Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Historical Post: Parting is such...etc (5 May 1998)

Our first house, a rental in London. When I read this again, it's interesting that some of what I originally thought were positives -- a playground full of kids across the street -- became more negative with time.

From: Eamonn Sullivan

To: diary entries

Subject: parting is such ... etc.

Parting from Theresa the second time was a lot harder than the first. This time, I was staying at the airport and she was flying off, back to the US. And this time it was the beginning of a seven-week separation, not just a few days. Yesterday, the day I saw Theresa off at the airport, was the blackest day yet.

The weekend that Theresa spent here, however, was productive. We found a place to live, finally, in Ruislip (pronounced RICE-lip), in the London borough of Hillingdon, which is in the northwest of London. It's a three-bedroom house, on a corner, so it's only attached to its neighbor on one side. It has a fairly large (by English standards) enclosed garden and a garage. Downstairs, there's a large living room-dining room combination and kitchen. The kitchen includes a washer and dryer. Upstairs, there are three bedrooms and a bathroom. Two of the bedrooms are large (again, by English standards) and each includes a large wardrobe. The third is smaller, but still probably big enough for the two boys. There's even a second bathroom, but it's outside, in an outhouse in the backyard.

The house is across a quiet street from a field, with a creek and a playground. Within 15 minutes walk (or a two minute, double-decker bus ride) of the house, there are four Tube (London Subway) stations, leading to three different Tube lines. If one, or even two fail for some reason, I can use a different line. There's even a British Rail station within a 10 minute walk, which also leads into central London, in case the Tube is shut down entirely by a strike a something. Also within walking distance are three schools, a Catholic church and dozens of shops.

The only drawback is that it's a long way to work -- a solid hour on the Tube. That's about what I spent commuting to work in Massachusetts, however, so I'm used to it. This commute will probably be a bit better. Instead of staring at the brake lights in front of me, I'll be able to use the time a bit more productively. And, since I'm near the terminus of all of the Tube lines, I'll almost always get a seat.

The Ruislip house was one of several we looked at last Friday. At the end, it was down to two: The other one was a house in New Malden, which is a suburb of London in Surrey county. The New Malden house wasn't near the Tube (my only choice would be British Rail) and it seemed to have less activities around for the kids.

On Saturday, Theresa and I spent several hours walking around Ruislip. One of the most encouraging signs was the 30 or so children, of all ages, playing in the field and playground across the street from the house. By the end of the day, we had pretty much decided, but we still went to the neighborhood church on Sunday evening, just to be sure.

I have to go to bed and I haven't even gotten to Black Monday yet. I'll write again tomorrow.


Historical Post: Another Update (30 April 1998)

My first experience of Indian food, and it took me literally years to get over my self-consciousness about how I dressed. I still look like an American...

From: Eamonn Sullivan

To: diary entries

Subject: Another update

I might as well file these frequently while I have the time. By next week, I'll be swamped. This week, I'm blissfully ignorant of what I should be doing.

Yesterday's new experience was my first trip to an Indian restaurant. They exist in the US, of course, but I've never been to one before. They're all over the place here -- even more common than Chinese restaurants in the US. Indian food is the cheap eats of choice.

Last night, I got back to the hotel about 8pm, starving. So I walked about two miles through a somewhat dicey-looking neighborhood to an Indian restaurant. The place was recommended to me by the hotel's bus driver. Of course, I immediately forgot the names of all of the foods suggested to me by various people, but they were patient enough to translate my vague descriptions -- "Chicken thing...spicy. Bread thing...stuffed with potatoes and veggies, I think." -- into actual menu items. I had to ask for a plastic folk or spoon. They found one, and were nice enough to wash it for me.

While they were looking for the restaurant's one plastic utensil, I asked if I could add a bottle of beer to my order. The guy behind the counter said he really wasn't allowed to...."But, what the heck, here ya go," and he stuck one in my bag. I asked how much. Nothing, he said. "It's illegal for me to sell it for carrying out," he said, "so you can have it."

The food was good, not intolerably spicy, and I got way more than I could eat for about 7 pounds.

I dressed differently today, as an experiment. Black shoes, dark green pants, dark shirt, leather jacket, dour look on my face. It must of worked. For the first time all week, the street vendors stopped trying to hand me pamplets for sightseeing tours.

Until next time.


Historical post: London Calling (29 April 1998)

I moved from the Boston area to London to help start a new computer weekly in the U.K., called IT Week. The following is my first post to everyone home. I was still jet-jagged. It's interesting to look back at my first impressions of the country.

