Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Very London (Hostel) Christmas

“I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.”
~Taylor Caldwell

I knew that Christmas was going to be different from the get go this year. It's the first time away from my family, my friends, and all our traditions. I didn't get any of Mama's candy, Bre and I didn't get to watch The Grinch with Daddy, Michele and I didn't get to make our Christmas cookies then veg out on the couch with half the dough, etc, etc, etc. It was hard also because it was an Andersen Christmas this year (my family went to Grammy and Grandpa's in Connecticut) AND Aunt Kate was home in Maine. But I was pleasantly surprised when I ended up having a very busy and awesome Christmas :)

I worked right up until Christmas Eve day. The night before, Jac and I went to our favorite pub for food, and really got to catch up. We talked about taking more trips, especially since we're both working and I'll be in my own place soon. So, Christmas Eve Day I come into work to find out that all the offices are basically shutting down at noon for the annual hallway Christmas party. I helped them set things up: there were 4 tables of food (cheese, crackers, bread, meats, olives, cookies, cake, etc.) and then 2 of wine, beer, and champagne. Thats right--when the Brits do an office holiday party in the middle of the day, they really do it up. The deal was that everyone came out at noon, had some munchies, downed a few drinks, then snuck out around 2. I ended up leaving at 1:30 after my boss tried to give me a third glass of white wine. I went from the party to Bunac because a Christmas miracle had occurred, and my Christmas present had arrived from my family. Woohoo!!! I picked it up, and was back at the hostel by 4pm.

I got back here, and got a call from Allie Packard. She is this total sweetheart who I met through Aunt Kate. She is an actress, New England, and does some voices on Mr. Men. She had decided to come to London for the holiday, and had just flown in. We chatted for a bit, then decided to meet for dinner in Trafalgar. I took the tube in, and met her under the huge Norwegian Christmas tree:

We walked around the area for a while, then found a nice little Italian place for dinner. Our waiter was a very very flamboyant gay man from Poland. He tapping our shoulders with his fingertips while we were ordering food. We both had wine and sea food, and split a piece of the most amazing cheesecake. From there, we walked down to the Christmas Fair in Leicester Square, and grabbed coffee. We clicked really quick, and she was so funny and friendly. She had no problem making friends, and it was nice to spend some time with someone who reminded me so much of home.

After parting ways with well wishes, I headed over to St. Paul's Cathedral. I'm not sure why, but I really wanted to go to Midnight Mass. I heard the service at St. Paul's was amazing due to their choir. I called Nathalie, and she met me there. We were so early, but when we went around the Cathedral (which I have to go back to--it was so beautiful) there was already a line wrapped halfway around the building. We waited for an hour and a half, but it was worth it--we were part of the first hundred people in the door, so we got to sit in the 15th row back, right under the dome:
It was beautiful. There were candles everywhere, and the music was lovely. The service was a Catholic one, which I was a little uncomfortable with, but overall, I'm really happy I went.We sung three of my favorite carols, and it just felt nice to be with people from all over the world and of all faiths. Afterwords, I took a taxi home, and went to bed.

Christmas morning, I actually got up early…ish. A few of the guys were up as well, so we all wished each other a Merry Christmas and puttered around until the others got up for secret santa. While we were doing this, Steven tricked Harry into running out to buy a bunch of breakfast stuff by saying that I had already cooked everything we had, and there was nothing left. 10 minutes, 2 loaves of bread, a liter of milk, a dozen eggs, and a pack of bacon, and I was a French toast machine. They were getting eaten faster then I could make them. Luckily, the boys broke out the goods for champagne breakfast, and made sure to keep my glass full.

Weird tidbit: Aussies and Kiwis eat their French toast cooked in oil, covered in salt and chilli sauce, and without anything like syrup or powdered sugar. So basically, it’s just fried bread. Me and Casey the Canadian were totally grossed out.

Finally, everyone was up and we handed out presents. I was really proud of mine. There is this long running joke in the hostel that I never really got the whole story. For anyone living there for more then a month, the two most common phrases (picked up from a French girl who stayed there a while back) are ‘F*ck my life’ and ‘Oh my Buddha!’. No idea why, its just the way we roll. So I was wandering around the kind of ghetto Elephant and Castle shopping center (think Westbrook) and I found a little Asian cart that had Buddha necklaces. Fairly unisex, and since we had a £5 limit, it worked out great at £4.95. Casey ended up getting it. I got this really pretty little paperweight thing. It’s a piece of cut crystal with a miniature skyline of the Southbank carved in it. (Big Ben, London Eye, etc) I really like it.

