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Entries about living abroad

The Best (and Worst) of The British Newspapers

Reading the London newspapers

overcast 18 °C

Newspapers may be slowly circling the drain, heading down until they are no longer relevant. But they do still provide some interesting bits and bobs.

There are two types of papers here in the UK. The tabloids - those papers that search for the lowest common denominator - and the broadsheets - those who the Tories read.

The tabloids haven't had a great time recently, with the News of the World being discontinued after it turned out they hacked into the voice mail boxes the famous and the powerful.

Yet, the tabloids still serve their purpose. This week, the most talked about story in the office I work in was not about the UK economy, the Eurozone, Libya or any other story. It was about Percy Foster. He died this week, a sad man who probably suffered from a legion of issues. He was a dwarf, and some how ended up working in porn movies. A co-worker on the film Hi-Ho Hi-Ho, It's Up Your Arse We Go said he looked a bit like celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, and so soon enough was appearing in Midget MasterChef: Assbasters 7.

This week, his body was found dead, and half eaten, in a badger hole in the English countryside.

And this really highlights the differences between broadsheet and tabloid newspaper editors.

The Times editors splay out the stories on their desk. They quickly dismiss the story of Percy Foster, and instead concentrate on the local stories. Instead, on a story a sheep rustling, adopt the headline "Baad news for farmers.". The Times Editors redeem themselves after the bad pun with "Not even being spartan is going to save the Greeks" with a picture of Gerard Butler and co. from 300 with shields replaced by giant Euro coins. Satisfied with the outcome, they have good chuckle and agree to meet up for G&Ts at Groucho Club.

The Sun works feverishly to come up with "Gordon Ramsay's porn-star dwarf doppelganger eaten by badger," before hitting the local pub for pints and a brawl.

Somewhere between the two stands the British citizen. Half-Tabloid and half-broadsheet, we like our news serious at the same time liking to hear about the strange and wild world that exists outside of our middle class existence.

And so this week, I spent my time reading about the Eurozone and American economies slipping into the darkness, while at the same time reading about the midget Gordon Ramsay look-a-like whose life was so desperate that he somehow wound up walking into the English countryside and let his life slip away.

Posted by GregW 12:03 Archived in England Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

A Move to a Royal Borough and Holland Park

My new place in West London

sunny 24 °C

It has been about a month since I moved into my new flat, and I’ve finally settled in. All the boxes are unpacked and necessities for the house have been purchased. Minor repairs have been undertaken, and all my mailing addresses have been changed to reflect my new digs.

The place is on a leafy, quiet street in West London in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Neighbourhood boundaries are quite fuzzy around here, so I could say I live in Shepherd’s Bush or West Kensington, but I have settled on saying I live in Holland Park.

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Holland Park (the area) is named after Holland Park (the park), a 22 hectare green space smack-bang in the middle of the area, and a few blocks from my house. The northern part of the park is wild and forested, while the southern section is more open green space for sports and manicured gardens to walk through.

The park was named after Holland House, a Jacobean mansion that was partially destroyed during World War II. The remaining parts of the house now serve as the backdrop for an outdoor amphitheatre hosting opera performances, as well as providing a youth hostel.

Holland House, now a youth hostel and Opera backdrop

Holland House, now a youth hostel and Opera backdrop


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Outside the park is some of the most expensive real estate in all of London, though not on the street I live on. Lakshmi Mittal, chairman of the world’s largest steel firm ArcelorMittal, owns three houses worth a combined £500 million on Kensington Palace Gardens, the most expensive street in London, though technically that street is just outside the accepted boundaries of Holland Park. Living in the area defined as Holland Park are Paul McCartney, Simon Cowell , Brian May and Richard Branson. On Tuesdays, the pub down the street from me offers free curry, and I have to say I was surprised that none of those folks showed up last Tuesday for the free nosh. I would have thought Cowell was a curry fan.

Kensington Palace Gardens, the richest street in the UK and home to fourth richest man in the world, Lakshmi Mittal

Kensington Palace Gardens, the richest street in the UK and home to fourth richest man in the world, Lakshmi Mittal


Trades entrance, because you don't want them tracking their poverty through the front hall

Trades entrance, because you don't want them tracking their poverty through the front hall


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Kensington Pub, Russell Gardens.  Free Curry on Tuesdays!

Kensington Pub, Russell Gardens. Free Curry on Tuesdays!

The one thing I can be sure of in the new area is that I won’t be short of shopping opportunities. Just to the south of me is Kensington High Street, and to the north is Westfield Shopping centre, the largest urban mall in Europe. Westfield also plays hosts to cinema premiers, so there is a chance for some star gazing, though I haven’t seen any stars yet.

Kensington High Street

Kensington High Street


Statue on the church grounds at the corner of Kensington High Street and Kensington Church Street

Statue on the church grounds at the corner of Kensington High Street and Kensington Church Street


Interior of Westfield Shopping Centre - fancy swooping roof!

