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Thursday, 31 December 2009

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

New Build?



On Christmas Day we went to look at a site where we could potentially buy a plot and build a new home on the eastern edge of Eugene. We've viewed the house plans and it's within our budget, but until the house is built it's so hard to be sure exactly what you're getting for your money. There are no houses in the development at all at the moment, but all the roads are down and services are plumbed into each plot.

Our feeling now we were standing on the site was that despite the beautiful location the size of the plot might not leave much garden, so your neighbours could be looking right into your windows, and the noise from the I5 down in the valley, noticeable even on Christmas Day, could be intrusive.

With a new build on the back burner, we took a fresh look (online) at the 40 or so currently available houses that fit our search criteria, and selecting five possibles, drove round to take a look. Now we're living in Eugene it is of course much easier to view possible houses as soon as they are listed, and you can only tell so much from an online listing.




Of the chosen five we very quickly three rejected from an on-site inspection due to non-existant gardens or undesireable neighbourhoods, but this one did take our fancy, and we happened to catch the lady of the house for a chat. The house is on a cul-de-sac, backs onto a creek, and is at the current northwest corner of the city, so it's a quiet location, but still only ten minutes drive from all the shopping areas.

The house is about 2,500 square feet in the main building, but also had a third garage with a spare room above, so it's plenty big enough for us. We're having a look inside tomorrow, at the owner's invitation, and she is aware that we aren't in a position to buy until our London house is sold, but the house has been on the market for several months with only one other person showing interest so we may be lucky.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Herding Cat

Christmas Eve about 9:15pm, the cat decided it needed a sniff of the air. We've been slowly re-acclimatising Elbie to the outdoors for the last week, taking him first on a lead, and then as he doesn't go far or fast, just following him to be sure he doesn't get lost.

Beth escorted Elbie out, and I waited a few minutes to put on a hat and coat. I didn't bother with shoes, having my slippers on, as he wouldn't normally stay out for long in this freezing fog.

So, following Beth, we met up at a corner of a parking lot at the edge of the complex. Elbie was sniffing in the undergrowth as usual, then suddenly dived under the six foot tall boundary fence which had a 4" gap at the bottom. Nuts. I could see him through the gaps in the fence, but he was having far too much fun sniffing around and wouldn't come when called. Slowly he got further away, totally ignoring us.

Beth went back to the apartmenbt for cat treats, as Elbie can sometimes be enticed by the crumpling noise of the packet. She came back in minutes, which I had spent watching a black splodge slowly recede into the dark and fog, sniffing happily, until it vanished.

Beth followed the fence line which lead her away from the suspected cat location, while I head home for a flashlight, shoes and a mobile phone. Returning to the point where LB had gone under the fence there was still no sign of him, so I boosted myself over the fence and followed the line I thought LB might have taken. This lead me along the southern edge of a grassy field, (while Beth was making her way along the northern edge) and eventually to a corner next to a locked gate, and a couple of small trailers parked there. I use my flashlight to check under the trailers, then boosted myself over the chained gate, into a parking lot with two sheds, one of them up on blocks, and while I was checking the sheds Beth approached across a parking lot from the north, having walked rounds three sides of the fenced-in field.

There was still no sign of the cat. Our shoes were damp now, and we were not far from a road with occasional traffic. Beth headed towards the road, to follow it round to the south, while I scouted back north along the fence, still using the flashlight to check dark corners for a black cat. Nothing.

I passed through another parking lot, this time with cars and apartments round it. By this time it had become clear that if the cat was to be found by us it would be a miracle, and he'd have to return under his own steam, of be found by someone reading the nametag on his collar, which thankfully we had put on him a couple of days before.

Damp-footed and annoyed, I returned to the apartment, to discover LB sitting patiently on the mat outside, and very happy to be let back in again. I rang Beth, whio was only a couple of minutes behind me, and we were all home again in time for The Mentalist at 10pm, which turned out to be a repeat.

So we are now happy to let him wander unwatched if he wants to, as we know he can find his way home. Today he hasn't bothered to go more than a couple of yards from the door, so maybe he got a little rattled by the experience too.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Limescale

As all Londoners know, limescale from tapwater is a curse.

One spot of water left to dry leaves a small spot of white dusty scale. Kettles clog with limescale and have to be periodically de-scaled, pipes furr up so washing machines, central heating systems, baths, irons, showers and taps, all accumulate crustings of yellowish gunk, either visibly where they can be dealt with at enormous fuss and expense, or invisibly, where you hope they won't destroy your property before its time.

In Eugene, no limescale. Not one iota. After two weeks using the shower, kettle, and all the other situations where water meets heat or indeed just air-drying, not one spot of limescale to be seen.

It's an unplanned boon, but one that every day I count as a small blessing.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Trash

In London we had to keep all our rubbish for up to a week before it could be put out for collection, and separated food waste, plastic, cardboard/paper/tin cans/glass, and garden waste, into different receptacles. Anything that didn't fit into those categories went in a general black plastic bag.

As we lacked a garage, all the rubbish bags, boxes and bins would sit outside the back door in all weathers, so it was usually wet through by the time we were ready to carry it dripping through the house to the front door. The rubbish was collected once a week on a Tuesday sometiem between 6am and 5pm, but by three different crews at three different times, so we had to put it all out either last thing Monday night, or first thing Tuesday morning.

We would frequently come home to find something left behind, and always, but always, mess strewn across the road due to bursting bags and lazy dustmen. There might be a road sweeper round later in the week, but not reliably, so usually I would pick up the largest pieces of litter and put them back in our bins for the next week.


In our apartment complex in Eugene, we have the benefit of dumpsters located in each of the parking lots, so although we've generated a huge amount of trash recently, mostly cardboard boxes from new purchases, we don't have a huge pile waiting to be collected stacked outside the door. We keep a small plastic shopping bag for putting small items in as they are generated, and tie this shut and put it in the dumpsters as necessary. Cardboard and plastics are recycled, and they go in a separate dumpster.

My favorite thing by far, however, is recycling drinks cans and bottles. In Oregon, and many other states, cans and bottles carry a 5c deposit, so when you have finished your drink you wash out the receptacle, store it in a plastic bag, and when you have enough you take them to a recycling centre. These are located at most big stores, so there's no need to go hunting for one, and you don't need to take the cans back to the particular store you bought them at.

You feed the cans and bottles into recycling machines one at a time, and when you're done you get a receipt totalling 5c each item, to use against purchases in that store. There are washbasins and paper towels provided so you don't have to go away with sticky hands. This is the sort of convenience that the US is great at providing, and the UK doesn't seem to see the need for.

It also guarantees that there is almost no litter on the streets, as throwing away a drinks can is throwing away money.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Our First Eugene Session (as residents)

On Thursday evening we went to a music session at a local friend's house. A session, for those not into Traditional or Folk music, is an informal gathering of musicians for the purpose of playing together. There are sometimes listeners who are not musicians, but they are a side issue. This is not really a performance, and not a practise, though new tunes are picked up at sessions, so that a common repertoire becomes established.

Our friend P holds these monthly, and we had attended one back in June so we already knew a few of the musicians, and our host. Sessions can be a little intimidating until you find your feet, partly because you usually find you're not as fluent at your own tunes as you thought, and partly because you won't know many of the favourite local tunes. Both problems are fixed by practise, and the latter of course requires attendance so you know what tunes are likely to come up.

The common practise at this session (and another we went to in June) is to go round in a circle with each player starting a tune, or set of tunes, of their choice. In one evening the circle may go round 3-5 times, so a good plan is to have 8-10 tunes, in maybe 5 sets, that you are absolutely comfortable playing. I ought to have that and plenty more, but lack of recent practise and playing time severely limited my options when it came to my turn to lead a tune. I had my Fiddle as my main instrument, and Melodeon too which I played one set on, and Beth was on Whistle and Concertina.

We enjoyed ourselves, and the other musicians enjoyed having new members, and this session will be a regular social event for us. There are others on in the city, and we will be seeking these out too. The focus of a session we can enjoy together, and get home from easily and quickly, will (hopefully) encourage more practise from both of us.

I like Driving in my Car


On Wednesday, delayed a day because of the wi-fi installation problems, we drove 47 miles up to Corvallis to check out a second-hand car we hoped to buy.

Beth had been searching online for a station wagon, under $8,000 with less than 80,000 miles on the clock, and located a 2002 Mercury Sable at a dealership called Power. We wanted a station wagon partly because Beth has owned one before, a Ford Taurus very like the Sable (in all but name, they're the same model both made by Ford), and partly so we would have plenty of trunk space should we need it.

We got there in pouring rain, and located our salesman Frank. The other salesmen looked like he'd just stolen their candy.

We spent about 20 minutes going over the car minutely, noting dings and small dents, checking catches, aerial, tyres, fluids and other things, before taking it for a 30 mile testdrive with Frank in the back guiding us. Partway we changed drivers (Beth to me) so we could both get a feel for the car. One rattle developed while I drove, which proved to be the rear numberplate coming loose at one corner.

Beth had checked this car thoroughly online beforehand, including the Blue Book price, and service history (via Carfax), so armed with this knowledge we went into Frank's office to negotiate. Long and short, we knocked $700 off the sale price, getting plates & registration included(these normally add about $236), and a couple of things fixed too (new bigger wipers, trunk window hydraulic replaced, all fluids topped up).

Beth, again the US expert, had arranged insurance so that if we liked it we could drive it home that day. As a result we drove home separately, now proud owners of our own wheels. We need to go back in 2-3 weeks to get our own plates attached, and also the hydraulic window bar fitted as it wasn't in stock.

