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Swans outside, flames inside

December 20, 2000

 

This is a backdated entry which had to wait to upload until after I got back to San Francisco for a visit. Hopefully I can get online in Cambridge soon. Anyway...

 

I'm living in England for a while. Everything is, as you can imagine, weird.

 

We have a furnished apartment in Cambridge with heinously ugly furniture and positively garish curtains, as well as blue carpets. The sofas are apholstered with what appears to be the leftover shirts from Haitian cabana boys, in orange and brown. They're brand-new, no less. I have found there is no lack of truly ugly furniture & decor in English homes; the standard is just... different.

 

England is a hotbed (love that word!) of superb design but it's not often, how you say... implemented... into the average English household. What's odd is how priorities are just not what I'd expect in regards to where supposed "elegant" touches are placed in our English flat, versus where corners are cut. For example, there is fancy 3-dimentional ceramic tile in an oak leaf pattern on the walls in the bathrooms, and posh chrome sink plugs (on the obligatory chains, like they just can't work out plugs that open and close with the little pull-knob); yet the kitchen sink is made of plastic.

 

Froze our asses off the first night in the apartment, trying to work out the heating system. Two boilers with individual thermostats, and about 8 radiators with individual thermostats = too many variables. Not to mention that we didn't discover the second boiler until after midnight, when we had tried and failed to fill the tub with enough hot water for a bath about five times.

 

The apartment is on a small marina (small English-stylee = REALLY small. Two boats currently moored.) There are about two dozen ducks and swans that come cruising over to the sliding glass door whenever I appear there. They seem unaware that I am less likely to feed them than I am to cook 'em up myself. I love roast duck only slightly more than sushi.

 

I've ordered a ruby iMac for myself, but it has failed to arrive for the last four days straight due to "bad weather." I can't imagine a lame excuse like that ever working back home! I'll have to wait for it to arrive to post this. I can't stand being away from my blog!

 

Anyway, I found a solution to the ugly furniture. I covered the sofa and two chairs, coffee table and end table with white sheets which drape to the floor; and I replaced the hideous curtains with long, white drapey cotton ones. I took all the big, gold-framed Monet prints off the walls and put up a grouping of round, pewter-framed mirrors and a round brushed metal wall clock. Believe it or not, the place is positively transformed. The draped furniture, rather than looking like we've left for the winter, gives the room light, clean, modern air. I placed beautiful metallic silver pillows on the sofa and chairs, and a large silver candle holder on the coffee table. I am amazed at the overall effect! Ash and I celebrated last night with a bottle of Rioja and frozen pizzas.

 

It's a good thing I have candleholders now, because a few nights ago before the Transformation, I had placed four lit tealight candles (the little ones in cylindrical aluminum bases) on the wood coffee table and left them as Ash and I, uh, retired to the bedroom. It's a fine thing I eventually went back out to get a glass of water, because in doing so I found that one of the candles had gotten so hot that it had ignited the wood in a circle underneath the candle, and the fire was about six inches high. Eventually the entire table would have succumbed and we would have had ourselves a bit of a problem.

 

The smoke detector detected nothing; or maybe it was just, in that English way, waiting for the right moment, or was a bit embarrassed by the whole thing.

 

Good news: the apartment came with a brand-new coffee maker! Bad news: when I plugged it in there arose funny sounds, a very bad odor and some smoke... and then silence. Have since bought a new one made in Germany, as the first one is labeled as having been made in the (no doubt picturesque) People's Republic of China -- and had all the instructions in Russian.

 

Now, I've complained about crappy English coffee before; on this trip, I brought a load of fine San Francisco coffee-house coffee, from The Horseshoe on Haight Street. I packed it in my carry-on bag for the flight, zipping as much as I could into a fat ziplock bag inside of another ziplock bag. Unfortunately, Ash tells me this is a popular method of smuggling drugs. Often they are hidden inside bags of coffee, which apparently disguises the smell of the drugs for the sniffer dogs at the airport. This could have ended in tragedy.

 

Let this, along with the bit about lighting candles upon flammable surfaces, be a lesson to you.

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