After that, everyone kind of drifted around and did their own thing. We watched a movie, had more drinks (Christmas is a HUGE drinking holiday here….) took naps, hung out. I had gotten a package from home that had my stocking on it. I talked to my folks on Skype for a while, then called them back and Mom, Dad, Bre and I all opened our stockings together. We were such dorks—going around in a circle, each opening something and showing it off—just like I was home. It made me really really happy. Best gift: a hamster finger puppet. I love it so friggin’ much!! He is now my travel buddy….still gotta name the little guy….Other then that, got a lot of smelly stuff (because I complained about my room smelling like feet) and just little odds and ends. It was nice to read all the messages from my parents on why they picked each thing.

The rest of the night kind of descended into debauchery, as you can imagine with a hostel full of especially drunk friends who became family. There was food in the afternoon—just cold ham slices, Brie cheese, crackers, mini pizzas, etc. We all drank a lot of champagne and got loopy. There may have been an incident with three streakers…all boys…cute toushies ; -) I took a nap in the late afternoon, then sat up talking with people into the wee hours of the morning. Overall, it was a good Christmas. We were all really happy to be together with people we had become so close to, and weren’t too homesick. For the traditional Boxing Day of shopping and insanity, I stuck with the Andersen family tradition of going to the movies and sneaking around to see more then one. I saw Yes Man with Jim Carry (very similar to Bruce Almighty, funny, but it made me unexpectedly homesick for California) and then Twilight (which I really loved. The scenes were shot so beautifully, I love the soundtrack, and they did a decent job of sticking the original storyline. I agree with Yun—it was a lot funnier they I was expecting). I may have to go back to the theatre and do more day trips like that.

Now New Years...

Friday, December 26, 2008

Chocolate, Lace and Beer: My Trip to Bruges, Belgium

I have had my first trip out of the Big City. As I've been talking about for about a month, Bunac organized a trip to Bruges for their annual Christmas market. Somethings I learned on the tour about it: The population of Bruges is about 100,000 people, but the weekend before Christmas, up to 600,000 people from all over the world come into town. Its a big deal. There are a million little shops that sell classic Belgium goods, such as chocolate, lace, beer and handmade gifts. Belgium has 3 official languages, and the official one in Bruges is Flemish, with some French thrown in there for good measure. If you're going to Bruges for a short time, the priorities are either to a) eat, b)drink, c)eat and drink, d) visit religious monuments or e) shop. I got to do a little of everything.

The morning started at a loverly 4:30am. I had to catch the night bus from my hostel to the International Students House to catch the bus at 6am. I get really lucky, and only have to wait about 10 minutes for a bus. I get on, and climb up to the top level, hoping it'll be quieter and I can just listen to my iPod and try not to miss my stop. Well, I get up there, and there is this guy sitting a few rows back. I watch in the window as he slowly moves up a few rows closer to me. Just as I was about to dig out my keys to gouge him if need be, he taps me on the shoulder and says 'excuse me, do you mind if I talk with you?' He looked kind of zonked, so I assumed he just wanted to stay awake. Wayyy off base. First he does a really slow scan of my body while asking where I'm from and all that. Then, he asks if I'm married. I say no, then he says, all slinky, 'Oh, so you're free then.' As every single gal should do on her own when presented with a creeper, I lied. I said I had someone back home who was meeting me in the new year over here. He bought it (barely) then launched into how he wanted to meet girls over Christmas, but not have a commitment. WTF?!!? THEN, he suddenly asks me 'Are you a Christian?' I'm like, no. This leads to a long, complex lecture about how god exists, and why, and don't I want to save my soul by accepting him? I almost slugged the guy. He finally got off, and I was pissed to see that he had made me miss my stop, so I had to walk back. That was my kick off.

Day got a lot better from there. I got to the bus stop, and recognized a few Bunacers who were also on the trip. There were 3 bus loads of us, so we got on the road quick. My tour guide was this really great lady from Toronto who was 6 months pregnant--lotta energy. We drove from London to Dover to catch the ferry. This was uneventful, other then I met the girl who I spent the day with, Elizabeth. We were waiting for the ferry to come in, and she was reading Twilight for the first time. We got to chatting, then hung out with this bunch of other Bunacers I had met at pub meets.

