Category Archives: Rule Britannia

The personal blog is an important, under-respected art form.

I just got around to reading Anil’s recent post on 15 lessons from 15 years of blogging. Poignant, since I’ve been thinking about what to do with this site.

I’ve been blogging for over 10(!) years, with a few defunct blogger and livejournal accounts before that. The blogosphere has changed a lot since then, but my favourites are still the few personal blogs that exist without a strict adherence to a commercial niche.

I wasn’t sure there was still a place for a personal blog with no theme, direction, beautiful photos or commercial model. And then I realized I was a fucking idiot; there isn’t a rule book.

So, before I delve too far into Anil’s point 9 (Meta-writing about a blog is generally super boring), a few things I’ve been thinking about a lot lately:

  1. Feminism (in tech, and in general). About 8 years ago I held a job in tech where I was – as is typical – one of only a handful of women in the company. One day I was chatting with the (male) CEO about how to get buy-in from a male colleague, and the CEO said “do you ever think some of the difficulties are because you’re a woman?” I was totally shocked, and blurted out something affirmative (because I agreed, but thought I was crazy for thinking so). And then the company pivoted, and I was laid-off about 3 days later, so never got a chance to follow up. That, and other head-smacking stories rattle around my head a lot while I watch the news on all the new-wave feminism.
  2. Working Parenthood. Closely related to the feminism thing, I spend a lot of time thinking about the day-to-day minutiae of being a full-time working mom (because let’s face it – it’s different for dads) and how to strike the right balance. A thing I’ve noticed is that I have orders of guilt: the worst is when I’ve truly disappointed Isaac (which has only happened once), but a close second is when situations come up where I feel like I am not showing the world that I care about being a good mom. Example: talking about life-changing/affirming moments with (all male) colleagues, the dads in the room all cited the births of their children. I did not. Not because I am callous, but because “the birth” frankly left me a bit shell-shocked, and was just one moment on a long continuum of becoming a mom. Of course my justification came in a moment of l’esprit de l’escalier, so I never articulated that in the moment. And so I retrospectively worry/feel guilty about appearing a cold, uncaring parent. And I do not like it.
  3. The first Tiny Christmas. This will be our third Christmas living in the UK, and the first when we won’t return to Canada. We were sick of the high prices for flights, and the large chunk of time it took out of our holiday allowances, when we’d like to travel to other destinations. I am looking forward to the opportunity to start a brand new set of traditions that are about just the three of us, but I am also a bit nervous that it won’t feel “right” or “real” to celebrate what’s normally such a family-centric holiday for us, without any family around. But you never know until you try? I guess?

 

North American Expats in England

It’s November. Which means NaBloPoMo. Let’s see what happens when I force myself to blog every day for a month, shall we? Hah. Haaaaaha. Ha. At least it got me writing a little more frequently, yes? Yes. 
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There was a fantastic article posted on Business Insider the other day about the experience of a US Expat living in England.

It is hard.  Just because people speak English, do not be deceived.  It is an utterly alien place from America culturally, and I found (and still find) the adjustments frustrating and I sometimes still get furious from the difficulties.

Some of the Americanisms aren’t really applicable to Canadians (universal health care and parental leave being well-established in Canada, too), but a lot of the other lifestyle differences ring really true.

The material standard of living thing is a big one. Even coming from a place as expensive as Vancouver, we find it quite hard to get ahead, and are overall spending more and saving less than we were previously able to. Frankly, it’s stressful, and not something we’d anticipated.

But oh!

The proximity to London, the prevalence of pub culture, the treasure houses. “And best of all (to me):  the deeply inbuilt intellectualism — world class museums, theatres, concerts, bookshops, lectures everywhere.” Quintuple that when you’re living in Oxford or Cambridge.

Being a Canadian, and used to only our irritating sense of defining ourselves by what we are NOT, in the loud, brash shadow of unrelenting US patriotism, I find the sense of strong, quiet, unquestioning national pride here inspiring.

The whole piece is worth a read, if you want a glimpse of what relocating has been like.

And yes, so far, it’s worth it.

A clash of cultures: Kid-friendly vs. Kid-centric

It’s November. Which means NaBloPoMo. Let’s see what happens when I force myself to blog every day for a month, shall we? 
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Oh dear. Not even 10 days in, and I’ve failed to post every day. And my excuse for missing yesterday isn’t even that great: we were at the pub.

We went out for dinner last night with some friends at their local, which is everything a good English pub should be: good food, friendly staff, and a steady stream of regulars of every age.

This is one of the things I really like about the UK. And Europe in general, really. Kids are just accepted as part of life. I remember Maggie at Mighty Girl saying something similar about Barcelona earlier this year.

