London salon struggles

29 Aug

I went to a new hair salon for my highlights the other day. In the U.S. I’ve had the same stylist for almost 10 years (and before that I went to her colleague for almost 10 years!), but in London I can’t seem to find one I like. I thought I found one, but her salon is in a sketchy neighborhood (the police came in during my appointment once to talk about the break-in the previous night), and she was a bit flaky with last-minute cancellations and double bookings. So I found another salon near our new flat. The trainee did a great job for a good price, but on my second visit I mistakenly booked just parting highlights, which I understood would be just the roots on top that show. But apparently parting just means only the front of your head, so I had awkward dark roots in the back and was too embarrassed to say anything because I got exactly what I asked for and paid for. So my solution was just to never show my face there again.

So it was back to Treatwell (a Groupon-like site just for beauty services). The other day I found a salon with decent reviews offering 50% off a full head of highlights for new customers (making it even cheaper than I pay in Kentucky!). The place seemed nice and my stylist was friendly without being chatty. I sat and read magazines while he did my foils. And then I sat. And sat. My Kentucky stylist and about half the salons I’ve been to in London put me under the dryer while the bleach works its magic. It seems to be a point of contention among stylists, and this guy was not about it — I don’t think his salon even had a dryer you sit under. He made a big deal about how bad it was for your hair, though I’m not sure I’ve noticed a difference. He seemed to know his stuff, though, so I trusted him. And sat some more. For some reason, my natural dark brown hair takes forever to turn blonde without the help of heat. I had flashbacks of a previous salon trip in which I sat for an hour with the foils on, only to walk out with slightly orange hair. I lamented this to the stylist after he checked on me for the sixth time.

“Don’t worry, I am not letting you walk out of here with orange hair!” he said.

“But am I ever going to walk out of here?” I wanted to reply, because I had been there close to 3 hours and was starting to forget what life outside of that salon chair was like.

He finally removed the foils and applied a toner, which is a purple solution that is supposed to tone down any brassiness (which is probably what the other stylist should have done to remove the orangey look.) I asked him how long to leave a toning shampoo on, because I use one once a week and can’t really tell if it’s making a difference and was wondering if it was because I wasn’t leaving it on long enough — the label warns that it can turn your hair purple. He said 5 minutes, which is definitely longer than I’m used to, and he worked the toner into my hair and let it sit. Then we walked over to the styling chair, and he decided the minute he turned the blow dryer on was the perfect time to ask me my thoughts on Trump. Is that the equivalent of a dentist trying to make conversation with his hands in your mouth? Obamacare is hard to explain on its own — I’ll admit I don’t fully understand it, but it’s nearly impossible to discuss over the roaring sound of a dryer.

He noticed my roots were still a little brassy looking, so he decided to wash it with the toner again, leaving it on even longer this time. Then it was back to blow drying and Trump talk while I wondered if I’d ever be able to eat the emergency protein bar I had packed in my bag — I had not planned on spending my entire afternoon at this place!

He complimented how good the highlights had turned out, and it seemed like they really had — they were not orange or only covering half my head, which is more than I can say from past experiences. I thanked him, took his card, and walked home, tucking into the protein bar like I had never eaten before.

Since I always seem to let my dark roots grow out way longer than I should, it’s always a bit of a shock when my hair is back to completely blonde. It takes a few glances in the mirror to get used to. That night I was washing my hands in the bathroom with the better light when my hair caught my eye. It didn’t look different because it was blonder. It looked different because it was purpler.

Yes, the toner turned my hair purple. A very faint purple, like a lilac or silver that is actually all the rage now, but definitely purple.

I rocked it for a day, then washed my hair with the clarifying shampoo I got in my Birchbox, which I read on Google would help. The purple is much less noticeable now, if at all.

My next highlights will definitely be done in the U.S. though, under the dryer and all, then maybe enough time will have passed and I can show my face at that other salon again, because I’m definitely not going back to a place that makes me sit for 3 1/2 hours to turn my hair purple.

mizore shirayuki purple hair

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What’s that smell?

