Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Decade as an Expat

Ten years ago today—on 28 February 2002—I gave up my apartment, quit my job, sold my car and climbed aboard a jet bound for England to marry a woman I had met six months earlier and had seen only a few times since.
Of all the hair-brained, impulsive and ill-advised adventures I had willingly jumped into, this one was by far the most extreme.  I had, in effect, made myself homeless, jobless and broke on the expectation that this woman (who, let’s face it, I hardly knew) would not grow tired of me in three weeks time and send me packing.
Despite the prospect of certain failure (if past performance is any indication of future outcomes) I remained confident that I was doing the right thing: ten years later, the jury is still out, but it’s looking pretty hopeful.
These past ten years have been an amazement, an education and a huge adventure.  I have seen and done things and gone places I could only have dreamed of when I was younger.  Even my everyday life is filled with experiences I would never have imagined just ten-and-a-half years ago.  Back then, one of the high points of my morning was driving south on Route 9 in Halfmoon on my way to work and seeing dawn break over the landfill (no, it really was pretty, with gulls wheeling and diving and the pipes belching fire from the top of the enormous mound in an attempt to siphon off the excess gasses); these days I ride a bus (in itself exotic) and cross rolling downs through twee villages and a scattering of thatched cottages; I don’t recall many thatched cottages on my way to work in Albany.
I have, in short, experienced much, learned much and regretted little, and it was all down to a whimsical trip to Ireland in August 2001.  I’m sure you all know about that because I’ve been banging on about it for ten years now.  Nor have I been shy about my plans to commemorate my Tin Jubilee Celebration by producing a book about that seminal event.  And now, at last, I have.
Postcards From Ireland
 is now on sale.  You can buy it at Amazon.comAmazon.UKKindle.comKindle.UKBarnes and Noble Nook or Smashwords.
Additionally, to help heighten the festivities, I am offering my first two books—Postcards From Across the Pond and the creatively titled More Postcards From Across the Pond—as 99-cent eBooks.  (This is a limited time offer, which means they will stay at that price until I can be arsed to change them back.)
And now I’m going to do something I expect you’ve never seen another writer do: I’m going to warn you off buying it.
If you are a fan of my first two books, then you will know they are books of hilarious essays about my life here in Britain.  And if you are expecting the third book to be a continuation of the first two, you would be mistaken.  It is not a collection of essays, but a linear narrative recounting my Ireland adventure from ten years ago.  This is not to say it isn’t funny; it is.  Even I had to laugh at my ten-year-old self when I was reminded of how hopelessly ill-prepared I was for a solo trip to Europe; in looking back, I am amazed I pulled it off without being killed or arrested.  But there is, in addition to the frivolity, a thread of romance, a revelation of my impressions about seeing my soon-to-be-wife for the first time and how I ended up in the very circumstances I had originally gone to Ireland to avoid.
So, if you’re looking for a book of essays, don’t buy it, but if you want a fun read about a clueless American let loose in Ireland, then you might enjoy it.  I hope you do, for I certainly enjoyed sharing the story with you, and finally getting the chronicle down fully and completely.
And someday, perhaps soon, I might decide if I made the right decision after all.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Out Of Time - Expat Angst

This post is another special feature of my Tin Jubilee Celebration: a journal entry from ten-years ago as I stood on the cusp of becoming an expat.  Postcards From Across the Pond already existed as a web log (remember those?) at that time, but this entry did not go into it.  In looking over the published posts of the time, I think I should have put this up instead; it’s a lot more interesting.

25 February 2002 6:34 PM
[Yes, I used European-style dates in my journal; I thought it looked classy.]

It occurs to me that I haven’t written in my personal journal in a while, and maybe that’s because I don’t know how I feel.  Or, perhaps, I don’t know how I feel because I haven’t written in my journal.  Chicken and egg—you decide.

The fact is I feel numb; I just quit a job where I was making 60k a year and had a good pension and comfortable future to look forward to.  I'm leaving my children (okay, they're adults now, but still) and my friends and moving out of the country to marry a woman I hardly even know.  Like most outrageous things I do, I simply make up my mind, do it without thinking and then deal with the consequences.  I like to think this time it's different, and to a large degree it is, but the pattern is disquietingly familiar.

Right now, I'm sitting in my apartment, at my desk, writing on my computer, surrounded by all that is familiar to me (granted, it's a little sparse in here, but you know what I mean).  I sat this afternoon on the balcony, smoking a cigar and having a brew, enjoying the familiar scenery.  On a purely intellectual level I know that this is all going to change in a few days, but there is no hint inside me that I believe any of it is real.  I'm simply getting a kick out of telling everyone the story and being the center of attention because I'm doing something so radical.  But now all that is over; I've had my good-bye party at work, I've gone out to dinner with my friends and basked in their admiration as they effused about how brave and romantic I'm being.  And now I've got to pay the piper.

My last view of New York; it wasn't really difficult to leave.

Tomorrow my furniture goes.  After that, I'll be sitting in an empty apartment, just waiting to get on a plane.  What is going to happen to me when I get over there?

