Leaving Bath we headed east, our next stop being a three week sit in Watford. Watford is a large town set just north of the M25. Many live here and take the half hour commute into London each day.
I have a connection with Watford from some years gone by. Watford football team, commonly known as The Hornets, came to New Zealand in 1982. I managed to attend the game played in Wellington between Watford and the New Zealand national team. For the record the score was 1-1. It doesn’t seem like that long ago, but in reality, I was just 13 at the time.
Our Watford house sit was minding two cats, brother and sister Henry and Peggy Sue. Two wildly different personalities these two, but they shared an unusual characteristic in that they both had five toes. Henry was a very laid back guy, immediately friendly and socialble, nothing seemed to faze him. He enjoyed roaming the neighbourhood and could often be found in the neighbours house, asleep on their sofa if we had gone out somewhere. Peggy was a timid cat, quite unsure of us at first. It took the best part of the first week to get her close enough for a decent pat.
The house here was a two storey mid-terrace, long and narrow with windows only at the ends. It was probably the most modest place we’d stayed in so far. Our owner was off to Australia to visit relatives for 3 weeks, and we managed to meet her and have a good handover before she left.
Teresa was working full time by this stage, so I had the place to myself during the day. I spent most of my time working on the web site that dovetailed with my now completed book, My Wellington Place. It was hard to believe that, over the previous six months I had written 60,000 words. I remember back to churning out those two thousand word essays at university, how much work they were and how the process was so much more about leaving it till the last minute. My Wellington Place had come about via a daily schedule of writing, something I’d never attempted before. I think it’s given me an appreciation for how professional writers actually get this shit done.
When I wasn’t writing I was exploring the neighbourhood around Watford. Our particular area was dominated by modest, terraced housing. Row upon row as far as the eye could see up most streets. This style of housing still feels unusual, somewhat alien to me, coming from a country where we are enamored with our detached houses, built-in garages and large gardens. It was probably here in Watford that I started to appreciate just how many people are squeezed into England, but in particular London and the surrounding commuter zones.
Watford central shopping zone was located about 10 minutes walk east from our accommodation. At first glance it appeared a busy and cosmopolitan hotch-potch of ages and styles, from the occasional Victoria building, to post-war architecture, and some modern developments. A significant number of stores on the high street were closed. It transpires that Watford is going through a period of regeneration, driven by growth in the number of people chosing to live here and commute to London each day, a trend that extends to all areas on the outskirts of this massively populated city.
Change was certainly evident here. What looked to be another uninspiring array of betting shops, chicken restaurants and charity stores, was slowly changing and giving way to the occasional independent cafe and hipster-styled burger restaurant. There appeared to be a number of adjoining buildings that were closed and earmarked for major redevelopment. The large, indoor Itsu shopping mall sits behind the main street shopping strip. It’s interlinked with the high street via two or three points but it doesn’t encroach upon it and, thankfully, it’s development didn’t entail wholesale demolition of the high street charm. Once inside the mall you could, of course, be in any boring mall in the country, but at least it seems they’ve thought about preserving the character of the high street in this location.
I have a wee chuckle when I think back to Watford’s roading system. Three weeks and quite a bit of driving, I’m still quite sure I’d be lost without GPS guiding me here. I was thankful to have invested time in getting to know GPS technology, while in Bath. Watford uses a ring-road system. This ring road consists of anywhere from four to six lanes circling the inner, central shopping zone. Numerous roads intersect with the ring road offering various ways to enter and exit the system, or, perhaps a more realistic way of looking at it, ways to get yourself somewhere you didn’t intend to be going and, well, just frustrated and lost. It really did feel like one of those maze drawings where you take a wrong turn and end up at a dead-end.
Away from the fairly staid dramas of driving, writing books and web sites, and discovering the countryside, we had a more serious issue crop up while we were here.
The day we arrived in Watford our generous owner/host shouted us a takeaway dinner. It was good to be able do this, get to know her a bit and learn about the neighbourhood. From memory we had three types of curry, naan bread, that kind of thing, washed down with your average volume of wine for a Saturday evening. All was good until I awoke the next morning with a pain in my side, just below the rib cage. It didn’t last long and I put it down to overeating the night before.
Well it came back and got worse. The next week I would experience this same pain, mostly in the evenings, or I was awoken by it at night. Obviously something wasn’t quite right. This all culminated the following Saturday evening while I was watching the All Blacks play France in the Rugby World Cup quarter final. I was watching the game from a crouching position on the floor, rocking myself backwards and forwards from the pain. Yeah, I wanted to see the end of the game and I’m glad we won, but this pain was at the stage where I had to get it checked out.
Luckily for us Watford Hospital had an after hours service, 5 minutes walk around the corner. Teresa decided that she’s seen enough of me suffering and marched me round there to get checked out. A long story short one of the doctors on duty that night was a gastro surgeon. He promptly diagnosed gallstones, said it was a pretty serious thing, that I’d likely need an operation, and admitted me that night.
So, here we are in hospital. This was a certainly a new experience for the house sitting adventure. I’m one of those people who don’t really like hospitals. This was actually the first time that I’d been in one for anything other than visiting other, sick people. The whole experience in itself is probably enough for a blog post. So I’m best to leave that for later.
Suffice to say that I was in hospital for three days and four nights. Upon leaving the hospital my pain was under complete control but I hadn’t had the required surgery. There were other people in there with more urgent needs than my own. I was ordered onto a very low fat diet and given various boxes of medication. I’d also made my way onto the NHS (National Health Service) system with all the form filling and paperwork involved there.
Before being admitted to hospital I had already begun the process of looking for a GP, a system that is as about as bureaucratic as you can get. GP’s will normally only see you if you live in their postcode. Of course we don’t have a permanent address, so we use a mailbox service in central London. Our mail goes here, they open it, scan it, and email it to us. It’s brilliant. But it’s tricky when your GP wants to know, in no uncertain terms, where you actually live before they will see you. We basically have to lie and say we live in our postbox. At which point my twisted brain would love to extend the story to include murky details about the magic shrinking pill, dealing with the giants, and the brilliant cost saving with such a compact space.
Suffice to say I managed to get myself onto the GP register for a clinic in Soho, central London. As expected the bureaucracy involved multiple form filling, booking an appointment three weeks out to see a nurse, who then made me fill out more forms before I could book an appointment with the actual doctor. From go to woh it took me a month to get from ‘I need a GP’ to ‘Hello, Tim’s GP’. Watford hospital had loaded me up with pain killing drugs before I was discharged, these were doing the trick along with my low-fat diet, and I had received a definite date for my operation, December 3rd. So my meeting with the GP ended up being a ‘well Tim, you’re doing ok, and there’s nothing more I can do’. Nice to know though, from an expert, I was on the road to recovery.
By this stage we had our next three housesits organised. On November 4th we were moving into Putney, central London. This was our friend Joss’s house, empty at the time and awaiting builders to arrive for renovation. That’s the next blog post. After two and a half weeks in Putney we would be moving to Hemel Hempstead, not far north of Watford. This is where we’d be when I had my day surgery. We’d also managed to secure ourselves a sit over Xmas and New Year, in Bristol. We were really looking forward to that one and checking out a city for we had heard much praise.
Oh and of course, while still in Watford, The All Blacks took out the 2014 Rugby World Cup 🙂