Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Class List

If you ever move to London and face the loneliness at the beginning...

If you have children you might think that your loneliness will dissolve when they start school.  After all, you will see moms at drop-off and home time ("home time", such a nice phrase, much better than "pick up") and will  get a class list with contact info making it easier to socialize.  I've already talked about the strange quiet among moms at drop-off and home time.  The class list issues, however, baffle me even more than awkward intro conversations.

At home when your children start school, you get a class list with the parents names--their first ones-- child's name, home and cell numbers (it is "cell" as in cellular, not "mobile" in the US), email, physical address, and perhaps a birthday.  It might even include a child's allergies.   This is just assumed, expected, done.  It is not thought about.  By the second or third week of school, you probably receive a booklet containing all of that information for the entire school.   As you may have guessed, this is not so in London.

My children attend two different--completely different, philosophically and demographically--schools.  At the nursery school, we are into week 3, yet we still have no class list.  Last week at our PTA meeting, the headmistress proudly told us that our request to have emails included on the list was approved.  The list was out by the sign in sheets last week so that we could proof our entry.  This list will not contain first names of parents, and perhaps not the parents at all.  (The list from Fall 2008 had parents first names, courtesy of M&M being PTA chair, but names haven't reappeared since.)  Home phone numbers are more likely than mobile numbers.  The list always contains full physical addresses.  I assume that privacy concerns drive the sparse roosters so the inclusion of a physical address confused me.  An American concerned about privacy would more likely list only email, and probably has an email dedicated for school and other kid stuff.  The last thing a privacy seeking American would put down is their physical address.  Yasha thinks that since it is unthinkable for a Brit to stop by someone's house unexpectedly and because the moat and drawbridge rule dictates obscure house numbers, that Brits probably see their address as the piece of personal information least likely to result in actual contact.

I have the class list for the other school.  It is only the class list for Cupcake's class.  There are 11 other classes.  The class list contains, I kid you not, the children's names.  The girls are underlined.  The boys are not.  Despite the complete pathetic-ness of this list, I am less bothered by it.  First, this school believes that you drop your child at the door and they take care of the rest.  If they need you, they call you.  If you need them, call them.  After we moms get used to this arrangement, we rather liked it.  Second,  keeping with their philosophy, the school has no PTA, no Casino Nights, no Homeroom Moms.  If we mom's want to socialize, we can, and have, on our own terms.  There is no pressure.  Third, some experienced mom always steps up to gather parent details for the previously mentioned social stuff.

This year I am that experienced mom.  I figured I'd just show up the first week with a clipboard and pass it around.  I got about 5 Italians and one German father, who I later learned was my Turkish friend's husband dropping their youngest off, that is, I already had her details and had met her for numerous coffees, playdates, and movie nights.  Knowing that the nursery school list would be long coming, I'd tried this clipboard at the nursery school as well.  It was a complete bust on all counts.  I may as well have been one of those survey takers in a mall for all the hits I got.

This year the Reception teachers have started a little newsletter of the previous weeks events and general announcements that goes out on Fridays.  One mother, who would like simply to find a carpool buddy for school, suggested that I put my email in the newsletter so that parents who wished to could send me their details.  I thought it was a great idea so I spoke to the head teacher this morning.  They won't put that in the newsletter.  I am welcome, however, to print out my own little slip to go in the backpacks.  I should talk to the headmistress.  The headmistress is happy to do so but seemed rather baffled that I would want to put the slip in more than my daughter's class or my daughter's section (6 classes).  "You want to put the slip in all of them?"  Pause.  I nod.  "Well as long as it is all printed out and ready to go.  Thank you."  I should mention that I like this lady a lot.  She intimidating though.  Growing up all of my principles were men and/or very friendly so whenever I heard people talk about an intimidating school marm, I didn't really get it.  Now I do.  She is tiny, happy, and very intimidating.

By half term in mid-October I should finally have all of the class list issues sorted.  I might get the nursery school list tonight at the Curriculum Night.  Yes, there is a curriculum for the nursery school.  I have to attend tonight as a member of the PTA.  Do you sense another mild rant in the making?