I'm finding I can't conceive of it.  I have no thoughts beyond getting on that plane.  After that, it's all blank.  I suppose that shouldn't be unexpected.  After all, I can only get my head around so much.  I've been busy extracting myself from America, and that has proven to be a rather large job.  England will take care of itself.

Still, why am I doing this?  What on earth could have possessed me to quit my job and leave my country?  That's a little over the top, even for me.

On the other hand, is it really such a big deal?  People change jobs, move from country to country and get married every day.  Granted, they don't always do all three at once, but many of them have.  Maybe I think I should be feeling something only because I'm on the cusp of such a big change; the fact that I feel nothing makes me wonder if I'm making a mistake.  Shouldn't I feel excited, or happy, or elated, or terrified?  I feel nothing.  I feel like I still have my job, I feel like I'll always be here in America in this apartment and that life is just going to go on this way without any inconvenient interruptions.

Two days, twenty-two hours and thirty-five minutes to go.  I wonder—when I land on the other side—how real it will be then.  Will I miss my old job and old friends?  Will I miss my boys?  Will my guilt overtake me?  Will I be homesick?  Will I not like living there?  Will I be able to get a job?  Will I become depressed and screw up my marriage?  The opportunities for failure abound.

For now, however, the party continues because, after all, it's all about me.  Tonight is my last Irish Dance class and I'm sure to get more "Oh you're so brave" and "That's so romantic" thrown at me.  Tomorrow I’m making one last visit to some close friends where I’m sure to get more of the same.  It won't be until I land at Gatwick that the ego stroking will stop and I'll have to decide, for myself, if I've done the right thing.

But, of course, by then it will be too late.

In re-reading that journal entry, two things struck me: One, that my Americaness has softened over the past decade, and Two, I did not, after all, make the wrong decision.  I thought you might like to know that.

POSTCARDS FROM IRELAND – the making of an expat
…the tale of how all this came about…
Release date: 1 March 2012.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pancakes and Updates

So what happens after Valentine’s Day?  Pancake Day, of course.

It takes me by surprise every year how seriously they take the day before Ash Wednesday over here.  Back in the States, the folks in New Orleans called it Mardi Gras and used it as an excuse for a massive piss-up while the rest of the country pretty much ignored it.  In Britain, Shrove Tuesday is called Pancake Day and, by golly, we’re having pancakes.

The stores stock up on all things necessary for a successful Pancake Day, and make certain you are able to find them.  The accoutrements range from eggs, flour and sugar—for the traditionalists—to frying pans and jugs of pre-made pancake batter, so even the laziest, busiest and/or most clueless among us have no excuse for serving fish fingers, oven chips and peas for dinner instead of the requisite rolled up crepes soaked in lemon and covered with sugar.

And as if they pancakes aren’t shockingly sweet enough on their own there is an assortment of auxiliary toppings available, including Nuttella.

It’s not the sort of dinner I would want every night, but it’s a nice treat once a year.

Otherwise, I have a minor announcement:  the proof copy of Postcards From Ireland has arrived and it looks great.  After a few more tweaks to the manuscript, it will be ready and on sale in time for the 1 March release.

To help kick off the campaign, the ebook editions of Postcards From Across the Pond and More Postcards From Across the Pond will go on sale for $0.99 (£.77).

The ebook edition of Postcards From Ireland will be listed at $2.99 (£1.95)

All the paperback editions are priced at $8.75.

NOTE: Do not be fooled into buying the old version of Postcards From Across the Pond, which is still listed and sells for $18.99 (paperback) and $9.89 (ebook) unless you like paying over the odds.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The First Degree

Yeah, it’s cold over here in Britain and, as usual, the locals aren’t used to it, the major infrastructures—highway, railway, water, electric—can’t cope with it and the heaters in our flat aren’t rugged enough for it.  In addition to that, I’m not very thrilled with it, either.
Usually, when cold comes to visit, it sneaks in during the night, nips at our startled ears and noses in the morning and then flits away before elevenses.  This time, however, it has come—uninvited and unexpected, I might add—for a protracted visit.  When I got up this morning my thermometer read one degree—one single, lonely degree—above zero (that’s minus 17 in local time).

You have to look carefully, but that is 1 degree. Fahrenheit.
Now, it’s bad enough that my old friend, NY Cold, has come to call and (not altogether unexpectedly) brought along his bastard cousins Snow and Ice, but it also had some other old and not-so-dearly missed acquaintances from the old country in tow: Itchy Skin and Static Electricity.
Cold arrived about 10 days ago, then Snow popped in last week and, since he hasn’t gone anywhere, Ice soon followed.  So I, along with the rest of southern Britain, dug through wardrobes for forgotten scarves, wooly hats and thick jumpers as we hunkered down and prepared to wait it out.  But then, a few days ago, I realized I was spending a significant portion of my day scratching at various (publically acceptable) parts of my body.  As it is too cold for fleas, I realized it was the dry, itchy skin that the lingering cold weather used to visit upon me back in NY.
Next, I discovered that, any time I ventured near a metallic object, an arc of electricity would leap from my fingertips with a sharp crack and flash of light, leaving my clothes smoking, my hair standing comically on end and everyone in the vicinity surprised at the inventive uses of profanity they had just heard.
The sitting room, thanks to the rising sun, is finally getting warm, but my wife has informed me that—Arctic conditions or no—we are going on our morning walk around the park.  I suppose I shouldn’t complain; I of all people should know how to deal with it, especially with the inborn survival instinct that I possess and the locals don’t seem to have, namely the quiet, rational voice in the back of your mind that—as you think you will go mad with the cold—whispers its soothing promise: “Someday, it will be spring.”

