31 January, 2006

anniversary














It's a month since we arrived on these shores, and I must say I think we haven't done too badly. Avery has had nearly four weeks in her new school to adjust to maths in the plural, French, Latin, netball, expositionary recitals, religious education, non-verbal-reasoning (still don't know what that is), drama, dancing, swimming, and 18 new friends.

John has had two European jaunts and has settled in nicely at work. We've managed to spend three weeks in a semi-disgusting temporary flat necessitated by the kitties, who aside from sneezing a lot, lord knows
why, seem well. We've found a home, moved to it, unpacked, settled in, I've made a bit of a home of our pile of stuff, cooked an enormous number of yummy meals lately accompanied by actual lit candles. Avery's got (there's no 'gotten' in English English, did you know? always got) used to her homework schedule, I have got used to my own peculiar schedule of school dropoff in taxi, mile and some walk home, housework, puttering about unpacking things while researching on the internet whatever Avery got interested in the day before. Then I need to figure out lunch, which right now is too solitary. Must make lunch dates, which couldn't be too hard. There must be other mothers wishing they weren't folding laundry at 12 p.m.

Now the flat looks presentable. We still need to locate the person meant (not "supposed" as in American) to hang our art, and some furniture still needs to be bought. I think an antique rug and table for the EIK (as New York real estate would call an eat-in-kitchen), and more contemporary dressers, rug and coat rack for the main space. But still: no boxes! No rubbish! Life improves, even though Keechie sneezes.

We have heard that there was an amazing bonfire of living refuse near Red Gate Farm, our beloved retreat in Connecticut, from our friends Anne and David, and soon hope to hear news of Baby Jane's first birthday from Jill and Joel. Our friend
Elliot Sadoff was on "The Late News With Conan O'Brien" and if we can find a way to transfer the DVD his mother Alyssa promises to me, to something you can see, we will. What other news? Not much. It's unseasonably cold here, reassuring me that global warming may pass us by, at least this year. I have made the monumental leap of collecting (never "picking up" as in America) our dry cleaning and determining
that I am once more ready to wear... the dreaded black turtlenecks. What a rite of passage.

Wish us all luck in our second month...

skates!

















I think we're getting a cleaning lady tomorrow! I just finished vacuuming with my fabulous solid-gold Miele machine, however, and things look pretty good! John's in Zurich tonight so Avery and I are planning a visit to the video shop on the way home from school, and a popcorn and movie evening. She went off to school today slightly distressed at having forgotten (of course, it was I who forgot, evil mummy) her gloves for skating, but mollified at the prospect of getting her Level One badge. We caved to pressure and bought her her very own skates, which should help.

I've got to go pay the ransom for John's shirts at Ye Incredibly Expensive Dry Cleaner, so more later.

30 January, 2006

an odd day















I think I'm lonely! It's so odd to walk around and around my neighborhood, and the school neighborhood, and no one greets me or even notices me!  I am a total stranger, which does not suit me actually.  Some people at home have suggested, "What a great opportunity to reinvent yourself!"  But it turns out, I kind of liked who I was already.  There is one mother at Avery's school, an American naturally, who has been really sweet.  Invited me out for coffee last week and ended up spontaneously taking me in her car to a pet store where I bought a real litterbox and litter!  .s opposed to the roasting pan, YUCK, that had been serving as a litter box until now!  I know, now you'll hesitate to eat my roast chicken.  Anyway, this mom, Becky, is lovely and her daughter Anna is one of Avery's favorite girls in the class.  But when she told me that her husband was due back from New York that day, I had an awful moment where I realized that back at PS 234, I would never not know if a dad was traveling!  I knew the ins and outs of everyone's schedules, when Annabelle had piano, when Cici had Tae Kwan Do, when Michele's husband had his scary trip to the Middle East, what Catherine was feeding her four children that night.  And now, sob here, I don't know anything about anyone, nor does anyone know anything about me.  I find it lonely. 

I got Avery off to school this morning and then came home feeling sorry for myself, knowing that all the people I care about were fast asleep except for John who was busily engaging with his stimulating work contacts, and Avery, busily defending her netball goalie position.  I actually lay down and took a nap!  Isn't that the first sign of depression?  Or is it not being able to sleep?  I can't remember.  I woke up when the lovely porters, my crush Bob and his lesser cohort Iain, knocked on the door with two feckless looking boys to help carry all our junk away.  I pitched in, and the old saying "many hands made light work" was manifest.  So our kitchen is empty of all its charity rubbish, and I packed up the last of the rubbish rubbish to put out on the pavement (Brit for sidewalk, you know) this evening.  That at least felt good.  Then I went off to buy bookshelves, feeling that if I did something I'd be more cheerful, only to find there's a two-week lead time.  I'm about ready to do it, though. 

The eighty or so boxes of books in the study is not only ugly, but it means I'm reading the same things over and over!  It occurred to me that people always say exercise is good when you're unhappy (never one to shy away from dramatising a situation), so I determined to walk from South Kensington where I'd been at Conran's in the Michelin Building, all the way home, if I didn't get lost along the way.  I even executed the risky manouever of calling my beloved brother-in-law Joel to get an update on Jane, living dangerously when such distraction could easily get me to Islington or Chiswick instead of Mayfair.  But I tromped successfully all through Hyde Park, actually not making any wrong turns and hearing the latest Jane genius tricks, like her ability to pick out specific books from her shelf on command.  That child is a genius.  Which is so unfair, because like her cousin Avery, she's also gorgeous.  Totally unfair, like two investment bankers marrying each other.  Joel cheered me up with news of their house sale and the pressure now to find somewhere to live by June.  I allowed him to introduce this conversational topic (a true measure of my feelings for him) even though the word MOVE is considered foul language in our house.

