Tag Archive | Life in the U.K.

Larry’s take on the weather here in England.


Woman_with_umbrella

Six Months in England – Weather

I’ve been told that to be accepted by the British one has to complain about the weather. My father taught me that trying to understand the weather was preferable to complaining about it. Nevertheless I’ve found complaining about the weather in England is not optional – it’s compulsory!

Dad worked for 40 years at a chemical plant in Texas that produced carbon black (soot basically) by burning crude oil and methane. Today carbon black remains a key ingredient in automobile tires (excuse me, tyres), plastics, dyes, etc. No need for a chemistry lesson here – elemental carbon is used in almost every product you buy. But the process of making carbon black is messy to say the least. Today chemical plants control their airborne emissions in compliance with strict government standards, but back in the 1950’s this wasn’t the case. Although filters were used at my Dad’s plant in the 50’s and 60’s, they weren’t adequate to prevent micron size particles of carbon filling the air above the plant. Depending upon the wind speed, direction, relative humidity, etc., very fine particles of carbon would settle on the farmhouses in the countryside surrounding the plant. Every day the plant manager would get a phone call from one or more farmers who felt they were getting more than their share of soot that day. The plant manager was mildly annoyed – my Dad was fascinated!

Having only a 7th grade elementary school education, Dad maintained all the instrumentation used at this plant, mostly through self-study and trial and error. Since weather affected these instruments (many were unsheltered outside), so he also noticed that very local weather observations seem to coincide with heavier than normal soot fallout at certain neighboring farms. Having no weather station data closer than 30 miles away (and 24 hours behind), he decided to collect his own weather data using crude instruments he cobbled together in his shop. There were no computers or data-loggers in those days – wind speed, direction, relative humidity, and barometric pressure readings had to be collected manually several times a day. The eventual result was decades of weather data for that plant’s location that predicted quite accurately which of the surrounding farms was going to get “dumped on” that day. Dad could tell the plant manager in the morning which of the local farmers would be calling him that afternoon to complain. As the technology improved, so did my father’s enthusiasm for understanding what made the weather different from one day to the next.

What does all that have to do with the weather in England, you ask? Apparently Dad’s decades of passion for understanding the weather rubbed off on his only son. I find the weather in England quite fascinating and definitely worth a bit of study. The United Kingdom straddles the geographic mid-latitudes between 49–60 N (51 N where I am). It is on the western seaboard of Eurasia (the world’s largest land mass) and the eastern edge of the northern Atlantic Ocean, warmed by the Gulf Stream.
Moist maritime air and dry continental air are constantly converging at this location. The large temperature variation creates atmospheric instability, which is a major factor that influences the often-unsettled weather experienced in the UK. The weather here is seldom uncomfortably hot, and seldom bitterly cold, and seldom the same from one hour to the next. The terms “moderate” and “variable” have new meanings here. If you want to delve a bit deeper read “A newcomer’s guide to English weather” at http://www.vegemitevix.com/2012/10/26/understanding-english-weather/ , e.g., “Sunny – means the sun will rise and set. It might even show up for a minute or two. Sunny does not mean you will be reaching for the sunscreen. As Miss Fliss asked the other day ‘Why doesn’t the sun feel warm over here?’ Answers on a post-it note please.”

This month I’ve installed a Davis Weather Station at the top of an 18-foot pole in the back garden, which wirelessly transmits data to a console 75 feet away inside the house (where it’s warm and dry). Obviously it’s early times, but I’ve already observed hourly swings in barometric pressure that are amazing, measureable rainfall every day in January, and wind gusts of 17 to 22 miles per hour almost daily. Today we had blue skies at 12 noon, a driving rain from 12:20 to 12:45, and blue skies again at 1:00 pm. I’ve never seen clouds move across the sky the way they do here except with time-lapse photography. The good news is that the “bad weather” for this winter (snow & ice) hasn’t yet arrived. Maybe in February. Can’t hardly wait!!

Memoirs – Larry’s Observations on Driving in England


SMBIZ086

First of all, let me wish all my blogging friends on here a very happy New Year. I hope it brings you much joy and no sorrow! I have so enjoyed reading all your blogs and sharing in your lives and hope to continue to do so through 2014. Thank you to any new followers and welcome 🙂

+++

Larry has been with me in England for nearly six months now and he says he is still learning. This month’s observation is all about our driving habits over here. Have a giggle…

‘Five Months in England – Still learning!

