Sunday, December 30, 2007

Highgate Times

Highgate Cemetery is one of the "must-see" sights in London according to pretty much every guide book and every friend who's been there. It also happens to be within walking distance of our flat, and we ended up staying in town this weekend and tours of the Victorian West Cemetery only run on weekends so visiting was a no-brainer.

It was a nice half-hour walk up Holloway Road and through a park to get there, and there were two cemeteries to explore with some famous people to visit. Sure, Karl Marx' grave is there but more interested to me personally was the marker for Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy series - Adams was a resident of Islington until he moved to California late in his life. Both of those are in the East Cemetery, which you can go in at any time and wander around. The West Cemetery is locked up tight unless you're on a guided tour because vandalism, occultism and crime were big problems here until the 70s, and the group that runs the place is working very hard to restore it.

So we latched onto the first tour of the day, which was nice since there were only five of us and our guide was exceptionally knowledgeable about the cemetery and its residents. I was taking pictures the entire time and the best are on my Flickr stream if you want to take a look - our guide was really cool and let me stick the camera in some mausoleums that had been opened for restoration work, so there's some pictures of decaying coffins and other creepiness in there I feel lucky to have taken.

Afterwards we fortified ourselves at a nearby pub with mulled wine and tasty food and set off for the West End, where we caught a show of Spamalot! Somehow it wasn't as good as the first time I saw it, but watching it with Liz more than made up for that. There was no Tim Curry, David Hyde Pierce or Hank Azaria, but whatchagonnado.

Still not sure what we're going to be up to for the new year. Maybe just going to a local pub and having a few drinks? We'll figure it out.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Local Art

Liz and I began our Boxing Day ramble at our local Tube station, Holloway Road. We were surprised to find that graffiti artists had tagged pretty much the entire station between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day - and I got some pictures of what it looked like. I figured the context would remain a mystery but recognized a photo on Londonist as being a shot of the same art. So a few clicks later and I'm on Nicobobinus' Flickr stream, where he is displaying his shots of both Holloway Road and Caledonian Road (and commentors noted that Angel and Arsenal stations were tagged as well.)

More importantly, he linked to a Guardian story that provides context to the tags - seems its a memorial for two artists named Ozone and Wants who were stuck by a train and killed in early 2007. The article is a good look at the London graffiti scene, and makes for a good afternoon read.

I've always enjoyed well-done and artistic graffiti - it's a unique form of expression in urban areas, and is beautiful when done by a real artist - so it was cool that a series of coincidences and click-throughs gave me the whole story on the art in my local station.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

My First Boxing Day!

We Americans severed our connection with the home country early by dumping our tea in Boston Harbor, so we don't celebrate Boxing Day - the day where the rich used to box up their unwanted shit to give to the poor and companies would give their employees gifts. These days, it's a day everyone gets off work and stores hold big sales. We celebrated our first Boxing Day by taking a walk across London - literally, across most of the City. We started at Green Park on the north end of St. James', stopped by Buckingham Palace to see if Lizzie was around (she was but she wasn't receiving Americans), then walked along the Thames until we ended up between St. Paul's and the Tower. If we would have kept going we could have seen the Tower and pretty much covered most of what there is to see in the inner city in one afternoon - without going in anything of course - but we ended up having to catch a bus back so we stopped a little shy.

It was a great day to see London. A great day. Most people were still inside or with family, and the only place that was really crowded was around Westminster and Parliament. Otherwise there were only a handful of people on the street at any time - quite an achievement as anyone who has walked in London can attest - and it made for a good, leisurely stroll through the city. The wind wasn't bad and we found a couple of open pubs for pints and bathrooms making it all around a great day.

I realize I haven't really talked much about my experiences here yet, which is mostly because I'm still settling in (we just got Internet today.) Once things start to sink in a little more, I'll be able to do more synthesis. Right now I just feel like I'm collecting data and haven't really had time to analyze it yet.

Liz has to be online tomorrow but we may go somewhere this weekend - I'd like to see Nottingham but we'll see what shakes out.

London: Capital of the World

Hey, I live in the capital of the world!

Via Londonist, the Independent named London the Capital of the World.

Suck on that, New York!

Friday, December 21, 2007

What a Difference Two Weeks Make

Two weeks before London:
    I'm not moving across the world so I can drink coffee at Starbucks!
Two weeks after being in London:
    Jesus Christ, where's the goddamned Starbucks?!

Monday, December 17, 2007

The First Batch

The first batch of London pictures are up on my Flickr stream, from moving in and our walk through Camden Town. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

On Water

Dear My New Fellow Countrymen,

I love you dearly but there's something very important we must talk about.

This is the 21st century, and in the last 100 years or so we've accomplished great things as a species: we can fly, and trips that used to take months now take hours. We walked on the moon. We invented the Internet.

And more importantly, we created a device that allows both hot and cold water to come from the same faucet in a real mixture to prevent your hands from either burning or freezing.

Take note, friends. This truly is the way of the future!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Deliver Me To Swedish Furniture!

