Initialising Heartbreak Sequence: My Last Week in London

Today is my last day. I sit here, forearms coated in little star-shaped confetti bits that were strewn over my desk when I arrived here, nudging aside the blue and yellow balloons crowding my computer and trying to take breath after slow, deep breath to keep from getting all sappy and emotional at work. Man, do I wish I could stay here. I just can’t really wrap my mind around the fact that this is my last time writing copy for the magazine, the last time I’ll laugh with my coworkers, the last time I’ll answer the phone, “Good morning, Bayswater Media, Michelle speaking – how can I help?”  In a matter of hours, I’ll be hugging my colleagues goodbye. I’ll be walking down lovely, bustling Regent Street for the last time. I’m getting a lump in my throat as I type this.

So, here’s a quick summary of my last week here. It’s been fun, but nonetheless suffused with that niggling awareness that I’m leaving soon. Perhaps (but hopefully not) forever. This is how I’ve tried to make the most of it.

MONDAY: A knight on the town.

"We're knights of the round table / we dance when e'er we're able..."

After work on Monday, I met up with Maureen, Kaitlyn, Hannah and Chelsey at the Round Table, a fun little pub in Leicester Square.  I enjoyed a pint of London Pride and my first English roast (so what if it wasn’t Sunday?) and it was delicious – so delicious, in fact, that I didn’t even think to snap a photo first.  Just trust me when I say it was beautiful.  We chatted and giggled away a few hours, then walked to a nearby shop where the girls made some purchases and I just browsed the racks – muttering all the while how badly I need to save money and luggage space and convincing myself not to get anything.  We then walked the short distance to the heart of Chinatown, where I made good on my Wish List pledge and got myself some bubble tea from Candy Cafe – honey peach, to be exact.  It was so tasty and chewy and a perfect way to combat this sudden summer heatwave.

Sweet, tasty and cool. (The bubble tea was good, too.)

TUESDAY: Oh, we’ve still got most of the week ahead of us but, – oh, wait…now it’s

WEDNESDAY: The Scourge of Thursday

The weather was surprisingly summery (and has been all week – I’m still sweating a lot acclimating in preparation for the heat wave I’ve been hearing about back in the States) so I took full advantage and walked straight to St. James Park for some me-time immediately after work.  I hadn’t realised exactly how close it is and plan to go there during my lunch break today.  I strolled through the park, people-watched a bit, duckling-watched a bit more, and pulled up a sunsoaked patch of grass near the pond, slipped off my sandals and reclined with my eBook version of The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  I spent an hour and a half in bliss and actually allowed myself to reflect on this entire experience.  As I synchronised my breath with the sounds of the wind in the trees, I thought to myself how lucky I am to be here.  It’s been wild, informative, stressful, challenging, lovely and affecting.  Thank you for being a part of it – whether it was a quick skim of this post today, a letter in the journal Sarah put together for me, a Skype date, an email or a fleeting thought, you’ve all played a huge part in making my time here so special.

One of the best decisions I've made the entire trip.

I had to peel myself away from my quiet spot in the park in order to make it back in time to grab dinner and head out with the Fab Four.  We had put ourselves on the guest list for the Roadhouse – a distinctly American bar in Covent Garden and a favourite haunt of many Dreamers.  Mondays and Wednesdays are Rockaoke nights at Roadhouse.  That is, amateur barhoppers can perform and compete with solo karaoke acts in front of a live band.  Because of the high demand for these slots, one must sign up online in advance.  I filled out the form, selected my top three song choices from the list given (“I Believe in a Thing Called Love” by The Darkness was, in fact, my first choice), and let my cursor hover over the Submit button before promptly chickening out.  I regretted this, however, once I got there and had had a few drinks…er, gained some confidence.  The first prize was a £100 bar tab (roughly $160), so I probably should have gone for it.  Well, there’s always next week…oh, wait.

We wiggled our bums until the wee hours of the morning and had a killer time nonetheless.

Stole this gem from the Roadhouse website - kudos to the photographer, since I otherwise have no photos from this night!