So I got home safely, feeling virtuous, and headed straight to school pickup, still feeling melancholy although Joel's chat had cheered me up, thank you!  Next time I need to catch up with my sister as well. 

Of course I felt happy to see Fifi, and decided to go up to her classroom for the first time, to meet her beloved teacher, Mrs. Bickley.  This name sounded to me like she would look like Mary Poppins, all done up in Victorian garb with her hair in a bun, so I was not prepared for the youngish New Zealander I met.  A darling classroom, all sweet little brown desks whose tops come up, just like in all the novels where the miserable homesick girl hides her tears under her desktop.  No tears here, though.  "It's honestly as if she's always been here, Mrs. Curran!  She fits like a glove, and such a lovely, lovely writer!  Such an imagination."  The room is on the fourth floor of a gorgeous white house with circular stairway inside and lovely slightly shabby carpets.  I probed for reasons to worry about Avery's work, or something we should be focusing on, but this was all met with smiling reassurance that nothing can mar the perfection that is the marriage of Avery and King's College Preparatory School.  Finally I made a lame and pathetic offer to help out if she ever needed it, saying self-pityingly that I was a non-working mother, and with the air of pushing me out the door, although no pushing actually occurred, she said brightly, "How lovely, and so good to know."  Hmmm.  Don't think parents are necessary in the perfect world of school.  Avery kindly led me out of the school and we ended up in the patisserie in the High Street, where she tried to teach me to crochet.

Clearly I need to get a life.  Becky has invited me to the Wednesday morning coffee she has with some mothers from her kindergartener's class (the class I read with, actually!), so I think I'd better go.  And of course nothing can dim my interest in the foodstuffs on offer here, so tonight we're having a pork fillet (don't forget to pronounce the t in true British thumbing-their-noses-at-the-French fashion) with a marinade of garlic, lemon juice, white wine, rosemary and olive oil, mashed potato (why don't they say the plural?  don't know), and roasted beetroot.  It is the new super food over here, and Avery is heartily sick of it.  "But it cures everything," I maintained.  "We don't have anything to cure," she pointed out reasonably.  "Well, it also prevents things," I persevered.

Any suggestions for how to keep me out of emotional doldrums welcome, please.

29 January, 2006

name tapes

Did any of you grow up in the East, or in England?  Because apparently if you did, you grew up with name tapes.  Rather, your mother did.  I recently went online to Cash's, the place for such essential English items, for name tapes for Avery, that is little cloth tapes with her name embroidered on them in preparation for the eventuality that she loses some article of clothing at school.  In fact that's already happened, the dreaded full-outfit exchange with Lily which resulted in no cardie for several days.  Anyway, I ordered them, and paid 50 pence extra to have a horse embroidered on each one.  Well, they came.  And my punishment was to have to sew one of them on every blessed item of Avery's school attire.  Shirts, skirts, jumpers, coats, swimsuits, dance costumes, socks, tights, track suit sweater and trousers, whatever.  Urgh.  Kind of cute, though, in a foreign, "we'll never have to do this again" sort of way.

Anyway, apparently English children all have them for school, and all my Eastern friends had them for the obligatory eight weeks of summer camp.  Geez, I barely survived one week of gymnastics camp at eight or so, no name tapes involved, or at least my sainted mother didn't complain about sewing them on.

I'm contemplating a much nicer week.  Just rubbish to get taken away, and then, furniture to be bought, and then...OH NO!  I have to get a life!  I can no longer pretend that being 1) class mother at school, or 2) someone about to close her gallery or 3) someone about to settle into a new country house in Connecticut, or 4) someone about to move to a foreign country, or 5) someone who just did move to a foreign country... can classify me as someone with something to do.  Soon my desk will have a printer, my phone will work, my kitchen appliances will work, my child's backpack will every day without FAIL be packed with its proper stuff.  And then what?  I had better find an occupation.  Well, there is editing the beloved cookbooks written in the 40s by my Connecticut friend Anne's mother, Gladys Taber, and writing my own (whose overall concept needs a much better blurb than I've concocted so far, for anyone to buy it).  And then I heartily hope to receive you all as guests soon.  So there's that.

Meantime, I just found out my darling parents get to travel to Connecticut to celebrate Baby Jane's first birthday.  How we wish we were there.  We did select the perfect present, however, but I can't telll you because that would be...telling.

Monday beckons so must to sleep.

is it getting better?





























I'm sure Avery could teach me how to say that in Latin.  We spent all Thursday afternoon and evening going through her Latin textbooks and teaching each other how to say things like "noli tangere, Rufe!"  Which will come in handy if you have a friend called Rufus that you want not to touch anything.  She is remarkably good at it.  And pulchrituda, too.

In any case, we continue to wade through piles of horse show ribbons, linen napkins, kitty prisons whose screws won't come apart for flat storage but bear adorable labels like "I'm Hermione, a dark small tabby.  My final destination is London Heathrow, please take care of me!"  I succumbed yesterday and took a long nap and when I woke up John had completely settled the kitchen which is a huge help.  I had heretofore been producing roast chicken, spinach and red pepper pasta, roast joints (why is it called a joint?  as far as I can tell it's not an elbow or a knee, it's just an ordinary roast beef, must find out), and countless breakfasts of fried bacon and eggs completely surrounded by enormous piles of dinner plates, useless kitchen appliances and many, many mismatched coffee cups.  Now all is pristine, except for the floor which is covered by boxes of stuff to give to charity.  And tragedy has struck in Crush Land: my darling porter Bob has been kicked upstairs to Senior Building Manager and his replacement Iain, while lovely and helpful, is not crush material.  So applying to him for help in the rubbish line is not going to have any heart-stopping implications.  Oh well.

