Monday, 28 March 2011

I am in love with Instagram and London

So I've got a new website that is all about photos. It's how I see London. Nothing to read, just lovely pictures. 

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Living in London blogs

photo by birdAve

Being an expat is not always easy.

I think I must be going through some new phase of expat adjustment which has been set off by the fact that this October I will eligible to apply for a UK passport. It seems like a long way off, but times flies and it will be here before I know it. I was looking at the calendar the other and it just hit me that in October I will have lived here in the UK for four years.

That's a long time. 
It feels like a long time and yet at the same time feels like nothing. When I think about what I've done and experienced in that time I just can't believe how much I've been through. Time is another thing that has been playing on my mind, but I'll leave that for another blog post. 

When Matthew and I got together we agreed that we didn't know where we wanted to end up. We're both easy going and have a flair for adventure. We've talked about working and living somewhere other than the UK or America. We are both open to seeing where things will take us. 

However, I did tell Matthew that I wanted him to live in Minneapolis with me for a least a year. I wanted him to experience life in the States and I wanted to be able to share my family, friends and special places with him. Matthew has of course agreed. He's been to Minneapolis with me three times and has always enjoyed it and my family and friends really like him. I've never taken him during the winter......but I think he'll learn to love it. 

The thing is.......well.....I've been more aware of time lately. Life is short and you've got to experience as much as you can. I've been beginning to think a lot about our future and what we're going to be doing where. I've been thinking about when we might head to America.

Of course, this opens a whole can of worms. Sure I am homesick, not as much as I was when I first started living here, but I've definitely adjusted to life here. 

I've also been worried about how I am going to feel when I move back to the States. I've read on other blogs and have heard from other expats that it can be a very emotional experience. I am not so worried about Matthew adjusting, but how I'll adjust. Which sounds a bit selfish :)

I worry that it won't feel like home anymore, that it will just feel different. What if it's not as wonderful as I remembered? What if people have changed? Places have changed? What if I've changed so much that I feel like I don't fit in? Will it be weird? Will I be able to find a job? Will Matthew be able to find a job? Can I get used to driving on the left side of the road? Will American people seem strange? What will it be like not having 25 days paid vacation? Will I miss the NHS? Will I be able to pick up where I left off with my friends or will we have grown apart?

We'll have to get Matthew a green card in order to work and every time I go the U.S. citizenship and immigrations services website I get a headache. Getting Matthew a green card is going to involve forms, paperwork, time and money.

Lots of questions on my mind.

I think the biggest fear is that it won't feel the same or be as good as I remember. 

Of course it won't feel the same, it has been four years and I've changed. 

It's just one of those things. When you marry someone from another country, where you live is an issue that you get to deal with. It's exciting too, don't get me wrong. 

Living abroad changes you, there's just no two ways about. I feel like I am so different to the person I was before I moved here. I feel like the way I see the world and life has changed and of course it's a good think, but it feels strange. A good strange.

I thought I'd link to this article, which explains about repatriation. The UK-Yankee website also have a great forum about it as well. We will see how it goes. Lots to think about.

Many expatriates, living in far-flung corners of the globe, long for home. Paralyzed by culture shock and reeling from homesickness, they imagine how wonderful it would be to return to the familiar comforts of the life they once had. Even those who have adjusted well to the host culture and are happy with expatriate life assume that repatriation will be a breeze.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Street preachers in Brixton

photo from Urban 75's blog.
I usually see this guy every morning outside of Brixton tube.

I was walking to Boots this evening to pick up some cold medicine and Kleenex and right outside the shop was a street preacher or god bother. He had a megaphone in addition to a boom box playing some kind of religious music. 

Now what I want to know is what do people who are Christian and love Jesus think of these "street peachers"? 

Do they think, "Wow, this is brilliant! I feel so happy they are spreading the word of the Lord and Amen to everyone" or do they find it annoying and strange.