21 Aug

On Friday night Stephen and I decided to drive out to our friends’ house to surprise their son with a birthday cake. But first we had to go to Chinatown to pick up a cake, because everyone knows Chinatown has the best cake (OK, maybe not everyone, but now at least you know). I admittedly don’t go out at night very much in London, partially because I’m slightly afraid of getting mugged or harassed, but mostly because I’m an old soul who’d rather just stay in and watch Netflix. It was interesting seeing Chinatown at night — all the same shops and restaurants were still open and it was as buzzing as ever. In fact, it was so crowded that I wasn’t watching where I was walking and stepped in a puddle, splashing water up on my leg.

The cake shop we intended on visiting was just closing up shop, so we made our way to our second choice. The woman behind the counter was quite curt, refusing to help us until she had rung up everyone in the queue, even those who had come in after us. Finally she boxed up our cake, then made a beeline for the toilet.

“Oh my god I think she crapped herself!” Stephen said. That would explain her grumpy mood and the horrid smell that seemed to be intermingled with the sweet smell of cake and buns in the shop.
“At least she didn’t touch the cake,” I replied, and we walked back to the car.

As we pulled out of the parking spot, I smelled something horrid — could the poo particles really have penetrated the cake? I wondered. I bent down to smell the cake resting between my legs on the floor.

“I think it’s the plastic bag she put the cake box in,” I said, holding it closer to my nose. It was plausible for a plastic bag to just smell like a mix of pee and vomit, right? I removed the cake from the bag and gave the bag a good sniff.

“Wait, I don’t think it’s the bag,” I said. I brought the cake box up to my nose and held it up to Stephen at the stoplight.

“It smells like strawberry cake, it can’t be the cake either,” I said. What could be creating such a vile smell?

And then I remembered. The puddle. My shoes. My leg and jeans. The Chinatown puddle I had stepped in had not been filled with water — it had been filled with “garbage juice,” which was surely tainted with hobo pee and drunk person vomit. It made me want to vomit too.

We pulled into a petrol station to fill up and I ran to the bathroom to try to clean my leg and shoes. The only problem was the petrol station bathroom actually smelled worse than the puddle I stepped in, so I couldn’t really tell if I was making any progress and just wanted to get out of there.

When we arrived at our friends’ house, I quickly removed my shoes by the door, wished their son happy birthday, and made a beeline for the bathroom.

“Renee stepped in vomit!” Stephen proudly declared. Not how I like to make an entrance, but I was not about to correct him with “garbage juice.” I scrubbed the leg of my jeans with hand soap, then sprayed the ever-loving crap out of my leg and foot with the “home fragrance” I found on the shelf. We ended up having a nice night after that and the cake was delicious. I did smell strongly of orange blossom the entire time, but that’s 100 times better than eau du tramp  (or eau de toilette in the most literal sense!).

inbetweeners tramp shoes

My shoes rode in the trunk/boot on the way home, and after a good scrubbing now smell like Tesco Super Concentrated Non Bio Liquid Detergent. I’m just hoping one of these days they’ll fully dry!

Raiding with the people still playing Pokemon Go

11 Aug

Pokemon go raid

When Pokemon Go announced the new “raid” feature a few weeks ago, I was apprehensive. I’m an antisocial introvert who has always played the game alone. Now suddenly I was going to have to work together with other trainers to battle and take down a raid boss. That did not sound appealing. But over the past few weeks, raids have become my favorite part of the game. I went from standing to the side of the group or battling from across the street to actually chatting with other trainers and having some human interaction. And I enjoyed it! The stereotype that Pokemon is for kids or nerds couldn’t be farther from the truth, at least in central London. Every time a group gathers for a raid it looks like an advertiser hand-picked us to hit every demo range — I’ve played with middle-aged white women, Asian grandmas, Muslim university students, men so old I was surprised they could work a smartphone, yet alone Pokemon Go, big-wig businessmen who snuck out during their lunch break, tourists from mainland Europe or America, and parents who were clearly way more into the game than their children who introduced it to them. I joined an online Discord group where players chat and organize raid meetups, but I’ve been too shy to participate. But in central London I’ve learned you can just show up and there will always be at least 6 other people ready to battle with you (or cheaters sitting at home and spoofing their GPS location to the raid gym).