The White Cliffs of Dover

Around the boat to the route we would take to France.

I had slept a little on the drive, so it was easier to stay awake on the ferry. We arrived in France, and got back on our bus to drive from Calais up through Northern France, and into Belgium. Unfortunately, this is not the area that is all vineyards and rolling countryside, but looks kind of like....Idaho, or one of those middle states that start with 'I'. Michele will understand ;-)

We arrived in Bruges around 1ish. We were told to be back on the bus by 5:30 sharp so we could make a 7:45 ferry back to Dover. Then they set us loose. Elizabeth and I branched off from the main stream and went to the Ice Sculpture exhibit. This was amazing. The theme this year was Harry Potter, which I loved all on its own, but also rabbits. Have you ever seen the picture of the giant rabbit on joke sites? The one that people ask is it real or not?: Yea, this one ;-)
Well, they really exist, and are raised for food like sheep in Belgium. This was proven when we wandered over to the ice bar, and all the ice benches were covered in giant rabbit furs to sit on. So the other them was bunnies:

Harry Potter and Hedwig (the owl)

Hagrid discreetly casting a spell on the ice wall

Me with Bunnies

So we left the Sculpture exhibit, and made our way into the city center. It was pretty warm--maybe in the 50s--and everything is still very green. Bruges is known as the Venice of the North for its canal system, which was beautiful.

We walked into the area around the center of town, and did a little shopping. I went into a lace shop and got a few gifts (which I'm DYING to write about, but I don't want the people getting them to know ;-) ) then we went into this one chocolate shop. The family had been making chocolates for 130 years: They were amazing. I sampled, then got some to send home. We took our time walking around, and watched this one woman making lace. She was so fast, it was really interesting. We met up with some of the people from Bunac, and went to this pub that served 350 types of beer. I got strawberry for 2.50 euro. It was 3.5% proof, and my new favorite EVER:

We swung into the market, but honestly, it was really a bunch of cheap stuff. The real finds were in the shops that had been around for hundreds of years (no big surprise) By the end of the night, there was time to grab a bratwurst, and a Belgian waffle (with caramel and bananas...*Drools a little at the memeory*) and we had to high tale it to the bus. Got there with 10 minutes to spare, but we ended up sitting there for a while because two stupid girls got lost, and were getting a ride back from some locals. They finally called and said they were just going to get the Eurostar back, and we headed for the ferry. We ended up missing the 7:45, but luckily got the 9pm...it all felt very familiar ;-) The rest of the ride was uneventful, and I got back to the hostel at 1am...just in time to get 5 hours of sleep before work.

It was a really great little get away, and has inspired me to look into other trips--tho if I go out of country again, I will definitely be making it an overnight trip. My next ideas are Edinburgh, Oxford, The New Forest, Nottingham, and the Lake District to stay on a horse farm where you just ride your horse for 3 days. Thats my first choice. Any other ideas?


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Working Gal

I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. ~Charles Dickens

I love Christmas. I feel like it sounds so phoney to say it’s my favourite time of year, but it really kind of is. I love the cold weather, and all of the twinkle lights, and having moments that show what the season is really all about. This is the season for love, friendship, family, generosity, companionship, and care for peace on earth and goodwill towards your fellow human beings. Even if I am a bit cut off from my family and my home, I’m still bound and determined to have a nice Christmas in London.

It doesn’t hurt that I got a pretty great present to kick it off. That would be, my new job AND a job offer for when I get back to the States!!!

Here is how it all started. Last week, I was sick. Like I am every single winter, with my cold and my coughing and all that crap that tied me to a bed for 3 days straight. Because of this, I couldn’t work for Johanna, and had to cancel a few shifts with Esprit. Needless to say, I was in a pretty low place. Whatever you do in life, make sure you have plenty of money to back you up. I also had an accident with my computer and a very drunk roommate stepping on it and cracking the screen. I am literally going to owe my parents my tax refunds for the next 10-15 years.

