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Monday, 2 February 2015

UK TO PARIS


Paris December 2001-January 2002

Daryl had left me alone, New Year’s Eve was coming, I was scared to fly, I wanted to see my family and I did not want to be in London and miss the Euro Day in the Eurozone. These were my thoughts in December 2001. Traveling with the Eurostar through the Channel Tunnel, spending New Year’s Eve with my family in Paris and waiting all together for the new currency on 1st of January 2002 was the solution.

The morning of the 27th of December 2001, half asleep, I took the Piccadilly Line from Hounslow Central to Green Park, changed there for the Jubilee Line and when I heard: “Waterloo – please change here for the Bakerloo Line, the Northern Line – the Waterloo and City Line, mainline and European services”, my eyes opened again and I got off the train. In Waterloo Station, after the usual metal detector and the security checks, I took my Eurostar and in less than 3 hours I arrived at Gare Du Nord in La Ville Lumière. I got off the train, took the Métro Ligne 4 direction Porte d'Orléans to Châtelet and from there the Métro Ligne 1 direction Château de Vincennes to Gare de Lyon, where I got off and waited for my parents, who arrived with the TGV Milan-Paris one hour later. We rented a flat on the first floor of a nice building, not far from Place de la Bastille. The landlady, Madame Corinne, said she was going to Rio de Janeiro for a couple of weeks, she asked us to leave the keys in the postbox at the end of our stay and pointing to the door locker with her forefinger, she said: “ne touchez pas, s’il vous plaît. Ne touchez pas”.

At 5pm we decided to go out for a walk along the Champs-Élysées, we took the Métro to Charles-de-Gaulle-Étoile and we walked from there to Place de la Concorde. After having some rest in the square designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel, we crossed the Bridge de la Concorde and we went to eat at a local restaurant on the Rive Gauche. At 11pm we were exhausted, we took a taxi back to Place de la Bastille and we reached the flat, dying for that deserved sleep. My father tried to open the door, but the key did not seem to work. My mother and I did not have any luck either. We had probably touched that door locker the French lady was talking about. I tried calling Madame Corinne unsuccessfully and at 1am, we gave up and I called “les pompiers”.

“Ce n’est pas urgent, ce n’est pas urgent, monsieur!” said the fireman and he refused to send someone out to unlock the door. In fact, it was an urgent matter: my mother had left her purse with the credit cards inside the flat as well. That night the three of us slept on the floor of the lobby and we woke up in the morning, when a French man walked next to us and said something incomprehensible. Luckily, at 7am, the neighbor of Madame Corinne came out and she asked us what had happened. I explained her that we were having some troubles with the door and she gave my father a ladder, which helped him to reach an unlocked window of the flat, get inside and open the door for us. That Friday we bought cello tape and we fixed the locker to the door.

On the 31st of December 2001, at midnight, we watched the fireworks from the Jardin du Trocadero and at 3am I managed to get my first 20-Euro banknote from a cash point machine somewhere around Place de la Bastille. Five days later, my parents traveled back to Milan and I returned to a rainy London.



London January - November 2002

In London and without Daryl, I started feeling lonely and I thought that time had come to go on with my life. I booked a 4-day trip to Stockholm for the end of the month with my colleagues Carla and Paola, I started taking Japanese classes at the Thames Valley University with Caterina and on the weekends Tommaso and Ricky took me to G-A-Y, Heaven and Sound. In the same period I decided that I was financially ready to make my first step on the property ladder and I started looking for houses to buy in Middlesex.

The 25th of January 2002 I viewed twice a 2-bedroom end-of-terrace with garden and parking space in Hayes that I really liked. On the 26th of January, I was drinking a coffee with Carla and Paola in a café in the district of Gamla Stan in Stockholm, when I took the decision, I called the estate agent in England and I said: “I’ll buy it”. I had just made my first step on the London property market before some Swedish Mellanrost. Price: 124,000 British Pounds.
“Not bad for a coffee” I said. Then Paola, Carla and I walked in the snow back to the Mälardrottningen, the ship – hotel, where we were staying.

