Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Cows Know Their Names and the People Might Not

Whoa. That was intense. I’ll start from the beginning:
We drove to Howard and Alison’s and dropped off Lucy, and then went on to the airport and listened to the Phillies beat the…Dodgers? Brewers? I forget which one. Regardless, mom freaked out. We made it to the airport and checked in while dad maneuvered around the ridiculous roads to find a place to park. A really nice security guard helped us find a place to eat—the ritzy restaurant attached to the ritzy Marriot Hotel. My last American meal was a chilled salmon salad…yum. Then it was off to security to say goodbye and hug and cry and then get confused and flustered by the huffy security guy who took his job a little too seriously. I waited with a bunch of British people at gate A17 for a while and listened to one guy say he think McCain is going to win by a hair. And then he said he didn’t know anything about Sarah Palin and I wanted so badly to go over to him and say “Cool, well let me tell you…she is the devil.” But then I realized he couldn’t vote anyway, so what was the point? I bought a toothbrush in a little airport store and then waited some more. Eventually the plane came and we all got on and whoa was I nervous. But nervous in the whole first-time-on-a-rollercoaster kind of way—like I had these “great, I’m gonna die” thoughts, but the rest of me was like this is just crazy and I should enjoy myself whilst I destroy the environment with this gigantic carbon footprint. And boy did I! Once we were over the Atlantic I asked the beverage guy what the legal drinking age is over international waters, and he said eighteen, so I had myself a bottle of chardonnay. And THEN they didn’t have any gluten free food whatsoever, so this nice flight attendant lady brought me some fruit from the first class. So I had wine and fruit. And THEN I watched Pride and Prejudice. I mean seriously, could it BE any better? Yes. The seat next to me was empty, and there was no one behind me, so I could recline and enjoy. It was the classiest plane ride ever. But did I sleep? No. I wanted to watch the sunrise! I asked one flight attendant what time the sun would rise and gave me an estimate…that guy was so Scottish I swore he would call me lassie. But he didn’t.
So the landing was smooth and it was all great and I had no idea what do when we arrived so I just followed some girl who got off the plane in front on me and eventually I got through customs and I got my bag and met up with Robin (my cousin). I should have been starving, having only eaten a banana some grapes and a bottle of wine in seven hours, but I was too hyped up to drink and everything was bread anyway. The plan from there on out was that I would take the tube directly from Heathrow to Kings Cross, but we soon discovered that the farthest I could get from the airport was Acton Town, and from there I had to get on a different train. So I did. When I was getting off at Acton Town some guy behind me said, “Betta getta move on, we ‘aven’t got all day,” as I was struggling with my gigantic suitcase. I should have been a little offended, but his accent was so great I wasn’t. The tube to get to Kings Cross took a long time and made a lot of stops, but I had left Heathrow at 11:00 and my train from Kings Cross was at 12:30, so I felt like it would be fine. We finally got there and I was lugging my huge suitcase (and a smaller wheeled carry-on, and a bag) and there were no “lifts” in Kings Cross! A very attractive nice man carried the huge one up a flight of stairs for me. Actually several nice strong men helped me out. Only the one was rude. So eventually I get to the information desk to ask which platform the train will come to, and the man says, “Um, it’s 12:36. You missed it.” So that SUCKED. I almost burst into tears. Instead I went to the ticket place and spent £97 on another ticket. How ridiculous is that?! My original ticket was just no good, and it wasn’t even my fault! I was totally on the verge of a breakdown, and I think the ticket lady could tell. When she said £97 I lost it…I only had £60 in cash, and I had never used my credit card, so I thought I had to go get cash from a machine with it, but she asked if I wanted to just use the card, which I didn’t know I could do…because I don’t know shit about banking. So, overpriced ticket in hand, I went to stand with everyone else in front of this gigantic board that tells you where your train comes in, and when it showed up, we all ran to the platform and I hit like four people with my suitcase. When I ran over a lady’s foot I turned around and apologized and she probably saw how horrible I looked because she said, “It’s okay honey, you’re doing a great job!”
So I made it onto the train and found a spot for my ridiculous luggage and sat down next to a very nice refined looking old gentleman. I couldn’t have picked a better place to sit. This guy was the coolest. It was like meeting James Herriot. It was one of those times you just look around and go, “Yo, my karma rocks.” He was a retired professor at Oxford—and guess what he taught. Biochemistry! I said that I love biology but I was never very good at the whole molecule thing and the only part I ever liked was the electron transport system and cell respiration. And lo and behold, that’s what he specialized in! In fact, he has just come from a dinner party where he had met the son of the man who discovered the Krebs Cycle! For those of you who don’t know what that is…well I won’t get into it, but it’s a big deal. So then this guy told me everything I needed to know about England. We talked about the flora and fauna of England, the politics, how one gets to be a duchess, and so on. And plus, big bonus, he’s a Quaker! He was so helpful, and he knew his way around the train system, so he knew when we had to get out of our seats and move to ones that were reserved for different stops. So if you’re reading this Ian, thanks for being so nice!
