The establishment.

Based on everything I've ever heard about establishing a bank account in this country, I expected that my 1 p.m. appointment at the construction-displaced NatWest (which is now in a very-nice-but-still-temporary temporary building in a parking lot) would go something like this:

Dr. S: I'd like to open a personal account, please.

Bank: How could you be so bloody stupid?

Dr. S: But I have this money that I'd like to deposit.

Bank: And why should we want to help you? Bugger off!

And repeat until one of us forfeited this perverse staring contest.

Instead, what happened was this:

Bank (having taken my ID and address verification yesterday): Right! Just follow me, please. [into private room, with sheaf of pamphlets and papers] We'll just pop in your details here. [perhaps twenty minutes of popping details into a computer, printing out letters and forms, verifying details with me] There you go! You should start getting text messages today, telling you that the address has changed on your account.

Dr. S: So these accounts are now active?

Bank: Yes!

Dr. S: And when can I expect my debit card?

Bank: Probably Thursday or Friday next week. But maybe earlier; they seem to have been issuing them fairly quickly of late.

Dr. S: Brilliant! Thank you so much for your help.

Bank: Right! Bye, then!

The process took 40 minutes, all told, but there was never a hitch or a hold-up. And indeed, this evening a text message arrived from the bank, telling me that the address on my account had changed--a sign that the account is in the process of setting itself up.

I had been dreading this process actively all week and passively for several years. What made the difference between my almost incredibly easy experience and the frustrated experience of everyone else I know? I can't even begin to imagine.

I celebrated by finding the cinema, becoming a member, seeing an afternoon movie in a nearly empty theatre, and then taking myself out to a solo dinner on the second story of Pizza Express, on the corner of the Cathedral Close. I didn't have a cathedral view while I ate, but going to Pizza Express involves so many intermingled memories for me that I provide myself all my own dinner entertainment.

The local branch of a chain of home furnishing stores I love is closing (as are all but this chain's three main London stores), and out of the liquidation of its stock, I managed to score a pair of pillows at half-price. For some reason, durable, firm pillows are nearly impossible to find here. As long as these make it through the year without my having to go back to sleeping on two pillows every night, I'll consider my £15 (and my day of toting around a plastic bag of pillows) to have been well-spent.