Hello there from sunny/rainy/warm/cold/crisp/damp/expensive/expensiver London. Undoubtedly the greatest city in the world after Kochi and Trivandrum. For the last three weeks or so I have been embroiled in the controlled chaos better known as 'settling into London'. This involves steps such as
1. Finalizing on a neighbourhood to stay in.
2. Refinalizing a new neighborhood to stay in because previous neighbourhood is too expensive if your are not a banker, Russian mafia or, frequently, both.
3. Drawing up shortlist of one bedroom flats available on rent, from classifieds advertisements and online real estate websites.
4. Subsequently drawing up shortlist of real estate websites because most websites, the bastards, have homes listed that were put on the market sometime during the Sepoy Mutiny of
1847 1857 (computer error), and have long since been replaced by an Ikea outlet or some part of the Mittal household.
5. Visitings of shortlisted flats one after the other from morning to night along with a real estate agent who, unlike the ones in Mumbai, will honestly and apologetically say things like: "Sorry about this mess. But the current tenant is a student. So ignore the shoes in the freezer. That is the freezer. You can approach it through this trapdoor. Backwards."
6. Making an offer for a palatial 17 square foot one bedroom with attached bath cum study.
7. Getting rejected.
8. Making counter-offer.
9. Getting accepted.
11. Too soon. Got rejected.
12. Depression. Beer.
13. Another offer.
And so on and so forth. Till you decide to get a mobile phone connection. Now you would expect the United Kingdon, a perfectly respectable First World Country with Worsht World Deficit, to have a top notch, cutting-edge, smooth as silk, spectacularly advanced telecom system. Thankfully this they do due to a refreshing lack of A Raja in this country. But instead of torturing you with bad service, a la Voda-Edge is down-fone India, they torture you by creating the most rigorous credit checking system in the world. These are some necessary but not sufficient conditions you need to satisfy in order to get a favourable credit rating and, therefore, mobile phone in the UK:
a. You must have a bank account in the UK that has been in operation for at least 15 years. Preferably 30 years. But it is best if you own the bank. Sidin Barclays Vadukut might work if you have photo id.
b. In this bank account you must have a minimum balance of several million pounds. Minimum balance is calculated by taking the value of the lowest balance in your account, over a rolling four-week period, and square rooting this number.
c. Now you must have a valid debt instrument of some kind in your name that you have used with honour and dignity for at least 6 months. Credit cards, home loans and large numbers of US dollars are all valid as debt instruments. Also, and this is sweet Monty Python irony, a mobile phone contract which is paid regularly on time goes towards giving you a credit history that you can use to get a mobile phone contract. What Godel, Escher, Suck On This, Bach irony.
d. Finally you must have lived in the UK for atleast 2 years. This is true even if you have just moved to the UK last Tuesday.
When the guy at Orange ran my credentials through his credit checking computer, it thought for two minutes before calling the police and reporting a burglary.
So instead of a post-paid connection, what they call 'pay monthly' here, I had to take a pre-paid connection, or what they call 'pay as you go out of business' here. This is terrible tragedy. With pay monthly plans you can pay just 20 or 25 GBP per month and get 600 minutes of talk time, unlimited texts and 1 GB Blackberry usage. With pay as you go plans you need to pay 7 GBP every second. Flat. Even if you are not calling anybody at all.
Which is why you see tourists, expats and recent movers to the UK often speaking in very loud volume in public spaces. They are not being uncouth. They are trying to save mobile phone charges by screaming at each other across short distances.
But once you get over these minor hassles, the UK is a really convenient place to live in. When landlords say 'Furnished Apartment' it is not like Mumbai where this means that you have most doors and one chair. No no. Not at all. Here this means you get a million varieties of crockery and kitchen tools and a flat screen tv and a boiler and even something called an extractor fan. I have no idea what this extractor fan is. But suddenly in the middle of the night, around 2 PM, it extracts something noisily.
All of this can sometimes be a little stressful. Which is why I am most grateful that in the UK a good beer is never more than two or three minutes away. You get booze everywhere here. Booze and coffee and sushi. Yes. Those three things. Everywhere. Tiny little shady supermarkets, run by guys who probably once were hedge fund brokers before buying pay as you go mobile phones, will have beer, hot beverages and plastic boxes of assembly-line sushi.
So what is there not to like? I will have to think about it.
Which I will do now over an artisanal ale or a small batch pilsener. And some California Maki Rolls.
Catch you later in the next Letter From London.