Ten Years in the UK!

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!

I’ve got my UK settlement visa

Welp, there we go – after just two months, I’ve received my settlement visa confirmation from the UK Home Office, plus my passport with a horrible picture and ‘Valid Until: Indefinite’ visa!

Woo-hoo!

What this means, basically, is that I can live and work anywhere in the UK, and come and go as I please, without restriction. I can even leave for up to 2 years at a time and re-enter the country, as long as I can show that I am returning for settlement reasons (for instance, if I were a Peace Corps volunteer or something in Vietnam, left for a year or so and came back).

What this DOES NOT mean is I have citizenship. A lot of people unfamiliar with the whole process of how UK immigration works (basically, anyone who isn’t an expatriate in the UK) think that I am a citizen now, but I’m not. I just have ‘settlement’, which is sort of halfway to being a citizen. The first step to get here was to be approved for a work permit, which is now called ‘Tier 1’ I think (the UK changes its laws on immigration, etc., every 2-4 years, depending on how you got into the country) but there are other ways, such as long residence (10+ years), marriage, Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) and other methods.

In my case, I had to wait 4 or 5 years on a valid Work Permit, then apply for this (I got in just before the UK Home Office raised the fees AGAIN and changed their rules).

After a year of having this settlement visa, I can pay another exorbitant fee and apply for citizenship, where I’ll have to get letters of reference and other similar things.

…So after I explain this to my friends and acquaintances, the next question is if I’ll apply for citizenship.

The short answer to this is ‘yes’, and why not? It’ll definitely make travel easier, since I’ll be able to go into the EU citizen line when returning to the UK or EU, and I can also use the US citizen line when going back to the US. Plus I’ll have extra rights, I’ll be able to vote (a surprising number of people don’t care about this, but it is important – just think of Bush/Blair/Brown) and there are other considerations. So it’s time to get saving! Again…

Royal Shrovetide Football

Now here’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a few years now.

A town near where I live holds an annual game the day before and the day of Ash Wednesday. The origins of the game are lost in the mists of time, but basically it involves hundreds of local residents and visitors in a game of ‘Royal Shrovetide Football‘.

Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday, which is where the ‘shrove’ comes from, and the game is similar to (English) football (what Americans call soccer) in that the ball is round and there are two teams of multiple participants trying to get the ball through one of two sets of goal posts. The ‘Royal’ title came when King Edward was the official starter of the game in the 1930’s. So we now have Royal Shrovetide Football. Sorry, I just like things like etymology 🙂

The main differences between this game and normal football is that there are hundreds of people in a game, the local shops are boarded up and closed, residents and visitors are told to park well outside of town and the ‘field’ consists of several fields (usually wet and muddy), plus parts of the local river.

My kind of game!

Which is exactly why I seriously want to take a day off and attend at least once. This year’s game days are kind of out, since I’m headed to Germany for work, but I can at least schedule time off for next year! February 24th, 2009, here I come!

Yeah…it’s COLD!

I don’t mind the cold, really, but we’ve just started having to scrape windscreens (windshields) in the morning, and occasionally even in the afternoon (5 PM) when I leave work. I’ve got a long scarf I wrap around my neck, my fleece hiking jacket zipped into my waterproof hiking jacket, a pair of thin suede/knit gloves with (supposedly) 3M Thinsulate and a thin wool hat. This is what I wear when I go to work now, until it warms up in the car.

It’s not bad, but sun worshippers might have a hard time with stuff like this. I don’t mind it because it’s a nice change from the summer weather, which until this summer was really really nice. Long, sunny days with big fluffy clouds are the norm, but this year we had loads of rain and terrible weather (for summer, anyway). Oh well, let’s see what global warming brings the UK for winter!

The EU gives up on a metric Britain

Well, this BBC news story says that the EU is giving up on converting Britain to the metric system. There go my metric dreams up in smoke!

