Tag Archives: UK

Long weekend in Wales and the British countryside

8 Oct

As well as taking part in the Cardiff Half Marathon, I spent some time in England and Wales. One of the main things that we had to do was to visit The Morgan Car Company. I bought my other half a driving experience for his Christmas present.

He took off with the instructor for an hour of driving, while I sat in the cafe reading Ian Rankin and doing a bit of German vocabulary training. Rock and roll all the way!

When he returned, I have never seen him so happy. He was like a kid at Christmas, who had got the bike that he had been hoping for since June. After that we had a tour around the factory. In an age where most British car manufacturing has been moved abroad because of cost reasons, it’s perhaps surprising that all of the cars are made by hand. By that, I mean, every part. It’s an incredibly labour intensive process but the outcome is something beautiful to behold. If I come into some money, I will be ordering my car straight away – the waiting list is over a year long.

On the Friday we had an appointment to have afternoon tea at The Manor Hotel in Castle Coombe. Castle Coombe is famous for being where the film War Horse was filmed. The village is tiny and so quaint. There was even a little shop set up outside one of the houses that said that the lady was the baker to the film and TV industry and there were different cakes, jam and drinks laid out. You just popped the money into an honesty box.

The afternoon tea was lovely. The room itself was a beautiful, rich yellow colour. The food was excellent as well: cucumber, salmon, coronation chicken and cheese sandwiches, a sweet and a savoury scone and a selection of intricate cakes and macaroons. Yummy!

I don’t think that I have ever been to Wiltshire before. It was a lovely day to drive through the British countryside and relax.

On Saturday we took it easy because we had the half marathon the next day. So we wandered around the shop, walked along Cardiff Bay and the Barrage and had enough pasta to sink a battleship before retiring for an early night before the hard work on Sunday began!

The Good, The Fake and The Ridiculous

23 Sep

We live in a world where we are surrounded by news. It’s virtually impossible to stay away from current affairs. There was a time when our only source of news was news bulletins in the morning, lunchtime and in the evening. Now, news is available 24/7. There is no getting away from know what is happening in the world with smartphones, tablets and the internet.

In my view news comes in three many forms: The Good, The Fake and The Ridiculous. Good news is something that, hopefully, we are all familiar with. Fake news is a relatively new phenomenon, in which news stories with questionable reliability quickly spread over the internet and social media sources. It can be hard to spot these fake news stories and lots of people take them at face values. This can be very dangerous ground, especially during election times where the general population can be more susceptible to believing things that they want to read.

By far my favourite type of news is the ridiculous news; the news that seems like it has to be made up because there is no way that could happen in real life but actually turns out to be true. This type of news has me howling with laughter.

I have spotted two examples of this type of news this week. One of them involved a family calling in the RSPCA, an organisation who protect animals within in UK, because they thought that a rare type of lizard had nested under a bed in their house. Terrified at the prospect of an unusual beast taking refuge in their home, they called to ask for it to be removed. The RSPCA were baffled. Approaching the lizard very carefully, they soon realised that it was, in fact, a dirty sock.

I cannot imagine how embarrassing it would be to be the person who made the phone call only to discover that they had called about a dirty sock. You can read the full report here. If you look at the photo, I don’t think it could have possibly looked like a lizard under the bed. How many red and white striped lizards have you seen in your life? And what is the likelihood that a lizard would survive in the milder climates in the UK.

This did remind me though of the type of embarrassment that we all must have endured on occasions when we are convinced we have lost something, only to find that it was in the first place that we looked. I regularly do this with my bank card. I turn the flat upside down because I have already looked in my handbag, my coat, my trouser pocket and every other logical place. Just when I am ready to call the bank to report it stolen, I look “one last time” in my coat and there it is in the pocket. It’s almost as if someone has placed it there while I was searching the flat madly because it definitely wasn’t there when I looked 20 minutes ago. Sure, this situation is embarrassing but not as embarrassing as calling a third party to remove dirty washing rather than a potentially dangerous reptile.

The second story I read this week was about a group of tourists who were rescued from a forest. Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it? Where exactly were they? In the Amazon jungle? Some remote part of Africa? No, they were in a rhododendron forest in Killarney, Ireland. I’m not an expert on gardening and flowers but I don’t think that rhododendrons grow all that big. Apparently the group became disoriented and a helicopter and boat rescued them. I am glad that they weren’t somewhere more treacherous, like a butterfly house. You can read the story here, if you don’t believe me.

I guess this type of ridiculous news puts life into perspective. Reports always seem to be about bad things happening in the world. Wthout these amusing stories to lighten the load, would modern life seem too horrible to bear? Deep down I think that they strike a chord because we could imagine these things happening to us or, at least, someone that we know because we all know one person who would find themselves lost in a mass of rhododendrons.

 

Another year older

5 Sep

Yesterday I celebrated by 35th birthday. I’m not really a big birthday celebratory but I was persuaded in the evening to have Raclette and a birthday cake. A choice I could never regret.