That's something you don't see everyday in Horsham park:
a Saturday morning with no one playing football (soccer).
So, me, my thick jumper, knitted scarf, wooly hat and inner belief that spring is just around the corner will be wandering through the park in a matter of minutes.
On the bright side, it will make our ritual cup of tea very welcome indeed when we stop for elevenses.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


I am, apparently, some sort of criminal in training (there's a pun there, reach for it).  Any day now you will find my picture on the wall in all Southern railway stations under the heading “Ticket Thief!”  Happily, they cannot—due to lack of hardware—add “Shoot on sight” to that, but they might encourage their employees to “Blow Whistle and Shake Finger Menacingly” if they spot me hanging around the platforms.
Here's what happened:
I was returning from a client's site last Thursday on a “fast” train.  For the uninitiated, a “fast” train is one that doesn't stop at every pissant little burg between London and Brighton , touching only on the highlights, such as Croydon, Gatwick Airport, and Haywards Heath.  I was in a hurry because it was Thursday and on Thursdays I drive my wife to art class in Haywards Heath.  Now, my wife can drive, she just doesn't prefer to, so I have been driving her to art class on Thursday nights for the last five years, but if I couldn't be home by 6:30 I would be too late to take her and she would have to drive herself.
More to the point, I would not be able to drive her to art class, and then take myself to the pub down the road for a cigar and a pint and a curry and a convivial chat with the locals.  And that would be wrong.
And so, as the train pulled away from East Croydon station, I did some mental calculations and realized I was not, in fact, going to make it home on time.  The route I was on required me to disembark at Gatwick and find another train going to Horsham.  That could add half an hour or more to the trip.  And once I got to Horsham station, I still needed to get home.  So I came up with a fall-back plan.
I'm sure you've already noted the fact that the train I was on stopped at Haywards Heath, which was my ultimate destination.  Accordingly, I found a train guard and asked if I could purchase a ticket from Gatwick to Haywards Heath.  He said he would come by in a few minutes.  He never did.
When I got out at Haywards Heath with a ticket to Horsham, I was not worried at all.  Now, I know you can't travel to Canterbury with a ticket to Cambridge just because they start with the same letter, but in this case, I was travelling the same relative distance and in the same general direction: from Gatwick airport, the lines fork, and one tine goes to Horsham, the other to Haywards Heath.  I wasn't stealing a ticket, merely transferring the Gatwick to Horsham portion to the Haywards Heath line.
The lady manning the gate did not see it that way.

I showed her my ticket, and after we established that I was not at the correct station and I began to explain how I happened to end up there, she started giving me a proper bollocking.
This confused me.  I was wearing a shirt and tie, I was obviously a respectable middle-aged man travelling on business, not some saggy-drawered, skateboard-toting hoodie trying to jump the turnstile, yet she was verbally beating me like a red-headed step-child.  To what end, I wondered; I was already at the station, she could shout all night and it wouldn't change the ticket, or that fact that I had arrived holding it.  Was she planning to send me back to Gatwick?  For a while, it did appear so.
Eventually, I was released so I could go to the window and purchase a ticket from Gatwick to Haywards Heath.  I didn't bother asking for a refund for the unused portion of the ticket I was holding, I just bought the proper ticket—which is what I had wanted to do all along—and returned to the guardess.  She took it, and picked up where she had left off, launching into another bollocking.
This time I was really confused; not angry, or embarrassed, just confused.  I was now outside of the gate, where she had no power over me at all.  She wasn’t accomplishing anything; I had already properly paid for my ticket, so what was the tirade for?  I felt like putting my fingers in my ears and singing, “LA LA LA LA LA LA LA CAN'T HEAR YOU!”  Instead, I just walked away.
Now clearly, I had not followed the rules, but I openly acknowledged that fact and actively sought to put it right; I thought this—along with my status of “very obviously not a criminal”—would count for something.  I suppose this was her means of deriving job satisfaction—a sort of non-monetary perk—from an otherwise unexciting occupation.  Thing is, I probably satisfied her scolding craving for the evening and the next group of oiks who sauntered down the walkway with no tickets at all were likely released without comment and sent on their way with a hearty “Cheerio!”
Yeah, I didn’t think so, either.

Another random photo, this one to make you feel better

about the one I posted last time with the flowers in it.