In the few minutes before The Things' hometime, I need to schedule a coffee meet for the moms for whom I do have contact info, put in a change of address on Yasha's and my voter registrations, run get some bread for bruschetta for tonight's gathering, and otherwise soak in this lovely day.  I've been typing on my front balcony, a very un-British thing to do, but the day is too lovely to be inside.  This might be the last pretty and mild day until Spring.

I'm starting to wonder if I am just going crazy.  Is this class list stuff harder than it used to be at home?  Are privacy issues striking there as well?  So many years have passed since I was involved in school, I wonder if I just remember that things are easier at home.

Week 4 into school and the nursery school class list hasn't gone out yet and I have a whopping 27 out of perhaps 120 contacts for my kid in Reception.  As a member of the PTA I do have a contact list for the nursery school, and it surprisingly contains mobiles, email, and parents first names.  I'm waiting to see what information appears on the regular list.  Sounds like the limited listings might be due to a few personalities rather than the school in general.  A friend wonders if some of the privacy concerns are status markers, people trying to prove they are Somebody by citing privacy concerns.  I wouldn't stagger from shock to find that was the case.  So my analysis loses some force as a comment on Brits in general.

Yet there isn't some generally known and accepted practice about such things. Unlike at home, this stuff is complicated.  The 27 out of 120ish for the other school, however, surprises me.  It shouldn't.  After 2 years there is an email list for the Year 2 moms of 47 out of 120ish, so this 27 isn't that bad.  Some of us want to be social, and we will.  Others don't want to socialize.  That's fine.  My only complaint there is that every once in a while one of the hard to contact parents complains that they didn't get information for one thing or another.  When dealing with a school that does not control inter-parent communication, you have to pick one or the other: be on the list and get regular information or refuse the list and get info by less reliable word of mouth.

I hope that this little rant doesn't come off as too frustrated.  I'm less frustrated than surprised.  I don't understand not wanting to know the family of your kid's school mates.  I'm hopelessly American.  The Impertinence of Being Earnest, I'd guess.  Funnily enough, today I had a chat with one of the new moms, a Dane.  Danes are easy to talk to.  There is little veiling.  She said that as soon as she read the little flyer I sent out in the backpacks she thought, "Well, this lady certainly isn't British."  Perhaps 30 minutes earlier, as Cupcake and I scooted down the King's Road, my American friend Gnomz had driven by and hollered out a greeting to which we hollered and waved back.  Yes, I am certainly not British.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hotel Stories: Decor

For our Tenth Anniversary getaway, Yasha and I went back to the hotel where he had a conference and we had taken the elder children the previous weekend.  Long story short, it was closer and a bit cheaper than another close but not so cheap hotel we have been to a few other times.  The not so cheap hotel doesn't have great food, so we thought we'd give the convention place a try.  We should have just gone out to Gidleigh Park, our favorite hotel with the decor I am shamelessly copying in my new home and with the Michelin rated restaurant.  Gidleigh, however, takes two hours by train and costs quite a bit more.  Yasha had to leave for the States on Sunday morning, so we thought we'd salvage Saturday night and be more economical by staying close in.  In the end, we came home Saturday afternoon--barely missing the traffic from the Pope's visit. We should have gone to Gidleigh.  Here is why, part 1.

As I mentioned before, this hotel hosts conventions and has rather odd interior decorations.  Modern interiors are all the rage here.  If you are in London, take a look in the furniture sections of any of the major department stores for a clue.  Granted, the overwhelming modern inventory in the department stores is partially due to the stores playing to the super-rich expats, currently hailing from the Middle East and Russia, who love modern decor.   But Brits still love modern interiors.