From: Eamonn Sullivan

To: diary entries

Subject: London calling

I've now survived my first 48 hours, so I thought I'd drop you all a note and let you know how things are going.

I hit the ground running on Monday. I arrived, on time, at 8am Monday morning with too much baggage and not enough sleep. Somehow I managed to get the baggage on a train from Gatwick Airport to London (a 30-minute train ride, approximately), then into a cab at Victoria station, and finally into the office. That was harder than it sounds. The straps on three of the four bags broke at various times during the trip. By the end, I was carrying the bags one at a time like grocery sacks, moving them in stages, sort of like they do when climbing Mount Everest.

When I arrived, I was shown my desk and computer (a well-equipped desktop, but no notebook) and immediately ushered into a big breakfast meeting to introduce the local PR firms to IT Week's editors. I was the first one introduced to the 200 or so flacks in attendance and had to spend the next couple of hours in chipper conversation. I don't know how well I managed. I had a days growth of beard and couldn't see straight. I looked like a heroin addict (i.e., my normal self, only more so).

After that, I was ushered into a induction program for new hires, along with a handfull of other people. The HR manager here is on vacation for a week in Tunisia, so we were inducted by an assistant (a new one) who didn't have a clue who I was and why I was here. She misspelled my name on all the paper work, for example, but that was easy enough to fix. Harder to fix was the sudden realization that my family wasn't covered under any health insurance while they are still living in the US (Ziff-Davis UK doesn 't offer any health insurance, relying on the national health service instead). The assistant had no idea how to fix that problem, and only seemed dimly aware that this was a problem at all (she suggested I wait until next week or the week after to worry about it!!). Fortunately, I got my boss to pay (about $1,000!) for an extension to our current health insurance for a couple of months, which went into affect immediately.

I survived until 3 or so, when a car came to picked me up for the hotel. I'm at a Holiday Inn in the London Docklands, which I wouldn't recommend. It's a long way from everything, including any Tube or rail stops, and it's a bit run-down and gloomy. My room is big enough, but it only has a porthole for a window (which is part of ship/dock motif, I guess) so it's very dark. The room service menu is also a bit thin. The only thing remotely edible on it was a burger, so I risked mad cow disease and ordered one. There are plenty of Indian and Chinese take-out places nearby, so I'll probably be frequenting those.

After getting that meal down, I took a walk along the Thames. Nice walk, nice neighborhood (at least the part right up to the river), horribly dirty water. Quite large objects floating all over the place. Remind me not to complain about the Charles anymore.

I went to bed around 6:30pm, fell instantly asleep, and woke, well-rested and ready for work, at 12:30am (God knows why, since that's 7:30pm, EDT). Since it was a bit early to go to work, I read until I finally fell asleep again at 4am. Up again at 7am.

Things looked up on the second day. I sit next to a guy who is being relocated to San Francisco next Sunday. He's been editing my section until I came, so I shadowed him all day and drilled him with questions. By the end of the day, I was getting the feeling that I might be able to do this job. Probably illusory.

I also had an eye-opening first meeting with a vendor. It was with Novell. It's new head of marketing in the UK is a South African. He spent a good part of the two-hour (!) meeting telling a room full of British how much he can't stand the British, how backward they all are, etc. Interesting. Novell will do well here. Maybe the British like that (they all just nodded a lot).

The weather is similar. One minute, I'll look out the window and it's a beautiful sunny day. Less than an hour later, it's pelting rain. An hour after that: sunny again. We even had a couple of thunderstorms, which the locals tell me is unusual.

The Tower of London is outside our window. I'm back a bit from the window, so I only see the top of the tallest tower, with a British flag flapping away on it.

Other things I've noticed: They dressed better here. No one over 25 or so wears sneakers, unless they're running. Mine mark me as an American tourist from miles away. I'll have to buy some shoes this weekend and a few non-jeans and shirts. They also wear dark, muted colors (mostly black). I stand out.

The television is a bit better in some ways. I watched Braveheart and Aliens on TV, unedited, and without commercial break. (Mental note: Watch the kids with the television). I'm sure they also run good movies once in a while.

That's all for now. I'll update regularly.


First post

I wish they had blogs six years ago. It would have made my "email diary" about my family's move to London a lot easier. Back then I simply sent out missives to an ever-growing, manually maintained list of people. As a project to get those entries into a more permanent form, I'm going to post them here -- in all their embarrassing naive form -- and comment on how things have changed since then.