Friday, October 9, 2015

The Inconvenience of Others.

I got married relatively late, compared to those of my friends who got married directly out of, or during, university. And so, I got used to hearing gushing stories of married life, and amazing husbands.

Quite quickly, though, the dreamy eyed bliss with which they spoke of their new state turned into frustration over things like dirty socks - which seemed to pop up everywhere; or boxers - which never seemed to be actually IN the laundry basket; or wet towels on clean beds; or hair -- "Why must they be so hairy?!" -  littering the bottom of the tub.

I would nod in sympathy, agreeing that it must be extremely frustrating and occasionally disgusting, and hope that the new husband would eventually learn to be a little more tidy, if only for the sake of peace in the marriage.

As I was wandering about tidying the flat the other day,  pulling out socks from under the bed and boxers from under the chair in our bedroom, and then had to spray down the bathtub before actually having a shower, I realized that I wasn't really that bothered by it all. In fact, it's not even something I think twice about.

Let me assure you - this is not because I am particularly virtuous or easygoing. Oh no. I wish. Rather, I think it is a side effect of having grown up in a big family.

In a big family, you become used to being inconvenienced by others. Your space - if you have any - is  constantly infringed upon. Your clothing - if you have sisters - is frequently "borrowed," possibly never to be seen again. You become used to picking up after little ones who might be on the fifth outfit change of the day, because they have decided to be superman instead of a bear.

When you walk into the bathroom to take a shower, you might have to clear it of rubber ducks first. Or there might be vomity towels in there that need to be hauled to the washing machine, because they were thrown in the tub during the night by an exhausted parent who was to tired to do anything else, and too much needed by the vomiting child(ren).

You learn to deal with the messiness and chaos and inconvenience of living with others, and to simply take it in stride. If you didn't, you would go insane.

So, while I might be vaguely grossed out by the blanket of hair coating the bathtub, I just rinse it out. And while picking up dirty boxers is not my greatest joy in life, I don't like seeing them hanging around, so I chuck them in the laundry basket. Therefore, among the many, many (many) things we DO argue about, socks, boxers, and hairy tubs are not on that list.

Again - this is not because I am a particularly awesome and patient wife. No way. But acting in such a way is simply an extension of the skills I gained, having grown up surrounded by grubby, messy, inconvenient little people.

For that, I am supremely grateful.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Useful Gifts

A few weeks ago, my Spanish half was in New York for a business trip. It was completely last minute, he was gone for an entire week, I had wanted to go with him but the Home Office is still processing my residency and I couldn't......

So I requested a present. 

He travels a lot for work, and typically I would never think of, or expect, presents from his trips. But this time I just really needed one to get over the disappointment of not being in New York over fashion week. 

So, I told him. I told him, in black and white, that I was down in the dumps and really needed a present to lift my spirits.

He sent me a picture of  coffee mugs at the 911 Memorial site, and asked which colour I wanted. 

I asked if he was kidding me.

He said he was terrible at present buying, and was feeling overwhelmed when confronted with all the shops full of clothing and bags and shoes.

I told him I would not accept excuses, and we left it at that.

He arrived home on a bright Saturday morning, while I was at brunch with a friend. 

When I got home, he was sound asleep - not being able to sleep on planes - but there was a small box sitting on my desk, next to my laptop. 

I shivered in anticipation. He had done it. He had gotten me a gift! Was it perfume? A bracelet? Earrings?

I picked it up, was momentarily puzzled by the French labelling, flipped it around until I found some English...

And discovered that he had gotten me very expensive anti-aging skin serum.




Apparently, he told me cheerfully when he got up, he noticed it whilst walking through a department store. He saw it and remembered that he had started noticing wrinkles around my eyes when I smiled. He thought, he said with massive satisfaction, that a present was always best if it was also useful.

I stared at him, blankly, willing him to say something that would make me not want to disembowel him.

Fortunately, he wasn't finished.

He had, he said with immense satisfaction, taken a look at some lovely handbags, but on consideration remembered that I had a shelf full, and probably didn't need any more. He was lucky he had stumbled upon the skin-serum, because it seemed like the perfect thing.

You know when you open your mouth to say something, but your brain has short-circuited and nothing comes out?

It was probably best that this happened, at that precise moment in time. Thank the Good Lord above for that.

And it is also probably best that he rarely checks his credit card statements, and so probably will not notice the lovely pair of boots I bought very shortly after.

But if he does notice, I can just tell him that they are useful. They keep my legs warm during the brisk autumn weather, and allow me to wear my lovely dresses the whole year round without getting a chill. 

Now. Who could object to that?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Of Loos and Signet Rings

It is really interesting being a North American in London - I get to witness the weird social machinations of those around me, but am totally exempt from judgement of my own actions because I am so utterly foreign.

Well, I tell myself I am exempt. Whether that is true or not, I don't really know.

The first time I heard someone say "She is from a good family," I thought they meant her family was nice, or kind, or somehow excessively virtuous. And then I heard it again. And gradually I clued in that to be from a  "good family" actually means something here.

