London, Skibbereen, Paris…and a lot of traffic
Yes, I know, Its been a long time since the last post…… guilty! Truth is I have been very ambivalent about a lot that has happened in the past two months. Emotional ups and downs. I wanted for things to settle a bit before casting my opinions and impressions. So here we go.
Last time I wrote we had found a darling house just outside London. It wasn’t going to be available for a couple of weeks and we were assured by the agent that we had nothing to worry about, the place was ours. We booked an AirBnB outside London, at Shoreham by Sea, to wait till the move in date.
The day before we left London we received a call from the agent saying that we had been outbid by another couple over the weekend. I was amazed that “outbidding” on rent was a thing. I felt completely flabbergasted. What to do?
We decided to stick to your plan and leave London. Even on the train to Shoreham we communicated with the agent of our “runner up” flat. Yes it was still available.
The runner up flat was nothing like the cute cottage we had been looking forward to move into.
So, what are the ups and downs of this other flat:
- Close to Hannah’s college (3 minute walk).
- Close to downtown London (10 minute train ride)
- Newly renovated interior (new paint, appliances, floors, beds, dressers, couch)
- On an intersection with traffic lights of two VERY busy roads (cars, busses, motorcycles all stop and get off to a screeching start outside our bedroom window…. bass pumping, honking, raving motorcycle engines are a near constant).
- Pub across the street that hosts DJ’s three times a week (yeah, I know, what goes around, comes around…its my turn to be on the receiving end I guess). During the summer months people are spilling into the street, laughing, arguing…I hope this will lessen as the temperature drops and the rain starts.
- 24 hour beer-selling convenience store, kitty corner to our flat.
- The flat is TINY (which doesn’t really bother me).
- The flat downstairs has a group of very nice young people who are smokers. Every time we have the window open and they smoke…guess where the smoke goes.
No matter, its a start, we said. It will help us get established. We can move somewhere else down the line.
While in Shoreham we filled out the paperwork for the flat and went through the difficult and lengthy process of applying for a flat without local credentials, no local credit history and Kath not having a job. In the end, with 6 months rent paid up front, we signed a one year contract (with a 6 month break clause).
The first couple of weeks in the flat were rough. No silverware, no plates, no pillows, the noise, the noise, omg the noise…. and above all the ever present feeling that we could have moved into “that great near perfect cozy home”.
The worst night for me was about 2 weeks into our tenancy. Midnight, the pub is hopping, loud music. Surely this too will pass and people will go home. 2am, me drifting in and out of sleep…lots of people still milling in the street…conversations, sometime muffled, sometimes loud. 4am, I wake up. Now there is louder shouting in the street. What the hell?! It sounds like 30-50 people being in an argument. Don’t these people have homes to go to!? Over the next half hour the “argument” escalated…it felt like a riot was happening outside my bedroom window I (and I mean RIGHT outside, perhaps 5-10 feet away). I didn’t dare go outside and get involved. The police came (sirens). I peeked out. 50 or so people across the street standing in a large group across the street now, the police hanging back. Another 15 minutes pass. Screams (think Friday the 13th screams). People running. Shouting. 5 minutes later lots of police. flashing lights all over my bedroom wall. I hear police questioning people. Me sitting at the computer, writing to my landlord. Fuming.
The next morning, as I left the flat, the entire area across from us was taped off by police (this is 6 hours after it happened). I asked the officer, who was making sure nobody crossed the police line, what happened. Turns out a bunch of people (wherever they came from…a party, the pub, a club, who cares) hung out, got into an argument. One person got his head bashed in (survived) and one person got stabbed (also survived). “We just moved to the neighbourhood…is this a common occurrence around here?” I asked. “Well,” she said “this IS London… it does happen every once in a while and it can happen anywhere. At least nobody died this time.” “Oh good”, I thought, “at least our neighbourhood don’t have the exclusive on hooligans”. The next day, after police had gone to see after other, more recent stabbings, no doubt, I could see the trail of blood drips along the street where the stabbing victim had tried to escape.
Almost two months have passed since then. I sleep through the traffic noise. I know not to go to bed before midnight, when the pub closes. No more hooligan gatherings. The occasional depressed drunk at 3am who declares his dismay to the world but soon moves on to tell someone else. We adapt to our environment.
Bottom line. If we are staying in the UK, we HAVE to move. It’s OK for a short stay but in the long run we need to find something quite and more suited to family life.