New flat. No plates, no glasses, no towels and we needed a new bed. So what are two Euro-savvy Americans to do?

That's right, go to Ikea.

After a great protip in a comment on the newly-found blog "A Singaporean in London" suggested not the Wembley Ikea, but the Tottenham Hale Ikea - which worked out great. It was a tube skip and a quick bus ride away, and the cab back to our flat was less than 20 pounds. The total cost ended up being reasonable, and our bed will be delivered in a couple of days. Not too shabby, that.

We also got a chance to bum around the new neighborhood a little bit more, and found a "good" local pub called Big Red, which was decorated like a TGI Fridays and had a distinctively American twist to the menu. Not a bad fallback when we're looking for a taste of home but I think I need something more English for my regular watering hole. The pints were cheap and it was great to be there when Arsenal was playing even though they lost. Next time, lads.

Now we're back in the hotel, eating store-bought Indian food and relaxing. And on that note, I'm going to go watch the tele.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

A Londoner Am I!

My, it's good to be back!

I got in yesterday and spent the better part of today getting my things in order. I have, in no particular order, been to the bank, been to the grocery store, been to the chemist (drugstore for you scrub yanks out there,) ridden the tube several times, walked around Islington, walked around Holloway Road, been to a pub, watched people betting on horseraces, eaten double Gloucester cheese, met our new neighbors, met our new neighbors again in a grocery store, and let (rented for you scrub yanks out there) our flat.

London seems pretty much as I left it, and I didn't expect anything less. It's off to the pub for a pint or two and then back here to pretend I'm not really getting sick.

Also I have a 9 am meeting on Monday. Glad I checked my work email!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Big Day

Depending on how well you count, today or tomorrow early is the Big Day. I leave this evening, I arrive tomorrow morning (afternoon local time.) London is upon me!

The last few days have been tying up loose ends (car is sold) and saying goodbye. I've been troopering through the later, although I have a feeling the emotion of this all is going to come out sometime if it hasn't already expressed myself in frustration in other ways. The last day at work was kind of tough - I really hate long goodbyes and it was basically nothing but a long goodbye. On the other hand, it's really awesome to see how many people I've met and how many friends I've made here.

I've got a couple of tiny things to wrap up today including a visit to a dentist, and then I'm out of here. My next post will very likely be from London.

Cheers, mates!

Monday, November 26, 2007

London LOL Already

Liz is on the ground and I've got a little more than a week, but Seth linked me to a Metafilter post about the "Voice of the Underground" being fired for posting parody sounds on her website. I listened to a couple and holy shit are they funny. If you've ever want to hear the nice lady on the Tube telling people their city is a "stinking shithole," now is your chance.

Monday, November 19, 2007


The Visas have been approved. My (very expensive) flight has been booked. London, here we come!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Getting Better

Hot on the heels of my last post, we got word that our visa application (current status unknown) is on its way back to us. I find out Monday whether it's approved or denied, which will have a profound impact on the next few days of our lives and the move in general.

Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Carry That Weight

Nothing like cutting it close, huh?

No word from the embassy on our Visa applications. No emails, no calls, nada.

I'm not sure I'm going to have any fingernails left after this.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The End of All Things

It's odd. My greatest fear about moving to London isn't the job situation or finding a good place to live or even petty crime. My greatest fear is living in a major city where I'm not a citizen, don't have my own permanent place of residence and don't have the same civil rights that I enjoy now in the (admittedly far-fetched) scenario of some kind of massive disaster, attack or apocalyptic event. I realize how irrational these fears are, but for a city that has been devastated so many times by plague, fire, bombing and more the fears are slightly more rational than they are in Seattle.

Nitwit zombie psychoses aside, the idea that I could be in London when the city is the victim of some kind of terrible attack is still pretty remote. Somewhere, rationally, I recognize that this fear is likely a manifestation of other things: my own uncertainties about moving to a new place where I don't know anyone, where I will always be an outsider, and into a situation I'm still not sure I'm going to like job-wise. But that still doesn't make it any less scary when I wake up in the wee hours of the morning and contemplate the worst of all scenarios, the end of all things.

In other news, I had a really good discussion with a group at my office today in charge of the kind of analysis I'd eventually like to start doing, and one of the guys gave me some really good advice I plan to take to heart. Career-changing advice, methinks.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Torpedo is in the Water!

Well, the applications for our visas are in the mail. Now it's a matter of crossing our fingers, hoping we filled out the somewhat confusing forms correctly, and waiting.

It's like Tom Petty said: the waiting is the hardest part.

In the meantime, here's something completely unrelated to London or moving: the full text of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym." It's like Lovecraft 100 years before Lovecraft.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Benjamins, British Style

In the second of two encounters with some kind of financial service (a bank and a letting agency specifically), the fact that we have jobs and will be making apparently a good salary in Pounds has opened doors that might previously have been closed. I've been corresponding with a leasing agent trying to find a place in and around Camden Town, and after the initial "Hi, I'm an American!" we got down to business - and they would require six months rent up front. Tell them you're employed and you have a good salary, and suddenly you're taken far more seriously. Same with the bank; when they found out how much Elizabeth would be making each month, our options for bank accounts and credit cards multiplied threefold.

