Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Closet Space

Josh is off at his legal department retreat/conference, so I've been on my own for the last couple days.  Since we are flying to DC on Friday and have house guests arriving soon after we return, I've spent most of the time trying to get things in order on the domestic front.  Fun stuff like paying bills, dropping off dry cleaning, returning library books, ordering furniture, and trying to get my mobile phone plan sorted out.

I discovered yesterday that the guy who helped set up my new mobile plan at O2 not only misspelled my username, but entered the wrong code to port my number over from Vodafone.  Somebody up there seriously doesn't want me to use my iPhone here!  I had to go back to their store AGAIN to straighten everything out.  If all goes well, my new account will be activated tomorrow -- but I'm not holding my breath...

I also took care of our TV licence (that's how they spell it here).  We have to pay over $230/year for the privilege of watching TV.   But that's not nearly as bad as the $3,000/year we have to pay in property tax for a house that we are renting.  Here it is the occupier of the property, not the owner, who is responsible for paying the "council tax."  I'm not sure what the £ equivalent of "nickeled and dimed" is, but we definitely know what it feels like.

I've contacted several charities offering up the frame and box spring from our bed, which I'd like to get rid of before the bed we ordered arrives (right after we return from DC).  But no one will take a bed that size (US queen/UK king) -- mostly because the majority of people served by these charities don't have space for it.  I doubt I'll have much luck offering it up on Craigslist/Gumtree/Freecycle, since you'd need a pretty big vehicle to transport a queen-size box spring.  If you are thinking of moving to London, DO NOT bring a bed with a box spring! 

Now I'm in the process of trying to find places to store my clothes and shoes.  I cleaned out my closet before we left and donated several bags of clothing and shoes to charity, and even left a couple boxes of clothes in storage, since I knew we would have minimal storage space, but it's still a challenge.  Part of the problem is that there are NO closets in our bedroom, and since it is under the eaves, there's no place to put a wardrobe in the room.  The other two bedrooms do have closets, but they are not as commodious as they appear.

The larger bedroom appears to have a closet that spans an entire side of the room.
But in actuality, the entire middle part is only a few inches deep.  This house was built in 1894 -- before central heating -- so there used to be a fireplace in every room.  It's been walled up, but it doesn't leave much space for hanging clothes, and I'm too short to reach the upper bar without a stool.
The smaller bedroom has two mismatched closets on either side of what used to be the fireplace.  It's a more aesthetically appealing solution, and leaves room for a small piece of furniture in between.
Unfortunately, the closets aren't deep enough to accommodate a standard clothes hanger, and this isn't a very convenient way to hang things:
Since we'd prefer to keep the majority of our clothes in our own room anyway, we invested in a couple adjustable garment racks and tucked them under the eaves, with shoes on the floor behind them.
Our "closet"
I need to find a couple shoe racks to keep the shoes organized, and we'll have to rotate our clothes seasonally, but it beats having to walk down a flight of stairs to find something to wear.  Now I just have to figure out what to do with my pajamas.  I'm seriously considering storing them on the shelf of my nightstand, since my tiny dresser drawers are already full.  It won't look pretty, but we're the only ones who'll ever see it.

Speaking of pajamas, I should head upstairs and change into mine so I can go to bed.  Good night!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sunday in the Park

Yesterday we had planned to go on a picnic in Wimbledon Common with our friends Bethie & Jason, but the day started out rainy and then moved on to windy, so we had a slight change of plans.

But first, we went back to the O2 store AGAIN to try to get my mobile phone plan sorted out.  I was certain we were going to hit another roadblock, but by some miracle, my Citibank account worked, so I was able to sign up for a plan without having to use Josh's bank account.  Yay!!!

Jason, Bethie, and Charlotte met us at our house around 1:30.  We gave them a quick tour and then walked through the Wimbledon town center and up the hill to Wimbledon Village, where we had lunch and a pitcher of Pimm's at the historic Dog & Fox pub.  Josh held Charlotte for a while so Bethie and Jason could finish their meals, and I tried to get a photo, but she wouldn't take her hands out of her mouth.
Then Bethie (sitting next to Josh) tried to get her to smile.  She might have overdone it a little... :-)
After lunch we continued on to Cannizaro Park, which we had first discovered the afternoon of the Royal Wedding (coincidentally, after having a drink at the Dog & Fox).  The wind blew the rain clouds away and it turned into a lovely (if blustery) afternoon.  We had fun discovering little formal gardens among the trees and overgrown rhododendrons.  In this one, Jason was inspired to re-enact Charlotte's baptism (or something).
We walked back towards our house and parted ways with Bethie, Jason, and Charlotte around 5:30, as they headed home to spend some time putting away their things that had arrived from the US the week before.  We still have a few boxes left to unpack, and we had a week's head start, so we know exactly what they're going through.  That's probably one of the reasons we get along so well -- we are all going through the same things together.

Josh had to get ready for his next trip -- a 2-night retreat/conference for his legal dept -- so he did a couple loads of laundry.  While it's quite an adjustment switching from an American washer and dryer to a teeny European washer that takes 2 hours per load and a clothesline outside, they work pretty well on dry, windy days.  By the time your second load of laundry is done, the first load is already dry, so you can take it down to make room on the clothesline for the second load.  While Josh was out hanging clothes on the line, a feral parakeet landed in our tree and squawked at him for about 5 minutes before moving on to a neighbor's tree.
Rose-ringed parakeet seen from our back yard
It's strange to think that these are the same species of parakeet that we saw in India 7 years ago.
Rose-ringed parakeets in Ahmadabad, India (2004)
It's kind of cool to have tropical birds flying around London -- especially when you can spot them from your house -- but I am sure there are concerns about them becoming an invasive species.

We cooked dinner at home and settled in on the sofa to watch the Russell Crowe/Cate Blanchett version of Robin Hood on TV.  We didn't see many movies last year, so now we'll be able to catch up as they show up on cable.   Robin Hood was entertaining, but I'm glad I didn't pay $10 to see it in the theater.  Most American movies are released later here than they are in the States, so we'll have to try to make it to the movies while we're in DC next week so we can see a new release and ruin it for everyone we know here.  All 7 of them will be so envious!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

...and I Feel Fine

So, Saturday was supposed to be Judgement Day, or so I heard.  I hadn't heard much about it here in the UK, but it sounded like there was a lot of buzz about it back in the US.  Well, here it seemed like any other day.  The weather was lovely, but nothing out of the ordinary happened.  Ho hum.

But first, let's backtrack a little.  Friday I spent the morning working on my CV, which I emailed to Cathy, my workshop instructor, for feedback.  Meanwhile, Josh got confirmation that he needed to be in Washington, DC on June 2 for a meeting with the State Department.  Since May 30 is a bank holiday here, we figured we could fly out for the whole week without Josh having to take much time off work.  So, part of the afternoon was devoted to coordinating travel plans with his assistant.  When Josh travels for work, they generally put him in first class or business class (for overnight flights) on Virgin Atlantic, but there was no way I could afford to pay for a last-minute transatlantic first-class ticket (over $3,000!), and there were no upgrade seats available.  So I bought myself an economy ticket, and told Josh's assistant to let him decide whether he wanted to stay in first class or sit with me in economy.  I guess he figured he'd be guilted into switching seats with me anyway, so he opted to fly economy so we could suffer together.  I love Virgin Atlantic, but the 3 times I've flown with them have been on BAE's dime, so I've been extremely spoiled traveling in first and business class.  It's going to be tough to downgrade to economy class after that, but I'm willing to endure 7 hours in steerage each way to spend a week back in DC.  I'm looking forward to it!  (We'll be there May 28-June 6)

After I took care of my travel plans, I finished updating my CV with Cathy's suggested modifications and then emailed it off to at contact at a local content creation company that a friend put me in touch with.  I would eventually like to have some sort of gainful employment, but with all the visitors we are expecting and all the traveling we plan to do, I'm not sure a full-time job would work so well, so for now I'm setting my sights on freelance work.

