Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Walk in the Park

Yesterday Josh took the train down to Farnborough for his first day at work at BAE Systems, where he is working in the legal department as their new Vice President/Head of Trade Controls.  This is a pretty big deal for him as it is a completely new position at BAE, and puts him only two steps below the General Counsel for the entire company.  BAE is one of the world's largest defense contractors with about 100,000 employees worldwide.  He technically started working for them in the US on March 1, but that mostly entailed getting up to speed on various issues and meeting people in their offices in the DC area.

While Josh was off making sure sensitive defense technology didn't fall into the wrong hands, I did some blogging, bit the bullet and joined Facebook, scrounged up some lunch, and then decided to go for a walk and explore Wimbledon Village up the hill.  Just as I was about to leave, there was a knock at the door, which demonstrated another small flaw with this apartment -- the peephole on the door is WAY too high for me to see through!  I took my chances and opened the door to find two maintenance guys, who announced they had come to move the beds for us.  Now, I had called first thing in the morning and left a message on their voice mail informing them that we had moved the beds ourselves, so there was no need to send anyone.  And the fact that they showed up after 12:30 pm, with no phone call to confirm the time -- after the guy I spoke to on Friday promised he'd send someone "first thing Monday morning" and call me back to confirm -- made it hard for me to feel bad that they came here for nothing.  I was just glad they showed up before I went out, or I might have returned home to find they had moved the beds back to where they were!

Anyway, I finally headed out and walked about 6 or 7 blocks up the aptly-named Wimbledon Hill Road to the main part of Wimbledon Village.  As Josh attested, it seemed a bit more quaint and swanky than the main part of Wimbledon, where we are staying.  For example:
The bank
Along the High (main) Street - note sign directing pedestrians to the Lawn Tennis Museum
I made my way through the village towards Wimbledon Common, a giant green blob on the map comprised of over 1,000 acres of parkland, including a golf course, horse trails, ponds, sports fields, and a Windmill Museum.  The houses overlooking the common are quite impressive:
And it's hard to believe there's a wilderness right across the street:

I followed one of the walking paths for a bit and came across this adorable map:
I was intrigued by the Windmill Museum, and the adjacent tea room, as I had worked up a thirst, so I decided to make that my destination for the afternoon.  Sadly, the museum was closed, but it was a beautiful day, so I still enjoyed the walk.
The tea room was a bit shabby and had those prefab plastic tables with attached chairs that reminded me of the rest stops along the New Jersey Turnpike (or is it the Garden State Parkway?), but I was able to procure a scoop of chocolate gelato and a cold bottle of water, so I was happy.  The sun had been peeking out from behind the clouds, and finally made a full appearance, so I wandered around a bit and soaked it in.
The golf clubhouse

I eventually made my way back towards the village and then down the hill to Wimbledon proper, where I stopped at the library to see if I could sign up for a card:
Wimbledon Library
I could, in fact, and had one in hand in about 10 minutes.  The only catch was that they had me use a computer terminal to sign up for the card, and when it got to the "Click Here for the Terms of Service" park, I clicked and got an error message.  Apparently, there was some sort of pop-up blocker installed on the computer that prevented the terms of service from appearing on the screen.  I pointed this out to one of the nice people at the info desk, and after testing it out for herself, assured me that I shouldn't worry about it and suggested I just check the little "I agree" box and continue.  Being married to a lawyer, I was a bit dubious, but considering this is a small public library, I figured I was probably OK not knowing the specifics.  Hopefully I didn't agree to let them publish my borrowing history or use my image to market themselves.

I took my new card for a test drive by checking out some DVDs, since our cable options are pretty lame and we have no social life (yet).  That once again caused a hitch as you can check out up to 4 DVDs at once but they charge a small fee for each one, and their computer system will only accept 2 DVD fees at a time.  I had 3, so they had to walk me over to the info desk and do a separate transaction for the third one.  Sigh.  I have to say, we've found this to be typical of the British way of doing things.  They mean well, but there's always something that doesn't quite work they way you'd expect -- or like -- it to.  I find this to be a HUGE cultural difference between the US and the UK.  We expect good customer service, and will complain loudly if we don't get it.  Here, not so much...

For example, we both signed up for Virgin Atlantic's frequent-flyer program, since they are preferred by BAE.  After they flew us out here twice, we had already amassed enough points to get upgraded from their "red" membership level to "silver," but when I logged into their site, I noticed my number no longer matched the one on my card.  I called customer service, and a nice British gentleman explained that they issue you a new number when you change membership levels, and we should be receiving our new cards in the mail soon.  (We flew here 2 days later, so we never got them.)  He also told me that if we moved up to "gold" or back down to "red," we would get new numbers again -- different from our original "red" numbers.  I told them that this seemed like a very confusing practice for their customers if their membership numbers keep changing and they have to keep issuing new cards.  He assured me that all the numbers were linked to our account, so any of them would work, but he said that was a good point, as if it had never occurred to him before! 

