November 30, 2006

First Week on the Job

I'm alive again! The first week on the job has been great. My associates are friendly, professional and hard working. Like any nonprofit they are a bit burnt out from over-working. The resources are limited but I'm blown away by what they produce.

What I love about the job is that my role is strategy. What a dream. Essentially I'm an in-house consultant on a two year assignment focused on business development. Entering with an exit strategy.

Being outside the arts really isn't bothering me. In fact, I feel that my horizons are expanding.

What you really want to know about is the boiler. Still running on high and dripping. No sign of the tech. And now...the clothes washer isn't working. Seems that when they reinstalled they didn't connect it properly. Am I living in a Monty Python skit or what?

November 27, 2006

Boiler Saga Continues

Boiler Saga Continues

Steve the British Gas Tech has now become a member of the family. When I was away in Scotland we talked at least once a day and today he made a visit after work. Although I think he is a great guy, the reason he is around is because the new beast is broken.

When we arrived home from Scotland yesterday the flat was warm, actually super hot, some might call it tropical. In fact, we had a pool in our rainforest. The boiler had leaked onto the floor as well as the heat being stuck in the “on” position. So, we went from cold to hot hot hot. This morning preparing for my first day of WORK my face was melting. It was like being back in Houston. (Work went very well!)

One of the calls Steve made to me in Scotland was to inform us that he thought there was a pipe leaking under the floor. After much discussion we agreed that he could take up a part of the floor as long as he did it with care. Yup, he found a broken pipe. Unfortunately after his visit today he now thinks that there is another leak under a different part of the floor. Plus, the heat being stuck in the “on” position is apparently due to the electrician’s error. He’s going to come back later in the week.

The good news is that we paid a flat fee for all this work. The bad news for Steve is that we have his personal mobile phone number. I suspect I better put him on the Christmas gift list.

November 26, 2006

Castles and Ruins

Lauriston Castle is located just about half a mile from my in-laws house. Stephen and I regularly visit the property when we are in the area since it is an easy walk in any weather. Today we lucked out with sunshine.

The property overlooks the Firth of Forth as well as Crammond which is an old Roman port. It is a lovely part of the city that appears untouched by time.

There is also a lovely Kyoto Friendship Garden that was installed in 2002.

Here is a detail of some kind of fountain on the property that has the date1672 carved in its crest.

Translating Thanksgiving

We had a wonderful thanksgiving at my in-laws house in Edinburgh, Scotland. In the first table you can see the table set with pumpkin soup and my cranberry chutney side dish next to the centerpiece. We even had little American flags at our place settings to make sure it was very American. Growing up we had little pilgrim candles on the table and I really never felt that it was a patriotic, flag-waving kind of holiday.

The turkey was delicious and we had the traditional potatoes in a variety or preparations.

To launch the meal we made hot apple cider. The funny thing is that cider here is only hard and not fresh pressed and juicy as in New England. We heated up the carbonated beverage and added traditional mulling spices. To our delight it tasted quite nice.

Displayed in the foreground is the scrumptious home made apple pie my mum-in-law made for dessert. Yum.

See the Light

Me and Stephen in Scotland today. Now back in London.

November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving in Scotland

Stephen and I are off to Scotland for Thanksgiving. Stay tuned for photos.

Boiler Nearly Done

Check out this scene - that's our new boiler on the wall in the corner of the living/dining room. Obvious enough? That's Steve and Mark getting ready to do some more welding. Mark is a bit afraid of heights but I'm sure he'll do a good job. You can't make this stuff up.

November 21, 2006

Mid-Destruction/Construction Photo

This was our living room and kitchen. Day one of three of the new boiler install. That's our tiny fridge in the center next to our fancy trash can. You can only see Mark the tech's torso as he takes out the old beast. Steve the other tech is out of the shot.

They are great guys and I am just happy they're here! Plus, they keep calling me Madam with a beautiful English/Carribean accent.

I had some time to waste as they cleaned so I took the opportunity to head down to the pub, have some wine and sticky toffee puddin'. Feeling no pain.

November 20, 2006

A Sick Day is Not an Option

You are looking at the pile of supplies that is sitting in our flat waiting for the British Gas installation technician to arrive and install. Unfortunately he called in sick today, his first day on our job. Lovely. Computer says "no sick days!" (Joke only fully understood if you watch Little Britain.)

Dude, we're on week four of no heat and no hot water. You're sick, well me too. I finally got over my cold which I'm sure was caused by showering with cold water.

The new boiler is in that big box in the center. I could just open it and give it a go. But not sure how to use all the pipes.

