exciting, informative, snarky, and very likely fabricated tales of life as an american expat in london

revelations part 2: letting go of the fear of missing out, and filling in the missing me

by Jen at 12:01 pm on 25.08.2011Comments Off
filed under: londonlife, mutterings and musings

i read an article the other day that brought me to my knees. it was on something i’ve long suffered from, but never knew was a genuine affliction until i saw it put into four little words: “fear of missing out”.

and here i just thought it was my own particularly poignant malaise. this gut-wrenching sense that whatever choice i make must be the *very best* one, not just the good-enough one. the feeling that i must leave as many possible paths open, because i will otherwise be forever saddled with regret over the path not taken. the ever-present fear that somehow, somewhere, in an alternate universe, the jen-who-could-have-selected-door-#1 is living a more exciting and fulfilling life than i am, because i picked door #2.

i know how insane that is. it is a crippling self-induced paranoia that prevents me from ever fully enjoying being present in the here and now. making decisions out of fear is no way to live. it’s doubly ridiculous, of course, because making no decision (out of fear of making the wrong one) is a decision as well. my life has in many ways been circumscribed by an attempt to keep all avenues available – and that, in itself, has prevented me from achieving a lot of the things i wanted to do in life.

i may have mentioned a million times how much i loved living in new york. at the time that i lived there, it was the experience of a lifetime. i had a circle of amazing and exciting friends, a great job that i was really good at, (and that was talking about sponsoring me to do a graduate degree), a social calendar full of cultural events, a rent-stabilised dream apartment in a vibrant neighbourhood. and yet i willingly, nay eagerly, moved away from nyc at the very height of my love affair with the city precisely because i was terrified that by staying put for so many years, i was missing out. i uprooted myself from the happiest place i’ve ever been, because i was convinced i might be happier somewhere else.

which is how i found myself in the summer of 2002, living a suburban life in boston, stuck in a job that bored me to tears. so i decided that it was finally time to get serious about applying to grad school so i could start having the career in counselling i’d always wanted. for years i’d put it off, because i was always afraid to get tied down to one place, and forever waffling between whether to apply to a doctorate programme or a master’s programme. so i decided i would at least sign up to take the g.r.e. exam – a requirement for entry to almost all post-graduate degree programmes. i still couldn’t decide for sure (what if i picked the wrong one?), but i knew which direction i wanted to head in. so i made the appointment, bought the study guides, boned up on my maths (who the hell remembers how to calculate the volume of a cone??!), and practiced for several weeks. the morning of the exam i was feeling pretty confident – i’d had several good practice exam results, and i’ve always tended to do really well under standardised testing conditions.

i bombed.

so i did what any reasonable person would do: i went to live in london. because the opportunity to live in london presented itself, and i was afraid of missing out. oh sure, i could sit around in staid old boston, finding a better job, retaking the exams, doing several years of study, then working to pay off the loans. or i could ditch all that boring stuff and go and live in london, where surely everything exciting was just waiting to happen to me. having watched far too many movies, i convinced myself that living in another country was the key to making me a happier, more interesting, more complete person.

it doesn’t work that way of course, and eight years later, with a chance to make a change from yet another uninspiring job, i found myself flying to vancouver, ready to ditch it all again. because i am afraid that by staying put all this time in london, i must be missing out on something else. vancouver tops all the polls of “best places to live”, so why am i not living there?! vancouver is where i need to be to be at my happiest!!

and so the cycle goes. it is the constant fear of missing out that wracks me, does my head in, and paralyses me with dread. because being in vancouver for those months, all i could think about was what was going on back in london. i was convinced that the best, most amazing stuff was happening without me. as lovely as vancouver was, it could never live up to the opportunities that i was missing out on in london!

- i have lived my whole adult life in some of the most exciting cities in the world.
- i have travelled around the globe.
- i have become a full citizen of another culture.
- i have experienced music and art and monuments and natural wonders that many people only dream of.

and yet… i fear i’m somehow missing out.

that’s just crazy. but there you have it.

vancouver glistens invitingly. we could move in january. i am terrified that by not taking that opportunity now, it may not present itself again. i am terrified of missing out and afraid of losing my nerve. every fibre of my being is telling me to jump at it. i’ve got itchy feet and that feeling in my stomach that’s telling me to gogogogogogo.

but when i stop to evaluate and honestly weigh up my life, the reality is, the one thing i’m really most missing out on? a fulfilling career, doing something i love.

“live to regret the things you did, not the things you didn’t”. and if i were to die tomorrow, i might have a pang or two about not going to vancouver, but i would bitterly regret never having achieved my dream of being a therapist. staring down the barrel of my 40th birthday, i am realising that that’s become incredibly important to me at this point in my life. so even though it fills me with anxiety to admit it, i have to acknowledge that’s something that is most cheaply, quickly, and sensibly achieved by staying put. here. in london. not vancouver.

it pains me to close that door. for weeks i’ve been in knots over it – thinking of all the lost snowboarding, beaches, road-trips, dogs, fresh air, scenery and pleasantries, the idyllic (and idealised) lifestyle that vancouver represents in my head. but i’m just going to have to get over my fear of missing out. i need to learn to stop, focus, be patient, concentrate on my real life – and stop chasing after the some mirage of something or someplace better that’s always just out of reach, because it’s never where i actually *am*.

for once, i want *where i am* to be the ideal, and that’s not a city – it’s a state of mind.

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why? because why the hell not?

by Jen at 7:16 am on 9.08.2011 | 5 Comments
filed under: londonlife, rant and rage

so i’ve found some words, after a sleepless night of sirens and smoke, obsessively monitoring the happenings further down my street. i’m not sure they’re the right ones, but in the light of day, this is what it looks like to me.

here’s why the riots last night happened: because why the hell not?

the riots are the product of an extensive underclass that is completely and wholly disengaged. who feel no respect for other people, because no one respects them. they’re a population of (mostly) young people who’ve been all wound up and let go, but not given any direction.

what have they got to lose? nothing, that’s what.

what they see day in day out, is people taking what they want without consequence. from the local thugs in the hood, to the bankers on telly. people do it to them, and they learn in turn to do it to others. it’s as much a part of the cycle as the poverty that disenfranchises huge proportions of the city, as much a part of the cycle as the ever- changing parade of politicians who promise much and deliver little.

this is what they see: nothing ever changes, nothing ever improves and no on is ever held accountable.

and the police? they act with the same kind of impunity. they stop-and-search on a whim, they expend their power against the most powerless. they kill and are exonerated, always. they pick, pick, pick at the scab that covers the old wounds of rampant distrust.

against that bleak backdrop, what’s a few store windows, a few nicked mobile phones? the likelihood of any repercussions to themselves is almost nil, but then again society has pretty much already written them off anyway. at least they get some new kicks out of the deal – and in a world where trainers/sneakers are a stand in for actual power and status, that’s not insignificant.

there is no excuse for engaging in crime, no free pass that entitles you to abdicate personal responsibility for your choices. no one believes anyone is “sticking it to tha man” by ransacking the Tescos Express. burning down people’s livelihoods and homes is a grotesque and unconscionable act. but if you don’t think that a “fuck you, i’m gonna get mine” attitude is the direct product of a culture where feelings of entitlement, detachment, and disillusionment are evident in abundance in daily life? well then you’re probably just as deliberately obtuse as the politicians who stuck their heads in the (holiday beach) sand for three days, hoping it would go away.

the police were outnumbered, but that hardly mattered – they’re only powerful in known, discrete, controlled situations. turns out they’re great a cracking down on protesters who get permits and stay tidily in groups, but what the last few highly publicised/televised demonstrations have shown is that they can do almost nothing against small mobile flexible clusters that swarm and spread then re-swarm.

even had they been more numerous, they were at a distinct disadvantage – because while properties and businesses were being smashed and torched all over the country, all they could continue to do was hope-against-hope that the rampaging mobs didn’t decide to turn against people, and the only way in which to de-escalate most of the situations, was to defer.

so instead, we sat in our houses in fear, watching our beloved city in flames, hoping it wouldn’t come to our doorstep. and i’m sure that like myself. people all around the country were praying that no one would get killed. because frankly, i shudder to think about the ways in which it could have spiralled even further out of control. i, like so many, was glued to the television and twitter til nearly daybreak, getting accounts of the violence happening less than a mile away from me in several directions. unnerved doesn’t begin to describe it.

and in the cold, sad light of a sunny morning of what should be a glorious day, but is instead a day of both national and city-wide tragedy and mourning, no amount of understanding gives any comfort. none of the words matter. because it is simply heartbreaking beyond all comprehension.

