Photo: Kiev.Victor/Shutterstock

A Day in the Life of an Expat in London

by Rebecca Kinsella May 16, 2010
MatadorU student Rebecca Kinsella shares about a typical day as a live-in carer in London.

It’s 7.30 again.

Dragging myself to the kitchen, I flick on the kettle and return to bed to snatch a few extra minutes of sleep. The fact that he’s plonked this bed in the study hardly makes it ‘my bedroom’. I sleep amongst his desk, buried in his papers that obscure his family photos.

The kettle clicks ready and I get up to make his tea: one and a half sugars, three squeezes of lemon juice and a quick dunk of the tea bag. I add some cold water from the tap; filling the mug within an inch from the top, I dip my little finger in to test the temperature.

He stirs. “Dear, I’m awake.”

“Hello, just making your tea,” I call out, in our usual morning exchange.

I go to my room and swap my pajama pants for jeans. I throw a cardigan over my singlet, buttoning it up on the way to his room.

“Good Morning! How did you sleep?” I ask my 93-year-old client.

He smiles and nods, pretending to hear. “Good Morning, dear. How did you sleep?”

He sips his tea and then we begin his physio for the morning. We do ten leg raises on his left and ten leg raises on his right leg. I assist him to catheterize and have a shower. Taking the towel I’ve placed on the radiator, I wrap it around his shoulders. “Ooh, lovely dear, lovely,” he coos. It’s an endearing morning-murmur that makes me smile.

He dresses while I prepare breakfast. He’ll have Special K; I know this because he has had Special K for the past 67 days in a row. I fill the bowl a quarter full, slicing half a banana over the top. I prepare a shot glass of orange juice and a shot glass of water. Two prunes are placed on the side plate. Sometimes I try to give him three or four, but “two is plenty dear.”
I check on him while he dresses.

“Dear where are my pants?”

“Right here,” I point to where they lay next to him on the bed.

“No, my pants,” he repeats

“They’re here,” I move them over to him and run his hand over the ridged corduroy. His eyesight is poor this morning.

“No dear, they’re my trousers! I need my pants,” he yells, exasperated.

“Oh, right,” I say grabbing some underpants from the drawer.

Each day, I drop more of my Aussie lingo, exchanging it for the British-English or the “proper English” my clients use. Pants are trousers, singlets are vests, jumpers are pullovers and apparently only ladies wear sweaters. Food should only be eaten in its appropriate season; Zucchinis are courgettes, eggplant is aubergine and pumpkin is squash. France and dance should rhyme with aunts, and not with ants like they do in Oz.

It’s exhausting. Sometimes I forget, and then it’s awkward like today, or the time I asked my client if I could wear my thongs around the house, forgetting that they’re called flip-flops in the UK, and my request meant something entirely different.

The road is busy, and closures on Oxford Street lead double-decker buses, black cabs and commuters to make their diversions down our narrow one-way streets.

He sips his tea and we look out the fifth-floor balcony window. The looming British Telecom Tower reads “915 days” in its rotating Olympic countdown. After breakfast he turns on the wireless and “BBC news at 9 o’clock.” The volume suggests we’re broadcasting to the city of London.

He’s not very chatty today. He reads and listens to the radio through the morning. I change the bed sheets and clean the bathroom.

Before lunch I do the grocery shopping. The cold air of the street reveals the bleach and a fainter smell of anti-bacterial gel hidden in my skin. The road is busy, and closures on Oxford Street lead double-decker buses, black cabs and commuters to make their diversions down our narrow one-way streets.

I pass the homeless man sitting under the cash machine, and walk into Tesco supermarket. At the self-service checkout, Tesco awards me green club-card points for bringing my own bag, and yet my four apples come cling-wrapped to a styrofoam tray. Next I go to Marks and Spencer’s for the “good biscuits” and meat.

Every day I’m stopped by various charity collectors on Tottenham Court Road. London is renowned for lack of eye-contact, but I find it uncomfortable toady as I pass by in midst of recent headlines reporting that 41% of London’s children are living in poverty. More so when the charity collector eyes off my grocery bags, yelling after me, “We’re only asking for £5 per month!”

I enter the post office tucked away at the back of a paper store. The queue is 20 deep and I join the lifeless line shuffling a couple of steps every ten minutes. I post his letters and collect his stamps – a book of 12 first-class stamps and a book of 12 second-class stamps.

Today his daughter is visiting from Oxford so we head out for lunch and Britain’s national dish – curry. They talk about travel, family and politics over Thai green chicken. I cut his meat and move his water closer. Today this familiar conversation and meal feel so foreign, and I know I’m missing home.

I have my break between 2pm and 4pm. Usually I would go to the gym, call friends, or catch up on emails. Today I just catch up on sleep.

For supper we have soup and share half a slice of toast; I warm some rhubarb crumble for pudding. We watch a show about a Swedish detective and he blasts the radio on to hear the “BBC news at 10 o’clock.” Later, I assist him to catheterize and get into bed, ending our routine with his physio for the evening. We do ten leg raises on his left and ten leg raises on his right. I turn off the lights and finally my day ends. I go to the study and climb into bed.

And I reset my alarm for 7:30am again.

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