October This and That: Dead Foxes, Go Home Vans and My Life is A Cheap Motel

October’s been a blast, you know. It’s been cold and wet and we’ve had lots of people over from Romania (not all at the same time, thank God!). So we did all the London touristy stuff for the umpteenth time, which is usually fun and games in regular autumn rain, but less so in end-of-the-world-several-hours-long downpours. Half a dozen colds later, V. and I are sort of getting back to our normal, averagely depressed selves, and looking forward to what I’m sure will be a sunny magical November.

But since this past month has been so busy for me, I haven’t had time to write as often as I would have liked. So I’m compiling some October related nuggets I’ve failed to develop into proper blog posts. This might turn into a monthly thing, or not. Having to stick to plans, especially ones I’ve made myself, has rarely worked for me.

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I know I’ve written about our neighborhood before, but I’ve yet to mention the most amazingly awesome thing about it.

It’s got foxes.

Now, I’ll start by admitting I’ve never gotten close and personal with foxes before. Back home, you don’t run into them in your back yard. You don’t run into anything really, no foxes, no squirrels, no raccoons, nothing. There’s a lot of stray dogs but they’re not particularly friendly, and almost succeeded in turning me into a non-dog-person. I think I left Romania just in time for the transformation to still be reversible. But I digress.

We used to be so proud of our little family of foxes. We’d go down to the parking lot after midnight, just to see them sneaking around, I’d take out my phone and snap photos, some of which would invariably end up of Facebook, accompanied by smiley faces and little heart emoticons. What, did you think I was only moderately lame? Nope.

Anyway. The foxes are gone. I haven’t seen one in months and trust me, I’ve been looking. V’s sure they’re coming back, but I think he’s only saying it so that I stop moaning about it. I think they’re really gone. Vanished. They probably saw one of the the Go Home Vans and changed their minds about hanging out with humans altogether.

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OK. I haven’t actually seen any of these Go Home Vans myself. They’re part of a new UK Home Office campaign aimed at illegal immigrants, which involves Home Office vans emblazoned with the slogan “In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest” being driven around London. It’s been considered too blunt, racist and a waste of time and money, and has generated quite an amount of, oh, let’s call them debates, all over the media, British and world wide. In the end the campaign got binned, but a lot of my Romanian friends, especially those still based back home, have been bombarding me with sympathetic messages, expressing their outrage at the public persecution I’m facing here. And then even more loudly expressing their outrage at the fact that I felt little outrage myself.

But I’m not an illegal immigrant, I somewhat tried to justify my attitude; therefore ignoring the obvious flaws of the campaign, I’d rather just go on with my life than spend 20 hours a day moaning about it on Facebook. Apparently, I am extremely and hopelessly naive (to be read plain dumb).

It’s just, I’m dealing with plenty of offensive attitudes in various shapes and colors on a daily basis. It’s not something I’d expected when I moved to London (Go figure, I thought I’d be respected! Unrealistic much?), and it’s not something I take lightly. But I need my life to be made of more than that. At times I need to think about my mental sanity, and this is the best way I know how.

As for this Go Home Vans thing…

It would have been an unfortunate choice of action.

It’s not happening.

I’ll stop ranting about it on Facebook now, is that OK with all of you violently indignant people?

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I began this post by bragging about my many Romanian friends willing to visit me in London, and perhaps for a second there you actually considered there might still be hope in the world for crazy antisocial little me. The fact that I often choose to hang out with the neighborhood fox pack over human contact, has probably burst that bubble though.

Regardless of all that, there are indeed several living and breathing people dropping by our place whenever Wizz Air flight prices go on sale. They’re nice enough guys and gals and I’m always happy to see them and accommodate them in our very posh, one bedroom flat the likes of which they’ve never seen before, but sometimes I wish we were more like cheap motel owners. Showing them to their room, giving them the keys and going back to reception and an EastEnders episode rerun. Because all these guests can really get on your nerves, I tell you.

Allow me to exemplify.

ME: So, London, huh? Have you thought about what you’d like to see?

