New Flat!

First of all, I loved my old room in the co-op. The kitchen was chaotic and had moths and rodents and finally kittens, but the people were lovely. Having 18 housemates meant that it never got lonely, even if it occasionally was loud at times I wanted to be asleep. However, Sonia and I wanted to do the heteronormative couple-y thing and got a flat together.

It’s the newly-renovated top floor of a Victorian house, just around the corner form my previous room. The landlord just converted a single family home into three smaller flats. As far as I can tell we’re the first (not related to him) tenants in the house. Clues include the smell of paint and that I cannot seem to locate a phone jack anywhere in the flat.

We moved in and the management agent gave us two sets of keys to the house a a key to a meter. Well, sort of. When the removal van finally showed up and got all of my worldly possessions to to my new flat at 6pm on Friday, it emerged that the keys they gave me do not actually open the door. I tried calling the letting agency and the property manager, but they’d all gone home for the weekend. So I told the mover to leave all my stuff on the pavement outside the flat and then I waited for Sonia to get home. Thank goodness it wasn’t raining.

My American readers may be wondering why one would need a key to a meter. Remember reading Pygmalion in high school? Eliza Doolittle went home to her room and put an extra penny in the heater because the professor had overpaid her for her flowers. It all seemed so terribly Victorian that you would have a meter that you needed to put pennies into before you could run your heat. Well, they never quite got rid of this system in England, just updated it. Now it’s a fob system. Somebody gives you a ‘key.’ You take the key to a corner shop – the kind of store that mostly sells cheap alcohol to adults and magazines and candy to kids. You hand them the key and some cash (really, cash only) and they add money to the key. Them, when you get home, you stick the key in your meter and it will allow you to spend exactly that much money. Imagine if you were running it a bit tight on the electric bill. Under this system, your power might be cut a few days before every pay day. The bonus is that you don’t need to pay extra to turn it back on. The downside is that all your food spoils. Plus you get to pay loads more than middle class people get with their normal power bills. The Victorians were masters of screwing poor people. When conservatives in this country speak of ‘Victorian values’ they do so with nostalgic pride, not the deep shame the phrase deserves.

So I went down to the Londis and put all of my cash on the key and went back to the flat and looked everywhere for the meter. It was Saturday and the property manager was having his day off. I was slightly concerned that the power might turn off at any moment, but I had gig-related activities and anyway, there was no hot water and needed to find the boiler. Finally, I found a mysterious electrical switch in the bathroom and turned it on. There was a gurgling behind the wall. Aha! This must be the boiler. Of course, it would need time to heat up. So we gave it time. And Then more time. It was sealed behind a wall. So I took a cold shower and was grateful it’s August.

Maybe I could just do a load of laundry in the mean time. Augh! Water everywhere!

Meanwhile, Sonia asked the guy downstairs if he had any insight and it turned out he was the landlord’s brother. He came up and used a pen knife to get open the bit of the wall with the boiler behind it and thus we discovered that whoever had redone the bathroom had thought it was a good idea to seal the boiler behind a wall, having first left it in the ‘off’ position. So we waited again for it to heat up. Also, the power meter was located. In the basement flat, which is rented by yet another guy. So, we need to put money on the card, then knock on the door of the guy living in the basement, hope he’s home and charge up our power. Obviously, this will not do, so today Sonia rung up the power company and had a series of confusing conversations with them. And a series of conversations with the property manager. It gradually and painfully emerged that the card we had been given was actually for the gas meter, which is also in the basement apartment, locked behind a door that even the man who lives in the basement does not have a key for. So the reason we’ve got no hot water is because the gas meter was completely out of money. Meanwhile, the electric meter also has a key, which we don’t have. There was all of £3 left on the meter by the management company, so I’m just waiting for everything to turn off at any moment. Meanwhile, the guy in the basement has gotten extremely pissed off, as it took a few trips to his flat to figure out which meter was which and what’s going on.

Apparently, not having access to a gas valve is also something of a safety issue, but nevermind.

On the positive, I was able to arrange an appointment with the phone company to come and install internet and a phone line. In three weeks.

But at least there are no mice. And, this is not a phrase I’m ever likely to repeat, thank goodness the cooker is electric. And at least partly works

London Flat Hunting

I am currently house sitting for a council tenant. This is perfectly within the rules for eighteen months. It has been longer than that. I am going to be evicted, but I don’t know when. Ergo, I am looking for a new place to live.
Despite the many tales I’ve been hearing of people being evicted in advance of the Olympics, this seemed to get off to a promising start.

