Sunday, September 30, 2012

Induction Day

Yesterday was much better. I went with my roommates to Engage Education’s Induction Day and on the way I noticed that a café around the corner from the house offers Wi Fi – FINALLY! Will definitely be going to check that out tomorrow. A university was hosting Induction Day in one of their lecture halls and there was something of a relay as Engage consultants took turns leading us where we needed to be. Craig was first, waiting right by the gate, and told me right away that he’d received an email from my mom who said she hadn’t heard from me and was worried. I had warned him that my mom worried easily and was not at all surprised by this. He told me he’d give me his phone later and I could email back that I was okay.

We went into where the workshops were to be held and I ended up sitting next to a girl name Christa who had been in North Bay along with my roommates. She asked me if everything was okay since I seemed a little choked up and I explained about my mom. Immediately, she pulled out her phone, loaded its web browser and told me to go ahead and email her. I could have kissed her! It was such a generous and wonderful thing to do and I wasted no time dropping my mom a line. Christa and I chatted some more and she turned out to be really great and, dang, I finally made myself friend! And, for the record, yes, I sucked at friend-making in elementary school too. Christa has been over hear almost a month now, but only started at the schools this last week or so. Unfortunately, she works in the Southeast – totally the opposite end of the city from me – but we exchanged emails and cell numbers so that we’d each have someone to turn to for support when we need it.

The workshops – which was really just one long lecture divided into four parts by snack breaks – were interesting and gave me a good framework of how it will likely go in the schools next week with a healthy helping of advise thrown on top for good measure. They were run by two school heads – one from a secondary school, one from a junior school – who had a wealth of personal experience and knowledge to draw on. It was great, and the food offered was pretty great too.

After the workshops everyone was headed over to a bar for drinks. I hung back to get my phone sorted out and they ended up giving me a new one  rather than trying to figure out what was wrong with the old one. This one claims to have £1 of credit but Charlie, the JSA rep I talked to this time around, said the £10 credit should come along soon enough. I have my doubts but, hey, it’s more than the zero credit first phone had. Also listened to explain how expense claims work to Christa – basically, the government taxes your net salary twenty per cent (yup, seriously, 20%), so the expense claims serve to lower what’s to be taxable net down to a minimum of £250 (minimum wage). This means that if I make £440 in a week and can claim, say, £200 in expenses, I get taxed on £240 instead of the full £440 for that week. Between this, the internet and the bank I am really starting to miss the simplicity of Canada.

Christa and I, along with another group of teachers, tagged along with Craig and another consultant to the bar…mostly because they knew where it was and we didn’t. Engage covered the drinks – I probably broke the bank with the two cokes I had, while Christa had a Smirnoff first and later a coke. Christa also sprang for food – a cheese pizza (they gave new meaning to flat bread!) and fries – that we split. I offered to pay half but she argued that she’d already worked a week and been paid while mine was still pending. That girl is way too nice for her own good.
After a couple of hours, and with the noise so loud you couldn’t think let alone chat, Christa and I had both had enough and decided to head home. She had GPS on her phone so it wasn’t too hard to get ourselves back to the train station, although naturally we needed two separate stations but everything worked out. I stopped by a Sainbury’s (grocery store – one is supposed to open just up the street from the house next week) that was right beside the train station and picked up a 2L bottle of Pepsi (£1), a package of sliced chicken breast and another of sliced turkey breast (2 for £3), a litre of semi skimmed milk (£0.89), a small tub of peanut butter (£1.49), a loaf of bread (£0.85) and a bag of 6 small flavour ripe tomatoes (£1) for a total of £8.77. I asked a train employee for the best route back to the house and, bang, I was back by 9:30PM.

Took a shower, snuggled up in bed with Sherlock on my DVD player and my laptop to write up some more blog posts. Despite getting teary and choked up when Craig mentioned my mom being worried for me, I have now made it two days – three if you count today – without actual crying – I consider this a win.  Roommates went off to find a library…I think…and run some errands. Tiffany showed me how to work the stove (which, apparently, is called a “hub” here) this morning – it’s a scary thing that involves gas and sparks so, no, I’m not a fan. I braved it anyway and had porridge for breakfast. Tomorrow is my first day teaching and I’m really excited…and scared…but mostly excited. I’m most worried I’ll sleep through my alarm – EMBARASSING! – and lose out. No idea yet where I’ll be or what grade I’ll be working with.