The US and the UK are two of the very few countries in the world that don’t use the metric system. There’s a reason it’s called the ‘Imperial’ system, after all…

I can understand the hesitance to metrics – the British in general really do seem to love doing things their own way. Just look at the Triumph TR7, or the original Mini Cooper. Or the old money system, with 20 shillings to the pound, 12 pence to the shilling, 6 pence to the sixpence (duh), 2 halfpennies to the penny, 4 farthings to the penny…and you get the idea. It wasn’t until decimalization in 1971 that British coins became the pound (which remained the same as before) and the smaller denominations became the 50p, 20p, 10p, 5p, 2p and 1p pieces used today. Check out the full list of old British coins here – prepare to be amazed and confused. Oh, the Scots also had their own pre-decimalization money system as well.

The problem is that the UK currently has a crazy mix of metric and Imperial measurements that just confuses people, even if they’ve been brought up learning both systems. The now-renounced EU directive said that fuel is to be sold in litres, but road measurements are given in miles (apparently, mile markers were to be changed to kilometers a few years from now, but that’s gone out the window too). Fuel consumption for cars (in advertisements and reviews) are given in miles per gallon, but no mention of if this is Imperial gallons or US gallons – yes there is a difference – but I can only assume they are Imperial gallons.

In America, the confusion exists as well, but not to as large an extent. It’s mainly import car fans (17mm wrenches for draining the oil on Hondas), members of the military (they’ve been using ‘klicks’ since at least Vietnam) and scientists (astronomers, natch) that are familiar with the metric system. I had to try explaining the length of a millimeter to a southern good ol’ boy one time over the phone, and that was about as fruitful as explaining who Carl Sagan is to my cat.

One of the claims of the UK ‘metric martyr’ was that beers wouldn’t be sold in traditional pints, among other things, and it was this particular argument that really highlighted to me how much the British value their independence from the EU (don’t ever call a Brit a European, by the way!). A grocery merchant in the north of England got quite famous for being arrested for selling a pound of bananas. With this latest ruling, his widow is now calling for the courts to clear his name.

Of course, the pint argument is moot because Ireland sells their lager and ales in pints, and they are a member of the EU, and they even have kilometer signs on their roads. So…why are the Brits so against the metric system? F*** knows, as the common British saying goes. They just love doing things their own way.

So will confusion reign, and everything sold in grocery stores that’s measured in liters and milligrams (that is, everything) now be noted with both measurements, or just one? And which one, if it is to be one or the other? Gah.

I suppose as long as I can still get fruits and vegetables in the shops it doesn’t matter in the end.

I am sick of hearing about Diana, Princess of Wales.

I am so tired of hearing about Diana and her death. Yes, she is perhaps the most famous person to have died in a car crash in the last 25 or so years, but NO ONE else I know at work is the least bit interested in the concerts (which just happened a month or two ago!), the specials, the articles, the papers, the magazines, the books, the clothes or anything at all. So why does it come up every month? Does anyone else care less than me and pretty much everyone I know?

At the time Di was really active with her good causes I was thinking ‘that’s great, good job’, but since the car crash it’s been all about the supposed conspiracy, the controversial books and more. There’s a whole industry of Diana that has been built up and shows no signs of slowing. If, tomorrow, Paris Hilton ran over Lindsay Lohan while Britney held a gun to her head and then the car went over a cliff, maybe that would dominate the news and we could all get sick of that, but eventually things would come back around to Diana.

Just so you know, I’m not heartless. I give to charities at work – at least a few quid a month on average, plus I’m a continuing member of the National Trust & English Heritage. I”ve donated to PBS. I used to be a member of the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy and a couple other environmental groups. I give to a different charity every month for a year – the RSPCA and Trust for the Blind in the past. I buy the RSPB pins and things. I shop at Oxfam. I donate my clothes instead of selling them. I buy fairtrade whenever possible. I’m also considering a trek on the Coast to Coast path for charity.

edit: Here’s a picture I snapped last Friday at my local Costco, just to show you the overall shove-it-down-your-throat level of Di-love we get here:

original here