Posts Tagged ‘london’

I looked back over my posts to see if I’d written anything more about my non-official internship but couldn’t find anything, which seems like a good indicator for a new post. There is some confusion on what to call myself while discharging my unofficial duties. I’m not associated with a university, so am not a student social worker, and I’ve just learned that to British minds, the term “intern” conjures up images of the incarcerated. As a Qualified Social Worker registered with the General Social Care Council, I will have some clout and be able to command better pay than a social worker’s assistant, but I’m not there yet. So do I say “volunteer social worker”? I guess it’s the best I can come up with now. It would behoove me to speak to more Brits and see what they have to say about it. I had no idea that “intern” is a term really only used by Americans. They say “internship” here, so why aren’t they “interns”?

My destination point is 12.5 miles away from my home, over a couple of hills that I can now recognize as medium-difficulty rises, after accidentally trying ride up a hill so long and so steep that I had to get off to finish it and then being told it was one of the easier hills in south London. Gypsy Hill is not easy for someone on a fixed gear bike. I wonder if I’d like to try it again when I somehow manage to get a geared bike (anyone going from NYC to London anytime soon who would like to be paid to bring an incomplete bike to me? There’s a bike bag and everything!).

After a few weeks of riding the entire 25 mile commute, working 8 hours, and cramming tons of new info into my head, I pooped out and started taking the train in the morning and riding home in the evening. It is glorious! I feel so much more awake and alert, and less grumpy, too! Wednesday, when I changed my start time at work from OMGearly to 10 a.m. I got a little lost on the internet and missed my train so had to ride in. The difference was startling – I was calmer, stronger, and felt better the whole way. I’m not sure whether to put that down to strength, less exhaustion, or the later start time. Either way, while I’m still volunteering, and thus coming in later, I will attempt to ride my bike some mornings as well.

Beginning a new commute is always a bit daunting; I usually Google map things and then do the driving directions, dragging the route around until I craft the shortest line between point A and point B. This is not always the smartest thing to do. Things such as needing to cross busy roads without the benefit of a light, and hills, and how busy a particular stretch of road is must be taken into account. Someone recommended Cycle Streets, a UK cycling route planner, but it gave me this really complicated yet cycle-friendly route that I didn’t feel like memorizing. My present route has me riding on many extremely busy roads, but I’m confident now and generally navigate the difficulties well. I’m enjoying my hills to the extent that I can, and am getting stronger.

Some people ride really fast, all the time, some people ride really slowly, all the time. I’m somewhere in the middle. Sometimes I wish I were as strong as some of the racing girls, but I won’t give up chocolate or ice cream to off-set the added muscle and keep my legs at an acceptable size. I manage 12.5 miles in an hour without feeling like I have to try too hard to keep up the pace, and I’m happy with the speed of my journey. I’m happy with the state of my legs. I’m not the slowest, I’m not the fastest, and I get where I need to go without killing myself. I’m cool with that!

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For the past few weeks we’ve been waiting excitedly for seeds to sprout and be ready to plant out. Sweetcorn, tomatoes, tiny little round carrots, basil, courgettes (that’s zucchini to Americans), sprouting broccoli…I feel like there’s something else but can’t think of what it is…it’s been exciting and frustrating, sitting there staring at them as they come out, get two leaves, grow tall, and then stall. They’re mostly still skinny little things not quite ready to go out, except the courgettes, which went huge! and into the ground today.

We also have various herbs, two lavenders (one blue, one pink), rosemary, coriander (cilantro to Americans and Spanish speakers), chives, thyme, strawberries, tarragon, too many peas, too many onions, too many beets (anyone want some seedlings?), what else…parsley and fennel! We went to the gardening store for soil and of course everything looked awesome, so we bought it. 10 small herbs for £14.99, buy 5, get 6th free veg. Good deal!


The empty spot in the middle you can barely tell is empty is reserved for lettuce! There will be sweetcorn at the back of the left hand side. Courgettes are at the back of the right hand side. Last year when I visited, I got to see G’s plot and I’m now experiencing what she did, that you need a much bigger plot than you think you do. At least we’re not doing many squashes. Their leaves are huge ground coverers. I’ve been remembering my neighbor’s mother’s plot from childhood – it was their entire backyard! All I can remember is that they had lots and lots of cucumbers. We won’t get to do that, I don’t think we’d want to, but I do want to grow more stuff. Potatoes, shallots, onions and garlic are in the works.

