Sunday, June 28, 2015

Time Out of Mind

Camden Watch Company co-founders, Jerome Robert and Anneke Short

Every once in a while, you meet one of those delightful people whose humanity is refreshingly accessible and you walk away feeling as if your life is better for having met them, however briefly.

I met such a person this last week, and remember him and his open kindness each time I look at my wrist. 

Enter Jerome Robert of the Camden Watch Company, recently of a fairly well known Swiss watch company (but we can't say just what, wink wink).

Lance had told me of a great watch shop in Camden Markets, just down the canal from our home.  They sold watches like my own Daniel Wellington with its removal bands - perfect for the whimsical ribbon and scarf collection I wear with my Daniel Wellington face.  Only that my Daniel Wellington had a cracked glass face, so Lance encouraged me to look here instead of yet again replacing the glass. 

As I walked into the shop, I was immediately struck with the detail of the design quality, the shabby chic industrial antiques on display with the watches (I'm obviously a total sucker), the beauty of the watches, and then, finally, with the openness of the man behind the counter.

We are moving (don't ask where to - it's complicated.  Let's just say I'll likely be a vagabond with two children on regular Skype calls with an invisible husband/daddy for at least a few months!), and I noticed that they had a metal cabinet somewhat similar to ours. 

After being shown around the shop and their beautiful array of watches, all designed based on Camden's industrial past and present vibrancy (and named after buses that run through Camden - clever!) and very well priced (cheaper than Daniel Wellingtons, but possibly higher quality), I asked whether they'd like another metal cabinet with drawers we needed to get rid of. 

"Sounds great," said Jerome, "can we give you a watch in return?"

After recovering from the shock, I quickly said that it wouldn't be a fair trade - ours was a shabby metal cabinet.  Nonsense, came the reply.  He liked doing things like this.

I didn't quite believe him, but I needed to get rid of the metal cabinet - and fast - movers arrive in two days, so I swung the cabinet by on the family cargo bike at my first opportunity.  To my surprise and delight, they had a lady's watch waiting for me, all boxed up in beautiful industrial packaging.  I snapped a few photos to prove this wonderful thing actually happened, and walked away still stunned by the good fortune of meeting people who were as kind as they were talented.

See how terrible our (short) metal cabinet looks next to their cool mid-century antique cabinet?  But they were so excited bout it.

I got this watch in silver.  Their adds say "suitable for the boudoir, for the ballroom, and for business" - quite!

 p.s. they have FREE international shipping!...

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Royal Encounter

"Dover, move your bloomin' a**!"  blurted Eliza Doolittle, to the horror of most and the delight of one Freddie Eynsford-Hill in my one-time favorite movie, My Fair Lady.   And so began my fascination with Royal Ascot.

Today, Ascot remains the pinnacle of the British Season, and finds the British at their finest. 

My recent trip on Ascot opening day this last Tuesday will be a highlight of my time on this isle, and has made my fascination and delight run even deeper.  I had an absolute ball, especially making peoples' day by asking to take their photograph for my fashion post.*

The highlight was seeing the Queen for the first time, along with Prince Charles and Camilla and, my personal favorite, Harry.  He is just as affable in real life as he seems to be, making jokes, serving in small ways, and putting people at ease.

(Anne Updike, this is closest I'll come to posting on fashion, as the every day diversity and heterogeneity combined with the mummy world mean I have no idea what truly is British fashion!  At Ascot, with so much true British strain, I think we get a fairly good (and good-looking!) sampling:)

I went with my cousin, Rachel, and her adorable daughter, Lily.

Our train contained almost only Ascot-goers

She told me she had gotten the hat for 30p.  Bless her.

Possibly my fav dress of the day.  How cute is she?

First glimpse of the queen in pink in the first royal carriage.

Queen in pink!
Harry watchers

reminded me of Van Gogh's Almond Blossom painting

how cute is she?

I stumbled upon a fortieth birthday celebration!

I love the simple elegance of these outfits

what's wrong with this picture?....

most awkward mother-daughter family photo ever. 

almost didn't allow me to take his photo - the only "Royal Enclosure" person to do so

The only baby I saw there - complete with hat!


After racing to catch the train!

