Through England

My mother managed to survive Air Canada, although she isn’t in a big hurry to repeat the experience. It wasn’t so much the airline, it wasn’t terribly bad, but it wasn’t terribly good, either. Rather, it was the mess that is Toronto Pearson and the complexities of getting through Canadian and US customs.

She even survived her family. It was an unusually pleasant visit to Germany, one that was relatively free of drama. Life becomes infinitely more pleasant when you cut out toxic people, genetic similarity be damned. She had thought it could, would well be her last visit but she’s gone back on that. Since moving to Texas, land of the inbred mongos, she’s started going to a lot of events that proclaim themselves to be “Oktoberfest”. They’re generally underwhelming as, apparently, are most things in Texas in spit of the number of people thinking that, by virtue of it being Texan, they’re the mutt’s nuts. She’s already planning on visiting Munich year after next to see the real one.

I pre-booked her ticket from London Waterloo to Dorset in order to save money. She managed to get to Dorset in one piece, although she was absolutely gobsmacked by the size of Waterloo and just how big things in London are. Dorset was far more clement. The three nights we stayed in Dorset we stayed at the B&B I used whenever I visited in the past. Actually, she enjoyed it a great deal. It is a clean, pleasant place in one of the nicer neighbourhoods, aesthetically speaking.She liked the architecture in England. It compares favourably to that of Germany. It’s more human, it’s friendlier.

She also rather liked Dorset apple cake with clotted cream. Some acquaintances drove us around western Dorset, visiting Cerne Abbas and a few other sites along the way. One thing she observed was how much cleaner and better maintained England is than Germany. The countryside is beautiful with its greens deeper than anything you can see in inbred mongoland, I mean, Texas — greener, even, than Germany.

After a few days of visiting people, walking river trails, having a Devon cream tea at an old half-timbered building, seeing a military museum, etc. we travelled to Bath. It is one of Britain’s more scenic journeys, although it was slightly marred by the entrance of a family of chavs. Still… Out hotel was in an 18th century row house. She loved it, its quirkiness, its antique furniture, just how uneven it was. It had a lot of character. The only real problem was that our room faced a uni bus stop and the savages piled out late into the night. Pity one can’t take pot shots at the beasts. That would have at least provided some light entertainment.

Bath is glorious. Even if a bit touristy, it always has been, it’s not utterly soulless. People have been visiting it for centuries because it is beautiful. The abbey was impressive. I took her to my favourite restaurant there, Nepalese. It was a very different experience to any she’s ever had before, one that was worth it. She also enjoyed Sally Lunn’s. The ambiance alone makes it worth it. It’s so uneven, nothing matches — but somehow, that’s what it is and it does it well. By my insistence, we went to Bath’s fashion museum. It is impressive. Seeing the evolution of fashion from the Renaissance to the 21st century is an experience. A horrid example of a woman kept pushing her way around in the later stages, intentionally crowding others and being generally insufferable. It was her mistake. I had been eating beans for breakfast three days running and I wasn’t about to spare her the consequences of that. I generally try to be civilised, but when people like that make themselves my problem, I’m not beyond using gas warfare in response.

The one thing she disliked was something I had tried to warn her about. For all its virtues, there are over-rated tourist traps that verge on being scams. She’s a fan of Jane Austen. I tried to dissuade her from going to a place that I knew, just from gut instinct, was a part of “Rip Off Britain”. She insisted only to be thoroughly disgusted by it. She paid far too much, in her view, for a few props, a couple of rooms and a brief lecture. She was, however, pleasantly surprised by Bath’s East Asian Art Museum. That was what I insisted on visiting. The entrance fee was vastly cheaper than the Jane Austen trap and it was a far more interesting experience. Unfortunately, part of it was shut because some oiks broke in, stoke a few pieces and smashed a few others. I made the suggestion that the guilty party/parties be summarily executed as it’s far easier to replace a thieving oik than a priceless masterpiece of 18th century Chinese jade. I think the people I blessed with that opinion surprised themselves by not entirely disagreeing with me.

