A towel! A towel! My kingdom for a towel!
The following is a story about towels with a happy end. As with the previous post, I shall recount the story chronologically. Unlike the previous post, the "payoff" occurs somewhere in the middle of the story, so you can't simply skim to the bottom.
Our previous story, gentle reader, left me nude from the waist up in the kitchen of my new flat, holding a damp t-shirt, listening anxiously for the promised female flatmates to walk in the door. Sadly, it appears that the whims of fate did not support the comedic (and quite possibly romantic... or at least sexual) script which was clearly written for such an event.
I finished my meal and retired to my room. I had a shower, then spent the next half hour shivering in my room as I slowly dried. I had know that my room did not come with any towels, and therefore brought a small hand towel, but could not fit a bath towel into my luggage. My brother had assured me that it would be easy to find a towel in the fair Kingdom of Unitedness.
Did you hear thunder in the background, gentle reader? You should have, although as previously noted, the whims of fate do not always follow the proper comedic script. I must confess, a chill ran down my spin and I wrote those fateful words, despite knowing that a "happy end" was in store for me.
In the morn, I dilly-dallied my route to the university. I still lacked a key to the lab, so I did not want to arrive before others. I marvelled at the Kelvingrove art museum history thingie, with its intricate gothic arches and pointy bits. I revelled in the gentle parkway promenade, with its explosion of green and gentle brook. I smiled at a broken-down graffiti-covered building -- in this country, even structures slated for demolition are incredibly charming!
I stopped at a cafe. I stumbled a bit with the protocol -- I never known whether to get food at the counter, order food at the counter and sit down, or sit down and wait for a server. I thought this was the first kind of establishment, but apparently it was the third.
I had some most agreeable English breakfast tea with a ginger icing'd thing. At two pounds fifty, though, I began to wonder about the university's claim that students should budget seventy and one hundred pounds per month for meals. By that measure, I had just blown half my day's food allocation breakfast!
At the university, the lab was already occupied, so my lack of key was not a problem. We chatted for a bit, picked up my new desktop, and I occupied myself with setting it up.
Lunch was at a traditional pub (which apparently was the second kind of establishment; I thought it was the third). My supervisor warned me that my burger might not be up to North American standards, but I found it one of the tastier burgers I had consumed. Interestingly, the meat was not ground beef, but appeared to be a whole piece of beef. It was not at all tough, though.
I repaired to my room at 4pm, pleading jetlag. I enjoyed another post-shower shiver, and went to my bed with still-damp hair. I resolved to find a towel on the 'morrow.
Did you hear that, gentle reader? I most definitely heard some deep, ominous laughter from afar.
With the marvelous power of the Web which joins the whole Wide World, I determined that Sainsbury's operated two types of establishments: S and L. Amusingly, the Esses were "superstores", while the Ells were "local". These abbreviations must have been chosen deliberately to confuse foreigners accustomed to Small and Large drinks!
Anyway, having established that a "Superstore" operated by Sainsbury's would be open at 7am, I set off shortly after dawn. I discovered a most delightful walk across the countryside (just to the north and west of my residence), and found the store with only a small amount of detours. The walk was approximately one mile of length.
The "Superstore" was a mixed find. It was definitely not a superstore by North American standards; with approximately 8-10 checkout counters, it was definitely a normal residential market. It definitely was nowhere near a North American (or Singaporean) superstore, which would have upwards of 20 checkout counters (and in some cases, more than 40!).
However, it was oddly (or perhaps not oddly at all!) comforting. There was plenty of room to walk down the aisles, a large selection of items, and the whole store was brightly lit. The exterior was also familiar; this store was part of a mini-mall with a moderately-sized parking lot (200 stalls; again, a normal small lot by North American judgement). Other stores included Boots (which apparently sells cosmetics, not footwear), Marks and Spences, and a McDonalds.