Saturday morning we had waffles for breakfast!  It was the first time in about 2 months.  Waffle irons aren't as popular here, so they're harder to find, but we picked one up last weekend as Josh has been going through serious waffle withdrawal.  Then we set off in search of furniture.  We decided to start at the furniture warehouse we had visited on Sunday, as they said they tend to receive new merchandise during the week.  On the way, we walked past this car dealership:
Wimbledon Cars
We'd noticed it the previous weekend, and it inspired Josh to do some research.  These cars are called Figaros.  Despite their retro appearance, they were made by Nissan in the early 90's and only sold in Japan, but developed a cult following in the UK.  While we still haven't decided if we are going to invest in a car here, I think this may have drawn Josh's attention away from the ubiquitous Mini.

There is a Homebase store right next to the furniture warehouse, so we stopped in there briefly to check it out.  It's like Home Depot, but about 75% of their merchandise seemed to be garden-related.  Not sure if that's a seasonal thing or if Brits are more into gardening than home renovation projects.  We discovered they had some reasonably-priced dining sets on sale, so we made a mental note to take another look if we didn't find anything elsewhere.

After doing two complete circuits of the furniture warehouse, we decided we didn't want to spend £500 on a scratched or dented dining set that we'd only be using for 3 years, but we did find a coffee table that we thought would work.  It's actually a small TV stand, but the room is too small to accommodate a full-size coffee table, and I wanted something with shelves/drawers for storage.  It has a panel on the back with a hole for power cables, but it's extremely unlikely anyone would position themselves in the room where they could see it from that angle.  We also found a small bedside table for one of our guest rooms, which would otherwise only have a twin bed in it.  We were able to arrange delivery for later that afternoon, so we hoofed it back down the Wandle trail to another furniture store (across from Abbey Mills), stopping at a pub for a late lunch along the way.

We didn't see any dining tables we liked at the other store, but we did order a divan bed base with drawers for our bedroom, so we can move our guest bed back into the guest room.  It should be delivered right after we get back from DC -- just in time for a visit from Josh's brother and niece.  Then we had to hurry home so we'd be back in time for our furniture delivery.  The coffee table fits pretty well in the space, and since we still don't have a dining table, will come in handy at mealtimes.
Living room with new coffee table, sofa, and TV.
The coffee table has a few small dents and scratches, but it's solid wood and has a sort of rustic look to it anyway.  The only problem is that the screws were missing for the drawer hardware.  We walked down to the local hardware store to get some, but they didn't have any the correct size and advised us to try Homebase.  D'oh!

Then we went to the O2 store to try and switch my cell phone over using Josh's NatWest account, since I had not had any luck getting my Citibank account to work with them.  Unfortunately, we realized that Josh did not have his account information with him, and the bank was already closed for the day.  Foiled again!!!  We really need credit cards!  When we got home, I tried to fill out an online application for a Virgin Atlantic miles card, but it required our last 3 years of residential history, and the form wouldn't allow for non-UK addresses.  <SIGH>  I hope I can get Josh to call them sometime soon and apply over the phone.  I don't think I'd have much luck since I'm currently unemployed and have no credit history in the UK.

Well, at least we bought a coffee table.  And the world didn't come to an end.  So, overall, not such a bad day.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Workshop, Day 2

Sorry I don't have any fun photos to share.  The last few days have been filled with mundane things that haven't really inspired me to whip out the camera.  Tuesday was mostly spent working on my CV and waiting for various packages to be delivered, and yesterday was day 2 of my "Next Steps" workshop at Penna.

This time I remembered to walk to the South Wimbledon station and take the Northern line up, which got me there about 20 minutes faster than taking the District line from the Wimbledon station.  It's good to know I have both options for getting into the city, since on any given day there are problems on at least one of the tube lines.  At least Transport for London is a little better than the Metro folks are about keeping riders up to date on service issues so you can plan around them.  Anyway, I arrived with enough time to fix myself a cup of tea before settling in for the second half of the workshop.  They have the same Flavia machines that were installed in every kitchen at Discovery, so at least I already knew how those worked.  The only difference was that the machines at Discovery gave you the option of having your tea or coffee over ice, while the Penna machines did not. Foiled again!  Although I don't think they had any ice in the kitchen anyway. <sigh>

We were asked to bring in a copy of our CV.  After spending many years whittling my resume down so it still fit on one page, it was a bit of a struggle to reformat and expand it into a 2-page document.  I ended up with something that was only about 1.5 pages, so I was encouraged to spend some more time expanding on my recent positions and then email it to the instructor for some feedback.  Once she had looked over everyone's CV, we moved on to interview tips.  She had a lot of good suggestions about preparing for an interview, keeping calm and focused, what topics to avoid, and even how to sit.  We were encouraged to do a thorough assessment of our skills, strengths, weaknesses, and achievements so we'd be prepared to answer any questions about them.  Then she made us practice by asking one another interview questions in front of the group.

I felt like I would be able to come up with a decent response to each question that was asked, but when the spotlight fell on me, I was asked what my weakness was.  I was like a deer in the headlights.  The best I could do was say, "job interviews," which got a laugh from the group and a reprimand from the instructor to avoid using humor until the end of the interview.  I have PLENTY of weaknesses, but I couldn't think of a good way to answer the question that didn't make me sound pathetic.  The instructor suggested the perfect answer for me -- something along the lines of: "As a recent arrival to this country, I'm not very familiar with the UK job market and workplace culture, which puts me at a bit of a disadvantage."  It reveals no personality flaws and is easily remedied.  Of course, this won't work if the question is how that weakness may have affected me in my previous job, so I might have to think of an alternate answer.  It sounds like a commonly-asked question, based on the number of people in my workshop who chose it as their least favorite interview question.

We wrapped up around 4:30 with a questionnaire about the workshop and a reminder to send the instructor my updated CV and schedule a follow-up appointment.  I am entitled to 4 hours of one-on-one career counseling and/or additional workshops, plus use of their offices (computers, printers, copiers, etc).  That part is less useful nowadays, since most people have computers and printers at home, but if you are downtown and need a place to chill or check email or prepare for a job interview free of distractions, it's nice to know that's an option.

Josh had a busy day and didn't get home until 9:30, so we walked to the Gourmet Burger Kitchen a few blocks away for a quick dinner.  I had read somewhere that their burgers were the closest to American-style burgers, so I had been wanted to give them a try.  I love cheeseburgers, but I've actually avoided ordering them because I'm always disappointed -- they taste so different from what I'm used to.  Apart from a nasty sweet onion relish that we both scraped off before even tasting it, the burgers were pretty good.  The fries, however, were the thick British-style chips that just seem way too heavy.  I'd definitely order a burger there again -- hold the relish and mayo -- but will probably skip the chips next time.

After we got home, we Skyped with Rob (and his wife and son) so he could give us an update on the flooded basement.  It was nice to see some friendly faces from home, and Rob reassured us that none of our stuff stored in the basement was damaged.  Now that the sewer line has been cleaned out by Roto-Rooter, it is unlikely to happen again.  We were very relieved to hear that, and grateful that he had taken such swift and thorough action to fix the problem.  It could have been a complete disaster, but instead it was just a short-term (albeit expensive) problem.  Whew!