Let's see, Friday Avery and I had an after-school snack at the lovely Patisserie Valerie in the Marylebone High Street, only she had a gorgeous slice of chocolate sponge cake and I had a horror called "Chick Pea and Potato Soup," whose name alone should have warned me that it would be really odd, and it was.  I couldn't take the whole thing, but anyway I was distracted by Avery's tale of their school excursion to the Unicorn Theatre for a presentation of "Tom's Midnight Garden," taken from the Philippa Pearce book which I had given her but she hadn't read, and we agreed on the failing we both have of literally judging a book by its cover, or at least its blurbs, which were unimpressive.  But the play was magnificent and we are both hoping to go back together.  Then we ended up in the Daunt Bookshop up the road from the cafe, and if you ever get to London you MUST make a journey to this bookshop.  So extensive, so quixotic in its choices, and the staff are original bookworms with motheaten jumpers (sweaters to you Yanks), ironic eyebrow motions and helpful comments.  I wanted all Jamie Oliver's cookbooks, but settled on asking for them for my birthday.  I did peruse a cookery book all about fabulous food stores around the world, which was very enjoyable.  There was one covered that is in Gloucestershire near the famed National Trust House called Chastleton, that John and I stumbled on, derelict, 15 years ago, and then saw being slowly done up during our trip here when Avery was two, and is now finished.  The food store, and farm associated with it, are called Daylesford; the Currans and we shopped there by happenstance over spring break and I have never spent so much money on food in my life.  Rather, I have never asked John's dad to spend so much money on food in his life, since I lost the usual battle for the bill.  Organic everything, in a fabulous architectural setting and much topiary in the gardens.

Yesterday we went skating at the rink behind Somerset House, home of many happy memories for me at the Courtauld Institute Galleries in my art historian days.  The rink is simply luxurious, but I thought it would have been even nicer at night, because it's both lit and heated by enormous burning torches that in the dark must be truly gorgeous.  But we had fun.  Then a far too long walk, starting out happily in Trafalgar Square like compleat tourists, with Avery climbing on the lions, but degenerating into a pointless walk to Conran's for furniture, nothing in stock, and spiraling further downward to Peter Lewis in Sloane Square, also pointless, nothing in stock.  In total annoyance we got a taxi home, none the wiser than a better pair of goggles for Avery's swim class.  Hence my desperate nap.

So this week will be more searching for containers for all our stuff, and people to come take the other stuff we can't live with.  Tonight will be fettucine with asparagus and gammon steak (ham to you at home), in a lemon cream sauce.  For comfort.  Oh, and we've been watching the hilarious competition programme on television, "Dancing on Ice," where they pair a real live skater with a semi-celebrity who has a month to learn how to skate for a competition.  Very soothing.  Everyone is always "completely gobsmacked" at winning, and "chuffed to bits" at proceeding to the next level.  Then they're "gutted" when they're eliminated.  And they say we speak the same language!

26 January, 2006

Launderers of Distinction



Happy Birthday, Janie...








Now, if you're living in Mayfair, lah-di-dah, and your child is a Form Four student at King's College Preparatory School, you owe it to your husband to have his shirts done at the Buckingham Dry Cleaners and Launderers of Distinction. It was truly hilarious; I asked our beloved porter Bob Jackson where the nearest cleaner's was, and he pointed me in the right direction, but since my sense of direction belies the integral word "sense," I was soon quite lost. Have no fear: a quick call to John and he was on the internet for "dry cleaners Mayfair" and talked me through it like long-distance emergency surgery. My own personal GPS system! Anyway, I found the cleaner's finally, and I have to say, I love the place. Would you have a singlet you need cleaned? Don't know what a singlet is, but it'll cost you 2 pounds. There's also a Day Dress listed. Hmmm, was I supposed to change at 4 p.m. upon arriving home from school pickup, for my Late Afternoon Dress? Anyway, it would cost 12 pounds 50 pence, so I don't think I can afford the elegance.

So I am in enormous crush conflict. There's my original crush, to whom I feel a lot of loyalty, Matthew Macfadyen. He is lovely of course, I've resisted finding where he actually lives so as not to stalk him as I did John Malkovich in our first London sojourn, where by God if he was buying sausages in the Fulham Road so was I, day after day. No, this crush was going to stay much more head-in-the-clouds. Until I saw "In My Father's Den," Matthew's latest cinematic effort, which I would hugely recommend. Tiny no-budget New Zealand film, gorgeous emotional range, really well-cast, sad family relationships. So I was in major crush renewal mode until... our porter came on the scene. Porter meaning super in New York, the guy who will be here to meet your British Telecom guy, the guy who tells you there's no problem with seventeen bags of garbage. He's my dream, is Bob Jackson. Love him. Took chicken soup to his office today but there was no one there, so I left it on the doorstep. Do you suppose he ate it? Or the wandering bobby giving out parking tickets?

Avery today said just about the cutest thing. She was concerned about not doing well in French, although frankly (hee hee) she got 10 out of
12 correct on her exam, so who's complaining. She said, "I suppose I can't be good at everything. I was learning today in science about electrical circuits. It turns out if one bulb can't work, but the circuit is still functional, the remaining bulbs get stronger. So I wonder if maybe I'm better at Latin because I just am not good at French. The bulbs get brighter."

She's thriving. John's thriving. I'm getting bored being at home with boxes, where my biggest challenge is to get the vacuum cleaner to hook up properly, or to convince the kitties that the new litterbox and its new location is just as appealing as the old box and the old location. Tired of it! I'm also really knowing I'll hugely miss being able to chat on the phone with John's mom and dad who are in St Barths after tomorrow (one place where you really do not have to have your mobile phone with you at all times), and I've got to send my darling niece Jane her first birthday present, can it be a year since February 3...