If I see a redone home, typically it is modern, like a Crate and Barrel layout, to ultra-modern, polished stone, chrome, glass and little else.  Redone offices and hotels are almost always modern.  Last week my oldest friend came to town.  As is my custom, I took her to tea.  I didn't do the Ritz as it really isn't my favorite, very touristy and, save the scones, not very yummy.  My favorite place is The Antheaneum Hotel, which was Yasha's home in London before we moved over here.  It had a redo about 2 years ago.  Oh, the Lucite.  Orange, smoke, and pearlized Lucite to be precise.  With velvet, always with velvet.  I should have taken more pictures last week.

Anyway, this weekend I took a few pictures of the convention hotel.  Photographer, I am not.  If I ever travel with M&M or Vilvy again, I'll have them take good photos as they are both semi-pros with good eyes.
I was trying to capture a few contrasting elements, the old brass knob and wood door, with the glass and chrome desk, and Lucite lamp.  
Here is a hallway from what I call the Rose wing.  The walls are a dark burgundy and, along the left hand side, the walls are lined with black cotton velvet draperies with dark gold lame bottoms.  My iPhone couldn't get a good picture of the halogen pendants that float in front of the drapes.  
This is the top of the four poster bed.  Those are dark mauve sheers (no really) with chrome, Lucite, and wood posts.  On top of the posts are little vases with 2 or three feathers, the flourish of a lush minimalist.  There is a famous decorator in Houston (his name escapes me)  who does expensive and historic homes in lush style.  This room looked like he walked in, got started, and then had to jet off somewhere else without completing the room.  This decorator wanted to do lush, but not really.   

If I had gone to Gidleigh, I could have used the pictures for research, rather than mere posting.  I am not sure why this juxtaposition between old and modern tweaks me so.  Perhaps because it is so different from what I am used to.  Americans try to copy the old.  We pay good money to have new floors and furnishings beaten and sanded to look old.  Seriously, there are DIY projects that involve beating furniture with chains, painting and then sanding...  We encase steel I beams in reclaimed wood.  To have a land where such things are common place yet shunned, it intrigues me.  I want to know why.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Tube Strike

When Americans think of some of the European things we would love to bring home, fresh bread, delectable dairy, better chocolate, and good public transportation top the list.  When we visit Europe, we are duly impressed by the likes of the Metro and Tube, the bicycles and buses.  Good public transport is a wonder, after all.  More American cities should aspire to it, right?

Well, it is a wonder.  But it won't work in every city.  Aside from the issue of comparing apples and oranges--American cities, especially in the West, are far more sprawling than comparable European cities making public transport more challenging--and aside from other considerations like climate (more on that in a later post), one can't fully understand public transport until one lives in a city dependent upon it, until one's livelihood, as opposed to one's vacation plans, is dependent upon it.

London is a city dependent upon the Tube.  Yes, there are buses and bikes and pedestrian friendly streets, but the Tube moves the bulk of commuters and tourists.  When the Tube is down, buses are full.  When the Tube is down, most everyone with cars drives.  When the Tube is down, taxis are hard to hail.  When the Tube is down, London streets are so full of cars that traffic locks up and bike navigation, a risky venture to start, becomes more risky.  Even in a city this dense, walking can be a haul.  When the Tube shuts down, everything suffers.  Even for those people, like me, who don't use the Tube often.

Last Tuesday the Tube workers' union went on strike.  Since I don't usually think about the Tube, I foolishly allowed Cupcake and Christopher Robin to go on a playdate in Fulham after school on Tuesday.  At 7 o'clock at night, well after traditional rush hour, it took us an hour and a half to get home, due to no show taxis, delayed buses, and tight traffic.  Walking wasn't an option with 5 year old Cupcake; I might have tried it with Christopher Robin, though we would have made it home in about the same time.  Yasha almost had to walk home from the City (downtown) and didn't arrive home until 9.

In case anyone wonders why I don't use the Tube much--strollers and stairs.  I'm just now getting out of the stroller phase of motherhood.  I can take the older children on the Tube, but still wouldn't venture on the platform with both Things.  In the 4 years we have been in London I've not had much occasion for solo ventures either.  I've set up our life within walking distance.  I don't really need the Tube for my day to day.  Not so for others.