GUEST: Nope. I figured you’d easily come up with a two weeks itinerary for me. But pick really super duper Facebook-photo-opportunity places, OK?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love to help. I have, after all, seen all these places a million times before. But you know, you paid for this trip, it’s your time off, are you POSITIVE you don’t want to have ANY input in the itinerary whatsoever? Because if you don’t, we’ll end up like this:

GUEST: Hey, you picked all these places I need to BUY TICKETS for! Why didn’t you tell me it wasn’t all free? And what’s this? A room full of mummies/paintings/stuff? I’ve seen a million of those, what’s wrong with you!

I’ll be badly fighting the urge to strangle you at this point.

Oh, and if you’re hungry, tired, cold, upset, or in a mood I should run and take cover from, why not just let me know? I’m the image of caring and understanding, especially when it saves us both from mental and physical breakdown.

ME: Are you hungry?

GUEST: Noooooo, let’s go see places, let’s go let’s go let’s go!!!

ME, 10 minutes later: Are you sure you’re not hungry? We can stop for a bite, everything’s still going to be there after we’ve stuffed ourselves.

GUEST: Now way no way, I can’t remember ever being hungry in the last 20 years. I feed on culture!

GUEST, another 10 minutes later: I think I’m going to faint.

You’re my friend, therefore I’ll probably not hurt you. Too badly. But I’ll be a monster. I’ll wake you up every morning at 7 AM as I’m getting ready for work, slamming doors and singing Lady Gaga songs in the shower. Marmite sandwiches will be the only thing on the breakfast menu. And when you give me the Oh, it’s raining. Again. along with one of your It’s your fault looks, I’ll forget to mention I’ve got an umbrella in my purse we can share.

Other than that, all is fine and dandy. November will be bringing along a final pair of guests before the winter holidays, and countless amazing new adventures I’m sure will fry an acceptable amount of my brain cells and will very much improve my will to live. Bring it on!

Bling

There’s this Romanian saying everybody learns in elementary school.

Work is a gold bracelet.

The metaphor confused me as a child, because I could see more than one way in which work could be associated with jewellery.

For one thing, work enabled you to go out and buy jewellery you could then show off among people with less lucrative careers.

Then, work was something to take pride in and cherish, the way I suppose people cherished their shiny bracelets and stacked diamond rings.

And I also imagined at the time that work was something only certain people, most of them somewhat sneaky, got to have and enjoy. I guess this last one had to do with the fact that in Communist Romania, way back when, gold bracelets were not particularly easy to come by. You needed connections. Pretty much the way today, in no longer Communist Romania, you need connections to get a job, any job. And I’m told most times it ends up feeling more like a heavy handcuff rather than a shiny piece of bling.

I wasn’t planning yet another oh-isn’t-Romania-super-duper-interesting post for today, but so many people seem to be panicking that I’ve moved to London to steal their jobs, that I’m actually starting to think there must be some truth in it. I guess, unknowingly, I am indeed stripping everybody of their livelihoods. I’ll have gold bracelets up to my shoulders soon enough, which will not only make me the envy of the world, but will also do wonders for my arm muscle definition.

Until then though, the only piece of bling I’m wearing today is my office id card. It’s plastic but my photo is in plain sight and if you look closely, you can clearly read it in my sneaky eyes. I’m a professional job thief.

The Breast Pump Enigma

I have, in recent years at least, avoided looking my life in the eyes. I’ve settled for meaningless experiences and stagnated in this shameful state I dare call my existence. But that was the old me. The new me is brave, the new me knows there are better things ahead, the new me is ready to face the music.

Let’s hit the problem at its core.

I am a healthy, averagely pleasant, hardworking young woman in her late twenties, involved in a stable relationship, and yet a terrible disappointment to my family, my species, and supposedly myself: I haven’t got children. Even worse, humanity! I’m not even pregnant. Nor have I ever been, or ever tried to become. In fact, I must be one of those child-hating-witches fighting tooth and nail against my natural procreating calling and the integrity of the human race.

In my own defence, this hasn’t always been the case. As a child, my parents, relatives and Santa Claus regularly provided me with armies of dolls of various shapes and sizes I would mother until they lost their eyes, limbs, or were forgotten in the light of a new doll army invasion. As I grew, I moved my attention to classy Barbie dolls. It’s true, some of them did have amazing careers like brain surgeon or rocket scientist, but they also raised equally fashion aware sons and daughters. No one would have imagined I’d stray so far away from my Barbie role model as an adult.

