Moving to London

“Sure. Sounds good,” I replied.

There was nothing particularly unique about the phone call in response to my interest in the Middle School Band Director position at The American School in London (ASL). The only action that took any modicum of forethought when moving to London in 2001 was the actual faxing of my information to the school in the first place.

Help Wanted

The job search was typical for the times. Choose a few palatable locations, look up employment opportunities online, and slightly alter an already-written cover letter and résumé in order to be a more appealing candidate. The early aughts (I have been wanting to use that word!) succeeded the days of searching for jobs in newspapers and preceded the current, completely paperless process…a technological purgatory that still required postage stamps and appropriately watermarked résumé paper.

Having successfully completed the coursework, oral exams, and all but one of the written tests for a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at The Hartt School, University of Hartford (Connecticut), it was time to find employment. As has been a theme in these posts, personal finances played a role in the decision to forgo immediate work on a dissertation. However, truth be told, I missed public school teaching enough that my choice would have been the same even if a hefty trust fund were at my disposal. Much to the surprise of many, including myself, a well-rounded experience as a Doctoral Fellow taught me that college professorship was something to which I no longer aspired and middle school was the place to be.

Back to School

High school teaching would later prove to be extremely fulfilling. But at that time, teaching middle school students was simply the most fun. Some in the education field have termed sixth through eighth grade as ‘The Range of the Strange.’ This seemingly disparaging description is absolutely spot on, yet teaching those “strange” students is fantastically rewarding! There are other experienced educators who posit that teachers tend to share characteristics with the age of the students they teach. There is definitely some truth to that!

My job search parameters were teaching band to middle school students, being part of a good school, and living in or near a large metro area, preferably in the Northeast. As a result, I had already completed two or three interviews in the New York City and Boston suburbs. The 2000-2001 academic year was still in swing, so there was no panic, but a feeling of concern was beginning to germinate.

During a quiet afternoon in the music building, I logged onto one of the national music educator job sites and noticed a posting that read something to the effect of: “Full-Time Middle School Band Director: The American School in London. Requirements: The successful candidate will be one who enjoys teaching middle school aged students, with experience teaching middle school band and group instrumental lessons. Advanced degree preferred.” Bingo! This was perfect…but it was in London.

My Old Friend

There are two limiting factors in my life that untold numbers of people experience, but might be hesitant to admit. The first is persistent financial pressures and the second is fear of the unknown and/or anxiety.

