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Karaoke, bikes and cars

It’s nothing short of amazing that I don’t impersonate Natasha-without-her-voice today. Try singing karaoke for a hundred songs in one sitting, and you’ll understand…

We went to visit our new friends Valera and Zhanna (whose daughter is Kimmy’s classmate). There was a nice meal, highlighted by Zeppelins, traditional Lithuanian stuffed potato concoctions, which I found hard to get away from. There were cocktails, wine, homemade вишнёвая наливка (cherry cordial). Little kids were playing upstairs, Becky was watching movies, while adults followed the dinner up with some guitar play and then progressed to karaoke. We popped in one of my 100-song DVDs and went from one song to another to the next one until the disk ended. We probably skipped 30 or so songs of lesser interest, but still!! More liquor, sweets and tea made appearances; Becky came down to have some tiramisu and felt compelled to remark on how weird her parents were… Good times!

Car with bikesMy enterprising spouse, being discontent with our lack of opportunities for cycling – remember, we live on a busy road, with no easy access to a park with cycling lanes, – bought a car bicycle rack several days ago. As Saturday promised to be a glorious day, I spent some time assembling the thing. Surprisingly, it turned out to be not too hard. The rack can only hold two bikes, but Kimmy’s bike is small enough to fit inside the back of the car. If you do the math, you will undoubtedly arrive at the realization that someone in the family would have to do without a bike – guess who that someone is! No complaints, though, as we currently own only one good bike, to start with. Natasha had to ride Becky’s old one, which is smaller than adult size. She looked rather funny on that – next time I’ll have camera with me and take a picture… Or not, as she plans to buy herself a normal bike.

We spent about two hours in the park, with kids alternating cycling and tree climbing. Glorious weather gave way to clouds and wind eventually, cutting our active outing a bit short, but leaving everybody in the family quite happy nonetheless. My happiness was largely due to the fact that I sneaked away to a board-games shop and bought a chess set. This week I’ll finally make sure that my chess bet with my coworker Richard is finally played out.

With some spare time to kill, Natasha and I went to a BMW dealership to take a look at an X3. I have already admitted that buying our Vauxhall was a mistake, and we plan so many driving trips in the next couple of years that we definitely need a better, more comfortable car. With a bit of nostalgia for my Infiniti FX35, I want to try for an SUV again, and English market is quite limited in this class. X3 is not only the obvious place to start, it may be the only place.

It is Saturday, middle of the day. The dealership is by no means overflowing with people. We get this sleepy-looking guy who takes our information, including how much we plan to spend and what we are looking for in a car. We agree that it will have to be used, given our price range. He checks the inventory and finds one single car that fits our specs (there is always dearth of cars with automatic transmission). He walks us to the car, which sits right outside the front door. When I ask about the mileage, the guy has to go back inside to check this on a computer; apparently, the inventory listing that he holds in his hand does not mention the mileage. Fine, the car is a bit older than what I’d like, but the mileage is reasonable. The next clear step is a test drive.

“When would you like to do that?” asks the sleepy guy.
“I kind of intended now”, say I with an air of stating the obvious to a child.
“Uh… now could be a problem”.

Some silly explanation about an appointment coming up soon and nobody else available ensues. “I’ll have to check my schedule and give you a call later to arrange for an appointment”, says the guy.

I’ll give him that, he called me in less than an hour, and we agreed on a convenient time later in the week. But holding on to the customer is a concept that again proves to be somewhat foreign in this world. The attitude is slanted towards not really caring whether a customer who just walked in through the door ends up buying something (or, at least, would be willing to return). Maybe they don’t work on commissions… I regularly walk away from things when I feel that I do not get proper attention. This fellow benefited from the fact that I got few choices. He most certainly knew that, though…

For those who read my posts since the beginning, you will recall that I was making the original car-buying decision based at least partially on road size considerations. Some of you may even recall that I always maintained that BMW’s are overpriced. Why X3 then? you would rightfully ask. Well, I guess we have grown more comfortable with driving on English roads and realize that a bit bigger in size is not going to present serious maneuverability issues. As far as price, I still think that BMW’s cost way too much, but having recently gone cheap with a car purchase, followed by a serious dislike of said car, my tolerance for spending money on something that I intend to enjoy has definitely experienced an uptick.

Staying on an automotive topic, we often leave our car at Pay and Display parking locations. You drop coins into a machine, prepaying for a certain period of time. The machine prints you a slip indicating which time you have paid up until. You place the slip on the dashboard. Just like a parking meter, if you end up leaving earlier than the printed time, you gift the municipality with a portion of your hard-earned money. Unlike a meter, you cannot easily “add” to your initial length of stay until the very end of it, since the machine has no concept of whether you still have some time left and always requires that you pay from this very minute onward.

Anyway, besides inconvenience of having to carry coins with you at all times (which you cannot avoid doing anyway, given that the smallest note is £5), this parking system works quite well. Furthermore, it actually strengthens the motorist fraternity. Natasha has had numerous occasions of being offered a parking slip with plenty of time left on it by drivers exiting the lot. She reciprocates in kind. Truly, what goes around comes around! In an unexpectedly good way!

And on one such occasion, in a full supermarket parking lot, she told a guy to wait a couple of minutes while she put her groceries in the trunk. The guy said, “You have an American accent – where are you from?” Natasha said, “New Jersey”. “We are practically neighbors”, said the guy, “I am from Fort Lauderdale, Florida”.

In case you think that I was going for a stupid American joke, we actually thought it much more important that Natasha was recognized as an American. Not for the first time. It happens more often with the English folk, though, they tend to hear American accent in our speech much more so than Russian.

On a totally unrelated note, Becky had a Dress as a Literary Character day at school. After some soul searching, she fell back on an old reliable and went as Pippi Longstockings, in a colorfully patched short overalls and mismatched knee socks. Natasha also made her hair into braids sticking out at crazy angles. Becky looked fabulous! There was a school parade and a costume contest. The results will be announced next week.