I am not a religious person, so I find these people to be a bit weird. Mainly because they are so loud. Either with the megaphone or just basically shouting at people. It's the last thing that I want to hear when I am walking to the tube to get to work or heading home after work to be shouted at about how wicked people are and eternal damnation.

Check out Urban 75's Brixton Blog and you'll find some great photos of our street evangelists. It's also a great blog about Brixton.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Water for Elephants

Today I saw a person reading a John Grisham on the tube. I didn't happen to catch the title, but I did see the his name large and impressively positioned on the cover.

It was really a blast from the past. I vividly remember when John Grisham's were all the rage. It seems like such a long time ago and very American. There the kind of books that you find when you rent a cabin up North in the book case next to all the boardgames. I have nothing against John Grisham as an author, mainly because I've never read any of his books. I think I saw one of his movies....the one with Matt Damon portraying a Southern lawyer, but the memory is hazy. Those books were definitely a trend and I felt a tad bit nostalgic seeing it.

I like watching the book reading trends on public transport. I have the habit of reading the same three books over and over again, so it's good to keep tabs on what's current. 
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series was very popular over the past year. I have to admit that at first I thought they were American and were about some kind of sci-fi cyber punk girl who liked to play dungeons and dragons. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they are Swedish and actually good books/movies. Consequently my sister in law is a big fan, but also likes sci-fi cyber punk girl books so maybe that's were I made the connection. 

Reading on the Underground

I am a pretty nosy person by nature, or I guess curious is a better word for it. Especially if someone sitting next to me is reading what looks like to be an interesting book. On the way home today a woman was reading Water for Elephants. I was drawn in by the lovely cover and managed to read a tiny bit by proxy.

Sneaking a read whilst sitting next to someone on the tube is an art. I have found that some people don't mind if you read along with them. I once had one person tune into the fact that I was doing this and waited to turn the page until they sensed I was ready. 

Other times you can tell that the person doesn't appreciate it. That's fine by me. I just reach into my bag and pull out one of my old standbys. 

Sometimes I enjoy when a person wants to share my reading material, but like I said there's an art to it. I can't stand it when someone starts leaning in too close or moves their lips when they read, but all in all I happy to share my reading materials with the fellow people of London.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Thinking about writing and writing aren't actually the same thing

I know it's a cardinal sin of blogging to write about a post apologizing for not blogging, but that's not what this post is going to be about. 

Although I only wrote one post during the month of February, but it's such a short month. That and the fact that I was looking for a new job because my company just decided that it wasn't going to exist any more meant that I was both stressed and busy.

I spend a far amount of time thinking about writing. Ideas for blog posts, ideas for short stories, ideas for books. The problem isn't coming up with topics to write about, it's just finding the time to write. I like how I phrased that just then. Makes it seem like I am just a super busy person who doesn't have the time to write, instead of making it seem like I am person who isn't as disciplined about her writing as she would like to be.

I should give myself more credit than that. I do manage to keep this blog updated. It's just that my nature to write has more to do with being in the mood to write. That's not a good habit to get into. If we did things only when we felt in the mood to do things we'd really be in trouble. 

One thing I've been thinking a lot about lately is what direction this blog is going to take or does it need a new direction? What do I want to write about? Should I be more focused on writing what it's like living here in London? 

The problem with shoulds

Should I write more about the culture, the differences between here and home, things I love about the UK, things I hate, should I be more positive sounding, should I try to communicate a more intimate side, what should my tone be? Should I move from Blogger to Wordpress? Should I care more about SEO and who reads my blog? 

Should I try to get brands to notice me? Should I have ads on my blogs? Should I go to more expat blogger MeetUps? Should I spend more time proofreading my posts? I am building enough links? Should I be scheduling my posts? 

Am I fool for posting four posts in one day? Should I be saving them up and spreading them out over the month to make up for the times I don't feel like writing? Have I lost my unique point of view because now I work in social media and someone from work could be reading my blog and judging me? Am I turning into an ego maniac because I am worried that people from work are reading my blog and judging me? Are my posts boring?

