Category Archives: England

Lost In Translation

Distractions, England

Checking my stats, someone translated one of my England posts to “Chinese” (according to Google, no mention which dialect). I like this style of writing better, actually:

It is Sunday morning. Nagel’s give me a croissant, so we can read newspapers.

Nagel years older than I. 12. He is in a relationship with Peter near 8 years. Peter’s every Sunday into the office and then towards the club, ignoring Nagel trouble. I was “trouble.”

I met Nagel, when standing in a bar cloning region, away from the Earls Court subway station at the time step. He is a drunken white skin and blond and handsome royal. He also has an ear adhesion 90 degrees from his head. It is lovely. I simply wrote about our relationship here before.

Open the door of the house. Peter’s unexpected return. “Is a sedative,” Nagel said of paper from his search. Peter went into the kitchen and the investigation two of us. I will work together to introduce their own, but Peter clapped his hands and said “right!” Bit too loudly. Moment of him, and we could hear him in the bedroom near the search. Ringing the front door.

And we continue to have huge, naughty, and Nagel and I.

England Pre-Memory – Punch In The Gut

Art, England, Personal Bits

Like George Lucas I’m going to jump back to a time before my move to England with a couple stories that inspired me to travel across the pond. Enjoy!

I’m 18 years old and I’m sitting in line with other hopefuls at OCAD (then The Ontario College of Art). I’ve not decided entirely what I want to do with my life and my father is getting nervous that he’s going to have a live-in son until he shuffles off this mortal coil. I do know I want to stay in the art field but I had not decided exactly where I was going to take my talents. My portfolio, chock full of wildly coloured pastels of muscular torsos I had been drawing for months, sits on my bouncing knee. Compared to the rest of the hopefuls, my manner of dress is utterly “Sears” to their “Queen Street West”: one small girl is decked out entirely in leather in her shock Rough Trade look, her hair teased higher than my hopes. This is 1983, remember. I’m there to sign up for their Fine Arts program and let that take me wherever I wanted to go.

I enter the room and here is where my memory shatters up to a point: The room is narrow, almost another hallway. It’s dark, or I sort of recall that it was dark. There are three people at a desk and two look through my portfolio. I was so nervous that I didn’t catch who everyone behind that desk was. Only now, in my 40s, someone told me that one of the people looking at my work was a student and I assume the one not looking at my portfolio was a teacher or admissions officer. I do remember they asked all the questions.

What were my interests, favorite art period, method, incentives, history, my personal history, more personal history? Suddenly it was over. Fast. They breezed through my work and shut the portfolio. Not a good sign.

Then one of them laid it on the line (and I’m paraphrasing here): I was a privileged middle class white kid who had not experienced anything in life, certainly not enough to create any kind of meaningful art and that I should get out of Ontario and see real art. It was like a punch in the gut. The fact that I was living in my Dad’s basement and working nights at a hotel and had never travelled further than , made the OCAD’s assessment of me sting a little more.

They were right. If I wanted to be a serious artist I had to go see the real thing. Including all life’s little roadbumps that came up getting to those galleries. Of course, for weeks I was utterly crushed and moped around like my life was over.

Then my sister called. She asked how I was and offered words of encouragement and then suggested that I move to England under the Student Work Abroad Program. I can remember vividly how a light came on over my head. This is exactly what I needed to do.

England Memory #8 – Romance, or Wise Up Sucka!


Brighton holds the honour of being the location of the first romantic moment I’ve ever had in my life (Note: this story is completely trumped by many many many experiences given to me by SharkBoy. The ultimate being the day I got asked to be betrothed, of course).

I’m sitting in that crappy flat in Earls Court, expecting another penniless Saturday night, listening to the blubbering homesick basset hound when there’s a knock on the front door. It’s Nigel. By this time we have had two drunken nights out together and he had failed to mention that he’s got a boyfriend. I’m utterly clueless and only slightly wonder why he’s never given me his home number. Love and being in a new country blinded me, made me rather unsuspecting.

“Pack for one night,” he says. I’m out of that shitty flat like it was overrun with flaming cockroaches, and sitting in his Mini (a real one!) within seconds. We head south.

A little over an hour, we’re in Brighton. We stop at his brother’s flat, who is conveniently out of the country at the moment, and grab a post-road trip G and T. Then off to dinner.

It was my first French restaurant. Nigel bravely took up my dare of eating Steak Tartar while he ordered the Crab Salad for myself. He knew that it came in the hollowed out carapice of a King Crab, legs draped over the plate, face turned towards me as if to say “I ‘ope yew findz me, ‘ow do you zey… delishious? Mai oui!” When the salad arrived we both discovered that I had a fear of King Crab – insectoid and ugly and expecting me to touch it.

