Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ice cream is for everyone

While I applaud Carlo for bucking multiple conventions with his pink ice cream truck in North London, I do wonder whether – considering his target market – he's chosen the right catch phrase.

If Carlo is truly Venetian, and English is indeed his second language, I worry he's not aware of the other, more sordid pun in:
Often licked ~ Never beaten.
What's more, I worry that he is.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The devil made me do it

I was number 666.

During a single afternoon, 665 job-seekers managed to find the ad before me. The counter on the online posting told me so, and awakened the little devil on my shoulder.

As a new Canadian immigrant in London, vying against thousands of other PR consultants amid Credit Crunch hysteria, growing nationalism and massive job cuts, I've begun to wonder if I might need to sell my soul for employment. It's less messy than selling a kidney for rent. But I've already tried going corporate – trading my soul for a security card and cubicle – only to find myself, 4 months later, backpacking through Central America in search of it again.

This time, I decided to take a different kind of risk. This time, I'd run with the devil in my cover letter:
Although I was the 666th person to view your ad, I'll not be deterred. Not odds nor omen are any real match for the right candidate.
After attaching my CV, I hit SEND and laughed to myself. I knew I wouldn't get the job, but having written no fewer than 50 cover letters in recent weeks, it was fun to change things up a little. Besides, I wouldn't want to work for anyone who doesn't think I'm at least a little bit hilarious.

Two days later, I received an email. Of more than 300 applicants, I'd been selected as one of 10 to grill for ideas. I whipped up (read: sweat out) a proposal. I knew I wouldn't get the job, but having been out of work for a month already, it was nice to write something other than applications.

The next day, my potential employer asked me to come in for an interview. A motivational speaker first, he's now an extremely high-energy and successful all-rounder, writing books, making a documentary, and aiming really, really high.

He asked questions like, "What are three things you'll do that will frustrate me?" And, "What would you rather be doing with your life?"

And said things like, "Are you always like this?"
And, "I'd rather be a travel writer."

We joked a bit, fought to be heard, talked over each other, and then it was time for me to go. I had no idea how it had gone, but when I passed by the next candidate in the hallway, impeccably dressed, in a power suit with her hair pulled back tight, I knew he was about to make her head explode.

On Saturday, even with more candidates to interview, he declared me a finalist – one of three. Right now, I'm supposed to be reviewing a brief to discuss with him tomorrow.

I know I won't get the job, but ... but I just might.

If I don't, I'm going to ask Satan to hook me up with a couple of plane tickets to Thailand. He prefers hot places and, honestly, so do I.

That's me really happy on a beach nearer to the equator than I am now.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Calling all alternate realities

I really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really just want to hop a plane to India today. Or rural Mexico. Any happy place will do. Even Nova Scotia:

These are my feet in hand-knit socks Cathy's mom made, on the deck of their family home on Nova Scotia's Lighthouse Route. Oh, and that's a bottle of her dad's homemade wine. We stole it from the cellar; evidence that some of the best things in life never change.

Friday, March 20, 2009

It's sunny in London, that I know

London has a certain je ne sais quoi that Montreal doesn't have. An edge that's perhaps more accurately described as a certain je ne veux pas savoir quoi. Which means, there's a lot going on here I've yet to figure out, and just as much I don't want to know.

Like, what's actually going on in the smoky back room of Billa's Food and Wine store and why he's so jittery. And, how Mr. Brain's frozen Pork Faggots are made; who dropped the prison visitation form outside my door; why the Christian youth centre on my block was taped off as a crime scene; and, how many cigarettes I'd have to smoke with my nose to build up as much bubonic black goo as London leaves in my nostrils each day.

When I decided to move here, I had no illusions. I just had no idea what I was getting myself into. Not really. As anyone who's never been to London (and many who have), will tell you, the city's expensive and it rains a lot. But after living here for a few weeks, I'm amazed that's all they'll warn you about.

My induction began my first weekend here, when I met an old friend for dinner. She's been teaching in London for a few years, and it's on her I rely to have my back when ... well, all the time, actually.

"Sorry I was so distracted on the phone last night," she apologized as soon as we settled in at a pub. "But I'd just found out about this." She pulled a tabloid clipping from her purse and navigated it around pints of cider and Guinness to my side of the table. A marijuana grow-op had been discovered in an elementary school. She paused while I scanned the article before delivering the punch line, "I work there."

The power company had tipped off the school's administration that a surprising amount of electricity was consumed by operations in its basement, to which only the groundskeeper had access. Fortunately, this wasn't the first time grow-ops were found in London's elementary schools, and so the story failed to capture broad media attention.

I wouldn't have noticed anyway. We only have four TV channels where I'm living, and I don't bother turning them on. The real entertainment is outside.

Friends back at home ask me things like, "Do you still see double-decker buses in England?" It's a question fuelled by the same cross-Atlantic understanding that makes people in London express concern that bears and seals are going extinct in Canada.

Not only do I see double-decker buses, I see them chased down and cut-off by police cars, surrounded by stick-wielding officers, and their passengers subdued and arrested – often. I don't even stop to watch it happen anymore. Re-runs get boring.