Driving in the UK remains somewhat of an uncertainty. I plan on taking driving lessons in the spring – that is, if they will let an old man of 69 years drive over here. Not that I don’t know how to drive a car – been doing that for half a century now! No, it’s this business of having the car on the wrong side of me and the gear shift on the wrong side of me and the road on the wrong side of me…. Well, you get the picture. It’s a bit like trying to read a book by viewing it in a mirror. Seems simple enough to decipher a sentence or two as a party trick, but imagine having to read the entire book that way, and in heavy traffic. I just need a bit of practice to gain some confidence, and a driving lesson or two seems the safest way to proceed. Might even be a nice break for the driving instructor, not having to worry about a gum chewing 16 year-old slamming on the brakes every 100 yards to answer a text from their friends. Hopefully I’ll get an instructor who can adjust to my Tennessee vocabulary, such as ‘rite thar’, which means ‘look whar my finger’s pointin’.

Having a senior citizen’s pass to ride the bus for free makes driving a luxury rather than a necessity. But that isn’t the point. I see it as a challenge, and I’m still up for a challenge even at my age. Learning the ‘rules of the road’ in the UK, albeit substantially different from those in America, is not the challenging part. I recall my 7th grade English grammar teacher explaining to a group of 13 year-olds that it would take us two weeks to learn the rules of proper English grammar, followed by another 16 weeks to understand all the exceptions. The exceptions were the interesting bit – so it appears to be with driving in the UK. Take, for example, a leisurely drive through a suburban area of a southeastern English town. In England we are supposed to drive on the left side of the road. Simple enough, but here come the exceptions. At least half the cars in the UK are parked in the road (they have no other choice), some partly on the curb and some completely in the road blocking the left lane entirely. So if you’re trying to drive on that road what do you do? You toss the rulebook out the window and improvise. You drive on the right lane (natural for me) until you get around the obstacle. Unless….. There’s a car coming toward you in the right lane. That means waiting until he has passed, and then moving into the right lane. Unless….. You think you may have ‘just enough time’ to swerve around the car blocking your lane and get back in your lane before the oncoming vehicle arrives. This is where it gets interesting. Different drivers have different perceptions of how much is ‘just enough time’. City bus drivers seem to be experts at this little game of “chicken”, having played it once every 3 minutes throughout their career as a bus driver, based on my 5 months of observations.

I used to think that most of the traffic congestion in America, caused primarily by 4-way stop signs, was successfully eliminated in the UK by building roundabouts. These ingenious inventions keep the traffic moving because it is much easier to determine whose turn it is to safely proceed through the intersection, i.e., you don’t go through the intersection – you go around it (and each other if there’s sufficient space). However, I have since discovered that whatever time savings the roundabouts offer is cancelled out by the time spent sitting behind parked cars blocking the left lane, where ‘whose turn it is’ depends on people’s perception of ‘just enough time’. How big the oncoming vehicle happens to be is also worth considering, with city busses getting preferential treatment from most motorists.

Out on the motorways (highways) things get a bit more dicey at much higher speeds. Motorways in the UK are usually a welcome relief from the relatively narrow (curb to curb) streets in and around towns. Motorways may be wide enough (using the entire paved surface) for three car widths, sometimes wider still. Thus driving in the left lane offers some new options. If trapped behind a slow moving lorry (truck), some drivers wait until there is sufficient space in the right lane to pass the lorry before the next oncoming vehicle arrives. This is the familiar custom on American highways. In either country success also depends on how much horsepower you have under the hood (excuse me, bonnet). But in the UK you may choose to go down the middle, passing the lorry on its right side but staying sufficiently out of the right lane that the oncoming vehicle can comfortably (or uncomfortably) go whizzing by. This is an interesting thing to watch – a lorry at 60 mph being passed simultaneously by a BMW going 75 mph in the same direction and a Fiat coming at 70 mph in the opposite direction. Definitely not for the faint of heart!! Other options too complicated to describe here must surely be available when the motorway offers multiple lanes in each direction.

To sum up then, the art of driving in the UK requires unique skill and experience in making the fullest possible use of any portion of the roadway that becomes available at any moment, with the ability to execute split-second timing being the thing that separates the experts from the novices. I am wondering if I have enough years left (and can purchase enough insurance) to adequately master this art form. One thing is certain however. For those entrepreneurs in the U.S. who collect $100 every time they tow away a car found illegally parked in the streets of American suburbia – come to the UK. You will all be millionaires in six months.’

Oma

Life in the U.K. – Larry’s update at four months.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here is his take on the first 3-4 months.

Larry’s chair in Knoxville is empty these days because, as you know, he is now over here.

‘Three Months in England – or is it Four?

I must admit I have lost count. Time flies when you’re having fun!

