Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Merry Christmas
(I'm a tree, Mike's a cracker)
This year, for the first time since 2008, Mike & I are spending Christmas at home.  Honestly, I'd much prefer our original plan for this Christmas, which was a month long trip from Budapest to Berlin via Vienna and Prague, but that plan was scrapped soon after learning our visas were being revoked back in May.

It is no secret Mike & I like to travel during Christmas.  But, since we're moving back across the pond next week (already?!), we decided to save the money and spend Christmas in London, which is still a holiday of sorts but more like just spending it at home.  We'll still get to look back at this Christmas as the Christmas we spent in London though, which is still pretty cool.

London, however, is perhaps the worst place to celebrate Christmas that I've ever been in my life.  Seriously.  Even Christmas in Taiwan, where they don't really celebrate it, was more Christmasy than London.  Perhaps because the little bits of Christmas we encountered in Taiwan (e.g. bartenders wearing Santa hats) were unexpected, thus making them awesome.  Here, the UK forces Christmas on you, dictating how you should spend it.  All public transportation shuts down because you're supposed to be with family.  But, what if you don't have family, you ask?  People don't ask questions like that here.  What if you have to work, you ask?  No one has to work (yes, they do).  Apparently, the UK, during Christmas, becomes a one-size fits all place and everyone here doesn't need to get anywhere on Christmas, everyone has family, and everyone wants house guests from Christmas Eve through Boxing Day.

A common justification for this Christmas behaviour is that the UK is a Christian country (Queen Elizabeth is also head of the Church of England).  But, we've been to both Paris and Rome during Christmas and were able to buy things and get around just fine (and you really can't get more Christian than Rome).  If this Christmas behaviour has anything to do with religion, it's not due to Christianity because not all Christians are giant assholes.  The Catholics in France and Italy are normal.  It's the Anglicans who are the dicks.

Fortunately, both Mike & I are sick and the weather sucks so we're not terribly irritated that we're not able to do anything today.  However, if we had travelled to the UK for Christmas we'd be super irate.  As it is, we're tucked in on the futon with our mulled wine watching Christmas movies (Elf, It's a Wonderful Life, Bad Santa, A Charlie Brown Christmas).  Mike's making a delicious (and special) meal of roast chicken, gravy, and mashed potatoes and, because there are no pumpkin pies here, we've got apple with brandy cream.

We wish everyone a merry Christmas and we hope you're getting to spend it as you enjoy (rather than as 'The Man' dictates).

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Updates and Exhibitions

Mike's first London exhibition begins on Thursday.  Espacio Gallery is a lovely gallery on Bethnal Green Road owned by a cooperative of 100 artists.  The show will be much smaller than that though, only showcasing a few artists.  Mike will have three pieces on display.  We're pretty excited.

The dude who hit me in the head with a bottle was arrested last week.  He goes to court today to enter his plea.  I know this because the British Transport Police have been calling me regularly with updates.  What I don't know, because I haven't thought to ask, is what he's being charged with.  I'll ask that next time I talk with them, which should be next week.

We finalised our New York City flat.  We'll be staying in a studio located in the basement of a brownstone in the Meatpacking District on West 15th Street.  You have no idea how unbelievably awesome we think that is.  We had been resigned to a lovely place in Harlem but we would've preferred a shit hole in lower Manhattan.  Luckily, a shit hole we did find.  We'll be sacrificing comfort for location, at least for our first three months.  After that, if we haven't found jobs yet, we'll probably be homeless in Bushwick.  Ah, sweet adventure.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Mike's Been Published! (and other news)

Mike's cover
Mike's essay was recently published in Salt Lake's leading independent paper.  It was a fun experience for him.  He worked directly with a couple editors and will even be paid.  He's a star!

Mike & Paul
In other news, we finally had our first visitor from Seattle.  It's been great hanging with our buddy Paul, here touring with Duff McKagan.  The tour has put him in London a few days over the last two weeks, giving us plenty of time to catch up with him.  It's pretty cool that we know this really awesome guy who is 'rather marvellous' on the pedal steel and it's pretty cool that he was able to visit us while we're still in the UK.  Thanks Paul!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

And Then I Was Bottled

at the house party
before the attack
In the early hours of a recent Sunday morning, probably around 12:30am, Mike and I were making our way home from a friend's house party in Walthamstow.  We had decided to take the tube home (our first trip on the tube since returning to London) as we were quite a distance from our place in Bermondsey and didn't want to deal with multiple bus changes in strange neighbourhoods at night.

We jumped on the Victoria Line at Blackhorse Road station but our train terminated just a few stops down the line and we were forced out at Seven Sisters (still quite a distance from home).  As we went for a bench to await the next train a group of boys left another car of the same train in the midst of a fight.  Mike and I just sat down on a nearby bench and waited (we were drunk and numb to any possible danger).  At this point I also decided to start filming the commotion with my mobile.  When the fight dispersed the remaining boys turned their attention to me.  One of them threw a bottle at me.  It hit me in the face.

before my stitches
The next six hours were spent in the hospital.  I received four stitches, had an X-ray to make sure there was no glass in the wound or broken bones and a CAT scan to determine if there was any brain damage.  The cops who had driven us to the hospital (because the ambulance was taking too long) stayed with us throughout and drove us home afterwards.  We made it home around 6:30am.