Well, if you think I'm sad you should see the guy who delivered this stuff. He told me that he is quitting this horrible job because non of the techs were at any of the houses and he needs them to help him bring the beast up the stairs. He was nearly in tears. I was going to give him a hug but he smelled quite bad. Anyway, I think this is a scam since clearly all the techs called in sick today. Or, maybe there is only one tech.

The supervisor promises that we'll have someone tomorrow. Oh sure. You would think this was a free service and we weren't paying close to £4,000 (= $8,000).

By the way, we have a room in the hotel next to us so we are able to shower. It is funny that the hotel doesn't wonder why we arrive each morning to shower. I mess up the beds to make sure they clean the bathroom. Like having a second home. Too bad I can't figure out how to make the heaters work.

Can we say this is officially culture shock?

Playing it by Ear

When my friend Simone from London worked with me in San Francisco people would go gaga over her accent. They had no idea what she was saying but they just loved to hear her talk. She had to frequently remind us "I'm a person, not an accent!"

I get it and it goes both ways. If anyone thought that the US had a million accents try the UK. Having absorbed (kind term for conquering) so many cultures, countries and ethnicities the UK is a melange of accents. I’ll be honest, I still can’t discern a Scottish accent and I’ve been with Stephen for 5+ years – but it does sound dreamy.

Calling customer service help lines takes a certain talent for deciphering what the person on the other end is saying. Forget that they are using terms I’ve never heard – I can’t even make heads or tails of the words themselves. These tend to be lower paying jobs so you get all kinds of accents from little corners of the city. But the people are always patient and end the conversation with the obligatory “Lovely.” I’m now in the habit of saying Cheers but it seems to have gone out of style.

I just got off the phone with a lovely customer service person from my new bank. She (or was it a he?) asked me if my name was American. I said it isn’t but my accent is. Oh he/she went gooey. “That is so nice, how lovely, just lovely, very nice, oh yes. Have a lovely day. Thank you. Oh yes.” I believe from their accent that they were from Asia so it was all very sing song and sweet. I felt like a movie star. You know what, I’m happy to be an accent for a while.

My First Job...In the UK

Put away the defibrillator because my brain will no longer need jump starting in the mornings…I have a job and a great one at that.

Starting 27 November I will be the Business Development Manager for Legal Action Group This NGO (non government organisation, aka non profit) is similar to Business Arts Council where I worked for five years in San Francisco in that it provides training and publications in best practices.

“We are a national, independent charity which campaigns for equal access to justice for all members of society. LAG was formed in 1972 out of a desire to encourage a more active approach to the delivery of legal services and the role of non-lawyers. A major concern was the inadequate access to advice for private inner city tenants.”

Stepping away from the arts you may say? Actually, this fits beautifully with my interest in strategic planning and audience development. I’ll be working with the organisation on a two year assignment to help redefine their products and services, identify new audiences and development mutually-beneficial funding, sponsorship and presenting partnerships.

On the arts front I am considering doing the PhD studies part time. Details to follow.

November 19, 2006

My Boy Bond

I'm in love with the new Bond Daniel Craig because he reminds me of my boy Stephen. Look at how much they share in the rugged face, blue eyes, good hair and sexy smile.

The film Casino Royale is spectacular. Stephen didn't want to admit how much he loved the film since Sean Connery is and always will be the Alpha Bond - Scottish of course. But I know he loved it because his palms started to sweat - which is his "tell" as they discuss in the film. Plus, he thinks Craig could be a Scottish name.

This new Bond is sexy, sensitive, strong and yet vulnerable. So sweet. Okay, I'm gushing.

Photo of Stephen in San Francisco, 2004, at Jazz at Pearl's for my cousins Carma and Michael's wedding.

November 15, 2006

Phobias Uncovered

This post will make better sense if you read the previous one first.

These are from the website Complete Phobia List.

Names for my fears...
Aeroacrophobia — Fear of open high places
Deipnophobia — Fear of dinner conversation
Blennophobia — Fear of slime

Hare are a few others I think I may have...
Angrophobia — Fear of anger or becoming angry
Globophobia — Fear of balloons - This is a big one that should be on my list. I don't like lound noises including fireworks, banging doors and gun shots.
Spectrophobia — Fear of specters or ghosts

Here is one that I've gotten over...
Aviophobia — Fear of flying

Here are a few that I don't suffer from - thank goodness...
Anglophobia — Fear of England, English Culture, or English People
Arachibutyrophobia — Fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth
Phobophobia — Fear of phobias

This one says it all...
Anxiety — Fear of Anxiety

Conquering My Fears - Holding Mummie's Hand

I've set out on a mission to conquer my fears. No, I’m not going to re-enact the ear wax removal process. Here is my list – not sure if these have names.

