Why is it all we talk about in London is the weather?

The weather since we arrived in London has been incredibly pleasant. Averaging 14c (57f), sun, cloud cover (of course) and even after the sun goes down it hasn’t been too cold. Where’s the rain you ask? Oh, just wait for winter. But until then, I’ll take the 12c (53c) afternoons of late November.

Since being saved from B&B hell by a friend who has, along with her husband, offered us their wonderful home in Chiswick, things have been looking up. Having a solid base for flat hunting is marvelous. And, a note of thanks, we were able to be moved in just days before my birthday and, coincidentally, DW’s first day of work.

The house is just steps from Strand On The Green along the river Thames, in an area known as “Grove Park.” Not exactly convenient to the rest of Chiswick’s amenities, Grove Park has a rail station (Chiswick Station), an excellent and historic pub, and a parade of shops including a dry cleaners and off license. Five minutes walk down the road you’ll find us.

Before I got struck down with the illness that’s been going around I was running every morning along the river. There is nothing more inspiring than a beautiful location to run. I loathe just running in circles on a track, or on a treadmill. There are miles and miles of new things to see along the Thames. Here, take a look!

The start of Strand On The Green walking path.

That’s the Strand-on-the-Green Railway Bridge – built in 1869. These two should know better than to ride bikes along this path – forbidden!

See?

During low tide, which this is, there is plenty of river bank to trudge along, perhaps with a pair of wellies and a camera… or like this guy, with his metal detector.

Dorothy there looks a little sad and lonely… lucky for her she has loads of company. In the background you can see the many rowers that go along this part of the Thames. On a Sunday morning this part of the river is silly with rowers.

Not a great photograph looking west, but you see what I mean… rowing abound.

Now, there are 3 pubs along the Strand. The one closest to where we live is the oldest, the Bulls Head. Yes. There is no apostrophe. Again.

And just past the pub, one of the river’s many sailing clubs, just under the arch of the rail bridge:

The homes along the Strand are beautiful. Some have interesting features, like this:

Really cool house number.

Crazy tree that gets soaked at high tide. Across the river is Kew, and that’s Chiswick Bridge in the distance.

Seriously blue skies.

Look! A sea themed weather vane. Is that a mermaid up there?

No privacy here for home owner. Cause mugs like me take photos of topiary and iron work.

Ohh! Boot scrapers metal-worked into cats!

Puss in boots perhaps?

There ya go… closer look. I have a thing for boot scrapers. Perhaps because I want more pairs of boots.

Across the river to Kew… where you’ll find more sickeningly beautiful homes along the riverside.

Okay, remember how above I spoke about the pubs? Well this pub here is my favorite:

Another Fuller’s Pub, the Bell & Crown (which I constantly call the Rose & Crown) is where DW & I had our wedding reception 7 years ago. It’s a good pub, nothing special on the inside — but beautiful views on the outside:






After our pub visit, we walked back home, via Dorothy the wee boat. Here’s what she looks like at high tide:

Needless to say, we both breathed a sigh of relief after landing here at our friend’s Chiswick pad.

All around us is nature, and yes, there are a few of these:

And a few of these:

But really, how can you not be happy when you have this on your door step?

After we arrived, we were able to find a flat – one that we both fell in love with. Although on the opposite side of town from here… Which means now I have to go out and find things to do, explore the new area. No excuses!

And that is what we will talk about in the next chapter of our story that continues since we arrived in London.

Flat hunting is hell.

Just because it is less expensive doesn’t make it a better idea. It may make it better on the wallet, but on the sanity?

Let me backtrack a little. We started looking at short term accommodation almost right away after checking in to the hotel. Serviced flats, like Oakwood, seemed the best bet. We knew they’d be more than we’d want to spend. The Oakwood in Burbank is $3000/month for a studio. Ouch, but it’s fully furnished, has a real kitchen and cable/internet. No brainer.

But then we didn’t really have £3000 to spend on a short term flat, not when we were considering paying 6 months rent up front to appease the referencing gods.

