25 November 2009

LOLA Events Staffing Company

<-------- Not me...

Obviously, the dream had always been to arrive in London and instantly get picked up by one of the major West End theatres who just happened to need a dresser right this instant. Unfortunately, I forgot to keep in the forefront of my mind the fact that I so easily got into Seattle theatre because a) SPU was a really easy foothold into Taproot, which was an easy foothold into everywhere else AND b) not a whole lot of people move to Seattle just to work in theatre.

London, on the other hand...

My CVs are going out, I did a week's work study at Les Miserables which give me a good London reference, and I am confident that I'll break in eventually. The wonderful world of theatre is that of a small city - once you're in, you know everyone's business and everyone knows yours, and you can pretty easily move from job to job since everyone knows who's working and who isn't. Sadly, however, it can be a bit tricky to get that foot jammed into that door. I'm working on it but, in the meantime, the bills do have to get paid.

Happily, I've managed to get hired on at LOLA Events Staffing Company - a high-end company that provides hosts/hostesses, promotions people, bar mangers, waitresses, models, etc to posh parties, fund-raisers, art gallery openings, million dollar weddings and bar mitzvahs, etc. Thus far, I worked an awards show at the Imperial College's Science Museum, a fundraiser in a GORGEOUS set-up tent/marquee behind the Royal Chelsea Hospital (well, it was a hospital back in the 1600's - it's now a simply glorious massive old building/museum), and a wedding at the West Heath Centre - this cool old posh boarding school that Lady Diana went to as a girl - it still has its original doors and windows, creepy iron spiral staircases, and - I'm sure - plenty of ghosts hanging out in the corners. Tomorrow, I'm working all day at Whitehall Palace's Banqueting Hall - I'm not sure what the event is, but Christmas does seem to be the "dinner party" season, and I'm getting adept at carrying upwards of 5-6 plates with their uneaten food and silverware, all balanced on my left hand's wrist. (I've also learned how to use a waiter's friend - those things are super nifty!)

This has turned out to be a rather fun way of learning how to get around London (I'm quickly memorizing tube lines, stations, and how long it takes to get anywhere), seeing these *gorgeous* old buildings and locales, and having a good laugh at how hilarious rich, drunk, middle-aged Brits are. ;) I have yet to have had to deal with a snarky or angry person at an event, all my co-workers have been friendly and delightful to work with, and the events are planned and organized down to the last second - it's nice to just show up and be told what to do every now and again. ;) (Plus, as my mom points out, I'm hardly the first person in the history of the theatre to work waitressing/hosting while waiting for the next show)

Amusingly enough, after working only two shifts (I was working at the third when the email came in), I was promoted (!) - I got an email saying that I'd shown leadership skills and had impressed the people I'd worked with, so they were bumping me up to "Ambassador" status, which means I get an extra £1/hour and get preferential booking (you log in to their website, where they have listed all the gigs they have for the next month, and you apply for any that you'd be available to work/would like to work - they put together their group, and either approve or decline you for that shift - I have a note next to my name, now, to definitely use me if it's an option), all in exchange for me agreeing to continue to show up on time and help out at the level I've been doing. (woot!)

Unfortunately, they have been very upfront with warning that there's plenty of work for the taking in December, but they run pretty dry on gigs from January-mid February. Closer to March, they start getting more events, but they warn not to depend on this for full-time work, even if full-time work is available in certain months.

In the meantime, I've been contacted by an upscale dry cleaning/alterations shop in Kensington (Blossom & Browne) - they were looking for an alterations person, and would I be able to come in to interview for the post? I did, met the woman in charge of that particular shop (who was fantastically sweet) and a few of the regular customers (who were also terribly sweet), and have been engaging in a bit of back and forth for the past few weeks, as the owners of the chain want to hire me, but I've been trying to get this Visa sorted. In any case, I let Charlotte know that - apparently - I *am* able to work full-time under the Student Visa; we scheduled an appointment for Monday, where I'll bring all my paperwork in, chat with the owners, and - unless something major comes up between now and then [aka Andrew Lloyd Webber decides he MUST have me], I'll start work with them at the start of January. It's only 24 hours per week, but it would be steady work, it would keep my sewing skills sharp, it would get me out of the house, and it's something to be relying on whilst I try to find a West End theatre to take me in.

The Visa Bureau That Stole Christmas

If you haven't been following my mass hair-pulling, nail-biting, expletive-shouting adventure of trying to get a UK Post-Study Visa, either through facebook or via gossip from my mum, here's the story in all its horrid, horrid glory.

I applied for an was granted a Student Visa back in September of 2008 - it was a relatively painless process (yes, lots of paperwork, but all the supporting documents were in place, the application was mailed out, and I received the Visa back on the first attempt, only a few weeks after I mailed the application out) and it allowed me to enter the UK and study at the Arts Institute, as well as granting me until the end of January 2010 (I graduated in September) to either leave the country or apply for a new Visa. PLENTY of time, I thought, how very generous of them!!


At the end of September, I graduated from the Arts University College at Bournemouth (the school underwent a name and distinction change while I was enrolled) and began to gather the paperwork required to apply for a Post-Study Visa. This Visa is for those who have graduated with a post-graduate degree from a university within the UK - basically, they wanted to avoid training people up, then forcing them to head back home. As nearly all other options for leave to stay in the country require you to be hired to a full-time, permanent job, they decided to start up the Post-Study Visa as a way of allowing graduates to remain in the country and look for work that would be able to sponsor them for a Work Visa. Lovely. To apply for this Visa, you must be able to prove that you entered the country legally under a Student Visa, that you have graduated from a UK university with a post-graduate degree, that you can speak English fluently, and that you have enough funds to sustain yourself until you can find a job (without resorting to government handouts) - if you apply from within the UK, you have to prove you've had £800 in your possession for the past three months, if you apply from outside the UK, you have to prove £2800 for the past three months. As I can prove, easily, all of these categories, I downloaded the Visa application forms from the website and began to fill them out. I had to wait on some paperwork arriving from the school, but I didn't have to wait too long and, by the first week of October, the application was in the mail. Look at me, I thought, so on top of things...

My first rejection arrived back to me by post about two weeks later. The application requires a fee of £500, for which payment I had put down my debit card information. Unfortunately, it appears there is a daily withdraw limit to the card, which I had heretofore either never been told about or - more likely - simply forgot about, since I'd never attempted to pay for anything that expensive on my card before. As the bank had rejected payment of the fee, the application was stamped "denied", all the paperwork stuck into an envelope, and the whole thing was mailed back to me.

Frustrated, but not giving up so easily, I stuck the whole thing back in ANOTHER envelope, bought £500 worth of postal orders (in cash) at the Post Office, and mailed it back out. This time, I thought, this time! Obviously, it was a pain in the neck that it hadn't gone through (especially as I had originally planned on putting my credit card information down for the fee payment...), but what can you do. Give it another couple of weeks, and I'll be back on top.

Yeah... about that...

Three weeks went by, at which time I was hired both by an Events Staffing company (Lola) and was interviewed by Blossom & Browne (a posh alterations shop in Kensington). I needed that Visa back so that I could start working more than part-time (on the Student Visa, you're limited to 20 hours per week), as well as to prove to potential employers that I wouldn't be kicked unceremoniously out of the country on January 31st. On a Friday a few weeks after mailing the second attempt, the mailman failed to fully push my doorbell (causing it not to actually ring) then raced away as quickly as he could, leaving behind a "Sorry, you were out" card, detailing that I could pick up my "Signature Required" package... the next day. I headed over to the depot in the pouring rain, unspeakably nervous even though I had no real reason to be so. Well, that is, until I opened the package and discovered yet another "Sorry, your application has been denied" form letter.