A lot of people credit Pokemon Go for making them get off the couch and walk more. Pokemon Go pretty much killed my desire to run faster and farther, but it has helped me actually interact with people in my city, which I guess is important too.

Free soap samples and my first visit to Asda in Sketchyville, UK

4 Aug

There’s this store on New Bond St that gives out little samples of bar soap when you walk by. Except they don’t tell you it’s soap when they hand it to you, they simply say, “Don’t eat it!” It’s obvious many people have tried to eat it — it looks exactly like Turkish delight or a Jolly Rancher, and when people hand out samples on the street, typically they’re edible. But it seems like the whole misunderstanding could be avoided if they just said, “Would you like to try a sample of our soap?” instead of “Try this, don’t eat it!” I don’t get it.

asda old kent road london

I went to Asda for the first time today. Asda is owned by Walmart, and as it turns out, it’s exactly like an American Walmart, sketchy people and all. I was only 3 miles from central London, but it felt like I was in a different world. There was even a drive-thru McDonald’s next door! I was completely overwhelmed and amazed by the selection — there wasn’t just one variety, scent and flavor of everything like at my usual Tesco Metro. I am always lamenting about how there aren’t enough cheap grocery stores in central London and I can’t always find everything I need at Tesco, yet here I was, surrounded by every food (or household) item I could ever want, and I had no idea what to buy. I also knew everything I got I’d have to schlep home on the bus in my giant DSW tote (the best free bag ever).

So naturally I went for tea. I had to try the new Tetley’s Indulgence line — Cookies and Cream and Gingerbread teas? Yes, please! (Even though my tea cupboard is overflowing and I promised myself I would not buy any more tea until my collection fit in one cupboard. But pretty soon we’ll be remodeling the kitchen and getting bigger cupboards, so perhaps that won’t be a problem anymore :-P) I also bought stevia tablets to go with the tea, and Japanese BBQ sauce because it was on clearance. And instant protein porridge packs to take on our upcoming holiday, even though they probably sell instant oatmeal in Italy. I had planned to walk the whole way home, but I was getting sketchy vibes from the neighborhood and didn’t want to risk my phone (or new legendary Pokemon!) to some moped thief, so I hopped back on the bus, only to get off when I spotted a Lidl. Lidl and Aldi are always located in Dodgy McDodgyville, but the bargains are too good to pass up. They had giant cherries less than half the price of Tesco. And Belgian chocolate! And skyr! And sesame oil, coconut oil spray, corn, nuts… Needless to say, my shoulder is killing me. And I wasn’t even done! I had one more stop on my discount shop bus journey — Iceland. Where, of course, today’s special was cherries — 400g for 50p! That’s practically free. (The normal price is 400g for £3. Tesco sells 200g for £2.) People were going nuts adding them to their baskets. I only bought one pack since I already bought cherries at Lidl, but looking back on it I probably should have bought more and froze them for smoothies. Then again adding just 400g more to my tote bag may have caused my shoulder (or the bag itself) to give out.

Breaking records and winning the Friday Forty

3 Jul

It’s funny how people always say “I never win anything.” Because none of us win anything, until of course we do, and then we can never say “I never win anything,” because we have won something, but “I only win things occasionally” just doesn’t sound as good.

When it comes to the theatre ticket lottery, I only win occasionally. When TodayTix first launched I won almost every lottery I entered, but that was likely because there were fewer names in the pot. When it first launched I entered the Book of Mormon in-person ticket lottery 10 times and never got lucky. I’ve entered the Dream Girls, Aladdin, and Harry Potter lotteries more times than I can count and I never won. Until now.