So we looked around Gumtree, a popular classifieds site that does far better than Craigslist here. There are tons of listings for subletting someone’s room, i.e. short term house share. We’d had good luck with that in the past, including the glorious Gloucester Terrace Bayswater share. But this time, there really was nothing. I suppose not too many people leaving for a month at the end of October. But plenty starting in December!

Then I turned to Airbnb – where people put on their spare rooms, cool flats or even just sofa beds to rent out. We’d used it for a San Francisco weekend and it was great. The whole idea was that someone would rent your spare room, so you’d make it as comfortable as possible right? Easy choice then. We made enquiries and all but one were already booked up. And so we grabbed at it.

Good things about this place:

  1. Cheaper than the hotel
  2. Available when we needed it
  3. We could stay a couple of weeks until we found a place
  4. In Chiswick, an area we were familiar with and planning on looking
  5. Very close to transport

Bad things about this place:

  1. We couldn’t check in until 8pm because he was at a class all day
  2. Then it was 9pm
  3. Then it was 7pm
  4. Then 7:30pm when
  5. His housekeeper let us in – and the place was a tip
  6. She hadn’t cleaned in a couple weeks, see
  7. Stuff everywhere
  8. Dirty
  9. Dusty
  10. Creepy
  11. The fridge was really scary – food just sitting on plates
  12. The kitchen was so messy I never went back in it the 4 nights we stayed there
  13. Bedroom door didn’t close, so we had to put our suitcase in front of it
  14. The rest I shall just tell with photographs and captions:

Bedroom. You can spot what’s ours. The teddy bears. The suitcases. The stuff on the shelf directly below the Teds (but not the clutter below that) and also the top shelf where the fire place used to be. That off-white thing with the lighting fixture on it is the wardrobe. Let’s put our stuff in there shall we?

Um. Who does all this belong to? Maybe the girl he kicked out of the room and put on the couch upstairs so that we could rent his room for more money. That’s right. He literally made her move. Kicked her out of her bed. And as a bonus we got to remove her bedding for her. She walked past us not too long after we got there and I said hello. She said this:

That’s right. She brushed by and didn’t say a word. Maybe she is his girlfriend, I thought. Weird. But not as weird as the rest of this room:

Worst. Bed frame. Ever.

It clanged and shook if you so much as breathed near it. We had to tighten parts of it up in order to make it less noisy. And had to move it away from the radiator which it was jammed against. Lucky us.

See how the bed frame overlaps the window? And do I need to discuss the lamps or the artwork? The “clean” striped bedding smelled like body odor. Which meant so did we. Oh, the towels we were given smelled of Edam. And the mattress. Painful. Sink towards the middle. Shudder.

Ripped sheets and, in close up, the skirting on the bed is filthy. Shiver.

And just a reminder about:

Perhaps you think I am being a bit harsh. Oh D, you have a place to sleep at least. And it’s warm. And it’s right in the middle of the village. How can you complain?

<cue scary music>

I can complain because of this:

And this:

And these:



But almost worst of all.

The only thing.

That separated us in the bathroom.

From the prying eyes of the landlord outside the door.

Was.

This.

Have you finished screaming yet? I have never been more frightened of a bathroom in my life! And I’ve stayed in European youth hostels.

On the morning we left, we were both getting ourselves ready to leave, and the landlord stood outside the door. I could see his head. Just standing there. It was like Norman Bates’ British cousin was outside ready to kill us. And all that protected my vanity was his deceased mother’s dressing gown. All was quiet. Then finally, he shuffled off for the day.

We never saw him again. But if he had turned around and taken a look at us as we waited for our cab outside, with all our belongings, he’d see this:

Yep, that’s me. Unamused. Surrounded by all our belongings, waiting for Addison Lee.

The taxi picked us up and we were off to Strand On The Green and our friend and savior’s home.

A beautiful weekend in southwest London doesn’t suck.

Sunny, blue skies and 16c. That’s 60f. In November. In London. That’s summer weather! So we took advantage of the beautiful outdoors and did what normal people do.

We went furniture shopping.