This morning I went on another shopping adventure with my neighbor, Anna.  She offered to take me to another branch of a furniture store we visited last week to look at a wooden bed frame with drawers underneath.  I thought this might be a good solution to two problems: 1) the lack of storage in our bedroom, and 2) that our existing bed won't fit up the stairs to our room.  Her GPS had a little trouble getting us there, but we eventually found it.  They did have the bed in stock, but it was pretty pricey (£600, or $970!) and the drawers were kind of small.  I took a photo to show Josh, but I think we're more likely to either just suck it up and sleep on the IKEA guest bed, or go with a "divan" bed with storage drawers, which would cost less than half as much.  A divan bed basically sits on a giant box-spring-type base, some of which come with large storage drawers.  You can see an example here.  For larger sized beds, the divan comes in two pieces, so it can fit through tighter spaces.  Our bed from home is a queen, but is equivalent to a UK king-sized bed, so at least we could still use our mattress and headboard.  (They don't have a queen size here.  Just single, double, and king.)  The drawers would be helpful for storing linens, blankets, or shoes, and would be more convenient than getting underbed storage boxes.
king-size storage bed
 We stopped at a couple other stores in the area, and then decided to go to IKEA, since we had passed it on the way there.  After a quick lunch of Swedish meatballs (of course!), we did some shopping and I picked up a few more things for the house.  Since I didn't have to worry about schlepping everything home on the tram, I grabbed a few bulky items like a stool, a wastebasket, a laundry hamper, and a garment rack.  I'm so grateful to have a friendly neighbor with a car who likes to go shopping!

Josh will be home soon, so I'd better get started on dinner.  Hopefully we'll have some more interesting stories to share over the weekend.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Workshop

Sunday we attempted to do laundry for the first time in our "new" house.  The washing machine controls were a little easier to understand than the one in our apartment (although we were still glad to have the manual), but it was still so tiny we had to divide our week's worth of laundry into about 10 loads.  At least it's really easy to sort your laundry by color and water temperature when you can only wash a dozen items of clothing at a time.

I was glad I remembered to buy some clothespins (or clothespegs, as they say here), since the only way to dry our clothes was to hang them on the clothesline in the back yard. 
Josh searches for a stray clothespeg
I did draw the line at hanging underwear outside for all the neighbors to see, but fortunately we have a drying rack we can use indoors.  When it's sunny and windy, clothes actually dry pretty quickly on the clothesline, but I'm not sure what people do when it rains.  In the winter, people drape their wet laundry on the radiators, but when it's warm and rainy, I guess you just have to use the clothes rack and give it a couple days.

Sunday afternoon we walked into the town center to pick up some groceries.  We also stopped at Robert Dyas to buy a waffle iron and some screws and picture hooks so we could hang our pot rack in the kitchen and the few pieces of wall decor and mirrors that we brought with us.  It was nice to have a grocery sherpa with me -- I'm usually limited in what I can buy since I have to carry it home myself.

We received two pieces of bad news via email -- both originating from a specific point in Arlington, VA.  Our tenant emailed me to let me know that I had received a summons to jury duty in the mail.  I lived in Arlington County for 15 years, and this is the first time I've been called for jury duty!  She was nice enough to send me my juror number and the relevant contact information so I could go online and submit a request to be disqualified (which was accepted on Monday morning).  That wasn't so bad, but then our friend Rob Lucas, who we hired to be the property manager for our house, informed us that the sewer line to our house had backed up and flooded our basement.  This was horrifying for a number of reasons, not the least of which that we had stored everything we didn't bring with us -- including some expensive furniture -- in the basement.  But there's a good reason we chose Rob for this job, and he rose to the occasion by calling Roto-Rooter to unclog the sewer line, cleaning and disinfecting the basement, and checking our things to see if anything was damaged.  He sent us an email the next day reassuring us that everything appeared to be OK, and there were no lingering odors.  Still, this ended up costing us $1,000 that we hadn't planned for, at a time when we are already spending a lot on furniture, small appliances, and other moving expenses.  Let's hope there are no more big surprises -- especially expensive ones like that!

Monday morning I got up early and took the tube in to the Monument station to attend a career transition workshop at Penna.  It's designed to help people whose jobs have been "made redundant" well into their careers prepare themselves to re-enter the job market.  I was offered this service at an American company through Discovery when I was let go back in December, but they have a partnership with Penna, so they let me defer until I got settled here.  There were 6 other people in the workshop, two of whom were from Bank of America -- so half of us had been laid off by U.S. companies.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but since I am at a bit of a disadvantage trying to find a new job in another country, I figured I could use all the help I could get.  The workshop was actually quite helpful -- especially in explaining how to construct an effective CV.  I had just struggled with trying to update my resume and keep everything to one page, and now I find out that the convention here is a 2-page CV!  Whatever shall I fill all that extra space with?  I guess I'll have to start with the 6 years of employment that dropped off the bottom of my resume, since they expect you to include your ENTIRE employment history, going back to when you finished your highest level of education.  I hope I can remember that far back!  I was a little concerned when the workshop facilitator said the margins should be no smaller than 1.5 at the top and bottom, and 2 on the sides, so I finally asked, "two what?"  Centimeters!   Ah, that makes more sense.  Although with 2-inch margins, you'd definitely need at least two pages.

When we broke for lunch, we learned that there was a bomb threat in central London -- not from al-qaeda, but from the IRA.  I've never thought about how strange it is that this is STILL going on.  Why?  Clearly I need to read up on the history of "The Troubles" so I can try to understand the motivation behind these bomb threats, which are apparently timed to coincide with the Queen's visit to Ireland -- the first time British royalty has set foot in the country since 1911!  Since I was currently IN central London, I was hoping it wouldn't prevent me from getting home.  Sure enough, when we ended for the day and I made my way back to the tube station, I discovered the District line had been shut down due to a "signal failure."  After waiting around for a while to see if the situation might be resolved, I noticed a sign directing riders to the Northern line.  Duh!  I followed the tunnel to the southbound platform and hopped on a train to the South Wimbledon station.  It got me home much faster than my ride in on the District line -- I'll have to remember to take that route when I go back for day 2 of the workshop tomorrow.  I'm so used to going to the Wimbledon station, I forget that I have another option now.

After I got home, I retrieved the first spoils of my online shopping spree from my neighbors: an electric kettle and a canister vacuum cleaner ("hoover").  Now I can make tea again -- and more importantly, iced tea!  And I can clean the house.  yippee.

Today I'm home doing the rest of the laundry and waiting on a number of other deliveries.  So far I've received my new multifunction printer and a garment rack for hanging clothes in our closetless bedroom.  The two most anticipated items -- a microwave and toaster -- are still in transit, but I'm hoping they'll both arrive by the end of the week.  It would be nice to have a piece of toast to go with my cup of tea, and be able to quickly reheat leftovers or bake a potato.  We're getting there...

.  I imagine they are required to ask everyone the same questions, but it was all I could do to hold back the sarcasm.  

I'll let you know how the second half of the workshop goes.  Now I need to hang up the rest of the laundry and start working on my CV.  Looking forward to having a desk...

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Catching Up

In between my busy schedule and Blogger going down for 24 hours, I've fallen a bit behind on the blog.  Even worse, Blogger deleted half of my post about last weekend!  If I can still remember what we did, I'll try to find time to go back and rewrite it, but first, let me try to sum up the rest of this past week...