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and just hours later…

by Jen at 9:55 pm on 8.08.2011Comments Off
filed under: londonlife, rant and rage

london is burning all around me. literally all around me. one to three miles in any direction from my flat, things are ravaged and burned.

there are no words for how devastatingly sad this is.

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revelations, part one: or, how i learned to stop worrying and love london.

by Jen at 5:44 pm on Comments Off
filed under: londonlife, mutterings and musings

i’ve been quiet these last few weeks since arriving home.

i’ve been busy. my “third sister” has been staying with us for the past month whilst taking an international law course, and having a london adventure. she’s been a family friend for 28 years, and i last saw her in 2002, so it’s been wonderful to have her here, to reconnect. with the timing of her visit coinciding with my return (and unemployed free time), it’s given me my first real opportunity to play tourguide – to show off my city, to point out hidden gems and discuss cultural quirks. i so missed london while i was in vancouver, and i’ve been fortunate to be able to spend a lovely few weeks spending quality time with my dear friend and getting re-acquainted with it my home city. i’ve had the luxury of a whole month for hours wandering aimlessly through parks and gazing up at the historic architecture, hitting the pubs with mates, exploring museums and attending open-air concerts. truly a magical time.

which brings up a thorny problem. because we’ve been planning to leave. we’ve been committed to leaving for years now. and now that the opportunity is in hand… i no longer know if my heart is in it. or rather, i think i now know where my heart *is*.

if you talk to anyone who knows me, they’ll tell you what i’ve been saying for years: that while i really like london, i’ve never loved london. i’ve never loved it in that way that makes your heart race, i’ve never loved it in that way that makes you feel like you’re at one with the living, breathing, evolving urban organism. i’ve said that i’ve never loved london so often that it’s become my rote, unthinking response to anyone asking why we were planning to move. after all, i’ve never planned to settle here long-term: never contributed to any pension plan, put off doing a degree that would require any extended period of study, never put down roots in any significant way.

for eight years i’ve adamantly and fiercely maintained that this dalliance with london was only temporary. because while i really like london, i don’t love london.

oddly enough, this year was also something of a milestone for me. i’ve now lived in london longer than anywhere else i’ve chosen to live as an adult. and i’ve now lived here longer than i lived in new york city – and i loved new york city with my whole soul. twelve long years since leaving, i still regret having moved from new york.

but while i really like london, i’ve never loved london.

and so last week, on a gorgeous summer day when i was walking around goggling at the buildings from the 1600s, and marvelling at the river, it suddenly hit me – i’ve been saying that so long, i never stopped to re-evaluate if it was still true.

like a thunderbolt out of the blue, it became clear to me. i do love london. it’s a sneaky love that crept up on me in between all the moments of urban annoyance and expat frustration. it’s a quiet love borne of familiarity and cranky affection. i’ve talked endlessly about how london wasn’t a great fit for me, given my brash personality and impatience. but amazingly, (or really, not so amazingly at all), i’ve changed over the years. london has too – of course it has.

i’ve grown to love london, but never recognised it for what it was. and it makes so much sense, when i stop to think about it. as much as i have a complete disregard for history itself, a part of me has always been deeply drawn to historical things: architecture, family heirlooms, old-fashioned items of nostalgia. as much as i rail against feeling constrained by formality, another part of me really loves and values tradition. as much as i detest being cramped by space and inconvenience, another part of me loves all things small and quaint. and most importantly, as much as i moan about needing access to nature and fresh air, it is the joyful culture and chaos of big city living that really makes me feel most myself, most vitally alive.

so you see the conundrum i’m faced with now. i’ll fill you in on the rest of it in part two.

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home again, home again, jiggety-jig.

by Jen at 10:38 am on 5.07.2011 | 1 Comment
filed under: londonlife, mutterings and musings, travelology

oh hello there!

some of you may have noticed (or, y’know, not, as the case may be) that jen’s den was offline for a few weeks. 30 gigs worth of spammy traffic to dead links meant i had to flip the switch for a bit. dunno how that happened, but hopefully it was an aberration.

i woke up this morning next to my husband, back in my own bed in london, jetlag hangover from hell piercing my brain. i’m still feeling very disoriented and fuzzy around the edges – a weird foggy miasma of being neither here not there.

vancouver was a mixed bag. frustratingly was unable to land a job of any sort – sponsoring a work visa is a dealbreaker for most employers, it seems, in spite of my 20 years experience in the field. however i was able to (hopefully) pave a pathway for getting a student visa. if all goes well, we may be able to move over in september – not an ideal scenario, but a means to an end.

as expected, vancouver was overwhelmingly *nice*. nice people, nice city. quiet, clean, efficient. even the riots that happened while i was there? watching it on telly, felt a bit like “riot lite”. a few cars set alight, smash-and-grab looting. opportunistic vandalism on a large scale, more than anything else. but nothing like the venomous, violent clashes that happened between the police and student protesters here in london. the vancouver riots were about frustration and mob mischief run amok. the london riots were about a passionate power struggle between stalwart ideological symbolism and the perceived oppression of the powerless underclasses. if you want any further evidence of the clear differentiation between the two riots, you need look no further than the collective community response and volunteerism that swept vancouver in the days immediately following, when residents by the thousands signed “apology walls”, did cleanups, and went to lengths to emphasise the rioters were “not real vancouverites”.

even in the face of mayhem and chaos, vancouver is unfailingly polite.

(aside: it also needs to be said that from what i saw, and from most reports, the vancouver police went to extraordinary lengths to avoid escalating interactions with the crowd – perhaps, ultimately, to the detriment of getting the situation under control. but they made it quite clear that they wanted first and foremost to allow the massive crowd of rubberneckers, or those just caught up in the situation, to disperse and go home, and gave them ample opportunity to do so before cracking down harder. a refreshing change from the heavy-handed kettling tactics london police resort to by default these days.)

and so my 3 months in vancouver was very pleasant. and “pleasant” may not get the heart racing wildly, but there’s a helluva lot to recommend it. i found myself fantasizing about bicycling around, and having a dog that i can take to the park, and having a little car for weekend camping getaways, and growing tomatoes in a garden. there’s never going to be the edgy excitement of discovering a new underground music scene, or avant-garde experimental art exhibit, or pop-up supper club. but really? i’ve had a combined 16 years of access to those sorts of things in nyc and london, and how often did i ever avail myself of them? almost never. instead, what i find myself wistfully wishing for is a sunny summer saturday when my opportunity for communing with nature is not limited to a postage stamp-sized common heaving with people, a sunday when i don’t have to step over piles of vomit on the pavement, or a monday when i don’t have to endure a commute akin to medieval torture. and these, vancouver has in abundance.

i’ve been trying to think objectively about the downsides to vancouver, and the best i can come up with is this:
– too much pot smoking (seriously too much – and i say that as a proponent of legalisation. i really don’t want a contact high every time i’m in an open-air public place.)
– open container laws and no alcohol sales on sunday. pouring white wine into a tupperware sippy cup so i could drink it in the park made me feel like a 16 year old. boooo!
– too many homeless people. my canadian friend tells me they migrate from elsewhere in canada because of the relatively mild vancouver climate, but i never saw this many homeless, even in new york. it’s (in a general humanitarian sense) terribly sad, and (in a selfish urbanite sense) annoying.
– rain. rains more than london(!), but gets 300 extra hours of sun (!) to balance it out. that’s an extra 5 weeks of daytime sun.

and even with all this pleasantness, i found myself missing london something awful. in fact, missing *britishness* with a fierce ache. missing that bit of myself that so quickly started slipping away once transplanted to another environs.

but that’s a topic for another post.

