*Please note that the following e-mail is all in jest as I am thoroughly enjoying my time here and would like to take a moment to poke fun at some of the obscene and crazy things I’ve learned about the British culture.
Not only do we eat in excess, but I’ve realized that in America we just consume more in general, of everything!!! All you can eat food buffets, unlimited phone calls, unlimited e-mails, big fridges, big meals, BIG BIG BIG!!! All of that to say, it’s been hard adjusting from my BIG American ways. Pay as you go phones, pay as you go Internet, smaller portions, smaller fridges, smaller washers…small small small when you are used to BIG BIG BIG makes it hard to not want MORE MORE MORE! Hello?!?! Who wants to pay some ridiculous minutely rate for Internet in the comfort of their own home? Who wants to finish their McFlurry in 5 bites? Who wants to search all over town for a BIG, American style salad, only to find a few pieces of ice burg lettuce, covered in cooked processed noodles, smothered in cold grated cheese and prawns, with a LARGE (yeah, the one big thing in this country) pile of salad dressing… i.e. mayo!! Are you kidding me?!?! Can I please get an O’Charley’s grilled chicken salad with honey mustard… or an oriental chicken salad from Sports Page… yummy!! I’m salivating at the thought! Life is good, London is great, but I really need a salad!!
So, I’ve officially moved to Chelmsford Essex, right outside of London. A cross between busy London and beautiful countryside town. I like it a lot. British people actually live here (opposed to the melting pot known as London, not that I didn’t enjoy that a great deal as well), I feel very safe, and the town is quite quaint… it’s a nice fit for me. Rent is much cheaper as well, but such luxury is quickly offset by the exuberant price I must pay to travel into London for work. To go from my train stop to the rail stop at my work it will cost me 199 pounds/month… and that doesn’t get me anywhere else, no other bus, tub, or anything!!! So, for about three hundred dollars a month, you too could enjoy a quick ride on the rail system!! Get less, pay more!! I’m giving this country a new motto!! It should also be noted that in order to actually get less, while paying more, you also have a limited time frame to work with, and NO, I am not talking about the fact that the sun does not rise until 8:30 and it sets by 4:15 (i.e. its only out while I am at work, inside a building!). Stores tend to close shop at about 6:00, so make sure you shop after work, as they will be closed by the time you make it to your stop and get off the train. Only in America do we have the luxury of choosing if we want to go stop by the store on the way home from work or after we’ve eaten dinner and changed clothes.
Ok… back to my point. I’m living in Chelmsford in a house with 4 other people, whom I rarely see. This could be because I get up at 6 am and do not return home until 7:30 pm, at which point they are all either at work or at the pub. Either way, it’s nice to have piece and quiet and not be totally alone either. I’m quite pleased with my living accommodations. Having said that… it would be nice to have a washing machine that hold more than 3 pairs of pants at a time, a dryer would be nice in general (make sure you have AT LEAST three days worth of clothes as it takes at least that long for clothes to air dry. It is completely normal to walk in a home and see someone knickers/undies, socks, and any other garment hanging from every radiator and ledge available), or even a fridge that is at least slightly larger than the ones you find in college dorm rooms in the U.S. (yes, we have a fridge that most college students would use to hold a few bottles of water and a left over box… and all five of us share it!) That whole smaller thing really applies here… no buying groceries for a week… one must buy what they intend to use only that day or the next (no processed and preservatives here either, so food wouldn’t last much past that anyways). This does make it rather difficult though when all of the stores are closed and you are forced to pay even more exuberant prices at the co-op on the corner, which thankfully stays open until 10:00 pm.
So, rewind backwards for a moment and I will walk you through a day in the life of Me! I wake up at 6:00, make my bed (you’d be so proud, mom) and sleepy find my way, 5 steps to be exact, to the bathroom. I pull the string to turn on the light, and then also pull the string right next to it to turn on the shower (yeah, took me about 20 minutes to figure this out the first time I tried to take a shower, I thought I was going to be late for work… a string on the other side of the room to turn the shower on?!?!), and the quickly take my shower… quite nice that my roommates work late and I have the house to myself in the morning… no one waiting for the bathroom makes things much nicer.