Fear of being high up in a building and falling out or building swaying, cracking and falling – Eiffel Tower, Empire State Building, Last row in the balcony at the opera, the London Eye. For some reason bridges don’t scare me, unless I’m on a bike riding over the bridge – think Golden Gate Bridge.

Looking at Mummies – I can’t open my eyes when I’m near one in a museum. Started on a visit to the Met when I was in Elementary School. My classmates tried to un-wedge my eyelids. Not successful.

Touching slimy creatures – even if they are in touching zoos – bugs, snakes, sea creatures.

Anyone getting near my eyes – this one comes from getting something stuck in my eye when I was in sleep-away camp as a youngster. I rubbed the eye until it was swollen and then they had to take me to a creepy doctor. Reinforced the fear when I splashed Potassium ferricyanide in my eye as a high school photography student. That resulted in a lovely trip to the emergency room. Final reinforcement in 2002 when I had a really bizarre eye surgery (that Stephen watched…) Result is that I can’t have someone put make up my face, can’t take certain eye tests and certainly can never wear contact lenses (although I don’t need them).

Chit chatting with people that I don’t know - this has to do with train and plain rides, restaurants when the people at the next table try to be friendly, a nice but lonely homeless person sitting down next to you while you’re eating in the park, even small talk in general freaks me out. Actually, many of these situations happened to me this week. My folks and Stephen are super stars at this stuff.

Today I overcame one of these fears – seeing mummies! The British Museum has several on display. Tons of six year olds were swarming around the display case before I realised what was inside. But I didn’t even flinch and even got a photo (so that you can get over your fear too!)

November 14, 2006

Foot on the Gas

For Immediate Release - British Gas is delivering the supplies on Saturday and starting work on Monday! I bet this is one of their biggest sales for the month. Or, maybe it is the American accent pulling through for me again...

Regents Canal

The London canals feel like me own secret find. Yesterday I ventured out to Camden Town, an area much like the wacky street life of Berkeley, California. Once again I used the canal system - this time taking the Union Canal to Regents Canal. The pace of life along the canals is peaceful as the city moves above you.

Yesterday's adventure took me through the London Zoo, over three locks and along a nature preserve.

The photo at top is in Regent's Park. The next is a closeup of a bridge that is marked by tow ropes used in the 1800-1900s.

This is Saint Pancras lock outside of King's Cross and the next shot is a futuristic buildingthat caught my eye.

The red Asian-influenced creation on the left is a restaurant built on a canal boat.

Boiler Update

British Gas visited today to evaluate the boiler situation. We have to install a new one clear across the room against the outside wall. This requires all kinds of pipes across the floor. Most likely the new beast will sit up near the ceiling on a little perch. I imagine it watching us from its vantage point. Looks like replacement will be in the next 3 weeks. For now we have a hotel room for showering.

November 12, 2006

Beast is Dead

The boiler has expired. It was a slow and painful ending. British Gas arrives on Tuesday with the replacement estimate.

Rose for All Occassions

Found this rose in a posh flower shop on our street this morning. I can’t figure out how they died the individual petals and the leaves – which are also multi-colored.

November 10, 2006

Sleek Yellow Kayak

Having moved from San Francisco to Houston and then London in the past twelve months has required strength and flexibility. This lifestyle demands that you constantly revisit the big picture. London is an opportunity for me to gain international business experience, make new friends and have loads of fun.

I am a bright yellow kayak
Adventuring down the river
Expertly navigating obstacles
Playing in the waves.

Buoyancy keeps me settled
While I whisk through the water
Thriving on the interplay of the elements.

November 8, 2006

Back in the Chill

British Gas fixed our boiler but the beast died again. When the tech was here last Friday, for the first visit, he condemned the 20 year old clunker and said we needed to get a new one as soon as possible. He would fix the current one but it wouldn’t last. Very true.

Photo of our boiler with mysterious burn spot, post-it notes with my instructions for operating the beast, and a tag from British Gas condemning the appliance. Gas detector is mounted on the wall. This is in our kitchen above the sink.

You would think that a company that has condemned our appliance and offered to fix it would actually give me a call back to make an appointment for an estimate. Appointment equals customer spending money. Nope. I am now stuck in the bureaucratic hell that is the remnants of a former national utility. I have spoken to no fewer than six representatives from British Gas just to make an appointment. Still nothing on the calendar.