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isle of beauty, fare thee well

by Jen at 4:45 pm on 5.04.2011 | 2 Comments
filed under: londonlife, mutterings and musings

why is it that it’s only on leaving something behind that you fully appreciate it?

i finished my job last week – and in the madness leading up to my last day, i found myself working flat out, to the point of exhaustion. everyone around me kept asking if i’d mentally checked out yet, and the truth was that i hadn’t because i couldn’t let go. part of it was an untimely confluence of crises that happened in the last weeks, but a larger part of it was pride – i was too proud to do a half-assed job even when most other people would have simply called it good enough and done. my colleagues kept telling me, “you can only do what you can do”, and they were right, obviously – but i was so afraid of letting people down that i couldn’t see my own limitations.

feeding into that last minute frenzy, there was a whole leaving chorus of “what will we do without you?!” intellectually, i know, of course, that no one is indispensable. in a few months, someone else in that job will have made their own mark, blurred my footprints. but it was nice to hear, nonetheless. because as much as i moaned about it, and stressful as it could often be, there were two things about leaving this job that made it so bittersweet.

first: that i was damned good at it. oh sure, there have been other jobs where i felt competent and capable. but there are very few jobs that really play to your strengths, and this was one of them. and being damned good at something gives you job satisfaction that tides you over even when other things at work aren’t great. i used to come home and complain/brag about how much i’d done – but i always had a secret sense of accomplishment that gave me a little smile. and people appreciated my work.

secondly: that i am leaving before i really want to. leaving a job because you’ve become bored, or resentful, or overworked, etc. is something i’m pretty familiar with. when you have that bitter taste at the back of your throat because you’ve come to hate something you spend so many hours a day doing – there are no mixed feelings when you finally leave. but there has been one other job where i felt i left before i was ready, and i’ve always kind of regretted that. i was essentially forced out of this job – and so i am ambivalent and heavy-hearted to have had to leave. i might not have ended sticking around for very much longer – but it’s hard to walk away knowing there was more you would have wanted to do.

and i suppose that those feelings are also reflected in my leaving london. as much as i may moan about it, and as stressful as it has often been, living in london has given me a sense of satisfaction and achievement. even in my grousing and bitching, there’s a hint of smugness in knowing that i am bitching about london – a city many would love to have the opportunity to live in, and which i have had the luxury of bitching about for eight years now. there’s a secret sense of accomplishment in getting here and living here that turns up the corners of my mouth ever so slightly. i may have had to gut it out at times, but i was damned good at london.

similarly, as much as i’ve wanted to leave for a while now, i do in some ways feel as though i’m leaving before the end. i haven’t wrung all the last drops of joy out of this experience yet. since the beginning of the year when it became clear that this move was in the cards, i’ve been looking at london with fresh new eyes. feeling it with the heart of someone anticipating the empty space it will leave. appreciating it in a way that i couldn’t when the years were just stretched out endlessly before me. the other day was my move-iversary, and i was remembering that initial honeymoon phase when everything about london seemed grand and even the mundane was new and quaint. all the little things that have become just so much background noise that i barely even notice them – except now that i know i will miss them, they jump out at me all the time. maybe even without this catalyst, i would be leaving soon anyway, and maybe it’s better to leave with fond memories and regrets of things not yet done, than with a sour lump of resentment. but i can’t help feeling that, like my job, my stay was incomplete.

“absence makes the heart grow fonder” – i’d never known the origins of that line, but it’s been spinning in my head for days. how apt then, that it’s an englishman who wrote it.

One of England’s more versatile writers, Thomas Haynes Bayly wrote novels, plays, poems, political articles, and songs. In 1844 a poem titled “Isle of Beauty” appeared in Bayly’s two-volume Songs, Ballads, and Other Poems. It is here that the following romantic words are found:

What would not I give to wander

Where my old companions dwell?

Absence makes the heart grow fonder:

Isle of Beauty, fare thee well!

as people keep reminding me, you can only do what you can do. and so, dear london, dear england, dear isle of beauty, goodbye – for now.

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things i will not miss about london

by Jen at 1:14 pm on 25.03.2011 | 1 Comment
filed under: londonlife

the vomit.

puke, gag, retch.

i’ve lived in boston, montreal, and new york. i’ve visited cities big and small all around the globe. and i have never anywhere else seen as much vomit as i have in london.

upchuck, blowing chunks, tossing cookies, spewing – call it what you will, but it’s everywhere on the pavements of the big smoke. it makes running on sunday mornings a minefield, and turns a monday morning commute a stomach-churning experience.

against walls, in bus shelters, next to gutters – you’re always encountering the remnants of someone’s unsuccessful drunken curry or hungover chips. if you’re particularly unlucky, you’ll see the heave in action, in full technicolour effect with sound. i’ve seen more strangers puking in public than i care to count. the pigeons peck at it, then it dries to a dark spatter, eventually washing away with the rain.

it’s a particularly nasty side effect of the binge-drinking culture that’s so prevalent here, and i will not miss it at all.

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things about london I will miss

by Jen at 9:24 pm on 20.03.2011 | 2 Comments
filed under: londonlife

the thing about london spring? you start feeling it in the air at the end of january – the cold starts to lose its edge. and you think to yourself, “it can’t possibly be spring yet.” and it isn’t – not quite yet.

but in february those crocuses and daffodils start emerging, and they tease you with the scent of greenery in the air. what follows is usually weeks of grey damp – the kind where you can’t remember what the hell compelled you to set up shop on this crazy island where dreariness seems endless and the gloom is so dispiriting it crushes the hope right out of you.

and then, it hits. like someone’s turned on a thousand brilliant lights all at once. there is grass and there are warm breezes, and the sun is so dazzling it stuns all your senses. your nose and lungs fill and fill and all your nerves are vibrating with energy from the warm glow on your skin. it happens on *one day* and everyone londoner feels it on that same day, migrating out into the fresh air and open spaces en masse, like birds returning home.

it happened this weekend, and reminded me what a magical thing it is – and even though it arrives in exactly the same way each year, it makes you feel alive as if you’ve never been alive quite that intensely before.

I will miss that.

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is it possible to have ptsd from an election 10 years ago?

by Jen at 7:17 pm on 5.05.2010Comments Off
filed under: londonlife, rant and rage

tomorrow is the uk general election – the first i’ll have been eligible to vote in since moving here. the system of electing a uk prime minister is vastly different to electing a us president – both have pros and cons, and i’m realising there are things i like better about each.

things i prefer about the uk election:

  • pre-election campaigning is largely limited to a month. the official election period began at the start of april, and it’ll all be over with by the 6th of may.
  • three genuine major parties. you’ve got the conservatives, labour, and the liberal democrats, who, whilst not as big as the top two, play a significant and important spoiler role. plus lost of smaller parties who (theoretically) stand a chance of winning a seat in parliament.
  • less emphasis on personality. with 3 party leaders who couldn’t charm their way out of a wet paper bag (and a prime minister who perpetually looks like he’s got a bee up his bum), uk elections are much less about what the candidates look like and how they come across on television.
  • less television campaigning. the uk recently held its first televised leader’s debates – much ballyhooed as becoming “more american” in the way in which elections are conducted.
  • no silly electoral college.

things i prefer about the us elections:

  • held on a regular, predictable day, at regular, predictable 4 year intervals. none of this waiting for an announcement stuff, as if it’s some kind of electoral surprise.
  • voting for a leader, not a leading party. the last election, people voted for tony blair’s labour party, and then halfway through, got the bait-and-switch gordon brown. that irks me.
  • less paper waste through my mailbox, fewer people campaigning door-to-door. i know i shouldn’t begrudge them my time, but when i’m constantly answering the buzzer during dinner, it gets annoying. and *all the trees* being killed by parties trying to get me to vote for them. at least television adds don’t clutter up my recycling bin, and robo-calls can go straight to voicemail.
  • less emphasis on class background. there are no real parallels in the us to the uk class distinctions, but people in the us do not generally expect their leaders to have come from the same socio-economic background as themselves
  • term limits

even with all the differences, i’ve got a dreadful sense of deja vu building in my stomach. most pundits seem to think the tories/conservatives will be in power by friday – it all feels a lot like the 2000 us elections, when the incumbent/heir to the throne *should* have had an easy ride to the polls… but somehow managed to pull defeat from the jaws of victory. there are lots of similarities – both felt to be too serious, too out of touch with the public, with the long shadow of misconduct by their predecessors still looming in the background.

there’s a groundswell of sentiment that labour (who’ve been the party in power since 1997) have outlasted their usefulness, and with the liberal democrats having a late surge in popularity, we may be looking at a big upset.

we’ve had to declare a truce on political discussion in this household – it is a true test of our marriage that we’ve not yet come to blows over this election. suffice it to say, however, that i’m voting strategically tomorrow, specifically to cancel out my husband’s vote.

whatever will happen in the rest of the country will happen. i’m hoping for the best, but bracing for the worst.

i only hope that the fallout (for the sake of britain and the rest of the world), is not nearly as bad as the george w. bush years.