From the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child website:
Every Friday at 1pm we release 40 tickets for every performance the following week, for some of the very best seats in the theatre, at an amazingly low price. These tickets are known as ‘The Friday Forty’.

I have a weekly reminder on my phone to apply for the Friday Forty. Not winning has become such a habit that I almost didn’t enter last week — what’s the point? I thought. But since I was home I clicked on the “Buy tickets” button when it appeared promptly at 1pm, then walked away to get dressed for my run. When I came back I noticed the bar with the little wizard at the bottom of the screen was actually moving — I don’t remember it ever doing that before. Then suddenly I was in — it was asking me which dates I wanted to book! I got front row centre tickets for Wednesday’s shows for £20 each. Unbelievable! Wednesday is going to be a long day of theatre — part I at 2pm then part II at 7:30pm. But I’m sure it will be worth it!

friday forty tickets

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will be my 52nd and 53rd shows in London (it counts as two, right?). That’s right, friends, I did it — I hit 50 shows, and of course I did it with Bat Out Of Hell the Musical. Dare I say it was even more amazing the second time around? Partly because Andrew, the main Strat actor, was born to play the role, and partly because I had a cheeky pre-show glass of wine. (That sounded really British, didn’t it?). Then the day after I saw Bat, I saw Rotterdam, an emotional play that was absolutely nothing like Bat and actually made me a little depressed for the rest of the day, but it was an incredibly moving show about relationships and the struggle of being trans. Rotterdam was my 10th show of the year, which means I finally broke my 9 shows a year record! And it’s only July! I hate the central London traffic and crowds so, so much, but being able to witness world-class theatre regularly makes it all worth it.

Experiencing Bat Out of Hell the Musical

26 Jun
bat out of hell the musical londonJune 8, 2017.
The lights go out and Strat is standing center stage talking into the microphone.

“I remember everything!” he booms.

“I remember every little thing as if it happened only yesterday.” My eyes inexplicably begin to water. “I’m here, I’m really here,” I think to myself.

“I was barely seventeen, and I once killed a boy with a Fender guitar.”

OK, I’ve never killed anyone with a Fender guitar, but I do remember every word to Love And Death And An American Guitar, or Wasted Youth as it’s known on Bat Out Of Hell II. When I was barely seventeen I was reading Jim Steinman’s musicals Neverland and The Dream Engine, precursors to the Bat Out Of Hell musical, and downloading every mainstream and obscure song Steinman had ever written. I knew Bat Out Of Hell the Musical was in the works — it has been for 40 years — but I never dreamed Steinman would finish it and it would be performed in the very city I just happened to be living.

But there I was, watching Bat Out Of Hell the Musical unfold from the front row, wearing the Bat Out Of Hell T-shirt I bought on eBay when I was 17. And yet I somehow felt out of place. The women next to me were fully decked out in leather like they literally road in on the motorcycle displayed in the lobby. (A line from The Dream Engine comes to mind. “The revolution likes leather. The revolution wears leather to survive in the streets.”) They were dressed exactly like the members of The Lost wandering about on the stage a few minutes before showtime. My first thought was “Oh god, is this some kind of immersive theater? Am I going to have to interact with them?” (Another line from The Dream Engine: “Quiet. It’s only theater. It’s nothing to be afraid of.”) But no, they were not members of The Lost, just super fans who had seen the show in Manchester and came down to London to see it again. They waved their hands in the air and sang along to every song. Meanwhile I was completely still, “silently shrieking,” feeling every word and note in my heart and on every inch of my skin. (I’m trying to be poetic, but there was a speaker directly in my face. It obstructed my view a tad, but man, could I really feel the songs!). Those who know me are always surprised by my love for all things Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf. Steinman’s songs are about teen lust, going over the top, breaking the rules, and well, murdering people with Fender guitars. At 17 I was a straight A student who was president of the Latin club and played flute at Mass. I had barely slow danced with a boy, Paradise by the Dashboard Light was a completely foreign concept to me. And yet maybe that’s what attracted me to Steinman’s music — it allowed me to escape my top-button buttoned life and wear some auditory leather. (To quote one of his songs: “You’ve been nothing but an angel every day of your life, and now you wonder what it’s like to be damned.”)

