My first Day in the UK

September 2006 was nothing special: Hezbollah claimed ‘Divine Victory’ over Israel in a massive demonstration in Beirut; the F-14 Tomcat retired from the United States Navy; the Thai military staged a coup in Bangkok, the Constitution was revoked and martial law was declared. The weather was warm, almost as warm and dry as in September 1939. But for me this time would always be special, as it was a period of tremendous changes in my life. 

Coming to the UK was a new beginning for me. I had visited before, as well as having travelled more widely. Boarding the plane, reminded me of my previous travels. The massive crowds, the ordinary bureaucracy and the mechanically grinning flight attendants. I surveyed my fellow-passengers, one by one, very carefully but not in a manner to provoke their attention. I moved and mingled, a little bit in a dreamy manner, but I was also very focused, on each face, each dress and each detail. There were many announcements. One every few minutes I think, and each imparted sagacious gems such as: flight delayed, final call for passengers. I could relax only when I was tightly shoehorned into my seat alongside a hundred other passengers. 

I fell asleep on the plane, and slept until the landing, when, complimenting myself upon my super-accurate sense of time, I awoke. It was a pleasant journey even though the plane was packed and I had had to get up really early.

My first day was sunny, but the air was chill and humid. I was alone in a strange country, with its peculiar grubbiness, which I remembered from previous visits, and the noise and movement of people, in far greater number than back home, all of them confident of who they were and where they were going. 

The airport terminal in Manchester was surreal, like the set of a science-fiction movie. Suddenly, I felt very strange. I heard announcements being made and saw passengers, for the majority of whom their families were waiting. Proceeding as if on a mission, although feeling almost blindfolded, it was obvious that everyone knew how to find their place, except me. I was too terrified to ask for help, although someone did help me with my suitcase on the carousel at the airport. I quickly said ‘Thank you’, feeling very conscious of my heavy accent.

I wasn’t sure how to get to Hull. I booked a train ticket from Manchester Piccadilly, leaving myself only half an hour to get to the centre. At the top of the enormous escalator, I paused and looked at people below, all so sure of their ultimate destination; knowing where to listen and where to look. Even at the train information counter, everyone knew what to ask, without the single ‘Err’ or ‘Ahh’. 

I had to catch a cab to get there in time, but before that, I had to join the queue. Crazy Brits, queues for everything. Actually, studies have shown that English people will form a line for the sake of it. Good God, they should have seen Poland in the eighties, when you had to queue for two days to get a few rolls of toilet paper. They wouldn’t be so eager to make their queues if they had.

It was the first time I’d used an English cab. It was so big and spacious. Cradled in the deep heavy seat, I enjoyed the motion of great wheels under me. The movement of the cab was rhythmic, constant, and the pulse of my mind beat with it.

I was on an English train before, but again it had a certain dosage of novelty, as it is very different from the trains in Poland, where there are very small compartments with people siting opposite each other, with plenty of luggage space above the seats. Here, everything looked like a tram. The seats located mostly in one direction, with virtually no luggage space above the seats and very little at the back of the carriage. 

Later, while on the train, I looked out the window rather than reading my book. I had never been to the north of England. As a young teen, I had visited London, Cambridge and Oxford, where everything was so old, rich and beautiful. Now, I was expecting picturesque and mysterious moorlands, such as those in ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’, Led Zeppelin’s misty mountain hops, or at least hazy shades of places portrayed in Agatha Christie’s novels. Instead, I got the lowlands of the Yorkshire Ridings. Everything so densely populated and industrial. I saw only factories, warehouses, and concourses, intersected by sections of modest Victorian houses. I missed space: the woods, rivers, lakes and lands of nowhere that you find in my country. My high spirts were in contrast to this landscape.

It was glorious and it was supposed to be a lovely day tomorrow, at least that what I heard at home, but when I saw cirrocumulus clouds on the horizon, I was losing hope….