Josh left for New Delhi straight from work on Monday, so I was on my own for most of the week.  Tuesday morning I unpacked a few boxes and then hopped in the shower so I'd be presentable for the Virgin Media technician who was scheduled to hook up our internet access sometime between 1-6 pm.  Gotta love those service windows.  Just as I got out of the shower, I heard a knock at the door.  It was too early for Virgin, so I threw some clothes on and peeked out the window.  It was one of my landlords -- Lay Peng.  She had mentioned that she would be in town for a doctor's appointment (she's pregnant) and would stop by to pick up their mail.  We ended up chatting for quite some time -- she had some helpful shopping suggestions -- so by the time she left, it was already 1:00.  The Virgin guys showed up at 1:30, and half an hour later, I was back online.  You gain a new appreciation for the Internet after having to live without it for 4 days.  Of course, I somehow managed to live without it for the first 25 years of my life, but that's different.  I spent the rest of the day doing online research on stuff we needed to buy for the house: microwave, toaster, electric kettle, vacuum, etc.  I got a call from Sky in the evening to let me know that someone would be there between 9-12 the next morning to hook up our satellite TV.

Wednesday morning I came downstairs at 8:30 and saw a guy in a truck sitting out in front of the house.  He must have seen me, because there was a knock on the door a couple minutes later.  Although he was only here for about half an hour, I learned some interesting things from the young hipster who installed our Sky HD box: even some Brits think the British way of doing things is overly complicated and inefficient; our telephone installation, which they couldn't fit in to their schedule until May 20, involves someone pushing a button in their control center -- they don't even have to come to the house; and Virgin has better broadband than Sky.  If I can ever get my cell phone plan sorted out so that I can make phone calls with it, I will call Sky and cancel the phone/internet service I originally ordered from them.

There were several more knocks at the door, which is a little unsettling when you've moved to a country where you don't actually know anyone.  Lay Peng stopped by again briefly with a recommendation from a friend for a place to get my hair cut.  A guy asked if I wanted to buy any fish (yes, a door-to-door fishmonger!).  And then Anna invited me over for a cup of tea after lunch.  Apparently Lay Peng had told her that I needed to do some significant shopping, so she gave me the lowdown on where to shop for small kitchen appliances and then offered to take me shopping the next morning.  Since she has a car and lives right next door, I gratefully took her up on the offer, and spent the rest of the afternoon making a list of specific items to look for.

Wednesday evening I walked down to the South Wimbledon tube station and rode the Northern line up to North Clapham to meet Bethie, Jason, and Charlotte at their favorite neighborhood pizza joint, Alba Pizzeria.  Our waiter was totally entranced by baby Charlotte, which was very cute, although we almost had trouble getting his attention to order our dinner.  We split two pizzas and two desserts, and Jason told me about a blog post about grocery shopping that he was working on.  Very funny!  I am often tempted to take pictures of things in the grocery store, but only do it when no one else is around so people don't think I'm a lunatic.  I did snap this one a couple weeks ago, while trying not to gag.
Would you drink this?
Thursday morning I presented myself next door at 9:30 and Anna drove me to the Tesco Extra in New Malden, about 20 minutes away.  Tesco is one of the big supermarket chains here, and like Sainsbury's, it has many different types of stores.  The "Express" is a tiny convenience store, often found at a gas station.  The "Local" is slightly bigger, but has mostly grab-and-go food items rather than fresh produce, meat, and dairy.  The "Metro" is generally right by a tube station, so it's not as big as a full-fledged market, but has all the essentials you need to pick up on your way home from work.  And then there's the "Extra," which is like Wal-Mart.  It's HUGE, and sells just about everything, including clothing, books, kitchen appliances, TVs, and, of course, groceries.  They didn't have any of the specific models of appliances I was hoping to find, but I did score a small rice cooker for £20, and bought a broom, a mop, and some other cleaning supplies.  I also bought a ream of A4 printer paper -- yes even the paper here is slightly different -- but decided to order the printer online since Amazon.co.uk had it for £40 less.

We also went to a B&Q, which is exactly the same as Home Depot, a couple nearby furniture stores, and a giant Sainsbury's supermarket, where we had lunch (there was a restaurant in the store!).  I ended up with a hand mixer, some gardening gloves, a few groceries, and some leads on places to shop for a dining table.  All in all, a very productive day, even if I didn't end up buying any of the more pressing items (like a microwave).  By the time I got home it was mid-afternoon, so I collapsed on the sofa for a while, and then (ironically) walked to the supermarket to pick up some food for dinner.  I didn't want to buy anything perishable while I was shopping with Anna, since I wasn't sure how long we'd be out, and I didn't want to waste her time, since our primary mission was small kitchen appliances.  Josh called while I was walking back from the store to let me know he was on his way home from the airport.  It was nice to have him back, and I'm sure he was happy to be back, especially now that we have TV and internet access again!  He was only in New Delhi for 2 days, and spent most of that time in meetings, so he didn't get to see or do much of anything, but I'll see if he wants to write a blog post about it.

Friday Josh had a mild case of Delhi Belly, so he worked from home and I did some online shopping for all the items I wasn't able to find on my excursion with Anna.  Hopefully by the end of the week, a toaster, kettle, microwave, vacuum cleaner, printer, and garment rack will all be delivered to our house.  Online shopping is a godsend when you don't have a car!

This morning we unpacked a few more boxes and tried to get a little bit more organized.  I posted an ad on Gumtree (the local version of Craigslist) offering up all our moving boxes and packing materials for free to whoever could haul them away.  Since I ordered all the kitchen appliances we need, I moved on to researching furniture.  We still need a dining table, a small coffee table, and a desk.  Since we don't want to spend a lot of money, but we don't want to buy crappy furniture, either, I tried to find out if there were any furniture outlets in the area.  I was surprised to discover that there was a half-price furniture warehouse just a mile from our house.  So we set off on foot late in the afternoon to check it out.  We ended up walking through some slightly sketchy areas where we were glad it was broad daylight, and Josh was a bit skeptical when we finally found the warehouse, which looked pretty run-down from the outside.  But once we went inside, we knew it had been worth the trip.  It was crammed floor-to-ceiling with what appeared to be decent, well-made furniture.  Some if it had a few scratches and dents, but most of it was in very good condition, and was marked down to half the retail price.  We almost bought a dining table and 6 chairs for £499, but decided we'd rather look around some more.  We saw a couple coffee tables we liked, but they were too big for the space we have.  If we don't find anything else by next weekend, we'll definitely try to go back -- they told us they get new items during the week.

We walked back along the Wandle Trail, which runs alongside the Wandle River.  It's a bit overgrown and creepy in the industrial area where we joined it, but as we traveled south, it gradually became more pleasant.  We spotted a family of foxes in an old water pumping station.
foxes!
 And passed through a nice park in Collier's Wood
 Josh was particularly impressed by the size of this tree:
That's a big tree!
We were both hungry, so we decided to go to Merton Abbey Mills and have dinner at one of the many restaurants we saw last time we went there.  Along the way, we passed a marker noting the original site of the William Morris printworks.  Since Josh and I are both fans of the arts & crafts movement, we think it's pretty cool that we live within walking distance of where one of its most well-known proponents once worked.
The Wandle trail is a bit more scenic along this stretch, although the giant Sainsbury's I went to on Thursday looms in the opposite direction.
When we arrived at Abbey Mills, we found that most of the restaurants had already closed for the day, even though it was only 6 pm.  Most of them are only open for lunch, apparently, but the William Morris pub was still open, so we found a table overlooking the river and ate dinner there.