I hang my towels over the radiator to dry, nothing like a warm towel in the morning, put on my nice work clothes with my trainers (sneakers), and throw my work shoes in my bag. Then, I bundle up… always a hat, scarf and gloves (the scarf is the quintessential London accessory for both men and women), and quickly head out the door at 7:00. Now, you must realize that at 7:00 it is still pitch black and quite chilly. Depending on how close to making it out the door by 7:00 I actually am I either peacefully stroll, or hurriedly run walk to the train station, exactly 1.4 miles away (which I only know after using an American Search engine as things here are not measure in miles… so difficult… who knows meters?!?!). Most morning, I find myself in race care mode… I view others as competing race cars and think, “ok, take um on the inside,” determined to pass by them and make it to the rail station before they do. Such thoughts are necessary for several reasons: 1. I’ve been walking way too long and am out of other things to think about 2. I feel slightly as though I need to justify wearing trainers with nice business clothes while all those around me are rocking their high London fashionista heeled, tall boots. I might be out of style, but I won’t miss the train! I’ve yet to beat the men though… each morning I am determined to keep up with their pace and each morning I eat their dust. There is one gentleman that waves good-bye to his wife and ends up walking in front of me just about every morning. A shorter gentleman, so I am convinced his stride can be no longer than mine, but man can he book it!! He walks faster than I can run. I swear he catches the one before the 7:39 that I get on. It’s just crazy!! So yeah, that would be my morning walk/run. Now, the first few mornings, upon arriving at the train station I would have to wait in a queue (line) to purchase a ticket. It is much cheaper to purchase either a monthly or weekly pass. So, being as frugal as possible, I had all intentions of doing so, until I was informed that this involved having a passport sized photo id for my travel card. Now, had this been the first time such a thing was requested, no problem. However, I brought three extra passport size photo ids to London with me and you should know that by that point there were all already used. Are you kidding me?!?! I didn’t know you were supposed to bring a large collection of miniature self photos with you when you traveled. No worries, 4 shops later, I finally found somewhere to take my picture and was finally able to get my weekly travel card.
So, where does that leave us, right… on the train. Wait, first we have to get on the train… easier said than done. At each door entrance there is a huddle of about 25 people, all waiting for the 30 seconds that the door is open to try and cram into the same little opening to occupy the same little spot on the train. I learned quickly that not everyone fits and thus, it is important to arrive early to hold your unofficially spot in the queue. Thankfully I have yet to get left behind. ::tap on wood:: (they prefer to tap on wood here rather than knock as we do in America)… I suppose knocking would be more like consuming a Big Mac where as tapping would be a half of a single cheese burger… again with the less is more theme!! So yeah… once on the train, realizing what a feet it is to even get to that point, you are forced to stand, SILENTLY, and you must not make eye contact with anyone at any time. From someone who is as gregarious as I am, this who no talking thing is a bit difficult. Silence really does feel deadly sometimes. So yes, while in the queue and on the train, NO TALKING!!! This is OK however as standard train riders all have their noses in “the Metro” the free paper that you are supposed to grab at the top of the stairs. Not realizing it was free until just a few days ago, I’d been waiting until an unsuspecting passenger set theirs on the set and disembarked the train… and here I thought I was getting a good deal… should have known there is no such thing here. So yeah, about this paper that everyone reads in silence, while balancing (not so hard when you are so jam packed, except for the first class passengers, who have their own part of the train that they ride in, and who can be picked out even before getting on the train as they have newspaper that tell of finances and other important matters and that actually cost money). “the Metro” is useful for catching you up on how crappy Americans are, how over played football (soccer) players are, and all of the latest fashion news. Occasionally a small section will appear on the side of some inner page regarding war in the Gaza strip or important environmental issues. One must look carefully for such news though. Bill Bryson in his book, Notes from a Small Island (I would highly recommend it if you are interested in the crazy ways of the British) states it best when he states that, “If your concept of world geography was based entirely by the content of British newspapers and television, you would conclude that America must be about where Ireland is, that France and Germany lie roughly alongside the Azores, that Australia occupies a hot zone somewhere in the region of the Middle East, and that pretty much all other sovereign states are either mythical (e.g., Burundi, El Salvador, Mongolia and Bhutan) or can be only reached by spaceship. Consider the acres of newspaper space in Britain devoted to marginal American figures like Oliver North, Lorena Bobbitt, and O.J. Simpson, and compare that with all the news reported in a year from Scandinavia, Australia, Switzerland, Greece, Portugal, and Spain and you will see what I mean. If there is a political crisis in Italy or a nuclear spill in Karlsruhe, it gets maybe eight includes on an inside page. But if some woman in Crapville (word changed), West Virginia cuts off her husbands finger (word changed) and flings it out the window in a fit of pique, it’s second lead on the Nine O’clock News and the Sunday News Times is mobilizing its investigation unit.” I have to say, Bill is right on in his book. He also points out that if asking for directions, “a distance that most Americans would usually go for a taco,” British will puff their cheeks and tell you how far it is and how awful the traffic is, due to a million different road constructions, on the way to get there.