OK, to sleep on a welcome Thursday night, because tomorrow morning I can...nap.

25 January, 2006

oy veh, moving


Somehow I forgot that moving to London meant I was MOVING to London. You know the cliche about how moving is the most stressful thing next to the death of a spouse, divorce, or finding out it's more than three blocks to the nearest Starbucks. Well, I keep reminding myself that thank goodness I'm not moving BECAUSE I'm getting divorced, because I'm not happy right now! Here's what happened. We kidded ourselves that we didn't have all that much stuff, because remember how minimalist our apartment on Jay Street looked? Really neat and tidy and emptyish. Well, it turns out that we require massive amounts of empty space that can be closed off and ignored, in order to look tidy. There is no storage space to speak of at our lovely new glamorous flat. No phone yet, and don't even get me started on how tired I am of British Telecom and their lame representatives. I know phone service is always a pain, and I also know that I am the worst customer in the world because as soon as they ask me a question, they can see from my pathetic expression that I don't have the answer. Broadband? Cat5? Bulldog? I don't know. Anyway, no phone yet.

So stuff. So much STUFF. I have found bits of china and glass that predate our marriage, I have found Avery's baby spoons and cups, I have found coffee mugs from graduate school, along with such treasuresas a mug emblazoned with the legend, "On March 16, 2003, I was in Tribeca at Elliot Sadoff's 1st Birthday Party!" Actually I have two of those. And I miss Elliot's mother Alyssa so much that I don't even mind having two coffee mugs that I have no idea what to do with. I don't even drink coffee! But that's beside the point. I am actually treasuring my Elliot mugs, reliving happy days in Tribeca when I had a friend who had a child to have a first birthday party for.

Anyway, I am madly throwing stuff away, putting things aside to give to Oxfam, the English version of Salvation Army, kicking myself that I didn't do this stateside, but also investigating the super-cool shelving company Vitsoe, in Wigmore Street (on my healthy-heart three- times-daily walk to or from Avery's school). Perhaps with some shelves in the kitchen, some shelves in the living room for the 800 boxes of books in the study, and some shelves in Avery's room, I can withstand my tremendous urge to set fire to everything we own...

But other than that, life is grand. The neighborhood is ultra quiet, amazingly since it's situated perilously close to the American Embassy, and just a block from the Marble Arch, which they are planning to MOVE! I mean, seriously! How they can imagine moving the Marble Arch, if for no other reason than that there's a tube station with its name on it... Next thing you know they'll blacktop Regent's Park. Honestly. But yes, it's a lovely neighborhood, just two blocks from a great Marks and Sparks (the local name for Marks and Spencer) Food Hall, my favourite haunt, and a Selfridge's where I can't afford anything but I go just to look at the foie gras. The kitties are safely here, scattering litter everywhere, and scared silly of the telephone men. And guess what? Keeping the tradition of ridiculous hostess behavior that was started when we had dinner guests the first night we brought Avery home from the hospital, we had a dinner guest the evening we moved in! I cleared enough space to roast an amazing English Angus beef joint, and succumbed to moving pressure to serve with it a glorious pre-made dish of scalloped potatoes from Marks and Sparks! Added to that was sauteed baby
broccolini, here called "tenderstems," with olive oil and butter. And a Bramley apple crumble. Our guest was the divine David from Waterloo, Iowa, here working on travel agency business. So book early now, and be here for the next seating.

I'm off to buy a vacuum cleaner, hundreds of rubber stoppers to keep all our doors open (the British love to close a door!), a big kitchen garbage can, and what else? A chicken to roast for our third night in our new home. Avery will be full of stories of Latin class, netball, and whatever horror she's given for lunch, and John will be in his usual state of excitement at spending the day at his posh office in Canary Wharf. Think of me, please, as I unpack... poor me!

17 January, 2006

A fox and a dinkle dinseed joke

Truly! I forgot to say. My friend Emily, on Sunday, had just been bemoaning the cancellation of the hunt in England, saying it was the work of a bunch of dopey Liberals who weren't even aware that the people they hurt were the Little People in the country who set up the hunts, not the landed gentry who hunted. "Honestly, we need the hunt. Emma and I saw a fox in Hammersmith the other day, in broad daylight." "Oh, Emily, come on, I'm the Queen of Writer's Embellishment, but you can't get even me to believe you saw a FOX in central London. It must have been a large dog of some kind," I protested. "Seriously," she said.

So we're driving home and John's just navigating the last few
annoying one-way streets to our flat, when in front of the car flashes... a FOX. Sorry, Emily, you were right. A FOX!

Then this afternoon in a crowded pizzeria I'm reading Avery's school notes for parents, catching up on what's happening. Remember the Turks and Chinese complaining about the backyard noise? Well, Mrs D was announcing the official measurement of noise produced, AKA the acoustic survey, and I mentioned this to Avery as she manhandled her tendrils of mozzarella. "So there's to be an acoustic survey," I said, and she looked puzzled and said, "What would they ask, just things like, do you have a glue stick? Or what do you use it for, your glue stick?" "Not a GLUE STICK survey, an ACOUSTIC survey," I said, and then we both laughed so hard we could hardly breathe. My family will understand the subject line of this post! Never ending fun, conversations with children.