It’s so different from the ‘Child Friendliness’ cues I remember from Vancouver. Everywhere I’ve been with Isaac in North America, there has been a very overt display of whether a place is “For People With Children Along” or “Totally Unsuitable for Children Period.” The former will always have high chairs, kids’ menus, change tables. If it doesn’t have any of those things, it’s a pretty big signal that children are not welcome. Case in point: I caught wind of a big brouhaha in Vancouver over the Earls High Chair Controversy. My lands, the drama.

Conversely, here, there are certainly a large number of places who offer all the kid-friendly accouterments you could ever wish for, and just as many that don’t, that are equally welcoming to kids. We’ve been to places with absolutely zero indications of kid-friendliness that have been super excellent in terms of interacting with Isaac and serving up a kid-sized meal, and others that have some high-chairs and things, but were clearly waiting for us to finish up quickly and go.

Some pubs and restaurants are more welcoming to families than others. Some say no kids after 6pm, some 9pm, some don’t care. Still others leave it up to your discretion. Nobody’s going to complain about a family with some kids at 6pm on a quiet Tuesday evening, but might give you the stink-eye if you want to bring your noisy brood in at 8pm on a Friday.

I am still often in awe, though, of all the places we see kids and it’s just no big thang.

Last year, Neil and I headed out to one of the Ashmolean’s Live Friday Events. It was interesting, to say the least, to contrast with my experience of similar events or activities in Vancouver

I find things in Vancouver to be very segmented by clique. Activities are attended almost solely by either older, upper-crust patrons of the arts, 20- and 30-somethings without kids (whether they’ve left them at home that night, or don’t have any at all), or families. Very few things cater to, or are attended by, all three, all at once.

At the Ashmolean, in addition to the roving hordes of students (this is a university town after all), I witnessed a number of grey-hairs rocking out to the jump-jazz-calypso band, loads of other adults from 18-80, a number of kids in the 5-15 category, plenty of babes in slings, and at least one toddler dashing about. And everyone was having a fine time.

Alcohol was sold on-premise throughout the event, kids were kept mostly under control by their parents. Anything incredibly precious was behind barriers or glass, but there were plenty of sharp, breakable and otherwise potentially ‘unsafe’ or ‘delicate’ things about that weren’t smashed to smithereens. And as far as I know, nobody or nothing exploded.

It was just, people. All out for an evening’s entertainment.

So, back to last night. The pub was fairly quiet. Isaac was entertained by a combination of the cars and crayons we brought, the staff wandering around with him and plying him with chocolates, and some other girls of about 6 or 7 who thought he was cute and hilarious to parade around.

And the fact that none of that was out of the ordinary is still extraordinary to me.

Swanning About

It’s the first of November. Which means NaBloPoMo. Let’s see what happens when I force myself to blog every day for a month, shall we? 
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So here’s a thing I don’t think I would’ve learned had I not moved to the UK:

Swans are AWFUL. 

Not having any practical experience with swans, all I knew was that they’re fair-sized water birds. Generally associated with ideas of beauty and grace and romance. And ballet.

Clearly the people who think these things have zero experience with actual swans.

Swans, at least, the ones I encounter (Mute Swans around here), are MEAN.

Somewhere in the evolutionary process, they lost the ‘flight’ part of the ‘fight or…’ response. Swans are like that drunk guy in the bar at the end of the night who stands in your way because he really wants you to challenge him to a fight. And then, since he also has no sense of self-preservation, will come at you with zero fear and swinging with everything he’s got.

swan

Oh god. RUN!

 

And they are HUGE.

Not Ostrich Huge, but if my 90lb dog were to get into a tussle with one, I’m not sure who would win.

One morning a pair of swans with three cygnets (still fluffy grey, but already the size of geese) were blocking the bike path. There were five of us, fully-grown adults and bicycles, standing there wondering what on earth to do, because we were all too afraid to challenge them to move.

So it could be understandable that I now think of the Ugly Duckling fairy tale an entirely different way…

“…and then the Ugly Duckling grew up and turned into a STUPID, TERRIFYING ASSHOLE which is WAY worse than being ugly, so be careful what you ask for.”

Still a good lesson all around, I’d say.

Daguerreotype

I really hope that whole ‘soul stealing’ aspect of photography isn’t true. Because if it is, I am running awfully thin on spare soul.

I don’t know whether to blame UK bureaucracy (I originally typed ‘bureaucrazy’ there, which seems apt), the general process of moving internationally, or something else entirely, but I am fully and officially fed up with having tiny pictures made.

Every time I need to complete some sort of official process, I need to submit the paperwork with between 1-3 copies of a ‘passport-size’ photo.

It started with our initial settlement visas. Which we renewed our passports for (because having a passport that expired well before the visa did seemed like a recipe for annoyance). Which required another set of photos.

