A lot of you are probably wondering why I am in the UK at all. Those of you who know me but whom I haven’t talken to in ages probably think something along the lines of, “Hey! It’s that guy I met in spanish class/theater camp/a foreign city, once/school/other school/yelling somewhere! I thought he was in Turkey forever!”

Yes. This is true, people! I was in Turkey forever. And then there was a coup, and then the expat population started fleeing the city, and then Harriet and I realized we didn’t want to be doing unchanging English jobs for the rest of our natural lives. Istanbul is great for many reasons — including the ability to get entry-level employment and a living wage without requiring impossible qualifications, like in many big western cities right now — but working there becomes a treadmill at some point. You might accellerate, but you don’t actually get anywhere.

Harriet and I wanted to move somewhere English-speaking for awhile, just for funsies. New York was a top choice since a bunch of our Istanbul expat friends absconded there in the past few years. But therein lies a hilarious modern challenge of international dating: how do you get both parties in a bi-national relationship to get full residence and working permission in the same place? It’s a head-scratcher. In the USA, it’s just marriage. Green card marriage. We talked to a lawyer (several times!) and he informed us that was basically our only choice.

I’m going to spare you the details, but since Porsidarnt Trungo’s election immigration has unsurprisingly gotten much harder. Harriet was interrogated at the border by some clueless homeland security employees who told her she had an “unstable life” (ironic, since out of everyone I know in Istanbul, she’s had the same job for the entire three years she’d been there) and said they didn’t understand why anyone would want to live abroad (also ironic, considering we were going through the “pre-clearance” border in Ireland, and the American employees questioning her all lived in Dublin. )

Our lawyer told us the plan would still work, but it was going to be much harder and we’d pretty much have to stay in the US forever and ever. That sounded bad. We panicked for a few months, spending time at my dad’s house in Boston, and on Anna’s/the Doshaches’ couch in New York, and eventually decided to move to London.

I am confused. How is it that you can move to London and work?

Yes, it is confusing. My mom is Canadian by technicality of birth, and so that means I’m commonwealth and can live as a “youth” in the UK for two years, despite being nearly 30. Harriet’s got the same permission as a New Zealand citizen. Plus, London is dope.

Why would you want to go there instead of New Zealand? Isn’t it all idyllic hobbit houses?

True, but getting a residency card there for me would have taken at least eight or nine months of separation and paperwork, and that sounded bad. The UK visa could be taken care of relatively quickly, cheaply, and buy us two years of time before our next stop.

So what on earth have you been doing?

After two months in the states, Harriet flew home to New Zealand to apply for her visa. I stuck around in the states another month for Christmas and spent the holiday in Colorado with my uncle Erik & Co. We played a lot of ping pong and spent a lot of time drinking in the sauna. Pretty ace. After that Harriet’s parents sprung for a ticket for me to join her in New Zealand, which I will forever be grateful for, and then we flew to the UK in January. Now we live in a neighborhood neighbourhood called West Norwood in South London. Our roommates are all cool.

But like it’s halfway through May now. What have you been doing?

Welllllllllllllllllllll finding a decent job in this city is a bastard. So I’ve been writing a lot, exploring the city with my no money, and trying to make new friends. I am in an improv class. I have a bike, which I bought with my first and only paycheck from the escape room (that is another story altogether), and London is really flat, which makes it great for biking.

Thank you for updating me. I feel enriched by knowledge of your life.

This is what I endeavor endevour to do. Stay tuned, I might actually try and post here regularly.

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Nobody could have expected this, but finding a job in the capitol city of the most bureaucratically rigid nation on the planet has proven, oh, difficult. I was interviewing with this travel company for six weeks (!!!!!) over the phone, email, in person, and they sent me an email last week saying “Yo it was suuuuuper hard deciding between you and this other dude, but with went with the other dude. You cool though! You cool!” Which is just as well because judging by their sub-par interview skills — I think they googled “what to ask in an interivew” about ten minutes before I showed up and asked them off a laptop, for two intense yet wholly indirect hours — I’m not sure I’d enjoy working there. This was the most egregious example of what I’ve been dealing with here, but eh. One place asked me to write an example news article, and then after I’d written it, told me “oh actually we wanted a different kind of article” and I said “Oh, that wasn’t clear.” (because they had, in fact, not asked for that kind of article.) “Can I write one now?” and the reply was a swift “No.”