The Art Space

I went on a web site that caters for people looking for a room in a shared housing situation and found something that seemed ideal. It was a live-work space, catered towards artists. I arranged to go look at the rooms, without Xena, as, at the time, the vet still thought she might have a sprain and she was not allowed to walk very far.
The rooms were tiny and seemed overpriced, and the organiser was overwhelmingly hispterish, but the shared space was good and it seemed I could get a ground floor room with my dog. There were 10 rooms going in each warehouse space. Given the prices, I worried my future housemates might be trust-funded artsy wannabes, but then I decided to get over myself. I emailed the organiser the next day and asked to arrange a meeting between him and Xena in order to get the room I liked. He said he did not want to force an injured dog to walk and I could have the room if I wired him the deposit the next day. Alas, I still do not have internet banking and asked to put it off to Monday.
On Monday, I was feeling too glum about Xena’s impending demise to leave the house and warned him I couldn’t do it until Tuesday morning. He wrote back something with a smilely in it and thus on Tuesday morning, I sent the wire, intending to email him saying I had done it when I got home at the end of the day. But, alas, at the end of the day, I found he had emailed me that afternoon to say he had rented the room to somebody else. I had a moment of panic and asked for the last room in the building with a window in it. More than half the rooms he had for rent had no windows or outside light, which I know from experience will mess with my head. This last room was smaller, more money, and up a flight of stairs.
But wait a second? How could the room be gone if I wired him the money that morning? I called him up and he explained, basically, that he had undercapitalised the project. The building owner would not let anyone move in until he paid the full deposit for the entire building, which was not money that he had. Therefore, in order to get things underway, he had decided that whoever sent him deposits first could have whatever room he had for offer. He had promised the same room to three different people and I was not first to prove that I had wired him money, ergo, it couldn’t go to me. I briefly explained that I needed both a window and ground floor access, due to my dog’s mobility issues and he said he would try to see if we could shuffle around a bit, but I would still need to pay the higher rent in that case. I said ok. I have to move. I have a dog. I need a place.
My friends, however, said I should get my deposit back, so I called the landlord and said I didn’t really feel comfortable with how things were going and as I had wired him money for a specific room at a particular price, I would like my money back. He sounded unhappy and I apologised at length for the inconvenience I had caused, but he agreed to return the money. Again, I have no internet banking, so I don’t know if he has done this yet. I have his real name and bank details, so I am confident that my money will get returned.

The Recording Studio

I was cycling past a set of studios that are in high demand and was surprised to see for lease sign on the building. I phoned up and found that the sign was out of date, but the company had several other things on offer. Would I like to live in a three bedroom recording studio around the corner from my current address? Would I! The price was high, but if there were three of us, I could just about do it.
The recording studio turned out to be in the basement of an office building. It was two bedrooms, a small living room, a fantastic kitchen, a large recording area and a control room. The guy previously living there had done it up himself in a kind of haphazard way, which the estate agent kept describing in terms of the ‘architectural vision’ of the DIYer, as if he were an undiscovered Frank Lloyd Wright. The man had not merely stapled budget-rated acoustical foam to all the walls and then decided to cover them with shabby black coverings that did not hide exposed pipes, he had left it unfinished on purpose as part of his great aesthetic.
Indeed, he did seem to love black walls, as the entire studio was black, as was a wall of the living room and was the bathroom. This was a daring choice for a basement apartment with no windows of any kind. But not as daring as the shower.
The shower was attached to the master bedroom, which was really the only proper bedroom, as the other one had hanging sheets instead of a wall separating it from the living room. He had clearly run out of room to put in a shower, so he put in a bath tub, in the interior, windowless, black painted room. The ceiling was not high enough to support a shower. But then inspiration must have struck him. He dug into the ground and made the bathtub deeper. Approximately 5 feet deep, so it was a long, narrow enamelled space that he had put footholds in so one could climb in and out. Or, possibly bleed out the corpse of an animal slaughtered for dinner. I may yet have nightmares about that shower.
With the sound proofing and the black walls it would have made a great SM dungeon if it was not so shabby. As it is, it would make a perfectly great rehearsal space and a nice place to live if I wanted to go slowly insane. Especially if this manifested itself as cannibalism. It has a really nice kitchen.