At least our hard work has paid off a little in this regard, because I couldn't imagine fucking around with some of this stuff not knowing about a job or making a pittance.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Learning About My New Home

Even though I haven't even left the country yet, several of my co-workers have wished me a Happy Guy Fawkes Day. I think it's kind of interesting that people in my new home celebrate the foiling of a treasonous plot against the King by setting off fireworks, while people in my old home celebrate the success of a treasonous plot against the King by setting off fireworks (on July 4.)

Wikipedia offers the full text of the traditional rhyme about Mr. Fawkes:
    Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
    The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
    I know of no reason
    Why Gunpowder Treason
    Should ever be forgot.
    Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
    To blow up King and Parliament.
    Three-score barrels of powder below
    To prove old England's overthrow;
    By God's providence he was catch'd
    With a dark lantern and burning match.
    Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
    Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
You celebrate by throwing effigies of Fawkes on little bonfires and begging for money for fireworks.

I kind of wish I was there for this, but it'll make a good post for next year after I've been in London a while.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Anybody Wanna Buy a House?

The house is done, it's on the market and tomorrow is our first open house.

Let the games begin!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cleaning the House, Getting Ready to Sell

With the exception of one side of one door and a few doorknobs, the home improvement work is done and we're at the cleaning stage. That mostly means "get shit ready to go to Goodwill / sell on Craigslist / put in storage" as well as getting things in the house at the phase where a Realtor can show the house. I'm systematically working my way from one end of the house to the other cleaning and straightening and packing and organizing as I go.

So far, I've made it halfway through one room but I expect to pick up a little bit and finish a couple more before the night is done. The problem is, I'm going to be so worn out I doubt I'll be able to get to sleep at a reasonable hour, but I've been coming in at dodgy hours anyway so I guess that's OK. I fully expect to be at this until well past midnight tonight, so two more hours or so.

I sold my very first item on Craigslist tonight - Guitar Hero 1 and 2 for the PS2. Sad to see it go, but it wasn't doing me any good since I got the 360 version and storing it was more trouble than it's worth. I've got a couple of other items up there and expect to do a lot more business in that space this weekend.

I keep telling myself this will all be worth it, but we're so fucking far behind schedule (the house was supposed to be on the market October 1, and we're realistically leaving town for good in four weeks) that it's hard to see that right now. I guess I just keep trooping through and hope it all works out.

The dryer buzzed, so it's time for the next load of laundry. There's something that never changes: me doing all the damn laundry.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Job Thing, By the Book

I received an email yesterday that my company has approved my transfer to our London office and the details (arrival date, pay) are being finalized so they can make me a written offer. Which is to say - that's one less thing to worry about. I have employment. I have a way into the country.

Now to get rid of the house and car.

In other news, I've been reading up on London before I go to both educate myself about the city (more) and find a focal point for my excitement. I started with Alan Moore's "From Hell" and went into Peter Ackroyd's "London: A Biography." The first is one of my favorite pieces of fiction, and I'm about a quarter of the way into the second. Ackroyd's book is great history if a little oddly arranged, but his passion for the subject matter is infectious. Incidentally, "London: A Biography" was a gift from Seth who clearly figured out my tastes in reading. Thanks Seth!

This weekend the house should be all finished and I'll be able to concentrate on selling the car, playing some video games and mapping out which pubs I'm going to try first.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Home Stretch on the Home

The good news is, we really are on the home stretch as far as the house goes. The bad news is, it should have been on the market this week. After tonight, the last bits will be easy - getting the doorknobs to work properly and painting some trim and doing other minor touch-up paintjobs, and putting things away and getting the house ready to go.

Still no news on the job situation, a source of infinite frustration for me. I'm frankly not sure which is worse: that a communications company can't be bothered to communicate with people about decisions that could potentially affect those people's long-term future, or that in the end all the promises don't add up to anything without something concrete, so I'm essentially at zero.

Coming soon: pictures of the remodeled house, so I have something to remember all this hard work by aside from an ulcer the size of Connecticut.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Getting Ready to Move

Hopefully I'll look back on this post one day and laugh, because it's not all that funny right now.

Preparations for the move are actually going well. Current things in flux are: my job, which I should hear about tomorrow; and the house, which is going to require a few more days of work. We've got a brand-new deck we'll never use, our kitchen is a color of yellow we never would have chosen, but there's doors up and it's a matter of taking care of the little things at this point.

I'm alternating between really excited, really scared and kind of frustrated (at the amount of work and very little time in which to do it.) Seth gave us some great London books and I picked up a couple of others, so I'm reading about the city again and already planning places to go and things to see. It's going to be very different this time, not only because I'll have a job during the day but because I won't be living right in the middle of the City of London itself.

But when I sit down and really think about it, I am excited more than anything else. And every time I smash my thumb with the hammer as I'm nailing up trim around the doors, I imagine myself drinking another pint of Guinness and it's OK. Mostly.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Coming Soon

Coming Soon: Actual content.