Archive | March, 2012


18 Mar

On Monday night, I found myself on the phone with the police.  After spending weeks-on-end alone in London, I enjoyed my first round of house guests this week. I took one of them with me on an expedition to explore a volunteering opportunity.  The locals here keep telling me that volunteering is the best way to get to know people and make connections that could lead to employment.  Okay. I got myself invited to a Scout meeting about a mile away, and it happened to be on a night when I had company.  One of my guest, a strapping young lad, offered to go with me.  Since I was a bit apprehensive about venturing off into the night alone, I was pleased to have him along and offered my husband’s commuter bike as transport.  Off we went, zooming down through the narrow streets of London in our high-viz gear with halogen lights fastened.  It was only after we arrived at our destination that I realized I had left the key to the mega Kryptonite lock back at the house.  Feeling quite plucky, as they say here, I scoped out the surroundings, chose the light post nearest the entrance and fastened both bikes with my cable lock.

We went inside and enjoyed an hour introduction of Monty Python-esque rituals and games with teen-aged kids and then decided to head off.  As soon as we opened the front door, I saw my bike thrown to the curb and no trace of my husband’s Trek 7.5 disc-brake, fender sporting, ARGGHHH!  I stood there for a moment in disbelief, then rang the police.  While I was on the phone, I spotted the cut lock and told the dispatcher I had just found it. I half expected her to call me stupid out loud and to my face.  Instead, she were very courteous, very professional, and told me that an investigator would call me the next day.  Sure enough, as promised, I got a phone call from a detective who wanted to dust the lock for prints. Really? Yes, the London Police sent an officer to my door, dusted the lock for fingerprints, apologized for taking up my time and getting dust on my kitchen floor, and bid me goodnight.  I don’t expect they will catch the guy.  I feel certain whoever did it is quite slick and was probably trained by one of Fagan’s direct descendants.  I was reminded that I am a pretty naive girl from Alamance County way too willing to trust.  It’s probably a good thing that my loss of trust can’t be replaced, but the insurance is going to replace the bike.

Asda in London (The high costs of low prices)

18 Mar

Several weeks when I couldn’t get to sleep, I pulled up “The High Cost of Low Prices” on Netflix and watched with disgust, the story of Walmart.  There is a brief segment in the production about Walmart in the European market.  A Londoner explains that Asda (the European brand for Walmart) tried to buy the land that a centuries old market occupies (I can’t recall which market) in Central London. Pridefully, he reports how the vendors protested the sale successfully fending off the corporate invasion thus preserving a way of life. I have to say, what I love most about living in London is my local choice of small shops.  If I need meat, I have the butcher.  If I need bread, I have the baker.  If I need coffee, I have my choice of about sixteen cafes within 5 minutes walk of my door.  In fact, we chose this flat because of the vibrant village feel.  The restaurants, shops, and proximity  to the London Underground stop all helped us decide that this place was the one.

I have to admit, this flat was not my first choice. The flat I initially wanted was a proper Victorian row house with a bright and spacious yellow kitchen, a water closet downstairs, and three bedrooms up two sets of narrow stairs.  This was the first place we looked at when we were here in August, and I was immediately smitten.  We asked the agent to take us back to it a second time, and we were very close to asking to see the lease when my husband had the brainstorm that we should take a walk toward the shops and see what daily life would be like without a car.  As we stepped onto the high street (London-ese for “main street with shops”), we were struck by the number of empty storefronts and the overall depressed feeling.  It was quite odd because between our first and second viewing, we had enjoyed many glimpses of daily London bustle.  Every other residence we had viewed was situated near a cluster of shops and cafes with droves of people coming and going, but this place seemed to in an “iffy” area. Steve just looked at me and said, “I think we will feel very isolated and frustrated living here. It’s just not very nice.”

So, we chose to live across from the Common, on a busy city street but with a view of the park.  This is what it looks like once I leave my little garden gate and look across the busy road.

After I got settled in and had a few days to think about it, I was a little sad that we had opted for a place without a real kitchen.  I mean, the kitchen I have is functional, but only barely.  There is no joy in cooking in it mostly because I am claustrophobic and an extravert. The space is both extremely tight and closed off from the rest of the house.

So, just to prove to myself that we had made the right decision about the flat, I went out in search of the one that we rejected.  As it turns out, it is only about six blocks from here.  As I ventured down the high street, I got the same depressed feeling I had back in August.  There were empty shops and a noticeably high number of gambling outlets.  There were only a few restaurants and I did not see any of the usual sidewalk vendors for fresh fruit and vegetables.  The sidewalks were almost vacant.  I continued past the street where I had been tempted to live, and three more blocks up, there it stood.  Asda.  While the open market vendors in Central London had been successful in warding off the empire, the locals in Battersea had not, and the effects were quite evident.  People were streaming out of the doors and boarding the buses that stopped just in front. The parking lot was full, but the store fronts on the high street were empty.  While I was glad to have our choice of flats confirmed, I am sad for Europe that they seem to be following in our misguided footsteps where price is the final deciding factor and a way of life that defines a community is threatened.

A Word(s) with (my) Friends

4 Mar

I played a mega move in Words with Friends yesterday.  I changed the word “nigh” into “knighted” and earned a whopping 108 points. That is more than I have ever earned on any single bingo play. It hit me – I’ve gotten good at Words with Friends the way people get good at life.  At first, you only concentrate on what letters you have been dealt.  You pore over what you have and try to come up with a word, only to realize that even though you have the perfect word, you can’t play it because there is no where on the board to connect it up.  So, you acquiesce and play something smaller, less satisfying, but worth something and you wait and hope.  Your next set of letters makes you realize that by playing the last move, you have given up the original word which was brilliant, but everything has changed now and you must adapt.  So, eventually you come to know and expect that it does not really matter so much which letters you have as much as it matters which letters can be played on the board; and more importantly, the point value of the spaces on the board.  Sometimes, you lose and have to start over.  Sometimes, you have to skip your turn and trade in some of what you have for different tiles.  Finally, if luck lines it up, you will be able to take what is on the board, add your own parts to it and create something extremely valuable and quite unexpected. But even that doesn’t last.  Rematch?