It got me thinking about the cultural differences between UK and Switzerland on the subject of celebrating aging.

In the UK a work colleague would normally arrange a cake for your day because it’s your birthday and why should you go to the effort of baking/buying a cake and hauling it into the office? In Switzerland it is very much expected that you bring something in for everyone.

I have a bit of luck on this front because 5 people from my department had birthdays over the weekend or yesterday. I know from prior years that this normally results in far too many croissants, cakes, pastries and other sweet things. I didn’t bring anything in, not because I am tight, but because I will bake something over the weekend to bring in next week when everyone’s sugar levels have reverted back to normal.

The cake thing I can deal with but not so much the hand-shaking, kissing and congratulating that comes along with it. All of these things are ok between close friends and family but I find it a bit unsettling between work colleagues.

So many people have congratulated me. But what are they actually congratulating me for? I have achieved nothing, apart from not dying and getting a day older. And I am fairly sure that they can’t possibly be congratulating me for evading death for the 35th consecutive year.

At home people just wish you a nice day and tell you not to get too drunk (because that’s the only pastime of the British). I find both of these sentiments to be much more preferable than wondering if my work colleague will shake my hand, kiss me three times or hug me.

I do sound like I’m complaining but I’m. It really. It’s these small cultural differences than I found so interesting and, sometimes, funny. Will I ever get used to these small things? Will I always find it awkward and a touch embarrassing? Only time will tell. But I will say one thing: it’s far better to be congratulated and feeling awkward than for your birthday to be forgotten.

A Grand (National) Day Out

10 Apr

For the weekend, I popped home for the weekend to watch The Grand National. The most famous steeplechase in the world is possibly the only event that I have placed a bet on in my life. I am discounting the times when we have gone to the races or even the greyhound races as a family and have done our own “in-house” betting; in which we each put a pound in and the winner gets to keep the money in the pot.

Going to the races live was not a opportunity that I was going to miss. I sorted out an outfit with a dress and hat that I already had. I decided to buy a new pair of shoes (without a heel) so that I would be able to comfortably walk around and enjoy the day without the agony and worry about staying in hills all day. More on this later…

thumbnail_IMG_5123On the day of the race, the weather was glorious and that is not an understatement. There was not a cloud in the sky and the sun was out in style. The metaphorical cloud on the horizon was the fact that several rail companies in the north west were striking on the final day of the National – the day that we had tickets for. Luckily, there were still trains from Liverpool Central to Aintree at the time of the day when we needed it. No other trains were running at all. It was quite funny to see the train schedules on the screens in the train station and all of the trains going to Aintree and nowhere else.

We arrived in good spirits and soaked up the atmosphere while we waited for the racing to begin. There is a walking tour of the actual race course that you can do before the races start but my new shoes were already being to rub and hurt me like crazy so I gave that one a miss. It was also possible to see where Red Rum, the most famous horse to ever run in the National, was buried near the Finishing Post.

I didn’t bet on the first race because I was a bit indecisive and I realised that the races aren’t as exciting when you know that you will not benefit financially from one of the horses crossing the line first. For the second race, I put a fiver on Finian’s Oscar to win. I chose the horse because it reminded me of Finigan’s Wake, the novel by James Joyce. The luck of the Irish was on my side because I won 18 pound, 75 pence when the horse crossed the line first. And it was much more exciting to watch as the race enfolded.

I won another 6 pound on the next race and then I guess my luck ran out because I didn’t win a penny after that. It was still exciting though. The atmosphere when The Grand National finally got underway was thrilling. After two false starts and a lot of groaning and disgruntled spectators, the crowd erupted in excitement. It is always difficult to work out which horses have fallen, who is still in the race and if there is still some chance of financial gain at the end of it. But without the benefit of the TV and the list of the horses who have fallen popping up on the screen, it is virtually impossible. No surprise that there was no final win for me.

Meanwhile my feet were painful and blistered. I had managed to cope in the knowledge that I would just need to get the train, then the bus and I would be able to the shoes off and put my trainers on. Luckily I didn’t have to wait that long as there were people handing out flip-flops to ladies, like me who had worn unsuitable shoes for the day. The best thing was they were free! I would have paid a lot of money for those flip-flops if they had made me. The relief was instant and I was a lot more comfortable on the way home.

On the Sunday, I caught the train and headed timage1o Manchester, where I met my brother and his kids and we drove to my mum’s house. I was treated to a lovely, and unexpected Sunday Roast, and we went for a walk to feed the ducks. On the way back, we managed to see some lambs who had been born only a few hours before.
All to soon, as it always seems to be, it was Monday morning and I was back at the airport again, queuing to have my bag scanned and waiting for the plane to be ready to head back to Switzerland and back to work…

Short breaks at home

24 Jan

This weekend I went home for a very short break for the first time this year. Over time I have managed to categorise time back home into quick weekends, long weekends and a week or so.

