Archive for the ‘England’ Category

After

April 29, 2012
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My stuff!

I like to color coordinate my books. Besides being a fun way to spend Saturday afternoon, you end up with perplexing juxtapositions, like the Twilight trilogy next to an Eisenhower biography.

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In London I loved to sit by the window. I had a view of the canal and towpath: I’d watch the boats, the people, the occasional fox. I miss it, but now I have a chair in the sun.

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My friend Meghann laughs at my turtle collection. It reminds her of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMNry4PE93Y
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Every year Kyo’s mother sends me a Japanese calendar for Christmas. I save them. One day I plan to wallpaper an entire room in Japanese calendars.

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I grew up in a house with crammed cupboards. I rebelled.

In fact, one of my favorite things about being a Virgo is seeing all the handles of my teacups facing the same direction. Order is relaxing!

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The bedroom is dark. This is helped by my Phillips Wake Up Light HF3470 (on the little table next to the mirror). If you sleep with it right in front of your face, it wakes you with a simulated sunrise. Lovely!
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Before

April 28, 2012

I’ve been meaning to post some pictures of my new apartment for awhile now.

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This is how it looked back in November. And December.

It took almost 5 months for my furniture to get from London to Los Angeles. Lord knows why. Maybe instead of a normal ship, they used the Santa Maria. Or a Conestoga wagon. Maybe they went by way of Australia.

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The thing is, you can’t get on the phone with your moving company and say, “Hey Jerkface, what the ever-living dung balls did you do with my stuff?” You can’t do this because they have your stuff.

They can dump it in the ocean. They can set fire to it. They can keep it. They can do whatever they want.

So instead of complaining, once a week or so I would come home to my empty living room and burst into tears.

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I really missed my stuff.

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Gouge

September 20, 2011

Now that I have some time off work, I wanted to try a new hobby. “Creative handicrafts with battery acid” didn’t sound fun enough, so I took up “Getting my security deposit back from my estate agents” instead.*

Estate agents are the used car salesman of England. Everyone hates them.** Mine in particular are sort of like the Gambino family, without the professionalism and moral compass. Here are some of the things they’re trying to charge me for:

  • Broken blinds

These are broken because they were broken when I moved in. They stayed broken for the next 20 months, despite my desperate requests to have them effing fixed already.

  • Missing vacuum cleaner

This is missing because the apartment came with two vacuum cleaners, and I gave away the one my estate agents said didn’t belong to the landlord.

  • One missing teaspoon

Okay, but are you 5 years old?

  • Broken drawer

This is my favorite. The reason the drawer doesn’t open is because it’s not a real drawer. It’s one of those false-front drawers you often see installed below a sink.

As Shakespeare once said, “O emerald isle! Thine estate agents got the stumpy end of the bell curve.”

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* “Estate agent” is the English word for “real estate agent.” You pretty much have to go through an estate agent to rent an apartment. It’s very rare to rent directly from the landlord or an on-site manager. I’m convinced this is the real reason that Great Britain has such a high rate of home ownership: It’s the only way to exorcise the estate agents from your life.

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** And yet everyone puts up with them. Stiff upper lip, etc. I’d like to beam a message out to the English people: IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY. In America, you can rent an apartment by signing a one-page lease and handing over some dough. They run a credit check and presto, you’re in. There’s no 38-page contract you have to sign on every single page. No letter from your employer. No inventory. Also, when you leave, the landlord makes sure you didn’t trash the place, and then you get your deposit back. No quibbling about teaspoons.

The only time I didn’t get my full deposit back — including all the times I painted the living room and didn’t paint it back before I left — was once when I was 24, and I had thrown out the landlord’s mirrored plant stand. This piece of furniture was ugly and tacky in a way that is hard to put into words. So even though the $300 they dinged me was painful (because $300 is a lot when you’re 24 years old, and also, come ON, $300 for a mirrored plant stand?) — I was able to be philosophical about it. Our planet is an infinitesimally more beautiful place without that plant stand. So the three hundred bucks was practically a charitable donation.

Accents 2

September 8, 2011

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Tea

August 22, 2011

Tea puts the truth in stereotype.

The English drink it for breakfast, at tea time, after dinner, and in moments of emotional distress. (If you ever cry in front of an English person, they don’t offer you a tissue, they offer you a cup of tea.)

Everyone drinks tea. I once passed a burly construction worker who said to his ox of a friend, “Care for a cuppa tea?” *

It was strange. They looked masculine. For pete’s sake, they’d probably just laid down their jackhammers – and yet they were drinking tea. Tea, the beverage of delicate china and useless saucers and pinky fingers.

Tea is big here. I even read that the British Empire was built to satisfy the English taste for tea (and sugar and tobacco). Think about it: the English cultivated opium in India, then took it to China, where they “traded” it for the goods they craved – tea, and porcelain to drink it in.**

How the English became professional dope runners and somehow made it seem civilized, even romantic – the Orient, the Empire, women in white dresses playing croquet and sipping, yes, cups of tea – well, I don’t know how they did it.

But they did.