I’m heading out now to test out the Wi Fi at that café around the corner I mentioned yesterday. Fingers crossed – maybe I’ll even luck out and chat my mom on Google Chat!

{UPDATE: Found the cafe, got the internet, updated my blog but missed the chance to chat with mom. Due to lack of outlet and battery life limitations, I have to go home now! Still, was nice to see civilization goes on without me, LOL - even got angry messages from siblings for not making contact sooner...and leaving in the first place because, of course, he waits until AFTER I go to tell me to stay. Didn't cry - just got teary eyed. Go me!)

Friday, September 28, 2012


I cried myself to sleep last night. I’m not going to lie, I’m not going to sugar coat it, and I’m not going to omit it. It’s the truth, it’s fact, it happened. Yesterday, I was miserable. I feel like my roommates have a clique going on that I can’t seem to get in on. Social skills were never my strong suit, even under the best circumstances, but when you toss in jet lag and misery…the blame is probably weighted on my side. Cue sigh. I want to start teaching, partly because it’ll be a nice distraction and partly because my worries about it are getting annoying and I want to put them to bed. I want the internet, perhaps more than anything else. I want to scope out what’s been happening with all the season finales and see what the British laws are regarding watching television series online or if the British television stations here have websites set up like those in Canada and the USA where I can watch their programming free. But mostly, I want to email my mom and my friends.

I spent today reading. I had nowhere to go, nothing to do and the internet was supposed to be set up today. Turns out, however, that I’d misunderstood that little tidbit. Remember when I said UK banking was ridiculous? Well there seems to be a competition going to see who can complicate their business the most. The internet people were supposed to send someone to check the lines or something but then seemed to change their minds when they realized there are already lines set up here…although they were a little unclear about that. They are also mailing the router and it should be arriving sometime next week. In Canada, you want internet, you call, they come the next day, they bring the router with them, they tinker around for a bit and presto! Internet! Here it’s takes FOREVER and somewhere between them and the roommates the what, when, how, where, and why get terribly muddled. Ack. I don’t even know what’s going on with that any more but, for the love all gods, I’d better find Wi Fi around here or something soon! My mother’s going to kill me.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

First Adventures

Today was a nightmare. I got up at nine, took a shower, got dressed. This was the best part of my day. I then, with laptop in tow so I could e-mail my mom if I found Wi-Fi access, walked down to Acton Town tube station where I bought my Oyster and asked for directions to Watford Junction where Engage has their offices. Easy. I asked directions from the tube assistant fellow and set off to find South Acton station. The problem, however, was that someone had decided to build an apartment building where my cul-de-sac was supposed to be so I, thinking I had gotten mixed up and was supposed to turn left instead right, did so. Fortunately, I ran into a little old lady and asked for help. She gave me a lecture about how all this construction is making it so no one can find anything anymore and escorted me to the new route. Found South Acton and proceeded to ask the employee manning the counter how to use the Oyster card. Basically just like the OPUS cards at home except that you use them at both ends of your route so your card can adjust the price accordingly. The trip thereafter was pretty straightforward and easy to navigate.

At Watford Junction, I found the Engage offices fairly easily and went on up, thanks to the help of a rather friendly security guard. I had no idea what to do once I reached their office, mind you, but there were tons of worker bees buzzing about all eager to be of help so I told one of them I was there to see Craig. Of course, since I haven’t got the luck the Gods gave Murphy, Craig was in a meeting with a school headmaster. But, because Fate decided that the rest of my day would be bad enough, it turns out I have a back-up coordinator named Sean (who, I kid you not, looks EXACTLY like a young Ryan Gosling). Incidentally, their title, as it turns out, is actually “consultant.” My bad. Sean set me up in a little room with some last minute paperwork – including an application to get my teaching credentials converted to the UK equivalent – and a glass of tropical punch. I had a little bit of confusion over how to fill out one section – did they want the university information or the Ontario College of Teachers information? I wished they told me that I’d need to fill something like that out; my actual certification was sitting uselessly back in my room at the house.