The show was everything I could have dreamed it to be. There were certainly elements of Neverland and The Dream Engine in there, but it had been cleaned up and polished for a mainstream audience. The Dream Engine was pretty dark and outrageously sexual. Reading it as a good Catholic school girl was one of the most rebellious things I did back then. I’m not sure I even understood all of it, but I kept going back to it, even plastering lines from it all over my school notebooks. (Lines like: “Reality’s in agony and it’s about time it stopped. It’s about time we put reality out of its misery. And there are only a few of us left with the grace to try euthanasia.”) Even before I saw the show I had a feeling it wouldn’t be one I could see just once (even though my one ticket practically cost more than the 7 other shows I’ve seen this year combined). And when I realized the guy playing Strat was actually the alternate, I knew I had to go again to see the lead (though Ben the alternate was brilliant!). That, and it was the 49th show I’ve seen in London. I couldn’t let just any show be my landmark 50th.

Then like a sinner before the gates of Heaven, I’ll come crawling on back to you…

So I’m seeing it again this week. Front row center this time.

My mildly convenient superpower

7 Jun

I remember reading an AskReddit thread once about mildly convenient superpowers. I never really thought about what mildly convenient superpower I might want, until it occurred to me the other day that I might already have one.

Almost every time I fly or travel on a Megabus, I never have to sit next to a stranger. There’s always an empty seat next to me.

I thought it was just a fluke at first. It used to happen on my frequent Chicago-Cincinnati Megabus trips when the bus was only half full. But then there was a time the bus was completely full save for one empty seat, which just so happened to be next to me. It began feeling like a superpower.

It’s been so long since I’ve had someone sit next to me on a trans-Atlantic flight that I don’t even know where I would put my headphones or water bottle if they couldn’t go on the empty seat next to me. I flew back to London last week and made sure to select an aisle seat next to an empty middle seat. I almost got ambitious and selected a row with two empty seats (maybe I could actually stretch out and sleep?!), but knew that was too much of a risk. Some couple could come along and choose those two seats. I checked the seat map on the Virgin app every hour or so during my 5-hour layover in Boston and figured I was golden — the middle seat next to me remained empty. But then I checked one last time while waiting to board, only to see a little X on the empty seat — as well as on every single seat on the plane. It was a fully booked flight. My superpower had met its match.

A few minutes after I sat down, uncomfortably holding my giant headphones, toiletry bag and water bottle until I could figure out where to store them, a young man came and motioned to the empty seat.

“I’m seated there, but my girlfriend is in 55E — would you mind switching with her?” he asked. Stephen and I have asked people to do this many times and I was happy to pay it forward. Until I asked them to confirm the seat.

“55E? Is that a middle seat?” I asked. It was. I felt like a horrible person, but I had to turn down their request. Being stuck for 6+ hours with your knees touching one person is bad enough, there was no way I was going to do it crammed between two people.

“It’s no problem, we understand,” the girlfriend said, waved goodbye to her boyfriend, and headed back a few rows. The boyfriend immediately put on headphones and closed his eyes while I tried not to bump his legs digging for my iPad in my bag. It seemed my superpower was no more and I was going to have to suck it up, just like everyone else seated in economy. But then they closed the cabin doors and I felt a presence next to me. It was the girlfriend.

“Hey!” she said to her boyfriend. “There’s no one sitting next to me, come on back!”

And that’s how I knew I truly have a mildly convenient superpower.

super corgi