Oh, the people you meet!

me and Max

For those who know me, it will come as no surprise for me to state that I am a bit of an introvert. Some people have difficulty believing that, as when I engage ‘extrovert mode’ I can be lively, outgoing and even, (if I may say so myself) occasionally charming and personable. (I have no illusions however, its only fair that you should know that at times I can be a right moody little shit. That also comes as no shock to anyone who has the joy of prolonged contact with me. I have been known to work myself into a right funk for weeks.) But I eventually emerge, ready to engage with the world again, and I have always been glad I exerted the effort to escape from ‘funkytown’. Taking the risk that I have, leaving home to leap out into the world has given me just the impetus I needed to allow my innate curiosity of the world and the people who inhabit it to take precedence over my predilection for hermitlike behavior.

By far, the best aspect of my travels has been meeting people from all walks of life. From an itinerant alcoholic to a young woman studying for her Masters degree. Men and women with rich and very real lives and stories to tell. And I soak them all up. Mind you, after “soaking” for a bit, I need to hibernate for a time, not terribly long…just enough to process and appreciate the gifts these people have given me. Don’t get me wrong, I love going to museums, the theatre, visiting historical places and just absorbing the vibe of each city I visit. But to be allowed the grace for even  a short time to be invited into the life of someone I previously didn’t know existed, to share a meal…a pint…or even just a conversation with human beings who live half a world away from Orlando FL…I am sometimes overwhelmed with the hugeness of it.

And my god, the generosity and kindness I have received in return. An offer to dinner from a lovely woman near my age named Vicky here in East Dulwich, whom I had never met and knew of me only through a friend and this blog. I got to hear not only her fascinating personal story of having grown up in Africa only to find herself shipped here for boarding school in her teens, but also funny and poignant tales of the local residents.( I also saw foxes creeping through the back gardens. That doesn’t happen in Orlando, I was thrilled. I love foxes. Even when they squeal while in the throes of passion, I will take them over alligators any day.) We are going together this weekend to explore ‘Peckham”, a part of London rich in African culture. I’m very much looking forward to trying ‘goat curry’.

I had pints bought for me from a group of rowdy fun loving people in a pub in Yorkshire. (I only had the balls to introduce myself because I had already had two pints and I had heard them singing “Country Roads” inside the pub. Having lived in West Virginia for a short time, I thought it was the perfect gateway into a conversation). Turns out, a married couple in the group owned a pub there in York, and for the rest of my stay kindly let me set up my laptop in a back corner so I could work. (I am unashamedly going put in a plug here. If you are ever in York, go to the Bay Horse Pub and Hotel in Marygate. Classy, cozy and friendly. http://www.bayhorsemarygate.co.uk/   Tell Sherrilee and Paul I say hello!)

I shared my umbrella at a bus stop in front of the Natural History Museum and gained in return a friendship with a bright, funny and interesting young woman who shares my love for all things “geek”. She is studying for her Masters at London Imperial College, and getting ready as I write this to submit her thesis. She had me over for dinner, and after discovering my penchant for British humor, introduced me to all manner of new programs and You Tube videos.

Not to mention the lovely people who have invited me into their homes to pet sit for them.  Clive and Haven in Clapham, and their pets Max (a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel whom I have fallen madly in love with), Penelope, (a ragdoll cat) and Leonard the fish (who truthfully I found to be a bit of a bore. Horrible conversationalist.) I’m going on a picnic this Friday with Haven and Clive and their two adorable children. (And of course, Max. Last week I arranged a play date for Max and I. We spent the afternoon in the park together. I seriously have it bad for this dog)

Here in East Dulwich, (by the way…pronounced “Dull-itch), I was lucky enough to engage a pet sit that came with friends! On my first night, I was invited out to a pub by a friend of the lovely woman whom I am sitting for (my charge is a very handsome cat named “Ollie”), and then encouraged to attend a book club meeting the next night. The leader of the group then invited me to a barbeque at his home for the following weekend where I was thrilled to meet even more fascinating people!  It just goes on and on!

