Tag Archive | Life in England

Barbecuing in the rain!


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Sorry about the quality of the picture. I haven’t mastered my I-phone camera yet!

Larry has been in England over a year now and is still very much enjoying his life here. Here he is barbecuing in the rain. Look how much weight he has lost since he’s been living in England! He is really slim now and looks much better for it. I have been quite strict with him because he admits to eating junk food when he was in America, living on his own. I don’t really know what junk food is. Food is food, right? However, I suppose it is obvious that some foods contain far too much sugar and fat for our health.

Next month we are going to the doctor’s for our annual check-up and it will be interesting to see how Larry’s blood tests come out. For the last few years he has been borderline diabetic and took tablets to readdress that. Here in England, the NHS (National Health Service) does not give preventative treatment for that condition so when L had his blood tests, obviously the results were good because he’d been taking the tablets. However, now he’s had a year without those tablets and only been eating the food I’ve been giving him, I’m keen to find out what the difference will be. Do you take any preventative medicines?

Actually, we have had a lovely summer but over the last week or so it turned cold. Now this week we are going to get a heatwave. Our weather certainly is changeable!

Oma

Life in the U.K. (Two months in England – from Larry’s perspective.)


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Two Months in England – Bigger and Newer are not Better

‘Having just completed my second month in the UK two fundamental concepts in America are in jeopardy. When I was growing up in Texas in the 1950’s I learned that “bigger is always better”. That’s because up until 1959 Texas was the largest state in the United States of America. And all Texans know that Texas is by definition the best state in the Union! Thus, bigger and better clearly go together. “Smaller” simply can’t be better. (It’s probably against Texas State law!)

In America “new” is always better as well. It must be because all the advertisements tell us that it is, at least 25 times per hour on national television. But there’s a problem with “new” – it isn’t (new) for very long. By definition, new is perishable. Nothing stays new. By contrast, old gets even more so with the passage of time. Since time only moves in one direction (as far as we know) then “new” is always perishing while “old” just keeps getting better.

What does this have to do with life in the UK, you ask? During my two months here I have become a student of the contrast between “new” and “old” and between “bigger” and “smaller”. Everywhere you look in this country there are monuments to at least 1000 years of carefully recorded history. Towns and cities are built around massive stone cathedrals and churches that often took four or five generations of workers to construct over several hundred years. Everywhere you find structures that have withstood hundreds or even thousands of years of natural weathering and human wear and tear. These are not simply tourist attractions, but vital centers in the daily operations of the community. There is a universal respect for the “old” that I find very reassuring. At the beginning of a tour of the Tower of London one of the Beefeaters asked, “How many Americans are in the group?” Several hands went up. In response the Beefeater said, “Just think! All of this history could have been yours.” While I am proud to be American and have great respect for those who fought for America’s independence in 1776, the Beefeater’s comment made me a bit envious to say the least.

There are plenty of great new things in England. I find the quality of television programming in the UK much superior to that in America. Traffic on the roadways is much better managed with roundabouts instead of four-way stop and red light intersections. And here the stoplights turn yellow before they go green as well as before they go red – believe it or not that really helps. I suppose it’s the way the “new” and the “old” are blended together that impresses. Houses are built to last several hundred years without needing a new roof or other major upgrades. There is an appreciation for maintaining what you have rather than simply building all over again in a new location and abandoning the old in place. Looking at a cathedral built in 1023 AD gives a since of permanence and comfort – it’s stood the test of time and will be there when I come to visit again in 5 years, or when my grandchildren want to visit 50 years from now. Looking at a new American shopping center, my first thought is, ‘I wonder how long before all the shops move out and leave it sitting empty.’

Bigger is better if you have infinite space and natural resources. That’s the assumption in America – there will always be new land to build on and an infinite supply of bricks and mortar. Well maybe so, but is that really better? Or is it just cheaper for the builders? Spend an afternoon sometime counting the number of empty abandoned shopping centers and storefronts in the average American town or city. When space is at a premium refurbishing is the better option for many reasons, cost being just one of them. Forcing American builders to pay for demolishing their buildings as well as constructing them might change the American landscape for the better.

Some of you may remember Dinah Shore. She was a popular singer in the early days of television when advertisements were in integral part of the TV show. “See the USA in your Chevrolet” – that was Dinah’s trademark catch phrase. At an average cost of 1.4 GBP per liter ($8.56 per US gallon) it’s very expensive to “see the UK “ in your private car. I’ve found traveling by bus or train in the UK is much less expensive and much more enjoyable. “Seeing the UK” in a Hummer would not only be prohibitively expensive but physically impossible. Small cars (if you find you really need a car at all) can negotiate the narrow roadways that would be impassible for a Hummer or large American SUV, and they get twice the miles per liter (gallon) as American cars. Bigger is better in the UK when 50 people can ride instead of only 1 or 2.