Sunday and Monday were spent nursing my black eye, which swelled to the point of closure, and just generally recuperating.  I stopped at my doctor's office before heading in to work on Tuesday to make sure everything was healing as it should, which it was.  On Friday I had my hair cut (with fringe; by a professional) which helped my mental healing a bit.  The stitches were removed the following Monday, eight days later.  Almost three weeks after the attack and my black eye has almost completely healed. Although the scar is looking better than I had expected I'm still traumatised whenever I look at it and I still don't have feeling in parts of my head due to the nerve damage.  But, I'm healing.

my new haircut,
almost two weeks after the attack
With the station's CCTV and my video, plus the fact that the bottle-thrower is rather easy to pick out in a crowd (think dwarf), the cops are pretty confident they're going to find the guy and get a conviction.  They tell me I'm a victim of an unprovoked attack causing GBH (gross bodily harm) and the guy is in a whole lot of trouble.  I haven't heard anything further about the case though.

There are a million ways this could've been much worse (and at least a few where it could've been avoided entirely) but my mental healing requires me to not think about the what-if scenarios.  My focus right now is on my healing (more mental than physical at this stage) and moving forward.

My support network here has, once again, proved amazing and my new friends, coworkers and employer have all been very supportive and protective and understanding.  Mike is taking excellent care of me too.  Once there's more time between me and these past few weeks, I'm sure I'll be fully healed as the doctors have predicted but, right now, I'm still pretty fragile and jumpy.  I allowed myself that first week to hide and cower but I'm slowly returning to normal and eventually I'll be fine.

my scar,
almost two weeks after the attack
The immediate aftermath had me doubting our move to NYC in January but then I remembered a coworker in Seattle's story.  She moved herself and her teenage son to New Mexico.  Two weeks after the move her son was killed in a car accident.  Death, violence, bad things happen everywhere.  We could move to the safest city in the world but it wouldn't guarantee anything.  We're still moving to NYC in January and, though I can't guarantee anything, I know I'm smarter than I was before I was bottled.  Another life lesson from this time abroad.  This one comes with a physical reminder, though.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

And Then We Were Robbed

Last week was shaping up to be one of our best in London thus far.  We had a friend down from Glasgow and our social calendar was filled.  We may have drank too much on Wednesday night but we rallied and headed to Carnaby Street with a few friends for a street fair on Thursday evening.  It was a great night.  And then we came home to find our place had been robbed.

Mike on his first day at uni,
with his backpack on
The thieves stole most of our electronics and Mike's backpack.  They broke in via the front door but it was closed and locked when we came home and nothing appeared amiss from the exterior.  The first clue something nefarious had occurred was when I walked into the hallway and saw a bunch of stuff on the floor in the living room/bedroom.  I asked Mike what had happened, since he's the last to leave in the morning, and he didn't know what I was talking about.  That's when I knew.

We lost our digital camera, our camcorder, Mike's 17" Dell laptop, Mike's iPod, and my Acer netbook.  Luckily, the thieves weren't giant dicks and they didn't break anything just for fun.  They also didn't take our external hard drive, which has a bunch of irreplaceable stuff on it.  Everything they did take is replaceable.  Eventually.  But, not now.  With 3.5 months before we move back to the States, we can't afford to replace anything.

Buying my Acer netbook in 2010
It took the cops just over an hour to arrive.  They were great.  There were three of them and they immediately apologised for the delay.  Apparently someone was robbed at knife point just down the street and they had to attend to that first.  Of course that's more important.  Actually, I was surprised the cops came at all.  My car was broken into in Salt Lake and a purse was stolen off the back seat.  I got nothing from the cops.  Apparently, Salt Lake cops are busier than London cops.  Doubt it.

The cops also sent a forensics guy over.  He searched for fingerprints and found a footprint on the door but in the end determined the thieves had been wearing gloves.  The cops posited that we were hit randomly.  The thieves probably were knocking on doors and those that weren't answered were targeted.  Fortunately, the cops believe our thieves were spooked mid-burglary and left without completing their heist.

Our landlord had the locksmith over on Friday and our place is more secure now.  The cops don't believe the thieves will return.  We received a call from them on Sunday with an update on our case.  Forensics had come back negative so with no clues they had to close the case.  We won't be getting any of our stuff back.  No one will be punished.

Happily, we discovered our support network in London is pretty great.  My employer has let us borrow a disused computer, a coworker let us borrow his tablet until the computer was sorted, and Mike's employer was willing to help too (but mine was too fast).  Another coworker offered us her TV (but with the computer we don't need one).  And, besides my netbook and Mike's iPod, we were looking to replace most of what was taken once we arrived in New York anyway.  Besides the violation, the whole experience wasn't as terrible as one would expect.  Still, let's hope we never have to experience that again.  And, maybe we'll look into getting renter's insurance and keeping the serial numbers of our electronics somewhere safe.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

August Wrap Up

the view from my office's rooftop terrace
in Trafalgar Square
August was a great month for us!  We're really adapting quite well to London and we're having a great time! Our flat is working out quite well, even with the super crap futon we're sleeping on.  If these last two years have done anything they have made us very flexible when it comes to our sleeping arrangements.

August brought us lovely weather, steady income, and increased fortunes.  Thanks to our Yelp events, we're finding our social calendar quite full, which is a huge change from our recent solitary existence in Dundee.  I'm probably the most friendly and social I've ever been.  It's weird.  I'm not sure if this is a permanent change or just a blip but I'm having fun and meeting some great people so we'll see how it plays out.  Maybe London Desi is Friendly Desi?  I hope London Desi is also Less Embarrassing Desi because I could really do with a little less of that.  I'd also like London Desi to be More Articulate Desi because all that solitary living up north has left me with an inability to convey any coherent ideas verbally.  I'm really just a big ball of beeps and ticks at this point.  I usually give up trying to convey any ideas mid-attempt, which actually goes against my hope for Less Embarrassing Desi because beeping and ticking whilst conversing is actually just as embarrassing as it sounds.