John is off to Vienna tomorrow for his first business trip since we arrived. I asked for some tiny sausages in a can and Siggy's siggy. We'll see.

the English language















I've been thinking about the unvarnished nature of English English. Both in the pronunciation and the actual choice of words. Anything that's taken from the French, never the most beloved of peoples here, is Englishized without mercy. There's a "t" in "fillet" of beef, and don't forget the "h" in "herbal" tea. And then there's the absolute literalness of terminology: you don't ride a subway, you ride an UNDERGROUND. There is a subway, but it's an underground sidewalk (sorry, pavement). English bacon is like Canadian bacon, and if you want American bacon you ask for "streaky bacon." Why streaky? Because it is. And while you're at it, you can ask for a can of mushy peas, because, presumably, they are. These should be steamed with a little slightly salted butter, not lightly, SLIGHTLY. And "soured" cream, which bald implication of the process involved makes it a bit less appealing, I'd say. All washed down with a glass of... cloudy apple juice. We might say apple cider, but truly, it's cloudy apple juice.

Ah well, I'm just marking time because until the new flat (fingers crossed that all gets signed and delivered) gets emptied out of its designer togs, our much less glamorous belongings cannot be delivered, and we can't settle in. Mornings are crammed with getting Avery in her perfect uniform, a real breakfast inside her to help her cope with the demands of Latin, maths, netball in Regent's Park, spelling tests and drama (not that she needs lessons in THAT), homework packed up, a track suit for games, or skating today, permission slips for a trip to the London Museum, then we're out the door. I've decided that a taxi is OK in the morning because we're neither of us up for struggling through rush hour crowds in the underground, and I don't really feel like sorting out the bus route from here when we will, one hopes, be leaving soon. Then I drop her off with all her perfect little compatriots, give her a kiss, and...six hours of waiting for her to come home! Perhaps I should be sightseeing. But that feels weird when I live here. But I could do with a dose of Westminster, perhaps. Then I walk to pick her up, which is a nice half-hour of stiff exercise, and we've developed a little snack habit, or two. We could walk down Weymouth Street to the lovely Villandry, a sort of London version of Bazzini, our old haunt in Tribeca, and have ice cream for her and a pot of peppermint tea, my new obsession, for me. Or head to the Patisserie Valerie in the Marylebone High Street for a decadent slice of sponge cake and mixed berries for her, and... peppermint tea for me. Then we walk home in the dusky sort of twilighty light. Yesterday we stopped at the dry cleaner's to ransom John's shirts (4 pounds 50 p a shirt! I nearly died), and the vet's for equally ruinous food for the kitties, eavesdropping on the incredibly English exchanges between the vet's nurse in starchy white and the elderly patients with their elderly owners, all looking like each other. By the time we get home, Avery is exhausted. I guess it's the strain of just fitting in, although from the outside it looks pretty effortless on her part. She came top in spelling yesterday, in the coveted Willy Wonka group level with just three other girls. And she won the netball race home, but for the blatant cheating of another little girl, she reports. The
children were apparently evicted from their outdoor garden two years ago on the whiny complaints of, from the north, the Turkish Embassy, and from the south the Chinese embassy. Who could object to the voices of little girls? Turks and Chinese, apparently. So they've installed a noise meter of all things, and the girls are being let out, cautiously, in small harmless groups, to play quietly and to see if they can qualify for outdoor play on a regular basis. There is a Wendy House! I've always read about them, but I never got to see one. Avery described its minute proportions in detail, but, "Mummy, there are spiders and cobwebs and we are afraid to go IN!"

Last night I returned to a favorite English culinary memory: the crackling leg pork roast. There's just nothing like British pork, drizzled with olive oil and salt, surrounded by fat garlic cloves and quartered onions. With it I had mashed potatoes, also seemingly so much yummier than American potatoes! And roast beetroot, and a sauce inspired by one of the UKTV Food shows I saw, a nice reduction of chicken broth and white wine (a horror with a screwtop lid, although John tells me there's a growing number of acceptable wines with screwtops), shallot and garlic, fresh thyme and heavenly English single cream. A really lovely, comfort food meal for a damp and chilly January night.

13 January, 2006

the first annoying day
















It was bound to happen: and you know when it's not just the things that are happening, but your own rotten attitude that is following you about as things get screwed up?  It started last night at Avery's bedtime when her beloved knitted ladybug went missing from the 200 or so items essential for a cozy sleep.  She already misses her pony Ladybug terribly, and Ladybug anticipated this by giving her the toy as a Christmas gift, so thoughtful, to remember her by.  The whole comfort-item logic carries in it, however, the seeds of its own destruction when said item disappears.  Did the cleaning lady carry it away in the dirty bed linens?  Did she carry away bed linens at all, come to think of it, or did she do the laundry here?  Seeing as how I was busy avoiding her all day, I can't say for certain.  I promise avery I'll deal with it in the morning. 

Morning, however, brings its own issues as the *&^%$ English washing machine decided during the night not to drain, and when I open its sorry #$% to do a load of laundry, roughly 40 gallons of water gushed onto the kitchen floor.  I called the landlord immediately who basically said, I'll see your flooded kitchen and I'll raise you a scratch I saw on the circa 1974 naugahyde sofa, so you can whistle for your repairman.  I then basically said, I'll see your lame damage-deposit threat and I'll raise you a missing ladybug from my daughter's bed.  We reached an impasse so I hung up and told Avery it was time for school, whereupon we discover that her school scarf is missing as well.  How it disappeared between walking in the door last night from school and getting dressed this morning is not for us to say.  By then we were in that state of edgy, snarky gloom that afflicts not-morning people when ANYTHING untoward happens at 7:30 a.m.  Off to school in a mutual state of dissatisfaction, and Avery said, "I'll try to have a good school report at the end of the day to make you happier."  Insert steak knife to heart, twist three times clockwise. 