But, in a true Christmas miracle, I got a call out of the blue from one of the 6 temp agencies I am registered with, and never heard from. They had a gig in the Accommodations Department of King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. It was good until January 31, and had a possibility of being extended further. £10 an hour, and 40 hours a week with paid lunch hours. They needed me to start the next day at 9am, and I took it! I had three days to train with the girl I was taking over for, then I’d be on my own. The job itself is easy. Now, I know I have said in the past that I’ve had easy jobs, but you haven’t heard of easy until now. I share my office with Corrine—everything you’d hope an old bitty from Cockney would be. She’s retiring in March, and doesn’t care if the place burns to the ground. The office itself is in the basement of the hospital, so it’s quiet. We are here for people to find us. We book in on call rooms for doctors, or long/short term accommodation rooms for up to 6 months. In all honesty, we just give them the application, and then fax it to the landlord. Around 2-3pm, I put together the packets that have the keys for the on call rooms, drop them off at the front desk, then am just here til 5. This has let me finish a book, update emails, do remote work for Johanna, and write blog entries like this. ; -) It’s not a matter of lazy—half the rooms we have are being torn down in February, and everywhere else is booked solid. So I’m basically paid to deal with egomaniac god complex sob story doctors who think they deserve to have luxury suite apartments and bitch if they are told there isn’t anything, or that the tiny studios that are the only things available are further then a 5 minute walk. Its working in Residence Life with bigger brats. To add insult to injury, Sodexho runs the cafeteria. But the people are nice and friendly, there are lots of tea breaks, and yesterday I got to spend my afternoon picking music for the holiday party next week and stringing twinkle lights in the hallway.

I love twinkle lights.

For the other part of it, after 2 weeks of phone tag, Johanna and I were able to finally meet up and settle up. I went to her house last night, and ended up staying for 4 hours, leaving with £100, 2 bags of leftovers from her house (she was going back to the States for the holidays today), and a promise that when I get back to the States, I can call her and she will create a job for me in her company to do research on leadership, communication, and teambuilding. She’s the creator and the CEO. She can do that. Until then, she wants me to stay on remotely, and will send me money for my work periodically. On top of that, she and her husband have a beach house in LA (technically Manhattan Beach) that they ‘are more then happy to let you stay in. We don’t use it enough anyway.’ So I may be moving to LA when I get home.

I love the beach.

So life is going pretty well right now. I move into my place on Jan. 4th, have a job that will let me save up for something really good AND pay the bills, I’m spending Christmas with my friends at the hostel (we’re doing a champagne breakfast, Christmas dinner, and a Secret Santa, so it should be fun) and on Skype with my family, and as for New Year’s Eve…guess we’ll have to wait and see!

Oh, and I’m going to Bruges this weekend to the Christmas markets! I need to get out of London for a while, and remember all the wonderful reasons I came here in the first place. Like travel! Here is a website for the markets. They have an entire Snow and Ice Sculpture Garden based on Harry Potter. Can't seem to get away from it here, can I? ;-)

More to come soon,

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Tales of Beedle the Bard

I was talking to my mom last week about going places and doing things on my own. I was talking about how I want to go on the Bunac Christmas trip to Bruges, but how I was a little bummed about going alone. (Now I'm bummed because I don't know if I can go--this cold has held me back from work for a few days, and it's really taking it's toll. But this is a happy blog :)) She said,"Em, I stopped being worried about you being on your own when you went to the Pirates 2 midnight screening in LA alone, and came out of there having made friends with an indie band. (True story: they sat outside in line and played guitar until they let us in. Great guys. We're MySpace friends ;-))

Anywho, in that true spirit, I was looking through some podcasts to load on my iPod, and I came across my MuggleCast one. This is the #1 podcast made about Harry Potter--the best show was when they had JK Rowling herself on for an interview. The great part it, it's all done by 6 fans who are my age, and they started it a few years ago. I went on to their site, and saw that they were going to be at the release party for The Tales of Beedle The Bard. This is JK's latest book having to do with Harry Potter. These are the tales written for wizard and witch children the way Grimm's fairy tales were written for us (Muggles). In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Dumbledore leaves the original copy of these stories to Hermione to decode, and she is able to use the tales to help Harry find the different Hallows. JK hand wrote and illustrated 7 copies: six were given to the people she felt had been the most involved with the HP series, and a 7th copy was made to sell at auction for her charity The Children's Voice. This last copy was bought by Amazon for $3.98 million dollars. For serious. It is 157 pages, all hand written and illustrated by the author, and has inserted notes from Albus Dumbledore.