In that instance, I walked home - thankful for the rain, since it disguised my tears and blinding anger. Once home, I pulled the form out and, after reading it several times to understand what had gone wrong, was just about ready to go throw a brick through the Visa offices. Apparently, the UK Visa Bureau had decided to update their forms on their website - on October 1st. The forms I had filled out had been downloaded probably less than one week before the government "updated" them - by which, of course, I mean that NOTHING on the forms changed, except that the "Valid from" date at the bottom had moved forward 6 months. That's right - my Visa was rejected because I filled it out on forms that were *technically* 6 months old; though, in actuality, they had still been valid up to 5 days before I mailed my application in.

In applying for Visas in the UK, you have two options: you can apply by post, which generally takes about 3-4 weeks to be returned to you, or you can apply for a "Premium" application: this costs £200 more, but allows you to make an appointment, then show up on the day with all your paperwork in place and receive a "Day Of" decision. No long waits, no chance of anything getting lost in the mail. Unfortunately, the system to make these appointments is online - and, in the probably 15 times I have checked that website, there has never ONCE been an available time slot. Not once. They claim, both on their website and on the phone lines, that new appointment slots are added throughout the day, every day, but I have checked their site -oh!- so very many different days and at so very many different times. I took about a week or so, sitting on the application at home, trying desperately to find a Premium appointment slot. I checked online, I tried calling all the different Visa offices, I emailed every email I could get through to. Nothing.

Finally, yesterday, I got sick and tired of waiting (especially time is ticking down) and mailed the bloody thing off again: this time on the *new* forms, and - once again - with postal orders. My actual application is nearly rock solid - I have a postgrad degree from a UK university, I was on the Student visa the whole time, me speak goodly English, I never got in trouble with the law, etc. However, there is one small hiccup which would've been overlooked if the first application went through, but - unfortunately - glares at you right in the face now. For about 12 hours between October 5th and October 6th, thanks to an early withdraw of funds for my housing deposit on my flat and a late arrival of wire transfer funds from my Dad (they were sent plenty early - it was just the problem of dealing with different banks in different time zones), I dipped below the required £800 of available cash. It's not that I was out the cash for a massively long period of time, and the circumstances surrounding it are completely understandable. However, these are the people who denied my application because I was using forms that were completely similar to the ones required, but had a different date on the bottom. I have a strong hunch that this third application will be returned denied because of this hiccup. I'm hoping the person overlooking the application will take into consideration the "spirit" of the rule, the fact that I'm here with a lease on a flat and already employed, and - hey - it's Christmas... however, I am steeling myself up for the worst.

In good news, a talk with a person at the Croydon offices told me that, actually, under the Student Visa I *can* work full-time as long as I'm not currently studying - the 20 hours/week restriction only applies during term-time. I also was pleasantly surprised to receive a REFUND of the fee for my second attempt - although I would've preferred them to actually consider the application on its merits, at least they didn't just take the money and say, "Tough luck".

On the other hand, in oh so horrific bad news....

I knew that it was going to be a tight squeeze in hoping that the current Visa application gets back to me before my plane takes off to come home for Christmas. If I'm going to catch my plane, the Visa has to be back in three weeks and two days at the absolute latest - and the second attempt (where they obviously didn't look any further than the bottom of the first page) took three weeks exactly. However, a quick look at the US Embassy page showed how to apply for and receive a second passport - in order to allow you to travel while your current passport is stolen/lost/at the Home Office. I made an appointment, gathered the required documents (birth certificate, driver's license, Social Security card), filled out the forms, and thought "No problem". At the bottom of the email from the Embassy, however, contained the fatal words: Check with the Home Office to ensure you're able to travel while your visa is being considered.

I called up Croydon and, after finding out that I could work full-time and that there were absolutely no "Premium" appointments available, I posed the situation of flying home at Christmas with a second passport from the Embassy if my Visa application didn't go through in time.

"Oh, absolutely not. No. You absolutely cannot."

A very long pause followed. When he tried to explain that my Visa application wouldn't go through without my passport, I explained that I'd sent my passport along with my Visa application, and I would be traveling with a second passport supplied by the Embassy. Nope, no this wasn't allowed. Apparently, my status in the country is controlled by computer - the second passport I would get from the Embassy would be just that - a passport, without any Visa information in it at all. If I were to re-enter the country as a Visitor (as I'd have to do with my second passport), the computer would automatically over-ride any prior or existing Visa applications or information, meaning my current application would be either automatically denied (if it was still being considered) or taken away (if it had been approved). And, he was quick to point out, that was IF they let me in the country at all - which they probably wouldn't. I'd be forced to divert back to the States, where I'd have to reapply for Entry Clearance.

I still have my appointment at the Embassy scheduled for this Friday, so I'm going to go in and see what they have to say - sadly, it does make a kind of warped sense (reminiscent of all the other obnoxious bureaucratic mess that this government loves so much), and I don't really imagine that the Embassy will be able to do much to help me. At this point, I have to just wait... if the Visa arrives back here, approved, and before my plane takes off - great! Merry Christmas, life is good, and all is right with the world. If the Visa doesn't arrive before or with the post on December 16th, I have to either cancel my flight or move the dates, hoping that it will arrive in time for *that* flight. (On top of, of course, paying the fees and fines for moving my flight, and the price difference between tickets) If it does arrive late, I have to hope and pray that somebody in the Visa offices took pity on me about the banking snafu, because if it arrives late AND denied... I will probably have a rather good little sob right on the floor of the post office. At that point, I'll have to wait until the banking hiccup is over 3 months in the past (after January 6th), then reapply - unfortunately, by this point, I'll be about 25 days from my current leave in the UK completely expiring - and the Home Office refuses to have anything to do with your case once your leave has expired. At that point, I honestly don't know what I'd do. I'll talk with the Embassy about "worst case scenarios" on Friday, and hope that I can find a friend willing to be my bulldog in the government.

Soo... yeah. Obviously, there's still time for everything to sort itself out as the universe's Christmas present to me, but on the other hand I may still yet be in for a whole world of hurt. Please be praying for me over the next two months - I have a lot invested in being here and have already won so many battles, I just need some pretty miraculous divine intervention to get me over this rather massive hurdle in the way. :(

09 November 2009

Mark Your Calendars...

Just bought my plane tickets to come home for Christmas!!

I will be arriving the evening of the 17th of December, departing again on the 29th. Both flights are through AirCanada, so I have to work on my accent, eh, and keep my fingers crossed that I avoid any major blizzards. (I had a lead on a slightly cheaper ticket that went through Minneapolis, and I just spent the whole time going, "I'm going to get stuck in Minnesota... I'm going to get stuck in Minnesota..." - as it turns out, that ticket went the way of "Oh, I'm sorry, that ticket is no longer available at that price - we do have the same ticket for $100 more, but you better hurry, because it's going fast..." - I'm no dummy, orbitz! I took my business elsewhere, and got tickets through Canada for only $8 more. So there)

Sooo yeah! :) I knew I had to come home for Christmas - not that the holidays here in the UK aren't lovely, but it would be coming home to an empty flat which is just not cool at all. That said, I'm getting a kick out of the Christmas season here in the UK. There aren't any real "commercial" holidays between, oh, summer and Christmas - no Thanksgiving [obviously], Remembrance Day [basically, the UK Veteran's Day - the only thing to buy is a poppy, which is a gift when you make a donation to the Poppy Appeal], Bonfire Night [celebrating the Catholics *trying* to kill people, the Catholics getting hung for trying to kill people, or somebody trying to kill government leaders - depending on your point of view ;) - again, nothing to "buy" - you go out to a fireworks show or, if you're out in the country, you make a big bonfire and set stuff off - 4th of July without resorting to massive flags or tacky red, white, and blue paraphernalia], they don't really "celebrate" Halloween (apart from the occasional school party or college kids doing a fancy dress party)... and, apart from the odd Saint day or Bank Holiday, nothing until you get back to summer clothing and barbeque gear. So, free from the guilt of starting the holidays before December, the British have already long since kicked off Yuletide celebrations.