But stray I did, and in a continuous state of denial too. Silly me, thinking the best time to have a child is when you consider it to be the best time. Nonsense! The best time is when people start posting photos of their ultrasounds on Facebook. That’s the sign that your generation’s procreation train is just about to leave the station, and you’d better jump on it or else. Or else?

You end up like me.

I recently attended my highschool reunion. In a twist of faith, or perhaps as anyone in their sane mind should have expected, all my highschool girlfriends had gotten married, divorced, remarried, and had had at least one baby each. Conversation around the dinner table touched on epidurals, nappies, breast pumps and, exclusively for my sake, London weather.

It was not a sad evening by any means (it’s always fun to learn new nappy related things!), but it got me thinking. Perhaps something really was wrong with me. Perhaps there really was a missing piece in my internal structure, otherwise why had I put this off for so long? Why was I not even curious what a breast pump looked like? Why did I not google it then and there, I’ve got a smartphone for crying out loud!

Let’s fast forward a bit to present day, when V. and I are house hunting and seriously preparing ourselves for some baby making business, and I still have no idea what a breast pump looks like. I’ve got a lot of other things on my mind for some reason. Fear, doubt, scary bouts of excitement. And a plan. It’s changed very little from the original one. The plan, I mean. It still touches on money, careers, a home to live in, a sense of self worth, trust, love, a baby friendly physical and mental state. Perhaps not the most romantic, natural baby making approach. But we are building real, living and breathing human beings here, are we not? I’d rather not do it by blindly rushing towards an invented finish line, breast pump or no breast pump at hand breast OK, I really need to google these darn things.

Skies Are Blue

Guess what?

I spend the entirety of my days in this country talking about three bedroom houses I can’t afford.

Ever since we decided we’d be buying in a couple of years, V. and I have slowly but surely been slipping down the slippery slope of suicidal depression. These days, simply mentioning any kind of house related thing makes us want to jump off the roof of the first house in sight, or even worse, jump at eachother’s throats. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of a bit of dangerous madness in my relationship, but this house business will end up killing us.

Now let me walk you through the exciting saga of buying property in London. It’s for sick, hopelessly deranged people who have a death wish.

Even just thinking about it now, I can barely refrain from smashing my head bloody against my computer screen. But I figure, my tough Romanian head will probably survive the ordeal. The screen might not fare so well though, and how will I then browse the interwebs looking at houses for six hours a day? I’m a lost cause.

The thing with London houses is very simple.

1. They are indecently, outrageously, I-want-to-just-strangle-everybody-on-the-market expensive.

2. There aren’t any.

Let’s take these one at a time, shall we?

1.

There are a bunch of brand new 4 bedroom houses I wake up resentfully looking at from my bedroom window every morning. They’re somewhat on the small side, but pretty. They’ve got windows, and doors, and little patches of grass in front. Oh, and they recently sold out for the symbolic sum of £1,350,000 each. Yup, that’s one-million-three-hundred-fifty-thousand-pounds-each.

I rest my case.

OK, OK, I can almost hear the haters stirring. This is London, what do you silly Romanians expect? Move further from the center, get a smaller house, know your place!

I’ll admit it, you are right and I am wrong. Never in a million years will central London be the place for us (though to be fair we currently live on the outskirts of London’s zone 3, and that’s not “central” per se). But guess what, we already knew that. That’s why we were in fact looking for properties well outside of London. Which brings us to the next issue.

2.

We are picky people. We’ve eliminated the areas where you can get mugged three times a day on your way to and from the local Off License. Then we’ve scraped all the nice areas, where everything fits into category number 1 from above. We’ve also had to sadly give up on the places situated so close to the edge of the world, that we’d end up spending half our lives commuting to and from work. I mean, I’m always up for a challenge you know, but traveling to the office for almost 3 hours a day each way will probably not do wonders for my already shaky temper.

Countless case studies and crying in anger later, we’re usually left with about ten houses matching all of our tangled criteria. Out of these, the ones that are part of newly built developments usually come with endless client waiting lists and are gone off the market in half a second. Among the remaining ones, some are invariably completely different from their online photos, in a shitty, who-on-earth-would-live-here kind of way. And here you are, left with one or two house choices you’re not particularly happy with, each at least £50,000 more expensive than what you’re prepared to offer, and growing £20,000 more expensive every six to eight months. We really are having a blast.