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* They even have a name for the kind of tea that such men drink: “Builder’s tea,” which is strong tea with milk and sugar. “Normal” or “regular” tea is simply tea with milk. The only other thing they touch is Earl Grey. Propose a “vanilla tea” or “chai” to an English person and she’ll look at you as though you just offered a “banana-flavored coffee.”

** The Emperor objected; these were the Opium Wars. Which the British won.

Siren

August 14, 2011

I live across from some public housing* and earlier this week, I saw two little boys playing out front on their bikes. One of them raced across the sidewalk crying, “Nee-ner! Nee-ner!” The second boy said, “Okay, now you have to arrest me.”

That’s as close as I ever got to the riots. Which is to say, I didn’t see any burning cars or angry mobs. But I felt the change in atmosphere.

Our office, along with most businesses, closed early so workers could get home before dark. People took extra care of each other: “Is your cab coming soon? You could share mine.” Everyone went straight home, locked the doors, and turned on the TV news. Overall, it was what you’d expect if London had been invaded by a horde of vampires.

I don’t mean to be glib. It’s just that to me – an outsider, living on the surface, who hasn’t plumbed the culture’s discontents – the riots seemed to come out of nowhere. Then disappear again, just as mysteriously. So even though I live here, I can’t offer any on-the-ground reporting or insider scoop.

All I can tell you is that for a minute there, it felt pretty weird.

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* I find it interesting that the English call public housing “council estates.” The “council” is just your local government. But “estate” seems to suggest land, inheritance, birthright. As if the people who are born there have poverty in their blood. The American word – “housing project” – is just as illuminating. A “project” is a task, an enterprise, an item on your to-do list.

Sure enough, English council estates tend to be a lot more solid and liveable-looking than American housing projects. Which makes sense. Why would Americans want to make such a pessimistic investment – housing for the poor – when poverty is surely a transitory state, something to be overcome, a mere speedbump on the way to the American dream?

Soon

August 6, 2011

Most of you know that I am leaving England.

This is not a sentence I particularly enjoy typing or, for that matter, thinking. There are lots of sentences that are equally true, and much happier: I am going back to California. I am not working for two whole months. I am taking a really long road trip.

But however much I love going new places and starting new things, I’m not a huge fan of their inevitable companions: leaving old places and, well, endings. Especially when the place I’m leaving is as strange and familiar, as bookwormy and tea-stained, as damp and improbably cozy, as England is.

Lately I’ve been going around like a cancer patient: Soon I won’t be able to ride this bus. Soon I won’t sit in this pub. Soon I won’t stand at this window. Soon I won’t hear the geese over the canal.

Then again, soon I won’t see that skinny man’s belly hair through the gap in his shirt.

Hirsute (a topic so important, I’m giving it an extra 50 words)

July 3, 2011

Like most Americans, I’m shocked when English people display anything less than impeccable taste. After all, England is where good taste comes from. I expect Saville Row tailoring, nice accents, and old wooden things. I expect restraint.

So when I’m confronted by bad English taste (see what Beatrice wore to the wedding; see all the fancy gold fences around Buckingham Palace; do Italians live there?; in fact, see just about anything royal) I assume it’s an aberration. An example of English eccentricity.

So it was with English men and their shirts.

The first time I was introduced to a stomach mole I had no desire to meet (you can see a lot through a gaping shirt button) I thought, Oh, poor man. He ran out of time to do laundry.

But then I noticed that most British men seem to wear buttondowns with nothing underneath. I started asking around and was informed that, indeed, undershirts are considered old-fashioned and stuffy.

Well. Different cultural standards, blah blah blah, but when I get an unasked-for glimpse of body hair, it’s kind of like seeing a woman’s thong poking out. I know it’s an accident, but it still seems like her mother didn’t raise her right.

Plus, without the undershirt as a guide, English men are left to guess how many buttons to leave unbuttoned at the neck. Sometimes they go for a chest-baring three. Which, honestly, is a look not even Italians can pull off.

Tipplers

June 12, 2011
Publicans.
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Sunday lunch.
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Chris and Alex at the Albion, a pub you shouldn’t miss.

Tipple

June 12, 2011

My job in England started the normal way: with a visit to HR. They had me sign forms for Her Majesty’s Revenues and Customs (somehow more romantic than the Internal Revenue Service) and explained benefits: vacation days, sick days, duvet days.

Um. “What’s a duvet day?”

The HR lady smiled brightly. “Unplanned days off. You know, when you don’t feel like getting out from under the duvet? A lot of people use them when they have a fuzzy head.” *

This was my first inkling that the British attitude toward drinking is different.

In England, you are never expected to outgrow getting drunk. Work mates going “down the pub” will linger for hours, without stopping first to eat. Women my size are capable of polishing off an entire bottle of wine. Plus whiskey. No wonder, then, that a hangover is a legitimate (and unembarrassing) excuse for last-minute cancellations.

I once heard a nutritionist – a nutritionist! – explain that you should avoid refined sugars because they stress the liver and “You want your liver in good shape so it can deal properly with Friday night.”

Toto, we’re not in California anymore.

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* “Fuzzy head” is British understatement for “the kind of hangover that means you have to clean your toilet later.”