The bridges are covered in lights (I *must* get pictures of this for you - it's just stunning gorgeous watching the lights flicker in reflection against the Thames), the city streets are strung up with lights and trees and general merriment, and the streets are PACKED. I made the mistake of going into town last Saturday to pick up some shirts for work - tourists are everywhere (I know that I'm becoming a resident of the city - I'm grousing under my breath at the stupidbloodytouristsstoppinginthemiddleofthesidewalk...), the stores are jam packed, and everything simply must go! The shop clerks are holding up tolerably well; I don't know how they avoid going postal though, between the throngs of crowds and the truly terrible Brit Pop Christmas songs playing ad nauseam over the speaker system. Everyone knows, after all, what the best Christmas song is, after all... :)

Still, despite the massive crowds, the constant sales, and the early start to the Christmas season, I've been amused to feel the culture shift between the States and the UK. It's hard to really put your finger on, and even harder to then put into words - I also don't want to claim anything definite, considering I've only been around for such a short time - but, although Christmas is still commercialized, it's a *different* commercialization than in the States. I feel like, in the US, everything must be bigger and better than the neighbors - going for a Christmas tree? Better be a 20-footer! And fill that sucker up with presents underneath: the bigger, the better! More high-tech, more wireless, more parties with more food than you could ever eat and way more alcohol than you should ever drink! So much of the focus in the States seems to be one-upping everyone else, overdoing it, creating a glut for the sake of proving that you can do a glut. The problem with gluttony is that, generally, it ends up being unfulfilling, because you're too overwhelmed to enjoy what's there (and/or you're passed out on the couch).

I don't mean to give the false impression that Britain is this sweet, family-orientated country that cares only about gathering in front of the fire, with a mug of mulled wine and Tiny Tim up on Scrooge's shoulder, basking in the Dickensian paradise of simple pleasures. But there is still a sense of restraint. Oh sure, you can still buy the massive surround-sound system with the 20 foot tree, but nowhere is it felt that it's required for everyone. Impulse items stacked around the purchase points are filled with warm socks, or boxes of chocolates, or bath items - not computers and ipods. Advertising focuses on presenting the family, around the table or the fire, enjoying a decent - but not gut-busting-sized - meal, behatted with their paper crowns, crowding around the telly to watch the Queen's speech, where she addresses the nation to speak - generally about volunteering, the power of faith, and the love she has for this small nation. Or, more likely, they tune into the new Doctor Who special. :D (Which reminds me that I'll have to find a torrent of it... oh, David Tennant, why must you leave us?!)

In any case, I do hate to make it sound like I'm idealizing one nation, whilst demonizing another - I just happen to find much more joy and satisfaction in the British standard of Christmases... and, ironically, embracing that standard of family and friends, I have to leave the country in order to do so. ;) So, look out Seattle, I'm coming back!    

05 November 2009

Vi Veri Time2Movesum Vivus Vici

Evey: "Vi Veri Veniversum Vivus Vici"
V: "By the power of truth, I, while living, have conquered the universe."
Evey: Personal motto?
V: From "Faust".
Evey: That's about trying to cheat the devil, isn't it?
V: It is. 

It may have required COUNTLESS phone calls (on my dime) to over four separate estate agents at time2move, threats of legal action (both from myself and my father), I may have been lied to several times a day - directly to my face, it may have caused me to tear my hair in rage and become so jaded to humanity that the simple action of someone calling me back when they said they would now makes me esteem them as a saint, but our long national nightmare is over. The wardrobe that was contractually promised to be installed in the flat before I arrived has, only 31 days late(!), arrived! Kaloo-kalay!

It's amazing what daily phone calling, harassing in person at the various offices, pitting the landlady against the agents, pitting the agents against each other, and a threat of legal action can do, eh?

It's a bit wobbly (I had to put some extra bathroom laminate flooring underneath the front wheels to keep it from constantly falling down on top of me) and not actually as wide as the hangers I have (so the doors don't close all the way shut), but my clothes are no longer cluttered on the floor and I can finally stop having to call time2move everyday! I hardly know what to do with myself - now who I am going to get to lie to me everyday? ;)

Look at that nice clean floor...

but... where's the wardrobe??...


Awww... there it is... :)
(It's at an angle against the corner - I hate when these things sit flat against the wall, but I couldn't have it angled against the *other* wall (ie next to the window), or 1/2 of the power outlets in the room would be covered up, and I have to blowdry my hair in here, since there aren't any plugs in the bathroom - yes, I have to ration out my power plugs... bienvenue a l'Angleterre)

Sadly, because they delivered the wardrobe "this afternoon" (by which I, of course, mean 7:30PM), I wasn't able to go out to enjoy Bonfire Night - well, I could still go out, but most of the fireworks shows either started at 7:30 or will start in, oh, seven minutes - not even enough time for me to make to the train station, much less up to Battersea Park or Streatham. I can hear the booming and blasts all around me - earlier, someone must've shot off something pretty spectacular nearby, since the whole window turned bright white for a moment. (I thought a floodlight had turned on out in the Close, only to remember that there aren't any floods that large out there) Instead, I shall make myself a congratulatory mug of mulled red wine (I finally remembered to pick up some ground cloves) and revel in the Sweet Taste of VICTORY!!!

03 November 2009

The £4.30 Haircut

We learned about the Project Triangle in Stagecraft class Freshman year; in any project, you can have something done quickly, you can have something done well, or you can have something done cheaply - unfortunately, you can only pick two of the three. In between dealing with my estate agency (who seem at every turn out to prove that they are shiftless creeps, hell bent on making things difficult for me) and applying for jobs, I haven't had a whole lot to "do", per se. (Though, to be fair, I have managed to succeed in getting time2move to fix my doorknob, turn on the heat, and get my doorbell working again - if I can get them to finally bring in the wardrobe, I will be crowned Champion of the Universe... or it will be the final sign of the coming Apocalypse - one or the other) I noticed the other day that my hair was getting a little shaggy, and thought I should think about finding a new hair salon.

Since 2006, I've only had two stylists - when I find somebody I like, I stick with them. Mercedes at the Gene Juarez salons was the girl who cut my hair when I got back from England the first time, and I stayed with her until I moved out to Bournemouth. Kelly was at the salon just down Gervais Road, a two-minute walk from Bourne Chambers, and managed to recreate the look Mercedes and I had figured out years earlier. I wasn't really sure where even to start here in London - West Norwood has a handful of haircutting establishments, but most cater exclusively to those looking for weaves or cornrows. (Just look at me go, being all PC...)

I went online to have a gander, and was reminded of my friend Ben and his Kramer-hair incident. ;) (I knew Ben back in high school, and he ended up coming out to London, back when I was in Bournemouth, to work in one of the Indian communities) A friend of his noticed that a local salon school was offering free haircuts for those willing to let their students work on real heads of hair. In his case, he ended up looking like Kramer (though, to be fair, he has massively curly hair which, if left untamed, quite literally becomes an afro). I was intrigued, though, and went online to learn more.