We started investigating alternative commuting methods.  We've been commuting via bus, mostly because it's cheaper than via tube but it's also more convenient.  But, with the nice weather we gave the Boris Bikes a try.  Riding a bike in London is almost as heavenly as it was in The Netherlands and definitely not as bad as the war zone that is Seattle.  I have no idea how I used to commute via bike in Seattle.  Those drivers are actively out to get you (I had one actually stop and get out of his car, like he was going to fight me...for riding my bike).  Walking back home along the north bank of the Thames was also fun for a few evenings.  We'll probably wind up sticking with the bus, especially when the weather turns, but it's nice to know we have so many options.

Surrey Docks City Farm
We didn't travel anywhere in August but we did ramble along the Thames.  We didn't get farther east than Greenwich but we did discover a lovely city farm with goats and chickens and pigs (oh my).  We also experienced one of our most magical evenings, watching 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' in a courtyard in Covent Garden with Bollywood dancers pre-show and free drinks and popcorn.  We also got to go to the industry screening of 'Great Expectations' in Leicester Square (where all the London premiers take place) where the director, Mike Newell, actually spoke to the crowd.

Bollywood dancers
Although August was a great month, September is already shaping up to be an improvement upon it, which is hard to believe but totally appreciated.  It's also hard to believe we've already been in London for two full months but, at the same time, it's hard to believe it hasn't been longer.  As expected, our time in Dundee is already fading from memory and being replaced almost entirely by pleasant London ones.  September will hopefully continue that trend.

Monday, August 06, 2012

How to Tumble

I have only been on a trampoline maybe four times in my entire life.  Consequently, I have no acrobatic skills whatsoever and may be irrationally certain my next encounter with one will leave me paralysed.  Contrast that with Mike who grew up with a tramp in his backyard and can tumble and somersault and backwards somersault (etc.) without any fear whatsoever (and without having done it for nearly a decade).  Of course I believe him to be magic and awesome (for many reasons but mostly for his mad tramp skills).

All this to say, yesterday I was inexplicably drawn to our neighbourhood park to play on Sacrilege 2012 (aka bouncy Stonehenge).  Perhaps because of its size or the lack of metal framing but I felt very acrobatic during our 10 minutes of play and asked Mike to teach me how to tumble.  He was a good sport and spent a few minutes helping me out.  Here, in 7 easy steps, is how to tumble.

1. Prepare by tucking your chin into your chest (it's okay to cry a little bit here)

2. Start to fall forward (optional: keep your arms at a 90 degree angle at all times)

3. Embrace the fall, try to tuck in a bit and fling your feet over your head

4. Gravity takes over

5. Just go with it

6. Come to a rest, confirm your neck isn't broken

7. Celebrate
I proceeded to do a bunch more of these sad tumbles and I had the best time!  Of course, I thought I looked more like this at the time:

but, whatever.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

July Wrap Up

souvenir from Hendrick's gin tasting event
Although we're still living down and out, we've had an amazing first month in London.  We've had plenty of free events to keep us entertained and we've even gone to a new friend's birthday bash.  Plus, we're in London.  'Nuff said.

Employment started for us relatively quickly and I'm enjoying my time as a temp, getting to work in different areas of the city and experience different types of offices.  After a week in Shoreditch, I spent a week in Soho and am now in Trafalgar Square.  Mike is also enjoying being back at the gallery in Mayfair.  Professionally, we've been very fortunate.

view from my office in Trafalgar Square,
to the south
If things continue to improve as they have, we hope to restart our monthly rambles shortly.  We'll be chasing cheap fares but hope to see Dover (as in, white cliffs of), Cambridge, and the Cotswolds before we leave.  Odds are very good we won't be returning to the UK once we leave in December, at least not for leisure, and we want to be sure to get the most out of our time here.  It's the same philosophy we had in Scotland and which we'll adapt for our time in New York.  Contentment and complacency caused us to lose several years in Seattle and we don't want that to happen ever again.

The Olympics began last week and, though neither of us are fans, we're being forced to endure Olympics fever.  The only positive thing I can say about the whole experience so far is that it's not as bad as I had expected.  So far.  I'm withholding final judgement until the whole affair is over though, including the Paralympics.  But, initial judgement is cautious indifference which is much better than the vehement irritation I had expected.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Down and Out in London

Mostly due to poor timing, we found ourselves making the move to London with only about £100 to our names.  Seriously.  Luckily the £35 train tickets had already been purchased some time ago (else they would have been over £100) but other moving costs, and living costs, would be deducted from this amount.  Unfortunately, with all our worldly belongings in eight bags (and a guitar), taxis would be unavoidable.  Happily, our new place in Bermondsey is much closer to King's Cross than our last London residence (in Cricklewood) and total taxi cost in both Dundee and London was only an additional £35.  Not too bad at all; moving from Dundee, Scotland to London, England for only £70.  Sadly, even this low amount still reduced our net worth to around £65.

With no additional income expected for at least another week, we are pinching every penny.  But, even with no money, no internet and no jobs, we're still enjoying the crap out of London.  On top of just exploring our new city, I am amazing at finding awesome free events (usually including free alcohol and food) and our first week in London has been no exception.  On Wednesday we found ourselves at the quirky and fantastic Ninetyeight in Hoxton for an event sponsored by Cointreau.  We received four free Cointreau drinks, a goodies bag (including a small bottle of Cointreau), a short tutorial in cocktail mixing, and I got a free manicure (Mike didn't want one).  We jammed to Paul Simon's greatest hits, lost track of our free cocktail glasses (dammit!) and got to see feather covered lampshades in context (they're lovely and I want them).  Cointreau, you had me at hello.

