With Blackjack and Hookers "I'm going to write my own blog. With blackjack. And hookers."

18Jul/163

Four weeks

Tomorrow night will mark four weeks since I arrived in London, but as I will be at dinner, following my first day of work, it seemed appropriate I write something now. My inner librarian, orderly and delighted in synchronicity, is especially pleased with this: that phase two of my new life begins four weeks after stage one. And although I am going to miss the relatively unstructured life I've been living - the one where I have been able to wander out and do things at a moment's notice - I am also looking forward to actually settling down in earnest.

In a way, I've spent the past four weeks living outside the world. I've had moments of connection, but 95% of my time has been spent alone (happily so), and in my own head. It's been wonderful to have the space to do that, but it can't go on forever; it's time, now, to actually start living in London, not just existing here.

It's a pretty special thing, though, to get to have that much time to explore one's new home before getting bogged down in the mundanity of life. Or, really, to have that much time to explore any city. I'm pleased with how much I've managed to achieve in my four weeks, though I'm aware, too, that there's so much more I want to say. Part of me regrets the days of downtime I took; part of me is well aware that I needed them, just as much as I needed to get out and see things. And it's not like the explorations need to stop, either - I will still have time after work, and on weekends, and eventually, I will have leave to take as well.

So how much have I seen?

That orderly side of me is going to take over again, I think. Here goes:

  • I have walked an average of 12,813 steps per day (though that includes, at this stage, the day I spent in transit, so it's probably over 13K in actuality)
  • I have visited nine museums/historical houses (that I can think of at this moment):
    • The British Museum
    • The Imperial War Museum
    • The Museum of London
    • The Tower of London
    • Kensington Palace
    • Hampton Court Palace
    • The National Science Museum
    • The Victoria and Albert Museum
    • Dover Castle
  • I've been to five markets:
    • Borough Market
    • Brick Lane Market
    • Camden Lock Market
    • Portobello Road Market
    • Petticoat Lane Market
  • I've applied for countless jobs, and been offered five interviews (actual interviews, not just recruitment agency interviews), of which I ended up attending two.
  • I've been on three trains outside of London:
    • To Dover
    • To Arundel
    • To High Wycombe
  • I've joined countless MeetUp groups, and attended five events with four different groups... all of which involved a pub (or a wine tasting).
  • I've joined my local library, and borrowed several (actual, physical) books. And read them, too!
  • I've watched basically no television.
  • I've been to the theatre three times:
    • In the Heights
    • The Phantom of the Opera
    • The Book of Mormon
  • I've inspected exactly one room in a flatshare... and signed a rental agreement for it.
  • I've done about 20 hours of contract work.
  • I've cried two or three times, but never for long. I'm aware that there will be lonely and difficult times ahead, but for the moment, I'm feeling positive about my future.
  • I've listened to the digital mix-tape my sister-in-law Josien made for me probably a dozen times, and especially this song, which is really speaking to me at the moment.
  • I've planned one holiday for later in the year (I'm joining a group for Champagne tasting in France in November), and am working on a second (Christmas!).
  • I've religiously tracked down good coffee using my London Coffee Guide app in four places; for the most part, I've actually been going without coffee most days.
  • ... and without alcohol, too, except with those meetups (and, all right, on my daytrip to Dover, and then I had an individual serve bottle of Prosecco this evening).

So... I've done a lot. I feel good about it. I have more planned: a dinner with my wine meetup group tomorrow, and a ticket to Tim Minchin's 'Groundhog Day' on Friday. A walk on Saturday, and the Proms on Sunday.

And a full-time job. A new life.

I'm going to be fine.

8Jul/163

Ups and Downs

Oof. It's been an interesting few days - ups and downs all over. That's inevitable, of course: I uprooted my entire life, moved on my own to the other side of the world, and did it all within the space of six weeks. It's basically inevitable that some days will go better than others, and that some things will be more difficult than others. On the whole, though, I have to say I'm doing pretty well: I have moments of... not loneliness, as such, but uncertainty, but they pass. I don't really feel as if I belong here, yet, but I also don't expect to. I've not even been here three weeks, and I'm still largely in tourist mode; that will change.

wine tasting

I was supposed to write tasting notes. I... didn't.