This weekend I added a new category to the list: very short weekend. I arrived on Friday evening and flew back on Sunday afternoon. It works out as less than 48 hours. Luckily, the flight out was on time and actually landed in Manchester early.*

A trip back home normally means having to attend to some admin, shopping for a few things I can’t get in Switzerland or things that are really expensive there and spending time with friends and family. Unfortunately, with the weekend being so short, there was only time to see immediate family. I had a very quick one hour with my grandparents, who it is always lovely to see. The main purpose of the visit this weekend was to meet my nephew for the first time. On this front, the visit did not disappoint. It was worth the wait to see such a happy boy, who also has a big smile on his face.

I don’t know what my niece understands of me not being there all the time. She obviously recognises me from video calls and photos but she is too young to understand that I live in another country far away from the UK. She even asked me this time, why I didn’t live here. It’s a bit complex to explain to a 3-year-old.

I bet she wonders what all the fuss is about whenever I come home and why she has to spend time with this person that she doesn’t even really know. I hope when she is older both she and my nephew will understand some of my reasons for living and working in another country. In the meantime, I will accept that they mainly like me because I can’t resist bringing presents wherever I come back home and I am easily persuaded to play games with them and their imaginary friends.

There are definitely more things on the “Advantages of living in Switzerland” list than there is on the “Disadvantages of living in Switzerland”. However, one of the big disadvantages is being away from friends and family for long periods of time. In some respects, I feel as though I am used to it now. The beginning was hard but as time goes on, I have found this becomes ever so slightly easier but being away from new family members is a tough situation.

I don’t mean this in the sense of “Out of sight, Out of mind”. I mean I have just accepted that the relationships that had before I moved cannot stay the same as they were in the past. We have a huge advantage today of having so many ways of communicating that the world feels smaller than it would have done in the past.

I read an article recently about a woman recalling a time when she was living abroad and received a phone call. What struck me was that she said she knew that the news must be bad because in those days no one made a long distance phone call unless someone had died.

Today, we have free communication via Skype, Whatsapp, Facetime. I wonder if we really are more connected to our fellow man than we were in the pas?. I suspect with our lack of understanding and respect for other cultures, this is probably not the case.

All too soon, the weekend is over and I am at the airport, ready to fly back, preparing myself for work again on Monday morning. I will be back soon. One thing for sure is, I still don’t miss the British weather…

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*And, I actually landed early back in Switzerland with no long customs queue or passport control. A personal record!

Brexit: Will it ever happen?

24 Jan

7 months on from the vote and I am starting to think that Brexit won’t happen. Today there was a ruling by the Supreme Court that the government needs to consult with Parliament before triggering the process for leaving the European Union. The British government are convinced that the ball would start rolling at the end of March but now that is looking unlikely. It seems like there is no direction at all anyway. Maybe they have an amazing, radical plan that will blindside us all and we will all react like “Ohhhhh I see! Very clever!”. I would love that – really I would – but I can’t see that happening. Can you?

I won’t be shy to admit that I voted to remain in the EU. I am not some liberal, wishy-washy, wetter than a dishcloth person. In fact, on many issues, I am the exact opposite. If I was still living in the UK, I am convinced that I too would have voted to leave. However, living in another country and being able to open my eyes to new ways of life and new cultures made me change my mind. It is hard to describe exactly but somehow being an expat and leaving every thing that you know behind changes you emotionally and psychologically.

I don’t mean for this to sound patronising or big-headed, nor do I mean for it to sound as if I think that people who have not expatriated are somehow uneducated and neanderthal-like. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and everyone’s opinions are based on their own experiences. My experiences are different to my friends, my family, my neighbours and anyone else that I might meet in life. For me, it made sense to remain within the EU based on the lack of a plan but also because together we are stronger. The EU is by no stretch of the imagination a perfect organisation but reform will only come from within.eu-1473958__340

Of course, part of my wanting to remain in the EU was purely selfish. Even though Switzerland is not an EU member state, my work and residence permit is valid because I am an EU citizen. There are rigourous conditions that someone wanting to work in Switzerland has to meet to get a work permit. If you are an EU national, it is easier to get than if you are a non-EU national. What happens then to British people working and living abroad when one of the conditions that you are allowed to reside there is suddenly whipped out from under your feet?

I felt sick to my stomach and nervous on the morning of 24th June 2016 when I woke up to the news of the result. This wasn’t helped when a colleague came up to me later that day and said “Well, you won’t be working here much longer!”. The rest of the day I had to endure questions like “Just how stupid are British people? and “What the hell are you going to do now?” I assumed that these were rhetorical questions and didn’t dignify them with a response.

7 months on I still feel nervous for the future, although people keep telling me that nothing will change. No one has yet confirmed what will happen to the British expats who have made the life-changing decision to move to another country. In the meantime, I will sit and wait for the answers and have to trust that my choice to live in another country to the one I was born will be negotiated well and fairly by the British government and our friends in Europe.