Next, on Thursday we headed into The City, to Broadgate Circle, for some swingball, including free Pimm's and hotdogs.  For free events, it rarely matters what exactly goes on because free is the magic word.  Proving that philosophy, neither of us knew prior to this event what the heck swingball was.  As we found out, it's kind of like tetherball but played with paddles and totally kicked our butts.  Three hours of intermittent play and my right forearm is destroyed, I can't make a fist with my right hand, my lower back is mad at me and Mike's right shoulder feels bruised.  GD we're getting old!  Still, we had a great time and are pretty sure our future includes our very own swingball set.

All fun aside, we're both looking forward to starting normal life in the big city and getting back on track after our Dundee detour.  Towards that goal, today I got a call from my temp agency with a job beginning Wednesday afternoon (YAY!) and Mike will be starting his job at the gallery on Friday.  In addition to these revenue streams, we should be receiving both the deposit from our previous residence as well as my last paycheck from my previous employer within the next week.  Hopefully, our days of poverty are nearly over.  Although these first weeks aren't exactly as we had hoped, living down and out in London is a vast improvement upon our recent existence in Dundee.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Next Chapter, Please

As we begin to bid Dundee adieu, I'm trying to frame how I'll come to remember our time here.  Throughout these two years I've been rather depressed and disappointed by the whole experience and, while beneficial for Mike, these years have been rather detrimental for me.  Although I'm thrilled to be ending this chapter, I carry a fear that these years will come back to haunt me.  For example, I will not be surprised when the doctor tells me that the reason for my fatal illness is due to the short time I lived in Dundee.

When we first arrived in Dundee, we were very happy with our new surroundings.  It would take a couple of months for the excitement to wear off and the reality of our situation to emerge.  It became evident by mid-October 2010 that Dundee was a small, depressed town with a severe binge-drinking problem and a rather high level of drink crime (e.g. vandalism, mostly in the form of broken shop windows).  Employment options were limited and the realisation that we were going to be unable to continue to meet our financial obligations back in the States proved very stressful.  These first months would prove to be our hardest.

Things began to get brighter once we got down to London, in May 2011.  I regained a bit of my confidence, Mike was able to find employment in his field, and we began enjoying the UK a bit more.  Upon returning to Dundee, in September 2011, we had a wholly different perspective and were ready to give it another chance.  I know now that any attempts to paint Dundee in a positive light were just our attempts to mentally prepare for another two years here.  However, as soon as Mike made the decision to graduate early, all attempts to shine this turd stopped and the reality that this bad situation would be ending shortly has made these few remaining months almost as difficult as the first few.

I know that I will remember our time in Dundee differently than how I've represented it here.  If I don't purge these years from my mind completely, I may actually remember parts of it rather fondly.  In the short term I will only remember the bad but my long term memory will probably be quite kind, if for no other reason than the amount of travel I've been able to achieve while stationed in this purgatory.

Although we've been here since August 2010, we've actually only lived in Dundee for 15 of these 22 months.  Moving here has provided us with the opportunity to move to Paris, Mallorca, and Rome for a month each and to London for four.  Additionally, we've been to Sweden, Germany, The Netherlands, and Belgium, all within these 22 months, not to mention extensive travels within Britain itself.  If this time has benefited me at all it is due to these travel experiences.

As we approach our final days in Dundee, and try to contain our glee whilst surrounded by people who are choosing to remain here, we are willing to acknowledge that this experience, when taken in context, has probably been a net positive one.  Besides the possibility of these years being the cause of whatever kills me, this time can be viewed positively in the immediate aftermath because it is now over and we can move forward. In the larger context, Mike now has a BA Fine Arts from an esteemed institution and the confidence to practice as an artist.

Though the remainder of our thirties will be spent paying off this debt (and that incurred during our twenties) and establishing new careers, at least we've accomplished what we set out to do (and enjoyed at least 30% of the experience).

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Back in the USA

Mike & I returned to the States earlier this month.  Good friends were getting married outside Baltimore and it was can't miss; a perfect reason to return to our home country and a much better reason than because we're being kicked out of our current one (which will be the reason we return in January).

The cheapest tickets (by at least half) from Europe to the US were out of Brussels into New York City so we turned a weekend trip into an 18 day holiday, adding Brussels, New York City and Amsterdam to what would've been just a Baltimore weekend.

Besides my trip to New York in 2008, we haven't been to NYC since our first visit back in 1999, on our honeymoon road trip from Salt Lake to Belfast, ME.  Perhaps it was the sight of a water fountain (free water) near free public restrooms but, upon arriving into LaGuardia, we knew right away it was nice to be back, both in NYC as well as in the USA.

In our few days in NYC before travelling south to Baltimore, we explored the Upper West Side and Brooklyn, both real contenders for our new address, as well as walking the length of the west side of Manhattan and breadth of Downtown.  We wandered through Washington Square Park, Central Park, Riverside Park, The Highline, Battery Park, and Brooklyn Bridge Park and spent an hour on the (free) Staten Island Ferry.  We toured the Federal Reserve and 9/11 Memorial and saw the Picasso exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery on Madison.

If we weren't confident that our relocation to NYC in January was the right move before this trip we definitely are now.  We are really looking forward to calling NYC home.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

False Start

Right after posting about our new flat, and exhaling after a rather stressful flat search, we were notified that the landlord had given our flat to someone who could occupy sooner than 2 July.  Apparently, paying a deposit and receiving confirmation via phone doesn’t translate into confirmed accommodations.

Although our deposit was refunded rather quickly, we still felt pretty defeated after receiving the news.  As is our way, we allowed ourselves a day to wallow but awoke the next with renewed determination.  Happily, after only a short period of doubt, we have found another, better flat.

