What is it about walking on public streets when you’re in a hurry? Everyone is in your way, slower and walks into you on purpose. This has become a huge pet peeve of mine since my London commute began. In the mornings I walk about 2 miles through central London. Although it is before 830 am, there still seem to be aimless tourists about which totally negates my first theory as to foot traffic patterns.
In the US I always got the feeling that people walked to the right side of the side walk. It seemed an unspoken rule that you stand to the right on escalators if you weren’t going to walk, you walk slower on the right side of the side walk, you drive on the right side of the road, etc. The left lane is always the fast lane on highways. I assume this is because of the direction we drive on roads in most countries – the steering wheel is on the left side of the car and we drive on the right side of the road. Since this is more common practice than not, I wonder if the aimless, undirected foot traffic in London is due to this confusion. The Londoners want to walk on the left, the foreigners are used to the right, then mix in some lost tourists and people only looking at their phones, and you have one hell of a mess. Although on escalators you still stand to the right, walk on the left. There really is no rhyme or reason!
When I say “WI” – what do you think of? Jam. Knitting. Bake sales. Old ladies who lunch. You would be pretty close. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since living here is that a lot of today’s culture has evolved from England’s experience ‘during the war’. Whether that’s slang expressions, architecture and town development to volunteer organizations.
“The Women’s Institute (WI) was formed in 1915 to revitalise rural communities and encourage women to become more involved in producing food during the First World War. Since then the organisation’s aims have broadened and the WI is now the largest voluntary women’s organisation in the UK. The WI will celebrate its centenary in 2015 and currently has 212,000 members in around 6,600 WIs.
The WI plays a unique role in providing women with educational opportunities and the chance to build new skills, to take part in a wide variety of activities and to campaign on issues that matter to them and their communities. ” – TheWI.org.uk
In my attempt to meet new people and have more in my life than just work and sleep, I decided to try the WI. The long-standing tradition of British women learning how to be home makers. Now yes, it’s known for being mostly old ladies making jam and singing Jerusalem. But in an effort to meet people locally and start building community for myself I thought why not try it? Anyone is allowed and maybe some meetings would have younger women. It is becoming more popular at universities, etc. We just don’t live near a university…. It seemed like a good idea – not centered around sports, drinking or work; getting together to learn new things and make new friends. And it was all of those things. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming. I never felt like the new person. However the age range was late 60s to over 85 I’m sure. Womp womp. The meeting lasted from 730-10! They started out giving corsage to ladies who have birthdays in January – aw. There was an hour-long presentation by an outside person – this week was on the changing face of London which was done by a man with lots of pictures of London. What his background or authority on the subject was besides “old man with camera who’s been to London a lot” I don’t know. It was fairly interesting. Then there was a 25 min coffee/tea break to socialize and sign up for events happening in the next few months. Next was the business part of the meeting – basically talking turns reading and reporting about events and campaigns listed in the monthly newsletter. There is a lot going on and lots you can get involved in if you want. At the end their was a raffle. You could buy tickets when we came in for something small like 50p and that money would go toward the chapter funds, the tea break etc. the raffle prizes were crap and they all told me so, but it was a fun thing at the end that people seemed to get excited about. They told me the prizes would always be something you could use: box of tea, reusable grocery bag, bouquet of flowers, etc. they did love it though when the numbers were called. Adorable. A few women told me their husbands had passed away and so the WI is great for them to have connections and friendly faces. I believe it.
Next month’s meeting will have a presentation titled “Buttons — everything you never knew”. Geezus. Even the old ladies giggled at that one.
I don’t think I’ll be returning, but they were so nice. There is apparently another chapter nearby that is supposed to be a bit younger. Apparently the meeting in that area closed for a few years….because all of the members were too old and died! So some younger women have restarted it. Younger could mean 50s, but I think I’ll check it out next month, can’t hurt.
Sufficed to say, we’re having some trouble with the work-commute-life balance at the moment so trying new things is the current remedy. They won’t always pan out, but there’s no way to know until you try. Sorry, that sounded a little too Pollyanna. We seem to be in that funny stage where people our age are starting to have babies which opens up a whole new community to them. I was telling one of the women at the WI that I was visiting their meeting as I was new to the area and looking to meet people. She told me not to worry, once I have kids I’ll meet loads of new people. While that’s true, I didn’t want to say, “But what if we don’t want kids?”. Maybe in a small town that does mean it’s harder to meet people. Our DC Bocce team was exactly what we wanted – a reason to get together once a week for a few hours. Since we paid to belong to the team, it meant we all showed up each week. As working adults our lives all run in different directions at different times, so keeping friends is a lot more commitment and effort than it used to be. Just means the ones you keep are important.
We did a bit of London exploring yesterday which was fun. Started around Borough Market, sampling cheeses and home-made breads. Then hopped on the Boris bikes for 30 min intervals (that way it’s still free within our membership) and went to green park, Buckingham Palace, Hyde park and even checked out Jono’s offices (very swank!). We ended the night with a greek restaurant and tickets to Shakespeare in Love. We love the movie but the show was a bit much. I thought it was really over acted, and there seemed to be a lot of running around the stage that didn’t seem necessary.