Watch this page for my third month in the UK.’

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When Larry was very newly arrived, one of the first things I said to him on the way back from the airport, was ‘Think small’.  I was anxious that he would find the cottage too small and overcrowded for comfort. We have no closets for clothes so one of the first things Larry had to do was to buy a wardrobe to put his (much reduced) clothes in to. He also had to get used to the idea that things needed to be moved around a lot.  For example; if you want to get to something, you need to move at least one or two other things out of the way first!

As the time has gone by, I have been keen to introduce him to places of space. We have visited St. Albans and seen the marvellous cathedral there and last Friday we took Dylan to Dunstable Downs, an area of extensive chalk hillside where the view is spectacular.

So far so good!

Oma

My Memoirs – Larry’s Third Week in England


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Big-Chief Larry in Hitchin

Larry is now well into his fourth week in England. We have sorted most things and tomorrow is a red letter day because his new shed is arriving. Pictures of that will follow soon.  Before I give you his take on Life In England, I want to share with you how it has been for me. Since these are my memoirs, I feel justified to do that.
It has been a whirlwind of a three weeks, but somehow it feels like it was all meant to be because so far at least, everything has gone very smoothly.  Going back to the visa, which arrived after only a six week wait from application, this was our experience:
Larry put in for his visa, which included a large payment to the Home Office here and a shirt-box sized packet of documents for them to look through and check. The visa was a spouse settlement visa and it is valid for three years. Then it has to be renewed.  To make sure that we had filled in the documents correctly, we employed a solicitor here in England to help us through the complicated procedure. This involved extra cost but was invaluable help as it turned out.
Since July 2012, the sponsor(that’s me) has to show written evidence that he/she is earning at least £18,600 per annum. I am not. Since I am now on my pension, it doesn’t come to anything near that amount. However, since L and I are a couple, both on pension, he in America and me here, our joint incomes counted, so we were ok. I suppose it is unusual for retired people to relocate so far afield and it could have caused a problem, but it didn’t.
Living here as a threesome has been wicked. It’s so much easier when two can go shopping, then when they return, there is someone waiting to open the door and help with the unpacking.’ Many hands make light work’ as the saying goes, is certainly true in this case.
Of course there is  1/3rd more washing and ironing! and more cooking, but I’m not complaining, yet!
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So here then is Larry’s diary for …
‘My Third Week in England
The word “Tea” (capitalized out of profound reverence) has a number of meanings in England, some of them less than obvious. For example, “Tea” is
• A hot drink served at almost anytime of day. People get “absolutely desperate” for it while shopping. Thus, there are tables and chairs and counters that serve tea and pastries almost everywhere. Teashops are outnumbered only by mobile phone shops in England. BTW “iced tea” does not compute here. I haven’t dared to ask for it, even on warm days in August.
• A meal served somewhere between 5 pm and 7 pm, consisting of sandwiches and/or pastries and, of course, the hot drink called tea. Evening tea is not to be confused with “dinner”, which is the main meal of the day usually (but not always) served around noon. “Dinnertime” is rarely in the evening as it was when I was growing up in America. And “Tea Time” can be anytime you want it to be, not to be confused with meeting your friends at the country club for a round of golf. (Confused yet?!)
• An entire aisle in Sainsbury’s grocery store.
• Something to be thrown into Boston Harbor in protest against unfair taxation… Sorry, I got sidetracked.
The point here is that when you are asked very politely if you want “Tea”, you might wonder if you are being offered a drink or a meal or something else entirely. I’m hoping experience will eventually be my salvation in this matter.Judging by the number of mobile phone shops in England, I have estimated that everyone in England is expected to have at least four mobile phones. I have only two at the moment, one of which (my Verizon iPhone from America) does everything except make phone calls, assuming there is a WiFi available. The truth is I really don’t expect to make many phone calls, at least not for a while. But of course that’s irrelevant – it’s the principle of the thing! After several weeks of research I have concluded that “unlocking” my iPhone and replacing the SIM card with one from a British service provider is only slightly less complicated that brain surgery. An exhausting search for reasonable alternatives has convinced me that a simple “pay as you go” mobile phone is the best option. It feels a bit like regressing into the 20th Century, which come to think of it wasn’t so bad.This week’s special discovery – the word “sorted” applies to people, not just to inanimate objects as I have always been led to believe. When I was a child growing up marbles could be sorted by size or color (sorry…. colour), eating utensils were sorted into trays of knives, forks and spoons, laundry was sorted into whites and everything else, etc. But in England it is possible for people to sort themselves, not by height or weight or ethnicity, but by successfully applying effort toward a particular outcome. For example, in the grocery store after all the items on the list have been purchased you will hear the phrase, “That’s me sorted”. Apparently after one has resolved all the issues of the day, they can then relax in a comfortable chair with a good cup of tea, and the phrase “I’m all sorted now”. Whether one can ever be really be “sorted” (short of death itself) is questionable, because new problems want solving every day. But the phrase “That’s me sorted” has a satisfying tone to it which I find very appealing. In fact I’m feeling more “sorted” with every passing day. Must be the Tea……Watch this page for my fourth week in England. Cheers!’