London has quite a slew of top-end salons which train up new proteges - amongst the more common to recruit amongst those looking for a cheap haircut include the Vidal Sasson salon, as well as a couple of Toni and Guy salons. Unfortunately, all of these seemed to require you to submit to one of their hairstyles being practiced that week: usually a straight or graduated bob. Since my hair requires texture and layers, this wasn't up my alley. However, whilst skimming gumtree (the UK version of craigslist, only slightly less skeevy), I noticed an ad looking for volunteer heads, for students at a super-posh independent salon in Mayfair. The Vidal/Toni and Guy ads all said to book over a week in advance; I sent the guy at Ozzie Rizzo a text, and he replied back almost instantly - "I have an opening at 2PM today, would you be available?"

Considering my plan for the day was to call and harass time2move some more and/or stay inside out of the rain and watch movies, I decided to be *wild and crazy* and wander on up to Mayfair. :)

Why don't you go where fashion sits...

I turned on my ipod, which amusingly enough started playing "Here Comes the Sun" as I stepped outside my door... right into the pouring rain. :) But comme ca, neither rain, nor sleet, nor hail, nor... something I'm forgetting - wind? would deter my from my goal. I walked up to the rail station, bought a return ticket to Victoria (£2.70), hopped almost immediately onto the Southern train, and twenty minutes later was sweeping across Victoria Station... to stand in a queue. ;) Several minutes later, I was the proud owner of an Oyster Card -

(What an Oyster Card might look like...)

Which allows for pay-as-you-go travel on London's buses, trains, or - huzzah! - the Tube! It is a very odd fact of my life that I am horrifically claustrophobic - I get fantastically nervous in elevators/lifts, have to be medicated on long airplane rides, and had to leave Mary King's Close early, because I couldn't stand being under the ground as we were. However, I *adore* the Tube, despite it being essentially a smaller airplane body going whizzing away through narrow tunnels, several, several feet underground. The only logical explanation I can give is that, given my absolute and UTTER lack of directional skills, I like the idea of having a sprawling city laid out in grid form, easily understood by colours and directions. Either that or - coming from Seattle - I'm in constant awe of a mass transit system that actually works. Take your pick.

A single hop Northbound on the Victoria Line (royal blue), and I was at Green Park station, heart of Mayfair. How did I know I was in Mayfair? Let's just say the Starbucks sitting next to the Rolls Royce showroom gave it away, rather...

By this time, however, the sun had broken free of the rainclouds and - in the same vein as the old cliche that requires rain for there to be rainbows - I remarked to myself that everything seems so much more glorious after a good, hard rain: the air was fresh and clean, everything was shining in the sunshine, and the golden leaves that littered Berkeley Square looked to be made out of pure spun gold.

Obviously, not my picture - imagine, however, all the leaves on the trees as bright yellow, the ground covered with the dropped shiny foliage, and Bonnie standing in the middle absolutely delighting in the hustle and bustle of the busy, cold, gorgeous day. This was the London I fell in love with all those years ago, and I couldn't help smiling as I remembered why I came back. (As an aside, I just about drove myself crazy trying to remember what bird it was that "Sang in Berkeley Square" - I kept thinking it was a Bluebird, but kept reminding myself that the Bluebird was busy being Over the White Cliffs of Dover; the square itself offered no help - the only birds on display were pigeons - *extremely* tame pigeons. And, I can't really think that any romantic, angsty song would involve pigeons)

A moment's searching just now turned up that it was, in fact, a Nightingale which supposedly did the honours. Mustn't have been his shift, right then.

In any case, at a little before 2PM I dutifully checked into the salon and was brought to my seat by Shuj, who talked with me through what I was looking for, what he recommended, and explained that Ozzie - the owner and Creative Director - would be over shortly. Ozzie Rizzo looks like every fantastic New York Italian stereotype you could ever imagine - except, of course, without the pin-stripe suit and/or large gold medallion. He is an *utter* perfectionist, and demands the absolute best from his students; he is brusk, to-the-point, and obviously has been doing this for a very long time with a very great love of his craft. He came over, and immediately began assessing my old haircut (long since grown out and shapeless); he told Shuj to hold the mirror up and show me what my hair looks like going in - that way, if I get frustrated by a bad cut thanks to them having to work with a bad cut I had coming in, he can't get blamed. He pointed out the thick hair lying shapeless on my neck, the choppiness of the layers - he took a step back and said, without any emotion, "I can see what they were going for - but it was the wrong choice!" He began playing with the hair, explaining to Shuj about how to make the shape of my hair work with the shape of my face: "Look at her face - he has a very large forehead." Sounds rude, but something about the matter-of-factness with which he said it made me laugh. "Oh good, she knows it at least" (to me, as an aside, he said, "Don't worry - it's a lovely forehead; but we are going to cover it up, don't worry") Everything he said sounded just like what I was looking for, so I breathed a sigh of relief to know that I wouldn't be walking out with a fauxhawk or shaved head. The style in place, Shuj and I headed over to the sinks to get my hair washed and head massaged.

Getting my hair cut well is something I don't mind splurging on - most things in life I'm quite frugal with (I don't go out clubbing, I generally get my theatre tickets through friends, I don't eat a lot [and rarely eat out], don't mind putting on a sweater if it gets chilly), but I consider getting my hair done well to be a small form of therapy - no matter how crappy I'm feeling, no matter how "out of control" life seems to get, I know that - for a half hour or so - I can get my head massaged in warm water and nice smelling shampoo, have someone play with my hair while I sit on a chair and feel pampered, drinking a warm cup of tea, and leave feeling young and pretty and fabulous - seriously, it's worth a little more every couple of months to have that momentary control on life. :)

Ozzie left us to it while he started on one of his clients - I was amused, throughout the day, to notice his accent change depending on who he was talking with. Not excessively - he may or may not have noticed he was doing it - but with his students and me (essentially, the manniquin head) his Italian accent was quite noticeable - he spoke quickly and forcefully, with a commanding presence, and the Italian overpowered his English accent. His first two clients were middle-aged German women (or, at least, had strong German accents); with them, his English accent came back into play - he was quiet and passive, letting them speak, and only occasionally interjecting with more somber, dulcet tones of a West Londoner (Posh, without being too Uppity - yes, those are highly technical linguistic terms). The third client he worked on had an utterly delightful RP accent (she actually sounded EXACTLY like Harriet Walters in the Lord Peter Wimsey TV movies, but I can't find a clip on Youtube - so here's dreamy James McAvoy and the little Troglodyte speaking RP in Atonement), and - oddly enough - his Italian started to play up again, but in a way that quite honestly made him sound like he was doing a Christopher Walken impression (it was so spot-on at times, I nearly started giggling, despite the pair of very sharp scissors next to my chin).

All this reminded me of a link I'd seen on fark earlier today - saying that Irish had overtaken the French for "Sexiest Accent". (Check out what The Daily Mail had to say about this here) Now, I'm not going to deny that a good, strong brogue is pretty damn sexy, but I must call shenanigans on Scottish being placed at number 3 - seriously people, NOTHING is sexier than a Scots accent. No amount of Daily Mail surveys will ever convince me that this (doesn't actually start until about 50 seconds in) is less sexy than this. (Ah, Father Jack, you old foul-mouthed git...)

