LONDON POST-MORTEM: I've unpacked, put the suitcase away, got laundry going and have been paying bills that came in while I was away. In other words, back to the hum-drum of daily life. What a bummer. This trip to London was one of the most expensive ever thanks to the dollar being worthless. On Wednesday, the pound climbed to $2.10 -- the highest in 26 years. At Gatwick airport yesterday morning, I stopped at the bureau de change with a 20 pound note left. I thought the teller had a made a mistake when she handed me back $36.

Here's the realization I came to mid-week in London: I won't be living there anytime soon. Some of you may remember my plan to be living in the UK by the time I was 40...just two years away now. Unless my novel gets picked up and becomes an Oprah selection or I win a massive amount in the lottery, I'll be stateside. While getting ready for bed one evening in the hotel, I watched a news show about how the majority of UK residents -- esp. those living in London -- have been priced out of the housing market. A tiny, one-bedroom flat in the capital goes for over $300,000 and a house is half a million or more. Property investors are snapping up buildings and homes and turning them into flats for rent, which means less to buy on the market, which also drives up prices. Most UK rentals are by the week(!) and you can easily pay $2,000 a month for a studio barely big enough to turn around in.

This came into sharper focus on Wednesday when I had lunch with Carrie, one of my good friends for the last 14 years, who married a Brit and has been living in the UK for the past five years. They have been living far outside London in rented flats, while Carrie has commuted into the city for her job. She was just made redundant (laid off) at her job and her husband has had trouble finding work in his field of horticulture. They are planning to move back to the states. She said they would never be able to own a home in the UK, and the thing keeping there is the National Health Service (NHS). While Michael Moore depicted it as medical utopia in Sicko, Carrie said it's far from perfect but it does work for the most part. She and Roger had baby Francesca on the NHS and haven't paid one cent and the care has been good, Carrie said. They are considering having another baby, but couldn't afford it in America, so they might have a second child in the UK just to tap into NHS. Finding good jobs in the US with good insurance plans will be critical.

So, I'm stateside for now. I have accepted it. I will still visit every year, run up more credit card debt doing it, but it's my once a year bit of sanity and it's worth every penny and pence. I spent a shitload of money on this trip, and while some of it was supplemented with sales of my book and the paying gig in Lewes, I'm guessing it cost around $2,000 with hotel, airfare and my love of London's black cabs. The Underground is expensive -- $8 each way now -- so if I'm paying that much, might as well spend a few dollars more for a relaxing cab ride. And I did. A lot. I took the tube a few times when it was most convenient, mainly down to Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, but just about everywhere else was by cab. Yep, I'm spoiled. Anyway, enough money woe, back to poetry and other London stuff.

Coming back from seeing my friend in Greenwich, I stopped to get a look at the controversial new piece of modern art sitting on the "fourth plinth" in Trafalgar Square. The sculpture on the plinth changes regularly, and the decisions by the Fourth Plinth Commission and Royal Society of Arts on what will sit there have always caused a stir because of the stately surroundings. Thomas Schutte's Model For A Hotel is made up of brightly colored pieces of glass. It is dramatically modern against Trafalgar's historic fountains, Nelson's Column and the surrounding architecture, like Saint Martin-in-the-Fields church. I like it. I saw it again from the cab on the way to Victoria Station yesterday monring and it looked almost transparent in the early morning light.

The Angel Poetry reading on Thursday night was great. It was held at the Borders bookshop just across from the Angel tube station (it was raining...I took a cab...lazy me) in Islington. I had never been to this little corner of London, but I was immediately in love. The Borders is in a horseshoe shaped N1 Centre that has all sorts of lovely shops and a movie theatre. Just across Parkfield Street is a Sainsbury and Woolworths. I could definitely see myself living in this area -- probably one of the most expensive in the city. Here's what host and fellow fab poet Agnes Meadows wrote about me and the two other features in her e-mail and leaflet blast:

We again have three features: Collin Kelley, all the way from Atlanta, Georgia, sharing his unique observations on everything from Kate Bush to life in 21st century America; James O’Nuanain combining his razor-sharp wit with a poignant love of life, literature and natural silence; and Graham Buchan whose viral poetry infects you with its passion and zeal.