I went to a wine tasting on Monday night - all South African wines from Meerlust. Again, I was almost certainly the youngest person in the group, but that's never especially bothered me: I had a very enjoyable evening chattering with some of the other women, and enjoying the wine. Some of the wine, anyway: one of them I thought was awful, and several were merely okay. The two most expensive wines? Yes, I'd gladly drink them again (of course). If you get the chance, do try their 'Rubicon' - highly recommended. There were six wines, and for tasting serves, they were generous; that, followed by the pinotage we had with dinner afterwards, meant I was relatively tipsy by the end, especially as I've not actually been drinking much at all since arriving in London. It made for a merry evening, though, and a very pleasant one, and the leader of our group (this is another meetup group) clearly knows his stuff - I'll be doing more things with him (in fact, I'm going to a dinner with this group in two weeks, and then on a champagne weekend to - yes - Champagne in November, and no doubt more in between).

I teetered a little on the way home, but it was a relatively straightforward trip: Jubilee line between London Bridge and Bond Street, then a quick change onto the Central line for Notting Hill Gate. Increasingly, yes, I know my tube lines (some of them).

Tuesday was quieter: some contract work in the morning, and an interview with (another) recruitment agency in the afternoon.

On Wednesday, I ventured out to Hampton Court Palace. Lovely! I've actually bought a membership to the Historic Royal Palaces - there's another four I can see (The Tower of London and Hampton Court being the first two), and I'm quite sure I'll squeeze them in over the next year.

To get to Hampton Court, one (or at least, if one is me) catches the District line to Wimbledon (this is as close as I've gotten, or will get, to the tennis), and then an actual train from Wimbledon to Hampton Court. I actually really enjoyed that: you can watch the shift from inner London to outer London, bit by bit, until you're basically out in the country. And oh, the green. It's going to take some getting used to, for me: grass actually being green. That... isn't so much a thing in Australia, a lot of the time.

Oh, Henry

Oh, Henry

The garden show is also on at Hampton Court at the moment, which I hadn't realised; I was a little perturbed by the masses and masses of people getting off the train with me, but they quickly thinned out to head to the garden show, as I ducked into the palace itself (which has lovely gardens of its own). Thomas Wolsey rebuilt the original manor house into a palace in the early 1500s, and then it was taken over by Henry VIII and has been a royal palace ever since. In the late 1600s, Sir Christopher Wren rebuilt some of it again to turn it into a baroque palace for William and Mary, which means it's an interesting collection of time periods. There's lots to explore - and even some live action recreations to be part of (I rather enjoyed being one of Queen Catherine (Howard)'s court, though regrettably we did not save Culpepper or Lady Rochford - alas! Though perhaps they deserved it, the treasonous scum).

Rather than retrace my steps on the train and tube, I elected to pay a little extra (£17, ouch!) to take the three hour river cruise back to London. I wasn't in any particular rush, and it seemed like the right thing to do: the Thames is such a notable part of London, after all. There weren't a lot of people on my boat, which was fine by me - plenty of room to spread out - but unfortunately the commentary I'd read about did not eventuate. I wonder if they only do that on trips upstream rather than down? In any case, it was still an interesting trip - there are some lovely, lovely houses along that river, let me tell you.

Unfortunately, I had a bit of a headache by the time we got back to Westminster. Extra unfortunately, I couldn't go straight home (which would have been a bad idea anyway - the tube can be pretty hellish at 5-6pm): I had an appointment to view a flat and no time to get home and then back out again. I ended up having dinner at a pub in Southwark, and a glass of wine that regrettably did nothing for my headache (sometimes it helps!), but I managed: it was bearable. By now, too, my phone was beginning to run out of battery, and I was a little worried that I wasn't going to be able to find my way to where I was going before it died - disaster!

Luckily for me, I found the bus I needed without too much difficulty, and equally luckily, it was a very direct route to where I needed to go: once I was off the bus, I literally only needed to walk around the corner, and there I was. I think the area is officially Bermondsey, or possibly South Bermondsey; it's a little ambiguous. Either way, it used to be a pretty working class area but is increasingly (unsurprisingly) home to a lot of young professionals. It's still quite multicultural, though, and I liked that.