Small Wonders

* We have been attempting to potty train G (I quit this morning, but more on that latter) with the use of a favorite Netflix show, Umy Zoomy (sp?).  Anyway, he's obsessed with the show, and asks for it ad nauseum.  When attempting to follow our normal routine of showing him children's scriptures that are a tiny bit animated (mostly pictures and voiceover) on the iPad during breakfast, he will say, "No Jesus!"  This is clearly not working!
* G has started to request songs, including, as he says, "I Got This," meaning "Got You Where I Want You" by the flies.
* E has started sitting for long stretches, and will play stand up, sit down with us now, where she sits down immediately after standing up and thinks it is just hilarious.  Her first joke.
* G will often ask for "shoulders," or for Lance to take him for a walk on his shoulders.  When Lance sighs a bit or rearranges G's slim back side, G will say "heavy."
* G is starting to show his sensitive side by asking when upset or in pain, "Are you ok?"
* Mr. Toler and I rarely call each other by our first names - only when very, very angry.  Instead, we refer to each other as "babe," sometimes calling out to each other from across the house.  G will now call Lance "babe," especially when he really wants something.  In the morning when he wants to get out of his tent, I can hear him calling for Lance: "Babe! Baaaaabe!"
* E sneezed the other morning and G said, "Bless you!" Have no idea where he got that from.
* We now use the vintage pram as a raised play pen.  It's absolutely brilliant and I *love* looking at it.  Lance isn't so convinced, and vows he won't be seen in public in it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

How to Save It

Vintage dress purchased for 5 pounds at Covent Garden's Jubilee Market Monday Antique Markets

London is a wonderful place to live, and a wonderfully expensive place to live.  Lance and I consider ourselves fairly thrifty (OK, so that's an understatement - he would save money in NYC by skipping meals, decided to actually date me the night I told him I didn't want a big house), and some of our favorite things to do include figuring out creative ways to save money.

In answer to the Financial Time's weekend "How to Spend It" pull-out, I've compiled our "How to Save It" favorites for our little corner of London:


Housing is the most expensive line item for any Londoner's budget, and it may be a point that most people just resign themselves to parting with the equivalent of their firstbon without too much flinching, or moving further out to higher-numbered zones and prolonging their commute.  But perhaps there is another way.  I suggest the following:

* try to find housing when no one wants to move - right before or after the holidays.  Or anytime that isn't the summer, and especially not August/September.  I've found great deals that way.

* look at "transitioning" areas, like Soho or Pimlico, Edgeware, just east of Paddington (I've forgotten what it's called, but it's up and coming and incredibly central), Kentish Town, Camden, "Chalk Farm," etc.

* don't exclude really creative options like canal boats.  These can be docked very centrally and can be purchased or rented at a fraction of a similar-sized flat.  We considered one docked in St. Catharine's docks - an architectual beauty the size of our then-flat which we could have purchased for a sixth of the price of the same size on land. Sometimes we wish we hadn't been so practical and opted to live on land.

*  old council flats.  These dot London, and because of the apparent stigma, you can live in a really nice neighborhood for a fraction of the price.  A friend bought an x-council flat here in Primrose Hill for one third of what it would have been without that "x" stigma.  Go on, take advantage of people's snobbery.

* look on Gumtree.  Gumtree is the UK's Craiglist (spammed out here, unfortunately).  You can find properties that skirt estate agency fees here.  Because you are usually then dealing with the owner, you can get great deals.  We certainly did on our last flat.

Bizarrely for this Yank, many here spend as much on pre or primary school as you can on a good college education in the States, maybe more.  Not that education isn't worth a healthy investment if you can afford it.  But there is falling in line and then there is being smart about the investment.  Here are a few ideas:

* find a good Church of England school in the area you want to live, and move almost on top of it.  If you aren't CofE like us, that'll be your only chance of getting in.  CofE are generally considered better schools than their state school counterparts, but they are still FREE.

* enroll your child in a good state school in your area and then get involved.  Together with local mums with children Gideon's age, we plan on taking over the local primary school. :-)

* begin private/independent tuition when it matters.  Some friends of ours who have "frugal" as part of their nickname (yes, Laurel, this is about you!) have done an analysis and deteremined that most preparatory work for better secondary schools begins at 8 (it is also when Latin and Greek start in earnest).  After putting their two oldest exclusively through private/independent schools, they have put their third and fourth in state schools until 8 then transferred.  It's tricky to transfer at that age, but if it can be managed, you will have saved as much as an Ivy League/Oxbridge University education at least one time over.

Getting around London can be terribly expensive, especially with a family.  Thankfully there is public transport, but even that can be pricey.  We've saved money here by doing the following:

* getting a family cargo bike.  After the initial investment (we spent 1,000 pounds on a one-year old Babboe Big with an electrical lift, about half the price of what it had retailed for a year earlier.  Although this investment quite large, it has worked as the equivalent of the family car without many of the expensive downsides - petro/gas, insurance, parking, registration, tickets (I accumulated them back when I owned cars), and no congestion charge.  There are also many upsides - the workout (although the lift does half the work), that much of London is accessible via bike where it isn't by car, and our children love riding in it because they can see everything, whereas I know a car could be very different.

* hoofing it.  We live strategically so that Mr. Toler's work has always been within walking distance.  We can also walk to run many of our errands or to see friends.

* Borris bike rentals.  We have enjoyed using city bikes, which, after an initial 2 pound rental for 24 hours, are free to ride for 30 minutes at a time.  I can get to most of where I need to go here in London in 30 minutes, plus I enjoy the exercise.

