It’s a good feeling to know that I have a job.  Or, will have, very soon.  After my second interview, I feel somewhat drained.  Not that it was particularly gruelling, but the anxiety associated with interviews and the tremendous relief afterwards can leave you feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck.  Then, I get excited knowing that we can stay in England, we can move house, etc.  Then, I get anxious again because we have to move house, etc.

Anyhow, my two interviews have renewed my confidence.  It’s not a good feeling when you’ve sent out two dozen CVs and not get word for a long time.  But, being offered a job on the spot is a big booster.  I went ahead and did the second interview just to see how I would do (besides the fact that it was a little late to cancel on them).  Though I wasn’t formally offered a job, I was asked if I would accept if it was offered and when I could start.  They implied I was overqualified, and seeing that the only other interviewer at the time spent only 5 minutes with them, it was enough to convince me they were trying to see which way the wind was blowing.  I had to admit that I couldn’t accept, but I wanted to know how I did.  The main interviewer told me he could not see how I could not be successful in whatever I decided to pursue.

Of course, as soon as I received my first offer, I got called for two other interviews.  One was very tempting.  I have to make a lateral career change and I have chosen two areas of expertise.  The job I chose is in the field of my first choice.  But, the job is a temporary one, and I will be starting out part-time, moving to full-time in a few months’ time.  However, it’s a step towards my goal, and it gets me a foot in the door.  My second job would be doing what I had done years ago, so a definite step down.  The third interview, which I turned down, is similar to the second.  All three are temporary.  But, the fourth one would have been permanent and would lead me down a path towards my second choice of a career change.  It’s tempting to go for it and see how I do, but I think it’s probably best to concentrate on finding another house and a new school, etc.  There’s still that slight twinge of regret, but I know that the position would be a lot more competitive.

It’s not that I regret my decision.  But, the cost of living is a lot higher at my chosen job than if I chose any one of the other positions. On the other hand, there would be fewer transitions.  For example, our daughter will still be able to go to the same gym and have the same piano teacher.  They’ll stay in their school until mid-term at least. 

But, we’re moving because our lease will be up soon and we’ve had enough of all the problems in this house.  I’m not sure how much longer before the rest of the floor in the kitchen will cave in.  We have enough trouble walking around the areas that have already broken through.  There’s also a hole in the bathroom.  All the work that the landlord was supposed to take care of since we moved in has not been touched.  In addition, they (agent and landlord) have not resolved this issue with the electric meter.  As it turns out, we were right when we complained that we must’ve been paying for more than our fair share of electricity.  So, until October, when I start my job, we will need to take a good look at our housing and schooling options.

I was also very excited about my pay.  I had been informed by several institutions that because I am new to this country, I would start at the lowest pay level.  However, this place argued that with my experience, I should be offered something closer to the top (not the very top due to my inexperience in this country, but close).  It means we will be able to maintain our current standard of living, which is by no means extravagant in any sense.  But, to find a house in our price range will be very difficult down in that area.  We will have to live a little ways out.

My excitement has been tempered by the fact that next year, when I have actually worked a full year, my salary would be at a level such that I might have to pay double taxes – UK and US!  I’ll have to look into this. To have to pay taxes to two different countries means that the take-home would be even less.  And what makes it even more unfair is that the US uses an exchange rate of 2.1 (based on the currency exchange from several years ago), and not the current rate, which is closer to 1.6.

Well, England has won the Ashes.  I felt that coming into the last match, it would more likely be England or draw than Australia.  After all, the results were Draw-England-Draw-Australia-…  To complete the pattern, it should have been draw, but I still thought England had a better chance because it’s hard to win two in a row.  That’s just me, using the fatigue factor.  Of course, it rarely factors into the equation.