The flat was the first I'd inspected, which was a little difficult: how did I know what questions to ask? Renting in London is very different, it seems, to renting in Australia. For one thing, most flats come fully furnished, and bills are often included in the price, so you don't have to sign up to your own utilities or worry about additional bills. I suppose that makes sense when most flats are shared, and people don't necessarily stay for long periods of time. Anyway, this particular flat was nice: newly refurbished, nicely decorated, with a bath and gas cooking, and a balcony. It's just two bedrooms, and the living room has not (as in many other flats) been turned into a third; I much prefer this, because I don't particularly like the idea of living in my bedroom and feeling uncomfortable leaving it.

So, yes: I applied for the first flat I inspected, and 'applied' is not really the right word because I think I was provisionally accepted on the basis of my email to the landlady before we even set up the viewing. It may or may not be wise to take the first place one looks at, but it worked for me. In part, that's because I don't have any local rental references (which are generally considered very important) or a job, so I knew a lot of agencies and landlords would be reluctant to consider me. In this place, I have an ongoing tenancy rather than a strict lease, so if I want to leave, it's just a notice period of two weeks. Easy.

Having inspected the place, and verbally indicated that I was interested, I made my escape: home and bed, pls. My headache was pretty much pounding by the time I made it back onto the bus, and I felt pretty miserable. One nice thing about London's long summer days, at least, was that it wasn't dark yet, despite now being close to 9-- you get some really beautiful twilights. Needless to say, I made it home safely. And then I slept. It was a long, long day.

Thursday, I promised myself, would be less long. It would be quiet! I would... I don't know, do something simple and easy and not too taxing. I ended up at Camden Lock Markets, just because I could, and I've been basically visiting every market I can find in London, so why not? I didn't buy anything (except a bagel and a coffee), but only because I had no cash in my pocket: there were some lovely, lovely things. Still, I'm trying to avoid buying anything more since in a couple of weeks I will have to pack up all my things into suitcases again and... well, I don't know if they'll fit.

On the way home, I had to change trains at Tottenham Court Road. Which... reminded me that I wasn't that far from Leicester Square, and didn't I deserve to reward myself for successfully finding myself somewhere to live? And wasn't a theatre ticket a Very Good Reward? You can see where this is going.

Leicester Square is full of tourists, many of whom bitch and complain and moan and roll their eyes, but I still kind of love it. I overheard an Australian woman tell someone, shocked and horrified, that someone had stolen her purse right out of her open handbag on their first day in Paris. Gosh. (I don't think I ever mentioned the wonderful exchange I overheard on my flight to London, wherein two young university students complained to each other about how one shouldn't have to order a vegetarian or vegan meal on a plane - it should just be a normal option - to which I wanted to lean forward and point out that a) there are a number of types of vegetarian so which one should be catered for? and b) what happens when they run out of vegetarian meals before they get to you, mm?)

In any case, the queues at the TKTS booth were not long, and while I was tempted by all kinds of things, I ultimately decided to go to the matinee of The Phantom of the Opera. I grew up with the soundtrack to Phantom, and first saw it on stage in 1996, when I was twelve. We'd only recently moved back to Sydney, so it would have been June or July - 20 years ago, almost exactly. I remember we sat right beneath the chandelier, and it was thrilling. My seats were not quite so good this time (even cheap, last minute tickets can get expensive), but it was still absolutely magical - it's one of those shows that really benefits from the spectacular staging of a permanent home. It's hard to believe that it has been showing in that theatre in London for 30 years; almost as long as I've been alive. Needless to say, I enjoyed the show.

(Having said that? People who try and sing on their way out of the theatre, uh, probably shouldn't. Phantom is not something most people can sing along to, and you're really better off not trying. Seriously.)

Today? Today I did almost exactly nothing.

That's not quite true, I suppose, but it's almost true. I did laundry; I applied for more jobs; I ventured up to Tesco to buy more milk. I had a phone conversation with another recruiter, and spent an hour putting together a supporting statement for that particular job. And then, almost no sooner had I finished that, I received an email containing a letter of offer for another position, one I really had not expected to be offered.

So, uh, that was a surprise?

So, theoretically, I may have both a flat and a job sorted after 2.5 weeks in London. Which, now that I'm on this end of it, seems pretty good (but earlier today, I would have probably told you I was freaking out about lack of job progress, so). I'm pleased: as much as I've enjoyed being a tourist, I think I'm just about ready to start settling down. If I accept this job, I'll have one more week of freedom to fill, and that seems reasonable.

I suppose we'll see how it goes!