Rather than the smallest flat we’ve ever lived in, this one will be closer in size to the one we have here in Dundee (less a bedroom).  Located in Bermondsey (south London), we’ll be on the ground floor, have a private garden and be closer to the neighbourhood we had originally coveted (Southwark).  Overall, we’re pleased with how things have worked out and are confident we’ve emerged from this debacle as victors.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Is This Summer?

We have been enjoying summer-like weather for a week now.  It's rare to have a solid week of lovely weather and all of Britain is making the most of this phenomenon.

Yesterday Mike & I walked along the Tay for 5 miles, to the beach in Broughty Ferry.  We haven't returned since our first visit, back in August 2010, mostly because there hasn't been a nice enough day to entice us.  Luckily, we've now had the good fortune to see the Dundonians at play and it made for some interesting people watching.

We spent hours watching the Dundonians on the beach and, before yesterday, I'd never seen anyone walking on a beach whilst wearing socks. Shoes and socks, sure.  Just shoes, okay.  But, socks no shoes?  Like sleeveless t-shirts tucked into denim short shorts, that's apparently the style in these parts.  Similarly, I'd never seen a stroller on the beach before yesterday.  I'm not sure what others do with their kids; I've never really paid any attention before.  All I know is that seeing a whole lot of strollers being pushed on the sand appeared bizarre to me.

After enjoying the people watching at the beach we headed back home where we realised we had actually become sunburned.  Are we in Mallorca?

Today, although burned and tired from our 10-mile walk yesterday, we still wanted to enjoy the lovely day so we headed back down to the Tay where we saw sunbathing sea lions (or seals, I don't know the difference).  We sat on the river wall for a bit, enjoying their company, before heading back home.

Knowing this fine weather won't last, we're trying to make the most of it and appreciate it while it's here.  At the same time, we wouldn't mind living where this kind of weather is known as summer rather than a phenomenon.

Friday, May 18, 2012

London or Bust

This week has been an exciting one for our little family in regards to our upcoming relocation. Not only did we finalise our accommodations but Mike also received news that he has a job waiting for him upon our arrival.

Our flat is in Bethnal Green in east London. Although neither of us have seen it yet, besides a few pictures, based on comparative rent and location we’re confident our new flat will be an improvement upon last year’s arrangements. Though this flat will be our smallest (13 sm) at least we’ll have a bathroom (seriously, we had been considering an option without one).

Mike in front of his gallery last summer
Mike’s job is the same one he had last summer, working at a gallery in Mayfair specialising in the Vienna Secessionists (douchey artistic term provided by Mike) such as Klimt and Schiele. His first two months will be part-time, allowing him the freedom to market his own art and, hopefully, get something exhibited, but then in mid-September he begins a full-time schedule preparing for an October exhibition which will take him through mid-December. The whole arrangement is a dream and, especially coming less than a month after his graduation, better than we could’ve hoped.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Monday, May 07, 2012

Plan B

Mike spoke with his adviser this past week and she basically reaffirmed what we had learnt on our own:
  1. The Post Study Work Visa has been eliminated and no existing students are being grandfathered into the programme, and
  2. If we want to stay in the UK, our only option is the Employer Sponsored Work Visa (aka indentured servitude).
Happily, she did have one piece of good news for us: the UK gives us 6 months after Mike's graduation to get our shit together.  We had thought we'd only have until October, so this is actually quite helpful.

We're moving to London on 2 July.  Our plan is to duplicate last summer's success and, if we're lucky, find an employer willing to sponsor one of us.  However, unsure of the difficulty involved, we're not expecting to stay in London past December.  Come January 2013, we'll be calling New York City home.

We had hoped to live in London for at least two years, travelling Europe whilst earning British pounds to help replenish our completely exhausted savings.  Now, we'll have six months in London before moving to one of our favourite cities in the world.  Definitely not on the same level as Plan A but not a terrible alternative either.

We're disappointed about not getting to see as much of Europe as we had hoped but we're oddly excited about returning to the States.  Even with every decision we've made since 2008 having been in support of our plan to live abroad for the foreseeable future, we've been able to formulate our Plan B rather quickly and without too much anger or sadness.  Of course we'll still try to wring every last bit of adventure from our remaining months in the UK but we're also looking forward to living a more permanent existence back in the States, without fear of deportation or visa revocation.  Surprisingly, we're really looking forward to coming home.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Birthday Month

watching The Good Wife in my birthday cinema
April is our birthday month.  It used to be just my birthday month but in recent years I've started ceding the latter half to Mike.  For my celebrations this year Mike surprised me by creating a cinema in our flat with rented equipment from the university (projector and DVD player).  He also made me a lovely home movie/slideshow celebrating our years together.  It was very sweet and thoughtful and I enjoyed it immensely.

Since I possess no real creativity but am aces at planning holidays, I splurged on a weekend away for Mike's birthday.  We spent this last weekend in England's Lake District where we enjoyed Muncaster Castle, lambing season, and local real ales.  We had a great time!

Ravenglass, Lake District
There is no real news yet on the visa situation.  Mike's appointment with his adviser is next Tuesday after which we hope to begin working with some real options.  Until then, we're making peace with the possibility that the next few years may be different than originally planned and resolving to enjoy whatever time we may have left in the UK.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Visa Chaos

On Thursday morning at 8am our flat was raided by the UK Border Agency.  They had a warrant to search the premises and to arrest the former tenant.  Happily, they realised almost immediately that we were neither that person nor colluding with her and the whole episode lasted less than 5 minutes.  Still, it was traumatising.