You get the picture. Too many shoulds and not enough time.

The kind of blogs I like

I like to read blogs about people's lives and the more personal the better. That's what I like. I follow up on tech/social media/creative blogs because that's what I am into for work, but the blogs I love most are about people's lives.
I don't follow a million blogs, but a few lovingly chosen few. I read blogs written by women who are American and live in the UK. I also read a few blogs by British women who live in America. 

One of my favourite personal blogs is No Sleep till Brixton, by Mary Ivers. Mary is a very talented and witty writer and I am very lucky to be able to call her my friend. Her observations on life are so brilliant that I wish she would quit her day job and become a full time writer. You would definitely want to read her books.

I also love the blog Weapons of Mass Distraction written by Sharyn Morrow. I first met Sharyn back in 2000 on the way to Iceland. She was a friend of my boyfriend at the time and we were on the same flight over. Sharyn is a fantastic writer and photographer. I like the way she blogs about the good times and the bad times in a way that is authentic and relate able. She lives in Minneapolis and I love living vicariously through her photos on Flickr.

My blog roll of favourites wouldn't be complete without mentioning Taylor Baldry's blog Gerpan. Taylor and I went to MCAD together and have been fast friends ever since. He's one of my favourite people in the entire world. He decided to take a hiatus from working in the world of marketing to teach English in Japan and has been there almost two years now. He's there now and writing about what it's like living through the tsunami, earthquake and radiation scare. What I love about Taylor is that he never looses his sense of humor. Please read his blog about his current situation in Japan.

Another favourite blog that I've been reading for years is the Candy Blog. A blog all about candy, what's not to love. I love the format, the way the author Cybele reviews the candy and her photos. It's wonderful and I highly recommend it. 

Anyway......I digress....

The main thing is that I've been struggling with how and what I want to write about mainly because I am worried about how I will be perceived. Which isn't the kind of blog writer I want to be. I am going to try to follow in the footsteps of Mary, Sharyn and Taylor and write from the heart. Here's to a new month full of exciting and real blog posts.....

Thanks for reading and for all your comments :)

I've got a new job!

My dream job at LBi

Yes that's right. A beautiful, bright shiny new job! 

I started working at LBi as a Social Media Account Manager just four weeks ago! This is very good news. 

The last company that I worked for was WAXAgency went out of business and it's a long story. It's a long story with a fantastic ending, me ending up on the social media team at the best digital agency in London.

I can't believe that I've been there for four weeks already! It's flown by. I've got a few projects to get me going and there's lots happening. The team at the London office has been around for 6 months and is rapidly growing. Tomorrow my boss, the Head of Social Media, is going to present the new team structure. The other perk is that I am working with great people, people who I really like! 

This job is more than just a job to me. It represents me reaching a significant milestone in my career journey here in London. I started writing this blog to document my experiences of working and living in London. It hasn't always been smooth sailing, but it's been well worth it.

When I was first looking for a job in London back in October 2008 I met a woman through the She Says network who worked at LBi. After meeting her I went and had a look at the agency's website and thought that it looked amazing. I had in the back of mind that I wanted to one day work at LBi, so I am pretty excited that dream has come true.

After getting my first job in London I found it a bit challenging to write about it. I didn't feel it was right to expect my unsuspecting colleagues to play leading characters in my blog drama. I feel like people have the right to privacy. At that point I felt like I wanted to write about what was happening on a day to day basis at work, but I didn't.

Writing about working in London

However, what I want to write about now is the entire experience of starting out to finally landing what I like to refer to as my dream job. A journey that started back in 2008. 

What I am not sure about is the format in which I go about writing about it. Do I do it here on this blog? Do I start another blog? Should I just write it as a book?
I am leaning towards just writing it as a book, a sort of inspiration how to guide. The purpose of the writing is to share my story of coming to London as an American and finding a job (during the height of the recession) in a very tough and competitive field (digital Advertising). 