Sadly, although the Sainsbury's website listed towels (and mobile phones), and although the North American Superstores would include such items as well, this store only had groceries. Or rather, what a North American would call "groceries"... I suspect that the term "groceries" has a more specific meaning here than merely "food and stuff".
Defeated, although much better provisioned, I walked home. There, I picked up a letter establishing my UK residence, then travelled to a bank...
... to be defeated again! Apparently, opening a bank account requires an appointment! I must admit that I was not unduly hopeful that I could open the account on Saturday morning (although the bank definitely was open), but I had expected to be told to return on Monday morning, rather than requiring a formal appointment.
After leaving the bank, I continued to walk in search of a store which sold towels.
Finally, I spotted it! "The Bathroom Store". I crossed the street via an underpass created for a nearby underground station, entered the store... and discovered that it was for furniture only. I continued to walk.
Finally, I gave up and turned back. I have a good sense of direction, so in order to make the third side of a triangle, I began walking towards my residence.
But then I discovered the most marvelous thing -- a store selling household goods (pillows and mats). What's more, it appeared to be fairly large (by normal street-side store standards). But the final sign, a most definite stamp of approval from the whims of fate -- they were having a sale! What could be more welcome news to me?!
I eagerly entered the store, and quickly located the items I sought. I pondered a bit between a bath towel on sale for £5 and a fluffier bath towel for £10... and decided to splurge. I had walked so far, spent so much time looking, that I deserved a good towel. I bought other items, though, which were on sale. A hand towel, plastic food containers, and a laundry bag.
Upon returning to my residence, I checked my route on google maps. All told, I had walked one and ten kilometers, or almost seven miles. Since I had been awake for twelve hours, I fell asleep before even having a shower.
I was woken around dinner-time by flatmates greeting each other. I wandered out to join in the greetings, then got dressed and went out to eat (I must admit, Subway for the third day in a row -- although in this case, it was merely because it was right next to the Tesco's Express) and buy some more groceries. When I returned, I filled out my Tesco membership point card, and indicated my special dietary preference: teetotal.
Indeed, this country considers people who refrain from drinking alcohol to be in the same category as those seeking vegans, halal, kosher, or diabetic diets. I begin to suspect that my brother was not overstating his warnings about alcohol consumption in this country!
Awake for merely two hours, I fell asleep again.
I woke some time after midnight, having slept for over eleven hours (after subtracting the dinnertime shopping). I remain amazed at those who travel to other continents for vacations and conferences -- how do they adjust to the new daylight so quickly? There is not much to see in an unfamiliar country at 3am!
Sunday morning was occupied with academic work. Eight o'clock found me back at Sainsbury's, this time purchasing garbage bags for the flat, along with more food. I returned, did more work, and tried to find a pub or cafe for lunch -- to no avail. Almost every store was closed on Sunday!
I returned to my flat and ate bread, cheese (orange Cheddar, just like home!), and strawberries (tiny ones). After this, I occupied myself with chores (washing dishes, vacuuming), then went to bed again.
My pattern seems to be established: sleep from 3pm to midnight. It may not be the most convenient pattern, especially for any kind of social life, but at least it's stable -- for the first few days here, I could not sleep for longer than 4 hours at a time.
Perhaps more importantly... and quite possibly closely linked to my sleep... I have finally caught up on my fluids. Flights leave me extremely thirsty, and I must admit that I did not drink sufficiently on my first two days here. All the drinks are so small! Even the Subway -- a North American franchise -- had tiny cups, with no larger sizes of cups visible. I should have asked for two drinks.
Anyway, I have regained my health. Walking was somewhat painful for the first few days but this is now pleasurable. In retrospect, I should have spent more time walking before coming here -- in part because walking uses slightly different muscles than running, but mostly because I had not "broken in" my new non-running shoes.
I have time for four more hours of work, quite possibly while doing laundry, and then I depart for my first full week of university. My first task shall be to get a keycard for the building: it is locked outside of normal business hours.
PS: if you don't know what a "happy end" is, then... err... actually, don't worry about it. I'm not going to spoil your innocence. :)