Snow, salt and shopping

30 Nov

Today I woke up to snow on the ground. Normally snow in London would be an exciting thing — I don’t have to drive in it, after all. But for some inexplicable reason I got it into my head that I was to go shopping today. I don’t know why I was so insistent about it — I could have gone tomorrow, when it is not supposed to snow, or maybe next week sometime. But I really wanted to go today. I tried to convince myself that the Tube and stores would be less crowded because of the weather, just like an amusement park is less crowded when there’s a thunderstorm (and for good reason…)

So I put on my big winter coat — the one with the hood that restricts my peripheral vision — and my snow boots I thought I’d only need in Chicago. And I was off.

The minute I stepped outside my building I dropped my glove into a pile of snow and salt. Not a good start to the outing. In London they use an orangish brown type of salt. When I saw it all over the sidewalks yesterday I wasn’t quite sure what it was. It looked almost like the pine shavings janitors put on cafeteria “accidents.” For a minute I thought there had been some carnie food-ferris wheel bad mix “accidents” from the fayre, but it was just salt. It confused me because it was not snowing at the time and had not snowed yet. It seems Londoners are very proactive about their ice prevention, applying the salt before the snow comes. In Cincinnati they are proactive about snow too, often calling off work or school before the snow comes (and then sometimes it never comes. But I’m getting sidetracked).

I trudged along, stepping in salt and slush because I was wearing boots and could. “This isn’t so bad,” I thought. And then the wind turned and the snow started blowing directly into my face. I then cursed the Tube stop for being so far away from my flat. But there was no turning back now — I was going shopping.

I took the Bakerloo line for the first time. Only in London can you have a train line that ends in -loo. I still giggle when I hear it and start coming up with immature jokes (“What do you call the toilet at the Baker Street station?” “The Bakerloo!”   …I need to get out more. Or get more sleep.) This was about 10:30 a.m. on a Tuesday morning and the train was PACKED. Don’t people work anymore? Or want to stay inside when it snows? I guess I was crazy to think snow would keep the tourists from shopping.

Despite the weather, I had a relatively successful shopping trip. I bought some Christmas presents and a few things for myself (you know, as a reward for being a trooper through the snow). I must have spent an hour in a certain store looking for a certain present for a certain someone (don’t want to give details since they’re a reader) to no avail, but was able to find something else for them at a different store. I also spent an unnecessary amount of time wandering around that store because I do not understand the British floor system. I looked up at the big directory and it said what I was looking for was on the first floor. So I wandered back and forth on the ground floor and could not find it. I kept going back to the sign to make sure I read it right. On the fourth read I realized I came in on floor zero and had to take the escalator up to get to the first floor. It made as much sense as taking the escalator up to Filene’s Basement.

At another store my total came to £23. I have written previously about my hatred of British coins and constant quest to rid my wallet of them, so I decided instead of paying with a £20 note and three £1 coins, I would give her eight £1 coins and a £20 note so I could get a fiver back. (I love that they call £5 note “fivers” and £10 notes “tenners.”) The cashier looked at me. “This is too much!” she said. “I know,” I replied, and told her I was trying to rid my heavy wallet of coins and wanted a bill in return.

“I don’t want to give you change,” she said. I laughed, but could not tell if she was joking or not. She then started muttering about coins and I couldn’t tell if she was agreeing with me for wanting to get rid of coins, or angry that the coins were now her problem. It was a really strange interaction and I just wanted to get my purchases and go.

The snow had thankfully stopped by the time I got outside and I took the Tube back. I was crossing the final street before my apartment, thinking to myself how well things had gone considering the conditions, when I almost got hit by a car. My lack of peripheral vision caused by my hood and forgetfulness about what side of the road people drive on is not a good combination. From now on I’m taking off my hood and looking both ways when I come to an intersection, even if it makes me look like an ignorant American.

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