Home to a surly repairman who after much huffing and complaining, approached me to say the thing was fixed, holding out a nasty little bit of burnt wire.  "'ere's the culprit, plain as day in the pump," he growled accusingly.  I swear, like I put it there!  That's what I do for fun on a Thursday evening, play hell with the pump on my washing machine.  This encounter was topped by my phone call to the landlord's secretary asking her to query the cleaning lady about the ladybug.  "It's a small black and red knitted insect about the size of an egg," I said, relishing as always the chance to use a sentence that has probably never been uttered before.  "A what?"  "A ladybug, you know, the flying sort of beetley thing," I elucidated, thinking, what do you mean, a what?  "I'm sorry, I don't follow," she insisted, and then the penny dropped.  "A ladyBIRD," I corrected myself and all was clear.  OK, I love the English, but that's taking time-honored linguistic distinctions to an absurd extreme.  The next thing you know, if I'm even thinking the word "elevator" the lift won't work.

Ah well, no worries by pickup time at school.  There just is nothing more completely adorable, I assure you, than seeing 30 or so nine-year-old girls in black watch plaid, plaits flying, running around the corner of the school laughing and swinging their swim bags.  I mean, if the implication of tons and tons of imperial and otherwise corrupt money being spent on these privileged little scraps of humanity doesn't disturb you, which as a card-carrying liberal I feel it should.  But what the hell, I paid my dues as a New York City Public School class mother.  And as sweet as King's College is, in my heart of hearts, I'm finding myself very glad that Avery's first years of school were spent in the endless variety, obstreperousness , food fights, playground jungle and sheer volume of noise that was PS 234. 

Avery reports that she succeeded in putting together more French sentences than anyone else in her form today!  Not bad for a little girl whose French to date was limited to menu items like steak frites.  And her maths are coming along well!  And she could spell "miscellaneous" for the general staff which silenced even their general attitude that Americans are lucky if they don't disgrace themselves every waking moment.

Still awaiting word from John on the status of the lease, but I assume all is well unless I hear differently.  If so, we could move as early as Wednesday!  We'll keep you posted.  I can't wait to tell you the address.  It's SO English!

12 January, 2006

kindergarteners, a haircut and a fishmonger



















It's an odd combination, but it made up my Thursday today! Yes, I'm up to my old tricks with the little kids. Just like in Abby's class at PS234 lo these many years ago (starting, I remember, in the sad days of October 2001, trying to be normal again), I got to spirit little kindergarteners out of the classroom one by one and have them read to me from their little book bags in the library at King's College Preparatory School! It was a remarkably similar experience, considering we're supposed to be strangers in a strange land. Yes, instead of being called "four going on five" they're called "rising fours" by the staff, and yes, they're all wearing uniforms with their hair in plaits, but... they still giggle if you make up nonsense words out of "bathtub" and their noses ALL run just the same as in America. Only instead of saying "Can you get me a Kleenex?" they say "Might I have a tissue please?" So I read with little Malrika, Emilia B. (there's an Emilia K. as well, I hear, but she's only a rumor until next week for me), Lily, and I forget who else. Partway through there was much distraction as the sounds of the Church of England daily assembly hymn floated down from the room above. Whoever I had at the time said plaintively, "I cahn't concentrate with all the noise those gulls are making!" I hoped that among the gulls passing through I would see Avery but Form Four was otherwise occupied. Oh, and did you know that the Latin word for horse is masculine? She's furious, being a true feminist from birth. I fanned the flames by telling her that in French, "war" is feminine. Ooooh, so unfair.

Then in the universal situation where you can't go home because the cleaning lady's there, I decided to get a haircut. The lovely Piero from Vincenza gave me a very nice pixie-ish (well, ageing pixie) cut for not too horrible a price, and then I had to kill some more time so I went grocery shopping of course, and decided what I reallly wanted for dinner was oyster stew. I don't know why. Because I knew the oysters would be hard to find and it would give me a mission. So after two abortive attempts at supermarkets, I ended up at a fishmonger in the Marylebone High Street, London's answer to... what... I don't think there is anything like it in Manhattan. A true high street, winding along with lots of taxis and zebra crossings (don't forget to pronounce zebra properly), with the requisite neighborhood-friendly shops (as opposed to tourist places), like a chemist's, lots of pubs and tearooms, shoe repair, and a fishmonger! An impossibly quaint blue-fronted small shop with a front window that is removed upon the shop's opening, and the fishes and shellfishes and seaweed sit on their beds of ice right in your face. Gorgeous! It's called FishWorks and it's of course very famous but I have never heard of it because my husband hates fish. Why? Many you have heard the inflammatory and entirely undeserved story of one slightly undercooked red snapper I produced roughly eleven years ago and he claims I was trying to kill him. There would be so many easier ways.

But back to the fishmonger. He said immediately but in a slightly frosty Englishy manner that for between 60p and 1 pound 60 per oyster, it would be his pleasure, no, his privilege, to shuck them for my stew. In the meantime, why didn't I have lunch in the restaurant? Turned out that behind the tiny shop the size of our bathroom at 16 Jay Street is a full-on gourmet restaurant! I love to eat lunch by myself, so in I went, and was practically the first person there, other people having real lives that don't involve avoiding cleaning ladies, I guess. It's owned by a famous youngish fishmonger called Mitchell Tonks, who happened to be there being feted by some langoustine purveyors (as my dad would say, one of the long list of things that's never happened to me), so he signed a cookbook for my mother -in-law Rosemary! I then had an appetizer of organic sea bream roe taramasalata, a fishy sort of garlicky mayo concoction topped with olive oil and parsley and accompanied by yummy baguette slices and a little dish of a sort of salsa verte. While I was munching away lots more people came in and EVERYONE looked like he (there were virtually no women) was about to close a really, really big deal with the person across the table. The langoustine purveyors ordered a whole fish of some kind that fed all six of them, steamed in white wine and thyme. Not them, I mean, the fish.