This run-in with the law caused me to begin researching our post-study visa options, wanting to prevent any similar episode from happening again.  Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a simple transition now appears rather complicated.

Since arriving in 2010 we have been assaulted by the British government's anti-immigration rhetoric.  We've mostly ignored it though, since our visas were sorted until Oct 2014 (Mike's original graduation date).  However, now that Mike is graduating in June, our visas are no longer sorted and we are elbow deep in this anti-immigration tsunami.  In an attempt to prevent immigrants from stealing all the jobs, the Government has revamped the visa schemes, including those targeting international students.  The Post-Study Work visa, which we were relying on in order to stay in the UK after Mike's graduation, has been eliminated effective 5 April (yes, just a few short days ago), leaving us with few options to extend our stay past Mike's graduation.

We have sacrificed so much (houses, possessions, credit ratings, savings, etc.) in order to live abroad and for Mike's career and it was all going to pay off once we got down to London.  Now, we're faced with the reality that all that sacrifice may have been a bad investment.  Sure, Mike will now have a Bachelor's degree and we've gotten to travel a bit but that's it.  Was it worth it?

Mike will hopefully speak with the international student adviser at his university on Monday.  Hopefully, he'll get some concrete options from that discussion.  Based on the UK Border Agency website, if we want to stay in the UK Mike will either have to remain a student or receive a Graduate Entrepreneur visa, only 1000 of which are available this year.  Needless to say, Relocation 2012 is shaping up to be much more chaotic than its predecessor.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Traits To Keep

Upon moving to Seattle in 1999 we almost immediately missed the largeness of everything in Salt Lake - large parking spaces, large Targets, wide freeways - but, as time passed and we became educated in energy consumption and urban sprawl, we realised this was something we no longer desired.  Now, after nearly 13 years of absence, there is not much of Salt Lake culture which we still miss, though it is still home to our favourite takeaways.  Every time we return, our meals consist almost exclusively of Sconecutters, Crown Burger, and Apollo Burger.  Sweet Jesus, we miss those places.

By the time we left Seattle in 2010, I was fed up with the passive aggressive residents and forced winter hibernation and was hard-pressed to say anything positive about my 11 years spent there.  But, after our short time in self-imposed exile in Scotland, I have come to view Seattle in a whole new light and miss our former home immensely (especially Shiku, Joey’s, and Noc Noc).

Still, food cravings aside, most of what we miss can be generally classified as American traits.  For instance, courtesy abounds in the States but is almost entirely lacking in the UK.  The phrase ‘excuse me’ is not used here, nor understood; if needing to be somewhere someone else is, one must wait until they move or pretend they’re not there.  Pushing is not acceptable but nudging or brushing is, holding the door for someone is for suckers, and moving out of someone’s way is unacknowledged because no one asked you to because they don’t do that here.

Especially given my past rants regarding poor customer service (here and here), who knew I could function some place where customer service, poor or otherwise, is almost completely absent?  One can usually rely on decent customer service in the States but here it is not expected and rarely received but often complained about.  The favourite retort to the common complaints regarding customer service here is ‘well, this isn’t the States’.  Apparently, even Britons acknowledge the customer service found in the States is superior.

A favourite phrase here is ‘I can’t be arsed’ meaning one cannot be bothered.  It is often used and a generally accepted excuse for poor performance.  For example, if one is expecting a latte but the barista ‘can’t be arsed’ to steam the milk, one is expected to accept an americano instead.  A real example was a conversation I had last summer in London, in response to a comment I made to someone about moisturising after showering, ‘you moisturise after every shower?  I just can’t be arsed.’  This appears to be the general disposition of most Britons.  We miss being surrounded by people who can be arsed.

As our time abroad continues, we hope to identify traits we’d like to keep, those we'd like to adopt, and some we'd like to shed.  And, as my perspective is not entirely unidirectional, there are definitely aspects of British culture which are superior and which we hope to adopt as well as American traits which we’d enjoy shedding.  I look forward to writing about those traits in the future but today I can’t be arsed.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Council Tax

I got my council tax bill yesterday; £800 for the year (including student discount).  Council tax is one of these cultural differences that I'm having a really hard time with.  For those uninitiated, council tax is a local government charge on all domestic properties. In my head, I've equated council tax with property tax in the States; "it helps to fund local services such as schools, libraries, and refuse collection".  But, the issue I'm having a hard time accepting/understanding is the fact that, as a renter, I'm responsible for any tax at all that is associated with the property.

According to a friend (who owns her flat), everyone pays council tax.  Rather than it being strictly the responsibility of the property owner, renters pay the council tax associated with the flat they're occupying whilst the property owner pays the council tax for wherever they might be living (if in the UK).  If the property is unoccupied, the cost reverts to the property owner but at a 50% discount.  Other discounts can apply, including for single occupants and students.

The mental hurdle I'm encountering is the fact that I'm a renter and, as such, I believe I shouldn't have to pay taxes for a property I don't own.  If I was renting in Seattle, the city would bill me for my personal garbage collection and utilities (including sewage, electricity, and water) but I would not have to pay any tax associated with the property I was occupying or for city maintenance (one of the perks of renting).

