Filling Days

So,  I’m in London and I’ve got a bit of time. Due to the university being VERY CONFUSING about when my course starts/when I actually had to be here, I got here about a week and a half before I needed to. Which is good, I can acclimate and find my way around and such, but also a little annoying because some of the things I need to sort out, I can’t sort out just yet. I can’t open a bank account until I get a letter from school, which I can’t get until after my enrolment, which is Friday. I can’t get a real phone plan until I have a bank account. So I’ve got a little pay as you go SIM thing going and I’m just wandering about London.

Jet lag is actually sort of kicking my ass. I’ve been up until 3 or 4 every night, then oversleeping when I meant to get up. My body is so physically exhausted but my brain won’t stop. I’m hoping to kick that soon, but we’ll see how it goes. I just hope I don’t oversleep my first day of class!

I’ve done a bit of wandering my local area, scouting for various supplies. I have all I basically need now, and have been shopping almost exclusively at Poundland and the 99p store. Money goes quick, and I’m already a bit scared about that.

I’ve been trying to make plans for myself every day, so I actually get out and do things, aside from wandering aimlessly for hours. So, things I have been up to…

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Hiya, London.

I am in London! I guess it’s finally sinking in that I’m doing this? I guess it would have to by now, right? Ha.

I got in yesterday morning, and was horribly stressed to find my stupid mobile phone didn’t work anymore. I thought the SIM would hold out until now! But no. My flight also got in very early, border crossing and baggage claim took no time at all, so I was early for my ride. The company said they’d send a text with details of the car/driver, including the driver’s phone number in case there was a problem, but as the number I gave didn’t actually work, I was sort of lost. I found the right meeting spot, but I still didn’t see anyone with my name on a board at 10:30 (my pick up time), so one of the other drivers waiting around let me use his phone. Driver was found, I made it here.

On the way, we passed Earl’s Court, and I saw a TARDIS!!! It’s the one on that Google map thingy where you can go inside it.

I spent yesterday searching for pillows and hangers and various home things. I learned how Argos works and got some pillows. It’s a weird catalog store–you go in and there’s just terminals with catalogs. You go through the catalog to find what you want, write down the code number for it (you can also search on a computer terminal and check the stock there), pay for it, and then they go back to the stock room to get it for you. It’s sort of fun! But you don’t get to actually see the thing before you buy it. So buying pillows that way was weird, and the ones I got are sort of thin. But they were cheap, so they’ll do for now. I fell asleep somewhere around 8 and slept a solid 11 or so hours, but I am still tired today. Silly jet lag.

Today I wandered around in a constant state of vaguely knowing where I was, with random bursts of a-ha! I know exactly where I am! I meant to go to a specific store to look for hangers but missed a turn somewhere and ended up in Vauxhall. From there I just decided eff that, and walked over a bridge, eventually getting to Ben’s Cookies, OF COURSE. It was magical, as usual. The fact that I can now get them delivered to me is somewhat troubling. I walked on from there, intending to maybe find the British Museum or something equally enlightening, but got distracted by Primark on Oxford Street. No one ever let me go to Primark again. I mean, it’s ok, I needed a bunch of things, but it could get dangerous. They had hangers and towels and a bathmat and various little things I needed. I think I have exactly enough hangers, which will hopefully be a deterrent from buying clothes.

I had sort of planned in my mind to walk about a bit more from there, but my bag of stuff was too heavy, so I took the tube home. I took the Northern line (I can either to that or Victoria), which was confusing…the Northern line runs in two branches, so I guess sometimes (or depending on where I get it?), I may have to transfer at Kennington to a train that goes further.

Now that I have hangers, I unpacked all my clothes. I still have to unpack the stuff that was in my carry-on bags and organize it all (organizing it is the bigger task), but I’m making some progress! My room is very very white, so I’d like to have some color around soon.

My building is weird! I’m on the 7th floor, but I have to access my room by walking all around the 6th floor and taking the stairs. There’s an elevator right outside the flat door, but I have no idea how to get to that elevator from the ground floor. I took it down once, and had no idea where I was and couldn’t get anywhere. SO. That’s weird. Maybe one of my flatmates understands the building. I have…5, I think? The flat itself is strange. There are 6 rooms, a-f (I am in a). Each room locks (we have these weird fob things that open all our doors, no keys!), and has its own bathroom (with shower and all). But they’re sort of all on a corridor, it sort of feels like a hostel. There’s a pretty big common room/kitchen area. Kitchen is nice and has all the basics (toaster, kettle, microwave), a seating area, and then there’s a couple couches and a TV (I guess someone brought that?). It’s weird in that I never really need to interact with/see anyone who lives here. I still don’t know who they all are/if I’ve met everyone. Which is sort of good but also sort of bad because I think I need to get my own kitchen stuff (plates, utensils, etc.) and I was hoping not to.