Can’t wait until everything’s bigger and really growing! This is our first garden, really excited for eating what we’ve grown ourselves. I thought we ought to test the soil to see if it’s poisonous, being in a city and all, but one of our roommates decided that this area has been housing for at least two hundred years, so we just went with it.

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Yesterday I had an informal interview to talk about doing an “internship” with a local council’s child protection services team. I have registered here in England as a Qualified Social Worker, which basically required having a bachelor’s degree in social work from a recognized school and at least one year of experience in the field. In the aftermath of the deaths of a few children, the warning signs missed by health professionals and ultimately social services professionals, the country has stepped up the requirements for being called a social worker, as well as added more rigorous specifications for registering with the General Social Care Council, the major professional body for social workers in the United Kingdom.

As is frequently the case in many fields, new workers are passed over in favor of people with experience in the field, and adding on to this my status as an American social worker has resulted in a dearth of job options for me. When I finally realized what was happening, I began to research what I would need to do to put myself in a better position to get a job, and started asking people in the field what graduates of programs in the UK would know after going through their social work coursework. Specific laws came to light, such as the Children Acts and Disability Discrimination Acts, both of which are similar enough to laws or broad ideas already at work in the United States that I feel pretty confident on that front, but another is the Assessment Framework, which is slightly different in most, if not all, of London’s councils. This brings me to the topic of “councils”, and London’s city government, which has confused me since I got here. The UK civic framework work is different to anywhere I’ve ever lived; in the States, there is city government, county government, state government and federal government. Different states have different rules regarding which set of lawmakers trumps which, but the balance between states’ rights vs. federal and what is laid out in the Constitution and its ammendments is the framework overarching all of it.

That is the quick and simple explanation of the US system because that’s all I remember from civics class and exposure to local and national news (including teh interweb, of course). Having been in the UK less than a year, I have less of a grasp on how the government works here but for me, the most striking difference hasn’t been monarchy or parliament but the councils that I mentioned above. From what I understand, anything located inside the M25 is considered Greater London. It is separated into areas known as councils, which, now that I think about it, must be somewhat similar to NYC, which is comprised of five boroughs, and is headed by a city mayor with each borough sub-governed by a president. London is governed by a mayor, Boris “Look I’m One Of You Because I Don’t Fix My Hair” Johnson, and split up into 32 boroughs, run by councils. What confuses me is how none of them seem to have any sort of interconnected, overarching government body to streamline city services (Oh look, I’m wrong. And here’s the LGA, an “advocate for the local government sector in England and Wales”). Some councils have plastic bins for garbage collection, some allow their residents to feed the urban foxes by having them keep garbage bags outside by themselves. Various public service operations in place in different councils also have different systems for determining the levels of need for access to care and no real interconnectedness. I think that this probably contributes to people slipping through the cracks, benefits fraud, child welfare problems, and other issues relating to social service use and funding as well as the problems within the NHS. It’s like the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.

And to finally bring me back to my title and main purpose for this post, my days of leisure and crushing boredom are numbered. I am proposing to enter this melee, and hoping to be able to help in the effort to make a difference for the children of one particular patch of London. I am nervous about how I will be received by families, both as a foreigner and as a social services worker. Apparently the UK has a strong history of distrust of social services, the use of which is widely stigmatized. The idea of safeguarding children by watching for signs of abuse or neglect, and also simply assessing children and their families to see what help they may need to enable them to conduct their lives with purpose is noble and interesting, but the difficulties on the ground for workers seems exaggerated here by high levels of paperwork required by social workers, that don’t seem to be all that helpful in and of themselves. Streamlining services, allowing various agencies and areas of government to better communicate with one another, all these things have always interested me a great deal. Maybe I’ll end up in policy, where I always thought I might.