Beth had a good drive home in the new car and we decided to return the hire car a week early, since two cars at this time is an unnecessary luxury, so on Thursday afternoon we returned the Budget Rent-a-Car, a Pontiac G3, and saved about $280 on our expected rental costs.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The Clubhouse

A few times in the past week I've referred to "The Clubhouse", so I thought I'd show you a few pictures of what I've been talking about.



The clubhouse is the only single-storey building in the complex, and the site of the rental office, so if you have any problems or comments this is the place to go.



The hallway, with doors through the back to other apartments. There is a pool (not open in the winter) and a hot tub out back.



To the left of the front door is the gym, with machines open for use by any residents, and TVs to watch while you work out. We haven't used these yet, but we plan to.



To the right is the TV lounge, with a huge TV with cable access, and a kitchen out back. The TV is on a 1st come 1st served basis, but as most residents have cable in their apartments it's usually free. Here I watched the Monday Night Football game.



At the rear of the building is the rental office, and a layout of tables and chairs, used by staff and residents. There is free but unsecured wi-fi access throughout the building, but we now have secure access in our apartment so we won't use this much now.



There is also an internet room, with three computers with internet access and a printer, free for residents to use but not abuse. We haven't got a printer at home, so this has been very useful if we need to print receipts, maps etc.



Finally there's a racquetball court, similar to a Squash court in the UK. The racquet has a larger head and shorter handle than a squash racquet, but otherwise the game works the same. There are also restrooms with lockers and water fountains which I haven't bothered to show.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Supersize Me


One great benefit of moving to the USA is the ability to buy food in larger quantities. Without a car in London, we were limited to buying only what we could carry in our arms, or sometimes loaded onto a packhorse bicycle.

Not only do we now have a car to carry the shopping home in, but the package sizes are generally larger, conferring a great saving through bulk buying. Many American foods are sold in larger sizes regularly, such as milk in 1 gallon bottles (3.78 litres), and cereal in 400+ gramme boxes. Potato chips (crisps) regularly come in packs weighing 10-15 oz, up to ten regular English servings in one bag.

On top of that, we have the opportunity to buy frequently used food and household items in big boxes, such as 48 toilet rolls (the biggest UK size is at best 12 rolls), or three 44oz (1.25kg) bottles of Heinz Tomato Ketchup in one pack.

Buying in bulk means financial savings, and fewer shopping trips. It also means more food in the apartment, and the opportunity to stuff oneself stupid. It's all too easy to sit down with a 15 oz bag of chips and not rise until the bag is empty.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Monday 11th Dec - The Cable Guy

Today we were tidying up a few loose ends. Beth took her written driving test to transfer her Washington driving license to an Oregon one. To transfer a license within the US there's a 35 question multiple-choice test, and you need to score 80% (28/35). Beth being Beth scored 34. I'll be happy to scrape the 28 when it's my turn, but I can't take the test until I have my social security number, which should arrive sometime early January, and I'll have to do a physical driving test too.

Beth also registered to vote in Oregon, and there's a big vote coming up in January.

We bought a cell phone at Fred Meyer so we could make a few urgent calls, as our T-Mobile phones won't show up till Wednesday at the earliest. Then back to the apartment to wait for The Cable Guy. He turned up a bit late, and then, not through any fault of his own, couldn't get the connections right after a couple of hours work, and someone's coming back tomorrow to finish up. This is a little frustrating, but he offered a $25 refund for the inconvenience, and that pays for the first month's connectivity.

A bit later than planned, we drove to a friend's house in pouring rain to collect a couple of boxes we left here in July. He's actually the friend of a friend, and it was very nice of him to hold these for us. He hosts a music session in his house once a month, and we'll be seeing him again Thursday evening for that.

There was just time for me to grab a Carl Jr's burger (wouldn't bother again) on the way home (Beth driving) before settling onto the clubhouse sofa to watch the Monday Night Football game, Cardinals vs 49ers. Three hours later I abandon the game with ten minutes still to play, as the Cards have turned the ball over six times and there's not time left for them to come back and win.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Sunday = Football Day

I've been a fan of (American) football, and specifically the Philadelphia Eagles, since I first saw a Redskins vs. Eagles game in 1984 while at university, and one thing I've been looking forward to is being able to watch games on TV as they happen, rather than listening on the radio or watching a game I recorded during the night. On the west coast we're 3 hours behind the east coast, so 1pm kickoffs start at 10am here, and the Sunday Night Game coverage starts around 4pm.

Before a day of slouching in my recliner, cat on lap, the only exercise I got was walking to the clubhouse for an early morning Skype chat with my parents in England, 8 hours ahead. My wife went out shopping as I settled in for an eye-watering marathon.

I'm now watching the Eagles at the Giants, so no time to type any more!

Mattress Hunt

Saturday, I learn that a recliner is comfy for a couple hours nap but maybe not the whole night. I've also had the cat on my lap most of the night, nice for him, but restricting for me.

We have the u-Haul van until 3pm, so our plan for today is to source two mattresses and then use the truck to collect them before returning it. Unfortunately there had been freezing rain overnight, and the sidewalk outside the flat was a skating rink, the roads not much better, so we decided to delay our start until 10am to allow a chance for some thawing. Meantime we did some online stuff, and discovered that Beth's credit card had been blocked AGAIN, "for unusual activity". Once was OK, as she hadn't used it for ages, and not in Oregon at all, but a second time, after we had visited a branch to sort it out, was trying. We phoned from the clubhouse, and sorted that out again, this time with the casual mention that if this happens again we will be taking our business elsewhere.

10am we set out in our hire car to PetSmart, to get a cat tree for Elbie. He hasn't had one before, but we wanted give him the chance to sit and look out the window. They had a goodly selection, and we wedged one into the back of the car, and as we were close by we went back to CostCo for a proper look around, possibly for side tables and a TV stand.

Nothing much there for us in the furniture way, but we bought some food basics, including 8 tins of Clam Chowder for which I am developing a taste after first trying it in Boston in the summer of 2006. Also 3 huge bottles of Heinz Ketchup, a huge pack of paper napkins and two bottles of Parmesan cheese. Purchases of this magnitude are impossible for most people in the UK.


Then off to Sleep Country to source mattresses. Unfortunately they don't carry stock, and we would have to go to their Springfield branch to get at least one mattress, though they did have one they would sell us on the spot. We consider this, but head off to Mattress Mania on West 11th Ave to see if they had anything in stock.

No. They don't have any stock space at all, so after a quick glance through the window we got back in the car and headed home to collect the van to drive to Springfield. On the way, further up West 11th, we spotted American Mattress Manufacturing, and diving in quickly discovered that this was the place for us, they had a huge amount of stock of both beds and mattresses, and after trying a few mattresses we bought two, ready to be collected in an hour or so.

Back to the apartment complex to collect the van, and I took it back to AMM to collect our mattresses. For now we are getting two twins, as we have bedframes being shipped over from the UK that they will go on, eventually for spare bedrooms. When we have bought a house we will be getting a King size bed with all the trimmings.

Mattresses unloaded (it's good to have a strong wife who can share the carrying), and we have an hour for a late lunch before returning the van to u-Haul. I highly recommend them, it cost us just $70 for the van for the day, including $15 of gas we put in. When we haveb to move into the house we'll get a big u-Haul for the job, and possibly rope in a couple of friends to help lift and shift.

After returning the van we stopped off at the Post Office for Beth to send a package, then to Wal-Mart to get two floor lamps (we call them standard lamps in England), a couple of cheap side tables to use with our recliners, and a TV stand. The TV stand we chose is a cheap $24 design of plywood and plastic, but works very well for our current situation. We'll get an even bigger TV when we have a house, and use this one in ther bedroom, though as I've had the same 21" TV for over 17 years the 32" seems pretty big, but we are now in the land of big.

Home at last, we assemble the lamps and TV stand, stand the tables up, and then realise we have no bulbs for the lamps. D'oh, I go to Target to get those, then have a drive towards Toys'R'Us for a look at their shelves, but fog has descended, darkness has fallen, and I can't find the store! Giving up on that I stop by at Albertson's, our nearest food store, and stock up on further food items and some Oregon Ducks caps and a t-shirt.

Home after 7pm, we watch "It's a Wonderful Life" on TV, or most of it, because we're both too tired to see the end. By 9:30pm Beth is rolled up in her bedding on her new mattress, and within the hour I joined her.

D+2 - Friday - Uhaul and Recliners

We slept until 6am this time, though the floor was a little hard on my hips and backside, so early mattress acquisition was desireable.

We went up to the clubhouse to get online, and ordered the T-Mobile phones and booked a U-Haul van for 3pm. Then Beth discovered that her credit card that we had bought everything with was blocked "for unusual activity", i.e. we'd actually used it. That meant we couldn't get started on shopping until we'd been to the Bank of America (or called them on our non-existant phones) to sort that out problem, but we were planning a Bank visit anyway at 9am, so it wasn't a big deal.

Off to the Bank then, and after they unlocked the card we also sorted out Bank accounts (checking and Savings) for me, and a joint checking account. That was all very quick and easy, and I was impressed with their efficiency. I walked out with a temporary debit card I could use, something I haven't encountered in the UK, and very convenient, especially considering our current needs.

Then off to CostCo, a discount warehouse where you have to be a member (for $50 a year) to shop, but you can buy in bulk a great prices, and they also sell TVs, various furniture and other stuff, and also food and clothes. We decided to become Executive Members, an extra $50 fee, but you get the $50 and more back at the end of the year if you spend enough. We may well buy a big 50" TV here when we get our house, which would be more than enough to get the cashback. Beth also ordered an American Express card linked to CostCo (the only credit card the accept) which confers other perks. Havinggot our membership sorted out we had a look round but didn't buy much, as we planned to return another day.