Anyhow, before the final match, there were rumours floating around about a conspiracy, as evidenced by irregular betting patterns.  Though it’s been done before, I cannot conceive how a game can be thrown unless everyone was involved.  I’m not a big fan of conspiracy theories, so I couldn’t swallow it.  But, apparently, a certain part of the Australian press are claiming otherwise.  To say they were disappointed is an understatement.  The Australians had been cricket leaders for a long time, so to lose is very bitter.

Well, the next Ashes will be in Australia, sometime in a little over 18 months time.  Already, we know several players won’t be back – I can’t believe how young these guys are when they retire.  Wonder if they’ll continue in the amateur league once their professional careers are over?

We had gone to a jumble sale when we stopped at a playground for the girls.  While we were there, the local cricket team was preparing for a match, so we stayed to watch for a while.

You might hear about a softball team here and there in the US, but there were no organised amateur sports.  Here, each town/village would have a cricket team and they would form leagues and play against each other throughout the year. It’s not just cricket, but football and rugby as well.  Every time you drive through a town, regardless of size, you’d find lots of cricket greens and football and rugby clubs.  It’s a part of life. 

It makes me wonder why they keep reporting that the UK is the least active country in the EU. Yes, I can see that obesity is on the rise (the size makeup in this country is definitely larger than it was 10 years ago).  But, seeing that adults are still staying active, I don’t understand how kids can grow up couch potatoes.

The Ashes.  A long-standing tradition in England (and Australia, for that matter).  And England finally won the match, or test, at Lord’s – I believe they said it was the first in 75 years.  Well, it was also the first time I actually watched a cricket a game (or part of).

The English are well-known for their reserve, and I think it also applies to sports.  By this, I mean that they do not go out of their way to explain it.  My husband and his family have always been sports fan.  That is, they follow all the English sports and have their favourites, even if they really don’t go fanatical like some fans.  They also don’t try to convert people to their sports religion.

This is very different from my experience in the States.  Over there, if you mention that you don’t understand the American ball games, someone would stand up and go into detail about how the game works.  Some sports fans, like one of my brothers, may bore you with all the statistics of a particular favourite player, completely oblivious of the interest (or lack thereof) or understanding of the listener.

Football (soccer) is easy for me to understand, as that is played in the US.  Rugby I have seen a little of and understand understand how they score, etc.  But cricket is another matter.  It does not help that I had never seen a match before yesterday.  But the terminology had been cmpletely baffling to me.  Even when I’ve asked a question, everyone just shrugs it off with “It’s cricket.” 

So, while visiting my mother-in-law, who is recovering from her fall and is finally home, we watched the end of the cricket match, the second test.  At this point, England needed 4 wickets and Australia needed something like 185 runs.  As much as comparisons are made between cricket and baseball, they are completely dissimilar.  The physiotherapist, an Australian, arrived just as England scored the first of the last 4 wickets.  By the time she left, the game was over.

In that time, I learned what a wicket was and what is meant by an “over” (though I fail to understand how that terminology came about).  I still don’t know how they decide who bats and who bowls and whether there is a set number of runs that needs to be scored, while I understand that the number of wickets is 10.  I still cannot grasp how a game can last days on end, the terminology of 20/20, or why a female cricketer took nine hours to bowl nine overs.  As far as I can understand, 6 balls is an over, so 9 overs is 54 balls.  Why did it take so long?  Of course, I’m still too ignorant of the game to even ask more questions and no one’s about to explain it unless I ask specific questions.  Is it because it’s too complicated?

When we visited the UK this time last year, we drove around Wiltshire and found a small village holding a Mayday Fayre.  Very “villagy” setting.  It had food, music, a few games and several table-top stalls.  But, having a British husband, I knew we were not getting the full traditional fayre treatment.