4Jul/160

Shakespeare’s London

The White Tower

The White Tower

Yes, I'm falling down a little on the blogging. It's hard; I'm both very, very busy and also not, in part because some of what I'm doing is boring life admin stuff, and so much is just... 'and then I saw this'. Things continue to go well, by and large. Friday was a difficult day - I had a job interview that did not go well, and it shook my confidence a little - but I turned it around: the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery are wonderful places to go to regain one's zen. I also went to the Tower of London, and... and other places. I'm finding it difficult to keep up. So many places, so little time!

Saturday was effectively a day off, because Australia had an election and my present location on the other side of the world was no excuse not to follow it. I did go for a walk first, though: down towards Kensington, a direction I'd yet to wander in. This eventually led me to Kensington High Street, where I discovered T.K. Maxx (I'm not sure why it is T.K. in the UK and T.J. in the US, but I digress). I'm trying not to do too much shopping, but that place is amazing: big name brands for often half price. Buying a proper raincoat had been on my list, so I was delighted to buy a high quality one for half its normal retail value. I also, later, made some purchases on Amazon UK: merino wool is my new best friend. This was exciting in part because, with Amazon Prime, I can get next day delivery (or even same day delivery), and that just about blew my mind. In some ways, yes, Australia is a backwater.

I digress.

(Also, it is somewhat ridiculous that I have travelled halfway around the world to start buying up New Zealand merino. It's just... I never really needed it, in Sydney!)

I digress again.

I spent the rest of the afternoon watching election coverage. All of it. I admit, it is something that is more fun watched with others, but I had a lovely time all the same: I drank some T2 tea (I hadn't realised that T2 is an Australian company that has spread to the UK, but I'm so glad: going in to that shop and smelling the lemon myrtle tea and so on was delightful, though I ended up buying raspberry rush and french early grey instead), ate some chocolate biscuits, and gorged myself on it all. Another hung parliament. Yay.

At some point during the day, I registered a facebook post from my friend Kat, in Canada, in which she talked about the poutine she'd just eaten. This... this encouraged a craving. Which in turn led to a quest: good poutine is not easy to find in Sydney. Is it easier to find in London, a much larger city? I found the answer quickly: yes. In fact, my timing was perfect, because every Sunday there is a poutine truck at the Brick Lane markets in Shoreditch. My next step was clear.

Street art in Shoreditch

Street art in Shoreditch

Thus, I found myself at the Brick Lane markets this morning. Actually, this turned out to be an excellent decision, because those markets were amazing. Shoreditch is cool; there is a lot of street art, and the whole area has an artsy, alternative vibe. I'm told that it wasn't like that ten years ago, that it used to be quite a downtrodden and dangerous area. There are still some hints of that - and it is still heavily multicultural and very very different from, say, Notting Hill - but it hasn't turned 'trendy' so much as alternative. Newtown before it was gentrified, I suppose.

Those markets are, too, a food lover's paradise. In addition to the poutine, I saw duck-fat chips with truffle mayonnaise, crepes, sushi, all kinds of vegan goodies, and food from every possible ethnic group you can imagine. There were rainbow bagels. And... The Cereal Killer Cafe. Which, yes, serves cereal. Just cereal. Finally, of course, I can't forget to mention Dark Sugars, which had some of the most amazing chocolates I'd ever seen - with some of the best presentation, too. Big, beautifully carved bowls of truffles; a huge array of fancy chocolates; shiny chocolate pearls; an impressive collection of vegan chocolates, too. Reader, I died. (Read, I hyperbolised.)

The markets are also full of antiques, home made wares, and general random market junk, but for me, it was mostly about the food. The weather was perfect; it was a lovely morning.

In the afternoon, I was due to meet up with a group for a tour of 'Shakespeare's London', which I was very much looking forward to. It was a good choice: there were perhaps 20 or 30 of us, mostly locals, and everyone was very friendly and social. I ended up spending most of the walk talking to one woman in particular, and she and I got along very well, despite a fair age difference. The guide knew what he was talking about, and showed us all kinds of things along the way - and afterwards? Most of us went to the pub for a few drinks, where I ended up in the midst of a lively discussion about politics, among other things.

One thing I really like about meetup groups is that if you pick the correct groups, you know you're going to be meeting people who share at least some of your interests. Most of the people in this group are a good 20 years older than me, but we still share interests, and that made it easy to interact. Age is no barrier!

It was a good day. But now my feet hurt, so I am going to curl up and relax for the rest of the evening.