Finally, we went to London. London is not my favourite part of Britain. We travelled on one of GWR’s new Hitachi trains. My mum noted that the trains in Britain are far cleaner, nicer and better-maintained than those in Germany. Actually, Britain in general is cleaner, nice and better-maintained than Germany. She also was impressed by the fact that there are still staff checking tickets and ensuring that people have paid their fare. Deutsche Bahn have all but given up on that.  At that point, we’d both gone well over budget. Finally, she listened to me and we had an affordable visit — by London standards. Instead of visiting some of the dearer sites, we visited free places. The one thing she did insist on seeing was Apsley House, the Duke of Wellington’s London estate. It was brilliant and it was a years-long ambition of hers to visit a property of that sort. We did a fair amount of people watching, although it’s much less pleasant in a place with that many smug people.

By my insistence we visited the V&A. It is an impressive museum and one that is worth visiting, especially when one is surrounded by the residents of inbred mongoland. The scale of it was daunting. It would take days to give its collection justice. As for the hotel… It’s the place I always stay, near Paddington Station. It’s simple, clean and affordable although it was a bit of an ordeal to get several suitcases up three flights of narrow, Georgian stairs.

We took the Heathrow Express — far safer than the tube and not much more expensive than a much slower and less reliable train. Heathrow daunted her, its scale, its vastness. She’s back to work and settled down again in Texas. I’ve been dealing with my own issues. I’ve had growing doubts recently. My finances haven’t been in great shape and, as pleasant as things are, there isn’t great hope that the situation will do more than improve marginally. At the same time, I’ve been offered chances to triple my income — chances that would require me to return to California. Even six months ago, I would have dismissed the idea. Now, I can’t dismiss it entirely. There comes a point in life when the passing of years focuses the mind on priorities. The work climate is no better in Britain than it is in California, but the pay is far, far less. The cost of living is higher, but it’s a matter of tripling income and doubling expenses — still a net positive. I’ve not made a final decision, but logic is rearing its ugly head.

Author: Christopher-Dorset

A Bloody Kangaroo

14 thoughts on “Through England”

  1. Interesting post, Christopher. Your Mum sounds like quite a character.
    If you can, I would hang around the UK a little longer. It’s going to get interesting and I expect to see a number of changes coming soon, maybe for the better, maybe not. But at least stick it out and see for yourself. You can always revert to the California plan in a year or two.
    On saying that, I would never go back. Spanish life suits me too well.

  2. Gaz: I go to California at least once a year. I am scheduled to be in California in late May 2020 with a return ticket to London. At the moment I’m making contingency plans. Should I stay in California, I would be able to tie up loose ends relatively smoothly here. If things turn around, I can just fly back to London.

    I’m getting mixed signals and indications. On one hand, California has its own unique set of problems and challenges — ones I am only all too familiar with. On the other hand, there are better job opportunities there and, even if more expensive, the pay is much better. On the other hand, there are some interesting things happening here, too, and I get on quite well in the UK and life here suits.

  3. All I would say is that if life suits and you feel ‘wohl’, that is the most important thing, as long as the finances allow it.
    When Bettina came with me to Bristol in 2002, I was seriously worried. We moved for career reasons, my career, and I was worried that she wouldn’t feel well in the UK and I would be guilty.
    After the initial problems of noisy piping, cardboard thin walls, frozen header tanks etc. she completely fell in love with my country.
    When we left in 2011, to support a secondment contract in toulouse, this time for her work, she cried, whereas I didn’t.
    Now we are retired to Spain. Bettina says she never felt to ‘wohl’ as in the UK. If you feel good, don’t chuck it away for financial reasons if possible.

