On Banks and Birthdays

So. Now begins life in London. I’ve been there, done that, seen most of the tourist things. Since my last post, I’ve not been up to much. Just wandering as usual. I did manage to open a bank account, so that’s something at least. My housemate and I walked into HSBC thinking we could open a simple account and I could have if I wanted to pay £8 per month (which I don’t). So I walked next door to see what Barclay’s had to offer. They were more than accommodating. I set up an appointment to meet with a banker the next day. So the morning of my birthday was spent in the bank with a lovely woman named Veronica, chatting away whilst she opened my account. One hour and forty minutes later and I leave the bank as their newest customer.

My birthday treat to myself was to go to the Tate Britain. I went later in the afternoon, thinking that I would see some of my favourite paintings. When I arrived, it was plainly evident that the gallery was undergoing construction/restoration. But I entered anyway. I was quick to realize that the majority of my favourite works had now been collected into an exhibition on the Pre-Raphaelites and entrance to the exhibition began at £14 for concessions (students and seniors). But being the impoverished student that I currently am, I chose to wander the remainder of the museum rather than pay the price of admission. The galleries that were not undergoing restoration were dedicated to a collection of paintings by JMW Turner and an exhibition on 20th century art. I like Turner, but modernism isn’t really my cup of tea, so I soon left.

I had to get to the university for registration, but I had some time to kill so I walked. I like walking along the Thames. It gives me a chance to think things through. For some reason, everything is clearer when I’m by the water. It’s as though the current washes over my brain and leaves behind only that which is important. The stones left behind in the river of thought now focus my attention. With my feet on autopilot, I wandered my way back toward central London, consumed by my thoughts. Sooner than I had expected, I have arrived at King’s. I quickly registered and received my ID. Like pulling off a Band-Aid, but less painful. I am now officially a full-time postgraduate student at King’s College London. But that was all I had planned for the day.

I texted Jonathon to tell him the joyous news of my registration and we went for drinks. Too many drinks… I’m still not entirely sure how I made it home last night. I remember getting on the train, but I was beyond the ability to reason. Luckily, the Underground is labelled extremely well. I drunkenly managed to change trains and ended up in Stratford. A short bus ride later and I’m home. This morning, I see that I’ve thrown my clothes all over the room, cleared the bed of everything that lay on it, and crashed. Hard. Some things never change, regardless of locale.

Today, I’ll be working on my CV and recovering. Yay responsibility!

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Wandering

So. Last week I received a packet in the mail containing all kinds of papers regarding the next step in opening a bank account. Naturally, I thought I’d just walk on down to the nearest branch and get everything taken care of in one fell swoop. I was quick to learn that such is not case in the UK. Bureaucracy runs rampant here. It’s like a fairy from the isle of Avalon has winged its way through every office of the country leaving a trail of red tape in its wake. And, of course, I’m not the only person who must navigate this torturous web. I say all this because, when I arrived at the bank, there were at least ten people waiting ahead of me to be helped by an attendant and five or more queued up to speak with a teller. I took a quick glance around, said “F*** this,” and walked out.

I know I need to suck it up and wait my turn, but it’s my nature as a United States Citizen to be disinclined to wait. We, as a nation, generally expect to be waited on in certain respects, and the bank is one of them. Customer service is expected to be swiftly administered. I’ll admit that government offices in the US are just as intricately bound in red tape as the UK, but if I wanted to open a bank account, I would simply walk into the bank and be promptly assisted. I know because I’ve done it. And there is rarely a queue for a teller unless it’s close to 5pm. However, I will squash my indignation into a small corner of my mind and politely wait in queue with the rest of the peasants. Hopefully, I can circumnavigate the whole “proof of address” issue. I have mail, but no bills. I don’t pay utilities and my rent is paid electronically. There is no paperwork, no mail. This is the 21st century, isn’t it? This should not be an issue… There’s my mini rant, now on to more adventures.

Upon leaving the bank, I walked over to the library to sign up for a library card. Again, I faced the “proof of address” issue. The librarian did not want to accept that I had received mail from a banking institution and the department processing my National Insurance application (a National Insurance number is the UK equivalent of a Social Security number in the US). But she eventually acquiesced to my puppy dog eyes and handed me the form to fill out. *click clack beep beep boop* and I have a library card. Once I had a card in hand, the librarian became much kinder. Strange… But I began perusing the shelves. This public library was very different from the ones I have encountered in the US. For one, many of the books were paperback. This weirded me out at first, but I moved on. I quickly realized that, like in the US, libraries here are interconnected and I could request books from the other libraries in the borough to be delivered to my local branch, ready and available to be picked up. After looking through the selection available at this library, I came to the conclusion that it’s been so long since I was able to read contemporary fiction that I have no idea what’s current, who’s who, or even where to begin. So I left. I’ll do some research and return…

Being such a nice day, I decided to wander the streets of London. I made my way to the Tube station and hopped a train to London Bridge. Headphones in, I began meandering my way along the Thames. I picked up some chips from Borough Market and just walked, listening to whatever my iPod’s shuffle decided to throw at me. When I reached the Globe Theatre, I thought I’d stop in to see if I could get standing tickets to The Taming of the Shrew for my birthday on Thursday. Alas, had I come 5 minutes earlier, I would have bypassed the three people in front of me who snapped up the last tickets… But I hold no grudge. They’ll have a great time and I can see it later. I’ll find something to do on Thursday. I always do! I’m in London, after all. There’s always something just around the corner. So, I walked onward, following the path of the Thames as it flows through the heart of London. Past St. Paul’s, under numerous bridges, by the Palace of Westminster, I just kept walking (I stopped every now and then to snap a few tourist shots). I’ve walked past Westminster countless times, but its intricacy and the beauty of its architecture always invite me to take one more photograph.

The Palace of Westminster

I eventually made my way all the way down to the Battersea Power Station and Battersea Park, (which in hindsight was probably my initial goal) as I had yet to see either. I had traversed seven or so miles along the riverfront to get here. The power plant’s abandoned glory seemed almost apocalyptic. This incredible structure just left to decay in the centre of London, many of its windows broken and the lot surrounding it bereft of any life. But if one continues walking down the street, Battersea Park comes into view. A lush, green park filled with children playing and pigeons being harassed by various dogs freed from their leashes. I enjoyed the park’s beauty, but even here the smokestacks of the power station tower in the background serving as a reminder of the past. But enough philosophical waffle on my part…

Battersea Power Station

Grey skies in London? Never…

Past towers over present.

Exiting the park, I followed the signs for the nearest train station. The great thing about having a Travelcard is that I can hop on any train within zones 1-3, be it above or below ground, and go anywhere else within zones 1-3. I had no idea where this train terminated, but I was getting on. It was heading south and I thought there has to be an underground station nearby… Within a few minutes, the train arrived at Clapham High Street. I jumped up and off the train. I had been here and I knew there was an Underground station right around the corner. I swiped my Oyster card and headed home having enjoyed my day along the Thames.

Not quite Platform 9 3/4.