Now that we have a flat all sorted out (more on that will come with the alternate storyline) we have to fill it with furniture. This is more difficult than it sounds due to nothing being in stock or being manufactured in this country. Generally it takes 10-14 weeks to have a sofa made and shipped, likely from China. Or a bed frame. Can’t fault companies for not wanting to over-produce. But really. Just give me a freaking sofa, already.

So we went to Richmond, a beautiful village just a few minutes down the road in zone 4, right at the end of the District Line. One of our first “dates” was a long walk from South Ealing, across Gunnersbury Park, down and over Kew Bridge and along the river to Richmond. We loved it so much, we lived in Richmond for 2.5 years and it’s lovely. Here, I’ll show you why:

Terraced Georgian Houses on Richmond Green and the amazing House of Chocolate.

A particularly foggy day on Richmond Hill. This promenade boasts one of the most picturesque photo ops of the Thames below, a photograph I have yet to successfully shoot.

A pano of Richmond Hill from the river footpath below. Somewhere up there lives a Rolling Stone. Brad and Angelina have made Richmond their home. Wouldn’t you?

I mean really, isn’t it just lovely? Enough of the past, back to the present. After popping into a couple shops, we made our way down to the river in search of lunch.

This is just one of the beautiful cobbled roads that lead down to the river.

And the Watermans Arms (That’s correct. No apostrophes here.) is just one of the many pubs. This one serves Thai as well as British food and is a Young’s pub. That means it is run by the Young’s Brewery and sells/serves pretty much whatever Young’s allows them to. Young’s is a local, south of the river brewery. North of the river on this side of town you find a lot of Fuller’s pubs.

Anyway, I am a big fan of Young’s. And not just because they use an apostrophe. There is not nearly enough of that here, frankly.

Another Young’s pub, just a few steps down the cobbled road to the riverside, is the famous White Cross. It’s famous because of this:

See this lovely river? That’s the Thames. And this is low tide, a chance for people to wander down the banks, feed the birds, do a bit of metal hunting with their fancy detectors. You know, that sort of thing.

Or perhaps a bit of barge spotting. We think this one is a Dutch barge. Wonder what those two down there think…

See how close the pub is to the river?

And see all those bikes attached to the rail? Well, when high tide comes, it’s likely you’ll see this from the wonderful beer garden of the White Cross:

Click here to open a photo in flickr. Come on, you know you want to!

No photos from me of the daily high tide this time around, I’m afraid, as we were not wearing our wellies and our best photographic equipment is on a boat somewhere in the Atlantic.

We decided to go to another pub down by the bridge. Because sometimes even this gets flooded:

And it can be pretty smelly. Sorry, Thames, it’s true.

So we grabbed a high and dry bite to eat at the Pitcher and Piano. Sitting outside in the beer garden under a heat lamp, it could have been LA with how beautiful the weather was:

Perhaps with just a few more clouds.

Our Richmond furniture hunt may not have been a success, however our Richmond relaxing Saturday afternoon of fun was a success. I’ll drink a bit of Malbec to that!

(See look — short sleeved shirt on that girl! Oh how long could this last? Well, today it’s very cold and foggy out there so apparently only 2 days.)

Coming soon, a walking tour of Strand On The Green, the area where we are staying at present. Yes, there is actually a place called Strand on the Green. Take that, Richmond upon Thames!

Flat hunting in London is hard core stuff

So we started flat hunting the second we got to the hotel. We made phone calls and booked in viewings in the Ladbroke Grove, Kensington, Fulham and Finsbury areas. And then we allowed ourselves a whole evening to relax and have fun, getting dinner downstairs at Oscar, the hotel’s restaurant. Might I ad that while I was having fun, DW was getting a cold. I was having a couple of glasses of a lovely Pinot Noir and DW was having decaf coffee.

Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

Well, the next morning when we awoke for our first viewings, it was clear that they were not happening. DW was officially ill and we decided to try and keep our later Fulham and Finsbury viewings in case he was feeling better.