The Missiles

The Ministry of Defence has decided that the best way to defend the Olympics from terrorists is to put surface-to-air missiles on the top of a gated community in Bow. The people living in the flats under the missiles were not consulted about this and are not pleased to have military weaponry on their roofs. (It turns out that the 4th amendment in the US Constitution is more useful than you might have guessed in the modern age.) Much to my delight and surprise, I actually met two people who live in the missile buildings.
Bow is not London’s most sought-after area, so I asked if ‘gated community’ meant something posh. One of the residents explained that the area was being gentrified street by street. Some squares were very rough and others were fine and others were posh, all right next to each other. The gated area is a posh enclave of 20-something yuppies who are buying their first flat before moving to a more desirable post code. She explained they had not yet gotten beyond the ‘stage’ of doing lots of coke and behaving like children. The missiles on the roof are an accident waiting to happen, she opined.
I asked if there was anything going in my price range, because who doesn’t want to live right underneath an embarrassing military accident? She said there was and then emailed our friend in common a link to an advert for a one room flat. It was more than twice as much as she had estimated the average cost to be and well out of my range.
It’s just as well as can’t afford coke either.

The search continues….

And if you know of a place that wants a not-yet-employed recent graduate and a short-term dog, which is on the ground floor, with a ramp or with a lift, do let me know.

Yay! I have a room in London!

Today, I exchanged money for a key to a house in Lewisham, London. I have a gigantic room that looks out on a garden. The garden is magnificently overgrown. Somebody planted many lovely flowers several years ago and then it’s been neglected for years, so the flowers grow and twine in glorious tumult. The room has tile floors. It’s kind of echo-y, but that will improve as I move my stuff in. It’s large enough that I will be able to set up my gear and have enough room left over that I think I’m going to try to freecycle a couch.
I found the room via Outlet, a gay flatmate-finding service. I don’t know if the owner is queer herself or not, but she’s part of that community in that she makes costumes for drag queens. She’s off to some week long festival in Scotland to work with a drag troupe. She also has a gigantic german shepherd (alsatian). Xena get along famously with the other dog. And the owner’s daughter is willing to make pocket money dogsitting, so it seems I won’t have to find a kennel when I go to that States in July.
Lewisham is in the south east of London. South of the Themes is not considered as hip as north, but I’m not hip. This room is big and the rent is less than my mortgage used to be, so I’m happy. After I let the room, I walked into the center of Lewisham. There was a market going on, which was unremarkable except that a march came through it. There was a guy with a bullhorn and some chanting people and another guy with a trumpet, who would play a lick in between the chant lines. The chant lines didn’t change, so neither did the lick. He played the same 3 or 4 (out of tune) notes over and over and over again. I thought it was weird just on the basis of that, but then as they approached, it turned out that they were doing publicity for a faith healer. Friday night!
Is this every friday night? Is this a one time thing? How do you get 50+ people to march around chanting and handing out pamphlets for a faith healer? As entertaining as this spectacle was, it was also kind of alarming as highly-motivated Christians don’t tend to get on well with my people.
Nearly everyone marching was black. The rest of the market was mixed. After they went by, the commentary among the spectators was amusing. They mostly seemed confused, actually. I’ve always thought of faith healers as an American phenomenon. Some of the commenters were clearly unfamiliar with the concept and not exactly open to it.
The area has a very Oakland-like vibe in general. Including both diversity and snark! I went to a nifty diner and chatted with some people there.
I went to see two other flats on Saturday. The landlords for them were also really cool. I hope I can keep in contact with them. I had two more to see, but canceled, since I’ve got this room.
So I’m going to be moving in the next week.

From Last Week

Nicole left very early yesterday morning, alas. By the time I post this, she will (hopefully) be in California. I spent all yesterday morning feeling sorry for myself, but eventually roused myself into action, at least to answer the door when my last delivery of boxes arrived.

My next door neighbor came over while I chatted with the delivery guy and Xena ran around loose. The neighbor chastised me because he had found dog shit on his driveway the day previous. “It wasn’t my dog.” I said, which was true as that the first and only time Xena has ever been allowed off leash on the street. It was like he didn’t hear me, so I repeated it. He clearly thought I was lying. He wanted an apology. meh.