So in the meantime I’ve taken a job at an escape room as a stopgap. An escape room, for those who don’t know (I wrote an article for that paper in Turkey about them), is a game where you get locked in a room and have to solve puzzles to escape. There are ones kind of like haunted houses where you have to search for a key, and then there are ones where everything has a padlock on it and you need to deduce the combinations from wheel-charts and numbers scrawled on the wall.

The interview there was a ten-minute interrogation from a woman from the former Soviet nation of Latvia about my deepest hopes and dreams. I was taken aback, but answered the questions as honestly as I could. “We like to help people achieve their dreams here,” she said. “Are you ready to work 12 hours a day?” Okay. There was no contract nor forms to fill out. I was hired.

We have three rooms — a pirate themed room, a “witches and wizards” (read: Harry Potter) room, and a serial killer room. It’s kind of fun. There are secret doors, codes written in ropes or crazy drawings, a magic star, a cryptex, a life-size floppy man who’s been locked up in a cell, and plenty more.

cryptex

Congratulations! You opened a wacky puzzle-tube.

In the pirate room, you actually start out locked in the brig. I get into the spirit of things sometimes: I dyed a bunch of paper yellow with Earl Grey and wrote longhand clues for our pirate room — the previous clues had been typed out on construction paper, and it looked not at all like an antique Ship’s Log.

The actual job consists of watching people scratch their heads on CCTV, and sending them hints if they can’t figure it out. You greet them, of course, explain what they’re about to do, and then follow their progress on camera as they notice and piece together all the elements of the puzzles. Our “hints” consist of pictures of powerpoint presentations, broadcast on to screens in each room. Then, after the guests have torn off every drawer handle and unscrewed every lightbulb and thrown every prop in a pile in the middle of the room, you go back in, tidy, reset the puzzles, put the clues back into their drawers, relock the locks. It is monkey work, but it is by far the strangest monkey work I’ve ever done. After six or so rounds of this, you can go home.

I was trained by a neurotic Chinese-English girl five years my actual junior but who comes off as much younger, because her entire life is work, martial arts class, and family time. Every time I mention something outside those topics, she freely admits ignorance. I mentioned that Harriet had snagged 15 pound tickets to a West End show. “Oh, I don’t know much about theatre shows.” I once identified a customer named Jesus as Spanish. “Oh, I don’t know much about languages.” (She’s bilingual.) One time someone buzzed the door, and she moved her mug down behind the desk.

“Oh, I wouldn’t want the guests to see my tea,” she said.

“God forbid they find out you drink tea,” I teased.

“Haha, right. It’s much too casual,” she said, completely serious. An employee at a game room drinking tea in the UK: yep, sounds hugely unprofessional. I admit to cultural ignorance, and perhaps Turkey has skewed my perceptions on when it is okay to drink tea (100% of the time, with anyone and everyone) but still.

She is of course very good at her job of greeting people, entertaining them, sending them hints, and resetting the rooms at blitzkrieg speed. It just becomes difficult to work with people, for me anyways, when I can’t get a sense of what they care about outside of work.

The hardest part about my job are honestly the hours: the times that people play escape room games are, surprise! not during the work day, which means I’m busy in the evenings and on weekends.

Really, I’m beginning to look at the prospect of finding work in this country as its own escape room, but with much shittier puzzles. Here’s the setup: you’re trapped in a dead-end job in a foreign country, you work unsocial hours and make minimum wage. Your employer is trained in Soviet-era interrogation. You have to decode both the postal system and two government websites in order to obtain an NI number so you can be taxed at the correct rate. Most employers and government services are impervious to the sorts of cajoling that worked in the last country you lived in. How do you: 1) find challenging employment, 2) make friends, 3) earn enough money to enjoy one of the most lively cities on earth while still being able to save a little on the side, and 4) do everything legally? You have one more month before you go mad. Aaaaaand the clock starts now!

 

The title for this blog post comes from a cursory bit of research I did a few days ago. What did people sleep on in antiquity? The obvious off-the-top answer would be “a filthy mat of straw, animal droppings, and live animals” but it turns out the answer is fascinating. The ancient Egyptians built tiny, curved football goalposts as headrests. The word ‘mattress’ comes from Arabic and basically was a mat or pile of cushions, which the crusaders thought was pretty neat and adopted the idea, prompting me to ask what the hell were the Crusaders sleeping on before they realized cushions was a good idea?!