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when your feet are moving easily, you’re exactly where you want to be

by Jen at 1:52 pm on 4.04.2010 | 1 Comment
filed under: londonlife, mutterings and musings

the other day was what i like to call my 7 year “move-iversary”. it’s been seven years since i set foot on this damp and crowded island, intending to make a new life for myself. seven years is a long time, and while i still occassionally marvel at the equal amounts of courage and naivete i had when i first arrived, the fact is that for better or for worse, this city has been “home” now for a while.

i suppose the strangest bit is that i truly never intended to be here this long – because while i like london, i have never loved it. oh, i may have my random days of infatuation (usually coinciding with the rarity of a warm, sunny weekend), when i can hardly believe that i live in a city with so much history, but overall, london is just not that great a fit for me. too bound in tradition, too restrictive, too far from anything resembling nature, too crowded. as much as i’ve gotten used to it, i still can’t believe that in a city of 8 million people, the shops all close at 6pm, the tube closes at 12:30, and you can’t buy a bottle of shampoo over 250 ml (8oz).

but i have gotten used to it. it’s the norm, now, for me to use anglicised spellings, metric measurements, and telephone numbers that can have anywhere from 9-11 digits. i’ve stopped puzzling over these things (which still, to a large extent, baffle me) and simply internalised them. this is home, the not-so-new normal.

and it has become immensely easier over the years to be an american, here in blighty. my first flat had no internet (something which i promptly rectified), no cable, and a fridge the size you’d use to store beer in a frathouse living room. everything was small, different, and confusing. it was alien, and alienating – i found myself clinging to “friends” reruns and hiding in my room a lot.

but it was also the kind of cultural immersion of the kind you’d be hard pressed to experience nowadays. things, as they say, have changed. these days there are actual coffeemakers you can purchase in the shop (instead of making do with a one-cup caffetiere/french press). there are more crappy american television shows than you can shake a stick at. there are actual lactose-free products in the dairy aisle (seven years ago, the phrase “lactose intolerant” was completetly unheard of, and trying to explain that you couldn’t eat dairy in a country which reveres milk and cheese was like trying to explain monogamy to tiger woods.) there is skype and there are free long-distance minutes handed out like candy by the mobile companies. there is (loathe as i am to admit it) facebook – allowing me to reconnect with people i thought i’d lost, and helping us to stay interwoven in each other’s lives. there is (holy of holies!) live-streaming baseball, and international amazon.com shipping. being an expat today is completely different – the boundaries between europe and america are becoming more blurred every day.

don’t get me wrong: there is still lots of stuff i miss. american-sized jeans, flavoured coffees, good antiperspirants, and bras are all things i still stock up on when i am back in the states visiting. (the bra thing? don’t ask. i have never found a good-fitting bra here, ever.)

but more importantly, there are things which cannot be imported. spending time with my failing grandfather. being present for the births of my nephew and niece. hot summers by the ocean, going for hikes in the mountains, the freedom of driving speeding down a wide, empty highway. so many of the loves that make my heart sing are so far away.

and to complicate matters, there are freedoms i enjoy here that i would never want to go back to living without. universal healthcare, ample holiday allowances, ease of travel, good beer, eu privileges and protections. these are the fully british rights that i have incorporated as part of my worldview, that have shaped my priorities and politics, for future and forevermore.

i have lived in this strange place of limbo for seven years now – one foot in each world, fully a part of neither, being at “home” in a place i still don’t understand and don’t love, being away from “home” where my family lives but i no longer fit in.

yes, it has gotten easier, thanks largely to technology and the creep of globalisation. (evil globalisation – the boon to the expat. who knew?) but even after seven years, it’s still not easy. i don’t imagine it ever will be – expatica complicates and changes your life in a way that no one can predict. it remains difficult for my family, (and often myself) to understand why i electively live so far away from some of the things that matter most to me in the world. it’s a compulsion that has taken me down a path that i couldn’t reverse if i tried. or wanted to.

like me, this post is a bit of a mish-mash that doesn’t know where it’s going. all i know is that being an expat has long since gone from being a choice about *where* i live, to a choice about *how* i live. from a piece of nomenclature, to a fundamental piece of my identity. the world will change, and my place of residence will change, but that bit of me that has irrevocably changed, will never change.

as long as seven years may seem when i reflect back, looking forward, i know it is only just the beginning.

stranded – sambassadeur

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terrorists live amongst us

by Jen at 5:01 pm on 26.03.2010 | 1 Comment
filed under: londonlife, rant and rage

through my letterbox today….hrmmm, what’s this then??

bomber

huh.

i flip it over.

bomber2

ah right. it’s time for the metropolitan police’s annual spy on your neighbour campaign! not that you’d know immediately from reading it that it’s from the met – what’s with the almost invisible logo?

as i may have mentioned, i live in a heavily muslim community. coinkydink that these are being distributed here?

good thing then, that i live directly next to this.

bomber3

yup. that’s dozens of bottles of propane, and big sacks of fertiliser. oh, and they flytip too. perhaps i should call? i’ll “let the specialist officers decide” if the fact that it’s next to a hardware store is important. after all, “we don’t believe any call is a waste of time”, and don’t let that 13% terrorism conviction rate fool you: terrorists live amongst us.

(eta: i’d like to point out that i spent some serious time googling to find any evidence on whether this kind of scaremongering has lead to substantive police leads or arrests. i could find none. i suspect because there is none.)

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staring at the gutters and missing the stars

by Jen at 9:49 pm on 3.03.2010Comments Off
filed under: londonlife, mundane mayhem

warning: what follows is a rant. a petulant, self-indulgent, unkind, stomp-my-feet-temper-tantrum kind of rant. look away now if you don’t want to read further.

it’s the kind of rant borne of two cruddy, miserable days. it all started yesterday morning when the tube was suspended – i had to walk to the rail station with blistered feet in heels, and when i arrived, i was greeted with the sight of a massive hoarde of people bunching up and spilling out of the station.

this is one of the things i hate about brits: the tendency when everything goes tits up, to just wait like a herd of lowing, passive cattle, waiting for someone to tell them what to do. (told you i was going to get nasty.)

and the fact that i hate that characteristic just irritates me even further when a service like the tube (a very expensive and ill-run public service) seems to go haywire far too often. and people just put up with it.

so i was in a crummy mood. they weren’t letting people into the rail station (even though the rail *was* running, unlike the tube), and they were letting a bunch of people out a side exit, and i saw a few people slip into the station through the side exit. hell, i had a rail pass (and therefore didn’t need to validate my ticket at the gates) so i tried to do the same.

only to get violently shoved by the rail employee. yes, i was physically assaulted by a guy in a fluorescent vest on a fucking power trip who shouted, “what’s wrong with you?! you’re jumping the queue!” (i wonder if he would have dared lay a finger on a male passenger?)

because really, that’s all he cared about. not the fact that i pay through the nose for a tube service that never functions properly. not the fact that i was severely inconvenienced and made late for work. not the fact that the rail service which *was* running, was being curtailed in the name of crowd control rather than expediency.

no, no. the fact that i jumped the fucking queue gave him the right to shove me with his shoulder like a linebacker and scream in my face.

(my formal complaint of being physically assaulted, is now being dealt with – had i not been so shocked, i might have had the presence of mind to call the cops at the time.)

so i got home, and i was annoyed all evening. then today, i walked out the door to see this:

books

this is the shit from the neighbours. they don’t seem to understand that the front of my house is not a rubbish dump, so they regularly engage in what’s called “flytipping” here – illegal dumping of garbage, refuse, waste, etc. they dump their household rubbish bags in front of my house. they dump their old furniture in front of my house. they dump computer monitors and old ironing boards in front of my house.

this morning, i was treated to several piles of accountancy textbooks they’d apparently decided they no longer wanted. so i shoved them back in front of their driveway, and went off to work.

i had another crap day at work dealing with other people’s incompetence. (gah – can’t *anyone* do their jobs properly??!) and then came home to the pile of books… moved *back in front of my house*, papers flying up and down the street. i stormed off to the hardware store on the corner (who abut the alleyway where the entrance to these people’s flat is) and asked them if they knew who was dumping the shit. turns out, they don’t have anything to do with the people living in the flat, but have just been calling the council to come clear away the rubbish every time. same as i’ve been doing.

so this is what happens: we all know who dumps the rubbish. the council comes and cleans it up. then they just dump more rubbish again. and my tax money pays for it. argh!!!!! it’s beyond infuriating.

and finally, to cap it all off, the postman decided in his/her infinite wisdom, to leave my amazon parcel outside my front door – probably because they were too lazy to make out the collection card and drag the parcel back to the depot. when i found it, the two books which i was soo looking forward to, which were supposed to be inside were long gone.

this is what happens, though, when you’re an expat – a bad few days turns into a bout of effing and blinding about what a shithole of a country you live in, how you can’t believe you live in such a back-asswards place that’s stuck in the victorian era, how you can’t wait to get out because everyone and everything is supremely incompetent. how the most mundane things (transport, litter, post) can’t even get done properly, the natives are cattle, and it’s all gone to hell in a handbasket, god save us when the olympics arrive!

the little (and not so little) annoyances pile up until they become a mountain of self-pity that you can’t seem to dig yourself out from under. the difficulties of daily life become magnified until you attribute them to an entire country and people who can’t possibly do anything right, and it would all be different *if only you lived somewhere else*.

and i do want to live somewhere else. i am keening to live somewhere else. this smae thing happened with new york, and it happened with boston – the familiarity really does breed contempt. but when it’s another country and culture, it’s just so much easier to say the brits suck, than to acknowledge that urban living can be crummy sometimes. the city closeness starts to press in around you until you feel you can’t breathe, but you can’t yet escape, so let’s blame everything on the british. you can’t appreciate any of the beauty of the city (look! historic buildings and sushi restaurants side-by-side! the river and the theatre and the lights and the multi-culti populace and the palace!) because you’re so busy staring downcast into the dirty gutters and breathing the bus fumes. i’m sure vancouver doesn’t have any dirty gutters and bus fumes, and it certainly doesn’t have any sucky brits.

this will pass. i know it will. but right now i’m looking down at the gutters. the city is squeezing the life out of me, i have no books, and there’s rubbish outside my front door.

bloody britain.

