Time for a Change

"Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."
— Samuel Johnson

Oh, Sam. How true. And yet not.

For the record, I am not tired of London, the city. I don't think I ever will be. Even after five years and some odd months here, the city gives me a thrill whenever I step outside my flat. I love the buildings: the white stucco-fronted Georgian townhouses, the red brick Victorian terraces, even the glass-and-steel modern additions such as the Gherkin.

I am not tired of constantly being surprised and amused. Just this past Sunday, while strolling in St. James's Park, we passed a man dressed up as Wonder Woman, raising money for the London Marathon. Now I know what I did wrong when I raised money for my own charity marathon run: no superhero costumes. We also passed four Smartcars covered in astroturf, advertising a fake lawn company, and several people out celebrating St. Patrick's Day a wee bit early but with enthusiasm nonetheless.

I am never tired of stumbling across bits of history. Like the two townhouses, side by side, with blue plaques on them. One reads, "Jimi Hendrix lived here," the other, "George Handel lived here." My husband wanted to know if Hendrix ever told Handel to keep it down. But still. How cool is that?

And I will never tire of walking in the parks. Of watching dogs chase squirrels, squirrels pose for nuts, and children squeal with laughter. Of the ducks and geese and moorhens and swans, especially in the spring when fluffballs of feathers follow behind their parents.


I am tired of LIFE in London. Of fighting the rain. And the tube. And the "can't do" attitude. I'm tired of being a foreigner, the outsider, the "one of these things is not like the others."

Mostly I'm tired of fighting the seasonal depression that descends during the long nights of the gray winter. Lamps that mimic the sun are just no match for the real thing.

I've finally stopped fighting the facts: I, and my husband, need to live in a sunny climate.

So it is time to move to what has consistently remained "home" in our thoughts.

It's a scary time. We don't have jobs in the US at the moment. And the economic news is bleak.

But we have friends there, and family, and a "can do" attitude that we feel will erode even further if we stay here. So bad news be damned. It's time to go home. We hope to be back by the autumn.

But first, we are going to enjoy the hell out of London before we go. Try to fall back in love with the city, before the public transport grime and constant elbows in the back and drizzle made us plead for a divorce.


Trolls, Fare Thee Well

It appears there are some misguided trolls out there in cyberland who feel that this is their blog, not mine, and that I should write only happy, fluffy rainbow thoughts at their discretion.

Sorry, o deluded trolls. This is MY blog, MY outlet, and I will write whatever the hell I want to on it. Go ahead and bitch at me if London is your dream city and how dare someone not love every gray, drizzly moment. But it won't make me change one word or one ounce of attitude. This is MY reality.

I'm sure I will write happy-clappy unicorns and pixie dust posts in the summer, which I do love here. But expecting a Southern Californian to be cheerful during a London winter is to laugh. And this blog is one way for me to work through my seasonal depression.

So if you don't like my therapy, go find an alternate reality. Maybe blogs about Disneyland would be more your style, mmm'kay?

And have a nice day.


Pronunciation: A Mini Rant

I'll concede on "al-u-MINimum" - after all, the British spell it with an extra "i" so really, "a-LUM-i-num" doesn't make sense here.

"HERbs" instead of "'erbs" - extra h, please - fine. After all, as Eddie Izzard sort of says, there's a fornicating "h" in the word.

"Respite" with a long "i" instead of a short "i" - again, that's the way the word is spelled so I'll give them that one as well.

I'm less forgiving of "in-ven-tree" for "inventory" - now Americans get the credit for pronouncing the word as it is spelled. And "left-tenant" for lieutenant - well, at least they don't pronounce the word "lieu" as "left" as well (or do they? Not a word I've heard here often.)

But what I really can't stand is Los Angel-EASE.


Makes me grit my teeth every time I hear it, mostly on the Beeb.

It's Los AN-jell-es. Not like the word angel; like the words "an" and "jell." Followed by "es" - short e, soft s. I lived there twenty years. I know.

But then, I don't know why it bothers me. We're talking about a country where Derby is pronounced Darby, Leicester is Lester, and Cholmondeley is Chumley.

So I guess LA - and at least they pronounce the abbreviation like the natives - is getting off lightly.

(Apologies to any linguists who should be appalled by my pronunciation keys!)


New year, new attitude, new blogger - no, same old attitude and blogger

Like death and taxes, one more thing that has become inevitable is the annual "for your security" go around with my UK bank.

