28 May 2018

The rains came down, the floods came up

Several thunderstorms have rolled through Birmingham this weekend, and yesterday I stood at the window of my house on Victoria Road, watching the water rush down the street and thinking, given my anxiety about a string of bad luck I feel like I'm experiencing, it would not come as a surprise if this house were to wash away now, after some hundred years. We sang songs about this as children in Sunday School, about the wise man and the foolish man, and the rains coming down and washing away the house built on sand. Luckily, in the hundreds of pounds I spent last year on surveys, I know exactly what the house is built on — I saw Wayne the Builder digging it out by wheelbarrowful in February. It is not sand. The lightning flashed close to the house, and I remembered suddenly my own father, building a rock wall in the rain in the eighties, because our house, the house that he had built to his dream specifications on a hill in Minnesota, was also potentially about to wash away. Of course neither happened, and my Edwardian terrace house, which I can afford for the moment, made it through the afternoon and a muggy, almost Malaysian air was left hanging when I went to take the rubbish bins out.

Somewhere in Tokyo, near Roppongi I assume but I've forgotten now, I had to make my first application for a British visa. The UK government which is constantly saving money and has been saving money for many years now, still maintained an office to make an application, a physical location, but it wasn't at the embassy. Instead, Yoko and I took a train down from Niigata to a nondescript office building, with a placard saying the UK immigration service was on the Japanese second floor (rather than the British first floor). A man in the sort of silly fake police uniforms that security guards wear in Japan sometimes, spoke in curt Japanese to me and Yoko, going through our documents, and I was angry that I had to speak Japanese at this moment, the moment I was escaping a future of Japanese bureaucracy and English language classes. It would be all worth it.

We got into the waiting room, despite the security guard's misgivings. I don't remember if he sent us away to make more copies. He might well have. Inside, there were no British people, but a row of desks with Japanese people behind them, looking out at us, and large posters on the wall, of Big Ben and then a red double decker bus, that made me think that this was all a giant scam, that the letters I had gotten from the Open University, which I partially doubted was a real university anyway, were not real and maybe some toothy TV presenter would appear and this would be some joke, some elaborate sick joke. When, however, we were finally called to a desk, the woman spoke clear and fluent English to me and although indeed I didn't have all the paperwork with me I needed, it would be okay, and I could come back the next week to provide it. We got back on the train and rode back to Niigata and in some six weeks or eight weeks or ten weeks, we were lying in a bed and breakfast in Woolstone, in Milton Keynes, and everything had changed.

The next day after the rain, there is little trace of it. Victoria Road looks as though the potholes have grown, but I wonder now if that is something I am just noticing because of the rain or if it is actually the result of the rain. It's hard to tell. The girls are going away for a party on this bank holiday, and I am debating what to do, where to walk to for the day and pass it not working, if I can manage. I have already done some work. My excuse, as I wave my hands and try to convey my deep sense of anxiety as I as do my taxes and prepare for another visa application, is that I feel like this is the only thing I can do now, the only thing I can control. I can work, I can work more and harder than everyone else.

These are the rush of thoughts when I close my eyes and start to count. One: In a year, or next August, I won't have the same excuse, but I'll deal (two) with that in a year. I'll have the flexible mortgage to blame. I'll have the rising (three) costs of education, and the uncertainty of Brexit and climate change. Look (four) now, the rain's come back, hasn't it, (five) and slowly eroding my hundred year old brick. It hasn't given out (six) yet, but that is no guarantee it won't give out soon. Seven. There is no guarantee. Eight... Nine... One.