***

When I bought my new home, I did not know anything about the British property ladder and its chains. When one wants to buy a house, or a flat, whose owner is buying that of another owner, who is also doing the same and so on, everyone has to agree on a date for the exchange of the contracts and one for the completion of the sale. On the completion day, all the buyers can move to their new property. In March I realized that my chain was one of the longest ever and that I had to wait months before I could actually move to Hayes.

Spring came and I needed a man. The relationship with Daryl was over for months, he was somewhere in Asia between Hong Kong and Singapore and I started looking for someone new. This time, he had to be a hot Spaniard: after the cold winter, I needed someone passionate to warm me up.

On the 18th of April 2002 I had a day off from work and I planned to meet Ernesto, a Spanish guy from Malaga, with whom I had chatted the week before. He was supposed to start working at his hotel in Liverpool Street at 5pm and hence we arranged to meet for lunch at 1pm, in front of Easy Everything in Tottenham Court Road.

I turned left from Oxford Street to Tottenham Court Road and walked along the overcrowded narrow pavement, when I saw a tall, good looking, tanned guy with black hair and a funky Hawaiian shirt. “Not really my type of clothes…” I thought, but I went for it. We had some pizza at a restaurant nearby and spoke Spanglish, as he had just moved to the United Kingdom and he did not know yet, the difference between hens and cocks.

After the funny talk, Ernesto went to work and I took the Piccadilly Line from Leicester Square to Hounslow Central. At 6pm, as soon as I got off the train, Carla called me on my mobile phone and she said that at 17:46 C.E.T, a small aircraft had hit the Pirelli Tower in Milan. Melissa, a colleague of ours, who was in front of the building in Piazza Duca D’Aosta at that time of the impact, was under shock. I called my parents and some friends who lived in the area, to make sure they were all fine. Once home, I turned on the BBC and followed the news. A Swiss registered Rockwell Commander 112, which was flying from Locarno to Milan, had apparently lost control and flew right into the building. Debris, documents, pieces of glasses, computers and office furniture had flown down from the 25th, 26th and 27th floors of the tower to the square facing Milan Central Station, injuring tens of people.

The first 2 weeks of May, Ernesto came to sleep at my place every night. He used to wake up at 5am every day, leave at 6am to go to work in Liverpool Street and return to my place in Hounslow in the evening. After those 2 weeks, I felt that I was not in love with him and my feelings for Daryl were most likely still there. On the 18th of May, Ernesto and I went to the Starbucks near the Cutty Sark in Greenwich and even before our relationship had really started, I broke it up and I broke up in tears. Ernesto who at first was angry with me, later understood and he started going out clubbing with Tommaso, Ricky and I and holding my shopping bags on a Saturday afternoon in Oxford Street.

***

After my Spanish parenthesis, I had a very short affair with a removal man on his thirty, who happened to have the same first name as my English ex. As the 14 buyers of my chain agreed to exchange contracts and complete on the 12th of August 2002, Daryl offered to help move my stuff with his van, from Hounslow to my new home in Hayes. A week after my move, I found out that Daryl was cheating on me with his ex and my Italian blood came out. I threw the removal man’s clothes out in the rain and I asked him to pick them up from my garden.

***

My new home needed urgently some upgrade. Within a few weeks, I tore off the brown wallpaper with blue-dolphin-springing-out-of-water theme in the living room and the yellow and violet wallpaper in the bedrooms and replaced it with white paint. The grey carpet left its place for a modern cherry wooden floor and the living room ancient sofa was replaced with two black leather sofas, four metal and black leather chairs and a metal and glass rectangular table, all made in Milan. I bought a 4-set cordless (one per room), a large flat screen TV, a DVD player, VHS player and home cinema in silver colour for the living room, a smaller TV with DVD player and VHS player for my bedroom, 2 double beds, 2 wardrobes and plenty of IKEA dishes and cutlery, with which I could have dressed a table for 40. The kitchen needed urgent renovation as well. The cupboards were falling apart, a leak below the sink was corroding the wood and some warms and insects were partying with some food rest. As I did not know where to start with piping and electricity, Edoardo, a colleague of mine, together with Abdul, an Egyptian friend of his, offered to renovate my kitchen with new pipes and tiles for 2,000 pounds. In September the two men took 2 weeks off from work, they removed the old kitchen and started laying new tiles.