I set up my bedroom studio and it looks pretty good, but during shipping, the bolts came unscrewed in one of my synthesizer cases and the modules got slightly battered by bouncing and the loose screws. My favorite module, the MOTM 440 low pass filter, suffered visible damage. One of the knobs had come loose and the back cover of it broke off and now it catches when I turn it. I took it to school and asked the lab assistant about it. He lent me some tools and I re-tightened it and he told me to take it home and see if it worked. I screwed it back into the case, but I still haven’t tried turning it on as I have fears of it suddenly catching fire or something equally unlikely. The moral of this story is to use the correct mounting brackets and not try to fake it with just bolts and washers. Or if you do try to fake it, tighten them before you ship. And then tighten them again before you strap them to your bike and pedal them home. And don’t put it on a rack where it will bounce around a lot, but in the trailer.

Speaking of which, my trailer is also broken. I think it’s from running into stuff and not from carrying around my synthesizer. It’s wide and it sticks out on one side and lord knows i’ve bashed it into things a bunch of times. Anyway, it has a spring attaching the hitch part to the main part, so the spring lets it swivel some. the spring, however, is sprung. I think this is easily fixable. By somebody with tools.

My supervisor and all of my colleagues are off in Copenhagen, putting on a concert with an array of 80 speakers. They call this system BEAST. Apparently, I’m going to be a part of BEAST in the future, but for now, the only people I know in town are my housemates. They’re nice people. But I have no friends here except for my dog, who is nice, but doesn’t talk much and has a disturbing tendency to roll in horrible things she finds in the park.

I read Fingersmith last night. It’s a thick book by Sarah Waters. It has a really good plot twist in it. And unlike the last book by her that I read, the lesbians don’t die in the end. The book is kind of sexy, actually. So I woke up this morning feeling even more sorry for myself than yesterday.

I’ve read a lot of fiction lately, after a long run of none at all. The downside to this is that after I read a lot and sit by myself, I start narrating my life to myself in my head (c’mon, you know you do it too, sometimes) and as I’ve read two novels placed in the Victorian era recently and I’m in England, I’ve begun narrating to myself as if I were some sort of bloody Victorian (you see that “bloody” there? alas). I guess as long as I keep it to myself, it’s not a big deal, but as you can see, it’s sprung out and effected my blog, and thus yourselves, dear readers. . . . (Are those crickets I hear? Damn.)

The weather has been sunny the last two days, and thus at odds with my disposition, which is for the best. I need to find a book shelf, I think. I went to two charity shops today. I thought this term “charity shop” meant something like the Goodwill store in the US, and there is a passing resemblance in that they both seem to involve used clothes. But either I went to the wrong two shops or the similarity sort of runs out there. The “charity” part seems to just refer to the owners of the shop. The might sell a lot of new stuff. And the people working there seem to be normal shop keepers or maybe volunteers, I don’t know, but they’re not getting the sort of job training that folks at Goodwill are getting. No scent of lisol. No air of poverty. Maybe I went to the wrong shops.

The locals here are friendly and are getting gradually more intelligible. I’ve been talking with other dog owners in the park. And when I was strapping horrible, cheap dollar-store plastic junk to my bike, a bicycle enthusiast approached me to talk about old fashioned delivery bikes and the hilliness of Birmingham. When you look around you from where you’re standing, it looks flat. But there are valleys everywhere. There is a nice, light Danish city bike that I want, but can’t presently afford, nor do I have parking space for it. I’ve been daydreaming of putting a bike rack in the driveway. I’ve got myself convinced that it’s a great idea.

Now, however, it’s a great idea to stop typing and go do something else.

The move

The following post was typed on Sunday evening

I decided to delay my ferry trip to the overnight ferry, which turned out to be a very good idea. The day ferry wouldn’t have disembarked until 23:00 and getting from Harwich to Birmingham at that hour would have been exhausting. Not that six hours of sleep in a tiny bunk on a big boat wasn’t also exhausting.

Fortunately, all of Xena’s paperwork was more or less adequately in order. There was much todo because there was no written record of what date she got her microchip inserted. The fact that it was detectable and the number matched the reported number was not enough information. I offered to call my vet in California and ask, but instead the person checking suggested that I might suddenly remember the date and write it down. It came to me in a flash. Sort of. More or less. Anyway, Xena cleared immigration.