THURSDAY: So long, farewell.

Thursday morning dawned rainy with a chance of hangovers and saw me struggling to get my tired butt to work.  I made it there and was forced to face the harsh reality of my present circumstances when I received an end of the day email from my supervisor (well, the one who hired me, anyway), Eve, saying that she wouldn’t be in the office on Friday.  Which meant I had to say my first real goodbye.  And it was hard.  I felt so unprepared and silly when I choked out a hurried “thank you” as she hugged me goodbye.  There are so many selfish reasons why I’m not ready to go back to the US (e.g. it’s too damn hot there, the nightlife is weak, I won’t hear cool accents everywhere, etc.), but I’m starting to realise just how important these people here have been to me.  I’m working towards something big here; each and every person I’ve met this summer has helped me along the way, and it’s really hard to stomach that I might never see them again.

All right, that’s enough.  Stay tuned for the pictures I’ll probably add to this post later and – maybe – another post or two before I retire this blog for good.

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You know you’re English when…

Frequently throughout the day, someone will get up and ask everyone in our department if they’d like some tea (I never do this, as I don’t know how everyone takes their tea and would probably make a fool of myself in the tea-to-milk-ratio department – how many sugars?  where are the sugars?  how long do I let it steep for?  Bollocks!)  Well, lovely Jess from Edinburgh did just that and all of us responded with the usual, “Yes, that’d be lovely, thank you!”  Including Jon.  Oh, Jon.  I’ve started keeping a secret list of funny things he says because I feel like at least someone should document it.

Anyway, a few minutes passed as Jess put the kettle on and Jon snapped up, strode over to her on his long, gangly legs and said in mock-indignance, “That’s fine, Jess. I didn’t want a cup of tea anyway,” turned on his heel and came back to his desk.  Jess was completely perplexed and reminded him politely that she had asked him and he’d already said he wanted tea.  Quite enthusiastically, as a matter of fact.

“Oh!  I must have just gone on autopilot, then.  Sorry about that.”

 

You know you’re proper bloody English when…your definition of “autopilot” includes enthusiastically agreeing to have tea.

Weekend 7: The Wanting Comes in Waves

Thanks for being patient, all!  As it’s the last week for me here (my, how the time has flown!), I’ve been a little preoccupied.  Here’s a rundown from last weekend (The Last Weekend).

FRIDAY: No dice, still nice.

So, Friday night was rather uneventful, actually.  I had an unsuccessful bout of dress-shopping immediately after work (no idea what got into me), and then headed back to prepare for Nuts Pub Crawl, part deux (aka The Crawl That Started It All).  A couple of us decided to stick around our building to eat/hydrate before the crawl and just meet up with the gang later.  “Later” resulted in the stragglers (myself included) bumbling around Piccadilly in search of the elusive pub crawl group.  No dice.  We made our way to the Garrick Arms (just a cozy little pub nearby) and wiled away a couple of hours chatting over a few pints instead.  I’m sad to have missed the pub crawl reunion, but made the most of it anyway.  (For the record, an English friend of mine told me I have picked up a bit of an accent.  “Blame the beers,” I said, but he thought it was “quite cute.”)

SATURDAY: A penny saved is a free drink earned.

I had intended to go to the Portobello Market in Notting Hill on Saturday afternoon, but it just didn’t happen.  Again.  Exhaustion:1, Michelle: 0.

AloHA!

That evening, I threw on an old standby dress I’d purchased several months ago, tried to manage my 8-weeks-grown-out mop of hair and ended up being pretty happy with the result.  The occasion?  Dream Careers Going-Away party at Kanaloa, a Hawaiian-themed (and surprisingly UNtacky) club.  We were given two free drink vouchers at the door and a private room all to ourselves (at first – it turned into a club free-for-all later, which made things interesting).  Finger foods were provided and there was a LOT of dancing.  Kaitlyn and I made friends with a couple of gate-crashers (Chris, an ivy-league-equivalent grad and film editor and Alex, a lawyer – both from London) who stood out like sore thumbs but were extremely good-natured and kind.  I’ve never seen anyone as flaily on the dance floor as Chris, but you had to give him credit for his innovative and contagious dance moves.  Seriously, everyone would start mimmicking him and pretty soon the whole club would be doing the reach-and-pull-bouncy-spazz dance right alongside him.  Who cares what university you graduated from?  We’re all lovable idiots on the dance floor.