Back to Fred Meyer to order a second recliner for Beth. The sales assistant had been a bit too pushy the first time, and put Beth off, but we decided that having two matching recliners would be better, so we ordered a second to be colelcted that afternoon, then got a 32" LCD TV, an Oregon Ducks T-Shirt for me (they are in the Rose Bowl 1st Jan 2010 - GO DUCKS!), and soe foodstuffs, before heading back to the apartment to set up the TV.

Now this may seem foolish, but I hadn't realised the TV needed a separate aerial, I had assumed it was all included, so I would have to go back to FM to get that. We also discovered two packages missed while we were out, one left at the Leasing Office and the other mysteriously not, so I would have to go to the FedEx centre in Springfield after 5pm to collect it, or wait for a redelivery on Monday. The FedEx package was my laptop, so I determined to collect it.

We collected the second package, a replica Philadelphia Eagles Helmet for me (for display, not use), went back to FM and got a Digital Aerial for the TV, and finally home to get it all set up. This provides us with about a dozen channels, the main ones CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox, plus a few local stations.

After some lunch we went to u-Haul to collect a van, and then back to FM for the third time today to collect the two recliners and a flat packed table. Home again to set them up, and dispose of acres of cardboard packing. It had started to rain, and it was interesting manouvering the boxed chairs into the house, but we got them set up OK, and now each had somewhere comfy to sit, and a TV to watch. WE did not yet have beds to sleep on, just bedding, but we decided to leave the mattress hunt until Saturday.

Beth had a job interview lined up now, that she had arranged before we left the UK, so she drove off in the increasing rain and encroaching dark, while I went off in the van to collect my laptop.

Well it's a simple drive to Springfield in good weather and daylight, but a tense one in an unfamiliar van, with freezing rain lashing down and in the dark. The Beltline highway was my route for 90% of the way, and I saw a couple of crashed cars that had obviously fallen foul of the poor conditions. I drove slowly, peering through the murk to see mty way, and not unnaturally missed my turn the first time and had an interesting 15 minutes navigating the backstreets of Springfield before, more by luck than judgement, happening across the FedEx office. I collected my package with a polite enquiry as to why it wasn't left at the office (and not a very satisfactory answer), then hauled myself back into the van to carry my new toy home.

Beth arrived home from her interview, which went well and she has a second interview next week. We watched a bit of TV, but were too tired now to have much interest, and collaped again, Beth in her bedding, me rolled up in my comforter in my recliner.

Friday, 11 December 2009

D +1 - outfitting the flat

After waking at 3:30am, Beth and I were both jet-lagged, so we chatted until 6am when breakfast was available. It was freezing outside, and we had to warm the car before loading up and setting out. Waffles and syrup plus a cup of tea for me and OJ for Beth, and we were ready to hit the road around 7am.

Elbie the cat miowed intermittently on the drive down I5 to Eugene, but seemed tired and sleepy and much of the time was silent. I slept a bit too, and Beth did all the driving. We arrived around 11am, finding our way to the apartment complex easily, and meeting C. who ran us through the paperwork. I've never signed and initialed so many sheets of paper before, but after about an hour we were in our new apartment and able to release Elbie. He hid behind the tumble dryer while we unpacked a little and planned our first shopping trip, to get a better litter tray and various cat essentials to make him more comfortable.

We have never needed a litter tray for Elbie before, as he had a cat flap and outdoor access anytime he wanted, but before we went out this time he managed to christen our makeshift one. When we got back about an hour later with a brand new litterbox with lid plus "Scoop Away" kitty litter, we couldn't find him anywhere in the flat. A panicked search ensued for about ten minutes, until B discovered him inside the tumble dryer. There was a cat-sized hole in the back of the machine (for no obvious reason), and he'd tucked himself in there and got stuck because of his cat collar. I had to pull the machine out gently, ease him out and remove the collar (not necessary indoors anyway), and then we shut the doors on the utility closet.

With his new litter tray he really went to town; he must've been holding back the floodgates for a couple of days. My fears of Elbie littering round the flat were immediately banished, and we concluded that he had been trained to use a litter tray by his previous owners.

Cat now more settled and comfortable, we set out again to get some basics for ourselves. First plan was to open a bank account for me so I could have financial independence (my US funds were being held in one of B's saving accounts), so we stopped off at a Bank of America, but they were too busy and slow, and we had a lot to do in a few hours, so we abandoned that until the next day. An odd aside, the bank teller, when she saw our address, gave a gasp of astonishment. It turnes out she is our upstairs neighbour, her address being just one digit different to ours. Small world, or at least, small city.

Next stop was T-Mobil, but we were foiled again, as they didn't have the (cheap) phones we wanted, so we determined to order online instead, and to out up with a few days delay to get the right phones.

We moved on to Fred Meyer, one of the big department stores in the Pacific Northwest, and purchased bedding and towels, a comfy armchair (bought with a gift of money from my aunt), various foodstuffs, dining table and 2 chairs (flatpacked), and a shower curtain and rings. The table and armchair we couldn't take immediately as the car was too small, so we arranged to collect them the next day. Everything else we crammed into the car, and as Beth was now very tired I drove home.

We barely had the strength to munch our meagre rations before Beth slipped into unconsciousness, and I soon joined her after a stroll round the block. During the stroll I bumped into our upstairs neighbours, the bank teller D and her husband, so we chatted for a while, until the shivering of their small dog reminded us all that it was well below freezing. I dived back inside, rolled myself up in my new comforter, and drifted into a dreamless sleep.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

D-Day - Arrival in the USA

Yesterday was the big move day. We woke around 5:30am and spent 4 hours doing last minute cleaning and tidying, filling about six black bin bags with junk we didn't want to carry or leave in the house. We had a slight bit of cat-juggling, as we wanted Elbie to have a chance to do his morning sniffs and perambulation, but be sure he was available when we needed to leave.

A minicab came at 9:30 to take us to the airport, via the Animal Quarantine Centre for our cat Elbie. He miowed quietly and regularly in the cab, but settled done, and we handed him over to the cat courier around 10:15. On to Terminal 5 for the humans and their luggage, we got our boarding passes quickly but couldn't check in our luggage as we were an hour too early. Lots of walking/standing space but very few seats is my main impression of the terminal.

Time to check luggage, and a minor hiccup occurs, our bags are too heavy. However we have a bigger checked allowance because we had upgraded our seats, so I nipped to a luggage shop and got a small duffel bag for £25, into which we loaded our excess weight so all 3 bags came under the limits. Phew.

On through security, the usual queues but no problem. At this point we have one carry on suitcase apiece, plus an instrument each (fiddle and bag of concertinas), and B has a laptop as well. I also have my melodeon in my carry on suitcase as well, as it's by far the most valuable small and easily broken item I have.

Still no boarding gate announcement, so we go to Boots (the Chemist) to buy some sandwiches and drinks, using the last of my loyalty card points. We sit and munch these on a couple of seats under the announcement board (design note - you can't see the board while sitting), and read books. After about an hour we have a boarding gate, A10, and move to the next stage.

I had hoped to get some duty-free Jameson's Irish Whiskey for one of our Eugene friends who had been storing some boxes for us, but they don't have Jameson's, just Scottish brands so we skip that and wait for our boarding announcement. It comes and everybody piles forward and onto a bus...

A bus? Yes, despite the swanky new British Airways terminal building, we still have to pile onto a cattle truck to drive several minutes to the plane. The good news is we get right next to the exit door, so when we arrive on the tarmac and walk to the plane, B and I are first up the boarding stairs and into our seats, so we can stuff our overhead bins full before other greedies get there. We are flying World Traveller Plus, slightly bigger seats and slightly smarmier service with a doubled baggage allowance.

So we settle into our slightly bigger seats and play with the footrests and back recliners while the plane fills, but there's a hold-up because someone has taken a funny turn, and we're delayed an hour before actual takeoff. 1st Class get drinks served during this time, but our section do not, so we read, listen to iPods etc.

We're off, the wheels lift off the ground. We have left UK soil. When will I be back?

The flight is smooth, we sleep in snatches and miss bits of the films because they're on a fixed loop, unlike Virgin Airlines where you can pause and change choices at any time. Never mind. I watch some GI Joe action movie on a screen not much bigger than my iPod screen, the guy in the seat in front lurching about like a beached whale joggling the screen frequently. Not the most edifying in-flight entertainment, but at least I have a footrest and an iPod. I finish my book and give it to B to read.

We arrive at Seattle-Tacoma airport on time (4:10pm local time, midnight:ten London time) thanks to good tailwinds, grab our baggage and shuffle off to immigration. They announced on the plane that there were three different sections, US Citizens, visitors, and US Residents, Green Card Holders and immigrants, but that was misleading. We get steered towards the right section, and I'm clutching a sealed big brown manilla envelope with my details. This is the big moment, we are first in the queue again (woo hoo) and Officer Anderson is quick, polite and efficient, a nice change from some previous experiences. In about 30 minutes I am processed, visa endorsed, fingerprints taken etc. they have our new apartment address (we had used my BIL's in Texas previously), and we're off to collect our checked bags. I should receive my Social Security Number in about 3 weeks (equivalent to a National Insurance Number in the UK), my green card not for six months, but the stamped Visa serves the place of both for now.