And of course, who can forget ‘John’, whom I wrote about earlier. 🙂

I also have two dear friends here in the UK whom I knew before taking this trip… Amber in York and Rob here in London. They keep me grounded, providing a safe place for me to be my complete, real and rather frequently ridiculous self.

I’m sitting here in my little borrowed flat, and as I am writing this I occasionally look out the window into the gardens beyond. As I mentioned, I find myself overwhelmed at times. How did I end up here? All the decisions I’ve made, some small, others life changing…that led me to this view out of the window. What are the sheer odds that a woman from Orlando FL would ever be sitting at this desk, looking at this view? Or meeting these people? I am so grateful for this opportunity. And no matter how hard, or scary, or even lonely this trip has been, or will be in the future, I will have the memory of these experiences forever. (Unless I get Alzheimers…but then hey, I will have this blog to look back on, eh?) As of this moment, I do not know where I am going next. But I’m confident that wherever it is, whatever new horizon I find myself gazing at in wonder, I will meet people who make it worthwhile.

 

 

Eating cheaply in the UK

food

While I know this topic isn’t terribly exciting, it is the reality of this bit of ridiculousness that I have decided to embark upon. While I get to experience meeting new people, going to museums and basically just roaming about soaking in the culture and life that is the U.K., there is also the day to day mundanity of life I must attend to. And it can be a bit scary on the financial end of things. London ain’t cheap. Especially since the pound is worth more than the American dollar. (Although the exchange rate became a bit better after Brexit. Not that I’m pleased with Brexit, but I can’t help the fact that my money increased slightly in value) To put it simply, it costs me $1.30 to “buy” one British pound. This is one bit of my journey that while not very glamorous, is nonetheless an important aspect.(At least to me, and its my blog. So there. )

Since I jumped into this with limited financial resources, I have to be very judicious with my food budget. I’ve only paid to eat out about 5 times in the past two months, and three of those times was when I was staying in a hostel in Kensington without access to a kitchen and ended up at McDonalds. A value meal costs £4.49. Good old McDonalds…between that and the free continental breakfast at the hostel, I was able to fill my belly.

All of the other places I have stayed have had kitchens, so I have been able to buy food and cook my meals. (For those of you in the UK, much of this next bit you obviously know. Bear with me, or just hop on down to the next post. I wont be insulted.) There are two options for food shopping…a local shop, or a chain grocery store. Sainsbury’s is the chain that so far has been the closest to most of my house sits, with an occasional foray into Tesco’s or The Co-Op if I am nearby. I must admit, I find a trip to a new grocery store to feel like a “mini adventure”. There are so many little things that are so different from stores at home. For example, eggs in the US are in the refrigerated section, whereas here they are not, and seem to be placed willy nilly. I spend 10 minutes roaming around only to find them on the end of an aisle on the bottom shelves underneath the ramen noodles. The chain stores are best for meat and pre-packaged items(and wine), while I have had great luck at local shops finding inexpensive fruit and veg. Depending on what part of London you are in, many of the local shops have outside stalls, selling bowls of various fruits and vegetables for only £1 each. For example, a “bowl’ of tomatoes would contain about 8-10 small salad tomatoes. I admit, we aren’t talking heirlooms here, but sliced in half and thrown into the frying pan briefly with a slice of bacon(£2 for 8 slices), they are rather tasty. Add a fried egg(£1.20 for 6), and a tangerine also purchased from a £1 bowl, a cup of coffee(£2.30 for a bag of ground) and there is breakfast! Same breakfast every single day. It is very similar to what I used to eat at home, except the bacon is not American bacon, (which is called “streaky bacon” over here), it is called “back bacon”, and is more like a small slice of ham. And very yummy.

If I have lunch, is almost always a few slices of luncheon meat(salami or prosciutto which you can get in £1 packs), crisps(potato chips, £1-2 per bag) and another tangerine.