When that was done, Sean asked me how it was going settling in and I told him it was fine, more or less, but that I needed to find Wi Fi soon and e-mail home before my mom called Scotland Yard and set the hounds on me. Sean told me I could call home if I liked right then and there and, because one should never pass up a free call home, I jumped at the chance…and got the answering machine. I wasn’t kidding when I said landing a spare consultant had used up Fate’s good graces for the day where I was concerned. Sean – and Craig, who’d finally appeared and kept bounding from the room to fetch various visual aids – then explained that every day I didn’t already have an assignment had to see me calling them by 7.30AM. If ever they called any time after 7.30 and I wasn’t set to run out the door, I could kiss my guaranteed work status goodbye. But no pressure or anything. Sigh. The meeting ended with them giving me a map (one of the aforementioned visual aids) and setting me off to find the JSA offices, JSA being the payroll company responsible for paying me.

I found the place fairly easily but, holy hell, their door is a pain in the butt! You go in one door and then are stuck in a teeny tiny little space between the door you came in and the one you need to go through until you call up to reception via an intercom on the door to be buzzed through. I met with a man named David who ran me through the details of how to register my time sheets and claim my expenses, gave me a phone, accepted my application for a National Insurance Number and gave me a letter to be used at the HSBC down the street to open my bank account. Piece of cake.

My first (yup, as in there were more) trip to the bank led to my making an appointment for an hour later and having to go back to JSA because my phone was lacking the £10 credit. David took the phone, went off in back, and returned saying the phone should get its credit within forty-eight hours.

My second trip to the bank led to the discovery that the letter had the wrong address on it – it was supposed to verify my Canadian address and instead had my UK address. Groan. Back to JSA I went for a new letter after making an appointment at the bank for an hour later with a different girl, this one named Grace.

My third trip to the bank led to Grace noticing that the letter had been printed on the wrong letter head and so didn’t have the address or contact information for JSA. Back to JSA again. My FOURTH trip was due to the letter having been signed by someone on behalf of someone else. I had to go back to JSA yet again so that someone who was actually there could put their own name and signature on the dang letter. And just so you know, walking from HSBC to JSA and back again is like walking back and forth along Saint Catherine’s street from the Chapters to the Indigo. Fun it was not. Bright side, however, is that by the end of it all I got my stupid account open. The bloody thing costs £8 a month but after six months I can switch it to a normal account provided I can prove I actually live in the UK which should be a blast.

Oh! And the HSBC? And banking in the UK? HUGE pain in the butt. They mail me my debit card – which makes sense – but they also mail me my PIN but guess what? They mail the two SEPARATELY. In Canada, I set up my RBC account, got a temporary card right away and chose my own PIN. Here they’re big on the security and seem to think this is the best and most secure way to go about things. And then there’s the online banking which, on top of a password and username and security questions, also demands a six digit number generated by this little thingy that looks like a mini keypad. It’s beyond paranoid and just a little scary.

Somehow along my adventures I also picked up a duvet (£6) and a fitted sheet (£6.99 – ridiculous, I know) and made a trip to Pound Land where  I grabbed four cans of soup (2 for £1), spaghetti pasta (£1), a box of eight packets of porridge (£1) and a 1.24L bottle of Coca Cola (£1). There was a pigeon at Pound Land stuck inside that, after failing to pass through the window with fluttering and pecking, flew to the back of the store and returned like a missile to try to force his way through. Poor thing damaged its wing and likely more with that try and all he’d wanted was to be free, to go home. I could relate.

Made my way home after that. Working the transport system was pretty simple, considering I just had to go in reverse of the way I’d come, but naturally when I came out of the station at South Acton it looked nothing like what it had when I want in. I asked a woman for directions back to Acton Town and the next thing I know she (her name turned out to be Lucy) and her sons (Nikolai and Daniel) were walking me home. Turns out they were Bulgarian and live on the next block over. Huh. Fancy that.

