Friday, November 11, 2011

While the Cat's Away...

This past week was a busy one for Josh, work-wise.  He had a dinner meeting on Monday night and then was away attending meetings at another office in northern England Tuesday through Friday, so I was on my own for most of the week.  Six months ago, I would have been pretty unhappy to be left alone here for that long -- and, in fact, that happened several times as Josh had to take a few business trips soon after we moved here.  But now that we're settled into our house and I've made some new friends, it wasn't so bad.

Monday was the American Women's Club (AWC) Holiday Bazaar, where about 30 vendors were selling jewelry, scarves, pottery, candles, clothing, ornaments, and other crafty git items.  Of course, most of us ended up buying things for ourselves, and I was no exception.  I'm not organized enough to have already started my Christmas shopping, and some of the things I would have normally considered buying as gifts would have been challenging or impractical to bring back to the US in my suitcase.  But I did end up with some nice Polish pottery baking/serving dishes and a necklace, so it was a fruitful endeavor for myself, anyway.

Tuesday morning, I met four other local AWC ladies for coffee at the Canizzaro House in Wimbledon Village.  It's a historic home that was converted into a swanky hotel, but it also has a cozy lobby where you can get coffee, snacks, and afternoon tea.  It was quite a well-traveled group.  One woman had moved here from Norway, another from Paris, and a third from Dublin -- and will be moving to Hong Kong next year.  The fourth moved here from New York, but she is from France and is married to an American.  It was a damp, chilly day, so it was nice to be indoors sipping hot drinks.  If they had lit the fire in the fireplace, I probably would have stayed there all day.

As my friend Ingrid and I were walking back towards the town center to run some errands afterwards, we found a Blackberry on the sidewalk.  We were able to get the owner's name and the company she worked for from the home screen, so Ingrid looked up the company on her iPhone and found their phone number.  Fortunately, the owner's husband worked at the same company, so we were put through to him and explained that we had found his wife's Blackberry in Wimbledon and wanted to know how to get it back to her.  He was grateful, although a little unsure how he would track his wife down if she didn't have her Blackberry, but he said he'd have her give me a call back.  She called me about half an hour later and arranged to come by my house to pick it up that evening.  I'm doing my part to give Londoners a better impression of Americans...

We got a warning from the U.S. Embassy that student demonstrations were planned in central London on Wednesday afternoon.  I was originally considering going into central London to shop for some household items that I hadn't been able to find in Wimbledon the day before, but that convinced me to head out of London entirely and go to Kingston instead.  Kingston is a lovely town on the banks of the Thames that has TONS of shops, a huge mall, a lovely town square with a farmer's market, and is an easy 15-minute train ride from Wimbledon.  Even better, you don't have to fight your way through hordes of tourists to get your shopping done.

I was able to find most of the odds and ends I was looking for at Clas Ohlson (IKEA-esque housewares) and Lakeland (kitchen stuff), and then was drawn to John Lewis by their pretty sparkling Chrismas lights. 
John Lewis holiday lights
John Lewis is a huge department store that sells EVERYTHING. Imagine Macy's, Best Buy, a furniture store, a fabric/craft store, a sporting goods store, and a toy store all in one, and then add a full-scale supermarket underneath, an espresso bar, and a restaurant on top. That's John Lewis. I was looking for scented sachets or shelf paper for the drawers in our bed, since I noticed the pajamas I've been storing in there have taken on an unappealing particle board odor. I asked a customer service person where I could find them and was directed to the Haberdashery department. Seriously! And, of course, I found BOTH things there, but since I didn't care for the strong rose scent of the shelf paper, I bought some less offensive sachets and unscented paper instead.