So, we hoped to do better this year.  It was with dismay, however, when I found that two places nearby were holding a fayre and neither sounded very traditional or interesting.  The Friday-Ad did not list any others.  So, I turned to the internet.  The problem with that is that many villages would not think to advertise there.  But, I figured, if they didn’t use technology and they wouldn’t even list in the papers, they probably either didn’t have one, or it was not worth listing. I guess I didn’t realise that some of these villages might be so well-known for having a grand fayre that word-of-mouth was adequate.  Since we are not too well-acquainted with anyone in our area, we didn’t hear about any.

Anyhow, I turned to technology.  I know we should plan our weekends way ahead of time, but nothing in our lives ever fall into place with our plans anyway.  So, I was searching for activities on Sunday.  I was quickly frustrated with the Google searches because I could not find anything nearby.  Some great fayres were being held in various counties around England, but none in our area.  A fewer smaller events were taking place in villages in our Sussex, but they were not close and they were for Sunday.  So, we had already missed out.  If the family was willing, I thought we might try one of the fayres in a neighbouring county.

But the kids were having too much fun with cutting the grass.  (Oh, yes, we couldn’t use the sheep, so we bought hedge shears – they were easier to store and a lot cheaper than a lawn mower.  The kids decided that they wanted to cut the grass, so we let them have at it.  Please don’t report us to the authorities for breaching child labour laws.)  They didn’t want to go anywhere because they found some snails and placed them in a jar and were using their cut-up grass to make salads for their new pets.

Monday morning and I turned to Google again.  After several pages of listings, I finally came upon a small village between Horsham and Crawley, called Rusper.  It didn’t sound big, but certainly bigger than the one last year.  Besides, it was a fairly short trip.  The kids were interested, but not overly enthusiastic.  The younger one liked the idea of a teddy bear parachute.

Well, that was the first stop of the day for us.  We arrived two hours into the festivities and looked around to see what was available.  One of the first events we witnessed was the end of the first Panto Horse race.  It was hysterical and they were calling for people to participate.  The older one had a blank expression on her face and was clearly not impressed with anything.  The younger one pressed for the parachute, so we headed over to the church.  There, Pooh Bear made his first parachute jump from St. Magdalene’s, boasting the highest church tower in West Sussex.  Pooh Bear even got a certificate of achievement for his bravery.

Pooh landed in time for us to witness the second Maypole dancing of the day.  A group of young girls expertly twisting and turning the ribbons around the Maypole was a new experience to me and our girls.  Things went very well until the last dance, when the girls had weaved an intricate pattern on the pole, then went out and each returned with an audience member.  Whether it was the number of dancers present or the newcomers having no idea what to do, it was hard to say, but there were a few moments of confusion as they tried to disentangle the ribbons.

We had already missed both Punch and Judy shows – we have yet to see one.  We went back to the little park where stalls were set up for Tombola, Lucky Dip, some kids’ games, and a few table-top sellers.  We missed the Tombola, but they took a turn with Lucky Dip and the younger one went to hook some boats.  We went back and forth to watch some Wellie Throwing, Panto Horse racing, and coconut shying.  Finally, our older one took an interest and tried the coconut shy.  She was unsuccessful but did manage to hit a coconut once.  Daddy had much less luck.

She also wanted to go in on the Panto Horse, but by this time, it was too late.  But she did jump in for the tug-o-war at the end.  There were several battles between the three pubs in the village.  Then there was the kids’ one, followed by women.  Now, the girls were winning their war when a group of older boys jumped in and pulled the boys back.  More boys joined in for the second war and still had a hard win.  Quite unfair when most of the boys looked to be about 10 years and over, while most of the girls looked to be about 10 years and younger.  Oh, well, they had fun.  They’re looking forward to more May Fayres and fetes.  Tonight, we have a circus.

Flying into England during the summer months, we could see fields of yellow interspersed in the fields of green.  We have never been able to identify the crop.  As we drove around the countryside, we saw that the yellow plants were flowers of some kind.  Sometimes, those plants can be scattered along the roadside.  My first impression is that they looked like some weeds, or wildflowers that used to grow in our backyard in America.  But I can’t believe that farmers would be planting fields and fields of them.  As we drive by, sometimes we can detect a fragrance from them, but it’s hard to say whether it was actually from the plants.  You see, it’s not exactly a pleasant fragrance, like you would expect from flowers.  (Then again, I don’t think all flowers have pleasant fragrances.  Take marigolds, for example.)