Due to checking in early at Heathrow our bags are ready on the conveyor belt, so we grab them and pass though customs in minutes. Then we have to put them on another conveyor belt to get to them main part of the airport while we board a train. At the other end there is slight confusion as to where to get our bags again, but we soon locate the correct baggage carousel. The carousel isn't moving yet, so we head off to the car rental desks to get that sorted while we wait. Second small hiccup of the day occurs here. The normal Budget Rental desk is closed and has been moved to a different location on a different floor, so we split up temporarily, B going to organise the car while I got back to the carousel to ensure our bags aren't stolen. We arrange to meet at the carousel.

However the bags arrive in seconds, so I stupidly decide to try to drag them to where I think B may have gone. I can only explain this madness by pleading tiredness from the flight, eagerness to be moving after ten hours of butt-numbing stillness, and my innate level of stupidity at messing up carefully arranged plans. So I start dragging four wheeled suitcases, two shoulder duffel bags (one filled with concertinas), a long fiddle case (with just one shoulder strap) and the plastic bag from Boots with my overcoat and a few munchies in. I left B her laptop bag at least. I manage to get to the car parks via an elevator, but have no idea where the Budget desk is located, and I realise B has probably done and gone back to the carousel where I am waiting. Oh no, I'm not there anymore am I?

So, t-shirt soaked with sweat but outside temperature hovering around freezing, I drag the landtrain back towards the carousel (using the elevator again, which mercifully was empty both times), just in time to see a puzzled B looking all round for me or the bags. I shout pleadingly, but she doesn't hear me and starts walking away, faster than I can drag the cases. Panic, I stop, cup my hands into a cone and shout her name again. Mercy, she hears me and comes back, still looking puzzled. I disguise my stupidity with bad temper, and she heads off to the information desk to find out where we collect the cat.

Given a few minutes to cool down mentally and physically, I manage to summon a smile for B when she returns, and we wheel and lug our worldly goods off to the rental car, which B has upgraded to a mid-size or we wouldn't get everything in. It's a good choice, a Pontiac which we haven't driven before, and we put down the back seat and load up. I put on a fresh t-shirt, and then my fleece and overcoat, and put the car heater on max, because it is now below freezing.

We set off into the dark Washington State evening, and soon find Menzies Aviation where the cat E is waiting quietly for us in his carrier. Quietly, that is, until he hears our voices (first time in 17 hours), and I comfort him with finger through his cage bars while B sorts the paperwork. We need $35 cash to pay, and fortunately I have $36 in my wallet from our last trip so all is well and we claim our prize and load up again.

As we head south on Interstate 5 Elbie is miowing again quietly, not really distress, just confusion and reminding us that he's not 100% contented, so we drive for only an hour before deciding to stop the night. Quality Inn accept pets ($15 extra), so we check in there, unload bags into our room via nearest fire escape door, and release the caged beast. In fact he's happy to be back with us, and wanders round the room as cats do checking the new arrangements, before finding a lap to sit on and start purring. We order Pizza Hut Pizza delivered to our room (we'd prefer Papa John's but it's not available here), have a swift much, quick scan of the cable TV channels, and collapse into bed around 9:30pm.

I wake at 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30, finally deciding to stop fighting jet lag, and get up and shower. D+1 has started.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

D -1 Last day in London

We had various small jobs to complete today.

First, put on last clothes wash and hang it out to dry, then visit the local council office to get our Council tax exemption registered (for leaving the house unoccupied we pay less tax until it is sold). Next we visited the Estate Agent and reduced the house price (we always thought it was a little high, and we've had no offers yet after a month on the market). Then a short walk to a London Underground station to get the £3 each deposit back on several Oyster cards. These are credit card size passes that you use on buses and tube trains, and we had accumulated half a dozen spares over the years.

On to my parents house, with sandwiches, to say goodbye and show them how to work several electrical items we were giving them, mostly digital radios and digital TV tuners that won't work in the US.

Back home via an ATM to get some cash for the airport taxi in the morning, then a quick whizz round with the vacuum, clean the bathroom and kitchen again, and I collapse for an hour or so while industrious wife puts a last coat of oil on the new kitchen work surfaces and starts going through last minute paperwork.

I get in the washing (it hadn't dried much outdoors but you have to try), put it in the tumble dryer, take down the old washing lines in the garden and add them to the growing pile of junk my parents will be disposing of after we have gone.

Join wife on paperwork sorting, and we take the opportunity to upgrade our plane seats. It's a ten hour flight so we figure it's worth it for £100 each. Check through papers we're leaving with the house, papers we need on the flight, papers we need when we arrive, insurance papers, papers, papers.

It starts raining heavily.

Off to our favourite Sushi restaurant for a delicious supper (no washing up, wahay!), stopping on the way at the local library to take a photocopy of my UK driving license (just in case) and back home to say goodbye to our neighbours who are keeping an eye on the house for us. Long chat about our flight, the cat's flight, relative size of the city of Eugene to the borough of Ealing (half the population, twice the urban area) and the use of Skype.

Drag heavy suitcases downstairs ready for the morning, and pack the last few items including just dry clothes.

Update Blog.

Phew, usually the last day before the start of a journey I get a bit antsy, but I didn't really have the time today. I'll have to wake up at 5am to get it done tomorrow.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Wife

I knew my wife was a pretty amazing person before I married her, but getting through the whole emigration process would have been impossible without her. Not merely because I wouldn't have qualified for a spousal visa unless I was married to an American Citizen, or had her to sponsor my application, but because she is fantastic at finding information on the internet, filling in forms, planning and organising.

The Visa process is immensely complicated, requiring a string of forms, certificates, affidavits, photographs, financial statements and goodness knows what else. I have mostly taken a back seat while my wife put together the various packages required and sent them off, got me to the interview and answered their questions with me, and ensured that we were always four steps ahead of the process.

So a big thank you to my wife for being more than just a calming influence, but a leading light in my life.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Toast

In one of those "life could be a little bit better in tiny ways" moments, I burnt my toast this morning. Not because I had the toaster set too high, but because the pre-sliced bread was bigger than the toaster, so I had to turn the slices and do them twice. That was too much for a partly toasted and pre-heated slice, and I had some scraping to do.

Is it too much to ask designers of toasters to make them the right size to fit standard bread slices, or the breadmakers to make loaves in dimensions that fits a standard toaster?

My days are filled with moments life this, where poor design leads to poor results.

Yesterday I was driving a hire car, a Vauxall Astra, and it was a lovely, almost brand new vehicle, but one design feature frustrated me. The indicator lever, rather than having an up (indicate right), middle (no signal) and down (indicate left) position, was designed so that after flicking up (right) or down (left) it returned to the centre position.

That's fine if your turn will cancel the indicator, but if you're driving on the interstate (or in this case, the motorway) and are just changing lanes, then you need to cancel the indicator yourself after changing lanes. How do you do this? Obviously you have to flick the lever in the other direction. Normally, i.e. on every make of car I have ever driven before, across two continents and six countries, in 25 years of driving, this returns the lever to the centre, non-indicating setting. On this whizzy new design of Astra however, if you flick too far you end up indicating back the other way, so it looks like you're changing back to the lane you just left.

Someone must have designed this new style of indicator, and no doubt got an award, but apparently never actually drove the car to try it. At least 60% of the time I tried to cancel an indicator I ended up indicating the other way, and often when trying to cancel that wrong indicator I'd end up indicating again the way I'd just turned. I'm not a bad driver usually, I have never had an accident, but I came pretty close a few times with this stupid indicator switch.

If anyone from Vauxhall (or General Motors, or any other car manufacturer) should happen to read this, I will not be purchasing one of your car models if it has this kind of indicator, no matter how new and shiny and well laid out the rest of the controls are, because it's stupid and it doesn't work.

Well honestly. While we're on the subject of car design, drinks holders the driver can reach are a good idea, even in the UK. 'nuff said.

Oh, and to the toaster manufacturers of North America, I will be taking a loaf of bread to aid my toaster purchase decision in a week or so, and if the bread won't fit your toaster, I won't be buying one. You have been warned.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

D-10 Stocks

For months we've been trying to calculate how much we need to keep in the house, in terms of cleaning products, food, toilet paper etc.

With just 10 days to go, it's fair to say I won't be using the six or seven tubes of toothpaste I seem have stocked up, and our last bottle of washing-up liquid has been purchased. Soap, shampoo, shaving items, all have been counted and the excess packed and stored for shipping to the US. As there's a cost involved we've tried to minimise our stocks, and a lot has been thrown out.

I't's rather thrilling to know that this is the last pot of Marmite I'll be buying for the forseeable (I won't be eating Marmite in the US), and even the pound of butter in the fridge will probably see us through.

I've laid out the clothes I'll be wearing for the next 10 days, ready to wear, then wash and pack, in the knowledge that once it's in the suitcase it won't need to come out again. As we've been living out of our suitcases for months that's quite a relief.

Of course in another 12 days we'll be out at Winco or Costco or Target stocking up again, but the difference will be that we'll have a car to carry everything back from the store, and won't worry about having to be tidy at home.

It's all good.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Dublin

Just back from a wet and windy week in Dublin. My wife and I wanted to get away from the house for a while now it's almost stripped bare, and leave it free for viewings.

Dublin is very easy and cheap to fly to from London at the moment, and for accommodation we rented a one-bedroom apartment in Christchurch Halls. The apartment was very comfortable, but lacked the Wi-Fi access we had booked it for, so slightly disappointing but overall good value.

During our trip the West of Ireland and the North-West of England suffered massive rainfall and flooding, with many businesses and houses flooded to a depth of several feet. Heartbreaking and mostly unpredicatable and unavoidable, though building at least 20-30 feet higher than the nearest river would seem a good idea. Dublin got a share of the rain but really nothing in comparison, and probably no more than Eugene would get this time of year normally, the difference being that we had to walk everywhere in it.

