Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Home Of Our Own

Hampstead Studio
It feels a little like each time I write here I begin with the words "sorry it's been so long, but things have been mad". The trouble is that's the simple truth. We've been flat out for weeks, and really haven't had a chance to catch our breath. Since I last wrote we have: moved out of the studio apartment, moved into a flat, stocked the flat with furniture, entertained Bob's parents, had adventures and craziness with work, raced all over London. For a start.

The problem we are facing is that in all significant ways we've been racing the red queen's race for over a year - either planning to move, preparing to move, packing, moving, unpacking, planning how to settle - and really really want to stop running. It's going to be a few weeks yet before we get that chance though.

Hampstead Studio

So. Yes. We moved out of the studio apartment we were in at Hampstead two weeks ago. We were in there much longer than we had initially intended, and were definitely getting cabin fever toward the end, but it was a good place to start. In theory it was a two-person studio apartment, but the reality was that having two people in there was predicated on one person sitting very still on the couch bed. Kitchen, bathroom and bed/lounge were all squeezed into a space about 2m wide and 4m long, a testament to how much Ikea furniture can be crammed into that space. The bathroom was sufficiently large to stand up in, although not to bend over to wash your face in the sink without opening the door. The kitchen managed to contain a fridge, a freezer, a microwave, a sink and a stove in a desk-sized space - amazing what you can fit in cupboards. The rest of the space was taken up with a couch bed and some shelves. We did have a small court yard outside for our own use as well, and that helped a lot to make the space feel larger, and we used it a little - it was a good place for a cup of coffee in the snow.
Waiting for the cab

Despite it being small and expensive, it was a good place to start. Hampstead was reasonably close for getting into the city, the Heath was quarter of an hour walk away, and there were a lot of decent cafés, restaurants and grocery stores in walking or bus distance. On top of that, all the utilities including a TV and internet were included in the price, removing a lot of things for us to have to deal with organising for ourselves. I would like to think that we will miss the place, but since I know that we could fit it in the loungeroom here... I probably won't.

18th C Bombard
The big reveal: we are living at Woolwich Arsenal, in a penthouse flat looking out over the Thames. The DLR, and a railway station, are 10 minutes walk away, the ferry to town is closer (although it takes an hour). There are parks right here, a resident's gym 100 meters away, and our own pub. And to top it off the Royal Artillery Museum is right here. The majority of the buildings on the site are reconditioned and renovated warehouses and factory buildings from around 1850, mostly heritage listed (which means they can tear out the interiors as long as they leave the facades), and the area is gorgeous. Photos to come when the sun comes out - this has been the first week or so when it has really rained, and the light has not been quite right for a wander around to get good shots. That will come though, and you will get lots of photos of cannons - the site is littered with museum pieces, and this little bombard is outside our front door.

