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.

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