The train to Darlington had free wireless, so I was able to check my email, hoping for one from Angelica saying she would pick me up in Danby, but instead I received one from someone named Paule Poole, who said there was a change in the plans and I would be living in Bracken House with his family. The letter ALSO said that they didn’t know which day I was coming! So I was convinced I was going to be stranded in Danby and have to ask random people if they could drive me to Botton.
After a few changes I eventually got to Middlesborough, and after waiting there for a chilly hour or so, I went on to Danby. At this point I hadn’t slept in what felt like two days, and though I was exhausted, I was completely wired with adreneline and a determination to be able to handle the task at hand. When I got to Danby, the greatest thing happened. There was a girl waiting there, and she asked me if I too was going to Botton! She had arranged for someone to pick her up, so I could get a ride! I wasn’t going to be stranded! That was a huge relief. So we went with these two people in this funny little car and the guy drove really fast on these thin little streets and Sheila and I were both convinced we were going to pick off a villager with every hairpin turn. The guy dropped off his passenger whose name I never got, and Sheila was next, and then we pulled up to Bracken. I could see everyone through the window sitting down to dinner and this lady stood up and came out to the car and hugged me and I was thinking, “wait who is this?” It turns out Paule is a woman! And I was hugging Paule. So we carried my bags inside and she showed me my room upstairs and it wasn’t what I was expecting, but it was perfect. It’s really kind of like a dorm room. Desk, shelves (more than I know what to do with) closet, bedside table, bed, and a big comfy chair. I’ll try to put pictures up at some point, but the internet is so slow and horrible and I don’t have my camera chord with me…mom sent it two days ago, so it should be here by Friday.
So then Paule took me downstairs and into the dining room and there was a table full of people all staring at me. A girl with Down syndrome, Emily, stood right up and came over to shake my hand and give me a hug, and everyone else nodded and waved. There was bread and rice cakes on the table with all kinds of toppings like jam and pickles and butter and mustard and tomatoes and Paule said I had come just at the tail end of the meal and gave me some tea and I ate a few rice crackers. I assumed they had already eaten a main course. I was introduced to everyone, and I was fine, if not a bit overwhelmed. Then Paule gave me leave to go unpack and get settled in. I fell asleep pretty quickly, but woke up around five o’ clock and sat in my chair to watch the sun rise. I went back to sleep eventually but I kept worrying about the fact that I hadn’t been able to get ahold of mom and dad to tell them I was alive.
Paule woke me up at noon on Friday and I went down to lunch. For the first few days I was a bit confused about who exactly lived here, because people were always popping round for tea or lunch or supper. Everything was really a whirlwind sort of experience, and some of it was really uncomfortable. Most of the bad parts were learning what to do and how to act and what to say and all that. Paule would hurriedly explain things to me in the kitchen like where things go and all these instructions and then I would mess them up and she would be sort of exasperated with me and in my head I was like, “Geez, it’s not my fault you’re a little neurotic.” But now I know what to do and I really like Paule and it’s all fine and good. She has been really stressed out because she has had to tell Emily’s parents that she might need to leave Botton because she doesn’t do the work or like the work and she needs constant supervision and attention, which is not really something that Botton can provide. Emily’s parents are being totally irrational and a bit threatening and hating on Paule when really I’m sure they’re just terrified of having to deal with Emily themselves. The main problem with Emily is that she antagonizes the other villagers. She knows exactly what buttons to push for each one of them. For instance, David, another villager in the house, hates being called Dave, so she calls him Dave. David is autistic I think…he loves the Beatles and we talk about them a lot, and he has been really sick with a cold and a terrible cough, so we have to make sure he’s not smoking because that would make it worse. He’s really pretty normal, he just says things that are super off-topic a lot and repeats things and doesn’t make direct eye contact. The spectrum is really wide here…some people are really obviously mentally handicapped, but with some it’s hard to tell if they’re a co-worker or a villager!
Friday afternoon Paule gave Sheila and me a map and we walked all around the village and oriented ourselves with the surroundings. We met a few villagers, and Sheila got a chance to practice her English, which is pretty poor. We also helped bring in the cows at Honey Bee Nest Farm, the farm in our neighborhood. The cows all have names like Sybilla and White Bean and Hazel and they respond to their names…it’s so cute. On Saturday I went for a hike up to the top of the dale in the morning and another hike all the way south to the pond on this beautiful trail with my iPod set on the Pride and Prejudice soundtrack. Helllzz yeah! On the way back I met two villagers, Jane and Owen. I think I walked about five miles in all.
On Sunday, Paule and I sat down and talked about how things work and what the schedule is like and she told me about all the villagers in the house. So here’s a run-down:

