A Tale of Two Cities

The Best Of Times, The Worst Of Times

Edinburgh airport, evening of 21. February 2000: I push the baggage
cart away and walk toward the cab I hailed. A man in a car yells
something to me. My ears are very blocked from the pressure
differences of the flight landing, so I can’t hear it. I walk closer,
and he tells me: “You left a bag on the cart”. I look. Nothing
important, only my $3.500 portable computer (Apple Powerbook),
containing my business and the rest of my life. In an unreal haze, I
go pick it up.

That is how tired I was after four days in Denmark cleaning up after
my previous life there. I had moved from Denmark in January to get
out from one of the worst tax pressures in the world, but I had not
finished everything there, I still had a room standing pretty much as
I had lived in it. So this weekend had been the handling of that.

The flight to DK Thursday evening had been rather uneventful. I think
I might actually become used to flying as a routine event. But I was
a bit tense as I went to bed in my old room that I had to clean out
completely by Monday, because I had little clue exactly how much
there was to do.

Friday I decided to start with shipping off my bicycle. It would have
made sense to sell it and buy a new one in Edinburgh, but this was a
good bike, almost new, and I did not find a buyer (it was/is winter),
when I tried earlier. So I thought, well, it is only a few hundred
kroner (you have 7 kroner to the dollar) to ship it, so let’s pack
it. I phoned the post office to make sure they could handle it.
Well… they basically said they were not the best firm for that.
Dang. So I went to the bicycle shop where I bought it. He said:
“Bullshit. They can handle it, but they complain every time. I ship
them myself by post, and they complain every time. Just do it.”

So I “just did it”. Luckily, he had some old bike boxes he could give
me. I bought some heavy-duty silver tape in the paint shop right next
door. A damn good start.

An hour later, swearing like nobody’s business, and sweating like a
pig despite the cold weather, I went back and bought two more rolls
of tape. This turned out to be the bare minimum I needed, for 90
kroner (13 bucks). Man, if I never have to pack one more bicycle in
my life, it will be too soon. The bulk of the afternoon passed with
that unwanted and unpleasant task. Then I had to carry it to the post
office. Big bike. A hell of a job.

The girl behind the counter did not flinch much. But she did pull out
a table of how big packages the post offices handle in different
countries. The bike was too big to be shipped by mail to the UK. Too
bad, so sad.

Now I was pissed off. I carried it all the way home, both my arms
feeling like over-cooked noodles by this time. I started calling from
the phone book. By the time I found someone who would handle it, the
price had become damn close to the prize for a new bike in Scotland.
My next decision was to become emblematic for that weekend: I shipped
it. I had come too far, and run too low on patience and time. Besides
I am of the theory that if you finally start earning money, you have
to start acting like you have them, or you will lose them again.

I went to dinner. When I came home again, I was way too tired to
start with the main course of sorting stuff. So I relaxed, and tried
to go to sleep, with everything swirling in my head like a flee
market in a twister.

Next day started with a hair dresser’s appointment. Susanne, a real
sweet and intelligent platinum (real) blonde in her mid-twenties. Not
to be missed. By far the highlight of the trip so far.

When leaving Susanne’s shop I said to her: “I am supposed to go home
and sort stuff now. But I guess I will go have lazy breakfast in my
favorite lunch shop instead.” And so I did. I met the proprietor
before getting to her cafe, and she greeted me happily. Always nice,

When I finally could find no more excuses, I picked up some boxes and
walked home. Or what used to be home, I am already starting to think
of Scotland more like that, which is a pleasant surprise.

A friend came and picked up my old Mac. Him and the philosophical
organization he works for could use it. They were very happy.
Understandably, the machine might be five years old and a bit slow,
but it comes with extra RAM and hard disk, a 17 inch trinitron
monitor, a 600 dpi laser printer, and drawing tablet, a modem, an
ISDN modem, and a scanner. Not a bad deal for free!

I started packing the most important: my books. Soon I realized that
I had to give a lot of them away also. The bulk of the books I did
not care to put in storage or transport to another country, but owing
to my good taste, they were also far too good to throw out. Further,
I had earlier discovered to my grave disappointment that trying to
sell the kind of books I read (science fiction, philosophy, a bit of
technology, and comics), in English, in Denmark is hopelessly doomed.
So I packed and packed, and created a wonderful collection to give to
that organization with the computer, and even more to my friends.
That made me a little proud. Not that I was giving it away, but how
good a collection it was. I never would have realized that
cultivating a fine taste could become an asset, but nevertheless it
has. In fact it is what I make most of my living off, at the moment,
simply good taste.