Now that spring is here, I’m starting to see those yellow fields again.  During the winter months, those same fields looked fallow and I never suspected that they would be growing these plants in the spring.  So, what are they?  I haven’t found anyone who might know.

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There is the stereotype of London fog – perhaps bolstered by those Victorian images of Sherlock Holmes walking through London. I think many people in America have this image that England is perpetually surrounded by rain and fog. Perhaps it is also why England, or I should say all of Britain, is the perfect backdrop for a Gothic romance novel.

Nowhere in the States did we ever experience a deep fog that lasts for a long time. Usually, you would get fog early in the morning, which lifts by mid-morning at the latest. Of course, you’d find it with driving blizzard conditions and other storms. Then, of course, some cities were so polluted you would get some smog – a very dirty fog.

But here, it seems so natural to have a fog that does not lift until well into the afternoon; then the sun comes out bright and warm. It provides such a contrast in temperature. Visibility is poor on the road and as you’re driving through the country, it does give you an eerie feel. It’s the kind of thing that is perfect for Halloween.

Today, as we walked through a town in the fog, there was a smell of wood-burning. It inspired images of a log cabin, though you wouldn’t have found that in this medieval town. Mixed with the scent of some of the flowers, it was very nostalgic, but I had difficulty in recalling where I had felt and smelt the sensations.

Interestingly, the fog does not give me the feeling of gloom, as an overcast sky does. Somehow, it is invigorating and exciting. Again, it may be my love of the dramatic and gothic.

This realm. This majesty. This England. Words from a United Airlines advertisement to promote tourism in England from some years back. It conjures up many images from childhood of a land of enchantment, fairy tales and legends, quaint villages, grand palaces, strong fortresses, good kings and queens, wicked villains, valiant knights, and humble peasants. Stories from books and scenes from movies all add to this image. Sometimes, reality does not live up to these fantasies.

“This England” is not the land it once was. I have always been an Anglophile, but I can see the changes that have been wrought over the years. I do not only mean the ethnic make-up of this country, though that certainly has affected the character of this country in recent times. Immigration has led to expansion in housing and modernisation of many towns and villages. Though there are groups working hard to preserve Britain’s heritage and ancestry, it is impossible to save or recreate what England once was. That’s why it is such a joy to find hidden treasures, which are becoming more and more obsolete.

Unfortunately, it is not just the foreigners who are changing or want to change the face of England. Some native Britons appear to have become jaded with the English culture. Some have called for an end to the monarchy. I realise that in recession, people can become jealous of the monarchy’s wealth, especially if it appears that members of that monarchy are not living up to expectations. However, since tourism still depends on the image of “Old England”, I say, “Long live the queen!”

Then, recently, there are reports on “the real Robin Hood”, called “Robert Hodd”. Okay, so maybe Errol Flynn wasn’t such a good guy after all, but he did look good in tights. Why do we want to de-romanticise such a legend? I’m sure I wouldn’t want to find a real King Arthur who turned out to have devils around a square table.

Perhaps, I still view England with rose-coloured glasses. But I’d rather do that than point to all its negative aspects or to take a positive feature and make it sordid. It’s very deflating to be constantly barraged with pessimism.

Although second nature to most Brits, to Americans the stages involved between buying a car and getting it on the road can seem quite convoluted. 

Once you have picked a car and decided to part with your money, there will be three additional items (and consequently expenses) you will need to consider:  road tax, MOT test and insurance.