Accomplishments this month include
• mastering the UK currency (which involves twice as many coins as in America),
• committing the local neighborhood to memory (it’s less than a 10 minute walk to the supermarket, dry cleaners, doctor, dentist, several restaurants, Bramingham Wood, and much more),
• rediscovering the problems caused by the U.S. Postal Service refusing to forward mail beyond U.S. borders (European countries have been doing this for decades),
• finally finding an “eagle” at Bank of America who understands how to make repetitive wire transfers to a UK Bank (although even she was unable to correct the mailing address on my Bank of America checking account),
• having minor surgery to remove a basil cell carcinoma (my 8th in the past 30 years) from the back of my neck, at no cost!

Americans have to contend with pennies (1 cent), nickels (5 cents), dimes (10 cents) and quarters (25 cents). Actually pennies are just used to fill glass jars. Hardly anyone pays with pennies anymore. In the UK there are coins for 1 pence, 2 pence, 5 pence, 10 pence, 20 pence, 50 pence, 1 pound, and 2 pounds. To help out a bit, the 20 pence and 50 pence coins aren’t round – they have seven sides. Why seven and not six sides or eight sides, you ask? No one seems to know. At least in the UK the 10 pence coin is larger than the 5 pence coin. I never did understand why dimes are smaller than nickels.

Suburban neighborhoods in the UK are designed for walking. There are paved walkways that go between houses, providing shortcuts that avoid having to walk along busy roadways with almost constant vehicular traffic (you can still choose the paths beside these roadways if you wish, but it certainly isn’t as pleasant). However, sidewalks are called “pavements” in the UK, whereas the pavement in America is the roadway itself. Obviously it’s important here to know what you are talking about.

This past month I ran across an interesting postal problem. The U.S. Postal Service will not forward mail to other countries. And Bank of America will not allow its client’s to have a mailing address outside the USA. That means that a form mailed to me from Bank of America never reached me here at my UK address. Since I didn’t receive the form (I was never told it existed) I didn’t return it. Because I didn’t return the form Bank of America deleted the information allowing me to wire transfer funds to my UK bank. Imagine my surprise when I called Bank of America and was told this little story. Fortunately, after also being told nothing could be done to fix this problem, I found an “eagle” in the Bank of America Wire Transfer Services Department who happily fixed it for me. Thank heavens for those few “eagles (I can do that for you)” in a world full of “ducks (sorry, there’s no way to do that – have a nice day!)”.

For those who believe universally available healthcare can never work, I suggest you investigate the UK National Health Service (NHS). I have seen the doctor here on several occasions, been diagnosed with skin cancer (again), had the lesion surgically removed from the back of my neck by a Russian dermatologist (she did a beautiful job of it), and I have yet to pay a single farthing! I have not had to wait for treatment nor been inconvenienced in any way. Everyone I have seen has been very professional, competent, courteous and genuinely concerned with my wellbeing. No forms to fill out and patient information is shared between doctors, hospitals, laboratories, etc. for maximum efficiency. I would highly recommend it. For those over 60 who aren’t looking forward to the healthcare issues associated with growing older, the benefits of the NHS are obvious.

One of the more obvious benefits of living in the UK involves the way the daily news is delivered, whether by radio, TV, Internet, or printed media. I find the greater focus here on the world’s news events refreshing and enlightening, although sometimes depressing. There’s a lot going on in the world that Americans don’t see. National events here receive appropriate attention to be sure, but reporting of UK events and politics is more reserved, and more time is spent on global events. Perhaps that is due more to geography than anything else, but the contrast with news reporting in the U.S. is dramatic. In the past few years I have grown particularly fatigued with the constant barrage of divisive political reporting in America, usually with obvious bias and unapologetic pandering to a select audience. Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow, where are you…..?

I remember a time when elected politicians claimed (believably) to be representing the views of the people who elected them. American political parties now claim that when they lose an election it’s because they “failed to get their message out”. Maybe it’s the people who aren’t getting their message in! Ten’s of millions of dollars are spent by political parties in America to “win people over to their point of view”. Perhaps politicians should spend that money attempting to understand the point of view of ALL the people who elected them, rather than incessantly “selling” the extreme ideology of an over zealous minority through a news media eager to grab the attention of an increasing polarized American public.

It does appear that American politicians these days are solely interested in their own survival and total destruction of the opposition. The desperation evidenced by factions within a political party willing to furlough thousands of federal employees and default on the full faith and credit of the United States of America, just to destroy a government program they don’t agree with, is something I never imagined I would live to see! It appears now that any means to political victory is justified. Will active sabotage of government programs be the next weapon of political warfare? Those who claim their actions are “saving the nation” seem to be willing to destroy the democracy it is built upon in the process. And the American news media is offering the spotlight and center stage to help them succeed.’

Interesting, isn’t it?

 

Oma