It feels so good to be using BIG words again. Now that I’m back in school, words like ‘economies of scale’ and ‘transnational strategies’ escape the confines of my head and echo in my room as I talk myself through my marketing theories. It’s been a long time, almost 8 years, since I have worked with adults. My professional entourage has consisted of babies who morphed into toddlers and then sprouted into kids, sprinkled with the occasional chat with peer parents, but even then, we discussed things such as potty frequencies, napping schedules, vomit consistencies, and home-made menus for our beloved children. Before kids I used words like ‘deconvolution’, and ‘frequency spectrum’, and ‘COFF panels’, and ‘seismic velocity’, and negotiated prices per seismic shot. With Lumberg and I both being geophysicists, our discussions at the dinner table back then were often centered around our careers and where we were traveling to next. Since having kids and over the years I’ve had to say things like ‘no, you cannot pour soup in your sister’s ear’, ‘look! No trail this time-you made it on the potty!!!’, ‘It’s ok, mommy isn’t mad that you put glitter sparkles inside my purse’, ‘No, Jesus isn’t coming over for dinner tonight. Or tomorrow.’, and ‘please don’t call it a rubber. It’s an eraser! E-R-A-S-E-R!’, (truth be told, British nomenclature still makes me giggle, especially when the Albino Hulk gets angry and insists he needs a bigger rubber. Oh Juvenile Humor, may you never leave me!).
I am petrified of my first round of future professional engagements when I eventually start working in marketing. I am ill prepared and fear I will barter advertising times with cookies or will ask the team what colors make up our company X’s logo, and then will applaud them cheerfully when they get them right. I will be gung-ho about every marketing idea, even if it’s lame, because I have been trained to be supportive and enthusiastic to the nth degree about every doodle, every squiggle of paint on paper, every stickman, and every playdo scultpure the kids have ever made. Now that I think back to all the art I applauded and ooooh’d and aaaaaaah’d over and hung up in our house (which we dubbed the art gallery for a while), I should apply to work in a museum, specifically in the Abstract section. Naturally, I wouldn’t have done it any other way but I do chuckle to myself and wonder what would happen if parents were honest, even if for a second and said things like: ‘Shit son, that painting looks nothing like you describe it to be!!’
Moving forward, what if at one of my first lunches with colleagues I blurt out ‘LESS TALKING! MORE EATING!!’?? Will I ever get invited to dine at midday again if I reach into my purse, pull out my wipes and start cleansing the face of my lunch compadres from the office?! After eight years at home with my troops, talking like this and behaving like this is simply a reflex now. My adjustment will be comical to me indeed. I am truly nervous, but looking forward to it too.
Sigh. I should be studying to fill my head with bigger words for these lunches, but alas, I choose to write on….
So, we’ve been here for a year and a half in London now and it just dawned on me what is missing in our experience. It’s not that it’s London’s fault, but I miss the mayhem that Milan provided. Coming from me, this is ironic since I tend to inhale more oxygen when around me I find organisation and structure, but, there was something about the chaos that living in Italy provided that I haven’t felt yet. No policeman at the station has offered to share his chip snack with us while we were filling out paperwork and no cab driver has ever made up his own fare and ignored the price on the meter like in Milan. One day in Milano my driver dropped me at my destination at Porta Genova station and though the meter showed I had to pay €8.35, he turned to look at me and said ‘ehhhh….facciamo €9.00, bene?!’ (Let’s make it €9.00, ok?!). Because his hair was glazed and positioned to perfection, because he was dressed like he was ready to go clubbing with all his friends right after he dropped me off, because I almost couldn’t hear him over the loud ‘uhn TISS uhn TUSS uhn TISS’ coming from his dashboard and because it was 10am on a Wednesday, I laughed and paid him as he requested, simply because well, stuff like this was almost expected. London is wonderful in all her glory, don’t get me wrong, but it’s so organised and predictable. These are all good qualities in a city (and a girl. Who am I kidding, I’m a square like this too!), but sometimes I miss the Italian attempt at forming a line up which always resembled a football huddle on roller skates and oil, that’s all. I recently applied to get my Canadian license changed to a British one and three days after filing the paperwork, my new license arrived at our door. I wasn’t expecting that. Where’s the drama, the mistakes, the lost mail?!