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Sunday morning, heading back south of the river from Bow, I was on the number 78 and crossing Tower Bridge when I looked out the window and had my first I-love-London moment. One day later, walking back over a different bridge at night, bike and boyfriend along this time, I had another. Maybe it’s just the river that I love. I’m not sure at this point because shortly thereafter, looking out over it from a pier, at a pink-floodlit building and houseboats moored at the center, trees lit up with blue and white lights, it just all seemed so surreal! I live in London! I have to learn how to get around on my bike! And on buses! Will I ever feel as well-settled as I did in NYC? I pretty much immediately took to that city though I did need about three years to feel like I lived there and wasn’t just visiting.

Two more days to the wedding! Tomorrow I finally get to meet the boyfriend’s mom, we’re so excited both our moms can be here for this! Many errands to do today; I pick up our rings and exchange his belt for the smaller one, and yes, I will ride my bike there. Eeek! I forgot to ask his help with the route! It’s up to me today, thank goodness I got up early (8 a.m.)!

Grocery store run for ingredients for root veg & lentil soup, homemade bouillon and enchiladas. That’ll probably be two runs unless I go on the bus, of which there are no convenient single-bus runs between us and the store.

We got our dress/suit back from the cleaners yesterday, mine’s floofing in the open bedroom but I still think I’ll need a petticoat. We have shoes, ties, hankies, makeup, jewelry, haircuts, … have I forgotten anything? *grin* We’ll know Saturday, won’t we?

OMG! Panic! Will I get everything done! Gotta get on it, starting with the three Ses.

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I’ll be back in baby’s arms this time tomorrow!

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Is this one of those times when my parsimony, like a tired slip, is peeking out from under my normally gaudy exterior? When I will live to regret not spending a few more ducats in the face of such grand improvements to my life? Yes, possibly. After accruing over $5,000 in credit card debt on the way to trying to be allowed to stay in England with my fiancé, I am staring down the barrel of just another $150 and quavering at its enormity. This time it won’t be spent in gathering more than the bare minimum items of clothing necessities (like, could I have please just told myself that I could afford two pairs of those delicious Diesel jeans that I can no longer find? the ones that are just so perfect I could die and go to heaven in them?) but would be spent to improve my eyesight.

Seven years ago I spent a number of ducats I gained through bodily injury – two car accidents suffered in under one month. After some time, and some lawerly wrangling, I was awarded a princely sum and felt I could afford to have Lasik eye surgery. It really was awesome. And I spent $150 per eye (there’s that number again!) extra so that I could have a lifetime guarantee of satisfaction. I am on the brink of now having the surgery again, but that little bit extra required, a $150 eye exam, and not being 100% sure whether the surgery is yet needed stays my hand when I reach for the phone to set an appointment. Is it really that bad? Could I not wait? What if there are side effects? What if I have the exam, spend the money, and find out my eyes aren’t bad enough for another surgery?

Ojala que vaya en Londres soon enough, and then I won’t be able to get it for several more years. Do I want to put up with glasses if it gets bad enough? Or do I just suck it up and spend the monies now? Tough call.

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Moving temporarily to East Dulwich (south of the Thames, somewhat centralish, for those of you not in London) in order to leave house owned and lived in by landlord we were forced to have arrested, who is now embraced by the long arm of the law. We have been offered a garret room of romantically small proportions (and a slanting roof and a window cut into the slanting roof) free of charge for two months in exchange for house and back garden DIY. These past three days of semi-squatting have been mentally taxing. I say “semi-squat” because we have paid and are thus allowed to be here but feel weird and want out ASAP. Today we meet up with the guy whose house we’ll be moving into for the handover of keys. This all comes at a fortuitous time, he’s about to go on holiday tomorrow and we need to save money. Tomorrow another friend with access to a work van has agreed to shuttle our stuff from Point A to Point B.

The flat is an utter wreck and I feel somewhat crap about that. I’ll be forced by my own conscience, despite our landlord’s actions, to vacuum the hallway and to put the kitchen to rights. That’s not a big deal. Then we’ll have to leave a note for the back tenant to take the trash and recycling out on Tuesday night since we (God in Heaven) won’t be here.