  4. Gaz: Six years ago, I was living in the Upper Midwest. I had a balcony. On quiet mornings, I would stand outside drinking coffee and watching the world go by, the rustling of leaves. My flat was roomy. I had a large bedroom, a comfortable sitting room, a good-sized kitchen, an adequate bathroom and a dining room. My rent was all-inclusive save for a very reasonable $20 a month for high-speed internet. I had a gym, a sauna, a heated, indoor swimming pool and a hot tub. It was all inclusive. I could afford to take a holiday in the spring — to Canada, to Australia. I could afford to take a holiday in the autumn — to Asia. I also took a winter holiday to Europe. I could afford my numerous hobbies.

    Now… I sit in a shared house. I have to budget carefully to afford the couple luxuries I can still afford myself. My rent will go up 20 quid a week starting in December as I have to move house. They’re decent people and they’re making sure that I’m treated fairly and get value for that, but… My quality of life is much lower than it was before. I earn enough to pay my basic expenses, but not much more than that. We’ve discussed the employment situation to an extent elsewhere. I can only work part-time and here, virtually all part-time jobs are entry level. For me to be able to have the time to work 40 hours a week, I’d have to quit my current job which pays me far better per hour and gives me infinitely better working conditions than anyone here can offer me. If something goes wrong with a full-time job here, I’d have no recourse. I’ve been in my job for what is now the 11th year. I’ve become part of the department fabric, I’m considered when courses are planned, when assignments are scheduled. After working closely and very well with managers for years, my quitting would have a personal element to it. It would take time for them to train replacements (and it would be plural, I’m the only one in the department capable of working for so many people in so many different disciplines with any efficacy) so if I get s**t on again, like I was here after the management changed, I couldn’t expect much charity. You told me that I sounded like a quitter, that I had a chip on my shoulder. It’s more deep frustration and the consequences of years of growing pressure catching up. You know how much I love going on holiday. Now, I have to budget carefully to go to Poole to stock up on groceries. There doesn’t seem to be much hope, but I’m being offered decent job opportunities in California, active help to get settled again and a higher quality of life.

  5. Hm…. I accept. It is starting to sound like a no Brainer. I’ve been lucky in life. I always earned more than I spent, although used to put in 100+ hours at times. I say lucky because I fell unplanned into self employment. Suddenly I was earning treble, and had a niche knowledge, which was in great demand in the eighties and nineties.
    This hard work and good income enabled me to retire early and live nearly ten years with no pension, until our pension kicks in in 2022.
    Enjoy California ☺

  6. I reckon that sounds a no brainer right now!
    Can’t see that there are any advantages to staying in the UK whatsoever.
    At great risk of being an old fart I would say it is about time you stopped gallivanting around, settled down, made some serious money and got yourself your own home. The last thing you want is to get to old age, or retirement and not own your own home. Paying rent on a pension, you’d be lucky to have enough left to get to the food bank, let alone on holiday.
    I have several gardening friends in that situation, vastly unamusing I assure you.

  7. Gazoopi: The UK is a great country and I’m grateful that I’ve had the chance to live here, that I’ve been treated as part of the community by so many good people. If you asked me what my favourite part of living in Spain was, it was when the pilot of my Lufthansa flight informed us that we were just flying over Luxembourg City and that we’d be reaching Frankfurt-am-Main in just over half an hour. If You asked me what my favourite part of living in Germany was, it was flying over the English coastline. If you asked me what my favourite part of living in England is, it would be a long list and it would actually involve living in England, not leaving the country permanently. I’ve truly enjoyed living here for the most part, but I’m in a catch-22 and there doesn’t seem to be a solution. Even if I do find a stop-gap, it would at best be temporary and would only postpone an eventual hard set of choices.

    CO: There are some advantages, but there are also serious disadvantages. In many ways, life here is more pleasant than it is in California and stress levels tend to be far lower. It is cheaper, for one. I have been lucky in finding a nice part of the country and carving out a good niche. As a dedicated holidaymaker, the long paid holidays definitely hold their appeal. However, I am getting older. I have done well in my job, but I wonder what will come in the next few years and I don’t see being a chronically underpaid office assistant or an overworked public servant as ideal futures. I have no interest in buying a house. I’m never going to be able to retire, anyway. It’s not in me. At most, I’d go into semi-retirement. The chances are that I’m not going to get that old anyway.