Now that you have the backstory, here is where I fit in. On MuggleCast's homepage, they mentioned they would be flying over from the US to host the midnight release party for the book (the first one in the world, due to the time differences) at Waterstones Piccadilly. Waterstones is a chain bookstore out here, but this particular one is the largest bookstore in Europe. It is built in an old department store building, and is 6 stories tall, with a cafe and bar. Their fiction section alone was about the size of the Borders by the mall in South Portland. I was thinking about getting a ticket (5 pounds, which covered the podcast, refreshments, and a copy of the book.) But they were only selling 450, and I was worried it was sold out. But I called anyway. Luckily, they had 10 tickets left, and I was able to snag one.

Then this whole cold thing hit--hard. I get this every year, but I was to the point of being dizzy and coughing so hard I woke up my roommates. I decided to take the day, spend it in bed, then go to the release. I slept some, but not much, and made my way into the City around 7pm. I got there, got my entry bracelet, and wandered around in bliss. I ended up in the cafe around 9:30 with a large tea, and waited til they opened the doors at 10. I got to the top, and got in line for another cup of tea. It was crowded, but it was pretty evenly split in ages, origins (they did a poll during the podcast, and about 1/3 were American) and fan worship--there were a lot of people in great costumes--one came as Luna with the Gryffindor lion on her head--she won. I was getting my tea when I started chatting to this really nice woman behind me, and we decided to sit together for the podcast. She's here studying from the US, and was so great. She had come to this Waterstones to get her copy of Deathly Hallows last summer when there were over 2,000 people waiting.

We wandered over to the seating area for the show, and it was a pretty decent show. The store had been decorated in one section to look like the Forbidden Forest, and they had people dressed up like Dumbledore and Hagrid. These characters warmed up the crowd before the cast of MuggleCast came on to do the podcast. They had a quiz where they gave out prizes, discussed the book and the new international movie trailer, and then took questions to discuss from the crowd. If you listen to MuggleCast #164, you can hear me asking how they feel about the theme park that is opening at Universal in Florida in 2010.

After the podcast, they had a costume contest, and while Dumbledore was a bit bias towards some Americans who dressed up like the Harpies (there were others who were more dressed up, even the Harpies said this). The winner got the first copy. That was something else I liked: when you paid to get it, you also had the price of the book included, so you just got handed your copy. Here is the video of the release:

After you received your copy, you got a stamp saying it was one of the first released. I took my copy over and got it signed by the cast of MuggleCast. They were the nicest people. Elysa, the only girl, is from Baltimore, and knows people at McDaniel!! Small world. Then Matt and I totally bonded over Wicked, and Andrew and I talked about TV Production classes and blogging. It was exactly the kind of experience I love having, where I can meet people who I just click with because we love the same things.

Cassandra (the woman I'd been hanging with) and I walked back to Leicester Square to the bus stop. Since the Tube stopped running at midnight, and this was now 1:30am, I had to take one of the many night buses that run from midnight to 6am. Luckily, the N5 lets off right in front of my hostel. I got on the double decker, and sat upstairs to try and avoid the drunks. I called my folks to stay awake, and chatted until I lost my voice, and the drunks stumbled upstairs. I got back to the hostel around 2am, and went to bed.

I've been reading one Tale a day (there are 5) and they are each wonderful and something that I will read to my kids the same way I'll read them Grimm's fairy tales, Greek myths, and The Hobbit, just like my parents did for me. I think these are stories that have the potential to really stick with kids--even before they are introduced to Harry Potter.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Getting Colder, but Brighter too

Ah, the first few days of December. The air is crisp and cool, there are twinkle lights everywhere, and if you try really hard (and grew up in Maine) you can smell the snow before it even hits the ground. You start doing holiday stuff-Hannah and I spent last night building her little paper tree her mom sent her, had pizza and mini-pies her roommate brought home, and watched a bootleg copy of The Santa Clause online. Good times...it actually really was :)

For me, it means my inevitable holiday cold. I use to think that this only had to do with the stress that comes from finals, moving from school to home, that sort of thing. But apparently, you can still get the plague away from all that kind of stuff. Although I am living in a room with 15 other people…and its still cold season…and I’m kinda stressed…guess all the factors are still there.

