Five lessons I learned in London this week

Tower Bridge London "There's always a tell-tale sign: a surly waitress..."

You know what they say... every day is a school day! And lately my classroom of life has been full of interesting 'lessons', for want of a better word.  I seem to have an uncanny ability to find myself in bizarre situations, but hey - I always emerge with a story to tell.

My godmother Nicola calls it "randomness". I'd be inclined to agree.

Here are five random yet entertaining lessons that I've learned in London this week.

1. Sheriffs are not REAL sheriffs - even if they have flashy badges

Just after noon on Wednesday two burly men pulled up in front of my house in an unmarked van and proceeded to advance towards my door. After two loud knocks I thought I'd better answer it, albeit cautiously.

Slowly, I poked my head around the door and eyed them suspiciously. No girl likes to be visited by two burly men in an unmarked van on a Wednesday afternoon!


"Hi ma'am, we are from the Sheriff's Office," said - let's call him - B1. And with that he flipped open a shiny gold badge. It was about at this moment that my heart started racing even faster, images of sheriffs and Robin Hood and bright yellow crime scene cordon rope flicking through my mind. Upon reflection, the thoughts I associated with the word 'sheriff' were entirely random and not at all accurate. Isn't it interesting how the very word induced fear and anxiety?

Anyway, turns out I'm not good in the face of burly men with badges and I pretty much turned into a dithering idiot. The two 'sheriffs' were after one of my house mates, who will remain unnamed.

"Is he in ma'am?"

"No, I haven't seen him in three days," I reply, my imagination going into overdrive. OH MY GOD, HE'S A MURDERER, I LIVE WITH A CRIMINAL, WHAT IF HE'S HIDING IN HIS ROOM WAITING TO GET ME!?!

"Can you check for us, ma'am?"

So I sprinted up the stairs and knocked frantically on his door, half scared that he would emerge with a bloody knife and half wanting him to come and deal with the burly men on the doorstep.

No answer.

"He's not in," I shrug, "We haven't seen him in days."

The two men look disappointed and go to leave, but then my fears kick into overdrive.

"Wait, I mean, I live with this guy?! Is he dangerous? What should I do?" I squeak. I was literally shaking.

Turns out big burly men don't look so scary - or burly - when they crack a smile. Finally they seemed to click on to the fact I was visibly distressed and laughed gently.

"No love, he's not dangerous - he's not a murderer or anything." EXCELLENT. GLAD TO HEAR IT.

But instead of leaving, B2 looked to both sides and then said conspiratorially, "Look, close the door and we'll pass you a letter through the mail slot. Can you make sure he gets it?"

Still slightly too shocked to think properly, I nod in agreement and close the door. At this point another flat mate - NOT the dodgy one - decides now would be a good time to come down and investigate the noise.

And of course he finds me standing at the door shaking.


My flat mate looks visibly confused.

"We don't have sheriffs in England. What on earth are you on about?"

In comes the letter through the mail box, a large sum clearly visible in the envelope window. Debt collectors. Turns out they were from The Sheriffs Office, a debt collection company. Maybe if I'd paid closer attention instead of worrying about crime scenes I'd have saved myself a lot of stress....

The letter is tacked to the mirror in the hallway, waiting for said flat mate to collect it. He still hasn't come home... but there is a lively flat debate underway about who gets his room if he never returns.

2. I should probably start calling myself Jessica

In New Zealand, answering the phone with "hello Jess speaking" never used to generate any kind of surprise. It was a safe, polite, natural way to engage in conversation with whoever was calling you. Simple.

You'd think so, right?

Here, people just get confused that they are taking to a girl named Geoff. It happens EVERY TIME. No, people, JESS - J-E-S-S like JESSICA.

I should really start calling myself Jessica. It's just NO ONE calls me Jessica, except my grandparents and occasionally my dad. Nothing but my passport and driver's licence has my full name on it - not even my CV.

Guess its Geoff for now, then. 

Oh, and this happened...

One Chai Latte for Jess please...

3. Never trust a surly waitress

I wish it wasn't rude to walk out of a restaurant once you've sat down. But don't you just hate that awful sinking feeling you get when you realise you've picked an over-priced, low quality joint that is going to take all your money and leave you feeling robbed?

There's always a tell-tale sign: a surly waitress. If the person taking your order couldn't care less about the food, the wine, or your wellbeing, chances are the food and wine aren't the best.

Becca and I learned this the hard way after spending the equivalent of a three course dinner on three tapas - three cold, dreary, tasteless tapas.

Might have to put my writing skills to the test in a negative TripAdvisor review...

4. It's a myth that librarians are all book-loving, sweet-natured creatures

It's no secret I love books. I love books so much I'm not afraid to shout it from the rooftops. I'm one of those people who lists reading as my favourite hobby and ACTUALLY means it.

So naturally, I was very excited about joining my local library. This week I did some research online, armed myself with the appropriate documents and wandered into the library inhaling the scent of books like some lovestruck hippy.

Until a grumpy librarian ruined my moment.

You see, I thought the librarian would be SO excited that someone new wanted to join the library (with e-readers and the price of books these days, I thought libraries would be strugglin' with their numbers). I hoped she might engage in a little conversation and give me a tour of the stacks. How naive.

Turns out, if you don't have a British ID card - or a British accent - people can be very cautious. As I sat down to join, the librarian passed a snooty eye over my NZ driver's licence and my UK proof of address (which yes in hindsight was a subscription to Time Out magazine...) and said NO.

NO, you cannot join our library.

I was crushed. It might have helped if she was nicer, you know, a little friendly or at least slightly warm, not cold and life-hating.

But then she made it all worse.

"Are you just here to use the internet?" she asked, obviously going to slip me the Wi-Fi password.

NO, I wanted to cry. I ACTUALLY WANT TO READ YOUR BOOKS! I'm a REAL library lover, not just one of those Wi-Fi frauds!

My face was literally so disappointed that she did say I could 'come back and try next week', with 'better' documentation. I'm still holding a small grudge, though.

5. None of my winter clothes are actually winter clothes

It's getting cold. And none of my 'winter' jackets and jumpers from Auckland cut the mustard.