In any case, I was utterly delighted to find out that getting my hair cut by a student takes away my least favourite part of getting my hair cut: the small talk. I don't know what it is - I have no problem with small talk anywhere else in the world, but you set me down in a barber's chair and I find I have nothing to say; we ended up sitting/working in awkward silence, as all the other people around us chat comfortably. With Shuj, however, we had some lovely small talk about Seattle and London and weather and all those easy topics whilst washing my hair, then he apologized as I sat down to get cut, explaining that he wasn't good at talking and concentrating together - "no problem!" I replied: I got to space out, writing my blog in my head, eavesdropping to my heart's content on the other conversations, and just generally going to sleep with my eyes open, without feeling obligated to tell my life's story to a stranger.

His fingers were a bit shaky starting out - he had Ozzie come over to get him started, then would mimic what Ozzie had done on one side on the other. Ozzie would come back over, brush the hair around, comment on how it wasn't "perfect", and have him keep working at it. Once one section was "perfect" enough, Ozzie would start a new section of layers, showing him how to work the hair, then leaving him to work. Ozzie worked on his own client on the next chair over, occasionally looking over to check in. He reminded me quite a bit of Don - very much in control, occasionally getting frustrated that this new student couldn't pick it up immediately. Ozzie obviously had his "Lessons" - I got to overhear the "If You Want to Learn, You Must Listen, Not Talk" lesson, as well as the "Attention to Detail Makes the Difference Between a Good Haircut and an -eh- Haircut" (which led into the "My Customers Have Been Coming Back for 30 Years - WHY?" Lesson). Not to say that that last lesson was wrong - his customers that I got to "see" and "hear" were all quite loyal and absolutely adored him, and it was evident in his dealings with this student (and, consequently, with my hair) that would accept nothing less than 100%.

My hair proved to be a bit of a "challenge" (I'm sure Grandma Esther had a good laugh at that comment) - first of all, Ozzie pointed out to Shuj that my skull is asymetrical - it "bumps" slightly differently in the area diagonally up and behind my ears on both sides; as such, he informed Shuj, you have to cut the hair slightly differently on either side, in order to make them both look the same. Also, with hair as fine as mine, "You HAVE to make every layer completely blend into the next - you CANNOT have any bumps or cuts showing. Even the smallest mistake will show up on hair like this. You must work extra hard on hair like this, because it MUST be perfect!" I couldn't help but delight in hearing, "Hair this fine, it will lie flat pretty much no matter what you do. So, you MUST make it look beautiful, even if there is no product in it, even if she does nothing to it. That way, any work she puts in later is a bonus, but the hair looks beautiful, even when she rolls out of bed in the morning". Anal Retentive or not, the man is a miracle-worker with hair (Yes, at one point, he was describing the scissors as a paint brush, and later told Shuj to "See the hair. Feel the hair. Love the hair". Not kidding) and, true to his word, the style looks great, even dry and flat - the layers blend together beautifully, the back blending down to the neck is sculpted beautifully, the bangs nicely cover my enormous forehead ;) , and the cut around the face was specially cut by Ozzie, in order to curve nicely around my cheekbones, despite the fact that this hair is generally tucked behind the ears ("Doesn't matter! It needs to be perfect anyway!"). Dried naturally, the style looked cute and fresh - Ozzie, however, wasn't done with either of us yet and demanded that Shuj then damp the hair back down, mousse it up, and "finish it" - "because a good haircut is a good haircut, but it is the finishing that makes you a stylist; your customer doesn't necessarily know it's a good cut, unless you can make it beautiful for her before she leaves". Shuj went to work, spending probably 20 minutes roundbrushing, then redampening bits and roundbrushing again, then smoothing parts down and drying them again (while I watched on, grinning delightedly); Ozzie, however, decried this work and dampened it all down again, redoing it for me while Shuj and the other students watched - "we must bring out the beauty of this cut! She knows how it looks normally, she knows how she styles it, so show her something different to do with it - have some fun! Make it amazing!" He slathered a whole pile of gels and products in his hands, crafting and sculpting the hair every which way, showing me about five different styles in about 20 seconds, while Shuj looked on and laughed, remarking, "She's smiling!"

But, let's go back to that Project Triangle, shall we? Obviously, it's a great haircut, done in an expensive salon in the heart of Mayfair (I overheard Ozzie telling one of his clients that a cut and half-head dye job in the salon cost £120) by an obviously very talented artist, so check that one off. It was also cheap - the price listed as the post title covers the cost of the train and tube ride to get up and back: as a student, Shuj wasn't allowed to take a tip, and the haircut was free as I'd provided "student resources". (He did, however, mention before I left that he was about to graduate to a stylist position within the salon, so the next time I needed my hair cut, I would know where to find him -hinthint-) So, cheap and good... quick, here, was the sacrificed element.

As I stated before, I had no other plans for the day, and had no problem filling in for as long as it took. My description of the haircut, however, may not have given you a good grasp of the time scale involved. I entered the salon at 1:50PM. I left at 5:20PM. That's right, three and a half hours. Three and a half hours. I entered the salon in the sunlight of the early afternoon, I left when it was dark out. For comparison sake, I have never had a haircut last longer than 25 minutes - and that was when Merecedes was first styling my hair. I don't really have a lot of hair to cut - it's thin, it's short, and I'm generally not that picky to a millimetre level. Between Shuj having to check in with Ozzie, Ozzie's perfection, and Shuj's anxiousness to please, however, I had a haircut that lasted three and a half hours.

The even bigger shame is that I can't really get a good shot of the back - the front looks lovely and fine, though it doesn't really show how meticulous and beautiful a cut it really is - the layering work in the back is truly beautifully done, yet all my attempts to capture it on film or laptop are laughably blurry and off-centered, looking for all the world like I've finally managed to capture footage of the Sasquatch. (Shame on you, blogger, for not recognizing our beloved mountain-beast as a proper word!)

In any case, I strutted out of that salon into the crisp London night, streets packed with tourists and Londoners headed home. I caught my tube to Victoria, then jumped almost immediately on a train headed back home to West Norwood - I had a happy moment when I realized that my train journey would only be 20 minutes, accustomed as I'd become to heading back to Bournemouth (which takes a little over two hours instead). The full moon was shining in the sky, the London Eye was lit up with white and purple lights, and one of the Thames bridges we passed was covered in white Christmas lights, which shimmered in the river beneath. I hiked home in the cool night air, smiling to myself as I was walking up the hill with the others who had been on the same train as I had been - slowly but surely, people peeled off from the unspoken group and went into their homes, or headed off down side streets, and I inwardly waved them good night as I pulled my keys out of my bag and came back home.


02 November 2009


Just a quick update, as I really must get to sleep - Galen posted the link to this site on facebook, and I thought I'd see what Wordle did with my blog thus far! (It takes all the most commonly used words within your page, and arranges them by size, according to their frequency - apparently, I'm rather fond of the words "through" and "lovely") Who would've thought, right? ;)
Click on the image to see a larger version on the Wordle website.

Wordle: Bonnie

25 October 2009

The Angels Have the Phonebox

The West Norwood cemetery is a sprawling 40-acre maze of Gothic Victoriana - It is listed as one of the Magnificent Seven metropolitan lawn cemeteries of the Victorian era, considered amongst the most significant cemeteries in Europe. You can read a whole slew of fascinating information about the cemetery at everyone's favourite website wikipedia, including the fantastic story of how the borough bought the cemetery and started re-selling the spaces, essentially burying more bodies on top of the old ones. Heh.