Interior of Westfield Shopping Centre - fancy swooping roof!


Westfield Shopping Centre

Westfield Shopping Centre


The shops and decor of "The Village," the fancy part of Westfield

The shops and decor of "The Village," the fancy part of Westfield

The new place is like a mash-up of my three previous homes here in London. It has the typical row-house architecture of my first place in Brent, though the flat is much nicer than the one I had up there. It’s well connected like King’s Cross was, with four tube stations serving the District, Circle, Hammersmith and City and Central lines all within a 10 minute walk. The new place is much quieter than King’s Cross though. I can sleep with my window open at nights, unperturbed by traffic noise or screaming drunks as I was in King’s Cross. That is a feature that the new place shares with my house on the Isle of Dogs in east London.

All in all, a move I am happy to have made, almost making the pain and stress of moving worth it. Though, hopefully, it’ll be a while before I have to go through that again.

A flower blooms over the garden wall along my street

A flower blooms over the garden wall along my street

Posted by GregW 07:28 Archived in England Tagged living_abroad Comments (3)

Trying to Cross the Street

Beware stepping off the pavement in London

sunny 15 °C

That's the glory of foreign travel. I can't think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can't read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can't even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.
— Bill Bryson Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe

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After living for 10 years in Toronto, I had become a pretty militant pedestrian. I was an unrepentant jay-walker, dodging through the snarled traffic along Yonge Street, smugly grinning at motorists stuck behind a sea of brake lights while I power walked my way to work. At corners, I would cross the street, glaring at any cars that dared to try to inch into my space as I crossed, confident in the fact that pedestrians had right-of-way at corners.

You can imagine my surprise, when first visiting England in 2007, at strolling confidently out into an intersection only to be brushed back by a Nissan Micra taking a corner at Fernando Alsono speeds, his horn blaring and fingers raised as he passed me.

Here in the UK, pedestrians don't have right of way at intersections, unless the lights are all red and the pedestrian signal is activated. That has taken some getting used to, having to crane my neck in all directions when approaching a cross-street to make sure that a granny in a Rover or a white van man doesn't run me down.

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On the flip side, the English driver is very respectful of the crosswalk, gladly pulling to a stop and allowing folks to cross. All you have to do, as a pedestrian, is walk up to the crosswalk and stroll right out. The cars stop, like Moses parting a red sea of Mercedes A-classes. In North America, we had cross-walks away from intersections, but frankly I never really put my trust in them. Cars would oftenblindly drive through without giving a second thought to any potential street crossers.

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I am inclined to chalk up this difference to the different emphasis that Europeans and North Americans put on their driving experiences. In North America, we like big cars with big engines that go really fast in a straight line. In Europe, they like small cars with great handling and zippy acceleration. Europeans love cornering on the verge of losing control. North Americans love going straight and fast.

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Thus, the differences in the treatment of pedestrians. People walking shouldn't dare get in the way of a European taking a corner, nor in the way of a North American with the pedal floored on a straight away. It ruins their ultimate driving experiences.

And if there is one thing motorists won't put up with, it's ruining a really nice drive.

Posted by GregW 09:54 Archived in England Tagged living_abroad Comments (3)

On the Eve of Upheaval

The last days of the past...

semi-overcast 12 °C

I know I wrote in my last blog entry that I was starting work this week, but I didn't. This week was a short week with Monday being a holiday, so my start date was pushed back to next Monday. Therefore, I had one more week of unemployed bliss before starting my new job.

The weather has been nice, so I've mostly been out wandering around. As I am moving away from the King's Cross area soon, I wanted a last few attempts to check out the area. This week included a trip to British Library beside St. Pancras station to see an exhibition on Maps.

British Library Plaza

British Library Plaza


British Library Isaac Newton Statue

British Library Isaac Newton Statue


British Library Interior

British Library Interior

There was a map from the 1680s - some 15ish years after the great fire - of London. You can see a zoomable flash version or a simple picture version online. What was interesting is that looking at the maps of the City of London and the southern part of Westminster, I was easily able to identify the streets. In fact, I could have taken the map down and very successfully navigated the streets using the old map.

My current home near King's Cross wasn't on the map (it would have been fields and small villages at the time), nor would me new home in Kensington, which also would have been outside of the urban area of London back in the 1600s.

After checking out the British Library exhibit, I headed to the local polling station to vote. Thursday was polling day in the local and national elections here in the UK (local elections only in England, but national in all four countries). As a Commonwealth citizen with residency in the UK, I was able to vote. Unlike the Euro elections last year, the national elections use a simple first-past-the-post system, where the person with the most votes gets the seat.