To make at least the middle of a long story shorter, by the end of
the afternoon I had packed all the books I had on shelves in the
room, along with CDs and CD-ROMs and some other stuff. I felt great.
Real progress, and in the most important area.

To make the day perfect, I had the evening set off to spend with an
old friend, Bettina. (Here is a portrait I took once:
http://www.stobblehouse.dk/stob/bettina.JPG. She is as pleasant as
she looks.) After dinner and coffee we ended up with our feet up and
a video. Nice.

Ooookay, Sunday. I had a lunch date with other old friends. Now, it
turned out that the transport arranged for Sunday evening to give
some furniture to yet other old friends had to be in the morning. So
I had to get up earlier than I would have liked, to empty drawers and
such. No big problem.

But of course I had to do a little routine work for DOMAI first, and
check the email. Hm, a spot of bother there: Some guy had sent me
three mails, screaming louder every time, because he thought I was
ripping him off. Apparently the site was down, and he had bought
membership exactly before it went down. Well, this had happened
before, and is usually a small technical problem fixable in short
order. So I called. Transatlantic. Now I gotta hand it to my ISP,
they have someone there 24/7. Really nice if you have a professional
site. But the guy on duty at this time (midnight on Saturday in the
mid-USA) seemed to be new. He did not know why the site was down. He
believed for some reason that it was closed on purpose, and there
were no data as to why, and he did not have the authority to put it
up. He put me on hold three or four times at transatlantic charges
(three quarters of an hour of call total), and each time came back
with the same machine answer: “Basically there is nothing I can do,
you will have to check back on Monday when the brass is here.”

So not only was it early in the morning on one of the busiest and
least predictable days of my life, and I had a lunch date I did not
know if I would be in time for, but on top of all that my business
was going down in flames with no explanations why! And at just the
time I was burning the last bridge behind me! Let me tell you I was
not calm and serene at this point. Almost made me wish for a pleasant
afternoon of packing bicycles.

But there was apparently nothing I could do at this point (I had
asked the guy repeatedly “What can I do to make you put up my site
again?” to no avail), so I went on with the sorting and packing.
Amongst it my “hardware” drawer. Cameras, batteries, rubber bands,
toothpicks, bla bla bla. I soon found out why I always had to buy
more batteries and more shoe laces. This drawer was the Elephants’
Graveyard of unused shoe laces.

When my friend arrived with the truck, I was semi-coherent, babbling
about busyness and business and ruin and lack of control. Still, we
continued packing. All my old art my friends got. And a full SLR
camera equipment I found in the hardware drawer I had almost
forgotten I had, due to having gone all digital.

I was an hour late for the lunch appointment, which is a first in my
life. And I had to try to enjoy it while still not knowing how much
work I had left (the attic…), and whether my business would be
running again any time soon. I don’t know if I pulled this off.

Walking home I had an idea. It was too early for any of the “brass”
to have arrived in America on a Sunday, but perhaps the supporter in
charge had been changed, and was someone more experienced… I tried
calling. Bingo. 100 seconds, and my web site was up and running
again. Things were looking up. I started seeing things around me in
color and everything.

Packing, packing, packing. Other friends wanted to see me on Sunday
evening, and I wanted to see them too, but I did not know if I would
be ready, so I promised to call. The more stuff I sorted and packed,
and threw out, the more stuff turned up, especially when I cracked…
The Attic!!

During the past fifteen years, I had lived a monk’s life. A Simple
Lifestyle. Which was why I knew that I did not have much Stuff to
handle. What I had not realized was that part of the way I kept my
life simple was to pack things away and hide them in the attic. If I
thought that I had handled many books on Saturday…

Finally, in the last hour, I thought I could see the end of it, so I
called OK to my friends. And we had a fun and philosophical evening
(despite the fact that one of the guys had eaten something which made
him leave the room occasionally in order for the rest of us to keep

Of course, even on Monday I had more work that I realized (and less
sleep). But I ended up with a table I had to disassemble to get it
out (if it had been one centimeter broader, it would have been
impossible), a set of like ten boxes with books and comics (the
latter are irreplaceable, unlike the books), a 70-pound iron
sculpture, all of it going into storage until I find a permanent home
(next year I think) and twenty sacks of stuff to throw out.

And I have even left out the excitement of hundreds of fast decisions
of what to do with precious old belongings. It is an odd mixture of
pain and exhilaration to decide to let go of something forever. Which
of course is the whole significance of that weekend for me. When I
told about this to a new friend here in Edinburgh, he said to me:
“So, you’re free, eh?” Exactly. It can feel like chewing off ones own
leg to get out of the bear trap, but freedom is freedom.

Of course you have to be able to use it too. That is another chapter entirely.

Yours, Eolake

Eolake Stobblehouse

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