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.

14 October 2009

Li'l Miss Homemaker

I love my flat - I truly do. From the massive oak bed (and surprisingly very comfortable mattress), old and beat-up futon (which, of course, increases it's comfortability ten-fold), chairs and bedside tables as needed, and every kitchen implement known to man (including a cleaver straight out of Sweeney Todd - I could seriously take down a bull with that thing) - including (oh heavens ring forth in glory!) a washing machine! Gone are my days of trudging up Old Christchurch Road with luggage packed with dirty laundry, invariably watching the skies grow dark and eventually begin to pour, even when the weather forecasted a beautiful day. The flat is part of a large building which takes up all of St Bernard's Close; though it's big, it's a residential area, meaning I get to listen to the schoolkids chase each other home at half three, listen to another kid somewhere down the road practice the trumpet (before you pity me, he's actually quite good!) at half seven, and everyone and everything is quiet and peaceful at half ten. Gone, again, are the days of falling to sleep at midnight, only to be woken by drunken slags and chavs drunkenly screaming obsenities at each other at 3AM. I'm twenty minutes out of London, but the world is silent once night-time arrives. Blessings, blessings upon West Norwood. I love you all already. (Especially the group of three probably 8-year-olds coming home from school one day who noticed me in my kitchen window and shouted - in true London-ease - "Oi, look! A new neighbuh!" and waved as though I was the Queen. :)

I've met two of my neighbors - #6 is an adorably sweet old lady, straight out the casting call for "English Grandmother". She never leaves the house without one of two gorgeously adorable old wool coats - one peony pink, the other sunflower yellow. Her white hair is perfectly coiffed, and every exterior surface of her flat is covered in roses. #8 is, again, straight out of the casting call for *ahem* slightly "portly" English "bloke" of the "Wot's all this, then?" variety. I met him just now, coming out of my flat, as he was coming into his. I discovered, through his childlike glee and excitement over the fact, that we have squirrels living in our crawl space, hiding nuts away for winter. His "goal" for the evening was to get up there and "politely encourage" them to move elsewhere. We had a good laugh.

Hmm... I should explain. I have a deadbolt twist on the upperhalf of the door, modern and sturdy, and unlocked with your normal, modern key. At normal height for a door handle is... a door handle, beneath which sits a truly lovely old-fashioned lock which closes with a large, old fashioned key. I think I would've taken the flat simply for the keys on my keyring. The door handle, however, has been screwed into the hole in this door .. many, many times. Basically, the wood has completely begun to splinter and be eaten away, leaving the door handle and its screws barely, BARELY clinging on for dear life. If you wish to pull the door open (in either direction), you instantly find yourself holding a door handle completely on its own, while the other half of the door handle (on the other side of the door) goes rolling down the hallway. You attempt to grasp the door by the metal rod connecting the two handles, and this too comes out into your palm. It generally takes me 3-4 attempts to get the door successfully shut when going out - and it usually involves putting the door back together a few times, and finally pulling it shut via the mail slot. All this to explain how I managed to have an entire conversation with neighbor #8, all whilst attempting to, simply, shut my door. 

The flat is charming, but I've been having a bit of trouble with the heat. Namely, the windows might as well be kept wide open, owing to the fact that they are not insulated one little bit. Large gaps exist between the glass and the frame, the frame and the wall, et cetera and so on. On the one hand, this makes me even happier that I haven't been annoyed by neighbors' noise, if I might as well have the windows open, but it does rather make me realize that winter is coming on quickly and I should probably do something about this.

The property is a manged one, owing to the fact that the landlord lives overseas. (If her home furnishings and equipment are any indicator, she's German, adores IKEA (well, really, who doesn't?), and eats over the sink after butchering a cow out back) I was given a maintanence number to call in case of things going wrong (Good old Joanne - no longer just for fabrics), but I've spent nearly a week trying to track down the status of the wardrobe I was promised and which was contractually agreed on for me (the bedroom has no closet, so it was written into the contract that the landlord would provide me with a wardrobe... also, the front door handle would be fixed. You can probably see where I'm going with this) Joanne has promised that she is "on" the wardrobe, and that a bloke would be contacting me shortly about coming over to fix the doorhandle. I'm expecting both around mid-March.

The wardrobe, however, I can partly take blame for... sort of. Upon moving in, I found an odd thing plugged into the powerplug in the bedroom. It looked vaguely like an airfreshener that you plug in, but with no pleasant odors emiting, or catchy name on the back. It didn't seem to do anything and, as there are only two plugs in the bedroom, I unplugged it. YOU will quickly see where this is going, as that's the way it works when I tell the story, but I should suggest that there was no real indicator of what this thing does anywhere on its body. However, the doorbell - both outside *my* door and the one at the base of the stairs to outside - ceased to work. Although I was able to catch the ASDA delivery man bringing my groceries, the Sainsburys man who was bringing 'round my new toolkit, big bookcase, towel rack, and clothing air-dryer (useful, since the washing machine doesn't also dry)... managed to attempt delivery twice, then sent the items back to the store, where they issued me a full refund. While I appreciate the refund, I'd appreciate my books no longer sitting in piles on my floor even more.