I joined in shortly after this. (Yes, that's Stefan, our fearless leader, in the black.)

Don't ask.

Stephanie and Jeremy - dancing machines (also, I inadvertently got Chris and Alex in the shot - hey, boys!)

At one point, a big, flaming, champagne-infused drink made its way to the edge of the dance floor and I happily moved in for a few long pulls on one of the many straws.  Wine buckets were brought out and things started to get messy (but still quite fun) when we realised they were free.  I was 5 drinks in and still hadn’t spent a single nugget.  But, the night didn’t stop there.

I had noticed – unavoidably – a group of boisterous young chaps in a corner of the room, dancing around, standing on chairs, the works.  At one point, I even said to Hannah, “I wanna hang out with that lot.”  They looked like they were having a helluva time and I wanted to be in on it.  Well, apparently one of them felt the same, because Tom (26-year-old CSA in training) came up to me as I rested my tired feet, threw an arm around my shoulders and asked if I’d be embarrassed to be seen flirting with a guy in front of my “colleagues.”

I asked, “What makes you think I’ll be flirting with you?”

I charmed him, clearly.  He bought me a drink, asked me to move in with him and introduced himself.  Yes, in that order.  He was devastated to find that I was leaving in a week and asked me on a date to the rooftop terrace of the Trafalgar Hotel (okay, he gets points for choosing a classy spot), but it was getting late and – oops!  Look at the time!  My mates are calling me over and I really should be going.  Cheers-for-the-drink-though-BYE!

Okay, sounds harsh.  And it wasn’t quite that abrupt or rude of a dismissal.  He was a perfect gentleman (he only offered me a place to stay because I told him I was sad to leave London) and I really enjoyed his company.  He asked me all about American blokes (“Excuse me, ” I’d interrupted, “but I think you mean American guys.”) and how they usually behave around a good-looking girl like me.  What started as a pick-up line evolved into a conversation about culture differences and it was really pretty interesting.  He was sweet and gave me his number (you know, in case I miss my flight or something), but I have no intention of calling him.  Nor of missing my flight this Saturday.

SUNDAY: “Why are they chanting ‘bicycle’?”

I woke up to a friendly little text from Hannah reminding us that we had planned to enjoy a full English breakfast at a nearby cafe first thing that morning.  Yumptious.

Get in my belly.

Kaitlyn and Hannah then went for the royal treatment in a tour of Buckingham Palace.  I would have liked to go, but Maureen and I went to Notting Hill instead (finally) and took in the sights in that adorable part of town.  I bought little more than a bottle of ginger beer from Tesco (it was swelteringly hot and I needed my usual ginger beer fix – despite the name, it’s nonalcoholic.  Think: a zingier version of American ginger ale), but it was a productive journey nonetheless.

 

 

Legit.

Epic.

Next stop: Emirates Cup football/soccer match/game.  My first ever big-time football match and SO MUCH FUN.  It was a double-header and the first game was a little weak, but then came ARSENAL V. NEW YORK RED BULLS and things started to heat up.  A couple guys from the program showed their support for the US of A in a loud, obnoxious way, but I just enjoyed the game, got way too involved as a bandwagon Arsenal supporter, participated in the largest Human Wave I’ve ever seen, and happily nom-nommed on some typical gameday cuisine and – oh, did I mention it was a beef pie?  God, I love England.

BEST. GAMEDAY. FOOD. EVER.

