I spend a lot of time here
I've now been here 3 months,  (holy crap! time flies) and I'm fairly settled in to the day to day...I figured it might be time for a 'what I love' and 'what drives me insane' about life here in London.  I have a bunch of them, so I guess this will be a weekly series...

As a preface, you might be wondering how I feel about London overall.  The thing is, I don't love it but I don't dislike it. I've been here before in the past -- once on a 6 week trip through England, and once on a 2 week backpacking trip through the UK -- and I feel the same way now as I did before living here.  London has pockets of charm and when I find them, I'm delighted!  Sometimes though, it feels depressing, soulless and sterile. I thought that maybe I'd feel different living here than being a visitor -- the conundrum that if you travel to a place, you don't get to experience life there -- the ins and outs.  I can say, in this instance, my feeling is exactly the same -- I guess first impressions are everything.  But, it's not a bad thing, and this isn't a criticism, it just is. 

Sunday, I went to Spitalfields Market and wandered around while the Canadian got his hair cut (at a place called Pimps and Pinups. I love my Canadian.)  I was having fun just browsing by myself - it was a gorgeous day, interesting people watching, funky clothing, interesting bags, and tons of other stalls selling everything from beautiful yarns to soaps and bathrobes in addition to exquisite baked goods.  I felt happy -- which, honestly, I haven't felt very often here. 

This is in direct contrast to my last experience at this very same market.  I was in Spitalfields in early August and that was where one of my first expat meltdowns occurred.  I was homesick, and I wanted the market to be something it wasn't.  I had hoped it would be like my beloved Marche Aux Puces in Paris - and so when I arrived, and it wasn't, I felt angry and let down.  I'm not saying it's rational (it's not) I'm just saying that's how I felt, and then I think that spiraled into anger and disappointment about being an expat in general.

And I am learning (yet again), about the power of expectations -- and that disappointment only comes from when your expectations are not met.  It's a lesson I continue to learn, so I guess I continue to need to learn it. 

So, let's say overall, London is good -- not great, but good.  And I'm learning so much: about myself, about the Canadian and our relationship, about expectations. Lots of learning!

Now, onto the little things about life here.
Since I believe in starting out on a positive note, we'll go with what I love first.

 I love my 'hood.  Love it. (Kensal Rise/Kensal Green/Queen's Park) I'm a few minutes walk to either an Overground station or the Underground Bakerloo line which means I can get almost anywhere I want relatively easily.  There are several gastropubs with excellent food all within a 5 to 10 minute walk (for pie-hole stuffing goodness) as well as fantastic ethnic food places, like Portuguese restaurants, also nearby.  There are farmers markets, a dog-sitting place (for the Rotten One when we take our trips AND they carry her fancy pet food), bakeries, coffee shops, a pedicure place, an indie cinema, a library opened by Mark Twain (which is in danger of being closed) and decent high street with some cute shops.  It's friendly, walkable, and safe but ethnically diverse enough to make me happy (I heart diversity). 

There's also a park that I adore in my hood! Queen's Park.  It's a 7 minute walk from my house and it's absolutely gorgeous.  I wish I could gobble up all of the parks in London and take them back to Texas.  I had a conversation with my friend Kim on Skype last night about how Austin (and really all of Texas that I've seen), frankly, sucks at parks.  My small little neighborhood park in London is better than the best park in Austin -- truly. 
My walking trail with the Rotten One
Fall has come to Queen's Park!
And then there are the big parks, like Hyde Park, and St. James Park -- which are breathtakingly beautiful. I took these photos a few weeks ago (before Autumn came to London!)
St. James Park
A look toward Duck Island in St. James Park where the Pelicans live
In St. James Park there are some resident pelicans (the state bird of Louisiana where my grandmother is born -- and I know this because she always says "I'm not a Texan, I'm a Pelican" wtf?!)

Anyway, according to the royal parks website:
Living near Duck Island are the Park's famous resident Pelicans, first introduced in 1664 as a gift from the Russian Ambassador. Regular visitors can see the Pelicans basking on their favourite rocks and getting fed fresh fish at 2:30pm every day.

There are currently five Pelicans in the Park...They're gregarious, social creatures and there are numerous stories of their entertaining antics. One rather mischievous Pelican used to fly over to London Zoo in Regent's Park to steal their fish for his lunch and they're often seen climbing out of the lake to sit on the benches.