My memoirs – 5 – Larry’s second week in England.


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Now that I’ve got my ‘sun King’ here in England with me, it seemed appropriate to visit the ‘Sun Hotel’ in Hitchin for morning coffee, one day last week. Life is still new and exciting for Larry as he gets to grips with our culture, food and weather. Funnily enough, with a few exceptions, the weather has indeed been sunny ever since he got here. We know it won’t last, don’t we, fellow Britains!

Here are his thoughts at the end of his second week in England, which he now calls ‘Planet Zzogg.

‘My Second Week on “Planet Zzogg” (England) – Learning Quickly.

Although I sometimes feel as if I am living on another planet (Zzogg) where Darwin’s evolutionary process has produced unfamiliar results, some things are becoming a bit more familiar now. For example I’ve become used to the Tsunami that occurs when you flush the toilet here. Seems like about two gallons compared to the stingy flushes I’m accustomed to in America. Also the water level is a bit shallow in America – here it’s more like looking into a black hole surrounded by porcelain. Gives one a sense of finality, which I’m beginning to like actually.

Other observations this past week include:
• Buses are the way to get around town over here. The front of the bus even lower’s itself (hydraulically) at each bus stop to welcome passengers aboard. Can’t help but be impressed by transportation that genuflects with respect for the elderly and the disabled.
• Driving a car in the UK is something I will likely never attempt. I have developed the greatest respect for the natives who successfully negotiate the narrow streets with cars parked half in the driving lanes on both sides. Taking turns isn’t reserved for intersections – checkers on a checkerboard and cars in England seem to move in much the same manner.
• We have three cats here, one of which is most definitely uninvited. Each gets their breakfast at a different time, so as to avoid all but the occasional skirmish. The uninvited one stays outside and gets fed only so it will go on it’s merry way, allowing the other two cats to go out into the garden in the morning to do whatever cats do in an English garden in the morning.
• Our American cat has so far managed to deal with the language differences much better than I have. My most recent discovery is that the word “What” doesn’t have a “T” on the end. In England it’s pronounced “Wha!”. To appreciate this you have to imagine that there is a valve in your throat that suddenly slams shut, instantly stopping the airflow from your lungs after the first three letters. Takes a bit of practice….
• Car seats for three-year-olds (grandchildren) require three hands to secure the child in the seat. There is one strap that goes between the legs, into which you connect the two straps coming over the child’s shoulders. Problem is that each of these three must arrive at the connection point simultaneously and in the correct configuration. No two can be connected without the third. Add a squirming three-year-old and the frustration is complete!
• In my brief exposure to English summertime weather, what is called rain here is what Americans call drizzle. What Americans call rain is rare here and only lasts a short while. What Americans call a downpour (AKA, “toad strangler”, “gully washer”, or “trash mover”) is apparently a rare occurrence in the UK, although I have seen reports of flooding in parts of the country. I find being “caught out in the rain” here to be a delightful experience indeed!
• Package delivery here seems a bit more unpredictable than in American. I have grown accustomed in past years to being able to track delivery of a package via UPS, FedEx or the US Postal system, right down to the explicit date of actual delivery. Things are similar here except you may receive your package on August 8 in spite of receiving an email from the shipper that clearly announces delivery on August 12. I like surprises so no harm done!
• One more thing here that reminds me of the “good ole days” – hanging the freshly washed laundry outside on a clothesline to dry. It’s the thing to do here and the clothes smell wonderful.

I’m getting used to things on “Planet Zzogg” and liking it more and more every day. The question I get most often is “How long are you here for?” My answer: Forever! Scatter my ashes in the Thames – that will suit me just fine. ‘