12 September 2008

As Is Usual with Beginnings...

You know how there are some days where, once one thing goes wrong, everything goes wrong? Well, this was one of those days.  I wish to begin this entry by stating that experience has taught me that getting to places and arriving at those places is always more hassle than one expects, and always ends up in wrangling and difficulty.  So what follows may not be that different from any other experience, but it seemed so to me.

This morning was my morning to check out.  I had to do this by ten am, which was also the time at which the box office opened for tickets to Hamlet in London.  I checked out by 9:45, and then rather than getting a cab to the station I sat on the steps of my building and dialled the box office. It was busy.  It was busy; it was busy; it was busy; it was busy:  I GOT THROUGH.  So there I was with my credit card out, fifth in the queue, and...my phone lost the signal!  I tried five more times, but, well, it was busy.  So I got a cab to the station.  I had two massively heavy bags, which I dragged along behind me, no one offering to help at all, and of course the station was filled with couples kissing good-bye, or walking companionably toward the train, blah, blah, blah.  So I started to cry.  Not big-time crying - just that sort of pre-crying, where your face goes all rigid and long, and you give a couple of experimental heaves.  Fortunately there wasn't time to give it a real go, as the train platform was announced.  So I dragged my bags to the train, yanked them on, and found a seat.  Then the conductress arrived to inform me that I had to move them, as they were blocking the door.  Great.  I moved one, which is to say I hauled it down the compartment to the bag holder, bashing people's feet as I went, and repeating, "Sorry, sorry, I'm sorry."

On the train journey down I rang and rang and rang the Hamlet box office, but never got through.  When we actually got to Cambridge, a terribly nice man who'd been sitting across from me with his wife helped me carry my bags to the taxi rank.  I got a cab.  I said to the cab driver, "One of these is enormously heavy," and he replied, "You can put that one in the car, then." Ha ha.  When my bags and I finally got in the cab and I told him where I wanted to go, he (driving) told me a whole story about how he'd met his wife at my college, and they'd got married and were together for five years, and then they separated.  He was married to someone else now, he told me, and had a lovely daughter, but he was still sad, because he'd really loved his first wife, and it wasn't so much that they'd had real problems as that things just weren't working any more.  I just sat there in the back of the cab thinking, What a story for me to have to hear at this time in my life!  I don't know what I should have said or could have said; I just said what I felt I ought to say, which was things like, Maybe you're still sad because it's so close to you, and as you get further away in time it will matter less...Maybe as you get older and five years becomes less of a percentage of your life, it will seem less important...Now you have a daughter, and if you hadn't gone through all that with your first wife you wouldn't have been in the circumstances you were to meet the mother of that daughter.  I didn't cry.

When I got to my college, I went to my room.  Okay, no.  It's a nice room, but it faces onto the main road, so that there's traffic swooping by even now, and it's somehow badly set up.  So I went downstairs and asked for a new room, but the accommodations officer wasn't there: could I come back in an hour?  Sure.  Mind you, that meant I had to leave my bags in the porter's lodge (for which read, the lobby) and carry my computer with me, but what the heck.  Fine. I repaired to the computer room, where I rang and rang and rang the eternally busy box office, and finally...I GOT THROUGH.  At 12:30, after they'd been open only two and half hours, the entire run of Hamlet was sold out.  Great.

Then I went into Cambridge.  This was the pleasant portion of the day, because I bought a bike. There was much debate both within me and without me (with the nice man selling the bikes) over whether I should get an old-fashioned granny bike or a mountain bike.  The granny bike,
mind you, was metallic orange, so it wasn't that old-fashioned. The mountain bike was metallic yellow.  When I hopped on the granny bike, the nice man said, "It suits you."  In the end, though, I went for the mountain bike, simply because I couldn't get used to sitting up the way you do on a granny bike, and because I like to go fast.  They're giving it a tune-up, and I'm to pick it up on Monday.  Figuring I might as well get it all out of the way at once, I also bought mudguards, two locks (which you're supposed to have to deter vicious Cambridge thieves), a front light, a helmet, and a back rack.  I'll be giving the rack back (ha ha), though, as I'd much prefer a
basket, and I have seen some wire ones attached to mountain bikes.  When I took my hair out of its ponytail to fit the bike helmet correctly, the nice man said, "You've got a lot of hair, haven't you?" What could I say?  "Wow, no one's ever said that before!"  "Someone I love used to tell me that admiringly.  Then he dumped me." "Yes. I've had that all my life."  I just said, "Yes, it says that on my facebook profile:  'I have a heck of a lot of hair.'"  Which, in fact, it does.

When I came out of the bicycle store it was, of course, raining.  It wasn't raining hard, but it was raining cumulatively, if you see what I mean.  By the time I got back to college I was pretty much soaked.  In I went to the accommodations office, where the accommodations officer was in a meeting, but there were two rooms I could switch to...in two weeks.  I went to look at them. One was really lovely, so great, fine, whatever.  I went to the room that will now be my room for two weeks, and started doing a partial unpack.  That was when I realised that I left the chiffon party dress for which I'd paid one hundred and ten pounds hanging in the cupboard in my room in London.  Great.

I rang them up.  No one had reported finding it.  Even if someone did find it, they don't send things to people.  That was fine, I said, I'm going to be in London next week.  Oh, okay, why don't I ring back and they'll let me know if they've found it.  Ring tomorrow.  I tried not to have visions of some member of staff making off with my Karen Millen dress.  I really did try.  