Still don’t know much about the flatmates. There is one girl of some Asian nationality (one other flatmate told me Taiwanese?), and there are two boys I’ve met, but that’s all I know. Boys! What is this! More progressive university living than America, I guess. I think they’re all in undergrad/non-masters programs, but I am unsure about their ages. So we’ll see how this goes…

At Home With Books

It’s Wednesday. For the past year and a half or so, that’s mostly meant one thing to me: Housing Works Bookstore day! Up until I moved, I’d been calling this lovely Soho bookstore home for four hours a week. Last Wednesday was my final shift, and I’m a bit sad about it, so I’m going to ramble about Housing Works for a little while here.

Housing Works is an organization working to (quoting their mission statement) “end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, the provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial business that help sustain our efforts”. A lot of New Yorkers know the organization in general because of that last bit. Housing Works operates a number of pretty great thrift stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and a wonderful bookstore in Soho. The bookstore runs on donations and the time and effort of many volunteers. There are paid staff, of course, but when you pop into the store, most of the people you see around–running the register, tidying up, serving food, shelving books, etc.–are volunteers. That means your money really goes good places! Anytime we have an event, someone makes a speech beforehand, explaining Housing Works in general and the bookstore in particular. There’s always a mention that this is probably the only place where drinking a PBR is actually a good deed.

In college, I was in a weird little co-ed community service fraternity, and we once spent a few hours at Housing Works helping sift through donations in the basement. I always had the place in the back of my mind as somewhere I might want to head back to if I had time to volunteer, and I finally did. It should come as no surprise to anyone that I like books. My best summer job was working in a Barnes & Noble, my best college job was working at the bookstore, and oh yeah, I’m a librarian and going to school for book conservation. So when I was looking for something to do with my time, some kind of volunteer opportunity, clearly the best option was going to be working in a bookstore.

So what did I do there? Lots of things! Pricing books, shelving books, weeding sections, running register, running the bar for events, setting up and  breaking down for events. The bookstore also has a big internet department downstairs, shelves and shelves of books that are sold online that volunteers will then pick off the shelves, pack up, and send away to customers when they are ordered. This also happens to be the only area we could actually do a search for books for customers in the store–since all the books were donated, we didn’t have a database/catalog of what was on the floor, but we did for the internet books since they were all listed online. Sometimes I volunteered for specific events–The Moth does a few events at the store each month, we had watch parties for the presidential debates, and there’s a really great event called the Gin Mingle every year that I couldn’t even tell you much about, just that there’s gin and Molly Ringwald was there this past year. There are also plenty of opportunities to run into local celebrities like Pat Kiernan and be total besties with Carl Bernstein when you help him with the billions of records he buys. The bookstore sometimes hosts swanky private parties, even weddings and, at least once, a bat mitzvah. If you volunteer on a Saturday shift, chances are good you’ll spend the last part of it helping fold napkins or doing some other task to help set up for a wedding. And I’ve seen pictures from some of them–bookstore sure does clean up nice, they’re so pretty.

And also the people are great! Especially the people on Wednesday nights. A few of them have been there for a while, and I definitely spent some time being quiet and unsure if I would fit in, but those fears were unfounded. Any person drawn to volunteer their time in a bookstore, of all places, is someone I’m going to want to be friends with. Once I found my footing socially, Wednesday night became one of my favorite parts of the week. Now some people say I’m MEAN, but that’s just how I am, sorry. I make fun. It was nice actually being somewhere where I could talk to people about books (you’d be surprised how rarely that happened in my workplace), news, various other sort of geeky things. It was fun and I’m sad to leave.

We started having a Volunteer of the Month thing, and I was nominated for August. I think it was sort of a joke. Not a joke, really, but just a Carrie’s going away so let’s all nominate her sort of thing. It was cute and I felt special and then I WON. Which makes me think not many people voted! Because I don’t know many people outside of my night (except for the random friend of mine from my college bookstore who also happens to volunteer). The other nominees had impressive-sounding little write-ups, with big things they’d done to show their dedication. Mine was mostly just ‘Carrie’s pretty neat, hooray!’ But I won! I’m Volunteer of the Month! And now I’m going away. Of course.

I actually googled around and there are a few charity bookshops in London that are staffed by volunteers. Some were looking for new volunteers. But I think if I have free time I’ll need to find some kind of paying gig. But it might be nice to visit and see what they’re like. Won’t compare to Housing Works I’m sure, but what can?