The MOT test is a roadworthiness test used in the UK on vehicles over three years old.  It tests the safety, roadworthiness and exhaust emissions of vehicles, and is not a test of the vehicle’s mechanical condition (your car could breakdown on the way home from the MOT test center following a successful MOT test.)  The MOT test must be carried out at one of the UK’s registered MOT test centers and usually costs in the region of GBP 50 (for a standard car).  Cars over three years old must have annual MOT tests.  It is illegal to drive a non-exempt vehicle on public roads without a valid MOT test certificate.  Also, your car will need to pass an MOT test before you can purchase a road tax disc.  The test is more thorough than the state inspections used in some US states (at least, in our experience).

If you buy a secondhand vehicle, then there may be several months remaining on the MOT test certificate.  If this is the case, you will not need to have your vehicle tested until the anniversary date of the existing certificate.

Once your MOT test is taken care of you can proceed to get a tax disc.  The tax disc is akin to the US vehicle license and registration, but for most, other than very new economical cars, it is more expensive (usually upward of GBP 100, and can be as much as GBP 400).  You can get a tax disc at either the post office or a local DVLA center.  Any vehicle used or just parked on public roads is liable for the tax, and stiff penalties are in place for those who do not hold a current tax disc.

If the dealer from whom you buy your car has a “documentation fee” then you should ask him what this covers.  We have found that it usually means he will walk down to the local post office and transfer the tax disc to your name.  For this he may charge you about GBP 50.  It’s something you can do easily yourself.

Similar to the MOT certificate, if buying a secondhand vehicle, the existing tax disc may have several months left to run. 

The third and final requirement for getting a car on the road in the UK is valid motor insurance.  There are very many insurance brokers in the UK, so be sure to shop around.  If possible, avoid brokers altogether and talk directly to an insurer.  There are several insurers that deal directly with the public.  Direct Line is one, there are others.  We very strongly suggest you talk to these before making a decision on your motor insurance;  it could save you many hundreds of pounds per year. 

Be very wary of the current fad of insurance comparison sites.  In our experience, these do not always list many inexpensive insurers and are mostly a vehicle for brokers to ply extra trade.

If you plan on driving on your US or overseas license then you should expect a hefty annual insurance premium (likely to be upward of GBP 1100 per year!)  from high street broker sold policies.  You might have  no choice but pay exaggerated premiums for 12 months until you establish a driving record in the UK.  However, if you have a clean insurance record in the US then read on!

UK motor insurance has a “reward” system based on the concept of “no-claims”.  For each full year you drive without an insurance claim against a UK insurer you earn points that give discounts on premiums for subsequent years.  This is no good if you have spent the last 5 or 10 years driving in the US!  So, why am I telling you this?  Well, if you talk directly to an insurer (such as DirectLine) they might be willing to honour your clean insurance record from overseas.  If you have, say, 5 years claims free with State Farm in the US then the insurer will consider a letter from State Farm when assessing your insurance.  You need to be able to prove a claims free record with your US insurer.

One of the most wonderful things about England that has not changed, despite the increase in immigration and the decrease in living space, is the use of public footpaths. These were created so that the public can have easy access, via foot, through fields and neighborhoods. These footpaths are clearly marked even though they may not be clearly visible if you rush by in a car.

What is so special about these public footpaths is that they are practically all over the country. There are books about some of them because they are located in very scenic areas. Imagine walking through someone’s property and seeing the view as if from their own windows. You do not have to own these properties (although it would be nice) to appreciate the landscape.

Of course, not all these footpaths go through scenic countryside. In the towns and villages, they may just be alleys. Nevertheless, they are convenient, if you are walking, to cross quickly and easily to the other side without going all the way around a block.

It seems the English are very protective of these public footpaths. Even with the increase in demands for living quarters for immigrants and welfare beneficiaries and the decline in availability of land, these footpaths and their signs remain untouched. Furthermore, the existence of these footpaths seem to encourage walking, not only for exercise but for leisure. I would like to cover as many of the scenic footpaths as possible and make notes of my observations.