FINDING A FLAT
It has been almost three weeks now and I am hoping that this time it works out. I am in London flat hunting and it has been an exhaustive process in every way. Each time I have an appointment to see a place, I arrive with such great anticipation that this is the one meant for me!
These viewings are always followed by a morose train ride home.
I had seen this flat the week prior and realized half way through the visit that I was being interviewed. I was a little caught off guard as I answered pageant-like questions and left wondering if I should have framed my answers a little bit better and smiled all the way through. I definitely forgot the "peace on Earth" bit.
I liked the flat a lot and felt comfortable there. My room would be shoebox-small should I "pass", but the kitchen and the bathroom seemed to make up for the lack of square footage.
As I prepare for the second visit, I dress as if I may have just come from a show, which is emphasized by my short black wrap wool coat and shiny black shoes. It seems these people are quite cultured and a tad more on the serious side. They are members of museums and such, don't party or have really late nights, and probably want to live with such people. So I will tell them "I am just that" without necessarily saying so.
"Would you like to sleep on it for a few more nights?"
I do not. I know that I want to live there and the second visit has just confirmed my resolve. I tell him so. "I think it's you who needs to sleep on it, I have already made up my mind. I want to live here."
He will get back to me in two days.
The morning of the decision day I send him an email: The top 10 reasons why I would be a great flatmate. Number one is obvious. I am left-handed.
As I look back over the past several weeks I remember a piece of paper that is now in my trash bin. It's all crumpled with big pink lips up in the corner from blotting my lipstick. I open it and read:
What I Want:
1. Character, not too formal/stuffy
2. Space, just enough for a desk too
3. Wooden floors
4. Great flatmates (30 yrs +)
5. Located near school
7. Easy transport
8. Light and airy
What I Don't Want:
2. Young, loud, annoying flatmates
3. Boring, uninspiring
I have been here a week now and I am very happy with my find! I live on Shaftesbury Avenue, near Piccadilly Circus. The first reaction I get from people when I tell them my whereabouts is - you live where!? I didn't know one could live there! But I do and I love it! It's a short bus ride away from school and so many of the interesting places in London are within walking distance. There are always loads of people and lights and movement right out the front door of my building, but my 3rd story room is surprisingly very quiet with high ceilings and a south-facing window. My flatmates are very friendly and I know I will have a wonderful year here.
Everything on my list was fulfilled. Even the wooden floors.
I am hurrying towards the art store to gather supplies for school. My face is buried in my phone to make sure I am on the right street when I am abruptly blocked by a person who stands right in front of me and doesn't move. I look up.
He's tall and lean with dirty blond hair and big blue eyes with generous eyelids and a pleasant smile.
"Hey, I just saw you walking and I thought you were pretty and I wanted to get to know you. You seem interesting." He thought I was British. But then I opened my mouth.
We chat for awhile about what we are each doing here in London. And as he comes to find that I am indeed sticking around these parts for a while he asks if I would like to meet up for a coffee. Yes, why not! After all, he thought my smile was beautiful.
A few hours later I get a text. Three texts in he asks me if he can take me on a date. I reply, "let's start with tea/coffee first?" I think he was a little deflated, but agreed.
We'll see if he ever texts me back.
RUCKSACK RUN AND M&M'S
I am sitting on a bench at Potter's Field's Park studying the plantings of Piet Oudolf when a pack of strong men come running by and stop in an area adjacent my bench. They are clearly athletes. Soccer? Rugby? Hmmm....Rugby.
They must be taking a breather from their morning run, although none of them remove their heavy packs while doing so.
"Who wants M&M's, who wants M&M's..." The man who must be their trainer has a large yellow bag open as he is walking around. I raise my hand.
"Sure thing," he holds the bag out.
I grab a couple, "thanks."
Several minutes pass before they line up as they prepare to head out for more running. They are carrying a large flag as well as a rams head. A real rams head that has been mounted to a piece of wood. It's wearing an Arsenal scarf.