Things have been ok. Not fantastic, but not horrible. Courtney’s visit, as I’m sure you saw from the last entry, has been a big highlight of my time here. We had so much fun, and it really showed me how far I’ve come. I know my way around, I budgeted, and I enjoyed a lot of the things offered here that I don’t have at home. I was really sad to see her go, but it also gave me hope. Courtney and I are very (VERY) similar people, but we never got as much time to figure that out when we were at school. We had other sisters, friends, work, etc., but I feel like we really came out of this week with a much stronger bond. It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve spent every day with someone in a week, and had no fights, no bad feelings, no frustrations or complications. It was refreshing.

After she left, I started my two new jobs. Now, before we get into that, if I’m not bouncing off the walls, its only because I am fond of security and steady work. These have neither, but I’m ok with it…kind of.

First of all, I started working with the lovely Johanna—this may be the best job I’ve ever had, and the shortest. She has her own company, and lives mostly in the states. Her husband is from Chicago, while she is British, so they also have a beautiful flat in Maida Vale here. Her company—which I may very well apply to full time when I get back—is based out of LA, and designs training programs for different companies. For example, Jo’s latest program is Positive Under Pressure; a professional development training program that she did for Boeing that helps their employees learn how to stay positive under pressure, and manage stress in constructive way. She is currently working on a bigger program for them, and the two areas that I am assisting her on are Gender Roles and the 4 Generations At Work. Here is my favorite part: she is a total movie buff, and was a theatre major at university. I told her about my senior seminar on gender and culture in Disney films, and after looking it over, she is now having me re-write it as a 4 hour seminar!!!!! Its geared to influences and representation of gender roles, and how cultural icons such as the roles in Disney films imprint on us from the very beginning. She wants be to write the entire thing. Ahh!!! My only concern is Disney throwing a hissy fit, but worst comes to worst, she can deal with that in LA (as horrible as that sounds). The other section is on what it is like in the current workplace now that there are 4 generations working in it: The Silent Era, the Baby Boomers, Generation X and the Millenials. The economy is dropping, so all these generations are working at the same time with different ideals and goals. Our program is designed to pinpoint these goals and show how they can be achieved without leaving anyone out. Again, writing the whole thing myself. She is also having me redesign the website, and she says I get her style better then people she’s been working with for 5 years. Here are the main highlights of the gig: I work in her home office from about 11am-anywhere from 4-7pm. She hates mornings. I usually get there, we go over stuff, I work for a few hours, we take a tea break, talk, work a bit more. She knows I have a cold, so she brings me tea in the office, usually with a scone or chocolate biscuit. I think she is happy to have the company more then anything else. At the end of each afternoon, we walk down to the Tube station together, and she pops to the ATM next to it, and hands me cash for the day. That’s right—tax free, paid daily, cold hard in my pocket cash. Its glorious. The downsides are that she can be kind of sporadic in her timing: when I was there yesterday, she told me she was going to Oxford for a few days, and not to come in til Friday. Good, because I really REALLY need to get over this cold, and bad because its two days I’m not working. Tho I did work all weekend….ca va. She also has a hard time focusing. She repeats herself a lot, and totally pulled a Devil Wears Prada the day before last when she actually said, ‘now, where is that piece of paper I had in my hand yesterday that had the thing on it?’. Being brilliantly in sync, I knew exactly what she was talking about ;-) Overall, its fantastic, but it ends when she goes back to the States a week from Monday. And she has family stuff to do this week, which means I can’t work for her every day. The real reason I’m antsy about this is that I can’t tell my other job how available I am.