I should back up a bit here in my story. The ferry left from Hoek van Holland (“the Hook of Holland”), which is a bit more than 20km south of Den Haag. There is a very nice bike route that goes along the sand dunes to get there. Very pretty. We opted not to take it because the non-pretty route is flatter and less windy and I was carrying probably 100 kilos of stuff. No really. My bike is, um, not made of carbon fiber. I had a backpack in one saddle bag, which contained two computers and a whole lot of cables. A backpacking backpack on the back rack which contained all my paperwork, a synthesizer component (specifically a sherman filter bank), a sleeping bag, a bunch of camping gear and more cables. On the front, I had the giant basket I got for moving Xena around. She doesn’t like it much, but the basket itself is still handy. For example, in this case, I fileld it up with all of Xena’s dog stuff (toys, pillow, food, ceramic bowl, the door to her crate, etc) and also a bottle of Czech communion wine, a bottle of abscinthe, a small bottle of african compari, um, yeah. And finally, I was towing Xena herself, with the two halves of her crate stuck over the trailer.

It was rather much. When we got to our cabin on the boat, I passed out almost immediately.

The Mayflower left from Harwich. When the Pilgrims got tired of Leiden, they went back to Harwich and sailed for America. What’s little known is that they were actually supposed to leave a year earlier than they finally set out, but they got delayed by the confusing and contradictory signage.

The British immigration guy did a bit of a double take when he saw our bikes and the amount of crap on them, but we got through much more easily than I expected. It was way better than when I came two weeks ago. Then we got horribly lost and biked in large circles trying to get to the train station. Also, everything was bloody backwards. Cars on the wrong side is a lot to deal with at 6:30 am. (Okay, 7:00. Fine, 7:30, but still . . ..)

The train ticket from Harwich to Birmingham cost as much as the ferry. I saw a sign yesterday for a flight to Spain and a round trip airplane ticket from Grenoble cost less than a train ticket from Harwich to Birmingham. About half-as-much less, not just a few pence less. (I’m imagining them trying to get from London to Cardiff and going via Iceland because it’s cheaper.) (This is all Thatcher’s fault, but that’s a later blog post.)

We arrived in London and Nicole procured a bike map of the city. We had to get from Liverpool St Station to Euston Station in 1.25 hours. No problem, there are even bike signs up around the city. No problem until . . . that sound I hear could not possibly be the sound of hissing, rotating around like a Leslie speaker. Um, damn.

The back tire of my Dutch bike completely deflated in a few minutes. Some of the Londoners didn’t quite understand what “Dutch” means in this context. It means that my back tire has a fender, a shirt guard, saddlebags, a chain guard and a few other pieces of flat metal designed to keep me out of contact with the tire. Also, the bike is gigantic. It’s the Cadillac of dutch bikes. Meaning it rides nice, but it’s big, heavy, inefficient and hard to find parking for.

After a long while I found a bike shop, who agreed to fix my bike. But then freaked out when they saw the size of it. Apparently, it wouldn’t even fit in their workspace. (What, is their work space on the 7.5th floor?) They sent me to another bike shop who said they could do it on Monday. Sob story. sob story, ok come back in an hour. “Those chain guards are a real pain in the arse.” “Yeah, but they keep grease off my pants. [long pause] trousers! trousers!” (for Brits, pants = jockey shorts.)

It was then that I passed off the dog trailer to Nicole, who was aghast at the amount of stuff I was hauling. Not that her load was light. I’d say it was more or less even when she had the trailer. Anyway, the rest of our trip was pretty unremarkable.

We got to my flat and my key didn’t work in the front door. Fortunately, my flatmate was home and recognized me from our very brief meeting two weeks ago. He’s terrified of dogs. So is his sister, who is my other flatmate. They want Xena to stay in my room all the time. I’m hoping their fear decreases. Meanwhile, Xena is terrified of the stairs. She’ll go up them, but shakes in terror when asked to descend. There’s a climate of fear around here.

My room is large. It has a big bed and a table and a bed-side table and weird modular closet stuff in the closet. The bed has a pink upholstered headboard. the bed actually has a good mattress. Since arriving, I’ve spent most of my time asleep on it.

When I go out, I cannot decipher the Brum accent at all. It was actually easier to communicate in the Netherlands because there when it became impossible, I could ask “Sprekt U engels?” and we’d switch to something I could understand. What am I going to ask the Brits to switch to? I can’t understand my housemates either. I think they’re from Nigeria, but I should ask.

Things to do tomorrow:

  • Go to my letting agent and exchange October rent for a working key.
  • Go to school and get an ID card and get on the network
  • Purchase dog food
  • Purchase a bathmat and two waste baskets
  • Find an ISP
  • New tag for dog
  • Unlock cell + new SIM