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Long term, I am in you

I’m on a train, headed home after three days working in our Cambridge office, to which I’m assigned. This morning I had my end-of-probation review, in which I received the news that I will soon be receiving a letter congratulating me officially on moving from probationary to permanent staff. Just as with my visa, I wasn’t seriously worried about this hurdle from a realistic perspective, but my inner catastrophizer was as active as always, and I am immensely pleased. I really like my colleagues and the company culture, and I think it will be a great pleasure to work there for another five years or even longer.

This afternoon I gave notice to my landlord, who said he’ll be sad to see me go. It turns out that my tenancy has to end on the 8th of the month (not 30 days after my notice) because it started on the 9th, so I’ll have a couple of weeks more rent to pay than I had expected (silly me for not checking the rental contract), but I’m very pleased with the house I’ve rented in Cambridge. I wish it were a little better served by buses — I’ve been totally spoiled by Newcastle’s excellent local bus system — but it’s not in a complete bus desert. (I am going to buy a car, but I’m not going to drive into the city centre, so I care about being able to take a bus into town.) The house is a bit larger than my current flat — separate dining room, much larger kitchen, somewhat larger bathroom, a 4-foot-wide unheated but covered space running alongside the kitchen, containing some shelving and (wonder of wonders!) a chest freezer! and a large back garden with a shed and raised beds — although it has no front yard/garden at all (the house fronts right on the sidewalk/pavement) and the main bedroom is only 2/3 the size of the one I have now and probably won’t be a place I’ll want to spend time in during the day. Except for the stairs and the smaller bedroom, the house has wood or tile floors (good for my dust-mite allergy). What makes it really special is the wood-burning fireplace in the living room. It was built as a coal fireplace but the owner has been burning wood in it, and I’m salivating in anticipation of doing the same. I’m looking around for where I might acquire some peat, as I am desperately in need of a peat fire. (Cambridge, like many UK cities, has an ordinance against burning fuels that produce smoke, but this house is outside the prohibited area and I’m going to do it as soon as I can.)

I’m also discovering Chinese and Italian eateries in Cambridge. This week’s prize was a new Italian place next to the train station, where they were delighted to talk with me in Italian and I was delighted to hear one of them say I have almost no foreign accent. It’s been a few years since an Italian has said that to me, and I was afraid I had lost my touch.

Friends, I think it’s going to be a good few years.

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Beginning to look at Cambridge housing

Yesterday I went for my first viewing of a flat in Cambridge. I’ve been looking at the possibilities since September, but so far I’ve stuck to searching on rental websites (mostly Rightmove) and hadn’t gone so far as to contact a letting agent until the last couple of weeks. Mostly that’s because the properties were available much sooner than I could move into them, but now they are coming into the right time of year and it’s time for me to start looking more seriously. As with the car, I can’t sign a contract until 1 February or later, but I don’t want to wait until then to take my search beyond the web. The web searching I’ve done, though, has given me a good idea of what kinds of places are where. I need to study the bus routes and operating hours as well, so that I can consider taking a place that’s not within about half a mile of the station.

Anyway, the location of the flat I saw yesterday is great for getting to the office and to other parts of the UK, and it’s got two bedrooms and two bathrooms (good for sharing) and an “undercroft” secure parking space, so I was all set to like it. I found it a bit disappointing, though — it was smaller than it appears in the photos, and it smelled of catbox (although no cat was to be seen and I didn’t find myself sneezing). I assume the smell can be eliminated with a thorough cleaning. The place reminded me of cookie-cutter apartments from my 20s, although its proximity to the train station and the presence of the underneath parking garage speaks of a large professional tenant community. That particular flat will probably be taken before I am satisfied with what I find, so I doubt I’ll end up there, but it was worth going to have a look.

I’ve got two more viewings scheduled for next week; both of these are terraced houses (US: townhouses, row houses) and farther from the station. Slightly lower in rent. We’ll see. Hoping to see a couple of other places as well.

One agent sent me listings for a couple of other places. When I told her why I’m not willing to consider anything in Trumpington, she hooted with laughter and said she’ll never think of that neighborhood the same way again.

Another year in my flat – under the same landlord

My landlord came by last night so that we could sign a contract for another year’s lease (the buyers had asked him to do this before the sale completed), and he told me that the final appraisal had come in substantially below the price they had agreed on, and he wasn’t willing to lose money on it, so he said no to the lower price… and he took it off the market. (He said he thought it was due to a comparison of recent selling prices in the neighborhood.) I liked the (prospective) and anticipated that they would be decent landlords, and although there are a few things I’d prefer to have different about my current landlord, I gotta say he’s pretty good (FAR better than the letting agent that manages the flat upstairs, from what the nice Northern Irish boys tell me), and I like the idea of not changing to an unknown landlord when they might not be as good to me.

So I’ve signed for another year, with no increase in rent (yay!). I told him that I won’t want another whole year after that and am not sure I’ll want even another six months, so we’ll just go on month-to-month after this new contract expires. I expressed confidence that he won’t give me a notice to vacate even then, and he said “absolutely not!” and went on and on (again) about how fantastic a tenant I am. As an example, he said that he checks his two other properties every three months to make sure the tenants are taking care of them adequately, but he feels no need to do that with me.