East Dulwich is a working class neighborhood with a more racially diverse population than Ealing. It feels a bit like Brooklyn and is as cut off from the rest of London as Red Hook is. There are no Underground lines, hardly any bus lines and only London Overground and National Rail. That’s fine, because it’s not permanent. And it’s about 6 miles to London Bridge and quite a bit closer to O & K than Ealing so we can visit more regularly (I hope). Also will be one n’hood over from my new friend A, an American girl from Tennessee who is baking my birthday cake. We trade pilates for massage, it’s awesome. Don’t think we’ll be able to do that for a while as I would feel really bad to take over the living room of the temporary lodgings unless I knew no one else was in the house.

Also, through some quirk or other, we’ve had no hot water for the past few days. Cold water showers in England are bitingly cold. I think we had summer, it was like a week long, in the 80s, and they called it a “heat wave”. Last night I was shivering and had to wear my hoodie. Today is the Bright Times vol. III BBQ at South drinks (The Coach and Horses). The boyfriend is making Mexican rice & beans. I wanted to make the luscious mac & cheese with pickled chiles that A made last week but gave in when the boyfriend made an oh-please-can-I? face.

I hope to have photos of charmingly tiny room soon. Finally found the battery charger for the digital camera.

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Damn, dudes! 10-14 days to be delivered from Israel to London when you say it was shipped today? I doubt it was shipped today. Though, come to think of it, maybe it’s Saturdays and not Sundays that the post offices are closed?

Going on an awesome group ride today – only ladies! 50 Fixed Women ride (though many of the ladeez won’t be riding fixed gear bicycles) from Buckingham Palace to Richmond Park where we’ll bbq or maybe just picnic. I’m bringing mangoes. Boys/stalkers/others may meet us at the Coach and Horses south of the river when we get there.

I’m trying to be proactive and get back on the bike ASAP but have a bit of nervousness b/c I’ll be riding about 7 miles by myself. Thank god it’s Sunday morning.

Coffee, toast, I’m off!

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Yesterday I received in the mail a package of clothing from the States. Ahhh…bliss, I’m wearing all my favorite summer clothes again. Cute tops, my shorts and capris (thank god, no more hot denim in the sun!) and even a few dresses! It’s enough to lift my spirits. Spirits have been low lately due to a lack of information on the job front and a lack of ability to work in NYC during the time I have to go back to the States. As I am still not registered with the GSCC, finding jobs in London has been difficult. It’s not impossible but it looks as though I’ll have to go out of even Greater London, into nearby towns like Essex or Hertfordshire in order to find work. At the very least it will be good interview practice as I haven’t interviewed anywhere in the last four years.

Last week I saw cricket played, and participated in the playing, for the first time in my life. I’d seen maybe 45 continuous seconds of cricket, in a movie, once. Maybe 2 seconds on t.v., before someone changed the channel. The rules of classic cricket, as taught by children, are rather easy to grasp and I have to thank my bicycle riding for enabling me to chase after tennis balls for an hour and a half straight. I even got to hit the ball using one of those bats I first saw in Shawn of the Dead. Yep, I’m American.

Recently changed back to the 19t cog at the back and have bitty knee pains. We did this b/c the boyfriend sold me the excess set of wheels (Miche Primato hubs laced to Araya CT-19N gunmetal grey rims if you’re feelin’ nerdy) and I have to give back the 20t cog I was borrowing from someone else. Mostly cos I didn’t feel like cleaning the 20t cog. So, in short order, I will have almost everything new on my bike. Bought a new crank set (the bits that the pedals attach to and including a 47t chain ring) that is the correct length for me, have new bars (need a new stem), have a “new” seatpost, new wheels, and am picking up a new saddle on lend tomorrow.

It will be nice to really suit the bike to me. Then I’ll need to sell a few bits & bobs, which will make up what I have had to lay out to get this stuff.

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I swear to god, this country’s weather is insane! I can’t stop talking about it! I want to do a video of a rainy day. It was raining! Then it wasn’t! And the skies were blue! And then the sky was black! And it was raining really hard! And now it’s just spitting.

Forgot to mention, I don’t have mudflaps on the bike. Go go Gadget buttstain!

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