My audience is going to be expats who have recently arrived in London, who are looking for jobs and the message that I want to put across is one of hope. When I was first looking for my first job I would go onto the UKYankee forums and read hundreds of posts about Americans who were having really hard times breaking into the UK job market. 

I wished I had found a few good stories in those posts, so now I am going to add my own!

You keep on knocking, but you can't come in

I wrote about my next door neighbor awhile ago. You might remember me mentioning her?She's the one who first introduced herself wearing nothing but a dressing gown and nothing underneath? Sound familiar? If not you can read all about here.

Well, since our fist encounter she's been taking to knocking on our door every so often. Once she came over to see if we could give her 3 quid, which Matthew did. Since then she's been asking for chocolates and peanuts. 

Now, I don't usually keep peanuts in the house. I do however keep chocolate. I decided to spoil Matthew by buying him 15 bars of Milka for Valentines Day, so we've got a few bars about. When she comes asking for chocolate she'll get a bar and I am happy to give it to her.

Because I am such a thoughtful neighbor I even  picked up some packets of peanuts and went over and gave them to her last weekend. She suffers from some kind of vicious pain in her knee....she told me how it happened, but I had a hard time understanding her on account that she has no upper teeth and speaks with a heavy Jamaican accent. The language barrier hasn't been much of an issue,her pronunciation of chocolate and peanuts is perfect.

Since last weekend, when I brought over the peanuts she's been taking to knocking on the door immediately when I get home from work around 7 p.m. and again at 10:30 and 11 p.m. Everyday!

Which is excessive. At first I was worried that she might need help, but the knock isn't really a I need help knock. It's quieter and less urgent and more annoying.

When I've told people about the fact that I am happy to be neighborly to an elderly woman who isn't very mobile, most people think I am nuts. They warn me that no good will come of it, they tell me stories about so called friendly neighbors who ended up robbing them blind when they were away on holiday, they tell me that I'll go broke if I keep suppling her with fine chocolate and get the picture.

While all this might be true, it doesn't really bother me. What does bother me is this late night knocking. I only answer the door if I feel like it, I don't feel like I have to open it every time she comes round. There's got to be some kind of boundary. 

We'll see how things go this week with the knocking and hopefully she will have taken the hint that I won't answer the door everyday and we can go back to the bi-weekly chocolate and peanut exchange.

Puke in London

Puke isn't really a word that people use here in Britian. If someone is throwing up they are being sick. Sick is  what you call vomit. 

People don't say they are sick, they say they are ill. You wouldn't say that I am going to puke, you'd say that  you're going to be sick which means you're puking. 

Anyway. The point is that you see a lot of puke around London. I'd like to think that there would be areas distinctively lacking in it, like Chelsea or Kensington, but I am sure that a few cookies get tossed there too.

To be honest with you I am not used to seeing piles of vomit on the sidewalk, usually along side of a building. It's really nasty. It's usually the evidence of a really heavy Friday or Saturday night out, but you also get it during the week. 

Last weekend Matthew and I went out to our favourite cafe in Brixton for breakfast. The Duck Egg Cafe in Brixton does a mean eggs bennny and is a lovely little place to go. It's small and usually is full so you have to time it just right. Matthew and I arrived to find the cosy little cafe full up and there was a queue outside.

We decided to run a few errands and then come back. At this point we were both pretty hungry and it had started to rain. As I walked past one of the shops there was a very nasty pile of puke that I nearly stepped in. This did not improve my mood at all.  We hustled from shop to shop before heading back, getting drenched. As a side note, I can't stand getting wet in the rain or stepping in puke.

So we get back to the Duck Egg only to find that it's still full. This put me in an even worse mood, plus Matthew was really hungry and he needed to get home and do some work.With blood sugar dropping  we had to decide what we were going to do. The options at that point were to to go the Ritzy or to the store and buy stuff to make breakfast. 