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that’s *lady* poshbottom to you

by Jen at 5:07 pm on 23.02.2010 | 1 Comment
filed under: londonlife, mundane mayhem

my biggest pet peeve these days? titles.

over here in the u.k., titles are *mandatory* for practically everything. every form you fill out, every account you open, every online purchase you make, you are required to choose a title.

stop! until you choose a title, you may not pass go! you may not buy that set of plastic mixing bowls for £9.99 until you answer the very important title question!

and while most of the time, it’s the standard mr./mrs./ms./miss choice, being that we live in the u.k., often the choices will include the more exotic honourifics lord/lady/sir/dame etc. etc. etc.

i’ve always been against titles on principle – there are very few instances where my gender and/or marital status are required knowledge for a retail exchange or provision of services to be carried out smoothly and successfully. it’s really wholly unnecessary in 99% of all instances. but in such places where it was required, i have always, always used ‘ms.’ as a title – partly as a nod to second wave feminism, but mostly because it’s none of their damn business whether or not i’m married and i like being cryptic.

over here though? even though i’ve always selected ‘ms.’ every bloody time they force me to use a title? they still put ‘miss’. without fail, on every item where jonno’s and my own differing surnames are included, i am ‘miss’. but even on my own bank account, my paycheque, my junk mail… all ‘miss’, every last one of them. for some reason, ‘ms.’ in the u.k. is not widely used… or, it would seem, acknowledged.

frankly, it pisses me off to no end. the insistence on a title where none is needed (does it *really* make any difference to my veg box order if i am baroness jen, or professor jen, or mrs. jen?) is idiotic enough, but in a country where arbitrary class designations are still so rife (as if by being born into a “noble” family, lord poshbottom of earlchestertonshire is somehow better than anyone else), and where the outmoded queen still sits on her throne pretending to be important in the world, i can kind of understand it.

but to force me to use a title and then not even honour my elected honourific? well that’s just galling. i may not think that titles are important, but to blatantly disregard what i choose to call myself is downright rude.

so lately i’ve been rebelling in my own childish, but amusing way – selecting titles at random. my grocery account is under ‘captain’ jen, my cable bill arrives for ‘mr.’ jen, and so on, and so forth. if they’re going to force me to play their little stupid, bullshit, classist game, then play it i will. it’s petty and small, i know, and entertains no one but myself.

but i can’t wait to use ‘marchioness’. or hell, maybe i’ll just start making some up.

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now they’ve gone too far

by Jen at 7:29 pm on 12.08.2009 | 3 Comments
filed under: londonlife, rant and rage

the lies they’re slanging around in the u.s. about healthcare, have now reached my shores.  i said the other day that i wouldn’t dignify the absurdity with a response, but now people with absolutely *no* experience of what they’re talking about, are slagging off my nhs.

that’s right, my nhs. the system i have, in the past 6 years, come to regard as quite precious to me.

in case anyone stateside is looking for some truth, here it is:

in this country, we view basic healthcare is a *fundamental human right*.  that means it is free at point of service to everyone, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, weight, sexuality, pre-existing condition, income level, employment status, maternity status, mental status, or disability. that means when i go to the doctor, i never once have to take out my wallet. not once.  that means i don’t have to worry about eligibility periods, or COBRA payments, or copays, or excluded conditions, or health savings funds, or coverage levels, or HMOs, or PPOs, or staying in-network, or annual deductibles, or employer contributions, or payment plans, or contract clauses, or invoices.

i simply go see my doctor, and they treat me.

it’s not perfect – in fact, far from it.  but it’s still a damn sight better than any system currently in place in the u.s.

oh, and if i don’t like it? i can go private.

but don’t take my word for it.  check out the facts for yourself here and here.

i’m tempted to say that if people are stupid enough to buy into the lies and fearmongering, they’ll get the system they deserve…  but they won’t.  because what everyone actually deserves is universal healthcare.

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it’s nearly august, it must be rain

by Jen at 6:05 pm on 29.07.2009Comments Off
filed under: londonlife, mundane mayhem, photo

back in april, when the metropolitan weather office was optimistically forecasting a “hot and dry” summer season ahead, i sniggered. in may, when they began warning of a genuine heatwave and recommending people paint their houses white, i laughed. i nearly bust a gut laughing – that info practically became the punchline to the running joke that is british summer. it may take me a while to catch on, but after 6 years here, i’ve finally come to understand its cruel annual tease.

still, in spite of my cynicism, some part of me was kind of hoping it would prove true. sadly, this morning’s news was an all too familiar refrain: august will be wet and cold. as per fucking usual.

so, unsurprisingly, no sun outdoors. luckily, i’ve got my own supply in…

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for crying out loud, i barely even watch television

by Jen at 7:46 pm on 6.07.2009 | 4 Comments
filed under: londonlife, rant and rage

a few years ago, we bought a secondhand television (£50).  we buy a monthly cable package (£40).  we pay for our electricity quarterly (£100).

all the ingredients you need for watching television, yes?

oh no, not so fast.  here in britain, if you wish to *use* the television, electricity, and cable you’ve already paid for, you need to pay the government an additional £142.50.  per year.

see, the uk has this public commodity called the bbc.  it’s essentially the same thing as pbs back in the states – publicly subsidised media which is supposed to provide independent, impartial and educational media to the masses.  now, leaving aside the matter of bias (because it’s simply not possible for media to be entirely free of bias, and the bbc is no exception), the bbc is funded by this “television license”, which is collected annually from every household which owns a functioning television.  this pays for 8 national television channels, 10 radio stations, the online website, and some regional/local media. (other services are paid for through other funding streams).

lots of people argue that they don’t use any of the bbc services, therefore should not have to pay the tv licensing fee.  personally, i have no problem with paying for public services i don’t use – i do it all the time, in fact.  i pay for roadworks when i don’t drive, education when i have no kids, libraries which i don’t visit, etc.  i believe these things serve the greater public good, and i’m happy to have money withheld from my paycheque to contribute.

what i have a problem with, is the notion that this television licensing fee is not a flat tax.  because while it may have begun in 1946, days when few people owned a television, and the bbc was *the* only broadcaster, (and therefore only taxed those people who actually used the service is supported), in 2009, the idea of television as a luxury which is taxed only for the 98% of families who own one, is just dumb. even sillier, it’s not the *television itself*, or even the actual service (e.g. transmission), but the *reception* of the service, which is taxed.

i don’t have to buy an annual water license for receiving my water, or electrical license for allowing current into my home.  yet every year, i have to pay for allowing television airwaves into my living room.

furthermore, the method of collection is so blatantly inefficient as to be laughable.  the idea that you have to renew your license each year, means that there is an amazing breadth of scope for omission/evasion.  if they don’t have you on their database as having a valid license, they first send you a standard warning letter.  more than 20 million warning letters are issued each year.  if that fails to produce the desired response, the tv licensing people come personally knocking at your door, and try to get you to allow them into your home.  they have “tv detector vans”, which can tell if you have a television operating in your household.   they make around 3.5 million personal visits each year.  they threaten prosecution, tell you that you’ll be “cautioned and interviewed”, and could be subject to £1000 fine.

according to their 2009 report, the bbc spends they spent 4% of all revenue from the television tax on collection and enforcement.  £181 million each year is lost through evasion, about 5% are evaders.  the cost of collection is £122 million, of which, £73.4 million is spent on direct collection and enforcement.  of the 3.5 million visits, 603,000 end up as “sales” (i.e. people purchasing a license), which roughly adds up to income of £84.4 million pounds.  £20 million was garnered in prosecution fines.

in other words: they spend £73.4 million a year to collect £84.4 million pounds, plus an additional £20 million from people they prosecute (minus prosecution costs, natch, which they’ve neglected to specify in their report), and continue to lose £181 million per year.

doesn’t sound terribly efficient to me.

if all this rigamarole sounds antiquated, bizarre and farcical, it’s because it is.  for fuck’s sake.  stop the intimidating and inefficient harassment campaign.  collect the television tax like every other tax applying to household utilities – either at the point of service (add an additional sales tax to cable, satellite and internet services), or as paycheque withholding (like we pay for almost all other publicly subsidised infrastructure and services).  easy peasy – no opportunity for evasion, no need for enforcement, no adversarial intimidation.

good god, even traffic enforcement is more advanced than the tv licensing regulation!  why are they still stuck in an era where people require little pieces of paper that prove they’re entitled to operate a television?  we no longer live in 1946.  the bbc need to stop pretending that we do.