Repeatedly I am told that this customer service rep or that supervisor will call me back. When I call to follow up they say, “Oh yes, it is on her desk, she only works three evenings a week and she’s trying to get a hold of the district supervisor to set up an appointment for you and he only works during the days. When I do get someone on the phone I either can’t understand what they are saying – accent issues on both sides – or I don’t know what they are talking about – technical jargon. Now the estimate is £3,000 (=$6,000) to put in a new boiler because of gas lines. Of course this is based on phone conversations and no actual visit as of yet.

If I can find their nearest office location I'm going to bed down for the night in the lobby, it has to be warm.

November 6, 2006

Theatre on the Rugby Pitch

Much to Stephen’s delight I have increased my ability to watch sport on TV. In other words I can have the game on in the background and still be able to read a book or nap on the couch.

To my delight I have found an aspect of Rugby that I truly enjoy – and only the New Zealand All Blacks team features it – the Maori Haka. This is a war dance performed by any New Zealand sports team prior to competing. Regardless of their heritage all the players participate. It is really a spectacular site.

The players stand in rows and face the opposing team. They crouch into a squat and cross their arms over their chests. They take a few deep breaths and then begin the war cry and dance. Their faces look like tribal masks as they contort their features. Fingers pulse to imitate heat rising from the ground. Screams and shouts in the Maori language reinforce their fierceness. It is no wonder that this is the best team in International Rugby.

The team’s website states “More than any aspect of Maori culture, this complex dance is an expression of the passion, vigour and identity of the race.” Stephen believes that Rugby has brought the European and Maori cultures together in peace. You can never call Rugby peaceful but seeing the dance and then hearing the New Zealand national anthem sung in Maori proves him right. It is a true melding of cultures.

Check out the Haka videos on the All Blacks website.

November 4, 2006

Borat Takes on America

The mocumentary Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan was our cultural intake on Friday night. I laughed so hard that my face still hurts and my eyes are swollen from tears (or maybe the smoky pub that we visited before the film).

Borat is the genius humour of Sacha Baron Cohen. Every minute of this film movie (as Borat says) is entertaining and takes the piss out of the US. If you go to see it try not to be offended by the Jewish humour – that is Jews being the butt of many bits (only a Brit would get that alliteration). Sacha is not only Jewish but he had pretty much the same upbringing as me – Jewish community, education and culture in his every day life. Hum, maybe that's why I find this funny - sorry folks. The depth of the film is Baron Cohen’s ability to let people prove their foolishness by opening the ugly inner-dialogue door and letting them walk through.

My favourite scene is when Borat and his film producer end up in a battle, okay, naked wrestling match, over a Baywatch Magazine. Of course it is the basest moment in the film. Stephen loved a dinner party scene in a nice Southern town and also enjoyed when Borat sings the National Anthem at a Rodeo. Actually, he sings the Nation of Kazakhstan’s anthem to the tune of the American National Anthem. See it to believe it.

Checkout the review from this week’s New York Times.

For a full Borat experience visit his website

Turn up the Heat

Flat update: Heat and hot water still not working but I have now become comfortable with cold showers. The secret is that you need to boil water and put it in a bowl at the bottom of the shower. Then turn on the cold water. Allow it to rush over your head and then distract your senses with a wash cloth covered in warm water. It does cause cramps in your legs as you franticly try to stand on your toes while enjoying the ice cold river flowing down your back. I’ve never felt so alert.

Remarkable but true my hair has never looked so good.

Monday it should all be fixed.

British Gas generously gave us some hot air heaters to take the chill off the air. I’m cuddled up to one and Stephen has the other. How generous they are here with solutions to broken utilities.

November 2, 2006

Bloody Cold in the Flat

The heat and hot water in our flat aren’t working and I’m bloody cold. British Gas comes out tomorrow to fix it but until then it is cold showers and winter coats. I know this sounds very ghetto but I have the oven on and am about to open the door just to defrost my nose.

In the US we take our heat and hot water for granted. Here, you actually set a timer for the hot water to start up in the morning. There is a tiny little heating tank in our kitchen and then in the wall we have a giant cistern that holds the warm water. When they renovated the building for some reason our flat was the place that all the cisterns were placed. We actually have access to all the water tanks for the building. Maybe I can siphon off some warm water from our neighbors.

Outside the weather is beautiful. The days are sunny even if they are cold and crisp. To warm up today I played hooky and went to see the film The Queen mid-day. How indulgent. It was interesting to get the behind-the-scenes take on Her Majesty. Much of the film takes place in Scotland with its beautiful rolling hills and meandering streams. You really do see the influence of the landscape and serenity reflected in the Scottish personality. Seeing the beautiful vistas always makes me think of Stephen and his deep rooted love for nature, hill walking and of course poetry. Maybe I could warm up if I wrap myself in his kilt…