I've had a bank account in the US for, um, let's just say if my bank account were a person it would be old enough to attend university. It's a very big bank, one that, through the years and mergers, is now one of the largest in the US. One would think when it comes to account screwups and security breaches and customer no-service, the US bank would be heads and shoulders above a UK bank that has far less clients and covers far less geographical ground.

One would think.

In my mumble-mumble years of banking with Big US Bank, I've had zero issues. Internet banking? Sign on up! Add my new husband to the account? Here's his working ATM card before we leave the bank! Go a bit crazy at Christmas? Purchases authorized, no problem!

In my less than five years with Mid-Sized UK Bank:
Number of cards cloned: three

Number of phone calls made by store clerks to the bank to authorize my purchases while throngs of exasperated Christmas shoppers shoot me the evil eye for holding up the queue, even though the bank account was fully flush with money: too painful to recall right now, still suffering post tramautic shopping stress syndome.

Internet banking: Can't sign up online. Have to call the bank, have them send you an authorization form, send back the form, receive authorization number, then input said number within a certain number of days. Then use a plastic card reader, also sent separately, that looks like a cheap calculator to access account. Which makes accessing your account from, say, work rather problematic unless one wants to carry around a plastic card reader that looks like a cheap calculator.

I've been without a working ATM card for over a week now, which is really handy. Use a credit card, I hear some of you sneer. Why, I'd love to. Unfortunately, although the UK does use a National Insurance Number to identify you for tax purposes - but the NIN is NOT the same as your UTP, or Unique Tax Payer number - the country's banks do not use either number in the way US banks use Social Security numbers. Therefore, there is no universally accepted identification code that identifies you as, well, you.

What do the banks use to ensure they are giving credit cards to real people? Your address. And to back up the address, your voter registration.

Only one problem. We're not eligible to vote, not being UK or Commonwealth citizens. So we aren't on the voter rolls. And we're renters, so too many people who aren't us are associated with the address.

So we can't get a UK credit card. Believe me, we've tried. Not even Mid-Sized UK Bank will give us one, aside from our ATM cash card.

But we do have a bank account. Back to it: I received a phone call on New Year's Eve telling me that the police had reported my ATM card number as having been cloned. No unauthorized purchases had been made on the card, and the card was in my possession.

They sent me a new card in the mail. But it had to be authorized. Y'know, that thing you do in the States by calling a number and punching in a few answers. But according to the accompanying paperwork, it could be authorized by:
1) Going to a branch
2) Sending it in the mail

We went to the branch. Ah, but we bank with the offshore branch, so we can't use branches located on the mainland UK. The man at the mainland branch said he would fax it to the offshore branch for us. Then his boss showed up and said, no, they can't fax, but they can mail it for us. My husband rightly pointed out that, gee, we could pop it in the mail ourselves, thankyouverymuch, if that was truly all the extent of the service they could offer. Yep, that was it.

We called the offshore branch. Hey! They can authorize it over the phone! Yay!

What they failed to tell me was that my PIN would no longer work. No, THAT has to be mailed to me.

When I asked why, they told me it was for my security.

So let's review.

Mumble-dy years with Big US Bank that lets me access my account on the internet with no fuss, no muss sign-up or card reader, a bank that lets me authorize my card with a pushbutton telephone call - ZERO security breaches to date (knock wood).

Less than five years with Mid-Sized UK Bank, which makes me jump through hoops and wait for paperwork via snailmail - THREE security breaches.

Tell me again why so much inconvenience supposedly results in a more secure bank account?


We Wish You a Merry Thanksgiving, and a Happy Black Friday!

Even after four years of life in London, it never fails to astonish me just how many misconceptions the British have about the United States.

Yes, yes, Americans get it even more wrong about life in Great Britain, but then Americans never set themselves up to be the absolute authority on life in another country.

The British on the other hand - well, let's just say that when an American colleague recently came over and we went to dinner with two British colleagues, the conversation turned to the recent primaries where upon the Brits took it upon themselves to analyze the various campaigns and candidates' chances and got. all. of. it. very. wrong. according to the person actually living in the US.

And I wish I had a 5p for every time I mention Thanksgiving and some native of these shores nods wisely and says, "Ah, yes, it's much bigger for you than Christmas."

Right. Because we sing Thanksgiving carols and give Thanksgiving presents and Turkey Tom comes down the chimney with all the toys his chicks made for the good boys and girls. And the shops are decorated with brown and gold lights for, like, MONTHS before the day arrives. And we call the day after Halloween not All Saints Day but Black Friday (or Monday, or Tuesday, or whatever the day may be) because you can't get your car into the local mall parking lot. Yep, Thanksgiving certainly is "bigger" than Christmas.