They tied up the friendly pre-season match at 1-1 and the cup went to New York.  Arsenal may have lost, but they certainly won over a new fan – at least for the day.  🙂

So, that pretty much sums up my weekend.  It was really fun but overall pretty chill.  I’m trying to push out of my mind the knowledge that I’ve only got 3 days left here, but the doom and gloom is starting to creep into my (strangely) hot and sunny London days here.  I’ll try to continue to post about my last week, but will be losing plenty of sleep (and tears) as it is, both of which make it hard to stare at a computer screen.

Thanks for sticking with me thus far!  It’s been such a joy to share this experience with all of you – if only in some small way.

If you’ve been scratching your head throughout this post trying to figure out what the title is referring to, click here and find out.

*Note: this is one of my all-time favourite bands.  Not for everyone, sure, but this song came to mind what with all the wave-related things I experienced this weekend: a hawaiian-themed club, the Wave at the Emirates stadium, the waves of longing to stay in the UK coupled with the subsequent and confusing emotional undertow pulling me back home to the States….

Yeah, I’m a mess, guys.  This will be a very difficult place to say goodbye to.

Don’t Stop Believing: My Foray into the Embarrassing World of Dueling Piano Bars

Thursday night I went to my first-ever dueling piano bar: the Avenue.  And, boy was it a large time.

Despite the fact that I’m a veteran Milwaukee bar-crawler, I never made it to Lucille’s Piano Bar. Oh, it was on one of the crawls I did – I just never quite made it there.  For…some reason.

I always thought piano bars would be right up my street.  Most of the songs that sound best on a piano are killer crowd-pleasers and sing-a-longs, and no one loves belting out Bohemian Rhapsody more than I do.  But, I underestimated just how irresistable it is to sing out loudly and proudly after two Long Island Iced Teas and a pint of who-cares-which-beer-anymore.  And just how embarrassing it could be to take advantage of a mic shoved in your face as Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” builds to its climactic conclusion.  I may have blushed, but – sorry I’m not sorry, patrons of the Avenue – this diva just can’t be tamed.

All the backup singers.

We stuck around to dance after the dueling pianists finished up and stayed out probably a little too late.  But, it was a blast and the perfect precursor to the hot mess to come this weekend.

Low Tea: A Low Key Take on English High Tea

I’ve been told by several people (all of whom make a bit more than my £0/year salary) that I simply must try high tea at Fortnum & Mason, the Ritz, or Harrods. Admittedly, at £50 a pop, it’s bound to be some damn good tea and sweet things. But, as I’ve been raised by a couple of bargain-hunters (and easy-to-pleasies to boot), I decided to take Mum and Dad to a slightly more relaxed location.

A friend of mine from uni (pronounced YOO-knee, a commonly used abbreviation here for those happy booze-soaked years that earn us those pretty pieces of paper they call degrees) studied abroad here in London for a semester and suggested several brilliant must-sees, -dos and -drinks. One of these was Bea’s of Bloomsbury – a cute-as-the-dickens little tea shop and confectionary oasis not terribly far from where I live. I left work a little early yesterday and met the parents at Chancery Lane from whence we walked to Bea’s.  The place was boiling hot but smelled heavenly; they definitely needed to wipe down the display case glass after I’d practically thrown myself, drooling, at the stacks of red velvet and chocolate-Nutella cupcakes.  We ordered a pot of Vanilla Black tea and three buttery, rich scones.  I slathered my scone with clotted cream and sweet red jam and, quite suddenly, it was gone.  The tea was perfect with just a hint of warm vanilla-y sweetness and, oh, you get the idea.

Marked another thing off my Wish List!  🙂

Getting Down and Getting Dirty at Filthy’s

Though my Wish List had amongst its hopefuls a night spent at a gig in Camden, I’ve decided to switch gears a bit and make an exception after a fun gig we inadvertently attended at Filthy MacNasty’s on Wednesday night. Islington’s pretty damn close to Camden, anyhow.

The folks spent the day in Paris (oh, really, Mom? One day wasn’t long enough? TOLD YOU SO) and met up with Hannah Banana, Kit Kat, S’Maureen and me at Filthy’s for some pie and mash and, naturally, a few pints. They were out of pies, unfortunately, but we scoffed some chips and mayo (well, Dad enjoyed his usual pile o’ ketchup with a side of chips) and were pleasantly surprised when the raw and foot-stompingly boistrous English folk sounds of Skinny Lister came floating in through the door to the back room.