An equally maddening issue is what this city does with these funds.  Some of the more egregious offences, as I see them, are as follows:
  1. The city owns the waste management services; rather than contracting to a private company, the city owns the trucks and machinery and all waste management staff are city employees. 
  2. There is a 'leisure centre' with a swimming pool and water slides (the Brits love their water parks) though the University of Dundee is less than a mile away with a pool of its own (though no slides).  Why are there two pools within a mile of each other, both of which I have to pay to use (if I wanted to, which I don't), and at least one of which I'm paying for with my council taxes?
  3. I've just visited the Leisure website for Dundee and am even further offended by Dundee Ice Arena, Indoor Sports Centres, and Lochee Swim Centre (another one?).  Why are my tax dollars paying for an ice arena or indoor sports centre (or additional pool)?
Perhaps if I had purchased property in Dundee these expenses would be reasonable; as a property owner, I would want to invest in my neighbourhood to assist the appreciation of my personal property.  But, as both a renter and a foreigner, I'm having a hard time coming to terms with this concept of forcing the transient populations to invest in a city of which they have no vested interest.  Am I wrong?

As an aside, I had wondered if perhaps this method of collecting taxes was an incentive to purchase property (if the owner isn't responsible for the taxes, perhaps it becomes more financially feasible for some to purchase income properties) but, after speaking with my friend, she doesn't believe that's the case.  In fact, there doesn't appear to be any incentive for home ownership here (i.e. no tax breaks).  Apparently, the only incentive for home ownership is the investment, or perceived investment.  My friend answered, "if you're renting, you're throwing your money away".  Of course, the same argument can be said for home ownership, especially in this housing climate and especially if you don't get an annual tax break.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Back In The Game

After our miserable attempt at a day out a few weeks ago, we would have been perfectly content to watch these next four months pass us by from the semi-comfort of our couch.  Fortunately, though, we were forced to get back in the game yesterday when we were invited to a birthday party in Edinburgh.

Since it costs about £30 for two return bus tickets, we decided to make a day of it.  We planned a leisurely day of galleries and charity shops in Stockbridge, a neighbourhood in New Town (versus Old Town) which we have not yet explored.  New Town, having been built in the Georgian era, has not been as appealing to us as the medieval Old Town and, consequently, we have mostly ignored it on our previous visits.  This time though, with planned itinerary and map in hand, we ventured forth.

Upon arrival, we made a quick, unplanned stop at the newly reopened National Portrait Gallery to see Graham Fagen's (one of Mike's tutors) exhibition of commissioned work.  Afterwards, we wandered north, stopping at a few galleries along the way, until reaching Raeburn Place (aka charity shop heaven) where we had a lot of fun zigzagging from shop to shop.  After spending a couple hours working up an appetite, we enjoyed a late lunch at The Stockbridge Tap (pictured) before leaving to explore further afield.

After our meal we grabbed a bus out of town to the new Decathlon, a store we discovered whilst in London and one that is almost as fun as our favourite store back in Seattle, REI.  We used to go to the REI on Yale just for fun, whenever we were bored (usually on Sundays).  Sometimes we'd find an amazing deal but usually we'd just have fun picking through all their cool outdoor supplies (good times!).  While Decathlon proved diverting and worth the effort it was not quite as fun as our REI days used to be.  However, it will be fun having one just a short tube ride away when we relocate to London later this year.

We had a couple more hours to kill before we had to catch the bus to our party and, happily, Decathlon was in a business park surrounded by other diversions.  We felt like we were back in the States, shopping for our house.  We were surrounded by a B&Q (Home Depot equivalent), Curry's (like Best Buy), and Tesco (somewhat reminiscent of Super Target).  I almost expected, when we were leaving B&Q, to find ourselves back in Columbia City.  Alas, we were still in the 'burbs of Edinburgh and now running late for our party.

Although I say I have no desire to ever return to Scotland again, I would not be averse to returning to Edinburgh if the opportunity arose.  Edinburgh is a beautiful city and one I highly recommend.  It is unique and magical and one I would've enjoyed living in.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Time To Move On

Yesterday Mike discovered he had the option to graduate with his BA this year, if he wanted.  After talking with a few advisers, he’s decided to take the option.  As of June 2012, Mike will have his BA Fine Arts.

We went from expecting four years in Dundee to three and now we learn we only have a short 4+ months remaining.  Thrilled does not even begin to describe our emotions.

In early July, right before the effing Olympics, we’ll be relocating to London, with no plans to ever return to Scotland.  Though our timing could be better (seriously, the Olympics?!), we won’t be staying in Dundee any longer than necessary (our lease expires on 2 July).  

It is early days still, so we have no concrete plan yet, but we have our date in sight and I can finally exhale.  It is no secret this time has not been easy for me but, like my childhood, I’m sure I’ll forget most of it due to the gift of post traumatic stress disorder (don’t underestimate the benefits of memory repression).

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Epic Fail

We spent this past weekend in Inverness thanks to our Sainsbury's vouchers.  On Saturday morning, we grabbed the 9AM train and were in Inverness by noon.  Upon arrival, we immediately dropped our bags off at our hostel, where we'd be spending Saturday night, and began exploring the area.  Inverness is super cute and, like everywhere else in Scotland that we've visited, we liked it tons more than our own town.  Dundee is a shit hole.

Ness Islands trail
We decided, because of our late start, we would stick around Inverness for the day and explore Loch Ness on Sunday.  We headed west along the River Ness to explore the Ness Islands (lovely), with the intention of walking the first part of the Great Glen Way, a 117km walking trail from Inverness to Fort William.  Unfortunately, due to our late start and stopping for a meal, we didn't quite make it as far as we'd hoped before we had to turn back.

The part of the walk we experienced wasn't terribly exciting though.  There were no amazing views or great scenery.  Apparently, 'the capital of the Highlands' is a misnomer because Inverness isn't in the Highlands.  It's pretty though but that really isn't a replacement for what we had expected.