After watching 4 hours of election coverage on Thursday night, I went to bed at 2 in the morning with the result still being up in the air. Friday I woke up at 8:30 and picked up watching the coverage. The result was slightly less muddy in the morning, but still unclear. The UK woke up to a "hung parliament," with no one party winning a majority of the seats in the House of Commons. Coming from Canada, I'm used to minority governments, but its a very unusual situation here in the UK, and people are justifiably nervous about it at a time when the Eurozone is on shaky ground and the UK's debt load is historically high.

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Come lunch, I went over to Chapel Market in Angel, Islington to grab lunch. I often head over to Chapel Market for lunch, both during the past 2 months of unemployment and during the previous 6 months of employment when I was working from home. Today as I walked through Chapel Market, I realized, starting work on Monday and moving out of the area in less than a month, this could be the last time I head over here for lunch.

I grabbed one of the best lunches available. First up a burger from the "Designer Burger" stall, where the proprietor calls his customer's agents - "Agent 2," he called out to me, being the second customer in line, "what would you like?"

"A burger - non-chilli - with cheese, please," I replied.

"Non-chilli with cheese," he confirmed, before moving on to get the order from Agent 3.

After my burger was prepared, I headed over to the Crown Fish and Chip Bar to pick up a large order of chips. Real, honest-to-God chips, with vinegar and salt. Ordered it for "take away," so they wrapped it up in brown paper for me.

Burger and chips in hand, which I have come to call my "Chapel Market Lunch," I headed home to see the rest of the election coverage.

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I headed home and spent my last day of weekday freedom eating my last Chapel Market lunch and watching the leaders of the political parties discuss how to form the next government. How it will all shake out is still unclear, but what is clear that a minority or coalition government will be a change for the UK. Just like the change coming to my work life on Monday, and the change coming to housing situation in less than a month.

Days of upheaval are ahead, both for this country and me personally. I'm not scared, though. I'm excited.

Posted by GregW 09:59 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged living_abroad migration_experiences Comments (0)

The Safety Net Of Everywhere Else

How moving abroad once has impacted how I look at job hunting.

sunny 15 °C

As I wrote about a few blog entries back, January wasn’t the best month. Within the space of a couple weeks, I found out that I would neither have a place to live nor a place to work in short order.

Since that time, I’ve been a bit quiet in the blog on the job and house hunting front, so now I shall provide an update. I prioritized the job hunting, and have over the past couple months settled into that. Unlike my previous experience looking for work here in the UK, things were pretty active, and I was pursuing a number of opportunities.

The problem with opportunities, at least in my mind, is that they often become a reality - if you are lucky then by becoming something more concrete, but unfortunately more often winding up with a rejection letter. I’m always happy and excited when pursuing a new job, and will admit that getting that letter that says, “we had a number of qualified candidates, and have decided to go in another direction,” always bums me out.

I have, though, managed to remain pretty even keeled during this time. I noticed something interesting that was keeping my mood up. It was this little voice in the back of my head that kept saying, “worse comes to worst, there’s still all those other places...”

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When I’ve been force to job hunt in the past, back when I was living in Canada and prior to moving to London, I always felt the pressure of finding something from the listings I could find for Toronto. “There’s only a finite number of jobs out there that I want,” I would think to myself. “I need to land one of these few options.”

This time around, though, I didn’t feel that same pressure. “If things don’t work out with one of these London opportunities,” I would tell myself, “I can always look somewhere else.”

In a sense, the rest of the world, including my homeland back in Canada, became a safety net for me.

Whether the rest of the world is actually a safety net is debatable, but that thought was there in the back of my mind, and that relieved a lot of pressure.

Before I moved here to London, the thought of starting a new job in a new city - in essence starting all over again - seemed too much to take on at once. It was too big a mountain to climb. Thinking about not getting a job in Toronto was too stressful, because it meant I would have to face that mountain.

Now, though, that I’ve moved to a new city, secured a new job and found new friends once, doing it again doesn’t seem that big a deal. I’d look at my options here in London, and if things didn’t work out, I’d look elsewhere. Looking for a job was no longer was about grabbing one of the limited set of opportunities where I was. Looking for a job is now about opening up to all the possibilities out there, where ever they may be. With a view like that, suddenly the world seemed a lot more fruitful of a place.

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= = =

That being said, I won’t be travelling off to Dubai or Singapore or Panama City for a job. I have found one here in London, though like my previous jobs its as a consulting so I’ll likely shortly be back on the road and up in the air again. I start next Tuesday.

With the job sorted, it only took a week to sort out a new place to live as well. From my current North London base, I’m heading west to live squashed between the hip-rich of Notting Hill and Holland Park and the Aussie enclave of Shepherd’s Bush, straddling the line between the two. Yet another area of London to explore after I move in early in June.

So, with a new job and a new place to live, the fog of uncertainty is lifting and the future is clearer. While I have discovered that the world is my safety net, I’m looking forward to spending some more time setting up my life here in London.

Posted by GregW 03:10 Archived in England Tagged business_travel living_abroad migration_experiences Comments (1)

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