort that makes us almost rude, because after all, this is mine, I can do what I want with it.
I like Nottingham. It is big enough to have multiple kinds of cinemas and parks and there are festivals popping up now and then, but not crazy like London (which I still found to be less crazy and cleaner than New York). Walking around in the city center you can hear different languages – Spanish, Arabic, English and snippets of Punjabi or Urdu/Hindi. Just a minor digression – it is refreshing how the British college students do not use the word like in their conversations (except perhaps to say “I like your sweater”). I did not realize this till the time we were sitting in the bus and there were two girls sitting behind us discussing some other girl’s boyfriend situation. And as I eavesdropped automatically, I couldn’t place what was so familiar about the way they talked and how come I understood what they were saying so easily (because trust me, I have trouble understanding the British accent – “sorry, pardon me, what was that?”). And then I realized! Aha! American accents! And the entire conversation was peppered with like, so then I was like did you really think that through, like don’t you know he already has a girlfriend, like come on…
Yes, Nottingham. It’s nice. Indian food seems to be the most popular, with Chinese next and Mexican third. But more common than even fish and chips seems to be fried chicken. And there is so much Halal food here! So I’m enjoying the diversity. And I love walking around. Especially now that we have moved out of our AirBnb where only one bus service went, at intervals of 40-50 minutes. Every now and then I miss having a car – like yesterday when I walked to the Laundromat that was so much closer when I had walked there without a 2 kilo load of dirty clothes. My arms still ache but that says more about my fitness than anything else.
The adventures in Nottingham so far involve waiting for the bus, getting on the wrong bus, missing our stop and ending up five blocks further than we had planned, exploring the underground cave city that dates back to the 1600s, sitting in the sunlight in sweaters while little kids shrieked and ran through the fountains in T-shirts and eating creamy vanilla cones in a beautiful country park where the fields rolled away into the distance.
Anyways, there’s work to do now. More later.