Tuesday, November 20, 2007

New job

I can't believe it's been three weeks since I last posted; it seems like just yesterday. A lot has happened since then, though.

Most importantly, I got a job. I had the interview the week after my last post, and I got the offer the next day. I started last Monday, and life has been pretty hectic since then.

My official title is Assistant Website Manager for a government information portal: www.info4local.gov.uk. Thrilling stuff, let me tell you. The job is fine. I mostly just import content from other government websites. There's some editing to be done and some web statistics stuff, but it's pretty basic. But it is a job, and the pay is not too bad. Also, the people I work with are really nice. I mostly work with a girl named Amy. She's from New Zealand and understands my frustrations with living in England as an immigrant. Plus, she knows a bunch of people who were extras in the Lord of the Rings movies because she lived in Wellington, so she's pretty cool, all told.

It has been weird to go back to work after six months, but I fell back into the routine fairly easily. I have to leave a little before 8:00 to get here before 9:00, and the commute is trying, to say the least. I'm getting used to it, though, and I can usually finagle a seat on the train.

The most exciting thing about my job is that I get an hour for lunch, and since I work right smack dab in the middle of London, I can do some serious exploring. My favorite thing to do is wander through the streets looking for the blue plaques that note who used to live in the houses. I like the one for General Gage, who led the British Army to ignominious defeat in the American Revolution. I'm also just a few minutes' walk from Regent's Park. When the weather gets nicer, I can go there for picnics. And the other day I was walking around and found myself on Wimpole Street. It sounded familiar, and then I realized that was where Henry Higgins was supposed to live in My Fair Lady. I was on "the street where you live" like in the song!

The other reason I haven't posted in a while is also temporary. I've been doing A LOT of other writing, along with Andrew, because we're taking part in National Novel Writing Month, where you pledge to write a 50,000-word novel just in the month of November. I hit 32,000 words last night, so I'm right on track. Soon that will be finished, I will be settled in at work, and I will be able to refocus on the blog. Plus, I'll have photos of holiday decorations and maybe an ice skating excursion!

We're really looking forward to seeing everyone next month for Christmas, Amber's wedding, and New Year's. Until then, cheers from England!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Our little town

I went for a walk today, and I discovered a whole other Enfield than the one I've seen for the last two months. It is a gorgeous, sun-dappled autumn afternoon, and the leaves are finally changing color. I set out with a mission: to find a tea infuser -- you know, one of those little mesh balls attached to a little chain that you fill with loose leaf tea and put in your tea pot then remove when the tea is done steeping. This being England, the home of tea, I figured this would be easy to find, but no one here seems to have ever even heard of such a thing. How do they make loose leaf tea, then? I guess they just throw it in the pot and strain it out cup by cup, but that means that only the first cup is good and the rest is successively more bitter. I'd looked in all the High Street shops, but I remembered seeing a tea shop on a street not far from here, so I decided to walk up there and check it out. I walked along familiar paths at first, but stopped in a lot of shops I'd previously passed by. I found a lovely little bakery, spent a little time in the fantastic butcher's shop where we got our first Sunday roast, picked up information on piano lessons from a music shop, and made my way up around the northern part of town to the tea shop, where they didn't know what I was talking about either. Sigh.

But I didn't keep that disappointment from ruining my walk. I was about 30 minutes from home at this point and kept along my familiar route. I stopped in at an art supply shop, always a favorite, and bought a poppy pin. Everyone's been wearing them for the last few days and will wear them until Poppy Day, or Armistice Day, or Veteran's Day, whatever you want to call it on the 11th. Its purpose was originally to honor the Great War dead, then expanded to include World War II and other subsequent wars, too. I think poppies are used as the symbol because of the blood-red fields of poppies in Belgium and northern France, where so much of the fighting took place. In the song Penny Lane, there's a pretty nurse selling poppies from a tray -- well I bought one of those today and pinned it to my sweater. I fit right in. Andrew and I have both noticed that we get much better service and make a big difference in shopkeepers' moods when we show off our natural American friendliness, and since I was enjoying my walk, I smiled a lot and got lots of smiles in return.

I kept on walking and turned south again to head back towards town. I felt like trying a slightly different route, but I didn't know which streets cut through. I did, however, see a sign for a Public Footpath, just like Andrew and I followed in the countryside all summer. It seemed a little silly to take a footpath, with all its connotations of the natural world, through a bustling town, but I gave it a try. At first, it just led through neighborhoods, and I had to keep my wits about me and my eyes open to find the little green signs that showed where the path veered here and there between the streets, but after a few minutes, it became much more like a country path and I found myself walking alongside a canal -- the New River, in fact -- with dozens of ducks and geese swimming and snacking on bugs in the water. It was utterly charming. I looked across the canal and saw beautiful trees and playing fields, with a tall stone steeple in the background. I couldn't believe I was in London! The path continued along the canal, then crossed over a small bridge and meandered among some more houses. But while the houses before were on a street with cars parked on both sides, these houses were on a lane with no vehicle access. They were much older, and walking there gave me an idea of how Enfield must have looked hundreds of years ago. There were delightful little cottages with beautiful tilework in the entryways and whimsical stained glass patterns in the windows. There were fences that surrendered tantalizing glimpses of roof peaks and tall garden trees. There were squirrels and birds. And then, as I turned a corner, there was a rusty iron gate leading to a quiet graveyard. I stepped inside and looked around. There was a contemporary section with new graves, but most of the yard was filled with elaborate tombstones from the 1850s to the 1870s, mostly. It was beautiful. I stepped back onto the path and found myself walking between two schools. Finally, I started to hear the noise of town, but I had a few more surprises before I got there. First, more tombstones next to a long, low, gray stone church. Across from the church was a building that must have been built in the 1600s at the latest. It had amazing colored glass windows, and the second story jutted forward over the first like a proper Tudor house. Beyond that was the town market -- Now in its 800th year, the sign says. I had walked past the market dozens of times but never wandered through the stalls, but it seemed to fit my meandering afternoon, so I dove in. There was a table of beautiful hats with feathers and ruffles. I talked to the man there about how no one in America wears hats. He talked to me about how much he liked St. Augustine -- everyone wants to talk about Florida when I explain where I'm from, but he was the first to know anything about it other than Mickey Mouse and South Beach. Next I checked out a butcher's counter selling turkeys, a pile of what turned out to be lambs' hearts, and all sorts of other sundries. I next found a stall selling sweaters and coats. I bought a gorgeous plaid jacket to replace the one that was stolen. I'll post a photo soon. I also bought some Bombay Mix from a spice stall to snack on, then headed home for tea. My final stop on the way was the old church. There was no one inside, and I wandered around in awe. It's really beautiful. The middle of the church is whitewashed and full of light pouring in from the upper windows. The floor is lovely wood, polished by the footsteps of thousands of parishioners. There were even niches with statues of Elizabethan patrons and tombstones set in the wall exclaiming the virtues and piety of Victorian inhabitants of Enfield. What a history lesson, and all in an afternoon's walk. Next time, I promise I'll bring my camera.