I mentioned one of many comical cab experiences in Milan, and that brings me to write about cabs here in London. The facts say that London’s iconic black cabs have a turning radius of 8 m, which means, the smallest possible turn these cars can make has a radius of 8m. This technicality was needed due to the Savoy Hotel, which was Britain’s first luxury hotel after it was built in 1889. If hotels could talk, the Savoy would have been the first to say ‘my electric lights and lifts and hot running water are better than yours!’, simply because it was the first to boast of these items in Britain. Savoy Court is the name of the street that leads up to the hotel and it is the only street in the United Kingdom where drivers have to legally drive on the right. (Blasphemy, right!?) This stems from back in the day where hotel patrons could hop out of their cabs onto the sidewalk without the driver having to get out of his car to open the door, because he could simply reach his arm out past the window and open the door. Hence, it needed to be on the right side of the road, and this way it remained. The driveway to the hotel was small and hence the cabs, known officially as hackney cabs, had to be built to compensate for the 8m radius. Since then, the standard manufacturing of all black cabs must have this radius. It’s never changed.
The original ‘hackney carriage’ came into fruition in the mid 1640’s and was represented by a coach pulled by a horse. In english, the word ‘hackney’ is modified from the french word for the same thing ‘coches haquenée’, and voila, the term was born and it stuck in England. Back then, the annual license fee for the drivers was £5.00, and by 1850, the Metropolitan Police took over the service, issuing licenses and implementing the Knowledge. Every black cab driver you see in London has had to pass the Knowledge. It is a study and test of all the streets of London, designed so that when a customer informs the driver where they want to go, he or she is supposed to stroll through their mental rolodex and know exactly where to go without calling in on their radio or more recently, referring to their sat nav for instructions. The test was brought in around 1865 and it is claimed it hasn’t changed much since then. It consists of 25,000 streets that need to be memorised within a 6 mile radius of Charring Cross Station. Easy, peasy!
This is precisely why I never use UBER to get around London. Black cab drivers have invested the time to know these streets and I respect that. Often, I ask them how long it took them to do the test. The average length of completion is 3-4 years, give or take a few months and it’s a great conversation starter indeed-they love talking about it. Should you see a person on a scooter driving around with a large map clipped to their windscreen, don’t interrupt them, as they’re working on obtaining the Knowledge (and hence are referred to as ‘knowledge boys’ or ‘knowledge girls’). You could however, act as a human pop-quiz and ask them for directions if you are lost and your phone is dead. Booya!
Taxi meters came into London in the early 1900’s, and no surprise here, the word taxi is another word the Brits borrowed from the French. Taxi meter in english is the translation for ‘tariff meter’ from the French and in 1958, the Austin FX3 model was seen on the streets and it is on this model that modern taxi’s are still derived from. As for the black color, I have no idea why it was the standard. All the plethora of articles I read didn’t mention why the color black was standard, though that is changing now too. (I wish I could claim this pink cab photo as mine, however it is not. I borrowed it from my most favorite Instagram feed. You’ve got to check the photographer out-his instagram ID is ij35 and it is simply spectacular).
With all this cabbing around London, I still advise anyone that comes to London to invest in the best possible pair of shoes because whether you are cabbing it or not, you will definitely be strolling about, rambling around, and stepping in history’s footsteps, (hence the title of this entry borrowed from The Flight of the Conchords. I dare you to listen to these two fellas without cracking a laugh. I can’t get through a single episode/song without cackling).
Anyhoo, though these gems won’t fit big feet, if you want to parade your little ones in style while you’re out and about, check out Mikko and Mal. They’re a London-based business that carry simply fantastical shoes for your baby. They’re not only dazzling to look at because of the palette of colors they’re available in, but they also keep the little toes in your life warm when needed, and cool and comfortable on sunny days. They’re soft, flexible, stylish and go in tune with your developing patience as your child develops their sense of freedom as they begin to walk. I remember those days, being hunched over and holding the kids’ hands as they were realizing they too could walk, and where my back ache was in harmony with their mounting frustration because I still refused to let go of them on the street, even though they were convinced they finally had this walking thing down. To cope, since you can’t really gulp from a bottle of wine in public as you teach your little marvel to stroll, the least you could do is dress them up so that their shoes match your purse, and hence, letting everyone know who your Wicked Walker is. If you have many purses, then grab many pairs because best of all, Mikko and Mal shoes are are marvellously priced.
I’m off to study now. For reals.