When we got home, I already had 3 emails from people interested in our moving boxes, so I called the first person who responded and arranged for him to come by later in the evening to pick them up.  Half of our dining room has been filled up with collapsed moving boxes, packing paper, and bubble wrap, so we'll be glad to get rid of all that stuff -- especially if it ends up with someone who can reuse it.

OK, that should catch you up to the present!  Now it's time for bed.  Good night!

Victoria & Albert Museum

Monday afternoon I met my new friend Bethie (and her cutie-pie baby daughter, Charlotte) at the Victoria & Albert Museum.  I had been there once before, but it was about 10 years ago, and I had forgotten how HUGE the museum is. The map is 6 pages!  We took turns picking exhibit halls that sounded interesting, and ended up seeing quite an interesting variety of stuff -- ranging from historical clothing and furniture to a pink Sanyo boombox circa 1986.

We took lunch/tea break mid-afternoon in the museum cafe, which in and of itself was quite impressive.
museum cafe ceiling
Charlotte took a little snooze while we ate, attracting a bevy of cooing American ladies from a neighboring table.  She's a cutie!
We eventually made our way to the jewelery hall, which had an impressive collection of completely over-the-top diamond-encrusted bling.  We were the only people in that particular hall, and got into a conversation with a particularly chatty and knowledgeable security guard.  We were surprised to learn that the maze-like building had been purpose-built as a museum, and he was sharing some background information about Prince Albert when one of the other security guards came in and reminded us that the museum would be closing soon.

Bethie wanted to change Charlotte's diaper before they headed home, so we made our way back to the cafe area where they had a restroom with a changing table.  They appeared to be setting up for an event in the cafe as we zipped past.  Sure enough, soon after Bethie got Charlotte set up on the changing table, a woman came in and announced that she needed to prepare the room for a special event.  As Bethie wondered aloud why they would be holding a special event in the bathroom, a security guard walked in and strongly hinted that we should be on our way.  As we made our way out, we were essentially escorted out of the museum by a series of security guards.   They were very polite about it, but clearly we had overstayed our welcome.  I think we were the very last visitors to exit the building.

Still, we had a lovely time, but I'll need to plan another visit sometime, as we probably only saw about 20% of the museum.

Unpacking

Friday night we had the first significant rain we've seen since we arrived.  There were a few scattered showers Saturday morning, so we were happy to stay indoors and get to work unpacking our stuff.  We started with the kitchen, which is relatively large for a house this size, but has much less storage space than our small kitchen back home.  I really tried to pare down what we brought with us, with some apparent success.  I was able to find spots for everything, and there's even space to hang our pot rack, which will take care of some of the larger items.  It helps that we brought our buffet, which provides plenty of additional room for serving dishes and table linens.  Not much space left for food storage, though, so we may need to move some things around.

We started feeling a bit peckish around 1:00, so Josh hopped on his bike to pick up some sandwiches for lunch.  On his way out, he bumped into our neighbor, Anna, who was on her way over to invite us to tea at her house.  We devoured our sandwiches, cleaned ourselves up, and presented ourselves next door at 3:00.  By then the sky had cleared and the sun was out, so we sat out in the backyard with Anna, her husband Kevin, and their kids, Chloe and Henry.  I was expecting just a cup of tea, but she had put together a full afternoon tea with three kinds of finger sandwiches and scones with clotted cream and jam.  Yum!  Although Anna and Kevin are ethnically Chinese, she is originally from New Zealand and he is from Australia, and they've lived in London for 18 years.  An interesting, but not unusual, mix of cultures.  Like our landlords, who are from Germany and Singapore, they were very sympathetic about the challenges faced when moving to the UK from another country.  It was nice to hear that we were not alone in being frustrated by the inefficiencies and complexities of the British way of doing things.

Anna and Kevin were very friendly and helpful, which made us both a little happier about choosing to live here.  They got along so well with our landlords that when they replaced the fence between their yards, they installed a gate so they could visit more easily -- and so the kids could retrieve any stray toys without having to knock on the door.  The neighbors on the other side seem friendly as well, but I don't think we'll hang out with them much.  They are a retired British couple named Jan and Terry who have lived in Wimbledon all their lives and barely have a full set of teeth between the two of them.   They spend most of their time puttering/bickering in the yard -- it's like watching a BBC sitcom -- and, as a result, not a blade of grass is out of place.  It is a marvel, and makes our yard appear woefully neglected.  Our landlords have a toddler and another baby on the way, so I don't think they had much time for yardwork.

We walked to the town center after tea to do a little shopping, and came back with a toilet roll holder, a small stand mirror,

[Blogger apparently deleted the rest of this post.  Please stand by until I have time to rewrite it...]

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Moving Day

... And we're back!  I survived for 4 days with no internet access, and was rescued by the Virgin Media guys, who mercifully showed up half an hour into the 5-hour window they had given me and had me back online 20 minutes later.  Ahhhhh.

So where did I leave off?  Ah yes, Friday.  Moving Day...

So, Josh had to go into the office in the morning for meetings, which left me to finish packing up all our stuff, clear out of the apartment, and move everything over to the house.  New lesson learned: you can't call a cab here.  You can either hail one on the street, or you can book one in advance (for a fee, of course), but repeated calls to the local cab company got me no further than a recording saying, "Sorry, we currently have no drivers available.  Please try again later."  I eventually gave up and walked to the taxi stand by the tube station, where an extremely nice cabbie took pity on me.  He drove me back to the apartment, waited patiently outside while I wrestled 4 large suitcases and two tote bags out to the front gate, drove me to the house, helped me bring the bags inside, and then dropped me back at the apartment.  Total fare: about $16, including tip.

So why did I go back to the apartment?  I still needed to clean all the food out of the kitchen.  I figured I could just toss it all in a shopping bag, grab a sandwich, and walk back to the house well before the moving truck was scheduled to show up at 1:00.  There turned out to be quite a bit more stuff in the kitchen than I expected, so I looked like a crazy bag lady with three bags full of stuff when I finally emerged from the building.  I grabbed a sandwich at the Subway across the street, and then made a beeline for the taxi stand and took another cab back to the house.  

I stashed all the luggage in the living room with our IKEA sofa (in boxes) to get it out of the way of the movers.  The entire house is only about 1100 square feet, divided into three levels, so there's not a lot of extra space.