  8. It is nice to hear positive things about the UK, especially when being compared favourably to the big European players, such as Germany.

    But, Christopher, I do have a question for you. Why did you pre-book your mother’s train ticket? Were you simply not able to book it?

    Are you still coming to this part of the world in 2020. I recall you had plans to visit SA and possibly Zimbabwe. With regards to the latter destination, I can only say that things are pretty dire. In the past couple of years we have seen the value of our salaries and savings diminish by 95%. Officially, one year ago, my bank balance was in US$. It is now in Z$ and the exchange rate is 20:1. Since January, fuel prices have increased from 1.30 to 17.50. Bread was US$0.90 a loaf and is now Z$15.00. Fuel and electricity are in very short supply and the government doctors are all on strike; full sympathy from most quarters. Unless you are prepared to rough it and get immensely frustrated with the uselessness of our indigenous brethren, then I would probably postpone your visit. You may enjoy Cape Town, which is lovely as are other parts of SA, though there are also some faecal cavities there as well.

    The only thing we have going for us in Zim is the weather, though even that is beginning to try us with high temperatures and an absence of rain. We have had one respectable shower so far this season, but more will be needed soon. The country is about to run out of mealie meal, (maize meal, the staple diet of most Africans). It will be all over by Christmas. Famine, here we come.

    I can understand your reluctance to invest in a property. Increasingly governments are finding ways to rip the financial guts out of property owners. Better to rent and to shun household possessions.

  9. Hi Sipu, just for information, are you saying that your bank balance was switched from US$ to Z$ at a rate of 1 to 1, such that the value of Z$ being a twentieth of US$ , your account was reduced effectively to 1/20th of its value?

  10. Christopher, I have lived ten years in Germany (Berlin and Munich) and loved it. I lived most of my life in the UK , in the Midlands and West country and loved it. I lived in Toulouse three years and loved it. Now I live in Spain and ….guess what…I love it.
    I cant help thinking that life is what you make it. All countries have negatives and all have positives. Even Sipu manages to find positives in Zimbabwe, which I think I would find difficult.
    I guess Bettina and I focus on positives. Its certainly the way I prefer to live.

  11. Hi Gaz, yes, that is correct. US$10,000 became Z$10,000 which at an exchange rate of 20:1, has a value of US$500.00. That is just the cash element. Salaries have risen by between 50 to 200%, but that is nothing compared to the lost value. US$10,000 may now be Z$20,000 or even Z$30,000, but that only represents US$1,500.

    Then you have to consider the value of a house. Until recently you could sell your house and remit the funds outside of the country. That is no longer possible, well not legally. So a house purchased for US$300,000 is in theory worth Z$6,000,000, but with inflation being what it is that money sitting in the bank would lose that value very quickly as happened during the hyper inflation era to 2008. Effectively ones house only has value if you live in it or earn rent. But it is not an asset you can liquidate.

    Other little joys are the fact that Medical Aid benefits are pretty worthless. The assets of the companies have also depreciated and so the shortfalls represent 95% of the bill. Years of contribution come to naught. Its a worry as one gets older.

    Coming here has been a very expensive adventure!

  12. Christopher: I hear you on the subject of departures and used to say that New York City (my own point of origin) was a great place to be *from*. It’s improved since I left, though, and I’d cheerfully consider visiting there if I ever find myself with nothing else in my life to do. Rudy Giuliani, of all people, was in those days rightly considered a hero for his stellar work in getting the city cleaned up.