Say CheeseAnd then they took a photo at the document drop-off appointment (hilariously called an ‘interview’), to prove it was us dropping off our documents.

Then came the residence permits. We had to bring in more photos for those. And also have our photos taken at the appointment (for verification? biometrics? good luck? who knows).

Somewhere in there we also had to send passports and a set of tiny photos away for visas to visit India, which I know isn’t part of this, but adds to the general photo-weariness.

Now I need to exchange my BC Driver’s license for a UK one. Which of course means I need to submit ANOTHER set of photos.

In fact, I have had the paperwork for the license exchange sitting on my counter at home for a month. I just haven’t gotten my act together enough to get yet ANOTHER set of tiny photos taken. Every time I think I’ll finally do it, I run out of time in the day, or something else comes up, or I just plain forget when I’m running other errands near the photo place.

Worst of all, I have probably chucked out just as many photos as I’ve submitted, because the photo place that’s nearest only does them in sheets of four, and I never need to send in FOUR, and who needs extra clutter around?

I do, apparently, because along with death and taxes, there is a certainty that at some point soon, SOMEONE ELSE will want a 2″ likeness of my not-shiny-not-obscured-not-smiling face-on-white-background.

Part of it is, I think, the fact that in the UK most of these things are done by mail. With the exception of my Canadian passport, every time I needed an official document card created or renewed in Canada, they took the photo in their office. Here, the civil servants are all conveniently separated from the public by the postal system wherever possible.

Now that I think about it, I’m not sure which I prefer – because standing in line at the BC Driver’s licensing office, or in the NEXUS offices, and dealing with disenchanted-slash-power hungry provincial and federal employees is no picnic either.

Nevertheless, I am still annoyed (and photo-less).

I might be less irritated about the whole thing if I hadn’t see how damn easy it was for Neil to get his UK Driver’s License. As a UK Citizen, he filled in a form online, entered his passport number, and the powers that be in the UK Government used that single data point to verify his identity, pull up the one copy of his likeness that they have on file, and 10 days later, he received his official document in the post.

Contrarily, I, who have no fewer than FIVE separate photos of myself drifting around various UK government divisions, still have to fill out a paper form, submit it, along with my BC Driver’s license and my Canadian Passport (which they will hold for up to THIRTY DAYS, DO NOT EVEN GET ME STARTED ON THAT ONE), and of course the required tiny photos, so that I can legally drive in this country again.

I have high hopes that I will actually remember to get out of the office at lunchtime this week sometime and hit up the photo place to get it all sorted. And this time, I’ll keep the spare tiny photos around. Probably guaranteeing I never ever need to submit another photo again.

Can we talk about the SPIDERS!?

England is a really buggy place.

I was surprised at first, but considering the humidity, it’s not really all that shocking. There’s an amazing assortment of creepy crawlies here, 98.5% of which I am totally OK with.

Except all of them seem to want to be in my house. In everyone’s house, really. And who can blame them? Outside, between September and June, is pretty gross.

Truthfully, I’m not even that fussed about the bugs that make it into the house. Sure, I’d rather not have to include ‘vacuuming cobwebs off every godforsaken corner’ in the list of weekly chores, but it’s not actually that big a deal. Most of what we see day to day are the humble woodlouse, daddy long legs spiders (which hardly count as spiders), a species of mosquito that only bites cows, some misguided wasps (which are actually quite bad this year) and the occasional crane fly when we’ve left the windows open too wide at night.

But there is one thing which I CANNOT ABIDE.

THE AWFUL FUCKING TERROR THAT IS THE EUROPEAN HOUSE SPIDER. 

Do not google that.

I told you so.

Please stop screaming.

Apparently we are now into the time of year where they come inside in search of a mate. We have so far had four come out into the open and make themselves known. Scuttling out from dark corners or underneath cabinets.

And they are HUGE. I had to deal with one the other day that was too big to step on – its legspan was bigger than the width of my perfectly average-sized foot. I ended up throwing a magazine on top of it, and then stepping on *that*. Ugh.

I had started to control the awful panic by convincing myself they were confining themselves to the ground floor, until last night. We were up on the first floor watching TV, minding our own non-spidery business, when I saw  movement out of the corner of my eye.

One of those motherfuckers was making a b-line straight across the living room toward us. I screamed and leaped up onto the couch. Neil screamed (because I screamed), spilled his tea, then valiantly bludgeoned the thing to death with my slipper.

Apparently nowhere is safe.

So if you happen to be driving around Oxford, and catch a glimpse through a window of a terrified-looking woman tromping around indoors in welly boots (very effective spider squishers) with a crazed look in her eye, that’d be me. Please send help. And insecticide.

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