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the soft sigh of summer

by Jen at 6:25 pm on 1.07.2009 | 3 Comments
filed under: blurblets, londonlife, photo

just when i begin to think i just couldn’t be more fed up with this city, it has a way of turning around and surprising me into falling in love with it all over again.

an incredible sunny warm summer evening.  husband on the barbeque.  wimbledon on the television. and this view at the end of the couch.

you’d be too lazy to blog too.

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you’ll pardon me if i’m fresh out of sympathy

by Jen at 7:38 pm on 9.06.2009 | 2 Comments
filed under: londonlife, rant and rage

8 years living in nyc. number of subway strikes during my residency? zero

21 years living in boston. number of subway strikes? zero

2 years living in montreal. number of subway strikes? zero.

6 years living in london. number of tube strikes? not counting the one that began today and runs to thursday? i seriously can’t even remember, what with the constant strike threats and partial strikes and strike balloting and full-scale strikes and narrowly averted strikes… think i’m exaggerating?  well let’s just see…

since march 2003:

07/2003
Jul 21, 2003 – Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, is facing his first threat of industrial action on London Underground since he took over control of the Tube. Drivers on the transport system’s Metropolitan Line are to be balloted over a number of issues including the dismissal of a colleague for
From Livingstone faces tube strike threatRelated web pages
www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1436713/Livingstone …

08/2003
Aug 12, 2003 – Mr Livingstone’s Transport for London (TfL) took over the Tube last month and now has control over how the network is managed and run. The mayor said he hoped to agree a three-year pay deal with Tube workers to end the damaging strikes. But talks on that cannot begin until the current
From Tube strike threat after pay talks failRelated web pages
news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london …

10/2003
Oct 28, 2003 – Union leaders are pressing ahead with plans to ballot Tube workers for a strike over safety. … London Underground Managing Director Tim O’Toole promised to investigate Tube safety. He said: “Today, we had a frank exchange of views, but it was a constructive discussion.
From Tube strike ballot to go aheadRelated web pages
news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/3222251.stm

11/2003
Nov 14, 2003 – Nov. 14 (Bloomberg) — About 400000 London commuters suffered disruption this morning because of a strike by drivers on two of the capital’s train lines. The disruption will continue all day, said London Underground Ltd. There is no service on the Circle Line, which runs in a ring
From London Tube Strike Disrupting Journeys of 400,000 CommutersRelated web pages
quote.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=10000102&sid …

12/2003
Dec 3, 2003 – The mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, yesterday urged tube unions to avoid strikes and to work with him on improving conditions on the network. “They will never be in a better position in terms of leadership and management of the tube system,” he said. “They will never have another
From Tube strike threat after staff sacked over alcoholRelated web pages
politics.guardian.co.uk/unions/story/0,12189 …

02/2004
Feb 6, 2004 – Mr Crow said the union could combine strikes to bring Tube and mainline rail networks to a halt at the same time. The Tube vote will dismay commuters and business leaders. It is estimated that a 24-hour stoppage would cost London £70 million. The RMT has included a 35-hour week and a
From Tube strike on poll dayRelated web pages
www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/articles/11098881 …

03/2004
Mar 1, 2004 – Tube workers have backed strike action on London Underground (LU) to support maintenance staff who were sacked after alcohol was found in a staff room. The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union said there would be a 24-hour walkout by its members employed by Metronet from 0600 GMT
From Tube strikes over sacked workersRelated web pages
news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london …

04/2004
Apr 6, 2004 – Steve Grant, Aslef London district secretary and a former Tube driver, said: “If this situation is not sorted out at next Wednesday’s meeting this union will ballot its … Tube chiefs met RMT leaders last night to try to stop the strike – due on the day of London’s mayoral election.
From New Tube strike threatRelated web pages
www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/articles/11150452 …

05/2004
May 17, 2004 – The prospect of co-ordinated strikes on the railways and London Underground was raised last night after the industry’s biggest trade union announced it was balloting thousands of Tube workers for industrial action in a row over pay. The prospect of co-ordinated strikes on the railways
From Tube and rail workers to vote on joint strikeRelated web pages
www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/tube …

06/2004
Jun 3, 2004 – Militant union leaders dealt a damaging blow yesterday to Ken Livingstone’s campaign to be re-elected as mayor of London when they called a 24-hour Tube strike on polling day. The stoppage on 10 June by the RMT transport union coincides with European Parliament and London mayoral polls
From Blow to Livingstone as RMT calls Tube strike on polling dayRelated web pages
www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/blow …

Jun 28, 2004 – A 24-hour strike expected to cripple London’s Tube network will go ahead from Tuesday evening after negotiations broke down after 20 minutes. The Rail, Maritime and Transport union dismissed the talks as a “PR exercise”. Millions of commuters face “severe disruption” and London …
From Talks over Tube strike break downRelated web pages
news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london …

Jun 30, 2004 – Millions of people across London have been affected by a one day strike over pay and conditions on the Underground. Thousands of drivers, signallers and maintenance staff on the Tube stopped work at 6:30pm on Tuesday, forcing people to take the bus, drive or walk.
From London Tube strike hits millionsRelated web pages
news.bbc.co.uk/cbbcnews/hi/uk/newsid_3852000 …

Jun 30, 2004 – June 30 (Bloomberg) — Londoners donned walking shoes, climbed on little-used bicycles or squeezed onto buses to get to work as a 24-hour strike shut down most of the capital’s underground rail network. The strike by 7500 members of the National Union of Rail, Maritime & Transport
From London Tube Strike Forces Commuters to Walk, Cycle or Ride BusRelated web pages
quote.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=10000085&sid …

07/2004
Jul 8, 2004 – A new round of talks aimed at averting another crippling strike on the London Underground have ended today without agreement, Mr Law said the union had again asked for a trial of a four-day working week on the East London line of the Tube to be introduced without cost,
From More Tube strikes loom as talks break downRelated web pages
www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk …

08/2004
Aug 11, 2004 – The threat of strike action will hover over London Underground (LU) employers at pay negotiations tomorrow with the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT). The union has already carried out one day of strike action, during which over half the Tube services in London did not run.
From Tube strike could follow pay talksRelated web pages
www.thisislocallondon.co.uk/news/topstories …

09/2004
Sep 30, 2004 – Brian Munro, secretary of the London Regional Council of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, was dismissed over allegations of intimidation on a picket line during a Tube strike in June. Bob Crow, the union’s general secretary, said: “It is quite clear that London Underground had
From Tube strike off as sacked driver gets back jobRelated web pages
www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1473015/Tube-strike …

11/2004
Nov 15, 2004 – Tube drivers at a north London depot are planning two 24-hour strikes on the London Underground (LU) over a long-running row with a manager. About 150 members of the drivers’ union Aslef on the Jubilee Line will walk out on 3 December and Christmas Eve.
From Commuters face Tube strike threatRelated web pages
news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london …

12/2004
Dec 24, 2004 – A Tube strike planned by signal workers on New Year’s Eve has been called off following a deal over pay and hours. Members of the Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union voted on Thursday to back industrial action. But on Friday, union leaders reached an agreement with London …
From New Year Tube strike called offRelated web pages
news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london …

03/2005
Mar 21, 2005 – Drivers on the London Underground (LU) are threatening to strike in protest at attacks by vandals on Tube trains. The drivers’ union, Aslef, said trains on the eastern end of the District Line were being pelted with missiles including bricks and stones.
From Tube strike threat over vandalismRelated web pages
news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london …

05/2005
May 19, 2005 – A planned Tube drivers’ strike, in protest at violence by gangs of youths, has been suspended following talks. An Aslef spokesman said the action has been suspended for a week and said it will assess London Underground’s (LU) efforts to improve security.
From Tube violence strike is suspendedRelated web pages
news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london …

06/2005
Jun 16, 2005 – London Underground (LU) workers are threatening to strike in a row over canteen and toilet facilities. Some drivers have refused to book on at the Earl’s Court depot since January in protest at the poor facilities. The Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union said it would ballot its
From Tube strike threat over toiletsRelated web pages
news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london …