Towards the beginning of my inaugural blog post on this site, I wrote:

~~~”Life has made it clear that Me and Anxiety are destined to be lifelong friends—Two separate entities inhabiting one body. The conjoined twins of my inner and outer self. Like the 1927 song, Me and My Shadow. “Me and my shadow, strolling down the avenue. Me and my shadow, not a soul to tell our troubles to.” This is my relationship with anxiety.”~~~

That song is woven through these stories as both a literal and metaphorical theme. My Shadow was with me when I saw that London job posting; but I outran it, almost quite literally. While shaking with enthusiasm for an opportunity that had never even entered my mind, teaching abroad, I took two swift laps around the unusually empty music building without seeing or speaking to a soul—perhaps it was finals week? Rapidly returning to the graduate assistants’ office, I made the requisite changes to my cover letter, placed it into the fax machine and paused for a short, yet indelible moment. “The only reason to not fax this right now would be because I am afraid to.” …pause…consternation…“This job description is exactly me.”…more silence, only a little bit more….SENT!

Decision Making

There is a dichotomy within me that, although true, is difficult to share or explain. I find that decisions such as the one that led me to London are easy. Day-to-day life can, at times, be much more challenging. That dichotomy is the reason for some of the reactions I would later receive from close friends and particularly family members when they learned of the news.

Back to the story. It took a day or two to receive a call from the middle school secretary at ASL. She asked if I was available for a phone interview at 7 AM EST two days later. “Sure. Sounds good.” I hung up the phone and began writing anticipated questions. Unique to phone interviews is the lack of concern about body language and the ability to refer to notes. Based on the title of this post, you have ascertained that the phone interview went well.

Next, I was on a plane to London’s Heathrow Airport for two days of interviews at ASL, meals with faculty and administration, and teaching demonstrations. Before heading back to the airport, there was one last meeting with the avuncular Head of School, Bill Mules, a Princeton grad with a bow tie, Southern accent, intelligence, and charm. He shook my hand firmly and said, “From what I have heard, things have gone very well, and unless we break into fisticuffs during this meeting, we would like to offer you the job. Any questions?”

Surprise!

The people closest to me were excited, but apprehensive when informed of this sudden move to England. Although our family had our share of ups and downs, we were close enough that it was important to tell my parents and grandparents about the decision in person. After phoning my sister, Kim, with the good news, I drove to Syracuse at the first available date. Reactions were mixed, but generally gave way to acceptance and a relative degree of happiness for me. Nobody said so out loud, but there was an undertone of concern that this might be too big of a move. I felt quite the opposite.

I spent much of the summer with Kim and her husband Joe and they surprised me by volunteering to help me move to London. This was not only a heartwarming gesture, but cemented what was already a strong sibling bond. They even adopted Wynton from me—he was the world’s best cat! Similar to my move to Dallas almost ten years prior, my living plans might best be described as optimistic. Armed with my passport and an ASL-sponsored work visa, we headed to London with a few weeks worth of necessities (more would be shipped later.)

Finding a Flat

ASL employees who traveled during the summer rented (letted) their homes by the week to new teachers looking for flats. We took advantage of one of these opportunities. After a very short search, I ended up in a one-bedroom flat on Tanza Road adjacent to Hampstead Heath (see photo above.) Hampstead is an incredibly safe area, but in a cruel twist, we were awakened by screaming in the middle of our first night there. A woman was robbed outside the house! The police arrived and took care of everything in short order, but our nerves were definitely a bit frayed.

Because the deal on my living space was closed so quickly, the three of us were able to have a nice sightseeing visit. We experienced many of the usual attractions; Tower of London, the London Eye, Big Ben, and The British Museum. At the museum, much to our shock, we stumbled upon a man I knew who worked at The Crane School of Music during my undergraduate years. Another reminder of how small the world had become!

A Fun Side Trip

At some point, we decided to make time for an overnight trip to Canterbury. If you ever travel to London, give this a try. The town is not only notable because of Chaucer and its literary significance, but it is subtly beautiful. The famous Canterbury Cathedral, built in 597 and rebuilt in the 11th and 12th centuries, lives up to its billing. In the older sections of town, which were also rebuilt during that time period, it is so well-preserved that one can almost feel the presence of people from the past going about their daily routines.

In addition to wandering through the recommended attractions, we ate some relatively decent pizza in Canterbury, which was much needed comfort food for us New Yorkers. There was a bit of souvenir shopping, as well. That evening, Kim was the wisest of our trio and headed back from the pubs before Joe and I. We were engaged in immature male bonding and didn’t notice the size differential of the Imperial pint and the potency of the ale. Sparing the less flattering details, Joe and I slept a little too well the next morning. As a result, Kim dined alone for the breakfast portion of our stay at the charming, well-kept Bed and Breakfast. She later reported that the host was quite friendly, the food was good, and the table had been preemptively set for three…our apologies, Kim.

Back to Business

We returned to London for the final portion of Kim and Joe’s stay. Our time was spent on more mundane tasks such as buying groceries, finding cleaning supplies, and learning transit routes. We also walked a lot. We tried some local restaurants, as well as a burger place—I do NOT recommend burgers in London. Before their departure, there was one gesture which Kim had been secretly tasked to complete by my grandfather, Papa (1913-2007) of Nimmy and Papa fame [see: https://myunexpectedlife.net/2019/01/07/a-preamble-childhood-in-north-syracuse/ .]

The Gambler

Papa was a gambler in his youth and beyond. According to one infamous tale that was shared with us in our childhood, he had lost the family car in a bet several years before we were born. Kim added a newly learned twist to the oft-heard story. As a result of the car debacle, Papa had promised Nimmy that he would not gamble again. The degree to which he kept that promise is likely open to debate; but he was exacting with his money, as with everything.

It turns out Papa had secretly squirreled away small amounts of money in a coffee can for years. When he thought the time was right, he intended to use the money ($500) for one last bet. In my flat on Tanza Road in Northwest London, my sister smiled, recounted the story, and handed me the $500, with Papa’s condition that I must use the money only for expenses.

A Beautiful Moment

The degree to which he kept that promise is likely open to debate; but he was exacting with his money, as with everything. It turns out Papa had secretly squirreled away small amounts of money in a coffee can for years. When he thought the time was right, he intended to use the money ($500) for one last bet. In my flat on Tanza Road in Northwest London, my sister smiled, recounted the story, and handed me the $500, with Papa’s condition that I must use the money only for expenses.

It turns out Papa had secretly squirreled away small amounts of money in a coffee can for years. When he thought the time was right, he intended to use the money ($500) for one last bet. In my flat on Tanza Road in Northwest London, my sister smiled, recounted the story, and handed me the $500, with Papa’s condition that I must use the money only for expenses.

It turns out Papa had decided that his last bet would be on me.

~Kevin

In My Unexpected Life: Travel, Food, and More, I will share stories, thoughts, and simple ideas to entertain and maybe even inspire others to engage with new food, travel, and more…no matter how big or small those experiences may be.

Even if my writings do not produce the desired result—please enjoy the blog!


7 comments

  1. Awe, I had never heard that story about Papa. I love it. And yes, I’m finally trying to catch up on the blogs. 🙂

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.