Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Melt

In twenty six days I will gave been in Arizona for a year.

I have a confession. I spent six weeks in college packing fudge. Actually - let me back up. Just to be clear - that's not something I said in college. No. I had three jobs in college. For two years I worked in a cornershop as the evening manager. I worked for two months in a Walkers Crisps factory packing Monster Munch into boxes. I literally sweated Pickled Onion flavoured crisps right into my own eyes for twelve hour shifts. And for six weeks I worked for an eccentric South African family who lived in and owned a chocolate factory. Part of the time I wrapped Christmas chocolates they made for Boots and Woolworths. And the rest of the time I literally packed fudge. One evening while I was packing fudge I was hit in the back of the head (I'm told, by a falling box of fudge) and swallowed my tongue.

This is genuinely a better photo than my Greencard photo.
"That's all very interesting Gavin. And quite honestly sounds like something discovered after a character on Broadchurch is hypnotized to reveal a past trauma in order to help solve a murder. But pray tell - why are you bringing this up?" I'm bringing this up because a mantra I live by is that you really have no idea how different your life will be in twelve months. Weird shit happens. And always keeps happening. My life a year ago is not remotely the same. It's 2,500 miles different for a start. Which is more or less the same distance as moving from Bristol in England to Cairo in Egypt (I did want to say that I did look up a generic image for British people in Cairo and Google offered up a disturbing amount of people wearing Burberry). Let's just say there's a markedly different amount of flannel being worn here in Arizona. Ironically I'm probably wearing it more than anyone in some desperate attempt to pretend it isn't 115 degrees. I do though own an entire array of jackets that it will require a plane journey for me to get any use out of. I do see some people who have insisted on wearing jeans and jackets right the way through the summer. But those people are clearly mental. I've had a few people try and say it's akin to people in Africa covering up all of their skin to regulatte their temperature and protect themselves from the sun. So essentially a group of Denim Bedouin, if you like. But no - denim layers at 115 degrees is demented. I can't even imagine the amount of liquid trapped under there. Admittedly though when I started work in January I attempted wearing a sweater. My brain told me it was just the time of year for it. That lasted two days until I started feeling faint. Here - this is my work photo ID. It's shockingly bad partly for the fact it's a picture of someone in Arizona wearing three layers and a tie. But more so because the person taking the photo took it before I even looked at the damn camera. Shifty is the perfect description.

Gully Washer

I also now have an entirely different career. To be fair it does still involve an office cube and being surrounded by people who are convinced I'm a lot younger than I actually am. And it pays a whole lot more. But it's not the same at all. Certainly not the same as a few years ago of being a stay-at-home dad. I've developed friendships that I will hold dear until the day I die (by the way I'm dearly hoping that doesn't have anything to do with fudge packing and tongue swallowing). And I'm right around the corner from my kids. Which is a whole lot different than 2,500 miles.

If I could say one word that encapsulates much of my life during that time it would probably be, "Minecraft." Shudder. The feverish addiction my kids have developed for that thing is a thing to behold. Actually it wont be much of a surprise if I said a better word to describe the last eleven months was, "hot." Good God it's been hot. I'm ashamed to say I think I became one of those people that moaned a bit too much about the heat. I recall being at a British expat meetup thing late 2014 and the principle thing I asked all those lovely people was "please tell me it isn't just going to be this hot all the time?" And every single one of those people looked confused and told me it was actually cold at the moment. It most definitely wasn't. But they were British so I knew they couldn't possibly be lying. Plus some did the distinctly British thing of taking quite a bit of schadenfreude (the irony of employing a German word there) in remembering how revolting sweaty their own gusset was for the first few years they moved to Arizona.

Actually I prefer another thing that those born and bred here do. For example this weekend I opened up a bank account here. My old one was so local and small a bank that the local farmer gave away free cheese in the store when you opened an account. So I opted for a big, national bank. The kind where you can take a photo of your check to deposit it (yes - I'm well behind the times there). Anyway - the guy at the bank was obviously aware I'm not a local. I mentioned it was hot. He laughed. I then mentioned plenty of people have told me I'll get used to it and be wearing sweaters just like everyone else does in January in just a few years. To which he chuckled and said, "no - you'll never get used to it." He clearly enjoyed saying that.

Outside enduring the heat and the relentless assault of Minecraft lots has happened. I've had a wonderful time with my kids. From the minute I surprised my son at his school (and he leaped across the room struggling to understand how we both could be smiling and crying at the same time) I've seen him actually start school. Save a little blip where he absolutely hated being dropped off he's actually enjoying it. He loves his class. He enjoys having friends. He's not so hot about having to do work. He hasn't done so well with recess. Because time to play has normally always involved his sister and he can't quite understand why he isn't allowed to. But that will sort itself out.

My daughter has carried on as per usual as far as school goes. She worked her way into a statewide program for absurdly-advanced kids. In which she had a reading comprehension test last week and it was determined she is at an 8th grade level. Which is genuinely mental. Her school library doesn't even have any books recommended for her. And her math (I still hate pronouncing it that way) level is a few grades higher too. She's made friends. She's in a few clubs. And as of next weekend I'll be her soccer coach.

I've met a shocking number of people too. And I'm delighted to say most are wonderful. The thing I should say more than anything is that I held my own preconceived ideas of the kind of people I'd likely encounter here.I was quite expecting a mix of Sheriff Arpaio (the power-mental Sheriff of Arizona who refuses to not racially profile Latinos) and Doug Stanhope. Basically I expected people to be quite political and possibly demented. But weirdly this has been the most diverse, multi-cultural, uneven bunch of people you can imagine. And yes - while my favorite people I've met are those men who rant about Mexicans but get all confused in the underpants area when they see hot, Latino women - on the whole I've met a strangely, tolerant, melting-pot of people. I've met a surprising number of British people. Weirder still is I've become friends with a large number of British people who don't live anywhere near this place. Lovely bunch of misfits they are too.

I did want to say too that I thought Arizona would be exceptionally religious. Not in a personal-relationship-with-the-Big-Fella way. But more a Jesus Says I'm Allowed to Hate You kind of way. I've been quite surprised there too. On the block I live on there is a church of some type sticking out of each side. Right near me is a huge Sikh temple. Around the corner is a Mormon church. Furthest away is a gargantuan Catholic megachurch. The kid with a flashing billboard outside that has messges on it to passing motorists that says "Pray for Anonymous and his gambling addiction!!" And on the other corner is a little mosque. Which - puzzling considering the whole Danish cartoon thing - has a big picture of Mohamed (from off of Islam) on a sign outside. There's also a Buddhist mini-temple thing down the road too. Which - and I'm aware I'm channeling Arpaio here - I'm dearly hoping has a panda in it.

Mmmm Mongolian Beef.
Needless to say those eleven months have rocketed by. And I've absolutely no idea what life holds for the next year. I'm excited to find out though. And I can say this. This last year has been great. I'm quite happy. And I didn't think I would be. Sure it's been weird. And there a whole bunch of things I wish were different. Minecraft and the heat, specifically. And while I'm aware my ex-wife moved here for her man and because she likes the heat surely they'd be every bit as happy somewhere a little milder that still has plenty of heat and isn't California expensive. Like Texas. That'd be nice.

Anyway. Here's to the upcoming anniversary. I'm excited. I mean - it's not like I'm nearly 40....

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