I wasn't in the mood for walking back to the shop in the rain to buy things to make breakfast. I had wanted my beautiful eggs benny! Not scrambled eggs and beans that I'd have to cook myself and then do the washing up. 

We went to Ritzy and that was full as well. Matthew and I had nice argument there over what to do that ended with him saying he was going to walk home and I could do whatever I like. Only he didn't have the keys to the flat and it was still raining. 

I walked out of the Ritzy to see him standing under the awning obviously realising that his dramatic exit wasn't going to work out since he'd have to stand out in the rain waiting for me to get back home. I wish I could say that we ended up getting a table at the Ritzy or even calling a truce and walking back to the Duck Egg for a third time.....but we ended up going across the street to McDonalds. Not what I had in mind for my charming Sunday morning breakfast, but desperate situations call for desperate measures.

I went home after finishing my Big Mac brunch thinking about puke in London and how much I dislike seeing it. I was out for dinner with my friend Becky, who's from Birmingham, and this subject came up. Becky has lived in London for about a year now and is all too familiar with piles of puke. She lives in East London, just off of Shoreditch High Street. She reckons she has seen more of this in London than in Birmingham and even as a true Brit she finds it deplorable. Which in a way makes me feel better. 

Now I am not going to get into a big discussion about the British drinking culture and all that jazz, because that could be a really long post :) I just want to say that it's not very nice to see it on the street and I don't recall encountering it in Minneapolis. 

If anyone has any comments or insights they'd like to share about people ralphing in big cities please post them! 

Also I thought the following article from BrandRepublic, although a bit old, gave a bit more depth to this colourful issue :)

CAMPAIGNS: Westminster gets tough on West End filth - Public Sector

Every night at the weekend in London's West End, Westminster City Council has to clear its streets of six instances of human excreta, 600 pools of vomit and more than a gallon of urine.
After the council signed a £124m contract with Onyx, a private cleaning company, to cleanse the streets it decided West End users should also do their bit to keep the streets clean.
To raise awareness about the filthy state of the streets among those who use the West End for entertainment. To change the behaviour of those who create the filth by warning them that it is a criminal offence, and informing them about the location of public conveniences. To build up support from local bars and pubs.
Strategy and Plan
In order to reach the perpetrators of the filth, which the council identified as mainly binge-drinking men aged 18 to 30, the council targeted bars and pubs in the West End that cater for this clientele.
To convince them that this was not just another authoritarian message from a council that's against people having a good time, the PR team approached the drinks industry's self-regulatory body, the Portman Group, and Environmental Campaigns, the charity behind the 'Keep Britain Tidy' initiative, to endorse the campaign.
Results from a focus group had convinced the PR team that a cynical, humorous approach would work best, so they sent posters to 35 pubs, as well as beer mats, postcards and T-shirts emblazoned with the campaign's icons and logos. These had straplines such as 'If you can't keep it down, don't down it'.
Since the West End is used by people from across greater London, the PR team approached regional TV, radio and press about the campaign.
The media was supplied with gruesome statistics about the filthy streets, campaign postcards were sent to environmental correspondents, and the PR team went out on the street in campaign T-shirts and cleared up mock vomit in front of the press.
The council cordoned off a section of Villiers Street with a pop-up toilet and held a party for the press to launch the campaign.
Measurement and Evaluation
The campaign generated national coverage in The Sunday Times and was broadcast on Sky Breakfast News. Five London radio stations - LBC, BBC London, Heart FM, Capital FM and Sky Radio, plus all four of Westminster's local newspapers, covered the campaign.
While only 15 pubs signed up to take part in the campaign before the press coverage, a further 20 joined up afterwards. The council claims West End streets are now becoming cleaner. 'I thought the vomit cleanup was a good stunt,' said West End Extra reporter Amanda McGregor.
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