But it’s not just for the actual bed material — it’s also the social function of a bed. Romans for instance lived in a bed culture. Well-to-do citizens divided their rooms by bed usage. There was a sleep bed, a sex bed, a bed for eating in, a bed for studying in, and a party bed — domestic life was really a rotation between different rooms for lying down. The Greeks had a similar thing going: in traditional symposium (semiritualized kegger) all the couches were arranged in a rectangle and everyone reclined on their left side, ate a meal course, and then the house slaves mixed wine and water into a giant bowl. Then the guests would all chat about love, beauty, war, the gods, the inflation of the drachma, whether they should restrict the sale of giant spears and bows to under-21s. All at a bed party. The 17th century was the magnificent one for beds, apparently. Fat cushions, drapes, four-posters, canopies all became the norm for the unbelievably wealthy.

I was conducting research on this because the mattress in our house in West Norwood was terrible. Every morning we both woke up with our vertebre rattling around in our ribcages. Our inherited mattress had a layer of the much-celebrated ‘memory foam’ which, along with conforming to your body’s every curve, supported none of them. So, to the Swedes.

We went to Ikea, where I’d never been before, and bought a roll. They sell mattresses in rolls. Because it was an additional 35 pounds to have it delievered, we called an Uber. The driver took off his shades when he saw us in with the roll in the parking lot, and said simply “the doors won’t close.” Since we have been living in Turkey, we ignored what the cab driver had to say, stuffed it in, unrolled the top window, and gently eased the door shut. It fit. The guy shrugged. [Side note: 100% of our (two) uber drivers in this town have been entrepreneurial men with Pakistani roots but who were raised in London. Both complained about immigrants. Both had luxurious cars.] We have the Daily Sabah to thank for the purchase of our new discount Swedish mattress: I put it on my Turkish card and spent a small fortune in liras.

We hauled the mattress roll upstairs, cut the plastic, and watch the whole thing…inflate? expand? on our bedroom floor. As a rolled Ikea mattress unfurls, it makes a splendid series of noises — sproingy pops, gasping whooshes, deep alien groans. It takes three days for it to fully relax into its new configuration, so we had to recline on the saggy disaster cot for another three sleeps.

BUT WHAT A THREE-DAY STRETCH IT WAS. Harriet got a job as an “account manager” for her friend’s “Creative Content Agency”. I registered at a recruitment company because, as it turns out, finding jobs here is extraordinarily hard, so you need one or more companies actively looking for jobs for you. What? We won cheap tickets to see the Book of Mormon on the West End (this didn’t actually happen during this three-day stretch of bed waiting, it happened about a week ago; but Harriet did download the soundtrack in those three days, and now all of those songs are burned into my noggin from now until Kingdom Come). Asli visited from Istanbul to do a stand-up show in Turkish with a few other Turkmedians at the Eastern European Comedy festival, and Harriet and I watched our first ever second-language comedy show. Thankfully two out of four on the slate had been raised in the UK and their jokes were phrased rather simply, or were based around the same sort of Turkish-English puns we’ve been making stupidly to ourselves for years.* And Asli’s jokes we either know already, or she’s so emotive it’s easy to follow. And we went to pub quiz again and we invited everyone we had even the flimsiest connection to in this town, and they all showed up and we had a wonderful time, and we won and plowed all our earnings into free drinks. And there was a winter storm called “Beast from the East” which turned London into a snowy blowy Canadian prarie city. (Just kidding ha ha ha it’s like 25 C colder in Winnipeg). And we finally got a contract from the agency for our apartment. (It’s a long story but yes, they hadn’t given it to us yet, and yes they’re terrible. We got the contract, in any case.)

In any case, it was a pretty magnificent three days. We’ll see about the rest of the century.

 

 

*”Who’s there?”

“Ben kim.”

“Evet sen kim?”

“Yes, I’m Ben Kim.”

“KIMSIN YAAA”

So we live in a suburb called West Norwood. It is a dinky and secure suburb, full of what my roommate Caera (pronounced ‘Cara’) calls “yummy mummies”. Every other person on the street is a younger woman with a baby in a stroller. The local cafe is a “babies welcome” cafe, which means there is always one screaming toddler outside the front door, disrupting the relative quiet of the neighborhood. This place was actually the first one we looked at, and after four days of looking at homes in different parts of the city, we realized that a) every house in London was actually pretty nice b) every house in london was also hugely expensive, and c) the first place we’d looked at was simultaneously the cheapest and the nicest, and it achieved that combination by being a bit out of the city center. We’re in “Zone 3” which as I gather is basically the moon as far as London is concerned, even though it’s literally 15 minutes on the train to get to Buckingham Palace. Our place is a flatshare with three other roommates. We’ve got a massive kitchen with a gas stove with six burners, a backyard where there are (no joke) a sculpture of the clay impressions of someone’s butt, a cat named Mavis, and a huge bedroom with lots of light.