Dinner is either the above (especially if I had to forgo lunch due to excursions), or pasta and sauce. A jar of pasta sauce is .90p,with a bag of fusilli costing about the same. I lucked out yesterday and was able to buy on sale a pack of three garlic baguettes for only £1!

The only other thing I buy is wine, and I can usually find a fairly decent bottle of a Malbec or Italian red for under £6. Here in East Dulwich, I’ve found a bottle of Malbec called ‘Chukkers” in a local shop called “Barry’s Food Store for £4.50.

So, there you have it. I spend approximately £20-£40 per week on food, which comes to around $25-$50. While no one would consider my meals “gourmet’, they fill the belly and allow me to save my money for all the other essentials of life on the road.

 

 

 

 

Would you like some of my rhubarb?

FB_IMG_1470757953793

After completing my first house sit in Clapham, London, I traveled to York to stay with my friend Amber for two weeks. York is an extraordinarily beautiful and unique city, located in the north of England, about a two hour train ride from London. It was founded in 71 AD by the Romans, who built a 50 acre military fortress in stone, which at one time housed 6000 soldiers. Two large sections of the wall still exist and you can stroll along the top, pretending you are a Roman soldier. (Well, that’s what I do. When you go, you can do as you like.)

I enjoy walking the walls. Many locals and tourists make their way there, especially when the weather is being cooperative. Not to mention the sheer joy I experience in being *allowed* to touch something that is 2000 years old! More often than not, most things that ancient are in museums, and they get rather pissy when you touch them. I tend to get in trouble frequently in museums, but that is a topic for another day.

On one particular day during my stay the weather was lovely, and after strolling through the picturesque streets of the city I decided to walk the walls for a bit before heading to Evensong at the Minster. I had already walked all the way to the end, and was headed back the other way when I decided to sit for a little bit on a bench overlooking the well manicured English gardens that bordered that section of the wall, with the Minster as usual looming in the background.(You can see the spire of the Minster from just about anywhere in the main part of the city. I used it as my landmark for which direction ‘home” was in as I often found myself lost during my wanderings.) The bench was set back in a curved turret like section, and I was just about to take out my notebook to write a bit when a man approached and asked if he could join me on the bench. He looked to be in his mid 50’s,was wearing a shabby long black coat, and had a general unkempt look to him. He carried a backpack in one hand, and a half-full two litre bottle in the other. Now, sometime I am in the mood for an interaction with a stranger, and sometimes I am most heartily *not*.  To be frank, my first impression was that he was homeless, drunk and would soon be asking me for money. Right as he walked up, I could smell the alcohol oozing out of him. But it was not accompanied by the usual olfactory assault of urine and BO that unfortunately is normally a characteristic of “eau de homeless”. I have to remind myself that one of the purposes of my trip is to meet all sorts of people, and this man was definitely of a “sort”. So I figured what the hell, and cheerfully said ‘Sure! Have a seat! Plenty of room!’

‘Thank you’, he said to me as he set his backpack and bottle on the ground in front of him and plonked himself on the other end of the bench. He put his right hand into his coat pocket, pulled out a pack of cigarettes (the kind in England that only has 10 in a pack instead of 20.) ‘You want a smoke?’, he asked. ‘No thank you’, I replied. ‘But thank you for offering.’ ‘You sure?’, he asked again. (Now, I have smoked before in my life, on and off…mostly off…and was fairly certain judging by his appearance that he wasn’t flush with cash and cigarettes are expensive. Also, I just didn’t want one) But he shook the box at me and said ‘Aw, go on. I don’t often get to sit on a bench and smoke with a pretty lady. Two of my favorite things really, pretty ladies and smoking. Well, and booze. I’m a chronic alcoholic you see’. He reached down to the two liter bottle, unscrewed the cap, and took a swig. ‘So make a dying man happy…smoke with me’. So again, I thought ‘What the hell’, took the cigarette, and he expertly (and with a bit of flair) lit it for me. I took a drag…(It wasn’t horrible. Not great, but definitely not as gross as I was expecting it to be)…and contemplated the man next to me. I was surprised by his accent. It wasn’t the broad local accent of a Yorkshireman. In fact, if I had to label it anything, I would have to go with “posh”. He was shabby, yes, but not filthy. And while obviously inebriated, he was well spoken and had no sign of drunken slur.