Now to the other job. I got hired with Esprit, the number one event waiting company in Britain. They work for a million different companies and events, and Christmas is crazy for them. They do holiday parties almost every day, and work everywhere from Wimbledon (did you know you can do parties there?? Like the sky box at Fenway) to private country homes to the Palace (they did the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday party. Apparently Prince Harry is a douche). The funniest story we heard was when they were telling us about their apparel requirements. Its not too bad—I have to go buy a black shirt with ¾ length sleeves and some ‘shiny polishable shoes’—but Sir Elton John hires them a lot to do his private parties, and he’ll only hire the boys. When he does, if you are assigned to serve him at the head table, they are required to wear pink hot pants, a sparkly vest, and a pink boa. No lie. We saw pictures. One of the guys at the training session almost peed himself. Anywho, we had a 5 hour long training on how to set the tables, what to do at the bar, how to serve champagne and what not to say (you can’t say ‘would you like some more?’ because that implies the person is an alcoholic. I’m totally going to screw that up), and how to set and serve at the table. These are high power hard core Brits here: we can only serve over the person’s left shoulder, then pour wine, clear, and refill water on the right hand side; we learned how to properly set the table and how to line things up evenly; and then how to serve and clear in formation and in sync. Like I said, hardcore. But the people seemed really fun and nice, and I loved everyone at the training. I’m working my first gig for them on Saturday, as long as the plague has subsided. After that, they said they have work for me every day—I just have to figure out a clear schedule with Johanna first. If not, I’ll still have almost 2 weeks before Christmas to work for them.

In other news, I am getting a room! Let's call it my Happy New Year's present. I finally found a place that works. It’s more then I wanted to pay, but the deal can’t be beat. I’m going to be living in South Kensington, off of Glouster Road. For those of you who don’t know, this is the upper crust area. There is a hotel 2 buildings down from mine that goes for ₤2,000 a night. My room is in the basement of a building with 6 other girls. We are all Bunac-ers, and all American (kinda bummed about that, but what are ya going to do). The guy who rents the rooms out is Scottish, and has a deal with Bunac. We have access to a private garden (like the one Julia and Hugh climb into in Notting Hill. It’s amazing—think Eden) and are 5 minutes walk from the Tube station, laundry mat, 24 hour Sainsbury’s aka grocery store, plus little shops and cafes. Its 10-15 minutes walk to Hyde Park, my FAVORITE part of London, and is in Zone 1 so very central. As for the money, no deposit and 28 day contracts. I can stay for a month, and if it’s too much, move out. It comes with all bills included, free wi-fi, tv, vcr, linens, utensils, pots, pans, microwave, my own mini fridge/freezer, 2 burner hot plate, kettle, and a lot of storage space. Now, ignoring the mess of the chick who lives there now, for a mere ₤440 a month in a ₤2,000 a night neighborhood, starting Jan. 5th, 2009, here is my room:

Ok, so the shower (in the back right corner, where the bathrobe is) and kitchen (bottom left corner, with the sink under the mirror) are in the room with me, and it’s about the same size as the room I had in college. The closets are on either side of where I'm standing, so it has more storage then it looks...even if it's kind of tight. Who cares? It’s a place to rest my head, store all my stuff, has a window, lets me live in a great area, and is all mine. I’d never be able to get a place without a deposit, and especially now since I’d only be able to sign a lease for a few months. I’m relatively happy about it.

As for everything else, my plan to sublet from my friend for Christmas fell through, so it looks like I’m going to be staying at the hostel. Other then the cost thing, that’s ok. I told my friends here I was moving out next month and they were all really sad. Even AJ the manager was bummed-‘I need someone to keep these yabos in line’ I think was his wording. So here I’ll stay. I’ve been paying on a weekly basis, but I need to figure out my plans soon. Christmas isn’t too bad, but if I’m here for New Years, I need to book asap. I may talk to AJ tomorrow and see if I can pay for New Year’s Eve and Day now, but the rest on a weekly basis. That’s where all my Jo money is going. I did get to set up and decorate the Christmas tree here. I’ll post a picture soon. I was pretty proud of it—for a fake tree, it looks pretty sweet.

I’m going to go take a nap and try not to hack up a lung, but I’ll write more soon. As a treat, since I don’t have to work tomorrow, I’m taking myself out tonight. In true geekdom, but at the same time for the love of, I’m going to the Waterstone Piccadilly bookstore, the largest bookstore in Europe, for the release party of JK Rowling’s Tales of the Beedle Bard. For those out of the loop, this is the book of wizarding myths left to Hermione by Dumbledore in the last Harry Potter book. JK decided to write out the whole book, and have it published. It even includes hand drawings by the author. MuggleCast, the #1 Harry Potter podcast, is hosting the party, so it should be good. I gotta figure out the buses to get back tho.

More to come, I’m sure. I miss you all, and wish I could be with you for one of my favorite times of year.