Great Glen Way
Our first night was spent uneventfully and we awoke on Sunday morning psyched for our day at Loch Ness.  Though we had originally hoped to get to Foyers on the east coast, for their legendary falls, no buses run to Foyers on the weekend, at least not during low season, so we were heading to the west coast of Loch Ness, to Urquhart Castle, as our Plan B.  Unfortunately, when we got to the bus station to buy our tickets, we were told the schedule we were using to plan our whole day was out of date and that there were actually no public buses running to Urquhart Castle, or anywhere along Loch Ness.  There was, however, a private tour company operating an all day tour for £27 per person that we could purchase.  We were screwed.

River Ness
Inverness is cute when just passing through but trying to kill a whole weekend in that small town proved difficult.  Saturday had been fun because we didn't expect to spend any additional time there.  Stranded for another whole day, Inverness quickly loses its charm.  Any shops or restaurants that were going to open on Sunday (not many) weren't opening until noon, leaving us with a few hours to kill before we could get a drink or go shopping.  We were bored out of our minds and it wasn't even 11AM.

We rallied as best we could and decided to take the scenic train route, via Aberdeen, home.  We jumped on the 3:30pm train and were enjoying ourselves until Elgin when we lost our seats to an old man claiming to be disabled (we were sitting in the priority seats).  The train was full and we wound up in the doors for 1.5 hours, without much of a view or comfortable seats.  By the time we were back in normal seats it was dark and the 'scenic' part of our train ride had passed.

I'd been having a pretty tough week, even before this weekend's epic fail, so I was absolutely broken by the time we got home, around 7pm Sunday night.  The whole purpose of spending a weekend in Inverness was to explore Loch Ness and we left without having even seen it, or much else.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Look Out Nessie

Mike & I had a fun day today.  Rather than just walking to our local grocery store, like always, we decided to walk 4 miles east to the closest Sainsbury's.  We haven't shopped at a Sainsbury's since London and it was a lot of fun seeing the familiar packaging of the Sainsbury's brand, reminding us of our time there this past summer.

The reason for our grocery shopping detour was due to the ScotRail vouchers Sainsbury's was giving away.  For every purchase over £15 you received a voucher to travel anywhere in Scotland for only £19 return.  Mike & I were just saying how sad it was that we've been in Scotland now for over a year and we have yet to make our way up to Loch Ness.  But, when we researched prices, train tickets were running about £35 each, and we just don't have £70 worth of excitement in us about Scotland any more.  But, now that we have these vouchers, we can definitely muster up £38 worth of excitement.

Train travel in the UK is expensive.  Actually, all travel in the UK is expensive.  It's cheaper to purchase a flight to somewhere on the continent than it is to go to Edinburgh (sadly, though, we have to go to Edinburgh in order to fly to the continent).  Accommodations here aren't cheap, either.  We booked a hostel in Inverness for one night and it cost £36.  Inverness, people.  That's more than we paid for a hostel in Edinburgh.  There's no reason for a hostel in Inverness, in February, to charge those prices.

All that aside, now that we have cheap travel to a whole new area of Scotland, to a place we've always wanted to see, we're excited again about exploring Scotland.  Inverness is the capital of the Highlands, situated on the River Ness, near Loch Ness, and we get to spend a weekend there thanks to our Sainsbury's vouchers.

Besides the voucher situation, though, we had a whole lot of fun today just on our weekly grocery shopping trip.  We're simple people with simple pleasures who enjoy walking 4 miles one way to go grocery shopping.  Receiving a voucher for cheap travel was just the gravy.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Living For Today

I recently read this book synopsis about the wisdom of the elderly.  Though I probably won't read the book, the article in itself is good and really resonated with me, especially the two points about Careers and Regrets.

Similar to the article's author, we lost Mike's sister suddenly in 1999 when she was just 20 years old.  Among other life lessons from that tragedy was the realisation that retirement is not a certainty and one is not guaranteed tomorrow.  Years after the accident, and without knowing why, our dreams began to diverge from the well-worn path that we were on - house, career, retirement - and we started wanting something different; we began living our lives for today.  Only now, 12 years later, can we look back and identify the source of that diversion, and of our enlightenment.

This article has helped remind us of why we're here in Dundee and will help to keep us focused as the years progress.  We're here, not for a temporary life change, for a complete life renovation.

Our life was never going to be "house, career, retirement" but because of Angie's death we came to that realisation much earlier than we would have naturally.  Although we would rather have her alive and well, we're glad we can point to something positive coming from such a horrible tragedy.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Back Home

We are just now back from 25 days in Rome and, shockingly, glad to be home.  Although we love our long holidays, it is nice to come back home because the sooner we're home the sooner Mike's done with school and the sooner we can move on with our lives.

Much like our last winter holiday, we spent our time exploring our new city through the eyes of a possible new resident rather than a tourist.  Since we're doubtful we'll ever return to the States and know that we won't continue living in the UK for much beyond Mike's graduation, we're always keeping an eye out for our next address and approach these trips as though they are house hunting excursions.  Unfortunately, after our month in Rome, we doubt we'll be calling that city, or anywhere in Italy, home.

Our time in Rome was nice but we wouldn't choose to live there and Italy as a whole does not appear to support the type of lifestyle we're looking for.  Rome definitely had the community feel we like - our neighbourhood was very welcoming and friendly - but the city wasn't big enough and the cheap eats were not varied or plentiful.  The Italians appeared laid back and friendly but they also appeared inconsiderate and, especially after speaking with another American ex-pat in Ostia, the infrastructure and bureaucracy appear logic defying.

We're taking Italy off the list of possible future homes but keeping it on the list of places to visit because it is lovely and we'd love to see more of it.  In all our future Italian travels, though, we wouldn't be shocked if we never returned to Rome.  I think we've given that city enough of our attention.
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