If someone were to ask me years ago what I thought I’d be doing in my late twenties, I probably would not have imagined I’d be second guessing every choice I’ve ever made, and dreading checking my bank account balance at the end of the month.

It’s beautiful, this finally-realising-you’re-a-grownup thing.

That Night Outside the Brothel

I can only hope you’ll try to forgive the outpour of very lame metaphors in this post, but I haven’t slept, really slept in quite a while (no sleep, brothels, oh I bet you’re mad with excitement already!), and mixing prolonged exhaustion with beer in the office way-too-early-on-a-Friday-morning has never been a good idea in my world. So yes, feel free to feel sorry for me. Though I’m sure I’ll soon have some really nice people rushing to become my very own online stalkers, having been attracted by the wonderful, educational title of this post, so at least there’s that. Yay for my life, a day to day sleepwalking tragedy! Now with stalkers!

On with the super duper story then.

The reason why I haven’t been sleeping, apart from a several weeks long invasion of Romanian guests I’ve had to wine and dine London style, is pretty much because V. and I have been crazy busy cleaning and re-cleaning the flat before and after each of the aforementioned visits, car shopping, booze shopping, booze drinking, and going to all kinds of IT events (which are just a convenient cover for geek style boozing anyway!).

Yesterday evening for instance, we went to the 12 Devs of Autumn conference in Shoreditch. Now, I won’t be linking to these nice people’s site, not because I don’t want to share my interwebs stardom with them, but since I’ve got a feeling they’d rather not be associated with my brothel centered ranting. For those of you geeky enough to want to find out more about them, I’m sure Google will take you to the right place.

Now, the way these conferences/meetups work is: a bunch of geeky people meet up to listen to other geeky people talk about the geeky stuff they do on a daily basis. There’s food, there’s beer, everybody’s got their laptops out (not for any useful purposes, mind you, but just to show off the geeky stickers they’ve decorated them with; I am no exception), you get to brag about your job in front of people who are genuinely interested and not just silently-planning-their-escape, as it often happens in real life. Long story short, conferences are pretty cool.

Because most of my let’s-call-it-audience-but-we-all-know-there’s-three-of-you-and-you-only-read-this-because-your-Facebook-walls-are-full-of-annoying-baby-photos is not particularly geeky, I’ll not get into too much geeky detail on the talks myself (though they were awesome!). But I will mention Kat Thompson (look her up!), and her lovely talk on User Experience and, well, brothels.

What? Did you think I came up with that on my own? Innocent little me? Well, I didn’t. And in fact I have to admit I’ve STOLEN the title of one of her presentation slides to shamelessly use as my blog post title today. I know I know, your outrage knows no limits at this point.

But bear with me for a second, I know you can’t wait to read my amateur rendition of Kat’s brothel story.

So here it goes. One evening, Kat was having drinks with her friends outside a pub in Soho. After a while, they realised there were not one, but two brothels right across the street from them (that’s Soho for you!). And Kat got this awesome idea and started keeping track of everybody going in and out of the brothels. She even awesomely timed some of them on her phone, and then she figured, this being the moral of the story, that this is exactly the way websites work. Like brothels. People come and go, looking for a certain service. We just need to watch them. Some may find that walking two flights of stairs is too much to ask. Some may find the service too expensive. By this point of course we were all laughing our heads off and had all fallen head over heels in love with Kat and her talk. But it also got me thinking.

A brothel may be a fun, surprisingly suitable metaphor for a website, but what’s stopping it from pretty much defining my own life? A couple of mental debates later, I’ve decided.

My life really is a brothel.

People, friends come and go (most come from Romania and go back there once they’ve drunk all my beer). Some complain and ask for their money back. Some like it and come again, and we establish lasting professional relationships bringing us each various types and degrees of satisfaction. The fact that I’ve moved my brothel to London has definitely affected the business. And with all the brothel competition here, at least in Soho, things will pretty surely be slow to pick up again. But I try. I work hard. You’ve got to make a living even in this business, what can you do?

I guess in the end, this post turned out to be less about brothels, and more about our ever changing friendships. Go figure.

I’m off to bed now. Have a great weekend everyone!