* taking the bus. The bus is always cheaper than the tube, and often gets you there just as quickly with getting in and out of stations.  We've learned many bus routes and love them.  They are also easier with strollers/buggies.

One of the great benefits of living in London is the accessibility of international travel, especially Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.  Many people know of these little tricks, but perhaps it bears repeating that you can save money in the following ways:

* airline travel - EasyJet is searachable on, but Ryan Air, Norwegian Air (great for cross Atlantic travel we've discovered), and Thomson are not.  Take a carryon and save even more.

* bus travel - you can book travel within most of England for a pound if booked far enough in advance on  I used this daily when commuting to Oxford on the Oxford Tube.

* train travel - buy tickets far in advance for best rates. 

* Accommodation - and similar sites offer much discounted accommodation in great locations.

* Travel in non-peak times.  Find out when most schools are on holiday (mid-term or termly breaks), and avoid traveling in those windows.

London's day and nightlife scenes rank among the world's best.  But it doesn't always have to cost a bundle.  There is a wonderful book,  1,000 Things to Do in London for under 10 pounds, that I have used and reused to find free and inexpensive events.  Here is a sampling:

* Classical Music - Daily during BBC Prom's classical music festival (normally held late June through July) one can get 5 pound standing tickets at the Royal Albert Hall.  I listened to Rachmaninoff's Second Concerto two years ago this way and was in heaven.

* Theatre - "accessible" tickets are often reserved for same-day sale straight from the box office (not intermediaries) for as little as 10 pounds.  We saw Grease, The 49th Step, and Oliver this way.

* Museums - most big museums are free, and many have late night openings.  I love these. 

* Opera, Ballet - standing tickets for as little as 10 pounds are available if you book far in advance

London prides itself in artisan/boutique grocery stores that are delightful - Melrose and Morgan, Fortnum & Mason, Wholefoods, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, and your local green grocer or fancy butcher are among brick and mortar stores, while online boutiques Able & Cole, Riverford, and Hubub will deliver boxes of farm-fresh items directly to your doorstep. We use these stores for specialty or health food-type items, or for special occasions like Christmas or other holidays.  (We used Able & Cole for a while and love love their cookbooks).  However, we splurge for these occasions because we save on a regular basis by doing the following:

* shopping at Morrisons and buying their "Savers" brand for almost everything.  We feel like we are stealing when we enjoy their .29 p tortilla chips or .25 p dark chocolate.  It is surprisingly good.

* shop for fresh produce at an open air produce market in a transitioning area. We often get fresh produce and meat at Queen's Crescent and again feel like we are stealing when we purchase an entire bowl of produce for one pound.  I know Queen's Crescent isn't the only open grocery store - perhaps Church Street in Edgeware/Marylebone?  Would love to know others farther afield.

* go out to eat at an artisan market.  Camden and Borrough Markets have artisan sections (all of Borrough is this way) where you can spend "a fiver" and get the best France or Spain has to offer for lunch.  We are on the food snob side of the spectrum, and these markets never disappoint.

* find your local hole in the wall.  Currently, Anthony's in Primrose Hill and Lemongrass in Camden are favorites.

Retail Items
* Kid's clothes - Fara (in Primrose Hill and Notting Hill) is a fabulous second hand children's store - I shop regularly for vintage and designer pieces.  I also shop Covent Garden and Kempton for vintage children's clothes, and I hear Spitafields is great for Vintage on Thursdays as well.

* Women's clothes - I do Uniqulo during sale time (January and August) for basics, especially heat tech fabrics, Primark for expendables (like tights or a swimsuit coverup), H&M for undergarments, TK Max for bathing suits and shoes (but usually wait to go to the States and go to DSW), Aldo's outlet store in Camden as well for shoes, and get purses and jewelry at Jubliee Market's Monday Antiques Market at Covent Garden.  Everything else I get at thrift stores, especially Mary's Living and Giving in Primrose Hill and Traid, my latest discovery, in Camden.

* Dry cleaning - Morrison's or Stitch & Clean in Kentish Town.

* Furniture - IKEA (of course), Kempton Antiques, Newark Antiques

* Household/party items (new) - Covent Garden Flower Market (in Vauxhall)

* Flowers and Christmas d├ęcor - same as above

* Hardware and plants - Homebase

* Books - Book Warehouse in Camden

* Hair cuts - Hair by Fairy in Neal's Yard in Seven Dials was my favorite for a long time (cut plus half-weave was about 70 pounds), but now for convenience I've discovered a little shop at 18 Lambolle Place in Belsize Park (just West of England's Lane) who did a cut and T-section highlights for 60 pounds!  That's about what I paid in Utah!
* Pedicure - there is a severe shortage of proper pedicure chairs (the only way to get one), but Camden Nails on Parkway in Camden does them for 25 pounds - better than anything I can find in Primrose Hill.