It’s a nice feeling. :-)

Now I just wish the estate agent would come and take down the “Sold” sign!

My flat is going on the market

My landlord told me today that he has signed a contract with an estate agent (US: real estate agency) to sell the flat. He’s asking about £10K more than what he paid for it a year ago, but I think he’ll take a little less. He said he would sell it only to a buyer who planned to let it (US: rent it out), and added that anyone with half a brain would jump at the chance to keep me on as a tenant. In any case, my current lease is good for another three months, and no buyer would be able to evict me before then.

Lots to think about, and possibly some planning to do.

Reading my utility meters

I’ve been in my flat for almost six weeks now, and the company that supplies my electricity and gas needs a meter reading for each one, to start me off. Both of these meters are inside the flat, so I have to read them myself. Each is also tucked away inside a closet (which Gilbert tells me is called a cupboard here in the UK) — and the gas meter is in a small one under the stairs! So the easiest way is to stick my phone in there and take flash pictures until the reading becomes legible. Here they are.

These photos make both meters look as if they should be readable without much trouble, but that’s because the flash has illuminated them well.

Fortunately, it’s clear which meter is which. I doubt an electric meter would have a sticker on it that says “IF YOU THINK YOU CAN SMELL GAS” :-)

Gas MeterElectric Meter

Tyneside flats

My flat is what’s called a “lower Tyneside Flat”. The styling and history of Tyneside flats is given in this Wikipedia article. Seems they are 100-150 years old, which is about what I had figured. It would be nice to know just when my building was built. I’ll see if I can find out how to look it up.

Somehow I think the lower flats have higher ceilings than the upper ones do — which I kinda like, as it makes my place feel more spacious. Except that I’m finding that I can’t hang the Christmas lights by myself. I think I’ll ask around tomorrow if one of my grad-student colleagues can come help me.

Supervisory meeting: week 3

I had my third supervisory meeting yesterday. I was concerned about nailing down what I am going to do — worried about the project approval materials I have to submit in less than two months — and afraid that my currently planned method was maybe too vague for that. But Mark reminded me of how early it is in the process and assured me that it’s entirely appropriate to be vague at this point. Whew. We talked about the preliminary inventory I’ve done and what analyses I might do on the data for now. We talked briefly about the book I’m reading (Varieties of Religious Experience, by William James) and about the further literature analysis I should do shortly.

I always end up feeling reassured after these meetings. Even if I do feel overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do.

Afterward, I had a chat with the chair of the Design School’s Ethics Committee, and it was very useful. He brought up a few considerations I hadn’t thought about and helped me ponder possible approaches. He also said that I need to mention that I will interview people either remotely (phone or on line) or in public places, both for their safety and mine. As for the interview approach, he suggested that I pilot 2-3 different versions with ~3 students each, to see how it works out, and write up & submit the one that works best. It sounds like a good idea, although it imposes yet more demands on my time. :-(

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Today I need to check in with the rental agency to set up an appointment to pick up the keys on Friday (and to ask a few questions; I’m particularly concerned with setting up broadband), and to call my friend who has offered to help me move on Saturday (in her large car!). I like my current landlady/flatmate very much, and it’s nice being near the sea and very near to shops, cafes and restaurants, but I am soooo looking forward to having my own space and being in walking distance of campus and the city center.

Some thoughts about my living situation — and a conclusion

Today I loaded my laptop into the large back compartment of my daypack (it fits perfectly, as I knew it would — I tested it). I transferred the contents of my purse into the smaller compartments of the daypack and set out for Newcastle and the University. I brought that day pack with me on purpose, to be able to carry my laptop on my back; the rolling bag would have been more convenient once I got here, but would have been a pain to bring along on the transatlantic flight. (Who knows, maybe I’ll buy another one.) The day pack was heavy and awkward as purses go, but it worked OK, and its waist belt helped keep my shoulders from bearing too much of the weight. All in all, it was a reasonable solution.

However, with the computer, the daypack is heavy and awkward; and I’m not enamored of the idea of carrying my laptop around all the time. On Wednesdays, for example, I will have rehearsals in the evening, and unless I want to go home first and drop it off, I will have to carry that heavy daypack to rehearsal and manage it while I’m there. This does not enthrall me.

Both yesterday and today I spent some time in the center of Newcastle. Both times I felt drawn to that place and desirous of spending more time there. Being by the sea is nice, but I can get there fairly quickly when I want the relaxation (and without having to carry a heavy daypack) and I don’t have to live there (here).

So I’ve pretty much concluded (decided, perhaps) that for the long term I need to move to the city. Not to the center itself, but to a place with much easier access. The Gosforth / South Gosforth area is high on my list — ten Metro minutes out from the center (as opposed to 20-30 for the Coast), on the direct line to the airport, and with a more close-in suburban feel. Maybe I’ll need to start by renting another room. Maybe not. But I need to be closer in.

And maybe for my last year, while I’m writing my thesis, I can move to the coast.

But I don’t need to decide about that part now. :-)

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On Saturday my flatmate/landlady told me she’s leaving in January on a six-month assignment in the Caribbean (poor baby!), and she asked me to consider staying here and managing the flat by myself during that time. Although it has its economic temptations, I just don’t see myself staying here that long.