View from living room through kitchen, dining room, to back yard
View from dining room through kitchen to living room
The entryway of the house consists of a very narrow hallway leading to a very narrow doorway into the kitchen, and a very steep, narrow staircase.  I was concerned that some of our furniture might not make it through these tight spaces.
Entryway
I took two bites of my sandwich when there was a knock at the door.  The truck had arrived 20 minutes early, and the driver wanted to know if someone could help direct him into the parking space in front of the house.  I had a brief moment of panic until he explained that he was just in charge of bringing the truck, and there was a crew scheduled to meet him there to unload it.  I did my best to help him maneuver into place on our narrow street, although he almost took out two different trees in the process.  Then we waited.  The driver was very chatty, so I was still outside talking to him when Josh finally showed up at 1:30.
I called the relocation company and asked when the movers were going to arrive, and the same woman who had sent me an email two days earlier to confirm the 1 pm delivery time told me that the truck wasn't scheduled to arrive until 2 pm, so the movers had just left.  Lovely.  While we were waiting, the driver offered to open the container, and pulled out a pair of bolt cutters.  The seal must have been made of adamantium, because it broke the bolt cutters!
The movers finally showed up at 2:20, and -- maddeningly -- said they were originally scheduled to come at 1:00, but had been told by their supervisor that they didn't need to be here until 2:00.  Even better, they had forgotten to bring their bolt cutters, so they tried banging on the seal with a hammer.
I suggested they try the hardware store a few blocks away, so one of them set off on foot while the other kept at it with the hammer, which made a huge racket.  This is not a good way to arrive in your new neighborhood.  The mover eventually returned with a small hacksaw, and they took turns sawing at the seal for about 15 minutes before they finally cut through it and were able to open the container.  At least we know our things were very safe inside!
Since the driver was eager to get on his way before rush hour, the movers focused on unloading the container as quickly as possible, and just piled all 92 boxes on the sidewalk and street in front of the house.  Fortunately, it was a nice, sunny day -- albeit a bit warm for the movers.  We ended up meeting several of our neighbors while we were outside, including two American women, the elderly British couple next door, and the aforementioned Anna on the other side.  Everyone seemed very friendly, and I am hopeful that we will find it easier to make some new friends  in our neighborhood.
Once the truck left, we moved everything into the house, and they unwrapped all the furniture and set it up.  Miraculously, everything made it into the house, but there was no way the box spring for our queen-sized bed was going to fit up two flights of stairs and into the master bedroom.   They were able to wrestle it into the guest room, so we moved the guest bed (which is from IKEA) into the master.  We could not find the hardware to assemble our bed or the twin bed we bought for the other bedroom, so they couldn't set those up for us.  We called it a day and sent them home at 5.  Then Josh and I spent a couple hours assembling our IKEA sofa -- and another half an hour collapsing on it afterwards.
We walked to a nearby Thai restaurant for dinner, then found the box with the bedding for our guest bed, and went right to sleep.

Speaking of sleep, it's almost 1 am here and the cable guy is coming between 9-12 am tomorrow, so I'd better get to bed myself.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The (British) Empire Strikes Back

Sorry about that title.  Yesterday was Star Wars Day ("May the 4th be with you!"), so I still have Star Wars on the brain...

Today was an extremely frustrating day spent trying to set up utilities, cable, phone, and internet in our rental house and switch to a better mobile phone plan.  I couldn't do any of these things until I had a debit card for a UK bank account, which I just got yesterday afternoon.

Josh and I had decided not to bother with a landline since we both have mobile phones, but after doing some research this morning, I discovered that very few companies offer broadband internet access without a phone line.  After pricing it out, it turned out to be more cost-effective to sign up for a TV/phone/broadband bundle with Sky, the main satellite TV company here, than to get TV from Sky (or Virgin) and broadband from another provider.  I spent nearly 2 hours online with a customer service agent trying to put together a custom package, and then when I'd finally finished signing up, discovered that while they could install the TV service next Wednesday, the earliest they could set up the phone and internet was May 20!  Now, I can probably survive for a couple weeks without TV, but I don't think I can make it that long without internet access!  The customer service rep, who I was essentially IMing with during the process, suggested I call the installation number to see if I could get an earlier appointment.

I tried calling the number on my mobile, but got a recording saying that I did not have enough credit on my phone to make the call.  I tried calling Vodafone customer service, and got the same recording!  WTF?!  They charge you to call customer service?  I have 297 unused minutes, but apparently I can't use them to call Vodafone to find out why I can't use them to call Sky.  After doing some research online, I finally discovered that the pay-as-you-go deal I had just signed up for did not include calls to any numbers starting with "08."  Why?  Beats me?  Just another way the Brits like to make everyone's lives as complicated as possible, I guess.

Then I tried to sign up with British Gas to supply our gas and electricity.  I got 2/3 of the way through the online form when they asked how long I had lived at the current address.  The shortest possible option was one month.  After selecting that, it asked for my previous addresses from the past three years, or, if I had come from overseas, to call them and complete the process over the phone.  Of course it was a number starting with "08."  FML.

I finally gave up and walked over to the Vodafone store, which is a block away.  The guy at the desk couldn't help me, but suggested I call customer service using the phone in the store.  After explaining the issue to the guy who answered, he gave me a lecture about how of course I couldn't call any "08" numbers from my mobile phone because those are "premium" numbers and you have to pay to call them from a mobile.  It was only recently that it was free to call them from a landline.  OK, so apparently in the UK they charge different rates for different number prefixes depending on whether you are calling from a landline or a mobile?  And most "premium" numbers are used by businesses and government offices -- the types of places people need to call the most?  I asked him why, and he basically said something along the lines of, "that's the way it was set up."  I tried to explain that I was from the US, where you could generally call most businesses toll-free and there was no real difference between calling from a landline or a mobile.  He said he had been to the US and was pretty sure there were premium numbers that cost extra to call.  I told him the only types of numbers you usually had to pay a premium for in the US were sex chat lines, which elicited a nervous laugh, as if I had just accurately deduced that he had called such a number himself.  The end result was that while I learned an important lesson about the bizarre UK phone system, he was unable to help me convert the £20 I'd spent into a plan I could actually use to make useful calls.

So, I marched down the street to the O2 office to inquire about switching to one of their plans, since they had been recommended by several people.  The nice lady there was surprised to hear that Vodafone charges you to call their customer service line, and assured me that theirs was free.  We got halfway through the sign-up process when she asked me for my bank account number and sort code.  Of course I didn't have those with me -- I had assumed the debit card was sufficient.  Ugh.  I returned my DVD to the library and then ran home to get my back account info.  I made it back to the O2 office 20 minutes before they closed and started the sign-up process all over again.  Did it work?  No.  After entering all my bank details in the computer, an error message popped up saying it was unable to process the transaction.  We double checked all the numbers and tried again, but to no avail.  I held back tears of frustration as I dejectedly walked back to the apartment.

I called Citibank customer service -- mercifully, a toll-free number -- and was apologetically informed that this was a known issue.  Many of their customers had been having the same problem -- specifically with mobile phone providers -- but they weren't sure what was causing it or when it would be fixed.  Well, that was helpful!

Then I tried looking into temporary broadband solutions via Virgin Media.  Our landlords mentioned they used them for internet access, and had left the modem behind for us, so I wondered if I could get them to reactivate the service and just sign up for 1 month so we'd have internet access until Sky got around to setting up the landline and their own broadband service.  After much digging around on their website, I finally found a phone number.  You guessed it -- it was an "08" number.  Gaaah!

At this point I was ready to hop on the next plane home, so I took a break and visited this site for some much needed comic relief:

http://damnyouautocorrect.com/

Within seconds, I was laughing so hard I had tears streaming down my face and could hardly breathe.   This has become my go-to site when I need a good laugh (or cry) to cope with the frustrating idiosyncracies of life in the UK.  It's quite therapeutic.

Josh got home from work at 8:45 again, so we had a very simple "clean out the fridge" dinner of odds and ends and then started packing up our stuff for the move tomorrow.  I have to clear everything out of the apartment and be at the house by 1 pm tomorrow, when the delivery truck is scheduled to arrive with a good percentage of our worldly possessions.  Josh was originally planning to take the day off, but his boss scheduled meetings for him from 10-12 tomorrow, so he has to go in to work in the morning.  Neither of us is thrilled about that, so Josh tried to make things a little easier for me by taking a load of stuff over to the house on his bike.
Two paniers, a suitcase, and a backpack.
We miss our car!
I thought for sure he was going to fall over -- he could barely get the bike into the elevator -- but he made it safely there and back again.  That still leaves me with 3 suitcases, a huge duffel, and a tote bag to take over tomorrow morning -- as well as all the food in the apartment -- no small task.  Good thing the taxis here are quite roomy.  My plan is to take all the big stuff over in a cab tomorrow morning, and then walk back and do a final sweep before I check out by noon or 12:30. 