At that point I also realised that there hadn't been any kind of welcome packet or anything waiting for me here.  That seemed a little odd, but not entirely implausible - after all, what evidence did I have that there should be a welcome packet?  Still, I went over to the office of the nice college secretary, just to ask.  You have to understand that at this stage I'd had my chance of tickets for Hamlet cut off; listened to my cab driver tell me the story of his relationship woes while I made sympathetic noises; got a room I didn't like and been told I couldn't move into another one for two weeks, even though that other one was empty (but it was Friday afternoon, don't you know, so everyone had gone home, and there was no way to make the switch at the present time); and walked back along roads I really didn't know in the steady rain.  So I was wound a bit tight.  Nonetheless, when the kindly college secretary said, although kindly, "We have nothing for you because you said you'd arrive on October 1," I said NOTHING.  I give myself some credit for not apologising for being wrong - which I usually would have done - but I also figured there was no point in making an enemy of a woman who hadn't done me any harm, really, so I just didn't say anything at all.  She said she'd put a packet together for me and have it at the porter's lodge later in the afternoon.  I said thanks, and then I went back to my room and had a cup of tea...and I cried.  But only, like, two big tears down the cheeks.

After a little unpacking I set off for central Cambridge again.  All I wanted was a cup of tea, a nice little cake, and to buy a printer.  So I went into Caffe Nero, because I have a buy nine get one free card, and ordered a tea and a delightful apricot danish (I love apricots.  They taste delicious, they look lovely, and when you rub them against your cheek or lips they are the softest things ever).  It took forever for this to come, because Caffe Nero apparently seeks to hire those who make slowness their speciality (the same thing happened at the Caffe Nero in London), and when I pulled out my cashcard because I hadn't had time to go to the bank, the incredibly slow counterman said (quite quickly), "We don't take cards, Madam."  There was my steaming cup of tea; there was my apricot danish; both on the counter before me.  "In that case," I said, "never mind."  And I turned around and walked out.  Behind me he called, "No Caffe Nero takes cards..."  I'm not sure what his point was.

So then I went to buy the printer.  First stop, Currys Digital, which appeared to be entirely staffed by young men under 20, all of whom would have found it too much effort to describe themselves as apathetic.  When I finally snagged one and asked him which printers worked with Macs, he said, "Um...let me see..." and crouched down before the printers.  "I don't know," he observed.  "These all have the Windows Vista logo."  Then he squatted there, looking up at me. Next stop, the Mac store, where the cheapest printer was sixty pounds.  Next stop W.H. Smiths, where there was a nice HP for fifty pounds.  And around this time I noticed that the stores were starting to shut, which gave what you might call an added impetus to the errand.  Next stop, Rymans, which sold the perfect printer in London...but not in Cambridge!  So I determined to go back to Smiths, and only as my feet turned in that direction did I remember that these all come with installation cds that my American computer can't run.  I envisioned a year of printing at the library for 10p a page, and I turned my weary steps toward home.  Well, home for two weeks. When I reached the two-thirds of the way point I began to cry again, but it was only for a second, and it was mostly because, even though I knew I was going the right way, I had no idea where I was.

I arrived back at dinner time to find a pack awaiting me.  The pack included my college card.  Up to the refectory I went.  Ooo, chips!  Ooo, only semi-unappetizing quiche!  Oooo, bread and butter pudding!  My happy tray and I proceeded to the till, where the nice young man asked me for my payment card.  My what?  Okay, it turns out the college card is how you pay.  Like a credit card. So I went and got my card, whereupon the nice young man informed me that my card had no money on it and I had to go load it up.  My chips had been pretty much cold to start off with; five minutes while I went to sort the card out would be the ruination of them.  So I just handed him the tray and said never mind.  Then I went downstairs and put money on the card.  Then I came back UPstairs and started the whole process all over again.  God love him, he'd saved my quiche, the last decent piece, so no one else could get it.  My pasty chips he'd poured back into the general chip heating bin.  No doubt I got some of them again.  Waste not, want not.

After dinner I came back to my room and had a shower in my curtainless shower...area (what else do I call it?).  Newsflash, designers of this idiotic set-up:  the water really does get everywhere.  I suppose they imagine that you'll have your shower in the morning, and everything will dry out by the time you get home at night, but I can't take showers in the morning because it takes five hours for my hair to dry (except in Canada, where, for some mysterious reason, it takes only two), and then it looks like the hair of a madwoman unless I sleep on it.  So I think it's wet feet for me for the foreseeable future. Great.

What am I supposed to say?  That the whole day was shitty from beginning to end?  That I couldn't help seeing at as an omen for my time in Cambridge, even though I know it isn't?  That I couldn't help reflecting at various times during this exercise in misery that yet again I had to handle everything on my own, and that it would be nice, just once, to have someone just for me whom I could call up and tell it all to, or who might have greeted me off the train, and maybe taken over or made suggestions when things got tough -- not a friend, or a parent, but someone just for me?  All of those things are true.  But rather than dwelling on them I'll just say that I'm disturbed by something I've noticed about myself at certain times of unhappiness before: it distresses me to discover that I'm only really happy when I'm buying something.

Good things?  Well, a couple.  The man on the train was very nice, and very interesting, and we had a long talk about politics and economics and literature, which was pleasant.  On the list of activities for newcomers in my packet there is a trip to Stratford on October 30 to see
Hamlet. So I will get a second chance.  My cab driver's relationship ended when he had started off being happy in it, so relationships do end.  He'd found someone else, so single miserable people can end up happy.  As I wandered around Cambridge I was able to point out to myself that in a couple of weeks it would be filled with people, and that I would have a much greater chance of finding friends.  I've decided that the Mac store will be able to help me with the printer problem, so I'll buy the sixty pound one (after all, that's 600 printed pages, and I bet I'll produce that many). And it's actually pretty easy and convenient to shave my legs while I sit on the floor of that ridiculous wet room with the shower on low next to me to rinse the razor.  And I suppose I might get to buy a new Karen Millen dress.  I'm thinking of this one.

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