And then I went back to sleep. Jet lag was wearing off and although my illness seemed to be clearing up, DW’s was getting worse.

Outside it was blue skies and beautiful weather but we stayed inside our hotel, me looking online for property, him sleeping off his fever.

So here’s the story about looking online for property. It’s all a sham. Nothing you see online on any of the sites, like this one:

… or this one:

… even exist anymore – if they did at all. They lure you in with good looking, reasonably priced properties available now and it’s all a sick ruse. The only available flats they have look like this:

It would take me too long to go into why the above is so utterly awful, but so typical of overpriced rentals here in London. Actually you know what? I went to visit that one, and I have two words for you: upholstery cleaner. Okay, two more: dirty carpets. Oh fine, you dragged it out of me, four more words: everything is falling apart.

So back to the fancy hotel we go and after some food we were ready to tackle our first viewings in Fulham.

I won’t take you through all of our house hunting horrors. But I will explain to you how it works here.

<begin long winded explanation>

Lettings are all represented by Estate Agents. They are the intermediaries that do all the viewings, paperwork, take money etc… They are a necessary evil in the crazy fast London property market.

All agents represent certain areas. In Fulham, for example, you’ll have 6-8 estate agents all competing against one another. If you want to rent in Fulham, you should sign up with all of them, or at least the ones who have flats in your price range. This process can take anywhere from 10 minutes to longer per go. Sometimes they will even have something they can show you immediately. Most of the time not.

You have to register in each area you want to look in, even if an estate agent has an office in every area. It’s a time consuming process.

And can somebody please explain to me why there are so many Hannah’s that work at estate agents? It’s really confusing. Hannah calls and I have no idea where she is from because we’ve registered with 20 agents. And they are all named Hannah.

Right. So there are a few big estate agents that cover virtually the entire city, but most agencies are regional. Some of them will be proactive and take you to other areas, but most can’t be arsed, it seems.

So you’ve registered with an agent either in person or by phone. Perhaps you have set up an appointment for them to take you to all the properties that fit your brief. Ideally you find at least one in that bunch that suits. Then, you put in an offer.

The rental market here is hugely inflated by the very agents that take you out. Their job is to get the best price for their client. You are not their client. No matter how much they might get on with you, they are there for the landlords. Because that is how they get their commissions.

So they will take multiple offers. Some landlords will wait to see how many they get and chose the best one. We put in an offer from that first viewing in Fulham on a modern 1 bed with bike parking, an awesome kitchen and furniture that was brand new (albeit there was too much of it for a 1 bed flat). It was in a pretty remote locale, the newly dubbed Imperial Wharf. Yes, there is a rail station that was very close. There were shops, a Tesco, some restaurants and a couple pubs. But it was a long walk to Fulham Broadway and the chic Parsons Green, and an even longer slog to Chelsea. Our offer was £20/week less than asking and we never got an answer.

Turns out he wanted more dosh, so took another offer, which fell through, and by then we’d already moved on. Too bad for him.

Now is when I talk about referencing. The reason the offer fell through was because they didn’t pass the referencing process. There are all sorts of hoops to jump through: personal and professional references, proof of employment, prior landlord references. These are not necessarily a problem except for employment.

I am not employed. Which means that we won’t pass referencing on the price range we are looking at because we can only get approved for a certain amount based on DW’s salary. I may as well be a stay at home mom. My potential earnings do not exist. So we started out with a fancy budget, then had to drop it to a mediocre one.

Until we realized that wasn’t going to work. We despised everything we saw that was within our healthy budget. Hence 6 months up front.

</end long winded explanation>

And further hence our need to get out of expensive awesome hotel and into cheaper less awesome places.

But no matter how many less awesome places we looked at, we couldn’t get past the tatty decor and furniture (90% of all rentals are furnished – so just imagine how many underwear clad arses have sat sweatily on that sofa…) or the lack of garden. We saw loads of fantastic two beds, but they all had single glazed windows and draughty front doors which equaled enormous energy bills. It was a disappointing time over all, as we were asked on more than one occasion if we could get our parents to co-sign us.

