London 2014: The First Week—The Flat, Tottingham Court
We arrived in London late on a Friday evening. After being interrogated for a good five minutes that felt more like 30, we were allowed to enter the country. The whole process would have been much easier, but overweight checked baggage in Iceland forced me to do a carry-on shuffle at the ticket counter (who would have thought those rocks I picked up in Iceland to make my own gnomes would cause so much trouble?) and the papers explaining my reason for being in England, teaching for an American university, ended up checked rather than carried on. Still, we made it through and caught our shuttles to Florida State University’s campus on Great Russell Street, a couple of blocks off of Tottenham Court Road.
Great Russell is the road where Harry Potter, Ron, and Hermione dissaparate to in order to escape Death Eaters in the seventh Harry Potter book. It’s a busy thoroughfare, crammed with shops, restaurants, theatres, and people. All in all, London, and particularly this neighbourhood, is much more crowded than I expected. The campus is located on the same street as the British National Museum and a tube stop on the central line, so throughout the day there is a steady stream of people from every nationality imaginable threading a path up the sidewalks. There are also several hotels, shops, and restaurants on our street, not to mention the offices of the Trade Union across the street, where there are periodic demonstrations. Last night coming home from a tour of Buckingham Palace and dinner at a local Thai restaurant, the entrance to the Trade Union was cordoned off with crime scene tape and the cops had the road blocked. I don’t exactly know what was going on.
Florida State’s campus itself is six five-story (plus a basement) apartment buildings built sometime in the 1600s. Because of their historical status, we were told, they can’t add elevators, so apartments, faculty and administrative offices, classrooms, the library, student lounge, and computer labs are located in what looks like—at least at first sight—a haphazard arrangement that includes a basement floor that links all six buildings. Everyone is given an id tag that opens one or more of the six doors opening onto the sidewalk (access depends on who you are and where you need to have access to), as well as opening rooms like the computer labs. Behind the buildings there is a courtyard and another set of buildings that fronts onto the next block. Whether these belong to Florida State or not I’m not certain. The laundry is in the basement of the adjoining building, off the courtyard, and that’s as far as I’ve had any reason to go.
Our first apartment is located on the second floor (the English would call it the third floor, since they count the ground floor as the first floor. It has a living room/kitchen with a huge window looking onto Great Russell street and the trade union, two bathrooms off a connecting hallway, and two decent sized bedrooms overlooking the courtyard and the bank of buildings behind us. The ceilings are high, the floors hardwood, and the doors heavy. I told Lisa that if you’re going to live in a building that is likely to be bombed periodically by the Germans, you want heavy doors. The kitchen is nice, with two full size refrigerators and a good complement of cooking utensils. (The flats are set up to accommodate students living on independent budgets, so it makes sense to have two refrigerators. In addition, each room has between two and three beds, and each bed has a small bedside table and a closet, so essentially these flats are set up like dorm rooms.)
Each landing has a couple of apartments, and Lisa and I get the good fortune to have a flat full of Florida State Freshmen living across the way from us. I’m not sure how many people actually live in there, nor am I even sure of their gender. I introduced myself to one guy who seemed friendly enough, who told me he was a junior but most of his roommates were freshmen, and by extension, immature, partiers, and rowdy. All Friday and Saturday night of the first weekend, there was plenty of partying going on in the streets outside the flats (the flats aren’t air-conditioned, so we kept the windows open). Late at night we would hear troops of male and female voices stomping up the stairs (wooden and loud) until two or three in the morning. Julia Rose and a couple of the college girls with us encountered a drunk/high chick in the stairwell looking for a light and a party. They all thought it was pretty funny. I think the Harding students are a bit intimidated by the FSU students, since they’re not very used to living at an outrageous party school. It was a liveable situation, but the FSU staff offered us a flat on the top floor of our building. It’s up four flights of long, winding staircases, but the flat has three bedrooms, two baths, an huge living area, and though the rooms aren’t as well lighted as before (and a little bit stuffier, due to the weather being warmer than I’d anticipated) they are very quiet, and both girls jumped at the opportunity to have a bedroom to themselves. Plus, from my bedroom window I can climb out to the fire escape and stroll around the perimeter of my building.
We are settling in after our first week. Classes have begun, as well as the girls’ home schooling with the help of email assignments from their teachers in the states. More to follow.