When you’re down on your luck . . .

When you’re down on your luck,
And you ain’t got a buck,
In London,
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.

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33 thoughts on “When you’re down on your luck . . .

  1. We all (my family) had such a good laugh over this! You make us all feel grateful for all of the “bad” things in our lives, for they pale to your trials!

  2. I knew this was going to be good (your posts always are), so part way through I asked my mom if she wanted me to read her the latest update. I started reading aloud and ended up laughing so hard by the time we got to the Alfred cakes and the suitcases (which I hadn’t read about yet) that I could barely continue. Thanks once again for good story-telling and a much needed laugh.

  3. Oh man. This is a funny story. But are you okay? I tell funny stories sometimes when all I really want to do is cry.

    Yours are definitely cry worthy. And certainly those usually make the best ones to tell.

    Thanks for sharing! I hope you are encouraged now. Glad the sickness is gone and that you all can eat.

    ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Your aunt is right . . . Any of those English shoppers, for whom the sight of ‘Americans’ was a novel experience, will now share with all kinds of ‘authority’ just what sorts of things Americans do at the grocery store . . .

  5. Hilarious! I can say that because it didn’t happen to me, of course. I’m so glad you’ve got a robust sense of humor!

    I read this to my husband (I don’t usually read posts to him, but couldn’t resist) and he smiled, shook his head, and said, “She writes like you.” I’m taking that as a huge compliment!!!

    Any site where we might be able to hear the song for ourselves?

  6. I have said this before and I say it again, you need to write a book filled with your stories from England when you come home. They are hilarious!

  7. This brought the kind of laughter that can only stem from the remembrance of being in such a situation oneself!!
    I have stood in the Sainsbury’s in Oxford stuffing groceries into an extra large backpack–not quite a suitcase, and I wasn’t shopping for a family, but it was embarassing nonetheless.
    I also had my bank account frozen while in Oxford….
    It’s incredible that even without the language barrier there is so much potential for miscommunication and embarassement!

  8. It’s amazing how easy it is to let go of pride in the midst of a dire situation! Thank you for sharing your story and giving others an opportunity for laughter! ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. I just read this piece to my family after the kids had been scurrying around the kitchen trying to come up with breakfast food (no bread, no milk, etc). This story is a gem to be remembered by your children for years to come! I’m glad you’re writing it down to share with us all.

  10. Oh goodness. Once the dust is settled and you’re all at a safe distance from such distresses, you really should write a bookรขโ‚ฌโ€a sort of comic memoir and cautionary guidebook rolled into one. Europe Through the Trap Door?

  11. I have read this blog often but have never posted a reply. After this post, however, I couldn’t help myself. It is a sick-day here, and I’m home and left to my own devices with the term starting and a thesis looming in six weeks — I was down on my luck . . . until I read this post. Bekah, you wouldn’t believe what a smile you brought to my face, and I confess to laughing out loud at least once. What a terrible, wonderful story!

  12. On behalf of the great nation of England I apologise to you for:

    1) Our miniature freezers (I can hardly fit anything in ours… chest freezers are the way to go.)

    2) Our not helping people/giving them funny looks when shoving shopping into suitcases. I don’t have a car either so I fill an enormous rucksack with our groceries and walk three miles home. People give me funny looks too.

  13. Bekah,

    Your story went through our family like wildfire–I read it first and told everyone else. Even my husband read it. You’re the kind of person we all need as our close friend, who can make a great story out of seeming disaster. God bless you and your family!

  14. Bekah,
    I am so impressed with the harrowing experiences that your family has endured cheerfully in England (of all places), that I’m wondering what God has in store for you next? Does Ben want to do a post-doc program in the Amazon?

  15. “And yes, I feel a deeper, more spiritual person after my grocery dilemmas.”

    Too, too funny. I had a few dilemmas this week…I’m still waiting for the “more spiritual” part to kick in. ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Hi Judith!

    As a matter of fact I’m totally addicted to having groceries delivered . . . it’s one of my favorite features of England! But there was that whole trouble of the bank account being seized up . . . and by the time we had cash, that’s all it was – cash! And in the middle of all that there actually was a whole separate saga with ordering groceries to be delivered which I had left out of my rendition. Perhaps a sequel . . . but in short, instead of basic grocery staples, we received a delivery of “Kung Fu Panda” and a box of Capri Suns! I know it makes no sense . . . it was just one of those weeks!

  17. Oh, gosh. Poor you. I hope that doesn’t have to happen again. I don’t know what a English store looks like, but I can pitcure you and your husband loading grocries into a suitcase in Kroger or Wal-Mart. LOL

  18. What is it about men that allows them to take unrelated food items and turn them into an acceptable meal?! My husband does this all the time! I tell him we have “nothing” in the house – and voila! Dinner is served.

    (And no thank you, I don’t particularly want you to share the recipe.) But I appreciate the sharing of the story ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. Oh Bekah, you do beat all. You have more adventures than anyone I know. And I’m so glad you share them with us so we can vicariously adventure with you, and get some great chuckles into our day. I agree with the above Molly (Is that my sister?) that you need to write a book.

  20. Bekah,

    Have you discovered the delights of Tesco.com grocery delivery? They are great when you have no wheels! ๐Ÿ™‚
    (although wouldn’t have been much help when you had no cash…)

    Anna in Suffolk

  21. Whenever I read your posts, I think that you and I have similar “luck”
    By this I just mean that some very funny, embarrassing and oddly mixed up complications have tended to occur to me and my family, and the stories can be outrageous.
    But here’s the thing with us….as my kids are getting older, or as we are moving less or something, these uproarious adventures are happening a little bit less, and I am becoming more shy of telling the stories.

    Just recently I was really missing those days. (Days like the one when I had two two year olds just naked from the tub running around behind me, a dead rattlesnake in the kitchen, a pistol in my hand and I met the Jehovah’s Witnesses at the front door.)

    It’s wonderful when you can make it all sound so much fun. It’s makes the story something to share, without making it a complaint!

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