“Calmly lift the top,” Nigel instructs, and walked me through dinner.

Two bottles of wine later, Nigel pays the bill and we walk out into the night (£120 for two! To this date, that was the most expensive meal I’ve ever had. Later in our relationship he would regularly take me out to lunches in Covent Garden before my afternoon shift at the RAC and I would stagger into work, borderline drunk). He takes me down to the pier. To the ocean. I’ve never seen the ocean before. It’s bastard cold but the wine has made me giddy and I start running along the pebbled beach. I scoop rocks up as I run, laughing. I start tossing them into the sea, shouting, laughing. I’m really in that moment: the shitty flat, the homesickness, the crappy computerless job, all wash away and I feel Nigel’s hand, arm, encircle my neck and I lean back onto his chest.

Cue waves crashing on the beach.

To this day, when I hear waves, it always “centres” me, relaxes me. I don’t remember Nigel, but I do remember the happiness.

The next day he drops me off at the flat. As he drives away, it’s like being a puppy being brought back at the pound. Then it hits me: we haven’t made plans for another date, despite this one being so fantastic, nor has he given me his home number, just his office one. It was then that I smartened up and started to suspect Nigel wasn’t being honest with me.

Okay so I lied that there wouldn’t be any more adulterous posts, but this memory ties pretty much all my memories of England into one. I was happy, adventurous, independent and in love. I was also naive and innocent which was burst by my decision that it was ok to “be that other woman”. England taught me a lot about who I was becoming.

Brighton Beach 1986

England Memory #7 – Inspirational Steam Punk


London, despite being the motherland, still provided a culture shock, if not technically, when I started to explore it.

I’ve mentioned that land lines back in the 80s in England were as backward as a dyslexic convention in the month of Cotmober. That phone I mentioned at the flat I first lived in would ring randomly for no particular reason, a dead silence on the line when we picked up. Since the 80s, I’m sure they’ve been improved upon but it’s no surprise that cellular leaped past land lines – no serious cables to lay, small island nation to cover, rapid improvements in technology, etc. But when I was in London, I would see archaic examples of technology completely out of place compared to the shiny new of the colonies.

Case in point: The Gloucester Arms Hotel (now the Millennium Gloucester Hotel) was my first job in London – Front Desk Reception for an 800 room hotel with not one singular computer to oversee it’s daily operation. Not. One. Not even a broke ass Commodore 64 to track reservations. As clerk, I and a staff of 7-10 others (depending on the time of day) would manually update room bills and cleanliness status through multi-layered paper and carbon forms that translated to elaborate paper tray rack systems. We’d take slips from registration forms, divide them into three and distribute accordingly. One slip was for the front desk: we knew which room was occupied and who was in it, etc. One slip was for housekeeping, same deal. One slip got folded to prominently display the occupant’s name and was placed into a slim tray and slotted into a 4 foot rack. At certain times of the day that rack was walked up to the “switchboard” room as an active list of hotel occupants.

I will never forget my first visit to this room. I was told to take the morning rack up to Switchboard, being careful not to let any slips of loose paper fly from the rack. I opened the door and came face to face with a room full of Lily Tomlins. Seriously, a room full of women plugging in calls with cables and big assed jacks. They all wore headsets that looked like Thomas Dolby would spooge over, if allowed to wear one on stage. Steam Punk decades before Steam Punk was cool.

“You coming in or just standing there to stare?”

I remember stammering and saying something like “Seriously? Manual cables?” I watched for a few minutes as this room full of operators manually connected calls to the hotel rooms. It was like stepping back in time.

I have to say that looking at the pictures on The Millennium Gloucester Hotel’s website, my chest heaved. The lobby is EXACTLY as I remembered it. The more things stay the same, I guess…

England Memory #6 – Down and Out In Earls Court and Brixton


The cost of living in London proper is astronomical. Even back in the 80s. I was making £114 a week, which translated into about $250. Of that, nearly half went to my rent. Half of that half went to transportation. The rest went to food. I wasn’t saving anything.

One week, we were so broke we ate popcorn for dinner three nights in a row. Dry toast was a staple and if we were celebratory, some jam with that. Around Christmas time, many of the RAC members would provide “gifts” for the front-of-house staff in the way of liquor and food and I managed to get a $75 Brie wheel from a clubhouse member who would later ask me out on a date (I refused). Liam and I got bread and had cheese sandwiches for weeks. When we were down to the last chunk we got adventurous: we made macaroni and cheese. The most expensive mac&cheese I have ever made.