The Euro is unfortunately strong at the moment, and prices are already high for eating out, so we alternated with sandwiches or eating in to reduce the food bill. With limited luggage space we bought only a few souvenirs, mostly books in Irish for my wife to read, which are hard to obtain even in Dublin.


We now have just two weeks before the big day. Our Estate agent managed to get in eight or so viewings while we were away, but no offers on the house yet.

With the house almost bare, and due to be even barer in a couple of days as the last few things we can't carry with us go into storage, we've a few outings and a party lined up to keep us amused, and packing and re-packing of suitcases. After the storage unit is emptied on Monday, the contents being collected for shipping, we'll be sitting on the futon or bed reading books, watching TV and playing Nintendo DS for amusement in the evenings.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Nets & Bulbs

Net curtains are a feature of most English suburban houses that appear to be missing from the American scene. Nets are thin white lacy curtains that you hang permanently inside a window, to prevent the neighbours from seeing your goings-on.

Their success in this regard is limited, they cut down vision but do not prevent it, especially at night if you forget to draw the real curtains. However their success in collecting dirt and dust is legendary, and I've recently washed all our net curtains, changing their colour from grey to off-white.

I shan't miss these ugly things in America, and am looking forward to blinds, which do the combined job of nets and regular curtains better than either, and are easier to clean and less bulky.


In this house we have six different types of light bulbs. In England the bayonet fitting used to be universal, but we now also use screw fittings, and thanks to the peculiarities of this house we have 100W big spotlights in the kitchen and bathroom, plus a small fluorescent tube over the hob, 60W smaller spotlights in the stairwell, a 60W screw-fitting regular bulb in a standard lamp, and 12W and 20W energy-saving bayonet-fitting light bulbs in ceiling lights in the bedrooms and through lounge respectively.

I don't know if US houses have to deal with this huge variety. We've actually cut down by getting rid of all our table lamps, which would add a couple more types, but I'm hoping we can reduce a little. Of course, we'll also have more space to store spare bulbs, which currently reside in the cupboard under the stairs.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

D -28

Only 28 days till we fly out, pick up our hire car and drive down to Eugene to settle into our rented apartment.

My wife has stopped working so we have some time together to finish the last few bits of clearing and packing, and have a short break in Dublin to get away from things for a while.

I'm now thinking everytime I go shopping that it might be my box of teabags, jar of Marmite or packet of Digestive Biscuits that I buy in the UK. Of course I can get all those things in the US at a price, but it won't be quite the same. We're also organising a few things to ease our arrival, like a US laptop and cell phones, which we're ordering online and timing to hopefully be there when we arrive.

We're also anticipating a necessary but delightful shopping spree in the US, getting the necessaries for apartment comfort, and filling a proper freezer for the first time. We've never had the luxury of buying in bulk, so shops like Winco and Costco will be getting our business soon.

Our house in London is now officially taking viewings, and should appear on our estate Agent's website in the next day or two. There's so little left in it that all the rooms appear very spacious, and we're hoping for lots of interest in the next month.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

D -38

Things have been moving quickly, and it's now 38 days until we fly to the US to being the new phase of our lives in Eugene.

The house is still in minor chaos, mainly because we now have the entire kitchen ripped out, and the new units (in pieces in boxes) and old appliances are standing in the back of the through lounge, waiting for the kitchen intallers to start work tomorrow.

The three bedrooms also have a lesser degree of junk piled up, as we sort through our remaining piles of possessions, making the familiar keep/sell/give/ throw decisions.

The next week will see the kitchen fill up with units and appliances, thus emptying the through lounge, which should then be the site for the few remaining boxes of items for shipping. If all goes well, in a week's time we will be ready for the house to officially go to market, and it will be as empty of traces of us as we can make it while still living in it.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Apartment

We've just had the excellent news that we're approved for an apartment in Eugene, starting mid-December.

The location is a recently built complex, and not owned by the evil Umbrella Corporation. OK, they're not really evil, but they are devilishly difficult to communicate with and get information out of unless you already live in Eugene.

The manageress has been wonderful at communication via email, and has recently dealt with another couple coming from England, so she understood the difficulties we had to overcome, and helped enormously. Needless to say this greatly helped her get our business.

Now we have a date we can start arranging flights, shipping for our possessions, car hire, cat transport etc. so lots of things that have been up in the air are now getting nailed down more securely.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Halloween

Not too long until Halloween, and although we'll be too late for this year, I'm looking forward to Halloween experiences in Eugene, and in years to come watching my nephew E in Friendswood TX doing the rounds.

In the UK there are attempts by some shops (Marks & Spencer and a few card shops mainly) to muscle in on Halloween and make a few extra sales, but generally Halloween is considered a US thing, and it's a bit of a damp squib. There may be occasional parties (we won't get invited), and we may get a few children calling at the door for candy, but frankly we're all a bit embarrassed, and glad when it's over.

In the last few years my wife and I carved and put out pumpkin lanterns to show our US credentials, and we usually get a few groups of kids but just a smattering, and we end up with bowls of uneaten candy that get thrown away six months later. We did get an egg thrown at our window once by a kid who came round about five days too early, with no costume, and that somewhat diminished our enthusiasm.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Carpets

Last Saturday we had three new bedroom carpets to be fitted.

We start the day by empting our master bedroom into the bathroom next door (not quite en-suite but nearly), everything except the bedframe, and then ripping up the old carpet. To my knowledge it's been down 16 years, but might not have been new when I moved in. With the aid of a Stanley knife we cut the old carpet into small sections and carry them out to the back yard, with bits of perished rubber backing dusting our footprints. Then we screw down a couple of creaky floorboards, and soon the fitters arrive.

They chug the new underlay and carpets upstairs (no mean task with our cramped Victorian staircase) and start with the hammering and cutting. All goes well for a while, then the lead fitter Sam calls us to say we have to remove the bedroom door as the new underlay won't fit underneath. No biggie, two minutes with a screwdriver and we add that door to the bathroom exiles, and also remove another door upstairs for the same purpose.

All goes well for a while, then we hear a cry from the back room "I can hear something under the floorboards". Wife and I glance at each other in consternation, then fight our way upstairs, wondering if it's a mouse, a cat, or worse.

By one of those 1-in-1000 chances, an old flooring nail has gone through a central heating pipe, and we have a delightful new fountain gracing our back bedroom. In fact the quick thinking fitter has got the old board up and his thumb sealing the hole like the boy with the dyke. It's not the fitter's fault, it's a very old nail that was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Curses.

I take over thumb duties to free up the fitter to continue work elsewhere, while wife runs to the DIY shop round the corner to get something to seal the hole. They send her back with two-part putty, but we didn't think we could get it to stick. By this time I'm shaking with the effort of sealing the hole (turning off the mains water didn't stop the fountain) so wife takes over hole-minding duties, while I run back and get some wet-seal tape and a jubilee clip.

Back with the tape, we do a proper cowboy job and wrap a yard or two of tape round the pinprick hole, but it still leaks. Then we discover the tape has a backing strip, so we rip that off and try again. Eventually we bandage the pipe enough that there's no dripping, and look at each other folornly. OK, no need now for an emergency plumber we think, we'll get it sorted on Monday.

The carpet fitters are done with two rooms, and offer to come back to finish this one when we've got the leak sorted. They head off to their van, then come back sheepishly and explain thay their battery is flat because they left the radio and the hazard lights on. Wife, self and #2 fitter give the van a push start, and happily the engine catches and they're away.

Back in the house, we congratulate ourselves on having two bedrooms with carpets, and we put the master bedroom back to rights and clear some of the downstairs area by moving things into the top front bedroom.

House more or less restored, we continue with our weekend chores, but alas an hour or two later, checking on the punctured pipe my wife discovers it's dripping again. Curses. Maybe I shouldn't have put on a load of clothes washing and turned the heating back on.

More tape, fresh towels, mugs and sponges to catch the drips, wife camps out happily to babysit the pipe while I surf the net for a 24 hour plumber. It's now about 6pm on a Saturday, prime costs time.

First plumber takes my details, then says they can't call until tomorrow. Not very helpful. Second plumber answers the phone in an indistinct way, sounds like he doesn't know a compression joint from a compression fracture, so I hang up. Third plumber, this is better, he sounds professional and gives me his prices (£150 an hour including taxes) but can't be here for a couple of hours. OK, that's as good as we can hope for. Back to wife to break the news, she's happy to babysit the pipe for two hours, and I bring her a book, cushions and some snacks.

I should mention at this point that I was suffering from a cold, and it was getting steadily worse as the day progressed. Wife had it the previous weekend, so now it was my turn. I'm exhausted, feverish and shaky, so I get to sit downstairs and watch TV while wife sits in a bare room watching a pipe under the floorboards. What a gem I married.

Around 8:00pm the plumbers call to say they're on their way, and at 8:20 they arrive. They quickly drain down the central heating system.

<<< Aside : In most UK homes a boiler heats water which then circulates through the house via a sealed loop of pipes and radiators. The water in the system requires occasional topping up, and the radiators need occasional bleeding to release trapped wind. The radiators aren't very efficient at warming the air passing near them as you can imagine, and as the hot air rises to the ceiling first, it can take a long time to get a room warm. I prefer the US system of heating the air directly and pumping that into the rooms via a floor level vent. >>>

With the system drained they quickly cut out the damaged pipe section and put in a new piece, refill the central heating system, and bleeed the radiators. By 9:30 everythign is done, we pay them, and they head off. Nice guys, we'd use them again, but hope we never have to.