OK, enough ranting.  Where was I?  Oh yeah, at the library.  OK, so after I checked out my DVDs, I  stopped in M&S to pick up some sparkling water.  While most things here are ridiculously expensive, a 2-liter bottle of fizzy water is only 16p, which is about 25 cents.  While I was wandering through the aisles, I came across this display, and was compelled to take a photo:
Not suitable for people suffering from NUT allergies!  heh heh
I was desperate for some ice, so I stopped in the little home goods store around the corner and bought an ice cube tray for 2 pounds ($3.25). It seemed steep, but was a much better deal than the one that cost 8.50 ($13.85!!!).  Now I can see if the freezer is really cold enough to freeze something. 

Josh got home around 7 and we tried to broil a steak in the oven for dinner.  It wasn't a complete disaster, but there's still a smokey smell in the apartment.  His first day went pretty well and was much busier than anticipated.  We watched the second half of The Social Network (we saw the first half on the plane a few weeks ago, but we landed before it ended) turned off all the ventilation fans, and hit the sack.  (And yes, after watching that movie, I'm even less excited about joining Facebook...)

Since most of Josh's colleagues were out of the office today, he decided to take the morning off to try and sort out our banking issues.  Specifically, that we had no way to get cash or pay for things without using our US bank/credit cards and incurring significant foreign transaction fees.   You also can't rent a place to live without a bank account, and you can't set up a bank account without proof of residence.  BAE helped set up a NatWest bank account for Josh so we could sign a lease, but he didn't receive his ATM card until yesterday. After a series of false starts, he finally managed to activate it and withdraw some cash from the branch down the street.  Yay!  Of course, the account is only in his name, so I'm going to have to ask for an allowance...

Then we went to Snappy Snaps, where Josh had passport photos taken.  He is going to India on business next month and needs them to apply for a visa.  He's only going to be in New Delhi for 2 days, so he won't have an opportunity to see any of my family (sorry!), but next time he goes we'll see if I can tag along and spend a few extra days in Mumbai.

Once that mission was accomplished, we headed for the tube/train station:
Josh used his new debit card to buy us some Oyster Cards, which are pay-as-you-go transit passes.  (If you are in the DC area, they are similar to SmartTrip Cards).  Oh, and that reminds me of another difference between the US and the UK.  Here, most credit and debit cards contain a tiny computer chip, so they use a different kind of card reader.  When I pay for groceries using my US credit card, I have to explain that it's a "swipe card," and the clerk has to use what is probably considered an old-fashioned machine behind the register to process my transaction.  We are eager to get UK credit cards -- preferably the kind that we can use to earn airline miles -- but they are much harder to get here than back home.  At the very least, we will probably have to wait until we move into our rental house next month, so we at least have an address and some proof of residence.

But at least now I have two cards that give me a teeny bit of cred as a true London resident -- an Oyster card, and a library card:
We took the tube into the city to visit the London branch of Citibank.  Josh has a personal account at Citibank in the US, and went to considerable trouble leveraging that to apply for a dual-currency international banking account with them right before we left.  We wanted to see if they could add me to the account and deposit a cashiers check (in US dollars) that we received for the sale of our Prius the day we flew out here.  Now, if you've read my previous rantings about how things never seem to work out quite right and are wondering if that's about to happen to us again, you're in for a treat.  First of all, we were told that no one would be available to meet with us until "half twelve" (12:30).  It was only 11 am, but since we had woken up early and eaten a quick breakfast we decided we might as well kill the time by having some lunch.  We ended up at a chain restaurant that we've seen all over the place (there's one a block from our apartment) but had been avoiding up to this point as we were utterly turned off by the name:
Josh outside The Slug and Lettuce
I can assure you that neither of us ordered a salad!

After a leisurely lunch we went back to the bank and met with a nice bank employee who politely informed us that:
  1. They can not access US accounts from the UK
  2. Since Josh set up the international account in the US, we can not use it in the UK
  3. He can help us set up a NEW account in the UK, but because we don't have the same last name, in order to make it a joint account we'll need to produce our marriage certificate -- which is currently in a shipping container making its way across the Atlantic (fortunately, Josh may have a scan of it on his computer at work)
  4. Once the new account has been set up, we can deposit the check, but it will take 3 weeks to clear since it is in US dollars
We filled out all the paperwork for establishing a new joint account, and Josh promised to email him a copy of our marriage certificate and a letter from his company tomorrow.  So, still no local bank account for me, but maybe in a week or so...   Sigh again.

We headed home with a vague sense of accomplishment -- our expectations lowered yet another notch -- and spent the rest of the day puttering around the apartment, since it was too late for Josh to go in to the office.  We had dinner, watched Iron Man 2 (meh), and now it's time for bed.  Well, tomorrow is another day.  Til then...

1 comment:

  1. I see the slug, but where's the lettuce? Oh, wait, that's just Josh looking a bit slick and smarmy. Also, there's Pret a Manger right next door! Another chain. Wimbledon does look VERY cute, and I especially love the bank building. And who knows, maybe your suggestion will flit its way up to Richard Branson's ears and Virgin will change its absurd account re-numbering policy!


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