One day Carla and I had the same shift and after work she was so kind to drive me home. When we arrived at my place, we noticed that the front door was opened and Edoardo and Abdul were smoking a cigarette in the patio. They came towards us, they smiled and Abdul pointed out that my neighbour was a weirdo. An hour before Edoardo had tried to talk to him but the strange man had covered his face with his hands and had run away.
As soon as Carla, Abdul and Edoardo went inside, I heard my neighbour calling and I went to the fence to see what he wanted. “How many rooms do you have upstairs?” He asked without saying hello. “Two” I replied and “Sorry, I have to go” I concluded, as I did not feel too comfortable with him. I quickly reached my friends inside, we had a beer and chatted till 1am, then everyone left, I locked the door and I went upstairs to get ready for bed.

Once in the bathroom, I took off my clothes, I turned on the water in the bathtub and I sat waiting on the closed toilet seat. Suddenly I heard a noise coming from the loft. I looked above and the hatch was open, I was trying to figure out how that could have happened, when I heard a second noise. My loft was huge, dark and full of trusses, it had neither light nor a ladder and I did not trust myself on a chair, to look inside with the help of a torch. “What if my crazy neighbour is in there and chop my head off?” I thought. I wore quickly my bathrobe, I grabbed one of the four cordless, I run out the house and I locked the door, ready to call the police. Once in the garden, half naked, in the middle of the night, I realized that having watched the DVD “Scream” the day before could have driven my fantasy a little. I did not feel like calling the police, so I tried to reach Edoardo on the phone and check if he had left the hatch open. My colleague’s mobile phone was off, so I decided to call his Egyptian friend. “Hi Abdul, sorry to bother you, did you leave the hatch open?”
“What? Mattia? I cannot hear you…” He said. “I want to know, if you were in my loft…” I repeated with an even more scared and trembling voice.

Eventually Abdul broke into a laugh and confirmed that they had been in the loft, to check out the boiler and they had forgotten to close the hatch. The mystery was solved and I could go inside again. The day after I bought myself a ladder to explore my loft properly and within a week Edoardo had made me the fool of the office, telling the whole story to everyone.

***

When in October I called my doctor in Hounslow to book an appointment, I was asked what the first part of my postcode was. “UB3” I said, unaware that in England one must change clinic, when one moves to a different postcode area. “Sorry, I cannot give you an appointment, you have to go to a clinic in your area”. I took the yellow pages and I started calling the G.P. in Hayes. “Sorry we are fully booked”, “Sorry you cannot register here, we are full”, “Sorry, we don’t take new patients”, “Sorry, no new registrations”, “Sorry, sorry, sorry”, one after the other they all gave me the same answer. Eventually I called the general number of the National Health System to explain my problem and a few weeks later I received a letter with the address of a doctor, who would have taken me. On the day specified by the N.H.S., I walked to the clinic and once there, I stood for a few minutes looking around. There was rubbish all over the garden and I could see toilet paper and a shampoo bottle through the bathroom window of the first floor. I rang the bell but no one answered and after a second failed attempt, I decided to go back home: I had probably got the wrong address. As I did not feel like going there again, I called N.H.S. and they assigned me a new G.P. That time, when I went to register, the clinic was clean and there were several doctors working there. The nurse took my weight, and height surprisingly in the metric system and before I left she said: “Don’t forget to bring a sample of your urine, darling”. When I asked her, if she had a sterilised sample, she replied: “No, sorry darling, but don’t you worry, just bring it in a clean marmalade jar”.