    All depends upon what you like and where you’re located. I used to visit California often on business but really wouldn’t care to live there, given that they seem always to be either burning up in wildfires or drowning in floods. I didn’t much care for Texas either when I lived there but that’s where the money was for me and that was the obvious right decision for me at the time. Then I took the money and ran (retired early) and my dear wifeperson thoughtfully pointed out that no one was *paying* me to live in “this bloody heat” any longer. After considerable research, we moved to northwestern Washington State and are, I must say, quite happy here. The weather suits us well (it’s remarkably similar to Wild West Wales), the people we know are quite nice and the scenery is breathtaking. We fully own the house in which we live and our combination of age and limited income gets us into an indecently low property tax bracket. I remain pretty much the “angry loner,” although the Missus is far more sociable. I myself have no desire to ever move from here. I hate moving in any case and there’s really nothing I dislike about where I am now. They’ll have to carry me out of here. Not that I have any plans of checking out in the near future anyway; there are still too many people I have to irritate!

    I wanted to give you the benefit, if you want to call it that, of my own experience, while stopping well short of trying to advise you. After all, you and only you bear responsibility for your decisions.

    But wherever you end up and whatever you do, I hope it all works out well for you. (I actually got some sleep last night and so am actually feeling somewhat mellow today.)

  13. Sipu: I had intended to go to Africa in March/April but I’ve delayed it to October/November. I am going in for extensive dental work in May and need to save up for that. One of my teeth is so bad that I’ve been getting flu-like symptoms and fevers because of it. It takes so much time to keep an appointment with a dentist here that I gave up and just made an appointment with my dentist in California. Depressingly, the only difference in price is the currency symbol.

    I’d love to go to Zimbabwe, but being unable to plan the most basic things puts me off. Should some sort of normalcy return, it’s high on my list. At the moment, I’m planning to go to South Africa and Botswana. I’ve made some South African acquaintances — Zulu, Northern Sotho, Xhosa, etc. They even taught me some Zulu and Xhosa.

    At most, I’d buy a small flat. I need a roof over my head. I do not intend to get married, certainly not to have children. I might adopt a plant. That’s about it. Much more than a flat and all that happens is that you get tempted to buy crap that you don’t really needed and won’t even want after a couple months at most. I’ve diligently been squirrelling my wealth away since I was a teenager. I lost a lot in a robbery, but only a fraction of it.

    Cog: Washington State has its merits. But it also has a few serious demerits. The first is that my father lives there. The second is that many of his relatives live there or in Idaho. They are lovely people. The loveliest thing about them is that they live far away from me. The third thing is that I get seriously depressed in this weather. I like sunshine and warmth. There are many people and things I like in California. Best of all, barely any relatives left in the state! SFO is fantastically well-connected. There are direct flights to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, Taiwan, the Pacific Isles, the UK and Scandinavia. There are issues with fires and flooding in places, but it’s possible to avoid the worst if you know where not to live. Most importantly, my job is based out of California. Getting extra work from the same employer would be far more straightforward and the economy is reasonably good there at the moment. Even then, I admit I haven’t entirely made up my mind yet. A lot depends on what happens in the next few months. If things turn around here, I might give it another year or so. I do like England a great deal. The 2020 election is painful enough to watch from the UK, I’m not sure I want to be in the USA — especially not in a swing district.

  14. Gaz: I have an uncanny ability to see through things. I sometimes sound dreary and negative, but that’s because I refuse to say that the ugly is beautiful or that the wrong is right. I saw how people from South America were treated in Spain. I got on with them well, I liked them. I saw how Chinese people were treated. I’ve always got on with the Chinese. It made me sick, the people almost grovelling to me treating people far kinder, far warmer, far more decent than a self-serving arsehole like me like filth. It made me sick seeing the raw exploitation and the abusive police. I didn’t get on with most of the ex-pats I knew. The drinking, partying, sluttiness, etc. wasn’t appealing. There is far more to life than that. I busied myself with work, cleaning, fitness, Japanese lessons and furthering my education. I found Germany very cold. I’m not a rebel, but I am very hard to control and if I thought that something was shite, I said so. That didn’t endear me to Germans. Bizarrely, England suits me well. The glass might be half empty, but the half that’s there is very nice.

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