I wandered through it once before; the day I moved in, I had to wait in town for my electricity key to come through the post, so I decided to a do a bit of grave-watching. I had, unfortunately, not brought my camera and was determined to come back on another sunny day to take pictures. The sun was out today, the wind was whirling the dead leaves around like ghosts, and I ended up taking nearly a hundred photos - before my batteries died. I was out for nearly an hour, and probably only saw about half of the cemetery - it's hard to tell, really, since the grounds are sprawling, and there are very few signs directing you where to go. If it wasn't so calm and peaceful, it would be fantastically spooky.

The grave on the left is of a boy who died in 1989 - the grave on the right lies interned a woman who died in 1912. (Well, she and her husband)

Top half and bottom half - monument to the honor of James William Gilbart, ESO F/PRS; born 1794, died 1863.

The ground is completely uneven - they've done what they can to "pave" the driveable road with bricks, but the ground where the graves sit has never been smoothed in the least - leading to great winding bits of field where the graves are falling over, resting on their sides, leaning on each other, or smashed where they've fallen and broken. You can't help but get an eerie foreboding of the Second Coming where the dead will be called forth from their graves - wandering amongst the rubble, you get the feeling of either being left behind - or waiting for a hand to clamp down on your shoulder.

The gravestones - being, of the majority, Victorian - also feature several, SEVERAL statuary angels, either clinging to a cross, weeping for those below, or reminding us to look upwards at where they have taken the former occupant of the ground beneath your feet.

All I can say is THANK GOD none of them were covering their eyes - if you don't find these statues creepy, then you have obviously never seen the Doctor Who episode Blink -
absolutely one of my all-time favourites, thanks to its creepiness and fantastically clever time manipulation bits that mess with your brain.

(It speaks very highly of the episode that I like it so much, even though David Tennant is only in it for about 5 minutes [though he does get to use the Timey-Wimey Detector - it goes ding when there's stuff!] ) - Seriously, if you haven't seen it, go watch it now. It's fab. 

Don't blink. Blink and you're dead. Don't turn your back. Don't look away. And don't blink. Good Luck. 

The Powers That Be eventually decided that double and triple stacking the graves can only lead to a zombie apocalypse, so they've set up a Rose Garden area towards the Northwest corner. A lovely little fountain bubbles away, surrounded by rose plants which bear a nameplate of the deceased - the ashes can be sprinkled here, and the flower lives on to remember the dead.

Lots of benches, lovely landscaping, and an overall very peaceful feel make this a lovely area to sit and be calm - which, of course, means that this is the moment my iPod decides to shuffle onto Lily Allen. Yeah, not exactly what I was going for. (I switched it over to the North and South soundtrack, which fit much nicer [by which, I mean, the BBC miniseries, based on the book by Elizabeth Gaskell, not the 1980's Civil War miniseries starring the immortal Patrick Swayze. I haven't seen the latter but, oh baby...)

Not that we're bitter about it... *#%@-ing Germans...

At one point, as I was walking, I breathed in the smell of the air and rejoiced in the crisp wind, the raw earth, the dead leaves, the dying flowers, the ... ash? Turning the corner, I saw a Korean family, with one of the family members leaning over and sprinkling something on the the ground. I momentarily turned white, imagining I'd just reenacted The Big Lebowski. Fortunately, a moment later and I recognized the smell as incense, not ash, and the woman moved to show that she had been sprinkling water out of a jug onto a plant on the grave. Whew.

St Bernard and St Luke

After a rainy, stormy night last night, I woke this morning... well, when I say "morning"... to bright sunny skies, and an outside temperature of PleasantlyNotCold (almost bordering on warm, but for the crisp, strong wind that blew the dead leaves around like a tornado whipping through the streets). Since it was such a lovely day, I decided to throw on a sweater, grab my camera, and give you all some lovely "outdoors" shots of my current habitation.

If a pattern can be deduced from only two situations (which, you know, it can't, but bear with me), my stay in the UK is going to be patterned with living on Saint roads, and near cemeteries. Not entirely certain how I feel about this.

St Bernard's Close, in all its glory - the green door gets you into my part of the building, and the three windows up and to the right of said green door are (respectively) my bathroom, my kitchen, and my lounge.

More full shot of the roundabout in the center - my three windows are the very left-most.

St Bernard isn't exactly as well known as St Peter - he basically was a really, really good monk, known for convincing other people to give up those sinful things like - oh - eating, resting, conversing, and enjoying life. He wrote a lot, didn't die a martyr, and eventually became less famous than the dog that also bears his name.

My dear Stephen Fry wouldn't be pleased if I let this opportunity go by without reminding you that St Bernards NEVER carried brandy in the casks around their neck - milk, perhaps, but never brandy. Total urban legend, started perhaps by a romanticized painting done in 1831 by Landseer - in reality, the brandy would freeze almost instantly in casks outside in the mountains, and brandy given to a person dying of hypothermia would only make them die faster. (Bad dog!)

Up and over St Cloud Road, then Auckland Hill - it takes me about ten minutes to walk into "town", simply because I have to walk *around* the cemetery. From the top of Auckland Hill, you can see the steeple of St Luke's rising up from the valley below.

I was asked what West Norwood is like, and I think my best answer (or, at least, the closest I can give) is that of downtown Renton, only with a much smaller population of obnoxious white boys who pretend they're "gangstas".

West Norwood is a sleepy little area, full of great old brick houses, small grocery stores, a bunch of charity shops, a rail station, and very little else. It's populated, it feels like, by an almost even mixture of commuter families, old retired people who wouldn't/couldn't move out to the country, and mentally/physically handicapped people with their carers. Not the hustle and bustle of central London, but quiet - and, having lived next door to a nightclub for a year, I appreciate not being woken up at 3AM by screaming drunks.

I didn't take any pictures of St Cloud or Auckland Hill, even though it was a lovely day, the houses are old and brick and lovely, and nearly everybody keeps their front gardens full of roses - despite several moments where I wanted to get a shot, I had to remind myself how it would look to someone who lived there. I know if someone came wandering into the Close and started taking shots at my front window, I'd come running out in a bathrobe, curlers in hair, and armed with a rolling pin.
I also didn't get many shots of the town, for pretty much the same reason. This isn't London proper - tourists don't come down here, and people taking shots of the streets get given the stink eye.

St Luke's is lovely, however - it was commissioned in the 1820's, one of the four "Waterloo" churches (I bet you can guess the names of the other three churches...)

It's quite lovely and grand, though the interior isn't quite so majestic as the exterior. (Still lovelier than most American churches, though, and benefits - I feel - from the lack of duplex screens, pop worship bands, and "worship songs" that employ the 5/13 rule [five words sung 13 times in a row] )

More info on the history of the church can be found here at their website. Sadly, no good shots of the exterior or interior, and only bland blanket Christianity on the other pages.

Funny tidbit that I don't seem to have mentioned yet: the name "Norwood" is a shortened version of the original area, which was called the "North Wood". The first two letters of all postcodes in London indicate their location within the city (NW1 would be in the northwest, E2 would be in the east, etc); West Norwood sits pretty much dead smack South, yet, as there is no S postcode, it *officially* is classified as SE. All this to say, I live in South-East London, in West Northwood. I'm not sure if this means I'm all over the place, or if the rest of the world gravitates out from me...

16 October 2009

Oh, the Cleverness of Me! (Part 2)

Aha, now for the towel rack! Essentially four rectangles of varying sizes of stainless steel, and a bag with six screws, six screw covers, and an allen wrench. My kind of construction. Screw the three into the fourth and - voila - a freestanding rack for three towels, which I popped into the corner of the bathroom. My towels will no longer have to hang precariously on the folding wall of the tub, or sit on the toilet seat, getting soaked as the shower sprays... pretty much everywhere.