- Opened a local bank account (trying to pay with our US debit and credit cards was hit and miss at best “What do you mean you don’t have a chip card?!” “Sorry, but ‘verified by VISA’ has declined the transaction” “Sorry, but you can’t pay for your ticket with THAT card” “Sorry, we don’t take swipe cards”… or just a shake of the head)
- Got internet to the flat (two week waiting period)
- Switched phone providers because Vodafone coverage in out flat sucked.
- Got Tristan registered with the local school council
- Got registered with the local physician
etc etc etc
All these things took hours of standing in line and relying on the good will of other people. And, as anywhere else in the world, there are some really nice people we encountered, and some assholes. Nothing new there.
KATH’S JOB HUNT:
Interviewed for one job, “Sorry, you don’t know British law and we can’t have that”.
Interview for the second job “Wow, we really like you, yeah you’ll have some learning to do, but you’ll figure it out”
She is going through the verification process (references, health records etc etc) which has taken about a MONTH now and hopefully will come to a completion soon.
Kath is sending out an email that explains all this in greater detail.
Squeezed in a visit to my mom in Skibbereen, Ireland with Tristan (Kath stayed behind in London to be available if the job people needed anything from her). The flight was brief. It was cold and rainy (a welcome change from hot London). Lots of hours sitting with my mom and listening to her. Tristan, not understanding German, playing video games on his smart phone. The beer was good.
Squeezed in a 4 day trip to Paris. I was VERY excited about this because:
- I always wanted to go to Paris and
- I wanted Kath and Tristan to see something other than the tiny flat on the busy intersection before school/work started.
We took the Eurostar. I LOVED the trip there (ca 2 hours from London to Paris), I LOVED Paris. VERY different from London. More laid back, more….dare I say it?…more….French.
We walked for miles along the Seine. People (not just a few…by the hundreds and thousands) singles, couples, friends, hanging out, picnicking, a bottle of wine, a baguette, some fromage….C’est normal.
Another thing I loved: After you are done eating at a bistro, you don’t get the bill unless you ask for it. You CAN take your time…you CAN linger. Now, if lingering, taking it easy, enjoying food and cheese and other fine things life has to offer isn’t your thing?… Paris might not be for you.
The attitude of the waiters…I feared for the worst….the French DO have a reputation after all. But, to my surprise, it was all good. We tried to communicate in French. A quick smirk from the waiter… “What can I get you?”.
Tristan and I went to a Boulangerie for some pastries and managed to order in (very broken) French and, I’m sure they knew right away we were not from France, they spoke back to us in french and it was all good and we were in and out in a few minutes. The couple next to us in a loud southern American accent “Yeah le’me have an apricot croissant and one with chocolate. Yeah, tha’ll do.” Surprise, surprise, they were treated very differently by the person across the counter and perhaps are still there trying get their order. A little courtesy goes a long way.
Paris did not disappoint…I WILL be back.
I did realise that my French language skills needed drastic improvement. Although our friend and ex-exchange student Mareva (who we met on this trip…what a GREAT re-union by the way) did teach me how to say “Another beer please” and “Can I have the bill please” (really, what other phrases do you need to know), I want to be able to understand and communicate better. I signed up for a French class which starts in a week.
And just to set the record straight, it ain’t all vacation and laze in bed till noon. While at home or on any of the trips, I work each day as long as is required. While in Paris, I worked from 7:30am till 1-3pm. When the work is done, I go out and explore. And that is fair enough. I don’t resent it at all. In the world of self-employment, work is a good thing, no matter if you are in Seattle, London or Paris. It allows us to do what we do.
THE COST OF LIVING
It still amazes me. On groceries, the mobile telephone bill, the Internet bill: We save between 50 to 75 percent as compared to what we paid on Vashon. Seeing that a large percentage of my income went to Thriftway, this should make a difference in our books.
Housing IS more expensive in London, no doubt. However, we chose to stick to a low budget for rent (which landed us in our mouse trap …err…I mean flat). But, seeing that we only had one income when we were renting it was the prudent thing to do. As a result we pay less here than what we did on Vashon. And…we’ll revisit the whole housing issue when we know how much our income is when Kath starts work.
Transportation: I’m loving it: its capped at around 9USD a day and Tristan rides for free. I love not having a car. Public transportation in London is fast and efficient.
tomorrow we’ll speak to a school to see if we can’t get Tristan enrolled.
Kath should know by the end of next week when she can start work.
Hannah returns from Spain in two weeks.
Generally, as far as I’m concerned, life is good. Yeah, we could live in a nicer neighbourhood and house, but other than that, so far so good. I love how close we are to Paris and mainland Europe in general. I love that I can visit my mother in a heartbeat if needed. Everything else will hopefully fall into place. I’ll make a point of writing my next entry sooner. Thanks for reading!!