Thus Arsenal Inn is now open for business, and we're taking bookings. The spare room has been outfitted with a bright red couch bed, and there is some furniture, at least enough to get started. The first weekend and week were... strenuous. We'd organised to pick up the keys and do the paper work on the afternoon of Friday 13th, and nipped across from my workplace to meet the agent. We'd never been to their office, and so spent twenty minutes on site trying to find them. Still, no harm done, we signed where we needed to sign, got keys, hugged each other, and jumped back on the train to go back to Hampstead. We'd promised ourselves a night out to celebrate, and so went to the Wet Fish Café for a very nice meal, and an even nicer bottle of wine followed up by very nice port. Except around 10:30 pm my phone rang, because the system at work had exploded in a spectacular fashion. Back to the Hampstead flat, and logged on, hammering away until about midnight. Collapsed into bed... and then the phone rang at 2:00 AM because it had exploded in a slightly different fashion. We finally got back to sleep around 5:00 AM, but then had to get up at 7:00 AM to cart stuff to Woolwich. We gave up on our original plan, and booked a cab to do it in one trip - we could not face doing it in three or four trips by the tube.
A Bed of Our Own!
The rest of the weekend is a blur. We had our bed - pre-ordered - delivered about 2:00 pm on Saturday. Bob was racing around various department stores getting bed linen and towels and soap, and cleaning stuff. I was racing around getting cutlery and crockery, and then had a very stressful adventure with IKEA. We'd made one trip out to one of the IKEAs (way over on the west side of London, a long train trip and shuttle bus trip away) a few weeks prior just to look at things and grab a catalog and plan out some initial bits and pieces. Early on the Sunday I headed out to get the initial bits and pieces, while Bob went off to get bean bags from the Bean Bag Shop at Camden Markets. I realised while I was getting stuff that we'd seriously underestimated the size of the task: I was grabbing four dining chairs, two bar stools, an expanding table, a couch bed, and a variety of containers, bins and boxes. Loading up the trolley full of enormous flat pack boxes, it was evident that there was no way I would get it through the checkout on one trolley, so I went through, paid for the first lot, and went to the delivery counter. And that's where it went horribly wrong: despite what I'd been told at the front door of the store, they would NOT deliver to Woolwich in less than 7 working days. I had to make arrangements with one of the taxi companies hanging around the door to look after the first trolley while I went and stocked up the other half of the order. We wedged everything into a van not really big enough for the goods, and for both of us, and headed back. Never again. It was a ridiculously long trip, ridiculously expensive trip, and ridiculously tiring. I got back in time for Bob to help get the mountain of boxes up to the flat before the rain came, and then we headed back out to Camden, arriving just in time to grab a startling bright red huge bean bag, and an even more startling bright yellow huger bean bag. Which they assured us could be taken on the tube. Bob's got some photos to post - I think we are the first people who had carted them off on the tube.
Our first meal, with our own STUFF!
The rest of the week and last weekend was rinse and repeat. We headed out each night to get stuff, bootstrapping ourselves up in an expensive hurry: Bob's parents were arriving on our doorstep last Monday and we had to get to a position to be able to offer at least some hospitality. Still, we're pretty well set now. We've got bed linin and towels and so forth, we have lots of pillows, and enough furniture to live on. We've got a purple toaster and jug, a bright pink piggy bank, soldier egg-cups and Moomin mugs, and a squid whisk, several fry pans and sauce pans, and tea towels. Once we're done decorating we'll get photos of that too: we've decided that we would not be subtle with colours as we decorate, and are aiming to fill the place with lots (and lots (and lots)) of stupidly bright clashing primary colours, aiming for the same vibe as a kindergarten. Did I mention we have a squid whisk?

On top of and around this my work was pretty insane for a week, and then this past week I had a few conferences and workshops to attend and was kind of crazed for time and energy. Bob performed wonders, sorting out our internet access and phone, as well as keeping her parents entertained. So, we're getting there. We've had our gym induction, and sorted the paperwork out there, and will have the access keys on Monday (then have 24 hour access). We've got ourselves sorted out with training at the London Longsword Academy with Dave Rawlings, Bob's got herself sorted out with a Morris side. Oh, and we went to a rapper festival (not what you think) in a couple of pubs in Soho, and so she's getting into that as well. We've started talking to re-enactment groups to get ourselves into the scene. So despite running ourselves ragged, we're bootstrapping ourselves up from having nothing but what we could carry on our backs, and knowing nobody, and knowing nothing.

Dancers at the Rapper Tournament in a Soho Pub 
Bob's proof that she was at DERT
It's not been an unpleasant period though. Despite the rain this week - we can't seem to convince Bob's parents that this past week has been the first we week we've had here, Spring has truly sprung, and there are flower beds full of flowers everywhere

There are decorations and art everywhere in this town. Everywhere we go is a melange of tacky, grubby, shiny, sparkling, elegant and banal, all layered over each other. Most of the underground stations for instance have themed decorations - Sherlock Holmes (of course) at Baker Street, medieval illustrations at Charing Cross, and these Ghryphons in the tiles at Bank

Bemused Bob at Bank
 There seems to be a willingness to do Big Things here, a boldness, even when it's tacky. So at one end of the Stable Markets, where it blends into the Camden Markets, are these two massive emissaries from the future, outside the Cyberpunk district of the markets.

So, we're getting there. I'll leave you with Bob, because she's got a new scarf.