Sigh.

Anybody got a large 1 bed with gas central heating and an energy efficiency rating of at least 70?

No? Ah well.

Remember Remember some guy named Guy Fawkes

The fifth of November. When people light up fireworks in honour of some rebellious guy who is now immortalized as the official face of some protests or other.

After wimping out on going to a proper £10 at the door fireworks display like Battersea Park or Richmond, we instead walked down to the river, of which we are presently living not 2 minutes walk from on a lovely road called “Riverview,” which is just off an area called Strand On The Green.

Fact: we had our wedding reception in a pub down here. It’s true!

And as we started our evening walk, we could see fireworks from all over. We even stumbled upon a small fireworks display, of which I took these photographs:








Then I went a bit snap happy and had some fun with the camera outside the Bull’s Head (not our wedding pub, but another one):

Looking down Strand On The Green:

Chiswick Rail Bridge and beyond:

District Line to Gunnersbury:

River cruise enjoying the fireworks:

And the one that might just be my favourite…

On the way to the pub:

Goodnight!

I’ve always loved Bayswater. Until now.

When you think of Bayswater you think of Hyde Park. Whiteley’s. That little Spanish cafe that does the tasty chorizo scramble with a big mug of tea just off Westbourne Grove:

Well at least that is what I think of. I think of a glorious week just over 4 years ago when DW and I moved into our final flat share before heading stateside. We lived on Gloucester Terrace. Which looks like this:

Gloucester Terrace

And the view out our sublet window was this:

Geometric View

(photos above courtesy of DH)

I was no longer working, so every morning I got up, had a leisurely breakfast, wandered up to Queensway to grab a latte and a croissant from a little French patisserie and a newspaper, ideally one of the free ones, from the tube station, on my way to Hyde Park where I’d sit in the beautiful August weather and just lounge, people watch and drink my eventually cold latte.

Heaven.

I then left DW here for a month while I went to LA and sorted out living situations, cars and other down to earth, non-Bayswater stuff, always looking back on that time as a golden age of sorts.

Now when I think of Bayswater, I think of this:

See how absolutely lame that photo is? The feathered edges? The colour correction? Well that’s covering up a horrid, dirty hotel that says it has studios but really has tired rooms with a “kitchenette” that consists of a microwave and a kettle which has to sit on the floor because the cord isn’t long enough to put it on the “kitchenette” cabinet – which by the way was moldy due to a leaky refrigerator inside the “kitchenette” cabinet. The cutlery was not in a drawer, but just sitting on a shelf and there was no room to do any cooking.

The duvet on the bed looked like it’d never been cleaned. The towels folded up on the bed were falling apart – again, old and tired. There was no info on how to use anything in the room. Including where the bloody heater was.

The heater was this electric thing on the wall hidden behind a Klimt artwork. You know the one. It was like artwork – but hiding a heater. At a press of a button it opened up. It was supposed to expel heat. To top it all off it was over where there might have once been a working fireplace but someone in their infinite wisdom blocked it up. Have I mentioned my dislike for Klimt? And now he was keeping me from being warm? I hate that guy.

Next to that was this full size bar drinks cabinet looking thing that, as it turns out, was a clothes dryer. Need I mention that this hotel had no clothes washing facility? Was I to do my washing in the small bathroom sink and then dry them in something that looked like it should be storing bottles of Corona in a beach bar somewhere in Mexico?

And the bathroom. I don’t know the last time it was cleaned, but when I sat on the couch and looked into the room, it looked like someone had been killed in there. The tiled walls were splashed with something, I don’t even want to know what, and it chilled me to the bone. I never felt more like this guy in my life:

The walls were scuffed. There was construction going on across the street. Everything felt dirty and scruffy. And we just moved 6000 miles, put our house on the market, gave up our Mini (The Duchess) and VW (Mathilde) and our comfy couch (Couch) for this?

Hell no.

First we called down to the receptionist to ask how the heating works – after all we’d just spent 3 glorious nights in the chilliest of chilly Leicestershire, is asking for a little warmth too much to, um, ask?

