For those who haven’t been keeping up at home, last week I moved to London for a two-year secondment with my company. Which is code for “I packed up all my things, threw some in storage and some on a boat, and headed off to start anew.”
Becuase this is a time of “transition”, I’m living in temporary housing while sorting out the permanent parts of my life here. Which means, for now, I’m living out of three suitcases. Lucky for me, I’m also recovering from an amazing surgery (February 9, 8 weeks out for those who are counting) and so the only shoes which made the trip are my running shoes. Three pairs of them, in fact. Which are only to be used for walking.
Starting out in London dressed in “trainers” wasn’t my ideal way of doing things, but alas, it’s not the shoes as much as the healing that matters these days. Upon departing Chicago, my doc advised me that I was free to swim and bike, but no running (as.if.) and only 30 minutes of walking twice per week until I had been cleared by a physio (or a physical therapist, as we call it in the U.S.).
Well, as one might expect, I haven’t exactly had the time in the past ten days to do that. What I HAVE been able to do is explore my neighborhood little bits at a time. I’ve found a way to get in some cycling with very little effort. A coworker has given me the short list of every pool within a 10 minute walk of my office. And I’ve found that sticking to that 30 minute limit is tough.
What I’ve also found is that, in the words of Jane Austen, “London is SO diverting!”
Diverting and not too bad a place if you want to start to move more. Though there are millions living here, they move with alacrity – and they also know how to make the most of their commutes. Exiting the tube is a pleasant-ish experience, and really no different than Chicago (except it seems the whole city is preparing for the Olympic sport of Get Me The Hell Out of The Tube ForthWith – and seems to think they’re being timed.) I am proud to say I’m already mowing people down like a suburban housewife at a Target sale and I’ve only been here 10 days!
Then there’s the Cycle Hire. Barclays, a UK Bank (I think) sponsors this local effort to put dozens of bikes at spots all over the city (and I believe there are hundreds of those spots). For a small annual fee (or a small daily fee) you can unlock a bike, ride it to your destination, and return it. You don’t have to worry about a bike lock, or what happens when it starts to rain – you just choose exactly when you want to ride. What’s more – it’s casual! There is NO expectation that you show up in Lycra and clips. And helmets? Please. Not even considered.
Talk about liberating! As a tourist, it’s also pretty darn cool. My friend and I investigated them last Saturday to tour Hyde Park, Buckingham and Westminster on a day when I would have otherwise violated the Doc’s orders about “30 minutes max”. And Lauren noted at day’s end that even though it took us longer to rent them (first timers) and find our final docking station (I later found a map) our feet didn’t hurt and we’d seen a TON.
It’s been one of the most pleasant surprises of London – that even though I’m chomping at the bit to do something simple and equipment-free in this transitional time, the London folks have taken care of it. They’ve just landed bikes whereever I might want them.
More than that, when there’s not bikes, there’s a giant park outside my back door which offers dawn to dusk entertainment every day. There are throughfares for commuters, tea houses, and great wonderful playgrounds for children.
There are, however, also something unique in my experience of life thus far – locked gardens. In many of the squares in this city, you will find adorable, single block parks which are surrounded by Victorian homes and condos. The parks seem beautiful from the outside – but I can’t tell you for sure because the land is private. That’s right, private. Unless you own property abutting the estate (or, I’d guess, are a resident of the general area) you cannot sit in the green space and have a cup of tea.
To me, this is truly a strange concept. In the US, we have large yards (you suburbanites do, anyway) which we, as adults, tend to love. In our cities, we have green space too (Chicago was quite good at this.) But private parks aren’t really our thing. We’re a “by the people, for the people” kind of place.
And so that distinction – between what’s been done with Barclays, which really has brought cycling to anyone who wants to ride and has a few pounds to spare – and these parks, which are – at some points – open and amazing – and at others, closed and just as spectacular – seems a kind of disconnect that I wasn’t really prepared for.
But, in contrast again, we have the Swimming Pond situation. That’s right. There are ponds. In which people swim. Now, I know we have them in the US but it seems strange to me, too, that these ponds are, say, in the middle of Hampstead Heath. And even more, that there’s apparently a men’s pond, a ladies pond, and a mixed pond. From what I’m told, they’re quite clean (though a bit cold) and offer plenty of opportunity to swim in the open. What I’m having trouble getting my head around, though, is the idea of swimming anywhere but Lake Michigan.
Sigh. I know, we’re spoiled in Chicago. Our lake is gorgeous (if freezing.) It’s tested for bacteria daily (why do I doubt this is the case in London?) and it’s also fairly safe, what with it’s four foot-high, 3/4 long lane abutting Lake Shore Drive.
Maybe this pond will be just as good. I’m not sure. I do know there are more than a handful of pools within two tube rides of my office, and that the local triathlon club is calling my name. And these things, these are about to become the new anchors of my social experience.
(Apologising for the ramble, but here we go.) Because here’s the thing: if I’ve realized anything in these first few weeks in London, it’s that picking up stakes and moving across the pond is going to be an amazing experience. But for awhile, anyway, it’s going to require a lot of work. It will be work to meet new friends. It will be work to find a routine. It is work to simply find a physio.
But a lot like all those races I’ve run, I’m also realizing it’s about understanding the day. As my friend Jenny likes to say, there are “A” days, “B” days, and “C” days in racing. Not surprisingly, the same holds true for life. On A days, I’m finding that I catch the tube, I get in a good workout, work doesn’t last till 10 pm, and there’s something healthy in the fridge when I get home. On “B” days, a few of those might be awry. And on “C” days, no matter how much I want it to work, I might be failing at all of the above.
But the thing which this fish needs to remember is that the C days will be far outweighed by the Bs. And some days, there will be an A. I look forward to figuring out London, and to finding the As in the days to come.