Then I had a double mound of fresh-picked Dungeness crab: I've never seen it that way before with both the white claw meat and the dark inner meat displayed separately. This was with tiny seedless slices of cucumber, homemade mayo and the salad I forgot I loved so much because you can't get it in America so I blocked it out: a wonderful combination of rocket (arugula to the Italians), lamb's lettuce (also called mache) and baby spinach. Mmmm. I'm addicted again.

So I sat there with my glass of Pinot Whatever, not being a wine connoisseur, and ate happily and looked at all the people who were probably famous if I read the FT instead of Hello! magazine (I had the latest issue with me, by the way, and did you know how MUCH Gwyneth Paltrow prefers London to Hollywood? I didn't. She can just live like a normal person here. Yeah). On the way out I picked up my oysters and the guy asked me what I was going to do with them, and when I described my oyster stew, he totally unbent and said, "My Chinese mother makes that! It is the best!" Food brings out the friendly in everyone.

I'm back here now, having consoled Maria the cleaning lady on her near-fatal fright at seeing Wimsey fly out from under the bed when she vacuumed. I've unpacked my groceries, brushed thousands of little tiny hairs off my black turtleneck sweater (which one, you ask? My second favorite one, the favorite one's at the cleaner's. I'm a little nervous with only one sweater, I can tell you that). We're waiting to hear if the garden flat we liked so much will let Avery play in the garden, and if so, we may have a home soon! Our container shipment arrived and passed customs, which would be great news if we had anywhere to put it.

But we LOVE it. When are you coming to visit?

09 January, 2006

I'm so unselfish

Hmmm. I knew that at some point during this process the phrase "what was I thinking" would come in handy; it was too good to be true that we got through the nasty confluence of 1) an international move with three people and four cats, 2) Christmas, and 3) a transit strike in BOTH the city we were leaving and the one we were going to, without something going mildly wrong. We thought it remarkable that we haven't as yet bit each other's heads off, determined that a nice
boarding school would have been a lovely choice for Avery, or visited the local branch of the RSPCA with any or all of the cats.

However.

Why did I pack only two sweaters, three pairs of pants and two pairs of shoes for myself. How unselfish is that? OK, I also forgot to pack more than one suit for John, and Avery I don't have to worry about too much because of that handy uniform. So I admit I was looking forward to the "air shipment" which came today, containing all the things we allegedly could not live without until the "sea shipment" comes, date unknown. Was there ANYTHING in it for me? There were eleven pairs of shoes for Avery, five suits and eight shirts for John, and unaccountably an electric fan. But for me, was there so much as a pair of socks? Of course not. I am stuck with these five items of clothing (luckily also sufficient foundation garments, but still, where's the glamour in that?) for another ten days, two weeks? I seem to have put my clothing needs on a par with, say, our panini maker, in terms of urgency.

Ah well, as of tomorrow John will be happily clad in a glorious fresh suit, Avery can rush home from school and put on any of three dozen outfits, but I will be wearing either my favorite black turtleneck or my second favorite black turtleneck for the foreseeable future. Somewhat dampening. I have to hope I don't run into my major crush, the lovely Matthew Macfadyen of "Pride and Prejudice" fame, until I
have on at least a grey turtleneck, fresh from the packing materials.

During my bout with a 24-hour bug over the weekend, I consoled myself with an English copy of Hazel Holt's "The Silent Killer," a perfect cozy murder mystery for a rainy day, as well as a nice English copy of Dorothy L. Sayers' "Gaudy Night," which made visiting Oxford a high priority for Avery and me. After all, we have a cat named Lord Peter Wimsey. Of course any book by these two authors is wonderful. John contented himself with perusing "Your Guide to Land Rovers, things that look like Land Rovers, and other things that your wife will think look just like Land Rovers." It was a really recent issue, thankfully. Avery, what was she reading? The sequel to "Children of the Lamp," whatever it is called, but it was good enough that she read it while brushing her teeth, and taking out her earrings before they could be confiscated by Headmistress Davies this morning. We feasted on homemade chicken soup a la John, a nice gift for my illness.

Our housing indecision continues. Tonight we will see for the second time the lovely perfect place with the garden but too expensive and far from school, and the sort of compromise place with lovely appointments but no personality, cheaper and closer to school. The troubling third choice is the madly charming in its period details but HORRIBLE kitchen, known as Hampden House, whose main attraction is its extreme proximity to Avery's school, namely a block. How to decide?? Then we'll repair to one of three restaurant choices I've gleaned from the incomparable Egon Ronay London Restaurant Guide, an upscale pub, a fancy Italian,
or a sort of pan-fusion-mixy-uppy place. Will keep you posted.

Two absolutely lovely language stories to tell, if you like that sort of thing. Our hilarious estate agent (realtor, to you Yanks) Jane was regaling us with all sorts of accents, impenetrable Englishisms, and finally upon my request, stories of mispronunciations. Ever since my dad told stories about a client of his who frequented the Indianapolis Sympathy Orchestra I have loved such things. Apparently Jane's real estate office in Wimbledon is graced, during the holidays, with Christmas trees suspended above their awning. Lovely, but after New Year's she really wanted them taken down, and called the local council office to see how she could get that done. The girl who answered the phone seemed totally flummoxed. "They're where, did you say miss? I see, the... the... Above the, what did you say, miss?" Finally Jane realized the girl needed the word spelled but before she could the girl began, "Ok, that's O-R-N-I-N-G, right?"

Then, a story about a lady who went to the ticket booth at Paddington Station asking for a round-trip ticket to Torquay, the seaside resort famous for, among other things, being Agatha Christie's hometown. Well, either she didn't pronounce "Torkee" properly, or the ticket agent thought she needed something a little more exotic, because before she knew it, the lady was in a taxi bound for Heathrow and a plane to... Turkey. In the nick of time the mixup was sorted out. I imagine she just went home at that point and had a cup of tea. Must make sure to speak clearly if I want to go to the World's End tube station in the King's Road, lest I go an awful lot further than just a tube stop.