Now, here's what I don't love:
Does no one in this country change their address when they move?  I mean, I understand getting mail from the previous tenant -- but the previous 15 tenants?!?! (I am not exaggerating when I say, I've received mail for 15 different people)  How on earth do these people ever receive their mail if they aren't changing their address?  And, I can't really figure out if I can do the whole 'Return to Sender' thing here...so it just sits on a pile in my dining room. 

The other problem with this, tangentially related, is that property taxes here (known as council tax) are paid by the tenant not the owner...so if someone moves and doesn't pay the council tax, then the council has to hire people (bailiffs) to hunt them down.  And then you get letters like this:
...shoved into your mail slot.  This is a past due notice for one of the former tenants who hasn't paid her council tax.  Now, these people are unaware that she no longer lives here (because changes of address are apparently unheard of!!) and so now, they are trying to collect taxes from her at a place she no longer lives (which is why in the States they collect property tax from the owners, not the tenants)

But here's the deal.  What p*ssed me off was that they "...may remove goods even in my absence".  Um. No sir! NO SIR YOU WILL NOT.  Because you know whose goods those are? MINE.  So because some d-bag woman couldn't change her address (or pay her council tax), and because this country tries to chase down tenants (versus charging owners...hello?!?!) and tenants move a LOT, then some bailiff might remove MY things?!  Thinking that my things are her things.  Does anyone see the flaw in this system????

Needless to say, I called them and sorted it out...now, if only we could sort this whole 'change of address' issue out as well...
9/21/2011 04:59:51 am

Ha, I am right there with you. Got a pile of mail from the previous tenant(s) in the hallway and not very happy about paying taxes as a renter. But I'm totally jealous of your neighborhood and nearby Portuguese restaurants! I'd kill for a decent ethnic food restaurant in my city.

9/21/2011 07:08:49 pm

We get a bunch of previous tenants' mail, including our landlord's. I think no one changes their address because you have to pay for Royal Mail to forward your mail. And not only do you have to pay for it, you have to pay per surname. It's not a lot of money but it's a hassle. If you're unable to do it online, you have to go to the post office and fill a ridiculous form out. So I can see those little inconveniences setting people off from forwarding their mail.

But I am so with you on the great parks in the city. We have 4 nearby and that kind of blows my mind when I think about it. We're in this massive city and it has lush green spaces everywhere.

9/21/2011 07:40:40 pm

I just giggled out loud at work over your mail pet peeve. I went as far as to email our block agent with pictures of the mail piling up. (They proceeded to do nothing.) The owner below us used her flat as her PR office for awhile, so our building receives GOBS of catalogs. I'll have to post a pic on the blog of my OCD ways - I have taken to sorting, trashing, and stacking mail on a ledge in the stairwell.

9/21/2011 10:39:12 pm

Ah, bless. The nuances of London. I

If you can be bothered, you can write "not at this address" on the mail and put it back in the nearest post box. Theoretically it should be returned to the sender, who theoretically should remove the person from their mailing list. Realistically, it'll make no difference and you might as well put it in the recycling bin! However, it used to give me some small pleasure knowing I was giving Royal Mail a little taste of their own medicine!

As for Council Tax, it's a little (a lot) regressive to tax the individual without consideration for their ability to pay... but there are some good aspects to it. Single people get a discount for example, the only place in the world I know that actually recognized the increased cost of leaving for singles! Also, have you registered yourself at the property? As a full-time student you are not liable for Council Tax which should entitle you guys to a 50% reduction on the total amount, but as a student of a foreign institution and because you're married this might not apply...

If you think the recent riots were anything, look up Poll Tax Riots...

9/22/2011 04:59:01 am

Hey! I didn't realize that you were in London- I haven't read in a while! I'm actually moving there in a few weeks and kinda hoping that I will love it (even though I've been there before and it's not my fav place)! It looks like I'll be living near Brick Lane and I'm looking forward to exploring the city. I don't know many people and will be unemployed for at least the first little while so would love to meet up for a tea if you were interested! By the way, I'm a Canadian, too, where is your beau from?

9/22/2011 05:02:50 am

Okay, I must be smoking crack because I did realize you were in London and somehow confused this blog with someone elses, haha! I commented before- just found you last week or so through Wanderlust82's blog. Sorry for the mixup and hope to meet you at Wanderlust's next London meetup!!!

9/29/2011 05:12:43 pm

I wish I could get my tenants to pay the taxes on
" Tara " ... my property in Atlanta.

As for council taxes and previous tenants not paying, I think I would freak if I got a notice saying my stuff might be removed. Glad you got it sorted.


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