(OK, Thanksgiving is non-denominational and thus is open to more people than Christmas, which is a Christian holiday, but still. "Bigger?" Commercially? Culturally? I think not.)


Reason Number 388727....

....to miss the States:


Would it kill the Brits to put a few metal mesh barriers between their buildings and the great, winged insect outdoors? Especially since the lack of air conditioning makes keeping said windows and doors shut in the summer rather, um, sweltering?

I lost five sweaters, a pair of trousers and a knit handbag while my husband lost an expensive suit jacket to moths last year.

Judging by the nightly visitors drawn to our living areas by the bright lights, no barrier to access system we're operating, I'm afraid the score is about to tilt even more heavily in their favor despite carpeting the closets with various and sundry items meant to keep the destructive critters away. After all, they got to my favorite black cashmere sweater despite:
a) moth sachets
b) religiously dry cleaning each object in the storage bag before putting it away for the season

Seriously, people. SCREENS. They're not that hard of a concept. And yet, when an American friend remodeled her house and wanted to include put window screens in, she discovered they don't exist here. She was welcome to have them custom made or imported from America, at great expense of course...


6 June - mark your calendars, London food shoppers!

6 June is circled large on my calendar. Finally, after teasing me with "coming soon" signs for far longer than is necessary, Whole Foods has announced the opening date for its flagship store on Kensington High Street.

But not everyone is as thrilled with having a state of the art organic supermarket that treats its employees and customers equitably in their backyard. Jonathan Prynn, writing in the Evening Standard:

"Whole Foods is frighteningly expensive compared with other US food giants...Back home, it has success simply by being better than the dire supermarkets Americans were used to."


Oh puhleeze. There is nothing more dire than a UK supermarket. Let's compare, shall we?

Choice? Fuhgeddaboutit. No comparison. Last time my husband and I were in LA, we stopped in my old neighborhood Ralph's. I actually took photos with my phone's camera to remind myself what proper displays of produce and wide aisles of more than two brands per category looked like. "Yes, but," I hear you say, "London is an old town with little space for supermarkets and LA is a new city with nothing but space for big stores. It's not fair to compare." Ah, but my husband has one quirky quirk: He loves to try out new grocery stores. And so we have travelled by tube, bus and cab to the furthermost reaches of Greater London to visit the large suburban hypermarkets. Let me tell you: there is NOTHING more dire in the supermarket category than the Asda in North Acton. Don't even get me going on our various Tesco experiences. They define despressing shopping.

Service? Grumpy clerks who may or may not bag your groceries for you, throwing the six pack of soda on top of the fresh loaf of bread, or clerks who generally smile and exchange pleasantries while a second clerk bags for you? Thought so.

Food safety? I've watched Sainsburys employees place formerly frozen items that were left behind at the checkout BACK IN THE FREEZER CASE. On a regular basis.

Oh Ralph's, how I miss thee...Gelson's, Albertson's, Pavillons too. And Bristol Farms...*sigh*

Also, a country that gave birth to Trader Joe's can never have its grocery choices be termed "dire." TJ trumps ALL. It certainly trumps anything this benighted (when it comes to supermarkets) isle can boast.

As for "frighteningly more expensive" - yes, Whole Foods can cost more than Ralph's, but not that much more. Besides, I bought entirely different things at each store. Considering that the supermarkets here double or treble their prices for the organic versions, I would say that Whole Foods prices will come as a pleasant surprise to the British shopper.

Now France...France can sneer all it likes at American supermarkets because French grocery stores are fab. What can I say, I'm a bread, cheese and charcuterie type of gal, and any country that sells not one, but two versions of Special K with chocolate (dark and milk) is my idea of paradise. But Britain...ever hear of glass houses, my supercilious Brit friends?

Whole Foods succeeded in America not because it was better than the other US grocery stores but because it exploited a niche very well. In my old LA neighborhood, I lived within walking distance of a Whole Foods, a Ralph's, a Pavillions and a local independent grocery. They all seemed to thrive in the ten years I was a resident. Whole Foods will not compete with Asda (which, by the way, happens to be owned by Wal-Mart) in the UK - because it isn't meant to. It's a completely different experience. And one I can't wait to have.

But oh! Trader Joe's, if you could be the next to invade London, I'd be very, very grateful...