David: I think he’s 50-something, he’s autistic, loves the Beatles, smokes, has had a bad cough since I came, works in the woodwork shop

Anthony: I think he’s in his 60’s, he’s all kinds of crazy, I don’t know if there is a word for how his mind works, he “works” in the woodwork shop and is known for his laziness, can be very funny and quick but sort of accidentally, calls me dear and my darling, and he gets really fussy and upset if he doesn’t know what’s going on but once he realizes everything is fine he apologizes profusely

Stephanie: 27, has epilepsy and autism, is very quiet and will stand near you and not say anything and it can be a little awkward until you realize that she has no idea that it’s awkward, loves Abba and Mamma Mia!, has a big family that cares about her a lot especially her two sisters, she can be hard to understand sometimes

Felicity: 45, has Down syndrome, is incredibly hard to understand, she may as well be speaking French for all I can comprehend, she has two huge teeth and not much else, we have to make sure she exercises and doesn’t gain weight, and she doesn’t go to sleep very well, she wanders around for hours at night

Katie: 45, has autism and very mild epilepsy, is the sweetest and kindest of everyone in the house, and is really easy, meaning she requires very minimal care and supervision

Emily: 24, has Down syndrome and is the most difficult member of the household, picks on others, talks to herself a lot, needs constant supervision and attention, including physical care like bathing and teeth brushing

So that’s everyone. Paule and her husband Nick are good house parents, but they can be a little strict sometimes. I totally understand that we have to set a good example and I need to do things correctly, but when they correct me it can be very stern and reprimand-y. Nick gets especially frustrated, mostly with Emily. He has Lymes disease (sp?) and I think it’s more serious than what Dylan or mom had because they caught it very late, so he’s tired a lot and has a short temper and little tolerance for Emily’s lack of competence. But sometimes he’s very funny, and it really depends on the situation. I mostly only see him at meals anyway.

And Phil! Phil is wonderful—the true Yorkshire man. He talks a lot and has a splendidly gruff accent that is easily understandable. He has a wonderful relationship with all the villagers; everyone loves him because he’s so funny. He pokes fun at the villagers in a way that they can understand it and they play along.

Monday I started working in the house in the morning, cleaning the windows and working with Jane (a different one than the one I met on my walk—there are tons of Anne’s and Jane’s and Katherine’s in Botton), who made a wonderful homemade cappuccino at tea break. In the afternoon I went 20 yards to the farm and met Justin, the farmer, Luke, a villager, and Neil, who I think is a villager whose mental handicap is a complete inability to pick up on social cues that tell him to stop talking. Also there was Louis, and his girlfriend Lisa, who is here on her holiday to visit him. We pulled grass out from under some hawthorn trees for three hours, then brought the cows in, then had tea break, then while Neil and Luke did the milking, Justin took the rest of us to unload some bracken from the tractor. We unloaded it, then climbed in the wagon. As we started moving I heard this awful clanking sound and we all jumped out and Lisa discovered a huge metal tine stuck in the tire. We pulled it out and the tire hissed like crazy…we made it back up to the farm but the tractor is out of commission for a few days.

Yesterday morning I helped out around the house for a bit, and in the afternoon, on the farm, I scraped manure off the walls of the byre for two hours with Luke and this Japanese girl who speaks absolutely no English, and then went into the cow barn where Louis and Lisa were mucking the calf stalls. There wasn’t a lot of room, so I couldn’t be whole lot of help, but I tried. I think Louis and Lisa thought I was being lazy, and that was really frustrating because in the cow byre I was working my ass off to clean the walls and Luke and the other girl totally slacked off.