Now we have a fixed pipe, but a manky old Victorian floorboard split lengthways to cover it up. We resolve to buy a new plank the next day, tidy up what we can, and I head to bed with a fever of 101.5 F.

The next day my fever has dropped to a mere 99.5 F, so we do our familial duties and have lunch with my parents, then pick up a new floorboard on the way home. The floorboard isn't quite the same width as the old one, but it doesn't matter too much, there are other gaps and once the underlay is down you can't tell.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Approved

On Thursday we had the long awaited and slightly dreaded visa interview at the US Embassy in London. As the title says, we were approved.

That's a big weight off our minds, because although I never really thought we could be rejected, until it's in the bag you never know. We can now file away all the myriad paperwork we had to collect.

We now have three more weeks to get our house ready to put on the market, and then we shall see what we shall see.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Magnolia

We're freshening up the walls in our house prior to putting it on the market, and after worrying ourselves for weeks about what paint colours to pick, the estate agent recommended Magnolia.

My wife and I are not big on noticing wall colours anyway, so this suits us. I can get put off by a bad shade, but the walls of our master bedroom have been greeny-grey for 15 years, and it mever bothered me enough to repaint them. I did so this weekend, and it has transformed the room, sort of.

It's odd the paint manufacturers have developed thousands of different shades, but the standard is still the same... Magnolia.

I guess that's why it's the only colour other than white that comes in ten litre tubs.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Morris

Yesterday was my last day as a Morris Man, a full day tour arranged by the Yateley Morris Men, with eight different men's sides in attendance.

If you have no idea what a Morris Man is, I can recommend this short article by one of our novices, Simon: http://uk.geocities.com/springgrovemorris/JoiningASide.html

or for a slightly more tongue-in-cheek view, try to see "Morris: A Life With Bells On".
http://www.morrismovie.com/

For four years I've been a member of Spring Grove and Off-Spring Morris, based in the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames. I joined in the Autumn of 2005 because I was looking for a musical outlet where I could play my recently acquired Melodeon. I had until then been spending Monday nights at an English Folk Music evening class in Chiswick, but the Chiswick Council decided to double their fees overnight. About the same time, I spotted an advert for musicians to play for Morris Dancing, so I made my way along and joined the Spring Grove team.

That first Autumn I was one of three musicians playing for the side, and as I wasn't very adept on the melodeon I also took my fiddle along. Big mistake as far as learning the melodeon went, because now I was the side's only fiddler, and a fiddle plus a melodeon sounds better than two melodeons. I also was encouraged to dance, so I ended up with three different roles, fiddler, melodeonist and dancer. Overall the three complimented each other and kept me busy, but required three times the work.

However by the the 2007-2008 Season I was finding the travel increasingly difficult and tiring, as I am actually quite a way from Kingston and I was getting home very late on a Monday night, so I restricted myself to turning out with the side when I could, but not attending practise as I had for the previous 3 years.

In place of Morris practise on Monday evenings, I rejoined my English folk music group, who had by now relocated, ironically to a pub back room five minutes walk from my house. Most of my old friends were still playing there, and I was soon up to speed on the favourite tunes. We play occasionally for Country Dances, so I get my musical fix locally, and the fun of playing for dancing.

So it's farewell to Morris, at least for now. There is a Morris side in Portland, but that's too far for regular attendance, and I don't really want to hang onto my old hobbies when I'm in the USA, I want to develop new interests and make new friends.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Conkers

As this is (hopefully) my last Autumn in England, at least for some time to come, I am taking more notice of the changes of season than usual. Certainly it hasn't escaped my notice, especially on my cycle rides, that it's conker season again.

Conkers are the seeds of the Horse Chestnut tree, of which we have a large number in Ealing. They grow on the tree in a spiky yellow ball, and around this time of year they drop down like shrapnel. The seed plus spiky ball weighs several ounces, so it's wise to wear a hat while out and about. The seed itself is chestnut-coloured (suprise) with a white patch on one side, and used to be much prized by schoolboys for conker fights. These are probably now banned for health and safety reasons.

Once when I was about 11 I went round with a friend collecting conkers, with a vague idea of having a massive conker battle later. We packed the biggest, shiniest conkers into my bicycle saddlebag, and off home we went. The conkers then laid forgotten in the dark until I next had need of the bag, when I discovered a grey mould had enveloped them, rendering both the conkers and the saddlebag no longer fit for their intended purposes.

I'm sure there's some lesson to be learnt there, if only by squirrels.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Medical

OK, I had my medical yesterday, so here's the story.

We got our Visa Application Approval Confirmation letter on 20th Aug, but until Tuesday had heard nothing further, so I rang the extortion line to ask if they had sent anything yet. Yes, they sent it on Fri 4th Sept, so it should arrive soon (it hasn't shown yet).

I also asked for my case number and was given it, so that allowed us to put in the next set of paperwork today (B. has had it ready for weeks) and book the medical without waiting for their next letter.

So I immediately rang the medical office for an appointment and was told to name a date, so I said today (well, yesterday I said tomorrow, but you get my drift), and was offered 8:55am. Living in London that suited me. Early start = less chance of a long wait.

So bright and early I turned up at 4 Bentick Mansions near Bond Street tube station, after walking right past it a couple of times, because I was desperate for the loo and none of the local shops or cafes have one.

At reception I handed over my passport (which I got back after they photocopied it), my immunisation records, a completed questionnaire (do you use hard drugs, that sort of thing), and a British-size passport photo. They will accept either Brit or American size, so I chose Brit as I had more of them spare (I was carrying a couple of each to be safe). My immunisation record comprised the results of a blood test I'd had done by my GP in mid-July, and the jabs I'd had done to cover things I thought I needed but probably didn't (and at a cost).

Waited maybe ten minutes, one other guy was there before me, and while I waited I was asked to complete another questionnaire and sign a form agreeing to a blood test. I also had time to peruse the celebrity-chasing magazines. Who on earth reads these things?

Then I was called by the nurse, and she said my GP's blood test sheet didn't show anything about Measles and Mumps, though I had immunity to Rubella (Chicken Pox) so didn't need that. Thanks GP surgery for not reading my letter explaining what I needed to show I had - I'm pretty sure I've had both those diseases already, and could have had the jab cheaper from the GP if required.

However they would do a MMR jab for £35, so I had that done immediately. I could have gone back to my GP, but we want to get all our ducks in a row so it wasn't worth fussing over the difference. Barely felt the needle, but I'm warned I may feel a little feverish in 5 days. The nurse was chatty and pleasant, asking about where I was moving to and saying she always meets people off to lovely places (i.e. anywhere that isn't the UK) while she has to stay in London.

Back to the waiting room for another five or so minutes, and there's a lot more people there now. I discover there's a beachwear edition of the celebrity mag, but I'm called very quickly for the X-ray.

X-ray man also very nice and chatty. He weighs me but with shoes and clothes on so they're not massively concerned - I'm about 10 pounds overweight by my GP's assessment. I strip off my T-shirt and make like a chicken in front of the X-ray plate, shoulders up and forward to spread the shoulder blades (the X-Ray man tells me how), and holding an x-ray proof sheet over my backside rather awkwardly. Bingo that's done and back to the waiting room, remembering to put on my T-shirt.

Barely time to pick up the beachwear issue again before I'm called again, this time by the doctor.
The doctor is a lovely American woman, mid-twenties to thirties, asks me all the questions I've already answered on the questionnaire, twice, but in a bit more detail, and a couple of new ones (Have I ever been arrested? How does that affect my medical condition?). I do a quick sight test wearing my glasses, 2nd from bottom line one way with right eye and backwards with the left, no problems.

Now it's time for the genital examination...

I wasn't quite sure what to expect but the Doctor asked me to step behind a curtain, drop my trousers and boxers, and put my hands on my hips. Deep Breath, stand proud, I tell myself, everyone has to do this so let's get it over with. With a dramatic swish she pulls back the curtain and asks me to cough. I do, and she pulls the curtain across again and tells me to get dressed. That's it? A cursory glance at the family jewels as they jiggle? Apparently so.

She asks me to lie down on the paper-covered gurney and listens to my lungs and other internals, from various angles, and now it's blood test time. I'm used to needles from doing blood donations for over 25 years so it was really no bother, I barely felt it. She explains that she uses a size 18 needle (I don't think these match knitting needle sizes) because it damages the red blood cells less, and gets a better result.

She puts a plaster and a cotton ball on the dribbling bloody hole and asks me to hold my arm up for 5 minutes and apply pressure with my other thumb (or was it a finger, I forget) while she checks the blood there and then. Mine's red and drippy.

She does a blood pressure test (I think I was 120/85, anyway it was healthy enough), but apparently there's a bit more blood leak than she expected from my needle hole, so she puts a fresh plaster on, lump of cotton wool, and straps it round with medical tape, telling me to keep pressure on and my arm straight for 10 minutes, and to go back to the waiting room. She also says that the tests are fine, she has my mobile number if she needs to call me but 99% chance she won't, and the results will be with the US Embassy around Tuesday next week.

So back to the waiting room and that magazine (I'm really worried about Victoria Beckham's weight loss, and need to re-check Kelly Brook's beach photos) but almost immediately I'm called to pay the bill (now I'll never know if Jordan gets that 4th boob-job).

I leave the building lighter in wallet, but also in spirit.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Visa Stage 2

Nearly three weeks after the first letter confirming we're still waiting for the next packet of information to arrive. Last week we noticed that on the letter (but not on the envelope) they had B's address wrong...

