The Spice Girls are still big celebrities here. Boy George has his own column in one of the papers. I just saw Spandau Ballet being interviewed some re-release. Victoria “Posh” Spice and footballer David “Becks” Beckham are the Jennifer and Brad of London. In England, celebrities don’t die; they just fade away – from American consciousness.
I was originally told I’d have a week to go back and pack my things and that I just needed to “check in” with the London office from time to time to make sure things were moving along smoothly.
Instead, I had to start working at 6 a.m. (already noon London time) and work a full day, then try to arrange getting stuff into storage, finding movers, getting a renter for my apartment, canceling utilities, getting my cell phone put on hold, saying a proper good-bye to friends and spending a bit of time with family.
The day the movers came, my mother came to help – not with heaving lifting, but I think just for moral support. Hers more than mine. Four burly guys showed up and I intended to help instruct them what should be put in storage and what should be shipped to England. Instead, I got a call from a VP in our L.A. office. She had to figure out how certain client jobs had been estimated. How would I know? Those jobs happened well before I was sent to London. Back and forth we went trying to guestimate where every number in every column came from. I said “I’d love to help you out, but I’m moving today.” Her reply was “I don’t know who else to ask.” Never mind that she’s a VP and that her department was responsible for putting together the estimates in the first place.
So, there I sat, on the stairwell of my apartment building, with my laptop and cell phone while four guys rummaged through everything I owned and my mom sat on the couch trying not to get teary eyed.
After my initial month in London, I went back to Chicago for a week to take care of the details that most people plan weeks ahead of an overseas move, not after.
Most of my stuff will be shipped to England by sea freight. So, the first order of business was to figure out what I needed for the next four to six weeks, what I needed for a year and what I could get rid of. So along with clothes and toiletries, I have to stuff things like sheets and towels into two large suitcases under 70 pounds and one carry-on not exceeding 14 x 22 x 9 inches.
Happily, I loaded up one van load for charity and trashed about a dozen garbage bags worth of junk. How did I cram all of that into my one bedroom apartment?
My friend Amy provided some much-needed help in getting rid of things. There were a few dresses, sweaters, etc. that, with the raise of an eyebrow, she helped me realize were out of style, ill-fitting or just plain ugly. She also intervened as I readied my typewriter for storage. “What do you have that for?” She was not buying my vague answer “typing,” so I had to admit that I pictured myself sitting in front of the typewriter writing novels like Jack Kerouac when he wrote On the Road on one continuous feed of paper so he didn’t have to load new sheets. “I think I’m going to have to pull rank here.” So it was the charity pile for my Smith Corona.
I also talked myself out of bringing my sewing machine, thinking the idea of making new curtains and slipcovers was probably a similar pipe dream.
Despite the stress of moving in a limited timeframe, unloading so much stuff was quite freeing and I vowed not to have so many boxes of crap and unwanted knick knacks clutter up my future.
Now with the tiny armoire in lieu of an actual closet, I wish I would have gotten rid of more baggage – maybe I will on the move back.
I hear stories of people meeting an attractive stranger on an airplane – hitting it off and winding up married, or at least passing the time giving getting affectionate under the airline blanket (which are only washed once every nine flights, incidentally). Not me. I always get seated next to some incarnation of Gene Hackman’s character in Heartbreakers – stodgy grandfather type who smells of [choose one: tobacco, stale cologne, B.O.].
I always know who I’ll be seated next to – I can pick them out coming down the aisle. Today’s flight from London to Chicago was no exception; I knew I was in for another long flight when he tried stowing his bag in the overhead bin and had to stop twice because, as he stated “my pants are falling down.” He continued to try to talk to me in some indiscernible Scottish brogue that even the flight attendants could not make out. In his first of eight times getting up from his window seat, he stood up, but his pants did not. They dropped to the floor like a theatre curtain. Now I know why Scots wear kilts. I also know that if they wear the same thing under their kilts as under their pants, the answer to the famous question is “light blue briefs”.
Saying I’ve been working late nights would be an understatement. All of our creative is done from the L.A. office, so 11 pm conference calls are not unusual. The night before I was checking out of the hotel and flying back to Chicago to pack up my apartment, I worked past midnight.
Unfortunately, the tube closes at about 12:30. I thought I had enough time to make it to the hotel on the last train. What I didn’t account for was that I had to take three tube lines since the hotel they’d put me in was way across town. On the second leg of the journey the announcer came on “this train terminates here”. What? I didn’t know where “here” was in relation to where the hotel was.
I’d received my emergency cash, but I didn’t have enough for a taxi as I’d only received the minimum I needed to pay for a week’s meals and to reimburse my colleague. (Of course Visa was charging me some ridiculous rates for this privilege.)