I may not be able to post for a while, since I don't know when I'll have internet access again.  Trust me -- I'll be infinitely more frustrated about that than you will.

Great, it's 1:15 am and they just started doing maintenance on the train tracks right outside our apartment.  It's not only quite loud, but it's shaking the entire building.  That should lull me right to sleep.  Seems a fitting ending to this lovely day...  Good night!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sofa, So Good

I've got some catching up to do...

First, let's go back in time an entire week to last Wednesday.  I got an email at 3:15 pm from the relocation company informing me that our shipment of goods from the US would be delivered on Wednesday, May 4 and could I please make arrangements with the local authorities to reserve 4 parking spots in front of the house for the delivery truck.  I pulled up the website of the Merton Council (we live in the London borough of Merton), and after some digging around, found the appropriate page and called the parking office -- who informed me that parking suspensions require a minimum of 4 working days' notice and cost £42 per spot.  Since both Friday and Monday were holidays, that only gave me 2 days' notice, so I emailed the relocation company back to see if the delivery date could be pushed back a day or two.  I got a response at 3:50 pm that they could change the delivery date to Thursday, May 5.  I tried calling the parking office again, and they told me I needed to submit a form, which could be downloaded from their web site.  I tried to explain that I didn't have a printer, but my cell phone ran out of credit and ended the call.

At this point it was 4 pm and the office closed at 5, so I looked up the address, pulled up my handy London Travel Deluxe iPhone app, and figured out how to get there on the bus.  I grabbed my purse and ran to the bus stop.  I reached the council office at 4:35, withdrew £200 in cash from the ATM across the street, and asked the girl with the pierced tongue at the front desk to direct me to the parking office.  She told me I couldn't go to the office, they only interact with the public by phone, and directed me to (seriously!) a white courtesy phone.  There was no answer.  I went back to the front desk and tried to explain what I needed.  After some hemming and hawing, she finally agreed to print out the form for me.  I quickly filled it out and then asked if I could submit payment in cash, since I didn't have a UK debit or credit card.  That finally convinced her to summon someone with a little more authority, who then managed to get someone in the parking office on the phone.  He assured me that my form would be submitted, and that someone would be contacting me the next morning to arrange payment.

I heaved a sigh of relief, and hopped on the bus to head home -- only to discover that I didn't have enough credit on my Oyster card to cover the bus fare.  Gah!  Fortunately, I had exact change and was able to pay cash for that, at least.  As soon as I got back to Wimbledon, I made a beeline for the Vodaphone shop to add credit to my mobile, and then to the tube station to do the same for my Oyster card.  If I had a credit or debit card, I could do all these things online, but until that happens, I have to do everything in person with cash.

Thursday morning at 10:15 am, I got another email from the relocation company saying the soonest our shipment could be delivered would be Friday, May 6 at 1 pm.  What?!  I was glad I had topped up my phone, because it took multiple calls to the parking office before someone answered the phone.  The nice lady there found my application form and changed the date for me, but said they could not accept payment in cash, so I had to get Josh to call them back and provide his debit card info.  Whew!
I was glad I had extended our stay in the furnished apartment through May 6.

So, fast-forward to Monday morning...  After we had processed the news about Osama bin Laden and Josh went for his bike ride, we sat down and made a list of all the things we'll need to buy for the house.  Some of our furniture was just too big to fit in this tiny Victorian-era rowhouse, so we didn't bring a sofa, dining table, coffee table, or desk.  And since nothing that plugs into the wall will work here (except computers and phone chargers), we'll need a TV, lamps, kitchen appliances, and a vacuum cleaner.  We decided to start at IKEA to look at furniture, so we hopped on the tram and headed out to Croyden.

It's nice to know that if you ever need to shop for inexpensive household items, there's almost always an IKEA nearby. My friend Michael moved to China last year with his wife and 3 kids, and they furnished their apartment with IKEA furniture, too.  He had promised his two sons that if they moved to China they would get to have bunk beds (a clever way of getting them excited about sharing a room), but that was the one thing they couldn't find at IKEA there.  Apparently, there's not much demand for them, since you are only allowed to have one child.

IKEA here is exactly the same as it is back home.  Even the prices are the same, in that they seem to have simply replaced the $ with a £ -- which seems to be true of prices here in general.  Since £1 = $1.60, everything costs approximately 60% more than it does back home.  Ouch! 

We didn't see any dining or coffee tables that we liked, and we decided to hold off on buying a desk until we figure out where we'll have space for one, but we did buy a sofa.  It's the KIVIK 2-seat sofa with attached chaise with a blue slipcover.  We liked the fact that the chaise was wide enough that we could both fit on it side-by-side when we're watching TV.  It's not a sofabed, but it's plenty big enough for an adult or two small kids to sleep on if we needed extra guest space.  We also bought the UK version of the bedside table lamps we have at home.  I really like them because they don't take up much space, are easy to turn on and off with the pullchain, and were only $20 each, so I was happy to see that they had the same lamps here.  Sure enough, they cost £20 here, which is $33!

The one feature of this IKEA that I hadn't seen before is the rampulator (I made that word up). 
IKEA's rampulator
It's a moving walkway that goes from the first floor down to the ground floor so you can take your shopping cart with you rather than having to wait for the lift/elevator.  I don't know if I'd want to take a full shopping cart down that thing, but it's pretty cool.  They also subcontract out to a delivery company so you can have your stuff delivered.  That makes sense.  Even if you are one of the few people who owns a car, it's unlikely to be big enough to take anything bigger than a breadbox home, and there was no way we would have been able to wrestle a sofa onto the tram, especially since it came in 5 different boxes.  We were able to arrange for them to deliver our items to our rental house the next day, which was handy, since that was the day we were getting the keys to the house.

Tuesday morning we got a call from the delivery company saying they'd be at the house on Florence Road between 1 and 5 pm.  I was hoping it would be earlier in the day, since we had to meet the inventory clerk from the letting agent and a representative of the property search company there at 10 am to get the keys and do a walk-through of the house.  Oh well.  Good thing I'm unemployed.  This was the first chance we had to really take a good look at the house, since the owners (and all their stuff) were there on our previous two visits.  This time we were able to open kitchen cabinets and drawers, peek inside closets, and make sure the toilets flushed properly.  After seeing how narrow the halls, stairs, and doorways are, I'm convinced it will take nothing short of a miracle for all our stuff to fit.  I hope the movers have lots of experience working in tight spaces.

We finished the walk-through in time for me to walk back to the apartment, eat lunch, grab a book, and then walk back to the house by 1:00 to wait for the IKEA delivery -- while Josh quickly packed up and rushed to the office for a 1:00 phone meeting.  During that time, someone from the council office came by and put up signs and cones warning of the parking suspension in front of our house on Friday.  That was quick! 
Very easy to read the details of the time/date...
...which is why most of the spots were empty
Since there is no furniture in the house, I sat on the stairs and read, periodically getting up to walk around and keep my butt from going numb.  (Not very comfy stairs)  The delivery truck finally showed up at 4:15, and for a few brief moments, it looked like one of the boxes wasn't going to make it through the doorway between the front hall and the kitchen.   It took several tried, but they persevered, and eventually wrestled all the boxes into the living room.  Whew!