Ok, back to a day in the life… on the train, switch stops in Shenfield (if I hurry I get right off the #3 and onto the #5 before it departs)… from there I get off at Romford station and walk less than a quarter mile to work. So, in the course of 2 hours I have bathed, worked out (in my work clothes), education myself on pretty needless matters, and made it to work. Beautiful. It should also be noted that Romford is apparently one of the toughest boroughs to work in. Interesting. However, it is surrounded by tons of shops, so it is perfect for running errands on one’s lunch break.
Ok, side tracked again… at work… lots of badge swiping… make it to my desk… take off the thousands of layers (hanging my jacket on my chair and not the coat rack as everyone in the office, and London, has black long jackets, and my boss accidentally wore mine out one day, meaning it was not there for me to wear at lunch)… start up my computer… take my tea mug and fill it with horrible tasting milk (if you drink it plane) out of the kitchen… yes, I use tea milk for my cereal… but it is fountain style… push the button and it comes out… there is plenty!! And I consider it my consolation for my long, expensive trek into work every morning, which is no one’s fault by my own. But lots of people drink the milk and use it for cereal, so I really do think it is ok. However, I put it in my tea cup just in case… and then I dump it in my container full of Musseli (granola) when I get back to my desk!! Lol So yeah, I check my e-mail quickly (as I did not have Internet at home until I paid a small fortune tonight for pay as you go Internet) and thus, could only check it at work. And then, the day begins… hundred of phone calls (we don’t have voicemail here so someone has to answer any time a call comes though… its really nice actually.. FOR THE PEOPLE CALLING IN, and FOR THE PEOPLE CALLING IN ONLY!!!)… I make a few referrals, set up a few visits, fill out LOTS of paperwork, more paperwork, more paper work, entering all the paper work into the system as we don’t use paper files at all here (nice until the computer goes down or the power goes out, which has happened twice in the two weeks I have been there)… then, I might make a home visit or participate in a planning mtg. (I got lost for the last one and ended up taking a ride, with my co-worker, with a stranger…. Nice British woman… but a stranger none-the less… always an adventure with me!!)… and the day is over and I am on my way back home… where I have the luxury of reading another free newspaper (often a repeat of the same stories from the morning just worded differently!) Then, 1.4 miles back home where I eat dinner and go to bed. That about sums it up!!! Speaking of going to bed, its 10:43 (5:43 Charlotte time and 2:42 Seattle time)… crazy!! Time for bed for me!!
So, to conclude, if you can’t get your child to read, put them on the train… even I succumbed to the pressure to shut up and read and have been thoroughly enjoying Bill Bryson’s book each morning on my way into work.
Summary: Carina is not living the posh life. NO dishwasher (which I like), only three channels on the t.v. (which I also life), separate faucet for hot and cold water int eh sink (don’t like at all, makes washing your hands or face either very hot or very cold!!), no dishwasher (which I don’t mind, hand washing dishes is relaxing when they are your own.. or Jeffs ☺), TINY washer (its ok), no dryer (air drying smells fresh ☺, and the crispy dried on a radiator feelings goes away after a while, I promise), and a tiny fridge (helps keep down on wasting food)… so, all good in theory, just takes a little getting used to. Did I mention that they don’t sell tuna in water, only in Brine… ewwwww!!!
Praise: after dousing myself with steroid crème, the spots are slowing gong away and the itching is down to a minimal (as I begin to itch just thinking about it, lol).
Prayer: as the weather gets more damp, my body is becoming very stiff and sore because of the spondolytis… please pray for healing!!
*Aunt Audrey… the closest M&S is the one in Romford, where I work… I can go on my lunch break at work when it is light outside!!