Roommates were all here when I came in. Awkward small talk ensued and, since I know that the roommates get along great amongst themselves (I can hear them chatting and laughing when I’m not in the room) I’m getting the strong impression that the awkward factor is a me thing. Or I could be paranoid. Take your pick.

I’m now in my room writing and watching Thor on my portable DVD player. I can’t wait for tomorrow – anything short of apocalypse would have today beat.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The House

The house has a lovely exterior. Inside there’s a very small entry way that leads to rather steep stairs on the left and a hall leading into a very open and lovely living room on the right. Through the living room is the small but quaint kitchen with pigmy appliances. No, seriously, the appliances here are like midgets compared to the ones at home – I’m taller than the fridge for crying out loud! The kitchen also has what (I think is called) a free range stove that I think may be gas…but don’t quote me on that. The backyard is oddly shaped but nice…or so I thought until I caught a glimpse of the rat calling it home. A rat, I kid you not, was running about the backyard just like you’d expect a squirrel to do except that, by gods, this was a RAT. I’ve since decided that the backyard looks best through the glass doors of the living room rather than from outside.  Also downstairs is a reception room turned bedroom that Jessica uses.

Upstairs has the bathroom – hands down the most modern room in the house – immediately to your left and in front of you are two doors leading to my other roommate’s bedrooms. On the far right is my room. It is TINY.  Like a postage stamp but smaller. I think prison cells might be larger. It has a double bed and a wardrobe and the space leftover is just enough that the door to room and those to the wardrobe can all open ninety degrees without hitting anything. The window – which is a decent size – has  pale metallic brown curtains, a view into the front yard and a sill that is as wide as my hand. There is exactly one electrical outlet and it’s behind my bed.

After unpacking and exploring the house some, I tried out the outlet converter and blew up my surge protector. Whoops. I went for a walk to explore the neighbourhood. There’s nothing all that exciting to see but I did find the tube station and a couple of little shops that may be promising depending on their prices. Called my mom collect from a pay phone when I failed to find Wi-Fi access – took me talking to FOUR different operators before one them finally just dialed home for me. Naturally, calling my mom got me crying again. Came back to the house and slept for a bit. Woke up when two of the roomies – Dana and Jessica – came home. Tiffany came back about an hour after that. Out of sync with them right now so far as conversations go; they were all about their assignments and the classrooms and the kids…I had an uneventful flight and jet lag. Conversational fonts these topics are not.

Came up to my room about eight-thirty and decided to try out the outlet converter again. I figured the surge protector was to blame and plugged my Batman alarm clock into first one converter and then the other (I brought two)…it didn’t blow up. Unfortunately, the converter has a habit of turning itself off every now and then as a safety precaution. Okay for electronics that can hold a charge like my laptop and portable DVD player, not so good for the alarm clock. Put alarm clock (and fried surge protector) in suitcase – all of which then went up thanks to my roomies into the attic to be stored.

My first night in London ended with me settling in to watch Thor on my portable DVD player and then going to bed. Oh, the high life!

Arrival Woes

So. I have arrived in London. Yesterday, I left the only home I’ve ever known, boarded a plane, and crossed an ocean for a whole new adventure. This moment would probably have been much, much more momentous had I been able to stop crying. All day yesterday, I spent it with my mommy. I had some last minute things to pick up – like a medical alert charm for my bracelet (I’m allergic to penicillin) and then I just sat on the couch while we both worked on our laptops and watched TV. My brother had to go to court and testify about an accident he’d witnessed a few months back and my mom went with him. She hugged me before she left like she was never going to let me go and cried. I waited until she and JR left before crying myself. When my daddy came home, we ate supper together and then he loaded up the car and off we went. There was more crying. And I realized I’d left my Magic Jack behind which just made me cry some more – I won’t be able to call until my parents mail it to me.