We made our to the back and what to our wondering eyes should appear but an upright bass, guitars, mics, accordion or two, and a few mustachioed blokes in suspenders bringing the crowd to a right boil around them. We were packed tight as sardines alongside clam-happy locals and I just couldn’t keep myself from bouncing along as I took swig after swig from my ice cold glass of Guinness. A sidelong glance confirmed what I’d seen from the corner of my eye – a giant ceramic jug (think massive moonshine vessel) being passed hand-to-hand around the crowd. A bald man flashed Kaitlyn and me a toothy grin as he offered up the jug and I yelled over the din, “What’s in it?!”

He replied, “Rum and gingah!” How fitting – the band had just struck up a lively tune entitled “Let’s Get Wasted on Rum and Ginger.” I shrugged and heaved the heavy jug to my lips and sputtered like a first-time drinker. Man, was that some fiery stuff.

Throwin' it back.

Could I get some clothespins? I’ll need to hang my liver out to dry after this week.

Lofty Goals: The Time I Met Jo Gambi

Every two weeks we’ve had a Tuesday night seminar as part of the Dream Careers program.  These are “mandatory,” but attendance is never taken and, therefore, has declined noticeably over the past two months.  I’ve always gone.  I don’t typically like to skive off things for no good reason and, as I’m here for the program benefits, I couldn’t exactly justify missing out on a few short hours’ worth of dull lecturing on “following my dreams” and “how to land the perfect job by…learning things and…having experiences and…being…myself.”  The first speaker was really great, the second had us close our eyes and visualize our futures (I had just told my friends that I’d punch someone in the face if we were made to do something “interactive” – somehow I refrained), the third spoke vaguely about his awesome life as an awesome exec at an awesome publishing company who wears awesome suits over his awesome tattoos that he has because he’s in an awesome rock band…

And then there was Jo.  Sweet, bubbly Jo.  The waifish woman with an adorable smile, a loving family and THE WORLD RECORD FOR THE FASTEST FEMALE ASCENT OF THE SEVEN HIGHEST PEAKS IN EACH CONTINENT.  What.  A.  Badass.

Her message was simple, casual and authentic: Life isn’t a dress rehearsal.  Her husband (also an avid climber/explorer) was diagnosed with cancer on two separate occasions and, after a near-death experience with an obstructed intestine whilst on an expedition, he swore never to climb again.  That lasted only a short time and the two went on to become the world record holders for a married couple climbing all Seven Summits (they’ve also skiied to both the North and South Poles together).  For those of you unfamiliar with the Seven Summits, they are as follows:

1.  Kilimanjaro – Africa

2.  Elbrus – Europe

3.  Carstensz – Oceania

4.  Denali – North America

5.  Aconcagua – South America

6.  Vinson – Antarctica

7.  Everest (the biggie) – Asia

They climbed all these while he was in remission.  What have you done lately to make your heart race?

Her slide show presentation was probably the most engaging I’ve ever seen.  I mean, what poor Marquette professor could possibly top a picture from the summit of Everest?  You can see the curve of the Earth and up into space even on a clear, blue-sky day!  She also had video footage of the constant snow-shoveling necessary for survival when camping on the more wintry peaks AND a clip of her throwing a frisbee from the summit of Everest.  This woman is an inspiration, a bloody riot and so full of valuable bits of knowledge and incredible anecdotes, I could hardly list them all or express them as well as she did.  But, one quotation stuck with me.  It’s by Calvin Coolidge (USA!  USA!) and perfectly embodies Jo Gambi’s brilliant philosophy:

“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

She has published a book about her life and loves entitled Holding On: A Story of Love and Survival, a SIGNED AND PERSONALIZED hardcover copy of which I am now the proud owner.  I feel so honored to have met such an incredible woman – I’ll be happy to share the book around once I’ve had a chance to read it!