I went out to examine the fourth box - my bookcase. I should preface this by the fact that my original dream was to go visiting local charity shops, or secondhand sites like craigslist or gumtree. I wanted to find something old, cheap, but with character. After about a moment of searching, however, I remembered that pretty much none of those options *deliver* and, while I was *close* to the local charity shops, I wasn't "lug a bookshelf home" close. Furthermore, once home, I still had a flight of stairs to deal with, and the hope that it would fit through the door. The Sainsburys one I ordered was only £30 (on sale) and while I had a momentary pang that I wasn't finding something cheaper, in this moment where I contemplated the box now sitting in my front hallway, I quickly realized the joy of having had it delivered and carried up the stairs for me. Namely, I went to move the box into the living room and found that I couldn't actually lift the box. At all. Not only tiny little centimeter. The best I could accomplish was to tilt it onto its side and drag it down to the hallway - I still only made it about three feet before dropping it to the floor and deciding - "I guess I can unload it here".

I pulled the box apart and began unloaded the pieces of wood. I nearly had a heartattack when I couldn't find the instructions, but calmed down when I realized they were sandwiched between two of the boards whose identifying stickers were either missing or had the second half of the sticker ripped off - the half that actually identified what it was supposed to be. The instruction packet came with an independent half sheet paper which read, in very large, bold, red letters: "IMPORTANT! Follow the step by step instructions during the assembly of this product!" And nothing else. I wondered if this sheet was saved on the copywriter's computer as "Catch-22" - anyone anal enough to actually bother to read every last piece of paperwork included in the packaging *would* already be likely to follow the instructions. Those who really required the warning would be the types to rip open the box and start hammering in nails wheresoever they felt like - throwing the instructions (and this *very* helpful tip) right out the window.

I then opened the box that came with the wood pieces - this is when I began to panic. No longer was I dealing with six screws and an allen wrench. This was whole bucketloads of nails, screws, little cappy-type-things, silvery peggy-type-things, weird circular screwy-kind-of-like-things... So, yeah, how about I take a look at that toilet lid, eh?

I discovered very quickly, upon moving in, that the toilet seat lid was not actually attached to the toilet bowl in any way, shape, or form. Now, "discovered" is not the same thing as "kept in the forefront of memory", as I have far too many times to count nearly slid the whole thing off by either sitting or setting onto it. Many, MANY is the time that I have carelessly put my foot up onto the seat, merely to find myself moments later clinging to the flying-away seat in desperation, as my foot sloshes into the bowl. This was not acceptable. What kind of world is this if a lady cannot set her foot on the toilet seat lid in the privacy of her own home? Closer examination revealed two plastic nut and bolt pieces set perfectly into holes in the toilet seat bowl. It was obvious the bolts were meant to connect to the seat, then back through the bowl, then be bolted in at the other end. They were, at present however, only bolted to the bowl itself - working hard at keeping the bowl connected to... itself. Well done on that front, I guess, but I'd prefer they served some greater purpose. I found the grooves in the toilet seat lid, and managed to get one of the nuts slid in and bolted down quick as a wink. The other nut/bolt, however, put up much more of a fight - refusing to loosen its grip. (I also discovered that the nut/bolt combo must've been purchased south of the equator or something, as they did not adhere to the leftie-loosie principle. With the help of my handy-dandy new pliers and some good old fashioned elbow grease, I managed to unscrew the bolt, slide it into the groove, and screw it back up. I then nearly crowed in exultation at my triumph over the toilet seat. Hey, if you can't be joyous over the little things...

Newly rejuvenated and able to take on anything, I returned to the dust and cardboard covered mess of a living room, and took a good long look at the instruction sheet (I had, after all, been warned to do so!). It told me that I should complete the project in one hour, so I set the timer and began sorting the pieces and equipment out. Delightfully, all the pieces were there, all the pilot holes were in the right place, the screws went in easily, everything squared up, and within 35 minutes the bookcase was standing in the corner, while I looked on in utter triumph. True, I didn't use even a third of the nails provided to attach the back board to the bookshelf itself, but the backboard is a thin cardboard-y thing, not exactly load-bearing, and I couldn't bear the noise of nailing wood in a small, wood-floored room. I put in the essential corners and down the sides - there is a bit of bowing, but you have to literally get behind the bookcase to see it - and, frankly, if you're looking behind a bookcase, you've missed the point entirely.

The books fit in perfectly, with just a few empty loose spaces here and there for future acquisitions. I removed the book boxes (into my odd little storage room, which I now desperately wish had a door, as the room is an absolute wreak and not likely to change anytime in the near future. With my floor all cleared out and my books settled in their new home, a wonderful feeling of calm and "home-ness" settled over me. I wouldn't go so far as to say that the books are an extension of myself, but having everything settled in its own little space does so much to calm the nerves and bring peace to the heart. Adding to the delight, I received a call from Joanne (the maintenance woman for the property), who told me that I should hear from a man tomorrow about delivering the wardrobe on Saturday. (Granted, I still haven't heard from him today, but it was a wonderful thing to hear *yesterday*. She also mentioned that the doorknob will be fixed this weekend - which, yes, in British-isms means next March (kind of like how they call an elevator a go-up box, and poofter means tourist), but it was lovely to hear from her without having to call and harass her myself.

The room settled, I wandered into the kitchen and turned on the oven and hob to make dinner. The aforementioned gas goes towards my oven/hob; I've heard many wonderful things about cooking with gas and, while I cannot say that it's amazingly better one way or another, I still get a momentary moment of nostalgia every time I turn it on, getting a momentary sniff reminiscent of the old gas campstove. Now, I should point out, my parents happily got over much of the camping bug before I got too old. We were generally only out "roughing it" while I was still too young to care much about public toilets, forgoing showers, being constantly damp and dirty, undercooked hot dogs, and nature walks. I was too young to remember most of the horrors - happily, by the time I was old enough to start actually etching memories in stone, my parents had wisely switched their ideals of camping to involve actual roofs, warm beds, and nights spent watching the rain OUTSIDE as we enjoyed a homecooked meal and movie or game INDOORS. The vague nostalgic rush calls back a childhood long since gone by, a more innocent and carefree time, rather than the specifics of blue tarps and mosquitos.

I brought my meal out to the lounge, still delighting in how lovely the bookshelf looked; flipping up the computer to turn on something to watch, I saw with delight that my phantom wifi signal had returned! At any given point during the day, and at any given spot within my flat, I can find a half dozen wifi connections, which are - unfortunately - all safely locked up by their owners. Every night, however, around 7-8PM, a new signal appears - one which doesn't appear at any point during the day, but - more to the purpose - is also unlocked. I can access it with a very shaky connection on the futon, but find myself greeted with five whole bars of connectivity if I move the laptop down to the floor in the hallway outside my kitchen. The connection is fast, delightful, although - sadly - only generally sticks around for about an hour, after which it vanishes into the ether once more. I do try to get the majority of online work done at the library during the day, but it's oh-so-lovely to connect at home, checking email, reading my favourite blogs, checking my bank, etc. I've avoided as best I can doing unnecessary down-or-up loads while connected, as many internet companies in the UK offer very cheap connections - with limited amounts of downloads per month. I may be a thief, but a heartless one I am not. This is why my blog has gone photo-less thus far - soon, my dear ones, soon (hopefully) I will have my own connection up and running (the guy is scheduled for Monday, after all) and will be inundating you with all the images you can possibly stand.