Since Josh was taking an overnight trip to Barrow to tour BAE's submarine-building facility, I stopped at the supermarket and the library to pick up dinner and a movie.   I checked out The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, which I was surprised to find there since it's a fairly recent release.  I have read all the books and seen the first movie, and figured there was no harm in skipping the second movie since I already know what happens.  Like the first movie, they condensed the plot so much that it left a few holes in the story, but at least it kept me entertained for most of the evening.

On Wednesday I went into town to pick up my new Citibank debit card, which had finally been located and sent back to the branch office.  On the way, I thought I'd stop at Westminster Abbey, as I had learned they were keeping all the Royal Wedding decorations and flowers in place until Friday.  As I was walking there from the tube station, I took this photo, which includes the London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, AND a double-decker bus.  I'm definitely in London!
Even though it was 5 days after the wedding, there were quite a few people who seemed to have the same idea.  There was even a line to get into the gift shop!
But that was nothing compared to the line to get into the Abbey, which went all the way out the gate and along the sidewalk.  A staff member informed me that it would be an hour wait from where I was standing when I took this picture.
Since I had a more important mission to accomplish, and didn't want to spend an hour in line and £16 just to peek inside and run off to the bank, I bailed on that plan and hoofed it the rest of the way to the bank.  If it's any consolation, they don't allow photos inside, so these are the only pictures I would have ended up with anyway.

St. James' Park was bustling with a lunchtime crowd enjoying the sunshine.  It's been unusually pleasant here since we arrived.  In fact, it was the warmest April on record, with temperatures averaging 5ºC/9ºF above normal.  At least the beautiful weather helped make up for many of the frustrating issues we've had to deal with...
Across from the park is the Horse Guards Parade, where Wills & Kate made their grand entrance into the grounds of Buckingham Palace on Friday.  They were just dismantling the bleachers around the square.
And this is the street that the procession traveled on.  You can tell by the crown-topped flagpoles and the carpet of horse poop.
I made it to the bank, and 20 minutes and 2 forms later, withdrew a ceremonial £20 from the ATM with my new debit card.  Yay!  I was very excited to be equipped with a card that allowed me to perform cash-free transactions, shop online, and set up payment for things like utilities, cable TV, mobile phone contracts, and magazine subscriptions.

Before I headed home to start using it, I stopped at John Lewis a couple blocks away to look at furniture.  This is a HUGE department store that sells EVERYTHING.  In fact, on this visit I discovered an entire sewing/craft section with fabric, patterns, yarn, books and other supplies.  I saw a couple dining tables that might work, and jotted down the model names and prices.  Then I came across this thing:
I'm not entirely sure what it is, or how much it costs, but how cool would it be to have this in your back yard?!  Of course, it would take up fully half of the yard of our Wimbledon house (and possibly cost more), but can't you picture James Bond having a seductive liaison in something like this?

I picked up some steak and asparagus on the way home -- at least the food here is reasonably priced -- and waited for Josh to get home.  The first thing I did with my new debit card is sign up for a £1 trial subscription to Which? magazine, which is the UK equivalent to Consumer Reports.  Since we need to buy a lot of new things (TV, small appliances, vacuum) and services (utilities, mobile phone), I was hoping their website would help steer us in the right direction.  It's not as easy to navigate or to find actual recommendations, but it's better than nothing.  I was a little mystified that their review of mobile phone carriers did not mention anything about the actual phone service (coverage, dropped calls, clarity) -- only their customer service and the variety of phones offered.  Not so helpful...

When Josh finally showed up at 8:45, his right elbow and knee were scraped up and bleeding from a nasty tumble he'd taken on his bike on the way home from the train station.  Fortunately, he was otherwise unhurt, so he hopped in the shower and cleaned himself up.  We realized we did not have any bandages (or plasters, as the call them here), our local Boots was probably already closed, and I had dinner in the oven, so we looked around the apartment for something we could improvise with.  And thus we invented the paper towel and plastic wrap bandage:
Necessity is the mother of invention
It actually worked pretty well, and kept Josh from bleeding all over the sheets last night.  Hopefully he was able to stop at Boots on the way into work this morning and buy some proper bandages.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Brighton Beach Memoirs

On Sunday we continued our tourist-avoidance scheme by leaving London entirely.  We got up (relatively) early, caught an 8:45 am train to Clapham Junction, and from there took a 9:07 am train to Brighton.  By 10:15 am we were on the southern coast of England!
Train to Brighton (via Gatwick)
Josh had compiled a list of things to do that sounded interesting. Our first stop was the Brighton Museum, which is located in a beautiful historic building on the grounds of the Royal Pavilion (more on that later). The building also hosts a concert venue and convention hall.
Brighton Dome
Corn Exchange
Detail of floor tile
Lobby of Brighton Dome
Side view
Museum entrance
The museum was free and had an interesting variety of collections, including decorative arts, pottery, fashion, ethnographic art, and paintings, as well as two rooms devoted to the history of Brighton.
Unusual salt & pepper shakers
Furniture by Charles Rennie Mackintosh
After we had toured both levels of the museum, we ventured into an area called The Lanes in search of lunch.  We eventually settled on an Italian place where we ordered what we thought were two individual-sized pizzas.  We should have just shared one -- they were each about 12" in diameter, like a regular medium-sized pizza!  We ate what we could and then headed back to the Royal Pavilion.

The Royal Pavilion is like something out of a fairy tale.  It was built over the course of several decades by King George IV, with an exterior influenced by Indian architecture and a fanciful, jaw-dropping interior redolent with Chinoiserie, lavish furnishings, and a ridiculous number of dragons.  Sadly, they do not allow photography inside, but the exterior shots should give you an idea of how over-the-top this place is:


There are also some interior shots on their website.  The extravagance of this place is unbelievable!
After we spent a couple hours touring the pavilion, we continued on towards the beach and the Brighton Pier, which is over 100 years old.
Brighton beach and pier
The Dome (now houses an arcade)
One of the many beautiful windows of the Dome
View from end of pier
"Crazy Golf" on the beach
It was not a particularly warm day (low 60's and windy) but there were plenty of people on the beach and the pier.  I can't imagine what it must be like on a hot, sunny day.  Brighton seems to attract an eclectic mix of people -- and summer festivals -- and was once known as a popular destination for a "dirty weekend."  The exhibits in the Brighton Museum certainly backed that up.

After walking around the pier and beach area, we took the historic Volks Electric Railway, the world's oldest operating electric railway, to the Brighton Marina.
Josh and his new friend wait for the train
Here comes the train!
The marina turned out to be a bit disappointing.  There were a few shops and a row of chain restaurants overlooking the water, with a huge parking garage on one side and a condo development on the other.  We spent about 10 minutes there and then took the train back.
Brighton Marina
As we walked back towards the train station in search of a place to eat dinner, we came across this lovely park and fountain.
Since we didn't want pizza again, we ended up at an "American Diner."  They didn't have iced tea, of course, so I had a Pimm's instead.  What else would you drink at an American Diner?
Traditional diner-style Pimm's & Lemonade
Actually, I did have an excellent chocolate milkshake for dessert.  Not all "milkshakes" are made with ice cream here -- some places make them with ice, milk, and flavored syrup.  I haven't tried one, but I don't think they should be allowed to call it a milkshake!

We caught an 8:35 train back to Clapham, and were back in our apartment by 10 pm.  A great day trip!