Today it was a gorgeous sunny winter’s day, no clouds, and a spectral freezing wind. I decided it was time to go for a run. After about three months of holiday binging at Dad’s house in Marblehead, Uncle Erik’s home in Boulder, and Harriet’s parents’ place in Wellington, I have reached my fattest-ever state. The uncomfortable truth of aging is watching your matter expand horizontally. Oh well. It is run day.

As I am horribly out of shape, a great deal of mucus and saliva was building up in my larynx as I ran, and I had to either position my neck in such a way that my nasal cavities and throat had more space so I wouldn’t choke, or hawk an impressive lugie every thirty seconds. Also it was way too cold to run in shorts, so I’d donned a pair of pajama pants rather than try my luck with shorts. The neighborhood looks stately, organized, well-kempt. Houses in England (or at least this part of this city in England) are well-maintained brick duplexes of two or more stories, gleaming white trim around the windows, every house boasting a modest garden. The houses even look like they have turrets, sometimes. Little castlelly things. Amidst the spindly trees, either leafless from winter or clipped to permit the power lines overhead to pass untouched, an old church steeple occasionally poked up across the skyline. Everything was beautiful and I was a dirty unshaven spitting man running in my pajama pants. I felt like a cat pee stain on an antique Persian rug.

Even though it was really nice out, I barely saw anyone walking. One guy emerged from his door with his three-year-old daughter and I opened my mouth to give a friendly “Good morning!” but instead I said “Gughhmmnthshss” because a horrible gob of mucus which had been building up behind my lips spilled out all over my shirt. The man looked at me with steely eyes, sizing me up like I was a predator. His daughter started crying. I am not a predator. I am just a mess.

I’m happy to be bringing that ol’ Ernie charm to my new home in the UK.

 

For those of you in the know, Chinese Lunar New Year happened a few days ago. Harriet and I went to Trafalgar square to watch the Chinese New Year’s celebrations. Trafalgar square had been decorated with thousands of hanging red laterns, all bearing pictures of ornate dragons or chubby-cheeked cherubs in silk gowns. A couple of “bespoke”* noodle shops had set up at the periphery of the square, and several Chinese banks and/or insurance organizations were passing out leaflets at booths.

Here are a few things I learned at the London Chinese New Year’s Celebrations:

  1. The year of the dog is a prosperous year.
  2. The number 18 means “prosperity” and it was the 18th consecutive year of celebration of the London Chinese New Year celebrations. Double prosperity!
  3. It was the speaker’s 16th time doing this opening ceremony, and 16 in Chinese numerology means “smooth.” Smooth double prosperity!** Everyone’s going to work hard and get rich this year! (Is there ever a year in Chinese astrology where there’s only misfortune? Zero auspisciousness or prosperity??)
  4. Gung Hei Fat Choi is in fact Cantonese, not Mandarin. Most of the Chinese diaspora communities worldwide are made up of Cantonese people, which is why that was the phrase we all learned in primary school.
  5. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has the ability to turn even the most banal procession of ceremonial speeches into a rally. He spoke without a script, pacing back and forth on stage with a hand mic, thrusting his pointer finger into the air to make, well, points.
  6. There are a lot of Very Important Dignitaries in London involved with the creation of the London Chinese New Year Celebrations.
  7. Each one of these Very Important Dignitaries feels obliged to make a short speech about how thankful they are about the thing. We were about an hour into the speeches now. The crowd was beginning to get antsy.
  8. There was going to be a lion dance, and the dancers would put on amazing lion costumes and jump on the poles in the middle of the square! How acrobatic! Hooray!
  9. Before the Lion Dance, you have to paint little red dots on the forehead, nose, eyes, and body of the big shaggy Lion suits hanging over the dancers. Okay! Interesting cultural thing! The crowd was beginning to get excited.
  10. Each one of the Very Important Dignitaries had to paint little red dots on the forehead, nose, eyes and body of the big shaggy lion suit hanging over the dancers, and also be photographed doing it. The crowd got much less excited, and even booed a little.
  11. The lions woke up! Hooray!
  12. The lions went backstage for a photo op. Booo.
  13. The lions re-emerged, and people came out with drums!
  14. THE LION DANCE IS AMAZING. ACROBATS WEARING LION COSTUMES JUMPED ON POLES.
  15. Everyone leaves. They’ve seen the lion dance. Happy Chinese New Year.
  16. Harriet informs me that in most of China, nobody does the lion dance.
  17. Neither one of us have jobs yet. Prosperity has yet to materialize. I still hold out hope for the year of the dawg.
  18. We buy 79-pence handmade noodles in a market and I make lemon chicken and bok choy.