07/2005
Jul 26, 2005 – London Underground (LU) drivers are threatening to strike if their concerns over safety and security in the wake of the London bombings are not addressed. The Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union said it will consider balloting members if talks with LU bosses on Wednesday fail to
From Tube strike threat over securityRelated web pages
news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/4718411.stm

Jul 27, 2005 – LONDON (Reuters) – London underground staff will consider strike action if talks fail on tightening security on the capital’s rail network following this month’s bombings, a union leader said on Tuesday. The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union said it would ballot its 11000
From London Tube staff may strike over security – unionRelated web pages
thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2005/7/27 …

10/2005
Oct 11, 2005 – Strike misery could soon return to the London Underground after the RMT union announced it was balloting staff for strike action over jobs, subcontracting and pensions. The union will “strongly recommend” 1800 employees at Metronet, the company which maintains the Tube network,
From RMT to ballot members on potential Tube strikeRelated web pages
www.personneltoday.com/articles/2005/11/10 …

11/2005
Nov 10, 2005 – LONDON (AFX) – The Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union (RMT) said it plans to ballot London Tube workers for strike action over jobs, subcontracting and pensions issues at infrastructure company Metronet. The union said in a statement it will ballot 1800 of its members who work
From UK union to ballot London Tube workers on strike actionRelated web pages
www.forbes.com/business/feeds/afx/2005/11/10 …

12/2005
Dec 24, 2005 – LONDON: Last minute talks between London Underground and the RMT union over a planned New Year’s Eve tube strike broke up on Friday without agreement. RMT plans a 24-hour stoppage on December 31 and another on January 8/9 following a staffing dispute. The strike could cause travel
From London tube strike plannedRelated web pages
english.people.com.cn/200512/24 …

Dec 31, 2005 – NEW Year’s Eve transport chaos appeared inevitable in London today after warring parties in the Tube dispute failed to reach agreement. The best hope for revellers appeared to be the goodwill of Tube workers, many of whom have indicated to London Underground that they would defy the
From London Tube strike deadlock leaves revellers facing chaosRelated web pages
news.scotsman.com/topstories/London-Tube …

01/2006
Jan 2, 2006 – By Robert Verkaik. Strikes by Tube and rail workers failed to dampen the spirits of half a million people who took part in London’s New Year’s Eve celebrations or cheered yesterday’s New Year’s Day parade. An estimated 200000 revellers gathered in central London to usher in 2006
From London celebrates despite Tube strikeRelated web pages
www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/london …

Jan 9, 2006 – LONDON, Jan. 8 (Xinhua) — Some London tube staff have started a 24-hour strike on Sunday evening, threatening rush hour chaos for millions of commuters in the British capital. About 4000 London Underground (LU) station staff were set to join the strike, which will last until 18:30 GMT
From New Tube strike begins in LondonRelated web pages
news.xinhuanet.com/english/2006-01/09 …

Jan 13, 2006 – The rail union Aslef is to ballot more than 2000 London Underground members to see if they want to cause more misery and discomfort to London passengers again next month by walking out on their jobs. The union plan on coordinating with the RMT who have already staged two strikes over
From Another London Tube Strike PossibleRelated web pages
www.blimey.com/story.php?id=263

02/2006
Feb 14, 2006 – Aslef, which represents about 70% of Tube drivers, says it will recommend the 21 February strike is suspended, after talks with London Underground. It said progress was made on several issues in the industrial relations row, but not enough to end it altogether.
From Tube strike in doubt after talksRelated web pages
news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london …

04/2006
Apr 10, 2006 – TUBE commuters face another summer of strikes after the unions turned down a five-year pay deal. London Underground offered the deal, which included cash bonuses of up to [pounds sterling]500 a year, provided passenger “satisfaction” targets were met. Pay would increase by three per
From Summer of Tube strikes loom as unions reject deal.Related web pages
www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-144331850.html?refid …

08/2006
Aug 15, 2006 – Millions of commuters could face a late summer of travel chaos as Tube workers threaten to strike over a spate of ongoing disputes. The RMT union has warned it plans to ballot 6500 workers over industrial action unless an “acceptable” pay offer is tabled by London Underground.
From Commuters face Tube strike threatRelated web pages
news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london …

09/2006
Sep 1, 2006 – Some London tube staff have started a 24-hour strike last evening, threatening rush hour chaos for millions of commuters in the British capital. About 4000 London Underground (LU) station staff were set to join the strike, which will last until 18:30 GMT Monday, but it was reported
From New Tube strike begins in LondonRelated web pages
english.eastday.com/eastday/englishedition …

01/2007
Jan 18, 2007 – Thousands of London Underground workers are to vote on strike action in a row over pay, threatening travel chaos for millions of commuters and other Tube users next month, it was announced today. The Rail Maritime & Transport union (RMT) said it would ballot 6500 workers,
From Tube workers to vote on strikeRelated web pages
www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2007/jan/18 …

02/2007
Feb 28, 2007 – The threat of a strike by London Underground (LU) workers has ended after a breakthrough in a long running dispute over pay. The Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union said LU was trying to link pay with productivity, including later running trains at the weekend.
From ‘Landmark’ deal stops Tube strikeRelated web pages
news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/6405509.stm

03/2007
Mar 9, 2007 – Tim O’Toole, London Underground managing director, said the RMT had been given all the assurances it had demanded. It was “ridiculous to inflict this pain on London“, he said. Tube services should continue tonight but the worst effects of the strike will be felt in the morning.
From Tube strikes to bring travel chaos to millionsRelated web pages
www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/article-23410830 …

06/2007
Jun 18, 2007 – The RMT says 11000 of its members are to vote on whether to launch a series of strikes during the summer. A Transport for London spokesperson said TfL had not been notified of any proposed ballot of its staff. The spokesman said: “Any ballot for strike action is obviously premature as
From Tube strike ballot over pensionsRelated web pages
news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london …

07/2007
Jul 19, 2007 – By Brian Lysaght. July 19 (Bloomberg) — The UK’s Rail, Maritime and Transport union said members will begin a 24-hour strike at 10 pm local time on the London Underground’s Bakerloo Line in a dispute over staffing levels at stations. Some 150 train drivers and station workers
From London Tube Workers to Begin Bakerloo Line Strike Late TodayRelated web pages
www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601102&sid …

09/2007
Sep 3, 2007 – By Robert Barr, AP Writer. LONDON — Hundreds of thousands of commuters struggled to get to work Tuesday by bus, bike, cab and on foot as a subway workers’ strike stretched into a second day, disabling three-quarters of the sprawling Underground. The planned three-day strike by 2300
From London Tube strike causes commuter chaosRelated web pages
www.usatoday.com/news/world/2007-09-03 …

Sep 4, 2007 – This could only mean one thing – a Tube strike. True to their word, the businessmen who were overheard the day before talking about the strike and saying “I won’t be in London this week” were nowhere to be seen. It is no wonder that analysts have predicted businesses will lose up to
From Commuters grin and bear Tube strikeRelated web pages
news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/6977546.stm

Sep 6, 2007 – By Sally Peck and Sophie Borland. The Tube strike that brought London to a standstill has been called off, but passengers have been warned it will be several hours before services return to normal. The Bakerloo and Victoria Lines have been restored with minor delays, and the Central
From London Tube strike ends but delays to continueRelated web pages
www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1562257/London …

Sep 7, 2007 – Last Monday’s strike brought two-thirds of the Tube network to a standstill and led to severe delays for commuters across London. The union said the strike was suspended pending on-going negotiations with Metronet and its administrator. Monday’s action was called off on Tuesday night
From Threatened Tube strike called offRelated web pages
news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london …

12/2007
Dec 4, 2007 – London commuters will have to prepare themselves for three days of transport difficulties after the announcement of a strike by maintenance workers on the underground network. The Rail & Maritime Union (RMT) said today that more than 2000 engineers will go on strike from 18:00 BST this
From London set for three-day tube strikeRelated web pages
www.clickajob.co.uk/news/london-set-for-three …

03/2008
Mar 28, 2008 – London tube passengers face three days of disruption next month after two transport unions announced a walk-out of members on the underground. The dispute over safety issues involves the RMT and TSSA unions whose members will strike from 6.30pm on Sunday 6 April to 6.30pm on Wednesday
From Three-day London tube strike loomsRelated web pages
www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/mar/28/tube.strike …

04/2008
Apr 19, 2008 – Transport union leader Bob Crow has said he will recommend that a planned Tube strike across London should be called off. The Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union announced on Friday a 48-hour strike to take place from 28 April. It said Transport for London (TfL) had not provided
From Tube strike set to be called offRelated web pages
news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/7356004.stm

