Monday, 30 June 2008

An engineer would say the glass is 50% too big, or hostel living as told in Pros and Cons

Pro: Conveniently located near the shopping of Tottenham Court Road, the nightlife of Soho, and the late-night kebab stands on Oxford Street
Con: Jammed in among the shoving crowds of Tottenham Court Road, the overpriced clubs of Soho, and the obnoxious drunk crowds on Oxford Street

Pro: It's like being back in the dorms!
Con: It's like being back in the dorms!

Pro: Cheap
Con: Smells like feet

And the Cons have it. It's time to trade the jungle of the hostel for the urban jungle of the East End.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Wee Britain

It is the Queen's Guards who stand guard at the monarch's residences, including Buckingham Palace and, caddy-corner across The Mall, at St. James Palace. At St. James, you can walk up to them (at Buckingham, they're behind a high fence), so that's where tourists mill about to take awkward and suggestive pictures with the guards, who are supposed to stay at attention and not react.

Except, they don't. I was surprised at how young the guards looked. They seemed as if they were barely out of middle school — and they did a pretty poor job of standing at attention. I thought of the Changing of the Guard ceremony I'd seen years earlier, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in Washington, and how crisp and orderly those guards were in comparison.

Of course, there wasn't a war on then.

With so many soldiers, both British and American, in Iraq and Afghanistan, there probably aren't too many left over for fluff positions like those. In Washington today, maybe the soldiers guarding their unknown comrade are just as nervous and awkward as their colleagues at St. James.

Thursday, 26 June 2008


I had a minor Midwesterner's identity crisis today. Scurrying about in London Bridge tube stop on my way home from work, a woman ahead of me sneezed one of those dramatic, body-spasming sneezes. My instinct was to say, "Bless you!" But would the woman think I was some kind of weirdo-creep? Would the rushing Londoners around me instantly know that I was no more than a slack-jawed American bumpkin? What was I to do?

Before I could properly think it through, however, three other people shouted out "Bless you!" at the same time. Perhaps Londoners are friendly than I'd anticipated — or maybe Sneezy just happened to sneeze while surrounded by bumpkins-cum-urbanites.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

To have a good evening...

...pick a freakishly sunny London day, walk across London Bridge, pop into Sainsbury's and pick up 'a ploughman's' ready-made sandwich, take your summer fiction issue of The New Yorker to the quiet garden tucked in behind Southwark Cathedral, listen to evening bells ring up in the tower, read, eat, enjoy.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Early each day to the steps of Saint Paul's

Spent some time like a true tourist over the weekend, walked around the West End, Westminster, and the South Bank, taking in all the sites and making my feet sore.

But on Monday it was time to behave like a proper Londoner. Donned my suitcase-creased pants, put some MGMT on my iPod, and took the tube down to Southwark for my first day on the job. The office is small, about half a dozen people, and everyone's very helpful and friendly. I think the job is going to be challenging but it has lots of potential to be very rewarding professionally. My coworkers took me out for some beers after work at the neighborhood pub, The George, where (I was mistakenly told that) the the pilgrims in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales imbibed before heading south. (I for one can't think of a better way to start a pilgrimage.)

I'm living at a short-term hostel right now, so all the people here are on the same 6-month work visa that I am. Life here is eerily reminiscent of a dorm: the ubiquitous stench of body odor, the incestuous drama, the late nights. The variables are the manager, Bill, a socially awkward Deadhead, and Doris, the Maltese cleaning lady. She reminds me of that homeless woman who "feeds the birds" in Mary Poppins. I think Bill and Doris deserve their own post. I'm here for about 5 more days before I move into a flat in the East End.

So, have you been to London before? I'm on the prowl for free (or at least freakishly cheap) stuff that's worth my time, so if you have any recommendations shoot them my way.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Q: How long does it take me to sleep off jet lag?

A: 15 hours.

It seems as if I'm in Spain again, not London. I hear as much Spain-accented Spanish as UK-accented English, man purses are everywhere, and the city smells like Madrid.

The people in my hostel are fun and friendly, but being the new guy means there is no place to store my stuff and I'll be living out of my suitcases for the next week and a half. I'm all stocked up on food now, so today is all about the other errands: fixing my phone, buying an alarm clock, figuring out which bus/tube pass I need to buy. Busy busy busy.

Tomorrow, I'm going to try and be a tourist.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Forces of Will

I made it.

I was reminded again at how much I loathe goodbyes and how much I love airports. First impressions? Everyone, to my continued fascination, has a British accent. It takes a huge force of will not to giggle.

Four hours after my plane landed I found myself in a free taxi ride to take a trash bag of mail over to the program office (I don't know what's going on anymore) that came with complimentary running commentary. "Everything's going fucking green anymore, mate," our cabbie insisted. As in environmental. "The green stink," on the other hand, apparently referred to a particular strain of marijuana he'd sampled — and enjoyed — in California.

I've got 6 hours of airplane stink I need to wash off and I'm hungry. More later.