So we emailed the Embassy, and should get a response in the next couple of days - if we don't we'll have to ring them on their very expensive phone line.

There have been postal strikes in various areas of the country for weeks, but these shouldn't hold something up for three weeks, and my wife's address and my address, though actually the same, might not be the same on the US Embassy computers, so one being wrong does not necessarily mean they're both wrong. It's an annoyance we didn't need, and no doubt stems from someone carelessly entering information from the wrong part of the original form.

Grrr.

Update: So worried were we that I rang the US Embassy to check progress. The form we are waiting for was only sent last Friday, 2 weeks after the previous letter was received, so it's not lost in the post and should arrive any day now. The address on their computer system is correct, and the lady at the Embassy had no idea where the wrong address on the letter came from. I also confirmed our case number, so we don't even have to wait for this letter to arrive, we can complete the two DS-23o forms and send them in immediately.

Phew.

Update 2: Having got our case number over the phone, I am now able to book my medical, so never being one to wait for the iron to cool, I rang the medical people (with a little nudging and a lot of helpful lookups from B.) and now have my medical scheduled for 8:55am tomorrow! As we planned ahead and I got all my shots done July this should be a breeze, though one never knows. After that it's just the interview itself we have to wait for.

Many people have the medical and final interview on the same day, but they are travelling from further afield - I've only got to travel about ten stops on the tube.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Builders

A breed I am destined to become very familiar with over the coming months.

Today our house renovation started, with one older Polish guy supervising, and two younger guys doing the sweaty stuff. I'm at home supervising, ready to make decisions on things as they occur, and helping with the sweaty stuff occasionally. It was about 27 C today, so it has been warm for London in late August.

Our house is very old, positively antediluvian by US standards. While stripping off the 4th layer of wallpaper in one bedroom the builders discovered a date of 1878 penned on the wall by a Victorian paper hanger. Of course the house may be older, but can't be any younger. Unfortunately that wall is probably going to have to be stripped down as it's lath and plaster, and over the 138 years since it was last plastered the plaster had lifted from the lath in places. Shoddy Victorian workmanship, and we though they built things to last. The lath and plaster causes a lot of dust, and also the walls are not as straight and even as plasterboard would be.

We now have two completely empty bedrooms at the top of the house, leaving our remaining stuff crammed into one bedroom and the main living room. My PC is offline for a few days because the broadband cable connection comes into one of the empty bedrooms, so I'm typing this on my wife's laptop which is wireless. The room emptying helps highlight what we're still keeping, and what we're still trying to get rid of for cash. If we just binned the cash crop we'd have quite a bit more space, but as we're here for a few more months at least, we're prepared to live like pigs if it nets a few extra bucks.

When we get to the US, we will hopefully refresh our acquaintance with builders, during the process of building our new home, assuming everything pans out as per plan A. I'm looking forward to it, as I suspect things are done rather differently.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Visa Stage 1

Yesterday we received confirmation of the approval of my wife's Sponsorship Application for me, so we're now waiting for the next packet of information from the US Embassy.

We've already completed the next form, so when this arrives we should be able to send it back in about 48 hours.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Keep/Sell/Give/Throw

We're now well on our way through the packing and clearing stages. The house isn't empty by any means, but it's a lot emptier than it was, and there's room move about and see things, stack things, sort things, and make the K/S/G/T decisions.

After 16 years in this house, and five for my wife, we've accumulated a lot of...things. I'm not entirely sure where they all came from to be honest, or why I thought we needed eight Pyrex mixing bowls, five metal Thermos flasks (assorted sizes), six sets of Chinese Baoding Balls, four guitars, three mandolins, an uncounted number of tin whistles (not all made of tin), shelves of books I will never read again, more shelves of computer games I will never play again, clothes I will never wear again, or all the other accumulated brick-a-brack that collected in the dust-bunny infested corners and drawers.

The good news is that some of this stuff is actually worth money, and through the careful application of eBay and Gumtree we have managed to salvage several hundred pounds for otherwise unused and useless possessions.

The stuff we can't sell we try to give away, the smaller items to the local charity shops, larger or more awkward items via Freecycle to anyone who will come to the house and collect. The beneficiaries may be secretly running their own garage sale, but we're happy to just have space where once we had stuff. Excess books are too heavy and nearly worthless to post, so the local Oxfam Bookshop is receiving a few dozens of volumes.

The last option is to throw stuff away. We have a good local Council recycling service, so anything glass, metal, plastic, cardboard or paper gets collected every Tuesday, and we have filled sack after black plastic sack with the things we couldn't recycle, silently praying that the dustmen will collect all the bags regardless of how many we put out.

The keep option has probably been exercised a bit too often, but we have our limits. My wife told me yesterday of the daughter of a colleague who has just moved house and had a number of boxes marked "loft". They came out of the loft of her old house and went straight into the loft of the new house, unopened.

This life laundry has hopefully taught me to be a more selective shopper in future, and if I seem miserly with my money, it's more that I'm miserly with my space and want to enjoy the newfound acres that beckon.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Automatic

I've recently spent two days driving around in a Ford Transit van, putting boxes and bags into storage, and delivering some furniture to my godmother's house. The van was a stick shift, i.e. manual transmission, and my left arm feels like I've been stirring paint for hours.

The biggest problem with driving in London is the traffic, and the biggest problem with the traffic is having to creep forward two feet at a time, every time you're in a gridlock. Coming back from Walthamstow, about an hour's drive from my house, I hit the jam above on the M4 motorway, and was stuck in it for the next 30 minutes. Shift into 1st, creep forward two feet, back into neutral, repeat.
Every car I've every driven in the US was automatic, though I know manual does exist, because sneaky car manufacturers often quote their starting model prices with Manual, with automatic being an upgrade costing $1000-1500.
Needless to say our US cars will be automatic transmission.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Weather

We love discussing the weather in England, or maybe we are just a bit obsessed by the dullness of it. I know my wife gets tired of hearing her co-workers complain about the heat/cold, rain or lack of it, every morning.

Almost every day in London all year round can be summed up as "dry with scattered showers". Even in the middle of Summer, there hasn't been a dry 24-hour period since we returned from Eugene on 6th July.

It'd be nice to know in the morning whether or nor one needed an umbrella or sunglasses and factor 40, but frankly we have it easy. At least the weather in London is unlikely to kill you, and there are lots of buildings to shelter in.

The US is plagued by hurricanes, tornadoes, cyclones, monsoon-like cloudburts, droughts, threat of Tsunamis (we saw many warning signs on the Pacific coast), earthquakes, volcanoes, massive snowfalls in northern states, wildfires caused by lightning strikes, or the steamy heat and humidity in some of the southern states.

My in-laws in the Houston area have had to flee or shelter from hurricanes three times in the five years since I've know them, and my own post-wedding plans in Florida were affected by Hurricane Wilma. We saw much damage in Miami still waiting to be repaired several months after the storm, and a hotel we had planned to stay at in the Everglades cancelled our reservation because it was reduced to kindling.

Last year a Houston hotel reservation was cancelled, and only my brother-in-law's thinking to check ensured we had a room to stay in over Christmas. I moan about the rain here, but I've never had a UK Hotel cancel my booking because of the weather, and not even bother to inform me.

We also avoid the Hurricane corridor that stretches across from Texas to Florida, and the cyclones that can build up in the fields of the mid-west.


Part of the answer to the "Why Eugene" question is that the weather there is unlikely to try to kill you, or destroy your house and property. Far enough east of the West Coast not to be affected by Tsumanis, too far north to be affected by Californian earthquakes, far enough south to avoid heavy snow falls in Winter, and far enough west to be out of the "killing zone" if Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park ever decides to turn into a fully fledged volcanic eruption, as Discovery Channel drama-documentaries are keen to remind us is long overdue. If that one goes off, by the way, the ash fallout is likely to land as far away as Washington and Philadelphia if the prevailing Westerly winds are blowing at the time.

In fact we chose Eugene partly because the weather ir pretty much like London's, wtih much the same annual rainfall, except it rains more when it rains, and suns more when it suns.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Sports

As I write, the English nation are basking in a Test Cricket victory over Australia at Lords Cricket Ground, the first time they've achieved this in 75 years.

Bask....

Cricket, Rugby and Football are the three main team sports in England, and I had my fill of all three before the age of 13 through School Games. Very basic (or no) changing rooms, no showers so I went home sweaty or caked in mud, or both, and no explanation of the rules or skills, was not likely to make me a lifetime player of team sports.

Between the ages of 13 and 16 I did the minimum of sport, and no team sport. I swam, and played squash.

At University I discovered a new team sport to watch, American Football. A friend of mine was a fan of the Washington Redskins, so I took up the team they were playing against that first time, the Philadelphia Eagles. My interest developed, along with a large number of other people's across the UK at the time, because American Football was being show on national TV.

So for several years I was able to follow the sport, and even played a little touch football with friends. Alas I was a little too early, a couple of years after I left University it was being more widely played with full equipment, but at least I could follow the NFL on TV.

Unfortunately the powers that be decided that Nicky Horne was too knowledgeable a presenter for the British fans, and substituted a pair of morons who knew less about the game than I did. They soon bit the dust (I was not alone in my relief), and Mick Luckhurst was chosen to present the show for the next few years. He was a semi-Brit who'd actually played, if you can call a Kicker a player.

Then the all-powerful NFL bosses sold the TV rights to SKY, a cable and satellite channel, which meant that a penniless student and generally tight-fisted individual like me couldn't watch the games without stumping up a whopping £30 (about $45) a month. That was that, I couldn't afford it, so I lost track of the NFL around 1996, after being a dedicated fan for 9 years.