Knowing that British workmanship is what it is, and expecting Joanne and her team to get on my wardrobe and front door in time for the Olympics, I decided to take matters into my own hands and went down the street to B&Q's - the UK equivilent of Home Depot (including hideously bright orange logos) I purchased some sealing caulking, a plastic sealant for the tops of the moveable parts of the windows (won't keep out all the cold air, but will also make the windows useable again come July), super extra strong glue (to fix down my toilet lid which, -delightfully- enough, is not actually attached to the toilet itself (leading to a few rather terrifying moments in the early morning), and - hey - look over here! Wireless doorbells! I always thought of doorbells as the button you pushed attached to magical wires that went somewhere to do something. Here, however, were buttons with a remote sounding system... that... plugs into the wall.. and looks ... like an airfreshen..er... oh, for crying out loud.

Sadly, while I thought I was terribly stupid-but-now-enlightened-and-clever-again, I have gone home, replugged the thing in, and found that it still isn't working. Fine. Be that way.

In the meanwhile, I have begun caulking up the parts of my windows that are meant to remain stationary and which have about 3 foot gaps open to the outside air. I managed to feel terribly big and strong and oh-so-terribly impressive. I'm still attempting to sort out the intricasies of internet access and finding somewhere in the flat with more than 2 bars on my phone, the bookcase/tool kit/airer are on their way, once the Royal Post goes off their current strike (bless them, the British have an odd way of going on strike, but only for two or three days together at most, and always scheduled about a week in advance, lest anybody be "put out") but I'm slowly but surely getting there.

And hey, you'd be hard-pressed to beat, "I managed to slide off, crash, and fall into the toilet bowl at 3AM because the landlady never actually attached the toilet lid to the bowl" for "Odd Places I've Lived" stories. :)

12 October 2009

Internet Addiction

Hi, I'm Bonnie, and I am quite literally addicted to the internet.

Oh, sure, I can make all the excuses I want: I'm still new to the area and don't know where things are, or when they open/close, I don't have the phone numbers I need, and I'm still dealing with culture shock and lack of knowledge of things like pre-paid electrical meters - especially when they're missing their keys. I could complain that, without access to the internet, I can't keep track of the items I've purchased and which are scheduled to be delivered here within the next week (a wardrobe that was ordered by the landlady as part of our contract [actually, our contract stipulates that the wardrobe be installed when I moved in... hmmm...], a bookcase, a towel rack, a tool set so I can put said items together, etc) - especially important since, many thanks previous tenant!, the wires connecting the outside doorbell to my flat have been cut. Apparently, two different deliveries have come and gone while I have been sitting a mere flight of stairs away - one of said deliveries has already been "refused" twice, and is being sent back to the depot, where a full refund will be made. Trouble is, while I *am* happy to hear that I won't be charged for the items I never received, I STILL WANT THEM - even more obnoxiously, I don't even know what they are.


That said, these frustrations are no excuse for the fact that I have, for the past two days, been standing, sitting, lying down, and standing on tiptoes in every single corner of my flat, desperately trying to find an unsecured wifi network to connect to. It doesn't excuse the fact that I have attempted to use "password" as a password for each of the locked networks I've found (hey, you never know when someone is going to be uncreative). And it REALLY doesn't excuse the fact that I very nearly went into an extremely - EXTREMELY - sketchy looking internet cafe, just to get my daily jones.

I have, however, not sunk that far and, instead, registered for a library card at my local library and waited my turn for my one hour daily allowance. Having been patient, I have been able to check my email accounts, update facebook, schedule a redelivery for something that arrived this morning while I was eating breakfast (whatever it is, it won't be here until Wednesday, and only then if I manage to be looking out of the window as the van pulls up), and all those delightful things that make me feel connected to the world around me.
*Theoretically*, my home internet connection should be arriving by post within a few days - the PlusNet woman assured me that the router simply plugs into the wall and essentially installs itself; the wifi router arrives alongside it. That said, I also received a call from PlusNet three days later, claiming that a technician has been scheduled for next Monday, sometime between 9AM and 2PM. (Typical) Why do I need a technician if it plugs into the wall - especially if I'm expecting the items by post some this week? On the other hand, I cannot find one single phone outlet anywhere in the flat. Maybe I will need him after all. And how will I know when he arrives? Even being on the internet does not prevent me from getting nervous about my next fix, after all. ;)

And don't get me started about my doorknob...

06 October 2009

The Life and Opinions of Bonnie Prather, Gentlewoman

I have undertaken, you see, to write not only my life, but my opinions also; hoping and expecting that your knowledge of my character, and of what kind of mortal I am, by the one, would give you a better relish for the other: As you proceed farther with me, the slight acquaintance, which is now beginning betwixt us, will grow into familiarity; and that, unless one of us is in fault, will terminate in friendship. - O diem proeclarum! - then nothing which has touched me will be thought trifling in its nature, or tedious in its telling. Therefore, my dear friend and companion, if you should think me somewhat sparing of my narrative on my first setting out - bear with me, and let me go on, and tell my story my own way: - Or, if I should seem now and then to trifle upon the road, - or should sometimes put on a fool's cap with a bell to it, for a moment or two as we pass along, - don't fly off, - but rather courteously give me credit for a little more wisdom than appears upon my outside; - and as we jog on, either laugh with me, or at me, or in short, do anything, - only keep your temper.

- The Life and Opinions of Bonnie Prather, Gentlewoman

(...with help from and thanks to Tristram Shandy and Lawrence Sterne)