The Secret Tetris Garden

aka: A Short Tour of Our Apartment & Neighborhood

Whenever I’ve seen pictures of European streets lined with unbreaking rows of 2-3 storied houses I’ve wondered, “What is behind those walls?” I’ve imagined gardens with fountains or tiny yards behind each house, each with a gate to square park or pond in the center. The child in me that always dreams of mysterious hedge mazes, full of puzzles, hopes that the neighbors have worked together to create a secret green labyrinth that leads to a sword in a stone at the center.

It turns out that behind those walls of houses are small yards squared off in unique shapes in a perfect square of Tetris-like blocks. When I look over it the music of Tetris (Type A) plays in my head. My mind keeps jumping to the idea that, like the game, it’ll flash and in a moment be gone, ready for a series of new blocks to lay just in place. I suppose, eventually there will be changes made; a slow version of that blinking flash and the puzzle will look suddenly different. For now, I’m charmed by the current edition.

My favorite garden is the one just left of center. The narrow fence path through the vined arch to the picnic table at back is what you’d want if you had a city garden, in my opinion. A Secret Tetris Garden.

Our neighborhood is not the most upscale in Oxford; the buildings require a little TLC and it can get loud on Friday and Saturday nights with groups of revellers on their way home from the pubs (or heading to the next event of the night). The tall houses lining either side of the street leave no other route for sound but to bound and rebound until dissipating into the atmosphere. Our neighbors in back had a karaoke party with their windows open last weekend; when we opened our own windows for some air their robust versions of Dancing Queen and MMMBop could be heard and tickled our hearts a bit. The noise has happened every weekend so far (less on weekdays) and yet it lacks any bass or oomph so it’s easy to overcome. We downloaded a noise machine app. and sleep pretty easily.

Our flat is very pretty and bright and we like it. The first floor neighbor plays merry pieces on the piano (always at polite times). The sounds wafting up the stairs are happy and bouncy, like we are in an episode of Wallace & Gromit with a much more pleasant penguin.

It’s kind of magical to live in a three story building. It’s smaller than our Texas duplex, but well-organized and feels even more spacious.

The ground floor has just enough room for an alcove for coats and shoes, and a flight of stairs.

The first bedroom is at the top of the stairs. Both bedrooms are small, simple, and comfortable for a traveler who just has a suitcase and an instrument or two.

The second bedroom is next to the the restroom. Many showers seem to just have half doors over here, at least on the housing listings we’ve seen.


The third floor is our bright and relatively quiet retreat. It gets a lot of sun throughout the day and is a pleasant place to homeschool. We giggle at the playful scratching sounds of the crows, woodpigeons, and magpies that alight on the roof and hop about during their daily visit before making their next stop at the large, vined, tree in the neighbor’s yard. They nearly always arrive in pairs.

The extra floor conveniently insulates our guitar playing, violin practice, and, most importantly, Bean’s pacing during his imagination time* from the first floor neighbors.

The kitchen feels larger than ours at home. When we first returned with groceries I suffered a jetlag-induced mild panic when I couldn’t find the fridge and we had just returned from the Tesco fiasco with loads of perishable groceries, but it’s there 😉 I’ll give you time to guess.**

Keeping the washing machine in the kitchen is a common practice in the UK, at least for the airbnb flats we have viewed. Our washer experience so far has been unfortunate. The provided towels—both used and unused—smelled musty our second night. Guessing they must have sat in storage too long, I threw them in the wash. The washer failed to agitate; to test it further I set it to spin and was greeted with an explosive rush of sudsy water from underneath the sink. The pipe the washer hose was set in is blocked. The previous tenants had placed a large bucket under the sink and we assume they must have used it while the washer was on. The manager was not notified that the washer was broken until our arrival and has been very communicative about the situation, but we are still waiting on a solution.*** Since it’s taking a while resolve, I’m very very very very (very!) grateful for the musty towels that lead to us knowing this issue much earlier!

*Imagination time: pacing back and forth and imagining epic battles and adventures without the encumbrance of any physical object such as toys or anything with an imagination-intruding tangible form that would disturb the perfection of what exists in his mind’s eye.

**The fridge is in what looks like the bottom left corner cupboard. It is very deep and easily keeps all that we need. It also works, as the heat, water heater, doors, windows, and practically everything else also does. All the little broken things (window shades, the closet, a dresser, a radiator knob, etc.) are minor. I remind myself regularly of these happy things when I feel like griping about the many loads of laundry I’ve done by hand in the tub.

***Two weeks later and, while the manager has been fairly communicative and has even visited to make a list, no repairs have been done. I am still doing laundry in the tub, chanting platitudes of gratitude (see above) in prayer to change my heart stubbornly bent on griping. Nothing is of disuse to God, so I’m trusting He can make worth-while this seemingly banal use of my time…even to the loss of my guitar callouses from the long exposure to soap water 😢 (gloves do help). It only mildly interferes with experiencing Oxford and sabbatical goals (writing and intensive instrument rehearsal). It is, in the end, merely an inconvenience. It is the largest inconvenience we’ve had, in other words, we’ve had no true troubles. Thank God.


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