To Know The Place For the First Time

Delivery yard behind Two Rivers shopping centre, Staines, UK, as seen from the place I was quarantining on return to the UK

Now, you might look at this photo and remark on the singular, squat ugliness of the scene.  The lack of windows, the slate-grey expanse of roof, the dull concrete floor.  The bins.

Let me explain what I see:

The buildings are modern and solidly constructed, with multi-tone brick rather than unreinforced concrete or improvised corrugated iron or unfinished brick.  The tiles on the roof are safely secured, posing little danger to those walking underneath in the event of an earthquake (not that we have earthquakes in the UK). The roof is complete with an in-built gutter system to collect rainwater and avoid it flooding the ground below, and there are copious emergency exits and fire-escape stairs, all of which are in good repair.

At ground level is a loading bay, also used as a smoking area for staff (who are not permitted to smoke inside the building).  Entry to the area is controlled by a barrier, permitting only an appropriate number of vehicles to enter – all of which must park in the clearly-marked bays, out of the way of the larger lorries.  When they appear, the lorries are clean, modern, and in good repair, with tread remaining on the tyres and no visible smell or smoke from the exhaust.  They turn their engines off whenever not moving and load and unload their goods efficiently and with no evidence of bribes changing hands between the delivery drivers and those taking receipt of the goods.   Horns are not used and the system for lorries arriving and leaving the yard is well organised and timed to avoid congestion. 

Around the edge of the yard are some bins, but they all have coverings, there is no smell, and they are emptied at least weekly.  Recycling and rubbish are separated and very little waste is left lying around elsewhere.  Stray items (pallets, cardboard boxes, crates) are stored in designated areas.  There is no evidence of rats, mice or other vermin.  At night the yard is well lit and quiet.  Bottles of gas or other combustibles are inside a locked cage.

The July weather is refreshingly cool and breezy, with frequently changing cloud patterns and regular showers, which wash clean the concrete below and keep the decking on my balcony free of dust.  Despite it being high summer, the temperature is pleasant, meaning that air conditioning is not necessary in my flat.  The sun sets as late as 9 or 10 pm at this time of year. Often there are pleasant sunsets. Despite being very close to one of the busiest airports in the world, there is little noise or disruption from the airport.

Inside, my accommodation is compact but comfortable.  Windows are well insulated and double glazed, excluding most noise.  There are no insects or spiders anywhere to be seen.  The water from the cold tap is safe to drink or to brush teeth with.  Toilet paper can be flushed away rather than having to be put in a small bin nearby, and there is no smell of sewage in any part of the accommodation.   The rooms are clean and comes fully equipped with smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, free and reliable high speed WiFi, and a marked fire exit.  It is centrally heated with radiators for use in the cooler months.  On TV there is a (free) selection of high quality programming, including cultural and educational content and reliable news sources, and numerous free digital and FM radio stations.  Access to the internet is unrestricted.  To date there have not been any power cuts.  The process of booking and paying for my apartment could be completed online – with no need to withdraw large amounts of cash to hand over to the owner on arrival, nor to visit a bank to make the necessary transfer. There are no additional or hidden costs for taxes or cleaning. Minor problems with the flat were swiftly resolved via email within 24 hours.  There is no excess noise at night and the area has not been affected by looting or civil unrest during my stay.

It’s been a while since I lived in the UK.  It’s good to be home, and I won’t take these things for granted again.

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