Apparently so. The young man she sent up told us that the little snowflake sign on the remote meant “Winter” and not “Cold”. He couldn’t make the heat work either. And then he explained the rickety clothes dryer.

“It’s to dry your clothes.”

Really.

Then we went downstairs and asked for a better room. We were supposed to spend 2 weeks in a room without a kitchen, hell, without even a proper “kitchenette” like we were told there would be. After spending almost 2 months without a working kitchen and living off microwaved food, I think I earned the right for a hot plate.

The room was not available until the next night, and even though we were free to take a look at it, our room…

“really was the best room in the hotel,” says the girl on reception.

And so we decided to check out. Then the owner of the hotel came up and started giving us shit! Actually up in it, so to speak, telling us we should go to the Dorchester if we didn’t like his hotel. If only we could afford the Dorchester:

After he started to get more irate, I told him to take it up with DW’s company, not us. We didn’t book the place. And yes, we were leaving. He shut up and left us to leave – which we did. And we went here instead:

I’ve never felt more happily spoiled in my life. At the Charlotte Street Hotel it was warm, comfortable and friendly. Everyone was helpful, smiley and the restaurant excellent. There was a man who would bring us up a pot of hot water so we could make our Lemsips (cold medicine teas) because we were both sick, DW much worse than I. And best of all? He didn’t wait around for a tip.

Oh, and this is what we got to see out of our warm, well sealed, double glazed window:

The BT Tower! Right in the centre of town, a beacon of things to come! Oh joy of joys! No longer were we looking out our window at a building site. No longer were we freezing our butts off in a shabby Bayswater shit-hole.

We spent four nights living in this little piece of Fitzrovia luxury, having our own London holiday before real life set in. It may have been expensive but getting over our jet lag in a place like this was totally worth every penny. Everything was perfect.

Until we started looking for a flat.

And that is what we will talk about in the next chapter of our story that all started in Bayswater.

We started the day at the beach

and finished in London. That was the plan. Stay with a friend in Redondo Beach and wake up the next day at Heathrow.

Redondo didn’t disappoint. It was a beautiful blue sky day and after a brunch of benedicts and bloody marys we took our last walk along the coast for the foreseeable.



It was October 15th. And there was no online check in for Air New Zealand. That’s right. We had to do the old fashioned thing and go to the airport 3 hours early to get a good seat – or in our case, to upgrade to premium economy.

Oh I cannot explain the joys of premium economy. And ANZ has this new plane that is fantastically worth the upgrade fees. Leather seats. Ridiculous leg room. And no need to ever put your chair in the upright position. It’s more like a pod. The entire time we felt just like this:

Although we never actually shared a plate of… what is that, nachos?

I watched all of Bad Teacher (surprisingly entertaining) and part of some other movie I fell asleep before the end of. Nine or ten hours later we landed and sailed through customs and immigration, just in time for a two hour drive up to the in laws which, thankfully, I slept through most of.

So we went from Redondo Beach, CA to Gaddesby, Leicestershire in 24 hours. From the beach to this:

Beautiful cottage. No snow upon arrival. It may have been chilly there, but not *that* dramatically chilly. Old photo. But beautiful cottage nonetheless. And cold. I cannot explain how cold this house is. And Leicestershire. It was cold. Inside, outside, everything was cold. Could it have been all that sun at the beach had ruined me for the cold?

It was so cold my mother in law bought me the best gift ever. A hot water bottle. Not just any hot water bottle. A purple polka dotted one!

I slept with that every night clutched to my chest like at teddy bear. Even when I couldn’t sleep due to jet lag I hugged it. I hugged it at the dinner table (is that rude?), in the snug watching TV. I even hugged it in the car once. Yes, I was pretty cold.

And jet lagged. And sick. And exhausted. But I was well looked after and well fed. We visited a few pubs, family, and then on Wednesday it was time to go down to London and face reality: the accommodation we were put up in for DW’s work.

And that is what we will talk about in the next chapter of our story that all started at the beach.