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First full day

Well, we are now officially the proud renters of a nice house in Southeast London.

The first full day as an England resident started with several mishaps.

First, I went to the offices to check emails and get some stuff mailed to me at the office address, and found out that I am actually sitting in a shared office… only there was a guy already sitting at my desk, who clearly got annoyed at the idea of having to vacate it. I did not need the spot today, and an admin assistant assured me that the spot was allocated specifically for me, but I may have an incident waiting for me tomorrow morning…

On the plus side, the box with my office belongings already arrived.

Then, I went back to the hotel to check out. I always make a point of getting a printed final receipt with zero balance… only the printers were not working for some reason. Three receptionists with perplexed expressions on their faces kept assuring me that it was a completely abnormal situation, and I believed them, having had never encountered this problem before at a hotel. Isn’t that naive of me to believe that computer systems never break when I am in a customer capacity? What is that that I do for a living again?…

In any case, as any pessimist of my stature will tell you, the omens were there for a really rough day. So, the next problem followed in a jiffy. The cab driver refused to take me to my house, on the premise that it was too far for him to go and return. Having been driven in a cab all the way to Bromley once, I unsuccessfully argued, but had to settle for a ride to the London Bridge station, from where I took commuter train – same ride I will be taking daily. It’s a good thing that the house is only 300 meters or so from the train station – walking with 3 heavy bags is not my cup of tea.

Fortunately, a pleasant old woman who was making the house inventory in advance of me moving in, was not at all disturbed by the fact that I was 15 minutes late. I am pretty sure that that fact somehow negated the omens, and the day avoided being a complete disaster.

The rest of the day was spent unpacking and attending to some stuff with utility companies. Getting to a customer service agent on the phone turned out to be a bit more problematic than in the States, but once I was connected, everybody was extremely pleasant and helpful. I am starting to think that British hospitality may be on par with famous Southern hospitality.

And then I ran out of money on my cell phone.

During our house-hunting trip I bought a “pay-as-you-go” SIM card, put £20 on it, took out the original T-Mobile card from my tri-band phone, popped the new one in, and voilá – I have a UK cell phone. It worked quite well, I still had over £12 left this morning, and since getting a land-line in the house is tricky – British Telecom is one company where I was not able to reach a representative, – I felt quite good about my foresight in acquiring this card. No matter how much I talked, I did not expect to use all balance in a day… Ri-i-i-ght!!! At some point, the phone started responding to every number punched in with a damning phrase: (cue sinister music) “Calls to this number are barred from your phone”.

Fine, I need to “top-up” – in other words, add money to the card. There is a toll-free number to do that with a credit card… except that toll-free numbers are not free when you call from a mobile phone, and, therefore, “calls to this number are barred…” You can also top-up via internet, only I do not have internet in the house yet. What I need is a public phone! So, I end up walking to the train station, calling the toll-free number from a public phone booth, adding another £20 to the card, and my phone starts working again. Hooray!

At the end of the day, I decided to explore immediate environs. One of the nearest street intersections is a cluster of maybe 30 businesses. Among those there are 5 convenience stores/newsstands (each selling plenty of cheap booze – in fact, booze outnumbers all of the other “conveniences” combined) and 4 barbershops/nail salons. In addition to 3 requisite real estate agencies – those are literally everywhere, – it’s a pretty curious concentration. I guess our neighbors are all well-groomed and well-liquored-up…

P.S. Every time I see a car on the left side on the road, it looks incredibly weird…