Speaking of mac&cheese, I would plead with my father to ship me regular boxes of Kraft Dinner. I could sell it to homesick North Americans I knew for 4 times what it was worth back home. Once I got $5 for one measly box. Harrods sold the jumbo “family” box (with the can of pre-made cheese sauce) in their “International food court”, but it was $13 a box. It was an easy sell to just-out-of college kids, dreaming of escaping beans on toast.

At least I had a great flat. Located in Notting Hill Gate, it was a slightly mildewy basement with slugs in the shower, and I had to share the only double bed with Liam (we were totally just friends) but it did have a nice patio out to the back, it was steps from a local gay pub called The Champion, and we were able to chop up the rent into bite size weekly payments for the uber-gay landlord who “liked our faces”. Prior to that, I lived in my brother’s back room, in his flat in Brixton. Before my arrival there were race riots a block away from his flat. By the time I moved in, the area was a solid year into gentrification by gay yuppies.

But the worst was Earls Court Road. My second day in London and my “free” hostel chits were expiring the next night. I needed to find a flat fast. Our last orientation class a gentleman came into the room and announced that he had 3 spaces available at a student flat in Earls Court. “Near Princess Diana’s original London residence!” he boasted.

Diana must have been a serious heroin baby before falling into royalty…

The flat was a one bedroom with separate living room on the third floor of a nondescript row of houses. The back bedroom held a sister team who would share the double bed. The front living room had a couch and two pull out foams with sleeping bags. 5 of us in a one bedroom flat no bigger than 400 square feet. There was one key, which was thrown down to all who visited. Organizing who was the last out/first home was hellish. My first night there I was serenaded to sleep by a crying girl who was in London one day longer than me and, like myself, had never been out of Ontario before. But unlike me, she was having none of this bohemian lifestyle. She was so homesick, the CDC would have quarantined her.

It wasn’t that bad, really. One night I was sitting on the floor in front of the couch and I felt a vibration. I dug under the couch, through the discarded food wrappers and found … A PHONE! The ringer was off and the flat had such high turnover that no one ever knew that it was there. What made it glorious was that it was registered to …someone, not us. FREE PHONE! See, in London in the 80s, land lines were comparable to Timmins in the 40s. Everything was manual (that’s another story) and somewhere along the lines this phone should have been disconnected. But someone at British Telecom hadn’t thrown the switch. Homesick Girl was all over that receiver like a basset hound on a wounded rabbit. She spent 3 hours with our new discovery, talking to some poor slob back home who had to endure her sputtering and slobbering about how awful London was.

I left that flat after a couple weeks. I invited my brother over to see it and within 24 hours, I was in his tiny back room in Brixton. I wanted to be independent, but there’s only so much inconvenience a person can take…

England Memory #5


I was going to mention my Royalty memories but it seems I’ve already written about them (have I been blogging that long that I’m repeating myself?): Prince Edward saved my life and meeting up with a true London icon -a palace guard.

So I’ll remember the actual place where I worked. As mentioned, I did room reception at the Royal Automobile Club so I could afford larger. It was a Gentleman’s Clubhouse located steps away from the Queen Mum’s residence on Pall Mall. The Clubhouse was your typical Old Boy’s Club – leather seats in the library, men only lounges, Turkish steam baths in the basement. It had 85 rooms for gentlemen to “crash” at if they were working late in the City or if they wanted to put up guests from out of town. On the weekend, the place was a morgue, because everyone was at their Country residences.

I loved working Sunday shifts. There was no one around and I could do two things that made my stay in England bearable.

One was skimming time off the phone system: when guests used the phones, we had 85 analog counters for time used on that particular room’s phone. Click! One minute call locally or long distance meant phone charges to that room. I would add an extra tick randomly, here and there, when I did billing so that my weekly 30 minute calls to Canada would be covered at the end of the month. I wasn’t alone in this venture, one of the girls who worked there was calling Sydney and doing the same amount of skimming. It was a dangerous prospect but the Frond Desk manager turned a blind eye, justifying it by thinking the clubhouse members could afford it (membership fees were in the thousands of Pounds).

The second was telexing. You remember those machines, right? In my time making alternative reservations for members at other international clubhouses I managed to find a couple people I could “chat” with across the globe in real time with the telex machine. It was like analog IM-ing. What made it dangerous was that you had to remember to remove the log sheet from the back or people would come in and see what you were saying to Alexandro in Spain. I would “ping” my friends and see if they were around to chat about stupid things.

The clubhouse wasn’t the best in London. I think in terms of members-to-cost, the RAC was about #4 on the top ten, but it was considered having the best pool/baths in all of central London. It was an eye opening experience to see these rich members go there to make business or political deals, execute sexual trysts away from the public eye and in some cases, escape entirely from reality back to a simpler time of WASPy male dominated, pre-political correctness.