Right before they continue with their regimented run the trainer comes back to where I am sitting and hands me the bag, "here, have the rest - we won't be needing these anymore."
I smile a big thank you.
Later, as I am eating a few more M&M's from the bag I have a visual image of all these men's sweaty hands reaching in as well. Suddenly they taste funny - old and smelly. I throw the rest away. But I am still happy about having been given them.
AN IDYLLIC WEEKEND
I arrive at the train station in Ashford at 10:48 am. I roll my petite suitcase to the curb as the trunk pops open. Out of habit I head to the right side of the car, "you won't be driving just yet!"
It is a beautiful day in Southeast England. The sun is out and it feels good on my face as the wind blows my hair. I love the wind and sun.
We pass by fields and fields of countryside before arriving at a lovely place called Sissinghurst Castle. A very well known site among garden-lovers as it is one of the most famous in the land!
I learn of it's history, it's story, and we spend a couple of hours exploring the gardens while making clever observations and commentary.
It's time to head to the charming medieval town of Rye where we meet up with Graham's partner, Ewan, and their two friends, Stefan and Cristof, who arrived just last night on the train from Paris. It's the perfect place for lunch as we climb to the top of the hill to where the ancient church sits. More than one bride will be getting married today in this fairy-tale town.
The restaurant is absolutely delightful and the lobster squash soup is prepared perfectly. You can feel the history all around as the black and white structures captivate and the unique cobble streets slow everything down.
The church bells toll and toll. People in wonderful wedding garb pass by the window pane as they move down the hill in celebration.
We have delightful conversation and cakes then move to the next part of the day: Great Dixter!
There are 5 of us now exploring the garden as we weave in and out. Great Dixter has a different mood than Sissinghurst and I delight in getting to know each of them equally.
The sun is in perfect position - still a few hours away from sunset, but now we are entering the golden hour. Lovely time passes as we enjoy the garden in all it's September glory. Plant species are identified over and over (or at least an attempt, I am afraid I have a lot of plant material to learn in this climate) and now it is time to head back - for more guests arrive at 7:30 and dinner must be well on it's way by then.
Giles and Mickey are practically punctual - everything is mostly prepared except the oysters are still being shucked. The table has been set. Beautiful floral china with more cutlery per person than the queen.
The house itself is amazing. It's the Calico House and the original part dates back to a 1300's farmhouse with other additions being built in the 14 and 1500's. Graham and Ewan have done a stunning job at restoring, furnishing, decoration and designing the space. It truly is one of the most fantastic places I have ever experienced.
Dinner is ready so we leave the sitting room where we have been enjoying drinks and conversation and move into the dining room which is lit solely by candles.
Gorgeous trays of large oysters on beds of ice are presented in front of us. They are local and fresh. And delicious. There definitely wasn't a shortage as we each had our fill. Meat and veggies were next. They had been cooking since that morning, so the beef was to that perfect point of falling apart on the plate at the touch of a fork. After the main course was some healthy conversation followed by the cheese - oh the cheese! Four kinds, all delicious. Then because you can't stop there we eventually ended with an apple crisp made from the apples off the tree picked just that evening.
It was after midnight by the time the jovial evening ended.
I retired to my bed worn but extremely satisfied and happy. I was given room in a building just off the house - I think where livestock might have been kept and where an old well used to be. The bed is comfy and I fall asleep quickly as I look up at the old black timbers against the white ceiling. Am I really here.....? Sleep.
In the morning I shower, get ready and head to the kitchen. Graham is there waiting. I enjoy a bowl of muesli and toast with black currant jam before we head back to the train station to catch the 10:13 back to London. Out in the pebble drive I meet Stefan who has come to say goodbye. So sweet.
I wrap my scarf around my head loosely to keep my newly dried hair intact. The morning weather is a bit overcast, but still so pleasant as we drive past fields and pastures. We left a little later than planned so the drive back all passed so quickly, but I made the train with 1 minute to spare.
I napped on the way back, hoping - that maybe I would wake back up in Kent.