 

*In the past two weeks I have seen the word “bespoke” more than I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I didn’t even really know what it meant. “Unique”, I guess. But it’s a buzzword found everywhere — advertisements, boutiques, real estate listings, job postings, we even saw that somewhere offered ‘bespoke’ training. What?

**this was a few days ago now, and I do not remember which number exactly meant smooth, nor was I even sure he said the word ‘smooth’, since it was an English Chinese accent, something I have relatively no experience with. Do not cite me.

Just before we left New Zealand, Harriet’s friend Tegan suggested we all go to a pub quiz. She knew of a good one in a stodgy pub down on Lampton Quays (which — blowing all your minds here — is pronounced “keys” everywhere else in the English-speaking world). The pub looked more like a library, or an old-fashioned salon where aristocrats stuffed tobacco in their pipes and quoted Alexander Pope and Churchill. It was packed. Every table in there (or on our side of the pub, anyways) was playing. People came to this quiz every week and played for blood. The quizmaster actually called himself the quizmaster and had prepared a slideshow, one slide for all 80 questions or however many there was. One of the additional rounds was a puzzle round with anagrams and other opaque word games. We placed in the middle of the pack and won one of the side contests, and got showered in candies and toys.

A few nights ago, I suggested we all go to a pub quiz. I’d passed a chalkboard outside Broadway Markey advertising the best pub quiz in East London at a pub called Cat & Mutton. The pub looked decidedly unstodgy — probably a hundred or more years old, all wood, giant ceilings, significantly dingy. The quiz room upstairs was almost empty, only four other groups there to play, and the staff hadn’t even bothered to put someone at the bar. The hosts were a Canadian girl and an English guy with an completely incomprehensible accent filling in for their friend on vacation. There was no slideshow. The questions were unbelievably specific and nobody got more than half of them right per round. The judges didn’t even get some of them right — during the pancake round, we had to identity where each kind of pancake was from, and they insisted that the fat puffy pancakes in Picture 8 were Russian blini.

Screenshot-2018-2-15 blini - Google Search

LOOK AT THE FIRST PAGE OF A GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH HERE DO YOU SEE ANYTHING FAT OR PUFFY HERE HUH

For the “creative round” they gave us a huge sheet of aluminum foil and asked us to come up with a new olympic sport. Our team made snowmen in a snowman-making contest. We even had five tiny foil Olympic rings and a three-tiered foil awards podium. The winning team made a functional foil beer bong. We didn’t even place.

Despite their blatant bias against us, they gave Miranda at our table like four chances to win a free drink in the free drink round. The judges were also terrible at math, and we wound up with at least ten more points than we thought we should have. We got first place. We won five pounds each. (We had a chance to win much more, but I pulled the wrong prize envelope.) The quiz ended. We were utterly confused. I find it striking that I had my first English pub quiz in New Zealand, and my first Kiwi pub quiz in England. We’re definitely going back next week.

So we go to the post office in South London. I’d put down my address as a place in South London on my visa form because that’s where Harriet’s friend Beth used to live and it’s where we stayed on our visit here last September, and though she’s back in New Zealand now, we needed to say we were staying somewhere, so my residence permit was mailed to and held at the local post office. They ask for my address in the UK, and Harriet scrolls through old texts to find Beth’s address. We get the permit. They’ve left off the “IV” from my name, which I wouldn’t normally consider a big deal except the “IV” is on my passport and a lot of confused Russo-monolingual border guards had called me “Peeper eev” this summer. Slightly more alarmingly, my residence permit lists my place of birth as “Anchorage, Alask.” So I need to get it fixed. Without a (correct) residence permit I cannot get a national insurance (NI) number, which is I think the equivalent of an SSN in the States, and without an NI number I can’t get a bank account, nor will most jobs be able to pay me easily.  I write an email to the ‘questions and corrections’ address they provide. They tell me my case is being reviewed and they’ll email me back with instructions in five days.

alaska

The great state of Alask is famous for its wildlife, like the mighty Grizel Bers, herds of Caribos, playful Harbor Eals, and of course the noble Mose.   