07 January, 2006

home search

















So yesterday (earlier today, what to call the day, have massive insomnia right now), saw 22 apartments. Can't say flats in the usual
way because let's see, some were houses, some were flats, some were duplexes, some were maisonettes (supposed to be French for "small house" but there are esoteric requirements for the use of the word here whose intricacies I can't fathom right now). No semi-detached houses, sadly, since that has long been my mother's and my favorite real estate designation. But two diametrically opposed places stand out at 4 a.m.: one a neglected but completely gorgeous and charming flat a block from Avery's school, horrible kitchen and bathrooms, grotty carpet throughout, but POCKET doors between the two (!) parlors and bow windows... all the original plaster mouldings. John immediately asked if it were for sale; we could both envision bringing it back to life. Well, no, in fact the owner owns the whole building
(a listed thing of decaying beauty in Marylebone). He needs to be shot or else take care of it.

The second possibility is on an excruciatingly tidy and perfect block of Mayfair (kept expecting to see Lord Peter Wimsey and Bunter around the corner), with rights to a communal garden so tiny and exquisite it's like it's all under glass. A gray, dwindling glass since it's London in January, but still. A very sort of (as Londoners would say, one of my favorite expressions) modern but cozy house, with a surfeit of bathrooms and too much overhead lighting, but... double-glazed CURVED windows looking out onto the garden.

So then our marvellous estate agent Jane (army colonel's daughter, raised in India, great Oxbridge sort of voice and a wonderful mimic at
anything else) threaded her way through the crowded London streets and we collected a wet but triumphant Avery from school having just had swimming. Clio is showing feet of clay: ""Sarah says she is always super nice to new girls [must pronounce this as if it were birds perched on a roof in Maine, "gulls"], and then..." I advise caution
and judging both girls on their merits. Another gull, Jana, plays the guitar which is an obvious draw, as well as attempting an American accent which Avery says sounds like Texas. How would she know?

A very funny thing before I forget. John went to the wine store with a request from me to find some exotic drink I couldn't get in America, perhaps some fancy vodka steeped in something. All this a throwback to old Moscow days where we marinated anything and everything (ginger, garlic, watermelon) in the stuff and made people drink it. He came back with a bottle of plain vodka and said, "Sorry, nothing exotic. But I could fix you a cocktail with just vodka and say, a slice of apple in it?" Avery pipes up and says, "That sounds so delicious. Just hold the cocktail, please."

Oh dear!

More soon...

05 January, 2006

here we are

















It's starting to feel real here now. John back at work, waking up every morning and it's still London. Avery's first day of school today. Now all we need is something to keep ME out of trouble.

After a very fitful sleep for John and me but the sleep of the just and innocent for Avery, we got up in the dark, heard lots of lovely reports of the coming bird flu pandemic on the BBC with our breakfast. We took her to school, heartbreakingly excited and scared, and so cute in her uniform. Her little wrists looked so vulnerable without any of her beloved leather and brass pony-name bracelets, her sea glass bracelet from Maine, her inevitable hair thingys. And no earrings! But with cold knees in the morning mist, with those tiny little turn-down white ankle socks. She was greeted very nicely by Toby the secretary, and Mrs D the headmistress, and given a King's College backpack ("not so very fashionable, lovey, but it will do the trick and hold all those pesky textbooks, now won't it?"), then she was turned over to an impossibly poised little girl and she was gone. Mrs D assured me, "We always find it's better just to send them off quickly, much easier all round." I guess she was afraid I was going to follow her.

Can't wait to hear how it all went in a couple of hours! I spent my morning at the department store John Lewis, ordering a bigger uniform shirt for Fifi who claimed she couldn't put her arms down in the size 26 she has on ("but then again, maybe I won't have to put my arms down
too much on just the first day," she reasoned). Then buying various things like a minute sewing kit in a plaid case (!), and wishing I had a need for some of the buttons they have, just so I could take the little glass tube they're stored in to the cashier and get my button from inside, and then put the tube back. I would also like to need some boiled knicker elastic just so I could say it out loud to the
clerk. But I don't think I need any.

Then a blissful half hour at the Waitrose grocery store, analyzing the seven or eight sorts of marmalade and being quite unsuccessful at ferreting out the differences among them, surely a native talent, and longing desperately for a real kitchen so I could acquire some of their ingredients in gorgeous packaging with labels like "A Generous Amount of Tomato Passata," or "A Pinch of Organic Saffron, "Just Enough Bouquet Garni for A Pot of Soup." Then another glorious hour at the Talking Bookshop in Wigmore Street, ALL AUDIO BOOKS! Things you'd never find in the US, like full-cast BBC dramatisations (note the cool British "s" there) of Lord Peter Wimsey stories. So happy.

Lunch alone, and now I'm back in the flat mercifully cleaned by the hardworking Maria. Cats not fond of her apparently, and so are invisible.

Tonight I'm making macaroni and cheese from five British cheeses
including Welsh Cheddar, something called Cheshire which although it sounds so famous I've never had, a Double Gloucester, a Devonshire, and hmm, the last escapes me. I always do this, all these fancy cheese, many different sorts, and guess what? It always tastes the same. I know the last cheese, I'm feeling disloyal having bought it. Gruyere. Although it could be Swiss which would be better than French from where I sit now. That with Old Fashioned Grand Duchy sausages, and a baby spinach and rocket salad with a dressing made specifically from a recipe requested by the Prince of Wales no less. Are you impressed?