Justin found a young cat on the farm and has been raising it in an empty stall. I went in to visit it and noticed that its abdomen was completely distended and it hadn’t touched its food (mashed up raw meat). What it had eaten was about a gallon of milk in two days…and most people don’t know that cats are actually a bit lactose intolerant. I think cat’s milk has less lactose than cow’s milk or something. So I got some dry cat food from Paule and started hand feeding the cat, whom I named Molly. I have taken it upon myself to take care of Molly, and she absolutely loves it. I think she’s really lonely in that stall by herself. Maybe we should put her with the calf…

Tuesday night I went to the coffee bar in the village for the co-workers dinner and a movie about Botton. The Foundations course takes place twice a week and lasts until December. I’m not gonna lie…it was kinda awful. I had to walk up to everyone, tables full of people, and introduce myself, which makes me really uncomfortable. Everyone has been here for a few weeks and they all know each other and have formed groups and I’m all alone. So that sucks. There is another American girl here, and she’s from Pennsylvania as well. So you’re thinking, oh wow small world. Yeah, smaller than you think…she’s from Kimberton and we have friends in common! She seems to be good friends with Nastia, who is from Germany. Nastia is very friendly and nice. Meeka is a little less openly warm, but she has also been really sick, so maybe when she’s feeling better she’ll be more approachable. I went to sleep feeling a little hopeless and disappointed…I thought it would be easier to make friends here and we would be this big happy group and not a bunch of little cliques…and I’m not in one.

Today was a good day for meeting people. In the morning, as part of the Foundations course, we were taken around the village in a van (lorry?) and visited some of the workshops and met lots of villagers. I met some really nice girls from…I think Japan, possibly Korea. There are people from both places, and I forgot to ask, and I can’t assume one or the other.
I came back to Bracken for lunch, and then Justin took Louis, Lisa, Sheezay (the girl who speaks no English), and me up to Old Botton Farm to go apple picking. A whole group of co-workers and villagers gathered there and then got into various min-buses and vans and headed off to Ampleforth Abbey Orchard. I met Laura’s cousins, Valeska and Ben, and their four children. I spent a large portion of the afternoon entertaining two of them, Phillip and Christopher, and I also chatted with Andreas, a guy from Germany. He is…I think about 26. He came here for a year four years ago and has returned for another. He smokes a lot, as a lot of people here do…and he was really nice! I was able to talk with him really easily and not feel like I was forcing it or annoying him or anything. So it was nice to make a friend. Unfortunately he lives on the other side of Botton, so we might not see each other that much, but he lives with Valeska and Ben, and Valeska and I totally hit it off and she invited me over for Sunday lunch. She is super nice.

So that’s about it. I’m glad my computer is finally working; I’ve missed having my music! The outlet adapters I bought weren’t the right kind, but Paule found one for me. That’s all for now…sorry its so ridiculously detailed, I have a terrible memory and when I forget all of this I want to be able to read this and go ohhh yeahhhh that’s what happened.

Peace out homies.

^ I can’t say that here. No one would know what I was saying.

P.S They’ve been really cool about my food allergies and I eat a lot of rice cakes. Meals in general are very different here…breakfast is toast (or in my case, rice cakes) with jam and butter and muesli (a special box of gluten free muesli for me), and lunch is a huge meal of various foods, mostly veggies, but also more bread and rice cakes, and dinner is bread with various toppings like Marmite, the grossest condiment I’ve ever seen. It’s yeast paste. It tastes horrid. And certain people seem to love it. It’s hard to adjust to eating so little for dinner. I’m hungry by bedtime, but there’s no snacking. Sometimes I sneak a few slices of cheese during the day. Oh and we have tea breaks at 10:30 and 4:30, and tea with every meal. Yum. I have eaten some pork, and I think soon I will try some bunny. They’re everywhere here, like prairie dogs in the west. People go “ferreting,” which is actually a pretty horrible little sport…they send ferrets into a rabbit hole and they kill everything…babies included, and then bring out what they caught. Neil is going to make some rabbit stew, so I’ll try some. It is sustainable, so I have to suppress my animal loving side and accept it…and maybe even enjoy it! Maybe. I do feel bad about eating meat…poor piggies. And bunnies. ☹ Aw nuts.

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