Some of you have asked for a few more details about my living arrangements. I live in a “serviced apartment”, which is part hotel, part apartment. That is, I have a fully-furnished two-bedroom, two-bath apartment, including kitchen and washer/dryer, with maid service and linens once a week. The “front desk” is not quite like a hotel’s, though, as it’s only staffed 8-2 and 5-7 daily and not at all on Sundays. The staff is very helpful and pleasant.
Most other tenants are here for a week-end or a week, some for a month. I’m unique in being a 12-month tenant. My monthly rent, paid by my company, is more than 3 times my monthly mortgage payment in the US (after making the Pounds-to-Dollars conversion).
I’m on the 1st floor (in the UK street level is “Ground”, and the 1st floor is the next one up) of a five-story building, overlooking a fairly busy one-way street, facing Southeast (gets good sun). There’s a hospital nearby, so ambulance sirens are a pretty common occurrence, although I’ve gotten quite used to them and they don’t wake me at night. The building geography is such that there’s no apartment beside or below mine and I rarely hear anything from the apartment above.
I’m quite near the city center, the major mall, and a university, so parking is an issue. My building has only nine parking spaces in back. Luckily for me, my year-round status has resulted in one of them being sign-posted as reserved for me (and, some of the time, people heed the sign). The building faces away from the city center so it’s convenient for me to go out the back and through a little warren of alleys and streets on my five-minute walk to the office or mall. I find it interesting that law offices, the local branch of the Quakers, and other businesses are tucked away in the tiny streets out back.
The neighborhood is a mixed bag of newly renovated offices and apartments, run-down row houses, and a few abandoned buildings, the old and new freely mixed. I had my doubts about it prior to moving in but it seems fine to me now, and it seems to be quite safe, even very late at night. It’s kind of cool walking in places on cobbles or paving stones and thinking they’ve been here for 100-200 years.
Directly across the street is an undeveloped lot with tall bushes – a pleasant green sight each morning – and beyond that, row houses. To the left and down the block: a “news agent” (7-Eleven), takeaway (carry-out) Chinese and Indian restaurants, and The Turks pub. To the right: Sea Spray Fish ‘n’ Chips and The Red Cow pub. So it’s not too commercial along our stretch of road and there’s no curbside parking at all.
This is definitely “city living”, very unlike suburban Falls Church, Virginia. There are few trees and the streets are dirty. There’s a fair amount of trash and litter strewn about, pavements (sidewalks) are often littered with cigarette butts near doorways, and it’s rare not to see a discarded beer can or three when walking to work. Some of this stuff shocked me at first but I’ve gotten quite used to it by now. On the other hand, there’s surprisingly little graffiti and few rogue advertising signs (the kind Robert diligently polices).
For a country that focuses heavily on “green” issues (you almost feel guilty asking for anything to be put into a plastic bag, and you do have to ask), there doesn’t seem to be any personal recycling in Reading. I’ve noticed an occasional recycling bin outside the backs of retail businesses but it doesn’t appear mandatory and we don’t have it in my apartment or office building.