He lit his cigarette, and made this odd gesture while inhaling…moving his hands back and forth, one on each side of his head, as if he were directing an aircraft on final approach to the terminal. As he blew out the smoke, he muttered ” God, that’s good. Smoking is good” , and continued swiping his hands back and forth by his ears until he had emptied his lungs of all the smoke from his first drag. (He did this many times during our conversation, with each cigarette.)

‘So, what is your name?’, he asked. ‘I like you’. I told him my name, and he replied ‘Ah, not from Yorkshire, are you? Where are you from, the south I bet.’ (I got this quite a bit in York. Lets face it, no matter how hard I try, a bit of an accent slips into my speech. Not enough to sound native by any means, but often just enough to be confusing) I told him that I was an American, from Orlando Florida to be exact, and he was mightily unimpressed. ‘I love America’, he said, ‘But only New York City. My name is John. Pleased to meet you’. He reached out and we shook hands.

I spent forty minutes chatting with John there on that bench. I wish I could remember the entire conversation exactly, but it was so higgildy piggildy I can only sketch out the high points. He started off by telling me a dirty joke, and when I laughed he went to give me a high five, intentionally missing my hand four times. (This is another action he repeated often) He explained to me his complicated sexuality…that he was in love with a man who wasn’t in love with him, but that he also had a boyfriend *and* a girlfriend…and defined himself as “emotionally gay but physically heterosexual”. Many tourists passed us as we sat on the bench, and sometimes John would insult them under his breath. ‘Look at those two gay fatties’….or ‘Too many fucking Chinese. Whats with all the fucking Chinese?’ (This was said about an Asian family that were walking by. I’m pretty sure they were not Chinese. Anyway, that led to another dirty joke with a decidedly racist bent to it) He started to compliment me on my hair, smile, general persona…and oddly enough, my toenails. When I said ‘John, I am wearing boots, you can’t see my toenails’, he replied in all seriousness, ‘I’m psychic. They are lovely.’ Occasionally he would ask those walking by (the ones he wasn’t insulting) ‘Do you like my gardens there below? I come up here to admire them. This here is Rebecca. She is my project manager. She has lovely toenails. Would you like some of my rhubarb? I can get you some if you like.’ ( The tourists always looked at me oddly, obviously trying to sort out my relationship to this strange man. I gave up nothing. Figured let ’em wonder.)

He expounded on his family troubles…his strained relationship with his sister and his mothers death, and he cried a little. Then he told me the story of Russian soldiers eating the dead frozen bodies of their comrades in one of the world wars. (He couldn’t remember which one) He cried a bit more over that, moaning ‘They ate their babies! Can you imagine that, they fed their babies to each other!’ (?!) He said he liked my ears as well, but that they weren’t as nice as my toenails. One of my favorite bits was when he asked the father of a passing family with two young girls to Google the band “Lovin Spoonful” because he couldn’t remember the name of the song he and his mates were singing the night before when they were rudely kicked out of a pub. (It was “Summer in the City) He thanked the man, and tried to give him money for “Doing the Googling”.

Finally, it was time for me to go, as I had plans to attend Evensong at the Minster. He walked me to the end of the wall, gave me a hug( tried to give me a kiss, but I wasn’t having that. I have limits) and very mournfully said ‘I’m never going to see you again, am I?’  I said ‘Probably not.’ He plopped down, and told me he was going to stay there and keep drinking. Then he said, ‘I like you. You made me feel real there for a little bit. I’m probably going to die very soon, but just for a little bit there, I forgot. Thank you’  I tried to get him to allow me to take a picture of the two of us, but he said he was too ugly to want to remember.

One of the most bizarre, entertaining, and yet terribly sad conversations I have ever had.

God speed, John.