Me. circa 1987, London UK

England Memory #4 – Knife Fight Edition


My first weekend in London, my brother and his boyfriend invite me down to their neighbourhood to experience my first English pub, outside the touristy Earls Court area. The Prince of Wales pub, just outside the tube station at Brixton (now closed down, I think) was smoky, loud and packed. My brother forced me to buy a round of drinks from my fast dwindling finances, just so I could experience bar service in London.

I had 1000 questions, like “Is the beer really warm?” (yes) and “Do I tip?” (is the barman sexy?) and “Am I going to have to buy all the rounds, every time?” (no, maybe, yes, how drunk are we?), but instead my brother just thrusted me towards the bar and let me experience it as it was.

Which was really why I was in England, really. I was a 21 year old green kid fresh from Ontario, living in England on advice from an OCAD recruiter, who thought if I was serious about being an artists, I needed to get away from my middle class life (I wasn’t accepted into their school, BTW).

Over the din of the bar, I shout the orders at the barman. He shouts back. I falter. I have no clue what he just said. The noise and his Scottish accent throws me. My first real Scotsman! He has a red goatee! I tipped him.

I went back a few times to get rounds for our table. 11pm came way too fast and I wound up spending most of the evening chatting up the barman, which lead to us making plans to go back to his place after they closed up the bar. My brother was upset that I had been in London for a week and managed to “tap off” so quickly.

We get back to the barman’s place via a cab that travelled deeper into the south of London (more south than I’ve ever been). Lovely house. Could barmen afford houses in south London? Did I care? We run upstairs, enter his bedroom, shucking clothes like they were on fire. Did I notice that the bedroom was full of cardboard boxes? Did that matter?

We’re about to get into the real meat and potatoes of shagging when the frond door the floor swings open.

“Stay here,” he says and grabs his shorts, leaving the bedroom, shutting the door behind him. Naively, I lay back and wait for his return, not even wondering why he would stop our coupling to go talk to his “flat mate”.

Muffled noises come from beyond the bedroom door. Louder muffled voices. Louder muffled voices punctuated with breaking furniture. Glass breaks. Shouts.

At this point, my pants are on and I’m heading for the top of the stairs. The barman is on his way up, with his chest covered in blood. I don’t see any cuts on him so I don’t ask where it came from, but he offers up an explanation of sorts: his boyfriend (“You have a boyfriend?” “Donnae everyone?” “Were you going to tell me?”) came home unexpectedly and after discussing their current living arrangements, had somehow managed to shove himself through the French doors that lead out from the dining room. As I descend the stairs, I can see that most of the furniture is at 90 degrees to whatever angle it should be at. No sign of the boyfriend, thankfully.

As the front door closes behind me, I manage to ask: “Where is the nearest minicab from here?”


I did manage to find a cab. And relating the story back to my brother nearly got me shipped back to Toronto.

England Memory #3


It’s late, post nightclubbing. Liam and I are walking the traffic-free roadway that passes by Kensington Palace and the fog is thick.

We’re talking 1960s Disney movie fake thick. Silent Hill thick. We literally cannot see 6 feet in front of us. We’re creeped out. We’ve seen fog before but not English fog. It’s suffocating.

Liam and I have a slight larger buzz going on and we’re singing to keep our spirits up. But of course, I have to be a bastard to Liam and I hush him with a hand on his shoulder. I look to the south and say “…did you hear that?”

“Fuck off, Ted,” Liam says.



“SHIT!! RUN!!!”

Liam takes off like a Japanese School girl at a cell phone convention. I can’t keep up, he’s running so hard. When I do, he’s standing beside the security gate at the top of the road, panting hard. The guard is looking out at him. I’m laughing too hard to talk. When he realizes it was a poor joke, I get a punch to my chest and the silent treatment for 24 hours.

England Memory #2

England, General

It’s Sunday morning. I’ve brought croissants over to Nigel’s so we can read the papers.

Nigel is 12 years older than I. He’s been in a relationship with Peter for close to 8 years. Every Sunday Peter heads into the office and then the club, leaving Nigel alone to get into trouble. I’m “the trouble”.

I met Nigel while standing at the bar The Clone Zone, just steps away from Earls Court Tube station. He was blond, royalty handsome and drunk. He also had one ear sticking 90 degrees out from his head. It was endearing. I’ve written briefly about our relationship before here.

The door to the house cracks open. Peter is back unexpectedly. “Be calm,” Nigel says not looking up from his paper. Peter enters the kitchen and surveys the two of us. I’m about to introduce myself but Peter claps his hands together and says “Right!” a bit too loudly. He turns and we can hear him rummaging around the bedroom. The front door slams.

We then proceed to have great, naughty sex, Nigel and I.