Thankfully, Brixton Prison is a bus stop on my route, so when it comes to keeping me entertained, my neighbours are fairly innovative. At the tube station just last week, they gave me the Quantum Leap experience, which was awesome, because I love that show.

The scene went like this: suddenly and without warning, I found myself to be the only thing standing between an angry mob of pasty middle-aged footballers and a wall of irate Jamaican locals. They charged and just like the show's star, Sam, I leaped clear just in time. And then I drank some cider.

Of course the UK's not all fish and chips, bangers and mash, and mushy peas. Even with a month's practice, crossing the street remains a perilous pursuit, and I'm not sure I'll ever be really good at it. But just when I start feeling like a simpleton, incapable of learning basic skills, I hear a statistic like this: Every 18 minutes, a child is killed or injured while crossing the street in the UK. Or, like yesterday, I witness something reassuring, like the aftermath of a man who'd been hit by a bus. Watching the paramedics cut off his clothes in the middle of the street and shove a tube down his throat, I felt a little less alone.

Now I have a better understanding of why adventurous Britons in Bolivia love to travel El Camino de la Muerte – the World's Most Dangerous Road. Having survived to adulthood, it's the only real way for them to up the ante.

Still, if you ask me how I find London, I won't have time to tell you any of that. Life is far too fast-paced here. Instead, I'll just try to sell you my kidney and then brag that it's been sunny and 16 C all week.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

A danger to myself and others

At least once every day, something happens that makes me feel like an idiot, like a poem written by monkeys; a crab in a lobster trap; cents in a pocket of pence; a Canadian in England.

I'm usually at fault, so I haven't seen any need to tell you about these incidents. But they're now undeniably, invariably part of my day, so I might as well come clean about my experience with the Immigrant Learning Curve Ball.

First, you must know this: English is widely spoken in England.

On that singular fact, I mistakenly reasoned that adjusting to the local culture would be easier than in other places I've travelled, like say, remote villages in the Philippines or tiny Mayan settlements in the Guatemalan highlands.

I'd failed to consider the advantages of travelling in places where I look very different. There, people expect me to be clueless – a veritable danger to myself – and coddle me appropriately.

In London, I arrived with pasty skin and a big, pointy nose, so the only obvious differences between me and many of the locals are:
  • I am a sidewalk speedbump
  • I don't wear all black, beige and grey
  • I frequently make eye contact with strangers
At first glance, most people likely think I am one of them, albeit a slower, more colourful version with a staring problem. But then, I veer for the UP escalator, wanting to go DOWN, because it's on the right. Or, I step off the curb into oncoming traffic because I look the wrong way before crossing the street. I pay for everything with paper money, because counting pence takes too long and I find the huffing queue behind me intimidating. Sometimes, I forget anyone understands me. Actually, I'm getting kind of used to feeling like an idiot.

Still, I'd rather reserve that feeling for my casual weekend life, and not have it leak into the desperate, terrified and anxiety-ridden job-hunting sphere where my brain and blood pressure spend most of their time.

But on Friday, I got an email response from a prospective employer reading:
Sorry, that position has already been filled. Thank you for your interest.

Amy Whoever.
By then, I was really tired of wasting time researching companies and producing well-informed cover letters and tailored CVs, only to receive messages that the position was already filled and 'someone' had simply forgotten to remove the ad posting. So, I forwarded the email to a friend I knew could commiserate, adding the unfortunate message:
Then remove the effing ad, AMY!
About 30 minutes passed before I checked for a response from my friend, and that's when I noticed that instead of clicking FORWARD, I'd...

Oh, shit.




My father's voice boomed across the Atlantic Ocean and into my ear, "Never write down what you wouldn't want the whole world to read!" it said.

"Even in the age of DELETE," I amended for future reference.

Amy never wrote me back, but she did take down the ad.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Purple rain, purple rain

This is what rent and a security deposit looks like in London. It looks like my tears.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Public parts

When my boyfriend said he had a surprise for our date last weekend, I didn't expect to find myself looking between the thick, creamy thighs of a complete stranger, and into the fuzz of her nether regions.

I wouldn't say I 'met' her exactly, in the Women's toilet at the Nöel Coward Theatre – where he took me to see the hilarious Avenue Q – but rather I marched forth as an unwitting martyr.

As the first in line, I was destined to expose the robust thirty-something to tens of women during intermission. She'd forgotten to lock the stall door – the one in plain view of the queue – before inexplicably assuming an advanced yoga pose, balanced over the bowl with her pants around her knees, and her hands involved in some sort of terrifying and aggressive undertaking. She didn't look up.

"OK!" I yelled, and let the door fall shut. Its resident contortionist turned the lock.

A series of barely audible peeps escaped the women behind me and in unison they averted their eyes to the floor, the ceiling, their feet. They had the luxury of pretending it didn't happen, or that maybe they'd just arrived and hadn't witnessed this woman poking around her now-public parts. I didn't, because I was still next in line waiting for the toilet. That, and my cheeks were red.

I looked down at my shoes and prayed someone in another stall would emerge before She-Who-Failed-to-Lock-the-Door did.

Apparently, there is a god.