Sunday, July 19, 2015


Standing in Portobello Road yesterday, trying to avoid being whacked by selfie sticks and fanny packs, I came across a print with Erin Hanson's quote, "What if I fall? Oh but my darling, what if you fly?"  I bought it for my tiny London flat.

 London can kick your ass.

Last Friday I left work early to finally open a bank account.  I arrived on time for my appointment with my passport, my work Visa, a letter from my employer, my UK National Insurance Number, and my tenancy agreement.  I believe enough documents to prove my residency and my legitimacy.  Wrong.  I was turned away for reasons I still fail to understand.  I left the bank red-faced and sweaty, made an incomprehensible phone call to Chris and started a mission up Camden High Street to open a bank account late on a Friday afternoon.  And the day after the Tube strike.

I visited at least six different branches, pleading my case and scattering my documents over desks.  I felt like a Jehovah's Witness going door-to-door in an all Catholic neighbourhood.  I was told I needed more ID, a different letter from my employer, and that the bank didn't have a Saturday appointment for five weeks.  At the last branch, a customer service representative took pity on me and within 30 minutes I had a bank account.  The ultimate act of kindness.  And another reminder that I need patience and persistence to build a life in London.

 The experience wore me down a bit.

The next morning I had plans to meet a friend and her dog for a walk on Hampstead Heath.  Dressed in my new Gap navy blue shorts - I wear shorts in London?! - she toured me around the Heath while we exchanged details about our lives. I told her about my rotten Friday.

"So you are living your dream?"

"Yes.  I guess so.  I am living my dream."

"Well.  That's what you need to remember when you are having a bad day."

Of course she's right.  On good days, bad days, boring days or extraordinary days, I must remember that I am living my dream.  And more importantly that I am working towards the life Chris and I want.  Those are precious and rare things.

London perspective.... 
Canada turned 148 on July 1.  My new place of work is nearly 50 years older.

London shop signs...
"Bespoke colonic" and "Breakfast, Lunch, Cake"

Paris v. London...
I had breakfast this morning at Cafe Rouge on High Street Hampstead.  I felt a bit like I had woken up in Paris.  Next to me two women gossiped in French about the weather and their children - comme toujours! - before effortlessly switching to English with cut glass accents.  From my table, I could see across the street into the windows of Tara Jarmon and well-dressed children scampered past me carrying warm baguettes from Paul.  Cars were parked haphazardly on the street with their hubcaps scratched and bent.  Small, designer dogs, an overwhelming amount of them French Bulldogs, pranced next to their owners and uncomfortable looking runners panted past wearing everything from Oxford rugby shirts to shiny, black spandex tights.  Paris, is that you?!

Moments of perfect London happiness...
Thursday 5 GBP lunch of seafood paella from Bloomsbury Farmers' Market eaten picnic style in one of the many area squares with my lovely new colleagues.  The sun was shining, my skirt was tucked around my knees as we joined all the other Londoners trying to steal an hour of sunshine over lunch.  Picnicking is real thing in London and I can't remember the last time I ate so many meals outside on the ground.  

Rick Steves' moment du jour...
Sitting in the front seats on the top deck of the 168 double decker bus en route to work.  Riding the bus from these seats feels like part interactive retro video game and part budget London tour.  But I have noticed that even the most jaded, weary London commuters rush for these seats and smile as the bus teeters through London's narrow streets. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

London Lessons

I learned some things last week.

I learned that it is easy to accidentally turn your fridge off, via its fuse switch, and spoil a week's worth of carefully selected Waitrose ready-meals.  I learned that posh people say "what" (pronounced "whot"), not "pardon" when they want you to repeat something you have said.  I learned that the Central Line is London's hottest tube line and personally experienced this when I rode it to Stratford on London's hottest day in recorded history. 

And I learned that while living in London will expose me to countless new people and new experiences, certain things about my personality will not change.  No matter how badly I wish otherwise.

Since moving to London, everyone wants to know what I have been doing (plays, museums, festivals, galleries, etc.) and what I plan to do in the future.  The truth is I haven't seen one play and I have only found time to spend one afternoon at The National Gallery.  My desk is covered with ripped out events pages from The Evening Standard and Time Out LondonA further stack of neon yellow Post-It notes cover my laptop: polo match, Notting Hill, weekend in Paris, Borough Market.

The National Gallery - George Stubbs
 I woke up this morning worried that I am not taking advantage of everything this incredible city has to offer.  I don't want to waste one second of this opportunity but I am learning, for me, there has to be a balance.

I have advocated lots for travel that fits your personality.  With Paris, I always tell people if they don't like crowds and Renaissance art to skip the Louvre and the Mona Lisa and enjoy a calmer cultural experience at l'Orangerie. Find what you love and experience it within a new culture.

Right now my priority is making a home in London.  For the last four weeks I have been racing around London with lists buying everything from a goose down duvet to a 6-in-1 screwdriver.  I have finally unpacked my suitcases and found an instant coffee that almost replaces my beloved Nespresso machine.  I have been out most nights and rarely fall asleep before midnight.  I have bought used books at my local charity shop and signed up for a Boots Advantage Card.  It's exhilarating but also exhausting.

Belsize Park
My happiest moments are spent in my neighbourhood, establishing a routine, being part of the community, and trying to make London home.  That is what I want right now, what I need right now, and what will allow Chris and me to eventually make a life in London.

I learned that, as with Paris, I need to find my own London. 

Things you see written on a London pub's chalkboard sign...

At a pub near Euston Station regarding television coverage of the Tour de France, "See France without having to leave the pub!"

London mystery...

Why are the croissants at Pret a Manger so amazing?  They shouldn't be so delicious.  I always expect them to taste like a suburban Costco croissant but instead they are so flaky and so buttery that I end covered in crumbs and staining my outfit-du-jour.  And how is it that 90% of the time their croissants are still warm and the place smells like a Paris bakery at 4am on a Sunday?  Wikipedia describes Pret as a fast food chain?!

My favourite London purchase (so far!)...

This morning I found a black and white photograph of Audrey Hepburn in the Marie Curie charity shop just down the road from my flat.  Chris and I bought a print of Audrey at the Notting Hill Market when we came to London in 2007.  It was one of our only souvenirs from that trip and still hangs in our house in Victoria.  I feel there is a special synchronicity to my purchase this morning.