In North America you are more judged on what you have done with your life, than on where you come from. Here, where you come from is everything. Being from a good family means that your parents went to certain schools and then sent you there. It means that you have a specific type of accent, that you might wear a certain type of clothing in a certain way, and that you or your parents possibly belong to various societies that could go back eons in time.

You could be an absolutely loathsome human being who hasn't actually ever done anything for himself, but if you are from a good family that is what matters.

Here, it actually matters whether you say "loo"or "toilet;" "sofa" or "couch;" where you go on holiday; what your post-code is.

Once, talking to a friend, he mentioned that he and his boss would never be able to see eye to eye or relate in any real way. His boss had gone to Harrow, you see, and had a signet ring. He, on the other hand was from East London.

I nodded politely, while interiorly my brain tried to make sense of the situation. Signet ring? East London?


After three years of observation, I now know what that means, and even though these divisions continuously strike me as absurd, they aren't, because they define and limit each person's view of himself and his opportunities.

Where I am from, the man in ripped jeans with tousled hair could be a multi-millionaire. The woman who came from nothing and then built herself from the ground up is admired and looked up to. Your past is simply that - in the past. Your present and your future are what you create, and could be anything you dream up, as long as you work hard enough.

There is such a freedom that comes with that attitude - the attitude that says you aren't limited by what has happened to you, or where you are from; that if you take control of your own life and persevere, most things are possible.

I wouldn't even have realized that this type of thinking was "other," or even that it is a privilege to thinking this way, until I came here.

There is nothing like living a new country, to make you aware of those things you assume are universally understood.

Monday, October 5, 2015

What is London Like?

Yesterday I was Skyping with family, as is not my habit since, unfortunately, I am one of those people who forgets about everyone unless they are actually within a one hour travel radius or have Whatsapp which they use on a regular basis.

Grandma happened to be on the other end, confused about how she could see me from Calgary, and asked what living in London is like.

I didn't really have an answer, but I've been thinking about it ever since.

There is a lot I could say. There is the fact that you can enter a tube station at rush hour - hint: it feels like you are a sardine in a can - and there will be absolute silence. No one makes eye contact, no one speaks, and everyone has his head buried in a newspaper. Oh, how they love their newspapers and personal space.

There was one incident where I was standing at a busy corner, waiting for the light to change, in a rush, and next to someone equally stressed about the time, judging from the number of times he checked his watch.

After a few seconds of frustration, I turned to him as one does and said something sarcastic about the light not changing until I was dead and buried. He gasped in surprise, picked up his phone, and stared at it, as if trying to force me away by the intensity with which he was pretending I didn't exist.

Don't speak to strangers. Got it.

But that would be a one dimensional picture of London. What is London like?

Well, yes it is cloudy, and the picture is of terrible quality, but I am sitting here, in St. Katharine's Docks, in a cafe which only serves quiche, crepes, tea, and wine. The cafe is right next to some rather big boats, and I can't for the life of me figure out how they get onto the Thames. Are they moored here permanently? If so, why? If so, how?

I don't get it.

St. Katharine's Docks is right behind Tower Bridge, and very shortly I will walk across it in order to get to my flat, which is directly across the Thames from St. Paul's Cathedral. This is the view from our living room window. The rainbow is not a permanent fixture. 

And that is one of the strangest things about living in London. Historic buildings and streets are everywhere. How strange is it to give directions to one's flat "directly across from St. Paul's," or to arrange to meet someone next to the houses of Parliament, or to meet one's husband in Trafalgar Square because that is where his office is?

Once, I took a new route to my hairdressers, looked up and saw this:

My heart stopped. My heroine.

Another time I took the train to Winchester, to escape London for the day, walked to the Cathedral in the centre of the village, wandered through mostly looking up at the spectacular windows, looked down, and suddenly realized I was standing on Jane Austen's grave.

I often wonder if born and bred Londoners get the same jolts of shock and awe that I do when I wander through my day. 

And so, London is like that.

On the other hand, London is also like this: an hour ago I went to a flat viewing - because I was walking by and curious - in a new build along the Thames, and it was 1 million pounds (almost 2 million dollars) for 750 sq feet of space. Which, to be honest, is quite reasonable for the location. Plus, it is off plan, which means that once the building is BUILT...well just watch those prices sky rocket.

Just this minute, I received an email from an estate agent, informing me that the flat I was meant to view tomorrow, which was put on the market on Saturday was sold just today (Monday).

London is also like that.

And I love it. I love the quirky people, and the bustle, and the poshness and the grunginess and looking up to see Big Ben glowing in the distance. 

I'm Back!

February 2013 was the last time I wrote on this blog.

I'd say I was embarrassed at my apparent laziness, but a LOT has happened.

I moved to London, started grad school, planned a wedding, got married, and am now sitting in a cafe, drinking Earl Grey.

What is it like living in London?

Well, that's my next post.