I quickly tried to acquaint myself with the night buses in God-knows-where I was. I found one that was roughly going the right direction and thought it would be pretty easy to connect to another bus to get me to the hotel. It wasn’t. Finally I found a bus route that would get me within two blocks of the hotel. But I’d run out of money. I wondered if I could sneak through the back door of the bus or just act drunk and stumble past the ticket taker. When the bus arrived, a just pulled the change out of my pocket and asked if it would be enough. I must have looked really desperate because he just waved me past.
For weeks, I have been on and off of the phone with Visa. I told them that I lost my wallet and that I’d need a replacement card. They said they’d send one right away. Three days later, no card. I called them back. They apologized and said they’d send another card. A week later, no card. I called them back. They had no record of the first card and the second one had not been sent Fed Ex, in fact it had not even been sent air mail, so it could take four weeks to arrive “but we’ll send you another card now” I was assured.
Meanwhile, I was living off a bit of pocket change from the only colleague I felt I could ask. Since was in a hotel, I had no kitchen so I had to live off room service, which doesn’t sound too bad, but after a month the choices get pretty dull. For lunch each day I had to get by on a bad cafeteria sandwich and water. The worst thing was that that colleague was leaving the company and I had to pay him back. But the visa card never came.
Then I got a call from the front desk at the hotel. Since I’d run up so many charges on room service, they tried to put the costs through on my card and found it to be invalid. I had to explain, beg, plead and promise that I’d have the new card any day now. Three days later I had to repeat my pleadings.
I called the Visa company again as I was starting to worry that the hotel would kick me out. - Would you like us to send you some emergency cash? - WHAT! YES OF COURSE I WANT SOME EMERGENCY CASH! WHY WASN’T THIS OFFERED BEFORE? - We didn’t know you needed it. - I explained I’m a single woman, alone, in a foreign country for a month and that I don’t know anyone and don’t have any access to money. Was there something not clear about that?
Finding a place to live is a challenge. Every neighborhood has multiple letting agents, and they all have different listings, so there’s no such thing as a one-stop shop. If you don’t know what neighborhood you want to live in, you have to endure multiple letting agents.
“Oh this place is brilliant. It’s just been put on the market. It’s a bedsit, and it’s so convenient – you can do your washing up while sitting in bed. Oh well, sure it’s an ex-council flat, but the neighborhood’s like me – really up and coming.”
Or you can contact landlords directly through one of the online ad sites. “Why yes, it does have a washer/ dryer. It is right here, you just turn the dial and it washes away your dirty dirty little secrets. And then, it dries them”.
I’ve noticed here that a lot of people stare at you on buses, trains, in restaurants, everywhere. The disconcerting part is that they stare at you directly in the eyes. My question is what is the proper etiquette for the staree? Is it rude to look away quickly? If you do, then are you allowed to do a few glance-backs to find out if they really were staring and whether they are continuing to stare? Should you check for a stray booger? Next time this happens, I’m going to stare right back, in the eyes, and see what happens.
I plan to discover a lot of cool British rock bands. But in the meantime, I just listen to the station they have on at work. I haven’t figure out how the stations are classified, but the same station plays Eminem and Lionel Richie. More than once a day. I think Lionel Richie has huge international appeal, because he was on the radio quite often when I went to Taiwan in ’97.
I have quickly been drawn in by some of the more popular TV shows here. “Footballers Wive$” is a favorite as is the long-running nighttime soap opera “East Enders”. I’m also trying to watch some British comedy shows, for research of course.
Films are released much later here, so I’m catching a second wave of hype for movies I saw over the summer. The magazine covers are generally strewn with local ex-reality stars, the manufactured girl/boy band tabloid sensation of the month, and various other C to Z (or C to Zed, I should say) list celebrities. Jude Law’s relationship problems are all over the news, which is good for me to know because he lives in a neighborhood I am considering and thus could be my future neighbor/boyfriend.
Needing to assimilate quickly into the culture, I had to find out about the important things first. I asked someone to explain the difference between bars and pubs, other than that pubs close at 11 p.m. “Pubs have lots of wood.” Upon further enquiry, I learned that pubs serve mostly beer – they are not well stocked for mix drinks – and they serve food. Most of them are named Blank & Blank, as in Rose & Crown, Rat & Parrot, or The Frog & Forget-me-not and the décor of the bar, tables, etc. is mostly wood. Bars are open late and serve a lot of mixed drinks and have fewer beers on tap.
I also thought it was important to find out about the dating scene – which I was quickly told didn’t exist… people in London don’t “date” they “go out”. Mainly, they meet in a bar, get drunk, go home, shag, start living together, get married and have kids – all without ever having to go on a date.
So that’s how it works here. I’ll be amply informed when I meet Hugh Grant.