John Lewis also has an area devoted to London 2012 merchandise for next year's Olympic Games.   There is the usual assortment of t-shirts, tote bags, pins, and keychains.  And then there's this:
Fancy an Olympic tea cosy?
Sorry the photos are a little blurry.  I didn't have my camera with me, so I took them with my iPhone, which I clearly haven't yet mastered.
Why are Olympic mascots so creepy and/or phallic?
I also did a quick run through the big TK Maxx store across the street. And no, that's not a typo.  In the UK, TJ Maxx is called TK Maxx.  I normally do not have the patience to sort through racks and racks of picked-over marked-down clothing, but I have discovered that the small TK Maxx store in Wimbledon often has random imported food products near the registers, including American products that are hard to find here.  I pop in there every now and then to see what's in stock, and in the past have scored salsa, Libby's canned pumpkin, Reese's peanut butter cups, and German Lebkuchen.  I've also seen stuff I would never buy -- Aunt Jemima syrup, Pop Tarts, marshmallow fluff, cake mix and frosting, and Jelly Bellys -- but that other Americans must be happy to find.   This TK Maxx had all of the above, and more!  Stove Top stuffing, Hershey's hot fudge topping, microwave popcorn, Jif peanut butter, and Reese's Crunch cereal (!?).  I couldn't resist the hot fudge topping, and picked up two cans of pumpkin, since we'll be here for Thanksgiving.
Random imports at TK Maxx
Thursday was AWC theater day, so I met 4 other women at the TKTS booth in Leicester Square and we bought tickets to see a 3:00 matinee of Crazy for You at the Novello Theatre.  We were all in the mood for something fun and lighthearted -- especially after my last theater day experience -- so this fit the bill perfectly.
Crazy for You at the Novello Theatre
We had a leisurely lunch at Lupita, which is one of the few decent Mexican restaurants in London, and then since we still had some time to kill before our show, walked over to Covent Garden.  On the way, we had to stop and take a picture of this sign:
Interesting way to attract customers, and staff...
Guy Fawkes Day must signal the start of the Christmas season here, because now that it has passed, all the holiday decorations have gone up.  Covent Garden had some impressive super-sized decorations.
Giant topiary Rudolph
We admired the decor, listened to a string quintet play, and browsed through some of the vendor stalls.  Lots of neat stuff -- I may need to go back sometime and do some Christmas shopping.
Giant ornaments
The woman who sold us our tickets at the TKTS booth described our seats as "brilliant," and she was right.  We were in the center of the front row of the mezzanine.  As with all West End theaters, there wasn't much leg room and the seats were a bit uncomfortable, but we had a great view of the stage.  We all enjoyed the show -- which has a lot of familiar songs -- although a couple of the actors seemed to struggle a bit with their American accents.  There was definitely a Victor/Victoria thing going on during the musical number "Stiff Upper Lip": British actors pretending to be Americans singing with a British accent.  Since the theater was so close to the Waterloo Bridge,  my fellow Wimbledon resident Nancy and I just walked across to Waterloo Station after the show and took the train back to Wimbledon from there.

Friday was Armistice Day in the UK, for the same reason it is Veteran's Day in the US.   For the past week or so, people have been collecting donations to support the Royal British Legion and giving out paper poppies to anyone who donates.  I'd say at least half of the people I've passed on the street or seen on the Tube/train have had one of this pinned to their coat.  For that reason, Nov 11 is also known as "Poppy Day."  Although this had always seemed like a very British tradition to me, the use of a red poppy as a symbol of remembrance originated with an American woman, who was inspired by the poem "In Flanders Fields," which was written by a Canadian.
paper poppy
Friday morning I pinned my poppy to my coat and showed up at the AWC office in Kensington at 10:30 am for my third Mah Jongg session.  I've always enjoyed playing games, and thought it would be a good opportunity to meet some more people and learn a new game.  There is a dedicated group that plays twice a week and has regular teaching sessions to encourage new players.  I'm not sure why it's so popular with American women in London.  So far, everyone I've played with had never played Mah Jongg before they moved here.  It's NOTHING like the old computer game where you match tiles.  It's more like Gin Rummy, but with infinitely more complicated rules. After playing for a combined total of about 15 hours, I'm just starting to get the hang of it, but it would be nice to try some other games as well -- or see if anyone else would be interested in a Scrabble group...

When I got home Friday afternoon, Josh was back from his trip.  It was wonderful to see him after being apart all week.  Sadly, he felt like he was coming down with a cold, so we hunkered down in front of the TV with a warm blanket for most of the evening.  I certainly missed him while he was away, but I'm glad to know that I now feel comfortable being on my own here and can easily keep myself occupied when he has to be out of town.  But if he's going somewhere fun, I'd still much rather be able to tag along...

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