Monday, December 26, 2011

My 27th

Another year, another country, another apartment. Last year I celebrated my birthday in Toronto while working for Darlene Richards-Loghrin at her real estate law office. We were less than eight weeks away from moving to London. This year I am office manager by day, aspiring worship consultant/musicologist by night, proud master's student spouse-helper, and happy to be settling in to London apartment no. 2. My parents came up from Geneva for a few days to help me celebrate my 27th birthday.

When you've lived in six different homes since getting married four years ago, you learn to improvise. Note the suspiciously similar shape of my veggie pot pie, above, and the lovely birthday cake David secretly made for me (a mere 12 hours off the plane from Venice, where he had been attending the Biennale!)

I was working part of the time my parents were here (including on my birthday), so it was a relatively low-key visit. David cooked a nice dinner for all of us and we enjoyed birthday cake in our flat.

Make a wish!
 The next day I went with my parents to the South Kensington area of London, to do some touring around and catch up. We had coffee in a really nice little cafe just outside of the South Ken tube station.

So glad to be together!
 We walked along Cromwell Road toward Harrods, where I wanted to go. We passed the beautiful Victoria and Albert museum and poked around in a rare books and maps shop. Then we entered the domain of ritzy, overpriced retail. We deposited Dad in a Starbucks and got lost in Harrods for a while. What an amazing place. We only took a few steps into the "Christmas Village" area before retreating in fear and trepidation - it's a pretty intense retail, um, experience. Lights, glitz, baubles and noise.

I was very taken by the food hall area of Harrods - all kinds of everything, all looking delicious. Cupcakes, beef wellington, satay skewers, sushi, wine, lager, antipasti, mustards, preserves, and on and on. Also an entire hall devoted to tea, coffee and chocolate. I scooped up a Christmas present for Susan, a cute Harrods tea towel.  I have been so slow to put this blog post together that I can now post that without spoiling the surprise. My mom bought some nice butcher block cream which she proceeded to forget at Sue and Mark's house.

After we were shopped out we collected Dad and wandered down to the local Pizza Express. This is a chain of Italian restaurants which is fancier than it sounds. They make delicious thin-crust pizzas - my favourite is the Padana, with goat's cheese, red and caramalised onions, spinach and garlic oil. We had wine and a nice long catch-up. South Ken is a great area of London, it feels very "omg I'm in London" to me. But also with a good dose of quaint and cute.

David was literally wrapping up writing his thesis in the days my parents were here, so we were trying not to be in the way, and to be quiet when we were in the flat. Shh!

Thanks for coming to visit us, family!

Thanksgiving in Streatham

Shortly after we moved in to our new apartment, it was time to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving. (So what if no one else is doing it?)

Our move was not without its challenges - the previous tenants did not leave the apartment very clean, but it was clean enough in our new landlord's opinion. So, after leaving our old apartment in pristine condition (with the cleaning fumes still clinging to us) we had to start right over at our new place. Not fun. But we got past it and I think we're even starting to feel like Stanthorpe Road is home.

I decided I needed to kick-start the homey feel by cooking us Thanksgiving dinner, even if it was only for two. (This was in spite of the fact that our oven was broken and the new one was delivered on the day of the cooking. Most intelligent people would be deterred by such circumstances - not this girl.)

We went out in the afternoon to wander around Streatham Common where there is a nice garden.

At one point I was thinking of doing a roast chicken, which I had done for our first Thanksgiving in Dallas. However, I was daunted by the oven situation and decided to opt for turkey breasts instead. Not sure why I thought this would make such a huge difference but whatever.

Root vegetables, leeks and sage
Go turkey go!

It felt very homey indeed, amid busyness at both school and work. With October underway David had barely eight weeks to go in his programme!

...and then we had to move.

Life in London continues to go well! However we had a bit of a challenge in the fall (as David launched into the final, busiest stages of his master's work) - our building was sold at auction and the new landlord immediately gave notice to all the tenants. This left David and I with eight weeks left to live in our apartment, when we are were only planning to remain in the UK for about four months tops. We offered more money for the ability to stay, we begged, we groveled (I offered to cry but didn't get the opportunity) - to no avail. Moving to a new apartment was our only option.

At the same time, my work was in a position of needing me to stay on about another month than originally intended. I used the opportunity to secure a contract for my tenure (rather than week-to-week temp work) and so I will be in my current office manager job until the end of February. In fact, I'm hearing rumours that they would be interested in keeping me on long-term - it's nice to be wanted!

Aside from the inconvenience of the timing (which was huge), we were so sad to be forced to leave our apartment which had been such a good set-up for us. We knew we would have little hope of finding something a) short-term; b) affordable; c) at the same level of niceness as our first place; d) in an equally convenient location to our destinations (school for David, work for me.)

I mean... look how nice it is!  :)  

In a show of domestic grief I baked a pie.

Don't make me leave!

Maybe if I give the new landlord this pie he will let us stay.

So I found myself plunged again into scouring sites like Zoopla, Findaproperty and Primelocation to land us a new place to live. The trick in London is that places are snapped up very quickly. By the time a listing makes it online, it is probably practically taken already. And you can pay a lot of money for a not very nice place. Well, it was a team effort as usual - I combed the listings in our price range obsessively, weighing all the options from a truly short-term rental with all utilities etc. included, to a longer-term rental like the one we were currently in, with the understanding that we'd have to leave a little early and absorb the cost. We looked at a few apartments, some of which were crummy to the point of absurdity. (One had the bathroom split between two sides of a hallway, so that if someone was in the bathroom with the door closed, you couldn't get in or out of the bedroom. Oh and carpet on the bathroom floor - ew.)

One day while I was at work, one of our lettings agents got in touch to say that he had an apartment available in our price range, close to Streatham rail station. Streatham is on the same rail line that we normally use, but one stop closer along the line to where we normally go. (David takes one line straight into Elephant and Castle to go to LCC; I go to Herne Hill and switch to cross the river and get in to London Victoria for work.) Well, the lettings agent said he could show us the apartment immediately, but I was stuck at work. So I took the appointment, and called David at home with instructions on how to go see the flat. I could tell by his tone when he called back after seeing it that it was a good find and we should go for it.

And so it was, on an unseasonably warm day at the end of September, that Hilary and David loaded their stuff into a friend's borrowed minivan and moved from Tooting to Streatham, to an apartment Hilary had never seen.

And they lived happily until their lease's break clause.

David and me at Streatham Common.