Saturday, January the 3rd, 2004…birthdate of Professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien and my arrival date in the UK!
‘Twas a rainy and snowy day when I landed in Birmingham (don’t pronounce the ‘h’, it’s just ‘Birmingum’) and was picked up by my housemate and boss Greg in his tiny Ford Fiesta XR2i! As we traveled north to Derby (pronounced ‘Darby’) I saw all the red brick houses, slate tile roofs with bits of moss, open fields with old-growth hedges, everyone driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and much, much more, and just loved it. Loved it!
Since then, I’ve been all over the UK, from Kent to Northern Ireland, the Highlands to Land’s End, sometimes for work, mostly for pleasure. I’ve been to London more times than I can count, Edinburough a few times, Canterbury, Glasgow, the Isle of Skye, Chester, Liverpool, Falkirk, Cornwall, Manchester, Leeds, York, Sheffield, Wales, Inverness, Devon, Oxford, the Highlands, Bath and tons of other cities. I’ve been to Chatsworth estate, Salisbury, Stonehenge, Avebury, Canterbury, Tintagel and dozens of other manor homes and active and ruined castles and cathedrals. For my day job and other side jobs I’ve been to Germany, Italy, France, Portugal, Spain, Austria and other countries, including visiting Ireland and Turkey on vacation (different holidays, of course!).
I’m a fan of motorsport and although I’ve been to the Long Beach Grand Prix, California Speedway and a drag strip outside of San Antonio, I never really tried to get anywhere in the US for a big road trip, like to visit Laguna Seca or Sebring. Britain has a very long history of motor racing, for bikes and cars, and its small size makes it easy to get around. In 2005 I made it my goal to attend one of each of the major motorsports in the UK: F1, MotoGP, WRC, TT (Isle of Man), BSB (British Superbikes) and BTCC. I nearly got there: I went to the F1 race at Silverstone, the MotoGP race at Donington and the BTCC at Oulton Park. I would have been at the BSB round in September but that fell the same weekend I met my fiancee’, so I had to skip that. A couple of years ago I was able to go to the Wales Rally GB and the last place I haven’t been to is the Isle of Man for the TT, which I hope to attend at least next year.
While I don’t really think of myself as ‘British’, my British mates tend to, and probably most of my American friends as well. I do think I’ve been here long enough to complain about the weather and politicians, though! Our recent trip to Turkey really highlighted just how fucking nice it is to be able to sit on the beach and watch the sun and clouds and actually ENJOY the weather, instead of damning it to hell. THAT is something I definitely miss from SoCal, when I used to drive half an hour to Laguna Beach just to watch the sunset…and be able to drive 2 hours in the other direction to go snowboarding! Yes, that’s possible, and I’ve demonstrated that to more than one visitor!
The same can be true of the UK, of course – the mountains have a bit less snow on them, the beaches might be a bit more rocky and the beachgoers a bit paler (and fully clothed because of the cold, wet weather)…but it’s still possible. As a history buff one of the greatest things is being able to walk, bike or drive through literally thousands of years of history in the morning, take your lunch in a medieval pub and attend a show in a state-of-the-art theater (or should I say ‘theatre‘?) in the evening. It sounds really cliche’ but it is true that Britain has thousands of years of history packed within an area the size of Pennsylvania…or Oregon, or South Dakota (trying to spread out the geographical references for people all over the US). From places like Battle, where the Battle of Hastings was fought (which set in motion loads of historical precedents), to Parliament where laws and policies were enacted that changed the history of the US, Asia & the Pacific islands, Australia and more (the effects of which are still being felt today), to Camden where British fashion and music set the tone of the 60’s – and that’s just the south of England! There’s so much more but it would probably bore most of the people who might be reading this.
I’ve been hiking across Northumberland on the Hadrian’s Wall path, up and down and all around the Peak District and someday I hope to do the Coast to Coast Walk across Yorkshire. I’ve had several cars since I moved here (a Peugeot 106, the same Fiesta XR2i I first got in that day in 2004, Mazda 626, Saab 900 and now a Volvo V40) and they’ve gone all over the country the same as me.
Speaking of travel, if you listen (and if you talk to any of the locals it’s impossible not to) you can experience the British Isles just by listening to the accents of the people around you as you travel around. It’s really amazing, but honestly not unlike traveling your home state or even a place like New York City with its different neighborhoods and cultural areas. But because in the US the various accents are so easy to hear on a daily basis because of television and movies, it’s easy to just ignore the accents you hear – and even if you do think about it you’re likely to think Southern, Italian, New Jersey, Surfer Dude, Northern, and No Accent (usually the Midwest mix of accents, which is how I sound). This video goes through most of the really distinctive dialects in the UK – at least close enough for American ears!:
There’s only 2 places I’ve lived, however, my mate Greg’s house in Derby for 7 years and for the past 2 and a half years around the corner from my workplace just outside of Burton-on-Trent. I don’t relish the thought of packing and moving again! But it’s an inevitability.
The first question people who don’t know me ask is ‘Where did you live in the US?’ and when I tell them Southern California and Texas the follow-up question is ‘WHY did you move here?!’ The simple answer is ‘work’ but the longer answer could just be I’m a wanderer…or I was, at least. Both my parents left their home countries when they were young, met in Germany and here I am!
Of course I’m planning a wedding later this year…for myself of course! I wouldn’t want to plan anyone else’s wedding. Having met my lovely fiance’ over 8 years ago I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life with anyone else…I just hope she’s prepared for it! Apart from a (usually) insanely great job, meeting her and our times together is definitely the major highlight of my 10 years in Old Blighty.
People ask if I plan to move back to the US. My only family in the US is my mother in Texas, and she’s getting old but is still able to look after herself for now. I wouldn’t pick Texas as the first place I’d want to live should I move back (except maybe Austin), but I do have many connections there. I have just as many connections in Southern California, having lived there for 7 years before I moved to the UK, but the cost of living is much higher and it’s just…different. Not all in a bad way, though. The awesome weather and outdoor places might be enough to offset cost and difference though.
So that’s about it…some of my thoughts on living in the UK for 10 years now!