Our Londonpalooza Experience continued over the weekend, as King Charles was crowned in a coronation that left the UK all aflutter – except for the many parts that weren’t.
The coronation happened on Saturday at Westminster Abbey. Our family celebrated in halves, with one half (Wife, Younger Daughter) heading in the very opposite direction of Westminster Abbey to a shopping mall in Stratford, and the other half (Myself, Older Daughter) hanging at home to take part in coronation-centric activities like laundry and ordering lunch.
Our own neighborhood in the borough of Southwark had all the excitement of a leaf bagger’s convention at a high school gymnasium. As the coronation was happening, the streets were empty and damp. Maybe everyone was inside, glued to their TV sets, or just staying out of the damp.
Being foreigners, the proceedings held less allure for us than native Brits. But the coronation did continue an amazing run of Monumental Events since we landed in London from America. We have now been here roughly 5.5 years. In that time, we have witnessed the following:
- Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee, celebrating 70 years on the throne.
- Queen Elizabeth’s death soon after said Jubilee, leading to lines that stretched for miles on end to see her lie in state (including past our house way out in Bermondsey).
- This past weekend’s coronation of the first king in 71 years.
- The Royal Clusterf**k involving Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
- Four – count ‘em, four – British prime ministers in about five years, including the shortest PM reign in history. That one involved Liz Truss, who lasted all of 44 days. I’ve had bananas that lasted longer.
- COVID-19, which shut this bustling city down for months at a time, along with the rest of the world.
- A seemingly endless series of transit strikes, followed by a steady string of teacher strikes.
Wowzie! Did our kids get the roller coaster ride of a lifetime over here, or what?
We’ll only be able to enjoy a few more months of the reign of King Charles. My first impression is this: It’s like living under the reign of an uncle who sits in the corner during holiday gatherings, checking his watch, thinking about what the traffic might be like on the drive home, which for God sakes better be soon….
We were invited to a friendly community gathering the day after the coronation, during a lovey spring day, where we met some of the neighbors we’ve had for five-plus years. It was a nice affair filled with nice people, some of whom were wearing handmade crowns in honor of the new king.
Among the people we met were a pleasant older couple who, unbeknownst to us, live pretty much right across the street. They are natives of India who spent time in Ghana (at least the husband did) before moving to Great Britain. When the husband learned that we moved to London from North Carolina in the USA, he told us that his son lives across the border in South Carolina.
I decided to learn more, being the curious type.
“Where does he live in South Carolina?” inquired I. “Which city?”
“He lives by the main road,” answered he.
“The main road?” I asked.
“Yes,” he answered.
“Do you know which city he lives in, though?”’ I asked.
“Right near the main road, by the petrol station,” he answered.
Hmmm, I thought. That’s interesting. South Carolina is a state that encompasses about 32,000 square miles. It’s one of the smaller states, ranking No. 40 in total geographic area out of 50 states. But it’s still pretty big by European standards, roughly two-thirds the size of England, about twice the size of Holland.
There are 270 municipalities in South Carolina, including a handful of fairly big metro areas (Greenville, Columbia, Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Spartanburg). I’m guessing there are more than 1,000 “main roads” in the state. God knows how many petrol stations.
But the man’s son lives near the main road, by the petrol station.
This goes to show just how little most of us know about the rest of the world. Now, I can’t claim to be an expert on India, or Ghana. But I do know enough to surmise that they probably have a whole shitload of main roads.
Anyway, if you’re ever on the main road in South Carolina, by the petrol station, stop in and say hello to the man’s son!
Will all due respect to King Charles, the highlight of my weekend was hopping on my bicycle and pedaling around the neighborhood. It was the first time I’ve taken a ride since I fractured my knee in a bike accident nine weeks ago. That was a long, long dry spell for me. Since I began cycling regularly 32 years ago, I don’t think I’d even gone three straight days without taking a bike ride, outside of vacations. Nine weeks seemed like an eternity.
I bought an exercise bike a few weeks ago and had been doing that for a while to strengthen the knee. On Sunday, I finally felt recovered enough to take a real ride. It wasn’t a long one – 20 minutes, most of which was spent doing laps around a little bike path in a little nearby park. I was extra careful. I rode very slowly and steered well clear of any humans, dogs, pigeons, whatever – anything that might pose a threat that would lead to me spilling over and re-wrecking my knee.
In the days since, my rides have gotten progressively longer. Today I ventured a little further away and did close to 30 minutes. Tomorrow I will do 45 minutes, and next week I will cycle to the deepest jungles of Thailand.
Maybe even to South Carolina, near the main road…..
As mentioned previously, we are winding down our time in London, with plans to move back to the States this summer, probably August. This means we are shopping for homes. We have narrowed down our choices to Northern New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Manhattan NYC, where my wife’s office is located. We are house hunting online, of course, due to the logistical impossibility of living in the UK while house hunting in the USA.
Here’s what you need to know about the U.S. housing market in general and the Northern Jersey market in particular: There are more buyers than homes, which means you are competing with lots of other folks, which means inventory is limited, and demand is high, and prices are inflated.
I knew this already through my work covering personal finance for the GBR business website. I have probably written a couple dozen housing market articles over the past year. Many have to do with record home prices in the United States, and the horror show of trying to buy a home in the current market. Now I am experiencing this up close, and let me tell ya – a barrel of laughs it ain’t.
We want to live in the North Jersey area for three main reasons: It’s pretty close to Manhattan by bus or train, it’s safe by the standards of gun-crazy America, and the schools are excellent. Plus, there are some cool little villages with good restaurants and a civilized vibe. All of the homes are old (many around 100 years) because the northeastern United States is deathly afraid of modernity, I’m convinced.
What this all means is that there is heavy demand for homes in the area – and the homes are not cheap.
We put in an offer on one home that had more than 20 bidders. We put in an offer on a home where the final sale price was about $300,000 above the list price. Some we’ve looked at were snatched up by buyers who could pay cash for homes valued at $1 million and higher. (In case you’re wondering: No, we cannot pay cash for a home valued at $1 million or higher).
Doing this from across the Atlantic is particularly challenging, because you can’t tour the homes personally. You need the real estate agent to give you a live video tour over the smartphone. You see the house from a shaky phone-camera view.
And here’s the thing: Thank God for smartphone technology. You can take a home tour from thousands of miles away, in real time, and see all the nicks and cracks in the century-old home you plan to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on.
Imagine what the process was like 30 years ago. At best, somebody had to videotape the home using a camcorder, and then mail you the video to shove into your VCR.
Imagine the process 50 years ago. The agent had to take a few snapshots, have them developed at the local photo processing shop, and mail them across the ocean.
Imagine the process 100 years ago. I can’t, but I’m guessing it involved a long handwritten letter, artist renderings, and a ship that arrived three weeks later.
It looks like the owner of one of the homes we’ve looked at has accepted our offer. Susan will fly there over the weekend to do the inspection. We’ll see how it goes. Hopefully we’ll have a home ready to move in when we arrive. Stay tuned…
Note: The images accompanying this blog were all specially commissioned by me, specifically for this blog. Oops, I misspoke. Actually, I nicked them off the internet.