I do think the caulking around the windows has done some good, if only from a placebo standpoint (and it probably doesn't hurt that it's been sunny the last few days), but once the internet connection goes down, I do tend to retreat to my cozy little bedroom - this particular evening with microwave popcorn, a big glass of milk, and Joyce, Harris, George, and Montmorency - ready to paddle our way up the Thames.

Oh, the Cleverness of Me! (Part 1)

What did I do yesterday, you may ask. Well, you probably wouldn't, but I'm going to tell you anyway, labouring under the belief that, as you came to visit my blog, you have some interest in reading whatsoever I should choose to write.

I started the day by discovering that the electricity key had run out. Not unforeseen, but unfore-done-anything-about. The gas and electricity in the flat are run on prepay meters, which you must take to your local paypoint and "fill up", so to speak. Although I was waiting on the mail to arrive (or, more to the point, waiting on Sainsburys to deliver the bookcase et al I ordered eons ago), I nonetheless pulled on a jumper, coat, and gloves to walk down to Gipsey Hill to find my local paypoint. (Is it sad that it took me this long to realize why "Gipsey" looks wrong?) I found the local "CostCutter" and put cash back on the keys, while being asked by the shopkeep the eternal question: "Are you from the States or Canada?" Although the Brits mock us for not being able to tell the difference between a UK and Australian accent (which I personally don't understand, because they are PHENOMENALLY dissimilar), we can mock them just as much for not hearing the difference between a US and Canadian accent... eh. (Though, to be polite, I generally answer back that I'm from the States, but right by the Canadian border - this makes everyone leave the conversation with a bit of dignity)

I headed home, reveling in the glorious sunny morning - I had a bounce in my step and a song in my heart... until, of course, the electric key didn't work, and I had to call EDF, only for it to work after I'd been on hold for ages... ;) Nonetheless, the electricity was back on, the gas was available for cooking, and I managed to finish up DH Lawrence's "Women in Love" before the post arrived.

Since Tuesday, I've managed to finish two books from the library, and am halfway through a third. "Women in Love" was fantastic - granted, Lawrence does have rather a reputation and - oh my yes, he did live up to it in a few scenes. However, it was a lovely portrait of love and relationships, and how some relationships can fulfill and satisfy a life, while others can make you actively plan to murder the other. We've all been there, eh? "Stories from Thurber Country" was a collection of short stories by James Thurber; charming and witty, yes, but I kept feeling that his style was something of an American PG Wodehouse, and I kept thinking, "If I wanted PG Wodehouse, I'd read PG Wodehouse". Probably didn't help that I was still expecting passionate embraces under the stars whilst discussing the existentialism of life, not "isn't it funny how men can never find anything in the kitchen?" Amirite?

I have since started "Three Men in a Boat (to Say Nothing of the Dog!)" by Jerome K. Jerome. Absolutely, utterly, fantastically charming, and highly recommended - the story of a peaceful, relaxing holiday spent boating up the Thames gone horribly, horribly wrong. For anyone who's ever attempted camping or other holiday excursions that do not involve down quilts, microwaves, and DVD players, this rings oh-so-painfully true. Oddly enough, it still feels completely modern, as though it could have happened yesterday, despite the fact that it was written in 1888 - I guess the delicious schadenfreude of reading about other peoples' misery on holiday goes beyond any specific time period, after all. Anyway, if you can find it, it makes for lovely pre-bed reading, as you cannot help but turn out the light and snuggle into bed, all the more happy to be indoors.

The post arrived, as I said; I gathered up the paperwork to turn my water and Council Tax bills into Direct Deposit, and put those in the "to mail" pile. I had to spend several minutes examining the water bill, surprised by the system here - while I am prepaying for all of my electricity and gas, I am - in an odd other way - prepaying for water, as I received the bill for October 2009-March 2010. They don't actually bill me based on the water I use, but merely by the amount of water they think I will use, based on being a single occupant household. As it comes out to about £15 a month (as I was expecting), I simply filled in the Direct Deposit card and thought, "Silly mortals - they don't realize that I love long showers... *mwu-ha-ha*". Council Tax is a fee, basically, for simply living in the UK - depending on where you live (area) and where you live (the value of the house/flat you live in), you pay a certain amount each month to the city/borough you live in (in my case Lambeth) in order to allow for upkeep of the libraries, aid for the elderly and disabled, NHS coverage, etc. I receive 25% off for living in a single person arrangement (hooray for some small financial reward for singlehood!), and - again - I got the Direct Deposit forms filled out and stamped. Look at me go - Gas, Electric, Water, and Council Tax, all done in one morning.

As the post had shown up (without any bookcases, grumble), I headed over to my local GP to get the paperwork filled out, so that I could once again be part of socialized heathcare in a country where, whatever Glenn Beck decides to say to the contrary, the healthcare system actually WORKS. A lovely five minute walk, no wait to get up to the front counter, a few forms to fill out (no, I don't smoke; no, I don't abuse alcohol; no, I don't have diabetes or swine flu or typhoid fever), I handed in my old NHS card (from back in Bournemouth) and - as I didn't need to see a nurse or doctor right away - I was scheduled to come in for an informal chat with a nurse to finish the paperwork and find out what all they could help me with next week. (Though, I was informed, I was now in their system and could call up to get an appointment if I needed one sooner for any emergencies) My new NHS card should be arriving early next week, and - tada! - I'm back on the grid.

Back home again to drop off the paperwork, then out again in the opposite direction. I headed up to the library to drop off Lawrence and Thurber, and checked out Waugh and Stendhal. The danger of not having internet at home is that I'm reading again - meaning, once I have cash flowing in again, I will be requiring a trip to the local bookstore. They didn't have any available internet slots apart from several hours in the future, so I simply popped over to the post office for stamps and headed back home. Just about arriving at my street, I ran into the little old lady of #6, who I still haven't gotten the name of. At this point, I think I will forever be doomed to play the "Avoid Saying the Name" game, until such time as she receives mail and I can peek at the addressee. I did, however, learn the name of the pekinese dog she was "walking" (and, by walking, of course, I mean holding as she walked up and down the street since, "Piksy" was afraid of the traffic). I once again listened to her list her woes for about twenty minutes - to be fair, it sounds as though her husband died within the past month, and she's not terribly close to her sons' wives (seriously, NBC, ABC, FOX, whatever - if you want a new comedy that will make millions, simply film an Englishwoman who can't be taller than 5'2" or weigh more than 70 pounds, holding a pekinese, looking terribly sweet, and whispering that those women are "bitches!" - funniest thing EVAR); in the middle, we had a few minutes talk about me (she was delighted to hear that I worked in theatre "so lovely to see young people doing something artistic") and we spent probably about 5 minutes simply arguing back and forth as to whether or not I had a boyfriend ("Lovely girl like you, I can't believe it!") - I finally managed to convince her with the sentiment that I haven't been in the UK very long, but I think she probably still suspects me of hiding him away somewhere.

While we were chatting, a Home Delivery van pulled up - caloo calay! - I headed inside and watched him load four boxes of various sizes up to my flat, signed for them, then rubbed my hands together in glee. First things first, I opened up my new little tool kit - ah, there is no joy like the joy of a young girl's heart when she receives her very first socket wrench, I can tell you. I opened up the next to pull out my clothes airer - basically a little wire contraption thingie that holds your clothes up as they dry, so that you don't have to have them lying about on the couch and tables and all over the floor. There is *technically* one already here in the flat from the landlady, but it's sitting out on the porch and, as they say, has become tan from standing in the English rain. Seeing as rust strains on clothes are not generally deemed good for interviews (or health in general), I had ordered a new one, and here it was. No construction needed, I simply popped it under the bed.