Meanwhile we find a great room in a great house. We need to contact a letting agency to allow us to get into the flat we found. Not that the agency has done anything, mind you — the people who put up the ad were the ones previously living in the room, and we dealt with them directly. But we have to pay the letting agency so they can add our names to the lease. This costs 200 pounds per person. I’d quip “hey, that’s some mighty expensive wite-out” but it’s not even a paper copy; it’s all electronically signed. We get clever and decide to say that only Harriet is moving in to save us 200 pounds. It turns out that part of the agency fee is a background check. They want three months of bank statements, and a utility bill from our current address in the UK. We call back and say, obviously, we’ve just moved here and we don’t have a utility bill from our previous address in the UK, nor do we have three months of bank statements which show we have regular income — we’ve been travelling for the past six months. They say we can use a guarantor instead. Can we use Harriet’s parents? No, they also have to be in the UK. We don’t really know that many people in the UK, we say. They suggest we use a guarantor company, which is something I’ve never heard of before, but apparently they’ll vouch for you. That service costs 200 pounds. The guarantor company wants three months of bank statements and a utility bill from our current address.

Harriet asks one of her friends who lives here if she’ll be guarantor to vouch for us, and her friend agrees. The letting company tells Harriet now that two people are involved, her and the guarantor, they’ll have to run two background checks, and therefore the fee will be 400 pounds.

Meanwhile we go to the other post office to get Harriet’s residence permit. Harriet applied later than me and put in her friend Laurie’s address, and it turned out that our Airbnb was in the same neighborhood, so it’s only a ten minute walk from our door. Despite worries about spelling challenges in Harriet’s four first names (Harriet Leah Marama Grainger) the permit turns out fine, and we sigh with relief. She rings up the ‘NI’ hotline and asks for her NI number. “Why are you applying for an NI number?” the woman asks. “Because I’m not a UK citizen and I just arrived on a Tier 5 visa and I don’t have one yet,” Harriet says. “But why are you applying for one?” the woman asks, opaquely. “Because I need one for work and to get a bank account?” Harriet says. “So you’re getting one for work,” the woman confirms. “I suppose I am,” Harriet also confirms. They tell her they’re sending her a form to apply for a National Insurance number. The form will arrive within a week. After she mails back the form, it will take up to six weeks to get an NI number. There is a number to call if there are any problems.

Meanwhile we start applying for jobs. I’m hoping to use my recent journalism experience at the Daily Sabah writing big fancy travel columns and turn that into a news job. It turns out you need a journalism qualification to get most news jobs here, and it turns out that a journalism qualification is a six-month course plus a test, and you have to know shorthand. I decide to apply for other kinds of jobs. Harriet, despite having a Masters’ degree in Classics and being all-around much more capable and smart than everyone, is struggling to find a job that doesn’t make her feel unqualified. Advertisements for ‘Office Assistants’ ask for three years of experience as an Office Assistant. We both wish to ourselves that we’d majored in Office Assistant in college instead.

Meanwhile the instructions for my residence permit correction come. They tell me that there’s only 16 character places in the Place of Birth section, so “Anchorage, Alask” stands. Leaving off the “IV” from the end of my name, however, needs to be fixed, and I should mail the incorrect residence permit to an office in Bristol. I should also include a “covering letter” explaining what is wrong on the permit and what needs to be corrected. When it’s received, they’ll send a corrected permit within five days. However, they explain, I should also allow five days for it to arrive. I write a very short letter: “Hello. My last name is wrong. Please fix it. Best to you and yours, Ernest Whitman Piper IV.” I sign it with a flourish. I am concerned that this isn’t clear enough. I include a photocopy of my passport and circle the “surname” part on it. I consider adding an arrow to point to the circled bit, but decide against it. There’s a number to call if there are any problems.

In Turkey, they used a bureaucracy of bluster and chaos in which the rules had been jotted down thirty years ago, half thrown out, and mostly forgotten. Nothing made sense, nothing worked, you had to scream and cry and lie and swear to move the system an inch. The UK by contrast has produced an impressive interlocking bureaucracy always in motion and functioning exactly right. There’s a place for everything, and everything is in its place, and nobody is thinking about anything at all.