The reading was held upstairs and the store had an area near the audiobooks and teen section set aside with chairs, mic and speakers. When the reading began there was only about 15 people, but it soon swelled to 25. Both James and Graham were wonderful and those who read in the open mic "floorspots", as Agnes called them, were great. The crazy from the Poetry Cafe showed up, but kept quiet for the most part until Graham said he was going to read a "sex poem" and this sent her squawking. The readers at the open mic seemed to be from all walks of life, who just happened to love poetry. The truth is, poetry is still read, admired and held in esteem by more of the reading public in the UK, whereas in the US it's fallen off the radar. At the Poetry Cafe, there were leaflets in the chairs advertising two or three big poetry festivals coming up -- including a big tribute to Kerouac and Cassady -- that have gotten tons of press attention. You can barely get a blip in the local paper here for a reading. I digress.

After the reading, a small group of us went across to a pub called The Agricultural on Liverpool Road. It was small and cozy and we had a lively talk about films and books. I had seen Atonement earlier in the afternoon and Agnes had really loved it, especially the very hot and handsome James McAvoy playing the part of doomed Robbie. Keira Knightley does a fine job as Cecilia, while young Saoirse Ronan plays the young Briony to petulant, ice cold perfection. Still, it's Vanessa Redgrave, as the old Briony, who gives this film its emotional punch at the end, narrating over the scenes of what really happened to Robbie and Cecilia after she destroyed their lives with a lie. The film is not out in America until December, but I recommend it.

The travel day yesterday -- thankfully in marked contrast to my arrival -- was one of the easiest. I had my own row of seats on the plane, we got in early, customs and baggage was quick and I was home and watching my Doctor Who boxed set by 5 p.m. I started writing a couple of poems while in London and have ideas for several more, but I need to decompress and let a little time pass for my thoughts to gel. In the mailbox upon my return: my fourth rejection from Poetry.

And life goes on...

Exhausted but smiling after the reading at Lewes Library (thanks Andie!).

Comments

jenni said…
Cool! Sounds like a great trip. Can't believe how expensive stuff is there--well, I CAN but you know. Sheesh.
Anonymous said…
This is a good and honest post. I do hope you get to live there eventually. I like that pic of you. You look happy and kinda delerious. Welcome back.

GAV
Rupert said…
great post, C! I'm just back from Dublin and concur re the crazy cost of everything over there (tho the euro is a tad closer to the dollar, buck-fifty now, a milestone) - but one just has to remember to Don't do the Math! Yes, Atonement! Can't wait. Did you read Saturday yet? Best London Novel ever (beats out On Beauty and White Teeth by an eyelash).
Collin said…
Welcome back, Rupert. Can't wait to hear some of your Dublin stories (and poems). I haven't read "Saturday" yet, but it's on the list.
BLUE said…
ahhh Capote, methinks you are giving up so/too easily on your dream living quarters ... when it is time, it will happen; and it won't take a lot of sweat for you either. yes, it takes a boatload of bucks right now, but keep it on your wish list. timing is a powerful thing on the lifepath. thanks a mil for all the dish. we'll be hanging out in London eventually together, i hope. time for a marathon laugh fest soon, eh? (yeah, me ... who has a ton of phone calls i *still* need to make -- ha!)

love, light!
~Harper
Collin said…
^I haven't given up, just being realistic at the moment. Living in London is still my goal, it's just figuring out where the money is coming from. Or I need t re-double my efforts to find a rich Brit and get married. :)
Dustin said…
Glad you enjoyed yourself!
Brighton, Collin, Brighton! London-by-the-Sea, and only an hour away from the big smoke itself. Will keep a look-out for that rich Brit.
Pris said…
Love this post, Collin. I knew London was expensive, but not THAT expensive. That would easily rival or beat Manhattan. It was interesting to hear that more nonpoets still want to hear poetry readings there than here. Is London specifically your dream? I have good friends in Wales and in Yorkshire and their costs aren't anything like what you describe.
Collin said…
Andie and Pris...I do need to explore more ares of the UK. I plan to visit Cardiff next year for a reading so I'll do a bit more exploring around Wales. As long as I'm in the UK, it doesn't have to be central London.
Jilly said…
Dang, it was a lot cheaper when I was there once in the early 90s.

Glad the reading went well.
ButtonHole said…
I find Cardiff rather run-down and seedy but still quite beautiful. Have you been to Bath? I REALLY love that place!
Collin said…
I have been to Bath. It's beautiful.

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