Happily I had an alternative sport to follow. During the Summer of 1989 I was on industrial placement year away from University, driving up and down the country for long hours, and I discovered Test Match Special on the radio. This is the BBC Cricket coverage, and that summer Australia were in England playing for the Ashes. This was my first real exposure to Test Cricket, and it was made more enjoyable by the wonderful commentary where sometimes Cricket seemed to be the distraction rather than the focus. If you're on a long car journey and are fed up with hearing the same eight songs played every hour throughout the day, Test Match Special is truly diverting.

Test Cricket is a funny thing. A game is scheduled to last 5 days, with six hours play each day, and breaks for lunch and tea. Also breaks for rain, streakers, finding the lost ball that Steve Waugh smashed over the pavilion, and anything else you can think of. At the end of 5 days the result can still be a draw.

This may go against the American "Winning's the Thing" attitude, but it rather suits the English, since generally our country loses at most sports, especially ones we invented. If we win, then it's because something went wrong for the other team, or the judge/referee/umpire made a bad decision/was blind/was deaf etc.

So a win in Cricket after 75 years has left the nation happy, but also slightly worried and bemused. Can we go on and win the series? What if the Umpires get new spectacles and hearing aids? How can we support the underdog when the underdog is Australian?

When I am living in America I expect to be able to continue to follow both Cricket and American Football, since cricket is played round the world (well, the Commonwealth anyway) and round the year (handy having Summer in Oz and Kiwiland when it's Winter in the UK), and the US coverage of American Football is somewhat better than the UK coverage. We currently get one game a week for the first half of the season, two for the second half, and none of the post-season until the Superbowl (except for SKY viewers).

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Packing

After filing our I-130 Visa application form, and getting quotes from a couple of builder/decorators, our timeline is starting to settle down more. The builder we choose to get our house back up to scratch for putting on the market will (hopefully) start work on the outside of the house on 17th August, and the inside on 31st August.

This means that between now and 29th August we have to reduce our worldly possessions, or at least the things going to America, to 320 Cubic Feet, the size of an 8' x 5' floor and 8' high storage unit.

Ignoring the irony of compressing our "stuff" into this space so that we can later expand into a much larger space, we're well on track to achieve this. We've decided to take very little furniture so we can decorate from scratch, the only things we're taking are a couple of bunk beds which we bought new last year for the spare rooms. We can sleep on these in our rented apartment while we search for a house. Very few UK electrical devices will work in the US, so TVs, stereos, digital radios, DVD players, bedside lamps, fridge/freezer, stove, vacuum cleaner, iron, etc. will all be replaced in the US.

The bulk of the 320 cu. ft. is actually hobby stuff - my Playmobil model collection, my wife's fibre and wool related hobbies, and musical instruments. We've also got DVDs (trusting we can get a multi-regional DVD Player) and books, clothes and some computer stuff, mostly digitalised data and portable computer games.

We had originally planned to ship the stuff to the US long before we go, but discovered this week that we have to be present in the US when it arrives (I guess for customs purposes), so we have to store in the UK, and swallow the higher storage costs. The advantage is that we can keep adding to the storage, and only have it out of reach for the time it takes to ship over, about 35 days. The transport costs door-to-door are about £2,500 ($4000), less than we originally anticipated.

The house is thus filled with piles of boxes and other items waiting for storage, and we have other piles of things to sell, things to give to charity, and things to dispose of. Every time these latter two piles reduce in size is a little celebration.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Paperwork

We've sent in our first visa application form I-130, and I'm now in the process of getting various vaccinations prior to a medical examination, date as yet undetermined. We're also arranging vacciantions for our cat who will be coming to the US with us.


This is my first experience of trying to understand information provided by the US Government, specifically the US Embassy in London, US Customs, and the State of Oregon, and I'm sure all Americans reading will understand that it appears unnecessarily complicated and frustrating.


My own vaccinations required are listed on one form, but then there's another page explaining the age ranges, so that I would seem to be covered for most things either by already having them , or by being exempt due to my current age. The need to refer back and forth is annoying.


There appear to be no restrictions on the cat, other than he is free of evidence of disease communicable to humans when examined at the port of entry.


So far so good, but for every bit of information in one place, there appears to be a contradictory piece of information elsewhere, leaving me once again confused. The fact that I'm not the only person who finds this all confusing and alarmingly disorganised is backed up by the various threads on DiveintoAmerica, an online forum for people trying to immigrate to the US.

Happliy my wife is great at gathering information, so generally I can leave her to do the research (pretending that as she enjoys this I am doing her a favour) and I just act as the pin cushion.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Houses

In my experience, once you get outside the crowded older east coast cities (e.g. New York, Boston, Philadelphia), the average American home is significantly larger than the average British home.


Our London home is a mid-terrace Victorian three bedroom house. Mid-terrace means the two sides of our house share a party wall with a neighbour; good for heat efficiency, but not so good for noise and general privacy. Victorian means it was built during the reign of Queen Victoria, 1837-1901, but we know it was almost certainly built before 1860. The house is less than 1,000 square feet, and the front door lets directly onto the street, with no off-road parking. Why should there be? There were no cars in 1860!

The house has tons of character and I've loved living here for the past 15 years, but it's starting to feel a tad cramped, and that's before we factor potential children into the equation. We've occupied the two "spare" bedrooms with our hobbies, and the living/dining room can serve only once function at a time, though it does run the length of the house.


In Eugene we'll be able to afford a house at least double the size in square feet, not counting a double garage. That's like knocking a doorway through to the house next door, having their whole house to add to ours, and then borrowing the front rooms of the next two houses along to park our cars in. We'll have a bigger garden too, our current paved yard being just large enough to swing a cat.


It's all a matter of space.

Cars

You can't live most places in the USA without a car. Maybe if you're living in New York or Boston, or a city with a good public transport system, but generally, it's not done. The system is designed around cars and car ownership. I'll go into the pros and cons of US cars another day, but the system works well, and very few people try to live without a car.

In London a car is a luxury for many people, my wife and I included. We could have one, but it'd be expensive and usually unnecessary. Travelling to work, to the shops, or to events within Greater London is cheaper, quicker and easier using buses and the tube network (the underground). That's not to say it's actually cheap, or quick. A journey into Central London from my house in West Ealing, say to Oxford Street (the main shopping street) and back currently costs £5.80, nearly $10, for a return journey using my Oyster Card. Don't take my word for it, you can check here; http://www.tfl.gov.uk/tickets/faresandtickets/2930.aspx

It also requires setting aside an hour or more for the journey, though it's only seven miles. I would catch a bus to Ealing Broadway Station (10 minutes) , then a Central Line tube to Oxford Circus (29 minutes). That's quite a straightforward journey, assuming no waiting time, but I'd need to allow about 5 minutes to get to the bus stop, 5 minutes waiting for a bus, another 5 to walk from the bus stop to the tube station platform, and another 5 waiting for a tube train. So an hour overall, assuming no holdups. My wife's daily commute to work usually takes 1 1/2 hours each way.

If it takes an hour and $10 to go seven miles by public transport, why not drive?

First there's the basic cost of UK car ownership - purchase, road tax, insurance, MOT (an annual health check on your car), repairs and fuel. Then there's the Congestion Charge, a fee levied by the city for driving into the central area, to discourage drivers (it works). It's currently £8 a day. Then there's the cost of parking. Yes, you have to pay something to park pretty much anywhere in London. As I don't have offroad parking where I live, I would have to pay an annual fee (£25 where I live) to the local borough council to leave a car standing outside my house during certain hours of the day.

So travelling around London costs, in terms of time and money. Assuming no signal failures on the tube, traffic jams, strikes or other holdups.

Now consider travelling around Eugene. We had a hire car and travelled the city North-South and East-West many times over three weeks. Only once was there a traffic problem, which we were able to skirt round. Every other journey took less than 20 minutes to get from start to finish, regardless of our destination. We had offroad parking at our Motel, and would if we had a house or rented apartment. There was always ample parking available at our destination. Parking was always free. Gas is cheap (yes it is, dear American readers, even if you're paying $4 a gallon).

So, all things considered, we expect to travel pretty much everywhere by car when we're living in Eugene, unless we can walk or cycle, and it'll be cheaper, quicker, and easier than travelling round London. Out of a 16 hour waking day, we will be saving maybe 2 hours of travelling time every day.

That is just one lifestyle change we are looking forward to.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Restrooms

Something I've loved about the US since my first visit five years ago is the proliferation of Restrooms, or as we English say, Toilets.

ALL big stores, whether department stores or food stores, have Restrooms. Shopping Malls have them, generally near the Food Court. Rest stops on major roads frequently have them. They are kept clean, and well stocked. There are almost always drinking water fountains nearby.

In London, if you are caught short away from home, your options are often limited to pubs or the occasional public toilet. Neither are usually kept very sanitary, and there is often a charge for a public toilet, especially in a major railway station. If you use a pub toilet it is polite to buy a drink or something at the bar, regardless of whether the cubicle had a lock or any toilet paper. Some department stores have restrooms, but they can be difficult to locate even when you follow the signs, and they are not always found on every floor. Restaurants and cafes (e.g. Starbucks) should always have them, but there may only be one shared cubicle for all customers, so again you are supposed to buy something.

The Victorians, bless their memory, installed public toilets and drinking fountains across the city but they are frequently neglected, vandalised, or locked. How does the average Londoner cope? Planning ahead. How do tourists cope? Usually bafflement followed by panic.

Followers