At the airport, Daddy dropped me off at the door with my luggage and left to park car. When he came back though he had to return to the car again to get my cane. He wheeled the trolley up to the baggage check area and made dumb jokes to the British Airways attendant that made me laugh and the lady glare. My worrisome green back I was sure would be overweight turned out to, indeed, be overweight, but only by one pound so, yay, no charge. Daddy then carried my carry-on bag (incidentally, it was so heavy that its shoulder strap would later snap while I carried it to a seating area not ten minutes later)  to the security check point and reminded me that I’d be back. I hugged him and cried. I went through security in tears. The guard actually asked if I wanted him to get my dad to come back so I could a few more minutes. If he’d done that though, I never would have left so I declined and went on through. I missed Mommy and Daddy before I’m Daddy had even reached his car. I’m a Daddy’s girl. And a Mommy’s girl. Deal with it.

I flagged down the gate taxi instead and got a lift to my gate – a good thing since it was, literally, at the other end of the airport. Cried some more. Checked my e-mail and posted to Facebook. Then got to enjoy pre-booking status on account of my hip and visible cane. The plane had two cabins of weird sleeper chairs, one section of really comfy chairs and then the economy class took up the second half of the plane. On the right hand side of the plane, I sat in the second row and had an aisle seat. There was no one sitting in front of me, a rather nice Bulgarian girl next to me and an older black lady who slept the entire had what would been the window seat had there actually been a window there. I was actually worried I wasn’t going to be able to watch any in-flight entertainment with no seat in front of me, seeing as how screen are attached to the back of seats, but it turned out I had a screen that folded down under the armrest and a tray that folded out from the actual armrest itself so, yay, no worries!

Take off went smoothly – I actually love the feeling of lift off – and the flight itself went great with only a couple of turbulent patches. British Airways has it so passengers can select their own in-flight entertainment, rather than showing two or three movies themselves that everyone onboard watches. They had a ton of options too, so I watched Dark Shadows (which was boring with bad pacing) and The Avengers (which I’d seen before but was still awesome) and then in the remaining time watched Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

Luckily the CSI episode was one I’d seen before because the last ten minutes was cut off by our approach to Heathrow. Landing was boring – with no window I couldn’t see anything outside and, unlike the steepness you have with takeoff, landing in more shallow. I managed to catch a glimpse out of the window in front of us though when we touched down and the first thing I saw on British soil? The Canadian maple leaf on the tail of an Air Canada plane. I found it incredibly ironic.

I gathered my stuff and left the plane. Went through Customs and, unlike with my trip to Italy, my passport was stamped! Or, rather, my visa but it’s in the passport so it still counts! Retrieving my luggage was easy – all three bags were one after the other on the conveyer. Several panicked moments ensued when I left the arrival area, however, and went out into the airport proper but could not find my promised lift. Someone was supposed to be standing there with my name on a sign but, guess what? While there were lots of people standing about with names on signs, none of those names were mine. I was just about to break out my laptop and e-mail my UK coordinator when a man walked through the door with “ENGAGE EDUCATION ” and my last name on his sign.

His name was Ian. Can I just say how very unsettling it is to be picked up by a total stranger in a foreign land you just arrived in? Ian was very nice, however, and he told me I was very fortunate that he was, indeed, British and not one of the many immigrant taxi drivers who wouldn’t know English if it leapt out and bit them on the nose. Naturally, the first elevator we tried to get down to the parking area was out of order and locked us in for a few minutes. Escape the elevator of doom and went to Ian’s van, only to learn that the address to the realtor’s office (where I had to go to collect my keys to the house I’d be living in) had been muddled in the transference between Engage and Ian. So I broke out my trusty laptop (who was apparently jet lagged and decided to be testy so, ergo, not so trusty after all) and locked at the address on the tenancy agreement.

We proceeded to get lost trying to get to the realtor’s office and the still-not-trusty laptop was needed again to find out her phone number. Finally found out way there. I went in, signed the contract I’d already signed again so it would be on the same hard copy as my roommates, got my keys and went back out to Ian. He drove me to the house without incident and I got to play with the keys while he got my luggage from the car. I came inside, Ian brought in my bags, I thanked him and off he went, probably to find a less complicated fare, the poor man.