05/2008
May 23, 2008 – Hundreds of cleaners working on the London Underground could strike in a row over pay. About 700 members of the Rail and Maritime Transport (RMT) union employed by four private Tube contractors will be balloted on industrial action. The RMT said hourly rates of just more than £5.50
From Strike threat from tube cleanersRelated web pages
news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/7416919.stm

06/2008
Jun 26, 2008 – About 700 cleaners who work on the Tube have walked out in the first of a series of strikes to demand higher pay and better working conditions. The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union members want a London “living wage” of £7.20 an hour instead of the current £5.50.
From Tube cleaners strike in pay rowRelated web pages
news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london …

07/2008
Jul 2, 2008 – A 48-hour strike is under way by cleaners on the London Underground in a row over pay and conditions. More than 700 cleaners employed by four will be working with Metronet and its sub-contractors to ensure that they pay their employees who work on the Tube the London living wage.
From Tube cleaners’ strike under wayRelated web pages
news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/7484752.stm

08/2008
Aug 19, 2008 – A 72-hour London tube strike that had been due to start at noon tomorrow has been called off, union officials said today. The announcement came after a day of crisis talks between the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) and the underground maintenance company Tube Lines produced
From London tube strike called off after pay deal agreedRelated web pages
www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/aug/19/transport …

11/2008
Nov 16, 2008 – Transport for London (TfL) said the strike would not affect services and it expected the network to run as normal. But the union said the strikes have the potential to close large sections of the Tube network. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “Shift testers at EDF Energy Powerlink
From Tube electricians to go on strikeRelated web pages
news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london …

12/2008
Dec 7, 2008 – Workers responsible for fault-finding and maintaining the electrical supply to the London Underground will begin their second 36-hour strike … and highly skilled staff who do a crucial job in keeping London’s Tube network moving.” The workers staged their first strike last month.
From Tube workers to stage second strikeRelated web pages
www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/tube …

02/2009
Feb 6, 2009 – Millions of London commuters are facing further travel misery this morning, even though the RMT union last night suspended its strike which brought the bulk of London’s tube network to a halt. After more than eight hours of talks yesterday between the RMT and Transport for London,
From Tube strike halted but commuters face further rush hour miseryRelated web pages
www.guardian.co.uk/transport/Story/0,,2162698 …

03/2009
Mar 23, 2009 – About 10000 London Underground workers will vote over strike action in a pay and job cuts dispute, the Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT) has said. The expected job losses come after Tube maintenance work was brought in-house following the collapse of Metronet.
From Tube strike ballot over job cutsRelated web pages
news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/7958612.stm

04/2009
Apr 22, 2009 – Thousands of London commuters faced travel chaos today when a major tube line was suspended because of a 24-hour strike by workers. Members of the Rail Maritime and Transport Workers’ (RMT) union based on the Victoria line walked out at 9pm last night over a dispute about the safety of
From Tube strike forces Victoria line closureRelated web pages
www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2009/apr/22/tube …

what a fucking joke.

2 Comments »

night fights

by Jen at 5:22 pm on 28.05.2009 | 5 Comments
filed under: londonlife

“i’m going to shoot you!!!  i’m going to shoot you!!!  i’m going to shoot you!!!”

i abruptly surface from the depths of a dream to hear someone screaming this in the street just below our bedroom window. it’s 3 am.

shaking jonno awake – “did you hear that??!”

“i’m going to shoot you!”

jonno rolls over, “wha??”, and then attempts to go back to sleep.

adrenaline pumping, i get up and call 999 in the dark, relay the details whilst peeping out the window to try to see what’s going on, then creep back into the bedroom.  jonno is still lying there.

“c’mon, let’s move away from the window.”  “why?”  “because if someone’s going to start shooting, i’d prefer to be as far away from the bullet trajectory as possible!”  he reluctantly gets up and pads to the back of the house with me.  the cat crawls under the bed.

people still shouting outside.  surely someone else has called the police as well?  this is a residential street.  the shouting moves up the street away from our house.  i crawl back to the window looking for the police.  a minute or two later, they arrive, bringing an ambulance as well.  they stop in front of our house.  the phone rings.  it’s the police, wanting to know which direction the guys went in.  i indicate the general direction and they head off.

we climb back into bed, and lie there for a bit, heart still racing.  i say, “that’s the thing about living in a city – everyone always thinks someone else must’ve called the police.”

j says, ” well if it made you feel better, it’s good that you did.”

*what*!??! what do you mean, ‘if it made me feel better’??!  what would you have done?”

“i wouldn’t have called the police.  people who announce they’re going to shoot someone, never actually shoot someone.”

“oh really?  is this in your vast experience of witnessing shootings?!”

“i’m just saying that people who bluster about it never do it.”

“you know, i’ve lived in major cities since i was 17, sometimes in rather dodgy areas.  i’m as jaded as the next urbanite, and hardly someone who overreacts to general city craziness.  but when someone’s shouting that they’re going to shoot someone, i’m not going to be the one to make that judgement call about whether or not they really mean it.  i’d rather call the police and say, ’someone is threatening to shoot someone outside my front door,’ than call and say, ’someone just shot someone outside my front door.’ ”

so, dear reader: what would you have done?  ignored it on the assumption that it was just bravado? or called the police?

5 Comments »

even more on why rape doesn’t matter

by Jen at 8:15 pm on 21.04.2009Comments Off
filed under: like a fish needs a bicycle, londonlife

boris johnson, the buffoon mayor of london, made a campaign pledge to fund four rape crisis centres around the city – a resource sorely needed in a city where reported rapes increased by 14% last year alone, yet only 6% of all rapes result in a conviction.  just a year ago he said:

I have made it a key Manifesto pledge that I will use GLA funding to substantially increase financial support to the charity sector working with the victims.   There is currently only one Rape Crisis Centre in London – located in Zone 5.  I will provide the funding for four new Rape Crisis Centres in London, paid for by reducing spending on the Mayor’s personal press officer budget.

today he reneged on that pledge.

in related news, the cab driver who was convicted of a dozen serial rapes over 18 months, (and suspected of attacking up to 85 people back as far as 2002), was sentenced to at least 8 years today.  he went unapprehended for so long in part because the sex crimes unit of the metropolitan police was understaffed and in disarray.

yet boris outlined a new domestic violence strategy in which he says:

For any plan to work we must have the police, local authorities, community organisations, health sector and criminal justice system all working together across borough boundaries. We also need to get tougher. Tougher on the perpetrators of violence, who currently enjoy a ridiculous level of immunity, and tougher on the attitudes that condone violence against women.

no kidding boris.  tell me when you’re willing to get serious about it, instead of just paying lipservice. actions speak louder than words.

women in london deserve better.

Comments Off

i’m on my way home now to you

by Jen at 7:56 pm on 30.03.2009 | 1 Comment
filed under: londonlife, mutterings and musings

today is my six year anniversary of my arrival in london.

in many ways, i think i learned more about myself by getting on that plane than probably anything else i’ve ever done in my life.  charging off into a completely unknown future.  it felt like both a running away, and a running towards – what? at the time i couldn’t have said.

i know now, that that indescribable, ineffable *something*, was a self i sensed existed somewhere within, but couldn’t quite visualise, and it took throwing myself up against some hard things to begin to determine her outline.  yet while the emergence of this new self coincided with landing in new city, it wasn’t the scenery that changed so much as the internal landscape.  although i arrived lugging two heavy suitcases full of stuff, i left a whole lot of baggage behind.

“wherever you go, there you are.”  any expat or traveller will tell you how true that is.  there is something about the act of uprooting that challenges you beyond the superficial acclimatisation.  it forces you to take stock of yourself in a way few other experiences can.  it tests your ability to be independent, your ability to operate outside your comfort zone, your ability to make and maintain relationships, your ability to learn and internalise language and customs, your ability to deal with loneliness and obstacles, your ability to navigate new environments.  in short, it gets to the core of everything you know about your place in the world, and turns it upside down.  then gives it a good shake, like a snowglobe, just for fun.

the trick is not in learning to right yourself – the trick is in learning to live upside down.  and be happy in it.

because getting off the plane was just the beginning.  getting off the plane and stepping into the unknown, was actually the easiest part.

it’s taken me 6 years to learn all that, in lessons big and small.  so as i contemplate uprooting in the near future, for canada (or perhaps other parts as yet unknown), i look back and wonder: can i really do it all again?

some days it is louder than others, to be sure -  but that piece of my brain that lights up, and the pit in my stomach that leaps up into my chest like it’s cresting a rollercoaster, ring out with a resounding and definitive answer:

hellz yeah. )

the prize fighter inferno – the going price for home

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