When you’re down on your luck,
And you ain’t got a buck,
You’re a gonner.
Even London Bridge,
Has fallen down,
And moved to Arizona,
And I know why.
This is a little snippet from a song entitled “London Homesick Blues” which I have to admit is the twangiest of the twangy country songs that you could ever hope to hear. And yes, I have it on my ipod, and I listen to it frequently as I do the dishes. (Lest you think that I have earplugs in, I have to tell you that the ipod is plugged into the speaker.) Usually it’s a funny song. I mean, the chorus is, “I wanna go home with the armadillo.” But the little intro verse which I quoted above has suddenly taken on a newer and a deeper and a richer meaning. I am starting to feel that there are hidden depths in this song. Insights that ought to be paid attention to. These are deep and profound and perceptive remarks.
Here’s what happened. We got the flu. Also, our bank seized up inexplicably and we couldn’t draw on any of our funds. (Long, tedious story, and you really don’t want to hear about it. It’s just painful and ridiculous, and well, inexplicable. But that was the situation. Bank seized up. Money in it, just unable to be accessed.) Then the car died. Died on the highway, had to be towed, and then continued to be dead even after extended periods at the mechanic’s who was unable to figure out the trouble with it. So you’ve got this situation straight in your head? We have the flu, we have no wheels, we have no cash, and . . . you can see what’s coming next can’t you? We have no food. That’s right – we’ve eaten it all. Luckily I had a huge stash of meat in the freezer and this lasted us for a while. (Nota bene: When I say huge stash of meat, keep in mind that this is a miniature, half size, English freezer.) But at a certain point you have to wonder what to do with a package of bacon you’ve pulled from the freezer when you have no other ingredients.
We scootched along for a bit. I even managed a pot of chicken noodle soup for the sick and infirm. In a way it’s kinda nice. I mean, when else would you use that last can of tomatoes? It’s a sort of Spring Cleaning project – working your way slowly through the cupboards. But when we hit Sabbath Dinner last week I was genuinely stumped. I had a package of stir fry meat. I had some potatoes. What would you do with that combination? I’m sure there are some of you out there who could rattle off 6 enticing ideas of things to do with stir fry beef and potatoes – but I frankly admit that I had no thoughts. We were out of milk, out of bread, out of eggs, and out of cheese. I rallied through as many possibilities as I could (ie, none) and then called in my husband as a second opinion. He told me to have no fear – he would craft something up – using only stir fry meat and potatoes.
He had just been writing a chapter in the biography of King Alfred that he’s working on – and it’s the part where Alfred burns the cakes. So he told the kids that he was going to be making Alfred cakes for dinner. May I mention here that having this ridiculous set of circumstances hit in England is incredibly more complicated than it would be at home? If we were at home and this happened then we would instantly call Mom. She would have us over for dinner. Or she would pick something up at the store for us. Or she would lend us the car. Or she would babysit the kids. Or something! But here we sit in England . . . and I have to tell you that when you’re down on your luck and you ain’t got a buck in London, you’re a gonner! The same principle holds if you’re down on your luck and you ain’t got a buck in Oxford. There is no recourse here! We couldn’t ride a bus into town to the grocery store, because riding a bus requires cash, and getting cash means an ATM and an ATM is in town. Not to mention that our account was seized up so it didn’t matter anyways.
Right – I lost my train of thought. We were at the Alfred cakes for Sabbath Dinner. Ben whipped out these little patties for dinner . . . patties comprised of, get this, mashed potatoes – with no butter or anything – and bits of stir-fry meat! Wow! I’d never have thought of that one. So yes – the Alfred cakes were stunning. If any of you would like the recipe feel free to email for it later. But I have to say this for the Alfred cakes – they were very filling. And they were warm. And I didn’t make them – that always makes food taste better doesn’t it?
After several unbelievable sagas attempting to get groceries (one involving my sick husband and I on bikes, pedaling into town and realizing that you actually can’t fit much into that little basket on the front) we finally reached rock bottom. Yes. We were entirely dead to shame, very hungry, didn’t want anymore Alfred cakes, and were all done messing around with this. (Quick note: My ingenious mother and sister had figured out a way of circumventing our bank account and getting cash to us through other means involving cousins’ bank accounts. So now we had cash.) Anyway, after dinner the other night, Ben and I took several rolling suitcases and set out for the bus stop. We lugged our suitcases into the bus, and headed into town.
Once in town, we lugged the suitcases to the grocery store. We did our shopping. And then – there at the cash register – we unzipped the suitcases, laid them out on the floor, and began to pack our groceries into them. I told you we were dead to shame. Not only were we packing them into the suitcases – we couldn’t make it work! Ben had to keep unloading them and then re-loading . . . trying to fit the milk into the other one, rearranging the eggs, trying not to squish the vegetables . . . all the while other customers were quietly pretending not to see us.
I feel that there are other nationalities who would have entered into our problem with us. For instance, not long ago Ben was parallel parking the car in an area of Oxford that tends to be more “ethnic”. No particular ethnicity . . . a huge mix of things. But there were a couple of guys smoking out in front of a Turkish restaurant, and they may have been Turkish, they may have been Italian, they may have been Greek. I don’t know – but they suddenly were seized with a desire to take over Ben’s parking job for him. They ran out into the road, they yelled at him, they rolled their eyes and threw their hands up in despair, they gave him all sorts of encouragement and direction . . . and eventually he was parked (despite their help) and they went back to their smoke break. That sort of personality would have seen our little plight at the grocery store and would have started offering suggestions on how better to stash the eggs in those suitcases. How we ought to distribute the bread a little more effectively.
But no – the only people around were English. And they ignored us out of existence! I have no idea what’s more awkward – attracting radical amounts of attention, or attracting the sort of attention where everyone quickly looks the other direction! Either way, I couldn’t have cared less. All that mattered was that I was going to have some milk and some eggs and some bread in the house! I was incredibly un-phased by the whole experience. And that just shows you how reduced a circumstance I was in. Ordinarily you couldn’t pay me to take a suitcase into a grocery store and spread it out on the floor. But I have now done the deed.
On the upside, things are now sorted out. The flu is gone. And I got a huge load of groceries today! And pretty soon we’ll have the car back (I hope!) And yes, I feel a deeper, more spiritual person after my grocery dilemmas.